Thursday, November 12, 2020

Setting the Stage


"L.T., battalion is on the horn." Pvt John Myerson held his hand out, offering 1Lt Nate Paddock the radio handset.

"This is Red Charlie Two Leader. Over." Paddock spoke after keying the handset.

"Charlie Two, Red Leader, what's your situation up there? Over." Paddock recognized Captain Josephson's voice, the commander of 1st Battalion.

"Krauts have cleared out, they left a lot of junk behind, but they took their wounded and dead with them. Lot of bloody bandages around, we hit them hard. They even evacuated the dead Panther crewmen. Over."

"Roger that, send out a patrol to sweep to your front, about 500 yards out, if you can. Over."

"Copy all, will do. Over."

"Tell 'em to be cautious Charlie Two. Out."

With that the battalion commander broke the connection. It made sense to see how far back the Germans had gone. No sense just sitting atop the hill, wondering where the enemy was. Paddock told Hernandez, his platoon sergeant, to go around the position telling the men to improve their overhead cover. He had no doubts that the Krauts might lob a few mortar rounds their way. He also told his platoon sergeant to have Jenkins' second squad report to him.

"Makes sense L.T., Jenkins only has one new recruit, the other squads have quite a few, 'bout half I think. I'll send them to you."

Hauptmann Jürgen von Lüttwitz looked at the men before him, forty-two men were all that was left of the 5th Company. Battalion had indicated that replacements would be waiting for them at the railhead in Düren, provided Allied bombing hadn't destroyed the place.

Major Kaltenbach had explained that there was a distinct possibility that the 5th Company would become part of Kampfgruppe¹ Kaltenbach  rather than retain its identity as a separate company within the 2nd Battalion of the 983rd Grenadier Regiment. He didn't know yet, while von Lüttwitz hoped to have his company rebuilt, he also knew that travel by rail was nearly as dangerous as being at the front.

"So Hauptmann von Lüttwitz, plan "B" is to assimilate a company of Sturmgeschützen², a platoon of combat engineers, and the remnants of 2nd Company from the 1st Battalion. That would also mean that our division would be disbanded. Again. I don't know of any plans, yet, to put the survivors of the 275th Infantry Division into another unit. We scarcely have a thousand men left." Kaltenbach explained.

"So plan "A" depends on the state of the rail lines between here and Düren and from there to, I assume, Bonn?" Von Lüttwitz did not want to travel by rail.

"Precisely. But we're still waiting to hear from Corps Headquarters. I will keep you informed. In the meantime, go talk with the commander of 2nd Company, an Oberfeldwebel Braun. Last roster I received from him, he had sixty-three men under his command."

"All of 2nd Company's officers are dead?"

"No, there were three survivors, all badly wounded but expected to live."

"Damn it. Very well, Herr Major, I shall go speak with Oberfeldwebel Braun immediately." Von Lüttwitz almost gave the traditional salute, then he remembered that officially, that was frowned upon. So he gave the Hitler salute along with the obligatory "Heil Hitler." Which made him want to vomit. If the Führer no longer trusted the Army, why didn't he have his goddamned SS men out here at the front?

"So Jake, I want your section to cover us as we move, set up your B.A.R.... Well Hell, you know all this stuff right? How long were you in the hospital?" Sgt Greg Jenkins was a little antsy about his new section leader, Cpl Jake Johnston, he knew the guy had been around, but he'd been in the 18th Infantry before being wounded, not the 26th.

"I was hit on D + 10, f**king sniper. Good thing he was a bad shot, but he was good enough to put me in the hospital for three months. The docs said I was lucky to be alive, two inches lower and three to the left, I'd be singing soprano. Do you know how long it took to not walk with a limp? Yeah, Sgt Jenkins, I know how to provide overwatch. You guys move, we cover. Then we move, etc. Do you expect the Krauts to be close?"

"I don't know Jake, the f**kers chewed us up when we were trying to take this hill. I guess we must have chewed them up a bit as well."

"I heard back at the Repple Depple that the Krauts were reduced to nothing but old men and young boys." The new kid chimed in with that bit of nonsense.

"I tell ya what Private Roberts, you don't need to be a crack trooper to sit in a trench and pull a trigger. The Krauts still have lot of tough bastards in their army. Just hope we don't run into any of those SS bastards. They're tough and they're f**king crazy to boot!" Pvt Henry McTeague, the squad's B.A.R. man was getting tired of hearing about the "old men and young boys" crap. 

