Liberators
Author: Godfrey Raphael

Chapter 18
The Battle of Sevenivov

Act Three: The Siege of Sonolovichyrevko

Chapter Eighteen: The Battle of Sevenivov

 

The Sevenivov Hills

2 kilometers north of Sevenivov, Rivymiyitevko

October 23, 2008 1530 Rivymiyitevko time (1130 Krakozhian time)

 

"Forty-eight hours have come and gone," muttered Lev Arigov, "and yet Konstantin Benin is still cocooned inside his concrete bunker underneath Sonolovichyrevko. They can't blame us for attacking them during a ceasefire, because that time has already come and gone. And if that Benin fellow decided to surrender now, he better not be angry if we shoot down his helicopter or sink his submarine and ask questions later."

 

Arigov was sitting inside the lead BTR-80 of the 117th Platoon of the 50th Motor Rifle Division, where he thought the leader should be. But his deputy, Maria Atolova, was with him inside the BTR, and Lev thought that any chain of command, whether corporate or military, should have its top figures dispersed as much as possible so that there wouldn't be any confusion if the head honcho died. Unfortunately for him, Captain Urov's orders said that his deputy was not Maria, but rather the commander of the 2600th Platoon of the 100th Motor Rifles, which had been merged with his platoon during the ceasefire.

 

The 2600th Platoon was composed of nineteen soldiers, three BMP-1 troop carriers, two Ural-4320 fuel trucks, a P-40 mobile radar unit, and a T-72 main battle tank. Lev didn't know what use he could have for a mobile radar unit, but the T-72 was a very welcome addition to his token force. In any case, it was his now, and he had every right to do what he wanted with it.

 

The road that the platoon was travelling on was an old dirt path that snaked around the hills before dropping into a small valley where it continued into the surrounding plain before finally merging with Highway Two before the ten-kilometer marker. For this part of the journey to Sevenivov, Arigov decided not to risk his single tank and he decided to dispatch it to the 69th Tank Army, but it was expected to rendezvous with the platoon in the valley. He did this knowing that he was risking his other vehicles, but the way he saw it, he thought he had no choice.

 

Arigov always had a conversation with his troops whenever they were about to enter a combat situation—it helped to ease the tension—and today was no different. Their topic right now was their lives after their compulsory tour of duty with the Armed Forces. "For me, I'm thinking of going back to the mainland and become a training officer or a drill instructor," he said, and the others clapped their hands and nodded their heads in approval. "How about you, Maria? What do you want to do after this mess is over?"

 

Atolova was silent for a few moments before she replied, "I can always go back to my father's bureau and design and build the next generation of battlefield weapons." At this, the troops let out a big whoop. Dmitri Atolov, Maria's father, was the founder and head of the Atolov Design Bureau and Machine Building Enterprise, more commonly known as ATMASH, the largest such group in Krakozhia. It was the country's chief supplier of locally made weapons, and its products could go toe to toe with the arms produced by the other former Communist nations, like Zastava in Yugoslavia and Izhmash in Russia. Arigov clapped his hands along with the rest of the squad, and then he turned to one of them and asked, "How about you, Semyon?"

 

"Uh, Lieutenant, I—" The soldier's reply was cut off by what sounded like rivets popping. Some of the younger soldiers ducked, but Arigov and Atolova knew that even machine gunfire couldn't penetrate the BTR's armor. But if the enemy had PTRS-41 antitank rifles, then that was a different matter altogether. The BTR's gunner replied with a burst from his own machine gun, and then it was answered by a low rumbling noise similar to thunder but much worse.

 

The jarring impact of artillery shells on land was mixed with the explosions of those vehicles that were hit. On the BTR's radio, Arigov heard, "Transport One-one-one-one is under attack from heavy enemy artillery! Requesting immediate air support, repeat, requesting immediate—" The call was cut off at the same time that he felt an explosion. The communications vehicle of the 1111th Transportation Company was probably a burning heap of scrap metal by now, he thought. He felt the BTR accelerate, a little too late for his taste, but the driver was probably a young private fresh out of the motor pool of either Lake Begorod or the Lavrenty Geyan Military City, and to expect that he would remember his training under his first combat mission was expecting a little too much, wasn't it?

 

Suddenly, Arigov felt something smash into the driver's cab, and he felt heat on his face as he was thrown back a few feet into one of the soldiers. He felt his head hit something, and then the world turned black.

 

He woke up a few minutes later, and he pushed the body of a dead soldier off of him. He rubbed a throbbing part of his head, where he most probably hit the BTR armor, and then his training took over, and he began to check the others for signs of life. Most of them had died from overpressure, which turned their insides into pudding. Lev didn't know why he had survived, but it was clear that there was only one other survivor with him: Maria Atolova.

