A Pillar Of Fire By Night – Snippet 36

Academia Militar Sergento Juan Malvegui, Puerto Lindo, Balboa

Schools were in many ways ideal for military headquarters. They had auditoria, classrooms for offices and billeting, mess facilities, sometimes medical facilities, internal communications, parade grounds for helicopter landing and pickup zones, storage areas, etc. A military school like this one, though, far exceeded the normal school standard for military utility by adding arms rooms, ammunition storage bunkers, heavy vehicle maintenance bays, bombproofs, actual barracks, tunnels to move between the buildings . . . it was simply perfect for its new role.

It even had a small mansion for the former commandant, though Janier thought that too obvious a target. It was left empty. He made do, instead, with an office in the main academic building, next to his command post.

It was in that office that he used his communicator to speak with the High Admiral of the UEPF on the subject of Santa Josefina. Janier absolutely didn’t want to send troops to Santa Josefina that he was likely to need in Balboa.

“I am fairly certain,” said Wallenstein, “from speaking with him, that Marciano is going to pull back immediately if he doesn’t get a firm commitment to add the forces he demands, and will pull back within a short time if they don’t start materializing. My aide was there and spoke to me after. She said he ‘exudes sincerity.’ What’s that do to your plans, Bertrand?”

“It will cut into our air support,” said the Gaul, “but not so badly as all that. I had hoped that the Zhong would have been able to clear the road from Santa Josefina to supply an attack on the Balboans’ western flank but, since they seem to be completely tied down in a guerilla war themselves, amongst that half-million civilians into whom were apparently interspersed several thousand soldiers of both sexes, there’s nothing to be gained for us that way.”

The “half-million civilians” referred to the collection of refugee camps, outside of his own defensive perimeter, that Carrera had set up expressly to force the Zhong to feed them, thereby straining their logistics. It also meant the couple of thousand Amazonas and Cazadores, he’d mixed in among them to make feeding both the refugees and themselves highly problematic.

“The thing is, you see, Marguerite, that if we win in Santa Josefina but lose here, Santa Josefina will be lost soon enough, too, while if we lose in Santa Josefina but win here, we can recover Santa Josefina in short order. I’m afraid Marciano is going to have to do the best he can to buy us time to win here. After that he can have fifty, even a hundred battalions, if he wants them.”

San Jaba, Santo Josefina

The court-martials there being finished, and the nearby executions done, the Tercio la Virgen also set up headquarters in a school. It was big enough for the purpose and, since the Taurans couldn’t be sure they’d moved out all the children, even at night essentially immune to aerial bombing or artillery strike.

The lunch room now served as the unit’s tactical operations center, with some of the classrooms set aside for quarters and specialty shops.

Similarly, the medics had moved into the town hospital, a blue-painted concrete facility of about twenty-four thousand square feet, complete with an emergency room and trauma center, plus wards equal to thirty-three beds.

In the headquarters, Villalobos listened absently as the reports of the Cazadores on the screen line came in by wire. All was quiet along the “front.”

If they were coming, thought Villalobos, they’d have been here by now. So, I think I can assume that they’re not coming. Still, this wasn’t a waste, not even having those poor bastards shot. We’ve got a liberated zone. We’ve taught collaborators, real and potential, a pretty sharp lesson. We can maybe even claim belligerent status, ask for recognition, and import arms openly. Could be worse.

I really expected them to fight me for the town and to do something to try to push us back over the border. I was wrong. And that’s what I planned for. So where do we go from here?

Task Force Jesuit Headquarters, Rio Clara, Santa Josefina

And demography and geography, under their child, logistics, dictate, fumed Claudio, studying the big, wall-mounted map in headquarters. I cannot stay where I am. Not only am I outnumbered in both areas, with guerrilla movement rising behind us, but I cannot move my crappy reserve quickly enough to either reinforce either east or south, nor to clear a road to them to withdraw them if the enemy keeps trying to infiltrate.

On the other hand, if I try to pull back to near the capital, my road net, for mobility, is fine, but I’ll have granted the enemy a potential hundred thousand young male recruits, and an absolute moral ascendency.

Speaking of one hundred thousand new troops, I wonder if the Zhong might provide me . . . ah . . . never mind; the word from Balboa is that they have a very heavy, and not all that effective hand when it comes to counterinsurgency. That might work for them when they don’t have to deal with a free press and the TU government. Nothing but trouble for me, however.

Hmmm . . . .I could try the firebase and strongpoint approach, guard each of the avenues of approach to the capital with a single strongpoint, all within range of an artillery battery located on a different strongpoint or firebase. I’d have to pull back there, too. Except . . .

Marciano made a compass of his right hand’s index and baby finger, spread them along the distance scale, and then started measuring artillery ranges against useful spots for strongpoints and came to the conclusion, No. Worse, even if I did, I have good reason to know they’re aggressive patrollers. Given that and numbers, they’d drive my patrols back into our strongpoints, then bypass us at leisure. And that’s not even counting what thirty or forty heavy mortars–eighty or more if we count their one hundred and twenty millimeter jobs–could do to a battalion strongpoint in the course of a week or so.

Can I somehow starve them back to Balboa? Mmmm . . . eventually, maybe, but the regiment in the south probably brought five or six thousand tons of food on their ship. Starving them out could take two years unless I got very lucky and found a bunch of their food caches . . . without them destroying the patrols looking. And the other regiment, the one my staff tells me is named for the Virgin Mary; they’re being supplied from Balboa, of course. There’s no real way to stop that, no useful way, anyway. They sit near the border and remain fully supplied or they go back across the border, still present a threat to us, and remain fully supplied.

Marciano turned over those and half a dozen other options in his mind before deciding, Okay, so there’s no static campaign that would have a chance. No campaign aimed at their logistics that would have a chance. So . . . is there a mobile one? Risky, risky. Marciano rubbed nervous and sweaty palms together. But everything else is doomed . . . and in the kingdom of the doomed, the risky must be king.

Then, too, as long as that lovely young lady is here, I’ll have some pretty good intelligence from on high.

So, what now? Now, I think, I abandon every air base but the most easily defended one that I can use myself. If the War in Balboa won’t aid me, they can kiss my Tuscan ass. Okay, that frees up a battalion. So, I’ll have one facing south, one west, and a mobile force of nearly three battalions, including the artillery, four if I count the commandos and tanks. If they probe one of my forward battalions, or attack it, I’ll have them fall back. Then, with my three, one vehicular, one airmobile, and the artillery, plus the engineers and commandos, I can hit back when they’re overstretched

Yes . . . yes . . . I can see possibilities here.

I can hardly wait to tell Janier that I won’t pull back from our current positions, but all the guarding of air bases is going to fall on him; let them stand or let them fall, no matter to me. They wear our notion of being an independent protective mission pretty damned thin, anyway.

And, just maybe, I can feint a withdrawal–no; think “Cannae”; withdraw only under pressure; anything else is too suspicious–and use it as bait for my mobile force . . . and a touch of disinformation? Trebia? Trasimene?

“Rall! Del Collea! You two! In my office! Now!”