Wednesday, April 28, 2021


South of Aš, Karlovy Vary¹ Region, Czechoslovakia

"Mitch I want you to go around to the platoons, check that the men are settling in. Take Sgt. Collier with you, he can help the platoon leaders get their supply requisitions in. I don't know how long we're going to be here. The company commander from the 97th Infantry Division that we replaced says that the Germans in the area are still fairly aggressive. Make sure the platoons get their defensive assignments squared away and have the platoon leaders plan for reconnaissance patrolling for the next few days. I don't want to take any unnecessary chances but we're not going to just lay back and wait for the war to end. It's coming soon enough." Cpt. Stephen Hernandez looked at his XO, 2nd Lt. Mitch Hornsby was about as green as he could be, but was shaping up to be a thorough fellow, good with details.

"Sir, any chance I might be able to go out on a patrol?" Hornsby expected to be told no, but he also wanted to let the captain know that he wasn't afraid to take his chances with everybody else.

"Yeah, probably, but as an observer only. The sergeants know their jobs, you don't. But yup, it's a good way to learn the ropes. I'll set something up with Nate, he's our most experienced platoon leader, Hell, if he hadn't been wounded back in Belgium, he'd probably be the company commander now."

"Cat, I hate to do this to you but I want you to take the first patrol out. You've got one new guy, Charlie has five, and John has seven." 1st Lt. Nate Paddock said to Sgt. Melvin Katz. He was about to continue when Sgt. Katz interrupted him.

"L.T. how about I take a couple of the new guys from each of the other squads, give 'em some field experience? We keep hearing that the war's almost over, but it seems no one told the Krauts. There's still a few who want to mix it up."

"That's not a bad idea, work it out with Charlie and John. First thing in the morning, tonight we'll lay low, get a feel for things."

"You got it Sir."

"I can't make out the unit patch on these new people. They look experienced though, not like some bunch of Grünschnabel²." Feldwebel Klaus Müller was watching intently through his field glasses as the new unit across the valley was settling into the positions recently occupied by men of Patton's 97th Infantry Division. Müller was not unhappy to see the 97th pull out. Tough bastards they were.

"Perhaps we should probe these new boys tonight, see what they're made of, see who they are. Remember those 106th boys in the Ardennes? Green as grass, we captured a lot of them." Hauptmann Manfred Schuler chuckled at the memory of that. Back when he still believed that they could still win the war.

He had no such illusions now. He commanded a rag tag group of fifty survivors from multiple units, only Müller was familiar to him, they had served together in the 18th Volksgrenadier Division, then the 26th Volksgrenadier Division until that unit had surrendered in the Harz Mountains only a couple of weeks before. One thing he could say about the men he commanded now, none of them were new to combat, all had served since at least 1941. These men knew how to fight.

"I'll put together a raiding group, we'll try to snatch a prisoner."

The company was settling in for the night, 1st Lt. Herm Jacobsen had his two light machine gun teams positioned to sweep the entire company frontage, his mortar teams were positioned further back. They'd laid out their aiming posts and were ready to lay down a blanket of high explosive on anyone approaching from the east. They had a supply of illumination rounds to hand as well.

The platoon leaders had laid out a few surprises of their own in front of their positions. Oddly enough it had been the XO, Hornsby who had suggested a few tricks to surprise any unwary Germans coming up the gentle slope from the forest which was roughly 300 yards out. The 97th had chosen their positions well, the men of Charlie Company were suitably impressed.

Müller was leading the small party, Hauptmann Schuler had wanted to go, but Müller had convinced him that it wasn't an officer's job to lead raiding parties.

"I'm taking Kleinschmidt, Backus, and Dorfmann, any more than that and we would make more noise than I care for. Those three guys were in the East, survived that, then survived Falaise and the Ardennes. Old hands, they're perfect for this sort of job." Müller had explained when Schuler had wanted to send more men.

"All right then Klaus, try to grab a prisoner, in quick and out quick. I want to see who we're up against." Schuler wanted to go, he hadn't fired his weapon for a week now, he felt useless. The Reich might yet fall, but not because of him!

"You hear that?" Pvt. Roberto Griffith leaned closer to the edge of the machine gun team's fighting position.

