Saturday, March 27, 2021

Night Train to Wuppertal - The Intruder

Scene from The Train
Flying Officer Nigel Williams turned to his navigator, "Jimmie, are you picking up anything on the box?"

Pilot Officer James "Jimmie" Macallum answered almost immediately, "Skies are clear Nigel, no Jerries in the air. I'm betting they're further north, bombers are heading for Hamburg again tonight. Everything should be well to our north."

Williams looked out of the cockpit again, the ground was only intermittently visible, heavy fog in the area made their night sortie against what remained of the German rail network look like a wasted trip.

"Weather boffins said that the wind should pick up and clear this mess out, something about a cold front moving through." Macallum anticipated the aircraft commander's complaint about the ground fog in the area. As Macallum looked out, he thought he could make out higher terrain starting to become visible.

Maybe they would get lucky tonight.

The train was pulled over at a siding, the signals ahead, according to the engineer, indicated that they needed to get off the main track. He had no idea why, "Like you Major, I follow orders. But let me check the line shack, it's possible the phone which should be there, might still be there. It might even work!"

Major Jürgen von Lüttwitz climbed down from the locomotive and began to walk back along the tracks. Once he was clear of the noise of the locomotive, he could hear an aircraft overhead, somewhere above the fog.

"One of ours do you think?" Leutnants Manfred Sauer and Ralf Heinrich were standing by the tracks as well, breathing the cool night air.

"Probably a Tommy." von Lüttwitz answered. "What makes you think the Luftwaffe has any aircraft left?"

Heinrich was looking up, listening, the way he was staring it was as if he thought his vision might penetrate the fog which blanketed the area. Then he spoke, "The wind is picking up."

The other two officers said nothing, but Sauer sensed that the air was moving. What that might do to the fog, he didn't care to think about. Not with an RAF night intruder overhead. There were no Allied bombers overhead, so an RAF night fighter would be well out of position. Sauer marveled that the Allies had so much equipment that they could send aircraft over the Continent just to hunt what was left of the Reichsbahn.

Von Lüttwitz saw the engineer coming down the track, checking the cars as he did so. "Was there a phone?"

The engineer, a man named Rolf Schneider, looked surprised, "Yes, it even worked. Seems they are working on a bridge ahead that was damaged in a raid earlier this week. Unfortunately, we will probably be stuck here until tomorrow night. On the fortunate side of the ledger, the trees here should prevent Jabos from seeing us during the day. Should..."

Sauer looked at von Lüttwitz then suggested, "We could cut branches and the like, camouflage the train?"

Heinrich said, "We'll help you with that, we've gotten pretty good at camouflaging a tank to look like a haystack, a train shouldn't be that much more difficult. Just a question of scale really."

Von Lüttwitz nodded and gestured that the two lieutenants should make that happen. He drew out his cigarette case and noticed he only had three left. He lit one. The engineer was still there, so he offered a cigarette to that man.

"No thank you sir, I have my pipe. I need to continue my checks while we are stopped." With that he continued down the line.

Williams banked his Mossie around and returned to a northwesterly heading, according to Macallum, there was a rail line down there in that fog. Which, he happily observed, was starting to clear as the wind picked up. Macallum had also warned him to be aware of that, the wind would push them off course and further into Germany if they weren't careful.

Williams thought back to the stories his uncle had told him of the Great War. Uncle Peter had been an observer in the Royal Flying Corps, the RFC, flying missions along the front lines from 1917 until the end of the war. Of course, in 1918 the RFC changed it's name to the Royal Air Force and had combined the RFC and the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) into one organization.

"Ye've got to watch those winds laddie, they blow from the west, always wanting to push ye deeper into Hun-land. Some days they blow hard enough so that yer ground speed drops down to 50 or so. Fighting headwinds when ye're low on petrol and maybe have some damage is no fun, that I can tell ye laddie. Home is a long ways off on days like that."

Williams remembered his uncle fondly, he barely remembered his father. Williams had been born in 1914, the summer before the war began. He remembered his father coming home on leave from the front, Williams' earliest memory was of his father bouncing him on his knee when he was three. He couldn't remember his father's face, he'd seen pictures of him, of course, but the man himself was but a vague shape in his memory.

Uncle Peter had helped raise him when his father had been killed in action in October of 1918. Scarcely two weeks before the Armistice. It was because of his mother's brother that he'd joined the RAF after university in 1938. Sadly Uncle Peter had finally been killed by the Germans in 1941, not at the front, but in his bed during a Luftwaffe raid.

