XII

THE SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME

Meanwhile, mere two hundred kilometers eastward of Baderberg, a very different kind of fighting was taking place in the outskirts of the city of Breslau. German soldiers crawled across a trench hastily dug inside a set of rolling hills just a few days ago, when that position was considered defensible. How much had changed since then…

A sergeant, an old grizzled veteran who had seen far too many battles for a single lifetime, hurried to meet a bunch of soldiers defending one of the outer edges of the trench, barely flinching before the hail of bullets humming overhead or the explosions of mortar shells all around. From his position he couldn't see the larger picture in the enveloping landscape, but he was very capable of imagining it.

Tanks and soldiers covered the land in all directions, tracers marking lines of fire as artillery shells turned the land into a lunar landscape and columns of black oily some raised up to the cloudy sky. The screams of the men were barely audible over the rumble of gunfire, the roaring of the engines and the thundering of explosions. It was Hell on Earth, there was no other way to describe it.

The sergeant reached the couple of soldiers operating an MG34, an older machinegun which was still deadly even in the era of the famed MG42. They were kids, the grizzled veteran noticed, barely in their teens, cowering in fear both from the Soviet bullets and the sound of their own weapon.

"What's the situation?" He asked one of the kids, the loader. He glanced at him, his baby face covered in tears, his lips arching down as he sobbed. The sergeant snorted, knowing he would get no answer from that one. Fortunately the one operating the weapon itself seemed a little calmer.

"Not good." He paused to fire over two brown coats who had came a little too close. Just a short burst, enough to shred their chests and throw them into the half-melted snow. Good fire discipline, the sergeant noticed. That was why they still held that position when the enemy should have overrun them already. At least a few of the men still knew what they were doing. "Look."

Following his gaze the sergeant noticed the pack of Soviet tanks gathering near a small wood, almost a kilometer east of their position. That couldn't be good. The Soviets were know for simply run over defensive positions with their armor when they couldn't break them through conventional means, loses be damned. He snorted once again before turning at a nearby corporal who was now following the tanks with his gaze.

"How are we regarding Panzerschrecks?" The sergeant demanded to know.

The corporal glanced back at him, for an instant allowing fear to flash in his features. He then calmed down a little before giving the bad news with his voice as leveled as he managed to keep it.

"We're out, sir. Nothing left."

"We're out?" He expected to have at least two or three of the anti-tank rockets still available. That could manage to dissuade the Soviets from pressing on if all of them hit their targets and the defenders were very, very, lucky. Someone must have panicked and used them without his authorization.

Damn kindergarten! When the Wehrmacht did stop being an Army? He thought to himself, without ever allowing the words to leave his mouth. As far as these kids knew they were all valiant defenders of the Fatherland in his eyes. And they would die believing in that blissful lie, even if the sergeant had personally stopped believing in any concept of courage, nation or God a long time ago.

There was nothing to do there. He raised his Schmeisser machine-pistol so all soldiers in that trench could see him and yelled: "Retreat! We're pulling back!"

The commanding officers wouldn't be happy with that action, but then again he just didn't care anymore. It was time to see how many of those kids would manage to get back to their mammies.


"They're running away!"

"Really? Where?"

"South."

"Ah, I see them now, Nonna."

The trench had to be awfully shallow, she thought to herself as she saw the line of grey coats pulling out, their backs exposed as they tried to crouch while walking out of their defensive position. Several of them fell down, some because they were clumsy, others because they got a rifle bullet through their spines.

Lieutenant Yekaterina Fiodorovna Zaitseva lowered her binoculars and allowed a vicious grin to spread across her pretty face. So the Fritz was running away? That would make her mission so much easier.

"Seems like they got scared of us." Nonna speculated.

Yekaterina looked back, turning in the command hatch of her T-34/85 to look at her second-in-command, who was also with half of her body out of the hatch of her own tank, a bulky IS-2. Her own binoculars rested in her hands as she faced the lieutenant.

"You think?" Yekaterina yelped, the smirk unwavering in her face. "I just wish they had some tanks with them. Then this would become truly interesting."

