From the author: During the 1940 invasion of France, a reconnaissance group from Rommel's 7th Panzer Division finds more than they bargained for in the village of Anjou. Strange science now pits them against enemies from the primordial past. A story written in the style of the classic pulps.
The Lost Blitzkrieg
C. L. Werner
The sound of heavy branches sighing in the wind bestowed a welcome tranquillity to the landscape. It was a comforting, reassuring melody as timeless as nature, as universal as sun and moon. It was music that might be heard in the depths of the Black Forest or deep in Soviet Siberia or even in the frontier wilds of America. It was the simple, normal sound of life itself.
Hauptmann Axel von Preis stared up at the gently swaying branches of the trees. Idly he wondered how old they were, when they had been planted in such orderly ranks along either side of the road. Had they been there, he wondered, when Napoleon had sallied forth with his armies to conquer all of Europe?
The thought brought an uneasy twinge to the captain’s smile. His fingers tightened around the lip of the armoured hatch hanging open beside him. Hurriedly he drew his eyes away from the trees, chiding himself for even so momentary a distraction. He was a German officer, trained by the most modern and professional army in the world. There were men depending on him to lead them. As he would tolerate no breech of discipline from them, so he had no forgiveness for himself. A moment’s inattention might doom them all!
"Forwards," Axel growled down to the crew in the panzer below. A tinny ‘jawohl’ drifted up to him. With a belch of smoke and bone-shaking rumble, the Panzer II’s diesel engine sent the armoured giant lumbering down the road. Like some primordial brute, the steel behemoth prowled along the tree-line, searching for prey.
Axel’s unit was an advanced scouting element of the 7th Panzer Division under Generalmajor Erwin Johannes Eugenes Rommel. The blitzkrieg against France had started only days ago, yet already the division had penetrated farther into enemy territory than anyone had dared imagine. The River Meuse was behind them, the whole of France lay before them. The French Army, that formidable leviathan of men and guns, had been helpless before the machines of the German Wehrmacht. The panzers had smashed through French positions with almost contemptuous ease, devouring vast swathes of countryside as the enemy broke and fled. The biggest threat to their advance, so far as Axel could see, was the timidity of the German High Command who at any moment might order the panzers to hold their position. Indeed, Rommel was so wary of the potential for meddling by generals back at headquarters that he had imposed strict controls on radio transmissions in order to feign communication problems should the order to halt be issued. Already, Axel had heard that the 7th was being called Gespensterdivision – the Ghost Division – because nobody at headquarters knew where the panzers would turn up next.
Axel watched as the trees gave way on one side to expose a line of fields broken by stone walls and shallow ditches. He gave a shout of alarm to the rest of his column when he saw the crouched figures in their dark brown uniforms along one of the ditches. Just as the distinctive rattle of a Fusil mitrailleur machine gun sounded from across the field, Axel dropped down from the cupola, pulling the hatch close behind him. He could hear the bullets slamming against the hull of his tank. Against some of the heavier French guns, the armour plate of the Panzer II would be ineffective, but at such range the FM 24/29 lacked the power to penetrate. Even so, Axel was taking no chances that the French didn’t have an anti-tank rifle lurking in wait for his column. Grabbing the radio phones from his panzer’s radioman, he snapped orders across the tactical band of his vehicles transmitter.
"Ernst, bring Onkel Otto to point! Snail-eaters on the left flank!"
There were four panzers in Axel’s armoured reconnaissance company, his own Panzer II, a pair of Panzer IIIs and Onkel Otto, a hulking Panzer IV with armour three times as thick as that protecting the Panzer II and a main gun with twice the range and striking power. Axel had already seen firsthand how difficult it was for their enemy to pierce the thick skin of the Panzer IV. Unless they had one of their heavy Souma tanks available to them, there was little threat the French forces could offer Onkel Otto.
Through the view port inside his panzer, Axel watched as Leutnant Ernst Hirtschold brought his machine roaring down the side of the road, its treads churning the edge of the field into mush. The machine gun mounted in the Panzer IV’s hull snapped into life, answering the fire from the French position. The mammoth 75mm gun lobbed a high-explosive shell near the ditch, spraying the position with clumps of dirt. The French retaliated with a vengeance, the entire position training its weapons against their tormentor. But there was little rifles and a light machine gun could do to stop Onkel Otto.
The Panzer IV sent another shell screaming towards the enemy. This time the shell landed in the ditch, hurling shattered bodies skywards as it exploded. A few French soldiers instantly broke and ran, others stubbornly maintained their position. One valiant man charged from the ditch, a grenade clenched in his hand. It was a bold but futile gesture. The machine guns from the Panzer IIIs cut him down before he had covered more than a few meters. Like some sardonic punchline to a cruel joke, the unused grenade exploded beside the ragged corpse.
