Thursday, April 29, 2021

Why Are We Still Fighting?


Grenadier Friedrich Holzmeyer watched from his concealed position as another American column rolled past him on the road some 50 meters away. The road led to Eger¹ and the Americans were heading there in full force. He glanced over at Gefreiter Max Hoffmann, his corporal looked even more astonished than Holzmeyer felt.

They had just watched a column pass by led by an armored car, loaded with infantry, with multiple tanks, halftracks, and the ubiquitous little jeeps. They had also seen flights of American aircraft passing overhead nearly all day. Holzmeyer couldn't believe the equipment the Americans had available.

Hauptmann Schuler had posted them here to observe traffic, he wanted to move further south as the American 1st Infantry Division had moved into their area. That unit was patrolling aggressively and Schuler wanted to move to an area with fewer Americans. But to do so, they had to cross this road.

Traffic had been fairly heavy ever since they had taken up their position shortly before sunrise. They had had to move in while it was still dark, otherwise they might not have gotten this close to the road.

The traffic on the road cleared, Holzmeyer knew that it would only be a short time before the next column rolled through. He risked standing up to look further up the road and sure enough, another column was approaching, this one led by a tank.

Hauptmann Manfred Schuler was looking through his map case, whatever was south of the road he wanted to cross wasn't covered by any of the maps he had available. As they were on their own, he couldn't exactly get some higher authority to issue him more maps, he was the higher authority in this area. As far as he knew, they might be the only organized German combat unit around.

He had sent his senior sergeant out the night before to reconnoiter a position which was now held by a new unit. He had hoped to discover who those new people were, so he had sent out a patrol to grab a prisoner, all that had happened was that he had lost his senior sergeant and three good men.

After spending the better part of the morning observing the new Amis across the way, one of the men had recognized the unit patch of the American 1st Infantry Division, a very good unit. Rather than stay in the valley and harass them, the Americans were harassing his men. In the late afternoon an American patrol had ambushed one of his patrols. Five more of his men lost to him, three dead, two taken prisoner.

So he'd made the decision to move south, away from this new threat.

"He says that he and his buddy here are from a makeshift platoon of stragglers and survivors from other units." Sgt. Melvin Katz turned to explain to Cpt. Stephen Hernandez.

"Probably the same bunch we caught coming up the hill the other night." Hernandez postulated.

"Actually yes, he mentioned that. Says the unit's senior sergeant was leading that patrol. His captain was pretty upset to find out that we'd spotted them and eliminated them."

"Ask him how many men they've got, any heavy weapons..."

"Already did Sir, he figures there's maybe forty men left, they have a single MG 34 but they're running low on ammunition for that. Most of the troops have submachine guns and assault rifles, three or four K98ks, but that's it. No mortars and, as he put it, damned few grenades."

"Does he have any idea what his captain's plan is?"

Katz turned to the man and they spoke in German for a few minutes.

"He says that he's not sure, but he heard one of the corporals mention moving south. They have a couple of guys watching the main road to Cheb. The number of convoys we have running up and down that road will make it hard to cross. Says the guys watching the road are supposed to figure out the best time to get across."

"This guy is pretty cooperative, any idea why?"

After another conversation in German, Katz answered, "He says that a quite a few of the guys in the unit are real fanatics, hard core believers, he just wants to go home, he's sick of the war. He knows the war is lost, can't figure why the others want to keep fighting."

"Huh, he probably answered his own question, the fanatics won't quit, not until they're dead I suppose." Hernandez shook his head, "Thanks Cat, I need to come up with a plan of our own, try and nail those fanatics before they get the chance to hurt our guys."

Three more men were waiting to join Holzmeyer and Hoffmann near the road. They were another hundred meters away, out of sight of the road. During a lull in the nearly constant traffic the three moved up.

Grenadier Ernst Schumann spoke first, "Hauptmann Schuler wants us to set up a roadblock."

Hoffmann, as the senior man on scene, shook his head. "The Hauptmann can get stuffed. We set up a roadblock and we all die. The Amis have halftracks with four of their 12.7 mm machine guns mounted on them, there seems to be one with every convoy."

Grenadier Horst Walder offered, "What the captain wants, he should get."

