Excellent progress so far. It sucks to be the Brits.
Excellent progress so far. It sucks to be the Brits.
Last edited by Nathan Madien; 30-10-2010 at 16:19.
"In America, anybody can be President. That's one of the risks you take."
The Presidents: The Vietnam War Edition
President of the United States in 1962: Henry M. Jackson (Democrat-Washington)
Indeed, the Med will soon be an Italian Lake.
Awarded Fan of the Week 10. April 2010
Awarded the Medal of Services or Knowledge towards the betterment of Canada
Holy! What a magnificent plan by the Italians! The brits are surely doomed! Soon the rich Nile basin shall be Rome's once more!
"It is not sufficient that I succeed, all others must fail!" - Genghis Khan
RED Rampage of Chairman Mao
Rise of the Ottoman Empire! Return to Rule of the Caliphs!
Defence of the Ancient: Rebirth of Greater Tibet! From the land in the heavens, the guns descended...
The WRAITH of KHAN! All AARe mine! The return of the Mongol hordes!
-Tom Guntrip's Uber-Good, Possibly Funny, AwAARd Trophy*
-WritAAR of the Week - 12 Oct 2009
-Lighthearter's Award of Cookie of Extreme Awesome ● *
1939 pt 13
Dawn on 26 April along the Ruweisat ridge, south of El Alamein
On the southeastern fringe of the simmering El Alamein pocket, 31-year old Italian First-Corporal Giovanni de Natale slowly swiveled his Breda M37 heavy machine gun north-to-south through 180 degrees, scanning the faintly-lit British lines in front of him for any sign of movement. Tucked up to his waist inside a narrow foxhole on the extreme southern edge of the Italian line, de Natale felt the rising sun warming the fabric on the back of his uniform while simultaneously illuminating the British territory several thousand yards away to his west; with luck, he would see his targets long before they saw him, though this gave him little comfort given the magnitude of the impending battle. As he had done every day since crossing the Suez Canal, General Graziani had planned yet another two-division frontal assault into the British Defenses south of the Alam El Halfa ridge, approximately 25 km southeast of El Alamein; in an attempt to keep up the pressure on the disorganized and retreating British 8th Army, de Natale’s 65th Division would lead the southern thrust into the British defenses, skirting the northern edge of the Qattara Depression and, ideally, linking up with the 23rd CCNN Corps’s 4th Division driving east from Gerawla, thereby sealing off the British trapped in Alexandria and El Alamein.
Converging from east and west, Italian 23rd and 41st Corps complete the encirclement of British forces in North Africa
A droplet of sweat fell on top of the breach of his 44 pound machinegun; already the heat within his helmet was rising to uncomfortable levels, and it was only 9:00 in the morning. De Natale deliberately swiped the pad of his left index finger across his eyebrows, never removing his eyes from the horizon; keeping distant points in perspective was one of many things that Sgt. Silvio Romero, his platoon sergeant, had taught him days earlier during the breakout from Gaza. He had explained that unlike fighting in Europe, the vast distances of North Africa combined with the lack of landmarks and geographic features served to distort perceptions of range. Like shining a flashlight into the eyes of someone in pitch darkness, even a momentary look away from a distant horizon destroyed the mind’s ability to compute proper distance, and at the ranges de Natale was required to shoot, even a small error of a fraction of a degree magnified itself many times over as bullets traveled towards their targets.
A shame he is longer with us, de Natale thought ruefully of his sergeant, his experience will be missed at the front. Already too many of our brave officers have fallen to British bullets... As he thought this, his train of thought was interrupted by the sound of his loader, Private Emilio Liberati, snoring soundly to his right in the shade of their slit trench. A swift kick to the kidneys soon woke him, and the sound of choked snorting echoed down the trench for several moments before the Private collected himself and stood up, embarrassed but unrepentant.
The young Liberati hailed from a small village in the Calabria, at the southern toe of the Italian boot, almost as far as you could get from de Natale’s home in Turin and still call oneself an Italian. Liberati had seen his first combat only two days before, replacing one of de Natale’s fellow Savoyan loaders that had served alongside him for eight months before being mortally gored by a British bayonet during a savage infantry counterattack. De Natale had little patience for Liberati, possibly because of his youth, or perhaps because he hailed from a region notorious for organized crime and social malaise, but de Natale had a feeling that he would be dismissive of anyone attempting to fill the shoes of the recently departed—he had observed that soldiers seemed to only remember the good aspects of deceased fellow soldiers during his short tour of duty, perhaps out of respect, and perhaps out of an attempt to prove their humanity, and in his mind de Natale thought that it would be difficult for anyone to meet standards like those set by Liberati’s predecessor while the memory of the dead was still fresh in his mind.
Looking down the length of the machinegun barrel, de Natale noted that his fingers appeared to be shaking ever so slightly; given the casualties over the past two days, he had good reason to be afraid. Savage British counterattack two days ago that had claimed the life of his loader and had come a hair’s breath away from wiping out his entire unit, the Savoy Grenadiers Machine Gun Battalion attached to the 10th Grenadiers Regiment of the 65th Infantry Division. His supporting infantry platoon had been reduced to just seven riflemen, and even two of those that remained were wounded to some degree. Only one other heavy machine gun squad from the Battalion’s First Company had survived the first three days of combat, the balance overrun by swift British mechanized counterattacks in the desert wastes west of Cairo.
Making matters worse, de Natale had found that airborne sand frequently clogged the firing chamber of his machinegun, resulting in gun jams that lowered the squad’s offensive firepower, oftentimes at crucial moments. De Natale’s Breda M37 was a powerful weapon, its massive 8mm rounds even able to penetrate thin armor at over 2,000 yards, but its susceptibility to the dusty climate of North Africa and its small, 20-round magazines limited its capacity for continuous fire, the defining principle upon which all machine guns are founded. As a consequence, de Natale had learned fire discipline very early in the Egyptian campaign, firing only in short controlled bursts at exposed targets from long range, which was in marked contrast to seeding an area with thousands of rounds, as was the practice in many Allied armies.
Breda M37 Heavy Machine Gun
De Natale’s thoughts once again shifted back to sergeant Romero, killed by an errant rifle round fired by fleeing Egyptian sentries on the second day of the invasion. Sergeant Romero had rallied his platoon from the assault boats and had led them up a wide, flat causeway that led from the Suez locks to the high ground above. The Egyptian garrison had been retreating in disarray, the small force stampeding westwards with many troops firing wildly due to the utter surprise wrought by the Italian attack. A veteran of the Spanish Civil War, Sergeant Romero was the only member of his squad with real-life combat experience; he was a wealth of valuable practical knowledge not easily replaced. He had died leading his men from the front, charging at the scattered Egyptians in order to prevent them from setting up a new defensive position, a tactic he had perfected during the victorious Nationalist offensive at the Battle of Malaga two years prior, and a frequently used example during unit training in the months beforehand. Following closely behind Romero, de Natale remembered kneeling by his side as blood from his abdomen stained the white concrete ramp; rather than wax philosophical or lamenting his fate, Romero’s last words were ‘Get your gun into position Corporal! Cover your men! Move!’
Since that fateful day, de Natale had learned many other lessons the hard way. Some lessons involved patience, especially when under attack, while many others had involved his perception of different atmospheric effects, like how temperature and moisture affected the trajectory of bullets in the air. He had also learned to control his emotions—fear could be a powerful motivating influence—but he was quickly discovering that there was no place for any emotions on the battlefield, be they anger, elation, or sadness. Whether he liked it or not, he felt himself turning more mechanical, more unfeeling, with each passing day. That grim realization may have been the ultimate lesson that Sergeant Romero had been trying to teach him since their first day together in the Tripolitanian desert over a year ago.
De Natale's thoughts shifted forward to yesterday’s combat. Despite the adrenalin rush that accompanied the primal fear of combat, de Natale had learned that the reality of war was often hours upon hours of idleness punctuated by small periods of intense combat; the end result of an initial adrenalin rush, he had discovered, was the unfortunate side effect of debilitating fatigue once the rush had passed. De Natale fingered the leather grips of his Breda M37 heavy machine gun, pivoting the gun horizontally, vertically, and finally combining both axes to trace intricate outlines with the barrel against the Saharan sky, almost as if he expected the gun to instantly rust to the tripod swivel bearing if he ever let it stop. Constant activity, such as concentrating on minute landmarks, estimating distances to distant geographical features, and methodically pivoting his machinegun all helped de Natale to thoroughly occupy his mind, which in turn made him less susceptible to the impulses and perils of his emotions, making him more robotic and, by extension, a better soldier.
Italian artillery begin to shell the British positions in Alam El Halfa
The quiet stillness of the air was disturbed by the thundering report of explosions behind him. The young Private Liberati thrust his head up above the lip of the trench and looked to the rear, where distant Italian artillery batteries were launching their first salvos against the suspected British front line. Never taking his gaze from the western horizon, de Natale crooked his head from side, eliminating the last vestiges of drowsiness. As Romero had taught him, de Natale controlled his breathing, taking measured breaths in constant intervals. His exhalations were slow and controlled, mechanical. He waited for the enemy to reveal himself.
By 9:30, the sun had fully risen above the eastern horizon, and the Spring heat radiated visibly off the Saharan sands of no-man’s land in undulating, refracted thermals. Nothing moved in de Natale’s sector, despite the Italian artillery plunging downrange several kilometers to the north. Italian Intelligence reported only light infantry in the hills south of Alam el Halfa, doubtlessly taking refuge in the excellent defensive positions afforded by the high escarpments. It was unlikely that the British would attack in this area, though, de Natale though pensively, the British do not always do what we expect them to do…with a wince, he remembered the panic of the previous day’s combat, in which a platoon of British armored cars had reached to within 200 yards of his position, annihilating two of de Natale’s fellow machinegunners before being driven off with desperate artillery fire, called in directly on top of their own position. That had been too close, thought de Natale as the battle flashed before his eyes; it had been difficult to discern whose shells were exploding where during the bewildering melee, and he had been surprised to find himself in one piece after the battle was over.
De Natale peered again into the vast, undulating expanse of sand dunes. There. Between shimmering mirages, several black dots coalesced from the dirt and dust about 1,000 yards away. First four, then seven, and, as de Natale squinted into the distance, twelve more, widely spread and advancing slowly eastward. Black figures continued to materialize behind the nearest group, filling in the spaces between the black dots; the British were reconnoitering, and the probe was probably being made in at least company strength. Though the group was as the extreme end of his vision, de Natale saw no indication of vehicles, and the close spacing of the soldiers indicated that they did not expect combat. They must think that this area is clear, de Natale thought to himself, do they think that they killed us all yesterday?
De Natale placed the reticule of his gunsight on a target moving towards him. Three round burst he told himself, remember to compensate for the heat…exhaling softly, he gently squeezed the trigger; he could feel an individual round clanking into the chamber, lining up succinctly inside the barrel, the strike of the firing pin as it tapped the flat end of the thick 8mm bullet, then the concussion of the round traveling downrange at 2,600 feet per second, ripping through the like with the sound of torn linen, while the compressed gas from the recoil reset the loading mechanism for the next shot. In quick succession, two other rounds followed the first.
Though the traveling bullets were invisible to the naked eye, the effects of the rounds screaming downrange were far out of proportion to their size; even at a half-mile distance, a squat puff of dirt indicated where the first bullet impacted. Short. De Natale adjusted his rangefinder with minute clicks along the side of the device, contorting his right thumb and index finger around the metal slider while keeping his eyes and gun glued to the British troop concentration. It was important to keep a continuous focus on the distant troops, as the perspective kept his eyes fixed to perceive minute alterations in range. The echo of the bullet impact snapped back to de Natale; the British infantry had immediately hunched over, lowering their silhouette but also lowering their speed…exactly as de Natale had intended. Four feet low at 1,000 yards…raise the sight by 1 ½ mils…he adjusted and depressed the trigger again, sending another trio of projectiles screaming downrange. Hit. The massive 1/3rd inch wide slug thudded into a crouched British soldier, sending him reeling backwards behind a low sand dune.
Traverse left 2 degrees…There were more coming now, the space between the black dots filling in and forming a continuous darkened line on the horizon. De Natale picked the next nearest target, assuming that the fallen soldier’s comrades would be at a roughly similar distance; his assumption proved correct. De Natale exhaled again while simultaneously depressing the trigger. Hit. The second British soldier had been stooped over, vainly searching for cover, when two bullets impacted his hip and thigh; his right leg had been blown clear off, cart-wheeling clockwise to fall on the hollowed-out body of the first soldier. Find the nearest soldier…keep the main body out of rifle range…the ones in back will have to pass the fallen on their way forward…that’ll give ‘em something to think about… De Natale aimed for the closest grouping of soldiers, just over a thousand yards away, and fired two more three-round bursts, hitting one and driving another behind a small sand mound. Opening both eyes briefly, he stopped aiming and took in the big picture of how the British attack was forming up; de Natale could tell that his marksmanship had stunted the British patrol’s momentum, but that wouldn’t last. He could tell that many saw the futility of lowering their profile in the featureless desert expanse and were instead running as fast as they could, juking right to left, taking advantage of their numbers to rush what they thought was a single Italian gun. The British tactic was rather ineffective in the Sahara, however. Running in the sea of sand south of Alam el Halfa was akin to treading water in molasses, and equally tiring.
