Halberd Beach

Posted by on Oct 15, 2013 in Blog | 0 comments

Halberd Beach

Written by Spartan Franco | Tags:

The great flat barge shook as another thunderous enemy salvo straddled it. Armour plates shredded as one projectile clipped its port side. The remainder hammered into the seabed, sending up great pillars of water and sand which splashed down on the barge, its cargo and labouring tugboats pushing it shoreward.

Drenched by the backwash, her ears ringing from the blasts, Captain Maria Devizes of 30th Royal Tank Regiment and commander of the MkII Tank Trumpeter raised her head cautiously over the edge of her command cupola once again.

For all the dangers involved, she always left as many hatches and vents open as she dared during these operations; she didn’t want Trumpeter becoming a coffin for its thirty-strong complement in the event of disaster.

Silently she thanked her good fortune – that last volley had been too close. If the Blazing Sun fire from the shoreline sank them, her whole company – three barn-sized armoured fighting engines – would be no more than useless wreckage sitting on the seabed off the Malayan coast.

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Their barge had already passed one such scene of horror. One of the 20th Balochistan Lancers’ vessels had taken a direct hit. Now it laid shattered, wrecked tanks belching flame from ruptured fuel stores and magazines, bodies floating in the fouled waters as the survivors clawed their way to the still-floating tugs.

But the motion of the attack could not be stayed. Already the first wave, the fast landing craft with their cargoes of Britannian and Indian infantry and lighter tanks had hit Halberd Beach and were fighting hard. But they were bogged down – they needed heavier support.

A great rumble drew Maria’s attention as one of those same landing craft, empty now, roared past at speed back towards the open sea, pursued by a stream of shell splashes and rocket detonations. But she knew that the crews’ work was far from finished – they would return to one of the great troopships offshore, reload with human cargo and then sail straight back into the fight.

A tremor ran through her body and brain, as Trumpeter itself shook in sympathy with a series of massive reports. More shells screeched overhead, this time salvoes belched by the supporting warships behind the wave of barges.

The cloud-streaked grey skies were split with the dark forms of inbound shells. As Maria watched, a line of explosions convulsed the ridgeline beyond the beach. Her stomach turned over – their troops already ashore were directing fire almost on top of their positions. Enemy resistance had to be savage indeed.

“How long till we hit the beach, Ma’am?” The shout from her left suddenly cut through the constant roars of battle, she turned and saw Lieutenant Bray, commander of Trumpeter’s Land Armada Guards complement, standing up in another open hatch. His once-immaculate helmet, breastplate and epaulettes were streaked with grime, but he stood proud, seeming contemptuous as always of the enemy fire.

“At this speed, I’d say about twenty minutes, Robert,” Maria called back. “But damn my eyes if it won’t seem like a lifetime!”

“Thank you, Ma’am,” Bray replied. He peered towards the shoreline. “Can’t wait to get to grips with the blighters…”

He was abruptly cut off. Another salvo landed perilously close to Trumpeter’s barge, sending up another shower of water and debris. Something ricocheted off Maria’s helmet – a pebble, most likely. Blue and purple lights flashed in front of her eyes.

How she hated this feeling of helplessness! At least once they reached the shoreline the great tank could crawl free at will, belch fire from its main battery, hit back. While they were stuck out here, they were no more able to act than a stack of cargo crates on a dockside!

She looked around, trying to clear her head. With a shock, she saw that Bray was nowhere to be seen. “Robert! Where…”

“Still here, Ma’am.” Bray come back into view from behind a bulky exhaust pipe. “Just lost my footing…” He looked up suddenly and pointed, as a rising rumble filled the air. “Ma’am, we’ve got visitors!”

Maria followed Bray’s gesture. With a shock, she saw the massive, dark green bulk of an enemy battle gyro looming over the barge. Where in hell had that just come from?

The enemy flying engine’s forward turret cut loose with a boom and twin lances of flame while rockets erupted from its flanks. But it was the slight of hatches on its mottled underside swinging open that sent a chill of fear through the Britannian officer. They were preparing to board!

She sized her communications voice pipe. “Captain Devizes to all crew! Battle Stations! Ack-ack at the ready!” Turning to Bray she yelled again. “Prepare to repel boarders!”

The Guards officer was already moving. The incongruous skirl of a fox-hunter’s horn sounded as armoured troopers began to emerge from the hatch Bray had used. Carbines in hand, they took up defensive positions on Trumpeter’s superstructure. Several hatches in the tank’s roof cracked open, the barrel clusters of light anti-aircraft guns nosing skywards.

Maria hunkered down in her cupola, drawing her long-barrelled service revolver as she did so. Bray and another Guards trooper took up defensive stations either side of her position.

The chatter of machine gun fire rang out as the first swarms of enemy rocket troops began plummeting down upon the barge. Tracer fire lanced upwards, plucking enemy soldiers out of the air like oversized birds. But for all the storm of lead streaming skywards, the diving Samurai proved adept at swooping and evading its deadly touch.

The first enemy soldiers landed on the upper decks of the Herald, positioned forward of Trumpeter on the barge. A ferocious skirmish broke out, the sword-wielding Samurai quickly driving the Herald’s crew back within the huge vehicle. Sickly green clouds began to form around the tank’s upperworks.

“Mask up!” Bray yelled. “Gas, gas, gas!”

Maria pulled up her mask. Even as Bray yelled, the first enemy rocket-troops were leaping towards Trumpeter. She grabbed the voice-pipe. “Fore Norts! Open fire, repeat open fire! Clear them off Herald!”

