Saturday, December 26, 2020

Forlorn Hope

U.S. Army Photo

"You guys good?" 1st Lt. Paddock clapped Cpl. Judd Maxwell on the shoulder. Maxwell and his .30 caliber machine gun team were set up covering the road leading into Berg. The snow had switched back to rain and the entire platoon was miserable.

They had pulled back down the road to Berg from where Sgt. Greg Jenkins' 2nd Squad had lost five of its twelve men. Four killed and one man sent to the rear when he had suffered a mental breakdown over the loss of his best friend. They had settled in to their new positions, late on the previous day.

"We're okay L.T., Brad and Steve have a bazooka and when they're done hauling ammo for me, they'll be lurking just down the road." Maxwell knew that the next trip that Privates Chapman and Pacheco made would bring up the last of their reserve ammo. As long as the Krauts didn't hit them with arty, they would hold this spot, come what may.

"Great, I've posted Charlie and Bear just back and to your left to pick off any officers who might be dumb enough to poke their heads up."

Indeed, Charlie Gammell and Jackson Hebert had a good line of sight down the road and to the left of the road where the trees ended. The remnants of Jenkins' squad were dug in to their left in support. Paddock had had the men out since early in the morning planting mines in the road, along the ditches to either side of the road, and any other place a German might seek cover. The Krauts might come with armor and they might outnumber his platoon, but Paddock and the boys were prepared to make the Germans pay.

Bundesarchiv

Leutnant Rudolf Klein was standing in the hatch of his PzKw III Ausf. M, waiting for the signal to advance. His platoon of four panzers would be leading the attack with the 93 survivors of Grenadierkompanie Koch in close support. The infantry would be advancing interspersed with the panzers, Oberfeldwebel Otto Meyer's 2nd Platoon would move ahead of Klein's panzer in a skirmish line once they broke out of the trees.

Major von Lüttwitz climbed up onto Klein's panzer and surveyed the road ahead through his field glasses. His reconnaissance troops had crept up close to the American lines during the night, leaving their vehicles behind. According to what they brought back, there was a single American platoon covering the road.

"Leutnant Klein, once we punch through the Amis, I want you and your men to pivot to your right and drive down the road to support Bethmann's platoon. We have word that the Americans are in strength in Wirtzfeld. If they get through Bethmann's men, we'll be cut off, pinned against the lake to our left."

"We need to get through the Amis in Berg and then hit Bütgenbach. That will unhinge the American position here, then we can drive west off the Leibstandarte's right flank. Questions?"

"No, Herr Major, other than whether you have heard the reports that the SS bounced off Bütgenbach and moved west?"

"Yes, I have. That's why it's so important for us to hit this position ahead of us and get behind those Amis in Bütgenbach. If not, the SS will have their flank in the air. Not that they have ever really cared about such a thing. They still haven't learned that this isn't Russia."

"Aren't you worried, Sir?"

"Of course I am, but keep your men under control. If we stay together and not get too dispersed, we can always fight our way back to Germany." Von Lüttwitz looked one last time towards Berg, then looked at Klein. "Whenever you're ready, Rudolf."

(Source)

The rain had switched over to a mix of sleet and snow as the temperature dropped. The wind was gusting and swirling, cutting visibility to mere yards at times. Pfc. Charlie Gammell was only getting intermittent views of the road and the edge of the woods. That concerned him.

"Ya know Bear, if this keeps up, we might have to move in closer."

Pfc. Jackson Hebert was watching the fields and the road through his field glasses. "Yup, but it ain't that bad just yet. It's the swirling wind that bothers me, see those trees across the way, first the branches lean one way, then the wind shifts and they tilt the other way. Makes long range shooting kinda iffy."

"Yup. Hey, wait a minute, I've got movement at the other end of the road, where it comes out of the trees." Gammell was watching as a German tank rolled into the open. It was accompanied by infantry on foot.

Bear watched for a moment, then said, "That tank commander is standing up in his hatch. Probably thinks the sleet and snow will hide him."

Gammell settled his cheek into his rifle's stock and murmured, "We'll see about that."


Leutnant Klein gestured to the squad leader leading his supporting infantry. They were out in the open now, it was time for the infantry to form a skirmish line. Unteroffizier Sven Schneider, son of a German father and a Danish mother, nodded to the lieutenant in the tank.

