Thursday, August 6, 2020

Operation Lüttich

National Archives

"What do you call this beast again, Kaminski?" Sgt Brandt had noticed just how thrilled Kaminski was with this newest addition to his platoon. The suspension was different and the gun was bigger. Sgt Brandt liked the idea of the bigger gun.

"She's an 'Easy Eight¹,' Bill. Official designation is the M4A3E8, this baby is one of the few in Normandy right now. We were lucky to get her, I have a buddy in the Quartermaster Corps, he pulled some strings and there ya go, new tank!" Kaminski was like a kid with a new toy.

"It's experimental, so the Army wanted a few examples to try in combat. I thought Patton would want 'em, but my buddy said that Georgie was happy with the tanks he's got. Hey, his loss, our gain." Kaminski chuckled as he continued to check out his new vehicle.

Sgt Wilbur Fortin was wandering down the line as if he was looking for someone. Sgt Brandt saw him and yelled, "Hey Wilbur, what do ya need?"

Fortin adjusted his eyeglasses, blinked, then looked at Sgt Brandt, "Uh, L.T. wants to see you. At the CP, it's right over there."

"Talk to you later Kaminski," Brandt said as he slid down the front of the 'Easy Eight.' "Any idea what he wants Wilbur?"

"Nope, hey, I told ya, call me Sgt Fortin, I got more time in grade." Fortin was an annoying little bastard, Brandt wasn't sure how 2Lt Heintzelman had tolerated him. But it's the Army, it takes all kinds.

"Sure, Sgt Fortin. Sure." Brandt headed over to the CP shaking his head.

It wasn't much more than an old shed with a table inside, but 2Lt Paddock set up shop there, as he said, "At least it's dry." Brandt was pretty sure they wouldn't be here long, the Krauts were on the run.

"What's up Sir?"

"Hey Bill, take a look at this map. You see this high ground just east of us?"

Sgt Brandt leaned in and took a good look at the map, then he chuckled.

"Something funny Sarge?"

"Yes sir, just this morning one of my guys asked me where we were, I told him, 'France.' That's about as close as I could get. But now I see where we are. We've come quite a ways from Marigny, haven't we?"

"Yup, about 45 miles by road. By the way, now I know why you don't like riding in the trucks. With the canvas up, you can't see anything, with the canvas down, everything gets covered in dust. You have that trouble riding a tank?"

"Well, yes sir, just not as bad, tanks don't move as fast. Though I think Kaminski thinks he could race a deuce-and-a-half with his tank. The man is nuts."

"Problem?"

"Hell no Sir. The guy knows his business, but he's a tanker, they're all a little crazy!"

"Hahaha, that they are Bill, that they are. Anyway, I need you and your guys up on this high ground," again Paddock pointed at the map, "there are rumors that the Krauts are up to something. No one has any firm idea, but reconnaissance indicates that the Krauts are massing armor to our east. If they can take Mortain, it will certainly set back our efforts to drive towards Falaise. We could cut off the whole Kraut 7th Army if the Brits get their butts in gear."

Brandt looked at the map again, pulled out his own dog-eared and dirty map. "Huh, I don't have that section, I seem to be a map or two behind. We've just been moving too fast I guess. But I'll take the boys up on that ridge and set up a blocking position. Are we still attached to Kaminski's platoon?"

2Lt Paddock shook his head, "I really don't know Bill, he's in a different outfit, I don't know what orders he might get. But I am sending Sgt Maxwell and his machine gun section with you, we've also got a bazooka team I can lend you. A Corporal Jones and a Private Wells, they've been around. If Kaminski can't take you up there, take one of the trucks. Okay?"

"Got it sir, we'll move out immediately."

Sd.Kfz. 234/4 Pakwagen²
Bundesarchiv

Due to the increasing shortage of tanks, the division was starting to use it's lightly armored eight wheeled armored cars in both a reconnaissance and anti-tank role. SS-Untersturmführer Gerd Rossler was very unhappy about that. His small platoon of one Pakwagen and two halftracks was being pushed down this secondary road leading into Mortain. The rest of the 2nd SS Panzer Division 'Das Reich' and 1st SS Panzer Division 'Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler' had been directed to go around the town. Those two prongs of the attack consisted of both divisions' few remaining Panthers and PzKw IVs.

"So we get the side roads, we get to probe!" Rossler slammed his fist on the gun breech as he yelled that out.

"Untersturmführer?" His sergeant looked at him, a little worried. His commander had been out of sorts lately. Well, you couldn't blame him, harassed from the air, constant combat, supplies running low (there had been nothing for breakfast that morning), that would make anyone a bit testy.

"I'm all right Erwin. Too much on my mind."

As the small platoon moved on, Rossler consulted his map, they should be coming up on Mortain soon, probably just the other side of this ridge. Hopefully the Amis were busy with his more heavily armored comrades so he could slip in, look around, then report back.

Approaching Mortain

"Steady guys, Kraut armored car and a couple of halftracks nosing up the road." Brandt was nervous, Kaminski's tanks were no longer with them, all he had to stop these vehicles was a bazooka team. He really hoped that Jones and Wells were good with that stovepipe.

He'd positioned them up the road a ways in a cluster of trees. Told them to keep their heads down if Kraut infantry came snooping around. Anything driving on the road, he'd leave it up to them to engage or not. L.T. said they knew their business, Brandt had to trust them. Though he didn't like relying on strangers, they were all he had.

Cpl Judd Maxwell and his machine gun section were hunkered down in the second story of a small barn with good sight lines down the road and into the fields on either side of the road. There wasn't much in the way of hedges along this stretch, Brandt was glad of that.

"Sonsofbitches, Kraut armor, boys, get ready!"

East of Mortain
(Source)

SS-Untersturmführer Gerd Rossler signaled his platoon to slow down, at the top of the ridge was a small farmstead, oddly enough it was nearly untouched, rare in this part of Normandy, the Amis were bombing and shelling anything that moved and anything which might harbor Germans.

