Wednesday, February 3, 2021

The Crossroads, Part Two

U.S. Army Signal Corps Photo

"Okay, we can use this ditch beside the road for now. I know it's gonna be cold as Hell out here tonight, but that's all we can do for now. Ground's too damned hard to dig anyway. Improve your positions as best you can, but stay low. I'm sure those Krauts are gonna try us again, probably at dawn, maybe even tonight." 2nd Lt. Stephen Hernandez was going from squad to squad to get the men settled in for the night. The Krauts had hit them earlier in the day, obviously aiming to plug the hole the 26th Infantry was trying to exploit. They had some armor, the burning assault gun across the way wasn't the only vehicle they had.

2nd Platoon and the attached tank platoon from the 745th Tank Battalion had obviously surprised the Germans. They'd come on with no preparation, was probably what the West Pointers would call a meeting engagement, to the men it was a "Holy Shit, Krauts!" engagement.

"Hey, L.T.!" S/Sgt Jack Wilson had been over with the tank platoon, they were getting their vehicles in hull down positions in case the Germans came on again. Wilson had had the idea to set the halftracks up the same way. Hernandez would have liked to dismount the .50 cals from the tracks, but they didn't have the right gear to do so. So a few guys would have to rotate through the night manning those guns.

"What's up, Jack?"

"We're all set up I think. Tanks and halftracks interspersed, if the Krauts come again, they'll be walking into .50 cal and tank fire. Not to mention Judd's MG, rifle grenades, B.A.R.s and Garands. I've got Cpl. Gammell on a spot of high ground to keep an eye on things. He's got a walkie-talkie with him so he can give us a heads up."

"Great, did you give him any instructions on sniping the Krauts?"

"Yup, I gave him a hunting license for Kraut officers, no bag limit. He knows not to give his position away unless he sees someone who needs killing."

"Okay, let's get everyone settled in, John," Hernandez turned to Cpl. John Myerson, his radioman, "let's get the arty on the horn, see if we can't get some H&I¹ fire on the other side of that field. Keep the Krauts on their toes at least."

"You got it, Sir." Myerson got his map out and went to work.

Obergefreiter Anton Krausse came over to where the officers were trying to decide what to do next, having American tanks on the crossroads had been a nasty surprise. Not being able to take any of those tanks out had been a bitter disappointment.

They'd lost StuG 312, Gefreiter Wilfried Krüger's vehicle, he and his entire crew had been killed. His other StuG, the one which had broken down two days ago, had finally rejoined the unit not fifteen minutes ago. Gefreiter Viktor Hanneman, commanding StuG 313, was furious, Krüger had been a close friend of his.

During the fracas earlier, Krausse had tried to get a count of enemy tanks, but the action had been sharp and furious, Major von Lüttwitz had ordered a withdrawal back to the tree line before they'd lost any more men. But Krausse was sure they were facing no more than five Shermans and maybe a platoon of armored infantry. So he would report to the Major.

Right now.

Pvt. Jeb McCall was watching the tree line where the Germans were suspected to be. Sgt. Gentile had loaned him a pair of field glasses so that he could assist Cpl. Charlie Gammell, the platoon's designated sniper.

Sniper had been Gammell's sole job until casualties over the past couple of months had taken enough of a toll that he'd received a promotion to corporal and a new job, assistant squad leader to "Stump" Gentile. He still carried his scoped, bolt-action .30-06 Springfield though, the L.T. had insisted on it.

"There will be times, Stump, when we'll need Gammell's ability to hit at long range. I know it reduces your squad's fire power by a bit, but..." Hernandez had said, trying to sell Gentile on the idea, not just order him to do it.

"Nah, L.T., I get it. I like having my own personal sniper in the squad." Gentile had joked.

"You'll let me borrow him from time to time?" Hernandez said with a grin.

"Of course, L.T., your wish is my command."

"Literally." S/Sgt Wilson had remarked.

"There is that..." Gentile had allowed.

