"Dog Four this is Chandler One. You are cleared to enter the pattern. Establishing link.
"Roger, Chandler One. Entering pattern now." His HUD displayed the Glide slope and path information as well as the landing cues. He hadn't done a manual landing in months and he was sweating profusely inside his flight suit. With one eye watching the accumulator level and the other the landing cues, he eased the throttle forward and brought 211 onto the beam. He set up a 50 meters per second approach. With a last minute decel, that would put him on the ramp in two minutes. That left 70 seconds of spare power to monkey with.
Ahead of him, the Ark Royal grew in size. Thompson found the yaw was getting worse at slower speeds. At one kilometer, he brought the speed down to 15 meters per second. The ship yawed violently and momentarily the ramp swung out of site. Thompson overcorrected and the Greyhound yawed in the opposite direction. He punched the throttle forward and picked up some speed, which oddly enough reduced the yaw. Thompson eyeballed the spot he wanted o hit on the ramp, and cut power completely to the engines and yaw thrusters He was still four hundred meters out.
"What the hell are you doing! Wave off.! Cried the LSO.
"Can't. Yaw thrusters malfunctioning, I'll just smash into the back of the ship if I do that. I'm going to fire off bow attitude thrusters just before I pass the threshold then edge the nose down. I still have pitch and roll authority."
211 approached the Ark Royal at 25 meters per second. Thompson waited until he was 100 meters out then fired his bow attitude thrusters until he crossed the threshold. He was still travelling at fifteen meters per second when he edged the nose down onto the flight deck. There was a tremendous screeching of metal as the Greyhound ground to a halt near the port bulkhead. He shut down all power and hit every extinguisher he had left. An emergency lifter quickly snatched up the stricken craft and moved it off into one of the air locks to make way for the other fighters behind him.
He waited in his cockpit as two deck personnel made a quick 360 check of the greyhound and verified that all power was cut off and any fires extinguished. They gave thumbs up to the lift operator and the fighter was past through to the maintenance deck. The lift set it down in one corner reserved for damaged birds known as the 'krankhouse".
There was a knock on the cockpit and Thompson saw Sergeant Gomes, his crew chief, grinning at him. Wearily, he decoupled the shock frame and crawled out of the seat as the canopy popped open. The loud noises of the hangar deck seemed oppressive to him after the relative silence of the last 90 minutes. Was that all? It seemed like six hours.
Sergeant Gomes helped him to the deck. Thompson removed his helmet and gloves. "Cor, Sir. That was a close one!" Thompson felt his knees weakened and steadied himself on the nose of the greyhound. "You all right, Sir?"
"Quite. I've just been in there for too long." "Christ! The skipper's gonna flip a bird over this one. Ignoring a wave off and all that. Still, it's not your fault. Them bloody warthogs. Take a look at her." Thompson took a walk around the fighter. It really was in sad shape. The rear of the fighter over the port engine had a three-meter gash in it large enough to stick his head in. The whole area was scored black by the fire, as was the inside of the vacant engine well. There were a half dozen large holes in the aircraft leading forward from there including one less than a meter from the cockpit.
"That's right, Sir. Another meter and you'd 'ave caught one in the bollucks." He slapped Thompson on the shoulder. "Not to worry sir, we'll have her back in space again in no time, just you wait and see."
"Thanks Paul. Just get the data storage cans from all the pods up to intel pronto." Thompson walked away from 211 as several of his squadron mates came running. They needed to get up to debrief right away. Ark Royal was to transit out of Röt Hafen in twenty minutes. Stuart, one of the other Greyhound pilots in dog flight was first to greet him.
"Cripes, Jimmy. That was bloody close!"
"Tell me about it."
"Marvelous work on the jammers old boy. You got us through."
"Well we lost Biggles just before the release point. So I didn't do that good. "
"Don't be wet. With all the fire Stumpy was putting out we should have all been snuffed, save for that deception job you ran."
"Doesn't make me feel any better. Let alone getting my crate knackered like that."
"Oh for Christ sakes, Jimmy. Give your brain a rest."
"Well let's get up to debrief, I suppose the skippers already tapping his toes. I'll probably be grounded for ignoring that wave off" Paul stopped suddenly. A look of surprise was on his face. "Oh for fuck's sake you don't even know."
