CHAPTER THIRTY SEVEN
INTO THE VALLEY
The plan Northwood Command settled on to move their army from Edinburgh to Fort George was no kind of Blitzkrieg. Well, of course, it wasn't. A classic Blitzkrieg style advance would have involved the use of dive bombing planes and the three American, French and Russian aircraft carriers out in the North Sea meant such an option was well and truly off the table.
Instead, the English Generals deemed their advance would be measured and careful. They decided on the most obvious route: the A9. The road was wide enough for their convoy of over 700 trucks and armoured vehicles to travel four abreast. And this time the column would move as one.
The speed of the advance was governed by the screening force who headed up the column. This unit was a mix of 300 infantrymen and engineers who moved forward in a line two hundred yards wide: one hundred yards to the east of the A9, one hundred yards to the west of the A9. They checked the ground for IED's with scanners and sniffer dogs. Their speed of progress governed the speed of the 10,000 men and 700 vehicles behind them.
Six non-military drones buzzed overhead sending a view of the surrounding area to the command vehicle at the centre of the convoy.
Steady and secure.
On the first day, they set out at five o'clock in the morning and stopped for the night at ten in the evening.
On the second day, they set out at five o'clock in the morning and stopped for the night at ten in the evening.
103 miles in total.
49 miles to Fort George. They would arrive the next evening and start to establish their positions.
The bombardment would commence at dawn the next day.
Steady and secure. Measured.
As the forces of Operation Cumberland settled in for their first night on the A9, Marc Romaine and the 813 Legionnaires of 2 REP drove for 30 miles and then marched the final ten miles to a heavily wooded ridge which gave a view down a shallow valley. Their weaponry and ammunition had been stashed over the course of two nights a week earlier. Under the cover of darkness, they dug themselves in. By the breaking of dawn, they had a created semi-circle of firing positions. They hid under camouflage nets and branches through the heat of the day and as soon as darkness fell they started to dig again.
By dawn their trenches and fire positions were complete. Marc Romaine had prepared his kill zone with meticulous care and now as the growing light unpacked a view of the valley ahead of them, he was more than content.
The task 2 REP had been given couldn't have been more up their street. They were to engage and hold for a minimum of forty five minutes. They were 813 and the advancing army was over 10,000.
It was perfect.
A voice from Paris in his ear piece.
“They are moving, sir.”
“1500 hours, sir.”
The remainder of the Scottish force had also moved through the night in their rag tag collection of vehicles. The Black Watch hid in woodland ten miles to the south of the valley. The Scots Guards were ten miles to the east and a mix of Argyles and Borderers were ten miles to the west.
Wendel and his team had dug themselves a hide in a nest of hawthorn bushes on the low hill which ran up the western side of the valley. Their position gave them a fine uninterrupted view from the point where the A9 entered the valley all the way to the ridgeline where 2REP were waiting.
Half way along the valley there was a small crossroads with a clutch of houses which had been quietly evacuated through the night. A country road wound down over the hills in the west, crossed the A9, and then climbed up over the hills on the east.
The valley bottom was blanketed with mist in the light of the dawn, but by seven thirty it was all brushed away. Yet again the skies above were wall to wall blue.
As he gazed down into the tranquillity below, Wendel felt an overwhelming sadness. Many of the men in the approaching column were his friends and comrades. In a few hours, this postcard pretty place would provide the last pictures their eyes would ever see. The last memories they would ever file away. It was such an inconsequential place. A river which wasn't much more than a stream. Small fields wrapped in drystone walls. Patches of woodland. Splashes of colour in the gardens of the white houses. Buzzards gliding the thermals. Flies and bees. Dotted sheep on slopes.
And a long ribbon of grey tarmac.
Closed and empty of traffic. A ghost road in a ghost valley soon to be filled with thousands of ghosts.
This was the place where it all would be decided. One way or another.
A thought came to him. The hamlet below him. What the hell was the place called? He checked his map.
So. Another name to add to the list.
Bannockburn, Dunbar. Flodden. Culloden.
And now Lochie Bridge.
Would it be the last battle of the last war? Maybe. But for hundreds of years men had promised the latest war would be the last war. It didn't tend to work out that way. The only war to end all wars would be the one decided with nuclear weapons.
For Christ's sake, Wendel. Enough already. He forced his mind away from the hours to come.
“Come on lads. Let's give the hardware one last going over.”
They passed the countdown hours stripping and cleaning their weapons and talking about anything except the 10,000 men and 700 vehicles which were rolling slowly toward them.
At 3 miles per hour.
Three minutes past three on a baking hot afternoon in the Highlands.
The line of screening troops came into view. Then the first of the vehicles started to take shape in the shimmering heat.
