Friday, March 5, 2021

Death from Above


2nd Lt. Stephen Hernandez was down on one knee with his NCOs standing around him. He had a map spread out on the ground and was using a stick as a pointer.

"Right here is where Fox got in trouble. Not sure why 2nd Battalion decided to try the old 'hey diddle diddle straight up the middle' play, but they did. Their dogfaces and their attached tankers paid the price, a heavy one. Major Josephson isn't having any of that. He wants to finesse this position. Hell, we're within ten miles of the Rhine and Cologne. So here's the plan..."

"L.T., are we sure those red lines are the Kraut positions?" Sgt Stump Gentile asked.

"No, Stump, it's the S2's best guess. According to him, some of those positions might just be a couple of Hitler Youth with panzerfausts."

"Kinda like Eggersheim, huh?" Sgt Melvin Katz chimed in.

"Yes, but that's what Fox Company thought as well. Then they got hit by Kraut tanks."

"Tigers?" Sgt. Woody Sherman asked.

"Nope, 75 mm guns at best. Whatever they were, they relocated. We've had an artillery spotter bird up all morning trying to spot them. They may have fallen back into Cologne, they may be on the approaches. We just don't know." Hernandez explained.

"While Able and Baker make a lot of noise on this highway paralleling the Kraut lines, we're going to be sneaking. Just us and the tanks. The terrain near Knapsack is kinda broken and rolling, should keep us out of sight of any Kraut guns, they'll be sighted to cover the roads."

"We hope..." Sgt. Enrique Cruz offered.

"Yeah, there it is, we hope. Questions?"


"The name of the town is Knapsack, seriously?" Woody Sherman was known for his slightly irreverent attitude towards most things. He often blurted out what everyone else was thinking.

"Well, Woody, in German the 'k' is pronounced, so the name of the town is 'kuh-nap-zack,' I don't know if the town and the thing you carry your stuff in are related." Sgt. Melvin Katz, a native German speaker from Austria, explained.

"Huh, that's interesting." Sherman said. Nobody else really agreed with him.

Overhead the sound of a small propeller plane could be heard. Hernandez looked up, then checked his watch. "Right on time..."


1st Lt. Herb McGee loved to fly. He had wanted to fly fighters, but he wound up flying the little Grasshopper observation planes and, as it turned out, he loved it. The weather was gorgeous today, CAVU¹ as pilots liked to say. It was a great day to be aloft.

The weather had been nasty the past few days which had kept him on the ground. While he could go up with a low ceiling that would keep a fighter pilot grounded, the past few days had seen a nasty ground fog and very low ceilings. As the weather got warmer, the snow melted. All of that moisture had to go somewhere.

But that was yesterday, today he was hunting for Germans, especially their tanks. An infantry company had been chewed up a couple of days ago by German armor. There was another advance planned for today, a feint by two companies to draw the Germans' attention with the main attack sneaking in through a potential back door.

He was ready to call in artillery on any targets, real or suspected. As he banked the small aircraft to fly over the area he was supposed to cover, he had an "ah shit" moment. He was being engaged.


Unteroffizier Thorben Haas had stepped into the woods to relieve himself. He heard the drone of an Ami spotter plane and quickly tried to finish his business. He had just finished buttoning his trousers when he heard the guns on his Drilling begin to fire. He sprinted back to his vehicle.

"Bist du doof Mensch?²" Haas screamed at Grenadier Lars Jung who was behind the triple-mounted 2.0 cm cannon, hammering away at the small aircraft flying nearby. He was missing badly.

"Michael, get the engine started! We need to move!!"

As the crew scrambled to obey their vehicle commander, Haas heard the distant thump of artillery being fired.

"Sonsabitches!!" McGee yelled as he jerked the aircraft nearly into a stall. Regaining control he was on his radio, calling in a fire mission. What were those square heads thinking opening fire on little old me, he thought. Perhaps they hoped to get lucky and kill him before he could call in the artillery. They nearly did, good thing whoever was shooting was a terrible shot.

