Wednesday, April 14, 2021

The Last Tiger - First Blood

(Source)

Cpl. John Myerson shook 1st Lt. Stephen Hernandez awake. Upon opening his eyes the first thing Hernandez noticed is that it was pouring rain. Even though the platoon was in the midst of fairly thick forest, the rain was making it through the canopy and soaking everything, including, Hernandez realized, him.

He'd gone to sleep wrapped in his poncho, which made him sweat profusely, so he took it off. After being awake for nearly thirty hours, he had no trouble going to sleep after that. S/Sgt Jack Wilson had the watch at the moment, which he was glad of, he had really needed to put his head down.

"What time is it John?"

"Oh-four-hundred L.T., I've got Cap'n Palminteri on the radio, he wants to talk."

"Ah, sorry. Hernandez here."

Hernandez listened intently, then when the captain was done with him, he handed the radio handset back to Myerson.

"Where's Jack?" Hernandez knew that Myerson would know he meant the platoon sergeant, these guys had been together for quite a while now.

"He's walking the line, checking up on the squads."

"Okay, come on, let's go find him. Cap'n wants us to pull back a hundred yards. Arty is going to start working the town over at 0600."


Grenadiers Johannes Zeitz and Werner Boch had planned on taking turns sleeping and keeping watch. Both men were soaked to the bone and were sitting in six inches of muddy water which had collected in the bottom of their foxhole.

During the night they had heard people moving out beyond their position, they assumed that the Americans were working their way to the flank. Needless to say, it kept them awake for for most of the night.

Around three in the morning their corporal, Gefreiter Ernst Schubert, had checked on them. They reported the presence of other people beyond the line.

"Has to be the Amis, none of us would be out there, unless they were lost from another unit. All of our people in the village are accounted for, so yes, must be the Amis. The boys on the other side of town are reporting the same thing. Seems like they're trying an envelopment." Schubert had talked to the man leading the squad on the other flank, same reports. Movement, the clink of equipment, even a stifled curse as someone had slipped.

He was sure the Oberleutnant had expected that. Which is probably why they had all pulled back to the east of town to their alternate positions. Envelop, then drop artillery on the town. Classic, Shubert thought, the Amis aren't always predictable, but it seemed that today they were.


Hoffmeister listened intently as von Schiffler explained the plan to him, the infantry was pulling back to an alternate fighting position just to the east of the town. An old Great War trick, pull back, let the enemy artillery blow things up, then move back into the rubble, and fight on.

The problem was that the tank didn't have nearly enough fuel to play around with, as Hoffmeister explained it, they could pull back with the infantry, then move back into town when they did. But that would eat into their fuel and probably be the last move the Tiger would make without being refueled.

The other issue is that the noise of them moving back might tip the Amis off to what they were doing, then the enemy could just flow in behind them. While Hoffmeister didn't relish the idea of riding out a barrage inside the town, he felt he had no choice. While only a direct hit could hurt them, having a building fall on the tank wasn't good either. It could immobilize them or worse.

"I don't like it Herr Oberleutnant, but I think we'll sit tight. I don't think the Amis will level the town, then they can't use the road and they're stuck in the valley just as effectively as if we continued to defend the town itself. I'm betting a short barrage, followed by an immediate advance. I'm not worried about Jabos, this rain is heavy and the ceiling is at treetop level. The Jabos can't get to us this morning I think." Hoffmeister looked at the lieutenant, if he said move, well then, he'd move his tank, otherwise?

"All right, stay in town, if things get really bad, pull back to us. If they do destroy the town, we'll wait for them on the other side. It could take days for them to clear the road if they go overboard with their artillery. Good thinking Oberfeldwebel!"


Cpt. Palminteri was with 1st Platoon and Woodstock's tank platoon. During the night, when the rain had really started coming down, one of the tanks, Sgt. Otto Walls' tank 'The Wall,' had been moving off to the right of the road, hoping to get a good look into the town at first light. Though the rain hadn't been going on long, the field was soft and The Wall got bogged down in the mud.

"I'm a sitting duck out here Brad." Walls had radioed to his platoon leader, S/Sgt Brad Woodstock.

"Hold tight Otto. I'm moving 'Boozer' up closer to town. If that Tiger is in there, we'll hit him before he knows you're there. Besides which, we can't really pull you out now. And I don't want to get another one of us bogged down." Woodstock was trying to calm Walls down, but he knew exactly how he felt. If there was a Tiger in the town, Walls and his crew were in deep trouble. "Standby..."

"Cap'n, I want to have the crew of that bogged tank bail out for now. No sense in hanging them out to dry."

Palminteri thought for a moment, then he said, "Do it. That tank might startle the Hell out of that Kraut at daybreak, if he's even in there. It might cause him to give away his position."