Major Jürgen von Lüttwitz, holder of the Knight's Cross, followed Obergefreiter Krausse out to the edge of the forest. The assault gun man had made a pretty good case for the strength of the Americans they were facing, no more than a platoon of infantry, maybe forty men, and five tanks.

Even with just three StuGs, he liked those odds. He outnumbered the Americans in infantry by nearly three-to-one. Not to mention that most of his company were equipped with automatic weapons. It was the Ami halftracks that bothered him, mobile steel bunkers equipped with those nasty 1.27 cm machine guns, nearly cannons if you saw the effect they had.

They couldn't see much from where they were, their position was lower than where the Amis were positioned, but von Lüttwitz had his field glasses out. He could see the top of one tank, and not too far to the right of that, had to be a halftrack with its mounted machine gun. He knew how he would do it, tanks and tracks interspersed, infantry dug in, probably along the road.

"If we come out of the trees just before dawn, the Amis will be sleepy. Halfway across, or sooner if the Amis react, the StuGs lay down smoke, followed by HE." von Lüttwitz explained to Leutnants Manfred Sauer and Otto Brückner, along with Feldwebel Adolf Hase. These were his three platoon commanders. Standing with them was Obergefreiter Krausse, a junior man perhaps, but he did command von Lüttwitz's assault gun platoon. Also, it had really been Krausse's idea.

"It could work..." Leutnant Brückner mused, "As long as the Amis don't react too quickly. I expect that after your boys fire those initial smoke and high explosive rounds, that..."

"At that point, we will have reloaded with armor piercing ammunition and we'll be moving up hot on your heels, Herr Leutnant." Krausse answered.

Hase looked doubtful. "Is there a problem Feldwebel Hase?" von Lüttwitz wanted to know.

"My men are equipped mostly with rifles, Sir, bolt action rifles. We could be sitting ducks out there, your grenadiers with their StG 44s can lay down some impressive suppressive fire, but with a bolt action rifle?" Hase shrugged his shoulders, he wasn't thrilled with the idea.

"That's why your platoon will stay with the StuGs, advance right behind them for cover. Your job will be to protect the StuGs from the Ami infantry. The grenadiers will be assaulting the position, your men are in support. Klar?" von Lüttwitz knew that the riflemen would be leery about advancing in the open, so having them cover the StuGs seemed logical to him. He looked at his two lieutenants.

Brückner nodded, Sauer spoke up. "It's tough to fire a rifle grenade while advancing quickly, Brückner and I could give Häschen our men with rifle grenade launchers. Sort of a walking artillery firing from behind the StuGs..."

"Carefully, Feldwebel Hase, keep an eye on them so that they don't hit their comrades in the front line!" Brückner joked.

Hase nodded, "Count me in, Herr Major. My men will feel much better having Krausse's beasts between them and the Amis."

"Now try and get some sleep. We'll be up and moving early. No fires, of course, emphasize to the men that staying quiet will keep them alive. Now go." Von Lüttwitz headed back to his bivouac, a small space underneath a shelter half. Not the best of accommodations, but he'd had worse in the East.

Gammell woke up. "Anything interesting, Jeb?"

"Maybe, looks like four guys back in the trees, they might be eyeballing our main position. Can't make 'em out clearly, but one guy keeps pointing, I'd bet he's an officer." McCall pointed Gammell to where he had seen the activity

Swinging his rifle in the direction McCall had indicated, Gammell had a brief glimpse of a white camouflage jacket against the dark green of a low pine tree. Then the man was gone, walking deeper into the woods.

"Well, we're eyeballing them, they're eyeballing us. I suspect they'll have a go at us in the morning, probably just before dawn. Now get some sleep, I'll watch for a while."

As Gammell took the field glasses from McCall, he heard a chuffing, whistling sound in the air. Moments later an artillery round impacted in the forest below.

"I don't think the Krauts are gonna get much sleep tonight, looks like the L.T. got some arty to serenade the bastards."