Pfc. Lyle Bonner leaned out, he heard something, a rustling noise coming from down the hill. Then he heard it, a distinct rattle, pebbles in a can.

Griffith was already on the field phone to the mortarmen.

The raiding party froze when Gefreiter Herbert Kleinschmidt brushed against a strand of wire. The rattling scared the heck out of him, "What the Hell was that?" he wondered. Then he saw the tin cans hanging from the wire. It was a distinctive sound, it was an unnatural sound, and at night it carried.

Müller thought about going to ground, but movement attracted the eye, if they remained motionless for a few more seconds, they should be able to continue. Then he heard a dull thunk, the sound of a mortar round. He winced and hoped it was just harassing fire meant to discourage anyone thinking about coming up the slope to the American position.

He groaned inwardly as the round popped overhead and a parachute flare began to swing from side to side. His hand was out, signaling "No one move." In the grotesque shadows, which flickered as the flare swayed under its parachute, he hoped that his group would go unnoticed.

Cpl. Dwayne Pearson, Pfc. Logan Adkins, and Pvt. Sidney Harrington had been awakened as soon as the mortar crews had been alerted. Pearson was watching the slope, it was hard to make anything out clearly, but, there! Shapes which didn't belong. He nudged the gun a couple of degrees to the left, then hissed, "Fire..."

The tracer rounds came from the left, Grenadier Horst Backus shuddered as the rounds tore through him, he dropped to the ground, lifeless. Grenadier Norbert Dorfmann's instinct was to drop to the ground, but instead he brought his StG 44 up to his shoulder and returned fire. The muzzle flash from his weapon brought immediate retribution from the right of the enemy position.

Dorfmann backpedaled as the rounds from the second machine gun exploded his chest, knocking him down, killing him.

Kleinschmidt turned to run just as the parachute flare burned out. Müller tried to grab him and pull him down to the ground but he was too late. Kleinschmidt had gone perhaps five meters when a second parachute flare illuminated the slope.

Sgt. Charlie Gammell was wide awake now. He was upstairs in a small farmhouse, well back from the window but with a good view of the center of the American position all the way down to the forest. He thought he saw movement so he swung his scoped Springfield in that direction.

"Got ya," he murmured.

Kleinschmidt grunted as an American round hit him high in the back. He collapsed immediately, the bullet had nicked his spinal cord. He wondered why he couldn't feel anything from the neck down. He could see from the corner of his left eye that Müller was trying to pull him into cover. He wished he could help.

Gammell saw his target go down hard. He continued to observe that spot, sure enough, he saw an arm reach out to the man he'd just shot. The guy must still be alive, but he wasn't going anywhere, no sense wasting another bullet on him.

But the helper? He was fair game.

Kleinschmidt was watching as Müller's helmet came off his head. Something wet splashed against his face. He then knew that Müller wouldn't be helping anyone ever again.

He couldn't move, he couldn't do a thing. Except wait, for whatever fate had in store for him.

In the morning 2nd Lt. Hornsby was with Gammell's squad, checking the aftermath of the skirmish in the night. Cpt. Hernandez had come out as well.

They found the dead Germans, four of them, clustered all within a few yards of each other. Gammell saw that he'd hit one of them just below his collar line, probably paralyzed him, he thought. The guy nearby, a sergeant, had been hit squarely in the back of the head. His helmet was a few feet away, a hole through the back of it.

Pvt. Fred Walter walked over to the helmet, he thought it would make a nice souvenir. However, once he picked it up and looked inside, he quickly dropped it, then he puked up his breakfast.

"Yeah, bad idea Fred." Cpl. Franklin Barnett chided him. "Anyway, never pick Kraut stuff up when it's laying around, the Germans like to booby trap that stuff, knowing we like souvenirs."

After Hernandez organized a detail to take the bodies up to the road, he took Hornsby aside. "Nice trick with the cans and the pebbles XO. Where'd you get that idea?"

"One of the instructors at OCS³ was at the 'Canal, said the Japanese were really good at sneaking around at night, infiltrating their positions. So one of the guys had the idea to string cans up with wire, with pebbles in them. You brush the wire, you rattle the pebbles. I guess it worked, huh?" Hornsby was pleasantly surprised with his contribution to the war effort, even more so with the praise from Hernandez.

