Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Five Days

"Bertrand, do you see those Boche at the base of that small rise?"

"Oui, mon capitaine, I think it's a ration party. Do you see the kettles they're carrying?"

"I don't care if they are carrying their mothers, open fire."

With a Gallic shrug, and a raised eyebrow, Corporal Bertrand Couillard leaned forward and laid the sights of his Hotchkiss on the small figures in the distance. Wondering, just before pulling the trigger, why these bloodthirsty officers were so intent on killing Germans, the war was nearly over. Everyone said so.

As the gun chattered, the captain ordered him to shift his fire to the left, there wasn't much for Couillard to see at that distance once the gun began to fire. But, sighing inwardly, he shifted his fire, walking the rounds into where he supposed the Germans were.

Poor bastards.

Schütze Georg Landesmann gasped, it felt as if someone had punched him in the stomach. He fell heavily onto the legs of his good comrade Klaus who was also down on the ground. The kettle of steamed scrawny beets and moldy potatoes he had been carrying was nearby. Georg reached down for his stomach, "Am I wounded?" he wondered.

It hurt, but not as much as he thought it would, his coat was wet, but seemed untorn. Also the pain was fading, all this occurred to him in mere fractions of a second. As he gathered his wits, he realized that his best friend Klaus Weber was screaming in agony. There was blood everywhere.

Klaus' screams stopped abruptly as French bullets continued to snap overhead. Georg realized that he himself was alright, the wetness was from the food from the now empty kettle that Klaus had been carrying. The first French burst of fire, which had badly wounded Klaus, had snapped the heavy lid of the kettle into his stomach. But the subsequent burst of fire had finished Klaus. His helmet was gone, his once blond hair was drenched in blood, and the top of his head was, just gone.

"Hold your fire Bertrand. I can't see anyone standing. Good shooting."

At that moment, the rifleman looking over the wall to Couillard's left fired. As he worked the bolt of his rifle to chamber another round, he said, "Just to the left by that tree stump, do you see him?" The captain, shifting his binoculars to the ruined tree, refocused and said, "Good eye, Henri. I think there's another behind the tree. Can you get him?"

Louis Delort felt his bladder let go as the man to his front, a young lieutenant from Berlin fell onto him. He didn't make a sound as he died, the French bullet had hit him squarely in the heart. As his blood ran down over the Alsatian private's hands, he thought how odd it was that a Frenchman was shooting at him. But for 1870, he would be a Frenchman himself. But the Germans, the Prussians to be precise, had won that war. So he grew up a German, with a French name.

Letting the lieutenant's weight force him down, Louis did his best to play dead. As he did so he felt, more than heard, a bullet pass above his head. It would be night soon. Just don't move and perhaps the Frenchies would move on.

He felt a bit abashed that he had soiled his trousers, but he was still alive. Which was more than the poor lieutenant could say. Poor kid, he had been at the front for maybe ten days. Today was the first time the captain had let him out on his own. What could go wrong leading a ration party from the rear? Lately the French had been fairly "live and let live." Probably some new officer over there hoping to win his Croix de Guerre before the war was over.

Bastards! All of them!

As Capitaine Maximilien de Saxe turned to his best shot in the company, the man who had just killed a pair of Germans (he couldn't know that Delort was unhurt, he had seen both fall) grinned at his captain. He was about to speak when his head snapped to the right, a pink mist enveloped his upper body and the rifleman fell in a heap.

The German sharpshooter smoothly worked the action of his rifle as he scanned the ruined building 300 yards to his front. He knew there were more targets behind what was left of the walls, he just had to be patient. Firing too soon would reveal his position, one more shot and then...

THERE! That had to be an officer! The sharpshooter took a breath, let some of it out and pressed his cheek to the stock of his rifle. He acquired the target just as the man turned towards him, in the scope he could see that the Frenchman was clean shaven, odd that, he knew the French liked their big mustaches.

When he squeezed the trigger, he was surprised, as always, when the butt of his rifle recoiled hard into his shoulder. Focus, work the bolt, I need to move, those bushes, I can make that.