"Skipper's bought it in that last tangle with those bravo contacts. I'm afraid he's gone."
At 1350z the Meadows made its transit into the Röt Hafen system. The crew was known for their accurate, which were routinely below .01% SEP. As soon as the crew had a precise navigational fix, they went into cloak. The ship had two separate cloaking systems. One was the traditional black globe generator known as 'Blackout". It prohibited all contact from inside or outside of the globe and rendered the ship invisible even to the naked eye. They would remain in this mode for the run into Röt Hafen. Normally, a ship in blackout would have to rely solely on internal navigational information or "dead reckoning", to maneuver. Meadows' blackout system was specially modified by the "skunkworks" (R&D) section at the Night Stalkers. She could use the globe projectors to detect subtle changes in magnetic fields caused by a planet's gravity well. The Meadows route was carefully planned to pass between Röt Hafen and it's one moon. In this manner she could use subtle readings from the two planetary gravity wells to keep her on track to the initial point. The technique was known as "handrailing", and the Night Stalkers were the only ones to use it.
Once at the IP, the Meadows would switch from blackout to "Looking Glass". This mode was actually similar to the Spiegel Mark IX system currently installed in the Köhl. It was in fact developed separately by Raytheon-Martin Electronics on Earth. Looking glass allowed the Meadows to "see out" from cloak, and use passive sensors. While in this mode, she was no longer invisible to the naked eye. However, space being so huge, this was generally the least of her worries. The Meadows was constructed with special electro-magnetic and radar defeating materials and painted in a light-absorbing flat black so she would be difficult to spot. If necessary, she could oscillate between blackout and looking glass, in order to maintain maximum cloakability and maximum accuracy for the drop. Today's plan called for Meadows to remain in looking glass mode from the IP to the release point where the drop capsules would be released. It was anticipate that the diversion from the other attacks combined with the destruction of both defense platforms with a direct line of site to the RP would provide sufficient cover. The Meadows would return to blackout and handrail herself out to the transit point.
Gibbons and Handley were kept deliberately unaware of the specifics of the Meadows' flight plan and capabilities in case they should fall into enemy hands after insertion. After coming out of their Domotril naps, both men had nerve a wracking thirty minute ride ahead of them. The passenger compartment on the Meadows was small and utilitarian. A locked door lead forwards to the secret inner workings of the crew. Passengers were not allowed to pass forward of this bulkhead. SGM Mullen appeared to be sleeping calmly. Warrant Officer Second Class (WO-2) Brandon, crew chief of the Meadows, moved about the cabin checking instruments and talking quietly into his headset with the crew up front. At T-minus twenty minutes he kicked Mullen awake and motioned for the two passengers to unhook themselves and stand up.
Mullen and Brandon worked together on final preparations. Mullen helped the two men don the web harnesses that would hold personal survival gear, sidearm and power packs. Each man wore a helmet similar to those carried by 946. Mullen rechecked the crypto fill, power supply and navigational programming. Both men were visibly nervous, sweaty and wide eyed. Mullen kept up a friendly banter as he worked on them.
Brandon made final checks on both drop capsules. Each was three meters in height and a meter in diameter. To Gibbons and Handley they looked alarmingly like coffins. Both were finished in an odd flat black ceramic material. Brandon opened the hatch on each, made a detailed internal inspection, then plugged a datapad into a jack inside the door and ran a number of systems checked. When he turned from the second capsule, he saw Gibbons and Handley geared up and standing behind him. Both men were positively ashen. Mullen had a large grin.
"Got two kids here for the merry go round."
Brandon let out a hearty laugh. "Bloody marvelous." The Glum expressions of the two passengers showed that they didn't quite appreciate the humor. Mullen tried to allay their fears: "Relax you two, everything will be all right. The Night Stalkers do this sort of thing all the time."
"Maybe so. But we sure as hell don't." Gibbons made no effort o hide his fear. He was a technician not a field operator. He'd never even been to the field.
