Friday, February 5, 2021

The Crossroads, Part Four

U.S. Army Photo

2nd Lt. Stephen Hernandez was looking at his platoon sergeant, S/Sgt Jack Wilson, and shaking his head. "What the Hell did we do wrong, Jack, or was it just bad luck?"

Wilson had spent considerable time looking for the lieutenant that morning. During the attack things had gone to Hell pretty quickly, Wilson went one way, Hernandez the other, both trying, in vain as it turned out, to rally 2nd Platoon and try to hold their position at the crossroads.

Wilson took a long drag on his cigarette, then dropped the butt to the ground, he ground it out angrily with the toe of his boot. "I don't think it's anything we did wrong, L.T., the Germans did a number of things right, also, I hate to say it, a lot of our guys are green, it was their first battle. Hell, I'm surprised more of 'em didn't run."

That was the big thing that hovered between the two leaders of 2nd Platoon, some of their men, a handful really, had panicked and had run to the rear. Yes, many of the men were green, but to have run away like that? Hernandez felt ashamed, he thought that somehow there might have been something he neglected. Wilson, on the other hand, was angry.

Wilson took his helmet of and placed it in the snow next to him, liner up. He ran a hand through his sweat-soaked hair, wiped his hands on his field jacket, then fished another cigarette from the remains of the crumpled pack. He lit the cigarette, took a long drag, then looked at his lieutenant.

"Seventeen men missing. That includes Gammell and McCall, they're probably okay, probably just laying low until they can get here. There were a lot of f**king Germans this morning."

"Seventeen, any ballpark guesses on how many killed, wounded, or just plain runaways?" Hernandez sounded dejected, those were his men, his responsibility, he truly felt as if he'd failed them.

At that point Hernandez's radioman, Cpl. John Myerson, came over. "Radio is f**ked, L.T., at some point this morning it took a bullet, I'm surprised I didn't feel it."

"Well, that explains why the artillery wouldn't answer our calls." Wilson offered. Though it would have been a minor miracle to have got a fire mission in when the Germans hit, it still rankled that their calls had gone unanswered. Now they knew why.

"One good piece of news L.T.," Wilson said, "the guys in 'Misfit,' the Sherman that got destroyed, the crew all made it out. They bailed before the ammo in the ready rack cooked off. A few bumps and bruises, but they're all fine. Woodstock sent them to the rear to get another tank."

"Just like that, a new tank. Equipment we can replace, thank God Harrell and his crew survived, it's the men we can't replace. We can fill the ranks with warm bodies, but it takes time to give them the experience they need to stay alive." Before Hernandez could continue, Sgt. Stump Gentile came up.

"L.T., don't be so hard on yourself. Johnny Chapman and a few of his guys just straggled in, Diego's dead, so are Lambert and Ramsey." Sgt. Gentile thought that Sgt. Diego Pena had shown a lot of potential, but now he was gone. He didn't know Lambert or Ramsey, sure it bugged him that they were dead, but's it not like they weren't like a thousand other new recruits, dead before anyone got the chance to know them.

"Spieß! Can we get some help over here!" Hauptfeldwebel Klaus-Peter Keller turned to see what the commotion was. He was trying to get everybody under cover and get the company's horses, wagons, and carts back into the trees before another Ami air attack could show up, which he knew from bitter experience, would be soon.

Two men in the company headquarters group had been wounded when the Ami P-38s had come over about an hour ago, Grenadier Jakob Riedel's wound was serious, the Sani had patched him up but he would need to be evacuated, and soon. The other man, Grenadier Torben Hartknoch, had a nasty cut on his forehead, his helmet had saved his life, which had bled badly, but he'd be okay. He didn't even need stitches. He was concerned for when the Jabos returned, he knew it was 'when,' not 'if.'

"Ernst, Gustav, come with me!" He yelled over at the two men who were assisting the Gerätunteroffizier¹, Unteroffizier Guenther Burkhard, unload ammunition from the back of one of the platoon's wagons.

Keller walked over to where he saw two men hunched over a third. One of those men stood up, it was Grenadier Mark Klopfer, the Major's radioman. "Spieß, it's the Major, he's hurt!"

Keller then sprinted over to where the men were, yelling for the Sani as he did so. When he arrived he looked down to see Major Jürgen von Lüttwitz wincing in pain, cradling his left arm.

"Stop making such a fuss, Mark. I'm fine!" von Lüttwitz barked at his radioman, though did appear to be in some pain.

"What happened, Herr Major? Damn it, Peter, where are you?!!" Keller bellowed.

