17 Div is now in control of the port city of Randstad. 901Bde (Cadian and Arcomet assets) remain in the city, with the air mobile assets using the former processional way as their base and the Divisional Artillery deployed into the squares and plazas of the eastern city. 902Bde are conducting Battalion scale sweeps , pushing out from the immediate vicinity of Randstad; mechanized units moving out to key locations as the PBI scour the area in slower time, ensuring the area is clear of rebel forces.
It’s a dry cold wind that blows from the interior of Continental Benq to clash with the wet cold south westerlies coming off the southern ocean. The 158 soldiers of Company C, Kado (Valhallan) 540th Infantry are picking their way cautiously eastwards, into the interior. A patchwork of farmland is beginning to give way to the rolling prairies of the interior. These prairies are the home of the nomadic grox herders who provide the second strand of the export value that is the reason for the Imperium’s war of reclamation.
The men are uniformly dressed in the Shinel (Greatcoat) as even with the bitter cold, these men think it too warm to warrant their winter uniform telogreika (padded jacket) and vatnie sharovari (padded trousers).
The company is spread out in platoon combat formations, ready for action. They have been advancing forwards for ten days now, methodically moving and consolidating alongside their fellow infantry companies for ten days now. Some days they have patrolled in daylight, checking signs for enemy activity. At others, they had hidden up during the day, hidden from enemy view, with Comrade Podpolkovnik (Colonel) Komenichi and his company and platoon leaders moving their men into ambush positions after dark and then awaiting for the “People’s Libertine Army” to show itself.
This afternoon, the Colonel is moving Company C from its layup position towards their ambush site; the men will march to within a mile of the ambush site in day light. Only after full darkness will they slip into the selected ambush positions.
The method works well for the 540th, in the past ten days, they have sprung three night ambushes, killed sixteen of the enemy and captured numerous autoguns and las rifles. Against this, they have lost two of their own men KIA with four more wounded and evacuated by Valkyrie. In two more days the 540th will have finshed their sweep pattern and will march back into the city to be replaced by dug in observation posts who can call on mechanized units, artillery and fast air to control the Randstad region. A few of the guardsmen maintain that being in the field is actually better, as the rear areas are full of commissars and missionaries and that the constant rotation through dull guard duties is just a grind. Days in garrison are a chore, to be ticked off one at a time on the calendar.
Nobody in Company C’s point squad is thinking of calendars right now, up front, the point man carries his Kantreal Mk VI rifle at the ready. His grip is relaxed, but his finger is on the trigger, the safety is off and the selector is switched down to automatic. Suddenly he stops and sniffs the light breeze. His non-smoker’s nose has picked up the pungent odor of the coarse local Lho-sticks smoked by the PLA fighters. He swings his rifle in the direction of the smoke and squeezes off two five round bursts, shouts “Urra!” and flops to the ground where he continues to fire at the perceived enemy.
Behind him, Sergant Yashin and the rest of the squad are also spraying the general area with automatic fire in an attempt to gain fire superiority over an enemy they haven’t yet seen. But they are in the grass somewhere and exactly where soon becomes evident. From the front right, 20 meters away in the tall grass, comes the high pitched chatter of the small caliber autoguns carried by the Devos IV PDF regiments as a counterpoint to the crack and fizz of the Kado las-rifles.
From dead ahead, a heavy stubber adds its deep rattle, hitting the last man in the point squad, who is slow to hit the dirt. He jerks and falls, screaming “I’m hit, I’m hit!” and holding his midriff. Sgt Yashin grips the squad and exerts fire discipline, laying down a curtain of fire to allow the following squad to grab the wounded man and begin dragging him toward the rear, passed to each successive man until he reaches the platoon medic. Kommissar Tora hasn’t found anyone wanting yet, but no one wants to be the first to relinquish ground to the enemy, as this would surely result in vyshka (from vysshaya mera nakazanija – extreme penalty).
The other three squads in Platoon three’s line are now in contact. Two minutes into the contact and the platoon has taken four casualties. Comrade Lejtenant Chetek’s vox operator is relaying the contact report to Comrade Major Gogebic. Fifty meters to the rear of Sgt Yashin’s squad, Major Gogebic estimates the situation, the volume of fire and the presence of the heavy stubber(s) mean at least a platoon, possibly a company. Most likely in bunkers with mortar support being dialed in now. He’ll develop the contact, lay on the artillery and see if the enemy ‘hold or fold’. This process takes only a second or two. His other platoon leaders are moving up, one right flanking with the last, that of Comrade Starshiy lejtenant (senior lieutenant) Chewmegowski as his company reserve, immediately behind his own position.
However enemy fire is picking up as well, the suspected mortars are beginning to bracket Lejtenant Chetek’s platoon. Major Gogebic wants them blasted out of their holes. Embedded into Major Gogebic’s command section is Lieutenant Weber of the Armageddon 835th (Steel Legion) Artillery Battery. Weber is a Forward Observation Officer (FOO). Eight Kloms behind 540th are four troops of six enclosed Basilisks, waiting for a call like this. Lt Weber has been walking with Company C for three months now, right now he’s plotting positions on his map slate and checking through the pre planned locations for fire missions that he planned last night in anticipation of today’s route of march. One of these locations, a spot height of 320meters above sea level, approximately 800meters ahead, is referred to by the glorious codename of BC202.
