Sunday, May 2, 2021

The Final Days, Part One

The ruins of the Reichs Chancellery

Cpt. Stephen Hernandez sat at the small table in the room he was using as an office. The message he'd received from regiment was crumpled in his hand. Radio reception in the hills and valleys of this area of Czechoslovakia had been bad over the past few days and a courier had brought the piece of paper.

He stood up, sighed, and walked over to the map pinned to the wall. It marked the latest known positions of American and Russian units. There were no German units marked on the map, a question mark or two where there might still be organized German resistance, but it looked as if the war was winding down, finally.

Which made the death of Major Josephson all the harder to stomach. He had been returning from a meeting at regiment, the problem they were having with their radios had made that face-to-face meeting necessary in the first place. His jeep was being escorted by two armored cars and it was only sheer bad luck which had led them to take the wrong fork in the road.

A mine had knocked out one armored car, a well-armed German armored car, also lost, had killed the second armored car and it's crew. The survivors had spent the night hunkered down, waiting for daybreak, they had two wounded men and the Major had refused to abandon them.

Near morning a rescue party led by C Company's XO, 2nd Lt. Mitch Hornsby had arrived. The survivors were nearly home free when some insane German diehard had come down the street firing his weapon and yelling something about Hitler. Major Josephson had the misfortune to be hit by a burst of fire from the German's initial, unaimed fusillade. Major Josephson had lingered for a short while, then he had died. Hernandez wondered if things might have been different had he been there.

Hitler was dead, according to the message he held in his hand. The remaining Germans were surrendering in droves now. Columns of refugees, military and civilian, were clogging the roads from the east. It seemed as if all of eastern Europe was trying to get to the American and British lines. Seemed that no one trusted the tender mercies of the Soviets.

The war was nearly over, but the Major hadn't made it. Close, but in the end he died like so many other soldiers.

Hernandez' radioman, Cpl. Jacob Winters, was a wreck. He'd been Josephson's radioman when he had commanded Charlie Company. Hernandez realized that Winters was probably finished as a soldier. The man was broken, Hernandez had sent him to the rear to get him away from the front for a few days. He had seen too much, the Major's death was the last straw. With any luck the war would end before he came back.

One could only hope.

2nd Lt. Mitch Hornsby was walking back to the CP, he had escorted Winters back to the battalion aid station. The medics had dropped him off after assuring him that they'd take care of Winters. Everyone in the battalion was pretty torn up over Josephson's death.

But looking at things realistically, the Major had no family, his wife and young son had been killed in a car crash back in July of '44. Maybe that's why he had smiled just before he died. Hornsby had been impressed by the man and was sad that he was gone, especially with the end of the war so near. He wondered who would take command of the battalion. Would they bring in an outsider or would the senior company commander, Cpt. Jack Walker get the nod?

1st Lt. Nathan Paddock's 2nd Platoon was wearily making their way up the hill to Charlie Company's position. He had taken the entire platoon out on patrol. The men were getting sloppy being in defensive positions all the time, he wanted to exercise them and to check for German activity in the area. There had been no sign of the Germans in the valley nor on the next ridge.

A couple of abandoned positions had been found, hastily evacuated. Paddock wondered where the Germans had gone. Talking with some of the locals had revealed little, many of them were ethnic Germans and had no love for the American army or their Czech neighbors.

One older man, who spoke a little English, had told them that everyone, German and Czech, were nervous about the oncoming Red Army. Rumors were rampant, refugees spoke of drunken Russian soldiers raping and pillaging. Not the front line troops, but those in the second line who weren't focused on fighting Germans, they were out for revenge.

From a hilltop not two miles from C Company's position, Paddock had observed a refugee column on a road in the distance. He had seen no military equipment, just farm carts, bicycles, and the like. While there may have been German soldiers within the crowds, many appeared to be civilians.

While he had been observing, the column had actually been attacked by aircraft. Paddock couldn't tell the aircraft types from a distance, but he didn't think they were American. The world had gone insane in the '30s, now it appeared that things would get worse before they got better.

But now they were approaching their own lines. As the men filed off to get something to eat, he was met by the commander of 3rd Platoon, 2nd Lt. Bob Poole. He looked deadly serious.

"What's up Bob?" Paddock asked as he slung his M1.

"The Major was killed in action last night."


Poole explained the situation, Paddock couldn't quite grasp it. The war was nearly over, and now this. Initially he had been somewhat scared of the man, but as he matured as an officer, he began to see that Major Josephson was a superb leader of men, brusque at times, but fair. Paddock would miss the man.

