Thursday, April 15, 2021

The Last Tiger - Final Stand

(Source)

Von Schiffler's men were dug in to either side of the tank. The thirty-three survivors were now commanded by an Obergefreiter. He had them set up with their surviving machine guns, an MG 34 and an MG 42, to cover the road leading out of town.

Hoffmeister had to ask, "What if their infantry go through the woods and not down the road?"

The Obergefreiter winked and said, "Mines, the woods on both sides are mined. If they go that way, we'll know."

"Is anyone covering the mine field?"

"Two men, either side of the town. If the Amis start mine hunting, they start sniping. One way or the other, we'll know."

"Do you have enough ammunition?"

"Yes, of course, as much as the Reich can spare. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to get back to my position." Obergefreiter Fritz Wolf shook his head as he walked away, "F**king tankers..."


2nd Platoon was still to the south of the town, working their way slowly through the woods, heading east. They were moving slowly, pausing frequently to look for booby traps and mines. 1st Lt. Hernandez had a bad feeling about these woods. He thought he'd rather face that Tiger than be in another battle in a forest.

The platoon's point man, Pfc. Alex Boone, signaled a halt. Hernandez saw Boone's squad leader, Sgt. Katz moving to join him. At the same time, there was a voice on the radio, Hernandez thought it sounded like Gammell.

Myerson, the lieutenant's radioman listened to a brief transmission. "Charlie's got two Krauts up ahead. Take 'em?"

Hernandez nodded.


Gefreiter Horst Lachfeld and Grenadier Jost Wichstein were looking in two separate directions, Lachfeld to the right, Wichstein to the left. Their job was to watch over the thin minefield their unit had placed only a few days ago. The mines were old, they weren't buried well, and some of them weren't buried at all, simply stuck under a pile of pine needles on the forest floor.

Wichstein heard a hissing sound, then a dull "thunk." As he turned to see what it was, he saw something move to his front in his peripheral vision. Before he could determine what was going on, another American bullet came hissing in and hit Wichstein in the upper chest.


Lachfeld was already dead, Gammell's first round had hit him just below his right eye. The bullet had gone through, leaving a pink mist in the air. Wichstein was gasping for breath. Gammell's second round had gone through his esophagus, deflected down through his left lung, and had gone out his back over his hip. His throat kept filling with blood and he tried to spit it out, gasping and coughing as he did so. He knew he was dying and there wasn't a thing he could do about it.


Cpl. Maurice Ryan, Sgt. Katz' assistant squad leader was maneuvering his element of five men, including himself, to the right. They'd spotted the two Germans, Ryan saw that someone, probably Charlie Gammell and that rifle of his, had taken out both of the Germans. So he thought to maneuver to the right.

As they did so, Pvt. Caleb Christensen, the squad's grenadier shouted a warning, "Mines!" But it was a second too late.


Hernandez heard the crump of an explosion, has to be a mine he thought, then he heard the agonizing scream of one of his men.

"F**k! Doc, with me!" He jumped up and advanced to his front.

Hernandez, followed by his radioman and Doc Milbury, moved to the sound of the screams, which continued and seemed to increase in agony. When they got to the scene, Hernandez nearly vomited, there was one of his men, Pvt. Manny Conrad, writhing on the ground holding what remained of his left leg as he rolled back and forth, screaming.

Doc Milbury immediately made the two men next to Conrad move. "Gimme some room guys, hold still Manny, I got you."

Doc stabbed a morphine syrette into Conrad's butt, then he dug into his bag and pulled out a tourniquet, if he didn't tie that leg off, Conrad would be dead in less than a minute.


On the opposite flank, the northern side of the town, S/Sgt Bob Poole's 3rd Platoon had spotted the hastily laid mines to their front. As they started to clear them, a German position some fifty yards to their front began firing at them.

The B.A.R. of Pfc. Don Miller, 2nd Squad, made short work of the two Germans in that position. One was hit and went down in the foxhole, the other managed to run roughly 10 yards before Miller cut him down as well.

Within twenty minutes the 3rd Platoon had reached the German overwatch position and could see the main German position east of the town. They also spotted that damned Tiger tank.

Poole turned to his radioman, Pvt. Lou Hess and said, "Get the Cap'n on the horn, we need artillery and..." Poole stopped as Hess was pointing to the sky. He was puzzled, then he noticed, the sky was clearing.

"Get us some air Lou!"


Cpt. Palminteri's radio was not working, he sent a messenger to have 1st Platoon's radioman join him, but it took precious time. Finally, with no word of what was happening on his flanks, Palminteri decided to send the tanks forward. He looked up at S/Sgt Woodstock in his tank, and with a sad look, pointed east.


