• Published 16th Nov 2012
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A Great Endeavor - Rune Soldier Dan



On July 3, 1943, Equestria declared war on the Axis Powers. These are the stories of those times.

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Chapter 7: Warlocks in Winter (Part 1)

"Auf Wiedersehen, Herr Colonel. See you in Canterlot!"

-Anonymous soldier to Col. Joachim Peiper, 1st SS Division



December 16, 1944



"Soldiers, our hour has arrived. We are part of the army launching a major offensive against the Anglo-American-Equestrians. Do your duty to the absolute best of your ability, for we gamble everything. Germany gambles everything. You have your orders – nothing more need be said."

Colonel Peiper's speech was crisp and professional. No excessive words or gestures, just a green light and a blunt reminder of the stakes. His men didn't need anything else. They were Waffen-SS: the best of the best, warriors first, everything else second. They knew his measure, and he knew theirs. Speeches were for politicians.

Which was good, because he didn't have time for a speech. As panzers and halftracks gunned to life, he mentally cursed every moment lost. The German army had massed in secret, hidden by the winter overcast. As soon as the Allies realized the threat, pegasi would clear the sky and the bombers would be right behind them. Peiper and the rest of the assault would have to move fast. Their target was the major port of Antwerp: a distant hope and desperate throw of the cards. If this was going to work, they had to move, move, move.

And Peiper was going to make it work. No matter what.

His command car had barely left the start point when it was forced to stop in an unwieldy traffic jam. The Americans in the area were surprised and overwhelmed, but a few had made a fight of it along this road. One of the precious King Tiger panzers had been immobilized by grenades. The steel behemoths were irreplaceable, but it was being towed to the side to be left behind. Proper repairs would take time. Time was not something they had.

It was almost an hour before the column was moving again. Peiper cursed and glanced upwards, almost expecting the pegasi to already be at work.

'See you in Canterlot,' he mused at the private's optimistic words. Hmph. If we reach Canterlot, it'll be as prisoners. But what else can I do?

The men knew their mission, so he had few orders to give. Nothing to be done but make sure no time was wasted.

------

December 17, 1944

"Look Applejack, all I'm saying is don't knock it before you've tried it."

The addressed pony spat into the snow by the roadside. "And all ah'm sayin' is those two unicorns couldn't make decent cider if their lives depended on it. 'Flim and Flam,' mah Putooty, more like, 'Fib and Fudge.'"

The road was hard, but snowed under in so many places the truck column was advancing at a crawl. Applejack always walked, disdaining the cramped transports. Today the rest of her platoon took advantage of the slow pace to walk alongside her.

…'Her' platoon? Applejack accepted the affiliation with a mental shrug. This far away from home, they were the only friends, allies, or family she could count on. Pear-shaped, curmudgeonly Sergeant Manny. Nervous Corporal Jackie. The excitable poser Tex. Big Lee, like a jollier, human Big Macintosh. And Fred, who reminded her so much of Derpy: Strange diet (the boy only ate crackers and Cola), klutzy, silly, and intensely lovable. There was her brother here too, and a few others. They hadn't seen real combat since D-Day – the soldiers and ponies were attached as muscle for some high-IQ engineers. But they were all a long way from home, and combat or no, they were something of a family.

Family was allowed to fight sometimes. Tex pointedly took a loud slurp of his canned cider. "Yeesh, someone's a sour apple today. And here I was about to compliment you Equestrians on your drinks. I never had anything this good back in Houston."

"Y'all Americans wouldn't know a good drink if yah bathed in it," Applejack shot back. "What with all that 'Coca Cola' yah drink, ah swear there's enough sugar in it to put even Pinkie Pie under."

She smiled and glanced away, thinking of her friends who stayed in Equestria. Maybe Pinkie and Fluttershy were the smart ones.

Thoughts of home put a weird idea in her head, and she ran with it. "Anyway, after this is all done y'all come over mah farm and Ah'll show yah what real, hoof-made cider tastes like. Ah swear, you won't wanna go back."