The SdKfz 251/21 had moved no more than a few meters when American artillery began impacting all around the position. The third round hit very close to the vehicle, nearly flipping it over. Grenadier Michael Ludwig managed to turn the vehicle in such a way as to right it. But the near miss sent shrapnel into the crew compartment, wounding the loader, Grenadier Tobias Stein and killing Jung outright. Jung's body had protected Haas from being hit.

"Michael! Faster, faster!" Haas screamed at his driver.

Ludwig didn't answer, he just put his head down and drove as fast as the vehicle could go. Artillery rounds were still coming in, but they were falling behind them. It looked like they might survive. Except for poor Jung of course. He'd brought down the fire from the Heavens on them, but only he had been chosen by the Valkyrie to travel to Valhalla. The others were spared, for now.

As McGee banked around to correct the artillery, he could see at least two vehicles moving away from the artillery impact zone, at the same time, he heard his engine start to sputter. Damn it, he thought, the Krauts didn't miss after all.

Checking his gauges, he could see that he was losing fuel at a rapid rate. He decided to turn for home, these little Pipers had a nice glide ratio, from his altitude, and his field being just behind the lines, he figured he could just make it. Patch up the damage, refuel and he could be back on station in less than an hour.

Provided of course it was a simple hole in the fuel tank or a damaged fuel line!

Hernandez looked at his watch as he watched the spotter plane move away. "Well, there goes our artillery spotter. Sounds like he's having engine trouble. I guess we're on our own for now."

"Why's he leaving L.T.?" Sherman asked.

"Probably took some damage when those Krauts opened up on him. The good news is that we know the Krauts are further north of where we're going."

"The bad news?" Cpl. John Myerson asked.

"Well, no aerial spotter for one thing. For another we're advancing into the unknown, so we have to move slower." Hernandez decided that he'd wait another hour before moving. Able and Baker companies hadn't started their demonstration yet anyway.

S/Sgt Wilson said, "I guess nobody in Able or Baker can tell time."

"Don't be too critical of 'em, Top. We don't know what they're dealing with."

"Geez, you got lucky lieutenant. Looks like a cannon shell from a 20 went right through your fuel tank. Didn't you hear anything?" Sgt. Curtis Wilson was amazed that the plane had come back at all.

"I was a little busy Curt, what with cannon shells whizzing by and trying to call in artillery to kill the guys who were trying to kill me." McGee said. "I guess I was lucky the shell didn't explode."

"Lucky, yeah, that's one way of putting it."

"How long to patch that up?"

"Gimme an hour, Sir. We'll have you ready to get back out there in an hour, 90 minutes tops. Provided the weather holds."

"What? It's beautiful today, not a cloud in the sky."

"Fast moving front according to the weather guessers. Could be here in a couple of hours. Snow squalls, high winds..."

"Just get her fixed Curt. We'll deal with the weather when we have to."

"Roger that, Lieutenant!"

Once they had cleared the artillery impact zone, Haas ordered Ludwig to stop. He then checked Stein's wound. It wasn't too bad, but he was bleeding a lot from his side. Once he'd managed to control the bleeding, he patted Stein on the shoulder. He hoped the Sani's wouldn't scream at him for using a wad of oily rags to bind up the wound. He asked Stein how he felt.

"I'm okay, Unteroffizier. It hurts a bit when I breathe but..." 

"Probably a cracked rib, that should get you out of combat for a while." Haas observed.

The poor kid had gone missing outside of Kreuzau during that debacle. The Feldgendarmerie found him wandering in the Drover Heide, weeping and yelling for his comrades. He was lucky that the men who picked him up were veterans of the Eastern Front, they knew the difference between combat fatigue and cowardice. Not all did.

They'd kept him at the small inn they were using as a headquarters on the outskirts of Köln, it was one of the few buildings still standing that was relatively undamaged. After a few days they had brought him back to his unit, they would have done so sooner but they were busy rounding up real deserters. Haas had been happy to see the kid, he was a good lad, industrious and cheerful.

