Thursday, February 18, 2021

Deserters

(Source)

"Where do you figure we are L.T.?" S/Sgt Bradley Woodstock had dismounted from his tank, "Catamount," and had gone forward when the column had stopped.

"That's gotta be Kreuzau down the hill and across the river, the river has to be the Roer. Look here at the map," 2nd Lt. Stephen Hernandez pointed to his map, "that's Lendersdorf, here by the bend in the river, that's Kreuzau."

"Aren't we too far south?" Sgt. Rob Horner, commander of "Dilemma" asked when he walked up to the group.

Hernandez and Woodstock both turned and looked at Horner, "By a mile or so, not a big problem. My question is, where are the Krauts?"

In truth, they had been pushing forward for the better part of an hour and had not seen any sign of the Germans, other than a wrecked halftrack and two dead bodies, one in the wreckage, the other in the road.

"So L.T., maybe we've hit a gap in the German lines, I mean they are getting pretty thin on the ground, they can't be everywhere, right?" 2nd Platoon's platoon sergeant, S/Sgt Jack Wilson had been over in the woods answering the call of nature. When he saw the field glasses and the maps come out, he figured that he should find out what was going on. Though Hernandez had been a sergeant not that long ago, Wilson loved to give him grief over his "2nd lieutenant map reading skills."

"Have a look, Top, I'm pretty sure I'm not lost." That comment drew an odd look from the tankers, so Hernandez said, "Inside joke fellows, I used to be a sergeant, Top here says that when I was commissioned I started acting like a butter bar, of course he's full of shit. But don't tell anyone I said so."

The men around Hernandez all had a laugh at that.

"All kidding aside, gentlemen, Top, where are the f**king Krauts?"

"Send a patrol down this hill, check things out along the river?" Wilson suggested.

"Yup, we're on the same page, Top. Send Stump's squad. Have them look for a crossing while they're down there."

"Roger that, Sir." Wilson set off to brief Sgt. Stump Gentile on his squad's mission.


"Dumbass, Posey, slide on down that little ravine, you should have a clear view of those houses near the river. If I was a Kraut, I'd have somebody in there." Sgt. Gentile pointed where he wanted his two scouts. While it was true that Privates Robert Dumas and Ross Flowers hated the nicknames the vets in the squad had given them, they had also learned that if you protested too much, the names would stick. They had, they did.

After moving further down the hill, following the ravine which kept them out of sight of the river, Bob Dumas came to a stop and signaled to Ross Flowers to hold up. He hissed at Flowers, "You see that, Ross, looks like a little pier. Two Krauts."

Flowers carefully raised his head, staying near the trunk of a tree to keep out of sight. "Yup, looks like the f**kers are washing their clothes."

Dumas, the more senior of the two, told Flowers to stay and watch the Germans, he'd go back and tell Gentile what was going on. "Keep an eye peeled, where there's two, there's gotta be more."

Making his way back to the squad, he saw his sergeant cock an eyebrow. He moved in close and described what he'd seen, brushing away the pine needles on the ground, Dumas scratched a sketch in the dirt. "Right here there's a little pier, next to that is a ruined house, three walls, no roof. All we saw at first was the two men, looks like they were washing clothes, some kind of cloth anyway. They were both fully dressed, but no helmets and no weapons."

Gentile nodded, "Okay, nice job Bob, head back to Flowers and you two keep an eye on things, if the Krauts get antsy, shoot 'em. I'm gonna put the rest of the squad on line to either side of you and see if we can't get a reaction from anyone else over there."


Jürgen Krebs and Wilhelm Zerbst were done washing out the civilian clothes they had found in one of the ruined houses of Kreuzau. Krebs had an odd feeling, he stood up and carefully scanned the trees across the river. Why did it feel like they were being watched, that's all they needed, have the Feldgendarmerie show up before they could get away across the river.

The two men were deserters from the 85th Infantry Division, they had slipped away from their unit the night before and had managed to get all the way to Kreuzau, where Zerbst had a cousin. Needless to say, the two men were alarmed that the town was completely deserted. They would have no help from Zerbst's relatives, on the other hand, there were no German military units around either.

