Praetorium Honoris

Wednesday, August 5, 2020


(Source, Page 446)

My nose is itching, I really want to scratch it, but I can't. I've got my rifle trained on a patch of brush and I swear there's something in there. It might just be the shadows or the mist, I'll feel better when the sun burns some of this fog off.

We've been in this position all night, right now it's Duck's turn to sleep. We're dug in, but this hole really isn't deep enough for my tastes. The Krauts might be running low on tanks and infantry, but their artillery is still pretty active. They don't fire a lot of rounds, Sarge figures that our flyboys are really pounding their supply lines, so they must be getting low on ammo. Thing is, they've been here for four years, it seems like they have every corner of France zeroed in!

I feel a tug on my sleeve, I almost pee myself then I hear Duck ask, "Charlie, anything out there?"

"Damn it Duck, I dunno. What with this mist and the early morning shadows, I can barely see the front sight on my rifle. There's a patch of brush over across the way, I swear someone's in it."

Duck sat up next to me and took a long look at where I had pointed.

"Kid, I don't see nothing there. It's your imagination."

"I dunno Duck, I swear someone's in there."

The scout from the 17th SS Panzergrenadier Division "Götz von Berlichingen" was frozen in place. He had been watching the American line for 30 minutes or so when he noticed a man in a trench or fighting hole begin to stare in his direction. It was getting lighter out and he needed to get back to his Kampfgruppe¹, Kampfgruppe Wahl. The division had been reduced to 8,500 men at the beginning of July, the scout reckoned there were even fewer left now, maybe 3,000 or so. But the Führer demanded that they attack. So they would.

"Damn it, there's two of them." SS-Unterscharführer Max Klemens thought to himself. He could just see the top of another man's head as the man got up to look in his direction. The original soldier was pointing in his direction. "If I don't move soon, I'm dead man."

Damn it, I swear that's a man, why is he there? Why hasn't he moved? I can almost see his outline, but I'm just not sure. There, there, the sumbitch moved!

Gammell's rifle barked once, twice, then a third time.

"Damn it Charlie! What the Hell are you shooting at?" Duck was angry, Sarge always warned them about firing at shadows, now here's the new guy blasting away at a damned shrub!

Just then Pvt Woodrow "Duck" Simpson heard a rattling gasp from the shrub which Gammell at fired at.

"What the Hell is going on up here?" Sgt Brandt was not happy. He jumped into Gammell's and Simpson's foxhole. He expected a sheepish look from whoever fired the shots, but Simpson looked half-asleep and pretty confused, whereas Gammell was focused on a spot across the small field.

"Duck, cover us. Gammell, with me." Sgt Brandt expected no debate, he expected the new kid to follow him without question, but it stunned him when the kid jerked him back into the hole and snapped, "Wait!"

SS-Unterscharführer Klemens was down, he'd been hit by one round in the upper chest and was having a great deal of difficulty breathing. Another round had gone through his left forearm, shattering both bones. A third round whirred past his head, just missing him. But he was down, down hard. It hurt like Hell.

Bracing himself, he managed to get his rifle, a G43², around and braced on his badly injured forearm. He was trembling, it had hurt a lot to do even that simple task. That's when he noticed that a third American was there, and was climbing out of the fighting position! "Dumme Kerl³, you're a dead man."

Before Sgt Brandt could whirl on Gammell and asked him what the Hell he was playing at, the young private had fired two more rounds.

"I think we can go now Sarge," was all the kid said.

Sgt Brandt took a moment, he was rather at a loss for words. Then Duck said, "Geez Sarge, I think Charlie did see somebody!"


"Yeah Sarge?"

"Can we go look now?"

Gammell looked a bit embarrassed, "Sure Sarge, sorry about yanking you down like that."

The first round had hit the dirt in front of Klemens, causing him to flinch, the second hit him just below the rim of his cap, causing him to die.

Cautiously the two Americans moved up to where Klemens' body was. Of course, they didn't know his name was Klemens. They didn't know that he was barely 18 years old and was from a small German-speaking village in Romania, like many in his unit. How could they know?

Sgt Brandt stepped up, the SS man looked very dead, the back of his head was missing, his eyes were open and staring into the dirt where he'd died.

"Charlie, how did you know there was a Kraut here?"

I didn't quite know how to answer. Growing up in the country you get a feel for what's natural and what isn't. Though the German kid's camouflage uniform was pretty effective, his outline was too hard edged, it didn't blend with the background. He stood out more as the day got brighter, then he had moved.

