Authors: James Rouch
Tags: #Fiction, #Espionage
Cover illustration: M60A2 Main Battle Tank. Armament:
152mm gun/launcher. 7.62mm coaxial machine gun. 0.5in
AA machine gun in commander’s cupola.
Armour:Maximum 120mm, though increased on hull front
and turret by local modifications.
Although with its high silhouette and conventional steel
armour it is out-dated by the latest trends in tank design,
the M60A2 has proved itself a valuable battlefield weapon.
Protracted development problems with the main weapon
and its ammunition meant it didn’t go into operational
service until 1975, eight years after production commenced.
More vulnerable than modern tanks constructed of laminate armour,
in the hands of a well trained and experienced crew it is still a
formidable match for any opponent. The gun fires a large calibre
conventional round that can defeat virtually any type of defences, and
the close support provided by M60A2s has many times been the decisive
factor in successful NATO infantry-assaults on prepared Warsaw Pact
positions. Against enemy armour the long range, high accuracy and
killing power of the Shillelagh missile has earned it a feared reputation.
The total of Russian tanks knocked out by M60A2s now numbers
over two thousand. Many were destroyed at
ranges out to 5,000 yards.
THE ZONE Series by James Rouch:
THE ZONE 5
To Steve and Wendy
Copyright © 1982 by James Rouch
An Imprint Original Publication, 2005
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without permission of the publishers.
First E-Book Edition 2005
Second IMRPINT April 2007
The characters in this book are the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.
THE ZONE E-Books are published by
IMPRINT Publications, 3 Magpie Court
High Wycombe, WA 6057. AUSTRALIA.
Produced under licence from the Author, all rights reserved. Created in Australia by Ian Taylor © 2005
Germany has been wounded, gravely wounded, but those wounds have been
bound and she has carried on, but there is one wound that may never heal, that
even now bleeds and threatens to sap the last strength from the country. That
wound is Hamburg. If it is not cured before the end of the summer, if the siege
has not been lifted by that time, then the poison that spreads from it will be fatal
and the German people will demand the right to sue for a separate peace, rather
than see their country die.
Extract from a speech by the West German Chancellor to a meeting of the heads of the NATO nations on the anniversary of the encirclement of Hamburg by Russian forces.
Memo from the Chief of Staff, NATO High Command, to Major General ‘Tim’ Maitland, Commander Combined Forces, Northern Sector, Zone.
My dear Tim, Thought I had better get in a word about that meeting on the
10th. I think the Joint Chiefs may have slightly coloured the picture. Of course,
the push to get through to Hamburg is a major effort, but resources are
stretched, and I’m afraid there won’t be that much extra equipment available. To
keep the politicians happy, of course, we’ll want the maximum possible show, so
do your best with what you’ve got. So long as your chaps get through that should
be sufficient. They can sit on their duffs in the city until we can get round to
mounting a proper show in our own time. Destroy this, won’t you. Best regards.
Some of the Russian guns were still firing; the salvo of long-range bombardment missiles had failed to find them among the ruins of the riverside warehouses. Now the infantry and assault engineers would have to do a job that had defeated the devastating power of the plummeting one-ton warheads. The Iron Cow closed to the bank and added the rapid fire of its 30mm Rarden cannon to the supporting barrage from the guns and launchers aboard the transports and armoured barges in midstream. In a day made dark by dense smoke from the raging fires ashore, and suspended dust and water spray thrown up by the deluge of shot and shell, the tracer and missile flame-tails made a lethal firework display. Little of it was reflected by the churned and turbulent muddy water of the Elbe.
From the command cupola of the Hover-APC, Major Revell watched the flimsy outboard-driven inflatables bucking towards the enemy positions until the background of firestorms made the imaging equipment ineffective.
A heavy solid shot glanced from the Chobham armour of the turret front, pushing the air-cushion vehicle bodily aside, despite the surge of power from its twin Allison turbofans as their driver tried to compensate.
‘Some mad sod is getting careless. That was one of ours, I saw it bouncing towards us.’ Burke let the craft drift downstream to get out of the line of fire, while reducing the ride height as much as he dared in wake-ridged water carrying great masses of wreckage of every description.
A self-propelled raft ploughed past, looking as though it must founder any moment as the high bow wave it pushed before its slab front kept water surging and swirling across its deck and around the tracks of the pair of lashed-down Challenger main battle tanks that were its cargo.
The loud rumble of heavy demolition charges rolled across the Elbe and the Russian resistance slackened and fell to the intermittent bark of a single field piece. A few seconds later that too was silenced, but not before it had unleashed, at point blank range, a last deadly accurate shot.
