Tuesday, June 2, 2020

The 2nd of June, 1944

German troops placing beach obstacles.
(Source)

The young German Landser¹ took up his position behind the gunner and the assistant gunner. His sergeant jokingly described the young fellow as the assistant to the assistant go-fer. He had one job, fetch ammunition for the tripod mounted MG-42 machine gun which provided flank protection for the 75 mm cannon in the bunker nearby.

The cannon was aimed down a long stretch of beach, the gunners couldn't see out to sea, the benefit was that anything out at sea, like a warship, couldn't see them either. Their machine gun position had a panoramic view out to sea, to both flanks, and (in a pinch) they could re-locate the gun to fire to the rear of their position as well. But, as the sergeant said, "If the Amis or the Tommies get behind us, then we don't need to worry, because we are already dead at that point."

Grenadier Horst Mellanthin, from a small village in the Rheinland, very close to the Dutch border, had been in the Army only three months. He had been drafted shortly after his seventeenth birthday. He came from a long line of draftees! His grandfather had been a farmer until he was drafted in 1913, then killed in action at Verdun in 1916. His father had been a farmer as well. Drafted into the Army in 1943, after the fall of Stalingrad, at the ripe old age of 37, his father had lost an arm outside of Leningrad in late 1943. Now it was Horst's turn to serve Germany, as his grandmother liked to put it. Easy for her to say, she didn't have to put on a uniform.

Though to be fair, his Oma² lived in Aachen, which had already seen a number of bombing raids. She didn't need to wear a uniform to be at risk!

Horst was exhausted, they worked all day planting beach obstacles, laying mines, and digging fighting positions. He hadn't fired his rifle since training back in April, even then they had only fired maybe fifty rounds. The Reich seemed to be running out of everything. He had asked his sergeant about that, he was told that he was lucky to be in France. The alternative, Russia, didn't appeal to him at all. All his father had ever said of the place, when he wasn't drunk, was that the Russians weren't humans and that they lived in the coldest place on Earth. No, papa did not like Russia or the Russians.

Who could blame him?

"Mellanthin, wake up! Go down to the armory and grab two more boxes of ammo!"

Wearily Horst got to his feet and headed for the ammunition storage. It was going to be a long night.

Rehearsing for the invasion, Slapton Sands
U.S. Army Signal Corps Photo

Private Jack Wilson of Tucson, Arizona was in the best shape of his life. They had just completed a twenty mile route march the other day with full field gear. Six months before that the young draftee would have been lucky to get through a five-mile hike in his gym shorts. The Army had toughened him up a lot.

As he cleaned his M-1 Garand, he realized that he had probably put well over a thousand rounds through his rifle in the past couple of months. Seems all they did was march, shoot, and go out on field problems. Now that was ending, they had moved closer to the coast and were now restricted to their camp. Not enough room for long marches, but plenty of room for calisthenics and endless classroom lectures. Though he'd rather be out in the field than in a classroom, he sensed that something big was about to happen.

Maybe they really were going to invade France! While he wasn't looking forward to boarding an LST³ again, he always got seasick, he was looking forward to seeing action for the first time. His sergeant, who had seen action in North Africa and in Sicily, told him that he would soon see all the action he could handle, and then some. "Come see me a week or two into things, if you're still alive, and tell me again how you can't wait to see action. You're just a f**king kid."

Well, I suppose I am, Jack thought, but still, this waiting is getting on my nerves. At least his outfit hadn't been at Slapton Sands back in April. He'd heard that that had been completely FUBAR'ed4, German E-Boats charging in, sinking LSTs left and right. Word was that a few thousand GIs had been killed in that mess. What would prevent the Krauts and their E-Boats doing that again when the big day arrived?

"Hey, Jack, let's go get some chow! Someone said they're serving us steak tonight!"

Jack got up and followed his buddy Bill Brandt out of the tent. Truth be told, he was hungry.



And so begins a small fictional interlude here at The Chant. The Sixth of June approaches, the 76th anniversary of the Invasion of Normandy. I thought I'd share a little something to remember those who fought there, especially those who died there. On both sides.



