Saturday, August 22, 2020

262 Kilometers from Home

Bundesarchiv - modified

The truck's engine had been running rough for the last 20 kilometers, Voigt looked with concern at the instrument panel, the engine was running hot.

"Herr Leutnant, we need to stop. The engine doesn't sound good and it's overheating."

The lieutenant looked at his watch, it was nearly four o'clock in the morning. They had come about 60 kilometers from Vernon after crossing the Seine. They had seen some vehicular traffic along the way but it seemed as if the British rear area was nearly completely asleep.

"All right Günter, go ahead and pull over here." he said, gesturing to the right side of the road. According to his map they were just three kilometers short of Beauvais.

In reality, the lieutenant had known that the moment was coming that they would have to abandon the truck. Fuel would be a problem, as would trying to find places to hide during the day. The men themselves could vanish easily enough in the rolling farmland with its streams, gullies, and small woodlots. But the military truck would stand out like a colorful dog¹ in this area. The French would notice and the odds were that any passing British patrol would also notice.

Attracting attention to themselves would be very bad, the lieutenant reasoned, therefore, it was probably time to take to the cobbler's pony². He had to find out where the German lines were, he wasn't even sure if making it back was even possible at this point in time.

The rain was starting to ease up, which was good as now they would be walking, but was bad because they would leave tracks in the muddy ground. The trick was to leave the truck in one place and leave the paved road in another. No point in making things easy for whoever found the truck, which the lieutenant was convinced would happen sometime after sunrise.

"Time to start walking Günter, leave nothing behind."

The two men dismounted from the cab, at the back of the truck the lieutenant pulled the canvas cover aside and said, "All right boys, time to be infantry again, the truck is dying and we need to leave it behind anyway."

The men grumbled a bit as they dismounted. With the exception of Feldwebel Pohl, most of them had been sound asleep. Pohl handed the lieutenant's tunic and helmet over, as well as the officer's MP 40. Voigt collected his own gear from the back of the truck. It was time to kit up and move out.

"Boys, stick to the hard surface, there's a small copse of trees about 600 meters back the way we just came, we'll hide out there for the day and head out after sundown. We've a long walk ahead of us."

As the men headed back the way they'd came, two of the men armed with submachine guns walked out front, one covered the rear. If the Tommies were to come down the road, they would be ready. Leutnant von Lüttwitz wondered what they should be ready for, a firefight? Perhaps just giving up? He hoped that they'd make the woodlot before he had to make that choice.

Outside Aux-Marais, France
(Source)

François Delorts was very drunk, he was usually drunk. He had lost an arm at Verdun and had had very little success in life since being discharged from the army in 1917. He was 45 years old and lived with his sister and her husband on their farm just down the road from Aux-Marais. His brother-in-law's farm and the church were the only things on the road. Those two things and what appeared to be a parked truck.

François stopped and swayed a bit, he had had far too much cheap vin rouge that night. Like most nights some would say. He thought it odd that there was a truck parked by the road. A British Army truck from the look of it. Then he saw a small squad of men going down the road away from the truck. Tommies?

He couldn't tell until the moon broke through the thinning cloud. Though it was low in the west, it provided enough light for François to see that the men had to be German. There was no mistaking the shape of those helmets.

What to do? He really wanted to go home and sleep, he had been out all night and the sky was already lightening in the east. But those were Germans, they had to be. But what were Germans doing this far behind the lines? With a British truck? Perhaps it was some sort of drill, he remembered training drills from his days in the army.

François swayed once more and decided to sleep on it. He could go talk to the gendarmes in the morning. For now, he just wanted to sleep. He knew his sister would give him disapproving looks all day long, but her husband was more understanding, he too had served in the Great War, had even been awarded the Croix de Guerre for bravery in action. Tomorrow, actually today, could wait for him to sleep. He was tired and drunk.

Swaying slightly, he staggered around and headed towards home.


"I swear that that Froschfresser³ spotted us Herr Leutnant."

Grenadier Manfred Sauer was a cold one, he killed without thought, without mercy. He wanted to follow the Frenchman and leave him dead in the field by the road. He couldn't stand to let an enemy live, and if you weren't German, you were the enemy, at least in Sauer's mind.

"Let it be Sauer, if we start killing people, suspicions will be raised and the hunt will be on for us again. The man was obviously drunk. He's probably wondering if he saw anything at all. Now move, we need to get under cover. Dawn is coming soon." As the lieutenant said that he nodded towards the east, it was getting lighter out.


The sun rose over the fields south and east of Beauvais. François Delorts was snoring in his bed at his sister's home, all thoughts of Germans and British trucks gone from his mind. It was likely that he would forget all about that when he awakened. His brother-in-law was heading out to check on his cows, he shook his head sadly and murmured, "Sleep brother. You drink too much, but I would too if I had been at Verdun."

On the road to Aux-Marais from Saint-Martin-le-Nœud, the abandoned Bedford lorry had attracted the attention of a pair of British red caps, these military policemen were examining the truck and were puzzled. The vehicle had no papers and the markings indicated it was a vehicle from the supply depot at Évreux. What was it doing here?

