Near El Paso
New Spain (TimeLine B)
The landscape was desolate, almost like the surface of the moon. The tanks moved forward slowly, passing over the sites of endless battles, when American and New Spanish alike had discovered that the war would not be over by Christmas. Nearly five hundred tanks were taking place in the attack, spread out enough to avoid a collision, and at the same time close enough for mutual support.
Captain Scott Martin peered through the periscope as the tank moved onwards, heading towards the Spanish positions. The driver, a new addition to the crew since it had finally managed to penetrate the military bureaucracy that the commander had better things to do than drive and command at the same time, followed his muttered instructions, although he watched through his own periscope.
He checked the map quickly, knowing that they would encounter the Spanish soon. It was impossible that the Spanish didn’t know that they were coming; the Spanish, like the Americans, had pickets out in the night. Dawn was rising…and soon they would be able to see the tanks directly and…
“Incoming,” he snapped, as the first shell landed nearby. “Driver, forward!”
The tank roared with power and surged forward. Mechanical failure, he’d been informed, had been a persistent problem in the alternate reality, but at least the North American Union had some advantages. Their tanks rarely failed; only two had had to return to Fort Pillowcase.
“There,” he snapped, as the tank’s hull began to ring with bullets. A series of Spanish trenches lay ahead, machine gunners already emptying their fire onto the tanks. It was useless; the tanks were too well armoured to be stopped. The driver charged straight at the defenders…and some of the defenders broke, running from the battle.
“Fire,” he snapped, and the gunners opened up as one, spraying the defenders with bullets. The tank charged forward, crushing its way over a trench and rolling down slightly before its treads caught the opposite side of the trench. The driver paused to allow the gunners to clear the trench…before moving further south.
WHAM! A shell landed far too close to them, the gunners lowering their weapons and firing directly at the tanks. Martin cursed as three tanks were destroyed in quick succession, for the first time understanding the violence implicated in alternate warfare. The crewmen of the tank, those lucky enough to escape, were mown down like they were nothing.
“Kill them all,” he snapped, and then swore as a brave Spaniard ran close enough to one of the tanks to throw a satchel charge onto the hull. The tank shattered; the sheath of armour literally blown off. “Shoot them all down!”
“The infantry is moving up,” buzzed in his earphones. Green-clad Americans moved forward behind the tanks, supporting them and remaining behind the protective armour. Martin barked orders; the tanks moved forwards towards the guns, the gunners now firing as soon as they saw a target. The Spanish tried to fight, but it was hopeless; the tanks crunched towards them and overran the guns.
“Secure this location,” he ordered, realising the cost of success as opposed to failure. The tanks were running short of ammunition and there were dozens of wounded infantry nearby. “Collect the prisoners; send them back behind our lines.”
Orbiting high overhead, a single recon drone provided better coverage than anything available to Haig or Foch when the first tanks had been used in battle, transmitting its signal back to the headquarters at Fort Pillowcase. An AWACS, hiding far behind the lines, continued to monitor the situation as enemy fighters clashed with British and American fighters; the Spitfires facing off against…well, Spitfires.
Great minds think alike, I suppose, Colonel Sir Benjamin Phillips thought, as the aerial battle continued. Too high for anti-aircraft guns to play a role, the battle was dependent upon the pilots, fighting it out with some limited help from the AWACS. A primitive IFF signal, broadcasting from each of the American planes, kept them from shooting down one another – and allowed the AWACS to keep track of the battle – and honours seemed to be even so far.
Sir Benjamin shook his head. Thousands of aircraft, testimonials to the awesome industry of both the North American Union and New Spain, were clashing high overhead, and he could see nothing of the battle. From the air, it must have been very confusing; the IFF signal only worked half the time anyway. It would be a long time before electronic ‘sort and shoot’ systems were in common use in TimeLine B.
“A success, I suppose,” General Smith said. The short general had been a militia officer before the war had begun; he showed more concern for his men than Sir Benjamin had expected from a general who was fighting the equivalent of World War One. “I think that the first battle has proven a success.”
