Sunday, June 21, 2020

The 21st of June, 1944 - D + 15, Battle in the Slop

Infantry of the 6th Royal Scots Fusiliers, 15th (Scottish) Division.

"Tell us again why we're here Corp?" Pvt Robert McCudden was the youngest man in the squad. He had many questions, which he asked whenever the urge moved him.

"Hold yer yap you bloody Glaswegian, can ye no' see we're busy right now?" Pvt Ian Mackle had been in the Army since 1937, his military demeanor, bad conduct, and dislike of authority had seen him locked up twice in military prisons. He would no doubt be unceremoniously discharged from the Army when the war ended. Until then, he was the eternal private, no chance of promotion but he didn't care. He just wanted to kill Huns. And the truth of it was, Britain was running out of men, so they were stuck with men like Mackle.

"All of ye, shut up and bear down." Corporal Billy Wallace was a bit put out today. It was still raining, he was covered in mud, and he was tired of listening to McCudden's constant whinging and to Mackle's constant carping. Not to mention, they had no tank support today.

Which also meant that they had had to go to battle the same way their ancestors had, on foot.

SS-Obersturmbannführer Max Wünsche (with head bandage) talking to his troops after the attack on Norrey-en-Bessin, June 9, 1944. SS-Hauptscharführer Wilhelm Boigk, with a grenade in his belt, can be seen as well as Otto Funk (in the middle).
(Source)

The Waffen SS troopers were advancing cautiously along the hedgerow, to their left was a farmer's field with perhaps 20 or so dead cows scattered about, bloated, legs in the air, they had been killed by naval gunfire in the past 48 hours. SS-Unterscharführer Klaus Paumgartner noticed that the shell holes he could see were slowly filling with water. This storm which had been pounding the landscape since the 19th was one of the worst he had ever seen.

He signaled the patrol to halt, he saw something out of the ordinary to his left front. The hedgerow looked odd, like it had been cut back, and fairly recently. Pulling his field glasses from underneath his camouflage smock, he brought them up and scanned the gap. Sure enough, some of the branches showed pale spots where they'd been cut or broken off. The Tommies had even stuck some of the branches in the dirt to try and cover the gap.

Nice try Tommy, nice try.

Paumgartner signaled to his MG-42 team to set up right up next to the hedgerow, they had a clear field of fire to the unnatural-looking gap and out into the field. The rest of the squad spread out in a line, staying low until they slid into the mud prone, their rifles at the ready. Unfortunately most of the kids only had their bolt action rifles to fight with, the few automatic weapons the SS had had been given to the more senior troopers in other squads.

The youngest man in his squad was 16, the oldest 19. Paumgartner had just turned 20 and was beginning to wonder if he'd see 21.


"Well, well, well, aren't you the clever one," Corporal Billy Wallace murmured to himself as he watched the Germans deploy to cover the dummy position he had his lads set up earlier.

"Make it look good, but not too good, make it just sloppy enough that Jerry will notice it." Of course, McCudden kept asking why and Mackle just couldn't stop complaining. Wallace let them go on about it, at least it kept them focused while they worked.

Their actual position was further along the hedgerow, it was very well camouflaged and put them, hopefully on the flank of any attacker going for the dummy position. Which seemed to be happening even as they watched.

When the line of enemy infantry began their advance, Wallace could see that their leader had positioned his machine gun poorly. Snuggled up against the hedgerow their field of fire was restricted to a narrow cone between their maneuver element and the edge of the field to their immediate front. To engage the Scots where they had set up, the German MG would have to fire through their own infantry!


"Los!"¹ Paumgartner had half of his squad advancing deliberately towards the gap in the hedgerow. He had not seen any movement, but he figured that the Tommies were being careful. He signaled a halt so that the other half of the squad could advance while his first element covered. He pulled out a grenade, unscrewed the cap on the end, then pulled the porcelain bead to light the fuse. As he heaved the grenade, his machine gun team opened fire, covering the gap with bullets.

When the grenade exploded, Paumgartner got up, MP-40 machine pistol at the ready. Well, he tried to get up but he slipped in a patch of mud. As he struggled to get back to his feet, he barked at the squad, "Männer vorrücken, angreifen!!"²

The kids jumped up and started advancing, firing their rifles as they did so. Problem was, both elements were advancing, no one but the machine gun was covering.

"Scheisse!" Well, Paumgartner thought, I guess we're all in now!


"Fire!!" Wallace commanded, at the same time three of the lads heaved grenades at the advancing Germans, they were now that close. The grenades weren't very effective because of the muddy ground, but their Bren gun and Lee-Enfield rifles made a ragged mess of the exposed Germans. Most of them were down, not moving, some were down and moving, but they were writhing in pain.

The machine gun team had tried to shift their fire once their mates had been shredded, but the Bren gun tore them into a ragged pile of dead flesh.

One chap, probably the squad leader as he was carrying a Schmeisser³, slipped and fell as he tried to twist to bring his weapon to bear on Wallace's squad. As he struggled in the mud, Pvt Mackle shot him three times. He went down, hard.

