Tuesday, November 24, 2020

What the Hell Is That Guy Doing?

(Source)

Pfc. Herman Shapiro and Pvt. Robert Jennings were sharing a foxhole forward of the front line. A listening post they were told, another man had called it an observation post. Shapiro had thought it odd that the L.T., 1st Lt. Nathan Paddock, had sent both of the platoon messengers out on outpost duty. He'd mentioned that to the platoon sergeant, Sgt. Stephen Hernandez, who was quick to point out the logic of what the lieutenant was doing.

"Look Herm, you and Bob are buddies right? Bob is green as Hell and you're teaching him how to do his job and stay alive, right"

"I get that Sarge but we're messengers, we should be back at the platoon CP with the L.T., case he needs to send a message." Shapiro could be argumentative at times, Hernandez understood it was just his way of making you explain yourself. It was irksome, but he was a good kid who worked his ass off when needed.

"Hey, he's got the radio right? It's not like we're spread out all over Hell and gone is it? When the boss says everybody does outpost duty, he means everybody. Would you want Bob out here with one of the platoon guys? A guy he doesn't know?"

"Yeah, okay, you're right Sarge."

Now they were out in front of the platoon, with their borrowed field glasses they had a clear view of the German entrenchments on the next ridge. At the moment Jennings was using them, he had been scanning the other side when he stopped, Shapiro heard him mutter something.

"Whattaya got Bob?"

Handing over the field glasses, Jennings said, "Take a look, near that big pine. What the Hell is that guy doing?"

Shapiro took the field glasses and looked towards where Jennings had said, sure enough, there was a Kraut, an officer from the looks of him, squatting in front of the German trench, waving his hands around while he looked down at the guys in the trench.

(Source)

Oberleutnant Erwin Herzig was squatting in front of the trench, he had been inspecting the lines when he'd heard the two young soldiers complaining about their rations. He had taken it upon himself to instruct these young men as to the importance of sacrifice.

"Did you know that people on the Home Front are also making great sacrifices for the war effort? Sometimes they don't eat as well as we do here at the front. The Führer demands that the entire Reich support the war effort, how dare you complain about the food, you are eating better than the people back home!"

Paulus Ackner, a 16-year old Grenadier from Aachen, now behind the American lines, looked at his friend Grenadier Günter Schmidt, a 17-year old from Silesia, in amazement. Before he could utter a word, the NSFO spoke again.

"Do you have something to add to the discussion Ackner? You are from Aachen, I've seen your record," turning to the other men in the trench Herzig shouted, "I've seen all of your records!"

Herzig continued, "I'm surprised you haven't been brought up on charges for abandoning your city. No doubt your family are all doing slave labor for the Americans now, if they haven't been shot already!" Herzig had nearly screamed that last phrase, the flecks of spittle sprayed the men nearby as he ranted at the two young soldiers.

Ackner said, "I wasn't in Aachen when it fell, I was here, in the Hürtgenwald undergoing training and..."

"Excuses, my dear boy, will not save you. The Führer demands..."

"The Führer demands far too much of these lads, Herr Oberleutnant. And you really should get down in the trench, we are in clear view of the American lines here." Unteroffizier Manfred Sauer, commanding the 1st Platoon, the platoon which the two young soldiers belonged to, said casually. His MP 40 machine pistol was pointed in a direction which the NSFO took as a threat.

"How dare you Unteroffizier!" As he said that, he stood up, hands on his hips, trying to look menacing.


Shapiro had sent Jennings back to bring up the platoon's sniper team, recently promoted Corporal Charlie Gammell and his spotter Pfc. Jackson "Bear" Hebert. He'd been intercepted by Sgt. Hernandez, who quickly approved the idea.

Gammell was watching through his rifle scope, he chuckled and said, "Guy looks like a Kraut officer, but he's dancing around like a damned monkey."

Hebert chimed in, "Yup, I can't make it out really well, but by his cap and the epaulettes on his greatcoat, guy's a company grade officer. Top?"

While technically Sgt. Hernandez wasn't a first sergeant, or "top" sergeant, he was the top NCO in the platoon, so a lot of the men had started to call him "Top." He didn't mind, he had come up with the sniper team and had been watching the antics of the German on the other side through his own field glasses. "What the Hell is that guy doing, trying to get killed?"

