Praetorium Honoris

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Saturday, January 9, 2021

Survivors

US Army Signal Corps Photo

Privates Fred Strickland and Irving Dixon managed to make their way down the ridge without dropping 1st Lt. Nathan Paddock from the stretcher. Though they had struggled at times as the slope was slippery from the recent rain, which had frozen under the snow which fell later. Paddock's wound was no longer bleeding, but the bandage Doc Milbury had wrapped his neck with was sodden from the blood he'd already lost. Paddock was conscious but woozy. He'd lost a lot of blood.

"You hang in there L.T., stay awake and just watch me, okay, Sir?" Pfc. Jackson Hebert was in a lot of pain. A German bullet had smashed the field glasses he had been using to spot for the platoon's sniper and had torn his right hand up pretty bad. Doc had bandaged him up and sent him back with the lieutenant. But his concern for Paddock helped him focus on something other than the pain in his hand.

There were six other wounded men up on the ridge they'd just descended from: Peter Romanov, Brad Gonzales, Pete Moreno, Homer Ginter, Riley Taggert, and Brad Chapman. Most of the wounds were fairly minor, with the exception of Pete Moreno. Doc was worried that moving Moreno might kill him. So they made him comfortable.

"Whaddaya think Doc, think Pete's gonna make it?" Sgt. Woody Sherman was the platoon guide, he was still pretty shook up over the lieutenant going down, he'd been next to him when he was hit. Paddock's blood had splashed over Sherman's face and the shoulder of his field jacket. When Moreno had been hit in the thigh, it was Sherman who had stopped the bleeding with a tourniquet improvised from the strap of a kit bag Pete had been carrying.

"I dunno Woody, that wound looks pretty bad. You probably saved him from bleeding out, but if we move him, the wound will probably start bleeding again. The cold is helping stop the bleeding as well. But man, if we don't get him to an aid station, I just don't know." Doc Milbury went to check on the other wounded, cuts and abrasions mostly, though Gonzales probably had a broken ankle.


"Hey Fred, here comes a jeep, think that's for the L.T.?"

"I dunno Irv, keep an eye on 'em, remember that rumor about Krauts running around in our uniforms?"

"Yeah, they try anything funny, I'll pot 'em."

The jeep rolled up and the men relaxed, they recognized one of the guys from the aid station,  Pfc. Lou Perkins, who was driving the jeep.

"Hey guys, holy shit, is that your lieutenant?" Perkins exclaimed.

"Yeah, Doc stopped the bleeding, but he needs a doc. Bear here has a mangled hand, he needs to get that looked at." Strickland explained.

The other guy in the jeep stepped out, he was a corporal. He looked around and asked, "You guys are 2nd Platoon, Charlie Company, right?" He spoke with an accent.

"Yeah, Corp, that's us." Dixon grunted as they got the lieutenant onto the stretcher strapped onto the hood of the jeep. "Who are you?"

"John Chapman, friends call me Johnny. Ain't ya gonna ask me about my accent?"

Strickland chuckled, "No need for that Corporal, we had a guy in our outfit from down Louisiana way, name of Andre Tremblay, he was a Cajun. We're used to the accent."

"What happened to him?" Chapman asked.

"Got his foot all f**ked up in the Hürtgen. Million dollar wound, Hell, he's probably back home eatin' gumbo and crawdads by now. Lucky bastard." Strickland answered.

"Damn. Anyway, I'm supposed to report to you guys. I was with the 18th, got hit back in October in Aachen, just got outta the hospital. I don't know why the damned Army sent me to you guys, I've been in the 18th since D-Day." Chapman didn't sound happy about joining the Blue Spaders of the 26th Infantry Regiment. His Vanguards, the 18th Infantry Regiment, were in the same division, but had their own proud history.

"Ain't that the Army for ya? Hey, at least you're still in the Big Red One." Hebert said, "Now can we quit yapping and get these guys to the hospital?"

"Yup, the lieutenant is secure, let's go." Perkins hopped back into the jeep.

As the jeep drove off, the three men stood there watching it go. "Was your L.T. a good guy?" Chapman asked.

"Yeah, the best." Dixon answered.

At that point Strickland said, "Let's get back up there before Top thinks we've deserted."

"Ya got any smokes, Corp?" Dixon wanted to know as they headed back up the slippery hillside.

(Source)

Leutnant Manfred Sauer was morose and very angry with his commanding officer. A fire fight had raged behind them that morning and into the afternoon. While the rear guard under Unteroffizier Karl-Heinz Köhler seemed to have done their job, the firing had ceased a short time ago. No one from Köhler's squad had joined them.

"They were wiped out, Herr Major. You left Opa and his men to die. We should have stayed together, fought as a unit."

Major Jürgen von Lüttwitz looked across the snow covered field at what had to be German positions, he didn't think the Amis could have gotten in front of them. But he couldn't tell, the men some three hundred meters away weren't showing themselves. Pausing in his observations, von Lüttwitz sighed and turned to look at Sauer.

"You're right Manfred. It may have been a mistake to leave them behind, but Opa insisted, he said that it gave the rest of us a better chance. He was right you know. But I don't like it either, but what's done is done. Now we have to figure out a way to rejoin our forces. I think those are SS over there. Silly bastards like to shoot first, ask questions later, if at all."

