Last Stand in Bucharest
June 21st, 1941
2338 Hours Local Time
Bucharest was burning, the heat and smoke and light of the multiple fires lending a surreal feeling to the night. The contrasting shadows and brightness among the rubble alongside the Calea Victoriei were macabre, and a nearly unendurable stillness assaulted the soldiers stationed in the ruins of the Central Post Office. The turn of the century French-influenced edifice had been smashed with dozens of shell hits and near-misses, chunks gouged out and smashed down to the street below, but it still stood and it was where a company of the Guards division had decided to stand and die. Senses heightened by their impending mortality, the Rumanian soldiers were reaching a decisive point in the balance between heroic courage and desire for self-preservation. Their grim sergeants looked knowingly at the average men, and patted their machine-pistols, and remained silent.
The high-pitched whistle of an incoming bombardment diluted the tenseness of the moment, as the men hastily sought cover or tried to dig themselves in even deeper. Some sheltered behind redoubts made up of piled corpses, whether clad in the light brown of the Rumanian army or in the dove-gray of the Janissary troops; the presence of the latter being the result of an earlier attempt to storm the office that had been forced back with ruinous losses. A series of explosions rang down along the avenue, with light and heat sudden flaring amid the glows of the burning fires, chewing up concrete in the roads and sending fragments of brick and marble sleeting through the air. Only a couple of men unlucky enough to be directly under the impact point of the shells outside the building were killed outright, but the deadly shrapnel wounded many others, and they cried out pitifully into the night. The Draka were firing off their largest field howitzers, but they had worked the area over thoroughly before, and the unwounded men knew to keep their cool under the bombardment. Fleeing, after all, meant more exposure to the shell fragments than staying put did, and there remained those grim sergeants with their machine-pistols. They were also heartened perhaps by the example of their commander, no mere arrogant fop like most of their officers, standing out beside the door, visible as the flames from a nearby fire sparked upward.
Captain Florian Dodrescu grinded his teeth as a fragment whizzed past his head, striking into the formerly ornate door frame. His command post was in the basement of the building, but it was of little enough use now. This was a fight to the death on a tactical scale without any communications with higher headquarters or any assets that were not within the distance of unaided eyesight. He had around eighty or so men left, a couple of old Schwarzlose machine guns deployed to cover both ends of the boulevard, two modern ZB 1930 light machine guns of Czech manufacture, some completely worthless Polish anti-tank rifles, and most precious of all one of the new 57mm anti-tank guns concealed in an elaborately prepared position amid a bunker of rubble in what used to be the west wing of the Post Office. The Post Office itself was a decent strong point, and from it the entire Calea Victoriei could be dominated, with any luck delaying the Drakan progress through the city. They could swing around his position, and probably already had, but Victory Avenue was named for the triumph against the Turks that had made Rumania into a nation and it would be defended to the last. He was grimly resolved of that, at least.
The barrage ended in minutes. A minor hurricane bombardment, as he had predicted. What came next was the real problem. The Drakans were getting ready to send in a Hond. The armored monster itself was unseen, would be until it turned the corner and was illuminated by the same fires lending the sky an orange and smoky hue, but its menacing growl was blaring down the lines. If it had been an assault to be spearheaded by Janissaries the barrage would have been kept up until the lead elements were right on top of his men, but this would be a Citizen unit, and they would never risk their own precious hides with a creeping barrage. No, they were going to send in some armor to provide cover and gun support to shock troops who would try to take the buildings on this row. Dodrescu smiled at that; at least he had been enough of a problem to make the Drakans decide to deal with him personally instead of sending their slave soldiers.
He would have smiled even more if he had known that the combat for control of the city had so ground down the frontline Janissary formations that the Drakan Strategios in charge of taking the Romanian capital had had no choice but to commit Citizen forces to clearing out the last resistance in the city. That was bound to be costly in lives Archona cared about, but at this point time was of the essence, if the Drakans were to eliminate the Romanian forces in Walachia before Soviet forces could be mobilized and reoriented to deal with the new avenue of Drakan advance. Captain Dodrescu’s counterpart among the Snakes was none too happy about any of those considerations, but she had her orders and knew full well the strict timetable the Drakan force was operating under, which is why she sent a Hond barreling down the avenue in advance of the main body of the infantry troops assigned to clear the strongpoint. It was a gamble and against the doctrinal playbook of the Drakan military, but time was of the essence and the tank was nearly invulnerable to anything the Rumanians had. If they opened fire it would only pinpoint the locations of the surviving Rumanian heavy weapons and make the job of the infantry that much easier.
