THE WANG-CHU BRIDGE
NORTH OF THIMPU
DAY 6 + 1530 HRS
“Okay. Here’s the plan…” Captain Pathanya said to Vikram as he slung his rifle sling around his neck. Behind them, the rest of the Spear-One team had gathered up. The artillery fire from the Chinese side had stopped after Hotel-Six had annihilated the battery north of the ridgeline in a heavy salvo of counter-battery rocket fire. The hill they were on was still covered in smoke and dust clouds, lingering because they had no place to drift off to. The trees on the western slope of the hill had been decimated to their roots, and craters peppered the hillside, spewing acrid smoke in plumes. Pathanya and the others were choking from the smoke and dust, struggling to speak up…
Pathanya pointed his arm towards the dilapidated Wang-Chu village on the western side of the bridge. They had seen Chinese infantry taking positions inside the village, about to make an attack to seize control of the bridge. Hotel-Six was replenishing its rockets north of the Paru airfield and was temporarily unavailable. All Pathanya could count on for the moment in terms of support was the RPV recon from Warlord-Central and the inbound flight of two helicopters, one of which was an armed Lancer equipped for close range support:
“Those houses there are probably occupied by now by Red Troops. The bridge is wired to blow, but the frozen riverbed won’t stop the enemy infantry from rushing across. We can’t stay here now. We have to keep rolling backwards to Thimpu, harassing these guys all the way using Hotel-Six rocket Arty. And we also have to get Ganesh out of here and beyond that bend of road to the south where Delta-One and –Two are waiting to extract him on any open clearing we can secure.
“Keep your eyes peeled and move silent. We are going back down that slope without waking up the reds. One false move and they are going to open up with everything they got and we are going to get skewered. Understand?” Pathanya said, and looked around to see everybody nodding in silence. He then removed the rifle sling, pulled up his rifle and headed out from behind the rocks, slowly moving past the broken branches and tree trunks and stepping across the smoking shrapnel embedded into the wet mud of the hillside. Behind him, the other ten members of the team did the same. Three of them moving with Ganesh as they helped him descend the tricky slopes…
At least the ice and snow melted away…Pathanya thought as he realized why he wasn’t slipping on the same rocky terrain he had climbed up before. His eyes, however, were peering down the red-dot sight of his rifle as he watched the eerily silent windows of the houses across the bridge. He looked behind for a quick second to see the others coming down the hill as well, all of them moving without a sound. The Chinese probably didn’t know the exact location of the team that had helped Indian Arty wipe out their guns and a good portion of their men from the first wave that had descended towards the outskirts of the village. And Pathanya certainly didn’t relish being sighted by the guys now in the village who were probably pretty vengeful by now.
A few minutes later, Spear-One had pretty much descended right up till the road and the burnt out hulk of the RBA truck from before. The sun was beginning to dip now, as the day began to end. Normally, Pathanya and his men would have waited till nightfall to withdraw, slugging it out from their elevated positions if they had to in order to buy time. But Ganesh could not hold on that long, based on what the team’s medic had told Pathanya. And Delta Flight choppers could nto hang around indefinitely either. General Potgam had continuous requirement for helicopters in Bhutan right now and could not afford to allocate them indefinitely to a single SF team, no matter what the situation. Not enough choppers to go around so everybody had to share…
“Delta-One, what’s your position, over?” Pathanya said as he depressed the R/T transmit button on his comms. The reply came over the background of helicopter blades and engines:
“Standing-by south of Winchester-Charlie at three clicks; What’s your situation? over”
“Spear-One is attempting disengagement and withdrawal. All silent so far; ETA to primary LZ is ten minutes. Over” Pathanya said, and received the okay from Delta-Flight before switching comms to his team again. Vikram’s voice came online just as Pathanya and another of his men ran across the edge of the road and took cover behind the RBA truck spewing black smoke into the darkening sky above…
“Boss, I got optical reflections from that central two floor building. It’s the only elevated position in the village. I think the Reds have optics on us…”
“Shit! Get behind cover!” Pathanya said as he pulled out his own binoculars and peered around the edge of the frontal axis of the truck, looking into the village.