 

"What the hell happened?" she groaned after regaining consciousness. "It's the Push all over again!"

 

"Maria, calm down!" said Lev. "Help me open the doors."

 

Unknown to most of their troops—before they died, that is—Lev and Maria had survived such an attack once before. It was during the Push to Ixania, and their troop carrier was travelling along a heavily-shelled plain when an antitank missile had struck the carrier. By sheer luck, the two of them had made it out of their burning troop carrier alive, and by sheer luck again, it looked like they had survived once again.

 

Using the buttstocks of their rifles, Lev and Maria were able to pry open the doors of the BTR, and they were able to get out of their mangled carrier before another artillery shell landed on what had been the troop compartment, sending the two to their knees. They quickly got back up on their feet and began running down the hillside, picking off the occasional RIM soldier foolish enough to stick their head out of their hiding place. Their destination was a lone T-72 tank sitting in the middle of the valley, where, luckily, the artillery shells couldn't reach it. As Lev got on the tank, it fired a round, making him go deaf for a few seconds.

 

"Dimitar!" he shouted after he had regained his hearing. Lieutenant Dimitar Kezhanka, commander of the 2600th Platoon and T-72 number 17640 and Arigov's de facto deputy, turned around to face him. "What happened, Lieutenant?" he asked.

 

"The BTR got hit!" Lev replied. The tank fired another round. "We have to get to the plain and regroup with the rest of the division!"

 

"Yes, Comrade Lieutenant!" Then to the tank driver, Kezhanka said, "Let's go!" The tank moved slowly at first, and then it began to build up speed until it finally topped ten kilometers per hour when it broke out into the Sevenivov Plain. By that time, it had six hitchhikers onboard, not counting Arigov and Atolova.

 

Lev got off the tank and ran for his Vodnik communications van. "Who's watching this frequency?" he asked the radio operator as he put on a pair of headphones and a microphone.

 

"Begorod Nine, Comrade Lieutenant," the operator replied.

 

"Begorod Nine, this is Army One-one-seven. We are requesting immediate air support on behalf of Transport One-one-one-one, which is currently being massacred by heavy enemy artillery shelling!"

 

"Roger that, Army One-one-seven," replied the communications officer of Begorod Nine, a Beriev A-50 command-and-control aircraft currently orbiting the skies above central Rivymiyitevko. "I am putting you in contact with Defender Flight."

 

"Roger, Begorod Nine." Arigov waited for a few moments as he was transferred to a different frequency. Finally, a voice said, "Army One-one-seven, this is Defender Flight of four. Can you give us the target coordinates?"

 

"Stand by, Defender." Arigov pulled out a map of Rivymiyitevko and scanned it for their current location. "Uh, Defender, your targets are at hilltops six, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, and seventeen." He then rattled off a string of coordinates that gave the flyers a more definite target area. "Be advised, Defender, that there appear to be ZSU-23-4 antiaircraft guns on those hilltops. They're being used in an antipersonnel function for the moment, but they could be raised up to antiaircraft position in a jiffy."

 

"Copy that, One-one-seven. We'll watch our backs, and hopefully those Zeus-23s don't shoot off our balls."

 

"Defender" was the squadron callsign for the newly reactivated 995th Air Wing of the Rivymiyitevko Provincial Militia, led by none other than Aviation Major Vladimir Malenkov. It was composed of four Chinese Nanchang Q-5 fighter-bombers, each armed with a single British-made BL755 cluster bomb and two S-8 rocket pods with twenty rockets in each pod. Because the Q-5 was merely a Chinese copy of the venerable MiG-19, Malenkov and his flyers were able to accustom themselves with the aircraft quickly.

 

"Defender Flight, arm weapons," he said. "Yuri, you and I would take care of those Zeus-23s. Tanya, Marko, stay back before making your runs."

 

"Roger."

 

"Yuri, follow me." Malenkov and Ashchenko's fighters turned away from Numistatova and Zhuzhev's aircraft before coming down to a course perpendicular to the Sevenivov Hills. He selected the cluster bomb mounted on his center hardpoint and loaded the coordinates of Hilltop Seventeen onto his flight computer. "Yuri, you go and take Hilltop Six out," he said. "I have Hilltop Seventeen."

 

"Roger."

 

As his fighter approached the hills, Malenkov could see the Zeus-23's turrets tracking him but not firing. It was a very strange sight for him, and probably something that he wouldn’t see again for a long time, if at all. And then he heard the lock-on tone on his aircraft, and he pressed FIRE.

