Fierce Competition

“So, a five versus five annihilation style match? Is that not what we do every time, Marshall?” Gabriele Fuchs questioned Komon. The girl was the team’s reconnaissance expert; in her speedy Panzer III F, she could be almost anywhere on the battlefield by the time the rest of Oasis Mirage’s tanks pulled themselves into gear. A scarf, sandy as her hair, was wrapped around her neck, as well her pair of slightly worn binoculars, also hanging from her neck.

 

Much like Misaki in a battle situation, she was calm and collected; something that Emily and the driver of the Semovente 75/18 Hana “Porter” Kanade could do very well to learn from indeed. Granted, Emily was collected, but usually not calm, and Porter as she was known to the team certainly wasn’t either of those things.

 

“Yes, but it’s still good practice nonetheless. Remember, gain the initiative in reconnaissance, move to the grid position marked on this map,” the Marshall handed her a rolled up map of their area, “and report their team’s position and formation to us as soon as possible, so that we may formulate a plan or ambush. St. Gloriana is not a foe to take lightly, friendly though they may be.”

 

Too damned right. The reason that the Marshall was the Marshall was because she brought their team their first near-victory against St. Gloriana. Time and time again, Darjeeling would be just that little bit smarter, and move just that little bit more carefully with her forces, and keep victory firmly within her own refined hands.

 

As much as she’d love to blame the losses on Emily and Porter, she knew that wasn’t entirely true, and was rather mean if anything.

 

Fuchs gave the Marshall a snappy salute, before heading back to her own Panzer III F and opening the map. On it was their current location; a fairly open desert, with a good number of dunes and cliff faces to provide cover for both teams. Absolutely perfect for storming along twice as fast as anything else on the field.

 

In the row alongside the desert tan Panzer III F were the rest of the team’s tanks for the day; Misaki’s Tiger E, the Marshall’s Panzer III N, somewhat worryingly Emily’s Matilda, which appeared to be turned backwards, and the freshman team’s Semovente 75/18 tank destroyer, which was already totally covered in sand before even moving.

 

The plan was fairly straightforward, and would work to their advantage. St. Gloriana rarely used scout tanks in five versus five annihilation matches, often opting to use their own Matildas instead of the quicker but less armoured Crusaders. Of course, Darjeeling’s beloved Churchill Mk7 was a given. Therefore, Fuchs’ Panzer III F would scamper across the battlefield and find the enemy for the team.

 

Once they had radioed the team, they would set up defensive positions around where they were predicted to be. The powerful Tiger would be the spearhead of the attack, and along with the Matilda, would bear the brunt of the gunfire. With their attention otherwise occupied, the scouting Panzer III F would flank around and cut off any means of exit, and the Panzer III N and Semovente 75/18 would fire upon the enemy until they were no more.

 

Certainly, it was a textbook strategy. Nothing extravagant like one of Oorai’s famous gambles, though neither was Darjeeling’s classic armoured formation. It was simple but highly effective, so long as it did not break. And break it, Oasis Mirage would have to.

 

After each commander had climbed into their respective tank, given briefing by the Marshall, the freshman team had stopped wiping down their Semovente of sand (which was futile since it’d only get messy again anyway) and the Matilda had at some got itself pointing in the right direction, the match had finally begun.

 

Almost immediately, the Panzer III F began to accelerate, was soon a good few hundred yards ahead of the rest of the team. Fuchs turned and saluted to the rest of the turned out commanders, her sandy blonde hair whipping about in the wind and scarf billowing, before giving her driver her next orders.

 

“Eleven o’ clock. Tall ridgeline. About a kilometre away. Take us up there, please.”

 

“On it!” the Panzer III F’s driver replied cheerfully, and veered the tank slightly to the left. Anyone else would definitely be as happy as she was to drive such a lightweight and quick tank. The only real downside was getting shot at.

 

Fuchs’ Panzer III F had quite literally left the rest of the team in the dust. The four remaining tanks continued at a steady pace; steady pace being defined by the Matilda’s horrendously slow top speed.

 

“Oh, Alice, this is exciting! Don’t you think so?” Emily took a brief pause to take a swig of her tea. She donned her British army style helmet (which was significantly too large), and popped her torso out of the commander’s hatch. With only two people in the three-man turret, it was far more spacious, and being inside the Matilda felt relaxing, rather than hot and stuffy.

 

After a quick glance at the other tanks in the line abreast formation, she hopped back into the turret. “Alice, look! You can see real, actual palm trees? How bloody cool’s that? Don’t get none of them back in blighty, eh?” Alice groaned.

 

“Uhm, Emily,” the gunner Elizabeth began, “Should you not be on the lookout for enemies? Or, maybe, communicating with the Marshall? Forming a strategy, maybe?”

 

Emily was about to give the silly girl a lengthy explanation as to why the palm trees were so important, until the radio in her top front pocket crackled to life.

