Saturday, October 31, 2020

Nightmare in the Trees


Sgt Hernandez signaled a halt, then gestured for the two squads to deploy in line to either side of his position. Hernandez watched as the men moved through the forest, even the three rookies moved well, not stepping on anything which might make a noise. Wilson and Gentile were training them well, he expected that men would die this night, he harbored a vague hope that it would be mostly Germans doing the dying.

Sergeants Jack Wilson and Stump Gentile joined him after the men were deployed, Wilson spoke first. "Why are we stopping Steve?"

Although Sgt Hernandez hated being called "Steve," he was used to the easy-going way his adopted countrymen acted, and, after all, Sgt Wilson outranked him by time in grade and in the amount of time he'd been in this platoon, since D-Day as a matter of fact. "Ya know Jack, my original idea was to push out in front of the positions those guys are holding up at the end of this trail. If they think it's too dicey, maybe we'll just reinforce. But honestly, I don't think the Germans have all that much on top of this ridge."

Sgt Gentile spoke up, "Stephen, all it takes is to have an MG 42 lookin' down our throats. We also know that they have at least one assault gun."

Hernandez nodded, "I get that Stump, but we need to start fighting smart. Truth be told, I really want to try and flank these cabrónes. I think they're thin on the ground. We've been trying to hit them in the flank, but we didn't go deep enough. And if you ask me, tanks are no good in these trees."

"Tell ya what Steve, sorry, Stephen," Wilson had noticed that Hernandez always seemed to wince when you called him "Steve," so he addressed the man as Gentile had, "let me go on ahead and see where the 3rd Armored guys are at, I think we're close. If their boss says it's a good idea, then Hell yeah, let's swing around behind these guys and really kick 'em in the ass."

"Go, come back as soon as you can, it'll be dark in about two hours."


"Herr Hauptmann!" Oberfeldwebel Klaus-Peter Keller reported in to Hauptmann Jürgen von Lüttwitz, "my boys are back from the rear, they brought plenty of rations, tinned meat and bread, but there were no batteries to be had for the radio."

"Scheiße, very well Keller, now go see to..."

Keller interrupted his captain, "Sir, I brought back a map and a flare gun." Von Lüttwitz looked puzzled until Keller continued, "the map has three areas, one for green, one for red, and one for white. You fire a particular color flare, and the mortars will hit the appropriate area, based on the color."

"Provided, of course, that they can see the flares." Von Lüttwitz had to admire the simplicity of it, he would rather have had the radio, but this was better than nothing. "Danke Oberfeldwebel, would you see to the distribution of the rations? Obergefreiter Vogel will assist you. After all, he is the company cook, so I suppose this is right up his alley."

"Certainly Sir."

Von Lüttwitz started studying the map Keller had given him. He figured out which areas the Amis might approach on, the mortar battery leader was a sharp trooper, he had worked out the approaches simply by knowing von Lüttwitz's position and seeing the terrain as represented on the map. This just might work, even with this rain, he thought.


One of the men watching the trail signaled to SFC Pedley that someone was coming up the trail. From the patch on his field jacket, Pedley saw that it was a guy from the 26th. "Hey Sarge, you lost?"

Sgt Wilson chuckled and said, "I wish, you guys with the Third Herd?"

"That's us, where are the rest of you?"

"I've got two squads just down the hill, our tanks are held up maybe a mile down the track, one of 'em threw a track. Hey, I got a proposal for you guys."

"Well, let's get Sgt Peterson in on this, that's his tank just up a piece. He and I are running the show for now."

The two men went up to see Sgt Mac Peterson who was studying his map, he didn't look happy. He saw Pedley and another sergeant coming up to his tank so he said, "Bud, what's going on? I just got off the radio with MSgt Morton. Looks like they ain't gonna make it up here by tonight."

Pedley shook his head and said, "Shit. So Wilson, it is Wilson right? So what's your proposition?"

Wilson explained Hernandez's idea of trying to get behind the Krauts, Pedley was hesitant. "You do know that we have no idea what's up there right? We think we're on their right flank but I don't know if they have any listening posts farther out. And I'll bet the bastards have mined the place. The Krauts do love their mines."

Wilson was looking at his map, he shook his head, "I know Sarge, it all seems kinda harebrained now that I'm up here. I guess we'll just come on up and reinforce you guys, at least you'll have more rifles on your line."

Mac Peterson was looking off in the direction of the burnt out StuGs and Shermans, he almost seemed to be daydreaming.

"Mac, are you awake? Don't you have an opinion?" Pedley was slightly annoyed, maybe Mac's just tired, he thought. But Peterson shook his head.

"Nah, Bud, I'm okay, but I've got an idea." Climbing back onto his tank, he yelled down at his loader, "Jim, how much HE do we have left?"

After a few moments Pedley and Wilson could hear a muffled reply from inside the vehicle. Peterson told his loader, "Thanks" then he climbed back down with a grin on his face.

"So, if you guys were holed up in a trench at night, in these woods, and suddenly all sorts of tank high explosive rounds came screaming in, what would you do?"

Pedley answered, "Hell, I'd put my head down, I know that the tank can't see me, but..." The sergeant had this look on his face, almost like he'd just solved a puzzle. "It sure would be one Hell of a distraction wouldn't it?"

Wilson was watching all this, then he too saw the beauty of the thing. "So you guys lob HE at their position, while we sneak around the other side of the hill, that just might work. I like it, I think my sergeant will like it too. When do you want to start?"

Pedley looked at his watch then looked at Peterson, "Forty-five minutes sound about right?"

Peterson nodded and said, "It's getting dark in here already, it's still light further down the trail where it's a bit more open." Looking at Wilson he said, "That give you enough time to get back to your guys and explain the plan?"

"Yup, it does, and if my boss doesn't like it, that still gives us time to get up here and call the whole thing off. If we do, then we wait until the tanks come up."

Pedley looked at the two sergeants and said, "Let's do this."


Von Lüttwitz noticed that the men were starting to tuck into the rations Keller's men had brought up, he noted the time and the fact that the light would be starting to go soon. He called Feldwebel Dieter Pohl over to him.

"Dieter, pick three men, have them take as many canteens as they can carry, and go get us some water. It'll be dark soon enough, can you get there and back in under an hour?"

