Friday, December 18, 2020

This Far, and No Further...


"So that's the deal Captain, whereas most of 1st Battalion is being held in reserve, regiment is taking C Company and using it to fill a gap in the line. Your outfit is at full strength and..."

"Sir, a lot of my guys are brand new recruits, I don't know if they're ready for this mission." Cpt. Tony Palminteri protested as he spoke with the Major from regiment, some staff guy who apparently was being used as an errand boy.

The Major sniffed, his nose was running badly, "I know that, Captain, regiment knows that, do you think any other outfit is any better off than yours? Hell, some of the companies are still understrength, your company also has a good, solid corps of noncoms, I wish I had better news, but that's all I've got."

Cpt. Palminteri wasn't happy, but he'd heard the news, the Germans were running wild and headed straight for Bütgenbach. An SS Panzer division was in the lead, they had been deflected from the twin villages of Krinkelt and Rocherath by the stout resistance of the 99th Infantry Division, but there was a hole in the line, a gap which C Company had been tapped to fill. Those Nazis were headed straight for that gap.

"All right Major, my boys will fill that gap, we don't have squat for anti-tank weapons though, any help you can give us there?"

The Major turned to his jeep driver and the security man riding with them, directing them to unhook the trailer from the back of his jeep.

"That's the best I can do Captain, that trailer is loaded with bazooka ammo, and five tubes. I wish I could give you more, but the terrain in the gap is very wooded and pretty hilly. If the Krauts come at you with tanks, there's just the single road..."

"I get the picture Major, thanks." With that said, Palminteri saluted and after the Major had gotten in his jeep and drove off, he said, "Yeah, thanks for nothing."

Turning to his driver, Pfc. Clay Newton, who was also the company bugler, Palminteri told him, "Come on Clay, let's get that trailer hooked up and get back to the CP."

Sturmbannführer Horst Beckmann studied the map, it was a gamble but division had been on his ass all morning to find a hole. He folded the map up, spat in the dirt next to his Pzkw IV and muttered, "That asshole Peiper has all of the Tigers and a bunch of Panthers to go gallivanting off to the Maas. He's already crossed divisional boundaries multiple times, turned the road net behind him into one big traffic jam, and is probably terrorizing civilians all the while. We should have left that shit head in Russia."

"Now it's up to me and my boys to try and find a path for the rest of 6th Panzerarmee while Peiper chases headlines. Him and his 'Blowtorch Battalion.' They're pretty good at burning Ukrainian villages, I wonder how they'll stand up to the Amis? Hans!!" He yelled to the Scharführer talking to his second in command.

"Ja, Sturmbannführer?" The SS sergeant was a tough old bastard, he'd fought in 1918 in the Army, then again during the '20s in the Freikorps. The man lived for combat. He'd been with Beckmann since '39.

"Go back and tell Zimmermann to get his panzergrenadiers loaded up, we're making a mad dash to the north, try and find a hole in the Ami line. Go man, go!"

Moments later he was in the commander's hatch of 135, his own tank being some kilometers back with a seized up motor. He took one last drag on his cigar, tossed the stub outboard and signaled the advance. The road ahead went into a narrow, wooded valley, but it opened up after that and would take them right into Bütgenbach and over the Elsenborn Ridge. Once in the rear of the American 99th, he could unhinge their positions around Krinkelt-Rocherath and the entire 6th Panzerarmee could get rolling again!

U.S. Army Photo

"Any questions, Ricky?" Though Cpt. Palminteri was looking at the man leading his 3rd Platoon, 2nd Lt. Ricky Frazier, his question was really directed at Frazier's platoon sergeant, S/Sgt. Bob Poole. As expected, Frazier looked at Poole before answering.

"I don't think so, Sir." He saw Poole nod his head and continued, "Nah, I think we got this, Cap'n."

"Any problems, any problems at all, and you get on that damned radio and let me know. I've got 2nd Platoon in reserve. I can have 'em up here to backstop you in no time. Whatever you do, don't lose those f**king bazookas, we've only got five of 'em and you've got three!"

