Friday, September 18, 2020

Chance Encounter


Unteroffizier Manfred Sauer looked at the new men in his platoon, the average age was seventeen. He shook his head, then remembered the things he had seen during his group's journey across northern France after the disaster of the Falaise Cauldron. He and six other men had been all that remained of the 5th Company, 2nd Battalion, 983rd Grenadier Regiment of the 275th Infantry Division. He had been a simple Grenadier then, now he was an Unteroffizier, leading his own platoon.

He had been promoted in the field by the very man briefing them, Leutnant, now Hauptmann, Jürgen von Lüttwitz. He had once commanded the very platoon Sauer led now. The division was being rebuilt once again, for the second time, von Lüttwitz now commanded the 5th Company whose remnants he had led back to the German lines. For that feat he had been awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross.

"So lads, it's a simple patrol to give you fellows some combat experience. We move out at first light, patrol to this village here," he pointed to his map as he said this, "and then back to our own lines in time for supper. Klar?¹"

The platoon leaders all nodded, then went to brief their men.

"Hold up a minute Manfred." The captain hadn't had the chance to congratulate Sauer on his ascent to the command of 1st Platoon. "How are you settling in?"

"The lads are all pretty keen, many of them were in the Hitler Youth so at least they know one end of a rifle from the other. I'm just concerned that they're not getting enough to eat. They might look like soldiers, but they're still growing boys." Sauer shook his head as he said that, he was starting to sound like his old sergeant. Must be the responsibility, he thought, which made one so serious, so soon.

"Keep an eye on them, the Amis are out there in force, I've been briefed that their casualties have been surprisingly heavy in their advance across France, the intelligence boys say that there are a large proportion of new recruits in the unit across from us, and that their line is thinly held as they're trying to get their men trained up." While the captain had been told that the information was classified as secret, he wanted his own platoon leaders to know the opposition.

"Rookies fighting rookies. At least their men seem well-fed, the boys I've seen on the other side of the line seem to eat pretty well." Sauer's belly rumbled as he said that, they were always hungry these days.

"Ah Manfred, it's getting colder and they're all wearing overcoats, those coats make you look fat."

"Grrr, our overcoats just make our boys look small!"


1Lt Paddock looked at Sgt Wilson and said, "Nope, let it rest Jack. I'm sending out Jenkins' squad on this patrol. You guys have been busting your asses for a couple of weeks, let his guys have this one. He has some replacements who need the experience."

"L.T., they're not ready for this. At least go out in platoon strength, not a single squad." Sgt Jack Wilson had a bad feeling about this patrol. But battalion was adamant about getting another prisoner or two. The advance on Aachen was coming soon, the higher ups wanted - no, needed - to know what was between the division and the German city.

"I know Jack, but the captain expressly ordered that I not send you guys, he wants to give you all a rest, short as it is, but there ya go. It's orders man, nothing we can do but soldier on." Paddock was tempted to go out with Jenkins' squad but Captain Josephson had forbidden that as well.

"Let Jenkins earn his pay Nate. He's a good man, good instincts. I know he's got a number of rookies in his squad, but they need to learn. Now go, get it done."

All Paddock could do was obey, he saw the captain's point, he had to let the new men sink or swim. But he didn't have to like it.

"You, Rothenberg, keep your interval. Bunching up attracts fire, why waste ammunition on a single man when the Amis can shoot the lot of you all at once. Spread out Jungs!²"

Unteroffizier Sauer was having trouble keeping his temper, a lack of sleep, lack of proper food, and the responsibility of trying to keep these young kids alive long enough to be useful to the Fatherland was taking every ounce of his patience.

"Herr Unteroffizier," one of his youngest men shouted out, "are those our men over there?" The lad was pointing across the meadow to where the forest closed in again.

Sauer looked in that direction and immediately bellowed, "Take cover! Americans!"

At that point, all Hell broke loose.

"Hey look Sarge, I think those are Krauts." Pvt John Baskevich, 18, of Canton, Ohio, was pointing across the small field to their front at a party of men coming out of the forest. That small party was the advance party of a German infantry company. Though much reduced, they still outnumbered the American squad by nearly ten to one. Sgt Greg Jenkins couldn't believe they had just stumbled into the Krauts like this, his guys were so green.

