Saturday, July 11, 2020

Cover!

National Archives

Everything seemed to unfold in slow motion. As 2Lt Heintzelman's head snapped to the right and was enveloped in a red mist,so SSG Andersen bellowed, "SNIPER!"

The men scrambled to take cover, Corporal Jack Wilson rolled into the shallow ditch by the side of the road, there wasn't much else he could do with his busted up ankle. Sgt Brandt was looking in the direction he thought the shot had come from when a German MG 42 began to bark. He saw the rounds march down the center of the road, he saw the L.T. get hit again, this time in his lower leg, as the gunner walked the burst over him and into the last man who had been standing with the L.T. and SSG Andersen.

Pvt Alfred Esposito, Spaz, the radioman dropped to his knees and collapsed, blood spurting from his mouth as SSG Andersen tried to pull him to cover.

The rest of the men in the column opened fire at where they thought the machine gun was. No one could see a target but the volume of fire going out was loud and impressive. At the very least maybe it would keep the Krauts' heads down.

Brandt grabbed the nearest man, Cat, then yelled, "Ollie, Red, Cajun, FOLLOW ME!"

Bulling his way through the hedgerow, which wasn't that thick in this spot, Brandt had his Garand up and ready to fire. He was immensely gratified that his men had followed him, without a word. Brandt noticed that while he could still hear the Kraut MG, it was muffled.

"Guys, I think we're in the MG's dead zone, he's obviously set up to cover the road. Let's go."

As he started to rise, Ollie hissed at him, "Sarge, Kraut at 10 o'clock..."

Brandt turned to look at the kid from Wisconsin, his rifle was steady and pointed at the enemy. "Take him."


Oberleutnant Vogel knew they had to move soon, the Amis weren't much on assaulting positions with their bodies, they preferred to call in artillery. As he turned to his right flank soldier, a young private from Hamburg whose name he didn't even know, he saw the man collapse to the ground without a sound.

"Mein Gott, Herr Oberleutnant, we're being flanked." Flieger Kurt Ziegler was on the verge of panic. Vogel couldn't really blame in, he feared they had bitten off more than they could chew.

"Fall back to that farmhouse we passed, quickly." The men were up and running, staying low. The volume of rifle fire from the Americans was increasing!


Brandt and his fire team were advancing slowly, alert for any movement to their front. They stayed close to the hedge on their right, which wasn't very dense but at least it kept them out of the open.

"There! Krauts!" Red had spotted them first, he opened up on them with his B.A.R. and saw at least one German sprout red splotches up the back of his paratrooper smock. The rest of the team opened up as well, it was somewhat satisfying to see the Germans running.


On the other side of the hedgerow, T/4 Milbury, the company medic, dragged Heintzelman into the shallow ditch, where Jack Wilson was providing covering fire in the direction of where the sniper had opened fire.

Milbury was surprised to find that the lieutenant was still alive. Assessing his wounds, he noted that the bullet fired by the sniper had gone into the lieutenant's left cheek and had passed out the other side. While it was bleeding profusely, as head wounds tended to do, other than two holes in his mouth, and a few missing teeth that wound wasn't bad.

The lieutenant's lower left leg though was nearly severed. Milbury tied it off to stop the bleeding and injected the man with a morphine syrette. He then tied a bandage around the lieutenant's face to stem that bleeding. They needed to get him back to the aid station, Milbury figured the L.T. was going to lose that leg, but he needed a surgeon, as soon as possible.

SSG Anderson pulled Esposito off the road, he was dead, no doubt about it, but his radio was intact. Trying to stay as low as he could, using Esposito's body for cover, he pulled his map out and tried to figure out exactly where they were. There, right there, he thought.


Schultz had shifted position, so the American small arms fire which had engulfed his first position was wasted. He saw a man next to the side of the road behind what appeared to be a radioman, a dead radioman. All he could see of the man was his arse. He then noticed that the man had grabbed the radio's handset.