"Leave him be, ahh, careful, Mark. I'm sure the Sani is busy." Klopfer and another man, Grenadier Sven Steinhauer, one of the snipers, had helped the Major to his feet.

The Sanitäter, Unteroffizier Peter Krause, came over, trying to wash the blood from his hands with a rag dampened with snow. "Spieß, another for the casualty list, Grenadier Bolender has a nasty abdominal wound, I doubt he'll live through the day, I patched him up as best as I could. Major, let me look at that arm."

Though von Lüttwitz insisted that he was all right, Krause examined him. "Your forearm is broken, Sir. Green stick fracture I think. You need to go back to battalion."

"Not going to happen, Sani. Patch me up, we need to prepare this position, the Amis will be back, of that I have no doubt. Has anyone seen my platoon commanders?" The Major did let Krause sit him down and splint and wrap his arm, he was now struggling to get back into his tunic and camouflage jacket.

"That's not going to work, Herr Major. You need to just drape them over your shoulder for now, you are going to freeze to death tonight though." Leutnant Manfred Sauer had come from behind the small building near the crossroads, his camouflage jacket was splashed with blood.

"Manfred! Are you hit?" von Lüttwitz stood too fast, which brought him a nasty look from the Sani. "I'm all right, Peter. Check on the rest of the men!"

Sauer stopped and slung his Stg 44, "I'm okay, my radioman was killed next to me. This is Gregor's blood, not mine."

Krause noticed a tear in Sauer's jacket, "What's that Leutnant, are you sure you're not wounded?"

"Quite sure Sani, the round that killed Gregor went through my jacket first."

Cpl. Charlie Gammell could see the rally point, some two hundred yards further on, but Jeb McCall was getting heavy. When they had pulled back from the knoll, one of the American fighters, pulling up from its strafing run, had let up on his trigger late. An American bullet, or fragment of one, had hit McCall low on his right side.

Gammell had checked him, it was a very bloody wound, he'd used a lot of sulfa powder on it and McCall's field dressing plus his own. Jeb was in a great deal of pain.

"Just leave me, Charlie. Go get a couple of guys, you can come back for me later."

Gammell knew that there were a lot of Germans in the area, and no guarantee that 2nd Platoon would be sticking around. So he had started by supporting McCall, who had been  struggling to walk on his own. But it was no use.

"I think it's worse than it looks, Jeb. You might be busted up inside, I didn't see an exit wound, that slug is still in you. Let's hole up here for a bit."

Gammell had moved back to where he could see the Germans, they looked awfully busy trying to evacuate their own casualties and dig in. A number of them kept looking to the sky, no doubt expecting the AAF to return and shoot the Hell out of them.

When he got back to where he'd left McCall, he could see that McCall had passed out. Gammell checked, he was still alive. So he slung his rifle, McCall's rifle, then lifted McCall onto his back. It was a heavy load, but no worse than packing a deer out of the back country at home. He'd done that quite a few times in his youth.

He'd be damned if he left Jeb behind.

"Ah no, no, no, no..." Gefreiter Alfred Holzer moaned as he approached two huddled forms in the snow.

"What is it Alfred?" Grenadier Wolfgang Angermann, carrying his stretcher with him, had accompanied Holzer on his search for their platoon commander and his radioman, Obergefreiter Wilhelm Buschmann. He had a bad feeling.

There was one body lying atop a second, there was a lot of blood on the snow. A lot. Holzer approached the huddled shapes, he knew the bodies were German, there was a shattered radio on the back of the top body. Gently he turned the corpse over, it was Buschmann.

"Shit." Angermann sat down heavily, he knew Buschmann well, they were from the same town in Schleswig-Holstein, very close to the Danish border. He had had more than a few beers with Willy.

Holzer, his hands trembling, gently pulled Buschmann's body aside. He was kneeling in the bloody snow next to the other body. The hood of the man's camouflage jacket was covering his head. Holzer pulled it back.

Turning aside quickly, Holzer vomited violently. Angermann, used to handling wounded and dead men in his job as a Krankenträger², moved in. Most of the back of the man's head was missing. Reaching for a shoulder, and using his other hand to steady the ruined head, Angermann rolled the body over.

It was Leutnant Otto Brückner.

"Everyone is accounted for, except Gammell and McCall, they're still out there, somewhere." S/Sgt Wilson had interviewed the other survivors while they dug in. They still had three halftracks and four tanks, S/Sgt Woodstock had told them that they'd have a fifth Sherman by the end of the day.

"What's the cost, Jack?"

Wilson handed 2nd Lt. Hernandez the list of killed, wounded, and missing, "Seven dead, eleven wounded, two missing. a couple of the wounded probably won't make it, Doc Milbury is organizing some transport to take the worst of the wounded to the rear. Here's the list, L.T."