"Yup, worked damn well, didn't it Mort." He called out to 1st Sgt. Saeger who was passing by. Saeger gave 2nd Lt. Hornsby a thumbs up and called out.

"Nice one Pebbles!"

Hornsby looked at Hernandez and whispered, "Pebbles?"

Hernandez laughed and said, "Sounds like you got a nickname XO, like it?"

"Not really."

"Well then, it'll probably stick. Don't fight it, I don't even have a nickname, you do. I'm kinda jealous."


"Sure enough. Pebbles."

¹ Asch, in German. The region itself is Karlsbad in German.
² Greenhorns.
³ Officer Candidate School, the one for the infantry was (and still is) at Fort Benning, Georgia.

Link to all of the Chant's fiction.


  1. I have been wondering, at this point in the war, would the .30s of the machine gun platoon be M1919A6 models? I know they were pushing thirty pounds, but you didn't shave to haul a tripod around with you.

    1. The boys in C Company's Weapons Platoon are still using the tripod-mounted M1919A4.

  2. Both my Dad and his older brother were products of "Benning's School for Boys" and both thought the training was pretty good. My uncle saw combat in the Philippines, Okinawa and Korea as an Infantry officer so his endorsement really carried some weight.
    In a defensive position, I'd prefer a tripod-mounted gun.
    Boat Guy

    1. Guess Muller answered his own question in a way. Hauptman Schuler's now down four good men.

    2. Doggone shame Muller was too wise to let Schuler tag along.

    3. BG - Yes, Benning produced some very good officers.

      Ditto on the tripod.

    4. BG #2 - Yes he did. Reminds me of the movie Zulu where the Boer officer explains to the Brits that the Induna of the Zulu impi was testing their defenses "with the bodies of his men." Though I'm sure that wasn't Schuler's intent.

    5. Patrick - Yup, two birds, one stone.

    6. Well, any German observing from their lines now know the Amis have two machine guns, one on each flank, and a mortar...

      Recon by Fire is a known technique, but a tad harsh on the Reconners...

    7. Anyone with access to the TO&E of an American rifle company already knows that. Just sayin'...

  3. Kinda hard nowadays to find C-ration cans considering MREs, then again NVG is available now. Nighttime patrol? Lions, tigers, bears...oh my!

    1. During an exercie in NATO back in the day, we were guarding the HQ building. Our boss had rigged soup cans with pebbles all along the perimeter. They work.

      But yeah, MREs don't come with cans...

    2. The sound of Mylar crinkling isn't the same...

    3. That sound won't carry that far either!

    4. Plenty of soda cans usually lying around

    5. Wife's Girl Scout troop in Hawaii used the pebbles in the can option when bivouacking in an area used by the Marines for pre-deployment training about 1967 or thereabouts. It worked. Old Guns


  4. Pebbles in cans, and other noise makers can be better than say a line of claymores. Sneaky bastards can't turn them around on ya. Spooky as hell pulling the detonator if you haven't had the mine in sight all along.

    1. Yeah, quite a pucker factor I would think.

    2. Sneakier bastards booby trap the Claymore when they lay them...

    3. Makes for moving them yourself a little troublesome though...

    4. Very true, Sarge. And there's also the 'what if one of our other guys has to deconstruct this shit?'
      You get pulled off the line for whatever reason, conscious or not, you might not have the time, or the presence of mind to tell your replacement what kinda bells and whistles you've got out front of your position.
      'Twould royally suck to assist the enemy by taking out one of our own.

    5. It is possible to be too clever.

  5. Good info, great story. I've read about those cans in the PTO... I used to have a roll of that 4 color wire for setting trip flares and such. Dad's last foray in the Army was combat engineer. I have his handbook somewhere. I dug a foxhole in the back yard when I was six. I did a pretty good kid sized one, with what I'd read in the handbook. It's harder to fill a hole with your backside on fire and tears in your eyes, than it is if you want to just fill a hole in.

    1. Foxhole in the backyard? While your butt got smacked for that, I'm sure your Dad was appreciative, even if it was only deep down inside.

