Thursday, March 25, 2021

The Best Laid Scheme...

National Archives

S/Sgt. Bob Poole stopped and went to one knee, lifting his hand, then lowering it to one side, he signaled the leading element of 3rd Platoon to stop and take a knee as well. The men in visual range had already done so. Poole, the platoon sergeant was traveling with Sgt. Ed Russell's 2nd Squad, the lieutenant, 2nd Lt. Damian Lott, had wanted his most experienced sergeant up front with the point squad.

Lott hustled forward with his radioman, Pvt. Lou Hess. "Whaddaya got Bob?"

"I dunno Sir, something seems off, something ain't right, can't put my finger on it." Poole answered. "I sent Day and Flores up to check things out, get a closer look. Maybe I'm just a bit nervous about this whole, 'Hey, the Krauts in the town want to surrender' thing. Seems too pat, too phony, ya know?"

Lott was new, but he had learned to listen to his sergeants, he turned to the 2nd Squad leader, Sgt. Ed Russell and said one word, "Ed?"

"I feel the same lieutenant, something doesn't feel right."

Hess had anticipated his lieutenant's next move and had the C Company commander, Cpt. Tony Palminteri on the radio. "Cap, something's fishy, we're going to check it out."

Lott listened for a moment, then said, "Sounds good Cap. We'll hold here, I'll send one squad in to check it out."

Russell looked at his lieutenant, who nodded, and said, "Okay guys, on line, let's go in..."

Reinhard Becker watched from the ruins as the American patrol advanced slowly and cautiously towards him. He was very worried, he had nothing but bad news for them. He was also somewhat nervous as he recognized none of the men coming his way. He felt somewhat comforted when he saw the red numeral one on the shoulder of one of the men, but he would have felt better had these been the same men he had spoken to before.

He lifted the white rag he had tied to a stick out to his side, making sure he kept his body behind the remnants of the brick wall he was sheltering behind. He took a deep breath when one of the Americans saw the white flag and halted the others. The American was pointing his rifle in Becker's direction. Then he heard the American yell...


Slowly Becker stepped into the American's view. That man continued to point his rifle at Becker while one of the other Americans began to advance towards him, yelling "Hände hoch!²" Becker was resolved to not move a muscle, the Americans were obviously on edge.

When the man reached him, he grabbed Becker's arm and roughly shoved him towards the other Americans, shouting, "Raus! Mach schnell!³"

Pvt. Mathew Flores was being rather rough with the older German man who was clutching a white rag on a stick. For his part the older guy looked terrified. When Flores reached the lieutenant and his squad leader, he looked at the lieutenant's radioman and said, "Hey, Lou, you speak Kraut, right?"

"Yeah, some, my grandma always spoke German to me when I was a kid, my Dad's parents came from the old country. What do you want me to ask him Sir?" Hess looked at Lott, not sure what to ask the old German man.

"Ask him where the German soldiers are?"

After a brief exchange in German, Hess told Lott, "There was a lot of stuff going on last night Sir. The SS showed up and searched the town, the army guys who were here had to pick up stakes and move out."

"Ask him who the commander of the army soldiers was?" Lott had been briefed by the captain about the specifics of what C Company expected to find, but had not known much more than the German commander's name and his intention to surrender.

Another exchange in German, during the exchange Lott heard a name he recognized, "von Lüttwitz."

"Sir, the man says that the men who were in the town, 2nd Battalion of the 8th Panzergrenadier Regiment, commanded by a Major von Lüttwitz, were ordered out last night, sometime after midnight, he wasn't sure. He was awakened when he heard the tanks start up and..."

"Tanks?!" exclaimed S/Sgt Poole, "Nobody said anything about tanks!"

"Yeah, the Germans we were supposed to capture had two Panthers and a StuG." 2nd Lt. Lott explained to his platoon sergeant. It was an odd feeling knowing something that Poole didn't, that shoe was usually on the other foot!

"Anyway, Sir, the tanks starting up and moving out woke him up. He said that the SS brought in a bunch of trucks to move the army guys out. He overheard an argument between two of the German officers. One wanted to defend the town, but the SS officer told the army officer that his orders were to evacuate the town, the army guys were needed elsewhere, guy here says he thought he heard the town of Bergisch Gladbach mentioned."

"Hhmm, that's east of Cologne isn't it Bob?" Lott asked his platoon sergeant.

"Yes Sir, word I've heard is that the Krauts are going to turn the Ruhr into some sort of fortress. Maybe our Germans were sent there, Bergisch Gladbach is in that direction."

"Damn, the Cap'n is not going to be happy about this."

Major Jürgen von Lüttwitz and Leutnant Manfred Sauer were crammed into the back seat of a Kübelwagen with a very overbearing SS officer named Grüneberg. The man was drunk as was the other, more senior, SS officer sitting in the front seat next to the driver. The driver was also an SS man.