Though he'd been in the German military since 1938, this was his first battle as a member of the Army. Up until earlier in the year he had been an air gunner on the He 111. Seeing as how the Luftwaffe's bombers were growing fewer in number and the Army was short of infantry, here he was. He shifted the StG 44 off of his shoulder and checked that it was loaded and the safety off. He was nervous.

As the wind died down momentarily, Schneider heard a muffled grunt to his left. As he turned to see what it was, he heard the crack of a rifle shot.


The bullet hit Klein just below his right nipple. It forced the air from his lungs and doubled him over on top of the turret. There was no pain at first, though he felt as if he'd been hit with a heavy piece of lumber. As he tried to raise himself up then lower himself into his hatch, the pain hit him. He knew immediately that the wound was serious.

"Leutnant, what's the matter?" Panzerschütze Bernhard Schulze had turned to see why his commander had kicked him.

"Jesus, Heinrich, help me pull the Leutnant in, he's hit!"

Unteroffizier Heinrich Schwarz turned and looked, sure enough, Leutnant Klein was slumped over the edge of his cupola. He and Schulze reached over and pulled the injured officer into the tank.

They managed to get the lieutenant seated, his eyes were darting from one side to the other, a trickle of blood was running down from the right corner of his mouth. As Schwarz tore the man's tunic open, he was stunned by the amount of blood. He screamed, "Erwin, stop! The Leutnant has been wounded!"

Feldwebel Erwin Krüger hit the brake, wondering what was happening, he had not heard or seen any evidence of American fire. When he looked back and up into the turret, his first thought was, "Sniper!"

Outside the panzer, Unteroffizier Schneider wondered why the vehicle had lurched to a stop, then he noticed that the commander was no longer visible. Before he could react to that, the chatter of an American machine gun interrupted his thoughts.


"Too high, Jim, too high!" Cpl. Maxwell saw that their first burst had gone high. But the Germans had yet to react. He had seen the tank commander double over and then disappear inside the vehicle, that was his cue to open fire.

Pfc. Jim Weber adjusted his aim, he walked his next burst directly into the infantry with the tank. Those men had just started to deploy when the enemy tank had abruptly stopped. The enemy infantry were momentarily confused. Many of them didn't live long enough to regain their composure.


Schneider saw two of his men go down, he realized that they were being shot at, "COVER!! COVER!!"

Three more of his squad pitched over and collapsed as they were hit, the cries began immediately...

"SANITÄTER!!"

Feldwebel Egon Schmid in Panzer 133 saw his platoon commander's vehicle lurch to a stop, not knowing why, he assumed the worst.

"Frank, right stick, get us out into that field!" Unterfeldwebel Frank Ludwig had 133 moving before Schmid had finished his command.

Over the radio Schmid commanded, "3rd Platoon, Leutnant Klein is out of the fight, this is Schmid, deploy to the right, assume right echelon formation!"

As Panzer 133 dipped into the slight ditch to the right of the road, it's left track ran right over an American M1A1 anti-tank mine, it blew the forward road wheel apart. As the track slid off, Schmid radioed again, "Franz! I've hit a mine! We're immobilized!"

The deputy platoon leader, Oberfeldwebel Franz Kraus in Panzer 132, ordered his driver to move to the front. Before exiting the trees he had his driver, Unterfeldwebel Karl Vogt, turn off the road and cut through the thinner trees at the edge of the field. He also ordered his remaining tank, Panzer 134 commanded by Feldwebel Siegfried Mayer, to follow.

Oberfeldwebel Otto Meyer, commanding the supporting infantry platoon ordered his men to follow the two panzers moving to the right. "Sven! Take what's left of your squad and follow me, we'll cover the left flank. Move up to the lead panzer so we can see what's happening!"

Meyer had five men of the Zugtrupp¹ with him. The platoon medic, Grenadier Wulfhelm Vogt, had already moved up to assist Schneider's casualties, two of the men with grenade launchers were with the squads moving off to the right, he had one with him, Obergefreiter Christof Jung.

As they moved up, a bazooka rocket came from up the road and to the left.


The rocket fired by Pvt. Brad Chapman hit Panzer 131 on the skirt armor surrounding three sides of the vehicle's turret. It punched through the armor as though it was made of butter. However, the round expended all of its force on the skirt armor and failed to penetrate the turret.

The men inside Panzer 131 didn't even notice the hit, they were busy trying to save their lieutenant.

