The overall goals of this operation as laid out by National Command Authority are as follows:
"One: We are to gain as much intelligence a possible as to the organization, ships and equipment, fighting methods, origins, and motivations of Kra'Vak forces.
"Two: To inflict so complete a defeat upon the Kra'Vak forces so as to deter them from further aggression in Human space.
"Three: To evict Kra'Vak forces from Röt Hafen and return control of the planet back to it's rightful government."
"With these goals in mind we have designed UnternehmenSAuml;GEWERK, or Operation SAWMILL in English. The destruction of all Kra"Vak forces from Röt Hafen. Phase One of SAWMILL is to trap and destroy the bulk of all Kra'Vak forces at Röt Hafen. Once space supremacy has been established, we move into Phase Two: Conduct an assault landing on the planet and eliminate all Kra'Vak resistance. Phase Three will consist of a Humanitarian Assistance operation to help the population and get the colony back on its feet."
"Admiral, how can you be sure that you have sufficient combat power to get the job done?" Asked Mr. Pimms.
"Herr Minister, we have amassed every ship which both governments can spare. We believe that we contain the minimum sufficient combat power to eliminate the Kra'Vak. We are looking to you lady and gentlemen to provide us with more forces. However you raise a good point. Our knowledge of Kra'Vak operations is limited to the engagements on 6 July, plus a few other isolated encounters. There are specific data that we need before we undertake a general engagement against their forces. To that end, we have designed an operation to be carried out before the main assault begins. Call it a raid if you will. Admiral Bellamy, perhaps you would care to explain."
"Of course, Admiral." Bellamy stood up and straightened out his dress coat. He changed the view on the holo-projector. Now they saw a 3d view of Röt Hafen depicting the orbital satellites, and defense forces believed to be station near the planet.
"We intend to launch a raid against several of the orbital defense platforms here and here". He used a laser pointer to designate targets. "Code name is HARBINGER. A small force from III/KG14 will enter the system at minimum safe distance and proceed direct to Röt Hafen. A fighter strike will be launched against these two platforms. Meanwhile the rest of the force will attempt to engage this small force of enemy ships that are kept, in proximity of Dortmund station. The bulk of Kra'Vak forces are kept further out in anticipation of a larger assault. It is not the intent of III/KG14 to become decisively engaged. Once the fighters hit their target, they will be recovered and the force will make its escape. The Köhl will be propositioned in the general vicinity of the battle, hiding in cloak, and will be conducting extensive sensor recordings of the Kra'Vak response. We're looking to catalogue Kra'Vak ships and their offensive and defensive systems. All of III/KG14 have been outfitted with extra sensor packages to help also."
"How can you ensure that your forces won't be overwhelmed by the enemy?" Asked Tesfane.
"We do have fairly good intelligence on their forces in the vicinity of Dortmund station. While there are many ships there, a majority of them are there for repairs or maintenance. We believe we can get in and out in time. Of course, nothing s guaranteed. However, Rear Admiral Geller is one of the most capable officers in he fleet."
"Well that's hardly a reassuring recommendation Admiral", said Leni Mostik. "Sounds to me like its a desperate gamble."
"I might add something", said von Bulow. "The Kra'Vak are obviously waiting for us to do something. "They aren't foolish. They have to expect a response from us sooner or later. There is a chance that the Kra'Vak will believe they have fought off the only response we could muster against them in such a short time. This could work to our advantage."
"The bottom line is, that we need this data on their ships performance and tactics desperately. Or else we stand to be the ones getting surprised during the main engagement". Said Bellamy.
"That summarizes our operation. Logistically, we've nearly amassed the resources we need. We are expecting further humanitarian assistance supplies to arrive before we go. Also we are expecting two more medical units. We will be feeding information back to headquarters on Neu Salzburg via courier shuttle."
"Admiral, what date have you set for the operation?"
"III/KG14 is holding one jump out of the Röt Hafen system as we speak. They will be going in tomorrow. The main operation is set for 9 August."
