Tuesday, December 29, 2020

The Beginning of the End


"We took a lot of casualties on the other side of the lake, Nate. If those tank destroyers hadn't shown up, we'd probably still be out there, all of us. As it is, we lost fifty-seven guys, five KIA that we know about, twenty-six wounded, and twenty-six men missing, presumed dead." Captain Tony Palminteri looked at the ground for a moment, sighed then looked up at 1st Lt. Nate Paddock. "We got our asses kicked, Nate."

"Yes Cap'n, that's over twenty-five percent casualties, but did the Krauts make it to Berg? Did they get through Bütgenbach? No Sir, they did not. We stopped the bastards cold. There's a lot more dead Krauts out there than dead GIs." Paddock's fight had, so far, been fairly easy. The rest of the company, and the entire battalion for that matter, had seen much heavier fighting.

"Yeah, Nate, but those are my guys out there, fifty-seven of 'em. This has been a hard fight, Nate, an awfully hard fight. Ah shit, here comes the battalion commander, what the Hell does he want?" Captain Palminteri wearily got to his feet only to be waved back down by Major Alphonse Josephson, commander of the 26th Infantry's 1st Battalion.

"Don't get up for me Tony, you guys have done a great job out here. Stopped those Nazi bastards in their tracks. Now I've got one more job for you." The Major had a look on his face which said much, he knew he was asking a lot.

"Whaddaya got, Boss?" Palminteri asked.

"Let's go inside, I've got fresh maps for you, already marked up."

1st Lt. Paddock hesitated at the door, the Major beckoned him in, "You too, Nate, your platoon has an important job in this plan."

Major Josephson spread his map out on the table in the small, semi-destroyed, farmhouse which Palminteri was using as his company CP.


Map Key
 Kfg vL = Kampfgruppe von Lüttwitz
 3rd Fjg Div = 3rd Fallschirmjäger Division, paratroopers.
 Recce = Reconnaissance
 ID = Infantry Division
 2./1. Komp = 2nd Platoon/1st Company, Kampfgruppe von Lüttwitz
 GrK Koch = Grenadierkompanie Koch, Kampfgruppe von Lüttwitz
 StuGKp = Sturmgeschützkompanie Hornbach, Kampfgruppe von Lüttwitz
 PzKp = Panzerkompanie Sauer, Kampfgruppe von Lüttwitz
 Luchs Kp = Panzerspähwagenkompanie Köhler, Kampfgruppe von Lüttwitz
 3./2. Komp = 3rd Platoon/2nd Company, Kampfgruppe von Lüttwitz
 C/I/26th = C Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment

"As you can see, most of the regiment is tied down holding Bütgenbach, they've got Kraut paratroopers all over their lines, Krauts have got assault gun support as well."

Josephson then slid his finger to the right side of the map. "Now over here we've got men from the 2nd Infantry Division in Wirtzfeld, they've got a strong position there and have started probing to the northwest, towards a reconnaissance element from the 99th. They've run into strong resistance along the road which goes over this spur of the Elsenborn Ridge. Those Krauts are part of a larger Kampfgruppe which we've been fighting since the beginning of this attack."

Josephson paused for a moment, then continued, "We think the Krauts are trying to fall back to the south of Wirtzfeld where elements of the 12 SS Panzer Division are holding a strong position. They seemed to have gone over to the defense as they stopped attacking a couple of days ago, S-2 thinks they're outta gas. I think S-2 is right, we've taken a couple of prisoners who have confirmed this."

Josephson stood up as if to go, "Oh yeah, one more thing, we've had lots of reports of the SS killing POWs and civilians, it ain't official, but regiment says we aren't taking any SS prisoners, clear?"

Palminteri spoke up, "We didn't hear anything from you, Boss. I'm sure those fanatics will not surrender anyway. Right Nate?"

Paddock immediately responded, "It's war, Cap'n. They started it, I won't lose any sleep over this."

