Praetorium Honoris

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Clearing the Zone...

National Archives
On the last day of the month (Ed. - August 1944) armored troops were at Rethel and Montcornet, a hundred miles beyond the Seine. General Rose, who had developed the 3d Armored Division "into a marvelous thing, ... built up morale, taught the division how to ... fight," led the advance, with the 9th Division (commanded now by Maj. Gen. Louis A. Craig) and Huebner's 1st Division clearing the corps zone behind the armor. (Source - Page 672)
I don't know how we wound up with halftracks for the entire platoon, we'd lost a few guys, but none from 1st Squad. Platoon headquarters had been hit hard a couple of days before, losing six men killed in action, "KIA" as the Army put it. Sarge said it was unusual to have so many dead and only two guys wounded, neither of them that badly. Doc had sewn up a deep cut on John Myerson's left cheek, and picked out some fragments and debris from both of Cajun's legs and bandaged them up. Other than the L.T., Herm Shapiro, Myerson, and Jim Romano were the only guys left from platoon headquarters. I didn't know any of them very well. Six out of ten, gone.

We'd gotten a lift into some small town just south of Paris from some colored guys from the Red Ball Express, which Sarge explained to me was a bunch of trucks shuttling supplies from the beaches where we'd landed in Normandy. Also from some port called Cherbourg, I had no idea where that was.

The Red Ball guys met up with their convoy and dropped us off, their head guy, a PFC named Jefferson, told us that if his sergeant had seen them hauling passengers, he'd get his ass chewed. But that was okay because Cat, who spoke some French in addition to English and his native German, had found an unattended motor pool with a bunch of jeeps, trucks, and halftracks. All marked as belonging to the 3rd Armored, who were somewhere out in front of us.

The lieutenant was still kind of shaken up, his field jacket was stained with blood from the guy who had been sitting with him when their halftrack had hit a mine. So Sarge was covering for him with the assistance of the other two squad leaders in the platoon, Sergeants Jenkins and Peavey.

We still had a bazooka team and a machine gun section with us, though we were short six guys, we still had a lot of punch. Doc Milbury, the company medic, rode with us as often as he could, he said it was to keep an eye on us. He was with us today. Now that we had liberated five halftracks, all with .50 caliber machine guns mounted on them, we were riding in style. Cat had started referring to our platoon as "Kampfgruppe Paddock." Which I guess means "battle group" in Kraut. Paddock of course was our lieutenant in command, so the group was named after him. I'm still learning.

"Hey Gammell, got any Camels?" PFC Jack Leonard fancied himself as the platoon comedian, though Bear always called him the "platoon jackass." Which Leonard didn't really care for, he did consider himself a funny guy, at least compared to some of the others, he was kind of funny.

Yeah, I started smoking, helps to settle my nerves. I've written home a few times but haven't mentioned that, nor have I mentioned that I've killed more than a few Germans. So I talk about the French countryside, it is really pretty around here, not all closed in like in Normandy. Reminds me a bit of Vermont up around Burlington. But with not as many trees. Good looking farmland from the looks of it.

The road to Meaux, France, just east of Paris

What was left of platoon HQ was riding with Sgt Brandt's section, Brandt was still keeping an eye on the lieutenant. He seemed to be gradually coming around, he was young and impressionable, but he was also pretty tough Brandt had noticed.

"Bill," 2Lt Paddock turned to Brandt as the halftrack clattered around a corner, "our intel says that 3rd Armored had cleared out all the Krauts between here and," briefly he consulted his map, "and this place, Château-Thierry."

"Didn't we fight a big battle there back in World War I L.T.?" Brandt knew some history, it wasn't that long ago that he'd been in high school, so he remembered some of his lessons.

"That's right, our 3rd Division and some French division held off a Kraut offensive and then counter-attacked. Might have been America's first fight in that war, I don't really remember all that much about it."

"Anyways, supposedly 3rd Armored is moving to the north fast, all we're supposed to do is make sure that the places the tankers liberated, are actually cleared of Krauts. There have been a couple of occasions where some supply guys were moving into a 'liberated' village only to get shot up by some stay-behind Krauts. Booby traps are a problem too, tell the guys no souvenirs and don't f**cking touch anything suspicious, which is pretty much everything."

"Got it L.T.," before Brandt could get out another word, the .50 on the halftrack immediately in front of them was opening up on the ditch on the right side of the road, about 50 yards ahead.

Brandt heard the ripping bark of a Kraut MG interlaced with the heavier thumping of the .50 cal, as their halftrack rolled to a stop, Howie Dickenson opened up with their track's .50 cal.

"Goddamn SS bastards Sarge, f**king MG 42!"