"I seem to recall that humans aren't allowed in Equestria," Jackie chimed in, dropping back a pace to walk even with her.

"Yeah, but…" Applejack mused on it a moment and shrugged. "Equestria never goes to war neither, but here we are. Ah reckon a lot of things are gonna be changing before too long."

"Eeyup." Big Macintosh nodded solemnly.

Lee Paulson matched his nod. "You said it, brother."

The next few seconds were surreal. Applejack opened her mouth to respond, but before the first syllable was out a high pitched whine buzzed in her ears. Her flank felt hot and her hind legs were pushed forwards. She slammed hard on her rump and tumbled into Manny. The pair collapsed in a heap. Facing backwards, Applejack saw the truck behind them finish exploding.

Tex was down with what used to be part of the truck's hood between his shoulder blades. Fred – fool’s luck – was still standing somehow, though Jackie quickly yanked him down to a lying position. Jackie was screaming something that might have been "take cover," but Applejack could barely make it out over the buzzing in her ears. Her vision swam in and out of focus.

Applejack crouched and shut her eyes, trying to regain her senses. That dang buzzing was blotting everything else out. She could hear shouted voices at the barest edge of her perception, but it was like she was under water. Her head kept drooping to the right. The typewriter kept clattering. Granny Smith was saying it was time for-

Typewriter? Granny Smith?

Applejack shook her head violently, chasing away the confused dreams. She ground her teeth, forcing herself from the edge of unconsciousness through sheer willpower. But that typewriter still kept going…

"Machine guns," she growled, opening her eyes. She was still dizzy and shaken, but damned if she was going to lie down just when things got dangerous.

She stared at the ground for a moment, willing her vision back into focus. When she looked up, Applejack wondered if she was still addled. Snow drifts were ambling towards them from the side of the road…no, not snow drifts. German vehicles wrapped in white canvas for camouflage, pulling up just close enough to pound them without fear of retaliation. Half-tracks were raking the column with machine gun fire, while panzers belched payloads that were sending trucks flying into the air.

Paulson and Manny were already shooting back, but it was a ridiculous mismatch. They were third-line soldiers without any heavy weapons. Terrified men and ponies crouched at the lip of the road and behind trucks, seizing what cover they could. The snowy fields behind them offered no chance of a hidden escape.

White-coated German soldiers were emerging from the halftracks. Seeing a target he could actually fight, Jackie stood and raised his rifle to his shoulder, squeezing off shots.

"Paulson, yank him down!" Manny roared directly next to Applejack's ear. The buzzing was dying down, letting her at least hear the shouting. Fortunately, everyone was shouting.

Big Lee caught Manny's gaze and shrugged. "Sorry, Sir. Deaf as a stone."

"Will someone tackle that dumb-"

A mass of red fur engulfed Jackie, sending him sprawling to the ground. Good ol' Macintosh.

"Good man, Mac!" Manny shouted. "Everyone, get the Hell down! Get your damn heads down!"

Applejack needed no second bidding. Ignoring the chill, she pressed herself down into the snow. It was deep enough to cover her nose and freezing cold.

She scrunched her eyes closed, gritting her teeth as a shell whizzed directly overhead. Not deep enough.

The armored fire slackened as abruptly as it started. Without introduction or ceremony, a lone German strode out from their line and marched forwards. He was bold as brass, walking erect, not even bothering with a flag of truce. Not one of the shell-shocked Americans shot at him.

"I am Colonel Joachim Peiper," He shouted without preamble. Applejack raised her head to peer curiously at him. His voice was a little too high pitched, and he spoke with haste. For a man in complete control of the situation, this Peiper almost sounded…scared.

"You have fought well, and may now surrender with honor."

The man was as abrupt as he was a liar. 'Fought well,' nothing, they had barely fought at all. The man was spouting clichés.

"Sergeant…" Applejack turned to him.

