Freedom's Sons: Section II, Chapter 9
[Although an author normally never shows his first draft work to anyone except an editor or agent, I have explained in this week's Radio Free Northwest why I am publishing these draft chapters. Plus there is the consideration that it seems to be driving certain Jewish readers completely batshit, which is always a plus. - HAC]
IX. The Second Day
(D-Day plus one)
“Have they crossed any of our borders yet?” asked President Red Morehouse. It was late in the afternoon of June 20. Morehouse and his staff were sitting in an air-conditioned mobile command vehicle pulled into a camouflaged position just outside of North Bend, Washington, a converted 18-wheeler escorted by a small convoy of heavily armed SS vehicles from the Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler’s Presidential Unit, including a full Bluelight battery to intercept any American Predator or other aerial assassination attempts.
The president was maintaining communication with his military commanders and the rest of the nation through encrypted radio and cyber-communications, using a number of concealed underground fiber-optic lines which had been laid over previous years, with terminals spaced all around the Republic in anticipation of the present crisis. Morehouse was also keeping an eye on the enemy through the Lazarus Birds, the dozen or so satellites that the NDF’s Technical Warfare Division had skyjacked and converted to the Republic’s own use prior to Operation Strikeout and Rotfungus. The whole mobile command post concept was a throwback to the War of Independence when the NVA Army Council had moved in separate and nomadic cells around the Northwest, directing operations and generating propaganda, etc. Morehouse himself was a former guerrilla leader, and he always opted for mobility over sheer numbers and firepower. “I mean have any of the ground troops crossed our borders, other than the paratroop drops?” he added.
“No, sir,” said Defense Minister Carter Wingfield, sitting across from the president at a narrow table.
“How are we coming on those?”
“The last of them should be mopped up before dark, Mr. President,” Wingfield told him. “They tried to dig in at a couple of places, but our field artillery was able to blast them out before they had time to get too entrenched. It was a damned good idea assigning every battalion its own cannon, and its paying off. The paratroopers haven’t been able to hold on anywhere, and it looks like what’s left of them are breaking up now into platoon-sized groups and trying to E & E. Most of them seem to be heading for the border, possibly looking to hook up with their own columns, but I doubt many of them will make it. There’s just too many battalions of NDF scouring the countryside for them. The Americans not only have our own troops all around them, but the local people are all over them as well. Civilians are calling in enemy sightings to the NDF, and in a lot of cases picking up their own weapons and firing on them. Those poor bastards dropped into in a hornet’s nest. They must feel naked without their air cover.”
Annette Sellars was in uniform now, the semi-dress dark gray, wearing on her shoulders and garrison cap the oak leaves of her reserve rank of major in the NDF, as well as her own tricolored War of Independence ribbon. She looked up from her computer screen. “Sir, Admiral Leach reports that Operation Sea Lion is ready to roll. Weather reports indicate it will be cloudy in the north Pacific tonight, no moonlight, and so he recommends launching the attack fleet at sunset.”
“He doesn’t want to give his vessels at least a few hours of daylight to get into the combat zone?” asked Morehouse. “Some of those boats will be having to get up there from as far south as Coos Bay and as far north as Whidbey.”
“No, sir, he wants to avoid possible aerial spotting planes launched from the enemy aircraft carriers. He’s staggering the departure times of each flotilla so they can all rendezvous at around oh-two-hundred hours and attack in the dark.”
“All right, if Leach is good with it, tell him it’s a go,” said Morehouse with a nod. “Carter, how’s the southern front looking?”
“Our Lazarus Birds are on the Mexicans like ugly on an ape. They’re pouring up the old Interstate Five like ants, more a disorganized mob than an army, with a smaller force heading up through Nevada on old Eighty, from which they will presumably get onto old U.S. Ninety-Five, and try to enter eastern Oregon that way. Air Marshal Basquine figures the best place to hit them is the mountainous stretch between Yreka and Hornbrook, at dawn tomorrow, right before they enter the Republic. The way they’re going they’ll be all bunched and tangled up along that twisty-turny road, in some places with nothing but sheer cliff on one side and sheer drop on the other. The Songbirds and Starfighters should be able to rip ‘em up pretty good. Not much cover or room for evasion on those slopes along that stretch. The pilots have all been trained running simulation flights in similar stretches of the highway on our side, for years now.”
“You forget all those goddamned Chinese copters and pilots,” said Morehouse. “The Aztecs may be thick, but the Chinese aren’t, and they knew any invasion force moving into the Northwest Republic up I-Five through the mountains would be vulnerable as hell from the air. That’s why they brought in all those gunships, to help out their beaner buddies and cover the main ground force from the south. It’s going to be a bloody mess.”
“The Starfighter pilots have all been given crash training courses in copter-fighting ever since we spotted those things coming in down at San Diego, Mr. President,” said Wingfield. “We’ll have to hope it turns out to be some use. The Nevada-Oregon column from Aztlan will be harder to impede. There’s a lot of flat or rolling countryside out there, and the Mex will be able to spread their vehicles out overland and make it harder for the Songbirds to hit them on the move. On the upside, it’s damned near uninhabited down there, so there are fewer civilians to get in the way and less collateral damage to worry about. We’ve got forward airfields in the Crooked Creek Range and the Catlow Rim, but only about a hundred aircraft, all told. We were just spread too thin to allocate more.”
Morehouse sighed. “I know. We’re light on ground troops in that sector as well, but looks like Bobby Bells and his Sixth Army are going to have to close with them and fight a long running battle. Most of that column of beaners will probably get through into the Republic, but as you said, that’s mostly a lot of empty space and we can afford a certain degree of strategic retreat there. It’s our weakest area, and I’m surprised the Chinks didn’t spot it. The Aztecs must be stopped from linking up with the Americans coming from the east and north.”
“DiBella will shred those greaseballs up into taco meat, sir!” growled Annette Sellars fiercely.
“I have every confidence he will, Major,” replied the president with a smile. “Carter, make sure Bells and all our field commanders understand that we just want to take out their vehicles during first contact. That’s the main thing. Same as with the Americans. We want all of these bastards walking through our country on long, hot summer days carrying nice heavy packs and gear. Now, the Americans?”
“U.S. Combined Group North’s ETA on the border of the Republic at Sweet Grass is in thirty-six hours, but we anticipate they won’t attempt to cross over until they hit Idaho, so they can drive for Coeur d’Alene,” Wingfield reported. “Billy Jackson is keeping his Third Army pulled back and in an extended line for miles all along the Border. No concentrations. If and when the enemy cross over, the NDF will engage in battalions and brigaded battalions, slow them down until we can figure out whether it’s a feint or the real thing. If it looks like they’re going to punch through to Coeur d’Alene or Spokane, we order a general engagement and we throw in the Florian Geyers right at their headquarters element.”
“Especially Coeur d’Alene,” said Morehouse. “Our nation was born there during the Sixteen Days. We don’t surrender our birthplace.”
“Of course not, Mr. President,” agreed Wingfield. “Otherwise, Jackson will try for the old Cannae trick: fall back in the center and let both wings envelop the enemy. That’s the same goal Hatfield and Drones will be trying for, although we hope we can really hammer their Group South out of action with Baumgarten’s northward attack from out of Wyoming on the enemy’s flank and rear. Then once the southernmost American column is done for, the Seventh and Fourth Armies link up with Zack Hatfield’s Second Army and turn the same trick on Group Center, and take them out of action. Then they join up with Billy Jackson and everybody lunges for Group North’s throat. That’s the theory, anyway.”
“Let’s see how the practice works out,” said Morehouse grimly. “Now the bad news. Eric, what’s our air raid damage?”