"I'll bet that bastard has a map as well," he muttered as he settled his cheek into the butt stock of his rifle. He wasn't sure if his round would go through the dead radioman, so he decided to shoot the soldier in his arse. That should distract him!


Corporal Jack Wilson was scanning the treeline from where the sniper had fired, thinking, "the sumbitch couldn't have gone too far." As his eyes moved past the stump of a dead tree, he saw, something. Yup, that's a helmet, gotta be.

He steadied his rifle and fired, one round, then another. The first shot was a bit hurried, the second was perfect.


Gefreiter Willi Schultz heard the snap of a round passing just over his head, which caused him to jerk the trigger of his K98k¹.

The next round hit him square in the front of his helmet. It penetrated the thin steel and killed the young man instantly.


"Got you, you Kraut bastard!" Cpl Wilson was pissed that his first shot had missed completely, but with his second round, he saw the helmeted head snap back, then watched as the German sniper collapsed next to the old stump. Then he noticed that SSG Andersen, on the other side of the road, was cursing vociferously.

"F**k, f**k, f**k! Shit!" Andersen was in some pain, the German's round had been high but had managed to clip the back of Andersen's left heel. Hurt like Hell, but he focused and got the radio going.

He gave the coordinates of what appeared to be a farmhouse marked on the map to the company's mortar team. As they had been moving, there had been no time or opportunity to set up preplanned fire missions. The sergeant on the other end was skeptical.

"Andy, what if it's just a French farmhouse? I don't feel good dropping mortar rounds on some innocent Frenchies without someone to spot for me."

"Okay, standby, we're not taking any fire at the moment. Stay close to your radio, okay?"

"Roger that."

Bundesarchiv

Vogel and his remaining men were indeed in the farmhouse marked on Andersen's map. He was at a loss for what to do next, the Americans had managed to damage his MG 42 and kill the gunner when they'd opened up blindly on his first position. He figured that at any moment the Americans would start shelling the farmhouse. For the first time in his military career, he was terrified and at a loss for what to do.

"Herr Oberleutnant, what are we going to do? We should fall back."

"Nein, by staying here, we're delaying the Americans. Befehle sind Befehle², we stand here."


Sgt Bill Brandt and his fire team had worked their way into position, he was sure the Krauts were in the farmhouse to their front. He wanted to get closer.

"Red, Cajun, Ollie, cover us," he whispered. "Come on Cat, you and me."

As the other men readied their weapons, all pointed at the farmhouse, Brandt and Cat slid to their left into some low brush. They would be concealed but would have no cover if the Germans were to spot them. But Brandt's blood was up, he figured that his lieutenant was dead and so was Spaz, one of his boys.

When they were within 20 yards of the building, a head appeared in one of the smashed up windows to the right of the door to the farmhouse.


Oberleutnant Vogel was down, he had been hit in the head multiple times. The four privates sheltering in the farmhouse wanted nothing more than to surrender. But sticking one's head up was obviously not a good idea.

As the senior man, Dolf Seidel realized that he was now in command, he turned to Wolf Haas, who had been a merchant seaman before the war, "How do you say 'Wir kapitulieren'³ in English?"

"It's 'I giff op,' yes, that's it, 'I giff op.'"

Seidel looked around the room they were in and saw what appeared to be curtains next to the window where the Oberleutnant had been killed.

"Rolf, grab that curtain. Tie it to the muzzle of your rifle, f**k this, I am done."


"You ready Cat?"

Pvt Melvin Katz, aka "Cat," late of Vienna, Austria, nodded and shouted out, "Scheißköpfe, kommen sie heraus und kapitulieren, oder wir machen sie alle todt!4"


Seidel was shocked to hear someone calling on them to surrender in what had to be Viennese German. Rude Viennese German. He looked at the others and before he could say a word, Rolf Böhm stuck his rifle out of the window, waving the curtain tied to it.