"Admiral are you aware of any other Kra'Vak operations within the past two weeks?"
"Other operations? No Sir. Please, keep in mind, we've been out here in the wilderness, if you will, and there's not been much news from home."
"Yes we understand, and that is part of he reason why we are out here. You see there have been a half dozen other Kra'Vak attacks in the past two weeks. Most of the attacks have taken place on rim colonies. They have all been raids. They have hit ESU, NAC, and PAU colonies. 4000 people were killed on Kinshasa when a Kra'Vak raid destroyed the Mobutu space station with all hands on board. A large Kra'Vak fleet, almost thirty ships, swept into Calloway's world and attacked the orbital mining facilities there. They inflicted billions of credits in damage and 900 casualties. Two NAC cruisers destroyed. Also five ships currently missing are believed to have been intercepted by Kra'Vak raiding forces."
"So as you can see, Admiral. The problem is spreading. This is no longer just an NSL issue. Heavy raids on the rim. Now we see them actually taking one of our planets. If the Kra'Vak reinforce this planet, then we believe it signals a move to stake a permanent claim here in human space. It's why you must move as soon as possible. It's also why we can give you no more ships. We're rushing forces to other rim worlds. UN forces are stepping up their presence in the area. However, I have authorized the attachment of two UN cruisers to your operation. This way it will cement the presentation of this as a joint operation."
"The two UN cruisers are welcome but hardly a significant contribution to this operation."
"Maybe so, but what is important here is that this operation be seen as a joint venture. Politically they are of immeasurable value. You see Admiral, it is our belief that unless the various human governments can be made to work together on this problem, there will be serious consequences for all humanity against this alien threat."
"And it is because of this, Admiral von Bulow, that all eyes are now on you..."
Charlie Lawrence squatted in a small gully surrounded by his three platoon leaders and Eric Molitoris. He had taken the makeshift company, (really just 59 men) out on a mission to secure water for their new base. Charlie scratched out a little map in the dirt. A full moon and the Aurora shed plenty of light. The arrival of the
Kra'Vak had necessitated a mad scramble to evacuate in time. Luckily, the base had been selected because it had a cave, which after some tunneling work offered a rear exit. They had gathered up their equipment and the wounded and evacuated out the back. Charges had been long readied to demolish the base in just such a likelihood (there was no shortage of explosives on a mining world like Röt Hafen). Unfortunately, the Kra'Vak ability to track them down was impressive. They had lost all of their Observation Posts along the way, resulting in the deaths of ten. Still, as the partisans escaped out the backside of the mountains, two kilometers away their pursuers had cautiously entered the recently abandoned base. Their curiosity had been rewarded by a series of massive explosions, which had brought down the whole base on their heads. They had gotten way but just barely.
The new base lacked a steady water supply. However, there was an abandoned farm, six kilometers from the site. It was a throwback to the settler's first abortive attempts at agriculture here on Röt Hafen. There was a well dug, and each man carried a three-gallon water bladder. With him in addition to his own canteens.
"OK the place looks abandoned. Looks to be about 500 meters from here. Eric, I want you to take your platoon down the wadi and set up an overwatch position on threat small finger overlooking the buildings Take one of the machineguns with you. As you are advancing in the wadi try and keep parallel with our movement that way if either of us makes contact, the other can support from the flank."
"Bergmann, your platoon will move out along this route, head up over this finger and wait while we check out this road. Once everything is all set, move your platoon around this flank and get into this wadi here. Follow it to the buildings. It looks like you can get within a hundred meters of the site. Then wait for my word. You have the radio. Make sure it stays on low gain. Understand?"
"OK, Kleck. Your platoon will follow Bergmann. I want both platoons to move in squad wedges, just like we practiced. Remember keep a good five meters interval per man. Once at the finger, I want you to send a squad across that dirt road and check everything out in the rocks on the other side. When Bergmann's men move out I want you to establish a position in along the rocks. You will have the other machinegun. You have two jobs. Cover Bergmann's rear when he goes into the wadi, and cover the whole company's rear from your position. Since we have the SAM launcher with us, I want you to detach a team and put the SAM launcher up high on that ridge.