Capitaine de Saxe had served most of his adult life in the French Army, as he looked to where he thought the shot which had killed his rifleman came from, he saw a brief glint from what had to be a scoped rifle. His last thought before the bullet pierced his brain was, "Merde." Shit.

As his men saw his limp body fall on top of Couillard's gun crew, the second Hotchkiss gunner saw movement on a hill to his front, had to be three to four hundred yards away. But he adjusted and fired, other than a brief splatter of mud and leaves on the distant hillside, he doubted that he had hit anything. But nothing was moving now.

Gefreiter Kurt von Schlieffen, no relation to the von Schlieffen, lay gasping on the hillside. His rifle was shattered, the burst from the French machine gun had shattered it, driving long splinters from the stock into his chest, belly, and thighs. No French bullet had touched him, but the debris from his own rifle was enough. With the femoral artery of his right leg nicked by a piece of brass from one of his own bullets, he bled to death rather quickly.

The newspapers in the United States, Britain, France, and Germany all told of light action on the Western Front that day. Men were still dying and being crippled, but casualties, in military parlance, were "light."

Unless you were one of those casualties, or the family of one.

It was 7:00 PM on the 7th of November, 1918. The war would end in 88 hours.

For Schütze Klaus Weber, Leutnant Dietrich Seidl, Capitaine Maximilien de Saxe, Soldat Première Classe Pierre Aucoin, Gefreiter Kurt von Schlieffen, and thousands of others, the war ended that very day.


  1. Well-written Sarge and so........ wasteful.......(sigh)

    1. Thanks Nylon12. The idiocy of those days.

    2. Those days? One of the things I've learned as a programmer, the more idiot proofing I put into a program, the bigger idiot self reveals. Applies to all aspects of life, I'll bet.

  2. Thanks for the teaching moment, Sarge. The lad is off to school, but we will discuss your piece upon our return. Great bit of writing as well as always.

    1. Thanks bigsoxfan. Let me know what the lad thinks.

  3. There is no good day to die in a war. You write a well crafted story.

    Thanks for the post.
    Paul L. Quandt

  4. We often forget, in these days of near-instantaneous communications, that it took days even over a relatively small front, for orders and plans to go forward, be confirmed, be responded to, be confirmed again, yada yada, just so that only a few mistakes would be made. Planning the end time, coordinating with the enemy, coordinating with the allies, coordinating between civil and military authorities and jurisdictions, all took time. Too much time. Too much bloody time.

    And, well, the French were involved. Few remember the true significance of 'Friday the 13th.' Friday, October 13, 1307, when the final secret orders for the capture of Templar personnel and assets would be opened by nobles and knights loyal to the King of France. after a week-long flurry of secret orders to assemble, equip, move here, move there, final assembly. All because Philip IV owed them too much money...

    But in WWI's case, there was a lot of making the other pay for 'their' sins, or anger, or frustration, or 'keeping them honest.'

    1. Another "fun fact" (as LUSH likes to say) is that some French artillery units, knowing the war was winding down and that they would have to lug all their extra ammo back to the depot, fired most of it at the Germans. Save themselves some work, kill themselves some Boche. Win-win for les Français.

  5. IIRC, in the book "A Rifleman Went To War", Herbert McBride recounts an incident where he and some of his men wound up in a shell crater in no man's land along with several wounded Germans. They had no way to transport the wounded, so they allowed two of the Germans to return to their own lines to get a stretcher, and then to take the other wounded Germans back to their lines one by one. After the last German had been taken out, McBride and his men were surprised to see the stretcher bearers returning one last time. They did this so they could be taken as POW's and get out of the war.

    Think about how that must have played out on the German side.

    1. A lot of Germans were so sick of the war and the propaganda from the Fatherland that they deserted in droves. They had no intention of dying for the Kaiser at the eleventh hour.

      Can't say I blame them.

    2. Sarge,
      Came here from the link you so graciously provided. Good work!
      Both of my Grandfathers served in France during that war.
      Boat Guy


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