“Which building are you talking about? I see a white one with a half destroyed roof.” Pathanya said without looking away from his optics. Vikram was doing the same from his position behind a large boulder a few meters above the road and on the slope:
“Yeah. That’s the one. Second window from the right, second floor”
“Oh yeah. I have it now…yup: that’s weapons optics for sure. He’s scanning the hillside looking for us. Probably hasn’t spotted as near the base of the hill because he is looking further up towards the top.” Pathanya said as he lowered his binoculars and looked around for options. If they moved now, chance sof being spotted were high. But all said and done, the Chinese probably still weren’t sure who and where the opposing forces were. They were probably expecting a standard hilltop deployment of at least a Company size force. That would explain their Arty fire as well, which was area-saturation rather than precision, even though Pathanya knew very well that they had precision arty rounds on hand, going by the way they had targeted the RBA forces in the sector…
“Damn it!” Pathanya thought as he realized the openness of the next few hundred meters down the road that they had to go. Enough cover to allow a fighting withdrawal by a larger force, but not by ten men out of which four were combat-ineffective. He switched his comms back to Delta:
“You still there, Delta?”
“Roger that, Spear-One. What’s taking you so long? We are going to be running on fumes here pretty soon if you boys don’t reach the LZ!” the Major piloting the Lancer said as he watched the ALH hovering a few feet above the grassy terrain of the Bhutanese countryside to his left as he did the same.
“Delta-One, we have enemy optics conducting visual recon of the hillside and we are exposed. No enemy fire yet suggests enemy does not know our force composition or strength. However, that will change if we are spotted by that enemy OP in an elevated structure in the center of Winchester-Charlie. Over” Pathanya said over the R/T. The Army Aviation Major looked to his co-pilot in a silent gaze that said it all. Goddamn it…
“Spear-One. Describe the structure occupied by the Red OP team. Over” the Major said finally.
“Delta-One, Enemy OP is a two floor, white coloration building with a damaged roof and flat top. Structrue is in the center of the village and clearly visible when ingress is from the northeast. Over” Pathanya said, guessing what the Major had in mind…
“Roger that. Delta-One is detaching and bypassing Winchester-Charlie from the east. Expect ingress from the northeast. ETA…five minutes. Delta-One out!” the Major said and looked over to his co-pilot:
“All right, my friend. I am not a religious man, but god help both of us now!”
The Lancer increased power and picked up from the grassy field surrounding LZ-Alpha, leaving the ALH hovering over the field with its crew watching as the Lancer’s engines groaned and moaned under the sudden strain of maximized collective by the Major. The helicopter flew down the valley, flying east of the hill occupied by the Spear-One team. The Major looked to his left and saw the smoke bellowing from the western slopes of that hill. He frowned a bit at the corner of his mouth and then lowered his helmet visor as he adjusted the tail-rotor power and spun the helicopter around on a south-westerly axis. He and his co-pilot could now see the Wang-Chu village on the horizon as they hovered over the tips of the trees in the valley below. The sun was somewhat in their eyes but that couldn’t be helped since the target had only one approach route…
“Weapons armed. You have release. Throttle at max!” the co-pilot said as the Major looked out to try and spot the target building with his eagle eyes. He thought he spotted it: “Okay. I have target acquisition! Let’s roll!”