"Certainly Sir, we'll go now."


"Yes Sir, I'm going with the same men I took before, easier that way."

"All right, go. Do it quickly!"

"Jawohl!" Pohl nodded and headed off to collect his men, grabbing canteens from men as he went.

Now von Lüttwitz had time for a quick bite to eat. He sat back in the trench, he noticed that his hands were shaking. I wonder, he thought, when's the last time I had more than three hours of sleep in an entire day?

Sgt Hernandez had liked the idea, so now he was leading the men he had to the right of the trail. It was fairly steep and not all that easy to climb, but the men helped each other and soon they had reached what seemed to be the end of the ridge the Krauts were holding.

"Jack, take your boys to the right, Stump you take the left."

"Where you gonna be Stephen?" Wilson asked.

"I'll be just back of Stump's squad. Move slow, keep low. I expect that tank will start up any minute now. When it does, move faster. Be ready to go in shooting."

Sgt Wilson nodded and headed off to the right, he had his men just the other side of the crest of the ridge. Before Sgt Gentile moved he looked at Hernandez, "You do know that this could go completely to shit, right?"

"Would you rather charge straight into that damned assault gun?"

"Nope, I do not. Let's go."

Von Lüttwitz put his mess tin aside, he was almost not hungry anymore. He looked at his watch, it was starting to get dark now. Checking his watch, he thought it odd that it was getting dark just now. Must be the rain he thought. Then he realized, it wasn't raining anymore.

Opa Köhler came down the trench to talk with his captain. Von Lüttwitz looked up in surprise, "Opa, who's minding the store down your way?"

"Benfeldt. He's a good man, he's teaching Vorwald how to be an assistant gunner. He finds it amusing to teach a busted officer. No disrespect intended Herr Hauptmann." Köhler said that with a wry grin and a wink.

"Cheeky bastard."

"Yes Sir. Hey, is that snow?"

"What!?" von Lüttwitz looked hard into the gathering gloom, sure enough heavy wet flakes of snow were coming down.

Two seconds later, a 75 mm tank round streaked overhead and slammed into one of the tall pines roughly ten meters behind the trench. The explosion lit the surrounding area as if it were day.

Von Lüttwitz heard screaming and knew that at least one of his men was wounded, badly from the sound of it. Then more rounds came in, the sound of the explosions and the dazzling glare from the detonations were disorienting as Hell. Then he heard something else which made his blood run cold, rifle fire to his rear. American rifle fire.

Pvt Fred McArthur had stumbled into a German position held by two of Zumbach's engineers. As he fell into the foxhole he fired his weapon without even thinking, he had shot one man in the face. That men fell screaming, clutching his face, the other man jumped on McArthur and tried to wrestle the weapon away from him. He died when Sgt Gentile hit him in the back of the head with the butt of his Thompson, multiple times.

"Jesus Fred, what the Hell?" Gentile managed to say before a German MP 40 began to fire in their direction. Soon German tracers were lighting the air around them. "Fred, get a grenade out, don't fire your rifle."

Soon both McArthur and Gentile had thrown grenades in the direction from where the MP 40 had fired from, they heard the crump of the grenades going off, then a scream. They'd hit somebody.

Hernandez was down. He'd been hit in the lower abdomen on the right side. It hurt like Hell. He'd been just as surprised as McArthur when the firing had broken out. After he'd heard the two grenades go off, American grenades from the sound of them, all had gotten relatively quiet again. Though the tank rounds were still going in and over the German position, all small arms fire had ceased for the moment.

As he grappled with his kit to get his bandage out, he heard another explosion over to the right, where Wilson's squad should be. It sounded a lot like a Bouncing Betty. Then there were more screams, multiple wounded from the sounds of it.

"Shit, shit, shit. Ah Jesus, Sarge I'm f**king hit." PFC Jack Leonard was a mess. He had been hit by multiple steel balls from the mine which Virgil Kennedy had tripped. Kennedy had been thrown into the air, in pieces. One of his legs had been blown completely off. He wasn't moving. Leonard couldn't feel his legs and could only move one arm. "Mama!!" he screamed at the night.

PFC Howie Dickenson had been hit as well, one steel ball had glanced off the side of his helmet, knocking him out cold. A second ball had gone through his upper arm, breaking the bone before exiting the other side.

Sgt Jack Wilson knew he had to do something, and fast. He misinterpreted what was happening and thought that the squad had triggered an ambush. So he did the only thing which seemed to make sense to him, he bellowed, "First Squad, FIX BAYONETS!"

Moments later the survivors of 1st Squad charged up the ridge, scaring the Hell out of Gentile and his squad. But he saw instantly what Wilson was trying to do, so he yelled out, "Third Squad, SUPPRESSING FIRE." Then he opened up with his Thompson.

Unteroffizier Sepp Zumbach, commanding the small engineer detachment attached to von Lüttwitz's company stared in amazement at the men coming out of the darkness and the swirling snow. Who were these devils...

He died screaming as an American bayonet slammed into his chest. Only one of the engineers made it back to von Lüttwitz's trench line.

Feldwebel Dieter Pohl wondered what the Hell was going on back at the company position. Then it hit him, the f**king Americans were attacking. From multiple directions from the sound of it.

"Guys, leave the canteens, we need to help our guys, let's go!"

"Opa, what the Hell are you doing?!" von Lüttwitz saw Köhler loading a flare into the flare pistol, then he fired it. It was a white flare. Then he followed with a green flare, then a red flare. At that point it dawned on von Lüttwitz, with the Americans firing from the right flank and in their rear, Köhler was "telling" the mortarmen, "Fire it all, shoot everything."

That just might confuse the American attackers.

Pvt Jim Sherwood yelled over the tank's intercom that they'd fired the last HE round. "But Mac, I got a couple of Willy Peters left, fire 'em?"

Sgt Peterson barked back, "Shoot 'em both!"

When the first white phosphorus round came in, it hit high in a nearby tree. The explosion dazzled the German defenders, the burning material floated down into the trench and two men began screaming.

The second white phosphorus round was a dud.

The American attack died down shortly after midnight. They pulled back, dragging their wounded and their dead with them. The German survivors waited the remainder of the night, standing by their weapons, treating their own wounded and counting their own dead.

