Sunday, December 16, 2018

Seventy-Four Years Ago

The Germans launched their last offensive in the West on this date in 1944.

Though my eyes are troubling me, I can at least give you a rerun while Beans works on his latest post, which is very fine (I peeked).

I couldn't let this date pass, not without a little something to tide you over. The original is here.

To recap* -

"Scheisse! Dismount, get that spare section of track off the turret, grab the tools, lets fix that track or no one is going to be advancing!"

As Willi's crew began to fix the busted track, Major Lange came up.

"What's the holdup Hoffmeister?"

"Mines Herr Major. We hit one, Leutnant Eberhardt stepped on another. We should have this track patched up in 30 minutes."

"Shit. I'm sending some engineers up to check for more mines. Watch your step!"

"Jawohl Herr Major."

As the crew mounted up, Willi saw Major Lange coming back down the road. Seeing that 413's track was repaired the Major grinned at Willi and pointed to the west.

"Greife meine Kinder an! Go get 'em boys!"

Issuing a gout of smoke from the exhaust, Tiger number 413 lurched forward. Willi Hoffmeister hunkered down in his commander's cupola. He didn't want to stand fully upright, he knew the Amis** could still be around, the little outpost they'd overrun certainly couldn't be all of them. Could it?

"Shit, shit, shit, shit." Sergeant Billy Jenkins muttered as he lowered his field glasses, he'd just seen a freaking Tiger tank on the road leading to his position. Dropping down into the turret he ordered his crew to load up an armor piercing round. They'd had high explosive loaded because they figured there was nothing but Kraut infantry out here. Nobody said anything about freaking Tigers.

But they were in a good position, just the turret was above the terrain and their cannon covered the road down to the treeline, about 500 yards away. The Tiger he'd seen was coming down a ridge on the other side of the small woodlot. No way he would try a shot at that range. He had buddies who'd gone up against Tigers in Normandy. You got up close and personal with those bad boys. Preferably behind them.

"Fritz, American tank at 2 o'clock!"

Feldwebel Fritz Weber traversed his sight to that position, there, just above the trees in the woodlot ahead was an American Sherman tank. As he cranked the turret to line up the shot, he heard his loader shout out...

"Panzergranate loaded!" Gefreiter Georg Hansel, the tank's loader reached back into the shot locker for another anti-tank round in case Georg missed or if another tank showed itself.

"Horst, stop here."

Willi was watching the American, he was confident that the American saw him, his turret though wasn't pointing at them, it was pointed down the road. Probably the Yank meant to pot them when they rolled out of the other side of the woodlot.

"Fritz?" While he knew his gunner was ready, he wanted to make sure that he'd acquired the Ami tank.

"Ready Willi..."

"Dammit! Johnnie boy back it up, move! That Tiger has spotted us!"

The Sherman, built in Detroit six months ago, began to move quickly in reverse. All they had to do was move about ten ...


"Auf dem Weg!" Fritz barked as the big 88mm gun belched and sent the big anti-tank round down range. As the gun recoiled back and spit the shell casing out, Georg kicked the spent brass out of the way and loaded another round.

"Panzergranate loaded!"

The 88mm round slammed into the mantlet of the Sherman, disabling the cannon and killing Teddy Wexford, the tank's loader. While the Tiger round didn't penetrate, it sent spalls off the tank's interior into the crew compartment, which is what killed Teddy and blinded Steve Baxter, the gunner.

John Reese, the driver, was screaming, "Billy, what the hell, what the hell..." over and over again. He kept the tank backing up though, as commanded. He didn't notice that his buddy Bob, the bow gunner, wasn't saying anything, he was slumped over his gun, unconscious from the concussion of the 88 slamming into them.

Willi blinked, the Sherman was still moving. He'd seen the sparks thrown off the enemy tank's turret when his shot had hit it. Yet it still moved.

Bringing his binoculars up, he could now see that the Ami tank's gun was cocked at an odd angle.

"Verdammt! Fritz you must have hit the mantlet! Scheisse!"

Dropping into his seat, Willi took command of the gun. Looking through his sight he saw that the Sherman was backing up, rapidly. As he laid the gun on the target, he saw the Sherman rear up, as if the back end had dropped into a depression behind it. For a moment the lower front of the enemy tank was exposed.

