Saturday, January 23, 2021

Preparing for the End

(Source)

"They can't be serious, Herr Major. Boys, they're just boys!" Leutnant Manfred Sauer couldn't believe his eyes. What was left of Kampfgruppe (mot) von Lüttwitz was now being reformed as the 5th Company, II Battalion, 294th Grenadier Regiment of the 18th Volksgrenadier Division.

Although that division was still mostly at the front, it was short of troops. So Jürgen von Lüttwitz found himself as a company commander once more, though a high ranking one as a Major. He and his old comrade Sauer were watching as their replacements detrained. Mostly 16 and 17 year olds, there were a few men in their 20s, the NCOs mostly. Some of the older men moved slowly, as if still recovering from wounds.

"Look on the bright side Manfred, we're being re-equipped as a grenadier company, lots of automatic weapons. And, as they're shipping the replacements here, we're not bound for the East. At least I don't think so."

Sauer shook his head, "Well, that's something I guess. I've had my fill of Russia."

Sauer thought to himself that if by some miracle he survived this war, he would go and live someplace warm, Italy maybe, or Spain. Truth be told, he'd had his fill of ice and snow. As he watched the sergeants form their men up, he felt another chill as the wind whipped more of the freshly fallen snow across the rail platform. None of the buildings were more than shells, but at least you could stand close to a wall and be somewhat shielded from the wind.

He nodded to Gefreiter Beppo Sommerfeld, the man acting as his company clerk, who had accompanied him and the Major to the station.

Sommerfeld bellowed out, mostly to impress the new kids, "Horst, show the new boys to our bivouac! I'm sure the Major will be briefing the new officers and the new lads look hungry. At least we have a field kitchen again, the rations may be crap, but there's enough to fill your bellies!" Gefreiter Horst Klugmann, company messenger, grinned as he jogged over to the men lined up by the platform.

"All right ladies! Listen up! We're marching down to our bivouac by the river. It's uncomfortable, it's ugly, and there aren't any amenities, but on the other hand, it's so uninteresting as to not attract Jabos! Let's march!" With a long blast of his whistle, Klugmann led the new men as they stepped off in formation.

"The new lads look rather keen, Herr Leutnant." Sommerfeld observed.

"Of course they are, Beppo. They're too young to know any better. At least they know how to march. We'll have to wait to see if they can fight." Sauer shook his head as he said that.

"I doubt the Amis will make us wait long, Herr Leutnant."

(Source)

The company First Sergeant, 1st Sgt. Morton Saeger, had come up to the line in the Captain's jeep when he had heard that 2nd Platoon had once again taken losses.

"Jeez Sir, it seems like the 2nd always manages to sniff out the Krauts."

"Yeah Mort, it kinda sucks. We're losing men at a steady dribble. Thanks for coming up to take Jennings and Dixon back, we need to move on as soon as that tank driver gets patched up enough to get going. Doc says he's lucky to be alive." 2nd Lt. Stephen Hernandez still felt funny being called 'Sir' by a senior man like Saeger, he'd only been an officer for maybe a week now and Saeger had outranked him before his field commission.

"So L.T., you've got what, thirty-six guys now? That enough?" Saeger would try to get replacements up, Hernandez knew that, but the other platoons had taken losses as well. Replacements were hard to come by at the moment.

"We'll be okay as long as we don't lose any more. Having the tanks helps, I'd hate to be pushing forward on foot at the moment."

Both men looked at the sky, the snow was coming down steadily, the roads would soon be impassable to anything with wheels. All indications pointed to the Germans being finished here in the Ardennes. By tomorrow Charlie Company would be pushing into Germany again.

That is, if the snow ever let up.




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Friday, January 22, 2021

Hell Has Frozen

U.S. Army Photo

Cpl. Willis Hartness had his seat in the up position, he didn't like the cold wind blowing in his face but he could see much better to drive the tank. It was cold, it was snowing, and for some reason his driver's periscope in the hatch was constantly fogging up when he tried driving with the seat down. Next chance he had he was planning on trying to fix that. For now he drove with the hatch open.

2nd Lt. Stephen Hernandez was leaning in close to the tank commander, S/Sgt Brad Woodstock, who was trying to explain something to him, but he could barely hear the guy because of the noise from the tank's engine and the howling of the wind. Not to mention being all bundled up against the cold. Hernandez was about to shout at Woodstock again that he couldn't hear him, when he saw a flash to the front.

A small wood concealed a bend in the road they were following, the flash had come from there, followed a split second later by the tank starting to slow and swerve off of the road.

"Everybody bail! Take cover!!" Hernandez screamed at the men riding on the outside of the tank.

Hartness had been hit in the side of the head by a German bullet, it was a glancing blow, his tanker's helmet had protected him somewhat but he had been knocked silly by the blow. As head wounds tend to do, he was bleeding profusely. The tank's bow gunner, Pfc. Roger Blaisdell, assumed that Hartness was dead, killed by a sniper.

"Sarge! Willis got hit in the head! What do we do?" Blaisdell was on the edge of panic, he was a new replacement, just joining the unit barely a week ago to replace a man in Woodstock's crew who had been evacuated for trench foot.

