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PostPosted: Wed Feb 07, 2018 5:16 pm 

Joined: Tue Jan 16, 2018 4:38 am
Posts: 94
This is a story I wrote the other year. Matt suggested I could post it here if I wished. There are other stories which accompany it: this is the first. It is unrelated to my Red Dawn story.



The German Democratic Republic collapsed in upon itself in late 1989. The ruling regime in East Germany gave in to their people who wanted freedom. The Wall came down and the border with West Germany was opened up.

World affairs played a part in this but so too did the inability of the East Germans, for all intents and purposes left alone by their Soviet overlords, to decide what to do about their civilians protesting on the streets. It was those brave civilians who faced down their fears of the regime.

The regime fell. East Germany ceased to exist. Germany reunited.

What if… the East German leadership took the Tiananmen Option and combatted those protesters?

If they had, there might have been consequences. It could have secured their regime for the immediate future. Yet, it also could have led to something no one wanted: war.

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 07, 2018 5:18 pm 

Joined: Tue Jan 16, 2018 4:38 am
Posts: 94
Prologue – Love

October 14th 1989
Honecker Residence, Waldseidlung Compound, East Germany

Oberleutnant Horst Fritz had arrived late for his shift and been berated by his supervisor; no matter what, Fritz had his duties and had to be on time to preform them. An apology was given for failing to arrive here when he was meant to though Fritz hadn't been sincere in that; additionally, he doubted that his superior had believed him with the excuse of car trouble which he had given.

Once he was finally on duty, Fritz was to spend the night guarding the residence of the Honecker's – the General Secretary and his wife – here at the exclusive and secure Waldseidlung Compound located to the north of Berlin. It would be a long and arduous watch duty, he knew, as it was always that way when assigned to the night-shift at the weekend for the select guards such as him who were tasked to watch over the most important leaders of his country. He was entrusted by his nation to perform this role due to his background and his service with the Stasi. Fritz would usually spend nights like these counting the days until this duty was up and he would be up for reassignment for something else in the future more worthy of him and his many considerable talents.

But tonight was very different from those other nights: Fritz was overly distracted by his personal grief that he was trying his very best not to let anyone else see.

There was a second bodyguard here tonight on duty though Wilhelm wasn't assigned to the Honecker's but rather to their current guest: the Minister for State Security. Fritz and he knew each other by sight and had spoken briefly beforehand about nothing of any significance at all and the latter started to do so again tonight just to ease the boredom of waiting around.

“It'll be another long night for the two of us, Horst.”


“They're talking politics in there,” Wilhelm explained as if his comrade hadn't spent far too much time around such people as those inside the house which they both stood outside, “and so that will go on and on. They'll discuss the same things as they do every time and agree with each other on everything.”


Fritz didn't want to talk and tried to shut down all attempts at conversation with his simple one-word answers to his comrade. Perhaps Wilhelm was about to say something else but before then there came the most-hearty laugh from the inside of the house. Fritz noticed that his comrade did exactly what he did and turned his head to look back over his shoulder at the door behind them. He imagined that certainly Wilhelm was thinking at how loud that must have been inside if they both could hear it from out here outside.

It was only Erich Mielke who could laugh in such a fashion as that with such volume.

Further time passed without any more occurring conversation between the two bodyguards. His efforts to bring any talk to an end were successful and Fritz was glad of that achievement. He didn't know if he would be able to control himself otherwise and snap at Wilhelm to shut up… or maybe do something even worse than that.

Fritz had a pistol in his holster and he kept placing his hand atop that leather pouch which was attached to his uniform belt. He was aware that he was doing it but at the same time unable to stop himself from continuing. Every time he touched the holster it took a lot of inner strength to not remove the pistol and instead take his hand back away.

Yet, his hand kept moving back again to the same place as it had been before as the process repeated itself.

There was a word which was on the tip of Fritz's tongue yet he didn't verbalise that. All afternoon and into the night he had had to stop himself from saying it aloud: Augustusplatz. He had been told earlier today that it was in that public square down located in Leipzig where Hanna had been killed. She was shot to death there on Monday night apparently by a man wearing the same uniform as he did now.

She was his second cousin and three years younger than him. A student with political ideas which he hadn't shared, Fritz had met her again after not seeing her for several years during the summer when her and her mother had come to Berlin to stay with his parents. The two of them had connected after an initial disagreement over what he did for the State but then the inevitable passion had come… with a healthy dose of young love too. Both of them knew that it wouldn't last any more than the month which they had together and so had made everything that they could of it in moments which they stole between his long working hours.

He had been in love with her even though any real future was ultimately hopeless for the two of them together.

His mother told him earlier that Hanna was among those who lay dead in Leipzig. She had had a call from her cousin when the news had been relayed that Hanna had been killed there at the beginning of the week in events which Fritz had only discovered by overhearing conversations while engaged in his duties. Officially, nothing had happened at Leipzig though he knew how that was far from the case.

Those three people who were inside the house behind him – Erich Honecker, his wife Margot and Erich Mielke – were those who were directly responsible for Hanna's death. She had died among an unknown many more there, killed under orders from the people whose lives he was charged to protect. He knew this because he had personally been inside Honecker's office in East Berlin when the man had been on the telephone to Mielke. The go-ahead for the disturbances in Leipzig to be crushed by special Stasi troops had been issued from Honecker to Mielke while Fritz had stood by silent and unnoticed. All sorts of things were seen and overheard by Fritz when he was on duty and being treated as nothing more than a piece of furniture though that had certainly been the most significant of everything he had witnessed in the long time on this duty.

Another laugh was heard coming from inside the house breaking Fritz's recollections. It was none other than Mielke again who Fritz could hear from out here. That man was his ultimate superior as his ministerial responsibility included the Stasi – which he took a very active role in overseeing – and wasn't someone whom Fritz had ever liked. In fact, he despised the man. He didn't know how Wilhelm could protect such a man without one day taking out his gun and shooting his charge. To do so, in Fritz's opinion, would be to do the whole world plenty of good.

Conversations which Fritz couldn't make out now took place just inside the door. “I think the Minister might be about to leave and head back to his home.”

“Ja.” What more of a response could Fritz give than that?

“I'll go start the car – it'll need warming up inside.” Wilhelm walked off and away to the Volvo parked nearby; the top tiers of government here in the German Democratic Republic loved their luxury personal cars built in capitalist Sweden.

The front door to the villa here at Waldseidlung was opened as Fritz stepped away from it to the left. He and Wilhelm had been right outside and Fritz remained on the porch as the light and heat from inside now emerged. His job was to keep his eyes open for any possible threat to these people but also to stay out of the way. He did just as he was taught and gave the trio of politicians their privacy.

Still, he was close enough to hear everything that they were saying to each other.

“We cannot keep this secret forever, comrade.” It was Margot speaking: Honecker's powerful wife, the Minister of Education: the woman who made sure that every child in the country had an education that included military training and explicit hatred towards foreigners.

“We shouldn't fear an ultimate revelation of Leipzig.” Mielke, Fritz observed, briefly put his hand upon her shoulder in what appeared to be a reassuring manner. “The rumours will be a warning to others to be careful and when the truth finally does come out it will be one which we will fully control. Remember, the people love us and will believe what we tell them.”

“So many young lives lost...”

“Troublemakers and whores, Margot. They were all no more than a stain upon our nation and we should be glad that they were shot down as they were.”

They were speaking about the people killed in Leipzig. Mielke had just referred to Hanna, his cousin and his lover, as a 'whore'. Meanwhile the other two had no remark of admonishment at such a label being given by the head of the Stasi.

Fritz didn't make the conscious decision to snap and act as he did. He just did it without thinking in an act of rage and certainly not something which he had planned beforehand. If he had thought about it then he wouldn't have removed his pistol from his holster… but that was what he did tonight.

Mielke was shot first with one bullet fired at him from a range of less than a metre away. It struck him in the forehead slightly to the left of centre and was a certain 'kill-shot' like Fritz was trained to make.

Erich Honecker was hit by two of the three bullets fired at him by Fritz. Both of those which were on target struck him in the belly and the other went wide and hit the wooden door-frame behind him.

Mielke's bodyguard, rushing from the car, fired the next shot and a bullet of his impacted against Fritz's right thigh. Despite the sudden searing pain, he fired his own weapon again as he fell backwards. However, he didn't shoot back at Wilhelm but rather directly at the third politician present.

Margot Honecker was shot in the lower back as she tried to run back into the house from where she had come. She would fall forwards following the impact of that bullet before another one hit her in the right arm near the elbow. This made her twist to the side as she continued to fall yet she managed to get inside what she must have thought was the safety of her house.

Finally, Fritz was hit by three more bullets from Wilhelm which struck him in the chest and his neck too. He didn't return fire upon his comrade despite the opportunity to do so before that other bodyguard rushed over and kicked the pistol out of his hand; it was sent skidding across the porch and far from his grasp. Fritz knew he was bleeding to death as he lay on the porch on his back staring up at the roof above. Meanwhile, all around him others were rushing to the scene after being alerted by the sounds of gunfire on this bitterly cold night and then the piercing screams coming from both mortally-wounded Honecker's.

Fritz closed his eyes and with his last conscious thoughts he told himself that he had acted out of love over everything else.

There had been no inkling in his mind that his actions would be the initial spark that would throw most of the world on the course to a third world war, one which while only lasting less than two months would be one of the most destructive in human history causing the loss of millions of lives and seeing (selective) nuclear warfare erupt.

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 07, 2018 5:24 pm 

Joined: Tue Jan 16, 2018 4:38 am
Posts: 94
Chapter One – Four Days

January 31st 1990
Ministry of National Defence, Strausberg, East Germany

Soldiers of the Hugo Eberlein Guard Regiment were tasked with protection duties at the East German Ministry of National Defence (MND) complex which lay to the east of Berlin and there was a party of them which stood nearby when the helicopter came into land. Generaloberst (colonel-general) Matthias Ulrich met their salute when he climbed out of the Mil-8 military helicopter before walking off with his small entourage into a nearby building which would take him into the extensive underground facilities here at Strausberg.

Ulrich and those with him headed for the main briefing room where he as Chief of the Land Forces Command had been instructed to attend a meeting at nine o'clock this morning; his aides and security escort wouldn't be in attendance. He knew something big was in the offing because such events as a meeting like this where he knew many of his senior comrades would be in attendance was unusual. As to what that was, Ulrich had no idea though he was certain to find out.

Inside the briefing room, as Ulrich walked to his seat, he noted all of the others here who shared senior positions within the East German military establishment in addition to those at the top of the security and intelligence services along with a couple of top-level Soviets as well. His country’s political leadership was also present too, those who had replaced the departed Honecker and Mielke.

I think, he silently said to himself, I might know where this is going…

It was the Minister for National Defence, not as might be expected the new General Secretary Friedrich Dickel, who addressed the gathering here once the meeting got started. “Comrades,” Heinz Kessler began, “our country is in the most-immense danger and so too are those nations which are our fraternal socialist allies. That danger comes from the imperialist, capitalist West.

Their plots and plans, nefarious as they are, have recently come to a head. New evidence has come to light which shows how it was a dastardly scheme that saw the cold-blooded executions last October of our comrades Erich and Margot Honecker as well as Erich Mielke. Furthermore, it is clear that another one of their murderous plans which took the life of General Secretary Gorbachev last week: a bomb planted by agents of the West certainly destroyed his aircraft over the sea when he was on a peace mission.

We must put a stop to this before their ultimate aims are achieved.”

The bombast from Kessler was better for the masses rather than those in uniform here. Ulrich believed that such propaganda would have more effect upon civilians rather than military men like him.

Did he believe that that young, grieving Stasi bodyguard had killed his country's previous leaders due to a plot by the West rather than out of rage? No, he didn't and neither had the results of that investigation shown that.

Was it true that the West had killed the Soviet leader when his aircraft disappeared? No, of course not. If Ulrich was to speculate, he would think that Gorbachev had been killed his fellow Soviets in a power-play.

Yet… what mattered was what Kessler was saying now – that was the 'truth' which was the official line.

“The only way to stop the continued aggression,” Kessler continued, “is by force of arms. We must act to halt the aims of the West to bring down the established order and enslave the people of the German Democratic Republic and those workers throughout Eastern Europe and in the Soviet Union too.”

Silence met this statement as Kessler paused for what Ulrich assumed was dramatic effect. He quickly swung his gaze across the room trying to gauge whether anyone else here believed what had been said and how they were now feeling about the follow-up to the allegations made. Kessler was talking here of war and Ulrich wanted to see any reaction to that.

Alas, no one said or did anything in response but rather waited like he was for what more was to come.

“Volga-3 will begin in four days at dawn on the fourth of February.

The Nationale Volksarmee shall fully support the efforts of the Soviet, Polish and Czechoslovak forces acting in the German and Baltic Theatres to engage opposing hostile Western forces on their own territory before they can mass and enter ours. We will address the threat to ourselves by striking at them with decisive military action. There are to be some small changes to this plan, which I will soon come to, though the intention remains to overrun the enemy before they know what is happening.

Special weapons in the form of chemical substances will be used though those of a thermonuclear, biological and radiological will not be employed.”

Ulrich knew all about Volga-3. It was third of five variants of an overall plan to strike westwards by the military forces of the Warsaw Pact against NATO with almost no notice and therefore little in the way of mobilisation by either side. East German military forces were to be at the forefront of the first wave of the attacks moving out of their barracks and into action before the reports from the spies and satellites of the West could be interpreted by them. There were many 'daring thrusts' involved, ones so loved by Soviet military theorists, including airborne drops by paratroopers far in the rear along with the overwhelming concentration of air and naval forces at the same time as conventional ground troops were to be employed too.

He had studied the plan on many occasions at his own headquarters located at Geltow because the East German Army – the Landstreitkrafte – was to play a major role in all Volga variants. Overall, it was a good operational concept and one he believed capable of working…

…but not in the middle of winter!

His counterpart, the head of the Volksmarine, was brave enough to be the first one here address this issue: “Minister, you wish us to undertake offensive actions at this time of year? In the midst of this weather which we are seeing? After no preparation and when our forces are on stand-down for winter maintenance?” There was incredulity there and Ulrich could understand that yet at the same time he didn't think that anything anyone here among the senior ranks of the Nationale Volksarmee was going to matter; the decision on war had clearly already been made and made elsewhere too over more serious objections than this.

“The weather will affect our opponents too, Vizeadmiral.” The Chief of the Political Headquarters (PHV) – one of the other service chiefs here like Ulrich and his comrades from the Air Force, the Navy, the Border Troops and the Rear Area Services – near shouted at country's senior naval officer. “This has been decided at higher levels and already factored in. You should take heed of the decisions made by others more knowledgeable of the strategic situation than yourself and not let your arrogance get in the way.”

Ulrich's comrade from the Volksmarine said nothing in return to this reprimand. The PHV had been instrumental in recent months assisting the Stasi in combing through the ranks of the Nationale Volksarmee arresting so-called 'traitors' and 'deviants' who had voiced objection to the use of force against their fellow East Germans who had tried to bring down the regime. He was not a man to be crossed as Ulrich knew very well: his predecessor had been one of those removed from his post and then shot when he had voiced concerns over troops being employed to assist the security services.

Kessler spoke again: “These decisions have already been made and there will not be any further objections. Preparations of a strategic nature have already been taking place over the past few days for open conflict with the West; there is no turning back now on this matter.”

These remarks from the Defence Minister to end such objections did not specify exactly what he meant but Ulrich understood enough from what was conveyed. The Soviets had already decided to launch a war against the West and had been moving forces in-place already: conventional and unconventional military assets.

One of Kessler's aides uncovered a large map on one of the walls of the briefing room while at the same time another one moved around the room handing out smaller copies of the same image too. Ulrich met the gaze of the MND staffer who wore the uniform of the Landstreitkrafte and found the arrogance in the face of that Major who was technically under his command when faced with his superior to be astounding. The Defence Minister clearly expected much from his military aides.

Annotations dotted the map that displayed the two Germany's, the eastern parts of the Baltic, the Low Countries, parts of France and Austria too. Those symbols were of command groupings for the various Fronts and Armies (ground and air) to be employed with Volga-3 as well as the United Baltic Fleet to operate at sea. Everything was just what Ulrich expected to see with named Soviet, Polish and Czechoslovakian headquarters there; East German military units would operate under the leadership of the first two with no independent major commands of their own like the Czechoslovaks were allowed.

Other symbols were on the map too: arrows, bolded lines, triangles and x-marks. The first was for the directions of attacks, the second depicted planned limits of advances as they moved further west and northwest, the third denoted airborne drops and the last showed where concentrated chemical warfare strikes were to be made. There were no star symbols on this map as there would have been if this was Volga-4 or -5: those would have shown initial nuclear weapons impact points.

Ulrich observed the Berlin area and noted the scaled-down Operation Zentrum there. What was depicted showed that the regular East German Army division assigned to that mission in the usual plan missing and what appeared to be an effort to slowly take West Berlin rather than overrun it in an instant. He saw too the missing parachute seizures of American military POMCUS sites which lay far away to the west on the other side of the Rhine; x-marks were shown at those places. Instead, there were triangles were on the map in more tactical places than those previous strategic ones: chemicals would replace paratroopers.

Troops of the Landstreitkrafte were to be employed all over the place. He could see where each of his six combat divisions were to be spread out to support Soviet forces along with his paratroopers and combat support elements of the East German Army. Moreover, there was the holding back of reserve formations too in what he knew were the intentions of Volga-3 to have them used against bypassed centres of enemy resistance freeing up regular East German and Soviet forces for forward advances.

“We aim for a campaign lasting no more than two, maybe three weeks. During that time we shall overrun NATO forces based in fascist West Germany and the puppet governments of the Americans in Denmark, Holland and Belgium. Those Nazis down in Austria shall also be dealt with.”

Unlike Kessler before him, when General Kokorin spoke he stood up and addressed those present. The Soviet Army officer was the commander of the Group of Soviet Forces in Germany and the most senior military officer present here due to the intricacies of the Warsaw Pact command organisation.

“Their spies may be active killing and attempting to subvert the people, but their military assets are not ready for war.” There was firm confidence in the man's voice; Ulrich took comfort in that even though part of him didn't want to. “Even if they were to start mobilising right at this very moment, the correlation of forces are in our favour. We have more troops, more tanks and more aircraft than NATO can bring to bring to bear. After a month, such numbers will change but we will win before then and make such mobilisations in the West irrelevant.

Our successes at the front can only come from assistance in the rear.

The lines of communications to bring forward the second echelon of the ground forces and to keep open the supply links running back east must be kept open. Enemy special operations teams and downed pilots must be stopped from causing trouble behind the front lines.”

Ulrich nodded upon hearing those words. He had only been in his current post for the past six weeks yet had served within the Kommando Landstreitkrafte (Land Forces Command) for several years beforehand. He therefore understood the importance of what Kokorin was saying in making sure that the rear areas were secure. Any conflict at the front couldn't work with troubles distracting the lines of communication. However, at the same time, Kokorin was also referring to something else; the threat of East German civil disturbances having a negative effect upon military operations.

For the sake of his fellow citizens, he hoped that Kokorin's fears weren't justified otherwise there would be plenty more of them killed than had been the case in the past few months.

January 31st 1990
Kommando Landstreitkrafte, Geltow, East Germany

By mid-morning, Ulrich was back at his own headquarters near Potsdam. He had been authorised by Kessler to inform his senior staff of what would be occurring in just over ninety hours now while at the same time making sure that operational security was in play: news of Volga-3 wasn't something that was going to be discussed in radio messages. When what he believed the inevitable happened and the West got wind of what was coming their way following a leak from somewhere, it wouldn't be from his headquarters.

In less dramatic fashion that had occurred at Strausberg, Ulrich told those he gathered together that military action against the West was soon to begin. He briefly explained the reasoning and saw some doubt in the faces of those who heard him copy what he himself had been told but chose to ignore that. Ulrich didn't jump down the throats of those officers which voiced objections concerning the weather and the short days in February where there wouldn't be that many hours of daylight. Neither did he criticise them when they complained how there was no trust being given to them or their men by having the Landstreitkrafte split up as it was everywhere rather than concentrated as one.

Ulrich had made sure that the senior PHV representative assigned to his headquarters at Geltow had been delayed from attending otherwise his officers would never have dared be so open. Once those opinions were expressed and he addressed them, Ulrich knew that his subordinates would feel that they had been trusted enough by their superior to be allowed to voice them but would realise that once they had done so they should refrain from doing that again; he had given them that opportunity, not anyone else.

Informing them of the changes made to the Volga-3 operational plan concerning the weakening of the commitment to Zentrum by previously-assigned East German Army regular troops, Ulrich went over the deployment plans for the Landstreitkrafte.

The 1st Motorised Rifle Division (1 MRD) was to be attached to the Soviet Second Guards Tank Army and operate on the North German Plain with the 8 MRD attached to a Soviet-led airborne/armoured corps command operating along the Baltic shore advancing up through Schleswig-Holstein into mainland Denmark. The 9th Tank Division (9 TD), which was also under the peacetime command of Military District V, would be supporting the Soviet Third 'Shock' Combined Arms Army; this field army would hold five tank divisions in a heavy-armour exploitation role.

From the Military District III area in the south, the 4 MRD was to operate with the Soviet Eighth Guards Combined Arms Army moving into Hessen and northern Bavaria. The 7 TD was to join the Soviet First Guards Tank Army – another command with five tank divisions – and finally there was the 11 MRD to operate in the centre with the Soviet Twentieth Guards Combined Arms Army.

Those field armies were to operate under the control of the Northern Front with the Baltic Front commanding what would become the Soviet Thirty–Eighth Airborne Corps on the coast; there was a Central Front further south and a Polish Front behind. Combat support forces of artillery and engineers which the Landstreitkrafte operated would serve in the main with the Northern Front as well as the independent parachute regiment.

Behind all of this, there were another five reserve divisions too which would be assigned as needed once the fighting started.

“As you can see, Gentlemen, we shall face hard and bloody fighting wherever along the frontlines our troops are employed in combat.” Ulrich didn't mince his words and gave it to them straight. “Conflict with NATO forces shall be tough and we will lose many men in the fighting. There will be moments when our troops will be ordered to do the impossible in engaging stronger enemy forces though always with the overall intention of allowing weaknesses in our opponents to be exploited elsewhere.

At other times our allies might regard our men as expendable and our patience will be tested. We must remember our duty though to each other and our men.”

Ulrich told himself that his speech to his subordinates was a lot more honest that what Kessler had given to him and his comrades earlier in the day and those who heard him speak would respect him for it. These were professional soldiers immune like he was to bellowing propaganda which didn't ring true yet would do their duty when asked to by the Nationale Volksarmee.

He was counting upon that and knew that a lot of others were too.

February 1st 1990
Preschen Airbase, East Germany

When the air raid sirens wailed moments after most of the base had sat down for lunch, Hauptmann (captain) Karl Esser at once joined his comrades here with Jagdfliegergeschwader 3 (JG 3) in running to their posts. His was one of the alert fighters sitting outside the shelter on the flight-ramp and he raced there as fast as possible.

Esser was a natural athlete and had excelled when a teenager at mid-distance running. He had trained with SV Dynamo and had been considered at one point to represent his country in the future. An unfortunate ankle injury had curtailed that dream that others had for him at the crucial time during his development and later he had instead ended up with the East German Air Force – the Luftstreitkrafte. Flying was now his passion rather than running and it was what he now excelled at.

Once he and his wingman reached their pair of parked aircraft, both climbed aboard and put their flight helmets on. Technicians were all around their brand-new, shiny MiG-29's rushing like Esser and his wingman were with other members of the ground crews assisting in the strapping in of the two pilots.

“Good luck!” One of those men helping Esser called out to him and he gave a firm nod of his head in return. Shouting back would have been no good over the noise of his fighter's two engines turning over as they were and the continued wailing of the air raid sirens; Esser only knew what the man had said because he had been able to read that enlisted man's lips.

Esser ran all sorts of last minute checks on his instrument panel with everything showing no problems. The fighter had been pre-flighted but he was naturally concerned that something might go wrong. It was better to find that out here when on the ground rather than up in the cloudy skies above.

Then the sirens stopped making their ear-splitting wail before the all-clear was then sounded.

It had been a test, Esser realised. He and everyone else with JG 3 had had their reaction times tested to see how quickly they could prepare for action. The wing's senior officers and probably inspectors from the Kommando Luftstreitkrafte would have monitored them in all aspects of their duties. He was pleased with himself though for he knew that he had got to his aircraft fast enough and done nothing wrong. Before the all-clear had sounded he knew that within another four minutes he would have been airborne, climbing high and ready to fight.

Esser allowed himself a smile at his own high standards of professionalism though he didn't know yet that within the next few days there would be many more alerts like this and soon enough he would be very tired of those.

February 1st 1990
Central Post Office, Dessau, East Germany

Philipp Koch was having a busy afternoon. Sitting in his office at the Central Post Office in Dessau, Koch was reading through and checking the reports of absences reported by workers here during last month. Many staff had taken time off for various reasons and their excuses were documented for the personnel administration which he worked in to authorise them needed to be confirmed. It could be tedious work at times but was very necessary.

His telephone rang interrupting his duties.

“Good afternoon, Koch speaking.”

“Is this Reserven Major Philipp Koch?” The voice on the other end of the telephone was one that he didn't know but had their clear air of authority.

“Correct, it is he.”

“You are to report for duty at your mobilisation station as soon as possible, Major.”

“I understand.” There was nothing more that he could say. Koch wasn't about to argue with such an order.

“You are to be at Petersroda Barracks no later than eighteen hundred hours. Bring your papers, uniform and personal effects with you.”

“I shall be there.”

Koch put the receiver back in the cradle and stood up from his chair. He rapidly tidied his desk then walked outside to where his secretary was. He informed her quickly that he had to report at once for duty with his reserve unit and she needed to call his wife to say that Koch would be fast making his way home. The question half came as to what was going on before the young girl who worked behind the desk remembered her place and said no more.

Koch set out to leave the building on his way to join the 17 MRD just as tens of thousands of other reservists employed within the civilian sector across the country were doing.

February 1st 1990
Aldershof Garrison, East Berlin, East Germany

The military base at Aldershof located in the southeastern reaches of Berlin had come alive this morning when the stand-to was ordered. All of those officers and men here who served with the elements of the Felix Dzerzhinsky Guard Regiment barracked at Aldershof were confined to the garrison.

Feldwebel (sergeant) Erwin Weiss voiced his opinion to a fellow non-commissioned officer like himself that it appeared that they were off to shoot some more civilians; his comrade asked where did Weiss think that they might go this time.

Magdeburg? Rostock? Leipzig and Dresden again? Maybe Berlin?

Weiss didn't get the chance to give an answer to that due the sudden presence of a rather alert officer and then afterwards he had been very busy for the rest of the day with no time for political opinions that weren’t meant to be shared by men of the Stasi.

The regiment in which Weiss served was a paramilitary formation of the Ministry of State Security named after the first and certainly most deadly Soviet secret police chief. It was much larger than a regiment in the traditional military sense and many would regard it as a small division capable of limited combat operations rather than the civilian-focused tasks it was designed for. There were armoured personnel carriers, heavy mortars and machine guns available with special units attached for anti-tank duties, parachute assault and air defence.

He was part of the regiment due to the service which his family had given to the state and his own apparent 'political reliability'. Unbeknown to his superiors, Weiss didn't share those values of his family nor the state yet here he was in one of the country's elite military forces outside of the usual command structure. Since October last year, Weiss had travelled with his regiment across the country engaged in action against his fellow East Germans combating civilians who wouldn't obey the law. He had killed rioting students himself and watched his comrades do the same. No one told him that he was doing something Wrong, yet he knew in his heart that his actions and those of his country were very far from Right.

Today, rather than travelling to a city or town far away from their barracks south of Berlin, Weiss and the rest of his regiment were busy in their various garrisons carrying out other duties. Personal weapons were checked and cleaned over and over again with any faulty rifles or heavier weapons immediately worked on to have them repaired. It was the same with the vehicles of the regiment; the buses and trucks were combed over by mechanics and so too were the wheeled armoured vehicles in the form of BTR-60's, BTR-70's and PSzH-IV's. Moreover, the men were all required to practise wearing their chemical warfare suits. When they had dealt with rioters recently, Weiss had been ordered to don a respirator as tear gas was used yet today those full-body suits were broken out and he joined everyone else in practising putting them on fast and checking the fitting of those to their fellow soldiers.

Weiss wondered what was going on yet kept his mouth shut in the presence of his officers. He was sure that when the time came he would be told and the regiment would see action again. Yet, this time, Weiss was certain it wasn't going to be against unarmed students.

February 2nd 1990
Near Sonneberg, East Germany

Long before the sun came up this morning, Oberleutnant (senior lieutenant) Lukas Korner had led a small party of his fellow Border Troops soldiers down to near the fences, vehicle ditches and minefields that depicted the East German side of the Inter-German Border (IGB). They moved on foot and through the woodland of Thuringia across an area that they knew well to reach the frontier with West Germany and any long-range observation from the south was something that Korner didn't believe would have been able to detect him and his men. Even if they had been spotted, there was nothing to fear from such observance as officially there was peace on both sides of the IGB.

Yet the briefing which he had received last night told him that there wouldn't be peace here for much longer.

As an engineering junior officer with the Grenztruppen, the border region was somewhere that Korner spent most of his time. He worked with his comrades in Pionierkompanie 27 in maintaining the fixed border defences and assessing environmental issues too concerning the security of the frontier. Other colleagues were tasked to protect the country's frontiers from being crossed by enemy agents and to stop Republikflucht in the other direction – duties Korner shared in theory – though rather than manning watchtowers or conducting sentry-like patrols, his tasks were far more technical.

This morning, Korner was not here to check upon the border defences themselves but rather to see what could be seen on the other side of the IGB. He and his comrades with him had brought with them binoculars and hand-held cameras with long-range lenses. From a vantage point they all started taking pictures of areas to the south where Korner directed them to capture images of.

For most of his professional career with the Grenztruppen, Korner had sought to establish the best places for minefields on this side of the border though now he was looking at locations where those might be located on the other side.

The border guards with him hadn't questioned his orders to set out upon this mission nor afterwards speculated within ear-shot as to might what be the motives behind such reconnaissance efforts. They hadn't had the briefing that he had had where he had been informed of his upcoming further duties concerning what was soon to occur on the other side of the IGB and his role in that. For this, Korner was glad. He had enough internal troubles with what he had been told and wouldn't have wanted to have the enlisted men expressing their views aloud.

Korner and his men would be here for a while this morning before moving on through the rest of the day and tomorrow into other locations. There were plenty of sites to be scouted and he knew that he wasn't the only Grenztruppen specialist out here at the moment doing this task. It would keep him busy and that was something else that he was glad to do for he didn't want to spend his time pondering on the coming future.

February 2nd 1990
The forests near Romke, East Germany

Gefreiter (corporal) Christhoph Schmid had no idea where he was this evening. He nor any of his comrades had been informed where they had headed after leaving the barracks earlier in the day near Potsdam or where they had arrived. The sergeants claimed they had no idea either in conversations between them and other enlisted men: no one dared asked the officers. They were in an unknown wooded area somewhere within East Germany still yet no further information than that was forthcoming.

Schmid served within 2 Company, First Battalion, 40th Independent Air Assault Regiment (40 Luftsturmregiment): the elite parachute unit of the East German Army. It had been nearly eighteen months ago now that he as a conscript soldier had been assigned to this unit after aggressive aptitude, political and physical checks which he hadn't been told would see him end up in this formation rather than a 'regular' part of the East German Army.

Elsewhere in the Landstreitkrafte no one, Schmid was sure, was pushed as hard to the ends of their mental and physical limits like in the 40 Luftsturmregiment. The training regime was something out of a nightmare. The levels of discipline which were expected were constricting. Indoctrination occurred at seemingly every given moment. There was immense cross-training of roles with every man expected to be able to operate a variety of equipment not just in the combat role where Schmid served but in elements of support too.

Being a paratrooper had sounded fun when it was first suggested to him!

Orders came the for the time being that the paratroopers were to make part of this forest their home. They were to sleep here tonight in the tents which they had brought with them. Patrols were instructed to be put out and mess arrangements were made for the men to be fed. Latrines were dug and the officers even had a fire lit!

Schmid ate with some of his comrades and was glad that he wasn't part of the patrols which were sent out tonight as he didn't fancy tripping or falling in the darkness. He was also happy that he hadn't fallen ill: those who had said they were unwell had been accused of being ill-disciplined and had been unfortunate enough to be orders to work this evening with their physical labour digging those latrines or clearing open patches among the trees. Large areas of the forest all around where he and many of his comrades where located there were clearances taking place and the ground levelling out. Trees were felled and undergrowth removed by light construction vehicles though also through the hands of paratroopers and engineers.

He had heard through the rumour mill that this was being done so a large number of transport helicopters could operate from here... wherever this was.

February 2nd 1990
Rostock-Warnemunde naval base, East Germany

'This is not an exercise, comrades; we are going to war.'

The words from the commander of the 4th Flotilla of the Volksmarine remained with Fregattenkapitan (frigate captain) Hans Wolke as he left the command centre at Rostock-Warnemunde and returned to his ship which was anchored nearby. His driver followed instructions and made the short journey in record time bringing Wolke directly along the quayside after passing through several checkpoints manned by naval police guards. Afterwards, the commander of the frigate Halle was out of the vehicle and approaching the gangway.

One of his junior officers welcomed him back along with a salute: “Good evening, Kapitan.”

Wolke briskly nodded at the man but had far more important things to worry about than the feelings of his subordinates at the moment, so didn't take the time to properly greet that officer. He walked up and into his ship where another man copied the same routine before then following Wolke up towards the bridge as he gave instructions.

The Halle sailed thirty-five minutes later.

Throughout the evening and into the night, Wolke followed orders and directed his ship first on a northeastern course away from the East German coast before going northwards towards the Oresund. Initially kept out of the shipping lanes, the Halle was eventually forced to join those once approaching the crowded waters between Denmark and Sweden. The running lights were switched on and the navigation radar was active during this first part of the voyage as Wolke took his ship out towards more distant open waters.

As per his instructions, Wolke briefed his political and operations officers tonight on what was soon to occur while waiting until tomorrow to inform further senior officers aboard of the situation. Those two men wore poker faces when told that on the morning of the 4th offensive military action would begin against the West with each revealing none of their own true feelings that Wolke knew to be hidden. Neither was someone who he explicitly trusted nor shared a bond with and so he didn't open up himself either; Wolke wasn't about to unburden himself of his fears that this was all a mistake and today was the last time any of them would see Rostock again.

Before midnight arrived, the Halle was entering the Kattegat. All sorts of attention was now being focused upon his ship though that came from a distance with multiple shore- & air-based radars being detected as tracking it. An intelligence summary before Wolke had left port had told him to expect interest in his progress though at the same time many other warships from the Volksmarine and the Soviet Navy would too be the focus of enquiries made as high-speed runs towards open water were made. Geopolitical tensions were rising, Wolke had been told without being informed of the specifics of those, and both the Danes and the Swedes would pay attention to his ship as it sailed near to their territorial waters.

No one in those countries knew what he did though.

February 3rd 1990
Halberstadt, East Germany

As a young officer, Oberst (colonel) Frederich Schrader had been taught that combined arms warfare was first created in the Soviet Union. He as a Landstreitkrafte mid-ranking officer had heard convincing arguments that it was in England, in America or in pre-Nazi Germany where the theories were developed: not in the Soviet Union. He believed that it was Nazi Germany which had first undertaken Blitzkrieg for real and armies since then tried to perfect the same methods of war. In his country's army, as could be expected, the Nazis were only mentioned in the most-disparaging terms but Schrader knew that their army had certainly known how to fight.

The commander of the 1 MRD was thinking about Blitzkrieg and the Nazis this morning when his mind should have been elsewhere on rather more important matters. That had come about due to his recalling of his youth as a young officer when he had last been to the town of Halberstadt. He was back here today with more important matters to address than how to spend a weekend on leave with so many pretty Fraulein's to choose from as had been the case back then.

Halberstadt was the rear supply base for the 1 MRD and from here logistical support would be rendered to the division when its combat operations began tomorrow. There were communications and munitions sites all around across the countryside yet transportation efforts were focused upon this town providing a central location which had good road and rail links further back to the east.

Schrader's field headquarters as well as most of the division wasn't located in Halberstadt. Instead, it was spread out through nearby woodland under cover from aerial observation. The supply base in the town was where he had not been paying enough attention since the 1 MRD moved to the border area starting from yesterday. Problems had occurred there to do with personalities and Schrader set out to deal with them now: better late than never. Local officials had been arguing with his supply officers but the difficulties of the former mattered nothing to him in the face of the urgent need to get everything ready for tomorrow when he was to lead his division into combat.

He was fully prepared to shoot anyone who endangered his division and his mission... though, of course, he was sure that that wouldn't be necessary.

Later in the morning, Schrader returned back to the semi-underground command post outside of Halberstadt. Issues in the town had been resolved to a satisfactory nature for the time being though they had left a sour taste in his mouth where it was only the force of arms threatened against local intransigence that had won the conflict there with the civilian authorities.

There were further problems that needed his attention now. The so-called 'liaison officers' from the Soviet Army were overbearing and treated his officers with near contempt. Such men were needed among his command staff with the 1 MRD being part of a Soviet field army going into battle yet the manner in which they acted with harsh criticisms, allegations of defeatism and insolence to orders from superiors who happened to be East Germans was far from the expected standard of professional behaviour.

Traditional Russian hatred of Germans, Schrader knew, wasn't something that had ever gone away.

Dealing with matters such as this took him away from overseeing the role in the attack westwards tomorrow which his division was to be a major part of. He needed to talk with his regimental commanders, his artillery staff and check up on the tactical intelligence summaries. He had received word earlier that NATO was finally mobilising but that strategic intelligence wasn't important at the minute; rather he needed to know the immediate opposition just across the IGB. The strengths, the positions and the dispositions of his opponents was of great importance.

Those would be British he had learnt and were going to be witness to a German Blitzkrieg when the next dawn came.

February 3rd 1990
Schonberg, East Germany

What was unofficially known as the 'Strauss Group' though officially deemed the 'Special Northwestern Administration for Reorganisation, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction' had made its temporary home in the town of Schonberg over the past few days though the collection of civil servants, paramilitary policemen, Stasi officials and a few military officers was on stand-by to move any time after dawn tomorrow. The personnel were billeted in several schools and other public buildings in and around the town in cramped conditions eager and waiting to move onwards when their orders came.

Generalmajor (major-general) Klaus Fritsch was among these men yet he had slept in a SPW-60 armoured vehicle rather than a makeshift bed somewhere with others around him snoring and releasing gas. The serving Luftstreitkrafte officer on detached service to the PHV was in no mood to get comfortable anywhere yet and knew he would be able to actually get some rest and privacy inside a steel vehicle rather than face the dormitory-like conditions others with the Strauss Group were having to deal with. After today, Fritsch didn't expect to be getting much sleep for a while unless he got lucky and so it had been important that he had had so much recently. Like anyone else, tiredness was not good for him and would adversely affect his duties: duties which were soon going to be tiresome indeed.

Ernst Strauss was a civilian civil servant from East Berlin and titularly in-charge of those in Schonberg waiting to follow the attacking armies westwards. Fritsch reported directly to this man as the senior military officer present within the Strauss Group. As the official title of the administration reflected, Strauss would be taking everyone to the northwest… into Schleswig-Holstein. Once there that reorganisation, rehabilitation and reconstruction would begin with civilian-focused efforts to make that region of West Germany like East Germany was. Economic changes would be made and so too would those of a social and political nature in an immense effort which would certainly take many years.

The presence of Fritsch and other military men like him there would be of great importance as the Strauss Group was to get to work straight away in an area expected to be a battlefield over which war had passed by. There would be devastation caused in places as well as an anticipated internal security issue which would need addressing. Those civilians and the Stasi would need to liaise with the military – those from both the Nationale Volksarmee and the Soviets – to function properly and in safety and such would be Fritsch's role. He was in fact looking forward to it due to the anticipated benefits for him personally with his career afterwards but also to enjoy himself too with whatever pleasures he could find.

Fritsch was waiting impatiently for the war to start, he was eager to get on with it.

February 3rd 1990
Düsseldorf, West Germany

The bomb exploded in the ticket hall of Düsseldorf Hauptbahnhof – the main railway station inside the West German city along the Rhine – at two minutes after seven in the evening. It was detonated by a simple timer device set to run for only a couple of minutes so that the lone bomber who left the suitcase in which it sat inside could get far enough away to avoid the blast but also so that there was very little danger of it being discovered or let alone any evacuation taking place.

Leutnant (lieutenant) Thomas Haas felt the heat on his face after the explosion occurred but was forced to ignore that as well as the urge to turn around and look at what he had done. He had to do as the crowd around him was outside of the station and flee the area.

Behind Haas there was death and injuries among the crowd who had been in the station. Refugees from other cities in West Germany who had decided to flee their homes close to the IGB, citizens of Düsseldorf and military reservists rushing to get to their units as the country mobilised were all caught up in that blast. There were men, women and children who the bomb planted by Haas had targeted.

In addition to the direct casualties, there would be many more victims; the aim of the bomb was to spread fear and frighten countless numbers of West Germans.

When Haas later got back to his small apartment in the west of the city, he made a conscious effort not to turn on the radio nor the television. With censorship in effect since West Germany had mobilised yesterday and pleaded with her NATO allies to do the same, he didn't expect there to be news of the bombing yet if there was he didn't want to know.

Haas had not wanted to bomb that railway station, yet he had followed his orders.

As an officer of the Hauptverwaltung Aufklarung (HVA) – the Main Directorate for Reconnaissance, part of the Stasi – Haas had followed the instructions which he had received to bomb that train station. Those initial orders had been for a proxy group to plant that device with the idea being to use a West German domestic terrorist group. Haas had the contact details of several people who could have done the deed yet the major crackdown which the West German secret services were currently undertaking had caused him to be fearful of contacting such people. He therefore had been forced to act himself rather than run the risk of exposure and arrest.

There was blood on his hands following the bombing and it wasn't blood which he could wash off with warm water like he would try to when he got back home.

February 4th 1990

World War Three begun in Europe when dawn broke over West Germany on the morning of February the fourth and the Nationale Volksarmee marched into action.

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Chapter Two – Slaughter

February 4th 1990
The skies above Germany

The MiG-23 was regarded by Hauptmann Esser as being a better aircraft overall than the MiG-29. He had flown both, the former in the markings of another country's air force too, and preferred the elder aircraft to the more modern one. The latter was far more advanced with better avionics, combat systems and had greater power at a pilot's fingertips, yet to Esser the MiG-23 was his aircraft of choice. If he had had his way, he would still flying the aircraft which NATO named the 'Flogger' – a name which he didn't understand.

Such desires meant nothing for a professional military pilot like Esser was with the Luftstreitkrafte. When he had returned from his so-called 'volunteer mission' in Iraq where he had flown the MiG-23, and made a combat kill too against an Iranian F-4, he was assigned to learn to fly the brand-new MiG-29 as that aircraft came into East German service. A real combat veteran with plenty of experience in the Middle East, Esser was among the first group of pilots for the new aircraft that his country brought into service for air defence interception and battlefield fighter duties. Training was conducted on the ground in both the cockpit and in simulators while also when airborne too undertaking practise of all sorts of combat missions for the possibility that one day Esser would see action again.

Such a day had come again.

Three missions were undertaken by Esser today; he and his wingman were sent into the skies above the border between the two Germany's on three separate occasions. In all of his service with the Luftstreitkrafte he had never flown so much in a short space of time. Rumours had been heard when he was in Iraq that pilots in the West got far more flying hours than those in the East did and Esser had part-believed them for the Iranians in the later stages of their war with Iraq – he had been there between late 1986 and early 1988 in two deployments of three months each – always seemed to be flying. Yet to put a pilot, other aircrew on two-man aircraft and above all fighters themselves through that much strain in a regular fashion was unheard of in the Luftstreitkrafte. Personnel needed a stand-down period to attend to other duties and combat aircraft were maintenance intensive.

Yet today, Esser got airborne once in the early morning, again in the late afternoon and then for a third time in the evening after dark. On that final occasion, he used a different aircraft to the one he had flown in twice beforehand and had been amazed at the sight of so many ground crew working on the MiG-29s at Preschen to get as many in the air as possible up into the battles which raged across the skies.

On his first mission, Esser took to the air less than an hour after the war had begun. There had been a special briefing the night before where the discovered plans being hatched by the Imperialists were explained and then a call for the men to do their Socialist duty afterwards. His squadron commander had reminded them all again of that before Esser had reached his aircraft but he had forgotten all about those hollow words and focused on flying.

Ground control from a forward position had brought Esser across the width of East Germany and towards the IGB. He and his wingman had overflown Thuringia on a course taking them west-south-west… and towards combat. There was a massive airdrop underway of paratroopers going on somewhere in the north of Bavaria with men and equipment being dropped from transport aircraft of all shapes and sizes over a wide area. NATO fighters posed a danger and those defenceless aircraft needed protected on their way in to their drop-zones and on the way back out too.

Acting under orders from the ground (the conversation was conducted in Russian as Esser had learnt to allow for his promotion within the East German Air Force tied so closely as it was to the Soviet military) and with their own radars off, the pair of MiG-29s went straight into action as Esser and his wingman were ordered to open fire at targets beyond visual range. Air-to-air missiles shot away towards what Esser was told were F-16 fighters. He fired off a pair of R-27 missiles at one of those fighters and then turned on his radar to allow for guidance; his wingman did the same. Passive electronic jamming systems were activated as well with preparations for active systems to come on-line too in the face of a direct attack.

Confirmation came on Esser's radar screen that one of his missiles struck a target. There was plenty of enemy jamming in the air so neither he nor his wingman saw the others impact though ground control stated that the two targeted F-16s were hit and going down. The engagement was far from over though as orders came for the MiG-29s to get closer to where those transports were and other enemy aircraft that were in among them.

Esser could only see West Germany below him in quick glances. There was the green of the countryside and the grey of rising smoke; firm instructions had come when back at Preschen that flying close to the ground anywhere on the other side of the IGB was not to be done due to the risks involved with the use of chemical weapons. That also included bailing out of damaged aircraft, Esser had been told. Where exactly he was didn't matter though with the skies having no boundaries at the minute.

Coming in high and then dropping down at the last minute, Esser brought his MiG-29 into what was a close-in fight. He had been warned that there were friendly fighters present as well as transports and so had to take care. He and his wingman were to select their own targets now as the radar picture from the ground was distorted and confusing.

There were big, multi-engined transport aircraft in the skies above Bavaria; Esser could visually pick out An-12s and Il-76s. He saw one of the later missing part of a wing and trying to gain height before flames erupted from that damaged portion of the aircraft and then it entered a spin which he judged would soon be fatal. There was a MiG-21 that came climbing high from out of nowhere and almost on a collision course with him before disappearing from sight. Esser told himself needed to focus on the matter at hand but so much was going on.

The transport aircraft were being slaughtered, he had been told, and enemy fighters engaging them at close-range needed to be stopped.

His wingman called out a contact and then fired on what he declared over the radio to be an Alpha-Jet. Esser was searching himself for other targets using the helmet-mounted sight to do that. His vision was as perfect as possible though in an environment like this with everything happening so fast using the infrared system which was linked to his R-73 missiles was the best thing to do. He spotted another damaged transport aircraft, this one with half of its fuselage looking like it was missing…

...then there was a target for him. Esser eyes focused upon what he was sure was an F-4. Whether it was West German, American or flown by anyone else it didn't matter for it certainly wasn't friendly. He recognised the shape just like he had of that one over Iraqi airspace and so he shot off a missile towards it. Esser saw the R-73 missile impact and afterwards breathed an immense sigh of relief. That aircraft had just lit up his own with its radar ready to fire but he had struck first shooting from the flank before the target could turn to face him for a head-on shot.

Tracers from a cannon being fired from somewhere suddenly broke Esser's attention as he caught the flashes of them. His head spun to the left where he speculated the source of them was but he couldn't see an attacking aircraft. His wingman then called out that there was an aircraft below them firing upwards and added that he was engaging that target. The two of them had practised air combat manoeuvring for any circumstances extensively following Luftstreitkrafte doctrine so Esser then broke away to the left with a hard turn giving his wingman room to engage as well as to be covered while doing so by Esser.

The cannon-firing aircraft was an F-104, Esser's wingman announced after he fired a missile at it. There wasn't a confirmed kill though with that R-73 striking the NATO aircraft yet the warhead not exploding. The impact certainly would have done plenty of damage with kinetic force alone. Going after that aircraft again wasn't tried because Esser could see further need elsewhere with missiles impacting transports. He searched the skies for the source of those and spotted possible enemy fighters away to his right; Esser took his aircraft and that of his wingman fast in that direction.

Further F-4s were encountered as Esser came across a trio of them chasing after a pair of MiG-23s. Further R-73 missiles were used to engage them with infrared lock-on occurring and then explosions. One of those enemy fighters fired back at him though with its cannon rather than a missile of its own. After dodging the gunfire, Esser was only able to conclude that those F-4s must have used up all of their own missiles already but not left the airborne battlefield. They paid for that mistake with one falling to his attack and his wingman claiming another pair.

Ground control now called for Esser to move away to the north from this area with most of the surviving transports having deposited their cargoes in parachute drops and heading back towards East Germany. There were no immediate targets anymore and making sure that those valuable aircraft made it home was important. Esser did want to stay in the airspace which he was yet followed his orders. They made sense because protecting the transports so they could be used again and not remaining himself over enemy territory liable to an attack where his own luck might run out was the best course of action.

When back at Preschen, after seeing no more combat during his return, Esser and his wingman were given a short period to rest after a post-flight debrief. Orders then came for them to get ready to fly once again though before that they were given an intelligence summary along with the chance to speak to some of their comrades who had been in contact too. There were two aircraft missing from JG 3 with one pilot reportedly killed when his aircraft blew up and the other missing over enemy territory when his MiG-29 had gone down. Other comrades of Esser had returned back to base like he had after engagements though none of them were claiming as many victories as he and particularly his wingman were.

Once airborne for the second time, Esser was sent back to the skies above Bavaria again. He was further to the east of where he was last time – he was informed that he had seen action in the area above Schweinfurt – and acting in the patrol role above ground troops fighting as part of the left wing of the Soviet Eighth Guards Army. Wherever those were Soviet, Polish of his fellow East Germans there Esser didn't know, but they needed battlefield fighter protection.

Ground control brought the pair of MiG-29s into position in an orbiting patrol pattern. Again, using his very effective infrared system mounted to his helmet, Esser could see the outlines of aircraft which he was told as friendly in the distance below undertaking battlefield intervention strikes with MiG-27s and Su-17s down there as well as smaller shapes which he believed were combat helicopters. He was waiting for NATO aircraft to show up and soon found that they did. However, the first was operating down low with Esser being told to remain on stand-by as army air defence assets were handling that: he wasn't to go into their engagement zones.

