"Some late lunch Herr Hauptmann ?" His new driver asked and climbed up to offer him what looked like two of those north-german pastries they like in Slesvig.
"Danke..", the Hauptmann paused briefly and meant to call the driver by name, but at just that instant it eluded him. Lukas ? No that had been his previous driver, poor boy, he hadn't memorised his new crew fully. "..Danke." he simply finished and let his driver off with a nod. Still, he mused as he sat on the side of the turret, in the army at war, names became less relevant and functions more so.
It had been a mess of a job to get his tanks in operation again, 3 were complete write-offs, and one was still undergoing repairs. Fortunately the 3 panzers he had left to catch up from the depot had reached him, as had the attached recon elements from the aufklarung regiment.
As he sipped the coffee the driver had brought from the local corner shop here at the little town along the highway, he looked south towards the expected direction the enemy would come from. It felt funny, fighting on ground that was not his, in a country that he did not call home. Even the language was funny, this danish language, it sounded like german but minced beyond all recognition. Danish, even their pasty was called that. Yes, he grinned and took a bite of the pastry, he was defending the Danish!
But such were his orders, Denmark was part of the NATO alliance and even now they were fighting the Russian invasion, it was his duty to protect them as if they were his own people.
And they made good coffee he grudgingly accepted, that made them worth defending. He had heard from relatives who had been to the DDR before the beginning of the conflict that coffee was still rationed and that the Erzats-kaffe was undrinkable, being made out of glue and powdered oak. Yes, he told himself, defending the right to have good coffee was definitely worth fighting for!
From his position on the turret of his tank, the Hauptmann looked at the cars driving through his little blocking position, all of them packed full of local civilians making a desperate attempt to flee what might become a battlefield very quickly. But on the sidewalk he spied a diminutive old lady, probably 80 years old or more, with a walking stick and shopping bag, heading to the little corner shop.
"Hey! Frau!" he called, hoping she knew English, "the Russians come, you must go away from here, must run!".
To his everlasting suprise she looked at him and replied in perfect german: "Mein Leibes Kind... I ran from my home when the they came in 1919. I ran again from my home when they came in 1945. If I run from my home now, I shall never be back."
He had no answer, so he could only look as she went away, then he climbed onto his assigned vehicle of war, no longer quite certain who or what he was defending.
On the tactical display The Hauptmann watched as the reconnassiance elements kept track of the enemy. Two full platoons of enemy armour, one comming down the main road leading through the village, and another driving across the fields parallel to the main road. Supporting elements of Anti-Air assets and AFVs running beside them. And several helicopter gunships hovering above them.
The Hauptmann grimaced, this would have to be fast and rough, he was confident in his ambush positions in the woods next to the village for Zug 1, and the haystacks that Zug 2 was immitating in the cornfield beyond, but as soon as those Hinds got attack coordinates from the ground units, they would have a field day on his panzers. Trying to peer out between the trees, he settled on the overall plan: His Luchs reconnassiance elements would keep the enemy at bay for as long as possible, then his two panzer platoons would rush out of their prepared positions in a flanking attack. Ideally they would be upon the enemy before they knew what hit them.
He waited patiently to strike, his hand poised on the transmitter button of the radio ready to signal the attack, the seconds ticking away as the enemy came closer and closer...
"Achtung! Enemy armour on the left!" Came the panicked call on the radio, The Hauptmann looked left in shock, there, just beyond the tree-line, an enemy armour platoon was advancing swiftly right towards his position. "Verdamt!!" he shouted out, his position had been revealed and his ambush uncovered before it had even begun!
Making matters worse, he could clearly see the way the long barreled guns of the enemy tanks kept rock-steady, even as the tanks raced and bounced towards him across the uneven ground, advanced tanks, T-64 probably.
Before he could grab the intercom and order his panzer and Zug 1 into position, there was a series of flashes as the enemy platoon fired a volley. The Hauptmann instinctivly ducked as the volley exploded in the trees around his panzers. Quickly now, while they reloaded!
"Smoke!" He called out to the gunner, who swiftly released a smoke discharge to obscure the enemy aim, Zug 1 did likewise, but staying in place was a death-trap, the enemy was in his flank and we're shooting at the weak side armour, he needed to react to the enemy.
