Saturday, 2 June 2012

A Very British Civil War - the War Comes to Durham - The Battle of Hartford Bridge

Briefing to the British Union of Fascist forces:

Fellow BUF friends,

After much negotiation you have been given the honour and responsibility of transporting a high value prisoner, one Kenneth Kirkup, a Communist rebel from Chopwell. You must deliver this prisoner to Morpeth Gaol in person. At your disposal are the following assets; transport charabanc and a van and 20 men.
Terrance Atheridge, Local Chief, BUF Gateshead Branch.

Briefing to the forces of the Army of the Northern Marches:

Tomorrow a valuable prisoner is being transported to Morpeth to stand before the beak. His escort will be members of the BUF. However the Duke doesn't want them thugs parading through the streets of Morpeth. You are to erect a checkpoint at Hartford Bridge, stop the convoy and negotiate with them to hand over their prisoner. You are then to convey the prisoner to Morpeth yourself.

Captain Robson, Adjutant Warden, Northern Marches.

Briefing to the forces of the Chopwell Communists:


That damn fool Kirkup has gotten himself arrested again. However this time the authorities are linking him with the dreadful mess at Cartington.  He is to be transported to Morpeth gaol tomorrow where I'm sure they will loosen his tongue.  You are to ride cross county to the ambush point, a place called Hartford Bridge, free Kirkup and make your escape.  This point has been chosen for three reasons.  No-one will expect an attack this far north.  The bridge is a natural defile which is vulnerable to attack.  You can make your escape along the river upstream to the west without the risk of being followed.

Kirkup must not be allowed to reach Morpeth. If necessary you have my authorisation to eliminate him. Take your best shooter and a spotter to support him.

Head of Duma Security

Following the arrest of Kenneth Kirkup, John Harding issues orders to free him from custody.  Although troublesome, Kirkup represents a vital agent in the Soviet's plans, given his skill at propaganda.  The Chopwell Cossacks are assigned duties to rescue Kirkup at minimum cost.

After the briefing session Comrade-Commissar Ivan Eardley approaches Richard Lambert quietly.  He explains that Kirkup must not be allowed to remain in enemy hands.  If he cannot be rescued, ‘Red Ken’ was to be killed.  Grimly Lambert agrees and makes sure he rounds up one or two keen marksmen.

Richard Lambert, Master of the Cossacks, takes his 35 riders out to Hartford Bridge the location identified by the Communist informants as the best ambush point on the expected route of Kirkup's transport. 

Leaving their horses tethered to the rear (with 5 holders/guards) along the river, Lambert sets up an ambush along the road west of the bridge and sends another ambush team forwards to the bridge itself.  He also sends an assault team (armed with some freshly acquired Suomi SMGs, pistols and shotguns) south across the river tasked with blocking off any enemy retreat.  They're also the ones who'll actually go in and rescue Kirkup.

As the morning mists clear, a small van accompanied by a clattering charabanc trundles up the road from the south.  The assault team watch from the woods as it rolls by, shocked to see a large number of BUF troops on the vehicle.  The Communists had been expecting police and perhaps some auxiliaries in support, not these hated Fascist fanatics!

The forward ambush had an even nastier shock as they approached their ambush point.  Loitering at the farmhouse gate was a small squad of regular army soldiers!   The Communists back off slightly and begin arguing about what to do.  Police are one thing, but taking on the army is altogether another game.  Tangling with those chaps will get you killed.

The Communists watch as the charabanc halts south of the bridge and the smaller van approaches the military roadblock.  Although they can't hear exactly what is being said, they can see BUF uniforms in the van and watch transfixed as the black shirts and the soldiers began an apparently heated argument with each other.

Lambert strained through his binoculars to make out what was going on, but seeing that the van which he assumed was carrying Kirkup had been blocked, he ordered his comrades forwards to the bridge.  They move swift and unseen through the dense woodland.

Suddenly, to the south, the dull chatter of gunshots echoes across the scene.  The Communist assault troops can’t believe their luck!  A whole bus full of BUF chaps just sitting yards away, waiting to be given what for.  They open fire with a fierce volley of shots that pepper and ding through the charabanc.  

They did little however but surprise the BUF who proceeded  to pile out of the doors and shattered windows of the bus in a panic as it jolted forwards up onto the bridge.  Sheltering on the bridge they returned accurate fire inflicting injuries on the Communists sheltering behind trees.  The Red's leader i seriously injured and the dismounted Chopwell Cossacks begin to waver.

Meanwhile to the north the BUF tumble off the bridge and into the forest only to find themselves in a lethal close ranged Communist cross fire.  

Desperately sheltering behind trees or in ground depressions the BUF and the Communists exchange panicked shots.  Weight of numbers and the cross fire tells however, and soon most of the BUF were seriously injured or killed.  Finally their unit leader, scanning in panic for a route away took a bullet through the neck and the remaining BUF scrabbled back to the bridge, dragging their wounded with them as best they could.

Meanwhile, at the bridge the Army and BUF continued to squabble over the prisoner.  The army privates finally give up the debate and smash open the back of the motor van.  They take the prisoner, bundle him into their car and speed away north.

Things look hopeless for the Communists and it seems Kirkup is being snatached away!  However, Lambert quickly shouts at his comrades to shoot out the tyres on the car.  He wasn’t willing to give up on Ken Kirkup just yet.  A sporadic volley of poorly aimed shots tears through the car which promptly explodes!  All present watch helplessly as the soldiers and Kirkup trapped inside the burning vehicle thrash about, desperately trying to escape the flames.  One solder manages to stumble out and stagger to his knees in a desperate attempt to put himself out but its too late for everyone in the car.  

The whole action is over in less that 10 minutes and Lambert and the Cossacks retreat from the scene and make their escape west, leaving only one or two dead, but carrying many wounded.

The badly mauled BUF tend their wounded and the remaining solders emerge from the farm house to survey a scene of devastation.  The Communists, it seems, have made a very powerful new enemy.

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