Chapter Two Thousand Thirty-Seven
31st December 1970
Rio Gallegos, Argentina
“By the time we got there, the Iltis had been picked clean by the locals and it took some doing to find out the rest” Manfred said to Oberstlieutenant Schier, “It was hit by fire from the air, and we recovered the remains of four of our men. The locals said that two others escaped with minor injuries. A man and a woman. They were last seen traveling north.”
“Very well Oberlieutenant Mischner” Schier said, “You are dismissed.”
It was obvious to Manfred that he was not pleased to get that news. Sneaking in and out of the city, past the entrenched Chilean Division surrounding the city, complicated matters. Searching for one missing Iltis had been a tall order. The 7th Recon had managed it, because that was the sort of mission they had been formed to perform.
The 7th Recon had also gathered a considerable amount of intelligence about what was happening outside the city. Martzel Ibarra had been busy. The people of this region were scattered across dozens of estates and imposing any sort of organization would be like herding cats and he had pulled it off to a degree. They had been fighting a guerilla war and Manfred had included mention of it in his reports as something that they needed to provide material support to. That was a rare bit of good news, something that had been in short supply since word had reached them that the 5th Panzer Battalion had been redirected to Comodoro Rivadavia to help the Argentine Army hold the line there. Manfred had pointed out that if the Panzers were here, they could break the siege and gut the Chileans from behind. He had been told that same argument had been made at the highest levels. Just defending the Petroleum Industry of Argentina was more important if they were going to keep them in the fight.
As Manfred walked across the Naval Yard, he saw that Oberstaber Jost Schultz was waiting for him.
“Gather a dozen volunteers” Manfred said, “I’m tired of sitting around here with our thumb up our ass. It’s time we got into the fight ourselves.”
“Yes, Sir” Jost said clicking his heels, his eyes alight. Manfred knew that was music to the Oberstaber’s ears, but he didn’t care. He was tired of sneaking around and wanted to make some noise to ring in the new year.
It had been a long flight done in multiple stages as the Schlasta 5 Squadron from the 18th SKG, taking several days as the logistics had to be worked out before they could leave for the next leg. From Berlin-Brandenburg to Madrid, then onto the Cape Verde, and finally the longest leg to Buenos Aires avoiding Brazilian Airspace. They had only been given a few days of rest before being sent to Córdoba, located smack dab in the middle of Argentina. There was supposedly no point in this country that was out of reach for the 18th SKG. It was something that suited Ben, because he could see on a map that Santiago was within easy reach and he was planning on paying them a visit or two that they would not be forgetting. It was something that he might not have been inclined to do before, but Friedrich had told him that little piece of information that had changed the entire equation and left Ben sputtering in helpless outrage.
That wasn’t to say that there wasn’t other work to be done in the meantime. Ben laid the throttle on as the Orkan sped down the runway. Spark took off seconds after he did and the two of them took a westerly course before turning south. That was when they heard from ground control that there were two fast moving targets that were eastbound at eight thousand meters, and their transponders were not squawking the right signals. Meaning that they were fair game.
Ben could hear Wim and Kozlov, Spark’s System Operator, conferring in their jargon as they confirmed radar lock on the two targets. Ben waited until they were within a hundred kilometers before he launched two Sperling missiles. The two targets continued on their course and altitude, they had to know that they had been painted by search radar but were trying to outpace interception. It was something that might have worked in the past, it was just that the rules had changed as four Sperlings sped at them at several times the speed of sound. When they closed to within a kilometer, the radar seekers on the Sperlings went active. To the men on those airplanes, their threat indicators would have read it as a missile launch right on top of them. There was little time to react.
“Splash one” Wim said as they watched the attempted evasive maneuvers through the radar scope. This was followed seconds later, by “Splash two.”
Even as it happened Ben knew that it would not be this easy in the future. The other side would quickly adapt, and there were very few Sperling missiles available. It would rapidly become the same desperate fight that had existed over Korea.
Hours later, after Ben had landed, they received a phone call saying that the wreckage of two F-11C Tigers had been found near General Alvear. The rest of the Squadron was overjoyed by that, not only was it their first kills in this conflict, but this meant that Ben had finally passed the number required to earn the Military Class of the Blue Max, for real. As far as they knew he was the first man to win both the Civil and Military Award in decades. Watching them he realized that it wasn’t what was important to him anymore.