"What do you call this beast again, Kaminski?" Sgt Brandt had noticed just how thrilled Kaminski was with this newest addition to his platoon. The suspension was different and the gun was bigger. Sgt Brandt liked the idea of the bigger gun.
"She's an 'Easy Eight¹,' Bill. Official designation is the M4A3E8, this baby is one of the few in Normandy right now. We were lucky to get her, I have a buddy in the Quartermaster Corps, he pulled some strings and there ya go, new tank!" Kaminski was like a kid with a new toy.
"It's experimental, so the Army wanted a few examples to try in combat. I thought Patton would want 'em, but my buddy said that Georgie was happy with the tanks he's got. Hey, his loss, our gain." Kaminski chuckled as he continued to check out his new vehicle.
Sgt Wilbur Fortin was wandering down the line as if he was looking for someone. Sgt Brandt saw him and yelled, "Hey Wilbur, what do ya need?"
Fortin adjusted his eyeglasses, blinked, then looked at Sgt Brandt, "Uh, L.T. wants to see you. At the CP, it's right over there."
"Talk to you later Kaminski," Brandt said as he slid down the front of the 'Easy Eight.' "Any idea what he wants Wilbur?"
"Nope, hey, I told ya, call me Sgt Fortin, I got more time in grade." Fortin was an annoying little bastard, Brandt wasn't sure how 2Lt Heintzelman had tolerated him. But it's the Army, it takes all kinds.
"Sure, Sgt Fortin. Sure." Brandt headed over to the CP shaking his head.
It wasn't much more than an old shed with a table inside, but 2Lt Paddock set up shop there, as he said, "At least it's dry." Brandt was pretty sure they wouldn't be here long, the Krauts were on the run.
"What's up Sir?"
"Hey Bill, take a look at this map. You see this high ground just east of us?"
Sgt Brandt leaned in and took a good look at the map, then he chuckled.
"Something funny Sarge?"
"Yes sir, just this morning one of my guys asked me where we were, I told him, 'France.' That's about as close as I could get. But now I see where we are. We've come quite a ways from Marigny, haven't we?"
"Yup, about 45 miles by road. By the way, now I know why you don't like riding in the trucks. With the canvas up, you can't see anything, with the canvas down, everything gets covered in dust. You have that trouble riding a tank?"
"Well, yes sir, just not as bad, tanks don't move as fast. Though I think Kaminski thinks he could race a deuce-and-a-half with his tank. The man is nuts."
"Hell no Sir. The guy knows his business, but he's a tanker, they're all a little crazy!"
"Hahaha, that they are Bill, that they are. Anyway, I need you and your guys up on this high ground," again Paddock pointed at the map, "there are rumors that the Krauts are up to something. No one has any firm idea, but reconnaissance indicates that the Krauts are massing armor to our east. If they can take Mortain, it will certainly set back our efforts to drive towards Falaise. We could cut off the whole Kraut 7th Army if the Brits get their butts in gear."
Brandt looked at the map again, pulled out his own dog-eared and dirty map. "Huh, I don't have that section, I seem to be a map or two behind. We've just been moving too fast I guess. But I'll take the boys up on that ridge and set up a blocking position. Are we still attached to Kaminski's platoon?"
2Lt Paddock shook his head, "I really don't know Bill, he's in a different outfit, I don't know what orders he might get. But I am sending Sgt Maxwell and his machine gun section with you, we've also got a bazooka team I can lend you. A Corporal Jones and a Private Wells, they've been around. If Kaminski can't take you up there, take one of the trucks. Okay?"
"Got it sir, we'll move out immediately."
|Sd.Kfz. 234/4 Pakwagen²|
Due to the increasing shortage of tanks, the division was starting to use it's lightly armored eight wheeled armored cars in both a reconnaissance and anti-tank role. SS-Untersturmführer Gerd Rossler was very unhappy about that. His small platoon of one Pakwagen and two halftracks was being pushed down this secondary road leading into Mortain. The rest of the 2nd SS Panzer Division 'Das Reich' and 1st SS Panzer Division 'Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler' had been directed to go around the town. Those two prongs of the attack consisted of both divisions' few remaining Panthers and PzKw IVs.