"Look you two", said Brandon. "You've been through the briefings and the training. From your end there's nothing to it. You step in, we strap you down, shut the hatch and spit you out the bum. There's a bit of a fun ride, maybe five minutes tops, then you're on the ground. The door will pop itself open, free your harness and open your little cargo hatch. Then you're on your way. Bloody simple. The only thing you control is the red lever by your hand here. Once you get on the ground, if the hatch doesn't open, you pull on that and the whole thing will come apart around your ears. Nothing to it! Just make sure you wait until you're on the ground before yanking on it. Any questions?"
"I just hope there's someone down there waiting for us."
"Don't worry. My boys will be there. That is assuming Mister Brandon here can hit the ground with his own feet when he jumps out of the rack in the morning."
"Cor...You wanker! If I was you two I'd worry more about those fookin' drunks and thieves down there that passes themselves off for Special Forces."
"IP in five minutes," came a call from up front.
"Roger. Right then, on your bikes." Brandon guided each man into the capsule and strapped him in. He adopted a serious tone. "Look boys, you'll be on the ground in fifteen minutes. Just relax and let us do our job. You'll be fine. Good luck." The hatches were shut and the men were cloaked in black. It was not a place anyone for claustrophobic. A minute later a green display screen lit up and both men could see the capsule readouts through their own helmet heads up displays.
"You two hear me in there?"
"Ok we're at the initial point. Now it's a ten-minute run in to the release point. You guys sit tight." What else could they do? Both men concentrated on the timer, willing it to move quicker.
Brandon sealed the tube access hatch and lowered the capsules into the firing position. Mullen sat back in his seat and plugged into the ship's intercom. He listened to the crew, preparing for the drop.
"T-minus five minutes".
"Got a fix on the beacon. Navigation is good. Feeding through course corrections to auto pilot."
"Tactical display showing lots of debris and radiation out where Stumpy was. Some of it is already falling out of orbit. Beautiful cover for us. Six contacts, looks like fighters, about two light seconds behind us chasing after Ark Royal's group. No one is paying much attention over here. Other than that threat board is clear."
"Sparks, run all the cameras. We can get a pretty good look at the city and spaceport for at least a few minutes. I'm sure someone will appreciate the footage."
"Roger, boss. Everything is rolling."
"T-minus three minutes to release."
"Tubes in the green."
"One minute. Stand by for Deceleration."
"Engaging maneuver drive for a 3-Gee burn. Hold on." The Meadows shook as she slowed down to drop speed.
"Thruster cut off. Velocity at 250 meters per second. We are in the pipe."
"Opening tube doors."
"All systems in the green."
"Threat board clear."
"Package away. Outer doors secured."
"Stand by for main engine burn. Course correction to waypoint four."
"Both capsules looking good. Falling on the planned trajectory..."
Gibbons had been grunting in discomfort under 3-Gee deceleration. He had to urinate also. Shaking within his capsule, he watched the timer count down to zero. There was a slight bump and then...nothing. The nauseating feeling of weightlessness overcame him. The timer now started a five-minute countdown to landing. A second readout gave the altitude, starting at 150,000 meters. Soon the capsule began to vibrate and bump as it fell through the upper atmosphere. His attention turned to a set of duel readouts that represented the capsule heat sinks. They climbed into the upper limit of the tolerance band, but both stabilized at 85% capacity. There were two major bumps on the way down as outer capsule sloughed off. Then a third bump as the parafoil deployed. From here the capsule would automatically steer itself to the beacon. He wondered if the beacon was a decoy set up by the Kra'Vak. Gibbons felt very vulnerable strapped in helpless to a capsule hanging by a parachute. He half expected to be blown out of the sky at any moment. There was a loud roar as a braking rocked fired within ten meters of the ground and then the capsule set down with a surprisingly light thud, then slowly deployed itself so Gibbons was on his back.
The readout said: Landing successful, atmosphere breathable. opening capsule in ten seconds, press NO to Abort. The door popped open and bright light blinded his eyes. The belts, having been disengaged by the capsule's computer, popped free. Before he could pull himself out he felt hands grabbing him and lifting him roughly out of the capsule. A dozen men wrapped in torn up and filthy overcoats or parkas surrounded him. One hundred meters away he could see the second capsule with others around it. The group stepped aside to make way for a soldier wearing a helmet like his.
