Sunday, February 28, 2021

The Last Stand of the Eggersheim Volkssturm


"What's the name of this stream?"  Cpl. Maurice Ryan yelled back at Sgt. Melvin Katz. He was trying to make sense of the map in front of him. As the halftrack he was riding in was bouncing down the rutted road, he was continually being tossed back and forth in the front passenger seat. Katz was seated just behind him in the main compartment.

"Near as I can make out, it's the Neffelbach. I'm pretty sure that field of rubble we just passed used to be the village of Eggersheim." Katz yelled back at Ryan. "Keep your eyes peeled to the..."

No sooner had the words left his mouth then a number of machine gun rounds spattered off the side of the halftrack. They had hit at an angle so didn't penetrate, Pfc. Johnny Robles, one of the new replacements, was on the pintle-mounted .50 caliber machine gun. He quickly swung the gun in the direction of where the fire had come from.

As the .50 started hammering away, Katz was on the radio to his platoon commander, three vehicles back. As he tried to make himself understood over the noise of the .50, the tank to their front, commanded by Sgt. Bob Horner, fired its main gun.

"Damn it, I can't hear the L.T. and the L.T. can't hear me. Johnny, keep pounding that position. Caleb you keep feeding him ammo, the rest of you guys, dismount! Move to your right as you get out. Stay low!! Let's go, let's go, let's go!!"

The back door on the track banged open and the men scrambled out, low and keeping to their right to keep the body of the vehicle between them and the source of the incoming fire. The cannon on Horner's tank barked again.

Katz led his men down a ditch which followed the road, it wasn't that deep but it gave them some cover. Katz was angry because he couldn't see shit. He couldn't tell where the enemy was and things were devolving into utter confusion. At that moment his walkie-talkie squawked, taking a knee so he could keep an eye on things, he got on the small radio.

"Yeah, Katz."

"Cat, take your squad out wide to the left, have your track lead, stay under cover of the vehicle, Horner's gonna go with you. We think we smoked the Krauts but L.T.'s not keen on poking our heads out until we're sure. Copy?" Katz recognized Myerson's voice on the circuit, which made him realize that Hernandez was busy.

"Copy all, out!"

Grenadier Horst Sahlfeld looked over at his sergeant, the man had been hit in the head by one of the Ami machine guns hammering their position. The sergeant was an older man, a veteran of the First War, he had been old in 1918, now he would get no older.

Horst heard the squeak of tracks and the rumble of the Ami's tanks and halftracks. He was terrified. As near as he could tell, he was the only one of his squad left. He had seen the machine gun team get destroyed by an American tank round, not long after they had opened fire. Far too early, the sergeant had turned and screamed at them, that's when the American bullet hit the top of his head, killing him instantly.

Two of the boys had jumped from the trench, throwing their Panzerfausts down as they ran. They ran perhaps five meters before they were cut down.

Horst looked down at his stomach, the blood kept welling up between his fingers, no matter how hard he pressed down on the wound. They'd taught him in their brief training to keep pressure on the wound until a Sani could treat it.

They had no Sanitäter, he had been killed yesterday by a strafing aircraft. Horst had no idea what sort of aircraft it was, though his friend Hans had assured him that it was a Spitfire. Young Willi Klingemann had insisted it was a P-47. Horst didn't know and didn't care, it had killed the Sani and two of the other boys in his platoon. Today the Amis had killed Hans and Willi.

Horst began to feel the pain of his wound now, he assumed that the shock of being hit was wearing off. He looked about, there, there was his rifle, the stock was shattered, he wondered if whatever had hit his rifle had also hit him.

Horst gasped, the pain was getting very bad now, then he felt a warmth in the crotch of his trousers, he had wet himself. He felt shame for a moment, then he felt nothing at all...

"Jesus, they're just kids, Sarge. F**king kids." Pvt. Warren Pratt was kneeling beside the trench where they had taken fire from. He looked down, a dead kid with a shattered rifle. Nearby, an older man, the top of his head gone. A bit further on, the remains of a destroyed MG 34 and what was left of its crew. Horner's high explosive round had destroyed the position.

Pratt started to stand up, but Sgt. Katz waved at him to stay down. There was a farmhouse about a hundred yards away. He was concerned about snipers. "Stay down Warren, no sense giving some Kraut sharpshooter an easy target. Looks like Stump's squad will be clearing that farmhouse, so we'll hold here."

Katz walked in a low crouch over to the rear of Horner's tank and picked up the telephone handset.


"Bob, it's Cat, you see anything from up there?"

"Nothin' Cat, looks like Stump is done clearing the farm up ahead. Any live Krauts in that trench?"

"Nope, one dead old guy and a dead kid in this end, what might have been three men, or boys, next to the MG, two dead kids away from the trench, probably trying to run away."

"Copy. All right, let's get mounted up again, Stump is signaling the all clear."

Katz looked towards the farm, yes, a man, probably Stump, was signaling.

"Okay guys, back in the track, we're not done yet."

As the American column headed on to the east, quiet settled over the fields south of Eggersheim. One old sergeant and six kids, none older than fifteen, had delayed the American advance for maybe 30 minutes, no more.

No one knew of their sacrifice, no one reported on their futile stand to higher headquarters, quite simply because there was no one left to make a report. The Party officials in the area had fled to the East the day before, after the local Party chief had ordered the small group to make its stand.

In sixty-nine days, the Third Reich will surrender.

Link to all of The Chant's fiction.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

The Rhine in Sight!

5th Company had spent the night on the road, Leutnant Manfred Sauer sat in the back of his Kübelwagen, desperately trying to stay awake. Grenadier Peter Meyer was driving, the Spieß, Hauptfeldwebel Klaus-Peter Keller, was sitting behind the driver, snoring loudly, and Grenadier Christof Schmidt, Sauer's radio man, was sitting up front, his newly issued Stg 44 at the ready.

Leading the column was a motorcycle-sidecar combination, behind that was one of the surviving Drillings, then Sauer's Kübelwagen. Behind them was a long column of halftracks and other combat vehicles. Twenty-three vehicles and 127 men, though the 5th had failed outside Kreuzau, the men were still game. Even the three men returned by the Feldgendarmerie, the grapevine had it that two of those men were sporting black eyes now, one had a split lip and a nasty bruise across his abdomen.

Their commander, Unteroffizier Michael Böhm, also had a split lip, it seemed that one of the miscreants had accused Böhm of hiding behind his rank. Grenadier Jochen Wagner, a big farm boy, had been the one doing the accusing. Böhm had taken Wagner out behind the vehicle park, sans epaulettes, and the two had beaten the stuffing out of each other. Wagner was the one with the abdominal bruising, seems Böhm had connected with a well-placed knee, ending the fight.

But that was in the past, the future lay before them and Sauer faced it with some trepidation. Those SS men may or may not have reported his actions to their command, if they had, he could expect repercussions. Keller had told him not to worry about it, but he had also advised, "Stay close to the unit, Sir. Don't go anywhere without an armed escort."

"You mean a babysitter, right Klaus-Peter?" Sauer had asked.

"If you want to view it that way fine, but you know damn well what I mean, Sir." Keller nearly snapped at his commander. The Spieß was more in tune with what was happening throughout Germany. The Sicherheitsdienst, the SS, and the Gestapo were on the prowl looking for deserters, defeatists, and those who were simply tired of the war. He had had a letter from an old friend in the East, drum head courts martial were roaming the land in front of the Russian advance. Many a disgruntled soldier (and civilian) were simply hung from the nearest tree with a placard hanging from their neck proclaiming them a traitor. One could not be too careful these days.

"Sir, some commotion up ahead!" Meyer announced from the driver's seat.

"Feldgendarmerie? A check point?" Sauer was trying to see ahead, but he was so tired that he was having trouble clearing his eyes.

Meyer turned around and said, "A checkpoint of sorts. Two Panther tanks, infantry in halftracks, not sure what's going on."

A moment later Schmidt, who had been monitoring the radio, noticed someone familiar up ahead. "Sir! Isn't that Major von Lüttwitz?"


"These Kraut cigarettes are terrible." Sgt. Woodrow Sherman, Woody to his platoon mates, took one more drag from the German cigarette, then tossed it away into the snow.

"Yeah Sarge, only one thing worse than a Kraut cigarette," Pvt. Larry Kelley offered, "no cigarettes at all!"

Both men chuckled then looked up as their platoon sergeant walked up to them. "What are you jokers up to? Woody, are you teaching the new guys bad habits?"

"Yeah Top, killin' Krauts then smoking their cigarettes. Can't wait to get to a town, we'll take their women next!" Sherman chuckled.

"Be careful with that Woody. Command has issued no fraternization orders. So there will be no German women for us." S/Sgt Jack Wilson shook his finger at Sherman. "Besides which, you remember those guys who had leave in Paris?"