"I say we oblige him Top, he has a death wish, who are we to deny him?" Shapiro hated the Nazis, not quite with the intensity of Cpl. Katz, but as a Jew he knew them to be the enemy of his blood.

Hernandez tapped Gammell on the shoulder, "Take him Charlie..."


Sauer blinked as he felt wetness splash over his face, he had heard a wet "splat" at the same time. The Oberleutnant had a surprised look on his face, what was left of his face anyway, as a large part of it had been ripped apart by an enemy bullet.

Herzig's head had snapped to his left, stunning him, he was still very much alive, though he was in shock and didn't quite understand what had just happened to him.


Gammell swore as he worked the bolt on his M1903 Springfield, "F**king gust of wind."

He settled his cheek into the butt stock of his rifle, let out his breath and squeezed the trigger. The report of the rifle surprised him, as it always did.


Sauer hated this prig of a Nazi, but that didn't stop him from reaching up to pull Herzig down into the trench, at the same time he bellowed, "Sanitäter!"¹ As he reached up and gripped the Oberleutnant's greatcoat sleeve, Herzig grunted. Sauer heard a dull "thunk," a sound familiar to him when he had been a pig farmer with his father. It sounded as though someone had hit Herzig in the back with a meat cleaver.

Herzig's eyes were looking from one side to another, he wasn't seeing anything really, just blurs, things were happening much faster than his brain could process them, yet, time seemed to have slowed as well. He was thinking of his home as the second American bullet took him squarely in the back, deflecting down off his shoulder blade, passing through his left lung, then deflecting down into his liver, where it stopped.

A great gout of blood spurted from Herzig's mouth as the blood from his destroyed lung had nowhere else to go but up his throat. He couldn't breathe and the pain from his wounds overrode the shock.

Sauer had him on the bottom of the trench now.

"Damn it Herzig, stay with me! Sanitäter!! Where the f**k is Krause!!" Sauer was gripping Herzig's hand, he couldn't see, other than the poor bastard's ruined face, where else he was hit. It had all happened so fast.

"Sauer, move!" Unteroffizier Peter Krause, the Sanitäter, jumped into the trench. Gefreiter Karl-Heinz Köhler, "Opa" to the men, was with him. It had been his squad this idiot Nazi had been haranguing.

"Roll him!" Krause ordered, pulling on the injured man's left arm to see his back. The facial wound, while extremely painful, didn't look fatal, even though most of the man's right cheek was missing. When he had Herzig on his back, he saw the entry wound. "Scheiße!"

Krause used his combat knife to cut Herzig's greatcoat and tunic open. Herzig had been hit high up on the left side, Krause thought that the bullet had probably deflected off of his shoulder blade then down into his lung. Herzig coughed and another gout of blood spilled all over Krause's trousers.

"Opa, we need a stretcher, I can't begin to treat this man other than to plug this wound, he's bleeding internally." Köhler immediately climbed from the trench and went to get a stretcher, there was one not far away, maybe twenty meters. Krause checked Herzig's pulse again.

Nothing.

"Shit, shit, shit!" Krause screamed in frustration, throwing the bloody wad of cloth he had been using to try and stem the bleeding from Herzig's back.

Köhler had returned with the stretcher, but he saw it was no longer needed. The young NSFO's eyes stared blankly to the overcast skies above. He would torment the company no more.


"Nice shot Charlie, you got him high up on his back, definitely a kill shot." Hebert had watched through the field glasses as Gammell's first round sent the enemy officer's cap flying, snapping the man's head to the left. Then he'd watched as the second round had dropped the enemy officer to his knees.

Hernandez, Shapiro, and Hebert had watched the scene play out through their field glasses some 200 yards away. Gammell had seen everything through his rifle scope. He'd chambered another round as he didn't think the target was dead, just hit real bad. Then he'd seen the man pulled down into the trench by unseen hands.

He hadn't fired when the German medic and another man had jumped into the trench, they'd come out of the brush behind the trench too quickly for that, also the medic's vest and helmet were clearly white and marked with the red cross. That had made him hesitate for just long enough that the shot wasn't worth taking.

When the second man had jumped back up and run to the rear, Hernandez had told Gammell to hold his fire. "We did enough, we don't want to give away our position, they have snipers too."


"You tried to save the man?" Hauptmann Jürgen von Lüttwitz asked, somewhat incredulously, "I thought you hated him?"

