I have decided to separate ze story into two most efficiently engineered parts, ze first of which ending in a cliffhanger no less, und I hope you vill find it most satisfactory, mein herr.
Vithout further ado, mein kameraden, I present to you mein Sinterklaas gift for mein Magister Militum!
A Christmas Story for Magister Militum
Northern France, December 1943...
It blanketed the landscape with a cold sheet of ice. Snowflakes drifted in the wind, carried by the bone chilling breeze like a whiteout curtain. The snow fell on the ground, on the trees, and on the hoarfrosted leaves and black branches of the ubiquitous pines. It formed an immaculate scene, a pristine and undisturbed sight as sunlight reflected off the gleaming icicles of crystallized dew.
The wintry silence was interrupted by a rumbling noise, like the sound of distant thunder. The trees quivered, making the snow slop off and the frozen dewdrops fall as the white forest was disturbed by the wake of something that shook the very earth with its passing.
It was a column of steel, iron chariots with rolling treads that reverberated the ground and roaring engines that broke the surrounding silence, tanks with gunmetal grey hulls marked by the stylized runic insignia of the Waffen-SS. They rolled down a dirt road between the pines, moving at a measured pace, their treads mixing snow and soil to form a trail of cold slushy mud behind them. They reached a clearing where the ground was a flat and snowy expanse devoid of trees, and without slowing they advanced. The formation carved muddy semi-circles on the once-pristine snowfield, spreading out to cover the clearing and form a perimeter around it. They halted, their turrets traversing and sweeping to form intersecting lines of fire. The four Tigers held their position and waited.
A convoy of halftracks came after them, rolling in at a faster pace than the preceding panzers. Dirt and snow were picked up by their spinning tracks as they entered the panzers’ protective perimeter and fanned out within the greater envelope. The halftracks formed a defensive circle of their own. The armored personnel carriers and battle tanks remained there fixed in their formations, motionless and still but for the vibrations of their rumbling engines, and as they stayed there a new noise joined the chorus of internal combustion. It was a louder, deeper grumble, an almost guttural one accompanied by the sound of trees bending and breaking in the passage of a vehicle too large for the dirt road’s path to fully accommodate.
A massive, armored hulk of a truck emerged from the tree line and approached the clearing ponderously, slowed by its own immense weight. It was a tractor, and connected to it was an even larger trailer covered by a vast tarp that was secured to the rig by cabling.
The truck came to a stop within the center of the formation of halftracks and Tiger tanks. The nearest halftrack differed from the rest with its enlarged passenger compartment and a roof from which protruded many antennae. As if on cue, its back doors opened and striding out of the halftrack was a man attired in the uniform of the Schutzstaffel, decked in full Nazi regalia, with an officer’s cap on him as well as a winter overcoat and jackboots with heels that crunched the snow underfoot. With him came two other officers from his mobile command center and with them, in turn, came the SS men from all the other regular halftracks. They deployed their uniformed, stahlhelm-wearing, overcoat-clad jackbooted numbers, all armed to the teeth with machine-pistols, Sturmgewehrs and crew-served MG42s. The SS men assembled themselves before the three officers.
“Schnell!” shouted the first SS officer, the kommandant. His immediate subordinates followed suit and likewise barked commands to the SS soldiers. “Schnell! Schnell!”
“Jawohl!” the assembled SS men replied as one. They stormed out and moved in near-unison, slinging their weapons over their shoulders and heading for the armored truck. There they undid the cables that held the vast tarp that covered the transporter rig and with a mighty effort they pulled it off.
The object that had been previously wrapped by the tarp was thus revealed under the morning sun. There, lying on the rig was a huge missile. It was painted black and white and began with a sleek, aerodynamically sharpened nose that continued on to an elongated fuselage, from which protruded four pairs of wings. At the end of the missile were its rocket engines. It laid there on the rig, a dormant weapon yet to be activated.
“Magnificent, isn’t it?” the kommandant uttered, his breath vaporizing in the cold with each word uttered. “The Vergeltungswaffe 5, our vengeance weapon!”
“Ja, mein herr,” one subordinate replied. “The weather is gut, cloudy overcast with minimal chance of heavy snow. The poor visibility will ensure that we will not be so easily detected by the British warships in the sky.”
