Tuesday, October 20, 2020

The Attack

(Screen Capture)

Hauptmann Jürgen von Lüttwitz, Hauptfeldwebel Hasso Schmitz, the company sergeant major or Spieß, and von Lüttwitz's radioman, Obergefreiter Werner Huber, were with Unteroffizier Sauer at his platoon CP. Der Spieß, Schmitz, had managed to scrape together an understrength third squad for Sauer's platoon by combing out some of the extraneous personnel in the company train.

These men were trained soldiers, but they normally fulfilled other duties, not involving combat. They were the company supply sergeant, Unteroffizier Beppo Fischer, the company clerk Grenadier Johannes Schwartz, the assistant armorer, Gefreiter Emil Müller, the company tailor, Grenadier Leopold Beck, the company cobbler, Grenadier Gottfried Kraus, and the three horse drivers, as the company had only one horse, to pull the field kitchen, these men had little to do. They were all Grenadiers by rank, and were Clemens Busch, Hermann Pohl, and Konrad Jansen.

When these men filed into the defenses, beefing up the rifle contingent significantly, one of the men quipped, "We have the tailor and the cobbler, so at least we can keep our uniforms and boots repaired!" To which Hauptfeldwebel Schmitz replied, "You'll need a Sani¹ to pull my boot out of your ass, see to your front Grenadier Böhm!" Which earned him a look from the captain, von Lüttwitz, der Spieß thought, coddled the men. Von Lüttwitz thought Schmitz was an old-fashioned Prussian bully, more concerned with square bashing than with soldiering.

Before he could chide his company sergeant major, Opa Köhler, sitting close by, bellowed "INCOMING!!"

The more experienced men recognized the sound of an incoming 60 mm mortar round and dove for cover. The round hit with devastating effect before all of the men could get under cover. The machine gun position manned by Grenadiers Hermann Dietrich and Hans Bauer was hit dead on.

By a simple stroke of bad fortune, this round fell without hitting any of the trees overhead and detonated right on top of the machine gun position manned by the two men, even had they been inside their dugout, they probably would have died. As it was, the fragmentation from that round tore into Dietrich's chest and into Bauer's back. Bauer was killed instantly, the Sanitäter, Peter Krause managed to pull Dietrich into the dugout and went to work on him immediately.

Unteroffizier Wolf Schneider, leader of 2nd Squad, slid into the dugout and swore loudly, Dietrich's MG 42 was badly damaged, the barrel and its sleeve were bent. Though the barrel could be swapped out, the sleeve would need replacing. Now the position was down to one machine gun.

Von Lüttwitz had been hit as well, a red-hot steel splinter had sliced his upper left arm open. Looking down at the wound, he knew it wasn't life threatening, but it hurt like Hell. As more Ami mortar rounds impacted, he yelled to his radioman, who was already talking to the mortarmen in the rear. As they had no organic mortars at the company level, Huber was talking with battalion. Seems the Americans were hitting the entire line, they would have to wait for any counterbattery fire for the moment.

Looking around for his sergeant major, he yelled at the men to stay under cover and keep their eyes down the ridge, the Amis might be right behind this barrage. He heard a weak moan after yelling for Schmitz.

"I'm here Herr Hauptmann." Schmitz was a mess. His left leg was torn to shreds just below the knee, his left arm was bloody, and he seemed to have multiple chest wounds, all superficial, but the leg looked bad.

Von Lüttwitz bellowed for the Sani, who was just coming out of the machine gun dugout, he yelled into his captain's ear, "Dietrich might live if we can get him back to the battalion aid station, Bauer is dead, and... Mein Gott Spieß, you look a fright!" Krause immediately went to work on the bloodied Schmitz.

After what felt like hours, but was probably only a few minutes, the barrage ceased.

Gammell and Hebert were both watching the German trench line from a position lower down the ridge. They were well concealed and had spent three hours the previous night working their way up the slope. A daylight look had given Hebert an idea for a hide, which they were in now. It was a natural dip in the ground surrounded by small pine trees. Cover and concealment, but they also had a fallback position, which wasn't as nice, but should protect them should they be spotted.

