Saturday, February 27, 2021

The Rhine in Sight!

5th Company had spent the night on the road, Leutnant Manfred Sauer sat in the back of his Kübelwagen, desperately trying to stay awake. Grenadier Peter Meyer was driving, the Spieß, Hauptfeldwebel Klaus-Peter Keller, was sitting behind the driver, snoring loudly, and Grenadier Christof Schmidt, Sauer's radio man, was sitting up front, his newly issued Stg 44 at the ready.

Leading the column was a motorcycle-sidecar combination, behind that was one of the surviving Drillings, then Sauer's Kübelwagen. Behind them was a long column of halftracks and other combat vehicles. Twenty-three vehicles and 127 men, though the 5th had failed outside Kreuzau, the men were still game. Even the three men returned by the Feldgendarmerie, the grapevine had it that two of those men were sporting black eyes now, one had a split lip and a nasty bruise across his abdomen.

Their commander, Unteroffizier Michael Böhm, also had a split lip, it seemed that one of the miscreants had accused Böhm of hiding behind his rank. Grenadier Jochen Wagner, a big farm boy, had been the one doing the accusing. Böhm had taken Wagner out behind the vehicle park, sans epaulettes, and the two had beaten the stuffing out of each other. Wagner was the one with the abdominal bruising, seems Böhm had connected with a well-placed knee, ending the fight.

But that was in the past, the future lay before them and Sauer faced it with some trepidation. Those SS men may or may not have reported his actions to their command, if they had, he could expect repercussions. Keller had told him not to worry about it, but he had also advised, "Stay close to the unit, Sir. Don't go anywhere without an armed escort."

"You mean a babysitter, right Klaus-Peter?" Sauer had asked.

"If you want to view it that way fine, but you know damn well what I mean, Sir." Keller nearly snapped at his commander. The Spieß was more in tune with what was happening throughout Germany. The Sicherheitsdienst, the SS, and the Gestapo were on the prowl looking for deserters, defeatists, and those who were simply tired of the war. He had had a letter from an old friend in the East, drum head courts martial were roaming the land in front of the Russian advance. Many a disgruntled soldier (and civilian) were simply hung from the nearest tree with a placard hanging from their neck proclaiming them a traitor. One could not be too careful these days.

"Sir, some commotion up ahead!" Meyer announced from the driver's seat.

"Feldgendarmerie? A check point?" Sauer was trying to see ahead, but he was so tired that he was having trouble clearing his eyes.

Meyer turned around and said, "A checkpoint of sorts. Two Panther tanks, infantry in halftracks, not sure what's going on."

A moment later Schmidt, who had been monitoring the radio, noticed someone familiar up ahead. "Sir! Isn't that Major von Lüttwitz?"


"These Kraut cigarettes are terrible." Sgt. Woodrow Sherman, Woody to his platoon mates, took one more drag from the German cigarette, then tossed it away into the snow.

"Yeah Sarge, only one thing worse than a Kraut cigarette," Pvt. Larry Kelley offered, "no cigarettes at all!"

Both men chuckled then looked up as their platoon sergeant walked up to them. "What are you jokers up to? Woody, are you teaching the new guys bad habits?"

"Yeah Top, killin' Krauts then smoking their cigarettes. Can't wait to get to a town, we'll take their women next!" Sherman chuckled.

"Be careful with that Woody. Command has issued no fraternization orders. So there will be no German women for us." S/Sgt Jack Wilson shook his finger at Sherman. "Besides which, you remember those guys who had leave in Paris?"

"Yeah, point taken, Top."

"What happened to the guys who had leave in Paris, Sgt. Sherman?" Kelley asked. He was an 18-year old ranch hand from Montana, joining the Army was the first time he'd ever left his home state. He was pretty naive.

"Let's just say, that it hurt them to piss for quite a while." Sherman half-explained.

"Huh? What do you mean?" Kelley didn't get it.

"Venereal disease, Kelly, gonorrhea, the clap. You get it from having relations with women of low repute." Wilson explained.

"Well, dang, that just won't do, Top, I ain't never going to Paris then. My Daisy wouldn't like that no how!" Kelley said.

"Who's Daisy?" Sherman wanted to know.

"Well, she's my gal back home. We're gonna get married some day." Kelley explained.

Before anyone could continue on that topic, 2nd Lt. Stephen Hernandez, commander of 2nd Platoon, walked up with a stack of mail.