Striking the rear of the fast-moving raft, its detonation ripped open the craft’s tiny wheelhouse, effortlessly defeating its steel plate protection and hurling chunks of that and the remains of its occupant over the side into the fragment- lashed water.
Still under power, but out of control, the raft made a rapid series of erratic turns, narrowly missing several collisions, before its engine stopped and it was caught by the current and whirled away with its precious and irreplaceable cargo.
As the order came through to press on upstream, and Revell passed it to their driver, he saw the assault boats returning to their transports. There weren’t many. He counted six before a bend took them out of sight. Perhaps the other fourteen would follow, but he doubted it. That was about the average casualty rate for every attack they’d mounted during the last two days.
The troop of armoured air-cushion vehicles had led the convoy all the way, and had taken the full weight of every furious attempt the Russians had made to stop it. One of their number had disappeared in the night. Revell had been speaking to its officer on the radio when without hint of warning or danger it had simply vanished from their screens. He’d looked out to see nothing more than patches of burning kerosene where it had been, and then they too had gone.
That left just two craft for a task that would have taxed six. He read the list of stores Sergeant Hyde had just passed him and his eyes flickered down the rows of figures. Ammunition was OK, they’d used little small arms fire as yet, and had managed to replace most of the cannon rounds expended the previous day: it was the specialised stores that were the problem, the stuff that few others in the convoy used, or if they did were not prepared to part with.
Only a third of their decoy devices remained, the rest had been used to defeat the guidance systems of the showers of shells, rockets and terminally homing cluster munitions that had been sent against them. If the Russians maintained their current prodigious expenditure of ammunition then the stock would be exhausted and they would become sitting targets before they broke through to Hamburg.
From somewhere behind came a huge explosion that for an instant disrupted every instrument on board. As though a giant fist had given it a shove the HAPC was sent racing forward. When he regained his place in the cupola, Revell didn’t have to search hard for the source.
The middle section of the convoy was hidden inside a billowing cloud of black smoke and soaring flame. From it was emerging the shattered hulk of a small tanker, all of its superstructure gone and its hull paint blistered off to the water line. Two of the barges and a tug had also been engulfed and were burning from end to end.
‘Shit, now how in the hell did they do that?’ Ripper kept the turret rotating, searching for a target, but there was none.
Another explosion blew the bows from a patrol boat, and it immediately stopped dead in the water and began to sink.
‘What have we got on the screen?’ From his perch in the top of the hull Revell couldn’t see their Russian deserter sat at the radio and radar consul at the rear of the hull but knew he would be continually monitoring the hostile fire locater to identify and track the cause of the losses back to their source.
‘Nothing, Major. All systems check. Whatever it was, is,’ Boris corrected himself as a transport took on a sudden list after an explosion ripped a huge rent in its side, ‘is not artillery fire of any sort.’
‘Maybe it’s a sub.’ Dooley opened the armoured shutter over his own image intensifying vision block and scrutinised the river for a periscope. He nudged Clarence beside him as encouragement to do the same but was ignored. ‘Well, it could be.’ Undeterred he returned to his lone and self-appointed vigil.
Revell wasn’t looking for a periscope, but he was watching the surface of the water just as hard. Almost at once he saw what it was he was searching for, and had hoped not to see. He grabbed at the radio tuner to broadcast a general warning but for at least another of their number it came too late.
So intent was he on tracking the driftwood-surrounded half-submerged oil drum as it bobbed towards them that it wasn’t until it was too late that he saw their companion craft cutting across their front.
Perhaps it was going to investigate a similar object it had spotted further away. Revell never knew. Even as he shouted the warning the other HAPC skimmed over the innocuous flotsam, striking the slim aerial-like spine projecting from it.
The mine must have contained over two hundred pounds of explosive, and it detonated immediately beneath the vehicle. Foaming water streaked with flame and smoke rose high, its top feathering like a wind-blown fountain in the breeze, then fell back to make a short-lived circle of white water about the broken turretless hull. Both engines had gone, but even without that burden to hurry it, it went down fast, leaving no sign of its ever having existed, save for a single limbless torso that, as if unhappy to be left in the world in that state, followed seconds after.
‘All of you. Hit anything that looks even remotely like an oil-drum.’
Anticipating the major’s order, Ripper already had his sights on a cluster of three, and each round of the clip he put in found its mark. ‘Aw, I got a bunch of duds.’
Using rifles and light automatics the others aboard had also selected targets, but it wasn’t until Andrea chose her second that they achieved the result they’d all been expecting.