Pvt. Luke Houston KIA
Pvt. Philip Dyer KIA
Sgt. Diego Pena KIA
Pvt. Edward Walsh KIA
Pvt. Curtis Lambert KIA
Pvt. Bill Ramsey KIA
Pvt. Charles Hammond KIA
Pfc. Theodore Erickson WIA
Pvt. Will Jones WIA
Pvt. Edward Stanton WIA
Pvt. Anthony Lewis WIA
Pvt. Phillip Vaughn WIA
Pvt. Joseph Scott WIA
Pvt. John Kilpatrick WIA
Pvt. Javier Munoz WIA
Pvt. Joe Gray WIA
Pvt. Theodore McCall WIA
Pvt. Herbert Smith WIA
Cpl. Charlie Gammell MIA
Pvt. Jeb McCall MIA

"Doc says that Stanton and Kilpatrick are the worst off, they might die before the battalion surgeon can see them. It's a matter of God's grace, according to Doc, his exact words." Wilson's hand had been trembling when he had handed the list over. He lit a cigarette, trying desperately to calm his nerves.

2nd Lt. Hernandez took the list, read it once, then again. There was moisture in his eyes as he folded the list and put it in his pocket. "Damn it, I hate this f**king war."

"You and me both, L.T., you and me both."

"What's the butcher's bill, Klaus-Peter?" Manfred Sauer was running things while the Major was resting. Krause wanted Sauer to force the Major to go to the rear for treatment, Sauer would wait on that. First they had to get the company sorted out.

Keller sighed, he too had a list, which he handed to Sauer, "Eight dead, thirteen wounded, and one missing. No one has seen Hase since this morning, early. His radioman, Obergefreiter Adolph Storch, says that during the attack Häschen ordered him to try and raise the Major on the radio, he wanted to lead a few of the rifle grenadiers into a better position to drop grenades on the Amis. He headed off with three men, one of whom was killed, another badly wounded. Storch says there was an explosion, an Ami round glancing off one of the StuGs, that's the last he saw of his platoon leader. I have the feeling that..."

"Run over by a StuG? It happens, I'll send some men out to backtrack where the StuGs came up, if he's there, they'll find him." Sauer looked back towards the woods, the attack had been a success, but he hated the cost.

"You mean what's left of him, right." Keller said as he handed Sauer the list of casualties.

Grenadier Gregor Fittkau KIA
Leutnant Otto Brückner KIA
Obergefreiter Wilhelm Buschmann KIA
Grenadier Harry Zimmermann KIA
Grenadier Johannes Kaufmann KIA
Grenadier Richard Meier KIA
Grenadier Max Knobloch KIA
Grenadier Hugo Gottlieb KIA
Grenadier Jakob Riedel WIA
Grenadier Torben Hartknoch WIA
Grenadier Norbert Bolender WIA
Grenadier Georg Schreiber WIA
Grenadier Helmut Friese WIA
Grenadier Helmuth Holländer WIA
Grenadier Willy Fischbeck WIA
Grenadier Franz Schmied WIA
Grenadier Georg Stellmacher WIA
Grenadier Peter Wagner WIA
Unteroffizier Jürgen Klügmann WIA
Grenadier Manfred Bär WIA
Grenadier Reinhardt von Thoma WIA
Feldwebel Adolf Hase MIA

"I'll pass this along to the Major, go through your lists Spieß, we need new platoon commanders. I'd like to say just two, but assume that I'll be taking command of the company. If that's the case, my 1st Squad leader, Haasen, is ready for a platoon. Move Leonhart up to squad leader. For the other platoons," Sauer sighed, "I'll leave that to you."

"I recall an American general saying that war is Hell. The man they named their tanks after, I think, Sherman. Their Civil War in the 1860s I believe." Keller said this to Sauer in a subdued voice.

"Well, he was right, wasn't he? Sheer, horrible, bloody Hell." Sauer said, looking at the list in his hand. "Damn Hitler and his cronies."

"Be careful, Manfred..."

"I know Spieß, I know."

¹ Equipment NCO.
² Stretcher bearer

Link to all of The Chant's fiction.


  1. So, if the crew o0f "Misfit" get issued a patched-up tank recovered from the battlefield, do you think they'll call it "Refit"?

  2. Really hope Gammell and McCall make it back OK. Two hundred yards is a long way to carry a guy thru the snow with the enemy roaming about. And glad Herr Major is mostly OK, although that seems a weird thing to wish for ...

