Saturday, March 6, 2021

Night Attack


Cpl. Mo Ryan was crouched beside a tree keeping an eye on where the squad's two scouts had disappeared into the night. Both Alex Boone and Bogdan Nowak knew their business. They were able to slip through the forest like a pair of ghosts. Boone was from the hills of Tennessee, Nowak, born in Poland, had grown up in Vermont. Both men were familiar with the outdoors and the ways of nature.

Ryan was a seasoned veteran, he'd fought in North Africa and in Normandy, a nasty wound he'd received in France, followed by a bad infection (he'd nearly lost his left hand), had laid him low for some time. After being discharged from the hospital he'd been assigned to 2nd Platoon in February. Now he waited for his scouts to let him know what they were facing.

He heard a low hiss to his front, he tensed, his rifle at the ready. "White." He hissed the challenge.

He heard, "Tail" and relaxed. "Come on in." he murmured.

It was Nowak. "There's a Kraut encampment not far up this trail, maybe ten guys, they look like regulars, not kids, not old men. Alex stayed behind to keep an eye on 'em. What do we do, Corp?"

Sgt. Melvin Katz joined the group, Ryan and Nowak filled him in.

"Do we take them out, Sarge? I mean, they're right in the way." Ryan asked.

"Which is probably why they're there." Katz answered. "It's the L.T.'s call, we'll hold here. Bogdan?"


"Go back and tell the L.T. what we've got."

Grenadiers Willi Erfurt and Rolf Oldenburg were in the back of their squad's halftrack, manning the MG 42 machine gun. They were bundled up in their winter camouflage suits, though now they were wearing them with the camouflage pattern out rather than the white as most of the snow was gone. The hoods of their parkas were up over their heads and they were focusing more on staying warm than on what was going on around them.

The wind had risen and there were occasional snow squalls. It was brutally cold. Though spring wasn't far away, winter had not yet surrendered.

Their squad mates were mostly asleep, some in the back of the vehicle, some in a rudimentary shelter they'd made of pine boughs late in the afternoon yesterday. Everyone had expected a big American attack, which had never materialized. Probably tomorrow, their NCO had said. Unteroffizier Torsten Meissner was one of the old hands, some of the men liked to joke that if the war hadn't caused so many casualties in the NCO ranks, Meissner would still be a simple Grenadier. He wasn't the smartest man in the German Army.

Meissner himself was up in the ruins of Knapsack, talking with the platoon commander, Feldwebel Klaus Haasen, who had wanted to make sure that the 3rd Squad would be ready to pull back when the word came down. They were the only full strength squad left in the platoon, which was why they were stuck out here, covering this forest path running between Knapsack and the next village, Fischenich.

Though both men were continually nodding off, it was a struggle to stay awake, they were trying their best to remain alert. They had both served in the East and had managed to survive that. Both men thought that being in the West would be easier. The Amis were soft, or so they had been told. They wouldn't attack at night, it sacrificed the advantages they had in air support and artillery. So they felt they could relax, a little.

"Did you hear that?" Erfurt hissed at Oldenburg.

Oldenburg's eyes came wide open, "Hear what?"

"Sounded like a branch snapping, I don't know..."

Both men turned when they heard a metallic clank from behind them, then a muffled grunt as one of their comrades muttered, "What the Hell was..."

The American grenade detonated, killing the man it fell on instantly. Fragments sliced into Erfurt's back, he lost consciousness and bled to death not long after. Oldenburg and two other men, asleep in the halftrack, were also wounded, badly enough to put them out of action.

Boone had been watching the Germans for the better part of 30 minutes when he heard Pfc. Nowak whistle. It was uncanny how close it sounded to a night bird's call, it was even a bird native to Europe. Boone wouldn't have noticed the difference, but a German might have.

Nowak crawled up beside Boone and whispered, "Squad's moving into position. You played baseball, right?"

Boone thought that an odd question but answered with a nod, then he whispered back, "Why?" with a puzzled look on his face.