At first von Lüttwitz and Sauer had feared that the SS had gotten wind of their plan to surrender. But the presence of their two Panthers and the StuG at the head of the little column, as well as the fact that their men were riding in a motley collection of army vehicles and farming trucks behind them, all still bearing arms, and the lack of any other SS troops made them relax somewhat. They weren't in the clear just yet, but the SS officers seemed to think this whole trip was a great big adventure, they'd even offered von Lüttwitz and Sauer a bottle of wine, which the two army officers had declined. The two army officers also retained their sidearms, Sauer made a point of  holding his MP 40 in front of him and looked ready to use it. The SS officers were both too drunk to notice.

"So Major, why hadn't you moved your unit when everybody else pulled back?" The SS captain in the front seat didn't seem suspicious, just curious.

"We had no orders Hauptsturmführer, withdrawing would have been tantamount to desertion, yes?" von Lüttwitz stated that in such a way as to brook further no discussion of the matter.

"Ah, natürlich, Herr Major. We seem to have lost all tactical discretion these days, have to be a goddamned field marshal to move troops it seems. And then only with the Führer's blessing!" The SS captain drank from the wine bottle then passed it to his colleague in the back seat, "Sieg Heil, Roland. Sieg f**king Heil!"

The SS lieutenant, whose name apparently was Roland, laughed and shouted, bottle held high, "Sieg Heil mein Hauptsturmführer, long live the glorious f**king Third Reich!!"

"Sir?" Hess was trying to get his lieutenant's attention.

"What is it Lou?" Lott sounded somewhat exasperated, especially as Cpt. Palminteri had ordered 3rd Platoon to stay where they were, the captain was coming up. Lott wondered if the day could possibly get any worse.

"Sir, the old guy wants to give you a letter, but as you don't speak German, he wants to know if it's okay if I look at it. Apparently he was supposed to give it to the first officer he met. That's you Sir." Hess explained.

"Go ahead, give me the gist of it."

Hess spent a few moments reading the letter, he had to ask the Becker a question here and there, but eventually he was done and looked up at Lott.


"It's an apology Sir. Essentially this Major von Lüttwitz is sorry that he couldn't execute his side of things. The SS were here and were insistent on the Germans moving out. I'm guessing saying 'no' to the SS isn't a smart move. The old man says that the Krauts are hanging deserters whenever and wherever they find them. Von Lüttwitz lost two men a couple of days ago to the hangman, the old guy says they're still hanging from a tree just north of this town. He says that to cut them down is a hanging offense. Hell Sir, he says they're even hanging kids." Hess looked embarrassed for a moment. "Kinda makes me a little ashamed to have German blood in me Sir."

"Not your fault Lou, your grandparents had nothing to do with this, they got out before this happened. Ah, here comes the boss." Lott said as he saw Cpt. Palminteri, his radioman, and the First Sergeant coming up the road into town.

Von Lüttwitz was standing near the train his men had just boarded. They were on a siding deep in a small wood, waiting for dark.

They were near the small town of Ruppichteroth, according to the Reichsbahn people operating the train, they had a very circuitous route to follow that night, apparently the enemy air forces had destroyed a lot of track lately. No doubt to prevent movement of our forces, von Lüttwitz thought.

"We're going to try and get your company to Wuppertal, from there you're on foot. My orders only cover getting you to Wuppertal, then we're to return here for another load. If we survive that is." The railroad official then hurried away to make sure all was in readiness to depart. It was roughly an hour to full dark.

As Leutnants Sauer and Heinrich joined von Lüttwitz near the car the officers would be riding in, von Lüttwitz wondered how Heinrich managed to keep his black tanker's uniform so clean. Probably because he rode everywhere he went, was his thought. Von Lüttwitz, had he looked closer, might have noticed the oil and fuel stains evident from a closer inspection. There was a reason the armored crews wore black.

"Manfred, Ralf, a pleasant evening so far. Any grumbling from the men about our abortive scheme?"

Sauer spoke, "The men who know, and we tried to limit the spread of that information, appreciate the fact that we were willing to try and stop the killing. They know the war is lost, they don't wish to die for the Fatherland."

"How about the few diehards we sent off?" von Lüttwitz asked.

"Ah, they are none the wiser. They have returned and actually accomplished their mission, after a fashion."

"Sir?" Heinrich asked, a puzzled expression on his face.

"They actually met those SS men on the road, who stopped them and demanded their papers, of course. Which were in order. But they told the SS captain their mission, which was to find us a train, and that's why the SS came to our old location. So..."

"Did the three men return?" Sauer asked.