Sauer was still angry but he knew the Major had a point. If they had tried a fighting withdrawal with the entire Kampfgruppe, at that Sauer shook his head, a fifty man Kampfgruppe, they all would have probably died. But he still didn't like the fact that Opa wasn't coming back, none of them were. Seven good men lost.

"I suppose out of the millions we've already lost, those seven men are but a drop in the bucket." Sauer grumbled.

"Yes, but we knew these men, they were our men, my men." von Lüttwitz raised his field glasses again. "We wait for dark I think."

"Yes Sir, I agree."


The men across the snow-covered fields were indeed from the 12th SS Panzer Division, Hitler Jugend. Most of them were former airmen and sailors, dragooned into the SS to raise their numbers. These men weren't fanatics, they were mostly scared boys who just wanted the war to be over.

They were also very nervous and tended to fire at anything which moved.

The remnants of Kampfgruppe (mot) von Lüttwitz had only 300 meters of open field to cross, but to those men it felt like a thousand kilometers.

Von Lüttwitz made his decision shortly after night fell. He went to each of the sergeants and corporals with Leutnant Sauer. They would break up into small parties of five to seven men and try to make their way independently back to German lines.

Von Lüttwitz fully expected half of his men to sit in place and wait for the Amis to sweep them up, but he had to make the effort. It was his only card to play.





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18 comments:

  1. This is a crazy question Sarge, but with your love of detail you might know: what was the actual survival rate of the wounded (e.g, does the LT have a chance)?

    Thanks for leaving me hanging on a cliff, by the by.

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    1. The survival rate for wounded men varied from war to war. I've seen estimates of a 70% survival rate for American wounded in WWII. It would take some time to track down statistics for other nations. One problem I noticed in a cursory glance is that many articles of this type are shrouded in politics. Stalin would be so proud.

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    2. Better chance in Europe during the winter than in the Pacific or the Med. The cold conditions help slow the metabolism and aid in clotting. So as long as you can get to an aid station and passed through to a field hospital, good chance that anything but the worst wounds were survivable. For varying values of survivable.

      The much warmer and wetter climate of the Pacific, along with a host of unknown pathogens and ground-up coral, made for a perfect breeding ground of disease and death. It became common for a 'sick beach' to be designated and those that could get regular salt-water baths, and then rinsed off with fresh. It's a pretty good treatment for varying forms of jungle rot. As long as the rot stayed inside. Though, at least in the Central Pacific, most injured were just a boatride away from a fully-functioning hospital.

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    3. I read that because of the helicopter and improved medical procedures Vietnam was really a revolution as to survivability.

      They were able to get them to field hospitals so much quicker.

      A lot survived that would not have survived in World War II and Korea

      The flipside of that some who survived would be horribly mangled

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    4. The helo was definitely a factor in Vietnam, still is.

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  2. God grant that we don't have to make decisions like the kampfgruppe kommander. "Is that a friendly or not?"

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    1. Yeah, not a position I would like to be in.

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    2. Besides the twitchyness of the SS troops, you also had to deal with the twitchyness of the SS commander, who may decide that the retreating-in-good-order troops were retreating in bad order and get them shot for encourage les autres...

      You just never knew with some SS. Others weren't bad, some were very good, but...

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    3. An Eastern Front mentality. Reading of the atrocities committed in the Ardennes in 1944-45 makes me sick to my stomach.

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  3. And so the joys of attrition combat continue. A little here, a little there, pretty soon a unit disappears except on paper.

    Herr Manfred is having to make the tough decisions, knowing it's a lost cause either way.

    What is surprising is the indomitable Saeur has thrown in the towel. I would not be surprised if he and the small group he's assigned to are one of those that stay put to surrender. I've known a few like that, unstoppable until there's just no reason to continue, and then just quit flat-out. Hope he doesn't get shot in the back.

    Great story, lots of little paths of thought to think about.

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    1. Lots of little paths to keep track of as well. DAMHIK!

      Next book will have a spreadsheet started on the day I start writing!

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  4. I don't know the survival rate for those wounded, but WW2 was our first war in which battle deaths exceed those from disease (and accidents or other non-combat causes).

    World War II (1941 –1945)
    Total U.S. Servicemembers (Worldwide) 16,112,566
    Battle Deaths 291,557
    Other Deaths in Service (Non-Theater) 113,842
    Non-mortal Woundings 670,84

    In WW1 there were about 63,100 from disease compared to 53,400 from combat
    In the Spanish American War, 2,061 from disease compared to 385 in combat.
    In the Mexican War, 11,500 from disease and 1,700 in combat

    The VA has a list for all conflicts at
    https://www.va.gov/opa/publications/factsheets/fs_americas_wars.pdf

    John Blackshoe

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    1. Military medicine had come a long way in WWII. It has come farther still in our later wars.

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  5. Do the characters in your story ever argue with you about the direction the story should take?
    If so, you may need even more spreadsheets.
    Frank

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    1. Some of them have developed some very strong opinions about who lives or dies. Can't say I blame them!

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  6. Seeing that picture it is no wonder that jeep was so loved by the Marines and GIs. It could be configured to do just about anything. And take lots of abuse.

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

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