"Hey, Woody, pass these out to the headquarters section, there's a couple in there for you I saw. You too, Top." Before Pvt. Kelley could ask, Hernandez continued, "Sorry Private, didn't see your name on any of the letters. I'm sure you'll get something soon."

As Sherman and Kelley went off to distribute the mail, Hernandez held up a letter. "It's from Nate."

Wilson perked up at that, "Have you read it yet, Sir?"

"Yes, seems he's healing up very nicely. So nicely that he's staying in theater. He won't be returning to a combat unit anytime soon, but he's working at First Army HQ." Hernandez explained.

"Damn, too bad he can't go home. First Army, then he won't be far will he?" Wilson wanted to see his old lieutenant, now he might get that chance.

"Nate also says, off the record of course, that we're going back to VII Corps, probably next week." The 1st Infantry Division had been a part of VII Corps since July of '44, then they had been chopped to V Corps when the Germans had attacked in December.

"Geez, L.T., VII to V, back to VII, back to V, then to XVIII Airborne Corps, then to III, now back to VII Corps. Crazy! Probably keeps the paper pushers at HQ busy." Wilson scoffed.

"Well, they need a job too, can't expect them to come out here and fight Krauts, do ya?" Hernandez said with a grin.

"Yes Sir, nasty job shuffling all that paper, but someone's gotta do it!"


Sauer couldn't believe his eyes, it was the Major. Immediately a big grin broke out on his face. The Major was dressed in his best uniform and was talking to an infantryman and one of the tank crewmen.

"Herr Major! How are you, Sir! 5th Company reporting for duty!" Sauer was out of the Kübelwagen even before it had stopped rolling.

Major Jürgen von Lüttwitz, arm no longer in a sling, turned and smiled at Sauer. "It's about time Leutnant, I was expecting you yesterday!"

The men von Lüttwitz had been talking to looked on in wonder as the two men shared a handshake and slapped each other on the shoulder. The tanker had never seen such a thing. Of course, he was a very young Leutnant, he had just turned 19, and this was his first field assignment. He commanded the two Panthers parked at the roadside.

"Manfred, I'd like you to meet Leutnant Ralf Heinrich and Oberfeldwebel Georg Eichmann. Ralf commands these two lovely machines you see behind me, Georg commands two platoons of the 6th Company. All, I might add, that is left of the 6th Company. One hundred good men in a collection of broken down halftracks which his men somehow managed to keep running."

Sauer shook hands with the two men, then the Oberfeldwebel's eyes took on a look of understanding, "Ah, you're that Sauer. The man who crossed France with the Major here."

Sauer blushed, "Well, yes, I am that Sauer. I just followed my leader, nothing more."

"Nonsense Manfred, we did it together, along with five other fine men, all dead now I'm afraid. But we have planning to do, we must be across the Rhine tonight and in Köln by morning. You haven't run afoul of any more Kopfjäger¹ have you Manfred?" How von Lüttwitz knew about that alarmed Sauer, he didn't think the word would spread so fast.

"No Sir, I've been behaving."

"Good, now follow me gentlemen, we have to figure out how to get where the Army wants us. Keller, you old bandit, have the 5th take this road," he pointed to the south, "you'll find a stand of trees where you can hide. Make sure you leave nothing in the open. The Jabos have been busy."

Keller waved to the Major and yelled back, "Very good Herr Major! Do the other pirates know where you are?"

"Most certainly not!"

As the 5th Company sought their bivouac area, the men of 6th Company with the two attached tanks began to cover their vehicles with netting to which they attached branches and other natural matter to break up the outline.

They had just finished when a flight of American B-26 Marauders boomed past over their heads. It was going to be a long day, the sun was shining, the clouds were few and far between.

Though it was beginning to feel like Spring, death still haunted the skies over the front.

¹ Headhunter, a German Army slang term for the SS Feldgendarmerie.

Link to all of The Chant's fiction.


  1. Thanks once more, Sarge! Update from Paddock and von L returns. Understood the "Kopfjager" term but hadn't encountered it -more good research. I'm sure having enemies on all sides and above sucked -with those behind you being the worst; one thing to take a .30 Rifle bullet, but to be summarily hanged is a bad way to go out.
    I'm guessing some of our own folks these days will be able to empathize with Manfred, sorry to say.
    Boat Guy

  2. Now Manfred has Judged to lean on, helping him keep his guys alive!

  3. Seems that breed of nasty is running around the US now... Kopfjäger Karen.

    Very good stuff, good prep.