For his part, Woodstock had been trying to explain to the lieutenant that he was going to have them dismount and approach the woods on foot, but it was apparent that the lieutenant couldn't hear him. Then the tank had slowed, the infantry had jumped off, and his driver was unresponsive. As they veered off the road, Woodstock realized that they were under fire.


SS-Obersturmführer¹ Gerhard Ley was watching through his field glasses when he heard the shot fired from somewhere down his line and saw the lead Ami tank begin to slow and veer off the road his detachment was covering.

"Verdammte Idiot!²" he bellowed in anger as he realized one of his men had opened fire without orders. Amazingly the man had hit the driver of the lead tank, Ley could see the blood splashed against the whitewash over the driver's position on the turret.

Realizing that he'd lost the element of surprise he shouted at his 7.5 cm antitank crew, "Feuer! Feuer frei!³" He winced as the gun barked and he saw sparks flare on the glacis of the enemy tank.


Blaisdell had been trying to pull Hartness out of his seat so that he could take over as driver when the antitank shell had struck the front of the tank and ricocheted away. It was like being inside of a bell. His ears were ringing as he struggled to get the driver moved.

"Jesus rookie, take it easy!" Blaisdell nearly came out of his skin when the "dead" Hartness yelled at him. How could he possibly speak, he was bleeding like a stuck pig and there was blood everywhere, he could see the gash in Hartness' helmet where he'd been hit.

With Hartness helping, Blaisdell got him moved and took over the controls of the tank. It was a few seconds more before he remembered to plug into the intercom. He had been yelling into a dead microphone.

"Just stop the tank, you hear me rookie, put the f**kin' brakes to her."

"Gotcha Sarge!"

As Blaisdell got the tank stopped, the main gun roared right over the driver's still open hatch. Blaisdell thought that if survived this war he'd be deaf as a post the rest of his life.


Hernandez had his men off the tanks and deploying into a skirmish line, as he was trying to spot where the enemy was, the tank he had been on fired, from the woods ahead he saw an explosion, then a number of secondary explosions. A Kraut gun! Looks like the tank killed it, but they might have just hit the spare ammo.

"John, get battalion on the horn, see if we can't get some arty on these guys!" Cpl. John Myerson immediately established radio contact with battalion.

As Hernandez moved to find cover, he heard a grunt behind him, then someone fell on his legs, knocking him to the ground. He turned and saw Pvt. Robert Jennings face down in the snow, lying across his legs. Reaching back he checked, Jennings was dead.

Working his legs free, Hernandez crawled forward to where he saw his platoon guide, Sgt. Woody Sherman, firing his Garand in the direction of the woods from where the fire had come. Next to Sherman, on the ground, was Pvt. Irving Dixon, curled into the fetal position, clutching his mid-section. Before he could process another thought, he heard Myerson yelling.

"Shot out, everybody down! INCOMING!!"


Ley was hit in both legs. When the spare ammunition had gone off, destroying his antitank gun and its crew, fragments from those secondary explosions had torn into his legs. Looking down he realized that he wouldn't be leaving this position under his own power.

As he looked for his sergeant to order him to fall back, the forest exploded.


Myerson told the artillery that they had done well, target destroyed, there was no more fire coming from the German position. The five rounds of 105 mm high explosive had hit the trees directly above the Germans. The fragments from the shells and the long splinters from the trees driven down into the men in their hastily dug positions took the fight completely out of the three SS men who survived. All three were wounded, two of them badly.

He sought out his lieutenant, the small German delaying force had cost them two men, one dead, one wounded, and from the look on Doc Milbury's face, Irv Dixon was probably not going to make it.

"Sir..."

"It's okay John, let's move up and check those positions."

2nd Platoon advanced over the snowy field and entered the edge of the small wood, the smell of high explosives filled the air, along with the coppery smell of spilled blood. There had been fifteen Germans in the position, twelve of whom were dead. The two wounded SS men died of their wounds shortly after the Americans arrived.

"L.T.! We got a live one over here!" Sgt. Katz was already there, talking to the wounded German, a kid of about 17-years of age Hernandez figured.

"Kid says they're with the Hitler Jugend, 12th SS. They were left here to cover this road until the rest of the division got clear. They began withdrawing last night. Where's Doc, I don't think the kid's gonna make it, but..."

"Doc's trying to save Irv Dixon right now, Cat. He got hit, bad. Bob Jennings is dead. F**k this Kraut." Hernandez toyed momentarily with the thought of just shooting the kid, but from the look of it, he was a goner anyway.

The German's eyes were moving back and forth between the man who had questioned him and the American officer. He was terrified and had no idea what was coming next. Then he gasped, a gout of blood issued from his mouth, then he went still.

Katz checked for a pulse, "Kid's dead, L.T., poor f**ker."

"Sympathy for the SS, Sgt. Katz?" Hernandez looked strangely at Katz.

"He was just a kid, just a dumb f**king kid. Probably joined because his buddies did. I dunno, Sir. It's tough to hate 'em when they're just kids, dying kids."

"Ain't that the truth, Cat, ain't that..." Hernandez turned as Doc Milbury came over to him. Hernandez looked at Doc, who just shook his head.

Another mile closer to Germany, two more dead from 2nd Platoon.

