Monday, August 31, 2020

Would that "Someone" hit Fast Forward, please?*

I'm pretty sure if anyone who's ever been in the military, in any branch, in any country were tasked with coming up with a 4 word sentence to describe military life, those words would be "Hurry up and wait".

Prove me wrong.

Evidently, those words still apply in military retirement life.

Friday March 11, 2020
Construction has commenced.
 Sunday August 30, 3030 2020, Wow time flies when you're having fun!

Construction is complete.  Note the final touch, the Gate.  

So, juvat...Have you started moving in yet?

That mi, mayor que Matusalén, sargento de la Fuerza Aérea is the reason for the title of this post.

Evidently, if we were to begin moving in and something were to happen, the construction insurance would not cover anything.  And, since we don't own the house yet, our insurance won't cover it either.

So...Closing is September 14th.  The movers arrive at 0800 15 September.  Appliance delivery is also scheduled that day.  Hence, the title.  Twiddling my thumbs is getting old.  But, at least we've got packing to keep us busy.  Yay! Fortunately, Mrs J is handling most of the packing.  My role seems to be carrying crap to the dumpster, carrying old but working stuff to the donation station, moving full, sealed (Google translate returns "Heavy" when  those terms are entered) boxes from Mrs J's current location into the mover pickup point, AKA the living room. 

So...Hurry up and wait! It's only 2 weeks. (AKA an eternity!)  

None of the above is of much use for a blog post, so I've decided to fall back on an old reliable subject.

USAF (and antecedent organizations) Medal of Honor Memorial on the Lackland AFB Parade Field

A little background is probably needed here as we'll be talking about the Korean War and the four Korean War Medal of Honor recipients are somewhat unique.  The Air Force started out in 1907 as the Aeronautical Division of the US Army Signal Corps.  Its name and missions changed with time and aeronautical progress over the next 40 years until 18 September 1947 when it became a separate service (and promptly forgot everything it had learned about aerial warfare up to that time. "The Bombers will always get through". Yeah...Right.  I know, I know, Sarge, Back on Target).  Anyhow, the first 4 USAF recipients of the Medal of Honor actually were actually awarded the Army Medal of Honor.  All posthumously.  The USAF was not authorized its own Medal until 1965.  None of the above is particularly relevant to the story I'm about to relate, other than this story will be about one of those four, I just think that it's one of those "interesting" pieces of history.  



So, today, we're going to learn about Captain John Springer Walmsley Jr.  Capt Walmsley was born in 1920, joined the Army Air Corps in 1944 but spent WWII in training and then as an Instructor Pilot, not seeing combat.  However, in June 1951 with the Korean War underway, Capt Walmsley was assigned to Kunsan AB, Korea (a place near and dear to a couple of this blog's authors, you figure out which) flying the B-26.  The B-26 was a WWII era medium bomber which flew with the USAF until the last was retired in 1972.  In Korea, it was primarily flown at night.



In August of 1951, the peace talks had started to stall, so the UN Forces came up with a plan called "Operation Strangle" to interdict North Korean and Chinese (primarily the latter) supply lines.  Initially the operation was fairly successful as the communists were bringing supplies by train during the day.  Interdicting (aka hitting a target with ordnance) is infinitely easier when you can see the target.  However,  one of the immutable laws of war is "The enemy gets a vote".  The communists started running their trains at night.

The UN forces adapted by putting a searchlight on a wing pylon of the B-26. A big, honking searchlight, an 80 million candlepower searchlight. This allowed the pilot to see the target and make his attack run.  



But, remember the immutable law?  The communists put AAA (hiss!) on the train and along the tracks, and in the nearby hills.

Now, one of the things about delivering ordnance from most aircraft is you have to point the aircraft at the target. (Gunships, like the AC-47 and AC-130 are different and hadn't been developed yet).  Pointing at the target means there is no apparent target motion for a gunner to compensate for, he doesn't have to lead the target just aim at the dot coming at you and shoot.  

Yes, Beans, that's why I always hiss when I mention AAA (hiss).

So, on September 14, 1951, Capt Walmsley is flying one night searching for a target and developing tactics to effectively use the searchlight.  He spots a train and attacks it, disabling, but not destroying it.  Having expended all his ordnance, he calls for another bomber to join him and, upon its arrival, offers to illuminate the target for him with the big honking searchlight.

Remember the AAA (hiss) gunner's shooting solution?  Here it is, and it even has a bright light showing him where to fire.  Capt Walmsley's attack works and the train is destroyed, however, his aircraft is badly damage by AAA (hiss) and on fire.  As he struggles to return home, it crashes into a mountainside.  

Three of the crew, including Capt Walmsley, are killed and the gunner, MSgt Morar, was badly burned but survived only to become a POW.  He survives the war and is repatriated thereafter. 


Capt Walmsley's Medal of Honor Citation:

Capt. Walmsley distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty.