The third shell Onkel Otto fired into the French silenced their machine gun and sent a half-dozen bodies tumbling through the air. It was the final straw for the enemy soldiers. Twenty men lunged up from the ditch, some of them throwing down their rifles as they fled across the fields and tumbled over the low brick walls. Axel didn’t blame them for their rout. From the first they had been betrayed by the tactics of their commanders, old men who thought they were still fighting old wars. A static position was no defence against the weapons and machines of this new, modern war.
"Do we pursue, Hauptmann?" the eager voice of Ernst crackled across the radio.
Axel watched the fleeing soldiers. "No, we’ve knocked the fight out of them. Our orders are to scout the terrain ahead. I’ve no great need to shoot men in the back." The surly ‘jawohl’ that answered him told Axel that the reprimand hadn’t gone unappreciated.
Bloodlust such as that displayed by Ernst was an alien thing to Axel. A soldier should be professional, should fight because it is his duty, should kill because it is his job. To take any pleasure from killing – it seemed perverted. He wondered at the hate and vindictiveness, the raw savagery in such an urge to kill. How much of it had grown from the humiliation of Versailles, the long decades of French dominance over the Fatherland? How much of it had been drummed into the impressionable minds of German youth when the Nazis had taken power and swept away that French domination? Axel didn’t know and thought it was better not to know. The Wehrmacht might protect its own from the Nazis, but every officer had family who didn’t have the protection afforded by a field grey uniform. At least he could console himself that whatever viciousness the Nazis had drummed into the youth of Germany, it was still subservient to the discipline instilled in them by their military training.
"Ernst, maintain the point," Axel said. He studied the map of the area they had been given at the start of the campaign. Peering through the viewport he compared the features around them with those marked on the map. "We should be near the village of Anjou. The crossroads the Generalmajor needs us to scout are two kilometres beyond."
At his command, Axel’s armoured reconnaissance company resumed its interrupted drive across the French countryside. Four panzers, a pair of half-tracks filled with hardened panzer-grenadiers and an armoured radio car, he could easily appreciate the imposing sight they made as they rumbled past the little farms lining the road.
As the Germans neared the village of Anjou, however, it was their turn to face an imposing sight. Just as the cobbled streets and tile roofs came into view, a brilliant blue flash filled the sky with such violent intensity that for a moment Axel was blinded. The confused chatter erupting from the radio told him that the other crews had been similarly affected.
"The Frenchmen must have blown up a power generator," Axel told his men, blinking his eyes as the after-image of the flash slowly faded from his vision. It was a reasonable explanation, but he was troubled by the total silence of the scene. By rights they should have easily heard any explosion that could produce such a light.
With his vision restored, Axel opened the hatch and lifted himself into the cupola. Twisting around to face the rear of the column, he gestured to the squad commanders in the half-tracks, giving them orders to deploy their men. In open country, the panzer was supreme but in the close confines of a village they depended upon the extra eyes and extra guns of infantry to keep them safe. With almost machine-like precision, the panzer-grenadiers dropped down from their transports and fanned out, each squad taking up position behind one of the panzers.
Onkel Otto lurched into motion once more, rumbling towards Anjou, the panzer-grenadiers following close behind like so many grey ducklings huddled behind their mother. As they drew near to the village, a French officer appeared on the street, a white flag waving from his hand. Feldwebel Knoechlein scurried out from behind the protection of the Panzer IV, his machine pistol held at the ready, his eyes scanning the nearby windows and rooftops for any sign of treachery.
The French officer continued to advance, waving the white flag of surrender. Knoechlein took the flag from the officer and after frisking the man for weapons, conducted him into the care of his squad. Hastily, Knoechlein rushed back towards Axel’s Panzer II.
"Hauptmann, the French wish to surrender the village to us!" Knoechlein reported.
"Tell him to assemble all of his men in the town square," Axel said. "And warn him that we will tolerate no further acts of demolition or sabotage," he added thinking of the blue flash that had preceded their arrival.
Axel watched from the cupola of his panzer as Knoechlein’s troops disarmed the thirty French soldiers that had been charged with defending Anjou. Prepared to repulse infantry, the French had been utterly demoralized to see what they believed was an entire panzer brigade rolling towards the village. A few of them looked angry now that they saw how small Axel’s command really was, but most of the soldiers seemed relieved to be out of the war. It was another testament to the poor leadership exhibited by the enemy commanders that their soldiers lacked a genuine desire to fight.
The French officer, a major judging by the gold braid adorning his kepi, seemed especially out of sorts, displaying a bewilderment and confusion beyond even that of the men under his command. Again and again, Axel saw the Frenchman squinting at the German panzers with an expression almost of incredulity. There was something unsettling about the major’s display of emotion. Axel could only compare it to the look he had seen frozen on the face of an enemy lancer during the Polish campaign when his weapon had broken against the armoured hull of the panzer. It was an expression that married abject horror with a most profound sense of betrayal.
