Subaltern McCall lay prone atop a great dune that sprayed sand like sea-mist in the steady desert breeze. Looking through his field glasses he could scarcely make out the well-town of Bir Kofi, bathed in crimson and shadow from the setting sun. "There she is, chaps," he said confidently to the assembled soldiers. All of them were nearly indistinguishable from each other, and even the dune they lay on. So covered in sand were they, that they often joked "Crikey, there's more sand in our hair than hair!". Beneath the thick layers of grit all of the men were afflicted with desert sores- mere scratches at conception, that were exacerbated by the constant pelleting of sand and stinging flies.
Bir Kofi was hardly a town. 3 mud buildings around a well, amid the sand sea. But this well-town was home to an axis supply depot, and that depot was scarcely guarded this evening. McCall gave a toothy, cracked-lips grin and nodded at Trooper Bowers, his driver. "Think she's up for it?"
"You betcha, Skip." Neither man deemed it necessary to mention that their Jeep's 3rd gear was nearly shot, and she was having electrical troubles. They knew they could count on Lydia IV in a pinch- just like they had counted on her 3 predecessors.
"Well, Hell's Bells boys. They certainly aren't paying us to come home with ammo. Let's get to work." At that the Men of L troop, mostly English with a few South African and New Zealanders, silently descended the hill to their idling Chev trucks for one last weapons check.
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McCall split his patrol into two groups. The first group along with the AA truck would break right, along the road. McCall would take the other half and approach from the West, along a jutting mesa, taking any defenders by surprise. As all of the chevs began to slowly spread out, Mac stood in his Willy's Jeep and waved his right hand "Tally Ho!" With that the LRDG patrol surged forward, sending plumes of sand into their wake.
As the sun bled across the horizon, threatening to slip away, the din of petrol engines shattered the crystalline desert night. "Hold on, Guv!" Bowers shouted as he deftly swung the Willy's around a patch of scrub. McCall held tightly to his twin barreled Machine Gun, double checking that the incendiary rounds were loaded.
"There!" Trooper Fowler shouted moments before the percussive thwack of his American made .50 cal machine gun began drumming. Within a split second, tracer fire from McCall's patrol raced towards fuel and ammunition caches, sending fireballs into the darkening sky. "That'll get Fritz' attention!"
No more than 30 seconds after the first fireball, the unmistakable whine of BMW motorbikes mixed with the din of burning fuel and machine guns. "Jerries!" someone to McCall's right shouted as the blood-chilling whip of passing bullets sped by his head. First one, and then another explosion rocked the commander's jeep, nearly sending him sprawling to the packed ground. Two chevs to his right brewed up nearly instantaneously. McCall looked away, not a single trooper was able to make it to safety, so quickly did the fire engulf the trucks.
On the other side of the ridge, 2nd patrol under Sergeant Callahan brewed up 2 more fuel and ammunition caches before the calamitous sounds of their brethren's trouble ended their joy ride. "Sounds like our boys have gotten in a tight spot! Joe, see if we can't get around this Mesa and flank the Jerries!"
Callahan's patrol took the German scouts completely by surprise. Caught in a crossfire, the Afrika Korps troopers decided that descretion was the better part of valor and fled the battle field.
"Right-o, thanks for the assist mate. Now let's get the Bloody Hell out of here!" McCall screamed into the wireless.
"Right behind you Skip!" Callahan replied as the last sliver of light faded in the distance.
The Afrika Korps had grown tired of these raids, however, and wanted retribution. As the LRDG began a slow retreat across difficult terrain with their lights out, not a single trooper spoke a word as the sound of numerous trucks approaching from all around carried across the night wind.
For several minutes, Callahan watched intently to the West, swearing he could just make out spectral silhouettes following a parallel course. "Joe, you see that?"
"Aye. Hear it too. Diesel. Definitely Jerry." Joe was a Sheep Herder north of Auckland before the war, and was known in the LRDG for having the best ear for engines of anyone in the entire 8th army.
"Bring us in close- not too close- but let's make sure they don't get behind the Skip." Callahan knew McCall's badly shot up troop was up ahead, but he had lost sight of them in the moonless, inky darkness.
McCall, too, was hearing trucks approaching from both the East and South. He knew if they could just break through to the south, they'd be home free and they could limp back to Djebel Hassid to tend to their trucks. But an element of German Panzergrenadiers, commanded by the cunning Hauptmann Turner knew that was the LRDG's only route of escape, and quickly mobilized his men to cut them off.
McCall squinted East, when suddenly no more than 100 yards away he saw 4 trucks racing over a small rise, with crack German infantry racing alongside. "Bollocks! We've been spotted! Punch it" McCall resisted his urge to let loose with the Twin MG he clutched for dear life. He knew his muzzle flash would be an easy target.
Bowers slammed the accelerator to the floor, and was met with a metallic grinding. 'We've lost 3rd gear!" He shifted to second, and the engine heaved like it was going to tear free from the chassis.
Suddenly McCall was flung from the jeep as it came to a sliding, skidding stop. The 2 remaining Chevs in the patrol did the same, nearly colliding with each other. He stood up quickly, and was shocked to feel no pain. Just as he turned to race for the jeep several yards away, a voice from very close cried "Halt! Englanders!" McCall knew they were surrounded.
