Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Für Sie ist der Krieg vorbei...


"I don't like it Sarge, ya know the old thing in movies about it being 'too quiet'? That's what we got here, too quiet. Where are all the Krauts?" Pvt. Manny Conrad was new, not real new, but new enough that combat was still something that excited him rather than scared him. He would learn.

Sgt. Melvin Katz turned to look at Conrad, "The war is winding down Conrad, not all of the Germans want to keep fighting. You saw that POW cage down by Obersdorf? The enemy is starting to quit in droves. Not a guy here and a guy there, Hell, they're quitting by platoons and companies now."

"So, ya think they've all run off?" Pvt. Brad Peterson, another of the new men, asked.

"Could be, according to Cap'n Palminteri, a lot of German units are trying to avoid the pocket we're trying to close around the Ruhr." Katz explained, then he saw his point man, Pfc. Alex Boone signal. Something was up.

"Whaddaya got Boone?" Katz asked the question but what Boone had seen was obvious. It was a recently vacated German defensive position. The trench looked recent, the Germans had even left behind various odd bits of equipment, a machine gun tripod, a couple of entrenching tools, there was even a helmet sitting next to one fighting position.

"Are you thinking what I'm thinking Sarge?" Boone asked.

"Yup, let's get the Cap'n up here."

Cpt. Tony Palminteri, accompanied by his radioman Cpl. Jacob Winters, came jogging up the trail along with one of his company messengers and, oddly enough, the company mess sergeant, S/Sgt Preston Santos, who was carrying a German Panzerfaust.

As the captain and his radioman went up to talk with 1st Lt. Stephen Hernandez of 2nd Platoon, S/Sgt Santos waited with Pvt. Timmy Bell, the messenger. There were a few guys from 2nd Platoon standing nearby and one, Sgt. Woody Sherman the 2nd Platoon guide couldn't help but laugh.

"Hey Sarn't Santos, you hunting for tanks? Gonna make tank soup tonight?" The men in the area had a quiet laugh over that. Santos didn't find it amusing.

"Hey Woody, f**k you! I wanted to get up here, see what you guys are always bitching about. Looks pretty tame to me." Santos looked around, this was the closest he'd been to the front line since joining the Army. Palminteri brought him along as he was tired of the man's constant whining about not seeing any action.

"But really Sarge? A Kraut Panzerfaust?" Pvt. Ignacio Cortez had a look of utter amazement on his face, "We're in the woods, Krauts are running out of fuel, besides, where's your rifle?"

"Hey, piss off cabrón. I'll carry whatever weapon I want." Santos was starting to get worked up, see if he cooked anything special for these bastards ever again.

"Man Sarge, take it easy. We just don't want the best cook in the Army gettin' killed, okay?" Cortez backed off, Santos was a good cook, no sense pissing him off.

Sherman chimed in, "Hey guys, knock it off, the Cap'n and the L.T. are coming back."

"Sure looks like the Krauts left in a hurry, Stephen. Or they might be trying to suck us into a trap. There aren't a lot of woods in this area, but they're pretty thick here. It would be a good place for the Germans to fall back a ways, hoping we'll come charging after them. Besides which, division is pulling out of the line. We're supposed to be moving out to shore up the sides of the big hole 3rd Herd has punched in the line. 8th Division is sliding over to cover where we were. I don't wanna get hung up in these woods while the rest of the outfit is chasing defeated Krauts." Palminteri was leery about going too deep into these woods, it would be tougher pulling back when they got the call to rejoin their parent division.

1st Lt. Hernandez agreed with his boss, though there wasn't much underbrush in this forest, it was a pretty extensive wood, and it was a good spot to get ambushed. Lots of small ravines and hollows, plenty of places to hide a machine gun team, or a sniper.

"Whatever you wanna do Cap, I'm agreeable. This war is getting to the point where it's going to end any day now, I'd rather not get any of my guys killed for nothing. Besides..."

Hernandez was interrupted by a whistle from behind him, towards where the scout element was. He turned and saw his platoon sergeant, S/Sgt Jack Wilson, signal that the enemy was in sight.

Privates Guy Morse and Herman Bridges, men in Sgt. Enrique Cruz's 2nd Squad, were positioned on the right of the abandoned German position. Their assistant squad leader, Cpl. John Chapman, had left them there for just a few minutes while he went to check the other position which was on the very end of C Company's line. Beyond that point there was nothing but woods. C Company was in a small salient in the line.

"Hey Morse, did you see that?"

