Sunday, December 31, 2017

Somewhere North of Bastogne, in the Ardennes

Christmas Eve, 1944. Mac Peterson remembered where he was just four years ago. High school, he was a senior. His last Christmas at home with the family. The war was looming ever larger in Europe, and dangerous rumblings were coming from the Pacific.

Dad had fought in World War I, had been gassed in the Argonne Forest but had survived, Late at night he could hear his old man coughing, knew that he was suffering. At Christmas dinner, Mac's dad had taken him aside.

"Son, I know we're going to get into this war, sooner rather than later. Your grades aren't good enough to go to college. I'd recommend working for a couple of years, then go to school. Make something of yourself, well, that's what I'd say if I didn't think we'd be getting into this fight. So, when high school is finished, enlist, get in early, you'll make sergeant, like I did."

"Gee Dad, I was thinking of asking Marilyn..."

"There is no time for that Malcolm. After the war will do, just wait, don't make that girl a widow."

So he'd enlisted right out of high school. Went through tank school and was just finishing that up when the news of Pearl Harbor had come in. The Army had grown fast after that. Fast enough that Mac had made staff sergeant so quick that all the old hands just shook their heads and wondered how a young kid like him would handle things.

He'd handled things pretty well, from North Africa to Normandy. He'd seen a lot, too much really. Now he was here in this frozen forest wondering what the morrow would bring. Looking up he saw clear skies, maybe this foul weather would break and they'd get air support again.

Willi climbed down from 413, the letter from home in his pocket. He'd read it over and over again. His family was alive!

They had been out in the countryside, visiting his Uncle Klaus' farm. A chance to eat fresh vegetables and drink real milk couldn't be passed up. He had wondered, why the hell had the local office reported his family dead. The letter also explained that.

"When we arrived back at home son, the whole block was gone, our flat, the neighbors' flats, all gone. The Tommies and Amis destroyed our whole neighborhood. The authorities thought we were dead under the rubble. We're going back to your uncle's place outside Moosinning. Write us there."

Willi had a spring in his step as he walked over to Panzer 414. He needed to see what they needed in the way of supplies. They were running low on everything, except ammunition. They'd only seen the Amis a couple of times, hardly any ammo had been expended dealing with the Ami Shermans. Things were death traps.

MSgt Ted Dixon was walking towards Mac as he was about to climb up into his tank. The MSgt looked angry. Then again, Master Sergeants always looked angry.

"What's up Master Sarn't?" Mac asked, hoping it didn't involve his crew.

"One of our 63s broke an axle, it's not going any further. I can move the equipment over to the other, but the guys need a ride. You got room?" MSgt Dixon asked, with a look on his face suggesting that it wasn't really a request.
Dodge WC-63 Weapons Carrier
"It's gonna be cold riding on the back deck. They need to know that when the shooting starts they'll be sitting ducks, but yeah, we can make do." Heck, it won't be me hanging out there in the breeze, Mac thought. But still, a shiver ran through him, he'd seen infantrymen swept off the back of a tank in Normandy by a Kraut quad-20 mounted on a tank chassis.
Wirbelwind, Quad-20mm Flakpanzer
Sure, the tank had made short work of that flak wagon, but the infantry were slaughtered by that beast. While he'd rather not have to worry about the engineers riding on the back, he really had no choice in the matter.

"Yeah, we can do that MSgt. When do you guys wanna get back on the road?" Mac asked.

"First thing in the morning Sergeant, let the boys sleep. After all, tomorrow's Christmas." Dixon began to walk back, then stopped and turned.

"By the way, thanks Mac. You and your boys have been a big help. Won't forget it."

"Just doin' our job, Master Sarn't, just doin' our job." Mac said with a grin.

MSgt Dixon laughed and shook his head, maybe these tank jockeys weren't so bad after all!

Willi was shaken out of a sound sleep by his platoon leader, Hauptfeldwebel Kurt Müller.

"Frohe Weihnachten Willi!" Müller said with a grin, handing Willi a cup of some hot beverage. "Drink! It's real coffee, we took it from the Amis!"

Willi took a sip, it was good. It had been months since he'd had real coffee.

