What a day to be at work. It was clear blue skies, beautiful late-summer weather, and he should have been in the garden of his little house in Hochwaldenstrasse enjoying a beer, instead of mucking around forests and fields.
It was a wonder that the Bundeswehr could get people to sign up for this for the price of 6.000 Deutsche Mark a month (before tax). Still, the Hauptmann quietly told himself, if he didn't do the job, and his men didn't either, then there wouldn't *BE* any Deutsche Mark for any of them.
It had been an even greater wonder how the batallion had managed to get them out of Denmark. They had arrived in Esbjerg just in front of the advancing Red Army and had driven their beat-up panzers and support vehicles directly down to the docks. The Hauptmann hadn't believed his own eyes when they had driven directly onto one of the large ferries normally taking civilian trucks from Denmark to England. How the batallion commander had figured out to commandeer a civilian ferry he would never know. But it had brought them through Holland and finally joined them with the rest of the division fighting holding actions in front of Frankfurt.
Turning his mind to the chart laid out before him, he nodded in satisfaction with the plan that had been laid out. The rehearsal combat had gone smoothly, the men knew their positions, the strategy, where the phase lines were, etc. Looking around at the faces of his crew, he knew he could rely on them to do the job. His gunner and loader were looking keen after having managed to get some sleep on board the ferry. The driver....what was the name now, he was new...also ready for action.
A radio message had just come in 2 hours ago: A Soviet battlegroup had sliped through and were racing for Frankfurt, his orders were to engage. Good, thought the Hauptmann, it was time to do an honest days work for his salary.
It was tense, watching the dust kicked up by the advancing enemy tanks, occasionally cross-checking with the PAH helicopter element that had been attached to his kampfgruppe, he could see the distant specks of the enemy gunships, hovering over their battlegroup. They were no doubt keeping an eye on his panzers from afar.
It would require close coordination he thought, but everything had been well drilled. The gunships and the enemy tanks had to be far enough away to be out of range, but close enough that they had taken the time to deploy from the line of march.
The minutes ticked away, and distant rumbling heraled the beginning of the Soviet indirect fire. Shells started bursting around the highway stop his kampfgruppe was concealed behind, but luckily without effect. His panzers were well buttoned up. Good, thought the Hauptmann, that meant their artillery had deployed, now it was just the main battlegroup...
A radio report from the Luchs covering the left-wing came in: "Enemy APCs, enemy infantry deploying, enemy MBT platoon, 5-7 strong". He flicked quickly over to the frequency for the right-wing element, narrowly missing the report, cursing the radio designer who couldn't make the radio have more than 2 frequencies open at the same time: "...BT company, 10-12 strong, deploying. Pulling back to phase line"
Excellent, that was what he was waiting for, he keyed the radio for the entie kampfgruppe and gave the order: "Plan Advance!" then watched smugly on the tactical chart as his Leopards and attached elements reveresed from their positions and drove away from the enemy.
It was the gunner who had come up with the idea of calling the plan "Advance", if the enemy was listening in on their communications, they would misintrepret the plan.
All units reached their designated positions at the next phase line without a shot being fired at them, and the Hauptmann watched in glee as he saw the dust clouds broaden out and listened to reports of the enemy batallion deploying for battle, still far out of position.
He allowed himself to lean back and take a moments pause, wishing he had a cup of coffee. By making the enemy deploy far earlier than required, they were wasting precious time, time that he would use to patiently set up the comming battle.
The soviet artillery shifted their aiming point in response to the movements of his Leopard 2s, but most of the shots were far wide and fell nowhere near his positions. Still, the occasional shell was comming closer and it would only be a matter of time before they ranged in, probably with spotting help from the gunships, though there was a hill in the far distance where he could almost make out what might be movement, could be an observation post.
But it didn't matter, the Soviet batallion was almost through the highway stop now, having deployed and spread out from the highway. Their battallion was now scattered into seperate elements which were too far to support each other, while he had focused his own kampfgruppe to concentrate his firepower. Any minute now he would give the order...
He watched from the thermal sight as the first of the Soviet tanks crashed through the hedges in front of where he had placed the kill zone, it was followed immediately by two more, then further to the right another platoon of vehicles moved out towards his right flank, it was almost like a cowboy movie, the fort getting surrounded by the indians.
"FEUR!" he shouted, and his men needed no more encouragement, his own command panzer and both his sections opening up on the advancing Soviets, immediatly several of the enemy vehicles began to burn or exploded in a frenzy of fireworks.
The Hauptmann left the gunner to the minute details of targetting and firing, shifting his attention to the overall tactical perspective.
The left flank reconnaissance zug had pulled back in the face of the advancing enemy, which looked like a company of APCs reinforced by a platoon of tanks. They would have to be dealt with, but his plan was first to block the trust on his right flank, then switch his forces to the left, the Luchs would have to keep the enemy occupied, badly outgunned through they were.
To his own front on the right flank, it was a killing day, smoke plumes were rising on the right side of the open ground where a BMP platoon had been destroyed, and in the field in front of him, his Leopard 2s were trading fire with the remnants of 2 Soviet tank platoons.
