(First three paragraphes are repeats of the last post, just to make continuity a bit easier....)
Hakkarainen had moved his Command Sika forward in the column as they moved away from the ambush site. Lammio’s joukkue was in the lead but Kariluoto’s ryhmää had gotten itself slightly disorganized as they pulled out of the ambush site and Hakkarainen had moved up, leaving Korsumaki with the log trucks and the half-tracks and positioning himself at the rear of Hietanen’s ryhmää. The Kettu’s and Bantam’s had moved out quickly, shaking themselves into column march order without any delays, and Koskela’s joukkue was once again bringing up the rear. Hakkarainen was busy checking the map as they moved out, the next objective was key, a concrete bridge across a small river that was reportedly un-fordable for kilometers either side of the bridge. It wasn’t so much the river that was the problem, as the wide swatch of swamp that lay either side, impassable for vehicles and difficult for men. Thus, capturing the bridge intact was critical to continuing the rapid advance of the 21st. “No pressure then,” Hakkarainen muttered to himself.
The Forward Air Observer was on the radio, reporting in. The river itself was small, the bridge was a solid concrete structure with a sandbagged blockhouse at either end, a guard kiosk and wooden barrier at either end of the bridge itself and something like thirty houses straggling down the road, either side of the river in roughly equal numbers. There were half a dozen sand-bagged AA positions but the FAO reported they seemed to be unaware of the destruction of the battalion that had recently passed them by. The gun crews were reportedly lazing around the guns, although the FAO did report one of them had taken a couple of shots at him when he got a little too close. A band of swampy ground a couple of hundred meters wide lay either side of the river, north and south – the only access to the bridge was down the road, which was basically a causeway across the swampy ground. The only real chance they had was taking the Russians by surprise. Hakkarainen grimaced. If the Russians clued in, that was going to cost heavily. He was about to start issuing orders when the Forward Artillery Controller came up on the RT. “Boss, got a schwarm of Tyrmääjä on tap, they just called up, can I use them to support our attack?.”
Hakkarainen smiled. He’d seen the Tyrmääjä in action once before. Just once, but that was enough to know that he didn’t want to be on the receiving end of their attacks. “Bring them in along the river from the north moving south, have them hit the Russians just as we come out of the forest,” he instructed the FAC, keeping the FAO in the net. “Ask them to do a low flyby so the men can see what they look like, most of us haven’t seem them before, don’t want to shoot at them by accident. Hakkarainen Loppu (“Out”).”
“Roger that,” the FAO responded. There was a brief pause. “They see us, doing a fly by in one minute, warning the kompannia.”
The FAO came up on the komppania radio net immediately. “All Hakkarainen elements. We have a schwarm of Ilmavoimat Tyrmääjä doing a flyby in one minute so you can see what they look like. Don’t shoot at them. Loppu (“Out”).”
Beside Hakkarainen, Linna whistled. “Tyrmääjä hei, what did we do to get so lucky?”
Hakkarainen shrugged. “Damned if I know, but never look a gift horse in the mouth.”
Overhead he heard a slow “Thwoppa …. Thwoppa …. Thwoppa…” Looking back down the line of vehicles, he grinned. “And there they are,” he said, “take a good look men, you won’t see these too often. Be happy they’re ours.
Moving up from behind, parallel to the road, just above the tree-tops and only slightly faster than the column of vehicles were four of the Ilmavoimat’s ground-attack gyrocopters, the Maataistelutykkikone (literally, "Ground Battle Gun Plane"), more usually referred to as the "Tyrmääjä" (very literally meaning "Knockout-striker!" - technically, a boxing term, it was a more than apt description of the devastating result when these aircraft attacked). They flew so close to the column that Hakkarainen felt he could almost reach out and touch them. Long and lean, a predatory look enhanced by the shark’s mouths painted on the noses with their protruding 37mm gun, he could see the multi-barreled machinegun pods, the 7.62mm Lahti-Konekivääri "Yliveto", one mounted each side of the fuselage, bombs and rocket pods under the short stub wings with their two engines, the weirdly shaped cockpit with one pilot sitting behind and above the other in front of the huge propeller that held the machine aloft instead of wings. It looked predatory, and dangerous even at its slow speed, keeping pace with the column, although he still found it hard to believe such a machine could fly without wings. Hakkarainen could see the face of one of the Pilots, turned to look at him. He waved, saw the white of teeth as the pilot smiled, gave him a thumbs up, and then the four machines banked away, picking up speed, disappearing from sight and from hearing.
