Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Death Stalks the Ruins


SS-Rottenführer¹ Egon Ehrenfeld scanned the town of Rüthen from his perch in the water tower on the southern edge of the town. He had volunteered for this mission which was very simple, report on the American advance and delay them as long as he could.

Ehrenfeld was from this area and had visited Rüthen many times before the war. He was saddened by the fact that most of the town had been reduced to ruins, he was surprised that the old water tower, built in 1909, was still relatively intact. He would use that to his advantage.

Ehrenfeld was 21 years old, he had been nine when Adolf Hitler and the National Socialists had come to power in 1933. He had been a member of the Hitler Youth and had joined the Waffen SS as soon as he had turned 18 in 1942. His father, a local Party official, had managed to keep him out of the hands of the Wehrmacht and conscription. Papa had been so proud when his boy was accepted into the SS.

It was a cloudy day, rather windy and a bit cold, but not unexpected in this area for early April. He was happy that it wasn't raining, a common feature of the weather in early spring. He rather wished that he had donned his Zeltbahn before taking up his position as his camouflage smock and woolen tunic weren't really keeping him warm. But he'd been colder in Russia, much colder. Besides which the Zeltbahn made a very nice rest for his scoped K98k.

As he studied the terrain to the east, he saw movement on a rise about 2 kilometers from his position, tanks and halftracks, American tanks and halftracks.


1st Lt. Stephen Hernandez was sitting on top of the turret of S/Sgt Brad Woodstock's tank, 'Catamount.' Woodstock was inside at the moment, trying to figure out what was going on with his radio. After a few moments he came up in his hatch.

"Geez, looks like a flaky switch, if Blaisdell holds it down, it works fine, let go and we can't transmit. I'm going to switch over to Harrell's tank, he ain't gonna like it, but Hell, I'm the platoon commander, I need good comms."

Hernandez jumped down with Woodstock, briefly told his platoon sergeant what was going on, then waited for Woodstock to take over 'Misfit II' and resume his place at the head of the column. As he waited he looked towards the town ahead, according to his map it was called Rüthen. He brought his field glasses up and checked out the town. He saw a tower, pretty banged up, but if there were Krauts in the town, they'd have a guy up there.

Ehrenfeld watched the two men on top of the lead tank for a few moments. Then, realizing that it would be a while before that group would be a threat, he scanned around the town once more. He didn't really have a good view to the north, but that wasn't his sector anyway, he did have excellent views to the east, the south, and the west.

To the west were the remnants of Army Group B, holding the Ruhr for whatever reasons still made sense in the Third Reich. The Ruhr was the industrial heartland of the Reich, but if it was surrounded, of what use was it?

Ehrenfeld had no illusions regarding his survival. He was a member of the Waffen SS, he had seen atrocities in the East and here in the West. He was guilty of participating in atrocities. While he felt that his oath compelled him to obey the orders he was given, regardless of how the world may view that, he did feel a certain amount of guilt over what he had done.

But the bottom line was that everything he had believed in since he was a child was being swept away. What kind of world would follow the war? He didn't know but he was also quite sure that he wouldn't live to see it.

Checking that rise again, he noted that the Americans were moving again. Probably planning on traveling up the valley of the Möhne River, which would place them in range within the next fifteen minutes or so.

He would wait. He was ready.

Woodstock knew the men in his platoon well, still he wasn't as comfortable with Harrell's crew as he was with his own. But he needed a working radio, so he had switched mounts. He noticed that Cpl. Bill Simpson, though a competent driver, wasn't nearly as smooth on the gears and on the steering levers as his own driver, Cpl. Will Harness. Then again, Misfit II was a brand new tank whereas Catamount had seen a lot of war so far. Maybe that's why Misfit II felt a little stiff.

He was glassing the road which ran along the river, it looked clear, if it was mined, it wasn't obvious. He rather wished they had some engineers along, but maybe Hernandez wouldn't mind having his guys dismount and have a look. Didn't hurt to ask.