Williams didn't hate the Germans, he despised them.

He was brought out of his reverie when Macallum said, "Nigel, up ahead, I can see train tracks, the fog is moving on.

SS-Obersturmbannführer Herbert Möller sat in the cab of the lead truck in the small convoy, the road was in ill-repair and his driver seemed to hit every hole in the road. "Damn it Wolfgang, must you hit every pothole?"

"Sorry Sir, the headlights are just enough to let me see the road, I can't see the potholes until it's too late." As he said that, the beat-up Opel Blitz hit yet another pothole, jarring the two men in the cab and the squad of SS men in the back.

"I think that's the bridge up ahead Wolfgang, slow down!"

SS-Schütze Wolfgang Hahn braked until the Opel came to a full stop, Möller jumped out, barking at Hahn to "stay put." He could hear the other SS men jumping from the truck and bellowing at the laborers in the other three trucks to dismount.

The convoy consisted of five trucks, the one in the lead contained SS men, the middle three were packed with slave laborers, the last truck contained more SS men. Each truck towed a trailer with tools or other equipment needed for bridge repair, such as an air compressor and an electrical generator.

Möller had been a civil engineer before the war, now he commanded twenty-seven SS men and fifty-two slave laborers. His job was to keep what was left of the rail network in western Germany in some state of usability, that job grew harder everyday. His laborers were all men from the east, Russians, Poles, Czechs, and Slovaks. Only one or two of them spoke German, but he had one Pole who spoke multiple languages. Though still a slave laborer, Möller had made him a foreman and ensured the man received more rations than the rest.

As the guards got the men in motion, Möller inspected the small bridge. As he used his flashlight to inspect the damage, he was oblivious to the fact that the fog had lifted and that his light could be seen for miles from the air in the darkened countryside.

"I see it Jimmie, a column of trucks on the dirt road paralleling the tracks, looks like a bridge. Repair crew? Which is probably why some idiot is flashing that torch all over." Williams was lining up to possibly strafe the small truck convoy, it wasn't much of a target but it was all they'd seen all night. As their fuel state was starting to be a concern, he thought, "One pass, then it's home to bed!"

As Möller continued to inspect the bridge, his men were hustling the laborers over to be put to work where needed. They were making enough noise to wake the dead, he thought. "Silence you idiots! A man can't think with all that racket."

As the chatter died down, Möller heard the rising tone of an engine, an aircraft engine!

Williams aimed at the last truck in the line, he would walk his cannon rounds up the road and try to destroy as many vehicles as possible. As he triggered his guns, saw the first rounds impacting all around the truck he had aimed at, then he heard Macallum yell.

"Those look like prisoners Nigel, pull off!"

As his aircraft flashed past the site, he caught a glimpse of men with rifles and other men wearing prisoner garb in the flickering light of a burning truck. No doubt a party of slave laborers.

"Damn it!" Williams grunted as he pulled up and to the left. He had hit at least two trucks, Macallum had confirmed that, but he was hoping that he'd only hit the guards, and not the guarded.

Möller was furious, the enemy aircraft had come out of nowhere and destroyed three of his trucks, the other two would require repair before they could be used. What was worse, his foreman, Jerzy Wiśniewski was lying dead in the road, most of his upper torso shredded by what must have been a 2 cm cannon. Now how was he going to get the rest of this rabble to do their jobs?

Sauer had two squads with him, the 1st and 2nd from his 1st Platoon, these men had been with him the longest and he trusted them. When they had heard the enemy Jabo pass overhead, then heard the thumping of cannon fire, then seen and heard an explosion not that far from the train, von Lüttwitz had ordered him to discover what was going on and to provide assistance as needed.

"Voigt, Klassen, skirmish line, heads up, we don't know what's going on up ahead!"

As his men fanned out Sauer saw a burning truck in the road and a number of men clustering around a body in the road. Then he heard the crack of a pistol shot and another man crumpled to the ground. What the Hell is going on here?

As they got closer, Sauer recognized the uniforms of the Germans, SS, no, Totenkopf! Bloody thugs and murderers! He could see one man, an officer, with his pistol drawn, standing over the man he had just killed.

"Well, would any more of you swine like to shirk your duties, pick up those tools! Move!" Möller was screaming at one of the laborers, a Russian from Leningrad, the man didn't understand a word of what the fat German was yelling at him.