"Now when everyone is in position I want you to let me know. If anyone sees the enemy, give a shout. If they are just passing by overhead then let them go. Stay low. Remember we need to get that water and get out. Once the buildings are secure and we have ascertained that the water is good, we'll form a perimeter around the farm and shuttle people in to fill up the bladders. Then we're out of here. Any questions?"
"I have one. Said Keck. I'm supposed to guard both flanks?"
"Yes. Both flanks. Have one squad cover the rear of Bergmann's advance and the other can face about in the direction we came."
"Yes, I understand now."
"Good. Any other questions?" There were none. Charlie wondered whether they actually understood the scheme or whether they were just afraid to ask. Either way he would be running back in forth to his budding platoon leaders trying to keep everything organized. This was part real mission and part training after all. With a wave of his hand, Eric moved out with his platoon. Charlie watched as they set off in single file and quickly disappeared down the steep walls of the wadi. Once they were gone he signaled for Bergmann to move out. He issued a shout (which made Charlie wince) and they stood and walked off. They definitely needed work on their hand and arm signals. At least Bergmann was running back and forth to his squad leaders telling them to keep their distance. Charlie went with his platoon. After they had shaken out into wedge of squad columns, and moved off fifty meters, Keck followed. His men bunched together more than the others did and Keck seemed a bit overwhelmed by the tasks. Charlie frantically gave the hand signal to spread out. Keck finally understood and ran around to his men pushing them into the position he wanted. Charlie hoped there would be no contact.
They moved quickly and crossed two fingers of rock that ran down off the ridge. The last one overlooked the road. With a signal four men ran across and disappeared into the rocks on the other side. There were no tracks in the road, as it had been abandoned many years before. The wind out here blew continuously, erasing even recent signs of passage. Several minutes later the all clear came back and he moved both platoons across the road. After ensuring that Keck had deployed Third platoon to his satisfaction, Charlie ran after Bergmann's platoon to accompany them on third part of the mission. Molitoris called ahead to say they were in position and saw no activity. They climbed into a deep wadi, perhaps twenty meters deep at this point and worked their way east in a file towards the target. They halted fifty meters from their assault positions and a few men crawled ahead to ensure all was clear. When the OK came back they scampered up the back of the gully, shallower here, and waited for the go ahead. Charlie scanned the area thoroughly with his NVGs. He signaled to Bergmann to send a squad forward.
"OK We're going in," he said into the radio.
Five men scampered over the lip of the wadi and ran to the buildings. Everyone else covered. The farm consisted of three old domes, each about ten meters in diameters, plus a few broken down out buildings. Old tractors, broken down and sandblasted to shiny aluminum by the never-ending wind, sat mute on flat tires. The small group checked each building then gave the all clear.
"OK Bergmann, put a squad on the far side and leave one squad here facing about. Eric, this is Charlie. Bring your platoon down and set a perimeter from six to twelve. Bergmann's got the other half."
"On the way."
"Keck do you read me?"
"Yes I'm here."
"Your platoon stays where it is. Understood?"
Once they established a perimeter, Eric checked the well. The pump was gone but they had foreseen that eventuality and brought a portable one. His handheld spectra-analysis unit conformed that the water was potable. He oversaw filling of the bladders while Charlie oversaw the perimeter. It took an hour to fill up 60 water bladders. Once complete they herded everyone together and moved them out, leaving a small stay behind group to sterilize the place before following along.
An hour into their return trip, The company was spread out of two hundred meters picking their way over rough terrain. To their left was a wide wadi to their right a tall ridge. Charlie was constantly on the run, talking to this or that squad leader or platoon leader. He was with Bergmann's platoon up front followed by Molitoris then Keck. He had just admonished the first squad leader for the distance between his men. He wanted the first fire team out fifty meters in front of the others. He was constantly stressing "Always make contact with the smallest possible element".
