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Ukraine, May 1942 - After weeks of bitter fighting, Russian forces of the 38th South-western Army managed to break through German defence lines to the north and south of the city of Kharkov - their objective, to remove the enemy. However, they were weary and failed, and German Commanders counterattacked. Two Russian detachments in the south became cut off, in grave danger as the Germans threatened to encircle them, their only line of communication to Soviet command lay along a narrow corridor in the vicinity of Chepel Village...
May 21st - An advanced guard of German motorised infantry stormed into Chepel and closed the corridor. Russian intelligence then reported that Germans were using Prishib railway station to unload the tanks and artillery of the 3rd Panzer Division. However most of the German crews and reinforcement detachments were due to arrive by a separate train from Kharkov and if mobilized would completely encircle and entrap the two Russian detachments.Their only hope, lay near the village of Chepel, where the Soviet 23rd Tank Corps had been involved in a week long offensive, making inroads into the German line, but with no air support they paid dearly with their own blood for every kilometre gained. The remaining troops of the 23rd Tank Corps had only a handful of operational tanks left, the final objective of securing Kharkov seemed unachievable. They should have retreated long ago as their soldiers, fuel, and ammunition were exhausted - but they knew the fate of thousands of stranded Soviet soldiers was in their hands...
After a week of bitter fighting it was a rare moment to rest for the men of the 23rd Tank Corps. Casualties were being attended to and the engineers were busy patching up the tanks that should have been decommissioned weeks ago. Despite the relative calm, save for a random crack of distant gunfire, the men were unable to rest easy. The basic training they had received several months ago could not have prepared them for the horrors they had witnessed over the past few weeks. The disquiet was soon cut short when the Brigade Commissar arrived with the grave news that the Germans had finally taken Chepel. They had spared no one, wiping out several machinegun squads who had remained steadfast as ordered. Despite the fact that the Tank Major only took orders from Command, which had been silent over the last day due to a communications failure, the Commissar persuaded him to lead the 23rd in a counter raid on Chepel. The raid was to be conducted in two stages. A small group consisting of just one tank, a handful of infantry and an APC, would attack the weaker side of the village, while the remainder of the 23rd would bear the brunt of the main defensive line...
Claiming vengeance for their dead comrades, the 23rd annihilated the defenders. The battle of Chepel was a complete success and it was back in Russian hands. Upon hearing this, the Brigade Commissar, after praising the Major and his men, informed them of some worrying news. During the raid, contact had briefly been re-established with Corps Command; before the line went dead they learnt that a staff reconnaissance plane had reported the Germans were unloading a significant amount of armor in the vicinity of Prishib train station. This was indeed dark news, and had serious ramifications for the encircled 38th South-western Army. Part of the report highlighted that curiously there were hardly any tank crews at the station, just engineers conducting the unloading operation. The Commissar regaled that it would be a glorious victory, for all of Russia, to wreck the enemy's tanks before they even saw the battlefield... After some consideration the Major again agreed to commit his men to the operation, but not because of the Commissar's promised medals. The Major was extremely brave and a true communist and would always go the extra mile to help his fellow comrades.
The 23rd left Chepel and set off towards Prishib when the column was spotted by enemy reconnaissance and soon after, several fighter-bombers were sent to their position and attacked! In spite of the panic as the bombs fell, the Major acted calmly and decisively, and ordered the column to disperse to the safety of a nearby forest - but it was too late. The radio soon died out when the Major's tank was hit and engulfed in flames. One after the other the tanks were knocked out. Once the heat from the blazing tanks had died down, two of the men wearily made their way back to the scene to look for survivors - there were none. Out of the entire platoon only two men survived. After salvaging what equipment they could, they were contemplating what to do next. Suddenly, in the distance they heard gunshots and cries of Russian voices. Upon nearing the commotion they discovered the bodies of two Russian Spetsnaz paratroopers. It looked as though the group had been ambushed upon landing. With a grim determination they were resolved to help the paratroopers, and make the Germans pay for the death of their Major...
After a bitter firefight, scores of German soldiers lay dead, final retribution for the dead Tank Major. The surviving men of the 23rd courageously rescued the remaining Spetsnaz from the ruined monastery. After patching up his wounded shoulder, they talked for some time about what to do next. The tank men concluded that there was no point going back towards Chepel, as in the Commissar's haste to send them to Prishib, he had neglected to leave anyone behind to defend the town. The Spetsnaz spoke of his squad's mission to track down and destroy a captured Katyusha. The Katyusha, due to its mobility, was a formidable new multiple launch rocket system capable of raining down hellfire on the enemy in minutes. It was technology that the Russian command did not want to stay in enemy hands. The surviving tank men agreed to help the Spetsnaz, but only ifhe could help them. They explained the details of their mission - to eliminate the German armor at Prishib. With no tanks thetask was impossible, but if they could capture Katyusha, and use its deadly payload before destroying the evidence, they could undertake both objectives at once! Despite his orders, the Spetsnaz had little choice, he needed all the help he could get and so agreed to their plan. They arrived in the small town of Balakleya, and in spite of a heavy enemy presence, managed to sneak their way towards the local train station so far undetected. The Germans were well known for their use of the local railway network to transport machinery and ordnance. The Spetsnaz explained that his squad were due to meet with a local signalman by the name of Dudkov, who it was believed had information regarding the movements of Katyusha.
After a successful rendezvous with Dudkov back at Balakleya, the team cunningly stowed away onboard a train bound for the nearby depot, and finally caught up with the Katyusha.
Just as the transport wagon entered the depot the last remaining survivors of the ramshackle team jumped from the train, and quickly and quietly made their way to some nearby cover to assess the situation. They spotted the Katyusha. The MLRS platform had been secured to a flatbed transport wagon, ready for removal; the only problem was that the wagon was not attached to a locomotive. This would need to be rectified before they could escape with their prize. To complicate maters the area was well patrolled, and well defended, by the Germans.
The surviving team members brought the engine to a halt some distance from Prishib station. Amazingly, after both the missions of the Spetsnaz team and the 23rd Tank Corps looked like ending in disaster, here he was just minutes from the German armor at the station. Despite not having any tank, he had Katyusha and her deadly payload. All that remained, was to get Katyusha into a firing position, and launch it at the Germans before destroying the platform...