Willi almost felt guilty as he squeezed the trigger, this was too easy.

"What the..." Sergeant Jenkins never had time to finish that thought as the next shot from the Tiger sliced through the front of his tank, hit the transmission, and then ricocheted up through the Sherman's ammunition storage. The shock and the heat detonated a smoke round, then a high explosive round. Jenkins was thrown out of his seat and back over the rear deck of the tank.

As the remainder of the ammunition cooked off, the surviving members of Billy Jenkins crew died instantly. Jenkins braced himself as he expected to be run over by his own tank, he lay there helplessly as "Maggie" lurched to a halt just inches away.

He rolled away as fast as he could, "Maggie" was starting to burn now, Shermans loved to burn. Panting he lay momentarily in the mud, staring at the wreck of his tank. He could feel bitter tears streaking his face, his men were dead, his tank was gone, and the freaking "defeated" Germans were coming out of the woods in force.

"Jesus..." Jenkins prayed as he shuffled away from "Maggie." Off to who knows where...

Willi ordered 413 forward. He could see the Sherman atop the next rise, burning vigorously. He thought he saw someone scramble away into the brush, probably one of her crew. Poor bastard.

Seventy-three years ago today, three German armies slammed into the American lines running along the Belgian-German border and the Luxembourg-German border. One infantry army, the 7th under Erich Brandenberger, in the south. One Panzerarmee, the 5th under Hasso von Manteuffel, in the center, driving towards Bastogne, another Panzerarmee, the 6th under an SS general, Josef "Sepp" Dietrich, was in the north, driving for the Meuse River. The 6th was composed mostly of elite Waffen-SS troops, hard bitten Nazis nearly every man jack of 'em.

One unit attached directly to the 6th Panzerarmee was an Army heavy tank battalion, schwere Panzer Abteilung 506, composed of primarily King Tiger tanks, a 70 ton behemoth with a much feared 88mm cannon. But slow and a fuel guzzler extraordinaire.

But with Heavy Tank Battalion 506 was a single company of Tiger I tanks, schwere Panzer Kompanie Hummel, Heavy Tank Company "Bumblebee," a late addition to the 506th and incorporated as the 506th's 4th company. (Tank 413, belongs to the 4th company, 1st platoon, 3rd tank in the platoon.)

While researching an earlier post (linked above) I came across the photo which led that post -

Which surprised me, for the tank is a Tiger I, more formally a Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger Ausführung E, a very rare sight in the Battle of the Bulge, so rare that I had thought that none of those participated in the battle. From my research, they were rare, a single company attached to a battalion of the much larger King Tiger, or Tiger II, more formally the Panzerkampfwagen Tiger Ausführung B. (One oddity worthy of note before I continue, "Ausführung" is a German word which can be interpreted as "model" or "implementation." The Tiger I, the earliest Tiger designed and fielded is the "Model E," the more powerful and later model King Tiger is the "Model B." Odd that.)

I had no idea that any early Tigers had been in the Ardennes. Plenty of Panthers and King Tigers (and the more common Panzerkampfwagen IV) yes, but the Tiger which first saw action in North Africa, the Tiger which I built a 1/25th model of when I was a kid?

Yup, they were there and I had no ideer.***

King Tigers of schwere Panzer Abteilung 503
I found the rarity of the Tiger I in the Ardennes to be novel enough that I decided to use that in my story of the Battle of the Bulge, which will, someday, become a full-length novel. You, Gentle Readers, get a sneak preview here at The Chant. Yes, feedback is welcome.

The story of Panzer 413 and it's crew...
  • Tank commander, Oberfeldwebel Willi Hoffmeister,
  • Driver, Feldwebel Horst Krebs,
  • Radioman/Bow gunner, Panzerschütze Peter Schmidt,
  • Loader, Gefreiter Georg Hansel, and
  • Gunner, Feldwebel Fritz Weber
...will continue for the next month or so, perhaps all the way until May, the 73rd anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany. If they live that long. Many did not.