So I shot him. This wasn't the first guy I'd shot at, I'm pretty sure I shot a Kraut tanker a couple of days ago who was running away from his tank. Pretty sure I hit him too, but I didn't go look, there wasn't time, we were in the middle of a firefight, then Sarge found that wounded Kraut in the barn, things were crazy.

"Sarge, I feel kinda sick." I did, I felt like I was gonna puke. Here was a guy who had been alive just fifteen minutes ago, then I killed him.

I killed him.

Sgt Brandt rested his hand on Gammell's shoulder, the kid was shaking a bit. Brandt remembered the first time he knew, absolutely knew, that he'd killed a man. It felt weird, like a line had been crossed that you could never recross. You couldn't undo what had been done. There was a finality which just felt, somehow unreal. He knew what it felt like to end a man's life. He didn't like the feeling, he remembered each and every one, but you didn't dwell on it, you'd go crazy if you did.

Brandt squeezed Gammell's shoulder and said, "Ya got good instincts kid, this guy is a scout. If you hadn't killed him, he would have reported on our positions and then we'd be dead, not him. It's war. Don't think too much about it, okay?"

Gammell kind of shook himself, slung his rifle then rubbed his face with both hands, hard. Taking off his helmet, he ran his sleeve over his forehead.

I knew what Sarge meant. It wasn't like I've never killed anything before, I hunted back home, I had helped to feed the family by hunting when times got bad, I've been doing that since I was about 10. Deer, rabbits, squirrels, whatever would fill the pot.

I still remembered the dead kid in Marigny, I had thought he was a pile of rags. This wasn't the first dead man I'd seen, but this was the first dead man that I had made that way. An odd way of looking at it.

When Sarge squeezed my shoulder, I realized that I had to just shake this off and move on, so I did, I literally shook myself like a dog shaking off the rain. I slung my rifle, rubbed my face as hard as I could. Then I took off my helmet and wiped the sweat from my eyes. 

I placed my helmet back on my head and turning to my sergeant, I said, "I'm okay Sarge. It really is them or us, I'd prefer they die, not us."


"You'll do as I tell you Gerhard, remember, I am your battalion commander. So I get to make these kinds of decisions. Besides, you hate the Königstiger4, why would you want to be assigned to one of those? Third Company is being reequipped with them, we're just about out of the E models."

"But Paderborn, the tank school? What the Hell Rolf..."

"Shut up and listen Gerhard. They're building up a new heavy tank company from the Model Es we've got left. Do you want to go to a Panther or a Pzkw IV unit? Do you want to go back to being in a division? I thought you liked the independence of the heavy tank battalions?"

"I do, but, no damn it, I know we'll get stuck with a IV, might as well shoot us all now. We'll go, but what is the deal here anyway?"

Stabsfeldwebel Gerhard Lindner trusted his commander, Major Rolf Fromme, they'd served together for quite some time. But Lindner didn't want to leave sPzAbt5 503, it had been his home since May of 1942. He knew that the unit would be reformed, but right now sPzAbt 503 existed only on paper. They were rebuilding it, starting with 3rd Company and the Tiger IIs, which truth be told he really did hate. Slow, gas guzzling, monstrosities they were, the antithesis of what a tank should be.

"It's a new outfit being formed by a guy we both know, Hans Hummel."

"Die Biene6 has his own unit? Is he an officer now?"

"Yes, he's a captain. He's forming a new company from the kids at the Tiger school. He's desperate for experienced Tiger crews."

Lindner shook his head, he wasn't all that keen on joining a unit of greenhorns, but he wasn't all that keen to die here in Normandy. The writing was on the wall, they were losing and the generals were too stupid, too stubborn, or too scared of Hitler to fall back over the Seine.

"You're a bastard, you know that Rolf, right?"

"I assure you Gerhard, my parents were married, to each other." Major Fromme let his sergeant skate very close to the edge all the time. You did that for a man who had saved your life, twice.

"Alright, we'll go. Don't get yourself killed here, all right?"

"Aber natürlich7, now go, this is one of the last trains out. Maybe the Amis and the Tommies won't strafe it as it's clearly marked as a hospital train."

"But we're moving troops on it, isn't that..."

"If you won't tell, neither will I. Now go. Wiedersehen."

"Ja, auf Wiedersehen. I'll see you when I see you. Stay alive you old bandit."

"Du auch8!"

As the train pulled away from the station, Rolf wondered if he'd see his old friend again. Rumor had it that the 503rd would be rebuilt, then sent to Russia. Major Fromme did not have a good feeling about that. Not at all...

