8 September 2047, 07:25
"Forward, comrades, we must cleanse this foul country! General Aleksandr protects us!", Storm Squad Leader Viktor Grigoryev, a former convict otherwise known as the 'Beast of Bryansk', encouraged the men around him. His original unit had long been blasted to pieces at the waterfront, but the internal structure of the Shock Divisions was highly fluid and organic: Whenever one leader died or a unit broke ranks, the Troopers would swiftly rally around whichever one of them was the most aggressive and continue to press onwards. Despite tremendous casualties, the defenders had been overwhelmed. Now the Troopers fanned out into the city, spraying all doorways, alleys and windows with a few lightning bolts from their Handheld Tesla Devices for good measure. Suddenly, the group once again came under fire from a dug-in position at the market square, where Sergeant Finley and a few hundred other British soldiers had gathered to make their last stand.
"Private Mitchell!", Finley yelled through the constant noise of gunfire and battle cries. "Leave the wounded! We need everyone fighting here and now!" Meryl initially refused as she was busy patching up yet another injured comrade. "I-I-I can't! I'm a medic, I'm here to help people, not..." Finley interrupted her: "Have you SEEN these guys, Meryl? I don't think they'll GIVE a fuck! Now grab a weapon and follow me, that's a god-damned order!" Meryl sighed in resignation while she picked up an assault rifle and joined the soldiers on the firing line. Despite having gone through the same training as everyone else, it was clearly visible that she was still uncomfortable with the process. She rested the weapon against her shoulder, took aim at the frenzied mass of armour-clad Russians that charged towards the market square - and fired. One of them took an entire burst in the guts and dropped to the ground, only to wrestle himself back up and crawl forward to retrieve his rifle, his pain numbed by sheer blood-crazed fanaticism. Reluctantly, Meryl aimed again, this time at the face of the Trooper which had been rendered inhuman by the massive combat helmet and gas mask. The second burst put an end to his fight while Meryl suppressed the sudden urge to throw up and fought on, quickly losing count of how many men she killed.
After a while, the panicked phrase "Last mag!" sounded through the British line more and more often and the rifle fire became sporadic. The Shock Troopers had been visibly decimated, but those that remained kept moving forward, having passed the edge of insanity long ago. Sergeant Finley knew that this fight was going to end soon and issued an unusual series of orders: "Fix bayonets......Remove scabbards......At guard!" This was it; the final straw. Mechanically, the soldiers went through the motions until the ultimate command was given: "CHARGE!"
"Set capacitors to full power!", Grigoryev ordered "It's frying time!" For a moment, the sight of European soldiers, these supposedly spoiled cowards raised by a weak society, charging at him while screaming at the top of their lungs, sent a slight shiver down his spine, but the brief glimpse of fearful humanity remained invisibly contained within the confines of his battle suit. The Brits kept pushing forward with Sergeant Finley at the tip of their final, desperate assault. The Storm Squad Leader found the very notion of a wimpy little woman like Meryl taking on the elite of the Russian military to be preposterous to the extreme and turned his Tesla weapon to maximum where one discharge would surely be enough to reduce her to a speck of greasy ashes on the pavement.
But then, seemingly out of nowhere, a hail of deadly flechettes ripped into the flank of his unit, cutting down dozens of men in a single bloody sweep. Grigoryev was surprised and looked to his left, only to get crushed by a Challenger tank that swung out of the side street at full speed. The steel monstrosity manoeuvred into position to shield its charging comrades while the remaining Shock Troopers broke ranks and 'relocated' towards the shore. The British soldiers took cover behind the vehicle and Sergeant Finley reached for the externally mounted tank-infantry telephone: "This is Colonel David Catt of the Royal Lancers. Sorry for the delay, but we were held up by Russian paratroopers out in the countryside. General Cutting sent us to bust you lads out!" Finley was relieved: "Tis bloody good to see you, Sir. How's the situation at the other beaches?" "The flyboys are tearing up what's left of the Third Shock in Kingsdown. We've suffered some breakthroughs along the main coastline, but they'll probably see reason by the time they realise that there won't be any heavy reinforcements coming from the ports. Now tell your lads to grab some mags from our storage. We have to chase these tossers back to the sea where the Navy can wipe them out for good!"
Meanwhile, the Shock Troopers were dug in at the docks where their Golem tanks had taken up position to oversee the landing of additional hovercraft transports. "There they are, get 'em! Death or glory, boys!", the Colonel sounded through the loudspeakers. Within minutes, all local elements of the British Army including the twelve tanks of the Lancer squadron funnelled into the counter-attack. The Challengers hammered their depleted uranium rounds into the Golems at point-blank range while the infantry opened up on the Shock Troopers. The Golems brought their sluggish guns to bear and returned fire but the odds were clearly stacked against them.