"Down, down, down, take cover!!" he screamed at the top of his lungs, but it was too late. Only by a few seconds, but still too late to save nearly half of his squad.

Sauer's MG 42 section had set up in an instant and were laying down fire on the stunned Americans. It was the only thing which saved his lads from getting chopped up. The Americans had taken casualties, but they were responding with accurate and rapid rifle fire. Sauer also knew that he had to maneuver and fast. The odds were good that the Americans would be calling in support fire from either mortars or artillery as quick as they could.

"Sarge, Crawford is dead, so are Adams and Jones."

"F**k that for now Smitty, I need the f**king radio." As Sgt Jenkins said that, he emptied his rifle in the direction of the Germans, fortunately they were on slightly higher ground than the enemy, which was protecting them from that damned MG 42.

"Sarge, I got the radio, but I can't get to you, every time I move that f**king machine gun starts up, the bastard can see me."

"He can't see ya Smitty, but he sees the brush moving, keep your f**king head down. Can you raise company?"

"Yeah Sarge, I got 'em on the horn right now."

"Okay, here are the grid coordinates, tell 'em four rounds of smoke, then HE³, everything they got."

"Whoa Sarge, aren't we kinda close for that?"

"Just call it in Smitty, if we don't bring the heat on those Krauts, we're all dead meat!"

Sauer was ready to make his move, he signaled to his 2nd Squad to be ready, at which point two of them stood up to see where they were going. One took an M1 round right through the top of his head, the other went down with two .30 caliber rounds to his chest.

"Down you idiots, stay down." That's when Sauer heard the whistling of incoming mortar fire.

"Scheiße! Move, move, move!!"

The smoke rounds landed slightly short but it was enough to cover Sgt Jenkins as he and his squad fell back, dragging their dead and wounded with them. The company mortar crews knew their business, they had added a bit to the range for the high explosive rounds following the smoke. They landed right where Jenkins needed them.

Sauer was up and moving as the smoke rounds began to go off, momentarily he had the thought of assaulting into the smoke, the Amis wouldn't be expecting that, but his rookies would probably get confused. The old army saying of "order, counter-order, disorder" always seemed to have it's most brutal effect on new soldiers under fire for the first time.

So he bellowed, "Fall back lads, let's get the Hell out of here. Run!!"

Unteroffizier Sauer's platoon fell back into the forest, dragging their dead and wounded with them. As they did so, the American mortar rounds impacted all over the area they had just left. It had been a very close call.

1Lt Paddock stood motionless, his helmet tipped back, carbine slung, hands tucked into his belt. He did that so the men couldn't see his hands shaking. He was both furious and immensely sad at the same time. Those were his men, his responsibility there on the ground, dead, covered by overcoats.

Sgt Jenkins held the dog tags out to his lieutenant - three privates, all newly assigned, weren't going home after the war. Crawford, William G., Adams, Joseph C., and Jones, Wilson B., all killed in action during a chance encounter with what had to be a platoon strength German patrol, Jenkins swore that there had been "more of the bastards" back in the trees. May have been a company they encountered, Paddock thought.

"You did the best you could Greg, You got nine of your guys back after meeting with a vastly superior force. How are your wounded, Gibson and Carter, right?" Paddock balanced the dog tags of the dead men in his hand, their physical weight was negligible, what they represented, three young lives cut short, weighed heavily on the young officer.

"Gibson's just a flesh wound, Doc says he'll be back tomorrow. Carter will be going home, probably minus an arm. That Kraut MG hit him low on the bicep, wasn't much left of his arm below that." Sgt Jenkins ran his jacket sleeve over his face. Jesus, he thought, here I am crying in front of the f**king boss.

"It's okay Greg, don't beat yourself up. Get your guys some chow, and some rest, we're moving out to the assault course tomorrow."

The two men parted, neither in full control of their emotions at that moment. 

Hauptmann Jürgen von Lüttwitz, commander of the 5th Company, walked along the line of dead men. "Six men Manfred? Have you taken the roll?"