Von Lüttwitz had been wounded again, a splinter from a tree had carved a bloody swath across one cheek. The concussion from a nearby explosion had knocked him out cold for a time. He had regained consciousness to see Opa Köhler, bleeding from a wound to the leg, directing the defense and trying to keep the men's morale up by screaming filthy obscenities, in English, at their attackers.

When the sun came up, he had someone go to where Bielefeld's StuG was positioned. The man reported back that the StuG was abandoned and burning, he had no idea where the crew was. Von Lüttwitz had a sneaking suspicion that those men had destroyed their own vehicle and retreated in the confusion.

Unterfeldwebel Hasso Bielefeld stared sullenly at his captors. His crew, Gefreiter Sigismund Hecht, Panzerschütze Hans Stoecker, and Panzerschütze Wilfried Gober, sat nearby. Two of them had been wounded when the Americans had come out of the night and swarmed over his vehicle. At least they were being treated by an American Sani.

He felt humiliated. While he had been trying to figure out what the Americans had been up to, he couldn't understand just what the Ami tank had been firing at, he couldn't even see the muzzle flash of its gun, a small squad of American infantry had crept up and overwhelmed his men.

The final straw was when the Americans had set off an explosive in his StuG, detonating the onboard ammunition and destroying it. Bastards couldn't kill them in a fair fight, sneaking around in the dark like a bunch of red Indians, Bielefeld thought.

An American came over to him and grabbed him by the collar of his tunic, yanking him roughly to his feet, "Come on Fritz, war's over for you buddy." The four Germans were prodded down the trail at bayonet point. He noticed that the Amis were in a very ugly mood. When he saw the knocked out Shermans, he understood. He'd be angry as well. In fact, he was.

Bielefeld had an odd thought as the sun came up, the clouds having blown away overnight, the snow looked rather pretty on the hillside and in the trees.

Almost like a postcard.

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Friday, October 30, 2020

Prelude to a Nightmare


1Lt Gus Chambers was directed to the CP of the armored unit they were supposed to be hooking up with by a man on sentry duty at the entrance to the tank park. He had a feeling that the five Shermans which were running and getting into line on a nearby track which led up into the woods just might be the tanks his company were going to support.

"You guys Charlie Company from the 26th?" asked a rather harassed-looking Master Sergeant wearing tanker's coveralls.

"That we are Master Sergeant, you guys part of the Third Herd?" Chambers asked.

"Yessir, 1st Battalion, 32nd Armored at your service. We're sending up ten tanks, two full platoons, what's yer strength Sir?" The tanker was looking at a map as he asked his question.

"There's seventy-three of us, we're kinda understrength at the moment. Are we walking or riding?" Chambers knew the men would prefer to ride, they'd just marched three miles to get here.

"Well Hell Lieutenant, why walk when ya can ride I always say. It ain't comfortable on the back of a Sherman but it does beat walking. Of course, heading up this old logging trail, you might move faster on foot." The tanker then leaned in towards Chambers and offered his hand, "Name's Morton, by the way, Sal Morton, I'm in charge of those tanks since my captain got himself killed the other day. Kraut f**king sniper got him as he stood in his hatch."

"Gus Chambers, Sal," the lieutenant responded while shaking Morton's hand, "when are we moving out?"

"Gimme three-zero minutes Sir. My other platoon is refueling and should be up by then."

"Okeydokey Sal, we'll try and stay out of your way until you're ready to move."

MSgt Morton nodded and said, "Sir," then headed over to the tanks idling on the track.

Hauptmann Jürgen von Lüttwitz looked around at his little "command group" and nodded at the engineer, Unteroffizier Sepp Zumbach.

"My lads have planted a number of S-Mines to the front, all booby-trapped so if they are tampered with, they'll explode. They're far enough out that they should alert us to the Americans coming up the slope but won't put our boys in danger."

"What about the Teller mines?" Unterfeldwebel Hasso Bielefeld asked. He had positioned his Sturmgeschütz III in such a way that he could cover the left flank of the position, but as his StuG was turretless, they'd have to pivot to cover a wider sector. Having mines far enough out should alert him to any approaching enemy armor. The engineers had actually downed a few trees as well to slow the Amis up.

Zumbach leaned in and showed Bielefeld on his map where they'd planted their small stock of Teller mines. "I've had the lads booby-trap those as well, with grenades mostly. Mess with those and BOOM, dead man. Men maybe if there's more than one nearby."

Von Lüttwitz sighed and looked at his men, "Not bad, I wish we had more men. This is a good position but..."

Unteroffizier Manfred Sauer, commanding von Lüttwitz's 1st Platoon, nodded and said, "There's never enough of anything these days Herr Hauptmann. But we have sufficient ammunition for another attack. Have we reestablished contact with our mortar teams?"

Von Lüttwitz shook his head, "Batteries in the radio died this morning, I sent three of Keller's men back to the rear to try and get more batteries, some rations too if they can manage it. We're low on food. Soon we'll be eating our boots if we can't get a resupply."

The Sanitäter¹, Unteroffizier Peter Krause, spoke up, "Water's going to be a problem soon, Herr Hauptmann."

"Verdammt!" He looked over at Feldwebel Dieter Pohl, commanding 2nd Platoon, and said, "Dieter, according to my map there should be a small stream running down the slope about 500 meters to our right, send out a patrol to locate that, report back."

"Sure Sir, I'll do that right now." Pohl got up to go but von Lüttwitz stopped him.

"Don't engage the Amis if you can avoid it. Map says the terrain to our right drops off precipitously, not sure they have anyone on that sector, I know we don't. But be careful, could be someone watching that slope, Hell, it's almost a cliff."

"Will do Sir."

"All right, I think that's it. Everyone return to your positions, report in if you see anything."

Sgt Mac Peterson had pulled his Sherman back down the trail to a position where he could watch down the slope and support the dug in infantry to his front. He'd been in radio contact with battalion that morning, they were sending up what was left of Captain Alex Whitaker's company with a company of the 26th Infantry in support. All of the Third Herd's armored infantry were tied up farther down the line.

SFC Bud Pedley came down the track, he was commanding what was left, 17 men, of a platoon from the 83rd Reconnaissance Battalion. They'd taken a number of casualties over the past week, they had been understrength before they'd met the Krauts the other day.

