Wednesday, June 17, 2020

The 17th of June, 1944 - D + 11, The New Guys

US Army Photo

"So what happened out there Jack?"

"Well, we were patrolling towards the crossroads, scoping things out, it was pretty quiet, then I hear something in the field to our left. We hold, I'm listening, there's people out there, talking, in low voices, but still, you can hear 'em."

"Is that when Fred told you they were Krauts?"

"Yeah, then up towards the crossroads, some Kraut yelled something. Sounded like a challenge, that's when Fred yells out, pardon my French Bill, 'f**k you' - I mean I could tell the Krauts out in the field were startled. So was I. But the Krauts near the crossroads opened up on the guys out in the field. Guess they thought they were Americans."

"Damn. Okay, get some sleep, you're going out in a couple of hours, we're taking the whole squad. There's Krauts to clear between here and the crossroads past where you guys were last night. We need to probe, see what's between us and them."

Some miles away, near Caen, another group of soldiers were trying to figure out what had happened to them.

"A machine gun opened fire, basically killing most of your infantry, and your gunner?"

"Jawohl, Hauptsturmführer. The Tommies were much closer than our intel reported."

"Did you actually see the English?"

"Yes, right after my bow gunner slid into place to act as loader, I saw movement to my front. I just got a glimpse of them, but they were Tommies. That ridiculous helmet they wear is hard to miss."

"Show me on the map."

Gefreiter Johannes Klepper and Flieger Martin Bendfeldt were now part of 2nd squad in the 1st platoon. Their old platoon was too shattered to reconstitute, at least until they received replacements. The odds of getting replacements here were slim to none his sergeant had told him. So they closed ranks again, soon there would be no one left.

"Johannes!" Oberfeldwebel Dieter Schmitz called to him, waving him over to the rapidly dwindling company command group. Just three sergeants and one officer were left.

"You've got 2nd squad, we're moving Holstein over to lead 2nd platoon. You good with that?"

"Sure, not like I have a choice, stimmt¹?"

"Exactly lad, you understand perfectly."

Sergeant James Fitzhugh and his crew in their Sherman VC were still positioned near where they had encountered the Panther covered with infantry. His infantry were positioned in such a way that the Germans couldn't surprise them. Fitzhugh knew that Caen was not going to fall to the British Army by lying in ambush, but the generals were still trying to sort things out. Seems they were up against as many as three Jerry panzer divisions. Oh joy, he thought to himself.

Corporal Billy Wallace, the wee Scotsman leading the squad covering his vehicle, had investigated where the Germans had gone down. When he'd reported back, Fitzhugh wasn't all that happy.

"Och aye, those were SS bastards we killed. Got the runes on their tunics and everything. Young looking bunch, though they won't be getting any older now, will they?"

Rumors were already spreading that the SS were not taking prisoners. The Canadians had found some of their lads who had been executed, the Canadians were not in a forgiving mood from what he'd been told. Wonderful, SS fanatics who think we're not taking prisoners. What an ugly bloody war. Africa had been nothing like this. A cleaner war in some respects, Rommel's lads seemed to be decent sorts, damned fine soldiers as well. But these SS bastards, he didn't care for them. Not at all.

They were back at full strength in 3rd squad. Sgt Brandt's promotion was official and someone had actually scrounged some stripes for him. Pvt Melvin Katz, who had been a tailor's apprentice before the war, sewed the stripes on for Sgt Brandt. Katz was another new guy, along with Privates Alfred Esposito, Jackson Hebert, and Charlie Monroe.

Other than Brandt and Corporal Jack Wilson (whose promotion was also official but no one had the stripes nor knew where they could get some, so the L. T. just inked them in again) the only two guys who had come ashore in the squad on D-Day were Privates Fred Thomas and Woodrow "Woody" Simpson.

Bill Brandt was nervous about taking the new guys into combat, but they had to learn sometime, apparently sometime was now. He looked up as SSG Andersen came over.

"What's up Sarge?"