A British officer leads his infantry down from the heights of Alam el Halfa into the flat desert to the east
The British closed, but did not return fire. They’re coming in dumb, de Natale realized, they probably can’t even see my muzzle flash with the sun so low in the east…they should have waited an hour… de Natale fired off another three round burst, and two more figures fell into the sand. Their officer losses must have been enormous for an attack like this to get ordered. Burst by burst, the British soldiers dropped in motionless heaps, littering the sandy beige field before de Natale with intermittent dark splotches. The shock and force of the large bullet impacts usually had the effect of killing outright, rather than wounding or maiming, and as a result there were mercifully few anguished calls for help. Private Liberati diligently fed new cartridges into the magazine as needed while the other riflemen in de Natale’s infantry squad kept their heads down, concealing their positions until the British came within rifle range.
At 750 yards, de Natale could begin to make out the distinctive flared-bowl shape of the British Mk II helmets and the long dark silhouettes of their Lee-Enfield rifles slung behind their shoulders, sunlight glinting off of the steel tips of their polished bayonets. Off to his left, de Natale spotted a soldier who appeared to be without a rifle. Officer. Still mindful of his breathing, de Natale was nevertheless elated to discern a commander from the onrushing horde, and his first salvo towards the British captain flew high. Reining in his emotions, and adjusting for center mass, de Natale recalibrated his gunsight back towards him 1 ¼ notches, corresponding to 700 yards. He lined up his shot, noticing that the target had stopped moving; he was standing atop a small rise, cartwheeling his right arm madly, beckoning his men forward, the dark form of a Webley service revolver gripped in his left hand. De Natale was momentarily awestruck; the selfless valor of the British officer reminded him of his own fallen sergeant, unphased by bullets flying so near. Such bravery…to lead men into a machine gun nest…
Private Liberati’s anxiety was steadily rising; for several minutes he had seen the British move ever closer, crashing like a tide washing up on a desolate beach, but the sudden slacking of fire perplexed him. He knew better than to question the tactics of his superior officer, but every second de Natale didn’t fire meant that the British horde was three feet closer to their trench. He had two full cartridges ready to insert, one in each hand, and was about to say something when he looked over to de Natale’s face and saw what looked like a reverent smile in place of the normally-present grim scowl. Liberati was about to say something when compressed sonic waves from a rifle round punched into the air above their position. The forward British riflemen were now at 600 yards and were returning fire in the direction of de Natale’s position.
Unfortunately for the British troops assaulting de Natale’s position, the near-miss had the effect of drawing the Italian corporal back from his nostalgic revelry. With increasingly efficient, almost mechanical deliberateness, de Natale reassessed the tactical situation. He quickly surmised that only the leading fringes of the British force were even in rifle range; few of them would have even a guess as to the approximate range to target, and none of them could as yet see the Italian slit trench, hidden in the glare of the morning sunlight. De Natale decided to switch tactics for a moment, firing longer 6-round bursts into thickest concentration of men rather than sniping at the leading edges for a moment.
Aiming due west into the densest mass of advancing soldiers, de Natale unleashed a full 20-round magazine in three quick jets of steel, leading the barrel almost imperceptibly left across the horizon with each squeeze of the trigger. The slight strafing aim of the barrel resulted in a waist-high horizontal wall of steel that impacted the second echelon of the British lines 700 yards away. De Natale noticed with satisfaction that four figures fell to the ground, two clutching their abdomens, and two others dropping face-first into the sand.
De Natale kept up the faster pace for a minute before changing tactics again, now firing longer bursts into the leading soldiers all along the north-south axis the battlefield, choosing targets at random, which had the effect of slowing down the overall pace of the already-lethargic British attack. Still, for every soldier hammered by de Natale’s machine gun, another appeared on the distant horizon, and all the while the leading elements were crossing the 500 yard threshold. British rifle fire intensified, with a few rounds dropping into the ground in front of their position, though the majority of the rounds still sailed high.
Unsupported British infantry desperately charge into Italian defenses east of Alam el Halfa
While Liberati frantically inserted more rounds into the magazine, de Natale again observed the battlefield before him. It was obvious that an entire British battalion had been committed to this reconnaissance mission, though he could see no supporting artillery or heavy weapon units accompanying. Either the British had taken grievous losses in leadership and material, or else these troops were attempting to escape…
“Incoming!” Liberati screamed as he clutched at his helmet with both hands, scattering loose rounds along the dirt base of their trench. The Calabrian loader had seen several fountains of dirt erupting to the northeast some 50 yards in front of them, but the impacts were now drawing nearer to their trench, showering the two Italians with a fine sand mist and chunks of splintered bedrock. The British had brought up a pair of medium mortars, and it was now only a matter of time before their position was bracketed and pummeled by British indirect fire. De Natale swung his weapon towards the northwest, along the suspected axis from which the British mortars were firing; he could see faint wisps of smoke emanating from a position some 650 yards away, but the mortar team had setup behind the bodies of several fallen infantrymen, and after firing a few round de Natale realized that he couldn’t engage them.
De Natale had no choice but to execute the second phase of his plan. Pulling a flare pistol from a holster lashed to his right thigh, de Natale fired a green Very flare over the center of the British force, its glowing emerald tendrils resonating brightly even in the bright sunlight as it arched upwards into the cloudless desert sky.
As the flare reached its apex, a second M37 machinegun squad positioned 50 yards north of de Natale’s position began to fire southwest into the northeastern flank of the British battalion, catching their hunchbacked infantry in the crossfire. All along the trenchline between the two machineguns, Italian infantry suddenly rose from their foxholes, firing salvo after salvo into the exposed British mass from their Carcano bolt action rifles. The sudden Italian firepower stunned the British; a dozen of their riflemen fell in a few seconds. Though the British soldiers on the southern flank continued to move inexorably forward, the center and northern companies rooted into the sand and attempted to return fire as best they could behind hastily improvised positions. De Natale kept up his slow but methodical rate of fire…this looks less and less like an attack and more like an exodus…
The British on the southern end were now less than 400 yards away; many had stopped to concentrate fire on de Natale’s position, while others leapfrogged forward to continue the push east. Recognizing the dire threat that this portion of the British battalion constituted, de Natale shifted his fire to his left, raking the leading elements with accurate fire and hoping that the rest of his squad could keep the rest of the British pinned down. Mortar shells continued to rain along the trench line, showering the Italians with soot and gravel, each detonation louder than the last. The sand and dirt kicked up by the explosions had the effect of masking the trench, but it also made it more difficult for de Natale to aim.
Exposed British infantry crawl forward into the teeth of the Italian machine guns as mortar shells strike the suspected Italian trench positions
The same British officer de Natale had seen earlier now stood again on another small rise, still waving his arms furiously in an attempt to drive his tired men forward. He was much closer now, an easy target, even when obscured by airborne sand and dirt; de Natale’s exceptional eyesight was able to discern the captain’s approximate height and weight, and it appeared that his non-waving hand was planted firmly on his hip. He’s exhausted…stationary target. With the very real possibility of death once again coursing through his veins, de Natale no longer felt enamored with his admiration for the British officer and squeezed the trigger. Nothing. He looked over at the side of the gun; the magazine was empty. Furious at having to lose his depth perception, de Natale swung his head over towards Liberati, ready to stream a scathing cacophony of unholy curses at the kid when, at the bottom of his peripheral vision, he saw the prone body of his loader lying on his back, a bullethole neatly stamped into the center of his forehead. De Natale stared into the agape mouth, an unforgettable visage of absolute horror plastered to the young man’s face. It looked as if Liberati had been trying to yell something in the exact moment the headshot had killed him.
De Natale instantly regretted every disparaging thought he had ever had about Liberati. Momentarily forgetting all about the kid’s failings as a soldier, de Natale was instead struck by the realization that Liberati had always done what was required of him, and even if he hadn’t particularly distinguished himself on the field of battle, Liberati had served his country and given his life for the Patira. His final action in this life was to warn me that British riflemen were targeting our trench; de Natale was touched by the young man’s apparent selflessness.
Grabbing a fistful of bullets from an ammo crate, de Natale began inserting them one by one into the cartridge of the integral magazine, cursing the infernal designer of the needlessly-complex mechanism with each round. Thirty seconds later, he jammed the cartridge into the magazine and swung the machine gun back towards the southwest, searching for the heretofore blessed British captain. As he scanned the desert between him and the onrushing British, he subconsciously noticed that the Italian fire on his right had slackened considerably; either many of his supporting infantry had been killed, or they had receded into their foxholes on account of the sheer volume of British fire.
As he scanned the field before him, the ‘sheer volume’ of British firepower became evident to de Natale; over a hundred British riflemen lied before him, with easily another hundred clustered on the distant horizon. The nearest troops were less than 300 yards away, and if the myriad of bullet impacts around his trench was any indication, they had a pretty good idea as to the range and bearing for his position. De Natale noted with hollow satisfaction that he may have felled 40 or so British infantry, and his fellow squad mates may have killed 20 or so more, but with growing anxiety he began to realize that his actions were merely forestalling the inevitable.
De Natale quickly reacquired the British captain, now a mere 250 yards away and still urging his men forward for the final push. The squat British officer filled the M37’s crosshairs, and for the briefest of moments, de Natale thought that he could discern features of the man’s face. Inexplicably, de Natale paused, his hand resting on the trigger but unwilling to fire; it was one thing to fire into anonymous crowds, but altogether different to look into the face of someone you intended to kill. For a brief moment, de Natale thought about just how mechanical he had become, essentially an integral component of the overall machinegun ‘organism’. Most of the time, during battle, he fired his weapon at ranges too great to see his victims; all of the men he had killed over the past three days were nameless creatures themselves, their deaths no more remarkable than an insect felled by a coiled newspaper. The sheer inhumanity of war caught de Natale by surprise when suddenly, from the southwest, a .303 round slammed into his left shoulder, knocking him against the back of the trench wall. The force of the rifle round impact pushed him several inches into the loose dirt of the trench wall before his torso slid slowly down into the base of the trench, shattered fragments of bone and blood coursing over the brittle, cauterized edges of the fist-sized wound. De Natale’s vision faded into a dim, surrealist panorama of the sand and dirt in front of him in the trench; the sound of rushing water filled his head, and a dull throbbing pain pulsed from his nearly-numb left side. Clutching the torn skin of his left shoulder with his right hand, de Natale attempted to stand, staggered, and then fell back to the ground; a lifetime’s worth of fatigue gently settled over him, like a warm blanket gently floating down from above.
Lying on his back, de Natale looked up into the cloudless azure sky, a blue so deep that he wasn’t sure where the sky ended and space began, all the while writhing in the grip of an unexpected and not entirely unwelcome euphoria. He could see the faint vapor trails of bullets whizzing by in the air above him; some bullets were still impacting near the rim of the trench, sending small cascades of sand onto him and the body of Liberati. De Natale didn’t feel the deep drumming of the other Italian heavy machinegun anymore; instead, he heard the distant screams of wounded men, faint enough that he could not discern if the cries were in English or Italian. A sudden cough from the dusty air in the trench brought the distinctive metallic taste of blood into his mouth; De Natale realized that he was dying. Almost inaudibly, be cursed his overdeveloped sentimentality and General Graziani for his needlessly aggressive pursuit of the British forces trapped in the El Alamein pocket.
Italian Bodies strewn about the trenches following the British breakout
As the world darkened into a nebulous green-and-black haze around him, de Natale felt the jarring pain of several pairs of arms hoisting his limp body out of the trench. Dazed by the abrupt agony, de Natale felt soldiers unceremoniously toss his nearly-catatonic body onto the hot, sandy ground, the sudden blinding sunlight forcing his eyes into slits; only with the greatest of effort was he able to discern the pain of being thrown to the ground from the subsequent kicks and punches of furious British soldiers, who savaged his broken body with vicious attacks intended more to inflict pain than kill. De Natale couldn’t even raise his arms to defend himself during the barrage; an attempt to beg for water was quickly silenced by a punch in the face from someone obviously wearing a pair of brass knuckles.