"See him Charlie? He's just to the left of that funny looking fir tree."

Gammell knew which tree Hebert was talking about, he had slowly scanned over to that area. There was the top of a helmet behind some torn up earth. As he watched, it dipped down, then came back up.

Another mortar round detonated behind the enemy trench line, then all went silent. Gammell and Hebert watched intently, any minute now the Krauts would be tempted to take a peek. That helmet had drawn his attention, so he watched that spot.

Krause had managed to stop the bleeding from Schmitz's leg. The chest wounds were superficial, he had cleaned those and bandaged them, the arm was not as bad as the leg, but der
Spieß needed a doctor, and soon. He bent down to check that the tourniquet on the leg was holding up, another mortar round hit and detonated to the rear of the position, which caused Krause to duck down even further. He wondered why that round had landed a good minute or two after the barrage seemed to have ended.

Next to him, Grenadier Manfred Dietz had been trying to keep an eye down the slope, expecting the Americans to follow up on their mortar barrage with an assault. But things were quiet, it bothered the experienced Dietz, though young he'd joined the regiment in early September and had seen some action. So he knew to keep his head down, but there was a dip in the front wall of the trench, imperceptible to the men in the trench, but visible from down the slope.

Gammell watched, he saw the helmet come up, a bit higher this time, he could almost discern the man's eyes underneath the brim of his helmet. Once again, he was almost surprised when his weapon recoiled against his shoulder. Sliding back down the slope, Hebert followed.

"Time to move, Bear!"

"Right behind you, Charlie!"

Dietz's head snapped back, the men around him heard the sound of something hitting, and penetrating, Dietz's helmet. A metallic snap followed by a wet sound which made them realize that Dietz was hit.

Not a sound escaped from the 18-year old from Moritzburg, about five miles north of Dresden. He slumped to the bottom of the trench and didn't move. While Krause suspected that the young infantryman was dead, he checked his pulse anyway. There was nothing. Rolling him slightly, he saw that Dietz had taken the round through his forehead.

Before anyone could react to Dietz's death, a scream came from further down the line from the position of the ad hoc squad. Followed almost instantly by the shout, "Geh runter, Heckenschütze!²

Von Lüttwitz made his way, painfully, over to Unteroffizier Beppo Fischer's position, the scream had come from his position. The captain's arm was starting to hurt a lot. Perhaps he should have let Krause bandage it, but things were happening so fast, he needed to get his people ready for what was coming. He had at least two sniper teams below his position and he began to wonder if there were more.

His company clerk, Grenadier Johannes Schwartz, was lying on his back, his helmet was gone, as was most of the top of his head. Next to him, crying and trembling was the company supply sergeant, Unteroffizier Beppo Fischer. "We're all going to die Herr Hauptmann!"

Von Lüttwitz grabbed the man by the shoulders and shook him, "Snap out of it Beppo! We're not all going to die!" Then he slapped the man, hard, causing his helmet to fly off.

Bellowing at the company assistant armorer, von Lüttwitz said, "Emil, take charge here! Beppo, you are relieved!"

"Herr Hauptmann, battalion is on the radio..." crawling towards him was his radioman, Werner Huber.

"Werner, get down!" He yelled as the radio snagged on something and Huber got up onto his knees to free it. His head snapped to the right and he went down hard. His eyes were still open, he was looking at his captain, then the light went out in those eyes.

"Everyone try and keep your heads down, but see if you can spot those snipers!" Von Lüttwitz knew they couldn't just stay hunkered down in their position. The Amis were probably at this moment working their way up the slope.

Taking the handset from his dead radioman, he spoke and realized that he had battalion on the other end. Would he need any fire from the battalion's mortars?

"Yes, on my position plus one hundred meters, close as you can! I'll correct."

