Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Southwest of Mons, September 1944


According to 2Lt Paddock's map, they were on the outskirts of the Belgian municipality of Frameries, just entering the small village of Sars-la-Bruyère. They weren't really expecting enemy contact as the Germans had been on the run for quite some time. No one thought that circumstance might cause them to stop running. When there is nowhere to run, you stop. You either fight or surrender.

"I don't see anything Sarge." Pvt Theodore Olson handed the field glasses back to Sgt Brandt who tucked them away inside his field jacket.

"Damn it, maybe my imagination is running wild, but I could have sworn I saw movement in one of those houses ahead." Sgt Brandt signaled to Corporal Jack Wilson to bring the rest of the squad up.

Rue de Taisnières, Frameries, Wallonia, Belgium

Obergefreiter Klaus Vinckmann froze as he saw a glint from the roof of a small shed down the street. He had shifted position slightly when he'd seen the Americans cautiously entering the village. He had no plans of firing at just anyone. His sergeant had told him to cause delay and confusion in their pursuers.

"Kill their sergeants and their officers, Klaus. That will slow them down." had been his sergeant's last order to him.

He looked through his scope, yes, there. Two Americans on top of the shed, one with field glasses. "Do I shoot?" he asked himself. When he saw the man hand the field glasses to the other man, he couldn't decide which to shoot. Maybe neither of them. Might just be a couple of scouts, he reasoned.

Looking south towards Brandt's position.

As Brandt and Ollie climbed down off the shed, the rest of the squad joined them. 2Lt Paddock was with them, along with the new platoon sergeant, a SSgt Graves, who had replaced SSgt Draper, killed in action a couple of weeks ago.

"Whaddaya got Bill?" the lieutenant started to lean around the corner to look when SSgt Graves pulled him back by his collar. Which earned the sergeant a nasty look.

"Sorry, L.T., but the battalion commander'll have my ass if I let you get killed. What did I tell you about sticking your head around corners?" Graves wasn't kidding around, they'd lost too many young lieutenants through careless mistakes. The last platoon leader they'd lost had cost the platoon sergeant his stripes.

"Sorry Sarn't Graves, I get it, but..."

"No worries L.T., I thought I saw movement in one of those buildings down the street. Both Ollie and I watched for a bit, but didn't see anything." Sgt Brandt eased the tension with his quick report to the lieutenant. Which earned him a nod from his platoon sergeant.

Sgt Brandt thought about it for a bit, then had Cpl Wilson take his section across the road and through the hedge on the other side. It would offer them some concealment as they worked their way into the village.

When Wilson's men had gotten through, Sgt Brandt took a deep breath and yelled over to Wilson, "Cover me." Then he stepped around the corner of the building, turned to Pvt Olson and said, "Follow me," and began to work his way up to the next house. He had gone maybe ten feet when Pvt Olson, who was watching his sergeant, and was already stepping out behind Brandt saw dust fly up from in front of Brandt, as if from his field jacket. With a muffled grunt, Sgt Bill Brandt was down in the street.

"Jesus Sarge, NO!!" Ollie ran to his sergeant.

Obergefreiter Vinckmann worked the bolt of his K98k, regretting that to do so he had to take his eye off the scope, then nestled the butt of his rifle against his cheek once more. He saw the American he'd fired at down in the street, his helmet had come off, the same helmet which had the horizontal stripe on the back indicating a sergeant which had made him a target.

When the second man had dashed out from behind cover, Vinckmann shot him too, then slid back out of sight. He was out the back of the building and further down the street before the Americans reacted.

Sergeant Wilhelm "Bill" Brandt was having trouble catching his breath, inside he was seething, how could he have made such a stupid mistake, stepping out into the street like some damned rookie.

What was worse was that Private Theodore Olson, Ollie to the squad, was down next to him, his eyes glassy, his helmet gone, his blond hair darkened by the blood flowing from the furrow the German bullet had made through the top of his skull. He was angry, he'd gotten one of his men killed.

"Cease fire, cease fire!" Cpl Wilson managed to make himself heard over the noise of every weapon in the squad firing down the street and into those buildings most likely to have sheltered the sniper. Wilson knew that the Kraut was already gone, moved to another position, ready to gun down another man if he had the chance. "Now what?" he wondered.

Cajun and Cat had already dragged Sgt Brandt back into cover and Doc Milbury was already working on the wounded man. As he worked, he told the lieutenant, "He'll live, if we get him back to the aid station, like right now."

The lieutenant got on the radio and within minutes a jeep roared up. Sgt Brandt was strapped onto the stretcher on the hood, and just like that he was gone. He'd been with the unit since Sicily, had made sergeant shortly after D-Day and had led the squad well. Corporal Jack Wilson, who had been friends with Brandt since boot camp, was shaken, he wasn't quite sure how he was supposed to feel, but 2Lt Paddock didn't give him much time to think about it.