¹ Schütze - Yesterday I had Horst at this rank, the Germans stopped using that in 1942, the switched to Grenadier, same in English as in German, still a private, still the lowest rank in the infantry.
² Oma - Granny
³ LST - Landing Ship Tank
4 FUBAR - F**ked Up Beyond All Recognition

32 comments:

  1. One never really thinks about what was going on on 02 June except at those lofty "command" levels. Interesting to see things from the grunts perspective.

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    1. The book I'm reading right now, Sand and Steel, looks at the grunt-eye view far more than the command levels. It's an excellent book, it inspired this week's series.

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  2. One of the most memorable parts when we visited France was standing on the sands of Omaha Beach in the rain while the former British Army tour guide sketched the German defenses in the sand and listed the numbers for the outward amount of lead and explosives that would be hurled at the attackers.
    Sobering and somber.

    Good post.

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  3. Have his Bulge book, looks like I have to buy this one too. Once again this place is costing me money.......:)

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    1. Sand and Steel is outstanding.

      Well, if we can't waste your time with free videos, we get you with books you want to buy. Yes, I have spent a few bucks over the years on reader suggestions. So I share the love. It's what we do...

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  4. This week's ear worm--Beethoven's Fifth--

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9zhSc6xVxkY

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    1. Werner Pluskat. Who may have embellished his role on D-Day. Word is, he was nowhere near his bunker that morning, more than likely he was shacked up with his French girlfriend. Like a number of other German officers that day.

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  5. I read "Invasion, They're Coming" which is the German view of the Normandy campaign for the first three months. It was fascinating to compare, and contrast, the German view and the Allied view. Highly recommended, https://smile.amazon.com/gp/product/B000M0LMLO/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o02_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

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  6. "Mellanthin! Wake up!" My feeble brain initially read that as "Melatonin..." until I realized that did not make sense at all ...
    The grunt perspective is one too many historians gloss over in their pontification, so the grunts are reduced to mere statistics...
    Looking forward to the continuation of the series...

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    1. That's my feeling. Generals and admirals get history books written about them, written in the blood of the grunts.

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  7. If you visit Slapton beach there is a memorial at the Southern end for the dead of Operation Tiger. Further east along the coast at Studland Bay Operation Smash took place there, which was another D-Day rehearsal which was watched by Churchill, Eisenhower and the rest of the high command. A purpose build concrete bunker called Fort Henry was built for the VIP's. Some of the Duplex-drive tanks are still under Studland bay. It's a part of the world I'm familiar with and much of the building work that was put in to assist D-Day still exists in the form of the slipways and movement control buildings.
    Given how narrow the roads are I imagine there was a lot of shouting and arm waving to get everything sorted out.
    Retired

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    1. I can well imagine!

      I read that a number of small towns along that coast were evacuated prior to the rehearsals beginning. Some, from what I've read, were never rebuilt.

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  8. I've always wondered how Ike managed to survive the whole operation without getting a bleeding ulcer. Man really sweated the details and was willing to take the neck-chop if things went sour.

    As to the poor Shutze, not a great place to be. If he was in one of the regular Heer units, those were composed of odds and sods with a few veterans. Which means when the feces hit the rotary air moving device you would get everything from stupid heroics to stupid cowardice to just plain stupid, with a side order of extreme competency.

    Not a great place to be, to be the competent one in a sea of stupidity.

    Same same with the Amis. I think the movie "The Big Red One" did a good job of showing the bad side of the US replacement system. Veterans shoved in with complete newbies with Command expecting the vets to lift the newbs up, but often it happened the other way around.

    Bleh. War just sucks. Bleh.

    Good story, can't wait, though waiting with trepidation, to see how it plays out.

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    1. Not to mention Ike's smoking habit, three to four packs a day!

      He kept his cool, even when some of his subordinates were real pains in the ass. (Montgomery and Patton both.) Or just plain not very good at their jobs, yup, looking at you Leigh-Mallory. His deputy, Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder, took a lot of weight off Ike. The man is severely underrated in the history books!

