Annihilation was rolled on the quick mission table, and was played on a 4x4 board. The battle report follows the pincer attack launched by a Soviet tank battalion - a small part of a larger battle.
The trap was sprung with the ignition of a rocket motor.
A pair of SA-8 ‘Gecko’ SAM systems were alerted to the approach of two West German helicopters when their extensive array of early warning aircraft radars lit up like a Christmas tree. A frantic call went out to the rest of the battalion – the enemy was upon them. The order was given to pounce, and as one the Soviet tanks stalked out from their dens to meet their quarry.
The distant thud of a slain PAH anti-tank helicopter signalled the first kill of the hunt.
The town square was deathly silent that day. The detritus of a hurried evacuation was strewn about the cobblestones like confetti; abandoned cars, drained of fuel by the opportunistic and cannibalised of spare parts by the practical, sat forlornly outside homes, deserted now.
A wolf of metal and oil was crouched nearby, very much alive, but motionless.
A missile streaked across the sky, the light from its rocket booster reflecting off the still water of a fountain choked with rubbish, neglected after the bombs first fell. Another missile followed, and somewhere over the horizon an explosion shook the leaves from the trees. The wolf stirred with a guttural growl, an exhalation of dirty smog into the air. The grey water of the fountain rippled as more wolves rumbled to life, their rousing sending a shiver through the cold earth.
The alpha crept forward, and its pack followed.
There was a noise like overhead thunder as lightning flashed from the guns of the Russian wolves.
Atop a wooded hill overlooking the road into town, a trio of positioning Jaguars disappeared in a curtain of fire and smoke, sending a wave of heat and molten metal into the air. There were shouts of confusion and fury, hurried orders and wailing injured. Its teeth pulled with the loss of their anti-tank missile carriers, the Bundeswehr company was caught by complete surprise.
The jaws had only just begun to close around their neck.
The barrels of the West German guns were levelled elsewhere when the second pack struck, reducing the Marders of the Bundeswehr mechanised infantry into shattered metal corpses, their gutted compartments sending sheets of flame into the damp air. They had been caught in the open at the other side of the hill, their passengers mercifully disgorged not minutes before.
With a howl of machinegun fire, the pack charged from their hide in the forest opposite the town clock tower, breaking cover as their comrades pressed from the square. A thrown track hobbled one of the wolves in the forest, but the others had tasted blood in the air and would not be stopped now. Anti-tank missile fire came at them from the hill, but the shots were wild as their operators flinched under the hail of Russian lead.
Fire continued to pour into the West German position, a vicious storm of bullets and shells that threatened to level the hill they were clinging to. The Russians at the mouth of the town centre paused fire as the second pack engaged the Bundeswehr flank, before gingerly pressing forward, engines snarling as they stalked out into the open. Suddenly, there was the roar of an igniting rocket, and the earth not a foot away from the alpha erupted as a MILAN missile buried itself in the ground.
It had come from behind them!
With a barked order the hunters wheeled around to face the rear. In the distance the crippled wolf of the second pack had angled its roof-mounted heavy machinegun towards the clock tower, and was sending sustained tracer fire into the upper floors. The alpha suspected as much. He swung his turret up and took aim at the tower, then delivered a single high-explosive round into the middle floor. The clock tower blew apart in a shower of masonry and timber.
The lashing tail now cut, the pack went back to its business.
The staccato thump of mortar fire joined the symphony of the hunt, and a curtain of smoke blanketed the axis of the wolves' advance. The hunters of the second pack slowed as the cloud enveloped them. Their aim was spoiled, but the blood was up, and the Russian guns let loose anyway. The West German’s responded, taking advantage of their blinded enemy to reposition their anti-tank weapons and fire at the ghostly shapes in the fog. The missiles disappeared in a ball of light, the thud of their detonation deadened by the thick smog; a moment passed.
Another clap of thunder sent the soldiers back into their shell-scrapes, as a lethal 125mm shell burst from the haze like a lightning bolt and exploded amongst their number. Three beasts of metal and oil followed, their engines roaring as they spat fire into the hammered West German position.
They darted past the crumbling defensive line and rounded the hill, scraping past the burning Marders that had been their first kill of the hunt – and before them lay a feast
With a grinding of gears, the West German observation vehicle stalled at the foot of the hill. Frantically the driver wrestled with the controls, but his track sputtered and lurched to the commands. Down the road, the alpha and his pack stalked up the road, their guns swinging to and fro, searching for targets in the dissipating smoke. With a dawning horror, the West German driver watched through his periscope as the lead wolf settled its cannon onto his position. They had found one.
The shell reached him before the sound did, and the wolves continued their push unmolested.
Voices from the second pack informed the alpha that they had broken through the Bundeswehr line and were about to tear through the defenceless rear echelon. The first pack rounded the right slope of the hill, the light of the burning OP vehicle dancing across their armoured hides. Chaos met them.
A massed group of heavy mortar carriers and their crews were scattered in a muddy field at the rear of the hill. Tracer fire was going off in all directions, grey smoke coughed from some of the boxy vehicles as they tried to escape the melee unfolding about them; cam nets – hastily applied as the fighting began – were pulled free from their moorings in the ground as their corresponding carriers began moving off, while crews from other vehicles abandoned their positions and made a break for the cover of the wooded hilltop. The Russian alpha watched with some bemusement, like a cat would with a mouse between its paws. He could see his second pack in the distance as they emptied their heavy machineguns into the madness before them. He clicked his throat mic once and spoke. The machinegun fire stopped, and main guns were brought to bear.
With a grinding certainty, the wolves closed in for the kill. The jaws were now shut – one final shake would break the neck of the West German resistance for good.
The aluminium armour of the mortar carriers was like paper to the guns of the advancing Russian. One by one the West German vehicles were shattered, sending white-hot fragments through the air like bullets, felling the crew that escaped the initial concussive blasts. The circle shrank, with wolves encroaching from both ends, cutting down anyone that tried to escape the whirlwind of destruction wrought between them.
As targets dwindled, so too did the weight of fire. The alpha scanned for the living amongst the ruins of the West German artillery. Nothing moved, save the writhing injured and dying.
Something else, however, caught his eye. Blue smoke, columns of it rising through the shattered and burning trees at the top of the hill.
The last desperate survivors of the Bundeswehr battlegroup had clung on to their position, and now, with their dying breath they were calling for salvation. The alpha sensed what was coming, and pushed open the lid of his vehicle. To the protestations of his gunner, the alpha, a mere man of 26, pulled himself partway out of the command hatch of his wolf, a T-64 main battle tank, and scanned the horizon behind him.
Two dark shapes crested the mountains in the distance.
The Russian tank commander could hear the stressed calls coming over his headset, and the rumble of tracks as his comrades rapidly began moving into whatever cover they could find, as a pair of Luftwaffe Tornados hurtled towards their position across the West German countryside.
It was with a strange satisfaction, the alpha realised, that at least his wolves might die with full bellies.