Thursday, October 29, 2020

Preparations

(Source)

Von Lüttwitz looked at Leutnant Gerd Vorwald in amazement, "Do you mean to tell me you stopped when the enemy opened fire at our StuGs, you just burrowed into the forest floor and kept your heads down?"

Vorwald started with, "Herr Hauptmann, the attack was so sudden, there were a dozen American Shermans, at least a battalion of infantry, we couldn't get close enough to..."

The engineer detachment NCO, Unteroffizier Sepp Zumbach chimed in, "Sir, there were three Shermans, two of which Bielefeld's StuGs destroyed. There were maybe three squads of Ami infantry. It was hard to tell once the shooting started, but there weren't that many of them."

Turning to the tough looking engineer NCO, von Lüttwitz continued, "And you Unteroffizier, why didn't you drive off that infantry?" Von Lüttwitz was livid.

"We tried sir, but the six of us were pinned down by rifle fire, Pionier Kaufmann was badly wounded when we managed to rescue the men from one of the destroyed StuGs. We did as much as we could sir." Zumbach wasn't happy with the way things had gone. He had screamed at Vorwald to get his men into action. They had done nothing, nothing at all.

Von Lüttwitz looked toward where he knew his Sanitäter, Peter Krauss, was working on the three wounded men. Then he turned to Unteroffizier Klaus Bittner, whose vehicle had been destroyed and two of his crew wounded, "Unteroffizier, I want you and your man here to escort Leutnant Vorwald back to battalion. I will send a brief report with you. Please inform the major that we have no room for cowards up here. The lieutenant is relieved of his duties and is under arrest."

Bittner looked at his driver, Gefreiter Hans-Ulrich Karch, then back at the captain, "Certainly sir, but what about my wounded men, especially Hebl?"

"We have no means to evacuate them, I can't use you here Bittner, you're not an infantryman. As soon as things here settle down, if that ever happens, I will evacuate the wounded to the rear."

Vorwald spoke, "Herr Hauptmann, you have no right..."

"SILENCE!" Von Lüttwitz was shaking with rage now. "I could convene a summary court this very instant Vorwald, I could have you shot right here and now!! Do you understand?"

Vorwald's confidence was shaken now, it's true, he had panicked and ordered his men to dig in, he had ignored the engineer's pleas for assistance, but this, this was too much to bear.

"Herr Hauptmann, please let me stay, if I am sent back my family will be disgraced. Let me stay as a simple grenadier, I..."

Von Lüttwitz took a deep breath, he could use every rifle he could get, at the moment he had more weapons than he had men to man them. He stepped forward and tore the epaulettes from Vorwald's shoulders. "Very well, Grenadier Vorwald, find a rifle and report to Gefreiter Köhler, you're in his squad. Prove yourself and no more will be said of this."

Just then Peter Krause came up, "Sir, beg to report, the man who lost his hands has been bandaged up, he's in no immediate danger from his wounds, but he should be evacuated and..." Walking up behind him was Bittner's gunner, a heavy bandage on his head.

"I'm going to have quite a headache Hasso," he said, looking at Bittner, "nothing worse than I'd get after a long night at a Biergarten. Do we stay and fight?" Obergefreiter Gotthard Gartner was ready to continue fighting, he was mad that his friend Panzerschütze Rolf Hebl had lost his hands.

Von Lüttwitz answered, "No, though I appreciate the offer, Obergefreiter. Bittner, take your men to the rear, Hebl should be seen by the surgeon. Ah, I see your platoon commander's StuG has arrived. At least they survived."

The men all turned as Bielefeld's surviving StuG III came backing through the forest towards their position.

National Archives

SFC Pedley listened as the last German assault gun made its way away from the battlefield. There was no way he was going to send anyone else out there to contest its retreat. He walked back to Mac Peterson's Sherman, the lone survivor of a platoon of four tanks, where Mac leaned against the tank smoking a cigarette.

"Well Bud, if it's any consolation, four guys from "Red Ryder" survived, though Red apparently wasn't one of them." Peterson took a long drag on his cigarette, dropped the butt to the ground and drew another from his pocket. "Man, if combat doesn't kill me, these things might."

SFC Bud Pedley shook his head, "Glad I never picked up the habit. So Red is missing?"

"Yup, I talked to his gunner, Billy Newsome. After their tank was hit in the engine compartment, they fought for as long as they could, then the sucker began to burn, so they bailed. Somewhere in the confusion Red went missing. There were a lot of rounds in the air last night, he might have been hit, Ted Ramsey is looking for him now."

"Shit. Red's a good man, where are the rest of his crew?"

"I sent them to the rear, told them to ask for more tanks."

"Seriously, after all that shit last night?"

"Bud, we drove off those f**king Krauts, did you know they had infantry with them? Bastards went to ground then ran when they had the chance, well, except for this one bunch who withdrew from tree to tree firing as they went. Ted told me that the bastards kept him from maneuvering."

"All right, let me see what I can do. There's a battalion of the First down the hill from the main Kraut position. Maybe they'd like another chance at these Krauts. Brewster!!" Pedley stalked off, wondering where the radioman had gotten to.


