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Captain Sergey Hayward surveyed the nearby village cautiously through his battle-scarred, Russian standard issue field glasses. The Commissar by his side did not even pause in his tirade of abuse, accusing the Captain of cowardice for the 7th time that morning. The Captain would not be rushed - the village represented an ideal place for an ambush and he knew that there were still some pockets of Germans in the area. Satisfying himself that there was no activity in the village - he signalled his radio operator to give the order to advance.

The column of five T26s ground into life and carved deep channels in the muddy lane as they crawled towards the village. Through the trees came the sounds of the infantry column starting engines and heading up the main road into the village. For once, the Commissar fell silent as he realised that he could be barely heard above the noisy machinery. Every soviet eye constantly scanned every open doorway and every gaping hole in the ruins, convinced that they would be attacked at any moment. As the column passed a church with a large ruined bell tower in the centre of the village, a single figure clutching a rifle with telescopic sights leapt from the back of the trucks and disappeared through the church doorway.

The passage through the village went without incident and the two columns merged with the armour at the front and the soft skinned vehicles at the rear as they approached the simple bridge that crossed the village stream. The column pressed ahead onto the bridge, when there came a shout. The Captain looked across at the man shouting and saw that he was pointing skywards. Shielding his eyes, he looked up to see what had got the man so excited and spotted the sinister outline of a German dive bomber diving towards the column. With a quick twist of his hand - he signalled the armour to button up and for the soft skinned vehicles to scatter.

Before anything could happen, the bomber started howling as it readied to release its deadly cargo. The explosion of the bomb took no-one by surprise, but everyone winced at the impact and took cover from the falling debris. To the Soviets' relief, the bomb had missed the column, but had come close enough to shower the first T26 with half the contents of the nearby field. Feeling relieved - Sergey ordered the column forward once more.

The flash of a large gun muzzle flared out in the distance, accompanied by the thunderclap of a shell being fired. The commander of the leading T26 had just enough time to scream "Panzers!" and then his tank exploded into a tangled mess of twisted metal, flame and smoke.

Captain Sergey Hayward frantically screamed orders at his troops - getting the infantry off the road to the right and left, and trying to get his remaining four tanks into some kind of firing position, all the while with murderous armour piercing shells flying from the German position up the road. The new lead tank opened fire and scored a hit on the German armour, seemingly putting it out of action. The gunner responsible for the hit gave a cheer which was cut short when his tank commander pointed out that there were still enough tanks there to cause serious problems.

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Lieutenant Igor Svarovski ignored the tank battle for the moment and tried to shape his infantry troop into some kind of fighting unit rather than a bunch of bleary eyed dolts who had just run for their lives. He barked out orders and formed them into sections. They had scurried from the soft skinned vehicles over the bridge and into the woods on the right. After his NCOs and scouts reported back - he had a good idea of the situation. They had 30 troops and two MMGs and were in a small strip of woodland. Ahead of them was a hedgerow, beyond that a rough field with a ruined building to one side, and then another hedgerow. One of the scouts was sure that he saw movement in that hedgerow, and another was sure that the ruined building was occupied.

The Lieutenant quickly made his mind up and passed the word. They would take up a position behind the first hedgerow and pump some good old fashioned Russian lead into the far hedgerow and the ruined building and see what they could flush out. There couldn't be too much - after all, the Commissar said that there would only be pockets of resistance from stubborn, broken, German soldiers.

The troops quietly crept forward and spread out along the hedgerow. The lieutenant gave the signal to open fire almost at the exact same time as they themselves came under fire. Bullets criss-crossed the field between the two hedgerows and into the ruined building. A full scale firefight was under way.

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On the left flank, Lieutenant Ivan Opramovich was feeling sorry for himself. He had a mixture of reconnaissance troops (for which he had very little respect) and a platoon of infantry. "We also have a couple of mortars comrade" piped up one of his junior NCOs. "Great" barked the Lieutenant, "Perhaps our glorious leaders have even supplied us with ammunition for them this time ?". He ordered the scouts forward - (after all that is what they are there for) whilst trying to get the troops into a fighting unit.

A short while after the scouts left, the sounds of murderous fire filtered through the woods to Ivan's position. "Right ladies - it sounds like the scouts have found the enemy - get moving! You - get those mortars firing! Uraaaaaggghhh" he screamed as he led his men through the trees towards the sounds of the fighting.

Back on the road, the armour battle still raged. Two more T26s had been either immobilised or had lost the use of their armament. Captain Hayward was a worried man. He rounded on the Commissar and screamed at him "Where are our aircraft ?". The Commissar pointed out that the Captain had incompetently lost over half his column and that was what he would report. The Captain cursed and surveyed the road once more through his field glasses. The German position looked a mess with twisted armour on both sides of the road and flames licking around the carcass of one of the German panzers.

Through the smoke, there were still two healthy German vehicles barking out shells; a panzer and an armoured car. The Captain silently swore at the armoured car which had enjoyed far more success than it had deserved. His spirits rose as he saw a shot rip into the armoured car as he watched. They sank when he heard an explosion from one of the two remaining healthy T26s.

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On the right flank - Igor's troops were giving a good account of themselves. There was only very sporadic fire coming back from the ruined house now, and they were matching the firing from the hedge across the field. Casualties were mounting though and Igor recognised that if they just sat here and exchanged shots all day - the Soviets would likely come off worse. He screamed for everyone to go over the hedge and across the field. The squad nearest to him complied and immediately were pinned down by fire.

Igor began to realise that things were not looking good.

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On the left flank, Ivan and his troops burst through the trees to the scouts' position. They were shocked by the sight that greeted them - those scouts that weren't dead were wounded and the unit was returning next to no fire at the fascists across the hedge. In contrast, the Germans seemed very healthy indeed, and bullets seemed to be flying everywhere. Just before they could be cut to absolute ribbons, the reassuring sound of their own mortar fire filled the air and started reeking havoc in the German line. Even this was not enough though to stem the rate of casualties and Ivan realised that this was not going to last.

Sergey realised that all his hopes rested on his final T26 which was exchanging shots with a solitary Panzer at the end of the road. It could go either way, he mused. He looked over at the Commissar who was cleaning his pistol whilst throwing scowls in his general direction. As a final terrible shell sank into the lone T26 causing a sickening explosion, Sergey realised that this was the end of his war. He allowed himself one last look through his field glasses to see the final Panzer rumble down the road before him. A shot rang out and Sergey's vision began to blur. He could feel himself falling, but he never felt the impact of the ground. The last thing he heard was the Commissar's voice screaming out for survivors to board the trucks and the gunning of the engines.

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At the end of the road from within the farmhouse compound, a very different convoy, bearing a German cross fired up their engines and picked their way unmolested down the road towards the village in the shadow of an intact Panzer which led the way.

Martin Bailey