Axel turned his attention away from the French major, watching as Knoechlein’s panzer-grenadiers came rushing back to the square. Ahead of them they pushed a pair of French soldiers they’d rousted from their hiding place in a cellar. House by house, with the mechanical efficiency of the German military, Knoechlein’s men were securing Anjou. Most of the civilian population had already fled, joining the mass refugee columns choking the roads ahead of the German advance, but here and there a dour visage watched the grey-clad soldiers from a window or doorway.
Axel wiped at his forehead with the silk scarf his wife had given him on his return from the Polish campaign. For some reason, Anjou felt stiflingly hot, a good ten degrees warmer than the surrounding countryside. It was hot enough that many of the French soldiers had unbuttoned their tunics, some of them casting the uniform aside entirely to stand there in their shirtsleeves. The captain had been exceedingly harsh in reprimanding one of the grenadiers who started to follow the French example. Comfort was a poor excuse to forget discipline. No matter how well-trained, a fighting man was only a few steps removed from a rampaging marauder. All it took was a moment, that first small step away from the iron rule of discipline. He thought of the scandalous reports that had emerged from Nanking and the heinous atrocities perpetrated by the Japanese army against the Chinese populace. He’d met officers of the Imperial Japanese Army during a Japanese military mission to Berlin. He’d found them to be almost blindly obedient to the edicts of their government, selflessly loyal to their Emperor. If such men could so swiftly descend to wholesale barbarism, it was a warning to soldiers everywhere about the cost of forgetting discipline.
"The village is secured, Hauptmann," Knoechlein announced with a stiff salute as he came dashing towards Axels’ panzer.
Almost as soon as the words had left the sergeant’s mouth, the chatter of small arms put the lie to his statement. Knoechlein’s face flushed crimson as he went running towards the sound, barking orders at his men as he crossed the square. Ten soldiers followed the sergeant into one of the narrow village lanes, rifles at the ready. The French prisoners they left behind shifted uneasily and muttered among themselves, but not a man made a move to escape, only too aware that the machine guns of the panzers were still trained upon them.
It was several minutes before Knoechlein reappeared. The panzer-grenadiers following behind him carried the bodies of two fallen casualties between them while a third soldier limped along on a hastily bandaged leg. Directing his men to lay down their dead, Knoechlein glared balefully at the French prisoners before advancing to make his report to Axel.
"A civilian opened fire on our men," he informed the captain.
"A deserter?" Axel wondered. Knoechlein shook his head.
"If he deserted, then it was in the last war. He was an old man, sixty if he was a day. Wizened as a gnome with more white in his beard than…"
The sergeant’s report brought a gasp from the French major. Axel quickly motioned for Knoechlein to be silent. Until now, there had been no indication that the officer understood German. Sternly, Axel pointed at the Frenchman. "Herr Major, I should be obliged if you would join us." The officer glanced at him, letting an uncomprehending expression fix itself across his features. Axel was in no mood to accommodate the Frenchman’s pretence. Not with two dead men to account for. Slowly he drew his sidearm and pointed the Luger at the major. "Herr Major, forgive me if I made that sound like a request. I assure you it isn’t."
The French major swallowed the knot that had grown in his throat and ran his hand down the breast of his tunic, smoothing his uniform as he marched with such pride as he could muster towards Axel’s panzer.
Before the major had gone more than a few steps, an unearthly shriek tore the air. The eyes of German and Frenchman alike were drawn skyward. Axel could guess what the prisoners were thinking, that after being assaulted by the Wehrmacht they were now to be bombed by the Luftwaffe, but no Stuka siren had ever made a sound such as that savage, glottal wail.
For an instant, however, Axel did think it was a German dive-bomber swooping down on Anjou, so enormous did the thing seem. A great dark shape with out-stretched wings, its shadow seeming to stretch across the entire square. The thing drove down from the sky, its glottal shriek echoing across the square. The soldiers watching it were too stunned to move, too astonished to shout or scream.
It was no plane that descended upon the village square, no machine of steel and wire. It was a living shape, an immense thing of leathery sinew and scaly flesh. Its dark green reptilian hide was mottled with specks of black, the membranes of its massive wings showing as an almost translucent grey. The thing drove down upon one of the French prisoners, its clawed talons seizing him by the shoulders. The brute tried to rise with its prey, but the weight of the soldier dragged it back down again. Viciously, the monster smashed the now screaming Frenchman against the cobblestones and began to tear at him with a long beak riddled with knife-like fangs.
A moment of stunned horror froze the men in the square, the silence only broken by the loathsome warbling of the monster and the hideous rending of human flesh as its beak ripped at its prey. Axel was the first to break the hold of his horrified fascination, firing his Luger into the reptilian gargoyle’s head. The brute uttered an angry croak, lifted its head for an instant, then returned to its gory repast, Axel’s bullet barely registering on the beast’s cold-blooded brain.