"Obersturmbannführer, none of these men speak German, they can't understand you!" One of the other Totenkopf men pointed out to his infuriated commander.

"They're all swine! Lazy bastards!"

Then Möller saw a line of soldiers advancing on the scene, German soldiers.

"Ah, more men! I need them, you there, Leutnant, do you have anyone who speaks Russian or Czech?"

Sauer looked in amazement at the fat SS officer. "Sir, we're a combat unit, on our way to Wuppertal, what's going on here?"

Möller snorted in frustration, "We're here to fix the bridge you idiot. Does it look like we're on a picnic?"

At that moment, one of the laborers made a break for the darkness away from the road. One of the Totenkopf men shot him, as if it were nothing. Then all Hell broke loose.

Sauer's two squads, almost as if on command, opened fire on the SS men. Within seconds, most of them were on the ground, dead or badly wounded. Four men knelt with their hands in the air, shocked that their fellow Germans had opened fire on them.

Sauer was shaken, perhaps he should have expected it, knowing the mood of his men. But still to watch his men open fire and kill the SS men stunned him. Then he was snapped out of his mood by a low growl.

"You will hang for this Leutnant, so will your men." Möller decided to assert his authority. He had been dealing with swine for the entire war, he know how to handle them. The lieutenant standing in front of him turned and stared at him.

"Not so cocky now are you..."

The pistol had seemed to go off of its own accord. Sauer's arm was still outstretched, the pistol still aimed at where the fat SS officer's head had been. The look of surprise on that man's face when Sauer had squeezed the trigger had been almost amusing. But death was never amusing, not even when it was deserved.

Sauer looked at his men, they had already killed the remaining SS men. The laborers were ransacking the trucks for whatever they needed to survive. Some stripped the dead of their uniforms. Sauer heard a blood-curdling scream from the lead truck. Perhaps an SS survivor?

As the laborers ran off into the dark, one man walked up to Sauer, wearing a ripped SS tunic, saluted and said, "Děkuji pane!¹" Then he too had disappeared into the night.

"Well, I guess we're outlaws now, Herr Leutnant." Unteroffizier Jochen Klassen had come up to stand next to Sauer.

Sauer shook his head, "What else could we have done, Jochen?"

"Very little Sir, by the way, that prisoner thanked you, in Czech."

"You speak Czech?"

"A little. You should get back to the train Sir. I'm sure the Major will want to know what happened. You go ahead, Jens and I will tidy things up here, make it look like these guys were hit by a Jabo. Which some of them were..."

Sauer headed back, they truly were outlaws now. He certainly hoped von Lüttwitz knew what to do next, he certainly had no idea. He had just murdered a man, not his first, but the killing was getting too easy.

Far too easy.

¹ Czech for "Thank you Sir."

to all of the Chant's fiction.


  1. Holy cow Sarge! Great twist! I was worried the Mosquito was gonna run up the train.
    Von L is now on outlaw chief. I wouldn't worry for Sauer, the killing might be easy but he's killing SS not people.
    Given that the bridge is out and now won't be repaired, p'raps the train can back down the tracks towards the 26th Infantry.
    Boat Guy

    1. Much akin to my own thoughts, BG!

    2. BG - The SS officer waving his flashlight around attracted the Mosquito, had they not been there, who knows?

    3. Patrick - They have that option.

  2. Now all they need is an A- 26 night intruder to be attracted by the burning trucks.

    1. Multiple aircraft operating in the same airspace at night was frowned upon.

  3. It makes me just a wee bit uncomfortable, that I felt a sort of elation when Sauer's men slaughtered the SS. Justify it how they may, they were not officially firing on 'the enemy'. (Though in spirit, it was obviously an antagonism that had been festering between them for a very long time!) These guys are extremely keyed up, and obviously riding a big grudge! Sarge, you capture and portray the human emotional atmosphere of the time very well!
    Outlaws perhaps, but to those poor, starved slave laborers, they are heroes!

    1. I plan to explore the moral aspect further. Some felt guilty about wanting to quit when they're losing, but felt no such compunction when they were winning.

    2. Officially not an ememy, but morally? Thus the concept of 'illegal orders' and how it is proper to disobey them.

      Which, unfortunately, with this administration, is a concept that is rearing its ugly head too soon and too much. To the point that the military is requiring loyalty oaths...

    3. A military which requires loyalty oaths, beyond the one which we already swore, to the Constitution, is no longer the U.S. military, they are no different than the SA and the SS.