Finally, about midway through the allotted mission time the call came for Esser to go into action. After the crazy environment of earlier where it seemed like combat was constant and he was free to find his own targets now being under tight control and waiting had stretched his patience. Now there was a flight of fast-moving enemy aircraft racing in at altitude, though still below him, and he and his wingman were sent against them to engage with short-range missiles rather than those of a longer range due to enemy electronic activity.

F-16s were the targets again with an actual national identity uncertain but nonetheless enemy because whichever NATO air arm they served, they were hostile. Esser brought his aircraft fast towards them swooping down and waiting until he was in range. The F-16s fired first. His wingman shouted that there were Sidewinder's in the air after visually spotting them and they both fought to defeat the attack with flares and chaff being released while Esser was forced to break off his own attack and manoeuvre. The G-forces which he suffered where something which he forced himself to endure as he evaded the attack. The Sidewinder's failed to hit neither him nor his wingman yet such moves took them both off course.

By then the strike aircraft which the F-16s had cleared the way for were making their attack runs as he and his wingman both struggled to get back into position and reacquire those enemy aircraft. However, no such luck came as the NATO air attack had been fast, effective and was over with. Esser wanted to go after those retreating aircraft yet his fuel state and orders from the ground brought him back to his patrol station.

The third mission of the day came later after further debriefings, rest and intelligence briefings. Esser was eager to get back again to the frontlines to make up for what he personally regarded as his failure during his second mission to engage the enemy. However, this time he was to stay on the eastern side of the IGB and not go over it as the task was for interception of enemy aircraft aiming to cross over themselves. There had already been a few NATO air strikes into East Germany, Esser had been told at the intelligence briefing, even this early in the war and any more of them needed to be stopped from bombing airbases, supply centres and other targets.

A pair of low-flying Tornados on a course taking them above Thuringia towards the Erfurt-Weimar-Jena area were detected and ground control sent Esser and his wingman towards them. They activated them own radars once in range and fired R-27s at them before increasing speed, dropping down and aiming to close-in with R-73s and guns if necessary.

All four R-27s missed their targets, decoyed away by what appeared to be specifically targeted jamming.

Esser was surprised because all the briefings that he had pointed to the capabilities of such a weapon as well as his own experience earlier in the day in his first engagement. There would be time to reflect upon that later though for he meanwhile raced towards the penetrating aircraft which had dropped even lower to try and hide among the ground clutter. He sought to locate them with his infrared systems and success came. Both were soon picked up with he and his wingman getting a lock-on as he came up from behind them and hopefully undetected before he fired his second wave of missiles.

Both Tornados were hit with one exploding straight away – giving Esser a bit of a fright at the magnitude of the explosion – and then the second one spinning fast out of control before smashing into the ground in its own fireball. From the latter aircraft, there had come ejections of the two-man crew and he observed part of their descent towards the ground below. When flying with the Iraqis, they had shot at ejecting Iranian pilots in their parachutes but Esser had never agreed with that and wasn't about to do so now for a variety of moral reasons plus the waste of ammunition.

A second interception was directed for Esser to make against a further pair of Tornados – either West German or British, he was told later – but those were engaged by SAMs before the MiG-29s could get into position. There was a further contact reported in his patrol sector by ground control though the lone aircraft was quickly lost on radar screens and Esser couldn't detect it when he tried searching that area where it went missing. Some of the frustration which he had had on the second mission returned to him. He was kept busy enough this time to not bring that forth as much as it had been earlier yet it was still there.

When arriving back at Preschen for the last time today, Esser had been directed to get some proper sleep. He had done as ordered and went to his bunk in the soundproof pilot sleeping quarters but he hadn't drifted off. So much had happened today and he kept recalling moments of the day from what he saw and had done himself to what he had heard from others.

He was finding this war was so exciting!

February 4th 1990
Halberstadt, East Germany

Regiments and battalions within the Landstreitkrafte's 1 MRD held honorific titles celebrating certain Germans who were regarded as having championed the Socialist cause. The division itself didn't hold such a title and was informally known as the 'Potsdam Division' after where it was based with the component units having the names of those figures from history instead. Oberst Schrader knew the history behind those names: the official history which the state liked to portray and the rumours which he had heard about the reality too.

Hans Beimler was a Communist politician of the Nazi era who had escaped Dachau and fled to Spain to fight in their civil war before falling afoul of the Soviets and being murdered there; he was celebrated now in East Germany as a hero of Socialism. Friedrich Wolf was another Communist who had fled from the Nazis first to Spain to fight there and then afterwards made his way to Moscow – via France – before returning to Germany post -war to enter the new administration and then take up a diplomatic post as Ambassador to Poland. Rudi Arndt was yet another Communist of the pre-WW1 era; the young Jewish man had been killed at Buchenwald by the Nazis. And then there was Richard Sorge…

Another glorious servant of the internationalist Socialist cause, so the official line ran, Sorge had opposed the Nazis, assisted the Soviet Union and then been killed by the Japanese. The unofficial truth was a little more complicated than that, especially with his ultimate fate in Japan, yet Sorge was celebrated by having the armoured reconnaissance battalion of the 1 MRD named after him.

It was 'Reconnaissance Battalion 1 – Richard Sorge' which led the attack today of Schrader's command across the IGB.

Operating on the left flank of the Soviet Second Guards Tank Army, the 1 MRD struck just to the north of the Harz Mountains and into Lower Saxony. The 6th Guards Motorised Rifle Division, a Soviet formation home-based in Poland, was on the right attacking up the Helmstedt corridor with screening forces from the Grenztruppen protecting the other side; the latter would only be a concern if the 1 MRD stalled its advance and faced an enemy counterattack. The orders for Schrader were for him to take his command in a northwestern direction towards the distant Hannover while avoiding direct fighting for the urban areas of Braunschweig (better known in the West as Brunswick), Salzgitter and Hildesheim. Those large towns were expected to be death traps to troops trying to advance fast as the 1 MRD was to. Instead, the communications nets around them rather than through each with all of those roads were to be made use of allowing follow-on forces to eliminate bypassed resistance in each. Opposition ahead of Schrader was reported to be elements of two British combat divisions which had rushed into position over the past day and a half after initial hesitancy on the part of their politicians to commit them to the border areas. The northernmost of those two – apparently the 1st Armoured Division – was to face an attack from Schrader's neighbouring division (the Soviet 6th Guards) and so in the main he would be fighting the British 4th Armoured Division on territory which his opponents were said to know well yet were not properly dug into yet.

Schrader had studied the operational plan and knew he had a realistic chance of success if the intelligence was right about the enemy not having enough strength yet in-place and still in the throes of mobilisation. In addition, it would only work too if he was aggressive in his attack and other factors such as success of the Soviets on his flank as well as external air and artillery support was available as planned. If not… then the 1 MRD was going to be bled white because attacking defending positions without overwhelming superiority on a ground of your enemy's choosing was not a sound military strategy indeed!

Reconnaissance Battalion 1 was reinforced by the reconnaissance companies of two of the trio of motorised rifle regiments under Schrader's command. He sent the now five mixed companies of armoured vehicles – tracked and wheeled models – along with infantry dismounts forward at the allotted time when the immense artillery barrage begun. His own divisional guns supported the efforts of thousands of pieces of howitzers & heavy mortars, rocket launchers and tactical missiles which exploded into action at dawn all along the IGB and elsewhere from the shores of the Baltic to where the Austrian, Hungarian and Yugoslavian borders converged far to the south. His reconnaissance units were wearing full chemical warfare equipment with overpressure systems active aboard vehicles as they went into a dangerous environment due to all of the chemicals in the air. These were non-persistent weapons aimed at the portions of the IGB where the reconnaissance units led what would be simultaneous regimental-sized attacks. Enemy counter-strikes with their own chemicals were expected to occur and the weather was unpredictable. All these dangers were factored in for the scouting efforts of the formation named after such a man as Richard Sorge.

At his command post, Schrader listened to the reports from that battalion commander to the division's First Officer. If he had wanted to, he could have heard what was being said over the battalion command net or even company-level radio communications though there was more order where the battalion commander was concerned: he wasn't directly engaged himself with the enemy as his subordinates found themselves to be. The waterways of the Großer Graben and the Oker that ran across the borderline had been crossed and the vehicles were inside West Germany carrying their cargoes of men and equipment. Minefields had been reported when some casualties were inflicted yet there were few physical blockages close to the border as might have been expected had the enemy been able to fell trees in number as well as blow up river embankments and other features of the land. As to the enemy, no opposition was reported at first though there soon came reports of sniper-like attacks on the BRM-1's, BRDM-2's and BTR-70's which formed the reconnaissance columns. Fire was returned and moves were made to get around the light opposition and overwhelm them. The enemy was striking in a mobile fashion and moving fast from one engagement to another though. Schrader expected nothing less from screening forces aiming to break up his attack and was impressed when he heard the orders of the battalion commander as to how to deal with that in the exact manner described by the doctrine which the Landstreitkrafte subscribed to.

Soon enough, Schrader was back studying the map. His headquarters aides made their markings on the plastic overlays showing where the reconnaissance elements were moving with their three-pronged attack. The advance in the centre was a feint while those on the flanks were going to be where he sent each a motorised rifle regiment following the reconnaissance units making headway into West Germany. The valley where the Oker River ran towards the town of Wolfenbuttel was where the 2nd Motorised Rifle Regiment (named after Arthur Ladwig) was to move north along. There was a reported military base in that town which Schrader expected to be empty with the troops from there out in the field in the valley, either side of it in higher ground or maybe elsewhere. Hopefully his reconnaissance units would find the main line of resistance rather than scattered screening troops or if not then the air support on its way once combat was joined would locate them.

The second main reconnaissance force was to lead the formation named after Hans Beimler, the 1st Motorised Rifle Regiment. They moved northwest towards Salzgitter-Bad aiming to go around that outlying region of the bigger town of Salzgitter itself and then lead the regiment across broken, rougher ground where beyond was the Autobahn and the corridor heading towards Hannover. Greater opposition was expected in this attack which Schrader was instructed to have his division undertake but it was to be his main attack unless something unforeseen happened. The 1 MRD had a trio of motorised rifle regiments as well as a tank regiment: the latter and one of the former were being held back ready to move afterwards. Schrader was aiming to send them following the 1st Motorised Rifle Regiment but if that proved impossible due to the enemy then they would follow the 2nd Motorised Rifle Regiment instead.

More than just the combat-manoeuvre elements of which some were moving into battle first with the rest getting ready to follow, the 1 MRD contained combat support and service support elements too. There was Schrader's artillery, air defence and combat engineering assets along with his logistics forces. All had been under natural and artificial cover before dawn broke and the attack begun with elements to emerge at set times following designated paths to move forward as battle was joined. The 1st Artillery Regiment along with the detachment of long-range rockets (the Luna system, better known as FROG-7) had been firing at distant targets but were needed to move from those positions where they had opened fire into new ones and also cross the border to better support the ground troops. There were anti-aircraft defences with the motorised rifle regiments as well as divisional-level units and this was the same with the engineers. Keeping everyone supplied, handling rear-area security and many other non-combat tasks were to be done by the logistics elements and they needed supervision.

Schrader had a capable staff here at his headquarters and officers spread among the division's elements yet they all needed supervision as they followed the battle plan but were also ready to deviate from that in the face of enemy action or other unforeseen circumstances. No one said that overseeing this would be easy for Schrader when he took up the post as divisional commander and was then assigned to take the 1 MRD into battle yet it was what was expected of him. His mind had to be everywhere at once because if mistakes were made in one area, especially in the rear, then the men of the division would face a slaughter at the hands of the enemy.

“Sir,” the Operations Officer called for Schrader's attention, “the reconnaissance column in the Oker Valley believes they have encountered the main line of resistance.”

The reports from combat in the Oker Valley came in thick and fast. The pair of reconnaissance companies were reporting to have met tanks.

“What kind of tanks?” Schrader wanted to know what tanks were being engaged and his question was to the battalion commander on the scene via the Operations Officer.

The reply took a minute or two to come back to him: “Scorpion's with seventy-six millimetre canons.”

Schrader could have laughed. In theory, the Scorpion (operated by both the British and Belgian Army's his pre-war intelligence reports had said) was a light tank at best: it was really just an armoured reconnaissance vehicle with a short-barrelled canon best suited for scouting and fire support missions.

“Engage them but have Oberstleutnant Mohr” the battalion commander “report back when his detachments meet Chieftain’s or Challenger's, not scouting vehicles.” More irritated than angry, Schrader realised that too much pressure had been put on the forward units to report-in and they had overreacted. It was better than being ignorant of threats but they needed to perform better. Maybe if…

“Challenger tanks now being reported, Sir. Blue-Six has seen a pair while Red-Two has exchanged shots with another one.” Now there was what Schrader regarded as contact with the main line of resistance. His intelligence summaries on the British Army didn't show their operational pattern to be to mix main battle tanks in with armoured reconnaissance vehicles in defence and so here was the initial enemy main force already being encountered.

“The British are very far forward here.” The previously silent senior Soviet Army liaison officer with the 1 MRD, Polkovnik Korovin, added his opinion. Schrader waited for something more insightful to follow this comment yet nothing was forthcoming. All that had come was the surprise evident in Korovin's voice at where the British were in strength this close to the IGB.

Further radio reports from the Oker Valley came in to the divisional headquarters. Schrader let the 2nd Motorised Rifle Regiment's commander get on with controlling that fight as his advance guard elements – tanks and mechanised infantry supported by self-propelled howitzers – got involved. There was plenty of blood being spilt as the British Challenger's did a lot of damage and the T-55 tanks fielded by the Landstreitkrafte struggled to score hits upon those. Thankfully, there were anti-tank missile weapons available to assist and the British were outnumbered. A call for air support was denied by Schrader as he believed that the situation there didn't warrant it. The enemy fell back in the direction of Wolfenbuttel when engaged and therefore it was clear that once again that initial belief that the frontlines were going to be there was correct.

This was his first time in combat, Schrader had to remind himself, and it was the same for all of his officers and men too. They were still learning the harsh realities of war where just because the enemy seemed to be everywhere in number it didn't mean that that was the case. His right-hand attack was still pushing up the Oker Valley against an enemy force which despite what the intelligence summaries had said had tanks with it while only being a screening force.

Schrader would learn from this.

It was with the second attack, on the left, that soon enough more attention was paid. British troops fighting along the approaches to Wolfenbuttel were no more than flank guards and their real strength was elsewhere and ahead of where the 1st Motorised Rifle Regiment was advancing – just as in the divisional plan drawn up by Schrader’s Soviet overlords.

Keeping himself and his divisional staff from jumping in too early this time, Schrader monitored the situation with regards to the approach towards Salzgitter-Bad but didn't interfere. Oberstleutnant Dieter Metzler was his best regimental commander and displayed what he had always done in exercises beforehand today in real combat. When the reconnaissance elements met with British dismounts those opponents were overrun and any fleeing were shot at because there was always the possibility of them causing any further loss. The objective to advance fast towards his objectives and that was maintained. Once stronger opposition was met, Metzler reported back that he was engaging that while on the move as he successfully brought his forces into play.

“Do we have fighter-bomber support ready?”

“A flight of Sukhoi-17's is on standby, Sir.”

“Check again with Metzler's air staff to make sure that they have the correct radio codes and that the anti-aircraft teams are aware of the approach and departure routes.”

“Yes, Sir.”

Schrader did not want problems to occur with the air support assigned to his troops and checked on their progress making sure that all angles were covered. Those would be Soviet aircraft making an attack when needed to so therefore it was important that there were no communication problems nor misunderstandings.

More reports came in from Metzler's mobile headquarters that he was facing further opposition. Tanks were being met and engaged on the move as the 1st Motorised Rifle Regiment pushed for the Innerste River. At the front there, the reconnaissance units were now under regimental command rather than that of their battalion commander just as doctrine called for in such an engagement. Metzler was using his own tanks to assist those armoured reconnaissance vehicles while his infantry in their lighter-armed personnel carriers were covered from multiple sources of attack. Finally, stubborn opposition was met with casualties being inflicted and the call came for that air support.

Schrader gave a nod to his Operations Officer to proceed and those aircraft circling back over this side of the border shot forward and into battle themselves. He wondered when he would meet enemy aircraft himself with fighter-bombers and attack helicopters being expected but until then the skies were seeing only Soviet aircraft instead. Despite the occasional problem, so far everything was going to plan.

For the next several hours, Schrader and his command staff oversaw the first battles on the ground which the 1 MRD would take part in during the war. The operational plan was generally followed with the two attacks at first becoming one main attack and a sideshow with the other: it was to the left where the main weight of the division's strike forward into West Germany moved. Past Salzgitter-Bad and along the Innerste River first one then two and finally three of his combat-manoeuvre regiments would advance. Artillery and air support would cover that advance through British troops which Schrader's military intelligence team would later discover was their 20th Armoured Brigade.

The advance into West Germany would see the division spread over a large area with incomplete control exercised at first over captured portions of territory though that would change as more troops came over the IGB. Schrader would later move his headquarters forward with a new location being found before nightfall again hidden in an area of woodland like the initial headquarters near Halberstadt had been.

In combat with the enemy, the 1 MRD took plenty of losses. Combat on the ground killed and wounded many men with plenty of vehicles being knocked out too. The T-55 tanks which the division fielded only won the engagements which they took part in due to weight of numbers and plenty of external assistance; many burning hulks were left scattering the countryside along the line of advance. Schrader's anti-air defences saw much combat during the day with guns and missiles being fired at attacking aircraft where the numbers grew more frequent the deeper the 1 MRD advanced as opposed to clear skies earlier. British Harrier's made attacks and so too did their Jaguar's. The West Germans struck with Alpha-Jet's at the front and then a later attack by their Tornado's into his rear areas with that strike mainly hitting dummy sites so carefully set up and ringed with defences to take their toll upon such attacking aircraft. Thankfully, there was no sign yet of the American A-10 attack aircraft which several briefings pre-war had covered, weapons of war which were certainly something to be respected if not feared for their supposed armour-killing capabilities. Of opposing chemical warfare attacks there were none of those today against his troops despite all precautions taken against them and the detection efforts to observe such use by his and army-level assets.

Schrader had far more contact than he would have liked with the Second Guards Tank Army headquarters. He and his staff had to field many requests for confirmation of objectives being reached in the fashion demanded by those responsible for the plans which the 1 MRD was doing its best to follow. His divisional guns were tasked on several occasions to fire long-range support missions for the neighbouring Soviet 6th Guards when they got into difficulties and aircraft meant to be assisting him were called away at the last minute. Doctrine stated that in a multi-division attack like the field army was launching, those units achieving the set goals were to be given external support over those stuck upon enemy defences: the established practise of reinforcing success. At a micro-level, he did this with his own troops allowing the 2nd Motorised Rifle Regiment to advance slowly up the Oker Valley fighting opposition on their own while all effort was made with the 1st & 3rd Motorised Rifle Regiment's plus the 1st Tank Regiment later approaching the Hildesheim area. However, that wasn't the case as assistance was given to the 6th Guards as they struck against a joint British-West German defence of the Helmstedt area where the main road and rail routes, following the course of the Autobahn, came over the IGB.

Fuming silently, but careful not to allow that to show for fear of who might be listening and decide to report him for their own gain, Schrader was unable to do nothing. His division still advanced and achieved almost all of their first day objectives in terms of territory taken. Not as many of the enemy had been engaged and defeated as the plan called for, but Schrader knew that such a thing couldn't be blamed upon him. NATO had mobilised late and their troops moving into position would have faced chemical warfare strikes delaying them from reaching their forward positions.

He was convinced that if the war carried on like this it would soon be over because despite some setbacks, from his point of view this war was being won here where the 1 MRD was fighting… yet he would have to admit that he was ignorant of events elsewhere.

February 4th 1990
The North Sea

Fregattenkapitan Wolke was not party to the strategic plans of the United Baltic Fleet and was only aware directly of the role which his warship was to play in the war. However, he had taken plenty of staff courses on his rise up the ranks through the Volksmarine and therefore could make more than an educated guess at what had been planned for the opening moves of the war here in the North Sea. His ship and others had been sent out ahead to draw the enemy's attention and therefore be sacrificed once the first shots were fired; behind them in the Baltic Sea the rest of the Baltic Fleet would be able to concentrate free of initial interference.

The Halle was out ahead to be a magnet for enemy attacks with no one to come to her aid… nor any of the one hundred and eight East German sailors aboard.

The orders transmitted in code to the Halle just an hour before the war began were for Wolke to 'conduct offensive military action' in the North Sea and 'engage hostile NATO warships to prevent aggression against the German Democratic Republic'. No one at the other end from where such orders had been prepared had obviously seen the contradiction in such wording and, more-importantly as far as Wolke was concerned, considered for a moment how a ship such as the Halle was meant to achieve such a stated mission.

Built at the Zelenodolsk shipyard in Tatarstan inside the Soviet Union, Wolke's command was a Type-1159 frigate designed and equipped for coastal missions with an anti-submarine warfare focus. The weapons and systems aboard were primarily for hunting submarines with a secondary role for the frigate being patrol against lightly-armed surface opponents. There were no helicopters carried nor anti-ship missiles. There were SAM's aboard and anti-aircraft guns to deal with air threats though the primary weapons were the main guns and the rocket-launchers for the depth charges.

The Halle was in waters surrounded by enemy-held shorelines on all sides when the war begun and could expect to face not just subsurface threats where she might stand a chance of success but air and surface threats too where her self-defence capabilities were limited. Offensive missions against such enemy opponents were impossible. Such was why Wolke considered those orders from home to be tantamount to suicide for him, his crew and his ship.

What could he do though?

Refuse to obey those orders?

Take his ship and his crew to the enemy and desert?

Or… maybe do the best that he could with what he had. The Halle was a warship and there were other vessels of the United Baltic Fleet out here in the North Sea. They all knew their mission and had the initiative on their side. Wolke had to console himself with the notion that someone, somewhere must have known what they were doing sending him out here. The idiot who sent those orders to him worded that way was certainly not whom had decided that the best way to fight NATO in what was effectively their own territory was to take the war to them as best as possible rather than having the mixed fleet of East German, Polish and Soviet ships that formed the fleet on the defensive where the enemy expected them to be located.

Wolke had told himself that the surprise factor would allow his ship to catch the enemy off-guard here in waters which they thought would be safe for the transit of their own ships. If the Halle was to fight, and fight to win, then Wolke had to have faith in the ability of his ship to put to a fight. Moreover, he had to hope that luck came their way.

The Halle would survive the first day's Battle of the North Sea.

Wolke would attribute this to a combination of luck as well as the weather. By nightfall he convinced himself that just maybe there be a chance for him to get back to his family when the wartime voyage was over with. That might have been a doomed hope, but it was a hope nonetheless.

In the patrol area to where the Halle was assigned, no substantial enemy forces made an appearance. Forced by his orders to undertake offensive missions, Wolke had his sonar systems active looking for enemy submarines in the shallow waters between the British Isles and mainland Europe. However, at the same time he didn't use his active air & surface-search radars; there was no need for them in hunting submarines… and they would draw attention to the warship too.

NATO submarines should have been active in the North Sea. There would be vessels transiting the waters either on their way north towards the Norwegian Sea or heading east to the Baltic Exits. Others should have been on patrol looking for warships such as the Halle. The range of the systems mounted upon Wolke's command were not that great and they weren't the latest technology either and therefore there was no sign of any submarine contacts. Wolke was certain that he would successfully prosecute a kill against a submarine with the Halle before the warship itself came under attack yet no situation such as this developed.

Surface contacts should have been aplenty in the North Sea too. The pre-war briefing back at Rostock-Warnemunde had stated that warships from many different navies could be expected to be encountered moving towards combat or on patrol such as submarines were; none came across the path of the Halle. As to civilian ships, the radio operators picked up signs of non-combatant vessels talking over unguarded channels to coastguard stations and warships yet none came into the immediate area of Wolke's warship. His general position throughout the day was between one hundred and twenty to one hundred and fifty kilometres east of an area called North Yorkshire in Britain. That meant that he wasn't in the area where civilians ships heading for the north coast of West Germany bringing in military wares, nor any escorts which they had, were moving through at this time.

An Atlantic storm had swept over Britain in the last few days of peace bringing the bad weather that came with it into the North Sea during the war's first day. It was weather conditions like this which had caused problems back home before the Halle had left port with objections being raised as to undertaking military action at this time of year from some voices. Those selected military officers, many of them from the Volksmarine, quickly regretted voicing their opinions. Regardless, it was the weather which protected the Halle today from almost all enemy observation from their air: the biggest threat to Wolke and his crew.

The electronic warfare systems aboard the Halle, as basic as they were, detected on two occasions the presence of airborne radars which intelligence stated belonged to NATO aircraft. In the mid-morning, not long after war had broken out and while Wolke had his warship begin hunting for submarines, the surface-search radar fitted to either a French or West German Dassault Atlantic maritime patrol aircraft was detected in the distance. First to the south and then to the east, that aircraft was searching the water’s surface for contacts. As is the case with radars, their emissions can be detected at greater distance than they themselves can observe and so the Halle was aware of the aircraft but unseen. The rough seas and low clouds that deposited plenty of rain would have interfered with the aircraft in its search. If it had managed to locate the Volksmarine warship, Wolke knew that he would have been in dire trouble. Anti-ship missiles could have been launched or a simple radio call could have been made to call for other aircraft or vessels to strike. He had been prepared to open fire at once with the Romb SAM system (the version of the Osa-M exported to East Germany and known in the West as the SA-N-4) should detection have occurred to limit the time which the aircraft could make a radio call, yet no contact came.

A second maritime patrol aircraft appeared in the early afternoon. There was a gap in the dense cloud coverage overhead and for a short while the seas were a little calmer too. Wolke had worried when this occurred that an aircraft might appear and it had. The intercepted radar waves at a distance showed it to be a P-3, another propeller-driven aircraft with excellent loiter time over the water as well as weapons and a radio. The radar waves faded in and out while everyone within the command compartment aboard the Halle held their breath as each time those were detected closer and closer and…

…then the P-3 had come under attack. Traces of other airborne radars were detected in the skies those being of the combat radars with MiG-27 fighter-bombers. A radio broadcast was made in English from the aircraft identifying it as an American naval air arm P-3 rather than from one of the several other nations which flew that model. The Mayday call was cut short suddenly and none of the radars were being detected anymore. Wolke was told that one of the lockouts posted was reporting a possible explosion in the skies and while at first sceptical of that due to the distances involved, he had to accept that such a thing had been seen due to the sailor being unaware of what those in the control room knew at the time: it hadn’t been wishful thinking.

For the second time in the day, the Halle had escaped the air threat that was all around the warship due to its location out here in the North Sea.

Other vessels weren't as lucky as the Halle was.

Through overheard radio communications intercepted by the various antenna that the warship mounted, the deaths of crews aboard other vessels were heard as friendlies and hostiles were attacked resulting in burnings and sinkings. Aircraft like that P-3 were brought down too making Mayday calls and they didn't all explode in mid-air with some making slow falls from the skies before impact with the water.

Translators aboard who spoke Russian and English, as well as the radio operators who naturally spoke their native German too, were asked by Wolke to give information at sometimes though on other occasions weren't. There was a Soviet destroyer caught in a missile attack from an attack by NATO aircraft; an unarmed intelligence trawler also crewed by Soviets reported being taken under gunfire from a fast patrol boat and was left alight just as the destroyer was with fires raging out of control. A pair of Type-205 Volksmarine missile-boats were both sunk after torpedoes from a suspected submarine hit them causing crippling damage: Wolke could do nothing for his fellow sailors. A British warship, an American military stores ship, several West German military and civilian vessels and what was believed to be a Norwegian warship too (no one aboard the Halle spoke Norwegian so it might have been a Dane or Swede heard desperately calling for rescue) were all taken under attack during the day. Shouts came of further air attacks and last messages to be passed onto loved ones.

When he reflected upon all of this, Wolke wondered that should the Halle be struck at in the future and be in trouble, would anyone listen to radio messages from his crew?

February 4th 1990
Hannover Airport, Langenhagen, West Germany

“Use your rifle, Schmid! Point the damn thing over there and shoot!”

In the midst of explosions, gunfire and the pained screams of the wounded, Gefreiter Schmid could hear his sergeant shouting at him perfectly. He fully understood what Oberfeldwebel (senior sergeant) Voller was saying and related to the urgency of the situation. After all, there were bullets coming their way which Schmid was perfectly aware were endangering the two of them and their fellow paratroopers.

Joachim was dead on the ground beside them though and Schmid couldn't take his eyes off the smashed, bloody face of his best friend and someone who he regarded as the brother he had never had.

He'd been shot!

He'd been killed!

Why couldn't Voller understand?

“There's more coming over from the left!” A shout now came from another one of the squad members.

Schmid remained staring at the open, lifeless eyes of Joachim.

“Schmid!” Voller was in his face as the two of them crouched behind the smouldering jeep out here on the airport taxiway. “Do your duty!”

The impacts of the rifle butt against his arm came as a surprise. Schmid had been hit before while in the Landstreitkrafte, and hit harder too, but this time…

He looked up and over to his left, raising his rifle as he did so. He could see the armed soldiers coming forward towards them from behind that aircraft sitting on the runaway just as he had been told.

Schmid aimed his rifle and did it not for Voller, not for the 40 Luftsturmregiment and not for his country but for Joachim.

They had been on the ground for only a few minutes before Joachim had been killed. When the flotilla of helicopters had arrived laden with Schmid and his comrades as part of the second wave landing here, they had come into Hannover Airport after it was supposed to have already been seized by those who made the initial assault. They had leapt from the Mil-8 helicopters under orders from their sergeants and junior officers ready to form up into their platoon groups ready to move away from the open areas that had already been taken. Some who had stopped and stared at the smashed passenger jets sitting on the apron and the taxiways were shouted at while others kept their heads down and followed their orders.

Schmid had been in the latter category. Some of his comrades had mentioned the destruction all around them saying that buildings and aircraft were on fire while there looked like dead civilians in places too, yet he had done as he was told. They were not going on an outing, they had been told before leaving Romke; instead they were going into a battle where if they didn't pay attention to their orders then they were going to be in grave danger.

Joachim had nodded seriously at such statements and Schmid had taken notice. His best friend was normally boisterous and sometimes a practical joker – therefore always getting into trouble in a discipline-focused organisation like the 40 Luftsturmregiment – but hearing those words and then listening to the sounds of warfare erupting in the distance before they boarded their helicopters had changed all of that in an instant.

When here at this airport outside a city where Schmid had never thought that he would travel to, that shouting to get into order had come just before the explosive attack against them had come. All of a sudden instead of heading away calmly from the helicopters to somewhere else, there had been the new orders to immediately deploy and find cover. Everyone had scattered when the machine gun fire came following the first blast which had been the sudden explosion of one of the Mil-8's from an unseen rocket-launcher.

Then Joachim had been shot.

Schmid had no idea as to whether those soldiers which he was engaging were West German, English, French, American or another nationality. They were too far away to see clearly and even if the range was closer he knew no other languages apart from some basis military terms in Russian nor would he recognise emblems which those enemy soldiers wore. What he did know though was that the enemy here were not giving in.

From three sides now there came gunfire from rifles and machine guns. Bullets whizzed towards his position and the others taken by his comrades. Some of those struck the improvised shelters from which his fellow paratroopers sought cover behind, others hit nothing while more made impact with the bodies of men from the 40 Luftsturmregiment. Few died like Joachim had done, suddenly and silently, and instead screamed, wailed and cried.

It was a slaughter. There wasn't enough cover and so many of the enemy were in range pouring fire towards the men like him out in the open.

“Keep firing!” Voller remained next to Schmid and shouted at all of the soldiers near him from his squad and others. “Remember your duty and fight!”

“I am out of ammunition, Oberfeldwebel.”

“Take Otto's magazines.”

“He's dead.”

“I know. He won't be needing them, will he, you fool!”

Schmid listened to the exchange between Voller and a fellow corporal named Willi. He was amazed at how Willi had been hesitant to take something as important as ammunition from a deceased comrade of his at a time like this when they were all fighting for their lives. Couldn’t he see how important it was to maintain their rate of fire?

But then he recalled how he himself had been just a few moments beforehand and maybe it wasn't so strange how Willi had reacted…

Focusing his attention back out front, Schmid pushed the barrel of his AKS-74 from out of cover and squeezed the trigger letting lose a short burst of 5.45mm bullets in the direction of the enemy. He started to raise his head afterwards to see what exactly was out ahead and maybe to fire again, this time with more accuracy, but before he could do that the overturned jeep was racked again with gunfire. Schmid had no idea what model this vehicle was, who had been its crew & where they were now and especially how it had ended up like it was. What he did know was that this vehicle was saving his life from what was now seemingly quite accurate gunfire. Poor Joachim had been caught unawares but Schmid was determined not to share his fate.

His head stayed down.

Another warning shout came: “Helicopters!”

The helicopters turned out to be 'friendly'. They were Mil-24's which made attacks with their guns and rockets. One of them was brought down when struck with what appeared to be a missile from the enemy troops, but the other pair made multiple attacks against those soldiers which had kept the paratroopers like Schmid pinned down and slowly being picked off. Through stolen glances and the gleeful observations of some of his comrades over the objections of Voller, he learnt that they had poured fire into the enemy all around the airport killing countless numbers of them before they then withdrew from the skies.

One attack apparently killed a group of his comrades, Schmid was told, but that was something that he didn't see himself.

Then the calls came for the 40 Luftsturmregiment to emerge from their hiding places and chase the retreating enemy.

Schmid didn't want to leave the safety which he had found and also had remorse for leaving the lifeless Joachim behind yet Voller was insistent: “All of you, get up and move! Advance to the left now! Quick, quick, quick!”

Up on his feet, Schmid did as he was told.

Welcome to Hannover.

February 4th 1990
West Berlin

West Berlin was burning.

From where Feldwebel Weiss was positioned, he could see fires and smoke from countless sources. His vantage point was only from the gunner's position inside a SPW-70 armoured vehicle (this was the version East Germany used of the Soviet BTR-70 built under license for export from Romania), yet that was enough to give him enough of a view ahead towards the Western enclave here in the heart of his country as a great conflagration was ongoing.

He wondered where the firemen were. Had they taken up arms instead to join the fight for the city? Weiss had been told that there were tens of thousands of armed West Berliners alongside the Imperialist troops there and so maybe they were fighting?

There were no firemen waiting behind the troops ready to go into the city of which he was among the large number of, that was something that he did know. East German and Soviet regular soldiers, reservists who wore the uniforms of his country's army, border guards and specialist riot police along with the Ministry of State Security paramilitary troops like he was were all positioned to strike, yet there certainly weren't any firemen.

Weiss hoped that the situation wouldn't become one where he would be called into assist combating the flames. He knew how to operate the weapons station aboard this vehicle and to use his rifle too should the need come to dismount, but to go up against a fire like the one ahead was quite different indeed.

Positioned to the south of the city, located just inside where The Wall was down, Weiss watched as the wind blew the majority of the smoke away to the north and east. Some whispers came his way yet remained outside the closed-up vehicle in which he sat. He would be happy to stay in this seat all day, even if it became more uncomfortable than it already was along as he didn't have to go and be one of those he feared would be tasked to try to put out those fires.

Alas, that was not to be.

They had been told that the regiment was attacking the American sector in the southwest of Berlin. There were border guards attached to the assault here with Soviet heavy forces moving in from the right from the direction of East Berlin. This information had been passed down the chain of command because it was necessary to avoid fraternal fire but no other information of a strategic nature had been given to non-commissioned officers like Weiss due to operational security concerns. He had no idea what was going on in the rest of the city for that wasn’t his concern.

From what he could gather, the assault here hadn't gone anywhere near as successful as planned because it was now the early evening and it appeared that a significant portion of the regiment was still only a mile, maybe a bit more, inside the city. He thankfully hadn't been up front and felt the full force of the American Army… unlike so many of his comrades. Their wheeled armoured vehicles – like his one – had been ripped apart not by the tanks that were apparently fighting the Soviets but by lighter man-portable weapons such as a missile system called the 'Dragon' and a 90mm recoilless rifle known as the 'M67'. Attacks using machine guns hadn't really harmed Weiss' comrades when in their vehicles nor had rifle fire employed by the Americans and all the militarised West Germans, but their heavier weapons used to support regular infantry and Militia units had.

It was a group of those Militia – West Berlin civilian soldiers – which he had been called down from his stationary vehicle to deal with. His Leutnant had received an order which was passed onto Weiss and it was just the same as those issued in places such as Leipzig, Dresden, and Cottbus before this war with the West erupted. As the Felix Dzerzhinsky Guard Regiment had done in those locations, they were again going about the business of shooting civilians.

Standing to the side alongside his officer, Weiss watched over the men as they prepared to open fire. He was thankful that unlike beforehand when making war against their own civilians, this time he wasn't in the firing squad. At the same time, he was one of those partially responsible for the deaths that were about to happen. Yet he had no choice. He was a sergeant now rather than the corporal he had been only late last year because other men within the command structure had refused to shoot unarmed civilians during the disturbances which had caused so much trouble.

Those men were dead now: shot after field court martials by their own men with their executioners having no choice in the matter.

“Shoot to the head or to the chest, nowhere else.”

Leutnant Platz didn't shout at the men as he gave them the penultimate order. Weiss noted that his officer was even looking down at the ground when he spoke rather than at his soldiers or at those lined up ready to be shot. Both hands were in Platz's pockets of his uniform trousers too; Weiss had to assume that was because the man didn't want anyone to witness them shaking as he reckoned that they were.

Then the final order came: “Take aim,” a pause, “and fire!”

Platz had only raised his voice a little bit as he said those words.

Ten men opened fire against what Weiss had counted were eight civilians. Six were policemen from what he could see with the men ranging in age from their late twenties to their forties; three of those were already wounded before they were shot. The other two men executed were not in any uniform of any kind but were shot alongside the policemen who had fought against the attack into West Berlin.

Platz removed his hands from his pockets afterwards and Weiss watched him take out his pistol from his holster before then grasping that weapon with both hands. There was a walk made by the officer over to where the civilians had been shot down. One of them groaned, another moved back-and-forth silently while a third wailed as he tried to crawl away.

The first pistol shot was to the head of the man seeking to get away as best as he could. Then came the second, the third and the fourth: one to each man whom Platz took aim at as he put them out of their misery. The Makarov-PM pistol was then fired again, again, again and again. In that intervening time between the first four shots and the final four, Weiss had observed Platz look like he was struggling to stay upright and not collapse. Perhaps it was the blood, bits of skull and brain matter which landed upon his trousers, but Weiss didn't know that for sure.

Either way, his officer had looked far from being able to stomach all of this.

Weiss knew nothing of why these men had been slaughtered as they were. No one had told him and nor had his Leutnant been informed either. The order had come from higher up though and that was all that mattered. The prisoners captured in combat had been taken here to the rear and shot for reasons which he wasn't party to. It wasn't just here either with these eight men executed; Weiss could hear what sounded like firing squads elsewhere too.

When back in the SPW-70, no one had anything to say. Platz was in another vehicle and the other sergeant present wasn't someone who would object to opinions being raised as long as no one went as far as treasonous talk. Regardless, there was just silence. Everyone knew that what they had just witnessed wasn't something that anyone else wanted to talk about. Almost all of them had been through this before and there came the silence that always followed such events.

Weiss wondered if it was the same in the vehicles further forwards. Those that had survived the fighting up there – against combat soldiers, not surrendered civilians who were bound and unarmed – were they talking in their vehicles? Were they discussing the weather, maybe the girls which they had met the last time they were on leave or even the fighting which they had taken place in? Anything had to be better than this silence among men who knew that they had just witnessed something… evil.

He wished that he was in one of those vehicles and having to take his chance with the Americans…

…but he wasn't. He was here with the men who had just taken part in a slaughter, an execution and the only thing that he could do to take his mind off that was to watch the city ahead of him carry on burning as the light in the skies faded ending the daylight hours.

February 4th 1990
Western TVD Headquarters, the Ziegelroda Forest, East Germany

'As unwelcome as a former fiancé at a wedding': such was the description given by one of Generaloberst Ulrich's aides to how welcome senior Landstreitkrafte officers were at the forward headquarters of the Western Strategic Direction. The Warsaw Pact supreme headquarters for the invasions of Denmark, West Germany and Austria was located inside East Germany yet East Germans were certainly not made to feel welcome here. In the series of underground bunkers located west of Leipzig, Soviet military officers were in-charge in all of the command positions which mattered with those wearing their uniforms of their nation's supposed allies made to feel like outsiders and begrudgingly given little information if and when at all.

Ulrich had his orders though and those were to remain in the Ziegelroda Forest for the time being until he was given instructions to leave.

The bunkers were located within naturally-formed and manmade hills and hidden among the trees of the forest. There was a nearby airfield at Allstedt though access to the facility here was by concealed road links rather than by helicopters as the intention was that the location was to remain unknown to NATO intelligence gathering assets. Communication antenna were scattered away from the bunkers linked through above-ground cabling. Messages were then rebroadcast forward to combat elements at the front through other arrays positioned elsewhere within East Germany as another security measure to ensure the lack of enemy attention paid to the headquarters.

Chain-smoking was near obligatory here. Peer pressure forced Ulrich to join in and he kept his aides busy fetching him more packets of cigarettes so that he could keep up with everyone else doing the same thing. It was the pressure that they were all under that brought this about with the worries over the ongoing operations not as strong as the dread that at any moment there would come a lone word reported over the radios from somewhere at the front or in the rear: Oryol.

Oryol was Russian for Eagle and the designated codeword which would mean that a thermonuclear detonation had taken place. There were not meant to be any use of such special weapons by Warsaw Pact forces during the invasion if Volga-3 went to plan and conventional military action forces the West to accede to the Kremlin's demands, so the use of such a word would mean that the West had done the opposite and instead raised the stakes. Once Oryol was heard once, everyone knew that that wouldn’t be the first time too…

The first use of nuclear weapons would almost certainly occur in Germany if that should happen: either side of the IGB. Ulrich had no doubt that afterwards countless more would explode within the borders of his divided country and it would be his countrymen who were the victims. He smoked to calm his nerves at the thought of nuclear holocaust taking place on German soil.

All military operations taking place in Europe from the Baltic to the Alps, from the Polish-Soviet border to the British Isles were under the command of Marshal Vasily Ivanovich Zinoviev. Everything which took place on the ground, in the air and in the a-joining waters whether it be offensive or defensive was his responsibility. That was a weight which Ulrich was glad that he didn't have to bare due to the complexity of such a role when dealing with the ongoing war in terms of the actual fighting as well as the other vitally important issues of logistics, security and politics too.

Zinoviev was a Germanphobe, a man with a rabid hatred of Germans and all things German. He had come from his peacetime headquarters at Legnica in Poland to replace his predecessor just after the New Year and soon enough everyone knew how much this man despised Germans. The rumour was that his father had been killed during the Nazi-Soviet War and maybe that was true; all Ulrich knew was that this man had nothing but blind hatred for him and his countrymen no matter what uniform they wore.

Ulrich had dealt with Zinoviev's deputy since the news had been filtered down that Volga-3 was to go ahead and been ordered to report to the Ziegelroda Forest bunker. From there he was to initially provide a liaison with regards to the pre-combat deployment of the forces of the Landstreitkrafte which were attacking westwards. At a designated time afterwards, he would return to his own Potsdam headquarters to exert control over rear-area forces supporting the invasion in a supply sense east of the IGB and occupation & security troops west of that border line.

The lines of communication which ran lateral across Eastern Europe were his number one task so that they could be kept open for the movement of supplies and reinforcements one way and POW's going in the other direction. Those links needed managing and they needed guarding too from enemy threats and obstructions with second-grade troops under Ulrich's command completing that task. He only had authority over those which ran through East Germany on the ground though not those elsewhere or at sea and in the air.

When it came to his responsibilities west of the IGB, Ulrich was to oversee the physical occupation of the northern and central parts of West Germany which were to be overrun in the fighting; again, other locations were the duties of others. The emphasis on providing the manpower for security tasks was his yet at the same time there would be much autonomous control exercised elsewhere by combat units in their immediate rear areas. Furthermore, there were then the activities of the KGB, the GRU and the Stasi from his own country doing what they were as well.

One omission from peacetime planning for a situation such as this was the duty of Ulrich's command for operations against West Berlin; now something under the direct control of Zinoviev.

Some of his staff at Potsdam were already underway addressing the initial stages of these tasks for Ulrich to supervise, guarding supply links and making sure that the first wave of reinforcing troops soon to move in from Poland had the transportation links held open for them, yet he was still waiting to be instructed to go back there. Whilst effectively hanging around, unwelcome as he was, Ulrich observed much on the first day of the war from this headquarters in the rear when so much information was at-hand.

The Western-TVD commanded four Front's. Each of these contained field armies and air armies of which many had a multinational character while one of those Front's had a naval component too. There was the Baltic Front on the right tasked to move against Denmark on land with air and sea action (the latter with the United Baltic Fleet) in the western Baltic Sea and the North Sea beyond. Alongside, operating out of East Germany was the Northern Front: the biggest and with the most important mission of invading the majority of West Germany and striking further to the west. Then there was the Central Front with assigned forces striking from Czechoslovakia and Hungary west and southwest. Finally, immediately behind there was the Polish Front with what was the second echelon of combat forces tasked to reinforce the initial attacks against the West.

Troops under Ulrich's command in peacetime, the regular forces of the Landstreitkrafte, were assigned to the Baltic and Northern Front's and he took the time while beneath the supposed safety of the cover offered by the Ziegelroda Forest to take note of their activities on the first day of the war.

The 8 MRD was with the Soviet Thirty-Eighth Airborne Corps that also consisted of a Soviet airborne division, one of their independent airmobile brigades and a separate tank regiment too. As part of the Baltic Front, the mission given to the 8 MRD was to advance into Schleswig-Holstein and charge for the Kiel Canal and Jutland beyond. Amphibious operations in the eastern parts of the Danish Archipelago by the Polish Third Landing Corps (Polish and Soviet naval infantry joined by Polish paratroopers) was meant to assist them alongside naval activity by keeping their opponents off-balance with the 8 MRD expected to break through the frontlines and link-up with airborne forces which had seized key points ahead. Hamburg was to be ignored with this initial drive with the aim of taking a large swath of hostile territory full of airbases and seaports to support strategic goals.

There were meant to be Danish troops in Schleswig-Holstein alongside the West Germans, Ulrich had learnt, as NATO plans called for them with likely additions of British and even American light troops too. None of those reinforcements for the West Germans there had managed to arrive in time before Volga-3 commenced. Parts of the frontlines which the West Germans had manned, as thinly spread as they were and focused as expected on what they saw as the strategic potential of Hamburg, had crumbled and the 8 MRD was advancing northwards. They had been hurt by the enemy, but breakthroughs had occurred allowing the 8 MRD to march forward: they had advanced along the narrow corridor between the urban areas of Hamburg and Lubeck before later getting as far as Neumunster. Relieving the Soviet paratroopers at Kiel and Eckernforde as per the plan had been too much to do within one day, but they were on course to do so by tomorrow unless something very unexpected happened.

The advances had by the 1 MRD operating with the Soviet Second Guards Tank Army on the North German Plain had also pretty much gone to plan surprising Ulrich who secretly hadn't expected that level of success as the maps showed when he saw them. It was true that the majority of their British opponents had withdrew backwards from initial forward positions to their main defensive lines, but they had lost many men and much equipment in doing so: some smaller British formations had actually broken. Losses to the 1 MRD were bad and that couldn't be ignored yet they had driven forward pushing some of the best NATO troops far back from the IGB.

On the other side of the Harz Mountains, the 11 MRD was operating as part of the Soviet Twentieth Guards Army. They were tasked to engage whatever Belgian units managed to make it into their wartime positions before the war opened and give their Soviet parent formation options for exploitation should the West Germans located in northern parts of Hessen prove as stubborn as expected. The Belgian Army was strung out in the middle of redeployment from home, Ulrich had been informed, with only the most forward units based pre-war in West Germany at the front when the war started. Their pair of brigades had been outnumbered two-to-one in combat strength but were in position even if the rest of the Belgian Army wasn't.

The 11 MRD had failed its initial objectives. NATO air power had come into play and had not faced aerial interference with the 11 MRD having to rely upon its own air defences rather than fighter cover to beat off murderous air attacks. Parts of the division had suffered crippling losses in combat on the ground when running into effective ambushes as the Belgians fought a battle of manoeuvre; afterwards they were then bombed from above without mercy.

An even worse fate had befallen the 4 MRD moving into northern parts of Bavaria. Given a flanking role too, this division had engaged American units as East German troops had tried to advance in a southern direction on the left-hand side of the Soviet Eighth Guards Army's massive attack. The Americans had stopped the march of the 4 MRD cold with immense losses taken to the two attacking motorised rifle regiments and the other pair of combat-manoeuvre regiments being given the emergency tasking of preparing defensive positions right on the IGB in case the Americans counter-attacked into the German Democratic Republic itself!

In an overheard conversation, one of Ulrich's aides had reported back to him that Zinoviev had spoken to the commander of the Northern Front – General Kokorin, former commander of the Group of Soviet Forces Germany – and instructed him to pass on congratulations to the head of the Eighth Guards Army. The attack by the 4 MRD had done just what the Soviets wanted and gained the attention of the Americans having them move men and aircraft away from the main attack which had then made headway towards the Fulda Valley on the other side of the Spessart high ground.

The operation against Hannover Airport was what Ulrich had regarded as suicidal for the East German paratroopers involved. He had tried to have an audience with Zinoviev before the war opened with the aim to talk him out of sending those elite Landstreitkrafte troops to complete such a task but the Soviet wouldn't even see him when he heard of the reason behind such a request. Ulrich had been left furious but was impotent when it came to having an influence over combat operations at the front.

His concern had been that the 40 Luftsturmregiment was being used in what several of his aides referred to as a 'tissue paper fashion': the scattering of airborne and airmobile units everywhere in the enemy's immediate rear seemingly at random (to NATO anyway) but in a fashion where they would have to assign troops to act against such landings. There were similar operations elsewhere with Soviet troops doing what he feared had been done to his own paratroopers. He didn't believe that it was right to send valuable men into the enemy's rear and then not give them any support after they had landed. He had seen how the airborne operations in the Baltic had been undertaken with a view to reinforce and make strategic gains from such moves and this occurred in other places within the Northern Front's area of operations, yet it wasn't the case with the 40 Luftsturmregiment who were to be left to their own devices with the hope that they would then draw in NATO troops.

Ulrich could do nothing but hope for the best with his paratroopers there outside Hannover. They had taken the airport then held off a counterattack by West German reservists but where far from the frontlines with indications that heavier forces were on their way towards them… just as the Soviets wanted.

Away from the fates befalling his own soldiers, Ulrich had access to intelligence which flowed into Zinoviev's headquarters concerning the enemy. There were some things which the Soviets were keeping to themselves and not letting East German, Polish or Czechoslovak officers present like him see but most of what was known about how NATO was reacting was available to Ulrich.