    That guy with the brand new carbine doesn't have much finger nail. That bugs me. Its..... unnatural. Looks weird.

  4. If those two were a bit dishevelled, you'd have Willie and Joe :)

  5. Hey Old AFSarge;

    Good leadup and the "Miscreants" were handled well, and the officer and enlisted fighting was an occasional thing until the 1970's where they "settled their differences" I Heard about it from the "Old Army" but never saw it or heard of it when I was in the mid 80's to the early 90's. I guess times had changed. The Interaction between Sauer and Von Luttwitz was genuine and showed the bonds of comraderies forged in battle. I loved the comments about the Kraut Cigarettes, it showed that the Germans were having to make "Ersatz" Tobacco, because they couldn't get hardly any real stuff, wait until the GI's try to drink the "Ersatz" coffee the Germans were having to drink at the end of the war, mostly acorns and chickory I think...Vile as I understand it and it shows the little touch of good research and of course the VD thing and the "No Fraternalization policy and that continued into postwar Germany, I think they lifted that policy in 1949 officially when we shifted away from "Occupation Army" to Germany becoming an "Ally" against the Soviet Union and joined NATO in 1954.

    1. Pretty much everything in Germany at that point was Ersatz.

    2. Except hunger and death. Both of those were very real. Sadly.

  6. Only two left of the retreating Germans? Man. Time has not been good to them. I know the Germans have been dropping like flies, but just one simple statement makes it all 'real' if you know what I mean.

    Koln. Seem to remember bitter fighting going on there late war. Dangit.

    As to our American friends, makes you wonder how anyone kept track of where they were to give them mail, the way they've been shuffled around and reassigned. Must have been a nightmare trying to keep track of who is where and where is whom and such. Considering how difficult it is today in the day of the computer.

    Excellent foreshadowing of further combat and loss, by the way.

    And, from watching movies, the guy who mentions getting married? Gets it. Mentions getting married and mail comes? Dear Johned, and then goes despondent and gets it.

    Spring. In the air. Blech. Yellow all over my van. My nose feels like a family of gophers is stuffed up there. Can't imagine what it was like in '45. After a bitter-arse winter, for things to get warm and wet and melty. Not being able to bathe regularly or get clean uniforms must have sucked for both sides. Fleas, crabs and other parasites running rampant. Again, Blech.

    1. Well, with the Panther, mechanical breakdowns, lack of fuel, aerial attacks, there were any number of things which gave Panther platoons really bad days.

    2. Maybe, OAFS can keep Pvt. Kelly alive and he can get back to Daisy. You are right about the mail but they did a marvelous job without computers and maybe even better.

    3. If I had taken out her picture to show everyone it would have been a death sentence. I've seen enough of the old movies. And where is the guy with false teeth and the other one with big feet? I'm expecting them to show up. That's fer dang sure.

    4. BillB - Only time will tell if Pvt. Kelley makes it home.

    5. Unknown - I'm trying to avoid Hollywood clichés. Little vignettes like the one with Pvt. Kelley are from my own experiences.

    6. You can for now, but you might have to write them in when 20th Century Fox comes calling!

    7. Hahaha!

      I'll hold out for a good director!

  7. Those 2 GIs smoking look like Willie and Joe!

  8. Sarge, those pictures match the story perfectly. Serendipity, or did the photos write the story?

    Happy, given everything going on, the Major and the Leutnant were able to meet again.

    1. Serendipity this time. Sometimes I'll find a picture and part of the story will come from that. Like the one of the German casualty in the wreck of his halftrack the other day.

    2. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful thought if your muse contacted the subjects in those pictures to give you your inspiration? Of course who can tell?

    3. The men in those photos do inspire me, I try to honor their sacrifices, their memory.

  9. The last batch of mail mom and the kids wrote to dad in VN followed him from there to Japan to Okinawa to Japan to Spain and back to Okinawa before finally catching up to him in Sandy Eggo. By then the homemade cookies and fudge had been tossed or eaten by someone.

    Sarge, why come Sauer is still a LT?
    (After a weeks long interlude, I am finally up to date on this riveting tale which I did miss reading.)

    1. The system is breaking down, promotions aren't happening, decorations aren't being awarded out in the field, I doubt the men are even receiving their pay at this point. But who knows, von Lüttwitz is back, so there will be opportunities.


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