5 November 2000. Afternoon. Kalisz, Poland.
Winter is coming.
Still removed from his men behind medical quarantine, Maks sent Bowen to try to secure a meeting with Egorieva over at the 21st MRD firebase in Kalisz. He wanted to close a deal with her regarding the MRE cache in the city.
Bowen was turned back, told to return tomorrow. Egorieva has a lot on her schedule right now, securing the captured city.
Failed Persuasion roll: We used the Uncertain type task roll (Twilight 2000 v2.2, page 136). I knew that Egorieva wouldn’t be hostile to Maks’ MRE sharing plan, but she was VERY busy.
My brother got an Outstanding Success; I rolled a Failure. I decided the result meant a delay.
While that meet was happening – or not happening really – Maks was getting the train prepped for travel. All very frustrating, not being able to move around until the plague incubation period ended in a few days, so most of the work was being carried out by American soldiers only recently of his acquaintance. Three hundred of them. And they were restless, having been POWs, and now all cooped-up together in these train cars.
Everybody was focused on getting to Bremerhaven. The boat would leave in 10 days. Even still, there were factions among the men, and resultant flare-ups.
But Maks did have a core group of Americans that had been with him longer. It was these men (and 1 woman) that he relied on while he was out of action.
Maks arranged the protection of the train, including ersatz metal plate armor that the soldiers scavenged from a nearby industrial collective. At the front he replaced the missing front flat car that was cut loose in Konin, along with his two APCs. The perimeter of the flat car was layered in sandbags and tree trunks. The D-1 was mounted to the flat car behind sandbagging, with the 152mm howitzer set horizontal in direct fire mode.
He also assigned the recon detail that would drive ahead of the train by wheeled vehicle. Learning from his experience that the steam train was noisy and obvious at a distance, he ordered the UAZ to drive two kilometers ahead of the train. Knowing that they’d be vulnerable out ahead of the main body, he assigned a second team to the amphibious GAZ to split the distance between the recon team and the train.
Maks requested Brandis and Jefferson to send two each of their best men for the recon team in the UAZ. He ordered the men to watch for dangers to the train, and avoid contact if possible, engaging only to break contact as needed.
In the GAZ, Maks assigned some of his more trusted team members, led by Spec 4 Debbie Moore, who’d had a consistent reputation for level-headedness and diplomacy.
He knew Poznan was running trains as well, and Maks’ train could be mistaken by elements of the pro-US Polish 1st Free Legion as a Soviet transport. He instructed the troops in the vehicles to exercise restraint, even if fired upon. They could encounter trigger-happy partisans who were not actually adversaries.
Given the deadline in Bremerhaven – 10 days! – Maks was tempted to leave right away. But he hadn’t secured the MREs, and his men needed rest after last night’s op. They could sleep on the train, but the former POWs were already fatigued, and Maks didn’t want to push his luck.
The renegade Soviets regarded them warmly after the Fire Knights’ assist in Kalisz, so Maks decided to stay overnight.
6 November 2000 0800H
Maks sent Maj. Brandis this time to meet with Egorieva. This time it went smoothly [good rolls] and the deal for the MREs was accepted: One-third splits between the Fire Knights, the convent (for distribution to citizens) and the Soviets.
Maks’ share came out to 1.5 metric tons of MRE cases. This likely solved his very large food problem.
Egorieva had been extremely gracious, and Maks decided to pass intel to her about Operation Reset, and the device’s location in Kraków. He also gave her his last Polaroid photo of the Reset device.
The original Reset device in Free City of Krakow was a computer microprocessor emulator/substitute for chips burnt out by EMP. I was never fond of that idea, and instead substituted the nuclear demolition device as the McGuffin.
While the intel may not have a lot of value for Egorieva, the photo was another matter. Maks had already used the photo as a threat in the past. This wasn’t a magazine clipping, it was a Polaroid.
With no fanfare, the steam engine Korzub pushed out of Kalisz.
Maks put his hard-earned intel to work. He knew the locations of Soviet and Red Polish cantonments in the area, and planned to thread his way between them.
My brother had intentionally picked tracks that avoided urban areas. The good news was that this area was mostly devoid of marauders. The bad news is that it was patrolled by the Warsaw Pact units in the region.
It was a new type of travel area for the party: Cantonment.
A large military unit has its cantonment in the area and has garrisons in most outlying towns and villages. The whole region is under martial law and all (even small) settlements serve as quarters for bodies of troops. As the troops requisition whatever they need, most civilians are overworked and very poor. Those who have found employment working for the troops, however, are often quite well off, and the army patrols the road well enough that marauders are seldom a problem.
This area is very similar to the insular region, described above, except that military patrols are more common and marauder bands less so. Farms are relatively well protected, and rural people will be suspicious of strangers, but not frightened of them.
-Twilight 2000 rulebook, page 157
In this case, it was numerous military cantonments, not all of them cooperating with each other. I wanted to let the random encounter tables run the course of the adventure… with a few adjustments to account for rail travel. I like not knowing what will happen, and so was looking forward to gaming this out.
Unknown to Maks, the area was relatively quiet, with the main source of conflict being between the Pact military units and the irregulars of the Polish 1st Free Legion. Patrols would be looking for small guerrilla units. The Soviets at Poznan were the only entity in the area running trains, and they were sporadic at best. Their train might slip through.
