Tuesday, June 30, 2020

The 30th of June, 1944 - D + 24, One Step Forward...

Men of the 8th Battalion, Royal Scots move forward past a Humber Scout Car of 31st Tank Brigade during Operation Epsom

Jacques Brisbois and his daughter Juliet were awake early, though some of their cows were dead from the shelling, bombing, and strafing over the past weeks, they still had twenty-three left. They all needed to be milked and cows do not care what time it is. As they finished up in the barn, Juliet looked across their pasture towards the hedgerow marking the boundary of their farm and the next.

"Papa, soldiers. I think they are English." Juliet told her father, soldiers made her nervous. A German had raped her a year ago, while his own army seemingly let him off with only a mild punishment, the Maquis were not so forgiving. The young man, brutalized by the fighting on the Eastern Front, disappeared in late April of this year. From what Jacques had discovered, the man had been a very bad soldier. Not even his colleagues missed him.

The Germans searched for him, roughed up a few of the villagers where he had been stationed. They eventually assumed that the man had deserted and stopped looking for him. The Maquis knew there was no body to be found. Gaston Renard's pigs were always hungry, they were also very thorough.

"Oui ma fille, ils sont Anglais.¹ Continue with your work, I will see what they want."

Le Haut du Bosq
Google Street View

Sgt Billy Wallace and his squad were on the alert, they had been ordered up to support the Royal Scots the day before but a stiff German counterattack had driven the Royal Scots back, so they had had to fall back as well. Now this morning they were moving back once again, towards Le Haut du Bosq according to their company commander. He could have told them they were falling back to the Moon, one hedgerow, one Norman farm, looked pretty much like any other after three weeks of nearly constant fighting.

Wallace looked over his squad, they'd lost one wounded, one missing, probably dead, and three more killed four days ago. One of the less experienced platoons in the battalion had been broken up and the men distributed to the platoons which were understrength, like theirs.

The new men were Pvt Seamus Hume, Pvt Jackie Ramsay, Pvt Hugh Souter, and Pvt Jamie Fraser. One of the new men, Ramsay, was from Wallace's own town of Kilmalcolm, though he didn't know the lad personally, he knew who his family were, solid folk. As for the others, he wondered if he should bother learning their names. The men he lost in the fight for St. Mauvieu were already fading in his memory.

"Sarn't, we've got company, a civvy from the look of him." Jock Campbell had noticed what had to be a French farmer coming towards them.

"Hello Englishmen, I am Jacques Brisbois, this is my farm. Is there anything I can do for you? I am with the résistance, a bas les Boches!"

"Right then Monsieur Brisbois. Seen any, uh, Boche lately?" Sgt Wallace asked.

"Bloody Hell Billy, we're not the bloody English. Hey laddie boy, we're Scots, ya know Écossais." Lance Corporal Rutherford was deeply offended that anyone would think that he was English.

"Wheesht wi' ye Gavin. I doubt he knows the difference." As Wallace turned back to the farmer. He heard the sound of mortars firing, had to be Jerries.

"Cover!! It's a bloody stonk!"

The men scattered and hugged any fold in the ground for protection. The farmer turned and sprinted towards his farm yelling, "Follow me!" He had to protect his daughter.

"Hold!" Wallace commanded. When the enemy mortar rounds impacted some hundred yards behind them he yelled, "Up, let's go!"

The men reached the farm building as the German mortars continued to tear up the field they had been in, no doubt the Jerries were firing at a map coordinate and didn't have a spotter. Just harassment fire Wallace figured.

Waffen SS Mortar Crew
"Rounds complete Scharführer!"

"Secure from firing!" The big SS sergeant turned to the company runner and sent him back to the company CP² with the admonishment that they needed more ammunition, they were down to their last few rounds.

"I'll tell them!" then the runner jumped from the fighting position and headed back to the CP. When he was maybe fifty meters away, the mortar team leader heard the sound of a diving aircraft.

"Get down! Junge," shouting to the runner, "take cover! Jabo!"

But it was too late, the rounds from the big Hawker Typhoon's four 20 mm cannon straddled the mortar crew's position and walked right over the runner who had desperately swerved at the last minute, to no avail. It was only a single round which hit him, but it tore him nearly in half.

"Scheiße!" screamed the Scharführer. Then he heard the whistling of incoming bombs. One impacted directly on the mortar team. There had been two Typhoons, not one.


Looking at the map above, one can see that Sgt Brandt's division, the U.S. 1st Infantry Division, part of the American V Corps, is still slugging it out hedgerow to hedgerow against the German 3rd Fallschirmjäger Division to the northwest of Caumont. (The link above will take you to a higher resolution map.) His company is out of the line for the moment. Also note that the Americans are getting very close to Saint-Lô. The breakout is not too far in the future at this point.

Sgt Billy Wallace's unit, the 6th Battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers, in the 44th (Lowland) Brigade of the 15th (Scottish) Division of the British Army, is assigned to VIII Corps who are inching slowly, and painfully, towards Carpiquet Airfield. They are also starting to get in the rear of the Germans defending Caen, which Monty had hoped to seize on D-Day itself. The fall of that city, or what's left of it, is close.