This post, is dedicated to the memory of -

The Americans:
  • 19,000 killed,
  • 47,500 wounded,
  • 23,000 captured or missing
The British:
  • 200 killed
  • 969 wounded
  • 239 missing
The Germans:
  • 67,459 – 125,000 casualties (including killed, wounded, missing, captured)
And last, and certainly not least, to the memory of the 3,000 plus Belgian men, women, and children who lost their lives in the maelstrom of battle in December and January of 1945. I have seen the monuments in many Belgian villages in my trips to the area -

Fusillé par les Allemands

(Shot by the Germans)

Often there are two monuments, one to the murdered innocents of 1914 to 1918, the second to those killed from 1940 to 1945. Seeing these gives one pause.

God spare us from future wars...

* The beginning of this tale is at the link.
** Ami - German slang for an American.
*** As always, whenever I use that phrase, a tip of the hat to my much missed, and beloved, Buck Pennington.


  1. You keep on getting better, ya hear.

    Thanks for the post.
    Paul L. Quandt

    1. The right eye seems stable, perhaps a bit better today.

      Thanks Paul.

  2. Don't worry about making a post every day, eyesight is more important now than our reading desire. Boy.... mid-December sure snuck up fast didn't it?

    1. The rest of the squadron seems to have me covered for the next couple of days. I might go ahead and rerun the entire Panzer 413 series (with maybe some new content as well), if there are no objections.

      Reruns are easy.


    2. No objections here. Especially if add some new stuff. A good teaser for when you finally retire and get to your real job full time, entertaining and educating US!

    3. I would happily re-read Panzer 413.

    4. Many of your readers are old enough that we already forgot we read it the first time, so you can get away with reruns. Maybe not the next day, but certainly after a few months. Lex's stuff is still great reading even though we have been privileged to see is several times.
      Get better.

  3. Shouldn't that be Zug 1, rather than 3?

    1. You're absolutely right, a year old typo. Fixed it and thanks Scott!

  4. Is the Landser right foreground, first photo, carrying an M1 carbine?

    1. Sure looks like it. The Germans were noted for using anything and everything they could get their hands on. A supply nightmare, I am sure. But looting for weapons was very common, and they loved the Ami stuff.

    2. Scott - Very good eye. I hadn't noticed it before, I'd always thought the man was carrying a G-43. Though the front ends of the M-1 carbine and the G-43 are very similar, a close study of the photo and photos of the two weapons in question make me lean towards the M-1 carbine. Rather odd, the G-43 was a better weapon, in my estimation having seen both up close and personal. Also getting ammo for the M-1 might be problematic.

    3. Beans - The Germans would use anything they could get their hands on, and then issue that stuff to second line units. The logistics of ammunition supply are a nightmare, not to mention that most military organizations really, really frown on using enemy equipment. Each weapon has a distinctive sound, using the enemy's stuff will draw fire from your own side. That being said, the PPsH-41 was popular with troops on the Eastern Front, until their officers/sergeants took them away.

      You get issued a weapon, if you can't account for it, you are in deep kimchi, a court martial offense in ALL armies.

      Carrying enemy weapons can also get you killed out of hand if you get captured.

      Most German weapons were better than what the enemy carried anyway, not as common as you'd think.

    4. There were some cross dressing Germans as I remember in that breakout. They were in American uniforms, and when captured, met their end as spies, not PW's. They would be "fitting in", so there was at least SOME US ordinance in their hands to outfit those guys. Probably a lot.

      I remember reading about a conscientious objector in the Wehrmacht that lost his 98K and was facing court martial. Old Fritz-in-the-foto may have done something similar. He's not in US gear, his coal bucket and hip spoon speaks to his Deutsch-iness. I've grabbed some improvised weaponry when the music started, too.

    5. Sometimes you use whatever is at hand. I worked with a guy back in the '70s who fought on Guadalcanal. Misplaced his Springfield, used an Arisaka for a while. It happens.

  5. 73 years since the last American died fighting Germans in Europe, I'd say leaving Americans stationed there was a fine idea!

    1. Not to mention keeping Ivan on his side of the border!

  6. Good repost. I forgot how heavy our casualties were. Shocking to an army and to a people who, quite frankly, lucked out in every previous major battle. D-Day was expected to be much worse, based on analysis from the Central Pacific theater. I think there was a lot of "If the Japs are this bad, the Krauts will be much worse!"