Unterfeldwebel Horst Bergschneider trudged along with the collar of his greatcoat pulled up, his cap pulled down low, and his head bent forward as if he'd been doing this forever. The long column he was a part of was mostly military but with a large number of civilians mixed in as well.

"If you had fought harder, we wouldn't have to flee our homes!" one particularly strident woman had kept reminding him and his fellow soldiers, at least once a kilometer. Her voice had been silenced a short while ago.

It had been another passing Soviet aircraft, probably returning from a mission as they never dropped any bombs, which had come down the line of the road, its guns blazing. The poor woman had been hit in the chest and had been flung to the side of the road. She had died without a whimper.

A Luftwaffe man, from his insignia he was an anti-aircraft artilleryman, had looked at her corpse and had noted in passing, "If you had stayed home, you wouldn't be dead in a ditch now, would you?"

In the first hours of their trek out of the Reichs Protectorate of Bohemia-Moravia, the initial Soviet air attacks had caused mass panic. People had tried to escape into the fields alongside the road, but there was no place to hide.

After each attack, the column moved on, like some great beast tormented beyond caring anymore, shedding the wounded and the dead with equal indifference.

Now when the aircraft bearing the red star of Soviet Communism appeared, the people just kept moving, hoping the odds were in their favor. Usually they were.

At first the officers had tried to maintain order and discipline among the military units, but as more and more civilians joined the column, discipline eroded. One particularly forceful colonel had not been around one morning, rumor had it that his own men had killed him in the night.

The war was ending, no one wanted to be the last to die.

So the column containing the pathetic remnants of Hitler's quest for Lebensraum moved on, to an uncertain future and an unknown fate. But anything was better than facing the wrath of the Soviets.


Link to all of the Chant's fiction.


  1. some historical footage and eyewitness stories...

  2. I read a book called "Eight Bailed Out" in the early 90's. About a bomber crew that bailed out over Yugoslavia and hooked up with a bunch of Chetniks. They were pro-American, anti-communist guerillas. The Americans backed Tito, so the Chetniks allied with Germany for survival. Their story about fighting communists with German support was almost surreal.

    That story about the mixed multitude was straight out of that book. It was a tough read... A few months later, I noticed that some of the names I'd read were in the news. The blood letting was starting up again over there. Europeans have been offing each other in job lots for centuries. I think they are overdue for another purge.

    1. Divide and conquer, it's what the Left does.

  3. Hey Old AFSarge;

    the "Displaced Persons" was the big story of the postwar era, millions fled the east in hopes of avoiding the Vengeful Soviets. German Propaganda had tapped into the atrocities that the Soviets created when the Germans counterattacked and recaptured some of the territories that the Soviets had captured initially and they saw the brutalities done to the citizens from Eastern Prussia and broadcast it all over the Reich. Perhaps in their zeal to drum up the will to fight they saved some people from the tender mercies of the Mongols and others that were in the 2nd and 3rd echelons of the Soviet Army, OTOH, many died fleeing their homes so it is a wash I suppose.

    1. In many ways it was payback for the atrocities committed by the Germans in the USSR. Both sides were Godless ideologies where people are subordinate to the State. That sort of system lends itself to barbarism.

    2. Then there's the whole Germans hating Russians, Russians hating Germans from, well, since about the time of the Teutons and the Rus. They've been doing it to each other since at least 900AD, with so much hatred and bad blood it's almost like the Middle East for FUBARedness over somethings that happened long long long ago.

      National and International Socialisms just gave the hate-cake a different flavored topping, so to speak.

    3. At times it seems that every ethnic group in Europe hates some other ethnic group. Which is why the EU doesn't really work.

    4. @ Beans - It is far more complicated than that.
      For periods, German-Slavic boundary was example of peaceful coexistence.
      Between dissolution of Teutonic order , various border German principalities generally got on good footing with the Commonwealth.
      Russians were on so good terms with Germany that they literally imported some rulers from there (Catherine the Great, born in then-german city of Stettin, nowadays my home city Szczecin ,no less) .
      Russia saved Prussia by ending involvement in 7 years war when Prussia was oin the ropes... (WW2 Nazis desperately hoped for such separate peace with one side of the Allies or another - which of course shows how much they were removed from reality).
      Then joint eneterprise to partition Poland made Prussia, Austro-Hungary and Russia partners in concert of the powers for much of 19th century. Poles were dissenting voice but were excluded form the ensemble :P
      Bismarck, architect of German unification was adamant about keeping good relations with Russia as cornerstone of his foreign policy.
      It was propaganda unleashed in years leading to WW1 that started to poison things, and then communists and nazis turned that up to eleven.