Now, if he could be sent to the rear in an expeditious manner, he might survive this war.

"L.T., it's the Cap'n." Cpl. Myerson announced as he handed the radio handset to Hernandez. After a few moments, the lieutenant handed the handset back.

"Get with the NCOs, orders group in 30 minutes. Our diversion has been postponed, now the Cap'n wants 2nd Platoon to infiltrate tonight. Once we're in position, we radio back, then the show starts. While Able and Baker demonstrate, the rest of Charlie moves in behind us."

"Arty is to lay a barrage on Gleuel at 2200. Then we go in guns blazing. We're the pathfinders tonight, no vehicles, we go in on foot."

"No tanks?" Myerson asked, an incredulous look on his face.

"Nope. They come in with the rest of Charlie once we've probed the Kraut lines. We're to find a hole."

"Sounds like fun. Not." Myerson said.

"Nope, not even a little bit. Thirty minutes, I'm gonna take a nap."

"Copy that, L.T., I'm on it."

Their attack postponed, the men of 2nd Platoon tried to sleep. They would move out shortly after dark. Some men couldn't sleep, so they wrote letters, or cleaned their weapons. No one was in a very talkative mood.

After all, the war was nearly over, why take chances now?

* These are men of the 63rd Infantry Division, my Uncle Charlie's outfit. I like to think that he might be in that picture. He passed away when I was in Germany. A good man.
¹ Ceiling and Visibility Unlimited, i.e. clear skies as far as the eye can see.
² Are you stupid man?

Link to all of The Chant's fiction.


  1. MartinFromGermanyMarch 5, 2021 at 2:56 AM

    Thank you for this great chapter. It is my highlight of the day ... every day! Truly, you are 'un raconteur par excellence'; a master story teller. Please write the book!

    1. The book is in work, I'm gathering the episodes presented here on the blog in one document. When it's done (sometime in May!) then I need to go through, make some judicious edits to make sure all the pieces flow together, then...

      Find a way to publish.

      And again, thank you!

  2. Lack of fire disciplines has killed a lot of folks - they were very lucky it was only the one guy.
    I agree with Martin - a very good installment today, Sarge.

    1. The NCO has to take a leak, leaving the kids alone with the gun. Then a plane flies over...

      Thanks Tom!

  3. You are setting up the future very well... Every day is an adventure...

    1. I'm trying to keep the story moving forward and entertain at the same time. So far so good I think.

      Thanks STxAR!

  4. Wonder if Lars knew the meaning of the word karma or even heard the word, probably not. Fingers crossed for 2nd Platoon Sarge.

  5. YAY! I have read that many Germans considered Cubs to be sacrosanct, and to be left strictly alone, because of what happened, if you drew attention to yourself.

  6. Another great one.
    One line bugs me:
    ""Sounds like fun. Not." Myerson said."
    That whole "not" usage, as far as I know is a fad from about 15-20 years ago among gen-x or millenials, and sounds way out of place in 1945 usage. It just grated on my ears every time I have ever heard it.

    "Not effing fun for us" might be more period sounding.

    1. It may have been a fad at some point, but a phrase becoming a fad doesn't preclude its usage earlier in time.

      Call it artistic license if you will. I won't make a habit of it.

    2. Ah, someone feels the same as I about that useage. Grating is the most apt term.
      However, yes, there is the artistic license thereby I wasn't going to say anything.

    3. Like I said, I won't make a habit of it.

  7. Bird Dog!!!!!

    And thus the theory of AAA fire. Throw enough garbage up in the air and something is bound to make contact.

    Then again, that's the theory of artillery saturation fire. Throw enough garbage downrange and something is bound to make contact.

    I can hear juvat hissing from his rancho right now over the airplane hit.

    And, yeah, the 'not' thing was rather shocking to encounter. From what I remember from men from that era a more cutting, biting sarcastic remark like "No shi(p), Sherlock" or even a full sentence of dripping sarcasm would be more warranted. Or not.