But all was not going his way, glancing through the periscopes, he could see the crew from one of his panzers huddle behind their tank, the turret resting on the chassis at an odd angle. He hoped they would have sense enough to pull back to the re-group point, if their panzer was a loss they needed to get out of the line of fire.
And where were the enemy gunships ? His Anti-Air elements were ready and waiting for them, but it seemed the Russian pilots had a sense of caution after all!
It was time to shift his attention towards the left flank before the soviets advanced too far, he decided. Zug 2 could handle the remaining enemy vehicles. It looked like there were mostly support vehicles remaining which had been caught out together with their main battle tanks as they advanced into the kill box.
The Hauptmann keyed the radio and gave the order: "Zum neue linje: Zug 1", then ordered the driver of his command panzer to follow Zug 1, judging from the gunfire and explosions comming from across the highway, the Luchs were now engaged with the enemy, which was not a good thing for reconaissance units.
As his little group of 3 Leopards took up dominating positions behind a small hill, he had a breath-taking view of the battlefield, and it immediatly spurred him to action. The left flank Luchs were badly outgunned, facing off against what looked like 10 BMPs, 4 Main Battle Tanks, an artillery unit further back, and he could see infantry advancing towards the field where the Luchs were as well.
For the umpteen time since his arrival at the Panzer forces, he looked at the Luchs and wondered who was the genius who had gotten the bright idea to design a lightly armed reconaissance vehicle which was the size and height of a heavy panzer like the Leopard 2.
Another unit of T-72s poured out of concealing positions amongst the buildings of the highway stop and started racing down the highway, trying to get around his positions. "Verdamnt, how many of them are there ?!" he marvelled. "Gunner, target, engage at will!" he ordered, radioing the other 2 Leopards which were following him to do the same. He would have to stop this unit first, but he might just be able to help the poor reconnaissance troopers in another way...
The Hauptmann switftly tuned his command radio to the Luftwaffe frequency and pinpointed the attack vector. He didn't have to wait long, the waiting air-support came in across the battlefield shortly after, having lined up their attack run.
Two Tornadoes leaped and hopped over tree-tops and small buildings, no doubt causing immense concern to anyone sheltering inside. He hoped that the enemy AA umbrella had been sufficiently supressed over on the right flank, but his heart sank as he saw several missile trails reach upwards from a position behind the highway stop, enemy SAM units! Curses!
One of the Tornadoes immediatly veered away and abandoned its attack run, throwing out flares and counter-measures to avoid the homing missiles streaking towards it. The other barrelled through, and released its bomb load over the position held by the Soviet artillery and APCs. A multitude of minor explosions tore up the ground, but the Hauptmann couldn't immediatly see any obvious effects. Still, the Soviets clearly decided that their position was untenable and drove their vehicles forwards to move away from any following airstrikes.
"Herr Hauptmann! Target destroyed!" the call from his gunner brought him back to attention on the matters at hand instead of watching the air force, he peered out through the periscopes, the enemy unit to his front was a mess of smoking wrecks, he saw two T-72s on fire and a third one rapidly reversing backwards.
Excellent, that meant he could now turn his attention to the enemy armour driving on his left flank. He selected one of the rehearsed routes of approach through the hedges surrounding the large corn field and instructed his driver to move out.
As the Leopard rocked and rolled down the hill and raced towards the firefight, the Hauptmann had a moment to wonder what was keeping the enemy gunships from engaging. His own helicopter element had reported at least 4 gunships when the Soviet batallion approached, left alone they could do immense damage.
But if they weren't engaging.... well he needed to use all his assets, he could not afford to leave fighting elements out of the battle. As his command panzer burst through the hedges, he keyed the radio and ordered his AA element to engage the remaining light vehicles on his right flank at will, hoping that the decision wouldn't come back to haunt him.
"Target, left 15 degrees, 400 meters. Fire!" he ordered the gunner. They had crested a small hillock in the field and now had a clear line of fire to the enemy armour. The Leopards rocked to a halt and took up firing positions, immediatly scoring hits on the enemy platoon on the far side of the field.
He hardly needed to coordinate the fire anymore, his crew knew what was needed and expected of them, it left him more time for the overall perspective. He watched as the enemy armour platoon in the distance was reduced to a series of smoking wrecks, still half-dreading the crash and impact of an enemy shell on his own panzer.
Suddently he noticed movement in the green hedge ahead. "Gunner! Infantry, 200m front!" he called over the intercom. His gunner swiftly changed his focus to the co-axial machine gun and started walking a stream of bullets through the corn field in front of them. But that wouldn't be enough, he thought, infantry needed to be kept continously on the back foot, otherwise they would get in place to set up a missile launcher or similar. And these Soviets were getting dangerously close to the stop line he had defined as the trigger line for retreat for his whole kampfgruppe.
"Driver! Advance, gunner, keep on the enemy infantry!" the Hauptmann ordered to his crew, "Zug 2, follow, infantry at close quarters!" he ordered the following Leopards.