Where would it end? Hernandez wondered.

Would it ever end?




¹ First Lieutenant
² Damned idiot!
³ Fire! Fire at will!

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Thursday, January 21, 2021

Homecoming

Houffalize, Belgium, 1945
U.S. Army Photo

As the remnants of Kampfgruppe (mot) von Lüttwitz came in sight of the village of Stadtkyll, a ripple of shock went down the column. The men had been at the front for a long time, they had seen ruins like this in France, in Belgium, in Luxembourg, and some had seen similar scenes of devastation in the East. This was the first time that most of them had seen a German town in such utter ruin.

The pretty town, which lay in the valley of the Kyll River, had been bombed by the Americans and the British since the men had set out for the great Ardennes offensive a little over a month before. There were one or two buildings left, from what they could see, most of the inhabitants were gone. Dead perhaps, many had probably fled the area when it became obvious that the Allied aerial armada would destroy every possible transportation route feeding the German armies in the Ardennes.

There was a Feldgendarmerie post here, manned by living men this time, and they looked miserable and as tired as the men in von Lüttwitz's column.

Wehrmacht Feldgendarmerie in Winter Uniforms
(Source)

One of the Feldgendarmerie troopers stepped into the road and raised a hand. Major von Lüttwitz nodded at Leutnant Sauer and Hauptfeldwebel Keller, they halted the column. Reaching into his map case, von Lüttwitz extracted the documents he'd been given back in Belgium by the Waffen SS battalion commander whose lines they had re-entered after being cut off. He walked forward, he heard the bolt of an MP 40 being pulled back, that had to be Sauer, he thought.

"Guten morgen Herr Major, may I see your orders?" The feldwebel actually gave von Lüttwitz the traditional Army salute, not the Hitler version.

"Certainly, Feldwebel. I see that Stadtkyll has seen better days. We were here a month ago." von Lüttwitz handed over the document.

The sergeant looked at the document briefly, then said, "You were with the SS?"

"We were attached to 6th Panzerarmee, supporting both the Leibstandarte and the 12th Volksgrenadier Division. We were cut off when Kampfgruppe Peiper went charging into Belgium and the Amis flowed in behind them. The Hitler Jugend saved our asses, those orders, as you can see, are from them. Fall back to Stadtkyll and regroup. Well, here we are. All that seems to be missing is Stadtkyll."

"Please wait here Major." The sergeant started to walk over to a small shed next to the road.

"No, you wait Feldwebel. My men and I are hungry, tired, and I have two men suffering from frostbite who need immediate medical attention. Where do you think you are going?" von Lüttwitz snapped the words out with all of the crisp precision German officers were known for. The sergeant reacted as expected.

"Jawohl, Herr Major. Begging your pardon Sir, but I need to show your papers to my Captain. He's in the shed."

"Spieß?"

"Yes Sir?"

"Take two men and kindly ask the captain in that shed to join us. Forcefully if need be."

"Jawohl Herr Major!"

Within seconds a rather disheveled, and very fat, Hauptmann of the Feldgendarmerie joined the Major and his command party in the road.

"What is the meaning of this Major? Do you mean to interfere with the operations of the Feldgendarmerie?" The sleepy looking Hauptmann was struggling to strap his belt around his ample midsection as he sputtered and fumed.

"That's Herr Major to you, Hauptmann. How dare you interfere with military operations! Feldwebel," von Lüttwitz turned to the Feldgendarmerie sergeant, "what are your unit's orders?"

The sergeant snapped to attention and answered, "To redirect units coming in from Belgium to new assembly areas for refitting. The Hauptmann is perhaps a bit overzealous, Sir."

"Very well, where might we be headed?"

"Continue down this road to Jünkerath, there is a depot where the Army is handling units, which are, uh, redeploying from the front. Yes Sir, redeploying."

"I will not stand for this Major, I will report..."

The crack of the pistol shot made everyone jump. The Feldgendarmerie Hauptmann looked puzzled for a moment, then he slumped to the roadway. Manfred Sauer had drawn his pistol and shot the man in the forehead.

"Shame about your Hauptmann, isn't it Feldwebel?" Leutnant Sauer looked at the Feldgendarmerie Feldwebel in a meaningful way. He had yet to holster his pistol.

"Yes Sir, we were warned of Belgian partisans possibly operating in this area. Perhaps we can forget about this little incident?" The sergeant was sweating profusely and was understandably nervous. It was just him and two other men against a full platoon of infantry. It was a losing proposition, he wasn't sure what his commander, Hauptmann Fettermann, had been thinking. Too long in the East threatening civilians probably. Sometimes the people you harassed fought back.

"Carry on, Feldwebel. Jünkerath you say?"

"Yes Sir... Stay on this road, you can't miss it."

Kampfgruppe (mot) von Lüttwitz continued on down the road, leaving death and three thoroughly cowed Feldgendarmerie in its wake.





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Wednesday, January 20, 2021

In Winter's Grip

(Source)

Major Jürgen von Lüttwitz lowered his field glasses and sighed. The small Belgian village of Losheimergraben was, to all intents and purposes, gone. A few hollow shells of the buildings which had stood there on the 16th of December and a field of bomb craters were all that was left. There would be no succor for the survivors of Kampfgruppe (mot) von Lüttwitz there.