The forces of Operation Cumberland had arrived.
It took the screen line forty minutes to reach the crossroads where a stone bridge carried the B9153 over the small river. By now the whole of the convoy could be seen. Vehicles in rows of four separated by a space of 20 yards. Nearly 200 rows of four filling the air with a low growl of engines.
When the lead troops were 150 hundred yards from the wooded ridgeline at the northern end of the valley, Marc's voice spoke into Wendel's ear piece.
“Activate Le Frelon, please.”
When General Marc Romain had made his second low level trip across the North Sea he had brought along two large bags.
Packed securely inside were two of the French Army's better kept secrets. 'Le Frelon' in French translated into 'The Hornet' in English. It came in the form of the kind of steel case you could easily imagine a professional photographer carrying.
Omar was the designated operator. He laid the case on the ground outside the bush and withdrew back into cover. The firing mechanism didn't look so very different from a TV remote. He tapped a button and the lid of the case swung open. A shimmer of small objects leaped out from the case with a mechanical buzzing sound. Two thousand 'micro drones' took to the sky like a swarm of hornets and started to sniff out the English drones.
It didn't take them very long. In a matter of seconds, the quiet of the valley was disturbed by a sound like a firework display as the tiny explosive loads carried by the micro drones took down their targets.
“What the bloody hell is that?” From his place inside the Operation Cumberland command vehicle, the firework noise was little more than a vague popping sound in the ears of General Sidney Duncan.
“Sir. We've lost the drone cameras, sir?”
“Repeat that please.”
“There's nothing sir. The drones have gone dark....”
“Commence firing.” Marc Romaine's voice was completely flat.
The fire plan had been hammered home. Any Legionnaire who broke the fire plan knew they would face a world of pain for a very long time.
Unsurprisingly, nobody broke the fire plan.
Only thirty Legionnaires opened fire. They used short bursts to drop carefully chosen targets from the approaching screen line. In five seconds, forty advancing troops lay dead or wounded. The remainder of the force hit the ground and started to return fire.
The battle of Lochie Bridge was underway.
“This is Donnelly. We have contact. Repeat we have contact. Incoming fire from the woods on the ridge line to the north."
“Between 30 and 50. Accurate fire. We have multiple casualties."
“Hold your position. Wait out.”
Duncan took a moment of calm time to control a surge of adrenalin.
“Number One Force, advance and secure the position please.”
'Number One Force' was at the head of the advancing column. It was made up of a mixture of the SAS, the Parachute Regiment, and the Royal Marines. It would be the job of 'One Force' to engage and destroy any enemy ambush.
Men jumped down from vehicles and surged forward to pre-determined positions. The Paras formed up on the left flank whilst the Royal Marines went right. The SAS filled the centre.
It took four minutes for 'One Force' to deploy.
They stayed low to the ground and hid behind what cover they could find. The firing from the tree line continued.
The Colonel in charge listened to their confirmations in his ear piece.
“Right flank ready.”
“Left flank ready.”
“OK. Light them up and engage.”
Thirty rocket propelled grenades slammed into the treeline and the ranks of One Force moved forward.
Marc stood up from his trench amidst the sound and smoke of the incoming RPG rounds. Somewhere to his left a legionnaire was screaming.
Someone was shouting “Medic!!!!”
“Fire at will.”
The effect of the full fire power of 2 REP was devastating. The advancing troops of 'One Force' were cut down like harvested wheat. A mix of bullets and RPG rounds turned the air to white hot metal.
“Revised force estimate! There are hundreds of the bastards....”
Duncan put some snap into his voice.
“How many? Be accurate Donelly.”
“Christ.. fuck.. maybe 500? Maybe 1000? We have no way forward, sir. We're going to need artillery support...”
Time for another calm time pause. OK. Good enough.
“Deploy ten guns, please. Your target is the wooded area on the ridge line at the northern end of the valley."
“Of course sir.”
“How long to deploy?”
“Ten minutes sir.”
“Do it please.”
“Continue to engage, please. Expect artillery support in ten minutes."
Within seconds of Marc's order, the volume of 2 REP fire dropped by 80%. The new requirement was to preserve ammunition and keep the surviving elements of 'One Force' pinned down.
“Evacuate the wounded.”
All along the semi-circle of dug in Legionnaires, teams of stretcher bearers collected up the wounded and carried them over the ridge line to waiting medics.
“Check in please, snipers.”
Ten snipers who were hidden on the slopes of both sides of the valley checked in with their commander.
“Are they unloading their artillery?"
“They are, sir.”
In the centre of the English column, frantic teams of men were starting the process of unhooking ten guns from their tow vehicles.
When one man dropped to the tarmac nobody noticed.
