Near Lvov, Poland
Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
Saturday June 1st, 1940
unrise. At five AM, while the sun glowed a dull crimson below the eastern horizon, a solid line of muzzle flashes made a competing dawn in the west. The massed artillery of the Wehrmacht, thousands and thousands of tubes of all calibres, opened up a devastating barrage on a two thousand kilometre front from the Baltic to the Romanian border. It was all the more destructive because it was concentrated on the relatively few Red Army forces in place along the Narew-San demarcation line, most of which had been spotted and plotted by aerial reconnaissance in the last few days. A tidal wave of sharp steel and scorching fire walked back and forth over troop concentrations, supply depots and command positions, smashing, fragmenting, burning everything in it’s path.
In the target areas, nothing could be heard but the shrill, ululating screams of incoming rounds and the endless succession of brutal detonations merging into an incessant, furious roar as from a monstrous beast. The panicked shrieks of dying men and panicked horses drowned inaudible in this localized apocalypse.
Where no shells fell, frightened Polish civilians could also pick up a dull, ominous droning from the dark skies; Reich Marshall Goering had sent his invincible aerial armada against airfields deep inside Russia. The fleet of medium bombers and heavy escort fighters would reach their more distant targets after the rising sun had illuminated them. Behind them, as the frontline airfields were vacated, swarms of Stukas and Bf-109 fighters climbed to assist the ground troops as they crossed the border in the wake of the preparatory barrage.
of the SS-Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler
motorised brigade was in the fire from the start as part of General von Klüge’s 4th Army, which was tasked with capturing the fortified city of Lvov. While Panzergruppe
Guderian rushed around the city, the SS-Leibstandarte
would advance inside it’s giant steel pincers to a blocking position astride the Lvov-Tarnopol railroad east of the city, where it could prevent any Soviet troops from escaping.
Otto Skorzeny stood up in his Sdkfz-251 halftrack, roaring at maximum speed along a forest track unworthy to be known as a road. The wind swept his face, and occasionally he had to dodge lashing minor branches, just as if he was riding a horse in a wild gallop through the dark, dense forest. It was exhilarating rather than frightening. He had never imagined war could be this way, but then again, only a fully mechanised unit like the SS-Leibstandarte
(the ONLY fully mechanised unit in the Wehrmacht, even the Panzer Divisions had to transport their infantry in ordinary wheeled trucks) could have made such a lightning advance along such a pitiful rut, which with the ground more or less dry, was relatively easy going for the half-tracks and assault guns.
‘This is great!’ SS-Hauptsturmführer
Meyer shouted, looking as if he was having the time of his life. ‘The Führer was right; all we had to do was to kick in the door, and now the whole rotten structure will come crashing down!’
‘Enjoy, Meyer! Enjoy!’ Otto shouted back despite his misgivings, not wanting to spoil his subordinate’s fun. He felt certain that things would become progressively harder as they moved deeper into the yawning void that was Russia, where the bulk of the Red Army was surely lurking. But in truth, resistance so far had been negligible; a few machineguns had opened up on their StuG III assault guns as they led the charge. Their 75mm direct-fire guns blew them away in short order, the infantry didn’t even have to dismount to clear out any survivors. A few were machine-gunned from the half-tracks as they tried to run, that was all.
Skorzeny had chosen to ride with Meyer’s PAK-platoon immediately behind the assault guns at the head of the column. Ahead of them, an advance guard of armoured cars and motor-cycle riders scouted out the road. But of course, at the speed the column was advancing, that was not so easy, and there certainly was no time to properly sweep the terrain on either side of the road. Thus, it should not have come as a surprise when a 45mm Russian anti-tank gun, well concealed in the woods, fired on one of the StuG’s at less than fifty metre’s range.
The Red Army troops were not well trained; despite the extreme short range, they failed to lead their target enough and the shot screamed by behind the speeding armoured vehicle, swishing by just in front of Skorzeny’s halftrack.
