We arrived in the lands of our ancestors in June 1941, fresh from the fjords of Norway; each of us determined to teach the Reds that their masters had returned; that Russia belonged to us; the sons of the Rus. A thousand years ago, everyone from the black forests of Prussia to the Dnieper, from the Baltic to the Black Sea, had paid gafol to the Vikings. Now we were back and we claimed our tribute in Bolshevik blood.
Proudly, we wore our Wiking armband, our mark of belonging to a brotherhood of heroes. And like the Vikings of old, we took whatever we wanted. Long gone were the days of swords and shields, we used machine guns and tanks, sending thousands upon thousands of souls up as our offering to Odin, as we scythed our way across the steppes. One Eye was happy, none could stand against us and we were soon cheering as we watched shells falling around the Kremlin's spires.
But Odin is a God of changeable mood; just when we thought our victory was certain, he decreed that our offering was not enough. For our sacrifice to please him, it had to be pure, free from any goal, other than the spilling of blood in His name, a seat in Valhalla, our sole reward for our devotion to Him.
And so we killed and killed again. Back through those ill fated names; Stalingrad; Kursk; Kharkov. Each a desperate rearguard action, where Wiking was left to stand alone against the growing darkness that poured out of the east. Until finally, we came to our nemesis, Korsun.
We spent every day and every night, from 24th January to 16th February 1944 dying, so that our Wehrmacht comrades might survive. Even so, despite our best efforts, by the second week of February, the German forces were penned into an area roughly three miles across and the situation was desperate.
In one last, desperate attempt to break out, my section was given the honour of holding the village of Shanderovka, until the last of the other units had withdrawn past Hill 239 and crossed the river beyond to the relative safety of Lisyanka. What the great High Command failed to take into consideration, was that one entire flank of the intended path of retreat, was still held by the Bolsheviks. This was to be Wiking's Ragnarok and the few of us that survived it, would never be the same again.
In pitch darkness on the night of the 16th February, the German army began its retreat, leaving, nearly three hundred men of Wiking, to delay the Reds for as long as possible. Nearly two thousand years before, the men of Sparta had made this same sacrifice at Thermopylae, their names being sung throughout time because of their heroism. Why then is it, that the names of the men of Wiking have been lost in the mists of the distant past? If they are recalled at all, it is only as demons to scare spoilt Russian brats into behaving themselves.
Were our sacrifices not as great as those of the men from ancient Greece? Did we not freely give our blood that the light of freedom might shine a little longer? Did we not stand against the eastern hoard, that you might sleep safely in your bed today?
No sooner had the last of the retreating troops left the village, than there was the sound of gunfire behind us, an ill omen of things to come. But we had no time to think of that, as by 01.00 the first Bolsheviks came to see if there was still anyone at home in Shanderovka.
We waited until they were almost on top of us, so that we couldn't possibly miss, then cut them down in their hundreds. But as one died, two took his place. No matter how many lives we reaped, there were always more and we were soon locked in deadly hand to hand combat, where it was every man for themselves.
We killed with bullets and grenades until these ran out. Then we fought on with bayonets, entrenching tools, knives, boots, fists and teeth. We were plastered in so much blood, that we couldn't tell what was the enemies' and what was our own. We were like the berserkers of the past, gripped by a battle madness that made us virtually immune to wounds. The only time we stopped fighting, was when we died.
This is what Odin had demanded of us in tribute to His name. There was no thought as to why we were killing. No concern for our comrades, or even our own survival. We killed simply so that we could kill again. Like deadly automated robots from some crazy science fiction film, we waded through spilt blood and guts, stumbled over fallen bodies, with the single purpose of getting to our next victim.
Our screams were those of battle frenzy, our limbs moved of their own accord. The Valkyries sang the ancient sagas, as they chose the latest heroes to join Odin in His last battle. Until finally, we found ourselves alone, in a night lit by the ruddy flames of the burning village around us.
