❯ The Colours of War: The Faithful – Part 1 of the Capture of Port Saphire ( Chapter 1 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]
The Faithful
Part 1 of the Capture of Port Saphire
Steam rose off Hikawa Ryutaro’s head as the sea spray washed over him. He lent further forward on the safety barrier to try to catch as much spray as possible.
“Careful Hikawa, drowning after falling off a lander isn’t the most heroic death.” Ryutaro looked up at his friend Chen Hao. Hao was a peasant’s son from the paddy provinces in the north. Yellow Comet citizens were normally smaller than other nation’s people, yet Chen was an exception. Standing over 6 feet high, he loomed over his comrades. He used his immense strength that came with his size to load 76mm shells with ease. However, Hao was always cracking his head against parts of the crew compartment, which was notoriously small.
“Indeed.” Ryutaro struggled to mask his excitement and nervousness. The moment was approaching when all his training was put to the ultimate test of real combat. Ryutaro had the honour of being selected for the Emperors 63rd tank regiment and had been in training for two years. He had yearned for an opportunity to prove his worth to his Emperor and to his nation and now the moment had come. His hours of painstaking practise, going over every manoeuvre again and again, mastering every drill until he could drive the Tanto 9 light tank blindfolded, would be put to the test. The power of a mighty machine was his to command and the emperor had given him an opportunity to harness that power to win glory for his nation and teach the Blue Moon scum to fear the power of Yellow Comet, to make them regret ever laying hands on Yellow Comet sovereign property. He would not fail. He took a deep breath and tried to master his emotions.
“All personnel! 3 minutes to the landing zone! To your stations! Prepare for landing!” The Lander’s Captain called out over the loudspeaker.
“Come on, let’s go.” Said Hao. Ryutaro nodded and as he turned to go, had one last look at the target. Port Saphire.
Its imposing figure towered over the flotilla of landing ships that sailed towards it. No longer than 15 miles, its strange three-peaked shape was due to the massive eruption of the volcano that had created the island in the first place, leaving the peaks on the corners and a lower plain in the center. It had been a Port for Blue Moon’s Eastern fleet and had always been contested by Yellow Comet. Now, it would be fought for, Ryutaro thought. The mighty battleship, The Tokugawa, threw shell after shell at the landing beach and Yellow Comet fighter-bombers zipped overhead, aiming for the Port itself. Return fire from an enemy artillery battery splashed long plumes of water 12 feet high. That was the last Ryutaro saw of the island until he disembarked.
He dropped down a steel ladder into the lander’s interior. Inside was his group, the 1st squad, alongside the 2nd, both of the 2nd company, 63rd Imperial tank regiment. Ryutaro had the honour of disembarking second from the front on landing. He jogged down the claustrophobic paths between tanks, swapping greetings, challenges and blessings with fellow tankers, until he reached his machine. 212 was a Tanto 9 light tank, the mainstay of the Imperial Army of Yellow Comet’s (IAYC) armoured corps. Compared to other nations machines it’s design was old to the point of ancient, yet its hand built design still gave it some fair advantages to the newer Blue Moon vehicles, they would be facing. Its medium grade 50mm armour wasn’t a lot to shout about and neither was the cramped crew compartment. However, these drawbacks made the Tanto 9 highly manoeuvrable and combined with its cutting edge power plant, could outrun the tanks of any other nation, turn on a diamond and hit a road speed of 80kph. The second advantage the Comet machines had was their armament. A 76mm gun using discarding sabot rounds mounted on the tank with gyro-stabilising and elite training meant that the Tanto 9 had a much higher chance of hitting and penetrating than anything else in the field. The enemy machine, the Volk KW LG-22, was larger and had heavier sloped 64mm armour, but its engine was less efficient and its gun equipped only with solid armour piercing shot.
However, a beach landing was not the best use of the Tanto’s talents. A stretch of mined, featureless sand, crossed by anti-tank barriers and enfilading infantry positions, dotted with bunkers and entrenched tanks, all overlooked by zeroed artillery from two of Sapphire’s three peaks. The peerless Yellow Comet Intelligence also predicted that there were more Blue Moon machines in reserve for a counter-attack. Despite the Imperial Army of Yellow Comet’s renown at amphibious landings, capturing a hostile beach was one of the deadliest combat scenarios in the history of military conflict. The expeditionary force knew the risks, however, and would overcome them. Ryutaro was certain.
Chen had beaten him to 212 and now helped him up. Ryutaro bunched his shoulders and dropped into the dimly lit tight confines of his vehicle. Lieutenant Shunsuke was checking the 76’s ammo for the hundredth time. Dutifully and despite the cramped conditions, he saluted his friend and superior, thumping his right fist on his heart.
