Saturday, October 10, 2020

Night Moves


The moon was on the wane and the night was cloudy enough that the men slipping through the forest had enough light to see their way forward, but not enough to reveal them to a casual observer. Not that there were many of those out on this cold October night inside a German forest, while war raged elsewhere, this night was quiet enough.

1Lt Nathan Paddock had wanted to lead this patrol himself, his company commander had forbidden it. "You're too close to this Nate, pick your best, let them do this."

Reluctantly he had agreed with Captain Alphonse Josephson, the loss of his platoon sergeant weighed heavily on his mind. The platoon was lucky to get this job, the only reason Josephson had agreed to it was that 2nd Platoon knew the terrain. They had indeed, shed blood to gain that knowledge.

In choosing the right men, he had had help from his squad leaders, all three were experienced men. All had men in their squads they knew well, men who had experience in the deep woods at night. Though one, Corporal Stephen Hernandez, had been something of a surprise to him. The man was a fine soldier, but he had assumed the man was from the southwest, for obvious reasons, mostly the name.

Turns out that he was born and raised in the Pyrenees mountains of Spain. His name had been Esteban, but his father had Americanized it when they had emigrated to the United States. Hernandez' father had no love for either Franco or the Spanish Republicans, so he had taken his family to America, where he had established a business in the mountains of Colorado. His son, Esteban, now Stephen was no stranger to the outdoors.

"Seriously L.T., I've seen Cpl Hernandez moving through the woods, guy moves like a mountain lion, stealth and power. The man scares me at times, he's that good." Sgt Greg Jenkins had explained all that to Paddock, so Hernandez was chosen to lead the patrol.

The other men chosen were Charlie Gammell, who had proven himself a cool hand and a good soldier, even at the age of 17, nearly 18 as he stressed, besides which, Hernandez wanted his sniping skills, "Just in case," as he'd put it. Gammell wouldn't go anywhere without his spotter, PFC Jackson Hebert, so Bear, as he was known, was in as well.

Not wanting a lot of bodies crashing through the woods, Hernandez had suggested keeping the patrol small but had requested one more man, Pvt Riley Taggert, an experienced hunter and woodsman from before the war. Oddly enough, one city-slicker, as some might put it, was on the patrol as well, PFC Stump Gentile was a tough man and an experienced soldier. Though born and raised in Philadelphia, he had spent a lot of time in the great outdoors since joining the Army.

Five men, their job was to exploit a possible weak spot in the German line along the long firebreak that the platoon had literally stumbled into on the preceding day. One of their own was still out there, missing in action, presumed killed, so 2nd Platoon got another chance to cross the firebreak.

Gentile was on point, they had crossed the firebreak without incident, though there had been a brief scuffle in the brush on the German side of the firebreak. As Hernandez led the rest of the patrol across, he saw a dead German in the low brush. Hernandez was now very glad that the short, dark Italian from Philly was with them.

Just ahead, Hernandez saw Gentile on one knee, Hernandez motioned the other three men to hold position as he slipped forward to Gentile. When he arrived, Gentile pointed, there were three Germans around a small fire, next to what had to be the back entrance to a small bunker. Hernandez thought about it, that had to be the same bunker which had opened up on them yesterday. Motioning to Gentile to watch the Germans, he slid back to the rest of the patrol.

Long minutes later, all five men were in place. After watching the German position for some time before setting up, Hernandez had seen just how shallow the German defenses were. This small bunker was their 'ace in the hole,' take that out and the whole line was unhinged.

Gammell and Hebert were key to the whole plan. Bear was watching the three Germans through his field glasses, Charlie watched through his rifle scope. Both men were amazed that the Krauts had actually built a small fire. They probably assumed that no one in front of the bunker would notice, they hadn't figured on the Americans slipping behind them. It would cost them dearly.

The German lieutenant was inspecting the line, he'd had most of his men fall back to a ravine about 100 meters behind this bunker line as he called it, though it contained but a single bunker. The men needed to rest and the shallow holes they had hastily prepared were insufficient for that. So at night there were only a two man team to either flank and three men in the bunker itself, manning the MG 34.

