He began to have morale problems now.
In hindsight,The Hauptmann mused, any military command in wartime is only a few small steps away from a complete morale breakdown, and it is only the training, the group mentality and the officers who make the difference. As soon as casualties start to mount, the problem is exerbated.
That, and when a Troublemaker arrives on the scene.
In this case the Troublemaker was his new driver. Granted, there had been a lot of rotations lately, much of the company had been rearranged several times. In a modern army, casualties piled up at an alarmingly higher rate than in previous conflicts.
The Hauptmann scrowled. It had started out as small things, little comments here and there to the other soldiers in the company, little breaks in the rules and regulations which, in wartime, one could normally overlook: sloppy uniform, a little alchohol on duty, snide comments on orders, practical jokes. In wartime you had bigger things to worry about. He was probably a hippie thought the Hauptmann, even if he didn't have long hair and purple clothes.
But then the cracks in the hierachy start to appear, it becomes an "Us-vs-Them" perspective in the company, insistigated by the Troublemaker. Then the secret meetings start, outright refusal of minor orders, the practical jokes become borderline sabotage or theft, various pliable members of the company embrace the Troublemaker as a sort of standard bearer for their grievances. And the Troublemaker is emboldened off their support and brings the whole situation closer to a crisis, because ultimately he is seeking the crisis, feeds off it, desires it, like a pyromaniac.
And if the officer in charge doesn't react swifty enough, the cohesion of the whole structure breaks down and the individual desertions start. Or worse. The mutiny.
The Hauptmann realised that he hadn't reacted swiftly enough.
For once he was strangely glad that their position in the rear of the division during refitting had come under attack, it meant that at least for a brief time, the men rallied around him and took a semblance of direction once again. A Soviet battlegroup had punched through the thinly held line and were even now racing towards the main highway to Essen, but in doing so they had become seperated from their support elements which were proceeding at a slower pace.
The Hauptmann surveyed the terrain from the cupola of the command panzer. Batallion had tasked his company to immediatly attack the support elements which were close to his area. Either the lead elements were then forced to turn back and assist their comrades, or they would be cut off. The Hauptmann could guess what the Soviet commander would most likely do, and it meant that he had to act fast, every minute was precious.
The Hauptmann ordered his command panzer and Zug 1 to come to a halt behind a large hedge of hazelnut bushes. Left unpruned for several years, they easily concealed his panzers. Updates came in on the radio net that Zug 2 was in position behind a small hill which could overlook the entire road the enemy was using.
A small remnant of panzergrenadiers and their APCs from PanzerGrenadier batallion 83 had taken cover in a nearby field. They were all that was left of the previous blocking force which had tried to hold off the Soviet breakthrough and paid dearly for it. The Hauptmann had exchanged only a brief few words with the surviving platoon commander, but the determination in his voice had been evident.
The Luchs reconnassiance elements reported on the enemy advance: "Contact. Enemy. APCs - 11 strong. Artillery - 6 strong." So far so good, the Hauptmann allowed himself a smile, he would roll over what looked like an enemy Motor Rifle Company and their artillery units, especially if they continued to advance unawares towards his position.
And just as he finished the thought, the hope turned to ash when the reconnassiance Leutnant followed up his sighting report: "Update, enemy T-64s, 5 strong, enemy APCs, 4 strong". Rats! that meant they weren't so defenseless after all.
His plan began to fray even more at the edges when the faint staccato bursts of machine cannon fire told him that the engagement had begun before he wanted it to. A brief report from the Luchs confirmed that: "Engaged! Retreating! Enemy deploying off-road." No use crying over anymore spilled milk, the position and odds were not brilliant, but he had 7 Leopard 2 tanks and their crews keen and itching for a fight.
"Enemy is deploying, Luchs are pulling back, it is our turn now." The Hauptmann informed the crew of the command panzer to keep them briefly updated.
"We will retreat as well ?" asked the Troublemaker in the drivers seat.
Well, not all of them were so keen.
The Hauptmann didn't borther to reply, he knew that would open up an argument he didn't have time to fight. Instead he keyed the radio and signaled the rest of the company as well as their newfound PanzerGrenadier friends: "Achtung, enemy comes, manouver to engage in 2 minutes."
