Wednesday, 23 November 2016

The Devils Playground

Copyright © 2016 by Mark Chisholm

“The Devils Playgound”

CHECHNYA, Grozny August 1996, Reconnaissance Elements 276 Motor Rifle Regiment probe the city’s suburb’s. A lone BRDM-2 armoured vehicle threads its way through the ruined streets of Kolinsky district.

“Vasily the commander was the most experienced member of the crew, a veteran of the Afghanistan war his wisdom and confident smile eased the other nervousness of the others. Sergey the driver only twenty five years old had planned on becoming a doctor, but he was conscripted like many others to do his part for the motherland. Finally there was Pavel the gunner and radioman at nineteen the youngest member of the crew, his choice from early years was to be a soldier of the Red Army just as had been his father and his grandfather a veteran of Stalingrad. These three men worked in synchrony as they threaded the BRDM-2 armoured reconnaissance vehicle through the narrow streets filled with the rubble and detritus of war. The Brdm was essentially a large armoured truck mounting a 14.5 mm heavy machine gun in a small turret to the aft of the driver’s compartment. The hatches were closed the vehicle basically “buttoned up” to prevent the Chechen snipers having an easy prize.

 Vasily saw it first “STOP” he yelled the command thorough the intercom. However it was too late. A small crater had concealed a wooden pressure plate in turn fitted to a RKG-3 anti-tank grenade. The explosion was small and fortunately for the crew offset to the right road wheel. The grenade could have easily driven its blast of molten copper thorough the relatively light armour of the BRDM to incinerate the crew and everything else inside its steel confines. Nevertheless, enough damage had been done, the vehicle limped on another 10 metres the steering was impossible and Sergey could not wrestle with it anymore. The engine spluttered and coughed then stopped all together, the battery power alarm let out a shrill whine and a number of red lights illuminated the drivers console, Sergey attempted a restart but it was no good the grenade had shredded some of the vehicles electrics and the oil lines, worse still the strong smell of gasoline had pervaded the usually neutral aroma of the armoured car.

“She won’t start comrade sergeant” Sergey uttered. “very well, driver keep your eyes peeled and call out targets as you see them, prepare your personal defence weapons and stand by, Gunner bring the cannon around to 3 o clock position keep your scan on the warehouses, I will try and raise brigade HQ on the radio” Vasily made his commands clear and calm, there was no point losing your head and panicking these boys in such a situation he thought to himself. “Sparrow Red One this is Badger five zero radio check over… Sparrow Red One this is Badger five zero key your mic if you are receiving us in clear” Nothing. The high buildings were causing numerous problems to the VHF radios and it was clear to Vasily that they had ended up square in the middle of a radio dead spot.

“Ok lads keep scanning your arcs, expect them from the North East”  Vasily knew what was coming he had seen it all before on those mountain passes in Afghanistan. He surveyed the surroundings through the vehicles periscopes, it really looked like shit out there, rubbish strewn everywhere, filth and mud debris strewn all over what was once possibly a playground for children from the nearby apartment blocks.. More like the bloody devils playground he thought to himself. Then he caught a glint of movement, the curtain in the apartment opposite had moved. The wind maybe? No not possible! Then for sure dark silhouettes could be just made out moving hurriedly in the stairway of the building. “Gunner …target, 2 o`clock building second from left, 250 metres, enemy in cover” Vasily gave the command in clear concise steps. Meanwhile Pavel cranked the turret and gazed through the targeting site to bring the buildings into the viewfinder “Comrade Sergeant, target understood, which floor do I shoot?” Pavel asked rather hurriedly. “Elevate up to the third floor and scan those windows, if anything comes to the window engage it clear?” Vasily waited for the young gunner to acknowledge. The young gunner was sweating profusely constantly having to clear his forehead from his blond hair to stop his vision being blurred. “Da! Sergeant”. Pavel tried to sound confident but he was under no illusions he had to make sure his aim was true his own life and that of his comrades depended on it.

“I see movement its  ... on our right… shit” Sergey just had time to get the words out. He had seen the flashes then tracer arced up and over then down towards him, he instinctively ducked even though he was viewing all this from a periscope and was protected by the steel armour of the vehicle. Then pop.. pop ping… pop… ping ping.. a steady stream of lead impacted the BRDMs hull on the right sides, the noise inside the vehicle was brutal like being inside a kettle drum during a red square parade Sergey thought to himself. The rounds were fired from a PKM machine gun located 300 metres distant, and although the 7.7 mm rounds were incapable of penetrating the steel armour of the vehicle, they were certainly capable of damaging all the optics and sighting devices basically turning the crew blind to the outside world. “Sergey.. damnit, give me a target indication” Vasily was annoyed he had not seen the threat prior to this encounter. “Comrade sergeant… I see enemy gun group.. 11 o clock… target in cover…err.. small white building” Sergey uttered the often rehearsed target indication monologue though the intercom just as if he were back in basic training only three months previously. “Gunner burst.. engage!!” Sergey the commander issued the fire commands in a clear concise paused announcement. Pavel immediately cranked the turret to the left and levelled the gun on a distant target the PP-61 sight gave him 2.6 times magnification as the white building came into the cross hairs, he pressed his boot firmly onto the foot activated trigger. Kerchunk..chuk chuk chuk… within a split second a burst of four of the 14.5mm high explosive incendiary rounds had left the cannon, the brdm lazily jostled back and forth from the recoil as if it were negotiating some speed bumps. Through the sight Pavel followed the tracer as it satisfyingly arced up in the air visible were only super bright pin pricks of yellow green light in less than a wink they had made the short trip to the target. The high explosive rounds were designed to take down high flying aircraft made of steel and aluminium the small brick structure hiding the “Chorpkas” was no match. As they impacted the structure flashes ignited and the explosions caused dust and debris to obscure the sight picture. One round fell short hit the ground and glanced upwards towards the heavens its tracer element grew dim as it made its way thousands of metres past the target it reminded Pavel of fireworks on novi god. Pavel felt that nervous excitement only men in combat can feel, also he felt pretty bloody smug that he had basically obliterated the target within three seconds of his commander’s orders.

