Sunday, February 28, 2021

The Last Stand of the Eggersheim Volkssturm

Bundesarchiv

"What's the name of this stream?"  Cpl. Maurice Ryan yelled back at Sgt. Melvin Katz. He was trying to make sense of the map in front of him. As the halftrack he was riding in was bouncing down the rutted road, he was continually being tossed back and forth in the front passenger seat. Katz was seated just behind him in the main compartment.

"Near as I can make out, it's the Neffelbach. I'm pretty sure that field of rubble we just passed used to be the village of Eggersheim." Katz yelled back at Ryan. "Keep your eyes peeled to the..."

No sooner had the words left his mouth then a number of machine gun rounds spattered off the side of the halftrack. They had hit at an angle so didn't penetrate, Pfc. Johnny Robles, one of the new replacements, was on the pintle-mounted .50 caliber machine gun. He quickly swung the gun in the direction of where the fire had come from.

As the .50 started hammering away, Katz was on the radio to his platoon commander, three vehicles back. As he tried to make himself understood over the noise of the .50, the tank to their front, commanded by Sgt. Bob Horner, fired its main gun.

"Damn it, I can't hear the L.T. and the L.T. can't hear me. Johnny, keep pounding that position. Caleb you keep feeding him ammo, the rest of you guys, dismount! Move to your right as you get out. Stay low!! Let's go, let's go, let's go!!"

The back door on the track banged open and the men scrambled out, low and keeping to their right to keep the body of the vehicle between them and the source of the incoming fire. The cannon on Horner's tank barked again.

Katz led his men down a ditch which followed the road, it wasn't that deep but it gave them some cover. Katz was angry because he couldn't see shit. He couldn't tell where the enemy was and things were devolving into utter confusion. At that moment his walkie-talkie squawked, taking a knee so he could keep an eye on things, he got on the small radio.

"Yeah, Katz."

"Cat, take your squad out wide to the left, have your track lead, stay under cover of the vehicle, Horner's gonna go with you. We think we smoked the Krauts but L.T.'s not keen on poking our heads out until we're sure. Copy?" Katz recognized Myerson's voice on the circuit, which made him realize that Hernandez was busy.

"Copy all, out!"


Grenadier Horst Sahlfeld looked over at his sergeant, the man had been hit in the head by one of the Ami machine guns hammering their position. The sergeant was an older man, a veteran of the First War, he had been old in 1918, now he would get no older.

Horst heard the squeak of tracks and the rumble of the Ami's tanks and halftracks. He was terrified. As near as he could tell, he was the only one of his squad left. He had seen the machine gun team get destroyed by an American tank round, not long after they had opened fire. Far too early, the sergeant had turned and screamed at them, that's when the American bullet hit the top of his head, killing him instantly.

Two of the boys had jumped from the trench, throwing their Panzerfausts down as they ran. They ran perhaps five meters before they were cut down.

Horst looked down at his stomach, the blood kept welling up between his fingers, no matter how hard he pressed down on the wound. They'd taught him in their brief training to keep pressure on the wound until a Sani could treat it.

They had no Sanitäter, he had been killed yesterday by a strafing aircraft. Horst had no idea what sort of aircraft it was, though his friend Hans had assured him that it was a Spitfire. Young Willi Klingemann had insisted it was a P-47. Horst didn't know and didn't care, it had killed the Sani and two of the other boys in his platoon. Today the Amis had killed Hans and Willi.

Horst began to feel the pain of his wound now, he assumed that the shock of being hit was wearing off. He looked about, there, there was his rifle, the stock was shattered, he wondered if whatever had hit his rifle had also hit him.

Horst gasped, the pain was getting very bad now, then he felt a warmth in the crotch of his trousers, he had wet himself. He felt shame for a moment, then he felt nothing at all...


"Jesus, they're just kids, Sarge. F**king kids." Pvt. Warren Pratt was kneeling beside the trench where they had taken fire from. He looked down, a dead kid with a shattered rifle. Nearby, an older man, the top of his head gone. A bit further on, the remains of a destroyed MG 34 and what was left of its crew. Horner's high explosive round had destroyed the position.

Pratt started to stand up, but Sgt. Katz waved at him to stay down. There was a farmhouse about a hundred yards away. He was concerned about snipers. "Stay down Warren, no sense giving some Kraut sharpshooter an easy target. Looks like Stump's squad will be clearing that farmhouse, so we'll hold here."

Katz walked in a low crouch over to the rear of Horner's tank and picked up the telephone handset.