"Well, that's what I heard..."

"Hear this rookie, shut the f**k up. Just do what you're told and..." PFC Mike Cantwell chimed in, he didn't like the new guys, all they were good for was drawing Kraut fire, best not to get to close to them in a fire fight.

"All right, knock it off." Jenkins got the men settled down. Shortly thereafter, they moved out.

"What did you see Greg?" 1Lt Paddock was debriefing the patrol's leader after 3rd Squad's trip down the hill, on the German side.

"Krauts are dug in on the next ridge. There don't seem to be many of 'em. But they got enough MGs up there to hurt anybody going up that slope."

Jenkins and his squad had gotten almost to the valley floor between their hill and the next ridge. Cpl Johnston had noticed a good vantage point just before they hit the valley. From there he and his squad leader had gotten a look at the German positions. They were pretty well entrenched.

"Frankly Sir, there's a great spot where we could call in artillery on the bastards. Let the guns do the work." Sgt Jenkins showed Paddock where on the map he and Johnston had glassed the enemy positions.

"Clear line of sight Greg?"

"Yessir, we could drop 105 millimeter on 'em all day. The observation position ain't obvious, it's just got a good line of sight. They would need to get real lucky to spot the observer."

"Let me get with battalion, see if we can't arrange something. Get your guys some chow, oh, and go thank Stump."

With a puzzled expression Jenkins asked, "For what, Sir?"

"His guys improved your squad dugouts while you were out hiking. You've got good overhead cover if the Krauts decide to his us with artillery."

"Excellent, I shall thank the man, Sir."

Battalion liked the idea of hitting the Germans with steel, as Cpt Josephson put it, "We've spilled enough of our blood in this f**king forest. Let the Germans bleed now. I'll get back to you Nate, see if regiment can get us some guns!"

The German unit which had replaced Hauptmann von Lüttwitz's company on the other side of the valley were, almost entirely, composed of older reservists and recent draftees. While the older men were combat veterans, most of them had last seen duty in 1918. The average age of the recent draftees was around 17.

They were in for a very nasty welcome to the Hürtgenwald.

¹ Battle group
² Assault guns, turretless armored vehicles mounting a powerful cannon.

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  1. Quite the view from the former German trench and not too cold from the lack of coats on the GIs.

    1. This time of year over there can be mild. Can also be crappy cold and wet!

    2. Just wait 5 minutes for the weather to change. One minute, warmish and clear, next minute cold and foggy and everything's drippy and then random sleety moments.

      The joys of a temperate climate forest. Anywhere. In Fall.

  2. My college buddy was in artillery. He told me about "rolling thunder", I think it was called DCMP. Nope, DPICM. He told me how it worked and what it left behind.

    Looking at your story, I can see how developments like that were pursued. That forest, what a meat grinder...

    1. Artillery can ruin your whole day. 'Tis better to give than receive. 😉

    2. By late '44, the American cannon-cocker had a whole buncha tricks to use. And were basically the top of the class in being artillerymen. The Russkies had weight and volume, but the Amis had fire direction, varieties of fuses and top quality in all their products.

  3. It is interesting Sarge - I had not given it much thought until your series - how the development of artillery in the 20th Century seems as revolutionary in it’s use as it was in the 15th century (in that case as a siege instrument).

  4. Hey AFSarge;

    That's something the Americans did, we like our Artillery, but not like the Soviets man they liked it to another level, Ours was more precise, the Soviets was more indiscriminate...but they had a lot more of it. The "Old Men and Boys" comment was something that the newbies would say from the repple depot mostly to reassure themselves but the veterans are tired of hearing it because the "old men and boys" are still fighting and killing their friends so it is a sore subject. Another excellent post :)

  5. The new Germans need to remember the Artillery's Target Prayer: "For what we are about to receive..."

    Glad our Germans are out of range, so far. Though I wouldn't put it past some HQ weenie to shove them right back into the hole that the new ridge will become, and sucking up what few survivors are left.

    Very good story.

  6. The Americans could hit the hill hard with arty, and then arrange for the occasional TOT, when the arty has the opportunity. Just to let the Germans know we care. Can 81mm and 4.2 mortars do TOT? They would be more likely than the 105s to have the available tubes. A mortar TOT, and then nine following rounds from each tube, several times a day, would be found wearisome by the Germans.

  7. With two MG 42s, that OP will take some taking!


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