Wednesday, June 10, 2020

The 10th of June, 1944 - D + 4, The Bocage and Other Things...

Bocage country on the Cotentin Peninsula, Lower Normandy
...bocage refers to a terrain of mixed woodland and pasture, with fields and winding country lanes sunken between narrow low ridges and banks surmounted by tall thick hedgerows that break the wind but also limit visibility. (Source)
Corporal Jack Wilson was exhausted, filthy, and hungry. His nerves were pinging and his knees and back ached relentlessly as his squad shuffled slowly alongside yet another overgrown bank as they probed forward towards yet another small field somewhere in Normandy. The day was dusty and hot, though Jack was glad to be alive, there were moments when he wished he would get hit just so he could lie down, maybe even a wound bad enough to send him home. But...

Yesterday, in the late afternoon, Sarn't Bill, as Jack had taken to calling him, had sent their point man forward to "have a peek" around one of these innumerable damned hedgerows to see if it was safe to cross the opening into the field on their right. The field they couldn't see, the field they couldn't get through without using one of the openings the Norman farmers used to access their fields.

Private Teddy Woolworth was a good kid, was from somewhere in Maryland that Jack had never heard of. He had actually volunteered for the Army as soon as he had turned 17, with his folks' permission of course. A good kid and a pretty good soldier. But even a good soldier depends on luck every now and then to stay in one piece.

Teddy had taken his time, gotten himself in a position where he could observe the field, well, most of it, without being seen himself. Or so he thought. He hand signaled back to Sarn't Brandt who motioned him forward.

He had nearly made it across when they all heard that searing, ripping sound of a Kraut machine gun. Teddy was hit in the lower right leg, well, truth be told, the MG burst had taken off Teddy's lower right leg. Before anyone could react, Sarn't Bill, who spoke a little German, had dashed forward, grabbed Teddy's collar and pulled the kid out of the line of fire.

Jack wondered what Bill had heard the Germans shouting, Jack had heard them too, but had no idea what they were saying.

Heavily Camouflaged Pzkw VI Ausf E "Tiger" in Normandy, June 1944
They just couldn't move in daylight. The battalion had lost six Tigers in the past two days from Allied Jabos¹. On the upside, the idiot company commander who had insisted on moving during the day had been in one of the tanks destroyed just this morning. Herr Hauptmann Karlheinz von Hauser was not a popular officer. Many claimed he owed his command to connections in the High Command, not to any talent as a tank officer.

The new skipper, Oberleutnant Altendorf, had come up through the ranks. He'd fought in Poland, France, North Africa, and then Russia before gaining his officer's commission. He had been posted to the battalion back in January, after another short stint in the East. Willi was glad to have him.

"So Gerhard, think we'll make it to the beachhead to be of any use? Do you think we'll make it at all?" Feldwebel Willi Hoffmeister asked his tank commander.

"So many questions Junge, we should be within striking distance of the Tommies tomorrow morning. After that? Who knows?" Stabsfeldwebel Gerhard Lindner tossed his cigar stub to the ground as he looked around at the small woodlot where they had parked the tank, named "Gerda" for his favorite aunt.

Willi watched his friend as his tipped his field cap back on his head then dropped into the turret with a sigh. "I'm going to catch some sleep, you should too Willi. It's going to be a short night and a very long day tomorrow I'll wager."

German POWs in England

Grenadier Horst Mellanthin was tired and hungry. He hadn't eaten since the day after the Allies landed in Normandy and captured him. Now he was in line with a long queue of other tired Landsers with mess tins out, ready to eat whatever the Americans would deign to offer their enemy.

The big, very disheveled cook slapped a slice of bread into his tin, then ladled a rather generous portion of some creamy sauce which appeared to have flecks of meat in it. It smelled rather good he thought.

As he began to eat, he though, "Mein Gott, this is delicious!" Whether it was his hunger or the fact that he'd never eaten chipped beef on toast before (what the cook called "SOS²") Horst gobbled it down. He thought that it was the best meal he had had in weeks!

"How do you say your name again? Yawn Kowohjee?"

"That's pretty close lieutenant. Close enough."

ex-Obergrenadier Jan Kołodziej shifted in his chair and took another long drag on the cigarette the American lieutenant had given him. He was no longer wearing his German uniform. Now he was wearing an unmarked American uniform. He grinned to himself as he realized that this wasn't the first time he had swapped uniforms in the middle of a war. The same war actually.

