Army Training Centre, Cultybraggan, near Stirling, Scotland.
Warrant Officer Class II William Bell watched with some satisfaction as the company he had helped train entered the firing range to practise their musketry skills. The men who made up D Company, 7th (Fife) Battalion The Black Watch, had shown great promises; there had been many bright individuals among them, who were potential Non Commissioned Officers, and also possibly officer material, and all had been keen to learn. That was something of a relief, the problem with any rapid force expansion was finding good NCOs and reasonable competent officers. The British Army had paid badly for that particular problem in the past, Bell hoped that this time around it would be different.
He was also rather pleased that General, sorry Field Marshal Dannatt, as he was now, had decided that as the army was expanding that the recent regimental amalgamations, which had been deeply unpopular in Scotland, would be reversed. Hence The Black Watch, 3rd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland had once again become the 1st Battalion, The Black Watch, and the regiment had regained its independent identity. The alternative, as Dannatt had pointed out, was to have battalions with absurdly high numbers, and anyway the public better identified with the more traditional regimental names. That argument had carried the day and regiments were demerging all over the U.K.. The parades as the merged regiments had formed, then split apart, their colors being cased and replaced by the old traditional standards were a frequent news item on television these days.
Bell himself had served for the full twenty-two years in the 1st Black Watch, retiring as a Company Sergeant-Major. Like all other army pensioners he had been recalled to the colours to help train a new generation of National Servicemen. It was highly doubtful that he would actually go into action with the new battalion once it was operational, but he was certainly fit enough to continue to serve in his current training role, or transfer to the re-established Home Service Force.
As the first platoon began to shoot at the targets, Bell remembered the first month after conscription had been brought in. The army had been totally unprepared, the last time they had to train thousands of new recruits had been 1960, and arguably they had not faced a situation quite like this since the raising of the Kitchener Armies in 1914. There had been not enough uniforms, weapons, equipment, or accommodation, as in 1914-1915 new recruits had to be billeted amongst the civilian population while new hutted accommodation was constructed.
At least now the worst of the shortages were over, everybody now had uniforms and at least most of the normal equipment that an infantryman should expect to have. Moreover the new L1A2 Self Loading Rifle chambered for .338 Lapua rounds had begun to come off the production lines in some numbers. The first orders had gone to FN-Herstal over in Belgium. Years of being players in the export market had meant they were geared up to switch between calibres quickly. The omnipresence of the 7.62x51 NATO and, later, the 5,56x45 had eroded that capability but enough had remained for them to start producing the new rifles within a week of receiving the orders. Initial priority had gone to regular and Territorial units in the Middle East, which had at least freed up numbers of L85A2 and L86A2s for the National Servicemen to train on, but now the first L1A2s had begun to be issued to conscripts for familiarity training. British production was ramping up as well and once that happened, the re-equipment of the rest of the Army would follow.
Today was the day that the 7th Black Watch would get their first chance to fire the new rifles, having spent the previous week learning how the weapon worked, how it should be cleaned, and what its various features were. Bell himself had examined one of the rifles closely himself and had realised that although it was semi-automatic, just like the old 7.62mm L1A1 SLR the old matchstick/paper clip trick would work on it. However it was debateable whether firing a .338 rifle on full automatic was a good thing. The old 7.62 NATO had been hard to control on full auto, the .338 was way out there. Given the muzzle climb, it might be good for shooting down harpies though.
“In your own time, commence firing!” The range officer called out.
‘CRACK! CRACK! CRACK!’
Bell watched with interest as a few members of the platoon paused after the first shot, somewhat shocked at the recoil of the .338 round compared to the 5.56mm that they had gotten used to. To their credit they adjusted their position slightly and resumed firing. From what he could see, despite the extra power of their new weapons the level of marksmanship had not dropped off appreciably.
“They’re shooting very well, Mr. Mathews.” Bell observed to the platoon commander.
