❯ The Colours of War: The Conscriptees – Part 2 of the Alara War ( Chapter 2 )
[ P - Pre-Teen ]
Part 2 of the Alara War
The first Carter knew of the river was when Delta company began to move uphill. It was a sweltering summer day, the sun beating down on the Orange Star troops as they sat on the tanks. The road ahead shimmered with heat and sweat soaked the troop’s uniforms. Carter was trying to read a much battered news article that was doing the rounds in his company, about how the introduction of advisors to the Orange Star Army was revolutionising the chain of command. He couldn’t concentrate on the grubby paper, so he turned to give it to West. He grinned as he shifted round. West was fast asleep, a feat Carter had yet to manage on top of Captain Gardener’s noisy, clanking tanks. West had changed so much since the first time they fought together, repelling a Blue Moon reconnisance team. He had too, Carter reflected. 8 days later, he was no longer the nervous Conscriptee, as their instructors in basic training labelled them. He had quickly learned such basics as to keep down, to dig his foxhole deep and stay quiet, to distinguish incoming from out going artillery, that the fear was always there, but could be managed and, of course, the infantryman’s most important lesson, to love the ground. He could handle his Mark 5 machine gun with ease and familiarity and his once stiffly starched olive green uniform now hung ragged but comfortable, its pockets stuffed with kit. The rest of Delta Company was no different, having learnt the many things they had been told in training but only now understood.
The morale was high. The fiercest combat was over and the Blue Moon forces were retreating on all fronts, stopping to defend towns or bridges, one of which Delta company were approaching. But before Carter could check with Sgt Howard how far they were from the bridge, the tanks rolled to a halt.
“Infantry up front! Lets move out, Delta!” Carter heard the Captain call. Picking up weapons and equipment, the troops jumped off the tanks as they began to spread out. Carter was about to go when he remembered that West was still asleep.
“Roy, lets go.” He shook him as he spoke. West moaned, but didn’t shift.
“Come on, we gotta go.” Carter shook him vigorously.
“Alright, dammit, I’m goin.” West slurred, slipping off the back of the vehicle. “Where are we now?” He asked.
“Olaf’s back yard.” Carter said, jogging up to Sergeant Howard and Private Davidson, the other two members of second squad.
“You never tell me where we are.”
“Your always to damn asleep to find out.” Carter sighed. “We are approaching the Pentain bridge, which is in the valley on the other side of this hill, about 30 clicks away from where you feel asleep.”
“Your just jealous because you can’t snooze on top of a tank.” West joked. “So how are we gonna take a bridge anyway?” he said as the squad began to fan out.
“Im not sure.” Carter pondered. He hoped that the bridge would be undefended, allowing them to cross without incident and continue the advance. However, if it was defended…
“Hey sarge!” Carter called. “How’re we gonna take the bridge?”
Sergeant Howard did not immediately acknowledge, but continued to scan the area in front of them for hostiles. Carter held his silence. Delta company’s transformation to a front line outfit was due largely to Sgt Howard, the only member of the company who used to belong to the pre-war army. Despite their time together, Sgt Howard was still the same imposing, awe-inspiring figure.
“Well, they might not actually defend it.” He said eventually. “But if they do, well, then things are gonna get interesting.” He gave them a rare grin. “We’ll have to dig in and wait for other forces to flank around or rush it at night.”
Carter had never thought of a night attack, but it would be his first. Suddenly, Sgt Howard froze and held up his hand, the halt signal. The other members of the squad followed suit, stopping and kneeling down. Carter followed Howard’s line of sight. Lieutenant Walker, Carter’s platoon commander, was crawling forward to the lip of the gentle slope that Delta company had been climbing. Thin with dark hair and eyes, he was one of the tallest men in the company and always nervous to prove himself. He stopped at the edge, then signalled second and first squad forward. Cradling his Mark 5, Carter began to push forward thought the grass, trying too keep as low and quiet as possible. The sounds of his breathing and his uniform rustling on the grass sounded ridiculously loud. When he got to the top, the enemy could not be seen.
“Look in the woods.” Howard prompted.
