A Pillar Of Fire By Night – Snippet 29

At the harbor’s new edge, a quay rapidly put in by his engineers, rode a mid-sized Roll On-Roll Off civilian transport, chartered to the Tauran Union. The RO-RO somewhat lightly loaded due to the still relatively shallow draft of the bay, was currently disgorging forty-two armored vehicles, from tanks (eleven) to infantry fighting vehicles (seventeen) to armored personnel carriers (nine) to self-propelled artillery (four plus a fire direction center vehicle). There was also a mix of wheeled transport waiting for their big brothers to clear the way before getting in the queue. It was his first increment of armor other than the useful but small and weak Ermine class light armored vehicles of the Sachsen paratroopers, plus the half company or so of equally light, wheeled armor the Anglians had brought by helicopter in in lieu of proper assault guns.

Ah, yes, thought Janier, those things are just like real armored fighting vehicles, only with fetal alcohol syndrome. I confess, while I was still worried that this was all a trap, one of my major worries involved the idea of two brigades or even a full division of Balboan armor coming charging out of the jungle to toss us into the sea. It’s still something to be concerned about; after all, desperate men and desperate measures, but less so. And I’ll soon be able to handle anything less than a corps-sized armored thrust. This package, alone, can buy enough time for the air forces to get here, come to that.

The RO-RO was a big improvement, but logistics, as much as politics, is the art of the possible. What had once been all that was possible was still, even now, in operation. Out in the bay, in the deepest part, rocked a larger crane ship, the Hermóðr. This was a semi-submersible catamaran-styled freighter with its own integral high-capacity cranes and stabilizing columns that could be lowered into the water. This vessel carefully raised other heavy vehicles from its the hold, swinging them over the side and then lowering them to waiting landing craft and lighters. Its tandem cranes, at the stern, did similarly for two smaller vessels tied up alongside. The cranes were overkill, really; capable of lifting as much as nine thousand tons, using the rear ones in tandem, they’d never in this mission been called upon to lift as much as two percent of that.

Overkill or not, three cranes or not, several dozen landing craft and lighters or not, this was still a slow process, not least because some of the cargos were not self-propelled, but had to be manually moved from the landing craft and lighter to waiting trucks ashore.

Further to the east, by the tiny speck of land called “Isla Pato,” a fuel transport pumped its load into the floating terminus of a short, ship-to-shore pipeline. Still more trucks, awaiting at the landside terminus, filling up and moving off to either the logistics base building between Cristobal and the Parilla Line, or going directly to units to top off their tanks.

We need this little port so badly. And the enemy still has an air force. I wonder . . .

“Malcoeur?” Janier asked, in a tone far friendlier, perhaps even paternal, than those he’d formerly used with this particular officer.

“Mon General?

“What’s our air defense status here, now?”

The aide de camp didn’t even need to consult notes. “There are three pair of interceptors–well, fighters with pure air-to-air ordnance aboard–plus an early-warning aircraft on station continuously. A battery of short-range air defense, missile-armed, is stationed around three sides of the port. That battery has been supplemented with twenty-four teams of man-portable missiles. Also, half at the old Balboan military school and half on a hill to the north, are a heavier, Sachsen-provided battery of self-propelled air defense, some missiles, some thirty-five-millimeter guns. Also at the school is a single battery, though only half unloaded so far, of heavy air-defense missiles.”

“Hmmmm,” mused Janier, “you know, Malcoeur, the reason they call them ‘missiles; rather than ‘hittiles,’ is that they miss a lot more often than they hit. How long before we can get another battery of guns in place? No, don’t answer unless you actually have the answer. What I want, rather, is that priority be moved up to get another gun battery ashore and set up quickly.”

“I’ll see to it, sir.”

“Also, see if there isn’t some way for us to get some air defense balloons airborne. Yes, yes, I know; all balloons are being used around the cities of the Tauran Union, lest the ever so evil Balboans bombard us with money again.”