Captain Alphonse Josephson handed the handset back to his radioman, "Gus, I have a job for you guys!"

1Lt Gus Chambers, now commanding Charlie Company, Josephson's old command, came over, "Whaddaya got Sir?"

"3rd Armored managed to get a couple of tanks and some infantry up an old logging trail over to our right. They're close to the flank of those f**king Krauts up on this ridge in front of us. Think you could take Charlie over to..." the captain turned his map around and pointed to where he wanted C Company to go, "here, right here. Third Herd is going to send another platoon of tanks up there, but they're short of infantry. Want to give it a go?"

"Damned straight Tex. Going straight up this rise ain't gonna cut it, get on their flank, we could drive the bastards couldn't we?" Chambers was itching to get into the fight with his new command.

"Exactly. As soon as you're in position with the armor, we'll demonstrate to the front, mortars, machine gun fire, yell insults, throw rocks, whatever we can to distract the bastards. When you pitch in, we'll advance too. Catch those bastards between a rock and a hard place."

"The old hammer and anvil tactic, I like it sir, like it a lot. Let me get my platoon leaders together..." pausing to look at his watch, Chambers continued, "we can be on the move in a couple of hours."

"What are you waiting for Gus, go kill some Germans."


"If the Amis come with tanks, they'll come right down the same track I did, Herr Hauptmann." Unterfeldwebel Hasso Bielefeld consulted his map after pointing to the very rough trail his vehicle had followed after disengaging from the Americans. "I have a good position where I am now, and plenty of ammunition. If you can spare even a half squad, I can hold our left flank against all comers."

"Excellent Unteroffizier." Turning to an older man standing nearby he said, "Opa, want a shot at supporting armor?"

"Why not Her Hauptmann, Panzergrenadiers get to ride into battle, right?" Gefreiter Karl-Heinz Köhler, known as "Opa¹" to the men in 5th Company for his age, he was a veteran of the First World War, grinned as he answered his company commander. "As long as Sauer doesn't complain too much that is."

"I'm sure my 1st Platoon commander can spare you." Von Lüttwitz needed to reorganize his defences. Though Leutnant Vorwald had proven to be useless so far, the men he had brought with him had brought an MG 42, which would replace the one he'd lost a few days ago. He also had Zumbach's engineers, the five of them that were left anyway. But they had brought more mines, so it was time to prepare more surprises for the Amis.

"Sepp, I'd like your ideas on where to plant those mines you brought up with you."

"I thought you might Herr Hauptmann, we have a few other tricks to spring should the Amis try your front again. We also have a couple of Teller mines for the flank over there," he gestured in the direction of Bielefeld's StuG III, "they would be a nasty surprise for any tanks trying to overwhelm Bielefeld's lone vehicle."

"Let's get to it then. I'm sure we won't have to long to wait, the Amis are not a patient people!"


Two groups of men, wearing different uniforms, preparing to contest this obscure ground within the Green Hell of the Hürtgenwald again. How much blood would it take to slake the thirst of this dark forest?

It was getting colder as well, winter was not that far off.





¹ German for Grandpa.

Link to all of The Chant's fiction.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Steel On Steel

(Source)

Unterfeldwebel Hasso Bielefeld dropped down into his vehicle just as an American anti-tank round glanced off the front glacis just below his hatch and went screaming into the air with a shower of sparks.

"That was close," he screamed, followed by, "target tank, 100 meters, engage!"

The big 75 mm gun recoiled, spitting out the shell casing. The loader, Hans Stoecker had another round "up the spout" in no time, screaming, "Panzergrenate geladen!"¹

"Hit!" Bielefeld was looking, there, another tank to the right of the one they'd just hit. The tank they had hit had stopped abruptly, as it slewed to the right, heavy smoke coming from the engine compartment. When he saw the turret moving, he realized that it wasn't dead yet, a mobility kill yes, but the gun was still in action.


"Jesus, Ted, what the f**k was that?" Sgt Red Wilson, commanding the Sherman named "Red Ryder," screamed as his vehicle was jarred, rocking to the left, then slamming to a halt while slewing to the right. Wilson could smell smoke, he didn't like that.

"I dunno Red, shit I think we're hit! Engine's not responding, controls are jammed!" Pvt Ted Bosworth, "Red Ryder's" driver, was trying to get the engine going again, to no avail.

Cpl Billy Newsome, "Red Ryder's" gunner, his face to his sight, yelled out, "Target assault gun, range 100 yards! Firing!"

(Source)

Sgt Mac Peterson's tank, "Tennessee Whiskey," had gotten off the first shot. "Shit! It bounced right off the son of a bitch!"

Sgt Bob Norwood moved his sight slightly down and to the left, the next shot should do the trick, he thought. But at that moment the left side of the tank dropped into a shallow depression, as his foot hit the trigger pedal, the shot went into the air, hitting nothing but pine branches.

"Damn it Louis, hold the f**king tank steady!" Then he realized that the shot shouldn't have gone high like that, "Mac, the f**king gyro stabilizer just shit the bed!"

