28th of the Aster’s Gloom, 2030 D.C.E.
Shaila Dominance – Djose Wood, 8th PzD Headquarters Area
A gruesome ambush unfolded in Knyskna; it was all the more chaotic when witnessed only through the radio. Communication was so incoherent that Dreschner periodically ordered the lines to be cut for a moment so they could take a breather from the noise.
With the fighting dying down Karla Schicksal diligently wrote down the details – it would be up to her to pass on the losses to Oberkommando in a preliminary report via radio. Kampfgruppe K lost an entire platoon of assault guns in Knyskna, and several tanks suffered damage from a ceaseless barrage of heavy mortars that would be difficult to repair. However they managed to destroy key enemy positions in the process, and killed many of the entrenched communists, forcing the ambushers to flee from the site.
Kampfgruppe R was a disaster, having lost a platoon of assault guns, an M4, and suffered damage similar to Kampfgruppe K, broken periscopes and blasted guns that would require them to pull back to the headquarters. They suffered these loses without taking any of the enemy in turn to show for it. In addition Kampfgruppe R‘s main route of advance had been destroyed and they would be slow and vulnerable if they stuck to the plan.
Piling atop these troubles, both Kampfgruppen had seen a total and devastating loss of foot soldiers. Each would have to bury its compliment of Baumgartner’s men.
There was a bright spot.
Kampfgruppe L had also been ambushed, and lost most of its platoon of assault guns to the attack, but it had retreated diligently and inflicted terrible damage to a platoon of communist light tanks, and its compliment of recon troops survived the onslaught.
This was the extent of the good news.
They could not rely on L for their main penetration: the Western thoroughfare, through which L advanced, wound more and took longer to navigate than the south or south-east.
Despite the setbacks, she realized every Kampfgruppe had achieved its (uncontested) initial objectives, therefore the operation was still on schedule.
Could additional movement be possible in these circumstances? Clearly their final objectives would be heavily contested, and the terrain favored the enemy. Driving through the main thoroughfare would leave them open to more ambushes, and there was still the question of breaking through the rubble in a timely fashion. With their depleted manpower, the 8th Panzer Division’s kampfgruppen in Knyskna might not be able to make it.
Obvious as it seemed with the benefit of hindsight, nobody in the 8th PzD had foreseen the vicious ambushes and the prodigal coordination that had made them possible.
All of the Kampfgruppen had been allowed to advance uncontested toward the ambush points, and had all been struck at almost the same time. Anti-tank rifles at relatively close range had taken tracks and engines. Anti-tank grenades at such ranges scored deadly hits that crippled the vehicles. Their men, inside and out of vehicles, became sitting ducks.
Schicksal sighed audibly. For the most part she felt quite removed from the fighting, as though not really a part of this invading army. But in these moments she felt a sickening sort of solidarity with the poor fools who had been burnt and blasted dead.
She also felt a disgusting complicity. She facilitated their march toward death. She had been a primary medium for many deadly words: “advance!” and “attack!” and so on. While Dreschner gave the orders, so many men heard them through her voice.
Many perhaps found it soothing to do so.
That was probably a key part of her job. Schicksal had a good voice. Did these men feel more inclined to charge into ambush having heard a siren lure them to this course?
Schicksal sighed; she wondered how people reacted to her reports. Would seasoned warriors think about this situation and its participants differently? Was there a different brain in a General or Field Marshal’s skull than the one she had been born with?
She pulled down her glasses and rubbed her temples. She stared long and hard at her radio, her vision blurring in and out of focus and a tight pain flaring across her head as she pressed with her fingers. Her mind was running away with her. She reined it in.
She was just a signals girl, she had no power and no debt of blood to anyone.
Many of these men probably did not even consider her a soldier.
From overhead, Dreschner tapped her on the shoulder with his foot.
“Shicksal!” He called out authoritatively.
“Yes sir!” She replied.
“I order you to eat!” He unexpectedly replied.
Schicksal pulled down her headset and looked over her shoulder.
“Say again sir?”
“You have not eaten a thing in seven hours now. Break open your Keinne and eat.”
“Yes sir.” She said. In the back of her mind she felt he was being quite patronizing. She thought she was just fine. He hadn’t eaten either. But he must have seen her rubbing her head and sighing and staring at her radio with frustration. Obediently Schicksal pulled open a gray pouch on the floor of the tank, along the wall with her radio equipment.
Inside was a can of Fleisch, and bundles of bread and cheese wrapped in wax paper. She spread the creamy, pungent meat paste atop the dark, hard bread and ate, gnawing on the cheese between bites. Beside the bread, meat and cheese they had a large can of mixed vegetables preserved in stock, and sugar candy in the form of little amber rocks.
There was nothing to drink but water.
Schicksal was quick to finish her meal. It fell into her stomach like a stone, and it was all rather bland. Perhaps a bit of oil or mustard would have helped the taste.
She found the repetition of chewing and tasting eerily calming regardless.
While she ate, Brigadier-General Dreschner had thoroughly looked over the same photos for the fifth time, and nodded his head to them. They were all taken days ago and were in Schicksal’s mind mostly useless as a source of information on the current enemy position, but Dreschner was incredibly interested in them. From time to time Dreschner would write something with an ink pen on one of the photos and mutter to himself.
He had invested much into this plan, having received permission to push ahead on his own from the Oberkommando Suden. The High Command wanted movement at any cost, and they were willing to believe that movement could be gained with Dreschner’s limited resources. Dreschner was all too eager to believe he could take Knyskna.
It was an ambitious drive, and though they had planned for a few snags, they had not planned on the level of resistance and ingenuity they were met with. Schicksal always snatched glances of the General as he worked, wondering dimly what went through the mind of a tactician, how he saw the unfolding battle. Did he think anything like she did?
She wondered how he saw the communists too; what he failed to see; what he saw now that could correct his earlier mistakes. It seemed alien to contemplate; and ultimately there was not much of a show for her in watching the man tap and fidget and grit his teeth.
Schicksal made to put her headset back over her hair and turned her back again, but she paused when she heard the General grunt in her direction and felt him tap her on the shoulder again. Graciously, but with an inner sigh, she met his eyes anew.
“Would you like some bread as well sir?” She replied with false cheer.
“No, not that. I’ve got a new route for Kunze and Reiniger to follow.”
Karla feigned interest. “Changing the plan, sir?”
“Our enemy is different than we expected.” Dreschner said.
“Do you think we can still take the rail station before night sir?” She asked.
“Yes.” Dreschner said tersely. Karla wondered whether this was all his pride talking.
But she was just the signals girl.
She listened, and with her soothing voice, she relayed the orders.
“In addition,” Dreschner said, rubbing his chin and smiling with a sudden satisfaction, “Contact Baumgartner and ask if among his men there are any Gebirgsabteilungen soldiers. I want those men in the southeast and the west, advancing into the city, alone. I want them to climb, and I want them to put those hookshots and rifles of theirs to good use.”
Dreschner was definitely wrapping his head around the situation now.
She saw it in his eyes.