“Sehr gut,” the kommandant nodded as he gazed at the V-5 missile, noting how the trickle of snow gradually settled on the rigid steel shaft of its fuselage. “London will be our target. We shall show the British the price of their defiance.”
“Achtung! Prepare for missile launch!” the second subordinate turned to the SS troopers. “Activate the erector!”
The firing platoon activated the erector, the harness where the missile itself was mounted, and with the sound of whirring hydraulics, the V-5 missile arose from its Meillerwagen, white glistening snow falling off its hard fuselage shaft as the erector slowly aimed it skywards at the heavens. It was a process that would take minutes, whereas the subsequent missile launch sequence would take another hour to prepare.
“The missile launch sequence will take another hour to prepare,” the first subordinate reported.
“Ich weiß,” the kommandant took out a pocket watch on a chain and carefully noted the time. He looked at his subordinate and gave him an icy grin “But I think we can do a little better than that, don’t you?”
“I shall tell the men to move faster!” the subordinate agreed enthusiastically. Once again, he turned and began issuing orders and yelling at people. “Schnell! Schnell!”
“Wunderbar!” the kommandant pocketed his watch and headed back to his halftrack mobile command post. He motioned to his other subordinate. “Come, let us input the target coordinates. This time we will deliver the Führer’s message to King George and Winston Churchill more accurately.”
He regarded his first subordinate, who was marshalling the troops and encouraging them to be more efficient. “Lieutenant, I trust that everything out here will proceed swimmingly.”
“Jawohl,” the subordinate affirmed and saluted. “Heil Hitler!
As the kommandant neared his halftrack, he heard the sound of the Meillerwagen’s mechanism lock in place, which meant that the V-5 was now fully erect. He turned to spare the mighty weapon one last glance before retreating to the safe confines of the command post.
That glance saved the kommandant’s life. He turned around, but instead of beholding his upright weapon he instead saw something else further away, in the tree line. There was a gout of fire and then a plume of smoke, which he instantly recognized as a rocket propelled projectile coming his way.
“Gott in Himmel!”
The kommandant reflexively threw himself down the snowy ground and felt a wash of heat as the missile streaked overhead, singeing his officer’s cap and ruining his meticulously kept uniform. The shriek of the missile’s passing would have deafened him, if only the much louder noise of his exploding halftrack hadn’t deafened him even more. It rained pieces of enlarged passenger compartment, bits of protruding antennae, and chunks of the technicians who had been inside the command center along with their instrumentations. The only thing left was the charred chassis of the halftrack and a whole lot of burning gasoline.
“Scheisse! the kommandant cursed. Securing his officer’s cap to his head, he turned and searched for his subordinate. “Lieutenant!”
“Mein herr-” his subordinate was running towards him. But as he halved the distance to his kommandant, he too was hit and halved. He was cut off mid-sentence as he was cut off mid-torso.
“Scheisse!” the kommandant cursed again as he watched his former lieutenant with morbid fascination. Everything above the poor man’s waist was gone, removed in a split second, and what remained below were his hips and legs and feet – still standing, no less! The jackbooted heels took two more steps, before the body sans torso collapsed on the snow. After he saw the feet thing, the kommandant decided that the best course of action was to relay his orders to an alternate and intact line of command. He searched for his other subordinate, the one who was supposed to come with him to the command post.
It didn’t take long for the kommandant to find him nearby, right beside the exploded halftrack. He was thankfully whole, except there was a piece of metal sticking out of his chest. The kommandant somehow recognized it as a component of their Enigma machine.
The kommandant hauled himself upright and pulled out his Luger. Despite the disorientation of the explosion and the untimely demise of his subordinates, the kommandant could see that his soldiers were already reacting. Withering machinegun fire was returned, aimed towards the tree line where the missile had come from, but more importantly the panzers were moving as well, converging towards the direction of enemy fire. The Tiger tanks would undoubtedly defeat the ambush, and if all else failed the V-5 could still be launched autonomously from the Meillerwagen even without the command post.