Cpl Louis Clark, "Tennessee Whiskey's" driver, yelled back, "We're in the woods damn it, you try and avoid the f**kin' trees! Damn dip in the ground, hang on." With that Clark gunned the engine, causing the tank to shoot forward onto more level ground.


"Scheiße!" The gunner in Unteroffizier Johannes Brandt's StuG swore as the tank he had fired at jumped out of the way, just as he fired.

"Lay the gun again Willi, take the shot!"

As Gefreiter Willi Bachmann, ordered the driver, Panzerschütze Fritz Schiffhauer to turn 10 degrees to the right an anti-tank round from one of the still mobile American tanks hit the vehicle directly in the lower hull. The round penetrated, killing Schiffhauer instantly.


"Get us up the hill Bert, those guys have no turret, move to their flank, we can kill 'em all!" SSgt Tom Michaelson knew they had to move, at this range those Kraut 75s would tear them apart. As he watched through his vision slits, he didn't think they were going to make it. These Krauts knew what they were doing.

Seconds later a 75 mm anti-tank round hit the turret ring of "Tommy's Tank," it penetrated, decapitating PFC Mike Herbst, the loader, spraying his blood all over the inside of the turret. Cpl Bill Thompson, Michaelson's gunner, looked to his left, the Kraut round had gone right through Mike and then through the back of the turret.

He tried to move the turret, no such luck, the hit had destroyed the gears in the turret ring, rendering the traverse useless. But the gun was now aimed at one of the StuGs which was backing away from a burning vehicle so he stomped on the floor pedal trigger.

The round missed.


Brandt's StuG was starting to burn, loose insulation in the crew compartment had been ignited by the round which penetrated the driver's position. He immediately ordered the crew to bail out.

They did so into a hail of rifle and machine gun fire.

Brandt was hit by at least four rounds, none of which had actually been aimed at him. He was killed instantly and fell over the side of his vehicle, his legs caught on an ammunition storage bracket in the compartment, leaving his corpse draped over the side.

Panzerschütze Siegfreid Kandler was hit in the chest and in the leg as he bailed from the now burning vehicle. He managed to crawl away from the StuG and rolled into a depression in the forest floor. It hurt to breathe, he wondered if he'd been hit in a lung. He tried desperately to bind the wound in his thigh, he didn't know that his femoral artery had been completely severed, he bled to death in less than a minute.

Gefreiter Willi Bachmann hesitated, he'd let Kandler jump first while he attempted to stop the fire in the crew compartment. Too late he realized that it was a fool's errand, one of the high explosive rounds cooked off and killed him instantly.

Brandt's vehicle was burning fiercely now. Unteroffizier Klaus Bittner, commanding the third StuG of Bielefeld's platoon had his driver back away from the burning pyre, glancing in that direction, he saw the body of his friend Johannes hanging from his hatch, burning. He shuddered in horror. It was not the first time he'd seen a friend burn, he prayed that it was the last, though he thought that to be a false hope.

Looking again to the front, he saw the crew of one of the Shermans, the one with the burning engine compartment, jumping from their vehicle and scrambling to the rear. He had the thought of engaging them with the machine gun mounted on the roof of his vehicle, but the amount of incoming Ami tracer fire dissuaded him from that particular form of suicide.


Tom Michaelson had ordered his gunner, Bill Thompson, over to the loader's position, Mike Herbst's body being shoved unceremoniously aside. The driver, Bert Allison, was trying desperately to unjam the turret, if he could smash the damaged gears aside, they might regain control of the gun in azimuth.

"Got it!" Allison yelled, then scrambled back into his driver's seat. There was a blank spot where they couldn't point the gun, but that was to the right, the action at the moment was all to the left.


Bielefeld saw the Sherman he had hit begin to move again. He had a perfect shot to the side of the enemy tank. He ordered Gefreiter Sigismund Hecht to engage that vehicle. The cannon barked and the round went home. Bielefeld could see a glowing hole in the side of the tank, just above the middle set of road wheels. In the next instant, that tank exploded.


Sgt Bob Norwood, Tennessee Whiskey's gunner saw "Tommy's Tank" blow itself apart, he knew that the crew had had it, no one could survive that sort of explosion. He yelled over the intercom, "Michaelson's had it, they just f**king blew up. Damn it, I see the bastard!"

He stomped on the floor pedal trigger and sent a round into a StuG which had been backing up. He didn't know that it wasn't the StuG which had killed Michaelson and his crew.


The nose of Bittner's StuG had dropped just as the American anti-tank round was fired, it entered the roof of the crew compartment. Obergefreiter Gotthard Gartner, the gunner, was wounded by splinters from that shell which had passed through the gun breech after penetrating the roof. The gun was destroyed and the loader lost both hands as he was loading a round when the vehicle was hit.

Bittner and Gartner dragged Panzerschütze Rolf Hebl, the loader, out of the commander's hatch while the driver, Gefreiter Hans-Ulrich Karch lifted Hebl's legs clear. The four crewmen were clear of the vehicle when it exploded.


Bielefeld realized that his platoon had been reduced to a single vehicle, his. He wanted to withdraw, but his orders were clear, stop the Ami tanks. He saw two of those, both burning brightly in the gathering gloom. Were there any more out there?


