No sooner had the call went up than the first rounds of Russian ammunition scythed through the foliage among the British position, splinters raining down on the dug in infantry as the heavy machinegun rounds shredded the trees about them. Trooper Scargill buried his face into the dirt, praying to the Almighty that the emplaced MILAN anti-tank weapon he was hunkered behind might protect him should a bullet find its way into his heavily camouflaged position in the treeline. There was a break in the horrible cacophony of gunfire, and a shouted command audible above the roar of approaching Soviet vehicles. Scargill sighted his MILAN and laid it onto the nearest BMP that was bounding towards him across the plain with alarming speed. He could see puffs of smoke as its machineguns fired again, the rounds impacting a second later to precious little effect. The soldier held his breath and depressed the switch.
The anti-tank missile screamed from its cradle, bursting from the trees like a scattered bird-of-prey, and quickly accelerated towards its target. Scargill wrestled with the guidance controls as the other teams let their own weapons loose on the approaching Soviets, but another burst of automatic fire from their flank sent them all back into the dirt once more. He could feel as much as hear the dull thuds of the suddenly unguided missiles burying themselves into the undulating terrain to their 12 o’clock without a kill, and cursed their situation with a savagery known only to soldiers.
‘Tanks!’ A cry from a team hidden to Scargill’s left sent a chill up his spine. ‘Tanks coming up the hill!’
The trooper felt the blood drain from his face as he lay there frozen. A heavy blow to his helmet brought him back to reality – his partner was shouting at him to resume his position at the launcher’s controls. More rounds were coming in at them now, from seemingly all angles, and the sound of their guns was growing closer still. Scargill’s partner was scrambling to reload another missile onto the cradle under the intense fire, but their time was up; the BMPs crested a small rise in front of their position like ships climbing over a wave, and bore down upon them.
Scargill pulled free a grenade from his webbing and prepared for the worst.
It was with spectacular force that the leading T-64 did explode, launching its turret into the overcast sky like a cork. The remaining tanks returned fire, their gyro stabilised guns blazing as they closed the distance across the West German terrain at speed. The 125mm rounds cracked through the air clear above the British defensive line, burying themselves in the farmlands beyond. The Chieftains hidden in the hedgerow replied, sending another volley of fin ammunition into the charging Soviet tanks, killing a second T-64 with a penetrating blow to the turret.
Inside the British troop commander’s tank, the gunner managed a laugh. The Russian tanks were throwing themselves on the British lances, and all that was achieved was a reduction in ammunition.
Nearby, a young MILAN operator was sighting his weapon through a gap that had been cut in the hedge, paying little mind to the intense exchange of fire not far away up the line. He was waiting – along with the rest of his platoon – for their targets to come into view. They did not wait long. Across the road, beyond the fields, the first of a group of Russian infantry fighting vehicles moved into view. They were bearing down on the anti-tank teams that had set up in the woods covering their right flank, and were in danger of overrunning the position. Suddenly there was a sound like a sharp rush of wind, and then the unmistakeable din of a rocket motor as the camouflaged Spartan MCTs to their left let loose. The operator did not look away from his weapon sight, and observed passively as the Spartan’s missile seemed to float towards its target, something that had not been there a moment before: a Russian tank atop a wooded hill in the distance. The tank was firing its coaxial into the trees, no doubt seeking to pin the teams on the forward right flank while his comrades in their BMPs assaulted the position. It was with some satisfaction he witnessed the tank disappear in an expanding ball of fire, as the HEAT warhead from the Spartan found its mark. A moment later, the MILAN teams around him fired their own missiles; the BMPs were slowing on the approach to the woods, suddenly finding themselves without supporting tanks, and they would be next. The young operator joined his fire to theirs, and wondered to himself if the Russians thought this was all worth it.
Trooper Scargill flinched as a massive detonation shook the ground under them. He looked up from his dug-in position to see the BMPs slow suddenly, just outside the woods they had been so boldly charging into not a moment before.
‘Friendly covering fire coming in,’ his CO shouted from behind them. ‘Keep your heads down!’
A second explosion engulfed the BMP that had existed not a moment before out to Scargill’s front, sending a shockwave of air and heat into the British positions, followed by another as a second MILAN missile did its work. He could hear the shrapnel bounce off his launcher as he waited for the madness to stop, as missile after missile screamed into the blunted Russian spearhead. He grabbed his SLR in preparation for any dismounted infantry making a break for it into the trees, but found himself strangely disappointed as he peered out of his foxhole and saw – through the smoke and fire of burning metal – the surviving BMPs retreat into the distance.
Scargill slumped into his pit as his partner screamed obscenities at the retreating Soviet vehicles, and tried to pretend that the Russians wouldn’t be back.