The Death of a Division
(Beware! Fiction post follows!)
The successful Soviet coup in 1991 saw Boris Yeltsin summarily executed in the Kremlin courtyard. The coup eventually led to a war – a war that engulfed the globe.
By the new millennium, society might have broke down, but the war continued. After the spring harvest was planted in the year 2000, the German 3rd Army left its cantonment areas to conduct the last strategic offensive of what would later be called “The Twilight War”. Spearheaded by the US XI Corps, the allied remnants of NATO were to clear Soviet and Polish communist formations from along the Baltic coast, seize the Vistula river basin for its vital, lifesaving supply of fresh water, and make contact with Polish Free Legions operating against vicious bands of marauders terrorizing the population in the interior.
Exploiting a gap in the Soviet lines near the radioactive ruins of Bydgoszcz, the 5th US Infantry Division, the Red Diamond, broke out southeast along the south bank of the Vistula. German and American commanders congratulated themselves on the victory. There were no communist formations reported between them and the remains of Warsaw. The veteran 5th Infantry Division of the newly constituted XI Corps, was long used to local recruiting in the struggle to maintain any semblance of numbers, but they fortunately received the last shipment of replacements and heavy vehicles from the former United States of America before it descended into a brutal civil war the previous winter. Armed with new M1A2E3 Abrams main battle tanks, Cadillac Gage Stingray light tanks, and LAV-25 armored personnel carriers (originally destined for the Marines of the Rapid Deployment Force in Iran), the 5th US Infantry Division was one of the most powerful armored formations remaining in the world. Or so it was thought.
The division’s fuel reserves were grossly inadequate for the new vehicles. The new tanks unfortunately overwhelmed the division’s logistics system, which normally managed just the cantonment areas behind the stabilized front where the Division spent the last year. The new tanks burned fuel at a rate unknown in the previous iterations of M1s. Consequently, the 5th Infantry Division spent a better part of a week around Torun distilling ethanol to replenish the thirsty vehicles and the big 5000 gallon tankers.
With Polish Free Legion guides, the division cavalry squadron, the horse mounted 4-12 Cavalry, scouted as far south as Lodz, one of the few remaining intact cities left in Poland. The troopers identified only a weak Polish border guards brigade holding the city. The commander of the 5th, the indefatigable Brigadier General Pat Dudley, call sign Red Diamond Six, chose Lodz as the objective for the next leg of the offensive.
In an intelligence failure akin to missing the surprise Italian offensive that almost captured Munich, the tactical situation around Lodz was not as it appeared. The first sign of trouble were the hordes of marauders in the pay of Soviet cavalry who overwhelmed 4-12 CAV’s observation posts. 4-12 CAV withdrew southwest, and just barely missed being annihilated by a fast moving Soviet motorized rifle division, which emerged from Lodz as if conjured by a wizard. Just as the 256th Brigade of Louisiana National Guard, the 5th’s “round out” brigade and main effort against Lodz, pulled out of their assault positions, they were struck by two motorized rifle divisions and tank division of the Soviet 4th Guards Tank Army.
The 4th Guards Tank Army was last reported deep in the Belorussian wilderness. Only the quick counterattack by the 2nd Brigade Combat Team prevented the complete destruction of the Tiger Brigade, but both formations took a beating. One incredulous report even mentioned a Soviet MI-8 Hip spotting for the Soviets! Against this overwhelmingly powerful formation, Red Diamond Six ordered the 1st Brigade to secure the bridges over the Warta River to the west and prepare to defend the crossings. The Division Trains, and the 2nd and 256th Brigades would pass through their lines to escape the well-armed, well supplied, and fully mobile 4th Guards Tank Army.