Manny shook his head, turning to the oldest dodge in the book. "It's the lieutenant's call. Where is he?"

"He was in the truck behind us." Applejack was grateful their hearing had returned enough to say the words with low respect.

"Ah, dammit." Manny shook his head again and raised his head above the road lip. "I speak for these men! What are your terms?"

"Surrender now and be treated as honorable prisoners of war. Resist and we will kill you to the last. You have five minutes!"

Applejack swallowed, feeling a lump rise to her throat. This Peiper didn't mess around.

"Dammit," Manny seethed, settling back behind the lip. Applejack look steadily at him, wondering what the old human would do. He didn't back down easily, that she knew. She'd seen him pick brawls with men twice his size.

But this was something completely different, this was pride weighed against inevitable, futile death. He looked pained and afraid, two looks Applejack had never seen on him. Manny was looking around quietly, searching for any kind of escape, any kind of chance. His eyes met Applejack's for a moment, but they quickly darted away.

"We ain't surrendering, are we?" A familiar, nasally voice came from a few feet down. Tex was hunched over with Fred pressing gauze to his back. Applejack did a double-take: she thought he was dead when the shrapnel hit him. But then again, she thought there was a typewriter involved somehow, too.

Tex quailed as Manny looked at him, not happy at all to see his officer so shaken.

"Well," Manny said quietly. "I'm open to suggestions."

Applejack wished she had one. Resist, and the Germans simply bombard them to paste. Flee or charge and pretty much the same thing happens. Which left…

After a moment, the sergeant shook his head. "Yeah, I didn't think so."

The decision made, Manny stood up squarely. If duty called him to surrender, then he'd do it like a man. Looking out for everyone under his command. And every pony.

"One question!" He shouted back to the German, and was rewarded with a tremor of agitation from the SS Colonel. "We've got Equestrians with us."

Peiper paused a moment before answering. "Any unicorns?"

"Nope, just a few earth ponies." Manny shook his head, and gave a harsh laugh. "Sorry, no 'warlocks' for you."

"Fine, fine!" the German ignored the jibe in favor of moving the conversation forwards. "There's no problem."

Applejack beamed with pride at Manny, knowing where he was taking this. She doubted there were many humans who could control the discussion while surrendering, but Manny was built as stern as they came.

"We know what happens to Equestrians who end up in Germany!" the sergeant boomed. "I want all the folks under my command to get a square deal, men and ponies and what-have-you."

"Done," the German shot back. "You'll all be treated in the same fashion: with honor, so long as you cooperate. Disarm your men and prepare to march. Any delays will be met with harsh punishment."

And that was that. "Drop your guns, boys," Manny grumbled loudly. "This Kraut ain't fooling around."

There were a few half-hearted complaints, but most disarmed with a will. Applejack felt herself flush. It was embarrassing how quickly they folded. They weren't the best of the best, but they were still soldiers. Give them good ground, good support, and she'd bet the farm her platoon wouldn't do badly for themselves.

Jackie jammed his rifle savagely into the ground, muzzle first. His face was contorted in rage, and tears came from his eyes as he lifted the weapon and slammed it down again. No help for it.

They had barely fought, barely even slowed the enemy down. But what was there to do? Peiper gave them a choice: surrender now, or die. Not just die, but die totally in vain, without a hope of success or even of damaging the enemy. It would've been senseless. Manny made the right decision when he gave the order to stand down.

Knowing that didn't make her feel any better. Applejack fought back tears as German soldiers herded them into a column. Some American soldiers were crying openly, others were furiously clutching their fists.

Problems began almost immediately as they began walking. The Germans were anxious and berated them often, accusing the trudging prisoners of intentionally moving slowly. Tex was keeping up as best as he could, but he was still winded from his injury. Soon he was panting and staggering.

"Keep him moving!" A German warned in stilted English. "If you don't…"

He mimed a pistol shot with one finger.

"Tell that guy to go suck a lemon," Tex grunted, doubling over to catch his breath.