Those chemical weapon strikes using short-range ballistic missiles (SRBM's) against American REFORGER sites had hit their targets with enough accuracy and reasonable timing to make them extremely worthwhile. Storage sites where military equipment for the American Army was located – arranged in a fashion to facilitate the rapid forming of combat formations ready to be sped to the frontlines – had been targeted when the majority of them were seeing the arrival of troops coming in from across the Atlantic. Those troops had flown over to Europe, de-planned and raced to their REFORGER sites as they set about getting ready before the war erupted.

Then the SRBMs had arrived.

Many NATO airbases were hit by chemical weapon strikes with the substances dispersed in an aerosol form so that they were deadly but their effects wouldn't last that long. The aim there was to strike so that air operations would be disrupted. Yet when Soviet tanks overran those facilities they could then be used by their new occupiers to continue the war effort after the chemicals had dispersed. With the REFORGER sites, the chemical agents employed were thickened into a jelly-like substance making them 'persistent'. Traces of the chemicals got everywhere and remained lethal for a long time. Initial efforts to clean the affected areas and especially the equipment might get rid of most of the chemicals but not all, therefore increasing the lethality of the strikes. Troops were targeted as well by the weapons as they were then when the SRBMs hit with their deaths and injuries being an added bonus of hitting the equipment sites like they were.

Intelligence pointed to the best success with the attacks being against the REFORGER sites in the north with less success in the south. In the latter case, bases for two American combat divisions near the Saarland were struck after the majority of the men and equipment having already moved through and out of them. There were still some supporting assets crippled during the chemical 'rain' which fell though. In Holland, Belgium and at the sites in West Germany near the Ruhr and west of the Rhine the SRBMs which hit there impacted right when the Americans were engaged in making the most use of them. All the reports on this Ulrich saw said that thousands of American soldiers had been slaughtered... as well as locals too, thus impacting upon immediate recovery efforts.

This all linked into the more conventional intelligence which Ulrich saw about NATO. They had apparently been expecting that the war might not break out (a diplomatic solution had been the forlorn hope) and if it did, it wouldn't start for a day or two later than it did this morning. Delays in NATO mobilisation among many countries for political reasons had meant that their armies were not in place. What forces pre-deployed inside West Germany were at the front ready to fight but their necessary reinforcements had seen delays and then Warsaw Pact action against them.

The West Germans were in the best position with almost all of their regular forces and second-line reserves ready to fight with mobilisation at a late stage with third-line, internal security troops; they were also operating in their own country. The British had much of their professional army in West Germany with a significant portion of ready reinforcements held at short notice to move due to the international situation: a lot of that force was in place or nearly in place by this morning. The French had stood with NATO and were moving their troops in West Germany towards the frontlines with many more regular troops from their country observed soon to do so – it was estimated that their full army would be ready to fight within the next five days at the most.

The smaller armies of NATO with a commitment to West Germany were in a lesser position. Holland and Belgium had hesitated over whether the threat of war was real with so many of their troops still at home and having to fight with what they had on-hand for now. Canada's forward-deployed troops were likewise in the fight but with reinforcements still across the North Atlantic and needing to get to West Germany before being formed up and equipped.

Then there was the Americans. Their army in central parts of West Germany had been deployed into combat positions last night with REFORGER units streaming in behind them before the SRBM strikes. However, their three-division strong army corps meant to operate on the North German Plain had been caught up in the chemical attack. Further intelligence assessments needed to be made, but it looked as if the only troops that the Americans had available for the fight in such area was a combat brigade pre-based near Bremen and possibly a heavy-armour / reconnaissance regiment which might have left the REFORGER strike at Monchengladbach before that facility was blasted with V-series chemicals.

All this information pointed to NATO being in a position of great danger for them. Ulrich could see that the problems in many areas of the battlefield that they would face would be that there was going to be a lack of reserves for the immediate future. Once frontline units collapsed under the relentless waves of attacks which Zinoviev was going to launch against them in a follow-up to today, for a period of time the enemy would have nothing on hand to plug gaps torn in the line.

He could see victory… yet worried over how much of the Landstreitkrafte, and the wider Nationale Volksarmee too, would be around by then to see that.

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Chapter Three – Hesitations

February 5th 1990
On the road to Magdeburg, East Germany

The 17 MRD was missing officers and men throughout its ranks. Major Koch had heard on the rumour mill that hundreds of those assigned had failed to answer the call for mobilisation several days ago. There were a lot of those who should have been back in uniform who weren't with the division as it now rolled northwards heading first for Magdeburg before the plans called for it to be eventually sent over the IGB and westwards.

The fates of such reservists when the Stasi – not the military police – caught up with them were going to be far from pleasant.

He himself was far from happy at such a development as it had affected him personally. Instead of serving on the divisional operations staff as he had long trained for, he had been assigned as a battalion commander within one of the 17 MRD's regiments. The 17th Tank Regiment had been short a commander for one of its tank battalions and so he was now the senior officer with 2/17R. His initial full-time service with the regular Landstreitkrafte when he was younger was that of a Tank Troops officer yet he had always preferred staff-work over such a hands-on operational role; others wanted the opposite though he regarded himself as better suited to desk work.

Now his 'desk' was the commander's seat within a T-55A tank.

There was the choice of several other armoured vehicles for him to use though Koch felt safe inside a tank especially during a trip like this away from the mobilisation centres heading for the distant front. Despite what he had heard to the contrary from the official line, NATO seemed pretty far from being overwhelmed and crushed: one only had to observe the multiple instances of their air attacks last night against targets inside East Germany. If another one of their bombing attacks from the air was made this morning, he would rather be inside a tank than a wheeled armoured vehicle so as to increase his chances of survival.

Such a mindset was hardly encouraged though and so he was officially inside his command tank to reacquaint himself with the inner-workings of such a vehicle rather than because it offered protection.

This T-55 was one of the Czechoslovak-built versions in East German service rather than a Polish-produced tank. There were only a few differences between such models constructed for export though Koch had always preferred those built by the Czechs. He had long ago found there was a little more room on offer despite the supposedly standard uniform specifications. Although he wasn't a tall man – tanking was never for those of a great physical stature – he had long felt the need for that tiny bit more room to move, to breathe that the T-55s turned out by ZTS in Slovakia had on offer was needed.

The tank was on the roadway too, not on the back of a low-load transporter vehicle. Such transport was busy elsewhere and so Koch's tank, just like the rest of the division's vehicles, were moving under their own power. The going was slow but steady with spacing between vehicles and speeds governed by standing orders. This was safe, friendly territory here in East Germany not a combat zone and so the precautions for security which would be taken nearer to the battlefield weren't in-place here with this movement.

However, there was an air threat and Koch had made sure that the men now under his command were ready to deal with that if necessary. The regiment had dedicated anti-aircraft assets in the form of mobile anti-aircraft guns backed up by radars yet being a reserve formation there weren't any SAM systems apart from man-portable ones. Koch was worried that what there was, was outdated against modern threats which might avoid detection and so he had two men in each company on lockout duty. The gunners with six of his tanks had their hatches open and were instructed to visually scan the sky and report-in using the radio over the battalion-net. If they thought that they spotted an aircraft, they were not to hesitate to report that. His reasoning was that he was doing everything that he could do to assist in dealing with the air threat.

If there was any doubt in his mind as to how serious that was, Koch only had to recall the explosions in the night which had woken him up.

As the convoy in which Koch was in approached closer to Magdeburg, Koch's regimental commander informed him of a change of plan with the march route. There was a diversion in-place now due to unspecified reasons and there would be no transit through that city using it dense communications links. Koch had his deputy listen in to the instructions which came on the new route to be taken around the city to make the turn to the west afterwards and the two of them – the latter in his SPW-60 – then made sure that could make out the new orders on their maps.

Koch was glad that those orders had come. He hadn't wanted to bring his thirty-one heavy tanks rumbling into Magdeburg and have them roll along the city streets. Maybe it might have been some good practise for the drivers to do so but the wear-and-tear on the vehicles was bad enough already travelling along paved roads. During the diversion which was now to be made, they were to cross the countryside instead of entering the urban area up ahead.

Before being transferred to 2/17R, Koch had reported to the divisional staff as ordered and been briefed upon what the mission was for the 17 MRD. It was to be kept behind the frontlines of where the main combat against NATO was taking place and instead its component units used piecemeal against bypassed opposition which had been cut off as well as temporary flank guards on occasion too. His transfer had been necessary due to the missing battalion commander which he replaced but also because there would therefore be little work for staff officers with his skills at the divisional headquarters once the 17 MRD crossed over the IGB.

Urban areas similar to Magdeburg yet across in West Germany probably wouldn't see the deployment of his tanks into them as the motorised rifle elements of the division would be sent against towns and cities where NATO troops had fallen back into. It would instead be in the countryside where Koch would certainly end up commanding his battalion when it was engaged in action: protecting the flanks of Soviet offensives against NATO counterattacks. The T-55 was a fine tank yet it was old and the on-board technology was out of date while the 100mm main gun didn't have the 'punch' to knock out the latest generation of NATO tanks.

Koch had to worry about how well his new command could perform their tasks once they were assigned to them after the crossing had been made into West Germany. It certainly wasn't going to be an easy war for them, not at all.

February 5th 1990
Near Krefeld, West Germany

Ever so slowly, Leutnant Haas raised both his arms high and wide with his palms open. “Rainbow,” he called out before repeating himself, “Rainbow.”

In front of him a third man in full-body camouflage and also holding an assault rifle pointed his way appeared from seemingly out of nowhere to join the other two who had surprised him. None of them said the codeword which they were supposed to say back at him.

“Rainbow.” He said it again.

Someone breathed right behind him and he felt the warm breath on the back of his neck this cold morning.


The whispered word was spoken in German too.

Those men ahead lowered their rifles. Haas noted that in a moment they could again raise their weapons and he would stand no chance as they had him covered, yet one of their number was behind him and so he hoped that they wouldn't shoot. He hesitated to say anything else let alone move for these men were certainly even more on edge at this clandestine rendezvous than he was judging by how they had reacted to his presence.

“You are late, Rainbow.”

The voice again came from behind him though Haas now believed that a little distance had been put between him and the speaker, at the latter's intention too.

“There were more roadblocks than I thought there would be.”

Getting out of Düsseldorf hadn't been an easy thing for Haas to do. His officially-issued credentials were in perfect order and he had answers to all of the questions of nervous reservists on internal security duties to allow him to pass, yet the numbers of blockages trying to stop all movement was larger than he had anticipated.

“You weren't followed here.”

Haas wasn't sure if that was a question or a statement. He judged that it wasn't the former and so gave a response which he felt was best: “How long have you been watching me?”

“Since your vehicle came off the road and along the track. Your driver is still inside the vehicle and I hope he follows your instructions to stay there” There was supreme confidence in the voice of Haas' fellow East German. “Turn around.”

As ordered, Haas slowly turned around to face what he expected to be the Hauptmann in command of the commandoes all around him. He was greeted as he did so by the face of a fierce-looking man dressed like the others here Haas had observed and also with war-paint on his face. A rifle was slung across his chest held by a shoulder strap while there was also what appeared to be a combat knife and grenades attached to the belt worn: it was similar to something an American action hero movie, many of which Haas had amused himself by watching whilst here in the West.

“No one else knows that you are here?”

“That is not correct.” Didn't the Hauptmann know the plan? “I was assigned to conduct a brief security survey of this location by my superior officer.”

“How many people are we talking about who know?”

Haas could only guesstimate that number: “Twelve, maybe more. It is all documented too.”

“What are the chances of us being detected here?”

With that question, Haas started to get very worried. He felt that he had to ask with whom he was dealing with. “You are Hauptmann Mehring, are you not?”

A shake of the head came from the man before him.

“Who are you then?”

“Oberleutnant Reisinger.” He was a first lieutenant rather than a captain. “The Hauptmann crashed into a tree as we parachuted in then broke his neck upon landing. We have buried him already and no one will come across any remains for a long time.”

There was no emotion in such a statement and that confidence remained in his tone. However, Haas was starting to worry now that this was all an act on the part of the second-in-command of the team of commandoes.

“How much of the plan do you know?”

“Some.” A pregnant pause. “Perhaps you should go over it again for me…?”

“Okay, I will. We don't have much time so I shall give you all of the information which you need.

Now, sometime in the next few days...”

The commandoes Haas met with were from Spezialaufklärungskompanie 5, home-based at Glöwen. This detachment of ten men but now nine in number from that company-sized formation had landed here on the western side of the Rhine after jumping from a light transport during the early hours. They had brought with them weapons and a couple of specialised radios.

He was not in command of their mission and instead was tasked to support them. Haas wore the uniform of a reservist with the West German Army, the Heer, as he had assumed the identity of the Leutnant which he now impersonated… such an unfortunate man lay dead back in Düsseldorf. Using the identity which he had, Haas was assigned to the staff of the Northern Army Group, the British-led NATO formation operating on the North German Plain. Their forward headquarters, operating back here behind the Rhine in a mobile fashion, needed West German liaison officers to function effectively and the man whose uniform he wore had had the task of providing logistics support for the daily movement of that headquarters from one place to another to avoid attack by aircraft, missiles or a team of commandoes as he was with now. There were locations pre-scouted across this area – all downwind of potential nuclear targets in the Ruhr – where the British would have their headquarters for twenty-four hours at a time and this was one of them.

The decision to use the wooded area northwest of Krefeld wouldn't be one of Haas' choices though it was high on the list of hidden and supposedly secure sites. At one point, the British would roll their headquarters vehicles this way along with all of the command staff and Haas would have a little bit of advance notice of that: a day at best.

He explained now the procedures which he would use for making one-way communication with the commando team that their target would be on the way. As to the details of how they were supposed to launch their assault to cripple the command element of such a major NATO command in the midst of wartime, he explained that his brief didn't cover that. He did apprise this Oberleutnant on the size of the security detachment which the British would have with them and made it clear that they would be greatly outnumbered in terms of men and weapons.

“We have incapacitating gas.” Reisinger didn't appear fazed at the size of the opposition. “We have anti-tank rockets and a mortar as well.”

“As I mentioned, there will be at least two company's worth of men. They are all regular soldiers in armoured vehicles, not reservists in trucks as initially thought.”

“The mission will be achieved.”

Haas left them soon afterwards and went back to his vehicle. He was sure that he was under the gaze of several other men of Reisinger's commando team as he did so but had to force himself to walk slow and steady though the mud and not be intimidated by the rifles which he knew were again pointed at him.

The driver was still seated inside the Volkswagen Iltis jeep in which Haas had left him; he hadn't climbed out of the vehicle while his officer had gone alone into the woodland. Haas wasn't sure if doing so had saved his life because the commandoes might not have opened fire if the driver had got out to stretch his legs for a moment or maybe take a leak, but he was glad that he didn't have to find out.

How would he have explained a missing driver afterwards?

“Back to the headquarters at once.”

No response apart from a nod of the head came from the young man tasked to drive him around. Haas knew he had chosen well in such an enlisted man as this. The soldier was lazy, uninterested in his job and had no questions to ask. Anyone else would have wanted to know why they couldn't come with Haas into the woods for this was wartime after all, but not this man. He knew that there were plenty of capable and highly-motivated West German military personnel ready to defend their country but the more of the ones like this that there were the better the chances were that the abomination that was the Federal Republic of Germany would soon collapse. After that. Haas' fellow Germans west of the IGB would soon see the enlightened ways of Socialism.

February 5th 1990
Neustadt bei Coburg, West Germany

The town of Neustadt was as far as elements of the 4 MRD had managed to successfully get into Bavaria and not be pushed back from when the Americans had counter-attacked. Oberleutnant Korner had spent yesterday on the other side of the border when the clashes with the American Army had taken place and after everything that he had heard he was glad of that.

The 24th Motorised Rifle Regiment had yesterday struck southwards towards the bigger town of Coburg aiming to head south along the highway deeper into Bavaria. One of their battalions – 1/24R – had gone through Neustadt and been thoroughly ripped apart here when faced with American armoured cavalry units first then waves of concentrated air power in the form of fighter-bombers and attack helicopters. The battalion which had struck here had faced losses above eighty per cent but their commander had stubbornly held on afterwards.

Those men who had died here yesterday remained in many places all across Neustadt and that was where Korner had been sent today.

Other men were on body recovery duties as they were tasked to collect the corpses of dead Landstreitkrafte soldiers – leaving for now any West German civilians which they came across – while Korner had another assignment. He had been told that every single combat engineering officer with 1/24R lay dead or injured and so for now anyone with engineering experience, even a Grenztruppen officer like him, was needed at this time. The mission was to extract any salvageable articles of heavy military equipment from Neustadt. The 1/24R may have been reduced to a few platoons yet discarded weapons could be used at a later date for the equipping of other formations… or maybe even the same unit if it was re-established at a later date.

There were damaged vehicles inside the town through which the slaughtered battalion had tried to advance the day before. Those were SPW-60 armoured personnel carriers and SPW-40P scout cars which now had a multitude of combat impacts done to them. Korner's instructions were to lead the efforts to recover these vehicles whole or the valuable contents of those that could be best put to use elsewhere, such as ammunition and weapons.

He had a small team of men with him and it was one of those rear-area non-commissioned members of the battalion staff which saved his life as he dragged Korner away from one of the damaged scout cars: “It's going to explode!”


Internal explosions ripped apart the SPW-40P, the East German version of the BRDM-2, as the stored ammunition aboard suddenly detonated in a furious blast which broke the windows of several nearby parked and abandoned vehicles.

Korner was on the ground behind one of those parked civilian cars. His knee hurt where he had been thrown down but he was alive. If those explosions had occurred a few seconds later that might not have been the case…


Another explosion rocked the four-wheel vehicle out there in the road. Korner closed his eyes and involuntarily pulled his hands up to cover his ears. Being up close and personal to explosions such as this was quite something.

The SPW-40P carried only bullets for its two machine guns and so he couldn't understand why it was blowing itself apart as it was with there being no shells or missile warheads aboard. Yet it was doing just that as he lay on the ground nearby next to the man who had dragged him away from the blasts which would have killed him.

Korner turned to him: “I thank you, Soldat.” The Private was a battalion clerk before the 1/24R had been slaughtered and he had been assigned this duty with Korner; Korner would see what he could do to help the man get a promotion afterwards.

“I saw it just as we walked up!” There was scared excitement in the young man's voice. “There was a rocket – or something similar, I am not sure – stuck in the front of the vehicle. It was glowing red as we approached!”

“You did well; if you had hesitated then...” Korner couldn't think of how to finish that statement.

“What do we do now, Oberleutnant?”

Korner gave what he knew was an ironic smile: “Well, we cannot lay here on the ground all day doing nothing. We will get clear and get to work assessing damage elsewhere.

The Nationale Volksarmee does not expect us to spend our days doing nothing, does it?”

February 5th 1990
Neumünster, West Germany

With what he regarded as more pressing issues to attend to, Generalmajor Fritsch had sent one of his senior aides from the Landstreitkrafte to this morning's briefing at the 8 MRD headquarters north of Neumünster to gather information on the military situation here in Holstein while he himself met with Strauss and the senior Stasi people which had moved into here. When his aide returned, Fritsch listened to how the frontlines had remained generally where they were overnight and what was planned to be done today in the way of continued operations here in the northern part of West Germany. The Soviets to the west – their airmobile brigade and tank regiment – were to continue to blockade regular West German Army forces inside the greater Hamburg area while continuing to push reconnaissance elements towards the North Sea coast. In the east, one of the 8 MRD's regiments was going to maintain a screening role against the West German regulars and reservists who had fallen back in that direction between Lubeck and Kiel. The rest of the attacking East German division was today expected to link up with the Soviet airborne forces holding onto the airport and naval base at Kiel, the lock gates at the eastern end of the Kiel Canal and the submarine base at Eckernforde. There were some remaining West German units between the leading elements of the 8 MRD and where the Soviets were as well as advance units of Danish forces which had come southwards yesterday. Squeezed between two opposing forces and under what was to be heavy air attacks, the gap was expected to be closed and then an advance would be made up to and over the strategic canal itself. Later on, in the next few days, the 8 MRD was to carry on moving northwards into Schleswig as it fought the Danes and overran all of the airbases which lay ahead such as Eggebek, Husum, Leck and Schleswig before entering Denmark.

The briefing of the Strauss Group had been in no manner as interesting to Fritsch in person as to how his aide told him of the details of what was discussed by the 8 MRD's staff. Everything that had been known about last night was covered again this morning though with far more political platitudes than beforehand. Fritsch himself had spoken the necessary phrases when called upon to speak yet he was sure that most of those present hadn't believed him whereas others at Neumünster really did believe that the West Germans here were glad to be liberated from 'Capitalist exploitation' and had 'opened their homes to their liberators'.

Fritsch had only met one West German glad to see him in all of his time here and that had been the young lady working in the hotel where he had spent the night. She had come to his room and asked for his protection from 'when the Russians came'; Fritsch had conditions attached which she had agreed to with a fateful nod of the head before spending the night in his bed. The most-satisfying memories of that were still with him though were fading as his duties overtook his desires of how he wished to spend his time here in West Germany.

Neumünster was the biggest town in the Schleswig-Holstein region under occupation as neither Hamburg or Lubeck had been entered and Soviet paratroopers only held certain parts of Kiel that had a military value to them. It lay south of the Kiel Canal and was a major communications centre for Holstein, in particular with multiple railways lines converging upon the town and its large railway station. There was the nearby Autobahn as well with other major highways in the general area.

Initially there hadn't been a fight for the town itself when it was seized yesterday as NATO troops fell back northwards along the Autobahn towards the Kiel Canal. West German reservists filling a home defence role were known to be stationed here yet they had not been present when support elements of the 8 MRD entered Neumünster and then afterwards the Strauss Group arrived as well. Sniping had begun when it got dark and then there had been a series of coordinated explosions which had rocked the town as the electricity, water and telephone connections were all blown up. Those sites were meant to have been guarded against sabotage after they had been seized, yet the civilian utility connections of the town had been eliminated in a timely blow.

While in a furious rage, Fritsch had been nonetheless powerless to do anything after that security failure because no one had been observed planting the bombs nor escaping their detonations afterwards. The sentries posted answered to the 8 MRD rather than his command as the chief military officer with the Strauss Group and while he had shouted at their commander, nothing had come from that.

Before control over the town was established late yesterday, Fritsch had learnt that approximately twenty per cent of the population of Neumünster had fled. Some went in the days leading up to the war while others just as it begun. Most drove away in civilian vehicles while others failed to board trains which the West Germans had stopped running and so had started walking. Among those missing were a large though not overwhelming number of those on the lists which the Stasi had with them to detain. The men and women on their lists were of multiple professions: (in Alphabetical order) bankers, businessmen, churchmen, civil servants, doctors, local politicians, military reservists, policemen, school teachers, and trade union members. Some of these were retired figures though most were active and played a role in the local community. Men under Fritsch's command had been tasked to assist in the searching for such people and then tasked to guard them until the Stasi either shipped them back across the IGB or dealt with them here in Neumünster.

Other civilians who weren't under arrest for 'crimes against the people' or whom the Stasi wished to use to their advantage needed the attention of the few armed men which Fritsch commanded too when they had their commercial property seized in the form of locations where food, clothing, electrical goods and vehicles were located. Construction equipment at a local site needed to be taken over so too did petrol garages where vehicle fuel was. There were food shops and also warehouses where more consumables were kept that needed to be secured. Functionaries with the Strauss Group wanted to go into schools, book-stores, libraries and even a video rental shop to remove certain materials from them; other efforts were made to make use of housing records at the town hall and the criminal files at the police station. The hospital was entered and wards cleared of those whose care it was decided wasn't urgent or 'in the people's interest'.

Strauss and his underlings reported again on what had changed since last night – nothing as far as Fritsch could tell – with regards to their efforts here before the fussy little man himself, a native of East Berlin, turned his attention to Fritsch. He of course wanted to know what 'progress' there was on the security situation here in Neumünster. Had the saboteurs been caught yet? Were they the same people who had been sniping yesterday from hidden locations and killed some of his officials? How many men did Fritsch have here in Neumünster because this was surely the centre of operations now in Holstein?

Fritsch wished he was back in bed with that company he had managed to find himself…

He didn't hesitate though: he told Strauss the truth. There were not enough men under his command for the entire operation. He had said as much when back at Schonberg before the invasion and repeated it again today. Neumünster was just one of many towns under occupation with Kiel expected to soon fall under military control and then maybe Lubeck and the much bigger Hamburg afterwards. What men he had under arms were not real soldiers and there certainly were nowhere near enough of them either for all of the tasks which they needed to carry out. He was a Luftstreitkrafte officer yet had taken enough combined arms warfare classes during the later stages of his career to know that such a large area as was currently occupied needed more men… also time.

There were far too many enemy soldiers who had been beaten in battle but brushed aside when the 8 MRD went charging northwards through Holstein. Their units were scattered with many men on their own, but they had weapons and training as to basic survival skills in the countryside. This was the most urgent problem which needed to be addressed rather than a few men with rifles in Neumünster who could soon give themselves away when they tried that again. In addition, those who had planted those bombs would now find guards – now put in place by Fritsch – who were far more alert. Most of his men were actually guarding the roads and presenting targets for those armed and in the countryside so they could make their first guerrilla moves and come out into the open.

What Strauss wanted of Fritsch's men was far too much attention paid in places such as Neumünster. Town-folk were generally unarmed and were used to their creature comforts; they would be hurt the most by the lack of electricity & running water, no access to alcohol and the movement restrictions on their person. In addition, they would soon be hungry too once what they had in their homes run out and the officially-sanctioned rationing by the new authorities began to bite. Informers would make themselves known by that point to do anything for further food and in fear too of recriminations: Fritsch reminded everyone that the fears of 'the Russians coming' that West Germans had needed to be played upon. He also stated that the security situation would improve with the locals once conscripted labour began – food would be dependent upon this – and hostages were taken for the sake of the local’s safety: female civilians would be the best for this.

He would make sure that the men under his command were going to do their job in supporting occupation operations. Anyone who decided to rape, loot or kill for no good reason would be punished as he wouldn't stand for this personally nor would it do any good for propaganda purposes in the long run.

Fritsch told them again though that he needed more men and time. Events of last night were unfortunate but had occurred and they could all learn from those incidents where more centralised security needed. This was not a task he had taken on lightly even with the limited resources given to him but he assured the arrogant little man from Berlin that was Strauss that they wouldn't see failure here because of him: this would be a model occupation.

What Fritsch didn't say that whilst he was here he would be enjoying life's little pleasures too. The young ladies were going to get to know him.

February 5th 1990
Halberstadt, East Germany

It had all been trickery, a deception on the grandest scale… and Oberst Schrader had fallen for the trap which the British Army had laid for him and his division.

When the main fighting of the day came to an end, after the light faded in the evening and the bitter cold of darkness returned, only then could Schrader see his folly in believing everything that his opponents had wanted him to see rather than stopping to think first before he had again thrown the 1 MRD into the attack. Had he done so, he might have saved a significant portion of his combat force being destroyed and thousands of lives lost for no gain at all.

He hadn't hesitated though and attacked westwards as per his orders… to his cost.

In combat with what intelligence said was elements of the British 4th Division, Schrader's division had appeared to have beaten their opponents backwards away from the IGB into their main defensive positions far back from the frontier. There had appeared to be large portions of the British division destroyed with their 20th Brigade especially believed to have suffered crippling damage; the 11th Brigade and the lighter 19th Brigade had not been encountered with the latter still believed to be caught in transit between their home bases and West Germany. Schrader's orders for today from the Soviet Second Guards Tank Army headquarters had to be push against the British lines looking for weaknesses and to exploit those as the 4th Division was believed to be short of men and cowed after the supposed thrashing its forward units had received yesterday.

Once there had come a little light in the sky, Schrader had elements of the 1 MRD move against the British before dawn. He had attempted to build upon yesterday's 'success' directly to the west by having the 1st Motorised Rifle Regiment move along the Innerste Valley in a northwestern direction as well as having the 3rd Motorised Rifle Regiment go across the broken ground away to the west in the direction of the River Leine were greater opposition was expected than the drive towards Hildesheim. Such moves left his tank regiment and the 2nd Motorised Rifle Regiment (the latter having being stalled yesterday and now in reserve) available for exploitation and countermoves.

Schrader had his reconnaissance units out on foot and in light vehicles. He had artillery barrages lead the attacks including the use of his multiple-barrelled rocket-launchers. Air support was on-call for fire support as well as scouting missions from the air. Everything had been in-place as it was the day beforehand when all that apparent success in getting the 1 MRD over the border in one piece and into enemy territory had occurred.

Schrader's intelligence staff had been fooled: the British were not beaten and were waiting for the East German Army to come at them again.

Some reports from forward scouts reported back worrying news though there were far more optimistic reports from others who Schrader would later realise saw what they wanted to see. Gaps were apparently open in the frontlines which junior officers ordered their men to advance through as they sent hasty reports higher up the chain of command. Schrader himself had been deceived by what was reported from the front as he had just wanted to follow his own orders as well as hoping for the best.

There had been ambushes made against his two attacking regiments. Advance guard elements had been allowed to pass before those were sprung in a fashion which not just brought the attacks to a stop at the front but struck along the length of their columns breaking apart the regiments. In the Innerste Valley, the advancing SPW-70 armoured vehicles carrying troops along with the T-55 tanks in support there were hit by flanking fire coming down from the northern high ground. Anti-tank missile teams on foot used cunning to avoid defensive fire and eliminate many vehicles. The response had been to fire back at distance but also close that gap with infantry detached from the main line of advance: such forces had run into minefields, more missiles and an enemy which wouldn't stand and fight. Losses were taken throughout the 1st Regiment and progress towards Hildesheim had to be abandoned due to those and then later in response to what occurred with the 3rd Regiment.

Tracked SP-2s (Soviet-designed BMP-1s constructed like much Landstreitkrafte equipment in Poland and Czechoslovakia) moved with further T-55s across the hilly countryside aiming to move down towards the Leine in the area north of Alfeld. Here again Schrader's men became unstuck as they first faced ambushes of light British armoured vehicles darting from cover to cover and sometimes over-watched with missilemen before there came the sudden presence of British tanks. Such vehicles might have been expecting supporting a few raiding forces but the majority were thought to be in dug-in positions behind earthworks guarding the strategically-important Leine… just as aerial reconnaissance had apparently shown.

That wasn't the case at all. A battalion-sized grouping of Chieftains appeared first and brought the 3rd Regiment to a halt before there came another fifty-plus tanks attacking from another direction: newer Challengers. SP-2s blew up in fireballs when struck with HESH rounds from the British tanks while armour-piercing projectiles achieved catastrophic mission kills upon T-55s. When returning fire, only missile shots from surviving SP-2s managed to get results for the 100mm guns on the East German tanks might as well have been peashooters against such armour as the Chieftains and Challengers had. When such tanks had been met yesterday they were operating in lesser numbers so the ineffectiveness of the T-55 to effectively fight back and responsibility having to fall to missile crews on other vehicles hadn't been such a major factor. With two battalions of tanks, supported by their own missile teams as well from other armoured vehicles, the British were victorious when they ripped apart the 3rd Regiment.

Order had broken down within the 3rd Regiment. The regimental commander had been too far forward and NATO were trained to go after command vehicles: those with extra antenna. The death of that man had come with the loss of two battalion commanders as well. Reinforcements with capable weapons hadn't been ordered forward and units in exposed positions hadn't been pulled back. Panic had filled the radio waves and it was something that those at Schrader's headquarters – trying to inject discipline over the airwaves from a distance – had failed to bring under control. Schrader's Operations Officer had put in a call for air support to the headquarters of the Soviet Fourth Air Army but that had been refused just as it had yesterday. He argued furiously with a senior Soviet 'liaison' officer about that, who had then promptly ordered the removal from command and arrest of one of the 1 MRD's most-capable officers right in the middle of the battle by PHV officers at Halberstadt.

Enemy air activity had focused at first upon the 1st Regiment but then moved to the 3rd Regiment when the British sprung their ambush. The divisional anti-air assets were overwhelmed by NATO air activity in the form of attack aircraft and combat helicopters. Radars were jammed and air defence vehicles themselves targeted so that strikes could be made from the skies against the 3rd Regiment.

Finally, after so much destruction had been wrought, and without coordination from Schrader's staff, the 3rd Regiment had started to withdraw piecemeal back in the direction of Salzgitter-Bad. Many smaller units had been left behind as the battlefield had been yielded to an enemy which reconnaissance afterwards showed had pulled back themselves in many places. Schrader had made a major error himself at this point in the battle by not listening to that worrying voice in the back of his head about having too many of his men in one general area. The roads around Salzgitter-Bad had been crammed with retreating formations running into his regiments he had kept in reserve and NATO had clearly paid attention.

A pair of low-flying strike aircraft had delivered bombs upon that town which had contained napalm. One of those Tornados in West German colours was downed afterwards by anti-aircraft missiles, but that was far too late. Hundreds of men died horrid deaths while others were left badly injured to tax his limited medical units. This bombing did more than just kill men, it also caused further panic that made sure that it would be a long time before many units would be combat capable again.

Raw numbers would later show that less than twenty per cent of the 1 MRD had been lost in two days of combat with the British; those losses calculated men and armoured vehicles (the latter including tanks). Schrader was informed by the Soviets that they wished for further advances to be made to try again against the British for the 1 MRD was certainly capable of doing so with 'so few' losses. He was told that the right wing of the Soviet Second Guards Tank Army was on the verge of breaking through the West German positions guarding entry onto the North German Plain and his division, plus the neighbouring Soviet 6th Guards, needed to maintain the pressure upon the British so their three other motorised rifle divisions and the tank division being held back to support them could race forward onto the Lüneburg Heath. There was a worry that maybe the Dutch would finally get into position, assisted by whatever American units had escaped the chemical attacks in the rear, and form up with the West Germans for a proper defence. Therefore, pressure had to be kept up to hold the British distracted from interfering.

Further political guidance was given – as welcome as that was – reminding Schrader of his duty to the Landstreitkrafte, his country and his country's allies: extra PHV functionaries were on their way.

What Schrader knew and those numbers didn't show was that the losses where they were against his division were crippling. His stronger 3rd Regiment had been smashed to pieces with his other two motorised rifle regiments stung by losses as well. Only his tank regiment of the combat-manoeuvre elements available was up to strength yet the capabilities of the T-55s which were in that formation had already been shown to not be enough when faced with what the enemy had to field. The 1 MRD's fire support assets in the form of its artillery had been targeted by effective counter-battery fire by the enemy on many occasions while the air defences hadn't worked as they should when the best that NATO could throw against them with their sophisticated aircraft.

He had no faith in the ability of his command to fight effectively again tomorrow and do any better than they had today. Yet those were his orders from above.

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Chapter Four – Prisoners Of War

February 6th 1990
Above central West Germany

Like all elements of the Nationale Volksarmee, the Luftstreitkrafte was a highly-politicised organisation where its activities were governed by socialist dogma coming from the ruling regime in East Berlin. To advance in rank within the Luftstreitkrafte, Hauptmann Esser had joined the Socialist Unity Party early on in his career and taken all of the necessary political theory courses as well as 'volunteered' for duties away from flying that involved politics. He would not have risen to the rank of captain had he not done so and certainly not be flying one of his country's most advanced combat aircraft either. Before the war began the other morning, he and his fellow officers – flying men and ground staff – with JG 3 had been treated to a healthy dose of political indoctrination on the eve of battle from senior figures with the PHV. Esser had nodded along like everyone else and looked serious enough while on the inside switching off as he always did. He had been certain that his comrades almost to a man did the same while there was a suspicion that he had that many of those with the PHV felt the same indifference: the ranks there were made up of military men who if they wanted to achieve promotion in their own branch of the armed forces served time within that political organisation.

Before flying again in the early hours today, Esser and those others who were getting airborne as part of a large-scale mission to the west were given another lengthy speech. A colonel came and spoke to them as a small group at the end of their final pre-mission briefing and spoke at length to 'remind' the Luftstreitkrafte pilots of their duty. He mentioned in vague terms about the importance of their mission from an operational side though went into depth concerning how much emphasis there was on 'fraternal Socialist unity' considering aircraft from other Warsaw Pact nations would be in the same skies. Apparently, other elements of the Nationale Volksarmee had in places not done what was expected of them and their failures had cost much to be lost. Treachery, cowardice and even desertion had been seen elsewhere and with this being wartime the punishment for such behaviour was 'summary justice' for those involved.

Such was what was said before half of JG 3 flew off into battle in the early hours.

Esser flew through terrible weather to reach the IGB just after four o’clock local time and then carried on heading westwards with his wingman alongside him. Further storms had been arriving off the distant ocean over the skies of Germany bringing rain, hail and high winds. The low, thick clouds which he flew his MiG-29 through could have been detoured around for the turbulence was unpleasant yet Esser was under the control of an airborne command-&-control aircraft (an A-50 in Soviet Air Force colours) which instructed him to fly right through those and did the same with other aircraft speeding towards the airborne battles already underway up ahead.

He could only infer that the intention was that his approach be partially hidden by bad weather.

Under the direct command of that bigger aircraft which mounted a powerful, long-range radar making distant observation possible, Esser's aircraft might as well have been on autopilot. He followed the exact course, speed and altitude as directed and had his own radar switched off as per the orders from there. Soon enough he would get orders to engage enemy aircraft yet only when it was decided by those airborne controllers and under their initial direction for engagements beyond visual range. Even when closing with opposing aircraft, he might also be under tight control as well with little freedom of movement. Since the initial air battles of the war's first day when down over Bavaria it had been this way for Esser. This was far from something which he liked yet he had no choice in the matter. The doctrine which the Luftstreitkrafte subscribed to, as written by the Soviets, was act in this manner as controllers removed from the battle itself weren't focused upon personal survival and had better access to information allowing for supposedly better judgements to be made.

Below Esser was northern Hessen. There was to be a major ground attack commencing there at first light by the Soviet Twentieth Guards Army, he had been briefed, where earlier gains over the past two days were meant to be followed up and West German resistance along the course of the lower reaches of the Fulda River overcome. In support of this, offensive air operations were underway at the moment to attack NATO ground forces (some Belgians and possibly Americans too were apparently fighting in the same area) at the frontlines and in their immediate rear areas. Esser was part of the fighter protection force for those ground attack aircraft with he and his wingman like many other flights on-hand to eliminate threats to those aircraft carrying bombs. No more information that that had been told to him for reasons of operational security less he be shot down, captured and interrogated yet he didn't really need to know any more of what was going on below him other than his immediate mission.

Minutes after entering the patrol area where Esser and his wingman were to make circles in the sky waiting for the word to go into action such orders came.

Esser was informed that a pair of NATO aircraft were approaching from the northwest. They were coming in fast and low on what appeared to be a mission to do just as feared and go after all of the attack aircraft below. Confirmation on their exact identities wasn't forthcoming though they were believed to be light fighters, possibly F-5s. Esser recalled his intelligence brief that such aircraft were flown by the Netherlands in the main though both the Americans and the Canadians had some too in service. A 20mm cannon was carried alongside up to four air-to-air missiles; the electronic combat systems on such aircraft weren't very up to date and if they were being flown by Dutchmen then Esser's intelligence summary had said that such aircraft were vastly inferior opponents.

Upon command, Esser energised his radar in the look-down/shoot-down mode as he armed one of his missiles. The Luftstreitkrafte had done much with the N019 radar supplied with the MiG-29 to improve initial problems; it was still far from the best system yet worked to an acceptable standard. Esser was able to spot the two aircraft hugging the contours of the ground as they flashed across the sky in the direction of Kassel and his wingman announced that he too had the same image. He then had to wait a few agonising seconds – what seemed like an eternity! – before the airborne controller back over East Germany gave permission for missiles to be launched.

Esser launched a single R-27 missile with his wingman doing the same.

There quickly came confirmation that the two targeted aircraft had been downed and Esser followed instructions to shut down his radar and resume his patrol station. He was happy at the success which he had achieved by the destruction of hostile aircraft and, as he always did, told himself to forget that there were people in those aircraft: instead they were just targets he was tasked to destroy.

The waiting came afterwards and so did frustration. Esser wanted to see further action in engaging more targets in the sky. With his radar off and the darkness outside, plus his radio being on the set channel for direct communications with control only, he had no idea of the current situation away from his aircraft. Had further NATO fighters approached the ground attack aircraft as they unleashed their waves of bombs? Were his other comrades with JG 3 engaging them or were other MiG-29s flown by Soviets doing the same as he had done and shooting off missiles at distance?

Not knowing what was happening caused all of these questions that Esser had. His discipline that had come with his training taught him that he was to at all time concentrate on flying his mission and keep his mind clear of idle speculation. He had his orders and what others were doing wasn't meant to be of concern to him.

Yet… Esser's mind drifted off again thinking about a battle which he was missing out on while he was unawares.

Then his threat receivers went off.

AIM-7 Sparrow missiles were inbound, the combat computer warned Esser, with a trio racing in from the south. Esser's training kicked in and he reacted just as he was meant to by breaking away to the right as he activated his active electronic jamming systems; his wingman was doing the same heading to the left. Esser slammed his throttle forward as well. The adrenaline was pumping through him, he knew, but he wasn't scared. He had been attacked like this the other day and survived. Luck was needed but he relied upon his training to keep him alive.

Unfortunately, his wingman had no such luck.

Esser caught the flash of the explosion out of the corner of his eye and then there was his wingman on the radio calling out that he had been hit. He wanted to know more though at the same time had to consider that there were still two further missiles in the sky and he had no idea where they were. The MiG-29 twisted and turned under his control as Esser dove for the ground now aiming to get as much speed as possible with his jammers on and the chaff now being automatically ejected helping as much as possible. He had the fear that he might pass out due to the unnatural G-forces by he remained conscious.

The wailing siren alerting him to the active radar lock by missile warhead seekers finally ceased and Esser set about recovering altitude as well as fixing his position. He had defeated those other missiles from striking his aircraft but now was the time to sort himself out before he blundered into a surface-to-air missile threat or was shot at by another aircraft.

As he did so, his wingman was back on the radio.

The other MiG-29 was fatally damaged with major damage done to the port wing from a radar-proximity fuse explosion. One engine was out too on the aircraft from that damage that Esser's fellow pilot could see though there was other less-visible but certainly fatal destruction elsewhere. Any second now there could be a further explosion, this time aboard the aircraft and so he was ejecting.

Esser listened to the quick goodbye given by his comrade and then there was no more sound on the radio. He was far away from where his wingman had ejected and thus observed nothing in these black skies.

Meanwhile, his fellow pilot was about to end up being a Prisoner of War… should he survive the ejection that was.

February 6th 1990
Hannover Airport, Langenhagen, West Germany

Hold on, the regimental commander had said as words of encouragement, hold on and the ground forces will soon be here to relieve us.

That message had been passed down the chain of command to the fighting men like Gefreiter Schmid who were manning the perimeter around the portion of West Germany which the 40 Luftsturmregiment tenaciously held on to against opposition that seemed to grow stronger all of the time. Artillery continued to batter the airport from a distance while there was constant fighting around the outskirts as enemy troops moved against the defences with small-scale attacks that nevertheless took their toll in lives lost.

Schmid had heard the rumours that the West Germans were bringing up heavier forces to finally move against him and his fellow paratroopers here with others whispering that should those promised ground forces ever arrive they would only find the corpses of the 40 Luftsturmregiment. Political indoctrination came hand-in-hand with combat training in this elite unit of the Landstreitkrafte and so Schmid tried not to listen to the words of rumourmongers, but that was difficult to do in a situation like this. He was constantly cold, tired and hungry with plenty of his fellow soldiers in the same way as they were seemingly trapped here outside Hannover. Sometimes the sergeants would shut the men up when they overheard too much loose talk though other times nothing was said. The men all wanted to fight – so did Schmid – but they didn't like the situation which they were in here.

Overnight, Schmid had been called over by Voller and assigned to leave the frontlines themselves and instead go out on a patrol.

All around the airport perimeter mines had been laid and anti-tank trenches dug in places yet the main lines of resistance for the 40 Luftsturmregiment were fortified strongpoints housing machine guns and man-portable rocket-launchers supported by riflemen. The area seized in the initial assault was too large for the small number of men here to cover in the traditional sense with a connecting series of trenches; the strongpoints gave the paratroopers flexibility to shift defensive fire as each position covered another and were the best option were there weren't thousands of men present. Schmid was ordered to leave the strongpoint where he had been fighting from and join two other men in leaving the safety of that position.

Other paratroopers regularly left to head away from the airport carrying weapons to engage the enemy in a proactive defence and early this morning Schmid joined them.

While primarily a rifleman, Schmid was trained as a grenadier too and had been taught how to use the RPG-18 weapon which the 40 Luftsturmregiment had among its multiple armaments. The rocket-launcher was easy to use once shown how by those already proficient in its use and perfect for engaging armoured or protected targets at close range. He was handed one of those weapons along with extra ammunition for his AKS-74 rifle when he was sent out with Hummels and Laas; between them they carried a heavier weapon and several reloads for that.

Hummels and Laas were trained as missilemen and were with the regimental anti-tank battery. Schmid barely knew either of them before the assault upon Hannover Airport and had seen neither since their arrival. He had observed other pairs of men laden with man-portable missile-launchers and a loader carrying further armaments leave the occupied area during his time here and seen those pairs go out with one or two riflemen to support them.

Today he was one of the latter.

Laas was the senior of the three of them and in-charge of their mission. He was the spotter/loader for the Metis weapon which Hummels carried with two reloads inside his pack as well as being laden with his rifle too. His partner followed his lead without question as Laas took him and Schmid away from their airport grounds and into the outskirts of Langenhagen. There was a light industrial area to the east of the airport, from where much firing at the paratroopers had come over the past couple of days, and that was where Laas headed.

Schmid saw more bodies and other wreckage of war. He was fully alert because he felt the danger in what they were doing as they moved from cover to cover getting further and further away from the safety of their comrades and heading towards where the enemy was. Quickly, he started to mentally refer to Laas as 'the Eagle' due to the manner in which the man carried himself. There were the constant watching eyes open for danger but at the same time graceful bounds forward from one position to another as burnt-out vehicles and blasted buildings were moved past. Schmid kept up with him as he didn't want to be left behind especially since he was soon unsure of exactly the way back and knew that there was safety in numbers. There was no conversation between them as they moved apart from the occasional whispered command and harsh warnings for Hummels and Schmid to keep their heads down.

Artillery fire soon broke the silence and Schmid was glad of that. The West Germans were wrecking Hannover Airport more thoroughly than he could ever imagine the 40 Luftsturmregiment doing as they blasted everything in sight from ruined buildings to already-smashed aircraft to the torn-up runaways. It was much more intense than usual, he thought, with a continued barrage from many more guns than they would normally use. There was rain coming down now too and Schmid felt the water from the skies splashing on his face. He was already sodden right through after all of the bad weather being here for the past few days without proper rest nor a chance to change out of his used uniform and so was getting used to that. He observed Laas smiling as the skies started to unleash a downpour and assumed that with the ongoing artillery strike plus the rain their chances of remaining undetected were probably greater increased.

Further and further they moved to the east as they went through and around buildings. There was no sign of anyone present either military or civilian though Schmid had to doubt that there would be any ordinary West Germans here so close to the East German held territory where he had left most of his comrades behind. There had to be enemy soldiers in this area though but Laas clearly knew a way through their lines. Schmid overhead him say something about a railway track to Hummels though as he himself hadn't seen a map of the area he knew nothing of that…

...then they were there.

A tank sat next to the railway track, partially hidden by a fallen tree. Schmid spotted the exposed barrel and several men round it. Laas meanwhile had told them all to quickly find cover and then said to Hummels that the tank was an 'M-48'.

Schmid crouched behind the other two, off to the side as he had been told to avoid the back-blast, as they lined-up their shot. A short tripod was set up on the ground and Hummels lowered his weapon onto that while arming the weapon. Laas was beside him as he did this saying something that Schmid couldn't hear. He assumed they were talking about where exactly to aim the Metis at or possibly discussing whether they would quickly reload and take a second shot. He didn't know either way but he had his own job which was to keep his eyes open on the surrounding area. If there was a tank with its crew up-ahead there would certainly be other West Germans in the general area as well.

He couldn't see any others though.

After a quick call that he was firing – the loudest noise the three of them had made all morning – there was an almighty crash an instant later when the West German tank crewed by reservists was struck. The trailing command wire guided the missile the short distance across and down to the target where the 94mm diameter warhead then exploded against the turret on the left-hand side.

Unconsciously, Schmid shut his eyes milliseconds after the flash caused by the impact. He heard the near instant roar but missed the sight of the first explosion that tore apart much of the target. It was certainly frightening yet at the same time it was exhilarating as well.

Laas shouted at Schmid to get up and get moving; clearly he had no time to wait around caught up in the excitement. The RPG-18 strapped to his back dug into his lower spine and Schmid winced for a moment but the urgency of the situation as evident by the machine gun fire which he could now hear made him carry on getting up and running back the way that they had come. Schmid didn't have time to accurately judge where it was coming from but he knew that someone was returning fire and it wasn't the right time now to hang around here.

Moving fast, Laas lead them into an empty warehouse. They went through the open doorway that they had previously gone through and then across the open space running for the fire exit at the rear. Schmid didn't dare look back behind him less he loose time during the escape and instead concentrated on running as fast as he could and not getting left behind here. He had his rifle and his rocket-launcher but he was in enemy territory with no idea about his opponent's strength or positions so he ran like his comrades were.

There was a man outside the back of the warehouse. Schmid saw him just after Hummels and Laas did as they came out of the door first. He was a West German soldier, a short man who appeared to be in his early thirties, who was standing there with his own rifle leaning against the wall. There was a puddle of liquid on the pavement: the man had been relieving himself when Schmid and his fellow paratroopers had run right into him.

The soldier pleaded for them not to shoot. He appeared to be on the verge of tears and called out for their humanity to spare him. Speaking with great urgency, the West German declared that as he had been captured he had the right to be treated as a prisoner of war with his international rights respected.

Schmid didn't know what to do. The soldier couldn't be taken with them as a prisoner but he certainly wasn't going to see the man shot. Such things had happened the other day when some armed West Germans had been killed after surrendering at Hannover Airport. That had offended Schmid personally but he had been in no position to do anything about it. One of those prisoners back at the airport might have even shot Joachim when they first landed yet it still didn't matter.

Prisoners shouldn't be shot for no reason!

Laas solved the issue for them. He threw a punch at the prisoner which struck the man in the jaw and then snatched his G3 rifle before calling for Hummels and Schmid to follow him and get out of here.

Schmid would have to admit that it was probably the best thing to do. Nothing else could have been done with the situation as it was at that moment and while the violence was unfortunate, the prisoner hadn't been killed and surely would survive.

February 6th 1990
West Berlin

The Soviets with their mass of T-64 tanks had broken through the American's main defences this morning, so said the rumours which Feldwebel Weiss had heard, and they were running amok with their own motorised rifle units struggling to keep up.

That made sense as elements of the Felix Dzerzhinsky Guard Regiment were tasked now to do the necessary infantry work in support of the Soviets. Weiss had been instructed that this would mean that he and his men would be following behind hunting for enemy troops which had been bypassed but who were still armed and dangerous. Others would be guarding the flanks of the advance or supporting it directly but Weiss was to operate directly in the rear going building-to-building looking for dangerous threats.