"It's about 3 and a half kilometers to Losheim, though it's probably in the same condition as this." Leutnant Manfred Sauer knew the area without having to consult his map. They had been through here before, traveling from Stadtkyll, via Kronenburg and Hallschlag, to Losheim in the days leading up to the offensive. Of course, then they had been in halftracks and trucks, now they would be on foot. Once to Losheim they had another thirteen kilometers to Stadtkyll, where they could reasonably expect some semblance of a supply depot.

"I doubt the men can tolerate another night march in these conditions. But it's that or starve I suppose. Do we have any rations left Spieß?" von Lüttwitz asked of his first sergeant, Hauptfeldwebel Klaus-Peter Keller.

"Nothing Sir. Only what the men may or may not have on their persons. We tell them to conserve, but..."

"Yes, when a man is hungry, his thoughts don't get farther than his stomach." von Lüttwitz realized that they had to keep moving. From the looks of the clouds and the way the air smelled, he was sure that more snow was on the way.

U.S. Army Photo

"Diego, this is Johnny Chapman, he's just out of hospital and the Army saw fit to assign him to us, he was over in the 18th before he was hit. I'm assigning him to your squad, he'll be your assistant squad leader, that brings you up to seven guys now, right?" S/Sgt Jack Wilson explained to newly promoted Sgt. Diego Pena, who was replacing Sgt. Greg Jenkins who had been killed not long ago.

"No problem Top, I wanna change the luck of 2nd Squad, adding a new guy might do the trick. Even if he is from the 18th." Pena grinned as he said that, nudging Chapman as he did so.

"Yeah, I reckon I can teach you guys a thing or two. Maybe." Chapman gave as good as he got, Wilson liked the way he was starting to fit in. As the new platoon sergeant, that would make his life that much easier.

"All right fellas, saddle up. Wish I could say we were riding, but we're gonna have to walk a piece before we link up with our new tank buddies." 2nd Lt. Stephen Hernandez had walked up from company while Wilson was getting the platoon ready to move.

"We linking up with the armor again, L.T.?" Wilson asked. He liked working with the tankers, the big beasts made the Krauts nervous and was easier on the men having that kind of firepower on hand. Not to mention getting to ride instead of walk.

"Yup, we're meeting up with a platoon of tanks from 7th Armored. We're pushing on to Büllingen and eventually to Losheimergraben. Intel says the Krauts are falling back, but they're fighting hard to keep us from collapsing their entire front." Hernandez explained.

"I heard a rumor that the Krauts were attacking down around Strasbourg, where are these guys getting all their troops from anyway?" Pena asked that question, he had buddies in Patch's 7th Army in that area.

"Probably stripped the Eastern Front to make these attacks," Hernandez had been talking with the battalion S-2 that morning, "of course, once the Russians get off their asses and attack, the Krauts are going to regret trying us on here in Belgium. Robbing Peter to pay Paul is the way I see it."

"Dumb asses." Chapman chimed in. "What made them think they could take on all of Europe and the United States?"

"Who knows, above my pay grade, now let's get going, shall we?"


The men had grumbled when they had passed through the ruin of Losheimergraben. They had hoped to find provisions and shelter at the very least, but there was no sign of the mighty German Wehrmacht to be seen.

"You'd think that the Kettenhunde would have a checkpoint here. But there's nothing and no one!" Gefreiter Johannes Hautzig, assistant squad leader of the machine gun squad momentarily lost his temper. He was exhausted beyond belief and he and his men hadn't eaten anything in three days.

"They were here Johannes, look in that ditch." Unteroffizier Manfred Klügmann, Hautzig's squad leader gestured toward the crossroads ahead.

Hautzig recognized the wreck of a Zundapp motorcycle and sidecar, complete with a frozen corpse in the sidecar and another body close by. From the looks of it they had been strafed and killed right here. They probably had been the sole checkpoint in this little village.

"Ja, Feldpolizei, you can see the one dead guy is wearing a gorget, the other probably is too. But he's face down and I'm not going to pry his frozen ass out of that ditch." Grenadier Markus Klopfer laughed as he said that. These men had seen enough to haunt their dreams for the rest of their lives, only their dark humor kept them going.

"Move it along fellows, we can laugh it up in Losheim, if there's anything left of it." Leutnant Sauer was near the rear of the column, keeping the men moving, trying to bolster their spirits and keep them marching.

The heavy snow made marching a real chore. Visibility could be measured in centimeters, and the wind was just enough to keep their faces turned to the east. It pushed at their backs, seemingly to push them out of Belgium as fast as it could. But the dark skies and wind driven snow kept the Jabos away. And that was a blessing.

U.S. Army Photo

Sgt. Woodrow Sherman was riding the lead tank in the column. He was with their newly promoted lieutenant and his radioman, along with Charlie Gammell, the sniper, one of the messengers and two of the basic duty privates. Eight men was a little crowded, but if one had a good spot, you were out of the wind and kept somewhat warm by the other guys around you. Sherman had a good spot.

So far they had not seen any living Germans. Smashed trucks, the occasional burnt out tank or halftrack, and quite a few dead men. There were spots along the trip where it looked like the Germans had marched in platoon formation right into American machine gun fire.