"Hey Mac, we salvaged a Kraut MG off of one of those knocked out assault guns, got enough ammunition to run it for a while. Any word from down the hill?" Pedley hadn't heard about the reinforcements coming up the logging trail, his radio had crapped out the night before.

"Ten Shermans and about 80 GIs from the 26th Infantry are headed our way. With any luck they'll be here by noon." Mac checked his watch, "About two hours from now."

"So around three this afternoon, right?"

"You're a pessimist Bud, but yeah, we both know the condition of that trail. I'd put out a listening post if I were you. I ain't a gambling man, but I'd bet the Krauts will hit us again today. You know how the bastards love to counterattack."

"Already done Mac, you stick to being a tanker, leave the infantry business to me." Pedley said it good-naturedly, but there was a bit of an edge to his voice. Everybody assumed the infantry were stupid.

"Hey, I was a dog-face before I got this cushy job. Made it all the way to corporal too." Peterson smiled as he said this, then added, "But hey Bud, you're the expert, I'll leave you to it."

"Damn right, you gasoline cowboy!" Pedley laughed and headed back to his men.

The lead tank stopped again as its tracks began to slip on the muddy trail. MSgt Morton would have yelled at his driver, but Curt Jones was damned good at his job, wasn't his fault that the trail was churned up and muddy as Hell.

"Sorry Sarge, f**king beast wants to slide back down the hill." PFC Jones was good at his job, but he was overtired and overworked. "I need to go slower boss, or we'll never make it up this slope."

"Do what ya can Curt." MSgt Morton then got on the company radio net to let them know that things were not going all that smooth.

Sgt Zach Whitaker leaned back to tell his passengers, in particular the lieutenant commanding the attached company, that they weren't going to get up the hill by lunch after all. "Sorry Sir, but the lead tank is sliding all over the place, the track is muddy as Hell."

1Lt Chambers looked at his map, then his watch, "Get us up there in one piece, and concentrated, the rain we've had over the past week should have been factored in, do the guys up there know we'll be late to the party?"

"I'll ask."

"Shit," Peterson swore as he put down the handset, "Jerry, dismount and go tell SFC Pedley that the guys coming up to reinforce us are gonna be late. Track is muddy as Hell."

"Muddier than when we came up here?" Pvt Jerry Herring grumbled to himself as he squirmed through his hatch and slid down the front of the tank.

He went in the direction he'd seen Pedley go, and soon enough, he spotted the man. He was helping some guys set up what looked like a Kraut machine gun.

"Hey, SFC Pedley, Sgt Peterson sent me to tell ya something." Herring couldn't wait to get back to his tank. He didn't like being out here in the open.

"What is it Private?" Pedley stood up, he thought the two guys he'd put on the German MG 42 could handle it, unfortunately they hadn't found a spare barrel in the wreck they'd got the gun from. So he'd told them to fire short bursts, don't overheat the damned thing.

"Reinforcements are having trouble on the trail, they ain't gonna make it for lunch, that's for sure."

"Okay, tell your sergeant thanks."

"Sure Sarge, can I get back to my tank now?" Herring looked around nervously, he didn't like these woods, they spooked him.

"Yeah, yeah, git!"

Feldwebel Dieter Pohl examined the terrain carefully, the stream was right where the captain's map said it would be, he didn't see any Amis, but that didn't mean they weren't there, watching.

"Horst, move up to the stream, we'll cover you." Pohl ordered.

"Danke Herr Feldwebel." Grenadier Horst Schubert wasn't happy about that order, but he understood that someone had to do it. So he went, staying low, his head tucked down between his shoulders, as if that could somehow protect him.

He slid into the brush near the stream, expecting at any moment to feel the sharp pain of a bullet burying itself into his flesh.


He looked back at his platoon leader, who shrugged, then waved him back. With great reluctance, Schubert made the return trip, again, no shots were fired.

Odd, both men thought.

"Shit! F**k! Hate!" Jones screamed in frustration as he felt the tank slide back. The vehicle tipped down to the left rear. He knew that they had just thrown a track. "Damn it!!"

"Everybody hold up, we've got a problem up here." MSgt Morton climbed from his hatch, sure enough there was the back end of the track, unrolled behind them.

1Lt Chambers came up the trail with his first sergeant and his radioman, he saw the problem immediately. "Mort, put security out, I think we're going to be here for a while."

"Roger that Sir." Mort Saeger had the platoon leaders put out a cordon to either side of the trail, to the front, and to the rear. He noticed that the tanks had their turrets swayed to either side of the track, one tank to the left, the next to the right.

"We might be sitting ducks, but we're ready for whatever the Krauts want to throw at us." he said to himself.

"What's that Mort?"

"Nothing Skipper, just bitching about our bad luck."

Gefreiter Helmut Altendorf put his field glasses down. Sepp Zumbach had sent him out to watch the trail from one of the tall trees along the ridgeline. He was careful not to draw attention to himself as he began the laborious climb back to the ground. He kept the tree trunk between him and the multitude of Americans on the trail some 500 yards below his position.

A man comfortable in the woods, Altendorf had been born and raised in the Schwartzwald. This forest wasn't much different from the ones he roamed as a boy. He made his way quietly back to where the other engineers were.

"What did you see Junge?" Zumbach asked.

"At least ten panzers, perhaps two platoons of infantry. The lead panzer threw a track. They will be stuck for a while. I don't think we'll be fighting tonight, unless the Amis want to try the front slope again?"

"They told you about that?" Zumbach knew the story from one of the Landsers, a fellow named Sauer. A grim bastard but friendly enough, an old hand no doubt.

"Yes, mortars, white phosphorous, snipers, but no attack. It's as if they weren't really trying." Altendorf knew that his own side would have swarmed into the attack, these Americans puzzled him. Hyper aggressive one day, meek as kittens the next. They weren't brazen fighters, but cautious as Hell. In truth, the f**kers scared him.

"I don't know Helmut, the Amis are unpredictable bastards." Zumbach looked around the position, the shadows were getting longer, night wasn't far away.

"Take a break, I'll want you back out there at first light." Turning to the rest of his small squad, he told them, "If you want a smoke boys, better do it now. It'll be dark soon."

1Lt Nate Paddock came up to his commander, "Boss, got a minute?"

