Saturday, December 19, 2020

Ambush!

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Unteroffizier Sven Christmann stood in the commander's cupola of Sturmgeschütz 221 and looked down at the long column of American prisoners being marched back into Germany. He couldn't help but feel a certain grim satisfaction at the arrogant bastards thinking they had won the war, only to wind up in a prison camp.

He looked back at the long column behind him, three more StuGs behind him and behind them was all of Grenadierkompanie Koch, 119 men carried in thirteen Opel Lkws. and one Kübelwagen carrying the company commander, his Spieß, Hauptfeldwebel Otto Böhm, and the man driving the car, Gefreiter Lars Maier.

He thought back to the morning brief, held shortly after the entire Kampfgruppe and swarmed up the Holzwarche Ridge. All they found was a knocked out PzKw IV, a destroyed American anti-tank gun and its prime mover. It looked to Christmann that the SS hadn't bothered taking any prisoners. It was clear that they had lined up the surviving Americans and shot them.

It made him distinctly nervous about the skull and crossbones patches on his own tunic, he wondered if the Americans knew the difference. Best thing he thought, don't get captured.

After studying the map with his officers, Major von Lüttwitz decided to take the main body of the Kampfgruppe, including all of the reconnaissance assets, and send Grenadierkompanie Koch up the main road through Mürringen. One of Oberleutnant Köhler's scouts on a Kettenkrad had been up that road and past Mürringen itself. The Americans had pulled out he said. He saw American scout cars moving off towards Bütgenbach, but that was it.

The Plan
(Source)

Hauptmann Sauer wanted to take his tanks with the Grenadierkompanie, but von Lüttwitz had shot that idea down with a glance at the destroyed PzKw IV behind him. "The Americans have teeth, it was probably a lucky shot with this small AT gun, but your PzKw IIIs would have even less of a chance. Your armor is just too light Norbert."

He turned to Leutnant Günther Hornbach, commanding the Sturmgeschützkompanie, and said, "Send one of your platoons with Koch, they should be able to handle any American vehicles. They're low enough to sneak about as well."

Sauer had been upset, but he could see that von Lüttwitz's plan made perfect sense. So, here Christmann was, leading a column in the fog and the snow.


There wasn't much left of his platoon, but 2nd Lt. Jerry Holzmann had them positioned to cover the road into Mürringen. Three Shermans and a couple of squads of infantry in support, mounted in halftracks. His job was to slow any German advance past Mürringen.

He was watching from his tank as he could just make out what appeared to be a platoon of assault guns interspersed with a whole bunch of infantry on trucks. So if the Krauts wanted to come at his position, they'd have to walk, the fields were awfully messy. Though it was still snowing, the temperature was hovering around freezing, the ground had yet to freeze.

"Okay, all tanks listen up, Lance you hit the tail end vehicle, Bruce, you hit somebody near the middle, I'll take out the lead StuG. After that, kill anything still moving."

The leader of the infantry knew to hold fire until the tanks opened up. Holzmann did a three count then ordered, "FIRE!"

The Ambush
(Source)

Christmann nearly shit himself as an antitank round glanced off the Saukopf in front of him. He heard the clang of another round somewhere behind him. He turned to look and saw StuG 222 stop abruptly and slide off the road into the ditch. The vehicle began to burn, Christmann knew that Gefreiter Horst Behrmann and his crew had to be dead. As he dropped into his vehicle he heard an explosion behind him, StuG 222 was, along with it's crew, finished.

"Thorsten, right stick, pull hard Bubi! Markus when the gun comes to bear..."

"I see them, Sven, at least two Shermans!"

StuG 221 then lurched to a stop as another round hit the vehicle on the right drive sprocket, tearing it to pieces. Christmann had the bizarre thought, "Thank God we've got a spare." He was in a fight for his life and was still worried about getting his vehicle mobile again.

On his own initiative, Panzerkanonier Markus Hoffmann fired the big cannon as soon as he spotted a vehicle in his gunsight. "FEUER!! Panzerabwehr laden!"


Holzmann winced as a German tank round hit one of the halftracks, no one was onboard but those guys would have to ride the tanks back. Provided, of course, any of them survived. As his gunner sent a high-explosive round out, destroying a truck loaded with infantry, "Why weren't the dumb bastards getting out of the trucks?" he thought.

