A collaboration with @Jeddaven
With the flat end of his long cane’s handle, Blaskowitz gently pushed the model pieces along the gentle greens of the strategic map. The barely centimeters tall figurines would pale even in comparison to the height of a Zloty’s coinage, but when compared to the other markers which littered the map that was the West Ukrainian Front, the miniature tanks appropriately towered over their diminutive counterparts. Their coordinated transition elegantly slided alongside the browned outlines of the road to Korosten, at which their gliding slide gently stopped with a *clink*, stopping at the outline of an infantry token.
“An armored assault, northwest of Korosten due southeast, will be necessary if we are to make more substantial progress in Ukraine.” the old general announced, retrieving his cane with a hint of wariness to it. His greyed hairs gently escaped from his general’s cap, slowly brustling in the wind while he exhaled in tire. Johannes had long held his position - tenured from the bygone days of Toller’s administration - and had been tested from the training fields of Pomerania to the rugged mountains within China’s vast interior.
“I expect the Ukrainian National Army to be well-entrenched in the positions due central-west. It is best that we maneuver quickly.” he added.
Kompaniyets - Johannes’s grizzled Ukranian counterpart - nodded slowly, massaging his halfway bedraggled black beard. A notoriously practical (or perhaps lazy) man, he had little patience for maintaining his appearance beyond when it got in his way, but his decades of experience leading PUL tank divisions earned him a place at the table. To his right stood Representative Starosta, and to his left, a much younger man, clad in the dark blues of the PUL's Air Force.
“Our reconnaissance reports agree.” The old general nodded, lifting his moustache with a frustrated exhale. The young man nodded.
“I’m worried that they will try to destroy the rail hubs in the city. We will need to move at lightning-place if we want to stop them from sabotaging the rail lines. If everything remains on schedule, my tanks can start moving within... Three days, at worst.” He explained, glancing sidelong at the younger man - Szymon Nowacki, one of the youngest generals in the PUL military, and a major motivator behind the recent push towards a massive expansion of air power. “We don’t have time for a siege, either. Ideally, their fortifications are pounded to dust before we reach them.”
The old general frowned, lightly narrowing his eyes - a signature gesture of him in his advanced age as means to show that he politely indicated disagreement.
“I doubt they would try to destroy the railway lines within the city proper.” Blaskowitz dissented, shaking his head, “Without sufficient anti-armor, I believe it is more likely that they will use the railways to mount a retreat and regroup their forces along the Dnieper. To demolish them prior to such would pose them with a severe loss in mobility.”
“Regardless...yes, we do need to act quickly upon this. And I believe the longer we delineate on this, the more extensive their fortifications will inevitably be.” Johannes nodded along at last, slowly retracting his steps from the map as he paced about the war room. Light steps, one after the other, contrasted with the usual sonorous clomps of each cane clutch which reported throughout the hardwood.
With a heavy sigh, the greying general reclined into the most graciously provided chair alongside the opposite table. He slowly removed his cap, holding the peaked little artifact in his hands, staring at it with an almost nostalgic onset. The greying cap had long since wore off its once novel, bright brown shine, it's hammer and sickle insignia atop now faded and scratched to almost unrecognizable warping, but much like its owner upon which it sat, Johannes cared little for such ostentatious display; Much like how he cared little for petty politicking in military matters. All his checker-colored career, Johannes silently chuckled, wondering if he would be better off as a painter, or a gardener, perhaps, instead of the old Marshal of this so-Revolutionary army that would swear itself the shield of the German nation.
“If you don’t mind my aside…” he began, slowly setting his officer’s cap upon his lap as he looked back up, “You know I am not much of one for politicking. Please, pardon me if I am not as...enthusiastic.”
Starosta, of course, was the first to respond - both Szymon and the old general opened their mouths as if to speak, but they were far too late. Here, she wore her old uniform, a handful of relatively simple medals pinned to her beige uniform. “The people deserve to have a say, even in military matters. We built our new model of armed forces on democracy - unless you mean something else?” She said, halfway accusatory, halfway curious of the old German’s opinion.
Johannes had come well knowing he was to fight - no doubt - and knowing the combatants involved was only the proper course of preparation. And, of course, the old guard of the German Staff knew full well that he would likely butt heads with the Union’s Premier. On a personal scale, he could hardly stand her. Tolerate, yes...and little beyond. To Johannes, democracy had its due place, of course, yet there was little point in prioritizing democracy over decision. And, likewise, there was not much worse to do than to argue over such things in a time and place such as this.
“This is my advice, Ms. Starosta. It is my comments on the matter, nothing more. We have come here to discuss the affairs - all of them - in Ukraine, and with all due respect, I have come to voice them with my guidance. If you have concerns, I expect you to voice them, as much as I believe all of us here should voice our thoughts and opinions.”
Blaskowitz hated this: This bantering, this bickering. He silently thanked God that his retirement was only two weeks away.
“All *I’m* here to do is make sure that the interests of the PUL’s workers are represented here.” Starosta said, reaching up to idly fiddle with the rank pins on her shoulders - colonel. She no longer held the position, of course, but she insisted on wearing her old uniform, nonetheless. “However, if you want my opinion, then I’m concerned about the city’s minority populations. Jews, in particular - the city has a relatively large proportion of Jews, and I’m concerned that they will be targeted as we approach the city.”
“Then if we work swiftly,” he flatly retorted, “we will not give them an opportunity to do so.” Johannes was no fan of such deliberations, focusing right back upon the map with an uncharacteristically swift stance.
“If we are all in agreement about the haste of this operation...then I assume we will consider this session adjourned?”
Starosta glanced to her left, and the old general nodded at his German counterpart. “We are. Good luck, comrade - and try not to die.”
