Saturday, January 6, 2018

Panzer 413 - Death From Above

Captain Horace Miller of the 513th Fighter Squadron had his cockpit heat on full blast. After growing up in Florida, attending college at Georgia Tech, and then training to fly in the heat of the Arizona desert, he just couldn't tolerate cold weather. Sure, he'd been stationed in wet, rainy England, then France, but that cold was nothing like what he was experiencing on this cold December day in Belgium.

Christmas had brought the welcome present of clear skies over the rolling hills of the Ardennes. Now he and his flight of four P-47 Thunderbolts were out hunting after a long week of frustration at the fog, snow, and freezing rain and, more importantly, the reports of American units falling back before the Germans. Reports of atrocities as well. The Krauts had come boiling out of their defenses with a taste for blood on the 16th of December.

Now it was payback time!

Google Maps
MSgt Dixon's engineers had planted mines on the road outside Brisy, right past a curve in the road. The hope was that a big German tank would hit a mine and shed a track leaving it broadside to Mac Peterson's Sherman. To top things off, Dixon had a bazooka team in a small stand of trees near the road. Dangerously near.

Near Brisy, Belgium
Google Street View
The newest addition to the platoon, Kurt Müller's Tiger 421, was about to round the curve in the road when Willi heard the bang. He reflexively ducked down in his turret as he saw dirt and pavement jump into the air, and 421's left track slither off the road wheels.

Before he could think even further, a streak from his left front slammed into the turret of Müller's tank, right at the turret ring. He saw Müller crumple just as a flash blew open all the hatches on 421. Moments later the driver and bow gunner tried to climb out of their hatches. Only the bow gunner made it.

They couldn't go forward, just as he turned to signal 414 to back up, thinking they'd try to cut across the fields, his bow gunner barked over the intercom -

"Infantry 11 o'clock!"
Followed by the ripping roar of Panzerschütze Peter Schmidt's MG-34. Still crouching in his turret, Willi's eyes followed the tracer rounds spitting from Schmidt's MG. There! Men trying to get back up the hill.

Willi saw the long tube carried by one man swing towards his own tank, realizing at the last second that it was an Ami anti-tank weapon. At the same moment Schmidt's MG tracers went through the man, leaving him to crumple to the snowy ground. The other two men managed to make their escape.

"SHIT!" MSgt Dixon screamed as he saw the German tank open up on his guys. He saw Sal, the man with the bazooka, go down hard. Billy and Sam were running hard to get back up the hill.

Mac's tank turret cranked over to take the second Tiger under fire. Just as the gun was about to be laid on target, the big Kraut tank backed around the corner. Turning to Dixon he screamed -

"Sar'nt Dixon! Get your guys moving, we'll wait for what's left of your bazooka team, but you guys gotta hightail it out of here! We'll be right behind you!"

As Mac climbed out of his turret to man his .50 caliber machine gun, he kept his eyes riveted to where he figured the Germans would move. If it was him he head up the hill into the fields to his left, the Krauts' right, but those Tigers are slow. He'll probably head to his left, down the slope.

As he watched, the two survivors of the bazooka team scrambled aboard Tennessee Whiskey.

One of them, Corporal Billy Estes, said, "Climb back in Sarge, I'll man the fifty. Those Kraut bastards killed Sal!"

Mac climbed back in and ordered Louis to start backing up the hill, when they got to the top they'd face front and run like crazy!

Willi's tank ground off the road to the left, into the fields. At that moment he heard a loud pulsating roar coming from ahead of him. As he ducked and looked up, two Ami Jabos* blew past them, very low, and very fast.

Captain Miller saw the lone Sherman backing up the hill as fast as it would go as his element flew up the road to Brisy. At the last minute he saw a smoking vehicle at the bend in the road, gotta be German, he thought as he pulled his stick back, easing in rudder to pull a graceful climbing turn to go back around.

When they were in position, he radioed his wingman, Jack Curtis, to keep his eyes peeled, he was betting there were Krauts in the fields near the road.

