The Mailed Fist (Part 1 of 2)

Posted by on Jun 12, 2011 in Blog | 0 comments

The Mailed Fist (Part 1 of 2)

Written by Spartan Franco | Tags: ,

March 27, 1870, somewhere on the Northern Netherlands coast.

The early morning mists of the North Sea drifted serenely across the bleak northern Dutch coastline, but instead of tranquil silence, they were accompanied only by a continual sonorous rumbling loud enough to rattle the shingle on the deserted beaches; a combination of massive engines and the sound of something incredibly heavy – several such things, in fact – moving slowly over an unyielding surface.

Every so often, the booming roar of a great air-horn would cut through the susurration, sending flocks of gulls and other birds swarming into the air in great flurries. Even the mist itself was defiled; clouds of thick smog created patches of coal-black amid the pale grey, while in other places, harsh electrical lights burned smudgy incandescent spears as they tracked to and fro.

Kapitan zur Landpanzerschiff Horst Slazenger of the Imperial Prussian army certainly had no appreciation of the mist. In fact, he was inwardly cursing it, as he peered through his binoculars out of the armoured viewport of his flagship. Low mist always meant trouble. The Commonwealth forces he had faced earlier in his career favoured such conditions for ambushes; their mechanised Hussar squadrons could sweep out of a fog bank and devastate an unwary infantry or tank column before any notion of defence could be raised, and then disappear as swiftly as they came. Slazenger shuddered inwardly at the memories of such ambushes the previous winter; he remembered only too well the freezing wind, the snows, the noise and the terror and the faces of the dead.

With an effort, the Prussian officer suppressed his recollections. This time things were different. The enemy were Britannians – more civilised, perhaps, but a damn sight more formidable as well. However, this was no ragged retreating column under Slazenger’s command, but a battle-ready Panzerkampfgruppe. His flagship alone could level a sizeable fortress; the Kaiser Friedrich Barbarossa stretched six hundred feet from its shovel-bladed twin prows to the tips of its stern-posts and loomed nearly one hundred feet high to the mouths of its funnels. Its slab-sides were studded with gun cupolas and barbettes, while lower down on each flank a series of gleaming bronzed hemispheres crackled and sparked with electrical energy as the moisture hit them – the Tesla coils that permeated the giant ‘Ship with the stink of ozone. At his command the engineers could unleash the captive lighting in a mighty pulse, frying flesh and blowing apart the sturdiest of structures. Between the twin hulls nestled an even larger coil, its humming providing a strange, skin-crawling undercurrent to the rumble of the Kaiser’s massive engines and banks of rattling tracks.

Every so often a different grinding noise filled the bridge as of the ‘Ship’s four huge turrets tracked left and right, the ranging crews keeping watch for targets. Each of these twin-barrelled monsters could throw half a ton of metal and explosive nearly five miles every six minutes. Truly the A9V Sturmpanzer deserved its moniker ‘Krupp’s Hammer’.

A dozen angular A6V tanks flanked the Kaiser in a protective diamond formation, ploughing their own furrows through the snow dusted earth. Small at a distance, each was the size of a barn and bedecked with gun turrets and Tesla coils. Another dozen, Slazenger knew, formed an escort for a sextuplet of heavy bombards and four huge tracked carriers packed with the infantry companies of the Brandenburg 46th and 7th Solingen. A mile ahead of the landship, near-invisible in the mist, a thirty-strong swarm of Walze four-man light tanks tracked oblique recon patterns on the rough soil.

Slazenger started reflexively as a flight of Taube fighters suddenly buzzed over the Kaiser’s bridge at little more than two hundred feet above ground. Far above, Slazenger knew their mothership, Herzog Ewald Bruning and its escorting squadron of scout Zepps were keeping pace with his own land column. The gaudily-painted aircraft stood out in stark contrast to the mottled grey-brown camouflage of the land forces.

“Everything alright, Herr Kapitan?”

Slazenger turned as his second in command, Grossoffizier Stepan Hruska, joined him at the executive dias. Half a head taller than the slender, spare Captain, Hruska hailed from Czech Bohemia and his German still held a distinctive accent. He’d served in the Luftlancer Corps before attaining his commission, and even at forty-six he still cut an imposing figure in his blue uniform and polished blackened steel cuirass; more so than Slazenger, whose wiry frame seemed almost to rattle around inside his armour. Both of them wore swords and heavy Mauser automatics, and had goggles surmounting their helmet brims and chainmail spall masks hanging around their necks.

Slazenger nodded. “Raking over spent coals, Stepan. This damn mist isn’t helping. The mind makes enemies when the eyes can’t see.”

“Scout units report nothing nearby,” Hruska replied. “Several villages, but all deserted. If the Brits are out there, they’re being damned cagey.”

“They’re out there alright, Jan. There’s only so many places you can hide a whole damned Panzer battlegroup in a region this size.”

Any reply from Hruska was abruptly cut off by a massive explosion that rattled the reinforced glass in the bridge viewports. Slazenger whirled round to look. He didn’t need his field glasses to see what had just happened. Two hundred yards ahead, a huge crater distorted the otherwise flat earth. An A6V, ripped virtually in half, lay on its side nearby, belching smoke and flames from its gashed hull. Its mangled Tesla coils still sparked fitfully, adding cold blue flickers to the charcoal fug. The Kapitan could see a few dazed soldiers staggering around the blasted wreck.

“Alarm! Minefield!” Slazenger called. “Signal battlegroup – immediate halt. I say again, immediate halt.” He rushed from the dais to the Friedrich’s helm and wrenched the brass telegraph to ‘All Stop’.

Wilbrecht, the wireless operator to the battlegroup worked frantically over his set, expertly forming the Morse reply even in his shock. “Signal dispatched – immediate halt.

“All stop, aye,” came the reply from engineering.

Slazenger and Hruska braced themselves as the landship slowed and the deck lurched beneath them. Hruska looked out of the viewport. “Must’ve been pressure-activated. Primed for medium weight and heavier targets.”

“No wonder we had no reports from recon,” said Slazenger.

“Signal from the scout units, sir,” said Kohl, another wirelessman. He scribbled frantically as he listened to the stream of code from his set. “They’re under attack. Looks like Brit mediums, at least four squadrons’ worth. They’re falling back at full speed on our position.”

Slazenger’s mind raced as he formulated a plan. “Hruska, get on to weapons. We’re activating defence Schloss-Drei. Wilbrecht, signal the battlegroup to form up around the troop carriers and give covering fire to our recon. Kohl, you signal the Herzog Ewald – I want combat air patrols around our new perimeter.”

“Jawohl, Herr Kapitan!” came the chorus of replies.

“Kapitan!” Hruska called. He was back at the viewport, having completed his tasks, and had pulled on his goggles and mask. “Here they come!”

Slazenger pulled on his own mask and joined the first officer. The rumble of the Land Ship’s engines had been supplanted by another noise – the rumble of battle.

To be continued…