Moments later, Sgt. Walls and the crew of The Wall were scrambling back to the C Company CP. "Thanks Brad, Cap'n." Walls was shivering, both from the cold rain and the raw fear that facing a Tiger could induce in even the best crews.


"Do you see it? What the Hell are the Amis thinking? He's right out in the open." The Tiger's gunner, Feldwebel Fritz Weber, had the gun laid on a stationary Sherman, parked right out in the open as if it were peacetime.

"Look close Fritz, it's abandoned. She's bogged down in the mud from the rain." Hoffmeister noted that it was still raining.

"Put a round into it?" Weber was ready.

"Of course."


Otto Walls slammed his tanker's helmet into the mud as The Wall started to smoke, then burn. "SHIT!"

"At least we're not in there Sarge."  The Wall's driver, Pvt. Claude Landry, commented. He took note that the enemy tank shell went in right in front of his driver's position. That's a hit he wouldn't have survived.

Moments later, the men looked up as the first rounds from the incoming artillery chuffed overhead. Seconds later, the shells impacted the western side of the village. Masonry and timbers were tossed into the air like a child's toys.


Zeitz and Boch turned towards the town as the first rounds hit and exploded. It was a fairly natural reaction, but a fatal one. Zeitz turned as he heard an American voice curse, then he was transfixed by a bayonet. He feebly grasped at the blade embedded in his chest, then everything went dark as the light left his eyes.

Boch died a moment later, also with a bayonet to the chest.. The two men standing over them made sure that the two Germans were dead. Then they waved to their platoon mates coming up from behind.


"Go! Go! Go!" Hernandez was in front of his men, his own bayonet fixed, as 2nd Platoon sprinted for the buildings on the southern edge of the small town. They made it just as the last artillery round exploded somewhere to their front.

S/Sgt. Jack Wilson had his three squads into three buildings on the edge of the village. All three were two story affairs, the squads were inside and set up within seconds. The platoon command group entered the middle of the three buildings.

Sgt. Charlie Gammell's 3rd Squad was in the center building as well. Gammell looked out of one of the windows and swore, "Can't see the f**king tank from here."

"Is there anything out in the street?" Wilson asked as he looked around.

"It's clear, let's move to the next row over!" Hernandez ordered, leading the way.


A tank round from an unseen Sherman spanged off the side of the Tiger's turret. Hoffmeister swore and yelled, "Anybody see where that shot came from?!"

Another round skipped off the pavement in front of the tank and came dangerously close to the left side drive sprocket. It made driver Feldwebel Horst Krebs' ears ring. Krebs then yelled out, "Willi, we need to move. Those guys are going to break something. If we lose a track, we're f**ked!"

"Everybody keep your eyes peeled to the front, Horst, start backing up, slowly!" Hoffmeister had turned to his rear vision slits. Visibility was terrible but he could at least see that the street itself had nothing which could immobilize them. As Krebs slowly backed up, Hoffmeister heard the chatter of Panzerschütze Peter Schmidt's bow machine gun.

"I think I got one!" Schmidt yelled.

"Keep shooting Junge! We're not out of this yet!" Gefreiter Georg Hansel bellowed at the gunner. He had no weapon at his loader's position and it was frustrating. He was half tempted to pop a hatch and start shooting with his pistol, but the only hatch he had access to was at the rear of the turret.

The tank rocked to a stop, before Hoffmeister could ask why they were stopping, the big 8.8 cm cannon roared.

"Ha! That'll slow 'em down!" Weber yelled in triumph.


Cpl. Dwayne Reyes was screaming in pain as Pfc. Tim Jones and Pvt. Howard Castillo dragged him to cover. Castillo was yelling for Baby Doc to come up. Jones sat down and starting crying as he looked at the body of Pvt. Juan Morales sprawled in the street. He couldn't tell if Morales was dead or alive. He looked dead.

Pfc. Dylan "Baby Doc" Jackson made a mad dash for the small alleyway he'd seen the guys drag Reyes into. A moment after clearing the corner, an 88 shell hit the wall where he had just been, blasting bricks and masonry into the street.

"Shit!" Baby Doc yelled as he slid to a stop next to Reyes. The man had numerous small wounds all over his legs. A quick check showed that he'd been hit by bullet fragments and bits of cobblestone from bullets hitting the street. Nothing had penetrated, but as he cleaned the wounds he realized that they had to be painful as Hell.

"Jesus Doc, where the f**k are my pants?" Reyes looked down to see that his trousers were gone.

As he continued to clean and bandage Baby Doc said, "I had to cut what was left of 'em off Dwayne, now hold still man, I know it f**king hurts."

"Doc, Doc, what about Morales?" Jones had gathered his wits and was worried about the new kid, still lying in the street.

