Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Return to the Lines


"Herr Major, wake up!" Hauptfeldwebel Klaus-Peter Keller was shaking von Lüttwitz's shoulder. He still found it amazing how a soldier could fall asleep in even the worst conditions. It felt like it had to be below zero, the clear sky meant it would be colder still before morning.

"What is it, Spieß?" Major Jürgen von Lüttwitz was instantly awake, he had a look around then halted his gaze on a muted red light flashing across the field, towards the German lines. He watched for a few seconds. The light would stop flashing for perhaps five seconds, then start again, slowly it dawned on him, Morse Code?

"Do you see it, Sir? Dot-dot-dot-dash, dot-dash-dot-dot, that's Gerke Code¹ for 'V L', is it a signal? or am I imagining things?" Keller was exhausted, he hadn't been sleeping, perhaps two hours in the last three days.

"Let me try something." von Lüttwitz pulled his flashlight out, was disgusted that it didn't work, then the Sani, Peter Krause, handed his flashlight over. He knew it worked from examining Löwe last night.

Von Lüttwitz pointed the light in the direction of the flashing from the German lines. Clicking the light on and off, he sent dash-dash, dot-dot-dot. An 'M' and an 'S.' Hoping against hope that it was Manfred Sauer over there.

"It's them, I know it is. They signaled 'M' and 'S,' that has to be them." Leutnant Manfred Sauer had wracked his brain all throughout the day wondering how to let his commander know they were safe. Signaling in code was the only thing he could think of.

"Long odds that they would come this way, Leutnant." SS-Scharführer Gustav Meyer, a fellow Saxon remarked to Sauer.

"We knew you guys were near this position and that there was a gap in the Amis' lines. It's the only way they would make for, tell your men to hold their fire!"

"All right. Werner, Horst, spread the word, hold your fire, friendlies coming in."


"Right lads, let's go, stay low, move fast."

As he spoke, Major von Lüttwitz came up out of the little hollow where they had spent the day. It was somewhat sheltered and nearly invisible from the American line up on the ridge. He supposed that the Americans weren't advancing because they were holding the SS in place. No doubt there were other forces even now working their way into the German rear area.²

He heard the rustle of clothing and the faint clink of equipment as his men, Keller, Krause, Schottenstein, and von Thoma, followed him out of the small wood. He felt very exposed in the cold light of the stars as they ran across the snowy field. It was almost a relief when American tracer fire began to reach for them. The suspense had been driving his blood pressure sky high!

"Down, down, down!" He commanded.

The men all went to ground at his command. The machine gun fire stopped. Von Lüttwitz hesitated, no doubt the Amis were awake now, and watching. The moon was waning, a small sliver in the sky but wouldn't be up for another hour or so, but the white background of the snow made them standout like it was daylight. Or so von Lüttwitz felt.

"What the Hell are you shooting at, Jim?" Corporal Judd Maxwell had snapped awake when Pfc. Jim Weber had started shooting.

"Krauts Corp, down in that field across the way." Having said that, Weber wasn't really certain that he had seen anything at all. That's when a pair of German MG 42s started firing in their direction.

"Damn it man, you woke up the Krauts."

When he heard the sound of German weapons and saw tracers arching up towards the nearby ridgeline, von Lüttwitz made his move. "Up, up, go, go, go!" He and his men took off at a dead run towards where he thought the German line was.

He gasped when he stepped into nothing but air, he hadn't noticed the trench and nearly broke his neck when he tumbled into it. But someone caught him and broke his fall.

"I've got you, Herr Major, you're safe now."

Von Lüttwitz recognized the voice of his 1st Company commander, Leutnant Manfred Sauer. He turned to look back towards the wood they had just left, then he looked around him, there were only three of his men with him.

He gasped out, "Where is Keller? Where is the Spieß?"

Grenadier von Thoma answered, "He was hit, Sir. Took a round in the back, I tried to drag him along, but he ordered me to leave him. I'm sorry, Sir."

"Verdammt! Manfred..."

"I've sent two men out to collect him while the SS keep the Amis' heads down."

Hauptfeldwebel Keller groaned when he felt two pairs of hands grab him by his pack straps and start dragging him through the snow.

