6 - Clan Amir: The Shukra War - Cover

6 - Clan Amir: The Shukra War

Copyright 2007 by Ernest Bywater as Ernest Edwards

Chapter 06


Northern Shukra

At 8:30 a.m. Major Pargrew leads a dozen vehicles up the slope to the ridge overlooking the battlefield. The three regional governors plus several media people disembark and look at the valley. The visitors can easily see the destroyed vehicles with many dead and parts of the dead still lying around, as well as the mass graves dug nearby with the busy Swords carrying the enemy dead to the graves. The film crews start their cameras when they alight. Now many turn them off because this sight is too much, also, some are very busy being sick. Leading the visitors into a nearby tent Major Pargrew introduces them to General Mannheim.

Gerry explains what happened here and he gives them all some DVDs with combat camera footage of the battle from several viewpoints. He also hands them some printed sheets with the force statistics. Many gulp while reading how one-sided the forces were. They’re shocked on seeing how very one-sided the battle was the other way when he plays one of the views on a monitor for them. While they’re watching the video playback two female soldiers in dirty battle armour walk into the tent, quietly talking together while they carry in trays with food and drink. Placing them down on a table to the side of the tent one of them motions for Brian and Gerry to eat. Gerry opens his mouth to argue, and the second woman glares at him. He shrugs, closes his mouth, and moves over to start eating his late breakfast. Both the women smile when some of the media people laugh. It seems even the General in command of an Army has a boss who can order him about.

The younger of the women walks over to Lord Shukred, the Deputy Governor for the 6th District and a cousin to the King. He’s watching the battle footage with a horrified expression. He glances up and dismisses her without really looking at her before he goes back to watching the combat. She nods at Major Pargrew, and he smiles. Between bites of toast Brian asks, “Lord Shukred, what’s worse, a governor who plots the death of his King, or a man who plots the death of his cousin?”

Startled Lord Shukred looks up while saying, “Why should I know that?”

Major Pargrew says, “Because you’re both and the Great Warrior of the Shuken would like to know before executing you with the Shuken Honour Blade.”

Lord Shukred says, “Not possible, King Ahdeed is dead. The Rebels have the Shuken Honour Blade.”

The woman by him says, “You’re wrong, cousin, father secretly sent it to Berant last week, and now I wear it. I’ve also got the tapes of your treachery and involvement with the Rebels.” He turns to stare at Princess Lillian, he’s wide-eyed with fear when she draws the Shuken Honour and slips it between his ribs to the hilt. It sticks out of his back. Withdrawing it she wipes it on his coat while saying, “Cousin, I believe you dote on your daughters. Do you remember the law on treason within the Clan? Your daughters will make great sport for my troops.” She laughs at the look of absolute horror and terror on his face while he mentally pictures their pain racked deaths. He’s still gurgling up blood when two members of the Dragon’s Teeth drag him out to throw him into the mass grave with the other Rebels. A moment later she turns to the media people and the other governors as she says, “Despite what the laws say, I’ve no intention of taking any action against other members of his family, unless there’s evidence they were individually involved. But I did so enjoy the look on his face when he imagined the gang rape and death by torture of his daughters because of his actions. The several minutes it’ll take for him to actually die will be sheer hell for him. What a delicious thought.” Her audience gulps and stares at her while they watch her wipe clean the sword and return it to its sheath; this is one tough soldier, a true warrior.

Smiling at them she continues with, “I’m Princess Lillian, the current civilian head of the Shukra Government. I have a message for you to deliver today. It’s very simple. You have the film footage of what happened to the main mercenary strike force. I want it shown and discussed. I want the Rebel troops to know we’ve destroyed their relief column. I want them to know we’re now moving on them in force from the north and the south. Tell them when we get there tonight, or tomorrow, I’ll grant no quarter to any who stand against me. However, anyone of the rank of major or equivalent or below who simply vanishes into the woodwork before then will be allowed to resign from government service without prejudice. Do you think you can manage that?” They all give vigorous nods yes.

She adds, “Also tell the people this is the time of legends. The Great Falcon is here. The Falcon and Dragon fly together and the two reeds will be made one again, after we’ve regained control of our country. We won’t have commercial warlords from another continent run our country. Centuries ago we split from the Amir kingdom, and now is the time for us to return to the fold. It was foreseen, now it happens. I’m sure the foreign devils who feast on our troops and paid for this mess outside will be pleased to know the final results of their actions will be the merger of Shukra with Berant and an extension of the Berant power base and borders. Knowing the U MAMA bosses who organised this will have to absorb the great financial losses this causes them is another delicious thought. One I’ll cherish for a long time.” After taking a deep breath she continues, “Now, if you media people have any further questions General Gordon Mannheim and Major Brian Pargrew won’t be happy to answer them for you, but they’ll do so. I must take my governors aside to speak to them about the current conditions within their areas of control. Excuse me, thank you.” Grinning, she signals for the governors to follow her outside to a command car so they can talk without the media listening in.