He could see two StuGs burning, one had blown up in spectacular fashion after Cpl. Bruce Walker's tank had punched a hole through the side of it just below the track. Those armor skirts won't stop a tank round, he thought.


Gefreiter Lars Maier tried to maneuver the Kübelwagen around the side of the column away from the enemy. It was slow going but it was working, the little car was handling the muddy terrain nicely. For his part, the commander of Grenadierkompanie Koch, Hauptmann Hans Koch was standing up, screaming at his men to get out of the trucks and deploy.

As the passed a gap between one truck and a burning StuG, an American high-explosive round decapitated the Spieß, Hauptfeldwebel Otto Böhm slumped down into the backseat, Maier and Koch didn't even realize that the man was dead.

"Lars, park it here, we need to get the men deployed, where the Hell is Otto?" Then he looked in the backseat. "Scheiße, Otto's had it! Let's go, you head to the rear of the column, I'll do the front."

Koch noticed then that at least two of his trucks had been destroyed with the men still in them. One was carrying an assault squad, the other contained part of his company headquarters. All thought of driving past Mürringen was forgotten, they were fighting for their survival now!


"Okay boys, I think we're done here. Lance, load up as many of the infantry as you can, Bruce you take the rest. Let's get the Hell out of Dodge!"

The snow had increased and they could only see glimpses of the road, they had killed three StuGs and at least two trucks, just before the weather had closed in Lance had scored another hit on a StuG as it was trying to deploy off the road. His round had gone straight through the roof of the vehicle and blown it all to Hell.

He figured the Krauts would be dismounting from their trucks and trying to close with his little unit which, other than the wrecked M3¹, hadn't taken any losses. They'd slowed the Kraut advance and that's all his company commander had wanted.

"Time to run away boys, so we can live to fight another day!"

As the tanks backed away from the position, one of the infantrymen fell off Sgt. Lance Ormond's tank and was crushed under the track. So much for no casualties.


Gefreiter Ernst Vogel, one of only two surviving snipers out of the original six assigned, came up to Koch and reported, "They're gone Herr Hauptmann, tracks lead northeast. A destroyed Ami halftrack and one dead man, everyone else is gone.

Hauptmann Koch surveyed the wreckage of his little command. Three knocked out assault guns, only one man of the twelve crewmen had survived unhurt, two were wounded, one badly, nine were dead. The remaining StuG was immobilized, though the crew was working hard to get the drive sprocket replaced, they had a spare, thank God.

The Spieß was dead, he had twenty other dead in his company, and five wounded. Two of his trucks had been completely destroyed. He checked his watch, it was getting late, it was getting dark. 

"All right, everybody back in the trucks except you Schneider, take your squad on foot and lead us into Mürringen!" Koch thought a moment then yelled out, "Franke, Hermann, you too, off the trucks, lead us into the town. We'll spend the night there."

He walked back to where part of his company headquarters had died, hoping that someone hadn't put all the radiomen in the same vehicle. He found Grenadier Horst Bauer at the side of the road, crying.

"Bauer, snap out of it! Is your equipment okay?"

Bauer nodded his head, his three fellow radiomen had all been on the destroyed truck. He was riding with one of the assault squads, so he was still alive. "Herr Hauptmann, my radio is functioning, I was just speaking with the Kampfgruppe, apprising them of our situation."

"Good job, Horst, stick with me from now on, you're riding in the Kübelwagen with Maier and me."

"Sir!"

(Source)

About two kilometers away, Major Jürgen von Lüttwitz handed the handset back to his radioman, he sighed.

"Problem Herr Major?" Hauptfeldwebel Klaus-Peter Keller asked, he knew that they had been expecting to link up with Koch and his attached StuG platoon, but they were late.

"Koch was ambushed outside Mürringen, three StuGs lost, two trucks, and he's lost thirty-seven men. Disaster, utter disaster. He's in Mürringen now, the Amis abandoned the town. We'll push on in the morning. Tell the men no cookfires, we are in enemy territory now."

"Yes Sir. Until the morning then..."





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50 comments:

  1. That's one hellava big hole in that knocked out AG, wouldn't want to meet the Commie gun responsible. Not dismounting quick enough from vehicles when under fire, inexperienced troops and leaders? Another tense post Sarge.....:)

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    1. The most of the men and junior NCOs are very inexperienced.