"Jawohl Herr Hauptmann, these six dead - Klein, Müller, Dorfmann, Heinemann, Schmitz, and Moeller - Pfeizer and Burg are at the aid station, just scratches really. Everybody else is accounted for and ready for duty." Sauer sighed as he said that, they were just kids. They should be chasing girls and playing football, not dying here in this Gottverdammte Belgian forest.

The captain was wearing his soft cap, which he took off so that he could smooth his hair back, why was he sweating so much, he wondered. He looked at the dead men, his men, the men he was expected to lead, the men who should still be alive.

"So how many Americans were there Manfred?" He was watching the man to see how he answered. While he thought he knew Sauer well after their "adventures" in France, you never knew how authority would change a man.

"No more than a squad, couldn't have been. But they reacted well, those damned rifles of theirs can put a lot of rounds out. By the time we were ready to maneuver, they had called in mortar fire. I had no choice but to pull back. We would all be dead otherwise." Sauer was slightly embarrassed, his platoon had been routed by an American squad.

"It's their ability to get artillery on us so quickly that's the problem. How did your men behave?"

"Instead of taking charge when he spotted the Americans and ordering us to cover, Dorfmann asked if the Americans were our men. He paid the price for that, he was the first to fall. I'll talk to the boys about that. Don't ask questions, react, do something. Standing there and doing nothing is never a good idea."

"Certainly, I'll explain this to battalion. Though costly, it's a good lesson. At least the new men have been blooded. I'm sure they'll react better next time." The captain shook his head as he said that, more lessons like that and his company would bleed away to nothing.

¹ Clear?
² Lads
³ HE = High explosive


  1. Thanks for the early post, Sarge! Much appreciated! I'm hopelessly addicted!

    1. Thanks Patrick, the new Blogger interface messed up the scheduling of the post, which is why it came out late, late Friday as opposed to early Saturday. Not sure what happened there.

    2. It's posting on the time-zone you are at, not on Pacific time anymore.

    3. I believe you're right. This has to be the most f**ked up interface I've ever seen, that's saying a lot when you consider what I do professionally. I've seen a lot of screwed up interfaces. I've complained to Blogger multiple times, guess what, they don't give a shit.


  2. This is a great series. Congratulations to the author or authors for the superb work.

    1. Thanks Bernie. I am the author, though I have any number of proof-readers and editors. Folks like you who read the blog and keep me on the straight and narrow.

  3. Didja know that "F**k" has been an Army issued word since, well, Washington's time?

    2 Army units, opposing sides, acting similarly. And the FNGs always die the quickest.

    Wonder how many lives that M1 saved through its semi-auto fire? I am really impressed with that rifle. Negligible kick too compared to a bolt-action.

    Great chapter as always, Sarge.

    1. When the Air Force split from the Army, we took that word with us. Legions of shoe clerks have tried to stamp it out over the years, only for it to be kept alive by old Master Sergeants like me. 😉

    2. It's a good thing only the FNGs died. If either leader had been hit, that unit would have fallen apart and gotten smashed.

      In 'Squad Leader,' the term is 'Broken (unit)' and the unit falls apart and runs back in the shortest way possible (usually right into more fire) or hunkers down and doesn't do anything till they get unbroken by a leader coming along and rolling dice...)

    3. Panicky troops tend to do the thing most likely to get themselves killed. Good leadership is often the only thing keeping them alive.

  4. Role? Or roll as in roll call? "Six men Manfred? Have you taken the role?"

    Your series is the first thing I read each day. Thank you.

    1. And would an assistant that helps with the roll call be called, ............... a Roll Aide?

    2. John #1 - (Or would that be 1 John?) D'oh! I had it right, then changed it as it looked "funny." You know how that works, right? Usually if the word looks odd, I look it up, just to reassure myself. I got overconfident yesterday...

    3. John #2 - Yes, they would (and yes, I fixed it).

    4. You can always end a story with 'My tail is dun' :)
      Homonyms are your friend.

  5. This IS an early posting Sarge, things to do on the weekend. Hope the eye is better. Now have you given any thought as to the cover of the book, a divisional patch might do the trick.

