Saturday, February 20, 2021

Opening Moves


Leutnant Manfred Sauer walked up to where the vehicles of his 3rd (Heavy) Platoon were parked. He saw the man commanding this platoon climb down off of one of the cannon-armed halftracks, wiping his hands with an oily rag.

"Herr Leutnant! What can I do for you on this fine German morning?" Oberfeldwebel Ernst Mayer was smiling as he said this. Though it wasn't quite light yet and the morning wasn't what any sane man would call fine. Ground fog from melting snow and freezing drizzle was starting to coat everything with a fine layer of ice.

"Oberfeldwebel, how is my artillery today?" Sauer took the hand offered by Mayer and was surprised by the strength of the man's grip. Though Mayer wasn't very tall, he was built like a beer barrel. Sauer wondered if his girth matched his height. But the man was a legend in the 8th Panzergrenadier Regiment.

Wounded in Russia early in that campaign, he had recovered, only to be wounded again near Kharkov, then again in Italy. That last wound had kept him in hospital for nearly six months, but he was back. Due to his multiple wounds and his stature, Mayer had two nicknames, "Kugelmagnet" (bullet magnet) and "Stummel" (stub). Sauer thought the latter nickname ironic as Mayer commanded a platoon with four vehicles - two of the vehicles mounted 8 cm mortars, the other two mounted short barreled 7.5 cm cannon. The Sd.Kfz. 251/2 and the Sd.Kfz. 251/9 respectively. The latter vehicle, due to the short barreled gun, was known throughout the Army as the Stummel.

"Well Sir, we've just patched up an oil leak in the recoil cylinder on 321, she's right as rain now. We've also got a full ammunition load for the mortars and the cannon. HE for the mortars, a mix of HE and AP for the cannon, mostly high-explosive. More armor-piercing would be nice but..."

"Where would you stow it..." Sauer completed the sentence.

"Exactly Sir! What do you need from us?"

"I need you to dump your mortar rounds here," Sauer indicated on his map the edge of the town of Kreuzau nearest the Drover Heide, "I'm sure the Amis will fall back deeper into the town which should give our infantry the opportunity to enter the village. Once you've expended your mortar ammunition, then have the Stummel move up to support the infantry with direct fire on any targets of opportunity. You should know that the Amis have at least five tanks in the town, be on the lookout for those."

"As if my life depended on it, Sir! Which, of course, it does. When do we go in?"

"In one hour, it should be light enough to see. Visibility will be limited by the fog, but we'll be within 500 meters of where the Ami outposts are, you should have no problem." Sauer said.

"Other than the Ami panzers..." Mayer added.

"Yes, there is that." Sauer nodded.


2nd Lt. Stephen Hernandez, S/Sgt Jack Wilson, and S/Sgt Brad Woodstock had spent a large part of the night getting the men dug in along two lightly held outpost lines, one facing east and the other southeast, the likeliest lines of approach. The bulk of the platoon, with the help of a number of grumbling tankers, dug a series of foxholes and prepared other defensive positions deeper in the town.

Hernandez had also, reluctantly, set two Observation Posts (OP) further to the east and southeast, well in advance of the thinly held outpost lines. Sgt. Stump Gentile had argued that it was necessary.

"L.T., a couple of guys with a walkie talkie, well-hidden, can give us advance notice of a Kraut attack. In this fog, they could be right on top of us with almost no warning."

Hernandez wanted to reject the idea entirely, he didn't like the idea of putting four of his men out on a limb like that. "Stump, they'd be dead meat if the Krauts find 'em, then what kind of warning would that give us."

"We'd hear 'em scream." Sgt. Melvin Katz had said matter-of-factly, then he added, "Hell Sir, I'll do it. I'll take Boone and we'll keep our eyes and ears peeled. Krauts won't know we're there. Once we give the alarm, we can make our way back along this field, which slopes away from the road. No problem."

"Negative, Cat. You have a squad to lead." Hernandez stated that in such a way that Katz wasn't going to argue with him.

The Assault on Kreuzau
US OP = American Observation Posts
Light blue rectangles with a "T" are Woodstock's Shermans

Hernandez decided that Katz's 1st Squad would cover the east, with just four men on the outpost line, the squad's B.A.R. team and Katz's assistant squad leader, Cpl. Maurice Ryan. Ryan was new to the platoon but was a veteran, he'd fought in North Africa and in Normandy. Pfc. Alexander Boone and Pvt. Bill Zielinski would man the eastern OP.

In the south, where they didn't expect the Germans to come from, Gentile's 3rd Squad B.A.R. team would man the outpost line along with Gentile's assistant squad leader Cpl. Charlie Gammell, Privates Robert Dumas and Ross Flowers would man the southeastern OP.