"Hey Woody!" Pvt. Irving Dixon nudged Sherman and pointed, "Remember how the dead always looked kinda pale and grey during the summer, notice how these guys all have reddish faces, almost like mahogany? I wonder why that is."

2nd Lt. Hernandez leaned over and yelled, "It's the cold that does that, instead of the blood draining away from their faces, it freezes under the skin."

Dixon and Sherman looked at each other, how did Hernandez know all these things? Neither man knew that Hernandez, who had been born Esteban, not Stephen, was from the Pyrenees mountains of Spain, a place his family had fled from during the Spanish Civil War when Hernandez was 16. He had seen dead men in the high mountains in winter, with that peculiar reddish cast to their skin. He had asked his father about it, which is how he knew the answer to Dixon's question.

As Hernandez turned back to his front, he spotted movement ahead, men in the road, hands raised in surrender.

Hernandez had the tank platoon commander stop and deploy while his own infantry took up positions as well, they had heard stories of Germans pretending to surrender then throwing grenades at their captors. He would be careful that that didn't happen to his platoon.

"Judd, cover 'em, anybody moves funny or too quick, gun 'em all."

"Got ya Top!" Sgt. Judd Maxwell of the platoon's attached .30 cal machine gun team still tended to refer to Hernandez by his old title. A lot of the men did, Hernandez had only been an officer for a few days now.

Sgt. Stump Gentile and his squad were ordered forward to collect the surrendering Germans, all of whom looked thoroughly miserable and completely defeated.

"Jesus Sarge, look at these bastards, how did they conquer most of Europe?" Pfc. Franklin Barnett asked the question as he aimed his B.A.R. at the Germans, ready to pull the trigger at a moment's notice.

"Well, Frank, I figure they were a lot better fed back then, watch 'em. Hey you, Fritz, get those f**king hands up! Hände hoch!" Gentile had seen one man start to drop his hands, the muzzle of Gentile's Garand convinced the German that that was a bad idea.

Stump realized that these Germans had no fight in them, from their uniforms they looked like Luftwaffe troops. When they'd marched the prisoners back to their skirmish line, Sgt. Melvin Katz was there with the lieutenant. He wasted no time interrogating the Germans.

"Well Top, the sergeant here says they're with the 3rd Fallschirmjäger Division, they haven't eaten in over a week, he claims they've been holed up waiting for the SS to leave so that they could surrender. The sergeant's a tough old bastard but look at his men, f**king kids." Katz then spoke to the German sergeant again, who answered immediately.

"He says that the SS pulled out a couple of days ago, on foot. Apparently they've been withdrawn for rest and reequipping before being sent east. The sergeant here says his boys have seen enough."

"Okay, John," Hernandez said, turning to his radioman, Cpl. John Myerson, "get on the radio, we need a truck to take these guys to the rear. Cat, tell the Kraut to stay right here, someone will be along to collect him and his troops. Also tell him that if they wander off, they'll probably get shot. No one is real keen on taking prisoners right now."

Katz told the German the lieutenant's instructions, though the man looked dejected, he agreed that he and his men would wait here to be collected.

As the platoon remounted the tanks, Hernandez noted that the men had given some of their rations to the Germans. Damn, he thought, we go from killing them one day, to helping them the next.




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Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Promotions and Hard Decisions

US Army Photo

The jeep rolled to a stop outside the hut 2nd Platoon was using as a CP. Cpt. Tony Palminteri and 2nd Lt. Herman Jacobsen climbed out, stretched and then stepped into the hut.

"Cap'n, what brings you out here to our palatial estate?" S/Sgt Stephen Hernandez asked as he stood to greet the two officers.

"First of all, Stephen, you need to start wearing lieutenant bars, regiment approved your field commission. As Herm here also got promoted..." Cpt. Palminteri gestured to his Weapons Platoon leader.

"Yup, you can have my bars, Stephen, congratulations." Jacobsen said as he handed over a set of 2nd Lieutenant bars.

"I've got some other promotions for your guys as well. Where's your machine gun team by the way?"

"Follow the track down to your left as you go out the door, Judd and his guys are there. We're not losing them are we?" Hernandez asked with some concern.

"Nah, Judd made sergeant, I wanted to give him the good news myself." Jacobsen said, "So if you'll excuse me?"

"Okay, Herm, see you in a few." Palminteri said.

Turning again to Hernandez, Palminteri handed him a sheet of paper with a list of promotions -

S/Sgt. Jack Wilson
Sgt. Melvin Katz
Cpl. John Myerson
Cpl. Charlie Gammell
Pfc. Chris McWhorter

"Those are all effective immediately. Katz will take over Wilson's old squad, right?"

"Yessir, Pena will be taking over 2nd Squad, he's ready. Any chance on getting him his sergeant stripes any time soon?"

"Yeah, why not? Tell Diego to put those on, I'll clear it with regiment. By the way, how old is Gammell anyway, he turn 18 yet?"

"Yessir, back in November. He's young but he's a damned good soldier. Best shot in the regiment I'd bet."

"I've heard. So, you guys need anything special? Well, other than food, boots, fresh socks, time out of the line, etc., etc.?"

