Wednesday, August 26, 2020

The Road Home


The men had wolfed down the raw eggs that Pohl and Sauer had brought back, they'd eaten sparingly of the bread as that had to last longer. The eggs wouldn't keep and might get broken in their night moves across rural France. So they were consumed, each man had two, there were two extra which the men decided that the men who brought them back should split. The lieutenant hadn't objected, he also hadn't mentioned the dead French farmer after Pohl had brought it up initially. None of the men had any problem with that, their bellies were full.

The next night when they had moved off from the vicinity of Tilloloy, they had all noticed the still smoldering farmhouse to the north. There seemed to be no hue and cry from the locals, after all, accidents happened. The men had said nothing, though oddly enough, Sauer had stopped and crossed himself. Pohl was surprised, perhaps the man was human after all.

Southwest of the village of Ham

As much as they could, Leutnant von Lüttwitz kept the men to the fields off the road. Though as they progressed further north, military traffic was increasing, so now they tried to stay in the trees if there were any. Fortunately this part of France had many woodlots and stands of trees, the number of waterways was increasing as well, the area had a number of canals all leading to the Somme River, which they arrived at near the village of Tugny-et-Pont at roughly two in the morning. The lieutenant decided to stay on the western bank of that river until they were just south of St-Quentin.

St-Quentin was a substantial town of some 45,000 people as von Lüttwitz recalled. No doubt that's where all the truck traffic was headed. Often long convoys of big trucks would pass them nearby, headlights blazing as if the Luftwaffe didn't exist. In truth the Luftwaffe scarcely existed at all in the west. Except over the Reich itself.

The lieutenant decided that they would go to ground south of that city and cross over to the eastern bank of the Somme tomorrow night.

The Somme River, near the village of Artemps

"Herr Leutnant, I was wondering..." Feldwebel Pohl still showed a great deal of deference to his officer. The man had kept them alive so far. After traveling over 110 kilometers well behind enemy lines, they were still fairly healthy, the food, Pohl admitted to himself, which was largely thanks to Grenadier Sauer's efforts, had helped immensely, but now...

"What is it Feldwebel Pohl?" the lieutenant was again studying his map, actually a Michelin guide they'd picked up from the dead Frenchman's house as their military map had not extended this far. Something else they could thank Sauer for, though it had been Pohl who found the map.

"Sir, I was wondering if we might bathe? The river is right there, we're far enough from the roads, I'm getting fairly itchy, so are the men." Pohl had gestured towards the river as he said this. Though the night was somewhat chilly, the thought of rinsing out his filthy uniform and cleaning himself as best he could, had been on his mind since they had stopped.

The lieutenant looked thoughtful for a moment, then he said, "That's a capital idea Feldwebel. I will stand watch with Sauer while the rest of you clean up as best you can. Then Sauer and I will take our turn."

As the men stripped down, Sauer took the MG 42 and he and the lieutenant manned that weapon, setting up to face down the river towards where they had left the road. Any trouble would come from there. If not, oh well, they only had the one machine gun, machine pistols and rifles in the dark would probably not dissuade an enemy attack, the MG 42 would.

As Manfred Sauer slipped into the chilly waters of the Somme, after disrobing and rinsing his filthy clothing as best he could, he remembered the stories his mother had told him when he was a boy.

At the time his grandfather had been tending the small pig farm. He had let his son, Manfred's father, take over the running of the place, but then the war came. Manfred's father had been drafted into the Saxon Army. Saxony had been an independent kingdom up until the formation of the German Empire in 1871. The king, Friedrich August III, remained, but the kingdom was subordinated to the kaiser, Wilhelm II.

All that aside, during the great battles of the Somme Manfred's father had gone missing. No record of his death existed, though other men in his father's regiment insisted that his father's entire company had been buried alive, and killed, in a British artillery barrage. Of the 750,000 soldiers the Kingdom of Saxony sent to war, Manfred's father was one of the 229,000 who never returned.

As he bathed in the waters of the Somme, he wondered if his father's body rested somewhere nearby, the thought haunted him.

"You are rather more quiet than usual Manfred." The lieutenant's whisper shook Sauer from his reverie. The two men were sitting on the bank of the river, wringing their clothing out as best they could in the dark.

"Sorry Sir, it's just that my father was here in the Great War. Here at the Somme, but he never came home, he was listed as missing in action. While the Nazis declared him dead, so that my mother could have a pension, they never found his body. His entire company went missing." Sauer shivered as he said that, whether from the chill of the night air or not, von Lüttwitz couldn't tell.