Hoffmann looked at the third newcomer, an actual Waffen SS soldier. "So Max, what do you think of this plan to kill ourselves?"

Sturmmann Max Bader shook his head, "F**k that." Then he stood up and moved towards the road.

Holzmeyer could see another column approaching, this one led by another armored car. That vehicle began to slow as the crew spotted Bader walking onto the road.

"Son of a..." Schumann, one of the few men to have a K98k, worked his bolt and chambered a round. As he began to aim at Bader, Hoffman brought the pistol grip of his MP 40 down on  Schumann's head, knocking him silly.

"Bader is right, f**k this."

Bader had thrown his StG 44 into the brush before reaching the road. His helmet followed. As he stood in the road, he raised his open hands as high as he could reach. He was demoralized, exhausted, and hungry. He had been asking himself for the past few weeks, 'Why are we still fighting? What is it we're fighting for?"

Unable to answer his own questions, he had resolved to give himself up at the first opportunity. He was surprised that Schumann hadn't shot him in the back, dirty little Nazi that he was. Bader was Volksdeutsch, having been born not all that far from here. By birth he was a Czech citizen, but his family had been rabidly anti-Czech and pro-German. His ancestry was German going back to the 14th Century.

He couldn't be drafted into the Wehrmacht as he wasn't a German citizen, but he had volunteered for the Waffen SS. He felt he had no choice, those who supported the Germans had privileges, those who didn't, suffered. Sometimes that lack of support cost them their lives. The lives of one's family could be forfeit as well.

Two years fighting the Russians made him regret the day the English and French had signed the Sudetenland over to Hitler. Now he no longer cared if he lived or died. He was sick to death of this war.

Sgt. Ken Nord was watching the German in the road as if his life depended on it, which maybe it did. He was ready to open fire if the Kraut even sneezed. He had the Greyhound behind him watching the trees away from the road, if this was an ambush, it would come from there. The right side of the road sloped up to a ridge and it was open terrain, no place to hide.

Nord knew a few words in German, his grandfather had emigrated to the States from Hamburg. So he yelled at the German to ask what he was doing. The German answered in oddly accented German which Nord had trouble understanding. That's when his driver, Dan Netolický², born and raised in Prague, yelled something at the German.

After a lengthy conversation, in what Nord assumed was Czech, Netolický said, "Guy grew up around here, said there's more Krauts over in the woods that want to surrender. Can he tell them to come out?"

"Hell, why not? Easiest capture we've ever made, but cover 'em, any of 'em acts up, I'll mow down the lot of 'em." As Nord spoke he swung the big .50 cal in the direction of the woods.

"Bader says the Amis want us to surrender." Holzmeyer was one of the few who could understand Bader's accent.

"Yes, I got that." Gefreiter Hoffmann was debating his choices, he was also starting to wonder if he'd hit Schumann too hard, the man was still unconscious.

Walder chimed in, "This isn't right, we have orders."

Holzmeyer just looked at him, the kid was maybe 18, if that. He'd been in the military since last fall and hadn't seen much action, he'd been an anti-aircraft gunner at Zwickau to the north. He and his mates had fled when the Americans overran the place. Which is how he wound up wandering the woods with Schuler's group.

"Well, I guess we're outnumbered." Walder said, as he tossed his MP 40 aside and stood up.

The rest of the men followed suit, discarding their weapons and helmets. Walder and Hoffmann dragged the limp form of Schumann between them, he was starting to come around.

Infantry from one of the lead halftracks had come up to take charge of the prisoners. They had their medic treating the semi-conscious German.

"Man, who cracked this guy on the head? I think his skull is fractured."

Hoffmann explained what had happened to Nord, who said to the medic, "F**ker was gonna shoot the SS guy who was trying to surrender, so this guy," he nodded at Hoffman, "clocked him."

"Damn, well I guess if you wanna play rough...," the medic stood up and pointed to two of the infantrymen watching, "Smitty, Jackson, grab a stretcher off the track, let's get this guy to the battalion aid station. He's pretty bad off."

"Will he live?" Hoffmann asked Nord.

"I don't know, you hit him pretty hard."

"Scheiße." Hoffmann muttered.