Just as he did so he heard a whoosh and then an explosion behind him, as he turned he saw the tail end halftrack slew off the road, the engine and driver's compartments were engulfed in smoke. As he watched the survivors bail out of their damaged machine, the chatter of an Ami machine gun tore his gaze back to his front.

The machine gun killed most of the men jumping from the halftrack, as he began to order his gun to hit the small barn to his left, he could see the muzzle flash of the enemy machine gun. Another anti-tank rocket streaked from a small copse of woods. This one slammed into the gun compartment of Rossler's vehicle and killed it's occupants.

The men from the second halftrack had dismounted and were beginning to deploy on the side of the road away from the machine gun. Unknowingly, they had walked right into a classic L-shaped ambush.

National Archives

Cpl Jack Wilson couldn't believe it when the Krauts jumped from their vehicle and ran right towards his reinforced section. He had both B.A.R. teams, Sgt Brandt had loaned him Red and Cajun because, as he put it, "I've got the .30 cal with me, I want you to have enough firepower to handle any Kraut infantry mounted on vehicles. The stovepipe will do it's thing, you do yours."

Of course, Wilson thought, if the Krauts had jumped the other way, the .30 cal would have nailed them, they really had no choice than to try and deploy on his side of the road. It was a fatal mistake.

They waited, a number of the Krauts were moving, on the ground, wounded. The rest were motionless in the long grass. One of the Germans started to stand up. A burst from Duck's B.A.R. put him down hard.

"Okay guys, we're going to hold right here for the moment. Some of those Krauts might be playing possum and I'm not sure if that undamaged halftrack still has it's driver and gunner on board. So let's just wait a..."

As he was talking, another bazooka rocket came out of the trees and slammed into the undamaged halftrack. From the screams, Wilson guessed that not all of the Krauts had dismounted.

Poor bastards.

Mortain
National Archives

The Germans would not be retaking Mortain. In addition, they lost another hundred tanks and assault guns that could not be replaced. The German Army in Normandy was doomed, all they could hope to do now was escape over the Seine River before the British and Canadians closed the trap at Falaise.

It was time to run.



¹ According to my sources, 2,617 M4A3E8s were produced during August 1944. Obviously it would have been a long shot to see one of these in Normandy that soon, if it even happened at all. Officially they weren't in action until December of 1944. But I like the opening photo, it has an Easy Eight, so through the magic of "poetic" licence, Kaminski gets to try one out. Hey, it could've happened!
² Sd.Kfz. 234/4 Pakwagen = Sonderkraftfahrzeug 234, Special Purpose Vehicle 234 Anti-Tank vehicle

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Shadows

(Source, Page 446)

My nose is itching, I really want to scratch it, but I can't. I've got my rifle trained on a patch of brush and I swear there's something in there. It might just be the shadows or the mist, I'll feel better when the sun burns some of this fog off.

We've been in this position all night, right now it's Duck's turn to sleep. We're dug in, but this hole really isn't deep enough for my tastes. The Krauts might be running low on tanks and infantry, but their artillery is still pretty active. They don't fire a lot of rounds, Sarge figures that our flyboys are really pounding their supply lines, so they must be getting low on ammo. Thing is, they've been here for four years, it seems like they have every corner of France zeroed in!

I feel a tug on my sleeve, I almost pee myself then I hear Duck ask, "Charlie, anything out there?"

"Damn it Duck, I dunno. What with this mist and the early morning shadows, I can barely see the front sight on my rifle. There's a patch of brush over across the way, I swear someone's in it."

Duck sat up next to me and took a long look at where I had pointed.

"Kid, I don't see nothing there. It's your imagination."

"I dunno Duck, I swear someone's in there."


The scout from the 17th SS Panzergrenadier Division "Götz von Berlichingen" was frozen in place. He had been watching the American line for 30 minutes or so when he noticed a man in a trench or fighting hole begin to stare in his direction. It was getting lighter out and he needed to get back to his Kampfgruppe¹, Kampfgruppe Wahl. The division had been reduced to 8,500 men at the beginning of July, the scout reckoned there were even fewer left now, maybe 3,000 or so. But the Führer demanded that they attack. So they would.

"Damn it, there's two of them." SS-Unterscharführer Max Klemens thought to himself. He could just see the top of another man's head as the man got up to look in his direction. The original soldier was pointing in his direction. "If I don't move soon, I'm dead man."


Damn it, I swear that's a man, why is he there? Why hasn't he moved? I can almost see his outline, but I'm just not sure. There, there, the sumbitch moved!


Gammell's rifle barked once, twice, then a third time.

"Damn it Charlie! What the Hell are you shooting at?" Duck was angry, Sarge always warned them about firing at shadows, now here's the new guy blasting away at a damned shrub!

Just then Pvt Woodrow "Duck" Simpson heard a rattling gasp from the shrub which Gammell at fired at.

"What the Hell is going on up here?" Sgt Brandt was not happy. He jumped into Gammell's and Simpson's foxhole. He expected a sheepish look from whoever fired the shots, but Simpson looked half-asleep and pretty confused, whereas Gammell was focused on a spot across the small field.

"Duck, cover us. Gammell, with me." Sgt Brandt expected no debate, he expected the new kid to follow him without question, but it stunned him when the kid jerked him back into the hole and snapped, "Wait!"


SS-Unterscharführer Klemens was down, he'd been hit by one round in the upper chest and was having a great deal of difficulty breathing. Another round had gone through his left forearm, shattering both bones. A third round whirred past his head, just missing him. But he was down, down hard. It hurt like Hell.

Bracing himself, he managed to get his rifle, a G43², around and braced on his badly injured forearm. He was trembling, it had hurt a lot to do even that simple task. That's when he noticed that a third American was there, and was climbing out of the fighting position! "Dumme Kerl³, you're a dead man."


Before Sgt Brandt could whirl on Gammell and asked him what the Hell he was playing at, the young private had fired two more rounds.

"I think we can go now Sarge," was all the kid said.

Sgt Brandt took a moment, he was rather at a loss for words. Then Duck said, "Geez Sarge, I think Charlie did see somebody!"

"Gammell?"

"Yeah Sarge?"

"Can we go look now?"