"So we get the side roads, we get to probe!" Rossler slammed his fist on the gun breech as he yelled that out.
"Untersturmführer?" His sergeant looked at him, a little worried. His commander had been out of sorts lately. Well, you couldn't blame him, harassed from the air, constant combat, supplies running low (there had been nothing for breakfast that morning), that would make anyone a bit testy.
"I'm all right Erwin. Too much on my mind."
As the small platoon moved on, Rossler consulted his map, they should be coming up on Mortain soon, probably just the other side of this ridge. Hopefully the Amis were busy with his more heavily armored comrades so he could slip in, look around, then report back.
"Steady guys, Kraut armored car and a couple of halftracks nosing up the road." Brandt was nervous, Kaminski's tanks were no longer with them, all he had to stop these vehicles was a bazooka team. He really hoped that Jones and Wells were good with that stovepipe.
He'd positioned them up the road a ways in a cluster of trees. Told them to keep their heads down if Kraut infantry came snooping around. Anything driving on the road, he'd leave it up to them to engage or not. L.T. said they knew their business, Brandt had to trust them. Though he didn't like relying on strangers, they were all he had.
Cpl Judd Maxwell and his machine gun section were hunkered down in the second story of a small barn with good sight lines down the road and into the fields on either side of the road. There wasn't much in the way of hedges along this stretch, Brandt was glad of that.
"Sonsofbitches, Kraut armor, boys, get ready!"
|East of Mortain|
SS-Untersturmführer Gerd Rossler signaled his platoon to slow down, at the top of the ridge was a small farmstead, oddly enough it was nearly untouched, rare in this part of Normandy, the Amis were bombing and shelling anything that moved and anything which might harbor Germans.
Just as he did so he heard a whoosh and then an explosion behind him, as he turned he saw the tail end halftrack slew off the road, the engine and driver's compartments were engulfed in smoke. As he watched the survivors bail out of their damaged machine, the chatter of an Ami machine gun tore his gaze back to his front.
The machine gun killed most of the men jumping from the halftrack, as he began to order his gun to hit the small barn to his left, he could see the muzzle flash of the enemy machine gun. Another anti-tank rocket streaked from a small copse of woods. This one slammed into the gun compartment of Rossler's vehicle and killed it's occupants.
The men from the second halftrack had dismounted and were beginning to deploy on the side of the road away from the machine gun. Unknowingly, they had walked right into a classic L-shaped ambush.
Cpl Jack Wilson couldn't believe it when the Krauts jumped from their vehicle and ran right towards his reinforced section. He had both B.A.R. teams, Sgt Brandt had loaned him Red and Cajun because, as he put it, "I've got the .30 cal with me, I want you to have enough firepower to handle any Kraut infantry mounted on vehicles. The stovepipe will do it's thing, you do yours."
Of course, Wilson thought, if the Krauts had jumped the other way, the .30 cal would have nailed them, they really had no choice than to try and deploy on his side of the road. It was a fatal mistake.
They waited, a number of the Krauts were moving, on the ground, wounded. The rest were motionless in the long grass. One of the Germans started to stand up. A burst from Duck's B.A.R. put him down hard.
"Okay guys, we're going to hold right here for the moment. Some of those Krauts might be playing possum and I'm not sure if that undamaged halftrack still has it's driver and gunner on board. So let's just wait a..."
As he was talking, another bazooka rocket came out of the trees and slammed into the undamaged halftrack. From the screams, Wilson guessed that not all of the Krauts had dismounted.
The Germans would not be retaking Mortain. In addition, they lost another hundred tanks and assault guns that could not be replaced. The German Army in Normandy was doomed, all they could hope to do now was escape over the Seine River before the British and Canadians closed the trap at Falaise.
It was time to run.
¹ According to my sources, 2,617 M4A3E8s were produced during August 1944. Obviously it would have been a long shot to see one of these in Normandy that soon, if it even happened at all. Officially they weren't in action until December of 1944. But I like the opening photo, it has an Easy Eight, so through the magic of "poetic" licence, Kaminski gets to try one out. Hey, it could've happened!
² Sd.Kfz. 234/4 Pakwagen = Sonderkraftfahrzeug 234, Special Purpose Vehicle 234 Anti-Tank vehicle