Yet another laconic entry in 6 RSF's war diary reads -
Le Haut du Bosq
30 June 1944 0600 - 1400 Hours
In the early morning at about 0600 hrs the Bn moved back to an orchard in the village of LE HAUT DU BOSQ where it remained till the afternoon.
At about 1400 hrs the Bde took up an anti-Panzer hedgehog in the vicinity of 905660 with 6 RSF in reserve area. Intermittent mortaring took place during the night.
CR Buchanan
Commanding 6th Bn. Royal Scots Fusiliers 
Field Marshal Montgomery is beginning to worry about the casualties his infantry are taking, the Prime Minister has already warned him that the supply of soldiery was not inexhaustible. The only good thing he could report is that his Second Army was tying down at least five panzer divisions, three of them SS divisions. The Germans were also suffering, but damn it, he needed Caen!

The Orchard near Le Haut du Bosq
Google Street View

¹ Yes my daughter, they are English.
² Command post.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Reconnect Connect

So, I was sitting around Saturday, scratching my head about a subject for a post.  Got to thinking about what's going on in the world and how words are being used to describe things, but the meanings of those words have been changed.

"An example, please, juvat."

Well, how about "Black Lives Matter"?  My response to that statement is "Yes, as do all lives".  But, apparently that is not what the user means.  So, were I emperor of the universe, my decree would be that BLM would now be OBLM.  With the O standing for Only.

There, much more understandable what they mean now, Neh?

Another example.  Corona Virus or Covid.  Nah,  We've been naming epidemics for their origination point for at least a hundred years (Spanish Flu circa 1918).  However, Chinese virus always seems to require a qualifier e.g. Not Taiwan.  Wu Flu sounds a little flippant to me.  Once again, as emperor of the universe, I would decree it be named "Communist Flu".  That way it would be more inclusive of all the government agencies worldwide seeking power based on scaring the population into complying with their policies.

Another example.  Democratic.  Pretty sure that word now means Dictatorial.  After having looked at events, decrees, policies and the party in power there, well....Prove me wrong.

So, realizing that  writing a post along those topics might be damaging to my blood pressure, and not having found another Hu Soundtrack for a walk through video, I came up with an alternate posting. 

Then Sarge comes up with an eerily similar posting Sunday.  But, I'm committed and here we go.

Back when things were normal, they weren't all that much different than they are now for us (well other than missing church on Sundays). We'd go into town a couple of times a week to go to the supermarket, liquor store, have lunch, maybe visit Lowes and then come home.  We have two vehicles, my F-150 and Mrs J has a Ford Transit Connect.  No particular preference for Fords, the price was right and their ability to fulfill a need was adequate. 

Now, I don't feel a particular need to name my vehicle.  It seems to respond quite well to "My Truck".  Your mileage may vary and, for the time being anyway, it's a free country.  So, if you want to name your vehicle, be my guest.  Mrs J's vehicle got named by MBD when she borrowed it once to move some stuff.

She named it "The Clown Car".  Like most call signs, the worst mistake you can make is to protest the name vociferously.  The second worst mistake is not protest it at all.  Mrs J made the latter.  The name has stuck.

It has served us well and my only dislike about it is how low you sit in the driver's seat.  When I drive it, I've got almost a foot of headroom above me.  But, Mrs J likes it.  So.  She likes it, I love it.

Which pretty much describes our relationship.

In any case, after things went Bat-Guano Crazy, we don't go to town very often and if we do, we usually both go.  Because I still consider myself a Fighter Pilot, I drive.  Sorry, just the way I am.

So, her car sat in the car port not getting much use.

Then things started going back to normal and one morning, Mrs J was going to town by herself. A few minutes after she left the house, she comes walking back in saying her battery's dead.


Now, "The Clown Car". is parked on the left side of the car port, my truck is in the center.

I get the jumper cables, pop the hood on my truck, and find that the battery is on the right.  I've got fairly long jumbers, so, assuming Ford is consistent in its battery placement, I should be able to reach.

I pop the lid on  "The Clown Car". and look inside.  I can't see a battery.  Pull out the manual, and find that it is under an access cover.  Take another look and find said panel on the left side of the car, which is outside reach of my cables. 

Battery is just to the right of the Clown Face in the top left of the photo.

No problem, I'll just put it in neutral and push it out of the car port.  Nope, there's an anti-theft device that doesn't allow it to come out of park.  (Later I would find out a way to bypass this.)

Some readers who live in large metropolitan areas are no doubt saying "juvat, just call AAA".

Well, we used to have AAA, back in the day, (when we lived in large metropolitan areas).  However, when Mrs J hit a deer in our previous car,  I came and joined her on the side of the road.  We called AAA.  6 hours later on our 4th call back to them found that they were dispatching someone from San Antonio as we were "outside their service area".  

Our membership was cancelled the next morning.

I looked on line for a portable battery jumper and found one on Amazon for a pretty good price.  Realizing that living in the country, having one of those in the car might come in handy, we purchased it.  It arrived the next day and, after an initial charge, I took it outside and hooked it up.