‘Stop and dismount!’ he roared, while giving the same command with hand signs. Without hesitation, the heavy armoured vehicle veered off the road, with the other in the column following his example. Before they had come to a stop, Waffen-SS troops in camouflaged jackets and helmets were jumping out, brandishing Mauser rifles and hand grenades. The StuG’s, without prompting, turned off the road and rolled straight at the offending enemy AT-gun, firing their cannons and machine-guns as they went. Trees toppled, run over by the armoured behemoths, and green spring leaves sprayed in all directions. Now Russian MGs began to hack, sending streams of yellow tracers buzzing like angry insects and ricocheting between the parked vehicles. The Waffen-SS men immediately dove for cover. One of the StuG’s caught an anti-tank round full in the side and stopped dead, smoke pouring from the engine room as the crew bailed out. The shot had come from ahead, down the road, which meant they had Russians on two sides. It began to seem like III Abteilung
had blundered into a full scale ambush.
‘They have us in an L!’ Skorzeny shouted. The classic ambush formation was shaped like an L, with the short arm of the letter extending across the route of advance of the enemy and the long arm parallel to it. That meant he and his men were now pinned down on a killing ground. There was only one way out now.
‘Fix bayonets!’ Skorzeny shouted, lifting his head from the ground and making the corresponding hand sign. He watched around, trying to get a feel for the situation. The StuG’s were backing up quickly, two of their numbers knocked out. Exchanging fire with concealed anti-tank guns at point blank range was a bad idea for any kind of armour, and doubly so for the turretless assault guns. The gunners on the half-tracks had not jumped ship, and were now pouring fire from their MG-34s back at the attackers, hopefully suppressing them. Skorzeny knew, however, that in a few moments, when the StuGs had backed into concealment in the forest, the enemy PAKs would shift their aim and slaughter the lightly armoured personnel carriers. It was now or never, the Austrian decided.
‘Up and at them boys!’ he yelled, drawing his sword and moving his Mauser pistol to the left hand.
The men of the SS-Leibstandarte answered with a hearty cheer, and rose with him, firing their rifles as they went.
‘Straight at them, kameraden
The rush was short. Hand-grenades flew between Germans and Russians: sharp, high detonations, some desperate screams of pain and fear and the wave of camouflaged soldiers overran the Russians, screaming like demons. Their foes stood their ground though, and appeared fully prepared to go toe to toe with Hitler’s finest. Their long triangular Mosin-Nagant rifles had their integrated bayonets extended, and within instants, the forest was scene to a savage melee, where Waffen-SS and Red Army soldiers shot, stabbed, rifle-butted and kicked each other to death. No quarter was given, or asked for.
Skorzeny shot three men with his machine pistol as they charged him with bayonets. He then discarded the empty weapon and gripped his sword two-handed, just in time to stand face to face with a Russian Cavalry Lieutenant brandishing a sabre. Both men froze, perhaps realising the improbability of their meeting, and then, in the midst of the brutal free-for-all, the Russian took a second to salute Skorzeny by rising the hilt of his weapon to his face. Surprised by the gesture, Otto hesitated between returning the salute and attacking, and as a result was almost skewered when the Lieutenant lunged swiftly as a striking adder. Otto swore and parried, backed up, parried again and riposted, which won him enough breathing space to finally regain his balance. He adopted one of Master Lichtenauer’s favourite wards, the Aber
, or “Fool’s guard”, with the point of the sword extended in front of him and pointing into the ground. The Russian smiled and shrugged, almost as if apologising for taking advantage of such idiocy and struck a deadly blow, aimed at decapitating the Hitlerite who had so foolishly lowered his defences.
Otto didn’t parry, instead trusting his Sinaju-conditioned reflexes to allow him to duck under the cut. He then stepped forward, rising the Rune Sword in a long thrust. The Russian Lieutenant had not even began to recover from his swing when the Austrian’s hilt smacked into his chest. The blade, dripping ghastly red, was already protruding from his back. Before darkness closed over him, the last thing he saw was the battle-madness raging in the Hitlerite officer’s ice-blue eyes and his maniacal lopsided grin.