The shot, however, broke the spell that gripped the other Germans. Vindictively the soldiers turned their guns upon the monster, as though erasing the shame of their moment of fear by blasting the fiend with everything they had. Mausers barked as the panzer-grenadiers peppered the brute with a vicious fusillade. Knoechlein sprayed the winged horror with a burst from his machine pistol, the automatic fire riddling the thing’s body and tearing the membranes of its wings.
The stricken creature lurched up from the dead Frenchman, its snake-like neck coiling back as it hissed angrily at the soldiers. The thing tried to take flight, but could only flop obscenely on the cobblestones.
"Back away!" Axel ordered. Knoechlein’s infantry scrambled away from the wounded monster, dragging the prisoners with them. The instant they looked to be clear, Axel snapped orders to his crew. Flame spurted from the muzzle of the Panzer II’s machine gun as the high-calibre bullets shredded the flailing brute. In the matter of a few seconds, the winged horror was reduced to a mangled ruin.
As the machine gun fell silent, men timidly approached the sprawled monster, guns trained upon the creature, eyes watching it for even the faintest trace of life. The thing was dead, however. Nothing could have prevailed against the havoc the machine gun had visited upon it.
"C’est un démon!" one of the French soldiers proclaimed as he crept towards the slaughtered monster, making the sign of the Cross as he beheld the brute’s diabolic physiognomy.
Axel stepped down from the cupola of his panzer, approaching the mangled carcass. Up close, he could see that it was indeed some sort of reptilian bat, but on a scale that defied the imagination. It was bigger than the Andean condors he’d seen in Berlin’s Tiergarten, bigger than anything nature should allow to fly. Yet here it was before his very eyes, like some gargoyle uprooted from a church steeple and endowed with monstrous vitality.
"Call me mad, Hauptmann, but I think it is a pterosaur." The statement came from Leutnant Wilhelm Brueckers, one of the Panzer III commanders. Like Axel, he had left his tank to inspect the strange carcass. Unlike the captain, Wilhelm’s sidearm was still in its holster. Axel frowned when he made the observation and sheepishly holstered his Luger.
"A pterosaur, Herr Professor?" Axel asked, using Wilhelm’s nickname. He’d been a student in Munich before his anti-Nazi rhetoric had made civilian life precarious for him. Like many men, he sought the protection of the military to shield him from Nazi persecution.
Wilhelm nodded and turned the creature’s oozing head over with his boot. "A prehistoric flying reptile," he explained. "A contemporary of the dinosaurs."
"Dinosaurs?" Axel scoffed. "What would dinosaurs be doing in France?"
"By rights, hiding in the ground as fossils," Wilhelm declared. "It is impossible for such a creature to still be alive! It defies everything we understand about evolution!"
"Impossible or not, it looks very real to me," Axel said, repressing a shudder as some of the reptile’s treacly blood dripped across his boot. A commotion across the square brought his attention away from the dead pterosaur. He saw Knoechlein trying to restrain an agitated, almost frantic French major. The officer was babbling something in his own language as he tried to pull free of the sergeant. A suspicion rose in Axel’s mind. "Feldwebel!" he called out. "Bring that man here!"
Grimly and none too gently, Knoechlein frog-marched the major to his captain. The French officer cringed away from the pterosaur carcass, staring at it with abject terror. Axel kicked the reptile with his boot. "Tell me, Herr Major, what do you know about this?"
The officer was trembling as he answered Axel, unable to keep his eyes away from the dead reptile. "Dr Despard’s barrier field," he said at last. "It was designed to create an energy curtain that would translocate enemy troops." He turned his eyes towards the captain. "This village was a proving ground for Dr Despard’s device, a practical application under combat conditions. The objective… the objective was to electrically displace your column and dump you all into the North Sea."
"Charming," Knoechlein growled, his hand tightening about the grip of his machine pistol.
"Hauptmann, that might account for the blue flash we saw," Wilhelm suggested.
The French major nodded. "That was caused by Dr Despard activating his machine. But something went wrong. Instead of… of removing you the energy curtain brought… brought that." He shuddered as he looked down upon the pterosaur.
Axel digested the major’s story. Electrical transmission of physical material, of men and machines? It seemed fantastical. If not for the incredible evidence of the dead reptile he’d be prepared to dismiss the major’s story as the lunatic imaginings of a man unable to accept defeat. "The civilian who fired on my men. He was Dr Despard?"
The French major gave a slight nod. "When he activated the machine, it was expected that your column would disappear. When you started to enter Anjou, I knew the device had failed and saw no reason to fight a useless and hopeless engagement. Dr Despard disagreed. He swore to keep his invention out of the hands of the bosche whatever the cost."
