Saturday, December 5, 2020

The Watch on the Rhine

SdKfz 10/5 Self-propelled anti-aircraft gun

"Another SdKfz 10/5? So we have three in total?" Major von Lüttwitz was unsettled by all the equipment and supplies being lavished upon his small unit through SS channels.

Hauptfeldwebel Keller nodded, "Yes Sir, the third vehicle also came with a support vehicle. It's an older French truck, but one of the men with the truck is a pretty damned good mechanic, he's got all of the detachment's vehicles in excellent running order."

"Which is more than we can say about the five beat up Opel Blitzes that came in this morning. Two of them being towed behind two of the others. Any word on those?" von Lüttwitz looked towards the barns which they'd converted to maintenance sheds.

"Yes Sir, Fleischhacker said that he can have four running Blitzes by taking parts off the worst one. Fleischhacker is one of the StuG crewman, he was a mechanic before the war at the Nürburg-Ring." Keller turned when he heard the sound of more engines coming up the road which led down into the town of Stadtkyll.

Breasting the slight crest to the east of the "command barn" (as the troops were calling it) was the same Kübelwagen that had visited them a couple of days before, carrying the same two well-worn Waffen SS men. Behind them was a column of SdKfz 251 halftracks, empty save for the men driving the vehicles. At the end of the column was a single Opel Blitz.

SdKfz 150 Ausf B Halftracks

SS-Hauptsturmführer Herbert Manstein jumped from the Kübelwagen as it rolled to a stop, he snapped a salute at the major. Von Lüttwitz returned the SS man's salute and said, "Ah, Manstein, so good to see you again. I have a complaint about the trucks you sent me."

"Trucks Herr Major? I didn't send you any trucks. It seems that SS-Gruppenführer Priess decided to give you halftracks instead. Better for where we are going it seems. For that, we need to talk inside, alone." The young SS captain led the way to the barn, carrying the briefcase himself this time. Then he stopped.

"Wolf, see that the halftracks are parked in concealment, the weather is bad now, but if it clears..."

"Certainly Hauptsturmführer. And the drivers?"

"Load them on the truck, send them back to the rear."

"Jawohl!" The younger SS man brought his heels together and bowed slightly to the SS captain.

"Now Herr Major..."

"The trucks Hauptsturmführer, you didn't send them?" von Lüttwitz wanted that riddle solved before being presented with any more.

"Ah, yes, the LKWs.¹ We didn't send them, perhaps your old command? They are, by the way, some really beat up vehicles aren't they? But we have important business Herr Major, you need to prepare your unit."

"For what?" von Lüttwitz asked, but the young SS officer simply beckoned and the two men entered the "command barn."

LKW Opel Blitz

"So, that's the basic outline of the plan Sir, your Kampfgruppe should begin moving tonight and head north over the Kyll River and proceed to the vicinity of Kronenburg. When the attack begins, you will go in behind the 12th Volksgrenadier Division. Their mission is to breach the American lines in the vicinity of Losheim." As the young captain explained all this he was referring to a map spread out on the table von Lüttwitz used for a desk.

"What's our immediate objective Manstein?" von Lüttwitz was already going over in his head the steps he'd need to take to get his men and vehicles moving. While they weren't technically fully motorized, he had enough assault guns, halftracks, and trucks to carry all of his men. Of course, now he had to worry about fuel in addition to ammunition and rations.

"Your initial objective is Bütgenbach, here on the map next to the Amel² River. The best route according to our intelligence, a good road, lightly manned at the frontier, nothing in the way of American reserves is Losheim-Losheimergraben-Hünnigen-Büllingen, and then Bütgenbach itself. You'll be covering the right flank of my unit, SS-Leibstandarte."

"I did wonder..." von Lüttwitz began.

"The Führer wants everyone to think that we're back in Russia. To your north will be the Hitler Jugend Division..."

"Is there anything left of that outfit?"

"Yes Sir, they've been completely rebuilt. A strong complement of Panzers, half Panthers, half PzKw IVs and two fully manned Panzergrenadier regiments. A lot of younger men from the Luftwaffe and the Kriegsmarine, but they've got spirit." Manstein said that proudly, as if he'd trained them himself.