I switched things up this time, realizing the best encounter template in the rules for a train was “River“. Makes more sense. No Animal encounters; River instead poses Hazards.
Hazards for a train parallel river perils. Instead of sandbars and snags, trains risk damaged or missing track.
Following are my annotated Encounter notes based on the rules given on page 154 onward, using River & Cantonment columns.
Patrol = 1D6. On motorcycles. Soviets or Polish or partisans
Military convoy = Poznan ersatz armored steam train, plus escort wheeled technical truck. Lots of steel plates welded on both. [1d8 cars + engine/tender. 1d6x6 troops, V/X, heavy weapons roll]
Merchant convoy [roll for road/rail] [70% animal-drawn heavy makeshift rail cars (Delay – they are slow. Give ‘em a push?) OR 30% converted motor vehicle.] Sheep. [1d6x4. V/X. Civilian weapons. HW 1. Wagon 1-4, Vehicle 5-6]
Hunters = Civilians or partisans
Smugglers = Dealing in filched military goods. Or a WP work party. [2D6. X/N. Military & Heavy Weapon.]
Large Unit = Soviet or Polish recon in force. [1D10x10 Exp/Vet, Heavy Weapon table, Transport roll]
Stragglers = [1D20] Warsaw Pact deserters or NATO heading for Bremerhaven
Village or Farm = Yes. Relatively secure; peaceful area travelled by WP.
Ruined farm =
Roadblock / Camp = Abandoned railstock (1d2 hour delay to remove)
Supply dump = Poznan rail: Water and coaling station. Small garrison.
Abandoned supply dump = Abandoned coal cars (1D3)
Repair Yard = Vehicle graveyard, active. PHOTOS.
Abandoned Repair Yard = Vehicle graveyard, dormant. PHOTOS.
Field Hospital = Tethered observation balloon. Likely to spot train.
Abandoned Field Hospital = Adrift observation balloon passes by
All the little bridges will be the primary point of failure along route, as well as missing track. The little bridges can be repaired by crew with equipment at the cost of time, according to Straczynski.
1-10 Bridge inspection, maintenance, small fire or other delay (1-2 hours)
11-15 Missing track (1d2 hours)
16-18 Track washout or minor bridge collapse (1d3 hours)
19 Minor rebuild (3d6 hours)
20 Remove and replace a superstructure (12-24 (up to 48?) hours). This will also deplete their cut timber supply.
The bridges over the large rivers in the region – the Warta and Oder – will be beyond the capability or schedule of the party to repair. I’ll roll for those large bridges separately to decide their current condition.
6 November 2000
The trip got off to a good start. The Korzub left Kalisz, chugging through the 21st MRD-held Ostrow, with a pass by Egorieva.
First encounter roll was… “None”.
At Lezno, the initial frosty reception improved when Bowen in the GAZ yelled out in English and Polish that they were Americans. He’d gambled that the Polish 1st Free Legion actually held the city, and guessed correctly.
Settlement Attitude table roll: Neutral.
Settlement Crisis roll: Epidemic
Upon learning of the epidemic, Maks offered what little extra antibiotics they had remaining. They passed through the city quickly and – when they discovered missing track – fixed the rail bed and camped for the night a distance beyond. The night passed with no encounter.
7 November 2000
Pushing northwest, Maks’ recon team plan paid off. The UAZ took cover and reported that a train was approaching the junction. Maks fretted, and briefly considered blowing the track in front of the train.
Ultimately, Maks chose a wait-and-see approach. The Soviet train passed unawares, heading southwest towards Sulechow or Nowa Sol perhaps.
Poznan had been busy with their trains. The recon team reported that the train had two flat cars in front, the first a throwaway with rail ties and rails, followed by a flat car with heavy weapons, and then the locomotive, to which had been attached steel plates.
Recommendation: Osprey’s Armored Trains, by Steven J. Zaloga
Maks watched them disappear into the distance, and even had his recon UAZ follow them briefly.
The Korzub continued on. They passed through a garrisoned town. The few Russians there took little notice of them, and they pushed through without incident.
They camped at the next junction. Maks’ party was getting some rail experience, enough that they could examine the rails to judge whether this track got much use. The tracks here were still mostly rusty, indicating that large rail stock had not passed recently. Maks assigned a detachment to control the switching mechanisms at the junction, and another to watch the nearby road.
For the overnight encounter, we rolled “Hazard” which makes no sense for a parked train, so I interpreted it as personnel problems. A brawl broke out among the Americans that had to be broken up, indicating again that all was not well with his men.
8 November 2000 1400H.
Maks had been told by the people of Lezno that the only rail bridge north of them crossing the Warta was at Wronki, held by the Red Polish 17th Cavalry Division. The next was all the way west at Gorzów, itself held by the Soviet 1st Tank Division.
He decided to veer west and make an attempt to cross the river at Frankfurt an der Oder. They stopped just short of Rzepin, as the track was washed out, requiring repairs.
As he contemplated his approach to the supposedly ungarrisoned city and its bridge, he gave thanks for the relatively smooth journey thus far. They’d traveled several hundred kilometers, and were within 100km of the blasted ruins of Berlin itself.
It was a symbolic milestone as well. The Oder river marked the pre-war border between Poland and Germany.
All these months they’d survived the perils of war-torn Poland. His Americans were Going Home.
Maks would be bidding farewell to his home, probably for the last time.