Malcoeur had to grin at that one. In retaliation for Tauran bombing of their homeland, the Balboans had struck back with very hard to detect, low speed, drones. One of these, slamming through a window at headquarters, had done for Elizabeth Ashworth, the worse than useless TU defense minister. Another had dumped several million in mixed real and counterfeit currency on a well-attended soccer game, the resulting riot having caused the death of about as many Tauran civilians, soccer hooligans in the main, as the Tauran bombing had in Balboan. The Tauran Union’s various militaries had thought extremely well of both events, and one Anglian regiment had officially added to its list of mess night toasts “the missile that had rid us of ‘she’s-no-Lady Ashworthless’.”

Almost everyone military and not directly impacted by the drone attack grinned about the soccer game. Janier was one of a very few exceptions. They’re not just hitting back and making us look and feel stupid; they’re also demonstrating the ability to hit a target in the TU with considerable precision. In itself, this would hardly matter, but there is a strong suspicion in the intelligence community that the Balboans have nuclear weapons. I don’t know where they’d have gotten them, but the world is a wicked place. So maybe they’re also letting us know, in somewhat uncertain terms, that we cannot nuke them without being nuked in return.

“There is one other thing, sir, but I don’t know what to make of it. We’ve received a report, whether from one of Major Campbell’s people or more routine channels, that Duque Carrera is beginning to lose his composure, his judgment, and the respect of his subordinates.”

Janier sighed. “A lot of things, son, that I once thought impossible seem to be coming true.”

South of the Parilla Line, Balboa

No rest for the wicked, thought Werner Verboom. At the moment, the sergeant was overlooking a mostly dry draw–that’s not going to last long–with his reconstituted squad stretched to either side of him in a V. Verboom laid down the device he’d been holding in his right hand and flicked fingers to shoo away a mosquito, persistently buzzing by his ear. Although they were most annoying, and even potentially dangerous, his views on his unwelcome buzzing company could be summed up as, Still beats the shit out of trying to fight our way into their lines without anything like enough preparation again. And it’s miles better than trying to fight our way out again.

Verboom automatically recovered the device as soon as the mosquito had moved off. He held the device’s twin, a small, cheap, disposable detonator for a directional anti-personnel mine, in his left hand. He really didn’t think that the spot his acting commander had chosen for him was a very good spot for an ambush. On the other hand, as Lieutenant Jansen had pointed out, “No place that the enemy is unlikely to show up is a good place for an ambush. Anyplace the enemy is likely to show up is a good place for an ambush. That draw will channelize people trying to escape from our lodgment or patrolling from their lines. That makes it a good spot. So quit sniveling, Sergeant, and go.”

I suppose he had a point, thought Verboom, and if they’d given me the five mines and the det cord I’d asked for . . .

Mentally, the sergeant sighed.

Well, I suppose that they’re still having trouble getting supplies ashore. Or maybe it’s trouble sorting out what they’ve brought in. Whatever it might be, two is not enough to cover this draw very well. Five maybe wouldn’t be enough. Needs must, though. And it still beats trying another attack before they’ve unloaded enough artillery ammunition to rearrange this part of the country.

Thinking of the attack, the “reconnaissance in force” in which Thirteenth Company, Royal Haarlem Commandotroepen, had participated, Verboom still couldn’t figure out the whys of it. Sure, it had been costly for Balboa, but probably not as costly, as a fraction of available force, as it had been for the TU.

It had been a bit of a shock, really, after the easy initial landing and fairly easy initial assault. But then they’d stymied, after which, the enemy infantry, too, had seemed to come from almost everywhere. It’s almost as if the bastards let us get in just as much as they wanted us in. We might have whipped them when they were on a not very well-planned defensive, but give the fuckers their due, when they attack you know you’re under attack.

Verboom gave a little unwilling shiver in remembrance. Maybe they’d gotten more Balboans than the Balboans had gotten Haarlemers–And maybe not, either–but there was no doubt who’d ended up in possession of the contested turf.