"Copy." his wingman responded, then, "Tanks. Two o'clock low!"

"Got them! Watch my six!" Miller's big aircraft smoothly lowered its nose as its pilot lined up on the burning tank in the road. There, in the field, TWO EFFING TIGERS!

"Scheiße!" Willi yelled as he closed his hatch. He heard and felt the enemy rounds smack into his turret as the Jabo walked his fire across Willi's tank and no doubt onto Schäfer's 414 just behind them.

413 suffered nothing more than some scratched paint and a few gouges in the tough Krupp steel of the turret roof. Schäfer wasn't as lucky. Through the rear vision blocks in his turret cupola, Willi could see that the Jabo had damaged Schäfer's tank, smoke was starting to issue from the back deck of 414, just above the engine.

On the radio, Willi screamed "Hans! Get out, your engine's on fire!"

As he watched Schäfer's crew bail out of their crippled tank, Willi wondered what to do next. Two more dead Tigers, the sky was clear, the Amis were airborne, and the roads just weren't safe.

What else could go wrong?

SS-Hauptsturmführer Kurt Langanke was lying by a roadside somewhere northwest of  Rettigny. His legs were badly burned but he was lucky to be alive, as far as he knew, the rest of his crew were dead.

The attack by rocket firing Jabos had been quick and deadly, his column of Panthers, halftracks loaded with Panzergrenadiers**, and a single platoon of older Panzerkampfwagen IVs had been caught in the open.

Two flights of what had to be British Typhoons had attacked at their leisure. Langanke's sole Flakpanzer had been damaged two miles to the rear and he had nothing else to protect his column from air attack.

Painfully he sat up, he could see his own tank burning furiously, he must have been blown out of the turret when the ammunition cooked off, behind his tank was a second Panther, minus its turret. The rest of his column was nowhere in sight.

Turning painfully, he guessed the rest of his boys had made it into the trees ahead. He couldn't see them, on the other hand he saw no more Allied aircraft either. Looking back towards the farm they had passed moments ago, he saw two figures walking down the road towards him.

Thank God, Langanke thought, maybe they can help me.
Pierre Dumont and his son René saw the German sitting in the road. He appeared to be badly hurt, the legs of his trousers were still smoldering, and there was a lot of blood on the man's face.

In French, the man asked for help, could they perhaps treat his wounds, he asked. Pierre turned to his son and told him to bring something to bind the man's wounds, winking as he did so.

Pierre found a discarded canteen near one of the burned out halftracks, there were dead Germans all around it. He also found a German pistol, checked that it was loaded, then he chambered a round, then pocketed the heavy Walther. Pierre remembered his service in the Belgian Army in the Great War, he knew how to use a pistol.

Walking back to the German, he handed the man the canteen. Turning towards his farm, he could see René returning.

Langanke drank the water gratefully, he used some of it to clean his face, noting that his hand came away bloody. He must have hit his head when he was thrown from the tank, he didn't remember. Looking back towards the forest, he didn't see any of his men. He wondered if perhaps they thought him dead.

Speaking rapidly in the local dialect, René told his father -

"Papa, Monsieur Gervais is at the house. He says the Germans are shooting people all through Belgium. It's terrible, isn't it Papa?"

Nodding slowly, Pierre agreed that it was indeed terrible. He knew that it was probably those SS bastards. The Boche in World War I had been bad enough, now these SS people, truly monsters.

"Go back to the house, boy. I'll be along shortly."

As he watched his son run back to the house, Pierre had noticed the uniform under the wounded German's white snow jacket. An SS man!

Langanke used the old, stained linen which the farmer had handed to him to bind up his head wound, causing his jacket to fall open. He pulled his collar closed for two reasons - it was cold and he didn't wish to advertise that he was in the SS. Especially as he was alone with this Belgian peasant.

"Do you have anything to eat old man?" Langanke asked the farmer in his German-accented French.

"No, I do not, you filthy Boche bastard. But I do have this..."

