The Pluperfect

Mission One: 1917 - The western Front

Mission One Debrief.

Time Zone: 19th November, 1917
Location: ‘The Western Front’, Northern France

As newly qualified agents, I never expected Timepiece to throw us in at the deep end! I anticipated some simple Observe and Report missions to wet our feet before promoting us to more active and dangerous missions. I guess I was wrong!

We were appraised of the situation: Stopwatch agents have been detected on the western front in November 1917. Indications are that Stopwatch intends to prevent allied victory at the Battle of Cambrai, possibly by supplying the Germans with anachronistic weaponry. Our mission is:
1. To identify Stopwatch plans and foil them.
2. Destroy any weaponry that should not yet exist, and,
3. As far as is possible erase information about it.

Other, secondary, mission parameters are:

4. If necessary, take steps to ensure the allies win the subsequent Battle of Cambrai.

As an Academic who has specialised in 20th Century history, and specifically World Wars I & II, I was assigned as nominal Team Leader. The team consisted of: Jack Anno, James Daniels, Jennifer Washington (an Archaeologist), Seth Shamus, Rurik (a linguistics specialist), Tom Longfellow (a former military recon specialist) and, of course, myself: Veredis Quo (a Historian). None of us really knew each other as we hadn’t trained together in Basic. I’d seen Jenny about the campus, as well as Jack. But only to say hello to as we passed in the halls on our way to lessons. I assume it’s the same case with the others.

We were kitted out with American uniforms suitable for the era, but modified with hidden armoured panels. We were issued P14 rifles and standard webbing and equipment, as well as a few little 22nd Century toys to aid us in our mission. We also received stunner pistols and a couple of stingers as well. I was issued the uniform of a Sergeant. Jenny was issued a subtly tailored uniform to minimise her feminine figure.

With no further ado, we were sent on our way…

We dropped into era in mud! It was pitch black, cold and muddy. I realised at about the same time as Longfellow that we had been dropped right in the middle of no-man’s land! Longfellow and I immediately dropped to the ground, stage whispering ‘get down’ to our team-mates. Visibility was ten metres, if that, due to the cloudy and moonless night sky. As we lay there, getting cold, wet and muddy, and trying to decide which way lay the allied lines, we realised we could hear voices – German voices. I could hear them well enough to understand that they had captured a British courier and were taking him and his attache case back to their lines. I attracted the attention of Longfellow and Shamus and mimed them to use their stunners to subdue the Germans. The rest of us would follow and lend support if required.

It seems that they didn’t quite understand me, as moments later two rifle shots ring out across the barren terrain of no-man’s land! A German screamed out and another of my team (I don’t know who – it was too dark) rushed forward to help. More shots rang out from my team (it seems the Germans couldn’t see them in the darkness) and the German reconnaissance patrol was neutralised.

Whilst Rurik gave medical aid to the British courier (who turned out to be a Lieutenant Windsor) and also to Shamus, the others check over the Germans, but unfortunately all four are dead. As they are looking the Feldwebel suddenly disappears! A Stopwatch agent! We help the Lieutenant to his feet and make our way to the British trenches. En-route, Windsor tells us the attache case is to go to a Colonel Patton of the American Expeditionary Force. We promise to ensure it gets to him. We leave the wounded Lieutenant with some tommies and follow directions to the American encampment, further behind the lines.

It is approximately 1am when we are pointed to Col. Patton’s bunker. We are permitted inside to hand Col. Patton his communiqués. After reading his despatches he asks me what unit we belong to. I hadn’t considered this and in a panic stated we were a reconnaissance squad belonging to the 1st Division (Col. Patton’s own division). I quickly realised this wasn’t a good choice as Col. Patton exclaimed ‘Splendid! I need you to infiltrate the German trenches. Immediately.’ He lays out what he believes the German defences in front of his position are, and would like us to gauge the strength in these trenches. I request we be issued a Lewis gun, to provide suppressive firepower in case we are pinned down. Col. Patton agrees and Shamus volunteers to carry it. We are also issued some Mills bombs (in addition to the few ‘potato mashers’ we picked up off the German patrol). Col. Patton also assigns us a Lieutenant from the Intelligence Corps.

As we head back towards the front lines we realise that Col. Patton’s mission is actually perfect cover for us, as we need to infiltrate the German lines to find the anachronistic weaponry we believe Stopwatch to have provided to the Germans. The Lieutenant turns out to be another Timepiece agent, who hands us a 22nd Century device that can tell us if a temporaral gateway opens up in our vicinity.

We cross no-man’s land quickly and in good order, hugging the ground and using the craters as cover, until we see a shape ahead of us; it’s a German machine gun position: a raised sandbagged emplacement with a machine gun pointing towards us. The Lieutenant and I crawl forward and observe there are only two soldiers crewing the machine gun, so we decide to take them out ourselves with our stunners. The Lieutenant’s shot neutralises his target, but I only wing mine. The Lieutenant and I both shoot at him again before he can raise the alarm and both hit. We crawl forward and into the position. We cautiously look into the trench; it’s teeming with soldiers! Far more than there should be in a front line position! We obviously can’t cross here, so decide to crawl north alongside this trench until we can find a communication trench bisecting it. Before we leave the machine gun position, however, I have Jack Anno remove the trigger assembly from the machine gun, which I toss into the mud.