On the verge of blacking out, an unconsciousness from which he felt that he would never awaken, Corporal Giovanni de Natale heard a pistol shot ring out at close range, followed immediately thereafter by indecipherable shouting. Through the stinging pain, he managed to crack open one of his nearly pulverized eyes, separating the lids just enough to see the shadows of a troop of demonic black silhouettes arrayed around him, backlit by the sun and drooping menacingly over him. One of the dark forms kneeled next to de Natale’s head, his face pressed in so closely that it seemed to eclipse the sun. After a few moments, de Natale’s vision adjusted to the relative shade and stared into the face of the British captain that he had nearly killed several times over.
The British captain poured water from a canteen into de Natale’s blood-streaked mouth; most of the water simply streamed out the torn side of his mouth, but the rejuvenating effect of the water had an almost primeval recuperative effect on the Italian machinegunner, and he slowly stirred, managing to slur a few words together;
“Mm...my…men?” de Natale asked, his voice quivering with dread.
“All dead” replied the British captain evenly. De Natale could detect neither pity nor hubris in the officer’s remark. Am I to be tortured? de Natale wondered.
De Natale willed away thoughts of torture and shifted his thoughts to his squad mates. While not surprised, given the situation, the detached confirmation still struck de Natale like a sword thrust into his gut. Too crushed to hide his emotions, the Italian wept softly, tears forcing their way through his chapped, bruised eyelids. After a few moments, he asked “wha…what…now?” de Natale’s raspy voice was punctuated by intermittent fits of coughing up blood, soaking the neckline of his shirt with a viscous glob of crimson mucus.
“Your fate will be decided later,” the British captain shot back. With that, the officer rose up into the light while several other black forms descended downwards, like demonic buzzards upon a wounded gazelle. The figures pulled him up and draped him along a stretcher. The last thing de Natale saw was a group of Bren carriers moving up to his trench position; most of the small tracked vehicles were carrying wounded British soldiers, de Natale could see, and it appeared that the entire group seemed to be making its way southeast, skirting the southern edge of the Italian forces. Four British soldiers picked up his stretcher, elevating de Natale to waist height, and just before his eyes shut, his was able to peer into the desert to his west; an interminable caravan of vehicles and staggering men stretched to the horizon, the black swath moving steadily southeast. There was no combat potential here, de Natale realized; these were stragglers, walking wounded, refugees…the men he had fought today had been detailed to escort this group out of the combat zone through an area thought to be free of Italian troops. It all suddenly made sense; the foolhardy attack into the sun, the lack of supporting artillery and armor units, the ill-advised close tactical grouping of the initial reconnaissance force…
This really was an exodus… de Natale thought as he slipped into unconsciousness.
British trucks and Bren Carriers loaded with wounded attempt to escape to the southeast
Last edited by Smut Peddler; 12-11-2010 at 21:57.
A lot of dead bodies out there in the desert.
"In America, anybody can be President. That's one of the risks you take."
The Presidents: The Vietnam War Edition
President of the United States in 1962: Henry M. Jackson (Democrat-Washington)
This Exodus, is bound for Failure.
Awarded the Medal of Services or Knowledge towards the betterment of Canada
1939 pt 14
Meanwhile, deep in the Bavarian Alps…
Another jagged bolt of lightning streaked across the astral black sky, and Count Galeazzo Ciano, Mussolini’s Foreign Minister and personal envoy to Chancellor Hitler, once again clutched at his ankle-length leather greatcoat, wrapping it ever tighter around him as alpine gusts swept across the tarmac of the desolate German aerodrome at Augsburg. All around him, tremendous thunderclaps burst through the Bavarian hills around him, the echoes resonating with an intensity that temporarily drowned out the droning of the merciless, icy downpour that lashed at his frigid body. From under the patent-leather brim of his black service cap, Ciano peered down the length of the airport’s deserted runway; in the mist, frosted globes of blue light clung to the domed landing markers, the evenly-placed lamps diffusely converging into a single point at the far end of the hilltop landing strip. All around him, white clouds swirled in the space between mountain peaks, illuminated from within by periodic lightning bursts.
Ciano was enraged to the point of cursing under his breath, but he was not upset about the weather; he had landed ten minutes earlier, and the expected car that was supposed to be waiting for him had failed to arrive on time. Typical arrogant Germans, trying to establish who was in charge by making him wait, Ciano thought idly; how I hate their smug superiority, their self-righteous avarice, their ceaseless meddling. Ciano took the lateness as an intentional, personal affront, a carefully-engineered attempt to gain political leverage at his expense, as all politicians invariably thought when something unpleasant happened to them, but in this specific instance, Ciano thought that the German’s timing was particularly ill-advised.
Ciano had been ‘summoned’ – the word still riled Ciano at the thought of it – by Hitler to brief his General Staff on Italian progress in the war to date, and Mussolini had allowed it, admitting that he had little need for diplomacy or the services of his Foreign Ministers now that the war was just entering its second month. Hitler, that Insolent fool, Ciano muttered between shivering breaths, Italy is no one’s pawn, to be Summoned at a whim! Ciano clinched his fists inside their felt-lined leather gloves, his teeth ablating one another from the cold. It was WE who conquered North Africa in a month! WE conquered Palestine up to the Tigris in a month! WE defended our East African Colonies, took on the best of the British Army, and had our way with them! And what has Herr Hitler and is vaunted Wehrmacht done? Defeat the pathetic Poles? Hide behind their Siegfried Line? Amateurs…they need our help to even defeat the FRENCH!
Another glacial gust blasted into Ciano, causing the Italian to stagger backwards. As was common for late April, the storm raging about Augsburg contained surprisingly little precipitation, instead consisting mainly of high winds that accelerated each icy droplet to dizzying speed, stinging exposed skin like needle pricks upon impact. Ciano realized that what rain there was had begun to mix with sleet, and that it was now traveling more horizontal than vertical, whipped up by the high winds howling out of the Alps. I should have waited on the plane until the car got here, Ciano rued with vitriolic anger as he pulled the outer collar of his coat inwards to cover his exposed neck. He was about to trudge over to one of the ghostly, diffusely-lit warehouses lining the outer perimeter of the airport to search for a telephone when he heard the sound of an automobile motor approaching. Finally.
From the darkness, a black Mercedes staff car swept into the airport, its large circular headlamps illuminating the mist around the car in a bright halo of light. Though visibly shivering, Ciano waited to enter the car until the driver could circle the car to open his door. Mindful of his prestige, Ciano said nothing to the underling driving the car about his tardiness or anything else, feeling that the silence spoke far more effectively than anything he could say to berate the man. As the car wound its way down into the valley south of Augsburg, the driver asked Ciano nonchalantly if he had been waiting long; Ciano phrased his response curtly, replying in diplomatic fashion that he “was quite satisfied with the Reich’s accommodations for his transport.” No more questions emanated from the driver. Perhaps he thinks I will have him killed for this? Ciano smiled at the thought; it would be a relatively easy matter to murder this man, to reach forward and clutch his wiry neck with his fingers, wringing the life out of him, like trying to force an ornery cat to take a bath...
Ciano calmed himself, reminding himself that he was a guest in this country, and that senseless homicide was generally frowned upon in diplomatic circles; he turned to the fogged window on his right, smearing the cuff of his coat against the glass to remove the condensation caused by the car’s heater. Lamentably, there was nothing to see outside at this time of night, even if there had not been a storm. The skeletal outlines of massive spruce pine trees lines the serpentine road on both sides; far to the north, where the town of Augsburg should be, only an empty black pit could be seen, on account of the enforced blackout to protect the town from Allied bombers. After a half hour-long descent into the valley, the car began its ascent up another hill, meticulously threading its way upwards along another narrow tree-lined road until finally reaching their destination an hour later. By the time the car began to rattle over the crescent-shaped cobblestone driveway, two Waffen SS guards were already approaching Ciano’s door. The soldiers led him into the dimly-lit anteroom of a medieval fortress; amber-inlayed columns clustered around the entry gate gave way to a pair garish black swastikas framed on blood-red fabric that were draped against the wall opposite the door; a portrait of Hitler in his Austrian corporal’s uniform hung between the two banners, lit by at least four separate light sources. All else in the grand chamber seemed dark, gothic, and cold; the only windows lied thirty feet above the black marble floor; staccato flashes of lightning pulsed beyond them. The only other light in the room came from a series of torches, sited in recessed alcoves along a stone staircase. The atmosphere was altogether as striking as it was depressing; the SS men led Ciano up the staircase.
So this is how the Führer means to impress his guests? Ciano wondered as he continued up the stairs; he felt that the liberal use of stone and concealed lighting, combined with dramatic contrasts in color and the grandeur of the castle’s defensive aura, imbued the building with a raw, omnipotent power, an almost vestigial embodiment of strength that bordered on the very definition of dominance itself. Exactly the kind of impression a dictator wants to make on his vassals… Ciano reflected, still seething in anger over the earlier slight at the airport but careful to keep his expressions in check. At the first landing, the trio walked to another staircase, this one a spiral staircase that lined the inside of a turret affixed to one of the building’s outer corners. As they trudged upwards, Ciano ran his hand along the rough edges of the cement holding the stones together, feeling the lip of the mortar protrude outward. It was clear that the smooth original stone had been replaced recently, possibly with rebar? Steel plate, perhaps? He’s reinforced this tower…the Polish sneak attack must have really spooked the Führer…
The corkscrew stairway leading to the Führer
Seven stories off the ground, the top of the staircase terminated at the entryway to a single large room. Ciano stood before the closed wooden doors that led to the upper turret throne room; he inhaled deeply, the kind of instinctive, automatic breath that one draws before delivering a speech or after being kicked in the testicles. Inside, Ciano found the German Führer and Hermann Göring at the far side of the room, oblivious to his presence as they hunched over a table, their muffled conversation barely audible over the muted rancor of the storm outside. The SS guards turned on their heels and walked out, leaving the Italian foreign minister alone in the room with the leading personalities of the Third Reich. The two Germans made no indication that they had noticed Ciano’s entrance, apparently engrossed in their current task. No doubt they are cooking up another insane scheme, Ciano thought to himself, that, or these prattling ninnies are going to great lengths to provoke to me with their dismissive attitude...
After his long flight, an infuriating wait at the airport, an hour-long drive, and then climbing 7 floors to this cavernous room, Ciano had had enough of decorum. Protocol and procedure be damned, his hands once again clinched into fists in his pockets, the Italian Count walked over towards the Germans without being summoned. When he got within ten feet of the table, he saw that the two men still had their heads hung over the table, intently discussing the placement of several plastic model tanks on a table top map. Ciano abruptly stopped and decided to observe for a moment. Ah, those counters must represent the Panzer divisions even now trundling through the Alps on their way to France, Ciano mused to himself.
Suddenly, Hitler moved a tank clasped in his hand and moved it on top of one pinched between the fingers in Göring’s right hand. “No, I shot you first Hermann!” scolded Hitler, jumping his tank up and down on top of Göring’s tank repeatedly. Reluctantly, Göring pulled his tank from the table and deposited it inside one of the table’s many drawers; as he dropped it in, Ciano could see that the drawer that Goering had opened contained, among other sundry items, a stuffed bear, a colorful plastic cupcake, and a ceramic doll with curly blond hair. “Yes, Mein Führer,” Göring responded obediently, shutting the drawer and turning his attention back to the map. Göring shuffled over to his right to ponder his next move in the ‘game,’ his movement suddenly revealing a large section of the table top to Ciano’s view; a map was splayed across the surface of a large oaken table, crudely illustrated in several colors of crayon, and divided into two large apparent territories. The territory on the left, probably Hitler’s, Ciano reasoned, was labeled Nordic Aryan Superman Land, its main cities of Thor-crushingsville, Caucasian-gloryopolus, and Uppercut-upon-the-Slavs-town painted in a vibrant shade of Red upon a black background. Ciano scanned to the right to see Göring’s territory illustrated in a muted shade of Blue upon white; his territory, hashmarked with red diagonal stripes to indicated the ‘advance’ of Hitler’s forces onto Göring’s territory, was labeled Pathetic Gypsy Greaseball Land and was filled with small towns called Homosexual Shame and Overpriced Jewish Shopkeeper Warren, plus several other towns he could not see because Hitler’s red tanks were sitting on top of the labels. It all seemed very complex to the Italian foreign minister, but he felt fairly confident that Hitler was winning the game.
Ciano thought back to his last bizarre meeting with the Führer eight days earlier; nauseating memories of Hitler’s birthday party, complete with a dancing and prancing Hitler, caused him to reflexively throw up a little in his mouth. Nevertheless, Ciano’s revulsion was somewhat abated by the unexpected German ‘exercise,’ and Ciano did his best to remain inconspicuous as Göring made his next move. The rotund Göring stretched his comically-undersized arms to reach one of his few remaining blue tanks on the northern edge of the map; making a childish rumbling noise with his mouth, he slowly ‘motored’ the plastic model tank to his left and into Hitler’s territory near a town called Svelte Dutch Blond Women with Large Breasts Berg. Almost immediately, Hitler banged his fist on the table, causing many of the models to shudder violently. “Sie können das nicht tun!!” Hitler seethed at his Air Marshall, his oily black hair falling over his eyes in emphatic rage as he shook his fist sadistically.