From the other end of the radio he heard, "Shot out!"

Charlie Company's sniper team, Cpl Max McGraw and PFC Oswald "Okie" Charles, were in the middle of a displacement. They had the Krauts' heads down and it was as good a time as any to move. Crouching low, expecting Kraut machine gun fire with every step, they were almost at their secondary position. Cpl McGraw looked up at a whistling sound above him, "Ah shit..."

The first German mortar round, 81 mm, struck a branch about ten feet over McGraw's head. It detonated and killed both McGraw and Charles. The Germans were starting to hit back.

Baker and Charlie Companies were just beginning to move up when the German mortars began, fortunately they weren't in the zone where those rounds were landing, but all four of their sniper teams were. Captain Josephson had been watching his team move when the round went off in the tree over them.

"Goddamn it! Max and Okie are down!" He had started to move towards them when 1Sgt Morton Saeger grabbed his arm.

"Stay down Tex, it's Hawk's company now, you've got to run the whole show. Be patient, we expected the Krauts to shoot back, did ya think they were going to just run away?"

The new commander of 1st Battalion watched the slope above him. Both of his companies were in a good position to advance once the smoke started landing, but this Kraut mortar barrage had indeed surprised him. He should have known better.

"Radio, to me!" He was mad that he couldn't remember either of the battalion radiomen's names, he'd fix that if he survived this day.

"Sir!" One of the men knew what his CO wanted and was already connected with the lieutenant coordinating the mortar teams of all three companies in the battalion along with the battalion's 81 mm mortars.

"This is Josephson, who have I got on the line?"

"1Lt Bob Rittenhouse, sir, whaddaya need?"

"Hold off on the smoke, give me another 15 minutes of HE, can you? Use the 81s as well!"

"Standby sir, will you spot?"

"Negative, fire for effect!"

Von Lüttwitz was starting to feel good about holding the position, the battalion mortars had completely suppressed the enemy snipers. He had seen two men take a direct hit in the hole they had been hiding in, he doubted they would be killing any more of his men. Then the American mortars had started in again, he recognized the heavier impacts now of 81 mm mortars, a popular caliber for mortars he thought, even the Russkis use them!

Oh no, was all he could think when the first white phosphorus round detonated over his left flank. He could hear the screams as at least two of his men were burned.

"What the Hell? Get me the weapons guys again!"

"Sir, it's the Colonel..."

"This is..."

"I know who you are Tex, this is Jeff, I ordered your guys to start firing Willy Pete from the 81s. 3rd Armored is trying to work a company up an old logging trail off your right flank, we might be able to turn the Huns out of this position. Hold your assault!"

"Roger wilco, standing by."

Turning to his other radioman, who was on the internal battalion net, he was gratified to see the man already on the radio, telling the company commanders to hold their positions for now.

Looking through his field glasses he could see that the Kraut line was getting pounded.

Unteroffizier Manfred Sauer was looking everywhere for his company commander, "He must be down with 3rd Squad still..."

As he worked his way down the trench, crawling through the dirt and climbing over his huddled Landsers, he saw Opa Köhler crawling towards him.

"Opa, what the Hell is going on?"

"Von Horn is dead, three men burned, one badly, by white phosphorus, I sent a scout out to the left, he came back with the report that he could hear tank engines coming up the valley!"

"The center is all right, except that we lost our MG and at least three men. Der Spieß is down and I can't find the captain..." Sauer was trying to make sense out of the chaos swirling around him, and not succeeding.

"Hauptmann von Lüttwitz is dead." A man from further to the right flank yelled out.

"What? How is that...  Report, who said that!?!" Sauer needed to quell any panic that losing the captain could cause.

"I heard he got hit. It's me, Gefreiter Emil Müller, the armorer."

"Scheiße. We're f**ked again Manfred if that's true. But we're safer in this trench than trying to fall back."

"I agree, Opa, you have Von Horn's squad, keep them in the fight!" Sauer paused, then said, "I'm going to find von Lüttwitz!"