While flying a B-26 aircraft on a night combat mission with the objective of developing new tactics, Capt. Walmsley sighted an enemy supply train which had been assigned top priority as a target of opportunity. He immediately attacked, producing a strike which disabled the train, and, when his ammunition was expended, radioed for friendly aircraft in the area to complete destruction of the target.

Employing the searchlight mounted on his aircraft, he guided another B-26 aircraft to the target area, meanwhile constantly exposing himself to enemy fire. Directing an incoming B-26 pilot, he twice boldly aligned himself with the target, his searchlight illuminating the area, in a determined effort to give the attacking aircraft full visibility.

As the friendly aircraft prepared for the attack, Capt. Walmsley descended into the valley in a low-level run over the target with searchlight blazing, selflessly exposing himself to vicious enemy antiaircraft fire. In his determination to inflict maximum damage on the enemy, he refused to employ evasive tactics and valiantly pressed forward straight through an intense barrage, thus insuring complete destruction of the enemy's vitally needed war cargo.

While he courageously pressed his attack Capt. Walmsley's plane was hit and crashed into the surrounding mountains, exploding upon impact.

His heroic initiative and daring aggressiveness in completing this important mission in the face of overwhelming opposition and at the risk of his life, reflects the highest credit upon himself and the U.S. Air Force.

Rest in Peace, Warrior!

*A subtle, perhaps too subtle, reference to Sarge's post title from yesterday.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Someone Hit Pause...


...because I need a break!

Not from blogging, I tried that two weeks ago and look what happened, you got a mini-saga of seven Saxons traipsing across a war-torn France trying to regain their own lines in the midst of chaos.

So yes, as you may know, I went down to Maryland two weeks ago (yesterday) to visit Tuttle, The Nuke, and the newest addition to the family, young Robert Ryan, who is yclept in the family as Robbie. Anyhoo...

I had planned on taking a break from blogging, one week away from the Sturm und Drang of trying to be creative every day, save Monday which belongs to Juvat (and the occasional one-off of a Tuna or Beans contribution, not to be planned on or anticipated but celebrated and enjoyed when they happen). I had also planned on actually working half-days at the paying job as I didn't need to be in the lab that week and had a task to keep me busy.

Monday in Maryland arrived, I did a solid five hours on the work laptop, managed to read Juvat's latest offering (on my own time, of course) and got to hang out with the new grandson. Who, quite frankly, was rather too fond of staying awake all night, pestering his mother for sustenance, and sleeping all day. I gather this is standard operating procedure for newborns. I remember having one of those around some 36 years ago, now she's got two of her own.

Blue next to the Maryland branch office

At any rate, I was finished working, the rest of the clan was napping, even the dogs, and I found myself at loose ends. What to do, what to do?

Aha! I shall write a post, the continuing tale of our lads in World War II and...

Crap, all of my notes were on a computer 400 miles away. I had meant to email them to myself, just in case the blogging bug bit (which it always does) and lo' and behold, I forgot. I'm old(ish), it happens.

That's when inspiration struck. I had been telling mostly the tale of the clashes of Allies and Germans in the fields of Normandy. Once the great breakout occurred and the destruction of Falaise had been played out, what was there to write about until sometime in September?

The inspiration came when I was thinking about all those German lads cut off behind the lines as the rest of their mates headed north, at speed, to escape the Allied onslaught. Did they all just quit (or die, which many did) or did some try to make it home. Well, you know the answer to that, dontcha? I assumed some tried to make it home.

The title of the initial post came from this book...


As these guys would be German, not French, they couldn't be from Gascony now could they? As Saxony rhymes with Gascony, that German state popped into my head. Used to be a Kingdom, was allied with Napoléon back in the day, and of course they helped populate the British Isles way back in the day. (Where did you think the term Anglo-Saxon came from?)

So Sieben Männer von Sachsen (Seven Men of Saxony) came to be, and, truth be told, I had a lot of fun writing that series, which extended to nine parts and which you can catch up on here. I had intended to make it ten parts, but Leutnant von Lüttwitz and his lads made it home faster than even I expected.

Yes, there were points along the way where I thought, "No way they'll make it out of this jam, it's just too far." But they did. Some really good characters in the series and not to worry, we shall meet them again.

Where I wrote the early episodes of Sieben Männer von Sachsen
I sincerely miss that view, one morning I saw a deer down the road extending past that Jeep.

When I wrapped up the latest chapter Friday night, I decided I needed to pause the historical endeavors for a day or so. Just to catch my breath so to speak.

I spent all of this past week working from home, while the view wasn't nearly as nice as Maryland, I did have the company of the feline staff who are dedicated to seeing me up and out of bed early. Mostly to feed them, I'm sure, but they know I like to get a jump on the day's activities early. (Of course, that also means I get to knock off earlier as well!)

This coming week I'll supposedly be in the lab more. Upgrades are being performed and I'm assured that all will work as advertised. As I haven't seen that occur more than two or three times in the past fifteen years, I'll reserve judgement on that.

Some photos of where I spent time the 15th through 23rd of August I shall now present to you in the hopes that you'll forgive me for not posting something historical today.