“But Mien Führer, I made a legal move,” Göring responded defensively, careful not to remove his fingers from his counter, Ciano noted.
Hitler’s chest heaved in exasperation for a moment, and then, by degrees, his psychotic frenzy diminished, suddenly replaced by the condescending ‘know-it-all’ facet of his personality, “If I’ve told you once, Hermann, I’ve told you a thousand times—the local militia of Svelte Dutch Blond Women with Large Breasts Berg have Class 4 armor and are impervious to your attacks! Everyone knows this. Penalty.” From underneath the table, Hitler produced a wooden mallet and proceeded to pound Göring’s plastic model tank into several unrecognizable chunks. Göring’s expression never changed, remaining stoic, almost lifeless; Ciano suspected that the rules of the game were only applicable to the Air Marshall, and that Hitler could change them at any time to suit his needs.
A sudden flurry of wind flung open one of the small wooden shutters that lines the walls of the circular room; Hitler almost immediately transitioned back into his ‘angry’ persona, leaning forward towards the window, his arms thrust straight back, and shouting “Shut up wind!” at the top of his lungs. Göring waddled over to the window and latched the shutters closed, his massive buttocks involuntarily emanating gaseous fountains of audible flatulence with each step. Turning away from the window, Hitler reacted in surprise to discover Ciano standing in the middle of the room. With excruciating effort, Ciano managed a crisp if unenthusiastic salute to the German chancellor, which Hitler declined to return. “Welcome to my Secret Lair,” Hitler boasted, transitioning seamlessly to ‘refined gentleman‘ mode. How many personalities does this man have? Ciano wondered.
After formal greetings and pleasantries had been exchanged, the men sat down at the table to discuss the war. No sooner had Göring sat down than Hitler snapped his fingers and pointed to the another small table at the other side of the room; Göring rose up and slowly shuffled over to the distant table, retrieving an antique silver tea set upon an ornate serving platter and returning to the other two men. As Hitler inquired into recent Italian operations in Africa and the Middle East, Göring placed delicate hand-blown glass cups in front of Ciano and Hitler; grasping a pitcher with his tyrannosaurus-esque left hand, Göring was about to pour into the cups when Hitler abruptly fell silent mid-sentence, looked directly into Göring ‘s eyes, and scolded “Apron.” Göring plodded over to the other desk again and removed a lace-edged white apron from a drawer; properly attired, he returned to the main table and began to pour into the cups. Ciano was astonished to detect that the pitcher contained only room-temperature water, but was careful not to let his surprise show.
Ciano went on to describe the details of Operation Ramesses, the success of the Decima Mas commando groups, Gariboldi’s valiant stand at Adwa, the near-sinking of the HMS Illustrious, the deciphering of the American codes, and the decapitation of British leadership in the Mediterranean Basin. The Italian Count went on to explain that the Italian forces controlled the initiative along every front in their entire theater of combat, and that limitless options for advancement existed now that the main British force was besieged in Alexandria. Ciano then deferred the floor to Hitler to speak of his exploits. The Italian Foreign Minister was privy to almost all of the intelligence that Mussolini had access to, and he knew full-well that Hitler had few achievements to speak of to date, but it nevertheless gave him great satisfaction to hear Hitler ramble unnecessarily about the glorified panzer assault on the Oder and Vistula Rivers. In the event, Polish cavalry raids had destroyed large quantities of inadequately-protected ammunition stores before the German offensive into Poland even began, and the Wehrmacht’s mechanized formations had taken a savage beating as they advanced through the country. Did the Polish horsemen smash your little panzers, Adolf? Though Ciano plastered an understanding, even expression to his face while Hitler spoke, a smug grin lied immediately beneath. Your accomplishments are for shit, Herr Hitler. Perhaps we should re-evaluate the current understanding of our alliance…Ciano’s thoughts raced with possibilities…Italy should dictate overall Axis strategy, compel the Germans to issue us copies of their technological blueprints, demand advantageous resource concessions…
As Ciano’s mind delved into the potential ramifications of the dramatic Italian success in the war to date, he noticed that Hitler seemed to pause increasingly often during his recount of German activities. At first, Ciano thought that Hitler was having trouble remembering the details of his Polish offensive, or perhaps he simply had too few triumphs to enumerate, but it soon became apparent that Hitler was actually affected by Ciano’s distracted attention. Ciano realized that, at least in his current personality, Hitler could be unnervingly perceptive, even sensitive. Ciano realized that the German Chancellor was disappointed that his armed forces had accomplished so little in the war so far, though he was far too proud to admit it openly. Ciano noticed on several occasions that Hitler had visibly winced when Ciano had spoken of Italian success with unconventional weapons like frogmen, exotic spies in the British court, codebreaking, assassinations, and the avant-garde use of naval bombers in the air superiority role. The look on Hitler’s face was almost childlike, defiant to a point, but also full of a repressed pain. Ciano almost felt pity for the man; I can see how so many had fallen so easily under your spell…Ciano recalled Hitler’s meteoric rise to power nine years earlier, and remembered thinking that he had made it seem so much easier than Mussolini’s own rise.
Hitler finished his plodding, anecdotal account of the ‘heroic’ storming of Warsaw, repeatedly emphasizing the bravery of his soldiers while cleverly leaving out the fact that the city had been surrendered by the Polish government after less than a day of combat, and was about to recount the Brandenburger operation that captured the Vistula bridges when he stopped abruptly and snapped his fingers, summoning Göring. “Refreshments,” the Führer snapped, and Göring slithered away, returning a few moments later with a ruby-encrusted gold platter topped with puffed rice cakes and a dozen celery stalks. Ciano endeavored mightily to maintain his composure, determined to not let Hitler’s actions evoke a response lest it encourage the German’s impression of the man, but the sight of the ultra-nutritious food, combined with disturbing memories of Hitler’s birthday party, was simply too much. Ciano dreadfully noticed the unmistakable taste of bile enter his mouth. With supreme effort, Ciano politely excused himself from the table and walked over to one of the torches lining the wall, repeatedly rubbing his hands together a few feet from the flame as if trying to restore the warmth. Water? Rice cakes??? No wonder the man is a schizophrenic! With his back to Hitler, Ciano slid a hand into an interior pocket of his coat and grasped a leather-bound flask; dramatically faking a powerful sneeze, he took several pulls of clear Nardini grappa, which had the effect of settling both his mind and stomach, as well as restoring the natural color to his paled skin.
Sufficiently “warm,” Ciano returned to the table, where he quickly discerned that Hitler had undergone yet another change in personality. Still several feet from his chair, Ciano watched as Hitler clumsily forced a link of pork sausage into a desk-mounted, hand-crank type pencil sharpener. Ciano blinked several times and wondered if he had passed out, or was perhaps hallucinating. Hitler noticed Ciano’s confusion and explained that he was attempting to fabricate a “meat-spear” capable of penetrating the armor of Jewish tanks. Ah…the lunatic personality finally makes an appearance…Ciano thought to himself. Mussolini had personally warned Ciano that this persona would reveal itself at some point; Il Duce had joked that enduring ‘Lunatic’ Hitler was a rite of passage for all members of the diplomatic corps.
Hitler’s meat sharpening effort failed miserably, and torn segments of sausage littered the table top in caramel-colored clumps. None of the heaps of meat had a point sufficient enough to be used in the anti-armor role, Hitler explained to Ciano, but nevertheless, he felt that he was on to something. Hitler summoned Göring, who approached his master with bowed head. Further research into unconventional weapon systems was needed, Hitler explained, and the creation of an ‘Advanced Weapons Design Bureau’, to be formed with the mandate of creating ‘super inventions that will aid in the war against the Allied menace,’ should be established at once. Priority One, Herr Hitler ordered, was the perfection of his meat-spear anti-tank shells. “The Jews will be powerless in the face of its non-Kosherosity,” Hitler chuckled, rolling a gob of meat into a thin tube with his open palm pressed against the desk. Satisfied with the final cylindrical shape, he flung it at a small model of a tank on the other side of his desk. The sausage struck the tank and knocked it to the floor; Hitler arched his greasy fingertips together, mumbling “Good…Good” over and over again in a guttural, resonating bass tone. To Ciano, it seemed that Hitler’s crude tabletop experiment proved to him the feasibility of the full-scale development and production of ‘meat-spears.’
“We will begin deployment at once, mein Führer!” Göring bellowed, thrusting his fist into the air. Count Ciano watched this spectacle in utter disbelief, scared to speak, but even more scared to draw attention to himself. Ciano knew that Hitler controlled many of the brightest technological minds in the world. Numberless corporations the likes of Siemens, I.G. Farben, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Messerschmitt, BMW, Krupp, and Junkers, each with legions of highly-trained scientists, were at Hitler’s beck and call, ready to do his bidding without a moment’s hesitation. Would Hitler utilize this advantage to the benefit of the Axis, or would he squander his vast horde of brilliant engineers in the pursuit of ridiculous weapons of dubious military value?
“Only people with moustaches may work on this project!” Hitler added, “I do not trust scientists that cannot grow facial hair!”
Ciano sighed loudly, convinced that he had just answered his own question. Just as he was about to walk out of the room, utterly disgusted with the insane waste of time his trip to Augsburg had been, Hitler surprised him; speaking to both Ciano and Göring, Hitler announced his decision to alter the ciphers in all German Enigma machines due to the ease with which the Italians had broken the American codes. The Reich must be wary of similar attempts by the Allies to break German codes, Hitler reasoned. Ciano smiled in spite of himself - Perhaps the Führer was not so crazy after all…
“But we’ll also need chainsaw rocket launchers too,” Hitler added.
Hitler’s newly-created Advanced Weapons Design Bureau begins work on a prototype RPC Launcher
Hitler began to make a buzzing noise with his mouth; clutching some red and blue plastic army men from the center of the map in both hands, he made ‘combat’ noises as the figurines bounded around, apparently launching chainsaws at each other. “Take that you capitalist Mick bastards!” Hitler gleefully squealed as he bounced his red plastic soldiers towards Göring’s territory. Ciano slapped his forehead with the open palm of his right hand. He started to pull on his gloves in preparation to leave. As he turned to walk out, he off-handedly mentioned to Hitler that, while he liked the idea of an advanced weapon design bureau, it would be in the best interest of the Axis to slightly alter its focus away from strictly anti-Semitic weapon systems. Hitler seemed incredulous; “After the Western Allies, the Jewish people are the greatest natural enemy of the German,” he sputtered, “Haven’t you heard any of my speeches for over the past nine years?”
Ciano realized that it would take far too long to explain that the “Jewish People” did not have their own standing army, much less their own country. Rather, Ciano realized that this would be a great opportunity to impress the ascendant Italian political dominance of the Axis Alliance to Hitler. Turning to look the Führer straight in the eye, Ciano explained that Mussolini intended to honor the pre-war agreement with the Arab separatists and liberate several areas of the recently conquered Middle East, starting with the nation of Israel. The ‘Jewish People’, he explained slowly, would now be fighting alongside the Axis. Ciano waited several moments for this to sink in. That wasn’t a question you imbecile…that how things are going to be, Ciano thought so loudly that he wished Hitler could read his mind, if only for that fleeting moment.
Italy grants independence to Israel, Syria, and Jordan
Hitler’s face distorted into an endless succession of expressions ranging the entire breadth of human emotions, from confusion, to anger, to awe, to dismissal, and finally to abject fear. By the time Hitler finally realized the implications of what Ciano had said, the Italian Foreign Minister was already aboard his transport plane, flying due south over the Alps, incomprehensibly and legendarily drunk.
Italian positions near Tirana are observed from a Yugoslavian checkpoint on the Albanian frontier
1,400 km to the southeast and 20,000 feet below, British commander Ronnie Tod was finishing a mission of his own on the outskirts of Pristina, Kosovo. Commander Tod, his executive officer Dr. Toboggan, and six other commandos of the 1st Battalion, Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders Infantry Regiment had spent the past two days meeting with local Yugoslavian government officials, presenting them with evidence of mutiny in the ranks of the Italian Navy. As he had expected, anti-Italian sentiments were already high in the predominantly Albanian city due to the massive Italian naval bombardment incident, but evidence of Albanian retaliation, from within the Regia Marina no less, had given many sympathizers in the Yugoslavian military a reason to openly court revenge against the Italians.