"Yeah?"

"Bob, it's Cat, you see anything from up there?"

"Nothin' Cat, looks like Stump is done clearing the farm up ahead. Any live Krauts in that trench?"

"Nope, one dead old guy and a dead kid in this end, what might have been three men, or boys, next to the MG, two dead kids away from the trench, probably trying to run away."

"Copy. All right, let's get mounted up again, Stump is signaling the all clear."

Katz looked towards the farm, yes, a man, probably Stump, was signaling.

"Okay guys, back in the track, we're not done yet."


As the American column headed on to the east, quiet settled over the fields south of Eggersheim. One old sergeant and six kids, none older than fifteen, had delayed the American advance for maybe 30 minutes, no more.

No one knew of their sacrifice, no one reported on their futile stand to higher headquarters, quite simply because there was no one left to make a report. The Party officials in the area had fled to the East the day before, after the local Party chief had ordered the small group to make its stand.

In sixty-nine days, the Third Reich will surrender.





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52 comments:

  1. I’ll bet there was a lot of that in the last couple of months. And imagine for the old sergeant to survive all that only to be killed near the very end.

    I remember the name of the British historian Dash Max Hastings Dash I read his book on the last few months of the war and one of the most feared things was Hitler youth with a panzerfaist.

    They were the most fanatical because that’s all they knew.

    Figures the party officials would have fled. Hell even Hitler abandoned his people by taking the easy way out.

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    1. Rats leaving the sinking ship.

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    2. The pampered few, trying to run somewhere, anywhere safer than the front lines. Wimps. And self-centered jerks. It's Sunday, so I won't even attempt to work around to more insulting terms.

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    3. D'ya know what sums it up, in one word?

      Politicians.

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    4. I tend to regard politicians as the natural enemy of the working man.
      Frank

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    5. Of course the Party Officials issued an order and fled. An order unworthy of being followed much less the sacrifice of lives young and old.
      Seeing parallels with our Officials forting up inside wire to keep us unwashed peasants out of our House.
      Boat Guy

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  2. This short firefight, involving boys, and the last line in this episode remind me of Lee Marvin's character when at the cessation of hostilities in WWII he repeats the same mistake he made in WWI. Gut wrenching.

    I think in the phone conversation between Bob and Katz there is an error. Shouldn't it be, 'Nothin Bob...'?

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    1. No, Bob is telling Cat that he can't see anything from his perch in the commander's hatch of the Sherman.

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    2. That phone handset, such a simple thing, saved a lot of lives. Disappeared off American tanks after the war. Quickly reappeared after the invasion of Iraq after 9/11.

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    3. Didn't they still use it in Korea?

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    4. Good grief. I see it now and it makes perfect sense. Earlier, for the life of me every time I read it, it seemed wrong. Commenting before coffee is just a bad idea.

      And yes, they were in use in Korea.

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  3. How many times did this play out on both the West and East Fronts during these last days? Sad reading hammered home all the more by that last sentence Sarge.

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    1. Over and over again. For over two months!

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    2. To be fair, it was the other side doing it in the beginning of the war, running and leaving a few men behind. And it was the Germans who were delayed minutely.

      And in the Pacific, the Japanese did the same to those they encountered.

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    3. Where was this?

      Remember, the Germans overran most of Western Europe in the space of weeks.

      In the East the men left behind became partisans, or POWs. Most died. They did delay the Germans, probably saved the Soviet Union.

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    4. 69 Days of brutal and relatively senseless killing, and/or 69 days of men and boys trying to stay alive, avoiding being killed by us, or their superiors if they don't continue fighting.

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    5. Exactly. A very brutal 69 days.

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  4. What a horrible time...You can feel the end is coming, it's near... But no telling when that will be.
    You engage the enemy, only to find you are taking out the immature and the old... Gut wrenching is right on the money.

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  5. A very sad chapter of your book. Seven dead, without effecting anything.

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  6. Hey AFSarge;

    This one was expected...almost the arrival of the "Volksturm" the "Peoples Storm" I believe, the last gasp of the 3rd Reich, where they use old men and boys to hold off the veterans of the Allies. I recall a picture of a parade showing a bunch of "Volksturm" marching in civilian clothes carrying panzerfaust and all I saw were old guys. I can't say a whole lot, if our country got invaded, I guess my old ass would be squeezing into a uniform and grabbing a rifle and going to fight again to try to stem the invasion because they were trying to save their home. It is Sad, but it would be worse to do nothing. Excellent Post

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    1. I understand the need to defend one's homeland. It is almost honorable in the case of the German people in 1945, had it not been such an evil regime over them.