Gammell looked a bit embarrassed, "Sure Sarge, sorry about yanking you down like that."


The first round had hit the dirt in front of Klemens, causing him to flinch, the second hit him just below the rim of his cap, causing him to die.

Cautiously the two Americans moved up to where Klemens' body was. Of course, they didn't know his name was Klemens. They didn't know that he was barely 18 years old and was from a small German-speaking village in Romania, like many in his unit. How could they know?


Sgt Brandt stepped up, the SS man looked very dead, the back of his head was missing, his eyes were open and staring into the dirt where he'd died.

"Charlie, how did you know there was a Kraut here?"


I didn't quite know how to answer. Growing up in the country you get a feel for what's natural and what isn't. Though the German kid's camouflage uniform was pretty effective, his outline was too hard edged, it didn't blend with the background. He stood out more as the day got brighter, then he had moved.

So I shot him. This wasn't the first guy I'd shot at, I'm pretty sure I shot a Kraut tanker a couple of days ago who was running away from his tank. Pretty sure I hit him too, but I didn't go look, there wasn't time, we were in the middle of a firefight, then Sarge found that wounded Kraut in the barn, things were crazy.

"Sarge, I feel kinda sick." I did, I felt like I was gonna puke. Here was a guy who had been alive just fifteen minutes ago, then I killed him.

I killed him.


Sgt Brandt rested his hand on Gammell's shoulder, the kid was shaking a bit. Brandt remembered the first time he knew, absolutely knew, that he'd killed a man. It felt weird, like a line had been crossed that you could never recross. You couldn't undo what had been done. There was a finality which just felt, somehow unreal. He knew what it felt like to end a man's life. He didn't like the feeling, he remembered each and every one, but you didn't dwell on it, you'd go crazy if you did.

Brandt squeezed Gammell's shoulder and said, "Ya got good instincts kid, this guy is a scout. If you hadn't killed him, he would have reported on our positions and then we'd be dead, not him. It's war. Don't think too much about it, okay?"

Gammell kind of shook himself, slung his rifle then rubbed his face with both hands, hard. Taking off his helmet, he ran his sleeve over his forehead.


I knew what Sarge meant. It wasn't like I've never killed anything before, I hunted back home, I had helped to feed the family by hunting when times got bad, I've been doing that since I was about 10. Deer, rabbits, squirrels, whatever would fill the pot.

I still remembered the dead kid in Marigny, I had thought he was a pile of rags. This wasn't the first dead man I'd seen, but this was the first dead man that I had made that way. An odd way of looking at it.

When Sarge squeezed my shoulder, I realized that I had to just shake this off and move on, so I did, I literally shook myself like a dog shaking off the rain. I slung my rifle, rubbed my face as hard as I could. Then I took off my helmet and wiped the sweat from my eyes. 

I placed my helmet back on my head and turning to my sergeant, I said, "I'm okay Sarge. It really is them or us, I'd prefer they die, not us."

Bundesarchiv

"You'll do as I tell you Gerhard, remember, I am your battalion commander. So I get to make these kinds of decisions. Besides, you hate the Königstiger4, why would you want to be assigned to one of those? Third Company is being reequipped with them, we're just about out of the E models."

"But Paderborn, the tank school? What the Hell Rolf..."

"Shut up and listen Gerhard. They're building up a new heavy tank company from the Model Es we've got left. Do you want to go to a Panther or a Pzkw IV unit? Do you want to go back to being in a division? I thought you liked the independence of the heavy tank battalions?"

"I do, but, no damn it, I know we'll get stuck with a IV, might as well shoot us all now. We'll go, but what is the deal here anyway?"

Stabsfeldwebel Gerhard Lindner trusted his commander, Major Rolf Fromme, they'd served together for quite some time. But Lindner didn't want to leave sPzAbt5 503, it had been his home since May of 1942. He knew that the unit would be reformed, but right now sPzAbt 503 existed only on paper. They were rebuilding it, starting with 3rd Company and the Tiger IIs, which truth be told he really did hate. Slow, gas guzzling, monstrosities they were, the antithesis of what a tank should be.

"It's a new outfit being formed by a guy we both know, Hans Hummel."

"Die Biene6 has his own unit? Is he an officer now?"

"Yes, he's a captain. He's forming a new company from the kids at the Tiger school. He's desperate for experienced Tiger crews."

Lindner shook his head, he wasn't all that keen on joining a unit of greenhorns, but he wasn't all that keen to die here in Normandy. The writing was on the wall, they were losing and the generals were too stupid, too stubborn, or too scared of Hitler to fall back over the Seine.

"You're a bastard, you know that Rolf, right?"

"I assure you Gerhard, my parents were married, to each other." Major Fromme let his sergeant skate very close to the edge all the time. You did that for a man who had saved your life, twice.

"Alright, we'll go. Don't get yourself killed here, all right?"

"Aber natürlich7, now go, this is one of the last trains out. Maybe the Amis and the Tommies won't strafe it as it's clearly marked as a hospital train."

"But we're moving troops on it, isn't that..."

"If you won't tell, neither will I. Now go. Wiedersehen."

"Ja, auf Wiedersehen. I'll see you when I see you. Stay alive you old bandit."

"Du auch8!"

As the train pulled away from the station, Rolf wondered if he'd see his old friend again. Rumor had it that the 503rd would be rebuilt, then sent to Russia. Major Fromme did not have a good feeling about that. Not at all...





¹ Kampfgruppe - an ad hoc combat organization formed for specific tasks, or when the combat power of a larger unit had been worn down to the point where all that was left was a small group of all arms. Usually they were named for their commanding officer. Of course, on maps at Hitler's headquarters they were still shown as a larger organization.
² The G43 (G for Gewehr) is a semi-automatic German rifle.
³ Stupid chap.
4 The Tiger II, the Panzerkampfwagen Tiger Ausf. B.
5 sPzAbt, abbreviation for schwere Panzer Abteilung = Heavy Tank Battalion.
6 Die Biene is German for "the bee," "Hummel" is German for Bumblebee.
7 But naturally.
8 You too.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

The Pause That Refreshes, i.e. No War Today



It's hard to be creative every day. I like where my World War II series of posts is going, YMMV, but things happen fast enough that sometimes I'll write something, hit publish, then a couple of days later say to myself, "Oh, why did I do that? I liked that character, yet I killed him off for no good reason."

