The Hauptmann arrived at the batallion depot at 3am in the night to find everything in disorder and nothing in order. Panzer Kompanie 2, Panzer Battalion 32, Panzer Brigade 3, Panzer Division 3 was being mobilized. It seemed surreal, despite all the preparation, all the training, all the expectations, the fact that the war was upon them was a a strange and alien thought.
And clearly not everyone had adjusted to the new reality.
Two of the giant Leopard 2 tanks were standing in the engine maintenance shed, their engines lifted out of the tanks and undergoing maintenance, whoever ordered that overhaul to proceede had clearly not been paying attention to the rapidly evolving political situation.
Five of the tanks had no machineguns fixed, and only one had received the newly approved camoflage paint. Crew, technicians, logistics personnel were milling about the depot in some assumed semblance of order.
And that was just in his little corner of the world.
With customary german attention to bureaucratic detail, two stamps had been missing from the mobilization order to the PanzerGrenadier batallation that his tanks were supposed to receive support from, so they were still mustering, and their armoured personel carriers were nowhere to be seen.
On top of that, the promised organic support elements from the artillery, aufklarung and air defense regiments were also delayed, due to the aforementioned missing stamps.
The Hauptmann shock his head and started bringing some order to the Kompagnie. They would move out as pr their orders, and then the remaining elements would have to catch up with them. The Russians had had all the time in the world to prepare. But despite all that, The Hauptmann had no reservations about his situation. He would simply do what countless other stoic german officers had done before him: Salute, say "Jawol!" and go out to do the impossible.
A mug of coffee arrived and was duly downed, The Hauptmann looked out through the large depot doors for the faint glow of dawn, his mind twisting and turning with innumerable scenarios for what might occur.
He didn't miss the infantry component he decided, no he missed the AA umbrella the Gepards would have provided. Without that, his tanks were sitting ducks for enemy airpower. And the Luftwaffe could not be everywhere, despite the assurances of his Oberst that his force would be covered.
As he shepherded his tanks onto the main road leading out of the deport, The Hauptmann looked to the skies and smiled grimly at the fact that he was far the first german Panzer commander in history to wish for poor flying weather.
The deployment choice made him unhappy. Battalion had instructed him to cover a large area where an enemy advance group might break through, but without recon elements of his own, The Hauptmann had to split his forces to cover as much ground as possible.
The pre-dawn light was starting to illuminate the horisont as a crackle rose from the radio: "Contact, enemy APCs, 4 vehicles". He mused briefly, he had instructed his other panzer commanders to avoid contact with scouting elements and wait to ambush the following armor, but the wide distribution of his forces worried him. Perhaps the enemy scouting group advance was a feint. The distance to Zug 2 meant that if enemy tanks followed and Zug 2 engaged them, then his other elements would never arrive in time. No, they had to engage the scout group and delay the enemy.
The next report made up his mind: "Contact, enemy armor, 10-15 strong."
A company-sized force, possibly with more coming in support. The Hauptmann keyed the radio: "Engage!"
The Hauptmann ordered his driver to reverse out of their waiting position and advance towards Zug 2, radioing his other elements to follow him and move towards the enemy. If Zug 2 could hold, then they might be able to catch the enemy in the flank.
"Zug 1, in position" was the report a few minutes later. Good, that meant it was 4 Leopards together, still facing off against a reinforced company, but at least it was something.
Even over the roar of the engine, he heard the faint boom in the distance as Zug 2 engaged. There was brief flash on the horisont.
"Got one!" came the exited cry on the radio. Another boom followed,
"JA! Scratch another one, loader, new shell!". The Hauptmann began to frown, that was not proper radio discipline.
"There is a lot more of them, come-on, load!" Definitely not proper radio discipline. The Leutnant of Zug 2 had probably left his mic turned on, effectively blocking the radio frequency. A clang and snarl of static issued from the radio, making The Hauptmann wince from the earphone.
"Drive back! Reverse! Quick, quick!" There was panicked edge to the Leutnant's voice now, brief seconds later, a roar of static issued across the radio and a large plume of fire illuminated the horisont.
The Hauptmann grimaced and keyed the radio: "Zug 2, report". But no reply came.
"Zug 1 here, engaged with the enemy, Zug 2 under heavy fire, enemy helicopters". A tense minute passed, then another series of far-off explosions could be hear, and flashes of light across the tree-tops.
This was bad news, if there was enemy air support operating in the area then his Kompanie was faced with a foe it had no counter to.
The Hauptmann tried to find a backup frequency, the enemy surely had narrowed in on their first radio frequency by now after that lengthy transmission mistake: "Zug 1, fall back to cover".
"Jahwol." was the brief reply. Good, that meant the backup frequency was not being jammed.
Trees flashed past in the near-darkness as his command panzer raced towards the battlefield. Comming out of a nearby forest track, he was joined by the two Leopards from Zug 3, the sudden shadow looming out of the woods giving him a brief scare before he identified it. By now it was light enough that the thermal sights were useless, he ordered his gunner to switch over to main optics.