They had found men's clothing in the ruins but they were filthy. Krebs had the idea to wash them down by the river, let them dry overnight, then they could put them on and find a way over the Roer. They both knew that the Americans were closing up to that river all along the line, once across they should have no problem surrendering to the first Americans they met.

Provided they could avoid their own army first!


Cpl. Charlie Gammell was watching the two Germans through his rifle scope, he had an idea that these guys were trying to desert. "Looks like civilian clothes they're washing, Sarge. What would two German soldiers want with civilian clothes?"

"Think they're deserters, Charlie?" Sgt. Gentile asked.

"Yup, and... Shit! Hold the phone!" As he said that, Gammell moved his rifle, there, looked like a German military car moving slowly down the street leading to the river. "Field police, Sarge, think they got a tip on our two guys over there?"

"Wouldn't surprise me, Charlie. Watch those cops." Turning to one of the men nearby, Pvt. Juan Estrada, Gentile waved him over. When Estrada joined them, Gentile whispered, "Get up the hill to the L.T., Estrada, tell him we've got two Kraut deserters over the river. There's also a Kraut Kübelwagen with two field cops in it in the town, probably looking for deserters. If he hears shots, that's us trying to help them desert. Got it?"

Estrada nodded, so Gentile sent him on his way.


"Klaus, there's somebody down by the river, I saw a head pop up. Might be our two Überläufern¹."

Gefreiter Klaus Brinkmann brought the Kübelwagen to a stop, "Yes, I see them, two of them, yes?"

Oberfeldwebel Horst Mackensen opened the passenger door to the car and stepped out. He checked his MP-40 to make sure that it was ready to fire. He had no intention of bringing these men back to justice. "Go left Klaus, I'll go right. Stick to the sides of the street, we'll surprise these two clowns. If you have a shot, take it. Why waste the Reichsmarks needed for a trial?"

"Jawohl, Herr Oberfeldwebel, bullets are cheap!"


"Scheiße! Die Feldgendarmerie, verstecken!²" Krebs shoved Zerbst down to the ground next to the pier when he heard a car door slam. He recognized the sound, a Kübelwagen, had to be the Kettenhunde!³

Both men were hugging the bank of the river, they didn't know that they had been spotted already.


"Shit, they're almost on top of them, what do I do, Sarge?" Gammell whispered to his sergeant, he had the higher ranking, and closer, field cop in his cross hairs, in another moment the two deserters would be caught, or worse.

"Shoot the cops, I want those deserters." Gentile hissed back.


Oberfeldwebel Horst Mackensen grunted, then dropped to his knees, he had a look of shock and surprise on his face. Gefreiter Klaus Brinkmann, without thinking, rushed over to his sergeant.

"Horst, what is it, what happened?"

Mackensen's face twisted into a rictus as the pain hit him. He looked down in disbelief and saw the rapidly spreading bloodstain on the chest of his greatcoat. He dropped his machine pistol then began to desperately try to tear his coat open, he had to see where he was hit. Then he pitched forward onto his face. Dead.

Brinkmann watched all this, the entire scene playing out in less time than it takes to take a breath. Then Brinkmann's world went black as another .30-06 rifle round sped across the river and into the side of Brinkmann's head, killing him instantly.


Gammell worked the bolt of his rifle again, saying to Gentile, "I've got the deserters in my sights, what next, Sarge?"

Both of the Germans by the pier had turned in shock when they heard the bark of Gammell's rifle. They had cowered even lower, expecting at any moment to be killed.

Gentile acted on impulse, he stood up, his rifle aimed at the Germans, he bellowed, "Handy hoke4, you Kraut bastards!"


Zerbst looked at Krebs in confusion, "Americans?"

"I think so, let's do as he says, they have a sniper with them."

Slowly and deliberately, Unteroffizier Jürgen Krebs and Grenadier Wilhelm Zerbst got to their feet, their arms stretched up over their heads, the palms of their hands open and facing across the river.

At that moment Krebs realized that they had a problem. The river. He looked at Zerbst who shook his head, he had cousins in the area, but he wasn't from here.