"Yeah, point taken, Top."

"What happened to the guys who had leave in Paris, Sgt. Sherman?" Kelley asked. He was an 18-year old ranch hand from Montana, joining the Army was the first time he'd ever left his home state. He was pretty naive.

"Let's just say, that it hurt them to piss for quite a while." Sherman half-explained.

"Huh? What do you mean?" Kelley didn't get it.

"Venereal disease, Kelly, gonorrhea, the clap. You get it from having relations with women of low repute." Wilson explained.

"Well, dang, that just won't do, Top, I ain't never going to Paris then. My Daisy wouldn't like that no how!" Kelley said.

"Who's Daisy?" Sherman wanted to know.

"Well, she's my gal back home. We're gonna get married some day." Kelley explained.

Before anyone could continue on that topic, 2nd Lt. Stephen Hernandez, commander of 2nd Platoon, walked up with a stack of mail.

"Hey, Woody, pass these out to the headquarters section, there's a couple in there for you I saw. You too, Top." Before Pvt. Kelley could ask, Hernandez continued, "Sorry Private, didn't see your name on any of the letters. I'm sure you'll get something soon."

As Sherman and Kelley went off to distribute the mail, Hernandez held up a letter. "It's from Nate."

Wilson perked up at that, "Have you read it yet, Sir?"

"Yes, seems he's healing up very nicely. So nicely that he's staying in theater. He won't be returning to a combat unit anytime soon, but he's working at First Army HQ." Hernandez explained.

"Damn, too bad he can't go home. First Army, then he won't be far will he?" Wilson wanted to see his old lieutenant, now he might get that chance.

"Nate also says, off the record of course, that we're going back to VII Corps, probably next week." The 1st Infantry Division had been a part of VII Corps since July of '44, then they had been chopped to V Corps when the Germans had attacked in December.

"Geez, L.T., VII to V, back to VII, back to V, then to XVIII Airborne Corps, then to III, now back to VII Corps. Crazy! Probably keeps the paper pushers at HQ busy." Wilson scoffed.

"Well, they need a job too, can't expect them to come out here and fight Krauts, do ya?" Hernandez said with a grin.

"Yes Sir, nasty job shuffling all that paper, but someone's gotta do it!"


Sauer couldn't believe his eyes, it was the Major. Immediately a big grin broke out on his face. The Major was dressed in his best uniform and was talking to an infantryman and one of the tank crewmen.

"Herr Major! How are you, Sir! 5th Company reporting for duty!" Sauer was out of the Kübelwagen even before it had stopped rolling.

Major Jürgen von Lüttwitz, arm no longer in a sling, turned and smiled at Sauer. "It's about time Leutnant, I was expecting you yesterday!"

The men von Lüttwitz had been talking to looked on in wonder as the two men shared a handshake and slapped each other on the shoulder. The tanker had never seen such a thing. Of course, he was a very young Leutnant, he had just turned 19, and this was his first field assignment. He commanded the two Panthers parked at the roadside.

"Manfred, I'd like you to meet Leutnant Ralf Heinrich and Oberfeldwebel Georg Eichmann. Ralf commands these two lovely machines you see behind me, Georg commands two platoons of the 6th Company. All, I might add, that is left of the 6th Company. One hundred good men in a collection of broken down halftracks which his men somehow managed to keep running."

Sauer shook hands with the two men, then the Oberfeldwebel's eyes took on a look of understanding, "Ah, you're that Sauer. The man who crossed France with the Major here."

Sauer blushed, "Well, yes, I am that Sauer. I just followed my leader, nothing more."

"Nonsense Manfred, we did it together, along with five other fine men, all dead now I'm afraid. But we have planning to do, we must be across the Rhine tonight and in Köln by morning. You haven't run afoul of any more Kopfjäger¹ have you Manfred?" How von Lüttwitz knew about that alarmed Sauer, he didn't think the word would spread so fast.

"No Sir, I've been behaving."

"Good, now follow me gentlemen, we have to figure out how to get where the Army wants us. Keller, you old bandit, have the 5th take this road," he pointed to the south, "you'll find a stand of trees where you can hide. Make sure you leave nothing in the open. The Jabos have been busy."

Keller waved to the Major and yelled back, "Very good Herr Major! Do the other pirates know where you are?"

"Most certainly not!"

As the 5th Company sought their bivouac area, the men of 6th Company with the two attached tanks began to cover their vehicles with netting to which they attached branches and other natural matter to break up the outline.

They had just finished when a flight of American B-26 Marauders boomed past over their heads. It was going to be a long day, the sun was shining, the clouds were few and far between.

Though it was beginning to feel like Spring, death still haunted the skies over the front.

¹ Headhunter, a German Army slang term for the SS Feldgendarmerie.

Link to all of The Chant's fiction.

Friday, February 26, 2021

The Runners


Leutnant Manfred Sauer knew that the 5th Company had fallen back over 35 kilometers since the Battle of Kreuzau and was now bivouacked in the vicinity of Rheinbach, some 16 kilometers southwest of Bonn. The map in front of him told him that. The orders he held in his hands directed his unit to continue to fall back to the eastern side of the Rhine, 5th Company was to cross the bridge at Remagen and report to the area commander. If Sauer could figure out who that might be.

The command situation around Remagen, especially concerning the all important Ludendorff Bridge, was very confused. The place was nominally the responsibility of the Replacement Army, currently commanded by Heinrich Himmler. But the Field Army was now also responsible for commanding the soldiers who would actually defend the bridge.

In addition to all of that, the engineers on site, preparing the bridge for demolition, came under a completely different chain of command. As did the anti-aircraft gunners on the heights above the bridge. Sauer had no desire to place his men in that confusing arrangement. His plan was to get across the bridge then move north to the vicinity of Köln where the rest of the 3rd Panzergrenadier Division was preparing to defend that city. Which meant that they would have to cross the Rhine at Remagen, hurry north, then cross again to the western side of the river at Köln.

As he was pondering that situation, a military motorcycle with sidecar pulled up nearby, right behind that was an Opel Blitz Lkw. The motorcycle belonged to the Feldgendarmerie, the Waffen SS Feldgendarmerie. To say that made him nervous would be a huge understatement.

"Herr Leutnant, do you know why the Kettenhunde are here?" Hauptfeldwebel Klaus-Peter Keller had come up from the quartermaster's area and noticed the Feldgendarmerie.

"I don't know Spieß, they just pulled up." Sauer replied. He and Keller watched as the two men from the motorcycle-sidecar combination went to the back of the Opel.

Another Feldgendarmerie jumped down from the truck, followed by three soldiers in chains.

"Aren't those men from 4th Platoon?" Keller asked.

"I think they are, I think they were on Unteroffizier Böhm's crew. He came back alone, with his vehicle, said his three crewmen ran when the Ami artillery started hitting." Sauer turned and looked back into the ruined building he was using as a headquarters.

"Schottenstein! Run down to 4th Platoon and bring Unteroffizier Böhm back with you!"

"Jawohl Herr Leutnant!" Grenadier Ernst Schottenstein started his big Zündapp motorcycle and headed down to where 4th Platoon was camped, some 500 meters away.

At that moment the three SS men walked up to Sauer along with their prisoners. "Are you Sauer?" The senior man, an SS Oberscharführer¹, asked Sauer arrogantly.

Sauer stood up, adjusted his tunic, then said, "You will address me properly, Oberscharführer, or I will have you up on charges."

The SS man looked around, then shrugged, "If it makes you happy. Are you Leutnant Manfred Sauer, commanding officer of the 5th Company of the 8th Panzergrenadier Regiment?"

"I am, who might you be?" Sauer asked.

"Who I am is irrelevant, Leutnant, I ..."

"Hauptfeldwebel Keller, is your weapon loaded?" Sauer interrupted the SS man.

"It is Herr Leutnant." Keller said this as he unslung his MP 40 and pulled the bolt out of its safety rest then let it slide forward. The weapon was ready to fire and Keller held it casually, pointed down and to the right of the three SS man. Not pointing directly at them, but he could have the weapon on target in an instant.

"Are you..." the SS man started to speak.

"I suggest that you state your business, we, unlike you, have a war to fight. You are interrupting that activity. Keller?"

"Yes Sir?"

"If any of these men shows me the slightest bit of disrespect, shoot them. All three of them. I am tired of these rear area bastards."

The senior SS man flushed when he heard that, Oberscharführer Willi Heinrich was a thorough coward. He had been a policeman before the war and had jumped at the chance to join the Waffen SS Feldgendarmerie, he might be near the front at times, but never at the front. He was a bully as well, he backed down quickly when he saw the combat decorations on the army sergeant's tunic. The look in Keller's eyes also cowed the man. Keller didn't enjoy killing, but he was good at it, and it showed.