"In five minutes, Sarge wants you to toss a grenade into the back of the halftrack. When it goes off, the squad will dash in and kill the Germans." Nowak explained.

When Katz had briefed him on the plan. Nowak had asked if Katz was worried about the noise the grenade would make. "Not really, listen."

Puzzled, Nowak had listened, in the distance, and nearby, there seemed to be a nearly continuous rattle of machine gun fire, individual rifle shots, and the occasional explosion. Some of the sounds weren't tha far away. Nowak had grown so used to these background noises of war, that they didn't really register. He realized that a grenade explosion wouldn't be out of place.

"What about the other Germans?" He had asked. He then nodded thoughtfully as Katz had drawn his bayonet and fixed it to his rifle. "Ah, bayonets..."

Unteroffizier Torsten Meissner walked right past an American soldier without seeing him. At that very moment he saw the flash of an explosion just ahead, where his men should be. As he started to move forward, he heard the bang of a grenade. Before he could react, he had been pulled down by an arm across his throat. In the next instant he felt pressure against his lower back, then the searing pain of a knife being thrust into him. Meissner died without a sound.

It was over quickly. As Sgt. Katz checked his men and the position itself, he counted six dead Germans. Pfc. Johnny Robles, a big man, had reported that he'd killed a German sergeant just up the trail. There were three wounded Germans in the back of the halftrack, one of whom died before they could treat him. So that accounted for ten Germans, a full squad.

While the rest of the platoon had moved through, 2nd Lt. Hernandez and the platoon headquarters guys waited for Katz to bring the lieutenant up to speed. Doc Milbury had jumped into the back of the halftrack so he could treat the two wounded Germans. 

Katz brought Hernandez up to date, then the lieutenant had said, "When you're done here Cat, follow us. Any friendlies hurt?" Hernandez was anxious to move on, the night wasn't going to last much longer.

"Negative, Sir. Nobody hurt. We'll be along shortly, soon as Doc gets the wounded Krauts stabilized." Katz had answered.

"Wounded Krauts?" Hernandez hadn't realized that 1st Squad had prisoners, they might prove useful to the battalion S2.

"One wounded Kraut." Doc Milbury came up, cleaning his hands. "One of 'em was hit bad, grenade fragments in the face and chest. There wasn't much I could do for him. The other one has superficial cuts and bruises, but the grenade explosion concussed him, badly. I don't think the kid can hear, blood coming out of both ears, both ear drums are no doubt perforated."

Hernandez thought for a moment, then turned to Sgt. Sherman, "Woody, you and Ignacio get the Kraut back to the Company CP, then hustle your asses back here. Got it?"

"Yes Sir! Cortez, let's deliver the Kraut to HQ." Sherman and Cortez moved off with the German prisoner, who seemed utterly confused as to what was happening.

It was starting to get light along the eastern horizon. Hernandez checked his watch, 0530. Things were moving more slowly than he cared for, but war was like that. Dealing with the unexpected was one of the things the Army paid him for.

He was looking through his field glasses at an 88mm gun emplacement near the edge of the ruins of Alstädten. There was a thin strip of clear land between what was left of the village and what, according to his map, was one of the many open pit coal mines in the area. No doubt the Germans assumed that if the Americans brought their tanks this way, they'd have to use the road.

"Okay, Stump, I want you to take 3rd Squad and Pvt. Kelley up that shallow dip in the ground. Those trees and the fact that it's still pretty dark, should give you the cover you need. Once you get to the town, move in, look for Kraut positions. If there's no one protecting that gun, take it. Send Kelley back with information. I'll give you 30 minutes, then the rest of the platoon will be moving up to your left. If you don't take out that gun, we'll get slaughtered." Hernandez tried to explain it all quickly, hoping that Sgt. Gentile, veteran that he was, would know most of what he had in mind.

"Got it, L.T., me and the boys will clear a path. I'll send Kelley back as soon as I get the lay of the land, so to speak." Without wasting any more time, Gentile was up and moving, 3rd Squad followed him.

