Tuesday, March 16, 2021



The three men were in a barnyard under a rather smelly pile of hay. The squad had moved in the night before, there were haystacks around, a pile of lumber, and the tools necessary to put together a small shelter. So they had built a makeshift structure upon which they piled hay. Obergefreiter Johann Klein had gone out some distance to see if it looked out of place.

It didn't.

Now he and two of his men, Grenadiers Egon Gerber and Bruno Schuhmacher, were under that structure manning an MG 34. As Gerber put it, "The Amis won't come anywhere near us, this haystack reeks of cow manure!"

"Smells almost as bad as you Egon." Schuhmacher quipped. Which earned the two men an abrupt, "Be still you two" from Klein.

Klein had his field glasses trained down the long lane leading to the next farmhouse to the south. Rather, what was left of the next farmhouse, all that remained was the chimney. Their squad was positioned just south of Oelinghoven, a small town east of Bonn. Their parent battalion was moving to Düsseldorf and then into the Ruhrgebiet to defend that location. They were left to delay the enemy.

They had laid up during the day, trying to rest, it had been a couple of days since they had had anything to eat. Their platoon leader, Unterfeldwebel Karl-Heinz Landau was in the village itself looking for food for them and the other men in the platoon. The remainder of their company, the 5th, commanded by Leutnant Manfred Sauer were further down the road in the next village to the north.

During the day they tried to rest, at night they marched. Moving in daylight was a death sentence as a number of men on the battalion staff had discovered two days before. They had straggled from the main body and had been caught in the open at first light. Four Royal Air Force Typhoons had spotted them.

After no more than fifteen minutes, 23 men were dead and another 30 wounded. Only twenty-four men remained from an original strength of 278. All of their vehicles had been left behind when they had managed to escape from Köln the week before. With the survivors of the 5th Company, 126 total, the 2nd Battalion of the 8th Panzergrenadier Regiment was but a shadow of its former self.

As their commander, Major Jürgen von Lüttwitz said, "I'm a major in command of a Panzergrenadier unit which moves on foot, a battalion commander leading a weak company."

His 5th Company commander, now in reality the second-in-command of the weak battalion, Leutnant Manfred Sauer, liked to remind the Major that he'd led fewer men in their escape from France. "You're good with small units Herr Major, every time you get a bigger unit, the Amis and the Tommies whittle it back down to company-size. One might gather that our enemies don't like you very much!"

As it started to get dark, the sun had set an hour before, Klein noticed movement on the road to their south. "Wake up you two clowns," he snarled at Gerber and Schuhmacher, "enemy infantry and at least one tank coming our way!"

"Wunderbar¹," muttered Gerber.

"Hey Sarge, are we just gonna walk all night?" Pfc. Bob Barton was bitching, again.

"Yeah, Barton, we march until Sarge gets tired, and Sarge never gets tired." Pfc. Zachary Beach chimed in, truth be told, his feet were killing him and finding a place to spend the night was sounding like a good idea.

"You two knuckleheads need to stow the chatter and watch your sectors." Cpl. John Bridges had come up from the trail position and surprised the two men in mid-complaint. "The Krauts are running, but they'll leave behind guys to slow us down. And by slow us down, I mean kill one or two of us, then they run. If you keep yapping, you might be  the unlucky ones."

"I see a farm house up ahead, I'm betting Sgt. Baldwin will hold up there for the night. Unless Lieutenant Gonzales wants us to keep moving. It would be just like the L.T. to press on, the kid's a hard charger, I'll bet... Shit!" Bridges saw something ahead which got his attention, movement in the farm yard ahead.

"COVER!! KRAUT MG IN THE BARNYARD!!!" Bridges was diving for the ditch as he screamed.

One of the two kids on point was slow, he stood there flatfooted with a puzzled look on his face, in that moment, multiple 7.92 mm rounds tore through his body, causing him to crumple to the ground. As he lay there sprawled in the middle of the road, his squad mates began to return fire.

The Sherman which was supporting the squad roared off the road and began to move through the adjacent farm field, its bow and coaxial machine guns spitting tracer fire in the direction of the Germans as it advanced.

An ear splitting crack pierced the dusk as a German high velocity anti-tank round screamed in and hit the Sherman's left track. The tank pivoted as the track ran off the sprocket. Sgt Francis Baldwin watched as the tank's turret rotated in the direction of the enemy fire. Too late.

The next round hit the Sherman under the gun mantlet and penetrated into the interior of the turret. Ammunition in the ready rack cooked off nearly instantaneously, blowing the turret up and off of the doomed tank. No one could have survived as the interior of the tank became a blazing inferno within seconds.