"Um, sorry if we got off on the wrong foot, Herr Leutnant. We have three of your men, suspected deserters, we would have hanged them ourselves, but we have other business to attend to. If you will sign these forms acknowledging receipt of the prisoners, then we'll be on our way."

Sauer looked at the SS man for a moment, then said, "Get those chains off my men. Now."

The quiet way he said it made the SS men nervous, they complied immediately.

"One more thing, hand your pay books to me so that I might record your names for my report."

"Sir?" The Oberscharführer asked nervously.

"Are you deaf Oberscharführer, perhaps you don't speak German very well. Are you a Hiwi², perhaps recruited in the East? I recognize your type." Sauer spoke with a great deal of disdain in his voice.

"Sir? Uh, no Sir, I am Volksdeutsche, yes, my people are Siebenbürger Sachsen from Großschenk in Rumänien³. I have served since..." the Oberscharführer managed to stammer out most of his story.

"That's quite enough Oberscharführer. Your pay books?"

As the SS men were handing over their pay books so that Sauer could record their names, and their unit, Schottenstein came roaring up on his Zündapp, Unteroffizier Böhm riding on the pillion. When he saw his three men, being divested of their chains, he hopped off the machine and bellowed, "Where have you three idiots been?! Did you stupid bastards get lost again?!?!"

Sauer tried to hide his amusement, but Böhm's bellowing seemed to unsettle the three Feldgendarmerie even more than Keller's machine pistol.

"Kühn, Wagner, Meier, I have already written your dear mothers to tell them that you were missing in action. Thank God you have returned to us. I told you idiot Silesians not to wander too far from the bivouac! You don't know the west, do you?" Böhm was putting on quite a show.

With an exaggerated Hitler salute, Böhm addressed the senior SS man, "Thank you Oberscharführer for returning my boys to the ranks, we have been short-handed since they were separated from the unit outside Kreuzau. Nasty Ami artillery bombardment and the poor lads no doubt got lost in the Drover Heide. Where did you find them?"

"They were..."

"Ah, that's not important, you boys go wait over there, we'll get you fed and cleaned up momentarily. Again, thank you Oberscharführer. Heil Hitler!" With another exaggerated salute Böhm turned to his men.

Sauer handed the pay books back to the Oberscharführer and said, "Yes, thank you. You are dismissed. I shall be having a word with your commander."

"But Sir..."

"Dismissed Oberscharführer. This is a Panzergrenadier unit, I could confiscate your vehicles, for the good of the Reich of course, but I am feeling generous today. But if you linger in the area..."

Sauer could tell that the SS men were furious and embarrassed, but they were also outnumbered and outgunned, a number of men from 5th Company had gathered around to see what all the commotion was about.

"Sir, Heil Hitler! We shall be off then." The SS men returned to their vehicles and headed away from the bivouac with some alacrity.

Sauer turned to Böhm, "I expect you shall come up with some creative, and educational, punishment for these three miscreants?"

"Jawohl, Herr Leutnant!" Böhm barked. "Count on it."

Turning to the three wayward grenadiers, Sauer said, "As for you men, if you ever abandon your comrades and your unit again, I shall shoot you myself. Is that clear?"

Grenadiers Klaus-Peter Kühn, Jochen Wagner, and Lukas Meier all snapped to attention and bellowed, nearly in unison, "JAWOHL, HERR LEUTNANT!!"

"Dismissed. Schottenstein, take Böhm back to his platoon, have these three men run behind you. At speed, Ernst, at speed." Sauer nodded towards 4th Platoon's bivouac.

"With pleasure, Herr Leutnant."

Sauer watched as the three miscreants ran down the road after the motorcycle-sidecar combination. Turning to Keller, "Have someone keep an eye on those boys, once a runner..."

"Jawohl, Herr Leutnant. I think they may need the Sani in the morning. Their platoon mates may take umbrage at their lack of attention to their duties." Keller said.

"Yes, I suppose so Spieß. No broken bones, mind you. I want them fit for duty."

"Understood Sir. If I may?"

"Dismissed, Klaus-Peter. You old rogue."

"Aber natürlich, Herr Leutnant."

Tomorrow they would be moving again, he could not spare a single man, but Manfred Sauer was resolved, if they ran again, he would shoot them.

¹ Equivalent to an American Sergeant First Class.
² Hiwi, short for Hilfswilliger, auxiliary volunteer, typically from the Soviet Union.
³ The man is an ethnic German, from Transylvania, specifically Großschenk (Cincu) in Romania. Siebenbürger is the German word for Transylvania.

Link to all of The Chant's fiction.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

The Lost


The halftrack made it's way down the river road from Niederau, where 2nd Platoon was bivouacked along with all of Charlie Company. The mood was somber, 3rd Squad was heading back to Kreuzau to check on their missing men. Sgt. Stump Gentile didn't hold out much hope, but he hoped that if he wound up missing, his guys would look for him. You didn't leave people behind.

As the M3 halftrack turned the corner, Gentile saw a Jeep parked in the road. Two military policemen stood nearby.

"Pull up just short of those MPs, Ray."

The M3's driver, Pvt. Raymond Holloway, nodded and said, "You got it, Sarge."

One of the MPs was holding up a hand to stop the vehicle, Gentile stepped out when the vehicle came to a stop.

"Something I can help you boys with?" the ranking MP, a corporal, said with a smirk.

"Yes, you can address me as sergeant and get this goddamned Jeep out of the road. We're here to look for our missing. We fought here a few days ago. First across the Roer we were, some of our guys paid the price." Gentile said, in a commanding tone.

"Well, Sergeant, I'm afraid..."

"You should be very afraid, Corporal." Cpl Charlie Gammell said from atop the halftrack. "We've been ordered here to check on missing personnel, if you try to stop us, we will just go through you."

"Now wait just a second..." The MP corporal stuttered. At that moment a captain wearing a Red Cross armband came up to the road.

"Is there a problem here Corporal Beddows?" the captain asked.

"Well, Sir..."

Gentile had noticed the captain's insignia and interrupted the, by now, thoroughly flustered MP. "Excuse us Sir, we were ordered here to determine the status of some our missing men. You're with Graves Registration, right Sir?"

"That's correct, Sergeant..."

"Gentile, Sir, Flavio Gentile."

"Captain Herb Smith, Graves Registration, as you guessed." The captain then reached into a pocket of his field jacket, extracting a number of dog tags. "Might make your trip quicker, Sgt. Gentile." He said as he handed the tags to Gentile.

Gentile went through the tags, there were nine: Gomez, Allen, McBride, Webb, Stanley, Estrada, Maxwell, Pacheco, and Manderson. Gentile sighed, then handed the tags back to the captain. "Yes Sir, those are our guys, all 2nd Platoon or Weapons Platoon from Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry."

"Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, Sergeant. Some of those men, well, we were lucky to find their dog tags. Artillery?" Captain Smith asked.

"Yes Sir, 75s and mortars. It was rough for a bit until our own arty took over." Gentile paused, looked down at the town. He would remember this place. "Thanks Sir, appreciate it. We'll be on our way."

"Stay alive Sarge."

"Tryin' Sir, tryin' awfully hard to do just that."


To the east of Kreuzau, at the edge of the Drover Heath, another Graves Registration party was working. Though the men were Americans, they were recovering the German dead. Collecting the German identity disks (which one had to break in half, one part stayed with the body) and making notes of where they fell. The German dead would be buried nearby, the same as the American dead. 

The supervising sergeant, Leroy Simmons, heard some commotion over by a wrecked German halftrack. He went over to investigate. There, in the wreckage, was the body of a dead German soldier, his pockets were unbuttoned, it looked as though personal belongings had been taken from the corpse. Three men were laughing and horsing around. They got quiet when they saw Simmons. Who glared at the three.

"Hand 'em over. I know you clowns helped yourselves to this dead Kraut's stuff. That ain't right fellas, give it here."

Two of the soldiers looked sheepish and began to pull items out of their pockets. A paybook, an Iron Cross, a Wound Badge, a pair of NCO epaulettes, and various ribbons, two of which the sergeant recognized, the Eastern Front Medal, and the Iron Cross 2nd Class. One soldier looked back at the sergeant with defiance.

"Why we gotta give the stuff back? This Kraut is dead, he don't care." Said the defiant private.

"I've told ya before Jackson, if you get caught by the Krauts, and you have stuff from one of their guys, they'll shoot your dumb ass. Now give, or I'll f**kin' shoot ya!"

Jackson pulled a wallet from his trouser pocket and a watch off his wrist, he knew the other guys didn't like him and that they'd rat on him when they could.

"Money too, numbnuts." Sgt. Simmons said, holding his hand out.

