Blood and Mud (or, A long waiting game dressed up as a thrilling adventure)
The Brothers-in-arms soaré last night had been a grievious disappointment. The food was not suitable for humans, and the beverage that was supposed to be wine....words failed to describe it. Could it have been a Hungarian "wine"?
The German officers' idea of after-dinner entertainment included numerous bird imitations, a seemingly endless poetry recital and grown men dressed as females singing songs that were, supposedly, meant to be bawdy. Those stiff northern brutes would not know true bawdyness and frivolity if it bit them in their posteriors. The same was of course true regarding these horrific people who seemed to make a living of sorts here on the Ukrainian steppe.
Tenente Gattuso pushed the dark thoughts aside and made an attempt to focus on the task at hand . Gattuso's second platoon had been slogging along behind the first platoon in the van, led by Tenente Aquafresca. From time to time, reports of brief skirmishes with the Russians came and it seemed that the enemy was in full retreat. Well and good, let the Germans carry the heavy burden of fighting in the central parts of Stalino; it was their war after all. Up to the present moment this had been the natural order of things. But times were changing... Aquafresca and his men had retreated through the ranks of the second platoon last night, shouting as they ran, that the enemy had brought up hitherto unseen armoured cars with heavy armement.
Unprepared defensive positions, heavily armed enemies coming up soon, a neigh-total lack of heavy support and decent red wine with correct temperature. Mud. Mud everywhere. Things could have been worse, but the Tenente could not see how.
The battlefield was made up of a cluster of houses with gardens, flanked by (muddy) roads and on the extreme flanks, open fields with some hedges. Gattuso figured he would do well to hold the centre; any advance of the Russians on the flanks would be compromised by the open terrain. He barked a series of commands, and the men started to take up position in the gardens and orchards. The first Squadra under Sergente Pirlo and Caporale Inzaghi would take the lead, while second Squadra would follow, ready to flank the enemy or defend against encirclement.
""Tenente! The right flank! There is a problem!"
It was Sergente Maldini of the second Squadra, and he was preparing to point out some flaw in the Tenente's plan, it seemed. Without even waiting for a reply, the Sergente continued:
"Caporale Materazzi reports that the enemy is preparing to attack the flank in strength, Tenente. I'll send him over the road to stop it."
Tenente Gennaro Gattuso was furious. The insolence!
"You will NOT, Sergente. We need to keep our forces in close order, otherwise control will be lost and we will be destroyed in detail. Besides, Materazzi haven't got the firepower to stop a mob of angry babushkas in his group."
The Sergente smiled. "I have already arranged my group to provide cover, Tenente. Marco is crossing the road now."
Caporale Marco Materazzi was running like a man possessed. The knowledge that the fate of the entire platoon rested on his shoulders made him ignore the taste of blood in his mouth, and the sharp cracks of the sniper firing on his group. Damn! One of the men, Allessandro, went down as his right knee exploded in blood and splintered bone. But they were closing in on the barn where he had seen the Russian scouts. They had been nailing those red pieces of cloth on the wall, an unmistakable sign that this was the intended rout of an advance. If he could reach the position first, it might discourage the Soviet forces from attacking altogether.
.Meanwhile, the Tenente was angrily trying to keep up a semblance of orderly resistance. The enemy was indeed trying to advance into the gardens, but so far only infantry had been visible. Firing from Sergente Pirlo's Squadra had made the Soviets hesitate, and when Gattuso ordered the flamethrower team to join Pirlo, it seemed that the aggressiveness went out of the enemy completely. Gattuso tried to get the men into a wider firing line, if the enemy should resume their advance, but he simply did not have the men to do it. If the push would come now, they would fold. And Tenente Gattuso knew who would be to blame: That bastardi Sergente Maldini, who was still covering the doomed advance of Caporale Materazzi.
"All right men, we have them now. Keep firing!"
Caporale Materazzi had pushed his men into position behind a hedge. That damn sniper was silent at the moment, and he could only hope that Sergente Pirlo would be able to spot him. The rifle group had other problems. Enemy machineguns fired from the house with the rather nice sunflower border, and while his men handled their Carcano rifles well enough and gave more than they got, this position could quickly become untenable should more of the enemy engage. He had to keep his men's morale up and sow doubts in the enemy's minds... "Guiseppe! Advance on the ammo dump! We'll cover you!"
And on he went. Guiseppe Santagostino ran across the field, toward the second Russian position, where they had dumped a pile of supplies for the intended advance. He might even reach it, thought Maldini, looking on from a distance. He understood what Materazzi was trying to do, making the Red Army commander think that his planned flanking move had been met by a resolute counterattack. But would it do the trick? It was true after all; the Caporale did not have the firepower to stop anything serious, and Maldini could not help against the Russians firing from the centre on Materazzi (and poor Guiseppe). Hell, he couldn't even seem to locate the damn sniper. That thrice-damned Tenente Gattuso would have his arse on a plate with a glass of Piedmonte on the side (his friends in the batallion staff would supply that for sure) if he lost Materazzi's men - AND the flank.
And there was victory. Through the mud and blood, Soldato Guiseppe Santagostino came running back, carrying a crate of captured ammunition under his arm, a broad grin on his face, and a certainty in his mind that this would earn him a medal of bravery. Mother would be so proud. He had been shot in the left side, but did not seem to feel it and waved away his comrades when they tried to help him:
"The enemy, Caporale! They are falling back!"
And true enough, from his position, Caporale Materazzi could see in the distance that the Red Army's finest were retreating. He signaled to the Sergente, and could see the wide grin on Maldini's face all the way across the field. This would be another nail in the coffin of the Tenente's authority. Precisely why the Sergente and the Tenente were locked in a vendetta Materazzi did not know, but he knew who's side he was on. And this victory would bring them the support they needed to drive the Russians even further back.
Tenente Gennaro Gattuso was, needless to say, furious.
WW2 Campaign Blog
This blog follows the second Chain of Command club campaign, set in the intense fighting over Stalino in October 1941.