Colonel Eric Sellars brought up a screen on his computer and looked it over. “Frankly, sir, our biggest problem seems to be damage and casualties from falling debris off demolished enemy aircraft, hitting houses in the towns and cities and starting forest fires in the countryside. Eight Cruise missiles got through the Bluelight batteries along the coast, sir, with two hits on Fort Lewis, three on Seattle, and three on Portland. We lost a methane yard at Fort Lewis. There was a big-ass explosion and at least fifty casualties, but that was the worst of it. We also lost the base headquarters building and office complex, but that was so obvious a target that we evacuated it, and there were only a few wounded. One Cruise came into Seattle on fire: apparently a Bluelight SAW hit it, but didn’t bring it down. It went off course and crashed into Queen Anne with several dozen civilian casualties, and the foundation of the Space Needle may have been damaged and undermined. They may have been trying to wipe out a famous Seattle landmark. The other two Seattle hits left craters but no casualties. Three came into Portland in a group and about eight blocks of downtown was pretty much leveled, but again due to the general evacuation, casualties were low. There were also some bomb strikes from enemy aircraft, but none on any significant targets. It looks like the American pilots panicked and just dumped their payloads so they could turn tail and get the hell out of there, get away from the Bluelight. No more air attacks reported for the past eight hours. I guess they’re either getting the message, or else running out of planes and missiles. Sir, you know how much terribly worse this could have been. Bluelight has worked! We’ve broken American air power!”
“Praise God!” whispered Morehouse. “Is Rotfungus holding?”
“Yes, sir,” said Sellars. “TWD reports the Americans are frantically trying to re-establish communications with the satellites, trying to find some kind of back door around it, and they’re throwing every anti-virus software they’ve got up into the sky, but Rotfungus has burned out all the comm circuits. The most skillful hacker can’t wake the dead. Looks like their satellites are down for the duration.”
“Is my opposite number in the White House still barking like a dog?” asked Morehouse with a chuckle.
“Affirmative, sir, and already a lot of American media are commenting on it,” said Sellars with a grin. “Someone threw a package of dog biscuits over the White House fence this morning.”
“They’ve lost their toys, their machines,” said Wingfield grimly. “Now the world will see how tough they are as men. Sir, there is another thing that’s come up. Not really a problem, just something—well, odd.”
“Odd in what way?” asked Morehouse curiously.
Wingfield shuffled around in a file folder and handed several stapled sheets of paper to the State President. “We have some soldiers who didn’t report to their reserve units, or who in some cases appear to have left their regular units without permission. They’re all listed as AWOL now. About a hundred and fifty men.”
Morehouse sighed. “Well, I suppose when you’re mobilizing almost five million reservists, you’re going to get some people who just don’t want to join the party, but two hundred AWOLS out of that many isn’t a bad turnout. So we’ve got a couple of hundred flakes? What army doesn’t?”
“These aren’t flakey men, sir,” said Wingfield worriedly. “All of them are NVA veterans. All veterans of the same unit, actually.”
“What unit?” asked Morehouse, surprised.
“One of the old Flying Columns, Red. The North Idaho Partisan Rangers, to be exact.” Wingfield handed the list to Morehouse and pointed to one name he had highlighted. “Guess who’s gone AWOL along with them? Their old CO.”
Henry “Red” Morehouse almost never cursed or swore, but he did now. “Jesus Christ!” he shouted angrily. “Fucking Oglevy! What the fuck is that goddamned maniac up to now? Jesus, Carter, after Longview we gave O.C. every medal we had before he went off into the woods! You’d think he would have been happy with that, or at least he’d have mellowed with age by now.”
“Guess not, Red,” said Wingfield with a shrug. “I don’t know what he’s playing at, but whatever it is, it looks like a lot of his boys from the old days have decided to do it with him.”
“I thought Major Oglevy was living in a cave somewhere up in the Sawtooth or something?” asked Eric Sellars curiously.
“In an old mobile home, actually,” said Wingfield. “Returning to his roots, as it were. Cooking up strange chemical brews in his spare bedroom like in the old days. BOSS used to keep an eye on him to make sure he didn’t go completely off the rails and start shooting up nearby towns when he was high. Every year or so he’d have a reunion of his old crew, and sometimes things got pretty rowdy. They set the forest on fire one year, but to be fair, they did drop everything and help put it out. A number of adventurous young ladies used to attend these backwoods barbecues or whatever, but so far as BOSS was able to determine, all of them who went up the road came back out again. They must have used these reunion parties to plan this whatever-it-is. One last hurrah for the Nippers. My guess is that O.C. and the boys have decided to fight their own little war on their own, for auld lang syne, and they don’t want anything like military discipline or strategy cramping their style. God knows what they’re going to do, or where they’re going to do it. We never did know back in the day, so why should he bother to keep us informed now? I’ve warned Billy Jackson he may have some wild men running around in his operational area, which is their old stomping grounds. If he catches them it’s up to him what to do with them. Arrest them and court-martial them for AWOL, gun them down like mad dogs, or maybe just re-supply them and send them out again.”
“Hell, maybe Oglevy will decide to invade Canada,” said Morehouse sourly.
* * *
At seven o’clock that night, the sun was still fairly high in the sky over Bannack, Montana. Bannack stood beside Grasshopper Creek, a tributary of the Beaverhead River. Founded in the year 1862 by miners working a silver strike that played out within a few years, Bannack had long been a ghost town under the United States. But the Northwest Republic took the view that towns were for people, not ghosts, so after Longview the new government had run in electric power, installed sewers and a water treatment plant, patched up the old homes and built new ones. Bannack was now home to around 2,000 townspeople, mostly German immigrants who had come seeking the Wild West. They had found it in Bannack. They wore their cowboy hats to evenings in the local beer garden, and they called their local riflery clubs Schűtzbunde.
Eli’s son and Robert Campbell’s brother-in-law Edward Horakova, now aged twenty-eight and the size and build of a short mountain, presently served as gunnery sergeant in command of one of the 75-millimeter fieldpieces in the battery attached to the Eighth Battalion of the 85th Infantry Regiment, Northwest Defense Force. Their regimental badge on their left shoulders was a patch bearing the numerals 8 and 5 on either side of a battle axe. The first three battalions of the 85th were regular soldiers, although many of them were now seconded and scattered throughout the remaining nine battalions of reservists as officers and NCOs. Most of the reservists came from the southern Montana area around Missoula, Anaconda, and the NAR sector of Butte. They had trained extensively all across this very terrain, the soil they knew they would be expected to defend when the invasion came.
Unlike the battalion’s 88-millimeter guns, which were self-propelled and mounted on half-tracked vehicles called Ground Hogs, the 75-millimeter guns were drawn into action by powerful all-terrain four-by-fours called Heeps, since their designers claimed that they combined the best characteristics of both the Humvee and the Jeep, including an astounding 44 miles to the gallon across open country, running on fuel alcohol manufactured in the Republic. The 75s were modeled on the famous French model 1897 soixante-quinze of World War One, and were of a similar general configuration. They were, however, much lighter than their great-grandfathers from the Marne and Verdun, because their barrels were cast from much superior modern steel, they were mounted on carriages with light and supple pneumatic radial tires, and as many of the other parts as possible were made from aluminum, hardened Bakelite, or even wood.
The 75s also fired much more powerful and versatile rounds than the older version, starting with a high explosive shell using SuperSem, a hopped-up version of Semtex. There was a magnesium anti-tank round that could burn through the armor plating of any known American military vehicle. The third nasty tune in the 75’s repertoire was an anti-personnel flechette round with a shell made of concentric layers of thin steel stripping that on impact would burst into thousands of tiny fragments of shrapnel the size of buckshot: it was like hitting the enemy with a giant shotgun blast. The 75s’ range was five miles, and a skilled gun crew could fire 15 accurate and well-placed rounds per minute. The self-propelled 88s were even bigger and meaner, their crews trained to fight running duels with tanks. This was good country for it. Between the two of them, the Northwest artillery had blasted from a distance what few airborne invaders had reached the ground alive out of every position they had tried to hold. Absent their own artillery and above all their own cannon and tank-hunting helicopter gunships, the American paratroopers had been blown to pieces and then they were run down like rabbits.
The 85th was now rolling down a long road through a valley running by Grasshopper Creek, throwing up a cloud of dry summer dust. They were headed for the Border Highway, old Interstate 15, and it now looked like they would be the first NDF line unit to make contact with the actual ground invasion. “We’re going to write a little history today, boys,” their regimental commander Colonel Alfred Packer had told them over their individual headphones. “Let’s make sure it reads real good to the millions of school kids in this Republic of ours over the next couple of hundred years. Remember, they’re gonna be tested on it.”
“Yes, sir!” shouted back almost the entire regiment of a little over six thousand men.