Ahead of them was a small ridge maybe fifty meters high but stretching across their entire front. As the point element disappeared over the top there was a spate of frantic shooting, shouts and inhuman grunts. Everyone dropped to the ground. The lead element was out of sight. Charlie could see the rest of the first squad scampering up to support their comrades, but before they got over the ridge they fell to the ground and began firing.
Charlie looked behind and saw both platoons had also gone to ground. He shouted in the radio for them to spread out to each flank and keep 360-degree security. He had to see what was going on over the ridge.
"Bergmann, get second and third squads in line and spread them out left and right. Then wait here!" Bergmann gave a nod and scampered off after his squad leaders.
Charlie stood and ran up the ridge, tripping over a rock, and falling on his face along the way. As he got to the top of the rise, he fell to the ground near one of he partisans that was firing madly. On the other side of the ridge, he could see one man lying motionless, shot. The other three crouched behind rocks. There was a depression then another ridge. At the bottom of the depression lay a fallen Kra'Vak. He could see fire coming from behind some rocks halfway up the next ridge, maybe fifty meters away. This looked to him like a chance contact with a Kra'Vak patrol. The angry buzz of railgun armatures zipped over his head. He crawled over to the first Squad leader. "Listen up. I want you to get a hold of everyone and pull them back. Run as fast as you can like you are retreating. We'll try and get he Kra'Vak to follow. You understand?"
The woman stared wide-eyed and out of breath at Lawrence but nodded anyway. She hopped over the lip of the ridge and dashed ten meters to the nearest man on the other side. A hail of railgun fire followed her but she made it. Charlie crawled from man to man and directed their fire in support for the exposed point team. Once he had them all shooting semi-intelligently, he radioed back to Molitoris.
"Eric. You hear me?
"I got ya, boss."
"Looks like we ran into a Kra'Vak patrol. I'm gonna try and sucker them back over the ridge into you guys. "I've got 2d and 3rd squad swung out on a line to each flank. Bring your platoon up on line in the middle. "Don't fire until I tell you. Tell Keck to pull security with his platoon. OK?
"Bergmann did you hear that?"
"Charlie peeked over the ridge and saw the first Squad leader looking for him. She gave him the ready signal. He nodded and waved her back. She shouted at her people to move. Charlie tossed a smoke grenade to help cove their withdrawal. As they started to retreat, he could make out movement through the rapidly thickening smoke. Hopefully they were following. The point element ran buy him at a falt out sprint followed by the rest of first squad. Suddenly it occurred to him that he was alone so he turned and ran also, scrambling down to the left in order to link up with second squad (Bergmann was with third squad). He found them hunched down in cover. He motioned for them to follow and they dashed twenty meters farther up the little ridge where they could get a better flanking fire into whoever came through the smoke.
Sure enough, the Kra'Vak emerged over the ridge. Down below, first squad was still running for all it was worth, giving the impression that they had routed the enemy. Some of the Kra'Vak grunted out loud and chased after them. He counted four chasing with another three atop the ridge. They squatted down and aimed their weapons. Another Kra'Vak remained standing and motioning with his arms. Charlie figured him for the squad leader. He directed second squad to take aim at the group atop the ridge and gave the command to open fire.
From all sides of the pocket the partisans opened up on the trapped Kra'Vak. The firing last for maybe five minutes. Charlie pointed out targets to his squad. The first to go down was the Kra'Vak leader. He saw the others look to his fallen body then pop up and run straight ahead. That didn't make any sense, Charlie thought. One stayed behind trying t keep under cover. He held his weapon out in front of him muzzle down and stood up stepping back down the ridge. Odd behavior. Charlie called to second squad to cease fire but the far man, not hearing the command fired a last shot off and the remaining Kra'Vak tumbled to the ground.