Baldwin was on his walkie talkie to his lieutenant, "L.T., Kraut MG has us pinned next to the road, Wilkinson's tank just blew itself apart, so we got a Kraut AT gun up ahead too. Can you get us some arty?"

Baldwin was trying to stay calm, he was angry that he couldn't remember the name of the kid sprawled on the road. Then he saw another one of his men spin to his right and go down. He had no idea how badly the man had been hit. As he wondered what to do next, he saw Cpl. Bridges maneuvering to the left of the road with two men. Crazy bastard's trying to flank them, he thought.

Bridges heard a chuffing sound overhead then felt the impact of a high explosive round a hundred yards to his front. Damn, the cannon cockers are close. "L.T., up 50, fire for effect!"

Two hundred yards to the rear, on a slightly raised knoll, 1st Lt. Nathaniel Gonzales was already adjusting the fire of the regimental cannon company's six 105 mm howitzers. Moments later, all six landed their rounds in and around the German farm house.

The German machine gun position was obliterated by a direct hit on their hay stack. Klein, Gerber, and Schuhmacher were gone, it was as if they had never existed. All that was left was the twisted remains of their machine gun, their shattered helmets, pieces of clothing, and one smoking boot. 

Obergefreiter Friedrich Jäger saw the artillery smash his forward position, three men gone, in the blink of an eye. He turned to his other men and said, "Let's go lads, there's nothing more we can do here."

The seven survivors of Leutnant Sauer's 1st Squad of his 2nd Platoon slipped into the gathering dark, the sounds of a burning farmhouse and a burning American tank roaring behind them.

The Stug IV which had killed the Sherman had already withdrawn to the 5th Company's rally point. The commander of that vehicle, Gefreiter Berthold Schantz, knew that there was no such thing as "one Sherman." Where there was one, there were usually nine to fifteen others nearby. Hesitate and die, his old commander had told him. He was right.

Baldwin moved up, Baby Doc had already come up and was treating Pvt. Ronnie Madden for a bad wound in the upper right arm. Madden was trembling, he was in shock.

"How is he Doc?" Baldwin knelt beside the two.

"He's gonna need treatment at battalion, I can patch him up, that's all." Pfc. Dylan Jackson shook his head, then quietly told Baldwin, "Kid's gonna lose that arm, too much tissue damage."

"Shit." Was all Baldwin could manage to say. Reluctantly he approached the body in the road. Kneeling once more, he rolled the corpse onto its back. He recognized the kid, barely. Reaching in he found the dog tags. He read the name out loud, "Herbert T. Allison."

His Army serial number, his religious preference (he was Catholic), and his blood type (O) were all there, punched into the cheap metal. The date of his tetanus toxoid shot (T44) was there, as was an address for his next of kin.

"John C. Allison
27 Pawtucket Ave.
Providence, R.I."

Allison must have died instantly, he had been hit by three, maybe four rounds, all in the chest and abdomen. The damage was extensive, oddly enough, except for the massive damage to his body, the kid looked asleep, almost peaceful. He'd have to put that in the letter to this Mr. Allison. That he died instantly, sometimes that was a comfort to the next of kin. Even if they died in agony, the letters always said that they died quick.

Baldwin removed one of the tags, walked back and handed it to Baby Doc.

"What happened?" Jackson asked, he already had a jeep with a stretcher on the way for Madden.

"When we spotted the Krauts, Bridges yelled to get to cover, kid hesitated."

"How long has he been with..."

"Yesterday, he was assigned to us yesterday. I didn't know his name until he was dead. This war is f**ked Doc, we're f**ked if the Krauts don't pack it in soon." Baldwin kept his voice down, he was seething inside. He knew the guys in the burning tank, good guys.

1st Lt. Gonzales walked up with his radioman, Pfc. Brody McCall. "Tough break, Fran."

"Yeah, L.T., coulda been worse, that MG opened up too soon. If he'd waited another five minutes, they'd have killed us all. Probably the tank made 'em nervous." Baldwin said.

"Maybe, but their own anti-tank team took care of that. They just got buck fever I suppose."


"Buck fever, haven't you ever gone deer hunting?" Gonzales asked.

"Not in Brooklyn, Sir. Not much call for it."

Gonzales sighed, "Let's clear that farm house, or what's left of it. We can bivouac there for the night. Cap'n Palminteri says he's got a hot meal coming up for us. Coffee too. Get 'em settled in Sarge. I'll have 1st and 2nd Squads take the first watch, you guys get some sleep."