Worked like a champ.  Let the car run for a couple of hours, switched it off, then back on, started right up.

Hooray! Score a win for juvat!

Not so fast, Beans.  The next morning, Mrs J wants to go to town,  I'm not particularly interested, so she's going to take  "The Clown Car".  A few minutes after she leaves the house, she's back.  Car's dead again.  I grab the handy dandy portable and hook it up.  Give it a few minutes and try to start.  Nothing.  Give it a good half hour to charge.  Nothing.

Dead, as in decomposed, never to rise again from, dead battery.

Well.  I've swapped out batteries on most of my previous cars before,so this shouldn't be an issue.

Folks, I've been wrong about things before and, no doubt, will be again, but I firmly believe that I will never experience the complete and utter vastness of how wrong I was about "Shouldn't be an issue".

I decide to do a little research on what the process is to replace the battery.  I figured there had to be a trick to getting it out of the tight little spot shown in the picture above. So.. Off to YouTube I go and find this video. 

Yes, STxAR, the author of this video and I went to the same school of filmography.  Please bear with us both, we're learning.


I take a Picture of how everything looks put back together, which turned out to be a good idea and started the process.  I disconnected the air filter box and it's sensor (which my friend mentioned on the video).  So far so good.

I then managed to get the filter contraption out of the way.  Starting to feel a bit confident.  

The space is pretty tight, so I'm going in with regular wrenches vice a ratchet.  Unfortunately, the bolts are all metric.  Back out to the workshop and bring the ratchet set as I don't have metric wrenches.

I manage to get the front plate out of the way, and slide the battery out. Then hopped in my truck and drove to Napa to get a new battery.  Nice guys there.  They asked me what I was putting the battery in and when I told them, their reaction set warning bells going off.  I asked what was the matter. 

They said, "getting it out is the easy part". 

Well, in for a penny...

Back out at Rancho Juvat, I start to reverse the process.  The Napa guys were right.  The thing won't go back in.

I can only get one hand back in there as I have to hold the Negative connection out of the way.  It's very heavy and I am cantilevered over the engine compartment with this battery supporting it with one hand.  And it won't go back in.  Finally after about half an hour listening to my back scream obscenities at me, it goes in.

I reconnect and secure the battery connections as tight as I could with the ratchet.  Put the air filter bracket back in place.   Put the top cover for the air filter, back into place and secure it.  Even remembered to put that sensor back in position.

Should be good to go.  

Climb in, and put the key in the ignition, the door open bell starts dinging.  A good sign.  

Crank and it starts right up.  I'm starting to smile. It's that moment when you start feeling good about yourself for about an instant before you come crashing back to Earth.

Now, I've got warning lights going off all over the place which, since I had essentially disconnected the computer, made sense. Most went out after a second or two and me pushing the OK button.

However....(You knew I was getting to this point, dincha?)

I've still got a check engine light on.

And an Anti-skid malfunction light.

And a power steering malfunction light.

I leave it running, walk into the house and tell Mrs J that we're going into town and she's driving my truck.

Which we do, straight to the Ford Dealer.  I walk into the Service Department and they ask what they can do for me.

I say "I used to be a Fighter Pilot, I've seen a lot of warning lights in my day.  I've never seen as many warning lights on as there are in my Wife's car right now after I tried to change the battery in it.  Please be merciful, and fix it."

"What year and model is it?"

"2014 Transit Connect"

"Bless you, My Son!"

Turns out that there were a total of three sensors that got disconnected (i only thought there was one) and the air filter upper half wasn't properly seated. 

So....If the battery dies again, I'm going to rent a backhoe and bury the whole damn car.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Happy Sad...

One of Big Girl's last days as my car.
(Photo taken last week.)
We interrupt the war to bring you the following story...

I got my first car when I was around 19. I didn't get my driver's licence until shortly after my 18th birthday. In order to get it sooner, I would have had to take driver's ed classes during the summer. Summers were precious, not to be spent driving around with other students and an instructor. My Dad taught me to drive over a long period of time. So I knew what I was doing, more or less. State law mandated that to get a license before 18, one had to have had driver's ed. Nope. Didn't care, I could wait.

My first car was a used 1970 Volkswagen Beetle, a sweet little vehicle, great gas mileage, simple to maintain, and was good in snow. An important consideration when driving in Vermont.

Second car was a brand new 1974 Volkswagen Super Beetle. I drove that about a year before I went into the Air Force, had the chance to drive it while I was on leave a couple of times. No more, then it was off to Asia where low ranking chaps like me weren't allowed to ship a car.

Briefly had an old Datsun Bluebird on Okinawa. When Okinawa switched to driving on the left side of the road, I drove it one more time, that was it. Fun while it lasted but I had no desire to drive in that environment.

Two Volkswagen Jettas followed, the first was a great car, the second, well, let's just say that the Lord took pity on me and dropped a tree on her while I was at work in Germany. Insurance company said "Totaled, get a new car." Then the lady who totaled it sold it to her son who got it back on the road. Did I suspect something fishy? You betcha.

