The Little Sturmpanzer That Could
(Or, more accurately – "It might have done if anyone had given it enough *#$&** ammunition!")
Stumpy, the little open-topped Sturmpanzer II self-propelled artillery, was having a day no worse than usual. It was a bright and sunny day on the wide open plains of the Prokhorovka map (not that the sun ever set on that corner of Uncle Joe's Empire) and he was doing what he did best. He was sat in the bushes by the railway line a third of the way down the map, sending his best wishes in 150mm diameter helpings to the enemy. Ten shells, two thirds of his whole ration, had headed out already – three had been clear misses despite his skilled crew honed over twelve hundred battles together. The other seven had been crashing successes – twice blowing the tracks of the opposing Tiger 1 for 400 points damage, and hacking most of the hit points off an enemy Priest. It was not a religious thing; though as a good National Socialist Stumpy preferred Thor and Woden any day.
Just then that Tiger 1 showed what he could still do on one hit point as two squares away he fatally perforated Lee, one of Stumpy's three surviving teammates. To be fair, a mildly annoyed hausfrau with a knitting needle could perforate a Lee at most ranges.
"NOOB ARTY! WHY YOU NO SUPPORT ME?" Lee's vengeful howl came from beyond the grave.
"Maybe… because you went all on your own to their end zone without telling anyone – two whole squares out of my range?" Stumpy's sturdy but, well, stumpy howitzer was already straining at its maximum elevation. Other artillery upgraded to a second gun but oh no, he was stuck with the one he had on his first-ever trip out of the garage.
"NOOB CAMPER! YOU HEARD HIM. GO SCOUT FOR ME." Even further back in the bushes by their home base, T34 was imitating a tank-destroyer. Very badly, it had to be said.
"What, me, an arty, scout?" True, Stumpy could turn on a dime (a 10 pfennig piece, to be exact) and hit 40 km/h with a quite decent acceleration. "But – your headlamps have more armour than me! My crew get wet when it rains!"
There was a menacing silence, while Stumpy noticed T34's turret turning towards him and his tinfoil-thick rear armour. With a sigh, the little Sturmpanzer folded up his camouflage netting (having a silhouette the crew could shake hands over, he could hide behind even the most war-economy-sized shrubbery) and cautiously trundled alongside the railway embankment towards the enemy – at least, out of his teammate's accurate range.
"I spy, with my little optics, a KV-1 and a Tiger hunting together. Not a likely couple." The voice was that of Hetzer, the other surviving teammate who was keeping watch in the bushes on the far side of the map. The two Heavies suddenly appeared in Stumpy's sights.
"Seen! On the way!" Stumpy sang out, and two seconds later planted a direct hit on the KV's glacis plate, tragically only knocking 50 points off but (more damagingly) quite ruined the authentic patriotic slogan; a deathless couplet from the jolly poet Ilya Ehrenberg, written in the finest gold. Yellowish, at least.
"Gotcha!" Hetzer had planted a 105 mm HE shell right in the Tiger's side, blowing the tracks off but somehow missing the final 1% of general damage that would have knocked their adversary out of the game.
Stumpy's crew laboured frantically. "11,12,13,14," he counted off the shells as they arced out aimed at the KV, whittling it down from seventy to four percent and de-tracking it three times in a row. Presumably the crew were outside their vehicle struggling with crowbars and spare track segments whenever the next shell arrived – but they were a surprisingly tough bunch and somehow never seemed to take any harm from it.
Just as his loaders put round #15 and final into the breech, Stumpy noticed with alarm that the targets had vanished from his mini-map – as had Hetzer, whose neatly sloped front armour had until then been bouncing shots from the KV1's 85 mm like a Wimbledon ace returning serves. Hetzer had returned to the Great Garage in the sky, and Stumpy's team were now blind over that half of the map.
"NOOB ARTY! USELESS! GO TD MODE!" T-34 yelled from the far hinterland where he was looking for a bush big enough to cover his own Tank Destroyer impersonations.
