Thursday, October 1, 2020

The Old Guy


"Tell me again how we are winning the war Herr Unteroffizier?" Grenadier Karl-Heinz Köhler asked his squad leader as he lit his pipe.

Unteroffizier Manfred Sauer sighed and looked at the man. He had to be the oldest man in the company. According to his paybook, he had been born in 1894, had fought in the First World War and had won both the 2nd and 1st Classes of the Iron Cross. As he stood there with the older man, one of the 17-year old conscripts came up and asked about the black and white ribbon in the second button hole of the older soldier's tunic.

"I mean, you have the Iron Cross 1st Class, but aren't you supposed to get the 2nd Class first, before you can win the 1st Class? Or do I have that wrong?" Grenadier Emil Lutz fancied himself an expert on the uniforms of the Wehrmacht as he'd studied them since before he was in the Hitler Youth.

Sauer looked at the young soldier and said, "Ah Lutz, you should have studied the uniforms of the Kaiser's army as well. In Grenadier Köhler's button hole is the ribbon for the 2nd Class as it was in World War I, pinned to his tunic pocket is indeed the Iron Cross, 1st Class, but look close, what do you see?"

Lutz leaned in for a good look, then said, "There is no swastika, it says 1914, not 1939. What is the 'W' for?" The youth looked puzzled, then it hit him, "Ah, 'W' for 'Wilhelm,' the Kaiser."

Köhler chuckled and said, "My, my, there is hope for the younger generation yet, it's not all 'Sieg Heil' and all glory to the GRÖFAZ."

Lutz again looked puzzled, so Sauer explained, "GRÖFAZ, it stands for Größter Feldherr aller Zeiten."

Lutz looked at his squad leader and said, "Greatest field commander of all time?"

"But of course, they didn't teach you that at school?"

Suddenly the light came on, "Oh, you're talking about the Führer?"

"With nothing but the greatest respect my boy." Köhler chuckled as he said that, drawing deeply on his pipe, which he had finally gotten to draw properly. "Be nice if we had some proper tobacco and not this ersatz nonsense."

Grenadier Lutz, suspecting that somehow the older man wasn't entirely respectful of the Reich and its leaders, said nothing. But if looks could have killed...

"How many Frenchies did you kill in the last war Opa¹?" Sauer asked.

Looking first at his squad leader, with a rather disdainful look, then at Lutz, Köhler answered, "Medal citation said 37, I doubt it was that many. It's not something I like to talk about. But I'm no stranger to killing. Seen enough of that in my day."

Lutz finally looked somewhat impressed at the grizzled old veteran. Before he could say another word, Sauer said, "Run along now Lutz, the grown ups need to talk. Go report to Obergefreiter Vogel, I think he needs help cleaning pots."

Lutz looked perturbed, but did as he was commanded. He went off, at a fast jog, to find the company cook. "Good little Nazi there, Herr Unteroffizier." Köhler shook his head as he said that.

"Be careful with that line of thought Opa, they're starting to shoot people for that sort of talk."

Drawing deeply on his pipe Köhler looked at the young NCO, "Yes, yes indeed. They're also calling up old farts like me to go back into the Army. At least I'm not with some Volkssturm² unit drilling with broom handles pretending to be soldiers. And you can stop with that 'Opa' nonsense any time, Herr Unteroffizier."

"Sorry, force of habit, you actually look like my grandfather. Maybe a little older but..."

"No disrespect Herr Unteroffizier, but kiss my arse."

Sauer chuckled, he liked this old veteran. Easier to talk to then some of the more bright-eyed youngsters fresh from the Hitler Youth and the Labor Corps. "Let's go find something to eat, old man."

"Now there's an idea, you young pup."

The front lines near Aachen, 01 October 1944
The circled divisions are those of von Lüttwitz (275th) and Paddock (1st). The red dot is the city of Aachen,

Some of the company commanders were grousing that all of the real fighting was taking place around Aachen, they wished that they could be sent down to fight the Amis there. Hauptmann Jürgen von Lüttwitz understood their ardor, he used to be like that. He spoke up, "Meine Herren, the Amis will be attacking all along the line soon, I'm sure. But we're still taking in new men, half of whom are only partially trained and barely know which end of the rifle is which, we're not ready for combat."

