December 14, 1942 – Caucasus, Soviet Union
Soviet reconnaissance teams are being dispatched across the front to determine the strength and disposition of German troop positions prior to the launch of Operation Little Saturn
Something big was happening in the coming days, Sgt Abakumov wasn’t exactly sure what it was and frankly didn’t want to know. What he did know was that the officers were pushing the men more harshly than normal to make ready. His suspicions were confirmed when Lt Gorsky called him into a briefing and stressed the importance of the reconnaissance mission he was being sent on. The terse meeting was made worse by the ominous presence of the kommisar, his intense stare boring into him throughout its entirety.
Sgt Abakumov was told to pick the two most reliable men from his platoon and gather all of the weapons he felt they’d need for their journey. They were to venture to a small bridge south of their position and gather intelligence on the German lines. The team departed immediately after lunch, if you could call a chunk of stale bread and some cold, bitter tea a lunch.
Shortly into their patrol, the team came upon an abandoned apartment complex with a mixed German unit reinforcing a Pz1 tank. A lone soldier could be seen meandering back to the German position, probably making his way from the latrine. “Why bother taking the risk”, thought Abakumov, “this whole place is a latrine.”
The Soviets went immediately on the attack as Private Isakov shattered one German trooper where he stood with a burst from his PPSH. Abakumov followed suit, pinning the remains of the German squad behind cover. Pvt Novikov lent another volley to the fight, keeping the German’s heads down while Abakumov changed weapons and readied his rocket launcher. The German Panzer began slewing its turret in their direction, intent on dealing with the new threat.
Abakumov aimed his rocket launcher deliberately, preparing to fire what he hoped would be a kill shot on the Panzer. His calm courage was rewarded as the projectile impacted squarely on target. The hulking beast shuddered from the impact, Abakumov realizing there were casualties on board the tank yelled to Novikov to deal with the infantry, “hit them again Evgeniy, pour it on!”
Novikov continued to engage the Germans hiding in the rubble. His PPSH burped two long hails of lead, eliminating another German. Abakumov then heaved a grenade behind the barrier separating him from the beleaguered Germans. His Close Combat experience payed dividends, allowing him to take out the remaining two soldiers.
The Pz1 was immobilized and as such could not pursue them, but first they must survive the deadly return fire. As Abakumov’s team sought cover from the tank, the forgotten lone German straggler, fresh from his latrine visit, began firing. One of the German’s bullets found its mark, ripping through Isakov’s weathered parka, instantly ending the war for the 17 year old Soviet hero.
Abakumov is both battle tested and hardened but also fragile. Having lost many comrades to the Huns, he hesitates and starts to cower in panic while staring at Isakov’s motionless body on the ground. The strong pillar protecting Novikov splinters as it absorbs the brunt of the tank round hurled by the stricken Panzer, but he remains unscathed.
Seeking to regain the initiative, Novikov yells at his Sgt to get it together. Snapping out of his brief hysteria, Abakumov fights through his fear and prepares to finish the German tank. Once more, his deliberate aim guides his shot true and it pierces the turret which erupts in a maelstrom of fire and death. Novikov leans on the trigger of his machine gun, eliminating the straggler that killed his friend. As the echoes of the fight abate, the remaining duo checks that the area is clear before moving on and continuing their mission.
They must be in place to gather the information they need before dark, so they hasten their efforts. After several false starts, they find the correct trail to their location and the pair run into a defensive line of Germans as twilight draws nearer. Ahead of them is an armored jeep in the open, seemingly unconcerned and feeling more secure than they should with an under-strength squad of Wehrmacht troops ringing their position. Abakumov slowly takes aim before pressing the trigger of his rocket launcher once more. Much to his surprise, his shot destroys the jeep outright! The pair unleashes several volleys of machine gun fire and pepper the area with grenades to take out the reinforcements, clearing the present threat so that they can continue on their journey.
As dusk begins to settle, they close on the bridge, noticing a squad of what appears to be recruits in front of an MG-34 with an officer overseeing them. They cannot cross to their objective without first clearing the bridge of hostiles. With only one ranged weapon between them, Abakumov fires another rocket and catches the mob of recruits unaware, eliminating them. Firing his last rocket, he kills the MG teams assistant gunner while the gunner ducks behind cover. They must now wait for the enemy to close so they can engage them further with their sub-machine guns. A wild return shot from the Germans catches Novikov in the shoulder but fails to put him down.
As Abakumov tends to his wounded comrade, he notices the officer speaking into a field telephone. Within minutes, it becomes apparent that reinforcements were called in to deal with the Soviet incursion. A team of ambushers stealthily approaches and launches a brutal assault, riddling Novikov with bullets.
Abakumov, now stricken with fear, huddles behind a tree as the Germans fire relentlessly on his position from several angles. Multiple rounds find their mark, ending Abakumov’s life and with it, the Soviet mission. As Abakumov slips into oblivion, his final thoughts are of how he has failed the Rodina, just yards from his goal.