  4. as usual, well done! Glad 'our' Germans survived yet again! and so far!

  5. Oh my ! Jens and Jochen better clean up the small arms brass, that might remove most of the evidence on non-Jabo inflicted death upon cursory glance. Your Muse made a good choice on The Train, a movie I always enjoyed watching........the black & white fits right in rather well Sarge.

    1. The odds of someone actually investigating this incident at this stage of the war are pretty slim. Too close to the front for one, busy doing other things for another.

      Laborers are gone, no doubt any investigation would assume that the air attack allowed the laborers to overwhelm the guards.

  6. Poignant... Prescient.... Von L's, Sauer, and the men have moved to a new paradigm. The SS Major was still stuck in the old one. I have been struggling with this as well. I live in a new country, and I don't quite get the customs and procedures yet. And I don't know how far I'm willing to go along to get along...

    1. Plenty of insight into the new "customs and procedures" if you read the left. They want you disarmed, compliant and productive ( so they can still eat and have heat). In short, slavery.
      Boat Guy

    2. One note, Obersturmbannführer is lieutenant colonel, Sturmbannführer is major. I suppose a footnote would have been in order.

      But yeah, he's thinking the Nazi regime is not tottering and about to collapse. Just another SS bully.

    3. BG - What that lot is doing is so blatantly unconstitutional that it highlights the failures of the courts. Appoint enough people based on their political leanings and not their knowledge and application of the law, that's what you get.

  7. They're on the "right" side of the river, but how to reconnect with C Company? Oooph!

    1. We shall see if that happens. The breakout from the Rhine bridgehead is coming soon.

  8. Hey Old AFSarge;

    The HEER had no love for the SS and seeing prisoners being shot pushed decent men over the edge. That is what separated the HEER from the SS, the regular Army is full of men with a moral code whereas the SS had no moral code to regular men, they were brutes wearing uniforms.

    1. Well, the Heer committed atrocities in the East on a par with the SS. So they really have no moral leg to stand on, but yes, they didn't care for each other on many levels.

    2. Everybody committed atrocities in the East. The SS, the Luftwaffe, the Heer, the Italians... AND the Soviets in widespread joblots. The East was a most atrocity-ridden place till the fall of the Soviets, then it became just partially atrocious.

      Seriously. Historically, the border between Europe and Asia has always been, and most likely always will be, a land of contention, war and atrocity piled upon stupidity, greed and avarice. In other words... Eastern Europe. Sigh.

  9. Forgot to mention, another excellent post with an unusual twist

  10. If it was me and I had to "explain" I'd call it a "friendly fire" incident. "We were coming to assist and the SS fired upon us without knowing who we were. We naturally returned fire. Sorry bout that"
    Boat Guy

    1. That would work if the Heer investigated. Not so much if the SS investigated, in force. A Kubelwagon of SS investigating? Maybe an opportunity for Herr Major to acquire another vehicle...

    2. Everybody is just too busy trying to save their own asses at this point.

      Just another unfortunate incident in a savage war.

  11. Gee, just yesterday I remember saying something about a Mossie at night... Your Muse is doing a good job of fusing our suggestions into the story.

    That was... tense. I was thinking that Herr Major was going to, as soon as he knew they were stuck, get his men off the train pronto and far into the trees, especially once they heard an aircraft engine.

    But I like what you did. You saved the train crew, for now. Hopefully someone will pot the bridge or at least the rail around the bridge (at this point the Army was beginning to think it needed those bridges it was so happy blowing up.) Would be nice for a bridge and a train to last out the war for reconstruction.

    And, yes, BREAKOUT!!! With Heer units dropping arms and SS finding their way into Foreign Legion recruitment units, it's all over but the stupid deaths of too many people both military and civilian.

    Good writing, sir, good writing.

    And tomorrow is Palm Sunday. A little redemption would be acceptable.

  12. It makes me just a wee bit uncomfortable, that I felt a sort of elation when Sauer's men slaughtered the SS.

    Not I. Not in the slightest. A significant chunk of my family tree was pruned by those bastards. Maybe it is a failing on my part, but whether it is fictional or historical, I feel gladdened when I read of SS men getting what they deserved.

    If it is a failing on my part, I can live with it.

    1. Not a failing, not at all. The SS were bastards indeed.

  13. Sarge, were there known cases of this at the end of the war? I ask because my familiarity with this particular period is vague at best.

    Excellent writing, and quite a plot twist!


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