Friday, January 8, 2021

Delaying Action

US Army Signal Corps Photo

"Sir, you can't be serious!" Leutnant Sauer couldn't believe what he was hearing. The leader of his 1st Squad, Unteroffizier Karl-Heinz Köhler, was volunteering his squad to stay behind and cover the withdrawal of the remnants of the Kampfgruppe.

"Manfred, my boys and I volunteered. We have an extra MG 42, we have ample ammunition. From the sounds of it, some of the men in 2nd Company are still alive out there, still fighting. Someone has to do this!" Unteroffizier Köhler, or "Opa" as everyone knew him, was adamant.

"Lest you think it has something to do with the death of," Köhler caught his breath, the reality of that statement was slowly sinking in, "my son..."

"Opa, we know that it has everything to do..." Sauer was interrupted in mid-sentence.

"Herr Leutnant, Manfred, someone has to do this. Would you entrust this mission to anyone in Haasen's platoon? We only have fifty-six men left, if we do this, fifty men have a chance of surviving." Köhler's voice was even and reasonable. Only those who really knew the man could see just how much he was suffering.

Major von Lüttwitz ended the debate, "Manfred, Opa, it's decided. Unless you have a better suggestion, Manfred?"

Leutnant Sauer did not, he understood the pain Köhler was suffering to a certain extent. The body of his own cousin, the son of his father's younger brother was lying out there, somewhere. He had been a good kid, but to lose one's son?

"Damn it, be f**king careful. Pull back when night falls, damn it man, come back!" Sauer insisted.

Köhler smiled and took Sauer by the sleeve of his camouflaged jacket, now torn and soiled. "Of course I'll come back, who else will keep you out of trouble?"


1st Lt. Nate Paddock's platoon had spent a cold, wet night on the small ridge overlooking the eastern end of Lake Bütgenbach, a name they had only learned a couple of days ago. They had spent the second half of December and the beginning of January being chased by, and now chasing, the Germans around this small body of water. Now it looked as if they finally had the Krauts on the run.

Able and Baker companies were fighting against stragglers in the hills behind them, 1st and 3rd Platoons were busy securing the road into Wirtzfeld and there were rumors of German light tanks and infantry still disputing the possession of the ridge next to that town. Scouts had reported a small column of Germans in the woods south of the lake, possibly withdrawing up a frozen streambed to the lines still held by the 12th SS Division.

Captain Tony Palminteri had detailed Paddock's platoon to keep the Germans moving along. "Don't stop and let them dig in Nate, we've got the bastards on the run, now press them, keep your bayonets at their backsides!"

Paddock had shared a look with his platoon sergeant, S/Sgt Stephen Hernandez, at that line. It was unusual for their company commander to resort to hyperbole. But they were all a little excited over turning back this latest Kraut offensive. They were still alive, many of their number were not, so yes, the captain was entitled to his high-flown rhetoric. Truth be told, it was rather exciting to see the Germans running.

Now here they were, advancing over a snowy field in broad daylight, occasionally seeing flights of American P-47s overhead flying to the east. dark columns of smoke in that direction indicated that the flyboys were finding things to kill.

"Go get 'em Air Force, kill those Krauts so we don't have to!" Sgt. Jack Wilson yelled as a flight of four B-26 Marauders flew over, heading east.

Cpl. Melvin Katz chuckled as Wilson gestured at the aircraft. He was content to let the airmen bomb the Nazis to oblivion. Had circumstances been different, Katz might have been on the other side of the line. As his father had in the Great War.

But being Jewish was now a crime in the land of his birth. So his family had fled to America, and here he was, an Austrian by birth, an American by choice. In his heart he hoped that the bombers would leave a few Nazis alive, so he could kill them himself.

"Sarge! Krauts in the woods!"

Köhler had two MG 42s now, unfortunately one of them was manned by two of the new recruits, while they knew how to use the weapon, they weren't quick to recognize and clear a jam. Which is precisely what happened as soon as Köhler gave the order to fire at the Americans coming over the brow of the ridge.