"Yeah Nate, whaddaya got?" 1Lt Chambers asked.

Paddock explained his platoon sergeant's idea, Chambers, knowing that they might be stuck on the trail for a while, told Paddock to go ahead and execute his sergeant's idea. They guys up the hill needed help, but he wouldn't leave the armor on the trail uncovered.

Paddock had been reluctant when Sgt Stephen Hernandez had approached him with the idea. He had mentioned that rain was in the forecast, which would make for a wet night. But it also meant that the forest would be noisy. As he put it...

"I tell you Sir, we might be able to get a couple of squads up to those guys up there. See what there is to see. Maybe go hunting Krauts once we make contact." Hernandez made it seem pretty doable, but Paddock wasn't sure.

"I don't know Stephen..."

"Sir, if they were gonna hit us on this trail, they would have already. At the very least we can reinforce the guys further up the hill. Even if our guys don't go a step further after we get there." Hernandez made a good case for his idea.

"Okay, take Wilson's and Gentile's squads. If it looks dicey, don't attack, just reinforce. I'll radio on ahead, let 'em know you're coming. Maybe I should take the lead..."

"All due respect Sir, I should do this. My idea and if it all goes to Hell..."

"Okay, go for it."

1Lt Paddock got on the radio, within seconds, Sgt Peterson had relayed the news to SFC Pedley. Shortly thereafter, Sgt Stephen Hernandez was moving past the disabled tank, leading two slightly understrength squads, 18 men under sergeants Jack Wilson and Stump Gentile.

As they headed up the trail, it started raining. Gentile, bringing up the rear, looked to the sky and said, "Wonderful, just f**king wonderful."

¹ Medic

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Thursday, October 29, 2020



Von Lüttwitz looked at Leutnant Gerd Vorwald in amazement, "Do you mean to tell me you stopped when the enemy opened fire at our StuGs, you just burrowed into the forest floor and kept your heads down?"

Vorwald started with, "Herr Hauptmann, the attack was so sudden, there were a dozen American Shermans, at least a battalion of infantry, we couldn't get close enough to..."

The engineer detachment NCO, Unteroffizier Sepp Zumbach chimed in, "Sir, there were three Shermans, two of which Bielefeld's StuGs destroyed. There were maybe three squads of Ami infantry. It was hard to tell once the shooting started, but there weren't that many of them."

Turning to the tough looking engineer NCO, von Lüttwitz continued, "And you Unteroffizier, why didn't you drive off that infantry?" Von Lüttwitz was livid.

"We tried sir, but the six of us were pinned down by rifle fire, Pionier Kaufmann was badly wounded when we managed to rescue the men from one of the destroyed StuGs. We did as much as we could sir." Zumbach wasn't happy with the way things had gone. He had screamed at Vorwald to get his men into action. They had done nothing, nothing at all.

Von Lüttwitz looked toward where he knew his Sanitäter, Peter Krauss, was working on the three wounded men. Then he turned to Unteroffizier Klaus Bittner, whose vehicle had been destroyed and two of his crew wounded, "Unteroffizier, I want you and your man here to escort Leutnant Vorwald back to battalion. I will send a brief report with you. Please inform the major that we have no room for cowards up here. The lieutenant is relieved of his duties and is under arrest."

Bittner looked at his driver, Gefreiter Hans-Ulrich Karch, then back at the captain, "Certainly sir, but what about my wounded men, especially Hebl?"

"We have no means to evacuate them, I can't use you here Bittner, you're not an infantryman. As soon as things here settle down, if that ever happens, I will evacuate the wounded to the rear."

Vorwald spoke, "Herr Hauptmann, you have no right..."

"SILENCE!" Von Lüttwitz was shaking with rage now. "I could convene a summary court this very instant Vorwald, I could have you shot right here and now!! Do you understand?"

Vorwald's confidence was shaken now, it's true, he had panicked and ordered his men to dig in, he had ignored the engineer's pleas for assistance, but this, this was too much to bear.

"Herr Hauptmann, please let me stay, if I am sent back my family will be disgraced. Let me stay as a simple grenadier, I..."

Von Lüttwitz took a deep breath, he could use every rifle he could get, at the moment he had more weapons than he had men to man them. He stepped forward and tore the epaulettes from Vorwald's shoulders. "Very well, Grenadier Vorwald, find a rifle and report to Gefreiter Köhler, you're in his squad. Prove yourself and no more will be said of this."

Just then Peter Krause came up, "Sir, beg to report, the man who lost his hands has been bandaged up, he's in no immediate danger from his wounds, but he should be evacuated and..." Walking up behind him was Bittner's gunner, a heavy bandage on his head.

"I'm going to have quite a headache Hasso," he said, looking at Bittner, "nothing worse than I'd get after a long night at a Biergarten. Do we stay and fight?" Obergefreiter Gotthard Gartner was ready to continue fighting, he was mad that his friend Panzerschütze Rolf Hebl had lost his hands.

Von Lüttwitz answered, "No, though I appreciate the offer, Obergefreiter. Bittner, take your men to the rear, Hebl should be seen by the surgeon. Ah, I see your platoon commander's StuG has arrived. At least they survived."

The men all turned as Bielefeld's surviving StuG III came backing through the forest towards their position.

National Archives

SFC Pedley listened as the last German assault gun made its way away from the battlefield. There was no way he was going to send anyone else out there to contest its retreat. He walked back to Mac Peterson's Sherman, the lone survivor of a platoon of four tanks, where Mac leaned against the tank smoking a cigarette.

"Well Bud, if it's any consolation, four guys from "Red Ryder" survived, though Red apparently wasn't one of them." Peterson took a long drag on his cigarette, dropped the butt to the ground and drew another from his pocket. "Man, if combat doesn't kill me, these things might."

SFC Bud Pedley shook his head, "Glad I never picked up the habit. So Red is missing?"

"Yup, I talked to his gunner, Billy Newsome. After their tank was hit in the engine compartment, they fought for as long as they could, then the sucker began to burn, so they bailed. Somewhere in the confusion Red went missing. There were a lot of rounds in the air last night, he might have been hit, Ted Ramsey is looking for him now."

"Shit. Red's a good man, where are the rest of his crew?"