Fifteen minutes later the media people leave for their vehicles to return to their offices and lodge reports with their various networks. Major Pargrew escorts them to their vehicles, and he sees them off. Gerry heads to the command car where Princess Lillian and the governors are still talking.

Walking in he smiles at her and says, “You missed the good stuff. One of them made a comment about you looking mean while you let him have it with the sword. You should have seen their faces when I showed them some footage of you behind the machine-gun with a maniacal grin pasted on your face while you carefully work the trigger for short accurate bursts. You sure picked that up quick, best damn student I ever had.” The governors gulp, and their gaze goes from one to the other. Lillian is nothing like the sweet little Princess they’ve always thought her to be. Seeing their shocked looks Gerry says, “Well, the prophecies do say I’ll find the greatest of Shuken Warriors, and I have.” Remembering the legends they all turn to look at Princess Lillian with stunned expressions, then they smile because things may be about to improve for their people - and improve a great deal, due to the promise of the legend.

Southern Shukra

At 9:00 a.m. Force Sioux is moving out. It’s taken a long time to get sorted out and on the move, but they’re now moving along a wide front. Scouts report the Rebels are withdrawing in front of them as there’s not enough of them to make a stand against three brigades with two armoured regiments. Things stay that way for most of the day while they slowly move forward across a ten kilometre wide front.

By 3:00 p.m. Force Sioux is nearing the Shuk River, the last major physical barrier between them and the city of Shumeer. They expect the Rebels to make a stand there because the two bridges of the main highway create a natural bottleneck, and the next crossings are half a day’s travel east and west. Jessica deploys several UAVs while still several kilometres away. By the time she nears the bridges she has most of the Rebel defences plotted. They’ve deployed a regiment of medium tanks, a regiment of heavy tanks, and two regiments of infantry on the northern bank of the river. It’s clear they won’t try to stop her crossing, just mount a heavy challenge to her crossing while they intend to inflict very heavy casualties on her forces in the process.

In preparation to having to fight her way across the bridges Jessica has brought the units closer together and she now has a closely packed front just over one kilometre wide. She stops the force just short of the last ridge south of the river. Lying on the ridge she and her senior advisers study the ground and the enemy. They withdraw to her command car and leave the scouts to keep an eye on the enemy. While they examine the battle map prepared by her command support team from the UAV sensor reports and images she asks “Apart from a straight forward armoured assault, anyone got some bright ideas?”

Colonel Masters, Commander of the Shukra mobile artillery, says, “A straight forward armoured assault is going to hurt real bad. The way they’ve dug in means we need to make direct hits with our best shells to destroy them. We can’t do that in howitzer mode, and direct angle firing will give them the opportunity to take out too much of our armour, your tanks and my guns. Those are heavily armoured turrets, the rocket launchers the troops carry won’t be much good against them.”

She looks up from the table at him, “Thank you, Colonel, now tell me something I don’t know, like the armour and penetration capabilities.”

While blushing he says, “Sorry, General, but I wasn’t sure how much you knew about armoured combat. That’s the Fourth and Fifth Armoured Regiments. The Fourth have medium armoured hulls and are thirty percent faster than the Fifth. The Fifth’s hull armour is sixty-five percent heavier than anything else we have. It takes a close range hit by our best guns to take them out. Firing across the river, I doubt we’ll do more than mark their paint. However, that’s immaterial with their hulls buried like that. Two years ago the Fourth and Fifth were both upgraded to a more heavily armoured turret, both fitted with the same item, so they’re effectively the same with their hulls buried. The turret gun is a one hundred and fifty millimetre high velocity armour piercing gun, the most powerful we have in use with more impact and longer range than anything else we have. Actually, the only guns we have capable of taking them out are those same two regiments. Nothing else we have can touch them.”

With a pensive expression she says, “Hmm, all our rockets are one hundred millimetres wide, we can take some out by having our best people shoot down the barrels. But after we take the first twenty or so they’ll start weaving the barrels to stop that, and there’s four hundred of them to deal with. I suppose we can take a few that way and saturation barrage the rest. It won’t matter if we take a long time to take them out, but I’d like to do it quickly. If we can.”

A suddenly grinning Captain Daneer, the late Colonel Daneer’s eldest son, says, “Excuse me, Ma’am, but I’ve got fifty men who are experts with the wire controlled Dragon anti-tank rockets. I saw boxes of Dragon’s in the truck loads of munitions General Shendar handed over. They’re one hundred and forty millimetre wide rockets and my people can fly them into most moving targets. Let your people take first shot and follow up with my people shooting over the hill. Even if we don’t get them all we’ll reduce their numbers.”

Grinning, she says, “Well, let’s get set up. Regardless of how this plan goes we can only benefit by it.”

