Sunday, June 7, 2020

The 7th of June, 1944 - D + 1

GIs of the 4th Infantry Division "Ivy Division", resting for few moments outside a cafe in Baudienville, Normandy, France. 7 June 1944.
(Source)

Private Jack Wilson and his buddy PFC Bill Brandt were awakened fairly early on the 7th of June. Their depleted platoon had fought its way inland until they had captured this small farm, the barn of which they had slept in that night. There were still Germans who were contesting their every move, seems they'd already dispatched or captured all the ones who didn't want to fight. Truth be told, SSG Andersen had told them, I've seen a lot of Poles, Russians, and a few Asian looking fellows amongst the prisoners. Very strange. The two young G.I.s had no idea how desperate the Reich was for manpower.

"Alright guys, get your gear together, eat something, be ready to move in 15 minutes!" With that SSG Andersen had the platoon on their feet and getting ready for another day of war.

"At least we ain't riding in no boats today!" one of the fellows muttered. Jack was thankful of that as well.

German prisoners board a Coast Guard transport after being captured in Normandy.

Grenadier Horst Mellanthin and Obergrenadier Jan Kołodziej were shuffling along the beach with a lot of other POWs. Horst looked terrified, the young man didn't know what was going to happen to them. Where were they going? His eyes cast about looking for something that would make sense. When he did, he hesitated, which earned him a harsh shove from one of the Amis herding them onto the transport vessel.

"Move it you goddamned Kraut!"

Jan couldn't help himself, "Easy soldier, he's just a kid, yesterday was his first battle."

That earned Jan a poke in the guts from the American's rifle barrel. Jan grunted, doubled over clutching his stomach, and hissed, "Głupi drań.¹"

Another American heard that and came over, shoving the brutal G.I. out of the way, "Jesus Kramer you're pretty damned tough when they can't fight back aren't you?" The new soldier helped Jan to his feet, as he did so he asked, "Polska?"

Jan was startled but he answered, in Polish. With that he was pulled out of line. He wanted to stick with Horst, he feared for the kid. He was a babe in the woods. An older German captain had seen the two together and knew the older man was keeping an eye on the young German. He looked at Jan and nodded at the kid, his expression seemed to indicate that he'd take care of the lad.

Jan found himself with a group of non-Germans, five of whom were Polish. He had to wonder what came next. He couldn't help thinking that maybe the Americans were going to shoot the non-Germans fighting with the Germans. He knew the Germans did things like that, he didn't think the Americans did, but one couldn't really know.

Fighting in the Bocage
(Source)

There were just 25 guys in their little platoon and only the lieutenant and the sergeant had survived out of the platoon's leadership. Lieutenant Heintzelman nodded at SSG Andersen, who followed the lieutenant outside of the barn.

"It's just you and me Sergeant, any idea if any of those guys in there could lead a squad?"

SSG Andersen rubbed his chin and took his time before answering. He'd watched these kids all through yesterday, most of them were green as Hell, but he'd noticed that Brandt and Wilson seemed to catch on fast. Not to mention that Brandt had proven himself a damn fine hand with that rifle of his. Peavey and Jenkins seemed pretty cool under fire as well.

"If it was up to me L. T., I'd make Brandt and Jenkins squad leaders, they have what it takes to be good sergeants. Peavey and Wilson are a bit green, but both kids pay attention and learn fast. I think they'd be good assistant squad leaders."

The lieutenant watched SSG Andersen for a long moment, then said, "Bring those guys over to that tree, I'll be waiting for them. You, divide the rest of the men into two squads. For what it's worth Sergeant, I'd have picked the same guys."

SSG Andersen headed into the barn chuckling to himself, "Damn, I think we may have a good officer here, I better keep him alive!"

Brandt, Wilson, Peavey, and Jenkins joined up with the lieutenant. Their shared thought was probably along the lines of, "What have I screwed up now?"

The lieutenant was holding a dark marker of the type used to mark up map overlays. When the men were roughly at attention in front of the lieutenant he told them to relax.

"I know you guys probably think you're in trouble, you're not. But you're probably not gonna thank me for this." With that he marked up the men's field jackets with stripes, three each for Brandt and Jenkins, two each for Wilson and Peavey.