"F**k! Cap'n's radio is out, can you get anything on our net Roger?" Pfc. Roger Blaisdell was in his bow gunner's seat trying to get a message out. The radio's were working, he could talk to the other tanks just fine, but no signals were getting out of the valley.

"Nothing Sarge. Too many hills, too many trees."

"Shit." Keying his mike, Woodstock told his other tanks to fall in behind him. When they got to the open on the other side of town, he told Harrell in Misfit II to go left, Boyd in Box O' Nuts was to go right, and to Winkler in Boozer he said, "Stay on my ass Wink, when that Tiger kills us, use us for cover and hit him hard while Doug and Ken try to flank the bastard."

In the front of the tank, Will Hartness, the driver, exchanged a look with Blaisdell, he mouthed the words "kills us" and then raised an eyebrow. All Blaisdell could do was make sure his machine gun was loaded and ready, just in case they did survive.


Hoffmeister told his crew, "Hear that boys? The Amis are coming. I can hear their engines. Standby, kill whoever pops out first then..." Hoffmeister paused as something above the treeline caught his eye. Damn it, when did it stop raining?


The first P-51 pickled his tanks a second too early, his wingman dropped right on time. Cpt. Joe MacInnes grunted in disgust as he pulled out, maybe his wingman, 1st Lt. Rich Lang would have better luck.

But Hell, they were dropping napalm, close enough should be good enough.


Woodstock heard the roar of the two Mustangs over the roar of his own engine. He had just ordered Hartness to floor it when the birds passed over. He glanced up, then back to his front.

"Why the heck are they dropping their fuel tanks, no bombs?" he muttered, then the first shiny object tumbled into the ground and the fires of Hell opened up before the gaze of Woodstock and his crew.


Lang, his aircraft out to MacInnes' right and stepped back, laid his napalm right over the German infantry position. Which was next to the biggest tank he had ever seen.

MacInnes' drop was maybe fifty yards short, but close enough that a large part of the burning jellied gasoline enveloped the front of the Kraut tank he had caught a glimpse of as the two aircraft flashed over the German position.

"Let's go around, make a strafing pass Rich."

"Two."


Hoffmeister's face and hands were badly burned, though none of the napalm had touched him, the heat was enough to burn him. As he, his gunner, and his loader bailed from the tank, he tried to turn back and save Krebs and young Schmidt, but the men in the front of the tank had had no chance at all.

They died screaming.


A medical team sent from battalion was working to treat the German survivors, many of whom had been badly burned. There weren't many survivors, but they were already being loaded onto American trucks to be further treated in the rear.

Brad Woodstock watched as a big man, wearing a semi-charred black German tanker's uniform, was being helped along by a medic and another German tanker. He nodded at the man, then nodded again at the burning King Tiger not a hundred yards away. The German nodded, then he pointed his chin at Catamount, Woodstock's Sherman.

Woodstock nodded, the German stopped for a moment, then raised a bandaged hand to touch his cap. Woodstock returned the man's salute.

After the German had been loaded aboard a truck, Woodstock turned to his gunner, Sgt. Jerry Parsons. "Tough looking sumbitch, ain't he?"

"Tough as his tank, boss. He's got a couple of medals on that toasted tunic, doesn't he?" Parsons offered.

C Company's First Sergeant, 1st Sgt. Morton Saeger, was standing nearby. Saeger was a German speaker and had studied all the documents on the enemy they faced. He spoke up.

"Iron Cross 1st and 2nd Class, the Eastern Front medal, tank badge for 50 engagements, wound badge in silver, means he's been wounded three times, maybe four. Did you notice the band around his sleeve?"

"Yeah Top, what was that?"

"That man fought with Rommel in North Africa. That's an Afrika Korps cuff title. The man has been around."

Woodstock nodded, "If those 51s hadn't showed up, I'd be dead, or worse, probably by that guy's hand. Better'n gettin' killed by a rookie I suppose."

All Parsons could say was, "You'd still be dead, rookie or real pro, doesn't matter. I'm glad we're still on this side of the grass."

"Yeah, me too." Woodstock looked around, pleased to still be alive after meeting with a King Tiger. They'd lost a tank, but not a single man. In fact, Otto Walls and his boys should be back any minute now, having gone to the rear to collect a new tank.

"Good to be alive Jerry."

"Yup."


Major Josephson had come up with a few members of the battalion staff, they wanted to see the King Tiger. As they examined the still smoldering wreck, Josephson took Hernandez aside.

