Thursday, December 17, 2020

Vorwärts! Greifen Wir An!*


Grenadier Michael Kampf applied the brake again as the column came to yet another stop. The Major had wanted the unit in position by dawn of the 17th, they were still five and a half kilometers short of where they wanted to be by dawn, which was near the small village of Wirtzfeld. Kampf turned to his platoon leader, Leutnant Manfred Sauer.

"We're never going to be there by dawn Leutnant. Can you make out the tank which was ahead of us? I can't even see his tail light now."

Sauer slid back out of the driver's compartment and stood up next to his platoon messenger, Grenadier Stefan Holzbauer, who was manning the MG on the halftrack's roof. He looked through the fog, he thought he could see the tail end of the trail Pzkw III of the panzer platoon which was supposed to be ahead of his platoon.

"The fog is shifting Herr Leutnant, I can see the tail light of the tank every now and then." Unteroffizier Karl-Heinz Köhler, the squad leader of Sauer's 1st Platoon, had come up next to Sauer, which caused Holzbauer to grumble.

"What's that Holzbauer? Problem with the accommodations? Back in my day we'd be on foot, slogging through the cold and the fog. At least you get to ride!"

"Give him a break Opa, if he has to use that gun, we are in the way." Sauer chided Köhler, knowing the "old man" would take it in stride.

"You're right, you're right, Herr Leutnant, but these young pups need to have more respect for a man of my age, right Stefan?" Köhler grinned at the kid manning the gun, who smiled in return.

"You're right Herr Unteroffizier Opa, we should. Need a blanket? A cup of hot tea perhaps?" Holzbauer, along with his squad mates had great respect for their squad leader, and they liked to kid him about his age.

"See what I mean, Sir."

Men and vehicles of the 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry moving up near Bütgenbach, Belgium
U.S. Army Photo

S/Sgt Stephen Hernandez was on foot looking down the column of halftracks which had moved them from Hombourg to just north of Bütgenbach. Rumors of Tiger tanks and swarms of German infantry were rampant within the battalion, as were tales of fleeing U.S. troops abandoning their positions and, what's worse, their equipment.

He'd seen S/Sgt Poole, the platoon sergeant for 3rd Platoon, that morning. His platoon had picked up a couple of stragglers from the 99th Division who had gotten lost in the fog while heading back to Krinkelt from Losheimergraben.

"They were in a jeep, three guys, they came around a corner and there was an SS Panther sitting in the middle of the road. It had thrown a track and the crew were working on it. Behind them was an entire column, all stuck behind this tank."

"Damn, the countryside is a little closer down there, right?" Hernandez had asked.

"Yeah, the road they were on runs down a little valley, the Kraut threw a track right before the terrain opened out again. Good thing for us."

"You said there were three men, you picked up two."

"Yeah, the Kraut tank commander was sitting on top of the tank, when he saw the jeep, he opened up with a machine pistol. The kid riding in the back of the jeep was hit and fell out. The other two hightailed it. Can't say I blame 'em."

"Yeah, sucks to be the guy who got hit though."

"Yup, that it does."

Now Hernandez was waiting for his platoon leader to come up, he wasn't sure where the battalion was supposed to be, he'd heard that 2nd and 3rd Battalions were going to be up front, 1st would be in reserve.

"Well, I guess it's better to be in reserve until the brass can figure out what the Hell is going on. It all smells like panic to me."

S/Sgt Poole had been looking down the road and hadn't heard Hernandez clearly, "What did you say Stephen?"

"Nothing important, Bob. Hey look, that's the L.T.'s jeep right?"

"Yup, maybe he can tell us where the Hell we're supposed to be."

"One can only hope, Bob. One can only hope."

U.S. troops muscling an anti-tank gun into position.
U.S. Army Photo

"Scheiße!" Oberleutnant Ludwig Köhler swore as his Luchs¹ came out of the treeline. He'd spotted the burning tank across the field immediately, he also knew, with a sickening certainty, that it was one of his. They were the only Luchs unit on the Western Front. "Stop the tank Egon," he ordered over the intercom, then on the company frequency he ordered, "All Luchs panzers, hold position, report in."