"I see," the lieutenant paused, then continued with, "my father fought here as well, but he did come home, though with one less leg than he left home with. Many suffered in that war."

Sauer looked at his lieutenant, though it was dark, there was enough starlight to see some details up close, his officer seemed like a decent enough fellow, not as fanatic as his old platoon commander, but more measured, more balanced. It was probably why Leutnant von Lüttwitz was still alive, and Oberleutnant Hermann Krafft was not. The last time he had seen his lieutenant, the man was trying to attack a British tank, all by himself.

He had not survived the burst of machine gun fire from the tank, it had torn him nearly in half. That battle had also seen the 3rd platoon reduced to five men, of whom only two still lived, himself and Grenadier Böhm.

"We should get dressed Herr Leutnant, before Feldwebel Pohl thinks we have drowned." A slight chuckle followed that remark.

Leutnant von Lüttwitz was a bit taken aback, Grenadier Sauer had just said something witty. Their was more depth to this man than the lieutenant realized. "Yes, we should. I don't want the good sergeant fretting over us." Then he patted Sauer on the shoulder, a gesture which didn't surprise either man. Though the German Army was seen as strict and disciplinarian by its enemies, in reality the relationship between officers and men in tight knit units was a lot more relaxed than in either the American or the British armies.

These seven men from Saxony had grown very close to each other over the past week, it worried the lieutenant. What would happen if any of them were killed? He had to get these men home, it was really his only purpose in life now. He didn't care who won the war, he just wanted his boys to live. He wanted to bring them home.

But they still had nearly 160 kilometers to go. Much could happen, more troops were on the roads, they would need to be very careful in the next few days if they ever wanted to see home again.


  1. Am enjoying this very much Sarge, interesting to see more of the characters though I suppose a journey of several hundred kilometres gives you the opportunity to show more depth. Thumbs up!

    1. Well, they have this long walk, I thought I should explore some things while they were on the road, so to speak.


    2. I think it a right and proper choice. It is curious the make up of men and how it is revealed unexpectedly.
      While entertaining would be an accurate descriptor, I think it not appropriate given that the brutality of war lurks beyond every tree or stone or simply one's imagining. The tale is quite engaging. Thank you.

    3. "War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it." - W.T.Sherman

  2. I'm just wondering what home would be. Certainly we know their home towns would be wracked by war, including forlorn men of destitute spirit. It would be good to be among kin once again yet the cost plus not even knowing if family still remains. It could be years before familiar faces drifted in from wherever they were.

    Yet That is the condition of what once was home. But what of the place? Now, where should home even be? The men are going to have to pick it up if they ever want to cross the lines. Perhaps they may find it better to not.

    Sarge, not at all as a complaint but that I have noticed the recent episodes are different than before. Before the tale wove between differing elements of Allie and Axis. Now the episodes remain fixed on one unit, in this case those weary men on foot. Has your muse taken a different tack?

    1. My question had been answered in your reply to Nylon12. That comment was not there when I posted.

    2. Rick #1- I will be getting back to the Brits, Yanks, and Poles but as their war is still one of movement and not much fighting (though things will heat up for the Brits soon as they try to clear the Scheldt) I went in a different direction, for just a bit.

      One of the things I discovered when at my daughter's house in Maryland was that I had left all my notes for the Allied units at home. While I could reconstruct things from the posts, that would have been far too time consuming. As I was trying to work half days and spend as much time as possible with kith and kin, especially the new grandson, I decided to write a bit about some Germans trapped behind the lines. The thing took on a life of its own and the characters became friends, after a fashion. So I had to follow through until that story line is resolved.

      For now "home" is their regiment, their battalion, whatever is left of it. I think in the maelstrom which is war, particularly in WWII Europe, they have no thoughts of "after" the war. I think they know that life as they knew it has changed forever. Which gives me an idea for later.

    3. Rick #2 - Still a good question which I hope I answered above to your satisfaction.

    4. Yes, quite satisfactory. Indeed, I will consider it a stroke of luck that you were separated from your notes. This seems to have evolved into deeper contemplation of just who these men are. Witness the surprising elements of Grenadier Sauer's persona. This is a dimension which has distinguished your work.