"I sent them to the rear, told them to ask for more tanks."

"Seriously, after all that shit last night?"

"Bud, we drove off those f**king Krauts, did you know they had infantry with them? Bastards went to ground then ran when they had the chance, well, except for this one bunch who withdrew from tree to tree firing as they went. Ted told me that the bastards kept him from maneuvering."

"All right, let me see what I can do. There's a battalion of the First down the hill from the main Kraut position. Maybe they'd like another chance at these Krauts. Brewster!!" Pedley stalked off, wondering where the radioman had gotten to.

Captain Alphonse Josephson handed the handset back to his radioman, "Gus, I have a job for you guys!"

1Lt Gus Chambers, now commanding Charlie Company, Josephson's old command, came over, "Whaddaya got Sir?"

"3rd Armored managed to get a couple of tanks and some infantry up an old logging trail over to our right. They're close to the flank of those f**king Krauts up on this ridge in front of us. Think you could take Charlie over to..." the captain turned his map around and pointed to where he wanted C Company to go, "here, right here. Third Herd is going to send another platoon of tanks up there, but they're short of infantry. Want to give it a go?"

"Damned straight Tex. Going straight up this rise ain't gonna cut it, get on their flank, we could drive the bastards couldn't we?" Chambers was itching to get into the fight with his new command.

"Exactly. As soon as you're in position with the armor, we'll demonstrate to the front, mortars, machine gun fire, yell insults, throw rocks, whatever we can to distract the bastards. When you pitch in, we'll advance too. Catch those bastards between a rock and a hard place."

"The old hammer and anvil tactic, I like it sir, like it a lot. Let me get my platoon leaders together..." pausing to look at his watch, Chambers continued, "we can be on the move in a couple of hours."

"What are you waiting for Gus, go kill some Germans."

"If the Amis come with tanks, they'll come right down the same track I did, Herr Hauptmann." Unterfeldwebel Hasso Bielefeld consulted his map after pointing to the very rough trail his vehicle had followed after disengaging from the Americans. "I have a good position where I am now, and plenty of ammunition. If you can spare even a half squad, I can hold our left flank against all comers."

"Excellent Unteroffizier." Turning to an older man standing nearby he said, "Opa, want a shot at supporting armor?"

"Why not Herr Hauptmann, Panzergrenadiers get to ride into battle, right?" Gefreiter Karl-Heinz Köhler, known as "Opa¹" to the men in 5th Company for his age, he was a veteran of the First World War, grinned as he answered his company commander. "As long as Sauer doesn't complain too much that is."

"I'm sure my 1st Platoon commander can spare you." Von Lüttwitz needed to reorganize his defences. Though Leutnant Vorwald had proven to be useless so far, the men he had brought with him had brought an MG 42, which would replace the one he'd lost a few days ago. He also had Zumbach's engineers, the five of them that were left anyway. But they had brought more mines, so it was time to prepare more surprises for the Amis.

"Sepp, I'd like your ideas on where to plant those mines you brought up with you."

"I thought you might Herr Hauptmann, we have a few other tricks to spring should the Amis try your front again. We also have a couple of Teller mines for the flank over there," he gestured in the direction of Bielefeld's StuG III, "they would be a nasty surprise for any tanks trying to overwhelm Bielefeld's lone vehicle."

"Let's get to it then. I'm sure we won't have to long to wait, the Amis are not a patient people!"

Two groups of men, wearing different uniforms, preparing to contest this obscure ground within the Green Hell of the Hürtgenwald again. How much blood would it take to slake the thirst of this dark forest?

It was getting colder as well, winter was not that far off.

¹ German for Grandpa.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Steel On Steel


Unterfeldwebel Hasso Bielefeld dropped down into his vehicle just as an American anti-tank round glanced off the front glacis just below his hatch and went screaming into the air with a shower of sparks.

"That was close," he screamed, followed by, "target tank, 100 meters, engage!"

The big 75 mm gun recoiled, spitting out the shell casing. The loader, Hans Stoecker had another round "up the spout" in no time, screaming, "Panzergrenate geladen!"¹

"Hit!" Bielefeld was looking, there, another tank to the right of the one they'd just hit. The tank they had hit had stopped abruptly, as it slewed to the right, heavy smoke coming from the engine compartment. When he saw the turret moving, he realized that it wasn't dead yet, a mobility kill yes, but the gun was still in action.

"Jesus, Ted, what the f**k was that?" Sgt Red Wilson, commanding the Sherman named "Red Ryder," screamed as his vehicle was jarred, rocking to the left, then slamming to a halt while slewing to the right. Wilson could smell smoke, he didn't like that.

"I dunno Red, shit I think we're hit! Engine's not responding, controls are jammed!" Pvt Ted Bosworth, "Red Ryder's" driver, was trying to get the engine going again, to no avail.

Cpl Billy Newsome, "Red Ryder's" gunner, his face to his sight, yelled out, "Target assault gun, range 100 yards! Firing!"


Sgt Mac Peterson's tank, "Tennessee Whiskey," had gotten off the first shot. "Shit! It bounced right off the son of a bitch!"

Sgt Bob Norwood moved his sight slightly down and to the left, the next shot should do the trick, he thought. But at that moment the left side of the tank dropped into a shallow depression, as his foot hit the trigger pedal, the shot went into the air, hitting nothing but pine branches.

"Damn it Louis, hold the f**king tank steady!" Then he realized that the shot shouldn't have gone high like that, "Mac, the f**king gyro stabilizer just shit the bed!"

Cpl Louis Clark, "Tennessee Whiskey's" driver, yelled back, "We're in the woods damn it, you try and avoid the f**kin' trees! Damn dip in the ground, hang on." With that Clark gunned the engine, causing the tank to shoot forward onto more level ground.

"Scheiße!" The gunner in Unteroffizier Johannes Brandt's StuG swore as the tank he had fired at jumped out of the way, just as he fired.

"Lay the gun again Willi, take the shot!"

As Gefreiter Willi Bachmann, ordered the driver, Panzerschütze Fritz Schiffhauer to turn 10 degrees to the right an anti-tank round from one of the still mobile American tanks hit the vehicle directly in the lower hull. The round penetrated, killing Schiffhauer instantly.

