Saturday, December 23, 2017

Panzer 413 - Hell is Cold

MSgt Ted Dixon was not a man to be rushed. His guys were wiring the bridge on the road which led to Limerlé, the tanker he'd picked up in Gouvy said that the Krauts had already gone down that road, so why bother blowing the bridge?

"Well, we're on this side, they're on the other. While this is a pretty small creek, no bridge will slow the Krauts down won't it? Keeping them away from our own precious selves. I like that, don't you?"

The tanker just shook his head and walked back to his tank. He didn't understand combat engineers, thought they were all nuts.

The tanker was Mac Peterson, he'd lost track of how many days they'd been running around these Belgian woods and hills. One moment cozy in barracks, the next on the road with Tom Friedman to meet up with replacements who'd been sent forward already. And wasn't that just like the freaking Army?

Now Tom and his crew were dead, not 50 yards to their front, still in their burned out tank, not far from the wreck of the Tiger Boston Beans had killed. Their youngest crewman, Private Herring had wondered why he smelled burned meat when they'd driven past the two wrecks. Wondered out loud until Louis Clark, their tank's driver had told him to shut the Hell up. The kid would learn.

Damn replacements.

As he grabbed the main gun and climbed up to the turret, he saw the engineer waving at him. Looks like they were ready to move out. Hooking up to the intercom, Mac ordered Louis to turn Tennessee Whiskey around and follow the engineers. Bob Norwood was already cranking the turret around to face over the back deck of the tank. Just to discourage anyone coming up the road behind them. Only Krauts were back there.

As they moved out, the wind kicked up and the snow started up again. Mac thought, if I survive this damn war, I'm moving to someplace where they don't know what snow is!

Pierre Marchand stood in the doorway of his home and watched as the German officer climbed down from his tank. Pierre hated les Boches, he had been a young man in the 1914 war, too young for the army, but old enough to remember the Germans. They had had his maternal grandfather and two of his cousins shot. To encourage the rest of the village to cooperate with them.

"Old man! Have you seen the Americans? How many men? Tanks?"

Of course the pig spoke in German, why did les Boches always think that everyone in this part of Belgium spoke German. All the German speakers were over in St. Vith, here they were all good Walloons, not Huns.

Kurt Langanke looked at the Belgian standing in front of him with frustration. Did these stupid peasants always have to act like they knew nothing? Maybe the clod didn't speak German. So...

"Vieil homme, avez-vous vu les Américains?"

"Avez-vous vu des chars, de l'infanterie, combien?"

"Can you speak at all you bloody clod?"


As the Boche talked to him in his terrible French, Pierre had a sudden chill. When the man's white camouflage coat collar fell open, he could see the SS-runes on the man's uniform. An SS-man, Pierre didn't feel good about this. He better tell him about the tank and the trucks, three weren't there? Maybe twenty men?

"Un char, trois camions, peut-être 20 hommes, commandant."

Pierre was shaking now, he hoped the German thought it was from the cold. Go, just go, fight your war somewhere else, he thought.

The Hauptsturmführer thought for a moment. Seemed plausible, if the Ami had had a stronger force then they might have stood their ground. He'd been seeing signs of American panic for two days now. Abandoned vehicles and equipment, even overcoats and rifles thrown off in their hurry to run away. Harrumph, he'd run these bastards to ground, they would have to stand and fight sometime.

"Merci, mon vieux." Kurt turned on his heel to remount his Panther, the old fellow was harmless. Maybe even simple. Chap had been shivering like a newborn colt.

Climbing into the turret he ordered his tank forward and pumped his fist in the air. As he did so, he saw that the snow was harder now.


As the column of tanks rolled by, Pierre counted 11 of them, they were followed by halftracks packed with infantry. Grimacing at the Germans as they rolled by, they were laughing and mocking him, one even threw a snowball at him.

Pierre shook his fist and yelled the only German he knew, "Scheißkopf!"

For that, an SS Sergeant riding in one of the halftracks shot Pierre Marchand down in the street, right in front of his home.

The Belgian wasn't really that old, he was only forty-two, but he wouldn't see forty-three.

Oberfeldwebel Willi Hoffmeister was frustrated, his old comrade, Otto Krämer had just come back from talking with the company commander. They wanted him and Becker in 414 to travel back up the road they just came down, then over to Rettigny, where there was rumored to be more fuel. They'd be accompanied by two halftracks of panzergrenadiers.

"Secure the fuel Willi, we are starting to be desperately short of that item."

"Verstanden. And after that?"

"Head north, you see here on the map? Take that road down to Houffalize. The rest of the battalion should be there by now."