"Do you have a problem working with us as an interrogator? I see by your paperwork that you speak German, Russian, English, and even some French. In addition to your native Polish of course."

"Yes, lieutenant. I was in university before the war. If you know your history, we Poles are rather good with languages. When you are surrounded by so many peoples who wish to steal your country, it's good to know your enemy, don't you think?"

"Uh, nobody out there speaks English, do they?" While the lieutenant had gone to a good Midwestern college, he'd studied agriculture and business. Hadn't looked at a history book since high school, and that had been, naturally, an American history book.

"Ah yes, English! That I learned from a lovely Polish girl from Chicago who was visiting her relatives in Poland before the war. That, I can tell you, was a very good summer."

"I'm sure that was, uh, memorable." The lieutenant's wife was of Polish extraction, from Chicago, though she had never visited Poland, it made him a little uncomfortable to think about it. Not to mention that the young lieutenant was something of a prude.

"Now how good is your French?"

Jan grinned and said, "Je connais assez le français pour me saouler et pour me débrouiller avec les demoiselles!³" As he said that, he saw the lieutenant blush. Aha! The kid speaks French!

"Quite, er, thank you Yawn. Why don't you go get some food, I'll find you later today."

In the days to come, Jan Kołodziej would be enlisted into the U.S. Army as "John Wheeler" which was a pretty good match for his Polish name. He would be attached to a special unit tasked with handling German POWs in the field and doing liaison work with the French Resistance as well.

He assumed that his duties would be well behind friendly lines.


¹ Jabo - Short for Jagdbomber, fighter bomber, primarily P-47 Thunderbolts, RAF Tempests and Typhoons who roamed the skies of Normandy, destroying anything German.
2 SOS - the ubiquitous G.I. "Shit on a Shingle." Don't knock it, I love it too. 
³ I know French well enough to get drunk and get on with the ladies!


  1. I binge read all your stories from the links you provided yesterday! You have a talent my friend.

  2. a pair of vids of relation to the series, to some degree: "what was Kriegsmarine doing meanwhile" "on German military (as opposed to SS and other paramilitaries) involvement with war crimes, and 50 shades of Feldgrau"

    1. Not a bad thought on including what's left of the Kriegsmarine.

      As to Wehrmacht war crimes, yes indeed, they committed a bunch, especially in the East.

    2. "50 shades... " Ya had me laughing, Pawel. Thanks.

  3. The plot thickens....... excellent!(see Monty Burns steepling fingers) Excellent!

    1. Because of the context I see Montgomery Burns in a German uniform, with a monocle of course, saying Ausgezeichnet!, rather than excellent.

      But yes, thanks!

    2. Oh, I see Monty as a State Department High-Level Jerk. Selling us out for money, as so many did and still do.

  4. My dad worked for F.W. Woolworth Company for 52 years. When the name came up today, it was a pleasant jolt. You don't see the name too much anymore. Thanks. The novel is developing nicely Sarge. Keep up the great work

    1. That name popped into my head out of nowhere. I have very fond memories of that company. We called it "the five and dime," that much I remember.

  5. Ah, SOS. So hated and yet so loved. Good SOS is heavenly, full of carbs and protein and carbs and carbs. Just what one needs to start a hard day with.

    Bad SOS? Yikes.

    Haven't had SOS in years. Hmmm... Will have to look up... oh, dang, that's simple. White gravy, with dried beef in it, add pepper, some people put cayenne pepper in it. Hmmm...

    As to the action. Tigers heading towards the beach. As long as one of them isn't Michael Wittman, it will get exciting but survivable for the Tommies. Just in time for a Jug or a Typhoon to rain down thunder upon the kitties.

    Horst will make it, hopefully, good. Good kid, deserves a break.

    Jan? Jan can cook! (Had to say it...) Sounds like he's got interesting times ahead.

    Looking forward to the next installment.

  6. Well, now that it's an ongoing series I'll have to modify my previous statement that I'd wait to the Schluss before further or final comment. Also, I'll have to reload and reread and keep updated. Meantimes...