Several willing hands reached to help him along, but one voice offered the easiest solution. "Hop on my back."

Tex looked up to see Applejack next to him. She wasn't a big pony. He'd have to keep his feet raised or they'd drag along the ground. But it was a better idea than dying.

Applejack repeated the offer, but she wasn't looking at him. Tex had a nervous, fragile pride, and probably didn't want to be looked at right now. Might as well let him down easy.

Helped by Paulson, Tex gingerly climbed up. Applejack began walking at a slow pace, mindful of her wounded cargo.

It was several minutes before he spoke. "Funny, AJ, an hour ago we were talking about cider. Now…"

He didn't finish the sentence. She didn't want him to, either.

------

December 19, 1944

Bastogne.

The place sounded like a fortress. General Anthony McAuliffe hoped that was a good sign, because it better be as defendable as one.

He was coming into town at the head of a battalion of speeding trucks, each one skidding through ice and snow to reach it before the Germans did. It had taken far too long, but the Allied leaders were now fully aware that a major assault was emerging from the Ardennes. Maybe it was too late. The Germans were already solidly in their flank, and turning Eisenhower's unwieldy army would take time.

Everything they could grab on short notice was being thrown forward in a bid to stall the enemy. That would mean holding the important crossroads. The town of Weiler had already fallen. St. Vith was barely holding on. Bastogne, the biggest and most important of all the crossroads, was almost surrounded.

That "almost" let McAuliffe and a fair chunk of the 101st Airborne squeak in there one step ahead of the Germans.

Maybe that meant they were lucky, but McAuliffe – now surrounded by at least two panzer divisions – wasn’t feeling very lucky. He was a sacrifice bunt and he knew it. His ad hoc force was there to hang the Germans up for a while, then go down swinging.

He'd been told the town was defended by an artillery battalion, a light tank battalion, and remnants of units that had already been chewed up by the Germans. Given the way things had been going, most of that force was probably destroyed by now.

"They want me to die for a dang refugee camp," he had grumbled on the way here.

Yet as he finally laid eyes on Bastogne, McAuliffe grudgingly admitted he was impressed. The hamlet he passed through on the way in was fortified to the gunwales. The outskirts of Bastogne itself were even better prepared. Every man on duty was in a trench or foxhole, and every strongpoint held heavy machine guns in prime positions. Nigh-invisible anti-tank guns poked out of snowbanks, positioned to shoot at vulnerable sides and flanks of advancing tanks.

The streets of Bastogne itself were clear of everything but military vehicles, and concrete slabs lay to the side for rapid road-blocking. Some buildings had been reinforced, others had been bulldozed to provide better lanes of fire. A tiny airfield had been built in a field next to town, ringed by several observation towers. Far from the disorganized survivors he expected, the soldiers McAuliffe saw were in a frenzy of activity making the formidable defenses even stronger.

A pegasus directed the traffic, detouring him directly to their leader's headquarters. The papers in McAuliffe's pocket were clear: he was in command now, though he had to admit the man already here had done a damn fine job of things.

That man happened to be one Colonel Beckett, a balding man with a tired smile. He read McAuliffe's papers and saluted. "Happy to have you, Sir."

"Happy to be here," the general respond, more enthusiastically than he expected. Beckett had set up shop in the old town hall, and had made it as fine a headquarters as McAuliffe had ever seen. "Give me the low-down."

Beckett's strategy was solid: the Americans had turned all the villages around Bastogne into fortresses and refused to yield any of them. When one was threatened, he used the road network to funnel in as many reinforcements as the defenders needed. Once the attack petered out, the Americans simply withdrew to their starting positions and awaited the next blow. With the crossroads in Allied hands, the Germans could only fight as scattered units. The defenders could fight as one.

A good plan, but… "Ain't they hitting the roads with artillery?"

Beckett smiled as if he anticipated the question and pointed to a patch of raised ground. "That hill is the only position that overlooks the town, and we hold it with our own artillery. It's isolated, but any time the Germans come at them they shell the road until the Krauts fall back."