"See what?" Guy Morse lifted his head up a bit, sure enough, there was something over there. "Okay, now I see something. Something moving."

Both men settled in and trained their rifles in the direction of where they thought they had seen movement. Both men were on edge, both their sergeant and the corporal had told them to sing out if they saw anything, but neither man had yet to be in a real firefight, both were leaning towards 'shoot first, ask questions later.'

Unteroffizier Jens Voigt was studying the Americans through his field glasses. There was quite a bit of activity to his front, he saw one man who had to be an officer so he knew that it was an American platoon at least, maybe even a full company. He could see occasional movement off to either flank of what he thought was a recently abandoned German position.

"You two know what to do, right?"

Grenadier Werner Siegmund answered, "Sure, we step into the open, in front of a bunch of well-armed Americans, we wave this white rag and pray they don't shoot at us. Right?"

"Someone needs to explain to me why I'm going with Werner." Grenadier Eberhard Schottenstein, the younger of the two Schottenstein brothers in Voigt's squad, had never been shy in voicing his opinions. Voigt wondered how the man had managed to survive as long as he had.

"The Major said two men, you and Siegmund, that makes two. It's supposed to look like you two want to surrender, one guy might look like a trap, more than two they might misconstrue as a ruse. At least that's what I think, I didn't ask the Major, 'why two?' So is that sufficient reason Schottenstein?" Voigt figured that the younger Schottenstein took up most of his time in the squad, the other men were content to do as they were told. This man always wanted to know why.

"If you don't want to go Eberhard, I'll do it." Grenadier Ernst Schottenstein, the older Schottenstein by three years, looked at his brother, then at his sergeant.

"Do you think I'm a coward Ernst?"

"Jesus, stop asking questions, go, or don't go, I don't care."

Voigt stepped in, "Enough! Ernst, you go, Eberhard, stay."

Pvt. Bridges saw them first, two Germans, he didn't notice what they were carrying, he didn't notice them begin to raise their hands. He pushed the safety on his M1 forward, settled himself, then squeezed the trigger.

Pvt. Morse had seen the white flag, as Bridges fired, Morse leaned over to knock the rifle away. It was too late, "What the f**k did you do, Herm?"

The shot spun Schottenstein around and he went down hard. Siegmund froze after he had thrust the white rag on a stick out in front of him, as if to ward off any further fire from the American lines.

Schottenstein the younger immediately moved forward as if to return fire. Voigt turned and punched the man as hard as he could in the face. He immediately regretted that as he felt something in his hand snap. But Schottenstein the younger was knocked out cold, which had been Voigt's intent.

Major von Lüttwitz was nearby, along with Leutnants Sauer and Heinrich, he had his clerk with him, a man who spoke English, Obergefreiter Adolph Storch who had been a journalist before the war. Von Lüttwitz nodded at Storch, who immediately began yelling in English.

"Don't shoot! We wish to surrender! Don't shoot!"

Cpt. Palminteri was bellowing "Hold your fire!" from the center of the line, 1st Lt. Hernandez and Sgt. Katz moved quickly down the line to 2nd Squad's position. When he saw what had happened, Hernandez yelled for a medic. Doc Milbury was there almost before Hernandez had stopped yelling.

"Let's go!" Hernandez said, jumping out of the trench.

"Damn it L.T., we can do this, you should stay here!" Sgt. Katz figured that the lieutenant didn't need to expose himself, but the man was already moving. So Katz followed.

Unteroffizier Peter Krause was by Schottenstein's side almost before the report of Bridge's rifle had faded away. Schottenstein was ashen and trembling. He'd been hit high in the chest, Krause was worried about lung involvement as he cut Schottenstein's tunic and shirt away. Cleaning the area around the hole, Krause looked for any bubbling or frothing, nothing, just a lot of blood oozing from the wound.

Krause looked up, startled when another pair of hands began to help him, it was an American Sani, what they called a 'medic' as he recalled. As the two men stabilized Schottenstein. Krause felt a hand on his shoulder, then heard, "Wir wollen helfen¹." He looked up to see an American soldier, it struck him as odd that the man spoke perfect Viennese German.

Hernandez and Katz had left their weapons behind, which Katz had thought insane, but if the L.T. thought it safe, who was he to argue? Katz saw a man, a major from his shoulder boards step out from behind two other men.

Von Lüttwitz stepped out from behind Oberfeldwebel Georg Eichmann and Obergefreiter Adolph Storch and introduced himself to the American officer.