Sgt. Charlie Gammell climbed down from his halftrack and heard Pvt. Carl Wiggins bitching, again.

"Why do we have to check the damn road, ain't we got engineers to do that kind of thing?"

"Carl, quit your bitching. You know what to look for, it's a paved road, it's in pretty decent shape, just look for trip wires, funny looking areas in the pavement, anything out of the ordinary. The Krauts have been on the run and they didn't plan on having us come at them from the east, most of the defenses are in the west. We should be good, but the tankers want us to have a look anyway. You probably won't set off an AT mine, so stop worrying."

"Probably Sarge? Really? Probably?" Wiggins wouldn't let it go.

"Get to it."

Gammell was looking around, he could see the top of that tower he'd noticed when they were up on the hill. Good spot for a sniper. He thought for a moment, then acted.

"Posey, on me. We're going to have a look-see at that tower. Frank, you've got the squad, we'll be back shortly."

"Got it Sarge." Cpl. Frank Barnett was the assistant squad leader, and he was proving to be a good one. Gammell knew he was leaving the men in good hands. Besides, his little excursion wouldn't take nearly as long as it would to check the road for mines.

Pvt. Ross Flowers hustled over, then he and Gammell set out for another spot of high ground just ahead and on the right. Before leaving, Gammell had grabbed the spare walkie-talkie out of the halftrack.

"Hhmm, what's this?" Ehrenfeld muttered to himself as he saw two men separate from the squad near the halftrack. He lost sight of them as they went into the woods just behind the next rise over. The Amis were getting close.

Maybe it was time to have a little fun with them.

"Holloway, Quinn, Noble, you guys check the left side, Walter, Wiggins, MacTavish, you guys got the right. Haskell, get the spare field glasses out, keep an eye on that tower. I feel like we're being watched, I don't like it."

"Geez Corp, that tower has gotta be close to a mile away. Kind of a long shot for a sniper don't ya think?" Pvt. Billy Zerbst liked to ask questions, sometimes they were good questions, this seemed like a good question.

"Yeah, it's a long shot, but I've seen guys take that shot. Sarn't Gammell could make that shot. I doubt anybody would open up on us from there, especially with that .50 cal mounted on the track. He might not be able to hurt us at that range, but we sure as Hell can ruin his day."

No sooner had those words left Cpl. Franklin Barnett's mouth then his helmet went spinning from his head. It was a glancing blow, the range was too far for the German bullet to penetrate Barnett's helmet, but it knocked him to the ground, stunned.

While two men dragged Barnett out of the road, and the other members of the squad went to cover, Pvt. Ken Buchanan moved the halftrack into a position to cover the other squad members and where Pvt. George Haskell, manning the .50 caliber Browning on top of the halftrack, could better see the top of the tower. Haskell racked the bolt back on the big gun, then he depressed the butterfly trigger.

His first few rounds were low, he could see the tracers skipping off the masonry on the tower, he adjusted and started putting rounds into the opening near the top of the semi-ruined tower. He fired deliberately, short bursts, eventually he had to stop firing and load another box of ammo. There was no return fire from the tower.

Ehrenfeld had lowered himself from the top of the tower, planning to use another opening about 10 meters below the top, just as he began to slide over to that other opening he could see and feel rounds hitting on the outside of the masonry, not far from the opening he planned on using. Had he been spotted?

Then he was showered with debris coming down from the top of the tower, bits of masonry and wood, as the American machine gun began to hit the spot where he used to be. Sounded like a 12.7 mm gun, the Russians had those, nasty guns, a big round, he'd seen friends hit by one of those. Left a mess.

Flowers had nearly jumped out of his skin when the .50 started firing, for some reason he hadn't expected that. He was watching Sgt. Gammell's back when he heard the sergeant mutter, "Got you!"

Ehrenfeld saw movement from the corner of his eye, he ducked back from the opening just in time. A bullet hit the masonry right where his head had been a moment before. He had to pause and wash his eyes out, bits of dust and grit had gotten into them from the ricochet. At least now he knew where those other two men were, roughly. One of them was a damned fine shot!

