Sunday, October 25, 2020

Clearing the Trail

National Archives

"I figure we can run a tow cable around that tree and use it to pull the wreck down that bank, get another tank pushing from behind and..." Cpl Ron Seymour was interrupted by his sergeant.

"Where are you gonna find enough room in here to get two tanks in place to do that? This trail was a long shot to get around the German flank anyway. Ever wonder why there are no Krauts here? They probably figured that only a bunch of idiots would try to attack up this slope and they can see how narrow this damned trail is, steep drop on one side, almost a wall on the uphill side." Sgt Ted Ramsey shook his head, he was still trying to figure out how Ron had ever made corporal, he wasn't the sharpest tack in the drawer on his best days.

"Okay, yeah, I see that. It was just an idea Sarge." Cpl Ron Seymour then shrugged his shoulders, he hadn't thought this through all the way.

"Why are you people standing around jawing, we need to get this wreck moved!" SFC Pedley was not happy. "What do you think Tom?"

SSgt Tom Michaelson, the tank platoon's platoon sergeant and commander of "Tommy's Tank," had been thinking about just this problem. "First thing we gotta do Bud is get the L.T. and his crew out of the tank. As Peterson's tank is the only one that can get up here, he's just gonna have to push the wreck off the trail. Hopefully it'll roll downhill."

"All right then, get that tank up here, you, you, and you, start pulling bodies out of the wreck."

The three men that Pedley had detailed to get the bodies of the crew out of the wrecked Sherman had had to be relieved by other men shortly after they had dragged the second man from the front of the burned out Sherman. The driver had come apart as they attempted to pull his badly charred body from his seat. Two of the men vomited and one had said, "I don't care Sarge, you'll have to shoot me, I ain't going back in there!"

Eventually they had completed the onerous task and the remains of the destroyed tank's crew - 2Lt Fred Oswald (tank commander and platoon leader), Sgt Ted Mountjoy (gunner), PFC Sherb Morrison (loader), Cpl Burt McKinney (driver), and Pvt Jim McGraw (bow gunner) - were laid out further back by the side of the trail. The remains were covered by a tarpaulin taken off the back of one of the other tanks. One of the new men couldn't believe how small they looked.

Shortly after the bodies had been recovered, Mac Peterson's tank came rumbling up the trail. Peterson's driver, Cpl Louis Clark, was sitting with his head out of his hatch, to better see. Peterson himself was up in his commander's cupola watching intently, when the tank got close to the wreck, he spoke to his driver...

"Okay Louis, gimme some right lever¹, I want to get us pushing uphill to see if we can't get this wreck to slew around so we can shove it down the hill."

Clark eased the vehicle forward until the left front of the hull pushed up against the backside of the wreck. By jockeying back and forth and pushing gently, not wanting to burn out his transmission, eventually the wreck of 2Lt Oswald's tank was perched precariously at the edge of the trail, the nose of the tank pointing slightly downhill.

With one last nudge, the wreck skid off the trail and plunged down the bank, rolling over when it hit a fallen tree. It didn't go very far down the hill, but now the trail was clear. It was still only wide enough for the tanks to pass through single file, but this time the infantry would be further up the trail and spread farther out to each side of the trail. The idea was to keep any German with the guts to try and kill a tank with a panzerfaust as far away as possible, to make a tough shot an even tougher proposition.

Opa Köhler could hear the rumble of the tank engine some distance away. He and young Fuchs were some distance from the left flank of the company. He lifted his field glasses and could see a strong detachment of American infantry moving carefully down the trail and a good twenty meters to either side. These men wouldn't make the same mistake twice.

"Go back to the company, tell the captain that the Amis have cleared the trail and are coming our way. I figure another hour before they reach where we are now." Köhler looked at Fuchs, "Go, now. Quickly."

As Fuchs made his way down from the high ground they were using to watch the trail, Köhler watched, and waited.

Cpl Mick Lashua noticed something strange on the trail ahead. Something looked odd, out of place. He held up a hand to halt the advance. While it took a few more seconds to get the flank men stopped, and seconds more to get word back to the rest of the platoon and the tanks, everyone was finally stopped.

"What's up Mick?" SFC Pedley had been about halfway between the lead scouts and the tanks with their infantry supports, he had a squad with him.

"Mines." Lashua muttered and pointed.

Pedley looked around, scanning slowly from side to side, there! He saw the prongs of a German "Bouncing Betty," no doubt where there was one, there were probably more.

"Scheiße." Köhler muttered to himself, the Amis had obviously spotted one of the two mines he and Fuchs had planted. He would have liked to plant more, but that's all they had, the captain had used the rest to mine the approaches to their trench line. There weren't enough to cover all of that area either.

He watched as the Americans dug up the first mine and safed it, they knew how, so obviously these guys were experienced. He could see that the Amis were probing to find more mines, not knowing, of course, that there were only two of the nasty devices.

Sighing, Köhler flipped the safety off of his K98k, he had left his MP 40 with his squad, he wanted something with more range out here. Settling his cheek into the stock, he lined up one of the Americans in his sights. Must be someone in charge, he thought, he's not actually doing anything but is supervising the others, probably a sergeant.

He took a breath, let part of it out, then squeezed the trigger.

Cpl Lashua grunted in pain, then doubled over, slumping down onto the trail. He had been hit in the chest. SFC Pedley immediately ordered the men to take cover while he tried to discern from where the shot had come from.

"Has to be up there," Pedley thought, then aloud he said, "Turk, do you see that clump of little pines up on that rise to the right, maybe 75 yards out?"

Pvt Theodore "Turk" Yilmaz said, "Got it Sarge." Then he raised his B.A.R. to his shoulder.

"Hit it." Pedley ordered.