"Alright, Sergeant Brandt, Corporal Wilson, you've got first squad. Sergeant Jenkins, Corporal Peavey, you've got second squad. SSG Andersen is making up the squads right now. You men fought well yesterday, you paid attention, you learned, you kept yourselves and the men with you alive. Keep doing that. Dismissed."

"Bill, what the Hell?" Jack asked his buddy as they went to the barn. "Is that even legal?"

"Sure it is, he's a lieutenant right? But I ain't counting my chickens until I see the paycheck!"

With that, the men went back to war.



¹ Polish for "Stupid bastard."

50 comments:

  1. Another good installment, character development is well done. I had to laugh at myself though - when I glanced at the photo of the POWs, my first thought was, "Why is that guy looking at his iPhone?" Which then led me to ponder how much one's current experience can lead to misinterpretation of observations of different cultures and times past. Such as POWs trying to make sense of their new circumstances.
    Bocage was nasty - had the honor of visiting a few times with a British sniper who survived DDay and the fight all the way to Germany and the end of the war. He said the fighting in the bocage was terrifying. He must have been very good at camouflage since distances in that patchwork of hedgerows were pretty short. I don't think a lot of folks, especially those "educated" in the last couple of decades, realize how touch and go the advance out of the beachhead into the interior of Normandy was.
    Hope y'all have a good Sunday...

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    1. In the Bocage everything was up close and personal. Americans would be on one side of a hedgerow and Germans on the other. They could be unaware of each other's presence until they came to an opening, at point blank range!

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    2. As the Germans retreated, square by square, they trapped, mined, boresighted (opening the breach of a cannon and looking down it to aim, works very great for close range) and used every other dirty and dirtier trick they knew.

      If western France was bocaged up, we would never, even with the Cullen hedge cutters, made it out of there in time. Fortunately, it was only the hardscrabble Normans who bocaged their fields up.

      (For those not of knowing what a bocage is. It is literally a dumping ground for rocks and chunks that get in the way of the plow. New England has stone walls everywhere for the same reason. It's just after 1000 years of farming the same square, the walls and piles of rubble grew into up-to-10' high stone and dirt walls covered in heavy vegetation, just perfect for sucking up the output of modern weaponry (shoot at a solid wall, wall will eventually fail. but shoot at a dirt and rock mound, dirt and rock mound just gets stronger unless you hit it with something really big, but in the close confines of the Bocage, anything that powerful was just as much a threat to the shooter as the shootee or the hedgerow.))

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    3. A very good description of the Bocage Beans, your comparison to New England stone walls is spot on.

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  2. https://youtu.be/0KdhPy2kjUE amazingly enough some Germans held out on the invasion strip until 17th of June!
    Mark Felton really excels at such historical details

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    1. Great story, a new one for me!

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    2. Pockets of great resistance were marked, and basically laid siege to. Great things for tired troops to do, watch a bunch of nasty Germans in a tough position, but that's what you had to do to secure key roads and bridges, key terrain features, key villages, and clean up the mess the glider troops left behind (Not a knock on the troops, just the defenses against gliders really managed to destroy lots of the gliders, along with the troops inside, leaving a spectacular mess - covered in "Saving Private Ryan."

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    3. Some of the Channel ports were still occupied by the Germans until May of '45. Tied down a lot of troops, we had them, the Germans didn't. 'Tis good that Hitler wanted to defend everything, as Frederick the Great might have pointed out, then you're defending nothing.

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  3. Well now, another chapter......desert! Well done Sarge, well done.

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  4. That first POW, you can see the outline of the top of his...paybook? ID folder? through his overcoat.

    You spin a good yarn, thanks.

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    1. I believe the Soldbuch (paybook) was carried in the upper left pocket of the tunic. No doubt this guy was thoroughly searched. Most likely is that he didn't rebutton his pocket flap after being searched and his paybook examined. No doubt the paybook is sticking up and the pocket flap is also contributing to that outline.

      Good eye Joe!

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    2. I heard the German soldier could do without anything except his paybook. Try to take that away and that was like taking their identity away from them, which, essentially, it was.

      Smart bad Germans switched their paybooks for dead ones. Or destroyed them.