Night was falling, Mac Peterson knew that both of the other Shermans in his platoon were dead. He saw two burning StuGs as well, he had seen three. "There's another Kraut out there, anyone see it? Where the f**k is the other one?" Peterson asked his crew.

They didn't know that their tank was in shadow and virtually invisible to the surviving German vehicle. That vehicle itself was in the shadows and was also invisible to the Americans.

As Peterson wondered what to do next, he heard someone pounding on his hatch. He opened it to see SFC Bud Pedley.

"We're gonna hold here, it's getting dark and we don't know what's out there. Looks like we traded two for two. I've got my guys digging in, you okay with holding this little chunk of the woods for now?"

"Do I have a choice Bud?"

"Hell no."

"Gonna be a long night I think." Peterson used his field glasses to scan the opposite slope, he couldn't see anything other than the burning vehicles, theirs and those of his friends. Hopefully, someone from those two Shermans had survived.

Though he felt a little guilty thinking it, he rather hoped those German crews were all dead. They had killed some of his friends this day. Mac was learning to hate.


If anyone had looked at a calendar, the Americans would have noticed that it was the 31st of October, Halloween.

Halloween, in the Green Hell of the Hürtgenwald.







¹ Anti-tank round loaded!

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Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Damn It! Armor!

(Source)

Unterfeldwebel Hasso Bielefeld couldn't believe the terrain he was expected to get his small platoon of Sturmgeschütz IIIs through. The trip to the area had been eventful enough by itself.

They had detrained at Düren after a long haul from East Prussia. Traveling only by night to avoid Allied air raids and Jabos, they had still been delayed by raids which had destroyed areas of track ahead of them. The Allies didn't like German rail marshalling yards, with good reason. Most of Germany's military movements were via rail and had been so since before the First World War.

The last 25 kilometers had been by road, a road which gradually deteriorated the closer they got to the Hürtgenwald. To join up with the infantry they had been sent to support, the last few kilometers had been by an old forest trail, now they were trying to get through the woods themselves. There were vestiges of a track but the small squad of combat engineers they had with them had been dismounting so often to cut down a tree, or fill in a steep gully, that those men, under a crusty old Unteroffizier named Sepp Zumbach, were now ahead of his vehicles blazing a trail through the wilderness.

The commander of the infantry platoon with them, meant as a reinforcement for the position they were heading for, wasn't all that happy when Zumbach had told him that his infantrymen would be of more use helping his engineers than riding on the backs of Bielefeld's StuGs.

"I'm not sure I like your tone of voice Unteroffizier." Leutnant Vorwald, all of 18 years old and a freshly minted lieutenant from the training school, was a stickler for military protocol. The scion of a long line of German officers, he felt entitled to his rank. His ancestry had been his ticket to officer training rather than going to the front as an Offizieranwärter¹ and doing things "the hard way."

"Then I suggest you should complain to the Heerespersonalamt² the next time you're in Berlin. Sir." Zumbach noted with satisfaction that Vorwald's men were already disembarking from the StuGs and going forward to help his engineers.

Vorwald looked up at Bielefeld in his commander's cupola. Bielefeld shrugged his shoulders and said, "He has a point Herr Leutnant. Things are different at the front, you're not in school anymore. Sir."

Though he detected a certain amount of disrespect from these two NCOs, he would save his complaints, and any possible disciplinary action, for after this sojourn into the woods, as he viewed it. The Amis couldn't possibly expect to make any progress through these woods. He had to wonder what idiot had reported American tanks in the area.

German engineers using a chainsaw to down a tree
Bundesarchiv

After spending nearly two hours looking for mines, SFC Pedley was convinced there were just the two that they had found, including the first one which Cpl Mick Lashua had spotted shortly before being gunned down by a sniper. That had cost them a further hour as the men had had to spread out and try and spot the sniper. They never did find the man who had killed Lashua, and they were all pretty angry about that.

"F**king Kraut bastards," was the sentiment voiced by Pvt Paul Ansbach. The others began muttering about not taking prisoners when SFC Pedley had recommended that "everybody shut the f**k up and get back to work."

Movement down the track was slow, Pedley was wondering if he should send a couple of scouts ahead to see if they could spot the German position. Then he looked around, the men were angry, but they were also somewhat intimidated by the forest. For morale purposes, he thought it best to keep the boys together, at least within sight of each other.

"Wilkins, Tomlinson, I want you two out ahead a bit, stay where I can see ya, but I need your eyes and ears to the front." Even that concession made Pedley nervous, he was a man of the wide open spaces of west Texas, all these trees made him uncomfortable. This place was dark and depressing, with winter coming on soon, that made it even less cheerful.

Cpl Brad Wilkins and PFC Ed Tomlinson, on the other hand, were from the far northeastern portion of the United States, Wilkins from Maine and Tomlinson from northern New York. The forest didn't bother either of them, and the hilly terrain reminded both men of home. Pedley couldn't begin to understand how a man could stand being in a place where everything was so close in, he liked being able to see what was coming from a long ways away, as he often put it.