"Nice," McAuliffe noted. Beckett deserves to be a lot more than just a colonel. "With two German panzer divisions out there, I take it your armored battalion is dead and gone?"

It was a fair question: American and British tanks could never stand up to their German counterparts in a fair fight. But once more, the general had misjudged.

"Quite intact, actually." Beckett smiled again. "Thanks to interior lines and the good speed of our tanks, we've been able to stalemate the Germans with raids and flank attacks. When their heavy panzers get sorted out to hit us back, our tanks simply retreat and avoid the worst of it."

McAuliffe actually laughed at that, feeling his spirits rise. He slapped a solid hand on Beckett's back. "You've made bricks without straw, my friend. A little bit of this and that, and you've held up the biggest Kraut offensive since Falaise."

"Actually…" Beckett's smile grew a little self-conscious. He hesitated long enough to get the other's attention. "The credit doesn't really rest with me. When the Krauts first hit us, I was like a chicken with my head cut off before Miss Sparkle got our defense sorted out."

"McSparkle? Who the heck is that?" McAuliffe laughed again, picturing some kilt-wearing Scotsman with a sparkler. "Show him to me."

Beckett nodded and walked to one of the side rooms. He was rightfully embarrassed, but the truth had to come out sooner or later.

The general's smile froze on his face as the door opened. Some bureaucrat's office had been turned into a war room, with maps and lists pinned to the walls and stretched across tables. A teakettle piped happily on a burner in one corner. A half-dozen objects were encased in a purple magic aura and flittered about the room - a crayon drew an arrow on a map, a pencil scratched a line off a list, a red pin was being fitted according to some code…

And amidst it all stood a pony. A short, purple little pony with her attention fixed on a sheet of paper hovering before her nose.

"No, no, no," she tutted into a radio receiver. "Don't blow the bridge, that'll hurt you worse than the Germans. Just finish the trench for now…hm, yes?"

She hung up the receiver and looked up, taking the soldiers in with those big, pony eyes. "Hi, Joe! Who is this?"

It was a good thing her first words were to Joseph Beckett, as his new commander was still gawking. "Miss Sparkle, this is General Anthony McAuliffe of the 101st Airborne, and my new commanding officer. General, Sir, this is Twilight Sparkle, protégé of Princess Celestia and Grand Genius of Bastogne."

Twilight's purple cheeks darkened a little with a blush. "Oh, come on, Colonel, don't make my head big. Anyway, I'm pleased to meet you, Anthony."

She smiled genially at him. McAuliffe managed to close his mouth and gave a tight nod in response.

A paper floated over and deposited itself in his hand. "Here," Twilight said. "This is a listing of everything we've got available here, not including the soldiers who came with you. I think I know exactly where we can put the newcomers to do the most-"

"Thanks, thanks," McAuliffe cut her off abruptly. "Uh, you gotta give me a minute. Me and Beckett got something important to talk about. Outside."

He gently elbowed the colonel in the ribs. Beckett took the hint in an instant, nodding his head and stepping out of the room. The dutiful colonel managed to get the door closed an instant before his superior exploded.

"What in tarnation are you thinking, Beckett?!!" McAuliffe yelled. Another man in his shoes would be cursing up a storm, but that wasn't how he was raised. Didn't make him any less angry, though.

"A PURPLE. PONY. GIRL! And you're letting her command American troops! What in God's name is the matter with you?"

Beckett closed his eyes and responded conservatively. "She is not commanding American troops, she is acting as an advisor. I am in command and I am duly delegating her tasks that-"

McAuliffe was a forthright man, unfortunately, and the roundabout defense only incensed him. "Don't ring around the rosy with me, Beckett! I heard her on the phone, she's giving orders, isn't she? To American soldiers, isn't she?"

"Well, yes, but-"

"Then it sounds an awful lot like she's commanding American soldiers then, right?!"

