Saturday, May 23, 2015

Hailstorm on Hill 425: Part One

The room was dim, the canvas did little to deafen the roar outside as trucks and aircraft, men and women, generators and radios filled the air in the bustling base. The engineers had their hands full outside trying to bolster defensive works and pull out nonessential materiel. Inside, though, the four or five men sitting in the tent complemented the feeling of chaos outside with their unshaven faces and grimy skin.
It had been a week, with the Russians striking out over the border and seizing their objectives after long grinding fights for every objective. The Chernarussians at the Vybor Airbase were throwing another company of mechanized infantry in today, their BVP-2s squeaking and clanking up the highway past Camp Cyrano. The Russians held most of the north in the region now, but the Americans and CDF were surprised to find them unable to bring much to bear. Perhaps continued Russian commitments elsewhere and the usual poor conscription rates had finally paid off.
The force Sergeant Martin had fought for the last three days looked Russian, now and then it even fought like it was Russian. But there weren't as many Russians in this Russian battlegroup as they'd expected. Intel suggested it was maybe a regiment with attached support, which actually gave the Americans and their CDF comrades a numerical superiority. Mind you, that doesn't help much when you're trying to defend everything all at once everywhere at all times.

And what the Russians had done immediately was to win air superiority for a while. The chopper pilots had pretty much been grounded after the first twelve hours of the whole thing, most of them just chugging coffee and stimulant pills to stay awake until somebody unclipped their wings. The only NATO aircraft in the sky now were SEAD planes fruitlessly searching for enemy anti-air. But it seemed like the windows for them to fly were ever-shorter and the enemy wasn't really using the big guns for this conflict—just shoulder-fired launchers in droves, really.
That's what made this whole thing now so unique, the five of them in that tent. They were planning an air assault with the now dozing men from their platoon hoping to buy some breathing room. The pilots, well a few of them, had pushed for something to do until battalion decided to find some way to get away with it. It was complex, the timing would have to be perfect.
“There's essentially a corridor here in the trees south of the airbase, right?” Martin grinned and ran his finger along a line on the map. They stared at it, nodded, then looked back up.
“So we'll have a pretty safe entry route, the pilots will keep it low and fast and use the trees to shield the birds from any MANPADs or the like. At the same time the attack aircraft will be peppering Russian positions to the north and south of the corridor with bombs and the 4th Mechanized will be deploying north of the airbase to strengthen their positions. It should look like coverage for a company attack to ease the airbase salient, but we're going to use it to slip in through the Old Fields here.” His finger poked a few times insistently over an area hand-marked in red scrawl.
“Now we do our thing, hit the LZ, dismount, hasty security. Then we move through the fields and we pick apart one of the VDV companies east of the airbase here. Intel's putting their attached artillery here, at Hill 425, stalled out of gas but sitting on a pile of rockets. Not only do we hit them in the throat, but we knock out those BM-21s and don't have to worry so much about concentrating our forces for whatever they do.”
The other four hadn't said anything yet. But Sergeant Grimes wiped his face with a rag before standing. “So what you're saying is we're sending an understrength rifle platoon in to penetrate an enemy airborne mechanized company position to kill a few BM-21s that may or may not be there.”
“Should be there.”
“And if it isn't?”
“We throw them off balance.”
“And if they just react and slap us down?”
“You signed up for this.”
“Sure didn't. Just signed a contract.”
“You want out?”
“I know that's rhetorical.”
“Well, look at it this way. They're stretched thin, even if they're concentrated on getting Vybor. If we can get right in there and separate the enemy from its platoons, well, we can pull a Napoleon.”
Comparing your tactics or strategies to old commanders is never a good idea.
“That is, say we push through here, the outskirts of the old field.” He pointed again, “That's where their most understrength positions are. There's a huge gap but they've got a platoon south in the town, another further north. By the time that first group knows what's hit them we've broken through and either wiped them out or bypassed them. Arty's going to cover us as we move through that gap and get between the two reacting platoons.”
“Between. Between two elements our size.”
“Yes, and the artillery's going to fire that salvo and then scoot before the Russians can respond and counterfire.”
“Sir, this is a suicide mission.”
“So say we get to Hill 425 as planned, we've got two enemy units advancing on us from two directions. We rush south on line and pour the fire on. We've got the high ground, we know whats going on. We at the very least buy ourselves time. At least Wilkins can send a team up to get the BM-21s, then use them as a scout team. If they hear anything, we can get a lead on the next group.”
“Then we break contact from the first group in the south and rush north, pepper them in fire and I think we can divvy up the--”
“Martin. Stop. We need some support for this. Mortars, CAS, something.”
“We have the 4th Mechanized to the north, they'll hit anything they see.”
“We need something of our own.”
“We don't have it.”
“Then this is suicide.”
“You've got two light machine guns in your squad, right?”
“Take the medium machine gun and have your guys take extra rockets. We'll load ourselves up with everything the bird can lift. Let's be honest here, we're not going to see a lot of armor, the BM-21s are just old Ural trucks like the farmers around here use. It's a raid, Grimes, we go in quick, hit hard, then get the hell out.
“Obregon's already tried to get everything he can detailed to us, but the other guys on the line are working the cannon cockers until the tubes go red. Nobody's sitting still. We get to rest for another six hours before we get together and do some rehearsals.” Grimes' face scowled for a moment before he stared down at the map again.
“Martin, I know you're tired, but if our platoon can pull this off, we're talking about a big gain here. We can do this. We just withdrew from the border without having to call graves registration. These guys are a fresh rotation of conscripts with inexperienced officers. Even if these guys are those fancy blue berets, we'll be packing enough hate to keep them away.” Wilkins had been silent this entire time, but there was a reassuring optimism in his voice.
Martin was silent now, Grimes looked up again “I'll let my guys get some more rest, then we'll meet back like you said, Martin.”

After the full briefing, Q&A, and a brief rehearsal on the table, the teams broke down to run drills. Wilkins talked his guys over using their explosives again, stressing the “run like hell” ending. Martin took a few minutes to go and find the CDF attache and go over an unofficial contingency if things went south: a simple swap of radio codes to the 4th Mechanized at the airbase.

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