Johannes would ignore her last comment.
Korosten Outskirts, Northwest Ukraine
The crew congregated alongside the resting tracks of their steelclad beast, lazing about the moist grass while they kept quiet. Even during rest, the insides of the tank residuated its mechanical warmth, searing within while the engine silently roared and the guns blazed in repose. Its intimately close quarters spared much in the way of comfort, and even the universally shorter statue of its female crew did little to make its metallic constitution any less cold.
Beck - “Noemi Beck, Oberleutnant, 65th Tank Platoon, reporting for duty, sir!”, as she had ingrained so deeply into each one of her brain folds that it became so synonymous a greeting as a simple “hello” - scrunched up portion of the map along its well-creased folds, careful to iron it out with a hand beneath the map as to not even entertain the idea of sullying it further upon the muggy grass beneath. A symphony of scrapes aired over the bristle of the Ukrainian morn, its softness just sonorous enough to break the distant crack of combat in the distance.
Her all-so-trusted counterpart and all-too-faithful radio op, Zyma - “Zofia Zyma, Unteroffizier, 65th Tank Platoon, reporting for duty, sir!”, as she would boldly display given the slightest provocation - leaned impatiently along the tank’s wide wheels while she impertinently tugged along the telecord wires, waiting for the radio signals. The orders were to stay silent and stay put, until contacted by their opposite crew in the volunteer platoon. They all sat about impatiently, unable to do much aside from stare at one another and off into some vague dawnbreak, each in silent prayer that the dead of morning had not given away the bulging camouflage net draped over their tank to a white artillery crew.
”65th Tank Platoon, German, this is the People’s 89th Volunteer Platoon, reporting. We are in position; close air support is a few minutes out.” A voice responded, crackling over the radio. Even then, it sounded terse, even awkward, spoken poorly in slapdash Ukrainian.
The radio operator briefly adjusted the awkwardly-fitted headphones around the muffs of her ears, adjusting the scratchy pieces until that awful digging press unto her lobes was alleviated. Zyma cleared her throat, then pressed down on the signal.
“Understood, 89. Commence our attacks on Hedgeline 23 upon the CAS strike, out.” Zyma clarified. Quickly, she signalled to her compatriots lying about with a silent hand circle, at which the once lazy crewmates sprung to life. In seconds, they were opening up the top hatch, darting in one by one, some still with their ration’s spoons in their mouths whilst they grumbled their way over the massive treads. Zyma lugged the radio wire over her shoulder, waiting for the last of the crew to enter, dragging the heavy rubber-coated cable across the clanking metal giant.
Zyma herself sat atop the tank’s hatch, slowly peering into the misty morning sky…
A faint drone beat in the background. It blurred and howled, screeching into full force in seconds, until an unbearable siren shrieked out any other bird song.
The great bird plunged from the sky, swooping in tow with several others, diving at their unsuspecting prey.
A great wave of heat blasted across Zyma, like blasts from a furnace in a baking basement’s suffocation. She briefly shielded her eyes, yet the immense firestorm’s incendiary pierced her blockage as the insides of her eyes colored themselves yellow. As she returned to, slowly pushing herself forth in her hatch’s seat, the strikes of the eagles blossomed into cinnabar mushrooms while they pierced the village skyline.
Zyma leaned forth tensely. A single finger reached back to her familiar belt button.
“All units, commence assault.”
Mere minutes later, the battle sprung into full sway, embracing itself unto the chaotic rumble in all its savage glory. "Eat lead, świnia!" Anitka hollered, sweeping a pile of spent casings away from her cupola. The brass fell like rain across her Janiczek, a monstrous steel beast that dwarfed most of the other volunteers. Sat atop it, she felt practically invincible even with her upper body exposed. The flattened, rounded wedge of its turret sat upon a body nearly twice the size of the Łowca, an enormous gun protruding from its head, but perhaps its most distinctive feature was its pike-shaped nose at the head of its chassis. Her favorite, however, was the machine gun sitting in front of her. Her thumbs were sore, her knuckles white - but the muffled staccato of the weapon as it kicked in her grip more than made up for a couple of sore thumbs. Cresting the wooded berm ahead, she watched as the tank’s nose collided with a tree - and snapped the trunk beneath its immense weight, Red infantry following closely behind. Immediately, she turned her gaze towards a concrete bunker, and the muzzle of a long-barreled cannon protruding from it.
Before she had the chance to react, however, it opened fire.
Bracing herself against the lip of her cupola Anitka watched as a solid shell bounced against the tank's nose, bouncing away as it rang the beast like a bell, sparks flying as metal clashed. Her ears, too, were consumed by the noise, but the hull held all the same.
For now, at least.
“Ivan! I want a shell through that pillbox, on the double!”
“I see it, I see it! I’m not fucking blind, sergeant!” He laughed. The ponderous turret began to turn, gears clicking and groaning beneath its sheer weight, then came the sound of Ieva slamming the round into the barrel, and the subsequent dull thud of the breech block sliding into place. A deafening boom left her ears ringing, smoke and fire pouring from the muzzle brake in thick gouts. Before she could manage to blink, the shell impacted against the outside of the bunker, exploding in a ball of fire that merely left the concrete scorched - and then, the emplacement went silent.
“Keep it moving, boys and girls!” Anitka shouted, and the tank’s engine roared as it leapt into action, carving a trench through the muddy, upturned soil where it moved. Comrades poured into the Hetman’s trenches, stabbing at the few infantrymen that remained with knives and bayonets, blasting holes through their torsos with shotguns, Janiczek trundling along with them. In the opening act alone, the presence of the mere few planes and men swayed the tide of battle, and perhaps soon with it, the course of Ukraine’s future. The golden fields of Ukraine would soon pour red.