Using the authorized vox net, as prescribed in DM regulations, the fire mission is sent. Eight kloms behind, the men in the Fire Direction Centre spring into action. “Fire Mission.” Crackles out of vox speakers at each gun position. Men who had been warming themselves around braziers (who do not find this weather quite as warm as the Valhallans) breathe life into cold fingers and get to work. In the Fire Direction Center (a large tented area backing onto two Command Post Chimera), Technical Assistants Indirect are punching numbers into artillery cogitators and tracing shapes on acetate sheets overlaying the mapboards. They take the planned target, BC202 and apply the corrections supplied by Lt Weber and calculate the data that is needed to adjust fire onto the new target. Whilst they are doing that Signalers Artillery relay instructions from the Forward Observation Officer through the Command Post Officer and from the Command Post Officer out to the guns. He completes a cursory check of the data that the Technical Assistants Indirect had done (in duplicate, both for quality checking and redundancy purposes) the plot on the mapboard and sends the data to the guns.
Autogun rounds are mowing down the grass all around Company C’s position. Lejtenant Chetek commits his special weapon squad to the fire fight. The six men carry three flame throwers between them and can throw incandescing promethium out nearly 18meters with a following wind. If nothing else, setting the grass alight around the enemy position might reveal the bunkers. The men begin their long crawl forward under fire.
Today, No2 gun is being used as the ‘base gun’; the duty is rotated through each gun to even out the wear on each piece. The Fire Direction Centre gives out the bearing and elevation, corrected for the wind and No2 gun loads one round. The first round will be smoke to allow the FOO to then direct the subsequent rounds off of the fall of shot. No2, aiming off the red and white aiming rods ten meters in front of the gun, report ready and are given the order to fire.
Smoke belches and the basilisk rocks slightly as the shell is launched eight kloms towards Company C. A new smoke round is slammed into the breach, ready for the next adjustment. The report of shot is given by the Fire Direction Centre to the FOO who then waits the impact. Major Gogebic and Lt Weber are watching as round bursts, 100m in the air, right above the line of the bunker position, but about 200m to the right. As the adjustments are being made, the steady crump of the enemies mortars beings in earnest as they commence their own bombardment of Lejtenant Chetek’s platoon. “Left 200, repeat.” Sends Lt Weber.
The other gun crews of the battery are following the instructions that No2 gun is carrying out. Twenty three other earthshakers are tracking the movements of the No2 gun. Each troop of six guns, unless instructed otherwise, fires a roughly rectangular sheaf approximately 200meters long by 100meters deep. The beaten zone of a full Battery fire mission like this is over 400meters long and 200meters deep. Each gun has three HE rounds prepared for this mission, some are fused to detonate between 100meters and 50meters above the ground, spraying thousands of steel shards onto anything below and two thirds are fused with a slight delay, so that they bury themselves into the bunkers, spraying their deadly splinters upwards and outwards.
Less than seven minutes have passed since the point man fired his first burst. The lead platoon is being hammered by the mortar fire but men are still hugging the ground and experienced NCOs like Sergant Yashin keep their squads firing and do not allow the enemy to win fire superiority. Now under fire from the enemy heavy stubbers and mortars themselves, the Company C Command Squad unleash hell. Twenty four Basilisks fire as one. Lt Weber beings to count the twenty eight seconds it will take the first set of rounds to travel the eight Kloms.
Back at the artillery positions, the gunners move with smooth and practiced rhythm. 835th (and its sister 836th Battery, the Divisional Artillery reserve) Battery is well used to technical gunnery. They practice extensively whenever they are able. The second and third rounds are loaded and fired before the first one has landed.
In the fire fight, the men of Company C are holding their own; most of them are between 50meters and 100meters from the presumed position of the bunkers. Melta and flame thrower armed men grit their teeth and wait for the assault whilst trying to be as small as possible. Everyone else is yelling, firing and hugging the ground all at the same time.
The noise as the bombardment lands blots out all else. Firing ceases as the world shakes. Lt Weber orders “Repeat” as the noise falls away, dying back down to autogun, stubber and mortar noise (although noticeably less). Still just over nine minutes from the point man’s first shots, the second batch of artillery rounds land and once again the world disappears into gouts of earth and noise so loud that it cannot be heard by those close to it.
This time the return fire from the enemy positions is desultory and seems to be pattering out. Bringing Starshiy lejtenant Chewmegowski’s platoon with him, Major Gogebic sweeps forwards, ordering bayonets to be fixed and leads the assault on the ruined bunkerline. At last the flame throwers and melta guns that the 540th carry as squad special weapons can be used. Everywhere his riflemen pick themselves up, chanting, firing and screaming obscenities.
Already the Armageddon gunners are cleaning their guns and replenishing their ready ammunition supplies for the next fire mission. Two things made the difference between victory and disaster for Company C this afternoon; the point man’s keen nose and the swift and accurate response of their artillery support.