Saturday, April 10, 2021

The Innocents

(Source)

Pvt. Jack Magruder rushed into the Charlie Company CP and looked around frantically. There were two other men in the room of the small farmhouse in the Harz Mountains. 1st Lt. Nathan Paddock, C Company's Executive Officer, and Pfc. Santos Clarke, the company orderly. They were going over some of the endless paperwork necessary to keep an army functioning in the field.

Paddock looked up, "Private Magruder, is there a problem?"

"Sir, is the Captain around?" Magruder panted as if he'd run a mile before showing up at the CP. Which he almost had.

"No, he's up with 3rd Platoon. Best tell me what's going on." Paddock was a little impatient, Magruder was a green recruit, a volunteer, not a draftee, and was prone to excitability.

"Sir, 2nd Platoon has found some sort of prison camp. Not soldiers but foreign civilians, a lot of 'em from Poland according to Lieutenant Hernandez. Seems they're slaves or something. Lieutenant Hernandez sent me to tell the Captain. I ran the whole way Sir!" Magruder was starting to catch his breath, he had been a track man in high school after all, as he liked to tell people.

"Slaves?" Paddock stood up to grab his helmet, web gear, and carbine.

"That's what Pfc. Nowak called 'em. The guys he talked to said that very word in Polish. There aren't any guards, but there are quite a few dead prisoners in the camp. The other prisoners said that the SS shot a bunch of people yesterday, then they took off to the east." Magruder was obviously worked up over what he'd seen and what he'd been told.

"Santos, get me a jeep and a driver, Jack, you'll come with me."

"Of course Sir."


The jeep rolled up to a small town, which had a medium size prisoner enclosure built nearby. T/5 Leo Ramsey, the company armorer, was driving the jeep and Pvt. Albert Samson, another of the company messengers, like Magruder, was providing security. Paddock saw 1st Lt. Hernandez with one of his men speaking with an emaciated-looking  man wearing the striped clothing of a prisoner.

Hernandez turned as Paddock came up, "Nate, you remember Pfc. Nowak, right?"

"Sure do, how are things Bogdan?"

"Very good Sir. This man," he nodded to the prisoner, "is Władysław Kaminski. He's one of the slave laborers at a factory near here, an underground factory, which makes parts for German aircraft."

Paddock nodded to the man and offered his hand, the two men shook hands and then Paddock turned to Hernandez, "This is a pretty big deal, isn't it Stephen?"

"Yeah, we've heard of places like this, where the Nazis work people to death. According to Mr. Kaminski, there were five hundred men and women working here as late as five days ago. Then two days ago, the SS marched two hundred of them to the east, the relatively healthy ones I gather, the remaining guards shot the rest, then headed east. Mr. Kaminski and about thirty others were on a work detail away from the camp."

"So they weren't caught up in the evacuation and the executions, lucky for them." Paddock said. "Were there SS men guarding them?"

Nowak turned to Kaminski, after a brief exchange in Polish, Nowak said, "There were five Volkssturm and one SS man guarding them. They overpowered the SS man, the Volkssturm ran away. They returned here this morning and found the others had been slaughtered or had left. One of the women the SS shot, lived long enough to tell them what had happened."

"Jesus..." Was all Paddock could say.


Sgt. Charlie Gammell's 3rd Squad was providing security for Doc Milbury inside the camp. There were over a hundred dead lying against the side of one long barracks. The men in 3rd Squad were stunned at the brutality of what had happened here.

Doc was treating a few of the survivors of the party which had been away from the camp when the atrocity had occurred. Most of what he was seeing was malnutrition and exhaustion. Two of the men he'd looked at wouldn't have lasted much longer without treatment, he and Gammell had been on the radio arranging transportation to get the survivors to the rear.

"These folks need food and rest. I can treat their physical wounds but..." Doc said.

"Yeah, their eyes look haunted, most of 'em have that thousand yard stare, they've seen too much for too long." Then speaking into his walkie-talkie, Gammell inquired, "Any word on transport Jake?" He listened for a moment then said, "Copy, out."

Turning to Pvt. Jesse Noble, Gammell said, "Jess, go tell the L.T. that battalion is sending trucks up to evacuate these folks. Ask him what our next move is..."


Twenty miles away a column of bedraggled and exhausted slave laborers were struggling to keep pace with their SS guards. Occasional shots would ring out as yet another exhausted prisoner fell to the ground only to be shot by one of the guards.