      The intel carried in those paybooks was fantastic in it's scope. Good thing we didn't have access to modern computers or we could have made a huge flowchart of what units were where and how well equipped and manned they were. Wait, that's exactly what we did, the old fashioned way. By a bunch of combat-clerks who worked really hard at piecing together what was going on from such intel. Amazing what we accomplished by throwing lots of people at the problem.

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    3. A fascinating thing was the Soldbuch, identified the soldier, a record of his pay, the equipment he was issued, it contained a wealth of information. Which any could Intel officer would love to have!

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  5. He didn't think the Americans did, but one couldn't really know.

    Hell of a description of helplessness. It boggles the mind.

    Excellent story and extremely well written Sarge. Quite the gift you're sharing here. Thanks!

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    1. Thanks Shaun. I'm thinking of just continuing through the summer, see where the story goes. That's one way of writing a book I suppose.

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  6. I'm quite enjoying this story. Of course, a competent Second Looie means that it must be fiction ...

    ;-)

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    1. Or he's marked for death. Dangit, now I've cursed him...

      Though, as we saw with Major Dick Winters, some 2nd Looies did get it, and survived.

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    2. But have you cursed him? Or thrown a spell of protection about him?

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    3. (Don McCollor)...bad officers had more severe curses placed on them. An account I ran across of one new one new officer exposing himself in the open "observing". As they sheltered from the incoming German artillery, a Sgt put a pistol in his ear "Do that again Sir, and you will be missing in action"...

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    4. Sometimes Butter Bars just can't help themselves...

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  7. Glad some aristocratic German officer saw the interplay between Jan and Horst and did the whole noblesse oblige thingy. It's never a good thing to be separated from the known when facing the unknown. Hope fate plays well with the good Captain.

    Wonder if either the Captain or Horst know they are on the way to the USA? At that time not a lot of Brits wanted German prisoners around, probably for good reasons.

    The story is really filling in nicely. A good WWII story.

    Now if only you'd finish it, and Angus McThag would finish his Wild West magic book, I'd be set for a week or so. Maybe. I read kinda fast.

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    1. I envision this linking in with the Panzer 413 series eventually.

      I also need to get the Air Force more involved.

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    2. Get What more involved?? Oh, the Army Air Corps... :-)
      There were quite a few GI's who wish they had had a bit better bomb aiming during Operation Cobra...

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    3. The Ninth Air Force, aka the American Luftwaffe.

      They stopped calling it the Air Corps in June 1941, after that it was the Army Air Forces, or just Air Force (as in 8th Air Force, 9th Air Force, etc.)

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  8. Thanks again the entertaining and educational story!
    As an aside, I had a friend, here in the condo, who jumped in behind the lines on 6 Jun. His eighteenth birthday had been the 5th of June. He is gone now, but the love of our friendship and story-telling memories remain. He got called up as a sergeant for Korea, went over there, dated and married a Lieutenant! The marriage lasted 60+ years.

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    1. They were so young and we owe them so much.

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  9. I'd say for the promotion to hold the 2nd LT has to stay alive to remember and tell someone back at headquarters? That SGT Brandt - he might be the one in family lore who had to leave town in a hurry under mysterious circumstances...

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    1. Well, SSG Andersen knows too. Hopefully the lieutenant does stay alive, I do have some small say in that regard.

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  10. Thank you Beans for clarifying what a bocage was/is...I was wondering what in the heck???

    Yes, Sarge, you should continue with this. If you only work on it once a year around this time, it is going to take quite a while to get it done...some of us get impatient to see what happens next...just saying...

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    1. Beans should get to work on a glossary of the things I forget to define in the post.

      So, I'm guessing you (or other readers) wouldn't know what a Panzerraketenbüchse 43 is either? (A German type of bazooka, not to be confused with a Panzerfaust - literally "armored fist," a one shot man-portable anti-tank weapon.)

      I should have explained what Le Bocage was, I have a picture, I just haven't included it yet.

      I think I'm just going to keep going with this story. You can all watch the book being written as it happens. We'll see how that goes.

      Yes, I need to remember to define things as I go.

      Thanks Suz!