Eventually they came to a spot where the trail just vanished. It was there, then it wasn't. Pedley went forward to see for himself.

"Geez, there ain't no way we can get tanks through here, is there?" Pedley said as he looked at Wilkins.

"I dunno Sarge, we could take down a couple of these trees, make our own path. I think we're getting closer to the Kraut position though. I can hear some kind of engine up ahead, a small one, it ain't anything I've heard before. But I'm pretty sure it isn't American."

National Archives

Bielefeld's StuGs had finally made it to von Lüttwitz's position. He was very glad to see reinforcements and armor support. As he talked with Bielefeld and Vorwald, Zumbach's engineers had headed towards the direction where the American armor was, or had been when Köhler had last seen them. Zumbach thought that perhaps they could drop a few trees to slow the American advance.

The three men turned as one when they heard firing break out towards where Zumbach's detachment had gone.


"Krauts!" Tomlinson had screamed when he saw the men moving through the forest towards them. He and Wilkins had both fired at the men, then gone to ground to avoid any return fire. But as quickly as the enemy had been there, they had just as quickly disappeared back into the shadows of the forest.

Pedley had the men deploy to either side of the new path they were attempting to follow, it wasn't so much a trail as it was an area with fewer trees which the Shermans could negotiate, albeit slowly. He moved up to his point men when he was done.

"What did you boys see?"

Tomlinson spoke first, "Just shapes really Sarge, but they weren't animals, they were human. I know none of our guys are up here, otherwise, we wouldn't be up here. So I opened up on 'em."

Wilkins stated, "I did catch a glimpse of them, definitely Krauts. Those soft caps some of 'em wear are pretty distinctive. I think they saw us at the same time we saw them. But we got the first rounds out, I think they fell back. Probably saw the tank back there."

Sure enough, Mac Peterson's vehicle "Tennessee Whiskey," now in the lead, was coming up through the forest. Pedley held up a hand to get Peterson to halt, which he did.

"Whaddaya got Sarge?" Peterson was standing in his hatch, it left him exposed to sniper fire but he needed to see where they were going, so he took the risk.

"Small party of Krauts, we drove 'em off, but I'm betting they were scouts. They know we're here, I think we're close, Mac. Let's get the infantry deployed, we need to move up on them slow like and then..." Pedley's voice trailed off as Peterson said, "Shit, they've got f**kin' tanks!"


Bielefeld had watched Zumbach's engineers scramble past his vehicle. He was low in his hatch as he'd seen far too many of his comrades shot by exposing themselves to enemy fire. He waited, they were slightly hull down where he was, he ordered his other two vehicles to deploy to his left, there was no room to deploy to the right. He had them stay back slightly in a rough echelon formation. He wanted to see what they were up against before he opened fire.

He could hear the rumble of tank engines to his front. The thought which popped unbidden into his head was, "Scheiße, sie haben verdammte Panzer.³





¹ Officer aspirant, certain enlisted men were identified as potential officers (or NCOs) and held a special grade as an Offizieranwärter designated by two stripes of braid on their epaulets.
² Army Personnel Office
³ Shit, they have damned tanks!

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Monday, October 26, 2020

Taking a Break

 Settling in nicely in the new house.  The box to available floor space  ratio is overwhelmingly favoring floor space.  Not completely, mind you, but pretty near.  Cooking and cleaning are becoming easier also.  It usually takes opening no more than two storage areas (drawers, cupboards) before finding the item I'm seeking.  

So, we got that going for us.  As Mrs J's Birthday is this Tuesday, MBD and I planned a little get away down time for the four of us.  Original plan was to visit the Hyatt Lost Pines Resort between Bastrop and Austin.  Unfortunately, $450/room/night was a bit out of our price range.  

Dear Hyatt, 

If I recall my HS Economics class correctly, lower prices increases demand assuming a constant quality.  I know the Commie Flu has been hard on the bottom line.  Please don't try to make it all up at once.

Be see'in ya...Maybe

juvat

Instead, we found a two bedroom condo on Lake LBJ.  My definition of ON is "it had a boat slip with a boat". No Beans, the boat was not included in the rental fee.  But the patio was and it was quite pleasant.

Running a guest house ourselves, it was interesting to see how others do it.  They were "similar, but different".  It was obvious to us that the owners use a cleaning service.  Just little things. Like the little containers of creamer were a tad "long in the tooth".  I don't think they're supposed to be solid.  But, what the heck, dump it out, wash cup, make another, don't add creamer.  The can opener doesn't work very well.  Just take it slow and keep your fingers away from the sharp edges.

It's all good.  Especially when you're the only one awake and this is the view.


 And the second cup was pretty darn good.

Finally the clan joins me on the balcony.  SIL has a test the next day so he's studying.  MBD is working from "Home", so she's got some video meeting going on.  Yes, she did sit facing the sliding glass door so the above view was her background.  Life is good.

