|The Greatest Game
Author: Stellar Magic PM
Alternate History: It's 1932 and the Great War still grinds on as an Eastern Front reopens. Follow Unteroffizer Ernst Weissmann, Leutenant Mira Marder, and the pilots of the 54th "Green Hearts" Gruppe as they try to hold off the relentless advance of the Soviet Union and Soviet Republic of Poland. Rated T for violence, graphic depictions of warfare, and language.Rated: Fiction T - English - Adventure/Sci-Fi - Chapters: 4 - Words: 11,094 - Reviews: 4 - Favs: 3 - Follows: 2 - Updated: 01-09-13 - Published: 10-09-12 - id: 3064365
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The Greatest Game
Issue #1: The Newbie
August 23rd, 1932
You know that feeling you get just before a storm hits? That icy chill that runs down your back, and makes your hands shiver just from the faintest hint of wind against your skin?
I do. I don't get it with thunderstorms or rain, hail or sleet, but I do get it when another sort of storm rises on the horizon, the storm of fire and death, the storm of war that has haunted everyone in my generation.
I was born on April 9th, 1914 in Bremen. I have lived for eighteen years under the shadow of war. I hear older men talk about how we could have ended the war in 1919, how the Weimar Republic's delegates had waffled and debated over the merits of signing the Treaty of Versailles. We were talking of surrendering then, giving up to the humiliation of the treaty.
I was five years old when the ambassadors walked out of the peace treaty negotiations. I was five when America removed themselves from the allies and signed a seperate peace with us in disgust. I remember the amused grumbles of my grandfather as the Allied forces faltered against our recently reinforced armies.
I was eight years old when the Second Polish Republic surrendered to the Soviet Union and replaced with the Soviet Socialist Republic of Poland.
The front in the west was static, unending... and for many years the only sign of fighting was my father's empty chair. Then the British came.
Bombs fell on my hometown from huge black birds made of canvas and wood. The British Bombers came again. After a few days our planes would rise up to meet them, chasing the drab enemies down and firing into them with bright white and red tracers.
One of the bombers crashed in the park, I remember the pilot circle the wreck in his blue and white Fokker . A white LO was painted on the side of the plane's fuselage and a bright red pendent fluttered from one of the plane's struts. I could see a bright white scarf fluttering from wind as the pilot studied the wreck one more time, waggled his wings, and turned up toward the clouds.
It was then I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. I studied and joined a glider club. I spent my afternoons pulling the white constructs of canvas and wood up a hill near my home with a group of friends before one of us would take a turn behind the stick and fly above the grasses.
I wanted to be a pilot, a fighter pilot.
When I was ten, the Republic voted to extend the conscription pool for the army to include women of military age. My mother's empty chair soon joined my father's as I sat with Oma and Opa for meals and pushed myself harder.
In time, I made my way to the flight school where the infant Luftwaffe would teach their future warriors in the art of war. I worked through classes where I learned navigation, triangulation, mechanics, and everything else a pilot would need.
The war dragged on with a front that grew more static by the moment as the powers grew exhausted in assailing us.
Two years ago, I graduated from flight school and moved into a barracks for officers in training. Two days ago, I was promoted to the rank of unteroffizier and received my first set of orders. I've been assigned to the 54th Gruppe, a reserve post used for final fighter training. The unit is in the Slovak Republic, one of the new separate republics that form the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It'll be the furthest west I've ever been in my life.
I felt a storm coming the moment I stepped off the train… I don't know why, but I get the sense something is going to happen, something bad.
- Unteroffizer Ernst Weissmann
23 August 1932, 16:30 hrs
Poprad Railyard, Slovak Republic, Austro-Hungarian Empire
Central Powers Rail Authority Train 119
Steam hissed from the engine as Ernst Weissmann stepped onto the platform with his suitcase. A glance around the platform showed a dozen odd Slovakian soldiers dressed in the grey, red, and blue uniforms of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
"Unteroffizer!" A female voice snapped out from further along the platform where a woman clad in the grey uniform of the Weimar Republic stepped out of the steam into view. Her grey eyes focused on him and she pursed her lips for a moment. On her head a military cap bearing the insignia of the Weimar Republc was pulled taut over her hair.
"Ja, mein Leutenant!" Ernst answered as he snapped off a quick salute which the woman immediately returned. He caught a slight smirk play across her lips before it disappeared behind her profession mask. "Unteroffizer Ernst Weissmann reporting for duty!"