They rounded a cluster of trees and were finally upon the enemy.
As the trees parted around them, The Hauptmann gave a curse, at least 5 enemy T-72s were grouped along a road leading to the village, their guns facing in his direction. They must have guessed his approach direction based on his radio communication.
"Target mark, FEUR" he instructed his gunner, the Leopard 2 turret rocking lightly as the shell streaked towards the closest enemy T-72. A flash of fire where it impacted and then a large secondary explosion as it blew apart the enemy tank from the inside. Across the grove, Zug 3 fired as well, impacts registering on the enemy.
He saw an enemy shell arch over Zug 3, exploding in the woods. The loaders operating at a frantic pace while the panzer drivers tried to jinx their vehicles back and forth to make them harder targets. Another pillar of flame went up from one of the enemy tanks, but then a return shell found its mark on one of the Zug 3 panzers, blowing the turret around in a fountain of sparks.
The Hauptmann scanned the viewports varily, this was only 1/3rd of the enemy tanks, where were the rest ? His wondering question was answered as he suddenly spotted some hulking shadows emerge from the cover of the houses on the edge of the village, five more of them, T-72s.
There was a flash in the distance as one of the enemy tanks fired, and the Leopard 2 was rocked by an explosion on the front. The Hauptmann blinked and the image of the shell streaking towards his panzer crystalized. Five enemy tanks to his front, and his track had taken a hit, flight was impossible, fighting was a loss, his mind reached a snap decision in a split second and he keyed the intercomm to shout "AUFSTAGEN!!" at his crew. He reached up and popped his hatch open faster than he had ever done before, leaping out of the Leopard 2 and jumping to the ground, then taking off at a run towards the nearest cover.
He saw at least the gunner get out with him, he leaped behind a tree, the irony of finding comfort in being shielded by a thin piece of wood from a 122mm shell briefly registrering on his mind.
The command Leopard 2 was rocked by a series of explosions as the T-72 company fired a volley. His bail-out had taken maybe 5 seconds, but it had saved his life, The Hauptmann glancing up briefly to see his tank take several hits, at least one exploding inside the chassis.
Glacing around, the Hauptmann could see his gunner and loader taking cover in the wood with him, the driver nowhere to be seen.
Things were looking grim, there was still an operational enemy T-72 company over by the village, 2 or more T-72s to his front and at least one helicopter gunship flying around.
A sudden roar made him look up just in time to see two jet fighters streak over his position, in an attack run on the T-72s.
The Luftwaffe had arrived.
Anti-tank bomblets fell liberally amongst the closest T-72 group, already marked out by the smoke billowing from their companions. The Hauptmann tried to burrow himself deeper into the ground as several of the explosions came close to his position in the wood, but the air attack did its job, plumes of fire and smoke rising up from the enemy tanks as their weak top armor was ripped open.
But the jets then veered off, their munitions spent. The Hauptmann shook his head slowly, too little too late, his command had been decimated, though they had inflicted significant losses on the enemy, a look at the remaining enemy tanks taking up positions in the cover of the village convinced him that this fight was over. He waved to the remains of his crew and began crawling backwards to find a radio and attempt to get in contact with whatever was left of his Kompanie.
The Hauptmann squinted in the fading daylight and tried to keep a wary eye on the enemy movements while the remains of his crew tried to re-attach 3 road-wheels well enough that the Leopard 2 could at least move under its own power, as well as jury-rig the damaged driving controls.
Hard enough work for the crew under any circumstances, harder still when they had also had a narrow escape and only just managed to leave the panzer right after the first enemy round had found its mark.
His driver hadn't been so lucky, what was the name, Hans ? Lukas ? He tried to push the thought from his mind, but it kept itching him, he'd have to look it up in the personnel records.
The remaining enemy T-72 tanks had turned northwards into denser terrain, now that the Luftwaffe was active in this sector and their AA defense had been shot out from under them. On the far side of the village, shadowy figures could be seen moving around the hulks of the enemy wrecks, no doubt engaged in the same process as he was, trying to recover crew and vehicles.
It was no good to try and stop them with the few remaining operational panzers that he had left, they would call for reinforcements and the battle would recommence on even more unfavorable terms. No, thought the Hauptmann, better to leave them to their job and assume they would leave him to his.
An engine sputtered to life again near the corner of the wood where his Leopard 2 had been shot out from under him. One of the panzers from Zug 3. The turret had a hole in the corner where a shell had gone through and killed the gunner and panzer commander. Still, a new turret lifted in place and two new crew and then it was a fully functional Leopard 2 once again. The Hauptmann made a mental remark to reassign the remaining crew if he had the chance, it was no good for morale for the crewmembers to use the same vehicle where-in two of their colleagues had just died.
Judging from the occasional explosion still coming from panzer 122 where the residual ammunition was cooking-off, not all of his panzers could be recovered in a similar fashion.
The Hauptmann took up his binoculars and resumed scanning for movement amongst the enemy wrecks, wishing for the innumerable time that he had a mug of strong bitter coffee to wash away the even more bitter taste of defeat.