Sauer looked down at his boots, Herzig's blood was all over him, "I did hate him Sir, but when he got hit, I acted the same as I would with any man. I mean, would you have done differently Sir?"

"No, I don't suppose I would have." Von Lüttwitz sat down heavily at his desk, another letter to write. What would he say about this young man whom nearly everyone in the company was either afraid of, or despised? What could he write to this boy's parents?

"Sir?"

Shaking himself from his brief reverie, von Lüttwitz looked up at his old comrade, "What is it Manfred?"

"When you write the letter, don't lie to them about their son. I mean his father is a party big shot or something, right? Tell them he died a good National Socialist. I mean, that's all he was good at wasn't it? He certainly wasn't a soldier." Sauer finished his little speech, and waited.

"Well, he's the best sort of National Socialist now, isn't he?"

"Yes Sir, that he is." With that, Sauer snapped his heels together and saluted. Turning, he left his commander to his letter writing.





¹ Medic!!

Author's Note: Beginning with this post I'm going to start using the official U.S. Army abbreviations for the men's ranks. I haven't done that before, I'm starting now, I have been remiss. Better late than never, neh? The source of which is here. Well, one of the sources. That one has some good pay information as well.

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40 comments:

  1. Fanatics love to ignore reality, don't they.
    Live demonstration of - if it's stupid, and it doesn't work, it's even more stupid.
    Frank

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    1. To paraphrase Pericles - Just because you do not take an interest in reality doesn't mean reality won't take an interest in you.

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  2. Well, that was quick. Probably a good thing Charlie didn't have an M1C. He could have gotten his second round off quicker, and maybe had time to get Sauer, too.

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    1. Sauer stayed down, he might have killed Opa and/or Krause.

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  3. I would think there would have been blunt trauma to the heart, from the blow of the temporary wound channel, to the pericardium.

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  4. Watching as our current NSFOs are trying to tear everything down, so they can lord it over the ruins, makes this event a bit of a morale booster.
    Frank

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  5. "When you write the letter, don't lie to them about their son. I mean his father is a party big shot or something, right? Tell them he died a good National Socialist. I mean, that's all he was good at wasn't it? He certainly wasn't a soldier." Sauer finished his little speech, and waited.

    "Well, he's the best sort of National Socialist now, isn't he?"

    Sarge, this is a gem.

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    1. Thanks Toirdhealbheach Beucail!

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    2. “What’s it like to take a human life?” “I wouldn’t know, I‘ve only killed Nazis...” (aplogies to Rafał Gan-Ganowicz)

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    3. One of my favorite quotes (the Rafal Gan-Ganowicz.) Poles have a certain way of phrasing the truth...

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  6. That was resolved rather quickly.

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    1. In some ways I wanted to drag that story line out a bit longer, but it was disrupting my mental flow as to the rest of the book. At first I was just going to put him out there and let him make an ass of himself with the men. Then I found the picture of the two GIs in the foxhole, in the rain and the cold, and thought, "Well, if they saw such a thing, they'd probably shoot the dumbass."

      So they did.

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  7. Heh. As I was reading this I am wondering to myself, “where is Gammel and bear when you need them?“

    I think people like Hertzig could get his fellow soldiers killed with just a report couldn’t he? Regardless of their rank?

    I don’t believe we really made an effort to shoot Medics - Saniters- did we?

    I think the Soviet equivalent to Hertzig was even more brutal.

    The opening scene of enemy at the Gates, when the new Soviet soldiers are thrown into the Caldron of Stalingrad they are given the following speech by the commissar

    “Move forward. When the man in front of you falls take his rifle. Try to retreat and we will shoot you. “

    Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

    I suspect they did shoot many of their own soldiers.

    By the late 1944 it’s hard to believe there could still be Nazis Dash true believers.

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    1. By the time Adolf Hitler came into power in 1933 with promises to revive the country’s former might, the German public was ready for it. Hitler immediately began to openly flout the treaty. As he brought Germany’s secretive postwar military into the open, they began pledging their loyalty directly to him. From 1934 on, the German military oath was sworn to Hitler himself—and it contained a clause that promised “unconditional obedience.”

      That rule was taken seriously during the lead up to World War II and the conflict itself. At least 15,000 German soldiers were executed for desertion alone, and up to 50,000 were killed for often minor acts of insubordination. An unknown number were summarily executed, often in the moment, by their officers or comrades when they refused to follow commands. (Source)


      Also, as the war went on and the realization that they had lost the war unless a miracle occurred began to sink in amongst the Nazis, many felt that any and all means necessary should be used to fight to the finish. Many of those diehards knew there would be a reckoning after defeat, so they fought to the bitter end.

