Tuesday, April 13, 2021

The Last Tiger - The Town

Bundesarchiv

Oberfeldwebel Willi Hoffmeister and his crew, late of schwere Panzerabteilung 506,¹ had been far from their parent unit when it had been trapped in the Ruhr pocket with some 300,000 other German soldiers.

Hoffmeister's crew had been sent to the rear to accept delivery of a new tank. Upon arrival at the depot where the new tank was supposed to be, they had discovered that the tank had already been claimed by an SS unit. So they had received orders to return to the 506th, empty handed. They had then discovered that they would not be able to make it back to their unit.

As luck would have it, this tank crew without a tank were mated with a King Tiger in the Harz Mountains which lacked a crew. Given a full tank of fuel and a full ammo loadout, Hoffmeister and his tank were directed to the small village of Altenau. Here they would meet up with an ad hoc company of Volkssturm and Heer soldiers. Their mission was to stop the advance of elements of the U.S. 1st Infantry Division.

Fortunately the Hauptstraße² in Altenau was wide enough to get the 70-tonne beast into town. Hoffmeister and his men had been operating the King Tiger for only a couple of months, they were still getting used to it.

"Hey Feldwebel!" Hoffmeister shouted down to a sergeant who was standing at a corner watching the tank come up the street. "Who's in charge here?"

Feldwebel Günther Klepper pointed up the street, "Oberleutnant von Schiffler should be just up the street. You can't miss him, one arm, eye patch, he's wearing SS camouflage, but he's not SS."

"Thanks!" To his driver, Feldwebel Horst Krebs, he said, "Keep going, up to the next corner."

Feldwebel Fritz Weber grumbled over the intercom, "A busted up Oberleutnant and a bunch of old men I'll bet."

Hoffmeister said, "We are scraping the bottom of the barrel these days boys. Next thing you know the Führer and his lackeys will be at the front themselves!"

The crew all had a laugh at that unlikely prospect.


Oberleutnant Klaus Herbert Graf von Schiffler turned from watching his ragtag group of soldiers preparing a roadblock as he heard the rumble of a tank engine behind him. His missing arm was aching, so he supposed that it was going to rain in the next few days. It still puzzled him how that missing appendage could still hurt when it was no longer there.

He watched the big tank roll to a stop and then watched as its commander, still properly dressed in the standard black tanker's uniform, climbed down to the street and saluted him.

"Herr Oberleutnant, Oberfeldwebel Willi Hoffmeister reporting with the last operating panzer of the 506th this side of the Weser!"

Von Schiffler had to grin at that, he saluted, with his left hand of course, and then immediately extended that hand to Hoffmeister. "Welcome to Festung³ Altenau, Oberfeldwebel. I am von Schiffler, technically I'm a baron, but as my lands are in East Prussia, I doubt I'll ever see them again. How are you set for ammunition and fuel? We have neither here for you I'm afraid. Plenty of stale bread and bad sausages though, if you're hungry."

"We have a full ammunition loadout, we have enough fuel to move the crate a few miles, but we were told that this was expected to be a one way trip. Pick a good spot for us and we'll at least scare the Hell out of the Amis! We're good on food though, thanks."


It was 1st Platoon's turn to be at the head of the column. Sgt. Lawrence Hanson's 1st Squad was riding Sgt. Brad Winkler's tank 'Boozer.' His guys were on edge as the road they were on snaked through a small valley with lots and lots of trees. Visibility left a lot to be desired in this place. Pfc. Omar Horton kept saying that it reminded him of the Hürtgen, "With better weather!"

To tell the truth, the weather was nice, mid-60s during the day, dropping into the low 50s at night, but no rain lately. Certainly no snow and the road was well-paved so there wouldn't be much mud should it rain. Hanson was content to ride, though according to his map there was a small town up around the next bend, so he planned on dismounting the boys in the next minute or so. No way was he going into a town sitting on top of a tank, that was asking to be shot at.

"Hey Wink, stop up at that road side shrine, it's probably better if we dismount now."

"Good idea Larry." Over the intercom he told his driver where to stop and communicated to his platoon leader what Hanson had in mind. His lieutenant relayed through the tank platoon commander S/Sgt Brad Woodstock, for Hanson to wait for him to come up.

"L.T.'s coming up, I guess he wants to see the situation for himself."

"Is 1st Lt. Gonzales a worry-wart or something?" Winkler wanted to know.

"Nah, he's just careful. He's a good guy, doesn't expect us to do things he wouldn't do himself. I worry about him at times. He seems way too smart to be a lieutenant." Which elicited a grin from Winkler.


Two of the infantrymen that von Schiffler had sent down the road to watch the approaches to the town from the west came sprinting up to their commander.