"Heh, a month in Paris would be nice."

"Dream on. Have your men ready to move tomorrow."

Bundesarchiv

They were still a kilometer short of reaching Losheimergraben, so it was into the woods once more as it was starting to get light.

"Herr Major, I think we should push on, it's overcast and I think it's going to snow again." Leutnant Manfred Sauer knew that the men wouldn't be happy spending another day out in the middle of the snowy countryside.

Major Jürgen von Lüttwitz thought about it for a moment, then shook his head. "Into the woods Manfred. I don't want to be out in the open. The enemy Jabos have been active even with the overcast. The ceiling is high enough for them to get under and strafe the roads. The Amis seem anxious to get us out of Belgium."

Sauer sighed, he agreed with his commander, but some of the men were starting to lose faith. Two had actually suggested surrender, but he didn't tell the Major that, von Lüttwitz was determined to keep what was left of his unit together.

So they left the road and headed into the trees. Digging in was out of the question, the ground was frozen solid and their small shovels would be of no use, so they found hollows in the ground to at least get some protection from both the weather and the enemy.


"Sir, we have a problem." In the late afternoon, Unteroffizier Peter Krause, the Sani, had come over to where von Lüttwitz and Sauer had been trying to get some rest.

"What is it Peter?" Major von Lüttwitz asked.

"I've been checking the men, two are having problems with their feet, well, I suppose we all are, but Spiegel and Berger are having severe problems. They have frostbite. Spiegel will probably lose his toes, Berger might lose a foot."

"Damn it, can they walk?" von Lüttwitz asked as he looked at his medic.

"Barely, I'm not sure what to do. Leave them? They will slow us down."

Von Lüttwitz looked off into the distance, it was getting dark, they would be moving soon. He didn't like the idea of leaving men behind, but he may not have a choice. Then Sauer spoke up.

"Sir, we could use the If. 8s¹. We're almost to Losheimergraben, we dump some of the rations and equipment and load Spiegel and Berger on two of the carts."

Von Lüttwitz thought about that for a moment, then said, "Do it. I'll not leave a man behind. It's going to be dark soon, we need to be moving."

The men dumped some of the contents of two of the carts. making room for Spiegel and Berger, both of whom insisted that they could walk on their own.

"Are you kidding mensch?² You move like an old man." Feldwebel Klaus Haasen, Spiegel's squad leader, was only half kidding. They were all moving slowly due to the lack of food and the cold, but Spiegel and Berger could barely put weight on their feet.

"Just hop on, we'll haul your asses back to the Reich. Good thing you've both lost weight!" Grenadier Peter Meyer joked, though he had lost considerable weight himself due to the short rations they had been on since the battle started. He hoped, they all hoped, that they could get a decent meal when they got to Losheimergraben.

No one knew that that town had been flattened by Allied bombing to choke the German supply line. They would learn soon enough.




¹ Infanteriekarren, If. 8 - Infantry carts.
² Man.

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Monday, January 18, 2021

Comme ci, Comme ça

 My apologies for being pretty much AWOL, vis a vis commenting, this past week.  Life has a way of intervening at times doesn't it?  That having been said, Mrs J and I, and our minions, have had a busy week. 

Minions being a word for highly paid skilled persons hired to use those skills to fill holes in the skill set of Mrs J and I.

Did I mention "highly paid"?

Anyhow when last we spoke, Phase 2 of Operation "Everyone move one house clockwise" had just begun.  Phase 2 being the renovation of our old abode, a double wide we'd lived in for 20 years.  Renovation is planned to be mainly installation of new flooring.  Last Monday, the demo guys showed up early to rip out old ceramic tiles and carpeting.  

They hadn't been there more than an hour when I get a call. "juvat, can you come down to the project?  We've got something to show you."

Nothing good is going to come from that statement.  Well... "nothing inexpensive" that is.


Fortunately, I had a second contractor on site right then to fix some roofing tiles that had blown off in a recent storm.  He took a look and said that he could repair that without too much trouble as it looked like the joists were fine underneath.  There were only  a couple of places like this at the time.

So, we got together with the flooring bubbas, had them continue to remove the existing flooring and prepping the site.  We would reschedule the new floor installation for a future date after the holes were fixed.

Unfortunately, I got some more phone calls from them as they took out more carpet/tiles. That above picture is in the corner of the dining room closest to the kitchen.  About 5 years ago we'd had a faucet installed (by a plumber, Beans, Plumbing being both expensive and not in my skillset).  Seems the plumber didn't quite get the connector on correctly and there had been a very slow leak behind the kitchen sink.  A few months later, Culligan came and installed a reverse osmosis system and as he does so, he informs us of the leak.  

We contact the plumber who comes out and fixes the leak and replaces the affected flooring.  Or so we thought.  


The light square at the top is the floor he repaired. The rest, which extends another 4 feet or so to the hole. is MDF.  My knowledge of plumbing does include the fact that MDF does not respond well to a long bath.  

A phone call between Mrs J and the Plumber then ensued with nothing more accomplished than an exploration of her upper blood pressure limit. 

