A Pillar Of Fire By Night – Snippet 06

Landing Zone / Drop Zone Trixie, Cristobal Province, Balboa

Ammunition was still highly limited, for the batteries of the Fallschirm-artillerie Bataillon, so the half dozen Sachsen-manned 105mm guns, from their position at the southern end of the drop zone, were having to be rather circumspect in their allocation of fire. Their flailing away at the Balboan defenders was, therefore, somewhat fitful. When they did have the wherewithal to fire, the trees over which they hurled their shells shuddered and shed leaves to the point of barrenness.

North of the battery, Sachsen Fallschirmjaeger continued to pour in from the lumbering transports passing overhead. Those mainly infantry sorts didn’t stick around, but moved off smartly into the surrounding jungle expanding the airhead, and providing security by, in the main, sending the Balboans nearby reeling for shelter.

They were normally half mobile, that battery, with one truck for every other gun, another for ammunition, a smaller one for battery headquarters, and one for the FDC. With one vehicle having streamered in–ouch!–they were down to five sets of wheels, one of them light. The FDC was sitting in the dirt, ear glued to a radio handset, while the two junior men in that section furiously scooped out a shelter; the battery commander was standing on his own feet, while those five trucks scoured the drop zone for the pallets of ammunition that had been dropped just before the troops and guns came down.

Every now and again one of the trucks would return to the firing position. Then there would be a mad scramble to get the ammunition off and to the guns. For a while thereafter, the pace of the supporting fire would increase, before tapering off until the next batch of shells showed up.

The battery had one serious problem. It was a problem that plagued the Taurans any time any substantial numbers of different nationalities worked together. This was that its primary mission was to support the Anglian Marines cutting out a beachhead to the east of Cristobal, at Pernambuco Beach, a sandy, shoal- and reefless stretch of white sand, east of the mouth of the Rio Gamboa. Of course, the Anglian Marines spoke English–though there were well-educated Sachsens who disputed this–while the Sachsens spoke something quite recognizably German.

There had already been one unfortunate incident that had caused the commander of the Marines to enquire of the Sachsens, by radio, “Have we offended you in some way?” Understanding of the radio transmission had not actually been improved by the fact that the speaker on the other end was having to shout to be heard over the sound of incoming Sachsen 105s.

Both the Anglians at Pernambuco and the larger but mixed Gallic and Tuscan Marine brigade to the west, storming ashore at Puerto Lindo and points east of that, were dependent on the Sachsens for artillery support until the shore was cleared enough for their own batteries to set up for business. And with both, as was only to be expected, there were language issues.

Though the Anglian landing was necessary fully to invest the town, the Gallic and Tuscan assault was the more important. This was because, until Cristobal surrendered or fell, the only practical route of supply would be aerial drop (always limited), helicopter (often even more problematic), over the shore (and the Taurans didn’t have the kind of capability for that that, say, the Federated States Navy and Marine Corps did), air landing (except that they’d either have to capture or build a decent airfield, which was in the plan, but not for today), and through a port.

Puerto Lindo, though–as the name suggested–a beautiful port, was quite small and not fully developed. Indeed, the port served mainly as a naval and maritime scrapyard, although it was also the factory for the Megalodon Class Coastal Defense Submarines. The town hosted the Military Academy Sergeant Juan Malvegui, though the school was abandoned.

In any event, the Taurans needed a port. Hence, even before the Gauls and Tuscans brought in their own batteries, they would be offloading a mixed port construction battalion.

Both landings were too far away for most of Jimenez’s heavy mortars to do much about. He had a limited artillery park, but that he’d been told to preserve as long as possible. Some of the nearer mortar platoons and batteries had tried, on their own, but the Tauran air forces had soon put paid to their pitiful efforts.

HAMS Typhoon, South of Cristobal, Shimmering Sea

The thrum of helicopters refueling topside seemed to reach down deep into the ship, punctuated by the hydraulic whine and metallic clang of one of the lifts, bringing supplies up on deck.

There, deep in those steel nautical bowels, General Janier fumed. It grated on him, though he tried not to let it show, that the only ship suitable for a command vessel for the invasion was Anglian. Oh, Gaul’s fleet had more surface combatants, to be sure, accounting by sheer numbers. But the experience, the balance, the intuitive grasp? Those were all in Anglia’s corner. Even outnumbered, no English-speaking people had ever lost a naval war except to another English-speaking people. Their officers, ships, and crews, on average, simply turned out better suited for their tasks, that being driven by an institutional memory that spanned two worlds.

The Typhoon, an assault helicopter carrier, was also fully equipped to serve as the headquarters for even a multi-corps landing. Indeed, though it carried a fair complement of medium and heavy helicopters, this voyage, almost none of the lift had been used for the troops carried. Instead, other than a small headquarters cell Janier had launched in behind the mixed Gallic-Tuscan brigade of marines, the other seven hundred and fifty or so ground troops carried by the ship would stay there until Janier, himself, went ashore to take charge. The helicopters, conversely, returned to the ship only for fuel, as they ferried combat troops in from other ships, to include impressed merchantmen with hastily designed and erected helicopter platforms.

“You look concerned, General,” said the Anglian admiral commanding the combined fleet, in the Gaul’s bowel-deep command center.

That raised a scowl from the Gaul, though the scowl didn’t seem to be directed at the speaker.

Admiral Pellew had descended to Janier’s command center to inform the Gaul in person that, with the reinforcing paras dropping in from Cienfuegos and Santa Josefina, there was now more combat power ashore than at sea. This, by present agreement backed up by at least one interpretation of longstanding doctrine, marked the point at which the naval commander became de jure subordinate to the ground commander.

“Pity they didn’t take the bait,” observed Pellew. The bait, in this case, had been the invasion fleet demonstrating near the port of Capitano, very far to the east, near the border with Santa Josefina, coupled with the landing of about a brigade of mixed troops, mostly second line.

“I am concerned,” the Gaul admitted, somewhat nervously chewing at his lip.

“But everything’s going well, is it not?” asked the Anglian.

Et dona ferentes,” answered the Gaul.


“I have seen things start well before here,” Janier elaborated. “It was always a ruse. When things are going well now? I have to assume that it at least might be a ruse.”

“You know what his best weapon is, this Carrera person?” the Anglian asked.

The Gaul answered, “That he started ahead of us and is so far ahead of us in the decision cycle we’ve never had a chance to catch up . . . .at least until now . . . at least maybe until now.”

“That’s something,” the Anglian agreed, “if one buys into decision cycle theory. But that’s not his best weapon or chief advantage.”

“Which is?” asked Janier.

“He’s free to fight a war, without having to restrict himself only to those actions which can be justified even to the most militarily ignorant mommy in the land.”

“Point,” conceded the Gaul.

Janier was about to say something further when an enlisted man handed him an annotated map, of the old-fashioned variety, covered with old fashioned acetate. The staff, he thought, simply assumes that using a paper map, rather than a computer screen, is just one of my personal quirks. It is that, of course, but it is also a better and less obvious way for me to record the intelligence I get passed on from the High Admiral, from the Peace Fleet overhead. Makes me look brilliant . . . to everybody but me.

“I’ll be in my quarters briefly,” the general announced.