Chapter 11 – The Baltic Highway
The Tsar’s need for nuclear weapons, new tanks, and new warships reflects the grand battle he sees coming soon with the United Kingdom. And with the lackluster success of Operation ZK, it is clear why the carriers are needed the most.
America, while not directly involved, flings its volunteers at the Allied nations, testing the limits of what is truly neutral or not. These piecemeal reinforcements won’t arrive for moths, and the SPaO is not overtly worried about their arrival.
On the whole, the war has taken a great toll upon the nations involved. While the Tsar’s great nation has suffered less than much of the Allies, it has still bled heavily, and many sons of Russia have laid down their lives for the Tsar. Italy, with its boondoggle of a campaign in Africa, has lost considerably more men, and the Tsar comments how the best posting for an Italian soldier is to be sent to Russia.
An American division is trapped in Northern Sweden by some of the older Land Pattern divisions, and smashed repeatedly against the shores, with no ability to escape the Americans suffer terribly, with the encirclement being firm, and unyielding, and with no hope of respite or resupply.
15th of August, 1941 – An American soldier of the European Expeditionary Force (Sweden) lies dead after his Division was encircled by the 16th, 17th, and 18th Russian Infantry divisions.
In the North, the campaign is slow, but steady as progress against the Swedes continues at a slow pace. The forests and difficult terrain make advances slow, and the Swedes are dug into every corner, nook, and cranny, and learning from the mistakes made in Iraq, Budyonny is determined not to let any of them breakout.
At sea, attempts to reinforce the Southern Beachhead are met with a resounding failure, as the Tsar is unable to defend his own ships against the Royal Navy’s Swordfish Torpedo bombers or the Heavy Cruisers of the Swedish Navy. Furious, he demands that the Naval Attache at SPaO come up with a plan that will re-open the sea route to the stranded troops.
Although the situation is grim, the Skytroopers and Guardsmen hold fast, with American and Swedish pressure building, the radio transmissions from the commanders on the ground are those of grizzled veterans of Iraq and Cyprus, determined to win, no matter the cost.
In the Baltic, the SPaO Naval Attache’s ‘brilliant idea’ is to send the Baltic Fleet back out to sea to attempt to again do battle with the Swedes, now bolstered by an increased sub-surface presence.
In other, more sane areas of the SPaO, planners begin preparations to sealift more Guardsmen to the Southern Beachhead. What is quickly becoming known as the ‘Baltic Highway’ to Skytroopers and Guardsmen alike, the route by sea is extremely dangerous, as the air is firmly in Russian hands, but the Swedes rule the waves.
Three fresh Divisons of Skytroopers are prepped for their first combat jump, to the North of Stockholm, to catch the Swedes by surprise, encircle them, and capture the capital. It is a daring move, and with the vast majority of Skytrooper veterans already in the trenches and woods of Sweden, these men are being led into battle by veterans roused out of hospitals still recovering from injuries sustained in Cyprus or the exercises leading up to Operation ZK.
Production-wise, the economy has never been stronger. Battlecruisers and Heavy Cruisers are the focus, as the Tsar wants big guns on the sea to contest the Swedish problem of Baltic sovereignty, and T-34s and BTRs are being manufactured en masse to equip the Guardsmen now being sent over the Baltic Highway.
Even while the lone American Division holds out, the 10th and 4th Corps charge down the Norwegian border, and the Swedish Army has to choose between halting advances or preventing new ones, its manpower and divisions stretched incredibly thin.
At sea – SPaO’s new naval plan comes to a head as the Swedish forces prowling the North Baltic find the Russian fleet and engage. Scattered radio messages are not enough to discern the end result of the battle to the Tsar, and information is apprehensively awaited.
Finally, the Americans are crushed, with their demise not coming soon enough. Now, the entire Baltic coast of Sweden lies open for the 4th Corps to exploit, and hopefully rush down to link up with the beleaguered comrades fighting on the Southern Beachhead.
The Tsar, as astonished as anyone else in the Imperial Palace, finally receives word of a resounding Russian Naval victory. At the loss of all 3 light cruisers, the Swedes lost 3 destroyers, 3 of their prized Heavy cruisers, and 3 of their own light cruisers. The action also sent the Swedish fleet back with their tails running. A famous photo emerges, of a Swedish Destroyer sinking, as nearly all of the casualties were inflicted by Russian subsurface forces screening the remaining Battleship. The Tsar lauds the Naval Attache, and invites him tot he palace for a grand ball to celebrate the victory.
4th of September, 1941 – Sch-129, commanded by Captain Lieutenant Grigory Pokorovich, sinks the Swedish Destroyer Stockholm in actions in the North Baltic during the Battle of the Gulf of Bothnia.
With the Swedes sent running, the command is given for a massive reinforcement wave to be sent along the Baltic Highway. However, rather than a surprise envelopment, the decision is for the green Skytroopers to reinforce their airborne comrades in the pocket at the South Beachhead.
The additional divisions are welcomed with open arms, the veteran divisions having a chance to be rotated out of the line and given an opportunity to rest.
A surprise offensive by the Swedish has the exact effect that Budyonny was trying to avoid. Russian Divisions are trapped against the Baltic, as the Americans had been before.