All of his vehicles except his 1st Platoon's assistant platoon leader reported in. He pulled his field glasses out and surveyed the scene. He could see what appeared to be a Pzkw IV up on the ridge ahead, perhaps that tank had killed his Panzer by mistake? Then he looked at the burning Luchs, there it was, painted on the turret, "112," he also saw a body hanging from the commander's hatch. Impossible to tell who it was, but he just knew that his men, Oberfeldwebel Werner Günther, Oberreiter Rolf Horn, Obergefreiter Paul Lehmann, and Reiter Rudolf Otto were probably dead.

"Now what?"


The engagement had been sharp and quick. The anti-tank men from 2nd Battalion had been quick to get their gun into action. They'd seen the tank coming across the field in front of them when the fog had lifted momentarily, the tank hadn't seen them.

When the fog had lifted again, they were ready. It took only a moment to lay the gun on target, with a crack, the gun sent a 57mm antitank round out. There was a flash on the front of the enemy tank, which didn't seem to faze the vehicle at all, it just kept rolling, for about twenty feet, then it abruptly stopped. Soon after, the commander's hatch flew open as flames could be seen coming out of the driver's vision slit.

As the tank commander tried to free himself from his headset and climb out of the vehicle, every infantryman in sight opened fire on the man. Though perhaps 50-plus rounds had been fired at him, only two had actually hit the man.


As soon as his vehicle was hit, Werner Günther knew they were in trouble. His loader yelled out that the driver and the radio operator were both dead. Günther didn't question Lehmann's opinion, the antitank round had come right through Horn's vision slit, the round had fragmented, injuring Günther himself, only now did he realize that, and also killing Otto.

"Werner we need to get out, the Gottverdammte crate is starting to burn!" Lehmann sounded frantic, so Günther hurriedly opened his hatch and began to climb out, only then did he realize that his headset was still on and the wire attaching him to the radio had caught on his seat.

As he reached down to loosen the wire, then throw off his headset, he could hear bullets spanging off the tank's armor. Freeing himself, finally, he climbed halfway out of the hatch.

The first bullet hit him squarely in the abdomen, doubling him over. He felt like he'd had the wind knocked out of him as he struggled to pull his legs out of the hatch. He could feel Lehmann pushing at his legs. Lehmann was also screaming in agony as his trousers were on fire.

The second bullet took the top of Günther's head off, snapping his head back. Then his body slumped down over the side of the turret, his legs stuck in the hatch opening.

Lehmann didn't make it out. He shot himself with his sidearm as soon as he realized that he was going to burn to death. The hatch on the rear of the vehicle was jammed, he didn't know why, the commander's body blocked the main hatch, and the hatches for the driver and radioman were blocked by the burning bodies of those two men. He was doomed and the pain was starting to overwhelm him.

His last act was to pull out his P 38 service pistol and end it.


"F**k, f**k, f**k, Lou, we gotta turn the gun, that's a f**king Tiger to our left."

The gun commander, Sgt. Louis Redford saw the enemy tank, it was close, but what scared him more were the infantry he saw behind that tank. They had noticed his vehicle and his gun, they were pointing and starting to fan out.

"Target left, pivot, pivot, get this beast turned!" Redford shouted, knowing in his heart that it was probably too late but they had to try.

Against the odds, they got the gun turned and laid on target before the enemy tank noticed them. Then they got a round off. At this range they couldn't miss and miracle of miracles, they hit the Kraut tank right in the turret ring. Which, Redford noticed, wasn't a Tiger at all.

Gunner Bob Rell figured they were screwed so he stood up with his hands in the air. The German infantry shot him down where he stood. Some of them were yelling, "Surrender!"