Dodrescu was not as dismayed as might have been thought by his Drakan enemies, and was rushing down towards the gun pit as the Hond entered the avenue, a dim, shadow-seeming bulk of menace. His men were obeying orders not to fire at the construct. The interior of the Office shook as the tank put a round into the most imposing building on general principles, it being unlikely that he could see much of anything under the circumstances; and Dodrescu thanked God and the Frenchman who had designed the Post Office for its sturdiness. It was a long run through broad rooms that had once been filled up with post officials sorting through countless packages and envelopes, and which were now completely empty and as often exposed to the outside through shell-holes. The gun bunker was one of the rooms at the front of the building that had been hit repeatedly and which had thusly caved in entirely. The opportunities of that were not lost on Dodrescu when he had retreated his company into the position, and the lone anti-tank gun they had was quickly and efficiently sited in that rubble. They didn’t have much ammo, and the trained gunners were dead, but then Dodrescu intended to use it at a range where aiming would only be perfunctorily necessary.
The sergeant he had put in charge of the gun, Constantin, saluted as he entered the “room”. “Sir, the gun is loaded and ready.”
Dodrescu looked outside as the lumbering Hond approached, occasionally stopping to fire on the upper levels of the building, but it was buttoned up and there was no way that the crew inside had anything like a real view of the area. Still…
“Excellent work sergeant, and you and the crew are to be commended. Just wait until that tank comes rolling by this position, and let him have it.”
The sergeant nodded in acknowledgement. Not much else the crew could do anyway. “Where are the infantry? They should have some of their precious Citizens out there following along it.”
The captain shrugged at the question. “I have no idea, but it’s a lucky enough break. They don’t know we have any anti-tank assets except the rifles, and they hold us all in contempt anyway. But let’s not look at this gift too carefully…”
The tank was rolling by, an solid, slab sided mass that caused Dodrescu’s bile to rise in his throat as his reptilian brain reacted to his instinctual fear, and then he dropped his hand, giving the signal to fire.
The noise was louder than he expected, and it was a bit of shock going off so near by, and his night vision was ruined by the flash out of the gun barrel. The Czech gun fired a necked-down 75mm armor-piercing cartridge, giving it a great deal of power for it’s size, and the velocity of the shell exiting the barrel was much greater than some of the larger pieces. The gun was less than thirty meters from the tank when fired, and it tore through the side armor of the Hond, even as the tank lurched forwards and seemed to rock with the impact to one side. Thin, nearly invisible white smoke billowed up from the hole in the machine, and armored hatches came off as the Drakan crewmen tried to escape the tank. They were gunned down by a hail of fire from the Post Office and from administrative buildings directly across the avenue. The few sharpshooters he did have, equipped with the older Mannlicher rifles, opened up on the Drakan squads massing down the avenue as they were able to get a fleeting sense of movement. So did the Schwarzlose machine guns, a sound some long-serving veterans would have heard in the First World War, but rather more welcome this time.
Draka forces opened up with their lighter weapons in response, the small bullets having a much sharper report than the aging guns of the Rumanian forces. The Drakan assault force was advancing by leaps and bounds, using debris in the streets gouged out from buildings along the street by their artillery to duck behind after a short run covered by fire from their comrades, aided by the inability of the Rumanians to see them clearly. There was nothing exceptional about their advance or tactics, and if anything the Draka were slower and more cautious than their Rumanian counterparts would have been. They had seen the price paid for carelessness and audacity by their fellow Drakans in the Hond, and not even the violently expressed rants of their senior officers were going to get them to pay the price to rush the buildings and clear them quickly. This was supposed to be Janissary work, after all, and Citizens valued their own lives highly; but if it was a textbook cautious advance it was also an exceptionally well done advance, the Draka using their superiority in individual firepower to telling effect in suppressing even the slightest fire. The machine guns were harder to deal with, as their crews did not expose themselves, instead firing into pre-plotted kill zones, and the Drakan infantry was not close enough to lob grenades at them while artillery was out of the question now that the attack had begun. The roar of another huge engine was heard over the din of battle, as the Drakan commander committed another valuable Hond to provide support to her infantry.
Dodrescu swore at the machine under his breath. “Another tank, sergeant. Do what you can.”
Constantin looked glum. “They know we’re here now,” he stated reservedly. “We’ll do what we can, sir.”
