Saturday, September 26, 2020

Advance to Contact

National Archives

"So that's the latest intel on the Krauts over across the way, battalion S2 says they've pulled back into the main portion of the Siegfried Line which skirts around Aachen to the west. Our job is to move up along this edge of this forested area until we locate the Kraut MLR¹. Once we make contact, the division has been given the job of fixing the Krauts in position so they can't pull troops in to defend the city. Aachen is a big deal gentlemen, first Kraut city in reach of the Allied armies. Any questions?"

Captain Josephson scanned the faces of his four platoon leaders. 2Lt Herman Jacobsen shifted uneasily which caught the captain's eye, "Problem Herm?"

"Yes and no, sir. I understand why you had my machine gun squads farmed out to Nate's 2nd Platoon and Kent's 1st Platoon, but when can I get them back?"

"Once we start to move up I'll have your machine gun squads rejoin your platoon. But be advised, I may attach them to other platoons as I see fit. You've got full control of your mortar section, I want them available to support the entire company. But I'll use the machine gun squads to provide extra punch to any platoon that might need it. My call, okay?" Josephson understood his weapons platoon leader's concern, but the men in that platoon were a major asset to the company. He needed to shift firepower to where it was most needed.

"Sounds good Cap'n." Josephson's answer seemed to settle Jacobsen's concerns.

"Alright, get back to your platoons, we move out in an hour."

1Lt Paddock and the platoon headquarters were moving behind the 2nd Platoon, which was in reserve, 1st and 3rd Platoons were up on line, leading the company advance. The day had turned warm but was still overcast from the rain the night before. Everyone was nervous, though reports had the Krauts pulling back, the veterans knew that the Germans liked to leave behind snipers, booby-traps, and the occasional light machine gun team.

"Jennings, you want to slide out to your right a bit, you're crowding the lieutenant. One man might not be worth a bullet, but a cluster tends to attract attention."

"Yes Staff Sergeant, sorry."

Robert Jennings was one of the new recruits in the platoon, he was one of two messengers assigned to each platoon. If messages needed passing and the radio was down, they would carry the lieutenant's words to whoever needed them. PFC Herman Shapiro was the other messenger and had taken Jennings under his wing, even though Shapiro thought that Jennings was one of the most naive kids he'd ever met.

"Keep your eyes up and on your sector Bobbie, we're far enough behind the main line that we're probably safe enough. But your average Kraut is pretty sneaky. It would be just like the bastards to hide from the rest of the guys just to pop up and blast whoever is bringing up the rear. Besides which, we've got two other platoons in front of us. Hell, we're almost as far back as the company headquarters element. Keep your wits about you Bobbie. "

"Right Herm, I'll try."

As the group moved on, Jennings realized that this was the most scared he had ever been in his entire life. They were moving up to find the enemy, men who wanted to kill him. Why? What had he ever done to them?

On the forward edge of the company's advance, 2Lt Morgan Childreth's 3rd Platoon was on the right flank, they were supposed to stay tied in with another company from another battalion. As they entered a small clearing, Sergeant Cliff Davis signaled a halt.

Childreth and his platoon sergeant, SSgt Joe DuBois moved to Davis' position. "What's the hold up, Cliff?" the lieutenant was looking out to the flank and noticed.

"Jesus, where's 3rd Battalion?"

"That's why I stopped us sir, their guy was right there, then Ozzie looked away to check his interval, when he looked back, the guy was gone."

"Damn it, hold up here. Joe, hustle back and let the Captain know, our flank is in the air."

PFC Peter Hobart had been the Hotel Company flanker for 3rd Battalion as the regiment was advancing. He had felt a pressing call of nature, so he stopped and went into a small brushy area to do his business. He was new to the theater, having arrived with the latest batch of replacements in early September. He really had no clue how important it was for the units to stay in contact with each other. By stopping to take a crap, he had left his own battalion's and the neighboring battalion's flanks in the air.

Fortunately there were no Germans in the area to exploit those open flanks. But it did cause the entire advance to stop.

Sgt Cliff Davis had moved off to the right to see where the 3rd Battalion guy might be. He moved cautiously with one of his men right behind him. They encountered Hobart walking out of the brush, pulling his pants up and trying to get his gear back in place.

"What the Hell are you doing Private?" Davis snapped in his best Drill Instructor voice.