¹ Kampfgruppe - an ad hoc combat organization formed for specific tasks, or when the combat power of a larger unit had been worn down to the point where all that was left was a small group of all arms. Usually they were named for their commanding officer. Of course, on maps at Hitler's headquarters they were still shown as a larger organization.
² The G43 (G for Gewehr) is a semi-automatic German rifle.
³ Stupid chap.
4 The Tiger II, the Panzerkampfwagen Tiger Ausf. B.
5 sPzAbt, abbreviation for schwere Panzer Abteilung = Heavy Tank Battalion.
6 Die Biene is German for "the bee," "Hummel" is German for Bumblebee.
7 But naturally.
8 You too.


  1. Gammel is becoming quite the good luck charm. That's the thing about camo, its of little worth if you present a silhouette.

    Question: my understanding is unterscharfuhrer is equivalent to an NCO. Would an 18 yr old Klemen be an NCO? I know field promotions come swift but NCO?

    1. The Germans did add fabric loops to their camouflage smocks for the addition of foliage which helped break up the silhouette. Klemens did not make use of that. As for him being an Unterscharführer, I thought about making him a Rottenführer, which is a form of corporal, then decided that as the kid was out scouting all by himself, he'd probably proven himself in the year or so in which he'd been serving. As Unterscharführer was the lowest of the NCO ranks, and was a fairly common grade, I went that route. The other thing is that this was a fairly new unit and someone had to fill the NCO ranks. The more senior NCOs would have been from the more senior SS units which were used as cadre in the newly formed units.

      Which illustrates a problem the Germans had with the SS. For Himmler it was about empire-building, he wanted more units so he diluted the more senior units by pulling cadre from them for new units. The new units could have been used to rebuild the old units which were getting badly beat up on both fronts by 1944.

      Good question Rick!

    2. I have been remiss. I now think of my dad. Three months after his 17th birthday he was in Korea with 1st Div. Before age 19 he was SSgt. He was multiple years ROTC in highschool, didn't go to boot, straight to combat. Age 19 (stateside) he was E-7.

      I have been doing some reading on the Jugend before and after 1939. Where promotions are mentioned, very little is written of specific rank. I am trying to find if the HJ was used similar to the ROTC.

    3. Germany was rather complex during the Nazi era. Boys were expected to be in the Hitler Youth, it was the intent to provide a very basic level of military training and lots and lots of National Socialist indoctrination. From there boys would go onto the Labor Corps, sort of a toughening experience, before going into the military. In the German military one could gain entry into the officer ranks via the "aspirant" method. Worthy enlisted men were identified and became "officer aspirants" with special insignia on their shoulder straps to identify them as such. They were given more responsibility than was customary and if they proved themselves they would become officers. In the early years there was formal schooling of a few months duration before that occurred. Didn't happen so much in the latter yers of the war.

      Short answer is that no, HJ was not similar to ROTC.

    4. The German military wasn't the only one that promoted quickly. One of the issues with the US Army was really a lack of trained soldiers to fill casualty slots and to equip new units being formed up. So, well, 3 months out of stateside training and prospective 'candidates' might already be sporting corporal stripes, a month or two of hard action and maybe more.

      Not to mention, sure, 18 in Normandy, but probably already fighting by the age of 17.

  2. When in the outdoors look for what's NOT supposed to be there, something out of place, movement, noise.....becomes a lot more important when your quarry can shoot back.

    1. Perhaps too esoteric but this is a nice segue into concealment v. cover. With arty in the equation, I might prefer concealment over cover.

    2. Concealment as in not being seen, you're not protected from incoming fire. In cover you are. Artillery in WWII seldom could "see" their targets, they relied on forward observers for that. But if no one can see you, why would they shoot at you?

    3. Why? Because 'sensitive' commanders and troops would get a 'feeling' that that clump, that clump over there, just looks too convenient, so let's drop a couple rounds on it to see.

      Americans were big on 'reconnaissance by fire.' Especially in the Pacific.

    4. Who was asking why? Reconnaissance by fire is definitely a thing. A thing which if used improperly could get one charged with war crimes. Shooting at unidentified "targets" is, almost by definition, a war crime. But the victor will decide those niceties...

    5. Concealment offers a target of no apparent value if properly concealed. Short of prosecuting a scorched earth policy, you might be more safe in the common clump of trees. Cover will draw fire especially if it is a fortified position.