Obergefreiter Günter Voigt and Grenadier Hans Pfeiffer were manning the MG 42, from their position they could see the truck they had ridden here. They were watching the two British soldiers intently, if they turned in this direction, they weren't sure of what to do. The distinctive sound of their machine gun would attract a great deal of attention in this quiet backwater of the war.

"Go away Tommy, I don't want to kill today," Voigt whispered. Pfeiffer looked at the man in surprise, Voigt normally had no reservations about killing, it was so impersonal from behind the machine gun, you were part of a machine, part of a crew. But Pfeiffer understood, the death of those two men would bring down Hell upon their own. He wondered how far they had to go.

Leutnant Jürgen von Lüttwitz, leader of the 1st Platoon, 5th company, 2nd Battalion, 983rd Grenadier Regiment of the 275th Infantry Division put his map aside and rubbed his eyes. He needed to sleep, but he needed a plan first. At best the lines were not that far away, but the lack of the sounds of battle - artillery and small arms fire, especially artillery fire - made him think that they must be further behind the lines than he thought.

It was probably for the best that he didn't know that the closest point to the German lines from where they were was 262 kilometers. A hard march of three days in normal times, these were not normal times.
(Source)

Leutnant Jürgen von Lüttwitz was facing some hard decisions in the next twenty-four hours, but for now he would get some sleep.

He, and his men, were going to need it.





¹ The German idiom for "stand out like a sore thumb" is "auffallen wie ein bunter Hund," literally "be noticed like a colorful dog."
² Another German idiom "auf Schusters Rappen," which has the same meaning as "shank's mare," i.e. walk, go by foot.
³ Frog eater.

30 comments:

  1. Finding out more and more about rural France than I ever knew.......

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    1. It's very pretty in the spring. Driving down to Paris from Germany I was struck by how open and rolling the terrain in northern France is.

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    2. Northeastern France is. Kind of Iowa-ish but not quite Kansas-flat.

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  2. Well, what a fine kettle of fish the Germans are in. Way way way behind enemy lines, which, fortunately for them, means only dealing mostly with 2nd line troops and things like that. And the front moving away faster than they can walk.

    Couple more days of this, the Leutnant will be more nervous than a tick on an overcaffienated chihuahua. Just saying.

    Good story, way to keep the tension racheted up without actually doing anything violent.

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    1. I almost never know where the story is going until I start writing. Sometimes the idea at the beginning changes halfway through. I understand that Bernard Cornwell writes like that as well. So I'm in pretty good company, not that I put myself at that level.

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    2. Yeah, you're not as boring as BC.

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    3. That, I believe, is stream of consciousness writing. The Muse takes over :-)

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  3. So enjoying this stuff :-)

    It's taken about 25 tries to get through today's episode. Little ones are either fully asleep or at full throttle.

    Thanks as always Sarge, just brilliant stuff.

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    1. Thanks Shaun. That's kids all right, all stop or all ahead flank.

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  4. From your comment above - "Driving down to Paris from Germany I was struck by how open and rolling the terrain in northern France is."
    Which made the Blitzkrieg all the more effective and efficient, eh?

    Nice installment - not sure I want the Krauts to be blown away, but they are the bad guys ...

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    1. I'm up in the air about that myself. I've got six hours on the road to think about it. We shall see.

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    2. To be fair, unlike the SS, these Germans are the enemy, but not necessarily the bad guys.

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  5. Leslie A. ApplegateAugust 22, 2020 at 4:11 PM

    I'm hooked.

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  6. (Don McCollor)...The story continues great, Sarge! One comment (not worth quibbling about). "Pull off...gesturing to the right side of the road" Europe then drove on the left hand side of the road. Pulling off on the left side (even on a single lane road) would be the natural instinct (of course an open area on the right would override this)...

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    1. Actually no. Britain and Sweden did. The French had been keeping to the right since 1792. Germans drove on the right as well, look for where the steering is positioned.

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  7. Hey AFSarge;

    Makes you almost want to root for the "Jerries" trying to get home, but then they have to worry once they get close to their lines either getting capped by their own troops or getting rounded up and shot or humg by the SS for "desertion" by not dying in the Falaise pocket like good German Soldiers.

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    1. There is that. But that didn't really start until 1945 when the war was nearly over.

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  8. Er *hung* My fingers tripped, LOL

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    1. I might use that in the future, "my fingers tripped." I like it.

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  9. And here I thought they would get to German lines and a German sentry would see the British truck....and shoot them

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    1. They wouldn't attempt that, these guys are smart.

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  10. Where did you learn all those German idioms?

    Don't know if this was GI speak, or they picked it up from the Germans but...

    "Was ist los?" (what's the matter - what's going on?

    "Der Hund ist los" (the dog is loose)

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    1. There are some good websites that will teach you German idioms. I haven't spoken German in 21 years, so I'm rusty. I need the help of the internet at times.

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