"Driver! Advance! Full speed!" The Hauptmann ordered, then plotted a course for Zug 1, straight ahead out of the woods, then a hard left turn into the middle of the enemy formation. They couldn't get into cover swiftly enough to evade the enemy, no, better to engage decisively and keep the enemy on the back foot.
His panzers roared out of the woods, felling two trees in the process, smoke spewing from their dischargers making them look like ferocious monsters out of a dark farie-tale. They swung sharp left, bringing their guns to bear, and the Hauptmann felt a kick of glee as the Leopard 2 rocked when the gunner fired.
"Vorvarts! Keep going!" he radioed the platoon, he saw through the commander optics how one T-64 lit up in a blazing explosion. He tried to keep his cool in the swirling armoured melee, the range was less than 200 meters, he needed some distance. Out of the periscope he spied some low slung enemy vehicles hanging back in the nearby corn field, what looked like missile launchers or AA guns sticking up from their turrets.
That cornfield would do nicely as cover he thought to himself, nevermind the enemy AA assets in it. He ordered the platoon to swing around and come into the field, hoping he had caught the enemy sufficiently off-guard to unravel their plans.
His command panzer and Zug 1 burst through a fence and drove into the corn field, throwing out smoke and sending cornstalks flying everywhere. On the thermal sight he spotted a moving vehicle, he cross-checked swiftly with his tactical map, none of his units should be there, "Gunner, fire! FIRE!" he shouted, his blood burning, The Leopard 2 fired and the sharp rocking threw him bakcwards into his seat, he saw a plume of flame through the thermal sight. Yes, this was what he was fighting for! "JA! Again, give him a shot, for coffee!!" he sputtered, then abruptly pulled himself up, what had he said ? He hoped none of the crew had heard that over the noise of the cannon firing and the panzer grinding through the corn-field.
He pushed the thought from his mind checked the tactical map, Zug 2 had blunted the enemy advance through the village, he saw icons for destroyed enemy vehicles scatted around the northen edge of the village, but one of his own panzers were not answering calls. On the far right his reconnassiance elements were retreating in the face of what looked like a platoon of tanks and one of AFVs.
His trap was unravelling between his hands, but Russian tanks were getting blow apart by the minute, and he still had one ace up his sleeve. The Hauptmann tuned into the Luftwaffe flight frequency on the radio and gave the attack order: "Angriff! Coordinate sector BD-19!".
Standing in the open hatch for a clear view, he saw the two Tornadoes streak in towards their assigned attack area on the far side of the village, they were flying low, dangerously low, trying to get under the AA umbrella.
The flat terrain meant that there were few contours in the landscape to use as cover, and he could see tracers from the Russian Anti-Air guns arching upwards in a lethal fireworks display. The Tornadoes came into view just above the tree-line, dodging left and right as they roared across the battlefield. The Hauptmann bit his lower lip as he watched a streak of white smoke from a missile launcher arc to intercept the Luftwaffe bombers, it exploded in a cloud of shrapnel just in front of the two jets, briefly obscuring his view before they came into sight again. He saw the clustert bomblets from the jets fall onto the designated target area, and explosions ripped through the enemy tanks under the bombardement, he saw at least one secondary explosion as an ammo storage torched off, but his attention was on the two jets, one had come out through the AA inferno intact, but the trailing aircraft was belching black smoke from the fuselage and rolling onto its back. It went into a rolling dive and impacted the ground was might have been 1 or 2 kilometers beyond his position, there was a large explosion as the jet impacted.
All told, it had taken about 10 seconds, he saw no parachutes.
Just as he was scanning for where next to take his panzers, there was a crack of cannon fire and his Leopard took a square on hit. The explosion just in front of him threw him out of the turret hatch, and he rolled down the side of the Leopard 2, hitting his head in several places before he came to a stop in the corn field beside his command panzer. He blinked several times and gulped for air, his head spinning and his ears feeling like church bells.