Now the officers and men of the 85th heard their CO again in their ears. “Choppers, this is Battleaxe. I’ve just been informed by the Fourth Army Command that the enemy have crossed the Border Highway and are now on the soil of our Homeland. This sector has been invaded by one division-sized mechanized force about thirty thousand strong, which appears to have divided into three columns, two of them turning north toward Dillon and one coming right for us down the Valley Road, or what the Americans probably still designate as Highway 278. So far as we know, the enemy is still blind in the sky, and so they may not know that we are here. We’ll remedy that soon enough. Other NDF units will take care of the two enemy columns heading for Dillon, but the one heading for Bannack is ours. They’re not going to get there. Our Luftwaffe spotters are keeping us advised of their position, and it looks like we’ll beat them to Black Buffalo Bridge. That’s as far as they get. It’s show time, boys. Battalion COs meet me on Channel Two.”
“Don’t the Zoggies have any air support at all?” asked Corporal Gunther Eckhardt of Ed Horakova’s crew as the rolled down the road, their gun bumping along behind them on its caisson. “You’d think we’d see a few copters by now.”
“I heard they’re actually bringing in their helicopters on the backs of big flatbed trucks,” said Eddie. “Those new energy SAW weapons have scared the shit out of them, and they’re hoarding their gunships like gold, scared to send them into the air, which kind of defeats the whole fucking purpose of having them.” Eddie’s speech was still the flat dialect of Chicago even after twelve years surrounded by cowboys and European expats in Montana.
Colonel Alfred Packer shared his command Heep not only with his driver, but with Technical Warfare Division Sergeant Joanna Sedley, who was sitting in the back with a large laptop computer linked to a Lazarus Bird. She also had a chat room opened with the Luftwaffe intelligence officer at a nearby forward airfield. “Our guys are just using microlights to scout the Zoggies, Colonel,” she reported to Packer. “No combat aircraft yet. But Major Glimco says they have a whole squadron of twelve Songbirds revving up on the field, ready to go when you call them in.”
“Outstanding!” said Packer. He hit the button on his commpack for Channel Two. “Hatchet Men, this is Battleaxe,” he said to the majors commanding the battalions. “Our ETA at the bridge is four minutes for the forward units.”
“Battleaxe, this is Hatchet Three,” said Major Wilkie Collins. “Do we take the bridge, blow the bridge, or rig it to blow?”
“No, the local people will still need to use it when we’re done here,” Packer told him.
“Let the Zionists try to force it. That’s a good narrow kill zone, a bottleneck, and we’ll stop it up by filling it with their dead. Okay, boys, here’s how we roll. First, Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Battalions will occupy the high ground on the west side of Black Buffalo Bridge, along with all, repeat, all of the regimental artillery. That’s our center. Second, Fourth, Fifth, and Twelfth Batts will move south a distance of approximately two miles, where you will cross Grasshopper Creek and move eastward in battle order for another three miles, detaching companies at four to five hundred yard intervals, where they will sit tight for a while, unless the enemy discovers them and attacks. Third, Ninth, Tenth, and Eleventh Batts will do the same, only they will cross the Grasshopper two miles to the north, then move three miles eastward, again detaching individual companies as they move. Since the enemy are blind in the sky and we’re not, we should be able to pull this off while maintaining an element of surprise, at least until we all get across the creek.
“The enemy will almost certainly attempt to force the bridge and attack our center. They are to be met with the entire force of our artillery when they do. When they fail to break through in the valley and over the bridge, they will attempt to flank the center’s position, and that’s where the two wings come in. When the Americans try to get around us, they run into our right and left flanks on either side of them. We put them in a straitjacket, hold them down so they can’t move, and then we beat them to a bloody pulp.
“The guns will set up covered firing positions along the ridgeline at approximately fifty-yard intervals or as close as you can get to it. We will hold them on the east side of the Grasshopper while they pile up on the other side of the bridge. If the enemy do not attempt an immediate flanking maneuver, then as soon as the sun sets, the detached companies on both the right and left flanks across the creek will move toward the enemy and engage them. Do not attempt to overrun them, and do not allow yourselves to be overrun, either. Do not cross Valley Road in either direction even if the opportunity offers. Night fighting is tricky, even with infrared vision gear, and we don’t want our own guys running into each other and firing on one another in the dark. If it looks like you may be surrounded or if there are just too many of them, fall back, then circle back in and hit them again from another angle. We don’t want any wild abandoned attacks against superior forces and firepower here. We’re not going to wipe them out, not yet anyway. We’re going to bleed them, pin them down, confuse and demoralize them, and above all we are going to destroy as much of their motorized transport as we can. Concentrate on taking out their vehicles. Remember, Montana is a mighty big place. We want them walking across it.”
Thirty minutes later, Brigadier General Herbert Smith of the United States Army approached the Black Buffalo Bridge from the east. He brought with him the nine thousand or so troops of the 4th Mechanized Infantry Brigade out of Fort Leonard Wood, which had been assigned to occupy the town of Bannack, establish a small military administration headed by one Captain Chaim Lipshitz of the Judge Advocate General Corps to run the town, backed by a company of military police, and then head north to re-unite with the two columns from the 36th Infantry Division and 10th Mountain Division that composed their particular Combat Operations Group of the United States Combined Military Force South.
The Pentagon’s war-gamers were wise to the wolf-and-caribou analogy. They had spotted the danger of keeping their three invasion forces together in one big huge mass and leaving the many smaller NDF units so much room to maneuver and attack from all sides. In a last-minute change of tactics, they had modified the grandiose “Baghdad Boogies” they had planned for all three of their armies, and the Americans were now moving their forces into the Republic from each army group using multiple detached units of anywhere from brigade to full division strength, small enough to maneuver and move quickly, but hopefully large enough to beat back attacks from the NDF. They were trying to duplicate the same Cannae-like strategy in offense that the Northwesters were attempting in defense, modeling their attack on Patton’s hedgerow-hopping advance through Italy and France during the Second World War, a series of swift enveloping movements they hoped to emulate almost a century later.
Brigadier General Herb Smith was a short and lean man with the traditional buzz-cut that most West Pointers usually retained through their whole lives. His old-style Iraq desert fatigues always seemed to be starched and to hold razor-sharp creases, even in heat like this. Smith sat in his personal Humvee, pulled over to one side of the road, watching his long column of troops rumble by in their trucks, their Strykers, and their Bradley Fighting Vehicles. He held in his hand an ordinary field radio, in lieu of his usual encrypted personal helmet phone communication device, which was dependent on a satellite and which could now show him only a picture of his commander-in-chief with his mouth open, barking like a dog. The voice of Captain Jason Beard, U.S. Army Ranger Recon, crackled in his ear. “Foxtrot Five, this is Romeo Echo Charlie. Forward lurps are in. They report Nazis ahead, sir. Thousands of ‘em.”
“That’s what we came here for, Captain,” said Smith, nodding to his driver to move out. His Humvee sped along the side of the road past the slow vehicles filled with troops. Smith spoke into his radio. “Alpha Sierra Charlie, this is Foxtrot Five. Tell our birds it’s time they quit hitchhiking on Daddy’s shoulders and spread their wings. Get the gunships into the air, get them four or five clicks ahead of us, and tell them to start blasting anything that moves wearing a goddamned Swastika. It’s time we had some fucking air cover on this little excursion.”
It took the Americans some minutes to get their six Apache gunships launched from the flatbed trucks which had been hauling them laboriously up hill and down since the brigade had left Billings, but once they were in the air the assault craft swooped toward the valley and the Black Buffalo Bridge across the highway. They were met by a hail of small arms fire from thousands of weapons and shoulder-fired missiles. Their own rockets and chain guns managed to inflict a few NDF casualties and knock out one 75-millimeter gun and one self-propelled 88, but in a matter of two minutes, three of the six choppers were down and lying in flaming heaps on the ground, and the others turned and ran. It wasn’t only the Bluelight weapons that could bring copters down. Smith himself ordered the retreat. He had no intention of stripping himself completely of his aerial scouting capability.
Smith ordered his Ranger-filled Bradleys and his Strykers forward out of the cover of the wooded hills to secure the small, nondescript concrete bridge he now saw through his field glasses as he stood up in his Humvee. Many of his vehicles were tracked, and they could easily ford the minor obstacle of Grasshopper Creek on their own, and his engineers could throw temporary bridges across the small stream with no difficulty.
