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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  1. They are walking into the Shu mines?

    1. There are no Schützenmine 42s involved, they used S-Mines (Bouncing Betties) and Teller mines (anti-tank). The Schützenmine 42 is different from the S-Mine.

      But yeah, they'll be walking into something bad if they're not careful.

  2. Unpredictable - if you have some idea of what to expect, you can mentally prepare. Not knowing what to expect can be wearying.

    1. Drove the Russians nuts, that's for sure.

    2. What was that line about war being very chaotic, which was why Americans were so good at it?

  3. "For what we are about to receive"....might be what a few are thinking along with cussing the rain.

  4. With rain degrading already poor visibility, walking into mines, ambush or both is increasinfly lukely

    1. Ah, you see the problem. Now, how will the men handle it?

  5. I feel like this all ends very badly.

    I cannot imagine how terrifying it would feel to have a tank start to fishtail on you.

    1. It can't turn out well, for either side. The Hürtgen was a miserable battle.

      As to tanks fishtailing, big, heavy vehicle on a slope, yeah, that has to be scary.

  6. Now I'll be thinking about the possible happenings for the rest of the day - successful link up with the other group? stay to reinforce or move to contact? mines before that? somehow avoiding mines on the way up but reinforcements not avoiding them? snipers deployed for more intel and maybe taking out high value target(s) in a sniper initiated assault? the mind boggles at this point ... oh yeah, what happens to the water gathering party?

    1. Many things could happen, most of them not good.

      Ah, the water party, you've given me an idea. 😁

  7. With that many Shermans, I wonder if any are ones equipped with a 105mm howitzer? A little mountain howitzer fun could aid the Americans quite well in the woods. But, of course, the way Murphy works, that tank will be the one that either slides off the trail or gets blown up by a mine.

    Interesting setup you have going there. I think I played one Squad Leader scenario like this, though on the Eastern Front and obviously with Russians instead of Americans. Uphill against dug-in troops in the woods with artillery support? Tough going. Without artillery? Not as tough going, but mines and booby-traps tip the odds back into the Germans' hands.

    Unless our fearless platoon does something funky and underhanded and sneaky and twisted, yaknow, like they tend to do, it will be a very hard fought action.

    Makes me wonder. The Americans have skilled woodsmen. The Germans have skilled woodsmen. The Americans have good snipers. The Germans have good snipers. I foresee a potential Calvinball episode of skilled woodsmen snipers stumbling into other skilled woodsmen snipers in the middle of the night during a rainstorm.

    And yeah, the water-gathering party...

    1. I'm still not sure how this is going to play out, I won't really know until I start writing. I even surprise myself sometimes!

    2. My first thought when I got to the end of today's piece was "I should have waited until tomorrow to find out what happens".
      When you finish put it together in an ebook and I'll buy it to read all over again, this is a good story!

    3. There are some who wait until I've done three or four installments, then read them all at once.

      This will become a book at some point in time, maybe more than one book.

  8. These are like the old radio serials! You keep us hanging!

  9. If I was Pedley, and I lived, I wouldn't look at another tree if I could help it. Man, this is good.

    The title is like the foreboding music in a horror movie...

  10. Hey AFSarge;

    The Anticipation.........dang.....


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