The skirmish, their first real test of arms in Russia was over. There were no Russians taken prisoner, although a few were finished off as they lay writhing in agony on the blood-soaked ground. After a quick look-around, Skorzeny decided their casualties had been relatively light; even so, two precious StuG’s had been knocked out, at least temporarily, and two half-tracks would have to be dedicated to transporting the dead and wounded. If the Russians all fought with this kind of determination, Otto thought, the odds of him or many of his men surviving a long war were slim. He hoped it wouldn’t come to that, both for his own sake and for that of the Reich.
The Rub Al Khali
Kingdom of the Saudi
Saturday June 1st, 1940
unrise. Due perhaps to some latent masochistic streak, Ghünter Duhrn had always been an early riser, and in the ice-cold desert nights of Arabia he had ended up developing this trait to ridiculous extremes. Most days, he’d be up and about at four in the morning, relishing the cold crisp air while doing his callisthenics. After sunrise, such profligacy of effort would have been prohibitive, and after sunset, he would be too exhausted to even consider PT – but in the still, ice-cold hours before dawn, Sturmbannführer
Günther Duhrn could work out and let his mind wander aimlessly as he built up a sweat. He was fond of contemplating his glorious future as the undisputed leader of the Reich’s occult ventures; a national-socialist arch-mage, feared as no man had been since the days of the Great Inquisitors.
As Duhrn watched the sun peek over the black horizon through a haze of orange, scarlet and purple, he smiled at the thought of great ballrooms in Austrian 18th century palaces, brimming over with rich and powerful men and beautiful women, going suddenly still and silent as he was introduced. He imagined vividly how his steps would echo against the marble floors in the silence as he walked arrogantly through the hushed crowd, acknowledging their nervous and ingratiating smiles with small nods of his head.
Power was an interesting thing, Dührn thought, because just like money, you needed much to gain more of it. He would use his still limited occult lore to advance within the SS, and once he had grown as much as the Reichsführer-SS
would allow him to, he could in turn use his position to wax also his occult power. With top ranks within the SS came undisputed power over other human beings – and if the plans for the occupation of Russia he had seen were even partially realised, then the subjects of his future private Empire would surely number in the hundreds of thousands, or even millions before he reached the apex of his career in the SS. They would form an inexhaustible currency reserve in his dealings with the things hiding beyond the geometry of ordinary reality; their deaths, their blood, their torn and quivering flesh, their screams of pain, yes, and their souls too would buy him whatever services he required.
Oh, the power he would have! With exclusive control over the use of magic in the Reich, no one would be beyond his reach, no one safe from the things which would visit his opponents in the small hours of the morning, awful things, things that chattered, crawled and howled as they went about their horrid tasks. He would be powerful enough to make or break any man or any position, and once the life of Adolf Hitler, the only man Duhrn had ever revered had run it’s course, he would make or break Führer’s too! Through the centuries, but always in the shadows behind the throne, Günther Duhrn would rule the Thousand Year Reich!
approaching at a run broke Duhrn’s reverie.
‘Yes, what is it? Has the morning flight reported in?’ the head of Sonderkommando Hexen
We have lost contact with the aircraft!’
Instead of showing alarm, Durhn grinned savagely. ‘They’ve found it!’
, don’t you see? The powers that inhabit that place won’t so easily allow themselves to be discovered. I trust it’s well within their power to drop a single aircraft from the sky. Now all we have to do is sift through the plane’s intended search area on foot… well, on camel, I guess… and before long, we will behold The Nameless City!’
West of Phoenix
Arizona, United States of America
Saturday June 1st, 1940
unrise. For Hannah and Buck, covering in a small foxhole in the Arizona desert, the ball of blood rising behind them was not a welcome sight. The sun meant daylight. Daylight meant the return of Pan-Asian spotting aircraft, ground-attack aircraft and bombers. The Eagle Legion would not contest the airspace today; yesterday evening, it had been forced to relocate further east in a hurry as Terauchi’s spearheads banged on the gates of Sky Harbor Airport where it had been based. Only a desperate counterattack which had cost Rommel half of his Panzer’s had pushed back the enemy long enough for evacuation to be possible at all.
