Thursday, August 20, 2020

The Hunted


After studying his map, and comparing it to a map which Unteroffizier Uwe Schumacher had found near the tank which the men they had attacked had been working on, Leutnant Jürgen von Lüttwitz had decided that they would attempt to cross the Seine just south of the town of Vernon. There was a wooded valley with a dirt track running through it to the Seine. He hoped that they would find something to cross with, there was no way they would be able to swim the river without discarding their weapons and their gear. If they did that, they might as well surrender to the next British unit they encountered.

He was sure that the word was out concerning his small band. It was unlikely, he thought, that any of the Tommies would suspect anyone but Germans of destroying the small British maintenance team. He doubted that the Tommies would accept their surrender. The scene they had left behind was gruesome, the men they had attacked had all been killed in hand to hand combat. Truth be told, they had butchered the poor bastards rather than give themselves away with gunfire.

The area was also heavily wooded, the terrain was rather rugged, and it seemed unlikely that there would be any Allied troops in the area. There were no major roads going through the area as those went through Vernon to the north and to Bonnières-sur-Seine to the south. There were no river crossings between those two towns, so there was really no need for Allied troops to be there. They would, nevertheless, exercise caution. One could never be completely certain what the enemy might be doing. The maintenance depot they had almost stumbled into was a prime example of that.

It was the morning of the second day since they had left the British maintenance depot. The small group was in a heavily wooded area between the villages of Hécourt and Villegats. The forest was crisscrossed by a number of small roads which they had managed to mostly avoid as they went through. Fortunately the underbrush wasn't too bad and they made good time. They had had one close call when a pair of Frenchmen on a farm wagon had passed close by. Fortunately the Germans were well concealed and the Frenchmen were well-lubricated with whatever local beverage was available. The men still had fond memories of the applejack they had consumed in Normandy.

"How much further, Herr Leutnant?" Grenadier Peter Böhm was the youngest man of the seven. He had joined the 223rd shortly before the old division had been dissolved in November of 1943. He had been one of the first new recruits to join the division, before the Second Battle of Kiev which saw the unit nearly completely destroyed. He had been in Russia long enough to see some horrible things, but not long enough to be completely hardened by what he had seen.

"Do you have somewhere you need to be Peter? An assignation with some mademoiselle north of the Seine?" asked Feldwebel Pohl, who enjoyed picking on the young man.

"Nein, Herr Feldwebel, I'm just curious." Böhm actually enjoyed the needling, it made him feel more like a part of the group. He had noticed that the men were always chiding each other. It was mostly good-natured, though from time to time Grenadier Sauer seemed almost vicious in his jibes.

"Sixteen kilometers until we reach the river. Maybe tomorrow night as long as we don't run into any more Tommies." As the lieutenant said that, he folded his map away and patted his tunic pockets. He found what he was looking for and pulled it out, American chocolate. He'd been saving this for some time, now seemed the right time, the men were exhausted and their morale was starting to slip.

He had had the Amis' chocolate ration before, they didn't taste that bad, though they were not nearly as sweet as he expected them to be. A good way to get a quick boost of energy. If one didn't mind chewing rocks, the bars were fairly tough. He noted that they were labeled as "Ration D." He wondered what that meant.

He broke the bar into six pieces using the butt of his pistol and handed them out. Feldwebel Pohl immediately protested, "Herr Leutnant, you should keep a piece for yourself!"

"No, I'm fine Dieter. I have some hard cheese in my bread bag I'm saving for later. I'm not really hungry at the moment, just tired." The lieutenant hadn't been this tired since the battles outside of Leningrad in 1942. He had been a sergeant back then, having been in the army since 1938 and in the 223rd Division since it had been formed in August of 1939 in  Dresden, his home town.

"Sleep then Herr Leutnant, I'll take the first watch." Unteroffizier Uwe Schumacher was always volunteering for things, he felt that as a member of the company headquarters he needed to prove himself to these front line infantrymen. He had proven himself multiple times since the disaster of Falaise, but he still felt driven.