"Hmmpff," McCall muttered, "as long as we don't catch a short round." Then the infantryman rolled himself up in his blanket and promptly went to sleep.

It was going to be a long night...

¹ Harassment and Interdiction, random artillery rounds on suspected enemy positions. More to bother them than kill them.

Link to all of The Chant's fiction.


  1. As I read, I was hoping you were leading up to Gammel bagging another officer from their planning conference. But losing Herr Major would likely put a dent in the story line at this point...
    One typo: "You'll let be borrow him from time to time?" Hernandez said with a grin.". Should read "...let me borrow..."

  2. Tom caught everything I did... Except for the suspense... Jerry sweating out the H&I fire through the night, our guys sleeping in the cold sink of a ditch... What is hanging out of that guy's pocket?? He has something in his left hand (left handed), part of it looks like the top of a carb cleaner can. No gloves either?? I got shivers just looking at him...

    1. Might be a flare gun hanging out... I don't recognize the shape...

    2. Ya, no gloves....that's a line of cold GIs....see a couple of carbines also. Hope 2nd Platoon can stay alert during the night, wonder if the Stug's engines are noisy?

    3. Tank and assault gun motors were all pretty noisy back then, due to the cold, the crews will probably run the engines periodically to keep the oil warm, so no clues to the attack based on engine noise.

    4. The unimog had a spec on engine noise. I think it was supposed to idle undetected at 100 meters or some such...

    5. A good idea, of course, by this stage of the war, many of the Wehrmacht's vehicles had a lot of wear and tear on them.

  3. Cold. It just sounds cold. Really cold.

    And I understand Hase's reluctance. Given the recent events, this plan sounds like it built a great deal on everything going just right, which seldom occurs.

    1. Well, the Germans have the numbers. They don't necessarily have fire superiority based on the number of Stg 44s in these units, the Garand has a good rate of fire, it has a full size round, whereas the Stg 44 has a shortened rifle round. Not to mention the .50 cals mounted on the halftracks and the tanks. But there are significantly more Germans.

  4. Suspenseful. I save this blog for last of all the blogs I read daily. It is my "dessert" if you will. There will be action in the pre-dawn hours of the morning. "Stand To" was the old Rogers Rangers trick back in the Colonial days. "Don't sleep beyond dawn. Dawn's when the French and Indians attack." HATED Stand To when I was with Marine Recon....always cold!!

    1. Ah yes, 9 times out of 10 you have stand to, and nothing happens, it's that tenth time that will bite you in the ass.

    2. (Don McCollor)...There is the journal of an officer's wife going Fort Apache AZ. The campfires made the surrounding darkness eve darker. She asked of the Apache would attack that night. Reply was that they usually wait till just before dawn. No one got a good night's sleep...

    3. Campfires destroy your night vision. As I recall, most tribes didn't like attacking at night, just before dawn, no problem!

    4. It's also when the resting people are most turgid.

      Which is why twitchy NCOs get so peeved to see people not fully awake at that time, when deep in 'injun territory,' no matter what type of 'injuns' there may be.

    5. After many years of working the 2300 to 0700 shift, I was still sluggish as Hell in the hour before dawn.

  5. Well, Herr Major escapes another incident of heavy metal poisoning, by that much. Whew. You really ratcheted up the suspense and painted a very vivid picture of the upcoming battle.

    The Stu44 round was roughly compatible to the M1 Carbine, roughly, as both were good for killing up to 300 yards at most. The fully auto '44, though, was a beast to maintain on target at full auto, so users tended to 'spray and pray' just like the later generations of AK-47 users. Stil, suppressive fire is suppressive fire.

    Nice job on giving the M2 stats in centimeters. Really gives that authentic WWII German feel to it.

    1. One wonders how long he can dodge the bullet, so to speak.

  6. Don't have a good feeling about this....sense of forebodings. Feels like the night before Pickett's charge. Masterful writing!