“They are indeed, Sergeant-Major.” The young subaltern, who had found his Sandhurst class suddenly passed out early, replied, slightly nervous of the very experienced Senior NCO. “In no small thanks to your training of them.”
‘THUD! THUD! THUD!’
Both men turned their heads towards the sound and saw that on the range next door that S Company had begun to practise firing their newly issued Browning Heavy Machine Guns. The 12.7mm round was a prodigious man killer, and was also pretty effective against baldricks, so every infantry battalion were being issued with the big machine-gun. The M-2s had come from FN-Herstal as well, Bell couldn’t help reflecting that the armourers were doing well out of the Salvation War. The M-2 issue was even including the units due to be mounted in Warrior Infantry Fighting Vehicles. The 7th Black Watch was one of them and would be receiving its new Warriors as soon as the vehicles were available. Until then, they were making do with FV-432s and some M-113s the government had found somewhere.
Two Warriors had recently visited Cultybraggan so that the men destined to join armoured infantry regiments could become familiar with them. They had been examples of the new Warrior Mk.2, armed with the 40mm CTA cannon, rather than the old 30mm RARDEN cannon. The RARDEN had proven very effective against baldricks, but its one weakness was its low rate of fire, the troops in Iraq had requested a weapon with a greater rate of fire. The MoD had bitten the bullet and decided that the time had come to make a choice, and quickly. The BAE Systems proposal, which involved installing a 40mm CTA cannon in the existing Warrior turret had been chosen, even if the turret was now a bit cramped, because it could be manufactured more quickly and existing Warriors could be modified faster.
“Have you tried the new rifle yourself yet, Sir?” Bell enquired.
“I certainly have, Sergeant-Major.” Mathews replied. “It has one hell of a kick, left my shoulder all black and blue, and one really does need that bipod. I think it will make a good battle rifle, though, once we all get used to it.”
“Rather reminds me of the old Slur, Sir.” Bell said wistfully, having left the army before the SA80 family had entered widespread service. “Bit fiercer, though.
“It’ll certainly give those baldricks a pause for thought if they come back again.”
Western desert of Iraq.
Corporal James Moss, well he was an Acting Sergeant, as the old platoon Sergeant was gone (he had been a member of the Free Church of Scotland), of 3 Platoon, A Company, 1st Battalion The Royal Scots, scanned the desert around him from the commander’s hatch of the FV432 ‘Bulldog’ APC. As with the other Scottish regiments 1st Royal Scots, the senior line infantry regiment of the army, had been de-amalgamated, in its case not only from The Royal Regiment of Scotland, but also from the King’s Own Scottish Borderers. Part of the regiment, mainly men from the Borderers, had been sent home to the UK to help form the new 1st Battalion, The King’s Own Scottish Borders, while a mixture of reservists and Territorial Army soldiers took their place in Iraq.
While the upgraded ‘Bulldog’ was considered by the troops to be an excellent vehicle, having protection fully equal of the Warrior IFV, the fact that it was only armed with a GPMG had kept the units equipped with it out of the fight with the baldricks. Major General Brims had kept them and the 1st Battalion The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment back as his reserve, while the 1st Battalion The Scots Guards and 1st Battalion The Mercian Regiment (Cheshire) had all the fun in their Warriors.
Determined to play some useful part the Scots and Lancasters had scoured armouries for heavier weapons to replace their GPMGs with. Moss’ ‘Bulldog’, for example, had a Browning HMG on the commander’s mount, the GPMG being relocated to a pintle mount aft of the main troop compartment hatches. Getting enough Brownings for his platoon had cost Moss every bottle of whisky that the platoon possessed, and most of their beer. A very happy American unit had handed over the HMGs and ammunition and had immediately drawn replacements for themselves.