Callahan's patrol, meanwhile, edged closer to the German trucks to their West, which had now come to a stop. Through his field glasses, he could just make out several troops that appeared to be setting up weapons- mortars perhaps. Callahan grinned to Joe "Let's get 'em!"
"Go! Reverse! Go!" McCall cried as he leapt across the hood of the jeep, crashing into his seat. Now he felt warm blood on his hands and face, and the biting sting of sand in wounds. Before he had time to think about it, the sound of tearing canvas jolted the men, and bullets whizzed and pinged around them. Bowers was hit in the shoulder, and black smoke began billowing from under the hood of the jeep.
Corporal Krone's Chev began to burn. He and an attached SAS trooper dove from the back, before the drum of petrol caught, sending a fireball 10 meters into the sky, briefly illuminating 2 full strength panzergrenadier platoons bearing down on the battered patrol. "Jesus! Go! Go!" he shouted as the 2 figures raced for a grove of olive trees, thriving only thanks to the nearby Oasis.
"After them!" McCall shouted, coughing from the oily smoke bleeding from his Jeep. He knew she wouldn't quit on him, and he'd be damned if he'd quit on her. Bowers was an excellent driver, and even with no headlights he deftly maneuvered the olive grove, slowing down only to keep an eye out for Krone, one of his best mates, and a fellow Oxford chap.
In the distance, Callahan could hear the sharp crack of MG fire, but he knew he'd have to knock out these Jerry guns before they could get set up, especially since it sounded like the rest of the Patrol might need a quick escape route. Racing forward, German soldiers came into view. "Lights!" he shouted, and as if it had been rehearsed (in fact, it probably had been, Callahan was a hell of a showman), the entire Patrol's headlights flashed on.
Stunned German soldiers blinked and shielded their eyes, caught in the open and with nowhere to dive. The carnage was swift and absolute. Within seconds, an entire Company's heavy section was left maimed and mangled on the desert floor. Not a single man escaped unwounded.
The roar of machine gun fire gave way to the damned wailing of the wounded, and Callahan's patrol stood for a moment in petrified silence. They looked from one another with a palid mixture of disbelief, fear, and shame. They all were cowed by the realization that in a few short seconds they had deprived wives, parents, and children of their loved ones.
Just as the horror began to sink in, a sharp and alien whistling sound faintly grew to a roar. Joe snapped out of his daze first. "Scatter!" His cry was cut short by the deafening explosion as 10.5cm shells scattered sand and shrapnel.
Their wireless truck took a direct hit, blowing one trooper clean out of his boots. The driver scrambled aboard the AA truck, as the patrol raced away. In the brief flashes of light they could see the blood-slick sand, but their shock was behind them, and the frantic urge to survive was back at the wheel.
McCall panted heavily, and strained to listen for approaching Germans. "They've definitely got us surrounded." Speaking was painful, and overwhelming copper taste in his mouth forced him to spit. His khaki overcoat was stained red from his right breast. He knew he had broken some ribs, but beyond that hadn't yet looked at the wound. Not because he was so tough as nails that he thought it a flesh wound. He knew that looking made it real, and he may not be able to keep himself from going into shock.
"What'll we do Skip?" Bowers whispered as he squinted against the speckled night sky. Both men knew they had no chance. And they both knew that surrendering in such a circumstance certainly met no dishonor. And yet, as he said it, both men knew they couldn't.
McCall picked up the wireless, and was not surprised to find that two bullet holes had rendered it useless. He took two cigarettes from his four pack, and lit them both. Slowly he handed Bowers one of the two, and their gaze met. Both men searched for something to say, but settled on a curt nod. McCall limped to the last remaining Chev, and beckoned to the driver. "Trooper, we're going to-"
"We know Skip." the young South African said matter of faculty as he brashly cocked the pintle mounted Machine Gun, grinning ear to ear.
It took two minutes for their battered jeep's engine to turn over, but it too wasn't ready to quit. "Tally Ho!" they screamed as they tore out from the edge of the Olive Grove.
Callahan's patrol cautiously drove forward. They felt safe temporarily, for the shelling had stopped. Ahead was a high rise, from which they could survey the situation. As he crested the hill, below he could see a platoon, maybe more, of German infantry digging in, covering the only escape route south. To the East he could see the glow of flames. "Looks like the Skip got some more Jerries," he remarked half-heartedly. The Germans seemed calm. He was fairly certain the burning trucks were British.
"Bloody Hell" Callahan muttered solemnly. "We sure as hell can't head South. Can't get Mac on the wireless, safe to say we can't head East. North is crawling with Jerry by now. Out of the fire and into the frying pan."
Slowly, and deliberately the desert raiders' trucks disappeared into the Western darkness. Callahan hoped they could make the Rendezvous in 4 days, and he hoped Subaltern McCall would be here. As the trucks drove on, Callahan turned and looked East. Joe leaned towards him.
"Skip, Don't look back. Bad luck."
As the sun rose in defiance of one of the LRDG's darkest nights, a patrol of German armored cars set off to hunt for survivors, following the fresh tracks of Callahan's patrol.
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