The captain nodded, and then saluted. “Good luck, Constantin. I’m returning to the command post. They’re probably attacking us from behind right now. Once you use up your ammunition, or if the position is about to fall, spike the gun and try and get out if you can. If you can’t…” He shrugged.
As he left, he heard the sergeant issuing orders to turn the gun around so it would have a wider angle of fire. It would also be more exposed, but it was a direct fire artillery piece and they did have a precious four shells of high explosive ammunition for the gun. Those would let it deal with any infantry trying to clear out the gun or provide support to the buildings down the street. Dodrescu wanted to urge them on, wanted to inspire them, but…
There was nothing more to say. Everybody had known going into the battle that they would be spending their lives to buy time for the government to evacuate, and they were spilling their blood to preserve the honor of the nation. Dodrescu would not escape. At the last he would lead a rearguard or some sort of fatal counterattack to buy time for escape attempts; he wasn’t sure of the details, and he doubted any of them had a chance, but that was up to God now.
A Rude Awakening
June 22nd, 1941
0116 Hours Local Time
There had been a load roar, a flash of light and a burst of heat and then blackness. Sergeant Constantin Mihnea opened his eyes, and coughed up dust and soot. He felt a pressure on his back, and realized he was prone and covered with fragments. He tried to push himself up but collapsed back on the rubble-strewn floor as he felt a sharp sting in his left arm. He saw some more movement out of the corner of his eye, but it was too dark to tell if it was a comrade or one of the Drakan bastards. Then he felt the load on his back lightening, and finally being lifted off him altogether, collapsing onto the floor at his side. He squinted his eyes, trying to clear them again of the dust of battle.
“Sergeant Mihnea, can you get up?” There was an insistent, stressed quality to that voice. He recognized it as being from one of privates serving as a loader on the anti-tank gun.
“Yes, yes” he replied. “Give me a hand up, Fruntas Vadim.” Mihnea reached his uninjured right arm up, and felt the strong grip of the other man. He hoisted himself up using the leverage the other man provided, wobbling a bit on his legs as he caught his balance. He looked around, sight gradually adjusting to the macabre scenes of flashing flame and night darkness, with rubble and bodies strewn all over the area. Private Vadim looked unhurt, but weary and anxious, his light brown uniform covered in a grey dusting of pulverized brick, smashed marble, and dirt. Looking behind he saw another body crushed under some rubble, a pool of blood settling underneath; he was certainly dead.
“Private Stolojan, Sergeant. He didn’t make it,” Vadim explained, a bit superfluously. “You had disabled the gun and we were retreating into the building when one of those Snake tanks rolled by. Mihai was killed, Privates Ilioescu and Bratianu went with Corporal Jonker to reinforce the command post. We’re all that’s left in the area now, I think. Snake patrol passed by about ten minutes ago, but they hurried away when the Captain fought his way to the position at the end of the avenue.”
Constantin shook his head, clearing away the remains of his confusion. The position was overrun, although the Captain might be holding out in Victory Plaza itself. He felt for his sidearm and was reassured to find the Italian Beretta pistol there. He saw no trace of the Orita submachine gun that he had before falling down, however. Corporal Jonker had probably taken it with him. The rifle of Private Stolojan was also not around. Constantin swore; Vadim had his rifle, slung over his shoulder with the Guards issue leather strap, but he himself had only a puny pistol.
A sudden, violent crack of gunfire then exploded into a prolonged series of shots and was then drowned out by the rapid fire of a machine gun, and a number of explosive bursts. It was coming from that far end, and Mihnea knew it could only be the Captain’s last stand. That left one last order for him, to try and get out, if he could.
“Private, that is the Captain buying time for us. And whoever else is left in position to try and escape. I am going to get out of Bucharest, or die trying. You are with me.”
Vadim flinched, but assumed a military posture. “Yes sir. If there are any other stragglers nearby I do not know of them, but the Snakes at least haven’t started sweeping back by here. The back entrance of the Post Office should be clear for now.”
“Let’s go out that way, then,” Mihnea agreed.
They walked through the ruined building, stepping around the scattered furnishings and equipment of the rooms, around the piles of material blown in from shell-holes in the roof, at last reaching the small staff-exit where postmen would previously have come to pick up loads for their rounds. Outside was more rubble, flames burning the houses and buildings of the opposite row, and a number of abandoned automobiles and a gutted Romanian VR-35 tank destroyer. Constantin remembered that tank, an abortion of an obsolete French chassis and an obsolete German 50mm anti-tank gun, and how a Drakan dive-bomber had smashed it to pieces outside the Post Office after it had made its way half-way across the city to join the Guards division remnants. He shrugged; it would have been no match for a Hond anyway. At least he could kill a Snake as easily as the Snake could kill him, the poor bastards in the Rumanian tank units didn’t have a chance against Citizen armor.