    1. I like the divisional patch idea, though at any point in time there are five divisions involved: US 1st Infantry and 3rd Armored, UK 15th Scottish and 11th Armoured, and of course the German 275th Infantry.

      Eye is much better, thanks for asking.

  6. When the Medic came back from 'Stan, he heard a car door slam shut. He was on the ground before your head could swivel to see what happened.... in front the the theater and a handful of his old friends. He was a bit embarrassed...

    Great story OAFS. I'm hooked as well....

    1. And sometimes those reflexes can save you even back in the states. As a young-un, I was told about a vet who was hired as a truck driver. At some point, at night, he had to stop for something on the road and while out of the truck heard a metallic click. He immediately dove into the ditch on the side of the road. The crew that was there to hijack the truck cargo decided not to try searching for him, as his move showed he knew a thing or two that wouldn't be healthy for them.

    2. STxAR - Good reflexes, cover, then react.


    3. Frank - One can never be too careful, right?

    4. Just saw this today... Maybe some good tech for the upcoming Battle of the Bulge?

    5. There was a lot of reluctance over using that technology during the Bulge.

  7. Yay, Sour Sauer is still alive! Whoo!

    Wait... He's in the Aachen area, dangit. May not be for long.

    You set the tension early in the story, and you didn't let up. Good job. Excellent point on the US artillery use. And Sauer's reaction to 'RUN!' was the smartest thing.

    Great story. Forgot to mention, a couple days ago, that I see you already digging photos from that reference I sent you. Glad it's working out for you.

  8. Hey AFSarge;

    That's American Doctrine, Call in Direct Fire then either move forward to mop up or break off depending on the situation. It is based our style of "war" We throw ordinance, not people. Other countries it is different. As far as the Garand goes, General Patton considered it the "Greatest Battle implement ever created", and I have one or I did until I lost it in the great kayak accident last year *Sniff, Sniff*

    P.S. Had to delete my other comment, I had syntax errors in the comments dangit.

    1. Actually indirect fire in this case, but yes, why throw bodies at the enemy when you can throw steel at them?

    2. It was a lesson well learned from the American Civil War of Northern Aggression and Southern Independence. And then forgotten during so many smaller wars and actions, only to be finally remembered during WWI.

    3. Actually no, artillery in the Civil War wasn't nearly as effective as some people think. That did start to change once rifled cannon came into general use, but the infantryman's rifled musket actually outranged the commonly used smoothbore cannon. Early encounters saw gun crews get shot to pieces by the infantry firing at them over longer ranges. The lesson learned in the Civil War, and forgotten again and again, was that modern firearms lethality had made the old modes of command (troops within drum/bugle/voice range of their commanders) obsolete. The big lesson from the Civil War involved the shovel. Dig in where the enemy's weapons have a harder time hitting you.

      Hell, all the way to the end the infantry were still advancing en masse, and getting cut down in droves by their opposite numbers, who by this time of the war, were usually entrenched.

    4. (Don McCollor)...Smoothbore cannon did have other uses, especially against attacks. I believe Union gunners at Gettysburg when Pickett's charge got close were firing canister (a can of large lead balls), then double, then triple canister, and finally loading to the muzzle...

    5. Cannon were very useful in that manner, but loading to the muzzle? Probably split the barrel if you did that. Canister over solid shot, sure, that was done.

    6. (Don McCollor)...With the Rebs 50 feet away and charging, probably wouldn't matter much...

    7. I was thinking of Vicksburg and other 'seiges' during the ACW. And point-blank fire against field forces. Not the overwhelming indirect fire we find in WWI and WWII. But the rule of the big tube was definitely used overwhelmingly by the North against fixed fortifications.

    8. Don - True, but if the barrel splits, the crew dies and most of the folks around it. The Army frowns on that.

    9. Beans - Gunpowder artillery has always had that benefit, it's why fortifications got low to the ground, the old city walls wouldn't stand long against cannon.