"Jesus Sarge, this is bullshit." Jackson protested.

"That's enough, you're on report." His hand was still out, grudgingly, Jackson handed over the money from the German's wallet. There was a photograph as well.

"You're an asshole, Jackson. Seriously, you took a dead guy's photo of his..." Simmons checked the back of the photo, he knew some German, "...his wife? For f**k's sake, have you no shame?"

The men got back to work, they pulled the dead German from the wreckage. It would be two years before Greta Hartmann knew the fate of her Marcus. Unteroffizier Marcus Hartmann, killed in action outside of Kreuzau. He had grown up in Jülich, not fourteen miles from where the Americans buried him in late February of 1945.

Author's Note: There will be a couple more posts in this series, we're not across the Rhine just yet!
Link to all of The Chant's fiction.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Now What?


So, Charlie Company's 2nd Platoon, ably led by 2nd Lt. Stephen Hernandez and S/Sgt Jack Wilson, is across the Roer River, next stop, the Rhine...

For Your Humble Scribe it's time to stop, do some research, then figure out where the lads are going next. Well, historically I know where they're going if, and this is a big if, they stay with their parent division. Something I've not been particularly sticking with, remember back in the D-Day series when 2nd Platoon wound up on the far side of the Cotentin Peninsula when the rest of the division was still south of Omaha Beach? (No, you don't remember that? Well, alright, here's a link, back when Melvin Katz was a Private and our platoon sergeant, Jack Wilson, had just made corporal. Dang, that was a while ago...)


Research, you all get to see the fruits of that labor, but in the background I'm shoveling fertilizer, grafting bits of story onto an historical narrative, fleshing out the main characters, pulling weeds, etc., etc., or, as the Germans would say, usw., which is short for und so weiter, (and so on). Ya know, working. But never fear, I enjoy it, it's been enjoyable telling this story, though a bit heart wrenching at times, I get close to the main characters, and it's war and...

Yes, heart wrenching at times.

Not to mention emotionally draining. I put the characters in situations and then, sometimes, I can see no way of getting them out of the dilemma I put them in and bang, they're gone. Like Oberfeldwebel Ernst Mayer, the German "Stump." (Stummel can be interpreted as "stub" or "stump." I've seen it used both ways.)

Mayer was 5th Company's artillery expert, he had a lot of young recruits in his platoon and after I had Woodstock and Myerson call in the artillery, I couldn't picture Mayer hiding in a hole somewhere, I just knew he'd be out there, rallying the men, trying to get them to hold their positions. Which he did, for the most part, but it cost him his life. Damn, I wanted to go further with his character.

A tank¹ crew with their StuG IV in Poland.

The StuGs in this story seem to get beat up a lot, odd when you considered that the StuG (in its various versions) was the most successful tank killer of the war (according to some sources). But it was primarily a defensive weapon, cheaper to build than a tank, a nice low silhouette, and a very effective gun in the later war years. But that lack of a turret (making the vehicle less complicated, therefore cheaper) was also a handicap in offensive operations. So yes, they die a lot in my story. But after the Allies cross the Rhine, expect that to change.

If the Germans can find the fuel to properly deploy them that is...

In addition to that source at the top of the page under the graphic (which depicts an armored, i.e. no trucks, everyone rides a halftrack, Panzergrenadier platoon, or Zug) I used the following as a source for the history of the fight in Western Europe. There are some excellent books in this series.


Now, to wrap this up, and continue with the research, yesterday's chapter was the final episode of "To The Rhine." I'm not sure what the next (and final) phase will be called, but the crossing of the Rhine and the fall of Nazi Germany is in the offing. For you naval types, you can see the tops of the masts on the horizon.

Manfred Sauer and Jürgen von Lüttwitz will be reunited soon as II Battalion/8th Panzergrenadier Regiment has been whittled down to no more than a reinforced company. (Though you didn't get to see that, it happened, trust me.) Major von Lüttwitz's arm is on the mend, for those who wonder. In the late parts of the war, the only way for a German soldier to get out of the fighting was to be severely maimed or killed outright.

Sauer and von Lüttwitz are already on the eastern side of the Rhine, somewhere behind where the photo was taken. (Which is on the bluffs overlooking the site of the Ludendorff bridge, which, the more observant types will notice, isn't there anymore. Though the towers are, if you look close.)

The Rhine at Remagen, Germany

Hernandez and his lads will be approaching through that terrain you can see above (which is rather more built up than in 1945). They'll be crossing the Rhine very soon. At that very spot seen above. (Of course, the bridge was still standing when they got there.)

Stay tuned.

¹ Okay, not a tank crew, it's a Sturmgeschütz crew. I used the original caption. Sturmgeschütz crews originally didn't belong to the tank arm (die Panzerwaffe) but were artillerymen. Not sure if that ever changed, if someone knows, clue me in.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

After the Battle of Kreuzau...


Sgt. Doug Harrell's tank, Misfit II, was positioned not far from the disabled Box o' Nuts. He had two of his crew helping Sgt. Ken Boyd's wounded, Pfc. Lawrence Bradley, Pvt. Cody O'Neal, Pvt. Anthony Potter, over to his tank. Word had come down that they were moving out, the same message brought the glad news that the Krauts were falling back willy-nilly.

Harrell dismounted to talk with Boyd, "You don't wanna torch her, Ken?"

Boyd had debated the idea of destroying his tank so that the Germans couldn't haul it off and use it. But seeing as how they were retreating, he had decided to leave Box o' Nuts intact. "Nah, Doug, replace that transmission, seal the hole in the front, she'll be as good as new. No point setting her on fire, there's no one around but us. Krauts are high-tailing it east."

"How are your guys?" Harrell had to ask, Boyd's driver, Pfc. Larry Bradley, looked pretty bad, he was soaked with blood from the waist down and in a great deal of pain. The assistant driver, Pvt. Anthony Potter, was also in considerable pain, he couldn't walk on his own and his left leg was barely attached.

"Potter and Bradley need a doc, quick, we stopped the bleeding, but..."

"O'Neal looks pretty beat up."

"Yeah, he took a steel splinter in the arm, and another in the leg when the transmission got hit. He's a tough guy, I told him to milk it for all it's worth. Who wants to die at this stage of the game?"

"I hear ya. Okay, the wounded are loaded up, let's get out of here."

5th Company had fallen back nearly seven kilometers, to the vicinity of Vettweiß. Leutnant Manfred Sauer had ordered a halt in order to collect the fragments of his company. There were a large number of stragglers who hadn't made the rendezvous. Only three vehicles from 3rd (Heavy) Platoon had survived the fight outside Kreuzau. The platoon leader's 251¹ had survived but, one of the mortar carriers and one of the cannon-armed halftracks had been destroyed with most of their crews.

While the platoon leader's vehicle had made it out, the platoon leader had not. Oberfeldwebel Ernst Mayer had been badly wounded in the American artillery barrage and had died soon after Leutnant Sauer had arrived on scene to determine why that portion of his two-pronged attack on Kreuzau had not moved.

Unteroffizier Jens Voigt now commanded 3rd (Heavy) Platoon, he and four corporals were all that remained of the unit's NCOs. He had made a list of casualties for his platoon: nine dead, four wounded. Sauer had been surprised that the dead had outnumbered the wounded by so many, Voigt had explained that most of the men were in their vehicles when the Ami artillery had saturated the area. The men who survived from a destroyed vehicle were always wounded and were, in most cases, extremely lucky to have survived at all.

"Unteroffizier, what of the Drillings assigned to support your unit, there were two, yes?"

"Jawohl, Herr Leutnant. One came back with us, the other, Unteroffizier Hartmann's vehicle, was destroyed by a direct hit. None of the crew survived." Voigt looked at the ground for a moment, Hartmann had been a good friend and comrade. The shock of seeing his friend's vehicle come apart like a toy stepped on by a giant was still with him.

"Has Feldwebel Haasen's platoon reported in? I saw at least two of his vehicles hit. One by artillery, the other, I think, by tank fire coming from the town." Voigt needed a drink, a stiff one.

"Yes Voigt, he lost two vehicles. He has seven dead and one wounded man as well. The Sani says the wounded man is going to be okay. Minor burns, he was lucky to be away from his 251 when it was hit." Sauer dismissed Voight, told him to report to the Sanitäter. He had a nasty looking cut on one cheek, the man didn't seem to notice that he had been injured.


S/Sgt Jack Wilson was walking towards 2nd Lt. Stephen Hernandez' Kübelwagen, seemed like the L.T. loved the damned thing. It bugged Wilson that his boss didn't have a proper Jeep. Ah well, if the Army wanted his platoon commander to have a Jeep, they would have issued him one.

