African Storm (Part 2 of 2)

Posted by on Jul 7, 2011 in Blog | Comments Off on African Storm (Part 2 of 2)

African Storm (Part 2 of 2)

Written by Spartan Franco | Tags: ,

Colvin heard the screeching whistle and instinctively ducked down as the first salvoes of naval gunfire plastered the battered town. Entire streets were obliterated in a storm of flame and shrapnel. Barn-sized Prussian tanks were tossed about like tin cans. Colvin briefly thought of what was happening to the Prussian troops under such fire. He shuddered and quickly blocked the grim thoughts from his mind. After all, they were merely ordinary men, just like his.

Another salvo landed, and another. The Naval crews were hitting their stride – since Nelson’s time, they aimed to have a second salvo loaded and primed before the dust of the first had settled. One of the Prussian transports in dock was the next target to die. A cataclysmic blast rocked the ground beneath the feet of the Britannians, and a gargantuan pillar of fire and smoke blew hundreds of feet into the air. The closest buildings shattered like clay pots, and a neighbouring transport buckled and then slowly began to capsize. Munitions carrier, thought Colvin blearily as the hot blast of the shockwave swept over him and his men. Torrents of soil and pebbles fell into the trenches, and the tanks closest to the dugout rocked on their suspension springs. As his hearing returned, Colvin became aware of the pitter-patter sound of bits of debris falling around him. Something weighty bounced off his helmet and thumped into the soil next to him. The officer looked down at the projectile; his stomach lurched as he realised what it was.

A human foot.

Forcing the grim sight from his mind, Colvin looked back at the cauldron of Hammamet. To his horror, he saw that the super-transport was still moving, having altered course away from the docks proper. Evidently the Prussians were trying to beach it in order to deploy its cargo. Already, its massive front ramp was beginning to lower. Colvin could see jets of black smoke rise from the funnels of the behemoth on board.

Baker-Andrews grabbed his arm and pointed skywards. “Look! Told you we were watching!”

With a droning roar, four great Doncaster bombers droned over the harbour from the east. Two of them headed straight for the Prussian carrier, but the others peeled off and zeroed in on the super-transport. To the credit of the Prussians, they weren’t unopposed. Torrents of tracer fire arose from the ruins, quickly bracketing the bombers. Almost instantly, one of them began spewing smoke from its port side engines. Nonetheless they pressed on, unloading mines and bombs over their target. Great fountains of water and earth erupted around the transport as it surged into the shallows. A direct hit blew a great chunk out of the transport’s aft superstructure, sending one of its funnels flying into the bay.

But still it came on.

The bombers attacking the carrier had more luck. A fountain of smoke and flame erupted from the flat-top’s deck, but the flak gunners on the ship quickly found their mark. One of the Doncasters exploded in mid-air as a stream of heavy shells riddled its fuselage. Colvin saw the ebullient Baker-Andrews grimace at the sight.

The shock of the Doncaster’s demise galvanised the Lieutenant-Colonel into action. Below on the beach, the Prussian transport had driven itself ashore, aware from the area under bombardment. Its landing ramp was smashed aside and a the huge, twin-prowed form of a Prussian Land Ship surged onto the beach, throwing up a great bow-wave of sand and mud as it lumbered onto the soil. Twin ten-inch gun turrets tracked back and forth while between them, its giant prow Tesla coil cycled up with a terrible howl.

As it did so, Colvin cranked the wireless desperately. He got the Queens’ forward observer and bellowed at him to adjust their target. Shell bursts were now erupting dangerously close to the Britannian lines – the Prussian artillerists, assuming that the bombardment was coming from somewhere in the hills, were now barraging the area around the Staffordshires’ position. Seeing no reason now to remain hidden, Colvin adjusted the wireless set to loudspeaker and yelled for his men to return fire on the outmost Prussian lines.

With cheers that were quickly lost in the general cacophony, the Staffordshires opened fire. Well-timed volleys from massed Martini-Metford rifles scythed into the Prussian trenches and scattered the crews of the closest enemy field guns. Mortars coughed their payloads into enemy machinegun posts and sharpshooters armed with hexagonal-bore Whitworth rifles ruthlessly picked off anyone below who looked even remotely like an officer through their telescopic sights.