"Ah Bob, what didja do that for?" Sgt. Redford sobbed as he and the rest of his crew sheltered behind the gun shield. One of the guys, Al Jeffreys, was hit in the foot, but everybody else was okay. The gun's supporting infantry had gone into action instantly, two of the Germans tried to surrender, after seeing what had happened to the hapless gunner, none of the Americans was in a merciful mood. All twelve German infantrymen were shot down.

Redford saw all this, then he realized that the Kraut tank wasn't quite dead.

"Jack, we up?"

"Up!"

"Fire!"

Another round went into the enemy tank, this one penetrated the driver's position. Moments later the vehicle began to smoke, then burn with a fierce blaze issuing from each of the openings. From where Lou Redford sat, it sounded just like a blowtorch. Actually, a bunch of blowtorches.


Major von Lüttwitz came up in his Kübelwagen and stopped just behind Oberleutnant Köhler's tank.

"Why are we stopped?"

Köhler gestured toward his burning vehicle, then to the ridge above. "My boys' job is to find the enemy, Sir. There they are. I'd like to maneuver to the right, see if I can get around them. You see that burning Pzkw IV up there?"

Von Lüttwitz was scanning the ridge with his field glasses. "I see it, somehow that panzer got up there, might be an opening on that flank. Send two of your vehicles over that way."

Köhler obeyed instantly and soon Panzers 115 and 116 were moving to the Kampfgruppe's right. In the meantime von Lüttwitz sent a runner to the rear. He would leave a platoon here, along with Köhler's remaining vehicles, to fix the Americans' attention to their front, while he took the rest of the Kampfgruppe around their flank.

Kampfgruppe (mot) von Lüttwitz, First Skirmish
(Source)

"So we're in reserve, again. I hate this shit!" 1st Lt. Paddock was furious. He wanted to get back at the enemy for many things, he wanted the damned war to be over and the damned Germans didn't know when to quit. It seemed to him that the bastards didn't know how to quit.

"Look L.T. , the situation right now is confused as Hell. I don't want to be charging out there only to run into bunch of Kraut tanks. We dig in here, we wait for orders. You and I both know that Cap'n Palminteri and Major Josephson know their business. Let those other guys move up, when they've assessed the situation, then we'll probably get sent in." Hernandez still had hopes of surviving this war. There was an Army nurse who seemed to want the same thing.

But it seemed that the damned Germans weren't done just yet.





* Forward! We attack!
¹ Luchs is the German word for "Lynx," which was what the Germans called their little reconnaissance tanks, the Panzerspähwagen II.

Link to all of The Chant's fiction.

44 comments:

  1. Wonder how many times that was repeated all along the front.

    ReplyDelete
  2. last Thursday, I had to go to Corpus Christi for a service call. The fog was so thick, I had to really go slow. I lost tail lights at about 200 yards... sometimes much less. The last 60 miles took forever...

    Fighting in that mess?? I can't even imagine.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know that sort of fog very well. It's scary enough trying to drive in it. Fight in it? No thanks!

      Delete
    2. that dense fog is awful and amazing at the same time. I was up in the mountains trying to get to a hotel in Charlottesville, VA, many years ago. They experience very thick fog frequently enough that they had embedded lights along the shoulder of the road to keep cars from veering off into a ditch or off the side of the mountain. I was literally across the street from a big Holiday Inn sign, and all I saw was a faint glow. I can't imagine trying to fight in it.
      One more fog story - back in the early 60's, Dallas had an AFC expansion team called the Texans, and they played in the Cotton Bowl out at Fair Park. I went to a few of their games, one of which was held in a pretty thick fog. Thick enough so that the ball on kickoffs, punts and even some long passes disappeared up into the fog, giving the players on a split second to react when the ball became visible on its downward path. Not as serious as fighting a battle in the fog, but pretty entertaining and led to more than a few turnovers.

      Delete
    3. Awful and amazing...

      Well said, Tom.

      Delete
    4. I did one 'war' in dense fog. Reminded me of the end battle in 'Excaliber' with people lurching in and out of patches of vision. In a forest, with lots of up and down. Very fun because nobody was really shooting at me or trying to kill me. Would have totally sucked if somebody was actually shooting at me or trying to kill me.