The deck betwixt house and guest house.
Yes, there's an ent near the the end of the driveway.
The front entrance to Chez Tuttle et Nuke
The path behind the guest house, even in the heat of the day, it's refreshingly cool under those pines.
The stone dog. He used to be in the vegetable garden, now guards the path to the guest house.
A storm was moving in, short lived but the sky was magnificent.
The pines.
The whole area around Chez Tuttle et Nuke is heavily wooded.
Hard to believe it's less than six miles as the crow flies to the Trade School on the Severn.

It's a beautiful area and I love visiting down there. Maryland is a lovely state away from the big city and I do like the people down there. Amazing how we can all get along if we leave politics at the door and pay no attention to the Meejah.¹

Enjoy your Sunday, I'll be digging into the historical record to see what the fates hold in store for Brandt, Fitzhugh, Wallace, Kowalski, Lindner, von Lüttwitz et al. There may even be some new characters coming along, new in the sense that they haven't been involved with D-Day nor the events thereafter, but they were introduced in my Battle of the Bulge series some time ago. (That series began here, back in 2017. The whole series is accessible from here as well.)

As I shall be tying all this together (some day soon I trust), I need to get those chaps into the fight. An American tank crew if you must know. (Sherman named "Tennessee Whiskey" commanded by Staff Sergeant Mac Peterson.) Be forewarned, the series ends when we reach the Elbe River, so I have a lot of space to fill and much to research.

Stay tuned.

¹ Hateful bastards that they are, IMHO.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Just in Time...

In the Ardennes, east of Treignes

They were past Viroinval and well into the rolling hills. The men were quiet and marched with grim determination, they were mourning the loss of Grenadier Pfeiffer. Leutnant von Lüttwitz felt their pain, Pfeiffer had been from his own platoon, he knew the man as a soldier, and on this long journey, he had come to know him as a man.

The lieutenant was now the sole survivor of 1st platoon, 5th company, 2nd Battalion, 983rd Grenadier Regiment of the 275th Infantry Division. Feldwebel Dieter Pohl and Obergefreiter Günter Voigt survived from 2nd Platoon, Grenadier Manfred Sauer and Grenadier Peter Böhm were all that was left of 3rd platoon.

Unteroffizier Uwe Schumacher was the only man left from the company headquarters and the baggage train. He had been the company's Führer der Gefechtsfahrzeuge, the commander of 5th company's vehicles, which consisted of a number of horse drawn carts and wagons. Calling them "combat" vehicles was a stretch and the men used to kid him about it.

Six men, all that survived of a German Army infantry company which had numbered over 140 men the day before the Allies landed on the beaches of Normandy. There was a long string of graves from the 5th Company stretching from Belgium to Normandy.

Schumacher kept to himself, which rather annoyed Leutnant von Lüttwitz, the man was an NCO, a non-commissioned officer with no job, he should be assisting the lieutenant, not acting like a private soldier. The lieutenant was rather angry with the man.

On the other hand one of the men, Grenadier Sauer, was really a huge help to von Lüttwitz. Even now he had moved ahead in the dark, they could hear the river ahead, it had to be the Maas.

The Meuse River (Maas in German), southwest of Givet

The lieutenant was trying desperately to stay awake. While the men slept, he would do what many junior officers do best, worry. He had, however, come to one decision which he would implement once they got across the river. He hoped Sauer would be back soon, the night was fading fast, it was perhaps two hours until sunrise.

Almost as he had finished the thought, Sauer and Grenadier Böhm materialized out of the night. The lieutenant noticed that the mist was getting thicker, a good sign.

"Herr Leutnant, we found a boat." Sauer tried to announce that as calmly as he could, but he was plainly excited, von Lüttwitz could hear it in his voice.

"There are no paddles that we could see, it's an old boat and appears rather leaky, but..."

Böhm chimed in with, "One or more of us can bail with our helmets while the others paddle with their hands, or perhaps their rifle butts. The river is narrower here, the current is fast but that would carry us further north, which is where we want to be, yes, Herr Leutnant?"

"Ja Herr Böhm, that sounds like a very good plan. Let's go."

The men who were sleeping woke up in foul moods until they were told of the boat. They made for the river as fast as they could, the noise bothered the lieutenant but the sound of river seemed to overwhelm all sound. The rising mist tended to mute things as well.

Leutnant von Lüttwitz took a long hard look at his first "naval command," the boat was good sized but had probably sat on this bank since the Great War. "All right lads, let's get this over with."

Sauer looked at his lieutenant, saluted and said, "Jawohl Herr Kaleu!¹"

Leutnant von Lüttwitz shook his head, he was getting to like Sauer, a lot. While he was cold and ruthless in combat, he was a good man to have at your back. A good, though odd, sense of humor as well. Why was this man still a lowly grenadier?

YouTube Screen Capture

The boat had foundered not ten meters from the eastern bank of the Maas. Everyone got wet as they had to wade the remainder of the way to shore. Obergefreiter Günter Voigt nearly drowned but Feldwebel Dieter Pohl managed to drag him by the collar to the river bank. Voigt was coughing and sputtering.