"There was what looked like a lot of radio equipment in the garret where we engaged the civilian," Knoechlein said. "Most of it looked smashed."
"We’d better have a look just the same," Axel decided. "Feldwebel, bring the major and three of your grenadiers. Leutnant Brueckers, I’ll want you along too. If Feldwebel Knoechlein has stumbled onto the lair of a mad scientist, I’ll want our own mad doctor to have a look at it." He looked around at the square then glanced anxiously at the sky. If one pterosaur could make such an impossible appearance, it was possible there could be more of them. "Feldwebel, is there some place indoors we can secure the prisoners?"
"There’s a bicycle shop with a big workroom," the sergeant replied.
"The prisoners will be easier to control if they aren’t waiting for a flying reptile to drop out of the sky and make a snack of them," Axel told Knoechlein. "Have Gefreiter Dunstmann secure our catch in the workroom." Turning away, the captain cupped one hand to his mouth and shouted across the square to where Ernst’s Panzer IV was idling. "We’re going to check on that civilian who was killed," he informed the lieutenant. "I’m leaving you in command until I get back."
"What about our objective?" Ernst called back.
Axel glanced back at the pterosaur. "Our objective will have to wait a little while," he said, feeling a chill run down his spine.
"Whatever your Dr Despard was working on, Major, he did a good job breaking it." Wilhelm shook his head and dropped the smashed wreck of a cathode ray tube onto the jumble of debris littering the floor of the garret. The French officer didn’t seem to hear him; instead he was kneeling beside the cold still form of the dead scientist.
"General Gamelin had great faith in his experiments," the major stated, covering Dr Despard’s wizened face with a tablecloth. "They had high hopes for his electric barrier. An invisible fence to guard France from her enemies." The last was said with more than a touch of venom.
"We are paying you back for twenty years of humiliation and exploitation," Knoechlein snarled at the officer. "You’ve sat back and watched the people of German starve and suffer. Now it is your turn, snail-snapper."
Axel glowered at the sergeant’s display of temper. "Wait outside," he told Knoechlein, then directed a warning look at the French major. "Victors can afford to be generous, but don’t press us too far." He sighed as his eyes swept across the wreckage. A mob of brownshirts couldn’t have been more destructive or thorough in that destruction than the scientist had been. "Did your Dr Despard keep any notes?"
The major uttered a bitter laugh and pointed at the hearth, the grate choked with a thick pile of grey ash. "Whatever he wrote down is sitting right there. Secrets the general promised should revolutionize warfare," he added with another bitter laugh.
Axel turned back towards Wilhelm. "What do you think Professor? Do you agree with all of this talk about electrical barriers and transmission of physical material?"
"That wouldn’t explain a living pterosaur in the skies of France," the lieutenant said. "No, they were working on something that acted upon a different principle entirely."
"You have some idea what it was, don’t you?" Axel challenged his subordinate.
"Nothing I would care to put into words," Wilhelm said. "Not yet. Not without more evidence. The idea is simply too fantastic."
Further discussion was stifled when shouts of alarm and the bark of rifles sounded from the street outside. The two Germans rushed down from the garret, leaving the French major with the dead scientist. They were still racing down the stairs when the entire building trembled, shuddered as though a freight train had hurtled past it. But no freight train ever gave voice to the primordial bellow that boomed through their ears. It was a sound so redolent of raw primal savagery as to make the roar of a tiger seem as harmless as the yipping of a puppy.
"Another one," Axel declared as the two tank commanders reached the building’s foyer. Wilhelm gave him a confirming nod, all the colour draining from his face as another deafening bellow rattled their bones.
Throwing open the door, Axel braced himself for the sight he knew he must find in the street outside. Yet prepared as he imagined himself to be, he felt his knees turning to jelly as his eyes were drawn to the end of the narrow little lane. He had braced himself to see something like the pterosaur, not the gigantic monstrosity that towered above the French huts.
"Name of the Devil!" he swore. "What is it?"
The creature stood on two immense legs supported by massive clawed feet. A powerful tail projected behind it, lashing from side to side like that of an angry cat, smacking strips of plaster from the huts on either side of the lane. The beast’s head bore some semblance to that of a crocodile, but with a broader, flatter snout and more pronounced eye ridges. Fangs the size of sabres lined jaws that looked powerful enough to snap steel. Eyes, yellow and slitted like those of a snake glistened from the depths of pit-like sockets. Overall, the monster’s hide was coloured a dull black, its sombre hue broken by slash-like stripes of crimson and patches of orange blemishes. The leathery skin had a scaly texture and seemed impossibly thick, reminding the captain of the hide of a rhinoceros.
Wilhelm offered a name for the beast. "I take it back, Hauptmann. My theory isn’t insane. It’s the only thing that makes sense. You are looking at Tyrannosaurus rex, king of the dinosaurs. Extinct since the end of the Cretaceous!"
