Friday, February 26, 2021

The Runners


Leutnant Manfred Sauer knew that the 5th Company had fallen back over 35 kilometers since the Battle of Kreuzau and was now bivouacked in the vicinity of Rheinbach, some 16 kilometers southwest of Bonn. The map in front of him told him that. The orders he held in his hands directed his unit to continue to fall back to the eastern side of the Rhine, 5th Company was to cross the bridge at Remagen and report to the area commander. If Sauer could figure out who that might be.

The command situation around Remagen, especially concerning the all important Ludendorff Bridge, was very confused. The place was nominally the responsibility of the Replacement Army, currently commanded by Heinrich Himmler. But the Field Army was now also responsible for commanding the soldiers who would actually defend the bridge.

In addition to all of that, the engineers on site, preparing the bridge for demolition, came under a completely different chain of command. As did the anti-aircraft gunners on the heights above the bridge. Sauer had no desire to place his men in that confusing arrangement. His plan was to get across the bridge then move north to the vicinity of Köln where the rest of the 3rd Panzergrenadier Division was preparing to defend that city. Which meant that they would have to cross the Rhine at Remagen, hurry north, then cross again to the western side of the river at Köln.

As he was pondering that situation, a military motorcycle with sidecar pulled up nearby, right behind that was an Opel Blitz Lkw. The motorcycle belonged to the Feldgendarmerie, the Waffen SS Feldgendarmerie. To say that made him nervous would be a huge understatement.

"Herr Leutnant, do you know why the Kettenhunde are here?" Hauptfeldwebel Klaus-Peter Keller had come up from the quartermaster's area and noticed the Feldgendarmerie.

"I don't know Spieß, they just pulled up." Sauer replied. He and Keller watched as the two men from the motorcycle-sidecar combination went to the back of the Opel.

Another Feldgendarmerie jumped down from the truck, followed by three soldiers in chains.

"Aren't those men from 4th Platoon?" Keller asked.

"I think they are, I think they were on Unteroffizier Böhm's crew. He came back alone, with his vehicle, said his three crewmen ran when the Ami artillery started hitting." Sauer turned and looked back into the ruined building he was using as a headquarters.

"Schottenstein! Run down to 4th Platoon and bring Unteroffizier Böhm back with you!"

"Jawohl Herr Leutnant!" Grenadier Ernst Schottenstein started his big Zündapp motorcycle and headed down to where 4th Platoon was camped, some 500 meters away.

At that moment the three SS men walked up to Sauer along with their prisoners. "Are you Sauer?" The senior man, an SS Oberscharführer¹, asked Sauer arrogantly.

Sauer stood up, adjusted his tunic, then said, "You will address me properly, Oberscharführer, or I will have you up on charges."

The SS man looked around, then shrugged, "If it makes you happy. Are you Leutnant Manfred Sauer, commanding officer of the 5th Company of the 8th Panzergrenadier Regiment?"

"I am, who might you be?" Sauer asked.

"Who I am is irrelevant, Leutnant, I ..."

"Hauptfeldwebel Keller, is your weapon loaded?" Sauer interrupted the SS man.

"It is Herr Leutnant." Keller said this as he unslung his MP 40 and pulled the bolt out of its safety rest then let it slide forward. The weapon was ready to fire and Keller held it casually, pointed down and to the right of the three SS man. Not pointing directly at them, but he could have the weapon on target in an instant.

"Are you..." the SS man started to speak.

"I suggest that you state your business, we, unlike you, have a war to fight. You are interrupting that activity. Keller?"

"Yes Sir?"

"If any of these men shows me the slightest bit of disrespect, shoot them. All three of them. I am tired of these rear area bastards."

The senior SS man flushed when he heard that, Oberscharführer Willi Heinrich was a thorough coward. He had been a policeman before the war and had jumped at the chance to join the Waffen SS Feldgendarmerie, he might be near the front at times, but never at the front. He was a bully as well, he backed down quickly when he saw the combat decorations on the army sergeant's tunic. The look in Keller's eyes also cowed the man. Keller didn't enjoy killing, but he was good at it, and it showed.