"Come on, lads! We can't screw this up now!", the Colonel proceeded to fire up the troops. Suddenly, a screaming barrage of missiles rained down like a divine intervention, annihilating the entirety of the Russian beachhead in a blazing inferno. The fog had lifted and from the north, the HMS Thunderchild, a Royal Navy battlecruiser of the latest generation moved into sight, accompanied by an entire armada of allied vessels. The deafening roar of her launch tubes sounded across the entire bay as the ship unleashed another hail of missiles, this time aimed at the remaining Russian ships on the horizon. Soon, the frantic battle of Ramsgate came to a close and the last fighting Shock Troopers met their fate via hot lead and cold steel.
"We've done it...It's over", Sergeant Finley aptly summarised the situation as he approached Private Mitchell, who was standing alone by the shore, covered in soot, blood and dirt. But the young medic remained quiet while trying to fight against the tears that were gathering in her eyes. "Matthew's gonna lose his leg", she stammered vacantly. "Derek's dead and God knows how many others." The Sergeant sighed. He knew that he wasn't good at this kind of talk: "It's part of our job. They knew it, I know it and so do you. But it wasn't all in vain. We've saved our country from invasion. This may very well be a turning point in the course of the entire war." Meryl sobbed. She didn't buy it. Right now, she didn't need any of that patriotic military bravado about how the end justifies the means and that there was light at the end of the tunnel. And so she just stood there, silent, watching as the seagulls proceeded to peck at the hundreds upon hundreds of shattered bodies that littered the seaside promenade. A broken husk of what used to be a cheerful individual; another one among thousands of casualties on this grey morning at the coast of England.
A true classic of British aviation, the Harrier jumpjet was retired from service by the MoD in the early 21st century. Unfortunately, its intended replacement, the American F-35 Lightning, would not enter service for many years to come due to a number of safety issues and overflowing costs. Whilst the United States went on and shifted their focus to a more economical multirole version of the F-22 Raptor, many international partners of the Joint Strike Fighter programme, including the Netherlands, Italy and the United Kingdom opted out and were left with no adequate aircraft to fill the niche. Meanwhile, large parts of the Harrier fleet were sold off to the Armada Española. Ever since the creation of the European Continental Army, Spanish carrier ships formed a large portion of the task force's naval branch and provided reliable close air support with their Harriers during ECA combat operations in North Africa. It was at this time when General Cutting of the British expeditionary force worked in close coordination with Admiral Pablo Garcia during the attack on Casablanca. Ten years later, in the most desperate phase of the Russo-European War, Charles once again called upon the help of his Spanish friend, successfully repelling General Aleksandr's ill-conceived invasion of England in one of the war's bloodiest, most decisive battles. In combat, the Harrier is a deadly tank hunter thanks to its powerful Brimstone missiles that also engages both airborne and ground-based targets with a pair of 25mm cannons. Beyond that, its VTOL capabilities ensure a high level of mobility and allow the plane to fly idle in tight circles, making it less prone to sudden anti-air ambushes.
With most of the continental airbases destroyed in the initial strategic bombing campaign launched by the Russian Federation, fixed-wing aircraft such as the Eurofighter Typhoon, a 4.5 generation jet fighter that was first conceived in the mid-1980s, have become a rare commodity for the ECA. Most of the remaining planes now operate from converted motorways as well as distant, still intact bases in Britain, Ireland, Spain or Portugal and can only be called upon under unique circumstances. ECA commanders with the necessary clearance can call in irritating tear gas and cluster strikes that can saturate large areas thanks to the use of a unique munitions dispenser pod mounted underneath the aircraft. However due to equipment shortages, Eurofighters that operate from a civilian airstrip have to make do with ordinary free-fall bombs for their strike missions.
After the United States had abandoned their military bases in Europe and put an abrupt end to eight decades of NATO history, the nations of Europe had to restructure their forces from the ground up in order to fill the gap left by their former allies who were now minding their own business on the other side of the Atlantic. The ECA military planners realised that Europe would need its own strategic bombing capabilities in order to play in the same league as the other global superpowers. Showing a sound degree of foresight, the planners decided that the most suitable country to house and operate the assets would be the United Kingdom, which has been regarded as an 'unsinkable aircraft carrier' since the dawn of military aviation. As a result, Bomber Command made a reappearance as a distinct entity within the RAF command structure and a conglomerate of British and European defence contractors provided the necessary aircraft in the form of the Vulcan B.3 bomber. Thanks to its powerful engines, the Vulcan has a very short response time for a bomber of its size. Its armaments include an extremely precise Smart Bomb - comically dubbed the '16-ton-weight' by Vulcan crews - and the Grand Slam, a massive free-falling gravity bomb with enough explosive force to create short, localised seismic events that sever power lines and break vehicle suspensions, leaving them paralysed for lengthy periods of time.