He had been aghast that the men had built a small fire, but when he felt its warmth, he decided not to say anything. He hadn't noticed it until he was right on top of the position, so he doubted the Amis would notice it either. He expected the Americans to return, but not for a day or so. They had been surprised yesterday, he assumed they would carefully plan a full up assault on his position, maybe tomorrow, more likely the day after. The Amis, when lacking artillery or air support tended to be cautious.

As he chatted with two of the men, one man was always on the gun, he happened to notice something back in the trees. Was that a reflection he saw, the glint of glass? It was his last thought.

Though the German officer wasn't dressed too differently from his men, his epaulettes gave him away. Bear had spotted that and tapped Charlie on the shoulder. Charlie had seen it as well and shifted his position slightly. Yup, an officer, he thought to himself. When he saw the officer turn towards him, he squeezed the trigger, he saw the look of shock on the man's face as the heavy bullet hit him. He went down in a heap.

The sudden roar of American rifle fire, and the unmistakable bark of a submachine gun, caused Grenadier Horst Vogt to spin around. The fire was behind his position. As he struggled to get his weapon off its tripod, he saw something come into the bunker through the firing slit, a grenade!

The smoke and debris issuing from the bunker's rear entrance told Hernandez that Sgt Jack Wilson's squad had done its part. In position across from where the platoon had been ambushed the day before, they waited until Hernandez' patrol opened fire. Hoping that would draw the attention of whoever was in the bunker, they made a mad dash across the firebreak.

Pvt Andre Tremblay, Cajun to his buddies, had spotted the firing slit of the bunker during one of the brief moments the light from the waning gibbous moon had appeared between the drifting clouds. When the men had made their dash, he had a grenade at the ready. When he reached the bunker, he tossed the armed grenade through the slit. The thump of the explosion and the single scream from inside told him that the German machine gun had been neutralized.

1Lt Nate Paddock knelt next to the poncho-wrapped body of SSgt Herbert John Graves. He was praying quietly over the body of the NCO who had taught him so much. He still was in denial over Graves' death. The men had found him where he had fallen on the day of the ambush, face to the enemy, weapon still in hand, but dead nevertheless.

Captain Josephson waited until his 2nd Platoon commander stood up. He nodded at the stretcher bearers who lifted their burden. He raised a hand to stop them, then leaned forward and covered the dead man's face. Then he nodded again and let the stretcher bearers take the sergeant to the rear.

Placing a hand on Paddock's shoulder, and giving it a squeeze, he spoke, "Tough loss Nate, Herb was a damned good man and one of the best NCOs I've ever served with, he'll be missed."

Paddock turned to face his commanding officer, "Yes sir, he was a damn fine soldier. Right now though, I need a new platoon sergeant. Any suggestions?"

Josephson was startled by Paddock's abruptness, but then again, men dealt with grief in different ways, this was no longer the green rookie right out of West Point standing before him, this was a seasoned veteran who wanted the best for his men.

"How 'bout you tell me if you have any suggestions Nate."

"Well, the guy who led last night's patrol, though he's only a corporal, is one tough bastard. I think he deserves sergeant stripes."

"You want to jump a corporal up to platoon sergeant?" Captain Josephson wasn't averse to the idea, though he might have trouble selling it to battalion.

"Yes sir, I think he's the best choice from all of my NCOs."

"Alright, let me clear it with battalion, but as far as I'm concerned, tell Hernandez that he's a sergeant now. He's your acting platoon sergeant until further notice. Think anyone will have a problem with that?"

"No sir. My guys trust me, at least I think they do."

"They do Nate, you've got a good bunch there. I trust you too."

"Thanks Cap."

Charlie Company of the 2nd Battalion, 26th Infantry, was now 250 yards closer to Berlin.