No more Volkswagens for me. Relenting to calls of patriotism and "Buy American!" I purchased (overseas) a 1997 Dodge Stratus. Sweet looking car, all black, fun to drive, that is fun to drive when it wasn't breaking down:
  • First six months, blown air conditioner compressor, which the dealership in the Netherlands took too long to fix.
  • Second year of ownership, blown head gasket, fortunately still under warranty.
  • Brake fire one, which after they fixed it led to brake fire two, on the other side of the car -- "Well sir, the hose going to the brake was clogged." "And you didn't think to change both?" Of course, not. The Dodge dealership in Middletown, Rhode Island, was about as reputable as a band of thieves. Fortunately enough people complained (I was one) and Dodge-Chrysler shut them down.
Anyhoo, fast forward to 2010, I'm driving the Stratus back and forth to work, 200 miles, 100 on Monday, return trip on Thursday. One day all of the electrical systems in the car, outside of the ignition system, just decided to stop working.

In steps my middle child and oldest daughter, The Nuke. She had a five year old Honda Element which I fell in love with when she was deployed. The WSO and I had driven down to Norfolk to collect the vehicle of The Nuke so that I might keep it in good running order while she was off in the Gulf keeping world safe for democracy. (BTW, let an Element sit too long and the brakes will rust away to nothing. DAMHIK)

Anyhoo, when she returned from deployment and finished Nuke School (Charleston and Ballston Spa) she decided she wanted a new car and that I needed a more reliable ride. So would I like her "old" Element as my very own vehicle? Why yes, yes I would. (The first story concerning Big Girl is here.)

Big Girl's last day as my car.
But all things must pass, nothing lasts forever. So it came to pass that Big Girl needed brake work done (thanks to the pandemic she sat in the driveway far too long.) A couple of days later she was making odd creaking noises, like the rods or shocks were getting ready to let go. Remembering the corrosion I'd seen underneath the old gal when she was up on the lift to replace the brake drums, I resolved that it was time to get a new ride.

Also, as odds are pretty good that The Missus Herself will opt out of flying to Maryland for the upcoming birth of our newest grandchild in August, odds are even better that I'll be driving her there. While I am confident that with a few more thousand dollars thrown her way Big Girl could continue on for some years to come, I didn't really want to take the chance of her breaking down somewhere between Little Rhody and Annapolis.

So new car it is.

Big Girl and her replacement.
Hours of online stuff followed by three hours in the dealership and voilà, I now drive a brand new Honda Pilot. It's sweet, it's loaded, and I like it much.

The new kid, on station and ready to go.

Still, I'm gonna miss Big Girl.

A happy day and a sad day, all at the same time.

I get far too attached to people, places, and things.

Zurück zum Krieg am Dienstag.¹

¹ Back to the war on Tuesday.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

The 27th of June, 1944 - D + 21, Stovepipes and Close Shaves


Hauptmann Kurt Winkler's assault guns had finally made it to the jump off point, two days late. His platoon was down to just three vehicles now. A pair of wandering Jabos had destroyed one on the road and damaged another. Rather than move up with just two vehicles, they managed to repair the damaged idler wheel and track on Feldwebel Müller's vehicle. The Fallschirmjäger Oberfeldwebel who joined them at the jump off point was just a little upset.

"Where have you people been?" he barked at Winkler. Too late he noticed that he was barking at an officer.

"Watch your tone Oberfeldwebel. Do you know how hard it is to move these crates in daylight? You're lucky we made it here at all. Now, where is your company commander?" Winkler was angry at having to explain himself to an enlisted man, angrier still that his platoon had been delayed, once again, by the presence of Allied aircraft roaming the skies seemingly at will. Then to be upbraided by a damned Luftwaffe sergeant? It was the damned Luftwaffe making his life miserable.

"I am the company commander now, Hauptmann Bielefeld was killed yesterday by the Amis. So you're stuck with me."

Winkler sat in the hatch of his vehicle, steaming. After a long moment he calmed down. Pulling his map from a pocket in the gun compartment, he dismounted to figure out what the Hell to do next. I suppose this fellow has his own problems. Let's figure out how to drive the Amis back into the sea.

Sure, that's going to happen.

US Army Signal Corps Photo

Sgt Bill Brandt looked around at his little command, the seven guys in his squad, he still had the machine gun team, and now the L.T. had sent him a bazooka team. Two guys, Moe Jenkins and Sal Romano, both from the Bronx, both cocky little bastards. But they seemed to know their business.

Brandt had let them set up where they thought they'd have a chance at stopping the Kraut armor rumored to be in the area. He was also thinking about who he would choose to replace Jack Wilson. His buddy, and assistant squad leader, had caught a couple of grenade fragments the day before. Bill hoped that got him a trip back to England. But for now he was short a team leader.

"Ollie, get your butt over here." Pvt Theodore Olson looked startled, wondering what the sergeant wanted. He'd been daydreaming about a girl back in Wisconsin when the sarge called him over.

"What's up Sarge?"