"I want you to take your guys down along that track Wilson went down a couple of days ago. We had a patrol out that way yesterday, looks like the Krauts pulled back a ways. They left their dead behind. S2 thinks that the Kraut paras are low on bodies, so maybe they had to skedaddle without evacuating their casualties. I dunno. So, look here on the map..."

SSG Andersen briefed them to probe past the crossroads of the other day, which all the guys were now calling "F**k You" crossroads and see what the Germans had in the next field over.

"Alright Sarge, but I tell you, I'm going to be pretty careful, we've got six new guys in the squad."

"I know Bill, no one expects you to go in guns blazing. But the Skipper would like a prisoner to chat with, know what I mean?"

"Yup, we'll do what we can."

Klepper and Bendfeldt were in a new position, they'd lost their MG-42, but they still had one of the FG-42s, which Bendfeldt carried, and Klepper had his MP-40.

Fallschirmjäger with FG-42, left, and MP-40, right.

They were by themselves for the moment, the rest of the squad were farther back, trying to get some sleep. Both Klepper and Bendfeldt were exhausted, Johannes could barely keep his eyes open.

"Get some sleep, I'll keep an eye on things." Bendfeldt urged his corporal.

Klepper mumbled something, then slid lower in the hole they had scraped out of the dirt. He was almost immediately asleep.

Bendfeldt struggled to stay awake, he kept nodding off, but only for a few moments before he jerked his head up once more.

"What do you think Jack, grenade?"

"Pretty noisy Sarn't Bill, I know there's other Krauts around, I can smell 'em." Jack Wilson was watching the young Kraut, he kept nodding off.

"Let's wait, I'm betting he's going to fall asleep."

So they waited.

Brandt whispered to the guys near him, "Fix bayonets, no shooting."

Bendfeldt couldn't help it, his head dropped to his chest and soon he was fast asleep. He didn't hear or see the Americans until he and Johannes had been relieved of their weapons and both men had bayonets pressed against their chests.

One of the Americans, his rifle pointed at Bendfeldt's face said "Bleib ruhig oder du bist tot.²" So both Germans remained frozen until the Amis yanked them to their feet and rushed them back towards the American lines.

Brandt's patrol brought in two prisoners, both paratroopers. The L. T. was very happy, as he knew that Brandt's efforts made the whole platoon look good, which, of course, made the L. T. look good.

As the guys went back to their bivouac, Sgt Brandt said, "Frenchy, I think now's a good time for some of that applejack."

"Certainement mon sergent, a fine idea!"

Then Sergeant Brandt turned to Pvt Katz, "So you can sew and you speak Kraut?"

"My folks emigrated from Vienna in 1936, they didn't like the way things were going with the Germans to the north, a lot of Austrians leaned that way as well. So at home we spoke Yiddish, but my parents also spoke German. I learned both."

"So your parents don't like the Nazis?" Pvt Tremblay asked.

"No, they don't. I don't know many Jews who like Nazis. In fact, zero."

Sergeant Brandt just nodded his head. His squad had some real characters in it, he hoped he could keep them all alive.

¹ Right?
² Stay quiet or you're dead.


  1. Dang.....good flow Sarge. Moar please!

    1. I won't stop until the war's over! (Or I run out of ideas...)

  2. I could smell the dirt.... well done.

  3. Keep telling the story! It was worth staying up late, ( for a third shifter ), to read!

  4. Well, I know one who liked the Nazis, but that's straying into politics.

    Udder than that, you're really going to milk the Bocage for all it's worth, aren't you?

    Nice touch on the capture scene, by the way, and on the developing tensions between everyone and the SS. Seems the only people who wanted the SS after the war were the French Foreign Legion. During the war, not even the Legion wanted them.

    The American replacement system was... suboptimal. Instead of consolidating existing groups as casualties grew, and feeding in replacements slowly, the American system was, and still is in a lot of ways, to plug in new guys to keep units up to full strength, including not sending guys recovered from wounds back to their old units in a lot of cases. Though it kept the numbers up, the constant introduction of FNGs (new guys) and often non-combat vets meant, unfortunately, that the core veterans would mostly stay alive and a constant stream of fresh meat would cycle in, get ground up, get replaced, get ground up, get replaced.