"The damned 42 tried to drown me Dieter, I couldn't shed it. It was dragging me to the bottom." Voigt bore a certain resemblance to a wet terrier in his current state. He wasn't a large man and to his credit he had not dumped the heavy gun when he went into the water. Whether from a sense of duty or because he panicked, the lieutenant couldn't tell. But thank all that is Holy that he salvaged the gun. He had an idea about that. But first...

"Grenadier Sauer."

"Jawohl Herr Leutnant?"

"I hereby promote you to Unteroffizier, you have performed well, you deserve the rank."

"Um, shouldn't I be a gefreiter² first Herr Leutnant?"

The lieutenant frowned, "Do you not want the promotion Sauer?"

"Just kidding sir, of course I'll take the promotion."

To von Lüttwitz's great surprise, Unteroffizier Schumacher removed his epaulets and gave them to Sauer, explaining that his collar lace still marked him as an NCO, Sauer should have some indication of his "elevated station," as Schumacher put it.

I hope I can keep these men when we return to our lines, von Lüttwitz thought. They are good men.


Leutnant von Lüttwitz was watching a position in the trees across the small valley with his field glasses. It was a German machine gun emplacement, they had reached the lines! Now to implement his other idea.

As there wasn't any sound on the battlefield quite like an MG 42, von Lüttwitz was going to use that to get his countrymen's attention.

"Go ahead Günter, fire the gun down that road parallel to the lines."

When the firing ceased, the lieutenant heard German voices calling from across the valley, "Who the Hell are you? What are you firing at?"

"We're German soldiers from the 275th Infantry Division, we were cut off at Falaise, we've spent weeks getting here!"

"What's the password of the day?"

At that point Sauer lost his temper and began to berate his countrymen with all of the insults he had learned growing up in Saxony and all those he had learned in the Army. He had a real command of profanity and he used it well.

"All right, all right. Only a Saxon could swear like that. Come out slowly, weapons over your heads."

Across a small valley Leutnant von Lüttwitz led his squad, slowly and deliberately, until he heard a familiar voice, "Heilige Scheiße Jürgen, bist du das?³"

Leutnant von Lüttwitz looked up to see his old sergeant from when he had been a lowly private. Everybody said that Hauptfeldwebel Kurt Hartmann was too mean and stupid to die, though he had had many a close call since he began the war crossing the frontier into Poland nearly five years ago to the day.

"Mein Gott Kurt, I thought you would be a general by now!" von Lüttwitz yelled up the hill.

"Then who would keep all the young lieutenants from getting their men killed? Answer me that, Herr Leutnant!"

The men with Hartmann helped the survivors of the 5th Company into their entrenchment. They explained that they had arrived just in time, the division, well, what was left of it, was being pulled back to the Reich to be rebuilt. If they had arrived a day later, even a few hours later, they would have had a much longer walk ahead of them.

As one of Hartmann's men led them to the rear, Leutnant von Lüttwitz paused and looked back to the west, he thought of Grenadier Pfeiffer, who had nearly made it, and all the others who would now rest in French soil for all of eternity.

Unteroffizier Sauer stopped next to his lieutenant.

"We must remember them sir, who else will?"

"There is no one else, only we six. But I will remember them always."

"Let's go Herr Leutnant, there is nothing left for us here."

As the sun rose over the Ardennes, the ragged band of German infantrymen joined their fellow soldiers as the retreat continued. Their war wasn't over just yet. Not by a long shot.


¹ Kaleu is an abbreviation for Kapitänleutnant, a German naval rank.
² Roughly equivalent to a junior corporal or lance corporal.
³ Holy shit Jürgen, is that you?

Friday, August 28, 2020

The Old Hunter


They had crossed into Belgium three kilometers east of the French border town of Ohain. The squad had made very good time, the lieutenant figured there were two reasons for that, the men knew they were getting closer to their destination and the American rations they had captured had boosted both their stamina and their morale.

The skies had been clear, allowing them to benefit from what little starlight there was. It wasn't totally dark so they made use of the farm fields in the area to travel faster. The lieutenant began to look for a good spot to reenter the woods, they might be able to make another ten kilometers under the cover of the woods, the pre-dawn light would help them. So von Lüttwitz hoped.

Military traffic was non-existent, though they were avoiding the roads as much as possible due to the incident with the Americans the previous day. The lieutenant assumed that most military traffic would be on the main highways to Brussels and Antwerp. Although the German Army had pushed through the Ardennes in 1940, that had been something of an anomaly, the French manned it lightly, expecting a replay of the opening moves of 1914. They had been sorely surprised.

So he discounted the Ardennes as an area of heavy military concentration. He expected outposts and a thinly manned and lightly patrolled line. He was assuming a great deal, but that was really their only hope. Further north in Belgium and into the Netherlands the fighting would be heavy. It was, after all, a quicker way to get over the Rhine than to try and  fight through the forests of the Ardennes and the Schnee Eifel.