Fortunately, his assistant squad leader, Gefreiter Thomas Benfeldt, a huge man from Hamburg, had been a machine gunner before his promotion. He helped Grenadiers Paulus Ackner and August Hofmeister clear the weapon and get back to firing within seconds. But in those lost seconds, the Americans had gone to ground. Köhler had no idea if they had hit anybody.

Sgt. Greg Jenkins was on his back, his midsection torn and bloody. He was coughing up blood with every breath he struggled to take. Pvt. Donald Adkins was trying to stop the bleeding, all the while yelling for a medic.

"Jesus Sarge, f**king hold still, you're bleeding bad." Adkins was staying low, there was no way he was lifting his head after seeing Jenkins and Mitchell go down hard. Harry Mitchell wasn't moving, he still held his B.A.R. but he was on his back and not moving. Adkins figured that Harry was dead. "MEDIC!!"

The platoon had a medic with them, T/4 Harry Milbury. He started to get up to go to where he was needed. S/Sgt Hernandez grabbed him by the sleeve and pulled him back down. "Jesus Doc, keep your f**king head down!"

"Top, we've got wounded over there, what good am I sitting here?"

"What f**king good are you dead, Doc? How are ya gonna help the wounded then?"

Hernandez could see that Sgt. Wilson was already maneuvering to take the Kraut gun position under fire. But having to crawl made it a slow process. Judging his moment, Hernandez raised himself up and began to fire into the wood where he thought the Germans were.

"COVERING FIRE!!!" He screamed at the platoon. Immediately the men began to return fire.

Grenadier Hermann Groß grunted and fell off onto his right side. His assistant gunner, Grenadier Hans-Peter Fuchs, immediately pushed Groß away from the gun and yelled for Christoph Lindner to feed the belt for him. Groß was quite dead.

Köhler saw that they were going to be in trouble as soon as the Amis had started firing back. That momentary jam had spoiled his plan, now they were in a fight for their lives.

"Benny!" He yelled to get Bendfeldt's attention. "Slide to your right, the Amis are moving your way!"

As he turned back to his front, an American rifle round hit the side of his helmet and knocked him silly.

"F**k!" Pfc. Charlie Gammell was awfully tired of the gusting winds in this part of the world. He knew that he'd hit his target, but the round, which should have gone straight into the German's forehead, was pushed to the right by a gust of wind. Racking the bolt he looked through his scope again.

"There Charlie, to the right of that Kraut you clipped..." Pfc. "Bear" Hebert saw through his field glasses two men close together, the flash from between them told him that he'd spotted a Kraut machine gun team.

"Got 'em!"

Köhler was momentarily stunned, his ears were ringing and his vision was fuzzy. He was laying with his head turned to the left. He could see Ackner and Hofmeister firing their gun, then he saw Hofmeister's head snap back. As Ackner turned to see what the problem with his assistant gunner was, his helmet flew off, along with the top of his skull. Köhler knew they were screwed at that point. Now if he could only get up...

"Nailed him, gimme another target Bear!" Gammell was trying to stay calm. He was hurting the Germans now. He wanted to hurt them some more.

"Ahhh." Hebert grunted, he couldn't believe he was hit. He had lowered the field glasses for just a moment and apparently the lens reflected the light enough for a German to have noticed. Whoever it was, he was a pretty good shot. Bear's field glasses were shattered and his right hand was mangled.

Gammell knew his friend was hurt, but he saw movement below, maybe it was the guy who hit Bear, he thought. "Bye bye Kraut." he muttered.

Gefreiter Thomas Benfeldt was indeed a very good shot. He had seen the flash of reflected light then steadied his sights where the flash had come from. Squeezing the trigger he had no idea if he'd hit anything. But an instant later the snow in front of him, along with the soil underneath, erupted in his face. There was a sniper up there! He crawled backwards, in a hurry!