“Glad they’re on our side,” Lehto muttered.
He watched the four Tyrmääjä bank away over the treetops, keeping in a tight formation. Hakkarainen too watched them for a few seconds, almost wistfully, half-wishing he was up there with them in the clear clean skies where the fighting and dying was divorced from physical proximity. But instead he was down here on the ground with the mud and the guns and the ever-present reality of blood and death. The four Tyrmääjä disappeared from sight. Hakkarainen spent the next five minutes on the radio with the joukkue CO’s, the FAO, the FAC and the Tyrmääjä schwarm leader issuing orders. The plan itself was fairly simple, as such plans should be, complexity lending itself to screwups as it does. The FAO came up on the RT. “You’re five hundred metres from the forest edge, repeat five hundred metres. Loppu.”
Hakkarainen acknowledged the FAO. Then “All Hakkarainen elements, prepare to engage. Attack plan Eemeli. Repeat. All Hakkarainen elements, prepare to engage. Attack plan Eemeli. All units Acknowledge. Hakkarainen Loppu.”
The acknowledgements came in quickly. As they did so, Lammio’s joukkue accelerated, pedal to the metal, the rest of the formation accelerated after them, pounding down the road, guns ready, adrenalin surging, hearts pounding as they approached combat yet again.
In Virtanen’s Sika, the first in the column, the very point of the Spear, Sotamie Uusitalo’ heart was pounding in his chest. He'd been taught the breathing exercise to prevent this from happening, but his training was failing him. He was new to the Komppania, a replacement straight out of training who’d joined them after they’d been pulled out of the Isthmus and were about to be trained on the Sika’s. The Newbie in the Sika, the only combat he’d seen was on the way to the front and he was very very nervous. As the loader and the “spare man”, he didn’t have anything to do yet and he was standing next to Niskala, who was on the the right-hand gun. Uusitalo was already experiencing a loss of peripheral vision, his vision narrowing, like looking through a pipe. He was starting to experience "auditory exclusion," his sense of hearing "tuned out" as his brain focused all his attention towards his vision, the brain’s primary sensory organ when bringing in survival-focused data. The front-gunner, Korpraali Niskala, was whiling away the time by passing on some wisdom from his time as a volunteer with Pohjan-Pojat in Spain. "Kyllä Newbie, you betcha," said Niskala, "I swear it's true. If ya put a coat of olive oil on your bayonet blade, then the blade won't stick in the enemy, it just slides in and out, real easy like."
"Really, Korpraali?" squeaked Uusitalo.
“Niskala,” Virtanen scowled. "How about just telling the Newbie to twist the blade as you pull it out? You think that might work too?!"
"Uhh, yeah, Kersantti, I reckon that'd work. . . ."
On the right hand gun, Järvenpää snickered audibly. He too had been in Spain with Pohjan-Pojat, the volunteers.
"Perkele, you talk some shit Niskala," he said.
"All right you lot, listen up! Look at me! Look at me, Uusitalo!" roared Virtanen, looking around at him and catching his eye. His glare was concentrated essence of NCO. "Don't let your mind wander, newbie. It's too small to be out on its own!" A ripple of nervous laughter went through the Sika, easing the tension. Uusitalo was able to shake off the spell of tunnel vision and auditory exclusion, he remembered his training and began to take slow, deep breaths. “Listen up lads, we’re going in first, those Tyrmääjä are going to start hitting on the Russkies just before we come out of the forest, get their attention, so don’t shoot until we’re on them or they start shooting at us. And when you shoot, shoot low, it’s a hot day and the heat shimmer is gonna distort their image and make it look a little higher than it really is. And some of you sorry bastards tend to overshoot when you shoot downhill." He looked at Immonen on the left-hand gun. Järvenpää snickered again, but nodded along with everyone else. Virtanen was pleased that his voice sounded calm and steady. Unlike his heart, which was pounding in his chest. Virtanen reached out for his training and breathed deeply and slowly. Just as his they had been taught back in Suojeluskuntas training. He could hear his own Instructor’s voice. "In through the nose, two, three, four. Hold, two, three, four. Out through the lips, two, three, four. Hold, two, three, four."