The platoon had moved north from Kreuzau and was now bivouacked outside Niederau, waiting for the rest of Charlie Company to cross the Roer and join them, their five halftracks had come over that morning. The pontoon bridge they had used was now jammed with traffic from an armored division hurrying to the Rhine River.

Hernandez looked up and saw his platoon sergeant, he knew that Wilson had the casualty list with him. Time to tally up the cost.

"How bad is it, Top?"

"Three killed in action, nine wounded, and six missing. Judd Maxwell's .30 cal team was hit hard, Krauts dropped a mortar round damned near right on top of them. Judd's dead, Weber and Hawkins are wounded, they've been evacuated to a battalion aid station, not ours, they're still on the wrong side of the river. Two men missing from Judd's team - Pacheco and Manderson. Don't hold out too much hope for them, there may not be enough of them left to identify the bodies."

"Judd's dead?" Hernandez knew that Sgt. Maxwell's .30 cal MG team had been attached to 2nd Platoon since before he'd joined the platoon. Maxwell was a good man, he would be missed. "How did Weber and Hawkins get out?"

"Judd sent 'em back after they both got hit by a near miss, fragments tore up Weber's right arm pretty bad, Hawkins wasn't as bad, but bad enough that he needed treatment. As those two guys withdrew to the rear, they heard another incoming shell, so they jumped into a crater."

"That round killed Judd?" Hernandez asked.

"Yes Sir, probably Pacheco and Manderson too, Pacheco was on the gun right next to Judd, Manderson was handling the belt."

"Shit. I guess I better go talk to Herm, he'll want to know about his guys." 2nd Lt. Herman Jacobsen was a friend, commander of Weapons Platoon, the platoon Maxwell's machine gun team belonged to, Hernandez hated having to tell Jacobsen the news, but it would be better if it came from him.

"Anything else, Top?"

"Yes Sir, we lost one tank, Boyd's tank. S/Sgt Woodstock says it's reparable."

"What about Boyd's crew?"

"Three wounded, but they'll live, two of 'em are going home. Million dollar wounds."

"It's one thing to survive, Top, it's quite another to go through life crippled."

"Yeah, I get that L.T., but they're alive. Boyd's driver, Cpl. Jon Riggs, he's probably going to lose a leg, maybe two. Doc wasn't sure."

"Shit." Was all 2nd Lt. Hernandez had to say.

"Pvt. Rudy Stanley from 2nd Squad and Pvt. Juan Estrada from 3rd Squad are dead, Stanley was near the edge of the Kraut mortar attack, a shell dropped near the foxhole he and Pvt. Kurt Perkins were occupying. Perkins was wounded, Doc says he'll be okay. Rudy was unlucky as Hell, shell fragment just under his helmet, killed him instantly." Wilson consulted his list, he knew these men, he felt terrible discussing their deaths and injuries like this, but hey, it's why the Army paid him more.

"3rd Squad had two other wounded, Pvt. Robert Dumas, he and Flowers killed a StuG just before he got hit and Pvt. Randall Phillips has a nasty gash on his left forearm, he's already back on duty."

"Scotty Caldwell in 1st Squad caught a mortar fragment, but Doc says he'll be okay." Wilson continued.

"Where did Scotty get hit?" Hernandez asked out of curiosity.

"In the ass, they were shifting position, him and Pvt. Javier Gomez, after the round hit, Caldwell couldn't see Javi, we're pretty sure he's dead, we just haven't found a body."

"Privates Eric Allen, 1st Squad, Wayne McBride, 2nd Squad, and Kenneth Webb, also 2nd Squad, are all missing. No one has seen them since the attack started." Wilson looked up from his list, this business sickened him.

"Dead in the barrage, prisoners, deserters, any thoughts on that, Top?" Hernandez hated the not knowing when a man went missing, he couldn't believe anyone in 2nd Platoon would run. But then again, some of them had run at the crossroads. Every man had his limits, sometimes a fellow's courage just ran out.

"No idea, L.T., Stump wants to take a patrol back to Kreuzau, see if he can find them and the other guys who went missing. Their buddies are pretty sure they're dead. Those Kraut AA halftracks were laying down some pretty good heat at one point. Twenty millimeter tends to tear a body apart."

"Okay, tell Stump to take one of the halftracks and his squad, check it out, I want to know, so do the men I suppose." Hernandez was tempted to go himself, but he knew he needed to stay with the bulk of the unit.

"Roger that, Sir, on it. Can I...?" Wilson began.

"No, you may not, Sgt. Gentile can handle it, you're a platoon sergeant now, Jack, not a squad leader."

"Yes Sir, sorry."

"Carry on Staff Sergeant."

Recognizing that his commander was in a bad state, Wilson left to get Gentile's patrol on the road.

All told, the Battle of Kreuzau² was a minor affair, no great issues were decided. A small American unit found a way over a river, a small German unit attempted to push them back over that river. Events elsewhere overshadowed the fighting around Kreuzau, but for fifty-six men, eighteen American and thirty-eight German, their lives were either changed forever, or ended in the small town of Kreuzau and in the nearby fields and forests.

The casualties:

Pvt. Rudy Stanley, KIA
Pvt. Juan Estrada, KIA
Sgt. Judd Maxwell, KIA
Pvt. Scott Caldwell, WIA
Pvt. Kurt Perkins, WIA
Pvt. Robert Dumas, WIA
Pvt. Randall Phillips, WIA
Pfc. Jim Weber, WIA
Pvt. Allan Hawkins, WIA
Cpl. Jon Riggs, WIA
Pvt. Cody O'Neal, WIA
Pvt. Anthony Potter, WIA
Pvt. Javier Gomez, MIA
Pvt. Eric Allen, MIA
Pvt. Wayne McBride, MIA
Pvt. Kenneth Webb, MIA
Pvt. Steve Pacheco, MIA
Pvt. Troy Manderson, MIA

Obergefreiter Heinz Leonhart, KIA
Grenadier Erhard Fleischhacker, KIA
Grenadier Alfons Hartig, KIA
Gefreiter Walther Wolfram, KIA
Grenadier Kurt Baier, KIA
Grenadier Sigfried Schimmelpfennig, KIA
Grenadier Siegfried Ritter, KIA
Oberfeldwebel Ernst Mayer, KIA
Unteroffizier Hans König, KIA
Grenadier Niels Hahn, KIA
Grenadier Markus Neumann, KIA
Gefreiter Werner Gantzmann, KIA
Unteroffizier Jörg Keller, KIA
Grenadier Tim Wolff, KIA
Grenadier Christoph Groß, KIA
Gefreiter Fritz Schäfer, KIA
Unteroffizier Marcus Hartmann, KIA
Obergefreiter Lukas Berger, KIA
Grenadier Klaus Krause, KIA
Grenadier Daniel Hoffmann, KIA
Panzeroberkanonier Hubert Hering, KIA
Gefreiter Viktor Hanneman, KIA
Gefreiter Leo Grasshoff, KIA
Panzeroberkanonier Bodo Baumer, KIA
Panzerkanonier Michael Günther, KIA
Grenadier Hans Egner, WIA
Grenadier Paul Kaiser, WIA
Grenadier Ernst Berger, WIA
Grenadier Karsten Horn, WIA
Grenadier Patrick Albrecht, WIA
Obergefreiter Anton Krausse, WIA
Gefreiter August Koch, WIA
Grenadier Klaus-Peter Kühn, MIA
Grenadier Jochen Wagner, MIA
Grenadier Lukas Meier, MIA
Gefreiter Hans Scholz, MIA
Grenadier Tobias Stein, MIA
Grenadier Markus Jung, MIA

Some gave all...

¹ The 251 was the German Sd.Kfz. 251 halftrack
² I should fess up here and say that the Battle of Kreuzau exists only in my imagination. It represents the many small actions which together made up the conflict we remember as World War II.

Link to all of The Chant's fiction.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Anno Glacio

The post title?  I'll be frank.  Events from 2,021 years ago seem to be more recent than events that have taken place a week before yesterday.  At that point, I had shut down my computer without having given my post the normal goings over to correct spelling, punctuations (me and commas, mortal enemies) as well as plain making sense.  The cause?  Power was going off every couple of minutes and then returning within seconds.  Fortunately, Sarge did the final edit for which I am grateful.

Happier times...two weeks ago.  

Same trees a few days later.  

I guess I needed animal entrails or something to predict the future.  What I thought the problem was (a problem with our local electric coop, and what actually was the problem ( folks probably know what that actually was but here's a pretty good explanation) were universes apart.  Suffice it to say, around noon, the power went off and stayed off.

