Sotnikov’s First Outing

Sotnikov’s First Outing

Sotnikov’s First Outing
with Garry Wait

The converted school room buzzed with activity.  A small group of Soviet officers sat round a small map squinting to make out details. The senior officer, a Major Grebenkin, cleared his throat to get attention. 

Respectfully, the murmur of conversation abruptly ceased as the gathered officers peered up at the speaker. The dishevelled and dirty state of their uniforms betrayed the worries and stresses the men had withstood recently.

“Comrades, the Motostrelkovy Company and their mortar company along with Petlyuk’s T70 company and Sotnikov’s tanks are to support a breakthrough by the 82nd Tank Regiment and their Churchills.

This Forward Detachment I am leading will be tasked with clearing the cross roads and road network to the east of the map you are looking at. Enemy is estimated as a medium tank company of 17 vehicles. Frontal armour is manageable and although they are expected to be older model tanks, they are at full strength and have an attached armoured infantry platoon and self propelled artillery, so be careful.

Your orders are to get to the objectives noted while preventing the enemy tanks from pushing past us.Thankfully, headquarters have assigned us a company of SU85M tank hunters to clear the enemy although they are still in transit so unable to attend this meeting. Due to issues with bridging, only one of the companies of the 82nd is able to attend immediately. The second company is on it’s way after having to detour to find a suitable bridge.  But one company of the heavy armour will be sufficient.” Grebenkin winked at the dour Mongolian Captain Batu who stood to one side with the sole Churchill company commander in attendance, Lieutenant Fedorov.

“This Dust Up, as the High Command refers to it, will be a highly mobile battle that we expect will be very tough.  Focus on the objectives and ignore losses. Push aside opposition and bring glory to the Motherland!”

A chorus of ‘urrah’s and hearty backslapping ensued. No one was under any illusions about the task ahead however their apparent enthusiasm.

As the meeting broke up, Lieutenant Anton Sotnikov rushed out to attend to his “Decoy tanks” as everyone was fond of calling them. Secretly he found this amusing as the powerful armour he had available he liked to consider his personal gift from the Hitlerites. Two Panther tanks and one very temperamental Tiger tank comprised his own personal zoo – on loan from the Motherland of course. His crew, all hand selected for their mechanical prowess rather than their gun accuracy (as he often rued at times) enjoyed hearing their commander describe maintenance as “feeding the kitties”.

“Alright, comrades, gather round.  Yet again we are the tip of the spear and need to be in good order for the upcoming attack.  Sergeant Dushkin, is your Tiger ready to roll ? “

“Da, Comrade Lieutenant, she will be ready to proceed today

“Very good.  And Sergeant Makarov? How fares your kitty?”

Makarov smirked at the disparaging comment about his pride and joy, the Panzer V Panther tank.

“She is a grumpy foul thing but ready to overcome the Fascists, Comrade Lieutenant”

Everyone chuckled at the honest assessment of the captured vehicle, knowing too well the many hours of maintenance the vehicles required, particularly the fussy final drives.

At that moment, a female officer wandered over.  Barely 150cm tall, the woman wore a tankers uniform and practiced the easy gait of an armoured officer, confident in her ability

“Comrade Lieutenant Petlyuk, how goes your valiant T70 tankers?”

The young woman smiled shyly, obvious pride in her small unit conflicting with her innate modesty.

“Comrade Lieutenant Sotnikov, we are ready to support your magnificent ex Fascist steel beasts.  But will those sluggish British Churchills keep up with our faster steeds ? And what do you think of this enemy tanker unit ?  Do you know much about their prowess ?”

Sotnikov thought for a moment before answering.

“Yekaterina, we know they are veterans and highly experienced but you and I have been fighting longer than this year. They have some wonderful tools and good guns yet we have our socialist workers determination and a better knowledge of the ground we will fight over.  I have no concerns that you and I will lead our units to victory for the Motherland. Focus on what we can achieve with our weapons not what our opponents will bring to the battle. Stay close and I will take care of the threats to your glorious malyutka (little one, as her tank was nicknamed – the same as her nickname) Our Heroes will triumph tomorrow, have no fear”.

