Sunday, September 27, 2020

Into the Reich

National Archives

"Roger, stand by." PFC John Myerson handed the radio handset to his lieutenant. "It's Captain Josephson sir."

"This is Charlie Two Leader, over."

"Charlie Six, Charlie Two, I need you to rotate up, switch with Charlie Three. How copy? Over."

"Solid copy Charlie Six, over."

"Make it happen, Nate. Charlie Six out."

1Lt Nathan Paddock handed the handset back to Myerson, then he turned to his messengers, "Herm, Bobbie, get the squad leaders back here, on the double." The two men headed out to gather in the squad leaders for the 2nd and 3rd Squads. As 1st Squad was traveling with the platoon command element, Paddock simply waved Sgt Jack Wilson over.

"What's up L.T.?"

"We're moving up to the front, 3rd Platoon will be falling back into reserve. Okay, hold on, here's Greg and Mike, I don't want to have to repeat myself."

The lieutenant briefed his squad leaders, they would be moving up to the right flank of the company, which was also the right flank of the entire battalion. After making sure the sergeants knew their assignments, they moved off. 2nd Squad would be on the flank, 3rd squad in reserve and 1st Squad maintaining the link to 1st Platoon on the left.

Sgt Jack Wilson briefed his men as they moved out, the closer they got to where they expected to meet 3rd Platoon, the more they increased their interval. Soon they were in a proper skirmish line.

Wilson saw his counterpart in 3rd Squad, Sgt Mike Peavey, "What's the scoop Mike?"

"The woods are mostly open ahead, mostly evergreens, very little in the way of underbrush. We've got pretty good sight lines, but then, so do the Krauts. Ya know buddy, I think we're about to enter Kraut-land."

PFC Jackson Hebert was in contact with a soldier from 3rd Battalion, a PFC Mike Brown. They had a quick word, then it was time to move out. "Be careful Hebert, we're in Germany now." PFC Brown pointed at a stone marker with the simple inscription - "Deutschland."

Hebert's eyebrows went up at that, he even felt the hairs go up on the back of his neck. "Man," he thought, "we're in Nazi f**king Germany."

They were indeed inside Germany, the company had crossed the border not too far north of the town of Roetgen, the first German town to be occupied by the American Army only a few days before. The men in the 2nd Platoon all seemed to walking on pins and needles, Germany, the land of the enemy, and they were entering it.

1Lt Paddock was near the front of the platoon's skirmish line, he was scanning the open areas beneath the pines and firs. "I guess the Krauts like to keep their forests tidy, huh Herb?"

SSgt Herbert Graves responded, "Just like the Krauts, everything neat and clean, except when it's somebody else's country, then they blow the shit out of it."

Paddock chuckled, his platoon sergeant had a point. He wondered how the Germans felt now that it was their country getting bombed and shelled. He hoped that the bastards would remember that the next time they wanted to start a war.

"Sarge, I don't like this, it's starting to get pretty dark under all these trees." PFC Fred Thomas had his B.A.R. at the ready, he was clearly nervous.

"Calm down Red, I'm sure that the boss will call a halt soon." He checked his watch, was surprised that he could barely see the face. Damn, it was only 1630. "These trees are pretty thick, keep your eyes open fellows."

At the startling sight and sound of tracers passing through the squad, each man went to ground, seeking what little cover there was. Now they heard the ripping snarl of a German machine gun.

"Christ! Anybody hit?" Sgt Wilson had felt the tug of an enemy round on his right sleeve, when he checked, the fabric had been torn by a bullet. He nearly wet himself thinking how close he'd come to getting hit.


Wilson turned to look, Red Thomas was down, there was a lot of blood, he wasn't moving. Cajun was checking his B.A.R. man, for whom he served as assistant gunner. "Jesus, Sarge, I think Red is dead. He ain't breathing, maybe I can..."

As Pvt Andre Tremblay, known to his squad mates as Cajun, started to get up, Wilson screamed at him to stay down. That slight movement brought a flurry of small arms fire in their direction, all of it over their heads. It seemed that the Germans couldn't see them very well either.

"Grab the B.A.R. Cajun, can't worry about Red right now, we've got to clear out these Krauts before we can help him." Even as Wilson said that, he figured Cajun was out of the fight, the shock of Red being hit had rattled the man.

