Readers: Here is a small sample from my upcoming alt history novel, I’ve changed some stuff in here to keep from being hugely spoileriffic. Some names have been scrubbed, some left alone. If you care to, you can wager guesses as to who is who!
Really looking forward to releasing this into the wild; need a publisher first, though.
All of this is subject to change in the final manuscript. So if you all make too many intelligent guesses I may George RR Martin some characters.
Here Goes (hold onto my beer and watch this!)
Lieutenant Burton ran along the line, he stumbled and bumped along in the flare lit stygian darkness. He had a new pistol; Captain Ferguson had given it to him. It came brand new in a cardboard box that read PISTOL, AUTOMATIC BROWNING CALIBER .45, MK II. He hadn’t fired it; he prayed that the craftsmen in the factory knew their trade. He would need it soon. For good measure he held an Enfield as well. There was no such thing as being over-armed in Thuin.
He stopped at a hunched form. It was Lance Corporal Carothers.
“Are your men ready, Lance Corporal?”
“Do you need anything?”
“A curvy bint, perhaps.”
Burton laughed. “Steady on, Lance Corporal.”
Burton continued along the trench. He stepped in something squishy. He caught the form of a grim BAR gunner; it must be Strohmeier. Burton shivered. He wouldn’t want to be on the other side of that gun.
“Are you ready, Strohmeier?”
The soldier nodded, he didn’t take his eyes off the line. Burton noticed the stacks of magazines placed in handy locations, the Mills bombs and a faint cold gleam on his belt. It was a tomahawk.
Burton was at a loss for words. The private clearly meant business. He tapped him on the shoulder and moved onward.
As he passed another private, he heard a murmur in some strange tongue. The broad-faced man had his eyes closed, Burton presumed that he was praying. Burton saw no reason to interrupt him, he’d accept the help of any god at this point, even the heathen. He nodded and continued along his section of trench.
He came across Corporal Crawford, the man was saying something to one of the new replacements.
“Crawford, is your squad ready?”
“They’re coming soon, Corporal.”
“We know, sir.”
“Let me know if there’s anything I can do.”
“Not at the moment, sir.”
Burton nodded. He didn’t want to pull his leader’s sleeves. He fought hard against the inclination to change things; he knew damn well that 3rd Platoon was as ready as could be. But it was hard, hard, on the eve of battle to control the urge.
The Lieutenant made his way back to the cubby he shared with Sergeant Larson. The best thing he could do was to sit on his hands and wait. He knew that.
It was the hardest thing he had ever done.
Elizabeth Moore was bumping along the road to Binche, she had an ambulance full of wounded. One of the men was sobbing, she took deep drags on her harsh cigarette.
The scene back in Thuin was bedlam, there were so damn many hurt and maimed men waiting to be evacuated, and so few ambulances and medical staff. The loading had been done to the soundtrack of heavy artillery fire, she had sat in her seat and watched as a round pulverized one of the few intact brick houses left.
It was damned unhealthy.
As she drove along the pitch-black road with her wholly inadequate blackout lights, she knew that this road was dangerous as hell, too. She had to constantly make her way around craters and other debris, she feared getting stuck as she navigated through cow pastures.
As usual, the lamentations of the men in the back stretched her nerves tight. And they were like piano strings tonight. The word she had received back at the aid station in Thuin was bleak, the Germans were breaking through along the line and they weren’t taking prisoners.
What would they do to her, she wondered, if captured? Probably something very unpleasant. She was in a grey area. Not really Army, not really a civilian, and definitely a woman. She really didn’t want to find out. When she heard about the German no-prisoners threat, she believed it. She didn’t intend to be captured, and she took a few measures to prevent rape followed by death.
She dodged a corpse. Her expert eye judged it fairly fresh one, allied. She drew in hard on her cigarette, she was glad she had spotted the dead man in time. Elizabeth hated the squishy feel beneath her wheels.