Brandt had noticed that the kid seemed to have adapted to combat very well. He knew to keep his head down, he was a good shot, and when Wilson had been wounded, he had been the guy to jump in and direct Duck (Woodrow Simpson), Spaz (Alfred Esposito), and Bear (Jackson Hebert). as they all hesitated when Wilson went down. Olson had them returning fire while he told Spaz to check on Wilson.

"So you handled yourself pretty good yesterday when Corporal Wilson went down. Are you starting to get the hang of this combat thing?"

"Not really Sarge, but Jack's a good guy, when I saw him get hit, I was pissed. The only way I could help him was to kill the Krauts moving in on us."

There had been four dead Germans in front of their position at the end of the day. Brandt knew that Ollie had killed at least two of them. The kid was almost as good with a rifle as Brandt himself.

"So I need someone to lead Corporal Wilson's team, are you up for it?" Brandt was puzzled by the look on Ollie face, was the kid laughing at him?

"I don't think that's gonna be necessary Sarge."

"Jesus, I leave for a few hours and you're giving my job away? Wow, thanks Bill, what a pal!"

Before Bill could express his happiness at Jack returning to the squad, stitches on his face and his forearm heavily bandaged, one of the bazooka guys yelled out, "Kraut tanks, coming down the road!"


Winkler didn't like the idea of moving in column, he'd rather have his vehicles spread out, but in this hedgerow country each vehicle would soon be cut off from its infantry supports. He had paratroopers clinging to the back of his second and third vehicles, only the Oberfeldwebel company commander and his runner were on the back of his vehicle.

"Up ahead the track enters a clearing!" The sergeant was yelling over the rumble of the engine and the clatter of the tracks. He gestured with his hands in case Winkler hadn't heard him.

"Understood, I can read a Gottverdammte map Oberfeldwebel. Get your men ready to move!"

No sooner had those words come out of his mouth then a projectile hissed over the roof of his StuG. "Panzerschreck! Oberfeldwebel get your men off my vehicles! Schnell!"

Winkler's gunner had seen the location of where the Amis had fired from, there was a lot of blowback from those hand held anti-tank weapons. He stomped the pedal and sent a round towards the Amis.

"Jesus!" Sal Romano exclaimed as he felt the heat from the German round fly just past them. It hit a tree on the other side of the field, splintering it about in the middle.

"Dumb shits are firing anti-tank at us!" Moe Jenkins laughed. Sal tapped him on the back to let him know the next round was loaded. Moe lowered his aiming point and squeezed the trigger. As soon as the round left the tube he shouted at Sal, "Come on Sal, move your ass!"

"Reload, reload Hannes! Quickly!" Winkler was kicking himself for forgetting that they had an anti-tank round in the gun. Useless against infantry unless the guy on the other side was having a really bad day.

He heard the sound of small arms fire now, both from his own infantry and from the Amis as well. He didn't really hear the Amis firing, but he could hear their rounds spanging off his vehicle.

His gunner let him know that the gun was loaded, but there were no targets that he could see to his front. "Karl, pivot right!"

The StuG pivoted to the right as Winkler attempted to bring his cannon to bear on where he thought the Amis were. At that moment there was a thump, then an explosion behind him. He turned in time to see his number two vehicle erupt into flames.

How the Hell did those Amis get on our flank so fast?

"Where the did those guys come from?" Jack Wilson had seen the German assault gun pivoting in their direction when the vehicle behind it was hit. He had a glimpse of Shermans in the field across the way, hitting the Germans in the flank. He thought that perhaps he might live another day.

"Get across the lane, the Krauts know we're here, let's move while they're busy!"

The squad followed Brandt as he sprinted across the lane and rolled over the low hedge on the other side. One of the machine gun team had been too slow and had been cut down by a Kraut machine gun in mid-stride.

At that point one of the Shermans was hit, most of the crew got out, but the driver had been killed by the round entering the front hull. The bow gunner was badly wounded by spalling from inside the vehicle. His buddies couldn't get to him as the Krauts were shooting at the tank, hoping to kill the crew. The bow gunner died next to the driver.

Winkler was screaming at his driver, "Reverse, reverse, there are Ami panzers to our flank, get us out of here Karl!"

Winkler's command was lost in the explosion which hit his vehicle from the side. American tanks on the left, an Ami bazooka team on the right. He had forgotten about them. It cost him his life.

Oberfeldwebel Fischer was slowly backing down the lane, providing covering fire for what was left of his company. No more than an understrength platoon at this point. Another withdrawal, the Amis capture another Norman field. But Fischer knew that the open country wasn't that far behind them. If the Amis ever reached that area, they were done for.


Corporal Maxwell and PFC Weber were kneeling next to Pvt Matt Smith. Matt was dead, in the Army for three years, survived North Africa, survived Sicily, even survived being busted from sergeant back to private. Now he was dead in the middle of nowhere Normandy. For what, another stinking hedgerow, another French field?

Brandt watched the machine gun team mourn their dead. He stayed away from them, let them process the fact that one of their guys was gone.

Another field, another quarter mile closer to open country. Brandt realized that if those armored guys hadn't shown up today, they'd probably all be dead right now.