  9. I can imagine that you are focusing the story on rounds fired that end their journey with intended consequences. Yet I have often heard that most bullets do not have someone's name on them but are rather addressed "to those whom it may concern". The firefights described seem to feature well aimed shooting on both sides with intentional results. This is not to criticize and I fully realize that a sentence like "Smith fired his rifle and hit nothing" does not advance the story line. But it did get me to wondering just how good the marksmanship was in WW2? I can imagine there was a greater familiarity with fire arms back then especially on the American side. But no doubt there were many city kids coming in with no knowledge of a rifle beyond John Wayne. Just from hunting I know that shooting in the field is different than at a static target on a range. While I have never tried it I imagine that hitting a man at 200 yards is not as easy as it may seem. Any insights to offer?

    1. With the exception of the occasional encounter, most of the rounds fired in these stories have no intended recipient, so to speak. In this encounter both sides, after recovering from the initial shock of "hey, that's the enemy," began the action by putting out rounds, not at any specific individual but at the location of the enemy. Put enough fire into an area and someone is going to get hit. Nothing personal in it, not aimed fire per se, but directed fire.

      The Smiths (and Schmidts) of WWII, provided they actually fired their personal weapons, were usually not aiming at anyone. Nine times out of ten they couldn't actually see individual enemy soldiers. You would lay down fire into an area, where the enemy were either known or expected to be, while your maneuver element would, well, maneuver to gain a positional advantage.

      The old story of familiarity with firearms as an American has always irked me to some extent. Your standard hunting rifle or shotgun isn't as similar to a military weapon as some might think. You can teach anyone to fire a weapon given a certain amount of time. Getting them to do so while someone is shooting back is much harder. Getting them to actually aim at a fellow human being with the intent of killing that person is nearly impossible. By constant drill you teach reaction and controlling your weapon.

      A range where you're moving and the targets pop up at random is excellent drill in teaching a soldier to react to the enemy. Target pops up, you turn, identify, then fire. Static ranges are good to teach the soldier familiarity with his/her weapon. What it feels like when it fires, how to adjust your sights, and how to actually aim give the soldier confidence in his/her weapon. But doesn't prepare one for combat.

      I hear many writers bemoaning how many young people in America are so out of shape and so unsuited to be soldiers. Bullshit. With the right NCOs you can turn anyone with no serious medical conditions into a soldier. You can get anyone into shape to be a soldier given enough time. Give a good sergeant three to six months and pasty face fat boy/girl who has done nothing but play video games in his/her Mom's basement will be able to march ten miles with full equipment and be comfortable enough with his/her weapon to be an effective soldier.

      From the whinging I read in the Meeja, you'd think we wanted nothing but Navy Seals in the armed forces.

      Shooting at anything 200 yards away over iron sights is not easy. Especially if the something is either moving or shooting back.

      Some good points/questions, Larry.

    2. Hey AFSarge;

      I recall SLA Marshal did a study on the amount of rounds fired vs the people who got hit, and who did the shooting and he proves that something like 10% of the unit are the real shooters or something like that, the rest of them are just there. I am going by memory mind you.

    3. I remember reading that study. It's also been rebutted by some later scholars claiming that Marshal fudged the data to prove a point, not to illustrate actual events. I give it some credence, if no one is watching, why stick your head up?

    4. Well, considering that, in a modern battlefield (any battlefield after the introduction of cartridge-firing magazine (internal or external) equipped rifles, exposing oneself gets one shot, there's a pretty good reason to use covering fire and blazing away at the enemy while letting the sharpshooters sharpshoot away.

  10. Always wonder why some guys (like me!) get so many chances and other guys only get the one.

    Squad-sized meeting engagements are pure fog of war.

    A friend of mine tells a great story of a nighttime clash with enemy camels. The camels almost won.

    Thanks Sarge!

    1. Well those camels can be awfully nasty. Experienced desert night fighters they are!

    2. If you haven't seen it, interesting lecture published Sept. 18 over at WWII History Roundtable u2b channel. Topic is Autumn '44 ops in northern France. Three veterans share cool stories for the last 50 minutes.

    3. Added to the list of stuff I need to watch or read.

      It's a very long list! Thanks Shaun!


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