When three more men fell they were absolutely noticed and the off load teams dived for whatever cover they could find.
“We have incoming sniper fire, sir. Both sides of the valley. I have four men down here.”
“Can you get the guns off?”
Calm time. Calm time. Calm time.......
“Sir, I have Northwood for you.”
“Thank you Wallace..... this is Duncan....”
“Report please General Duncan.”
“Ambush sir. A dug in force at on the ridge line at the north of the valley. We estimate between 500 and 1000. Automatic weapons and RPG. Very accurate. We have multiple casualties. We are trying to off load artillery, but we have sniper fire...”
“Wait out please Duncan...... “
Calm time. Calm time. Calm time.....
“The satellite shows multiple vehicles approaching your position. South, West and East."
“What kind of vehicles?”
“Cars, vans, people carriers....”
“Our best estimate is three groups of over a hundred. They're coming north up the A9 and from both east and west on the B9153....”
Wendel absorbed the reports from the approaching forces.
“East Force, ETA ten minutes.”
“West Force. ETA eight minutes.”
“South Force. ETA six minutes.”
“On you Omar. Take the command vehicle.”
The second classified piece of French Army kit Marc Romaine had carried over the North Sea was 'Le Couverture Furtif'. The stealth blanket. It was an unremarkable looking piece of grey material not as large as a blanket but much larger than a handkerchief. It was more than large enough to wrap an improvised explosive device. And once wrapped, the IED inside became entirely invisible to any electronic detector or well-trained sniffer dog. Marc had brought ten stealth blankets and over the previous two nights, Omar had used them all as he had buried a line of devices along the verge of the A9.
Now he nodded to Wendel and activated device number five. The growling sound of the explosion rolled up the valley side a couple of seconds after the sight of the command vehicle and many of the vehicles around it being reduced to scrap yard metal.
…. come in please Operation Cumberland..... Operation Cumberland..... General Duncan...... Sorry sir, they are not responding.....”
But General Moore already knew General Duncan would never respond to anything ever again. The satellite pictures showed a huge explosion in the centre of the convoy.
“Holy mother of Christ......”
“South Force at jump off.”
“OK. On our lead.... Omar.....”
Devices one and two threw a murderous hail of shrapnel through the southern third of the convoy. Disorientated men poured down from burning vehicles to be confronted by the sight of over a hundred cars and vans and people carriers heading toward them at high speed.
A few English soldiers managed to get off a few shots, but the vast majority were in a state of utter shock. Those who fired were soon dropped by the snipers on the slopes above them.
The men of the Black Watch leaped from their vehicles and
advanced on the burning wreckage behind a storm of gunfire.
“West Force at Jump Off.....”
“East Force at Jump off.....”
The remaining seven hidden bombs broke the spine of the column. Over three thousand men poured bullets into the mayhem.
After three murderous minutes, the battle of Lochie Bridge was over. Operation Cumberland ended in catastrophe. The English Army lost 3245 of its men killed and a further 4798 injured. Every vehicle was destroyed. The only senior officer left alive was a Colonel of the Coldstream Guards who surrendered to Colonel 'JJ' Jackson of the Black Watch.
The Scottish Army lost fourteen men dead and eighty six wounded. 2 REP suffered 22 fatalities and 79 injuries, though these were never acknowledged. Marc Romaine took his men away as soon as the guns fell silent and over the next four days, they retraced their route back to Roscoff. Over the following months a few of the 'One Force' survivors swore blind they had heard shouts in French coming from the tree line on the northern ridge. Nobody took a blind bit of notice. Their claims were written off as some kind of post combat delusion.
The French Government never acknowledged the presence of the Legionnaires of 2 REP at the battle of Lochie Bridge.
The victorious Scottish soldiers were in no mood for celebration. The so called battle had been nothing more than a well-executed turkey shoot. There was no glory to be found in the screams of hundreds of wounded men. Victory meant giving emergency first aid and sealing corpses into body bags. The sights and smells and sounds of the valley would haunt the dreams of hundreds of the winners for many years to come.
Wendel and his team were in no mood for celebration either. A freak bullet had hit Nazir in the right eye and killed him instantly.
They carried his body to their hidden vehicles and returned to Glasgow. Their role in the battle was never officially acknowledged either.
A terrible silence fell on the Northwood Situation Room. All they had were satellite pictures. Within minutes of losing all communications with Operation Cumberland, the full extent of the rout was clear for all to see.
“I'm afraid I have bad news. The column has been destroyed.”
“Yes sir. Destroyed. We walked straight onto a sucker punch. You will have my resignation within the hour."
“A sucker punch?”
Edward Montford ended the call and stared into space.
A sucker punch. The trees of Birnam Wood had climbed all the way to the top of Dunsinane hill.
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