Finally it's lunch time so we decide to go to the Double Horn Brewery.  Pretty nice place, got to meet the brewmaster, owner, waiter and Matre'd, all at once.  Ordered "The Cowboy", as did Mrs J.  Cheeseburger with an onion ring, BBQ sauce, Lettuce and fresh Jalapenos.  I also ordered a Stout to wash it down.  First bite was great, then I hit the jalapeno at the same time Mrs J did.  They were a bit...spicier than I expected, and I've eaten an awful lot of jalapenos over the year.  But it did take a bit more of the Stout to wash it down.  Asked the brewmaster, owner, waiter and Matre'd, when he came to check on us for another.  He asked if I had liked the first, I told him I had and he asked if I wanted to try the "Nitro" Stout.  He said the one I'd just finished had used CO2 for carbonation, this one used Nitrogen.  He had just decided that morning that it was ready for sale. I said sure.  Still had a little bit of the first left, so put it aside for comparison.

Learn something new every day.  The "Nitro" was much smoother and had a finer head, similar to a Guinness.  I complemented him on his skills as we left.  

We then decided to investigate a little bit of local history.  I'd read something a while back about the early history of the Hill Country.  It spoke a bit about the chafing that occurred between the German Immigrants and the American Immigrants to Texas.  Suffice it to say, the German's were NOT pro-slavery, while the American's immigrated to Texas primarily from the South.

Discussions did not always end amicably, as I've spoken about before .  So just outside Marble Falls city limits on the south side of the river and about a mile east of US281 on a road off of a county road is a Texas Historical Marker.  One is quite unlikely to stumble upon it by accident.


The marker is for "Dead Man's Hole".  This hole is 155' deep and 50' long.   Back in the day, it was said to have a tall oak tree above it.  Seems some folks used it to resolve conflicts.  

Permanently.

 


The marker says up to 17 bodies are supposed to be inside the cave.  several attempts were made to explore the cave, but the air was too noxious very far from the entrance.  The people identified on the marker were ID'd by clothing or personal items found in the cave after it was successfully explored in 1951.  According to this source, Judge Scott was the first Judge for Burnet (pronounced Burn' it) County and was pro Union,  He and another Pro-Union supporter, James McMasters, tried to flee the area when they heard Confederate Supporters called "Bushwackers" were coming for them.  Unfortunately, they were caught.  Scott was shot and McMasters was hung.  Quite likely from the oak tree above the cave.  It was said to have had the mark of several ropes on its limbs.

The Freedmen incident mentioned on the placque is said to have happened in 1871.  A man named Ben McKeever was riding through a place where several Black families had settled.  A dog spooked his horse, so he pulled his pistol and shot at it...missing...several times.  The dog's owner came out and protested.  McKeever shot at him unsuccessfully. McKeever rode off.  On a return trip to the area, the man, Ben Shelby, gathered three others and ambushed McKeever shooting him with a shotgun, then slicing his throat.  They disposed of the body in Dead Man's Hole.  The 4 men were eventually convicted of the murder and according to Court Records (although there is disagreement) were hung for the crime.


 

It was a sobering place to visit, especially when one considers how many similar things are happening daily in the US.

So. with a lot of things running round my head, we returned to the casa de alquiler de juvat and went swimming.

Yes, Beans, the water was fairly cool.  Maybe 65 or so.  As they say, it wasn't so bad once you got used to it.  It's just the getting used to it part.

Then returned to the casa de alquiler de juvat, had a Margarita while we watched the sun set.


 

Next day, SIL had to be at the Austin testing site early, so we packed up and headed home, to find the Gutter Installers hard at work and the antenna re-installer humbly apologizing, saying he'd be happy to use a shorter rack and install it in the brick.  (They don't have a ground mount.  I'd have to buy and install a flag pole if I wanted one.  We'll see.)

A fun time was had by all.  Peace y'all!







Sunday, October 25, 2020

Clearing the Trail

National Archives

"I figure we can run a tow cable around that tree and use it to pull the wreck down that bank, get another tank pushing from behind and..." Cpl Ron Seymour was interrupted by his sergeant.

"Where are you gonna find enough room in here to get two tanks in place to do that? This trail was a long shot to get around the German flank anyway. Ever wonder why there are no Krauts here? They probably figured that only a bunch of idiots would try to attack up this slope and they can see how narrow this damned trail is, steep drop on one side, almost a wall on the uphill side." Sgt Ted Ramsey shook his head, he was still trying to figure out how Ron had ever made corporal, he wasn't the sharpest tack in the drawer on his best days.

"Okay, yeah, I see that. It was just an idea Sarge." Cpl Ron Seymour then shrugged his shoulders, he hadn't thought this through all the way.

"Why are you people standing around jawing, we need to get this wreck moved!" SFC Pedley was not happy. "What do you think Tom?"

SSgt Tom Michaelson, the tank platoon's platoon sergeant and commander of "Tommy's Tank," had been thinking about just this problem. "First thing we gotta do Bud is get the L.T. and his crew out of the tank. As Peterson's tank is the only one that can get up here, he's just gonna have to push the wreck off the trail. Hopefully it'll roll downhill."

"All right then, get that tank up here, you, you, and you, start pulling bodies out of the wreck."


The three men that Pedley had detailed to get the bodies of the crew out of the wrecked Sherman had had to be relieved by other men shortly after they had dragged the second man from the front of the burned out Sherman. The driver had come apart as they attempted to pull his badly charred body from his seat. Two of the men vomited and one had said, "I don't care Sarge, you'll have to shoot me, I ain't going back in there!"