Pvt. Juan Estrada came scrambling down the bank with Sgt. Melvin Katz in tow, "Sarge, L.T. sent Sgt. Katz with me, figured you might need a German speaker!"

Katz looked at the situation, then said to Gentile, "We need to get those two to our side of the river, right?"

"Yup, any thoughts on that?" Gentile asked.

At that point Katz began yelling over to the two Germans, in German of course. After a few minutes of shouting back and forth, Katz turned to Gentile, "One of the Krauts, a sergeant, says he thinks there's a weir just a bit downstream, they might be able to cross there."

"What the Hell is a weir, Cat?" Gentile had no idea what Katz was talking about.

"It's like a dam, you know across the river, holding back the water."

"Then why didn't you just say 'dam,' Cat?"

"Huh, sorry, the German word, which the sergeant used, is 'Wehr,' dam in German is 'Damm,' almost the same as our word, but he said 'Wehr,' so I said 'weir.' Sorry Stump."

"All right, now that we've got that little educational moment out of the way, let's find the damned dam. Or weir, or whatever it is!"


There was indeed a weir, which the two Germans got across without much trouble, the river was lower than normal due to ice farther upstream.

The two Germans were happy, they had achieved their goal of being captured by the Americans, 2nd Lt. Hernandez was happy, he had a way across the Roer. By nightfall he had two squads in Kreuzau with the Shermans of Woodstock's platoon covering the approaches to the town from the high ground across the river.

Which made Captain Palminteri at company happy, which in turn made Major Josephson at battalion happy. The happiness spread up the chain, the next day engineers were at the weir, laying a pontoon bridge over the Roer.

Next stop, the Rhine.




¹ Deserters.
² Shit, the Feldgendarmerie, hide!
³ Chained dogs, a rude slang term for the Feldgendarmerie.
4 American corruption of "Hände hoch" - "Hands up"

Link to all of The Chant's fiction.

34 comments:

  1. The Americans must be expecting resistance, that is a Sherman Jumbo Assault Tank on the right.

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    1. They always expect resistance.

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    2. I think at one point it was a platoon of Jumbos, often split up per larger unit of regular Sherms. The regular Sherm platoons would have a Jumbo attached if they weren't going too fast. Or so I remember reading oh so long ago.

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    3. I have those sorts of memories. Often followed by, "Where the Hell did I see that?"

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  2. Good posting Sarge, there's a really interesting article at that photo about the "Jumbo" M4 variant......nice. Any day crossing a river NOT under fire is a good day.

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    1. Yeah, crossing a river under fire is no fun at all!

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  3. Man, what a ride!! I am glued to my seat when I start this...

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  4. Hey AFSarge;

    Fortuitous happenstance for the deserters, normally they would have gotten "Field" justice from the "Kettenhunde" and that would have been it. and I can understand the logic, I remember a discussion I had with a couple of people in my unit when we deployed, they commented that at the first shot, they would throw down their rifles and run away, this wasn't what they signed up for...and my comment was...."you do that and I will shoot you down like the cowardly dogs you are...you are running away leaving me and every one else to face the enemy to cover your cowardly ass " I was deadly serious. They didn't talk to me for a long time and I didn't care. The others in my unit agreed with my assessment. If you gonna rabbit, you don't talk about it. I got the being scared part, I was scared also but you do your duty and you don't let down your fellow soldiers and that was my biggest fear was letting down my fellow soldiers. A coward dies a thousand deaths...a brave man dies but once. But on the other hand, with those 2 deserters, I remember a term from Hackworths book "A guys pitcher gets full, and it takes time for it to drain, perhaps those guys pitcher was full and they just had enough...

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    1. Pretty sure those two guys (the Germans) had full pitchers.

      I remember back in the day, kids signing up to get college money then freaking out when the military actually expected them to do their jobs. I recall a few who actually refused to deploy.

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    2. Deserters? The rule is, run faster than those chasing you. It's one thing to desert when not under fire, you have the chance to actually evade, but desert under fire? It's your own side's responsibility to put you down like a rabid dog, preferably with extreme prejudice, as desertion under fire tends to break unit morale.

