Friday, January 29, 2021

Into The Siegfried Line

U.S. Army Photo

"More f**king pillboxes. Are you shitting me Sarge?"

Pvt. Warren Pratt was one of the new guys and he was listening to  Pfc. Chris McWhorter complain to their squad leader, Sgt. Melvin Katz. The conversation was making him uneasy to say the least.

"Look Mac, what can I tell you? I know we went up against part of these defenses back in November. Then we got shifted south, then the Krauts attacked in the Ardennes, now we're pushing them back through the Siegfried Line again. What can I say? We fight the Krauts where they stand. They're standing here."

"Uh, isn't it good that we have tanks with us?" Pvt. Pratt thought that gave them advantage, but what did he know, combat was new to him. The other day marked the first dead man he'd ever seen. It wasn't a pretty sight.

"Look, new guy, why dontcha just..."

"Stow it McWhorter, Pratt has a point. The rest of you guys, gather 'round." Sgt. Katz waited as the men moved in closer. Then he continued.

"Pratt's right, we've got tanks for close in fire support and to keep Kraut armor off our backs. But they ain't a panacea..."

"Sarge, what's a pa-na-see-ya?" Pvt. Luther Thomas wasn't the best educated, nor well-read of the men in 2nd Platoon, but a few of the other men nodded their heads as well, as if to say, "We don't understand either."

"It's pronounced 'pa-na-see-uh," it means a remedy for anything, a one-size-fits-all to any problem." Pvt. Pratt, who had been studying electrical engineering at MIT when his class was called to the colors, jumped in.

Sgt. Katz looked at Pratt for a moment, then said, "Exactly. We're heading into the woods up ahead, ya know the Krauts probably have that next crossroads zeroed. Battalion wants us to go into the woods and try and flank any Krauts guarding the crossroads."

"And tanks can't go where infantry can..." McWhorter finished for his sergeant.

"Yeah, pretty much. Grab as much extra ammo as ya can, leave your packs and extra gear on the tracks, we're going in light."

"Are we gonna be out long, Sarge?" Pfc. Bogdan Nowak asked as he tugged at the collar of his bulky overcoat.

"No, dump your overcoats, good idea Bogdan, we need to move light and move fast."

S/Sgt Jack Wilson came up to the group as the men were dumping their extra gear and overcoats into their halftrack. "Hey Cat, we've got a bazooka if you want it."

"Sure, where'd you find that?"

"It was stowed on our track when we got it, we've got five rounds for it as well."

"Yeah, we'll take it. Any of you guys train on the bazooka?" Katz asked his squad.

Pvt. Scott Caldwell raised his hand, "I did Sarge, got to fire a few practice rounds as well."

"Great, go with S/Sgt. Wilson, Boone you go with him, you can hump the ammo for the tube. Take something to carry the bazooka rounds in."

As those two men set off, Katz looked at the rest of his squad, "All right guys, let's go see the lieutenant."

Unterfeldwebel Karl-Heinz Landau of Major Jürgen von Lüttwitz's 3rd Platoon was leading his squad up the rough path to where the map showed a bunker. As far as anyone knew the position was unmanned and had probably been unmanned since early December. Now the 18th Volksgrenadiers were taking over the defenses in this area and von Lüttwitz's company had been assigned this sector of the line.

Battalion wanted the bulk of the company kept back in the second line, Landau's squad was to provide early warning of any American attacks, the company could then counterattack once the American main thrust could be identified. In the rear, the other men were discussing the mission.

"I understand the tactic, Sir, but I don't like the idea of hanging our men out on the line like that. Hell, Kalle's¹ men are just kids, I don't think most of them even shave yet." Feldwebel Adolf Hase commanded von Lüttwitz's 3rd Platoon, the only platoon in the company which wasn't automatic-weapon heavy. Most of the men carried the K98k rifle.

"You worry too much Häschen,² they've got a bunker and a field phone. Set up the MG and they can pin any attackers while we maneuver." Leutnant Otto Brückner, commanding the 2nd (Storm) Platoon, offered.

"It's the Ami artillery that bothers me, Herr Leutnant. You know the f**king Amis, they hit a rough spot, they call in their big guns. They won't come at us man to man." Hase had a low opinion of the Americans, he had come from the Eastern Front.

"The Amis aren't stupid enough to rush our machine guns, doesn't mean they're cowards. Bastards are smart." Leutnant Manfred Sauer had come over to loan his spare camouflage jacket to Hase, they were of similar builds.

"Smart enough to call down artillery at the drop of a hat, I don't like the idea of my boys being pinned down in some concrete tomb!"

"Those are the orders Häschen, we bash our heels together and bark 'zu befehl³!' You know the drill." Leutnant Brückner ended the discussion. "Have the rest of your platoon ready, all right?"