    As to best laid plans... A foot patrol, in potentially bad weather, with no air support and trusting on pre-arranged artillery barrages... What could go wrong?

  8. I was thinking of the story of the Bird Dog and the Storch - the last aerial engagement of the ETO. I wonder how they fixed holes in fuel tanks without taking it out? Didn't the bombers and fighters have self-sealing tanks?

    I wonder how dangerous it was to call in artillery right over the target? Shrapnel didn't care who it hit.

    Great installment as always...

    1. I remember hearing something about "Big sky, little bullet". 60's.

    2. The problem isn't "Big Sky, little bullet", it's Big Sky, a whole lot of lots of lots of little bullets."

      Ya done good, Sarge. Having the FAC feeling good about CAVU while not so much about low ceilings prior to this mission. Certainly, low vis and less maneuvering room are factors in that, but there's a factor you may not have considered. In order to hit a moving target, you have to estimate his speed and his range from you. Aircraft speeds are intel questions and based on their "Top Speed is X, Cruise is Y", you can get pretty accurate estimates. Range however is a different problem that the cloud deck helps to solve. A little High School Trig is used. If you know the cloud deck, you have two pieces of the Angle Side Angle problem. Given that he is directly above a point on the ground, and you know his max height can only be the clouds, you've got a 90 degree angle with the length being X. When you look at your weapons, I'd bet there's an angle of elevation indicator on it somewhere. Given those three numbers, you can figure out the length of the hypotenuse AKA range. Knowing the speed of your bullets, you can figure out time of flight and therefore how much lead you need, point that far out in front and now the situation is Big Sky, Lots and lots and lots of bullets in your general vicinity.

    3. I had not considered that factor, I assumed that as an artillery spotter, he would be working off of a map. Artillerymen understand maps and grid squares. Now if he was a Forward Air Controller, that's some really interesting detail to know. Which I shall, of course, keep in mind for the future!

    4. I actually was talking about it from the AAA gunner's point of view. I guess it works both ways, although things on the ground typically don't move as fast as even a Piper Cub can, so you don't have to lead them as much.

    5. Ah, but the poor kid who opened fire was one of the many semi-trained soldiers available in that late period of the war.

      I still like your eye for detail and I need to remember this for use later.

  9. OldAFSarg, your story is still going great. Liked you bringing in the L-4 and pilot.

    My boss some 32-33 years ago loaned me a manuscript that a former member of the group who had died of cancer wrote. The former member was one of those pilots who flew some of the L aircraft (L-2 thru L-6) during WWII. I wish I still had a copy of it but it was huge and I think I was sworn to not copy it as his family might publish it. It was a fascinating story and I remember a few snippets from it. Those were some brave guys to fly around in those aircraft with the only armament being the 1911 they carried in a shoulder holster.

    1. They were some ballsy individuals, that's for sure!

    2. (Don McCollor)...One observation plane at Normandy hit violent turbulence. It had just flown through the wake of a full broadside from HMS Ramillies. Eight fifteen inch shells had passed that way very shortly before....

    3. Not the space in the sky you want to be!

  10. I am sure that is thing, of course: being so close to the end, who wants to hurry to die?

    Exceptionally lucky pilot.

  11. I am not remembering the acronym in use during WWII. CAVU didn't come into use until the 1970s. In WWII, it was something like XOXV, which meant the same.

    1. You know, acronyms designed for teletype.

    2. Rick#1 - In use where? By the FAA or some other government agency? Perhaps, one WW2 carrier aviator mentioned using it during the war. He was President George H.W. Bush. What pilots use may not match what officialdom uses.

    3. Rick#2 - That may be true for communications (XOXV), but how would you ever pronounce that?

  12. Had fallen behind, started at the Crossroads last night. Surprised anyone left a typo for me to find...

    >> They may have fallen back into Cologne, they be on the approaches. We just don't know." Hernandez explained.

    --> ...they __may__ be on the approaches.. ?

    1. D'oh! Fixed it.

      I'm sure there are plenty more!

      Thanks Richard.


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.