It didn't appear that anyone wanted a firing squad today to eliminate any more surrendered policemen and so Weiss was happy enough to follow orders despite knowing that there would be great dangers going into combat. The Americans which they were up against, never mind the propaganda, would be real soldiers… where he and his men only paramilitaries.

They were in the Lichterfelde District, near the McNair Barracks. That large military facility had been utterly destroyed Weiss and the others observed as they arrived outside there and dismounted from their vehicles. Artillery, rockets and bombs had fallen upon the complex of buildings which lay very near to The Wall though it hadn't been fought over directly. The soldiers from McNair Barracks had tried to defend against the onslaught of Soviet armour elsewhere in the American Sector of West Berlin with them leaving their garrison before the start of hostilities. They had fought across Lichterfelde and their lines, such as they were, had retreated back to the north and the northwest.

The company in which Weiss served was going into the garrison to make sure that there had been no soldiers left behind along with any weapons either.

Leutnant Platz spoke to the men before they went inside. He briefly informed the men that they were hear to search for enemy soldiers who might still be present and to look for any weapons too: they were not here for anything else. No personal property was to be interfered with in any way either as the punishment for looting still stood. There was to be no loitering either as they needed to move on as soon as this task was done with to move through other areas. Caution was to be employed during their quick search; there wasn't believed to be the threat of bobby-traps but an awful lot of ordnance had been dropped upon the buildings making them dangerous.

Other men were moving through offices, the arms depots and the motor pool while their Leutnant was taking them through accommodation areas.

With his rifle pointing ahead of him, Weiss entered one of the big buildings alongside his squad. They went in through a shattered doorway and along a corridor which had several doors leading off it into small dormitories. Pointing left and right at one door after another, Weiss sent one of his soldiers into each of them. They were instructed by him to conduct a brief search and to hurry back.

He stood in the corridor with the majority of the men as others broke away and returned. No one called out that they had anything worthy of note rather than empty bunks. Wanting to see things for himself, Weiss swung his gaze over one of the dormitories after his man had been through the room. He saw the unmade beds, the mess on the floors and the open lockers. In his opinion, he didn't think that they had been the first soldiers to come through here as it looked like undisciplined other soldiers had already been busy here making their own searches and ones which had been more thorough than he had his men do.

Weiss observed a smashed bottle of what appeared to be vodka on the floor of that dormitory and also some sort of electronic device which might have been stood on too; the latter had headphones attached which also looked crunched underfoot.

Along another corridor they went and Weiss sent the man again through rooms where Americans soldiers had made what homes they could make of their dormitories while they were stationed here. His men reported back that they were empty of the enemy and had been through by others first though there was war damage in these places with most of the windows either shot-in from gunfire or blown-in from nearby explosions.

Further evidence of the damage done to McNair Barracks came as Weiss moved further inside this large multi-story building. One whole side of the building had been knocked down with a staircase and elevator bank smashed to pieces. There was fire damage on the first floor above and then great damage done by the roof collapsing in several other portions of the building. Weiss had been instructed to not put his men in danger for no reason and so where they might be at risk of injury from fallen parts of the structure.

There was some evidence of looting taking place in other dormitories where Weiss had his men look. They found no American soldiers or their weapons just more sleeping areas where someone had quickly rifled through looking for valuables. Weiss wondered who would have done so with the penalties known by everyone – East German and Soviet alike – for doing so. Before the war had opened and the first moves made against West Berlin, the message that such a thing was unacceptable had been repeated several times alongside reminders not to rape or kill civilians either… in the latter case unless it was ordered as Weiss had unfortunately found out for himself.

More searching took place but the results of their hunt brought about nothing or interest; that wasn't the case outside afterwards.

Platz had his platoon meet up in an open area before going into another building with that one more damaged than the others so an engineer was first assessing it from outside. Meanwhile, Weiss watched his officer called away and over to a parked vehicle. That was a truck that certainly wasn't one of theirs and appeared to belong to the Americans. Weiss could see several officers gathered around the rear and staring inside. Curiosity overtook him and he went that way to see if he could see what had taken the attention of the officers.

There was a woman in the back. She was partially in military fatigues and positioned face-down in the rear of the truck with blood all around here from injuries which seemed to have been fatal for there was no sign of movement. Weiss didn't need to be told what had happened to her either before or possibly after her death as the state of undress that she was in told him that.

Again, like the looting which had taken place, he didn't believe that men with the Felix Dzerzhinsky Guard Regiment had committed such an act as had occurred there. Events of 1945 were being played out again here in Berlin in 1990 this time not with female German civilians but with women soldiers captured and not treated as the prisoners of war which they were.

Into that other accommodation building – the one which was majorly damaged – their Leutnant had them move into afterwards. Platz hadn't discussed what he himself and his sergeant that was Weiss had observed back at the truck when giving the order though Weiss could see that the officer hadn't been impressed at all.

Both men now knew that it had been Soviet soldiers here first before them.

February 6th 1990
Eisfeld, East Germany

Oberleutnant Korner was glad to be back across the IGB and away from Neustadt. Not long after he had departed there this morning, the Americans had counter-attacked in that area to retake the lost West Germany territory and Neustadt had apparently been engulfed in gas which had been used to kill as many East German soldiers in the area as possible.

He had left his temporary engineering duties behind and instead been chosen as the only unneeded officer available to escort a small party of captive soldiers back into East Germany. The way that he understood it was that most of the 4 MRD was being disbanded after the beating it had taken on the war's first day with surviving elements condensed into a brigade so his services weren't needed as the Landstreitkrafte had it's own engineers. Instead, it appeared that someone had decided that as a Grenztruppen officer he had experience handling prisoners and so was suited for the role he was given.

That certainly wasn't the case at all… but who was he to argue with a direct order from a superior officer in times like this when discipline was being as ruthlessly implemented as it was.

There were seventeen prisoners in the custody of a pair of sergeants, eight junior riflemen and now Kroner as their officer. These were American and West German soldiers captured in battle and who had already survived a couple of days of captivity near when they had been taken prisoner but who were now being transported deep into the rear.

The convoy of two trucks and the staff car stopped in Eisfeld to go through several checkpoints. Up ahead was the road to Suhl where the captured enemy were to be taken though that was past these roadblocks manned by the Kommandantendienst (KD) and deep inside the Thüringenwald. Those armed KD personnel who Korner led his party past were military policemen checking for infiltrators and deserters. As he expected, they had plenty of questions as to what someone like him was doing heading into the rear with enemy soldiers. One of his sergeants was questioned by the KD as well with regard to Korner's authenticity; he was forced to let the insult go for this wasn't the time to get openly offended and cause a scene.

First one and then a second roadblock was passed. Korner had taken them down small, country lanes away from what he expected to be an onrush of traffic along the bigger ones though it still felt like he was swimming against the tide with so many vehicles going the other way towards a battlefield where he believed that an utter defeat had been dealt to those Nationale Volksarmee elements employed in battle there. Besides the roadblocks there were sights to be seen that took his attention. He had far too much time to wait and observed the corpses of his fellow East Germans who it appeared had been shot by the KD when they had tried to move through these roadblocks. Those were soldiers like he was, in other branches of the military, who had fallen afoul of the restrictions on movements.

Maybe those men had deserved to be shot? Maybe they were frightened and running away from battle? Or… had they failed to have the necessary paperwork and not given the right answers to questions put to them and unfairly shot?

Korner didn't know.

There was a third roadblock before Korner could get away from the small town which was Eisfeld and all of the military activity around it. There were not military policemen here but instead this was manned by the Stasi supported by a detachment of civilian-paramilitary police. There were no corpses left out in the open to rot as well as to intimate those who observed them though Korner knew that there was more danger here from such people as these. The KD would just shoot someone they suspected of running away or engaging in behaviour which they deemed inappropriate in wartime: the Stasi would arrest, torture and only then kill anyone they detained… as well as that man's family too should they feel the need. Neither he nor any of his men had done anything wrong though he was more than just apprehensive when he reached their blockade of the road.

“Korner?” The senior Stasi officer had his documentation. “Is that you?”

“Yes, it is.” His photograph was on the documentation and that image could depict no one but him with the features he believed he was blessed with.

“Can you get out of the vehicle, Oberleutnant? I will need your men and prisoners to dismount too.”

Initially, the Stasi officer of equal rank had spoken with a harsh tone though it softened somewhat when Korner gave him that affirmative answer in a manner which he could only guess had swayed the man enough. Regardless, when Korner was asked to get out of his vehicle and to have those under his command and custody do the same there was still no doubt that this was an order which the secret policeman expected to be obeyed to the fullest.

Korner himself had only got a brief look at the prisoners before they left West Germany to come back north as they had already been in the trucks and the assigned enlisted men were only waiting for an officer before they moved. Now he could see the captured enemy as they were forced out of the vehicles which they had been in and made to stand beside the road in the cold but bright sunshine. Some of them had struggled to get up on their feet and others struggled now to remain standing when they were 'inspected' as they were here by the Stasi.

There were visible wounds to several of them that didn't appear to have been all directly inflicted in combat; black eyes certainly weren't something that Korner would expect a soldier to get unless he was unlucky and he counted five of the prisoners with such wounds. Another soldier carried his arm in a makeshift sling while two more looked like they had suffered wounds to their lower limbs that he wouldn't see. Korner couldn't speak English though – of course – he spoke the native German which the West German prisoners did and understood them when they pleaded for water, food and medical care for them and their comrades.

“Have the prisoners all been searched for hidden weapons? Have any made any attempt to escape? Were they processed at the frontline for pertinent intelligence that they might know?”

The Stasi officer didn't look at the prisoners of war as his men poked and prodded them with the ends of their rifles, especially the badly beaten black American soldiers, but instead was inches away from Korner. He was looking for deceit yet he would find nothing but confident answers to those questions.

“All of them were searched after capture and before transit too. All were spoken to at the frontlines and none have tried to escape either. These are low category prisoners who are to go to the Suhl facility.”

A smile came to the man: a thoroughly false expression that didn't fool Korner at all.

“Load them back up in the trucks then,” he said with an air of rightful authority, “and carry on with your duties, Korner.

I wish you a good day.”

February 6th 1990
Near Willich, West Germany

There were many different forms of being a prisoner of war. Leutnant Haas hadn't been forced to this stretch of the Rhineland at gunpoint nor was he bound or subject to torture. He couldn't leave those he was with though, the enemy soldiers all around him, and that made him their captive as far as he saw it. He wanted now to return to the East and be back among his own kind rather than here in one of the other side's major headquarters.

He could only do that after the British-led NORTHAG headquarters had visited Field Deployment Site #6 though… somewhere where they had yet to establish a twenty-four hour base-camp at. Once he received word that it was to that supposedly-secure location outside Krefeld, Haas would follow his orders and send word to the commando team lying in wait there before making his escape on a long journey back towards home. These people that he worked with, the NATO staff officers and general officers, would all no longer be present for him to have to endure as they fought their war against his countrymen and those of East Germany's allies.

The waiting was tiresome and Haas desperately wanted to leave yet he had his orders and the price of disobeying them would be costly indeed.

While he was at NORTHAG's headquarters, Haas held plenty of knowledge in his head that he knew would be mighty useful for his own side. He wasn't part of the intelligence or operations teams here yet he still had plenty of access to information in a place where information was meant to be secure but still people talked. If there was a way in which he could communicate that onwards to his comrades on the other side of the distant frontlines, then he surely would for he knew that much of what he had heard and witnessed here was gold-plated intelligence for Warsaw Pact forces striving to defeat NATO's armies in northern Germany and secure victory. Communication of this intelligence was impossible though with all of the radio security; Haas was going to have enough trouble making simple contact one time only with the commandoes which lay in wait nearby.

What he would have told his comrades should he had been able to would in his opinion have influenced the battles which he was seeing fought from afar and, again like a prisoner held by his enemy, unable to do anything about.

The opening chemical barrage launched against NATO forces under NORTHAG command had caused them plenty of losses in terms of men, equipment and morale too. No one here had expected such an intensive barrage like the one delivered and hadn't believed that it would occur when it did either. The mixing of so many different forms of chemicals and how they were used in the rear rather than at forward defensive positions – the latter where there was less preparation on the part of the men on the ground in their target zone – had truly come as a surprise. In addition, the fears of further attacks on such a scale in the rear areas hampered NATO operations as the equipment the men wore to protect themselves as well as the dispersal efforts too were like a dead-weight tied to the ankles of much of NORTHAG.

In terms of the damage done by such a barrage, losses had been most apparent at several of the POMCUS sites for American reinforcements planned to operate in the north of West Germany as well as the garrisons of the Dutch Army. Both the United States and the Netherlands had significant heavy ground forces meant to support NORTHAG which should have moved into place right after the war erupted but were now still disorganised not just by the direct effects of all the chemicals unleashed but the caution employed afterwards as well as the associated civilian losses near to the targeted locations. Where airbases had been struck at by chemicals when the war had opened there had too come casualties in men and aircraft, but these hadn't been anywhere near as effective as hitting reinforcements sites full of arriving men and which were surrounded by civilians who suffered the worst effects of chemical warfare and needed urgent assistance.

The result of this was what Haas knew about the state of NORTHAG now on the war's third day. On the frontlines, the West Germans and the British, joined by some Belgians on their extreme southern flank, were fighting hard and successfully managing to defend the areas where they had long practised fighting over. They were holding their ground and undertaking small-scale counterattacks to break-up the advances of the heavily-reinforced Soviet Second Guards Tank Army. However, they were being worn down and were on the verge of breaking soon unless they withdrew far backwards: the attacking Soviet and East German troops had taken their own staggering losses yet their operational commanders seemed appeared to be able to take those losses while their NATO opponents were concerned about conserving their forces. When the West German I Corps on the left and the British I Corps on the right withdrew – which was a when not an if – then behind them NORTHAG remained without a powerful counterattack force to go up against the exploitation force which was the Soviet Third Shock Army behind them.

Both the West Germans and the British each had a single combat division (the 7th Panzer and 3rd Armoured Division's respectively) to spare while there was too a mixed American-Dutch division as well (based upon the US 2nd Armored Division). Haas knew the locations of these and their force composition – where they were weak especially – which he knew would be of interest to the Warsaw Pact high command. There were other reinforcements, primarily Americans and British on their way and their embarkation areas on the European continent, their numbers and the general plans for them were known to him. Moreover, his gained intelligence also told him about how the French had been committed into central and southern parts of West Germany rather than to NORTHAG – a decision made by the French government – rather than to the North German Plain.

Further information he had picked up concerned action to be taken against the remaining pockets of Soviet and East German airmobile forces that held rear-area bridgeheads inside NORTHAG's operational theatre. He knew about the 63rd Home Defence Brigade moving against his countrymen at Hannover Airport and the West Germans also pushing their 52nd Brigade (both were in effect panzergrenadier formations) against Soviet paratroopers holding parts of Bremerhaven as well as Cuxhaven and Nordholz Airbase. There was the remains of a Soviet independent airmobile brigade still active around Celle and while the bridges over the Aller River there were down, the crossing sites were still in Soviet hands; Haas knew that the West Germans were about to send some of their own paratroopers there to eliminate their counterparts less a breakthrough be made along the Elbe-Seitenkanal to link up with them.

The Elbe-Seitenkanal – the Elbe-Lateral Canal – generally defined where the frontlines where the bulk of the Second Guards Tank Army was fighting the majority of the regular West German forces under NORTHAG control. This narrow waterway running north-south behind the IGB connected the Elbe to the east-west Mittellandkanal as part of the important waterway connections of West Germany. Along the former waterway, the canal had been crossed in many places with significant numbers of Soviet troops over it in number. They had yet to truly break the defensive line which the West German I Corps had that followed the course of the waterway though as the Second Guards Tank Army couldn't yet concentrate enough forces on the western side due to air strikes and localised counterattacks on the ground. Haas knew about further artillery and anti-tank forces heading that way in addition to the planned increase in daylight air activity by NATO air forces there tomorrow morning when the weather was almost certain to finally clear up.

Haas wasn't at NORTHAG headquarters to relay operational intelligence like this though. The cloned identity which he had of a West German military reservist only put him in a position to relay the movement of this command to a certain location just once to those waiting to eliminate it. He wanted to do so much more but was unable to do anything else but wait until there was movement to Site #6.

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 07, 2018 5:37 pm 

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Chapter Five – Breakout

February 7th 1990
The North Sea

“Aircraft alarm!”

Fregattenkapitan Wolke had been staring with continued concern at the message form which gave him the new orders that had recently arrived and pondering how best to enact them when the shouted warning across the Control Compartment suddenly refocused his attention.

Wolke spun on his heels towards the Air Defence Officer: “Report, Leutnant Lange!”

“Kapitan, unidentified aircraft fourteen kilometres to the northeast. Bearing: zero-three-nine. Course: west-south-west. Speed: six hundred.”

“That is an American P-3 and it is coming almost straight for us.” The Halle's Operations Officer let the fear show in his voice for Wolke to detect there.

Wolke had little time to react but his training kicked in. The aircraft had appeared from nowhere but would soon be upon them. There was no time for indecision or even to try to hide: not from an aircraft with as much advanced systems as the one coming straight towards his ship.

“All crew to combat stations at once!” He called out as he kept his voice calm despite the growing sense of dread at the fate he would suffer should he be wrong. “Leutnant Lange, arm two Romb missiles and prepare the fire-control radars but wait for my command to open fire.”

“Yes, Kapitan.”

Wolke turned to another officer who held the rank aboard of Leutnant zur See, the backbone of his officer make-up: “Leutnant Moelders, what do you have?”

“Nothing at all!” There was concern there from the Electronic Warfare Officer too. “Kapitan, our systems detect nothing!”

Maybe Wolke could have paused and waited until the aircraft came close enough for its identity to be firmly established. It was still dark outside though in the pre-dawn morning and so without a visual confirmation it would only be when the aircraft used it's radar that it could be ascertained whether it was hostile or friendly. Wolke wasn't in the Landstreitkrafte where he was sure that his comrades in the East German Army would shot down an aircraft first and ask questions (if all) afterwards but he had no time to spare here. Should the inbound aircraft spot him even if it didn't attack it could easily make a radio call.

He had no choice with the distance closing as fast as it was but to engage. The chance of a friendly aircraft being out here where he was sailing was remote with so many NATO aircraft active over the North Sea that only a fighter aircraft could survive the current situation, not a maritime patrol model.

Wolke hoped he was right.

“Activate the radars, Leutnant Lange.”

The reply came instantaneously: “Radars coming on-line.” They had been in standby mode so there was only a very short pause. “Target acquired.”

“Open fire!”

“Firing, Kapitan.”

A pair of Romb missiles erupted from the Zif-122 launcher and lanced into the sky. Topside there would have been the flashes of light from the rocket-motors, the deafening roar of the missiles firing and plenty of smoke afterwards though here in the Control Compartment, deep inside the Halle, there was none of that as they were isolated from the outside.

Wolke watched on the radar display as the two missiles zeroed-in upon their prey. He had fired two in case one missed at a time when it wouldn't have been advisable to see such a thing occur with the danger posed to his ship. The distance between them and the target closed rapidly and there was movement on the part of the aircraft in the final few seconds before impact as Wolke assumed that the missiles had been detected and the aircraft made a vain attempt to evade.

The trio of radar tracks merged and then there were many more.

“Both missiles have impacted the target, Kapitan.” Leutnant Lange sounded very relieved indeed.

Wolke could see that but there was something more pressing which needed to be addressed. “Leutnant Moelders, report.”

“Radio broadcast made from the aircraft: encoded transmission. American or American-origin equipment used and transmission cut short.” Some relief was evident in his voice too and Wolke thought he detected some confidence as well. The electronic warfare systems on the Halle were far from modern but basic enough to give information such as that.

“Release the crew from combat stations.”

Wolke ordered a stand-down of the men who had scrambled to their battle positions at the guns, the anti-submarine weapons and more-importantly damage control duties. For now, they had escaped the enemy's attention and needed to get back to their work at keeping the ship underway and heading east as their orders stated.

Those orders had come an hour ago, before the aircraft had suddenly been detected. Wolke had read between the lines of them and seen that his superiors were again trying to use his ship as a sacrifice to attract the attention of the enemy. He was furious at such a thing yet at the same time understood why.

Initially, the Halle had been sent unescorted and under-armed for the North Sea mission where he was supposed to hunt NATO submarines in waters surrounded on all sides by the enemy. He knew that the aim was to have NATO focus their attention on him though he had instead been lucky and rather hunting submarines he had been evading detection from the air or enemy surface contacts. He was technically following his orders as his anti-submarine systems were active yet he wasn't going where those might be as he hadn't been told to. That luck could have ended just now when the aircraft appeared but the Halle was fortunate enough to have detected it first.

That was all about to change now with the new mission orders.

Wolke had been informed that the United Baltic Fleet – what remained of that anyway after its battles in the Danish Straits – was conducting a breakout through the Oresund into the Kattegat, the Skagerrak and the North Sea beyond. To assist in this, any surviving warships and submarines in the North Sea already were to converge upon the Baltic Exits with haste and to engage any targets on their way there to apparently distract the NATO defences by taking those in the rear.

This was an order which Wolke couldn't circumvent as he had firm instructions to reach the Skagerrak by nightfall. His only options were to choose a course of his own but he still had to fulfil that timetable which the United Baltic Fleet wanted.

The Halle, as far as he was concerned, was doomed once it moved to support that breakout there.

February 7th 1990
Schladen, West Germany

Oberst Schrader watched the destruction of the 1 MRD from inside West Germany as he had his mobile command post here this morning on occupied enemy territory.

The fighting took place some distance away across the high-ground between Schladen and the Leine River around Alfeld with this small town being judged a safe location for the divisional headquarters to be temporarily located whilst that was ongoing. Schrader knew that to go any further forward with all of the command vehicles and communications vehicles that came with him would almost guarantee the hostile attention of the enemy; this was as far as he could reasonably come into West Germany.

His men at the front shared none of the safety from enemy attack that he had. Again and again throughout the morning, Schrader was forced to order them to keep on attacking no matter what against prepared enemy positions and an opponent who were now masters of the counterattack. The British were tearing apart the 1 MRD and he could do nothing but observe the death of its remaining combat and combat supporting elements from a short distance away.

It was pure torture.

Polkovnik Andrei Fyodorovich Korovin was responsible for the destruction of the 1 MRD as Schrader's soldiers died to keep British attention focused upon them. The Soviet Army colonel (Polkovnik was equal in rank to that of Oberst) was not someone who Schrader could successfully argue with and his verbal instructions were those that sent the division attacking as it did in what was a slow but very violent death for this premier formation of the Landstreitkrafte. Those orders apparently came down from above, originating at the Soviet Second Guards Tank Army headquarters at Gardelegen, yet Schrader regarded Korovin as enjoying issuing them far too much.

From Salzgitter-Bad, the 1 MRD had attacked westwards. Those attacks in the past few days to the north and the northwest and yesterday's small-scale raiding actions had all failed, Korovin claimed, to gain enough attention from the enemy and what was needed was a full-scale attack with all of the division's massed strength pushed in one drive towards the Leine where the geography of that stretch of the valley there around Alfeld could be best put to use. The crippling losses suffered in the past three days had been discounted by the Polkovnik as reasons to not attack and instead decreed to be a reason to attack for he said the British would believe that the 1 MRD was incapable of offensive action when in fact it was.

Schrader had been unable to convince the man otherwise and had to bow to the Soviet's authority since he came from Gardelegen directly to have the 1 MRD attack as they were so that the main body of the field army could have their breakout. Korovin attempted to sooth the pain by saying that the 1 MRD was fighting for the cause of Socialism and that the Soviet 6 GMRD to the right was doing the same against dug-in opposition too, yet Schrader doubted the sincerity of the man.

It was just the same as the day before last.

At Bad Salzdetfurth and Brockenem, villages on the way to Alfeld where Schrader had what remained of his two combat-capable motorised rifle regiment get as far as before they came to a halt, there was a slaughter of East German soldiers. Reports flooded into his command post from regimental and battalion commanders before those ceased and their deputies in-turn made contact with the news that their former superiors were killed or missing. Further officers in commanding positions down the chain were soon out of contact as the British followed NATO doctrine in concentrating on eliminating command-&-control. Chaos came instead when those in charge were no longer active as their subordinates were unable to fulfil the roles of those vanquished. Some withdrew without orders, others attacked without proper support while more used their radios too much and suffered for it. Armoured vehicles and tanks were blown up and when fire was returned it was far too often inaccurate and even when on target British tanks were shown to be invulnerable as they had been before. Where there was first some success with the fire support from the artillery regiment, that 1 MRD formation shared the same fate soon enough as the howitzer batteries with the attacking regiments in meeting counter-battery fire that caused devastation. There were aircraft over the frontlines, British Harriers with their bombs and cannon pods especially, which the divisional air defence assets couldn't combat effectively allowing those aircraft to do even more damage.

When Schrader was ordered to commit his tank regiment, he considered that moment the end of the 1 MRD as an organised combat force. Instead of being sent forward to exploit a breakout as doctrine called for, the ninety T-55s of the 1st Tank Regiment were instead used as fire support for the dismounted infantry attacking around Brockenem. There the regiment was broken down into company-sized elements striking in all directions to supposedly overwhelm the British there…

However, it was the 1st Tank Regiment which was overwhelmed by concentrated air attacks in the final approach – several flights of American A-10 aircraft made an appearance with their cannons firing 30mm depleted-uranium shells – and then anti-tank missile teams covering the roads and countryside all around that village. When MILAN missiles slammed into T-55s, the impacted tanks blew up in immense fireballs while the others would disperse from their line of advance. This would bring them straight into the path of other enemy missile teams waiting in ambush as well as minefields which the British had scattered all around Brockenem.

It was apparent that the British had been planning to defend this area not just for a few days but many long years indeed.

After the arrest the other day of the former divisional operations officer after arguing with Korovin's predecessor, the rest of the headquarters staff hadn't attempted to dissuade the Polkovnik as Schrader did. He knew that he had the rank to attempt to make the man see sense and not have the 1 MRD destroyed for nothing; his staff had kept their own counsel and just followed orders.

The climate of fear present here was something else that Schrader could do nothing about. Every officer in uniform now apparently knew that the PHV was keen to arrest and make an example of anyone that they could for as little excuse as possible. Away from the death and destruction at the frontlines with his men engaged in battle, Schrader was forced to watch helplessly as his division was destroyed here in the rear too. The staff officers at the 1 MRD's headquarters were those he knew well with some very capable people here and a lot of talent wearing the uniform of the Landstreitkrafte.

Schrader's command was being annihilated in so many forms.

He had to ask himself was it all worth it? Why was his country allowing this to be done to it's military forces and those who served within it?

Korovin spoke of that 'Socialist Unity' between allies and the senior PHV officer echoed that view yet Schrader was now seeing it was all to do with making sure that the Soviets had their victory along the Elbe-Seitenkanal; they were sacrificing the lives of East Germans here for Soviet lives there.

February 7th 1990
Kommando Landstreitkrafte, Geltow, East Germany

Generaloberst Ulrich had flown back to his headquarters from the Western-TVD command bunker beneath the Ziegelroda Forest in a Mil-2 helicopter. The little aircraft had been chosen by Ulrich for the speed in which he could get back to Geltow as well as being able to avoid the traffic jams of vehicles moving along all roads heading westwards as movement in that direction was prioritised over everything heading in the other direction. This was especially important considering how much damage NATO air attacks had done to the transportation network inside East Germany bringing down bridges; their bombing had made so many routes only one-way now.

The urgency in the task directed of Ulrich was another factor in flying as his orders were to return back to his headquarters near Potsdam and make sure that the Polish Front was able to move forward as fast as possible towards the area where the all-important breakout which had been made along the Elbe-Seitenkanal.

Penetration of the West German defences guarding entrance to the Lüneburg Heath for the Soviet Second Guards Tank Army had occurred in the mid-morning. When at the Ziegelroda Forest, Ulrich had been present as the messages arrived from the front that the Soviet 16th Guards Tank Division had pushed forward through the lines of the two attacking divisions ahead (the 94th Guards & 207th Motorised Rifle Division's) to achieve a breakthrough there and was tearing across the rear areas of the West Germans. Marshal Zinoviev had at that moment decreed that the Soviet Third 'Shock' Combined Arms Army with its five tank divisions – one of those being from the Landstreitkrafte – was to follow and exploit the opening forced… with its fifteen hundred plus main battle tanks.

The strategic plan for ground operations in Germany with regards to how Volga-3 was to be conducted had three all-arms field armies arrayed along the IGB in attacking positions at the start of hostilities on February the 4th. Behind them were a pair of tank armies also under the command of the Northern Front with the aim being for the Third Shock Army to operate on the North German Plain and the Soviet First Guards Tank Army to wait for either of the other two attacking armies to conduct a breakthrough so it would advance on the Rhine across Hessen. Moreover, behind this massive concentration of firepower with East German and selected Polish units supporting a mainly Soviet force as part of the first and second wave there was a third force in reserve: the Polish Front. The three field armies which formed this had been kept deep in reserve across East Germany with one Soviet and two Polish armies making up its strength. The Polish Front was to conduct the 'deep battle' so beloved by Soviet military theorists deep in the enemy's rear after their troops had been beaten at the front and Marshal Zinoviev wanted that now moved forward closer to the frontlines in the north ready to be released into action behind the Third Shock Army after their tanks had been released and done their worst.

In command of the rear-area support network which the Landstreitkrafte was supervising, Ulrich's task was to make sure that the Polish Front was able to successfully get into place ready to be unleashed.

The above ground structures of the Geltow headquarters had been bombed last night by NATO aircraft which had dropped what Ulrich was told were laser-guided bombs against many buildings including part of the main entrance to the below-ground parts of the facility. This was why he came in through one of the smaller secondary entrances and the careful-placing of those bombs – which had come pretty close to eliminating this base – was rather worrying. Everywhere across East Germany NATO had had its aircraft on night-time bombing missions and they had caused plenty of destruction.

His worries over whether the steel-reinforced concrete and compressed earth above his head could keep him safe if those bombers returned (believed to have been American F-111s) had to be put aside as he set to work.

The Polish Front had been kept spread out across eastern parts of Saxony and Brandenburg south of Berlin. The dispersion so that the men were living out in the countryside and away from military facilities meant that their presence wouldn't interfere with the logistics efforts directed to assist those at the frontlines ahead of them and to also keep these troops out of the reach of NATO aircraft. In addition, located there near the border with Poland, the Polish troops could be easily reinforced from their home country as they had taken much longer to form up than the Soviets which had arrived in East Germany ahead of them. The Soviet Twenty-Eighth Combined Arms Army was formed of five combat-ready divisions from the western parts of the Soviet Union which had been inside Poland even before Ulrich had been to that briefing which had told him that war was coming. Alongside them were the Polish First & Second Army's, mobilised afterwards though with manpower problems related to the ongoing troubles still occurring in Poland following the coup d’état there last November undertaken by Czeslaw Kiszczak and Florian Siwicki at the request of the KGB.

Ulrich now started issuing the orders opening the march routes for the Polish Front to move in a northwestern direction and approach the front. The trio of field armies were to head for Magdeburg moving cross-country, not on the main roads, but would need much support in doing so even moving across the 'friendly' territory which was East Germany. Traffic control was important, so too was security for them. Ulrich's headquarters was to make sure that Soviet and East German air defences were aware of their movement so that adequate measures were taken to defend against NATO air strikes once the enemy realised that this transfer of troops and tanks was underway. There needed to be engineering support as well to support the Polish Front in crossing rivers and canals which lay across their route and chemical warfare assistance as well: some NATO air attacks had dropped persistent chemical agents near river crossing points after bridges had been downed to deny access to the transportation links which converged upon the downed structures.

He made sure that word was trickled down the chain of command that the movement of the Polish Front was of priority over everything else; that was what Marshal Zinoviev had told him and Ulrich passed that along. All objections over the need to have elements of the force wait while another convoy moved elsewhere were to be denied as the Polish Front needed to reach Magdeburg as soon as possible and prepare to move further forward from there when NATO forces in the northern part of West Germany were beaten and broken.

As his staff set about implementing those orders, and Ulrich waited to bring his authority to bear should they be questioned by those out in the field, he brought himself up to date on the current military situation as it stood. There had been much information gained from briefings at the Western-TVD headquarters concerning the overall course of the war in Germany and strategic events elsewhere yet Ulrich was keen to learn more about 'his' units: the combat formations of the Landstreitkrafte still fighting at the front and those waiting to move into battle too.

He knew all about the delayed arrival of NATO reinforcements into West Germany from abroad, the entry in Vienna of Soviet troops out of Hungary with the Central Front and the immense failures that Czechoslovak units fighting in Bavaria had had. Moreover, Ulrich was aware too about the re-energised propaganda efforts underway to blame the war on the West for first assassinating Gorbachev and then attacking Eastern Europe too; this came on the back of the entry into the war of so many nations worldwide as they joined the American-led Allies.

It was the how the East German Army continued to fare in battle as they marched with the rest of the Nationale Volksarmee which interested him the most as the chief-of-staff of the Landstreitkrafte who had been partially out of touch when at the Ziegelroda Forest and in those smoke-filled bunkers.

Of the four divisions which had so far seen action, the 8 MRD operating in the north was still faring the best. Ulrich was informed that the towns of Schleswig and Husum had both been reached this morning with the airfields at both being captured too. Their Danish opponents had fought well and conducted a fighting withdrawal but the 8 MRD could conceivably get as far as Flensburg and the Danish border by tomorrow. The rate of advance had slowed but Ulrich's troops there in the north hadn't been stopped and still had plenty of external assistance from the Soviets there in terms of air power and now elite infantry support from the paratroopers who had been relieved.

In comparison, the 4 MRD had been utterly destroyed. Most of the destruction caused had been on the war's first day as that formation fought around Coburg aiming to advance towards the upper reaches of the Main Valley. Counterattacks by the Americans afterwards had finished off the job with an immense loss of live occurring among the 4 MRD's ranks. Ulrich had personally approved a new commander after the man whom he replaced had been killed within hours of combat operations commencing and was informed that the transition to a light infantry brigade was underway now to make the best use of what was left with the 4 MRD.

In the area between Gottingen and Kassel, the 11 MRD was still stuck fast locked in combat with the Belgians with no further movement forward since the war's first day. Losses there had been heavy with those NATO troops engaged holding their ground and attempting counterattacks at every opportunity too. It would have been best to withdraw the 11 MRD from the frontlines and pull them back into the rear for rest and repair yet they were needed there to guard the flank of the Soviet Twentieth Guards Army as it continued grinding down West German troops in northern Hessen.

Where the 1 MRD was fighting, Ulrich had been following their fate closely. He had argued himself for the ceasing of the attacks made against the British but to no avail. What he learnt now was that the division had ceased to exist as a fighting force after a morning of battles against dug-in defenders and the capabilities of the British Army there to defend ground effectively. This fate had been worse in Ulrich's opinion that that of the 4 MRD because it had been drawn out so long with the 1 MRD. It had been a sad sight to see and now he got confirmation that the former showpiece division of the Landstreitkrafte had been destroyed as it had been.

Two of his regular divisions were so far uncommitted to action. The 7 TD was waiting down in Thüringen to move with the First Guards Tank Army when that finally struck while the 9 TD would see action this evening or tomorrow as part of the Third Shock Army. These tank divisions consisted of some of the best equipment that the Landstreitkrafte had available with T-72 tanks and the latest models of other armoured vehicles; Ulrich knew that the command staff with those pair of divisions were competent too.

With two thirds of the East German Army committed to battle already and with a large portion of that having suffered immense damage done that would take a long time to make good… something that couldn't be done in wartime. What remained of the Landstreitkrafte still had plenty of fight left in it though Ulrich had to fear now for the future of the organisation which he served. He could only take comfort from knowing that where the East Germany Army had fought and lost they had at least done so with some pride to show following those battles.

Ulrich was of course alarmed at the arrests made in places of those accused of 'defeatism' and 'cowardice' from among his lower-ranking officers. He was sure that almost all of those charges were false and had no merit yet he couldn't do anything to stop them from proceeding now. The PHV had been empowered as was to act this way in wartime to help assist in bringing about victory by making examples of some to aid the overall cause. There was Soviet and Stasi interference too in this process yet Ulrich could only be a little a bit outraged: he had got where he was in the Landstreitkrafte through similar circumstances following events here in his country late last year.


…that Soviet influence was overwhelming. When his own countrymen acted in a manner which Ulrich found distasteful he could accept that more than when it was done by foreigners.

Ulrich's counterpart at the head of the Luftstreitkrafte had confided in him that the same occurrences were happening in his organisation where allegations were made by Soviet 'liaison' officers resulting in the arrests of East German Air Force personnel. Moreover, from that conversation Ulrich also learnt about further Soviet activities in his country as a result of the war. The KGB Border Guards' 105th Independent Detachment – an elite formation usually engaged in protection of the Soviet Embassy and the KGB headquarters at Karlshorst – had been engaged in other duties now such as 'protecting' East Germany's leaders at the Prenden bunker.

His country's leaders were prisoners there from what Ulrich had been told. The Soviets kept talking of Oryol and the threat of nuclear war as well as the security threat to Dickel and Kessler – as shown by the murder of the Honecker's and Mielke in October by their own security – when this was mentioned.

To Ulrich, the bunker beneath the ground north of Berlin was a prison for his nation too, which was something that sat very uncomfortable with him especially when East Germany was at war as it was.

What could he do about that though?

February 7th 1990
Wittingen, West Germany

So this is what hell looks like, is it?

As he descended the final few feet down from the sky and onto the battlefield below him, Hauptmann Esser had such a thought at the sight which he saw. He was almost certain that he was behind the current frontlines and on the Warsaw Pact side of the ongoing combat but there was no way that he could be fully sure of that. The impact of an air-to-air missile upon his MiG-29, the spreading fire and then the necessary ejection into the unknown had been quite an ordeal – especially the latter. Falling through the sky attached to his parachute had been something else unpleasant as he had only been partially able to gauge his direction of travel. That had become worse as he had fallen though the smoke which overhung the battlefield from countless fires.

If he had fallen on the wrong sides of the frontlines he knew that he was in trouble… yet that might also be the case if he was on the 'right' side too.

Esser landed in a ditch. There was a splash of muddy water upon impact with the ground from where he thought that there wouldn't be – he had believed he was to touch down upon a field – but he had to concede that maybe that tempered the force of the impact somewhat. Quickly, Esser struggled to get upright and untangle himself from the webbing lines of his parachute and to cut that free as well while at the same time trying to make himself aware of his surroundings.

Everything on the ground looked so much different from above. During his final descent, he had been able to make out the ruins of vehicles left behind on the battlefield as well as where some buildings had once stood at the end of what had looked like a farm. On the ground though, from down here as he climbed out of the ditch, everything was very different indeed.

He certainly didn't any longer have any idea of where he was!

There was an explosion in the distance. He turned his head to look over his shoulder but couldn't see anything to inform him of what that was. Maybe it was the remains of his aircraft crashing? Or an abandoned vehicle left here exploding due to ammunition aboard igniting? He didn't know.

This had been farmland upon which Esser now walked across. After getting out of the ditch where he had landed, he had removed his pistol from the belt around his flight-suit and started walking away from where he had landed in the direction which he hoped was east. Beneath him the ground was all torn up due to the movement of what appeared to have been many tracked vehicles and he was aware that he was being splashed with even more wet mud. He would worry about the state of his uniform later when he got out of here because at the moment his objective was to do something, anything rather than to wait around where he had landed.

Esser walked across to where he saw a vehicle. Though he couldn't be sure, he believed it to be an engineering vehicle of Soviet-design: possibly a BAT or an IRM, which were conversion of tanks. This one had been gutted by fire and had taken impact damage to the front chassis from an unknown source. Esser had been drawn to look at this vehicle up close due to curiosity and it was the first sign of anything other than mud or muddy water on this somewhat alien landscape. With limited visibility even though it was still supposed to be daylight – at least up where he had been before being brought down – Esser had few choices in what he could observe down here on the ground.

He heard an engine. Straining his ears, he tried to make out what it was.

Some sort of light truck?

Then there were headlights upon him before the shadows of what appeared to be alien figures jumping out and moving towards him.

In the midst of this surreal experience, but still with his wits about him as he was aware that this was a battlefield even if the fighting had moved away (hopefully in the other direction), Esser threw his pistol down onto the ground as the men he could see now that were wearing chemical protection gear approached him.

“Luftstreitkrafte!” He called out in his native German before switching to Russian: “Vostochnoy Germanii voyenno-vozdushnyye sily!”

His hands were raised afterwards and he hoped that these men who were getting closer and all of whom had rifles pointed straight at him understood that he was no threat to them.

They got closer to him and Esser watched as one of their number, wearing all of that cumbersome head-to-toe outwear, started to swing the butt of his AK-74 towards him.

“Neyt, tovarishch!”

Then Esser's word went black as light and sound faded.

Opening his eyes, Esser immediately sat up as he tried to figure out where he was.


He cracked the top of his head on something solid and unmoving and yelped in pain; the dizziness hit him at once.

“Be careful, Hauptmann.” The calm, somewhat soothing voice came from nearby and Esser swung his gaze to a seated officer in the back of what appeared to be the inner confines of an armoured vehicle with all of its exposed steel.

“Where am I? What is going on?”

A smile came before some explanation. “I apologise, some of my men knocked you out unconscious before they discovered that you were a friendly: the West Germans have been bombing us repeatedly all day.” Talking to Esser was a junior officer with the Landstreitkrafte. “We brought you in here as our medical teams are already overworked and you only needed a place to rest rather than a field hospital.

I am Oberstleutnant Kranz and I welcome you to Instandsetzungsbatallion 9.”

Esser was among comrades, those being of one of the rear-area echelons of the 9 TD as it advanced across West Germany leaving a trail of destruction behind inflicted upon it by enemy action that needed recovery and repair.

Soldiers under Kranz's command were busy and returning him deeper into the rear and thus on his way back to Preschen was thus not an immediate priority at the moment. Esser understood that reasoning as he could see that with a battlefield littered with such wreckage Kranz had to have his men doing their necessary tasks rather than worrying about him. An escort from the 9 TD headquarters was on their way to provide transport though in the meantime he remained for a while with the battalion headquarters – such as it was – of this service support element with one of the tank formations of the Third Shock Army.

Kranz was a likeable fellow and several times apologised for his soldier’s actions when they had 'captured' Esser. He explained how the West Germans had bombed them not long beforehand and when Esser had said 'Luftstreitkrafte' they had heard 'Luftwaffe' instead: he should actually be glad that they hadn't shot him straight away. An officer on the scene had brought the men to their senses and then called for their commanding officer to attend and allow for the unconscious flier somewhere to rest until he awoke.

Esser asked his host of the situation. What was going on at the frontlines? How had the battles been? How many attacking NATO aircraft had got through the aerial blockades that he and his fellow fliers had tried to put up against them?

With Instandsetzungsbatallion 9 being in the rear and information security being tight, Kranz didn't know and couldn't tell Esser much: he related some news though. The 9 TD had moved forward after midday with the division crossing over the IGB and then moving up to the canal line through which the breakout had occurred during the day. They were in the centre of the advance with the Third Shock Army pushing several tank divisions through where the Second Guards Tank Army had ripped apart the defences. The aim was to get as far forward in possible, crushing any remaining opposition which had been bypassed earlier during the day using infantry and have the tanks ready to move again once it got light again tomorrow morning. Damage had been done by cut-off West German units and NATO air power in the form of strike aircraft and attack helicopters. Plenty of vehicles had been knocked out from tanks and infantry carriers at the front to mobile guns behind them and then support vehicles in the rear. NATO had especially made an effort to hit armoured bridge-layers and engineering vehicles – as Esser had seen for himself – from forming further crossing points over the canal near where they were now so more vehicles could use other crossing points.

Kranz had his own question in return. What was happening in the skies? How had Esser managed to end up here?

“Be glad, comrade, that you are not up there.” Esser truly meant that. “The tactical situation is crazy with plans made on the ground ruined when in combat as the enemy appears from nowhere to disrupt them. They knock out our ground control stations and I believe that the Soviets have lost several of their airborne radar aircraft too. Missiles come out of nowhere from targets unseen far off in the distance.

An F-15 got me. Do you know what an Eagle is?”

There was a shake of the head from the army officer.

“An American aircraft. I was told that they were vastly-expensive, overrated and underpowered as well as having inferior weapons. One shot down my wingman yesterday and then fired at me today: both times neither I nor the battle controllers saw such aircraft. I was above the battlefield here, maybe a bit further to the west, when the alarms wailed that hostile missiles were inbound. I tried to manoeuvre and turned my jammers on but none of that worked and then the missile warhead exploded off my aircraft's port rear-quarter.

I had no choice but to eject and was lucky to have landed here rather than in the enemy's captivity. One of your men might have hit me with his rifle butt yet I fear that if I had fallen into American or West German hands then they would have shot me.”

There was a moment of silence from Kranz before Esser's saviour lowered his voice and had another question for him: “Do you really believe that, Hauptmann?”

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 07, 2018 5:41 pm 

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Chapter Six – Counterattack

February 8th 1990
The Lüneburg Heath, West Germany

If he had his mathematics correct – and it was simple multiplication and addition – then since yesterday lunchtime, more than five thousand combat and combat support vehicles had crossed over the Elbe-Seitenkanal and onto the Lüneburg Heath as part of the Soviet Third Shock Army. Major Koch had calculated that there were about eight hundred tracked and wheeled vehicles within each of the five divisions of that tank army (tanks, infantry carriers, reconnaissance vehicles, self-propelled howitzers & rocket launchers and engineering vehicles) and on top of that number there were too the attachments such as his unit and others to be included in the total which he rounded off at five thousand overall.

He marvelled at such numbers when he was told that the whole of the Third Shock Army had achieved such a feat especially along a front of no more than thirty kilometres wide with only small roads to use, a water barrier right across their line of advance and in the face of NATO air activity as well.

However, if there had ever been time for the deployment of a nuclear weapon…

Koch had his battalion, 2/17R, out on the Lüneburg Heath this morning and was commanding what was a manoeuvre of an offensive nature yet one designed overall for defensive purposes. His parent regiment was attached to the Third Shock Army staff who were to head westwards today towards the Lower Weser and flank guards such as the 17th Tank Regiment were out in force. Rather than sitting in the rear waiting for a NATO counterattack to penetrate deep – there were towed anti-tank guns for that – he and his tanks were to patrol the areas thought likely to see such a hostile advance develop from and be in place there already to meet it on the edge of the army's operational area.

Once again, Koch wished he was back with the 17 MRD's operations staff rather than out here in such an exposed location on what was certain to be a highly dangerous mission. Intelligence stated that there was a threat here from either Dutch or American units – thought likely to be the former more so than the latter – and if that materialised in the form of an armoured counterattack into the side of the Third Shock Army then Koch and his thirty-one T-55s stood in the way.

While a battalion commander with responsibility over three combat companies as well as a small headquarters detachment, Koch was in one of the tanks assigned to 2/17R with his command tank having extra communications equipment yet at the same time being a combat vehicle with a crew of three others: he was in the role the tank commander. Frightened he may have been at the possibility of a clash with the enemy this morning, there was no chance that he was going to command his battalion from one of the modified SPW-60s or from the back of a truck.

His reasoning on this was simple: those other vehicles offered less protection and the inability to fight back.

Within his command tank, the other crew members like him were all fellow reservists. He had a trio of sergeants who knew the business of tanking yet hadn't served their nation's army for several years now until recalled to the colours a few weeks ago. Koch had engaged them in conversation during the deployment here yet found all of them unwilling to open up despite his best efforts. He didn't need their friendship and his rank demanded their obedience though he would have liked their respect. It wasn't needed yet it would have been nice to have considering that his decisions would mean like of death for these men when – not if – battle was met: they were cold and distant towards him though with Koch failing to understand why that was the case.

In certain places, there was still an active chemical threat across parts of the Lüneburg Heath and while Koch had been told that he wasn't to patrol an area where such weapons had been used – non-persistent chemicals too – he took no chances and thus rode with all the hatches closed and overpressure systems on with his tank and the rest of the battalion. This limited the vision of him and his gunner, as well as the other tank commanders and their gunners, but Koch regarded this as the best thing to do. He wasn't sure of the supposed facts as to where certain chemicals had been used and in what form in the heat of the battle and knew too that drastic weather patterns at this time of the year meant that there had been many unexpected weapons effects. His regimental commander had too ordered him not to risk the lives of the men by exposing them to the open air where the remains of such chemicals might be present especially as the micro-environment would change with the arrival of a main battle tank.

It was the limiting of vision due to the fear of chemicals, plus the poor morning light as well, which later Koch would pin the blame upon the very late-arriving reports that the enemy had been met on the battlefield south of Uelzen.

4 Company were first to report tracked armoured vehicles which they believed to be American-made M-113s though the company first officer corrected that to state that the vehicles were actually Dutch-manufactured YPR-765s, with both the infantry and anti-tank variants of such vehicles being spotted. Moreover, very quickly afterwards there came reports that Leopard-1 tanks also in Dutch military markings were approaching as well. Concealed positions which Koch's 4 Company had fast found allowed them to observe what was a mixed company-sized force clearly as an advance guard approaching them and thus the whole battalion too.

Koch had his own first officer (in one of the SPW-60s) report to regiment the make-up of the spotted enemy, where they were located and their direction of advance. Once that information was away to his superior only then did Koch order 4 Company to attack. His mission here was to watch for enemy counterattacks and if he had made a mistake and led his command into a terrible situation, as long as an accurate contact report had been sent off and was confirmed to have been made note of then he had done his duty.

Up ahead and just to the right of where he had his own tank travelling between those of 5 & 6 Company's, 4 Company opened fire upon Koch's instruction to their commander to do so. Each of the ten T-55s fired at once and Koch saw the muzzle flashes through his sighting equipment and almost instantaneously there came further blasts nearby. Fireballs erupted in places among dark shapes on open ground over there though Koch was sure that he could see many vehicles that didn't appear to be hit at all.

He listened carefully on 4 Company's radio frequency as the Oberleutnant instructed his tanks to report their successes… and found himself like the company commander not best pleased with what he heard.

Tank commanders were reporting scoring kills against the YPR-765s but not against the tanks. Four of the latter had been engaged with shots from the T-55s in action but the impacts taken by his stationary tanks against opponents on the move hadn't knocked any out.

Then there was the frantic call from the company second-in-command that they weren't engaging Leopard-1s but rather Leopard-2s instead!

Koch was about to curse and think of an order to give before his own deputy came on the battalion radio net with an urgent message from regimental headquarters: the Dutch 41st Brigade was confirmed by 'technical means' as being present right where he had 2/17R and that meant that the new information from 4 Company was correct.

The realisation hit Koch that he was in trouble. His T-55s were not going to come off the best against such an opponent no matter what the rest of the 17th Tank Regiment did. Now he could swear aloud because he was in trouble a NATO counterattack coming his way consisting of some of their best, well-protected tanks.


