Sunday, September 6, 2020

The Forest, Part Three

National Archives

Three days at the battalion CP had felt just about right to SSgt Herb Graves. The men had all been issued new uniforms and kit after getting a warm shower. Some of the men were bitching about the overcoats they'd received.

"Too damn heavy Sarge, what am I supposed to need this for? It's still hot during the day." Pvt Robert Jennings was one of the new replacements and was assigned as a platoon messenger. Those guys tended to get a lot of work here in the rolling wooded terrain of the northern part of the Ardennes near the German border where the radios didn't work all that well, if at all.

"Listen Private, it's starting to get cold at night, did you notice that? You'll be begging for that overcoat in a few weeks, trust me. Now move out!" SSgt Graves watched as the platoon began to move back up to the lines. They didn't look happy to be heading back up, but they did look rested.

"And we don't stink anymore." Graves muttered to himself.

"What's that Sergeant?" 2Lt Paddock had come up to stand next to his platoon sergeant when he'd heard the man mutter something about stink.

"I was just thinking how the guys look good, I also noticed that we don't stink anymore."

The lieutenant chuckled and took a deep breath, "That and this mountain air make me feel like a new man, Herb."

Two hours later they had relieved 3rd Platoon, it was their turn to head back for a brief respite. Though the battalion hadn't been moving in the past few days, nor were they expected to for a while, there were still patrols to be run.

"It's been pretty quiet for the last 24 hours, we've been patrolling and have made contact with what appears to be a Kraut outpost, right about here." 2Lt Morgan Childreth pointed at Paddock's map as he said that.

"Good to know Morg, battalion S2 says the Krauts are pretty thin, he thinks they've pulled back to the Siegfried Line but have probably left some 'stay behinds' to harrass us and warn their main line of resistance of any advances by us." Paddock said this as he marked the German outpost on his overlay.

"Strength of this position?" He looked up at Childreth with a cocked eyebrow.

"Squad strength, maybe 12 guys tops, of course they have a f**king 42." That weapon had announced its presence when a patrol from 3rd Platoon had gotten too close, that had cost Childreth two KIAs and three wounded.

"You lost a couple of guys right?"

"Yeah, Munson and Tolverson, both killed. We tried to recover their bodies but..." Childreth ran his sleeve over his eyes and looked down. Paddock stayed quiet, he knew what the man was going through.

"Well, battalion S2 wants a couple of prisoners, seeing we're what you call 'rested,' we'll be going out to do just that. I figure that outpost is our best shot to grab a Kraut or two." Paddock paused, "We'll bring your guys back Morg, I promise."

Childreth nodded, he didn't say a word, just looked off towards the east, where his two dead men were still lying. He felt like shit about that, at Texas A & M they'd taught him that you didn't leave anyone behind. You brought your men home, you brought your wounded out, you brought your dead back for a proper burial. He felt like he'd dirtied the ideals of the Corps.

Paddock clapped Childreth on the shoulder, "We'll get your guys Morg, and we'll kill the bastards who killed them."

"Thanks Nate, you're a pal."

2Lt Paddock was looking intently at his three squad leaders. "Jenkins, Wilson, Peavey, it's important you guys understand what we're doing here. Corporal Maxwell's guys are going to lay down a base of fire along this axis here," he said, indicating a fire break marked on his map, "Peavey is going to work his way around to our left, and Wilson, I want you guys to work your way around to the right, we want to flank the Krauts. At precisely 1130, I want you guys to listen for Maxwell's MG, when he opens up, you guys open up. Got it?"

Acting Sergeant Jack Wilson nodded then looked at Peavey, who said, "Yeah, we got this L.T., remember Jack keep your fire a little high, Greg and his guys are going to be maneuvering down this little gully in front of the Krauts."

Sgt Greg Jenkins nodded and said, "Yeah Jack, don't kill us, okay?"

"Course not, one of your guys owes me money." Wilson quipped, though it wasn't true, it was funny.

2Lt Paddock spoke up, "Alright, everybody clear. I want you guys to draw the Kraut's attention, especially that 42. Greg's going to open fire when he's ready, then you guys pour it into that Kraut position. When Greg lights off a red flare, you cease fire. Got it?"

