The tanks moved slowly up the rise, their tracks digging deep into rain soaked ground. Alongside them marched the infantry. It was slow heavy going as they picked their way around the ruts left by the lumbering machines. Patterson looked up into the heavy grey sky and hoped there was nothing more left to dump on them.
“Any more rain and we’ll all be swimming. I heard the Martians don’t take kindly to water.”
Patterson laughed and several others agreed with McDonald’s remark.
“Trouble is our tanks aren’t much better.”
Jones could always be counted on to bring the mood down a peg or two.
The squad lapsed into silence again as they marched on.
Out in front Captain Whittenbury sat atop his Mk IV tank looking ahead at the steady climb. There was still a way to go to the top but he wasn’t going to take any chances. There had been sporadic reports of Martian activity in the area for some time now. He motioned to the right and a squad of Rough Riders came alongside.
“Sergeant, take you squad ahead and find out what Martian is doing on the other side. But do it slowly…”
The bikes moved off towards the crest and Whittenbury signalled his troops to stop. Engines throttled back and the doughboys took the opportunity to rest. With the ground so wet they found any available perch on the tanks. Not strictly military protocol but the Captain would not begrudge them this moment to take the weight off their feet. They would need their strength soon enough. Each section commander made their way quickly towards the Mk IV.
Whittenbury watched through his field glasses as the Rough Riders approached the top of the ridge. They slowed and then stopped short of the top. Two of the riders dismounted and continued slowly on foot. He saw them crouch, using the sparse vegetation as cover. Minutes later one of the riders started signalling.
The signal given, Whittenbury turned to his commanders gathered by the side of the tank.
“Right gentlemen, this is as far as we go before the Martians realise we’re here. And we’ve got to move fast, as I’ve no doubt they will have scouts in the area. They appear to be setting up some sort of staging area, probably part of their push forwards. We need to slow them down.”
“Our scouts have counted a dozen tripods stationed two miles away over this ridge. Work on the base appears to be in the early stages, so here’s the plan. We’ll send the Rough Riders out to get their attention. They’ll double back and hopefully bring some of them over the ridge. The tanks will be waiting to fire as they appear. Hopefully that should thin their numbers out a little. I doubt this will work twice so once the initial group of tripods has been dealt with, we’ll advance down the slope to the base and take on the rest.”
Whittenbury signalled to a second squad of Rough Riders whilst the rest of his men went back to their units.
“Sergeant, take your men and join up with the scouts out front, then wait for my signal. Two squads will approach the Martians, and once you’ve got their attention, double back as quick as you can. Bring them to us, and we’ll hit them when they come over the hill.”
It took a few minutes for the tanks to get into position whilst the bikers went forwards, then Whittenbury turned and signalled the Rough Riders on the crest of the hill to advance. They throttled up, and disappeared over the hill. A solitary bike remained at the top of the hill, watching.
It was only a couple of minutes before the rider on the hill signalled… MARTIANS ENGAGED. And less than a minute later another signal… MARTIANS APPROACHING. The bike then turned and started down the hill towards the waiting tanks. Behind them the other riders appeared. One squad was visible for a moment, then disappeared in the flash of a heat ray. Finally, the glittering cowls of several Martian tripods appeared.
Whittenbury waited as the tripods appeared. Five machines were now visible and making their way to the top of the hill. They turned, and paused just for a moment as they caught sight of the waiting tanks. It was at that moment that the Captain gave the order.
All tanks… FIRE!
Smoke appeared along the line, and the report of the guns merged into one almighty roar. The Martians jolted this way and that as they took hits, and the one on the far right of the line suddenly belched smoke and disappeared as it fell backwards. Then the middle tripod seemed to rise slightly before a massive explosion ripped it to pieces in a huge ball of flame. The remaining three tripods reeled with the concussion of the blast, and then went the same way. Whittenbury had to turn away from the spectacle, and he could feel the heat even from this distance.
He turned, and gave the order to advance, before looking forwards again. Perfect. The initial wave had been destroyed, and had set up a line of smoke which would help cover their advance and attack on the rest of the Martians. He hoped their luck would hold for the rest of the battle.
The battle lasted no more than an hour. At the end of it, the entire Martian force had been destroyed along with the camp that they were building. A rare victory, but at a high cost. Many tanks lay in smoking piles of scrap metal, and many men had literally vanished thanks to the Martian heat rays. Captain Whittenbury mulled over the loss of so many good men, not for the first time, and probably not for the last. He sent out scavenging parties to see if there was anything left that the technical boys at base could use, then gave the order to retreat back to base. Time to regroup…
Two days after arriving at base, Whittenbury finished the last of the condolence letters to the families of the lost. He put his pen down, and picked up the envelope containing his latest orders, mulling over the contents read earlier…
He was to take what was left of his force, travel to Camp Custer in Michigan, and report to Captain Patton. Something about a new force and different tactics to take on the Martians. He was to ship out in two weeks…