Pvt. George Haskell, the squad's grenadier, quipped, "Don't go crazy out there Dumbass, try not to kill all the Kraut's before they hit the town."

Dumas grinned and said, "F**k you, Rascal Haskell. If we see any Krauts we're just gonna dig a deeper hole, pull the turf over us, and let the Germans go right on in and get you."

Sgt. Gentile came up and hissed at the men, "Stow it you idiots, Dumbass, Posey, best get out there while it's still dark. I gotta present for you by the way."

Gentile rummaged around through the pile of gear they'd brought over the river, their halftracks were all on the wrong side of the Roer, the pontoon bridge had given out after the last Sherman had gone over, leaving the halftracks stranded. After a few seconds, Gentile said, "Here it is."

He handed over a bazooka and a satchel of bazooka rounds. "In case you wanna go tank hunting while you're out there."

Dumas looked at his sergeant as he took the bazooka, "Maybe I really am a dumbass, volunteering for these kind of jobs. What are you grinning at, Posey, you can hump the ammo for this stovepipe." He said that as he handed the heavy satchel to Flowers.

Just before dawn, the Americans could hear the rumbling of heavy vehicles to the east, they couldn't see anything, but they could hear the rattle and squeak of tracked vehicles.

"Halftracks, five or six of 'em I'll bet." Boone looked at Zielinski, who nodded.

"Panzergrenadiers maybe, I don't hear any tanks, but the panzergrenadiers have halftracks now, right?" Zielinski had read that somewhere.

"I think you're right, Bill. But I thought the bastards were running low on fuel. Anyhow, radio it in, I'm gonna sneak over yonder and take a peek."

Moments later Boone came scrambling back, "Two cannon armed halftracks and a bunch of infantry, maybe a platoon, they are definitely Panzergrenadiers, they're all in halftracks. Call it in, we need to get the Hell out of here."

Boone and Zielinski vanished into the fog, rejoining their platoon a few minutes later.

"Have fun out there?" Cpl. Ryan asked with a grin.

"Don't take this the wrong way, Corp, but f**k you." Boone answered.

Oberfeldwebel Mayer had managed to get his vehicles in position. The mortar tracks he kept further back, under an opening in the forest canopy where they could lob rounds into Kreuzau. The cannon tracks he'd moved right to the edge of the forest. He also had two Drillings¹ from 4th Platoon with him.

Those vehicles could tear infantry in the open to red rags, they were also good against buildings. Also, if the weather cleared, Mayer had some protection against Allied Jabos. The other four vehicles from 4th Platoon were going in with the attack in the southeast, which was the main effort.

Sauer hoped that he could flank the Americans, cut them off from the river, and destroy them piecemeal in the town. The attack from the east was to fix their attention in that direction. The attack with the StuGs would be the main blow, the killing blow, Sauer hoped.

"L.T., Boone and Zielinski checked in, halftracks to their east." Cpl. John Myerson listened for a few more seconds, then continued, "Boone says the tracks have stopped, he can hear the Krauts jabbering at each other, says he heard the word 'KA - NO - NA,' isn't that German for 'cannon'?"

Hernandez nodded, then thought for a moment, "Ya know the Krauts have cannons mounted on some of their halftracks, if that's a Panzergrenadier company, they have a heavy weapons platoon with mortar AND cannon halftracks."

A moment later, a further transmission from Boone and Zielinski came in, "Sir, Boone checked it out, definitely cannon armed halftracks, also a bunch of infantry in halftracks." Myerson reported.

"Damn, Panzergrenadiers." Hernandez pulled out his map and showed Myerson, in the glow of a red-lensed flashlight, the map he had of this area. "Just east of us is this Drover Heath, lots of trees, they come up to within a few hundred yards of our outposts. Radio the OP, tell 'em to fall back. Can you get company on the horn? See if we can't get some arty on that tree line?"

"Boone and Zielinski are already coming in. I'll try to get company on the radio L.T., but this thing's been acting up all night, sometimes I can get through, sometimes I can't. I think it's this frozen drizzle, air ain't clear or something." Myerson said, his voice full of doubt.

"Keep trying."

"Fahrer, HALT!²" Gefreiter Viktor Hanneman barked into the intercom, something didn't look right to his north. He swore he could see a tank next to the road. Was it a wreck? Was it alive?

"Michael, laden sie Panzergranate!³"

Panzerkanonier Michael Günther had to swap out rounds, they had a high explosive round loaded, after swapping that out for anti-tank, he responded, "Panzergranate geladen!"