Köhler had regained his senses, he knew that it was time to fall back. They had another position about twenty meters to the rear which would allow them to delay the Americans a bit longer. He looked at the angle of the sun, perhaps another two hours of daylight were left. The Major said hold until dark, and that was what he would do, or die trying.

"Benny! Fall back position, NOW!!"

1st Lt. Nate Paddock was moving to the left, he had the eleven men of his platoon headquarters and Stump Gentile's 3rd Squad with him. Cpl. Judd Maxwell's .30 cal machine gun team was now in place and pouring fire into the German-held woods. He stood up and waved at Gentile to advance. He felt a smack on the side of his neck then fell to the ground. Oddly enough, it didn't hurt at all.

Gefreiter Thomas Bendfeldt now had the remaining MG 42 and was firing from the hip as he walked backwards. Fuchs was carrying Bendfeldt's MP 40 and a spare box of ammo, that's all they were able to carry. The Americans were starting to flank them and if they got behind him, it was all over.

He was comfortable with the gun, he'd been a gunner since 1940 and he was good at it. As he stood there, firing controlled bursts, loose snow from the pines drifting down around him, he had a momentary thought of Anneliese, his favorite girl. He wondered if he would ever see the Reeperbahn again.

"This is for the dames on die sündigste Meile!¹ Die you Ami bastards!!"

He fired one more long burst, he could see the rounds tearing into two Americans who weren't quite spread out enough. Then he coughed once, dropped his weapon, coughed again, then toppled over with an American .30-06 round in his chest.

"Die you Kraut bastard f**k!!" Sgt. Stump Gentile screamed shortly after he'd seen two of his guys torn to red ruin by the big German firing an MG from the hip. Privates Thomas Spencer and Edgar Freeman had moved too soon and had paid the price. But they had distracted the big German long enough for Stump to shoot the guy.

"Magnificent f**k!" He admired the big German, it took balls to stand up like that to cover your own guys falling back. He'd paid the price but the other Germans had vanished back into the trees.

Then Stump heard a cry which froze him to the core, "Shit! The L.T. is down, he's hit!! MEDIC!!!"

Paddock was struggling to stem the bleeding, but his hands were slick with his own blood and he knew he was fumbling around and not succeeding. That's when Doc Milbury showed up.

"Move your hands Nate, shit, John, get his hands away from his neck." Milbury could see that Paddock was hit in the neck, very near his carotid. He wasn't sure if the round had clipped the artery or not, but he had to act fast or Paddock was a dead man.

As Pfc. John Myerson held the lieutenant's hands away from his neck, Doc could see that it was a messy wound, but probably non-fatal. The blood wasn't spurting, just oozing. But there was a lot of it.

"Luke! Get over here, keep pressure on this bandage." Pvt. Luke Houston did as he was told. He was terrified, he was hoping that no one noticed that his trousers were wet, and it wasn't from the snow.

"I got him Doc, I got him" Houston yelled at the medic in his excitement.

Doc Milbury then turned to Myerson, "Get on the radio, we need a jeep to get the L.T. to the aid station. Strickland, Dixon, rig a stretcher, you're gonna carry the lieutenant down to that dirt track we crossed before we came up the hill." Doc Milbury didn't think twice about barking the necessary orders to keep Paddock alive.

"Jeep's on the way, Doc." Myerson had been on the radio with company, they were sending a jeep up as fast as they could. Problem was, there were still loose Krauts in the area and there was no guarantee that the jeep would make it.

"Okay, hey Top!" Doc grabbed S/Sgt Hernandez as he came up and pulled him away from the group around the lieutenant. "L.T. should be okay, but he's out of action, he's got a million dollar wound there. You're it Top, it's your platoon I guess."

Hernandez swore then yelled to the men standing around, "Follow me!"