Pohl looked at his fellow NCO and nodded. For a headquarters man he was a pretty good soldier, not just a rear area slacker. So he pocketed the chocolate and found a spot to curl up and sleep, though his MP 40 never left his side, he'd learned that lesson the hard way in Russia.

The road to Villegats, east of Hécourt

As the lorry rolled to a halt, the driver looked over at his front seat companion and said, "I'm not going in there Sergeant, we'd be blind not three feet from the road."

Sergeant Billy Wallace had been in the rear at a rest camp for a short stint away from the front. Though there wasn't much fighting at the moment, the constant stress of patrolling and sentry duty tended to take a toll on one's sanity. As a newly minted platoon sergeant with yet another second lieutenant to break in, he was near the end of his rope. His battalion commander had seen it and sent him back to grab what rest and relaxation he could. Which wasn't much.

The second day in the rest camp he and a group of other men had been scooped up by a major with an overactive sense of his own importance and been told off to hunt down "a marauding band of SS stragglers" said to be operating in the vicinity. Now this scratch team of ten men, all unknown to each other were in a Bedford lorry on the verge of a small forest. Local Frenchmen had reported a "company of Waffen SS" in the forest, waylaying all and sundry and murdering civilians in the villages.

Sgt Wallace figured it for nonsense as the SS men he'd encountered had either fought to the death or retreated in good order after their bloody defeat in the Falaise Pocket. But it was just his luck to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and to be put in charge of this ad hoc group. Of course the bloody-minded major couldn't be bothered to lead the men, "That's what bloody sergeants are for Wallace. Now off with you, draw weapons and ammunition over at the Quartermaster's tent and requisition a truck to take you to..."

The major had paused while he searched his map for the village he'd been old to start from, Wallace noticed that he was looking at the wrong map section.

"Here sir, allow me." He took the map, turned to the right section, located the rest camp's position and then handed the map back to the major. "We're right here. Sir."

"Quite! I know where we are sergeant, now take your men to Hécourt. The Jerries were allegedly seen in this wooded area to the northeast of the town. Root them out then report back here."

"Do we have any intelligence other than the report of two drunken farmers? Sir."

"How the bloody Hell should I know?! I'm just a supply officer, you're the combat veteran, you should go find out for yourself. Now run along, I must go see the colonel about an ammunition resupply for the 43rd Wessex."

With that the major was off, leaving Sgt Wallace standing there with little to no clue what he was up against. He hoped it was simply a case of German stragglers looking for a regular unit to surrender to and in the meantime were entertaining themselves by terrorizing the locals. He sincerely hoped it was not a group of fanatics looking to break out to their own lines. He doubted that they were SS, there would be a lot more dead bodies lying around.

"Sgt Wallace?"

Wallace turned to see a bespectacled corporal standing next to him, along with a group of other men to the number of ten all told, including himself.

"What can I do for you Corporal...?"

"Bendix, Sergeant, Corporal Bendix. I was told to report to you with these other men for special duties."

Two hours ago they had been in a Bedford OXD to the east of Hécourt, with a driver who insisted that he was not going to drive into a forest with Germans rampaging through the area.

"I'm sorry Sergeant, but my Sergeant Major told me to drop you off and return as soon as possible."

"The major assured me that I would have your lorry for the duration of this little mission." Wallace was starting to lose his patience with the rear area man. So he shifted in his seat so that the Sten gun he'd been issued was pointing in a rather "suggestive" fashion. Suggesting that he might shoot the recalcitrant driver if he chose to not follow the orders of the man on the spot and not some alleged sergeant major back at the camp.

The more he thought about it, the more reluctant he was to go into the wood with a truck. They'd be better off on foot, but he wasn't going to let the lorry leave without them. He looked at the driver and said, "You'll wait here with the lorry. The rest of us will go in and have a look about."