"I had to take a crap Sarge, I'm sorry, but..."

At that moment Hobart's own sergeant came on the scene. The two NCOs conferred briefly, both agreeing that having Hobart on the flank was probably not a good idea. It also earned Hobart a new nickname in his platoon, not a flattering one either.

Davis got back to his squad to find his platoon leader having an earnest conversation with the company commander.

"What was the problem Sergeant?" Captain Josephson wasn't happy, and it showed.

"Kid on the other battalion's flank stopped to take a shit, he thought it was no big deal. I talked to his sergeant, I think we won't have that problem again. F**king babes in the woods some of these kids."

"Alright, let's get this circus back on the move people!" Captain Josephson started to head back with his radio operator when he heard something...


The short artillery barrage was over nearly as soon as it had started. 1st Platoon was firing at something over on the left, things were quickly getting out of hand.

"Come on Jake, let's move!" Josephson yelled to his radio operator, Cpl Jacob Winters.

The two men moved in the direction of 1st Platoon, staying low. When they arrived at 1st Platoon's position, the excitement was over.

"Lieutenant Jackson, what were you people shooting at?"

"Kraut up in that pine tree Cap'n, see him?" 1Lt Kent Jackson was pointing and the captain looked in that direction, sure enough, there was a now dead German up in a pine tree. Tied to the tree by a length of rope around his waist.

"Spotter for the artillery?" The lieutenant asked.

"Unlikely L.T.," First Sergeant Morton Saeger answered, "probably just some dumbass kid left behind to take a pot shot at an officer. I'm thinking the arty was just a random fire mission, H and I.²"

"I think you're right First Sergeant." Captain Josephson looked at his watch, then at the position of the sun, just visible through the hazy cloud cover. "Pass the word, fall back one hundred yards, we'll dig in here tonight and move out at first light. No fires, no smoking after sunset. Let's go people, looks like we're camping in the woods again."

Some two hundred yards away and 30 minutes later, 1Lt Nathan Paddock's platoon was finishing up their foxholes and gulping down whatever rations they had at hand. SSgt Herb Graves slid into the platoon CP's hole and handed his lieutenant a tin mug.

"Careful L.T., it's hot."

"Herb, where did you find coffee out here?" The lieutenant asked as he took his first sip of the hot brew.

"Judd Maxwell over in Weapons Platoon had a fire started when the company stopped. While 3rd Platoon was getting shelled, he was making coffee. He's an old hand, he figured that after all the excitement, Tex would call it a day and dig in."

"Tex?" 1Lt Paddock looked askance at his platoon sergeant.

"Begging the lieutenant's pardon, sir, I meant Captain Josephson, our company commander. No disrespect intended, sir."

"I heard the captain's not from Texas, why does he go by 'Tex'?"

"He was born and raised in New Mexico, that's a fact sir. But Hell, he was just up the road from El Paso, that's in Texas, right? He likes being called 'Tex' according to the First Sergeant. Hey, it ain't a bad thing, right?"

"I suppose not, thanks for the coffee. Why don't you..."

"Get some sleep? Don't mind if I do sir." With that SSgt Herbert Graves wrapped his blanket around himself and promptly fell asleep.

"Man can fall asleep on command, I swear." Paddock finished his coffee, knowing that his platoon sergeant would sleep for a couple of hours then let his lieutenant sleep for most of the night.

Paddock had asked him about that once upon a time, "Well sir, tired officers can't think straight, officers who can't think straight make bad decisions, bad decisions get people killed. So..."

Paddock remembered that. He was thankful he had a good platoon sergeant.

Between the two of them, they tried awfully hard to keep the men alive.

Which was something that the men noticed.

Which was a good thing.

¹ Main Line of Resistance, the major defensive positions of an army.
² Harassment and Interdiction, artillery directed at a grid position on a map to annoy the enemy.


  1. Men follow leaders, not pushers... Paddock is pulling the string. And pushing a string is impossible...

    1. And, sadly, most business degree programs teach their students to push. Sigh.

      The only effective way, for a certain value of 'effective,' to push is to use the 'I'm following and will shoot you' method.

    2. Ah yes, business degrees.

      Those don't produce leaders, they produce bureaucrats.

    3. Indeed. When you "lead" from the rear, you must use the whip. And that is all you will get--just enough to stay beyond the reach of the whip.

