|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 #2: The First Kill
1 September 1932, 04:31 hrs
1 km West of Zdiar, Slovak Republic, Austro-Hungarian Empire
A Kompanie, 97th Border Guards Regiment, 1st Slovakian Division
The rumble of artillery echoed in the valley between the mountains. In the dim light, flashes to the west reflected off a band of low clouds and were follow by a sound akin to thunder.
Armored cars ran down the main road as men scrambled into low ditches and other defensible spots between Zdiar and the advancing soviets. A clatter of tracks from the road drew the attention of one group of soldiers hunkered down beside a 7.7cm field gun, purchased from the Weimar Republic. The border guards slowly loaded a shell as they waited.
In the gloom, the boxy shape of a T-18 tank came into sight and the crew hastily began cranking the levers of their gun, adjusting the elevation and lining up the sights on the small tank. With a clack, an armor piercing shell was loaded into the cannon's breech. The gun commander made one last adjustment in the sights and pulled the lanyard.
A brilliant muzzle flash lit up the fields around the gun as a crack rang in the gun crew's ears. The glowing streak of the shell slammed into the front of the T-18 and exploded tearing the light tank apart with shocking force.
The crew loaded a second round as two more tanks drove off the road into view and opened up with machine gun fire. Green tracers streamed from the turrets of the tanks as the gun commander ducked. Cracks from bullets passing by filled the air around the gun crew as the hastily lined up a second shot and fired once more.
1 September 1932, 10:30 hrs
Poprad Airbase, Slovak Republic, Austro-Hungarian Empire
Dispersal Office and 1st Squadron Headquarters, 54th Gruppe
Leutenant Mira Marder sat back in one of the folding chairs as Hauptmann Dieter Kohn paced in front of a large and rather worn map of the Slovak Republic. A number of red marks had been penciled onto the worn paper along with notes in German and a selection of symbols that marked army formations appeared on the map.
"As you may, or may not know, I've spent the last three hours on the telephone with General Malar. Apparently around midnight contingents of the Soviet Red Army and Soviet Polish Forces crossed the border and engaged the Slovakian Border guard."
Beside her Unteroffizer Weissmann stirred and leaned forward, he pulled out a notepad and began to make a series of notes while Mira ran a hand through her blond hair and pulled the cap down tight over her head. The Hauptmann glanced around the room. "This attack represents the opening of a second front in the ongoing war with the Allies. The general believes that the enemy is planning to attack the depots at Poprad and Spisska Nova Ves by air in an attempt to disrupt the mobilization of the Slovakian Army. Our mission this morning will be to provide continuous air cover over those two locations."
Mira studied the map after a moment, the two locations were close only around fifteen miles seperated them and their airfield itself was only two miles from the Poprad Depot. Beside her, Unteroffizer Weissmann shifted in his seat again quickly writing a second set of notes.
"First staffel will be the first shift, starting in thirty minutes, with schwarm one flying patrol over Poprad while second schwarm will fly patrol over Spisska Nova Ves. Third schwarm will patrol between both locations." The Hauptmann said as he noted a set of circles. "Second staffel's patrol will begin..."
Mira tuned him out as the Hauptmann moved to the other staffels. She was the flight leader for the third schwarm of the first staffel. The unteroffizer beside her was her wingmate, as tradition dictated. The newest pilot was assigned the wing of the staffel leader or squadron commander so he could learn the ropes.
"You will stick close to me, will you not Weissmann?" Mira stated flatly as the unteroffizer nodded quickly.
"Yes, Leutenant." Weissmann said immediately and she smiled. The nervousness of the new pilot was something she appreciated and he always seemed eager to please. Already some of the other pilots had taken to calling him Earnest Ernst.
"Are there any questions?" the Hauptmann asked from the front and Unteroffizer Weissmann raised his hand cautiously. "Weissmann?"
"What sort of aircraft should we expect the Russians and Poles to utilize?" Weissmann asked.
"The soviets will probably flying the Polikarpov I-3 fighter, I-5 fighter, R-5 light bomber, and Tupolev I-4 fighter. We do not believe they have any of the new TB-3 theater bombers operational in the region, at least not yet." The Hauptmann answered. "Anything else?"
There were no other questions as the assembled group of forty odd pilots broke up. Mira stood and pulled the grey and red field cap down tight over her head as she headed for the door. Outside the morning fog had been burned away and the sun was well on its way toward its apex. It seemed tranquil, peaceful even.