"Houffalize? I thought we were headed to Bastogne?"

"There's an American tank force in that area, they're threatening our flank and the flank of 6th Panzerarmee. Our Tigers should make short work of them. Then Major Lange will tell us what's next."

Sighing, Willi compared Otto's map to his, he marked Rettigny, the road there, then the road north, then to Houffalize.

Google Maps
Mac stood on his seat looking down the road, the engineer's jeep was just around the bend in the road, apparently they were setting some mines, both on the road, on the verge, and on the trees beside the road. As the terrain was rising here, the engineer sergeant thought it would be a good spot to slow the Kraut advance in this sector.

Google Streetview
Mac looked around, decided that when the engineers were done, he'd back up a hundred yards or so and wait. If the Krauts made it through the mines, maybe he'd toss a few rounds their way, get their attention, make them deploy, then Tennessee Whiskey would scoot.

Well, we'll see, he thought.

Langanke was in his turret, trying to stay warm, looking at his map, trying to concentrate. He didn't remember being this tired in Russia, maybe it was the circumstances, the odd "last chance" feeling of this whole offensive. He heard a loud bang behind him, what the...

The Panther behind his had rolled over a mine, Langanke could see that the track was damaged, that's when he noticed the wires running into the trees along the road.

Waving frantically he tried to get the column to halt, too much interference on the radio made it hard to communicate between tanks, sometimes the old fashioned ways were still effective. He heard another bang, looked up to see a tree falling onto the road directly over the turret of the third vehicle in line. His second in command's Panther.

Looks like the Amis were fighting back

Damn it, the damned American engineers!

Mac heard the explosions, ha, that'll teach 'em, he thought.

"Jim, Bob, you boys ready?"

"Got AP up the spout boss," Jim Sherwood answered.

"Sighted in on the bend in road Mac, we're ready." Gunner Bob Norwood chimed in.

Mac settled lower in the turret, no sense being a target just yet.

Langanke had sent one of his halftracks forward, told the sergeant in charge to scout further down the road while they sorted themselves out here. It was slow work but they managed to get one vehicle clear of the hastily planted mine field.

SS-Hauptscharführer* Manfred Weber had a man on the hood of the halftrack to watch for possible mines and booby traps. He had the rest of the men ready to jump out and deploy should they run into anything.

Well, they did run into something. Something Weber wasn't ready for. This was no simple Belgian peasant to be gunned down.

Mac barked, "Fire!" as the Kraut halftrack rolled around the bend in the road.

The shot bored straight into the driver's compartment of the vehicle, the vehicle slewed to a stop as Jerry Herring opened up with his bow machine gun at the Germans trying to bail out of the stricken vehicle.

His first burst killed the man on the hood, then it killed Weber, as Herring, in his inexperience, let the gun rise from the recoil. He quickly adjusted though and clipped one of the Krauts trying to scramble into the woods alongside the road.

It all ended rather quickly as Tennessee Whiskey fired a high explosive round into the disabled halftrack. Which pretty much finished the battle.

Mac ordered Louis to move out. It would be a while before that halftrack could be moved!

As Langanke's Panther moved out, he was expecting to see his men ahead, engaging American engineers. He wasn't prepared to see his halftrack destroyed and apparently most of its squad dead, scattered around the vehicle or still in the vehicle.

Again, the damn Ami engineers had delayed his column. At this rate they wouldn't make it to Houffalize before morning.

"Put out sentries, we'll lager here for the night!"

And again it was starting to snow.

As for Panzer 413, Willi's Tiger was waiting for his own engineers to fix a damaged bridge to his front. They'd be lucky to get to Rettigny tonight.

He tugged his collar tight and sat back into his turret. He noticed the snow.

And wondered if any of his family still lived.


* Hauptscharführer, senior platoon sergeant.


  1. To be continued I am enjoying it Sarge! Do you know if the Germans referred to us as "Amis" during WW2? I know they did post war...

    1. Thanks William, and yes, the Germans called us "Ami" during the war.

  2. I was at a fire once, where a person was caught inside, and burned. It's not a smell you forget. It's not always fun to be a Badger.

  3. Seconding enjoying this. Time, something the Germans were short of.... trading space for time.

  4. To be continued... when? How long?

    1. Things might be slow over the next couple of days, I'm on the road.

      This is intended to become a full length book. That's the plan anyway.

