A hot time on the Grill(e)
It was, amazingly enough, a chilly afternoon on the Arctic Region map, and Will (pronounced Vill) the Grille (pronounced Grill) the open-topped German artillery piece, was having crew trouble. Even his sturdy crew commander was moaning about the weather.
"I don't know, you miserable shower," Will muttered to himself as they ground out of the spawn area at a respectable 38 km/h speed, turning right at the rocks and pulling up to cover the distant Suicide Corner while three lights and a heavy cautiously explored the road. "Moan, moan, moan. When we're on Sand River it's too hot for you, on Dragon Ridge it's always raining, and with every other artillery burst the survivors complain about red-hot shell-splinters bouncing around the crew compartment. What do you want, a GW-Panther with improved vents and an armoured roof over your heads?"
That WOULD be nice, his Commander said hopefully. Any prospect of an upgrade?
"We've got one already, and it has a crew. Don't you ever look around our own garage?" Will tried not to shake his trunnions in exasperation. His 150 mm howitzer was much better than his neighbour Stumpy the Sturmpanzer's, covering most of the map and when it hit, it hit hard. The trouble was, despite the printed accuracy figures, he had problems in actually hitting anything…
Loaded! On! The loaders sang out, and Will switched to "eye in the sky" mode. Exactly how this was meant to work historically, he had no idea – presumably on his side Werner von Braun had managed to launch some giant orbiting battlestations with keen artillery observers and they were watching like benevolent Valkyries through good German optics, radio microphones in hand. The Americans reputedly had that Goddard fellow launching their own rockets, but he was not sure how the French and Russians managed the trick. Probably lend-lease, like everything else, he mused.
"Get ready… tree just got knocked down in the gulley," Will stared intently at the corner. "Something's coming."
Seen! On the way! Maurice the gunner waited till the aiming oval shrank down to cover the hull of the big, boxy KV2 that had just appeared around Suicide Corner. The shell flew out, heading straight towards the target – and missed completely, sending up a pretty splash of snow.
"How did you miss that? It's the size of a house and a turret like a garden shed!" Will groaned, as the loaders wrestled another shell into the breech. Fifteen seconds it went on its way, as the KV2 turned the two lights into scrap metal – and the 150 mm round hit the KV2 a painful 1 point scratch on its propaganda slogan as the shell splashed down two metres to the left.
"Driver reverse! He's headed our way!" Will winced as the opposition's artillery set the friendly heavy on fire, and it blew up in an ammo-rack explosion. His driver backed around the rocks, while the mini-map filled up with red icons as the KV2 led a charge round the now undefended corner. One by one they blinked out – not destroyed, but there was nobody on the friendly team near enough so spot them.
Loaded, on! The loaders got busy again, and for half a minute Will and his crew waited. Just then the KV2 came roaring round the bend in high gear (an almost blue-shifted 20 km/h) with its 152 mm derp cannon already trained his direction.
Firing. By happy chance Will's open-sights aiming mark was pointed right at the turret ring of the huge slab-sided turret, where a direct hit could blow the whole thing off. At twenty metres his gunner fired… and missed by twenty centimetres.
The KV2's gunner, needless to say, did not.
Back in the Sacred Garage of rebirth, Will looked around to see who was home. GW-Panther was away, stepping out in style on the Steppe map, leaving Stumpy the Sturmpanzer II and Mark Seven Tetrarch in the garage.
"Back so soon?" Stumpy raised a headlamp cover in surprise.
Will ground his tracks in frustration. "I have a very expensive shell rammer, a gun-laying drive and a crew at one hundred per cent! And I still can't hit the broad side of a barn!"
"One hundred per cent, but pure what?" Mark Seven raised his mantlet snootily.
"Don't you start," Stumpy looked over at the British-built light tank with its incongruous red star on the turret. "Oh. I've got some news for you and your crew. Philby, Burgess and Maclean."
"They're getting free lend-lease oil again this weekend, like every other tank on Moscow's payroll?" Will dropped his front suspension with a sigh.
"Oh, no. Quite the opposite." A wicked gleam came to Stumpy's headlights. "You know, the next British tanks arriving will have British markings outside and crews inside. I was on the test server, and mentioned I'd seen you. Two big Centurions and a Conqueror were quite surprised to hear who you work for; very keen to meet you, they are. Whether they're on your team or not." He paused. "By the way, how good is your camo skill these days?"