"Right then, I've got to get back to battalion, but tomorrow morning, we jump off. Tony I need you guys to clear that area north of the lake. If I could I'd love to cut them off, but we just don't have the strength, push 'em back, if they try to stand, kill 'em."

Josephson handed a piece of paper to Palminteri, "That's a list of the artillery you have on call. I tried to get you a Forward Air Controller, but there ain't a lot of them to go around. There's a supply of orange panels in my jeep, use those to mark your positions. Any questions?"

Palminteri shook his head no, he looked at Paddock, who also shook his head.

"Great. Tomorrow, we start punching back. Go and kill them gentlemen, kill them all."

US Army Photo

It was late in the afternoon, perhaps an hour of daylight remained. After staying out of the open all day, the Kampfgruppe was ready to move. Major Jürgen von Lüttwitz had met with his surviving officers and senior sergeants during the day. They had come to the same conclusion, there was no way that they could continue the offensive. American strength in front of them had already cost them many dead and wounded. Most of their trucks had been destroyed in an air raid that morning.

"We have no choice but to fall back, men. I've ordered all of the fuel we have remaining to be transferred to our panzers and StuGs. We have a few halftracks left which we'll use to carry the infantry for our spearhead to regain our lines south of Wirtzfeld. Two trucks have been allocated to carry the wounded, the other three remaining trucks will carry supplies - fuel, food, and ammo. Most everything else we'll have to carry on our backs, gentlemen. Questions?"

Oberfeldwebel Otto Meyer looked around the shelter the men had made under the trees with shelter-halves and blankets, "Herr Major, Grenadierkompanie Koch is in position now, we took the chance of moving in daylight. The Jabos weren't interested in men on foot. We are dug in and prepared to sell our lives dearly, but," he looked around at his fellow soldiers, "why don't we just surrender, Sir?"

Major von Lüttwitz nodded to two men standing nearby, they moved up and stripped Meyer of his weapon and other gear. Meyer was resigned to his fate, he had no desire to see any more of his men die.

"The American lines are that way, Otto. I'm sorry you don't have the courage to continue, but I understand. Unterfeldwebel Wolff, take command of the grenadier company. Gentlemen, dismissed, we move an hour after sunset."

Meyer stood there for a moment, then turned and left. He heard a man behind him mutter, "Feigling.¹" Then he was out from under the shelter. He began to move off into the fields, he didn't notice one of the snipers standing nearby, watching him. He walked slowly, his back to the only life he had known for five years. He was dejected and depressed, but he knew in his heart that there was no way Germany could win this war. He was done.

As the men started to return to their units, Leutnant Manfred Sauer grabbed Major von Lüttwitz by the arm, "Herr Major, Jürgen, this is insanity," he hissed. "If you let that man walk, the word will get around, many of the men will refuse to continue."

Von Lüttwitz looked down at the hand gripping his arm. Sauer released the arm and began to apologize when a single gunshot rang out. Moments later a pistol shot was heard.

"I pointed him to the American lines, I didn't tell him he was free to go. He made his choice. I will shoot any man who refuses to continue. The sentries all have orders to shoot anyone attempting to leave their unit."

Sauer looked at his old comrade, "A harsh decision my old friend."

"These are harsh times, Manfred."

"Harsh times."

¹ Coward.

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  1. Even when it was evident to all that it was lost...wow.

    1. They were defending their homeland now, many of them knew the war was lost, but they feared the aftermath.

  2. Effective story-telling Sarge, thumbs up!

  3. Sarge, hard to remember until you put it this way that less than six months later, the war would end. The collapse from this point happened very quickly indeed.

    Excellent writing as always.

  4. The Germans didn't know how the Americans would act if they surrendered. They pretty much knew how the British and definitely knew how the French would treat them.

    Didn't help that Rooselvelt was stuck on unconditional surrender. Yes, that's what they deserved but there was no wiggle room. Same with the Japanese, unconditional surrender or death. To both nations, death and unconditional surrender (facing another economic raping like what the Versaille Treaty did to Germany) were just different sides of the same thing. Gotterdamerung so to speak. Death or... Death. No cake. Just death of one variety or another.