    2. It'll never be optioned to become a Hollywood blockbuster without a torrid love triangle, you know. The TC from the Deep South who is always butting heads with his flamingly ghey black gunner from Harlem while being deeply attracted at the same time, the German SS prisoner pressed into service as a loader, who's even more attracted to the gunner than the TC is, and the Deplorable driver and radio operator/gunner/assistant driver who are just disgusted by all the Drama in the turret basket. They are they real bad guys of the movie. The Waffen SS only wish they were so Deplorable.

    3. You may say that's ahistoric, but all you have to do is go back and look at the movie "U-571", which was FANTASTIC so long as you knew nothing about WWII America, the WWII US Navy, American race relations, the US Navy (at all), the Kriegsmarine (at all), and any technical issues whatsoever,,,

    4. Larry - yes, that's exactly how modern Hollywood would tell the story. A story with absolutely nothing in common with reality. It's what they do. Those of us who expect Hollywood to entertain and not educate have no problem with that. Those who look to the entertainment business for education have no hope of being educated, only indoctrinated.

    5. Larry - as to the film U-571, it was entertaining, that's what I go to the movies for. If I want to be educated, I pick up a book.

    6. Comment seems to have disappeared into the aether. U-571 was entertaining, and a better movie than I expected. Especially seeing how it got British tails twisted into sputtering knots. But it was made more fun by watching with a bunch of buddies with drinks in hand and wisecracks galore about the more ridiculous elements.

      The Sharknado party was a lot funnier, though. It ended a lot drunker, too.

    7. Found it!

      Your comment dove into the moderation pool as this post is now over seven days old. (Helps keep the spammers at bay but occasionally will trap an innocent. 😉) All that being said...

      I tried to watch Sharknado, I don't know why, perhaps a last ditch effort to appear "hip and with it." (Is that even a thing any more?)

      Yeah, tearing a poorly conceived film apart, adult beverage in hand, is great sport.

    8. To be fair, we started Sharknado already fairly wasted, and someone had pulled up on their laptop the Ace of Spades livestream comment thread on the "event", and was calling out the funnier ones, which came pretty quickly IIRC. The movie was itself unwatchable, but the outside commentary kept it moving along smartly. Another evening and several thousand brain cells I'll never get back. Sigh.

  5. Your story is still as gripping as ever. Thanks for the post.

    Merry Christmas,
    Paul L. Quandt

  6. Some history to go with ---

  7. Don't wait too long, I'm dying to know what happened next.

    And the merriest of Christmases to you and yours, Sarge!

    1. I'll see what I can do c w.

      Merry Christmas to you and yours!

  8. I went over to Google Maps so that I could drive through the Belgian countryside following the route on your map, and found that I could split the screen so that Streetview was in the top half, and the map on the bottom half.
    While you are in full screen Streetview, hover over the inset map in the lower left corner and when the map enlarges a bit click on expand.
    I didn't know about that feature.

    I bet that the larger part of the Belgian countryside is unchanged from WWII.

    Standing by for more.

    1. I'll have to try that split screen thing.

      That area of the Ardennes is still pretty rural.

  9. Great stuff Sarge. I'm envious of you wordsmith's ability to paint a picture that makes me feel like I was there...

    Merry Christmas and the best of New Years.

  10. Silly Germans, you should be happy for the crappy snowy weather.

    If it were nice, you'd be busy getting killed by P-47s.

  11. Noticed the Zimmerit on the turret of the tank in the last photo. This was a measure taken by German tank crews to prevent Russian infantry from using magnetic antitank charges that were manually applied to tanks (an extremely dangerous practice used by both sides on the Eastern Front). Tanks transported from the Russian Front to the West would have had that coating. To my knowledge, however, neither British nor US soldiers were issued magnetic antitank mines such as those used by both sides in Russia. If I'm wrong, please correct me....

    1. I don't believe the Western Allies used magnetic mines. But applying Zimmerit would be standard practice, never know where a tank might wind up, nothing stopping the Brits and Amis from using magnetic AT mines either.

    2. The SS tank divisions, in particular, along with some of the heavy (schwere) tank regiments fought on both fronts, shuttled back and forth with alarming regularity, based on which one was in deepest shite.

  12. Regarding the photo of the SS soldier above, what distinguished his uniform from that of a regular Wehrmacht tanker was the skull insignia on the cap under the eagle (regular Wehrmacht wore a cockade) and the collar insignia. A Wehrmacht Panzersoldat would have had skulls (minus the lower jawbone--old Hussar insignia) on both collars, the SS man wore rank insignia on the left side. On his uniform the eagle was on his sleeve rather than on his breast.

    In the 2014 (?) movie Stalingrad there's a scene with a Panzer officer planning an assault on a Russian-held building in support of the infantry (that was by necessity an infantry battle); he had a skull on both lapels and his cap. A minor detail but one that mildly annoyed me. I'm not an easy person with whom to watch war movies....