"Leutenant?" Unteroffizer Weissmann asked as he came to a stop beside her. "Is something wrong?"
"No... no, just lost in thought for a moment. Let's get going Weissmann." She said before walking off across the freshly cut grass. A quartet of Fokker figthers had been rolled out and parked beside the hangar. Each had a dull grey-green painted on its fuselage. The wings were painted with a diamond pattern of straw yellow, smoked purple, and a rusty brown. On each side of the fuselage a large green heart was painted just below the cockpit and an iron cross was added just behind it.
Mira's plane had a bright yellow set of pennants tied to the wing struts and a pair of white bands around the fuselage. A white arrow on the top wing pointed forward along with two more bands. All of those markers were meant to identify the plane as the flight leaders.
By contrast the plane Weissman had been assigned was rather plain aside from the green heart and standard Weimar Republic roundels. The pilot was new, inexperienced, and not yet worth a custom paint job in the eyes of the ground crew.
As Mira walked up to the plane a woman ran up carrying her heavy leather flight jacket and goggles while the ground crew finished preflight checks on the planes. After a few minutes of fumbling Mira clambered up into the cockpit and dropped behind the controls. She tossed a white silk scarf over her shoulder and began to strap into the plane's harnesses.
Two black shirted ground crew grabbed hold of the ten-foot tall wooden prop and wounded it as she finished her preflight checks and settled onto the wooden seat. She glanced over at the rest of the planes and their pilots as they set about getting ready for flight.
Mira switched the magnetos to on and gave a 'thumbs up' to the black-shirts who promptly gave the prop a yank and stumbled back out the way as the engine caught with a bang. A bubbling rumble came from the air-cooled Napier Lion XI engine as she throttled back to idle and the ground crew scurried away.
She glanced toward the others and watched as each plane's engine rumbled to life one after another. Mira raised her fist high above the canopy and waited.
With a bang a flare pistol fired from the tower and a green flare streaked in front of them. Immediately she pushed the throttle forward and pushed against the rudder pedals to keep the plane on the straight and narrow. A few moments later the plane rose into the air, timidly and Mira glanced at the gauges before turning to the east southeast and beginning the long climb to combat altitude.
It took ten minutes for the four of them to reach the assigned patrol altitude of 3,000 meters, by which point Ernst had settled into the position just behind Mira's plane. He kept one hand cautiously on the throttle as he flew, paying more attention to keeping his place in formation then searching for enemy aircraft. Still, as the patrol began a oval route between Spisska Nova Ves and Poprad, he began to feel more comfortable and the constant adjustment of throttle and speed to maintain formation became routine.
The wind bit at his face and cheeks as they flew and Ernst shuffled in his seat, his behind began to ache as he adjusted his seat atop the parachute every few moments. As they passed the first flight circling over Poprad Mira's plane suddenly waggled it's wings and Ernst stared as she raised her hand out of the cockpit and shook it to get their attention. Then she pointed to the north-east.
In the distance, breaking through the low clouds Ernst could just make out four specks rising toward them. He waggled his wings and saw Mira smile faintly before pulling a flare pistol from her pocket. She fired a red flare straight up and dove toward the oncoming group.
He slipped into position immediately behind her and yanked the charging lever of the Fokker twin Spandau machine guns. Behind him the other two members of the flight had broken toward the new planes and roared to engage.
He remembered his instructor's lecture, "Most pilots don't survive their first five engagements... they make mistakes, take risks, and buy it early. If you can live through those first five fights, your chances to live to retirement teaching others go through the roof."
"Time for my first fight." He muttered to himself as the dark green shape of a Tupolev I-4 broke from the group and Mira vector in on it. White tracers spat from the Fokker's guns and flashed past the green plane. He saw her rudder flutter and bullets began to strike the engine. Flames suddenly burst from the silver metal nose of the Tupolev as it rolled over and dove, leaving a brilliant golden flame in its wake.
Then another Tupolev burst from the clouds above them, its twin PV-1 machine guns spewing green tracers as it dove toward Mira. Swearing to himself Ernst yanked up the stick and pulled the trigger.
The smell of gunpowder and oil filled the cockpit as brilliant white tracers shot from the barrels of the machine guns. Flashes marked where tracer rounds struck the plane's wings as it suddenly twisted in the air. The twin barrels of its machine guns turned toward him as Ernst adjusted his aim, still holding down the trigger and he saw the flashes march across the fuselage.