The Lancer dipped its nose and rapidly built up speed as it flew towards the Wang-Chu village from the north, coming up behind the Chinese forces at tree-top level. Pathanya spotted the Major and his helicopter coming down the valley a good few seconds before the Chinese did, and by the time they picked up their weapons and attempted to reorient themselves, the Lancer was flying a hundred kilometers an hour and already over the village…
“Weapons release! Fire! Fire! Fire!” the Major shouted over the R/T as the Lancer released all four of its gun-pod rockets which slammed into the white building in the center of the village, demolishing it in a bowl of dust and smoke but surprisingly little fire. As the last walls of the building occupied by the enemy OP team collapsed, the Lancer had already flown overhead amidst a crackling of gunfire from the Chinese infantry inside the village. It didn’t take long before the thuds of bullet impacts started off inside the cockpit of the Lancer. The Major and his co-pilot were busy taking their bird down to tree-top height to evade the fire when a burst of LMG fire severed the tail rotor drive on the exposed boom of the Lancer, sending the helicopter spinning around while moving at one hundred kilometers an hour…
“Mayday, Mayday! Delta-One has suffered catastrophic failure in attitude control. Shutting down power and attempting auto-rotation landing! Delta-One requesting SAR support at grid-Alpha-Quebec-tw…” the R/T transmit was replaced with a screeching static as the helicopter slammed into the trees well south of the village and close to the primary LZ of Spear-One…
“Oh dear god in heaven!” Vikram said from his position loud enough to be heard by all around him as they watched the helicopter disappear from their sights and a rumbling thunder occur a few seconds afterwards. Pathanya, however, was more composed:
“Spear-One! We are leaving. Egress to primary-LZ and link up with Delta-Two! Make the most of the cover provided by Delta-One’s sacrifice! Move!”
The team moved out a few seconds later while Pathanya stayed behind the truck to observe the dust cloud from the destroyed building and the dead Chinese OP team’s position. He could see the chaos inside the village as the Chinese soldiers attempted rescue operations for their wounded and buried. They seemed extremely energetic, however…
Maybe their CO was in that building. Good for us. Bad for them…Pathanya thought as he lowered his binoculars, picked up his rifle and moved out from behind the truck. As he ran, he switched comms: “Delta-Two, this is Spear-One. What’s the status of Delta-One? Do you have a visual of the crash site? Over”
“Delta-One is down and on fire, Spear-One. We have visual of the crash site close to LZ-Alpha. Can you divert some personnel for SAR? Over” the pilot of the ALH said over the R/T.
“Roger that! Any survivors?” Pathanya asked as he waved another of his men to follow him to the crash site made visible by the pillar of smoke coming from the trees near LZ-Alpha. He then ordered Vikram to see that Ganesh was evacuated properly and to secure the perimeter.
“Hard to tell, Spear-One. Over”
“Roger. We will take it from here, Delta-Two. Meet you at the primary! Out” Pathanya said as he and his colleague ran through the bushes and jumped over the rocky terrain covered in treacherous ice and snow as they moved towards the burning wreckage of the Lancer. When he got to the site, Pathanya was witness to the horror of the crash. The Lancer cockpit had been smashed into the trees, and its engine and gun-pods were scattered into the foliage all around him, smoke bellowing and fires raging from fuel splattered all around. Pathanya saw the crushed body of the co-pilot still strapped inside his seat in the crushed glass cockpit. The Major had fallen clear and his body was nearby, trailing a line of blood from where he had fallen…
“Oh my god! He’s alive! Quick!” Pathanya motioned to his colleague and they ran over to the Major and turned him over. He was bleeding profusely through his green flightsuit but his hands were still clenching his personal firearm. Both men picked up the Major and straggled over to the LZ where the ALH was waiting and Vikram and the other men were on kneeling around the helicopter, their weapons pointed outwards at any threat that might come their way. They loaded Ganesh and the Major into the ALH which promptly screeched back off the ground and dived behind the hills as it flew south towards Paru airfield and General Potgam’s security zone in southern Bhutan…
Pathanya looked at the blood on his arms and hands that had resulted when they had brought the pilot over to the ALH. He saw his nine remaining men staring at him in silence as he looked at the blood. His face then stiffened and he pulled out a cloth to remove the blood:
“What the hell are you guys waiting for. This war isn’t over! The Chinese are probably getting organized inside Wang-Chu. Vikram, blow the bridge. We have no further use in holding on to it. Any villagers north of Wang-Chu are now behind enemy lines.
As for the Chinese inside Wang-Chu: let’s see if Fernandes can loan a suitable reply of 214 mm presents for what they did to the crew of Delta-One…”