"Yes, they were on the train when we arrived, I saw them talking with the SS as we were boarding. I would keep an eye on them Manfred. They're in 3rd platoon, they were in the old Drilling platoon. Lot of former Luftwaffe in that outfit, Dicke Hermann  indoctrinated them well." Von Lüttwitz paused, lifted his cap and wiped the sweat from his brow with his jacket sleeve, it was a warm evening. Then he continued.

"They're all in the 3rd Platoon's headquarters. They've been together since before Köln as well., all are former Luftwaffe Flak troops. Ardent Nazis apparently. No one in their platoon likes them. At least according to their platoon leader, Unteroffizier Michael Böhm."

"Who are they?" Heinrich asked.

Von Lüttwitz pulled his notebook out, "Grenadiers Michael Wagner, Robert Otto, and Andre Lang. None of them have ever been decorated, according to their records, they are mediocre soldiers at best."

Sauer said, "Let me take care of them. Tonight."

Von Lüttwitz and Heinrich both looked at the former pig farmer, von Lüttwitz started to speak, "What do you..."

Sauer interrupted him, "You don't want to know Sir. Trust me."

Heinrich grinned and said, "I have to make sure my vehicles are properly secured, I was surprised that the station had the right setup to load armored vehicles. Good evening gentlemen." With a nod and a jaunty salute, the tanker disappeared into the gathering dark.

"He rather scares me at times." Sauer said.

"Heinrich? He's a choir boy compared to you Manfred."

"I don't like it anymore than you do Sir, but the men might suffer for those Nazi bastards'  attitudes and actions as the war comes to close, which I know must be soon. Would you rather I..." This time von Lüttwitz interrupted.

"Do what you must, I can help..."

"No Sir, I can take care of this myself. It's better that only one of us has German blood on their hands." Sauer stated with finality.

Von Lüttwitz remembered the flight across France, Manfred Sauer was a good man to have on your side, not a man you wanted as an enemy. But there seemed no other recourse.

He wanted his men to survive.

¹ Come out!
² Hands up!
³ Out! Move quick!

to all of the Chant's fiction.


  1. Manfred is, indeed, a good man to have at your side. Another deft move on your part Sarge; one sees the title and immediately thinks "ah shit" which must have been von L's reaction to encountering the SS. Seems even those SS types are having morale and motivation issues.
    Thanks once more, blogger swallowed all my comments yesterday.
    Boat Guy

  2. Not sure of the wording by Manfred; "Let me take of them" and I've a reasonable ( if rusty) familiarity with German vocabulary and grammar.

    1. I left a word out, should have been "Let me take care of them" which can mean almost anything. There is a German underworld term "um die Ecke bringen" for murdering someone, but (at least according to Len Deighton) a soldier wouldn't use that term. (And I apparently only have a passing acquaintance with English grammar, at least as regards the typing thereof.)

  3. Replies
    1. It's war... or as the French say, C'est la guerre!

  4. Ah, the best laid plans of mice and men...sometimes just go astray!

  5. Just a few eeks left before the final curtain drops. wouldn't want to be those three diehards, there's a reason for being a gray man around those you don't know, used to be "keep your mouth shut and your eyes open" back in the day.

    1. Head on a swivel, always. (But not obviously!)

  6. Ah.... missing a "w" but I guess eeks will do.......

    1. There may be a few "eeks" in the weeks ahead...


  7. The tension comes through in your writing. Nothing like people on edge pointing weapons at each other. The couple of times I was in situations like that it was very uncomfortable/scary while praying things didn't go sideways. At this point in the war, one would want the killing to just stop...

  8. Dagnabit! Your muse is so twisted she makes pretzels look like a straight line.

    As to the Three, well, Sauer is a pig-farmer, and a train travelling at night in a blacked out country is an excellent place for 'three deserters' to jump ship, well, after being relieved of the ability to talk.


    Even the SS sound defeatist. You know it's bad when even some of the hard-core have given up.

    1. Those last days saw a lot of drunkenness and bad behavior, even by the SS.

  9. Now I can relax a bit and let out that breath I've been holding.
    But I'm not going to get overconfident.

    when you wrote, "Major Jürgen von Lüttwitz and Leutnant Manfred Sauer were crammed into the back seat of a Kübelwagen with a very overbearing SS officer named Grüneberg."
    I had a flashback to the scene in "Where Eagles Dare" where Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood have been captured and they are being transported in a car.

    Waiting anxiously for the next installment.

  10. Hey Old AFSarge;

    One of the Wrinkles your muse cooked up, Bravo, LOL

  11. Dang, Sarge - seeing your title of this installment, I was ready for the wurst.. I mean worst. Glad everyone is OK for now, but obviously who knows what's going to happen tomorrow.

  12. But...But...

    Man, you have a gift - and the ability to spread tension (and interest) for days. Your Muse is apparently working overtime...

    1. Rather proud of the old girl I am. Stuff pops into my head throughout the day and I wonder how to work that into the story.


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