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  2. Lots of little engagements (granted, not so little to those directly involved) helped slow the advance until more organized resistance could be mounted. Days, hours, minutes add up when the enemy is on a tight timetable if they hope to be successful. Kind of a "stitch in time saves nine" kind of thing. Another good example would be those damned engineers blowing bridges just as Peiper's column got to them.

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    1. Yup, all those little engagements were fought at the battalion level and lower, each delay made the Germans' overly ambitious timetable that much more unrealistic.

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    2. That reminds me of something I read.

      A lot of American troops, during WW2, were trained to be reasonably proactive even in small teams and formations. The term 'LGOP' (little groups of paratroopers) was used to describe this behavior among paratrooper units (don't worry about your unit, just mob up and tackle the mission) but I suspect the doctrine spread beyond them.

      So the Germans, so used to their orderly and regimented units of battle, were dealing with a highly fluid combat environment and an enemy that was acting less like a military unit and more like an immunological response. An effect that they probably found ridiculously hard to handle.

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    3. I think I mentioned previously that one European military officer said war is chaos, which is why Americans are so good at it.
      Frank

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    4. Dave - The Germans weren't really "used to their orderly and regimented units of battle." In fact, the German Army was tactically very flexible early in the war. By 1944 many of their troops were very green (in the Ardennes many, even in the Waffen SS) were former Air Force and Navy personnel. Many of their best officers and NCOs were either dead in the East or still there. So the units we faced in the Ardennes were, for the most part, somewhat tactically inept. The Waffen SS units were never really known for their tactical abilities, they suffered needless casualties even early in the war. Fanaticism is not a substitute for good tactics.

      Paratroopers are somewhat comfortable with being surrounded. They start their battles that way. Regular U.S. infantry weren't even close to that standard. Of course, the units we had along the line in the Ardennes were either very green (the 106th ID) or very battered and sent there for a rest and to incorporate replacements on a "quiet" front (the 4th and 28th IDs spring to mind). Many of the troops panicked and ran away in the early hours of the 16th and during the few days that followed. Enough stood their ground to make ultimate victory possible.

      Lots of interesting aspects to that fight, which is perhaps why it's so well known even among civilians.

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    5. Frank - War is chaos, Americans tend to be unpredictable, so yes, we can be good at it.

      Used to drive the Russians nuts during the Cold War.

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    6. (Don McCollor)...some didn't run (From "There's a War to be Won)...The 110 Infantry, 28th Div. outnumbered 8 to 1 and full of replacements held back 2nd Panzer and Panzer Lehr for two days and nights. With 90% casualties, they finally gave ground...

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    7. No, some did not. Col Hurley Fuller's 110th Infantry Regiment on the Skyline Drive held up two Panzer divisions. A hard fight, a brilliant fight.

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    8. Speaking of small skirmishes I just saw this on YouTube that blew my mind. A little 18 man intelligence and reconnaissance platoon against a German column

      https://youtu.be/PyHqSxokjCc

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    9. Lyle Bouck and the Intelligence and Reconnaissance Platoon, 394th Infantry Regiment, 99th Infantry Division, An amazing fight. He was 20 in December of 1944, he had been a soldier for six years. Yup, he enlisted in the National Guard in Missouri when he was 14!

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    10. OldAFSarge - very true. I keep forgetting this is set later in the war, and the German well of manpower is starting to dry out.

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    11. Their losses in the East were massive. In the summer of 1944 suffered some 450,000 combat casualties. Army Group Center was destroyed. They had no more to send into the maw.

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  3. It's tough to keep a retreat from turning into a rout.

    Mention of the halftrack brought a memory flash.
    We'd moved to Philly's Northeast area in the mid sixties, and at that time there was still a lot of open areas.
    I remember seeing a Philly Fire Department halftrack parked in front of a nearby fire station.
    https://www.reddit.com/r/philadelphia/comments/kdm73f/unexpected_cross_post_of_the_day/


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  4. Me (Firing up the webpage): "I wonder what Sarge is going to write about today."
    Title: "Ambush"
    Me: ....

    (Der Spiess is dead? Happens to all, I suppose. Had a bit of an attachment there - but as someone (maybe Stephen King) said, "Kill your Lovelies".)

    I am no expert on the Battle of The Bulge, but it seems (in retrospect) the Germans lacked sufficient respect of their enemy?