    5. I look at it much the same way, expediency turned into opportunity. And thanks.

    6. Sorta that old von Moltke truth 'No plan survives first contact with the enemy'.
      You are doing great with these tales. The human interest aspects make them really appealing, and reinforce the fact that actual combat is a small part of a warrior's experiences, and for most military personnel they are in support roles and never enter combat unless they happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The 483rd Shoe Repair Company, or Graves Registration Company get no glory, but the army depends on their services just as much as the trigger pullers.
      The stories need a balance of the mundane and tactical trauma, and you balance them extremely well.
      John Blackshoe

    7. 'Home.' Home is, in this situation, where the men decide it is. Some will never find 'Home.' Some will just decide to make a new 'home' somewhere. Some will be fortunate to have something of an old 'home' to return to, maybe make it 'home' or find that that 'home' isn't 'home' anymore.

    8. JB - I felt that was important as well, the trigger pullers get too much recognition in my opinion. Those at the sharp end are useless without the logistics backing them up. Some "operators" forget that all the time.

    9. Beans - True, see further on. (Hint - read all the comments before commenting.)

  3. "While the Nazis declared him dead" My pre WW2 knowledge of German politics is sketchy at best. It would be the Kaiser's government that declared that, right?

    That line of thought, tho... European's favorite sport wasn't soccer, or cricket... It was killing each other in huge lots. There are more bodies in the dirt over there than most any other place I can recall. it's strange to think of.

    There used to be a group in Belgium that exhumed bodies and equipment from the WW1 battlefields as they were uncovered by construction sites. Diggers... group had a falling out, and their picture heavy website vanished... I was utterly dumbstruck by the amount of bones and equipment they found EVERYWHERE. It looked like on Nov 11, at 11:11, they just quit the field and left it all there. Even canisters of Chlorine gas, buried in the ground and ready for use.

    You couldn't turn a shovel of dirt without finding a relic. France even has a 'red zone' where unexploded ordinance from WW1 is thick, can't even plow the ground safely...

    Boggles my mind...

    1. He was declared "Missing in Action" by the Army in WWI. The Nazis declared him KIA so that his family would be eligible for a pension. If he went missing in 1917 or 1918, odds are his case would be lost in the disruption caused by the Kaiser's abdication and the disastrous circumstances Germany found itself in at the end of the war. It would only be later that time might be taken to establish the fates of those soldiers who didn't return from WWI.

      War leaves lots of nastiness behind, think of the thousands of mines laid in North Africa from 1941 to 1943, people were being killed and injured by those long after war.

      And yes, Europe is soaked in blood. I suppose it's natural when you have that many people of so many different cultures in a small space. As populations expanded, wars broke out. Do some reading on the Thirty Years War for some concentrated horror and death, a truly nasty period in European history.

    2. That was one of the things that attracted so many to the Nazis. The Weimar government wouldn't pay pensions to missing in many circumstances.

      The issue of so many missing, just disappeared off the face of the earth, disappeared into the earth itself, was one that no government handled well. Nor the issue of pensions to those that survived. Nobody, no government, nobody was prepared for the levels of death and destruction that WWI reaped amongst the fields of men.

      As to the Thirty Years War, The Sack of Magdeberg was pretty much at the top. The fact you can say it with most words capitalized says so much. Over 25,000 to 30,000 civilians massacred, not including all the soldiers, so many that nobody at the time would ever know. One doesn't get huge civilian casualties like the 30YW racked up until WWII.

    3. Governments still don't handle that very well. Ours is better than most when it comes to such things, but with the number of missing in Vietnam, with evidence to suggest we ignored many of the reports of them still being alive, says horrible things about government. Particularly ours at the time. Congress needs to hang their heads in shame for many things, but that is one of the worst.

    4. This segment - filmed by a Frenchman in 1919, gives you an idea of the destruction of France (and Belgium). It helped me to understand their bitterness at the Germans which led to the Versaille Treaty which led to Hitler and WW2.

    5. You also have to bear in mind that the French and Germans hated each other going back to the Napoleonic era. The Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 increased that hatred when the new German Empire annexed Alsace and Lorraine. World War I was just more destructive than the previous wars in terms of property destruction.

      The French also tend to be vindictive as Hell. DAMHIK (Original family name was Gaudry.)

    6. People talk about Sicilians being vindictive, but Gauls take it to a whole different level, to the millenium (and beyond.)

    7. Long memories in the old country.

  4. I didn’t realize camaraderie was that common between the officers and enlisted in the German army

    But then those who faught and died together develop a closeness In any unit

    I have just started this book on the last day of World War I and how stupid the allied commanders were in ordering units to battle when the end was known.

    11,000 casualties in the last hour.

    He is devoting a chapter to the beginnings of WW1 and it is astounding.