The massive reptile snorted angrily as Knoechlein and his grenadiers fired upon it. The bullets glanced from the beast’s thick hide, failing to pierce the scaly skin. Indeed the dinosaur seemed more aggravated by the noise of the rifles than the impact of the shots. With a deafening bellow, the gigantic reptile rushed forwards in a loping lunge. The huts shuddered at each impact of the brute’s feet, the ground trembled beneath each pounding stride.
"Aim for the eyes!" Wilhelm shouted, but his warning was given too late. The dinosaur’s drive brought it upon the Germans before they could adjust their tactics. A snap of those enormous jaws and one of the grenadiers was lifted into the air, legs flailing. The man’s lifeblood gushed down the Tyrannosaur’s pale throat. A moment, the reptile was still, ignoring the bullets that continued to glance off its armoured skin. The dead soldier dangled from its fangs, then the carnosaur threw back its head and swallowed its prey in a series of spasmodic gulps.
"Fall back!" Axel ordered, horrified by the ghastly scene. "Regroup at the panzers!"
A final few shots glanced from the dinosaur as the Germans retreated down the narrow lane. The Tyrannosaur lowered its head, its serpentine eyes staring after the soldiers. A thin blue tongue flashed from between its jaws, flickering in the air as it tasted the mixture of scents. As the tongue shot back between the reptile’s jaws, its lifted a scaly leg and started to pursue the grey-clad creatures its tiny brain now associated with food.
Relief came to the retreating Germans from an unexpected quarter. Just as the Tyrannosaur was readying itself to charge down the lane, the French major appeared in the doorway of Dr Despard’s house. The man screamed at sight of the primordial behemoth several meters away. The cry brought the dinosaur’s head snapping around. The beast glared down at the officer, craning its head to one side in an almost canine display of confusion. The brown uniform of the major didn’t match that of the grey prey the beast had so recently gorged upon.
Another flick of the dinosaur’s tongue, a taste of the Frenchman’s scent, and the beast’s confusion was resolved. Lashing its great tail behind it, collapsing the wall of a hut, the Tyrannosaur lunged at the terrified major. With a snap of its mighty jaws, the reptile bit the officer in half, wolfing down the Frenchman’s torso while leaving his legs to collapse against the cobblestones.
"Impossible! Impossible!" Wilhelm kept muttering as the German soldiers raced down the narrow lane. The gory spectacle of the major had reduced their cautious retreat into all-out flight. "They can’t… it’s impossible!"
Even in the midst of a fear that bordered on panic, Axel wondered at the lieutenant’s curious choice of words. The dinosaur was impossible, certainly. But who were ‘they’ and what had ‘they’ done that was impossible?
The pounding thunder of the Tyrannosaur’s legs crashing along the lane behind them sent a fresh blast of terror burning into the captain’s veins. The evil, musky reek of the reptile filled his nose as the enormous brute came charging after the Germans. To such a behemoth, a man was naught but a tiny morsel. It would take many such titbits to appease its predatory hunger.
A scream, the ghastly snap of powerful jaws and the sickening crunch of pulverized bone. These were the sounds that heralded the death of another grenadier. Axel risked a look over his shoulder, saw the hulking reptile gulping down the twitching wreckage of a German soldier. In that glance, he saw something else. He saw Feldwebel Knoechlein standing in the middle of the lane. He had a pair of grenades in his hands and was frantically binding them together with a strip of cloth.
"Feldwebel!" Axel shouted at Knoechlein. "Run!"
"Nein, Hauptmann," the sergeant replied, his voice as cold as the grave. "The monster eats no more of my men!"
Twisting the steel cap at the end of one of the grenade handles, Knoechlein yanked the pull cord. Before him, the Tyrannosaur finished gulping down its meal. Eyes gleaming, the beast turned towards him, its tongue flicking out to taste the air. "For Fuehrer and Fatherland!" Knoechlein shouted as he lobbed the bundled grenades at the reptile.
The lane seemed to vanish in the ensuring explosion. Black smoke engulfed the men, debris from shattered huts crashed all around them. Axel was thrown from his feet by the blast, sent crashing against the wall of the hut behind him. An instant later he felt his side erupt in blazing agony as something heavy and unyielding smashed into him. Spots of crimson agony flared through his vision. By sheer force of will he tried to stave off the unconsciousness into which his pain-wracked senses demanded he retreat.
His foray into the realm of peaceful oblivion lasted only a few moments. With a cry of torment, he was thrust back into awareness. Instantly, he reached to his left shoulder, disgusted to find it a seeping mess of blood and torn tissue. Wilhelm stood above him, a jagged sliver of masonry clutched in his hands. Axel didn’t need to be told the blood coating the debris was his own.
