Saturday, August 1, 2020

Death and Destruction

National Archives

Sgt Brandt was just behind Sgt Kaminski's hatch, close enough to talk if they both shouted. The tank commander was keeping everything but the top of his head down in the turret, too many tank commanders had already fallen victim to snipers for him to ride fully exposed.

They'd moved out early, it had surprised Brandt to be traveling at the rear of the column, leading the column was Kaminski's new #5 tank, commanded by a Sgt Mackey. The #4 tank under Sgt Weathersfield followed him, followed by Sgt Jackson, then Sgt Wallace (whose vehicle was also carrying Cpl Wilson's team). He supposed it made sense, wouldn't want the guy with the expensive radio and the ability to call down air support out front where he'd be exposed to every Kraut anti-tank gun in the neighborhood.

But there were no living Germans to be seen. The countryside was all ruined villages, destroyed German vehicles, dead Germans, and dead farm animals. They had even seen a few civilians hanging from trees, execution style. Sgt Brandt assumed the Germans were killing Resistance members as they caught them.

At that moment Brandt nearly crapped his pants as four big P-47s boomed down the road from behind and just above tree top level. He hadn't heard them until they had flown overhead, the sudden noise rather startled him.

As the lead aircraft pulled up in a graceful turn to the left, Brandt saw tracer fire reach from the ground toward the aircraft, the P-47 wasn't hit but one of the trailing aircraft in the flight fired rockets at something on the ground.

The column came to a halt as the four P-47s "worked" a target somewhere ahead of them. Kaminski popped up and shouted, "Krauts ahead, an anti-tank gun battery with anti-aircraft support. The flyboys are kicking the shit out of them!"

As Brandt watched the aircraft attack, which was over fairly quickly, he saw one aircraft pull off the target trailing a thin line of gray smoke. As the P-47s turned north for their airfield near the beaches, that smoke thickened and turned black. Brandt held his breath, it looked like the big American fighter was starting to burn.

The big piston engine sputtered briefly, caught, then seized up completely. By then the pilot had gained sufficient altitude to jump, so he did. The canopy deployed, the man swung in his harness once, then he was on the ground. Men from the rear elements of his platoon were rushing out to the pilot, Brandt hoped the guy would be okay. As he thought that, the tank he was riding jerked, then began to roll forward again.

Flakpanzer 38(t)
German self-propelled anti-aircraft gun

The position was in ruins. The three carefully deployed and camouflaged 5 cm anti-tank guns, and their trucks, were twisted steel now, surrounded by their dead and dying crews. The smell of detonated explosives and burning wood filled the man's nostrils as he sat in the midst of his ruined command.

The SS-Hauptsturmführer had been a proud member of the 1st SS Panzer Division "Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler"¹ until last year when he'd been brought in as cadre for this new SS division, the 17th. Which was something of a joke to him. He had gone from a committed and fanatical German unit to this collection of foreigners and young boys. Most of his battery were Volksdeutsch from Romania, their average age was 18.

He had seen the Jabos flying low, following the road which ran south to Avranches. He had also seen the cloud of dust which indicated an enemy column, most likely tanks, was coming his way. His battery was perfectly sited to tear the Amis to shreds.

He had commanded everyone to hold their fire until he said otherwise, but some overanxious boy manning the Flakpanzer had opened fire as soon as he saw a target. Which had brought down the wrath of the gods upon his position.

The crackling of fire and the screams of his wounded men were driving him to despair. Both of his legs were shattered, he could actually see a bone protruding from one of his boots, and he was in a great deal of pain.

Before his Flakpanzer had died, the boys had managed to hit one of the Jabos, he flew off trailing smoke. One of that man's wingmen had blown the Flakpanzer to Hell. That had been the end of the battle, for there was nothing left to kill.

He looked at the face of his runner, an older sergeant named Rudi, short for Rudolph. Rudi had been with him since Russia in 1942, when he was still a very green lieutenant. The man had kept him alive through two brutal years in that Godforsaken land. Now he stared with glassy eyes at the shredded tree canopy above them, poor Rudi, to live through so much only to die here, in some unnamed patch of trees in France.