"I giff op! Bitte, nicht Schießen!5"

Cat barked out, "Wirft Ihre Waffen raus! Sofort!6"

Three rifles and a machine pistol came out of the window, followed by four German paratroopers with their hands high over their heads.


Brandt's fire team rejoined the rest of the company. Jack Wilson was nowhere to be seen, nor was the lieutenant or SSG Andersen. But there was a figure in the ditch covered with a blanket. Brandt remembered seeing Spaz go down. He went over to the shrouded figure.

"Sarge, you guys okay? Nice prisoner haul! Didja know that Jack nailed that sniper, shot him right in the head. Great shot." Pvt Woodrow Simpson, aka "Duck," was happy to see that his sergeant and the guys who had gone with him were still alive. Duck was still pumped up from the brief firefight.

"Where's the L.T., Sarn't Andersen, and Jack. Is the L.T. dead? Who's that under the blanket?" Sgt Brandt had a dozen questions, the adrenaline was still surging through his body as well.

Pvt Jackson Hebert, aka "Bear," answered, "L.T. is alive, lost some teeth and probably going to lose his leg. Sarn't Andersen got hit in the foot, them and Jack were taken back to the battalion aid station. Uh, that's Spaz under the blanket. He's dead Sarge."

Brandt felt numb, the first guy killed in his squad. He walked over to the body and pulled the blanket back. Sure enough, it was Spaz. He looked surprised, like he didn't know what had hit him.

Sgt Bill Brandt sat down next to the body and began to weep.

"I am so sorry, Spaz. I'm sorry buddy..."

Just another day of war.

Just another shitty day.




¹ K98k, standard German infantry rifle of WWII. Karabiner 98 kurz, carbine 1898 model, short. A very good rifle in 7.92 mm, accurate and powerful, though as a five-round bolt action weapon, it was obsolete compared to the American M1 Garand.
² Orders are orders.
³ We surrender.
Hey shit heads, come out and surrender or we'll kill you all!
Don't shoot!
Throw your weapons out! Immediately!

36 comments:

  1. The bloodletting continues......."Rude Viennese German"...... heh heh. For a ground-pounder how many times do the dice get thrown every day? Glad I never had to find out. That BAR gunner in the first photo, would the others guys in the squad carry mags for him also?

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    1. Doctrine for the BAR varied over the course of the war. Early on it was intended to be the squad's machine gun support, proving a base of fire for the rifle equipped men. In practice though the riflemen began to be used to protect the BAR gunner. In the early '40s a BAR team consisted of three men, the gunner, an assistant gunner, and a third guy whose main task was to lug extra ammo around. Eventually the BAR teams had one guy, the gunner. Other members of the squad would carry extra magazines for the BAR.

      In practice the BAR was most emphatically not a squad light automatic weapon, it was outclassed by the British Bren gun, the Japanese Type 96 machine gun, and most certainly by the German MG 34s and MG 42s.

      The BAR was a finicky weapon and had to be cleaned properly every day. Swapping the barrel in the field wasn't practical, 20 round magazine was too small, and it required lots of extra time on the range to learn how to fire it properly.

      Eventually Marine squads had 13 men, consisting of three BAR teams.

      As an LMG, the BAR was better than what it replaced (which in WWI was the useless French Chauchat LMG) but in reality never approached the usefulness of other countries' LMGs. The American squad wouldn't see any real fire base until the adoption of the M-60 machine gun, which, as I understand it, was based on the German MG 42, which the Germans still use as the MG 1.

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    2. The Chauchat was a fine gun in the original 8x50mm Lebel. It was the ones made to shoot .30-06 that sucked. And a lot of the suckage was due to the lack of training and lack of proper cleaning and different powder in the American round(which, well, seems to be the Army Way, as seen in the introduction of the M-16 in Vietnam, and the Army's insistence on the same rifle powder in the M1 Carbine as the M1 Garand which led to issues in Korea and were cured as soon as the correct powder load was used.)