Hernandez looked at Pvt. Larry Kelley, one of the platoon's basic duty privates, "Well?"

Kelley, who had nearly fallen asleep on his feet, jerked awake then quickly moved off in Gentile's wake.

"Alois, do we have any of that ersatz coffee left?"

"Why would you want to drink that swill?"

"I don't, but it's better than..."

Kanonier Herbert Schlicter dropped his tin canteen cup before he could finish what he was saying. Oberkanonier Willi Bachmann was looking right at him and saw that Schlicter's eyes were wide open, staring at nothing. That's when Bachmann noticed the hole in Schlicter's helmet. In the instant before Schlicter toppled over, Bachmann heard the rifle shot.

"Follow me!" Gentile bellowed as he led 3rd Squad out of the ruins towards the enemy gun position. Cpl. Charlie Gammell's first shot was the signal to attack. They had managed to get very close using the ruins of the houses as cover. The Germans seemed somnolent, sluggish in the early morning light.

Gammell had shifted his position and selected another target, he had spotted the German machine gun position during his shift, if he had seen them first, he would have targeted them first, but he hadn't so...

Settling his cheek into the stock of his Springfield, he aimed at the exposed upper torso of the man on the gun. The German managed to fire a short burst before Gammell's bullet tore through the man's throat and spun him away from the gun. Gammell was startled by the sound of an American voice screaming "F**K!!" so his third round went a little high, but the round still ripped through the assistant gunner's helmet, killing him.

It was over quickly, five of the surviving Germans surrendered, two more tried to run but were gunned down by Pfc. Frank Garnett's Browning Automatic Rifle. As Gammell advanced to rejoin the squad, he could see two Americans down, both were moving, so they weren't dead.

"Stump! Where the Hell are you?" Gammell yelled out as he watched the rest of 2nd Platoon come up the road, quickly taking position to await the advance of the rest of Charlie Company. He noticed that two of the 3rd Squad were assisting the wounded, one of whom, Pvt. Derrick Quinn was screaming for a medic.

When Gammell got to the scene, Doc Milbury was already working on the man who apparently was the worst off. Pvt. Jonathan Fuller was being helped to his feet, his field jacket off and a field dressing covering his bloodied right shoulder. Gammell wondered who was on the ground, then he saw the stripes.

"It's okay Stump, quit moving, let me patch you up." Doc Milbury's voice was quiet but with a hint of steel in it. As Gammell looked down, Milbury cut Sgt. Gentile's clothes open to reveal a single hole in Gentile's lower abdomen, which was bleeding a lot. The blood seemed to ooze out faster than Doc could clear it away.

As Milbury desperately worked to stop Gentile from bleeding out, Gammell knelt next to his squad leader, "Take it easy Stump, Doc'll have you patched up in no time." Gammell was surprised when Gentile reached up and grabbed his hand.

"Don't f**king lie to me Charlie, I been around long enough to know the drill, Jesus that hurts..." Gentile said as he squeezed Gammell's hand, hard.

"They're your boys now Charlie, keep 'em alive. Don't..." 

As Cpl. Charlie Gammell held his hand, Sgt. Flavio Gentile, "Stump" to the men of 2nd Platoon, late of Philadelphia, died in the rubble of the small German village of Alstädten.

Germany will surrender in 63 days.

Link to all of The Chant's fiction.


  1. Ah Stump, so near...Charlie's a good one, hope he's not too hard on himself for the short MG burst. Those things happen and he's now got a lot more responsibility.
    Good job, Sarge. Hate to see Stump go, but that's the way of it.
    Boat Guy

  2. I know that it has to happen from time to time. Me and everyone else not liking it means that you are doing it right. Good job, please keep it up.

  3. Ah man...... I know it's war Sarge but I'd still like to slap your Muse around.......dammit!

    1. I ran through a lot of scenarios before and during the writing of this one. It almost went another way, but Fate stepped in...

  4. How long will Charlie be haunted that if he only had seen the machine gun just a second earlier...Stump would still be here.