    Not saying D-Day wasn't horrible, but quite frankly, overall, we lucked out. It could have and should have been much worse.

    Which is why The Bulge was such a punch in the gut. We finally met the unified, supplied and attacking Germans everyone else had already met, and lost to.

    Many horrible stories about The Bulge exist. I remember reading about a regimental band that was quickly equipped with weapons instead of instruments and tossed in, stop-gap, to stop the Germans. The result was they died well.

    And now to switch topics... You Peeked? Naughty, naughty. I bet you snuck around looking for your presents before they were wrapped, too, right? Good thing Krampus is scared of your cats and The Missus Herself, else you might be getting a visit...

    1. Not to mention all the talk of "home before Christmas" and "the war is almost over." We figured the Germans were beat, nobody told the Germans.

      There was a scene in the movie Fury which has always stuck with me -

      Captain Waggoner: Why don’t they just quit?
      Don Collier: Would you?

      They were fighting for home, not Hitler.

      I always peek at future posts, I have no patience for waiting. As to presents, best way to hide something, put it with the Christmas presents, I NEVER peek at those. Christmas morning had to be a surprise, or it wasn't special.

  7. One of my role models was in Patton's 8th about that time. He never mentions that part of the war, only the advance into Germany. "Men, we're moving up tomorrow." All the religious services were packed.... Negligible resistance.... Then gambling like thieves and boozing like drunks afterwards.... That cycle repeated every time they moved up. He spent two years in Germany after the war. "Removing swords and bayonets from proud old World War One veterans, as they shed tears."

    Last night, our little berg had the Christmas Lights night parade. This year, tho, we had fireworks. The Afghan vet son beat feet for a quieter locale. He was a bit surprised at the volley. My daughter mentioned that the fireworks (that we love and look forward to) are supposed to remind us of what we DON'T have in our country... Unlike the Belgians who got it twice in a generation, without causing it or asking for it.

    Her perspective really gave me pause. We were born in fire and fight. But we don't live in it. I think, at our best and finest, Americans are Enders. When we quit doing that, we lost a lot of our American etat d'esprit.

    1. It used to be We were "No worse Enemy, No better Friend." Back when the ROE was "Yes, More, Much More, Now" rather than the law enforcement role...

      It also helped that WWII was 'a good war.' Clear, defined goals that people could get behind, rather than shifting and nebulous goals depending on what poll whatever politician in charge is listening to that day.

      Being divorced by oceans on either side has been a mixed blessing to our nation. Born in fire and fury, but, as you said, mostly divorced from the horrors that Europe or Asia experienced. One of the reasons the events that warranted the Mexican Expedition under Pershing were so jarring. My grandmother remembered worries at that time that we'd get dragged into yet another Mexican-American war. And now we're facing another series of invasions from down below.

    2. STxAR - When we started fighting like diplomats it was all over. Don't talk and send messages, go in, destroy everything that won't quit, and then go home. After helping the enemy up (well, the ones who surrendered) and buying him a beer of course.

      Ah, the Belgians, a lovely people, they've suffered a lot.

    3. Beans - Bring the heat, bring the hurt, fight us and die is a good way to go. Law enforcement doesn't have artillery, armies do, armies don't build, they destroy. Politicians are generally ignorant of all that, a clear defined goal to a politician is the next election, nothing else.

      The threat of extreme violence prevents wars, "Si vis pacem, para bellum..."

    4. Perhaps I'm off base here but to my way of thinking too much use of restrictive ROE and JAG. Not condoning murder but don't tie one of your hands behind your back.

    5. What we did to that Russkie mercenary army in Syria is a perfect example of how we used to fight, and how we should fight. That old joke that goes "How do you tell when you run into Americans?" "You see their scout disappear and then in 4 minutes your whole area disappears (under artillery or bombs or both)" has much truth to it.

      Yes, we need boots on the ground to get in the face of our opponents. But we need the ability to use the BOTG to point out targets for artillery, bombs, orbital kinetic bombardment rods...

      And then you can handcuff what's left, either shell-shocked survivors or actual body parts. And I have no problem with taking DNA samples and building a DNA database of our enemies, to use in the future.

    6. Hey Beans, I like your thought process....

      "God, I love this street!" The 'Burbs

    7. Nylon12 - ROE have been too restrictive, primarily because our politicians don't have the cojones to declare war, they don't mind sending in the troops but they won't back them.