Technically speaking it wasn’t necessary to capture Black Buffalo Bridge, but capturing a bridge with such a picturesque name had a definite cachet to it. It sounded good: future vets swilling beer in bars and saying, “I was with Herb Smith at Black Buffalo Bridge!” Besides, Smith’s Rangers were armed with the new-fangled “corner guns” developed for use in the Middle East, weapons that were in essence small grenade launchers that fired a timed and calibrated charge slightly over the head or to one side or other of a concealed enemy, burst in the air, and took him out with concussion and shrapnel even as he remained behind his cover. They had been used in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Gaza with some success, although they were by no means the mighty terrorist-slaying miracle weapon claimed for them. Even in modern combat, the man behind the weapon was more important than the weapon itself.
Finally, there was another sub rosa consideration: Smith had a schedule to keep. His boss, General Albert Scheisskopf, had been very specific about that: all American units had to keep to the schedule, lest it look bad to the president and the media. Like so many American military adventures over the past century, this wasn’t just a war, it was a made-for-TV movie, and the U.S. military’s masters wanted to keep to the script with no ad-libbing allowed. Never mind anything the enemy might have to say about it.
Four of the lead American Bradleys floored it on Smith’s orders, and they headed for the bridge. They made it without drawing any hostile fire, rather to Smith’s surprise. The Ranger platoon in the Bradleys leaped out of their armored vehicles, seized the bridge, quickly checked it for explosives and found nothing. They reported back to Smith that the bridge was clean. “Establish a perimeter and hold it until our forward units reach you, Captain,” Smith told the Ranger officer. “We’ll get you some help down there ASAP. Hey, maybe the Nazis are going to be gents about this and let us stroll on across.”
Two Stryker assault vehicles crossed the bridge and assumed positions on either side of the Valley Road, their weapons pointing to the faintly seen enemy who seemed to be scuttling in and out among the scattered trees about five hundred yards up the slope and along the road. “We be sittin’ ducks out here,” muttered Sergeant Omar Little, one of the Stryker’s .50-caliber machine gunners, to his comrade-in-arms, Specialist Leo “Hook” Chamblin, who sat behind the vehicle’s 40-millimeter grenade launcher. Chamblin was a former pimp from New Orleans who had been offered the choice of three years in prison or three years RA. In real life, Hunter Wallace’s much-vaunted new recruiting standards for the American military were sometimes not quite so vauntable as all that.
“I see sumpin’ movin’ ober dere in dem muthafukkin’ trees,” said Specialist Chamblin. He did indeed, and it was the last thing he ever saw. The entire First Battalion of the NDF’s 85th Infantry Regiment opened fire on his black ass at a distance of from two hundred to three hundred yards, concealed as they were in quickly-dug and camouflaged scrapes. A trained NDF company with all its men and weapons could dig into almost any terrain and present not a single visible target to a frontal observer within three minutes; when the Americans on the bridge took up their position their eyes had been on the ridge line, and they had no idea that there were hundreds of Northmen almost within spitting distance of them. The bullets shredded Chamblin and Little into hamburger, while two AT shells from 75-millimeter cannon crashed into the Stryker and melted about half of the vehicle down into a puddle of steel, along with the driver inside it.
* * *
The main infantry weapon carried by millions of Northwest Defense Force, SS, and other NAR military during the Operation Strikeout campaign was the Excalibur Model Three assault rifle, otherwise known as the X-3. The Republic’s endless legion of gun nuts had spent the past twelve years almost coming to blows over the design and specifications for the Northwest military’s workhorse weapon, but finally they had produced the X-3.
In configuration the weapon resembled the old Chinese SKS, but instead of the archaic stripper clips, it fed from detachable and interchangeable 20-round or sometimes 35-round curved magazines like an M-16 or AK-47. The SKS’s attached bayonet had been dropped as a useless anachronism, over the screams of countless military traditionalists, and the muzzle of the weapon was fitted with a combined flash and sound suppressor. Like the SKS, the stock and grips were of wood, a plentiful commodity in the Northwest Republic. The rifle was chambered for standard NATO 7.62 X 51mm cartridges; it had an automatic fire selector switch and could be used as a squad-level full-auto weapon if necessary. The weapon was slightly lighter than the old SKS, weighing in at about seven pounds eight ounces. Its effective range in the hands of a skilled marksman was 900 yards, and in the Northwest Defense Force every soldier was a skilled marksman. The time and effort that the United States Army spent on politically correct Mickey Mouse bullshit, the NDF spent on the rifle range and on fire-and-maneuver courses.
Each NDF rifle company also had at least three Widowmakers, otherwise known as the Squad Light Machine Gun or SLMG Model 5. This was a magazine-fed machine gun on a Russian RPD frame, but a lot lighter to carry. The bipod-mounted weapon was chambered for NATO 7.62 packed into 50-round curved magazines or 100-round plastic drums, and so the enemy’s M-60 ammo fit it nicely. It had a cyclic rate of fire somewhat slower than its parent weapon, only 600 rounds per minute, which allowed for better control and greater accuracy, and it was considered effective up to 1200 yards. The best marksmen in each company got to pack one of the two Lockhart rifles, the 7.62-millimeter M-21 that the greatest sharpshooter from the War of Independence had actually carried himself, or a lighter and more accurate version of the Barrett M82 .50-caliber weapon that many of the NVA snipers had used, known as the Big Bopper.
Add to this an assortment of rifle grenades, hand grenades, and other deadly impedimenta in the hands of the individual NDF soldiers, throw in shellfire from the sixty-odd fieldpieces attached to the 85th Infantry Regiment, and the Rangers on Black Buffalo Bridge never knew what hit them. Their corner guns did them no good. They were all dead and all of their vehicles were burning junk heaps before the rest of the American vehicles winding down the Valley Road were even halfway to the bridge. Then the shells started raining down on the rest of them.
* * *
As the shells and bullets began flying back and forth across Black Buffalo Bridge in Montana, hundreds of miles away another battle was in preparation, all along the Pacific coast of the Northwest American Republic. Admiral David “Bloody Dave” Leach of the Kriegsmarine was getting ready to lead his motley fleet of coastal defense vessels out against a full-fledged U.S. Navy task force.
The Lazarus Birds had pinpointed the location of the American Task Force Soaring Eagle, almost ninety miles west of the Columbia River Bar. The American fleet’s commander, Vice Admiral Hiram Warner, had positioned his fleet that far out so that his ships would receive plenty of warning of the approach of any hostile attacking craft from the shore by sea or by air. While it was true that Rotfungus still held the U.S. satellite surveillance system in its grip, Task Force Soaring Eagle still had effective aerial surveillance in the form of over a dozen carrier and frigate-based helicopters that patrolled the seas as close to the Northwest coast as they dared to come, looking for the Kriegsmarine’s ships.
Admiral Hiram Warner was not a happy camper. His naval task force had failed in its primary mission of reducing the western industrial and population heartland of the Northwest American Republic to rubble, and now almost all of the carriers’ bomber and fighter-bomber aircraft were blasted shards of burned metal littered up and down old Interstate Five, scattered among the Seattle and Portland suburbs, and through the Olympic mountains. His vessels carried the usual complements of U.S. Marines, and he was now bombarding the Pentagon with requests to be allowed to send them and drafts of armed sailors ashore to seize the towns of Astoria and Seaside. If for no other reason, Warner wanted to do this out of revenge for the humiliating defeat which the Federal Anti-Terrorist Police Organization and the United States Coast Guard had suffered at the hands of the NVA at nearby Sunset Beach, Oregon almost exactly thirteen years before. [See The Brigade.]
There is little room at sea for tactical maneuver or for any element of surprise, since there is no cover to hide behind, and sonar and radar can always let a navy ship know who and what is coming for dinner. During most of World War Two and in the infrequent naval engagements since then, such as the Falklands War of 1982, naval warfare had consisted almost entirely of aircraft versus surface vessels, and very occasionally surface vessels against submarines or surface vessels against shore batteries of missiles. The trick to winning at sea consisted of locating one’s opponent through radar or satellite surveillance, and then slipping or blasting past his anti-aircraft defenses with a missile such as an Exocet. Ships fighting other ships on the open sea had been virtually unknown since the battle of Jutland in 1916. Naval strategists and tacticians simply didn’t think in those archaic terms anymore. Yet this was Leach’s plan.