The open fields and rolling terrain of Wallonia

As the sun was beginning to rise in the east, the lieutenant checked his map, they had to be close to the Belgian town of Viroinval, which means they had put nearly sixty kilometers behind them. It also meant that they might be able to reach Rochefort the next night, that was his target. Once they reached that town, and if they had not struck the German lines, he would determine what to do next. They were within 100 kilometers straight line distance of the Reich. No doubt further on foot, but they were tantalizingly close.

Unteroffizier Schumacher spotted it first, "Herr Leutnant, perhaps a good place to get out of the open," he was gesturing to his left. Sure enough, there was a small dirt track leading into some rather thick woods. It would be perfect.

Leutnant von Lüttwitz, pointed the way and signaled the men to remain in skirmish order. He was taking no chances.

On the far right of the line, Grenadier Hans Pfeiffer was scanning his sector, he paused, he thought he saw someone. At that moment he felt something tug at his right trouser leg, then he heard the crack of a rifle, damn it! He had been shot. He went down as his leg gave out from under him.


Henri Desjardins lowered his old hunting rifle and fumbled in his jacket pocket for another bullet. Though he was very spry for a 75 year old man, his eyesight wasn't as good as it used to be. In the morning light he saw something low and gray moving towards the forest. It had to be a boar or a deer. At any rate, it was food on the table. So he fired. Why would people be out here at this time of the day?

He began to move towards where he'd seen the animal go down, he heard no noises so he assumed that he had killed it with his first shot. He stepped carefully, truth be told, his eyes were not as strong as they once were, the ground here was uneven and in the early morning light he couldn't see where he was stepping.

When he got to the spot where he expected to find his kill, he was startled when his "kill" leapt at him.

Pfeiffer was in a lot of pain, he had tied off his leg at the thigh with a makeshift tourniquet by using the strap from his bread bag and the cleaning rod from his K98k. He wondered who had shot him and why. He also wondered what the Hell he was going to do now, there was no way he could travel on one leg, he needed medical attention, soon.

As he waited, he heard someone approaching through the high grass. It was a man, and he sounded old. He also seemed to be muttering in French. Damn it, Pfeiffer thought, to come all the way from Normandy and get shot by the Maquis in Belgium. He drew his fighting knife.

As the man stepped to where he could see Pfeiffer, his eyes grew very big as he spotted the man he'd shot, he tried to bring his old hunting rifle to bear, but Pfeiffer was faster. His knife slid into the old man's chest between two ribs and into his heart. The old man seemed to sigh as he went limp, dropping his rifle and falling across the downed German soldier.

Leutnant von Lüttwitz and the rest of the squad had immediately gone to ground upon hearing the shot, "Verdammte Scheiße!" the lieutenant had thought, "What now?" He maneuvered, as he knew his men would, to reorient the skirmish line towards the direction of the shot. The direction of the threat.

Grenadier Manfred Sauer had been closest to Pfeiffer when the shot rang out. Crawling to his right, he attempted to get to where he could see Pfeiffer and perhaps see the one who had fired the shot. He heard someone, had to be a man, a very clumsy man, coming through the grass, which puzzled him, who would fire a shot at them and then rush right in?


When he heard a short scuffle, a gasp and then someone swearing in German, he realized Pfeiffer must have dispatched the threat. Cautiously he moved towards Pfeiffer. When he got there, he saw a lot of blood on and around Pfeiffer, most of it was probably from the dead man Pfeiffer was trying to push off of him.

"Good Lord man, what the Hell are you playing at?" Sauer helped Pfeiffer get the dead man off, he noticed that it was an old guy, he also saw the ancient hunting rifle. Then he noticed the tourniquet on Pfeiffer's leg. Not all of the blood had been from the dead hunter.

"I'm hit Manfred, pretty bad. This old bastard probably thought I was a deer or something. He's probably dead blind.² Damn it, that hurts, stupid Belgian bastard." He snarled as he struck the corpse.

Leutnant von Lüttwitz assessed the situation, there was no way that Grenadier Pfeiffer was going any further. They had to be into the trees and soon, no doubt the old Belgian would be missed and someone would come looking for him. As he looked around, Pfeiffer spoke up.

"You have to leave me Herr Leutnant. There is no way I can travel. Here, take my ammunition, the rifle too. I have no more need of it. You must go!" Pfeiffer nearly shoved his rifle at the lieutenant. Sauer was helping him out of his gear, taking everything but his bread bag.

Leutnant von Lüttwitz looked at Pfeiffer for a long moment, he noticed that the rest of the squad had already disappeared into the edge of the wood. Only Sauer waited with him. Pfeiffer mouthed, "GO" and then pointed at the forest.

The lieutenant gripped Pfeiffer by the shoulder and squeezed. He and Pfeiffer were all that was left of the old 1st Platoon. They'd left 27 men in Russia, had received replacements, then lost all but the two of them on the beaches of Normandy, through Falaise, and the long agony of the retreat across the Seine.