    8. Beans - I sense an artillerist under that gentle front you put up. ;)

    9. STxAR - Yeah, Beans thinks outside the box. Heck, Beans calls in an airstrike to level the box.

    10. What? I firmly believe there is no Overkill, only Kill. Airstrikes are what the chairforce is for, right? And why create a MOAB if you're not going to use it?

      We are the country that invented the Time on Target artillery barrage AND radar-fused Proximity fuses AND Napalm and improved cluster munitions, modern claymore mines, aerial dart bombs, beehive rounds for 8" howitzers...

      So... USE THE DARNED STUFF!!! And no more reading illegal combatants their 'rights.' Illegal combatants have no right except to remain silent after death.

    11. Back in the day international law was pretty clear vis-a-vis illegal combatants. What rights?

  8. Anyone know what the "thing" is that is behind the muzzle brake of the Tiger I (the one with the 2 GIs in front) in the picture above?

    Sarge, I hope you feel better soon!

    - Victor

  9. Look back at the glacis (wrong, that is the front slope, the part I'm looking at is the mantlet). You can see a similar bolt circle as the ring on the barrel. I think it's the "keeper" for the barrel. Like some one was starting to disassemble it.

    1. May have been an Allied round which disassembled it!

  10. I think one of the reasons we Americans look at WW2 as a "good war" is that back then whatever political party was not in the majority, even if there were disagreements over policy, it stopped at the ocean's edge. The pols presented a "united front" to the rest of the world. And, the media was controlled by the military to some degree. They would give a scoop to a journalist, but ask that it not be printed or publicized until the action started, so that the enemy didn't know what was coming at them.
    These days in the environment of 24/7 non-stop media coverage, with everyone competing to be first, as well as trying to hype events up, all the drama that goes on...not helpful to the country as a whole. IMHO. YMMV.

    1. I think you're spot on, Suz.

      But you usually are. :)

    2. Except Roosevelt and his pack of jackals kept any attacks on actual contiguous soil veeeeeeeeery quiet. Shhh. Don't harsh the mellow...

      Let's see. US Territory was invaded at Wake, Midway, the Aleutians. Several targets in Alaska, Washington State, Oregon and California were bombed. On the east coast, some shelling of inland targets occurred, from what an old U-boat sailor told a class I was in.

      And there were 'bandit activities' along the Mexican border, just like during WWI.

      As to the journalists, by 1950 all of the journalist schools were under the pay and control of nefarious sources, one being the KGB (actual files recovered after the fall of the USSR showed this. That and a lot of the civil rights organizations and civil liberty unions...) So, by the Korean War, there was already control of major US news rooms by bad people, and by the Vietnam War, it was really worse.

      I want to see a couple reporters hung for stepping over the line. The ones that are US Citizens are Citizens first, then reporters. Jerks.

    3. Beans: My mom tells stories of she and her brothers spending the summers at the Connecticut seashore at the mouth of the Connecticut River watching for submarines. Guess they did see a sub a couple of times. They had black-out curtains up in all the cottages, and a great-uncle had the duty to patrol after dark to be sure there was no light leakage showing.

      OAFS: If I am "usually right", it is only because I love to read, have always enjoyed history, and pay attention to folks who know waaay more than I you :)

      Good story btw...

    4. One of the greatest mistakes by Roosevelt was not to order blackouts around ports and seashores. So the U-boats had perfect silhouetted targets to shoot at all night long.

      Too many of our sailors and soldiers died because of that brilliant decision, made because FDR didn't want to make people feel bad there was a war on.

      My mom has un-fun memories of raising rabbits and victory gardens. Which put her off of growing things. Dad, on the other hand, spent most of WWII shooting food and fishing in the bayous while doing other boy-things. I think he had it better.

    5. Godd stuff Beans and Suz. I just read an article on the Philippines, specifically about the Tydings–McDuffie Act. Technically the Philippines was U.S. territory when the Japanese attacked there in 1941. So there's that U.S. territory as well.

      When the U.S. entered the war we were woefully unprepared, the lights of the East Coast led many a U-Boat crew to refer to those days as the "Happy Times."


Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)
Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

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