Well, that happens all too often in war, there are no "do overs" or "Mulligans." What's done is done and there's no going back. So occasionally I need to take a break from moving forward with the series and consider what comes next as it relates to what's already happened. (I do have a "cheat sheet" - multiple now, one for each nationality - where I keep track of who is who, and who has gone before, etc. Yes, I refer to it often and update it with every installment. Keeps my inner REMF busy. No, as those who have been paying attention might gather, I don't like that term.)

This series also helps me keep my mind off the real world. Current events are all too new for an historian to properly digest anyway.

Anyhoo.

Before each episode I do some reading as to what happened around this time in 1944. I will envision a scenario for the characters which might fit into the historical timeline (or near as damn it) and then write. Things play out in my head, almost like a movie, and I capture that as best I can in the written word. I read it, tweak it, then hit publish. (Sometimes quicker than I should have!)

This series is not strictly adherent to the actual history of the time. It follows it as closely as I can make it, given that I'm doing this in semi-real time right here in front of you readers. Mistakes happen and units may be in the wrong place on the wrong date. When that happens (and I notice it) I'll wave my hands around and give a lame explanation about that platoon being "detached" for the episode in question.

While the main characters - the Americans (Sgt Brandt, et al), the Scots (Sgt Wallace, et al), and the Germans (Stabsfeldwebel Lindner, et al) belong to units which actually fought in Normandy at the time (and most of) the places indicated - I try not to get too much into the details of the units. Notice that I've avoided nailing down just which regiment of the Big Red One Sgt Brandt and his squad belong to. Why is that?

Well, I have some very good sources for the 6th Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers (Wallace) and schwerer Panzerabteilung 503 (Lindner). The online war diary of the 15th (Scottish) Division is excellent, tells me where Sgt Wallace and his lads were supposed to be every day of the campaign. The sources for Stabsfeldwebel Lindner's guys are a bit more generic. Not as specific, probably because after a certain point in the war German record keeping got a little sloppy. Especially in Normandy. We have the big picture, just not the little details. As I have no plans on making a visit to the Bundesarchiv in Germany (much as I'd love to), I focus on the actions of Lindner's immediate command. Which involves a lot of "poetic" license on my part at times. Oddly enough, the 1st Infantry Division shows up on a lot of maps, but not in a lot of narratives (beyond the classic, and boring, "then unit A moved to Hill 123, dug in and then moved to village XYZ the next day," even that is rare). If you know a good source on the internet for the doings of the Big Red One, do let me know!

I have had a couple of emails noting some awkward wording and the like, keep 'em coming. What made sense when I typed it may not make sense when you read it!

As to technical details, I try not to get too bogged down in the "minutiae of history" as my old history professor (head of the department he was) used to call it. I do check to see if a particular weapon system was available for the time period in question and only include it if it was. You won't see any King Tigers in my account of the time as from my reading I got the distinct impression that there were only two of those beasts anywhere near Normandy. Though from photographs you'd think they were as common as fleas on a dog. They weren't.

As they were also a fairly useless weapon of war, great armor and magnificent gun aside, they used too much fuel, moved with all the grace of a drunken rhino, couldn't get across bridges over a number of rivers, and were just cumbersome as Hell. I have seen references to these beasties on the German side as Möbelwagen, furniture vans. Most professional tankers didn't like them. Too slow, too big, and used too much fuel. The Tiger I was much more ubiquitous up until December of 1944 when Hitler went "all in" on the King Tigers for the Battle of the Bulge. Where their biggest contribution to the attack was getting in the way and causing massive traffic jams. Then running out of fuel.

So that's that.

As to the M1 Garand, magazine versus clip. I know the difference and won't be drawn into that debate. You won't hear the ping of the en bloc clip springing from the magazine well of the Garand as it's rather an unnecessary detail. "Howie emptied his magazine at the Kraut tanker" may not be as "pure" as emptying his "clip," but to me the latter sounds kinda stupid. Technically might be correct, but I really don't care, as Guns & Ammo describes the weapon thusly -
Using a sheetmetal en-bloc clip as part of the feeding system, the M1 Garand functioned as follows: The bolt handle was pulled to the rear, where the action was held open by the follower. A clip of ammo was pressed down into the magazine and the bolt allowed to move forward, where it stripped off and chambered a round. When the trigger was pulled and the round discharged, gases were tapped off through a gas port in the forward bottom part of the bore. These gases forced the operating rod backward, compressing the operating-rod spring and opening the bolt. As the bolt opened, it extracted and ejected the spent cartridge and cocked the hammer. Relaxation of the operating-rod spring now forced the bolt forward, where it stripped off and chambered the next round.
When all eight shots had been expended, the clip was forcibly ejected from the action and the bolt remained open, ready for insertion of the next clip. It is said that Japanese and German soldiers would listen for the telltale ping of the clip being ejected, realizing they had the advantage of a second or two when the Yank would be loading his piece and unable to return fire. 
I think my use of "magazine" is justified. By the way, I've heard that ping, if you're fighting a single man, sure go ahead and rush the poor bastard. Otherwise, if you jump up, you're going to get nailed by that guy's buddies. It is said is just another way of saying, "someone told me this, I have no independent evidence that it's true." Besides, battlefields tend to get pretty damned noisy with most of the participants half-deaf while it's going on. Hear a "ping" from yards away, in a firefight? I don't think so, maybe that's just me.

I have a confession to make as well, I have been a little "short" in some of my responses to comments on this series. Working from home and being away from the little everyday things which made up my world prior to this virus-thingee being inflicted upon us has left me a bit short tempered as of late. I don't get enough sleep and I've been dealing with some medical crap as well, the details of which I shall not bore you with. So bear with me if I sometimes "snap" at you in a comment. Unless you're being deliberately obtuse it's just me having a "bad" day. (Which there seem to be a lot of lately.)

