Praetorium Honoris

Sunday, September 13, 2020

The Watchers

US Army Signal Corps Photo

Pvt Jackson "Bear" Hebert was watching the small outpost across the valley. So far he had seen six Germans around the small pillbox they'd been watching. He had the feeling they were on the edge of the Siegfried Line. The pillbox looked like it had been there a while.

He and Pvt Charles "Camel" Gammell had moved into position a full hour before sunrise. They had spent a miserable night moving through the forest in the rain and the mist. The company commander had a job for 1st Squad of 2Lt Nathan Paddock's 2nd Platoon. Since they'd brought in those prisoners a few days back, it sure seemed to Bear that they were starting to get more of the shitty jobs, as he thought of them.

He thought back to what newly promoted Sergeant Jack Wilson had told him the day before, "Damn it, Bear, quit yer bitching, the captain likes our L.T., thinks that 2nd Platoon is the best in the company. And we are, this is better than digging trenches and patrolling isn't it?"

Thinking on it, he realized that this did beat patrolling and digging.

There, that bastard's an officer, I'm sure of it. He's wearing a helmet and carrying one of those new guns that a few Krauts had, and he acts like an officer. Battalion S2 said the new gun was called the StG 44, it could be fired single shot, semi-auto or full auto. Packed more punch than a Schmeisser¹ and was pretty lethal. Be nice to grab one of those.

"Bear," I whispered to my spotter, "do you see the guy bossing the other guys around?"

"Yeah, Camel, I see him."

"Watch this..."

I waited for the right moment, once he had the others working at whatever it was he wanted them to do, I'd take the shot.

"Um Gottes Willen! Don't they teach you children anything in the Hitler Youth? This is not how you dig a foxhole!" The SS captain was furious with the five men he had assigned to this position. Although one was a veteran of Normandy, he was only 18 and a very junior corporal, the other men were recent draftees and knew nothing of war at all, the oldest was barely 17, the others were mere children of 15 and 16 years of age.

"I'm s-s-s-sorry Herr Hauptsturmführer, we'll redo the p-p-p-position." The young SS corporal stuttered when he was nervous, and he was more than nervous at the moment. Though the captain was wearing an enlisted man's greatcoat, he could clearly see the patches of the man's rank only partially covered by the oversize collar. He also saw, quite clearly, the Knight's Cross dangling at his throat.

"Don't call me 'Herr'  you stuttering idiot, we're not in the f**king army, this is the Waffen SS, we're all comrades, right!" SS-Hauptsturmführer Willi Horten was furious with the material he was given to work with these days.

As the men began to work at repairing the position, SS-Rottenführer Karlheinz Weber shook his head, he'd won the Iron Cross 2nd and 1st Class in Normandy and during the fighting thereafter. The division commander himself, Kurt Meyer, had pinned on his Iron Cross 1st Class and made him a corporal the very same day. Now this jumped up bastard from the Leibstandarte was throwing his weight around, just because he could.

He turned to ask the captain a question about when they might expect ammunition for their MG 42, which sat useless on its tripod, they had no ammo for it at all. At that moment the captain's head snapped to one side as most of his brain burst from the left side of his head.

"You got him Camel, the NCO is frozen, take him."

I shifted my sight picture slightly to the right, staring back at me was a very young, very startled SS man. A corporal from the collar patches, no matter. I squeezed the trigger and saw the man drop, a pink mist in the air where his head had been.

"Let's move, Bear."

The oldest of the four draftees, one Willi Schmidt from Hamburg, had heard the muffled grunt from the captain, when he'd turned to see what had happened, he had seen his corporal take a round through the face, and seen brain matter and blood blow out the back of the man's head.


Young Peter Dorfmann had stuck his head up to see what all the shouting was and was immediately hit in the throat. He choked to death on his own blood as the others cowered in their holes.

Schmidt was in his foxhole, had his rifle ready for whatever came next. Though he really had no idea what that "next" might be. Was the sniper fire the prelude to an attack, kill the officers and overrun us, or was it harassing fire? He had done well in training, but he was learning quickly that training bore no relationship to the real thing.

"Three down, three to go?" Bear asked, looking expectantly at me.

"Nope, L.T. said to take a look, raise a little Hell, then report back. We've done that." I answered, though I would like to go have a look. But where there were fixed defenses, like pillboxes, there were probably mines as well, and barbed wire.

"Much as I'd like to, we've done enough. Let's head back."

The two Americans slipped back into the forest. The water dripping from the trees and the mist muffled their movements, even if the Germans on the other side of the valley had any intention of coming after them, which they did not.

The three remaining Germans, one 17 year old, one 16, and the other only 15, were at the bottoms of their poorly dug holes, shivering with fear. The 15 year old had wet himself and the 16 year old was actually crying. The three boys were terrified that the Amis would come and kill them.

"What did ya see Camel?" Sgt Wilson asked.

"A Kraut pillbox with six men, there was an officer yelling at the other guys, who all looked pretty young and scruffy. SS men, which surprised me. They must really be scraping the bottom of the barrel over there."

"Okay, did you mark the position of the pillbox on the map?"

"Of course Sarge, I may be new, but I ain't that new."

"Alright, anything else to report?"

Bear chimed in, "Yeah Sarge, now there's only three Krauts holding that position."

"Three, what happened to the other three?" Wilson wanted to know.

"I shot 'em, Sarge. The officer and some junior NCO. Then some dumbass kid who popped his head up before we had the chance to move. He popped up, I shot him." Gammell answered matter-of-factly.