Langanke couldn't believe this man's arrogance and stupidity, who did he think he was dealing with? But the barrel of the Walther P-38 was steady, and aimed at his face.

"Now look here old fellow, just run along, my men will be returning soon. Oh, and give me that pistol, it is the property of the Third Reich!"

Pausing only momentarily, Pierre lowered the pistol from the man's face. Then pulled the trigger, firing a single round into the SS man's chest. The man blinked, then tried to reach for his own pistol.

So Pierre shot him again.

Langanke was cold, colder than he had ever been before, colder than in Russia. He felt like he'd had the wind knocked out of him. He was trying very hard to take a breath, the stupid Belgian peasant had actually shot him.

As he toppled onto his side, still conscious, he saw the Belgian walking away, pausing only to throw the pistol off into the snow in the field by the road. Langanke was tired, perhaps...

No, I need to stay awake, I need...

SS-Hauptsturmführer Kurt Langanke lay quivering, but just for a moment, then he went still forever. The war never returned to this small corner of Belgium, the remainder of Langanke's unit were destroyed in early January, only 15 men survived the war out of the nearly 500 that had crossed into Belgium on the morning of the 16th of December, 1944.

Langanke's body was found in the spring of 1945. When the Americans had plowed the roads, his body had been shoved into a drift beside the road to Brisy. His death was but a small payment for the many Belgian civilians murdered by the SS during Hitler's last offensive in the West. Not to mention the many prisoners of war they murdered as well.

A small payment indeed.

Belgian civilians killed by German units during the Ardennes offensive.

* Jabo - German acronym for Jagdbomber, fighter bomber.
** Panzergrenadier, literally armored infantry. The infantry component of a German armored division.


  1. Great stuff, Sarge. Thanks. Speaking of P-47's (and others)---

    (This one is a bit fuzzy. Maybe someone with better Googlefoo can find a better copy?)

    1. Operation Bodenplatte was an excellent way to finish off the Luftwaffe, a brilliant "own goal," self-inflicted wound. Particularly in the number of wing and squadron commanders lost, the experienced guys who it would be impossible to replace.

      Bodenplatte, like Wacht am Rhein itself, had little to zero chance of success.

  2. For SS-Hauptsturmführer Kurt Langanke, "As you sow, so shall you reap."
    We have seen a couple of P-47s in museums and when you get close to them you realize that is a big aircraft. Seeing one flying would be awesome.

    Willi knows better than to ask, "What else could go wrong?"

    Very good writing.

    1. They are HUGE aircraft, I was pondering Sarge's post this morning and found this video. At about the 1 minute part, there's a scene where the Jug is taxiing with a crew chief on the wing to guid him. About the 4 minute part, there's a pretty good example of how tough the aircraft was, and at the end there's a pretty poignant graphic of a mission 2 months before the war's end where, if I read it right, they suffered about a 50% loss rate. It ain't over til it's over.

    2. Yay, Jugs!!!!! And I can even say it out loud without any negative connotation!!!!

      Joke about the P-47 was that if you were being shot at, you could get out of the seat and run around inside to dodge the bullets.

      And, yeah, having to have a guy on the wing to see for you while taxi-ing was interesting to watch.

      Republic did build them strong. I think their design beliefs were always "Put wings on a brick and make it fly nice."

      They were the big farm girl to the P-51's sexy dance-hall gal.

      The final version, the P-47N, fixed all the range problems that kept the 47s from making it to Berlin and back, and were found to be very useful in the Pacific, along with it's same engined cousin, the Corsair.

      And, yeah, loss rates went up when they started using the 47 for ground attack. But that big bastard scared the dark stuff out of the Krauts, for sure.

    3. John - Yes, Willi should know better.

      The P-47 at Udvar-Hazy sits in the shadow of the Enola Gay, making her look small from the walkway. Until you're close (down on the floor) and then you realize, that is a big aircraft!

    4. Juvat - Excellent video, I had to note that around the 2:24 mark, you can see a Jug eat a Focke-Wulf's lunch! (Also gives me an idea for a post, question is, can I wait until Friday?)