As Opa started back the way he'd come, he looked back over his shoulder and shouted, "Hals-und-beinbruch Junge³!"

"Keep your head down, you old fart!"

In spite of what Müller had heard, von Lüttwitz was very much alive. He was in a great deal of pain from his wounded arm, Krause thought it might actually be broken, but he was still functioning. They had taken losses but the battalion mortars had taken away the sniper threat.

"Where the Hell is Müller?" he snarled, he'd sent the man to report to Sauer that the right would hold for now. Then he'd been told that a man had claimed that he, von Lüttwitz, was dead, according to Müller. He turned to Fischer. "Do you think you can be a man again Beppo? Or are you going to cry like a little girl again?"

No one had ever seen von Lüttwitz like this, it made the old hands feel like things were under control. As they grew confident, so did the younger men.

Unteroffizier Fischer nodded and said, "I'm sorry sir, I won't fail you again. We will hold this flank or we'll die in place."

"Good, prove it but spare me the melodramatics. Just get the job done Beppo, I'm counting on you!" He clapped the man on the shoulder then began to work his way back to the center. Where he met up with Sauer.

"Jürgen! You're alive!" Sauer said in amazement, though the captain's bloody arm gave him pause.

"Yes, Manfred, alive, not exactly well, but I'm still standing. Well, still crouching in the dirt with you commoners anyway." Which actually elicited a laugh from Sauer.

"What do you mean hold our positions, Sir? There's a lot of daylight left, we can drive these Krauts, I know it."

"You'll follow orders Tex, just like everybody else, I'm coming up to your CP. Division is pretty much done with Aachen, the city is ours but we paid a heavy price for it. Your battalion is the only one still in good shape in the entire damned division. Apparently Bradley has another plan up his sleeve and we play a starring role in it."

"Ah geez, sir, just f**king wonderful, pardon my French."

"I know Tex, I know. Hold where you're at, bring Able Company back on line..."

"They're pretty messed up sir, I thought..."

"They're still in the Army last I checked, you need them closer to your front, keep 'em in reserve. I'll let you in on what's going on when I get there. Jeff, out."

As Josephson stared at the now silent handset, he said, "Now what?"

1Lt Gus Chambers, his old XO, now commanding Charlie Company, looked at his commander and said, "I'm sure whatever it is Tex, it'll be no fun."

"Yup, like the man said, we're still in the Army, ain't we?"

¹ Short version of Sanitäter, medic
² Get down, sniper!
³ Break a leg kid!


  1. While I’m sitting in the room at jury duty I’ll have to look up the Wehrmacht ranks I think a Landser is at the bottom isn’t it?

    Didn’t know the German army had traveling Tailors and cobblers in their platoons.

    I member reading something a few weeks ago —- that we think they were so mechanized and yet they relied heavily on horses

    I wonder why 81 mm was so popular with everyone?

    Well now to try to get some sleep in the remaining few hours before I report for jury duty

    But I am the first commentor 😁

    1. Gonna guess range (three and a half miles) and weight of shell (10lb HE) as well as man-portable for the 81 MM. Move and counter-move, and luck, bad and good. Tension ramps up Sarge.

    2. William - Landser is the German equivalent to our "grunt." Basically a frontline infantryman. Not a rank.

    3. Nylon12 - That would be my guess.

    4. 81mm was so popular because the Brandt mortar was so popular. A French design which was legally or illegally copied across the world. The explosive hit about as hard as a 105mm shell, but the whole mortar broke down into 3 relatively easily carried portions, and a team of 10 could carry all the equipment and a half-decent load of ammo by themselves.

      It was such a revolutionary and simple design that it basically exists today in many armies, modified or straight up the same. And some upsizing and downsizing has been done. The excellent 60mm mortar used by the US was a shrunk-down 81mm.

      Everyone used them. Except the Russians had to get weird and do theirs in 82mm, sized so that the Germans' 91mm ammo would work but the Russian ammo wouldn't work in German mortars.