      Though, there was one moment, when, after the battle, this beautiful woman came out of a fog bank, full quilted gambeson and breastplate, shield and 'sword' with her helmet tucked under shield arm, hair flowing... It was a vision, I tell you...

      Delete
    5. Beans, never eat the mushrooms in the forest...

      😉

      Delete
  3. I have experienced the Tule fogs of Northern California which make impossible to drive in, much less walk in. Yes, fighting in such a thing would have been terrifying.

    Sarge really just a question (because you are pretty darn good at writing): when you are done with this, have you ever thought about writing speculative fiction? I would be curious to see what your take on a historical event would be if it had gone differently. Easy ones is WW II (or WW I) ending differently, more unusual would be battles going differently (What if Germany had not attacked the Soviet Union).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have thought of doing that from time to time. History lends itself to that sort of "What If" writing. I've seen (and read) some examples of that, some are very good, many are not. It's a thought though, an interesting one.

      Delete
  4. Stupid question time (technical edition): how effective would infantry mortars be against tanks, this era? Granted, the mortars don't have a LOT of pop, but the top armor of the tank isn't exactly the thickest.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Not very barring a direct hit on the engine deck. High explosive just wouldn't penetrate that far to hurt the top armor.

      But...

      It would keep the crews buttoned up, it would suppress (and kill/wound) any supporting infantry. Buttoned up tanks can't see much, without infantry they're susceptible to all sorts of close in attack.

      And...

      Keeping the enemy buttoned up gives your own tanks and anti-tank teams more opportunities to destroy those buttoned up enemy tanks.

      Not a stupid question Dave, a very good question in fact. You're thinking of what tools might be available as opposed to what you wish to have. Always good to think about!

      Delete
    2. Hey AFSarge;

      Minor addendums, Morters won't hurt tanks, but they can take off antenna's, any optics possibility of a shrapnel going into a viewing slit, and depending on where the round hits on the tank, it can direct the blast in a certain direction amplifying the effects, especially with the height, there is no ground to absorb some of the impact. Plus all what you said was spot on :)

      Delete
    3. If it was a big mortar, like 120mm or bigger, a soft kill (death by concussion) or even a hard kill (a hit on the engine deck or soft part of the top turret armor) is possible.

      But, yeah, most likely the best bet of a 60mm or 81mm is blowing a hole in the ground, tossing smoke, taking aerials out, popping track and killing the accompanying infantry.

      Delete
    4. Big mortar sure, it's possible. But the infantry typically don't have anything bigger than 81mm at company level.

      Delete
    5. I suspect having any kind of field artillery round land on a tank would ruin that crew's day, assuming they survived.

      Delete
    6. I think that's safe to assume.

      Delete
  5. A guy I worked with in the late 70's said his dad was at the bulge. Said his dad a couple of buddies had a jeep and a trailer full of booze and other goodies, and were wheelin' and dealin'. They happened come to a stop on a ridge top, and observed a column of King Tiger's come around a bend in a forest road that headed straight for them. Directly below and to their front was an American anti-tank gun at a road intersection. The gun got off three or four rounds at he lead tiger, which just bounced off. He said his dad still remembered that sound. The tanks did not return fire. The lead tank just drove over the gun.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yup, why waste ammunition. (Though it's also a good way to throw a track!)

      Delete
  6. Hey AFSarge;

    I always said that there is fog and there is European fog, LOL. I can't remember if Hernandez and Poole were around Kasserine, they would know what panic smells like, that was the last time the American Army ran facing the Germans. Excellent back and forth, Can't wait for the next installment:)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, utter panic in some units. Lots of new recruits and one unit (the 106th ID out on the Schnee Eifel) was brand new to the theater.

      Delete
    2. One unit of regimental band members was thrown in to the fight. They did not fare well.

      Delete
    3. And cooks and clerks and other rear echelon types who had maybe seen a rifle since basic!