He motioned over to it, ordering Vadim to follow him to cover behind it. As they crouched behind the frame, a Drakan patrol came into sight on the other side of the street. Only four men, Citizens by the look of them; the dove-grey uniforms of the Janissaries would have been easier to see, and Mihnea fancied that the Janissaries looked and smelled like apes even at that distance. These Citizens seemed distracted with each other, talking rapidly and loudly in their barbarous language, with peels of occasional laughter ringing through the hellishly illuminated night. Vadim asked him what the Draka were saying.
“How the hell should I know, Private? Do I look like a rich Jew to have my parents spend money for a tutor of languages?” he snapped. “Those Draka have an accent that’s to English like how those sheep-fucking Bessarabians talk is to Bucureşti speech, or so the Captain said. The Captain did have a language tutor, not that he was a filthy Jew, so I expect he knows about that. It would fit, everyone knows the Snakes and Bessarabians both love to be buggered like sheep.”
Fortunately the Drakans were too absorbed, and noticing the slightly tippling walk of one of them, perhaps too drunk, to actually perform their duty. They weren’t part of the assault group and the city had more or less fallen, so they could enjoy themselves. They would drink a little alcohol; maybe find a good looking woman or a pretty buck to mount…
Mihnea observed them discretely over the top of the tank wreck, all the while trying to figure out what to do next. He was trying to get out of Bucharest and into the countryside. The southern half of the city was pretty much overrun, with the Cotroceni palace being used as the headquarters of the Drakan force overrunning the city. Northeast would be the best way if he was to regroup with any units pulling out of the city, but Mihnea doubted that any existed and the government had left that way on the route to Brasov. That left northwest.
“Private, we’re getting out of the city by way of the old Jewish cemetery. We’re on Sevastopol, we have to parallel the Boulevard Ion Michalache to the outskirts of the city. We can hide in the villages outside and make our way north to Transylvania, or try and join a band of franc-tireurs.” Constantin didn’t wait for the private to acknowledge; with the patrol know passing out of sight, he started sprinting over to the next “cover”, a pile of rubble down the street. Vadim was covering him with his rifle, advancing slowly in the shadows in case any Draka chanced upon them. They advanced like this, cautiously from cover to cover, shadow to shadow, rather like rats in a well-kept house; but the Draka were, for the most part, nowhere to be seen in force. With Constantin leading the way, a couple of hours of careful advance had seen them halfway towards the old Jewish cemetery and freedom.
They were resting, taking a break from the pace of their advance, when they heard screaming coming from a nearby alleyway. They weren’t yet in the old Jewish settlement. The nearby houses were lower class apartments, serving the industrial workers and menial laborers of the capital, near enough to the villages outside the city to allow seasonal migration of peasant labor. Vadim nudged his Sergeant; “Sir, that was a Romanian shout. We should check it out.”
Constantin sighed. If anything went wrong, if it was Snakes and they had to shoot their way out, more like than not both of them would be dead by the end of the night. “Carefully, private. Don’t shoot, period, unless shot at. Now follow me.”
He moved silently to the corner of the alley; here, there was no power and all the houses were covered by blackout curtains, so there was only the light of the moon. Mihnea peered around the corner, his eyes trying to make out the scene before him. It was simple enough of one. Two men around, one obviously holding something down, the other kneeling down in front of him, with a great deal of thrashing coming from the floor. That scream had clearly been feminine, the men had stocked their guns by the other end of the alley, and the second man had his pants down. It did not take a genius to figure out what was going on.
Constantin turned away from the scene, glancing behind at Private Vadim. “Two of them”, he whispered. “Do you have your knife?” Mihnea, of course, had a knife tucked away in a strap on his leg, and reached down to recover it. He could only use his right hand for combat, but they should have surprise.
Vadim pulled out his bayonet. “This should do, Sergeant.” Constantin nodded; it would.
“We go slowly, no matter what,” he ordered. “Get to that trash pile out in front of them, I follow. You take the one holding the girl down, I’ll take the one without his pants.”