The battalion commander agreed with von Lüttwitz but said, "Gentlemen, I know you want back into the war, but as your colleague stated, we're not ready. Division has been talking about rotating battalions into the line near Aachen to give the men combat experience. But the American 2nd Armored Division is just over that next hill. They're preparing for something, I don't know why they haven't attacked. We could barely stop them at this point."

What the battalion commander didn't know is that the Allies were having major supply difficulties. Major General Ernest N. Harmon, commanding 2nd Armored, "Hell on Wheels," was continually screaming at corps and army headquarters to get him the supplies he needed. He claimed that he had nothing in front of him capable of stopping his outfit from driving to the Rhine. He just needed the fuel and munitions to do so.

For now it was a lack of fuel which kept the Allies away from the Reich. But that wouldn't last forever. The Germans had the time to prepare, but did they have the resources? Hauptmann von Lüttwitz and some of the older hands thought that having time to prepare would do nothing but delay the inevitable. The only question was - how many more men, women, and children had to die before the diehards realized it was futile?

¹ Grandpa
² Literally "people's storm," a national militia formed in the late years of WWII. Faced with destruction and the loss of so many men, the Nazis organized old men and boys into these units. Many of whom died facing Russian tanks in the East.


  1. Reading about that man's brother yesterday dusted up the room. I got a bit... nostalgic. Only to find a WW1 soldaten here today. and GROFAZ!! (my umlaut is at the cleaners) I didn't know, so I stopped and looked it up. Made me laugh out loud.

    Opa Kohler reminded me of a rancher I read about down in the trans-Pecos region. He was utilized by the government as an agent provacateur during WW2. He ranched on both sides of the Rio Grande, and pretended to be angry with America's involvement in the war. He attracted the attention of nazi agents in Mexico as desired. He wound up killing them all during the attempt to get them across the border into Texas.

    Oh, look at the little grandpa over there, how cute. He wiped out a nest of nazi infiltrators single handedly. Books, covers...

  2. That scraping sound......that's the bottom of the barrel the Nazis are in.......

    1. And it will only get worse...

    2. Yep. With Dad's WWII letters still fresh, he had said towards the end that they came across an increasing number of units with very young and very old troops. Dad said that their experience was that the old troops were reasonable and surrendered as circumstances warranted. The young troops- they were fanatic and fought to the end. Guess which end of the age spectrum became the priority targets to be killed? War is Hell.

    3. Kill the ones who want to fight, best way to take the starch out of 'em.

    4. I read a great book on the last few months of the War in Europe, and the most fanatical were the young soldiers straight from the Hitler Youth - armed with Panzerfausts..

      But then all they knew was Hitler and the Nazis in their young lives.

    5. Very true, it was what they grew up with, they knew no other way.

  3. Change the names, change the titles, sounds like every war-weary, crusty, EM that ever was.

  4. Hey AFSarge;

    I was wondering when the "Opa's" were going to show up and the way you incorporated him into the unit was brilliant, but the old guy was right, most of them were sent into the Volksturm and along with the HJ and sent to fight the T34's of Marshall ZhuKov's Belarusian front and a lot of them wouldn't survive that. If memory recalls, this is when the fuel and supplies got diverted to Monty and Patton's units "ran out of gas, but they were trucking it all the way from Normandy on the red ball express and factoring in the pilferage to the black market in Paris, no wonder supplies were an issue.

    1. We're now in early October and yes, most of the supplies were diverted to Monty for Operation Market Garden in September, his "pencil-like thrust" into the Reich. It took a while to sort that out.

  5. I think I hear trucks in the distance. Red Ball Express?

    Chocolate cake.