There were well-armed artillery vehicles that could moonlight as Tank Destroyers, but Stumpy was not one of them. Without a turret he had to swing his whole chassis on the tracks, which was no earthly use in a turning fight – to stand any chance he needed luck and judgement enough to be pointing the right way before the enemy came out of the bushes – and he had one shell for two of them.
"But one's on 1% and the other's on 4. I'll get one of them. I think I can, I think I can…" Stumpy dropped his front suspension, straining to get his stubby howitzer a better depression. Depression was the word – it was about as much use at point-blank range as a trench mortar in a bar-fight – except the Tiger stood upright enough to get a noticeable boost from tail-winds.
Just then that blocky shape came crashing through the bushes right into Stumpy's sights – and ran straight into his last round, smack on the driver's hatch.
Critical hit but zero points damage. Vanity mirror and fluffy dice modules destroyed Stumpy's commander used his "Eagle Eye" perk for what was surely the last time in that incarnation, as his gunner looked down despairingly at the empty breech.
"My new mirror! And my fluffy dice… oooh, you bitch! I'll scratch your eyes out!" Tiger shrilled, and with an 88 mm round point-blank against Stumpy's 20 mm of armour, demonstrated the meaning of "Gross armour overmatch."
Despite being computerised avatars of soulless killing machines, it was surprising how religious most World Of Tanks vehicles were. It was probably something to do with all the times they were reincarnated, always remembering just what had sent them back to the sacred Garage of Rebirth.
"Rough trip?" Stumpy's biggest sibling, GW-Panther, sympathised from the next garage slot as Stumpy reincarnated yet again.
"The usual. Twelve hits, four enemies damaged down to single figure hit points and T-34 still spent the last two minutes yelling at me. STOOPID NOOB ARTY DIDN'T KILL ANYTHING! UNINSTALL THE GAME NOW! Then they pincered him." Stumpy shook his trunnions sadly.
"Well, you failed. Not a single kill." In the other stall, Mark Seven Tetrarch sat bathed in an odour of sanctity and pricey lend-lease oil. "T-34 was quite right."
"I did what artillery's meant to! Carved off enough total hit points from their heavies to mince a Maus! And I went half-way down the map to get in range. Sturmpanzers have to." Stumpy glared at the newcomer, the only light tank on the garage. "By the way – I thought you were meant to be a British tank? What are you doing with that red star on your turret?"
"International Worker's Solidarity. And lend-lease." Mark Seven raised his gun mantlet snootily. "The Developers appreciate me. They even gave me my own trained and motivated crew on day one."
"Yes, I heard. How are they settling in? Liking the food and the climate?" GW-Panther nodded her wonderfully supple turret. "Commander Burgess, Driver Philby and Gunner Maclean. What puzzles me is – considering they already had T-34s, what did the Russians do with Tetrarchs when they got them?"
"Probably something so secret and war-winning it's still classified." Mark Seven sniffed. "At least I'm a real tank, unlike you. I saw real combat. And not only in Russia."
"I heard. Invading Vichy French Madagascar. Up against what, ring-tailed lemurs with pointed sticks?" GW-Panther had never made mass-production, but at least had a prototype in action.
"Of course not! They'd upgraded their tech tree a lot by then!" Mark Seven protested.
"Not… armour piercing, fire-hardened pointed sticks by any chance?" Stumpy asked innocently.
"Well… yes. But they were really sharp. You had to have been there." Mark Seven muttered, his mantlet drooping.
"That's enough out of you. Shut it, or I'll one-shot you," GW-Panther said firmly. "Don't think I won't. And nobody ever got a demerit for doing that in their own garage. I can say I was cleaning the gun when it went off."
There was a blessed silence for half an hour, until Stumpy noticed that Mark Seven Tetrarch had turned towards the East and was quietly praying. It was the familiar mantra, that echoed over every field of the World Of Tanks:
"Artillery is all O.P * . and everybody hates you…
Artillery is all O.P. and everybody hates you…
Artillery is all O.P. and everybody hates you…"
(* OverPowered. Despite usually being put in battles two boxing grades above their fighting weight.)
Stumpy sighed, turning to his big sister. "Overpowered? I wish. I put five hits on a KV-2 yesterday. Scored no damage points – I just broke their tracks twice and the samovar module twice. The other shell teleported off somewhere into the blue. Then I ran out of ammunition and incarnation."