"Cease fire, Cease fire!" It took another thirty seconds of shouting to get the partisans to stop shooting. "Platoon leaders get your ACE reports." The platoons reorganized as they were taught reporting the status of ammunition, casualties and equipment. Squad leaders and platoon leaders oversaw the redistribution of ammo. There was some milling around.
"Bergmann get your platoon io cover in the direction we were travelling Keck you cove the rear. Eric get your platoon out here and let's check these bodies. I want to strip them of anything they have. This is a good opportunity to check out their gear. But for god's sake do it fast in case they got a warning off or if here are others in the area.
Molitoris' platoon moved out over the killzone and began stripping the bodies. Charlie walked to the fallen on the ridge. He checked the point man. He was dead with a hole through his midsection. He removed the man's weapon and water bladder and passed them to another. He walked down to the last Kra'Vak who had been shot. That was odd behavior. In two engagements now, he had seen Kra'Vak make suicidal charges exactly when they were under the heaviest casualties and fire. Was this some sort of panic mechanism? Bur what about this one. He'd started backing up, weapon held rigidly ahead of him muzzle down. It seemed like some sort of ritual move. Was it surrendering? He'd have to think on what he's just seen. It was time to get back to shouting. As it was they would spend ten minutes here before he could get the company moving again.
Miner held the small direction finder in one hand set it to discriminator mode and thumbed the activation switch. It sent out a query signal and was immediately answered by a similar device in "the can". He got a quick bearing and range and ran over to the location followed by three men. Others were hidden around the site guarding against an ambush or other nasty surprise. He found what he was looking for in a small depression. "The Can" was a stealth entry delivery vehicle used in special operations for delivery of various physical packages. This one was roughly one meter tall and a half-meter in diameter. The passing Köhl had dropped it off to land at this prescribed place and time. Once found, Miner scanned it with a second device to ensure there had been no tampering. Once that was complete he looked around and smiled.
"Mail call!" He keyed in the opening combination and checked the contents. Once sealed packet containing data disks. That would be the reply from HQ as well as any additional orders. Perhaps new crypto also. He continued checking: Two cases of 4mm small arms ammunitions and two cases of binary propellant. Once case of 20mm grenades for their L7s. Once case of SAW ammo. Two boxes of spare power pack batteries. A box of various drugs for the docs. At the bottom was a package wrapped in brown paper with a note. He read the note. It was from John Nolan, A Company's supply sergeant. It read "Don't eat them all at once. This'll help impress the ladies down there." He tore open the package and found a two packs of Chunko's chocolate bars and two packs of chewing gum. Miner smiled to himself. What a guy!
"OK let's get out of here." Also inside was a set of straps that affixed to the outside of the can to facilitate carrying it. He took out the case of Grenades and SAW ammo and handed that to two of the men. He had the third man lift up the can and then Miner slung it onto his back.
"Let's get back to base. We've got some important material here." There wouldn't be many guys from the team around. Molitoris and Lawrence were out with the Gs on water run. Donner and Freeman were running the follow-up R&S teams up at Röt Hafen. Freeman was taking care of Brooks and Th other casualties. Mellor and Gerard were working on planning. Everybody was pretty damn busy. And here Miner was fantasizing about chocolate bars the whole trip back.
Charlie ran back and forth along the line of slow moving men as they winded their way along the sandy bottom of the deep and narrow wadi. They had spent too much time at the scene of their last contact and were moving to slowly. They had descended into the wadi, which traveled parallel along their route. First and Second platoons were in and Third was descending the steep banks now.
Three loud explosions flashed in the open ground above the wadi, followed by a whoosh of air. Charlie was too deep down to see what had happened, but the entire column went to ground. "Eric, Eric, What's going on can you make out who's hitting us?"
Molitoris had been at the rear of second platoon overseeing the rest of the company's descent into the wadi. "Air attack!" Third platoon had been entering the Wadi through a small tributary that ran into the main gully. About half of third platoon was descended but the other half had been caught in the open by the first pass of the Kra'Vak fighters. No one had heard them coming before three airbursts had gone off over their heads. Eric was thrown to the bottom of the small gully, his ears ringing from the explosions. He could make out some feint screams. Around him men clutched at the ground in an attempt to become one wit the earth. At the lip of the gully was a pair of legs and lower torso. The upper half of the body was nowhere to be seen.