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    1. There are five men in the Kampfgruppe with the title and duties of a Spieß (rather like a first sergeant/sergeant major):
      1) Hauptfeldwebel Klaus-Peter Keller, Spieß for the overall Kampfgruppe.
      2) Hauptfeldwebel Otto Böhm, Spieß for Grenadierkompanie Koch.
      3) Hauptfeldwebel Rüdiger Mayer, Spieß for Panzerkompanie Sauer.
      4) Hauptfeldwebel Johannes Lorenz, Spieß for Sturmgschützkompanie Hornbach.
      5) Hauptfeldwebel Adolf König, Spieß for the reconnaissance detachment.

      Hauptfeldwebel Keller has featured prominently in the story so far, this was Hauptfeldwebel Böhm's first time being mentioned, and his last as he was KIA.

      The two core companies of Kampfgruppe (mot) von Lüttwitz don't have a Spieß, something I just noticed. Probably because 1. Kompanie, which was the original unit, didn't replace Keller as Spieß when he moved up to the Kampfgruppe position. 2. Kompanie didn't have one assigned due to an administrative error on the part of the author. The other components of the Kampfgruppe have a Spieß because they joined as independent units and needed to have an admin staff.

      The biggest German problem in the Ardennes was the inexperience of many of their troops and junior noncoms. I've read of a number of instances where platoons would come out into the open yelling and screaming on the attack. Only to be cut down my MG and rifle fire.

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    2. Ah, thank you for clarifying. I failed to realize that it was a title, not a nickname. Still hoping Opa survives to whatever sort retirement one had in 1950's West Germany.

      As to the inexperience - could this also have been the output of the "ideologically pure" troops who believed in some sort of supernatural protection or honor in this? The Japanese charges also come to mind.

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    3. It could very well be. The Hitlerjugend division in Normandy suffered shocking casualties. Many of them were raised in the Nazi system and actually believed.

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    4. "2. Kompanie didn't have one assigned due to an administrative error on the part of the author. " Did you mean on the part of the fuhrer?? Asking for a kamerade....

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    5. I just double checked my sources (there are two for the German infantry company order of battle) one source lists a Spieß, the other does not. I blame the war and the inability to get good help in the field.

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  5. Hey AFSarge;

    Yep the SS were shooting prisoners...Malmedy was the biggest example, and that one made the Nuremberg trials, and there were many others. The little engagements slowed down the Germans so they couldn't reach Antwerp on their timetable. You gonna mention anything about "Operation Greif" in your story? Just wondering. We had a M3 halftrack as a display at Cooke Barracks near 4/16th Infantry and I had looked at the armor, good against small arms, but anything bigger....swiss cheese, but I still liked the design though, I thought it was cutting edge for the times. Another awesome post :)

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    1. I don't know if Greif will get a mention, they played an insignificant role at the tactical level. It was only at higher levels that they freaked people out, including Ike's staff in Paris. No doubt some GIs had a blast challenging generals (to include Montgomery) with trivia questions and then jacking them up in the name of security!

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    2. I recently saw a YouTube video on that - and supposedly the fact that the GIs detained an enraged Montgomery amused Ike! And after the war a group of Otto Skorzeny's former comrades commandeered a military jeep and disguised as GI MPs, spirited their former commander away from his trial.

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    3. Skorzeny was an interesting fellow.

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    4. If I were there and being challenged and asked who played left field for the Yankees in 1942 I’d be in deep Doo Doo

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  6. Fortune favors the well-prepared in this case. A snap ambush and then pulling out. A less smart leader would have stayed to kill all the trucks, which would have put the ambush unit in jeopardy from artillery or being overwhelmed by infantry.

    And, yeah, cold day, icy tank, slip and fall, yer dead. Such a sucky death.

    Learning to move and hit the ground when incoming comes actually has to be taught. Weird, huh? You'd think it was instinctual but it isn't. The more normal response is to freeze and stare, which, apparently, our group of Germans did too well. Drop down then freeze is the better way.

    And the Forest enjoys it meal of German food with a side of Ami. But it thirsts and hungers for more blood and meat...

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    1. The "get their attention, make them deploy" is an old cavalry delaying tactic, very effective. But yes, if you stick around to slug it out, you're going to get your ass kicked, probably.

      Those Germans in Grenadierkompanie Koch are very green, most of them are former Air Force and Navy whose services were no longer required at that point in the war by their old services. (Aircraft to maintain? What aircraft? Ships to man? What ships?)