Other ‘Bulldogs’ had Russian made DShK machine-guns taken from Iraqi armouries while some sported American Mark 19 Grenade launchers. The British Army had adopted that weapon for use in Afghanistan and the Quartermaster would surely be surprised to find out how many were now in the unofficial inventory. With their new armament the ‘Bulldog’ equipped battle groups had been sent out into the desert behind where the armoured battle groups of 4th Mechanised Brigade had advanced, to sweep the ground for any stray baldricks who may have escaped.
A few baldricks and injured harpies had already been encountered by the mechanised patrols and successfully dealt with. Mostly killed, but there were whispers that some had been taken prisoner. It was also whispered that units who managed to take such prisoners would be smiled upon by those in authority. However this long after the defeat of the demon army the chances of encountering a live baldrick, or even a dead one, as the corpses had largely decomposed, was slim. Still, Acting Sergeant Moss was ever hopeful of getting his chance.
“I can see something move over there, Corp…er, Sarge.” One of the dismounts, who was standing head and shoulders out of the open troop hatches reported.
Moss cocked the big Browning and swung it round in the direction that the private had indicated, while he studied the object through the Common Weapons Sight on his new L1A2 (he had taken the CWS off his old L85A2 and fitted it to the new rifle).
“Oh, sorry, false alarm, it’s a cow, or something.”
“Bloody numptie.” Moss complained. “You had me going for a minute there.”
“That’s the feckin’ real thing though!” Another soldier called out, flipping the safety catch off his rifle and opening fire.
The baldrick that the soldier had spotted had started to try an run as soon as he had heard the APC approach, but was too weak to move particularly fast. The .338 Lapua round struck him in the side and was enough in his weakened state to bring the demon down.
“Davie, halt!” Moss said to the FV432’s driver. “I think we might have just taken ourselves a baldrick prisoner.”
The Portal From Hell, Western Desert, Iraq
In any other circumstances, the sight would have been hilariously funny. The little force about to sally through the portal was built around veterans of the first great invasion, most still bearing the wounds of that horrifying massacre but the rest? Kidlings wearing equipment to big for them, so heavy they could hardly lift it, mates who were scarcely any better off. None of them knew how to operate their tridents, how to charge them and then discharge the magic in a searing bolt. Most of the mates were crying, they knew what awaited them. The kidlings were excited, trying to run around with their equipment, assuming that what was about to happen was just a game. One kidling couldn’t lift his trident properly so had it over his shoulder with the end trailing on the ground behind him. In any other circumstances, the sight would have been hilariously funny but Abigor’s heart was near breaking.
“Get ready!” His order ran around the group, bringing them into some form of formation. “Move out.” He went into a jog-trot and stepped through the great ellipse that represented the portal between dimensions, into the clear yellow sun and blue skies that he had devoutly hoped never to see again. Behind him, his pathetic rag-tag band appeared in a grim pastiche of a fighting formation.
The truth was, Abigor was surprised to be still alive. He had expected to be swamped by a barrage of fire-lances and mage bolts as soon as he and his band had emerged but the desert was silent. The ridge up ahead of them seemed deserted but Abigor wasn’t fooled by that, he knew the humans would stay below the ridgeline where they were safe until it was time to pour their fire into their enemies. Thinking about it with the clarity that accompanies imminent death, Abigor suddenly realized that it was a very sensible approach.
Yet still the desert was silent, no hideous holocaust of fire erupting around them. Had he been wrong? Had the humans given up and gone home? Surely that was unlike them, it didn’t fit the remorseless harrowing of his Army as it had retreated across the desert. But why was it silent?
“Everybody, be careful where you put your feet. Do not step on mage-bars. They will kill you.” Or worse he thought, but there was no need to worry the mates and kidlings with that possibility. Despite all his fears, the ridgeline was approaching fast as he jog-trotted across the desert. For preference, he and his veterans would have been at a full run to cover the ground as fast as possible but they had to measure their pace to the abilities of the weakest members of their group. This attack was a sick joke and Abigor knew it.