"He's dead Jones, Hell, half his chest is missing."

"Aw shit, shit, shit." Jones sat back against the nearest wall and started to tremble. In a few seconds he was sobbing uncontrollably.


As the Tiger slowly backed down the Hauptstraße, a bazooka round streaked out of a side street and whooshed over the engine deck of the tank. Hoffmeister jerked back from the vision slits as the rocket streaked by.

"Damn it, there's an Ami Panzerschreck down that street, gun it Horst!"

Krebs stomped on the accelerator and the tank jerked back quickly, just as another bazooka round hit the right front fender.

The Tiger, unhurt, continued to roll backwards.


S/Sgt. Bob Poole had his men on the move. Though they had fired two bazooka rockets at the big tank on the main street, it kept rolling. The first round had missed and the second had done nothing more than tear part of the tank's right fender off.

"Into the buildings, stay out of sight of that big f**ker but stay close. The Kraut infantry are back here somewhere, I want to nail them when they try to reoccupy the town. Louis, radio the Cap'n let him know we're up against a f**king King Tiger." Hess was on the radio in an instant to pass the word.


Hernandez was pressing his men down the southern side of the town. They had the Tiger in sight and would occasionally pepper it with rifle rounds. Though they wouldn't hurt the tank, it would keep the tank's crew buttoned up and semi-blind.

Moments later Doc Milbury joined them. In the assault on the German listening post Pvt. Frank Genovese had stepped into a hole and had injured himself. Doc said, "Genovese's got a broken leg L.T., compound fracture of the right tibia. It's pretty bad. I stabilized him but he's going to need to be evacuated and soon."

"Is somebody with him?" His squad leader, Cpl. John Chapman asked.

"He said he was okay. I gave him some morphine for the pain. He'll be okay for a bit, but..."

Hernandez turned to one of his messengers, Pvt. Anthony Duke, "Duke, you know about where Genovese is?"

"Yes Sir!"

"Okay, go there and keep an eye on him. As soon as it gets quiet we'll get a jeep to take him back."


"Scheiße!" Hoffmeister screamed as another bazooka round came in, this one hit the left side drive sprocket, knocking the track off. They were immobilized. In a town. If those Amis played it right, his tank was dead meat.

As he considered his next move, he saw infantry behind him, German infantry.

They might survive this yet.


As night fell, the Americans held half of the village, the Germans clung to the eastern edge in the last few houses. Cap'n Palminteri had just met with his platoon leaders, they would hit the Germans again in the morning. He was still somewhat shaken as his driver, and titular company bugler, Pfc. Clay Newton was dead.

As the light had started to fade, the Company command team had come up the main street, hugging the northern side of the street. No one had seen the German in the upper window some two houses down until he had fired his rifle, hitting Newton in the lower abdomen.

The German had died nearly instantly in a fusillade of M1 rifle fire. Though Baby Doc and Doc Milbury had worked hard to save him, Newton had died. Two dead and two wounded, and for what, this little town in the middle of nowhere?

"Sir, battalion's on the horn." Pvt. Albert Samson. Palminteri's radioman, handed Palminteri the handset.

"Sir?"

"Tough break losing men, Captain, but you've got most of the town, right?"

"Yessir, just a few buildings on the eastern edge are held by the Krauts. And we damaged that damned Tiger. They'll probably try to repair it tonight, but I've got my riflemen covering it, they try, they die."


Palminteri couldn't have known that when the German infantry had reentered the town, the intense firefight which followed gave the German tank crew enough time to patch their Tiger together. That vehicle was now dug in outside of town on the only road leading east out of the valley the village sat in.

Hoffmeister watched as two hardened Landsers¹ carried the body of Oberleutnant Klaus Herbert Graf von Schiffler past the Tiger and its crew.

"Ah shit, they killed your lieutenant. He seemed like a good egg." Hoffmeister said.

One of the men, who wore the Iron Cross 1st and 2nd Class, nodded and said, "He was the best officer I've ever served with, Oberfeldwebel. We're going to bury him here, on the site of his last battle."

Hoffmeister nodded and said, "No doubt those Prussian ancestors of his would approve. You need help?" Hoffmeister had already grabbed the shovel attached to his tank. "I'd be honored."

"Sure Oberfeldwebel. We'd be honored as well."


As the sun slipped below the horizon, plunging the valley into darkness, the small town of Altenau was lit up from the numerous small fires throughout the town. Though the Americans felt keenly the loss of their two dead and two wounded, they couldn't know that their underequipped and unsupplied foe had lost heavily. At least twelve dead and over twenty wounded, a good number were missing. Some had probably run, at least four of those missing were the men who had manned the listening posts outside of town.

