Let me know if you want to see more...
Lightening split the sky and rain poured down on the four gray figures huddled together on the hillock overlooking Villers-Bretonneux, a small French town was nestled in a valley surrounded by once verdant fields, fields that were now churned into a mass of near unrecognizable wasteland.
The Germans steady advance across the French countryside paused just long enough to occupy the small village to be used as a staging base for their push to Amiens, only 30 kilometers further to the west. Allied command was convinced that were Amiens to fall, the Huns would be unstoppable. The year was 1918 and war had raged across the countryside for years. For many of those years the valiant soldiers of the ANZAC, or Australian and New Zealand Army Corp had fought alongside the French army in an effort to stop the German onslaught, holding the German military's advance.
The four soldiers had adorned their drab green fatigues with bits and pieces of the local foliage allowing them to blend perfectly into the vegetation. To see them there, they almost seemed to sway in time with the bushes that surrounded them. One of the men raised his eyes to address the rest of the group; the three pips on his epaulette the only thing distinguishing him as a captain and the mission leader, Captain Ross. Using a stick, he traced the basic layout of the village into the mud of the ground.
"Alright gents, this is it. Just remember your training and you'll do fine. Our mission is to eliminate Field Marshal Horst, the German bastard who orchestrated the brutal occupation of the quaint French village you see before you and by doing so clear the way for the retaking of the town. The main force Aussie and French troops are planning to roll in here at O-dark thirty. We’ve got to eliminate Horst before that happens. We'll be approaching the town from the south. That means taking out sentries here, here, and here. To cover our action, main artillery will begin shelling the north end of the town."
He poked at the ground with the stick, indicating the targets.
"After which, we'll work our way to the Hotel Mercure Saint Quentin en Yvelines Centre." Captain Ross' face had twisted into a grotesque mask as he tried in vain to wrap his mouth around the strange name. Grinning, he continued, "Bloody French names. Intel indicates that hotel as the target's most likely location. Once there, we do him. Questions?"
Private Brandt's small voice split the silence, "Sir, how many sentries do we have to remove?" Brandt had come from Sydney and was a thin, wiry, unassuming sort of fellow. His uniform appeared to hang loose, almost as if they were still on a hanger. The gave the small man an even weaker appearance but the rest of the team knew better. They had trained with him for months and his muscles were strong as cords of steel.
"A total of six," the commanding officer replied, "That means each of you'll be taking out two of them."
Private Thomson spoke up, "How much resistance should we expect once we enter the village?" In physical appearance, Thompson was virtually the polar opposite of Brandt, looking nothing so much as like a great bear, and a cuddly one at that, with a cherubic face and ready smile. He had come from Wellington where he had spent his youth herding sheep.
"Heavy." The Captain's response was immediate and unwavering. "Any other questions?"
The last member of the team raised his head and locked eyes with Captain Ross. Private Bennett was neither small and wiry like Brandt, nor abnormally large like Thompson, but somehow seemed to carry an air of professionalism and intensity that emanated from his entire being. At this moment, the intensity radiated out from his eyes, a wellspring of barely contained power and focus. Private Bennett took a deep breath, squared his jaw and spoke.
"We won't let you down Cap." His words seemed to sum up the feeling and intent of the entire team as they all nodded at his words.
"See that you don't. Remember where you are. This German bastard Horst was at Bullecourt last year. We lost thousands there. It's time for some payback."
Private Bennett walked up to the edge of the hill they had been behind and lay prone on the cold wet ground, the smell of grass and mud filling his nostrils. He held his British made Lee-Enfield rifle loosely in his hands as he calmly sighted down the barrel at the city, a mere 75 meters away. Bennett had been a hot shot constable back in Melbourne. On the fast track for promotion, he was everyone's pick as ‘most likely to succeed' in whatever he chose to do. Now he found himself at war.
Captain Ross moved from one soldier to the next, ensuring each of them was at the ready position. He took the time to identify each of their targets and give words of encouragement.
Kneeling down next to Bennett, he whispered, "Just like in training, aim, breathe, hold, and squeeze."
Bennett said nothing as he had already slowed his breathing in preparation. He had once heard that expert snipers actually pulled the trigger in between heartbeats, reducing the chance of any internal motion pulling off their aim.
The rain continued to fall, forming puddles around his still form, much longer and he'd be lying in a pool of it. The German soldier in his sights was standing on the roof of a small house on the outskirts of the village, his counterpart on the ground below him. Although he had been tempted to aim for the man's head, his training bade him to shoot for the target's center of mass.
They waited in silence. A loud explosion was heard in the distance followed immediately by a second, and a third. Captain Ross whispered the word ‘engage' and three sharp reports split the night. Barely two seconds later, another round of shots rang out, occupying the echoes of the first.
Bennett had seen his first target clutch at his chest, beginning to fall backward, before he slowly lowered his sights and took his second breath. Unsure of what was happening, the other soldier had turned and was looking up at the roof. Bennett's second round took him squarely in the back, launching him face first into the side of the house where he promptly crumpled to the ground as his compatriot fell to the earth beside him. Bennett rose, a slight grin on his face. It had been easy. Much easier than he had anticipated.
Captain Ross lifted his binoculars and smiled. Six shots, six kills, Excellent. He assembled his team and they rushed down the hill to the edge of a large field. The field, which may once have boasted an impressive harvest of grapes, had been turned into a morass of mud, laced with the detritus of war. The team crouched down as Cap gave his orders.
"Alright, keep down and keep moving. Somebody probably noticed your handiwork back there and they'll know something is up. You keep moving, you hear me! No matter what!"
The four men spread out and launched themselves at the ground, beginning to crawl through the mud. Bennett's hands grasped for purchase as he moved forward, his hands clenching and unclenching rhythmically.
At one point, he reached out only to grab the arm of a French soldier's corpse, obviously killed in a previous assault. He stifled a gasp and fought to control his panic as he pushed himself across and over the bloated carcass. It was then that he noticed the smell. He had been too occupied with the task of getting across the field, but the stench of death that had encompassed the corpse seemed to tear away and adhere to the front of Bennett’s uniform as he continued on his way, a constant reminder of exactly where he was.
He threaded through the bodies after that, some French, and some German, all of them dead, cataloging them as something to avoid in addition to the barbed wire and potential land mines. He had been a peace officer back home, but none of his experience on the streets of Melbourne could have prepared him for this. Although the edge of town was only 50 meters away, the minutes seemed to lengthen and the goal to drift farther away as they progressed slowly through the field. Then, the shelling began.