The Drakan soldiers, these clearly Janissaries, were clearly getting into the act and not paying attention to anything around them. It was foolhardy at best, but they knew there were other patrols and assumed that any attack would come with plenty of time to reach fighting trim again. They were also with a Citizen, who was upstairs indulging his own pleasures; and everyone knew that attacking a Citizen would bring harsh repercussions. The city had fallen, and the Draka were Lords of the Universe, and they were just enjoying themselves as their masters allowed them to.
Thus it came as something of a shock when the two Romanian soldiers sprang up with sharp knives in hand out from behind the pile of trash. Vadim had left his rifle behind it, but the long bayonet had plenty of reach, and was buried in the stomach of the first Janissary before he had time to even let go of the woman. His screams of agony were cut off by the hand of the burly enemy soldier clamping down over his mouth as the other brought the bayonet out of his gut and jammed it into his throat. The other Janissary, absorbed in his rape of the Romanian woman, had no time to register anything before Mihnea had grabbed him by the head with the otherwise useless left arm and ran the knife deep into the flesh of his neck. Both Janissaries were dead in minutes.
The now blood-soaked woman screamed again, hysterically. Vadim tried to help her up, but she was sobbing and thrashing without control. Mihnea dragged the body of the dead Janissary out of her lap, taking off his coat and putting it around the woman’s back. She seemed to calm down after a minute, finally being able to speak. “My son, the Draka took my son! Upstairs, in the apartment! He’ll…” At the prospect of the foul Drakan practices her mind once more shut down, breaking into a merciful thoughtlessness as she began sobbing uncontrollably once again.
“You stay here, with her,” Constantin told Vadim. He pulled out his pistol in his right hand. “If you hear gunfire, get her up and run.”
With that, Sergeant Mihnea entered the ground floor of the modest apartment. Cheap furniture was tossed around or torn to flinders. He heard sounds of pleasure coming from the flat room upstairs, and his stomach reflexively pushed up bile. No time. He ran up the rickety iron stairs, and was up at the open door in a single bounding step.
There was a white Drakan, clearly a Citizen, laying naked on the bed. There was also blood everywhere, and an unmoving little boy on the center. There was no thought possible under the blinding rage felt by the sergeant. He advanced to the bed, full of hatred and murderous intent; the shocked Citizen bolted upright, and struck out at Mihnea with some sort of long dagger or short sword, but the Sergeant evaded and grabbed the Drakan’s arm with his left, while he raised the pistol clenched in his right fist and clouted the Snake on the head with it. He put the gun beside the Drakan’s head, which caused the man, no, the beast to cease a struggle. Mihnea took up his dagger, or whatever it was, in his left arm and examined the body.
Mihnea did wretch at that point. The boy was dead, of course. The things the Drakan pervert had done with him beforehand were obvious, and revolting. The creature gave a sickly, wan smile, and babbled some in his barbaric dialect. There was haughtiness to his voice, an arrogance that came across the language barrier. How dare some non-Drakan question his rights of life and death, his use of inferior property! Mihnea clouted him with the pistol again, then plunged the dagger into the stomach of the Snake. He screamed and wiggled against the blade, and Mihnea pulled it out again, only to unman the creature in his final moments. Constantin stuffed the severed genitalia into the man’s screaming mouth, and then finally slit the Snake’s throat to end the struggle.
He walked out of the apartment covered in blood, downcast, without speaking. He shook his head at Vadim’s questioning look. The woman burst out into sobbing again, but got up and made to enter the apartment. Constantin blocked her.
“You shouldn’t go in there. No mother should see such things,” He insisted.
She collapsed against him, sobbing on his shoulder. “I told him to take me, take me. Dear God, why? Why?!”
Constantin’s face hardened. “God has nothing to do with this. These Draka are satanic. We have to get out of here, and now. They will come by. One of their precious Citizens is dead on a raping expedition. There will be retribution. We are leaving for the villages on the outskirts. Will you follow?” he asked.
“I want to die,” she said, sickly. Then she glanced over his shoulder at the dead body of one of the Janissaries. “These bastards! These bastards! They took my son! I want to kill them all…” Her voice was flat, utterly exhausted, and inhuman.
Mihnea was, to put it mildly, skeptical. And the woman would be a burden, a hindrance. But they couldn’t leave her here, not after tonight. “Then we go. The Jewish cemetery is ahead, then we can follow the road out of town to the nearest village.” Mihnea took her hand and allowed her to lean on his shoulder for support. “Now, you must keep up, we have a while to go yet…”