"Be still Leutnant, you're hit in the upper chest, to the right, you've probably got a punctured lung. I think I've got the bleeding stopped but you're hurt bad. We're going to put you on the turret floor for the moment."

Feldwebel Erwin Krüger had left his driver's position to deal with the lieutenant's wound, he looked at the radioman and said, "Max, you take over as driver, I've got the command now!"

Because the crews of Panzerkompanie Sauer had come from the Panzerschule², each man typically knew every position in a tank crew, with the exception of Panzerschütze Bernhard Schulze in 131. He had just finished his schooling and, though he was a good loader, he wasn't as familiar with the other positions, so he stayed put.

Krüger got into the commander's position, he did not poke his head up over the rim of the cupola, he knew better. As he got his bearings, he saw some of their supporting infantry taking position to the left of 131. "Good," he thought, "we're not alone."


Pvt. Steve Pacheco punched Pvt. Brad Chapman in the shoulder. Chapman turned.

"What? Why the f**k did you hit me?"

"We gotta move buddy, bazooka won't go through that side armor and we got Kraut infantry moving up. You wanna live, we gotta scoot."

Chapman only then noticed the infantry, "Shit, let's go, keep to the trees!"


Oberfeldwebel Meyer caught a glimpse of men falling back to the left front of where Panzer 131 sat. He fired instinctively but the burst from his StG 44 went over their heads. He didn't get a second chance as when he looked again, the enemy bazooka team was gone.


Cpl. Judd Maxwell noticed the German infantry moving up to the right of the stopped German tank, whose turret was starting to move. The cannon was moving towards his position! Before he could take the German infantry under fire, the snow picked up. Visibility dropped to zero as the snow squall moved through.


"Scheiße! I can't see anything, the snow has picked up. Max back us up to beside 133. We need to get things sorted out. Bernhard, switch ammo to high-explosive. We're dealing with infantry only!" Krüger soon had his panzer beside 133, when he looked up again, the snow squall had passed. He got on the radio.

"Egon, you boys still among the living?"

Schmid responded almost immediately, "We're okay, we're just stuck in this ditch. I tried elevating the gun to take that ridge under fire, but that's not going to happen, we're cocked at a funny angle."

"All right, hold on, I've got the Major on the radio."

"What the Hell is going on up there? Who's in command?"

"Herr Major, this is Feldwebel Egon Schmid, Oberfeldwebel Franz Kraus is now in command of the platoon, but I think his radio might be out. Leutnant Klein is wounded, I don't know how bad. Oberfeldwebel Kraus is leading an attack right now through the fields with most of the infantry. We have one panzer immobilized and..."

Schmid winced as American artillery, heavy artillery, began to impact forward of his position. The rounds were 'walking' towards his position.

"Schmid, Schmid, report! Are you there?"

"Jawohl, Herr Major, we've got heavy artillery fire coming in, ah shit! Sorry, Sir, the infantry are getting murdered. Your orders, Sir?"


Major Jürgen von Lüttwitz thought for a moment. The platoon from his 2nd Company was reporting contact with American tanks and infantry. They were hard-pressed, if that road block collapsed, the entire Kampfgruppe would be cut off.

He spoke into the radio, "Schmid, fall back to your starting positions and hold there. We have a situation on the road to Wirtzfeld. Hold there and await further orders."

"Yes Sir, I'll get the word out."

But when Schmid looked up, Kraus already had the panzers and infantry falling back. There were a number of infantrymen who remained out in the field. Bodies being rapidly covered by another snow squall. At any rate, the artillery had stopped.

"Now what?" he wondered.

He heard someone pounding on the side of his vehicle, it was one of the infantrymen, he popped his hatch.

"Come on Feldwebel, we're falling back. Are you staying here?"

In the rush of events, Egon Schmid had quite forgotten that Panzer 133 wasn't going anywhere until they got it repaired. "All right lads, bail out, we're walking back."


As night fell it finally stopped snowing. 1st Lt. Paddock came up as it was starting to get dark.

"Nice job Judd, looks like we stopped 'em."

"Yeah, I thought Chapman and Pacheco were goners, but the snow shielded their withdrawal, that artillery really saved our asses too."

"Well that and the Indian Head boys³ are attacking out of Wirtzfeld in the Kraut rear. And..."

