Friday, February 19, 2021

The Bridgehead


"How fast can you get your company on the road, Manfred?" Major Jürgen von Lüttwitz hated doing this to his best soldier, but there was word of an American crossing of the Roer at Kreuzau, Leutnant Manfred Sauer's company was ready to move and they still had their attached Sturmgeschütz IVs. There were only three of them but it was three more than the rest of the battalion had.

Leutnant Sauer studied the map spread out on the table in the farmhouse some four kilometers west of Euskirchen. He measured the distance, they would have to travel roughly 25 kilometers to get to Kreuzau, some backroads, but the trip could be done.

"Herr Major, we can leave now, the weather is amenable, the fog will keep the Ami Jabos on the ground. I can be there before dawn, do some reconnaissance, hit the Amis at first light." Sauer answered his commanding officer with confidence. Though he had a number of new men in the company, he still had a solid core of men which had fought at the crossroads battle with him.

"Also, I've talked with regiment about Unteroffizier Krause, though the book doesn't call for a Panzergrenadier company to have a Sanitäter¹, I have no other position for him. He's yours." Von Lüttwitz had looked into the medic's situation, Krause wanted to stay with Sauer's company, so he would.

"Excellent, I was leery about going into action without my own Sani, the men will be happy that Peter is staying." Sauer looked at his watch, then looked up at von Lüttwitz, "Jürgen, I should be going, we'll do our best."

"I know you will, Manfred. The rest of the battalion will follow as soon as we get our fuel issues sorted out. Stay alive."

"Aber natürlich, Herr Major!²" Sauer said with a grin, then he was out the door, yelling for his Spieß, Hauptfeldwebel Klaus-Peter Keller.

"Damn it!" S/Sgt Jack Wilson swore loudly as the rising waters of the Roer swept their pontoon bridge away. Fortunately no one had been on the bridge, but now 2nd Platoon and their attached tanks were stranded on the enemy side of the river.

"Krauts probably blew the dam upstream, that's the one thing the S-2 has been sweating." 2nd Lt. Stephen Hernandez shook his head as he spoke. They were stranded, but they were well-supplied, dug in and had five Sherman tanks positioned to help them hold the bridgehead. He just hoped that the Germans stayed quiet.

The two deserters they had picked up had been very cooperative during their interrogation, but neither of them really knew anything. Their parent unit was five miles from here, they had purposely hiked a distance from their own unit before trying to desert. It was only bad luck that a Feldgendarmerie patrol had almost bagged them. There was no doubt in Hernandez's mind that Cpl. Charlie Gammell's rifle had saved the two deserters from summary execution by their own side.

"Let's get back to the CP, see if Myerson has been able to raise Cap'n Palminteri on the radio. Hop in, I'll drive." 2nd Platoon now had a captured Kübelwagen which they'd determined their lieutenant should call his own, as Sgt. Woody Sherman had said, "Those Kraut MPs won't be needing it anymore, L.T. should have it, I volunteer to drive!"

But Sherman was sitting in the back seat again, he got a kick out of the lieutenant's joy in driving the little Kraut car. For the moment he was content to ride shotgun, he was keeping an eye open, they hadn't seen many Krauts in the past few days, but the bastards had a habit of showing up when you least expected them.

"Johannes, you're in charge, ride with Ernst. Peter, you'll ride with Gustav. Get as close to town as you can on your motorcycles, go forward on foot, check and see what the Amis have in the town. A rough idea only, don't take any chances. The Ic³ says no more than a platoon, with three or four tanks in support. But I need to know if that estimate is correct."

Gefreiter Johannes Hautzig nodded, he and Grenadier Peter Meyer were two of the company's snipers. Although Panzergrenadier companies had no snipers in their Table of Organization and Equipment, Sauer kept them on the rolls, just not as snipers.

The snipers would ride in the sidecars of Grenadier Ernst Schottenstein's and Grenadier Gustav Ullmer's motorcycles. They could get fairly close to Kreuzau but would have to dismount and sneak on foot the rest of the way. Schottenstein and Ullmer would wait with the motorcycles, Hautzig and Meyer would do the sneaking.

Later, after a long, cold ride, the two snipers were making their way through the Drover Heide, the wooded area east of Kreuzau. It was cold, it was dark, and the two men were absolutely miserable. Just when it seemed that they'd be wandering these woods until after the war, they came to the edge of the wood. They could see the town, the ruined buildings stood out against the snow on the ground, now they needed to settle in and observe, to see what the Americans might have in the town.

Over the better part of an hour the two men observed the town through their rifle scopes, they both noticed that the Amis were being very careful, no fires, no lights, but still they had to move around and they both caught glimpses of men moving around.

"I think I've seen enough, Peter. A platoon, no more, and they have at least three tanks."

"I count four..."


The two men compared observations and in doing so spotted a fifth American Sherman.

"Let's head back to the company, I think we have what the Leutnant needs."

"Did you hear that, Cecil?" Pvt. Warren Pratt sat up in his foxhole, he thought he had heard a motorcycle in the distance.

"What? I didn't hear anything, what did it sound like?" Pvt. Cecil Brown hadn't heard anything, but now he was wondering if they should wake up McWhorter, the leader of their B.A.R. team. Right now Brown had the gun while McWhorter slept.

"I swear I heard a motorcycle, just for a second or two, but I'm sure of it."

"Good enough for me, man." With that Pratt began to shake Pfc. Chris McWhorter's shoulder.

"What the f**k, can't a guy get his beauty sleep?" McWhorter grumbled as he came awake.