      That jeep and trailer combo in the photo (including the Jerry Can) is exactly what I learned to drive on our ranch as a young lad. Looks as though a round went through the passenger side of the windshield. Hope the seat was empty.

    4. I noticed that windshield as well.

  2. Plus two on STxAR's comment. The quality that OCS could turn out is somewhat under-appreciated; "Tex" has a good bunch, glad that crappy SNCO got killed in the halftrack back in France.
    Another great installment Sarge, they don't all need drama.
    Eagerly awaiting the book.
    Boat Guy

    1. You're reading the book as it happens. It's the only way I could figure to get it done. Working full time cuts into my writing time, "Why not do it on the blog? A few pages a day..." was my thought. So, live, not Memorex.

      I'm just glad so many folks are enjoying it.

    2. Thoroughly. One of the best books ever about Infantry combatandcovering this time is Charles McDonald's "Company Commander"
      Boat Guy

    3. He also wrote A Time for Trumpets: The Untold Story of the Battle of the Bulge, probably my favorite book on the Bulge.

    4. I am enjoying every bit. I'll gladly buy a hardback when it comes out as long as it's autographed by the author. ;-)

    5. If it gets that far, you got it.

  3. Hey AFSarge;

    Another Great post, when I was watching the video, I was thinking "Crawling up under my helmet". It is good to watch the interaction between the Lt and the SNCO, they make a good team and the poor guy leaving the line to take a crap....he is screwed......for a while until the next guy really messes up and gets the "I screwed up really bad award" and the first guy drops off the radar.

  4. The bad thing about H&I is it will kill you just as much as aimed fire. But in an impersonal, your karma sucks, can't ever win way. Oh, randomly aimed round falls from sky and it's over. How very... sucky.

    I mean, you're dead from aimed fire or from H&I, if you get hit, but...

    As to the pit-stop, I've always wondered what happens to the unit when that happens. I've heard good soldiers tell each other to pee and poop (if they can) before moving out.

    Good story.

    1. Gotta show the other side of war, as it were. I remember a painting called "The Asides of Glory" from the Napoleonic Era, shows a young recruit doing himself back up after stepping into the bushes for a call of nature.

      They don't cover that in the history books.

  5. This one?

    Yup, certainly not your traditional depiction of the glorious battlefield scene, as misleading as they are from the horrors of the reality.
    John Blackshoe

  6. On stopping to relieve yourself, I had a neighbor who was a Marine in the South Pacific. He said that in the jungle if you had to relieve yourself you just went in your pants? Ugh! Snipers would get you. Dunno if that is true or not.

    1. (Don McCollor)...I recall running across an account of long range WW2 patrols in Burma suffering from dysentery that simply cut the crotches out of their jungle shorts. Eating frozen C rations in Korea had the same effect. Another account of the retreat from the Chosin
      Reservoir of a Marine frantically trying to unbutton his cold weather gear, then stopping and started to button up again cursing (and it would be days before he could bathe)...

    2. Taking care of business in combat, or in some shitty place like the jungle, is horrible in its own way.

    3. Yeah, I first heard that in boot camp. The way that old NCO expressed it left no doubt as to his sincerity.

  7. Apropos sleep:

    Difficult for me as I have neighbors above that have:

    1. Poorly insulated laminate flooring
    2. Three active cats with the scratch/sleep tree right over my head
    3. No jobs
    4. Late hours
    5. Obesity and distinctly ungraceful gait
    6. The unpleasant habit of not sitting down, but throwing themselves down
    7. No manners or consideration
    8. A godfearing neighbour that despite points 1-7 refuses to yield to temptation and carry out a much longer list of satisfyingly quiet techniques on them or their felines.

    1. Sleep is important, ask anyone who can't seem to get any.

  8. As gently as I can, Sarge, who is this new officer you have introduced? The one named Weapon, who has his own platoon, in which Judd Maxwell serves? I have, of course, heard of Weapons Platoon & Weapons Company, but I'm anxious to hear more about Weapon & Weapon's Platoon!
    Joking, mostly. On reflection, I apologize. It's been that kind of day, and I felt like being a smartass. I like & respect you more than that.
    --Tennessee Budd

    1. D'oh! Fixed it. (Why oh why do my fingers want to put apostrophes everywhere?)

      Thanks though, every little error hurts, every correction helps.

      Shoot me an email, I lost your address (email and physical) and need to return your book!


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