Beckett was taking a step back, hands raised placatingly. "Sir, please understand. Three days ago I was eighth in command. Now I'm in charge of everything and-"

"Aw, man up!" The general roared. "Gee, if all those good plans are her idea, she might as well be in charge!"

"Would that be such a bad thing?" Twilight's voice came from the other side of the door. It was muffled through the wood, but the frosty tone was clearly audible.

Both men grimaced. It was hardly a surprise that she had heard them from the other side, but McAuliffe hadn't meant to get so…loud.

"Want me to go talk to her?" Beckett muttered.

McAuliffle chuckled ruefully and opened the door, his respect for the man returning. If nothing else, Beckett was dutiful. "Nah. I can reap my own whirlwind."

Twilight looked miffed, not that he blamed her. She had perched on a chair in a human-like sitting position, forelegs crossed in front and eyes narrowed. McAuliffe swallowed, embarrassment rapidly winning out over anger.

He scratched the back of his head. "Look, Sweetheart, me and-"

"'Sweetheart?'" She snapped back. "Really? No offense, but you're not my Special Somepony, so please stick with 'Twilight Sparkle.'"

Great, now I'm being henpecked, he thought ruefully. "Sorry, Miss Sparkle. No need to get hostile."

The concession didn't appease her at all. "Like how you just were with Beckett? The whole place could probably hear you ripping into him for taking help from a-"

Twilight lowered her voice to poorly impersonate the general. "PURPLE. PONY. GIRL."

Anthony groaned, completely backfooted. Pa had raised him to be chivalrous to ladies, but no ladies had ever gotten in his face quite like this.

He rallied the best way he knew how: keeping it simple. "I meant no offense, Miss Sparkle. I was tearing into Backett for…breaking the chain of command. Letting civilians command soldiers, and all that. It's not proper."

"Oh. Well then, there's no problem." Twilight smiled very sweetly at him, though McAuliffe wondered if she was just being passive-aggressive. "I'm a Sub-Captain of the Equestrian Expeditionary Force. The rank was bequeathed upon me by Princess Celestia, making me a full member of the Equestrian military."

Her eyes closed, she tilted her head a little, and the smile only seemed to grow sunnier. "So I'm glad that little misunderstanding is behind us. I know you know that holding back the Germans is what matters, and not the fact that this defense plan everypony thinks is brilliant was made by a purple. Pony. Girl. That would be foalish of you."

Yep. Definitely passive-aggressive.

"Look, Ma'am, I'm not saying you're not smart. But there's more to soldiering than making lists and plans. You gotta be able to change plans, to throw them out at a moment's notice."

McAuliffe's voice grew sterner, more fatherly. "You gotta be able to send boys out to die, too. Can you do that, Miss Sparkle?"

"I…" she hesitated. She was honest, he gave her that.

"I don't know. I've never been this close to a real battle before."

Her smile shrunk to a shy, nervous one. "I was just sent here to calculate whether earth ponies or bulldozers were better at shoveling snow. When the attack started, I just treated it as a big logic puzzle and worked from there."

Twilight's voice grew a little louder, more confident. "But it worked. You had to have seen it; we're as ready as we can be. Tell me I'm wrong."

"I'd be a liar if I did." McAuliffe swallowed, feeling a fair bit of pride go down the hatch. "You've done darn good work, and I'm grateful. This little fortress is gonna save a lot of people's lives. Probably my own, too."

"I'm sorry." He said the words meaningfully, another product of his upbringing. When you're wrong, man up and apologize. "You might or might not be a good soldier, but you're one heck of an organizer. And right here, right now, that counts for a lot."

With a bit of a tumble, Twilight hopped off the chair and trod up to him. She offered a hoof, smiling genially. "I'm sorry too. You're right, I have no idea how to actually lead an army into combat. That's your job."

McAuliffe shook the hoof firmly. "And yours is to get the heck out of town."

"Yeah." She nodded, then blinked, registering his words. "What?!!"