The trenches of the Great War were never straight but dug in a zigzagging or stepped pattern. This meant that a soldier could never see more than 10 meters or so along the trench. Consequently, the entire trench could not be enfiladed if the enemy gained access at one point; or if a bomb or shell landed in the trench, the blast could not travel far. We crawled until we found one of these zigzags and followed it. Luck was on our side, as we found this section to be uninhabited. We rolled into the trench and soon found a communication trench leading rearwards towards the second line of defence. Halfway along this communication trench we came across a large half-submerged metal cylinder. The bunker next to it, we realised, was a de-lousing station. Here we found some German greatcoats awaiting de-lousing. Donning these over our American uniforms may afford us some camouflage, though it meant having to dispose of our distinctive helmets.

We continued on through the German trenches towards the rear. We were challenged a couple of times, though Rurik or I managed to fast-talk our way past them. We did, however, overhear that the Germans were well aware of the impending attack and were fully prepared for it – hence the fully manned front trench. We finally left the trench system and found ourselves at a crossroads. A makeshift road sign showed three arrows in different directions: POW encampment, ammunition dump, and airfield. After a quick discussion on which location was more likely to have the anachronistic weaponry, we decided to head for the airfield.

The airfield proved to be several kilometres rearward, with plenty of units going back and forth. We simply joined in and were able to march there without being challenged. The airfield itself was a makeshift affair in front of a chateaux. As we approached we saw three red triplanes parked up on the grass; I recognised them immediately – Baron von Richthofen’s Flying Circus! As we stood there, we were approached by an airman, who Rurik identified as Lothar von Richthofen. He queried our presence to which I replied that we had been sent here to prepare “the weapon”. Lothar von Richthofen seemed satisfied with this and directed us towards a stone shed at the far end of the airfield. Before leaving us, he also gave his approval of Shamus’ Lewis gun!

We headed towards the stone shed which, as we approached, we realised was being guarded by a soldier manning a machine gun next to the door. A Feldwebel approached us from a different direction and demanded to know who we were and what we were doing. I again tried the lie of being sent to fit “the weapon”, but the Feldwebel obviously didn’t believe me and immediately started shouting for guards. Daniels shot him with his rifle and the Feldwebel immediately disappeared; another Stopwatch agent. We sprinted for the machine gunner and Longfellow was able to neutralise him before he could use his weapon on us.

However, the initial rifle shot ensured that soldiers were spilling out of the Chateaux, so Shamus went prone and started firing bursts from his Lewis gun. I detailed Daniels to man the German machine gun to buy us time. Longfellow, Rurik and the Lieutenant immediately went to work in trying to gain entry to the locked stone shed. Despite Shamus and Daniels’ suppressive fire, a few random shots were landing around us, and from the far end of the airfield we could hear aircraft engines starting…

Rurik was able to defeat the lock on the stout wooden door of the shed and he, the Lieutenant and I entered. Using the light on Rurik’s little Leatherman as our only source of illumination, we soon found crates not in keeping with the time period. Furthermore, they had written on them missile. We prised one crate open and realised the only way to quickly destroy these munitions was to blow up the shed. We packed the crate with all the grenades we had and bolted from the building, telling those outside to run as we passed them! The resulting detonation was exactly what we wanted, as the entire shed disappeared in an explosion of flame and stone debris, lighting up the night sky for an instant.

We needed a vehicle, but the only one we had seen was a staff car near to where we originally saw the triplanes. We sprinted for it, Shamus firing from the hip as we went and even firing a burst at an aircraft as it taxied towards us. He managed to hit the engine and it slowed to a stop not far from us. From aboard clambered out Manfred von Richthofen, whom we pushed along with us towards the car.

Near the staff car was an unattended Albatros D.V. The Lieutenant veered off towards the aircraft as the rest of us climbed aboard the car. We dumped von Richthofen here (as he was no longer in danger and, conversely, a danger to us). Daniels was the first to reach the driver’s seat and no sooner had we clambered in or on, he had us roaring away from the airfield, whilst also shouting ‘where am I going? Where am I going??’. From the back seat Shamus fired bursts at anything that appeared out of the darkness.

Meanwhile, the Lieutenant had managed to start the Albatros and had clambered aboard. He gave the throttle full power and lifted off before the two remaining triplanes could line up on him. However, they had the advantage of height and speed and were quickly on his tail and firing bursts at him. He jinked hard left and right and, before he realised, he was flying through trees. The inevitable quickly happened, and a tree snapped one wing from the aircraft. Luckily, the Lieutenant’s speed was sufficiently slow that he was able to crash land without sustaining any injuries of his own. He leapt from the remains of the Albatros and emerged from the trees, not far from where we were in the staff car. The two triplanes circled the crash site but quickly returned to the airfield, not realising we had already made our escape. We sped down the road before slowing to less suspicious and more sedate speed as we encountered other German vehicles heading towards the airfield.

It was then simply a case of making our way through the German trenches and back into friendly lines. However, we made a quick detour to pinpoint the location of the ammunition dump. Leaving the car, we were able to pose as a reconnaissance squad going out on patrol. We were soon in no-man’s land where we dumped our German greatcoats before approaching the British trenches.

Back before Colonel Patton, we advised him of the airfield where we had “incapacitated” some aircraft, and provided him with the location of the ammunition dump. ‘This’, he said ‘is an ideal artillery target!’ We also made him aware that the Germans were aware of the impending allied attack (to which he wasn’t surprised). With our mission done, we bid farewell to our Timepiece colleague and find somewhere unobserved so that we can jump back to the 22nd Century. All in all, a very successful first mission!

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