"Stephen, Tony broke down, I had to send him to the rear. When his radio crapped out, and when he heard you'd lost a man to a mine, he lost it. Sat down and started crying. I want you to take over the company, Hell the war is almost over. I hear you want to stay in the Army after the war?"

"Yes Sir, I do. There are worse ways to make a living."

"That's true. I'm going to give 2nd Platoon to Nate Paddock, he says he's up to it. You okay with that?"

"I thought he was on light duty?"

"That ended on the last day of March, the battalion doc says he's good to go."

"I'm sure the men would love having Nate back. No problem here Sir."

"Good. Oh, put these on, I'll get regiment to push it through." The major placed a small wrapped bundle in Hernandez' hand. "Stay alive compadre, keep your men alive. No foolish chances, just solid, by the book soldiering."

"You got it Sir."

As Major Josephson walked back to his jeep, Hernandez opened his hand to see what Josephson had handed him.

A pair of captain's bars.

"Well damn..." Was all Hernandez could say.




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68 comments:

  1. As good a result as could be hoped-for. The last few days have seen indications that Palmintieri was losing it and desperately needed a break; hopefully no repercussions come of his relief.
    Deux ex P-51 and Dow Chemical
    Boat Guy

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  2. I knew that the US was having personnel problems by this time, with the demands of the ETO, both ground and air, Italy was still active, and the Pacific, including gearing up for OPERATION DOWNFALL. But I bet they were sure surprised at having a tank commanded, and commanded rather well, by a small yellow bird.

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    1. Took a moment to get the reference; but, it's early - or late, depending.
      BG

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    2. Oh heck, I had to go back and see what I missed... Well done Badger...

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    3. Nice one, Badger - too bad Sarge didn't name the Tiger commander 'Manfred' to go along with the bird.

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    4. BG - Ditto, of course it was early when I read that.

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    5. Tom - I don't want to give Scott too much material...

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    6. I give, can someone explain the reference to the little yellow bird?

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    7. Woodstock is the little yellow bird who is the friend of Snoopy in the comic strip Peanuts.

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  3. That coulda turned out a whole lot worse. I get that the German forces have been losing many of their experienced people, and that the ground pounders are getting careless, but it would seem there are a few nasty surprises left...despite air superiority.

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    1. There are times when air is busy elsewhere, or the weather is keeping them home.

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  4. Seems I've been fascinated with the Mustang since the early 60s, but with the Messerschmidt and the Foch-wolf, as well. Funny, how we used to practice hiding under our desks, in response to the threat of nuclear war...all the while reveling in stories of warfare long past...

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    1. Ditto. The Jug and the Lightning were my favorites.

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    2. Same here although I also thought the Spitfire was beautiful and the P-38 was awesome. Both the Battle of a Britain and the downing of Yamamoto kept those two on my list..

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    3. Patrick - I love those aircraft, but the Spitfire remains my favorite piston engined fighter. (Or perhaps I should say "favourite.")

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    4. STxAR - Saw a couple of P-38s flyover while I was at Offutt AFB. Beautiful birds.

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    5. You are in good company, Eric Brown loved the Seafire.

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    6. An all around excellent aircraft.

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    7. All of those mentioned are amazing aircraft but for sheer auditory pleasure there's nothing like a Merlin - or a Packard-made Merlin.
      Boat Guy

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    8. Concur on the Merlin. (Spitfire, Hurricane, P-51, Lancaster, Mosquito, to name but a few Merlin-engine powered birds.)

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    9. I rather prefer the sound and survivability of the Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp 18-cylinder radial engine, plus it's not Limey designed...

      3 or 4 of those R-2800s kicking off and you have the sound of Freedom!!!!

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    10. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

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    11. Survivability I'll grant you, no argument. Sound, no way.
      BG

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    12. Well, now that you mention it...

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    13. I agree with Beans, P&W Rules!

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  5. Sherman crew was lucky to not lose a man, especially going up against a King Tiger. Those flyboys had sharp eyes. Here's hoping the Captain can recover, who knows what their breaking point is after losing man after man over time.

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    1. If the air hadn't shown up, I doubt Woodstock and his crew would have survived.

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  6. And so the small Verdun/Stalingrad ends.
    I think P-47s would be more probable choice for CAS, but we all love Mustangs as well...
    And we know the iconic scene.

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    1. Francis Gabreski was a real hero of mine. I read his book a million times. The Polish are a fierce breed. I've met a few duds but the ones I've read about were solid: Gabreski, Kosciuszko, and Ganowicz.

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    2. Gabreski is a great example of what determination can do. I was amazed when I read he was told by his first civilian instructor that he didn't have the touch to be a pilot and then almost got kicked out of military primary training. But he stuck with it and became a superb pilot and warrior.