Carter followed his gaze and only then did he see the enemy. The Blue Moon forces had dug in under the shelter of the trees. Carter could see several foxholes covered by camouflaged netting amongst the trees. Sergeant Howard had crawled up next to Lieutenant Walker.
“What are your orders, sir?” He asked.
Walker stared at the enemy positions silently for a moment.
“Are we out of range sergeant?”
“Dig in on the reverse slope. Set an OP on the ridgeline and keep quiet. Spread the word, sergeant.”
Howard was gone, running at a crouch along the lines.
“Dig in on the reverse and stay quiet.” He called hoarsely as he passed West and Carter. The summer air was filled with the sound of shovels.
Carter and West finished their hole late that afternoon.
“So why do you think the lieutenant told us to dig in instead of attacking?” West asked as he threw the last shovel full of earth from of the foxhole.
“It must mean someone else gets this attack. Maybe were going to let another unit flank this position.” Said Davidson, always the first when discussing tactics as he built up a ramp of earth in front of the hole.
“Or maybe the air force will take this one?” Carter said.
“Or maybe were going to go across tonight.” Said a voice in the dark. The men spun round as Sergeant Howard strode forward.
“D company has been selected for a night operation at 0100.”
A shocked silence greeted this news. West spoke.
“It’s our first night operation sarge.”
“I know son. The lieutenant ordered us to dig in because if we attacked as soon as we saw them, they would be aware of us and alert tonight.” Howard paused. “Our Lieutenant is quite the tactician. Full company briefing in a few hours. In the mean time, sort out your equipment. I don’t want anything to rustle, no shine and no clinking kit. I’ll see you at the briefing.” And then the sergeant was gone, leaving the three men silent as the sun sank.
The water rippled softly as the paddles broke its surface. 10 men to each boat, Delta Company crossed the river. Carter was the second from the front. His face was blackened with camo cream, and West had shown him one of his hunting tricks, using a lighter to blacken his equipment, which was spread out around his body to reduce noise. He was straining his ears to hear the slightest sound; his own breathing sounded absurdly noisy. Partly as a distraction, he cast his mind back to the briefing of Major Hampton, the Battalion intel officer’s briefing.
“The operation will begin at 0200. Delta Company will make the crossing with boats provided by the 46th engineers.” Hampton nodded to a stout engineer captain, who looked more like a work boss than an officer. “At 0210 hours, Delta will assemble on the opposite bank. We will them move forward and engage and destroy the enemy.” Carter always wondered why they didn’t say “kill” the enemy. “Intel estimates that there is one company deployed on the tree line, but there is a possibility that they have reserves, perhaps including a tank unit.” Murmurs ran through the assembled men.
“However, we have been promised artillery support throughout the operation. We will maintain a perimeter guard against counter-attacks, until the engineers have repaired the bridge. We estimate that the repairs will be completed at 0500 hours, at which point the 876th tank accompanied by Echo and Foxtrot company. To clarify, the objective is to cross the river undetected, capture the woods, then hold until relived. Hold until relived.”
Sand crunched beneath the hull as the boats reached the opposite bank.
“Go Go Go” The sergeants cried hoarsely as the men leapt onto the enemy ground. As Sergeant Blackfield’s first squad hauled the boat up the small bank, Howard led second squad up the small bank. Carter’s canteen slapped against his hip and his breathing and footsteps, combined with the noise of first squad on his left, third on his right and the other 70 men of Delta company, sounded appallingly loud, yet the enemy remained silent. Davidson moved alongside Carter, then they knelt as Howard and West went forward. The sergeant paused the bounding cover routine and knelt behind Carter. His voice was full of frustration. “Damn Blackfield’s squad have screwed up with the boat. Go with West and keep us covered.” Howard left muttering curses.
West came up, his grinning teeth showing in the darkness and signalled that he was going right. Carter acknowledged and went left.
What happened next was never completely clear to Carter. As he paced cautiously forward, Mark 5 up, rolling his boots forward as Howard had taught him, he heard a quiet rustling in front of him. He sighted down the Mark 5, but he could see nothing, so continued forwards. He heard movement again, much closer.
