"War is hell, but actual combat is a motherfucker."-Colonel Dave Hackworth


"I don't like this." Sergeant First Class Hank William said as he crouched on the turret of his tank.

"You're tanks are exposed out here. Makes easy targets for those red bastards." Commandant Jean-Pierre Roux observed as he slung his FAMAS Assault Rifle on his back. The American M-1 Abrams Main Battle Tank was dug into the reverse slop of a hill. Its large 105mm rifled gun barely cleared the row of shrubs planted by French school children a few years ago. Commandant Jean-Pierre looked down the shallow valley at a tree line about two thousand meters away. He knew that there were Soviet soldiers somewhere in those woods probably staring back at him. He shivered at the thought.

Sergeant First Class Hank thought the same thing. There had to be scores of Soviet infantry and armored vehicles in the woods. One of them had to have powerful field glasses and was probably surveying the hill. He hoped that they couldn't make out the squat, largely ominous profile of his tank. It was one of four prepared defensive positions dug by French engineers and a few French farmers. They didn't mind gutting their fields to house the tanks. They'd much rather have a ruined harvest than live in a Soviet occupied France.

"Those bastards must love this weather." Commandant Jean-Pierre said looking up. The sky was a dark gray and promised rain. That severely restricted their air cover making it that much easier for Ivan. The dark clouds hung about thirteen hundred feet above the ground. That meant whatever air support they could get would have just fix seconds to acquire their targets before having to pull up.

Sergeant First Class Hank jumped off the turret and hit the ground. He had to stop himself from stumbling down the hill. He liked being at eye level with people whenever they talked. It made things more personal. "What kind of air support can we expect, commandant?" Sergeant First Class Hank asked.

"Two or three A-10s plus some Mirage 5s. Some helicopters too. I'm not sure what kind though. Not much if you ask me, mon ami." Commandant Jean-Pierre said shaking his head. Both men looked down at the valley below. About two dozen Soviet tanks were still burning. Most of them were T-62s but there were a few T-80s mixed in with them.

"Just what kind of attack is Command expecting here?" Sergeant First Class Hank asked frowning. He didn't like this one bit now. The first Russian attack had been repulsed but only with heavy air support. The blackened and still burning remains of five NATO attack aircraft sat in the valley reminded him of how badly the Russians wanted those aircraft dead so they could sweep his meager force aside.

"Ceux gros bonnets aurait plus d'avions affectés à ce secteur si elles se battaient ici." Commandant Jean-Pierre muttered in French as he scraped the mud off his boot on the tread of the tank.

"Huh?" Sergeant First Class Hank asked.

"Nothing, ami. Now when you hear 'Zulu, Zulu, Zulu,' that means air support is five minutes out. The pilots asked me to tell you to take out any SAM vehicles and AA guns you see to make their job easier." Commandant Jean-Pierre said.

"Roger that. You should get to your trench with your men. I got a feeling things will be heating up soon. You know Ivan doesn't like to sit in one place for too long." Sergeant First Class Hank said holding out his hand.

"Oui, mon ami. Bonne chance." Commandant Jean-Pierre said giving him a warm handshake.

"Good luck to you too." Sergeant First Class Hank said remembering the term from their first encounter with the Soviets with Jean-Pierre. Commandant Jean-Pierre turned and started walking off to the trenches next to the tanks that were filled with French soldiers. Before he hopped in the trench Sergeant First Class Hank yelled, "We still doing the kill count?"

Commandant Jean-Pierre looked over his shoulder and yelled, "Of course, mon ami américain! I'm still winning you know!"

"Not for long you, Frenchie!" Sergeant First Class Hank yelled as he hopped back onto his Abrams. He couldn't lie; he respected Commandant Jean-Pierre a great bit. He'd gotten his ass out of some real bad situations and vice versa. They'd met in Germany during the Soviet attack on Ansbach. They held out for three days before having to retreat when a whole Soviet tank army was thrown their way. A lot of good men were lost in Ansbach. Men they desperately needed right now.

A Troop, 1st Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment had once had fourteen tanks. Six of the originals were gone and they'd only gotten three replacements. Of those three replacements only one were left. They picked up the last Abrams from B Troop and incorporated it into A troop giving them a grand total of ten Abrams. All of them were damaged to one degree or another. They just didn't have the time nor the resources to conduct proper repairs. Sergeant First Class Hank's platoon leader had been killed during the Battle of Ansbach leaving him in command of the four tank platoon. His platoon was covering nearly a kilometer's worth of front.

Hunkered down in trenches and makeshift bunkers between his tanks were were men from the French Army's 3rd Marine Infantry Parachute Regiment, Alpha Company led by Commandant Jean-Pierre. His unit was a company on paper but in reality it was nothing more than three battered platoons. He counted his unit lucky. Some NATO units had been wiped out by the sudden Warsaw Pact assault in Germany. They fought valiantly in Germany but were still pushed back by the seemingly endless Red horde. Now they couldn't afford to be pushed back. The men were now fighting to defend not just their country, but their homes and families too.

Commandant Jean-Pierre surveyed the earthworks his men now took cover in. They were dug in deep. If he lived through this battle he would be sure to than the engineers and farmers that dug their protection. It looked as if it would survive Soviet artillery barrages. But only the real thing would let them know. The power of Russian artillery had come as a massive shock despite all the pre-war warning.