"’Princess Celestia's protégé,’ right?" he repeated the words, brushing past her to examine the map. "They'll have my head on a pike if anything happens to you. Time for you to skedaddle."

A tug of magic on his belt whipped him around. Twilight's horn was glowing, her face now openly glowering. "General! You obviously don't think much of ponies, but I can't leave just when things get tough!"

McAuliffe didn't like arguing, but this was something he wasn't going to budge on. "This isn't about species, Miss Sparkle, this is about politics. You're close to your princess. How will she take it if you die? She might get depressed and become a worse leader. She might withdraw Equestrians from combat roles. And she might, as I mentioned, demand my head on a pike. They'll give it to her, too. One fifty-year old officer is a small price to keep Equestria in the war."

He turned away again, but Twilight shouted at his back. "Even if you're right, I can't go! The Germans locked down the last road right after you arrived."

"I saw an airfield back there," he muttered, trying to make sense of the mountain of information across the tables.

"Look at the weather," she countered. "Clouds so thick you could catch them in a net, snow piled up everywhere. We have one old biplane for recon. You think I'll be safer riding in that?"

"There was a pegasus directing traffic. Get two of them to ferry you out." McAuliffe turned back to face her. If she had a good counter for this, well…

"One pegasus." She responded. "Flitter, who got a bum leg during the Arnhem attack. She isn't going to carry anyone anywhere."

Damn.

Twilight took a deep breath, and exhaled slowly. She was showing a little fear in her eyes, but also strength. "I know what you're saying about politics, and I'm not saying you're wrong. But…we're all stuck here."

She pawed the ground nervously, looking down. "I, uh…I guess I'm counting on you to lead us all out of this mess."

McAuliffe sighed and turned to the big map. The isolated hill and the tiny ring around Bastogne, all surrounded by hordes of pieces representing the Germans…

"Well," he said, resigned to it all. There comes a time when you just have to accept the hand life dealt you.

Accept…and make the most of it. "We're in for it now. Beckett, Twilight…I reckon I'm going to need all the help you two can give me."

"Yes, Sir!" they both piped. Beckett looked relieved the two hadn't killed each other. Twilight looked…steady. Determined. He had a good feeling that she wasn't going to let him down.

"Alright," he smiled, glancing back down at the paper in his hand. "So first, tell me where you need the 101st boys. No sense in letting them loiter in the trucks when there's a fight on."

And boy howdy, are we in for a fight.

Author's Note:

In the autumn of 1944, Germany had won defensive victories in Poland and Holland that stymied defeat. But as winter fell, the Reich's fortunes looked bleaker than ever. Two massive armies stood poised at their borders, ready to smash the exhausted Wehrmacht and crush Germany between them. Only the winter weather delayed them, negating their air supremacy and giving the Axis a precious few months of breathing room.

Rather than stand defensively and merely slow defeat, the Reich summoned its strength for a pair of final offensives. In the East, German forces would break the encirclement of Budapest, capital of their last ally. In the West, they would lunge for the major supply port of Antwerp. Success on both counts would be a major reversal against the Allies. Ultimately, it was hoped that the victories would convince the Allied leaders to accept a negotiated peace. By this point, all dreams of conquering Europe were gone: Germany was fighting to survive.

With genius born of desperation, the Germans lulled Allied intelligence into a false sense of security. The attacks came as a complete surprise, and their scale wasn't noticed until days after the offensives began. In the west, the conflict became known as "The Battle of the Bulge," named for the bulge that was hammered into the Allied lines.

Despite their advantages in quality and surprise, few German officers had much hope for success. The Allies had grown too strong, and their own forces simply too few for the task. Once more under Walter Model, the German army struck with speed and ferocity. They knew full well the price of failure, and knew that success hinged on speed: speed in breaking the Allied lines, speed in seizing the crucial road junctures.

At Bastogne, it fell on General Anthony McAuliffe to deny the crossroads to an army desperate to achieve them. And the Siege of Bastogne began.

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