Then without warning, Carters boot met thin air and kept going. He fell face forwards, grunting as all the air was knocked out of him as his stomach collided with something solid. His weapon clattered out of his hands and he scrambled for balance. Instinctively rolling sideways, Carter was horrified to realise what was happening. He had stumbled into an enemy foxhole! Then the enemy solider was on top of him. Carter smelt alcohol and a scream of anger turned into a scream of pain as something clanged off the brim of his steel helmet. He tried to roll again, but the Blue Mooner had him pinned. His hands scrabbled for his gun. The roar came back again and Carter heard a metallic scraping sound. He immediately realised that his opponent had drawn a knife and he tried to push it away. His right hand met something a wrist and he pulled with all his might to turn it from its path. The knife missed his face by inches and Carter felt blood on his neck.
Something clicked. He’d been stabbed. He’d been stabbed. Some born-bastard had put a blade into his neck. He roared. Both his hands went to the thug’s throat. He put his head and cracked his enemies’ nose with his helmet. One of his hands scrapped over an unshaven cheek and he pushed his fingers into an eye socket. His attacker screamed again and fell back. Carter followed up and this time he was on top of the solider. His left his cracked into what felt like metal, a helmet, his jaw blossomed with pain as the man hit back, but Carters right then hit flesh. Again and again and again. Then Carter realised what the hard metal object under his knee was. He scooped up the Blue Moon knife and brought it down onto its owner. He stabbed.
Instantly, the screaming was replaced with a feeble gurgling. Hot blood flowed. And like a receding tide, the anger that had flowed through Carter drained away, leaving him shivering with adrenaline. He backed away. His combat pants were heavy and flapping with blood, his left fist and jaw were agony, his knee stung and he had no weapon. As he frantically searched for his gun, he heard footsteps. Terrified, he raised the knife.
“What the hell are you doing? We could hear you from the… Aw Shit!” Seconds later, Howard was by his side.
“Take it easy Ben Where you hit?” Howard’s normally hard eyes were wide with concern.
“I stabbed him, I stabbed him.” Carter croaked.
“Okay, okay, now where are you hit son?”
It dawned on Carter that Howard wanted too know where he was hit.
“Alright, hey, that’s nothing.” Howard was ripping open a bandage as the rest of the squad arrived with Lieutenant Walker.
“Ben, you okay?” West asked.
“Shit! What happened?” Davidson leaned over.
“What the hell is going on? You held up the whole damn company!” The lieutenant said.
Carter grabbed West’s arm. “Roy, get my rifle.”
“Shut up! They’re gonna hear us!” The lieutenant urged.
The men froze. Nothing happened.
“Or not.” Said Davidson. Walker was about to reply when the enemy opened fire.
As the Orange Star gunfire rose to meet the booms of the larger Blue Moon guns, Delta engaged. Yelling orders, Walker sprinted forward with 1st platoon. Howard was at Carter’s shoulder for a second.
“Wait for the medics and stay down!” Then he and the squad were gone.
Carter laid back and waited. He tried not to think about what had just happened, but it kept coming back. He put his hand too his neck, it didn’t seem too bad. He felt stupid laying here waiting for the medic and judging from the sounds of gunfire, they would have a busy night. Without another thought on the matter, he ran into the darkness.
The enemy were using something big, a VMD-13-6 perhaps. Tripod mounted, gas operated, 12.7mm those monsters were usually mounted on the enemy Menved medium tanks, but some were used to defend static positions and Delta was on the receiving end. Face down on the ground, Captain Kincaid hugged the ground swore too keep down the fear as the heavy rounds punched the earth up in huge plumes around him. He needed to put a stop to that gun! He had already seen two of his men ripped apart. He risked raising his head. He thought he could make out the silhouette of private Troy, his radioman.
“Troy! Get up here!” He yelled.
The private raised himself to crawl towards the captain. Twice he had to disentangle his bulky radio pack from the bushes. Kincaid snatched up the receiver.
“This is Delta, anybody read me over.”
“Go ahead Delta.”