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  7. I’ve always thought that in World War II most of the German tanks were such a low profile they look to far more modern than our tanks.

    Other than meeting the tiger was the Sherman a match for these other tanks?

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    1. The Sherman was a better tank than it has gotten credit for, I myself have been guilty of disparaging the Sherman in my youth.

      A Sherman could handle anything which wasn't a Tiger or a Panther. Given the right tactics, they could handle the latter two as well.

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    2. The Sherm gets razzed for it's height and it's gun. The height is dictated by the early use of a radial engine as a powerplant, with some later versions getting more conventional power plants. The original 75mm was a good gun, but not powerful to punch through heavy armor, but surprisingly decent at AP penetration due to better powder charge and better ammo. The 76mm gun really improved the Sherm.

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    3. IIRC, the biggest problem with the Sherman wasn't the gun but the lack of a good quantity of anti-tank AP rounds. All the metal required for those rounds were needed for higher priority weapons projects.

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    4. The Sherman also seemed to be the most "Hot Rodded" of the tanks. Not in terms of speed and power, but in the way so many were field-modified by resourceful GI's. Need a brush cutter? Sure, help me drag that welder over here! I recall seeing tons of photos of various field modifications. It might be because the Sherman was the most numerous, and you work with what you got to work with, but they did the job when properly used.

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    5. Adding extra stuff on the outside kept you alive. The Rhino tanks (hedge cutters) were a field modification which worked nicely, and was retrofitted to many tanks in Normandy. Wasn't really useful elsewhere so you don't see them in Battle of the Bulge photos.

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    6. Tom - The gun was part of the problem, a short 75mm gun just can't develop the muzzle velocity of a longer barrel. Better ammo did help, the longer 76mm gun helped even more.

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  8. Still getting a great deal of pleasure from the story, Sarge. That said (yes, I heard that sigh), another gentle correction:
    "...you're riding in the Kübelwagen with Maier and I." Not, not at all. "You're riding with I" doesn't scan: rightfully so, because it's bad grammar.
    "...you're riding in the Kübelwagen with Maier and me." That works.
    One wouldn't think anybody would do something as dumb as putting all the radiomen in one truck, unless one has served in a military service, & seen the stupid things that are regularly done.
    --Tennessee Budd

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    1. D'oh! That has been corrected.

      Yes, all the radiomen in one truck because they're all buddies and no one said, "Don't do that." Except the one guy because a sergeant wanted a radioman with him. Yup, only believable if one has actually served.

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  9. I don't know how you manage to keep cranking these out, Sarge, but they're great!

    WWII ETO is something I know little about, except for the air war, and early EW stuff.

    I feel like I'm on the ground with these guys. My feet are cold!

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  10. I remember the interludes in War and Remembrance and how the German general bemoaned the fact that he could easily beat the Americans if they simply followed their own doctrine. Of course, being Americans, doctrine is foreign to us and left unread. Herman Wouk perfectly captured battle and war. You look at Catch 22 and the rest and he must have been there because nobody gains that kind of insight without skin in the game but I never looked to see what his was.

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    1. Mr. Wouk was an officer in the Navy in WWII, serving in the Pacific on destroyer minesweepers. No doubt you two could have swapped a few stories.

      Doctrine is akin to doctoral dissertations, no one reads them...

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    2. (Don McCollor)...After publication, mine sank without a ripple like a shark had got it...For Doctrine, to a foreign officer (British as well as German) the US officers commanding American troops must have looked like they were trying to herd cats (very independent minded we are)...

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    3. We do have that tendency. 😁

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  11. And for your eyes only Sarge, you are putting me in mind of another great writer who wrote detailed novels in serial for European papers. Fire on the Steppe. I read those books 40 years ago. Left a mark, lifelong. Henryk Sienkiewicz. Way better than Russian novels any day. When you think back to how the Russians tortured their German captives for a decade it's a wonder they never resorted for forcing to read Russian novels or fiction.

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    1. I did a bit of research, the subject matter of "Fire on the Steppe" is fascinating. I should look for those (Amazon has the entire trilogy of which that one is the third book.)

      Reading Russian novels as a form of torture, yup. I can never get all the way through any Russian novel, not even Solzhenitsyn's August 1914. Tolstoy drove me crazy, I attempted "War and Peace" multiple times, couldn't finish.

      High praise Cap'n, thank you.

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