Tod knew that the hopes of all British Empire troops in Africa were with him; bringing Yugoslavia into the war on the Allied side was probably the only way that the British forces on the continent could be saved. As luck would have it, Tod had learned from the Yugoslavians that only a few Italian units had been detected on their border with Italy; agents in Slovenia and Kosovo had firm intelligence on six Italian division in the Veneto, near Venice, and only two additional divisions in Albania, one of which was a non-combatant garrison formation. Tod knew that conditions were advantageous for a strike against the Italians, as the majority of their forces were occupied besieging Alexandria, but he wondered if his negotiations would have the desired effect in time; he had heard that the Italians were advancing pitilessly, conducting brutal frontal assaults as they constricted the British defenders into smaller and smaller pockets…
Commander Tod sat on the dirt floor of a dilapidated single-story dwelling about three kilometers from the city, his back resting against one of the structure’s stone walls. Arrayed around him, his men slept in close proximity to each other, wrapped in thick woolen blankets in an effort to combat the punishing mountain winds flooding off the Kopaonik Range to their north. “Doc” Toboggan sat next to Tod, and the two men discussed the day’s negotiations with spirited, almost wrathful enthusiasm. Tod argued that they should kidnap Prince Paul, reagent of Yugoslavia, and use him as leverage to induce the Yugoslavians to attack Italy immediately. For his part, Toboggan reasoned that the Yugoslavians would come around on their own, and that the British need only reinforce the aggressive actions of the two dictatorships that shared Yugoslavia’s northern border. The two men intensely argued their point of view to the other long into the night. Their mission had special significance for both Tod and Toboggan; each had a younger brother trapped within besieged Alexandria.
On the morning of 29 April, Commander Tod was awoken by the vigorous shaking of a Yugoslavian Lieutenant. Tod reflexively snapped awake, nearly bolting upright in shock; it was not often that anyone was able to approach the man without his notice. Clearly, the two British officers had exhausted themselves during their debate the night before, the Slavic Lieutenant observed; unbeknownst to Tod and Toboggan, members of the Yugoslavian Intelligence Service had delivered a transcript of the British ‘debate’ to Prince Paul several hours earlier. Tod stammered an apology, his bloodshot eyes sizing up the Yugoslavian officer while his startled mind ordered his heart to slow down. The Yugoslavian waved off the apology dismissively; he had more important matters to discuss.
“Prince Paul agrees to your plan,” the man smiled as he reported in distorted English; “We will commence army attack in the four days.” His smile was carefully crafted to not betray what he really felt about his government’s decision; this is far more than you deserve, you arrogant British ass! Planning to abduct the Prince! I should have you both shot!
A mixture of relief and nervous anticipation filled Tod, his thoughts once again returning to his brother. The Yugoslavians would attack the Italians on May 3rd. Would that be long enough to organize everything? More importantly, he thought soon thereafter, would that be quick enough to save the men in Alexandria?
In Pristina, a new dawn gleams on a new front in the war
I was actually trying to fit in a biblical, 'Jews and Pharoah' tie in here, but i just couldn't make it work.
And now Germany is more or less allied with Israël, oh the Irony !
Awarded the Medal of Services or Knowledge towards the betterment of Canada
Hitler...it seems like he is willing to fling his own poo if it will "defeat" the enemy.
"In America, anybody can be President. That's one of the risks you take."
The Presidents: The Vietnam War Edition
President of the United States in 1962: Henry M. Jackson (Democrat-Washington)
lol I loved the Hitler/Goering plastic tank game of risk everyone knows that "the local militia of Svelte Dutch Blond Women with Large Breasts Berg have Class 4 armor and are impervious to your attacks!"
"This 'something' is a dark intuition that despite everything the human factor is the criterion of war, and the will of the individual the secret to victory."
-Hans Ulrich Rudel "Stuka Pilot"
The Spirit Of Bushido: Japanese Destroyer Captain Dead
ALL (those of you still reading this AAR, that is):
Sorry for not updating recently, and additional apologies as i probably won't be adding much for the next few weeks. I've been going through a rough time of late, and i am in serious danger of losing my wife. I will be channeling all of my creative energies into this task for as long as it takes to fix. I have every intention of coming back to finish this AAR (since i know how it ends, and i have most of the photos already, and i even have real screenshots starting in 1945!), but for the time being i've got to let it go. Hopefully i'll chat with all of you in January, with any luck.
For what its worth, thanks to you all for reading and leaving comments--i have really enjoyed writing it.
I am sorry to hear about your problems. Good luck.
The Presidents: The Vietnam War Edition
President of the United States in 1962: Henry M. Jackson (Democrat-Washington)
The redeployment had taken almost ten days to complete.
Two days after the surrender of Warsaw, forward German companies had begun to arrive on express trains from the massive rail yards at Lvov and Krakow, their passenger cars laden with soldiers flush with experience from the recent victory over Poland.
Overall, German troop morale was excellent; the campaign had been long enough to test the skills of the individual soldiers, but short enough to prevent many of the deprivations that accompany longer campaigns; there had been no causalities from starvation, exposure, gangrene, or lack of essential equipment. Furthermore, there had been few instances of murder, rape, pillaging or any other psychological trauma that might adversely affect the mental stability of the men. All in all, the Polish operation had been a mobile campaign, a fluid offensive punctuated with occasional instances of extreme violence when the Poles stopped retreating long enough to give battle. The German troops that disembarked at the Turin and Genoa railheads were, for the most part, uninjured, confident, sound of body and mind, nearly reinforced to their full complement of soldiers, and most importantly of all, hardened to the realities of combat. More so than the French soldiers that they would soon be fighting against, the Germans knew what to expect in war, and moreover, they knew that their Blitzkrieg system of fighting worked beautifully.
Exhausted beyond comprehension from directing traffic along the steeply-graded roads of Northwest Italy, German General Heinz Guderian, commander of the 2nd Panzer Division, was nevertheless eager to get back to work. Eager to replicate the success his new form of combat had garnered in Poland, yet handicapped by the stringent political demands for opening the Alpine Front as soon as possible, Guderian had worked tirelessly to personally direct his men into positions he had painstakingly yet haphazardously conceived during the past 3 days. With satisfaction he noted that the Italian rail network was good, even by German standards; during the First World War, the network of track snaking through the Piedmont had been the primary method for transporting troops fighting against the soldiers of the Austria-Hungarian Empire. Now, the sons and grandsons of those WWI veterans crammed into the same cars on the same tracks, but theirs was a different war for a different age. The days of near-suicidal bayonet charges across no-man’s land, of platoons and battalions rising from the trenches en masse to assault static machine gun positions encircled by ribbons of barbed wire, were over—even in the undulating terrain of the Ligurian Alps, Guderian planned to use his armored units to spearhead the penetration of the formidable French defenses.
German reinforcements prepare to smash the unsuspecting French and break the Western Front stalemate
Once off the trains, the roads that led up into the mountains left something to be desired. There was simply not enough capacity on many of the roads to support a grouping the size of a modern division, and the warmer spring temperatures created a slippery morass of half melted slush on the roads during the day that quickly froze during the chilly evenings. Nevertheless, in squads, platoons, and companies, German soldiers quietly infiltrated into forward assembly areas, bivouacked as best they could amongst the alpine meadows and Mediterranean lowlands, and conferred with their Italian allies.
Elements of Guderian’s 2nd Panzer Division wait near the terminal at Nuremburg for transport to Italy
Standing at the crossroads of two such roads, Guderian watched as a battery of horse-drawn 75 mm artillery canon trundled westward, leaving deep furrows in the ice-crusted mud; the horses’ widely-flared nostrils puffed plumes of icy breath into the air as they struggled against the weight of the guns, and Guderian drew deeply on an Italian Nazionali cigarette, adding his own frosty wisps into the misty Piedmontese dawn. The sight of the slow-moving artillery concerned Guderian; his entire operational plan hinged on his ability to rapidly exploit any weakness in the French defenses, yet the large majority of his heavy weapons platoons were still not yet mechanized. Attacking into the teeth of well-established and fully-manned French Alpine Line fortifications hidden amongst the hills between Grenoble and Nice, with numerous small rivers crisscrossing the provinces like an immense spider web, meant that the German forces, and their Italian allies, would have to rely on boldness, violence of action, and expert leadership if they were to succeed. Though his strategy defied military conventions, and his confidence in success bordered on fatalistic lunacy, Guderian nevertheless felt confident of victory. He mitigated that confidence with the realization that every road, bridge, trail, or any conceivable route of ingress into the interior would be covered by French guns or, at the least, mined to a degree as to easily deny its use to an invader; causalities would be excessive, he mused gravely, but in the end, his superior application of blitzkrieg tactics would prevail, as it always had and always would.
The low mechanical thrum of halftrack engines in low gear startled Guderian from his pensive thoughts, and he flicked the stump of his cigarette into the mud at his feet. Swiveling his torso to move out of the way, Guderian felt the powerful suction of mud rooting his boots to the earth, and with a mixture of incredulity and anger he realized that the previous 3 minutes had been the longest single period of immobility he had experienced in the past three days. With an effort that nearly drained his remaining strength, Guderian triumphantly stomped out of the muddy snare and began waving the leading echelons of the 92nd Infantry Regiment’s propaganda company towards the front. Several vehicles passed, and then the fourth vehicle unexpectedly ground to a halt in front of the general and disgorged two corporals, each of whom dashed to nearby trees and began hammering posters to tree trunks. As the gathering dawn light began to filter through the canopy of snow-covered pine needles in the tree branches far above, Guderian could just make out the near propaganda poster; as he read, a derisive chuckle crackled into the misty glade. Well done Herr Führer, Guderian muttered to himself, nutritionally informative AND racist…you truly have a dizzying intellect…Guderian suddenly shook his head violently, removing potentially unpatriotic thoughts from his mind. He had work to do.
Less than a hundred kilometers to the west, units of the French Army were equally busy; from behind the massive concrete fortifications of the Alpine Wall, soldiers from the 15th and 16th Corps of General Rene Orly’s Army of the Alps were preparing to resist what, by all accounts, was an inevitable Italian attack.
Since the beginning of hostilities an uneasy stalemate had existed between the French and Italian forces dug into either side of the Maritime Alps, but as news of rapid Italian victories over the supposedly mighty British gradually filtered down through the ranks over the previous two weeks, a growing sense of despondency had finally ripened into full-fledged fear in the French border troops. Huddled in their bunkers and gun pits, the French took to their daily tasks with a grim, near mechanical detachment; pensive and morose, French soldiers smoked cigarettes by the handful, filling their underground bunker corridors in a haze of suffocating grey ash. When Guderian finally unleashed his German panzers and Italian Alpini mountain troops on 2 May, 1939, the French receded into their fortresses and conducted an unimaginative yet effective static defense.
As Guderian had anticipated, the rugged topography of Southeastern France was not conductive to the type of sweeping, aggressive maneuvers he had grown accustomed to over the past few weeks; the severe geological layout of the Savoy region had the unavoidable tendency of funneling all vehicles down a few narrow passes in the mountains. Despite the relatively few French soldiers manning the Alpine Line, the narrow canyons into which the panzergrendaires and Bersaglieri surged had been methodically surveyed by the French gunners, and the Axis troops were pummeled mercilessly as they raced to bypass the French strongpoints.
Thrust into the Maddalena Pass north of Barcellonette, vehicles of Guderian’s 2nd Panzer Division raced around craters, disabled tanks and burning personnel carriers on broken roads bracketed by French strongpoints in the hills above. Plunging firepower from the elevated French positions was murderous and unrelenting; despite grievous losses Guderian’s forward echelons plowed forward through the French tactical depths, stopping only long enough to erect pontoon bridges over rivers or neutralize roadblock barricades that could not be avoided. Though only minimally effective, air support from the Luftwaffe and Regia Aeronautica attempted to engage the fortified French positions, but from General Guderian on down, every officer in the sector knew that their own personal survival and the success of the operation depended on speed. It was only as the lead units neared Nice that Guderian realized that his hunch had been correct; while the French defenses of the Alpine Line had indeed been designed with the same degree of sophistication as the Maginot Line further north (with underground railways enabling quick reinforcement of any and all strongpoints), the fact that most of the French Army had been massed to engage the Wehrmacht fighting along the Belgian frontier meant that there were simply not enough French soldiers to fill all the gaps. While formidable on paper, the Army of the Alps was in actuality a skeleton force; Guderian’s headlong advance to the southwest, ignoring causalities and refusing to fight the set piece battle that French General Orly had anticipated, resulted in elongating the French lines to the breaking point. By dawn on 4 May, Guderian had penetrated the weak defenses northeast of Nice and had detached the 2nd Panzer Division north towards Lyon in an attempt to isolate the still-lethal French defenses along the border. Tethered to their static positions, lacking any mobile relief force, and besieged by the rearguard Italian Alpine Corps troops of the 2nd Tridentina and 3rd Julia divisions, the French bunkers began to surrender one by one.