Some figures loomed out of the darkness. Maybe the mates of the dead man, she thought. She peered, she squinted. The blackout lights weren’t helping her much, and these buggers weren’t clearing off of the road. Her lips pressed into a thin line. Stupid gits. She flicked her cigarette out of the cab and drew a breath. She was going to give these idiots a real tongue-lashing.
At the precise moment that she was about to yell, her shout died frozen in her throat. Her blood ran cold, a bolt of lightning-like adrenaline shot through her body from head to toe.
Leutnant XXX of the 73rd Infantry regiment, a crack outfit, waited in the dark. His men had reached their assault rally point in the pitch black, they had stumbled forward over the heaped corpses of the dead, English and German.
XXX was under no illusions about what was coming. There would be a brief artillery preparation, he had heard that the gunners were short on shells; the damned allied scout fighters had scourged the supply trains leading to the front.
As the artillery was pounding the Engländer, he and his men would attack as the shells rained down. XXX did not doubt that some would be killed or wounded by flying shrapnel, but it was part of the price that had to be paid for a successful assault.
XXX meant to live, and to crush the English position in front of him. The signal for the regimental attack was blue star clusters, he could barely wait.
XXX lived for attacks. He never felt so brilliantly alive as when he fell onto the foe with his Männer. The screams, the savage grappling, the feel of bullets skimming along the ground. In his mind’s eye he pulled the porcelain toggle of a stick-grenade and hurled it into the teeth of a French machinegun nest. He cut down a soldier with his Bergmann, he kicked a man in his face and then finished him with a shovel.
The Leutnant had been there. And he knew his men were proven veterans, the finest the German Army had on offer. They had been hand selected to lead this final assault to smash the center of the English line, and they would succeed.
All they needed to do was clear over the railroad embankment, assault into the trees, and close on the holes that the English cowered in. The price would be high, he did not doubt. But it wouldn’t be catastrophic. No, the English would know disaster this night. Their dying mouths would be filled with the bitter taste of ashes.
No quarter, thought XXX. No prisoners.
His regimental commander had been clear.
XXX looked along the lines of his men in the flickering, strobing dark. They laid prone, weapons in hand. He held a Bergmann himself; he gripped it tightly. He smiled tightly, his entire body sang as a feeling of blinding power coursed through him.
Please, God, he thought. Let the signal come soon.
YYY had experienced a lot of thrills lately, and that suited him fine. What he hadn’t anticipated was the amount of excitement he had experienced simply traveling to this ruined town, Thuin.
After Mons his little platoon had received a few new tanks and crews. He had been directed to stand by for further assignments when this offensive broke loose. With haste he had been dispatched to this sector and unit, the 12th Division.
The Lieutenant had to make his way with his crews of Caterpillars to wherever it seemed hottest; he had played hell to reach his destination on the confusing Belgian roads. In the process he had lost two tanks to breakdowns, the best he could do was to make it to this flaming wreck of a city with three operational machines.
And then there was the bridge over the Sambre.
Good God, YYY thought. The combat engineers didn’t want to let his tanks over the rickety-looking patched bridge, they were afraid the bridge would collapse under their weight. YYY had roared. He had cursed the engineer captain. The exhausted-looking man had finally let him across with some curses of his own.
YYY had taken his machine across first. He wasn’t a man to admit to fear, but his balls had tightened noticeably when he rode across the patched and straining structure. Halfway across the bridge groaned and shifted, YYY prayed and urged his driver forward. He was never so glad as when his tank reached the far shore and solid earth. Then he had the exquisite torture of watching the remaining two tanks cross. The last machine almost went into the drink when the driver missed a turn. The tank tottered, spun its treads and pulled itself back from the brink. YYY let out the breath he was holding, climbed down from his machine and pissed against the remains of a wall.
So here he was, in Thuin, awaiting the Division Commander’s pleasure.
YYY was satisfied; his time would come soon. Again.
He could hardly wait.