"Thanks Sir, will do."

Gonzales watched Baldwin head towards the burning farm. Turning to the destroyed Sherman, he muttered, "I'll never get used to that smell. Papa was right, war is insanity writ large."

¹ Wonderful

Link to all of the Chant's fiction.


  1. Did WW2 dogtags have an address? I remember reading the book by but Anderson when he first went to Europe and flew into combat. The motto was “Do 5 and stay alive“

    I wonder how long it took for an infantryman to learn basic skills in trying to stay alive?

    1. Yes, they did. Air combat was less forgiving than ground combat, though not by much.

  2. Damn, just let this roll into VE-day...
    Another day, another young man bites the dust, another tank crew on this oro other side gets roasted....

    1. It's a long hard road to VE Day. More so in the East.

  3. Talking to your buddy when you're on point when you're supposed to be watching as you're moving.........not good. Tired men make mistakes I guess. Being left to a rearguard doesn't lead to long life either. How many times this play out, day after day? What a waste.

  4. I have smelled that smell, at house and vehicle fires.

  5. Dad mentioned a nasty accident he worked. The day after I found 1968 Plymouth Road Runner for sale and asked if he could loan me a couple hundred to buy it. I was about halfway there. He mentioned something about cooked kids. I'm thankful he made me swear not to be a peace officer.

    I guess every fire has it's signature. I've heard firemen, like Scott said, rolling towards smoke could tell from the smell. After the election, I started smelling a dumpster fire....

    1. And that dumpster fire seems to be blazing out of control now.

    2. 7.92mm x 57mm commonly called 8mm rounds.

  6. Stupid wasteful deaths from here on in. Lives snuffed out for what? Nothing?

    Advance a mile, bury a man, advance another mile, bury another man.

    Retreat a mile, bury a man, etc.

    What a poopy way to win a war.

    And, yes, the smell of human death seems so much different than other death. Same with human blood. Dunno if it's actually something different or just the psychological factor.

    1. This crew burned, a most unpleasant way to go.

    2. And a rather lingering smell no matter how much you clean up. Unless it's a really hot fire, like over 2k degrees.

  7. Typo- "multiple 7.98 mm rounds" should be 7.92mm, or if you want to use the Americanized form, simply 8mm.
    Still a sad waste.

  8. You have to wonder what gun designer would decide “this bullet diameter should be 7.92 mm“. Instead of 8 mm.

    I wonder if all of our 30 caliber bullets are exactly .3 inches in diameter or do some vary? 8 mm is 30 caliber or thereabouts.

    1. Who knows what goes on in the head of an engineer?

    2. Most "30 caliber" or 7.62mm bullets are actually .308 in diameter, which calculates to 7.82mm. There are variants that range from .306 - .312. I assume that 30 caliber, or 7.62mm, is the diameter of the bore not including the rifling. The bullet has to be larger than that, to make use of that rifling. Presumably, standard rifling depth must be about .004".

      8mm calculates to .315 in., but most 8mm bullets are actually .323 in diameter. Again, a difference of .008".

  9. And just like that, in a moment, everything changes.

    Are we still in February Sarge?

    1. No, mid-March now, we're across the Rhine and slowly expanding the bridgehead at Remagen.

      Lots of war left to go, but for some, it won't last nearly as long.

  10. Is this the first we've seen of Lt. Gonzales or did I miss something? Seems that Hispanic surnames are prominent in the leadership in this Company. That's merely an observation; nobody needs to read anything into it.
    Boat Guy

    1. This is the first time Lt. Gonzales is mentioned, though he's been with C Company for a while. 2nd Platoon has received most of the storylines to date. I wanted to feature 1st Platoon for a bit. I'm gradually getting all of C Company involved as the war winds down. Out of 271 in C Company and its attached tank platoon, 25 of the men have Hispanic/Latino names. There is even one Chinese kid in the outfit, though we haven't met him yet. These names aren't unusual in a WWII unit.

    2. Nope. Good to move around the Company. I think Jack Wilson is the longest running character. Keep up the good work, Sarge
      Boat Guy

  11. Hey Old AFSarge;

    Yep nothing like the smell of burnt armor and people. Tired people make mistakes and the new kid hesitated. normal reaction in a new situation, something that separates the FNG's from the Veterans. Unfortunately he will never make veteran status, Statistically speaking most of the casualties were in the first 30 days and the last 30 days. The first 30 because they make all the mistakes, the last 30 because they are thinking of home and not keeping their head in the game. Nibble here, and a nibble there....will be that way to the end of the war.


Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)
Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

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