Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Hailstorm on Hill 425: Part Three

One by one or in pairs, they stumbled through the next wall of bushes and worn down rock walls expecting to see the same thing ahead, only to find the misty fog rolling out before them like the parting of a show curtain. And as those swirling curtains swept back, they saw concertina wire, earthen berms and sandbags piled up, some wooden structures starting to be raised up in the morning sun. They knew the enemy had some outposts here, but Martin was the only one who had any idea on what to expect. There were a few trenchlines coming together in the piled up dirt, zigzagging ever so slightly, and he could just see the dugout for a vehicle to the rear of it.
Luckily, that dugout was empty. In fact the trenchline itself was empty, or seemed that way. But they saw bobbing helmets and radio antennae shuffling to and fro on the edges of the position. It was oriented almost like a triangle with the broadest side facing them. Martin hoped the intel boys got it right and the position was undermanned.

It was an odd moment, the rifle platoon shuffling awkwardly into the growing light and clarity on the other side of the haze. But after a few seconds of reorganization the telltale sound of under-barrel grenade launchers sent two volleys of smoke grenades sailing towards the enemy's defenses. They hit the dirt with a series of thuds, the clatter of all the tubes sliding apart to make way for fresh grenades ringing out in the silence. And then pop pop pop and hiss as the smoke curled up, building into a cloud. And then the crack of rifles as the team leaders fired tracers at where they'd seen the enemy.
And the chatter of the machine guns roared out, a few more hollow tube sounds sending explosive grenades at the bunkers and trenches, and then finally a charge. The kind of charge of men who realize they may be shot or struck down indiscriminately by invisible bullets, the kind of charge that some men power through with a battlecry. The first eighteen or so men rushing forward, guns at their hip, firing now and then at the blaze of tracers being bored into the smoke. And as they tramped up the berm, their legs wobbling under the unpacked earth as they reached the top of the would-be ramparts. There was a brief hesitation, a scanning of the bit they could see in the haze before dropping in.

Martin dropped in, his knees buckling under the weight of his gear. He forced himself up, taking a knee and pointing his rifle down the line of the trench. He was the leader, he was leading from the front, but now the battle drill called for his other leaders to take the charge. And automatically, like they'd rehearsed, they dashed past him, shouting as they moved off to his left and right to clear the position from within. He could hear Grimes' team stop firing as they dashed up to meet the platoon. This was where things would get ugly, in the enemy's outpost, surrounded and potentially outnumbered.
But the fight was over rather quickly. And out marched eight men in blue and white tank tops with their hands up, the Americans behind them with rifles at their back. The plan here got a bit hazy, there wasn't a lot of time to take prisoners. Grimes shook his head, nope, can't take 'em. Martin couldn't afford to pull any guys from the other two squads. He couldn't afford to take anyone from the platoon just yet. But something had to be done. The Russians had to go somewhere.
Wilkins strode up, his rifle squad now at the far end of the position waiting for the next phase to begin. “Need me to take these guys back to the base?”
“Yeah, but we can't pull four or five guys to escort these boys, I don't want to send anyone alone.”
“Y'let me handle it, I'll send Green with them.”
“Yes, Big Green will take these fellas back. The CDF are just north of here, they'll process them. Then he'll hoof it back to us. I'll give him a radio to stay in contact with us. He'll be a flank scout, and we can let the friendlies know he's coming.”
“It's risky”
“Listen, these guys are disarmed, we'll flex cuff 'em, Big Green can handle it.”
Martin hesitated, but nodded. Wilkins tramped off, and Green came towering by, a big goofy but predatory grin on his face as he looked down at the captured desantniks. The soldier motioned off to the northwest, and then they all went marching.
They'd taken less time than he'd expected, and now there wasn't much to do but wait. Martin took his ruck from the ground and moved up. Before him lay a large sprawling field, a paved secondary road, and then Hill 425. To the south he could see trucks zipping around in the town, and then he heard the dull roar of jets.

A few A-10s, black crosses in the sky, lazily cruising for a moment until the sound of paper ripping, tearing, then it came from all around, the sound of the very heavens cracking as the front mounted cannons spat explosive shells into the ground. Then the mavericks came loose, accelerating away from the jet and smacking into a pair of trundling BMPs north of the hill as they came around the contour. One of the crews had time to bail out, their boots hitting the slimy mud as they scampered away, but the other vehicle halted, then was rocked as the munitions inside cooked off, the turret popping off the top like a cork into the air amidst a plume of orange and red flames, black smoke billowing up.
Then the crash pop of artillery shells, smacking into the hill, then creeping down towards the road, a stray shell raining shrapnel into the outer row of houses in the town. The windows blew out, glittering glass shining in the air as a corner of the roof caught fire, the curling tiny flames crawling along the black roofing strips.
The geysers of dirt and smoke split off from the base of the hill, extra rounds crawling methodically towards the roads, and before long the textbook box barrage was taking shape. Martin grinned, he'd never seen one so small before. And the mix of smoke and explosives stirred things up in them again, this was the moment. They'd only have a few minutes of cover, in fact the SPGs were probably already whirling away from their firing position to dodge potential counter-artillery.

He sent out the call to form up, it was going to be another charge, Martin's squad on point, Grimes on the left, and Wilkins on the right. They'd hit the fortifications and clear them up methodically until the third row back, when Grimes would head off to take out the BM-21s. 

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