Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Sieben Männer von Sachsen*


They were all that was left of the 5th company, 2nd Battalion, 983rd Grenadier Regiment of the 275th Infantry Division. Seven men: a lieutenant, two sergeants, one corporal, and three privates. In command was Leutnant Jürgen von Lüttwitz, who had been the platoon leader of 1st Platoon. From which only Grenadier Hans Pfeiffer had survived besides von Lüttwitz. Feldwebel Dieter Pohl along with Obergefreiter Günter Voigt were the sole survivors of the 2nd Platoon. The 3rd platoon was represented by Grenadiers Manfred Sauer and Peter Böhm. One man from company headquarters survived, Unteroffizier Uwe Schumacher.

The seven men were fairly well armed, three Mp 40 submachine guns, an MG42 machine gun, two P38 pistols, and three K98k rifles. The problem though was that they were getting low on ammunition. They were down to 384 rounds of 9 mm ammunition, in twelve 32-round magazines, and 573 rounds of 7.92 mm ammunition. Both von Lüttwitz and Voigt had emptied their pistols of ammo to make up the twelfth magazine. They kept their pistols out of force of habit, and it was an item of issue which they might have to account for. Provided they made it home!

The three riflemen were down to 30 rounds each, the remainder of the 7.92 mm ammunition was reserved for the MG 42, their most potent weapon. Though Leutnant von Lüttwitz's main concern at this point was getting what was left of the company across the Seine, not getting into a firefight with the Tommies.

Rations were also becoming a problem. Though there were numerous French villages along their route, they were trying to avoid those. Just four days before they had raided a French farm for food, enough to last several days, but the Maquis¹ had discovered their depredations and had ambushed them two days ago, lowering their numbers from ten men down to their present strength of seven. The small German band had wiped out the small band of French resistance fighters. Whose attack, though fierce, was clumsy and tactically inept. But now they were on the run as British patrols had been tipped off to their presence by that attack.

"Can you discern our position Herr Leutnant?" Feldwebel Pohl was watching the near horizon as he asked that question. They were in more open country now and were very wary of Allied aircraft. Truth was though, that they were far enough behind Allied lines that air patrols were less frequent than they had been when they were fleeing the Falaise Cauldron.

"Ja Dieter, we should reach the river tonight." von Lüttwitz answered as he returned the map to his case.

"The Seine?" Feldwebel Pohl didn't realize that they were that close. The lieutenant figured that the Allies were not that far beyond the river. So if they could get across, their chance of survival should increase dramatically. But as they got nearer to the river, the concentration of Allied rear area units was increasing. They had to be careful not to stumble into one, though they weren't combat troops, the small band couldn't afford to get into any sort of fight, even with rear echelon troops.

"Hey Corp, could ye hand me that spanner?"

"Wot, did Jerry cut your arms off or sumfin?"

"Come on Corp, I need to hang on here or start all over again."

"All right, all right Belville, quit yer whinging, here's your bloody spanner."

The British maintenance men were so involved with installing the new engine in the Sherman V that they didn't notice that they had company. Company which meant them harm.

It was a small maintenance depot, no more than fifty men, most of whom were out in the field recovering broken down vehicles, mostly tanks. They were five miles south of the Seine River and as far as they knew, all of the Germans were on the other side of that river. They had no idea that many stragglers from the 7th Army and Panzer Group West were still making their way to their own lines. Many would surrender to the first formed Allied unit they encountered. But not these men. They were veterans of the Eastern Front.

Though he didn't really want to attack the British, there were only a few of them and retracing their steps would take too much time, time they were running out of. With the ease of combat veterans, the small group positioned themselves to attack.

Leutnant von Lüttwitz nodded at his two NCOs and in a rush the seven survivors of the 5th Company were on the four British soldiers before any of them knew what was happening. They all died in an instant by bayonet and entrenching tool. The Germans hadn't noticed Private Belville up on the rear deck of the Sherman.

Belville made himself very small. Situated as he was on the engine deck, surrounded by crates of parts and a toolbox or two, the Germans hadn't noticed him. He had heard a grunt from one of his mates and had looked up in time to see his corporal go down hard, his head nearly severed by a German entrenching tool.

He nearly cried out then realized that that would have meant instant death. He couldn't believe that there were Germans about, they were in the rear for God's sake, he wasn't a fighting man, he was just a mechanic. A terrified mechanic.

"Grab any rations you can find, make it quick we need to be moving. I'm sure there are other Tommies about, we got lucky." von Lüttwitz was nervous, and rightly so. This close to the Seine they had to be careful, soon they'd be among the British fighting troops.

"Herr Leutnant! We're in luck, the Tommies actually have a crate of our ammunition here!" Feldwebel Pohl couldn't believe his eyes. There, amidst a pile of German cast-offs and equipment, was a crate of 7.92 ammunition. It wasn't full, but there had to be at least 300 rounds, all belted and ready for use. Pohl couldn't believe their luck.

Belville tried to slide over nearer to the turret, darkness was fast approaching, if he could just hide himself a bit better, then he might survive this encounter with the enemy. As he slowly moved, the spanner he had been handed by his corporal fell into the tank's engine compartment. He froze.

"Was war das?" Feldwebel Pohl whispered. Everyone stopped what they were doing as they heard what sounded like a substantial piece of metal bang down into the open engine compartment of the tank that the dead Tommies had been working on.