But enough of all that.

In general terms life is good, life is sweet, and I am enjoying myself when and where I can. Reality and well-meaning local governments notwithstanding. As The Missus Herself says, "If people weren't so damned stupid we wouldn't need all these rules." I question the Constitutionality of the rules, she looks at the "hey, this is what happens in reality" side of things. We're both right, and we're both often wrong. (Dear Lord, don't tell her I wrote that, it's more than my life is worth!)

But yes, people can be awfully stupid, many of them wind up with government jobs. Like in Congress ("I'm reclaiming my time" has to be the most corrupt, self-serving bullshit I have ever heard, doesn't matter which party the drooling idiot belongs to, they're bastards.)

Oops, went off on a wee rant there, didn't I?

I'm loving the new vehicle. Smooth ride, has many nice features, some of which I actually use. I really should dig into the specs a bit more, especially as I have a 400 mile road trip in my immediate future, 800 if you count the return, which I do.

For The Nuke is "with child" and expects to deliver this very month. An event which we are all looking forward to. The plan had been (note the tense) for The Missus Herself to fly down and I would follow a week or so later. As the virus-thingee has pretty much triggered her survival instincts and she doesn't want to get into a flying Petry dish with any number of those stupid people I mentioned above, I get to drive her there. Which is okay, I mean it's why I bought the car rather than keep Big Girl around for a while longer. (Breaking down "somewhere in New Jersey" just didn't appeal to me, and it was a distinct possibility given the age of Big Girl. She was starting to get a bit "long in the tooth," if you know what I mean.)

And speaking of teeth...

Broke one a couple of weeks ago, as it didn't hurt, I rather ignored it, the thinking being, "I'll deal with that when I have to." Well, I had to. It wasn't causing me any pain, but its untimely demise (sheered off the outboard half of the tooth) made me realize that I ain't getting any younger and why wait? Working from home gives me a certain flexibility, so I had it repaired on Monday (yesterday for those of you keeping score). Required a crown, so I guess now I'm royalty.

Royal pain in the...

Dang, I'm even short with myself!

See you back here on Wednesday, we'll be back in the field. Wear sensible shoes, comfortable clothes, and pack a lunch.

See you in Normandy.






Monday, August 3, 2020

Updates

Well....It might be done!  The painters were at the house all day Saturday and when I walked up to feed the horses that evening, all the doors were locked.  We don't have a key, so I don't know what the actual status really is.  But, by the time you read this, I will have called the supervisor and ask him what's up. 

Paint and Mirrors were the only remaining parts of the work on the house.  The supervisor had asked if we'd be available this week for final walk through. 

"Well, Dan, I'm really pretty busy right now.  Can we hold off a bit?" 

Right, Beans, that was not what I said.

Stumbled into a bit of good luck with regard to the road, and a bit of bad luck with regard to the road.

Ever the optimist, I'll start with the good luck.  The company we had talked with about putting down the chip seal portion of the road called and asked if we were still interested.  They had quoted us a price of $2/sq ft as a planning factor.  The road is 2300' x 10'.  (I can do that math without a calculator, $46K). 

So that and the concrete water crossings were put into the house budget for $100K.  Well, when the guy from the paving company came by and took a look at the actual site, he didn't know we were already going to put in the base.  So, he dropped the price to $1.5/sq ft. or $34.5K.

When he called last week, he asked if we were ready to go, because his crew was between jobs this week and were available.  If we were, he'd drop the price to $1.35 or just over $31K.

The problem is the low water crossing guy is on vacation this week, and he wasn't enthused when I asked him if the chip seal part could be done first.  "Well, you CAN do it that way, but that's not the way I would do it."

When I explained that to the chip seal guy, he said, "Nonsense.  You cut the chip seal and that saves you needing to build a frame for that edge of the concrete." 

Which seems to make sense to me, but what do I know about this.  I'm pondering this when the chip seal guy says,  "Tell you what, we'll throw in the two water crossings for free."  Well...15K is 15K.

So I told him to go ahead.  He's supposed to start at 9 this morning. 

I got a decided feel from my concrete guy that he's not actually real interested in the project.  I've been trying to get him to commit to pour dates of somewhere between Aug 10 and 21.  He's hesitant to do that.

But, because this is all on the house construction loan and that agreement says "All construction completed before Closing"  any delay pushes move in later and later.  So.  If he returns from vacation and can't do it within the window, we'll have chip seal crossings.  Not as strong as concrete but still better than mud. 

If he can commit, the chip seal crossings can be cut out and concrete poured and it didn't cost us any more than the original plan. 

So...we shall see what we shall see.

And by the way.  I've discovered what the most terrifying phrase a wife can say to her husband at this time.

"I'm running a fever."

Holy crap, my world went south very quickly there after.

Fortunately, she took some tylenol, took a nap, had a light dinner, went to bed and woke up without a temp.  She's got some pain in her stomach area, so she's going to see the doctor this morning.  I don't think it's serious, but you just never know.

I've been conversing with the Big Guy a lot lately.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Operation Bluecoat

Universal carriers and infantry of 15th (Scottish) Division move forward during Operation "Bluecoat,"
the offensive south-east of Caumont, 30 July 1944.

"Right then, Sarn't Wallace, all settled in are we? Met all the HQ chaps?"

"Yessir, I have, knew most of them anyway, I brought one of my privates along to be your batman Sir. This is Private Bain."

"Sir!"

"Stand easy private, d'ya know what a batman does?"

"Bit of a personal servant, right sir? Take care of your kit and the like." Pvt Andrew Bain knew the drill, he had worked as a gentleman's servant before the war.

"Aye, that you will." Lt Orton turned to Sgt Wallace and continued, "The lad will do nicely, thank you sergeant. Now Lance Corporal Adair, he's our platoon mortarman, he and his lads are pretty handy with their wee cannon. Rutherford, of course, you already know, he has your old section, correct?"

"Yes sir, know him well."