There was an eerie silence, that can only come when the cacophony of battle falls silent. There was nobody left to kill, none of the enemy at least. But mercy decreed that our offering of death was not yet complete. Although the enemy was gone for the moment, we had fulfilled our objective and it was now time for us to leave Shanderovka to its fate. Before we could do this however, we had to give our wounded brothers as painless a death as possible.
Everyone of us had seen what the Reds did to anyone stupid enough to be taken alive by them. Prisoners faced an agonising death, that could last for days. So, we went in search of guns that still had bullets, then tended to those we called our friends, who were not fit enough to take one more walk with us.
I found Bjorn, sprawled against what was left of a cottage wall. He was holding in his guts that were trying to spill out of his ripped open belly. He smiled when he saw me coming through his bleary eyes. We had grown up in Trondheim together, had skipped school to go fishing together. Had sailed to Germany in our quest for adventure together. And now, we would share his last moments on this world together.
I knelt beside him in the bloody snow and passed him the butt of my cigarette. He took a pull, his eyes locked on mine. I had no bullets to send him on his final journey but in a way, it was more fitting that a blade would end his life. He started to take another pull on the cigarette and I skilfully slid the bayonet between his ribs. His eyes widened for a brief moment, before the light went out of them forever.
It is one thing to kill a stranger at a distance with a gun, another to kill him up close with a knife. Yet it is something completely different to watch the life leaving the eyes of someone you love. I knelt beside Bjorn for a moment, lost in memories of the past we had shared. Then put my hand on his cheek, my tears running unchecked, as I said farewell to my friend.
The rest of the division had held the southern section of the line of retreat, so, our final act of kindness done, the remaining one hundred and eighty of us followed their trail, our plan being to reach the tiny bridge over the Gniloy Tikich river before the Russian army got there ahead of us.
Gunfire was still lighting up the sky in front of us, seeming much too intense to bode anything good and we hadn't been marching for more than half an hour, before we came across the first German bodies. The evidence of fighting increased as we pressed into the night and it wasn't much longer before we caught up with stragglers from the retreating column.
We had been picking up whatever weapons we could find as we marched and now had an assortment guns, even having found two MG42's. So we rounded up all the stragglers that we found who could still walk, forming a defensive ring around them as we continued towards our own lines. Deadly field grey ghosts, walking through a twilight world.
We reached the edge of a small grove of trees, just as day was breaking. Before us was a scene out of Dante's pictures of hell. Horse-drawn wagons, clearly marked with red crosses, were being used as playthings by Russian T-34's, like cats playing with blind mice. We watched helplessly as wagon after wagon of German wounded was crushed beneath the tracks of the Russian Goliaths, until their red stars were all but lost under countless layers of blood and gore.
I stood frozen as I watched a medical orderly pick up a fallen rifle to stand between a wounded horse and an oncoming tank. He emptied the magazine at the armoured monster, then threw himself at it in a futile attempt to make it turn away from the helpless animal. He slid beneath the tracks a moment before the tank ploughed over the horse, sending its life blood geysering into the morning sky to stain the surrounding snow. Gunfire and revving engines all but drowned out the screams of the wounded and dying, making the slaughter seem strangely surreal as we watched helplessly from our shelter amongst the trees.
There was nothing we could do against armour, so we turned back into the forest until we could safely resume our course west once more. But what would have been an easy stroll in other circumstances, took us all morning to achieve, with running gun battles and hiding from marauding Russian tanks. And the whole time, there was the constant sound of gunfire coming from our left. Testimony that something was going terribly wrong indeed.
We eventually reached the bridge at just after noon, to find the majority of the division had already crossed the river. It was about forty five feet wide here and extremely fast flowing, which made crossing it a daunting task to say the least. The original bridge had been destroyed by enemy gunfire but tanks and lorries had been driven into the icy waters, then trees had been felled to form a makeshift bridge, over which a steady stream of soldiers was struggling with their wounded comrades.
We rejoined our unit, that was forming the outer defensive ring of the river crossing and the killing began all over again for us. This time, we had some old mark four tanks with us and some of the new Panthers were giving us supporting fire from the far bank of the river. But still wave upon wave of Bolsheviks threw themselves against us, their sole purpose being to crush us into the frigid wasteland of the Russian steppes.