"Hey, if you hadn't slugged him, he'd have shot the SS guy, then we'd have opened up on you." Nord gestured at the vehicles nearby, all of which mounted machine guns, "Do you think you would have survived?"

Hoffmann looked around, then said, "I think not."

"That's right pal, now run along, we gotta get moving."

M8 Greyhound

¹ The German name for the town of Cheb in Czechoslovakia (modern day Czechia).
² A rough pronunciation of that name is "Net-oh-lits-key."

Link to all of the Chant's fiction.


  1. Ah, they did pull the fenders off of M8s! Thin metal that would have been banged up, or ripped off, the first time in the brush.

    1. Not sure if they took them off, or if they got ripped off. For the reasons you cite.

    2. Yep. The front fenders sucked. Though the storage box between the front wheel and the rear wheels added a lot of stiffness to the rear fenders, as long as the 'hound didn't get backed up.

      Neat thing about the 'hound was, after the Stuarts and Stuart Recces (a Stuart with the turret removed and a scarf ring (the circular ring for the .50 cal on top of both 'hounds) took over the recon role, many Greyhounds were turned into armored personnel carriers by the removal of the turret and dropping down the scarf ring. Which, of course, made the profile lower and then made them even more favorable in the scout role. Still, a light, armored APC that can move fast and carry half a squad, not so bad at all.

      The basic Greyhound had an open top turret, as it was originally designed as a tank destroyer...

    3. Always liked the Greyhound. People give it a lot of crap because everyone else's Armored Cars are so much cooler looking and stuff.

      But the Greyhound had a nice high velocity gun with a wide range of ammo, and was much more mechanically reliable than the other 'cool' armored cars.

      As to the open-topped turret or exposed turret ring in the M20, battlefield modifications often put a splinter shield, made from other people's armor, on top, to keep splinters and grenades out. Though putting the canvas top on would stop grenades for a few seconds.

      They were and are nice. The modernized ones with diesel engines and better tires are definitely a cool thing. The only US armored car to come close to the cool and useful factor would be the Cadillac-Gage Commando series, which, if I had the scratch, I wouldn't turn one down. Gotta get that Class III license or pay the tax bill for the giggle-switch guns.

    4. The Air Force Security Police had the Cadillac-Gage Commandos in Korea. Loved those things.

  2. Interesting post Sarge, Dad's family came from just outside of Praha and is Slovakian.

    1. The area where C Company wound up is part of the Sudetenland which had many ethnic Germans. I wanted to touch on that topic.

      I never got the chance to visit there, my wife did, our chandelier is from Praha where she bought it, Swarovski crystal, thing is gorgeous.

  3. Guy with the BAR in the first picture is wearing side buckle boots. Who wore those? In a tank, I'd imagine they'd get caught on everything... Same in the brush. "More research? More research..."

    I find that a few weeks of thinking on a problem will give me a good perspective. I've made "snap" decisions like Bader before. Decisions that took weeks to come to.

    1. Well.... part of the M-1943 uniform. Issued late war to overseas only. Took the gaiter away, and added a buckled collar. Interesting.

      When I was a kid I had a pair of those lace on gaiters. They were cool, but a pain to "install". I can't even imagine what puttees from the first war were like.

    2. STxAR #1 - Those are the M-1943 Combat Service Boots. They were worn up through the Korean War by the infantry.

      Leggings, buckles, all of that stuff would get caught on brush and the like, but it beat having dirt and stuff getting into your boots. Which is why they were worn.

    3. STxAR #2 - Didn't see your second comment until after I'd type my response above.

      I did WWII reenacting back in the day, had a pair of German half-gaiters, canvas with leather straps with buckles. Did a lot of reenacting, never really had any issue with stuff getting caught up in the buckles. They also kept crap out of my boots, so they served their purpose.

  4. The medical folks may want to weigh in, but I'm pretty sure you described what really happens when you are hit very hard in the head.
    The real word isn't Hollywood, and a blow in the head can kill you, and even if it doesn't kill you the injury can make it a very hard road getting back to normal.

    It makes what you write have the ring of truth.
    (STxAR, thank you for sharing your experience with a concussion and the aftermath)

    I did a quick internet check and there are some Greyhounds for sale. No price listed, and that is probably a bad sign.