The plan fell apart almost immediately. The Polish 10th Tank Division was spotted west of Kalisz by the 1st Brigade’s reconnaissance troop, which forced the brigade to launch a hasty attack to seize the town lest the communists threaten the rear of the Warta river line. Under great pressure, the 2nd Brigade managed to get across the river, and set up roadblocks at the bridges. But the grievously wounded 256th was cut off, pinned against the river and destroyed, with only remnants fleeing south into the woods and out of contact. In desperation, Red Diamond Six had the Warta bridges blown, but their destruction provided only a temporary reprieve: another Soviet motorized rifle division appeared behind 4-12 CAV having crossed the river to the south of where the 256th was destroyed.
Red Diamond Six ordered the division to consolidate on Kalisz. 1st Brigade parried the Polish tanks to the west and southwest. 2nd Brigade moved to prepare a defense against the approaching Soviets from the south and east. On fumes, the last ten Abrams tanks of 3-70 Armor pulled into defilade positions overlooking the Kalisz-Sieradz road, just as the main body of the Soviet 124th MRD drove into their engagement area. In ten minutes, 30 Soviet vehicles were burning on the road, a counter attack defeated, with 3-10 Infantry narrowly stopping another counterattack into 3-70 AR’s flank from the south.
The victories didn’t change the fact that Kalisz was a poor refuge. One motorized rifle division was destroyed but there were two more crossing the Warta to the north and east. The Polish 10th Tank to the west was strangely silent, but nonetheless its existence threatened the division rear. Moreover, there were marauding mercenaries everywhere, and a Soviet tank division was unaccounted for since its clash with 2nd Brigade outside Lodz. Red Diamond Six decided to take advantage of the mauling 3-70 AR and 3-10 IN handed the Soviets to the southeast, and ordered the division to break out of the rapidly shrinking Kalisz perimeter toward the Free City of Krakow. Krakow had declared independence from everyone, and it was thought the division could reorganize there, or at worst, work for the city…
The Division and Brigade trains issued the last of their supplies, ammunition, and fuel. Then with the engineers, they were broken up and attached to the nearest combat units. The DIVARTY would pound Ostrow with its last remaining shells, spike their guns, and follow the brigades out. 1-40 AR would hold Kalisz as the Division attacked south. They weren’t expected to follow.
Again the Communists proved more agile than expected. This time it was the Polish 10th Tank to the west. The Poles weren’t dithering, as intelligence suspected, but rehearsing a night assault with infrared spotlights. Just after midnight on 18 July 2000, Polish communist tanks and APCs struck the empty positions of 1-61 Infantry, who had pulled out of their assault positions for a BMNT jump off to the south. There had been no time to wait for a company of 1-40 AR tanks to take over the sector, and the risk seemed reasonable since the chances that the Poles would attack before dawn were deemed small. They were wrong.
The scouts left to screen withdrew in the face of the communists’ IR lights, and the tank division overwhelmed the nine Stingrays enroute to 1-61’s old fighting positions. An hour later, 1-40 AR was struck from the north by the fresh 21st MRD, then west, and eventually the south, by the Polish 10th Tank. The American tankers died a tragic death, albeit one taking many times their number. Their thermal sites gave them a qualitative edge over their IR equipped foes, but quantity has a quality all its own.
By dawn, chaos reigned in Kalisz. Free Legionary Poles fought communist Poles in the streets for the soul of the town. The American attack broke down as Communist vehicles struck the rear of the Division’s attack positions. Many units broke and fled, or commenced their attack early only to die in Ostrow to friendly artillery. Fighting spread to the Division Command Post. The commander’s personnel security detachment and the division staff were heavily engaged with Polish T-55s, Soviet BMPs, and marauding cavalry. Firing could be heard over the radio. Red Diamond Six’s last message was broadcast in the clear:
“In has been my honor to serve you. Good Luck – you’re on your own now. Diamond Six, out.”
(Thanks to Game Designers Workshop for their awesome “Twilight: 2000” post-apocalyptic setting. Writing this took me back to my childhood. I wrote this because a friend wanted a summary of the setting as a preview before he backed a Kickstarter, and I wanted to save what I wrote. Virtually all of this post is adapted from GDW’s Twilight: 2000 alt-history background information found in game materials published in 1984, 1990, and 1993.)