      Delete
    4. Hey AFSarge;

      As I recall, the 106th was decimated, they lost 2 regiments out of 3 during the battle, surrounded and surrendered. I have a book in my collection that shows a helmet in the snow with the units insignia on it and the resulting battles. The book also talks that the last regiment did comport themselves exceedingly well, especially the engineering units. Still, it was a hard lesson to absorb.

      Delete
    5. Yup, the Golden Lions, cut off, isolated, two regiments did indeed surrender.

      Delete
    6. Begging your pardon, MrGaribaldi, but that's a bit more than decimation. 'Decimated' is the killing of one-tenth.
      I know, I can be insufferably pedantic.
      --Tennessee Budd

      Delete
    7. You have to admit, Tennessee Budd, that the use of "decimation" in American English has drifted from its original meaning. Which was indeed the killing of 10% of a unit. Usually as a disciplinary measure as practiced by the Romans.

      Delete
  7. And this is why anti-tank guns aren't supposed to be alone. They work best minimally in pairs, best up to a full battery, so one gun can focus the attention while the other guns are gunning.

    The 57mm anti-tank gun was, for the most part, woefully underpowered by late '44, even against the newer Japanese tanks in the Pacific. Best hope with anything bigger than a PzKw IV was to blow tracks or a rear hit. And the 57 was only effective against a IV if you hit the lower front or the side. Turret? Only if you hit the cupola or a vision slit or the gunner's scope.

    Our towed anti-tank guns sucked. Even the 76mm was barely useful. And the 90mm guns were scarce as hen's teeth. Most of them weren't towed, but vehicle mounted, and not enough of those either.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lots of our stuff sucked, but we had tons of it.

      We also had tons of really good stuff too!

      Delete
    2. Ian Hogg once said the the 3 inch M1 anti tank gun was one of the best anti tank guns of WWII, but it was supplied with some of the worst ammunition of the war.

      Delete
  8. Thick fog is pretty much a non-starter for aviation. Not that we couldn't take off in it but it makes landing a bitch. If you were instrument rated you could launch in it, but that rating really just meant you were smart enough not to.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yup, I would think getting into the air, provided there isn't any high terrain nearby, would be fairly simple. Coming back down, though inevitable, could be messy.

      I like that, the instrument rating indicating that the pilot is smart enough not to fly in certain conditions.

      Like it's been said, there are bold pilots, and there are old pilots, but there are very, very few bold and old pilots!

      Delete
    2. (Don McCollor)...The British did have a system for landing in intense fog - FIDO (Fog Investigation and Dispersal Of). A simple brute force method before ground radar controlled approach. Gasoline burners at the ends and along both side of the length of the runway. Expensive (FIDO burned up to 100,000 gallons of gasoline per hour). But the heat would cut a rectangle of clear air over the runway, and returning bombers could see and home on the glow from least 50 miles at night...

      Delete
    3. Live and learn, I didn't know that.

      Delete
  9. Hate to say this, but the worst part about your writing is that I'm not reading a story; I'm standing there freezing and shivering right next to Hernandez or Köhler (I'm not certain which since I had people on sides in that one) waiting to get hit.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Which tells me I'm doing this right.

      High praise, boron, thanks.

      Delete
  10. Great writing, Sarge. I feel like I'm there with them.....

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks drjim. Sounds like I'm hitting my marks!

      Delete
  11. I'm in the busy season of work. I know this, because I save OldAFSarge until the work day is done. 1858 here in damp SoCal and I'm taking a break to register my appreciation for what he brings to the table, but still not reading yet. Dinner almost done, filing construction submittals even now. Hopefully, I can read during dinner, unless the revised cost estimate comes in from Hawaii, but at least I have something to look forward to at the end of the day. Thanks and looking forward to buying the book.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I think it might be time to consider the release of VT fuzes.

    ReplyDelete

Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)
Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

NOTE: Comments on posts over 5 days old go into moderation, automatically.