We're located in the bottom left red dot

The first indication of trouble bigger than just a short power outage was the well to our new house froze and we had no water.  Yeah, been meaning to build a well house, but that project never made it to Priority 1.  Well...(No pun intended) it is now.  Even with that well inop though, we were in ok shape as we had our original well still working.  We just had to schlep water from our old house.  Noon on Sunday, electric power went off, unfortunately, so did that well.

Thinking about this one.

Lesson learned #1.  You need water.  Lots of it, much more than you think.  For example, we learned it takes about a gallon and a half to wash 13 meals worth of dishes.  Lesson learned #1.1. Buy paper plates, disposable glasses and coffee cups.  Keep them in the pantry...just in case.

Takes another gallon to flush a toilet.  We learned the saying "If it's yellow, let it mellow. If it's brown, flush it down." during a drought in Okinawa.  However, old habits are hard to break, especially when you stumble into the bathroom at 3AM to do your business.  Put the seat down, hit the handle. It's a conditioned motor response.  My wife taught me well.  

On a side note, try walking into a dark room and not flipping the switch.  Can't be done!

Lesson learned #2.  Wells need electricity.  Electricity needs a backup source.  I think that's the lesson learned by the largest number of people affected by this circumstance.  Evidence to support that assertion? I had to go to Lowe's yesterday to get some PVC for a project I'll describe later.  As I walked from my truck to the door, I passed a total of four people walking out of the store, all pushing a cart with a generator on it.  I've got one, but hadn't used it in a few years, so, some repair is needed. I'll also be looking at some alternate energy options for backup power. Thoughts, suggestions and expert opinions welcome.

Lesson learned #3.  In this information age, information requires electric power.  Now is not the time to be playing "Bloons" on your iPad or reading on your Kindle app.  (I re-read all three of Ed Rasimus' books, the hardback ones.  Lots of nodding of my head and thinking "Been there, done that", well except for the combat.) No, your cell and battery powered devices are for communicating with agencies that are trying to help and family or friends that need help or can help etc.  Minor lesson learned #3.1.  A land line is a must have.  However, a cordless landline is essentially an uncharged cell phone when the power goes out.  Ask me how I know.  Lesson learned #3.2.  Those battery powered car jump start things ?  Get one.  You'll get about 6 completely dead cell phone recharges out of one charge on it.  Again,  ask me how I know.  

Lesson learned #4.  Flashlights.  Buy more.  Those little ones that fit in your pocket and take a couple of AAA batteries?  So worth it.  

Cooking a meal after dark on a gas stove became possible with a magnet and a flashlight

Lesson learned #5.  I am SO glad we went with a gas stovetop.  The electric starter didn't work, but a lighter worked just fine.  A warm, familiar meal can do wonders for morale, and believe me, morale is important when the power and water have been off for 4 days and the Electric Coop's website still says, "We're working the problem and expect resolution within 12 -24 hours." For the fourth day in a row.  Having a gas stove also allowed us to melt snow to use to flush toilets. 

Lesson learned #6. Sanitation.  Holy cow, that's difficult without water.  I'm not sure we did it right, but we're still here, so maybe.  The grocery store had had a sale a couple of weeks ago, offering 70% Isopropyl alcohol bottles for $1 a piece.  Since I have to take a shot every day, I'm always using it, so I bought 5.  Turns out, a paper towel dampened with a bit of rubbing alcohol, does a pretty good job of cleaning any germs on your hands after you've washed them in questionable water. 

The short downward connecting pipe is the culprit

Lesson learned #7.  At some point, power is going to come back on.  You won't be notified, it'll just happen.  One should be prepared for that.  Remember, a week ago, when the power went off and we lost power to the functioning well's pump?  Well, the power came back on mid week.  I'm feeling pretty happy. The heat has come back on and I'm thinking "we just may make it through this." Then, my cell phone rings, it's one of my neighbors.  "Juvat, you've got water running down the street. I've shut off power to the well."  I drive up to the well house, (Wind chill is still in the negative teens, yeah I know some of you would be in Shorts and Tees, blah, blah, blah).Sure enough, water is flowing out of the old well's well house and running down the street.  I open the door of the well house to see what's going on and don't see anything wrong.  Reach over and reset the circuit breakers and water starts flowing out of the PVC pipe connecting the pressure tank to the water line.  Pull the breakers again and realize we're not going to have any water for a while.  So, the lesson?  At the first indication you've lost power to the well, pull the circuit breakers to the pump.  Water will most likely freeze in the pipes.  When power is restored, if you haven't pulled the circuit breakers, the pump will start immediately and because the water can't flow, pressure will build until something gives.  In my case I think it was only the PVC.  I'll find out Thursday if there's more damage when the first available well guy shows up.

Lesson learned #8.  Patience and a sense of humor will get you through in an episode of this magnitude. By Monday morning, I've got no water whatsoever. Calling plumbers for help fixing the above incident was frustrating.  Nobody answered their phone.  I finally found someone who was using a service to handle calls for them.  I explained my problem to the service and ended my description with "I know every well in the state is out right now, but I'd appreciate a call to tell me whether I'll be scheduled in July or August for help."  She laughed.  About an hour later, I got a call from the plumber.  I ask him about the new well and ask if I should pull power to it, as it's starting to get warm.  He say yes.  We chat for a bit about the old well's issues.  I then ask him about when he's going to be available, prefacing it with "I know you're busy, but I've given my Financial Adviser Daughter your phone number because you're fixing to be a wealthy man, so...when do you think you'll be available?"  "Would the 25th work for you?  I'll call you earlier if there are any cancellations."  Thank you, Lord!

Grocery store got it's first resupply trucks Sunday morning.  It had been looking like a grocery store in the old Soviet Union back in the day.  Whole aisles with absolutely nothing on them.  Went to Lowes yesterday for a couple of PVC connectors.  Surprisingly (ok not), the plumbing aisle looked like the food fight in "Animal House".  But the old well had provided water for the horses.  With it out of commission, and the weather warming, I needed to get water for them from the new well.  A trough from Tractor Supply, a hose to the working tap on the new house, a float valve and Voila', water for the horses.  Yes, Beans, the intent is to turn off the water, and unscrew the hose in the evening so the water in it doesn't freeze.  Further, we'll ditch and put a pipe in to have a more reliable solution.  Baby Steps, you know.

Hopefully inside the horse barn will help it stay liquid longer.

Ran into one of the school nurses while at the grocery store Sunday morning.  Her husband is a supervisor for the electric coop.  She said he's now on day 8 of 16 hour shifts.  That's hard even without crappy weather.  She also said that 7 new crews arrived last night and 16 more were expected today, so the tide's turning.  However, there are only so many poles available.  She also said he'd advised some folks they knew in the northwest corner of the county not to expect power until next month.  It's that bad.

Therefore, I'd highly recommend folks, even bartenders turned congressmen,  not talk about the "Green New Deal" in Texas right now.  It might cause them to require dental care.  

As a perfect example of The Lord's Sense of Humor, that was the temperature one week later. Pretty close to 100o warmer!

Sunday, February 21, 2021

The Assault


As mortar rounds began impacting the eastern edge of Kreuzau, 2nd Lt. Stephen Hernandez and Cpl. John Myerson reached S/Sgt Brad Woodstock's tank, 'Catamount.' Woodstock was low in his cupola, head just above the top rim.

"What are you guys doing here?" Woodstock asked incredulously as the two infantrymen scrambled up onto his tank.

"Does your radio work, we can't reach our company or any higher echelon, we need artillery and we need it now!" Hernandez had to yell to be heard over the crash of mortar bomb explosions.

"Yeah my radio is good, where do you want the arty? On the edge of the Drover Heath?" Woodstock guessed.

"Yes, as much as you can from there to the eastern edge of the town!"

"Hang on, L.T.!" Woodstock dropped back down into the interior of the tank. After a few moments he popped up again. "Any friendlies in that area?"

"Negative, they're pulling back to the MLR in the center of town!" Hernandez answered.

Woodstock again dropped into the tank, no doubt because it was quieter than outside. Moments later the mortar fire stopped. Hernandez had a bad feeling about that.

"Arty's on the way in two minutes!" Woodstock popped out and informed Hernandez.

At that same moment, Myerson was tugging on the lieutenant's field jacket, Hernandez turned to look. Myerson handed him the walkie talkie while yelling, "It's Gentile, they've got Kraut assault guns to the south, Stump says they disabled one, but there seem to be two others, he needs tanks!"

Hernandez got on the radio, "Stump, you there? It's Hernandez!"

"Yeah Sir, I'm here, can we maybe get a tank or two down here? We're still on the outpost line. The Krauts are kinda milling around like they don't know what to do. I lost my f**king bazooka!" Stump yelled into the radio. It made Hernandez nervous that Sgt. Gentile sounded rattled.