      Admittedly, the Chauchat had some design flaws, like the open magazine (for to allow the gunner to see how many rounds he had and to lighten the load a tad) but overall, it shoots, reasonably accurate, not bad for a 1st Gen LMG. Just not in the .30-06 load.

      Many French guns were converted, after France fell in WWII, to fire the 7.92 Mauser load, and worked fine.

      The BAR was also supposed to be supplemented by the machine guns on infantry support tanks and armored cars. Which worked fine in war games, but of course did not work well in actuality.

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    3. A fine gun? Then why did the American troops hate it? In the dirt and mud of the trenches the manufacturing shortcuts taken to lighten the weapon made it prone to jam. Not a good thing. As you say, the weapon chambered to fire the 8 mm Lebel was "okay." The ones manufactured to fire the.30-06 round were terrible. The weapon had a bad reputation. Good luck with that "proper cleaning" in the trenches.

      Sorry, the Chauchat sucked.

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    4. (Don McCollor)...once I ran across a modern evaluation of the Chauchat. The article aid they couldn't determine a cyclic rate, because they could not fire more than three rounds without it jamming...

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    5. Kind of leads one to certain unfavorable conclusions, doesn't it?

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    6. The French liked the Chauchat. American evaluators liked the Chauchat in 8mm Lebel. The transition to .30-06 and mayhaps lack of care by French assemblers and poor training regarding use and cleaning made it a nightmare in American hands.

      Remember, the 'official' records up until recently all said the Sherman sucked rocks and caught fire and was a crew killer.

      And M1 Carbines in Korea sucked and were dangerous to the troops issued them. (That whole issue with 'can't penetrate frozen Chinese jackets' was bullscat for the most part. Yes, there were issues with the powder load, due to the Army specifying use of M1 Garand powder (which they had lots and lots and lots of and was cheap) instead of the recommended powder for the M1 Carbine.)

      The Chauchat was a good 1st gen LMG. Not the greatest, but much maligned.

      Would I want one? Maybe. If I get to select an American model. Or stick with the 8mm Lebel or 7.92mm Mauser models.

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    7. The evaluators liked it...

      Kinda says it all.

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  2. re: Bar gunner - if he got paired up with a "loader", yes. common practice in many armies
    certainly done so with german mg-34 and mg-42 who were voracious beasts on ammo
    and poor bloody infantry always suffers the worst, with nothing bar helmet protecting them (in the days before kevlar) and being almost always first to walk into enmey sights (save really unfortunate tanks who blunder into ambush like that Tiger executed few eps back)

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    1. The BAR didn't have many equivalents in other armies, most of which had true light machine guns, which the BAR was not. Other guys in the squad would lug mags for the BAR and I'm sure they were thrilled with that.

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  3. BAR and a bayonet.... You know that is a serious group of guys in the picture...

    This was the very first German word I learned from the new AF brat in the troop: Scheißköpfe! Brought back memories of Camp Post, and dirt clod fights, burning bear grass, cooking gritty bacon and watery eggs over a cedar wood fire. That word pops out in traffic at times to this day!

    Thanks, Sarge. Those were good times...

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    1. I wonder what that lad was intending to do with that bayonet. I suppose in the close in fighting in the hedgerows it might be handy should one come face to face with a German. Few men have what it takes to stick another man with a bayonet.

      I do like that word myself.

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    2. Sarge, in Iai training we constantly practice with bokuto (wooden swords) but the techniques were obviously designed for actual combat. I often ask myself if I were in a real situation, could I do it. I have not yet come to an answer.

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    3. Depending on how you train it could become automatic. Muscle memory takes over and presented with Threat A, Response B (striking with the sword in this instance) would be automatic. A lot of military training tries to do this. Dealing with the aftermath is another thing entirely.

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    4. I remember an account where the soldier said they used the bayonet to help part brush to see through. Often darkening the blade over a fire or candle to take the shine out.

      Some also used it to steady the rifle.

      And, of course, you never know when in tight quarters you need to get stuck in.