"I got it, Sir. We got this, right Bob?"

"Absolutely L.T., Cap, you can count on us. Tell Hernandez he can take the day off!" S/Sgt Poole, though he didn't really feel confident, wanted to put on a brave front for his lieutenant, poor bastard had only been in theater for two weeks.

As the Captain headed back to the rear, Frazier looked at Poole again. "Ya know Sarge, we can't screw this up."

Slapping his M1, Poole looked at his lieutenant and said, with a confidence he didn't quite feel, "They'll come this far L.T., and not one f**king step further."


Pfc. Tomas Lopez had reluctantly handed his B.A.R. over to Pvt. Carlos Farmer, one of his ammo bearers, in order to take on the task of using the bazooka, a weapon he had excelled with in training. But, in typical Army fashion, they'd made him a B.A.R. man. A weapon which he'd also mastered and the one he preferred.

"Look, Tomas, you're the only guy in the platoon who's used one of these things before, you're what they call 'an expert.'" Sgt. Cliff Davis, leader of 3rd Platoon's 1st Squad told Lopez, trying to convince the man that he really was the best choice for the job. "Hell Tomas, I'll even let you pick your own loader."

With a somewhat evil grin, Lopez looked towards Pvt. Lowell Garza, his buddy from Big Bend, Texas, and said, "How about it Lowell, wanna be a hero?"

"Nah, but I will try and keep your ugly ass outta trouble!" Garza answered.

"Okay, great. You've got a .30 cal over on the left side of the road. If a tank comes waltzing in, let them fire first, get the crew to button up, then you light 'em up. Okay? The rest of us will watch your back." Sgt. Davis was shivering, his feet had gotten wet that morning and he hadn't had a chance to dry them off yet.

"Got it Sarge, just make sure no one is directly behind us when I touch this thing off. And jeez, you need to get those feet dry or you're gonna lose some toes man!" Davis always took care of everybody but himself.

"Yeah, yeah, as soon as the L.T. relieves us, I'll take care of that. For now you guys focus on this road. Clear?"

"You got it, Sarge."

View from Beckmann's Panzer

Sturmbannführer Beckmann had his head out of his hatch, but not much else, though most of him was inside the turret, he felt naked and exposed with his head up. But he could see far better than if he was stuck looking through his vision blocks in the cupola.

The tank slipped a bit as the driver brought it around a curve in the narrow road. The temperature had been up and down all day, the roads had dirt on top of the pavement and the dirt was turning to mud. Though the tank weighed in excess of 25 tonnes, the tracks often wouldn't grip if the surface was muddy or icy. These roads they were traveling on were often a combination of both!

"Take it easy Klaus, I don't want to fight my war from a ditch." His regular driver had had his foot crushed two days ago when he slipped and a halftrack had run over his foot. A freak accident to be sure, but the kid he had as a driver now barely knew his business. He tended to horse the tank around curves and ground through the gears as if he didn't know how to use a clutch.

Up ahead, Beckmann thought he saw something beside the road, was that a man? Before he could decide, he saw flashes from the other side of the road, followed an instant later by the hiss and snap of bullets passing near his head. He dropped down into the turret without any further prompting.

"Enemy MG to our right, I can't bear with my gun, we need to turn." His bow gunner and radioman Hermann Sauckel announced over the intercom.

"Be still Junge, I've got this." Beckmann was already rotating the turret to engage the enemy machine gun emplacement with the turret's coaxial machine gun. "Keep heading down the road Klaus, it's just an MG team."

As he said that he caught a flash of something in his peripheral vision, an instant later he realized that he'd just seen an enemy anti-tank team with a rocket launcher.

It was an instant too late.

The bazooka round hit one of the angled surfaces on the turret not protected by the armored skirt surrounding the sides and back. Because of the angle of the vehicle caused by the road sloping down to the right, and the turning of the turret to engage the machine gun, that round impacted the armor at nearly a perfect 90° angle.