In twenty-four days, the fighting would end, the dying would end someday. Many of the men who had fought on this day would never recover. The fight for Altenau would haunt their dreams until the day they died.

For such is the unseen cost of war. Not all wounds are visible.




¹ Slang term for a German infantryman.

Link to all of the Chant's fiction.

28 comments:

  1. Another good episode. Guten nacht!

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  2. And Guten Morgen.
    Helluva scrap Sarge. The Oberleutnant didn't have anything to go back to and there are far worse things than being buried at your last battle site by men mutually respected.
    A small "battle" to be sure - except to the men involved and those who love them.
    Is Hernandez carrying an M1? Pretty sure the bayonet lug for the Carbine hasn't made it to them.
    Boat Guy

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    1. Yes, 1st Lt. Hernandez is still carrying an M1, carrying a carbine makes you look like management. Not a good thing at the platoon level.

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    2. Prudent choice all around. Something a Mustang is likely to do anyway.
      BG

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  3. Aw man.....more blood spilled and the madness continues. Now there's an 88 to face if the advance continues, wonder how the weather goes tomorrow? High of 37 here yesterday with snow flurries all day, the "peaceful demonstrators" in Brooklyn Center had a cold, wet night to do their thing.

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    1. Hopefully those "PDs" froze their asses off.

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  4. "That vehicle was now dug in outside of town on the only road leading east out of the valley the village sat it." should perhaps read, "sat IN"?

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    1. D'oh! Brain thought one thing, fingers typed another. Good catch.

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  5. Reliving a nasty fight over and over, until you go to your reward. The unseen, but massive cost to the individual. man...

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  6. I went back and reread a bunch of your early stuff. Your writing and ability to tell the story in such a way is amazing and truly a gift. You publish and I will be one of the first in line to buy.

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  7. Well, yes, pulling out pre-artillery barrage and moving back in is a Great War trick.

    But so is advancing behind a barrage. Which the Germans perfected, in the Great War.

    And now we have a mini-Stalingrad in the last gasp of WWII. Great. Absolutely great. Snipers, slow attrition due to injury, sickness (I am sure Hernandez will enjoy the head cold) and malnutrition (on the German's side) and just random bad luck.

    This type of crap won't make the Americans very happy to accept the Germans' surrender even when the Big Surrender occurs.

    And, dammit, you killed Graf... That totally sucks. Of course, he had no land and people to return to after the war unless he wanted to go play nicy-nice with the Soviets and what's left of his beloved land. A soldier's death at least. But still dammit.

    And I agree with Coffee Man about your writing. You made me care about a bunch of bit players who you introduced and then immediately started killing off.

    I was so hoping for a Sitzkrieg.

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    1. The Sitzkrieg would be nice for the characters in the story, but then it wouldn't be much of a story.

      Gomen nasai...

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  8. On publishing this. A friend (who has gone to his great reward much to early) asked a bunch of his compatriots if they wanted to help defer the publishing cost of his last book (he knew) by becoming sponsors to the book and having your name listed on the patrons page. I did it with out blinking, best $100 I ever spent. There are 100 of us and we too are slowly dwindling but it got his last tome published and didn't burden his pretty wife. Just an idea.

    Spin

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  9. Reading this a little later in the day than I normally do, partly because when I woke up and saw the burned out hulk of the Sherman, I just couldn't deal with that right then. Which is, I suppose, a commendation of your talent, Sarge, just as Coffee Man and Beans have more eloquently stated. Wirklikch ausgezeichnet, und vielen Dank!

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  10. finally caught up. 10 weeks (the crossroads) in the last 36 hours. whew... :) it's nice that the quality of your writing is still there - too many stories start to peter out about here, winding down and losing the spark, as per the real life.


    >> That man, Feldwebel Horst Krebs, yelled out, ...

    "That man" ? Seems out of place, extraneous, a fragment left behind...

    P.S. Stump still hurts. I knew a guy named Peter Gentile. Nam vet. great guy. great, great guy. Maybe it's me but I sometimes associate/overlay characters in stories with people I know/knew, even more so when the names match.

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    1. Whoa, a very awkward sentence, I fixed that.

      A lot of my characters have a real life counterpart, usually someone I served with.

      So all of this is very personal for me at times. Helps to make the emotions real.

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  11. It just feels like Gottedammerung. Over. And Over. And Over.

    All for a piece of land that has no strategic value except that it is in the way of the advance.

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    1. It's almost as if they fight because they know no other way.

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  12. Now it would make perfect sense for HQ to send in some Pershings or Jacksons to finish off the wounded Tiger...
    IIRC by that time Jacksons were quite common in Tank Destroyer units attached to every Infantry Div.
    And first Pershings were in action too.

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    1. Gotta be on scene for that. But, well, you'll see...

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Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)
Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

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