"Bis nächstes Mal, Herr Leutnant³. It was an honor serving with you." They shook hands and the lieutenant was gone. Only Sauer lingered.

"You're a good man Hans, I hope the Americans capture you and not the Belgians."

"Ja, me too. I doubt the Belgians will be happy finding me with a dead Belgian."


With that last "bye" Sauer was gone, Pfeiffer was alone.

So close to home, yet so far.

¹ Yes, I know the machine gun is an MG 34 and not an MG 42, there are only so many usable pictures on the Internet. Plus, I really liked the photo.
² In German, "stockblind," the equivalent of "blind as a bat."
³ See you next time.

Thursday, August 27, 2020



Perhaps they had grown overconfident, they were used to things being quiet after dark away from the main highways. Leutnant von Lüttwitz thought to himself that they should have been a little more careful as they got closer to the front. They were close, sometimes, at night when the wind was right, they could hear the rumble of artillery to the north and to the northeast. By the lieutenant's calculations, they were within 75 kilometers of the border with Belgium.

They had set out shortly after dusk, it wasn't fully dark yet, but it had been a quiet day, some French farm traffic, carts and wagons, but no military vehicles had been on the roads all day. They knew from experience that the French would be off the roads after dusk, during the Occupation the curfew had enforced that and the French had yet to break that habit.

They had been advancing down the road itself, trying to make time, the men could sense that they were getting closer to where they wanted, needed, to be. It was getting foggy, the lieutenant hoped it would get foggier still, reducing visibility. They should be able to hear any vehicles approaching, and they did, but these vehicles were traveling at a high rate of speed, without headlights.

Feldwebel Dieter Pohl had been with von Lüttwitz on point, Unteroffizier Uwe Schumacher had been bringing up the rear, all three men carried MP 40 submachine guns. Pohl and the lieutenant had gone to either side of the road, taking cover in the ditches, ready for whatever emerged from the mist.

Obergefreiter Günter Voigt had been quick to get the MG 42 ready, Grenadier Hans Pfeiffer was his assistant gunner, the men were rotating that position as the spare ammunition, though limited, was still heavy. When the first vehicle came into sight, Voigt recognized it immediately, an American car, what the Amis called a Jeep. Behind it, close behind it as a matter of fact, was a small truck. He opened fire, he felt he had no choice.


There were two men in the Jeep, only one in the small truck. Voigt's first burst killed the driver of the Jeep which veered off the road and into the ditch, catapulting its passenger into a nearby tree. The driver of the small truck had jammed on the brakes and then tried to accelerate through the ambush once he realized that's what it was. (He had no idea that the Germans were as surprised as he was.)

That man had died when Voigt shifted his aim and fired a second quick burst into the cab of the truck. His vehicle rolled to a stop as the dead man's foot slipped from the accelerator, the vehicle hadn't really come up to speed when its driver died.

Quickly six of the seven Germans checked on the vehicles, the seventh man, Grenadier Manfred Sauer, had checked on the Jeep passenger, who had died on impact with the tree. As there was nothing to be done, he rejoined his squad.

"Mein Gott Herr Leutnant, this truck is full of American rations!" Feldwebel Pohl exclaimed.

"Everybody, grab what you can, then we head as far from this road as we can! Move, move!" The lieutenant realized that the distinctive sound of their MG 42 would definitely attract attention. There must be an American post nearby if these men were traveling this side road. There could be no other explanation.

But there was.

The Americans were deserters, they were selling American rations to the French civilians and using that money to finance what could only be described as a large organized crime racket in Paris and other large cities behind the lines. Some estimates put the number of American deserters in the ETO as high as 40,000 men. These three were just a small fraction of those involved. Some took to the woods and lived away from civilization, others turned to crime. Many of the latter had been criminals before being drafted, France was just a different venue.

As the sun rose, von Lüttwitz examined the new map they had found on the body of the "flying Ami" as the men referred to him, the man who had been thrown from the Jeep. He had been a sergeant and had a very good American map of the entire region from St-Quentin to the Belgian border. He had other maps for the surrounding areas and the lieutenant had been delighted to find one which extended well into Belgium, nearly to the German border.

Leutnant von Lüttwitz was familiar with the Ardennes, he had been a young corporal in 1940 when his division, the 223rd, had been involved in the campaign which overran France. He had visited after the fighting was over and loved the rolling hills and forests of the area. He also reasoned that it wouldn't be heavily occupied. It might be a good place to get over the border into Germany. Perhaps the army still held the line of the Maas, he didn't know. But that was closer than trying to strike further north.

The men were satiated from the excellent rations they had recovered from the truck. He had allowed them to stuff themselves as they now had enough for at least a week, if they were careful. As these men had known the hardships of the Eastern Front, von Lüttwitz knew they could be counted upon to not eat more than was necessary.

While they had made less than 40 kilometers that night, and had diverted further north than he had planned, they had food and good maps. He had been concerned about the machine gun fire and knew that the Amis would start searching for them soon. They had to. It seemed dangerous to let an armed foe wander your rear area when they probably had no idea how large a group it was.