"Really Manstein, airmen and sailors? Dress them in whatever uniform you'd like, it takes more than clothes and a good attitude to make a soldier." von Lüttwitz was dismayed, more cannon fodder. His own replacements were mostly young boys seasoned with a few older men who had fought in the first war.

Manstein looked briefly at the floor of the barn, then at von Lüttwitz, there was a profound sadness in his eyes. "Begging your pardon Herr Major, but what do we have left? What should we do, sit behind the Rhine and hope the enemy tires of the war?" Manstein looked into the distance then sighed.

"Sorry Sir. I know this attack is a desperate roll of the dice, but we can't sit back and wait. If we can stun the Amis and Tommies, maybe they'll rethink their support of the Soviets. That alliance is unnatural and you know it."

"You weren't always in the SS, were you Manstein?"

"No Sir, I was in the Army until late 1940. The Waffen SS were looking for veteran soldiers to be commissioned into the Waffen SS. So I transferred. My division commander raised holy Hell but a visit from the Sicherheitsdienst calmed him down."

"Yes, I can well imagine. Anything else I need to know? I need to get my men moving, what about fuel supplies along the way?"

"You will be refueled and resupplied in Kronenburg. I understand that you will be receiving another company of infantry there as well, all truck mounted. I must be going Sir, I have other stops. Everything you need for now is in this folder." Manstein handed that folder to von Lüttwitz, it was stamped "Streng Geheim³" in bold red letters.

"Thank you Hauptsturmführer, Hals-und Beinbruch!"

"Gleichfalls Herr Major!" With a last salute, the young SS captain departed. Keller came in after the man and his driver were gone.

"Sir, we have ten fairly new halftracks, and miracle of miracles, Fleischhacker and Pfeiffer have got all five LKWs running. They 'liberated' some parts from a garage in town. We're motorized now Sir. Shall I tell the lads to start calling themselves Panzergrenadiers now?" Keller was obviously in a good mood. He wondered if the SS driver had told him anything.

"Well, save your high spirits for the road Spieß, we're moving out immediately, to Kronenburg. In less than five days, we're attacking into Belgium. But that's a secret, understood?"

"Of course Sir, I..."

"Our young friend Manstein informed me that three men from the Leibstandarte were shot yesterday for talking about this operation."

Keller looked stunned, "Jesus Sir, they're shooting their own now. The Waffen SS?"

"Lot's of them are just like our new lads Spieß, young boys. So watch your tongue, all this is unter vier Augen, klar?"

"Jawohl Herr Major, klar wie Glas. I better get moving!"

"Yes, please. We depart as soon as we can get everyone loaded on the vehicles."

As Keller rushed off to get the unit mounted and ready, von Lüttwitz walked to the barn opening and looked out over the valley. It was so pretty here, he thought. While the snow had stopped, they'd only received perhaps a centimeter, it had made the town and surrounding countryside look like a postcard.

He had to wonder, would this mad scheme pay off? After their losses in the Hürtgenwald, the Americans had to be growing war weary. He'd seen it himself in their later attacks, they were cautious, they must feel that the war was close to ending. An offensive, if successful, could, in theory, break their morale. Get in behind the British up in Holland, those people would surely run to the Channel and home, just like they had in 1940.

"If only..." von Lüttwitz mused aloud, "I would so like to go home..."

¹ Lastkraftwagen, truck in German, typically referred to by just the initials, pronounced "El Kaw Vay."
² What the Germans called the Amblève River.
³ Top Secret.  The other German phrases used above are "Hals-und Beinbruch" - Break a leg, "Gleichfalls" - likewise, "unter vier Augen" - in private, a secret, literally "under four eyes," i.e. only two people, "klar" - is that clear, and "klar wie Glas" - clear as glass, i.e. clear as day.

Link to all of The Chant's fiction.


