Thursday, July 16, 2020

Death from Above

(Source)

Stabsfeldwebel Gerhard Lindner was sitting on the front of Tiger 224, his tank, though on paper it belonged to schwere Panzer Abteilung 503. His outfit was one of the few Army heavy tank battalions in Normandy still operating the model E variant of the Tiger, what was often called the Tiger I to distinguish it from its larger sister, the Tiger II, or King Tiger. As he sat there, black Panzer jacket draped over the bow machine gun, for it was hot that day, he looked up to see a Kübelwagen coming down the lane. As it drew closer he could see that sitting up front with the driver was his battalion commander, Major Rolf Fromme.

"Good afternoon Herr Major! Rather gutsy of you to be driving around in broad daylight with all the Allied air activity we've seen lately."

Though the small car had dashed from shaded area to shaded area along the country lane, it still raised enough dust to attract attention, especially from the air. Lindner wondered what could be urgent enough for his commander to take that kind of risk.

"Gerhard, it warms my heart to think that you would worry about your old comrade and brother in arms." Fromme grinned as he climbed out of the Kübelwagen, map in hand, and walked over to where Lindner was perched on the tank.

Lindner slid down after grabbing his jacket and slipping it on, he didn't bother buttoning it up. Things were pretty informal the closer you got to where the shooting was. Of course, he'd known Rolf since 1940 when they had both been in Rommel's Ghost Division, the 7th Panzer. People tended to ask them if they'd ever seen the great Rommel, both had only seen him from a distance, the general seldom stayed in one place for very long.

Rolf had made a name for himself in the early days of the Russian invasion, a Knight's Cross followed by a field commission. Lindner knew his friend was a good leader and a better man than most, but he wasn't jealous, Lindner was content to serve.

At the moment he did command a platoon of Tiger tanks, normally five vehicles, now down to three, one of which was the sole survivor from another platoon in 2nd Company. Lindner couldn't help but notice that they were starting to be a bit thin on the ground.

Fromme spread his map out on the glacis of Lindner's tank and pointed to a position on the map near the southwestern edge of Caen.

"We picked up a couple of prisoners two days ago, Englishmen, after chatting with them for an hour or so," Fromme grimaced as he said that, "the Feldgendarmerie managed to elicit information from one of the men that the Tommies would be attacking soon."

"When have they stopped attacking? I hear that those bloody Scotsmen were hitting us again, right about where you pointed to on the map."

"They are, but the prisoner indicated that that was a feint to draw our armor away from a much larger attack to the north and east of Caen. Armor heavy and intended to complete the encirclement and destruction of our foothold in that city."

"All right, I'll bite. How does this affect us?" Lindner couldn't help but wonder what sort of deviltry was afoot.

"Problem is, there is a certain SS General who wants to attach the battalion to his Corps. I know that we would get thrown in to take enemy fire while his SS troopers charge in and destroy the attacking Tommies here in the southwest. What's left of Seventh Army headquarters wants to keep its few tank assets together, we are a big piece of that. 21st Panzer and Panzer Lehr have already been virtually commandeered by the SS and are getting chewed up in the process."

"Ja, the SS have all the tactical finesse of a rabid dog." Lindner hated the SS, he'd seen them turn friendly Ukrainians into bitter enemies with their brutal behavior in the East.

Fromme looked around to make sure no one had heard Lindner, the SS made him very nervous.

"Don't worry Rolf, everyone in my platoon hates the f**king SS. If they didn't, they wouldn't be in my platoon." Lindner had had friends in the Jewish community before the Nazis had come to power, his own grandfather had served under a Jewish captain in the First World War and had remained friends with the man. Many Germans ignored what had happened to, in fact was still happening, to the Jews of Europe. Lindner knew the score, he'd already lost at least one friend to the camps in the East.

"Still, be careful who might overhear you Gerhard. A sergeant in 21st Panzer was arrested by the Gestapo not three days ago when someone overheard him compare an SS officer to a particularly stupid cow."

"Those SS bastards can't handle the truth..."