Another burst from the .50 cal, then Dickenson ceased fire, "Ha! Three dead SS bastards! Hey Heinie, f**k you!"

Brandt had noticed that Dickenson was on the ragged edge lately, the man loved killing Germans. It wasn't a job to him, it was a passion, ever since he'd shot that Kraut tanker back in Marigny, he had become a better shot, and a much more efficient killer. Brandt was a bit worried about him.

Brandt and the L.T. dismounted and went up the line, the lieutenant ordering the track to follow behind and cover them. When they got up to where the Germans had set up, even Brandt almost threw up, the .50 cal had literally torn the three Germans to red ruin. The two .50s had even destroyed their MG 42, the barrel was bent and the feed tray was nowhere to be seen.

"I'll never get used to this shit Bill. Never." 2Lt Paddock had seen too much death in the past few weeks, but seeing guys torn up by mines and machine gun fire was pretty common. He'd made the mistake back in Normandy of looking inside a knocked out Kraut tank, he'd never do that again, the crew were still in their vehicle, burned and almost unrecognizable as human.

The lieutenant stood there for another long moment, then took a deep breath. "Hey Gammell, got any Camels?"

"Since when did you start smoking Nate?" Brandt whispered with some concern.

"Since today Bill, since today."

Climbing back into the halftrack, the lieutenant bellowed, "Mount up! We don't have all day!"

As Brandt took his seat next to his lieutenant, he looked at the man, seemed that the lieutenant had gotten his second wind or something. But he seemed grimmer somehow.

"Problem Sergeant?" Paddock asked as he lit the cigarette Gammell had provided.

"Nah, Sir, just that you look a bit green around the gills."

With that, 2Lt Nathan Paddock, U.S. Military Academy Class of 1944, had a coughing fit and tossed the cigarette away.

"Since today, huh L.T.?" Brandt was grinning as he said it.

"Sarge, kiss my ass." Still coughing, Paddock decided that he would quit smoking the same day he had started. What a vile habit!

Situation as of 31 August 1944
Approximate position of the 1st Infantry Division circled in red
The route taken by 2nd Platoon in August 1944


  1. If you decide to publish this as a book......I want to reserve my copy now

  2. What Coffee Man said. I've carried a M2, and it's heavy. I've shot a .50 BMG single shot rifle, and that is one monster round. I cannot even imagine what a string of them would do to meat popsicles...

    I think the Limeys were using miles at this point, too. Why is the map in meters?

    I went to school with a bunch of Canadians. I was borrowing a truck to get some stuff in town, and the school zone light was blinking. I slowed down, "25 MPH"... I looked at the speedo, and it said "40". I honked the brakes, and realized that I was going way too slow... Wait.... is that speedo KPH? That's been my rule of thumb conversion number ever since. 25 MPH = 40 KPH...

    1. I'm kinda partial to 100 KPH = 62 MPH, but I really like 200 KPH = 124 MPH (on the Autobahn, of course, never on the Interstate - cough! cough!)

      The .50 BMG is an awesome round, for sure, especially when you need to reach through a wall or light armor. I think Ma Deuce is John Moses Browning's most significant contribution to the US military (while the 1911 pistol is the same for individual protection). Ronnie Barrett did a great job scaling a rifle in the .50 BMG to be not only "light enough" to be carried (lugged around) but also in reducing the recoil to be shot fairly comfortably.

    2. STxAR - Google maps uses kilometers in countries where that is the standard.

      After 7+ years in Germany I don't really think about the difference. My old Honda's speedometer was marked in mph and kph. The new one (it's all digital, I'm driving an AWD computer) you pick what you want in the settings. Germany has default speed limits, if the limit isn't posted, that's the speed you can go. Within villages/towns/cities (entry and exit to those is clearly marked by the way) the default is 50 kph, outside those areas and not on the autobahn it's 100 kph. On the autobahn it is theoretically unlimited with a huge BUT - (this was instituted in the late '90s, not sure if it still applies) if you get in an accident on the autobahn, regardless of whether it's your fault or not and are going over 130 kph, your insurance doesn't have to pay. That is, you want to go fast, that's your right, however you assume ALL risk for doing so.

      As a side note, most of the Ruhrgebiet (Ruhr industrial area) has a posted speed limit of 130 kph on the autobahns, think truck traffic, lots of truck traffic.