The commander of the guards, an SS-Obersturmführer,¹ needed to keep the prisoners moving. He only had twenty men to guard two hundred plus prisoners. If the guarded became aware of the weakness of those guarding them, they might, in desperation, try to overwhelm the guard force.

So they kept marching down the road which led east, out of the mountains. But as the terrain leveled out, the road became more exposed. The last thing Odo Schäfner wanted was to be spotted in the open by Allied aircraft. This far behind the lines there would be no mistaking the column for Allied soldiers. They would be a target. He wasn't in the least worried about the prisoners, whether they all lived or died. He was, however, worried about his own skin at this point in the war.

Schäfner was already looking into attaining a set of false papers, he had no illusions that Germany could still win the war. He would abandon the prisoners and his own men at the first available opportunity.

(Source)

Flying Officer Nigel Williams and Pilot Officer Jimmie Macallum were not flying their usual mount, their kite was laid up, as Macallum put it, with a malfunctioning radar. As night ops were becoming scarce, the Luftwaffe had trouble getting any sorties into the air these days, so Williams had volunteered them for day missions. As opposition was nearly non-existent, Macallum hadn't protested.

Much.

"Nigel, old boy, you're so keen to pitch in, I understand that, but to drag your poor crew mate with you, that's just not sporting old chum." Macallum had looked askance at his pilot as they had taxied out for the day's hop, a reconnaissance flight over the Harz Mountains.

"After all sport, isn't the Harz in the Yanks' backyard?" Macallum had added.

"Well it is, but all their efforts are being expended in the Ruhr pocket, blowing up the silly buggers who are too dim to surrender. So we're pitching in, helping our valiant cousins as it were. Besides, a flight is a flight is a flight. We haven't had one in a week. Don't want you getting stale now do we old chum?" Williams explained.

His pilot could be bloody insufferable at times, Macallum thought as he shifted in his seat. It was then that he noticed something up ahead on the road.

"Hello, what's this? We might have some trade up ahead, Nigel!"


Schäfner cringed as he looked up to see the twin engine aircraft come booming over, powerful piston engines roaring. He could tell by the roundels on the wings and fuselage that it was an Englishman.

"Get into cover, keep the prisoners in the road!!" Schäfner bellowed at his men. Let the Tommies shoot up the prisoners, he didn't care. But he still needed his men. At least until he could make his escape.


"Did ya see that Jimmie? Looked like prisoners in striped clothing. Concentration camp inmates maybe? Being evacuated to the east d'ya think?" Williams said all that while banking the Mossie around to have another pass.

"I think you're right Nigel. Looked like guards along the edge of the road. You're not going to strafe them are you?" Macallum didn't like the idea of harming the downtrodden slaves of the Nazis. They'd been briefed on the camps which had been liberated, it made Macallum hate the Nazis all the more.

"Heavens no old boy, I don't want to take a chance on harming the good guys. Maybe strafe down the side of the road, scare the buggers, maybe they'll run off and leave the prisoners. I don't feel right not doing something!" Williams was lined up now, his cannon fire would hit well to the right of the road, far enough from the prisoners but sending a message to the guards.

"You're mad Nigel, you've gone 'round the bend."


Schäfner stood well back from the road, he was watching the British aircraft coming in, low and fast. If they strafed the road, he was safe. Then he had a thought, the aircraft seemed too wide to hit the road, what were those winking lights on the nose?

That was the last thought to go through SS-Obersturmführer Odo Schäfner's head as the Mosquito's 20mm cannons ripped a line in the earth some twenty meters to the right of the road, precisely where Schäfner was standing.

The other guards ran into the woods when they realized that the aircraft was coming back. The one sergeant present tried to get the Latvian SS guards to stand, but to no avail.

As the slave laborers mobbed him, he realized, far too late, that he should have run as well.


1st Lt. Hernandez was getting his men up onto S/Sgt. Woodstock's tanks, Cpt. Palminteri had briefed him over the radio of a report, from a British aircraft, of slave laborers streaming down the road back towards the camp. With the tanks were ten trucks which Palminteri had commandeered from the Supply folks, with the blessing of Major Josephson at battalion, to bring the prisoners back to American lines.

Hernandez and 2nd Platoon were to get the prisoners aboard the trucks and send them back, then probe forward until they hit resistance. Reports from their sister regiment, the 18th, were that resistance was starting to crumble, though the 18th had had a lot more fighting than their own regiment the 26th, in the Harz, things were getting easier.

As easy as war ever gets, Hernandez thought.