    That is a bitter pill to swallow. Very bitter. Dammit. War is hell.

    1. If I know Charlie, and I do, it will haunt him until the day he dies. Tough lesson to learn at 18, but so many did, those that survived.

  5. Damn.........
    The final scene reminds me of "The Death of Captain Waskow" by Ernie Pyle.

    "The uncertain mules moved off to their olive groves. The men in the road seemed reluctant to leave. They stood around, and gradually I could sense them moving, one by one, close to Capt. Waskow’s body. Not so much to look, I think, as to say something in finality to him and to themselves. I stood close by and I could hear.

    One soldier came and looked down, and he said out loud:

    “God damn it!”

    Another one came, and he said, “God damn it to hell anyway!” He looked down for a few last moments and then turned and left.

    Another man came. I think it was an officer. It was hard to tell officers from men in the dim light, for everybody was grimy and dirty. The man looked down into the dead captain’s face and then spoke directly to him, as tho he were alive:

    “I’m sorry, old man.”

    Then a solder came and stood beside the officer and bent over, and he too spoke to his dead captain, not in a whisper but awfully tender, and he said:

    “I sure am sorry, sir.”

    Then the first man squatted down, and he reached down and took the Captain’s hand, and he sat there for a full five minutes holding the dead hand in his own and looking intently into the dead face. And he never uttered a sound all the time he sat there.

    Finally he put the hand down. He reached up and gently straightened the points of the Captain’s shirt collar, and then he sort of rearranged the tattered edges of his uniform around the wound, and then he got up and walked away down the road in the moonlight, all alone.

    The rest of us went back into the cowshed, leaving the dead men lying in a line, end to end, in the shadow of the low stone wall. We lay down on the straw in the cowshed, and pretty soon we were all asleep."

    1. I weep inside every time I read that passage. The first time, this time, every time.

      Ernie sure could write...

    2. (Don McCollor)...Yes...And also weep from the sign over Ernie's first grave on La Shima Island. Much shorter and simpler, but with the same heartfelt meaning...

  6. Hey Old AFSarge;

    Hates it when a a favorite character "Gets Tagged" but war plays no favorites. Excellent story and liked the ersatz coffee comment, LOL You know they still sell that stuff in Germany? I know I bought some to try in the 80's. *shudder* but apparently some Germans liked the stuff.

    1. Well, there's always someone who likes that kind of thing, get enough people to like it and you've got a marketable product.

      All of my German comrades liked their coffee real, and they liked it strong.

    2. My grandma drank something like that: Postum. I have got the guts to try it. I think it's roasted wheat or somesuch. I like the real McCoy, too.

    3. I had to look that one up, I'll stick with the real deal.

    4. I had a girlfriend that used to drink Postum. She was 5-foot-nothing and weighed about 95 lbs, and a cup of good coffee would have her stuck to the ceiling for about six hours!

      It's roasted wheat bran and molasses. I was just talking it about with SLW the other day, so I had to look it up....

    5. Roasted wheat bran and molasses? Sounds more like something you'd eat rather than drink!

    6. Yeah, it was pretty bad...

  7. If only the bad guys and unnamed characters crossed that clearing, battle would be a lot more romantic.
    Today your muse has reminded us that it is real and visceral.
    Next we’ll be reminded that someone’s replaced him and we will get know him and care about him, too.
    Keep it real, Sarge.

  8. Hate to have to say it, but Stump took point one too many times. It's one of the hard things about Leadership, to send others in first, but the principal is to preserve the more experienced soldiers, for the good of the entire unit.

    Yeah, almost too damned real, Sarge.

  9. Just got real dusty in here.....

  10. Real is this right here ... thank you, Sarge. Keep on.
    The one really nasty fight my f-i-l's Cannon Company got into was on Friday, April 13th, 1945, outside Weissenfels. Two of the guys were killed, one of whom was a much beloved jokester. Sixty years later, his buddies still choked up at describing that day.

    1. And the war had less than a month to go there in Europe...

      Sad doesn't begin to describe it.


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Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

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