Southern Sweden December 1998
Winter temperatures at sea level in the snowy plains of Southern Sweden were similar to those in the Italian Alps the some period of the year: absolute nightmare. Sergeant Dario Vauro could feel the effects after yet another night spent in that miserable hole that in military parlance was named an OP. The fact that he belonged to a mountain troops outfit did not detract anything from the danger caused by another night watch at the margin of the wood commanding Route 26. So far he survived those deadly nights only thanks to his winter warfare training and to the calculated risk of maintaining a fire going on throughout the night. The year before the Italian high command had sent a mountain infantry regiment (Alpini) in Sweden as requested by NATO in order to reinforce the 2nd US Marines Division already in theater. Even though there were no mountains to speak of in that strange unfamiliar country, the temperatures reminded Vauro about a hint or two regarding his training at the Scuola Militare Alpina di Aosta. The regiment or what was left of it had been dispatched south of Mariestad, a lakeside medium sized town that had not been nuked yet, differently from Skovde, thirty clicks south, which got a tactical warhead in its face for no apparent reason other than being a supply node for NATO troops. Vauro grimaced at the idea that the 8th Alpini moved out of that location only a week before it was hit.
The reason why Mariestad had not been attacked yet was straightforward: it hosted the 1st Guard Motorized Division of the Red Army, the Soviet highest card in Sweden. According to the Swedish intelligence, the Russian division was encircled and out of supply; and those were the good news. The bad news were that if that unit managed somehow to push south and reach Lake Vattern, it would in turn isolate the western troops that surrounded it and the entire NATO deployment in Sweden would be in jeopardy. As a matter of fact an elite regiment of the Swedish army manned the so called fortress of Karlsborg, keeping the gate open for all the supplies to the NATO troops deployed north of the Swedish big lakes. If this position fell, the entire 2nd US Marine Division and the majority of the Swedish home defense troops would be totally screwed. The American overall commander feared just that, and that was the reason why sent the Alpini to secure the gap. The new problem now was that with the nuclear attack on Skovde, the entire logistical situation of NATO in southern Sweden could be severely compromised.
The so called regiment, even at full pre-war strength, was actually a battalion commanded by a Colonel, a typical Italian trick to keep in service all the colonels that should have been retired already with the reduction of the force. Basically the Colonels did nothing operative, since the maneuver unit of the “regiment” - the battalion - was led on the field by the appropriate Lieutenant Colonel officer in command. But those were not times when military units were at full strength, and the 8th, in truth a glorious regiment of the Julia Brigade, was commanded by a Major and split into a recon patrol and a main body consisting of a ragtag mix of whatever had survived a year of operations with few to none replacements and only marginally better supply. In all honesty at that point in the war HQ didn’t even know if Rome was still standing or if had been turned into a radioactive pile of rubble, and the Americans didn’t know anything either. The only lucky bastards in theater who knew something were the Swedish because they were fighting in their own country but the geographical extent of the information didn’t go past a handful of kilometers around the units within radio contact. With satellites gone and air forces gone, the various armies had to resort back to the good old Mark I eyeball for intelligence and recon.
Besides Sergeant Vauro, the three men patrol which constituted the “Recon Platoon” of the 8th regiment could count on the services of Alpino Scelto (Specialist) Gregorio Rossi a gentle soul mountain trooper born and raised in the Italian Alps at the border with Austria. The third component of the gang was Alpino Luca Ottonese, a very young (20) man who joined immediately as soon as the war started. Luca was the designated sniper of the team. He was calm and collected as a sniper should be. A two times junior Italian skeet shooting champion, was assigned automatically without training and equipped with a kraut PSG-1 rifle.
Rossi emerged form the deep of the woods, his white striped camouflaged Beretta resting barrel down along his chest, and walked towards the OP where Vauro was waiting for him. Rossi’s helmet strapped to his side clanged noisily against the rest of his combat gear while he instead wore a wool fisherman black hat on top of his white sky mask, which totally defeated any camouflage purpose of the mask. The baggy snow cam BDU made him look like a downsized Michelin man while he walked towards his commander. Vauro looked at him with a disappointed expression, while he proceeded to sling his carbine along his side.
“Will you fix that fucking lid of yours Rossi? You sound like a goddamned mobile hardware store.” exclaimed the sergeant a huge cloud of condensed air leaving his mouth.
“Sorry Sergeant but we didn’t see a soul around here in weeks. I thought the danger of giving out our presence was only marginal.”
Vauro limited himself to another dirty look a his subordinate before leaving the OP in his hands.
“Watch out for any sign of enemy movement. There is an entire fucking heavy division of Reds camping three kilometers north and if it moves down we don’t have a lot of time before they are deep up our asses. So keep your eyes open and run to me immediately if you see something.”
“Check Sir!” you can go to take your rest Sir.
“It’s weapon maintenance routine Rossi, rest will come later.”
Vauro started to walk in the snow towards the interior of the scout position where the VM-90 was located and camouflaged in the woods. Approaching the position he could appreciate the fact that Alpino Ottonese was awake and alert. Vauro heard the mechanical noise of a bullet being chambered in a heavy rifle.
“Stop where you are and give me the password.”
“Come forward slowly and identify yourself”
Vauro complied with the regular procedure.
“When are the Russkies going to decide to start playing again, skipper” asked the soldier, who was already starting to disassemble his weapon in order to perform the weekly maintenance routine.
“I hope never Luca. I am so comfortable and cozy here, and I really hope that this war ends before I have to be engaged in another fight. The one in September has been more than enough for me.” Vauro climbed on the front passenger seat of the VM and started as well to disassemble his SCP-70. While he was removing the barrel the vehicular radio begin to crackle.
“NIBBIO 17, MANGUSTA speaking...radio check over.”
“MANGUSTA we copy 5 by 5...any news over?”
It was Major Siviglia commander of the regiment.
“Negative NIBBIO, the yanks jar heads say that they can’t resupply us, route 26 being flooded with refugees from Skovde. Also they lack sufficient NBC suits to run a regular logistic route up to us. Seems like the town’s been hit with a 3 digit nuke and mostly leveled. Probably an IRBM. There are only a bunch of survivors in the suburbs and they are clogging route 26 direction south. The Americans estimate lethal levels of gamma rays in a 1.8 clicks radius. Logistic convoys around the town are a big no no.”
“Roger that MANGUSTA. What are the orders for us over.”
“Let me get sorted out here NIBBIO. We might study an alternative route to withdraw south. We don’t have a clear picture yet of all the cities that have been hit. But the traffic on the Yank and on the Swedish frequencies has been pretty hectic. I suspect that many major centers have been hit and you don’t need to understand Swedish to figure that out.”
“Are you thinking about a redeployment Sir?”
“I’m certainly hoping that Division comes to its senses and gives us permission to evacuate. If they can’t resupply us, I don’t see the point of keeping us here over.”
“What if they don’t over?”
“I will evaluate to act at my discretion, but you didn’t hear that NIBBIO.”
“Roger that MANGUSTA. Any other specifcic order for us?”
“Keep your eyes open over and out.”
The 8th Alpini regiment salutes the Swedish flag upon its arrival in theater