      Hitler himself had no interest in preserving Germany in the event of defeat, he felt that the Germans deserved to be destroyed as they had proven themselves "unworthy" of their Führer. Towards the end, Hitler was quite insane, though he'd been rather "off" for most of his life. Evil or insane? A little of both I think.

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    2. Why not that there would be die-hard believers by 1945? We are still dealing with die-hard believers of the Soviet Union. Of Communist China. Of our own followers of Woodrow Wilson and FDR.

      Hell, Marx and Engels have been discredited for, well, basically about 3 seconds after they published but still in this country we have more and more followers.

      Sad, very sad.

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  8. Aw, man. I was sooooo looking forward to Herzig sticking his fingers into everything and eventually Sauer or Opa whacking his nasty little arse. And then staging the death to look like a sniper or a random artillery shell or something.

    And you got the mind of a sniper or a hunter down well. "..damn wind..." indeed.

    Snipers keep you honest, somewhat. Make you dig or hide, slow your ability for fast movement of individuals.

    And then for the dimbulb to basically dangle himself like a big fat grey pinata?

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    1. Like I mentioned above, I thought about extending that character's stay, but I started writing and BOOM - dimbulb basically dangled himself out there like a big fat grey piñata. So I had Gammell take the shot...

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  9. In one respect I'm glad there was enough time to get the sniper team in play. Guess the LP/OP guys were disciplined enough not to take the shot themselves, which I gotta admit woulda been tempting. Course then the little SOB nights learned something useful. I also find myself wishing the wind had moved the second round enough to have been more painful; fatal but taking longer.
    Glad this character is no longer around to hazard our "good guys, Opa and the rest.
    Boat Guy

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    1. Truth be told, I was growing tired of the little prick.

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    2. I can certainly see how that could happen...
      BG

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  10. Hey AFSarge;

    The Germans called it "Gotterdammerung" the War in the East, it was a war to the finish, You are correct, Hitler viewed the Germans as "unworthy" of him and like a Wagnerian Opera he wanted Germany to be wiped out along with him. "When you write the letter, don't lie to them about their son. I mean his father is a party big shot or something, right? Tell them he died a good National Socialist. I mean, that's all he was good at wasn't it? He certainly wasn't a soldier." Sauer finished his little speech, and waited.

    "Well, he's the best sort of National Socialist now, isn't he?"

    "Yes Sir, that he is." With that, Sauer snapped his heels together and saluted. Turning, he left his commander to his letter writing. Man that was the "Money quote". Well done.

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    1. Reading this I was wondering if the Nazis might’ve made a song about Hertzig. As they did about Horst Wesel.

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    2. Why not? I even have a title - "Der verdammte Scheißkopf"

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    3. William mentioned above The Enemy at the Gates - Vasily Zaitsev was stalking a German sniper (called Major Koenig) who had been sent to kill him, and while the details escape me, I remember that somehow a political officer was accompanying Vasily and made the mistake of rising up to point out where Koenig was hiding when Koenig shot him. That's what gave Vasily the opportunity he needed to kill Koenig. Whether all that is true or not is up to debate, since most Soviet 'history' reported in the press was propaganda. Kinda like the press today.

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    4. It was an excellent movie, historicity aside.

      Reported in the press = propaganda.

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  11. The advancing Krauts are carrying Czech made rifles, the G24(t) which was basically the VZ24 rifle, a variant of the 8mm 98 Mauser which was in production by CZ Brno prior to the war. A couple of minor modifications for the German style sling were made and it was adopted as substitute standard for German use, G24 indicating a rifle type and (t) indicating the national origin (Tsekkoslovakia). Pretty much the same process as used for the Panzerkampfwagen 38(t) adapted from the same source, and the Browning HiPower which was widely used as the Pistole 640(b). The Germans used a LOT of equipment from captured/occupied sources.
    John Blackshoe

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    1. Good eye JB, the differences between a K98k and a G24(t) are subtle. I actually own a G24(t) bought in a gun shop in Vermont back in the late '60s early '70s. Shop owner had it labeled as a K98k, I bought it for $50. Those are fetching north of a grand these days depending on condition. I used it for hunting for few years.

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