    And I have often said how amazing it is so many cataclysmic historical events start from somethings so small and simple as the driver for Archduke Ferdinand and his wife Sophie missing a turn on the official route.

    And then stopping and trying to make a U-turn when they are shot by an anarchist who have never handled a firearm before.

    And then the nations picking their sides for the simplest reasons

    Sauer’s father disappearing with no knowledge of what happen for his family reminded me of a find in France a couple of years ago.

    That of an entire German trench just buried alive from an artillery barrage and people finding it like archaeology of an Egyptian tomb. Small military unit just frozen in time forever.

    1. I remember that find, heart-rending in so many ways. The experience of the soldiers on both sides of that war were similar.

      History is made up of small things which trigger larger things. Though I believe WWI would have happened without the Archduke and his wife getting killed in Sarajevo, Europe was a powder keg at the time, Sarajevo was just one match out of many, but it lit the fuse.

    2. It might have gone in a different direction without the assassinations. Or gone the exact same way. You are right, everyone was at everyone else's throats. Too many forces, from economic to geopolitical to downright marxist-leftyism stirring the pot.


    3. The French also tend to be vindictive as Hell. DAMHIK (Original family name was Gaudry.)

      Years ago I read William Manchester‘s book on Winston Churchill called the last lion.

      Not only talked about Churchel but 1930s politics in Europe.

      And one of the things I remembered was the Weimar Republic and every time in the depression they started to get on their economic feet the French would demand their pound of flesh

      Someone (Beans?) said that the Nazis were popular because they gave pensions to World War I widows

      The Weimar Republic did not have the means to do so.

      I read somewhere years ago that it was the Nazis who first used massive borrowing for work projects.

      They stabilized their currency and put people back to work and thus could pay pensions.

      I kept thinking of that farmer and for every senseless death, i.e., murder, it affects countless people.

      So I imagine some Nazi officer just rounding up the nearest people he could find having no idea how it will affect things down the road.

      If the Nazis weren’t Nazis with their military they could’ve ruled Eurasia

      I’m thinking just for starters their treatment of the Ukrainians.

      Another thing I found interesting in this latest book by Eric Larson.

      I always wondered why Hitler would’ve been foolish enough to attack Russia when he had not vanquished Britain

      Apparently both Hitler and Stalin knew the pact was just temporary and Russia was in the process of rearmament

      Hitler wanted to attack before he replenished his armies

    4. Also remember that Hitler's whole schtick was his hatred of two groups of people, Jews and Communists. In his fevered mind the Soviet Union represented both. In point of fact, Stalin was stunned by the German attack, he went into seclusion for nearly a week, refusing to see anyone.

      There was also no realistic way for the Nazis to defeat Britain, not after the Luftwaffe's failure to establish air superiority over the English Channel. Hitler was no general. Attacking Russia was his only card to play.

    5. The hatred between Germania and the land of the Rus is yet another one of those 'it doesn't matter who's in control, they just hate each other' things.

      Though there were moments, like when the USSR helped Socialist Germany under the Nazis to rearm and to learn modern (for the times) armored warfare.

      Then came about the Spanish Civil War, where the old hatreds came out and they fought a proxy war in Spain, with the Germans and their proxies 'winning.' Which peeved off Stalin to no end.

      Just like WWI, the seeds of dissension were already sown, and nothing could stop the reaping.

    6. William, if it's written in English (one of my two languages, the other being my first, Southern), what is the title of the book,& written by whom? Thank you in advance.

    7. Any Mouse - The Splendid and the Vile by Eric Larson.

  5. Hey AFSarge;

    "For the Want of a Nail, the War was Lost", I think Napoleon made that quote or it was attributed to the era anyway. German units excluding the SS were unique with officers and the enlisted, sure they had the formal demarcations, but the regional loyalties were there also so they had the bonds of loyalty. Even when I was there, they would identify themselves by what region they were from. My accent identified me from the Saarlander area because that is where I had family from when I spoke German and it was "platt Deutch" or colloquial German When I went to North Germany to visit my brother at Garlstadt, my accent was apparent to the locals that I was a "Southerner" and they would ask me where I was from and I would say "Stuttgart" because that is where I was stationed, but they could hear the Saarlander accent which is different than the Badden-Wuttenburg accent that is endemic for that area....Yeah it is a difference...Saarlander has a bit of french lilt to it because to the nearness to the French border....Funny how that works. This was in the 80's. It was much more apparent in WWII. Dang, didn't mean to blather on, LOL Very good story...and shows a different side Sauer,

    1. I can barely understand Bavarians, Austrians not at all. The regional accent where I was stationed with NATO sounded almost like Dutch, but not quite, couldn't understand a word of that either. I was more comfortable speaking German with northerners.