Paddock looked up, he could see stars. "Would ya look at that, the sky's clearing."

"Gonna be cold tonight L.T.," Maxwell started, then it dawned on him, "and clear skies tomorrow! Air support!"

"Yup, Merry Christmas, Corporal!"

"Merry Christmas, Sir!"


Christmas Eve, 1944. The German offensive was sputtering to a stop along the northern shoulder in front of the Elsenborn Ridge. Sixth Panzerarmee was stalled.

Fifth Panzerarmee was still advancing but the town of Bastogne remained in American hands, like a bone stuck in the German throat. Americans and Germans were dying in droves, but for all intents and purposes, the German attack had failed.

All that was left was convincing the Germans that they were finished. Many more men would die before that happened.






¹ Platoon Troop, i.e. Platoon HQ
² Tank School
³ Patch of the 2nd Infantry Division shows an Indian in profile.

Link to all of The Chant's fiction.

36 comments:

  1. So much in combat has to do with momentum and there are a lot of factors that are at play, only some are in the hands of the combatants themselves. Supply, morale, leadership, exploitation of enemy weakness. The Ardennes Offensive saw that play out classically. The Germans couldn't control the air and the weather favored them for only so long.

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    1. Indeed, sometimes the combatants themselves are swept along by factors not in their control.

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    2. Certainly, or by inept commanders. Market Garden comes to mind. The British alone lost 8,000 men in that gambit. You follow orders even if you think that it's a "bridge too far".

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  2. Great writing, and very enjoyable reading as always.

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  3. I saw that frosty mud on the first picture and a shiver went through me.

    2nd ID, Second to None. They have a big patch, like the 1st Cav. Can't miss it.

    Patton got a bronze star for the pastor that wrote a prayer for clear weather...

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    1. I had to look it up...
      >>During the Battle of the Bulge Patton desired good weather for his advance, which would permit close ground support by U.S. Army Air Forces tactical aircraft, and requested that O'Neill compose a suitable prayer. O'Neill complied, and his prayer was printed and distributed to unit members:

      Almighty and most merciful Father, we humbly beseech Thee, of Thy great goodness, to restrain these immoderate rains with which we have had to contend. Grant us fair weather for Battle. Graciously hearken to us as soldiers who call upon Thee that, armed with Thy power, we may advance from victory to victory and crush the oppression and wickedness of our enemies, and establish Thy justice among men and nations.<<

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Hugh_O%27Neill#

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  4. Ya.....high tide. Shoot and scoot and pray that there's friendly arty available. Another tense posting Sarge.

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  5. Happy Boxing Day! The clearing weather must have been seen as an omen on both sides, on one for the better, on the other not so much.
    A former Marine I knew had a favorite saying regarding training - "You've gotta practice being miserable!" That first photo shows why practicing being miserable would help prepare for those conditions.

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    1. If one expects to be miserable, one isn't surprised when it happens.

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  6. Cry havoc, and unleash the VT Fuzes!

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  7. Hey AFSarge;

    It is instinctive for troops under pressure to "overshoot" the fact that CPL Maxwell realized it quickly and had PFC Weber adjust his fire spoke about their experience, green troops would have continued "Spray and Praying" and the Bazooka team realizing that they were alone with infantry and it was time to *Di-Di-Mau* was smart. The 2nd Infantry Division became famous during the Korean War much like my division became famous during the "Great War" and WWII. The 2nd stayed in Korea and their training was more realistic so to speak especially at the DMZ because of who they had faced with the Norks. It is a source of pride for those that wore the "Indianhead" patch.

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    1. The 2nd ID is still manning the front line in Korea. A proud unit with an admirable history.

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  8. It is an uncommon trait amongst people to react quickly to negative stimulii, especially in the swirling stupidity of combat. Standing and staring at the pretty glowing things as the PGTs fall down and go 'boom' is very common, even amongst trained troops when they're tired. Really trained troops, usually the survivors, have built up a resistance to 'stopping and staring.'

    As to 'bazooka armor,' well, that's what spaced armor is for. It's why a lot of our armor has 'slat' armor attached to the outside, upon which the crew, almost to the second it's attached, fills the space between the new stand-off armor and the hull armor with odds and sods of camo nets, personal gear, junk, extra parts, extra ammo, extra rations, water, etc. Which also serves to suck up some of the sting of a shaped charge warhead.