"Welcome to Röt Hafen. We hope you find your stay here pleasant and brief." The man flipped up his visor and Gibbons saw a grin peeking from under a bushy red mustache. "I'm Sergeant Eric Miner, New Anglican Confederation Special Forces. And you must be Mister A-bomb." Miner held out a hand. Gibbon shakily grasped the firm hand. "Lieutenant Commander Gibbons, Royal Navy Ordnance Corps."
"I trust it you had a pleasant insertion?"
"Christ! It was bloody awful. I think I left my balls up there in orbit somewhere""
"Yeah, well, look back on it fondly, pal. Because for you, today was the last easy day."
Admiral Bellamy was asleep in his quarters when a staff officer dropped off the After Action report from HARBINGER. He signed for the report poured a cup of coffee, and decided to read it in his quarters.
Classification: NÜR NSL
Subject: AAR of Unternehmen HARBINGER (Röt Hafen)
Routing: Commander, First Combined Assault Fleet;
Ia OberKommado KriegsRaumFlotte Nue Salzburg
From: Kapitän zur raum Rudolf Bergmann (III/KG14)
This AAR covers the actions of III/KG14 during its participation in Unternehmen HARBINGER in the Röt Hafen system on 08AUG93. Referencing document is Operations Order 227a annex B.
1. First Combined Assault Fleet Operations Order 227a annex B
2. III/KG14 Operations order 07.08.93
3. Joint Operation Graphic: Röt Hafen series IIIB
4. Technical extract: Sensor log summary Unternehmen HARBINGER.
5. Technical Extract: Recommendation changes to enemy order of battle.
6. Holographic replay log 2347.90
Ia. Order of Battle NSL
1. III/KG12a. Missile destroyers: KRS von Steuben, Galland, Trautloff, and RNS Ajax2. Attachments:
b. Escort Cruiser: KRS Schöngau
c. Battle cruiser: KRS Scharnhorst (flagship), Derrflinger
d. Fighter carrier: Tirpitz
e. 1 Jagdstaffel: (II/Jasta26)
TF 52.3a. Destroyers: RNS Bainbridge and CummingsNo. 160 SOG (Special Operations Group) RNS Meadows
b. Escort Cruiser: RNS Achilles
c. Light carrier RNS Ark Royal
d. 4 fighter groups (No's 11, 16, 32 34)
Ib. Order of Battle Kra'Vak (estimated)
a. 6x Hunter class cruisers
b. 1x Striker class battle cruiser
c. 2 orbital defense stations
d. 6 fighter groups
III/KG14 warps into the Röt Hafen system and conducts a raid against Kra'Vak forces. III/KG14 will lure local defense forces into a battle far enough from the planet to allow Ark Royal to launch a strike against the orbital defense platforms covering Röt Hafen's Western Hemisphere. RNS Meadows conducts clandestine insertion of covert assets onto Röt Hafen.
IIb. Desired Endstate:
III/KG14 engages the Kra'Vak forces in system on favorable terms and significantly degrades the Kra'Vak force. III/KG14 collects valuable information on Kra'Vak OB, weapons, sensors, operational and technical capabilities so as to upgrade alliance intelligence estimates and orders of battle. 160 SOG successfully inserts assets into Röt Hafen.
III. Events Transpired:
III/KG14 warped into system at 1300Z as per plan. We emerged at 4 light seconds from Röt Hafen. The transit was not without difficulty, resulting in damage to one of the fighter launch bays on the KRS Tirpitz. This effectively cut our launch capability by 50%. Also KRS Scharnhorst had three beam batteries go off line. At 1330Z RNS Ark Royal warped in 3 seconds from Röt Hafen and launched two strike packages (from No's 11 and 16 fighter groups) aimed at destroying orbital defense platforms designated Stumpy and Grumpy. Once releasing her fighters the Ark Royal increased distance from Röt Hafen to 4.5 LS.
Since II/KG14 made no attempt at maintaining EMSEC (Emissions Security), it was relatively easy for the Kra'Vak to detect us. They took the bait and dispatched every ship within range toward us. At 1350 the RNS Meadows transited undetected and commenced its insertion operation.