Something heavy hit Colvin in the back and set him tumbling to the floor of the dugout. A second later, a torrent of thumping fire tore across the top of the trench line. A dozen men were shredded by the incoming fire. Colvin looked down dazedly and saw that the Air Armada officer was sprawled across him; if it hadn’t been for his lunge, Colvin would’ve been killed outright.

“Prussian flak”, gasped Baker-Andrews, his blond hair streaked with blood. Colvin saw that the aeronaut had been badly lacerated by shrapnel. Despite his wounds, he smiled at the infantryman. “Perhaps I should’ve been more worried after all.” With that, Baker-Andrews slumped senseless to the dugout floor.

Colvin yelled for a medic, but his voice was lost in a new wave of sound and fury. The naval bombardment had shifted out to sea, but now the Cromwells had begun to fire. Colvin dragged himself to the edge of the dugout, to see great geysers of earth erupt around the Land Ship and the cluster of medium tanks that had formed up around it. A direct hit reduced one of the latter to mangled wreckage. More shells straddled the behemoth, one striking an aft turret with a flash that signified a cordite burnout. Colvin grimaced again – the gun crews must have been incinerated where they stood.

Nonetheless, still it came on, and Colvin felt the cold touch of fear. The giant was now too close for the naval barrage to target it, and the Cromwells, also firing blind, were yet to find their range. His own tanks began firing down, but suddenly a great flash stole Colvin’s vision. A succession of massive cracks rang in his ears and the stench of ozone filled his lungs. Dumbly he looked along the trench-line and spotted two Mark IIs that had suddenly become blazing hulks, while several men convulsed on the ground around the charred bodies of their comrades who had been unluckier still.
Tesla, thought Colvin with mounting rage and horror. Strangely, he became aware of the hair of his moustache and beard sticking straight out and wavering.

Determined to die with his face to the enemy, Colvin pushed himself to his feet once again. The Land Ship, though still over half a mile away, seemed to loom terrifyingly, awesome, unstoppable. The ground trembled beneath Colvin’s feet.

Will I die to shellfire, or will I live long enough for the Luftlancers to cut me apart?

Colvin took up his Metford and began firing at the behemoth. Crack. Click. Crack. Click. Aim at the windows…the windows…

Suddenly, a new noise cut across the tortured air; a throaty roar, intercut with a distinctive thwoppa-thwoppa-thwoppa.

Colvin fired a third time.

The top of the Land Ship exploded like a gigantic grenade. One of its huge turrets pinwheeled through the air, landing with crushing force on one of the Prussian medium tanks.

Colvin looked at his rifle with shock-dazed amazement for a moment. The reason reasserted itself. He looked up, saw the Hawks, the huge Air Armada rotor craft, swooping to and fro, tearing at the Land Ship with cannon and bombs like raptors tormenting a rhinoceros. As he watched, further plumes of smoke and flame erupted from the dying giant.

By Jove. Perhaps we will win after all. Colvin took a slow step back, and then another, and then toppled over backwards and passed out.

“Lieutenant-Colonel? Sir?”

Colvin stirred, feeling cool linen under his back. Did heaven have starched sheets? Did the servants of the Almighty still address one by rank?

And did they all sound like eccentric aeronauts?

Colvin opened his eyes. He was lying under a crisp blanket on a bed in what looked to be a well-ordered sick bay. Glancing up, he saw a heavily bandaged but still grinning Ewen Baker-Andrews and a female nurse standing next to his bed. “Hello, Squadron-Leader. Did we…?

“Win? Indeed sir.” Baker-Andrews’ face fell. “Though not without a good deal of pain.”

Colvin nodded solemnly. He would see that the fallen were properly honoured. He glanced up at the Squadron-Leader. “Strange. For a moment I thought I’d passed over, as it were.”

Baker-Andrews laughed, and then winced somewhat in obvious pain. “Well now, sir, didn’t I say that we of the Air Fleets watch over the footsloggers? Now, speaking of blessed spirits, sir, do you feel up to some brandy?”