Molitoris raised himself up and ran up the gully to where it was shallow and narrow. He could see the two Kra'Vak ships coming in very low for a second pass. He saw several projectiles released form the craft and ducked as they passed over head and exploded along the lip of the gully. Ten meters more to the left and they would have dropped right in. They banked up to come around for another pass. Torn parts of bodies lay strewn across the open ground outside the wadi. Sitting out there alone was the SAM launcher. He watched the Kra'Vak birds arc around and instinctively vaulted out from cover and dashed for the launcher. In a few seconds he was there, extracting the shoulder strap from a part of the carrier's remains he spun and dashed back in time to dive head first into cover as more explosions bracketed the wadi walls on the opposite side.
Eric fumbled with the tube covers and then removed the tracker head from its carrying case. In a rush he failed to seat the tracker on the rail mounting with the first attempt and willed himself to slow down and do it right. There was grit from the billowing dust and sand into everything. Finally getting the two sections mated together, he activated the small freon charge that super-cooled the seeker head then brought the sight to his eye facing in the direction of the oncoming Kra'Vak. After getting a good sight picture he uncaged the seeker eye emitted a growl and oscillated around until it looked on the lead Kra'Vak craft. Eric super-elevated the launcher, heard the warbling tone of a good lock and fired off the missile. The Kra'Vak craft were virtually on top of them when the missile streaked skyward and caught the lead craft with a direct hit. The explosion tore of the rear section of the fighter and it tumbled end over end into the ground in a massive fireball. The second fighter flew through the explosion, banked slightly and sped off over the hill. A series of small puffs followed it as it extended. Eric couldn't tell if it was damaged or if it was dropping countermeasures.
"Fuck you, you rat bastard!" Shouted Molitoris. Others were cheering.
A moment later Lawrence was by his side. "Nice fuckin' shot, man!" He signaled to several partisans still crouching at the bottom of the gully and motioned for them to follow him. They ran out into the opening to check for survivors. There were none. Eleven men had been killed. They stripped the bodies of usable weapons, ammunition and water, and ran back under cover. Molitoris had already discarded the launcher tube (someone grabbed the tracker) and was ministering to an injured man with a sucking chest wound. He dropped his aide bag by his knee and cut the man's coat and shirt pen. Frothing blood was escaping from a small hole in his chest. He checked for an exit wound but found none. The man was gasping for breath but other wise was not in pain.
One of the partisans squatting next to the wounded man seemed in a greater panic. "What is happening! He is dying!"
"Relax there, Fritz. It's called tension pneumothorax and I can fixed it in my sleep."
Molitoris tore open an abdominal bandage and slapped its plastic cover over the wound forming an airtight seal. He then grabbed condom from his aid bag and stuck the tore open the packet with his teeth. He felt along the man's ribs for the right spot, then fished out an alcohol swab with his other hand, tore it open and swabbed over the spot where he was holding his finger. Eric took a 14 gauge catheter, pulled it out of its sterile container and passed the needle through the condom which he held over the mans ribs. The condom would ensure a one way valve. With this in place, air could escape and allow the lung to reinflate. It was field expedient but would suffice until they could get him back to base and insert a real chest tube. 50cc syringe stuck it in the man's chest and helped reinflate the cavity. Soon his breathing returned to normal. He wrapped the bandage around the man's chest then checked for any other wounds. The pain was still there but greatly reduced. At least the patient was ambulatory. Molitoris directed two others to carry his gear and help him along.
"Nice work, show off." Grinned Charlie. Eric stood up and surveyed his handiwork, shrugged matter of factly and shouldered his aid bag. "Let's get the hell out of here before more fighter come." This time the company moved out with a spring in their step.
Go to Operation Harbinger part 2 of 2
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