"Jesu Christi Spieß, you're the only man I know who has gained weight over the past two weeks!" Gefreiter Friedrich Blumentritt groused as he and Grenadier Steffen Distler dragged their sergeant major to safety.

"Why the Hell are you wearing a pack anyway?" Distler couldn't help but ask.

"Kampfgruppe pay records, you clowns want to get paid, right?" Keller gasped as the two men dragged him down into the SS trench.

"Pay records, you carried those?"

"Well, they probably saved my life, help me get this pack off would you?"

When they had Keller's pack off, he could see that he had taken a round in the pack, if he hadn't been wearing the pack, the shot would have crippled him if not killed him outright.

"You are one lucky bastard, Klaus-Peter." Leutnant Sauer had come over to assist. "The Major is worried that you were wounded, but I see you're fine."

"Ja, ja, I'm fine," Keller was checking the contents of his pack, "good, the records are fine, a little torn and a bullet hole mars a few of the entries, hopefully it's the officer pay records but I can't tell in the dark..."

"Comedian, everyone is a comedian. Let's get you over to the Major. By my count we have forty-three men still capable of duty. The local SS commander wants us to pull back to Krinkelt, we still hold that and Rocherath but not for long, The Amis are attacking all along the northern shoulder. We'll be walking so, I hope you're all right."

"I'm fine Manfred, er, Herr Leutnant. I'm fine. Let's go. Are we leaving now?"

"Unless you like getting strafed, yes, we move at night, hide during the day. Seems I've done that a lot over the past six months." Leutnant Manfred Sauer was tired of running, but he wasn't tired of living just yet.

So it was time to run once more.

¹ The German version of Morse Code.
² Although that would have been the logical move, the Allies decided not to cut the Bulge at its base but to push the Germans back. I've seen arguments for both courses of action, I won't judge, I wasn't there. Charlie Company were no doubt holding their positions as there was little point to advancing without armor support, which they lacked at that moment.

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  1. Out of the frying pan, into the........

  2. Based on my old experiences with carbon battery powered incandescent bulb flashlights, von Lüttwitz would have tried the flashlight, then banged it against the palm of his other hand several times! (been there, done that)

    Continued great writing that puts a human face on the cost of war.

    1. (Don McCollor)...There is an old farm trick with a flashlight, when it dies, swap the batteries around. It will give more light for a little while. Passed the tip on to a Guard deploying to the sandbox in the early 1990s that had his (civilian) GPS go dead ((though what he needed it for waiting at Grand Forks ND International Airport escapes me). After some argument "the batteries are dead", he started to swap (rotate) them around (there is always a weakest battery). His GPS lit up. Possibly a lifesaving new skill...

    2. The German Army Taschenlampe (literally "pocket lamp") had a single 4.5 V battery.

    3. If the major thinks he'll need to use his flashlight again before he receives a resupply of batteries (pretty likely), he'd do well to carry it someplace on his person that would allow his body heat to keep it relatively warm.

    4. German flashlights had a button-loop which allowed you to carry it buttoned to your tunic, which would be under their winter gear.

  3. I didn’t even know about the Germe code

  4. Nice and tense. And nice job on Keller pulling a Teddy Roosevelt. (getting shot but the shot doesn't penetrate because it hits something else, in TR's instance, he was speechifying, got shot, grunted, kept talking and talking and talking...)

    Now comes the slow push eastward. Slowly, until the collapse and then it's Hell's Bells to almost Berlin!

  5. Luttwitz bets Sauer is alive, Sauer bets Luttwitz is alive... I know folks like that. I don't have to wonder if they are there or not. It's just like old times when we reconnect.

    May all our breaks be right, so we will be left...

  6. And that, my friends, is the luckiest man in the German Army...

  7. Sarge, I'm continually impressed ( but not surprised) as you bring us along with these men (and women, yay Capt Parsons!) I'm hoping for all of them to survive and thrive.If they can only make it a couple-three months more - of course they don't/can't know that.I
    It's been a great ride Sarge. Keeps me pleasantly (if briefly)distracted from what's likely coming.
    Boat Guy

    1. One of the reasons I started this story was to stay away from discussing, and thinking about, the insanity inflicting the body politic. Which has, apparently, gotten worse over the past few months. I don't know where reality is taking us, but I don't like it. Not one iota.



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

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