"All right lads, out with you." As he said this he walked to the lorry's bonnet and opened it. Reaching in he popped off the distributor cap and removed the rotor, then showed that to the driver. "You can walk back if you'd like, but I'm keeping the vehicle."

Moments later, the men moved into the wood in skirmish order. Sgt Wallace didn't like this at all, but orders were orders. He was looking forward to getting back to his own mates in the Fusiliers.


The seven Germans were all fast asleep, they were exhausted from the hard hike across northern France. They had not had a decent meal in days, if not weeks.

With the possible exception of Grenadier Böhm, none of the men relished the thought of being a prisoner of war. Such a thing was unheard of in the East, they'd learned early on here in France that the Tommies and the Amis fought a more civilized form of war, but they were all on edge after the incident at the British supply depot.

Böhm was stirred from his sleep by a noise which was out of place. He'd been in combat long enough to know better than to just stick his head up and look. He heard it again, a metallic clink, it sounded like men moving as well. Slowly he raised his head close to the trunk of the tree he had been sleeping next to.

There, about twenty meters away, men in brown uniforms in flat helmets, Tommies! Böhm had no doubt that these troops were looking for them. He watched intently as the men paused, looked around, then began to move again. He could see three men but he sensed that they were part of a longer skirmish line, how many men, he had no idea. Fortunately they were moving away from their position. But what if there were more searching the wood?

As the last Tommie disappeared deeper into the wood, Böhm managed to awaken Feldwebel Pohl. Moving close to his sergeant, he whispered what he had seen. Within a few moments all of the men were awake and their lieutenant had them in a circle, all weapons facing out, the MG 42 placed to fire in the direction the British had gone.

Leutnant von Lüttwitz was sure that the British patrol was hunting for them. He had thought about waylaying the drunken French farmers last night, but he wasn't sure if they'd been spotted by the two Frenchmen or not. He wasn't going to start killing civilians if he could help it. Now they might be trapped, cut off from the Seine. They were close, but not close enough.


The British patrol reached another road through the forest. It had not been an easy slog through the woods. Sgt Wallace was drenched in sweat and the men all looked as if they were on their last legs. Most of them had arrived in France only a week or so before, none of them were as yet hardened by active service.

Corporal Bendix came up to Wallace and announced, "I'm not sure the men can move another inch Sarn't, and we've still got to hike back to the truck." The man was nearly doubled over, trying to catch his breath.

Wallace checked his compass, then the map. "Corp, take two men with you and follow this road back to the truck. Have them drive in to get us, I don't think the Jerries are around, they've probably moved off by now. If they were ever here. Here, take this, you'll need it to start the truck." He handed over the rotor.

Corporal Bendix and two of the men moved off down the road, moving quicker on the paved road. Sgt Wallace felt a certain amount of unease, but he figured it was just nerves, he wasn't use to being behind the lines. Things were calmer back here. Wandering Germans indeed. Poor bastards just wanted to get away over the Seine. There was no way they would make it, the crossings were all guarded, and it was a very big river.

Leutnant von Lüttwitz had decided that where there were British troops, there must be British trucks. So he decided to move towards the road, then back towards the West. Maybe they could steal a truck!

They had met three men coming down the road, three British infantrymen, well they were dressed as infantrymen but it was obvious they were rookies. They were more concerned with getting down the road and not with watching for any potential threats. Bad for them, good for his men. The lieutenant gambled and stepped into the road after the three men had passed. Three quick bursts and all three men were down.

One was still alive and was struggling to bring his rifle to bear from his position on the ground. Grenadier Sauer kicked the man's rifle away, then bayoneted the prone man. The lieutenant noted absently that the man was a corporal, well, had been a corporal. They searched the men for anything useful, Grenadier Sauer found the rotor from the truck on the dead corporal, but he didn't know what it was, so he showed it to the lieutenant.