"Let's move out Brad, we're on a mission of mercy this time!"

S/Sgt Brad Woodstock ordered his tanks forward, turning to Hernandez, again riding the platoon leader's tank, "Be nice to help people, instead of killing 'em, for a change."

Hernandez nodded and said, "Amen to that brother..."







¹ First Lieutenant

Link to all of the Chant's fiction.

50 comments:

  1. I thought you might be about to have a preview of Dachau KZ for a minute, there.

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    1. The picture shows men of the 45th Infantry Division handing out cigarettes at Dachau, the 1st Infantry Division wasn't there. I try to keep our boys close to where the division actually was historically. The picture was used, well, because it's a good picture.

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    2. At sub camp KZ, the 45th ID executed the guards. The JAG wanted to prosecute them for war crimes, but Patton stopped the prosecution. Patton said he doubted they would make a habit of it.

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  2. Another reason for our Yanks to realize why they're fighting. Don't know why but that Mossie photo strikes me as postwar, too close and clear....

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    1. It is a post war photo, a restored Mossie in New Zealand. Trying to find a good aerial photo over the right terrain often requires using modern photos.

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    2. I've seen tons of Mossie photos but never realized there was an air intake on the front of the inboard wings.

      Whudya know, yer blog's a teaching tool... :)

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    3. (Don McCollor)...Those radiators had another effect. With just a thin plywood bulkhead between them and the cockpit, it was not cold in the aircraft...

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  3. I had the same thought as Nylon12. A little interwebz diving got me a couple of interesting sites -

    The first shows another pic of the restored Mossie used in this post and a nice article about the plane. The quote from Goering is great...

    https://www.historynet.com/the-miraculous-mosquito.htm

    The second relates a cool find of original Mossie engineering documentation and its being saved by a foundation.

    https://www.airspacemag.com/military-aviation/secret-mosquito-180967119/

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  4. Forget to mention - the last reference talks about a project that mounted a 57mm field gun in the nose of the Mossie. First time it was fired on the ground it buckled the nose!! But after the nose was strengthened, they built 17 more of them. That must have been "interesting" to fly...

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    1. That would be the Mosquito FB Mk XVIII, otherwise known as the 'Tsetse'. The weapon was the British 6pdr anti-tank gun fitted with an autoloader. It was used with some success by RAF Coastal Command on anti-shipping strikes. There was a later development that used the British 32pdr quick firing gun ( the 3.7 inch AA gun). A single variant of this type was built and the concept worked.
      The Mossie was a very good aircraft indeed.
      Retired

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    2. (Don McCollor)...And keep in mind the Mosquito was mostly plywood...

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    3. One of its nicknames was "The Wooden Wonder."

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  5. Hey AFSarge;

    The harz mountain was used to make V2 parts, plus anything else that the Reich needed and they used "Undesirables" to make the parts. Also the part about the "Latvian" Guard was a good touch, a lot of people didn't know that the SS recruited from the occupied territories for their prison and combat units, this accounted for the brutality due to the fact that the people they were interacting with were generational hatred.

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  6. I've often wondered what the long term effects were on those who found and liberated those camps. I've been first, or almost first, on scene at some traffic collisions, saw it happen and pulled over to help, and it took a while to get over that. I have no way to even begin to imagine coming on the horror of one of the camps. The emaciated living, the decaying dead, the overwhelming STENCH that must have enveloped the places. The patrols that found them must have been able to smell them from hundreds of yards away if downwind. "Hey, Sarge! What the hell is that smell?"

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    1. The long term effects on soldiers of combat was ill-understood for centuries. The liberation of the camps had to have been traumatic indeed.

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    2. I was thinking the same thing, that seeing this could be the worst part of the whole war for them. War is hell, but the brutal, psychotic, and maybe psychopathic slaughter and inhumanity of the genocide by Germany has to have had an effect on all who discovered it. The effect on the Jews is incomparable of course.

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    3. The one teacher I knew who was a combat photographer, well, it haunted him. Turned him from a rip-snorting mean drunk to a very God-fearing devout non-drinking man.

      The Bishop I knew, who was in a Japanese camp, well, it apparently was a good thing he was there as he took a lot of abuse for sick prisoners.

      Both of them, really nice men, who smiled a lot, had that look in unguarded moments.

      I've always wondered how the Germans, once we got them to acknowledge what was going on, handled it post-war. Sadly, I believe a lot of them, both guards, slavemasters and the average citizen, weren't bothered by it at all.