 

“Girls,” came the sound of the Marshall’s voice, “Two things. One, please turn off the radio’s input if you are just idly chattering. Most of the team cannot understand English. You’re only serving to cause confusion.”

 

Oh yeah. Whoops. Emily knew there was something she forgot to do, and now she was apparently being a nuisance by speaking her mother tongue over the radio. No harm done, right?

 

“And to answer your question, Eri,” the Marshall continued - Elizabeth was even harder to pronounce than Emily - “There’s a very specific reason we don’t require Emi for the creation of our plans. Please close off your radios until we make contact, over.”

 

Alice chuckled to herself. The pair had made almost total fools of themselves over the radio, and were saved only by the fact they spoke in English whilst in the tank, rather than Japanese like the rest of the Japanese students from Japan aboard the Japanese schoolship Rommel Sprinter. Whoops.

 

The Marshall signalled to her radio operator. “Switch to channel two, please,” and the girl complied. A quick bout of static and Komon spoke into the radio again. “Fuchs, report?”

 

“Well Marshall, I see a dust cloud, but it’s very far off in the distance. Too far for me to accurately give it a grid reference. I shall keep you posted, however. Over.”

 

So the enemy was moving just as slowly as they were. That suited Komon just fine.

 

“Channel five, please.”

 

“Porter.”

 

“M-Marshall, so, did you find out what they were, uh, saying?”

 

The driver and commander of the Semovente 75/18, Porter, made up half of the freshman team. Izuki, the other first-year, acted as the gunner and loader. It helped that the two seemed almost telepathically linked, and Porter’s cheerful and innocently bubbly personality always cheered everyone up whenever Emily managed to annoy them. It also helped that she was down right adorable with her little ponytail, and split bangs.

 

“It turns out they were just idly chatting about the surroundings. Bligh-tee is some kind of code for Britain, I believe, but no. They did not report any enemy tanks. They are sorry for making you worry. Over.”

 

Well, Elizabeth probably was. Emily definitely wasn’t.

 

“Oh, what a relief! Thank you, Marshall.”

 

“It’s fine. Porter, do you remember the plan?” she asked the girl. She appeared slightly airheaded, and that sometimes worried Komon. You can’t make do with a commander who wasn’t focused.

 

“Uh, let’s see, we… we trap the enemy, and then we shoot them! Like going hunting!”

 

Hunting?

 

“That’s the plan, pretty much. Good job on remembering. You can switch back to the open channel one now, those two have stopped chattering.”

 

-

 

“Hang on, what?”

 

Fuchs knew she had issues when she spotted only four tanks in St. Gloriana’s formation. The school pitied them, Emily’s team and her tank was proof enough of that, but they would not sacrifice one of their tanks to tip the odds in Oasis Mirage’s favour. In fact, they were probably more aware than anyone it would be down right insulting.

 

One Churchill Mk7, and three Matildas trailing just behind it, that couldn’t have been going any faster than ten miles per hour. Their speed wasn’t the problem; it was the absence of one of the Matildas.

 

Fuchs reported her sightings to the Marshall. The gears in Komon’s head began to turn.

 

Maybe she sent a tank to flank them? No, Darjeeling would know that they had a scouting tank. They always did. So what if she sent a diversion force? Impossible; they had four tanks in the primary formation, Darjeeling wouldn’t send out a single Matilda to flank the enemy. It’d be too slow, get singled out and destroyed very quickly. If anything, she’d just keep the entire formation together as she usually did.

 

So what of the fifth tank?

 

“Misaki, take point. Emily, you too. Porter, Driver, fall back just behind the two. We want our heaviest armour at the front. Be ready for anything, girls.”

 

A chorus of roger’s and yes ma’am’s came back through the radio, and she watched from her hatch as the tanks moved into formation. The Panzer III N and the Semovente slowed down, while the Tiger and Matilda brought themselves inwards.

 

And that was when the unexpected took place.

 

“Dust cloud, three o’clock, direct east of our formation! Whatever it is, it’s moving fast! Heading due west towards your position!” Fuchs shouted over the radio from her reconnaissance position. “Should we move in to intercept or maintain position, Marshall? Over.”

 

“Maintain position. I need constant eyes on their main force. Over.” Komon was worried. This wasn’t standard for St. Gloriana. Flanking with fast tanks was not in their usual book of strategies for five versus five. Perhaps they were trying out something new today.

 

“Main force, adjust course to two o’clock. Keep speed the same. Misaki, take the right flank in the Tiger. Emi, make sure you-”

 

Suddenly, a scream was heard over the radio, as Porter made her opinion on the now identified Crusader which had just crested the dune very clear.

 

“A-AAH! MARSHALL! TO OUR RIGHT, OUR RIGHT, THERE’S A FAST TANK! IT’S BLUE! IT LOOKS LIKE IT BELONGS TO ST. GLORIANA! WHAT DO WE DO? WE HAVEN’T GOT A TURRET!”