“Fire mission, grid location-” Suddenly, a burst of heavy fire kicked up around Kincaid and Troy. The captain dropped the receiver and curl up further. He could feel the air being buffeted against his face by the rounds. As suddenly as it began, the gunner changed targets and the fire slackened.
“Troy!” Kincaid yelled. “Are you alright?”
“I think my backs hit.” The private groaned. Kincaid rolled him over. The radio kit was destroyed.
Carter’s boots thumped on the earth as he sprinted towards the firing. The loose end of the dressing round his neck flapped in his face. He didn’t slow as he passed corporal Heather screaming on the ground whist being attended by a medic and kept running until he could make out figures lying on the ground. He dived down next to one. “Davidson?”
“Your late, buddy.” Davidson said as he snapped off shots.
Carter brought his own Mark 5 to bear. He felt so much better beside his friend in danger that safe without. “So how bad is it.”
“A VMD-13-6 has got the whole company pinned! Looks like were screwed.”
Carter was saved answering as Lieutenant Walker slid down next to them. “Our platoon is gonna flank that gun! On my word boys!” Then he was gone. West and Howard joined them.
“So much for staying back, son. With an attitude like that, I dunno how I got you this far!” Howard sounded more amused than angry as he slotted in a new magazine.
“Alright lets go!” Walker yelled and then they were moving forward, taking it in turns to cover each other and dodging in between the trees, pouring fire into enemy positions. They had made it about 15 meters when the VMD-13-6 switched its fire. 1st squad lay down some rounds with its 7.62 Mark 60 machine gun and 4th squad hooked round behind the enemy positions, with 2nd and 3rd down the middle firing their weapons and throwing grenades, led by Walker all the way.
Sergeant Howard was the first one to actually see the huge machine gun, its crew illuminated by the flashes from its discharge. Up till now it had been throwing out accurate fire patterns, but its crew had panicked and it was spraying each attacking squad in turn.
As the gun swivelled to face 2nd squad, Howard began to sprint, followed by Carter, then West and Davidson, all firing wildly from the hip. For the four men, time seemed to slow as the distance closed. The gun stopped firing at 2nd squad and turned slowly, slowly to face them. They could see the gunner lining up on Howard. The man beside the gunner took a breath and raised his hand.
Massed streams of bullets tore into the men. The river of lead kept on going, ripping through them as they collapsed, lifeless, onto their gun. 1st squad expended their magazines and ran into the VMD-13-6 machine gun pit. Their boots splashed in the blood of the shredded men. The mangled bodies of the gun team were strewn about the position, except for the gunner. He was chained to his weapon.
“Clear!” Sergeant Blackfield shouted.
With the loss of the heavy weapon, the Blue Moon troops ran. But it wasn’t over for Delta. Occupying the enemy positions, the company repelled two counter attacks, both supported by a unit of light Volk tanks and multiple reconnisance cars. The second attack wasn’t repelled until Sergeant Howard broke the chains and turned the VMD -13-6 turned on its former owners. Until 0432 hours, when, after less than two hours labour, working in the dark with enemy rounds flying over their heads, the engineers had laid a bridge over the river. Elements of the 876th tank, led by Captain Gardener, alongside the rest of the battalion, relieved Delta by going forward and securing the bridge. The battle was over.
4th Squad and the rest of Delta rested as the area was reinforced. An aid post had been set up, as well as a signals unit and another bridge to take the traffic. The engineers were hacking down the small wood to enlarge the road leading towards Blue Moon.
West was staring at a hefty VMD -13-6 shell he held in his hand, Davidson was cleaning his weapon and Carter trying to wash the blood of his hands. The knife lay beside him. Howard sat down next to him.
“How you doing, son?”
“Im okay, sarge.”
A column of APCs growled across the new bridge. Delta Company began to get to their feet and form up.
“I talked to Major Hampton, those troops we faced were a penal unit. Their not all like that.” Howard got up and offered Carter a hand.
“I know sarge.” Carter took it and allowed himself to be pulled to his feet.
“Imagine if Orange Star had penal units.” Joked West as they headed towards the APCs.
“We don’t need penal battalions. We conscript” Said Davidson as they climbed into the vehicles.
The advance went on.