"Wilson, it's your squad. SSgt Graves..."

"Arty is on the horn L.T., you have the coordinates?"

"Yup, right here..."

As Paddock and Graves called in an artillery mission to obliterate the small village, Sgt Brandt was already under the knife. The sniper's bullet had gone through his left lung and nicked his spine. While the surgeon had done his very best and Brandt would live, he might not ever walk again.

Private Theodore Olson was buried in a temporary cemetery behind the lines. Through a bureaucratic mix up, he was reported as missing in action. His parents wouldn't learn of his death until 1946.

The artillery destroyed a large part of the small village and also killed Obergefreiter Klaus Vinckmann. He was listed as missing in action, though there was no one to report this to as his entire family had died in the bombing of Hamburg in August of 1943.

His body was never recovered.

The city of Mons, Belgium was liberated just a few days after Sgt Brandt's squad encountered the sniper.

The war ground on...

A 16th Infantry halftrack and other vehicles from the 3rd Battalion arrive in Mons, Belgium, in early September 1944.


  1. Those little foxes, small mistakes that cost big. Man...

  2. excellent writing. When you finish this, print it, bind it, and sell it on the site. I will be the first to buy it.

  3. I'll be "in line" right behind "Coffee Man"!
    This is GOOD stuff Sarge. I found myself hoping " Brandt " will "walk again". Again, not the way to bet, but proving how real you've made these characters.
    Boat Guy

    1. I will do an "after the war" update for the characters in the series. Seems like it's warranted!

      And thanks!

    2. I'll buy the book regardless, but it'd be a bummer to find Sgt Brandt in a neglected corner of a VA hospital. It might be realistic, though.
      Still pulling for him, Wilson all the rest; including Sauer.
      Boat Guy

    3. Sgt Brandt certainly deserves better than that! (Sadly though, that would be realistic.)

    4. Not all of us who ended up in a (strongly urine smelling) VA hospital were stuck there for life. The motivation to get out was nearly overpowering!

    5. That's certainly motivation to get out!

  4. If it was a nick on the spinal bones, Brandt could be walking soon and gain full motion once all the swelling is down. He may heal up quickly enough from the chest wound that he'll be back in mid-winter or spring, maybe earlier depending on how quickly he heals. A nick on the spinal cord, on the other hand, at least 3 months rehab, most likely earned a trip to the states and an involuntary discharge. Spinal injuries vs spinal cord injuries, they are tricky that way.

    Damnit, Ollie. What a fine mess he's gotten himself into this time.

    Really good writing. Some of the best and most realistic writers out there go through secondary and primary characters like crazy. On the other hand, I read one 'South Pacific War Novel' which was set in the North Pacific (there is a difference. New Zealand, New Hebrides, Australia, that area is South P. Most of the Gilberts, all of the Marshals and the Philippines are North Pacific, I mean, look at a friggin map, people) and the author's 'squad' stayed together from Tarawa, Bloody Tarawa all the way to Saipan. No Friggin Way. At least a 20% loss of personnel just from various diseases or doing stupid stuff like falling asleep leaning up against the southern part of a ship during the middle of the day and thus cooking oneself almost to death (yes, it is a thing, and it still happens today no matter how much the corpsmen and doctors kvetch and moan.)

    But... Brandt? Aw, man... (really hoping just a spinal cord bruise from a nick on a bone, really really hoping.)

    As to the American response to snipers... Whatever works. Beats losing another 3-4 guys playing cat-and-mouse. Kinda hard on any civilians that stayed, though, but we weren't overly worried about collateral damage back then, and what newsies were around worked for the US, instead of against it, mostly.

    1. Peeking at the playbook again Beans? Well sure, Brandt could, in theory, return, it really does depend on the severity of his injuries. But shot through the lung? He's going to have long term problems. DAMHIK.

      The U.S.Army made lavish use of artillery, expend steel on the enemy, not flesh and bone.

    2. Some shot through the lungs have a most difficult time recovering, especially if they lose a lung-sac or get hit by an expanding or tumbling bullet. While others with supposedly great trauma heal quickly and walk away with no real issues, maybe some issues down, sometimes way down, the line.

      It's one of those weird things. Like, well, spinal injuries. Some people break their backs multiple times and confound doctors by walking away every time. Others, just a pinch or tad bit of damage wipes them out.

      Injuries are weird. Like I know people who have been sidelined by a broken toe. Me? Yank that sucker back into place, keep swelling down, keep walking. Meh. Toes getting hurt, woooo.