Wilson was starting to maneuver his element when he heard a flurry of shots from the right flank of the squad. Had to be Corporal Melvin Katz's element laying down fire on the German position, the sounds of the American rifles and Duck Simpson's B.A.R. were distinctive.


Wilson recognized Cat's voice, "What do ya got Cat?"

"One MG 42, and maybe three riflemen in support, Charlie's gonna try and take 'em out. We can barely see the position."

"Alright, be careful."

"Really Sarge, be careful?" Somehow the squad's grenadier, PFC Jack Leonard, had worked his way over to Wilson's position. Where he had been, he couldn't see anything, now he thought he saw where the enemy gun might be.

In the next instant the sound of a .30-06 Springfield rang out, followed by a scream from the German position.

"Think Charlie nailed one of the bastards," turning to Leonard, Sgt Wilson asked, "think you could drop a rifle grenade on those Krauts from here?"

"I dunno Sarge, all these trees cut down the range, can't really drop it in, I'll have to try and shoot it straight into them."

Moments later Leonard fired a rifle grenade at the German position, which drew a flurry of tracer fire in their direction, all of it over their heads again. The grenade had flown over the German position. Leonard was right, they couldn't drop the round in, and they were too low to hit the Krauts directly.

"Might be the Krauts can't depress their gun low enough to get us?" Leonard was thinking out loud. "Just like we can't hit them directly."

"Right, let's crawl a bit closer, Cajun slide out to your right and lay down covering fire."

As the B.A.R. opened up, Wilson and Leonard low crawled as fast as they could until Leonard said, "Okay, I think I can hit them from here. Virg, where are you buddy?" Wilson was surprised, but pleased, that Cajun was back in the fight.

"Right on your ass Jack." Leonard's assistant grenadier, Pvt Virgil Kennedy, had followed his lead as he'd made his way over to Wilson, and then again as they'd low crawled forward. "I've got three grenades left, you?"

Leonard fired another grenade, "Had one, now I have none. Hand me up another."

At that time the grenade Leonard had just fired detonated, right beside the German machine gun position. From the right flank, Charlie Gammel saw through his scope that one man had stood up, one sleeve of his tunic starting to burn, the man was frantically trying to beat out the fire. Gammell put a .30-06 round into the man's chest, ending his worries about fire.

The German gun had turned to fire where they thought the grenade had come from, which they thought was from Katz's section. Wilson could see the tracers streaming through the forest, occasionally tracers would hit a tree and fly off in random directions. Abruptly the German gun stopped firing.

Katz yelled over to Wilson, "Hey Jack, I think their gun jammed, I can hear 'em swearing in German."

Wilson turned to the three men with him, "Let's go, move up, follow me. Cajun, covering fire! Aim high!"

When Cajun opened up, Wilson stood up, now he could see the Germans on the gun. There were two of them, both frantically trying to unjam their weapon. Cajun's tracers were keeping the two Krauts low. Before the Germans knew what was happening, Wilson and his men were on them.

A flurry of gunfire and the two Germans were down. Wilson thought that one of them had been trying to surrender, "A little late for that you f**king Kraut bastard."

"What's that Sarge?" Dickenson was standing next to him, covering Leonard and Kennedy as they made sure the Germans were all dead. They were.

"Nothing Howie, nothing. Just thought that maybe one of the Krauts was trying to quit."

"Yeah, Sarge, I guess he didn't want to play army anymore. F**k him."

1Lt Paddock had brought the reserve squad up when the firing had broken out. By the time they'd worked their way up, it was over. Paddock saw some of the men huddled around something on the ground, then he realized that Doc Milbury was one of those men.

"Ah shit." Paddock moved in that direction, feeling sick. SSgt Graves was right behind him, getting 3rd Squad up and into position to take over for the 2nd Squad.

Paddock stopped when he realized that he'd lost a man. "Who is it Doc?" He asked gently.

Before Doc could answer, Cajun spoke up, "It's Red L.T., Red got hit by that first burst, never had a chance." Cajun was nearly in tears. Red Thomas had been with the squad since Normandy, now he was gone, not a hundred yards inside Germany.


"Yes sir?" Wilson looked like someone had punched him in the gut, hard.

"Have your guys fall back into reserve, 3rd Squad can cover tonight. Cap'n says to dig in. You okay?"

"Not really sir, Red was a good man, we're gonna miss him. He's only the second man in the squad to die. First Ollie, now him."