"Get us up the hill Bert, those guys have no turret, move to their flank, we can kill 'em all!" SSgt Tom Michaelson knew they had to move, at this range those Kraut 75s would tear them apart. As he watched through his vision slits, he didn't think they were going to make it. These Krauts knew what they were doing.

Seconds later a 75 mm anti-tank round hit the turret ring of "Tommy's Tank," it penetrated, decapitating PFC Mike Herbst, the loader, spraying his blood all over the inside of the turret. Cpl Bill Thompson, Michaelson's gunner, looked to his left, the Kraut round had gone right through Mike and then through the back of the turret.

He tried to move the turret, no such luck, the hit had destroyed the gears in the turret ring, rendering the traverse useless. But the gun was now aimed at one of the StuGs which was backing away from a burning vehicle so he stomped on the floor pedal trigger.

The round missed.

Brandt's StuG was starting to burn, loose insulation in the crew compartment had been ignited by the round which penetrated the driver's position. He immediately ordered the crew to bail out.

They did so into a hail of rifle and machine gun fire.

Brandt was hit by at least four rounds, none of which had actually been aimed at him. He was killed instantly and fell over the side of his vehicle, his legs caught on an ammunition storage bracket in the compartment, leaving his corpse draped over the side.

Panzerschütze Siegfreid Kandler was hit in the chest and in the leg as he bailed from the now burning vehicle. He managed to crawl away from the StuG and rolled into a depression in the forest floor. It hurt to breathe, he wondered if he'd been hit in a lung. He tried desperately to bind the wound in his thigh, he didn't know that his femoral artery had been completely severed, he bled to death in less than a minute.

Gefreiter Willi Bachmann hesitated, he'd let Kandler jump first while he attempted to stop the fire in the crew compartment. Too late he realized that it was a fool's errand, one of the high explosive rounds cooked off and killed him instantly.

Brandt's vehicle was burning fiercely now. Unteroffizier Klaus Bittner, commanding the third StuG of Bielefeld's platoon had his driver back away from the burning pyre, glancing in that direction, he saw the body of his friend Johannes hanging from his hatch, burning. He shuddered in horror. It was not the first time he'd seen a friend burn, he prayed that it was the last, though he thought that to be a false hope.

Looking again to the front, he saw the crew of one of the Shermans, the one with the burning engine compartment, jumping from their vehicle and scrambling to the rear. He had the thought of engaging them with the machine gun mounted on the roof of his vehicle, but the amount of incoming Ami tracer fire dissuaded him from that particular form of suicide.

Tom Michaelson had ordered his gunner, Bill Thompson, over to the loader's position, Mike Herbst's body being shoved unceremoniously aside. The driver, Bert Allison, was trying desperately to unjam the turret, if he could smash the damaged gears aside, they might regain control of the gun in azimuth.

"Got it!" Allison yelled, then scrambled back into his driver's seat. There was a blank spot where they couldn't point the gun, but that was to the right, the action at the moment was all to the left.

Bielefeld saw the Sherman he had hit begin to move again. He had a perfect shot to the side of the enemy tank. He ordered Gefreiter Sigismund Hecht to engage that vehicle. The cannon barked and the round went home. Bielefeld could see a glowing hole in the side of the tank, just above the middle set of road wheels. In the next instant, that tank exploded.

Sgt Bob Norwood, Tennessee Whiskey's gunner saw "Tommy's Tank" blow itself apart, he knew that the crew had had it, no one could survive that sort of explosion. He yelled over the intercom, "Michaelson's had it, they just f**king blew up. Damn it, I see the bastard!"

He stomped on the floor pedal trigger and sent a round into a StuG which had been backing up. He didn't know that it wasn't the StuG which had killed Michaelson and his crew.

The nose of Bittner's StuG had dropped just as the American anti-tank round was fired, it entered the roof of the crew compartment. Obergefreiter Gotthard Gartner, the gunner, was wounded by splinters from that shell which had passed through the gun breech after penetrating the roof. The gun was destroyed and the loader lost both hands as he was loading a round when the vehicle was hit.

Bittner and Gartner dragged Panzerschütze Rolf Hebl, the loader, out of the commander's hatch while the driver, Gefreiter Hans-Ulrich Karch lifted Hebl's legs clear. The four crewmen were clear of the vehicle when it exploded.

Bielefeld realized that his platoon had been reduced to a single vehicle, his. He wanted to withdraw, but his orders were clear, stop the Ami tanks. He saw two of those, both burning brightly in the gathering gloom. Were there any more out there?

Night was falling, Mac Peterson knew that both of the other Shermans in his platoon were dead. He saw two burning StuGs as well, he had seen three. "There's another Kraut out there, anyone see it? Where the f**k is the other one?" Peterson asked his crew.

They didn't know that their tank was in shadow and virtually invisible to the surviving German vehicle. That vehicle itself was in the shadows and was also invisible to the Americans.

As Peterson wondered what to do next, he heard someone pounding on his hatch. He opened it to see SFC Bud Pedley.

"We're gonna hold here, it's getting dark and we don't know what's out there. Looks like we traded two for two. I've got my guys digging in, you okay with holding this little chunk of the woods for now?"

"Do I have a choice Bud?"

"Hell no."

"Gonna be a long night I think." Peterson used his field glasses to scan the opposite slope, he couldn't see anything other than the burning vehicles, theirs and those of his friends. Hopefully, someone from those two Shermans had survived.

Though he felt a little guilty thinking it, he rather hoped those German crews were all dead. They had killed some of his friends this day. Mac was learning to hate.

If anyone had looked at a calendar, the Americans would have noticed that it was the 31st of October, Halloween.

Halloween, in the Green Hell of the Hürtgenwald.

¹ Anti-tank round loaded!

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Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Damn It! Armor!


Unterfeldwebel Hasso Bielefeld couldn't believe the terrain he was expected to get his small platoon of Sturmgeschütz IIIs through. The trip to the area had been eventful enough by itself.

They had detrained at Düren after a long haul from East Prussia. Traveling only by night to avoid Allied air raids and Jabos, they had still been delayed by raids which had destroyed areas of track ahead of them. The Allies didn't like German rail marshalling yards, with good reason. Most of Germany's military movements were via rail and had been so since before the First World War.