So, we called up the contractor who was going to fix the underfloor problems and said he might want to come back and look at the problem again.  He did and concurred with our assessment this HAS to be replaced. He is currently scheduled to fix the problems (there are 5 areas total) this Thursday.  The floor installation guys are rescheduled for next Monday.

Yes, Beans, you're right, the price went up quite a bit.  So the floor and roof repairs will be just about all we're going to do at this point on the house.  My sister will be moving in shortly...and Phase 3, refreshing her old cabin will commence as DIL and "Tex" will be arriving soon to begin the 6 month quarantine in place, prior to their joining Little J on their next assignment in Hong Kong.

So....

Source


The other major project that's been going on in my AOR is the installation of a Doggy door so the dogs can go and "take care of business" as needed.  One of the constraints, however, is we now have indoor cats also.  Given that our nearest neighbor lost a couple of sheep to a fox, we had to figure out a workable compromise as providing felines as fox food is not high on Mrs J's (or my) things to do list.Source

BTW ,said fox is now deceased and displayed on the neighbor's fence for all to see...Rednecks, gotta love 'em.

Schmedly, patrolling her domain.

 

How have we decided to attack the problem? Enter the "Petio".  

It's a 12' x 12' enclosed area with the doggie door mounted on the wall on the far side just to the right of the closest corner.  Various cat entertainment devices will be installed, so they will be able to view their kingdom from on high.  Thought this one turned out quite well.  This of course was just one more sub-phase of Phase One of the Operation.  There are other sub-phases of that phase. (And undoubtedly will be many more to come.)

One of which came into view late last week.  Mrs J had decreed that, since Epiphany was behind us, Christmas was over and decorations thereof should be returned to their upright and locked positions.

Source

Which, of course, included the Christmas Tree.  Cathedral ceilings in the main room meant that the tree would have to be large. 9' in this case.

Yes, Beans, I know.  First World problems.

But, taking it down necessitates some place to store it.  Which given the layout of the hose means...the Attic.

The Attic is accessed by a drop down folding ladder.  The tree, fully broken down and packed weighs 75+ lbs.  It finally made it into the attic, but Mrs J had two additional edicts at that point.  

First, the tree would be broken down before Little J and/or SIL had departed from their Christmas visit and therefore could assist. Second, some form of mechanical device would be installed so as to facilitate its storage and minimize the consumption of Naproxen required by the older generation after returning it to its storage area.


 

The attic door and the ceiling above.  I am standing upright as I take this picture.

 Unfortunately, Tilson's plans for our home had the option for a second floor, which means the roof is probably 15' above the door to the attic.  So, this is going to require a little bit of pondering.  Mrs J did have a pretty good idea, feasibility still to be determined, to build a saw horse like device which straddles the opening during the lift.  Afterwards it is moved out of the way until needed again.  

As I said, gonna do some pondering on that.  

Which is going to be a helluva lot less stressful than pondering on other events going on this week.

Just sayin'.


 

 


Sunday, January 17, 2021

Retribution

Bundesarchiv

Major Jürgen von Lüttwitz stood by the side of the road and watched as his men moved past him, they were headed back to Germany. Hitler's great offensive had failed. Out of 527 men, he was bringing back only forty-three. He was sure that some of those men were still alive, somewhere, but of the various components of his former Kampfgruppe, all that was left were the remnants of the 1st Company.

He noted with some satisfaction that the men had gathered a number of carts, the ubiquitous Infanteriekarren, If. 8s which every infantry company in the Wehrmacht was supposed to have seventeen of, normally drawn by horses but designed to be drawn by men if need be. They had found a number of them abandoned along the road back to Losheimergraben. So they appropriated them. That had been Sauer's idea.

When von Lüttwitz had first met Manfred Sauer, the man had been a simple soldier, content to follow orders and do his job, no more, no less. But in the retreat across France the man had proven himself to be a force of nature when he put his mind to it. From grenadier to lieutenant, Sauer had proven his worth over and over. Von Lüttwitz realized that he couldn't have done it without Sauer there to back him up.

"Wool gathering Herr Major?" Sauer had come back down the road looking for his commander.

"Perhaps, I'm thinking of the retreat across France, then again, I'm remembering that first winter in Russia as well. Retreating is never easy, but it's a damned sight harder in winter!"

"Yes it is. I've halted the column, there's something going on farther up the road you need to see."

As the two men started walking towards the head of the column, von Lüttwitz asked Sauer what he had seen. "Roadblock, looks like the Sicherheitsdienst, they seem to be stopping all movement to the rear. No doubt looking for deserters is my guess." Sauer explained.

"SS bastards!" Was all von Lüttwitz had to offer.

When they reached a point where they could see the roadblock, von Lüttwitz noted that there were a number of figures lying in the snow, off to the side of the road. He used his field glasses to study the situation, the arrogant bastards actually had a fire going in a empty oil drum next to the road. There was a halftrack nearby, its machine gun not manned at the moment. There were ten men in the group, one officer that he could see.

"Looks like they've been dispensing some 'field justice' by the looks of those bodies. It's hard to tell, but not all of them are soldiers. I'd swear they've been shooting civilians as well." The disgust and contempt in Sauer's voice was obvious.