"You just have to be patient till you earn the credits for the next gun…" GW-Panther broke off, blushing. "Oh. Sorry. I forgot you're about the only artillery that has to live forever with the stock one."
"I thought things were meant to improve when I evolved up from Bison," Stumpy shook his trunnions, briefly getting confused with Pokémon. "That was a garden shed on tracks – cardboard armour and the engine came off an old lawnmower. But at least it carried 20 shots for its 15 cm, and I only get 15!"
"It's a fine calibre. I carry one myself." GW-Panther reassured her younger brother.
"And twice as many rounds. Plus, any one of yours could have one-shotted that Tiger from clear across the map." Evidently more senior vehicles had bigger and more powerful millimetres. Stumpy felt a grinding sensation deep within his crank-case, as if some disaffected factory worker had slipped carborundum powder into his oil again. "The only other artillery with this few rounds are total monsters with a reload time that couldn't possibly fire them fast enough to run out before the game's over."
"Maybe. But mine are made of solid gold! According to the price, they must be. It really hurts to miss with them. You should be glad yours are… affordable" GW-Panther said. It certainly hurt to be charged for 21st century smart rounds and get extremely dumb shells.
"Stumpy, cheap and nasty!" Mark Seven jeered. "I get fifty rounds! And I can take you out with any two of them."
Further hostilities were postponed as the garage's P.A. system crackled into life. All the tanks genuflected, bowing their suspension towards the East, where the fair and impartial Developers had their mortal abode.
"Attention Comrades! Good news!"" It was the Voice of the Developer in person. "For this whole month we have half-price lend-lease oil and extra combat rations! Plus, removal of speed governors is now free to all comrades!"
"Options that don't apply to Germans. Or Americans. Or French. Or Chinese." Stumpy whispered. "Mark Seven's English built but his crew are on the Moscow payroll."
"The French crews get Strong Coffee, the Amis have a whole case of Generic Cola, our crews go for chocolate. But not today." GW-Panther nodded her long cannon glumly.
"And be the saving up your gold and a place in your garages, comrades, for some good news! Next month you may apply to serve with Objekt 666, the "Tulip" 240mm mortar. Will have view range of 4 maps in all directions! Can sit on Sand River and hit targets on Arctic Region!" The speaker clicked off.
"It's Russian, so anyone who calls it Overpowered will just get banned from the forums," GW-Panther mused. "Still. A range that great, it can't be too accurate."
Mark Seven raised his gun mantlet, and winked a headlight. "It won't care. I know what sort of rounds it's firing. My friend the IS-19 told me yesterday – you thought he was in winter camouflage? That's nuclear anti-flash paint." If he had an elbow he would have dug it into Stumpy's ribs, if Stumpy had ribs. "Oh, shame about your poor crew in that open-topped chassis of yours. Still, duck and cover, eh?" With that he was mercifully silent, but radiated smugness till his paint blistered.
That night, Stumpy prayed. He dipped his suspension towards the Creators in the East, and humbly opened his hatch and engine-covers.
"Oh Developers, I beseech thee
Thou who made us and brought us here
Who gave us life – and again, and again
(Often after such a tragically brief incarnation)
Who brought us all to a field of fair and even play
The Americans, the Germans, the Russians,
And indeed the French and the Chinese, even-handedly
(Although their Type 59 does indeed stand out a little
As if it were a crocodile on a billiard table….)
You who gave so much to so many
I beseech thee, hear my first and only prayer
Can I please have just a few more rounds?"
Suddenly a strange light seemed to fill the oil-stained, non-premium-account garage like the glow of dawn rising in the East. Stumpy dipped his suspension in awe. He knew that at last his humble prayer had reached the Developers, and waited with baited breath. And then, suddenly, all of his hopes and dreams were answered as that great voice spoke unto him.
(I was going to preface the sad tale with "all events are true, but the identities have been changed to protect the innocent" – but there aren't any innocents. You know who you are. Kudos to the gallant Hetzer though, that was a fine battle!)