He really had little choice, because he had little to attack with. A blue water navy was always one of the most expensive toys that any nation could indulge in, and the Northwest American Republic could never afford the luxury. Instead, the General Staff of the NDF had concentrated on quantity, combined with as much quality as could be packed into small packages. They had produced a fleet of small, light coastal defense vessels, including submarines, in order to prevent coastal infiltration by small commando groups of hostiles from the Office of Northwest Recovery or anywhere else, and especially to hamper and interdict any attempt at a seaborne invasion. This wasn’t such an actual invasion, since the Americans simply didn’t have enough combat troops to add a fourth prong, but a large U.S. Navy task force could not and would not be allowed to sit off the Republic’s coast and threaten white life and limb, even if it was true that almost all of their aircraft carriers’ planes had been blown out of the sky like mosquitoes flying into a bug-zapper.
The mainstay of the Kriegsmarine’s coastal defenses was the Torpedo Assault Craft or TAC boat, a forty-two-foot vessel armed with three rocket-propelled torpedoes packing PBX warheads and a magnesium core that could burn through a carrier’s outer bulkhead in less than a second. There was also a 20-millimeter cannon and twin. 50-caliber belt-fed Browning machine guns on the deck. The TAC boat was powered by a methane turbine engine, and it had retractable hydrofoils that allowed it to make a torpedo run at speeds of up to 55 knots. Its range was short, less than 400 miles round trip, and its armor was non-existent. The TAC boat was all speed and punch, all engine and weaponry. It didn’t even have any bunks for the four-man crew, just a couple of hooks to stretch out a hammock between them when one man out of the four wanted to catch 40 winks. No one would be sailing across the Pacific in one.
Then there were the MAC boats, Missile Assault Craft or “punchies.” These were even smaller, lighter, and faster vessels of fiberglass that packed only one Nova missile and a single .30-caliber Browning machine gun, which was there more or less just to make the sailors feel a little less helpless once the missile was gone. Their range was even shorter than that of the TACs, and reaching the American task force would take them pretty much to their limit, but all they were expected to do was to make one fanatical charge at an American vessel, cut loose with the Nova and its polymerized magnesium warhead, and then break off and head back to port. That is if they weren’t ripped to pieces and sunk by the computer-controlled enemy chain guns, High Energy Laser (HEL) weapons, and repeating cannon.
The sun was setting over the long rows of docks at the Hammond Naval Station just south of Astoria, Oregon, as Admiral David Leach stepped on board TAC-157, which had been specially fitted with communication and electronic gear in the pilothouse to enable him to get an overview of the entire fleet action and speak with his vessels’ captains. Leach wasn’t wearing his navy blue sea fatigues; he had decided to affect his dull dress uniform including his ceremonial sword for this trip. His Fleet Operations Officer stood beside him on the dock. “Sir, I have to ask again, does the State President know that you intend accompanying the fleet into action personally?” asked Commander Alexander Krycek in a concerned voice. “You’re the head of our whole navy!”
“I didn’t actually mention the matter, no, but Red knows me well enough to understand that I will never send my men into a situation like this where I won’t go myself,” replied Leach. “As to me being head of the navy, you might better put it that I’m taking almost the whole damned navy with me on this lunatic expedition. If I don’t make it back, you’ve got what’s left. Alex. I don’t have to tell you to serve this country, this president, and these men with honor and ability, because I know you will. That’s why you’re where you are. I’m leaving you all six destroyers, twenty-five TACs here and up and down the coast, ten punchies, and seven of the U-boats. Use them and whatever comes back from this run tonight well.” Krycek knew it was pointless to argue further, and he saluted as Leach stepped on board TAC-157.
Already on board was Leach’s personal adjutant, Lieutenant Commander Lyle Waller. “Good evening, sir,” said Waller, saluting. “I believe you’ve met this boat’s skipper before, Lieutenant Torrance?”
“On several occasions, yes,” said Leach, returning Torrance’s salute. “I’m sorry to lumber you and your crew with my presence tonight, Lieutenant, since I know you’d rather be fighting those Jew-loving pirates out there than baby-sitting the big skipper, but unfortunately somebody had to draw the short straw.”
“It’s an honor to have you aboard and to have One-Five-Seven play a part in history tonight, Admiral,” said Torrance in a firm, quiet voice. He gestured to three men standing at attention behind him on the deck. “This is One-Five-Seven’s crew, sir. My first mate is Petty Officer Jim Vance, this is Torpedoman Al Briggs, and Seaman First Class Mike McCluskey.”
“Good to be sailing with you tonight, men,” said Leach. “All that gear set up in the pilothouse? Sorry about the tight squeeze.”
“It’s all up and running,” said Waller.
“You remember all that techie stuff TWD taught you in case it goes down, Lyle?” asked Leach.
“Yes, sir, I know, we decided against the extra weight of a technical crewman,” said Waller. “Sure you wouldn’t have preferred to run the show from one of the destroyers out of Bremerton? They at least have a proper galley.”
“We’re going to need the few destroyers we have for sub-hunting,” said Leach. “There are two missile subs out there in that task force that we’re not going to be able to do a damned thing about from a TAC boat or a punchie, so long as they stay submerged. I don’t want them creeping into the Puget Sound and launching a missile at point blank range that those Bluelight things may not be able to stop. We know the Harriet Tubman and Jesse Jackson are equipped to fire nuclear warheads. We have to find them and make sure they don’t.”
* * *
Eddie Horakova’s 75-millimeter field gun was dug into a small scraped-out embrasure among some straggly pine trees, about eight hundred yards from the Black Buffalo Bridge over Grasshopper Creek. The emplacement was shielded from direct observation from the front by a small roll of terrain that was too minor to be called a ridge, but provided a good solid shield of rock and earth against ground fire.
The noise was incredible, like nothing any man there had ever experienced or any modern Tolstoy could have described in writing. The Northwest artillery literally shook the ground, as did the incoming shells of the American tanks and cannon, some of which had struck and destroyed NDF positions. An aid station had been set up back behind the ridge, and medevac Heeps with red crosses were crisscrossing the battlefield on the western side of Grasshopper Creek like angry beetles, sometimes taking fire themselves and rolling over as they wrecked. The thousands of small arms sounded like rain or hailstones rattling a tin roof that encompassed the entire sky. Eddie looked up from his semi-covered position, and before the sun went down completely he saw against the deepening blue sky a strange gray or brown shimmering in the air, almost like aurora borealis. It took him a while to realize that what he was looking at was a sheet of thousands of rifle and machine gun bullets whipping through the air.
There were NDF gun emplacements off to his right and his left, and behind him a self-propelled 88 had taken up a firing position on the crest of a hill, from which the crew blasted away. “That crew’s pretty exposed, don’t you think, Sarge?” asked Corporal Eckhart, jerking his head back towards the 88.
“See those guys hunkered down in the bushes off to the right and left?” said Horakova, nodding. “They’re SAM teams. They’ve put that 88 up there as bait in case the helicopters come back, offering them a nice juicy target to lure them within range of the missiles.”
“What about enemy artillery?” asked Gunther.
“You’re a gunner, you ought to know how hard it is to hit a target right on a ridge line,” said Eddie. “Your first shells almost always overshoot or fall short. They’re counting on us to take out any American guns before they make the range. Let’s make sure we do.” They already had done; in the first minutes at Grasshopper Creek, General Herb Smith, the American commander, had confidently sent forward his Abrams Tanks, his self-propelled M101 guns, and his 105-millimeter howitzers to try and cover his infantry from the deadly small arms fire, so they could break through the Northmen’s center. So far they had failed. It seemed the Americans could no longer hide behind plates of thick armor any more than they could hide in the sky.