    5. Andrew - I like your "big farm girl" versus "dance hall girl" analogy.

      There's a reason the official name for the A-10 is "Thunderbolt II," nice homage to a tough workhorse of a bird.

    6. Back in the day, "Air Force" magazine had a comic section in the back. I distinctly remember one Jug pilot unfortunately got shot down by a Tiger I when he came in low over a hill, and just saw the barrel and then the rest of the tank.

      That, right there, is the definition of 'suck.'

      And, yeah, I really like the Republic aircraft. We need a Republic or a Fairchild to build planes these days.

    7. As to the Farm Girl analogy, well...

      The -51 was fast, sleek and sexy and you wouldn't know you were rolled until after one passed by.

      The -47, on the other hand, would pick you up, toss you in the barn, and do things to you that you could never imagine, then she'd go off with a smile and toss a tank or two on the way out.

      By the way, I LIKE big farm girls. Mrs. Andrew meets that classification, just so you know (wink, wink.)

      And I thought it was neater than anything that the official name of the A-10 referenced the -47, and also that the unofficial name followed in the Jug's footsteps of ugly but affectionate name for the plane. Gotta love pilots who fall in love with their rides. Two truly beautiful (in their own way) planes that are both tough as nuts.

    8. Andrew,
      You know the old saw about Republic Aircraft don't you?
      "If you could build a runway that circled the globe, Republic would build an aircraft that used every foot."
      That having been said, they were tough aircraft.
      I too liked your analogy, and think it apropos to my two. The Phantom was the Farm Girl and the Eagle was the show girl. Loved them both.

    9. Andrew - I remember the comic page in Air Force magazine. Ever see the cartoon series "There I Was..."

      Most informative and entertaining.

    10. Andrew - as to aircraft nicknames, the pilots have theirs, the maintenance guys have some as well. (Usually based on the ratio of maintenance hours to flight hours.)

    11. Juvat - I've heard that about Republic products. Another one of which is the Thud. Loves me some F-105!

    12. Juvat,

      It was one of those "There I Was..." cartoons that I saw the unfortunate fate of the Jug vs the Tiger. Tables turned, at least once. Loved those cartoons.

      And as to Republic's reputation for eating runway, the F-84 series also liked to utilize maximum space available. Though lots of Boeing's strategic products also enjoyed a heavy cup of tarmac, down to the last drop. (Watching B-52s take off in high heat conditions is horribly awesome. You, and everyone around you, seem to start breathing hard to add that extra little wind to provide lift. Especially when you realize that if they don't get airborne, there's only one way to stop, the hard way. I also heard the Consolidated B-36 was definitely a pavement eater, a super ground pig.

    13. "There I Was..." indeed. I have a copy of Mr. Stevens book---

      Not only is truth stranger than fiction, it is way more flippin' hilarious.

    14. Andrew - Yup, watching a B-52 takeoff in hot weather can be exciting. No more so than watching a fully loaded KC-135 tanker take off at dawn in the heat and humidity of an Okinawan morning!

    15. RHT447 - There's more than one!

  3. Here is a very good article about the P-47 (Explorer would not show the pictures for me, but Firefox did).

    "During durability testing of the C series R-2800 by Republic, it was decided to find out at what manifold pressure and carburetor temperature caused detonation. The technicians at Republic ran the engine at extreme boost pressures that produced 3,600 hp! But wait, it gets even more amazing. They ran it at 3,600 hp for 250 hours, without any failure! This was with common 100 octane avgas. No special fuels were used. Granted, the engines were largely used up, but survived without a single component failure. Try this with Rolls Royce Merlin or Allison V-1710 and see what happens."

    1. I love those evolution of an aircraft articles!

      I think a visit to Long Island might be in my future. That is a very nice museum! (And they have a Grumman F-11 Tiger, the bird the Blue Angels were flying when I first saw them, bonus, their Tiger is in Blue Angels' livery!)