    Good writing. The Bulge was ambitious, wasteful, stupid, too late, and... scared the living daylights out of all the Allied REMFs and base-bandits and other not-ready-for-prime-time soldiers. And killed way too many on both sides. Shame. But that's war for you. Stupid and wasteful at it's finest.

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    1. You'll have to clue me in on what a "PGT" is, lost me there.

      "War is cruelty. There is no use trying to reform it. The crueler it is, the sooner it will be over." - W.T. Sherman, 1864

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    2. Pretty Glowing Things. Like Tracers, shells with lit fuses (a common thing during pre-modern time was to watch the shells with the pretty glowing fuses fly through the air. Seen it. It's very pretty, until it lands near or on you and goes 'Boom.')

      Worse is just hearing it coming in. Or worse is NOT hearing it coming in.

      And during daylight, you can see some shells flying. Especially if you are in line to the gun (whether on the giving or receiving end. Harder to do with higher velocity rounds, but lower velocity, like howitzers and mortars, you can sometimes see the damned things. It's weird.

      First time I saw PGTs was at Kwajalein. Pretty Glowing Things (simulated nuke warheads) coming from Vandenberg (now Vandenberg Space Force Base, along with Patrick Space Force Base and Canaveral Space Force Station... though I think the Guardian thingy (what the SF calls their personnel) is kind of stupid. Eh, what do I know?) to be intercepted by outgoing PGTs from Meck Island, either Spartan ABMs or Sprint ABMs. But my dad said you could see artillery sometimes, too. He said watching North Korea practice their artillery along the border was interesting...

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    3. I remember reading where various Navy and Marine personnel said they could at times see those BIG 16-inch shells from the battleships arcing to their targets. I've seen .308 rounds, more specifically the vapor trail they create, arcing into targets at fairly long range (700-1100 yds) when using a spotting scope situated directly behind a shooter - helps for advising on corrections to the scope

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    4. Beans - Pretty Glowing Things, now I get it. No PGTs with WWII tube artillery, just a whoosh and a bang, so to speak. But yeah, tracer fire consists of PGT, usually every fifth round or so.

      Old black powder cannon it was fairly easy to see the shot, they didn't move all that fast.

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    5. Tom - Vapor trails, even more obvious with the right amount of humidity.

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    6. (Don McCollor)...Beans, saw a couple videos of a Sprint launch. They are awesome - pulling 100g right from launch. With the nose glowing white hot from air friction...

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    7. Vapor trails make it easier to spot rifle rounds, but you can see trace without vapor being involved. Just the refraction of light through the shock cone is sufficient. It's almost ghostly, like the Predator. It's like "I'm not sure what I just saw, but I know I saw something."

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    8. I knew that, very spooky indeed.

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  9. The opening photo is a perfect lead in to the statement in the lede paragraph; "The snow had switched back to rain and the entire platoon was miserable." Made me shiver, it did.

    You got this writing thing figured out, and the photos are icing on a very tasty cake.
    Be safe in your travels.
    John Blackshoe

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    1. I often have no idea where the story should go, then I'll find just the right photograph and things progress from there. Sometimes the inspiring photo doesn't make the post. (Due to copyright restrictions.)

      Thanks J.B.!

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  10. You capture it perfectly Sarge. Sounds like a confused, cold, misty mess.

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  11. At the end of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Grandfather Potts, and Lord Scrumptious are playing soldiers on the floor, and throwing books at each others soldiers. With the clearing of the skies,so Thunderbolts, Tiffies, and arty spotting Piper Cubs can fly, the Germans are about to have an entire Barnes and Noble fired at them.

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  12. Until I started reading your series, I thought that with the offensive the American response was confusion and retreat all up and down. Didn't realize how important the engineers were in sabotaging bridges. I was watching a YouTube program the other night and didn't realize how many instances of murder of American prisoners happened...at least several. Yhere was a group of 11 soldiers from a black unit who were brutally tortured and murdered by the SS.

    And there was a fuel depot that an SS Panzer unit reached (Piper's unit).

    And I was thinking if you were an American soldier at that depot, and knew a German Panzer unit was getting close, would it be easy to sabotage?

    I guess it would depend on how close they were.

    A very minor thing - period needed...

    "the German attack had failed "

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    1. Not to mention the murder of many Belgian civilians, multiple instances of that. Peiper should have been hanged.

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