"Shit." Gammell muttered as he began to move. Flowers knew to follow without asking. For a sniper to stay in one place was like asking to die.

Gammell moved up the hill and back a ways, he lost sight of the tower almost immediately, which meant that whoever was up there had lost sight of him as well. So he hoped.

"Scheiß drech noch mal!²" Ehrenfeld lost sight of the two Americans as they scrambled to his left. He was observing through a small hole which he couldn't shoot through but which gave him another angle of view. As there was no fire from the halftrack down on the road (he still couldn't believe he'd hit that soldier from nearly 1200 meters away) he decided to take a chance on the top of the tower once more. Different spot, same level.

Barnett was sitting up now, he had a massive headache, but was otherwise okay.

"Sumbitch rang my bell good. Did ya get him Georgie?"

"Nah, but I made him shift position. He went down lower I think. Sarn't Gammell took a shot, I heard his rifle. Should I hold off, let the Sarge take him?" Haskell asked his corporal.

Barnett answered, "Yeah, but keep your eyes on that tower, anything moves, shoot. The rest of you guys, get back on the road, check for mines. If that guy shoots again, it'll probably be at Haskell!"

Haskell gave his corporal a look, then nodded, it made sense, you go for the biggest threat, which might be him on the .50, might be Sgt. Gammell up on that hill. If the Kraut showed himself, he'd nail him.

Ehrenfeld was near the top of the tower again. He carefully checked his surroundings, as near as he could tell, he was safe from observation to his left, too many trees. So he put his scope on the road again. Yes, the mine hunters were back at work, time to drive them back to cover.

As always, when he squeezed the trigger, the recoil surprised him.

Pvt. Jesse Noble swore as a bullet skipped off the pavement near his foot, the squad dove for cover once more. This time Haskell didn't return fire immediately, he couldn't see anything to shoot at.

"Hold still you bastard," Gammell breathed out then squeezed his trigger. The tree cover was fairly thick here, lots of pines, but there was a slight wind which was causing the branches to move, giving him occasional glimpses of the top of the old tower.

During one of those glimpses, he'd seen movement, something there, so he fired.

Ehrenfeld couldn't believe how intense the pain was. The bullet had gone into his left side, just below the armpit. The impact had knocked the wind out of him and caused him to drop his rifle. He had seen his cherished K98k slide through the opening to fall to the ground below. He had carried that rifle since late-43. He had, he figured, some 52 kills with that rifle.

Now he was having trouble catching his breath. He reached over with his right hand and touched his side, his hand came back drenched with blood. He tried to rub it off on his trousers.

If only he could catch his breath...

Gammell's squad and Woodstock's tanks had cleared the road into Rüthen, the only resistance they had encountered was that single sniper. There had been other Germans in the town, but they had pulled back to Warstein, the Ruhr Pocket was starting to collapse.

Gammell had climbed the tower with Flowers, the L.T. had given his blessing. He had told them to hurry though, they were pulling out and heading east, deeper into Germany. Other units would reduce the pocket, the Big Red One was needed for the drive deeper into the Reich. Perhaps even into Czechoslovakia.

Gammell squatted down next to the dead man, his eyes were still open, his helmet was off to one side. He wasn't a kid, but he wasn't old either, bright blue eyes and bright blond hair, a poster child for Hitler's SS.

"Why didn't he wait Sarge? Let us get closer, he could have killed a few of us."

Gammell pointed to a field phone nearby. "Guy was probably reporting on our progress, probably had orders to slow us down, then pull out. We were lucky I guess. I just had a momentary glimpse of the guy's back. But I hit him square."

"Yeah, you did Sarge, nice shot."

"Hhmm." Gammell reached down and closed the German's eyes. Then patted the corpse on the shoulder. Gammell muttered something, which Flowers thought he heard, but didn't understand. Flowers held his tongue though, it seemed out of place to say anything.