"Guten Tag Herr Oberleutnant, ich bin Major Jürgen von Lüttwitz, Kommandeur des 2. Bataillons, 8. Panzergrenadier-Regiment. Und Sie sind?²" the German officer snapped a salute, then extended his hand.

After a pause to hear Katz's translation, Hernandez spoke, "I am 1st Lieutenant Stephen Hernandez, commanding the 2nd Platoon of the 2nd Battalion, 26th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division, United States Army. What can I do for you Sir?"

"Ich möchte meine Einheit ergeben. Der Krieg ist verloren, es wäre kriminell zu erwarten, daß meine Männer für nichts sterben.³" Von Lüttwitz waited, deep in his heart he didn't feel like he was doing anything wrong, yet if word got out of his actions this day, his family would pay the price. In blood.

Moments later he heard the American enlisted man speaking, it took him a moment to realize that the American lieutenant was walking away, was his surrender being rejected?

"I'm sorry Unteroffizier, I wasn't listening. I seem to be lost in my thoughts."

"Understandable Herr Major, my lieutenant has gone to collect our company commander, he feels that it would be inappropriate for him to accept your surrender while his superior is present on the field."

"Very good Unteroffizier. By the way, your German is excellent, did you learn it in Vienna?"

"Yes Sir, I am from Vienna. My family left before the Nazis came."

'Thank you for your assistance, Unteroffizier." von Lüttwitz said no more as he saw the American lieutenant approaching with another officer, a captain he believed. The man was missing a piece of his left ear and his face was badly scarred. The man stopped in front of von Lüttwitz, came to attention and saluted.

"Major. I am the commander of C Company, Captain Anthony Palminteri. Are you the same Major von Lüttwitz who wanted to surrender a few days ago?" Katz translated.

Von Lüttwitz returned the salute and indicated that he was, indeed the same major. He also inquired about the health of the two men he had sent to the Americans to convey his intentions, he purposely didn't mention their names.

"Sergeant Berthold and Grenadier Finkel are in fine fettle. They were turned over to our military police and delivered to a POW camp in Belgium, I believe. I doubt they'll be transported further because, as you well know, this war is nearly over. If we shipped them to North America, we'd just have to ship them back in a few months. So, you wish to surrender your battalion I understand?" Again Katz translated.

"Yes Captain, that is correct, what is left of my battalion." With that he undid his belt buckle and handed his belt, holster, and pistol over to Palminteri.

"Very well, Major. For you, the war is over. Have your men come out and stack their arms over there." he indicated an open space which was now covered by one of the company's .30 caliber machine guns, placed so that the Germans would notice. Then Palminteri withdrew the Major's pistol from its holster and handed it and the belt back to von Lüttwitz. After removing the magazine and clearing the weapon, Palminteri handed the pistol back to von Lüttwitz.

Von Lüttwitz blushed and said, "Danke, Hauptmann." He then turned and nodded to his lieutenants and his sergeant major who went back to get the men into formation and march them into captivity. Then he asked, nodding at Schottenstein, "How is he?" Which he asked in passable English.

Palminteri looked over at Doc Milbury who nodded and said, "He will live."

Krause looked at von Lüttwitz and said something in German. Palminteri looked at Katz, who translated, "The Major's medic says that the man will live but will need lots of surgery to repair his shoulder. Apparently the bullet went right through without hitting the lung, but it shattered the man's scapula upon exit. He is lucky to be alive."

Palminteri nodded, then turned to the German officers and beckoned them to join their men.

Major Jürgen von Lüttwitz stood by the side of the trail and watched as the 137 survivors of the 2nd Battalion, 8th Panzergrenadiers marched past in excellent order. The men stacked their weapons as ordered and went into captivity, their heads held high, their pride intact.

Yet von Lüttwitz felt a deep sorrow at the fate of the many men he had served with and those he had commanded over the years since the war began on the 1st of September, 1939. Many of them would never return home. Some had found graves in Poland, others in France, in North Africa, in Russia, and some here in Germany in these last days of the war.

But these men, these men he had brought through the fire, they would live to see home again. No matter what form that took, they would live. Perhaps to rebuild Germany from the ashes, a better Germany. He could only hope.

As the last man went by, Leutnant Manfred Sauer joined him. The two men had crossed France together with a small band of their fellow Saxons after the debacle of the Falaise pocket. He had seen Sauer rise from a simple grenadier to a fine officer and leader. He considered the man a friend, a true friend.

Sauer broke the silence, "Shall we go Sir?"

"Yes, my old friend. Let us see to our men."