Axel’s first thought however wasn’t for his own injury. "Get moving!" he snapped at the lieutenant. "The monster…"
"… is gone, Hauptmann," Knoechlein reported. The sergeant’s face was a scarlet mask of shallow cuts and scratches but ironically he’d been spared the worst attentions of the explosion. He gestured with the muzzle of his machine pistol towards the end of the lane. Where the towering dinosaur had been standing the lane was choked with a pile of smoking rubble. The blast had collapsed the huts on either side, sending them spilling into the street.
"We must get you back to a field hospital," Wilhelm warned, discarding the bloodied masonry as he stooped to press a dressing to Axel’s wound. The surviving grenadier knelt to help the lieutenant in his ministrations.
"We haven’t completed our mission," Axel protested. "We have to scout the crossroads for the Generalmajor!" He gasped as the dressing pressed against his torn flesh. "The division is depending on us!"
Wilhelm gave his captain a look that was filled with reproach. "We can’t lead the division back here! There’s no knowing how many of these animals the French have let through!"
Axel pulled away from the grenadier who was helping him up. He glared at the lieutenant. "You know something about what the French were doing here?" he challenged Wilhelm.
"Only a guess, Hauptmann," Wilhelm answered. "But I think it is a guess supported by the evidence. The process the major explained was wrong. Physics tells us…"
"Jewish science," Knoechlein sneered, quoting the Nazi contempt for a field that heralded Einstein as the best brain in the world.
Wilhelm ignored the sergeant’s interruption. "Physics tells us that time and space are inter-related. Connected if you will. This Dr Despard wasn’t trying to move us through space, he was trying to move us through time. Only instead of projecting our reconnaissance group backwards in time, he projected something else forwards!"
"The dinosaurs!" Axel exclaimed.
"It is the only thing that makes any sense," Wilhelm said. "The only rationale for prehistoric beasts to suddenly manifest in the middle of modern France."
"But if…" Axel’s thought went unspoken. His stare drifted away from his lieutenant to the pile of rubble at the end of the lane. There was movement there, a shifting of brick and stone. The men around him followed his horrified gaze.
"Get the Hauptmann back to our panzers," Knoechlein said, sliding back the bolt on his machine pistol and turning to face the rubble. "I’ll buy you what time I can."
Before Axel could order Knoechlein from his sacrificial action, the rubble was hurled in every direction and the enormous bulk of the Tyrannosaur reared upwards. The reptile’s thick hide was gashed and bleeding, but it might take the thing’s primitive nervous system hours to register its wounds. In the meantime, the beast had an appetite to satisfy.
Knoechlein’s machine pistol barked as he sprayed the dinosaur with a burst of automatic fire. The brute bellowed at the noise and shook more of the rubble from its body. The monstrous jaws snapped close as it gnashed its teeth in frustration.
Wilhelm and the grenadier hurried Axel down the lane, rushing their wounded commander to the safety of the square and the protection of the panzers. Behind them, they could hear the continued discharge of Knoechlein’s weapon, the crash and bang of debris falling away from the imprisoned dinosaur. A few seconds later they could feel the ground shudder beneath their feet. Knoechlein’s scream told them the Tyrannosaur was free. The silence of his machine pistol told them they’d have a half-minute respite as the reptile gorged itself upon the sergeant.
Meter by agonizing meter, the three Germans ran through the desolate streets of Anjou. When the square finally appeared before them, it seemed nothing short of a miracle. Axel shouted as they came in sight of the panzers, shrieking to make himself heard over the now thunderous roar of the stalking beast they’d left behind.
"Dinosaur!" the captain cried. "All cannon, load and ready!"
The command had barely left his lips when the pursuing beast appeared. Somewhere in its pursuit, the Tyrannosaur had realized it could simply smash its way through the ancient French huts. It did so now as it burst into the square, exploding through the side of a house, sending its façade crashing down across one of the Panzer IIIs. The machine rumbled into life, reversing its tracks in an effort to clear the debris. The motion brought the dinosaur’s head swinging around. With an angry snarl, it lunged at the panzer, raking its heavy hind foot across the hull, splitting the roll of steel tread and smashing several of the drive wheels. The reptile’s powerful jaws clamped tight about the turret, straining to wrench it free of the hull.
Axel had given the order to load cannon, but with one of their own panzers in jeopardy, none of the other crews dared fire on the rampaging beast. Coolly, Ernst brought Onkel Otto swinging around, black smoke belching from the exhausts. The big Panzer IV opened up on the Tyrannosaur with the machine gun mounted in its hull. The high-calibre bullets slashed into the wounded brute, tearing at its already mangled hide.
Roaring, the dinosaur abandoned its attack against the Panzer III and turned towards its new tormentor. Rearing back, gnashing its fangs at the very heavens, the Tyrannosaur gave voice to a demoniacal shriek. Its body still being raked by Onkel Otto’s machine gun, the reptile charged across the square.