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    5. Soldiers will use their bayonets for a variety of things, just not stabbing an opponent to death.

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  4. Hopefully SSG Anderson just suffered a flesh wound and will be back. Sucks about the Lt though.

    In the Pacific, radiomen were singled out often before officers and nco's. And, of course, anyone carrying a flamethrower. Both (radio & flamethrower) were targeted first, then the user.

    Very good story. Can't wait to see where it goes.

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    1. Radios call in artillery, or air, so killing them reduces the enemy's firepower.

      And flamethrowers are just nasty, kill those guys first, last, and always.

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    2. My uncle ran one of those in Okinawa. The only man in his platoon that didn't get a purple heart.

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  5. You previously noted that most of the U.S. photos were from Signal Corps files.
    Interesting that the vehicle in the first photo with the BAR and bayonet guys has "PHOTO" on the bumper unit markings, so that was probably the ride for the photo guys who took that shot. The combat camera types were brave SOBs.
    John Blackshoe

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    1. Huh, didn't notice the marking on the vehicle, good eye John.

      Yeah, combat cameramen had big stones. I often think of Robert Capa on D-Day. He'd seen a lot of war in his day, he admitted to being terrified on the 6th of June. As would any sane person.

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    2. Knew one of those combat camera types. He 'enjoyed' (for values of enjoyed) shooting action photos. His job sucked when he got assigned to document concentration camps.

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    3. I can see that that would suck.

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    4. It marked him for life.

      Good math teacher, though.

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  6. (Don McCollor)...Sarge, another good post. Now nitpicking - I think the last sentence "I'm sorry man" is a modern (post WW2 phrase). 'Buddy' or 'Bud' might be more authentic...

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    1. Yup, changed it. (I can't get this century out of my head...)

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    2. It's why historical novels and books need proofreaders familiar with the subject matter.

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    3. Alrighty then...

      All books need good proofreaders. DAMHIK

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  7. This is a good serial Sarge! And I am glad that my namesake is doinkg his duty honorably! Once I shot an M1 I got a lot of respect for that rifle.

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    1. It's a solid infantry weapon. It's nice having a semi-automatic weapon, rapid fire and all that. Full auto wastes ammunition in the hands of your average grunt (which is why the Army no longer has that option as standard issue, 3-round burst is good enough). But being able to "pew pew pew pew" until the clip springs out is awesome. I've cranked the bolt on a K98k, smooth action but it's still "bang, work the bolt, bang" and you've only got five rounds in the magazine.

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  8. True first-hand story about a BAR from an ex-zoomie: During the TET offensive the VC attempted to attack the I-Corps HQ comple which was housed within a surrounding brick wall just off the road leading from the bridge across the HAN river connecting the beach area (then known as "China Beach") and the Marine III MAF I-Corps HQ. The VNAF/USAF DASC (Direct Air Support Center) and the ARVN/MACV TOC (Tactical Operations Center) were located in the same building next to the back wall which literally backed up next to the jungle. When the C began coming over the wall after a 240 mm rocket attack a Filipino GEEIA-attached airman named Ben Agigi on his own initiative grabbed his BAR from the CONNEX adj to the DASC where he and the rest of the GEEIA attached duty types hung out (Ground Electronics Engineering Installation Agency [or as the joke would have it "get every electronic idiot" :)] where they were responsible for the engineering and installation of fixed AF ground-based communications world wide. Ben ran the length of the front veranda to the other corner by the tennis courts (yes tennis courts-relic of French colonial rule--used to play on them myself until they built a bunker on them after TET (: ) where Ben mowed 'em down w. his BAR as they came over the wall and single-handed repulsed the attack with 60+ KIA. He was awarded the Silver Star..

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  9. Hells Bells OAFS, comments are MODERATED now??!! WUWT?

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    1. Sorry Virgil, just on posts over seven days old. Helps cut down the spam. You'd be amazed at how many spammers leave bogus comments on posts that are months, even years, old.

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