Later, when they were back on the ground and with the platoon, Flowers asked Sgt. Katz a question. He knew Sgt. Katz was really smart, if anyone knew, it would be him.

"So Sarge, what's a Valhalla?"

Katz turned to look at the young private, "Valhalla's a place, not a thing. Well, it's a mythological place, not real. Why do you ask?"

"Just something Sgt. Gammell said when he closed that Kraut sniper's eyes."

"He did what?"

"He closed the guy's eyes, they were open, ya know, staring at nothing. I remember Sgt. Gammell saying once, that after you kill a deer, you had to do something to respect the dead animal. You took it's life, you at least acknowledge that. Some weird Vermont deer-hunting shit I guess." Flowers shook his head, he wasn't a hunter, what would he know about it?

"What exactly did Sarn't Gammell say, Posey?"

"Sounded like, 'See you in Valhalla.' What does that even mean?" Flowers asked.

"You know who the Vikings were Posey?"

"Yeah, guys raided England and stuff, back in the old days."

"Well, they had a lot of myths, one of 'em was about Valhalla. It's a place where warriors went after they had been killed in battle. Spent close to eternity drinking and carousing all night, then fighting all day. Until everything ended, the whole world. Odd that Sgt. Gammell would say that."

"Yeah, I guess so. Sgt. Gammell has his ways, ya know?"

"We all do Ross, anything to try to keep our sanity."

As Katz walked away, Flowers realized that that was the first time anyone in the platoon had called him by his first name.

Quite a day.

Later, when they had bivouacked for the night, Sgt. Katz stopped to talk with Sgt. Gammell.

"Valhalla, Charlie? You believe that stuff?"

"My Dad's mother, my grandmother, was from the old country, Norway. She told me lots of stories when I was a kid. Odin, Thor, Loki, Valhalla, and what the Germans are experiencing now, sort of."

"What's that?"

"Ragnarök. The end of the world, at least I'm sure that's how a lot of Germans feel right now."

"They brought it upon themselves Charlie."

"I know that Cat, believe me, I know."

"So you buy into that Norse stuff?"

"Hey, I grew up with those stories. My bestemor, my paternal grandma, kind of believed. Sure she was raised Christian, but her grandparents believed in the old ways. Lot of great stories she told me back then."

"That's some scary shit, Charlie."

"No scarier than this war. It bothers me to have to kill people, but I'll do it, so me and mine can get home again."

"I hear you Charlie. I hear you."

¹ Corporal
² F**k it again!

Link to all of the Chant's fiction.


  1. Nice cat & mouse post Sarge. Knowing there's a sniper out there when you're moving about.......heebie jeebie time. Whenever Posey gets mentioned I'm thinking Clint Walker, funny eh?

    1. Thanks Nylon12!

      (Oh yeah, Clint Walker in Dirty Dozen.)

  2. @Nylon12 "I don't like being pushed!!!" Gosh, this group is like a bunch of kids from the same family... I love it.

    Great story, OAFS, it could stand alone. I think it's that good.

    1. We are family, for sure.


    2. Second on the "it could stand alone". Tight and tense.
      Boat Guy

  3. That was as intense a read as any you have written. Exactly what he said above, the "cat and mouse" of the story line was excellent.

  4. I would have expected “huh, a bullet came from that tower... send him a few 75mm care packages,” not this “give the Hun a sporting chance” crap :P

    1. The tanks were waiting for the infantry to check the road for mines. Out of sight, out of mind, out of range.

    2. That would be the Pacific War version. "Oh, there's a sniper in that tree, open up with the 105!"

      And, yeah, fully expecting either an artillery strike or the Sherms to start firing. Though a good old BMG chugging away can do a hella lot of damage to brickwork.

    3. Plus, the water tower is still there. Can't have Sarge changing the landscape too much :)


  5. Sniper duel mano a mano, warrior vs. warrior. Til Valhal ! "It is well that war is so terrible, lest we grow too fond of it."(R. E. Lee)
    As a confirmed Lutheran with a 100% Norwegian mother (father a Scots-Irish German mutt) I can and do totally relate with this story. Brought tears to my eyes, it did.
    'See you in Valhalla.'... Indeed. Once again, I must compliment you on your fine storytelling.