"Enough, stay on your toes, you take your orders from me or other Army officers, this battalion will not be sucked into some SS death or glory attack. Are we clear?"

"Ja, klar."

With that Fromme moved on to the other reason he was here. "I want you to take your platoon and set up near this crossroads, here."

"I know that road, it's pretty open, can we wait until dark to move?" Lindner remembered the last time he had moved his platoon in daylight, they'd lost one tank to an air attack. Some of the officers who had never served in the West didn't understand the impact the Allied control of the air had on their ability to move. Smart units waited until nightfall to move. If they could.

"You need to move in an hour, no later. It's all I can give you."

"It's another three hours until sunset, we'll be exposed." Lindner wanted to argue the point, but the look on his friend's face told him that arguing would be futile. "All right, we'll move in an hour."

"I'm headed that way now, there are supposed to be fuel trucks meeting you there. Move as fast as you can, dash from cover to cover."

Lindner grinned, "Right Rolf, I will take my Tigers and dash. We will dash like furniture vans in Berlin traffic."

Shaking his head, Fromme was smiling as he climbed back into his car, saying to his driver, "Let's go Frank."

(Source)

The afternoon was wearing on and Squadron Leader Bellows was ready to head back to their new strip just behind Juno beach. This was his third sortie of the day, he radioed his wingman, "Let's head to the west-northwest, see what Jerry's up to in that sector."

"Roger." radioed Bellows' wingman, Flight Sergeant Ian O'Sullivan. O'Sullivan was an Irishman, a complete wild man on the ground, a consummate professional in the air. Bellows enjoyed flying with the man. He had the eyes of a hawk and controlled his Spitfire as if he and the kite were one.

"Squadron Leader, I have movement at my one o'clock low, perhaps two miles ahead."

Bellows looked in that direction, sure enough a small plume of dust trailed by a car. Probably a Jerry staff car or the like. "Let's take a look Ian."

"Roger."


Major Fromme didn't hear the aircraft engine until the plane had flown right over them. Soldat Frank Huber nearly swerved off the road as the aircraft boomed past them. He regained control just as a second Allied Jabo boomed overhead.

"Into that field Frank!" Fromme shouted.


"One of their Kübelwagens, Squadron Leader."

"I saw it Ian. Seems like small beer for the effort needed to shoot him up. But if you want to have a crack..."

"On it..."

The Irishman brought his kite around in a beautiful arching turn, dropping down as he did so. There, in that field, it was the Jerry car. "Got him Squadron Leader!"

O'Sullivan lined up on the car, he couldn't see any occupants but didn't care, at the very least Jerry would be walking the rest of the way. He pressed the firing button and walked the rounds from his four .303 machine guns and two 20 mm cannon into the car. He could see sparks from where his rounds hit the vehicle.

As he pulled up to join his lead he glanced back over his shoulder.

The car was burning nicely.


"Frank, wo bist du?¹" Major Fromme had been hit in the upper left arm by fragments from either his car or from the bullets fired by what he had recognized as a Spitfire. It hurt and was staining his tunic with his blood. "Frank!"

When he had no answer, he pulled his bandage packet from his bread bag, though he was an officer, he tended to use the same kit as his men, very useful it was. As he wrapped his arm as tightly as he could, he looked around the small field surrounded by sparse hedges and underbrush. His Kübelwagen was burning and throwing off lots of smoke as well. Where the Hell was his driver?

Soldat Frank Huber was on his back, roughly ten meters from the Kübelwagen, on the side opposite of Fromme. He couldn't answer his commander as he had been hit by at least three machine gun rounds, which had actually killed him, and one cannon round, which had severed his right leg completely.

Huber's war was over.


Lindner's tank led the small column as his platoon worked it's way to the crossroads which Major Fromme had assigned him. He saw smoke about 500 meters ahead, coming from one of the fields which lined either side of the road they were following. As his tank got closer, he saw someone standing just off the road.

Major Rolf Fromme lifted his hand as the big Tiger approached. It was, as he had hoped, Lindner on the way to his objective.

