Friday, August 24, 2018

Dusk 'til Dawn

"Gebhard?" Colonel Raus nodded to the young engineer lieutenant as he led six of his men into the dim red light from the colonel's flashlight. Leaning over the map the lieutenant pointed and said, "Here?"

"Yes, the Soviet tank is right about there on the road, this field where you could make your approach is somewhat protected by this low ridge. You should be able to get close enough to take it out. Questions?"

"Nein, Herr Oberst, should be easy enough." Turning to his sergeant the lieutenant said, "Do you have any questions Horst?"

"Nein, Herr Leutnant. We can do this. But we'll need to get started, now. The nights are not that long, I don't want to be out there with my boys when the sun comes up."

Looking to the colonel with a raised eyebrow, the lieutenant waited.

At that moment another soldier jogged up to the colonel and reported that the anti-aircraft boys were about to emplace their 88 mm cannon.

"Show me on the map."

Briefly studying the map, the young soldier gestured and said, "We are here, yes?"

The colonel nodded, and the private pointed to the map and said, "The gun is going in here." Again the colonel nodded, turned to the engineer lieutenant and said, "Maybe your lads won't have to go in after all. Follow me." The two officers climbed a small knoll, the colonel pulled out his field glasses and then pointed towards where the Flak crew were setting up.

"They've got the setting sun behind them, the Russkis won't know what hit them!" The two men settled in to watch.

"Blyad'!"* Corporal Shukov blurted out as he climbed the side of the turret to where Captain Yershov was sitting. "Tovarishch Kapitan! There is a big fascist gun out there, towards the setting sun!" With that Shukov scrambled aboard as Yershov peered intently to where his loader had pointed. His eyes were starting to water from the glare of the sun. But sure enough, there it was, it had to be one of their 88s.

"Der'mo!** Valentin Alexandrovich, do you see him?"

As the turret turned in the direction of the big German cannon, Captain Yershov knew that his gunner had spotted the target, hopefully there was time. That gun would tear them apart given half a chance.

"Target acquired, Tovarishch Kapitan!" Without waiting, Smirnov fired.

As Raus and Gebhard watched, the Russian tank fired, there was no need for a second round, the 88 was gone, twisted steel and a dead or wounded crew all that remained. Raus lowered his head and sighed, looking up he said...

"Go, get it done, Lieutenant. Send in your men and Godspeed."

Scrambling back down from the knoll, the lieutenant had an animated talk with his sergeant, then he waved the engineer squad forward, leading the men himself.

As the night settled in, and the heat of the day gave way to a slightly cool breeze out of the north, the infantrymen of the 72nd tried to stay alert. But the heat and the shock of the past two days were too much for some, they fell asleep in their shallow foxholes, assuming the Germans would wait for the morning.

But they did not wait, the elite German combat engineers slipped quietly across the fields, moving up behind the slight rise of land between them and their target, sliding closer to their prey. Alert for anything out of the ordinary.

"Scheiße!" exclaimed the young German private as he fell into the unexpected depression in the ground, dropping his rifle and the satchel charge he carried. The young Russian he had stumbled over was just as startled, but the Russian reacted faster. The crack of a single shot echoed through the night, followed closely by a scream.

Peter Volker was in agony, the Russian had shot him low in the belly, the pain was nearly overwhelming. But the German's agony seemed to distract the young Russian soldier, he had never shot anyone before. He never saw Volker's fighting knife as it flashed into his groin. He screamed as if all the demons of Hell had been unleashed. It had been the young German's last conscious act, he bled to death there in the dark of a dirt hole scrabbled out of the meager soil of this Lithuanian field.

The young Russian was also in intense pain, but Volker's knife had not cut him anywhere immediately fatal. He managed to staunch the bleeding with his shirt tail. But he was afraid to move, or to cry out, where there was one German, there had to be more.

Leutnant Gebhard removed his hand from the sergeant's shoulder, then nodded, gestured forward. Whatever had just happened was over, for better or worse. But the tank still stood in the roadway, their target yet lived.

Creeping close to the road, then onto their bellies, two of the German engineers slid over to the big KV-2, they marveled that no one had seen them. They could actually hear the Russians inside the tank. They sounded worried. Out here in the open, there was just enough starlight to make out shapes, inside the tank had to be as black as a tomb.

Stuffing their satchel charges along the top of the KV's track, pressed against the hull, the two Germans pulled their fuses at the same time. Both turned to run as the bright light from the burning fuses silhouetted them briefly in the dark.