He started a mental countdown, everything was looking good so far, his reconnaissance elements reported the enemy APCs racing down the road at full speed, probably aiming to flush out any hidden ambushes and ensure the road was open for the following elements.
Well, thought the Hauptmann, it was time to show them his hand and what ambush he had in store for them.
"Follow my lead and advance, gunner, load AP" he ordered to his own panzer and those of Zug 1. His driver gave a burst of speed, "Halt at the hedge!" he shouted out, but the driver kept the acceleration going for too long and they burst through the hazlenut bushes just as the enemy APCs rounded the corner of a nearby building. Zug 1, following their orders, did likewise, leaving all 4 Leopard panzers exposed without cover.
No time to curse, no time to order corrective action. "FIRE!" was all he could see worth ordering.
To their credit, the gunners reacted admirably. A salvo of destruction from all four panzers ripped appart the enemy BMPs in short order, a few sporadic shots came from the main gun of one of them, but missed or glanced harmlessly off the thick frontal armor of his panzers.
The Hauptmann blinked, his rising anger somewhat molified at the excellent shooting. They slowed down and he scanned the periscopes, trying to get a view on what was going on. At the same time, he scrowled angrily at the driver: "Did you not hear me order a stop Driver ?!", "No....Sir" came the reply.
He had more urgent problems now. The tracked artillery unit that had been part of the enemy column was swinging around the outskirts of the little hamlet along the road and started taking his Leopards under fire. The heavy shells went wide, they were not built for firing on the move, but even a near-miss from one of their massive shells could wreck one of his panzers.
The Hauptmann briefly debated staying to fight in a direct shoot-out, not the most advantageous of duels, but his Leopards would surely triump. And, if he ordered a fall-back now, he wasn't sure just how his men would react. He had just given the order to stay and fight, checking that Zug 2 was keeping a unit of enemy T-64s occupied on the far side of the road, when one of his panzers was rocked by a violent explosion and started spewing out black smoke from the top of the turret.
The Hauptmann let out a curse and rapidly scanned his periscopes: There, right on his flank, enemy T-72s, they had raced back from the lead in order to save their comrades. Time was up, it was no longer an ambush, he now had a fight for survival on his shaking hands.
"Back! Back under cover, reverse!" the Hauptmann ordered across the intercom. Neither Zug 1 or his Troublemaker driver needed further encouragement, the Leopards backed through the hedge, firing smoke as they went.
Letting the Leutnant of Zug 1 coordinate the action briefly, the Hauptmann turned his attention to his other flank. Zug 2 and the PanzerGrenadier reported in that they were in a sharp firefight with advancing enemy infantry supported by a unit of tanks. He could hear the stacatto sound of machineguns firing across the radio, as well as the sporadic heavier boom of a Leopard 2 main gun.
If they were close enough for the infantry to use their light machineguns, then they were close indeed.
The Hauptmann listenend in on the reports across the radio net as his second Zug and the infantry slowly cut the enemy infantry advance to pieces, though there was a notable silence comming from panzer 242. A glance at the tactical map showed a grey icon where panzer 242 would have been, indicating that a recent status call had gone unanswered. The Hauptmann just hoped that his panzers were giving at least as good as they got.
Turning his attention back towards his immediate surroundings, he was comforted by the fact that a swift series of volleys had decimated the out of position artillery unit, punishing them for trying to engage a unit of West German main battle tanks in a direct shoot-out. However, doing so had allowed the flanking T-72 tanks to seek nearby cover. Peering out of his periscopes and thermal sights, the Hauptmann tried to get a clear view of them through the smoke and haze now obscuring the field to his front.
It was while scanning for the enemy tanks that he saw a badly discouraging sight, some 3 kilometers distant, small specks in the distance, a platoon of enemy APCs were doing a far loop around the battlefield to come at his PanzerGrenadiers and Zug 2 from behind. They must have been part of the enemy leading elements and had been ordered back to clear out his ambushing force when the extent of the fighting had been revealed to the enemy commander.
Though they had stopped the enemy infantry advance cold, a full unit more of enemy infantry and their attached APCs were probably more than the poor PanzerGrenadiers could handle. The Hauptmann belatedly realized that if he saw the tactical map from the perspective of the enemy commander, then it resembled a Soviet ambush of the West Germans, rather than the other way around!