"Leutenant Mira Marder, 54th Gruppe. You're our newest member, Weissmann. Welcome to Slovakia." She held out a hand which he quickly shook and smiled at her. "I have a staff car waiting, the airfield is not far."
"Danke." Ernst said as he followed the woman carrying his suitcase. A couple of civilians stared after him as he passed by and he saw a couple of the local army soldiers glance at him with curious expressions. "We are being watched."
"Of course, German soldiers are a curiosity here." Mira said as she lead him out to the street where an Opel car sat idling. "Get in... it's about thirty minutes to the aerodrome."
Ernst sat down in the passenger seat and dropped the suitcase between his feet. Mira turned the ignition and put the car into gear, leading it across the rough cobblestone street toward the west. "So..."
Mira snorted quietly. "That isn't how to start a conversation with a superior, is it Unteroffizer?"
Ernst glanced at the floor and looked a bit sheepish. "I apologize, ma'am."
"No problem, I don't care but the Hauptmann might..." Mira leaned back in the car seat and sighed. "You are how old Weissmann?"
"Eighteen," I said quietly.
"Of course, you must be fresh from school then... even with the accelerated program they have for pilots no one gets out of there until they're eighteen." Mira said with a smile before pulling a cigarette packet from her uniform and lighting one up. "Du haven't seen any action then, eh?"
"No, I haven't." Ernst said as he glanced over at her, surprised at the use of the German informal language. "Have you?"
"Five missions in the Somme... two kills." She answered with a shrug. "Got transferred here three months ago, don't know why... I thought the CO liked having another shooter in the squadron."
Ernst shrugged. "Do you know who I'll be flying with?"
She snickered, "Of course!" Then she smirked at him. "You'll be my wingman, why do you think I'm the one picking you up? The Hauptmann always does this."
"Oh..." Ernst sat back in his seat and shrugged. "I suppose that makes sense."
"Not sure why we bother, we're what, a thousand kilometers from the front, here? We don't have anything to do but train." Mira snapped with a bit of irritation as the town of Poprad began to fade from view out the windows.
"What happened to the pilot I'm replacing." Ernst asked and saw Mira freeze, her jaw clench, and her eyes harden as she glared out the window down the road.
"Undercarriage failure, he rolled off the field and into a hangar." She stated with a growl. "Engine caught fire and... none of us could get him out in time."
Ernst flinched. "I'm sorry."
Mira sighed and closed her eyes before bowing her head and taking a deep breath. "It does not matter, it was the past. There is no point in dwelling upon it."
He nodded and took a deep breath before glancing out the window as the car rolled down the road. Suddenly she turned onto a dirt track that ran under a set of trees. After a half a kilometer, the trees and wheat fields ended and the car rolled out onto a grassy airstrip with a dozen small buildings huddled together at the edge. Mira drove them to the side of a large barracks building and put the car in park.
"Come on Ernst..." Mira said as she opened the door and stood. "Let's go get you settled into your new home.
He smiled. "Thank you."
"I'll show you around more tomorrow and check you into the commander, and then we can see about learning to work together." Mira smiled faintly at him.
"I'd like that." Ernst said.
Ernst picked up his suitcase and followed after Mira, lugging the heavy leather backed piece of luggage. The Leutenant smirked slightly as she pulled open the door for him.
"This is the officer's barracks, the married quarters are over at a farmhouse down the road, and the officer's mess is the building over there." She pointed to a large brick building across from the doorway then waved him inside. "You're in room one-oh-eight."
"Right." Ernst said as he staggered past her into the entryway. The screen door banged shut behind them before she turned to him and led him down a hall.
She opened the room and waved him inside. "Much nicer facilities here then in the west, there we were living in tents all too often."
"I see," Ernst said as he glanced around the small room, a desk was pushed against the window and two beds were on opposite sides of the room pressed against the wall. "Who is my room-mate?"
"You have none, lucky you." Mira smirked faintly. "At least until we get another pilot..."
"Oh, well that will be nice for now." Ernst said before swinging his suitcase and dumping it on the top of the bed. "It's been years since I had a room of my own."
Mira snorted. "I think most of us can feel your pain, unteroffizer... just don't rub it in, or another officer might decide to convince the hauptmann to have you swapped for a senior pilot."