    3. The only real problem I have with Ma Deuce is her slow rate of fire. But if you hit something, it stays hit!

    4. HEAD SPACE & TIMING. I repeat HEAD SPACE & TIMING. Old Guns

    5. My mantra too, but the new Ma Deuces are fixed headspace. We had our gages threaded through a button hole in our cammies.
      Got NO grief with "slow rate of fire" Sarge - it helps one get hits. I find the rhythm of a well-served M2 to be a sweet sound indeed.
      Oh and put me down for at least three paper books in addition to the trons
      Boat Guy

    6. Old Guns - Very important to remember, still has a slow ROF.

    7. Boat Guy - I hear ya, but if I have multiple targets inbound, I like the quicker response of the M60 or the M249. Then again, targets don't keep coming after a Ma Deuce strike.

    8. The Germans hated the M2HB even more than we hated the MG42.

    9. A wise man hates getting shot at by any sort of machine gun.

    10. With a Ma Deuce, you can also reach out and touch someone at a significantly longer distance, and also don't have to worry so much about concealment screwing up your aim.

      It's all a compromise. Fast spray at short to medium range or slower chug-chug at longer range.

      Me? How about a gun track with a .50 forward and two 7.62 MGs mounted on the sides? With a grenadier or two also in the track (to help pass ammo and lob bombs, of course,) would that satisfy you? Couple gun-tracks or gun-trucks would make me happy.

    11. (Don McCollor)...what you want is a quad 50 mount. Two pairs of 50s on each side of the gunner in a power operated turret...

    12. Not much good against dispersed, really good infantry.

      Really good for riot control.

    13. (Don McCollor)...Also good against the "human wave" charges in Korea. The gunner would only fire barrels, giving time to clear malfunctions while switching to the other two...

    14. The version you're referring to I believe was the M16 Multiple Gun Motor Carriage. Quad fifties is nothing to sneeze at. Originally designed as an anti-aircraft weapon, it was good against ground targets as well. With four of 'em I guess ROF isn't much of a factor anymore!

    15. When I’m converting kilometers to miles I found for me the easiest way was to just assume a kilometer is a little more than a half a mile per hour

      So you just divide by two and add a shade

      Which a kilometer is .6 miles thereabouts

      Some things I remember in the army such as the maximum effective range of a 50 caliber-7000 yards

      To paraphrase E.F. Hutton, “when ma deuce speaks, people listen!“

  3. Put me down for one paper book Sarge.

  4. FWIW the LT's experience with cigarettes mirrors my own; started/quit same day. Cigars, however were a different story.
    I really liked it when my guys addressed me as "L.T." when I held that rank.
    Boat Guy

    1. I wasn't that smart, took me over 30 years to quit. Never did care for cigars, tried them, didn't like them. A pipe on the other hand was most enjoyable, just too much damned work!

      When I was in calling someone "lieutenant" was a bit below calling them "sir." When I used the term "L.T." it meant that I really liked and respected the officer.

  5. Oh, one more thing, then I promise I'll leave you be for a bit; if you've not read Adam Makos' "Spearhead" about 3rd Armored tankers, I highly recommend it.
    Boat Guy

  6. Not many guys smoked Camels when I did and when someone did bum one it was usually the only time.
    I broke in on Viceroys or Kents at an early age and graduated to Camels about age twelve.
    It took me 57 years to stop.

    I can’t remember handling anything other than .30 cal. and that was just during a training demo.
    First, the Garland, then BAR, and, finally, MG.
    They showed us the .45s, 1911, Thompson, and Grease gun, but there was no shooting.

    Don’t get impatient about publishing.
    Buck would be disappointed if you misplaced prepositions and punctuation.
    I’m looking forward to a copy, too.

    KPH or MPH, meh!
    I just go with the flow, except in the residential neighborhoods, where I irritate everyone by going too slow.
    On the freeway, I’ll just say there are others going faster than I, but many going slower.

    1. On the freeway I tend to find a pack and travel at the trailing edge.

      I'm not impatient to publish, there is more story to come!

  7. Supply was certainly wild and wooly back then. Just waltzing in and liberating a bunch of stuff and getting away with it. Neat.

    My nephew described the paperwork, during the reign of TWPE!!!, to get normal, basic supplies as horrible. Fill this form out, fill that form out, wait, fill more stuff out, swear on someone's grave, more forms, all to be denied and you'd have to start again. Things opened up a bit after TWPE left and some reforms by a crass New Yorker took over.

    Your description of combat reactions feels right. Some are a little off one way, some another, others just seem 'normal' in an abnormal world.

    You've obviously thought about this for a while, haven't you?

    How many days till Blue sails to the Nuke's abode?

    1. I've been contemplating writing this book since the '70s, but I didn't know enough then. Now I know more, but enough? That remains to be seen.

      Lift off is planned for Saturday. She's in labor at this moment.


Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)
Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

NOTE: Comments on posts over 5 days old go into moderation, automatically.