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  7. Over at Bayou Renaissance Man, he has a bit about the Seventh Air Corp in the WWII PTO, and includes stories of Japanese soldiers coming out of the jungle to do construction watching (entertainment?) or a baseball game between the Seventh and some SeaBees.
    Frank

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    Replies
    1. I saw that.

      The rear areas played an important role, professionals study logistics.

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  8. They are going to regret firing that Panzerfaust, with that berm behind them.

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    1. It will require the firer to pop-up, thus making himself known. Better would have been a shallow shelter off the main trench line with the PF firer prone, then leaning up to fire.

      We see the same thing in the Middle East. Sumdoodmad fires an RPG in a small room, or with people behind him, and due to the wonders and stupidity of the internet and camera phones, 30 minutes later it's live and around the world watching that backblast kill or maim everyone.

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    2. StB - You're presuming they are facing the expected direction of enemy approach. Might be they're not.

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    3. Beans - Can't really fire a Panzerfaust prone.

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    4. (Don McCollor)...if they are firing from there, it looks like it would be at a steep down angle, with the rear raised fairly high...

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  9. In war, you do what you have to do. They were trying to protect their land, and protect what they though was their people. Sad, very sad. Problem is, if the attacker (the Americans, in this case) try to slack off their reaction next time in order not to kill kids and grandpas, that WILL result in more casualties on both sides, rather than an uneven exchange of death like the scenario above.

    Just because the enemy is almost out of fight is no reason to stop hammering the dog-squeeze out of them. The last, dying gasp, when someone shanks you, or rolls over with a live grenade, or jumps on your vehicle with explosives strapped to your body, etc, etc, is the twitchy nightmare that keeps front liners and rear liners (in active or semi-active resistance zones) awake at night.

    Really, at what point do you just shoot everything that looks vaguely human and call it good? At least, for the most part, on the Western Front, the Germans and their resistance still wore uniforms. Of course, on the Eastern Front, if you weren't wearing a Soviet uniform, you were a target.

    Sad times, followed by sad times, with sad times piled on top.

    We Americans have been rather fortunate to have avoided conflict here since the Civil War, and, really, only the South saw the destruction caused by total war, from dead bodies to destroyed cities to starvation afterwards.

    A good episode in that it evoked what you wanted it to, it spoke truly of the conditions found, and showed the day-to-day slog or sprint to the finish.

    But not a happy episode. Even though our Americans survived, still, killing kids and old guys has to wear on one's soul.

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    1. If it fights back, you kill it. Period. Full stop.

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    2. (Don McCollor)...Also watch what you point. In Gulf War 2, there was a brainless photojournalist on the wrong side of the line that popped up and started filming advancing US armor with a shoulder held video camera. Looked mighty much like an antitank missile launcher. He got hosed...

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    3. Pop-up targets tend to get engaged if they're on the wrong side of the line, regardless of what they're holding.

      Dumb move.

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    4. Beans, unfortunately, when the side has chosen war, it's all or nothing. So kids and grandfathers are tragically fair game like you've said. Back then, Generals and Colonels ran the war, now it's politicians, which just gets more of our side killed as they want to manage the optics of it.

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    5. Ah yes, managing "the optics."

      Sigh...

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  10. You had 18 year olds in in Doras with barely enough skills to take off straight and land without flipping over taking on guys with years of combat experience. It was a slaughter in the air most of 1945 til the end.

    The end of every war is ugly. Look at the Iraqi Republican guard tank battalion. And the fire bombing of Japanese cities when all they had left was kamakazi fighter ‘pilots’.

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    1. The Luftwaffe was a broken reed in '45. Pilots had far less training than was needed to survive in combat.

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    2. Broken reed: If you use a reed as a walking stick, it'll fail you, and most likely impale you. Unsuitable and dangerous. Quite the picture.

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  11. The sense of inevitability creeps on. And seven less sets of hands to rebuild after the war.

    Maybe I am getting more maudlin as I get older, but the waste of human life is appalling.

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    1. (Don McCollor)[from Woodie Guthrie's 'Reuben James']) ...."but still I wonder why
      The worst of men must fight and the best of men must die"..

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    2. Because some men are evil, something folk singers have never understood.

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  12. Replies
    1. Wasn't good to be a German teenager in 1945.

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