Köhler was already moving back towards the company when the first rounds from the American automatic rifle ripped through where he had been just moments before. He could hear the rounds zipping over his head, he even felt a few twigs and branches fall on his back as he moved.

If he had been just a second slower, he'd be lying under those pines back there for eternity.

SFC Pedley knew that if he hadn't decided to probe for mines himself, it would have been him lying there on the trail. Doc Hobart had rushed up as soon as he'd gotten the word and even now was trying to stem the bleeding and assess Lashua's wound.

The only thing moving on Lashua were his eyes, they darted back and forth, he looked terrified, like someone in a bad dream and trying desperately to wake up. Frothy blood was bubbling from his lips, he was hit bad. After a few more seconds, his eyes stopped shifting and he went very still.

Doc checked for a pulse, nothing. He turned to look at Pedley and silently shook his head. Corporal Michael "Mick" Lashua of Dover, New Hampshire was dead, killed in action at the age of 22.

It was the 28th of October, 1944 in the Green Hell of the Hürtgen Forest.

¹ The Sherman had a pair of steering levers to control the speed of the left and right tracks. Simply put, pull back and the track on that side slowed, pull both back and the tank would stop.


  1. I can oly imagine how depressing was that steady drip of casualties, bleeding the fighting forces with thousand cuts....

    1. That's what the fall of 1944 was like in the West. For both sides.

  2. dangling participle. unless you intend for creative license to show that the speaker does not have a good education. similar problem as: I is tired.
    correct would be: I figure another hour before they reach where we are right now.
    i have been an avid reader. one thing that seems to be missing is the cussing. soldiers out of sight of women, cuss, well, like troopers. even if you do it comic book style.

    1. There are times when I do write it to mimic how various people I've known over the years speak. But that was just a bad sentence, repairs have been made.

      The lads do swear from time to time, some more than others. Go back nd read some of the more recent posts, Captain Josephson is fond of a word which rhymes with truck. The Germans use "Scheiße," a lot.

  3. "SFC Pedley knew that if HE hadn'r decided"....... maybe? Mines! Hate mines! Just wondering when the ETO had the first snowfall that year huh Sarge? Past Tuesday we got 7+ inches........ugh.

    1. Argh! Missed that completely, repairs have been made.

      Mines would scare the living you-know-what out of me. I've encountered them in war games, ruins your whole day. Not to mention slowing any advance to a crawl.

      I still need to find out when the first snowfall was in that area in the fall of '44.

  4. The steady drip must have been awful - and disheartening against an enemy you cannot see.

    Your writing has me revisiting a lot of this period. Thanks.

    1. Yes, constant casualties, not a lot by WWI standards but still had men falling day after day, it all adds up over time. The Hürtgenwald was costly for both sides.

    2. Casualties in World War I just astound me. I’m going to write a blog piece on it but the author suggested for the British casualties imagine if the ghosts were able to lineup in columns of four and March by. It would be a column 97 miles long

      The French and the Germans were even worse.

      For every British service man killed in the second world war, three of his fathers were killed in the first.

      I’m thinking a lot of those World War II veterans both German British and French, grew up without fathers

      He said also in France there were 600,000 widows

    3. The French had a lot of difficulty building up their army in the '30s, not enough men.

  5. And now comes siege attrition, as the Amis attack the Jerries in a tight situation that favors the defense. Yay... not.

    I think by late '44, the Germans were making wooden mines that were hard to detect. But I don't remember if they were more Eastern Front than Western Front in usage. So, well, not like the Germans would have buried an anti-tank mine in the middle of the road. Though if they were smart and had the equipment, a command-detonated mine on the upslope side of the road could make a nasty little avalanche-roadblock.

    Heck, just dropping some trees on the road, if sufficient big, would make passage hard for both tanks and troops. Easiest way is to cut through a trunk most way, put a grenade in the wedge cut out, attach string to fuse-pull, and you have a poor-man's command detonated mine. Yank, grenade goes off, tree falls (hopefully in the direction you want.)

    Excellent story, as usual.

    How are Nuke et al?

    1. The Germans did make extensive use of wooden mines. They used them on both fronts. The S-Mine (Bouncing Betty) was metal throughout the war. Easier to detect and not really that hard to defuse all by itself. But it was rare to find one all by itself, often part of some elaborate booby trap.

      Von Lüttwitz and his lads have very little in the way of tools with which to drop trees. Also the number of grenades they have is very little. Might be an idea for a future episode, have a combat engineer detachment show up to stiffen the defense!

    2. The combat engineers who delayed the advance of Peiper in the Battle of the Bulge played a key role in stopping the German breakout from the Ardennes. It's a great story -

    3. I can picture Peiper slamming his fist on the hood of his command vehicle, cursing those "Damned engineers!"

  6. Hey AFSarge;

    Yeah Mines suck, and clearing them out allows for "Mischief", but ignoring them is not an option. The Green hell continues.....Excellent story as normal.

    1. Köhler had to shoot Lashua, just to let the Americans know that the minefield (such as it was) was defended. Delays favor the defenders.

  7. Just wanted you to know I found you from another bloglist and look forward to your installments.

  8. As soon as I read about them coming up to the ruined tank I thought was “who’s going to get the bodies out“.

    And you covered that Sarge.

    Seeing something like that would haunt you the rest of your life.

    My neighbor is a Vietnam veteran. He was a helicopter mechanic but they were also short of doorgunners so he got that job to.

    And one day they got the orders to come out and rescue this convoy that had run into a minefield.

    He talked of gingerly walking through the minefield and to pull out this driver who was still alive but horribly burned.

    Flew him to a hospital but to this day he does not know whether he survived.

    That kind of stuff stays with you.

    And your story reminded me that no matter how observant or careful you are sometimes your numbers up in combat.


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