• 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 1: The Longest Day

"The tide has turned! The free men and ponies of the world are marching together to victory!
I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty, and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full victory."

-Letter from General Dwight Eisenhower to the Allied troops, circulated prior to the D-Day Landings



June 6, 1944



"God, I hope I know what I'm doing."

-Eisenhower, after giving the order to commence the landings.



Corporal Jonathan "Jackie" Flynn's unit had the easy job. Their boats were in the second line that would fall on the beach. The first wave will have cleared the landing zone of hostile forces and established a perimeter. Those boys would call a halt before going too far ahead: Driving to Berlin could come later. What was important here was to land and supply enough men to make that drive. That's where Jackie's platoon and a hundred others would make their own contribution. A horde of "dragon teeth," massive caltrops, and other tank traps sat in the sand, preventing ships and tanks from arriving in force. They would work like the dickens to get the obstacles clear, paving the way for the rest of the army.

The rest of the army…when he boarded the landing craft, it was almost a surreal experience. Jackie looked down the harbor, and saw hundreds, thousands of them lined up, each to be crammed with red-blooded soldiers eager to get the job done. In his (brief and failed) time at college, Jackie read the Illiad. The exact wording escaped him, but he recalled the vivid imagery of the endless Greek boats, blotting out the sea below them as they surged towards the decadent city of Troy.

That's us, He thought. He tried to picture what the landings might look like from above, the poetic imagination that brought him to college still alive. An unstoppable tide. A pegasus could look down and see the English Channel painted black with all the ships we send.

Thought of the Equestrians made him frown a little, distracted. Along with his wave were dozens of earth ponies. Supposedly they were great diggers and engineers, and had strength far surpassing a human – perfect for helping to clear the beach. Jackie had never seen them in action, but he had his doubts. They were no taller than the unintelligent ponies he rode as a toddler, and certainly no stronger-looking.

Jackie shrugged. If the ponies lived up to expectations, great. If not, it was just more work for him. He didn't mind work. At least no one would be shooting at him.

"Thirty seconds!" Sergeant Solomon "Manny" Phearson growled. "Thirty seconds to landfall!"

Those thirty seconds were enough time for Jackie to realize it might not work out so neatly. The steel sides of the landing craft rose high around him, blocking out whatever sights awaited. But even above the roar of the ship's engine, the sounds were there. Gunfire. Explosions. Screaming. Above him, a few wild bullets flickered, fired from the shore.

No, they weren't wild. A black pegasus glided above in the rising wind. She was ignoring the scattered bullets with professional aloofness, speaking into a radio tied to one hoof. The rest of the bulky transmitter was in a saddlebag, and she had to flap her left wing extra to compensate for the lopsided weight.

The ship's engine ceased abruptly, inertia easing it forward to what would hopefully be a gentle landing. The decrease in volume and her sudden shouting let Jackie catch a snippet of the pegasus' words.

"Look, I don't care!" She said in a loud, squealing voice. "Keep the tanks afloat with magic if you have to, just get them here! This is going to be a bucking massacre if we don't get some armor down there!"

A bullet snapped the wire of the radio, rendering it useless. Her irate look turned to one of fear and she veered out of sight, dropping the radio in the ocean.

The landing craft ground to a stop. The wheel that would lower the ramp began spinning, almost as fast as Jackie's head. Amphibious tanks were supposed to have accompanied the first attack...but the waves were choppy, and he wouldn't have bet on their sea-worthiness. What did the pony say, "bucking?" A "bucking massacre" without them.

The ramp slammed to the sand, and in the next three seconds half the platoon died.

The German machine gunner was doing his job, and doing it well. A long burst scythed through the first few rows of men, but the rest would have the bodies of their comrades as cover. So many soldiers were swarming ashore that he had to move quickly from target to target. He sighted on a flamethrower team creeping forward and forgot all about the platoon.

---------------

It was all so quick. A *thump* *thump* *thump*, a few spurts of blood, and the bodies collapsed. Jackie wanted to look away, but he willed himself to take it all in. His head felt like he was swimming, and he embraced the feeling: Anything to make this feel more distant. He numbly stumbled over men he spent months training with.

I didn't like them anyway, his mind raced through fevered defenses. Nobody likes Manny, but at least they respect him. I'm the corporal. The troops keep their distance because I'm above them, the sergeant keeps his distance because I'm below him, and no one gives me any damn respect because I'm skinny and 19.

God help me, I'm only 19.

"Shift yourself, Jackie," the sergeant grumbled, but he was moving a little slowly too. Slipping on water and other things, the two were the last to stumble out. Most of the first wave was dead on the beaches, in singles or in clumps, whole bodies and half-bodies. Whoever thought they would be enough to clear the beach was badly mistaken, and a lot of people were paying for it. Some survivors had advanced as far as the beachwall – most were pinned behind dragon teeth and any other cover they could find.

Beyond the beachwall were several hills and raised positions, each one fortified in concrete. Yellow bursts flashed from windows as the Germans rained fire down at their hapless foes.