Yet it had succeeded. They reached the ridgeline and deployed on it. The mates and kidlings were exhausted by the run across the desert, the veterans were barely fazed by its exertions. Abigor was keeping them relatively closely bunched. He knew it was wrong, that he should be dispersing his people out so they would not be slaughtered in mass by the human mage-magic but that was not his intent. He knew his group could not survive and keeping them bunched would mean a quick death for them all as the humans concentrated their fire on them. He had seen to many demons screaming their last seconds away as they had been torn apart yet still lived. He did not want his kidlings and mates to die that way.
The minutes ticked by, Abigor marvelling that the humans had taken so long to react. He glanced behind him, the forces that were supposed to have followed him out were nowhere to be seen. That, he had expected. He had known from this start that this ‘attack’ was really just a mass execution. Then, overhead, Abigor heard the screaming howl of mage-bolts as they started to descend upon him. It was all over.
Combat Team Alpha. By the Hellmouth, Western Iraq
“Any movement Hooters?”
“All still out there. Nothing happening.” Stevenson’s combat team had drawn the hellmouth watch assignment for the day. She had her platoon of Bradleys in the center, holding a ridgeline while her two platoons of Abrams tanks were spread out to either side. If the baldricks emerged, they’d fight in the best traditions of the U.S. Army, they’d protect their artillery observer while he called down unimaginable firepower upon their enemies. “Wait one, there’s movement. Here they come again.”
Down in the desert, figures were emerging from the hellmouth. They were a disorganized stream, undisciplined, nothing like the neat formations that had emerged before. They were spread out in the desert, running straight at the dug-in Bradleys but to Stevenson’s already experienced eye, this wasn’t an attack. Anyway, was that all of them?
“Alpha-actual to Domino. We have hellmouth activity. Baldricks emerging, number estimated at..” Stevenson did a quick count, there were around 400 at most. “Four hundred, say again four-zero-zero. Heading for our position.”
“Four hundred? Are you sure of that?”
“Sure am. Four hundred, no follow up force. There’s something very wrong about this.” She thought for a second and looked through the high-powered optics on her tank. She blinked and looked again. “Sir, this force is a joke. There are some regulars down there but there are some small ones that can hardly lift their weapons. Others don’t have any at all.” She looked again, at the way the formation was breaking up as it crossed rough ground. For the first time she appreciated the amount of training the earlier formations had shown. Their lines had never wavered, never broken no matter how rough the ground or intense the fire brought down in them. This mob were not even in the same class. “Sir, these baldricks aren’t soldiers, most of them aren’t. They look more like civilians.”
“Understood.” There was a pause. “Deny contact, ring them off, don’t let them go anywhere but hold your fire until ordered otherwise. Give them at least 1500 meters clearance”
“Very good Sir.” Stevenson broke contact and changed to her command frequency. “Third platoon fall back, let them have the ridgeline, we don’t need it. First and second, move up to flanking positions. Hold fire.”
There was a cloud of dust and black smoke as the Bradleys backed off their ridgeline and headed for the one about 2,000 meters to the rear. They were already in position when the baldricks ran up on to the ridge and started to deploy into a defensive perimeter. A tight one, Stevenson thought, perfect for artillery. Didn’t baldricks ever learn?
“Report.” The single word came over her radio.
Stevenson looked carefully. “We’re in position. Sir the enemy force is at least 50 percent civilian. There are small ones running around, I think they’re playing, it looks like their children of some kind. And others are behaving like their mothers.” She flipped her optics up to full power. “Well what do you know, our big friend the football player is up there.”
“Very good. Hold positions, do not open fire. This is going right up the chain.”
Stevenson relaxed in her seat, watching the baldricks. There were some real soldiers across there, they were watchful, their tridents at the ready. But the rest? No way were they soldiers. Women and children was Stevenson’s guess. Hokay, I guess now is when we find out what sort of people we really are she thought to herself. The minutes ticked by until almost an hour had passed.
“Alpha-Actual. This is Command-One.”