  7. Sarge,
    Wouldn't Lt Hernandez be going from squad to squad rather than "platoon to platoon"? We're still dealing with a 2nd Lt Platoon Commander, right?
    As with the others, this series is "dessert" from keeping current on the woeful state of our country -and likewise I'd like to see Von L and Sauer survive the war. I know it's both unlikely and somewhat unrealistic, but I've grown attached to both of them.
    Boat Guy

    1. Ah, good catch. (I should have the Germans and the Americans at the same level of organization then I wouldn't make those kinds of mistakes. Well, I still would, at least now I have an excuse!)

      As to characters surviving, I have some hard choices to make in the near future. I want to keep things as realistic (and non-Hollywood) as possible, so...

      Things are bound to change.

      One of the reasons I began this series is to keep my mind off politics. It's good to know that I'm helping others to do so.

  8. Another good installment.
    One typo- the .50 BMG is 12.7mm not 1.27mm
    Photo comment about the guy in foreground. Looks like he might be holding binoculars in left hand with eyepiece to the right. He has M1911A1 .45 auto in standard hip holster, but weird angle- muzzle pointing toward his ankle, and you can see the stud for the holster flap and the checkered back of the mainspring housing.
    John Blackshoe

    1. Look again, it says 1.27 cm.

      You guys look way harder at the photos I use than I do. Y'all have a good eye for detail.

    2. John you will the kewpie doll. I see it now. I blew that thing up till I could feel it on the screen. I had the muzzle in my mind as the grip. Now, the lift the dot makes it obvious. More coffee? more coffee....

  9. Agree on the ominous lead in, "...holder of the Knight's Cross,"is just the sort intro just before the character has to "leave the stage" as it were. Stopped twice before I could read through the end :)

    Since U.S. artillery is already close enough for H&I fires, it doesn't seem the Germans would have much hope of holding the crossroads even should they take it. Not a great position to be in.


    1. At this point in the war, only the top Nazis like Hitler and Goebbels think they can still win.

  10. Not a typo, but a minor suggestion:

    "So a few guys would have to rotate through manning those guns through the night."

    "So a few guys would have to rotate through the night manning those guns"

    Pickett's charge is a good analogy.

    Ditto on what Beans said on the German description of the M2.

    1. Throw me down the stairs my hat.

    2. William - Yes, that was worded in a rather awkward manner, I like your fix, so I took it! (I'll have to make a list of all youse guys who helped edit this thing!)

      I try to remember to stay metric when it's the Germans speaking, it's tough some times!

    3. You are closer to Lancaster PA than I am. I just figured it was wafting in on the breeze!!

  11. I thought the Germans switched to cm at 20mm+?

    1. There was no hard and fast rule for that one; except that Germany always has been fully metric (in WWI and WWII). So you might say "Das Zwei-Zentimeter Flakgeschütz verschießt die Munition 'Granatpatrone 20 X 138 mm B' (spoken: zwanzig mal hundertachtundreißig Millimeter)" = the 2cm AA gun uses 20 X 138 mm ammunition; and you would be correct in both cases.
      In case of the .50 cal BMG the Wehrmacht used either "1,27 cm" or just called it "üSMG (a)" = überschweres amerikanisches MG = very heavy american MG.

      On the other hand, foreign ordnance and vehicles always were a challenge to describe accurately; e.g. the 6-pounder. The Wehrmacht called it "5.7 cm PaK 209(e)" and "5.7 cm PaK 202(a)"; the 'e' and 'a' standing for 'Englisch' and 'Amerikanisch' respectively.

    2. StB - That's what we call minutiae. Think of it this way, the Germans are very logical, once a value can be measured in centimeters, they tend to use centimeters, as opposed to millimeters. But in spoken German, it's my experience that they'll use whatever rolls off the tongue better. For instance, the Me-109 is typically referred to as the "May hundertneun," i.e. Me is pronounced as a word ("may" is the German pronunciation of "me").

      Also, what Martin said.

    3. Martin - Eine ausgezeichnete und prägnante Erklärung, mein Herr!


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.