      Yup, dialects are a thing, even in this country.

    2. Probably because "HochDeutsch" is what is ( or was) taught in most of our schools. My school German came back in Stuttgart ( where for a time I had a "LangeHaareWorterbuch") and some Schwabische terms are still embedded into what little German remains.
      The LHW insisted I try to eavesdrop on some Bayrische and I found it impossible. She thought I was dogging it, but I could NOT understand any of what I was hearing. Hell, I had trouble enough in Stuttgart.
      Boat Guy

    3. Nice thing about NATO, the German speakers stuck with Hochdeutsch, even our one Bavarian! Helped this old Amerikaner keep up.

    4. MrGaribaldi, it's lost upon most non-Southerners, but we can hear one another & often tell where the other is from. The Low Country is not the Piedmont is not the Wiregrass is not the Iron or the Smokies, etc., & all have little (or not so little) variations which give away one's origins.
      It's sort of like the differences between a Bronx and a Philly & a Boston & a Maine & a Chicago accent; I think it's a bit subtler down here, though, although that may be just my conceit.
      By the way, none of uses "y'all" in the singular. Yankees generally get that wrong--NTTAWWT.
      Great story, great character exploraton. I'm enjoying this very much, and only wincing occasionally; that's just because I'm nitpicky about spelling, grammar, & punctuation. Bravo Zulu!
      --Tennessee Budd

    5. If you see something horribly wrong (spelling, grammar, or punctuation-wise), shoot me an email. I can take it. 😉

      Lots of differences between accents in New England. Rhode Island is similar in some respects to Boston, very different in others. Maine sounds nothing like Vermont or New Hampshire. Connecticut varies from west to east and south to north.

      Loves me some dialects.

    6. Our NATO Germans did the same. The LHW got quite a kick out of her Mother using "such correct" German with me. LHW spoke six languages far better than I spoke two. My German did get me past a low score on the DLAB for another assignment where I got to learn a much more difficult (to me anyway) language

    7. I am impressed by the ability to speak multiple languages.

  6. Sometimes the most inhumane seeming men are the most human. Sauer... There are depths to Sauer that I hope you are able to explore without doing so explosively, if you know what I mean. He may be the one who comes out least mentally affected, if he survives. Or comes out the most. I've read about men like Sauer who, after whatever war they were in, became monks or even vegetarians because war so profoundly changed them. Other men like Sauer were the ones after the war that just came home, wherever they decided home was, and just restarted their lives.

    On the other hand, the faint-hearted may have their heart hardened, may find that only death and destruction makes them feel alive. And become mercenaries or murderers or both.

    Humans are funny that way.

    What does it say about the American spirit that two great generals, on either side of one of the worst wars in American history, said two of the most profound statements about war.

    Robert E. Lee said, "It is well that war is so terrible, otherwise we should grow too fond of it."

    And W. T. Sherman said, "War is hell. You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it."

    Both statements say everything about War that one can ever know. It seems, from a distance, to have a certain beauty and fascination, but all it is is hell and chaos, death and blood.

    You would have been a good professor or teacher. But, in a way, that is what you are doing now.

  7. I am actually coming to care about these fellows Sarge -which is a bit disturbing if you know what I mean.

    Now I want all their biographies...

    1. I am starting to like these guys as well, which I hope doesn't change the story.

    2. Just because they are WWII era Germans doesn't make them inhuman. A lot actually believed the Nazi bunk.

      Many GIs captured by the Japanese made lifelong 'friendships' with some of their captors, while others were to be stood up against the wall during the War Crimes Trials.

    3. People are people, even the "bad" ones.

    4. Sarge, if you have ever seen it, "My Honor was Loyalty" (2016) is a film from an SS Soldier's point of view. It is...interesting. It continues to haunt my thoughts to this day. It used to be on Netflix.

    5. I tried watching it, thought it was poorly done. But there were some good scenes in it.

  8. Captcha for my last comment was 'all squares with traffic lights'. Oh, great, now I have Monty Python in my head.
    "I like traffic lights..."
    --Tennessee Budd

    1. Hhmm, it's not supposed to do that. Blogger appears to be broken, again.


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

NOTE: Comments on posts over 5 days old go into moderation, automatically.