Smiling he raised his cup to Müller, "Ja, Merry Christmas Chef! I suppose this isn't a social call?"

"Nein, you guessed correctly. In the morning, we'll be joined by a company of Panthers. While that's the good news, the bad news is that they're Scheißkopf SS bastards. But you didn't hear me say that, nah?"

"No Chef, I don't like those bastards either, but a company of Panthers is nice to have. Any idea when we'll join up with the rest of the battalion?"

Hauptfeldwebel Müller pulled his map from his pocket and opened it up.

"We're here, Brisy, not far from Houffalize. Word has it that the rest of the battalion captured some fuel at Houffalize, we join them there, then we hit Bastogne. Word has it that we have the Amis surrounded there."

"What about the SS?" Willi wondered.

"We're not waiting for them, supposedly they're still behind us, Rettigny I believe. Probably looting the village and terrorizing the villagers."

"Be careful Chef. The Gestapo has informers everywhere."

"Tsk, what will they do? Make me join the Army?" Hauptfeldwebel Müller scoffed.

"You know better Chef, you know of the punishment battalions. Are you in that much of a hurry to return to Russia? Only this time as a landser*, not a panzerführer**!" Willi looked around, always nervous when Müller expressed his anti-Nazi sympathies. He shared those sympathies but it was dangerous to express such things.

"Don't worry so much Willi! I know I can trust you. Now be ready to move out in about an hour. We need to take advantage of the darkness, I fear the weather is about to clear." 

With that, Hauptfeldwebel Kurt Müller headed back to his own vehicle. Panzer 421 was a Tiger taken from 2nd Platoon, whose commander had lost his nerve. Along with the rest of his platoon, bogged down in the Our River when the bridge they were crossing had collapsed.

This would not be the first Christmas he had spent in combat, hopefully though, it would be the last.

As they moved out, Mac looked up from his map. Looked like it was going to be a clear day, cold, but clear.

I could really use a P-47 or two on call, sure could. Mac had a good feeling today.

Maybe it would be a Merry Christmas. But not for the Germans.

Why don't they just quit? Mac asked himself for the hundredth time. As he thought about it though, would he quit if somebody was invading the United States?  Hhmm, best not to think on that too much.

Just keep killing them until they quit, it's what they pay me for.

"It's what they pay all of us for." Mac said to the T-5 standing next to his hatch.

"Huh?" Asked the puzzled engineer.

"Nuthin' pal, nuthin' at all, just hang on buddy, it's gonna be a long day..."

* Landser, a common foot soldier.
** Panzerführer, literally "armor leader," colloquially speaking, a tank commander.


  1. "Flakpanzer"...Hate those bastiges!

  2. Good to see you made it home and hope the ankle is improving. Noice way to end the year......another installment! Happy New Year to All! Minus 14 as I type...sheeeshh.

    1. Thanks Nylon12, ankle gets a bit better every day. Entire foot seems to be one big bruise, swelling has gone down though. We're on the other side of 0, at 15° last I checked.

      Happy New Year to you and yours.

    2. -9, with -27 wind chill here in Baraboo. Pleased to hear you are mending!

    3. Wow, that's the first time I ever had a badger in the spam filter. Guess I need to replace it!

      Cold, in Wisconsin? Hard to believe. 😁

  3. Happy New Year, may the best come to you and yours in the new year. Only down to 28 here now, but falling. No precip with it so I guess that's a blessing. You're making me relive some of my Grafenwoehr travels with the 413 saga. Brrrr...

    The account of the WW1 veteran reminded me of my HS Civics teacher. He had been gassed back then although I can't remember if he ever said exactly where. As JROTC students we would encourage him to talk about his wartime experience. He would, but without much detail.

    1. Happy New Year Flugelman!

      No one who's "been there, done that" really wants to talk about it.

  4. Thanks for the next chapter in your story. Just keeps getting better and better.

    Happy New Year to all.

    Paul L. Quandt

  5. They WC 63 lives in the UK. Split rim wheels in the UK have to have the wheel bolts painted red, so people don't mistake them for lug nuts! I read that in a book on WWII vehicles. Now you know everything I know about British vehicle laws.

    1. You have a good eye for details Scott. Nice bit of trivia to add to my vast stock!


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