Brandt slung his weapon and walked down the track, L.T. was coming up with the rest of the platoon. Three weeks since D-Day and they were still in the damned hedgerows.

Damn it.

Friday, June 26, 2020

The 26th of June, 1944 - D + 20, Into the Fire

An ammunition lorry of 11th Armoured Division explodes after being hit by mortar fire during Operation Epsom.

The rest of the battalion had come in yesterday in preparation for an attack which Sgt Wallace had been told was named Operation Epsom. Apparently the attack on the 25th, which had been a bloody shambles, was in preparation for today's op. The company commander was optimistic. He said that all the SS fanatics had been drawn off to fight the West Riding lads. They'd really taken it on the chin from what Billy had heard.

Now it seems that they were in for it.

"So Sarn't Wallace, did you miss us?" asked Sgt Wallace's company commander. Sgt Wallace and his platoon had been on loan to 7th Armoured Division, the fabled "Desert Rats," in a deal made in England which Wallace had been none too fond of. While the rest of their battalion had just entered the line yesterday, Wallace and his chaps had been hard at it for quite some time. Whereas the battalion staff was in Normandy with Billy's platoon, it wasn't like they were slogging through the hedgerows themselves.

So they were back with their own battalion, just in time for them to step off against the Jerries later in the morning. Most of the battalion hadn't seen action since the spring of 1940, training in England for four long years. Billy wouldn't have minded another couple of weeks in Blighty, but he was in Normandy, advance party they called it, the Desert Rats need you, he was told. Bloody Hell.

Well, at least they had some combat experience now.

As he took another sip of tea, the artillery began to prep the battlefield. The mist hadn't lifted yet, the morning was still rather cool. But that wasn't what made him shiver, he had a bad feeling about today.


"Lass uns gehen Jungs!¹" SS-Obersturmführer Klaus Schumacher barked at the Panzergrenadiers as they slowly piled off the back of his Panther. The young troopers of SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment 26 were less enthusiastic than they had been the day before. They had taken severe casualties from the attacking Tommies, now today they had to do it all over again. The weather was pure shit, the ground was boggy, they were in a constant drizzle, but one good thing about that, no Allied Jabos!²

Schumacher's driver, SS-Sturmmann Georg Schnabel, jockeyed the big Panther into position, getting the tank's hull hidden, so that only the turret was exposed. That made them tougher to spot and harder to hit. In the meantime their 7.5 cm cannon was free to engage the big Shermans trundling over the plains. The Tommy tanks, supplied by the Amis, were very tall, but the damned things were quick. There were also a lot of them!

At that moment Schumacher heard the unmistakable sound of incoming artillery, ducking low in his hatch, it took too long to close it completely, he ordered his men to seal up the tank. As the first rounds impacted some 200 meters to their front, he remembered the kids who had ridden his tank up to the line. Sure hope those lads find some cover, this is going to be nasty!

"Up and at 'em lads! For King and Country!"

Sgt Wallace and his squad stepped off into the misty countryside. Ahead of them they could hear the rumble and thump of the artillery barrage. Occasionally one could see the flash of an explosion through the mist.

"McCudden, increase yer interval laddie, I know you and Bain are mates, but out here, being too close is nae a good thing!" Wallace still had to chivvy the lads constantly, they were learning, but were they learning fast enough, he wondered.

As they followed the creeping barrage towards the enemy lines, Billy was a little surprised at the lack of resistance so far. Perhaps the artillery could keep Jerry's head down just a bit longer, then they'd be into the village that was their first day's objective. The mist was also a help, but why did he have this feeling of impending doom?

Sgt Wallace noticed that it was getting lighter, damn it, the mist was lifting! There, the edge of the village, "Alright laddies, get into the village and find cover, move, move, move!!"


The machine gun team leader spotted movement as the mist continued to clear, there, just outside the village, " There they are! Tommies!"

Even as he yelled that out, his gunner saw the English (to the Germans they were all "English") running towards the village, in just a few moments they would be under cover.

Wallace ran, leading his lads to cover, his heart was thumping rapidly, his palms were sweating, there, a wall, "Get in there laddies, find..."

The ripping snarl of an MG 42 drowned out his voice, two men, Privates Kelvin Shearer and Brodie Seton, were hit and went down hard. Private Hamish Lindsay made the cover of the wall, but his lower extremities were bleeding badly.

"I'm hit Sarn't, it hurts, it bloody hurts! Ahhh!"

"Shut yer gob laddie, it ain't that bad. Hold still!" Private Robert "Robbie" McCudden began to dress Lindsay's wounds, while they weren't fatal, McCudden could see that both of his legs were broken below the knees. Hamish wasn't going anywhere without being carried.

Sgt Wallace signaled to Lance Corporal Gavin Rutherford and Private Ranald Morrow to cut through the building to their right front, "We'll provide covering fire, go, go, go!"

The two men jumped over the wall, Morrow went first and was immediately hit by what could only be a sniper. He was down and LCpl Rutherford was alone on the other side of the wall.