Eventually they had completed the onerous task and the remains of the destroyed tank's crew - 2Lt Fred Oswald (tank commander and platoon leader), Sgt Ted Mountjoy (gunner), PFC Sherb Morrison (loader), Cpl Burt McKinney (driver), and Pvt Jim McGraw (bow gunner) - were laid out further back by the side of the trail. The remains were covered by a tarpaulin taken off the back of one of the other tanks. One of the new men couldn't believe how small they looked.

Shortly after the bodies had been recovered, Mac Peterson's tank came rumbling up the trail. Peterson's driver, Cpl Louis Clark, was sitting with his head out of his hatch, to better see. Peterson himself was up in his commander's cupola watching intently, when the tank got close to the wreck, he spoke to his driver...

"Okay Louis, gimme some right lever¹, I want to get us pushing uphill to see if we can't get this wreck to slew around so we can shove it down the hill."

Clark eased the vehicle forward until the left front of the hull pushed up against the backside of the wreck. By jockeying back and forth and pushing gently, not wanting to burn out his transmission, eventually the wreck of 2Lt Oswald's tank was perched precariously at the edge of the trail, the nose of the tank pointing slightly downhill.

With one last nudge, the wreck skid off the trail and plunged down the bank, rolling over when it hit a fallen tree. It didn't go very far down the hill, but now the trail was clear. It was still only wide enough for the tanks to pass through single file, but this time the infantry would be further up the trail and spread farther out to each side of the trail. The idea was to keep any German with the guts to try and kill a tank with a panzerfaust as far away as possible, to make a tough shot an even tougher proposition.


Opa Köhler could hear the rumble of the tank engine some distance away. He and young Fuchs were some distance from the left flank of the company. He lifted his field glasses and could see a strong detachment of American infantry moving carefully down the trail and a good twenty meters to either side. These men wouldn't make the same mistake twice.

"Go back to the company, tell the captain that the Amis have cleared the trail and are coming our way. I figure another hour before they reach where we are now." Köhler looked at Fuchs, "Go, now. Quickly."

As Fuchs made his way down from the high ground they were using to watch the trail, Köhler watched, and waited.


Cpl Mick Lashua noticed something strange on the trail ahead. Something looked odd, out of place. He held up a hand to halt the advance. While it took a few more seconds to get the flank men stopped, and seconds more to get word back to the rest of the platoon and the tanks, everyone was finally stopped.

"What's up Mick?" SFC Pedley had been about halfway between the lead scouts and the tanks with their infantry supports, he had a squad with him.

"Mines." Lashua muttered and pointed.

Pedley looked around, scanning slowly from side to side, there! He saw the prongs of a German "Bouncing Betty," no doubt where there was one, there were probably more.


"Scheiße." Köhler muttered to himself, the Amis had obviously spotted one of the two mines he and Fuchs had planted. He would have liked to plant more, but that's all they had, the captain had used the rest to mine the approaches to their trench line. There weren't enough to cover all of that area either.

He watched as the Americans dug up the first mine and safed it, they knew how, so obviously these guys were experienced. He could see that the Amis were probing to find more mines, not knowing, of course, that there were only two of the nasty devices.

Sighing, Köhler flipped the safety off of his K98k, he had left his MP 40 with his squad, he wanted something with more range out here. Settling his cheek into the stock, he lined up one of the Americans in his sights. Must be someone in charge, he thought, he's not actually doing anything but is supervising the others, probably a sergeant.

He took a breath, let part of it out, then squeezed the trigger.


Cpl Lashua grunted in pain, then doubled over, slumping down onto the trail. He had been hit in the chest. SFC Pedley immediately ordered the men to take cover while he tried to discern from where the shot had come from.

"Has to be up there," Pedley thought, then aloud he said, "Turk, do you see that clump of little pines up on that rise to the right, maybe 75 yards out?"

Pvt Theodore "Turk" Yilmaz said, "Got it Sarge." Then he raised his B.A.R. to his shoulder.

"Hit it." Pedley ordered.


Köhler was already moving back towards the company when the first rounds from the American automatic rifle ripped through where he had been just moments before. He could hear the rounds zipping over his head, he even felt a few twigs and branches fall on his back as he moved.

If he had been just a second slower, he'd be lying under those pines back there for eternity.


SFC Pedley knew that if he hadn't decided to probe for mines himself, it would have been him lying there on the trail. Doc Hobart had rushed up as soon as he'd gotten the word and even now was trying to stem the bleeding and assess Lashua's wound.

The only thing moving on Lashua were his eyes, they darted back and forth, he looked terrified, like someone in a bad dream and trying desperately to wake up. Frothy blood was bubbling from his lips, he was hit bad. After a few more seconds, his eyes stopped shifting and he went very still.

Doc checked for a pulse, nothing. He turned to look at Pedley and silently shook his head. Corporal Michael "Mick" Lashua of Dover, New Hampshire was dead, killed in action at the age of 22.