"Now Cpl McKenna and Cpl Ramsay command the other two rifle sections in our little band of warriors. Now today we'll be traveling with a tank squadron from the 4th Grenadier Guards. Our objective will be this little hamlet here," pointing to the map, he said the name aloud, "La Cour. Hhmm, odd name for a village, 'the courtyard.' But there it is, you know how the Frenchies are. So..."

As the lieutenant continued to speak, Wallace heard armor coming up, didn't sound like Shermans, nope, there they were, Churchill tanks. Great lumbering beasts, armor tough enough to slug it out with a Tiger from what he'd heard.

"All right then lads, here's our ride. Sarn't Wallace, get the lads up on the tanks, you and I will be riding with the troop commander, who should be, there he is, extra aerial and all."

Sgt Wallace couldn't say that he liked the idea of traveling on one of the the troop commanders' tanks, but it was the platoon commander's decision, so aboard we'll go. Wallace remembered what bloody nice targets they were.

Churchill tanks of the 4th Battalion, Grenadier Guards later in 1944.

After the sun had gone down and the battalion had taken the objective, Sgt Wallace ran into his old mate, Gavin Rutherford. Parts of La Cour were ablaze. The fight had been short and sharp, more of those SS bastards, Wallace spat as he thought that.

"Gavin, what the bloody Hell?"

"I know Billy, we went in with inadequate recce and a bit late for my tastes. Casualties aren't too bad from what I saw, we didnae lose a man in the old section. I heard McKenna had a fellow wounded. Heard anything from Archie?"

"Archie's dead, half his section shot up. Bloody Jerries had a flakpanzer just outside the town in a hayrick. Nicely hidden it was, chewed up Archie's lads something terrible. Did you see those bloody Crocodiles in action?" Sgt Wallace was still keyed up from the short firefight.

Churchill tank fitted with a Crocodile flamethrower in action.
This flamethrower could produce a jet of flame exceeding 150 yards in length.

"Too bloody right I did, bloody Jerries saw it too and they scampered. The chaps in the flakpanzer didn't move fast enough, Crocodile got them too!"

Sgt Wallace slapped Cpl Rutherford on the shoulder and said, "Right then, I need to find the leftenant, orders group in, say, 15 minutes. Over there?" Sgt Wallace pointed to an intact barn lit by the nearby burning flakpanzer.

"Right-o, let me get my lads in position, I'll take what's left of Archie's bunch for the moment, okay?"

"At least for the night Gavin, see you in a few."

Sgt Wallace went back into the village, he was furious with his platoon commander, the idiot had gone haring off into the fight without a word to him or anyone else, leaving the platoon leaderless and spread throughout the village. There, isn't that Bain?

"Bain, Andrew! Is that you lad?"

The man turned and saw his platoon sergeant. He waved the sergeant over.

Wallace could see that the man was somewhat distraught, then he saw why. There was his platoon commander and the platoon orderly, Pvt Forrester. Both were quite dead, from the look of it, the flakpanzer had killed them as well.

"Andy, do you know where the mortar section is, are they still near the square?"

"Yes sarn't, I doubt they have moved."

"Right then, go collect them and have them report to that barn, over there, d'ya see it?"

"Aye, I see it, I'll go get Willy and his lads. Meet you at the barn."

Wrecked SdKfz 250, Operation Bluecoat

As Wallace walked to the barn, he realized that for now, he commanded 11 Platoon, B Company of the 6th Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers. The lieutenant had been something of a snob, but he was a decent enough lad, treated the men well. Now they would be looking for a replacement for him, not to mention Corporal Archie Ramsay's loss.

Soon he would know the full butcher's bill.

From the War Diary of the 6th Battalion, Royal Scots Fusiliers -
At about 1130 hrs the Bn moved carried on tanks of 4 Gren Guards to an FAA in the vicinity of ST PIERRE TARENTAIN 7045 where it arrived at about 1230 hrs. Orders were received at 1400 hrs to attack and capture the hamlet of LA COUR 723438 supported by one sqn of 4 Gren Gds. This attack was supposed to be put in with zero at 2030 hrs but owing to the fact that the Bn could not complete the necessary previous recces etc in time it was changed to 2100 hrs. The attack was successful and the objective captured. Consolidation had to be carried out in the dark. Casualties were light, Lieut Street, 2/Lt Hollidge, 2/Lt Patrick, 2/Lt Campbell were wounded and the casualties in ORs were killed 8 wounded 17.¹ 
The battalion didn't learn of Lt Orton's death until two days later. The war diary, for some reason, was never corrected.



 ¹ Yes, I have taken liberties with the list of casualties as no officers were killed in this action.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Death and Destruction

National Archives

Sgt Brandt was just behind Sgt Kaminski's hatch, close enough to talk if they both shouted. The tank commander was keeping everything but the top of his head down in the turret, too many tank commanders had already fallen victim to snipers for him to ride fully exposed.

They'd moved out early, it had surprised Brandt to be traveling at the rear of the column, leading the column was Kaminski's new #5 tank, commanded by a Sgt Mackey. The #4 tank under Sgt Weathersfield followed him, followed by Sgt Jackson, then Sgt Wallace (whose vehicle was also carrying Cpl Wilson's team). He supposed it made sense, wouldn't want the guy with the expensive radio and the ability to call down air support out front where he'd be exposed to every Kraut anti-tank gun in the neighborhood.

But there were no living Germans to be seen. The countryside was all ruined villages, destroyed German vehicles, dead Germans, and dead farm animals. They had even seen a few civilians hanging from trees, execution style. Sgt Brandt assumed the Germans were killing Resistance members as they caught them.

At that moment Brandt nearly crapped his pants as four big P-47s boomed down the road from behind and just above tree top level. He hadn't heard them until they had flown overhead, the sudden noise rather startled him.

As the lead aircraft pulled up in a graceful turn to the left, Brandt saw tracer fire reach from the ground toward the aircraft, the P-47 wasn't hit but one of the trailing aircraft in the flight fired rockets at something on the ground.

The column came to a halt as the four P-47s "worked" a target somewhere ahead of them. Kaminski popped up and shouted, "Krauts ahead, an anti-tank gun battery with anti-aircraft support. The flyboys are kicking the shit out of them!"