"Right." Ernst sighed and popped open the suitcase. "I'm to be your wingmate then?"
"Ja... I told you earlier." Mira leaned against the doorframe. "This is the most... peaceful assignment in the Luftwaffe. We'll be logging hours but not much else, so long as you don't screw up a landing."
"I understand." Ernst sat on the bed and leaned against the wall. "I do love flying, how often do we get hours?"
Mira grinned at him. "About once every two days... my next training flight will be tomorrow. We'll get you checked out on the crate that'll be yours."
"Fokker like everyone else?" Ernst asked.
Mira shrugged. "Of course, which I assume means you have hours in it."
"Just twelve hours in the Fokker?" Mira grumbled. "I guess we'll want to get you up as often as we can so you can get used to it." She stepped from the doorframe and sat on the cot opposite him, then pulled off her hat and dropped it on the covers. "What else?"
"About a hundred hours in the ." Ernst said with a shrug. "More in gliders and so forth."
"They're sending us pilots with less and less training time, course I only had twenty hours behind a when I arrived at the front." She ran a hand through her hair. "At least here you'll get pleanty of time to get used to the plane before going into combat."
"Yes..." Ernst nodded. "We're pretty far from the Tommies."
She laughed lightly. "The Tommies... I sometimes think it's hard to believe they still are fighting, the front has been static for so long."
"So, you said you have a training flight tomorrow?"
"We... have a training flight and aerial gunnery practice." She said before leaning back in his seat.
"Okay." Ernst said and smiled faintly. "I wish we had more of that sort of training before I got here."
"Oh, it's just about all we do..."
24 August 1932, 09:30 hrs
5 km North of Poprad, Slovak Republic, Austro-Hungarian Empire
300 meters over the Countryside
The next morning Ernst was grinning as the wind rushed across his face as he slide slowly into the wingman position with Mira. He caught her glance back toward him after a moment and flashed a smile before turning back toward her controls.
They were at three hundred meters over the Slovakian countryside. To the north the jagged mountain range that divided Slovakia from the Soviet Republic of Poland rose up into the grey skies. To the south, forest covered mountains rose slowly from the farmland around Poprad. A single field to the east was covered with large wooden targets that looked almost like a ridiculously enlarged archery range from the air.
Mira began a slow turn around the gunnery range and Ernst could see her chamber each of the two Spandau machine guns by pulling the charging lever. Then she rolled toward the targets.
I want you to follow me through the first passes, just so you can get used to the motions of a strafing run, then when I give the signal you'll make your first run. She had told him.
Ernst dove down behind Mira and followed her as she lined up on one of the targets. Bright white tracers spat from her plane as she opened fire and smoke filled the wake of the bullets as they thudded into the large wooden target.
Flying behind her, Ernst could smell the cordite of her guns mixed with the acrid odor of gasoline and engine oil.
Ernst followed her as she climbed away and pushed the throttle forward to catch up on her Fokker . He caught her glance back over her shoulder to confirm his position before beginning a long circle to make a second run.
After three more runs, Mira made a circular motion over her head and a yanking motion with her hands. Ernst nodded toward her, grabbed the charging handle and gave it a yank. The clack of the twin Spandau machine guns chambering their first rounds echoed in the cockpit, just audible over the roar of the engine.
Ernst gave a 'thumbs up' to Mira, who waggled her wings and started in on another run. Ernst followed, dropping lower than her to get a clear shot and lined up on the same target she'd chosen. He squinted and peered down the sights as the black and white target began to fill his vision and pulled the trigger.
His stream of brilliant white tracers shot into the target's center, flashing as it struck the wood while a stream of tracers from Mira's Fokker reached down from above and tore into the target. Splinters shot from the back of the target and then, with a snap he could hear despite the distance the spar that held the target up broke and the black and white target fell back onto the field with a thumb just before the two of them flew over.
Ernst grinned wildly as Mira looked back at him and shook her head once with an amused expression visible despite the distance. Then she shrugged and the two of them formed back up and circled round for another pass.
24 August 1932, 09:50 hrs
5 km North of Poprad, Slovak Republic, Austro-Hungarian Empire
500 meters south of the Gunnery Range
On the ground, Major Hasso von Wedel slowly lowered his field glasses and smirked before clambering down from the roof of the car. Beside him, Hauptmann Haussler, commander of the 1st Staffel, smirked faintly. "It seems my squadron has the best of the bunch once again."