It was the 28th of October, 1944 in the Green Hell of the Hürtgen Forest.







¹ The Sherman had a pair of steering levers to control the speed of the left and right tracks. Simply put, pull back and the track on that side slowed, pull both back and the tank would stop.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

More of the History Behind The Story

"Go for Broke"
442nd Regimental Combat Team in the Vosges Mountains, October 1944
(Source)

When I began this story back in June, with this initial post, I didn't really know where the journey would take me, well, "us" to be more accurate. Many of you have been following along since that day. I have to admit, your comments help me fix errors and keep me on the road to the finish. Not to mention the encouragement you provide to keep me at the task.

You might notice that the Brits and the Poles have rather fallen by the wayside as of late. We haven't heard hide nor hair of Sgt Billy Wallace of the Royal Scots Fusiliers since Operation Bluecoat back in August. Then newly promoted 2Lt James Fitzhugh of the 11th Armoured Division hasn't been heard from since August as well. Nor have the Poles of the 1st Polish Armoured Division been spotted since the Battle of Hill 262, also back in August.

There are reasons for those chaps not having been seen in these spaces as of late. (Mind you, they are all alive and well.) The biggest reason for their absence is that when I departed southward for the birth of the newest member of the tribe (who I am visiting with yet again) back in August. I mistakenly left all my notes at home.

A week in Maryland with time to write and none of my notes to hand. So I started a new chapter in this story involving seven German soldiers from Saxony, cut off and left behind after the German disaster in the Falaise Pocket. The survivors of a devastated division who somehow managed to get back to their lines, far away in Belgium. First episode of that was here.

Now we are seeing those fellows again, on top of a hill in the Hürtgen Forest trying to hold the line against men of the U.S. 1st Infantry Division with support starting to show up from the U.S. 3rd Armored Division. (Note that when referring to British units I use the British spelling. That's intentional.) Those Germans (now down to five of the original seven) were embraced by you, the readers, in such a way that I decided to keep them in the tale, to the bitter end if need be.

So we started with two guys from the Big Red One, Bill Brandt and his buddy Jack Wilson, both of whom made it a long ways before Brandt's wounding and subsequent evacuation in early September. Jack Wilson is still with us, he's a sergeant now, but of the two GIs the story opened with, only Jack is left. Of the Germans we met back then, only Horst Mellanthin and Jan Kołodziej are still alive, Mellanthin is in a POW camp in Texas (I didn't mention that before, might be a story in the future). Kołodziej managed to make his way to the 1st Polish Armoured Division using the nom de guerre "Paweł Kowalski." He lives yet.

None of the Brits or Poles involved in this story were directly involved in Operation Market Garden, the big British operation of the fall of 1944. While their units were still fighting the Hun, my mind drifted to the events along the Belgian-German border and the efforts of the U.S. Army to punch into Germany via Aachen and the Hürtgen Forest.

My great-uncle, John Gammell fought in the Battle of the Hürtgen Forest as a member of the 4th Infantry Division. He came ashore shortly after D-Day and fought all the way through France only to have his war end there in the "Green Hell" as it was called by the men who fought there. He survived his wound and lived to a ripe old age.

My Great-Uncle's Helmet
The German bullet scored, but did not penetrate, the liner underneath.
Talk about close calls!

So my mind, and the story went into the Hürtgenwald. Not far away is the Schnee Eifel, an area I've traveled extensively through, the scene for some of the opening stages of the Battle of the Bulge. You can see where this is going, right?

Well, the book writing thing restarted here, based on a story I'd written maybe 30 years ago, just playing around with an idea. A story which wound up somewhere (done with a typewriter, well before computers in the home were a thing), lost to history. I remember bits of it, the story of a German Tiger crew during the Battle of the Bulge. That short series, written over a few weeks in 2017, led to this current series. I've written other fictional bits (which you can find links to here, all of 'em) and occasionally someone would say, "You really need to write a book Sarge."

Yes, but where to find the time? Then this year it hit me, write the book here, on the blog. Sure some readers won't stick around but others might find it interesting enough to attract others. That seems to have happened, blog hits used to average about 500 a day a year or so ago, we're up to a thousand a day. It's somewhat gratifying, okay, it's very gratifying.

Where does it end?

Well this facet of the tale ends in the ruins of Berlin in May of 1945, maybe it will continue in the Pacific, I'm not sure yet. But this has been a lot of fun so far.

Though I try to keep the historical details as close to reality as possible, the Americans of the Big Red One and the Germans of the 275th Infantry Division in this tale are sometimes in places where they weren't historically. They might have been near a place, and I can't say for certain that these two divisions faced each other in combat, but for the purposes of this story, they do. So far valiantly with heroism on both sides.

That's the idea, show the common humanity while trying to tell a rousing story. So far it seems to be working.

While I'm on the road, I don't know if I'll get to another installment, but guaranteed the men of those two outfits shall return, and shortly.

I won't be in Maryland that long, so you shouldn't have long to wait.

I promise.



Friday, October 23, 2020

Maryland


All is well. Visiting with this wee lad and his Mom and Dad.

Happy camper here, albeit tired.

More later.

Maybe.

😁