"Billy! Where the bloody Hell is my covering fire?!?!"

As Wallace opened up on the machine gun position at least two of his men followed suit. In amazement Billy had turned to order someone over to help Rutherford, when he saw young Andy Bain jump up to the wall then crash down to the other side. Private Bain didn't know it, but a sniper's bullet had missed him by inches. Now he was on the other side of the wall, where the Hell was the lance corporal?

"Over here ye great walloper, are ye waitin' fer an engraved invitation?" LCpl Rutherford yelled at Bain. Quickly Bain got into the house where his lance corporal was waiting.

"Are ye ready?"

"Ready for what Corp?" Bain asked innocently.

"Bloody tea time ye doaty Glaswegian! Come on, let's grenade those Hun bastards. There's a window up above I think we can throw from. Out of that bloody sniper's sight line as well. At least, I think it is..."

Bain looked a bit worried as he followed Rutherford up a badly damaged staircase. But sure enough, at one window they could see the German machine gun team. Bloody wankers should have covered this, Rutherford thought. Then he noticed a dead German on the other side of the room and a great hole in the wall, no doubt the arty had done for him!

"You cover, I'll pitch!" Rutherford told Bain. "Ready?"

"Och aye!" Bain exclaimed as he rose up to the window and began laying down fire on the enemy machine gun team. He had hit the assistant gunner, before he could shift to a new target, he was amazed how everything seemed to be moving so slowly, he could see one of the Germans raising an MP 40, they were in for it now.

Rutherford had thrown two grenades in quick succession. The big German sergeant saw the second one, as he started to jump for cover, the first grenade went off, killing him and both gunners. His last thought was that he'd failed badly, the Tommies were into the village.

The rest of the day was a nightmare of house to house fighting, much of it hand to hand, with the ever constant threat of snipers as the men moved from cover to cover. Sgt Wallace lost another man, Private Rory Cockburn, killed by a sniper as he came out of a building he had just cleared.

All told, the squad lost half of it's strength on the very first day of Operation Epsom, Cockburn killed, Hamish Lindsay, badly wounded, Privates Shearer and Seaton killed just as they had reached the village and Private Callum Turnbull was missing in action, though Rutherford said that Turnbull was probably dead, "he went into that wee house just when those Jerry mortar rounds landed. I tell ye Sarn't, Callum ain't alive."

"Damn it," Billy muttered.

They had withstood a counterattack by the Hitlerjugend with tank support, though they'd killed a lot of Germans that day, their own strength was so depleted that the Borderers³ had had to relieve them. They withdrew back to the reserve that night around 2300 hours. It had been a bloody day.

"Billy, ye're wounded," LCpl Rutherford said with some concern as they withdrew from St Mauvieu-Norrey.

"Not my blood Gavin, it's Cockburn's. I was next to him when he was killed, head wounds, awfully messy." Sgt Wallace seemed to be in shock, he couldn't believe that he'd lost half his men. What's more, the Jerries were still holding out. Epsom wasn't over, not by a long shot.

From the War Diary of the 6th Battalion, Royal Scots Fusiliers of the 44th (Lowland) Brigade, of the 15th (Scottish) Division. Place St-Mauvieu, dated 26 June 1944 -
Op "Epsom".
Attack by 15(S)Div in which 44(L)Inf Bde took part. Bde took the two left objectives with rt 8RS, left 6RSF. 6RSF objective village of ST MAUVIEU. H Hour 0730.
Attack was carried out with heavy arty barrage, depth 500yds. A and B Coys were assaulting coys, C behind A, D behind B in reserve. Cas were incurred in the left coy by shorts in the barrage. On arrival on objective it was found to be strongly held by men of a unit of SS Hitler Youth Div, who carried out sniping during the clearing of the objectives with devastating results. The operation of clearing the village was well carried out by the Bn, but proved a slow and costly procedure, and it was not until 1700 hrs that the northern end of the objective was finally cleared by which time the Bn was very thin on the ground as the result of cas. Counter attack was launched about 1800 hrs on the left flank but was beaten off and no penetration was made except to an orchard at the northern end of the village. Later a further counter attack on the rt flank was seen to be developing and the CO, in order to avoid the posn being infiltrated, had to call on Bde for the assistance of two Coys 6KOSB. Bde Comd however decided in view of the cas incurred by the Bn in the operation to date to send up 6KOSB complete less one rifle coy to take over from 6 RSF. This relief was completed with difficulty as counter attacks were in progress during a portion of the time, and it was not until 2300 hrs that the final elements of the Bn were withdrawn from the posn to reserve. Total casualties incurred in this operation were as follows:
Killed : 21
Wounded : 113
Missing : 9
This was the first time the Bn had been in action since Jun 1940 and for the majority of the personnel of the Bn it was their first battle inoculation. The Bde Comd expressed to the Comd Offr his appreciation of the conduct of the Bn in a difficult operation. 
CR Buchanan Lieut-Colonel 
Commanding 6th Bn. Royal Scots Fusiliers (Source

¹ Let's go lads!
² Jabo = Jagdbomber = Fighter Bomber. No slack in ground attack!
³ 6th Battalion, King's Own Scottish Borderers

Thursday, June 25, 2020

More on the History of It All...