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    3. Paweł - The P-51s were available, the napalm makes them formidable air-to-ground wise.

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    4. STxAR - The Poles are known for being ferocious warriors.

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    5. Tom - I read somewhere that in training his instructors thought von Richthofen was rather a ham-handed pilot.

      We know how that worked out...

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    6. @STxAR/

      Read his book as well, concur re rest of the Poles..

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    7. @OAFS/

      Morale? Fear the Harvey Ham-fists of this world! :)

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    8. You were right the first time.

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    9. Heh, sorry Sarge, was raised on phonetics but looks like I've slipped into "look-see." (: (slinks away..)

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    10. Hahaha!

      Look-see works for me!

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  7. A great story! As we get closer to the end I do worry about "our" boys....

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  8. Captain Palminteri must have felt like Stonewall Jackson did at Gettysburg when Pickett went for it. And understandable on the breaking. The end is so close, he's lost so many and so much, he's always been the 'Father' to his troops. To impotently watch men go to die without any control? Bad enough to lose them when you do have control, but with no control?

    A sad ending for the latest Germans. A sad ending that many Japanese found out about.

    And with the fighter bases advancing so quickly into France, there was little need for drop tanks except to extend loiter time over potential targets.

    Just one question. Who called in the air strike? Or was it a target of opportunity?

    As to Hernandez, Captain now, but post-war a straight up LT at the most, maybe even busted down to 2nd Lt or... back to the Enlisted. Many many grade reductions after the war, especially for those who haven't gone through OCS, West Point or the Reserves. At least that's what I remember.

    The Germans were toast as soon as the Americans got the high ground. One way or another, by sniping the entrenchments or calling in artillery or even just moving the company's light mortars and bazookas in. But, well, a nice showy ending works, too, and with less casualties on the Amis' side.

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    1. Poole's RTO, Hess, was able to make contact with battalion. Who happened to be in contact with a pair of Mustangs looking for a mission.

      Drop tanks = loiter time as well as range. Bases were closer, but if you've got ordnance and can hang out, that's a big plus. So yes, drop tanks.

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    2. Beans,
      Pretty sure you're thinking Longstreet, not Jackson. Stonewall mighta been there in "spirit" though.
      BG

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    3. I was going to mention that...

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    4. Beans- Stonewall Jackson died at Chancellorsville a month before Gettysburg, from friendly fire. General Lee (a great commander and American even though now despised by the left and many ignorant-Americans) remarked "Jackson has lost his left arm, and I have lost my right arm."

      Sherman was right, "War is hell."

      Sarge is doing a magnificent job bringing it to life, with so many lessons to be learned. He has the gift!
      John Blackshoe

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    5. Dagnabit. I know better. Dangit.

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  9. So much of our lives turns on random pieces of seeming luck. If the weather had not broken, if the planes had not been by...thus life and death is determined.

    I can only imagine how hard it would be to continually send soldiers on what possibly could be their last mission - and it is.

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    1. Random chance, it's definitely a factor.

      To be a good soldier, you must love the army. To be a good commander, you must be willing to order the death of the thing you love. - Robert E. Lee

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  10. Two things.
    1) When did they start using napalm in the ETO? I know it was invaluable in the Pacific but did not know it was used in Europe.
    2) Merlin engines. The National Air & Space Museum hosted a 100th birthday party for the RAF at the Udvar-Hazy Center, Dulles Airport, VA. The fighters were, alas, on the wrong side of a weather front (What were we saying about "fate?") But WAIT!! The Canadian Lancaster made it and FLEW RIGHT OVER MY HOUSE!!!1!! Imagine 4 synchronized Merlins at less than 1,000 altitude. I needed a cigarette afterwards ... and I don't even smoke! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avro_Lancaster_FM213
    I climb through the Lancaster the next day. Definitely NOT built for someone 6'6". And to fly them over occupied Europe, at night, against the best equipped (at the time) air force? Balls Of Titanium!
    Sarge, I'll send photos of the Lancaster on static display. Where might I find your e-mail?

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    1. 1) First tactical was by the 368th Fighter Group northeast of Compiègne on 27 May 1944.
      2) I love the Merlin engine.

      oldafsarge AT gmail DOT com

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    2. @ Stretch, above/

      Ever crawled thru a B-17? Same deal except the USAF did it in the day-time w. even higher losses. Took a wheel-barrow to tote their balls either way..

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    3. I've crawled through Aluminum Overcast and Nine-O'-Nine. Also been in Fifi. Surprised they could fit their balls through the hatches.

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Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

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