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  9. 1965 Hanau, Germany my 1st Sgt gave me the job (as punishment) to sort out two boxes of the unit history. Turns out the unit was at Normandy! The unit designation had changed over the years. I found the work fascinating and finished it long after the punishment part had expired.

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    1. Sometimes punishment details have unexpected benefits!

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  10. Start up fiction reads good. Thanks. Looking forward to more about those poor guys' lives.
    I wonder what kind of cigarettes Ike smoked.

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    1. Thanks Dave, I looked up the cigarette thing, no joy.

      Readers?

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    2. "Lucky Strike Green has gone to war!" L.S.M.F.T

      I did find this:

      https://armyhistory.org/reflections-smoke-em-if-you-got-em/

      During World War II and until 1976 a mini-pack of either three or four Old Gold, Chesterfield, Lucky Strike, or Camel cigarettes, along with a fold of waterproof paper matches, was included in the rations issued to our fighting troops. Standard packs of 20 Pall Mall, Philip Morris, Wings, Fatima and other brands were usually supplied by the USO, by major tobacco companies trying to build brand loyalty among the troops, or in care packages from folks back home.

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    3. We'd get cases of C-Rations on Okinawa when we were confined to barracks during typhoons. We did find a few cases with those little four packs of cigarettes. One thing they didn't give us was a way to heat the C-Rats. Yummy, cold ham and lima beans. (Which I'm sure most of us know the other very non-PC name for!)

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  11. The first grunt's eye view I was exposed to was Those Devils In Baggy Pants. Carter puts you in the shelter halves man. I think it was in Anzio that he related marching past a building that took a direct artillery shell. Lots of NG's were in it when it happened. The guy putting the parts together was saying things like, "okay this is a left foot size 9, this is another left foot size 11, here is a right leg no foot, Oh look this goes with this...." My first intro to HE mixed with human. Humor, horror and humanity in that book. The epilogue was particularly heart wrenching... As a kid, that really opened my eyes....

    My buddies dad said, "They always talked about ol' Blood and Guts Patton.... Our blood, his guts..." He was in the last 6 months of WW2 in Patton's army, and spent 2 years or so in occupation.

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    1. Apparently the 504th got that nickname at Anzio from the diary of a dead German officer.

      My Uncle Charlie was with Patch's 7th Army. The tanks would announce that they had seized such and such a village, then, as my Uncle put it, the infantry had to go in and actually seize the village!

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    2. (Don McCollor)...another episode in Carter's book was when in Italy (or Sicily) , two paratroopers landed WAY far from their drop zone in a little village. They were welcomed as liberators by the people and the vino flowed. A couple days later, Patton's tanks arrived and they were arrested as deserters. They maintained that they had captured the village several days before. A tanker yelped that they had to fight through a panzer division to get there. The drunken paratrooper condescending explained that the Germans knew that the airborne held the town and they dared not come in...

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    3. Had to have been Sicily. That story is hysterical, so typically airborne!

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  12. (Don McCollor)...in another book was a tale of a Sherman tank retreating in the Battle of the Bulge who was asked by a lone paratrooper industrially digging a foxhole 'Where are you going?'..."Someeplace safe"..."Just pull in and park behand me - the Airborne's here..

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    1. When Patton linked up with 101st at Bastogne, a tanker informed a trooper that they had been rescued. The paratrooper was somewhat miffed that the tanker thougt they needed rescuing! Cocky guys those airborne, with good reason!

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    2. (Don McCollor)..There was always bad blood between paratroopers and MPs. (in Carter's book) Oran, now a backwater and full of (in the modern parlance) REMFs, Gen Gavlin had had enough. He spent the day and most of the night writing out passes for the entire 505th regiment. The next day and night it was not good to be an MP...

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    3. In my book there's always been bad blood between MPs and everyone who is NOT an MP. Tough job but hey someone's got to do it.

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  13. For a moment, I was trying to figure out what a Grandma to the second power was!

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