The leading Tiger fired off a round from its main gun in an air-shaking discharge. The shell struck the tree line from where their unseen ambushers were and wrought devastation, blasting trees apart in a feat of high explosive deforestation. The second Tiger followed suit and more trees were felled, accompanied by a light shower of dirt, snow and pieces of wood. Still, there was no proof of the hidden enemy’s destruction, so the third Tiger fired its gun as well, aiming for the patches of ground that still had trees on them.
The fourth Tiger was about to join in, but another missile shrieked through the air, this time coming from behind the tank - from the opposite direction of the first missile – arcing lazily in the air as it found its mark right on top of the Tiger tank’s turret. The topside armor was nowhere near the thickness of its frontal plates and the shaped detonation penetrated it, punching a third orifice right between the tank driver and commander’s crew hatches. The third orifice went straight into the ammunition magazine and while the ensuing secondary detonation didn’t quite send the turret flying off, it still resulted in a very wrecked piece of fine German engineering, which continued to roll forward while it caught fire.
The kommandant noticed the missile’s acrid black contrail, still visible in the wind, and his eyes followed it to its point of origin in the tree line. Half expecting to see no trace of their opponents, he instead saw something moving from the trees. It was walking towards them. And it wasn’t alone.
“Mein Gott…” the kommandant uttered, and right then and there he wished that his force had instead been attacked by unseen enemies instead of what he now saw before him. The things that came from the trees had resolved into the forms of large, striding machines and at their sight the kommandant gasped. “Der Eiserne Dämonen.”
The Iron Demons strode forward into the Nazi line of fire. They were iron men, one-man walking tanks deployed by the United States’ Special Response and Operation Corps into occupied Europe to take on the Nazi menace and show Adolf Hitler what for. They were the Army’s elite, the best of their best commanded by none other than Major Jason Goldstein.
The Major was in the tight and sweaty confines of his Vindicator-class armor. But in this weather, and with internal heaters turned off to evade Nazi infrared, the confines were actually tight and freezing with the Major exhaling mist with each and every breath as he worked the Vindicator’s complex controls with intimate familiarity, jerking throttles, twisting knobs and shifting gears as the walking war machine he was in advanced towards the beleaguered Nazis with unpleasant intentions.
“Looks like we’re right on time,” Goldstein said to himself. His eyes were fixed on the displays that served as his window to the outside world, while his hands handled steering his walking tank and his feet stomped on the pedals and clutches seemingly in sync with his Vindicator armor’s own footfalls. It was an act of mechanized military multitasking as all at the same time, Goldstein was relaying orders to the other Iron Demons by radio. “Alright, this is Supersoldier 01 to all points. Focus on the tanks and tracks, watch out for the anti-armor but don’t get distracted by the small-arms. Aim true, gentlemen. We’re here for the prize and we’re playing for the keeps.”
Three other Vindicators affirmed his commands. Satisfied, Major Goldstein decided to go on with his business of killing Nazzies.
He watched the moving pictures in his AN/MXR-22 viewing set, a piece of bleeding-edge technology, and in it he saw the Nazi formations, the disarrayed groups of troops and the rallying armor. The infantry began peppering him with small-arms fire from their machine-pistols, their automatic rifles and machine guns. The MG42s had a particularly rapid rate of fire, and with the way the Germans were pumping lead at the incoming Vindicators like there was no tomorrow, the bullets were bouncing off and making loud pings and clangs with very annoying frequency.
“Goddamn Germans.” Pissed, Goldstein focused the AN/MXR-22’s viewing scopes on the closest bunch of troops and his mean machine likewise moved its own head, as though hydraulically glancing quizzically at the offending Nazis. The Vindicator was a heavily-armed and armored piece of machinery, and its head was not an exception – it was a metal box with armored apertures for its viewing scopes, there was even a periscope on it, but it also had a pair of M2 Browning .50 caliber machineguns mounted, one on each side of the head. The heavy machineguns were fed by thousand-round drum magazines, big drums that seemed to give the Vindicator Mickey Mouse-ears. These ears fed fat pencil-sized bullets to the machineguns, and with a press of a button the Vindicator began shooting at the Germans with its face.
“Yeah. How’s that taste like, eh?” Goldstein shouted as he turned the Vindicator away from the dead Nazis after the incendiary armor-piercing rounds had piecemealed them and returned to what he was looking at. He was paying the Tigers particular attention, since before the battle was joined they matched the Vindicators in numbers but now the panzers were one down. Three to go, he noted. “Men, last one to kill the bad guys gets to buy the beer.”