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    2. No problem. Thing is, intel officers in both the American army and the British tried to tell the commanders what Le Bocage was like. And nobody believed them, or believed it was as bad as it was.

      Basically plant encrusted cement walls. That's the best description. Thick cement walls made of rubble and held together by really old mortar.

      Nobody really understood it until they got into it. And then it was almost too late.

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  11. The bocage was a problem in one sense in that there was generally only one opening from the road or lane to each field, and the Germans had all those openings covered by machine guns, mortars and/or artillery. It was good ol' American ingenuity to take steel beams from beach defenses and use them, after appropriately shaped and welded, on the front of tanks (mostly Shermans, I think but am not sure) which could then crash through the very dense hedgerows and make new openings into the fields. It gave the element of surprise back to the Americans. A great example of useful recycling!

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    1. I stopped the car when we visited Omaha a while back and walked along some of them. Even to my eyes, it would have been difficult and a lot had changed since then.

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    2. It made all the difference!

      The invention of a hedge-breaching device is generally credited to Curtis G. Culin, a sergeant in the 2nd Armored Division's 102nd Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron. However, military historian Max Hastings notes that Culin was inspired by "a Tennessee hillbilly named Roberts", who during a discussion about how to overcome the bocage, said "Why don't we get some saw teeth and put them on the front of the tank and cut through these hedges?" Rather than joining in the laughter that greeted this remark, Culin recognized the idea's potential. (Source)

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    3. juvat - They aren't as extensive as they used to be, you probably saw one of the few remaining. Probably not as substantial as the older ones.

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  12. When I look at those photographs, especially the one outside the cafe, I have to wonder how many of those guys were alive on June 8th, or May 15th. At least most of the German POW's would likely be. I may be reading more into it that is actually there, but I think there's more relief and realization in the later than the former.

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    1. I am often struck by the thought that nearly all of those men in the photos, probably all of them, are, by now, most certainly dead. But yeah, how many made it to the end of the war. Heck, how many made it to next week.

      As to the POWs, how many came home to a barely recognizable Germany to discover their families were all dead?

      War sucks.

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    2. Quite a few Germans fought going back to Germany, and then did their very best to legally immigrate to the States.

      Once they made it to England, they were relatively safe. Once they were on ship bound for the States, they were safer. Safest once they landed on these shores.

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    3. My father was on a troop ship heading into the Netherlands for his eventual assignment to Berlin. The ship was also carrying returning German POWs. Their American guards were not real nice to them. Even my Dad was shocked at the treatment they received.

      When my Dad worked in Supply in Berlin, one of the warehouse workers was former Afrika Korps, everyone called him Red. Dad spoke highly of the man, Dad liked the Germans. His older brother Charlie did not. I think I've mentioned that before.

      I kinda doubt the stories of Germans fighting going back to Germany. Germans are very attached to their Heimatsland. A friend of mine in Colorado had a German wife. She couldn't stand Colorado, it wasn't green like Germany.

      Germans serving in Spain during the Napoleonic Wars actually would get physically ill from missing their homeland.

      I can't believe any German would want to stay here back in the day, our beer sucked back then!

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    4. There is a series of books about Rhode Island , more specifically Narragansett Bay, during WWII. There were at least two secret POW camps here, one was primarily about training a post war German police force and the other about denazification. One is "World War II Rhode Island" published by "The History Press" (), the other "Defenses of Narragansett Bay" written by Walter Schroeder. Old Guns.

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    5. (Don McCollor)...there were POW camps in MN, ND, and Ontario with prisoners doing non war-like work (and being nominally paid for shocking grain, picking potatoes, and cutting pulpwood). At one camp deep deep in the woods of northern MN or Ontario with no fences and token guards German prisoners were told "if you come back in three days, we will not consider that you tried to escape"....

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    6. Not like they had anywhere to go in those out of the way places!

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    7. (Don McCollor)...there was one MN POW pair that tried. Plan was to escape down the Mississippi River to Mexico and friendlier places south. They stole a small rowboat. Now the upper Mississippi is slow, sluggish, draining through swamps and lakes and the current hard to follow. A couple days later, a game warden got a call: "there's two guys rowing a boat round and round an island in the lake"...

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    8. I can see how easy it would be to get disoriented up in the lake country.

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