000

A Hungarian officer inched his way through the mud on his closer to the wood line. He wanted a better look at what he was going to be sending his tanks at. Two riflemen slowly crawled their way through the muck next to him. They both had their AK-63Es in hands and they were ready to use them. After fifteen grueling minutes the Hungarian officer finally got as close as he felt safe to the edge of the woods. He lifted up his binoculars and scanned the hill top. Not much there. He slowly scanned the face of the hill still seeing little. Wait. His attention caught something glimmering. Could it be the enemy? Yes! A French soldier judging by his FAMAS was playing with a small pocket mirror. What could he be doing? Was he really just sitting there out in the open messing around like there wasn't a war going on? He had a target for the artillery batteries stationed a few kilometers behind. Let's see how much fun the soldier had when 152mm shells started crashing around him. As he motioned for one of the soldiers with a bulky radio pack on his back to get closer he thought if they'd waste rounds on just one soldier. Hell they had more. Just as put the receiver to his ear his head cocked back and the back of his head exploded as a 7.62×51mm NATO round passed through.

000

"Un bâtard moins rouge à traiter." a French sniper said as he worked the bolt to his FR F2 Sniper Rifle two thousand meters away. One less red bastard to worry about.

"Je pense que c'est un record?" his spotter said as he watched the two other enemy soldiers get up and sprint the opposite direction. I think that is a record.

"Honnêtement, je ne se soucient pas de dossiers. Je veux juste ces enculés rouges hors de mon pays." The sniper said. Honestly I don't care about records. I just want those red fuckers out of my country.

"Comme ne I. Nous sommes une étape plus près que je pense." The spotter said wiping the condensation from his spotter's scope. As do I. We're one step closer than I guess.

"Pourtant, nous avons encore un million de plus quelques mesures à prendre." The sniper replied frowning. Yet we still have a couple more million steps to take.

"Rappelez-vous mon ami, un voyage d'un million de miles commence par un pas." The spotter said trying to cheer his friend up. Remember my friend; a journey of one million miles begins with one step

"Oui, mon ami. Revenons à la tranchée. Nous devons dire le commandant sur notre rencontre. Dites Devante il a fait un appât grande. Je pense que les rouges sont de rabotage de déménager bientôt." The sniper said with a tired sigh. Yes my friend. Let's get back to the trench. We must tell the commandant about our encounter. Tell devante he made great bait. I think the Reds are planning to move soon.

Without another word the two men got up from their camouflaged position and jogged towards the trenches.

000

A lone Mi-35 Hind hovered over the forest. Its pilots took extra care not to cross the tree line. This put them at risk to enemy SAMs, small arms fire, and it took them out of the range of their own SAMS and AA guns.

"Those NATO dogs must love this weather!" The colonel of the 7th Honor Guards Tank Regiment yelled over the sound of the rotors and looking up at the low clouds. "Their cursed airplanes swoop in below the clouds under our radar coverage and blow us to hell before we can do anything about it."

"How bad has your unit been hit?" General Vladimir Alexandrov asked.

"Look for yourself, comrade." The colonel almost spit. Twenty-four tanks, well the charred remains of them, sat burning in a shallow valley. "That American low-level attacker did this-they call it the Thunderbolt. Our men call it the Devil's Cross. It looks much like a Eastern Orthodox Cross when you look at it from below."

"But did you not shoot three of these aircraft down yesterday?" General Vladimir asked.

"That is true. What you probably didn't hear is that only one of my six gun vehicles survived the effort. The last vehicle got both. Private Pavel Ilyich I believe. I've recommended him for the Red Banner. It will be posthumous though."

"I thought you said he destroyed the Thunderbolts?" General Vladimir asked with a raised eyebrow.

"Oh he did. Then a damn French jet came out of the clouds and he took that one out too. Well just look for yourself." The colonel said as he handed him a pair of binoculars.

General Vladimir took them and scanned the area were the wreckages of four ZSU-30s. One of them had the wreckage of a French Mirage, he couldn't tell which version, smashed into it. This had probably been on purpose. The French pilot most likely wanted to kill a few more Soviets before he died. A Hungarian sergeant sitting in the troop bay tapped on the colonel's shoulder and handed him a radio headset. He listened intensely for three minutes before lowering the headset.

"Tell the pilot to take us to the command bunker." The colonel told the sergeant. He nodded and spoke into his own headset. It took them ten minutes to get to the command bunker. As they hopped out the colonel motioned towards the bunker and said, "Ten minutes, comrade. Will you join me?"

The command bunker was nothing new to General Vladimir. He'd been in dozens all along the front. This one, like all the others, was constructed of logs with a few meters of earth tossed on it. Thirty men were crammed into the cramped area along with a wide array of communication equipment. This was the least amount of equipment and men needed to manage a three regiment attack; two Russian and one Hungarian. Two regiments would head in first, a Russian and the Hungarian one, to blow a gap in NATO's defenses before the reserve Russian regiment would rush through the gap and wreak havoc in the enemy's rear.

General Vladimir was just an observer in the bunker. He watched at how efficient all of the men seemed to move. The pre-war training seemed to have paid off. He watched the three regiment commanders converse quietly before being interrupted by their artillery chief. They exchanged a few brief words before the artillery chief walked over to bright red phone. He picked up the receiver, held it to his ear, and said two words.

"Commence firing."

It didn't take long for the sound to reach them. The sound of every gun the division owned plus two additional batteries from the tank division spoke as one, massive, booming voice. It sounded like a titanic thunderclap across the valley. The shells streaked towards the valley and hill in wide arcs. The first few struck short but the rounds began to slowly creep towards the hill. As with most battles on the European Front of World War 3, NATO was once again on the defensive.