    2. I have been fortunate to have listened to all three of those engines start up and run, at a fly-in. The in-lines were relatively loud, but could be described as 'purred.' That big-arsed R engine? Gah! Beautiful in its throbbing power. Literally you could feel the engine shake your body. And it ROARED!!!!

      Those in-lines are for sneaking (yes, even on the -38, twin purring mountain lions.) But that rotary engine is for killing!

    3. Something about a military piston engine makes my blood run hot. (That and the skirl of the bagpipe!)

    4. They have roughly the same capability to make your inners go all googly, in a good way.

      Bagpipes, mmmmm. Got the thrill of going to a Blackwatch performance, in a concert hall. Most people were quite cowed by the sound of 10 outdoor pipes, indoors, blasting out "Gary Owen." Me, and some old USArmy Cavalry (armored) dude were like 10 year olds watching dragsters blast by. Laughing, quivering with excitement, almost (okay, was) crying from joy. What a rush when you have a full bag go blasting off behind your head! Whooooooeeeeeeee!!!!

      Same can be said for those big Wasp engines. Yousetubers has several videos of guys with those engines on test stands running them. Watching the people standing behind get almost knocked down from just the exhaust shows how powerful those engines truly are.

      And, RJT447, thanks for that link. The Wiki-loser page just didn't have all that good info in it.

    5. Used to listen to the song of the Phantom on the engine test pad at Kunsan back in the day. Loud it was. And we lived five miles away!

  4. Heh, I was waiting for the moment Allied air power made its appearance, and I suspect you were happily anticipating writing about it. Accounts I've read of WWII in the air focused largely on the bombing campaigns and the achievement of air superiority but largely overlooked the role played by CAS. The "ground-pounder" histories unsurprisingly don't. The GIs loved the "Jug" as much as bomber crews loved the Mustang, and further east Ivan loved the Il-2 Sturmovik, also the Bell P-39 Airocobra, a failed fighter design the Russians turned into a deadly tank-killer....

    1. Ivan loved the P-39. He knew how to make the best use of it.

  5. I wouldn't have wanted to be any part of the Ardennes Campaign. It was a horror written in blood and freezing terror. All war is hell. Those of us who have seen it recall the memories, and particularly the smell. I was obviously not at Bastogne, but I don't know that it's all that different. Artists and authors never can capture the fermented shit, fresh metallic blood and the unique smell of brains. The unwashed bodies and clothes, the smell of ass the decay, the burned powder and petroleum and oil/distillates, the taste of rations and the acid reflux from the stress of the battlefield as soon as you drop off to sleep. There is something unique and terrifying about aspirating your nasty MRE an hour after you ate it as you puke, choke and breathe that shit in. Literature and some film can come close to the detritus of a combat zone, but never the smell - even in the cold.

    1. It's a smell that never quite leaves you.

      That's the one part that those who haven't been there can never understand.

    2. A family friend was involved in the 'cleanup' after Guyana and the Kool-Aid incident. He said it was 10 times worse than anything he saw and smelled in SE Asia, and he was in body recovery there.

      Having smelled the Forensic dudes at work after dealing with one decomposed body, and having assisted during cleanup after a barn fire, I can only say I don't want to be around to see what you, LL, and so many others have witnessed and smelled.

  6. I recall reading that one of the worst jobs in WWII was tank recovery--the US Army tried whenever possible to salvage tanks knocked out in combat, if not to return them to service then at least for parts. Personal disclosure--I can't smell any more than Stevie Wonder can see, but that would be a grisly job by any standard. Even if the tank didn't catch fire the spalling effect of an antitank shell would mean pieces of the crew all over the interior; after a few days in the field that had to be pretty nasty....

    1. Have you watched Fury? The new guy experienced that.

    2. Saw that--one of the more realistic aspects of the movie. It was a mixed bag....

    3. The production values were great, and I loved that they used an actual Tiger I in the movie. But parts of the movie were questionable. The initial battle was fun to watch but poorly executed from the German perspective--the infantry was overexposed and there was no coordination between them and the PAKs. The final battle, of course, made the movie but again the Germans wasted men needlessly against an immobilized tank that could have been taken out with a Panzerfaust or two supported by a machine-gun team. That wasn't the point of the movie though, so I give that a pass. I enjoyed watching it just as a movie....