February 8th 1990
Neumünster, West Germany

NATO counterattacks had been ongoing all morning and Generalmajor Fritsch found himself with growing concern at the coordination shown across the whole of the Schleswig-Holstein region with those. At the frontlines up near the Danish border, down to the outskirts to Hamburg and now throughout the rear areas where he was responsible for internal security, there came furious assaults against East German and Soviet military units as well as occupation forces too. He wasn't in the chain of command fighting against the Danes which struck along the front in the north nor the West German Army units which pushed out from the southwest but he felt the effects of those counterattacks too as they impacted his own forces which were busy dealing with offensive action behind the frontlines.

Fritsch was having on hell of a morning. He could only dream of being back in bed again – enjoying the fruits of the occupation with another young lady to entertain his needs – but instead he was in his Neumünster headquarters trying to re-establish some sense of order over the situation that he was faced with.

It was the urban areas under military control and the Kiel Canal where most of the trouble had been occurring since before dawn had broken earlier today. In Kiel, Rendsburg, Itzehoe, the parts of Lubeck occupied and here in Neumünster there had been explosions and sniping taking place. Attack after attack occurred in regions previously thought to be almost pacified and those responsible for such actions were showing how crafty they were at escaping afterwards from those charged to hunt them down. Along the Kiel Canal, multiple attempts had been made to disrupt the ongoing efforts to clear war damage and also destroy further parts of the infrastructure from the locks at either end to the bridges which crossed over that waterway which Fritsch knew his government regarded as a strategic asset yet to him was nothing more than a drain on his already meagre resources in terms of men and firepower. Along the Kiel Canal those terrorists, guerrillas or partisans – all labels and none fit the enemy there – did serious damage with Fritsch's on-site officers reporting suspicions that outside assistance in the form of NATO special forces had been on-hand to cause the destruction which was being seen along that waterway.

The men under arms which Fritsch had under command to support the efforts of the Strauss Group and their political tasks, as well as to provide general internal security duties, were a mixed force drawn from several sources and none of his choosing.

The Volksmarine had provided him with three companies of troops from their 18th Coastal Defence Regiment: good for nothing more than static sentry duties… and failing almost everywhere in this role as well.

From the Grenztruppen there was two battalions from the 7th Border Training Regiment: instructors and trainees used to patrol duties but against Republikflucht not armed and organised opponents.

There were paramilitary police units of the Volkspolizei-Bereitschaften (better known by their initials VPB) with multiple attachments on special duty here in West Germany rather than at home cracking the skulls of their countrymen: Fritsch couldn't rely on these men to fight against well-armed and determined opponents in addition to having the VPB answer to him only somewhat as they were really here to assist the Stasi.

Smaller detachments of men came from the Landstreitkrafte and his own Luftstreitkrafte which overall numbered more than those from the other services. However, these units were for communications, logistics, transportation, military police and air defence duties and therefore answering overall to the Soviet Thirty-Eighth Airborne Corps. As they were in the rear areas he could count on them to fight to defend themselves and many officers would respond to requests for armed assistance… yet others stuck to their own orders and duties and ignored Fritsch's command.

Efforts before today to exert control over the countryside by engaging dispersed soldiers from beaten West German units – which had been Fritsch's initial plan – had only met partial success using the men which he had available to him. Those soldiers cut off after defeat in battle and whom had melted away from central command yet were still armed had in many cases done as he had expected and attacked East German units with casualties taken on both sides. The attacks today were different though as they had come in the urban areas especially where afterwards the assailants could better disappear.

Fritsch's forces couldn't preform their tasks of guarding the rear.

Nonetheless, they were the only men that he had available. There was supposed to have been a motorised rifle regiment – minus its tanks – from the 19 MRD assigned to him yet that division remained whole and under central Soviet command with the Northern Front waiting to enter Hamburg and was now caught up in the fighting there alongside Soviet forces. Those were the troops which Fritsch would have relied upon had he had them to fight against many of the attacks launched today. Reservists, yes they might have been, but still well-armed soldiers organised in a true military fashion and armed with heavy weapons to best fight off the offensive in the rear which NATO was launching today.

At the Thirty-Eighth Airborne Corps headquarters, Fritsch's liaison officers there had been informed that the enemy forces he was seeing his men failed to combat effectively today were not working alongside regular NATO forces in Schleswig or near Hamburg: this was not a coordinated counterattack. The GRU – Soviet military intelligence – was saying that terrorist attacks in the rear were part of a West German organised civilian stay-behind movement deemed 'Gladio'. They pointed to the initial attacks made when Neumünster had been taken and what Soviet paratroopers in Kiel had faced as evidence of this and wouldn't listen to anything more on the matter.

Fritsch hadn't wanted to press the point due to the arrests already of other Nationale Volksarmee personnel that he had been told about for arguing with the wisdom of the Soviets.

All that Fritsch could do when faced with such a situation as this was move what inadequate forces he had around to deal with the threats as best as possible. His lead responsibility was the protection of the activities of the Strauss Group as they undertook their 'reorganisation, rehabilitation and reconstruction' work here to meet the political goals which they had been set. The personnel taking part in transforming this part of West Germany into a region where a socialist agenda was present – as decreed by the Socialist Unity Party in East Berlin – needed protection and so did those civilians here who had seen the error of their ways… as well as the detention centres for those who refused to. There was transport available for Fritsch's defensive forces which he tried the best to make use of to get his men to where they were needed and to best defend against further strikes as well as to try and hunt down those whom had carried out previous ones.

This meant that Fritsch was tied to a strategy of reacting to attacks rather than pre-empting them as he wished to – in the grand strategy which he had a few days laid out to Strauss and that man's cohorts – yet there was nothing else to do but follow his orders.

February 8th 1990
The North Sea

'In the blink of an eye the hunter can become the hunted.'

Finally, after a considerable wait, the Halle had acquired a hostile submarine contact here on the war patrol where Fregattenkapitan Wolke had been searching for such all the while trying to hide from enemy air or surface attack. There were weapons and combat systems aboard which the frigate could use against the submarine once a firm track was gained rather than fleeting glances in pursuit. The anti-submarine mortar was armed and ready to fire while the forward twin-76mm cannon was primed to start launching shells as well.

Any moment now Wolke planned to give the order to attack what was believed to be a Danish Type-205 vessel moving through the Skagerrak.

But then the submarine turned the tables upon the Halle and struck first in an unexpected counterattack.

A pair of 533mm torpedoes were fired at the Halle from the Danish vessel which then made a dash to evade any form of return fire… something which the Volksmarine frigate was unable to do in this situation. Wolke felt the hairs on the back of his neck raise and a cold chill overcame him momentarily as the hasty report came of the torpedoes being tracked as they were tearing through the ice-cold waters of the Baltic Exits towards him and his ship.

Across the control compartment, his fellow officers all exhibited outward signs of fear as the sonar operators reported on the closing distance between those inbound torpedoes and the Halle. Wolke rapidly ordered damage control teams to deploy, watertight doors to be closed and a full-stop of the frigate's engines yet he knew that his ship was doomed.

The first torpedo exploded directly beneath the Halle after approaching from the starboard side. There was no contact between warhead and the keel of his ship but rather a proximity-fused blast. That didn't matter either way for the weapons effects were clearly just what the fleeing Danes had wanted with immense destruction being done.

Up above, Wolke felt the Halle's back being broken as he was knocked off his feet when that first torpedo detonated… and then came the second one.

The Halle was next struck in the rear starboard quarter with an impact-fused blast. The sound of this – even among the wailing alarms within the control compartment – was horrible to hear as Wolke understood what further damage was being wrought as a large portion of the ship's hull there was blown to pieces.

The first pair of torpedoes had exploded within seconds of each other doing enough damage to guarantee the wholescale destruction of Wolke's ship. With her keel struck as she was and then the second blast against the hull, his ship was going to surely sink with time as water flowed in and the weight and pressure ripped the frigate apart. There was panic now spreading throughout including here in the control compartment as some of his officers abandoned their posts and sought to get up onto deck. Wolke himself picked himself up off the floor where he had been knocked to and looked around to see a half-manned compartment with those here looking at him after all of their systems had gone down. Some shouted requests for orders while others gave him wide-eyed quizzical stares as they didn't know what to do now.

Wolke stood upright once he had regained his wits somewhat and saw that more of his officers had left the control compartment. A few remained, those loyal or confused, but either way there was no point. He called out for them to leave the internal compartment and to start the process of making sure that everyone else aboard was ready to start abandoning ship. Others may have already decided to begin doing such a thing yet it was Wolke's duty to give the order to make that official.

Even at the end of this wartime patrol, faced with the destruction of his command, defeat in battle and imminent death, Wolke was determined to do his duty.

And such was the end of the Halle along with the only major Volksmarine presence in waters to the west of their country.

February 8th 1990
Bissendorf, West Germany

Though not sure exactly, Gefreiter Schmid thought that Bissendorf was about five or six kilometres north of Hannover Airport. He had walked, jogged and ran there today after the airport which he and fellow paratroopers with 40 Luftsturmregiment had held for four days against all the odds had fallen earlier. Along the line of retreat, following the course which the tanks which had first come to relive them then who needed assistance in withdrawing had taken, many men who had survived those battles for the airport had been lost either dead, missing or captured. Schmid didn't share their fate and he was determined as long as he was able to that he would keep on fighting, yet the retreat was demoralising. He and everyone else who had made it to Bissendorf knew that there would probably be further for them to go as they withdrew in the face of a NATO counterattack.

Schmid had heard a Leutnant tell Voller that it would have been better if the Soviets with their 16th Guards Tank Division hadn't turned up with their tanks late last night after racing down from the bridgehead over the Aller River at Celle: maybe then the British Army wouldn't have struck at the airport. He had to agree with what he had overheard there as his sergeant had been told the reason for their withdrawal. Alas, such was war…

The fight for Bissendorf was bloody and destructive. Schmid was involved with it at a personal level so knew none of the grand strategic plans of those of a senior rank involved yet understood full well that the intention was to stop the British here. To do that meant that their tanks and infantry needed to be engaged with every weapon available and without mercy.

Laas had been killed earlier in the day – shot from a distant rifle that had destroyed most his head making him almost unrecognisable afterwards – but Hummels still needed a second man with him to carry the reloads for his Metis weapon and also act as a spotter. Voller had told Schmid to stay with the missileman and take over from Laas; the RPG-18 which Schmid had been carrying unused was given away to another man.

It was their tanks which were giving the British the strength that they had and those were to be engaged. Others were concerned with bombarding Bissendorf into ruins and conducting infantry-versus-infantry battles. Schmid had anti-tank duties to attend to.

Hummels was far better at scouting for enemy tanks than Schmid was and it was he who spotted the armoured steel beast which he declared was a Chieftain. That tank was edging forwards through the ruins of houses on the southern side of the village with infantry nearby. The smashed buildings which had been brought down – artillery from one side or the other had done that damage – caused the Chieftain to move as slowly as it was.

Schmid spotted something else though as they prepared to open fire from their concealed position among the ruins of another building: “There's a second tank!”

Apparently, there was a full British division undertaking their counterattack in the Hannover area and Schmid had known that if the armies of NATO were anything like those of the Warsaw Pact then their divisions would have hundreds of tanks. He had been expecting that there wouldn't be just one tank operating alone and worried over Hummels' confidence that they were about to conduct a perfect ambush against just one.

With two tanks the British would be able to make sure that he and Hummels would only get one shot off.

“We will wait until the second one moves out of sight.”

“The infantry will be here before then!” Schmid could see more than a hundred dismounted men, all armed and heading their way. He and Hummels only had their rifles: two against one hundred and that one hundred backed up by a pair of tanks was not good in any way.

“We wait!” Again, Hummels missed at him with a hasty, annoyed tone. There was no thanks to Schmid after his spotter had obviously just saved both their lives.

There was a deafening blast that broke the temporary silence.

Schmid unconsciously threw his hands up to cover his ears as his eyes shut too. Ahead of them, out in the open on the main road through the village, there had come a sudden and fantastic explosion. When he opened his eyes he could see that the first tank was burning furiously… or what remained of it anyway as the turret and main gun were both inexplicitly missing. Afterwards his sight was drawn to movement away to the left where what appeared to be a Soviet T-80 came into view.

“Go for the second tank!”

“I am.” Hummels was way ahead of him. “Shut up and prepare to reload me in case we fail to get a hit.”

“Of course.” Schmid had been chastised and might have deserved it. He had been caught up in the excitement and not realised that the missileman he was assisting was just aware of the situation as he was.


Less than a second later, the Chieftain tank which had been following the first exploded when the Metis missile impacted upon it. This explosion was nowhere near as violent as the first had been but still looked to Schmid to have done the job. He didn't have much time to observe the successes of the missile hit though for all around him there was gunfire. Many of the British infantry had been left in shock after the first tank had been hit and not realised as Schmid had where that destruction had come from in the form of the T-80 which he had spotted, but those same men opened fire towards him and Hummels after they fired their missile. Bullets flew in their direction and Schmid feared that very soon heavier weapons would be used to engage them as well.

“We need to get going!”

“I know.” Hummels was already packing up and preparing to move.

There was an exit through the ruins that ran backwards away from where they had chosen as a firing point and Schmid was soon heading that way with Hummels following close behind him. There would be further work to do as more tanks were certain to be around the village yet for now they needed to get away clean so that they could carry on the fight afterwards.

Throughout the rest of the day and into the night, the battle for Bissendorf would continue. The village was at the centre of the frontlines between the British 3rd Armoured Division and the Soviet 16 GTD as the two formations engaged each other up close and personal in a slugging match causing death and destruction all around them. Heavier engagements would take place in Brelingen, Wademark, Burgwedel and Kirchhorst – nearby villages and small towns – but that didn't mean that the fighting in Bissendorf wouldn't be extremely violent.

The village was one of many in West Germany being utterly destroyed by the war and here Schmid was just one of millions of men fighting.

February 8th 1990
Leuth, West Germany

NORTHAG now had its field headquarters located close to the border with the Netherlands and at Site #13.

Site #13!

Leutnant Haas couldn't believe that the superstitious British, those who were making the decision on where to move the headquarters column to every twenty-four hours, had chosen Site #13 of all places. They had been to #3, #7, #1 and #10 since the dispersal plan had gone into effect and Haas had been expecting that #6 would be chosen soon enough. His fellow East Germans were waiting at that location ready to slaughter the command staff of NATO ground forces in northern West Germany when they arrived there and every day which passed without the arrival of the command vehicles and trucks increased the chances of them being detected there.

If today had seen a movement to Site #4 or #9 – for example – Haas would have accepted that better than #13 being chosen. It was absolutely inconceivable that this location would be chosen based upon its number being one regarded by so many people as unlucky.

Haas was left dumbfounded at such a decision though at the minute he had other things on his mind than worrying about today's chosen site. Later tonight a decision on where they would move to tomorrow would be made and perhaps then things might turn out as he hoped…

During his intensive training with the HVA to act abroad in a covert manner impersonating someone who he wasn't, Haas had been subjected to lectures which had covered the psychological pressures an intelligence officer living under cover in hostile lands would suffer. There would be the loneliness that would be encountered as well as the homesickness too. In addition, feelings of mistrust would develop towards everyone Haas would meet he was told and possibly even paranoia as well. Early in his career when he learnt his trade posing as a West German elsewhere apart from in the Federal Republic – he spent some time in Austria as well as Greece too – he had experienced all of this and afterwards was grateful for the warning he had been given.

Since arriving in West Germany, Haas had been burdened by something else that he had been warned about too: false attachments. Though he had tried to avoid it, he was being emotionally involved with this country which was his nation's enemy. As the West Germans would always say of East Germans, they were Germans too. He had tried his best to counter this yet it was such a difficult thing to do especially now in the midst of the ongoing war. He didn't want to see death and destruction rain down upon his fellow Germans. It was not the fault of them – even the military officers with whom he associated – that the war was occurring and that their own government was as unreasonable as it was in not seeing the light in what the best course was for their nation. His training kept telling him to rebel against this but the more he fought it the more difficult it became.

Haas remembered who he was and his oaths of service so wasn't about to betray who he really was nor the secrets of his country which he knew… yet he cheered for West Germany when news came of the victories they were winning in the field while also was left upset too when defeats came. His superiors back home if they witnessed his outward behaviour might have congratulated him on doing such a good job yet they wouldn't know the internal torment which he was suffering from. He feared that if this continued for an extended period of time then it might break him.

Events of yesterday and especially earlier today had brought forth Haas looking inwards at himself. He overheard briefings given and listened to the rumours with rising apprehension as to what first happened on the Lüneburg Heath and then with the Kassel Incident as well.

The West German I Corps was under NORTHAG command and several other officers within the transport security detachment which he served with had previously been assigned to units in peacetime that now formed that wartime command. Four combat divisions were assigned to fight on the North German Plain and when the Soviets had made their breakout yesterday they had crushed two of those under the weight of their artillery first then massed tanks and infantry. Both the 3rd Panzer and the 11th Panzergrenadier Division's had ceased to exist as divisional units when their brigades had been torn apart and while sub-units had managed to survive the battles they were nothing more than scattered battalions either cut-off behind the new frontlines or pushed out of the way and forced into retreat. The troubling news of what had happened there had been offset first by how the 1st Panzer Division had held their ground where they fought just to the south and then today when the 7th Panzer Division had joined a NORTHAG effort to counterattack and try to push the Soviets back. That latter division had advanced from the Nienburg area along the glacial valley where the Aller ran and coordinated with British and American forces either side in driving back parts of the Soviet Second Guards Tank & Third Shock Army's that had driven so far forward the day before.

Then there had come the rumours of what was being referred to as the 'Kassel Incident'.

Outside of NORTHAG's area of responsible and inside that of CENTAG, there had apparently been a furious explosion of ammunition – either in a convoy or possibly at a stored location – that had been seen and felt for many miles. A mushroom cloud had formed afterwards as a result. From what Haas had been told, the flashes of the ammunition blasts followed up by that visual sight of the mushroom cloud had managed to convince certain people on the ground that a nuclear blast had occurred. Fighting between the Soviets with their Twentieth Guards Army and Belgian troops (under NORTHAG command) as well as part of the West German III Corps (with CENTAG) had been ongoing when the explosion occurred near Kassel adding to the tense situation.

Reports had gone up the chain of command that the Soviets had employed a thermonuclear device and requests came for a counterattack to be made using NATO nuclear weapons. Pointedly, from what Haas understood, those calls for nuclear retaliation hadn't been made from the Belgian or West German commanders on the scene but from others. Cooler heads had refused to do so without any proof of such a crossing of the nuclear threshold: there were no strategic indicators let alone any confirmation on the ground of a radiological nature.

How tense the situation had been at the time and who argued for what kind of retaliation wasn't known to those with whom Haas spoke but they had all been rather concerned. No West German – East German either! – wanted to see such weapons used on German soil. Once one was used, even a small weapon of a tactical nature, then the feeling that Haas shared with the West Germans he served with was that all would be put to use with the results being a nightmare of biblical proportions here in Germany.

While retaining such mixed feelings, Haas again found himself in possession of intelligence of great importance that yet again he was unable to pass onto his own side where much use could be made of it.

Centred around Braunschweig and Wolfsburg, though stretching between Hannover and the IGB crossing at Helmstedt, the 1st Panzer Division was inside a salient formed that pushed deep into a bulge-shaped area. There were reserve units from the Territorial Army – including a signals unit which the man Haas was impersonating had once served within too – in that area holding onto ground that was threatened with encirclement should the Second Guards Tank Army do what NATO intelligence expected it to do and make a push tomorrow in a southwestern direction towards Hannover and the Weser beyond. Such an attack had been stopped today but it was thought likely to come again and the British I Corps wouldn't be able to beat it back unless they withdrew into better defensive positions. As the 1st Panzer Division was now under British command, they would have to withdraw as well. Such a retreat was to take place tonight, upwards of twenty thousand men, preceded and probably hampered by many more civilians as well, would take place and it was certainly something that could be taken advantage of if Haas had been able to get that information out.

Furthermore, Haas also knew about the Americans with their long-delayed reinforcements for NORTHAG now starting to arrive. There were British troops shipping over from the UK mainland and the Dutch I Corps was too finally getting itself into position, but all of the talk here at NORTHAG headquarters was about the US III Corps as they were of significant strength as an offensive force… now that they had finally moved away from their POMCUS sites that had faced such severe chemical weapons attacks.

Currently they had some of their forces on the Lüneburg Heath, which had taken part in today's counterattack, though most of their troops were moving eastwards through tonight across Münsterland and Westphalia towards the Weser. They would have the cover of darkness as well as what was offered when they moved through the Teutoburgerwald to avoid detection. Furthermore, they would be using radio discipline on the march to make sure that they weren't observed by electronic means, but Haas knew that they were moving to the battle. He was also aware of their order of battle as the 1st Cavalry and the 5th Infantry Division's were different from their peacetime establishments back in the United States. By now his own side would certainly know about the third division of the US III Corps due to the 2nd Armored Division being in action today complete with two of its organic brigades, a Dutch brigade attached and also heavy reconnaissance & fire support from the independent 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, yet he could tell them too about the rest of the Americans coming forwards towards battle.

Many of their senior command staff had been killed by what he had heard here was a Spetsnaz missile strike upon their helicopters and delays inflicted due to those chemical attacks, but as far as Haas was concerned the Americans – just as the British said – were a potent force here. He worried that no one on his own side knew that they were underway towards where all the intelligence said that the Third Shock Army was expected to move tomorrow.

Haas had been turning all of this over in his mind when he had left the command vehicle that was his work station to have a cigarette. He had wrapped up warm to smoke outside and away from the sensitive communications equipment that his Hauptmann declared could be damaged by such activity; Haas knew how false that was.

He now went back inside into the warmth where his superior told him something that changed everything: tomorrow they were moving to Site #6.

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Chapter Seven – Propaganda

February 9th 1990
West Berlin

No reason had been given to Feldwebel Weiss as to why the Rundfunk im amerikanischen Sektor (RIAS) building on the Kufsteinerstrasse was still standing let alone those American propagandists inside being allowed to hold out as long as they had. This structure in the Schöneberg District hadn't been flattened by air or artillery strikes and while gas weapons weren't being used in the fighting in West Berlin, Weiss would have expected that infantry would have been at least employed already to clear it out with a full-on assault rather than what was happening now. Much of the American Sector here was already overrun and the RIAS building was behind the frontlines as the Soviets with their tanks drove into the British Sector now from their southward direction of advance, but this site had been so far left alone.

Until now and the 'special operation' taking place here.

Surrounding this building was an infantry company from the Felix Dzerzhinsky Guard Regiment with Weiss and his comrades along with a large number of specialist policemen with the VPB. All had their weapons with them though had been given firm orders from others in uniform who weren't so outwardly armed to not use them unless given firm instruction to do so.

Those issuing such orders and in command here were Stasi officers who were supervising the whole operation. Everyone within this paramilitary organisation which Weiss was part of held military rank and he could spot the emblems on their uniforms denoting them as Leutnants, Hauptmanns and Majors. When such people gave orders then those were to be obeyed for the consequences of not doing so were clear to all.

In addition, there were also civilians in the area as well. These were in the rear and between the lines of the VPB at the back and Weiss' comrades at the front. A cluster of politicians was over to the left of where he currently had his squad deployed on the ground around their vehicle while in other places there were media teams. He saw reporters, photographers and cameramen present in clusters with Stasi officers accompanying each little gathering. Some of those journalists were from his own nation, others from the Soviet Union and more from selected other countries that – if he understood right – were on friendly terms with East Germany and other Warsaw Pact countries.

The media, the politicians, the policemen and even the Felix Dzerzhinsky soldiers were all here to witness something special taking place as his Stasi superiors conducted an act of propaganda.

Weiss watched as Oberst Klopp walked towards the main entrance to the building along with a pair of the suited politicians behind him. The regiment's senior political officer strode with what Weiss regarded as confidence towards the RIAS headquarters and then banged hard upon the closed doors there. There was the distant sound of fighting elsewhere in the city yet silence here and so Weiss could hear the thumbing upon the wooden door.

Like everyone else, he held his breath: it really was a tense moment.

That door soon opened and a figure emerged from behind it. Weiss edged to his right a little and strained his eyes to get a better look at whom had answered and saw a young man in civilian clothes there. He could only assume that such a person was one of the Americans who worked inside there though that wasn't something he could be wholly sure of.

The conversation at the door lasted for a few seconds with no chance of anyone outside being able to hear what was said. There didn't appear to be any shouting and there was no waving of arms or any dramatic physical gestures. One of those politicians there, a stern-looking woman in her mid-forties, pointed back towards the gathered media and Weiss watched her step even further forwards and taking the hand of the man whom had answered the door. He came forward and out of the door into the entranceway though it certainly didn't look like he wanted to.

Weiss could see even at this distance there was plenty of fear in the face of that American. The woman at the door with him – whom Weiss had only assumed was a politician though admittedly might have been someone high up in the Stasi but not in uniform – kept hold of his hand and manhandled him out onto the pavement again pointing over at the media. This time she tried focus his attention towards a camera crew which to Weiss' eyes looked like they might have come from India or somewhere else in South Asia… he kept giving furtive glances back towards door which he had come out of.

A window on the second floor up suddenly opened. The noise attracted everyone's attention and like the majority of the soldiers did, Weiss at once tightened his grip on his slung rifle in preparation to raise it: several days of fighting here in West Berlin had done this especially the form in which that fighting had come against an enemy which would appear from nowhere all of a sudden. He remembered the stern orders which had come from Leutnant Platz though that no matter what no one was to open fire unless directly ordered to.

“Marcus, come back!” It was a girl at the window and she called out in English towards the young man below still being manhandled slowly away from the building and towards the media. “They'll kill you!”

Weiss couldn't understand exactly what was being said by that attractive-looking girl with the flowing blonde hair but it sounded like him to be a lover's plea. It wasn't one that the young man appeared to listen to though for he showed less physical resistance to being taken towards the camera crew there.

The girl's head disappeared back inside and the window slammed back shut.

Once that American had finished talking to the media, he this time walked back to the front door of the RIAS building without anyone holding onto him. He then opened it and went inside; Weiss watched as Klopp and that older woman went with him while the other politician remained outside on the pavement all alone.

Weiss himself kept his eyes upon the building. There was the fear in him that just like had been encountered elsewhere in West Berlin, there would come gunshots from there soon enough towards all of the East Germans outside. If he couldn't shoot back then he would make sure that he was able to get down and into some cover soon enough and hiding behind the SPW-70 seemed the best idea.

Looking around, he saw that everyone else here still had all of their attention focused upon the building ahead of them. He couldn't read the minds of anyone else though he assumed that they were all like him wondering what was going on inside there and waiting for further developments that they could be witness to. The way that he understood the situation was that his country had decided to make a big deal out of talking those inside this building out of there rather than having to storm it. Presumably there could be a great deal of propaganda to be made from such a thing as this, hence all of the media, though he personally didn't see how that would work. These were matters above him clearly and for the minds of those who were paid to think of such things.

His musing over the meaning of all of this were now interrupted. The front door of the building opened and out came Klopp first followed by that woman and then the American who had come out and gone back inside before again walking out again. This time, that young man had his hands atop his head and he looked rather comical as he walked behind the two East Germans.

Following behind him there came others from inside, men and women, all with their hands atop their heads as well. Weiss looked down the single file procession as it moved towards over where most of the media teams were – video cameras and photographic devices taking in all of the images – to look for that young girl who had called out earlier from the building. He soon saw her emerge about twentieth in the line though she had her hair tied back. Even with the tears streaming down her face she still looked rather pretty to Weiss and for a moment he wondered what it would have been like to talk to her…

“Form up!” Platz called out to them and Weiss had to focus upon his duty. “Once those Ami civilians are out of there we are going inside to make sure that the building is empty.

You will be free to use your weapons once inside and all of those journalists aren't watching.”

Back to reality, Weiss silently told himself, shooting helpless civilians after pretending for a while that we don't.

February 9th 1990
Alfeld, West Germany

Oberst Schrader had planned to bring the divisional headquarters forward to Bad Salzdetfurth today and locate his command column in nearby dense woodland that he had sent a forward team to scout out. However, as the British fell back faster than expected towards the Leine and then were over that river in a hurry, he gave orders for movement to the small village of Sack instead. While he had his headquarters there, he himself came to Alfeld this afternoon to see his enemy for himself… well what could be observed from looking across the river here anyway.

There had been three bridges over the Leine here and each of those had been thoroughly demolished by the retreating British aided by West Germans who had long planned for this according to his HVA liaison officer. In addition, once their final units had conducted their withdrawal, Schrader's victorious opponents had also removed the temporary bridges that they had been using too and planted minefields across the clear approaches to where they had sited those as well. Clearly, they hadn't wanted the 1 MRD to follow them westwards across the river to the other side and made sure than any effort to do so would be hamstrung.

Schrader couldn't have what remained of his division make such a crossing anyway, let alone the opposed crossing that would have to be made here. He only had about a third of his pre-war strength available overall with shortages acute in certain areas including combat engineers & their equipment as well as artillery and air defences. All of the destruction which the British had so carefully caused was for nought because it was impossible for him to lead his command over the river to follow them.

Their withdrawal had started before dawn as elements of the 4th Armoured Division which he had been fighting against all week had abandoned their positions and headed for the Leine. Schrader's headquarters had only been informed a few hours beforehand of intelligence – from sources un-revealed to him – that the British were about to do this yet they had moved faster than expected. All that ground which they held east of the river, where the 1 MRD was never going to manage to take from them, had been left behind as Schrader's opponents, no doubt still basking in their victories, had withdrawn. His orders to follow them closely and try to take advantage of what he was told would be a panicked retreat hadn't been something which he was able to carry out as in their wake the British made that impossible. They had conducted extensive demolitions to hinder efforts to chase them creating blockages to movement while also laying minefields in selected areas where Schrader's men would have to pass through to avoid those obstructions.

Why had the British retreated?

Schrader had been told what he regarded as the truth when it came to the reason behind that. To the north and off to the southwest too, other Warsaw Pact advances had brought about a realignment of NATO lines to better defensive positions where such forces as the British he had faced – who hadn't been pushed back like the West Germans across the Lüneburg Heath or the Belgians past Kassel – couldn't be outflanked afterwards. He had been informed that Soviets to his immediate north, the 6th Guards Motorised Rifle Division, which had met as much failure in battle as he had when facing a combined British-West German force, were later today planning to enter the areas around Braunschweig and Wolfsburg. Schrader wished them good luck in that: both cities were certain to be defended at their centre by stay-behind units well-armed and determined to make an occupier pay.

Schrader was glad that his command was to not be involved in any silly piece of propaganda as trying to occupy a West German city.

Instead, it was to the town of Alfeld where he had taken his defeated and demoralised division. Schrader had travelled down the same roads as his men had as he had followed behind them going past all the destruction caused. He had seen the battlefields where in earlier days devastating losses had been incurred and then further casualties taken today in terms of men and equipment. There was an active commando threat in the area from where losses had been taken as well as dangers coming from above in skies were NATO aircraft were active.

It had been a perilous journey fraught with risk for him and his soldiers then went before and after him.

Schrader was now under the command of the Polish Second Army. There were liaison officers from that headquarters arriving to take the place of his previous attached men from the Soviet Second Guards Tank Army and Schrader was no better pleased to have the former than he had been the latter. It had been those Poles who in the early hours had issued the orders for the 1 MRD to move forward and supposedly chase the British; men who had spent this war so far in the rear with no idea as to what it was like at the front fighting NATO and so who gave such orders as if they were trivial.

Fed up of their constant requests for information, it had been the Poles which had caused him to come forward here to Alfeld to escape from their incessant instructions to report on every aspect of progress made. His initial reports back, when he had been near Bad Salzdetfurth and relying upon his forward scouts, that the situation was unclear and the responses to that had drove him to come down here. He would tell his new commander when asked that it had been best to see the situation for himself so a more detailed report could be given. Schrader would drown them with information and give the Poles something more than fluff more suited to propaganda than fact when it came to the reality that the Poles could now to be able state that they had men under their command on the Leine yet be unable to go any further.

Across the river, where Schrader observed from under cover after taking the 'advice' of a Hauptmann of infantry at the frontlines, there was high ground behind the Leine Valley just as there was here on this side. Those were the Ith Hills over there with an immense ridge as the backbone followed by more ridges and rocky crags. Thick forests covered the limestone high ground with two available passes through them that led to Hameln in the northwest and another area possibly suitable for crossing the wider Weser to the west at Bodenwerder. The Poles would be looking at their maps thinking of a grand strategic manoeuvre to go over the Leine here and then advance upon the Weser.

In the way stood the British with their forces which had withdrawn in good order and certainly not beaten. They would litter those forests with missile teams and the passes would become death-traps for armour; any attacking force would get nowhere near the Weser. He couldn't see the forward-deployed elements of the British now though every so often came the crack of a long-range sniper rifle shot – what the Hauptmann he was here with had feared – or the roar of artillery. They would have their men ready over there ready for another victory as they turned that whole area, not just any crossing site here at Alfeld, into a graveyard for an attacking Warsaw Pact force.

Schrader, despondent at the losses suffered to men under his command and depressed at the defeats which he had overseen for the 1 MRD, was sure that the Poles wouldn't be sending anyone over the river here into the terrain beyond which to any trained eye was perfect for defence. They certainly would have the sense too to know that the broken 1 MRD wasn't fit for such a task as that no matter what political necessity there was or propaganda needs.

No one would be that stupid.

February 9th 1990
Wittstock Airbase, East Germany

Being shot down had humbled him somewhat, Hauptmann Esser had been told by his commander.

Esser certainly didn't agree with such an observation as he regarded the whole affair as not something that was his fault and that he was still one of the most superior fighter pilots within Jagdfliegergeschwader 3 with far more experience than anyone else as well as an impressive wartime record so far. He was still mad as hell over what had happened and eager to get his own back against one of those F-15s that the Americans had. Some other pilots he had spoken with appeared frightened of such an aircraft but he knew that should he get close-in to combat an Eagle then he with his skills in an aircraft like the MiG-29 would make short work of another one of those fighters that had caused him to spend the last few days on the ground rather than in the air.

There weren't that many MiG-29 fighters left though hence why Esser and the rest of JG 3 were at Wittstock now rather than at Preschen as they were in peacetime and at the beginning of the war. Far too many of the new-build fighters had been lost in combat and – of course – this wasn't the time for the Soviets to transfer any of theirs from their units to the Luftstreitkrafte. At Wittstock there was a Soviet Air Force unit (the 33rd Fighter Aviation Regiment, part of the 16th Guards Fighter Aviation Division) which flew MiG-29 too yet hadn't suffered as many losses as Esser's unit: JG 3 had been transferred here.

The official line was that by flying alongside the 33rd Regiment, the lone East German combat wing of MiG-29 would be able to conduct joint operations with the Soviets and perform better in combat as they worked together in unity against their NATO opponents. Propaganda aside, Esser, his fellow pilots and what MiG-29s in Luftstreitkrafte markings remained available were to be lectured to by the Soviets here on their failures and shown the correct way to fly these advanced aircraft. The MiG-29 hadn't been long in service flown by East Germans and the Soviets had long regarded JG 3 as not up to their standards and by bringing them here to Wittstock they could school them on how not to waste such aircraft in combat as they believed had been done. Moreover, Esser also suspected that the Soviets also wanted what East German MiG-29 were left to make up their numbers with the 33rd Regiment. This formation had seen some of their aircraft shot down and while such numbers weren't overwhelming they still had cut into the available combat strength to a significant degree.

When he and his fellow pilots weren't in the sky in their aircraft there would be Soviet pilots in these MiG-29 which wore Luftstreitkrafte markings.

Thankfully, the 'joint operations' here between JG 3 and the 33rd Regiment didn't involve the mixing of pilots from both units paired as wingmen together. Esser and all aircrew within the Luftstreitkrafte – no matter which aircraft they flew from fighters to transports – spoke Russian as was necessary and were schooled in the same combat tactics yet the Soviets did things different from the East Germans, and vice versa, in many small but still important ways. That was supposed to soon change but for now when MiG-29 lifted off in twos and fours from Wittstock they would have crews of the same nationality.

Esser was thus now out on the taxiway with another MiG-29 beside him whose pilot was another survivor from their time at Preschen. Oberleutnant Bruno Frommer was someone else who had seen extensive combat during this conflict and in the past few years had been a 'volunteer' abroad serving in the air arms of friendly regimes. Frommer had been to Iraq like Esser had though also to Libya as well. This was someone whom Esser was comfortable flying alongside for he knew for one that the man wasn't about to be rattled by enemy fighters or missiles.

It had been more than five minutes since they had both led their aircraft out of the Hardened Aircraft Shelters (HASs) and out first onto the flight-ramp before coming onto the taxiway. Back inside the protection of the HASs, Esser had had his fighter fuelled and armed (while the blast doors were open to vent an accidental explosion) after last-minute maintenance checks had been made. It should have then been the case that he and Frommer should have at once got airborne and gone westwards as ordered. All throughout the day the Soviets were driving their Third Shock Army towards the Weser River, aiming to cross that water barrier south of Bremen he had been told in his mission brief, and they needed as much fighter cover available to stop enemy air attacks against them.

Why were they still sitting here on the ground though? There was an aircraft coming in for an emergency landing and so they had to wait. Esser believed that he and Frommer should have been given clearance ahead of such a landing as they were combat aircraft on their way towards the front while the aircraft which they were waiting for was not involved in such a crucial role. Moreover, if the emergency landing went wrong then they, like the other MiG-29s which were on the ground – admittedly not many at the minute but still some! – were all going to be stuck until any wreckage was cleared.

He damn well hoped that that inbound aircraft was of great importance to the war effort, more so than the armed and very capable aircraft which he and his wingman flew!

Whilst he waited, Esser glanced around first over his port wing and then out to starboard. He noted the mounts of earth dotted everywhere where close-in SAM and anti-aircraft gun emplacements were located to provide air defence for Wittstock alongside more which he knew were outside of the flight-area. He also stared towards signs of movement near the perimeter in several places where he saw many people milling about. From here he couldn't identify them though he knew that they were teenagers digging further defensive works here where infantry if necessary could take up positions in trenches and machine gun pits: Esser wondered what kind of situation would have to occur for a development like that this far inside East Germany! Regardless, those teenagers were members of the Freie Deutsche Jugend (FDJ). He himself had once been part of the FDJ – membership was more than necessary to get anywhere in life here in East Germany – as a young lad and had fond memories. The propaganda hadn't been too overbearing and there had always been something to do… including spending time with girls as well!

For a moment, he recalled his first experiences as a man with a girl he attended an FDJ summer camp with on the Baltic coast many years ago now. He smiled at the memory of such carefree times.

At Wittstock, the FDJ was here doing their patriotic duty. The senior PHV officer attached to Esser's unit – why couldn't he have stayed behind at Preschen? – had told them that it was another example of unity between fraternal allies with the teenagers here helping to assist both Soviet and East German forces. Esser knew that schools across his country were closed due to the war but he didn't think that it was a good thing for those children to be here in such a dangerous place. His opinion on this matter wasn't one he was going to share anyway for it would count for nothing and only earn him a reprimand from the PHV.

Frommer came on the radio breaking Esser's distant thoughts; “It's a Seventy-Six coming in. Can you see it?” The short-range communication between them was informal and conducted in German rather than their previous contact with the tower made in Russian. “Oh… hang on. No...”

“That is an A-Fifty, Bruno.”

Esser looked ahead towards the end of the runaway and saw the A-50 aircraft approach. This airborne radar and command-control aircraft was based upon an Ilyushin-76 aircraft and there weren't many of these in service due to what he had heard were fierce losses even though they had been kept far back from the frontlines when engaged in supporting combat missions undertaken by other aircraft.

“Look at all of that smoke!”

“I see it.” There was black smoke pouring from the starboard wing, a wing which Esser saw was missing one of the four engines. He was astonished that the aircraft was still flying with what must have been major damage caused – probably by a missile strike – that had resulted in the loss of an engine and an ongoing fire.

As he continued to watch, the aircraft came down. He prepared to cringe with the expectation that there would be an impact with the ground but the crew aboard the A-50 did very well indeed. They got their aircraft on the ground and then slowed it down as it travelled further along the tarmac.

Esser was amazed at the skill shown to get such a big, badly-damaged aircraft down.

Moments later, when the A-50 stopped rolling and firefighting vehicles surrounded it, the tower came on the radio ordering him and Frommer to lift off. Esser acknowledged the command but then he saw something out of the corner of his eye.

“Air Attack!” He screamed into the radio mike fitted to his helmet while at the same time pushing the throttle forward. There were a pair of aircraft coming in from the south, very low and straight towards Wittstock: two F-4s with what looked like plenty of ordnance hanging beneath their wings!

Go, Go, Go, Go!

Esser mentally willed his fighter down the runaway. Any second lost here on the ground meant increasing the chance of imminent death. He had no time to glance out of the cockpit to check on those inbound enemy fighters for all of his attention was to get his own up to speed and airborne. He could imagine what those F-4 crews were seeing with his MiG-29 and that of his wingman still on the ground here and perfect targets to be taken out as helpless as they were. His wrist stung holding the throttle as it was but the pain was worth it.

It was just a little further to go…

The fighter came off the ground and Esser at once set about retracting the landing year. His eyes were upon his gauges waiting for the altitude off the ground that he needed to pull the stick back like he needed to.

Just another moment…

Esser conducted a combat take-off as he activated the afterburners as he pulled the control stick back while keeping the throttle where it was. All of his attention was focused upon the vertical climb that he now entered taking his aircraft up, up, up and at full speed getting away from the ground and into the sky above. Up there he would have a chance to fight back rather than be open to attack when down below.

When Esser finally levelled out of his climb, Esser was amazed that he was still alive. He was to the west of Wittstock and with his threat receivers wailing though he was soon manoeuvring across the sky with his jammers on aiming to break the lock-on of whomever was lighting him up. He sought to establish radio contact with ground control and also had to wonder what had happened to Frommer. His wingman didn't answer his quick radio call and Esser couldn't see him up here above the clouds which he had raced through.

He really didn't hope that those F-4s had shot down his comrade.

February 9th 1990
Kristiansand, Norway

HMS Coventry didn't come directly into Kristiansand as the Royal Navy vessel had other duties to attend to so the prisoners aboard were transferred from the frigate to shore in a pair of small motor-launches. Fregattenkapitan Wolke was mighty glad to be off that ship and away from the smug British officers aboard though apprehensive for his fate now that he was being taken to Norway. He had the added burden of worrying about the remains of his crew too: he was responsible for the thirteen fellow sailors that the now departed Coventry had rescued from the sea along with him.

Under the gaze of armed Norwegians – naval reservists he assumed – Wolke sat aboard one of those motor-launches as the shore approached with his head down and lost in his own thoughts.

Rescue had come yesterday in the form of a helicopter first that had circled above floating wreckage on the surface where beforehand had been the Halle.

Wolke had only just managed to escape from his ship as she had broken apart and slid beneath the rough seas while leaving so many of his men behind trapped aboard. It had been a case of every man for himself when the ship had broken apart and no time for false heroics: he hadn't even considered abiding by the foolishly romantic view that a captain should go down with his ship. Living had been the only thing on his mind at that point and it had been his whole focus when in the freezing cold water. He had held on with all of his might to a life-preserver which he had come across and been forced to physically fight another man for it as it could only save the life of one man, not two.

He had felt no shame for his actions there in doing what he had because at the time it had been necessary.

That helicopter had circled for some time while desperate sailors from Wolke's doomed ship hopelessly pleaded for assistance. He himself had waited in silence considering that he had to keep his strength and not waste it by shouting and trying to swim after an airborne helicopter as others had done… many of whom tired themselves out soon enough and disappeared under the water from the effort.

When the boat had come, launched from a ship coming up behind it, only then had Wolke made the effort needed. He had swum towards it as fast as he could with his life-preserver in tow but determined to be pulled out of the water by those aboard. Wolke had been the first man there and when the arms had come to get him onto the boat he had felt the relief of salvation wash over him.

Other men had been pulled from the Skagerrak too and there had been troubles with so many desperate men trying to clamber aboard all at once. Wolke had huddled in a corner keeping out of the way again at that point unashamed of what he had done in being the first here and not eager at all to assist the ongoing rescue effort.

It was only afterwards when the bigger Coventry had come closer had Wolke started to reconsider his actions. He became aware of how selfishly he had acted and that what he had done had gone against his oaths as an officer and also morality too. He had feared for his own life but that was no excuse. He had realised that he could have assisted in saving more men than eventually ended up being brought aboard the little boat first and then the ship from where that and the helicopter had come. His fear of drowning when in the water had overcome him and made him act as he had done, he told himself, and it would be the right thing to do to atone for those shameful acts afterwards.

Therefore, when aboard the Coventry late yesterday and through most of today, Wolke had been trying his best to do right by his remaining crew. He thought it best to make it known to the British his rank and to be the one with whom they dealt rather than have them mistreat his men as he had first feared they might. While he didn't speak English, there was a Royal Navy officer born in West Germany (to a military family, Wolke was informed by the Lieutenant-Commander who was the First Officer) aboard who spoke German and it was this man who was responsible for the prisoners from the Volksmarine. Wolke wasn't interrogated beyond being asked his name, rank, date-of-birth and his military service number – for record-keeping only apparently – and his men were given food and medical care rather than being beaten or threatened with death unless they revealed state secrets.

Wolke had never really believed that might have happened yet had tried to steel himself ready should the propaganda which he had heard about his country's enemies actually be true.

An introduction to the Coventry was given to Wolke… like he was a visiting dignitary! He learnt that the ship was twice the size of his with a far bigger crew and carried a pair of helicopters. There was the lack of a main gun for the vessel though plenty of missiles carried along with anti-submarine torpedoes. He wasn't able to learn anything significant about these weapons nor the ship's combat systems as he was only given a pro forma brief. The vessel itself was only a few years old and named after one lost when the British had fought Argentina in 1982; it was clearly far more capable than his sunk Halle.

Wolke was told that he and his men were prisoners and would be treated under international laws governing the rules of conduct to be shown towards opposing military forces captured. The British made a big deal out of his and it was irksome to him how they treated him as someone to practise this on and also made remarks that while he couldn't understand suggested that they were morally superior to him by doing so. The unsaid suggestion was that he wouldn't be doing the same in their shoes.

When he met with the Captain, Coventry's commander spoke through his First Officer in assuring Wolke that the East Germans aboard would be treated well here and afterwards when they left the frigate before then inviting his counterpart to his stateroom for something to eat. Wolke made sure that his men were being fed too and only then did he agree to eat with the two Royal Navy officers. It was a hearty meal which Wolke had wanted to ravish down though had restrained himself for the sake of formality. During that dinner, he had been subject to what he considered British propaganda. They informed him that the combined Warsaw Pact navies – the United Baltic Fleet – had failed to breakout of the Baltic Exits following defeats inflicted by upon them by NATO ships, submarines, aircraft and missiles in a set-piece battle that the Coventry had played a small role in.

Like the Danish submarine which he had been told had been responsible for sinking the Halle, Wolke was told that the Coventry had been guarding the rear of the Baltic Exits and this frigate was claiming the destruction of a Soviet submarine. He wasn't sure how much of this was all true though it was clear that the British wanted him to believe what they were saying.

He nodded and pretended that it was all of no interest to him while eating their food.

Arriving in Norway, their new captors brought Wolke and his men seemingly right into the heart of the main harbour. He counted more than a dozen shops here including a couple of small warships though mainly civilian vessels that he could only assume were now undertaking military tasks. What those tasks were, he didn't know yet he was certain that it must be important for this was wartime and Kristiansand was a major port.

Wolke was escorted off the motor-launch he was on and marched off with those other sailors from the Halle and into captivity here in Norway where he expected to sit out the war until a conclusion was reached… whatever that might be.

February 9th 1990
Schweinfurt, West Germany

As he had been told to do, Oberleutnant Korner curled up into the foetal position as he lay in the muddy trench with his eyes shut, his mouth open and his hands over his ears. Around him the other men who had leapt in here when the warning was shouted that B-52s were overhead were doing the same.

Then the first bombs made impact with the ground nearby as hell incarnate was unleashed.

Someone screamed near to Korner continuously as the bombs fell from the aircraft overhead: the screams were that this wasn’t real and he was at home in his bed. Those screams were of pure terror and displayed an immense fear on the part of whoever had chosen to react that way. Another man near to Korner was repeating the Lord's Prayer over and over again. Korner could hear the shouts from that man as he pleaded with his God to save him between the blasts that kept on coming. He himself just kept as small as possible with the hope that doing nothing would keep him safe without external intervention.

Again and again and again the ground shook. Korner was lifted up out of the mud a few inches each time and then dropped back down into it again. It hadn't rained since yesterday and he was thankful for this otherwise as the trench lowly started to collapse around him he might have drowned within the mud. Instead, he shuffled each time after landing towards what seemed safer ground rather than slide down deeper into the sinking ground.

Following the shakes and between the noises from those with him, Korner heard the blasts too. His hands couldn't protect his ears from them and he was convinced that at any moment now his eardrums were going to burst. Keeping his mouth wide open was meant to stop that happening, he had been told, though he wasn't sure as to whether such a thing would work. He couldn't help but momentarily wonder what it would be like to be left deaf after this in a world of silence.

More bombs fell as the bombing attack continued.

Korner knew why the Americans were using their massive aircraft this evening to blast Schweinfurt. This town had been captured on the war's first day by Soviet paratroopers with one of their airborne divisions creating a bridgehead into northern Bavaria through which an attack by a portion of their Eighth Guards Army had drove towards afterwards. The bridges over the Main River were later lost to air strikes but the temporary crossings here – which Korner was here to assist in the operation of in such a hostile environment – had been used to allow for first a Soviet motor rifle division and then a Polish tank division which had followed them to operate here deep inside West Germany.

Wurzburg was where the forward elements of the attacking Warsaw Pact troops were now, he had been told. This meant that the American Army in West Germany had been split into two with what was apparently one of their multi-division corps commands, the US VII Corps, assailed from both sides now and the other – the US V Corps – hit in the flank while fighting against the main body of the Eighth Guards Army on the other side of the Spessart. Holding Schweinfurt was the key to all of this because as it was a major communications network, including the crossings over the Main.

That was why the B-52s were overhead. Korner couldn't see them and certainly didn't want to. He had heard all about those aircraft with their giant internal bomb-bays loaded with countless high-explosive bombs and the devastating effects such weapons could have. Those tales came from those who had been here for some time rather than new arrivals like him who had been officially briefed that there was only a small, almost insignificant air threat to Schweinfurt and any bomber that the Americans had would be blasted out of the sky long before it could pose a threat.

So much for that piece of propaganda.

It would be the river that the bombers were targeting, Korner told himself as he continued to be bounced around the trench. They would be aiming to drop their bombs over the pontoon bridges, his fellow engineers there and the armoured vehicles backed up waiting to go over the Main for operations to the south and the east too. His visit up here to the headquarters complex outside the town itself had certainly saved his life even though he was being as roughly treated as he was. Bombing the city of Schweinfurt would be later used for propaganda purposes, he knew, just as it had already been following events here of the war's first day that he had recently been told about.