The nearest of the tank traps already had too many troops crouching behind its meager protection, none of whom were inclined to let the officers take their place. The pair hustled to the next one forward. A bullet made a body near Jackie's feet spasm, but nothing else came at them.

There were two people and two bodies behind the cover. The bodies didn't matter. One of the not-corpses-yet was a man from their platoon. An excessively tall fellow who was the only one of them from Texas. Hence his nickname, 'Tex.' Jackie thought that was completely unoriginal, but no one ever asked his opinion. Tex apparently enjoyed the call sign enough to ham it up, even going so far as to wear a Stetson instead of a helmet. The idiot was even wearing it now.

Idiot or not, he was brave. Tex was periodically popping up and shooting, trying to pick off enemies he had no chance of hitting. But at least he was trying. He seemed to be the only one shooting back.

Jackie almost collided with the rear of the other one. It was an earth 'pony,' but one easily the size of the horses back on the farm. It was red with an orange mane, crouched as low to the ground as it could. An eye shifted back to glance at Jackie before it returned its gaze forward. With panic and confusion raging around it, somehow this pony was silent and calm.

It was the closest Jackie had ever been to a pony – one of the weird ponies, anyway – but now wasn't the time for curiosity. He fell on shaking knees next to the stallion and set a hand on its side to steady himself. If that annoyed the big red fellow, he didn't show it.

Tex was smiling, the strained smile that could turn into a scream at any second. "Hey, Sarge! When we gonna start clearing these tank traps?"

Dear Lord, the idiot could still joke.

Sergeant Manny wasn't paying him any attention. The officer was looking around behind them, trying to see how many had made it out and where they were. Maybe he was looking for someone with a higher rank to give them orders. Either way, it was hopeless. Only a few men crouching in the sand behind them were familiar, and there was no way they'd hear his commands. Smoke, debris, and fear made the situation more than a few meters away unreadable. A form slouched in cover could be a colonel or a corpse. There might be ten thousand still alive, or less than a hundred.

"Comin' in!"

An orange blur sprinted across the beach and skidded behind their caltrop, slamming into Jackie. He gave an "oof" and stumbled into Big and Red, but the pony didn't budge.

The culprit was an orange mare, hat on head, panting and blackened with smoke. She too was an earth pony, though normal sized.

"Applejack," Big and Red said, the first sign he gave that he was paying attention to his surroundings.

"Big Macintosh," the mare responded in short acknowledgement. Jackie frowned. 'Big and Red' was easier to remember.

"Hey boys," Applejack said. She and Tex exchanged a second glance, realizing they were wearing almost the exact same hat. They both shrugged and Applejack returned to business. "Jes' passing the word. We're gonna make a big rush in 'bout ten minutes. There'll be a signal."

"You're joking!" Jackie exclaimed before remembering he was supposed to be an officer.

"She's gotta be joking," Tex added, the first thing he had ever said in Jackie's defense.

Applejack was apparently used to the response, and offered no riposte. She instead crouched low and glanced around, looking for the next place to dash to that hopefully wouldn't get her shot.

"Oh, finally!" Manny roared, grinning for the first time since Jackie met him. There were a lot of firsts today.

He pointed back to the ocean, where a hulking form was emerging. Like a sea monster, one of the amphibious tanks advanced with only the turret visible. A pair of unicorns stood atop it, straining in concentration. The glow around their horns matched the glow around their charge, keeping the swamped vehicle from sinking completely.

With a grind that somehow sounded relieved, the tank found purchase on the sand and rose up from the water. Its turret traversed, dripping water, aiming towards one of the machine gun bunkers. The tank edged forward.

And exploded.

The three humans roared in frustration as a plane swept forward and dropped another bomb, Iron Cross on its wings. It was the first German plane they’d seen all day, appearing at the worst place and time.

Tex snorted, grinning wildly as tears came down his face. "Hey Applejack, was that the signal?"

Her retort was lost as a shell burst nearby, annihilating the neighboring caltrop and the men behind it. None of the others caught it, but Jackie noticed something else. Everyone flinched when the explosion sounded, but quickly returned to their observant crouch. Everyone but the big pony, who flinched and was still flinching.

"H-hey," Jackie started, not really sure how to talk to a pony. "You okay, big guy?"

"Eeyup." The pony responded, but he seemed out of breath.

The orange one glared at him, catching the hesitation. "Big Macintosh," she barked, not needing to say the rest.

"Just a graze," he commented, averting his eyes.

Even though it exposed him a tiny bit more, Jackie leaned behind Big and Red and looked at his far side. A few bits of shrapnel had lodged in his side, thick muscle causing the offending metal to stick out. The pony's position to the far right of the huddle meant he was closest to the explosion, and his size shielded the rest of them.

These didn't look too bad. They'd rip up the muscle if he moved a lot, but if he held still until they were out it'd be nothing more than a flesh wound. It would've been a much different story if it was Jackie, especially if one found an eye or stomach.