Sir Benjamin looked over at the massive screen, cannibalised from the Washington. The AWACS could provide a perfect breakdown of active tanks – and inactive, which meant destroyed, tanks – which could then be matched with the images from the drone and represented in a neat bloodless image.
“Yes, I suppose,” he said. “Of course, there are thousands of other trenches, and guns, and shelling…”
General Smith sighed. The Spanish had begun heavy shelling as soon as they’d finally realised that this was the ‘Big Push.’ Thousands of shells had landed on tank yards, barracks and no-man’s-land, hammering the Americans as they advanced. The Spanish might be practically slaves to France, but they were brave. No one, not even the worst member of the American Independence Party, questioned that.
“There’s the fortress ahead, as well,” he said. Sir Benjamin nodded; the massive fortress had been built in the days before shelling had been invented – and was likely to pose a problem even now. The Spanish had built a colossal line of defences, and now they would all be on alert. “How would your people deal with that?”
“Bunker-buster weapon,” Sir Benjamin said absently. “We’ll just have to shell it until they surrender, or just punch through the line and surround it.”
General Smith nodded. “An attack would be too costly,” he agreed. “We’ll have to move forward slowly.”
An alarm bleeped from the screen and both men turned their attention towards it. A single red icon was marching across the screen. As they watched, three more joined it, advancing from the fortress.
General Smith spoke first. “What the hell are they?”
Sir Benjamin smiled grimly. “French tanks,” he said. He chuckled. “At least they’re not French letters.”
He picked up his radio and muttered instructions. “I just sent a bazooka team forward,” he said. “It might be possible to take them out without the bazookas, but just in case…”
Captain Scott Martin had discovered that one problem with the tanks was that they outran their own supply chain. Having punched through the first line of defences, the tanks had had to wait for resupply, while fending off occasional infantry counter-attacks. He was relieved when three trucks arrived with their supplies; the tanks had been getting very low on ammunition indeed.
“Check your fuel,” he snapped into his radio, directing the other tanks to do the same. The original plan had been to hammer the Spanish all along the line, but some attacks had clearly been more successful than others. He knew that they should be moving forward, just to prevent the Spanish from mounting a more successful counter-attack, but the generals behind the lines were still arguing about the next step. For his money, the choice was obvious; push on until they met something powerful enough to stop them.
His radio beeped and he listened with one ear, cursing as the message came through. “Mount up,” he snapped into the radio, and then screamed outside to the drivers who had been outside, having a quick smoke. “Come on; the enemy are sending their own fucking tanks!”
“I thought they didn’t have any,” the driver snapped, as he revved up the engine. “Where are they?”
“Only half a mile from us,” Martin snapped back. “No one told them that they had no fucking tanks and…”
A shell landed too near to their position for comfort, suggesting that the Spanish had managed to sneak an observer close by with a field telephone. “Move out,” he snapped, ordering the driver to move the tank before a shell landed on their heads. “Move south and…”
“Enemy tanks,” one of the gunners said. Martin cursed; he’d thought that they were further away than that. He swung the periscope around to see the enemy tank; it looked more dangerous than theirs did. “Captain…”
He swore as the tank swung around to reveal its big gun. It was more of a self-propelled cannon than anything else, already firing on an American tank. The target exploded as the shell blasted through its armour, the enemy’s gun already moving to target the next American tank.
“Fire,” Martin snapped. The gunners fired, spraying the enemy tank with machine gun bullets, but it was useless; the enemy tank had as much armour as their own. Martin scowled; he’d had a thought, but…
“Hit the treads,” he snapped, as he realised the enemy’s possible weakness. “Fire and tear them to spreads…”
“Firing,” the gunner said, as he opened fire. The others followed suit, trying to wreck the enemy vehicle, already knowing that they had failed and…
A streak of light streaked through the air and slammed into the enemy tank, destroying it. Martin relaxed, feeling an unaccustomed warmth around his trouser legs, as the three following enemy tanks were picked off by the bazooka teams.
“Let’s not do that again,” he said, knowing just how close the offensive had come to total disaster. “Sir?”
The radio buzzed. “That’s seems to be the end of the tank-counterattack,” he said, hoping that the generals had gotten it right. “We’re to secure this area, and then proceed onwards.”