"Ami Panzers and infantry, platoon of each I'd say, coming up the main road. The infantry is dismounted, they're being very careful." The senior of the two reported. The younger one chimed in with, "Shermans, no match for our King here, eh?"

Hoffmeister shook his head, the infantry always thought the King Tiger was invincible, but let them get close enough and even a Sherman could kill his tank with a lucky shot.

Where the Tiger was sitting left them in shadow. They were close beside what was a post office in peaceful times, but was now von Schiffler's command post. His gunner had a long sight line out to about 200 meters. He'd checked it himself, any tanks coming down the road would not spot his tank until it fired.

"Fritz, Georg, be ready, you know the Amis, they come in batches, armor piercing as fast as you can until I say otherwise. If we can kill the first one where the road emerges from the wood, we can bottle them up for a while."

Gunner Feldwebel Fritz Weber pressed his face to his optics, he had the opening from the forest pinpointed. He then looked over at his loader, Gefreiter Georg Hansel, he nodded, then smiled as Hansel gave him a big smile. Hansel had had a head injury back in March, he hadn't been quite right ever since. But the man could still load the gun faster than any man Weber had ever seen.


1st Lt. Nathaniel Gonzales and his platoon sergeant, S/Sgt Jeff Kilcannon, came up to the back of Winkler's tank. Gonzales' radioman, Pfc. Brody McCall, was close behind, talking on the radio as he came up.

"Cap'n says probe the town, see what's in there. He's sending 2nd and 3rd Platoons out to either flank, just in case." McCall reported.

"What's in front of us, Larry?" Gonzales asked as he scanned the road ahead.

"Couple hundred yards of open ground, then a village. Scouts say there's a roadblock across the entrance, furniture, paving stones, a couple of wrecked cars, shouldn't stop a tank."

"Anything past the roadblock?"

"All they saw was infantry."

"Hhmm, gimme a couple of your guys, I want to take a look."

"Omar, Howie, you're with me and the lieutenant." Sgt. Hanson waved Pfc. Omar Horton and Pvt. Howard Castillo, his scouts, over to join them.

"I want you to stay here, sergeant." Gonzales said.

"Uh uh, you're not going up there without me, Sir."

"Alright, let's go."


"It's their scouts again, two other men with them." Feldwebel Klepper told von Schiffler as he lowered his field glasses. "I'm betting at least a sergeant, probably an officer as well. Trying to see what they're up against."

Von Schiffler asked, "Think they can spot the tank?"

"No Sir, I've been down there myself, if they moved about a hundred meters to their right, our left, then maybe, if the sun was higher. But this time of day, the whole street is in shadow for quite a ways back."


"I don't like it Larry, there could be a tank back in those shadows. S2 has intel that there were tanks spotted in this area. Seems the Krauts are trying to set up some kind of last ditch redoubt in these mountains. Hell, the place is damned near surrounded now, 1st and 9th Armies are almost around the backside of the Harz. Anybody left in here is out of the war." Gonzales wasn't happy.

"I know Sir, but the guys left in here can threaten the supply lines of both those armies." Hanson pointed out.

"Yup, that's why we're here, drive the f**kers into the open where we can kill 'em."


Cpt, Tony Palminteri was on the radio with Major Josephson at battalion, "Sir, we can drive on into that town. I'm betting there's no armor in there, just the dregs we've been chasing the past couple of days."

"Nevertheless, I want your boys to envelop the town, no charging in, my S2 says there's a damn tank in the area, aerial recon said it was a Tiger. Of course. I can't get any arty until tomorrow morning, they're tied up supporting the 16th who are running into lots of resistance to our south. Air support is tied up supporting the 1st and 9th Armies driving to the Elbe. Hold where you're at for now. Understood?" The major was adamant, much to Palminteri's disgust.

"All right Sir, you're the boss."

"You're goddamned right I am, envelop, don't push in. I don't want to lose any more guys."


"They're pulling back Herr Oberleutnant. Perhaps they smell a trap." Klepper said.

"Hhmm, they're being cautious, they know the war is winding down, regardless of what Berlin thinks. Who wants to be the last man to die when the war is nearly over?" von Schiffler thought for a moment, then continued, "Put out listening posts in the forest tonight Günther, two man teams, soldiers only, I'm afraid our Volkssturm will fall asleep out there."

"Think the Amis will try to envelop?"

"I would, I'm guessing they have no artillery or air at the moment either, otherwise we'd be feeling their tender mercies right now. No, tomorrow morning at the earliest, first light or before."

"I'll get on it, Herr Oberleutnant."


"So we're just gonna sit here until morning?" Sgt. Hanson didn't like it, another night in the open and it felt like rain.