The round detonated and shot a jet of hot plasma through the wall of the turret and into the tank. The loader was killed instantly and the gunner was badly burned. Beckmann himself was wounded by spalling from the inner wall of the turret. Both Sauckel and the driver, Klaus Wittenberg, were unhurt but both were unnerved by the screams of Georg Tryb, the gunner.

Beckmann ordered the crew out of the tank, he could smell smoke, something in the vehicle was on fire, something other than two of his crew that is.

Both men in front knew their chances of survival were slim at this point, they knew there was an enemy machine gun to their front, probably riflemen as well. But they both realized that staying in the tank wasn't an option. They would most certainly burn to death if they did.

Klaus Wittenberg came out of his hatch quickly then rolled off the side of the tank as he did. He hit the ground hard but wasn't hit by enemy fire. He stayed low as he moved to the rear of the vehicle and then ran back to where his own infantry were. He may not have been much of a tank driver, but he was a superb sprinter.

Hermann Sauckel wasn't as lucky, he came out of the loader's hatch shortly after Beckmann was emerging from his hatch. The American machine gun opened fire. Beckmann was hit almost immediately and slid back into the tank, he was quite dead.

Sauckel was badly wounded in the upper torso. His left arm hung useless as he used his right arm to extricate himself from the tank. Just before he managed to jump over the side, the machine gun found him. He was hit multiple times and died quickly, his body fell over the side and sprawled on the road next to the tank.

SS-Scharführer Hans Müller swore as the first section of infantry he sent forward and to the left side of the burning Pzkw IV were cut down as they tried to deploy. He realized that he had to fall back and get his men into the woods where they might have a chance to maneuver the Americans out of their position.

That's when American mortar rounds began to fall on his position. Five more of his men died, he himself was wounded in the left arm. It hurt but he could still function. Reluctantly he ordered the rest of the men to fall back. They would have to find another way into Bütgenbach, this door had been slammed shut by the Americans.


S/Sgt Bob Poole ran up to where Lopez and Vargas had fired at the enemy tank. He got there just in time to see it blow itself to pieces as the onboard ammunition detonated.

"Holy shit!" Vargas said, "F**king thing sure tore itself apart."

Laughing, Lopez looked at Vargas and said, "I guess we showed those bastards who owns this road."

"Damn, remind me never to piss you guys off!" S/Sgt Poole could see the enemy halftrack further down the road backing away. He thought about having the guys fire at it, but it was a long shot and they only had a limited supply of rockets.

"Seriously though, good job guys. This road is blocked for the time being, fall back with the rest of the squad. We'll cover the wreck with the MG. Go! Go!"

Lopez and Vargas scrambled to the rear, glad not to be out there on their own. Both men realized just how dangerous things would have gotten had they missed.

But they were still alive, and pumped up, they had just killed a Kraut tank!

Link to all of The Chant's fiction.


  1. That MG position photo, snow on the ground and you've got dark helmets and uniforms........uh oh! Tension ramped up and slightly eased today Sarge. The Source under the bazooka photo has a good article on the 504th attack, chilling to read of the casualties the paratroopers suffered that day. You get much snow Sarge?

    1. I read some from the source under the bazooka team. I also read it from the first hand perspective in a book, "Those Devils In Baggy Pants". I remember how torn up I felt after getting to know the guys through the whole book, then reading about them die in a skirmish line advancing on armor. The Arab with his copy of Homer on his chest. Carter made it, only to die of cancer shortly after the war. Real men, real blood. Sobering.

    2. Nylon12 - 5 to 7 inches in my town, some locations in the state had over 14 inches. It wasn't much of a Nor'easter but it was enough.

    3. STxAR - The real stories are sobering. Real people with real lives, losing them in an instant. War sucks, though it is often necessary. Far too often over our species' history.

  2. "When I was but a young man..." We lived on a dirt road... 2.5 miles in.... When it rained or the snow melted in the winter, that was a morass of mud, maybe 15 mph tops. If you were lucky you didn't slid off the road. When it froze hard at night, you could straddle the ruts and blow down it at 50 mph... So going to work or school in the am was a breeze, getting home at the end of the day would take every last bit of energy and concentration to make it home. Mom's Mercury got stuck to the carport once, when the mud fell off and froze her tires to the concrete overnight.