As Brandt watched the aircraft attack, which was over fairly quickly, he saw one aircraft pull off the target trailing a thin line of gray smoke. As the P-47s turned north for their airfield near the beaches, that smoke thickened and turned black. Brandt held his breath, it looked like the big American fighter was starting to burn.

The big piston engine sputtered briefly, caught, then seized up completely. By then the pilot had gained sufficient altitude to jump, so he did. The canopy deployed, the man swung in his harness once, then he was on the ground. Men from the rear elements of his platoon were rushing out to the pilot, Brandt hoped the guy would be okay. As he thought that, the tank he was riding jerked, then began to roll forward again.

Flakpanzer 38(t)
German self-propelled anti-aircraft gun

The position was in ruins. The three carefully deployed and camouflaged 5 cm anti-tank guns, and their trucks, were twisted steel now, surrounded by their dead and dying crews. The smell of detonated explosives and burning wood filled the man's nostrils as he sat in the midst of his ruined command.

The SS-Hauptsturmführer had been a proud member of the 1st SS Panzer Division "Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler"¹ until last year when he'd been brought in as cadre for this new SS division, the 17th. Which was something of a joke to him. He had gone from a committed and fanatical German unit to this collection of foreigners and young boys. Most of his battery were Volksdeutsch from Romania, their average age was 18.

He had seen the Jabos flying low, following the road which ran south to Avranches. He had also seen the cloud of dust which indicated an enemy column, most likely tanks, was coming his way. His battery was perfectly sited to tear the Amis to shreds.

He had commanded everyone to hold their fire until he said otherwise, but some overanxious boy manning the Flakpanzer had opened fire as soon as he saw a target. Which had brought down the wrath of the gods upon his position.

The crackling of fire and the screams of his wounded men were driving him to despair. Both of his legs were shattered, he could actually see a bone protruding from one of his boots, and he was in a great deal of pain.

Before his Flakpanzer had died, the boys had managed to hit one of the Jabos, he flew off trailing smoke. One of that man's wingmen had blown the Flakpanzer to Hell. That had been the end of the battle, for there was nothing left to kill.

He looked at the face of his runner, an older sergeant named Rudi, short for Rudolph. Rudi had been with him since Russia in 1942, when he was still a very green lieutenant. The man had kept him alive through two brutal years in that Godforsaken land. Now he stared with glassy eyes at the shredded tree canopy above them, poor Rudi, to live through so much only to die here, in some unnamed patch of trees in France.

He reached for his pistol.


Okay, I was more than a little scared. There were burning trees and underbrush all around. I could see dead Germans and wrecked artillery pieces, little ones. (Sgt Brandt told me later that they were anti-tank guns, 50 mm, which were kinda small.)

My rifle was ready, I was moving slowly and trying to see everything all at once. It felt like I had to pee, really, really badly. I guess that was just nerves. I heard something ahead of me and paused. Something, or someone was just up ahead.


As the SS man drew his pistol, thinking to shoot himself, he heard a twig snap.


Darn it, darn it, darn it! I know better to step more carefully than that. An old branch or something and I stepped on it, now I have to wait, let whoever that is up ahead think it was just a random noise.

Then I heard a "psssst" from Duck, I turned and he mouthed, "Let's go..."

I gestured at him to be quiet, which kinda startled him I guess.

Slowly I move again, this time sliding to my left and ahead step by step.


The SS man thought he had heard something in the brush. But there was nothing there, then he heard a hissing noise, fool Americans think they can hunt me.

He raised his Walther P-38 and prepared to kill the first man who stepped into the clearing with him.

As he aimed, a wave of pain assailed him, causing him to grit his teeth and close his eyes only for a moment. When he reopened them, he saw a man to his right, a soldier, a big American farm boy aiming a rifle at him.

He quickly swung his pistol in the man's direction. Then felt his chest explode as the man fired his rifle. His pistol dropped from his lifeless hand, then he fell back.

Now he and Rudi both stared lifelessly at the sky.


"Holy shit kid, you hammered that Kraut." Duck was impressed, but Gammell was mad.

"Damn it Duck, you almost gave it away. I was point man, what are you doing making all that damned noise!" Gammell looked mad enough to hit poor Duck.

Cpl Wilson had come up, "What the Hell are you two bitching about?"

"Nothing Corp, but Gammell nailed that Kraut," Duck was pointing at the dead SS officer.

Wilson went over to the dead man, saw that the guy was no rookie. Iron Cross, assault badges, and other decorations make this guy a pro. Damn, he's even got that "Adolf Hitler" cuff title on his sleeve. His legs were all torn to Hell, wasn't like he was going to run away, probably just waiting for us to step into the open and take as many of us with him as he could. But that single bullet hole in his chest stopped all that.

"Nice shooting kid, real nice shooting. Now let's go, we gotta move, we're not far from the day's objective, or so Sgt Brandt tells me."


As the American column moved on, the little forest of dead Germans continued to smolder and burn. There would be very little left of the place in a couple of days, charred trees, charred vehicles, and charred men. Normandy was beginning to look like a charnel house.

A place of death and destruction.





¹ The 1st SS Panzer Division, "Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler" had begun its days as a small group of men detailed to protect Hitler. The term "Leibstandarte" can be translated as "Life Guards," literally the term translates to "Body Regiment." A "Standarte" was the SS term for a regiment. They were Hitler's bodyguard and they wore a facsimile of his signature on an embroidered cuff band. His monogram "AH" also decorated their shoulder straps. The men you see in Berlin on guard duty in those black uniforms were drawn from the Leibstandarte. An old nickname for them was the "Asphalt Soldiers," as all they did was parade around Berlin. But they proved their worth as a combat division throughout the war.

Friday, July 31, 2020

Breakout in the West

National Archives

"Get up there Gammell, we're on the move again."

When my corporal spoke, I listened. He seemed like a good man, all the guys in my squad seemed like good men. Yes, I was a little nervous around the one they called "Cajun," he was pretty fierce, though in camp he was a lot of fun. Good sense of humor.