As for Hannah and Buck, they were not relocating anywhere at the moment; their Bf-110E was a wreck littering the centre of the platoon perimeter. They had been shot down by a Fu fighter the previous evening as they were trying to lend some ground support to the hard-pressed soldiers of the US 78th Infantry Division who held the front ahead of the city. Their emergency landing brought them right on top of the position of an American platoon under heavy infantry attack, and Buck had been quick to salvage the MG17 from his rear gunner position to give some much needed fire support. Hannah had quickly recovered an M-1 from a fallen soldier and chipped in too. At the very least, her very presence had done wonders for the morale of these frightened Arizona boys, who had a hard time deciding if they wanted to watch the enemy lines or this German Air Force Colonel, stunning even in a flight suit and a GI steel helmet too big for her.
‘I wouldn’t bee surprised if they attacked right about now!’ Buck mumbled as he finished cleaning the barrel of his MG17. Inside their tiny foxhole, it was easier said than done.
‘Why is that?’ Hannah wondered, managing to look haggard and adorable at the same time. There was something very sexy about a beautiful woman looking sleepy and somewhat dirty, Buck thought. Come to think of it, a beautiful woman looked sexy in most any situation. He shook his head to clear his thoughts, annoyed with himself.
‘Eh, well… I mean, we have the rising sun in our backs so they’ll have it in their eyes. And they know we know that, so they’ll think we won’t expect an attack right now. So…’
Hannah chuckled wearily and checked that her semi-automatic rifle was loaded and ready to fire, for what time in a row Buck didn’t know. ‘Thinking that way can drive you mad, you know. If we know that, won’t they know that we know… and so on?’
‘No, I usually stop thinking when I’ve arrived to the conclusion that I have to be extra careful, Hun’, Buck said, resting the MG on a flat stone that he had pressed into service in lieu of a tripod.
‘Hah, that would work I guess. Shhh.’ Hannah raised a small gloved hand, putting it to her full red lips – she had heard something.
‘I hate it when I’m right!’ Buck hissed between clenched teeth, when after a few moments, they had identified some unmistakeable sounds from moving soldiers; weapons and harnesses jingling, the dry hard ground crunching under the pressure of crawling bodies, muted whispers… the enemy was close, very close.
‘No you don’t!’ Hannah whispered back, briefly smiling before sinking into that ice-valkyrie mood that always came over her before battle.
‘Do we warn the others?’ Buck wondered, pressing the stock of the MG against his shoulder as he put his finger on the trigger.
‘Too late, we’d just give away our position’ Hannah decided. ‘When we open fire, that will be their warning.’
When the Pan-Asian officer leading the infiltrators decided that his men were close enough to the entrenched Americans, he gave a blood-curling war-cry and jumped to his feet and his men, a full company of them imitated him. He was instantly cut down, together with a dozen others as Buck fired and swept his MG back and forth like a hose. At such short range, the machine gun fire all but cut the Pan-Asian troops in half. Hannah rose to her knees and began picking off enemy soldiers with her M-1 rifle.
Within instants, they had wiped out the better part of two Pan-Asian infantry squads. With the Pan-Asians diving for cover and the US troops in the line engaging the enemy, Hannah and Buck ducked down into their hole again to reload.
‘Got the suckers!’ Buck shouted! ‘We got them pinned down!’
‘Calm down, Captain!’ Hannah ordered. ‘Listen!’
They could hear another Pan-Asian officer shouting orders in Chinese. The returning affirmative was a chorus of voices far too numerous for comfort.
’What’s the matter?’
’That guy said something about “Lung”!’ Hannah whispered back. ‘That means “Dragon” in Chinese, James told me that.
‘Are you afraid that officer just ordered his men to pop a dose of “The Soul of the Dragon”, Hun?’ Buck wondered, frowning.
‘That is correct, Captain, and don’t address me as “Hun!”’