The Americans had not only failed, but although the NDF men stretched out along the ridge and now in the woods along either side of the 4th Mechanized Brigade could not know the full extent of the damage, the enemy had been clobbered by the flight of twelve Luftwaffe Songbird dive-bombers that had hit them twenty minutes before. The Songbird was a twin-engined propeller-driven plane slightly larger than the old German Stuka, but with a much tougher and more flexible construction that allowed for far greater wind shear resistance, g-force resistance and stress on the wings. They could land or take off on runways as short as 800 feet, and they could come in on a bombing dive at a screaming 300 miles an hour, drop a 250-pound SuperSem bomb down a chimney with pinpoint accuracy given a properly trained and skilled pilot, and pull out on a dime fifty feet from the ground. It was true that American F-15s or F-22s could have taken them out with ease, but thanks to Bluelight no such American aircraft were available. Although dead slow by 21st century aviation standards, an airplane traveling at 300 miles per hour is still quite hard to hit with ground fire, as the American troops were discovering. The Songbirds had unloaded 24 250-pounders on the Americans, scoring a hit with each one, and the winding Valley Road as it descended from the hills toward the creek was now littered with burning Abrams tanks, artillery pieces, and trucks, not to mention dead GIs. General Herb Smith surveyed the damage done in the two-minute air raid up and down along the road with horror.
Ed Horakova and his crew relied for fire control on directions from the Eighth Battalion’s forward observers, who were now lying in prone positions up ahead studying the small valley with their specially calibrated binoculars which helped them to estimate distance. Eddie knew the head of the team personally, Sergeant Frederick “Dago” Degenkolb, because in civilian life he was a technical draftsman at the Northwest Steelcor tool and die plant where he and his father both worked. “All right, she’s cooled off now,” decided Horakova. His gun had been resting after the first 100 rounds fired for the mandated five minutes in order to let the barrel and the breech block cool down, and also so they could stock up on more shells. A Ground Hog with a special suspension and shock absorbers had chugged up during the break, and the crew had helped the truckers unload case after case of 75-millimeter combat shells, four rounds per case, which they then broke open and loaded the shells into their own side racks behind the cannon. The 75’s combat rounds were lighter than the old World War One version, because in the interest of less weight the cases were made of special hardened plastic, almost like big shotgun shells. There had been a debate over weight versus reloadability versus the amount of brass and steel necessary to use metal casings, and the General Staff had finally compromised. Practice rounds for the artillery range were made of brass and were reloadable, while the combat rounds were made of biodegradable plastic and disposable, thus increasing mobility and reducing the work load of troops on the battlefield who didn’t have the time or the transport to pick up and haul thousands of empty shells back to the rear lines.
Horakova took off his fatigue shirt; even though it was almost dark, it was still hot as an oven. He kept his garrison cap with the eagle and swastika on, and over his ears the muffled headset that both contained his radio and muffled the sound of the shells firing so as to keep him from going deaf. He slammed a shell into the breech and got on his radio to Sergeant Degenkolb. “Fire control, this is two-eight. We’re back up. Give us some niggers to shoot at.”
“Sounds good, two-eight,” came Degenkolb’s voice over the radio. “We’ve got another self-propelled 101 coming out of the woods blasting. Two gun, lay on at 34 degrees azimuth and four degrees left from your position, adjust three clicks to the left, and give me a spotter round.”
“Thirty-four up, four left, click three left,” called out Horakova. Corporal Eckhart made a few adjustments on the weapon’s battery-operated hydraulic aiming system. The gun barrel moved slightly up and to the left.
“Up!” he shouted back.
“Fire!” ordered Horakova. The gun gave what sounded like a heavy thud that vibrated through the ground to the crew, all of whom were wearing earplugs so as not to be totally deafened. Horakova waited for a few second and said, “How’s that, Dago?”
“Damn if you didn’t clip one of his treads off!” crowed Degenkolb. “Okay, Eight Battery, all weapons, let’s finish this bastard off! Give me five rounds of rapid fire from your present declensions, all of you!” The Eighth Battalion guns, three 75s and two 88s, sent 25 shells downrange in a matter of a few seconds. They were rewarded by a dull rolling thud that they could hear even over the noise of battle. “Got him!” yelled Degenkolb into the microphone. “Nothing left but burning scrap!”
From his observation post behind a large and now bullet-scarred spruce tree further down the ridge, Colonel Alfred Packer got on his radio. “Right, sun’s down. Right and left wings, are all battalions in position?”
“Affirmative, sir,” came a chorus of reassurances over the radio.
“Sergeant Sedley, can our bird still see anything over there, or is it too dark?” asked Packer.
She shook her head, looking at her laptop. “The heat signatures from all the weaponry have been obscuring everything for a while, sir, but—no, wait, sir, I can see what looks like major heat moving to the south and north from the Valley Road. The Americans may have decided to wait until dark to try and begin their own flanking movement to get around us.”
“Yeah, well, they’re in for a surprise. They’re gonna find us waiting for them in those woods and hills.” Packer got onto his radio. “Right and left wings, looks like they’re coming to you. Move forward and engage.”
* * *
The inside of the pilot house of TAC-157 was dark, with only the lights from the instrumentation for illumination. The whole fleet was running dark through the inky sea, with only two small running lights on the bow and stern of each vessel, absolutely necessary to prevent collisions between the Kriegsmarine vessels in the pitch blackness of the moonless night. The sea was calm, which was a blessing because it enabled the attacking fleet to stay together and stay on course. “We couldn’t do this in January or March,” Lieutenant Torrance had commented once during the trip. All around them the men in the pilot house could see the firefly-like running lights bobbing and occasionally dipping in the trough of a wave, and the long, low gray shadows of the TAC boats themselves. TACs were deliberately built low in the water, to keep their radar and gunnery profile as low as possible. The MACs were bringing up the rear.
The Operation Sea Lion assault fleet was about 45 miles out from the Columbia Bar, halfway to the American fleet ahead of them, moving toward the enemy at a fairly steady twelve knots. There were around 225 TAC boats, many of them newly rushed off the dry docks at Bremerton and Portland in the past few months since the NAR had learned of the impending American invasion, with green crews and barely any sea trials. There were almost a hundred of the smaller MAC boats, some also with new crews.
Eight of the TAC vessels carried no torpedoes, but were specially equipped with Bluelight projectors and SAW crews, a last minute innovation in an attempt to prevent the fleet from being torn to pieces from the air. There had been no testing because at the time the American satellite surveillance system was still up and running, and the NAR didn’t want to give anything at all away about Bluelight. Leach didn’t even know for sure if the seaborne projectors would fire.
At the same time the fleet had departed to attack Task Force Soaring Eagle, almost three dozen U-boats, small submarines roughly the size of their ancestors of World War One, had departed from their pens at Newport, Hammond, and Westport, and were now sailing southward towards the California coast. The submarines were too slow and easy for the American destroyers to sink to engage in open battle against the might of the U.S. Navy, but they could fulfill their traditional role as commerce raiders and start taking out some of the great Chinese container ships that kept Aztlan supplied with cheap manufactured goods of the kind they mostly could not make for themselves.
On the downside, after much consultation and mental anguish, Leach and Basquine had decided not to risk any of the Luftwaffe’s precious jet fighter-bombers on the American naval targets. The American ships’ computer fire controlled chain guns and their variety of surface to air missiles would simply render the whole exercise a pointless act of hara-kiri. There would be enough sailors dying tonight in head-on attacks against the floating fortresses, without adding the Republic’s few jet combat pilots as well.
“Third squadron is in contact now, Admiral,” said Lieutenant Commander Lyle Waller. “Commodore Dalen’s compliments, so forth and so on. They’re about two miles off the port side.”
“They made good time from Newport,” commented Leach, drinking black coffee from a thermos flask. “Tell them to fall in. We’ve all practiced this maneuver on nights this dark and in worse weather, so they should be able to do it nice and smooth.”
“They’ll have to cut loose their MACs,” said Waller. The TAC boats from the more far-flung bases had towed the missile-launcher boats from their bases so as to preserve the smaller vessels’ limited methane fuel tanks.
Lieutenant Torrance spoke up. “Still, Phase One has been accomplished without a hitch, sir. We’ve managed to rendezvous over three hundred vessels, at night, in pitch darkness. And no sign of the enemy.”
“Oh, they know we’re coming, Lieutenant,” said Leach grimly. “Or if they don’t, they soon will. There are at least two AWACs planes on those carriers, and unless Warner is a blithering idiot he’s kept one of them in the air at all times. Oh yes, they know we’re coming.”