    1. Now that you mention it, in the photo of the SS officer (7th highest scoring Tiger ace, Paul Egger) is actually wearing a Wehrmacht tanker's cap. That's a Wehrmacht eagle and a Wehrmacht Panzer skull (no mandible).

      German uniforms were varied, especially in the SS. Below the rank of Standartenführer, officer rank was on the left collar, on the right collar (in German units and in SS-Wiking) the SS runes were worn, Other SS units wore varying insignia on the right collar. Enlisted were similar.

      SS-Totenkopf units wore the Death's Head on the right collar patch.

      I think I've actually seen wartime photos with two skulls on the collar, and one on the cap. I'll try and find it.

      Soldiers in all armies will bend the regulations to look "cool," not saying I did that, not saying I didn't, but it happened.

    2. And some, like Robin Olds, outright broke some of them. I remember the sideburn Navy which pushed regs to the limit and then some. Of course, back then, Navy captains had more leeway and full beards could be worn according to the captain's whim. For Army and Marines and even USAF, where proper fit of MOPP gear could be vital, I can see a 'no beards' policy wherever MOPP gear was a possibility. To be fair, I always though Clark AB was a prime target just as it was in 1941, simply because it's air wing of 2 F-4E and 1 F-4G Wild Weasel squadron (along with support units) were tasked with immediate deployment (presumably to Korea, but in fallback either to Japan or even another theater if necessary), but do you think MOPP gear was available to most? As far as I could tell, the same attitude of 1940 held true in 1990. Pretty much the same attitude as Hawaii 1940. If the Real War had happened, a handful of Spetsnaz teams could've disabled much of Clark's worldwide comms (some extremely vital) and shut down the field for at least a couple of days while possible taking out a fair percentage of F-4s in the process. It was disheartening, to a new airman. More so than the recent 'sparrow team' assassinations of US (and suspected US) service members that resumed before I left.

    3. Well, I wish, I wish, I wish I could go back and edit comments because what looks good in the edit window is obviously wrong when posted. Like code before a code review review -- I'm so old school that seeing it on paper is more readable...

    4. Larry - we all had MOPP gear at Kunsan back in the day. The rumor then was that there weren't enough M-16s to go around.

    5. Yeah, I really wish Blogger had a comment edit feature, WordPress does

    6. I know Korea had MOPP gear, as did the deployment units at Clark. Most of the 10,000 or so active duty personnel stationed at Clark wouldn't deploy, though. The rumor mill had it that the MOPP gear was mostly packed for deployment and not available for immediate use even for those that had it without significant prior warning. Except for wargames, of course.

      The "Great Wall of Clark" (which really was a very long wall -- the base was huge) was built 8' high topped with razor wire. It wasn't high enough to make enough of a barrier. Supposedly it was supposed to be 11' high, but the PI .gov complained that someone could get hurt falling from that height. Given the ridiculous levels of thievery and general corruption, that was actually kind of believable. The first thing stolen was the razor wire off the Great Wall, then the light bulbs out of the illumination towers. There were a few times we had the cable stolen out of the cable troughs between the site and the antennas, with the cut sections hauled over the wall by carabou teams. One time the thieves mistakenly tried to cut a section of the power trough. Somehow no one was killed, but it blew the transformers and we ran off generators for a few days. The "solution" was for us to do hourly perimeter checks peering out into the dark, dark, dark antenna fields and iof we saw something, to run inside and call the SPs. Who might be there in a few minutes, but with the long approach road and the short distance to the wall and the engagement rules, always far too late to do anything but be a nuisance to the thieves. Who if they were even apprehended, would be back the next night since half their cousins were PI police, PAF, or judges. A losing battle ever since Carter turned the bases over to the PI. Dad had stories from the late 1950's when the Negrito tribesmen in the reservation between Subic and Clark were given responsibility for some outside security. A number of headless bodies quickly turned up and theft went down. Then the local .gov protested vigorously at their relatives turning up dead, and the Negritos were let go of security jobs. Sad!

    7. Ah yes, the Philippines and corruption, the two almost go hand in hand. Truth be told though, all governments are corrupt, it's only the level of corruption that varies.

      I spent two weeks at Clark for a Cope Thunder in March of 1980. When we went off base the first time, I had the impression that the Japanese had left the week before. Not much sign of progress since 1945.

      Should've set the Negritos loose on the local government! I had my own experience with the cops in the P.I., corrupt and incompetent. Barney Fifes with their hands out and unwilling to do their jobs.


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Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

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