Hasso chuckled and ran a hand through his graying hair as Oberleutenant Rosa von Wedel rolled her eyes and sat down in a huff. "Not that they'll be scoring much, without something to shoot at."
"Rosa… I've been reading intelligence reports, and from the sound of things that might not be true for much longer," Hasso said with a sigh. "The soviets have been mobilizing and training along the border."
"They've done that before." Haussler observed with a shrug. "If they do decide to attack… well, the Republic and our hosts have reserves and plans for that eventuality."
"Yes, but it will be a strain, fighting a war on two fronts once more." Hasso von Wedel said. He nodded to Rosa. "In which case, you will have a competition on your hands."
Rosa gave him a predatory smile. "I look forward to it."
The growl of the two Fokker engines drew their attention skyward as the pair of planes flew past and dove toward another target. The group lifted their field glasses and watched the plume of dust and smoke that rose from the barrage coming from the two plane's guns. Hasso saw flames lick at the paint from a few of the tracer rounds as the planes passed and vectored upward again.
"With those two, it will be quite a competition… how many hours does the new unteroffizer have in that type?" Hasso asked.
"This will make thirteen I think." Haussler said.
"Only thirteen?" Rosa asked as she lowered her field glasses and turned to Haussler. "Thirteen hours in a , and he's already doing quite well… accurate with his gunnery at least."
"Some pilots are a natural on the stick." Hasso said before sitting back against the staff car's hood. "I have the feeling that he'll do well, especially if Leutenant Marder keeps him under her wind."
The two planes flew overhead and turned to the southeast. "I believe they have expended their ordinance now," Haussler said. "Do you think we should schedule another round of gunnery training for them tomorrow?"
"No, we'll give them a couple of days first." Hasso said.
Rosa shrugged, "So long as the Soviet's don't interrupt anything."
"It'll be a while before that danger fully materializes, I think." Hasso said.
31 August 1932, 20:53 hrs
Poprad Airbase, Slovak Republic, Austro-Hungarian Empire
Officer's Barracks, 1st Staffel, 54th Gruppe
Ernst leaned back against his pillow, reflecting on the last week he'd spent as a member of this group. Every other day he'd been given a training flight, most of which lasted at least an hour. Then there'd been doctrine briefings, intelligence briefings, ground training, and every other thing a pilot in the Luftwaffe could be expected to learn.
He'd spent most of those sessions, flights, and briefings with Leutenant Marder, the blonde haired grey-eyed woman had become a friendly face after just a week and while he hadn't interacted much with the other pilots, he'd stuck to his assigned wingmate like glue.
Which was his job in the air, and it seems Mira figured that extending it to the ground was a natural evolution.
"So... the Hauptmann talked to me a couple days ago." Mira said from the other cot which had remained empty. She stared up at the ceiling as she spoke. "He said that he's really quite impressed with us."
"After a week?" Ernst asked.
"Ja, I know it doesn't seem like it's been a lot of time, but he seems to think you're a natural pilot." Mira observed with a shrug. "Actually he said something similar to me when I first transferred in after a load of questions about why I was chucked off the front."
"Still... no experience." Ernst said. "Hard to be real sure I'm worth training yet. Is it?"
"We'll see... you settling in okay?" Mira asked. "It's been a week you know."
"Fine... it's been... enjoyable I guess, it's been great getting a chance to fly without some instructor looking over my shoulder the whole time."
Mira sat up and gave him a lopsided smile. "I thought that was my job." The two of them laughed for a couple moments before she stood and headed for the door. "Good night."
"Night," Ernst said.
1 September 1932, 01:29 hrs
5 km south-east of Jurgów, Soviet Republic of Poland
Near the Polish-Slovakian Border
The rumble of dozens of engines being started filled the air, in the light of a set of spotlights crews of men clambered onto the green, tan, and dark brown painted hulls of the Vickers 6-ton Tanks that made up the Polish tank company. The rumble of aircraft echoed overhead as the Russian technical advisor lifted his watch and stared at it.
He listened to the tick of the second hand then slowly plugged his ears and turned to the north. Suddenly the dark night was lit up with a barrage of brilliant red flame followed seconds later by the rumble of a sound like thunder.
The Soviet invasion had begun.