By 4:00 p.m. the fifty best troops with rocket launchers are lying along the ridge top. With slow care they push the firing ends of their rocket launchers through the tall grass and shrubs until they’ve the launch tubes clear of them. They take aim, and at Jessica’s radioed command they fire. Some fire immediately while some finish letting their breath out, but within a space of two seconds they all fire. The fifty heavy armour piercing rockets slash across the river at the entrenched tanks. The firing troops leave their positions to run back downhill.

The aim of some rockets is a fraction off and those rockets strike the end of the barrel to explode on its end. Some are a bit more off so they deflect off the side of the barrel to slam into the turret, exploding on the armour without doing any damage. Well, we shouldn’t say no damage because those shots still produced a lot of shrapnel from their casings which pounds into the troops dug in near the tanks to kill many and wound others. Forty-two of the rockets enter the barrels and most have their fuses triggered by hitting the inside of the barrel. Seven are very clean shots and they slide in without triggering the delayed action fuse until they reach the far end of the barrel. Regardless of when the fuse is triggered the results are much the same. Most reach the end of the barrel before exploding.

In four tanks the breech block is wide open. The rocket travels the length of the gun, out of the breech block, and into the rack of stored shells opposite. The rocket explodes and it sets off the stored shells in a sympathetic explosion. This blast rips the tanks apart, killing its crew, rupturing the fuel tank, and setting it on fire. Some shrapnel from the tank hits nearby troops to kill a few and wound others.

Sixteen of the tanks have armour piercing rounds loaded and ready to fire. The exploding rocket sets off the charge in the shell and its propellant. In ten cases the breech blocks withstand this terrible blast, despite it being way beyond anything expected in the design. However, the gun’s rifling is damaged and jagged metal is jammed in the barrel. Shrapnel blasts out the front to land in the river. The six other tanks aren’t so lucky as the breech blocks fail to contain the blast and they blow apart. Hot metal flies around the tank to kill the gun crew, rupture the fuel tanks, and set the fuel on fire. The rest of the tank’s crew members are killed in the fires.

Eighteen tanks aren’t loaded and the rocket explosion is contained in the breech block. Leaving bits of jagged metal embedded in the rifling. In two tanks the breech blocks are jammed shut and won’t open due to the damage they take in the blast. In the four remaining tanks the rockets hit at a sharp angle and start to break up on entry. The resulting mess jams in the barrel near the front. The resulting explosion causes the barrel to crack and damages the rifling.

Of the four hundred and two tanks involved ten are destroyed and two aren’t working. The remaining three hundred and ninety tanks fire at the ridge top. In thirty of the tanks the damaged rifling and jagged metal in the barrels interferes with the shells being fired and causes them to explode in the barrels: the breech block holds, but the barrel blows apart. The three person gun crews live, but shrapnel from the exploding barrels kill one hundred and twenty-seven troops in combat positions near the tanks. The tanks’ machine-guns are also damaged in the blast with bent barrels. The tanks are now useless. Three hundred and sixty shells explode along the now unmanned ridge line.

The Rebel commanders are carefully watching the ridge for more troop movements. Each tank commander has his gun weaving slowly back and forth to stop any repeats of these shots. What they don’t see are the fifty wire controlled anti-tank rockets that pop over the ridge because they’re concealed by the settling dust of the tank shells. The Dragon rounds are wider and longer than the shoulder mounted rockets used by the Guards. The result is a rocket with more range and double the charge. Being controlled they can also change direction in flight.

The controllers weave their rockets about to match the timing with the gun movements. Forty-nine get it right and the rockets vanish down the gun barrels. The fiftieth can see he’s mistimed it so he drops the rocket down to slam it into the driver’s vision slit as he hits the ’detonate on impact’ command button. The blast kills the driver as it sends shrapnel amongst the legs of the gun crew as well as the entrenched troops nearby. Some shrapnel also punctures the fuel tank. Sadly for the tank crew their commander is in the process of lighting a cigarette when this happens. The flame from his cigarette lighter sets off the fuel before he can close it; once again proving cigarette smoking is a health hazard, just not in the way expected by most people. The crew dies in the ensuing fire because someone didn’t buy dearer diesel engine tanks.

The other forty-nine rockets slam into the newly reloaded guns. The explosion of rocket and shell rips the breech blocks apart to spray hot metal about the tanks to kill the gun crews, rupture the fuel tanks, and set the fuel on fire. In a few minutes sixty tanks are destroyed and thirty-two are useless, leaving the Rebels three hundred and ten tanks.

The General in charge of the Rebels, he was only a colonel last week, orders the tanks to face their turrets away from the river until called upon to fire. They all turn one hundred degrees to the right and face a little backward. The Dragon controllers are good, but the rockets aren’t designed to turn back on themselves in flight.