"Um, sorry if we got off on the wrong foot, Herr Leutnant. We have three of your men, suspected deserters, we would have hanged them ourselves, but we have other business to attend to. If you will sign these forms acknowledging receipt of the prisoners, then we'll be on our way."

Sauer looked at the SS man for a moment, then said, "Get those chains off my men. Now."

The quiet way he said it made the SS men nervous, they complied immediately.

"One more thing, hand your pay books to me so that I might record your names for my report."

"Sir?" The Oberscharführer asked nervously.

"Are you deaf Oberscharführer, perhaps you don't speak German very well. Are you a Hiwi², perhaps recruited in the East? I recognize your type." Sauer spoke with a great deal of disdain in his voice.

"Sir? Uh, no Sir, I am Volksdeutsche, yes, my people are Siebenbürger Sachsen from Großschenk in Rumänien³. I have served since..." the Oberscharführer managed to stammer out most of his story.

"That's quite enough Oberscharführer. Your pay books?"

As the SS men were handing over their pay books so that Sauer could record their names, and their unit, Schottenstein came roaring up on his Zündapp, Unteroffizier Böhm riding on the pillion. When he saw his three men, being divested of their chains, he hopped off the machine and bellowed, "Where have you three idiots been?! Did you stupid bastards get lost again?!?!"

Sauer tried to hide his amusement, but Böhm's bellowing seemed to unsettle the three Feldgendarmerie even more than Keller's machine pistol.

"Kühn, Wagner, Meier, I have already written your dear mothers to tell them that you were missing in action. Thank God you have returned to us. I told you idiot Silesians not to wander too far from the bivouac! You don't know the west, do you?" Böhm was putting on quite a show.

With an exaggerated Hitler salute, Böhm addressed the senior SS man, "Thank you Oberscharführer for returning my boys to the ranks, we have been short-handed since they were separated from the unit outside Kreuzau. Nasty Ami artillery bombardment and the poor lads no doubt got lost in the Drover Heide. Where did you find them?"

"They were..."

"Ah, that's not important, you boys go wait over there, we'll get you fed and cleaned up momentarily. Again, thank you Oberscharführer. Heil Hitler!" With another exaggerated salute Böhm turned to his men.

Sauer handed the pay books back to the Oberscharführer and said, "Yes, thank you. You are dismissed. I shall be having a word with your commander."

"But Sir..."

"Dismissed Oberscharführer. This is a Panzergrenadier unit, I could confiscate your vehicles, for the good of the Reich of course, but I am feeling generous today. But if you linger in the area..."

Sauer could tell that the SS men were furious and embarrassed, but they were also outnumbered and outgunned, a number of men from 5th Company had gathered around to see what all the commotion was about.

"Sir, Heil Hitler! We shall be off then." The SS men returned to their vehicles and headed away from the bivouac with some alacrity.

Sauer turned to Böhm, "I expect you shall come up with some creative, and educational, punishment for these three miscreants?"

"Jawohl, Herr Leutnant!" Böhm barked. "Count on it."

Turning to the three wayward grenadiers, Sauer said, "As for you men, if you ever abandon your comrades and your unit again, I shall shoot you myself. Is that clear?"

Grenadiers Klaus-Peter Kühn, Jochen Wagner, and Lukas Meier all snapped to attention and bellowed, nearly in unison, "JAWOHL, HERR LEUTNANT!!"

"Dismissed. Schottenstein, take Böhm back to his platoon, have these three men run behind you. At speed, Ernst, at speed." Sauer nodded towards 4th Platoon's bivouac.

"With pleasure, Herr Leutnant."

Sauer watched as the three miscreants ran down the road after the motorcycle-sidecar combination. Turning to Keller, "Have someone keep an eye on those boys, once a runner..."

"Jawohl, Herr Leutnant. I think they may need the Sani in the morning. Their platoon mates may take umbrage at their lack of attention to their duties." Keller said.

"Yes, I suppose so Spieß. No broken bones, mind you. I want them fit for duty."

"Understood Sir. If I may?"

"Dismissed, Klaus-Peter. You old rogue."