Whoa, that meant General Petraeus himself. “Alpha Actual Sir.”
“Get ready, there’s artillery fire coming in. IP between you and the baldricks. Safe distance from both but its tight. FYI, we’re going to try and get this lot to surrender. As soon as the shells have landed, expose your vehicles but do not, I repeat do not, open fire. One shot from you without orders, Captain, and you’ll be burning shit for the rest of your career.”
“Understood Sir. Expose but do not fire.”
Overhead there was a howl of descending 155mm shells from a Paladin battery. The salvo was beautifully placed, one shot to each side of the baldrick group, two in front of it, two behind. A perfect hexagon that was just, only just, far enough out to be safe. “All Alpha Vehicles, move up onto the ridge crest. Do not under any circumstances fire. Repeat, do not under any circumstances open fire. Require verbal repeat and acknowledgement of that order from each vehicle.” She listened as the acknowledgements came in. Then, her Abrams lurched as she moved up to the crest of the ridge.
On The Ridgeline, Hellmouth, Western Iraq
Abigor’s skin crawled as he expected the lash of mage-fire and iron fragments but the desert erupted in a neat hexagon around his unit, the bursts harmless. Oh, they buffeted and shook the ground but there were no screaming, disembowelled demons on the ground to show they had landed. Then, all around him, Iron Chariots appeared. In front, to either side, behind him. The humans really did love surrounding their enemies so that none could escape when the killing started. But the Chariots remained silent. No fire lances, no seeker lances, the chariots just sat there and watched him. The silence was eerie after the crash of the mage-bursts. The kidlings had stopped their games, the mates their weeping, everybody was just waiting. It dawned on Abigor they were waiting for him. Everybody, demon and human were waiting for him.
If they were waiting for him to start fighting, what happened if he did not? Why had the humans given him a chance denied to him by Satan? What would happen if he took that chance? It couldn’t be any worse than what would happen if he didn’t. Abigor made his decision and stood up, throwing his trident away. Then, he raised his hands to show he was unarmed. “All of you, throw down your arms. Stand up and raise your hands like mine. So that the humans can see we are unarmed.”
Across the desert, the Iron Chariots kicked up a cloud of dust and started to move in.
Combat Team Alpha. By the Hellmouth, Western Iraq
“Sir, they’re surrendering. They’ve thrown down their arms and are standing up. They’ve raised their hands, all of them.”
“Captain Stevenson, move in, carefully. This may be a trick but if it isn’t we have a priceless opportunity here. Do not fire, even if fired upon.”
That means I’m the sacrificial goat. Stevenson thought. She gave the order and her command started rolling closer to the group on the hill crest. They were motionless as her tanks and armored infantry vehicles closed in. When they were less than fifty meters away, the big one, the one Stevenson thought of as the football player, dropped to the ground and sprawled out on the sand. She checked her intercom, making sure it was set so only her crew could hear her. “Reminds me of one of my ex-boyfriends guys. I wonder if he wants me to trample him too?”
There was a suppressed series of snorts from her crew. She stopped the vehicle and got out, climbing down the outside of the turret and on to the ground.
“I am Captain Keisha Stevenson, United States Army. I am authorized to accept your surrender.”
“I am Great Duke Abigor. I am, or was, commander of sixty legions. I offer you my surrender and fealty.”
White House Communications Center, Washington DC.
“Vladimir, this is Dubya. I have urgent news. General Abigor has just surrendered and defected.”
“That filthy Vlasovite bastard.”
“Sorry, Vladimir, you misunderstand, he’s a baldrick, he’s defecting to us.”
Without missing a beat, Putin carried on, “What I meant to say of course was that he is a heroic champion of freedom and liberty who has overcome his corrupt upbringing so that he can rally to the side of truth honor and justice.”
“That’s right Vladimir, he’s a filthy Vlasovite bastard, but he’s our filthy Vlasovite bastard.”
Nations do not survive by setting examples for others
Nations survive by making examples of others