Advancing out into the field to see if they could get any intelligence on who they were facing, Wallace noted their mottled camouflage smocks and helmet covers. The squad leader actually had a full camouflage uniform, tunic and trousers. Bloody SS troopers this lot, Wallace thought to himself.

Two of the Germans were still alive, though badly wounded, including the guy Wallace thought was the squad leader. As his men tossed the Germans' weapons out of reach, Wallace had a couple of men start looking for the Germans' pay books.

"Campbell, see what you can do for this fellow." Pvt Jock Campbell had been a medical student before the war, though he had been thrown out of school for habitual drunkenness, he still knew more about patching up wounded men than the rest of them did.

Campbell got the SS man's tunic open, what he saw made him shudder, how was this man still alive? He looked at Wallace and shook his head, the Jerry was a goner. As he watched, the young German died, his eyes never leaving Wallace's.

Klaus Paumgartner would not see 21.

At that moment there was a scream. He turned to see that Mackle had his foot on the other wounded German. The German was screaming in pain.

"Ah, ye like that ye Hun bastard? Want some more, how about this?" Mackle pressed his foot harder on the German's leg as he pulled his bayonet and began attaching it to his Lee-Enfield.

"Stop that this instant Mackle!" Corporal Billy Wallace was livid, he actually had his Sten gun pointed at the private. Wallace had had quite enough.

"Stuff it Corp, this one's a deader!" Mackle said as he started to bayonet the wounded German. There was a look of absolute shock on Mackle's face as Corporal Billy Wallace shot Private Ian Mackle.

Mackle crumpled to the ground, quite dead.

"Campbell, patch this Jerry up, we'll take him back. I'm sure that higher would like a chat with him."

"Corporal, what about Mackle?"

"Leave him, we need to move out, it's going to be dark soon."

The squad collected the wounded German and silently began to head back to their bivouac, they were still in shock that their corporal had shot one of his own men. Even though none of the squad had cared for Mackle, still he was one of their own. But he'd given Wallace no choice, so the men said nothing. Even McCudden was quiet for once.

As the day ended, so did the rain.

Another Norman field, another day of battle, more names to be added to the roles of those who would never see home again.

US Army Signal Corps photo



¹ Let's go
² Advance men, attack!
³ Many of the Allied troops called the German MP-40 a Schmeisser, after Hugo Schmeisser a German weapons designer who had designed an earlier German submachine gun (the MP-18) but had nothing to do with the MP-40.

22 comments:

  1. Mackle was probably destined for the end of a rope, anyway.

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  2. Sarge, I suspect if more people understood war (and even violence in general) this way, the less flippant they would be about using it.

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    1. Most people get their ideas on violence from movies and TV, which is far from reality.

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    2. And most of the people who start wars aren't personally affected by them in the physical sense that the combatants are. Kinda like politicians and the laws they enact.

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  3. That dead MG gunner was field stripped. I've heard the term, but never seen the pictures...

    I had hoped that Mackle would be the type soldier that didn't do well in bivouac, or on post. But would be a lion on the field. I've met a couple of those guys. They weren't meant for occupation duty or a peacetime army...

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    1. I've heard it described thusly: The warriors scare society enough that they are put on the shelf until they are needed...

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    2. STxAR - Pockets pulled out, everything of no intelligence value dumped beside the body. Sad but understandable, to the enemy who killed him, he's no longer a human being.

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    3. Mackle is a type I've seen in my own service - self-centered, selfish, good for nothing. Not a warrior, just a criminal in uniform was this fellow.

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    4. Well, in defense of field stripping, one doesn't have time to do a full forensic analysis. Grab what you can and get out is the way to go. In earlier times (who am I kidding, still happens) it was part of the 'Strip and Loot' phase of combat, where every last bit of usable or sellable items would be removed - armor, weapons, shoes, some clothing, money, belts, food etc.

      Both sides collected trinkets and stuff off the dead enemy during WWII.

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    5. In the picture of the SS, the short guy to the left of the SS leader looks both facially and height-wise like a 30ish Dustin Hoffman. Weird. Very interesting to see the age and height variation (height is partially controlled by protein intake, so I suspect bean-pole to the right of the kid was farm-raised, and kid and Dustinish Hoffmanlike were city folk.)

      Strange how you can kind of tell where people grew up based on their height.

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  4. In some instances, problem soldiers during peace-time become warrior-soldiers during wartime.

    Other problem soldiers just continue to be problems.

    Others grow into buddy-screwers.

    Merkle was well on the way to being a buddy-screwer. The type that would jump the gun on an ambush just so he could kill and kill. Good riddance.

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  5. And... (boy, I seem to be wordy today) HAPPY FATHER'S DAY!

    Especially to you, dad. Miss you more every year.

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  6. Dad had a line of POWs lined up waiting for transpo back to the brigade. His 2nd Louie took all of their gold teeth. Said it was kinda tough to watch.

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  7. Under the various generally accepted laws of land warfare in place then you become responsible for enemy personnel in your control. In such a situation Wallace would be lawfully compelled to shoot Mackle in defence (as the spell it in Blighty) of the defenceless EPW.

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    Replies
    1. Which is what I figured. Sgt Wallace is going places. I hope he survives!

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    2. Me too! Hell of a soldier there.

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