    1. Love that movie, inaccurate though it be.

    2. Here's the documentary you were looking for...

  6. Shades of why Dunkirk occurred - that is, a victorious army pushing really hard reaches the end of it's ability to be supplied at the same time the equipment is worn down, the men are worn down. Then some bright flyboy says "We can do it!" and yeah...

    The stall during late fall and early winter was needed. Men were tired, equipment was tired, resources were strained. Which, of course, led to the Bulge, but we're not there.... yet. But the front was feeling it bad.

    As to GRÖFAZ? Snide political nicknames are nothing new. And how can the Nazis consider it an insult since it's part of the propaganda they used to shore up the Little Corporal? (Yeah, I know, they had noooo sense of humor or irony at all.)

    Thanks for the quick intro for differences between WWI and WWII Iron Crosses. Interesting. But then again, we (the US Military) went from medals to what seems to be merit badges. I often wonder what would happen if Ike or Patton or Pershing time traveled to today and walked into the Pentagon, what they would think about today's obsession with ribbons for all? (And what exactly Patton would say, out loud, for all to hear?)

    Let us hope Opa and Sauer somehow get surrounded without the little Nazis getting them all killed by their fanaticism or stupidity or both. (Am I reading your mind again?)

    1. The Nazis didn't object to the term GRÖFAZ, but Köhler mocking the term would certainly be frowned upon.

      Too many "I show up for work on time" decorations out there, I agree.

    2. Compare Chester Nimitzes fruit salad, with a GOFO of today.

    3. Think you used a big enough link Scott?

    4. I don't know why it is so large. You can delete it, if you wish.

    5. Negative, lots of good pictures of the Admiral.

    6. or...

    7. Same pictures, shorter path. There's a knack to finding just the right URL!

  7. "Amateurs talk tactics, but pros talk supply logistics"

    The supply issue reminds me of the line in Patton, where George C Scott is looking at the German destruction and saying but for a few lousy gallons of gasoline he could be in Berlin.

    Despite his propensity for killings, I am starting to like Sauer.

    I don't think a combat veteran would ask another "how many he killed", but then that guy was a youngster.

    1. Yup, kids will ask the dumbest questions.

    2. Sauer seems to be like many country folk. Used to blood, used to having to do hard things. Just look at how many city-folk today freak out when they see where their food comes from. City-folk seem to not want to make the connections between 'pretty farm animals' (obviously nobody who'd ever been around actual farm animals) and the food on the shelves or on the plate.

    3. Good observation Beans, you like Sauer. So do I.

  8. The people's storm armed with bed knobs and broomsticks, serving as props in a lost war. The Nazis and the SS have to be the most evil of enemies in all the history of the world. If I'm wrong, please shock me.

    1. The Japanese were up there. That’s what my ex neighbor, the marine pacific vet was saying.

      They did everything the Nazis did except mass extermination camps. The Japanese would just shoot Chinese at will bayonet babies medical experiments labs and for the most part they were not held as accountable as the Germans

    2. Which the Chinese have not forgotten.

    3. Well, you have the Soviets who got the better publicity but did basically the same thing the Nazis did.

      Then the ChiComs who made mass-murder a political movement.

      The North Koreans.

      The North Vietnamese.

      The Khmer Rouge.

      Communist Cuba under Che!'s and Fidel's rule.

      The Huttus.

      Post WWII Argentina.

      Hmmm... You know what? All of the ones mentioned, including the Nazis but excluding the Japanese, were or are... socialist/communist regimes.

      Well, and the final years of the Ottoman Empire, as the Armenian Genocide was real, contrary to what is being taught in schools or what the State Department says.

      Then there's... the PLO...

      The Nazi's just get the worst press. Often by people who were or are just as bad, if not worse.

    4. Well put, all accurate. The world is full of scary assholes.

  9. You used to have to be pretty bright and tough to make 50. Today sexagenarian-going-on-17 types abound. Me, for instance. Glad I'm not wearing a stahlhelm and dragging a K98k around the German countryside...

    Fun read Sarge, thanks!


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