  1. And so begins the desperate push...and that with the killing of their own men, who would speak out of turn. Throughout history there are many examples of oppressive regimes demoralizing or alienating their own citizenry through acts and policies meant to "keep them in line". Not to wax political, but where are we, in the U.S., today? The desperate to return to power elitists have every intention of ruling with an iron fist, and of that there can come no good for the common man.

    1. The Nazis took security and discipline very seriously. Over 15,000 Germans troops were executed for desertion in WWII, upwards of 50,000 were executed for what some armies would consider minor disciplinary infractions. Revealing an offensive which could turn the tide of the war? You shoot some to encourage the others to keep their mouths shut.

      The Germans were in the fight until damned near the last day. The resistance to Hitler was not as widespread as some would believe. They were, so to speak, "all in."

    2. "pour encourager les autres." Popped into my mind as I'd seen it used in the military discipline context.
      My limited French language skills don't permit the proper pronouncement.
      On the other hand, fifteen years of speaking with the Paris flight passengers have made me a master of the Gallic shrug.

    3. Exactly.

      The "Gallic shrug" is an art form all its own.

    4. I did not know about those numbers Sarge.

      I wonder how much we like to flatter ourselves that somehow there is there is more resistance to authoritarian tyrannies than there really is.

    5. As long as people aren't directly affected, they'll be content to "go along to get along." Of course, the Germans have always been an orderly people, obeying the rules and all that. Modern Germans are much more liberal than their forebears. At least in my experience.

  2. I did not know that the L stood for Last. I had always guessed it stood for lichte. It payed to stop by today!

    1. L = Last = load/cargo/goods
      K = Kraft = power/energy/motor
      W = Wagen = car/vehicle

      PKW = Personen-Kraft-Wagen; KrKw = Kranken-Kraft-Wagen = ambulance

      The "L" can have many meanings, whether in upper case or in lower case.

      l = "leicht" = light; e.g. MG(l) = Maschinengewehr (leicht),
      L = "Lehr" = instruction/teaching/formative/education; e.g. PzLBtl 93 = Panzerlehrbataillon 93 = armored instruction bn

    2. StB - Live and learn. I find stuff I didn't know all the time. (The road lock on the StuG springs to mind!)

    3. Danke, Martin!

      Always good to get the "insider" facts, so to speak.

  3. Again, a nice job of letting us peek into the thoughts of the lower level unit officers and NCO's, along with their further thoughts ...
    I know it's overstating the obvious, but the Waffen SS were real bastards, not only shooting their own but with Malmedy yet to come...

    Hope everyone enjoys the weekend - looks like your in for rain and possibly snow, Sarge

    1. The German Army (and Air Force and Navy) were not above shooting their own as well. The surprise that the SS did it was more an example on the breakdown of SS recruiting methods than it was a breakdown of morale within the SS. By 1944 even the SS were bending (if not outright breaking) their own rules on who could join the SS.

      Raining constantly here since this morning. Whether or not we see snow in Little Rhody depends on the storm track, if it goes further inland we get rain, more out to sea, we get snow. Where we live seems to be right on the rain/snow line every winter. I've seen six inches of snow where I live, go ten miles south to where I work and they only get a dusting. Very interesting climate here.

    2. Read somewhere that the SS didn't look askance at 5% casualty rates in training. Tough training makes tough men type of thing.

      Same with discipline. They were very tough on their own (well, those that fought, vs those that camp-guarded.) Same source said that infractions that the Heer punished the soldiers with just time would get them beat. Really bad punishment was hanging.

      Don't know if it is true, just one of those factoids that's floating around from a while ago.

    3. I've never seen any of that documented enough to believe it. The Waffen SS did take horrendous casualties in battle because they tended to be somewhat tactically inept. Charge in blasting and hope for the best sort of thing.

  4. Too many times wishful thinking has replaced clear analysis of the enemy. Interesting truck photo Sarge, rolled up shirt sleeves and cactus......Sicily? It appears the good Major and his men are going to have ringside seats very soon.

    1. Humans see what they expect to see. Our brain is very good at pattern recognition, if you don't think "outside the box," you'll be fooled every time.

      The caption said "Italy," didn't specify where, but Sicily is probably a good bet.

