Thursday, January 28, 2021

Contact!

U.S. Army Photo

The column was halted just where the road curved to the east. There was an open field and on the other side of that field was Germany. Over there was forest, thick forest and the road went into the trees where the Reich began. It made the hairs on the back of Sgt. Stump Gentile's neck stand up. The lead tank rolled to a stop as he wondered what the L.T. had in mind. Gentile didn't like the look of this at all.

Gentile dismounted from the halftrack his squad was riding, they were the second vehicle in the column, right behind the lead Sherman.

"Fellas, let's get this damned tarp off, I don't like being enclosed like this. Joe, keep the .50 trained on those woods, anything moves, hammer it."

As the men rolled up the canvas which covered the back of the halftrack, Gentile moved forward to the lead tank. He could see the tank commander, Sgt. Bob Horner using his field glasses to check the tree line. Gentile went to the front of the tank, Horner's driver waved him aboard.

"Staying warm in there Ernie?" Gentile asked as he went up the tank's glacis, Horner's driver, Cpl. Ernest Tyler, gave Gentile the finger, then grinned.

Gentile guffawed, they had got to know the tankers before they'd moved out. Good guys, though Gentile didn't envy them their jobs. Being wrapped in a steel box with little visibility didn't appeal to him. He preferred a hole in the ground with overhead cover!

"I dunno Stump. It looks quiet, but you know that don't mean shit, right?" Horner lowered his field glasses, gnawing on his lower lip, he said, "I don't like it, not at all. Could be a whole goddamned Panzer division in there."

Gentile laughed and said, "I hear ya Bob, but where would the Krauts get the gas to move a whole Panzer division up here what with the air slaughtering the dumb bastards if they so much as move. How many knocked out Kraut tanks have we seen today?"

Horner shrugged, "Yeah, the air killed a lot of 'em, but I still don't like this. Hang on a sec."

Horner dropped down into his hatch, probably to get out of the wind, and talked on the radio for a few minutes. "I hear ya Woody, but damn if it don't look like a trap to me. Goddamned woods could be full o' Krauts. Yeah, hang on Woody."

Popping up out of the hatch, Horner said, "Your L.T. is coming up, Woody wants us to keep moving, but, well ya know how I feel about that."

"Yeah, I hear ya Bob. There's my L.T. now, lemme see what he has in mind."

Gentile climbed down off the tank and met 2nd Lt. Stephen Hernandez at the rear of the vehicle.

"Sir? Any ideas? I don't like the looks of things."

Hernandez had studied the tree line from farther down the column, he did so again. "I don't see anything suspicious, but that alone makes me suspicious. I'm tempted to call in arty on the position, but it might f**k the road up."

"That it might L.T., I just had an idea, want a suggestion?"

"Sure Stump, what do ya got?"

"We spread out on line, tanks to the front, tracks behind them but offset to let the .50s fire down between the tanks. Then we go Hell for leather across that field, firing every damned thing we've got."

Hernandez looked at Gentile for a moment, "If you'd suggested that two months ago, I'd figure you for a crazy man, but Hell, the Krauts seem to be running faster than we can scoop 'em up or kill 'em. Might be worth a shot, S2 thinks they're all running for the Rhine anyway."


Sixteen year old Peter Schubert had a death grip on the short tube of the stubby Panzerfaust he was holding. He had never been so scared in his entire life. Next to him in his foxhole was seventeen year old Hans Winkmann, who had his head down and was crying. They were boys thrust into a man's world and were woefully unprepared for what they were facing.

"Hans, stop crying, if the sergeant hears you..."

Winkmann shook himself, then looked over the lip of the foxhole. They were positioned just inside the tree line, looking across a snow covered field at a group of American tanks and halftracks. "What are they waiting for Peter? Why don't they attack?"

Winkmann swept a gloved hand over his face, smearing the dirt on his face with his tears. He was literally shaking. His rifle was an older model from the First World War and was in dire need of cleaning. He knew that if Feldwebel Klaussen saw it, he'd have a fit. He wondered if it would even fire if he pulled the trigger. "I am so scared Peter, I don't want to die," was all he could say.

Both boys could do nothing but wait. Their world was out of control and neither boy could do anything about it, except follow orders and pray that somehow they didn't get killed.


It took some few minutes to brief the plan, such as it was, and then for the tanks and halftracks to move into position. Thanks to the cold, the fields were frozen underneath the snow so the vehicles had a firm footing for the advance.

All of the halftracks had their canvas covers rolled up and stowed, the men in the back were ready for whatever awaited them on the other side of the field. Not a few prayers were said as the men waited for the signal.