After a few moments of watching, von Lüttwitz turned to Sauer and said, "Take Torsten's squad, have the MG 42 set up to cover the road from..." von Lüttwitz paused, "Do you see that small group of pines to the right?"

Sauer swung his glasses in that direction, "Yes Sir, I see it. I'll have Meissner make his move from there. I'll take the rest of the men right down the road..."

"No, I want you with Meissner, if those SD bastards try anything, gun them down, no mercy. Germany already has much to answer for, I'll not be a part of their crimes." von Lüttwitz made it very clear, he wanted to kill these men who followed the fighting troops into action and terrorized those behind the lines. "Cowards, all of them."

As Sauer and Meissner began to move out, the men heard a noise which was unmistakable, a tank coming down the road.

"Hold up Manfred, that sounds like one of ours. What deviltry is afoot, I wonder?"

Von Lüttwitz and his men moved off the road.

Bundesarchiv

"Slow down, Hans, there's something in the road ahead." SS-Scharführer Klaus Winkmann of the 9th SS Panzerdivision 'Hohenstauffen' had his head part way out of his hatch. He didn't wish to be blind, nor over exposed to enemy rifle fire. This uncomfortable position was a compromise.

He watched as his driver, SS-Rottenführer Kurt Zerbst, slowed the big Panther. Winkmann was furious to be ordered back to the division's assembly area. The Amis were attacking and his battalion commander wanted at least one tank back at the regimental depot to defend it. Winkmann had a squad of SS Panzergrenadiers riding on the back and they weren't happy about this mission either, and now this, apparently a roadblock set up by their own people.

"Willi, get on your gun, I'll brook no nonsense from these rear area types." SS-Sturmmann Wilhelm Kleist worked the bolt on his machine gun and looked out of his periscope in the bow of the tank. Whatever Winkmann wanted, Kleist approved of, they'd been fighting together in the same outfit since Normandy.

As the tank slowed, Winkmann noticed a man step into the road, he was signaling them to stop. Winkmann then noticed the bodies off to the side, civilians and military. He also noticed the small diamond on the man in the road's sleeve. Sicherheitsdienst!

"Where do you think you are going Sergeant?" The man asked with a certain degree of arrogance, typical for these swine, Winkmann thought.

"We're under orders, now if you men will move that halftrack out of the way, we'll be on our way."

In his headset Winkmann heard his gunner, SS-Rottenführer Egon Hartz say, "We couldn't be better positioned Klaus, I've got Panzergranate up the spout and the fool in the halftrack is in my sights."

"Stand by Egon." Winkmann murmured into the intercom.

"I'll need to see your papers Sergeant." The SD man insisted.

"I'm with Hohenstauffen, we've been ordered back to our depot. Don't you know there's a war on, man?"

Another man stepped into the light from the fire burning in the oil drum. "Is there a problem here Oberscharführer?" Winkmann saw the insignia of an officer on the man's collar, perhaps an Untersturmführer.

"These men seem sketchy to me, Sir. I think they are retreating without authorization."

Winkmann again murmured into the intercom, "Kill them."

The gun on the tank barked, the concussion from it knocked the two SD men standing in the road to the ground. The round from the cannon hit the halftrack in the engine compartment and then ricocheted through the driver's compartment and into the passenger section. The man who had been manning the machine gun mounted on the roof was torn in half as the antitank round went through him.

The infantry on the back of the Panther opened fire at the SD men standing by the road, not one of them was left alive. Kleist's machine gun finished the men jumping from the burning halftrack.

"Let's roll Hans, I want to be at the depot before daylight."

The big Panther jerked into motion, its tracks taking a second to get a grip on the icy road. Winkmann thought he heard a scream as the tank rolled over the two men in the road.

"SD bastards." Winkmann spat over the side as his vehicle pushed the burning halftrack off the road.


"What did I just see, Herr Major?" Sauer was amazed at what he had just seen, a Panther from seemingly out of nowhere had dealt with the roadblock which they had planned to destroy if their passage had been contested.

"I guess the panzer boys are in a hurry to get somewhere, I wonder where they got the fuel from?" von Lüttwitz didn't really care what the men in and on the Panther had done to the SD men, in fact, he felt a certain satisfaction in having witnessed the incident.

"Wow, I think we need to put some distance between us and this mess, Herr Major." Unteroffizier Torsten Meissner understood the officers' fascination with what they had just witnessed, but if there were more SD or SS men in the area, he didn't like their chances of not being blamed for this. Even if it was obvious that a tank had killed the roadblock.

"Yes, I'm glad you're paying attention, Torsten. Let's get the men moving."


As they passed the burning ruin of the roadblock, Sauer noticed that the two men in the road had been crushed by the tracks of the Panther. He also noticed that there were a number of women and children among the dead beside the road. He spat on the SD officer's corpse.

"Rot in Hell you Nazi bastard."

As each man passed the spot, each spat on one corpse or the other. One man spat on both, and kicked both for good measure.

"I think they're dead, Gregor." One man quipped.

Grenadier Gregor Fittkau, whose fiancé had been arrested, and shot, by the Gestapo for 'defeatism,' simply kicked the dead officer once more and said, "Not dead enough."

As the day grew lighter, the destroyed roadblock was already being covered in fresh snow. Just another atrocity in a world gone mad.




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