‘No ma’am.’ Buck wasn’t fazed by her sudden change of character. He fought enough along Hannah Reitsch to know that this hard-ass officer persona was second nature to her, which she donned like a suit of armour before combat. Very likely, she wouldn’t even be fully conscious of the fact that she had just bitten his head off.
There were a few more instants of relative quiet, when a intermittent smattering of gunfire from Garand rifles was all that could be heard. Then, suddenly, from the enemy lines rose a cacophony of savage, almost animal screaming and a howling mob, seemingly made up of homicidal maniacs in uniform charged the American lines. They were shot down in droves, but the rest kept coming. Even the severely wounded crawled on, mutilated, bleeding, howling with hate, some dragging their shredded guts behind them. If a hit didn’t kill, it didn’t stop its target.
‘Christ almighty!’ Buck breathed, going white as a sheet at the sight. Then he forgot about anything but trying to annihilate a group of enemy soldiers charging straight at him with bayonets. They were actually foaming at the mouth. He dosed them with the MG and killed most of them; but two diehards kept coming, one of them hardly noticing a fatal gut shot. Bucks MG clicked – the ammunition belt magazine was exhausted. He discarded it and reached for a fresh one. The howling grew in intensity as the enemy soldiers charged closer. Buck went for his Colt.
Just as the drug-crazed Pan-Asians were about to skewer Buck and her, Hannah coldly shot each one of them in turn through the head. As the last one crumbled, her Garand rifle ejected the empty clip with an audible metallic ping.
Another group of maddened Pan-Asians charged them.
Buck raised his Colt and felled three men with his seven rounds. All shots were hits but only instantly fatal wounds counted in this nightmare battle. Buck saw as in a dream a screaming enemy soldier come at him with his bayonet extended. He wouldn’t manage to reload in time, he realised, but tried anyway, knowing it was useless.
Hannah was only half-way through reloading her weapon, so instead she threw herself at the charging foes legs, tripping him. He stumbled over her, crashing into Buck head first. Both fell grappling into the fox-hole while Hannah got to her feet and finished reloading the Garand. With brutal, inhuman strength, the Pan-Asian, ignoring Buck’s punches to his face, closed his hands around his throat and began to squeeze. To the American pilot, it felt like being strangled with steel cable. Despite fighting with all his strength to break the grip, he felt weak as a newborn kitten compared to the Asian berserker.
Hannah calmly stepped close to the two struggling men, carefully took aim and shot the Pan-Asian right through an eye.
After pushing away the corpse, Buck self-consciously closed his open-hanging mouth, staring in adoration at the aviatrix. The assault was petering out, and no enemies where in their immediate vicinity.
‘I love you!’ he blurted out.
Hannah arched an eyebrow at him under the rim of the helmet and smiled. ‘Nah, you just love to have sex with me. In fact, you hate my Nazi guts! But as lies go, it’s a very nice one, liebling
‘No, no!’ Buck insisted. ‘Nazi or not, it’s a very nice and firm gut you have there, with all sorts of interesting stuff in the neighbourhood. I do love to… well, what you said, but I love your gut too!’
‘That’s my belly, you moron! Just because I’m a foreigner, you think I don’t know the difference between belly and guts? Pah, men!’ she said, shaking her head, but she was smiling all the time.
Sergeant Patterson, the acting commander of the platoon came running. He sported a thin Clark Gable moustache and was a professional NCO old enough to be called “pops” by the privates. He would be twenty-nine in June.
‘Thanks for your help, Ma’am, Sir!’ he shouted. ‘Company just got a radio message from 78th HQ; the squints are in Phoenix, and we’re bugging out of here before the last roads north of the city are cut off. You’re welcome to tag along with us if you want. We’ll make sure you find your new airfield.
Buck swore. ‘Goddamn those yellow bastards! When are we going to stop them?’
Patterson shrugged. ‘Not today. They took Seattle during the night, we got told. They own the whole west Coast now, from Canada to Mexico.’
‘We are going to stop them!’ Buck raged. ‘Aren’t we?’ he added, looking forlorn.
‘I hope so, liebling
’ Hanna said, taking his hand. ‘I really, really hope so.’