The official line ran that the majority of the city's inhabitants who had been killed by nerve gases in Schweinfurt on February 4th had died the horrible deaths that they had due to the Americans unleashing such weapons to 'stop the liberation'. There was no mention in the news reports that he had been told were being broadcast back home about the rockets that he had later found out had been targeted upon the landing sites used for Soviet paratroopers. Neither had there been mention about the unfortunate change in direction of the wind which had blown such gases towards the city. Here in Schweinfurt, what few civilians remained following the city which had become an armed camp were given hastily-printed leaflets – Korner had seen one – repeating this and asserting that it had been the deliberate intention of the Americans to slaughter West Germans here.

Korner knew the truth and suspected that almost everyone did, but wisely kept his mouth shut on that matter.

The bombing came to a stop. All of a sudden there were no more bombs falling. Korner opened one eye first and then the other as he raised himself up to his hands and knees. At any moment, he was ready to drop back down and protect himself again, but no more bombs fell. Yet there wasn't silence that met him though. That screaming from whoever that was nearby continued and then there was something else too. It was a strange noise off in the distance that he had no idea as to the source of.

After a while, slowly and still on edge, Korner got out of the trench and wiped the mud from his face. He felt heat upon him the moment that he stood up beside the road and turned around to look towards where he knew the centre of Schweinfurt was.

The noise was that of the greatest conflagration he had ever seen. His mouth came open again as he gasped in awe at what he was witnessing. This time, there would be no need for false propaganda as it could truly be said that what he was witnessing now was the work of NATO military action, not that undertaken by his own side, that had gone awry.

Schweinfurt was alight from end to end.

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 07, 2018 5:47 pm 

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Chapter Eight – Counting The Cost

February 10th 1990
Dorfmark, West Germany

Major Koch knew he was lucky to be alive. He should have been dead: either killed alongside so many of his men or shot afterwards for leading an unauthorised retreat.

That Dutch counterattack, part of a bigger effort he had learnt involving the Americans too, had ripped the heart out of his battalion leaving it a shadow of what it had previously been. 4 Company was gone with every tank destroyed and not a single man remaining. 5 & 6 Company's had each taken losses too and so when combined with his small battalion headquarters element 2/17R had a little over forty per cent of its manpower before into battle remaining as well as only thirteen tanks.

Koch commanded no more than a company-sized force now.

Elsewhere within his parent regiment, the damage was from what he had heard worse. The two other battalions that with his had formed the 17th Tank Regiment had been decimated as they too had been hit with a devastating strike coming down from the north which had caught them unawares. The rest of the 17th Tank Regiment hadn't been as fortunate as him either to have a flight of Soviet aircraft show up to save them. Koch had witnessed those four Sukhoi-25 attack-fighters swoop in with bombs and missiles to take on the Dutch tanks which had been busy killing his men and never been so grateful to see an aircraft in his life. Despite knowing that the air support hadn't come for altruistic reasons – the Soviets had been thinking about the rest of the Third Shock Army being assailed in the flank as it was – Koch had been saved by those aircraft commencing their attacks as they had done. One had been shot down by a Dutch mobile anti-aircraft platform and another damaged, but the destruction wrought by such aircraft had been immense and stopped the enemy cold before they had been able to finish off his battalion.

Afterwards, Koch had pulled what tanks he had left back a distance of several miles to withdraw away from the Dutch while they stopped their advance to take stock of their own losses. Staying on the battlefield where the guns of his tanks were ineffective against the armour fitted to the Dutch tanks had been tantamount to suicide and Koch hadn't been prepared to do that. He had tried to seek permission to withdraw, through the regimental operations staff who he was tasked to, yet electronic jamming had prevented that. He had known the price of pulling back but had seen no other choice rather than to see the death of all of his men die for no good.

The writ for his death hadn't come though. Koch didn't know why. Perhaps it was because the intervention of aircraft where he had been had stopped the Dutch cold there? Or maybe because the other two battalions had been thoroughly destroyed and he had led some surviving tanks away?

There was also the possibility that he had just been forgotten about too.

From 1/17R & 3/17R there were just another nine tanks which remained: nine out of sixty-two! In counting the cost of such losses taken the other day, the decision had been made by the regimental commander to merge all that was left of the 17th Tank Regiment into a single two-company battalion with Koch being instructed to hastily oversee that merger of individual crews from previously separate subunits all into one so that what was left could be put to best use. Unit cohesion didn't matter to Koch's commander, all he cared about what the twenty-plus tanks which were left could be ready as soon as possible for action again as the war was still ongoing. He himself had afterwards returned to the 17 MRD staff and left Koch all alone with the 'new' 2/17R.

Located around the village of Dorfmark, 2/17R had the role of static defence for the time being. Koch was thankful for this because even though there was a danger of being caught up again in another NATO counterattack with the frontlines not being that far away, he had arranged his command here in sheltered firing positions ready to defend this location which sat at an important crossroads. The nearby A-7 Autobahn was met by several smaller roads here meaning that air attacks were likely too, yet there was no need for his men to be on the move and therefore out in the open ready again to blunder into a slaughter like had occurred before.

All he had to do was to keep his battalion, such as it was with its twenty-two tanks, here with the barrels of their main guns facing outwards less there come the sudden appearance of NATO tanks swarming all over the rear areas of the Third Shock Army. Every hour that become more and more unlikely as the frontlines moved further away to the west and the north too: the Poles were pushing in the latter direction.

Nonetheless, there was still plenty to worry about.

When his tanks had come face-to-face with those West German-built, Dutch-crewed Leopard-2s they had failed to score a single proper kill upon such opponents. The armour-piercing 100mm shells fired his T-55 tanks hadn't done their job against such enemy tanks: the Dutch armour hadn't been pierced at all. It had been a terrible experience to see the failure of that to occur and then to have the Dutch fire back eliminating tanks under his command one-by-one with such ease in doing so as if they were on gunnery practise.

Koch didn't believe that he would be here guarding this village for very long. Soon enough, he imagined that the Third Shock Army – to which he now answered to directly through their operations staff – would be calling for his tanks to go into action again. Maybe not today, but at some point in the future. Static anti-tank work in the rear was supposed to be done by towed anti-tank guns, not tanks themselves. He imagined that some Soviet officer would see his small formation marked on a map and come to the conclusion that as a tank unit 2/17R was mobile and therefore should be sent into battle again supporting an infantry attack or such like if it was incapable of going up against NATO tank forces while on the move.

Being in the rear here at Dorfmark, away from the frontlines and safe from another massacre at the minute, wasn't something which Koch imagined was going to last very long especially if the frontlines kept moving forwards as they were.

February 10th 1990
America, The Netherlands

The British commander had moved the NORTHAG command post across the border into the Netherlands following the attack yesterday at Krefeld. They had ended up here outside this tiny village which Leutnant Haas believed was located between Eindhoven and Venlo though he couldn't be exactly sure of precisely where: there had been an immense clampdown upon operational security within the NORTHAG staff and many people were being treated with suspicion.

Haas groaned with the others who had complained while secretly pleased that the suspicion was widespread rather than focused upon him.

The attack yesterday in the woodland near Krefeld had been a failure. There was no other way to regard the strike which had come, even as spectacular as it was, as anything else. Haas' fellow countrymen had ambushed the mobile column that provided command-&-control for NATO's multi-national army group fighting on the North German Plain yet had failed to do anywhere near the damage which his superiors would have wanted to have seen. Surprise had been gained, deaths caused and much damage done to the overall headquarters functions of the staff with which Haas travelled with but overall the effects hadn’t been long-lasting nor enough to cause any major disruption.

As he had feared, there had been too few commandoes facing far too many security personnel.

Once the guard force had overcome their initial shock, they had fought back remarkably well. The West German reservists and British regulars beat back their East German assailants to allow for the staff officers to get clear before surrounding and then pounding the attackers into defeat. From what Haas had been told, the small-scale infantry tactics put to use had been something special to see.

He himself had been away from Site #6 at the time. He had made sure that his orders came from his superior to have him not present when the attack came and still back at Site #13 overseeing the final stages of the daily move. He had therefore missed the gas alarm, the RPG blasts and the machine gun fire that had signalled the start of that, then not been forced to grab a weapon and fire blindly into the dark like so many others afterwards told of how they had done. Haas had been told many stories of the bravery exhibited by staff officers here from those still in shock at what had happened and wanting to work through it all by talking about it. However, he knew that later that shock would manifest itself in other manners such as silence for some and the withdrawal of others.

Senior officers were counting the cost of their own losses in the terms of deaths and wounds inflicted but they were yet to see the hidden effects.

When it came to the fate of the attackers, Haas wasn't privy to that information. He wanted to know if any of those commandoes had survived to be taken prisoner and thus interrogated but he was unable to find out such information. The risk of needing to know if he therefore was endangered had to be measured against asking too many questions and bringing attention towards himself. His cover identity was something not to be taken lightly and had brought him here where security was tight yet it wouldn't be full-proof against a determined effort to break it.

Haas had no idea as to how many of those commandoes had known about him. There was their commander, Oberleutnant Reisinger, with whom he had spoken but Haas couldn't be sure how many others that day when he had met them had seen his face nor learnt of his name before or after that one meeting. Which name too? Did they know him by his real name as an officer with the HVA or by the name which he was using now?

His original mission orders were for him to escape after the attack had commenced. Haas was meant to desert his post and use another set of identity papers which he had with him – denoting him as a Luxembourg Army officer of all things, an idea he hoped which would make no one take any notice of him – to get to a safe location in the southern part of the Rhineland. When the Rhine was crossed by the advancing Warsaw Pact armies, he was then to make himself known to follow on-forces behind the leading tanks and infantry so he could return 'home' to the HVA.

He was prepared to do this with the belief that it was a good plan. He was certain that he would be able to get past the roadblocks with his new identity and to the safe house that he had waiting for him; eventually, the Soviet tanks would arrive too. However, Haas didn't have his Luxembourgish identity papers. Those were back in Düsseldorf after he had forgotten to take them with him in the haste to plant that bomb on the eve of war and then report to his Territoralheer mobilisation post whilst fighting against the tide of civilian traffic fleeing that city. He had only realised his error yesterday and that was far too late to do anything about it now.

How could he have been so stupid to forget them?

What was he to do? Make a run for it anyway and be asked at the first roadblock which he ran into where were his written orders to be moving through the rear? Then wait while authorisation was sought and came back negative? Doing that was a certain way to make sure that he was detained then his actions investigated.

Haas was trapped… though there was some light about to come at the end of the tunnel.

Reassignment orders came this morning for many of the staff officers assigned to NORTHAG headquarters. Several of their number lay dead or injured following the commando strike and now many of them were being allotted elsewhere: Haas was among them.

He had first thought that it was just West German officers, untrusted by their allies, who were being reassigned and been outraged at that. Again, as before, he had to remind himself not too fall deep into character as he wasn't a West German and while he could pretend to be outraged in reality he had no need to: the British, the Americans, the Dutch and the Belgians were actually right not to trust one particular 'West German'.


It turned out that other officers from those NATO armies within NORTHAG were being sent elsewhere too. Haas was to joint these in being sent away to new tasks in what no one said, but everyone knew, was a security measure against further treason.

Maybe elsewhere he would get the chance to return to where his loyalties truly lay.

February 10th 1990
Lubeck–Herrenwyk, West Germany

More damage than expected had been done to Lubeck and its important industrial and transportation facilities than Generalmajor Fritsch had expected that almost a week of war would do. Destruction caused by falling bombs, artillery shells and close-combat fighting was something he had anticipated, yet here in the West German city on the Baltic almost all of the devastation he witnessed had been self-inflicted by the West Germans themselves. It was the behaviour of a spoilt child, Fritsch thought. Those who had been trapped in Lubeck for the week had decided that if they couldn't control access to what made the city valuable, then no one would.

Everything of strategic value had been blown up or knocked down. The harbour facilities at Travemunde were wrecked following demolitions and the shipping channel blocked with vessels capsized on purpose in the most important places. Road and rail bridges over the River Trave had been brought down in systematic fashion. The main railway station was still standing but the associated infrastructure around it was blown to pieces. Throughout the industrial area of Herrenwyk where he now had been the metallurgical plant and the power station was nothing but piles of rubble. The historic city centre, carefully restored in the decades since the Second World War, was the only part of Lubeck where none of the organised demolitions had taken place… though much of that area had been hit by falling bombs from overflying aircraft anyway.

Regardless, what there was of Lubeck left was of little value to an occupier seeking long-term goals for the city. Fritsch was glad that he wasn't to be the one responsible for that though in the short-term the city, its inhabitants and the security situation here were his following the end of the Siege of Lubeck at dawn.

Surrender of the city's defenders had been a long time in coming.

On the war's first day, when the 8 MRD had broken through the frontlines and raced forward, supported by Soviet T-64s of their 138th Independent Tank Regiment as they had done so, Lubeck had been bypassed just as the eastern suburbs of Hamburg had been too. There had been a charge forward to link up with other Thirty–Eighth Airborne Corps elements – those which had arrived by air to seize bridgeheads – and the small city on the Baltic had been encircled just as the bigger one alongside the North Sea had been too.

West German reservists with their 61st Brigade had withdrawn to positions around Lubeck and been joined there by regular troops from rear-area units. They were short of ammunition and other supplies yet had been determined to hold on to Lubeck and wait for relief so they and the civilians inside wouldn't fall into East German custody. Fritsch hadn't been concerned as Lubeck was regarded by him as too big early on with so many other tasks for him and his men to do elsewhere while the Thirty–Eighth Airborne Corps' commander had concentrated on other tasks too. The 27th Motorised Rifle Regiment of the 8 MRD had been ordered to surround the city pending the expected later fall after it's defenders had been ground down. This had finally occurred when the West Germans had run out of ammunition and could no longer stop probing attacks forward so they had given in. That surrender process had been a big affair for the West Germans involving trying to maintain their honour in defeat and making a big show of handing over Landstreitkrafte wounded men.

Fritsch was well aware that the senior officers from the 61st Brigade along with others in command positions of civilian affairs in Lubeck were all to soon be shot as soon as the Stasi got around to them while captured soldiers and any useful civilians put to work as forced labourers; he wasn't concerned about this at all. His attention was on what came afterwards though with Lubeck.

The victorious Landstreitkrafte troops were already on their way northwards – relying upon his men to assist in the security of their march to link up with the rest of their division – and wouldn't be garrisoning Lubeck. That would be a job for his already overstretched and undermanned command to achieve as like elsewhere the Strauss Group needed security for their work.

The victory won at Lubeck in forcing the surrender would be milked for all it was worth propaganda-wise, Fritsch knew, yet once again it would negativity affect him. He would see more men under his command die, further draining of his meagre resources and additional work he needed to do. There would be even less time for his personal pleasures such as sleep and making sure his bed was shared by whoever he could coerce into again doing so among the frightened female population here.

Moreover, Fritsch had learnt that the expectation was that soon Hamburg would be open to occupation too. That city was far bigger and defended by regular West German soldiers who weren't cut off as they still had land connections to the west, yet likely advances to be made on the North German Plain meant an expected change in the situation there. He had been briefed by his intelligence staff that the Dutch Army was to withdraw back towards Bremen at any moment less they be cut off and encircled: when they started to do that, West German soldiers out of Hamburg would head west right behind them leaving Hamburg behind less they be cut off as well.

Hamburg would present Fritsch with far more challenges than Lubeck. In this city there was already signs that not all enemy soldiers had surrendered as many of the defenders had melted away with their weapons; the situation would be similar in Hamburg though with more numbers. When the occupation of Hamburg occurred, Fritsch expected to be long counting the cost of operations there in terms of deaths, destruction and his precious time wasted.

Away from future problems with Hamburg, present issues with Lubeck and his unfulfilled personal needs, Fritsch tried to remain focused upon his overall tasks here in northern West Germany. He was still being escorted around this ruined wasteland which had only a week ago been a thriving industrial concern as he thought about those.

The occupation throughout Holstein and now in the majority of Schleswig too was failing. He didn't want to admit that and couldn't either, but it was certainly true. He didn't have enough men and no more were going to be sent to him. His plans for the model occupation, which he had boasted of, were facing a death by a thousand cuts. Constantly there was opposition to the security regime he was trying to impose across the areas behind the frontlines that he was responsible for. Attacks by guerrillas were continuing in the countryside as well as in the towns. There were marauding enemy soldiers, alone or in small groups, who were still armed and launched uncoordinated attacks all over the place. NATO special forces teams – mainly West German and Danish regulars though some British and American units had been identified too – were active throughout the occupied region in addition to other localised combatants which Fritsch's men had to face.

Then there was the air threat, which was growing worse all of the time.

Up ahead, further north across the Danish border in the Jutland Peninsula, there were the airbases at Aalborg, Karup and Skrydstrup. These were all home to NATO aircraft from many nations which were raining bombs down daily upon occupied territory. Much of the hostile air attention was against the 8 MRD near Flensburg and the Soviet paratroopers fighting as armoured infantry alongside them now, but their air strikes came further south every day. Each airbase was the target of nightly strikes by SRBMs as well as conventional air attacks but they were still operational along with the aircraft which flew from them. From the way Fritsch understood it, the Thirty–Eighth Airborne Corps would need a miracle to now get into Jutland in force to seize those airbases and that wasn't forthcoming.

Furthermore, more air strikes were coming from the sea. In the east, there was still fighting around Copenhagen on Zealand and the waters there belonged to the beaten remains of the United Baltic Fleet, but it was a different matter to the north and the west. Men under Fritsch's command had captured pilots on the ground who had been downed by air defence assets which were theoretically under his command too: the arrangements there were complicated. Those aircrew in question had either been from the land bases in Jutland or from ships at sea in the Skagerrak and the North Sea.

Two aircraft carriers were reported there, one British and one American.

Where were the Soviet missile-carrying bombers, their vaunted raketonosets, he wanted to ask? Shouldn't the Tupolev-16s and Tu-22s by now have fired off waves of cruise missiles against those aircraft carriers and put them out of action? With that having not occurring, the air threat against him was far greater than it should have been. Because aircraft from such vessels were free to manoeuvre and not be fixed in-place like those airbases were, their aircraft attacked from all over. They could also support any seaborne raiding operations, or worse, at a later date an amphibious counter-invasion, along the western coastline. Fritsch knew from the intelligence that the Thirty–Eighth Airborne Corps was briefing his officers upon that there were uncommitted NATO marine infantry forces still. Some were in Norway apparently, fighting through all of that snow up there, but others hadn't shown up in action anywhere. It would be the job of the Soviet 37th Independent Landing-assault Brigade to meet such a threat if that came; Fritsch knew the coastline wasn't open to a major landing but there was always the chance and the Soviet force deployed there wasn't very large in terms of manpower.

If an invasion came there, it was his men deployed inland who would be next in-line.

All of this swirled around in his mind. Fritsch was growing more and more uncomfortable every day being here in West Germany. If he had more men, then maybe he would be less concerned though fewer duties for what forces he had would help to a greater degree. Moreover, if only progress could be made on the battlefield then he believed that there was a good chance that some of his worries would lessen.

But the frontlines south of Flensburg hadn't moved in several days now and all attention – including available reserves of combat troops – were active elsewhere in West Germany at the minute on the all-important North German Plain.

February 10th 1990
Burgwedel, West Germany

40 Luftsturmregiment had been pulled back from the frontlines late yesterday and moved a short distance to the rear though still not far from where the ongoing fighting was taking place. There was a mobile battle underway in the battles around Hannover to the north and east which required tanks and armoured infantry with dismounted units such as the East German paratroopers unable to keep pace with the environment as it was there. The pull-back had come far too late for many of their number though with plenty of dead soldiers from this elite Landstreitkrafte formation not being able to make it to the village where they were supposed to regroup and be reorganised.

Gefreiter Schmid was one of the five hundred plus men who was at Burgwedel today and still able to fight: the other three hundred missing were between here and Hannover Airport either dead or in enemy custody. Like almost everyone else, officers and men, Schmid was tired, dirty and carrying minor war-wounds. His hands and knees were cut while he had bruises to his arms and legs. He stunk after being unable to wash for a week now and his uniform was torn and ripped in multiple places. The longest that he had slept for uninterrupted was a total of two and quarter hours while he hadn't had a proper meal since before the war begun. The medics had issued pills for the sergeants to give to themselves and then men to apparently make them feel better; Schmid had done as ordered to do in swallowing the pills but still had stomach cramps and a permanent headache.

Nonetheless, despite everything, he still wanted to keep on fighting and everyone he had spoken to had said the same thing when they had been together. Morale was at an all-time high with everyone eager to return to battling the West Germans and the British who had killed so many of their comrades.

Schmid wanted to go back and finish what he had started.

Such decisions weren't those to be made by Schmid though, nor anyone else with the 40 Luftsturmregiment in fact. Orders had come down from higher above then regimental-level – the Soviet Second Guards Tank Army in fact – that a battle-hardened, elite airmobile unit such as the one pulled back to Burgwedel, even depleted as it was, was needed to see action again elsewhere and had to be readied.

Schmid was currently inside a school with many of his comrades while other men were inside a church building. These two locations inside the village were the only places where they were allowed to stay out of the rain outside and get some food inside them while also take the time for some rest as well. There was the distant sound of artillery off in the distance though that was far enough away to not be of a concern for a moment. Here Schmid ate and sat down in the dry while he waited to be told what was going on.

He had to wait a while for that to occur.

Finally, there came the call for those inside the school where Schmid was to stand-to outside. The rain had eased off and Schmid went outside as he was instructed to along with everyone else; what remained of the regiment was all gathered together along with what Schmid saw were some additions too. He had heard talk inside that after counting the cost of the losses taken there was to be a reorganisation and he saw that now as men were moved about. He himself was placed in what he realised was a company-group with men with whom he had served before but others too from different elements of the regiment now it was short of so many men. This whole process took some time with changes made during the roll-calls and Schmid found the whole thing very haphazard. The 40 Luftsturmregiment was usually so organised in everything, yet that was in peacetime and not after a week of fighting the enemy inside their own territory.

He also paid attention to the new officers with the regiment who wore a different uniform.

Those were Soviet Army men he saw. Part of his training was basic recognition of uniforms of allies and opponents as the 40 Luftsturmregiment was expected to fight almost anywhere. They wore insignia denoting them as junior men – lieutenants and captains – and they moved to stand alongside East Germans of fellow rank commanding the platoons and companies. This was something new…

There was a new regimental commander too. This Oberstleutnant was a fellow East German, Schmid saw, but someone he had never seen before. Schmid and the others were soon addressed by this man as he stood before them all. He had to shout to be heard among so many paratroopers gathered before him and there was a good chance that not all those he spoke to heard him.

Schmid did and he wasn't best pleased with what was said.

No mention was made as to where his predecessor was just that this new man was now in charge. He spoke of the fact that the regiment would soon be back in action again and that he would demand that the men do their best. Had they done so before? He told the men to ask themselves that. Had they not been forced to withdraw from where they were? He told them to consider as to whether that was because they hadn't fought hard enough? They would be in action again soon, tonight in fact, and would they do better this time than before? He told them to remember their duty and not to display acts of cowardice in fighting the enemy.

It was an outrageous statement to make. Schmid knew that they had all fought as hard as they could have and done their duty only to be beaten by a mass of enemy tanks that as a light infantry force they couldn't have hoped to overcome. A fighting withdrawal had been made in the face of the enemy and the regiment hadn't broken.

Schmid's morale sunk immediately and he was sure that around him it was the same with all of the other men. They had done so well and had been were eager to get fighting again but here had come this outsider to tell them the opposite. This was not the right thing to say to the regiment on the eve of returning to battle.

February 10th 1990
Kommando Landstreitkrafte, Geltow, East Germany

While he still had many duties to attend to, Generaloberst Ulrich did not have all of his time consumed by them. He had overseen the progress of the field armies which made up the Polish Front move through East Germany and to the frontlines in West Germany. There was still ongoing supervision needed to be done of securing the lines of communications for those forward troops and support elements in the rear yet he wasn't overly burdened by them.

Rather than spent his time idle, Ulrich was able to indulge himself in studying the 'bigger picture' of how the war was going between his duties. He was a student of military history and he was now positioned in a key role to see how the war was progressing. Battles of the ancient era were one thing and so were those epic conflicts of the Second World War, but the fighting across in West Germany during World War Three was wholly different as his influence could be felt there.

This evening, while men were fighting across on the other side of the IGB, Ulrich was at his command post in the warm comfort drinking coffee and talking with his deputy as they looked at the maps of where that was taking place.

“Wolfgang, one day they will call this the 'Hannover Salient'.”

“I don't doubt that, Heer General.” Like the commander of the Landstreitkrafte, his deputy was looking at the pins positioned on the map of the Lower Saxony area around Hannover.

“Will the British dare to make another counter-offensive? A corps-sized one this time?”

“General-Polkovnik Tarasov” (the former Belorussian Military District commander now in charge of the Polish Front) “and his staff are hoping that they will make the effort soon enough and fail to get anywhere significant.”

“And cut themselves off even more…?”

“That is my understanding, yes.”

On the map, Ulrich could see what the Tarasov was hoping for. One of the strongest NATO ground forces currently active in West Germany was the British I Corps. Three British and one West German divisions were its main composition with other smaller attachments from regular and reserve units of both nation's armies. This force was gathered around Hannover defending the general area in a large salient from attacks coming from the north and east being launched by the Soviet Second Guards Tank Army. Polish units now with the Northern Front were to the south though of more significance were other Polish Front troops – the Soviet Twenty–Eighth Army – driving towards the Weser to the northwest. If the British I Corps remained where it was, fighting to keep hold of Hannover in what Ulrich understood was more to a political need than military necessity, then they were soon going to be in very serious trouble.

“The frontlines have moved since we last undated the map, Heer General.”

“Wolfgang, they move all of the time, back-and-forth in some places too, and it is hard to keep up.”

For Ulrich, the personal interest he had in the overall campaign rather than just the role he was playing was hampered by the movements on the battlefield in real-time. The fighting in West Germany was one of mobile warfare even in areas where from a distance the fighting seemed static as tanks and mechanised infantry clashed from near Jutland down into Austria. At night time the fighting would generally ease off – though that wasn't always the case – and there would often be big advance at dawn but also at other times through the day. When he had his staff update his maps showing the progress of the war, he could sometimes be surprised at the scale of movement in places yet disappointed to see none elsewhere where he thought there would have come much.

“There's not much movement here near Flensburg.” Ulrich's deputy now brought his superior's attention to a second map; he was someone who understood his commander's interest and sought to aid him in that while they had a break from their other duties… however, it was not the case in this instance.

“Forget it!” Ulrich held his hands up for a second, surrendering the idea of discussing the situation there. He had a sip of his coffee, savoured its taste and was glad he was here in his headquarters and not with the chain-smoking Soviets in their command bunkers. “The situation there will be the same there in a week as it is today.

Here, Wolfgang, is where I am interested in.”

Ulrich moved to a third map located on a wall in his operations room below ground at Kommando Landstreitkrafte: this one showed the northern parts of Bavaria & Baden-Wurttemberg as well as central and southern parts of Hessen.

“Kokorin has yet to employ his second echelon tank army.”

“I fear, Wolfgang, he has waited far too long.” Ulrich knew what he could have done if he had been in the place of the Northern Front's commander. “He should have pushed it forward on day three, maybe day four towards Schweinfurt.”

“Or across the Fulda River between the West Germans and the Americans, Heer General?”

“No, that would have been a mistake.”

The Soviet First Guards Tank Army consisted of four Soviet tank divisions and an East German one too. It was meant to be an exploitation force to rush forward either behind the Twentieth Guards or Eighth Guards Army's when they made an initial breakthrough early in the war and pour the fifteen hundred plus tanks forward deep into West Germany either into Hessen or Bavaria. Instead, it had been held back even when Ulrich considered that opportunities had come for such a movement of armour.

When the Third Shock Army, with an identical composition and role, had been used on the North German Plain following the Second Guards Tank Army, that onrush of armour had been met by a combined counterattack mounted by a trio of NATO divisions waiting in reserve themselves. Such a move had stung the Third Shock Army… but look where that formation was now. NATO hadn't pressed home their strike and withdrawn afterwards when they had struck at the Third Shock Army fearful of their own losses. Yet, as far as Ulrich could tell, Kokorin had been concerned about seeing something similar happen to the First Guards Tank Army and so hadn't committed his exploitation force at all. This was a grave error indeed.

He now explained to his deputy what he would have done: “Schweinfurt was the key, Wolfgang. That Soviet airborne division got near-destroyed holding on there until relief came but when the tanks from the Eighth Guards Army arrived they were still holding their landing ground and the roads open for access all across Bavaria. Look where the frontlines are now: Wurzburg and Karlstadt are still held by the Americans there.”

“Where could the First Guards Tank Army have gone in your opinion, Heer General?”

“West and southwest.” His hand moved over the map. “Aschaffenburg could have been moved against to threaten Frankfurt but the main effort should have been to take Wurzburg and then aim for the Rhine between Darmstadt and Heidelberg. The French were still taking their time and the river could have been reached before they could defend it.

If Kokorin had his tanks on the Rhine, behind Frankfurt too, then that would have been a potentially war-winning move.”

Ulrich had to wonder if when counting the cost of the 'mistake' there – as he saw it anyway – Kokorin's superior as Western-TVD Zinoviev was considering adding a single bullet to that total. He saw it as a major strategic blunder not to open up the frontlines there and the apparent hesitation was not something that the Soviets were going to take lightly when it was all down to a single man in uniform as they gambled on the fate of nations.

Both men had some more coffee and Ulrich spoke to an aide who came into the room bringing him a message form concerning the East German 9 TD. Afterwards, he went back to his map of Lower Saxony again and looked at the reported position of that formation, one assigned to the Third Shock Army.

“Where is Schwarmstedt, Wolfgang?”

“Here.” A finger from his deputy pointed to a point on that map between Bremen and Hannover. “Near where the Aller meets the Leine.”

“Our Ninth Tanks have just reached there.”

“Tarasov employed one of his reserve airborne divisions at dawn this morning at Schwarmstedt as well as nearby Hodenhagen and Rethem as well – all river crossing sites. Now I see why.”

Ulrich did as well: “He is sending the Twenty–Eighth Army towards Nienburg, Wolfgang, while keeping the Third Shock Army pushing for Bremen still. They have Americans, Dutch and some West Germans between them and the Weser, but I think that we will see this now as the main focus of the war.

Once the river is crossed in strength by either army, or both, that NATO is finished in the north. They can't stop ten divisions moving together like that and not with all the mass civilian panic that is occurring because of the threats to Hamburg and Bremen.”

“So much for Wurzburg, Heer General?”

Ulrich turned to his deputy and saw a cunning smile on the face of the junior man. There was no malice there in such a remark.

“It seems that Tarasov knows his business. If he can trap the Dutch on the wrong side of the Weser in the north and the British to his south, then its either into the Netherlands or down to the Ruhr.”

Ulrich was impressed at what he was seeing. He wondered if there was someone like him across on the other side, maybe someone not so directly involved, who had heard about a mass movement of armour today through a little place called Schwarmstedt on the way to a riverside town known as Nienburg and understood the significance…

“Heer General, I think that maybe we are now seeing the end of the conflict.”

“Yes, I think you may be correct.” Ulrich had another thought though. “Or NATO dooms us all and makes Schwarmstedt, Nienburg and wherever else they desire to the targets of their nuclear warheads, Wolfgang.

You must remember that this conflict isn't all about the conventional fighting on the battlefield because there are other factors at play too.

Ask yourself this: if you were defending our country and NATO had a tank army over the Havel making for Brandenburg and Potsdam, with a view to racing afterwards for Berlin, while major parts of your own army were still on the other side of… say the Elbe, and you had the choice of giving in or using nuclear weapons, what would you do?”

No immediate response came from Ulrich's deputy as the man must have understood what his commander was getting at. The end was coming and if the situation had been dangerous before now when it came to the threat of nuclear weapons being used it was desperate indeed now.

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 07, 2018 5:51 pm 

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Chapter Nine – Cauldron

February 11th 1990
Above West Germany

Before they had left Wittstock, Hauptmann Esser had been approached by his wingman when the two of them had been alone and out of earshot of everyone else. Frommer had shook his hand and wished him luck in an awkward manner that Esser had been at a loss to understand. Only now, as he caught a momentarily glimpse of his comrade's fighter slamming into the side of an American F-16 whilst they were all caught up in an aerial dogfight – a Kamikaze move, Esser believed it was called – did he understand that Frommer had been saying goodbye.

There was the flash of an explosion yet Esser had already swung the control stick over to starboard in the main to avoid the debris which he knew was going to endanger him but also to try not to witness the death of his friend.

He swore aloud afterwards at the waste of such a life but he no time to do anything more at the moment than fight for his life. There were aircraft, friendly and enemy, all over the skies above the Lower Weser Valley far below. Esser needed to focus upon engaging those which he was meant to as well as staying alive. There were warning sirens going off and the radio was alive with unprofessional chatter yet he kept his mind upon his duty.

Esser started a climb aiming to get up away from the edges of the rain-clouds which were delivering a downpour to those below him and into open skies. As he started to do so, while still turning to re-orientate himself facing back westwards, another F-16 came into view. In an instant, he used his helmet-mounted cueing system to select the target, highlight it for a shot with an R-73 missile and then fire. Away from his aircraft the air-to-air missile streaked and he watched it close with the enemy as that fighter tried to manoeuvre out of the way.

Too late, Ami.

There was another flash and then the target broke into multiple pieces all now starting to fall from the sky. Esser had mentally moved on from that engagement though as he sought to get himself where he wanted to be and search for any other threats. There should be few aircraft up this high at forty-five thousand feet as most would be lower and concentrating either on interfering in the ground battles below or striking at fighters trying to stop those attacks; the cauldron which was the multiple air battles there was still ongoing. He needed to be in position too before he could answer the radio calls that he was now hearing for him and his deceased wingman to respond to.

Finally, he made contact with the airborne controller... but just him.

Esser had three air-to-air missiles left: two short-range R-73s and a lone R-27 for medium-range engagements. The other trio of missiles which he had left Wittstock with had all been used up all in aerial engagements where Esser was certain that he had achieved one kill of an enemy aircraft (the F-16 engaged upon fleeing the limited visibility of the clouds) and damaged another (what had appeared to be a French or Belgian Mirage-III) with the other missile failing to do any damage to a further F-16.

His orders were to go remain clear of the air battle that he had just left and instead head down low aiming to get closer to the ground where the airborne controller told him that NATO aircraft were engaging crossing operations over the Weser. Attack aircraft were his priority not enemy fighters or even helicopters but anything that looked like an A-10, a Harrier or other aircraft making bomb-runs over Soviet troops on the ground.

Esser didn't like going in alone without a wingman and with such a small number of missiles. Moreover, there would also be ground based defences to be dealt with in the form of SAMs racing up from the ground. He had no choice though: the orders from the cold distant instructing voice on the other end of the radio were clear.

Back into battle for the second time on this morning's flight Esser went. He had checked his fuel state and seen that he had enough for five minutes of sustained action over the area of the front where he was directed to fly through and after that he would need to turn for home. The engine heat display showed the strains both RD-33 turbofans yet he judged that they would see him through. His radar was switched off while he kept the infrared system active. All electronic jamming systems, active and passive, were working too yet Esser didn't have much faith in them after his experiences so far in this war.

Pushing his throttle forward as he did his control stick too, Esser now brought his MiG-29 charging forward into a fast dive. He headed straight for a lethal combat zone where men from many countries were dying on the ground and in the sky. His mission was simple and achievable though highly dangerous.

This was his duty though. Frommer had understood that and so did he now. What other choice was there but to follow orders? In the grand scheme of things his life mattered little – the usefulness of his aircraft was more important – when it came to what was at stake. Before take-off earlier, at the mission brief on the ground at Wittstock, he all the other MiG-29 pilots flying from there today had been told that the fighting on the ground to get several field armies over the Weser were all-important and that needed to be reflected in how they fought in the skies above.

Esser set out to do his duty lancing forward into combat.

February 11th 1990
The Grinderwald, West Germany

As everyone else with their small party did Gefreiter Schmid crouched down as the helicopter hovered above them. Voller shouted at him and the rest of them to not fire off their weapons. The helicopter couldn't see them, he reminded the East German paratroopers, and would go away soon enough. Schmid believed him for they were under the cover of the trees here in this forest as well as all in camouflage too. They would have to be very unlucky to be spotted again…

…yet luck hadn't been on their side since last night.

Earlier this morning, Voller had told them that they had been meant to go to a place called Rehburg which was located of a short distance west of Lake Steinhude. Schmid had never heard of either and all he knew was that they were not at either at the minute. The transport aircraft on which they had been on – a Polish-crewed Antonov-26 turboprop – had been engaged by enemy fighters yesterday evening though and in the emergency before that aircraft went down they had all leapt from it far short of their designated landing zone. No pathfinders had guided them in and they had landed somewhere unknown. Not everyone had made it out of that doomed aircraft either.

Landing in the dark, Schmid had hurt his wrist and also arrived on the ground without his rifle. He had been alone and greatly concerned for a while before running into some more men from his unit – tense meetings indeed – before link-ups were made with others who had made the jump. A new rifle had come to him afterwards; it had belonged to a dead paratrooper comrade. Voller had taken charge in the absence of anyone senior and had them all find a secure place for the night alongside a stream under the cover offered by some trees. Schmid had barely got any sleep between the times when he had taken the duty of providing watch for the resting others as the pain for his injured wrist hadn't ceased. Moreover, there had been the constant noises in the dark of distant fighting as well as the rain which had lashed down throughout the hours of darkness.

Dawn had only brought further issues. The whole region was one giant bog for seemingly miles in every direction. Moving through them as Voller had Schmid and the others do had left them all further wet and uncomfortable. Schmid had like his comrades realised that they were in a lot of trouble being lost as they were and in enemy territory too. Patrols were spotted on the roads consisting of light armoured vehicles which it was clear weren't East German or Soviet. Voller had kept ordering them to duck down every time one was spotted no matter what. Schmid got the feeling that his sergeant was letting his own fear show in front of men like him who needed something to keep their morale up.

Their own aircraft had gone down somewhere else far away as far as Schmid had known but another one had crashed right near where they were a couple of hours after dawn. Hendl had shouted a warning that something was coming down and that had seemed crazy at first until Voller must have seen it all before screaming for everyone to drop down again. Moments later a falling fighter jet had hit the ground nearby and exploded. Another man, Strebinger, had unfortunately suffered a gruesome though swift death as a result of flying debris which had decapitated him. Schmid had felt the heat of the blast on his exposed face and then the sound had temporarily deafened him. Even worse, when he had dropped down as ordered – not sure what was coming – he had landed with his weight first upon his hurt wrist!

Voller had taken them in the other direction away from the road which led between the crashed aircraft and where they had just lost a man but they hadn't got far before there had come another one of those mobile patrols. Schmid had seen some jeep-type vehicles along with some armoured cars with long-barrelled guns and didn't need to be told twice to get down by Voller. That patrol – West Germans, British or whoever else – went right for the crash site at first but soon spread out. Orders from Voller were to keep fingers off their triggers as the enemy had more men than them as well as armoured support which they couldn't hope to engage with just their rifles.

In the end, as the enemy kept spreading out, seemingly hunting for a pilot from that downed aircraft in Schmid's opinion, Voller had brought them here into the forest. He had said they would stick close to the edge but with all of the enemy activity, as well as this damn helicopter which kept returning, they had been driven deeper and deeper inside as well as remaining utterly lost.

“Did you hear that, Schmid?”

“No. What?” Beside him, keeping low at the moment with the helicopter above, a rifleman named Werner had spoken but Schmid had no idea what the other man had apparently heard.


“I heard it too.” Dorsch confirmed what Werner said.

“All of you,” Voller hissed at them from nearby, “shut up!”

Schmid did as he was told and didn't respond again though he thought it rather unnecessary as those above could hardly hear them over the noise being made by that helicopter.

Then he heard another gunshot. It sounded like a single shot from an AK-74 yet that wasn't something that he could be certain of. From where he was on the ground behind a large rock, he looked around yet there were no visual clues.

And again, moments later, as the helicopter started to turn away from where it had been hovering, there was a further crack of a rifle. This time Schmid was convinced that he was hearing an AK-74 being used.

“I told you.” Werner now sounded very smug but Schmid had his attention focused back on the helicopter as it got further and further away and out of view. The previous wind on his face from the down-wash of its rotor blades dissipated yet he stayed where he was.

Hendl silently pointed with a finger to their left. Schmid watched him do this and saw Voller pay attention before darting towards that man from one area of cover to another. The two of them had a conversation which he couldn't hear though again he witnessed Hendl point over to where he had beforehand.

Soon enough Voller led them all off that way sending Hendl first and everyone else following behind them.

Lieutenant Smirnov, the Soviet airborne officer who yesterday had been attached to Schmid's company within the 40 Luftsturmregiment, caught everyone by surprise when he suddenly emerged from behind a tree. Schmid was too shocked to even raise his rifle at the badly-wounded man who was just suddenly before them as he looked at the state of the man with his bloody and ripped uniform who limped towards them. Like everyone else, he had thought Smirnov among the dead when their transport aircraft went down yet that wasn't the case at all.

The Soviet's German was pretty terrible though from what Schmid overheard the man said he had been injured when landing upon the many rocks spread throughout the forest. When Voller asked Smirnov if he had been firing at the helicopter, there was an affirmative answer: Smirnov had been trying to bring it down by hitting its tail-rotor. No gunfire had come back at the ground afterwards, the Soviet officer said, so he had carried on with more fire and it had eventually been driven off by his actions.

Schmid found that extraordinary: all helicopters operated by the Landstreitkrafte and the Soviet Army, especially in wartime, were armed but NATO didn't have weapons aboard that helicopter of theirs? Hadn't the war already been going on for a week? They had armoured cars with their security patrols this far in the rear but no mounted guns aboard their helicopters?

His attention was brought back to more pressing concerns as Smirnov asked about how many men that Voller had with him and wanted to know what weapons they had, what state they were in and what they had discovered since being here. Voller told the Soviet officer how many men and guns there were and discussed their time spent avoiding superior-numbered and better-armed enemy forces. With that came an explosion of guttural curses in Russian from Smirnov before he took Voller aside and out of ear-shot. Schmid took the time to rest and massage his hurt wrist for a moment while continuing to keep his eyes open on his surroundings.

When the two of them came back to where everyone else was gathered around, Schmid was told along with the rest of them through Voller what Smirnov wanted to of them. He would now lead the small party to move through the forest to the southwest heading for the road and in the general direction of where he believed Rehburg was. They were not to stay here hiding from the enemy when their comrades would be engaged in fighting the enemy there at the site of their operation.

If the enemy was met, then he was to be fought!

Schmid noticed the reactions of his comrades to such comments. He believed that he was keeping his emotions hidden yet others failed. Voller looked as if he had been put right in his place by the Soviet officer. There was Hendl who seemed keen and eager to get moving while Dorsch looked a little nervous. Other paratroopers stood up ready to move though with caution evident in their manner. Like Schmid, none were about to disobey an order like this. They had all been made aware of the fates of other members of the regiment yesterday when at Burgwedel as two men had been caught looting the empty houses in that village. They had disobeyed orders by wandering off – the looting was a separate issue – and been summarily shot with some of their comrades instructed to form that firing squad.

Not doing as instructed by an officer would mean the ultimate punishment.

For just a brief moment, Schmid's mind drifted off and he recalled a silly story he had heard as a child about the horrors that the forest held. There were witches, he had been told, who would snatch children and boil them in a cauldron. He recalled that now as he, Voller and the others had been caught in a situation they couldn't control by stronger forces. They had no choice but to follow Smirnov's orders as here in the Grinderwald he was the one in-charge.

February 11th 1990
Schweinfurt, West Germany

Oberleutnant Korner and the party of engineers with whom he was – a few fellow Grenztruppen men, some regular Landstreitkrafte troops and the remainder being Volksarmee reservists – were trapped now on the wrong side of the River Main.

The industrial areas of the city south of the river on which it lay was full of Canadian armour and infantry. Those NATO troops had struck northwards earlier in the day and ripped through the lines of the 4 MRD before now getting inside Schweinfurt. Many East German soldiers had managed to get away and over the river though Korner was like many others struck here now after what few working crossings left had either been captured or blown up in the face of the Canadians. Options for escape were few and far between while resistance for those not fully-trained nor equipped to engage professional combat troops wasn't the best of ideas.

Regardless, Korner and the others didn't have a choice. They were now inside enemy-held territory which NATO had retaken and could only try to fight back as they sought to get away. The choice otherwise was enemy captivity and there were plenty of stories about the horrors which that would entail, especially for officers in particular.

Having spent several days now in Schweinfurt – before and after that horrible B-52 attack the other day – Korner knew the local geography well. He had been south of the river assisting in the supervision of removal of debris caused by those bombs which had fallen as well as a few unexploded devices too. He knew where the roads where, where the most bombed-out buildings where and places where it might be possible to cross the river without using any of the pontoon bridges that were now unavailable to him and the others. There was a regular Landstreitkrafte officer who had assumed command of the nearly two dozen men in their party though he relied upon Korner to get them away from the enemy.

He guided the way as they moved to the northwest towards the suburban Sennfeld area and where immediate information pointed to there being less numbers of the enemy at the minute. Using any and all cover available, the party of East Germans kept on moving without stopping. They came across all sorts of sights that would in normal circumstances brought a halt to stand and stare but not today. Bodies lying in the street, burning structures and civilians wandering aimlessly around in what appeared to be a state of shock were all ignored. What mattered were the distant sounds of fighting ongoing and keeping an eye out for the enemy. Korner had seen what the Canadians had been able to do with their tanks as well as their tracked & wheeled armoured vehicles while their infantry when dismounted was excellently-trained in using their weapons.

The Schweinfurter Strass provided a challenge to impede their movement. This was a major road which ran between the industrial district and the edges of the river. The Canadians had used it earlier with their six-wheeled armoured vehicles racing up it taking the main defensive positions that the 4 MRD had south of the river by surprise from the flank. At the time when Korner and the other engineers approached it there was no sign of those or any other Canadians. Instead, there were bodies of their comrades there as well as destroyed Landstreitkrafte vehicles. One at a time they ran across from one side to the other to find hiding spots on the other side all the while worrying about a reappearance of the enemy.

When the enemy did show their face, Korner and the engineers were spotted by and engaged with Canadians in trucks. These were presumably with a rear-area unit moving supplies or equipment up to the frontlines as they were along the river a little to the west and when soldiers dismounted from the trucks Korner's superior ordered the engineers including him to open fire.

Korner was far from a marksman. He was trained in the use of a rifle in addition to his service pistol and with the AK-74 he carried he fired several three-round bursts in the direction of the enemy. He had been certain that he was no threat to anyone though remarkably one of the Canadians hit the ground from a shot he fired… or so he thought anyway.

It was difficult to tell with so many shots being exchanged.

Nonetheless, he helped force the Canadians to seek cover of their own and most of the rest of the engineers were able to get across the road. Two men had been shot dead and remained where they fell while another of his comrades died very soon afterwards. The expectation was that the enemy would soon call for reinforcements as so there was afterwards a need to get moving again and away from the scene of their small but deadly engagement.

Some time later, they reached the riverbank of the Main a considerable distance away from Schweinfurt itself. There had been fighting ongoing within Sennfeld and that had been avoided especially as one of the engineers had said that he saw Leopard-1 tanks there with the Canadians. A diversion had been taken which had involved routing around areas where the enemy might be found – a crossroads in particular – before farmland had been crossed. Amongst the open ground there Korner had felt especially vulnerable. Anyone observing them from a distance would have marked them out as a threat with a party of men moving together all carrying weapons. He had looked nervously skywards every time there was the sound of a helicopter or aircraft up above. Moreover, there was the distant sound of gunfire at times as well as the rumble of artillery exploding.

Other worries had come to Korner too as their senior officer had spoken openly about orders… or more correctly the lack of them. None of the engineers had received instructions to abandon their former posts when the Canadians had struck. Others around them had joined in the fighting with light weapons against armour yet Korner and the others had all decided to evade capture or death.

Korner knew what had happened to those who had earlier faced charges of fleeing in the face of the enemy on other occasions: those who had done so had been shot without hesitation.

It was decided that the only way to get over the river was to swim across. There were no bridges and no boats. Several of the engineers said that the river wasn't that deep and the currents not that strong. Korner himself had seen other men swim across the river over the past several days and reach the other side successfully but he had seen others fail too. This was a major waterway with interference in its current at the minute from obstructions all along its length due to the war.

He wasn't sure whether he would make it.

Some of the other engineers soon got ready and entered the water before starting to make their crossing. Korner believed that they were judging the risk as worth it when what their prospects were on this side of the river.

He went to join them in getting back over the Main.

February 11th 1990
Dehnsen, West Germany

It had taken some time and an influential intervention, but the Poles had seen sense and the orders hadn't come for the remains of the East German 1 MRD to lead the assault over the Leine at Alfeld. Oberst Schrader had to thank Polkovnik Korovin for convincing the command staff of the Polish Second Army that his division couldn't complete that mission and would be best used afterwards providing flank security once the river was crossed.

Otherwise, Schrader was convinced, the last of his men would all have been killed this morning when the attack was made.

British troops on the western side of the Leine, and especially in the high-ground above, had inflicted massive casualties upon the Poles. The pair of regiments from their 2 MRD which had gone over first had gotten their first taste of combat here in West Germany and it had been just as deadly as when Schrader's command had gone up against NATO troops. All their swagger was shattered when the artillery barrage had failed to silence the enemy's fire support and not killed men in their firing positions either. Armoured vehicles making amphibious crossings had been hit when still in the water and light transport helicopters knocked down – all taking the men inside them to their deaths. Long-range strikes by the artillery that the British had, supported by West German multiple-barrelled rocket-launchers, had been greatly effective in hitting follow-on troops and the British had been able to call upon air support too which had intervened decisively.

The Poles had got across the Leine though at the price of their lead units smashed to pieces and only after the British had withdrawn away from their initial positions; they had gone back into the high-ground behind them where Schrader was of the opinion that they aimed to truly make a fight for it in a mobile fashion as they had done to him. The fighting had moved into the forested uplands with current engagements taking place around the villages of Brunkensen and Warzen. Those locations commanded road access on the other side of the first ridge line with the Ith Hills to be crossed next. He wished the men of the Polish 4 MRD good luck for they would need it. He had seen the maps of the area and taken the time to examine to geography there and baulked at the thought of fighting across such terrain to reach the Weser beyond.

Moving through the remains of the first Polish division and following the second, and ahead of a pair of tank divisions that made up the rest of the Polish Second Army waiting to follow, Schrader's beaten but still combat-capable command crossed the river over assault bridges that had been laid over the water. There were more than a dozen improvised crossings made around Alfeld – the Poles had followed the Soviet text-book examples perfectly – and those had provided the necessary means of getting over the Leine and to the right-hand flank of where the Poles were fighting.