    We had a kid who had just moved to LBB from Germany. First German words I ever learned was in Boy Scouts: scheisskopf. "We should have left that shit head in Russia" Heard that in my head... yes sir...

  3. Great work as ever, Sarge!
    Opener to Charlie Co. but it's just the opener. Credible meeting engagement, "lucky" it was "only" a PzKw IV.
    Always better to be lucky than good. "They was men in them days" glad to know some of their grandsons.
    Boat Guy

    1. Yup, that was the opener. Yeah, "only" a PzKw IV.

  4. Whether it's the past, present, or the future, bad things happen to armor if it's not screened by infantry.

    1. Most people see tanks as these mobile, unstoppable juggernauts, until they meet up with determined infantry who know their business.

    2. Sarge, I always thought this was one of the more enjoyable parts of David Drake's Series Hammer's Slammers and associated timeline series, the back and forth of armor and infantry.

      Not sure I have recommended here before, but I think you would very much enjoy his book The Forlorn Hope. It is a sort of a retelling of Anabasis/The Persian Expedition, but is done in the context of a mercenary company in the future. Very enjoyable.

    3. The Forlorn Hope is one of my favorite.

    4. TB - I need to read that series, I read the first one way back in the early '80s, and enjoyed it immensely. Looks like I need to order some books!

    5. Beans et al - Has anyone read Harold Coyle's version of the Anabasis, set in modern times. It's quite good. (This one.)

    6. Yup! Great book! The description of how a full division moved through territory was very valuable professionally to this non-Army guy
      Boat Guy

  5. I reread Steve Zaloga's Bazooka vs Panzer, to prep for this part of your tale. That plasma jet was at 30,000°F!

    1. Unbelievable what that stuff does to armor plate!

    2. And now you can go down to Horrible Fright or any other big tool store and buy your own plasma jet for under $500.00! Though I wouldn't want to try to lug a plasma cutter around on a battlefield so I can go mano-y-mano at torch distance...

    3. Not mention it's a tad slower than a shaped charge. Crappy range too.

  6. The elation of survival is quite real and very intoxicating for some. Wish all the engagements worked out the way of this installment for the Americans.
    And being good often creates its own luck, but luck is always helpful!

    1. Juvat's saying, "I'd rather be lucky than good." Helps to be both!

  7. "If You Survive" by George Wilson. Infantry Platoon Leader and Company Commander in WW2. In combat for eight months until WIA by artillery. From Normandy, Saint Lo, Seigfried Line, Huertgen Forest, Battle of the Bulge. Led his company of 150 Soldiers into action in the Huertgen Forest; less than 24 hours later he and 11 walked out. A meatgrinder. His unit was then moved to a quiet sector to received replacements. Of course the quiet sector was in the Ardennes where your current story is underway...I remain in awe of what those youngsters did. - Barry

    1. He was with my Great-Uncle John's old outfit, 4th ID. My uncle was wounded in the Hürtgenwald, as were so many others. It truly was a meatgrinder.

    2. Just finished "If You Survive" a week or so ago. Ranks right there with MacDonald's "Company Commander"
      Boat Guy

    3. Another book for my ever expanding list!

  8. "Absolutely L.T., Cap, you can count on us. Tell Hernandez he can take the day off!" S/Sgt Poole, though he didn't really feel confident, wanted to but on a brave front for his lieutenant, poor bastard had only been in theater for two weeks.

    I do believe that S/Sgt Poole is trying to PUT on a brave face, not BUTT on a brave face...

    Lucky shots count with an anti-tank missile. Getting that perfect 90 degree hit is a rare but beautiful thing. Unless you're flying air-to-ground support and then just about anything you can drop or shoot will kill a tank. (Did that for juvat's sake... Since he seems to be fighting skunk wars again.)

    And good example of how fireteams are supposed to cover each other. The MG engages, the Bazooka punches, the MG finishes off.

    And the Forest starts it's winter feast...

    1. D'oh! Fixed it.

      Lucky shots are good, unless you're the target...


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