Petlyuk beamed and presented a perfect salute which Sotnikov returned in kind.  Both officers returned to their crews, each having three tanks under their command.  That was all they had in common, with Petlyuk’s three T70’s being two man tanks with a cramped one person turret and a 45mm gun compared to the three person turrets of the two Panthers and one Tiger. Not to mention that all three T70’s weighed less combined than any one of Sotnikov’s command.

The T70 was however a dream to maintain, being built in car factories and designed for ease of operation by unskilled operators compared to the exotic Panther and Tiger vehicles Sotnikov worked with. The two officers worked closely together despite the disparity in their commands, mutual respect for each other’s ability showed in their ease of discussion together.

Following a sleepless night, the dawn hours saw the T70 and Decoy tanks leading off the attack. The wider tracks of the Panthers and Tigers helping with the rush to get to grips with the enemy. Petlyuk’s T70’s held back, concealing themselves in tall wheat crops in support of the depleted Motor Rifle company. Further behind were the six 82mm mortars of the Support company. All were experienced veterans of the previous year’s fighting near Kursk and were under no illusions of the realities of their mission.

As the motostrelkovy troops dug in under the sweltering summer sun – mirrored some four hundred metres behind by the same activity from the mortarmen – a full company of five Churchills clattered past, chivvied by Captain Batu in his command Churchill.  Oily smoke drifted over the sweating Soviet soldiers as they laboured with their sharpened shovels. It was common for such troops to make use of their entrenching tools as hand to hand weapons and these troops were especially fond of the brutality they could inflict at close range. RPG6 antitank grenades lay stacked in their packing crates nearby, ready for the worst of the enemy tankers should they break through the heavy armoured screen of the Churchills.

Sotnikov’s First Outing

Sotnikov shrugged, let the footslogger frontniki worry about defending the supplies they had brought.  His role was much more adventurous and he was very comfortable with threatening the enemy at the crossroads.  A smile crept across his lips as he relished the chance to bring death to the enemies of the Motherland.

Rushing forward, Makarov’s Panther stalled when trying to follow Sotnikov and Dushkins’ vehicles. Everyone heard the groans across the radio net as the driver restarted the Maybach engine and swore creatively in an obscure Eastern dialect.

Held up brief moments, the three Decoy tanks peered over the low hedge, gazing out for enemy tanks. 

“There !  Eight hundred metres, movement at two o’clock. Gunner, load AP ! Driver, move to align with turret” Sotnikov felt the familiar excitement flow through his veins at the prospect of armoured combat. The two 75’s and one 88 of the Panthers and Tiger barked gleefully. A puff of smoke from one of the distant enemy tanks indicated a wounding but not fatal hit. Three loaders furiously worked to feed the vociferous guns they served in the meantime. 

Suddenly, the enemy replied. Five tanks (not the three originally spotted !) spat angry shot at the Soviet tankers. One shell found a weak point on the Tiger and before anyone was the wiser, the five crew leapt out of the vehicle and scrambled to safety. Damn. Now they were short one gun and a third of their combat power. 

Elsewhere, Sotnikov was dimly aware of a swirling fight between six Churchills and five enemy tankers. He heard confused yelling over the higher radio net and surmised that some casualties had been dealt to the enemy, with no more than near misses to the Soviet heroes.  Good news from there at least, but his tanks were within mere metres of their objective. 

Coming from the woods in front of them he could hear more engines.  Sounded like two more enemy tankers but out of sight this time.

While Sotnikov worried over the multiple angles of enemy vehicles, a blur of diesel smoke formed into reinforcements.  