"An engine rotor ! I'm guessing that whoever is leading that British patrol didn't trust the locals to not steal his truck. Let's go lads, we need that truck!"

Setting a fast pace the seven Saxons went down the road, night was approaching fast. Little did they know that seven Englishmen were also trying to get back to the truck. But they really were inexperienced and unhardened troops. There was no way they would catch the seven Saxons.

They came out of the forest and there it was, the lieutenant thought is looked like a Bedford. There was a man sleeping in the truck's cabin, who was quickly dispatched by Pohl's fighting knife.

Obergefreiter Günter Voigt, who had driven trucks before the war figured out where the rotor should go, then he hopped in and started the vehicle. It started right up. The lieutenant got into the cab with Voigt and the others got in the back.

"Günter, head south, the Tommies might not expect that. We'll skirt the forest and try to bull our way through Villegats, in this truck we might just make it. Take off your helmet." the lieutenant said that as he shed his own helmet, the shape of that headgear was distinctive, even in the dark.


As soon as they came out of the woods, Sgt Billy Wallace knew that he had made a mistake. The lorry was gone. They had found the bodies of Bendix and the other two men farther up the track, they had sprinted the rest of the way. To no avail, a quick search revealed the dead body of the recalcitrant lorry driver.

The Germans had been in the forest, the drunken farmers had not been hallucinating, now the Germans had escaped. He had to get the word out, with a lorry, they would reach the Seine in less than an hour. They might even be able to cross without challenge. The front was now well beyond the Seine, somewhere in Belgium last he had heard. He was scheduled to return to his battalion in two days. He wondered if they'd let him return now.

The hunters had failed.


  1. "The best laid schemes o mice and men"....hmmmm..... seven vs seven now. Nicely done Sarge, had me wondering there.

  2. Nice plot twist, Sarge. A question though - when the Krauts shot Bendix and the other two, how come Wallace hadn't heard the shots?

    1. I didn't mention whether they heard the shots or not. Sound travels oddly in the forest, they may or may not have heard the shots and they were heading back at any rate though Wallace did expect the truck to come up to them. Due to the exhaustion of the young, untried troops there isn't much he could have done in the way of hurrying them back to the truck. They wouldn't have made it in time anyway. By continuing to the location of the truck, I implied that they may have heard the shots.

      We'll never know.

    2. Too right. Been in woods where what is happening right HERE sounds like a herd of wildebeasts carrying on in a cathedral and it turns out to be 3-4 guys, while 40' away through scrub and trees 40 guys could be talking and you can barely hear them, and it sounds like it's coming from not where they are.

      Not to mention, when scared and stressed, sound gets weird.

    3. There is a story from the not civil war, where a cavalry troop heard a pitched battle about 20 miles away. Sound like it was right THERE. Sound does weird things...

    4. People near Dover in England could hear the cannonade at Waterloo, over 130 miles away.

      Sound is very weird.

  3. Good heavens, I could feel the tension. Well written.

  4. The one funny thing I thought about taking the distributor cap: unless they knew the firing order of the engine they have to know which spark plug wires go into which holes of the cap.

    I wonder how many veterans of Russia there were at Normandy? That certainly would’ve been a school where pass or fail meant life or death.

    I was thinking too it would be hard to kill a man with a bayonet or a shovel and watch him suffer.

    Death up close and personal.

    1. Most military systems are GI-proofed, my assumption is that the cap would only go on one way. Failing that, trial and error would get them going.

      Most of the German army had been through Russia. A lot of the men in Normandy had been seriously injured in Russia and then assigned to "static" divisions in the West as they no longer had the stamina for mobile operations.

      If you do it right there is no suffering, but it is up close and personal and brutalizing.

    2. Talked to some people who've let me in on conversations like this. During? You push through it. It's after that gets to you, maybe right after, maybe years after.