The French had indeed reported the destroyed vehicles and the dead Americans to the local gendarmerie. They had reported it to their regional headquarters and eventually, three days after the event, the Americans sent a patrol to investigate.

"Whaddaya think Sarge? Deserters?" The lieutenant commanded the Military Police detachment in St-Quentin, he had been a New York City detective before the war. He knew that it was odd for three men to be traveling this far off the beaten path. The weapons carrier had been ransacked, there were empty ration cases around the rear.

"I dunno lieutenant. But yeah, three guys, a Jeep and a weapons carrier, way out here in the boondocks? Looks fishy. I'd bet they were selling rations on the black market. But these guys were shot up, the Maquis maybe? Now that the Krauts are gone, a lot of them are fighting their political enemies, not all of 'em are fans of de Gaulle."

The Frenchman who had brought them to the scene began to gesticulate rather wildly, he was mad about something, but his French came out in such a torrent that their interpreter, a GI who had a French mother and an American father, had trouble keeping up.

"Lieutenant, as near as I can make out, this guy's French is some heavy rural dialect, this couldn't have been the Maquis. He says he heard machine gun fire, German machine gun fire. Ya know, nothing makes a sound quite like a Kraut MG."

"What? Do ya think the resistance doesn't have Kraut weapons now that we're no longer supplying them. Hell, there's Kraut equipment laying around from here to Normandy. The f**kers shed as much weight as they could when they started running. My money's on the Maquis and these simple country f**ks made off with the rations themselves. Sure, blame the Krauts." The sergeant was known to express his opinions freely, as he did so now.

The lieutenant thought about it for a moment. Looking at the vehicles he then walked down the road in the direction which they had been traveling in, it wasn't long before he found what he was looking for.

"C'mere Sarge, take a look." The lieutenant was kneeling in a ditch about 20 yards from where the jeep had crashed. Cartridge casings were everywhere, perhaps 15 or so, whoever had been on the gun knew his business, this was not some resistance fighter shooting. They tended to use far too much ammunition.

"Okay, lieutenant, this is where the shooter was. Kraut ammo casings, doesn't mean that it was a Kraut on the gun." Staff Sergeant Cranston shrugged his shoulders, he hadn't been a cop before the war, he'd been a car salesman, but being an M.P. beat being in the infantry.

"Look again Sarge. How many Frenchmen wear hobnailed boots?" The lieutenant pointed out the tracks around the scene, it looked indeed like the shooter had been wearing military footwear. As far as he knew, only the Germans and the British wore hobnailed boots.


Sgt Cranston thought about that for a bit. Made sense, but...

"So what do we do lieutenant, report a band of marauding Krauts in the area? Could even be other deserters, who knows?"

"I know Sarge, but we should keep our eyes and ears open for other strange doings in the area. There have been Krauts picked up between here and Normandy for a few weeks now, some of the bastards are just looking for someone to surrender to, maybe a few hardcore types still trying to make it back to their lines. I dunno. But I'm curious."

"Okay lieutenant, you're the detective."

Sitting on the lieutenant's desk back in St-Quentin was a report from the gendarmes of a suspicious death near Tilloloy, a small town about 30 miles west of St-Quentin. It seems that the local gendarmes were convinced that a farmer had been murdered, then had his house set on fire, trying to make it look like an accident, they supposed.

Seems that one of the French cops had noticed odd footprints going into the hen house. What thief would wear hobnail shoes?

¹ No, it's not why Germany lost the war you dumbasses on Reddit. The British wore them as well, helped to keep the soles from wearing out. Remember, most Germans marched to war, just like their grandfathers and great-grandfathers had. Cobblestones were a problem, but most of the war did not take place in quaint city streets. /rant

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

The Road Home


The men had wolfed down the raw eggs that Pohl and Sauer had brought back, they'd eaten sparingly of the bread as that had to last longer. The eggs wouldn't keep and might get broken in their night moves across rural France. So they were consumed, each man had two, there were two extra which the men decided that the men who brought them back should split. The lieutenant hadn't objected, he also hadn't mentioned the dead French farmer after Pohl had brought it up initially. None of the men had any problem with that, their bellies were full.

The next night when they had moved off from the vicinity of Tilloloy, they had all noticed the still smoldering farmhouse to the north. There seemed to be no hue and cry from the locals, after all, accidents happened. The men had said nothing, though oddly enough, Sauer had stopped and crossed himself. Pohl was surprised, perhaps the man was human after all.

Southwest of the village of Ham

As much as they could, Leutnant von Lüttwitz kept the men to the fields off the road. Though as they progressed further north, military traffic was increasing, so now they tried to stay in the trees if there were any. Fortunately this part of France had many woodlots and stands of trees, the number of waterways was increasing as well, the area had a number of canals all leading to the Somme River, which they arrived at near the village of Tugny-et-Pont at roughly two in the morning. The lieutenant decided to stay on the western bank of that river until they were just south of St-Quentin.