A plume of bright blue smoke burst from the engine compartment of the plane as it flashed past and Ernst could hear its engine stutter. He gritted his teeth and looked back to Mira who was now making a long banking turn to get a look at the situation.
He fought the urge to turn around and charge after the damaged Tupolev. Blue smoke made it as an easy mark as it made a slow turn through the weaving group of fighter planes. That wasn't his job.
"A wingman's job is to protect his leader, to keep the other fighters from getting on her tail and burning her from the sky. Some countries haven't exactly figured out how fighting as a team gives us an advantage in the air, but it does. Each of you has a job. The leader shoots and the wingman cover her." His instructor had hammered home repeatedly.
"Mira..." He grumbled as she suddenly broke and turned into a dive heading for the damaged Tupolev. Without warning a silvery-white biplane burst from the clouds and dove toward her plane. Green tracers shot from its twin guns and arced toward her. He could see flames and embers sputter from the rounds as they punched through the edge of her fabric wings.
"Schlisse!" He snapped and rolled in behind the new plane. He slammed his finger on the trigger as the plane danced in his sights and was engulfed in the smell of cordite as each machine gun hurled metal death at the lone plane. "Come on... break off you son of a bitch!"
The plane didn't turn, instead it's rudder fluttered and he saw the green tracers begin to walk across Mira's wing heading toward her cockpit and engine. With a snarl Ernst stood on the rudder pedal and centered the sights on the biplane's cockpit.
Wood tore from the plane's fuselage and flames burst from the engine. Bright red blood shot from the man in the cockpit as the bullets tore into his body. He slumped over as a slow whine began to fill the air and silver-white plane dove downward...
Ernst sat stunned behind the controls as the smoke blew through his cockpit and gasped. He'd killed him... instantly, a gut reaction to save his leader and... He wanted to retch as the realization of what he'd just done fell like an albatross around his neck.
"Focus." He said to himself as Mira's plane bobbed into his vision and waggled her wings. Glancing around he realized the other Russian craft had disengaged, broken and ran from them in fear. The smoking Tupolev they'd first tangled with was spiraling down toward the earth, flames licking out from the plane's cowling as it dove toward its demise. He gasped for breath then shook his head to clear it.
His hands shook as he took hold of the throttle and slowly pulled up beside her, while the rest of the flight did the same.
"It's not the first kill that's hard… it's the second, because you have a face haunting your dreams."
Mira throttled back and waggled her wings. Taking a deep breath he glanced across the short space between the two and saw her staring at him, her gaze locked with him for a moment, and then she nodded to him. Ernst lifted a hand and gave her a shaky 'thumbs up' before pressing his back against the seat.
Around them, the other two members of the flight slid into formation behind them, bobbing as they took their positions. Ernst took a deep breath and flexed his hands before taking hold of the controls. The rest of the patrol passed in a blur, and before he knew it, he was flaring over the field.
The wheels hit the ground with a thump and Ernst quickly pulled back the throttle and let the Fokker slow to a stop at the end of the runway before the ground crew ran up beside him. He could see the black-shirts scowling at the holes in Mira's plane as he clambered out and stumbled to the ground.
"Unteroffizer!" One of them called out as he ran up to him. "Are you alright, sir?"
"Give me a moment." He muttered before straightening up and pulling the sweat stained helmet from his head. "Mira, is Mira okay?"
"The Lieutenant, she is rattled I think," the black-shirt said. "There are a few holes close to her cockpit."
"The bastard almost got her…" He growled before pushing away from the fuselage.
"You drove him off, ja?" The enlisted man said. "She is fine."
"I got him, just before he got her…" Ernst said before staggering toward where Mira Marder was sitting in the grass beside her plane.
"You, you have a kill then? Well done Unteroffizer Weissman!" the black-shirt tore off toward his fellow mechanics and waved his arms to draw their attention. "He says he got him!"
Before Ernst reached her, the black-shirts swarmed around him and lifted him into the air. "Let's get him to the mess and give him a beer!" A gruff voice from one of the older mechanics shouted.
"Put me down!" Ernst yelled as he was carried toward the officer's mess. "Damn it."
His attention was drawn back to Mira as she looked up at him and chuckled. Okay, maybe it'd be all right to go drink for a bit. Then she yelled. "First round is on me, for saving my ass."
Ernst flushed as yells and shouts of approval came from the mechanics.