"Aber natürlich, Herr Leutnant."

Tomorrow they would be moving again, he could not spare a single man, but Manfred Sauer was resolved, if they ran again, he would shoot them.

¹ Equivalent to an American Sergeant First Class.
² Hiwi, short for Hilfswilliger, auxiliary volunteer, typically from the Soviet Union.
³ The man is an ethnic German, from Transylvania, specifically Großschenk (Cincu) in Romania. Siebenbürger is the German word for Transylvania.

Link to all of The Chant's fiction.


  1. Seven mountains region? Keep them alive, Manfred, keep them alive.

  2. Yet another great vignette, Sarge. A moment in time and place illustrative of both as well as Manfred's ability to seize the initiatve.
    Tried to thank you for including the Graves Registration men/ function but the comment machine dumped both yesterday.
    Boat Guy

    1. The comment machine will occasionally scream, "Off with their heads!" And comments vanish, never to be seen again.

    2. Heck, the Comments Machine's bigger brother, the Blog Page Machine, will throw an occasional post out the window into a chipper shredder connected to a hog farm connected to a chicken ranch connected to an organic farming co-op, thus no slip or nip of said post to ever be seen again.

      DAMHIK! Dagnabit!

  3. Was that command structure around the bridge invented by Rube Goldberg?
    Name that chicken Fuster and let it cluck...

    1. Likely a stew of High Command incompetence, fear of contradicting Der Fuhrer's magnificent strategic vision, and Himmler's sinister empire-building. (It's remarkable to read accounts by Ryan, Beevor, etc. of the last several months of the Nazi regime, with all of those dynamics continually crashing into one another.)

    2. Frank - Many folks think that the Third Reich was this efficient, well-oiled machine, but it's command structures were, as you say, very Rube Goldberg-ish. Hitler believed in divide and conquer, most dictators know that they live on the edge, keep your followers at each other's throats and they're easier to rule. Also, the Ludendorff Bridge was on the boundary of competing interests. Made for a gigantic chicken named Fuster. (Well put, by the way.)

    3. Well, not to point fingers, but the command structure behind the US lines was a mixture of various commands, petty tyrants, confused officers, even more confused men, downright unconfused and criminalistic officers and men, along with various countries' representatives and the Red Cross and and and and.

      Gee, you have the fighting people mixed in with the logistics people mixed in with the artillery people mixed in with the repair people mixed in with the front-line aviation people (who are busy building a fighter/bomber base 30 miles behind the lines) mixed in with the construction people mixed in with the occasional Navy unit and...

      And that's in one 'Command' area. Just imagine how screwed up it is on the division lines between two 'command' areas.

      Nothing is as more confusing to anyone when trying to parse out who's actually commanding whom.

      Like my beloved Kwajalein... An Army Base to catch Air Force warheads while a secret squirrel Naval attachment picks up said warheads. Who's in charge? The Base Commander? The Naval Commander? The Air Force Liaison Officer? The Native delegation? The Officers' Wives Club? The E-4 Mafia? The command/control lines got blurry sometimes, with the AF LO being able to effectively 'command' the Army Colonel while on deck of 'his' (the AF LO's) mini-submarine tender...'

    4. Our side wasn't nearly as convoluted as the Germans in the closing stages of the war.

    5. We weren't losing.

      And in the beginning of the War, confusion reigned supreme amongst our militaries.

    6. (Don McCollor)...Dan Galley noted that early in the war in Iceland, he had FIVE bosses (2 USN, 1 RN, 1 US Army, and 1 RAF) exercising a little judicious stupidity, he got them debating about their respective prerogatives, and they finally let him write his own ticket...

    7. Play them off against each other, I like it.

  4. Not quite what the SS thought was going to happen, REMFs don't cower some front-line troops like they were used to. Sauer has a backbone.

    1. I've tried to keep him an honest, though sometimes ruthless, kind of soldier.

    2. Eh. Pig farming was good training. You don't turn your back on pigs. Or SS REMFs.

    3. Nylon, I too liked the backbone Sauer showed against those SS guys. Not being a big WWII era reader, my familiarity with them comes only from the movies. And from that, they seemed arrogant, as Sarge depicts here, but also unwavering in that arrogance, putting others on their heels. Good to see that isn't always the case.