Along the western side of the Leine ran a major road as well as a railway line. The valley provided good communications links for north-south movement as those ran past and through villages ultimately providing a link between Hannover and Gottingen. Limmer was the first village directly north of where the crossings from Alfeld were (that town being on the eastern side of the river) and then the smaller Godenau before there was then Dehnsen where Schrader currently was with his command column. This was another unremarkable place, just a village in the countryside home to a few hundred souls before the war, but it was on the road heading towards where Brüggen was. That village sat on the eastern bank too in a suitable location where further crossings could be made by the Poles but it was still defended as West German reservists were dug-in there as well as across the nearby thick forest of the Grafelde.

The valley here on both sides of the river was what Schrader was responsible for securing and so he had his men now fighting for control of Brüggen. They were attacking from the rear with Schrader using an oversized battalion task force for that mission. He had tanks, armoured fighting vehicles and self-propelled mortars as well as infantry assigned to take that town from the rear and much success was being reported back to him. There came contentment with such news as the 1 MRD needed some good news after the mauling that everyone knew it had taken in previous engagements having such a detrimental effect upon morale.

To strike further up the Leine Valley later today and especially tomorrow would be what Schrader was to have his command do after Brüggen had been dealt with. He was protecting the Poles' flank directly while also meant to drawn attention from British forces defending the approaches to Hannover from the south which such advances. Gronau and Elze, small towns with which commanded crossroads, were in that direction and he anticipated that far tougher fighting would occur at both of those when his men got there.

However, there remained the issue of the Külf.

In attacking westwards as they had done, the Poles had cut through a gap in the ridges towards Warzen first while then afterwards striking for Brunkensen as well. They had moved through an area of woodland whilst doing so – and taken many casualties – but avoided the immense ridge that was the Külf. This steep ridge dominated the Leine Valley north of Alfeld as it sat above the western side where Schrader had his men operating.

As a major geographical feature of the surrounding terrain, Schrader knew that if this wasn't wartime and instead a peacetime exercise then it would be something considered by an Landstreitkrafte officer as a perfect defensive position for dismounted infantry armed with machine guns and man-portable missiles. Attacking upwards to root out such defenders would be best done with plenty of fire support as well as patience and a realisation that casualties among the attacking force would be numerous.

Schrader had men getting ready to turn what would have been a troublesome theoretical staff exercise into a bloody battle.

Before the Nationale Volksarmee marched across into West Germany, the 1 MRD had a total of sixteen combat-manoeuvre battalions under command: nine of infantry in tracked and wheeled vehicles, six tank battalions and the final one of consisting of reconnaissance troops & armour. After the battles which Schrader's men had fought and the losses taken, he had reorganised his command into a total of six battalion-sized units now. One of those was currently fighting around Brüggen with another three ready to follow them once they had completed that mission in moving northwards. His two other battalions, formed in the main of infantry with armoured personnel carriers, were here in Dehnsen where Schrader was. He was waiting to send them into battle where they would begin what he expected to be a bloody and methodical process of routing out the enemy he expected to be up above him. Those armed troops along with artillery observers too all had to be eliminated to secure this area.

What Schrader was waiting for was the promised air support to show up. There was meant to be a major air strike involving half a dozen fighter-bombers dropping napalm across the Külf with careful targeting done so that the weapons meant to boil NATO forces in a cauldron didn't do the same to his men. Those Sukhoi-17s were running late though and Schrader wasn't going to attack without them.

He would wait until they arrived. Then send his men into the bloodbath waiting for them.

February 11th 1990
Kiel, West Germany

Kiel wasn't somewhere that Generalmajor Fritsch wished to be today. He had far too much work to be done from his base of operations at Neumünster as well as a desire to seek some pleasure once there too for himself. However, he had no choice though but to attend the ceremony taking place in the city beside the Baltic as it had been decreed personally by Strauss – the civilian to whom Fritsch even as a senior Nationale Volksarmee officer was subordinate to – that his attendance was required.

The ceremony was taking place so that 'the people could celebrate their liberation'.

Kiel was full of East German & Soviet officials and troops here overseeing a large propaganda event to which much work had been done to stage-manage it in the right fashion. There were media present too to broadcast images and stories of what was taking place as well as many West German civilians – now Germans, Fritsch had to remind himself – who had been encouraged to attend using all sorts of means to get them there. Speeches were to be made, medals handed out and the promise of a new beginning was meant to be presented here.

Fritsch was smart enough to keep his feelings on the matter to himself. He knew damn well how these 'Germans' here regarded him and everyone else from his own country as well as their views on the Soviets too. These civilians dragooned into turning out in the centre of the city would like him rather be anywhere else. Moreover, plenty of those in uniform wanted nothing to do with something such as this either. None of what he felt was verbalised and instead he had been prepared to spend the day pretending to listen to the speeches given and to be interested in the parades while instead having his mind elsewhere.

Alas, that was not to be: there were others in Kiel with a determination to make his day in Kiel tiresome and full of hassle.

To begin with, there was Major-General Anisimov from the KGB. This Soviet officer of the same rank was someone who had sought him out here in Kiel on purpose after Fritsch had previously made several successful attempts to dodge him. Anisimov headed up the KGB force with the Soviet Thirty–Eighth Airborne Corps and his duties had been at the frontlines allowing for Fritsch to stay out of his way. Today though Anisimov wasn't involved in supervising the political security of the troops fighting across Schleswig as well as overseeing interrogations of POWs; he wanted to talk to Fritsch instead about the deaths of several of his personnel which had taken place in the rear across the occupied area where Fritsch was in command.

On eight different occasions now, KGB officers had been killed by guerrillas, partisans and terrorists. Anisimov blamed Fritsch for this in radio communications and now he did so in person. Moreover, the KGB officer also remarked on Fritsch's 'other activities' too with how he was living in hotel in near-luxury at Neumünster and spending the nights with young women who were in a vulnerable condition. Fritsch's moral character was criticised here with Anisimov making it clear that he had reported this up the chain of command. The issue at stake, Anisimov carried on, was the failures being shown by Fritsch in the duties he was tasked to perform in the rear held up against how he was spending his time entertaining himself. Before Fritsch could protest, the KGB officer stated that he had heard the excuse that had been given to Strauss over the fact that Fritsch was only supposed to be guarding the efforts of the Strauss Group rather than pacifying the region and he wasn't prepared to listen to that again: Fritsch had enough men to do both roles if he forgot his distractions and did his duty!

Furious, but again holding his tongue, Fritsch had to take all of this personal criticism from the KGB officer without a word of complaint. He was aware that Strauss was already unhappy with him at how many losses his own personnel had taken when they were out doing what they were as well as the general security situation and now he had Anisimov on at him too. The two of them were going to cause him plenty of trouble soon enough and the best thing he would do was to say nothing for the time being and try to get himself out of this situation using his own political connections high up in the Luftstreitkrafte.

Moving on after all of that, Anisimov then turned without being prompted by Fritsch to the issue of manpower available for the security duties in the rear that he had spoken of Fritsch not preforming to a satisfactory level. There was to be a battalion of Soviet paratroopers and a KGB anti-terrorist detachment both assigned to Fritsch's headquarters as well as a colonel whom Anisimov had chosen personally. The paratroopers were from one of the Soviet 7 GAD's regiments who had landed in Kiel when the war begun and afterwards been fighting up at the frontlines against the Danes. They were to be released for duties in the rear and broken down into a trio of companies based throughout the occupied area. Instead of garrison duty, Fritsch was to use the paratroopers to react to armed attacks and chase down the perpetrators so those couldn't be repeated. The intelligence team and the colonel at Neumünster with Fritsch were to further assist in this effort to eliminate armed assailants so that the region could be pacified.

After finally getting away from the KGB, Fritsch was also unfortunate to run into one of the senior Soviet Army staff officers from the Thirty–Eighth Airborne Corps headquarters as well. This man was a bore instead of a tyrant and wanted to give Fritsch a briefing on the current military situation as he had been instructed to; Fritsch's role in the rear meant that he had to be up to speed. He already had his own people moving back and forth between Ostenfeld (where that headquarters currently was) and Neumünster who had told him about the intelligence pointing to arrivals in Denmark of further NATO troops plus the activities of the enemy at sea and didn't need to hear it all again.

Persistence was the mark of this officer though who wanted Fritsch to understand the possible threats of an enemy counterattack taking place in the rear coming from the air or the sea. The Thirty–Eighth Airborne Corps wanted to attach liaison officers direct to his headquarters to provide a better level of coordination ready to meet such a possibility. Dealing with him as best as possible, a man who went on and on and repeated himself, Fritsch agreed to this while all the time thinking that surely such a thing should have been an order from above anyway.

Only afterwards did he realise that now he would have two different sets of outsiders at his headquarters and any chance he had of further stress relief to unburden himself was now gone for the foreseeable future.

Strauss was the head functionary for the Northwestern Administration and a man who Fritsch regarded as far too ready to believe his own propaganda. He was giving a speech this afternoon as Fritsch watched and pretended to listen concerning the so-called liberation and the war which had brought that about. In relation to the latter, Strauss spoke at length about the 'evils plots' of 'imperialists aboard'. He blamed Bush and Thatcher and Mitterrand for the deaths of Germans. There was real passion in his voice and those around him nodded – Fritsch included – though those in the assembled audience looked far from impressed.

The small crowd out in the open were all surrounded by armed men after being coerced into being here and Fritsch could see all sorts of emotions on display from fear to horror to even apparent boredom. It was quite a sight and he was engrossed in it…

…so much so that he missed the sound of the first gunshot.

He heard the second crack from a rifle fired from not so far in the distance – possibly over in the buildings to the left, from up high somewhere – and instinct took over: Fritsch dropped down from his previous standing position to the ground. All around him on the improvised stage there were others getting as low as possible like him with all sorts of commotion going on from shouts to whimpers and people scrambling about to get off the stage too.

A third shot then rang out and afterwards there came no more. Instead there were more screams, plenty of shouting and the situation went from commotion to pandemonium as the crowd ahead was now reacting too. Fritsch stayed still where he was for only a short time as he had weighed the risk of being the target of a bullet against that of being crushed by the crowd and staying still had come out unfavourably in that equation.

Like many others, Fritsch was soon fleeing for his life.

The successful assassination of Strauss by a gunman with a high-powered rifle – Fritsch later suspected a NATO special forces sniper – was the spark that set Kiel alight. After the panic amongst that crowd there had come trouble in the immediate area and then that had fast spread outwards. Physical violence had taken place among civilians and the security personnel present. There had come injuries and further trouble relating from that. Guerrillas had moved in afterwards in what was clearly not something spontaneous. All across the city they had soon attacked areas where security forces were leaving to deal with the trouble at the scene of the Strauss assassination.

The result was the loss of control by occupying forces of most of Kiel by nightfall. Around certain key points of a strategic nature – the naval base, the docks and the canal locks – control was maintained but almost everywhere else it was lost. Immense fires soon started leaving areas aflame as well. Casualties among security forces were of a great number.

This all occurred while Fritsch was meant to be responsible for making sure that nothing like this happened. He knew full well that he was done for.

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 07, 2018 5:53 pm 

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Chapter Ten – Pressure

February 12th 1990
West Berlin

Leutnant Platz walked out away from the cover offered beside the building and into the open. He had his PM-63 sub-machine gun with him and begun to spray 9mm bullets towards the French troops up ahead. He got off maybe half a dozen shots before return fire came and he was felled by bullets himself from multiple sources who all had a clear line of fire.

It was a clear case of suicide.

Fighting back the sudden nausea as well as trying with all of his might to stop his eyes from watering, Feldwebel Weiss turned away from the sight of his officer's body and towards his men. “Stay where you are!” He called out to them despite none looking as if they were about to move. “They have us pinned down and we wait!”

Out in the street lay the body of Platz. Weiss didn't want to look at the man but couldn't help doing so. Blood was starting to pool around the corpse and there was also something else rather unpleasant to see: the officer's left leg was twitching somewhat allowing his boot to scuff the ground. Weiss was certain that Platz was dead yet there remained something there in him causing that movement to occur. He had seen plenty of men die so far in this conflict, including several of his own men whom he as their sergeant was responsible for, but this was altogether something very different indeed.

As he continued to stare, he considered why Platz had done what he just had.

Just before dawn, Platz had informed Weiss that the fighting within the British Sector of West Berlin was soon coming to an end as the last organised NATO units – British and French forces plus the remains of the beaten Americans – were making a last stand in the area around Tegel Airport as well as north of Spandau too. They were under attack from all sides though their now all-round defence and desperation made them a strong opponent: as they ran out of ammunition, space and time their resistance had strengthened rather than weakened. All available combat units inside West Berlin were to now take part in the fight to finish off the enemy and so Platz's platoon was needed to move away from its rear area tasks around the Olympiastadion where their duties had been concerned with the British military facilities nearby.

Platz had spoken of the latest rumours that were going around too: those concerning the apparent nuclear destruction of Magdeburg. That was not true, he reminded Weiss, and he wanted that made clear to the men. The other day the same fate had been said to have befallen Dresden and before that Leipzig. All of this was false and those spreading such lies needed to be dealt with internally before it came to the attention of someone higher-up in the chain of command… after which anyone repeating such a wild claim would surely be sorry.

Their family would be sorry as well, he hadn’t said aloud but his tone had betrayed that threat.

In listening to his officer speak, Weiss had been able to sense in Platz plenty to cause him some concern. The almost whispered tone of voice was worrying and so to had been the inability to meet eye contact either. There was a sadness in the man on display. However, Weiss himself was not in the best way either after eight previous days of the war and the start of a ninth day being here in West Berlin. He was feeling the strain physically as well as mentally with all of this. There was the guilt that he felt for the things that he had been forced to do and the pressure from above – even if it wasn't overt – to achieve what was tasked from his superiors.

He hadn't understood just how much pressure Platz was under though as well as not fully grasping the internal guilt that his officer was carrying around with him. This wasn't just because of all that had occurred here in West Berlin but everything previous to this since last year when the Felix Dzerzhinsky Guard Regiment had operated elsewhere and done what it had in other places too.

The man had a young bride back home; if Weiss remembered correctly that was somewhere near Weimar or Jena. She was pregnant too with Platz's first child after a marriage that had taken place last summer before most of the country had for a while gone crazy.

What would become of her now?

Gunfire from the French up ahead suddenly increased in intensity and then there was the sound of vehicles moving this way. Weiss carefully braved a look and saw that there was at least two, maybe more of those four-wheeled armoured personnel carriers that the French had moving this way. They carried a medium machine guns as their armament and could be deadly if used in the right manner, but not here. He had to take his mind off the matter of what had occurred with Platz and redirect it towards his duty.

“Muhlenberg,” he called out to one of his men who carried an RPG-16 rocket-launcher, “hit that vehicle with your Grom!”

“Yes, Feldwebel.” The reply was instant and full of confidence. Weiss didn't know yet how the platoon would react to the death of Platz, especially as they would have seen it occur in the same manner as he had, but for now they were remembering their duty as he was.

“Hauser, make sure you have a reload ready at once!”

“I have, Feldwebel.” Muhlenberg and his assistant grenadier Hauser were both with the platoon on attachment from one of the regiment's heavy weapons company's. Each knew their duty yet Weiss had been taught long ago to always make sure.

“Open fire when you are ready!”

Platz's death was a tragedy but there was still a war to be fought. Moreover, Weiss had to remember that the loss of his officer's life was just one of so many which had occurred not just here in West Berlin, but throughout the two Germany's, the rest of Europe and around the world too.

February 12th 1990
Along the Autobahn to Osnabrück, West Germany

Captain Clayton Dixon, United States Army Reserve, served in peacetime on a part-time basis with the 157th Infantry Brigade based in Pennsylvania. With that formation arriving in Europe yesterday as part of the 24th Infantry Division, he was now with the divisional staff and assigned to the transportation security liaison first working alongside Belgian Army officers and now with those from the West German Army.

Leutnant Haas would rather that it was anyone else but he who was tasked to be with a man like Dixon as the Americans moved through western Lower Saxony towards the frontlines. He found this captain to be obnoxious, patronising and the most disagreeable person he had met in a very long time. Dixon spoke German too and thought that the correct thing to do was to practise this language that he hadn't spoken in a while with Haas as the two of them travelled from Aachen where they had linked up last night all the way up to Osnabrück and beyond if Haas didn't manage to get away from the man there.

This was certainly the worst possible reassignment for the imposter from the HVA that Haas was.

At first, Dixon had wanted to talk about the journey undertaken by his brigade and the rest of the division too. He spoke of how the 157th Brigade was mobilised across Pennsylvania and from Georgia the two regular combat brigades & the rest of the 24th Division. The men had waited to be flown across to Europe on commercial airliners while shipping was hastily assembled to get all of their equipment across the ocean. Dixon related tales of immense vessels known as 'fast sealift ships' being loaded at places such as Philadelphia and Wilmington in the North-Eastern United States as well as Charleston and Savannah in 'Dixie'. Five of those big ships as well as a fleet of smaller vessels had taken almost everything needed to field a full division across the North Atlantic when protected by NATO warships and aircraft at sea. The fighting men had travelled by air to Europe once the ships were in-sight of the coast and Dixon had done the same as them as he had been aboard a civilian Boeing-747 in Pan-Am colours that had been requisitioned by the American government.

Later, Dixon had arrived at Brussels airport and then travelled to Antwerp where two of the fast sealift ships had arrived; more vessels were at Flushing in the Netherlands as well as Terneuzen and Zeebrugge in Belgium. Damage done to the immense Europoort facility at the Hook of Holland outside of Rotterdam from enemy air-launched missiles meant that no large ships would be able to unload with haste there for some time. When at Antwerp, Dixon had been present to witness the speed with which the pair of fast sealift ships were unloaded. In a nod to who he believed Haas was, he mentioned how those ships had been built several years ago at Emden in West Germany first for commercial use and later acquired by the United States for naval reserve duties. They were roll-on/roll-off vessels which had been used to transport not just tanks and armoured vehicles across the North Atlantic but other tracked vehicles too as well as countless trucks and jeeps. The Belgians had been waiting for the vessels to arrive and known the exact composition of their cargo as well as the manner in which they had been loaded so that as the ships docked, straight away the vehicles started coming off to be met by drivers to take them away from the quayside into designated staging areas for pre-deployment.

Dixon assured Haas that it had been an awe-inspiring sight to witness. He was a logistics officer and knew what he was talking about too – this was Dixon's opinion of himself anyway – for he had been there at Wilmington in Delaware when one of those vessels had been loaded in such a way that upon arrival in Europe it could be offloaded in the fashion that it was done.

Afterwards, the Americans had travelled fast across the southern part of the Netherlands and Belgium's northern reaches only linking up as a whole division around Aachen inside West Germany. Motorways had been cleared for their use and detours taken around bridges that had been knocked down by enemy action so there was no delay at all in the transit through the Low Countries as there shouldn't be here in West Germany either.

Dixon and the rest of the Americans that had arrived in the Low Countries – the 24th Division had been joined by other units that Haas hadn't been informed the designation of for reasons of operational security in crossing the ocean – were to join the US III Corps fighting along the Weser.

A Soviet field army had pushed the Americans back over the wide river first at Nienburg and afterwards then a smaller place called Hoya. Dixon said that the rest of the III Corps had made a withdrawal across the river after the Soviet penetrations to get to those locations and were now fighting on the western side of the Weser. The 24th Division was now riding to the rescue with the belief in the American that the Soviets would face a counterattack from these fresh, eager troops to push them back over the river the moment they reached there. Dixon spoke of how Haas would leave them at Osnabrück and not be fortunate to be present to witness such an attack taking place; he seemed certain of this despite acknowledging that the strategic plans such as those weren't being told at this stage to junior officers in the rear.

At length, Dixon moved on to talk about his view of what should have happened the moment that the Soviets managed to get over the Weser. There had been no major geographical features ahead of them for a major drive further west and southwest. Their bridgeheads should have been subject to thermonuclear attack, he said. Nienburg and then Hoya afterwards if necessary, could have been struck with what he assured Haas were 'small, clean warheads' to eliminate the crossings that the Soviets had operational as well as their lead units. There would have been 'only a few' civilian casualties, Dixon added, when doing such a thing as he believed the towns would have already been empty of civilians fleeing once they heard that the Soviet Army was approaching.

Why such a strategy hadn't been employed to eliminate the attacking elements of the Soviet Twenty–Eighth Army as they started to go over the Weser was a political decision which Dixon stated was a mistake. Doctrine called for such attacks to be made in an instant to obviate rampaging enemy armoured spearheads on the battlefield getting over a waterway such as the Weser. Dixon added to these statements by explaining to Haas his further beliefs on the matter concerning this. West Germany's allies were pressurising the government to use such weapons on the battlefield but were afraid to apply that pressure too much less Kohl and his ministers in their bunker do 'the unthinkable'.

What did Dixon regard as the unthinkable? Withdraw from the NATO alliance and seek a separate peace with the Soviets to avoid their country becoming a thermonuclear battlefield, he said.

Haas hadn't been able to argue against that belief: Dixon might have been correct there. However, neither of them was in a position to know otherwise.

Autobahn-1 crossed over the Dortmund-Ems Canal east of the town of Greven and very close to the Münster-Osnabrück Airport. Due to the highway bridge, the airport and this section of that major internal waterway all located nearby each other in such a fashion had made the area around Greven a target for the Soviets. That town had been subject to attack from missiles and bombs too in addition to the strategic transport links. The bridge that took the highway over the waterway below was still standing yet much damage had been inflicted by high-explosive bombs falling from Soviet aircraft in close proximity to it. The Autobahn was needed to be used by the Americans though – as well as other NATO forces fighting further north around Bremen for their own communications with the rear – as so a set of temporary crossings had been constructed right in the shadow of that construction. The pontoon bridges over the canal were numerous and built to take the weight of armoured vehicles being transported across loaded upon low-loader trailers as those with the 24th Division were. They were sturdy crossings which had been through up fast and seen much use.

Haas had left the truck in which he had been with Dixon upon the suggestion of the American that they do so for the purposes of stretching their legs for a bit after the long drive up from Aachen. Dixon had also said to Haas that while they waited they might observe some of the vehicles going over those pontoon bridges.

If he hadn't have done so then things would have been mighty different indeed…

“Hauptmann, that man over there in the truck with the American is not Leutnant Andreas Dietzsch!” Someone on the other side of the truck, out here in the cold morning sunshine, was talking about him.

“What do you mean?” The response from whom Haas presumed was the captain referred to sounded very dismissive of such a statement.

“I know Andreas Dietzsch. We both served in the ABC-Abwehrbataillon 720 together at Hage two years ago. The two of us were in the signals detachment for that unit before he afterwards transferred east to another unit near Wolfsburg.”

“Are you certain that that is not him, Leutnant? Mistakes can be made especially with all of the stresses that we are under.”

“That man there, Hauptmann, is not Andreas Dietzsch. We went drinking together at the weekends and fell out when he became inappropriate with my younger sister – I ended our friendship with a punch! Sir, I recommend that you contact the Feldjager because that man there is an imposter up to no good at all.”

Whoever, Haas' accuser was he was certainly vocal in his denunciation and also perfectly correct. The officer who the HVA had cast Haas to take the physical place of had certainly served within the NBC reconnaissance battalion that was spoken of; Haas had read the file on the man over and over again. Before his assignment, during peacetime, he had asked his controllers about such a risk of being identified by someone as he was now and they had told him that their intelligence work into the make-up of West German Territoralheer officers meant to be attached to the NORTHAG command staff in wartime included no one whom should have known Dietzsch beforehand. Haas had worried then over the assurances of that yet those had been proved correct when he was with NORTHAG's field headquarters early in the war.

However, he was no longer isolated as he had been with few West Germans assigned to NORTHAG’s mobile field headquarters. Instead, he was among many men wearing the same uniform as him with his current task assisting their NATO allies in moving throughout the country. He recalled earlier how one man had stared quite strangely at him back in Aachen and now remembered that man's face. His fellow lieutenant was on the other side of this truck but Haas suspected that at any moment he would come around to this side possibly to distract him while his captain brought along the military police.

Then Haas recalled that Dixon spoke German rather fluently. He turned around from looking at the river and worrying over his impending doom to see that it was right before him in the form of the pistol that the American now had pointed straight towards his face.

“Hurensohn!” Shouted Dixon and Haas knew that it was all over for him.

February 12th 1990
Achim, West Germany

Bremen, Hamburg and everywhere in between in this part of West Germany, all territory held by NATO forces on the eastern side of the Weser, was being evacuated. They weren't just pulling out their troops either but thousands upon thousands of civilians were being protected as they fled their homes too moving westwards towards the apparent safety on the western side of the river. There were Dutch and West German troops who were pulling out and crossing the Weser in Bremen as well as just to the north to there. Some of those troops came under the command of the Netherlands I Corps with others from the LANDJUT Corps who had first retreated into Hamburg at the beginning of the war.

There were strong and numerous forces of the Third Shock Army moving against them. Several combat divisions under the command of that field army were coming from the east and southeast. In addition, there were Soviet paratroopers – along with light armour – who had been in Bremerhaven and nearby since the start of the war who were advancing from the northwest, applying further pressure as NATO made their withdrawal.

Major Koch could only watch a small part of this take place from the vision blocks of his T-55 tank yet what he was seeing in the town of Achim, located in the Weser Valley upstream of Bremen, gave a good indication as to the scale of such a major enemy retreat to avoid being caught in the attempt to trap them on the wrong side of the Weser. He was limited to what he could see with his own eyes, what was on the divisional radio net now that the 2/17R had been reattached to the 17 MRD and the morning's intelligence brief which he had attended before his command was sent into Achim.

Around him was most of the rest of Koch's parent division. Motorised rifle units as well as other tanks along as reconnaissance & combat engineering units were moving through this town. The mission was to engage and destroy any enemy units here which had chosen to remain behind. All intelligence pointed to Achim as having been abandoned by NATO yet that might not necessarily be the case with the possibility that enemy units may have remained behind deliberately or accidentally to slow the progress of the 17 MRD following the approach routes to Bremen from this direction.

To Koch's left lay the main portion of Achim through which a slow and cautious advance was being made by infantry units. On his right to the north of the town other tanks were moving along the main highway as they faced minefields rather than snipers and demolitions which were present inside Achim. He himself was leading his understrength battalion along the course of the railway line in another slow-moving advance. Koch regarded the danger from enemy units willing to engage his tanks as serious and not something to be dismissed. However, the greatest dangers that he saw came from aircraft in the skies as well as all the destruction that the West Germans had left in their wake when they had made their withdrawal from this area under the cover of darkness in the early hours of this morning.

In Langwedel, Etelsen and Uesen – smaller towns also beside the Weser and through which the 17 MRD had advanced late last night and into today – there had been devastation left in the wake of the West Germans as they fled. They had undertaken an orgy of destruction to destroy anything of any value to the invader as well as to make a military occupation very unattractive indeed. Koch had seen the after-effects of the downing of bridges elsewhere since the war had begun as well as further explosions to block roads with rubble, cause rivers to flood low-lying land by blowing open embankments and the fires lit in woodland to make them temporary impassable.

Those three towns and now Achim were very different indeed in the scale of what was done.

The railway line was just one example. Explosive charges had been set along the track and the resulting blasts had torn up large sections. Furthermore, all necessary infrastructure along the line that Koch had seen were destroyed too from overhead power-lines brought down to further blasts ripping through switching points and posts holding signals lights. Elsewhere throughout the towns on the approaches to Bremen, the West Germans had blasted apart public utilities facilities and any bridge they could find that would cause a delay to the invader. Warehouses where food might be found were on fire and large shops emptied of the same. Civilian buses and construction equipment was missing or destroyed in-place if the West Germans hadn't taken those with them. Where there had been petrol stations, those had been drained of all fuel stored in their underground tanks and then the buildings demolished as well. Street signs were missing from everywhere in the hope that Koch believed to deny directions to the advancing East German forces.

It had all been thoroughly organised, Koch could see. Plenty of planning had been done across must what have been many years, decades even to do this on such a scale. However, at the same time, amongst all of that destruction there were certain facilities that Koch might have expected to see wiped out that were not. The West Germans had left alone hospitals and smaller medical clinics as well as fire stations with such civilian services presumably being untouched as there were still some ordinary West Germans who hadn't left with NATO troops. He believed that after everything he had seen elsewhere with civilians who stayed in their homes after the frontlines passed them by, medical care and protection against domestic fires would be the last of their worries…

They would have to deal with the Stasi and the KGB.

His tanks rumbled slowly along the course of the railway. Koch had them moving slowly with caution employed to guard against an ambush on the ground and also men tasked to keep an eye upon the cloudy skies above in case aircraft or armed helicopters made an appearance. The latter threat worried him more as while a man on the ground with a rocket-launcher or an armoured vehicle could do much damage, far more destruction would come from an air attack. NATO had been using their air power over and over again to strike against the Third Shock Army as it moved towards Bremen and Koch had to wonder where were the friendly aircraft meant to be protecting those like him on the ground.

Generally straight, the railway tracks ran towards the city up ahead with trees surrounding the raised embankment among which they sat. Such an elevated position with that cover offered to an attacker made Koch very uncomfortable indeed. The soonest he was through with this mission the better. He was out in the open with what men under his command he had left and while they were advancing and therefore helping to win the war, the ever-present danger of attack from the air was concerning.

Koch wasn't involved in the grand strategy of matters of this war yet he could understand that despite his bad experiences at times, NATO was being driven back across West Germany. Their air power was strong though, overwhelming at times, and was keeping this war from being won.

He hoped that his masters – military and political – were going to deal with that soonest otherwise he couldn't see a suitable endgame even with so much enemy territory taken.

February 12th 1990
Bygland, Norway

Bygland was somewhere in the interior of southern Norway though Fregattenkapitan Wolke knew no more than that about his location. The POW camp was far away from the coast within the internal mountain ranges of this Scandinavian nation and all he knew was the name of the nearest populated place.

There was no chance of a successful escape for someone like him when in a place like this. Where would he go? Would he manage to make it to the coast? If he reached the sea, then what? It was still winter here with all of this snow and the cold. He had no maps nor a weapon and couldn't speak the language to force help from those he would encounter who wouldn't be inclined to guide him.

All Wolke could think to do was to wait out the war here and be exchanged afterwards in a resulting peace agreement. Only now, after being here for a while, did he believe that he might survive that long.

The Norwegians were running the POW camp here with military policemen and reservists not being put to use fighting elsewhere in their country. There had been visits to the camp from what Wolke had learnt were Americans, British and West German intelligence personnel though they had yet to bother him. What those officers were after was clearly information yet he was certain that he had no secrets to reveal to them.

When the NATO intelligence people had come, they had spoken to those they interrogated in another one of the warm huts constructed here in this valley near to a river. There was a mountain which loomed menacing above the camp and that shadow was a metaphor too due to the worries over what the enemy would do to those who didn’t tell them what they wanted. The whole facility, as small as it was and surrounded by a simple barbed-wire fence, was made up of those simple wooden buildings where he and his fellow prisoners lived inside. The guards had more of them outside the wire for themselves to sleep in as well as administer the camp. Wolke believed that this facility had been planned long ago to be sited here and built as it was. When the orders had come, everything had been shipped in using the river and set up within a very short place of time; there were probably many more of these across Norway.

He was joined here by another sixty-two men wearing many uniforms. All were officers like him from naval and air services of his country and East Germany's allies: there were no men in the uniforms of the ground forces, various border guards or security services. There were very few of his fellow countrymen and certainly no other Volksmarine men present at Bygland. He had spoken with the trio of Luftstreitkrafte officers and discovered that two of them had been rescued from the sea when their Czechoslovak-built Let-410 light transport aircraft had crashed in Norway after being hit by a missile; they had been dropping Soviet special forces and been interrogated by the NATO intelligence people here.

The third Luftstreitkrafte man was an Oberst who Wolke had been informed was a fighter pilot. He was keeping himself to himself and not associating with the others here – East Germans included – for reasons which were un-revealed yet. The other pair of Luftstreitkrafte men had told Wolke that when with the NATO people, that Oberst had got physically violent yet wouldn't talk about it afterwards. Moreover, he had attacked one of the Soviet Air Force people here too using his fists again.

Wolke had decided to not try where others had failed and attempt to talk with the man.

There were more pressing matters on his mind than his fellow East German though.

When he had first arrived here he had been waiting for the moment to come when he would be shot. Wolke had been certain that NATO had moved him and these other officers here into the middle of nowhere so that when they had drained them of any possible information that they could, they would all then be executed. Torture might come before then too, something that Wolke had tortured himself thinking of the manner in which that might come as his imagination had run wild.

However, after being here for some time, he didn't think that was going to come. Beyond his initial processing, he hadn't been questioned by the enemy other than to hand over his name, rank, date of birth and his military service number. When one of the West Germans interpreting for the Norwegians had asked him if he wished to give any more information, he had said no and that had been it with that: no overt pressure had been applied. Those that had been questioned in detail by NATO hadn't come out with any tales of fingernails being pulled or electrocution to their private parts (some of what Wolke had dreaded) being done. He only had to look around him to see how NATO were treating the POWs here.

They were being kept warm with decent shelter from the elements. Food and water was given to them on a regular basis and there was the chance to wash too. Medical care had first been administered by the Norwegian military with access into the POW camp, then being given to an organisation whose history, mission and make-up shocked Wolke when he spoke to one of the German-speaking members of that: Médecins Sans Frontières. These were volunteer doctors and medics from throughout the Western world working without government interference, or so he was assured by the young Swiss lady whom he conversed with, to operate without supervision where there was a need.

It wouldn't have been an understatement to say that Wolke had never been so surprised in his whole life.

NATO had brought these people here to care for him and the other POWs as well as providing shelter and food. There had been someone from another organisation which Wolke had never heard of called the Red Cross – similar in some ways to the Médecins Sans Frontières people – who had gone around to all those here and asked if they wanted to write a letter to their families back home. All effort would be made to have such communication delivered as well with NATO cooperating as that was in the ‘laws of war’. He'd given his name to that Scottish man like he had to the woman from Switzerland when they had asked to take note of whom was here, but not sent a letter.

None of the Norwegians had objected to such lists being made and after that Wolke had finally been utterly convinced that he wasn't going to be walked out into the snow here and shot in the back. With that came the realisation that maybe not everything he had ever been told when it came to NATO and the Imperialists in the West might be wholly true…

February 12th 1990
Schweinfurt, West Germany

“That is an 'Apache'.”

“What is an 'Apache'? Is it some sort if flying insect?” Oberleutnant Korner had never heard the term before. He directed his question at Leutnant who was now serving as his second-in-command and who spoke some English.

“A tribe of Native Americans. A fearsome people from what I was told.”

Korner shook his head. “I can't conceive that at all. Why would they name one of their best armed helicopters after an enemy? That doesn't make sense.” He refused to believe it.

He asked himself would the Soviets next be naming their aircraft after beaten generals of Hitler? Or his own country calling armoured vehicles after traitors to the socialist system? Korner was certain that the man was misinformed.

The Leutnant said nothing in response and instead he joined Korner in watching the helicopter off in the distance as it was joined by another and then there was a further one: the final helicopter was smaller and less menacing looking. Korner understood that he was watching a reconnaissance helicopter scouting for two attack helicopters.

Soon enough, those helicopters which he was watching from behind started attacking a target on the ground. The smaller one had fired what looked like a flare and then the bigger ones moved in with barrages of rockets and afterwards machine gun fire. They moved fast across the sky, dropping down after firing and were soon out of sight. All that remained once the Apaches and their scout had gone was rising smoke coming from somewhere east of Schweinfurt as well as the rumble of explosions.

Korner was mighty glad that he hadn't been the target of their attack.

While he had been watching American Army helicopters, the main enemy forces attacking here at Schweinfurt was as before Canadians. They still had their troops and tanks on the other side of the River Main south of the city, though they were across on this over to the west. The aim of those NATO troops was clearly still the same: eliminate the threat coming from East German and Soviet forces operating from this city and the communications nexus it was. Schweinfurt had been accidentally gassed, bombed by B-52s which had started enormous fired and was now going to be fought over house-to-house.

Against his will, Korner was going to be a part of that fight. He had been issued with orders to take charge of forty-three men from various Nationale Volksarmee units which had already been formed into an oversized rifle platoon and assist in the defence of this city.

Korner had his command positioned to the northeast of Schweinfurt on the slopes of and behind a small hill. This was at the edges of an abandoned area of houses half a mile away from the river. He kept his men no longer at the top of the hill at the 'suggestion' of one of his two sergeants, a regular Landstreitkrafte artillery soldier, who had said that such a place would be somewhere where they would die. An enemy that moved through the forest directly ahead of them would have their heavy guns blast the top of the hill at the earliest opportunity. Korner had listened to the man because despite the man's rank he clearly knew his business better than Korner did.

The artilleryman was a good example of the collection of men under Korner's command all given a rifle and told to hold this position if an attack came through these trees. That sergeant had bandages across most of his face and walked with a limp; he had come from a field hospital established in the city and evacuated of those deemed capable by someone senior to fight here away from their parent unit where their training would be best put to use. Others like him had sprains to their wrists and ankles, were suffering from the after-effects of concussion or had been deemed too ill to fight beforehand. They were a mixed bunch in various uniforms from several branches of the Nationale Volksarmee who had basic weapons training though no recent combat experience with the rifles that they had been issued with.

It could have been worse for Korner.

He had heard that other officers like himself in Schweinfurt had been issued makeshift penal units formed of men who had disobeyed orders and caused other problems and whom the KD and the Stasi had yet to get around to shooting. Such men might not have obeyed his firm instructions to stay in the foxholes dug for them and decided to wander off and loot the houses behind, maybe even hunt for female civilians to interfere with. These men he had might have been tempted to do such things, yet for now they were staying put where he had them.

He really wanted them to not have to fire a shot. If the enemy came to attack here, it would mean that they were all doomed – it would be tanks and other armour he assumed that would come out of the woods, not inexperienced men like he had – as a major enemy attack would therefore be underway on this side of the river. These men would fight but he didn't rate the chances of them nor him lasting very long in such a situation.

Earlier on this morning, when Korner had marched his men away from the staging area near the field hospital that was packing up and leaving, with walking wounded assigned to combat units, he had been given forty-four men to command not his current forty-three.

The soldier who was now missing had been wearing a Luftstreitkrafte uniform yet was a corporal assigned as a driver to the headquarters of an anti-aircraft unit. He had been in the hospital for reasons which Korner hadn't found out about and displayed no visible signs of injury. Korner only found out the reason why such a man had been placed where he had a few minutes later when they were marching away. There had come the distant sound of heavy artillery and then shells had exploded to the west of Schweinfurt. The Americans were advancing from that direction, he had been told, yet were some distance off and had a long way to go before they would close their trap and encircle between them and the Canadians many Soviet and Polish troops to the south fighting near Wurzburg.

When those shells had exploded somewhere out of sight but within hearing range, the Luftstreitkrafte corporal had dropped his rifle and collapsed in a heap to the ground. He had curled himself up into a ball and closed his eyes while humming what had sounded similar to a nursery rhyme Korner could half-remember from childhood.

Korner had been witness to what was known as shell-shock. Sometimes it came in less-dramatic forms, at other times it would be worse than what he witnessed, but that was what the young man had. The horror of war and the pressure upon the young man had broken him in the mind and caused such a reaction. Korner was no doctor and had no idea what to do with such a man, but knew that even if there was a sudden recovery where the man was up on his feet with his rifle and ready to carry on marching, he couldn't use such a soldier. He would be liable to revert to such a state again at any moment, probably when artillery was heard, and would frighten the others as he had first done.

As harsh as it was, Korner had wanted rid of the man as soon as possible due to the affect that he would have on the morale of the others. His men wouldn't have much of a chance should they have to fight for their position yet Korner wanted them to have every opportunity he could give them even if that was very little.

Afterwards, and now, they waited for the Canadians to attack. Maybe they would have support from the Americans on the ground not just in the air. The West Germans might be with them instead. Korner didn't know but he had his men ready to fight regardless because this was his duty. He was afraid and he doubted himself but he had his orders.

Everyone was needed at the frontlines at the minute. Word had come down that the war was nearly won now and as it came to the promised victorious conclusion there was no time to be shirking what needed to be done. Korner understood that he himself meant nothing in the grand scheme of things, yet he and his men would hold this position if it was attacked for as long as they could even if it was for just the briefest of moments.

That was his duty.

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Chapter Eleven – Air Power

February 13th 1990
Kommando Landstreitkrafte, Geltow, East Germany

According to the now confirmed information available, the helicopter carrying the Commander of the Western-TVD had been downed last night somewhere near his Ziegelroda Forest headquarters and Marshal Zinoviev killed. More details were not forthcoming though Generaloberst Ulrich suspected that a NATO fighter was responsible for undertaking such an act. Whether it had been a pre-planned intelligence-led coup de grace or just plain luck really didn't matter because the man was dead. He had a deputy and a capable staff, but Zinoviev was in Ulrich's opinion a military genius and would be missed.

A Germanphobe he had been, but still a genius.

The man would himself miss seeing the results of his grand maskirovka today when the offensive to finish off NATO here in Germany commenced in an hour or so as dawn arrived. Ulrich had only been made aware of what was in the offing overnight as the operational security had been so tight. He believed that NATO certainly had no idea what was coming even at this late stage.

If everything went according to plan, the war would be won today.

At his maps again, Ulrich studied the ground where the multiple strikes were to be made to break open the frontlines for good. He was unashamedly in awe at what had been achieved in keeping everyone – including himself! – unaware of what was coming. All that those outside Zinoviev's staff thought that they knew about the intentions of the Western-TVD's commander for upcoming operations was false information; this included those involved on the Soviet-led side, not just the senior NATO commanders on had been his opponents.

That was what maskirovka was though.

Ulrich himself had been a pupil of the Soviet military as they taught him how to conduct strategic deception operations to provide the enemy with nothing but falsehoods before your big attack. However, he had doubted that Zinoviev would do something like he had on this scale. His personal feelings towards the man had made him doubt the now-deceased Soviet senior commander and he regretted that. NATO would have more than regrets when dawn came as the massed armies moved out of cover and into the theatre-wide attacks. They would be where they were not expected to be and in strengths not thought to be what they were.

There was no official name for the operations about to commence that Ulrich was aware of: 'Volga-3' still covered military warfare being commenced in West Germany. He had taken to calling it 'Zinoviev's maskirovka' when he had been informed of the broad-strokes of it and that term stuck with him. There were two main elements to it: one in the north with the Polish Front and the other in central Germany where the Northern Front was operating.

Like NATO intelligence, Ulrich had previously believed that only the Soviet Twenty–Eighth Army was across the Weser south of Bremen with the Third Shock Army to their north moving against that city on the other side. Zinoviev had actually ordered the Polish Front commander to bring that latter field army over the river though and leave Bremen and other missions on the eastern side of the Weser to units under the command of the Polish Second Army no matter who they previously answered to. Both armies were to advance west and southwest heading for the Ems River (much narrower than the Weser) with the Netherlands border straight ahead in one direction and access to the Ruhr in the other. The commanders of both field armies were to be given massive fire support in terms of artillery support to break through and then waves of aircraft to assist them in charging forward. All subordinate units were to keep driving forward and to bypass opposition if necessary rather than engage or encircle such enemy forces. Speed was everything here as the shock value of being in such numbers where NATO didn't expect them – especially so many troops over the Weser – was deemed more important that winning battles. Territory was to be taken and political blows struck by that.

The southern attack was to be made with the Soviet First Guards Tank Army. Ulrich knew that he had been waiting like NATO had for it to make an appearance. The enemy would have been wondering where and when it would finally attack. Now those five divisions were about to go into action in what was conversely the most obvious location yet at the same time unexpected too: onto the Fulda Plain. NATO forces had been focused upon the worry that that formation would strike from the Wurzburg area into northern Bavaria just as he had thought best for the First Guards Tank Army to do. They had responded by striking at Schweinfurt as they had rather than waiting. No, instead the massed tanks were to move behind the right wing of the Soviet Eighth Guards Army and pour across the battlefields where for more than a week the Americans had engaged a trio of Soviet divisions there: they were to go through the frontlines along the Fulda River and move either side of the Vogelsberg. The aim was to have the First Guards Tank Army eventually on the Rhine somewhere between Koblenz and Mainz… if not, then their attack would surely distract from the bigger one in the north.

In opposition, NATO had too few troops and those present with too many priorities. It was in the air when NATO remained strong, despite all Soviet-led efforts to the contrary, not on the ground.

When had air power ever won a war? Ulrich couldn't think of an occasion when that was and it certainly wasn't going to bring this conflict to a successful conclusion for NATO. They had dropped bridges over the Elbe here in East Germany and many more over other rivers linking his country to Poland. In addition, NATO air power had blasted many targets in spectacular fashion closer to the frontlines… yet not enough and with enough effect. Their air attacks had often been met with opposing fighters and maybe NATO aircraft came off best overall but they hadn't won complete control of the skies, just dominated them at times.

That wasn't enough to win this war, one which Ulrich didn't believe air power – from either side – could win.

As to their ground forces, Ulrich was aware that in the north where Zinoviev's maskirovka would see the advance of two field armies, with thousands of tanks and tens of thousands of battle-hardened troops, the Americans had brought in one, just one combat division fresh from their homeland after a journey across the North Atlantic. There were some British light troops formed into two divisions – one established as a light, rear-area force (the 2nd Infantry Division) and the other as an ad hoc formation (the new 5th Infantry Division) – as well as some Dutch reservists who were present after a complicated mobilisation process. Those units were with three different corps commands, all of which were smaller than the opposing field armies in terms of units, men and tanks though with bigger areas of responsibility. They all answered to a single commander overall yet Ulrich was aware of great internal fragmentation when it came to national priorities on the NATO side during this war.

On the side he was on, also one of many allies, there were no such problems: like it or not, the Soviets said what was to be done and that was it.

On his beloved maps here in his bunker, Ulrich had marked where NATO had their troops positioned in the way of the pair of field armies Zinoviev had condensed together ready to attack from their Weser bridgeheads. Far too many NATO troops were on the wrong side of that river where it was wider downstream. There were Dutch and West German troops moving through Bremen and north of there trying to get back over the river. There were many civilians caught up among them that they were protecting as they fled too. South of there were the Americans with their III Corps: they had four divisions whom all had now seen battle and all of whom had undertaken counterattacks against the bridgeheads held with marked failure. That had been the same across West Germany during the war as NATO didn't press their strikes home with a focus upon preserving their strength for more. Ulrich knew that was fine military strategy, just not in this war.

There were the British who also remained east of the Weser and focused upon keeping their Hannover Salient. Ulrich had feared that they were waiting to strike in a major offensive but that had not come. In fact, they had used up their last reserves with the 3rd Armoured Division to beat back moves made yesterday between Hannover and Lake Steinhude around a place called Wunstorf. Including the West Germans with them, there were four more divisions there – all fine, first-line troops – on the wrong side of the Weser fighting for what he could only regard as the political objective of keeping Hannover. The Polish First Army was trying to squeeze them from the south aiming for the river at Hameln, where Ulrich didn't believe they could reach, yet it was the Soviet Second Guards Tank Army that pinned the British I Corps in-place.

This stupid political decision was going to cost them dear. Ulrich understood why they were doing so. To lose that city when Hamburg had been mainly overrun yesterday and West Berlin was about to surrender might cause a negative reaction from the West Germans, but he believed they should pull back to the area where the Weser meandered if they wanted to stay on the eastern side of the river: around Minden and Porta Westfalica if necessary. At the same time, he would have to admit that the Second Guards Tank Army commander had been put in just as an awkward position as his British opponent. From what Ulrich had been told, the man had been given contradictory instructions. A military decision was the order to not press home that attacks to drive the British back over the Weser so eventually they would be trapped when the moment came to take the crossings ahead of them, but the KGB was pushing for Hannover to be seized to cause a blow to West German morale. Of course, both concepts made sense as was always the way of such things!

In the south, where the First Guards Tank Army was to strike, there were the French. They had a corps command there in Hessen yet its 'divisions' were no more than brigades heavy in armour and not so much in infantry support. As the rest of NATO had done, the French seemed to have paid too much attention to getting first-line troops into West Germany and then all the necessary support from ammunition to air power. Again, this was all sound military strategy to do so before bringing in massed reserves of lighter units afterwards, but that was where the strengths of the West's armed forces lay. When the First Guards Tank Army erupted onto the Fulda Plain today, the French were expected to launch a stunning counterattack. It wouldn't be pressed home though, and soon enough they like the Americans already there would face a counter-counter move themselves by numerically stronger forces: they couldn't be everywhere with what numbers they had.

The weathermen said that there would be clear skies all day today and into tonight. With such a change in the weather there would be all of those aircraft in the sky doing their worst. Ulrich understood that in his planning Zinoviev had foreseen NATO aircraft tearing into his attacking units trying to support their troops at the frontlines but there would be Soviet aircraft in the skies too, those from bases in East Germany and Poland.

With the skies contested, with both sides in the fight, the offensive should succeed. Ulrich couldn't see how it wouldn't work. NATO had no large reserves forces left in-theatre. The Americans had their 'national guard' but Ulrich knew those were third-line troops who even with good equipment and excellent training were still completing mobilisation on the other side of the North Atlantic. Those troops needed to be shipped across the ocean complete with equipment first. The British and the French had a big manpower pool but no heavy weapons in terms of tanks and massed armoured fighting vehicles ready to be manned by those yet to be mobilised men. The West Germans were fully committed with what they already had and, if intelligence was correct, had suffered disproportionate losses compared to their allies.

Even if NATO pulled a surprise out of nowhere and stopped the attacks of Zinoviev's maskirovka today, there were still as many as five Soviet field armies – all mechanised and with thousands more tanks – rolling through Poland heading this way. NATO air strikes had slowed them down but not stopped them. They had more combat potential than the Americans had but were far more numerous and closer to the frontlines as well.

This was it. This was to be the final blow to finish off NATO on the ground in West Germany. The Soviets would have their tanks on the Dutch border, maybe near the Ruhr and close to the Rhine too if things went really well, by tonight or early tomorrow. If not, then soon enough the third wave of Soviet troops would show up.

Ulrich could see nothing but Soviet victory today – his own country's army would only have a minor role to play – and the coming end of the war. Nothing, not even that air power NATO put its faith in, was going to stop this from happening…

…unless NATO decided to use nuclear weapons that was.

February 13th 1990
Above West Germany

If it could fly, then it was in the skies above northern parts of Germany this morning.

Hauptmann Esser believed that any aircraft capable of combat was airborne now taking part in what had to be the biggest air battle of the war for control of the sky. He had his radar active and the display was filled with countless contacts – friendlies, enemies and 'unknowns' – while the radio was alive was chatter as pilots contacted ground and airborne controllers. He was trying to focus upon his own mission and playing the necessary role he was tasked to do yet there were plenty of distractions that he couldn't get out of his mind.

The need to concentrate was never more important too, especially as he was far ahead of the frontlines deep into enemy territory.

His mission this morning was the same as those given to all East German, Soviet and Polish pilots participating: combat NATO aircraft.