“ETA within striking zone of the enemy in about three hours, sir,” said Lieutenant Commander Waller. The long lines of low gray shapes continued to plow through the wine-dark seas, their methane engines rumbling into the deep.
On board the American flagship John F. Kennedy II, named after the carrier that had been destroyed and sunk in the Bremerton Navy Yard by the NVA during the War of Independence, Vice Admiral Hiram Warner listened to the report of his AWACs radar plane with some concern. “Say again? How many?” he demanded.
“Over three hundred small vessels, sir,” came the voice of the AWACs pilot.
“Damnation!” muttered Warner. He turned to his XO, Captain Alvin Larsen, and said,
“That’s a lot of torpedo boats coming at our asses. How many F-14s and F-18s have we got left, Al?”
“Four on this vessel, three on the Partman, five on Kitty Hawk,” said Larsen. “If we had our full complement and they didn’t have those damned space alien ray gun things, we could gobble them up like sharks.”
“Scramble our remaining planes and get them out there sinking as many of those nasty little bastards as they can,” said Warner. “I hate to waste a fifty million-dollar Sidewinder on what amounts to a glorified motor launch, but I don’t want all three hundred of those things coming at us at once. Tell the pilots to use depth-charged bombs as well as their missiles and strafing guns. Then once the planes are launched, begin dispersal and evasion maneuvers for the task force.”
“We’re running from a bunch of cheap-ass little boats that should be hauling tourist excursions across some bay, sir?” exclaimed Commander Rufus Washington, a large, very black, very nappy-headed man who was Soaring Eagle’s RSM--Required Senior Minority officer, who had to sign off on all decisions made by the fleet commander and fleet executive officer.
“There are thirty-six vessels in this task force, Commander,” said Warner patiently. He hadn’t gotten where he was in the United States’ service without acquiring the delicate but vitally necessary art for all Caucasian personnel of explaining himself slowly and clearly to bone-headed niggers and other minorities who had the power to impede and negate his work. “We are outnumbered over ten to one, by much smaller vessels, true, but each of which has at least one device on board, be it a torpedo or missile, which is capable of inflicting serious damage on our own ships and possibly sinking them, including the one we’re standing on now. Evading a hostile enemy with the capability to destroy us in order to preserve the command and save American lives hardly counts as cowardice.”
“What if the Nazis have those ray gun things on their torpedo boats now?” asked Larsen.
“Then we damned sure run!” said Warner. “We keep underestimating these people, like that stupid n…like General Rollins did at Sunset Beach,” he hastily amended, remembering the presence of Washington. “I don’t care how it looks. Three hundred of them on us all at once, they’re bound to sneak a few torpedoes and missiles past us and get some hits. Our mission is done here; our aircraft went out and most of them didn’t come back, and if those computer jockeys in the Pentagon won’t let us go ashore with our Marines and Seals and a naval land force and open a fourth front, then we’re useless. I’d rather have a hasty and undignified exit on my record than the loss of an aircraft carrier.”
Almost twenty minutes later Lyle Waller looked up from his computer screen on board TAC-157. “Bogies, sir, an even dozen of them, coming in low over the water. Looks like an attack run.”
“Tell the SAW crews to…” began Leach.
“They already are, sir,” said Waller. Almost a full minute later thin pencils of blue light zipped and flickered from here and there among the TAC boats. Fireballs exploded on the horizon, one, two, three, four. Then the rest of the American planes were on them, screaming over them in the moonless dark, chain guns blazing and missile trails snaking downward. Firey flashes across the sea to the horizon told of hits and detonating methane tanks, although not many, and burning debris and hot metal from the demolished American aircraft rained down into the water, throwing up hissing columns of steam.
“Casualties, Mr. Waller?” said Leach. A piece of burning airplane wing hurtled into the sea not twenty yards from them and hurled a geyser of water across TAC-157’s deck.
“Four TACs and a punchy gone, looks like, sir,” said Waller after a while listening to the radio. “A number of boats hit and damaged but still seaworthy. Our vessels are searching the sea for survivors, hence the unavoidable use of searchlights, but the enemy obviously knows we’re here anyway. The bogeys are coming back around for another run.”
“I didn’t know the United States Navy employed kamikaze pilots,” said Leach with a grin in the dark.
Again the blue beams nipped upward and the fireballs exploded in the sky, scattering burning and smashed metal and molten plastic all over the ocean. “No direct hits on our vessels this time, Admiral,” said Waller after a while. “The last three bogeys are heading for their roosts.”
“Too bad,” said Leach. “I’d hoped to make a clean sweep.”
* * *
General Herb Smith was decapitated by a shell fragment in the Black Buffalo valley at about the same time Admiral Leach’s TAC boats were shooting down nine of the last dozen of the U.S. Navy’s F-series fighter-bombers over the Pacific, and from then on things deteriorated for the 4th Mechanized Infantry Brigade.
The battle for them to break out of the eastern end of the valley turned into a long extended mess covering many square miles, as the Americans at first tried to either overrun or outflank the 85th Regiment’s center, then finally realizing they were on the short end of the stick, attempted to break contact and retreat back up toward Dillon.
Although the diminishing strength of the American 4th Brigade didn’t know it, the other two brigades of their invasion corps, amounting to almost 20,000 men, were pinned down in the town of Dillon itself by the French-speaking Régiment Charlemagne, the 43rd Infantry, and the 12th Armored Regiment, aka the Rhino Riders after their new tanks. The NDF artillery was in the process of laying the entire town of Dillon, Montana flat, assisted by scouts and forward spotters from the townspeople themselves, who without hesitation called in NDF shellfire onto their own streets and homes rather than have those homes returned to the United States of America.
Eddie Horakova and his 75-millimeter gun crew spent most of the night firing on coordinates provided by their various forward spotters, almost never knowing or seeing what they were firing at. They fired at longer and longer intervals between, as the battle moved away into the woods and hills on the eastern side of Grasshopper Creek. About dawn the order came to stand down and give their guns a thorough clean. By then the string of burning American tanks and military vehicles, mixed with a few from the NDF, and the litter of dead bodies from both sides extended around the eastern side of Black Buffalo Bridge in a seven-mile arc. Some of the Americans escaped and evaded in small groups, and a few made it back to their side of old Interstate 15, but from then on the 4th Mechanized Brigade became known to American military history as the Lost Column, a kind of Custer’s Last Stand that kicked off a disastrous war.
* * *
“There’s one thing we still apparently haven’t mastered any more than the Americans have, Admiral,” said Lieutenant Torrance, at the wheel of TAC-157.
“What’s that, Lieutenant?” asked Leach.
“Meteorology, sir,” replied the TAC boat skipper. He pointed through the front windscreen up at the sky. “Our weather reports still suck sometimes.”
“Leach looked up and saw the clouds overhead breaking apart, and suddenly the sea was flooded with bright light from a full moon. “Damn!” he swore.
“Damn is right!” replied Torrance tensely. “Look, sir!”
Ahead of them the American fleet rose from the sea in the moonlight like gray metal icebergs, or like skyscrapers in the case of the carriers that towered over the tiny TAC boats. The Kriegsmarine had known they were approaching their targets, of course, since their radar had told them, and Leach had wondered aloud why the Americans, who must in turn have detected the Northwest boats on their own radar, didn’t seem to be moving or attempting any evasive action.
But seeing the enemy ships all spread out before him under the moon, across miles of ocean, the answer suddenly struck Leach. “Arrogance,” he breathed incredulously. “Pure American hubris. Even after everything that has happened in the Northwest since John Singer’s neighbors in Coeur d’Alene came to his aid with weapons in their hands seventeen years ago, these stupid sons of bitches still don’t get it. These men really believe that they are exceptional, that they are immune from the laws of history and nature, and that we poor wee pale peasantry can’t ever really harm them.”
“So let’s harm them, sir,” said Waller.
“Oh, do let’s,” said Leach. He picked up the radio mike and clicked a key that put him in touch with every vessel in the fleet. “This is the Big Skipper, boys. Operation Sea Lion, Phase Two commences now. This is the part where we send every last one of these scurvy dogs to Davey Jones’ locker! Do it!”