      As to reading the playbook? No. Just absorbed way too much 'trivial information' (as one teacher complained about, but who knows when one will need to fix a saddle, build a house from scratch, diagnose bumblefoot in birds or issues with wild animals without actually doing all of those. And, yes, without physically being taught I have repaired a saddle, built some serious structures, and done vet work. It's all about all that trivial information I have stored away.)

    3. (Don McCollor)...Knowledge gained (unless forgotten) is never lost or useless. As a research scientist, in my spare time I would read anything interesting except something related to what I was working on. Amazing how seemingly unrelated information is useful. It is better know a little about many things..(PS, another great post)...

    4. It often surprises me when I remember some odd tidbit of knowledge which is suddenly useful.

      Thanks Don.

  5. I remember reading somewhere that the Germans were amazed that the Americans would use expensive artillery shells so freely

    As for Sergeant Brandt? He was an honorable soldier.

    Maybe he will be able to meet up with them down the road at a reunion

    You have to wonder how many died making a simple mistake

    My great uncle did just that a month before armistice.

    Sticking his head above the trench Only took a couple of seconds.

    As for teaching the newbies. If you haven’t read it the memoirs by Colonel bud Anderson are wonderful. He puts you into the cockpit of his P 51 as they are flying a mission. His friend Chuck Yeager said in an interview years later that he was two different people-once he got into that plane he was a killer.

    And the motto of the Flyboys when taking a newbie on a mission: “do five and stay alive“

    I’ll add to the chorus and say great writing!

    1. Thanks William.

      Yes, if you can survive the first five missions, you've got a good shot at staying alive.

  6. On the bandwagon. Great stuff as always Sarge!

  7. Sarge - ditto the accolades above - continues to be a great read.
    William - Yeager said that Bud Anderson was the best pilot he'd ever seen and included himself in that comparison.
    Beans - humans can be extremely fragile, dying from what would appear to be minor wounds, yet they can also be extremely tough, refusing to die and even recover from horrific injury - witness many of those losing legs and arms and coming back to live productive lives (recognizing that some with similar injuries are incapacitated forever).
    Snipers can be great force multipliers, and especially when well trained can be very destructive to morale and forward progress. While the normal response to a sniper was to flatten a building or block of buildings with mortars, artillery or even CAS. Only if the sniper was an expert in camouflage and concealment would another sniper be required to counter them. A great read on WWI snipers is Herman McBride's "A Rifleman Went to War", and lessons learned and described in that book had to be re-learned in WWII.

    1. Snipers can have a devastating effect on unit morale.

    2. Tom - I heard Bud speak at our California Aerospace Museum and wrote a blog piece on it - what an interesting day. He lives in Auburn, just 30 miles "up the hill" from Sacramento and his friend Yeager lives just 25 or so miles away in Grass Valley. I generally donate the books I have finished to the library but Anderson's book is a keeper. Particularly memorable for me was his description of manipulating the controls - including the trim wheel - during a dogfight. You are right about Yeager's opinion of him too.

      Can't recommend that book highly enough.

    3. I might pick up a copy sooner, rather than later.

      If I can find the time...

  8. Something I always wondered - how in the heck did a mobile squad in the 40s give accurate co-ordinates for arty? I suppose now they have GPS - maybe even a laser sighter that gives the co-ordinates down to the mm - but in the 40s? to a location, say, 200 yards from you? Were the coordinates given on a map - then for the last few 100 yards guesstimate? Or using the SWAG methodology?

    1. Map reading and land navigation is a skill which the infantry should have without needing to resort to GPS. With a good map and a knowledge of the terrain you can readily fix your position. As the artillery had the same maps, you give them the coordinates and boom, out goes a ranging shot, then the observer adjusts that fire until the round lands where the observer wants it, "fire for effect" is then requested. A laser designator is only good if the gun rounds have a detector, which makes for an expensive gun round. GPS is only as good as the signal you can get and the guns are still firing at a location on a map, unless the gun rounds have a GPS receiver, which again makes for an expensive gun round. Over reliance on technology is a very BAD thing.

      My son learned how to use a sextant in Navy ROTC, his sisters did not. I understand the Navy reintroduced that skill to their midshipmen.

      The gun rounds (actually a missile which uses a gunpowder charge to kick it out of the tube) for the Zumwalt AGS were supposed to have all that gee whiz technology, which made them more expensive than a Tomahawk missile. Which is why the Zumwalt class no longer has AGS.

      The original idea was to use standard 155 mm guns, for which ammo is plentiful and fairly cheap. Some engineer got carried away and screwed the pooch with the ultra-fancy gun system which is useless without its hyper fancy and hyper expensive ammunition.

      Sometimes the old ways are the best ways.

    2. regarding technology, just because you can doesn't mean you should!

    3. Nice to have, but don't count on it!

  9. " they worked there way into the village..." Should be ...their way...
    Just a bit of proof reading for ya, Sarge.


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