    3. There's always an "after," unless one is a psychopath or otherwise mentally warped.

    4. The distributor cap can be unbuckled and lifted without removing the spark plug wires. The rotor can then be lifted out. The rotor will only go back in one position,and while the distributor cap would usually go back in either of 2 positions, 180 degrees apart, the positions of the still attached plug wires will guide it to the correct one.

  5. Very good story, totally in agreement with the notables above who said the same thing.

    Poor Wallace, shoved into a mixed bag of nothing and given the responsibility for everything by some remf (the very epitome of a remf at that.) No good can come of this.

    1. I think our Billy will get through this, he was given a bad hand to play.

  6. Sooo.... Did Blue perform magnificently on the drive down?

    1. Indeed she did, nearly 30 mpg, smooth ride, and a comfortable one. I could probably do the trip on a single tank of fuel.

    2. Going from a Ford Serial Killer E150 with a gas tank measured in 2.5 hours of driving to a smaller mid-sized van, it was like night and day. Except that on long trips stops for bladder are about... every 2 hours or so.

      Going to the ex-Dodge Ram Promaster City (what a kludgy vehicle name) was like stepping forward into a new century. Now a tank, which used to last half a month on minimum driving, lasts 2 to 3 months on minimum driving (that's me going out and back for groceries twice a week with some doctor visits thrown in to break the monotony.

    3. I get that. Big Girl would go maybe 230 miles on a tank of gas, Blue can go over 400 on road trips, maybe four weeks on out and about, around the town, go to work driving. Difference I suppose is that Blue has a more fuel efficient engine and a fuel tank almost twice the size of Big Girl's. I do love the new car but there are times I miss Big Girl, she was fun to drive.

  7. Perhaps SGT Wallace did not take the distributor cap with the octopus of wires, but rather the rotor underneath the distributor cap. A much smaller piece, easily carried, and presumably only goes back in place one way. At least if it was an old VW bug it worked that way, not sure if a Bedford truck was similar or not.

    1. I think you're right JB. I could not remember what my Dad told me about disabling their Jeeps back in the day. It was the rotor, not the whole distributor cap!

      Time to put the editors to work on fixing this episode for the final book.

    2. (Don McCollor)...Anonymous beat me to it. I believe larcenous Americans carried a couple of spare rotors, just in case an opportunity presented itself...

  8. Just fantastic storytelling Sarge. I'm in awe. Had me right on the edge of my seat. Hate les boches but you make them human and therefore impossible to hate. Wow!

    1. My uncle, having fought the Germans and been wounded by same, hated them. I served with them for seven plus years. I've always loved Germany and the Germans though I have no German blood in me at all that I'm aware of.

      Truth is, I generally like people. I find different cultures and customs fascinating in the extreme. So I try to make the characters as human as possible. Even the occasional SS man with a soul.

      Thanks Shaun!

  9. I love the story being told us in advance of the publishers "Kindle Unlimited". If we are editors, then am I to think that I should be so bold as to mention that there might be an "ago" as the third word in this sentence?

    Two hours they had been in a Bedford OXD to the east of Hécourt, with a driver who insisted that he was not going to drive into a forest with Germans rampaging through the area.

    Hopefully clarifying their positional flux.

    1. Missing word has been tracked down and inserted in the appropriate position. Sometimes I think too fast and my typing skills fade.

      😁 Thanks Dave!

    2. It’s funny that after I had posted that about the distributor cap I too was thinking how much simpler it would’ve been just to take the rotor.

      I to think different nations have different national characters among their people.

      Something interesting on Netflix is Paul Hollywood’s continental adventure. He’s a gearhead and he goes in three episodes to Italy, Germany, and France to test drive both their humble cars and exotic cars.

      And you learn about the national characters of each

      And some thing the German guy said that stayed with me talking to Paul who is British. “The British are too polite to be honest, and the Germans are too honest to be polite”

      Great series but I hope an American Ranger Battalion or British SAS catches up with those seven Saxons.

    3. No need for elite troops. As to the rotor thing? Yup, that will be fixed, eventually.


Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)
Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

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