Admiral Geller's plan was to keep the incoming enemy fleet off to our starboard and avoid the usual interpenetration of a standard head on fight. Consequently, he deployed the missile ships 6 MUs (Maneuver Units) ahead of our main force and spread into a skirmish line 12 MUs across. The main force was kept in a compact group within 6 MUs of each other. His intent was to shower the incoming Kra'Vak with missile salvos, and launch a fighter strike to swing wide around the aft of the Kra'Vak fleet sandwiching them between us. The Admiral was commitment to get their missiles off as early as possible. Also it was estimated that our heavy beam batteries have a 6 MU range advantage of Kra'Vak systems and he wanted to keep them at bay to take advantage of the range difference.
Our plan began to go awry at once. The Kra'Vak commander maintained a tight control of his fleet, and instead of rushing right at us, he maneuvered his force in a way which resulted in 60% of our missiles (Our first two full salvos) not finding their mark. The Kra'Vak ships synchronized their movements very well. However the salvos did serve some good, as they shepherded the Kra'Vak squadron of to our starboard flank and prevent the interpenetration that Adm. Geller had wished to avoid.
It was clear that the Kra'Vak had a marked maneuver advantage over our ships. This allowed them to close to fewer than 30 MUs. Thus we were not able to take advantage of our superior beam range. A number of our ships began taking hits and the Scharnhorst 50% loss of batteries upon transit was severely felt. Our destroyer screen took severe damage with the RNS Ajax being destroyed and the KRS Trautloff suffering a bridge hit which put her out of control for the duration of the fight. The remaining destroyers in the screen, now moving at a high speed, bypassed the flanking Kra'Vak ships spun and fired an additional salvo. This coincided with fighters from Jasta 26 conducting an extended burn. Thus the Kra'Vak found themselves sandwiched between 2 missile salvos and 2 fighter groups attacking from their aft quadrants. This took them by surprise and a number of ships suffered heavily. It was the first good news of the battle. Our fighters would continue to harry the Kra'Vak ships from their aft quadrant for the duration of the battle.
At this point the Kra'Vak commander made his first error. He attempted to close range with us. I believe that the Kra'Vak should have remained at long range since their railgun systems hold their damage potential better at long range than our beam systems. They closed to within 20 MUs of the main force, suffering another well-timed and aimed missile salvo in the process. (At this points the destroyers were out of missiles and were allowed to drift out of the fight, having been harried by Kra'Vak fighters.)
By the time the Kra'Vak began to close in, all Scharnhorst's batteries had come back on line and the Kra'Vak began to suffer under 18 class 3 beam batteries from our heavy units. The Kra'Vak units responded with heavy railgun fire as well as the attention of their fighters. However we could see our beams taking effect as a number of ships began streaming atmosphere. Two Hunters exploded as their power cores gave way. We suffered also, as various systems would go down, be repaired and go down again. The heaviest loss came when Scharnhorst suffered a catastrophic bridge hit resulting in the death of Admiral Geller and the entire bridge crew. At this point I assumed command. Our main force had already swung aft while fleeing to keep the heavy beams bearing on our pursuers. The Kra'Vak ships, dealing with our main battery fire from the front and Oberst Halfek's fighter attacks from aft, broke formation and became separated.
The high point of the battle occurred as the Kra'Vak dreadnought and two hunters closed range. Our ships were shot up and the Scharnhorst was still drifting out of control. Oberst Halfek's fighters were at the end of their endurance and had already been recalled. When he saw the danger to the staffel, he led his remaining fighters in for a desperate attack. The Kra'Vak fighters had been pulled back to pursue, but Halfek's pilots ignored their deadly attacks and enemy scattergun fire to press home their attack on the dreadnought. Apparently a bridge hit on the behemoth effectively put her out of action and spared us from her punishing railguns at close range. This allowed me to concentrate on the two Hunters, killing one and severely damaging the other. Our most dangerous moments were over.
While we were heavily engaged, the Ark Royal's strike groups closed to within launch distance and destroyed both defense platforms. It appears the success was attributed in part to our ability to win the ECM struggle against the Kra'Vak. In part it was due to establishing local space superiority over the enemy fighter groups. This day's action was the first encounter with enemy fighters. They were not handled with the tactical acumen of our groups, (both KRF and RNS units). It also appears that the Kra'Vak fighters were not armed with missiles or the sophisticated sensor and ECM packages available to our forces.