"Got it Sir." The three squad leaders spoke nearly simultaneously. Then they moved off to brief their squads, it was still dark and they would be moving off at first light. It was cold and it looked to be a foggy morning.

Feldwebel Johannes Winter was watching the open ground to his front, the fire break gave him a nice field of fire and he assumed that the Amis would use that rather than try to work their way through the trees. He'd heard that Americans were lazy.

He'd arrived from the Russian Front three weeks ago. His old division had basically been destroyed by the big Russian summer offensive. Hell, he thought, all of Army Group Center was destroyed in that Gottverdammte debacle. His unit had been broken up and he and some others had wound up with the 275th Infantry Division, itself being rebuilt after the slaughter on the Western Front in Normandy.

He didn't like the idea of outpost duty, they were a good half mile in front of the Hauptlinie¹ and he felt abandoned out here. Just the other day an American patrol had blundered into their position. The MG 42 had cut the Americans to shreds, there were still two dead Amis out to his front. The Amis had panicked and run away. He hoped the panicked Americans had not noted carefully where his men were dug in. He had moved the MG though, no point in taking chances.

"You see 'em?" Cpl Wilson asked as Cat handed the field glasses back.

"Yup, an MG with three gunners, at least one NCO, and I'm betting the others are along that line. If you look close you can see that the Krauts should have replaced the foliage disguising their foxholes. It looks a bit wilted."

"Oh yeah, good eye Cat. I hadn't noticed that. What time you got?"

"1055, the party starts in 35 minutes." Cat slid back to rejoin his section. He'd already explained to Jack Leonard what he wanted. Pvt Leonard had taken over from Ollie as the squad's grenadier. Surprisingly, the former trumpet player was pretty damned good with a grenade launcher. When the party started, he'd briefed Leonard to start dropping rifle grenades on the Kraut MG position.

Precisely at 1130 the Americans opened fire. As Winter was directing his MG to fire at muzzle flashes to their right, he hadn't noticed the sound of an American rifle grenade being fired amongst all the noise. It exploded directly over his position.

Feldwebel Winter was killed instantly. The MG 42 gunner died messily at his gun, bleeding all over the feed tray and the butt stock. As his assistant pulled his dead body off the gun, that man took an M1 round straight through his forehead. The other man in the position, a 17 year old draftee from East Prussia, put his head down and started crying.

Leonard's grenade had ended the party before things could really get going. Soon Cpl Wilson and Sgt Peavey saw Sgt Jenkins red flare arch up into the mist.

They brought back five prisoners out of the eleven men who had been manning the position. They also found a fairly detailed Kraut map on the dead German sergeant.

They reentered the lines with a certain amount of sadness, they had recovered the two dead GIs from 3rd Platoon. PFC Howie Dickenson's face was streaked with tears, he was carrying one end of a stretcher bearing one of the dead man. Seems that Dickenson knew PFC Ted Munson, they had been good friends back when they'd been in the Division's Band together.

At the company CP, CPT Josephson clapped 2Lt Paddock on the back and crowed, "Outstanding f**king job Nate, your guys did good, real good. Five Kraut prisoners, outstanding! Top!"

"Sir?" First Sergeant Morton Saeger stuck his head into the captain's tent.

"Fill up a couple canteens of that champagne we liberated back in Reims and give 'em to the lieutenant here. His guys deserve a drink and I mean to give it to 'em."

"Two canteens for a platoon Cap'n?" Saeger asked.

"What the hell, make it three. That enough for you Nate?"

"Yessir, that'll be more than enough, I don't want the guys getting soused up there on the line."

"Excellent! Carry on lieutenant, damn fine job!"

As Paddock left the tent he followed the Top over to the mess tent. 1Sgt Saeger went in and came back out in a couple of minutes with a haversack loaded up with three canteens of champagne.

"Thanks lieutenant," he said, handing the haversack to 2Lt Paddock.

"For what? I should be thanking you for the champagne, Top."

"Nah sir, that's the first time I've seen the captain smile since he got the news."

"What news, Top?"

"Oh man, you hadn't heard? Captain Josephson's wife and little son were killed in a car crash back in the States in July. The old man has been a real bear since then. You kinda made his day lieutenant. So thanks, things have been, I dunno, happier around the company CP since you guys brought those Krauts in."