The last 25 kilometers had been by road, a road which gradually deteriorated the closer they got to the Hürtgenwald. To join up with the infantry they had been sent to support, the last few kilometers had been by an old forest trail, now they were trying to get through the woods themselves. There were vestiges of a track but the small squad of combat engineers they had with them had been dismounting so often to cut down a tree, or fill in a steep gully, that those men, under a crusty old Unteroffizier named Sepp Zumbach, were now ahead of his vehicles blazing a trail through the wilderness.

The commander of the infantry platoon with them, meant as a reinforcement for the position they were heading for, wasn't all that happy when Zumbach had told him that his infantrymen would be of more use helping his engineers than riding on the backs of Bielefeld's StuGs.

"I'm not sure I like your tone of voice Unteroffizier." Leutnant Vorwald, all of 18 years old and a freshly minted lieutenant from the training school, was a stickler for military protocol. The scion of a long line of German officers, he felt entitled to his rank. His ancestry had been his ticket to officer training rather than going to the front as an Offizieranwärter¹ and doing things "the hard way."

"Then I suggest you should complain to the Heerespersonalamt² the next time you're in Berlin. Sir." Zumbach noted with satisfaction that Vorwald's men were already disembarking from the StuGs and going forward to help his engineers.

Vorwald looked up at Bielefeld in his commander's cupola. Bielefeld shrugged his shoulders and said, "He has a point Herr Leutnant. Things are different at the front, you're not in school anymore. Sir."

Though he detected a certain amount of disrespect from these two NCOs, he would save his complaints, and any possible disciplinary action, for after this sojourn into the woods, as he viewed it. The Amis couldn't possibly expect to make any progress through these woods. He had to wonder what idiot had reported American tanks in the area.

German engineers using a chainsaw to down a tree

After spending nearly two hours looking for mines, SFC Pedley was convinced there were just the two that they had found, including the first one which Cpl Mick Lashua had spotted shortly before being gunned down by a sniper. That had cost them a further hour as the men had had to spread out and try and spot the sniper. They never did find the man who had killed Lashua, and they were all pretty angry about that.

"F**king Kraut bastards," was the sentiment voiced by Pvt Paul Ansbach. The others began muttering about not taking prisoners when SFC Pedley had recommended that "everybody shut the f**k up and get back to work."

Movement down the track was slow, Pedley was wondering if he should send a couple of scouts ahead to see if they could spot the German position. Then he looked around, the men were angry, but they were also somewhat intimidated by the forest. For morale purposes, he thought it best to keep the boys together, at least within sight of each other.

"Wilkins, Tomlinson, I want you two out ahead a bit, stay where I can see ya, but I need your eyes and ears to the front." Even that concession made Pedley nervous, he was a man of the wide open spaces of west Texas, all these trees made him uncomfortable. This place was dark and depressing, with winter coming on soon, that made it even less cheerful.

Cpl Brad Wilkins and PFC Ed Tomlinson, on the other hand, were from the far northeastern portion of the United States, Wilkins from Maine and Tomlinson from northern New York. The forest didn't bother either of them, and the hilly terrain reminded both men of home. Pedley couldn't begin to understand how a man could stand being in a place where everything was so close in, he liked being able to see what was coming from a long ways away, as he often put it.

Eventually they came to a spot where the trail just vanished. It was there, then it wasn't. Pedley went forward to see for himself.

"Geez, there ain't no way we can get tanks through here, is there?" Pedley said as he looked at Wilkins.

"I dunno Sarge, we could take down a couple of these trees, make our own path. I think we're getting closer to the Kraut position though. I can hear some kind of engine up ahead, a small one, it ain't anything I've heard before. But I'm pretty sure it isn't American."

National Archives

Bielefeld's StuGs had finally made it to von Lüttwitz's position. He was very glad to see reinforcements and armor support. As he talked with Bielefeld and Vorwald, Zumbach's engineers had headed towards the direction where the American armor was, or had been when Köhler had last seen them. Zumbach thought that perhaps they could drop a few trees to slow the American advance.

The three men turned as one when they heard firing break out towards where Zumbach's detachment had gone.

"Krauts!" Tomlinson had screamed when he saw the men moving through the forest towards them. He and Wilkins had both fired at the men, then gone to ground to avoid any return fire. But as quickly as the enemy had been there, they had just as quickly disappeared back into the shadows of the forest.

Pedley had the men deploy to either side of the new path they were attempting to follow, it wasn't so much a trail as it was an area with fewer trees which the Shermans could negotiate, albeit slowly. He moved up to his point men when he was done.

"What did you boys see?"

Tomlinson spoke first, "Just shapes really Sarge, but they weren't animals, they were human. I know none of our guys are up here, otherwise, we wouldn't be up here. So I opened up on 'em."

Wilkins stated, "I did catch a glimpse of them, definitely Krauts. Those soft caps some of 'em wear are pretty distinctive. I think they saw us at the same time we saw them. But we got the first rounds out, I think they fell back. Probably saw the tank back there."

Sure enough, Mac Peterson's vehicle "Tennessee Whiskey," now in the lead, was coming up through the forest. Pedley held up a hand to get Peterson to halt, which he did.

"Whaddaya got Sarge?" Peterson was standing in his hatch, it left him exposed to sniper fire but he needed to see where they were going, so he took the risk.

"Small party of Krauts, we drove 'em off, but I'm betting they were scouts. They know we're here, I think we're close, Mac. Let's get the infantry deployed, we need to move up on them slow like and then..." Pedley's voice trailed off as Peterson said, "Shit, they've got f**kin' tanks!"

Bielefeld had watched Zumbach's engineers scramble past his vehicle. He was low in his hatch as he'd seen far too many of his comrades shot by exposing themselves to enemy fire. He waited, they were slightly hull down where he was, he ordered his other two vehicles to deploy to his left, there was no room to deploy to the right. He had them stay back slightly in a rough echelon formation. He wanted to see what they were up against before he opened fire.

He could hear the rumble of tank engines to his front. The thought which popped unbidden into his head was, "Scheiße, sie haben verdammte Panzer.³

¹ Officer aspirant, certain enlisted men were identified as potential officers (or NCOs) and held a special grade as an Offizieranwärter designated by two stripes of braid on their epaulets.
² Army Personnel Office
³ Shit, they have damned tanks!

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