Шон Хатсон: Sabres in the Snow

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Шон Хатсон Sabres in the Snow
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    Sabres in the Snow
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    Триллер / Историческая проза / prose_military / на английском языке
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Sabres in the Snow: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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It is winter 1943 and the once victorious armies of the Third Reich are on the retreat, burning, slaughtering and destroying everything in their path. Under the command of Captain Josef Kleiser, an SS unit massacres the villagers of Prokev. But seventeen-year-old Anatole Boniak survives, and taking refuge in the hills, he conceives a deep and brooding hatred for the SS Captain. It is an obsession that will end in a violent confrontation and colour the Russian snows with the crimson stain of blood.

Шон Хатсон: другие книги автора

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Shaun Hutson


Chapter One


There was a thunderous roar as the shell from the Russian 45 hit the ground. The snow covered earth shook for long seconds and one of the SS men crouched over the detonator box slipped.

“Come on, hurry,” yelled Captain Josef Kleiser, slamming a fresh magazine into the MP40 which he had picked up from one of the men lying beside him. Kleiser’s shouts were swamped by another tidal wave of sound as the entire Russian battery opened up again. From such close range, shells powered into the rock hard earth, some skidding on the icy surface. One skittered for a few yards then exploded, showering those nearby with lumps of red hot metal. One piece, the size of a football, slammed into the side of a stationary krupp and carved a path right through the cab, slicing the driver in two and decapitating the other man in the cab. The ten-ton lorry teetered on two of its mighty wheels for interminable seconds then keeled over with a loud crash. Men who had been using it for cover hastily scattered.

Kleiser gritted his teeth and ran across towards the three big 88s which he had positioned close to the tunnel entrance. On both sides of him a high bank of snowy earth rose sharply and his men clung defiantly to it, returning each fusillade of Russian fire.

“Knock out that mortar battery,” roared Kleiser, ducking low as another shell exploded close-by. It struck the tunnel arch, blasting away a huge chunk of stone and earth. Above the roar of the explosion he heard screams of agony as two of his men were catapulted into the air by the force of the impact. Fragments of rock and metal rained down like confetti. The SS captain spun round to see the two men with the detonator box scurrying back up the slippery slope which led from the last stantion of the railway bridge. Beneath the bridge itself a deep gorge, fully fifty-feet if Kleiser’s calculations were correct, yawned. The only thing which connected the two sides was the bridge and, even as he watched, the leading Russian troops began to pick their way cautiously onto the metal structure, using its steel girders for cover.

Sergeant Dietz, crouched behind the MG42 tightened his finger around the trigger and sent a stream of bullets cutting into the advancing brown-clad men. They went down in heaps, their companions using their bodies as cover but, from such close range, the machine gun was lethal. Slugs ploughed through dead flesh, erupting from shattered bodies to blast holes in living flesh beyond. Dietz saw that the two men with the detonator box had been singled out by the Russian snipers and he roared at the men close-by him to cover the fleeing Germans. Dietz himself stood up, the long cartridge belt of the machine gun dangling beneath him as he fired. The MG42 roared, bright tongues of flame lancing from its muzzle and more Russians went down in the furious fire.

Kleiser himself left the 88s and scurried back towards the edge of the gorge, watching as the other two SS men ran for their lives, trailing wire behind them. One was hit in the leg, the bullet catching him just below the knee, ripping open his calf and ploughing on to shatter his shin. He screamed and went down heavily, clutching at the wound. His companion wavered for a moment but Kleiser cupped a hand to his mouth.

“Leave him,” he bellowed, his voice almost drowned as the 88s let loose. Had Kleiser taken his eyes off the fleeing German he would have seen the heavy shells speed across the gorge and obliterate the Russian mortar battery on the far side. Men and weapons disappeared beneath a screaming blanket of fire. But, the captain was more concerned with the private who was scrambling back towards his colleagues. The SS man was panting heavily, the cold air rasping in his lungs, bullets zipping past him. Behind him, his wounded companion was crawling after him, his shattered leg leaving a crimson trail on the snow-covered ground. He dragged himself for a few more yards until a well-placed Russian bullet caught him in the nape of the neck, just below the rim of his helmet. The heavy grain slug erupted from the man’s face, tearing away most of his bottom jaw in its wake. He sagged forward, limply.

“Come on,” Kleiser screamed at the second man who finally reached the cover of a half-track and threw himself down just as a stream of tracer whipped across the ground throwing up dozens of small geysers. The captain pushed the gasping SS man aside and looped wires around the two terminals on the detonataor box.

Dietz, still standing up holding the MG42, saw what was happening and called those nearby to him. Still keeping up a withering fire, they pulled back, away from the bridge. At the far end, taking advantage of the small respite, the Russians advanced, driven on by fanatical officers; many of them even reached as far as half-way before concentrated fire from the SS men on the slopes above brought them down in heaps. A huge sapper hurled a grenade as he fell, watching with satisfaction as it exploded amidst a group of retreating Gemans. Men were hurled into the air by the force of the blast, some performing bizarre swallow dives as their torn bodies flew skyward.

Kleiser looked around, checking to see that all his men were clear of the bridge. He rested both hands on the detonator, watching as more Russians fought their way across. They flooded onto it like a brown river, many almost reaching the side where the Germans were. The SS captain smiled as they drew closer, then, with a defiant roar, he pushed down hard on the plunger.

The fifty pounds of High Explosive attached to the base of the closest station erupted, tearing the metal as if it were paper. Tongues of flame rose from the searing explosion, to be followed, seconds later, by mushroom clouds of black smoke which swirled and eddied in the snow-filled air.

The bridge buckled at one end, the metal tearing itself free from the icy ground. Those Russians closest to the edge tried to turn and run but the press of their companions behind made it impossible. They could only scream in desperation as the bridge seemed to disintegrate before them. A secondary charge, set off by the initial explosion, tore what remaiend of the stantion away and many of the brown men plummetted into the gorge, their screams carried on the wind, rising above the thunderous roar of the explosives.

“Move,” shouted Kleiser and his men rose as one, heading for the krupps, jeeps and half-tracks which had been used as cover just minutes earlier. The men on the slopes around the tunnel slid down at break-neck speed and scrambled towards their appointed vehicles. Engines roared and the air was filled with a bluish haze of exhaust fumes, the choking odour mingling with that of cordite and blood. The 88s were hooked up to the back of the lead vehicles and, at an order from Kleiser, the entire convoy moved off towards the yawning mouth of the tunnel.

Angry that their foes had escaped, the Russians on the far side of the gorge seemed to double their efforts. Shells from the 45s sped towards the retreating SS men, exploding against the slopes on either side of them. One blast uprooted a tree, the thick trunk rolling downhill like some kind of battering ram. It crashed into the side of a half-track but the mighty vehicle rolled on, its tracks churning empty air as it crawled over the puny obstacle. Another shell struck the tunnel arch again and, as his own jeep passed beneath, Kleiser looked up anxiously, wondering if the entire structure was going to cave-in. Once inside the tunnel, all was darkness, the black of the SS men’s uniforms making them seem a part of the gloom. The rumble of machinery grew in intensity while, outside, shells continued to rain down. Sweating Russian gunners rammed fresh ammunition into breeches already hising with the heat of prolonged use. But, gradually, as the last of the German vehicles was swallowed up by the gaping mouth of the tunnel, the furious onslaught eased somewhat. Half-a-dozen thunderous blasts added a fitting postscript to the engagement.

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