"I doubt the Fritz has run out of tanks, Katyusha. They're probably just gathering them for the final battle." Sergeant Nonna Artyomovna Agapova returned her smirk, although hers was much more contained, not overflowing with pure hatred like Yekaterina's. Then again, being 18 years old Nonna was still a couple years older than her fiery commanding officer. Some people could find strange that such young girls could be in command of an armored company, but those people probably didn't knew the hell through which the Red Army endured and remade itself. Regardless of their age, none of its soldiers acted like children anymore.

It was a hell Yekaterina knew all too well. She saw what the German soldiers did to her sisters almost four years ago when they invaded her homeland in Belarus. They only let her go because she was a mere child in their eyes and because, against all odds, she was actually lucky. Or then she would have also been used and disposed of on the spot.

For the next four years she sustained herself through pure unadulterated hatred, meeting Nonna in her way to Stalingrad, city were both of them had their first taste of actual combat and became recruited into the Red Army. Since then they became a team, fighting side by side against the bastards who killed 20 million of their people.

"Bah! I'm tired of going after small fish!"

"Well," Nonna shrugged, "Comrade Konev did give us this mission so we better enjoy it."

With an all too sinister glee Yekaterina turned at the distant line of retreating German soldiers and placed her hands around her mouth to yell at them.

"Hey, Fritz! Where are you going? We've got some fireworks to show you!"

Nonna knew all too well where that was heading.

"Now, don't overdo it, Katyusha." She said, very calmly. Her friend and superior officer chuckled once. And then she barked her orders to her company, yelling at the top of her lungs in her high-pitched voice.

"CHARGE! Kill them! Kill them all!" She was now pounding with her foot at the metal in the side of fighting chamber of her T-34, making a metallic sound which echoed inside the tank and raised the levels of adrenaline of the crew. "URA!"

The sound of twenty tank engines going into overdrive thundered across the fields. The powerful armored vehicles rolled forward, their tracks digging long ditches across the mud while their main guns and smaller weapons spewed fire upon the retreating enemy. A powerful war cry flooded the radio chatter as the company in force echoed Yekaterina's howl.

"URA!" A chorus of angry voices demanding vengeance spouted as the tanks started to reach full flanking speed.

In her post, standing on the open commander's hatch, the commander of the Pravda Company of the First Ukrainian Front felt the cold air splash against her pale face as the T-34 accelerated, actually moving ahead of the rest of the formation, her heart pumping adrenaline-filled hot blood through her body.

Unfortunately, in her opinion, crushing lightly-armored infantry formations, like that bunch of Hitlerjugend kids, wasn't really that big of a challenge. If they had anti-tank weapons with them then they could bring on some interesting traps and tricks, but in that case she would have them flushed out with the infantry under her command, for the moment kept at reserve as she felt no need to use them, and then bring in the tanks.

Since Stalingrad that she hadn't faced a German commander she could consider to be a worthy opponent, someone who could give a true face to her thirst for revenge, someone that could actually challenge her. But for almost two hears the armored company she helped creating back at the city which held the name of the Comrade General Secretary was constantly used to flush out low-level enemy troops like those poor bastards now in their sights.

The Soviet Union was said to be a place of equality among Men, but some were still more equal than others and she felt that her unit, mostly made up of teenagers, especially girls, was being kept out of the main battles on purpose. But that was of little importance at the moment. The charge against Berlin was drawing near. It was certain that the Fascists would use all they had to stop the Red Army and then, in the midst of the chaos which was bound to unravel, she would finally face her one true opponent.

She could almost taste it, the opportunity to prove herself once again in armored combat. The person who would allow that was somewhere to the West, waiting for her. He had to!

Meanwhile, she had a bunch of hapless infantry grunts to crush under the iron tracks of her tanks. Yekaterina didn't thought of that at the time, neither did she ever considered the fact to be of any relevancy, but the truth was that the war among two of the most powerful nations in the planet had degenerated into a bunch of children killing each other.

The charge pressed on. Bodies were perforated, blown apart and smashed into pulp.

"URA!"

TO BE CONTINUED


CLOSING NOTES

And thus we arrive at the end of this first iteration of Heimatfront. To those of you who came this far I hereby give you my deepest thanks and hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I've enjoyed writing it. Many changes were made to encompass what I intended to do with it and I agree some were probably a little too much. And yet I love this piece dearly and I'm already working on the sequel.

See you in the next episode:

"Baptism of Fire"