A few seconds silence then just the measured breathing of the crew… the aroma of cordite felt like incense to the crew, whilst the particularly acrid taste made Sergey hanker for a joint as his thoughts drifted back to much more pleasant times at University in St Petersburg. Click... Whirr… The ventilation fan was activated to clear out the fumes. The red emergency lighting in the BRDM was growing dimmer it had been only ten minutes since the IED strike but the vehicles batteries were not lasting. Sergei glanced his watch nearly five in the evening… soon it would be dark and they were sitting ducks as it is.

 “Well done lads. Boys were going to have to dismount and make our way back to the brigade on foot... get your shit together.. You need your Avtomat.. Ammo… body armour fuck all else... Understood” Sergei made a point of complimenting his lads they were his young brothers and he was going to make sure they were safe. “Pavel, Sergey prepare to exit from the left hatch, I will provide cover.. lads keep to the right hand side of the road follow as best you can the same track we took getting here, the area is mined our rendezvous will be that blue dacha we passed about 150 metres to the North.. Understood”. Both men affirmed there sergeants orders by looking square at him and nodding their approval. “Good.. on my mark.. GO” Vasily gave his orders instantaneously there simply was no time to pause, think or even scratch ones ass it was move or die. He had seen it before in Afghanistan, his comrades had been in a similar jam but chose to try and wait it out, they waited alright, right until the point the mujahedeen brought up an RPG and incinerated the poor bastards in what became a steel coffin. Fuck that .Better to go out shooting a few of the bastards or just maybe with some luck and gods will both the young lads can get back there skinny asses back home he thought.

“Da vai!” Vasily levered the hatch open and emerged pointing his AKM assault rifle in the direction of the perceived threat. The fresh air felt wonderful in his lungs the cool light outside was stimulating, far from feeling fear Vasily felt more alive at this particular moment. Simultaneously Sergey levered open the left hatch, he put his weapon onto the hull of the little tank and eased himself up and out of the tight confines of the vehicle, and it was no easy feat whilst adorned with both body armour and bandoliered ammunition. Once clear Pavel levered himself up, just as his upper body emerged a single shot rang out. An unseen lone sniper over 500 metres distant had surveyed the events once it was obvious to him that the huge cannon was unmanned he brought the emerging crewman into the scope... an inhale of breath a squeeze of the trigger on the 7.62 mm drugunov sniper rifle. Pavel began to slump back into the vehicle the shot had impacted him square in the upper chest. He could not even utter a word his mouth was filling with blood and he was gasping for breath. Vasily had seen the single muzzle flash way in the distance, then a second later the sickening crack and the thump sound of the round as it hit his comrade. He shouldered his weapon and fired bursts of two to three aimed shots at the apartment building window to try and supress the sniper.

“get him out .. im coming to help” Vasily shouted. However, Sergey was already dragging the wounded crewman out of the hatch. Fortunately the tall and athletic Sergey was able to drag the smaller and lighter man out of the hatch. “Ive got you … don’t worry blondey .. you will be ok” Sergey uttered words of compassion to the young man, but tears were filling his eyes, before him he could see the life leaving the body of the nineteen year old lad as he eased the now limp body on the ground. Vasily now exited the confines of the vehicle as quickly as he could it was easier to jump down to his front. The ruined remains of a kiosk were to his front adorned with the remnants of the movie poster “come and see”. The irony of this cruel joke could not be appreciated by Vasily as the last seconds counted down. The finger was pressed on the remote trigger. The signal was sent down the wire. The wire led to a battery operated mercury tilt switch connected to an improvised detonator. The detonator was strapped to an unexploded 203 mm howitzer shell which had been rigged into this overkill IED. The remains of the kiosk had hidden the device from passing vehicles and the casual observer. In an instant the 20 kilograms of RDX explosive is chemically transformed into pure energy of heat and blast. The Chechens had hoped to take out a bigger prize such as a full blown Russian t-72 tank but only the little BRDM had come to visit there “playground”. The very air itself fire balled, Vasily, Pavel and Sergey felt nothing as they were returned into atoms.

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