He shuddered and pulled back into position, with Applejack looking steadily at him for an analysis. "Er, not bad. Not great, but not bad. Just don't move, big guy. Uh, Big Mac."

The pony gave a "hm," turning his eyes back forward. "Might not have a choice."

"We're just getting picked off," the sergeant grumbled. As if to emphasize his point, a man behind a dragon tooth twenty feet away jerked and fell, his cover not quite good enough. None of the cover was good enough. Everyone was just hoping the Germans were all looking at someone else.

Tex squatted, fitting a new clip into his rifle. "Yeah? Well we run up there, we're gonna get a Hell of a lot more than 'picked off.'"

Jackie had to agree. At best, rushing the machine guns were going to get a whole heap of them killed. At worst, it was going to get the rest of them killed, too.

Still…

"Well, we can't stay here," Jackie said grimly, clutching his rifle in both hands. He gestured with it behind them, where more boats were coming forwards. "There isn't enough cover already. The next wave will just get slaughtered in the open, and we'll still be where we are now."

"Sure." Tex accepted the logic with an indifferent shrug. "We won't get twenty feet, but what the Hell, right?"

Applejack had turned her attention back to Big Macintosh. "Now when the signal goes up, you stay put. I ain't gonna tell Applebloom you went and bled to death without any good reason."

"Eeyup."

"Consarn it, I mean it, Mac!"

"Ah hear yuh, Sis."

Manny winced as a bullet bounced off their caltrop. "Hey 'Jack, what's the signal?"

Jackie gave him a quizzical look. "How should I know?"

"I mean the horse! Pony! Whatever! Uh, Applejack! What's the signal?"

"I dunno." The pony shook her head, then looked up. As she did so, her eyes widened. "But I reckon it might be that."

Multicolored streaks flew across the sky, coming towards the land. It was a wave of pegasi, approaching high, then dropping as they reached the beaches. There were many colors, but in the center flew a dozen with blue…coats or uniforms, it was hard to tell from the ground. With skill and precision, they set upon the array of bunkers and redoubts blocking the attack. They tumbled through windows and doorways, dropping directly from above when there wasn't a roof.

Jackie felt a knot in his stomach as he watched one dive for a window only for a flash to emerge. The pony jerked and fell, disappearing to the ground. Once engaged, it would be metal-shod hooves and wingblades against guns and knives. Every such fight would be desperate for both sides, and some would undoubtedly end with a dead pegasus and a German returning to his post.

But the fire abated as the machine gun crews were forced into melee. Even the Allied soldiers who hadn't gotten the message knew it was now or never. A few gave an exhilarated roar as they stood up and sprinted to the Nazi lines. Most – like Jackie, Manny, Tex, and Applejack – just ran in grim silence. Sporadic fire cut down a few charging soldiers, but it wouldn't be enough.

Jackie glanced behind him and sighed in relief. Big and Red was staying put.

Applejack didn't stay with them long. She had them load a wounded soldier on her back and carried him into cover. They lost track of her after that. What followed would be work for guns and flamethrowers. The Americans were finally amongst their foes. Bunkers were being flanked, machine gun nests overrun. Jackie finally saw the German soldiers. Some were fleeing, others fighting back. Not all the firefights went well for the Allies, but a third wave of soldiers emerged from the boats, then a fourth and fifth.

About half of “Spitfire’s Charge” were casualties: dead, wounded, or lost. Its captain, Spitfire, was reported as missing in action.

By the next day, the beaches were clear and Allied forces were pressing inland.

Author's Note:

In choppy weather and with nerves running high, Allied leaders ordered the invasion to commence on June 6, 1944. The attack was originally scheduled for June 5, but was pushed back due to bad weather. The assistance of Pegasus “Cloud Kickers” was refused. The Germans believed the Allies would make the landing further East than Normandy, and no effort was spared in maintaining the deception. Pegasi spent June 5 clearing the skies above the distant Pas De Calais, helping convince the Axis Command the Normandy landings were a feint.

With so much hinging on luck and bluff, it was a very real possibility that disaster awaited them. The night before, Winston Churchill commented to his wife that, “Tomorrow we may wake up to see 20,000 killed and the war lost.” Eisenhower took to carrying a letter in his pocket, to be delivered in the event of defeat:

“Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based on the best information available. The troops, the [air force] and the Navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.

-D. Eisenhower”

With deception a greater concern than the weather, Eisenhower ordered the Cloud Kickers to refrain from clearing the skies. Their captain, Spitfire, proved unwilling to sit back on her hooves. When the assault at Omaha Beach became pinned with their backs to the sea, she ordered the pegasi to assault the bunkers and artillery. They were drilled for this possibility, but were inexperienced and poorly-armed compared to the German defenders. Casualties – including Spitfire, listed as ‘MIA’ – were heavy, but their purpose was accomplished. German positions were distracted long enough for several companies to break holes in the fortified lines, holes that were quickly widened by waves of reinforcements. Victory was achieved, and Eisenhower never delivered his letter.

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