In extensive tests during the involvement of Pohjan-Pohjat in the Spanish Civil War, Johannes Lindberg, the founder of the Finnish military martial art, KKT (KäsiKähmäTaistelu) had discovered that the autonomic nervous system, or ANS, which controls your heart rate, perspiration, and adrenal flow couldn’t be consciously controlled. But in doing so, Lindberg had also identified that breathing is the one ANS mechanism that could be brought under conscious control. As the individual slows their breathing down, the whole autonomic nervous system, including heart rate and adrenal flow, come down with it. There's also a tendency in humans to place their breathing in sync with the person they're watching. As Virtanen took his deep breaths, Uusitalo unconsciously did so too. Virtanen’s calm was contagious and the men relaxed a little, loosening themselves up, checking their guns. Uusitalo checked the ready ammunition, making sure he had belts available for all three gun positions.
The Tyrmääjä schwarm leader came up on the Komppania radio net, working to synchronize his attack with the appearance of the Sika’s out of the forest. The schwarm had split into two pairs, one trailing the other. In the trailing Tyrmääjä pair, Pilot Officer Jorma Lahti concentrated on maintaining formation as he decreased power and dropped back, increasing the gap between his pair and the schwarm leader’s. They were flying up the river now, moving slowly, only feet above the water, the rotors lower than the treetops on either side, the engines a mere whisper of sound at low power, hands and feet working the controls as they followed the bends and turns. In the leading Sika, Virtanen had jammed himself into the corner of his Sika, binoculars held steady, scanning the area around the bridge as they burst from the trees. The Russians were as unprepared as the FAO had stated and he relayed that immediately on the radio net as they charged down the causeway at sixty kph. “No shooting until we see the whites of their eyes,” he growled into the intercom, sensing Niskala on the twin Lahti’s beside him tensing up. “Tell that to the flyboys,” Niskala growled back. Virtanen took the binoculars away from his eyes. The first thing he saw was a pair of Tyrmääjä rising rapidly from the river in line abreast, inaudible even at this short distance. The Russians must have noticed them about the same time. It was as if a stone had been thrown into a beehive. Bodies boiled upwards and outwards, leaping to their feet, running for gun positions, running for trenches and blockhouses. But the Tyrmääjä were already firing their rocket pods, the scream of the rockets and then the explosions as they hit the Russian AA gun positions, that was audible. The distinctive buzzsaw sound of the "Yliveto" gun pods firing their 6,000 rounds per minute audibly illustrated the reason why they had that particular nickname. The tracer rounds made it look like a solid stream of flame flickering out to touch the Russians each time they fired. Lines of fire walked through the Russian positions even as the rockets arrived, a deadly rain from each of the multi-barrelled machineguns mixed in with the blossoming flowers that were the rocket warheads exploding.
At sixty kph, the five hundred meters to the bridge was covered in thirty seconds of jarring pounding down the potholed road. A very very long thirty seconds for Virtanen and his men. Long enough for the second pair of Tyrmääjä to appear and work over the Russian positions with a further spray of rockets and streams of fire hosing into the Russians before they too peeled away over the treetops, staying low, leaving a lot faster than they arrived and beginning to circle back. Virtanen’s Sika was almost at the bridge, the last Tyrmääjä just peeling away as Hakkarainen’s command Sika emerged from the forest. Hakkarainen took in the situation at a glance. There wasn’t time for detailed orders. There wasn’t time for any orders for that matter. Thank God for training, Hakkarainen thought, although the thought didn’t bring any relief from the concern that gripped him as Määttä floored the accelerator to keep up with Hietanen’s ryhmää just ahead of them. The rockets from the four Tyrmääjä had destroyed most of the AA gun positions, the Tyrmääjä had almost completed circling back to the Russian positions, prepared to engage in their deadly ballet, prepared to angle down to snap out short bursts from their "Yliveto" gun pods at any surviving Russians that threatened the men in the Sikas below.
The Russians hadn’t been deployed for action. The soldiers had indeed been lazing around the blockhouses and the AA gun revetments. Lammio’s Sikas held their fire to the last moment, until they were almost on the Russians and the Tyrmääjä had banked away for the last time to circle overhead. It seemed that under the rain of fire from the Tyrmääjä, the Russians hadn’t even noticed the approaching Sikas. Whichever way you looked at it, the result for the Russians was bad. The surviving Russian’s didn’t notice the six Kettu’s fanning out either side of the road, at the edge of the forest either, or of they did, they could do nothing about them. The Kettu’s fired within seconds of stopping, pumping out 37mm AP rounds targeting the AA gun positions seconds before Virtanen’s Sika reached the Russian positions. The four 76mm guns and the two Half-track mortar carriers deployed behind the Kettus and began to set themselves up to provide supporting fire if needed. Kariluoto’s joukkue passed them by as they pulled of the road, Koskela’s bunched up tight behind, all of the drivers keeping the speed as fast as possible.