    Sad, really. It's the only logical end, unconditional surrender, but war is anything but logical. Neither is politics. Sigh.

    Otto Meyer is a good example of one of the two things that happens to a fanatic when all is lost. Complete collapse. In some ways it's even deadlier than death, because if the collapsing fanatic survives, it will eat into his/her head for the rest of their lives.

    The other thing, of course, that a fanatic can do when all is lost is basically go beserk or fight to the bitter end. Which is very much a part of the German spirit (or was until after WWII.) Go down fighting, taking as many people with you as you could, buying your way into the afterlife with a death-host.


    The way Lüttwitz is handling it is interesting. Defeat from a position of strength. Trying to keep his command and his people together and alive for as long as possible, while not succumbing to the beserker death rage. Herr Major is going to be a pain in the Amis side until April or May, '45. Unless he and his people die or get trapped and are forced to surrender.

    And the Forest continues its winter feed. It's been soo long since it was fed properly....

    1. Unconditional surrender doesn't work on the international stage. It only makes the enemy fight harder.

    2. I read that on both sides-Japanese and German-that Roosevelts unconditional surrender prolonged the war. But what was the alternative?

      The Nazis kept in government and the Japanese military kept in government?

      I’m finishing that book about Franz Stigler.

      he’s in the Messerschmitt M262 squadron near Munich and with 5 to 10 planes fighting hundreds of bombers and hundreds of fighters.

      Where is the logic in that?

      As to this chapter I’m surprisedl

      the major would’ve had him shot.

      From the SS yes but from the regular German army?

      Although I was reading in the Eastern front regular German army did some pretty awful things.

    3. The Army had zero tolerance for defeatism in the field.

  5. Opening photo looks like an 81mm mortar detail. GI nearest to the camera has two rounds of 81mm mortar ammo in their fiber tubes. Next guy has the base plate, and the one ahead of him has at least one round of ammo. Guy ahead of him has the barrel over his shoulder. Mortars and ammo, especially the 60mm and 81mm are easy (albeit heavy) to lug around, but provide valuable support when nothing heavier is available. In addition to high explosive rounds, they also had some illumination rounds which enabled us to fight at night in the days before night vision devices made the need for visible light no longer necessary. Only problem with man-transported mortars is that there is never enough ammo.
    John Blackshoe

    1. You have a good eye for detail JB.

      No matter the weapon, there is never enough ammo, but with mortars the problem is worse. Those rounds are heavy.

  6. "... it ain't official, but regiment says we aren't taking any SS prisoners, clear?"
    Uncle Jim and Father-in-law Joe agreed that SS prisoners were an "iffy" proposition between Normandy and Belgium. After Malmedy ... well, only on direct orders for prisoners needed for intel.
    The British and Canadians had, of course, made up there minds about SS prisoners after Normandy.

    1. With good reason, the Ardenne Abbey atrocity would be long remembered by the Canadian forces. As for the British, multiple incidents of SS atrocities in May of 1940 no doubt made the Brits despise the Waffen SS early on in the war.

  7. I have heard a rumor that a Highland unit in Italy wiped out a Nazi regiment and buried them vertically, facing Germany, with their right arms sticking out of the graves in the shitler salute. Old Guns

    1. Never heard that one. Sounds like something the Scots would do.

  8. Hey AFSarge;

    ""I pointed him to the American lines, I didn't tell him he was free to go. He made his choice. I will shoot any man who refuses to continue. The sentries all have orders to shoot anyone attempting to leave their unit."

    Sauer looked at his old comrade, "A harsh decision my old friend."

    "These are harsh times, Manfred."

    "Harsh times."

    I understand why he gave that order, Sauer was correct, the "surrender/coward? disease would have infected the entire gruppe quickly if he had let that man go, discipline would have quickly collapsed and desertions would have been the order of the day.
    Well Written


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