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?


  1. Quite the trek there Sarge, had me wondering what you were leading up to. Landscape photos are good choices and that's a lot of dollars going through that MG barrel.......yes I'd like to be the one pulling the trigger.....(sigh).

    1. I wasn't really sure myself until I got there. There's obviously a story behind that, which I might tell shortly.

      Yes, they used an entire 50 round belt I think.

    2. I'd love to have the money to feed that gun the way it deserves to be fed. Sigh.

    3. Wouldn't we all?

      Not to mention actually owning the weapon itself.

    4. I had the opportunity to run the guns descendant the MG3 in qualification for the Schutzenschnurr (along with the P1 and the G36).
      Later got to shoot it in competition in a Freundshaft Schiesse. Fortunately for me the NCO running the MG station took a liking to me and said "Come back later,sir. We have lots of ammunition." Got to run a box through the gun. GREAT GPMG, far better than the old M60 pig I used to run.
      Boat Guy

    5. Likewise here. Got to qualify with the MG3 and P1, but not the G36. Got my Schutzenschnurr in gold. I may have mentioned before that my MOS was 45B, Small Arms Repair. After the first burst on the MG3, I remember thinking "Didn't we win the war? Why didn't we just bring them home?". I am reminded of the old question "What is the definition of a camel?". Answer--"It's a horse designed by committee". Or more precisely, money and politics.

    6. "Not made here."

      It's an old story.

  2. "Good men". Indeed. Glad they made it. Which I think, describes your talent in a nutshell. You turn charts, maps, and numbers into people. Once again I am brought back to Shifty Powers--"He might've liked to fish".

    1. Fellow humans, different culture. But not all that different.

  3. Hey AFSarge;

    Good way to end that trek and having Sauer Swear like an Saxony was brilliant, No way to doubt the bonafides on that group.

    1. It made sense to me, the 275th was raised in Saxony.

  4. I have heard that as large as the world is, in the military one cannot ever escape their previous life in the military. As large as the world is, it is still a small world.

    Good thing his old sergeant didn't hate his guts.

    Looks like the men get a few weeks rest and refit before getting tossed into the sausage grinder again. Maybe even a few months if they get assigned to the Ardennes breakout.

    Sauer definitely is a quirky dude, and he definitely deserved the field promotion. Hope it sticks.

    1. We'll run into these guys again. They will fight in the Hürtgenwald. Where the 275th will be destroyed then reformed as the 344th, which gets destroyed in Russia. The 275th gets reformed one more time in the spring of 1945, probably more of a reinforced regiment that an actual full sized division though.

      Not sure if they'll see the Ardennes again in 1944, but they might.

  5. I’m glad they made it back

    Like watching Das boot. They went through so many travails you’re rooting for them

    Is the MG 42 the machine gun we called the buzz saw?

    Think this is a typo here

    "The damned 42 dried to drown me “

    I had to laugh inwardly when the Germans Sentry ask for the password of the day

    The BS goes across armies

    1. It was known as "Hitler's buzz saw" to some.

      Yup, typo, fixed same. I look and I look and there are always a few that slip through.

      The BS goes across history as well, I'm sure the Roman Legionaries bitched about it too.


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