“Mountains moved!” He said.
“Forests levelled!” Shunsuke replied, saluting in turn.
“Okay, sir?” Ryutaro asked.
“Fine, Hikawa.” Shunsuke gave the driver a thin smile. Ryutaro knew that Lieutenant Nakamura Shunsuke was one of the best commanders in the regiment, which was no small achievement in the elite Yellow Comet army. Able to simultaneously man the type 89 heavy machine gun, direct Hao’s fire from the main cannon and communicate with the rest of the unit on the radio, Shunsuke was the commander and commissioned officer of 212, but after the years the three had spent training together, they were more like brothers and Ryutaro only kept the up formalities because they had been drilled in to him instinctively. Ryutaro slid past Shunsuke into the drivers seat. He put on his headset and checked the controls. Fuel, power, oil, all running at optimum. The radio crackled.
“111 to 63rd regiment! 1 minute to landing! Start engines! Repeat, start engines!” The Colonel called.
Ryutaro could hear the scrape of Hao loading the 76mm, but that was no concern to him now. First, he opened up the fuel valves and then he switched on the electrics. Finally, he started the V8 engine. Ryutaro held his breath. If the engines did not catch on the first attempt, it was considered a bad omen. The big motor revved again and again and for a second Ryutaro thought it might stall out, but then, with a rising growl it surged into life, spewing out streams of black smoke from the exhaust louvers. Ryutaro heard Shunsuke slam the top hatch closed. He reached to pull down his own hatch, taking a last gasp of the slightly fresher air of the lander as he did so. Now fully enclosed, he focused on the task at hand. The moment had come. The driver felt the boat slow as its hull ground up the beach and the ramp’s hydraulic pumps whined.
“111 to 63rd regiment. The time has come to prove your worth. Death to the enemies of Yellow Comet!”
The ramp dropped.
The Yellow Comet Expeditionary Force was 20,000 men strong. Of that number, 4,000 were tank crews. Of those, 850 attacked the landing beaches. Only 130 of those were in the first wave. The peerless Yellow Comet Intelligence predicted that casualty rates for those men could be as high as 60%. They were higher.
A ray of sunlight pierced the visor.
“For the Emperor!” The crew of 212 cried, hearing the call on the radio from the other crews. Engines revving, 211 prowled forwards, cannon traversing. Ryutaro gunned 212 after them. Then 211 was hit.
There was no huge explosion, just a metallic clang and the machine lurched sideways and slid to a halt. Ryutaro never saw the shot that killed it. Then 211 began to burn. First the engine caught fire, then the flames licked out of the hole blown in the vehicle’s side. Then the tank was engulfed in flames and its ammunition exploded. Ryutaro stared. Less than two minutes ago he had shaken hands with the men in that tank. Now it was a fireball. All he could see above the tracks was flames. The driver thought could hear somebody screaming in his headset.
“Move, move, move!” Lieutenant Shunsuke was yelling.
Without thinking, Ryutaro gunned 212 forward, out of the lander. He knew what to do now. If he stopped, the crew was dead. A Tanto’s strength lay in its manoeuvrability. He saw another Yellow Comet machine roll in front of him, throwing up spurts of sand from its tracks. Then an anti-tank rocket hit its right track and it came to a halt. As 212 raced forwards, Ryutaro scanned the battlefield for targets or threats. Every few seconds, a round would bounce off the hull. He saw a Blue Moon machine off the right, hulled down behind a tank berm.
“Enemy armour, two o’clock!” He shouted into his headset in warning.
“It got him.” Hao replied. The 76mm cannon boomed and the Blue Moon tank’s hull disappeared in smoke. Three Blue Moon scum gone, Ryutaro thought savagely. In the turret, Hao neatly sidestepped as the empty casing fell out of the smoking weapon. Leaning against the side of the turret, he reached down for another shell and rammed it home. In one smooth continuous motion he slammed the breech closed and locked it in.
“Loaded” He called.
Another Tanto drew up next to 212 and Ryutaro kept pace with it, knowing that they protected each other’s flanks. Ryutaro longed to push the Tanto to its limits and roar up the beach, but that would not give him time to take action if the came up against a mine or an obstacle. The radios crackled with warnings and orders. Soldiers huddled in craters whilst others crawled forwards. He kept scanning the ground in front of him for targets, but his vision block was small and did not offer him a good view. What looked like a rocket blew a huge crater into the ground to Ryutaro’s right, sending forth a plume of sand and flame.
“Hikawa, enemy infantry! Take us left!” called Shunsuke. Shunsuke’s warning was compounded by a trio of small arms bullets that threw sparks of the front of 212 as they hit. They couldn’t damage the hull, but if one got through the vision block, the round would tear about the crew compartment, bouncing around until it hit flesh.