“Copy that, boss!” came the eager reply of his wingman, Lieutenant Rick Winterson. The man, or rather the Vindicator armor he was in, was right beside Goldstein. Winterson’s Vindie brought up an arm armed with a belt-fed Bofors 40mm and began riddling the nearest halftrack with bullets, punching holes through the vehicle’s relatively light armor. The 40mms were also incendiary-APs, which ignited the fuel tank along with everyone else inside the ‘track. Winterson moved on to another halftrack and repeated the process, causing its passengers and crew to abandon their riddled vehicle before the same thing happened to them, but Winterson began shooting at them anyway. “Nazzies roasting over an open fire, how ‘bout that?”
“Pretty toasty,” Goldstein conceded as he pulled a lever, making his Vindicator’s right arm reach out with the 120mm Reagan recoilless revolver rifle on it. The three Tigers’ turrets were traversing slowly to level at them, so he surmised that it was probably best to shoot first before the panzers got a chance to fire. “Watch those Tigers, they’re aiming for us.”
“Gotcha, yarmulke,” Winterson replied as his own Vindie brought its recoilless rifle to bear on the tanks. “Too slow, too bad.”
“Too dead,” Goldstein quipped, and the sound of the shell exhaust nearly drowned out his command to fire at will, but Winterson did so nearly simultaneously, both their Vindies unleashing rather large recoilless rounds towards the leading tank. The shells kissed the tank right in its face, one on each slab-armored cheek, and the HEAT shaped charges sent hypersonic jets of metal tearing through the appliqué and steel like it was cheap double-ply tissue paper. “Pow! Right in the kisser. Total facial.”
“Um, boss?” Winterson interjected. His outstretched gun-arm looked like it was pointing, which it probably was, towards the two remaining Tiger tanks that now had them lined up in their boresights. “Move!”
“Good idea.” Goldstein pivoted his Vindie right in time as the two Tiger tanks gave their reply to them, their big-bore battle cannons belching out armor-piercing discarding sabots – tungsten carbide darts designed to kill by stabbing through armor and anything else after that armor. The supersonic stabbers would’ve ripped a neat little hole through the Vindicators had they not moved out of the way, letting the flechettes whiz by and penetrate something else behind them that wasn’t them. For a pair of walking tanks weighing several tons, the side-stepping Vindicators seemed to be pirouetting and nearly lost their balance. “Shit, that was close. They’re going for another shot. Kowalski, now would be a good time for those Callies?”
That’s when the third Vindicator came in, announcing its arrival with a fusillade of screaming dumbfire rockets coming forth from the scores of T34 Calliope launch-tubes bolted on its shoulders. Ignition-flashes and black contrails of smoke spewed out of the Vindie as it unloaded a barrage right at the Tigers’ rear ends. The rockets were unguided and went all over the place, a whole lot finding their mark but quite a few going wide too, but the ones that did hit the Tigers did so spectacularly – blowing through their backsides, hitting them where their engines were and immobilizing them.
Corporal Kurt Kowalski’s Vindicator had been the one who blew up the command post halftrack with the first missile and initially drew the four tanks’ fire before Goldstein and Winterson outflanked them and came from the rear to kill the first two Tigers. Now, Kowalski’s Vindicator was out of its hiding place and facing the two remaining tanks. Unfortunately, the rockets weren’t built to take out tanks and the Vindie had blown its load, and the tanks were also turning their turret to face it.
“Kowalski, move you goddamn Pollack!” Goldstein ordered as he saw what was going on. Kurt’s Vindicator was just standing there. “Move your metal ass!”
But instead of moving its metal ass, the Vindicator planted its feet firmly on the ground and bent its hydraulic legs, as though crouching and steadying itself. Then it brought out a 6-pounder 57mm anti-tank gun, modified with a belt-fed autoloader. The tanks’ turrets were still traversing, and that meant their sides were still exposed. The sides weren’t as well-armored as the front, and as the anti-tank autocannon fired, the Tiger tanks ended up being the ones getting neat little holes carved into them by high velocity armor piercing rounds. The HVAPs Swiss cheesed the panzers, their ballistic soft-metal caps ‘sticking’ on impact and allowing the steel-core shots to carve through armor and enter the confines of the turrets, where they proceeded to deal damage by fragmenting and ricocheting around the tanks’ insides, scrambling internal components and crewmen alike.