"Mac, Warren thinks he heard a motorcycle, Kraut scouts ya think?" Brown had learned to trust Pratt, the kid paid attention to his surroundings.

McWhorter sat up, "Give me the gun, Cecil. Warren, head on over to the CP, tell the L.T. what you heard. I think the Krauts are gonna come visiting!"

"You're certain? A platoon of infantry and a platoon of tanks?" Leutnant Sauer asked the two men who had scouted Kreuzau.

"Jawohl, Herr Leutnant. I'm sure of it, Grenadier Meyer came to the same conclusion." As Hautzig finished he looked at Meyer.

"No more than a platoon of each, Herr Leutnant." Meyer agreed.

"But they seem to be dug in very well, their tanks are well-shielded and have good fire lanes. I wouldn't take these men lightly, they acted like a veteran unit. Not like some Amis I've seen, good light and noise discipline." Hautzig added that to make sure his commander understood.

"I shall keep that in mind, Johannes." Sauer looked at his watch, then continued, "You lads go get some sleep. Nicely done. We've got three hours until first light. We'll hit them then."

"A motorcycle, to the east?" Hernandez looked at Pratt.

"I'm sure of it, Sir. Maybe more than one, they were moving away from us as far as I could tell. It was just for a few seconds when the wind died, but I'm sure of it." Pvt. Pratt was a little nervous briefing the lieutenant and the platoon sergeant. But he needn't have worried.

S/Sgt Wilson leaned over and slapped Pratt on the shoulder, "Good job troop, it's guys like you, paying attention, who will keep us alive."

"Thanks Sarge, Sir."

"What the Staff Sergeant said, go get some food in you, Jack, stand to."

"Now Sir?" Wilson asked.

"Yes, now. I know they'll probably wait until first light, but we can't count on that. Stand to."

"Yes Sir, Kelley, Duke, spread the word, quietly, stand to."

As the messengers ran off, Hernandez and Wilson went to brief the tankers. Hernandez wanted no surprises come the dawn, or earlier.

It was Pratt who heard it first, the squeaking tracks, the rumble of a heavy engine, his squad leader, Sgt. Melvin Katz, alerted the rest of the platoon.

It was foggy again, and Lord was it cold, but the men came instantly alert when the word was spread...

The Germans were coming.

¹ Sanitäter = Medic, usually abbreviated to "Sani."
² But of course, Major!
³ Staff officer responsible for intelligence.

Link to all of The Chant's fiction.


  1. The Stugs and Shermans will make this interesting. Are any of the Shermans 76mm ones?

    1. As long as it's not an overly long range, the Sherms can do it with the 75mm. And they probably have artillery support, too, hopefully. See how well a StuG handles 155mm, 175mm or 203mm HE!

    2. Yup. Don't count on artillery support.

    3. Dammit, Sarge! That's one too many tells! (chuckle)
      Might as well tell us how things are going to turn out in Helm's Deep! (Though it's a far different situation on the screen than it was in the book!)

    4. 😁

      I gotta keep you guys guessing!

  2. Curtain coming up........gets a little tense scrolling these lines to see how much gets revealed each day.....seconding the Badger, any Jumbos around Sarge?

    1. None at all. The lads will have to make do with the M4A3.

    2. In the Pacific, where the Marines used M4A2s, powered by GMC diesels, and Ford GAA powered M4A3s, the Marines called their M4s Fords, or GMs depending on the engine. How's that, for pointless trivia. I have always wondered what a Marine tanker, who was issued an M4A3, made at GM's Fisher Tank Plant would have called it?

  3. Oh hell. Into the breech once again boys...into the breech.

    You seriously have a knack for keeping us on the edge of our seats!!

  4. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, it was LOVE DAY, at Iwo Jima.

    1. But we're not on the other side of the world, are we Precious?

    2. Thankfully. Not a nice place, the culmination of the Island Hopping Campaign, with both sides using their complete bag of tricks. Black stinking sliding sand... Not a good place to be at all.

    3. A story for another time perhaps.

    4. Sigh, badgers... (auf Deutsch, der Dachs)

    5. (Don McCollor)...I believe Love Day was on Okinawa..and on a little island offshore where Ernie Pyle went down...

    6. Don - It was Okinawa, the 1st of April 1945. Ernie Pyle was killed on Ie Shima on the 18th of April, two days after we invaded that island.

    7. Scott - Don gets a partial credit. They actually called the 19th of February (Iwo Jima landing) D-Day.


  5. Funny how the night air, bein denser, does that, carrying sounds that is. Weird.

    And... Winter Fog, almost freezing, yech. Not good fighting weather for visibility on either side. The question will be, will it be dense enough to force the German StuGs in close to where the Ami 75mm will penetrate, or will it give the Germans good enough visibility to stand off and pound?

    Same with forward observers. Hopefully the Americans have already set up some grid-coordinate fire zones and have at least one or two batteries of 105mm on call, hopefully something a little heavier, like in the 150-200mm range.

  6. This is like a series of cliff hangers. I almost dread opening the next day's installment, lest I find my favorites are gone.

    Well done Sarge, well done.

    1. Thanks Toirdhealbheach Beucail, the Muse seems to be on a roll!

    2. I agree! I dread reading each installment, but I cannot stay away!

    3. It’s like the old radio series of the 30s and 40s!

  7. Your muse has earned some Guinness and Jamesons, but you deserve some too!

  8. Really good, Sarge! Good to see the Muse is no longer AWOL!

    1. Thanks drjim!

      Now to see if the Muse can maintain this pace!


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

NOTE: Comments on posts over 5 days old go into moderation, automatically.