    1. One of those "if you have to ask, you can't afford it" situations.

      Would love to have one of those.

    2. Yep, I always shake my head when someone says, "you aren't justified in defensive deadly force when the attacker only has a (bat, pipe, big stick, good sized rock, etc.)... I've seen how impact weapons like that can really mess up flesh and bone (pictures of people so affected, actual broken bones and such on big cuts of beef and pork). Gallagher's antics with big mallets and watermelons comes to mind with respect to getting hit in the head...

    3. It's always someone who has never been in that sort of situation who says that sort of thing.

    4. has two M20s - the APC version with the turret removed and the scarf ring dropped down to replace it, for sale right now, for $65K and $75K...

      And ever since seeing one in an "Adam-12" episode, I've always wanted one, an M8 Greyhound that is, though I'd take an M20.

    5. As to whacking people in the unprotected head, yep, it's a great way to kill someone rather easily. Amazing what just a tad bit of padding in a helmet can do.

      And now they have reactive foam padding that drops the concussion potential down quite a bit, and helps with micro-concussions immensely. Heck, there's even a D3O foam ski beanie that I actually got to hit someone in the head with a stick. The stuff absorbs and spreads the shock so well, it was like hitting someone with a helmet.

      So, well, if you have to go to the inner city, go get your D3O (DeeeThreeOhhhh) ski beanie... Or just stay out of the inner cities...

    6. Beans #1 - I'd take an M20, price ain't too bad.

    7. Beans #2 - The noggin is rather fragile in spots, innit?

    8. Beans - Avoidance is by far the best policy!!

  5. I can only imagine how overwhelming such a show of force would seem, especially after the last year and the steady drumbeat of retreat. Frankly, I can understand the urge to surrender - and the reaction to someone who still believes there is something to be gained by what is effectively a suicide mission.

    1. You do get those sort of people, so totally indoctrinated that they are incapable of independent, rational thought.

      We have them today.

    2. There are the fanatics and there are also the 'I know this terrain' that think they can do it. And then there are also patriots. Which our noble host has covered.

      As deadly in war as the Germans were, I am very glad (as are most people who survived WWII) that the Germans never decided to go into a protracted guerilla war like the SE Asians did. That would not have been fun at all.

  6. Excellent episode today. That's, what, 2 episodes recently where the SS man has been the voice of reason. Not all of them were monsters. Some of them just wanted to serve, as you pointed out today. Others transferred from the Heer because they didn't have the political connections to rise in rank. A good example of not everyone belonging to an organization is evil, even if the organization is. (Like, well, I am sure there may be some nice people at BATFE...)

    The wind-down was an interesting time. Mass surrenders, many suicides, enough hard-liners, fanatics and patriots to potentially screw everything up.

    Now the struggle to survive until the end comes is getting serious.

    1. Might be a bumpy road over the next week, The Muse may not be satiated yet. She can be vicious.

  7. Hey Old AFSarge;

    In Czechoslovakia, there are monuments to the valiant Red Army liberating that country from the Fascisti Germans but they stop at Plzen. That is as far as the Big Red One went into Czechoslovakia before having to withdraw and turn over that country to the Soviets per the Potsdam agreement if Memory serves according to Division lore.

  8. (Don McCollor)..Imagine being unable to sneak across a road because of endless convoys of enemy vehicles passing! Like in "The Longest Day" when the German coast watcher in the early dawn of D-Day first saw the Allied ships at Normandy. There were thousands of them. He knew then that it was the end for Germany...

    1. Too bad the bastards in Berlin didn't see it that way.

  9. (Don McCollor)...On the other side of the world...(I think this was in "Japan at War"[may be inaccurate]) of a Japanese naval officer watching in the hills of the Philippines watching huge American landing craft (LSTs) landing big strange machinery (he had never seen a bulldozer before). As he watched in awe at the big trees falling as they clawed an airstrip out of the jungle in a single day. When he was captured, the Americans curiously came to look at a rare live enemy. What shocked him most was the color of their skins, the colors of their hair, and the colors of their eyes. Hw realized then that Japan had fought all the peoples of the Earth...


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