    2. Well, they came close, damn close. And when your back is against the wall is the time to go for it. As the SS officer said, what to do, pull back behind the Rhine and wait for the inevitable? Might as well go down swinging, as the concept of Ragnarok - a fatalistic end-of-the-world where all the forces of good will stand against the bad guys and lose in the end but stack up the bad guys like cordwood - is a very teutonic thing. Bloody stupid last stands are very German.

    3. Sort of a cultural thing I do believe back in the day.

  5. My favorite "unter vier Augen" story--

  6. Our good Captain is definitely caught up in the 'Nothing good ever comes without something bad following' concept. Troops re-equipped and resupplied and with actual vehicles rather than shank's mare? Food and fuel and all the ammo you want? Great, but that means you get to drive to your doom.

    And just one throw-away line of yours showed why it almost worked. The comment about the weather and hiding the SdKfzs under trees just because there might be a break in the weather. Allied air superiority really did screw up the Germans all day long. Stop those planes and they had a chance. They had good equipment, good tactics, good fighting spirit, just the damned Jabos screwed up everything.

    It's going to be interesting to see what type of transport the US snags, in a few weeks, for our American friends...

    1. I haven't really covered it, but Paddock's lads walk into battle, but they get carried in trucks to the battlefield.

      Infantry combat vehicles are a thing of the future in 1944. Halftracks were used to get over terrain that a truck couldn't handle. If you rode one into combat, you were probably going to die. Their armor was minimal at best.

    2. you can have excellent view of what happens when half-tracks and armored cars try to do medium/heavy tank job against even marginally prepared enemy in A Bridge too far in this scene:

    3. Yup, didn't go so well.

      (A friend of mine was one of the German extras in that scene.)

    4. On the other side of the coin, half track is much better protection against sporadic small arms or artillery fire than trick. They were the battlefield taxis, designed to bring troops into battle that later evolved into m_113 or btr series

    5. Yes, better than a truck, not as good as a purpose-designed APC. Which is why you don't see many militaries fielding halftracks these days.

  7. The phrase beat up Opel brings back memories. The first car I owned was a 1968 Opel Kadett fastback coupe. Bought it for $325. Fill the tank for $3 and run the wheels off it. Good summer.

    1. Same here, December 1975, my best buddy and I traveled from Lowry AFB in Colorado to Springfield, VT (roughly 2,000 miles) all in one go, in an Opel GT. We were both heading home for Christmas leave. I would be returning to Lowry, by air, he was done with school and would heading off to SE Asia in January. So he pretty much had all of his earthly possessions in that car.

      It was quite a trip, a bit cramped, but we had a good time. I also remember lots of snow crossing Ohio and New York. It was a white Christmas that year, and it was pretty special.

      So yes, mention "Opel" and I remember that trip.

      Good times indeed.

    2. Small world, sort of - just before Christmas in 1975, I was driving across Ohio and Pennsylvania on my way to southern New Hampshire to meet up with the young lady who would become my wife in a couple more years. Nearly died on an icy I-80 a little west of Stroudsburg, somehow threading the needle between a bunch of jack knifed tractor trailers at the bottom of a hill. I spent the night in my van at a truck stop, then drove the rest of the way the next day. Was pretty dang cold for a guy who had lived in Dallas most of his life.

    3. That was one heck of a winter as I recall!

  8. Wow period we could have all ridden together. December 26th 1975 I was headed across Pennsylvania from Akron Ohio to Montclair New Jersey to get married the next day on the 27th. Yes it was snowy indeed. One lane open on i-80 all the way across Pennsylvania. Small world.

  9. I am so enjoying this series because it humanizes the people in the German army. I am having a similar experience in this book that I believe you recommended currently in the chapter about his life in about life in the German Air Force in north Africa.

    I think I’ve mentioned this before but a friend of mine who owns an independent Mercedes shop had a father who was drafted into the SS late in the war.

    I think by 1945 it was whatever unit needs what.

    He was fighting the Russians and the only thing that saved him was the fact he didn’t have time to put that telltale tattoo on his arm

    BTW Martin thank you for the description of the LKW.


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