    1. Yup. 100% Cathlic, no drop of Norse blood in either side after 911 AD (foundation of Normandy by Norse) and those stories sing to me late at night.

      Fight all day, party all night, well, it's the SCA! (except for the driving long distances to do the FAD,PAN thingy...)

    2. I discovered a couple of years back that I have Norse and Irish blood in me.

      Which explains a lot.

    3. Goodly bit of Norse, direct from paternal grandmother; and that isn't even the "warrior" side.
      Boat Guy

    4. (Don McCollor)...The old Norse women were pretty tough too. in "The Far Traveler", the Icelandic sagas tell of a woman named Gudrid that five hundred years before Columbus twice sailed with her husband past the edge of the known world on voyage to Vinland...

    5. The Norse women were tough, when they went on raids, they fought in battle beside their men as shield maidens.

  6. I think you put Barnett in 2 places at once. When Gammel missed his first shot...and moved....you put Barnett with him

    1. I'm really enjoying the read. Excellent work

    2. A #1 - Oops, with the concussion, Barnett just thought he was there...

      Fixed it, good catch!

  7. Why could I hear the music from "Kelly's Heroes," when the US are moving into the town and setting up firing lines and such?

    Really good story. Was worried Gammell was going to be on the receiving end, but instead he was on the giving end.

    And, shows the power of the .30-06, of whose design parameters included hitting and seriously wounding a horse at a 1000 yards. Needless to say a man getting hit would suffer a tad bit more.

    Ragnarok indeed. Especially on the Eastern front.

    1. I should have S/Sgt Woodstock mount a loudspeaker on his tank.

    2. 7.92 Mauser's no slouch either.

  8. There was a Netflix miniseries based on Ragnarok In modern times.

    All that time with the armor coming in and the suspected sniper in the tower I thought they just blast the tower.

    Some of the best sniper stories are in a book about Carlos Hathcock. One when it was sniper versus sniper has been used in several movies.

    Hathcock killed an enemy North Vietnamese sniper with the bullet actually going through his scope. He was a split second faster.

    1. Extra points in Sniper Elite 4 for killing an enemy sniper with a bullet through the scope.

  9. Sarge, agreed that this vignette could stand as a short story all on its own. Very gripping and tense with a thoughtful ending (and, did anyone not think the water tower would be a place of interest)?

    I do find it interesting that Ehrenfeld instinctively knew that for him, there was no "after the war".

    1. The end of a war, and you're on the losing side? I imagine there was a lot of despair. Several of my ancestors found themselves in that position in 1865, but they left no record of their thoughts on it. The survivors went on to build lives & raise families, but how many just gave up? Today, we're still losing too many of our younger brothers who fought over the last two decades--losing them to their own perceived defeat & helplessness.
      Heavy stuff just above, Sarge, but on the subject of the story, taut & effective. Very good!
      --Tennessee Budd

    2. TB - Thanks. Ehrenfeld had been around long enough to know that there would be little mercy for his kind.

    3. Tennessee Budd - I remember a painting of the Army of Northern Virginia, the men were bidding farewell to the colors they had followed for four years. Poignant and powerful.


    4. (Don McCollor)...and the story of the quiet pride of an Army of Northern Virginia veteran telling that he had grounded his musket at Appomattox. Faithfully fighting on until General Lee told him to stop...

  10. Great chapter! Loved the sniper vs sniper story, although the German wasn't as good this day. Speaking of Ragnarok, there's a decent series on Netflix with that name. One season only so far. Filmed in Norway, and probably in Norwegian. You either have to have read the subtitles or turn on dubbing.

    1. I'll have to check that series out, I've watched a couple of Norwegian TV series on Netflix, enjoyed them both. I like the sound of Norwegian, an interesting language.

      Thanks Tuna!

  11. I wish you had put the sniper in the Witch tower!


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