      A few days ago the Krauts in the Flakpanzer were good in their concealment until one of the boys opened up on the P-47s. After that, no cover would have shielded them from the fire from above.

    6. I was trying to say concealment isn't the best. Concealment and cover, now that's what keeps you alive.

      Just got too clever for my own comments and left out that bit.

  3. Those shadows... Someone popped off a couple rounds at the house one night. Dad was out of bed in a flash, yelled at me to post up at the front door, and he was gone, chasing after the "night witch". Never found them. They tore out east, then south, dad went west, then south... He was a minute or two behind them...

    We had 2 big cedars out at the entrance to the driveway.... I saw someone out there about 30 times that night, until dad made it back. Little breeze would come up and reveal them... then, nope, just a limb... When your family is the prize it has a way of focusing you.

    Gammel's eye sight and his irritation at someone who isn't aware at the same level is understandable.

    1. It's amazing what the night does to your senses. I learned to not look directly at what I was trying to see, look just to the left or right, it actually helps.

      The squad is slowly coming together in my mind, now if I can just convey that through the story!

    2. Off center viewing takes advantage of the fact that the rods in your eye are much more sensitive to light than the cones. But the rods are arranged on the periphery whereas the cones are in the center. Off center viewing is basically peripheral vision.

    3. I had learned the blind spot in scouts. Back when we had astronomy merit badge. You could find the blind spot where the optic nerve attaches. Then the off center look was learned when we did some night "tracking" to find out where the grape vine was at... My tongue was never that swollen before or since.... yuk.

    4. That might have been where I learned it, or maybe from my Uncle Charlie, a combat infantryman in the ETO.

  4. Rembertów, ostfront is on throes of Bagration at this moment, with Warsaw uprising starting and soviets knocking on Vistula... Germany truły has found itself between hammer and anvil, or rather two relentless hammers.

    1. Indeed, Heeresgruppe Mitte was torn to red ribbons that summer.

  5. You can have the best camo in the world, and if you don't properly break up your shape, it's useless. If the scout had modified his body shape, rolling one shoulder in front of the other, hunching his head, little tricks like that, it might have worked.

    Funny thing about camo. Some research in Vietnam showed that camo was great when not moving, but in some circumstances the camo actually emphasized movement, like in... low light. Semi-amorphous single-color blob would have been better. Of course, in this situation, stripping near naked and laying in the road for daylight would have been better.

    As to Gammell, there are people who are just, well, sensitives. They sense things more than normal people.

    My experience is I've always been able to sense murderous round anal muscles, due to them constantly pounding on me from 1st grade on up. So in the SCA, well... there was this one guy, everyone loved him, he'd go running by me and I'd just automatically whack him, hard, before the forebrain really registered his existence. Turns out he was into child porn, so my 'sensitive' side suspected something...

    1. Blending in is the key, no matter whether you're wearing camo or not. The human brain is big on pattern recognition, if it "sees" something and it registers as "belongs there," then it won't "see" it anymore. Unless something changes.

      I distinctly recall not "seeing" an opposing unit who were attired in their normal field uniforms. Until they heard something and turned in our direction. Having pale skin is not an advantage in combat.

  6. I have a friend since childhood who is an avid hunter. And when we used to go out I really learned the hunters ways.

    To look at some thing. Really LOOK at something To see some thing that is not normal with the rest of the surroundings.

    It’s amazing how we can look but not really see.

    And then when you see something out of place your mind is trying to convince you otherwise.

    You nailed that scene pretty good Sarge.

    Did not know the Germans used troop transport under hospital cover but it would not surprise me

    With any war time rank can come pretty fast.

    If someone ended his Vietnam service as a private I wonder what he did wrong

    Never will forget a guy in basic training at Fort Ord, 1972. A guy wanted to reenlist and for some reason the army made him go through basic training again but keep his old rank, presumably earned in Vietnam.

    Yep he was in the first cavalry division

    So anyway we had a staff sergeant as a recruit who out ranked one of the drill sergeants.

    Good series Sarge!

  7. Great writing...nice and taut. Very glad I found your blog.
    ~ S.K. (USMC Veteran)

  8. Remember on some program-probably on YouTube-somebody was reviewing one of the few running tiger tanks.

    He said that it had a range of only 60 miles.

    1. Yup, 68 miles for the Tiger I, 75 for the Tiger II. That's road miles by the way, non-combat road miles!

  9. I’ve been remiss in commenting on this series. I’m thoroughly enjoying it, and you have a gift for the genre. I’m looking forward to each new installment.

  10. This is a classic example of selective attention.


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