    1. At this point in the war, hoping that the Germans had sane and intelligent men in commmand was a good thing. Those are the ones that, even though they succeeded in little maneuvers like the Crossroads, also knew when to delay and slow things and throw in the towel.

      The open negative talking about Hitler and the Nazis is a good sign that the next time may come with a white flag.

    2. Ya never know. They are fighting for their homeland.

  3. Two punch drunk fighters in their corner, beat bloody, waiting for the bell. You are capturing the hopeless meat grinder very well. I had a wave of despair wash over me after reading this. Keep at it long enough and only one is left standing...

  4. The sign of a good and concerned leader (in this case, no matter what side): "It is not that bad, patch me up, there is work to be done."

    One understands why so many come back haunted.

    1. If I can convey just that, I've done my job well.

    2. You certainly have done your job well, Sarge.
      Boat Guy

    3. Couple of years ago I went to hear 2 Iwo Jima veterans speak. And one of them who was talking about the conditions there was eventually hit in the chest by a nambu machine gun.

      He’s laying there with his wounded buddy and the Japanese are shooting the corpsmen.

      Hi buddy finally says do you want to get to the aid Station? Let’s walk.

      And they did slowly helping each other.

    4. From a certain viewpoint I can understand why you would shoot at the medics. Having wounded lying about, untreated, is horrible for morale. Was it contrary to the Geneva Convention? Of course it was, as was the bombings of Warsaw, Rotterdam, London, Coventry, Hamburg, Berlin, Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki (and yes, many others). The most humane intentions go out the window in wartime. You want it over as fast as possible. Killing some often saves many.

      Rules in warfare? A diplomat's pipe dream...

  5. That fearful glance up into the sky was known as "der Deutsche Blick".

  6. Without air superiority, the Germans' advance could only be a temporary gain. Knowing that they would be attacked from the air with little or no notice had to seriously suck. Poor bastards, all of 'em!

    1. Their only real hope is that the enemy Air Forces are busy elsewhere!

  7. Dark times ahead. Too many green troops on the Americans' side. Too many broken troops on the Germans' side. Yet both sides still trying to achieve their goals.

    The winter was full of hard stands and surrenders, with the pace of surrenders picking up as spring approached.

    Many times it was what a good German leader did, for his wounded men. Retreat and leave the wounded under a competent leader. The pace picking up.

    And the casualties picking up on both sides.

    Especially on the Germans, as the Luftwaffe was barely seen over the major cities, let alone on the front line.

    Leaving the ever-closer forward operating bases of the Allies full of very eager airmen. Capable of escorting the bombers all the way into Germany and back and still having enough fuel to fool around during and after to attack targets of opportunity. As you noted yesterday, with a 3 hour turn around time on the P-38 group.

    1. Laboring under enemy air superiority sucks. By this time in the war, the USAAF and RAF had air supremacy over the Western Front, I believe the Soviets had that in the East as well. If you were spotted from the air, you were probably going to die...

    2. (Don McCollor)...the closest (and fastest) air support I ever read about was on a Pacific island. The planes would take off, circle to drop ordinance on Japanese position, continue circling and land on the airstrip to rearm. Their landing gear never came up....

    3. Works well without the long transit time.

  8. I clicked onto the blog...took a deep breath...paused for a moment and began reading. Rarely has reading held me that way. Only other book I can safely say that has done this has been "Killer Angels". The first time I read it I was so enthralled I read it straight through. The second time and every time after (I have read it about 10 times) I pause, knowing what is coming, and dive deep. This story is different since it is coming in pieces. I do not know what is coming so I find myself preparing for the onslaught that is about to assault me.

    Damned fine writing. On par with Killer Angels in every way.

    1. To be compared with one of my favorite authors is humbling, yet most gratifying.

      Thank you!

  9. Hey Old AFSarge;

    Something that is missed in all the glory of battle in some of the books is the butcher bill, it is glossed over, but it still must be paid. Real battle, you see the bill up close and you do a good job of representing the bill accurately. Yes the Germans ain't fighting for Hitler, they are fighting for their comrades and homeland now.

    1. Something worth noting, there is no glory in war. But really only those who've seen it know that for a fact.

    2. Absolutely true, Sarge. There is no glory in war, but only in one's actions within that war. The steadfast defense of others, or one's post qualify. Whether in conflict or in peace, it is only the actions and the (honorable) intentions of the individual that stand out.

  10. The winter one way or another is coming to an end. On the ost front,Soviets new thunderous offensive will stop just short of Berlin itself (and where I live :) ).
    In March Western Allies wil breach the Rhine itself.
    Hitler's Reich is facing Goetterdammerung.
    The night is darkest before the dawn...


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