Stabsfeldwebel Gerhard Lindner ordered the platoon to take up positions off the road and as far into the trees as they could squeeze. His own driver did the same, Lindner, his gunner, and his loader were all riding atop the turret, his two men were nervously scanning the sky in all directions. German soldiers watching for Allied Jabos had become so prevalent that the Landsers² were calling it "die deutsche Blick," the German glance.

Lindner looked at the figure next to the road, as he had thought, it was Major Fromme. His commander's arm was bandaged and his tunic bloodied. There in the field were the remnants of the major's car. He could well imagine what had befallen the driver, so he didn't ask.

"It seems I need a ride Gerhard."

"Do you need help?" Lindner began to climb down. Though Fromme had waved him off initially, he was glad when the man grasped his good hand and pulled him up. Fromme had lost quite a bit of blood and was somewhat dizzy.

"Mark this spot on your map Gerhard. I want to send somebody to pick up Frank's body. I feel bad leaving him here."

Lindner nodded, found where he thought they were and marked the spot on his map. Then he ordered the platoon forward. They still had another mile before they reached the crossroads.


At that same time Bellows and O'Sullivan had already landed and were in debrief.

"A whole sortie and all we saw was a single Jerry car," Bellows told the debriefer. "I had O'Sullivan work him over, it burned quite nicely. Let Monty know that Jerry has one less vehicle to oppose 21st Army Group."

O'Sullivan chuckled though it was obvious that the stuffy staff captain didn't find the remark all that amusing.

"Come on Ian, let's get some food. I am simply ravenous from shooting up Jerry vehicles today!"

Laughing, Flight Sergeant O'Sullivan followed his lead to the mess tent.

Perhaps a bit of whiskey was in order later on.




¹ Where are you?
² Foot soldiers, infantrymen

32 comments:

  1. A couple proof reads...

    People tended to ask them if they'd ever been the great Rommel (seen)
    the Feldgendarmerie managed to illicit information (elicit)

    Other than that, I could hear the Merlins sing... Those tires on hard ground can sound like an approaching plane.... They really whine...

    Good stuff, today Sarge.

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    1. D'oh! One could elicit illicit information but... (not completely sure just what was going on in my head when I typed that!)

      Thanks for the corrections STxAR. You guys keep me honest.

      Glad you enjoyed today's installment.

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  2. It's always enjoyable easing when the writer illicits [sic] the sights and sounds and smells present in the scenes being described - nicely done, Sarge!

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    1. Fat fingering the keyboard happens to us all, as I demonstrate on a nearly daily basis. (Not daily as I don't post on Monday. 😉)

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  4. Nice masthead photo, and no that wasn't my first ship. I didn't notice the change until today.

    I think the opening paragraph would read a little smoother if the narrative exposition about the Tiger tanks and the leather jacket were either removed, or rewritten.

    When death comes from the sky you better keep looking up.

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    1. USS Connecticut. She swamped the boat where the cameraman was sitting.

      2nd point, perhaps. Not a leather jacket, though many of the 12th SS tank crews wore U-Boat leathers in Normandy, most Panzer crewmen did not. (Not sure where the SS men they got the U-Boat leathers from, might be an interesting story there.)

      Die deutsche Blick!

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    2. You get an interesting now wave off of a ram bow. I wonder if SNEAKERs are the same, or if it's the flare of the bow that does it?

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    3. Stupid auto correct. ZUMWALT, not SNEAKERS. It said ZUMWALT when I hit post.

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    4. As you can see from the smoke coming out of the stack, she's got some way on!

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    5. Heh, I'm guessing that spell check decided that as the Zumwalts are supposed to be stealthy, that sneakers would be the correct word to use.

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  5. Very good, once the corrections took place. Of course, as bleary as my eyes are this morning, I barely was able to read it. Lucky Tigers. Missed it by THAT much.

    Amazing how quickly, once enough land behind the beaches was consolidated, that fighter and emergency airstrips were on someone's priority. Besides fueling and feeding an invasion, aircraft parts, fuel and munitions also had to be landed.