At 1455, we detected the Ark Royal's transit beacon signaling all clear. Now to extract ourselves! I ordered our remaining destroyers, the KRS von Stueben and Galland to execute maximum burns into our Kra'Vak pursuers to cover our withdrawal. As the range separated, our heavy batteries destroyed another Hunter. The final Hunter kept up a steady railgun upon us, but the appearance of the destroyers and our final salvos severely damaged this ship and she broke off action.
We were now faced with emergency repairs on a number of ships to get them ready for Warp transit. Unfortunately Life Support on the Scharnhorst was permanently disabled, so the Derrflinger hove along side and pulled off her crew, then scuttled the great ship. There was no time to affect more detailed repairs since two more groups of Kra'Vak contacts were reported approaching and we were in no condition for another fight. Apparently, a large force has been on station over 20 light seconds out and could not return in time to aid their comrades in the fight. We identified twenty contacts in this group. It consisted of numerous Hunters and several heavier units. A second smaller group approached from behind Röt Hafen. It consisted of a large dreadnought sized ship, two cruiser-sized units and six Hunters. We transited out of the system with this group under 4 LS away.
Our final losses were 1 destroyer (RNS Ajax), one Battle cruiser (KRS Scharnhorst) and 23 fighters destroyed. Heavy damage was incurred on the KRS von Steuben, Trautloff, and Derrflinger. There is light to moderate damage to all others. We suffered 353 killed and 237 injured. The RNS Meadows conducted a successful insertion without detection from the enemy, who were busy with us. I consider our mission a success though at a very high cost. The synchronization of Kra'Vak maneuvers signals an adaptation of their tactics in an attempt to avoid deadly missile salvos. Never the less the Kra'Vak lost one dreadnought and 3 hunters. 2 others were last seen drifting out of control streaming atmosphere and the last one was heavily damaged and withdrew under her own power.
I expect III/KG14 to be out of commission for at least three weeks as we refit. We have rendezvoused with FSU (Fleet Support Unit) 33 and are making repairs. This concludes my debrief.
Bellamy set down the memo and took a deep breath. Quite an action. A quick glance at the results gave the victory to the humans. However, the fact was that a relatively small force of light ships had put III/KG14 out of action for at least three weeks. That worried him. What would the main engagement be like? There was much work to do in preparation.
He thumbed through the various annexes looking for the technical section, and read that in some detail. The use of UV targeting for fighters and point defense systems was a bit alarming. He knew that the news had already gone through the fleet and UV detection capabilities were being installed in threat warning receivers everywhere. The Kra'Vak didn't seem to be big on missiles, but their excellent railgun systems more than made up for it. Missiles you could at least shoot down. Railgun defense was much harder. At least the NSL ships were heavily armored. His NAC ships were light on armor and relied on shields, which were useless against the railguns. There was an advantage in ECM systems, but no doubt the Kra'Vak would be analyzing the battle and drawing conclusions just like he was. Also interesting was the Kra'Vak point defense system (PDS) known as the scattergun. The system actually fired off garbage scan sized canisters of railgun launched armatures which exploded in the vicinity of attacking ships or missiles. It's principle was similar to an automatic shotgun with deadly canister rounds set to explode at predefined distances. The system had a high rate of fire and was very accurate.
In the many ships of the First Combined Assault Fleet, preparations continued at a fevered pace. Information from HARBINGER would be reviewed dissected and analyzed. Conclusions would be drawn, Operational and technical modification would be undertaken. The information would be disseminated. Every contact with the Kra'Vak bought the humans more of that most vital of commodities in war: information. Meanwhile crews would continue to conduct routine maintenance, and repairs. Training would continue at a feverish pace, both in the simulation chamber and with the maneuvering of actual fleet units., The Royal navy and the KriegsRaumFlotte would improve their coordination in conducting joint operations. In the assault transports, the constant thumping of gym shoes reverberated in the halls as squads and platoons sought to keep up their fitness amid the most of their narrow confines. And in everyone's mind lay thoughts of home and loved ones left behind. These thoughts pulled at the soldiers and spacemen. They tugged with equally powerful thoughts of what lay ahead. How would they perform when they came to grips with the alien forces that had such a deathgrip on Röt Hafen?
Go to War in a Minor Key, chapter 6 of Röt Hafen
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