      For it's size, the 81mm was just about perfect for a mid-sized mortar. Each round was heavy enough to do serious damage but light enough that the mortar teams could keep up steady fire for as long as they had ammo. The range was up to almost 3km depending on the size of the bomb. It was a rugged and easy design to use. And, well, after Germany conquered France, there were lots laying about and the factories for the mortars and the ammo were right there...

  2. I am reading Truppenfuhrer now, which was the German army’s field manual. I am not there yet but there is quite a section on cavalry - in the interwar period it was expected to play a bigger role than it did.

    1. Cavalry were active on the Eastern Front, on both sides.

  3. Mortars always interested me. Light artillery. And a simple concept. I may make a cutaway model at some point.

    In the book "Those Devils In Baggy Pants", there is a story about everyone marching through Italy, carrying a few mortar rounds. One guy had some in a shopping bag. At some time in the day, he was so tired of carrying them, he heaved them in a ditch. A buddy marching behind him grabbed them, and when they took a break, he'd sneak over to where guy 1 was napping and place them by his head. That happened a few times, until he caught on.

    I find humor in a tough situation is really important. I don't know about driving your buddy insane though. That might be a stretch...

    Great action sequence. Man oh man...

    1. Ah yes, soldiers, always thinking short term when carrying important stuff. How many guys ditch their overcoats in early October? Then bitch about how cold it is in early November.

  4. "Another mortar round detonated behind the enemy trench line, then all went silent. Gammell and Hebert watched intently, any minute now the Krauts would be tempted to take a peak."
    peek, unless they're ascending
    I'd like to pre-order the book?

    1. Fixed it. (My brain's autocorrect sucks.)

      I'll put you on the list.

  5. But why not, say, 80mm or 82mm - just to be different?

    1. Like the Russians do, oddball calibers.

    2. Because it's French (see my comment above.) Probably had something to do with some artillery officer's affection for 81mm or some company's ability to only make 81mm tubes or some long-lost stupid reason like the designer's favorite niece or dancer's initials were H.A. or something.

      And the Russians did do 82mm, just to screw with everyone as they could use 81mm rounds but regular 81mm mortars couldn't use their 82mm rounds. Inconsiderate bastiges.

  6. Replies
    1. They're pretty resourceful, don't count 'em out yet.

    2. They did scoot from their initial hole more forward to a hole farther, so hopefully they scooted far enough.

  7. Ah, nothing says messed up plans like, while in the middle of executing one set of plans, someone says, "Hold on, the General's got another idea."

    This... This will not end well.

    Mortars suck. Never actually been fired at by them but read enough to know the angle of fire makes for very effective bursts. And white phosphorus is nasty stuff.

    Good story.

    1. Old saying - "Order, counter-order, disorder."

      Far more common than is generally realized.

  8. I might add that white phosphorus is very nasty stuff. It gets on you and you cannot put it out. Just burns through your flesh.

    1. (Don McCollor)...Immersion in water will put it out. The problem is that it starts burning again on exposure to air...

  9. Hey AFSarge;

    Excellent Post, Yep the Germans were not as mechanized as we thought, their propaganda was superb though. The Germans wanted to wait 6 more years to modernize before going to war, but Hitler was impatient. The Russians made their weapons in such a manner that they could use captured war stock in their tubes, as it was 'splained to me.

    1. Gotta give it to the Rooskis, they're clever!

  10. willie peter. mud will also stop the burning. only way to get rid of it is to dig it out.

    1. (Don McCollor)...Mud would be better, taking less time to dry out. First thought of infection, but on reflection, that would be the least of the worries..

  11. Damn general's interrupting good soldiers when they actually made breakthru... bad karma...
    Mortars are staple of infantry self-support to this day. And for a reason...

    1. Well, they beat the Germans up pretty good, but there was no breakthrough. That's going to take longer.

      Mortars are good because the infantry can carry them.


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