"Do you see him, Leo?" Hanneman asked his gunner, he was sure they had enough play to train the gun in azimuth without having to pivot the vehicle.

"On it!"



The tank beside the road was a German Panther. When the 7.5 cm round from StuG 313 hit the Panther's glacis, and ricocheted into the fog, no one was injured, nothing happened. The tank had been knocked out by a flight of American P-38s three weeks earlier. Hanneman had just engaged a dead tank.

"Scheiße! That's one of ours!" Gefreiter Leo Grasshoff, 313's gunner yelled out.

"It's a wreck! Nobody home!" Hanneman knew that the American's were alerted now. He heard his commander, Obergefreiter Anton Krausse in StuG 311 come over the radio ordering a rapid advance into the town. He could hear the infantry halftracks close behind him as they revved up. They had no choice now but an old fashioned charge, hoping the Amis were still asleep.

All hope of surprise was lost.

"Are you f**king crazy, Bob? You shoot that thing and you might as well just stand up and wave at the Krauts, you know that back blast will give away our position!" Pvt. Ross Flowers couldn't believe that Dumas was up on one knee, the stovepipe aimed at a Kraut StuG just barely visible on the road to the east.

"Don't whine Ross, it's very unbecoming. Do you really think the Krauts will notice us, it's so damned foggy we can barely see shit. What's more, they're focused to their front, did you see 'em shoot up that knocked out Panther?" Dumas said this as he got ready to fire.

"Once I touch this thing off, run like f**king crazy towards the river."

"The river, why not the town?" Flowers wanted to know.

"The Krauts ain't going towards the river, they're going towards the town. Duh, and people call me dumbass." Dumas said, shaking his head.

Before Flowers could say another word, Dumas fired the bazooka, scoring a direct hit on the German vehicle which was once again swallowed up in the fog.


"Where the Hell did that come from?!?!" Gefreiter Berthold Schantz screamed as he heard and felt the impact of the enemy bazooka round on his vehicle. Looking around, listening to his crew report in, he realized that 314 seemed to be no worse for wear. Then when he ordered the driver to advance, he swore loudly. Everyone could hear the track as it rolled off the return rollers and the vehicle slewed to the left.

"Busted track, Berthold!" Yelled Panzeroberkanonier Ralf Seyfried over the intercom.

"I know Ralf, I know, pivot to the left, that's where the shot came from!"

As 314 pivoted, Schantz climbed out of his seat and stood in his hatch, StG 44 in hand. As he looked to where he the shot had come from, he thought he caught a glimpse of something moving. So he shouldered his weapon and fired a burst. He heard nothing, so he refocused on the problem at hand.

As 314 sat immobile in the mud, the rest of Hanneman's platoon and the vehicles of Unteroffizier Manfred Klügmann's 2nd Platoon drove past, probing into the fog, machine guns firing in an attempt to suppress any Ami return fire. The sun wasn't even up yet and the plan was already in the shitter, Klügmann thought.

As they ran, Flowers was in front, Dumas just behind him. They both heard the bark of a Kraut weapon. Then Flowers heard a gasp behind him, followed by "SHIT!"

Dumas had stumbled when the bullet from a German assault rifle hit him high on the shoulder. It stung like Hell.

"Bob, you hit?" Flowers asked as he turned to see why Dumas had stopped.

"Yeah, f**ker clipped me. Hurts like Hell."

Flowers checked, the top of Dumas' left shoulder was a mess, his field jacket was torn and blood was oozing from the tear. "Sit down, ditch that stovepipe!"

For once Dumas listened to his buddy. Flowers patched Dumas up, essentially dumping sulfa powder all over the vicinity of the wound, then placing his own field dressing over the wound, then tying it off under Dumas' armpit.

"Okay, ya ain't gonna die, at least not from this. Can you run okay?" Flowers asked.

"Well, I ain't gonna win any races, but I think I can keep up. Hate to leave the bazooka though, Stump will have my ass." Dumas said.

"Well, tell him I lost it. Now come on, let's go!"

"Scheiße!" Leutnant Sauer swore as he realized his attack was falling apart. Then he heard the Spieß chuckle. "What's so goddamned funny, Spieß?"

"I was just thinking Herr Leutnant, 'Kein Operationsplan reicht mit einiger Sicherheit über das erste Zusammentreffen mit der feindlichen Hauptmacht hinaus.'4 The great Moltke himself said that."