"Hhmm, I had no idea. Thanks Top, it explains a lot."

As 2Lt Paddock walked back to his platoon, he realized that maybe he'd been far too harsh in his opinion of his company commander. There was a life beyond the war, sometimes an unpleasant one.

Nathan Paddock said a little prayer for the souls of Captain Josephson's wife and son. Then another for his C.O., life could be so unfair.

¹ Main line of resistance


  1. LeTourneau University was Harmon Hospital in the war. Wounded were treated and convalesced there. Across the street where Lastaad's Paint and Body is, was a POW camp. The Germans kept the hospital grounds. Used to be some wire on a post over there that dated from that time. Our ham radio club was in the old morgue building. There were still some of the old structures on campus when I graduated in 1990. They had a pool that was round with a soaking "tray" about a foot deep and at least six feet wide all the way around it. It was nice to just lay in it during the summer after swimming (really, it was drowning practice for me, never been a good swimmer or even a floater for that matter).

    The hospital records were in the reference section of the library. I would sneak a read about people treated there. Those steering columns were impalers back then. No seat belts, or baby seats either. I read about a lot of folks that didn't make it. Even some records about war injuries. Your Captain's wife was doomed if it was a bad accident. No way to brace or avoid the glass either. Everything in those cars were potential hazards.

    Longview is soaked in history. The Big Inch starts there...

    1. Yes, older vehicles weren't really designed with driver/passenger safety in mind.

      Some interesting history there, I had no idea of those pipelines. Time to do some reading!

  2. Another brief memory flash - can't remember if it was an excerpt from Reader's Digest, but probably was: a segment from a diary of a German soldier that had fought in both fronts said the Amis were more terrible to fight against. No idea/memory as to why he wrote that, or why he thought that.

    1. Maybe because the Amis used air support and artillery so flagrantly. The bad joke is how to tell if it's the Brits or the Americans who find you. The Brits show up, you see their scout, in 30 minutes it's an attack. You see a scout, 10 minutes later you're being bombed or shelled to death, it was an American scout.

      That, and we just didn't fight like anyone else. Waste ammunition, shells, vehicles, bombs, and we moved everywhere on wheels. By this time of the war the standard doctrine was to find a patch of German resistance, determine it's size, and then go around it and invest it from all sides while still moving the Front forward. Nobody anywhere since the Mongols under Ghenghis Khan had seen maneuver warfare so flagrantly used. You run from that group of Americans, retreat 20 miles and 'poof' there's another group of Americans already there.

      While everyone else was playing war-soccer or war-lawn bowl, we were playing war-Football. Running, passing, crushing weight of line, feint, run, move move move.

      Or... I may be full of it.

    2. Frank, I think Beans explained it well.

    3. Beans - Not full of it at all, spot on actually.

    4. (Don McCollor)...(a bit ahead of your story)...Toward the end of the war, 83rd Infantry (the Rag Tag Circus) was keeping pace mile for mile with the drive of the 2nd Armored Division into Germany. But besides their own transport, the 83rd was riding on anything with wheels - captured German vehicles including halftracks and panzer tanks along with civilian vehicles - cars, trucks, buses, cement trucks, and fire engines. American infantry moving as fast as an armored task force.

  3. Ah, the propensity for Americans to scout with explosives. Works. Works quite well. Nothing like inducing a little shell-shock (momentary brain-rattling due to micro and mini concussions) to make an enemy punch-drunk and easy to pick off or capture. Helps that the veterans were whacked first-off, too.

    And, yeah, the looks of classic American cars, the ease of being able to work on them, all came at a tremendous price. No power steering, shoddy brakes (in comparison to today's) and not a lot of real attention to handling characteristics overall, even in expensive cars (again, in comparison to today's voitures.) And that non-crush steering column? Prominent feature in the blood-and-guts Ohio Safety Films we saw in Drivers' Education. That and fiddling with the radio, driving stoned or buzzed or tired. Good times...

    Glad we managed to escape casualties this time in our little band of heroes.