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    4. Tuna - Which is why we must never forget.

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  7. From my memory, both from what I've read and heard, those camps, well, a lot of them could be located by the smell. And for some strange reason, humans do smell just differently enough when dying or dead or diseased, especially en-masse, that they can be 'smelled out' from other death, like farm animals or such.

    At least the work camps weren't as bad as the outright death camps. Note, that is saying standing next to a blast furnace while not wearing any clothing is 'better' than being tossed into the blast furnace. Both equally horrible, just one is potentially more survivable than the other. Potentially.

    Thank you for showing us that 'slavery' wasn't and isn't a uniquely 'American' issue. I know it, the readers here know it, but too many people out THERE refuse to acknowledge that slavery and bad slavery existed before, during and after the American experience started and was over. Something the historians don't talk about much, the slave factories and slave workers of the Soviet Union, before the war, during the war and after the war. Or of the Communist Chinese, or other communist or socialist governments.

    Humans can be a nasty lot, can't they?

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    1. The communist Chinese are doing it yet today, maybe on a greater scale than it has ever been done before,and much of the world ignores it, in preference of cheap trade goods. They pay NBA jerkoffs millions to advertise the products manufactured by slave or near slave labor for chump change.

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  8. GI passing out the goodies in the opening photo is wearing a captured souvenir pistol, probably a P-38.
    Another great installment, Sarge.
    John Blackshoe

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    1. I noticed that too.

      Thanks JB.

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    2. The photo reminds me of my objection to the then-new Kevlar helmets; I always said we shoulda kept the shape of the WWII helmet ( that many of us wore subsequently).
      Boat Guy

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    3. If it does a better job, what does the shape matter?

      If you want to see something REALLY scary go to YouTube and look up Chilean military Parade

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    4. BG - I wore both type helmets over my career, preferred the Kelar to the steel pot. Though you can't shave using your Kevlar as a wash bowl.

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    5. Joe - The Chilean military was heavily influenced by the German military. Some of their units wear the pickelhaube as part of parade dress. Good Mark Felton video on that here.

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    6. I wore both as well and the newer MICH helmet too - it was very good. The Nazi-looking Kevlar mighta offered slightly more protection but it made shooting from prone a solid bitch, so I'd dispute the "better job" idea. Kevlar is a great material, no argument, but I hated that helmet. I'll own to aesthetics being a factor for me.
      Boat Guy

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    7. Aesthetics is no small thing.

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  9. this will be hard on the men of Big Red One...

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    1. My Father-in-law Joseph H. Hostnick was with the 1st when they liberated Buchenwald.
      Uncle James P. Godsey was was further north and escorted some US medical and field kitchen units to support the British who had liberated Belsen.
      Neither spoke of what they saw. However both DID talk about The Smell.
      Joe said SS were sometimes exposed by German civilians in ... some town I can't remember. One woman walked along a line of German POWs and pointed out SS members who had "acquired" Wehrmacht uniforms. The woman had lost a young son to the SS who had used him as a live blood donor for the SS wounded. Drained him dry. Their own countryman! When I asked what happened to the SS men he said "She borrowed one of our bayonets. She cleaned it before returning it to us." I did NOT like the smile on Joe's face as he told me that.

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    2. The atrocities committed in WWII must always be remembered, or someone will do it again.

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    3. two things:
      one - @Stretch - talk about real life vampires...
      two:
      https://foreignpolicy.com/2021/04/10/china-xi-jinping-totalitarian-authoritarian-debate/ there are people out there today who would do so without blinking again
      if you are stopped by paywall, the article argues that it is time to name truth squarely, China is not merely authoritarian but totalitarian in nature

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    4. Sarge it will be done again; as noted, IS being done now. Yes, we must remember, but that will not prevent it. The only thing that solves it or possibly prevents it are strong, resolute, capable and armed good people. We must never surrender the capability to fight tyranny - the tyrants know that they can only control the weak and the willing.
      Boat Guy

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  10. IIRC I've mentioned it here before, but Dad's 42nd Rainbow ID liberated a major sub-camp of Dachau while he was an O-3 regimental intell officer of the 242nd where he also "liberated" a brace of P-38s and various other uniform insignia. Never talked about it iirc, but upon his death I found an entire envelope of photos (copies?) he or his staff took of the pows--both survivors and recently deceased (some stacked like cord-wood, others laid out naked on bare ground pinned down by barbed-wire [obviously while still alive] ). Was definitely not pretty..

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    1. Must have been tough to see things like that.

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