¹ We're here to help.
² Hello Lieutenant, I am Major Jürgen von Lüttwitz, Commander of the 2nd Battalion, 8th Panzer Grenadier Regiment. And you are?
³ I want to surrender my unit. The war is lost, it would be criminal to expect my men to die for nothing.

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  1. Some people can't function/think when buck fever hits them, Ernst is lucky as are the rest of his comrades. Able to breathe again, hope we haven't heard the last of the 2nd Battalion just yet. Good post Sarge.

    1. We will hear from those guys in the weeks ahead, not as often as before. Post-war we'll check in with them as well.

  2. It would be nice to follow these honorable soldiers into captivity, for at least a glimpse at how appropriately they are treated.

    1. We're not done with von Lüttwitz, Sauer, et al, not by a long shot.

  3. Unlike the Churchill quote, perhaps this truly is the beginning of the end.

    I've had surgery on both shoulders and neither one is as good as before the injuries.
    I wish Schottenstein's wound was somewhere else, and I found myself unconsciously rubbing my right shoulder as I finished reading.

    I suspect the roller coaster has a few more bumps and turns before we end the ride.

    1. As the war sputters to a close in the West...

    2. At least he'll live, and have use of both arms. Too many men with missing arms, hands, legs in post-war Germany. Heck, too many in post-war America.

    3. Indeed, better to have all the parts, even if some of them ache when it rains...

  4. While I'm glad "our" Germans have made it this far, a lot of blood, both German and American, will still be spilled on European soil between now and VE Day. Fingers crossed for our men.

  5. This reminds me of the scene from Band of Brothers where the German General requests and is granted permission to address his men for the final time. Seriously tugs at your heart to hear words spoken with such feeling and authenticity.

  6. A thing is not done until it is done. Even at the almost end.

    And still almost two months of war left.

  7. Please extend my gratitude to the Muse, Sarge. Yes, I realize there are no guarantees but this is the scene I had hoped for.
    I see Von Luttiwtz as a GeneralOberst in the Bundeswehr someday, with Sauer running the GSG (he'd be too long in the tooth for KSK unfortunately)
    Boat Guy

    1. One problem I have with postwar scenarios for von Lüttwitz and Sauer is that they are both from Saxony (Sachsen in German), which became part of the DDR. So if they return home, both have family there, they would be Ossies.

      Interesting ideas for the postwar part of the book.

    2. Didn't the prisoners kind of get to chose which side to stay on?

    3. If the Brits or the Americans captured them, yes. Provided that their units fought primarily on the western front. Units withdrawing from the Soviet zone were often shipped back to the Soviets. And if the Rooskies captured you, all bets were off.

      Our boys will get to choose, but what if your entire family is behind the Iron Curtain? Then it might be a case of...

      Never mind, sounds like a good plot for a future installment! 😉

    4. Oh, aye. Wonder how many went back to get their families and flee westward?

      Makes me wonder, what happened to all the Eastern Europeans forced/joined to fight with the Germans on the Western Front? Did they return to be arrested or disappeared? Or did they stay in the West? Dangit, yet another gap left in me edumacation. Now I'll have to try and root out the answer (of course, if you have the answer... (hint, hint))

    5. Those who sided with the Germans from the Soviet Union (Ukrainians, Estonians, Lithuanians, Latvians, Russians, etc.) were turned over to the Reds. Most of them went to the Gulag or were shot out of hand. So yeah, arrested AND disappeared.

    6. The whole "Displaced Persons" issue was a huge problem in post-war Europe. People trying to get home, find surviving family, all that.
      I knew several Germans originally from Silesia; all left for the west. One Bundeswehr SgtMaj scooted when as a lad he saw a Soviet soldier murder a man who didn't turn over his watch fast enough.
      Boat Guy

    7. There was a lot of that in the East.

  8. Another great installment.
    Buy the Muse another drink.
    John Blackshoe

  9. Just ... wow. Magnificent, Sarge. It got dusty in here as I read. What you have managed to do in this series is humanize characters who were fighting (in ignorance, perhaps) for an inhumane cause. That is hard to do, but you've succeeded to the point I just want to read more! Second John Blackshoe's vote.

    1. Thanks Rick. Living in Germany for seven years helped!

  10. I felt relief all the way around. Relief that a soldier wouldn't have the memory of killing a surrendering enemy, I'd imagine long years after the war, that would begin to wear on you. Relief that the Major and LT got their men off the killing field, and relief that they managed to find the orginial troop that communicated with. Very good.