Ground attack strikes and reconnaissance tasks were for now not to be undertaken as instead there were just fighter duties to do. Air-to-air missiles and bullets for cannons were the only weapons carried and as many of those as possible. Every pilot had instructions that they were to shoot down any NATO aircraft that they saw whether it be a direct threat to them or not. Moreover, keeping NATO aircraft away from their ground attack missions was of an even greater priority than engaging those assigned to protect them.

Esser hadn't had the time before he had lifted off at dawn from Wittstock to give all of this much thought and consider what was going on with such orders being issued. Instead, he had kept his mind on getting airborne and then heading westwards into the patrol area where he was assigned. There was a trio of other MiG-29s with him – all crewed by Soviet Air Force pilots rather than his usual Luftstreitkrafte cohorts – and he had to trust that their mind was on the job too.

Plenty of targets were sure to be in the skies, the MiG-29 pilots had been told, and they shouldn't come back to Wittstock unless their missile stocks were expended and they could claim aerial victories against enemy opponents. No more had been said on the matter yet Esser hadn't needed to be told what was unsaid: those who would fail to do their duty this morning, for whatever reason, even a justifiable one, will be in plenty of trouble upon returning to Wittstock.

From what he knew personally, his own unit JG 3 had taken immense losses in combat against NATO during the war. That was repeated across the Luftstreitkrafte too with the pilots of other East German aircraft having been shot down like so many of his comrades who had started the war at Preschen as he had.

And it was the same with the Soviet Air Force as well.

They had faced the destruction of their aircraft when airborne, and also on the ground in many cases as well, at the hands of NATO. While they had many more aircraft to lose, it didn't mean that the losses were to be taken lightly by them either. Esser had no idea of numbers or anything more than the specific instances which he had witnessed yet he had heard enough talk of how the Soviets had seen their combat aircraft destroyed just as his own service had. This included the large amount of aircraft that they had based in East Germany before the war broke out plus the immediate reinforcements flown in from across Eastern Europe & the western regions of their own country.

In response to that and to allow there to be so many Soviet aircraft in the skies today, Esser had been told that second-line units from across the Soviet Union had been reassigned to the war in Europe, even training units, so as to make good the losses in numerical terms. Moreover, joining the Soviet Air Force in battle now were elements of the Soviet Air Defence Force. In the Luftstreitkrafte there was little more than an administrative separation between the two, yet the Soviets had to completely independent air arms for frontline combat and rear-area air defence duties. With the latter, there were primarily interceptors fielded and such aircraft had greater range and weapons loads than the tactical aircraft usually positioned in peacetime in more exposed forward positions.

Today, Esser was joined in the skies by some of those Soviet Air Defence Force aircraft. A squadron of their Sukhoi-27 interceptors – detached from its parent regiment – had been busy getting airborne from Wittstock before he and the other MiG-29s lifted off. Perhaps there would be difficulty in linking those interceptors to the tactical battles raging though the Luftstreitkrafte and the Poles had managed it throughout the war. Esser could only presume that the Soviets would either have sorted that out or it would just have to be dealt with. Either way, those big aircraft loaded with missiles had been impressive to watch and Esser relished the day that the Luftstreitkrafte would eventually be able to field such aircraft itself.

He might have a chance to fly one. Of course, that would be after the war.

Today, they were all crewed by Soviets and operating even further westwards than he was. He hoped that they were engaging those troublesome, deadly American F-15s long before those aircraft could intervene as they often did at other times when NATO had showed off its air power.

Currently above western Lower Saxony, between the Weser and the Netherlands, Esser was flying southwards. His flight leader had tasked them to go after a flight of enemy aircraft, numbering six, streaking low across the sky heading towards that river where the fighting on the ground was taking place. They flew high and fast while keeping track of the enemy – who had to see the danger using their own warning systems – waiting to swoop down upon command and engage.

As always, when in such a situation as this, Esser tried to keep calm and not get overexcited. He struggled with the adrenaline rush and fought to keep his breathing under control. There was plenty of danger to worry about from distant threats yet there should at least be a radio call from the airborne controller far away back over East Germany if enemy fighters were spotted. Missiles launched from the ground were a different matter though…

As the range to the planned firing position lessened, Esser armed two of his short-range R-73s while checking that his infrared guidance system was functioning as it should be. Everything was in order and he returned to the radar display of where the targets were for a glance at that. Again, the enemy remained where they were beforehand seemingly not taking any action. Esser was suspicious though not overly worried as the distance between him and the NATO aircraft was still significant and he was sure that those enemy pilots would be getting all sorts of warnings on their threat displays. They hadn't been highlighted by him and the other MiG-29s with their radars to tell them that there was an overt threat to them, just a general one.

The flight leader now called for the radars be switched into passive mode. Esser did as he was told and waited for the command to increase speed and start losing altitude as the engagement began. Instead, a different call came over the radio.

“Enemy missiles! Evade, evade!”

Esser swung his gaze left and right as he asked himself why his own threat receivers weren't screaming warnings at him. In the bright, clear skies he could see nothing. There were no enemy fighters nor missiles racing across the sky. He did something that he shouldn't and hesitated for a moment trying to decide what to respond on the radio. He couldn't make up his mind on what form of clarification he should best ask for from the irritable flight leader that he had.

Too late.

There was a flash, a wave of heat that washed over him searing his eyes and then nothing else at all. Esser faded out as his aircraft disintegrated around him after being struck from a SAM coming from below.

February 13th 1990
Delligsen, West Germany

The Polish Second Army had a forward headquarters across the Leine at Delligsen, a small village that lay in the shadows of the Ith Hills. Armoured vehicles being used as command vehicles and staff transport had come to a stop in the car park of the glass factory here with the Poles themselves making temporary use of the insides of the factory itself.

Oberst Schrader didn't want to stay here long himself. He believed that the Poles were making themselves a target for any flights of marauding NATO fighter-bombers that might come this way. However, his commanding officer had instructed that Schrader come here at once for an 'important matter' which he wouldn't divulge over the radio or even trust to a messenger. Therefore, he had made haste to come down from where the 1 MRD – a division only in name – was on the outskirts of Elze here to Delligsen.

When he heard what he had been brought here to be told, he wasn't that surprised.

“Thermonuclear weapons have been employed.” The general commanding the Polish Second Army told him and the other divisional commanders. “The Americans used two, possibly three weapons with tactical warheads last night in South Korea against our allies in the Korean People's Army in the area around Seoul. There appears to have been massive damage done to the first-line North Korean forces engaged in combat operations against that city and its defenders.”

The other divisional commanders, all Polish Army officers, joined Schrader in silence though glances at their faces which he took in showed a mixture of what he believed to be surprise as well as anger at the news they were being given. He himself had been waiting for news similar to this since the war had begun though had been anticipating that the use of such weapons might occur in Europe or at sea rather than on the other side of the world.

Either way, everything had changed and thus why he was here.

The general continued: “Comrades, we shall at once begin limited preparations in case the spread of such weapons occur. Offensive operations are to continue, yet at the same time, the danger from the possibility of the Americans repeating such an action means that I want you all to disperse your forces as best as possible to limit weapons effects. We do not want to be caught unprepared like our comrades in Korea were.

I understand that this isn't the easiest thing to do, but do it you must. When you must have your regiments close together, do that for the shortest possible time. The same with your artillery and combat engineering units: keep them apart when possible and when you need to mass them, make that such exposure time is limited.”

“Are we to retaliate?”

The question came from the commander of the Polish 5 TD. His unit had yet to see action and Schrader hadn't met him until a few minutes ago. He therefore wasn't able to gauge the man enough to understood what he meant behind such a question. It was also a question delivered in Polish. Schrader had it translated into German for him by one of his trusted aides, yet the translation meant that he couldn’t accurately understand the man's feelings on this subject. Did he mean 'retaliate' as in strike back because the North Koreans had been attacked with an emphasis on believing that it was the right thing to do? Or was it the other way, with such a term as the man considered that striking back wouldn't be the best thing to do?

North Korea was a fellow socialist nation engaged in warfare against the Americans, but not NATO. They weren't considered an ally or a partner like those countries in Eastern Europe were; such was his opinion when it came to that country anyway.

“I am not aware of that decision being made.”

That short response from his commander didn't tell Schrader much either on the matter. Again, through having to have what was said translated plus not knowing these men personally, he couldn't read between the lines of what was said.

Schrader felt the gaze of his commander fall upon him and he met that for a few seconds. He stared straight back at the Pole who was here in West Germany commanding him and his men along with all of these Polish troops fighting against NATO forces. He assumed that the man was waiting for him to say something though there really wasn't anything that Schrader could think of speaking about without it being something that he would afterwards regret.

There were a trio of men present in addition to him and the other professional military officers: one each from the PHV, the KGB and the Polish WSW. These were all secret policemen even if they wore military uniforms and were here to detect what they deemed to be acts of 'defeatism, sabotage and illegal political activity'. Earlier in the war, he had seen several of his own staff arrested by the PHV and was informed that others in junior positions within the 1 MRD had too been taken away. Some of those fellow Landstreitkrafte soldiers had said things similar to what he wanted to say now: end this war now before it goes to the nuclear level.

Schrader kept his mouth shut though.

“We keep fighting and continue with our assigned role. NATO forces across the high ground must be pushed back to Hameln so we can afterwards conduct a crossing there while at the same time the operation on our flank to move northwards must continue too.”

Schrader nodded as his commander said this. He remained inwardly horrified at the thought of nuclear weapons being used and continued to believe that the longer the war went on the more danger there was of them being deployed in Germany – either side of the IGB – yet kept that too himself.

“NATO air power,” the Polish Second Army commander carried on, “remains a threat though as you are all aware our own aircraft are in the skies in great number today doing their best to fight them off. Keep up your advances and let our political comrades focus on their tasks.

You are dismissed.”

Once the brief meeting was over with, Schrader set about returning back to his field headquarters. It was only just midday with several more hours of daylight left and his division – well, the brigade it was now – remained in combat around the town of Elze. There were dug-in defenders there in the form of West German reservists who were holding on with great tenacity. However, he had his men almost surrounding Elze and blasting it to pieces. He intended to finish the day with the town fully enveloped by his infantry and its defenders trapped inside while still keeping what little armour he had left ready to combat British mobile forces still active in the area.

As he made his journey, Schrader hoped against hope that politicians from all sides would see sense and not end this conflict with a further flurry of nuclear weapons. He had no role to play in such decisions yet if he could, he would scream at them all a simple comment: 'Make peace!'.

February 13th 1990
Wunstorf Airbase, West Germany

The air attack was over moments after it had begun. Voller had screamed for them to get down into cover – any cover! - and now he called the 'all clear'. One of the other paratroopers asked their sergeant what type of aircraft they were and Voller replied that they were Harriers flying low with bombs.

If Gefreiter Schmid remembered correctly, Harriers were flown by the British and maybe the American Navy too, though he wasn't sure with the latter. Regardless, they were NATO aircraft that had struck here just when it had started to get dark and not long after their apparent saviour had brought them here. This West German military facility at Wunstorf had been taken in fierce fighting here by Soviet troops against British defenders. That had already devastated much of the airbase but from what Schmid was able to see as he stood back up those Harriers had finished the job of destroying this place as somewhere useful. Where the control tower had stood was now a pile of smouldering masonry while there was more smoke across both of the runaways; as that cleared somewhat in the wind, he could see that significant parts of those looked torn up from blasts.

Whether there had been the intention of the Soviets to use this airbase for their own flight operations, rather than just having troops use the area as a ground transportation nexus, he didn't know. Either way, he couldn't see how after such damage the airbase was going to be home to fighters for a while. It was too close to the frontlines anyway as far as he knew. More distance would be needed between that two so notice could come of incoming bombing raids like he had just witnessed when NATO was using their air power in such a fashion.

Out of all of them, Smirnov looked the most un-fazed after the air attack. One of those bombs from the Harriers had fallen rather close to where they had all dived to the ground. But then the man who had led them out of the Grinderwald and then vouched for them through several checkpoints who were looking for an excuse to shoot suspected deserters gave the impression that it was nothing at all.

Personally, Schmid suspected that beneath that image that Smirnov put out of no fear and supreme confidence there was actually self-doubt. He had seen it before in others and this Soviet officer was doing his best to hide it though Schmid just had the inkling that it wasn't real.

Nonetheless, they were here at Wunstorf – half a dozen kilometres west of where they had started the war at Langenhagen, he had been told – and under Smirnov's command. The rest of what was left of the 40 Luftsturmregiment was further to the west at Rehburg and they were to soon head there to join them. The past few days had given them an unplanned break from fighting. Schmid knew that that was to come to an end now: they were here where transportation could be arranged to get to Rehburg.

The transportation turned out to be some trucks. Schmid and his comrades would easily fit into one yet others from their regiment had been scattered when their aircraft had been shot down too. They had trickled towards Wunstorf in smaller groups than the one he had been part of and linked up with those such as he. Three vehicles were waiting for them and before he climbed aboard Schmid took the time to give them a quick look over up close to see if what he thought from a distance about them was correct.

These weren't Landstreitkrafte trucks but rather wore markings of the West German Army. Clearly, they were captured war booty and being put to good use now though Schmid did wonder about the fates of other men who had ridden in such vehicles before he did. It was something to think about for they were on the losing side of the war and he was here, despite everything, among the victors.

They were speeding away from Wunstorf soon enough. The drivers were clearly keen not to idle and get to Rehburg to deliver their cargoes as soon as possible. Schmid told himself that no matter what speed they were going it wouldn't save them if an enemy aircraft showed up. It appeared to be the case that the men driving the trucks didn't see such things as he did on that matter though.

He was heading back to see combat again along with his comrades. They were still fighting and he was being sent to join them. Schmid was happy enough to be doing this. He told himself that was his duty: to assist in the efforts to finish this war off as soon as possible so that the killing could stop.

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 07, 2018 5:59 pm 

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Chapter Twelve – Honour

February 14th 1990
Outside Münster, West Germany

When he was accused by one of the interrogators of committing acts of perfidy, which he was assured was a war crime, Leutnant Haas broke his previous silence and couldn't help but laugh briefly at the man. As he did so, there was a flash of rage in the face of the British officer and Haas was concerned that physical violence would ensue. Thankfully, that brigadier turned away and went back over to the other side of the room to allow the West German colonel present to step forward and ask why Haas had laughed in such a manner.

Did he not understand the consequences of committing a war crime?

Haas said nothing in response. He suspected that this might have been a deliberate ploy to have him defend his actions and therefore get him talking. That wasn't going to work. He had to grant them a bit of respect for that play but they weren't respecting him either to understand that his training for a situation like this was to stay silent for as long as possible.

He had laughed because such an allegation was wholly false.

He had not committed perfidy at all. He knew what the term meant and could tell them examples of such actions in the past by others while making it clear that he had not done anything like that. He had worn the uniform of his country's enemies to commit espionage: a perfectly allowable act of war, a recognised ruse de guerre. In doing so he had not used the cover of that uniform and the identity of someone else he assumed with it to commit overt hostile act such as giving false orders to gain tactical advantage for his own side nor taken up arms to assassinate anyone either. Even if he had been caught with the Luxembourg military documents which NATO now had hold of in addition to his pretence to be a Territoralheer officer, he still hadn't done anything wrong.

All he had done was spy upon his opponents. Perfidy was a war crime and one to be punished but he hadn’t done that. He was therefore entitled to be held as a prisoner of war and not be subject to questioning such as this with threats against his life.

When he didn't answer that question directed at him, just like those previous ones that had come all through yesterday, more were repeatedly asked of him.

What role did he play in the attempt to eliminate the NORTHAG command group when it was ambushed near Krefeld five days ago? Did he bring those commandoes to the site and how did he do that? Was he responsible for the deaths of any of the posted sentries before the main attack begun?

Did he have any part to play in the chemical weapon strikes at the beginning of the conflict which broke international law? Was he involved in the targeting of those which not only killed military personnel but nearby innocent civilians of multiple nations too?

What other spies did he know about operating as he was behind the frontlines in NATO uniforms? What were the identities being used by others like him with the NORTHAG headquarters, the US III Corps and elsewhere?

Apart from calling in the commando strike against NORTHAG headquarters – and taking part in it too when wearing a West German uniform – what else did he do when at with that mobile command column? How did he contact his controllers to inform them of the information which he found out? What radio equipment did he use or who were his contacts with those who had access to such equipment and were willing to relay information for him?

Where were the two men who he had assumed the identities of – the officers from the West German and Luxembourg Army's? Had he killed them himself or had someone else done so at his behest? Had they been spies who were no longer useful or just innocents killed because they were in the way?

There were answers to all of these questions that were demanded of Haas.

What wasn't asked of Haas were the questions his long training had prepared him to give false answers if he was caught in peacetime and the intelligence services of the West decided to interrogate him a bit more forcefully than just shouting at him. If it had come to simulated drowning, the use of electric shocks or even the fingernail-pulling stage then he was still to remember his duty and give false answers to those questions. This would be to allow those who had been supporting his activities the time to cover their tracks and escape detention themselves.

Yet he was still in the hands of NATO military intelligence and this was wartime. They weren't asking him about his contacts inside West Germany and across the Low Countries with domestic terrorist groups and the names of key people within those groups. No questions were forthcoming about his own organisation the HVA: what he knew of it's internal structure and personalities as well as his own training. With such questions, he could give the West a whole load of false information that would lead them down wrong paths in their investigations so his comrades could escape their grasp.

Haas was yet to answer these questions not because he was protecting anyone with his organisation or the HVA at this stage due to a different reason: that being his honour. As far as he was concerned he was still fighting for his country. He had been taken prisoner against his will rather than surrendering. In addition, these interrogators believed that he was a fool who could be tricked by them with their accusations that he was a war criminal. When they asking about things that they knew he had no knowledge of, their intention was that he would reveal what he had done.

He was not prepared to play by their rules there and give them anything. In his opinion the war was soon going to be won and he'd be handed back over to his own side along with all other prisoners taken; that wouldn't be long in coming either. He had always been sure of ultimate victory yet had this confirmed (in his opinion anyway) late yesterday when he was moved from where he had first been held in the Osnabrück area down to where he was now near Münster. Those who had him in their custody had pretended to him that the movement of him between the two locations was of no great importance though what he had seen with his own eyes and heard with his own ears during the transfer had told him everything. There had been panic among NATO forces throughout the rear as they withdrew their forces west and southwest. Right before he had been detained, he had been with the Americans who were at that point moving their forces towards the Weser expecting to destroy the Soviet bridgeheads over that river.

Now they were joining the rest of NATO forces in the western part of Lower Saxony in pulling back with the haste that they were. It was clear that there had been a breakout from those bridgeheads with Soviet tanks charging forwards and NATO was on the run.

He would wait it out and keep his mouth shut.

February 14th 1990
East Berlin, East Germany

Generalmajor Fritsch told them no, he didn't want the blindfold: he wouldn't want to miss the last of today's sunshine before he was shot.

He was polite enough about it to his executioners because it wasn't the fault of these men that they had orders to shoot him this morning. Instead, it was those who had betrayed him, men who he thought were more than just comrades but friends who he saved all of his anger for. It was them he would silently curse as he stood with his hands tied behind his back against this wall already pockmarked with the ricochets of other bullets from previous firing squads.

In the final moments of his life, he said nothing and just stared straight ahead at the party of men who were lined up ahead of him getting ready to take his life. His mind was elsewhere on those who had turned against him and blamed him for all that wasn't his fault.

Following the assassination of Strauss in Kiel and the subsequent loss of control over that occupied city, blame had fallen upon Fritsch for those events. He had been pushed aside as the KGB general Anisimov took charge and ordered to centre of Kiel to be bombarded with artillery; some of the fired shells contained non-persistent nerve gas. He couldn't protest at that decision even if he had wanted to for Anisimov had sent him back to Neumünster just before giving that order. Only once he reached his headquarters, did he understand that those members of his staff left behind in Kiel had been purged with arrests made of them for apparent failure to do their duty.

Fritsch had contacted his friends back in East Berlin high up in the PHV and the Luftstreitkrafte explaining how what had happened hadn't been his fault yet those conversations hadn't gone as planned. No one had wanted to listen and the calls were brief and one-sided. There had come news afterwards that the Danes had made an attack in the area around Husum before sweeping down the coast beside the North Sea and then following the course of the Eider River inland before almost getting as far as Rendsburg before they were stopped. Fritsch had done some real hands-on work there from his headquarters, making sure that whatever rear-area troops in the immediate region were on-hand to support the effort to stop that NATO offensive. Moreover, when there had come a report that simultaneous to the Husum attack Americans marines had landed in strength near Copenhagen as part of a major NATO effort to break the siege of that city, he had used his contacts with the Baltic Front staff to show an interest in what was occurring there and seeing if all of those marines were there rather than some being held back to strike against East German-held territory.

What he had done here was to pretend to show an interest in his duties that he hoped some people might take notice of, yet that hadn't been the case. It appeared that Strauss' death had changed everything and blame was firmly being directed against him for that. He had started to understand that on its own he possibly could have deflected for the blame for the loss of control over Kiel onto others but those negative reports being delivered about his personal conduct and then the killing of the favoured Strauss had been the end of him.

Security for the Strauss Group – especially it's head administrator – had been his primary duty and he had failed in that. No one now wanted to understand that he had been given other tasks to do with far too men as well added-on afterwards. All they cared about back in East Berlin was that their man responsible for the political integration of the Schleswig and Holstein regions into the German Democratic Republic was dead.

It had been the Stasi which had come for him with a trio of armed men on behalf of the military reliability arm of that organisation (known as 'Administration 2000') turning up at Neumünster. Fritsch had had no intention of putting up a fight and allowing them to shoot him for resisting arrest. He had planned to oppose them when back in East Berlin, arguing his case there that what had happened hadn't been his fault. He had expected an official inquiry, maybe even a court martial where he could defend himself. Eventually his friends would see the error of their ways and come to speak up on his behalf.

That hadn't happened and instead he had been taken out into this courtyard this morning.

The firing squad was of six young men all in Stasi uniform and carrying rifles. To the side was a junior officer who seemed to be in-charge of them and who had a pistol that Fritsch knew would be to finish him off if the rifle bullets didn't do the job. Furthermore, there were four other officers – more senior men – also here to witness his execution. Two were Stasi figures who he didn't recognise, the third was the deputy head of the PHV and the fourth the chief-of-staff of the Luftstreitkrafte.

Those latter two were among the men he had previously counted as friends who would assist him but now they were here to witness his death. He controlled the urge to call out to them accusing them of betrayal and cowardice. Fritsch could have let everyone else know of their own failings in their official duties as well as on a personal level.

However, Fritsch had told himself that questioning their own honour would lower his. He stared right at them though with all the hatred in his face that he could muster.

And then the officer leading the firing party ordered the men to raise their rifles.

Shamefully, in his last few moments of life Fritsch lost control of his bladder and fouled himself. Then the bullets came and his life was snuffed out.

February 14th 1990
The Brandenburg Gate

Feldwebel Weiss was getting fed up of the show being put on now. He and his men were all standing to attention fixed in-place as the ceremony went on all around them and their role was to be present yet not involved. No movement was to be made and he like the others was to stand firm and erect for the benefit of the dignitaries & media crews. He couldn't scratch the itch on the back of his leg nor readjust his beret. He also had to hold his rifle firmly pointed upwards. Parade ground rules were in effect without regard to the fact that today was the first day's rest after ten days of near-constant fighting.

All Weiss wanted to do was to sit down in the sunshine for a few moments!

That was not to be though for he was here to play an important propaganda role for his nation as one of the many victorious troops from across the Nationale Volksarmee who had played a part in uniting Berlin.

There were three parts to the ceremony.

To begin with, an overblown official surrender was taking place when senior NATO troop commanders from their beaten forces assigned to West Berlin were being publicly humiliated in defeat. Organised NATO resistance had come to an end the day before yesterday with final mopping-up operations taking place the day afterwards. Weiss knew that surviving senior NATO officers had already surrendered yet now they were doing so again for the benefit of those who had come to see them do so in person and the cameras too. A West German military officer was present alongside his American, British and French counterparts during this. However, Weiss was certain that the West German military didn't officially have a presence in West Berlin before the war. He wondered what that was all about…

When the time came for those to be made, he listened to the announcements concerning those individual officers who had their names and units called aiming to hear what was said about the addition of the West German. Unfortunately, two of those men behind him chose that moment to briefly make comment upon the 'Irish Guards' when the British officer was mentioned and speculate as to the quality of the troops in such a formation. Because he was a sergeant, Weiss turned around and hissed at them to cease their useless conversation and the result was that he missed what was said about that West German. It was only out of curiosity that he wished to know but it was still frustrating!

Pens were put to paper and the surrender came with promises of good treatment of those captured and repatriation home after the war had ended; Weiss scoffed at the notion of the first promise because he had seen such treatment first hand though did wonder about the second promise as the end of the war was mentioned in such a manner by the Soviet Army and Nationale Volksarmee representatives.

Everyone wanted it to end.

Next came the awarding of medals to certain individuals. Weiss already had been given his just as almost everyone else with the Felix Dzerzhinsky Guard Regiment had though in not a public forum like this. He wore the medal that recognised his part in the fighting here: the 'Für Verdienste um Volk und Vaterland' (For Meritorious Service to the People and the Fatherland) was attached to his uniform as it was a combat decoration. Others had been awarded to mid-level officers and also men like Leutnant Platz who had lost their lives doing their duty. His former platoon leader had been posthumously issued with the Blücher Orden (Blücher Order) as had so many others who had died – whatever the circumstances – in the fighting for control of the city.

However, more higher-ranking medals were now being presented in this public fashion… given only to senior men who hadn't fought like Weiss and the others had. The commanding officers from the Grenztruppen and the VPB units attached to the Berlingruppe, as well as the Landstreitkrafte head in charge of that combat group that had overall control of the mission to take West Berlin, were all to be awarded their top-tier medals. In addition, a senior Stasi man who had never heard of was getting a medal alongside the commanders of both the Felix Dzerzhinsky Guards Regiment and the Soviet Army combat brigade in the city.

These senior men who had been in the rear all during the slaughter in West Berlin were to be issued with the Held der DDR (Hero of the German Democratic Republic) and the Karl Marx Orden (Karl Marx Order). Weiss had to ask himself where was the honour in such men? He had earned his medal, so had the deceased Platz – Weiss was sure that with her husband's medal denoting such service to the state she wouldn't endure too much financial hardship after the war – but these men hadn't!

Finally, they got around to the demolition.

Within sight of the Brandenburg Gate, there was a stretch of the Berlin Wall that would often be the focus of the media during times of international tension as it lay in the centre of divided Berlin. Today that was going to be brought down with some explosive charges to apparently symbolise the end of such previous division of this city and thus, by extension, Germany.

Weiss knew that the rest of the Berlin Wall wasn't to share the same fate. Soon enough a fence of maybe another form of barricade would be erected here as the reuniting of the city was only for propaganda effects.

Regardless, the dignitaries and the cameras were here to watch a small, dramatic explosion of part of that famous barrier. Weiss turned to look at that section like everyone else did and waited for the blasts that would come. Germany was being reunited here and he wondered how long that it would be before the same happened elsewhere too.

February 14th 1990
Schweinfurt, West Germany

The expected attack hadn't come; Canadian and other NATO forces had failed to finish what they had started and eliminate the Schweinfurt position. Oberleutnant Korner had his small detachment of men ready like thousands of other defenders ready to fight back when the offensive begun and to do their best even against overwhelming odds, yet there had been no crossing of the Main from the south or a finish to the earlier cross-country attacks coming from the southwest either.

He didn't know why this was the case.

NATO air attacks had eased up as well. Only twice today had he heard or seen their aircraft streak in towards the Schweinfurt area and drop their bombs or fire rockets at the mixed force of East German and Soviet forces gathered here. Moreover, he didn't believe that the reinforcement of a reserve infantry regiment from the 6 MRD had been harassed by air when it had arrived to join the defensive efforts of the forward positions here either. After seeing time and time again what NATO aircraft were capable of doing during this war when attacking their opponents on the ground, this was quite a surprise. There still was plenty of artillery fire and reports of skirmishing between smaller units on patrol all around the defensive perimeter, yet nothing more than that.

No one was telling Korner what was going on. He was right down at the bottom of the chain of command, an engineer with the border guards given a mix group of walking wounded and forced to make them into a rifle platoon, and so didn't expect much but he thought that something should have been passed down to officers at the front like he was. He and his men remained where they had set up their position ready to fire upon NATO troops after they would come across the river but there had been no attack and no word from on high whether one was expected to come or not.

The only orders that Korner had received was to hold his position. He did as ordered: his men stayed where they were and ready to fight. He had managed to secure them some further rations and a small quantity of extra ammunition but no heavier weapons nor immediate reinforcements had come their way. He was still convinced that should the Canadians on the other side of the river cross and come through the woods ahead of him his men would be slaughtered… but they hadn't come.

What was going on?

When evening arrived, the skies darkened under clouds that rolled in from the west. Korner had been told that war had caused countless fires to erupt across Europe and that those clouds would be thick with pollution so that when it rained poison would fall from the sky. Such comments had come from his useless Leutnant who remained with him as his second-in-command when Korner really didn't need him. The man was a supply officer and someone and decided that he was best assigned to aid Korner with the over-sized platoon sent to defend this hill. Korner didn't despise the man on a personal level for he was likeable enough, it was just a case that the man was ill-suited here to assist in preparing for possible combat.

Moreover, the Leutnant was far too soft with the men and tried to be their friend rather than their superior. Several men had been allowed to leave their foxholes to rest in the rear claiming that they will still unable to fight just as they had been in the field hospital where Korner had been issued with them. Korner had no intention of having men positioned ready to fight – if it ever came to that – if they were too ill to do so and he believed that all those he had with him were capable. His fellow officer wasn't just being taken advantage of by some of the more-wily conscripts, but was allowing himself to be.

It was unacceptable and Korner had put a stop to it by sending those men back to where their firing positions were. He had few enough men as it was and if he needed to fight he wanted every man and rifle available.

At the same time, he had to consider that things could have been worse for him after being granted such a useless man to supposedly assist him. There were other officers who could have joined him; tyrants, bullies and sadists. The war had brought out the worst in many people with Korner hearing some terrible stories. The KD had dealt with some of those people, the bullets & bombs of the enemy others yet plenty more remained active committing shocking acts against civilians and soldiers alike. Korner had had no personal interaction with such people and was glad of that; war drove some men mad enough to do the most dreadful things and he worried that if he was faced with one of those people he had heard about, his will might fail him and he wouldn't uphold the honour as an officer he was supposed to have.

Thankfully though, he had had no personal experience of seeing fellow officers shoot wounded men – enemy soldiers and comrades alike – or massacre civilians. That had happened many times alongside plenty of other nasty events which had occurred during this war. The official line was that it was just a few men (usually conscripts) but Korner knew the truth.

No air attack came out of the skies when darkness arrived as Korner had expected that it would. Again, he asked himself what was going on especially when he couldn't hear any aircraft in the skies above meaning that air strikes weren't being directed against NATO forces either. He had thought would happen too once there was the cover offered post-sunset yet none were sent.

Then, finally, he was told why. He was called to the radio to take what he was told was a communication of the utmost urgency. He smiled afterwards.

February 14th 1990
Bremen, West Germany

The divisional operations staff was trying to get in touch with him but Major Koch was engaged in combat with the enemy and there was also far too much electronic interference over the radio net for him to be able to respond at the moment. He had the young Leutnant serving as his communications officer keep trying to find out what was going on there while he himself led his battalion through the heart of Bremen towards the river-front ahead.

All around him there were enemy units mixed in with civilians also making a desperate dash for the Weser. Time and time again, he had to remind his own gunner as well as the vehicle commanders with the other tanks of 2/17R to only fire against civilian vehicles if absolutely necessary. He knew that other officers with neighbouring units might not be doing the same but after all that he had seen so far in this war the further unnecessary targeting of civilians was too much for him to allow to happen. The strain on his conscience from other events was already enough and there was the matter of his honour with his oath of service to consider as well.

Avoiding harming civilians was a mighty difficult thing to avoid doing though, especially in a situation like he was witnessing in Bremen.

There were troops from the Dutch and West German Army's still retreating from their previous positions far to the east that they had started abandoning several days ago. They had still not managed to get to the apparent safety across the Weser on the other side of Bremen even after all of this time. These enemy forces were from NATO units who had fought around Hamburg and the northern part of the Lüneburg Heath and then seen Soviet-led forces aiming to cut off their line of retreat. Their withdrawal had been long and arduous with constant instances of combat. Koch knew that it would have been very hard on those men not to break beforehand. Now they had reached Bremen only to discover that NATO units in this area were falling apart. Word had come to them that defeats had been suffered on the western side of the Weser – in the area they supposed was safe – while they were still here on the wrong side of the river themselves. Units had fallen apart, discipline was gone and panic was everywhere.

This made his duty easier in some ways but, conversely, difficult in others.

Everyone in a NATO uniform was an enemy that Koch had permission to engage. He led his tanks to blast a path forwards for the motorised rifle regiment trailing behind him yet it was other tanks and heavy armoured vehicles which he was meant to prioritise as they would pose a threat to the wheeled personnel carriers with his countrymen behind. Trucks, light armoured vehicles and commandeered civilian vehicles, even those with lighter weapons, were meant to be bypassed unless necessary so neither ammunition or time was wasted upon them. However, there were quite often men within those small vehicles armed with man-portable heavy weapons which were just as much as a threat to those whom Koch was clearing the way for.

Therefore, lighter vehicles were being engaged as well when warnings were made that missile-launchers were reported as being carried by those within… gunfire came from the T-55 tanks under Koch's command on a whim.

The civilians that Koch was concerned for were from this city and elsewhere across the northern parts of West Germany all doing what NATO forces were and trying to get away. Some were on foot while others were in private vehicles. They were alone, in pairs, families or in mixed groups of larger numbers. Many had possessions with them while others had nothing but the clothes on their backs. Not all of them knew where exactly they were going while at the same time others were fixated upon a certain river crossing with nothing else in their mind. None of this was organised and so chaos ensued with the civilians being everywhere. They would sprint from his tanks at times but cut across the line of fire in the next moment. So many of them were getting caught in the path of bullets fired from the machine guns with his tanks or the blast effects of explosions from fired shells and Koch was left horrified by all of this.

Ahead of Koch a four-wheeled vehicle similar to a jeep but what his gunner had shouted that identification of as a 'Land Rover with A-T Missile' exploded in a fireball. Parts of the vehicle were blown across the street in the middle of Bremen with other vehicles – all with civilians inside – caught up in that. Koch saw patches of red emerge across the insides of car windows in a macabre sight as occupants of those vehicles were either killed or terribly injured.

For what he thought was going to be at least the hundredth time this evening, Koch was about to shout again for his gunner to avoid civilians yet he didn't get the chance for his communications officer came on the radio link saying that he had established contact with the 17 MRD operations staff and they had an urgent message for Koch. The correct frequency was given to him along with an authenticity code. Koch called for the driver to carry on moving forwards rather than wait around for a NATO aircraft or helicopter to show up while he then made contact with his headquarters.

“Major Koch, you are to cease all combat operations at once. Stop advancing and halt attacks against NATO forces even if your force is provoked. Confirm the order, Comrade.”

Koch starred at the radio set for a few moments in disbelief at what he was hearing before he reacted out of surprise rather than with forethought. “Negative! I have enemy units on the run and I am advancing upon the Weser crossings. There are multiple hostile forces fleeing without any order to them!”

“No, Major, you will bring your attack to a halt at once. That is an order from the Army Staff directly.” There was firm conviction in the voice at the other end of the link-up. “Confirm that your unit will do as ordered at once!”

There was no choice but to do as ordered. Koch was here on the ground in an excellent tactical situation eliminating the enemy despite the issues with civilians everywhere yet he was getting an order right from the top that he shouldn't have questioned and had to obey.

“I will halt combat operations at once.” His acknowledgement was one that he hadn't wanted to give and whoever was listening at the other end surely would be able to tell that. “What has happened?”

There was a pregnant pause and then an answer: “The West Germans have asked for an immediate ceasefire.”

“NATO has surrendered!?” Again, Koch spoke fast without thinking.

“No, Major, but military operations are being halted due to the West German's call for a ceasefire.”

Koch didn't respond to that as he didn't know what to say. He quickly changed the radio frequency to the battalion net and broadcast a stop order (gaining protests like he had given) to his company commanders to pass on before starting to think.

The question he asked himself was just what had occurred to make the West Germans do what they had and what was to happen now.

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 07, 2018 6:02 pm 

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Epilogue – Peace?

February 15th 1990
Reinsehlen Camp, Soltau, West Germany

The ceasefire across West Germany had officially come into effect at twenty-one hundred hours yesterday yet in practise combat operations had come to a halt several hours beforehand. That ceasefire had been broken several times since though with outbreaks of fighting occurring. Generaloberst Ulrich had been informed that French troops who had been surrounded by advancing Soviet tanks on the Fulda Plain had broken out of their positions during the night and engaged those whom stood in their way. The Soviets there had followed their own stern orders to not fight back even when attacked; many casualties had been taken in those instances yet ire wasn’t returned. In addition, early this morning there had been further fighting west of Hannover this morning where West German troops with their 1st Panzer Division had refused orders from their government to stop defending their country and launched unprovoked, unsupported attacks against Soviet armour in that area again taking the lives of many even when there was supposed to be peace.

Ulrich had been amazed that those Soviet units which had been attacked had followed the instructions given and not returned fire. There would have been an immense pressure upon individual commanders to fight back in the face of their enemy breaking the ceasefire. However, the fear of their own fate afterwards had seen those officers keep their men from doing what should have only come naturally. He believed that there had probably been other instances of combat and many close calls that he was not aware of either. A war like what had been raging inside West Germany for eleven days until late yesterday wasn't just suddenly going to end in a manner similar to a light switch being flicked off.

The war was over though… at least inside West Germany anyway. That was a certainty as far as he was concerned because once the ceasefire had come and his own side had been determined that it would hold no matter what and the West Germans had done what they had to their allies, the fighting here was over. Elsewhere things were still difficult, yet it was over here and he believed that conflict would soon enough end everywhere else very soon.

There was an immense gratitude that it was over without the employment of nuclear weapons either.

The Reinsehlen Camp was a British Army training area near Soltau on the Lüneburg Heath. Ulrich was currently in the building that in peacetime housed the garrison headquarters here, a small two-storey structure that had escaped all traces of war damage. Marshal Zinoviev's replacement was currently present along with a host of senior people from the military forces of several Warsaw Pact nations which had been engaged in combat operations against NATO. Ulrich felt far safer here in this above ground structure inside West Germany that he had back at his own headquarters near Potsdam. That bunker was a fine target for a bomb from one of those American secret, radar-invisible bombers which had hit others during the conflict. There was the ceasefire of course to reassure him, but this place was anonymous enough that he didn't fear such a terrible death as being bombed when underground.

A meeting was soon to start that would address post-conflict needs of those forces that remained in West Germany. The necessary military officers who would be discussing supply, security and intelligence were all here as Ulrich was though there was a delay with the arrivals of several key politicians and secret policemen. In the meantime, Ulrich had been busy bringing himself up to date on the latest developments concerning how the ceasefire had come about and what were the immediate after-effects of that. He was able to converse with his comrades in many uniforms as to the latest military situation before the conflict came to an abrupt halt.

It was all fascinating to hear!

Volga-3 had been a bold plan indeed. Ulrich had had his doubts that it would succeed when he was told that it was to commence. The attack with only little warning and only basic preparations – especially for his Landstreitkrafte units involved – was a real risk to undertake. The lack of nuclear weapons to commence the attack, the massive use of chemicals instead and the decision to start driving westwards before Soviet reinforcements had arrived had all been part of the plan which he had been unsure about the possibility of working. Moreover, the recent changes in Soviet offensive posture in the previous few years under Gorbachev's semi-détente had weakened those chances Ulrich had believed. He had been wrong though for the strike against NATO had succeed. All of NATO's air power had done them no good in the end and nor had the supposed threat that they had of using nuclear weapons themselves if they were on the verge of losing; the latter was an empty promise with an alliance of independent democracies like NATO was.

Those airborne operations to drop all so many paratroopers and airmobile troops (light armour sent with both) had thrown the opposition into disarray. Schweinfurt, Hannover Airport and Kiel had been the best examples of that with the operations at Bremerhaven and Hann Münden not so much. Barrages of defensive SAMs to fill the skies when NATO aircraft had appeared had eventually limited their ability to strike deep into the rear while in the end when enough Warsaw Pact aircraft had filled the skies over the front, the air war became a draw: effectively a win for the Soviet-led forces. Zinoviev's maskirovka was the master-stroke that Ulrich had thought it would be. When those massed tank forces broke through NATO lines the shock of them being in all the places where they ended up, rather than what they actually achieved in combat itself, had worked as intended to shatter the enemy's will to resist on a political level as well as military-wise.

Ulrich was told how far those field armies committed to the last hurrah managed to get.

Where the Soviet Third Shock Army advanced from its bridgehead over the Weser around the Hoya crossing, its tanks had spread all across western Lower Saxony as far as the Ems River. The directions of advance had been west and northwest aiming to get behind Bremen as well as reaching for the distant Dutch border. Soviet units within had been checked when trying to take direct control of communication centres like Oldenburg, Delmenhorst and Cloppenburg, but other formations had reached the lower reaches of the Weser along the western side trapping tens of thousands of NATO forces on the wrong side of the river. There were spearheads tasked to advance forward at all cost and bypass enemy forces. They had driven NATO units in disarray back towards the Ostfriesland region and Wilhelmshaven. In addition, a battalion-group of T-72 tanks and BMP-2 infantry vehicles with the Landstreitkrafte's 9 TD had gotten further west than anyone else in West Germany to the banks of the Ems itself at Dorpen. They were technically cut off afterwards when Dutch units behind them cut their road links during limited counterattacks, but it didn't matter as they had made it as far as the Ems: something with enormous propaganda effects.

Simultaneous to the Third Shock Army attacking British, Dutch and West German forces to their north, the Soviet Twenty–Eighth Army had fought the Americans when they had moved west, southwest and south from Nienburg. Diepholz was as far west as they reached and going southwest the advance upon Osnabrück was checked along the Mittellandkanal. The Americans counter-attacked again and again with alarming ferocity in what many regarded as if they were fighting for their own soil yet not finishing what they started by withdrawing each time to conserve strength. The Twenty–Eighth Army was thus able to have units follow the Weser upstream, southwards along its western banks heading towards the heights of the Wiehen Hills and what lay on the other side of those: Minden and Porta Westfalica. Assistance came from long-range artillery fire from parts of the eastern banks where the furthest earlier advances had been made there and there was also the use of paratroopers moving in assault helicopters to aid them. By the time the ceasefire came, the Twenty–Eighth Army was still engaged in combat across that part of the German Central Uplands and hadn't reached their ultimate objectives of the Weser crossings controlling access to the British-held Hannover Salient. Yet they were almost there, with it appearing that nothing could stop them. If they had carried on today, then Ulrich was sure that they could have cut off those British and West German forces across on the eastern side of the river.

On the Fulda Plain, the Soviet First Guards Tank Army – including the East German 7 TD – had burst across the rolling countryside on the other side of that small river after which the area was named and into combat with American forces there. Their opponents had managed to survive more than a week of relentless attacks by the bulk of the Soviet Eighth Guards Army and were worn out… and unable to stop the attack by fresh forces. When five tank divisions hit the Americans with their V Corps, they pulled back and counter-attacked in places while doing so. The French came to their aid as well as they struck from the left flank. The First Guards Army kept on moving though with spearheads striking everywhere seeking out gaps to push through and strike deep. Giessen was reached then retaken by NATO but other Soviet tanks reached Marburg: a little more than a hundred kilometres from Bonn. An organised retreat down the Kinzig Valley by the Americans came to a conclusion at Gelnhausen culminating in an American victory there but more Soviet tanks had been sent on a wide flanking manoeuvre around the heights of the Vogelsberg and headed for the Frankfurt area from the north. This brought a further withdrawal from the Americans back towards the outer regions of that strategically-important city, something which then saw a mass exodus of civilians from there in an uncontrollable and horrific fashion when Soviet fighter-bombers showed up.

West Germany hadn't been conquered with these advances and NATO's armies were broken in places yet not beaten. Most of Bavaria was still in NATO hands along with important parts of Hessen in the centre. The Rhineland and the Ruhr were still free of Soviet troops with Westfalen and Hannover unoccupied. However, the consequences of just how far the attacking Soviet armies had come and the possibilities for further action on their part was of serious note for the West Germans as it was their national territory being fought over, their country being destroyed and their civilians losing their lives as the war had continued to rage. There were multiple Soviet field armies coming west from the western regions of the Soviet Union ready to enter the fighting even with NATO having thrown all of that air power against their progress through Eastern Europe. To the south, the Italians had been pushed out of Austria back to their passes through the Alps with the Soviets now having their tanks in Salzburg ready to make a more serious threat to West Germany through Bavaria than the previous attacks out of Czechoslovakia had.

What exactly had occurred with the decision made by the West German government was unknown to those to whom Ulrich spoke with. His contacts only had information from the intelligence services given in briefings to the military officers who they would only tell the basic facts to… any that couldn't always be trusted for reliability too.

Regardless, the West Germans would have seen the unfavourable military situation that they were in with the facts staring them in the face that this would only continue as more and more of their country fell. Their allies couldn't defend them despite trying their utmost with their best troops. Only days before in South Korea, the Americans had shown how far they were willing to go to defend their allies with the use of nuclear weapons to destroy North Korean mechanised forces on the cusp of victory. That wasn't a defence which the West Germans wanted to see employed on their soil. Moreover, the Soviets – unlike the North Koreans – had identical weapons to counter with and wouldn't be as unprepared as the North Koreans were.

The result was apparently high drama with the West German leadership in their bunker beneath the Rhineland near Bad Neuenahr. Chancellor Kohl had lost a leadership vote but claimed it was unconstitutional as it was conducted by ministers, not their parliament. The Foreign Minister, an independent and a noted follower of realpolitik, had taken charge and begun the process which would eventually be the ceasefire that West Germany called for against the wishes of its allies; in addition, their Defence Minister was reported to have committed suicide in response to the failures he felt responsible for, or maybe fled abroad.

When informed of what the West Germans had done, their NATO allies had moved against them with reports that French intelligence agents tried to change matters directly using guns: Ulrich was told those reports might have been a bit overblown and weren't confirmed. Either way, the majority of the rest of NATO had been dead set against such a unilateral move and reacted as if fatally betrayed. Only the Dutch, threatened with invasion and their army broken as well as cut off, had been willing to discuss the possibility of going along with the West Germans as they had already taken so much war damage from distance. They feared what would happen when the Ems was crossed by Soviet tanks rolling further west. Other countries such as Britain, France and the United States had been outraged yet unable to stop what happened with the West Germans using their diplomats in Switzerland to meet with Soviet representatives and arrange for a sudden halt to combat operations. It wasn't just the West German army which stopped fighting but their rear-area 'host nation support' elements that did so and that was probably more important as that support for NATO's armies kept them fighting in West Germany before the ceasefire.

Ulrich believed that the new West German leadership were fools; they had just doomed their country.

They had betrayed their allies by acting what they had done in the apparent belief that their only choice was to negotiate a peace on the best terms they could get. As far as Ulrich could tell, they hoped that an end to the war would see Soviet troops departing and the end to the death and destruction. They would probably expect to be forced into trade and diplomatic alliances with the Soviet Union and make some painful internal political reforms. That would be only the beginning of what would happen. Their country would be destabilised and broken apart. Soviet forces would never leave and secret policemen would be all over their country working to eliminate it as a functioning independent nation. If the peace talks broke down beforehand, NATO – if it survived – wouldn't send troops back to West Germany to start where they had left off. Even if the West Germans later realised what was happening, they couldn’t reverse the process of the destruction of their nation once it had started by calling for the ceasefire in the manner which they had. Their diplomatic and trade relationships with former allies were finished for good and all they would have now was the Soviet Union as an 'ally'.

The particulars of the occupation to be discussed here today on the Lüneburg Heath were part of the consequences for the West Germans that they weren't aware of. The ceasefire meant just that: a stop to the fighting. There was no peace agreement and no agreed for withdrawal of troops that had fought their way into and through West Germany. They were here to stay even if that wasn't yet something that was official. Therefore, there needed to be an organisation made to keep them here and decisions taken on the methods used. Food, water, accommodation and medical care was needed for the men. Ammunition and fuel needed to be brought forward to resupply the fighting stocks just in case there was a need for them to go any further. A firm logistics and communications network needed to be set up with redundant links so any disruption caused was limited. The security situation needed to be established to deal with a firm occupation and there were lessons to be learnt from events in Schleswig and Holstein.

What was to be discussed here was of great importance and Ulrich would be part of that as the head of the Landstreitkrafte. Much of the combat force of the East German Army had been shattered in battles against NATO in multiple places throughout the war across West Germany. A lot still remained though, disorganised as it was, and there were combat support & service support elements of his Landstreitkrafte still available. These troops would be part of the occupation forces that would stay inside the captured territory across the IGB. Reservists would join them and there were replacements too. Ulrich was still personally affected by all that had happened to proud units where they had taken the losses that they had, yet there had been few instances where they had been defeated through their own faults; modern warfare was terrible and losses were always going to come especially when the Landstreitkrafte had fought NATO's armies.

Ulrich wondered what was to happen in the future, after today's meeting. The fate of West Germany was one thing but there were still other important matters to consider. The war was technically still on. The ceasefire was agreed with the West Germans and not with the rest of NATO. The armies of those other countries had stopped fighting only because they had to due to the actions of the West Germans… and they were still there on the other side of where the frontlines lay.

What was going to happen to them?

A conflict termination with the rest of NATO wasn't something certain in any way. They would face immense difficulty in carrying on fighting but that didn't mean that it was something impossible especially as the war with the West wasn't just being fought here. If that occurred, then this war wasn't over by any means.

Surely though common sense was now going to break out in the West and there couldn't be anything else but peace?


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PostPosted: Wed Feb 07, 2018 10:58 pm 
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Glad to see this one here. Nice work!

Treat everyone you meet with kindness and respect. But always have a plan to kill them.

Old USMC Adage

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 07, 2018 11:47 pm 

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Matt Wiser wrote:
Glad to see this one here. Nice work!

Second that.

AH Alternate Timelines Forum

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PostPosted: Thu Feb 08, 2018 12:29 pm 

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Matt Wiser wrote:
Glad to see this one here. Nice work!
Lordroel wrote:
Matt Wiser wrote:
Glad to see this one here. Nice work!

Thank you. Its my favourite of all my stories. I'll see about posting the companion piece: characters rom the British side in the same fight.

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PostPosted: Thu Feb 08, 2018 6:24 pm 

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Wow amazing work James, thanks very much for posting this I really enjoyed it

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PostPosted: Fri Feb 09, 2018 4:42 am 

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Timbo W wrote:
Wow amazing work James, thanks very much for posting this I really enjoyed it

Thank you very much. I'll post the companion piece later: just need to edit spelling/grammar in it.

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