Virtanen’s Sika reached the scene of death and destruction that the Tyrmääjä schwarm had left in their wake. Bodies lay sprawled on the ground, surrounded by pools of spreading red that the earth drank up like a sponge, parts of bodies, wounded men screaming, gun positions shattered, AA guns destroyed. But still men had survived. Here and there men had reached gun positions, leapt into trenches or bunkers, other were running for cover. One soldier knelt in the open and fired his submachinegun at Virtanen’s Sika, the bullets ricocheting of the armour, some hitting the gunshields. One hit Virtanen, exploding the back of his head outwards, spraying Immonen with bits of brain and skull. Immonen, busy firing his guns, didn’t notice. Virtanen collapsed limply onto the floor of his Sika without a sound. Uusitalo looked down at him, stunned. It was the first time he’d seen death up close and personal. The Russian died a second later, cut to pieces by the 12.7mm rounds from Immonen’s guns, but it was a second too late for Virtanen, who was already dead. The Sikas of Lammio’s joukkue dealt out death wholesale to the Russian soldiers who, moments before, had been lazing in the sun. And dealing out death, they passed on, charging madly for the bridge. One of Lammio’s Sika’s was hit. Russian machinegun bullets at close range from somewhere must have penetrated the side armour. The Sika slowed, ran off the road, crashed into a house and stopped. Someone inside was still shooting, kept on shooting even after the Sika had crashed.
Virtanen’s Sika led the charge onto the bridge. Niskela had taken over command, yelling instructions even as he fired the twin Lahti’s. A Russian ran out of the kiosk at the near end of the bridge, aimed his rifle at the oncoming Sika and fired. The bullet sparked off the front armour. The gunners ignored him, busy firing at Red Army soldiers taking cover in the sandbagged revetments around the AA guns on the far side of the river. The Sika ran the Russian down, thumping into him as he tried to dive out of the way at the last second, failing, falling under the Sika which jolted as one of the front wheels passed over him. The Sika jolted again as the rear wheel went over him. Uusitalo almost fell onto Virtanen’s body, caught himself in time. Virtanen’s Sika crashed through the wooden barrier at the foot of the bridge, roared across the single lane of concrete, the rest of Lammio’s joukkue following, guns firing short controlled bursts at any Russian soldiers in sight, the twin Lahti 20mm’s hammering away at the sandbagged gun positions and at the bunkers. From their position at the forest edge, the four 76mm guns were already firing at the two concrete blockhouses. A bullet rang of the hull of Hakkarainen’s Sika as he watched Lammio’s joukkue rumble across the bridge, guns firing quick bursts. A Russian soldier ran out of the kiosk on the far side of the bridge, waving his empty hands wildly in the air. He was running towards the Sikas rather than away from them. Not that it mattered much. A burst from a machinegun cut him down before he’d taken more than half a dozen steps, throwing him to the ground in a spray of red. Just one more body among many.
Even after the pounding they’d taken and with all the fire being directed at them, the Russian resistance was growing. A Russian machinegun began to chatter from the nearest blockhouse, fortunately not doing any damage that Hakkarainen could see, although that meant nothing in the heat of battle. In a move that was as perfect as if it had been rehearsed a thousand times, one of the two attached flamethrower half-tracks roared past Hakkarainen’s Sika, treads throwing back a long roster tail of dirt and gravel, a long tongue of flame licking outwards to envelope the nearest blockhouse. The machinegun stopped. Even over the guns and the engines, Hakkarainen could hear screaming. A figure emerged, running out of the blockhouse entrance, a figure in flames, a blackened caricature of a man, running straight towards his Sika. Beside him, Salo swung his guns, fired a burst but missed. Blackened hands clawed at the hull of the Sika, scrabbled upwards, a black and featureless face, soft as a tar babies, split by a blackened opening surrounded by white teeth, screamed horribly, red cracks appearing through the charred surface, then fell away to writhe on the ground behind them, still screaming. Vanhala’s fist hit the back of Hakkarainen’s head, hard, jolting him. Hakkarainen realized he’d been screaming himself without knowing it, shook himself, shivering. “Saatana,” he gasped. “Saatana, what a way to go.” Vanhala slapped the back of his head. “Snap out of it Boss,” he growled, for just a moment he was no longer the comedian, just a soldier doing his job and making sure his officer did his.