By the time the French high command reacted to the Axis alpine offensive, Marseille was already under attack. Shells whistled into the port city from the Sainte-Baume hills to the north and east, fostering panic and rioting in the mostly civilian population. Hastily thrown together formations of naval auxiliaries and remnants of the 15th Corps that had managed to retreat ahead of the Germans threw up makeshift barricades along Marseille’s main avenues. In Paris, several armored divisions were released from the strategic reserve; due to the late reaction by the French High Command, these units had to be rushed to the battle area in order to have any chance of affecting the balance of combat. The French tank units arrived piecemeal, without proper reconnaissance, and strung out in long columns; in the flat plains of Provence north of Marseilles they were unceremoniously mauled by Guderian’s well-concealed anti-tank batteries covering the roads leading south, a trick he had picked up from his Polish adversaries’ rearguard units scarcely 2 weeks prior.
The strategic shift only quickened France’s defeat. With the departure of DeGaulle’s 5th Army, the Germans launched a massive armored offensive of their own in the Ardennes on 3 May, quickly punching a hole in the Allied lines as far as Liege within 24 hours before finally halting due to outrunning their fuel supply; without their own armored forces to seal the gap, which would have been ideally suited to knock out the comparatively lighter armed and armored German tanks, the panzers ran roughshod over the French and British rear-echelon troops. No sooner had huge pockets of encircled Allied troops developed near Brussels and Metz than German infantry arrived on scene to reduce these pockets. Bewildered and cut off from supply, and trapped in fortifications in which the armament was fixed in position facing east, the trapped Allies along the frontier surrendered after only token resistance.
Further south, the destruction of DeGaulle’s 5th Army sapped the spirit of the French defenders in Marseille, and the city surrendered soon after the last ships of the French Mediterranean Fleet had sailed past the Frioul Islands just outside harbor. Unbeknownst to all but a handful of officers, concealed aboard the French flagship Jean Bart, engineers and scientists of the STG and CORF carried with them secret plans vital to the survival of France; following doomsday protocols that none of thought would ever been activated, these select men had been located and stowed aboard just hours ahead of the advancing Germans. Together with a secret stockpile of engineering schematics and structural blueprints, these men were suddenly and unwittingly thrust into the position of the unwitting saviors of the French nation.
Back in northeastern France, fierce battles still raged all along the front; as combat entered its fourth day, commanders on both sides noted the unmistakable salient bulging southwest from the German lines in the direction of the French capital. Utilizing their armored dominance, German panzer units scorched their way across the Champagne and Picardie plains, racing past haunting monuments in Marne and Somme and a dozen other WW1 sites while sweeping aside bewildered and ragged French units that happened to get in their way. Without their own armored force to engage the panzers, the French could not prevent the Wehrmacht from establishing a corridor from the Reich into the heart of France; lined with panzer divisions, this corridor funneled fresh infantry divisions into the environs of Paris while the armored divisions protected the salient from counterattacks that might threaten the supply line running within. Driven by a desire to avoid the costly trench fighting of their forefathers, Wehrmacht soldiers fought ferociously, assaulting the defending French positions with recklessness and fascist-fueled fanaticism.
As reports of French defeat poured in from the southeast and northeast, and with the sounds of combat drifting across the Seine, Daladier’s government fled the capital, precipitating a general evacuation that almost immediately transformed into a fleeing horde as throngs of citizens and soldiers alike mobbed the bridges over the river. Perched atop a small rise 7 km northeast of the city, German General Erwin Rommel reigned in his troops and allowed the panic to do his work for him. Black binoculars hanging from his neck threatened to pull him forward, a testament to the relentless pace he had directed over the past few days. Much like Guderian to the south, Rommel understood the importance of shock and violence in achieving quick victory, the visceral essence of the Blitzkrieg combat philosophy. Unlike Guderian, however, Rommel was shrewd in a way that was unrelated to single-minded aggressiveness or unrelenting bravado; if he could accomplish the same objective in the same timeframe through cunning rather than bloodshed, he would. Before his eyes, Paris burned without his troops ever setting foot in it; the fear of his attack alone forced the mob to do his work for him, and Rommel smiled knowing that his inaction had saved the lives of countless numbers of his men while still accomplishing his objective.
At noon on the 14th of May, mounted troops from the First Cavalry Division passed through the Arc de Triomphe without incident.
Meanwhile, in Rome, Mussolini struggled to retain his composure as report after report of victory flooded his command room in the Palazzo Venezia. Il Duce stood hunched over a circular guardrail that ran the perimeter around a sunken floor, in the center of which was an oval wood table displaying a colored map of Europe and North Africa. Around the brightly-lit map table hovered several women in black CCNN-issue dresses moving wooden block counters representing the Axis units ranging throughout France. Even to a casual observer, it was apparent that France would not last much longer; Italian Alpini divisions had advanced to Strasbourg, Lyon, and even Toulouse in the west, and German forces had penetrated even further, occupying the massive naval bases in La Rochelle and Bordeaux on the Atlantic while additional forces rampaged westward from Paris towards Cherbourg and Brest. It was rumored that the French government had fled the country, everywhere entire Allied armies were surrendering, and the vaunted French Navy seemed to have vanished completely. Never in my wildest dreams did he think that France would have fallen in less than 2 weeks thought Mussolini as he stared at the swollen mass of territory that would soon be added to the Italian Empire. He breathlessly mouthed the names of the new Italian provinces silently to himself, Nice, Grenoble, Corsica, Savoy, Toulon, Lyon,…all mine…
Mussolini watched as a grey counter representing 2nd Panzer Division was pushed to the Franco-Spanish border. As he surveyed the great swath of land adjoining Mediterranean coast, the Italian leader reminisced briefly on the post-war agreement that he had made with Germany regarding the division of France. Though it plagued his burgeoning megalomania mightily, Mussolini had acquiesced to the advice of his foreign minister and accepted Germany’s terms for installing a puppet government in Vichy that would control a modest stump of the former nation; Il Duce had contented himself with the entirety of Provence and some valuable adjacent areas as compensation for Italy’s contribution against the French, but Ciano had wisely cautioned against bargaining for more territory, as Italy lacked the manpower and administrative capacity to effectively govern much else. Ciano had also advised to let the Germans take most of the north of the country for two additional reasons; for one, the Germans needed a resounding victory to give them the confidence necessary to support the government in what was doubtlessly going to be a long war. Equally important, in allowing Germany to control the channel coast, Italy was effectively relieved from having to conduct a costly amphibious invasion of Great Britain.
Il Duce laced his fingers together and chuckled softly. No one seemed to notice his great paunch resonating against the inside of his fine silk suit, an acoustical image not unlike a pig falling repeatedly on a trampoline. Adjuncts and dispatch riders flitted back and forth in the din of telephones shrieking and typewriters tacking out communiques, and all the while the reincarnated spirit of Caesar Augustus thought of nothing but glory with a ferocity dangerously close to hubris.
While Mussolini gloated over his triumph, a thousand kilometers to the southwest a group of 60 French engineers huddled in an alcove of the Notre Dame d'Afrique basilica overlooking the port of Algiers. As the hour approached midnight, the various members of the STG (Service Technique du Génie) and leading figures of the CORF (Commission d'Organisation des Régions Fortifiés), famed designers and builders of the Maginot Line, began to shift characters on a cipher-based coding machine to translate an anticipated coded transmission from what, they hoped, was the French High Command. Since leaving the Jean Bart battleship in the harbor below 3 days earlier, the group had scavenged for whatever food they could find while trying to remain inconspicuous; many were hungry, most had left loved ones behind, and all were filled with dread concerning the fate of their country. As midnight arrived and then passed with no transmission, many of the scientists and engineers began to fray at the edges, some cursing under their breath or fidgeting nervously, while others began to experience despair, quietly rocking back and forth or praying at one of the empty church’s many pews. Suddenly, a ribbon message began to splay out from the side of the machine; the transmission lasted for just four characters and then abruptly cut off. The scientists converged on the machine to read the translated text; the message displayed only one work: “GHAT.”
Ooh - HOI2 seems to be having a renaissance of AARing in past weeks. Nice to see Italy in the mix. I like the blend of light comedy with the narrative. Mussolini as a pig in silk - quite an image.
It's good to see this AAR get updated again.
The Presidents: The Vietnam War Edition
President of the United States in 1962: Henry M. Jackson (Democrat-Washington)
For ZE Motherland!!
My first AAR as the Mighty USSR. A very slow work in progress.
15 May 1939
His swollen fingers throbbing in the frosty evening air, Dr. Mantis Toboggan nevertheless deftly tugged another half-foot long splinter from the skin of his commander’s hand, his tweezers coaxing the thin wooden shaft from Capt. Ronnie Tod’s mangled, half-clenched left fist. Finally sprung from flesh, the hemlock shard dropped languidly to the earth below, adding to a small pile of about a dozen other similar, blood-stained splinters. Toboggan’s operation was taking place in less than ideal conditions; the pair were sequestered in a one-room hovel atop a windswept promontory above Kvarner Bay in northwestern Croatia. Flurries of icy wind from the nearby Učka mountain range swept beneath the walls of the structure with tidal regularity, and the two British officers had long since donned their outdoor winter gear even while inside. As the doc probed Tod’s hand for the next plucking, he briefly looked up and noticed the detached expression on the British Captain’s face; it never ceased to amaze Toboggan how Tod seemed to be immune to pain. While removing splinters was not exactly a surgical procedure, most men would at least fidget, or mumble, or show some sign of discomfort during Toboggan’s removal of foreign objects. With Tod, though, there was nothing, not even a wince. Perhaps it was the blur of so many long years the pair had served together in the 1st Battalion, Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders Infantry Regiment, or perhaps it was his advanced (for a soldier anyway) age affecting his memory, but for the life of him, Dr. Toboggan could not remember his commanding officer ever reacting to an injury. It was almost as if the man had no nerves at all, and no matter how many times Dr. Toboggan put Captain Ronnie Tod back together, the icy look of a man bored out of his mind while he removed shrapnel, set a broken bone, or sutured a wound never failed to surprise him.
Which is not to suggest that Tod lived a charmed, auspicious existence either; Toboggan had personally witnessed Tod in a multitude of morbid situations in which lesser men would have pleaded for death - far too many to count - but Tod had never once uttered even so much as a whimper during any of them. Toboggan spied another subcutaneous fragment and began his next extraction, folding back the skin on either side of a splinter while recalling faded memories of missions past. A particularly harrowing mountain orienteering training over a decade earlier came to mind, a memory stroked by the lance-shaped hemlock splinter he was currently plucking. Then a newly-minted lieutenant, Tod had, in leaping for and missing a handhold on a sheer face of Aran Fawddwy Mountain in Northern Wales, fallen some sixty feet to land in a patch of granite stones at the base. Upon descending to his aid, Toboggan found Tod relaxing comfortably, reclined against a small boulder, taking measured drags from a Lucky Stripe cigarette while a newly-splintered shin bone projected neatly through the torn skin of his left leg. The doctor remembered distressfully the perplexing frustration he had felt observing Tod’s injury and his demeanor; according to the medical logic that Toboggan subscribed to, Tod should have been wallowing in agony, unconscious, or dead. Nothing can hurt this man, thought Toboggan as he drew out yet another splinter, then as now.
Well…his mind clarified…there are SOME things that do cause him pain…the earlier postponement of the Yugoslavian attack on Italy had made that plain. His torment over the delay was not simply the concern for the fate of the British Army in North Africa; rather, Tod had received no communication from or about his younger brother, trapped in besieged Alexandria, for several weeks. Every day that the Yugoslavians delayed their attack meant that the Italians inched that much closer towards exterminating the balance of British forces in North Africa. Toboggan began to wrap a Yugoslavian Army-issue bandage around Tod’s fist, recalling his outburst a half hour earlier when the Prince’s emissary informed the British officers that the attack had once again been delayed. Once again, despite pledges and promises of action, Prince Leka had decided to scrub the next day’s dawn attack against the perceived exposed flank of the Italians in the Veneto. This latest postponement, the regent had explained, was necessary in order to allow more time for the Yugoslav Air Force to mass its squadrons in Slovenia and Croatia and provide proper air cover to the alleged nine infantry divisions still massing near Ljubljana. As always, Tod had forced a respectably calm demeanor while the envoy explained the reasons for the delay, nodding politely whilst the man spoke in broken English that seemed to deteriorate by the day for some inexplicable reason. My God, Toboggan remembered thinking of the ethnic Bosnian cavalry officer¸ you give the same excuses for not attacking every single day-- how can you possibly be getting worse at it?
While Toboggan was unsurprisingly disappointed by the delay, there had been subtle indications of violent rage swelling beneath Captain Todd’s diplomatic visage, and Toboggan was the best there was at noticing them. No sooner had the emissary walked out the door uttering his now-predictable exultations for a renewed attack the following day than Tod had smashed his fist into the planks of a rickety table, perforating his fist against the wood with such force as to snap each of the four legs and collapse the flimsy structure into a heap of broken lumber. Already forewarned of what was likely to happen via Tod’s body language, Toboggan had already opened his lid of his surgical kit; it was times like these that he realized why Tod had chosen a medic to be his executive officer.