The Hauptmann tried to focus, telling himself that he needed to get up, needed to get back into his position. He tried to pull himself up, faltered, then smelled the arid scent of cordite and smoke. With a surge of adrenaline he raised himself on his elbows and could see the flames licking up from his panzer. Everything was a blurry mess, but he managed to raise himself to his feet, stumbled a few steps and took in the sight: Direct hit on his panzer, flames comming from the engine compartment. He waved unsteadily from side to side, not fully in control of his senses, then he stumbled around and took a few steps away from the burning wreck, there was ammunition inside, it might explode, another shell might land on him, he had to get away, somewhere else. He wished the massive church bell in his head would stop ringing.
He waded through the smoke thrown out by the smoke dischargers, coughing as he stumbled through the corn field, both from the arid taste of burnt rubber and electronics, as well as the cloying stench of the smoke screens. He fell once, stumbled to his feet again, rage burning in his veins and his head spinning from the concussion.
A gust of wind parted the smoke and he saw Panzer 213 of Zug 1 before him, a warning voice in his head dimly told him that by standing in the open next to a tank which was engaged with the enemy, he was putting himself in great danger.
But he recklessly dismissed the voice and lunched forwards towards the Leopard 2. The main gun fired and a great flash of fire briefly blinded him, but the sound of the cannon was just a dim crack of thunder. The reasoning voice came back and told him that he most likely suffered from a loss of hearing, probably due to the concussion.
Fortunately, by a stroke of luck, the commander hatch popped open and the Leutnant commanding Zug 1 peered put into the smoke to try and gain a clear picture of the battle. The Hauptmann stumbled forward and heaved himself onto the chassis, and was quickly offered a helping hand as the Leutnant saw him.
The Hauptmann half-fell into the turret, landing next to the commanders station. Leopard 2s weren't built to carry passengers, so it became a tight squeeze as the Leutnant jumped back in.
He shock his head violently to clear the dizzyness, he could see the crew trying to talk to him, asking for orders, seeking direction. As the Leutnant jumped in and resumed directing the crew, the Hauptmann could see on the tactical overview how the situation was unfolding.
Zug 2 was still engaged with the enemy, though even as he watched, the status icon for Panzer 322 became a dull grey in color, and he saw a glaring red icon representing enemy helicopter gunships appear on the right flank.
He scanned the situation overview, noting the marks representing destroyed enemy tanks around his own position and as well to the front of Zug 2, but also the loss of his reconnasince elements. He shook his head again, trying to clear the dizziness, there were enemy tanks on his flanks, enemy helicopter gunships rampaging all over his positions, his own panzer had been shot out from under him, but as he looked around the interior of the Leopard 2, what made his decision was the faces of his subordinate Leutnant and the crew: Wary and apprehensive, they looked at him in tense expectation.
The Hauptmann knew they would obey what order he gave and a fire burned in him to order them forwards and meet the enemy head-on in a raging fury of clashing steel. But no, getting them all killed in the line of duty was not his mission. He was a German officer with a duty to his men and to their future, not a reckless American in pursuit of a posthumous medal.
He couldn't hear his own words, but he knew his mouth spoke the right words: "Fall back"
Helmuth, that was his name, he remembered as the field ambulance speed away with some of his casualties, his driver amongst them.
His hearing had begun to recover, and beside some bruises and the concussion, he would be fine. The Hauptmann looked down at the chart showing the routes leading away from the blocking position he had been trying to hold. With Russian tanks now racing forwards towards the rear lines, it would be up to the local Danish forces to try and block their progress, he had given as good as he had been able, and many of the young lads under his command had paid dearly for the effort.
He picked out a route leading along small trails and forests, hoping that he could get what remained of his casualties accounted for and the remains of his panzers under cover before the main Russian advance arrived. Once they did and the infantry started combing the area for stragglers he would surely be captured.
He held the ice-pack against his head and tried once again to focus on the job at hand. The route lead through the sandy dunes towards the sea, only a swift race through the night and a bucket load of luck might see them in Esbjerg, a port town still held by NATO forces. The batallion was gathering there following the Russian breakthrough. From there he had no idea what they would do, but he had now fought for the freedom of the Danes, the Hauptmann hoped he would be back to fighting for his own homeland.