One of them made it to cover, the other was cut down by a Russian sergeant from Leningrad. Wilhelm Sigismund was dead before he hit the ground, his best friend, Wolfgang Lechfeld, upon reaching cover turned to see if their charges would do the trick. In the light of the two explosions, one after the other, Lechfeld saw the crumpled form lying in the road. He knew then that Willi was gone.

What was worse, the big tank's track slithered and clanked down off it's rollers. The tank's hull was unbreached. The KV wasn't going anywhere, but it was still a potent threat and the Russians were alert now. There would be no second chance that night.

Leutnant Gebhard and Pionier Lechfeld were the only two engineers to survive the assault. The attack by Pionier Volker on the young Russian and the resulting piercing scream alerted the Russians as to what was afoot. After the satchel charges had gone off, they had swept the field to their front with machine gun and rifle fire.

Volker and the Russian soldier he had wounded were found two days after the battle. While the Russian's wound had not been immediately fatal, given the lack of medical care available during the fighting around Raseiniai, the Russian's wound reopened and Private Ivan Ivanovich Koniev bled to death, unable to crawl back to his comrades.

As the dawn broke, Yershov's tank was still in play. Unable to move, but it still blocked the road. At this point, an entire German panzer division was held in place. By a single Russian tank, its brave crew, and a handful of infantry under a wounded Sergeant Major.


* A rude Russian word I learned watching Russian dash cam videos. Something that rhymes with "truck."
** Another rude Russian word, this one I had to look up. Think fertilizer.


  1. Would hate to be inside that KV-2 turret when the gun fires....sheeesh. Call the Stukas! Good wordsmanship Sarge.

    1. Thanks Nylon12.

      I'm guessing the guys manning the KV-2s had hearing issues later in life. Not that their masters in Moscow really cared.

    2. Friend of mine's father was a gunner on an M-10 tank destroyer, and was pretty deaf after the war. Yes, hearing issues were very common amongst old-school gunners. But they got the job done. Hearing loss or Death by Fascists. Hmmm. I'll take Hearing Loss for a 1000, Alex.

  2. Those German flashlights, with the slidey filters, were kind of cool.Probably smelled better than the US Army angle head flashlights, which had formadahyde in the plastic they were made out of.

    1. I was going to get an old flashlight for an OIFT (Olfactory Impact Field Test) but I realized that we have replaced all the two D cell incandescent flashlights with modern lights that range from somewhat brighter than incandescent, to lights that can almost bubble paint.

      On the other hand, the screwdriver drawer smells awful and the internet says it is because the older screwdrivers are made from plastic compounds that breakdown over time and release bad smells.

      I don't know if older military flashlights contained the same plastic.

    2. In my experience all old toolboxes (and by extension, tool drawers) have an odd smell. A lot of it comes from the tools having been in contact with light machine oils. But yeah, the deteriorating plastic makes sense. In my pre-Air Force job all of my screwdrivers had wooden handles. Splinters haven't been an issue, nor has smell. Personally I prefer the wood grips to the plastic.

      I wonder what the author of that article considers to be "old," '70s, '60s? Be interesting to know from what era those tools are.

    3. Really good screwdrivers today still come with wooden handles, because they are more slip-resistant and won't mar softer metals as much as plastic ones.

      And old plastics do break down and exude a funky smell. But to me it's a good funky smell, like the smell of diesel busses that remind me of being near planes and such. The slightly funky smell of my fighting stuff, still there no matter how much I clean it, is a good smell, too.

    4. Old aircraft cockpits have an odd, yet strangely appealing, smell. I hate to think of what the infividual components of the smell are, especially in an old fighter aircraft like the F-4. Juvat knows of which I speak.

  3. I still have my angle head flashlight. When I was in the reserves, we discovered that when you combine the red and opaque white lenses, you get an excellent light for signaling at night. It becomes a round, red disc that can only see when looking directly at it. There is no side glow to give it away.

  4. I believe it was just the WE OK issue ones that smelled bad.

    1. So the one's that WEREN'T OK that didn't smell?

      (And yes, I already read your second comment. 😁)

    2. I have typed clear, intelligent comments, and after I hit post, I get gobbledygook. It is a vexation!

    3. I love it when software "helps."

  5. Stupid Kindle spellchecker. I typed WW II.

    1. Ah the mysteries of spellchecker, it goes nuts when I use foreign words, which is often.

      Spellcheckers are silly buggers.

    2. But badgers aren't, silly buggers that is.

    3. Facebook is particularly vexing.

  6. Hey OldAFSarge;

    Very good story you are doing there, looking forward to the next installment.


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