    2. It must've been the top cover that launched him. I had some wood and a pile of dirt on top. I didn't have a burster layer of rock though. I did look for some....

  6. Ahh yes, the long standing tradition of getting a silly callsign even if you do something good. Smart move with those pebble cans. The modern version is a tripwire and a claymore, but a bullet from afar does the same thing.

    1. See above, a sneaky enemy can point a claymore in an unwanted direction.

  7. Hey AFSarge;

    I'm surprised those Germans didn't recognize the "Big Red One" on the shoulder of the new arrivals. I Remember when I first saw that patch on my uniform after picking it up from the "Stitch Witch", I felt 10 feet tall, most illustrious division in the American Army (Yes I am biased, LOL) I had forgotten about the pebbles in the can trick, pure brilliance, and truth about the Japanese liking to move around at night. I do have a off the wall question if you don't mind....You gonna do an offshoot of the guys in Korea? after they get called up when the Norks cross the 38th? Or you haven't thought about that yet?

    1. At a distance, even with binoculars, the unit patch might not be readily discernable. (That's my story and I'm sticking to it. 😁)

      I actually have thought about following the men past the end of WWII. Korea springs to mind for sure, what with me having ties to that wonderful nation.

    2. Or do a new story with a few of the vets from this one sprinkled into the units in Korea .... just a thought.
      Still enjoying everything you're 'putting on paper '

  8. For the immediate after the war, how about some of the guys who decide to be lifers get to play with the commies around Trieste. Look to Colonel Hackworth's memoir "About Face" for some background.


  9. Most excellent episode! And I think the nickname "Pebbles" is gonna stick. :-) I remember beautiful Fort Benning, attended Jump School in July and August four(!) decades ago. I remember thinking, "Face the drill sergeants or jump out of a perfectly good airplane to potential death. Which will it be?" I jumped every time. At least that way I had a minute or so of floating in a parachute where the drill instructors couldn't reach me... :-)

    1. As long as your chute opens then yeah, peace and quiet for a bit.

    2. Stand up, buckle up, shuffle to the door.
      Step right out and count to four.
      If my 'chute don't open wide,
      I got another one by my side.
      If that one don't blossom 'round,
      I'll be the lead man on the ground!

      Funny how some little ditties never really leave your head.

    3. Repeat it enough times and it's probably passed down to your offspring in your DNA.

  10. The can of pebbles also works as a warning device against four-legged intrusions in camp. Which also should be backed up by some boom-stick action, rather than a can of spray of some sort.

    Never pick up helmets blown off of a body. Seen that in passing by donorcycle accidents. Though the worst motorcycle accident I saw the cops were doing body recovery with spatulas and ziplocs. Bleh.

    Hmmm, now that was weird. The above thought triggered the "What happened to the Graves Registration people when the Army encountered the Camps?" Followed by, "I wondered how many GR troopies went "Oh Hell NO!"?"

    This, this is why I am not so popular at parties...

    Ah, well...

    Thanks for not killing anyone of our boys today. Nice of them to come off without any battle injuries, though mortar tubes and machine guns get quite warm when in use, so there's the normal burns and bumps from those.

    And the last soldier? What a horrid way to die. Wife was under the knife one time and they gave her the paralytic without giving her the go-to-sleep at the same time. Apparently they figured it out when they started doing the cut and her heart rate shot through the roof. She got her own, though, as she came up later on the table and slugged a surgeon and a male attendant/nurse who was trying to stop her from moving. The next day there were some nice shiners roaming/slinking around the hospital, and the story was they could hear her from 2 floors either side of the OR floor...

    So, yeah, paralyzed and not being able to do anything. That is such a slow shitty way to die.

  11. The famous "Nicknames we get, instead of the nicknames we want".

    I have had several over the years. None of were the ones I actually wanted - to be fair, the ones I got were probably a lot more personalized.

    1. Nicknames, I've had a few. Some of them even shareable in polite company. 🤣

  12. I think 2nd LT Hornsby will go far, if he survives.

  13. (Don McCollor)..."Pebbles" is a much better officer nickname than the one in 'Those Devils in Baggy Pants' that the Arab called "Rateye" (probably not to his face)...


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