He reached for his pistol.

Okay, I was more than a little scared. There were burning trees and underbrush all around. I could see dead Germans and wrecked artillery pieces, little ones. (Sgt Brandt told me later that they were anti-tank guns, 50 mm, which were kinda small.)

My rifle was ready, I was moving slowly and trying to see everything all at once. It felt like I had to pee, really, really badly. I guess that was just nerves. I heard something ahead of me and paused. Something, or someone was just up ahead.

As the SS man drew his pistol, thinking to shoot himself, he heard a twig snap.

Darn it, darn it, darn it! I know better to step more carefully than that. An old branch or something and I stepped on it, now I have to wait, let whoever that is up ahead think it was just a random noise.

Then I heard a "psssst" from Duck, I turned and he mouthed, "Let's go..."

I gestured at him to be quiet, which kinda startled him I guess.

Slowly I move again, this time sliding to my left and ahead step by step.

The SS man thought he had heard something in the brush. But there was nothing there, then he heard a hissing noise, fool Americans think they can hunt me.

He raised his Walther P-38 and prepared to kill the first man who stepped into the clearing with him.

As he aimed, a wave of pain assailed him, causing him to grit his teeth and close his eyes only for a moment. When he reopened them, he saw a man to his right, a soldier, a big American farm boy aiming a rifle at him.

He quickly swung his pistol in the man's direction. Then felt his chest explode as the man fired his rifle. His pistol dropped from his lifeless hand, then he fell back.

Now he and Rudi both stared lifelessly at the sky.

"Holy shit kid, you hammered that Kraut." Duck was impressed, but Gammell was mad.

"Damn it Duck, you almost gave it away. I was point man, what are you doing making all that damned noise!" Gammell looked mad enough to hit poor Duck.

Cpl Wilson had come up, "What the Hell are you two bitching about?"

"Nothing Corp, but Gammell nailed that Kraut," Duck was pointing at the dead SS officer.

Wilson went over to the dead man, saw that the guy was no rookie. Iron Cross, assault badges, and other decorations make this guy a pro. Damn, he's even got that "Adolf Hitler" cuff title on his sleeve. His legs were all torn to Hell, wasn't like he was going to run away, probably just waiting for us to step into the open and take as many of us with him as he could. But that single bullet hole in his chest stopped all that.

"Nice shooting kid, real nice shooting. Now let's go, we gotta move, we're not far from the day's objective, or so Sgt Brandt tells me."

As the American column moved on, the little forest of dead Germans continued to smolder and burn. There would be very little left of the place in a couple of days, charred trees, charred vehicles, and charred men. Normandy was beginning to look like a charnel house.

A place of death and destruction.

¹ The 1st SS Panzer Division, "Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler" had begun its days as a small group of men detailed to protect Hitler. The term "Leibstandarte" can be translated as "Life Guards," literally the term translates to "Body Regiment." A "Standarte" was the SS term for a regiment. They were Hitler's bodyguard and they wore a facsimile of his signature on an embroidered cuff band. His monogram "AH" also decorated their shoulder straps. The men you see in Berlin on guard duty in those black uniforms were drawn from the Leibstandarte. An old nickname for them was the "Asphalt Soldiers," as all they did was parade around Berlin. But they proved their worth as a combat division throughout the war.


  1. The stench from the Falaise Pocket was legendary.Dead men, dead horses, dead machines.

  2. The SS HauptSturmfuhrer, formerly of the elite 1st Panzer, decorated and experienced, died three deaths at the hands of...children. Reassigned to some bastard group, probably felt like a babysitter; then one of the kids draws fire onto his team, costing them their advantage and their lives. Lastly, the final death from a fresh faced know nothing Pvt. He was cheated in life and now in death. Not to idolize any misbegotten glory to be found in war yet it seems the honor was taken from him by cruel fate.