 

The BL755 cluster bomb dropped from the Q-5's belly and to the ZSU-23-4 on the hilltop. The bomb released a hundred two-pound bomblets from inside it, which scattered around the area before exploding. The bomb, having expended its load, added its own warhead to the explosion, burning the vegetation off of Hilltop Seventeen.

 

"There they go, Marko," said Tanya Numistatova as she and Marko Zhuzhev flew a racetrack pattern somewhere north of the Hills. "Let's get started on those runs."

 

The two selected the rockets mounted on their wings and turned towards the Hills. They lined up their shots carefully as the S-8 rockets were unguided and were more expensive than bullets, but their every shot blew up the artillery sites on the hilltops, and when they were satisfied that there was no more resistance left, they dropped their own cluster bombs, just to be sure.

 

"All tanks, move out, repeat, all tanks, move out."

 

"Two-six-hundred copies," replied Dimitar Kezhanka. His T-72 moved forward towards the town of Sevenivov, only for it to stop again upon encountering a line of enemy tanks blocking the way. His tank's turret turned a little to the right and fired a round, one of many fired in the opening salvo. His shot appeared to have struck an old T-34 tank, and through his binoculars, Kezhanka could see the turret fly into the air before landing in a crumpled heap beside the burning hulk of the chassis.

 

"Load HEAT!" he said.

 

"Lieutenant, I have a KV-1 in sight," said the gunner.

 

"Engage!"

 

"One away!" Kezhanka lowered his right arm just before the gun barrel recoiled. Through his scope, he could see the KV-1's turret rise into the air above a column of fire. The loader removed the spent shell from the chamber and put a new round in its place.

 

"Lieutenant, Begorod Nine reports a squadron-strength flight of Su-7s coming our way."

 

"Find us a good place to hide," ordered Kezhanka. "I'll deploy the camouflage net."

 

"Lieutenant, I have a BMD-3 in sight, eleven o'clock!"

 

"Engage!"

 

"One away!" The round struck the BMD's right tread, rendering it incapable of travel. However, the vehicle's main gun was still working, and it was sending 12.7 millimeter rounds their way. "One more!" shouted Kezhanka.

 

"One away!" This round struck the BMD's right side once again, and a pillar of flame rose up out of the machine gunner's hatch.

 

"Okay, men, let's get this beast to the trees." The driver drove the T-72 into a small grove in the middle of the Sevenivov Plain and as soon as they stopped, Kezhanka got out and applied a camouflage net on the tank. Just as he secured the final corner of the net to the tank body, he heard the roar of jet engines coming in from the south, and he chambered a round in his AK-74 personal defense weapon. Elsewhere, Krakozhian ZSU-23-4 antiaircraft vehicles and soldiers with portable surface-to-air missiles engaged the incoming fighters. Finally, Kezhanka saw them: eight Sukhoi Su-7 Flankers, all carrying what looked like S-8 rocket pods on their wings. They fired the rockets, but most of their shots hit nothing except for a few fuel trucks, some jeeps and the occasional unfortunate soldier or two.

 

"Gunner, when those Flankers make another pass, try to scare them off or shoot them down, if you can," ordered Kezhanka.

 

When the Su-7s turned around for another pass, Kezhanka covered his ears as the tank fired another round. A ball of flame appeared just behind a pair of Flankers, and the whole formation broke up. One of the Zeus-23s got one locked in its sights and brought it down with a one-second burst, but not before the pilot ejected. Another Flanker that was stupid enough to attempt another run without any covering fire was shot down by Kezhanka's tank, when one of its rounds struck the Flanker on its tail, sending it into a death spiral to the ground.

 

"Lieutenant, Begorod Nine reports that the enemy air force is retreating from the area after suffering losses," said the driver.

 

"Roger that," replied Kezhanka. "Let's get to the Institute; the rest of the platoon should already be there."

 

Kezhanka didn't bother with removing the camouflage net on the tank and moved out of the grove, tailing an SA-2 antiaircraft unit and its accompanying "Long Nose" radar vehicle that had been captured from the rebels. Reaching the Institute, Dimitar saw dozens of Rivymiyitevko Independence Movement soldiers with their hands raised in surrender being led towards what vehicles of the 1111th Transportation Company had survived the attack. He saw Lieutenant Arigov talking to a field radio, and then when he felt his radio vibrate, he found out that he wanted to talk to him.

 

"General Karburets wants all tanks with the 69th Tank Army for the vanguard attack against the Sevenivov garrison," Arigov said without preamble. "Get there as soon as you can!"

 

"Yes, Comrade Lieutenant."

 

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