They had to help them, he resolved, or at least be in a position where the enemy couldn't easily exploit the situation further. He still had 5 operational Leopard 2 panzers, although engaged to their front and flanks, they were a formidable force if concentrated, but he had to clear or get through the unit of T-72s to his front.
There was nothing for it, he had to play the cards he had been dealt and take the blows as they came, he saw little way out otherwise. "Driver, advance, full speed, gunner ready AP".
And nothing happened.
"Driver, report, are you hit ?" the Hauptmann asked across the intercom, though he instantly realized that was not the case: "This is suicide! They'll shoot us to pieces!" came the angry reply. He couldn't see the driver from the commanders position, down in the hull as he were, but there was no edge of panic to the voice of the Troublemaking driver. In the distance, the Hauptmann could see the enemy infantry dismount from their APCs and begin the advance towards his PanzerGrenadiers, plumes of smoke already rising up from the firing positions held by the APCs of the PanzerGrenadiers, making retreat for them difficult if not impossible.
Direct disobedience while in combat, that was a direct line to a court-martial trial. And if that didn't scare the driver into action, the Hauptmann realized, was there anything he could say that would make the difference ? He did a rapid check through the periscopes to give him a second of thinking time, then he had the answer.
"Look out, enemy APCs, left-rear flank! Drive forwards!" he called across the radio net. There was nothing on the periscopes, but the driver didn't know that.
The fake call had the desired reaction, his command panzer leaped forwards, thrashing through the smoke and debris that had given them temporary concealment. On the radio net, which fortunately was not linked to the intercom, the Leutnant of Zug 1 called back in confusion: "Herr Hauptmann ? No APCs here ? What is going on ?"
But the Hauptmann didn't have the time to answer, the smoke parted before them like a wave breaking on a rocky beach and revealed a platoon of for 4 T-72s, all with their guns sighted in his general direction.
"Gunner! Fire!" he called, but he need not have wasted his breath, the gunner was already tracking and firing, sending a shell to strike square on a T-72 in the middle of the enemy line. It erupted like an orange volcano, a plume of fire illuminating the enemy tanks closing in on his Leopard 2.
In a flash of inspiration he knew how he could solve everything: He realised that Troublemakers always assumed that the authorities played by the rules and structures the authorities themselves had put in place.
There was a crack of thunder as the gunner fired the main cannon once again and one of the T-72s in their front exploded in a shower of fireworks.
It was never going to be enough, he was now exposed to the remaining two enemy tanks, moving back under cover was not going to work, his supporting elements either too far away or of dubious fighting condition, there was only one way this was going to end, he might as well use it.
The Hauptmann reached over and janked his intercom plug out, it could have been an accident in the heat of battle he told himself silently, then as he saw a flash to the left of the Leopard 2 and the slow fire-trail of an incomming missile, he cried out "AUFSTAGEN!" to his crew. But only the gunner and loader were close enough physically to hear him without the intercom.
Both of them reacted with admirable swiftness, popped open their hatches and leaped away from the doomed Leopard 2 command panzer. If the driver realised what was happening, he was too slow to react.
They leaped off the panzer and managed only a few running steps before the missile struck, guided from somewhere in the fields. There was a multitude of secondary explosions and they threw themselves on the ground to escape the worst of it.
When the ammo in the ready-rack had finished cooking off, The Hauptmann got to his feet slowly and glanced briefly at the ruined wreck of his Leopard 2. Then he motioned for his remaining two crew to follow him and they started back towards the secondary command post.
There was still fighting going on on the far side of the corn fields, but as he looked around the burning BMPs, artillery tracks and T-72s, the Hauptmann at least considered that the enemy battlegroup had been badly decimated, even if some of the enemy elements still fought, their advance had been costly. Hopefully too costly for them to continue.
As he left the burning Leopard 2 panzer behind, the Hauptmann sighed and mused that even if his own command had practically ceased to exist, when he reformed it, he could do so free of personnel issues.
With the death of the Troublemaker his supporters in the company had no-one to look to for leadership, and it had been a small matter to reassert authority. In fact even easier, since he could use the death of the Troublemaker to galvanise the supporters against the real enemy, the Warsaw Pact forces.
If he felt concerned that he was stroking flames of hated and inhumanity, telling his troops to take their revenge on their fellow human beings, then he was not showing it. Afterall, it was what made an officer: Knowing when to lead and when to motivate.