With a roar, all five tanks began firing into the tree line. The first two volleys were high explosive, the third volley was white phosphorus. The idea was to drive any Germans present into cover with the high explosive, then blind them with the white phosphorus. Then the advance began.

The roar of the fifties firing from the halftracks and the tanks themselves was deafening. The men on the guns in the halftracks were screaming as they fired. Those observing from the back of the halftracks caught glimpses of tracer fire licking into the woods, starting small fires here and there which went unnoticed amidst the smoke and larger fires started by the tank guns.

When they were fifty yards from the tree line, the infantry climbed out of the backs of the halftracks and advanced, firing from the hip. Each man screaming to relieve the tension and to bolster his own morale. The tanks continued to fire HE into the woods. One of the tank commanders later swore that he could hear the Germans screaming in agony over the explosions.


The first high explosive round had hit the sergeant's position. So the men in the trees were rendered leaderless almost immediately. Hans Winkmann stood up and threw his rifle into the woods and began to run. He got two steps before he was cut down by the American machine gun fire.

Peter Schubert, having nothing but his Panzerfaust, stayed in the bottom of the foxhole, curled into a tight ball around his weapon. He didn't know what to do.

Eventually the fire slackened, then ceased. All he could hear was the ringing in his own ears. All else was strangely muffled. He could feel the earth shaking and he sensed that it was a tank approaching. He had been near the big vehicles during his very brief training and knew how heavy they were and how they could make the ground shake.

Cautiously, he peeked over the lip of his foxhole, there, not twenty meters away was one of the big green Ami tanks, its turret slowly slewing down the line of the forest, searching for targets. It was then that Schubert remembered his training.

He flipped the sight up, them armed the weapon, taking a deep breath, Schubert raised himself onto his knees. Miraculously, no one noticed him as he aimed his weapon. He depressed the firing lever and saw the warhead leap from the tube.


"F**k!! Panzerfaust!!" Sgt. Doug Harrell saw the kid at the last minute, too late to stop him firing at Sgt. Otto Walls' tank. Riding on the back deck of his deck, he swung his .50 cal to where he had seen the Kraut pop up and fire. He caught a glimpse of someone in a Kraut uniform being tossed like a ragdoll out of the hole he had been in. Nailed him!


"Anybody hurt?" Hernandez asked as he walked up to where the tankers were examining the vehicle which had been hit by the Panzerfaust.

"Nah, we're good but the tank is a mess." Sgt. Walls was angry, the left side drive sprocket was trashed and the track itself had been badly torn up. But they were lucky, the round hadn't penetrated the interior.

His bow gunner, Pvt. Johnny Prince, swore that the Krauts owed him a new set of drawers. "Damn it Sarge, I crapped myself when that thing hit!"

After discussing the situation with S/Sgt Woodstock, they wouldn't wait for Walls' tank to be repaired, they didn't have a spare drive sprocket to swap out. So now they were down to four tanks and five halftracks.

"What about the Krauts? How many were there?" Woodstock had asked.

"Stump?" Hernandez asked Gentile.

"We checked, fifteen men, mostly kids with old rifles and Panzerfausts. One kinda old looking sergeant we found dead in his foxhole along with a radio operator. Looks like we caught 'em with their pants down." It had sickened Gentile when he saw the German dead, young boys mostly.

"All right, let's mount up and move on. Diego, I want your track in the lead as we go through this stretch of woods, okay? Let's move!"

2nd Platoon, Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment of the Big Red One was back in Germany. This time to stay.





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30 comments:

  1. Dang....that photo, picks on frozen ground, that's a lot of work for how far down? Butcher's bill adds up for the Germans with the opening of the last act. Another eight above morning Sarge.

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    1. Depends on how long it's been cold enough to freeze the ground. Also depends on how saturated the soil was when the cold hit.

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  2. I didn't even like to hunt in weather like that. A mad minute has it's place? Who wudda thunk it? The amount of energy that a 50 cal round has is amazing. I think the ball round has a 1/10 lb projectile (710 grains). You can measure the energy in foot-tons (about 6). And a close range hit would'nt even slow it down. It's a sickle for the grim reaper...

    Very engaging story today...

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    1. The .50 is an awesome weapon.

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    2. I was just watching an interesting YouTube video on the Memphis Belle and they were saying when the B-17’s first came the nose guns were all 30 caliber which was almost useless against a fighter.

      So They improvised a mount for the 50 on their own and they put 50 caliber’s in England.

      I remember my numbers from the army on that one — effective range was 7000 yards.

      I’d hate to see what someone looked like when one of those ripped through

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  3. Gripping Sarge. I cannot imagine being 17 years old, having a undoubtedly very brief and less than complete training, and then being shoved into a front line in the middle of Winter facing a tank group.