    I had a push this week to finish up the beginning of a project. The relief I feel right now is palpable. I wonder if your muse is watching me and writing encouragement. So much of this story has mirrored what I have experienced, even since it's start. My emotional tie is amplified because I am on that same roller coaster. It has been a weirdly prescient thing, no doubt. I don't know if such things enter your mind, but.... well, there it is.

  11. For a bit I thought the two Germans were from another unit, and this was an elaborate trap to kill Amis, and, oh, boy, how this was going to queer the deal with Herr Major in the future.

    Then, well, I thought Sgt Panzerfaust was going to spectacularly FUBAR the situation with his panzerfaust.


    What a ride.

    Well handled. Tense to the last drop.

    Now all everyone has to do is survive till the end. And then survive after.

    Your muse deserves a glass of something amber and smoky in flavor. Or bubbly and hoppy. Treat her well for us.

    1. I shall, she found that picture of the S/Sgt with the Panzerfaust and the story told itself from there on out.

      Of course, I had to make that guy a cook...

    2. Fortunately C Company's Mess Sgt seemed more squared away than that when we met him last
      Boat Guy

    3. The war's ending, he's feeling the frustration of being in the "rear with the gear." A good man, he just got a little, shall we say, overanxious?

    4. We see that in many Stolen Valor cases. People who otherwise served honorably morph into "my DD-214 is classified" posers. Pathetic.
      Boat Guy

    5. Sigh, too true. Honorable service is precisely that, why embellish?

  12. Tears of relief here. Well done sir!

  13. Hey OAF Muse where is the cup of coffee?

    I am glad this is not the end of the tale. That there is more to come will make part of my coming weeks.

    Speaking of what happened Post War, I know of one family (wife and children) that did escape to the Western Sectors from the East. Maybe the Muse will hear me and bring von Lüttwitz's and Sauer's families to the West.

    1. The Muse and I are already tossing around ideas for the post war.

  14. 1. When (not if) you publish this, I will pay cash money for a hardcover.

    2. I will pay extra for an autograohed copy.

    3. If you can make it to Florida (Tampa area) I will pick up the bar tab while you sign it.

    Bravo Zulu.

  15. Damned cigarette smoke must have got in my eyes; that, or just maybe you did an excellent job once again, Sarge! I suspect it's the latter.
    --Tennessee Budd

  16. Hey Old AFSarge;

    Dang; your muse did good with this one, mucho congrats and yes I want a signed copy of the book when you release it :) I am looking for the further adventures of "The Guys".

    1. The war isn't over yet, I will go into the postwar period, at least for a bit.

  17. Wow, that went a lot better than it could have gone. Von Lüttwitz owes you one Sarge! Your Muse has done well. If your editor needs an endorsement from a pithy part-time political blogger, let me know.

  18. I have come to know your characters so well I foresaw von Lüttwitz being allowed to keep his sidearm. I think that happened more than once in the closing weeks. The Amerikaner saw him as an honorable soldier.

    1. Unlike some, many in the Heer were "soldiers like other soldiers."

      (That last phrase was often used by former members of the Waffen SS trying to escape justice for war crimes.)

  19. The father of a guy I knew online from a Cowboy Action Shooting forum was a fighter pilot in WWI. Flew 109s, transitioned to the 190, didn't like it and had enough pull to transition back to his 109. He wrote to me about his dad being captured by the Soviets, managing to escape, surviving the war, then living the Soviet Zone, and their eventual escape to the West. Lots of fear, hunger, suspicion even before their escape. Then having to break those habits when they were resettled in the US.

    1. Living under the Soviets was soul-destroying.

      As to preferring the 109 over the 190, not the first time I've heard that. After all Erich Hartmann stayed with his 109 until the end of the war. It's been said more than once, "it ain't the machine, it's the man."

    2. Make that "a fighter pilot in WWII" rather than WWI. Can you imagine the Red Barron and Jagdgeschwader I equipped with either the 109 or the 190?

    3. Referring to the 109 and the 190 immediately put that in context. That is, "I knew what you meant."

  20. Excellent series, well researched and written, eagerly awaited and greedily devoured!

    One minor language quibble:

    "Ich möchte meine Einheit abgeben. "

    "Abgeben" is "to relinquish, turn in, deliver, drop off".
    "Aufgeben" is "to give up".
    "Ergeben" is "surrender", in the sense of submitting....a better fit, but enough of my nitpicking.
    Oh, and "Burggraben" or "Wassergraben" is a "Moat", just in case anyone asks...

    1. I kept working on that one phrase as it didn't really feel right. I shall fix it.


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