They had reached the position where the Soviet infantry had advanced forwards, his panzers sweeping the hedges and cornfields with machinegun fire. He heard the occasional *pling-pling* of rifle bullets richoceting off the armour, but nothing else struck his panzer. It was difficult to see if they hit anything, but he spotted what looked like several Soviet riflemen run back the way they came. Good, that would teach them to advance forwards unsupported.
He was just in the middle of repositioning his panzers when the dreaded call came across the intercomm: "ACHTUNG! FEINDLIGE HUBSCHRAUBER!" Enemy helicopters! He scanned the perisocopes, both for the approach vector for the enemy gunships as well as any potential piece of cover, but he realized that they would never make it to the nearest cluster of woods in time. His gunner ejected a range of smoke canisters and his driver slewed the heavy Leopard 2 around in a circle to try and face the thick front armour towards the enemy.
He saw the big squat Hind gunships as they came racing towards his panzers, guns blazing and streaks of rockets spewing from their under-wing pods. Was this it ? Was this going to be the end ?
Two jarring explosions rocked the command panzer, knocking him and the crew around. He felt a rush of heat on his skin and smelled the arid smoke of burning diesel. But to his surprise, he was still alive.
"Status!" he shouted out, though he didn't really expect an answer. "Sights out, engine out, fire supressant engaged!" the gunner called back. Well, that was better news than getting blown out of his vehicle like in the last engagement.
The Hauptmann popped open the hatch to clear the smoke from the interior and try to get his bearings, he saw the bloated form of the Hind gunship pass overhead and instinctively reached for the cupola machinegun to try and shot it down. But he refrained from swinging it towards the gunship and pulling the trigger, doing so would only signal that his panzer was still functioning, and besides, he knew the Hind gunship was armoured against small-caliber rounds.
Around the command panzer, he saw the same scene being played out: Crews bailing out of their vehicles, trying to effect emergency repairs, trying to get their panzers into cover. And to his front, the enemy was still advancing, the infantry had regrouped from his assault, and were now backed by their APCs, as well as the artillery unit that positioned itself to fire in direct support.
But his kampfgruppe was not done for just yet.
The Hauptmann stepped up on the turret and grabbed his binoculars to get a better view. Across the hedge, his remaining Leopard 2 zug had dealt with the remnants of the enemy on the right flank and were now poised to strike at the remaining infantry and light vehicles of the enemy battlegroup.
He was keenly aware what a fabulous target he was making of himself, but he didn't care, he wanted to see his panzers roll over the Russians and crush them, drive them from Germany, send them packing back to Siberia or Outer-Wherever-istan.
A fusillade of RPGs impacted or glanced off the advancing Leopards, doing negligible damage, but a series of rapid explosions detonated amongst the Leopards as some 30mm cannon opened up. Striking the lead panzer, the cadence of high-velocity shells tore up the right track, sending the Leopard grinding to a halt. Seeing this, the following panzer halted and started reversing to bring itself out of the line of fire, spewing out concealing smoke all the while.
The Hauptmann grimaced as he saw the crew of the struck panzer through the smoke cover as they bailed out of their vehicle and run back towards their own lines.
It was enough for today he decided. The Hauptmann instinctively ducked as a Hind swept past overhead, seeking a target in the swirling smoke screens. He could see at least 15 enemy main battle tanks with plumes of smoke or bonfires pouring out of them, as well as half-a-dozen APCs, but his own forces had taken losses too, it was enough for today. This Russian battlegroup had paid dearly for their advance through the gauntlet towards Frankfurt. Good, the Hauptmann thought grimly, each Russian whom he gave a bloody grave here, was one less Russian whom he had to give a bloody grave elsewhere.
"Direct the kampfgruppe to fall back to the re-group point." he shouted at the gunner who were still working the radio on his shot-up Leopard 2. "And then lets get out of here ourselves..." he muttered as he eyed the remaining Soviet infantry platoon advance through the field towards them.
"Are we on the right track Herr Hauptmann ?" Both the weary and the worry was evident in the voice of the driver, as they stumbled through the forest in the dark. He could admit privately that he hadn't a clue of where they were, but it wouldn't do at all to confront the men with that.
"Not far now..." was all he could offer to his wounded driver.
The band of crew from both his own command panzer and Zug 1 had somehow missed the re-group point where the kampfgruppe would have pulled back to. Understandable really, it was unfamiliar area to all of them, it was dark, there was no moon to light their way, and carrying two wounded didn't make it any easier.
They were suffering stoically the Hauptmann thought, not wanting to be a burden to their comrades, but injuries sustained inside an armoured vehicle were generally quite nasty, super-heated slivers and shrapnel from both the shell and the armour. He had to get them to some real medical attention soon he thought grimly.
In the distance he spied a series of lights through the forest, and he could hear motors running. It could be the enemy, it could be friendly troops...
The Hauptmann briefly mulled the options availiable, did he dare to approach ? Did he dare not to ? To consider that all this was just a day at work for a military officer made it all the more surreal. He took only a moment, then he made his decision. After all, he was the ranking officer, it was his job to make decisions like these.
He felt like he completly deserved his 6.000 Deutches Mark a month.