He turned to Woodstock who nodded and said, "I heard you on the radio L.T., I've got Harrell and Boyd heading that way, Stump should be able to see Boyd right about now, it'll take Harrell another couple of minutes!" Sgt. Woodstock was back in the turret, on the radio.

Hernandez was on the radio again with Gentile, "You see a tank, great! That's Boyd, Harrell's right behind him, you've got tactical control down there Stump, those tanks are yours!"

Woodstock popped up again and yelled, "Arty says shot out! Can your guys spot?"

"Negative Woody, tell 'em to fire for effect, lay it on as fast as they can and as much as they can!"

Unteroffizier Manfred Klügmann, commanding 2nd Platoon, had his driver pull up next to the stopped StuG, the platoon commander of the three armored vehicles was out of his hatch, field glasses in hand, trying to see through the ground fog.

"Why have we stopped? We should be in the town by now!" Klügmann was screaming with frustration. He already had one of his halftracks off the road, mired in the mud. It was too warm to attempt to go off the road, even the halftracked vehicles couldn't handle this much mud. This was farm country and the fields were very soft. He needed this damned road to get his men into the town.

"An enemy Panzerjäger¹ team disabled my lead vehicle, I'm not going another inch until I know what's ahead of me! Damn it! What was that?" Obergefreiter Anton Krausse, commanding the StuG platoon ducked as he heard the crashing of artillery not far away. The fog was lit by the explosions which seemed to be east of Kreuzau. "Is that ours?" he yelled over at Klügmann.

"Nein! Sounds like Ami 105s!" Looking down into his vehicle he yelled, "Wolfgang, get on the radio to 1st Platoon, what's going on over there?"

At that moment Klügmann heard a muffled curse from the StuG commander, he looked over and saw that Krausse had disappeared into his vehicle. A moment later the big cannon on the StuG barked, nearly deafening Klügmann.

Sgt. Kenneth Boyd, commanding the Sherman named 'Box o' Nuts,' winced as something hit his tank and screamed off into the fog leaving behind a shower of sparks and a crease in the left side turret armor.

"Jesus! What the Hell was that?" He heard his loader scream over the intercom. Then he heard, "Damn it, I'm hit."

Pvt. Cody O'Neal was hit, the StuG round which had glanced off his side of the turret had caused a slim piece of steel to spall off the inside of the turret. That piece of steel was now protruding from his tanker's jacket. He could feel it in his arm, as he reached over and yanked the steel out, it stung like Hell. But wasn't really a big deal.

"You okay, Cody?" Pfc. Lawrence Bradley, the tank's gunner, yelled over at him.

"Yeah, yeah, just a big splinter, I'm okay, my jacket kinda slowed it down."

Boyd now saw a German StuG roughly 600 yards to their front, "Target assault gun! 600 yards, 12 o'clock!"

"Got it!" Bradley yelled, followed by, "ON THE WAY!" as he stomped on the pedal trigger on the floor of the turret basket.

Obergefreiter Anton Krausse screamed in agony as he felt his legs pierced by hot steel fragments. He pulled himself out of his hatch onto the roof of the vehicle. As he slapped the flames out on his trousers, his gunner, Gefreiter August Koch came up out of the same hatch. His head was bloody and he was shaking his head as if he was stunned, he managed to gasp, "Hubert's had it, the round came through next to his head, he doesn't have a head anymore. Dear God, we're all going to die out here."

"Calm yourself, August, where's Oskar?" Krausse turned to his right and saw the loader's hatch slam open. Panzerkanonier Oskar Albrecht came out of the hatch a moment later, carrying the vehicle's StG 44 machine pistol. Krausse realized that in his panic to get out of the vehicle, he had completely forgotten that weapon.

"She's starting to burn, Anton!" Though Koch was bleeding like a stuck pig from a gash on his forehead, he was struggling to get the driver's hatch open, though Panzeroberkanonier Hubert Hering was quite dead, Koch was not going to leave his friend to burn.

As Koch and Krausse pulled Hering's headless corpse from the driver's position, Albrecht was keeping watch with the StG44. They all nearly jumped out of their skins when the cannon on Gefreiter Viktor Hanneman's immobilized vehicle barked, not twenty meters in front of them.

This time 'Box o' Nuts' wasn't so lucky. The fog had shifted, revealing Boyd's tank to the StuG which Dumas and Flowers had disabled. The round which hit them had hit the pavement just in front of the tank, then ricocheted up into the belly of the tank.

Cpl. Jon Riggs, the driver, and Pvt. Anthony Potter, the assistant driver, were both badly wounded when the StuG round slammed into the tank's transmission and sprayed metal fragments throughout their compartment. The loader, Pvt. Cody O'Neal, was hit again, this time in the legs.

Tank commander Sgt. Kenneth Boyd and the gunner, Pfc. Lawrence Bradley, were untouched, Bradley was looking back at Boyd, his only way out of the tank was through the commander's hatch and Boyd was still standing there. Bradley could smell smoke.

"Sarge, what the Hell do we do?!?!" Bradley screamed.

"Man your f**king gun, Larry. Target, assault gun, two o'clock!!"

As Bradley leaned into his gunsight, he felt the turret moving, Boyd was using the commander's override, so Bradley sang out, "I got it Sarge, I got it!!" As the enemy vehicle came into his sights. He stomped on the floor trigger and screamed, "ON THE WAY!"

The last round ever fired by 'Box o' Nuts' screamed across the intervening space between the Sherman and the immobilized StuG IV commanded by Gefreiter Viktor Hanneman. That round hit the side of StuG 313 just above the road wheels on the left side of the vehicle.

Penetrating the thinner side armor, the 75 mm round went into the crew compartment of 313 and killed the gunner, Gefreiter Leo Grasshoff, and commander instantly, the round going through the commander's lower torso, with spalling from around where the round had penetrated shredding the gunner.

The round continued through the commander and hit the breech of the vehicle's cannon, shattering as it did so. Multiple fragments hit the loader, Panzerkanonier Michael Günther, crippling him. He was alive, fully conscious, but he couldn't move. A small fire began to burn inside the crew compartment near an ammunition rack.

The driver, Panzeroberkanonier Bodo Baumer, was wounded, but not badly. Unfortunately his hatch mechanism was now jammed, he tried desperately to get it open, then tried to crawl back through the main crew compartment to get out of one of the top hatches. As he struggled to move Grasshof's body, a high explosive round in the vehicle's ready ammunition stowage cooked off.

The resultant explosion killed the two remaining crew members and scattered pieces of 313 all over the road and the fields next to it.

"Where the Hell is Sgt. Cruz?" 2nd Lt. Hernandez was now on the MLR² taking stock of the situation. His platoon sergeant, S/Sgt Jack Wilson, had done a head count. Most of 1st and 3rd squads had checked in, 1st squad had three men missing, 3rd had two missing and one wounded man. Both squad leaders, Katz and Gentile, were in the position, getting their men ready for the coming attack. Sgt. Cruz's 2nd Squad had six men missing, including the squad leader, Sgt. Enrique Cruz.

Cpl. John Chapman looked at his lieutenant, he and Privates McBride, Higgins, Perkins, Webb, and Stanley were the only men from 2nd Squad to make it back to the MLR. Sgt. Cruz and Privates O'Neill, Genovese, Adkins, Grant, and Hudson were nowhere to be seen.

Cpl. Chapman gasped out, it had been a frantic run back to the MLR, "Sir, Sgt. Cruz ordered us back here, he said he wasn't running from the goddamned Germans, he ran from them in North Africa, he wasn't running again. He took the rest of the guys off to the left, said he was going to hit the Krauts in the flank."

"Hit them with what for Chrissakes?!" Hernandez asked.

"L.T., they've got Grant's grenade launcher, Higgins and Stanley had a bazooka and ammo for it." Pvt. Frank Genovese piped up, he had wanted to go with Cruz but had been ordered to stick with the rest of the squad's B.A.R. team.

"All right, damn it, Chapman, take your guys over to that building, set up the B.A.R. on the second floor. From that corner you can see down both streets which kinda go east. Got it?"

Chapman led his men over to that post as the rest of the platoon settled in to firing positions in some substantial, though badly damaged buildings along the west side of a small town square.

"If they come Top, they gotta come this way." Hernandez said as he settled himself behind a pile of shattered masonry.

"Yeah L.T., remember the f**king Alamo."

The attack of Klügmann's 2nd Platoon was stalled, two knocked out StuGs were now completely blocking the road. Reluctantly he ordered his men to dismount. They would advance on the village on foot. Hopefully the fog would cover their approach. He noticed that it was fully light out now, the clouds were still thick, and low as near as he could tell, but he wanted to get into the town and close with the Americans before the sky cleared and the Jabos showed up!

Leutnant Sauer was further to the rear than he cared to be, but as a company commander he needed to take a broader view of things. Right now the reports that were coming in were mostly confused, and mostly bad.