Actually, Bloody Dave Leach was partially wrong about the American hubris. Vice Admiral Hiram Warner, Commander Larsen, and most of the senior officers in the American flotilla were not stupid men. They fully recognized that in the 21st century a small boat was capable of carrying and using a weapons system of sufficient power to sink a ship, and that over three hundred such small vessels attacking them at once was cause for concern.
Unfortunately for them, Commander Rufus Washington did not realize this. Washington was a large black man who had always towered over everybody else, including the skinny young computer geek whiteboys of his youth. He had the mindset of a typical black bully: small and white meant weak and contemptible. What had worked on the schoolyards of the expensive prep schools he had attended under affirmative action quotas would obviously work in combat against these racists, since Rufus Washington knew his whiteboys. The monkoid was constitutionally incapable of understanding that there could even be such a thing as a white man who was not afraid of him. He certainly had never met one. Plus he was the Resident Senior Minority on board, with a personal line to the President of the United States, quite literally, or at least to the Chief of Staff Ronald Schiff. A line he had used some minutes before evasive maneuvers preparatory to a return to Hawaii were to be implemented.
Just as the moon broke through the clouds, Admiral Warner was informed by a female communications officer, “Sir, I have the President on the line for you.” As Warner took the phone into his hands he looked out across the sea and saw hundreds of small dark shapes like a shoal of minnows moving towards his ships. Moving fast. Then faster.
President Hunter Wallace’s voice was heavy with censure as he spoke from the bedroom of the executive residence in the White House, with Georgia Myers lying beside him, pretending to be asleep. “Admiral Warner, I have just been informed by my chief of staff that Commander Washington has felt it his duty to report that you are considering abandoning your position in the North Pacific for no other reason than…”
“I’ll call you back,” said Warner, hanging up the radiophone on its cradle. The ship’s sirens were braying the call for General Quarters. “Open up on them with everything we’ve got!” roared Warner.
Then the first torpedo slammed into his flagship’s side.
* * *
The politicians in the American War Cabinet who met in the White House situation room two days later were upbeat. They attempted to present the Battle of the Columbia Bar as a qualified success, or at least a draw. “It’s true that our fleet sustained some serious losses,” said Secretary of Defense Marcus Bagwell, desperately trying to spin the battle into a kind of 21st century Midway. “But the enemy losses were really tremendous. We estimate that we sank over a hundred of their torpedo boats. Some of our own vessels that were hit were merely damaged and are on their way back to Pearl Harbor, either under their own steam or else being taken in tow.”
Admiral Hector Brava had the full casualty list in front of him, and he stood up in his seat, thrusting the papers at Bagwell. “You…call…this…victory?” he almost screamed at the Secretary of Defense. “Two carriers sunk, the Hornet and the Hillary Clinton! Three other carriers badly damaged. They don’t think the JFK II will make it to Pearl, they think she’s going to go under in a few hours. Three frigates sunk! Seven destroyers sunk! The Jesse Jackson rammed by one of those little fuckers on the surface, shot to shit with machine gun fire, the conning tower blown off with a missile and now under tow, and probably going to sink as well. Every other ship in the fleet without exception damaged. Damned near all of the task force’s aircraft, including the helicopters and the AWACs, shot down by those space alien death rays or whatever the fuck they are. Seven thousand six hundred-odd American sailors and pilots dead, and all we did was blow away a few little pissant torpedo boats with three and four man crews, using missiles and weapons systems that cost a hundred times more to develop and manufacture and install and operate than the stupid little shitboats cost the Nazis to make! They’re probably turning out more of the goddamned things in their shipyards now, like lollipops, shipyards that we haven’t yet touched with a single bomb or Tomahawk! How in God’s name can you call this victory?”
Vice President Hugh Jenner had CNN on the big plasma screen. They were now truly the Cable News Network again, since Rotfungus still had all the world’s communications satellites in its grip; they had been able to reach about 50 percent of their pre-D-Day audience capacity so far by using fiber-optic cable and good old fashioned broadcast television. The news was uniformly bad. Jenner and the Cabinet members watched live in horror as the stern of the John F. Kennedy II heeled over and disappeared beneath the blue Pacific waters. They learned later that Vice Admiral Hiram Warner had supervised the last crew evacuation into the lifeboats and then climbed back up to the bridge, electing to go down with his ship, thus giving the U.S. Navy pretty much the last in its long and proud history of legendary heroes.
Vice President Jenner cut away to Fox News, which was reporting that two Nazi U-boats had infiltrated San Francisco Bay, surfaced in broad daylight, and attacked the city. One had just finished shelling the crap out of several sections of the Oakland docks with his 2.5-inch deck gun, setting fire to a propane tank farm and several military warehouses at Carranza Barracks, formerly Oakland Army Terminal. The second U-boat commander proceeded in a leisurely manner to fire six torpedoes into ships tied up along the San Francisco piers, sinking two cruise vessels and one blazing tanker ship in their moorings. Then he shelled the Embarcadero for shits and giggles.
Jenner cut to MSNBC, and they saw an aerial view of the mountainous twists of Interstate Five just past Yreka, where long columns of black smoke mounting into the sky from the hundreds of burning vehicles. “The Mexicans haven’t even crossed into the Emerald City yet,” the Vice President said conversationally as Janet Chalupiak snorted in contempt. He switched channels again. The MSNBC copter showed brief segments of whirling dogfights between Luftwaffe Starfighters, the lightning-fast propeller-driven fighters-bombers with the nitro-injected alcohol engines that could hit speeds of up to 400 mph, and the Chinese Taipan helicopter gunships. Then the view shifted to a ground camera which showed the MSNBC news copter itself falling out of the sky in flames, riddled with Luftwaffe bullets.
“Those graphics are terrible,” said Angela Herrin decisively. “It’s unpatriotic and giving aid and comfort to the enemy by making it look like they’re actual soldiers who can defeat the United States military. They’re not, of course, but perception is what counts. We have to put a stop to the bad graphics.”
“And here I thought we had to put a stop to the enemy,” said Admiral Brava. Angela Herrin ignored him.
“I’ll call a meeting with major network heads as soon as I can get them all down to the White House,” she went on. “I’ll borrow Jimbo Hadding and some of his crew, in case I need some help persuading these media prima donnas who think they know what the truth is to remember their duty to their country.”
“You know, Angela, you almost got sued last time you had Jimbo tune up a reporter,” Schiff reminded her.
“But I didn’t,” said Herrin airily. “I had Agent Hadding tune up his lawyer as well, and Bob’s your uncle. When did you know a reporter or an attorney who could stand up to a little slapping around? Besides, we’re at war now and Hunter’s got the War Powers Act. He can do whatever he wants, and so can I.”
“Speaking of which, where is our illustrious commander-in-chief?” asked General Albert Scheisskopf dryly. “Ah, speak of the devil …” he said as Hunter Wallace strolled in the door, the faithful, hulking and sullen Secret Service bodyguard Hadding behind him. Wallace was in a good mood.
“Tell me some good news,” he commanded cheerfully. At that moment, Marcus Bagwell’s private cell phone number rang. Unbeknownst to any of them, the Zombie Master Dr. Shapira had obtained permission from Vinnie Skins to attempt to implement the repeated post-hypnotic suggestions which he had been implanting carefully in the mind of the Secretary of Defense for months. The Master was calling now from an untraceable number. Bagwell answered his phone. “Yes?” he said.
“Foghorn Leghorn,” said the Zombie Master into the phone.
Marcus Bagwell dropped the device, stood up, placed his hands in his armpits, flapped his elbows, and ran from the room shouting “Buck buck buck buck BU-GUUUUUUCK....!!” The President of the United States, the War Cabinet, and the assembled Pentagon brass stared after him.
Vice President Jenner spoke. “I don’t think any of us expected that,” he said.
* * *
Casualty summary for the first week of the war: June 19th – June 26th
NDF military casualties – 1,870 dead and 5,291 wounded
NAR civilian casualties – 418 dead and 1,907 wounded
United States military casualties – 37,412 dead and 8,630 wounded
United States civilian casualties – 20,226 dead and 12,348 wounded, gassed, or ill from biowar agents
Aztlan military casualties – 45,445 dead, 17,275 wounded
Aztlan civilian casualties - 42,598 dead, unknown number wounded, gassed, or ill from biowar agents