By an effort of will, Hakkarainen did just that. His Sika was almost across the bridge by the time he’d focused back on the battle. Hietanen’s ryhmää.had passed through Lammio’s joukkue and was on the causeway heading for the forest on the far side, the rest of Kariluoto’s joukkue in hot pursuit. Koskela’s joukkue was mopping up the rear, moving through the Russian positions behind them, finishing off any resistance, clearing out any holdouts, some of the men dismounting, clearing sandbagged positions with Suomis and grenades. Lammio’s joukkue was fighting hard, meeting the most resistance, the blockhouse on the far side still had men inside and they were fighting back. Nobody could fault the courage of the Red Army soldiers. A group of screaming civilians, at least they were men and women and they weren’t in uniforms, ran out of one of the houses, straight into a burst of 12.7mm rounds that left them scattered on the ground. The 12.7mm rounds at this range simply tore bodies apart, fragmenting them in a spray of flesh and blood and bone whenever they hit. A single woman was left standing, armless, her face a mask of shock until another burst left her headless and threw her backwards onto the dirt. The Russians in the blockhouse broke as the second of the two flamethrower half tracks moved off the bridge towards them. Half a dozen of them bolted from the blockhouse, only to be cut down as they ran. A burst of flame into the blockhouse and all resistance ceased. The screaming continued for some time. Hakkarainen ignored the noise, searched the battlefield with his eyes, but Lammio had everything well in hand.
The guns died away fitfully. Kariluoto called in to report establishing a defensive perimeter inside the forest’s edge on the far side of the clear ground with no enemy in sight. Hakkarainen felt a surge of elation as he got onto the RT and released the Tyrmääjä schwarm leader, then ordered the Kettus and 76’s to move up in support of Kariluoto while Lammio and Koskela’s men conducted a sweep around each side of the bridge and secured the positions. Here and there shots rang out, grenades exploded as the men ensured positions were clear. They’d lost men earlier in the war by failing to take such precautions. A Russian soldier would hide until the last minute and then fire a round as you jumped down into a trench or peered into a bunker to check it was clear. Now, they took no chances. A grenade or a burst from a Suomi went in first, often both. Any Russian survivor (there were very few) without both hands in the air, was shot on sight. Intent to surrender had to be expressed clearly to be accepted. The rules of war on this were clear, and Finland followed the Rules of War strictly, even if the Red Army didn’t. Still, half a dozen prisoners were taken, their faces expressing the shock of survivors of the sudden and overwhelmingly violent attack. The Tyrmääjä schwarm circled their position slowly one last time, then swept off low over the trees, engines powering up as they accelerated away. Hakkarainen reported the successful capture of the bridge to Majuri Sarastie on the pataljoona net as his men were carrying out a final sweep through the Russian positions on the far side of the bridge.
“Hold in place and secure that bridge,” were his orders. “The rest of the pataljoona will move through you. Stay in place until you’re relieved. Divisoona will assign a unit to takeover, after they do, catch up with us. Sarastie Loppu.”
Hakkarainen acknowledged, passed on the instructions, instructed Lammio and Koskela to post guards, sent the two Komppania log trucks up to Kariluoto’s positions to ensure they were topped up with fuel and ammo. Even as he was on the RT issuing instructions, Autio’s komppania was already moving over the bridge. Autio gave Hakkarainen a wave as his command Sika passed by, his leading joukkue already accelerating westwards along the causeway towards the forest and the slope that marked the far side of the valley. Behind Autio’s komppania came pataljoona HQ, then the Second Company commanded by Kapteeni Helminen, then the log vehicles, half a dozen of which peeled off to join Hakkarainen’s Sika. Replenishment got underway immediately. Hakkarainen took his Sumoi from the clip inside the Sika and jumped out, walked over to join Korsumaki by the log vehicles.