As the brute bore towards the Panzer IV, the massive 75mm cannon exploded with violence, flame and smoke spilling from the muzzle. The Tyrannosaur’s chest seemed to pop as the shell slammed into it, ribbons of flesh and splinters of bone spraying from its body. The reptile stumbled on, its tiny forearms flailing absurdly as it careened towards the panzer. Again the cannon roared, the shell smashing through the reptile’s collar bone, gouging a grisly crater in the side of its neck.
With a tremolos crash the dinosaur slammed to the ground, cracking cobblestones beneath its bulk. Game to the last, the dying Tyrannosaur snapped its jaws at the Panzer IV, twisting the steel tread in its mighty fangs. The hatch in Onkel Otto’s turret was flung open and Ernst sprang up onto the machine’s hull. Vindictively he sprayed the huge reptile with a burst from his machine pistol, emptying the magazine into it.
"The beast’s dead, Leutnant!" Axel shouted up at the enraged Ernst as he started to reload. "Save your ammunition." Stiffly, a hand clamped to his bandages, the captain approached the hulking dinosaur. The tail continued to writhe, the limbs to tremble, but Axel was familiar enough with animal life to know these were mere spasms of a primitive nervous system, the faint semblance of vitality in a carcass from which life had already fled.
Cautiously, Ernst lowered his weapon and dropped down to the cobblestones. After taking a moment to assure himself that the carnosaur was indeed dead, he hurried to inspect the damage its jaws had inflicted upon Onkel Otto. Axel watched him for a moment, then turned to face Wilhelm.
"Do you think there are more of those around?" he asked the lieutenant. The havoc the beast had wrought against armed men had been awful enough, but its stubborn vitality in the face of modern armour was another.
Wilhelm’s answer was solemn. "The French thought their device could send an entire reconnaissance column into the past. There’s no knowing how many of these animals they brought forward to our time."
"We have to warn the division," Axel declared. He looked around the square, at the damaged panzers and the havoc the raging dinosaur had inflicted on the village. "Get all of the men to work repairing the panzers. Have the prisoners help you. Post the operational panzers at either end of the square and have them stand guard."
"What about you, Hauptmann?"
"I’ll take the radio car," Axel declared. Since entering Anjou all the Germans had been able to get with their equipment was static, but he knew only a few kilometres out they would be able to raise their command staff. So long as they didn’t run into another of the giant reptilian brutes, it would be only a matter of minutes before they would be able to send the alert.
Orders given, the wounded Axel allowed himself to be escorted to the radio car and lowered into the co-driver’s seat at the rear of the vehicle. He watched as the crew from the crippled Panzer III hacked away at the Tyrannosaur’s carcass. Soon they brought the severed forearm of the reptile to the radio car. The reeking thing was lashed to the roof, physical evidence of the ordeal they had gone through. Evidence that would satisfy even the most stiff-necked of Rommel’s officers.
Axel closed his eyes as the radio car drove away from Anjou, trying to formulate what he would tell his superiors about their strange adventure. He could readily imagine the scorn and derision his report would meet. If he had not experienced it himself, he would never have believed it. How then could he make these orderly, disciplined military men understand something so fantastic?
"Hauptmann!" the terrified exclamation of the driver broke into Axel’s concentration. The radio car screeched to a halt, jostling the injured captain in his seat. Quickly he scrambled from his chair and rushed to see what had alarmed the driver. Shoving aside the horrified gunner, Axel peered through the narrow view port.
He had expected to see another Tyrannosaur or some similar mastodon of the primordial past. What greeted the captain’s gaze was infinitely worse.
The strange sticky heat that had plagued them since reaching Anjou was explained, as was the intrusion of the dinosaurs, though perhaps intrusion was poor terminology. The reptiles, after all, weren’t the ones trespassing in places they didn’t belong.
Before Axel’s horrified gaze, where he should have seen the tree-lined lane where his column had fought the French infantry, there was only the green morass of a tropical jungle, immense ferns and strange trees stabbing into the sky.
The blue flash, the detonation of Dr Despard’s device, it had functioned far differently than Wilhelm or the French scientist had theorized. It hadn’t sent the advancing Germans back, nor had it brought the dinosaurs forward. What it had done was to hurl the entire village and a few kilometres of terrain surrounding it back into the dim prehistoric past!
Axel’s soul shivered as he contemplated the ghastly fate of his command. Truly they now belonged to a division of ghosts, spectres lost in a world all but unknown to man!
This story originally appeared in Marching Time.
An anthology of time-travel stories. My contribution is 'The Lost Blitzkrieg' which sees a German armored scout patrol plucked from the French countryside during the 1940 Blitz and cast back millions of years to the Cretaceous. If you ever wanted to read about a Panzer IV fighting a Tyrannosaurus Rex, this is for you.
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