The Lieutenant-Colonel walked along the road with his men, the 6th Battalion, Royal Scots Fusiliers. They were making haste in a forced march; they had walked without stopping for well over twelve hours. He had never been so tired, so keyed up in all of his life, although he had fought on many fronts from the time he was a teenager.
In his fevered imagination he could see Destiny in capital letters ahead; he hadn’t taken part in the great offensives earlier this summer. His unit had debarked in Calais but a week ago. They had been placed in a worn freight train with hundreds of forty-and-eight cars, they chugged directly to the Belgian border, or at least as close as possible to it.
Since then it had been nothing but marching. The Lieutenant-Colonel’s patrician feet had been in for a rude awakening, they were covered in bloody blisters despite his excellent field boots. He had been forced to leave his luggage behind, along with cases of rather good quality Hine brandy. He imagined some bugger would make off with his drink while he marched to the front to give Hindenburg a good kick in the family tackle.
He chewed on an unlit cigar, he ignored the bloody squishing in his boots, the fiery pain with each step. Despite his fancy double-name his was a tough bastard, a bare-knuckled brawler by inclination, if not by birth.
The Commander knew that he set an example for his men, that they watched his every move. If he didn’t stop, then neither would they. And he wouldn’t stop, the pulsing glow on the horizon, the sound of the guns were his guide. His heavy Webley pistol banged against his hip, he knew he would draw it soon. Most were armed with the Browning these days, but he trusted the Webley like a best friend.
As he marched, he remembered shooting an Afghan down with a similar pistol. It was during a vicious dust-up in some nameless dusty town, deep in the mountains. He shivered as he recalled the tribesman’s naked steel, how the slashing arc that would have ended his life stopped mid-stroke. It was arrested by a fat .455 slug to the chest.
No, the Webley Mk VI was good enough for him.
He quickened his pace.
John Cox knew that they were thoroughly lost. He and his crew took a moment to pop their heads out of their lumbering tank, all of them had splitting headaches from that damn cracked exhaust manifold.
He watched as the Lieutenant and his tank’s sergeant consulted a map by the dim red light of a trench torch. The sergeant was saying something to Wordsworth, the Lieutenant was running a hand through his greasy hair.
The idling engine of the armored brute drowned out their words, of course. It was an open question whether they would reach their destination; half of the tanks had broken down on this trek. These tanks, he thought, would have done better to catch a ride on a train and then move to wherever in short hops.
Apparently that hadn’t been an option. A few days before orders had come down, and now the 4th Horse was moving out on the longest armored operation in the short history of tank warfare. John knew they had never pushed their tanks like this before, it was a matter of time before his tank broke down as well.
This move smelled strongly of desperation to him. He didn’t know a whole lot about what was happening, but he did know the Germans had thrown everything at the 4th Army on the flank and things had gone in the crapper.
He rubbed his face and drank in the fresh air. Events in these parts had a strong smell of shit as well, he reflected. The sergeant was raising his voice; the lieutenant was as well. John wondered if it would come to blows. He hoped not, the two rankers were good sorts.
But one of them needed to learn how to read a map.
Paul Hindenburg had selected this shattered, once pleasant forested chalet as his temporary headquarters. He was close enough to the front that the ground shook beneath his heels. The windows of his map room were covered in tarps, lanterns provided a dim light as he pondered his next move. He turned a little to consider an option, shattered glass crunched beneath his steel-studded jackboots.
He stroked his mustache, then put up his index finger. He spoke to a division commander.
“Send in this regiment” he pointed at a marker, “to develop the English positions. Hold this regiment for now.” He pointed at a marker that said “73.”
“When I am convinced the English have cracked, I will dispatch the 73rd to exploit the gap.” He paused. “They are the finest we have available.” Paul looked at his division commander.
“Yes, sir. What about the special troops?”
“They proceed the 73rd.” Hindenburg looked around at his assembled staff.
“Gentlemen, the English are finished tonight.”
The guns boomed and roared in the background.
“Send out the signal.”