Three men were all that was left of his squad, himself and the two men on his last machine gun, Grenadiers Hans-Peter Fuchs and Christoph Lindner. Bendfeldt's last stand had given them time to fall back to their secondary position. As Fuchs got the gun settled in, Köhler realized that if night didn't come soon, they were probably all going to die in this little wood next to the frozen waters of the little lake outside Bütgenbach.

But on the "other side of the hill," all of the steam had gone out of the American attack when word of Paddock being hit spread. Not to mention that in addition to the lieutenant, thirteen other men had been hit, six of whom were dead.

Hernandez led the platoon down into the small wood where the Germans had been. They found four dead men. He sent two of the scouts to carefully work their way to the other side of the wood along the lake shore. There they had surprised three Germans setting up a machine gun. After killing one of the Germans, the other two had thrown down their weapons and surrendered.

As it was starting to get dark, Hernandez had the men dig in as best as they could. It seemed that the German delaying action had bought enough time for the small column they had been pursuing to get away. He wondered what the Hell he was going to do with two Kraut prisoners.

"Get Cat up here, now!" Hernandez snapped at Ted Erickson, one of the platoon messengers.

"Why don't we just shoot the bastards, Top?" Pvt. John Kilpatrick was one of Sgt. Greg Jenkins' scouts. He was pissed that his squad leader was dead.

"Shut the f**k up Kilpatrick. Nobody is killing any prisoners in this outfit." Hernandez gave Kilpatrick a look and the man immediately looked away.

"Sorry Top, but these f**ks killed Greg and Harry, don't that bother you?"

Hernandez looked at Kilpatrick once more, without saying a word, his glance alone had silenced Kilpatrick. He understood the man's anger, but if they shot their prisoners, what separated them from the Krauts? The color of their uniforms and nothing else?

Cpl. Melvin Katz came to where Hernandez and Kilpatrick were sitting with the two Germans. One was an older man, the other couldn't have been more than 18.

"Cat, tell these guys to take off their suspenders." Hernandez gestured at the two Germans.

Katz looked puzzled for a moment, then it hit him. They wouldn't be running anywhere if they had to hold their pants up, would they? So he relayed that, in German, to the two prisoners. Oddly enough, one of them chuckled.

"What's so funny Grandpa?" Katz asked the man in German.

"We did that in the first war too, English prisoners. No suspenders, no running. By the way, that's what my men call me, 'Opa.' I guess I really am an old man if you Amis call me that. By the way, your German is very good. Vienna?" Köhler asked him. He spared a glance at young Lindner, the kid seemed happy to be alive.

"Yes, Vienna. Are you a Nazi, Grandpa?"

Köhler shook his head, "Just a soldier doing a job, kid. I fought in the first war, got drafted into this one. I have one son who's a prisoner of the English, the other lies somewhere up there." He nodded his head to the north.

"When?" Katz asked.

"A few days ago. He died leading his men. F**k the Nazis."

"What's all the jawing about Cat?" Hernandez wanted to know.

"The old Kraut, seems we killed his son a couple of days ago."

"Damn. War sucks, doesn't it, Fritz?"

Katz translated, Köhler nodded and looked away to the north again. Who would tell his wife now about their son?

¹ The sinful mile, the Reeperbahn is the heart of Hamburg's redlight district.

Link to all of The Chant's fiction.


  1. Man, talk about the body blows........fingers crossed for Paddock, Opa is out of the fight. Tough reading this early in the morning, guess it means you're doing a good job Sarge.

    1. Opa is out of the fight, but hopefully he'll live to help build a better Germany. That's all the prisoners could look for at that moment. Getting home, getting out of war, going on with their lives.

    2. Sure beats dying in the rubble of Berlin.

  2. Opa survives, which I find strangely heartening.

    "Just a soldier, doing a job". I wonder how much that has been true of all the wars and all the men that died.