  7. Oh, and by the way, great story. Glad the civilian got him some.

    Can't wait for the next installment.

    You are a great story teller.

  8. And, in a side note, met a Korean War Air Force vet at Walmart yesterday. Was admiring his para-van (not a jump van, one of those set up to handle wheelchairs.) I asked him about his service, telling him that my dad was at Taegu after the war, and found out he was at Kusan during the festivities. Being a nice cool winter day in Florida, conversation came around about the weather in-country during winter. He, as my father said also, hated quartering in tents on the base during basically what you all up north just experienced, except all winter long. Brrrrrr...

    Okay, back on topic...

    1. Indeed. While stationed on Okinawa we went up north a couple of times to Kunsan for an operation yclept Team Spirit. Many of our guys stayed in tents, really, tents. We avionics troops had "connections" and managed to find warm rooms in the barracks.

      It's nice to have connections.

      While stationed at Kunsan, I worked in the shop and mostly in a hangar. Did get to "play" outside on a few occasions.

      In the snow. Had to walk to the jet, uphill, both ways...

    2. Dad's movies of Taegu show those Army tents as seen in MASH (liked the early years, later years not so much) in either snow or mud. No shots of dry, 'normal' land. Made me believe for a long time that Korea only had two seasons, Fracking Snomaggedon just this side of the Fimbrul Winter, and Mud-er (a season of only wet and mud.) I think he also said it was dusty, for a day or two (okay, maybe a week), between Mud-er and Snowmaggedon.

      At least the planes all got to sit on Marsten Mat. The tents look like they surface and dive, like submarines, depending on the season.

      Explains the toughness of the Korean spirit, the weather does.

    3. Oh, but I doooooo want to AMHIK. Sounds like there's at least 4-5 really good stories there.


  9. See, stories like this one is why I come back on a routine basis. You, Sir, make history fun.

    1. I try hard to keep it interesting Suz. Thanks!

      (Hope you had a nice birthday?)

    2. I did thanks. Nice quiet day, spoke with the parents, and the kiddos as well as other assorted family and friends. Hubby took me out to dinner at our favorite Chinese restaurant, (he even paid), and then took me to the local bookstore, gave me some money, and said he wanted the change back. Silly man. There is never any change back when I go to the bookstore. Almost as silly as the employee there who kept wandering around and asked me if I was able to find everything. Told him it was a bookstore. Of course I could find everything. And then some.

      Hello, my name is suz and I'm a book lover.

      So yes, I had a very nice birthday. Now I have to go clean house, as folks are coming tomorrow for supper, and the dust bunnies are a tad thick on the ground. Party is over. Lol.

    3. Change? After being in a book store? What was he thinking?

      (Glad you had a good day!)

  10. Not to wear out my welcome, but just saw this over at Peter's place. We lost another one. Captain Jerry Yellin has taken his final flight. Click on over and follow the links.

    1. And now we've lost John Young, Astronaut and Naval Aviator. Sept. 24, 1930 to Jan. 5, 2018.

      Godspeed, Gentlemen. Godspeed, and thank you from the bottom of my heart for what you have done for our country and its people.

  11. Mac's tank was a late model one, with the vision block TC coupola? With the much disliked .50 mount?

    1. I've tried to stay away from the heavy technical details in order to focus on the story. Mac's tank does have a .50 cal mount, which is, of course, awkward to use as one must be out in the open to fire forward.

      I will try and flesh out those details in the book. Or try to, don't let me forget!

    2. Sounds like you've got another consultant on the payroll, Sarge.

    3. Scott is my battleship consultant. Looks like he knows tanks as well.

  12. Got back home this pm, and just now read the installment of your story and the comments. Both as good as usual. Thanks for the post.

    Paul L. Quandt


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