  1. The title caused my mental jukebox to begin playing the Bob Seger tune. That wasn't the background music I wanted when reading your post. I managed to turn the jukebox off by repeating, "The woods are lovely, dark and deep," from the Frost poem.

    In this sentence, "......that Sgt Jack Wilson's squad had done it's part." The possessive form should be "its."

    The mention of Franco's Spain sent me off an a tangent of wondering what Hernandez's father would have said about the current events in America.

    You packed a large amount of thought provoking items into today's post. Well done again.

    1. John, your mind went the same place my did in terms of the song.

      I have often thought about the Spanish Civil War lately as well too. I wonder how many comparisons there are.

      Good writing as always, Sarge.

    2. John - The song popped into my head as well, but the title matched the segment, so... (No, the song didn't match any of it.)

      Fixed it. lately my fingers seem to have a mind of their own...

    3. Toirdhealbheach Beucail - Thanks!

    4. The Spanish Civil War has many parallels. It was City vs Country, Elites vs Peasants, a conflict born of increasing political hatred between the two sides.

      Of course, it was International Socialist vs National Socialist, so it's more like, hrmmm, the Porland Center vs the Portland 'burbs...

      Though I do detect a fair amount of foreign middling going on (which, arguably, didn't help either side of the SCW to calm down.

  2. That came fairly close to the Marines Blowtorch and Corkscrew. All that was missing was the flamethrower.

    1. Successful tactics get replayed over and over.

    2. I wouldn't want to carry a flamethrower into the woods. City? Or a Pacific island? Oh, heck, yeah, flammenwerfer on! But in the woods in Europe (either German woods or Italian woods or Belgian woods, nope... unless it's mounted in/on an armored vehicle.

    3. Flamethrower guys have brass ones.

  3. Night work can be the best, or the worst. If everything goes as planned, you can make a clean sweep. If one thing (or one guy) is out of place, it can all go to the dogs in a hurry. One experienced woodsman, who had stepped out to relieve himself, and lingered a while to listen to the night sounds and let his sight adjust to the dim light, can account for several casualties right away, and throw the whole operation into utter confusion. Once the plan is busted, there's generally no way to put it back together.

    1. When things go to Hell in a handbasket at night, they go all the way, and very quickly.

  4. An early posting Sarge.......that .30-06 has the power to drop an elk in its tracks when hit in the right spot, same for a man. The SSgt's relatives would appreciate knowing for sure what happened to him.

    1. This new Blogger interface handles time differently than before. Google "fixing" things which aren't broken. I schedule for 0230 PDT, it gets published at 2330 EDT. Brain dead. So I'm experimenting.

  5. The problem with such battles is that there is always next linę od defence, and another, and any enemy worth his salt has reserves to plug the gaps... And in rugged Terrain IT is hard to exploit breakthru...

    1. Fortunately by this point in the war German reserves are fairly scarce. What they managed to build up, Hitler squandered in the Ardennes.

    2. I meant tactical reserves...
      German kampfgruppe commanders tended to be masters of the tactical art.
      And yeah the Ardennes was last time Germans managed to get a strategic level force ready to deploy, and ironically to do that they starved the Vistula line at exactly the moment Stalin was ready to pounce again...

    3. I knew that's what you meant Paweł, but German resources were stretched so thin at the time that even local reserves were very scarce. When units were operating at perhaps a third to a half of their nominal strength, damned near every rifle was needed just to hold the line.

      Another common misconception was the Germans being "masters of the tactical art," by this stage of the war many of their best had already been killed. Early in the war that was somewhat true, but in '44 and '45, resources were short, that included quality officers.