  3. Awesome writing, as usual. Got my fingers crossed for the LT, hoping he meets the pretty nurse again.
    Minor nit, "B-26 Mitchells" - B-25's were Mitchells (twin engine, twin tailfins, mid wing) while B-26's were Marauders (twin engine, single tailfin, wing about 3/4 up the fuselage). Mitchells hauled less ordinance, but were easier to fly, built almost twice as many and were in US service more than a decade longer, so arguably a better design.

    Mike the EE

    1. Mike - Yup, I gooned that. Meant to write "Marauder," had "Mitchell" on my mind. D'oh! Corrected!

    2. Scott - The majority were Air Corps/Air Force.

    3. Many of the Mitchells were turned into transports after the war. More room in the fuselage than in the Marauder, and, as Mike the EE said, inherently safer to fly.

    4. "Ordnance" not "ordinance"
      Spell check is NOT your friend
      Boat Guy

    5. Spell check, we hates it, yes we does precioussssss...

  4. YAY, OPA! St.Pauli is in the Reeperbahn? Or is there more than one red light district?

    1. Actually it's the opposite. The Reeperbahn is the main, ahem, drag in St. Pauli.

  5. I feel relieved that Opa survived...he seems like a man with whom I could enjoy a cup of coffee or a beer.

  6. One of your best installments, but all are above average.

    That opening sniper photo bugs me. Great selection to illustrate the story, as with all your photo picks. But, I think it is a relatively recent reenactor photo in B&W then colorized with fake signal corps stamp added to make it look authentic.

    Google image search does not turn up anything to support authenticity, and one may indicate it was taken in November 2013 by Za Rodinu, and possibly subject to copyright (despite the possibly bogus Signal Corps marking).
    What bugged me was the bright area near the muzzle, left when a front sight is removed by someone making a fake M1903A4 sniper rifle from a standard M1903A3. On the A4, the barrels were parkerized with no front sight ever installed, but A3 barrels had the sight in place before barrel was parkerized. Yeah, it's a mighty small nit, but it still bugs me. Ctg belt looks new (even repro) and too clean compared to rest of the outfit.

    However, a good image for a fictional story. I grumble about this sort of stuff on TV and at the movies too, so don't take it personal. The story and images are still great!

    1. Okay, that photo bugged me as well. I couldn't find a better one, so I went with this one. Many of the points you make had me wondering as well. If they slap a "US Army Signal Corps" logo on it, even bogus, seems to me they would forfeit any copyright as photos taken by someone in government service are the property of the people, not the individual taking the photo. But hey, like you say, even though it might not be authentic, it sets the tone for the episode.

      Dang, just can't trust the internet can ya?

    2. Could be, but some (by no means most) of those photos were staged by the Signal Corps, to show folks back home what a soldier might look like in a given role. The sniper is one: also, check the photo heading the next installment. The same tells on both--the men (and the Jeep in the latter) are too clean, no rips or tears in clothing: the sniper's helmet netting is even perfect! I'm sure they didn't mean to deceive anyone greatly; it was just easier to dress a soldier as a sniper & hand him the gear than to send a photo team to the lines to capture a picture of the real thing. The Signal Corps guys on the line would get picture of the reality, if possible, anyway.
      My apologies, Sarge, but I was wondering: Hernandez says "...war sucks...". Was that a phrase in common use in the 1940s? I admit that I have no idea. I don't remember hearing "so-and-so sucks" until at least the late '70s or early '80s, but perhaps I was sheltered. It could be that the farms & trailer parks where I grew up were part of the "genteel South" about which I was always reading.
      --Tennessee Budd

    3. It's possible that "sucks" in this context is an anachronism. Call it artistic license. Research will only take one so far...

  7. And now comes the mark of a true leader. Can the Major keep his men from routing and running, can he keep them under control? If so, he might have a chance of making it home or into a defensible position where he can surrender nobly.

    Running scared? That will get you a bayonet in the back.