    German units generally consolidated and only replaced personnel once they withdrew, or were sent replacements in groups. Worked for them, mostly, and made more sense.

    Though the issue of how to integrate combat vets with newbies plagued every army from Day 1 of organized fighting back in the days of Hunter-Gatherer cultures.

    1. The fighting in the bocage lasted until the break-out. So we're stuck there until late July!

      The American replacement system sucked dog shite, let's call it like it was.

    2. Yup, Replacement Depots. Sit and wait to get assigned to a unit where nobody knows you, nobody wants to know you. At least until you can prove that you know how to soldier.

    3. (Don McCollor)…(somewhere hidden in my Legion books)...There was an SS officer that shot the father of a young teenage boy, who vowed to extract vengeance. After the war, he found the officer had joined the Legion and joined himself. The officer did not recognize the fit tanned private as the thin emaciated boy from years before, but he recognized the officer. He working his way into the officer's company and patiently awaited his chance. It came during an ambush in Indochina when they were alone. He called his officer by name. His real name. As the officer looked round startled, he shot him. Then for his duty and obligation as a Legionnaire as well as the honor of the Legion, he carried the body of his enemy back into the lines. The Legion never abandons its own....

    4. Now there was a patient fellow.

  5. Pvt Katz parents had great powers of foresight. Most european Jews did not flee, or not far and fast enough. Mind you, many could not afford transatlantic journey, and that is regardless of difficulties with obtainig visa... US was going thru antimmigrant period probably more extreme than anything today back then. At least one ship full of refugees was turned back to Germany with predictable results, most of passengers perishing in Holocaust.

    1. Many didn't believe that anything bad was going to happen, until it was too late. We'll hear more of the Katz family, I'm sure.

    2. Many, by the time they realized what was going on, found it was too late. Thanks to FDR and many in his administration and the refusal to accept Jewish refugees who could have helped our war effort quite well, but because of the base anti-semitism in the American government (overall, though there were many bright, shining examples of selfless and Christian behavior acting against FDR's rules) too many never made it out or were turned away and sent back home.

      If the FedGov had it's druthers, Einstein would never have been allowed in the USA.

      It wasn't just the Nazis who treated Jews poorly in the late 30's and 40's.

    3. Maltreatment of the Jews was widespread in Europe, but yeah, our own country did it too.

    4. At least US treated them decent enough to become best sanctuary available.

    5. There is that, when we let them in that is.

    6. Yep. How many would have been saved, how much better would the US or Israel have been if we had opened our shores to many.

      Though there was a significant minority of outright socialists-communists, most would have been a wonderful addition to our nation.

      And that many more to stand up to the Nazis.

      On the other hand, looking at the dark side, the energy and time spent rooting out and dealing with Jews took a lot of attention away from the actual war effort. Sad. Very sad.

    7. The Nazis were idiots, Ukraine welcomed them as liberators from Stalin, so they started murdering and looting.

      Sound familiar?

    8. Some ethnic Germans could see what was coming. One of my aunts married a farmer whose parents emigrated with him in the mid-1930's. He was old enough at the time that he never completely lost his accent.

    9. The ones who would be vulnerable were smart to get out. Far too many took the "that could never happen here" theory to heart and paid dearly.

      Bad things can happen anywhere if enough good people do nothing.

  6. Enjoying this so much Sarge! Perfe ct wat to start the day! I should comment more but I don't. Bad shaun!

  7. enjoying your stories sir. can't help wondering what all the guys would think about what is going on in the west today.

  8. A good day, Sarge. A field promotion for me and it looks like my squad knows their stuff. Fallshirmjager were some pretty tough fighters! My Dad had for many years a knife for them that he had brought back. Strangely enough, they were Luftwaffe, not Army.

    1. Your namesake is a level-headed, practical guy. Good qualities in a sergeant. He does seem to be blessed in who he has in his squad!


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

NOTE: Comments on posts over 5 days old go into moderation, automatically.