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  4. Wilkommen in Deutschland!
    Yeah, there's a good reason that Ma Deuce has remained in service for as long as it has even in the face of more "modern" designs attempting to replace it. As STxAR mentioned, the ballistic capabilities of the .50 BMG round are substantial, and the machine itself is just brilliant in its function and reliability. If you ever get a chance to fire one, do it - heck even firing a Barrett .50 cal M82/M107 is a worthwhile endeavor (but if just observing, be directly behind the shooter, not behind and to the side in the arc of the muzzle blast)

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    1. Well, they finally improved the M2.. Made it so the quick change barrel fit better, has a better handle, and because of that, you don't have to constantly check the headspace on the beast. Otherwise, same old M2HB.

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    2. About the only improvement possible on the Ma Deuce. Love that gun.
      Boat Guy

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  5. Do you plan to continue the saga into the immediate postwar year/s? Demob for the troops, victors justice, the Stunde Null for the vanquished soo to be allied Germans? Got some original sources if you want authenticity.

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    1. Now that I have a source with sources...

      Might make an interesting saga!

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  6. Good use of the canvas cover, staying warm in a road march situation. Then take it off when getting tactical. Same with any vehicle, really. Stowing loose stuff, making sure the guns are working, removing potential hazards (like on the Jeep, folding the windshield down.) They may have taken their sweet time in doing it, and cutting it close, but it worked for them, this time. If they had been against a better prepared and equipped enemy, they would have paid the price, especially Gentile getting out and walking to the front of a tank. Great sniper check there... which I was fully expecting the shot to happen.

    It's why tanks in the PTO were equipped with intercom phones, conveniently located at the rear, so the user could huddle between the tracks and the back of the vehicle. Can't remember, and too lazy right now to look, if the intercom phones were common in the ETO.

    As to the German boys, it always seems to come down to ill-equipped boys, doesn't it? Their sergeant failed them in not telling them the best way to surrender was to stay down, running gets you shot by both sides.

    Sad.

    Those are deaths that Forest isn't really interested in. True innocents, babies, make a bad meal.

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    1. They had them in the ETO as well, eventually.

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    2. (Don McCollor)...I believe earlier in the Normandy hedgerows, there were jury rigged field telephones between the inside and back of the tank...

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  7. I was thinking as Gentile was surveying that field and it’s possible dangers that was all from experience

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  8. Complete negligence on the part of the Feldwebel. Yeah, I'm sure he had orders to "hold the line, no matter what", but he had a higher duty to his soldiers. Seeing the Amis forming a line should have been a clear indication of the actions to come, and he should have attacked immediately, while they were not yet fully organized or, more reasonably, fallen back quickly, to find another opportunity for ambush. The element of surprise was obviously lost in this situation, and the Germans very badly out-manned and outgunned. I don't suppose there was a whole lot of logical behavior by the German NCOs or officers by that time, being as afraid of the fanatics behind them as of the enemy before them.
    I was really hoping Peter was going to have the good sense to stay hunkered down, and then surrender. Such a waste!

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    1. Many of the sergeants and officers had poor training at this stage of the war, many coming from non-combat jobs in the Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine. Attacking was out of the question, they would have been cut to pieces crossing those fields. As to withdrawing? Odds are the sergeant would have been executed out of hand.

      The Germans are consuming their seed corn at this stage of the war.

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  9. (Don McCollor)...Yes, attacking armor over an open field would have been suicide. Better (still not good) to have pulled back a few hundred yards into the woods to let the Amis hit an empty bag and where at least a a Panzerfaust would have a chance. Best would have been to surrender. Probably no officious fanatic would be close enough to the front line to raise questions about it. A note "one of the big green Ami tanks". Was white camo like whitewash generally used?...

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    1. It was, but it tended to wash off if not applied correctly.

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  10. Opinions on the 2014 movie 'Fury'? Seems like it fits in here.

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    1. Loved that movie, I've watched it three times. (I have my own copy.)

      Yes, there were some inaccuracies but nothing totally implausible. (Though the Tiger should have never advanced into the open!)

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    2. There was a pretty good suggestion I saw: that because Germany at that point was low on manpower, the Tiger's crew was less disciplined and trained than normal. So they got a case of 'buck fever' so to speak, and came out after the American tanks. As you say: plausible.

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    3. Works for me, still a ripping good story!

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  11. I doubt any Army using its seed corn ever improved their position in a war. Sad state, essentially sacrificing their young in a losing war. At this point in the story, with May still several months away, I wouldn't be surprised if we see more.

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