Paddock patted Wilson on the shoulder, gave the shoulder a squeeze. "See to your other men, Jack. We'll get Red back to the rear."

Seven other men in 1st Battalion had been hit moving up to contact with the new German positions inside Germany. Two had been killed, five had been wounded, one seriously enough that the medics were worried he wouldn't survive the night.

The Germans had lost 73 men that day in front of the 26th Infantry Regiment, 27 killed, 34 wounded, and 12 had been captured. While the German Army in the East was being torn to pieces by the Soviet juggernaut, the German Army in the West was dying the death of a thousand cuts. Slowly bleeding men and equipment with each new day.


  1. Easy reading Sarge, no wall-o-text to slog through. With sunset around 7PM those fir/pine trees really cut down on the light. Grouse hunting in northern Minnesota around those pine clumps was like walking into/out of a darkened room not to mention the thick cover given by other tree species and underbrush.

    1. I too have "been there, done that."

    2. It's a tad bit different, from what they tell me, when the 'grouse' start shooting back. Everything familiar is now unfamiliar.

  2. Agreee with Nylon - very easy read which completely conveys the scene. I feel claustrophobic and hemmed in just reading it.

  3. Hey AFSarge;

    Every time I was in maneuvers in the Forest it was something primeval about the forest in Germany, almost ethereal if you know what I mean. Their MG 42 links probably kinked and jammed the gun, at almost 1000 rounds a minute, you needed a good A-gunner to keep it from doing that. Good read

    1. I know what you mean about the German forests.

      You wouldn't believe the feel of the Ardennes in fall and winter, spooky as Hell.

    2. If true today, one can only imagine was it was like in the first century AD for Varus and his legions.

  4. Ha! There's great mojo and respect for being chosen to be the rightmost unit. Usually first in contact. That unit is the hammer. Doesn't matter if the soldiers are armed with swords and shields or guns, it just seems that even in a line formation, it's the rightmost unit that is the glory spot.


    Every formation has a sword, the rightmost unit. Every formation has a shield, the leftmost unit. Which catches the most fire, the most barbarians, the most everything. Can't have a strong formation without a strong shield unit. The Right throws, the Left Catches.

    Mostly this is due to your rightmost unit encountering their leftmost unit, and vise-versa.

    Good story. The slow dribbling loss of veterans really is a strain upon the rest of the unit. Newbies, mo matter how good, just can't fill in, even newbie veterans. A unit that's been together a long time or through a lot is like a good married couple, the members know and anticipate correctly what the others are doing. And a lot of unspoken communication, from glances, stares, looks, hand and arm movement.

    Again, good story.

    1. Thanks Beans. I like the sword and shield analogy.

  5. The Romans found out about the woods in Germany. The spooky feel may be from all the lost and wandering Roman ghosts.

    1. The bones of three Roman Legions (XVII, XVIII & XIX) litter the floor of the Teutoburger Wald.

      The Roman Empire never ventured far over the Rhine after that.

    2. There was a Netflix series on Rome or Caesar that dealt with his time as general fighting the Germans

      They were pretty fierce

  6. Good post, Chris. Reading this reminded me of my recent re-reading of Dad's WWII V-Mail Letters. One that I read this morning from 2Apr45 had his location as "Somewhere in Germany, East of the Rhine". Fascinating letters of yesteryear from Sgt. George Snyder, Company I, 320th Infantry, MOS 653- a young, tough country boy at home in the outdoors and in the woods.

    1. MOS 653, Squad Leader. Well done!

    2. Just imagine Ron for your dad they were just letters and now they are valuable history

    3. Good point, William. I think that I will email his old units historical section and see if they would like them. No one left in the family that really appreciates these V-Mails. 77 letters from June '44 to Aug '45 when he returned home via the Queen Mary.

    4. I had made PDF's when the letters were handed down to me and had sent a copy to all of my siblings. I think that I will spend the time and make hardcopies also.

    5. (Don McCollor)...Spent some time transcribing my Dad's daily diary he kept from late 1942-1945 (surgical orderly, 46th General Hospital). At times, I had a hard time working out his handwriting (often scrawled in pencil and he would use and not use caps and punctuation so a sentence could have two very different meanings), Then I discovered the letters he had written that his mother had saved (our family never threw away anything). Nothing heroic, just doing his job..."Saluted a Two Star General today. I was holding a bed pan in the other hand"..

    6. The little things which make history so interesting!


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