    4. Sauer won't take nonsense from anyone.

  5. Great story, Sarge! One technical nit... the MP-40 fires from an open bolt, so when Keller slides the bolt out of the safety notch it would not chamber a round.

    1. Two good videos on the MP40 and MP38. Ian McCollum's video channel is a good resource for a lot of weapons from WWII and elsewhere

      Sarge, I do believe you don't tolerate fools, especially REMF types and bullies, gladly. Good on ya!

    2. Pogue! Long time no see/hear! Yes, how did I miss that? I fixed it.

      I know about the MP-40s open bolt, just my mind fell between two types of firing mechanisms, open and closed bolt. Take the bolt out of the safety rest, it slides part of the way forward. Pull the trigger it goes the rest of the way, chambering a round, then firing it. Bolt slides back to the open position, then it's ready to do it again.


    3. Tom - I like that guy's videos. Good stuff. I often watch them just to remember what the weapons sounded like.

      I don't really tolerate those types, met too many in my own service. Once I made Master Sergeant I was an unholy terror to those types.

  6. Enjoyable story. Harsh times. I wonder if anything like that really played out. Everything I've read seems to indicate those REMFs were feared. But a real lion is hard to hide.

    MP 40 animation:

    1. The Feldgendarmerie were not loved by the front line troops. But when they ventured into an area with lots of combat troops, they had to be careful. The grunts outnumber them and have more guns. All it took was someone to stand up to them.

      Whether or not those SS men report on Sauer's behavior, I don't know. But I'm also pretty sure that Sauer will remain with his men to the bitter end.

  7. I like Sauer. Good man. Not a zealot but dedicated to his duty. He and the Major are cut from the same cloth.

    1. They are, it's been interesting watching these characters develop.

  8. I love when officious minions get their @$$e$ handed to them.


  9. I like Sauer more and more. If I were an American soldier during that time right after the war I’d buy the guy a drink.

    And I was just wondering how many poor German soldiers were not really deserting but just in the wrong place at the wrong time and hung? Lost and separated from their units?

    1. Sometimes kids would just panic and get separated from their units.

  10. Wonder why the SS dudes didn't shoot the runners themselves. Or turn them over to a punishment battalion. Hmmm.

    Oh well, at least they'll (the runners) will atone for their sins in a physical way. Maybe they'll remember the rule of deserters, turn your back and start running and both sides will cut you down.

    Good story. Sauer is being loyal to his unit and to his people while also contemplating the collapse of the Nazi regime. Will be interesting to see if Sauer's is one of those Heer units used post-war to ferret out and actually fight the hardliners (mostly SS) who wouldn't give up.

    1. Beans, I like the way you think. What a great plot for the 'occupation' part of the Epic in your last sentence!.

    2. Beans - Bottom line is that they were ordered to turn them over to their unit. As the war wound down, those niceties were often ignored.

  11. Thank you for another great, "engrossing" chapter

  12. Replies
    1. No, seems like I should. I had a peek over at Amazon. Looks like an excellent read!

  13. Sarge, this may be one of my favorite installments yet. Bullies exist in every organization and the come uppance, when it happens, is always delightful.

    I also like the image of them running at speed.

    Your writing makes them so very human - regrettable that the Nazi Regime rose to power and this is how things ended. They seem like the sort of folks that, given another set of circumstances and an actual moral leadership, we could have done so much with.

    1. Moral leadership, quite a concept Toirdhealbheach Beucail!

    2. I am an idealist. It is a bit of a failing, in the modern era...

  14. There was that time towards the end of the war an American unit and a Heer unit joined to fight the SS at that castle...

    1. Yes, I've heard that story, I need to track that down!

  15. A small correction? "Leutnant Manfred Sauer knew that the 5th Company has fallen back over 35 kilometers.. Had fallen?

    1. Yup, got my tenses crossed. I wrote it one way, didn't like it, changed it, except that.

      Good eye.


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