Bear chimed in again, "Yup, three head shots. Boom, boom, and 'oh hello there,' boom."

That earned him an annoyed look from Gammell, "Come on Camel, you fired three rounds and killed three Krauts. I saw them fall, all of 'em."

Sgt Wilson looked impressed, "Alright, good job, Camel. Go tell the L.T. what you observed. Bear you stay here, L.T. don't need a cheering section."

(Source - modified)

Reports from the front line to Oberbefehlshaber West² indicated that casualties had been light on the day that two men of the 1st Squad/2nd Platoon encountered six SS men at a small pillbox just inside the German border.

The war ground on...

¹ The MP 40 was often called the "Schmeisser" after Hugo Schmeisser who designed the MP 18, although he was not involved in the design or production of the MP 40. The MP 40 machine pistol is a fully automatic weapon firing the 9 mm parabellum pistol round. The StG 44 fired the 7.9 x 33 mm kurz round, which was a shortened version of the ammunition used by the K98k. It had a longer range than the MP 40.
² Oberbefehlshaber West. or OB West was the commander of all German forces on the Western Front in WWII.


  1. The last photo has a Source link, interesting reading on Ranger Miller when you jump to that page.

    1. I find all sorts of interesting stuff chasing links. Good thing I have good security software as sometimes the links are traps!

    2. Thanks fer the pointer! Always glad to have more good stuff to read!

  2. That source was interesting, as was the link in that source to no,enclature of the jeep.
    Nice excerpt, Sarge. Typo in the second section - "packed more punch that a Scmeisser..." should be 'than a Schmeisser'

    1. That's a good source, lots of interesting stuff over there.

      (I did not see a typo BTW.)

    2. Typo is still there - a common one that uses 'that' instead of 'than' - of course, it would have helped if I hadn't misspelled Schmeisser the first time I used it - d'oh! see how that would confuse you or anyone

    3. D'oh! Yeah, I locked on to "Scmeisser" and completely missed "that" versus "than."

      Error has been corrected, editor has been sacked.

  3. What happened to the Germans is what I expected to happen to the Americans when they found the minefield. Something just especially nasty about a sniper, like a completely different war, almost personal and mean and just unfair. Which is what most survivors of a sniper attack to their unit describe it.

    Which is why being found with a scoped rifle used to be pert-near a death sentence in some places.

    The quality of the German front line definitely dropped from June 6th to mid-September. Were they already assembling the troops for the attempted breakout?

    And I now have Miller's biography to read. The excerpt was very interesting, especially about the Germans being peeved at having their dinner plans interrupted before surrendering. As it was, they most likely got better food from the Americans in a few hours after being processed, as that was something I read a while ago, the Germans just could not believe the quality of the food being served to them as prisoners.

    As to weather conditions, wet, cold and sloppy weather was always my favorite weather for fighting in. For standing around and waiting and just doing stuff? Not so much. Bleh. That's more weather for sitting inside drinking something warm while snuggled up in blankets reading about people futzing around in wet, cold and sloppy weather.

    1. I've done stuff in cold, wet, sloppy weather where I wished that I was someplace warm, drinking a warm beverage, and looking outside saying, "Damn, it looks nasty out there."

  4. Excellent writing as always.

  5. Hey AfSarge;

    Good Story. and yep good choice to plug in the HJ into the mix, by this time the Germans were scraping the bottom of the manpower barrel and the kids were getting younger and younger. I remember Patton commenting about the Siegfried line being a joke and that the Germans were staffing it with kids and old men.

    1. Yes, they were, while they refitted a number of divisions to attack in the Ardennes.

  6. The shooter in me I was wondering what the distance was the bear had when he shot those Germans in the head

    I’ve always been impressed with a good military sniper.

    They’ll shoot you in the head from 1000 yards

    I get a little peeved at the media when they refer to any deranged a###### with a rifle as a sniper, like that guy hid in the trunk of a car in Virginia.

    Were are the SS really like that in terms of rank? Everybody was just a comrade?

    I’m sure they were comrades and then there were comrades 😁

    1. They tended not to put "Herr" in front of the rank, as the Army did.

      Gammell was the shooter, not Bear. The distance was probably only a couple of hundred yards due to the forested nature of the terrain.

  7. I might add that there was a legendary Finnish sniper I read about just a few days ago who refused to use a scope.

    Because he felt, quite rightly, that the reflection on the lens could give away his position

    He'd even put snow in his mouth so people couldn’t see the cold breath

    He shot hundreds of Russians

    1. Simo Häyhä did not use a scope, you also have to raise up a little higher, he felt, to use a scope. They can also fog up in bad weather.

      Over 500 kills they say, he was badly disfigured when he was shot in the face, yet he lived to 96 years old, dying in 2002

    2. yeah, Simo was one bad dude. The Russians also had some effective snipers, like Vassily Zaitsev, but it's a bit hard to tell where the exploits of the Russians moved from reality into propaganda. Same for the Russian women snipers.

      I've had the honor and privilege of sitting down and talking with a fair number of military snipers over the years, and they were all very effective as force multipliers. They all had an 'interesting' sense of humor...

    3. I remember reading a book about Carlos Hathcock and he kept a whole large North Vietnamese unit pinned down for a number of days.

      Talk about a force multiplier!

      I also remember taking a class in the army with an instructor who was a sniper in Vietnam. He said it was one of the most dangerous jobs in the army because once you fired they’re all looking for you

    4. Tom - Yeah, the Soviets have always had problems when it comes to telling the truth.


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