    Excellent work, keep it up. My most presumptuous suggestions:

    Now we're in Bocage, and Higher Authority has corked the one chance of success by way of immediate massive counterattack....mention the manifold difficulties of Bocage; AT guns in ambush, field modified tanks with hedgecutters, the outstanding (professionally speaking) efforts on both sides undersupplied and overdriven, the innate superiority of Wehrmacht training traded in/for blood against PBI GI's. And, never forget, day for day, the loss rates were the same as Verdun, Somme and Ypres. The meme of unimaginative Krauts should perish; Auftragstaktik and excellent junior leaders kept SHAEF's bunghole tight until well after the Rhine was crossed. I suspect we'll see more mines shortly, and the many casualties amongst the liberated peoples who were nonetheless glad to see the last of the Boche...and the shaved heads of the insufficiently discreet Mademoiselles, and the lynched collaborators that couldn't turn the coat fast enough.

    At this pace we'll be picnicking in Belgium in autumn, bleeding in Holland in a mostly successful Garden in an expensive Market, and starving through the winter...could tell you what my Dad thought of that as an unusual 8th Form in school. Right, eagerly awaiting next instalment. Y'know, if I had to pay for reading, I'd have to cut back on a vice...

    1. All will make their appearance in due course. (Of course, now I have to keep a bloody list... 😉)

      Seems most of the unimaginative Germans were in OKW and the Reichs Chancellery. The troopers in the field knew what they were doing, usually.

  7. Another great installment.
    Unsolicited suggestion- Remember, "Amateurs talk tactics, professionals talk logistics." The supply guy's don;t get nearly enough love, but the guys at the tip of the spear suffer if they run out of whatever they need- beans, bullets, POL, etc. Applies to both good guys and others.
    John Blackshoe

    1. Oh, the logisticians will get some love here and there. Too early in the campaign to impact Jack and Bill.

      Germans will feel the logistical heat much sooner.

  8. I'm enjoying these posts. A few things from a UK perspective. The British soldiers kept going because they said 'our fathers had it worse', in fact the British army had tables of expected losses in combat based on the WW1 experience, they went up to 'intense'. After Normandy they went up to 'double intense'. Max Hastings describes it well in his books, they are well worth a read.
    As John Blackshoe says, 'logistics'. The amount of brainpower that went into planning the invasions was immense. A lot of the infrastructure is still visible all over the South East of England to this day.
    I'd also add that I'm in awe of the linguistic ability of Polish people. I was a member of an athletics club and we had a Polish guy whose family escaped to the west in 1956 after 'a bit of a problem back home' as he put it. He spoke fluent French, he said all the Polish middle class spoke it. He also spoke German and Russian on the basis that at some time in your life you would have to deal with them. His family established a business in the leather trade and he had to travel all over the world so he also spoke Italian, Spanish and Portuguese.
    As a mono lingual Brit I felt inadequate.

    1. The old arch-nemesis of England (Bonaparte) liked to have Polish officers on his staff when he was operating in Eastern Europe, primarily for their language skills. Of course, as most Polish officers were pretty fine horsemen as well, they were good at getting messages where they needed to go.

      Love Max Hastings' work, I have a number of his books.

    2. 1.With place being crossroads of Europe, in times of both of wwar and peace, linguisitc skill is a survival trait.
      2.Myself managed to pick up Russiam in childhood whenit was mandatory, some German on the way due to being border city, and pretty fluent Emglish due to later life involvement with sci-fi/fantasy fandom and internet. My father who worled lifetime in fishery industry, and now is fisheries inspector, picked up both English and Russian, and some French along the way.
      3.Some say that after mastering Polish most other languages are easy to learn...

    3. Polish looks (and sounds) like a hard language to pick up from a phrase book. Do yes, I'd agree.

      (Funny story that lady related, who knew she'd get that excited over a kid's birthday party?)

  9. The USN version of SIX was more a member of the sloppy Joe family, hamburger and tomato sauce base

  10. Ain't nobody what has never absolutely drooled over their Sauce Over Steak that has ever truly been battlefield hungry. Period! Musta been the nutrients, the environment, or sumpin', but I often get an unreasoning, insatiable hunger for C-Rations, to this day, as well. You got the one with the "Fortified Peanut Butter" in it, and you knew today was gonna be better than yestiday! I know, kinda weird, but hey, you lived it, or you don't get it.


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

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