Tod stood up just as Doc Toboggan finished wrapping the bandage. Walking out into the chilly evening, Tod peered south into the dim violet mist gathering above Rijeka harbor below. Faint wisps of burnt orange sunlight feathered through low hanging indigo squall clouds above the Adriatic horizon to his right, and in the gathering twilight Tod could just make out a faint pair of red aft navigation lights on a lurching commercial trawler headed out into the murky black sea. Tepid surf surged against the fractured Dalmatian coast far below, the distant, diffuse crashing of waves intermittently drowned out by the parsed squawking of a flock of gulls lining the crags of the sheer cliff below him. A shrill whistle in the port pierced the roiling surf, drawing his attention away from the quicksilver crest of waves flooding in towards Rijeka. Though only faintly illuminated in the shadowy dusk, a trio of small tugboats were heaving themselves against a large, blacked-out vessel, violently thrashing the water as they struggled to move the ship into a new mooring. Tod knew that Prince Paul had warships tucked away in the heavily-fortified inner harbor—the question was, would he use them now, while Hitler and Mussolini’s attention was fixated elsewhere, and while they could still prove useful? Or would the regent continue his insistent dawdling and squander his only opportunity to potentially inflict a mortal blow to the nefarious, lethal Axis?
And, most importantly of all, would they act in time to save his brother?
Two thousand kilometers to the southeast, the largest battle of the war was just beginning.
The eminent confrontation between the Italians and British at the gates of Alexandria promised more bloodshed than the battles for Addis Ababa, Warsaw, Adwa, and France combined. British forces, ragged from exhaustion, their backs to the Mediterranean, surrounded on all sides, overlain with causalities and fighting with a haphazard assemblage of shattered divisions, had only partially cleared the wreck of the RM Rex from the harbor entrance; transport ships anchored offshore were able to ferry minimal supplies into the beleaguered city and evacuate small clutches of wounded on their return runs, but the majority of the capital ships of the British Mediterranean Fleet remained effectively impotent, bottled up inside the harbor until the wreck could be cut from the channel. Worse, British ships that neared the Alexandria harbor area were within artillery range of Italian artillery batteries on the outskirts of the city; as the Italians crept ever closer, supplying the city became as precarious as defending in the front lines. All around the city, huge swaths of earth were churned over in gigantic, remorseless artillery barrages; methodically, the British retracted their lines with each Italian push, trading space for time, hoping against all odds that the Fleet would somehow come to their rescue.
While still a formidable force on paper, the British fleet was unable to prevent Italian raiding on a colossal scale while trapped inside Alexandria harbor; Italian Captain Inigo Campioni and his 9a Squadra quickly rectified earlier reverses by hunting down scores of British transports. Scorched islands of burning British hulks soon dotted the Mediterranean, an infernal archipelago portending grim tidings for the future.
In the desert wastes west of the city, the remnants of British X Corps still held the high ground south of El Alamein against repeated yet unenthusiastic raids by General de Stephanis’ 23rd CCNN Corps. The small scale of the Italian probes, in addition to their reluctance to engage units in larger than company strength, convinced the remaining British leadership that the Italian 5th Army forces approaching from the west were content with conducting spoiling attacks until they could coordinate a final offensive in conjunction with General Graziani’s 41st Corps in Cairo. With growing disillusionment, British infantry realized that the forces arrayed against them were simply biding their time, taunting their trapped quarry before attacking in overwhelming strength at a time of their choosing. Grim as their task may have been, however, the valiant British fortified as if expecting Deliverance; defensive positions were prepared, remaining stocks of petrol and ammunition dispersed, and most importantly, the fallen were interred or evacuated to hospitals near the shore as quickly as possible, lest the sheer size of British causalities undermine troop morale.
It was in one of these waterfront British military hospitals, as far removed from the combat zone as was possible, that Gerald “Lambchop” Gallatin found himself unceremoniously pressed into service as a medical orderly. As the only surviving representative of the US delegation sent to observe the British Army in North Africa, Gallatin had been evacuated to the Alexandria dock area to await priority transport out of the city. On several occasions over the previous three weeks, he had been offered a seat on an outgoing transport; unfortunately, due to the dire supply situation and the critical needs of the multitude of wounded, he had not been able to secure stowage space for the body of his friend and commanding officer, the late Major Bonner Fellers, on any of the transports. Gallatin had argued vehemently with the dock quartermaster, alternating between pleading, demanding, and begging, but to no avail—as Italian shells whistled intermittently into the harbor, misting the briny and grizzled soldiers lining the gangways with gigantic plumes of oily water, the aquatic impacts drowning out the crush of staggering soldiers shouting and forcing their way towards the transport queues, Gerald came to quickly realize that none of the British officers had any time to deal with the sentimental machinations of a foreign communications officer and his already-deceased cargo. In part due to a dogmatic sense of loyalty towards his former commander, and in part due to his belief that his status as an official non-combatant US observer would prevent the Italians from imprisoning him, Gallatin had given up his seats one after the other, instead choosing to remain at nearby BMH Alexandria, the safest place, he reasoned, to await a response to a written appeal sent to the city garrison commandant.
Relatively unharmed in the attack that had killed Fellers and the rest of the British High Command in North Africa almost a month prior, Gerald’s idleness eventually caught the eye of a British surgeon, and Gerald, only too eager to assist his British comrades, took to his new charge with a reckless enthusiasm fueled, in part, by his craving for distraction. Every day for three weeks, Gerald raced stretchers into and out of the hospital building, held IV’s aloft, compresses down, and streaked around incoming enemy fire to bring morphine serrates and bandages to the aid stations near the front, his sleeping measured in thirty minute naps and all the while taking breaks only so long as it took to check on the status of Feller’s transport appeal. Gallatin quickly obtained a reputation for valor and courage under fire, in particular during an incident on 30 April in which he had pulled the unconscious body of a wounded British corporal out of an evacuated slit trench and delivered him to an aid station. The British squad’s lieutenant briefly entertained the idea of awarding a Gallatin a commendation for his rescue under fire of Corporal Stanley Tod, but wisely decided against it in the end, given the potential political ramifications to US neutrality. Despite the lack of official decoration, however, Gallatin’s selfless reputation had begun to spread amongst the British defenders.
In the fading daylight on 15 May, after a particularly arduous supply run to a forward position, “Lambchop” Gallatin had plopped down on a crumbled piece of masonry in the middle of a deserted downtown intersection for a short break, deeply stroking the lean calf muscles in both legs with both hands in an attempt to relieve the soreness that never seemed to subside. The distant sound of combat resonated diffusely down the long corridor of shattered office buildings lining both sides of the street; staccato reverberations of distant small arms fire echoed down the once tree-lined avenue now filled with piles of crumbled mortar and broken glass. Nestled comfortably in the shadow of some of Alexandria’s few remaining downtown buildings, yet surreally illuminated from numerous small fires peppering the large shell of a bombed-out department store behind him, Lambchop inhaled deeply on a cigarette, absentmindedly rubbing his legs and squinting his eyes against the low Saharan sunset. He had saved many lives today, he knew, and the knowledge that he was making a real difference sustained him in a very spiritual way, but the strain of physical exhaustion left him weaker than he had ever been, and for many moments he stared directly into the waning western sun, too tired and too apathetic to avert his gaze.
As his eyes adjusted to last burning embers of the sun, a black form eclipsed a portion of the sunset. The splotch gradually swelled in size and began to take on form. For the briefest of moments, alarm bells clanged in Gerald’s psyche; almost immediately, however, fatigue began to set in, and Gallatin relaxed and stared at the coalescing form with idle wonder.
Corvo di Notte was not sure if Gerald Gallatin knew who she was, but one thing she was perfectly certain of was that he had to die, and soon. Perhaps ignorance was a flimsy justification for murder, but Satya had not achieved her status and reputation by being careless. It was a logical assumption that Fellers and Gallatin conversed. Her job was to eradicate all vestiges of the link between the US State Department and the Italian SIM intelligence directorate. Consequently, Lambchop was a potential threat, and Satya dealt with threats as if her life was at stake, which of course it was. In the end, the decision making process was all rather simple, really.
Even with her hair threaded into knots by the powerful Saharan winds, when framed by the backdrop of a broken city, Satya’s beauty almost defied comprehension. Attired in what basically consisted of a slightly-oversized yet tailored black silken shirt with ethereal, billowy sleeves, Satya’s extraordinary beauty stood in marked contrast to the desolation and destruction arrayed all around her. A dusty brown newspaper fluttered upwards in her wake as she made her way towards Gerald, her arms folded primly across her chest, a calculated maneuver intended to draw attention away from her arms and to her pert, immaculate breasts.
As the black form melded into the figure of a beautiful, exotic woman before him, Lambchop’s eye’s widened, the sight of her fair Persian features arousing in him a heretofore untapped well of energy. As his weight shifted forward in preparation to stand, Satya fluidly unsheathed the blade of a curved knife from inside the cuff of her ruffled left arm sleeve with her right hand. Seemingly gliding over the pockmarked and cratered city street, Satya reached Gerald just as he was rising to his feet. Satya’s eyes pulsed with an erotic hunger, a limitless, abyssal cobalt-colored ocean of intrigue radiating outwards, ensnaring Gallatin’s attention, distracting him from her intentions. Gerald never saw the blade concealed just beneath the fluttering material of her sleeve; he found himself unwittingly transfixed by her eyes, so resplendent, so mesmerizing. As he opened his mouth to speak, Satya slung the knife in a wide arc, the blade neatly slashing through his neck in a single elegant movement. As Gerald collapsed in a heap, Satya continued walking, never breaking stride or altering her gait. By the time she had she had dropped the knife into an exposed shell hole on the other side of the street, Gerald Lambchop Gallatin was already dead.
Whatever suspicions the British leadership in North Africa may have harbored towards Fellers did not extend to Gallatin; indeed, “Lambchop’s” reputation in the Alexandria garrison was singularly distinguished, even revered. Most everyone knew of the disavowed US “volunteer” with the distinctive chin-length sideburns who had sacrificed multiple opportunities to flee the contracting cauldron of Alexandria to bravely stand alongside his stalwart British compatriots. His presence had instilled a much-needed morale boost amongst the British defenders, and his murder struck at the very core of British leadership; officers of the RAF contacted their counterparts in the United States almost immediately upon hearing of his death, and before Gallatin’s body was cold, an aircraft had been dispatched from Liberia to recover the bodies. Two days later, a US Army Air Corp DC-3 transport plane departed from an Alexandria aerodrome still under British control along the northern fringes of the city. Onboard were two coffins. Forewarned of the flight itinerary and cargo, and perhaps mindful of unnecessarily enraging the Americans prematurely, General Graziani allowed the flight to land and depart unmolested
Still further south, British General Bernard Montgomery was planning a funeral of his own, and the guest list was increasing by the minute.
Disheveled, irritable, and often seen seething with rage, Montgomery could not imagine a more lamentable position. His magnificently trained and lavishly-equipped troops had been rooted to the small hamlet of Adi Abun in Italian East Africa, unable to attack the weak Italian forces in Adwa nor retreat due to a chronic lack of fuel. Montgomery’s supply situation had steadily deteriorated following the Italian 41st Corps capture of the Suez Canal several weeks prior; though minimal replenishment was still possible via the Cape/Horn of Africa route, the considerable distance involved and rapacious Italian plundering reduced the amount of supplies reaching British-held Kenya to a trickle. Of that trickle, even less reached the 7th Armored Division quartermaster in Khartoum, which meant that the airdrops for Montgomery’s ground forces were infrequent at best; as a result, most of Montgomery’s tanks had an effective range of less than 15 km before they would have to be abandoned. Overwhelmed by the incredulity of his situation, Montgomery’s normally noble demeanor had been supplanted by wide-eyed, frenzied lunacy, and his frequent outbursts and accusations stretched the aura of British authority to the absolute limit. Many of his men felt that summary executions were not far off.
Compounding 7th Armored’s difficulties were the influx of several thousand ‘refugees’ that had managed to escape before the Alexandria/El Alamein pocket closed. Inexplicably, the British had also brought with them around 30 captured Italian officers in various states of health; these men added an additional drain on already meager resources. Of this group, Italian 1st corporal Gionvani de Natale clung desperately to life in critical condition under the care of a British surgeon. The sole member of his squad to survive a British assault 20 days earlier, de Natale drifted into and out of consciousness with disturbing regularity. The British has removed the bullet from his left shoulder and sealed the wound as skillfully as conditions would allow, but the lack of fluids and medicine resulted in frequently spiking temperature and nearly non-stop sweats for the Italian corporal. De Natale’s official prognosis did not extend much further than the following week, according to British charts.