With a few days of rest and the ability to re-organize, the veteran 2nd Skytrooper Division leads the three newer units and are moved to the Northern Flank, where they are ordered to breakout and capture Stockholm, just a few dozen kilometers from the leading Russian trenches.
The defending unit isn’t even Swedish, rather a battered and decreipt American Infantry Brigade. The 2nd hits hard, and the few days of rest make a world of difference. Although the commander is not a Skytrooper, General Rokossovsky does an excellent job of managing the elite infantrymen. In the Air, the Russian Air Force dominates, with close air support and air strikes hammering American positions.
21st of September, 1941 – Russian Pe-2 Fighter Bombers of the 134th Attack Squadron sortie out from airfields in Estonia for strikes against American positions defending Stockholm.
The weight of the attack is pressed, and the Americans withdraw to the outskirts of Stockholm, unknowingly taking the veteran 2nd into familiar territory – fighting in urban areas.
With the success of the Swedish campaign thus far, the war is going well for the Axis, and although Hitler could be helping the Italians more, it is considered undesirable to invest so much into Africa when the Italians clearly barely have the situation handled themselves.
Budyonny resolves to pocket the Swedes that have pocketed his troops, and a massive drive spearheaded by his corp’s leading infantry divisions seeks to close the gap.
At the loss of a single new Heavy Cruiser, the Novyy Rassvet, six Swedish capital ships of varying type (from Battlecruisers to Heavy Cruisers) are smashed trying to prevent the Russian resupply convoys from reaching the Southern Beachhead. The Tsar is finally pleased at how his surface fleet is conducting itself, even if he did lose one of his newest ships.
Exhausted Guardsmen begin a small retreat, to reinforce a closing pocket near Stockholm.
The fighting for the Southern beachhead enters yet another month, as fall closes, so foes the small group of Skytroopers now within sight of Stockholm, yet much reinforced by the Swedes who realized how thin their positions were.
The overall operational situation in the North is confusing to say the least. While the Swedes have been pocketed, and without a port for resupply, the encirclement is by no means a sure thing, and the 4th and 10th Corps move to finish off what divisions they can by turning their attention from the South to driving the Swedes North, deeper into the pocket.
3 new divisions of Skytroopers are dropped after a brief jaunt along the Baltic Highway.
The Northern Pocket closes tightly, the swirl of divisions fighting in the Autumn weather confusing as Budyonny tries to create a solidified front line again.
Dire straits for some Russian divisions, as they are trapped by the sea, much in the same way the Americans before them were.
The 4th Corps on the Norwegian border however makes excellent progress however now that the Swedish are retreating, having successfully opened up a path out of the pocket.
The picture the SPaO paints for the Tsar is grim, but not without hope. As winter approaches in the cold Norther stretches of Sweden, the 4th and 10th Corps have made strong progress towards the South, however the fighting is still fierce. Victory is only a matter of time, they inform the Tsar. He tells them he wants the campaign over by Spring, or at the very least Stockholm captured.
In the air, the Russian Air Force continues to dominate as yet another ace pilot is created out of the chaos that is the skies over the Baltic.
The overwhelming problem for the Russian and Swedish forces is simply exhaustion. Both sides need to rest, reorganize, and resupply, but with the operational tempo so quick, doing so opens up oneself to the other’s counterattack, so the constant drumming of guns does not cease.
The push along the Gulf of Bothnia continues, and the first snowfalls arrive, the veterans of the Finnish campaign getting flashbacks to when they were expected to advance even though the snow was sometimes so deep they could barely wade through it. Tanks and trucks are painted white, and Russian snipers begin to change over their camouflage to the white jumpsuits often seen in the newsreels.
A renewed offensive against the Southern Beachhead fails to dislodge the Guardsmen, who hold fast in their trenches, clinging to the Earth as American and Swedish guns hammer away at their positions.
More Skytroopers are loaded into transport aircraft, as the Baltic Highway in the skies remains the safest and quickest method for landing reinforcements at the Southern Beachhead.
With all of them now in place, General Rokossovsky declares a general defensive as winter sets in, and the plan shifts from an offensive action, to one primarily to maintain and hold ground already taken. The Skytroopers across the fields from Stockholm glare at Americans and Swedes in their warm buildings, taking every opportunity they can to use snipers to kill sentries or careless smokers at night.
Another pocket is successfully created, and the Tsar comments that this time Budyonny can close it fully, unlike his own fly, implying the General’s gut is a sign of laziness and incompetence.
7 more Gurads divisions, earmarked for sealift, prepare for a winter passage along the Baltic Highway.
A British Ace is shot down by a Russian counterpart, Sergei ‘Howl’ Grishin over the Northern Swedish Pocket. This news comes as much relief to the men on the ground, as they know that at least the air force’s ever dominating presence is still there.
A month away from Christmas, and the Swedish campaign settles in for a winter. In the North, pocketed portions of the Swedish Army. In the South, pocketed portions of the Russian Army. The Tsar has made it clear, that by Spring, Stockholm will be in Russian hands, if not the entirety of the country. The SPaO plans for a major New Year’s offensive to make his wishes come to fruition.