 

The girl should use her common sense. Really, they spotted an unknown tank in a huge closed off space during a friendly match, with St. Gloriana being the only enemies around. Of course it was going to belong to them. She was right though, she was flanked by the Crusader and the Tiger had only just now stopped and begun to traverse its hull and turret towards the enemy. Porter could not get the gun pointed at the enemy from where she was at the moment.

 

“Ok, Porter, calm down and-”

 

“EVASIVE MANOEUVRES! DO AN IMMELMAN, A BARREL ROLL, ANYTHING! AAH!”

 

Suddenly, the Semovente lurched to life, as it accelerated quickly and gained a large amount of speed, almost the same as the rapidly closing Crusader. The right track had its brakes pulled hard, and the entire tank destroyer spun around to the right in one semi-fluid motion, but the small slope they were heading down and the excessive speed they travelled at meant their momentum carried with them still.

 

And the Semovente toppled over onto its side.

 

“M-MARSHALL! WHAT HAPPENED? THE DESERT FELL OVER! MARSHALL, THE TANK ISN’T GOING ANYWHERE AND I’M GOING AS FAST AS I CAN! MARSHALL!”

 

The situation seemed dire as the radio refused to quiet down until a shot buried its way right into the engine of the Crusader.

 

A shot straight from the smoking barrel of the Semovente, surprisingly enough. The Crusader was within their firing line, even as they were rolled over.

 

The St. Gloriana Crusader quickly screeched to a halt as the engine sustained heavy damage, and smoke poured out of the exhausts. Nary a few seconds later, a small white flag popped out of the turret, indicating the tank was knocked out.

 

“W-we did it! We actually did it! That was amazing!” Porter continued to half cheer, half sob over the radio. The Marshall, for one, was actually somewhat speechless that the usually unimportant and forgettable freshman crew in the Semovente actually accomplished something.

 

However, the price was paid for Porter’s drastic manoeuvre. With the tank flipped over, a white flag of their own popped out of the side hatch, indicating they too were knocked out.

 

“Porter, Izuki, are you both unharmed?”

 

“N-No! I mean, uh, is that a double negative? Yes, we’re unharmed, no, we’re not hurt!”

 

Komon could just imagine the few stacks of manga that Porter had hidden away in one of her stowage boxes, which she believed nobody knew about, strewn all about the inside of the Semovente. At least she had something to keep her occupied whilst waiting for the tank retrieval crew.

 

“Good work, the both of you. We’ll take it from here.” Emily was probably cheering something over the radio like “Oh my god, that was totally awesome!” but Komon had shut off communication with Emily’s tank. They didn’t need the distraction, cheerful and cute though it was, and the Matilda was practically glued to the Tiger anyway. If anything went awry, Misaki would inform her, and in a far more professional and informative manner.

 

“Formation, advance. Both teams are down a tank, do not let down your guard.”

 

-

 

Around half an hour later, the match was finished. Unfortunately, it was yet another victory for St. Gloriana. When the two armoured formations had met, the Panzer III N with the thinnest armour of the three, was the first to go. While Komon’s tank had managed to immobilise one of the enemy Matildas, that was all. Then went the Panzer III F, as Fuchs charged down the hill, slid around the back of the incapacitated Matilda and finished it off with a 50mm shell to the rear. Then began the valiant defense.

 

With more tanks, St. Gloriana had surrounded the remaining Tiger and Matilda. Emily’s Matilda received shot after shot, and returned plenty more of their own. Many of them didn’t hit their target, probably due to poor Elizabeth panicking. Sustained fire eventually brought the British tank down, and Misaki’s precious tiger was all that remained.

 

One shot, she took out the second enemy Matilda, directly to her front, with a powerful 88mm shell.

 

During the lull as her loader got to work, her driver furiously attempted to show only the thickest armour to the two enemy tanks.

 

Most of the third Matilda’s shots bounced off of the Tiger’s equally thick armour, and eventually, they too were put down with a single 88mm shot; but not before blowing off the left track of the Tiger.

 

Her gunner rotated the turret as quickly as she possible could to hit the Churchill behind them, but it was too late. The quick firing 75mm gun damaged their engine with the first shot, and with the second, knocked out the tank entirely, the small white flag popping out.

 

-

 

“A well fought battle, Marshall, if I do say so myself.”

 

“Many thanks, Darjeeling. May I ask a question?”

 

“Feel free.”

 

“You fielded one Churchill, thee Matildas and a Crusader, which is abnormal for you. Was there any particular reason for the change in tactics?”

 

Darjeeling, for once, rubbed her temples in what seemed like mild annoyance. “Well, Rosehip insisted that she did not miss this match. However, she refused to ride with one of the Matildas, citing that they were far too slow. Her attachment to the tank forced us to field it.”

 

“Funny you talk about being too attached to a tank. We have two of those on our team, too.”