I lost all track of time, all sense of reality and nearly killed Tomas when he grabbed my arm to tell me it was finally our turn to fall back. I was the last one onto the rickety, makeshift bridge and was only halfway across, when a shell exploded slightly upriver from me. The resultant wave swept me off the slippery log I was on and I was carried off by the torrent.
I have no idea how I survived, or how long I was unconscious. My first memories after being washed away, were of being wrapped in warmth. I opened my eyes, to find myself in the arms of a woman. Her face was plastered in so much dirt and blood, that I couldn't tell if she was beautiful or not. But at that moment, she was the most gorgeous woman I had ever set eyes on.
She introduced herself as Alyona, explaining that she was one of the White Cossacks who worked as auxiliaries in the German army and had been separated from her friends in the chaos of the fighting. I only spoke a few words of Russian but luckily, Alyona spoke fluent German and I knew enough of that to get by.
She told me how she had eventually managed to cross the river much lower down than the bridge. But no sooner had she reached safety, than she had seen me being swept by. Fortunately, I had been in fairly shallow water and she had been able to haul me out of the water and drag me out of sight. Now, we were in a deserted cottage, somewhere in a wood, on the western bank of the Gniloy Tikich.
At least we were on the German side of the river, hopefully. But our situation still wasn't good. I was just taking stock of our surroundings, when it suddenly dawned on me that I was naked. So was Alyona. I could see our uniforms draped over a table in the centre of the room. We were wrapped in some blankets that had seen much better days but now I was aware of it, I was definitely pressed against female flesh.
I was covered in small wounds and scratches, my body ached all over, I had been fighting for... I had no idea how long. I had recently nearly drowned but I still managed to get excited as my body realised what was happening. I couldn't believe it. I was twenty three, one of Hitler's elite soldiers and yet I blushed! I had killed so many men that I had lost count long ago and didn't even see their faces in my dreams any more. But I had never been with a woman.
Alyona seemed to sense something had changed. “Are you OK?” She whispered. We were so close, that I felt the warmth of her breath on my cheek and it did nothing to ease my discomfort. Then she moved, so that she could see me clearer and my member brushed against her thigh.
“Oh.” That was all either of us said. Alyona smiled at me, then like that English nurse, Florence Nightingale, she carefully eased me back onto the floor, rolling on top of me, so as not to let any of the heat escape our blankets. She kissed me, my first ever kiss from anyone other than my mother. But my mother's kiss had never done this to me before.
Our lips parted and I opened my eyes to find her watching me. Had I died? Was this my reward? Was I really in Valhalla? Then I didn't care any more. Alyona raised herself slightly, wriggled, another wriggle and she gasped. I had thought Hnefatafl was good until now! The game had suddenly lost all of its appeal. I couldn't do anything, simply having to lie there and let Alyona set the pace. But that suited me fine. This was the best thing that had ever happened to me. We were both filthy, both of us stank, yet I wouldn't have changed a thing. And of all my memories of my youth, this is the one that I cherish the most nearly forty years later.
I could feel Alyona's pert nipples digging into my chest, standing out in contrast to the softness of her breasts. Her belly slid over mine as she moved her hips, the sweat of her labours matting our bodies together. And the longer we were locked together, the greater the heat became, until a raging inferno filled my belly. Yet with all of that passion locked in my loins, our kisses were the most gentle things I had ever experienced. Though my body was a seething maelstrom, our kisses were moments of total calm, that freed me of the nightmares of my past.
And just when I thought that I couldn't last a single second more, the look in Alyona's eyes changed, so that I had a glimpse of creation. She let out a soft moan and a tremor ran through her body, causing my release as it reached my manhood. As she was calm, I was tempest, until finally I was spent, cradling Alyona in my arms.
I have spent much of my all too long life in a Russian gulag, never again feeling the love and tenderness of a woman. I have no idea what became of Alyona but hope that she lived a happy life, perhaps even raising another Rus. And in my happiest dreams, telling him how she shared a moment of bliss with his father amongst the carnage of a long forgotten war.