The Vindicator got up and walked past the wrecked tanks, discarding its expended T34 Calliope rocket tubes as it made its way into the clearing. A halftrack full of Nazis that had been fleeing from Goldstein and Winterson’s Vindies ended up heading right towards it, but the walking tank just shot at it in the driver’s seat. The anti-tank round went through the halftrack’s front, went through the halftrack’s passenger compartment, and went through the halftrack’s rear. It also went through an SS man who was running after the halftrack looking to catch a ride.
“God damn,” Goldstein said. A German was running at him with a Panzerschreck, but the Vindicator's left foot punted the rocket launcher-armed Nazi aside. Goldstein went back to shooting at halftracks with his autocannon. “That’s nice work. You’re definitely not buying the beer, Kowalski.”
“Didn’t think so, boss.” Corporal Kowalski responded as he activated his flamethrower and lit some more Nazis up. “But I’d bet Grimy would be up for the task, huh, Hank?”
“Hell no!” came the reply as the fourth and last Vindicator, belonging to Sergeant Hank Grimes, entered the fray. The Vindie punched trees out of its way as it entered the clearing and began shooting at the remaining halftracks with its 40mm Bofors. One of the halftracks returned fire with an 81mm mortar, which exploded the trees Grimes’ Vindie was punching. “Hey! Fuck you, pal!”
With that epithet Hank brought his Vindicator’s other arm to bear with its multiple bazooka clusters and fired at the halftrack. The scores of shrieking missiles made short work of the armored transport, whose crew was still busy shoving an 81mm shell into the mortar’s mouth before they were rudely interrupted and detonated.
“Maybe you should’ve schnelled faster!” Grimes spat as he sent more missiles scattering towards the few halftracks still rolling. They were moving targets, not easy to hit, and the bazooka projectiles were sent streaking all over the place as Grimes tried to aim at them whilst firing his Bofors at the same time. One of the missiles missed its mark wide and detonated harmlessly in the snow, at the middle of the field. Right beside the V-5 rocket. “Whoops.”
“Goddamn it, Grimes!” Goldstein shouted over the radio. “You’re shooting too close to the rocket! Krauts, but not the rocket!”
“Sorry chief,” Grimes apologized feebly. This time, he planted a bazooka round right in the passenger compartment of a halftrack – the rocket’s red glare going to the middle of the troops in the passenger compartment, much to their short-lived surprise. “Didn’t mean to screw around like that, boss.”
“It’s okay. Just aim carefully,” Goldstein replied calmly as he spewed his Bofors on some last-ditch dug in Nazis as well. The 40mm autocannon rounds were inappropriate for infantry targets and really made a mess of things, so he pointed the gun towards a halftrack instead and gutted the armored personnel carrier along with the unarmored personnel it carried inside it. “Like that, see?”
“Let’s mop this up, guys.” Winterson interjected, again. The four Vindicators had entered the clearing from all sides, roughly outflanking the German formations and encircling them. With the Tiger tanks done, the remaining SS troops had nothing they could throw at the Vindies save for what little man-portable or halftrack-mounted anti-tank weapons they had. Aside from that, all they had left was harsh language, which some of the SS men did end up resorting to. “We’ve got to make off with the prize before anyone outside gets suspicious and comes to see why their buddies haven’t radioed in a report yet. Right, boss?”
“Fee-fi-fo-fum!” Goldstein was hollering as he pursued some Germans. And stepped on them. “What was that, Rick? Oh, right. Let’s get this done with before the SS calls a Flying Saucer gunship on us.”
After stomping on his last German, Goldstein finished the rest with his Vindie’s head-mounted Mickey Mouse machineguns. The others did likewise, and with the four Vindicators surrounding them the Germans had nowhere to fall back to and were quickly cut down in the crossfire. Some tried to run, but they only died tired. The rest just died, period.