"I suppose so, Herr Leutnant." Hase nodded and thanked Sauer for the loan of the padded camouflage jacket. It was an older version, mouse gray on one side and white on the other. For the current snowy conditions it would be more than adequate. He rolled up what was left of his moth-holed greatcoat and strapped it to his pack.

"You're keeping that rag?" Obergefreiter Adolph Storch, one of the platoon messengers, asked incredulously as he watched his platoon leader.

"Why not Dolfo? Waste not, want not. Besides, Sauer might want this coat back at some point. It's a loan, not a gift. Now enough chatter, we need to move up to the second line of bunkers."

Two groups of soldiers, one American, one German, both with a number of new replacements were moving up where they would meet in battle. This would be the third time that the Americans of 2nd Platoon of Charlie Company would meet the men under Jürgen von Lüttwitz's command.

They had fought each other in the Hürtgen, 2nd Platoon coming away the loser in that one. Then they had met again in the snowy hills outside Wirtzfeld in Belgium, 2nd Platoon had scored decisively in that contest, being a critical component in the destruction of Kampfgruppe (mot) von Lüttwitz.

Now they would meet in another forest, this one again part of the German Westwall, what the Americans called the Siegfried Line. If the Americans broke through here, it was on to the Rhine.

The Germans knew they had to make a stand. But many of them were beginning to question their cause, was it worth dying for Hitler and his cronies? Many thought that the war was lost, but they were fighting for their homes.

Surely, that had to matter.

¹ Informal version of Karl-Heinz.
² Hase's last name is the German word for "rabbit." Häschen means bunny, it's also a slang term for "bimbo."
³ At your command.

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  1. Yanks have mobility and big guns while the Krauts have fortified bunkers and MGs, who has better morale? AND Lady Luck?

  2. I like the footnotes, they really shed light at times. I am fluent in Texican, and passable in Southern, I get around in Spanish out of necessity, but it's thin and weak. German is right out. Although I know a sh--kopf when I see one...

    Preparing to go light in a snowy forest. Man oh man...

  3. Thanks for continuing to write Sarge. In an unsettled world, I now have this rock of stability to pin my mornings to.

    1. It's the only thing keeping me sane.

    2. These days...that is a hard thing to do. You write superbly.

    3. I'm hanging on by my fingernails, but I'm hanging on!

  4. Building tension again - is that the music from Jaws I hear? I'd prefer to stay out of the forests in Europe, nothing good ever happens in them it seems ... What are the odds Sauer won't get his padded coat back??

    1. Well, if you're out in the open, you have to worry about getting hit by an 88!

  5. My father's family, none of them now living, thanks you for telling the story of the WWII German soldier

    1. To understand the war, you have to look at both sides.

  6. You know, if you dropped the story right here, it would still be a great one.
    As the actors say, "Always leave them wanting more."

    Dittos the kudos on footnotes, especially soldier slang.
    John Blackshoe

  7. It's almost like looking at the counter roster of a Squad Leader game. This side has... and that side has... and the scenario objectives are...

    Very well done. Absolutely engrossing. Very glad to live in Florida. Brrrr...

    I like the touch of keeping the ratty greatcoat. Something, even ratty, is better than nothing, and concrete bunkers, unheated, are COLD! Soul-sapping cold. Sure, they are out of the wind, but if left unheated they are giant people-freezers. And you can't lean against the walls or sit or lie on the floor as the concrete will suck the body's heat right out. Hopefully those poor frozen bastiges have at least rounds of logs to sit on, maybe even cots.

    And, that's one of the things I've always admired about the Germans. Their capability to make anything seem homey and relatively comfortable. We do it too, but their slap-dash carpentry seems so much more organized than ours.

    1. Nothing like a cold concrete shell to suck the warmth out of a body!

  8. Man, that gray, wet, northern European cold is bad; hell yes, I'd be keeping anything made of wool.
    The WWII bazooka wasn't exactly a bunker-buster but having it along might just prove crucial.
    Boat Guy

  9. When I was stationed there in the early 70s, I would take a 45 minute local train ride to Saarbrucken, where I could see remnants of the Siegfried Line. Mostly tank traps.

    You mention the Jabos frequently Sarge - just saw a YouTube video of a squadron on a mission in Sicily. Each of the 8 .50 caliber machine guns shot 106 rounds a minute. That was some serious firepower.

    1. I passed through some elements of the Westwall near Monschau in December of 1998, myself and two other sergeants took a day trip down to the Ardennes battlefield. The 17th of December 1998 was far more pleasant than the 17th of December 1944, bot as regards weather and circumstances. It was clear and sunny, cold but not too bad - and no one was shooting at us!

      Eight .50 cals will do some serious damage!


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