Grenadier Sauer was closest to the tank, on the side away from his comrades, he'd been rummaging through a tent, looking for anything which could be of use to them. While he had found nothing, he had heard the noise and seen something on the tank's engine deck which looked out of place. So he probed it with his bayonet.

Private Jimmy Belville gasped as the German bayonet went into his thigh. It was the most painful thing he had ever experienced. He wanted to surrender, before he could, the German thrust his bayonet at the terrified mechanic once more. That thrust killed Belville. But only after he had screamed so loudly that anyone within a mile must have heard him.

"Scheiße!" von Lüttwitz hissed. "Grab whatever you can, we've got to get out of here. Fast."

With that the small band of German infantrymen disappeared into the gathering darkness.

* Seven Men of Saxony - With apologies to R. F. Delderfeld.
¹ The French resistance movement during the German occupation from 1940 to 1945.


  1. Normalcy bias? I fight that every day. Proverbs notwithstanding, there IS a lion at the door, but I'm gonna work to see him first and be prepared to face him.

    I've read so many stories like that. Talked to folks that lived through things going sideways with no warning. Everyone needs a safe place to unwind. But outside the house, ain't that spot. Inside may not be as safe as I think it is. Col. Cooper had a neat game. Being aware of your surroundings like a cat is. It's tiring at first, but worth practicing.

    Gut punch to read how easy they took them out.

    1. Maintaining 360 degree situational awareness is critical. It's the threat you don't notice that will get you.

  2. Mindset, the wrong mindset, will kill you faster than most anything else. From a wartime air patrol down to walking on a neighborhood street in the middle of the day, you ALWAYS have to think, "It CAN happen here!". Many folks think Col. Cooper was describing situational awareness with his color codes, but he was really talking about being mentally prepared. As he said, condition yellows a state of relaxed alertness/awareness, but it is also saying to yourself, "I may have to shoot someone today." So both aware and mentally prepared...

    1. "A smart man only believes half of what he hears, a wise man knows which half." - John Dean Cooper

  3. This, this is the stupid deaths that occur during 'quiet times.' A patrol gets lucky or unlucky. A mine. A troop gets crushed under a vehicle, that sort of thing.

    Mix just random chaos with determined enemies and you get death in mass.

    The Japanese were very good, in the Philippines, at leapfrogging past resistance. That's okay, because we did the same thing to them, and we made sure, like they did, to have 2nd line troops at the ready to invest the points of resistance.

    War is hell.

    At least, for once, you had to really work hard to get killed by the food (on the American's side, that is.)

    1. Heh, rations weren't THAT bad. Better than some people on the Continent had during the Occupation. Still though, they could be awful.

    2. No, our rations were top quality and didn't kill the eaters, and spoilage wasn't much of an issue. Unlike other armies, whose food supply could be spotty at times.

    3. REFORGER83 we were eating the last of the C-rats. Repackaged 1943 procurement. They took out the cigarettes and changed some of the accompaniments but the main meal cans were all dated 1943-44. Five meals out of six after the mess section got there. The advance party was C-rats only for the first 5 days. 30 days in the field,3 moves per day minimum C-2/103 FA (155 Towed). I gained 10 lbs. Old Guns

    4. They provide calories, not enjoyment. I suppose for some of us, that's enough.

    5. To borrow the best Bean's quote I know: IMAT. And that's keeps my belly quiet.

    6. Enough energy to march and fight, that's the real point. The other you can get with empty calories.

  4. Hey Old AFSarge;

    I never thought about using an Etool as a weapon until I started reading Casca the Eternal Mercenary and the Germans were very good at using the E-tool in close combat, especially in the Eastern Front. Funny, when I went to the Gulf, I had an old E-tool with the wooden handle, I put a razor edge on that one and got good at using it overhand and at jabbing with it. Still have it in my bonus room, funny what you remember. I didn't know what to expect when we deployed and lessons from history and all.

    1. I have a WWII era German entrenching tool, it has a pretty good heft, wouldn't really need much of an edge to really ruin someone's day!

    2. In All Quiet on the Western Front, the main character describes going on raids armed only with an entrenching spade and grenades. I remember that from reading it as a youth.

  5. The Army entrenching tool we had would bend at 90 degrees - and imagine hitting that on someone's head. That could split it open no problem. To get hit like that means they had no SA.

    I think - having SA - is to be aware of what **could** happen and watch for it.

    Didn't realize the Sherman had a big radial engine - how did they solve the cooling I wonder?

    Those 2 soldiers at the top - wonder that that thing the guy in the rear is carrying - a stovepipe? ;-)

    1. It's the German copy of our bazooka, which they actually made in a larger caliber. More effective.

  6. One of the chilling realities of war is that violent death is lurking everywhere. I forget the exact details/numbers but lots of guys got killed in pre D-Day training accidents. All the hard work and dedication to support and defend in combat and they were gone in an instant without ever seeing the enemy. Kind of chilling and sad in a particularly different way. But none of those lives and futures were wasted. Liberty and freedom we enjoy today rests solidly on those strong and brave shoulders.

    1. True indeed, one of the practice landings at Slapton Sands in the UK was attacked by German E-Boats. 749 American servicemen were killed.

      You're right, those lives were not wasted, training is necessary and accidents happen.

      I often think of those killed in the first moments of a battle, without firing a shot in return.

  7. I hope some Rangers find those Germans


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