So, as I mentioned to a friend over on koobecaF, I'm trying to keep this story as close to the actual events as I can. Which, as you might guess, requires a bit of research as to who was where, on what day, and what did they do there and then? As I write more, I'm finding some very good resources. On Wednesday I found the War Diaries for the 6th Battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers of the British 15 (Scottish) Division. Very excited I was.

Now Sgt Billy Wallace and his lads have been, more or less, where their historical counterparts were on the days I've covered so far. Again, more or less. My intent here is to produce an entertaining work of historical fiction. I want to give my impressions of what the men on the ground, in contact with the enemy, on both sides, had to go through during the campaign in Normandy and perhaps all the way through the end of the war. (Not too ambitious am I?)

On the other hand, Sgt Bill Brandt's squad wandered off the path rather severely. Some of you may have remembered that Brandt and Jack Wilson came ashore on Omaha Beach on the 6th of June. I made a point of mentioning that they were not assigned to the 29th (Blue and Gray) Infantry Division. As there were two divisions assaulting Omaha on the 6th of June, that means Bill and Jack (et al) are assigned to the Big Red One, the 1st Infantry Division.

Some of you, who really know your history, may note that Brandt's squad was on the West Coast of the Cotentin on D + 13. Well away from where the Big Red One was operating...

Where I had them (red), where they should have been (green).

Now I'm not saying that Sgt Brandt's L.T. (2Lt Heintzelman) was lost or anything, so far he seems like a fine young officer. What little we know of him.


Anyhoo... I digress.

Scott the Badger had also mentioned that seeing a map would be helpful. Pictures and words can tell a story, but only a map can really fix your position in the world. Unless, of course, one is a brand new lieutenant...

Once again though, I digress.

I've got Brandt and Wilson (et al) back to where they're supposed to be, somewhere west of Villers-Bocage, fighting tooth and nail against the 3rd Fallschirmjäger Division. Now that I have a great source for maps (check the "Source" under that first one) I think I can keep the lads in the right place. For now, let's just say that their battalion was temporarily attached to the 9th Infantry Division and leave it at that. (No one wants to know what goes in the sausage, right?)

You might note that two of the main characters are named with a variant of "Bill." Well Sgt Wallace's full first name is simply "Billy," not "William." I mean while it would be cool to have William Wallace fighting in your outfit, it's the wrong time period. I chose the name at random, after we first met then-Corporal Wallace, I noticed the connection. D'oh. So "Billy" it is, one of my favorite sergeants way back in the day was called "Billy." So there's that.

As to Sgt Brandt, okay, that's me not being clever at all. I actually know a "Bill Brandt," the character is kind of based on him, a little. But in the interests of full disclosure, the fictional Sgt Brandt's parents emigrated from the old country in the early 1920s. Though the good sergeant was born in the good old US of A, his mama named him "Wilhelm," after a favorite uncle. But in school all his friends called him Bill. If they'd called him "Willy," I'd still be trying to figure out how Willy Brandt (former West German chancellor) wound up in the American Army.

So yes, I am being a bit more careful with how I choose the names of the characters. Those fellows do seem to be multiplying though don't they? I'm trying to stick with a single American infantry squad, a single British infantry squad, and a single British tank crew. There will be more Germans coming along, but they tend to get killed or captured rather a lot. I'll try and moderate that...

The odds are pretty good that good old Jan Kołodziej, now going by Paweł Kowalski might eventually show back up as part of the Polish 1st Armored Division. How he went from unwilling German conscript to POW, to being in the employ of the Americans as an interpreter, to being with his fellow Poles is a long story, which I may, or may not, completely explore some day. It's a problem when you have too many threads in a story, hard to keep track of 'em all. (Like the British leftenant-colonel who suddenly became a major, until an alert reader posed the "WTF?" question.)

While the war does continue to rage, I needed to step back for a day, regroup, then prepare for the big offensive to attempt to seize Caen. Operation Epsom will see Sgt Wallace and the 6th Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers heavily involved, not all of them are going to make it, the Brits took heavy casualties in that attack, as did the Germans.

Brandt and his boys will see action again soon, those assault guns didn't quite make it to support Unterfeldwebel Günther Hahn's attack. Of course, their company is still a bit shook up from losing their First Sergeant, slightly disorganized as there is no one to sign their leave paperwork or issue their pay (heh). No doubt the numerous Allied aircraft wandering about, sometimes calling in naval gunfire, may be stalling their planned mini-counterattack. We shall see.

So, I think we're all caught up.

In other news:

My beloved automotive transport, Big Girl, who has been in the family for 15 years, is on her way out. To be replaced by a much newer vehicle. As Big Girl was gifted to me by The Nuke, I paid zero dollars for her, initially. The new vehicle will actually have to be paid for, by me.

I see myself working well into my 70s. (Though the real plan is three more years, we'll see.)

See you back at the front, tomorrow.


Did anyone notice that I used the same picture twice yesterday? Well, I did.