St-Quentin was a substantial town of some 45,000 people as von Lüttwitz recalled. No doubt that's where all the truck traffic was headed. Often long convoys of big trucks would pass them nearby, headlights blazing as if the Luftwaffe didn't exist. In truth the Luftwaffe scarcely existed at all in the west. Except over the Reich itself.

The lieutenant decided that they would go to ground south of that city and cross over to the eastern bank of the Somme tomorrow night.

The Somme River, near the village of Artemps

"Herr Leutnant, I was wondering..." Feldwebel Pohl still showed a great deal of deference to his officer. The man had kept them alive so far. After traveling over 110 kilometers well behind enemy lines, they were still fairly healthy, the food, Pohl admitted to himself, which was largely thanks to Grenadier Sauer's efforts, had helped immensely, but now...

"What is it Feldwebel Pohl?" the lieutenant was again studying his map, actually a Michelin guide they'd picked up from the dead Frenchman's house as their military map had not extended this far. Something else they could thank Sauer for, though it had been Pohl who found the map.

"Sir, I was wondering if we might bathe? The river is right there, we're far enough from the roads, I'm getting fairly itchy, so are the men." Pohl had gestured towards the river as he said this. Though the night was somewhat chilly, the thought of rinsing out his filthy uniform and cleaning himself as best he could, had been on his mind since they had stopped.

The lieutenant looked thoughtful for a moment, then he said, "That's a capital idea Feldwebel. I will stand watch with Sauer while the rest of you clean up as best you can. Then Sauer and I will take our turn."

As the men stripped down, Sauer took the MG 42 and he and the lieutenant manned that weapon, setting up to face down the river towards where they had left the road. Any trouble would come from there. If not, oh well, they only had the one machine gun, machine pistols and rifles in the dark would probably not dissuade an enemy attack, the MG 42 would.

As Manfred Sauer slipped into the chilly waters of the Somme, after disrobing and rinsing his filthy clothing as best he could, he remembered the stories his mother had told him when he was a boy.

At the time his grandfather had been tending the small pig farm. He had let his son, Manfred's father, take over the running of the place, but then the war came. Manfred's father had been drafted into the Saxon Army. Saxony had been an independent kingdom up until the formation of the German Empire in 1871. The king, Friedrich August III, remained, but the kingdom was subordinated to the kaiser, Wilhelm II.

All that aside, during the great battles of the Somme Manfred's father had gone missing. No record of his death existed, though other men in his father's regiment insisted that his father's entire company had been buried alive, and killed, in a British artillery barrage. Of the 750,000 soldiers the Kingdom of Saxony sent to war, Manfred's father was one of the 229,000 who never returned.

As he bathed in the waters of the Somme, he wondered if his father's body rested somewhere nearby, the thought haunted him.

"You are rather more quiet than usual Manfred." The lieutenant's whisper shook Sauer from his reverie. The two men were sitting on the bank of the river, wringing their clothing out as best they could in the dark.

"Sorry Sir, it's just that my father was here in the Great War. Here at the Somme, but he never came home, he was listed as missing in action. While the Nazis declared him dead, so that my mother could have a pension, they never found his body. His entire company went missing." Sauer shivered as he said that, whether from the chill of the night air or not, von Lüttwitz couldn't tell.

"I see," the lieutenant paused, then continued with, "my father fought here as well, but he did come home, though with one less leg than he left home with. Many suffered in that war."

Sauer looked at his lieutenant, though it was dark, there was enough starlight to see some details up close, his officer seemed like a decent enough fellow, not as fanatic as his old platoon commander, but more measured, more balanced. It was probably why Leutnant von Lüttwitz was still alive, and Oberleutnant Hermann Krafft was not. The last time he had seen his lieutenant, the man was trying to attack a British tank, all by himself.

He had not survived the burst of machine gun fire from the tank, it had torn him nearly in half. That battle had also seen the 3rd platoon reduced to five men, of whom only two still lived, himself and Grenadier Böhm.

"We should get dressed Herr Leutnant, before Feldwebel Pohl thinks we have drowned." A slight chuckle followed that remark.

Leutnant von Lüttwitz was a bit taken aback, Grenadier Sauer had just said something witty. Their was more depth to this man than the lieutenant realized. "Yes, we should. I don't want the good sergeant fretting over us." Then he patted Sauer on the shoulder, a gesture which didn't surprise either man. Though the German Army was seen as strict and disciplinarian by its enemies, in reality the relationship between officers and men in tight knit units was a lot more relaxed than in either the American or the British armies.

These seven men from Saxony had grown very close to each other over the past week, it worried the lieutenant. What would happen if any of them were killed? He had to get these men home, it was really his only purpose in life now. He didn't care who won the war, he just wanted his boys to live. He wanted to bring them home.

But they still had nearly 160 kilometers to go. Much could happen, more troops were on the roads, they would need to be very careful in the next few days if they ever wanted to see home again.