  6. Hey AFSarge;

    This new blogger interface is not as easy as the "Legacy" blogger, I still am finding it problematic, it has caused me formatting problems. As far as the posting goes, When you mentioned "Mr Hernandez" I wondered if you got inspiration from Chris Hernandez, a GWOT Veteran he is a blogger/Author that has gotten into the WWII stuff big time, has pics of him wearing the gear. Well anyway of my chasing a shiny on your post. Sometimes stealth works better than noisy frontal assaults and the German Lt He expected the Americans to return, but not for a day or so. They had been surprised yesterday, he assumed they would carefully plan a full up assault on his position, maybe tomorrow, more likely the day after. The Amis, when lacking artillery or air support tended to be cautious. I recall General Patton had a quote, "A good plan violently executed works better than a perfect plan next week", and the Americans didn't even follow their own playbook.

    1. One thing that always worried the Soviets, we wouldn't follow our own playbook.

      And perfect is the enemy of good enough.

      I enjoy Chris Hernandez' writing, he's a good man.

    2. Hey AFSarge;

      And the Soviets being Soviets would follow their doctrine, no matter the casualties. Even in peacetime casualties are acceptable to their doctrine.

  7. That went smoother than I expected. Lt. Paddock chose... wisely in the format of the patrol unit and chose wisely in the new sergeant.

    And, yeah, trained woodsmen are scary. Knew a guy who could sneak wearing full plate (with the courtesy of felt washers...) and he wasn't small (6'5, 300lbs.) Being able to move properly in the woods is a very very good skill to have. So is being able to move properly in the city.

    Good story, and good character development.

    1. Yesterday's post was a hard one to write, you get to know your characters and it's painful when one is lost. It's war, it's inevitable.

      But it still sucks.

      Thanks Beans.

  8. Another 250 yards of blood. I think a lot of "modern" merkins would do themselves a large by thinking long and hard about such things.

    Great post as usual. Extremely riveting. Waning Octobler moon here in 2020. I like the night. Thanks!

    1. There are actually a couple of websites out there which will give you the phases of the moon, sunrise, sunset, and the like for that area of the world back in 1944. It's pretty cool that someone recorded all that.

      Now if I could just find the weather for back then!

      Thanks Shaun!

  9. (Don McCollor)...A bright fire, perhaps a whiff of smoke with night adaptation lost? I'd rather be cold than dead. With night adapted vision even the faint reflected lighter glow from the trees should be visible to a suspicious (and hostile) mind. [I'm no woodsman, but is it amazing what you can see and hear at night in quiet and with no artificial light]...

    1. Building a fire, even a small one, is very tempting. And a very good way to die...

    2. Back in Basic Training they told us at night if you **have** to look at some artificial light, to cover one eye. Think of how many have died lighting up a cigarette or having a campfire

  10. Another good one, Sarge, & I'm looking forward to see how Hernandez comes out--cautiously. Doesn't pay to count on anybody's longevity in combat.
    I do have a gentle suggestion (as it seems I often do--someday I'll do it once too often & get blocked or something):
    Second indent--"his company commander had forbade it": "had forbidden".
    Last section--"in denial over Graves death": s/b "Graves' death".
    I do enjoy your writing, and I'm not trying to be pedantic; I'm a language freak, & they just jump at me. I can't help it. Hey, I'm a victim! There must be government money in it somewhere!
    Don't worry, I have more dignity than that. Blessings to you & yours,
    --Tennessee Budd

    1. I have to admit, I like the word "forbade," though it didn't fit there. As to my possessives, I seem to screw those up a lot. All corrections made. I hate making mistakes but hey, I need the corrections otherwise I'd be a mess!

      What, what, government money? Oh wait, that's not like us, is it? 😉

      Thanks Tennessee Budd!

  11. I figure any corrections made now won't need to be made should you decide to publish this in another form; still, someone criticizing your writing can't be easy to tolerate (it isn't for me, even when I know they're right!).
    Although I try to avoid it, a certain pedantic air always comes with such. That's better than any air of pederasty, though, none of which attaches to me, for which I'm thankful!
    Like you, the only government money I ever took I earned. I don't even like getting a tax refund--that means I've given them an interest-free loan!
    --Tennessee Budd

    1. Indeed, I can fix it now, or I can fix it later. Either way, errors must be corrected!

      Yes, no interest free loans to Uncle Sam!


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