Just beyond the looming crest of Ras Dabita Mountain 7 km to the southeast, Italian General Italo Gariboldi was calmly reviewing the first reinforcements to reach his frontier command since the beginning of the war. While the majority of the new men and equipment that had arrived since May 1st had been detailed to the 14th, 15th, and 30th Divisions defending the vital port of Assab, an improved situation there, due to the lack of supplies reaching the attacking British 6th and 50th Divisions, had resulted in the release of several artillery batteries and a fresh division of militia soldiers to Gariboldi. Leaning backwards against the stone wall of a building, one hand on his hip, the other absentmindedly tweezing the curl of his distinctive imperial-style moustache, Gariboldi observed several mule-drawn heavy weapons as they began to roll into the town. As the caravan passed single-file past him, headed northwest towards the front, Gariboldi was able to see the weapons in detail, and the elation he had felt earlier quickly soured. The archaic weaponry, Gariboldi noted, was of a First World War design, hardly the type of equipment needed to menace the heavily-armored British.
His disgust momentarily getting the better of him, Gariboldi strode up to the next passing artillery piece; as he suspected, the gun was an obsolete Canone da 105/28, probably purchased from France over 25 years ago. Keeping pace with the mule, Gariboldi streaked the pad of his finger along the inside of the barrel, expecting to find rust along the grooves of the rifling and finding none. Furrowing his brow, he superficially examined the rest of the canon for warped metal, bulges, and other signs of potential danger.
Suspiciously surprised, though fearing that he may have found the misfortune of discovering the single operational artillery piece in a ruined menagerie of patched together museum pieces, Gariboldi rambled over to the next piece in line and gave it the same cursory inspection. Finding no problems with that one, he went on down the caravan, inspecting half a dozen more guns before finally coming to the conclusion that however old his new weaponry may be, at least it was battle-worthy. Towards the end of the caravan, Gariboldi had difficulty restraining his jubilation when he discovered a single battery of anti-tank guns and cartloads of high-velocity AT ammunition. Perhaps we do have the tools we need to tackle the British, Gariboldi reminisced pensively.
The last mule-drawn canon entered the city, and Gariboldi looked southeast, peering into the amorphous, dusty wastes that separated Adwa from the interior. In the distance, a diffuse grey streak of dust rose from the ground along a narrow desert track, herald of the arrival of 48th Militia Division’s 207th Infantry Regiment. Eager to get a better view of the arriving contingent, Gariboldi walked to a nearby church and climbed an internal staircase to the crenelated roof of the southern transept; upon reaching the roof, Gariboldi was surprised to see that several other soldiers had beat him to the Southern parapet and were eagerly monitoring the approach of the 207th. Apparently, many of his soldiers were already anticipating their improved fortunes in the battle for the vast Abyssinian desert and wanted a first-hand look at their Salvation.
By the time the lead troops of the 207th reached the edge of Adwa, a large crowd had gathered on the street and on rooftops of buildings on both sides of the dirt path that constituted the town’s main boulevard. Many of the Italian soldiers cheered, raising hats and rifles in welcome while others, perhaps more apprised of the tactical situation, muttered ‘Welcome to Hell’ and other sullen, fatalistic quips. Striding confidently out to greet what he assumed was the regimental commander, Gariboldi was extremely surprised to recognize Viceroy Amedeo di Savoy beginning to dismount from his horse. Momentarily stunned, Gariboldi quickly recovered from the shock and rushed to assist the Prince, mindful of the prestige that the Duke of Aosta brought to his command. However, Gariboldi’s swollen pride sobered as he realized that the presence of the governor-general of the entire AOI at the front could only mean one thing – a resumption of combat was imminent.
Amid the rancor of cheers and whistles, Gariboldi quickly ushered the Viceroy into a side entrance of a nearby church and shut the thick wooden hatch closed behind them. For several moments the pair strolled wordlessly down the southern aisle, only the sharp echo of their boots against the marble disturbing the tomb-like silence of the thick stone walls; the Duke, normally unaccustomed to craning his neck due to his height, found himself suddenly in awe of the earth-tone Byzantine mosaics lining the walls of the arcade as they walked eastwards towards the South Transept. The intricate craftsmanship of the piers and arches had the effect of drawing Amedeo’s gaze ever upward as they walked, and by the time they reached the end of the aisle and approached the nave, the dour sepia tiles transitioned to glorious gold and blue before extending into the sunlit half-dome apse that comprised the eastern terminus of the building. Colored sunlight glittered through a concave series of stained glass windows recessed into the half-moon outer wall. The puzzled sense of childlike wonder plastered on Amedeo’s face told Gariboldi that the Viceroy had not expected such beauty to remain in the devastated remnants of Adwa, and Gariboldi himself wondered at the good fortune that would allow such a splendid structure to somehow endure the previous month’s epic battle.
Despite being bathed in a hallowed, iridescent glow, Amedeo nevertheless had ugly business to attend to, and his presence at the front had a definite purpose. Despite the deafening silence, in hushed breaths the Duke of Savoy explained that he was eager to take the war to the British as soon as possible; Gariboldi’s plan to starve the British into submission, however effective it might have proved so far, was not working fast enough. Roving colonial forces operating out of British Somalia were menacing the undefended southern border of the AOI with increasing boldness; the Viceroy wanted Gariboldi to spearhead an offensive into British dominions in Kenya and Sudan with all speed, trapping off the British forces in Mogadishu against the sea and then, later, returning to eradicate them. Before this could happen, however, Montgomery’s tanks would need to be neutralized.
Gariboldi maintained that an attack was ill-advised. His scouts had confirmed that the British on the other side of Ras Dabita were near-starving and low on water. Even more encouraging, none of the 7th Armored’s vehicles had changed position in several days. Lax discipline and deficient training were doubtlessly reigning in the British camp. More importantly, even without fuel, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to defeat Montgomery’s tanks. Respectfully, Gariboldi cautioned, “even wounded, a lion like Montgomery will not be easily defeated. He will fight to the bitter end to preserve his legacy. The unforgiving desert will do our work for us if we let it.”
Amedeo di Savoy was prepared for this kind of counter; he had encountered similar reactions to his orders many times during his career. His close relationship with Mussolini, however, had afforded him with the perfect response for situations such as these, something that plucked at the heartstrings of the Italian machismo to the very core. “Italo, nothing worthwhile is ever achieved without sacrifice.”
Gariboldi winced; Amedeo’s response was diplomatically crafted to leave him no room for bartering. How does one argue with such a statement? he thought. It was plain that he had no choice in the matter – Ours is not to reason why, ours is but to do and die. Gariboldi shuffled his feet absentmindedly, momentarily at a loss for words. With all the skill of a practiced politician, Amedeo stared impassively, holding Gariboldi’s gaze with a slight, benign smile that, while friendly, clearly expected an eventual response.
Recovering his confidence, he thought, and who knows, trusting in Fascism led to victory in Adwa; perhaps it will again.
Awash in a halo of colored light, Gariboldi breathed in deeply and stood as erect as possible, so as to be as near eye level as possible with the Viceroy. With a grin borne from utter assuredness of victory, Gariboldi declared, “We’ll put ‘em in the ground.”
Unbeknownst to everyone, both in the Axis and the Allies, a group of 60 French engineers had entered the boundless wastes of the northern Sahara desert, carrying with them only a coding cipher machine, an assortment of industrial blueprints, a half-ton of gold coins, and as much water as they could stow upon the two dozen camels they had purchased. Led by a pair of Bedouin brothers, the motley band traveled southeast from Algiers, following ancient desert tracks hidden amongst the interminable dunes. Outfitted in multiple layers of lightweight linen cloth, from a distance the engineers and scientists resembled the Berber tribespeople of the region; nevertheless, despite the flowing robes covering them from head to foot, it would not have taken much scrutiny for one to note the thick hair, pale complexion, and abundant spectacles throughout the group. Many questions might be asked of such a well-equipped troupe of Continentals dashing off into the middle of the largest desert on earth, were one possessed enough by curiosity to ask. As luck would have it, however, most of citizens of Algeria were mired in the throes of insurrection, simultaneously fearing Italian or Vichy occupation, or in the case of the native French residents, open rebellion from the indigenous Arab population. In the end, no one noticed the caravan of Frenchmen calmly disappearing into the sea of sand south of Algiers.
Back in the occupied French homeland, German Major Jochaim Kredel, former captain of the 4th Brandenburger commando battalion, reclined back in the worn leather chair that had formerly supported the robust and portly girth of the French Deputy Director of the Interior. Recently promoted due to his sensational display of leadership in capturing two road spans over the river Vistula during the German offensive in Poland, Kredel had been promoted and reassigned to the German 17th Army, which had as its primary function the defense of the Channel coast in Normandy from Cherbourg to Dieppe. Given the horrendous British losses in the war to date, and the corresponding inconceivability of a British attack at any point within the next year, Kredel accepted his new posting for what it really was – a vacation.
A gentle springtime breeze wafted along the Place Beauvau, lifting the melodies of chirping songbirds and faint wisps of savory fried beignets through Kredel’s open window. It was pleasantly cool in Paris this time of year, Kredel noticed – there had been daily rain showers every afternoon since the fall of city, but despite the gloomy overcast and mild temperatures, Spring nevertheless seemed determined to burst forth. Like many other German officers in palaces and ministries scattered throughout Paris, Kredel had real difficulty concentrating of paperwork in such idyllic conditions. A few days here, and I’ll forget all about Innsbruck, Kredel thought to himself, reflecting on the dismal surroundings of his previous posting high in the Austrian Alps.
Comfortably reclined, Kredel next slung his flawlessly-polished jackboots onto the top of his massive new desk, the thud of the heel impacting the surface echoing off the 20 foot ceilings inside the massive palatial office. The thought of actually working was the furthest thing from his mind. What concerned Kredel the most was figuring out a way to summon a beignet to him without getting out of his chair.
Just beyond his reach on the desk was a sheet of paper; swiveling the chair to face away from the window brought it within his grasp while still allowing him to keep his feet on the desk. Grinning moronically, Kredel grabbed a pen from the drawer and, bending across his body so as not to disturb his relaxed positioning, scribbled out “Hey you stupid surrender monkey frog, bring up two dozen pastries to the Minister of the Interior’s Office Immediately or I will have your whole family executed” in French. After beginning to fold the sheet of paper into an airplane, Kredel finally noticed that there was writing on the other side of the sheet. Slowly unfolding the crudely-folded airplane, he noticed that it was correspondence addressed to him that he had somehow forgotten to notice. He read the words slowly; the letter was written by a Doctor at a military convalescence hospital outside Dresden, and it explained that Kredel’s friend, Captain Helmut Braun, had taken a turn for the worse. The letter ended with a prayer and encouraged Kredel to visit Braun quickly if he wanted to have closure.
Memories of the operation at Deblin flooded into Kredel’s mind. Braun had been on another bridge, but acting quickly, his bold decision to rush the southern bridge before the chaos of action at the northern span reached his squad had saved the operation; acting with complete disregard for his own personal safety, Braun had led from the front and inspired his men with exemplary courage, driving into the teeth of the Polish defenses before they had time to realize what was happening. Now, despite the countless lives his decision had saved, it appeared that the cost was his own.
The letter fell from Kredel’s hands. As the sheet fluttered towards the ground, his next memories were of Braun’s broken body towards the end of the battle. As their men were mopping up the Polish cavalry troopers on the east bank and forcing them back towards the city, Kredel had walked over to Braun’s truck and seen his sacrifice firsthand. His driver, of course, was long since dead, a cauterized, donut-shaped hole the size of a watermelon where his chest should have been, victim of a direct hit from a Polish light anti-tank gun. The impact had severely wounded Braun as well; he suffered from a massive concussion, head trauma, and multiple open wounds where superheated metal shards from the shell’s impact with the truck’s engine compartment had scorched his exposed skin. Braun was a macabre specter to behold, bleeding from head to foot, out of his nose and ears, the left side of his uniform blackened from heat. Yet he had lived, either unconsciously or by divine providence rolling from the cab of the truck and falling to the surface of the bridge before more rounds could injure him. Unattended for several hours, upon reaching the smashed truck and finding Braun alive, Kredel had immediately called for his personal physician to attend the wounded captain. And, though it was small comfort to Braun or his family, Kredel had lobbied for and received numerous awards, including the Iron Cross first class, to lift Braun’s spirits during his recovery.
A frosty gust of wind slapped the wooden shutters behind him, and the colors in the room began to deepen in hue. The afternoon rain storm was coming. Suddenly possessed by a craving to safeguard the Reich, and reeling from the guilt of his own idleness in the midst of a global war, Major Jochaim Kredel decided that he would do all in his power to emulate the sacrifice of his friend. Reaching into the bottom drawer of his desk, tucked underneath several personal sketches of hummingbirds and a half-eaten husk of French bread, Kredel retrieved a report entitled Festung Europa and began to eagerly leaf through the pages.