Klügmann's platoon had had to dismount and was heading in on foot, two of Krausse's StuGs were out of action, Krausse himself was missing. No one had seen him since his vehicle had exploded. The StuGs had killed one Sherman, Klügmann had reported seeing it burning on the edge of Kreuzau.

But what concerned Sauer now was that he had heard nothing from Haasen's 1st Platoon. In fact, after the Ami artillery barrage he had heard nothing from his 3rd (Heavy) Platoon either. He looked to the west and to the southwest with a great deal of frustration, the fog from the melting snow was still thick, though a light wind was starting to move it in spots. Fortunately the freezing drizzle had stopped, it almost felt like spring.

"Peter!" He yelled for his driver, also a sniper, to bring the Kübelwagen up, "Spieß, you're with me. Christoph, radio still functioning?"

"Off and on, Sir, the atmospherics are bad today. Short range is fine, long range is in and out."

"All right lads, let's load up, Peter, head for 3rd Platoon's position."

Sgt. Enrique Cruz had four riflemen in the basement of a ruined building perhaps twenty yards behind the east facing outpost line. He and Pvt. Marc Grant were forward of that line, in a roadside ditch with a bazooka. Cruz would handle the bazooka, Grant would load. Grant had actually volunteered to load for Cruz.

"You hear that?" Cruz murmured, "Kraut halftrack, coming down, real careful like. Be ready to load another round, then we head back to that hole beside the house we checked out. Quickly!"

"Gotcha Sarge." Grant was nervous, but having seen Cruz in action, the man had to have ice in his veins, Grant didn't feel nearly as bad as he had last night, shivering in a ruined building, nothing to eat but cold C-Rations, no fire, water in his canteen tasting like metal, not water.

Now here he was, with his crazy Puerto Rican sergeant, waiting to kill a German halftrack. He tensed, there it was, nosing out of the fog perhaps twenty yards away. Cruz shouldered the stovepipe and squeezed it's trigger.

The bazooka round whooshed out towards the target, hitting it in the middle of the armor plate in front of the engine. The rocket burned through that armor in mere fractions of a second, destroyed the engine, blowing off the hood plates as it did so. The halftrack clattered to a stop and began to burn.

When the anti-tank rocket hit the halftrack and blew the engine out, Obergefreiter Eduard Simon and Grenadier Uwe von Weber, who was driving the vehicle, were both killed instantly by fragments of the engine blowing into the driver's compartment. The man on the MG 42 on the roof of the vehicle, Grenadier Hans Egner, was badly wounded in both legs by those same fragments. The squad leader of 1st Platoon's 1st Squad, Obergefreiter Heinz Leonhart, was also badly injured when a piece of the vehicle's dashboard flew up and crushed his throat. He died choking as his squad abandoned the now burning halftrack.

Obergrenadier Michael Lingenfelter, the squad's assistant leader, quickly rallied the survivors of the squad. Due to the fog, he couldn't see a damned thing to his front, nor very far to either flank. "Werner, run back and report to Feldwebel Haasen, tell him the road is blocked, we'll have to go in on foot, go!" Grenadier Werner Siegmund scrambled to the rear to carry out his orders, hoping that the halftrack behind them could see him and not run him over!


Leutnant Sauer's car rolled out of the fog onto a scene of utter chaos. Two of the 3rd Platoon's halftracks, a mortar carrier and one of the Stummels, were burning wrecks. The Drillings were nowhere to be seen, and most of the men had run back into the cover of the trees when the American artillery bombardment had began. They had stayed there when the guns had stopped.

Sauer found the platoon commander, Oberfeldwebel Ernst Mayer, propped up next to the wreck of an infantry halftrack, both of his legs were crushed and bloody, the left one turned at an unnatural angle at the knee. It was clear the man was dying, Sauer knelt next to him.

"Ernst, what happened?"

The man blinked his eyes as if to help him focus, he was in a great deal of pain, in addition to his crushed legs, he could feel that something inside of him didn't feel quite right.

"Herr Leutnant, the Ami artillery started hitting short of our position while we were hitting the forward edge of town with our mortars, they..." he grimaced, with his left hand he reached for his lower tunic, trying to pull it down to look presentable to his company commander.

"Easy Ernst, take your time."

"As soon as we had expended our rounds, the Americans walked their rounds right on top of us. The infantry were nearly untouched, except for the poor bastards who were in this one." As he said that, he tapped the halftrack's road wheels which were closest to him.

"I think this was Wolfram's vehicle, direct hit by what had to be a 10 cm round or better, killed everyone aboard." Mayer coughed, a trickle of blood ran down one side of his mouth.

"A bunch of my boys ran away, Sir. They're good boys, but this was their first combat. They're not tough like the lads I had in Russia and Italy. Good boys, but green, damn it, Sir, they're so green." Mayer closed his eyes.

Sauer thought the old Oberfeldwebel was gone, but Mayer opened his eyes again and said, "Don't be too hard on 'em Sir, they're good boys, good lads, just need a little..."

Mayer slumped to his left, unmoving, eyes still open. Sauer checked, but his 3rd Platoon commander was dead, his little command shattered around him.

"Sir?" Hauptfeldwebel Klaus-Peter Keller, the Spieß, tried to get Sauer's attention. "We need to get up to Haasen's platoon, lead them in. I think his attack has stalled, I hear no firing to our front."

Sauer stood, he took off his cap and ran one sleeve of his camouflage jacket over his face. Mayer had just joined 5th Company, but Sauer had taken an instant liking to the man. Now he was gone, gone like so many others he had known.


Sauer turned to bark at the man, had he no feelings, no time to spare for a dead comrade, but it wasn't Keller who spoke, it was his radioman, Grenadier Christof Schmidt.

"What is it Schmidt?" Sauer snapped.

Schmidt handed Sauer the radio handset, "It's Major von Lüttwitz, the Americans have crossed the river in force north of here. South of Düren, they're headed for the Rhine, Sir, there's nothing to stop them."

As he took the handset, Sauer looked at Keller, who nodded and went forward to find Haasen.

"Sauer here." he spoke into the handset.

"Manfred, Jürgen, the Amis are headed for the Rhine with strong tank and infantry forces, retaking Kreuzau is meaningless now, fall back to the Rhine, fast as you can my boy, fast as you can. Von Lüttwitz, out."

Sauer handed the handset back to Schmidt, "Radio the other platoons, have them fall back to last night's assembly area. We're retreating. Again."

"Jawohl, Herr Leutnant." Schmidt walked back to the Kübelwagen as he radioed the other platoons. He sensed that his commander wanted to be alone at the moment.

"Sir, I've got Cruz on the walkie talkie!" Myerson handed the small radio to Hernandez.

"Sgt. Cruz, where the Hell have you been? Over."

"Sir, the Krauts are falling back, don't know why, but they are heading back the way they came. Over."

"John, get over to Woodstock, see if he's got contact with..."

He noticed a man in tanker's coveralls come jogging down the street, he recognized the man, it was Pfc. Roger Blaisdell, Woodstock's assistant driver.

"L.T.! S/Sgt Woodstock says to tell you that there's been a major crossing of the Roer north of us. They've got a pontoon bridge set up not three miles from here. You guys wanna ride on our tanks? He's already radioed the tracks on the other side of the river, those five guys were shitting their pants wondering what was going on down here. They'll meet us at the bridge."

"Where is this bridge Private, did Woodstock mention any place names?" Hernandez was already pulling out his map. S/Sgt Wilson took the opportunity to start getting the platoon assembled in the square along with the surviving tanks. Looks like there wouldn't be an Alamo after all.

"Sir, S/Sgt Woodstock said the place was called Rollsdorf, or something like that. Can I get back to my tank now, Sir?" It was obvious that Blaisdell didn't like being out in the open.

Hernandez checked his map, didn't see any Rollsdorf, ah, here it is, Rölsdorf. "Yeah, take off Blaisdell, tell your sergeant I'll be up to see him in ten minutes. We'll get everyone assembled and get the Hell out of here."

As the platoon got ready to leave Kreuzau, Hernandez thought to himself, "Yup, no Alamo, no Battle of Nieuwpoort³ either." Hernandez, far more conversant with Spanish history than with American, thought both historical references were apt, though he knew more about the latter. The bottom line was that his platoon would live to see another day.

Now to get his men to the Rhine, then across that river, then maybe, just maybe, they could all go home.

¹ Anti-tank team
² Main Line of Resistance
³ In the last stages of the Battle of Nieuwpoort, the Spanish regiment commanded by Alonso Maiolichino was refused surrender by the Dutch who held them accountable for previous massacres of prisoners of war. The unit consequently made its last stand and was wiped out. (Source)

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