I climbed up on the tank, from there I could see that Sgt Brandt's section was already on the back of the lead tank, whose commander's name was Kaminski, I think. I was meeting a lot of new people and it was hard to keep track of who was who.

Sgt Brandt was still on the side of the road, talking with our lieutenant. I was a little surprised when another officer, joined them. He looked like a flyboy, leather jacket and all. I wonder if he had anything to do with the new tank Kaminski had been issued, it had an extra antenna, one more than the tank I am on.

"Hey kid, give me a hand up will ya?" I looked down and there was Duck, our B.A.R. man, my boss so to speak. I helped him up.


"Sgt Brandt, this is Captain Wilson, he's a P-47 pilot and he'll be in the tank with Kaminski. His job is to call in air whenever we spot something, shall we say, concerning. General Bradley put out the word that every column was going to have its own air support."

Sgt Brandt looked at the skinny, blond Army Air Force captain, I wonder if he even shaves yet? Can't be more that a teenager. "Pleased to meet ya captain, we're your infantry support."

Sgt Kaminski bellowed down, "F**k that Bill, you're my infantry support. He's my air support. So Lieutenant are we gonna sit here yapping all day, or are we moving out?"

2Lt Paddock chuckled and said, "Okay, okay Kaminski, I guess it's your show. Bill, the rest of the platoon will be traveling about 500 yards behind, if you need us, have Cat get on the radio and call us. All right?"

"Got it L.T., enjoy the ride!"

"Fuzz, kill us some Krauts and the beer's on me!"

The Army Air Force kid saluted then disappeared into the turret. Kaminski stood up again and bellowed, "Move out!"


In the long, dust covered column of prisoners, paratroopers Unterfeldwebel Günther Hahn, Flieger Lorenz Schuster, and Flieger Heinrich Pfeiffer were all that remained of Hahn's ten man squad. They had been separated outside Marigny during the horrendous bombing and subsequent artillery bombardment. The others might be alive, they might be dead, he had no idea. When it had all ended, he and Lorenz were frantically digging Heinrich out of a collapsed slit trench.

Heinrich had still been alive, but was unconscious. When an Ami patrol had come across them, Hahn figured they were all dead. He was stunned when a medic from the American 30th Infantry Division had treated Heinrich, pronounced him fit, then let the other Americans make them captive. They hadn't had a chance, their weapons were gone, and truth be told, the Amis had bombed, strafed, and shelled all the fight out of these men. They were willing captives.

They all had some hope of surviving the war now. Hahn felt slightly ashamed, but the news of the last few weeks had been all bad, their own generals had conspired to kill the Führer, the rest of the Wehrmacht¹ spit on the Luftwaffe² and openly disparaged Reichsmarschall Goering. To be honest, Hahn felt betrayed by his own service, he hadn't seen a Luftwaffe aircraft overhead since before the invasion. Where the Hell were they?

Situation in Normandy, 31 July 1944
Red circle shows the position of the US 1st Inf Div, the yellow circle that of the British 15th (Scottish) Div
(Source)
From the War Diary of the 6th Battalion, Royal Scots Fusiliers:
Caumont. 30 Jul
Operation BLUECOAT started, H Hour 0655 hrs.
44(L) Inf Bde formed the firm base through which 15(S) Div 46 and 227 Bdes advanced. 30 Corps and 8 Corps carried out the attack. 15(S) Div supported by Gds Tk Bde and 11 Armd Div attacking on 8 Corps front. 43 Div supported by tks attacking on 30 Corps front. 8 Corps made good progress from the start and got well fwd to the line of 2nd Phase by approx 1330 hrs, but 43 Div on 30 Corps front made little progress from the start line with the result that the flank of 227 Bde on left of 15(S) Div was exposed. 6 R.S.F. were lent to 227 Bde to protect left flank. The Bn moved over from posn on firm base west of CAUMONT to take up posn south west of LALONDE 7157 to facing EAST to cover approaches from the east. The Bn was in posn by 2000 hrs and spent the night in this posn.
Lalonde. 31 Jul
The Bn spent a quiet period and was not attacked from the open flank to its front. 

"Sgt Wallace, do you have a moment?"

Sgt Billy Wallace looked up from his tea and answered, "Certainly Sir, coming."

"No rush sergeant, do finish your tea."

"Yes sir, thank you sir." Of course Wallace didn't finish his tea but dumped his cup on the ground, where his platoon commander, Lieutenant Kenneth Orton, wouldn't see it. It was Wallace's contention, and experience, that officers tended to get pissy when kept waiting by the lower orders, as he'd heard his own called from time to time, particularly by the English. As Orton was a fellow Scot, he wasn't all that bad.

"Sir!" While addressing the lieutenant properly, he didn't come to attention or salute, as their battalion commander had explained to all the new officers, that was a good way to get killed. If a man saluted you near the lines, he probably didn't care much for you!

"Yes, sergeant, seems your squad is a bit low on men, and I am missing a platoon sergeant. I know you haven't held the rank long, but the chaps speak highly of you, as does Major Stansfield. So, how d'ye feel about being the platoon sergeant for 11 Platoon, B Company, the 6th Battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers?"

Wallace didn't hesitate, "I would like that very much, Sir!"

"Well then, d'ye think your man, what's his name, Rutherford I believe..."

"Yes sir, Lance Corporal Rutherford."

"Yes, well do tell him he has the squad now, oh, and give him these." The lieutenant handed Sgt Wallace a set of corporal's insignia. Heh, Gavin may not like this, he can't be just one of the lads anymore.

"Something funny, Sergeant?"

"No sir, not at all sir, just a bit of gas from breakfast I think, the bangers were not well cooked."

"Quite, carry on Sergeant."

"Sir!"

"Heh, off to give Rutherford the bad news, and grab my kit," Sgt Wallace muttered, "I'm moving to platoon headquarters! I hope the food is better!"




¹ The Wehrmacht was the German Armed Forces, the Army (Heer), the Navy (Kriegsmarine), and the Air Force (Luftwaffe). 
² The German parachute arm belonged to the Air Force, not the Army.