Halfway over, a Russian soldier sprang upwards, seemingly from out of the ground, rifle in hand. Hakkarainen snapped into "slow-motion time" and hunter vision. Every event happened slowly and with incredible clarity. It seemed to take forever to swing his Suomi up and round. "____!" He pulled the trigger, the Suomi flashed, but he didn't hear a sound or feel the recoil. The Russian spasmed backward in his death dive, but a second came from behind the first, bayonet-tipped rifle extended and it seemed like there was all the time in the world to step aside and fire another burst, throwing the second Russian backwards. And then half a dozen of his men were there, rifles and Suomis pointing in all directions. Linna dropped a grenade into the hole in the ground the Russians had emerged from. There was an explosion beneath their feet, but nothing else, no sign of any more enemies. Startled by the close encounter, although not his first by any means, Hakkarainen looked around, taking in the carnage that surrounded them. “Make sure we do a thorough sweep,” he said to Korsumaki, who saw to it before moving on to organise the replenishment of the Sikas.
The next pataljoona, the one commanded by Kapteeni Usko Lautsalo, he whom they nicknamed “The Storm of God” began passing through, some of the men waving to Hakkarainen’s men as they passed by, an unending stream of vehicles. Hakkarainen found himself wishing he had a nickname like that, a thought that was forgotten as quickly as it occurred to him. Even as the komppania scrambled to top up their fuel tanks and replace ammunition, an AA battery pulled of the road and began to set up in the destroyed Russian positions, clearing the Russian guns out of the way, moving the bodies to one side, filling sandbags, digging in to protect the bridge from any Russian air attack. Hakkarainen’s medic was busy taking care of casualties. Virtanen was dead. So were two men in the Sika from Lammio’s joukkue that had been shot up. The bodies were wrapped up and put to one side for removal later. Three of the others were injured, an ambulance truck was called forward to take them back. Three men from the crashed Sika were untouched, Hakkarainen reassigned them. The crashed Sika wouldn’t be going anywhere fast, the radio, guns and ammo were stripped out, thrown into one of the Log trucks. Guns were stripped down and cleaned, the men working fast. An artillery battery, four of the 105’s with a long chain of ammunition trucks, joined them, swinging into position and setting up off to one side with ready ammunition. Then an infantry company, dismounting from the trucks that carried them, moving to take up guard positions on the causeway and around the bridge. A panzer pataljoona moved past, tanks, half-tracks, tracked infantry carriers, trucks, all rumbling slowly across the bridge, passing them by in a growing haze of dust and exhaust fumes. More infantry, more guns, an endless line of vehicles that never ceased. Hakkarainen worked with his men, they only stopped when a Mobile Field Kitchen unit attached to the Artillery Battery rolled up and the girls jumped out, setup and began serving food to all and sundry. Hakkarainen ordered his men to stop and grab something hot while they had the chance, who knew when the next opportunity to eat would be. After they’d eaten, they would move out. “It’s that australialainen kangaroo stuff again,” the young Lotta said apologetically as she filled his mess tin. Hakkarainen laughed.
Off to one side, Uusitalo sat staring blankly at his messtin. He was finding it hard to eat. Kersantti Virtanen was dead, in command and talking one minute, dead the next. Maybe it could happen to him. Maybe it would be him next. He shivered, wondering why the others seemed to be so unaffected. Beside him, Järvenpää stopped eating for a moment.
“Hei Uusitalo,” he said, “could have been any one of us bought it, Virtanen’s time was up, that’s all.”
He reached into a pocket and pulled out a flask, passed it to Uusitalo.
“Drink this, it’ll help.”
Uusitalo took the flask, lifted it and drank blindly, then choked and coughed and splutter, tears running from his eyes as liquid fire burned its way down his throat.
“Perkele,” he gasped when he could breathe and talk, “what the hell is that?”
Järvenpää laughed. “My Dad’s moonshine,” he said. “Keep it around for medicinal purposes don’t we Niskala?”
Niskala grimaced. “Needed a lot of that stuff in Spain, Uusitalo,” he said. “Just like now.”
Uusitalo suddenly realized it was the first time since he’d joined them that they’d called him by his name, not calling him “newbie.” He’d survived his first real battle and suddenly he felt like he belonged. He looked at the flask in his hand. Raised it.
“Here’s to Kersantti Virtanen,” he said.
He swallowed and passed the flask back to Järvenpää as the liquid fire burned its way down. Järvenpää looked at him gravely, said nothing, drank from the flask and passed it to Niskala. The flask made its way round the men and back to Järvenpää, who slipped it back in his pocket.
“Hop to eating your bloody kangaroo, Uusitalo” he said, “and stop pissing around.”
Next: The Storm of God
ex Ngāti Tumatauenga ("Tribe of the Maori War God") aka the New Zealand Army