"Very funny, follow me, Herr Generalfeldmarschall, we need to get Haasen's platoon to attack, Klügmann has thrown off the entire time table, but we can worry about that later!" With that Sauer ran to his Kübelwagen and had his driver take them to Haasen's position. He could hear Mayer's mortars firing, perhaps they might salvage this attack yet!

"Anything?" Hernandez had to shout over the increasing noise of combat.

"Nothing other than contact with the platoons over the walkie talkie, the SCR-300 has shit the bed, I can't even get a carrier signal, nothing." Myerson tried one last thing with the big radio, then shook his head as he reached for the smaller, hand held SCR-536, sometimes called the 'walkie talkie,' sometimes the 'handie talkie.'

Myerson looked at the lieutenant, who nodded.

"All units, fallback positions, move!"

"Now we just need to wait and see," Hernandez said, then he had an idea, "Maybe Woodstock's tank radio can reach battalion, we need to call in some arty. Let's go over there."

With that, another young officer began trying to resurrect some semblance of a plan.

Moltke was right...

¹ Triplet - Halftrack mounting three 2.0 cm cannon.
² Driver, stop!
³ "Michael, load anti-tank!" the response is "Anti-tank loaded!"
4 No plan of operations extends with any certainty beyond the first encounter with the main enemy forces. Helmuth von Moltke the Elder, chief of the Prussian General Staff from 1857 to 1887. That is, no plan survives contact with the enemy.

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  1. another nail biter, Sarge. hoping we don't loose too many of our favorites, on either side! and premature firing can be a real plan disrupter!

    1. It's a tanker thing, see a tank in the wrong place, shoot it. Even if it's "dead," as it might not be.

      If they hadn't fired, who knows? I might have put a Sherman there and beat up the StuGs at that range.

      Taking chances in war is often necessary, better safe than sorry!

  2. I enjoyed the Moltke quote. True in actual life as in war. Too bad so few actually pay attention to it.

    Thanks Sarge!

    1. I've always loved that quote, yesterday was the first time I'd tracked it down to the original German.

      People love to plan, always forgetting that "man proposes, God disposes."

  3. Nice job on the tension. Glad it was a dead Panther rather than a live Sherman that got hit, though I'm sure losses are going to be heavy on both sides.

    Good use of the handie-talkie in the OPs. That's what they were there for.

    And the main 'connect back to the artillery' radio going down? That just sucks. Hopefully one of the Shermans can connect to someone who will listen and not play 'radio code' games.

    It's times like this that you realize the extensive use of DUKWs in Europe was a good thing. Even the few LVTs (in comparison to the Pacific) were highly praised and used for all the river, creek, lake crossings.

    I was all ready to correct you on the mortar designation and decided to check. Yep, the 81.4mm mortar is designated as an 8cm mortar. Interesting. Very interesting. Glad I looked before I made an ass out of myself again.

    Don't want to wait for the next install, but I guess I'll have to. Darned it!

    1. I was checking the ammo loadout for the SdKfz 251/2 when I noticed that the Germans referred to it as an 8 cm mortar. Much like back in the day buying ammo for my G34, 7.92 mm but one always asked for 8 mm.

    2. 8mm and 30-06 aren't good bedfellows. The 8mm will fit in the 06. Enough shorter that it'll fake you ight out... But the rapid sizing from 7.92 to 7.62 will be dramatic.

    3. The Germans tended to switch from mm to cm, at 20mm.

    4. Didn't we have this discussion a couple of days ago?

  4. Mike Tyson may not have been as learned as Von Moltke, but as he eloquently phrased it “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

  5. von Moltke was right! You have captured the confusion of battle very well Sarge. I wonder how many battle-hardened veterans of the Eastern Front were in the West by this time?

    1. The only Germans not battle hardened at this point in time were those on garrison duty in Norway, or the young boys being drafted.

  6. Glad Dumas wasn't hurt worse. Pissed me off they left a perfectly good weapon behind though. Seems like the kind of encounter when every bit of ordinance has to be employed to the maximum extent possible.

    Glancing blows do hurt more than a lot of more centered hits. Doc says it's because there are more nerves near the outside than on the inside. Hit a bone though and the competition is over. That hurts kind of a lot!

    Been very worried for the guys in 2nd Platoon, being stuck all by themselves on the hot side of the river, with no place really to fall back to, and no hope for reinforcements. Sure, they've got some tanks, but they don't have much room to maneuver, either. Being a stationary target, with no real exit strategy sucks big time!

    Don't s'pose there's any chance some more units have moved quietly up to the high ground on the other side of the river, where they could provide some supporting fire?

    1. Well, Flowers had two choices, leave Dumas, or leave the bazooka. I think he chose wisely.

      But yeah, waste of a useful weapon.


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