Within seconds, Trumpeter’s bow multi-guns had come to life, hammering the hull of tank ahead. Bullets sparked off metalwork and impacted in enemy flesh with dull thumps, spattering the Britannian vehicle’s armour with blood.

Several exposed Samurai were cut down by the barrage, the survivors powering up their bat-winged rocket-rigs and spiralling clear. Even as Trumpeter’s machine-gunners hosed down their neighbour, yet more warriors, preceded by a barrage of gas and firebombs, hurtled down upon its upper decks, too close now for the tank’s flak emplacements to hit them.

Bray yelled a warning, and his troops opened fire as noxious vapours began to billow out around them. Carbine volleys whipped into the air, and two enemy soldiers plummeted to the deck like crippled birds. A third had time for only a muffled scream before his fuel supply detonated with a deafening bang, showering grim debris over the Britannians below.

Maria rose and took aim at a plummeting, demon-masked warrior with his blades bared, but a jarring double blast to her right suddenly reduced her sense to a confused mess. She felt herself floating, but then her back lanced in pain as she hit metal and timber.

Groping blindly for the hatch, she suddenly realised that she was no longer standing in her cupola but lying sprawled on Trumpeter’s roof several feet away. The acrid stink of fouled air was evident even through her gas mask.

A high-pitched screech snapped her addled senses back into sharp focus. With a shock, she suddenly saw a winged, armoured warrior looming over her, sword held high. “I have you!” he yelled in heavily accented English, his voice muffled by the mask.

Maria managed to twist aside as the sword came down, though it tore a gash in the left sleeve of her padded leather jacket, razor edge flensing the flesh of her arm with a vicious sting. Kicking out desperately, her heart pounding, she scrambled backwards from the Samurai as he brought his blade up for another strike. She felt the weight of her revolver still in her right hand and quickly brought it to bear. Her sweating had fogged the eyepieces of her mask. She prayed for a miracle and squeezed the trigger.

The Samurai had just launched a second swing when the bullet hit him in the left hip. With a cry of pain, he pitched over, slamming head-first into the deck with a clang, the flaring wings of his armour draping over Maria’s legs. But still he struggled, trying to get a grip on her jacket hem with his free hand. Cursing, Maria continued to kick a punch, clubbing her dazed opponent with the butt of her revolver.

Her heart sank as another figure loomed overhead – surely now she was doomed! But dismay turned to relief as she realised he was an Armada Guard. He drove his bayonet-tipped carbine into the sprawled Samurai with a ruthlessly accurate thrust, eliciting another scream from the fallen Blazing Sun soldier.

Kicking him away from the tank captain, the Guard – who Maria now saw was Bray himself – fired two quick shots into the enemy warrior, stilling his struggles forever. Maria scrambled to her feet as Bray sat heavily against the command cupola.

He looked thoroughly battered, bleeding from several wounds, but when he tore off his mask, Maria saw a relieved expression on his face. “Borders successfully repelled, Captain,” he wheezed.

Recovered now, Maria looked around. Apart from one or two small skirmishes of doomed Samurai about to be overwhelmed by knots of Armada Guards, Trumpter’s top deck was quiet once again, the pall of enemy gas dispersing. The enemy gyro itself was retreating into the distance, back over the land, trailing smoke from several gashes in its hull. “Your casualties?” she asked.

Bray grimaced. “six dead and nine more wounded. We were lucky that their main attack hit the Herald. They didn’t have the numbers for a breakthrough, but by Jove, the Suns know how to fight.”

Maria looked forward to the other tank, its crew trying to damp down the fires still burning on its deck. “The gas…,” she began.

“Was contained. We battened hatches before any more than a trace could get inside.” Bray looked up. “We’re almost at the shore.”

Maria followed his gaze. It was true – they were surely no more than five minutes’ away from landing. She glanced back, seeing the tugs had broken off, leaving the barge under its own power for the last stretch of the journey. Truly the wheels of war continued to grind. Vicious boarding action or not, the attack on Halberd Beach must still be pressed home.

As if to remind them of the continued danger, another series of shell splashes erupted around the barge. With their aerial troops driven off, the enemy had once more resorted to artillery.

“Gather your men, Robert,” Maria ordered. She gritted her teeth through the pain of her arm wound as she scrambled to open the cupola hatch again. “We’ve still got a long day ahead.”

The last stretch took rather longer than Maria and Bray supposed. Some ten minutes later, its prow torn by a last enemy volley, the barge drove itself onto the beach, throwing up a fountain of spray and sodden sand as it stuck fast.

Almost immediately, it’s cargo of three hulking medium tanks, Trumpeter among them, crawled onto the beach amid the din of battle and the cheers of relieved Britannian troops clinging to the shoreline.

Light artillery fire sparked off their massive hulls as the toad-like tracked beasts crawled up the flat expanse, raising bow-waves of wet sand. Their first return volley shattered a section of the forward enemy defences, blasting the breach so desperately needed by the lighter tanks and infantry.

Another barge hit the shoreline, and then another, more Mk IIs debarking and driving their own wedges into the buckling Blazing Sun lines. A steady stream of Blazing Sun soldiers and light vehicles flowed back towards the interior as the front of their defences began to disintegrate.

Aboard the Trumpeter, now ensconced in its armoured bridge, Captain Maria Devizes allowed herself a grim smile of satisfaction. She braced herself in her seat, being careful to shield her newly-bandaged arm as her tank crested the remains of the reinforced sea wall.

Trumpeter ground its way inland, flanked by Terrier battle-wagons and riflemen in their General Conveyors. Halberd Beach had been taken, another foothold created on the Malayan peninsula. After months of struggling to hold the line in the East Indies, Her Britannic Majesty’s forces were on the offensive once again.

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