"That's what battalion wants, we'll have arty in the morning, maybe even air. He doesn't want us rushing in. Have your guys dig in back from the tree line. Give yourselves good fields of fire towards the town, but stay back. The Cap'n says we wait." Gonzales shook his head, he didn't like it either, but it made sense. If the Krauts had tanks in the area, it was better to be cautious.

Cautious was always better than dead...




¹ 506th Heavy Tank Battalion, Tiger tanks were assigned to independent tank battalions.
² Main Street, though in German the meaning is more literal. It's usually the main road which passes through the town.
³ Fortress

Link to all of the Chant's fiction.

36 comments:

  1. Prudence is good. There's a time for audacity and this ain't it.
    Good set up Sarge, we'll be waiting to see what's to come.
    Boat Guy

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    Replies
    1. It pays to be careful when there's a Tiger on the prowl.

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    2. "It pays to be careful..."

      Especially when it's an LSU Bayou Bengal! :)

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    3. Heh.

      Plug for the hometown team, nice Virgil, very nice.

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    4. @Beans/

      HEY NOW!!! (I see the green-eyed monster of jealously has raised its ugly head. :)

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  2. Potential continuity issue, thinking you swapped names "Oberleutnant Engel... one arm, eye patch," to "Oberleutnant Klaus Herbert Graf von Schiffler"?
    Otherwise, great vignette, as always. Going to miss this series when Schicklgruber takes himself out, the nearly daily serial has been awesome!

    Mike the EE

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    Replies
    1. Mike, good catch! I started to goone way with the story, then shifted direction, forget to update the early bit. Thanks! (On all counts.)

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  3. Ditto BG and Mike. This has been a goto for getting ready to go to battle in Festung Amerika lately. Helps me keep smiling while I'm watching the inmates run amok....

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    1. Things are a bit insane lately aren't they? Of course, that's what happens when the puppet masters put a drooling idiot in the White House. Sorry, a corrupt, drooling idiot...

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    2. "Calling Disney, Calling Disney. One of your animatronics is stumbling loose in Washington DC. Calling Disney..."

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    3. One of the older versions, which didn't look all that realistic when brand new!

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  4. I wonder if the last Tiger will be denied fighting by artillery or bomb, or the GIs and shermans will have to do it the hard way?

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  5. Very artful stringing of tension Sarge. Your author skills are very impressive.

    Although not at all the same, it does remind me of the sense of the "The Last V8" in Mad Max. I wonder what it would be like to realize you may very well have the last vehicle (of any type) to be produced or in existence.

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    Replies
    1. There were probably others left, but for story purposes, I made this one the last one in the Harz Mountain pocket.

      That would be weird, having the last one in existence.

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  6. Replies
    1. Heh.

      Being from East Prussia he's more likely a farmer.

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  7. Nothing right now is better than a little Sitzkrieg on both sides. With proper planning and a little 'wink, wink' between sides, they could probably sit out the next few weeks.

    Better, of course, would be for the Americans to show strength and then send in an officer to parley. You know, like they used to do in Medieval times, roll up, show proof of strength, and offer surrender. At this stage of the game, the new 'our' Germans already have a negative attitude about the continued existence of the Drei Reich so, hey, it beats dying.

    Get on a megaphone, shout out that X building will cease to exist in 5 minutes, blow said building to kingdom come with artillery. Present the offer.

    It's worth the try at this stage of the game. Though our Graf might want to make sure there's no SS symbols on his uniform, or even get the heck out of the hated stuff. Pretty sure by know even the most dim-bulbed Kraut knew that to be caught in SS stuff was a death sentence.

    Excellent story, good to see the German's dark humor is still there.

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  8. Um, that would be an Auburn Tiger and War Eagle!

    Spin

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  9. Curious what has come over Capt. Palimintieri? Lapse in judgement? We all have them. Very glad Maj. Josephson is being prudent; usually it's "higher" pressing on into the big muddy.
    Boat Guy

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  10. That tank's gonna need to move some time to stay in the shadows....

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    1. We shall see...

      (That's me being mysterious.)

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  11. Hey Old AFSarge;

    Good Background, "East Prussia was overrun by the Soviets and "Parted Out" by Stalin after the War. He would never see it again even if he survives the encounter with "Our Guys", the Baron will become a displaced Person. I wonder if you will do some stories on Von Littgow and crew in the camps?

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    1. I might, though there's not much to tell about the bad food, worse accommodations, and the stultifying boredom.

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    2. The journey to wherever will become home might be interesting. I once spoke with a couple of ladies who as young women rode their bicycles from Berlin ( they were on a Flak crew) back to Stuttgart.
      Boat Guy

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  12. Love the way you leave us hanging. "What will become of Boozer? Will von Schiffler surrenderthetown? Tune in tomorrow for the next riveting episode!"

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    Replies
    1. Always leave 'em wanting more.

      Don't know who first said that, but it works.

      😉

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