    Very tense story. Lots of anguish and worry. Will Paddock be sent home or is it just a recoverable wound? I can't remember if the US Forces retook the ground they lost and stopped or kept going. I guess you'll let us know.

    Seems the Forest will have to wait to finish feasting on Major Luttwitz's command. Though there's that tasty SS unit to the southeast...

  8. I'd like to be able to give the book to one of my grandsons. It's not that I'm impatient, but I'm not getting any younger and I'm certain my daughter will not regard it as a priority in her son's education.

    1. Sarge I think it is remarkable that you are able to produce the quality content that you have in the time that you’ve done it.

      I have thought from time to time of writing a book but of course what do you write about that you have passion for?

      You have clearly found it and to produce these chapters with well developed plots is pretty remarkable in the time that you do it.

      Your Muse is working hard!

    2. She has worked up a sweat in the past few months.


  9. Count me in with William in both respects. You've done a magnificent job with this Sarge. I too want hard copy for my grandson, but I have enjoyed ( not sure that's the proper word) - certainly appreciated- your efforts.
    Bravo Zulu Sarge!
    Boat Guy

    1. Thank you. We'll see where this road takes us!

  10. just getting to this late in the day - very well written! I am also glad for Opa's survival (so far) and that Nate's neck wound is being rated as survivable (as long as he gets back to more comprehensive care and no serious infection sets in! Hope the medics had "sulfa powder" to put in wounds like Nate's - sulfanilamide was a lifesaver back then)

    1. I'm sure Doc Milbury treated Paddock's wound properly, he's got a very good chance of survival.

  11. (Don McCollor)...remember my dad telling when the first death camps were overrun, and the hospitals were swamped. He was the only medic in a Hospital ward with a hundred desperately ill patients dying of starvation, disease, and infection Penicillin was even more of a miracle drug then. Dad told about giving injections as fast as he could, not changing the needle Half of his patients died that first night anyway...

    1. The prisoners in those camps were right on the edge of death. Your Dad did well to save as many as half.

  12. The short scenes that flipped back and forth between the Amis and the Krauts were exciting! I'll buy the book, but am more excited to see it on film.

    1. Filming this would be awesome!

    2. I have yet to see a film that did the book on which it was based real justice. I should never have watched the LOTR, let alone the subsequent Hobbit movies. They only did damage to all the vivid imaginings I got from reading the books. Then there's the completely irresponsible John Carter of Mars. Edgar would likely have been furious at the bastardization of his stories. Mebee some of the Sackets stories by L'Amour were as good as film could do for a good story, but Louis was right there advising when those movies were made. Nothing beats a good book, read in installments, over time. You get to kind of live it. A few hours of zoom, bang, Boom! is nothing of the same quality. Too much instant gratification dependency these days.
      Meanin' no disrespect, Tuna.

    3. Just my 2 cents, Sarge. It's an awesome chronicle you're producing. If it goes to film, you'd best have it in the contract that you get to be the Technical advisor, at least. Should make good money, but I'll probably just stick to the book, thanks.

    4. Patrick #1 - Some movies made from books I've enjoyed, I rather like the LoTR movies, not so much the hack job they did to The Hobbit.

      But yes, nothing beats a good book, it's something to be savored over time.

    5. Patrick #2 - I'd prefer to be the technical advisor, but would settle for Dale Dye. 😉

    6. Excellent once again, Sarge!
      I'm pleased that Opa didn't die, just yet (everybody dies, after all).
      One small correction: "...withdrawing down a frozen streambed to the lines...". Not really vital to the story, but if they're withdrawing away from the lake,they're going up the streambed. I'm from, & live in, an area of hills & hollers, most all cut by running water of larger or smaller size. To us, up- or down-stream is an important distinction.
      I'm still enjoying this, & I echo the voices suggesting wider publication.
      --Tennessee Budd

    7. Yup, up the streambed, I was too focused on the direction they were going which is more or less southeast, which to me is down. Toss in the streambed, and yup, they're heading upstream!


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