Jessica and Captain Daneer discuss the situation, and they agree to use the remaining one hundred and fifty rockets to penetrate the tanks’ engine compartments. Firing the Dragons in a high lob trajectory the operators wait until they’re starting down to give them the maximum boost before they slam them into the engine decks as fast as they can. In each case the rocket penetrates the engine deck. In thirty-three of the tanks the fuel tanks rupture and they’re set on fire. The other seventeen tanks have damaged motors with no exhaust visible now. Two more volleys and all of the Dragon rockets are fired. A total of ninety-six tanks are destroyed and fifty-four are damaged by the Dragons.

Jessica stands there thinking. The Rebels have one hundred and sixty good tanks, fifty-four damaged tanks down to being hand cranked, thirty with destroyed guns, plus two that didn’t fire and are probably damaged to some extent. They’ve destroyed one hundred and fifty-six tanks, and that’s a very big improvement in the situation. However, destroying them all would be better. She stands there thinking, and something about this situation reminds her of a tactics conversation she had with Gerry one day at The Landing’s Field, now what was he said. She flogs her memory, but it eludes her.

Nancy walks in with a cup of hot chocolate. Handing it to Jessica she says, “Here, drink this. Gerry swears it helps him to think. Now, if we can only destroy the rest of the tanks, that’ll really shake them up and we can get a move on.”

Jessica takes a big drink of the hot chocolate. Nancy’s words give her an image of Gerry standing there shaking tanks with little men falling out. Her eyes go wide, and she grins while saying, “That’s it. We’ll really shake them up.” Looking down at the almost finished drink she adds, “You know, he could be right about the drink!” Calling Colonel Masters over she asks, “Colonel, if you sighted your guns in one at a time can you get several guns to fire in unison to hit the same tank?”

He thinks for a moment, and says, “Yes, the target area’s big enough for ten rounds at once. Why bother, even ten rounds landing together won’t penetrate that armour. Our guns just aren’t heavy enough to get through that armour.”

Grinning like the devil she is Jessica says, “Someone once said ’Wars are fought by men, not machines.’ So let’s attack the men. Imagine, for a moment, you’re locked up in your nice tank and several artillery shells pound on it at once. Not a nice noise, is it?” He shakes his head in agreement, “Now, if some nice and evil artillery commander gave you that message every twenty or thirty seconds, how long before you go crazy, or deaf?” Colonel Masters looks at her for a moment. Suddenly grinning from ear to ear he signals for his battery commanders. She says, “And don’t forget our UAVs can give you an exact spotting on your shots.”

About fifteen minutes later the mobile artillery of the 2nd Armoured Regiment are set up in twenty blocks of ten guns, and the first gun of each set is taking a ranging shot at one tank. The third shot is dead on the tank. The next gun uses the first gun’s settings, so its second round is on target. The same thing is happening at twenty tanks. Twenty-five minutes later all of the guns are sighted in. The selected targets have been evenly distributed along the front.

At his signal half of the guns in each block fire at once, and they go into rapid fire without changing the range settings. Twenty seconds later the other half opens fire in rapid fire. The best rapid fire loading speed in the howitzer position is thirty seconds. The battery commanders are firing half the guns every twenty seconds, thus forty seconds between rounds. One gun from each set has been sighted in on each of the tank’s three upper hull hatches.

The shells slamming into the tanks make one hell of a noise, and the crews of the tanks targetted can’t hear themselves think, let alone hear each other or the radio. The sound of the constant explosions is annoying the troops nearby who aren’t killed or wounded by the shrapnel from the shells.

While this is going on the Green Raptors move up to the base of the final ridge, and they line up along it with just the front of their hulls a little up the rise. This is to allow them to fire in a much more howitzer style configuration. They’re heavy tanks, but their shells are nowhere near heavy enough for the Rebel tanks like this. But they can sight in on the enemy trench lines. Every now and then they time one volley to fire with the artillery shells as they fire direct action shells. Their lighter shells are exploding in and around the Rebel troops to kill many and wound many more.

The Rebels have no idea where the mobile artillery are located and they don’t have the ammunition to waste it firing blind. They can only sit tight while they wait to see what the Royalists expect to achieve by this since it’s clear the shells aren’t doing any damage to the tanks.

Twenty minutes into the barrage one of the drivers is so crazed by the constant pounding on the hatch above him he can visualise it caving in. He panics; he stands, undoes the hatch, waits for a shell to explode, and he scrambles out. He’s only halfway out when the next shell slams into his body to shove him back down and it explode on his seat. The explosion sends shrapnel through the crew, the following shell ruptures the fuel tanks, and the one after sets the tank on fire.

Down the line a gun crew member cracks and he throws the turret hatch open while he tries to escape out of it. An inbound shell enters the turret, knocks him down, and it sets off the ready use ammunition to blow the tank apart.

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