    1. It reminds me of Lee Marvin's character in the movie, The Big Red One. How many ways can war be hell?

    2. I too, like that movie.

      And it is ever the role of the veteran, to be saddled with yet another group of children. I can see how NCOs get bitter and soft and uncaring about their jobs during peacetime, having to deal with the continued rotation of frickin newbies and just as you get FN#231452 up and running the powers that be yank him/her(and now it, thanks Okobungo)and yet another frickin newbie comes galomphing into the unit.

      During wartime, it's the never-ending grind of FNs that may last to become veterans, but...

      I'm beginning to think Non-Combat Fatigue (tired of the daily non-combat BS) is as much or more deadly than Combat Fatigue. I am sure that Kipling had something to say about the never-ending soul-crushing moral-defeating eternal barracks duty, and how a little spot of action once in a while was good to keep everyone awake, mostly alive and focused.

    3. And, like I didn't actually say, but that's a Great Movie!

      The scene where, in Italy, the replacement goes for water and loses a kiwi fruit shaped object always brings a chuckle. Horrible, yes, but Lee Marvin's character's line about it, priceless.

      And then to find out, Lee based his character on... himself. Good man. Wish we had more actor-types with real experience, or at least veterans of a non-Bradley Manning type, in Hollyweird.

    4. Beans/

      Had a lot immediately post-WW II, but most are dead now..

    5. Cant hide from Karma, she may come late but she will find you & your so called decorations & misappropriated honor as this SS Nazi bastage learned.

  3. Iron Cross and pistol, prime loot for a few.........

    1. True, but...

      Get caught by the enemy with enemy swag and things won't go well.

    2. A lot of front-line soldiers looted swag so they could trade with the REMFs for stuff they wanted or needed, like booze. Then again, a lot of garritroopers looted combat veterans' luggage and duffle and stole a lot of swag.

      As Kipling so well put it in his poem "Loot":

      W'y, they call a man a robber if 'e stuffs 'is marchin' clobber
      With the -- Loo! loo! Lulu! lulu!
      Loo! loo! Loot! loot! loot!
      Ow the loot!
      Bloomin' loot!
      That's the thing to make the boys git up an' shoot!

      Though I've heard of people looting some quite large objects with the aid of 'good' supply personnel. Heavy machine guns, cannon, etc. (Though, of course, until 1968, you could buy all that fully operational (for the most part) from a catalog or page in a magazine and have it delivered to your house. Want a mortar? Here's a whole field, carefully demilitarized by having the sights removed carefully. Next page? Mortar Sights! Next page, inert rounds. Next page, launching charges for 'stump removal.'

      Grrrr... I want my full 2A rights.

    3. Charles Durning was the real thing, too.

      Noise discipline is the most important thing that keeps you alive.. And don't even think about lighting up a cigarette at night - it can be seen for 100s of yards on a dark night.

    4. Charles Durning, loved that guy.

    5. The smell of cigarette smoke, and body odor (for really filthy unwashed people (it's a tangy smell)) can be smelled 100 yards or more depending on wind conditions.

    6. Sure, if you're not surrounded by burning wreckage, villages, and dead bodies.

    7. (Don McCollor)...There is a Mauldin cartoon of a medic standing up lighting a cigarette "Don't worry Joe, I'm a non-combatant""...

  4. Hey AF Sarge

    Iron cross and lugar, man prime souvenir stuff, there. that flak panzer started life as a Czechoslovakian tank,that is what the (T) meant. it meant T(Czech) When the Germans seized Czechoslovakia in 1938 they got a very modern arms industry and several divisions of tanks, trucks and other things. I honestly think they couldn't have pulled off Poland or France if they hadn't gone into Czechoslovakia.

    1. The pistol was a Walther, not a Luger.

      I knew that about the Czech equipment. The Czechs had very good armaments, which did worry the Germans.

    2. to the G.I's all Pistols were Lugers, LOL I kinda figured you knew about the Czech equipment :D

    3. Oh no my friend, the GI knew the difference between a Walther and a Luger. It's that toggle action that gives it away.

  5. Blitzkrieg is a fine weapon but it can point both ways


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.