Tetrarch blinked his headlights, and reversed slightly. "Maybe a camo net might be a good investment." With that he switched off his engine, remembering rumours about the infra-red sights on the Centurion.
"That's shut him up for awhile. Good work." Will brooded awhile. "Stumpy – you don't seem to have much trouble hitting things. And your crew's not much better. I wait till the target's square in my sights – even if it's not moving, I still miss."
"Ah. You've got "drunken gunner syndrome". I've heard of that," Stumpy nodded his howitzer sagely ."Can happen at any tier, you know."
Will cast a headlight beam to the barracks next door. "Maurice?"
Vas? A sleepy voice replied, followed by a heavy thud as if someone had fallen out of a bunk bed.
Don't mind him – he's from Alsace-Lorraine, his commander called back. They've been swapping between being French and German so long they don't know what side of the bed to get out of.
"Has he been fraternising with the Russians? As in knocking back a litre of vodka before the match?" Will asked plaintively.
Even they don't get vodka consumables here. They don't even get chocolate, like we do… as if we had any. Any chance of an issue? It'd help. His commander asked hopefully.
"No! You're not getting any. It costs enough, what with my expensive shells that you lot miss with, and my repairs when the enemy's don't." Will snapped, sending a cloud of exhaust fumes wafting towards the barracks.
"How did you get a gunner with a name like Maurice, in a German crew?" Stumpy asked curiously.
"Hmm. It was awhile ago." Will cast his mind back to the dim and distant days of the pre-release closed Beta test. "There was a prototype French Arty that got re-labelled as a captured German one, like we got the Mini-Maus(f) before proper French vehicles ever turned up. I think Maurice Ritter was fast asleep in the back when it got re-labelled. Shanghaied, they used to call it."
"Oh, well. If he's from Alsace-Lorraine, I expect it's all the same to him," Stumpy shrugged. "What'd he do in a French arty?"
"He wouldn't be called Ritter. I think he'd be "Knight" in an English one. No, I don't know enough French to translate that." Will shrugged his suspension. "Still. He may have something like the vodka shakes on the trigger – but in the barracks he's a pretty good crooner."
The sun was, amazingly enough, beating down on Sand River when Will rolled out again. He scanned the list of friends and foes, and groaned. Being almost top tank on the list was bad news for any artillery; it meant most things he would be shooting at were small, fast and manoeuvrable – and with his lack of armour, they could send him back to the garage almost as fast as any Tiger or KV could.
"Right! We want a nice dense green clump of bushes we can hide in. Our team are half lights and scouts. They do the spotting, we do the swatting. And if the enemy can't see us, we'll be fine." Will scanned the mini-map as they prepared to move out.
It's all mud huts and sand dunes here! His Commander protested. Where am I going to find a bush? And another thing – this camo net is the only green thing on the whole map!
"Details, details…" Will growled, as they headed out, eventually settling for a scrap of camel-thorn that could just about have hidden a black-painted Martel tankette on a pitch dark night, provided nobody was looking that direction. He winced as he saw ten red icons appear at the top of the ridge and hurtle down towards him like dune-buggies. "Everyone ready? Now I've bought you all consumables, this had better be good."
Ready as ever! Maurice set up what should have been a perfect lead shot, the aiming reticule well ahead of the first charging A20. He fired – and the shell grazed the radio aerial, heading off into the trackless wastes.
"Not again!" Will groaned. He had some chance over open sights against slow hulks like a KV2, but none at all against agile movers with fast-firing cannon – two of them were Pz IIs with actual autocannon, he noted glumly. Swinging his hull at half the speed he would have needed to track the first scout tank racing to get round behind him, he prepared to be reincarnated yet another time.
Just then, to his amazement he saw the enemy red icons start to wink out as a 5-strong elite platoon of Tier One Ltractors, their 500% skilled crews working in complete harmony, emerged from behind the bushes and pulled off a perfect ambush. In seconds the enemy team was wiped out.
"Now, there's a sight you don't see every day," he mused, as the last red icon vanished off his mini-map. "Okay – stand down. Eat your consumables if you still got 'em... we can't take them back, anyway."
As the rest of the crew tucked into their half-melted chocolate bars, Maurice pulled the big thermos flask out of its secret hiding-place. He had started off in a French vehicle after all, and by a rare programming bug he was still supplied with the original consumables. His hand shook violently with caffeine overdose as he guiltily looked around and swallowed the Strong Coffee ™. Everyone else had their own rations, anyway. Was it his fault if he still got issued a flask meant for a whole crew ?