Sotnikov’s First Outing

The SU85M company had arrived, right on time and in the ideal place. The four self propelled antitank guns crested a tall hill a few kilometres away and focussed on the five enemy tanks that had troubled Makarov’s Tiger. Their volleys of 85mm APHE vapourised one enemy vehicle and badly damaged another. Sotnikov allowed himself a smile as he exhaled. This might just keep his command alive.

Seeing his window of opportunity narrowing, Sotnikov looked around for some infantry to support his tanks as he moved on to clear the objective scrawled on his map. Finding none, he realised too late that his radio operator had reported heavy fighting around their supply base.  It would appear that the Motor Rifles had their hands full.

Dushkin, from the position on the rear deck  he occupied since bailing out of his damaged Tiger, yelled into his ear over the sounds of the Maybach engine’s roar.

“Comrade Lieutenant, I have an idea…”

Sotnikov cocked his head, affirming that he was open to hearing more.

Minutes later, Dushkin’s radio operator found himself a runner now.  Racing as fast as his squat Azerbaijan Soviet Republic legs could carry him, he raced across to the bored and disinterested Medium Mortar company. Lazing around, the gunners were watching an enemy unit of five tanks probing the motor rifle platoon guarding their supplies. In the distance, they cheered as Petlyuk’s T70’s fired their puny 45mm guns into the flanks of the enemy mediums.  With little discernible effect thus far. One of the T70’s had it’s two crew cowering behind the vehicle as they waited for the enemy to lose interest in their light tank.

Somehow the fire from the T70’s was sufficient to distract the enemy medium tanks enough and keep the Motor Rifles alive!

The mortar company commander grunted as he accepted the hastily written orders, scrawled on a postcard of all things. Distracted, he was still watching the enemy tanks coming towards the position to their front.

Rapidly scanning the orders, his eyebrows raised. Lieutenant Volonovsky grinned a toothless grin. This would be his chance to finally see some frontline action.

“Boys, pack up your mortars, you’re about to teach the Hitlerites a lesson personally for once”

The six mortars and their crews were quickly disassembled into light loads as the crews prepared to move out suddenly. Who knew what the old man had in mind? 

Sotnikov’s First Outing

Rushing out of their prepared positions, no one had time to stop and question what was happening. All they knew was that Sotnikov’s Decoy Tanks were in trouble and this time, it was the Gunners who were saving the day.

On the far flank, Sotnikov could hear the swirling fight between enemy mediums and Churchills reaching a feverpitch.  Thankful that the enemy was distracted there and he was able to fulfil his role, he moved out once he saw the arrival of the six mortar teams. It would have to do although he had never considered a combined attack from mortar teams and captured Fascist tanks as a war winning ploy.

A glint of metal in the shrubbery in front of the two Panthers betrayed the enemy’s company command tank.  A furiously delivered 7.5cm shell from Sotnikov saw an end to that enemy. Panicking, the other enemy command tank sprayed machine gun ammunition at the mortar crews, now closely protecting the vulnerable flanks of Sotnikov’s tanks. One team collapsed in a hail of machine gun fire. The rest stood resolute, ready to take the fight to the enemy. 

That was not necessary as Makarov drilled a neat hole in the enemy tank’s gun shield, eliminating the threat. The objective was theirs.

Sotnikov’s First Outing

A rattle of tracks in the distance indicated the enemy’s half tracked infantry arriving, much too late to worry the victorious Soviet heroes. Better still, the enemy’s halftrack commander realised their tardy arrival had been enough to give the mortar men the upper hand in defending the crossroads.  The enemy halftrack platoon slunk away, ashamed of their cowardice. 

Sotnikov gave the order to halt and prepare for further instructions. Today was a good day.  If they could recover the Hitlerite Tiger, then all would be ideal in his world. He had triumphed. 

Looking over his crews, faces blackened by carbon residue, Sotnikov felt pride enough to burst.  He was fortunate as always.  He would have another chance to prove his worth to the Motherland and put an end to this Great Patriotic War.