Ryutaro hauled on the controls and 212 responded, neatly wheeling left. Then Ryutaro saw what Shunsuke already spotted, a gap between two trenches that could be a hole in the defences. If 212 could break through, other Yellow Comet tanks could follow, and the beach would be taken. Ryutaro thought he could see figures in the trench, and was about to warn Shunsuke when suddenly with an earth shattering clang, 212 lurched.
“What the?” Ryutaro heard Hao gasp.
“Were hit! Anti tank rocket to the side! Keep going!” Shunsuke yelled. Ryutaro checked the dashboard. The engine seemed to be okay and the tracks were still in tact. The weapon must have failed to detonate. Trying to shake off the shock, he kept moving towards the trench. A little sunlight shone behind Ryutaro; Shunsuke must have opened the top hatch to man the machine gun. When he next spoke, the sounds of battle could be heard.
“Hikawa! Into the trenches!” The rest of his words we lost to the barking of the type 89 as Shunsuke opened up. Ryutaro slammed 212 forwards and they were over the defences, panicked Blue Moon troops running in every direction being cut down by the machine gun.
“Firing!” Chen yelled as he sent a shell into a huddle of enemy. Ryutaro laughed as he rolled over a wounded enemy. A squad of Comet infantry scrambled over the lip of the position, followed by another Tanto 9, then a tide of Yellow Comet units and the beach seemed taken.
However, as he brought 212 around, Ryutaro saw another line of defence overlooking the first bristling with weapons, hidden by a patch of dead ground in between the two positions. Even worse, he saw a troop of Blue Moon vehicles rolling forwards in his sector. Not just Volk 22s, but Medium tanks. The heaviest machine in the enemy arsenal. The Medved MD-64 medium tank weighed 40 tonnes, had armour 2 centimetres thick and sported a 100mm gun. Even with discarding sabot rounds, a Comet light had to flank the Menved for a reasonable chance of a kill. Hostile light tanks prowled forward around the Mediums and enemy troops swarmed out of the trenches, a full-scale counter attack. Judging by the increase of radio chatter, the rest of the breakthrough troops had been alerted to the danger. The Tanto’s revved their engines and rolled forward, the imperial infantry spread out and commenced firing. Ryutaro heard urgent transmissions in Shunsuke’s headset and Hao slammed a new shell home.
“Hikawa! Take us forward! Charge!” Lieutenant Shunsuke ordered over the radios. Obediantly, Ryutaro rocked wildly in his seat as 212 moved forwards, joining in the advance towards the exposed but overwhelming enemy. Ryutaro quickly worked out the odds. The expeditionary forces could inflict massive casualties on the Blue Moon forces, but with the medium tanks, the enemy had the edge. The Comet troops needed some heavier equipment to win. Regardless, he concentrated on his vehicle as the two forces converged. Chen counted down the range.
“700…600… standby…” Ryutaro tensed for the firing to begin. Suddenly, a new transmission cut through the radio traffic.
“This is Captain Ogawa, fourth medium tank company. We are engaging the enemy. Standby.”
With a colossal boom reminiscent of the Tokugawa’s weapons, a 110mm shell screamed overhead, ploughing straight through a Blue Moon Volk. The turret flew off and the hull was wreathed in flames. Unknown to the crew of 212, a troop of Yellow Comet Konugi medium tanks had rolled over the first line of defence. Immediately after disembarkment, their commander, the heroic Captain Ogawa, famous among the Yellow Comet Armed Forces as a deadly tank ace and a fanatic to the Yellow Comet cause. In seconds a barrage of heavy cannon fire rained down on the Blue Moon advance, tearing apart anything in its way. Immediately, the Moon advance stalled. The Konugi medium tank was more than a match to the Medved, with superior training to accompany the equal armour. The infantry broke cover and scattered and the vehicles hesitated.
“Lets go, Hikawa!” Shunsuke yelled.
“For the emperor!” The crew of 212 cried, hearing the rest of the force sound the charge. With a surge of speed, the Comet troops charged forwards, the Tantos leaping ahead and the Konugi Company pouring accurate fire over their heads, matching their enemies gun for gun. Within seconds, the Blue Moon advance had been turned into a rout, infantry scattering and running, vehicles turning and disappearing as the retreating Blue Moon units laid down a smoke screen. Ryutaro knew there was only one way to deal with the scenario before Shunsuke relayed the order.
The Imperial Army of Yellow Comet barrelled into the smoke as the Blue Moon forces abandoned their positions across the landing zone. The beach was taken.