“We can’t let any of them get away,” Kowalski said after finishing one German who had played dead before he got up and tried to make a run for it. Key word, tried. Afterwards, the Corporal brought out his flamethrower and decided to prevent anyone else from playing possum by irrigating them with napalm. “Are we clear?”
The shooting had finally stopped and things had gone quiet save for the sound of rumbling engines and whining hydraulics. For the moment, there were no signs of resistance – no more gunfire, explosions or screams.
“I guess we are,” Winterson responded. The lieutenant surveyed the scene, accounted the four wrecked tanks, the half-dozen trashed halftracks, and the metric motherload of dead Nazis. He did the maths and found it satisfactory. “Grimes, get ready to get that V-5 down, we’re gonna bring it for takeout. Boss, are we good to go?”
“Wait, hang on.” Goldstein muttered. His Vindicator treaded towards the V-5 and its head-scopes scrutinized the missile and its tractor, its Meillerwagen. The snow had accumulated on top of the missile’s fuselage, forming a layer on top of the glistening metal. The erector array held the missile up by its shaft like a hydraulic hand of steel and under the erector, the rest of the Meillerwagen served as the V-5 missile’s launchpad, built with a chassis to endure the stress of the launch and to protect the driver and transport crew from the fierce rocket exhaust. “Just wait a sec…”
“Aha!” Goldstein shouted triumphantly. The Vindicator’s massive hand ripped a door off the Meillerwagen, throwing it away and revealing the form of a gnarled old Nazi within the wagen itself. The SS officer, as Goldstein could tell from his cap, looked at the rude giant metal interrupting interloper with surprise, staggering backwards to a console of buttons and switches. The Vindicator’s loudspeakers blared at the German. “Hands on your head, kraut. Get out.”
“Amerikaner arschloch!” hissed the SS officer, the kommandant.
“Get out.” Goldstein repeated himself and the SS officer glared at him through the viewing set. Then the Nazi straightened himself up, adjusted his officer’s cap and walked out of the trailer in a very dignified fashion. Goldstein looked back at the Meillerwagen’s compartment, noting the launch controls and other command and communications equipment there. He returned his gaze to the SS man, and his was the boxy-headed scope-sporting dual Mickey Mouse machinegun-mounted gaze of the Vindicator armor. He turned the loudspeakers even louder. “What were you up to, Fritz? What were you trying to -”
“SS-Männer niemand kapitulieren!” the kommandant suddenly screamed as he drew his Luger and emptied it at the Vindicator.
“Yeah? Well, that’s because nobody needs you alive!” Goldstein shouted back as he pressed the trigger of his cannon and made the kommandant explode. The only thing left of the Nazi was his officer’s hat.
“Holy shit,” Sergeant Grimes said as he approached the scene. His Vindicator had replaced its weapons with engineering equipment. “Did that fucker just try to go at you with his Luger?”
“Yep,” Goldstein picked the kommandant’s officer hat up with the Vindicator’s surprisingly dexterous hand and regarded it curiously.
“Well, we better get working then,” Grimes replied nonchalantly. “We’ve got to take this thing down, rig it for transport, and call in the evac before the krauts smell something fishy and come take a look-see, right?”
“Nope,” Goldstein said quietly.
“What?” Grimes looked at him quizzically, not with the Vindicator’s boxy Mickey Mousey head but with his own as he prepared to get off the Vindie and go inside the Meillerwagen to lower the V-5. “Say again?”
“I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” Goldstein looked at the SS man’s hat one more time before flicking it away with the Vindicator’s hand. “Get back inside your armor!”
“Boss, what are you talking about –” Grimey’s voice was suddenly drowned out by a new noise, a loud near-deafening one like that of thunder. The ground shook and even in their Vindicator suits they could feel the vibrations. Grimey looked around before ducking his head back into the Vindie armor. He turned on the loudspeakers just to hear himself talk. “Jesus Christ, what the hell is that?!”
“Major, we’ve got incoming!” Lieutenant Winterson interjected for the last time. “It’s big, it’s bad. It’s a goddamn Landkreuzer, a friggin’ Ratte!”
“Holy shit!” Kowalski cursed. “It can’t be!”
“But it is,” Goldstein commented dryly over the radio. “Strap your panties on, kids. It’s not over yet!”