    And... nice foreshadowing with the trenchcoats. Though the American trenchcoat was really not designed for the winters it was to face, needing better waterproofing and more layers, like sweaters or flannel underwear, to make it bearable in the coming winter of '44. Or in Korea, when we knew better and could have had a much better winter outfit, but 'The War (WWII) was over' so there's no need to rework the winter uniforms and make them in large quantities 'just in case' and 'we're never going to fight in Alaska again...'

    1. "I wonder if someone is over there?"

      "Throw a grenade in..."

      [Much screaming ensues...]

      "Yup, Krauts." [Or Commies, or fascists, or name-your-bad-guy-here]

      Are you saying that we have idiots in Washington D.C.?

      Yup, me too.

    2. Yes. Idiots in Washington. Scandals and stupidity dealing with procurement are nothing new. Sigh.

    3. There are many in the defense industry who should be stood up against a wall as well. Then and now.

  4. Boss, boss, boss... (huff, huff, wheeze, huff...) Was over at OldNFO's site and he had a nifty little vingette of a story and I was commenting on someone's comment (yeah, how unusual for me..) and was describing the US Army in World War II series and looked a little deeper and there are three whole volumes (Pacific, ETO, Med) devoted just to the Pictorial Record by themselves ( ) so if you need yet another source of photos...

  5. If you like historical and relatively unknown people and actions, check out the archives at Trent researches the declassified files from WW2 and brings to light some interesting stories. He's been doing this for years so you may have to dig a bit. Fascinating stuff to read about electronic warfare in the Pacific Theater, mining operations against Japan, radio guidance of bomber formations, or of the NCO at Guadalcanal who became an expert at using one of the early radars to identify the types of incoming Japanese planes with sufficient lead time for the defending fighters to get off the ground.

    Great story line you are developing. Brings back memories of being stationed in Europe during the Cold War and seeing the remnants of detritus from WW2. I had an acquaintance who stopped at an intersection near St. Vith, Belgium, walked into the woods where he would have placed defensive positions, found depressions in the ground and, kicking at the dirt, kicked up an expended clip from an M1 Garand rifle. Sobering to think about...

    1. I'm familiar with Trent's work.

      I've been in both the Hürtgen Forest and the Ardennes, usually on nice summer days. I've driven past St. Vith many times, I visited Malmedy (specifically at the Baugnez crossroads where the atrocity took place) on a wet day in December. The memories, even if you will, the ghosts of those who died there, are palpable.

    2. Same thing happened to me at Goliad. The Bahia is beautiful, but the massacre site just didn't feel right. It was calm, but not peaceful... Not in the least...

    3. Walked a section of the Bastogne perimeter one December 16th; the weather was perfect, sleet going to snow. We were dressed in the best gear; Gore-tex, fleece, nice boots the whole deal. There were reenactors along the route, euros dressed ala 1944; leather boots, field jackets, steel pots. The hike was not quite as comfortable for them.
      Boat Guy

  6. As I have gotten older I have come to the realization that sometimes people can react harshly to you for reasons completely unknown and not related to you.

    Was Childreth in the Marine Corps first?

    I knew a couple of guys who had transferred from the Corps

    Some years ago I qualified in the DCM program and was able to buy an M1 at the government arsenal.

    It came some weeks later all oiled how many years ago. And I thought if that rifle could only talk what would it tell me where it had been?

    Was it At Iwo Jima or Bastogne?

    I was hitting a target at 1000 yards. Not the most impressive of groups but I was hitting it

    I wonder what the range was and accuracy of that grenade that was launched by the M1? And how exactly did it work?

    Nice installment as usual Sarge. I am laying on the couch and even muted the TV sound to read it 😁

    1. No, Childreth wasn't a Marine, he was in the Corps of Cadets at Texas A&M, shorthand for that is, of course, the Corps. We may get more of his backstory as time goes on. The range on the M7 grenade launcher was roughly 200 yards, the accuracy depended on the man firing it. How it worked is explained pretty well here.

      Thanks William.

  7. “ Yes. Idiots in Washington. Scandals and stupidity dealing with procurement are nothing new. Sigh.”

    They were quite a few scandals in procurement going back to the Civil War

    1. During the Revolution, when the government was based in Philadelphia, the scandals and stupidity weren't much different either.

      Seems that service in the government attracts a number of poltroons looking to enrich themselves!


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