      So, Mr. G. What did the deserter-wannabes do? Did you report them or did they settle down?

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    3. Still happens. I've seen everything from a sailor's mother becoming too ill to take care of herself, one idiot shot himself in the leg, single moms claiming they have no one to take care of their child, and 13 pregnancies all detected in the month after deployment started.

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    4. Beans - Desertion under fire is not recommended. Both sides will light you up.

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    5. Tuna - Remember for the two guys in the story, their world is literally falling apart. Rather different from the idiots in you mention.

      And yes, it happens all the time these days.

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    6. I have wondered what, in the real world, would have happened had you shot them running away - with the Army or marines then come down on you or hopefully everyone else could keep quiet?

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    7. If it's in combat, who's gonna notice?

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    8. (Don McCollor)...I think from the book about Chesty Puller. He found a reluctant Marine hiding behind a bush. Dragged him up by the scruff of his collar, applied a large GI boot to his butt, and said "Git up there and fight, and don't let your shirt tail touch your ass until you do"...the Marine ran to fight and to live to boast how 'Old Chesty' had given him a boot right between his cheeks...

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    9. Hey Beans;

      They didn't desert, They apologized to everyone later, it was the fear and the unknown talking. Once we got there and deployed we were too busy for the wannabee's...and no I didn't report them. Once they apologized to everyone and we realized that they were not "gonna Rabbit" it went away and got written off as "bullcrap talk" if you know what I mean. I kinda figured it was that and me being the "Asshole" was the shock needed to remind them of the real world actions. And no I normally ain't the "Heavy", so it was out of character for me, so the shock was twofold.

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    10. Sarge, my comment fell under Beans's comment, but was in response to your mention of kids signing up but not wanting to do the work.

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    11. MrG - Sometimes that's all it takes.

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    12. Tuna - Yes, I got that, happened quite a bit during the Gulf Wars as I recall.

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  5. Local talent always helps to find the little terrain features that even the most sophisticated mapping system won't find.

    And nice job on German-English translation. Because a regular translator does just what you did. A good translator figures out what the intent was. A great translator does both and lets you figure out what the intent is.

    That's two very lucky deserters. The beginnings of a flood of desertions and straight-up surrenders.

    Meanwhile, the killing continues.

    And our Amis have a kubelwagon! Whoohoo! A quick slap of paint and now it's ours.

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    1. I'm sure Hernandez already has his eye on the little beast!

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  6. Jumbo was almost impervious to pak40, which was most common threat. It took long 75 of panther, or dreaded 88 to dent it front

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  7. Yet another superb installment.
    Very well balanced in every regard, and well written.
    John Blackshoe

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  8. Not sure what happened to the comment I just posted - Blogger just gave me an error message and I don't see the post ... grrrr!
    Anyway, OUTSTANDING post, Sarge! really well written, captured the scenes and the thoughts of the participants really well!
    The headgear worn by the two on the left of the first pic remind me of the 'soft' tanker helmet my dad brought back from WWII. Had earphones and a chest mounted microphone, and I used it for many episodes of 'playing Army' around the neighborhood. Good memories ...
    Funny about deserters - if they are enemy deserters, we like them for their intelligence value and protect them as in this installment. If they are ours, we revile them and want to kill them. Both have a very similar state of mind, but perspective is far, far different, isn't it?

    Hope juvat, STxAR and everyone else from my great home state are doing OK in the deep freeze - sending warm thoughts and prayers to all y'all! We had ice on the trees here in north central NC, but roads are fine. So far only minor glitches in the power ...
    And I hope the green idiots take note of the issues with wind and solar in this type of weather - anyone who promotes that type of technology as a main source of energy at this point should have their power cut no matter where they live when outages like those in Texas occur.

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    1. It's snowing in Little Rhody as I write this...

      Blogger will occasionally eat a comment, it happens.

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    2. Tom, nothing more frustrating than Blogger eating a comment. Happens at the most inopportune times.

      Sarge, why does February feel like 3 months (I know the surrender is coming) and yet feels like forever?

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    3. February, the longest month of the year in New England and other places where winter is a thing!

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