    Amazing.

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    1. Establishing airfields in France after securing the landing area was part of the plan. It was a pretty good plan.

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    2. It WAS a pretty good plan - would be interesting to see how what actually happened differed from the plan, since "no plan survives first contact with the enemy" (or "the enemy gets a vote on how good your plan is"). Probably could write a book about it, maybe someone already has ... "D-Day invasion - plan vs. reality" or some such theme...

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    3. When I was running track in high school, I noticed the 'fence' around the track in Ralls, or Crosbyton was Marston Mat. I geeked out about that for quite a while.... No one else even knew what we were leaning on. Did they use that to make those fields in France, or did they just use grass like WW Once.

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    4. Wikipedia said the first C-47 to land in France after D-Day was on a Marston Mat runway. So I guess that's the answer...

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    5. Tom - The only thing which they didn't do well was planning for what happened once the lodgment was secured. No one seemed to have the remotest idea of how to deal with hedgerows, though they were prevalent in parts of the UK as well. All of their focus was on getting ashore, then staying ashore.

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    6. STxAR #1 - I would have been geeking out as well!

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    7. STxAR #2 - I've seen Marston Mat in Korean War photos, I'll need to look for what they did in Europe. Of course, there were already a lot of existing airfields compared to the Pacific Theater.

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    8. (Don McCollor)...some of the problem might have been that a "hedge" is different in the US - a dense line of thick bushes rather than a "sunken road", But someone should have known better. [BTW the first aid kit description "very useful, it was" is one of your author trademark phrases, fits, and a writer's license -so keep it in...

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    9. Quite possibly, but yes, someone should have known better!

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  6. tom in NC:::::::::::::
    the plan was written by Eisenhower in DC for Marshall. it detailed what would be needed for the invasion and the first six months after D day. this is supposedly why he became Supreme Commander, bypassing numerous higher ranking officers. Marshall figured no one could implement the plan better than the author.

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    1. Short answer - no, the plan was not written by Eisenhower in DC for General Marshall. The original plan was written in the UK by a large staff (known as COSSAC) under British Lieutenant General Sir Frederick Morgan. It was modified by Field Marshal Montgomery as he felt the original too small in scope and would not get enough combat power ashore on D-Day. While Eisenhower was commanding operations in the Mediterranean he would have been far too busy to be writing plans in DC.

      General Marshall wanted to command the invasion but he was overruled by the President, who wished to keep Marshall in DC to advise him. FDR actually appointed Ike, no doubt on Marshall's recommendation.

      Eisenhower did not write the plan for D-Day, no one man did, that would have been an impossible task given the complexity of moving thousands of men, tons of equipment, and all the requisite supplies across the Channel. Not to mention coordinating the vast numbers of ships and aircraft required to move them.

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  7. Poor Sgt Lindner, where Spitfires soar, so also do Tiffies lurk.

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  8. (Don McCollor)...an excerpt from "There's A War to be Won" on the start of the German counterattack on Avranches..."the forecast called for fog. When dawn broke, the sky was mortally clear...German soldiers immediately reached for their entrenching tools, knowing that as the sun rises, so do the Jabos"...

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  9. It's interesting to contrast the Allied vs Axis ground forces experience vis-a-vis the enemy air threat. In western Europe "our" side appears to have suffered more from air fratricide than from enemy attack. Given what the Germans faced once our incredible force began to bear on them it's simply astonishing how well and how hard they fought. A horrific tragedy on a scale none of us can begin to wrap our minds around. Good food for thought in 2020. One hopes there's a bit of thinking going on here and there.

    Great stuff and really enjoyable Sarge, thanks!

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    1. It's hard to imagine what Europe was like from 1939 to 1945. People need to start paying attention these days.

      Thanks Shaun!

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    2. (Don McCollor)...A moving tribute is the beginning of the movie "A Bridge Too Far" narrated in a soft sad voice by Katie Ter Horst (played by Liv Ullman in the movie)..."This was Europe in 1944"...

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    3. Re-watched that film just last weekend. Brilliant work.

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