    5. "National and International Socialisms just gave the hate-cake a different flavored topping, so to speak."

      Nicely put. I tend to think of them as different faces of the same totalitarian die.

    6. Joe - Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Totalitarians use ideology to enslave, it works with the weak minded.

    7. "Both sides were Godless ideologies where people are subordinate to the State." You mean like current North Korea and China?

  4. Some years ago I watch the British series Foyle’s War, about a British detective who still did his detective work against the backdrop of first the blitz and then World War II. Excellent historical research I thought.

    But they went immediately post war and a shameful past was repatriating all of these Russians that did not want to go back to Stalin. They force them to go back.

    1. Yup, a terrible thing to do.

    2. They forced a lot of people to go back to places that subsequently became hell-holes under the Soviets. Poles, Czechs, Russians, Georgians, Ukranians, Germans... And many of those repatriated disappeared because they were exposed to western ideals, or worked to death in labor camps as punishment.

    3. There were loads of former prisoners or forced labourers inside Germany at the time of the fall.
      Included among them were my grandmother and grandfather from the father's side...
      Father was actually born in Germany.
      Grandmother chose to return to Poland, while grandfather left her and eventually settled in the USA.
      2 of grandmothers sisters were deported by Soviets to the East, escaped Russia with Polish Army into Middle East which later became II Corps that captuired Monte Cassino, and they eventually settled in Australia.
      While forced repatriations were common for Russians and others form Soviet Union itself, most of Poles were free to stay in the West.

    4. No doubt because of the valiant service of the Poles fighting beside their Western Allies. In the Battle of Britain, in North Africa, in Italy, in Normandy invasion and beyond.

  5. Weird. Just yesterday I predicted long columns of refugees hurrying out of the East heading to the Western powers...

    Not really predicted, because I knew it happened. What started as a trickle at the beginning of spring became a flood before Hitler offed himself and then became a tsunami of refugees.

    Heck, if I was in their place I'd have bugged out to the west as quickly as possible. A potential death on the march and homelessness at the end vs a pretty assured chance of being killed or worse if one stayed.

    And, yes, you are right. What was madness and insanity at the start of the war broke down into complete chaos at the end, at least for the Germans and their allies. One thing can be said for Italy, it only suffered under Mussolini and Hitler, and wasn't much touched by Stalin, except for the Italian troops and prisoners on the Eastern Front. The civilians didn't get the overall thrashing by the Russkies that Eastern Europe did.

    It's bad. When the ravenous invading Germans are considered to be better than the ravenous invading saviors in the form of Russians.

    One wonders, what exactly did Eastern Europe do to deserve what it got?

    Excellent episode, as always. Will be sad to see this end, eventually.

    1. Eastern Europe's problem has always been that it's a bunch of small nations tucked between big empires. Ask Poland, partitioned more times than I can remember without looking it up.

    2. Germans precipitated the "Ostflucht" (literally fleeing the east) themselves. Nazi authorities ordered mass evacuation of German nationals as the red Army drove close, and purposefully stoked fear of Soviet retributions.
      As far as I know while Soviets did massive atrocities wherever they went, the hasty flight in the harsh winter of 1945 was probably even worse in casualties, including sunken ships like Wilhelm Gustloff, and thousand drowned in Vistula Lagoon when ice broke under masses fleeing East Prussia.

    3. Paweł - Yup, the Nazis precipitated that, first by their own actions in the East when they were on top, then selling horror tales to their own people.

  6. One wishes - in retrospect - the West had done more to spare Eastern Europe from the horrors (I would argue a legitimate use of the term) of Communism.

    As always Sarge, excellent writing - and a good exposition of a part of the war many may know little about.

    1. The horrors of Communism, and damned near every other "-ism" out there.

    2. Nothing short of war that would probably costed another few millions lives at least would have done that. Case of cure worse than sickness. Also democratic states are limited in their policies by what levels of sacrifice population is willing to endure.

    3. Seems to me and from what I have read that Patton saw the "handwriting on the wall" and was slapped down for his views and the fact that he was using former Nazi's to run things.

  7. I'd be concerned with who gets the battalion; the cynic in me expects some WPPA careerist who will crush morale even further under a ton of chickensh*t.
    NOT a suggestion!
    Boat Guy

    1. I'm not sure how it's going to go, definitely don't want to see the battalion commanded by some staff puke who just wants to be able to say, "I commanded an infantry battalion in WWII."

    2. You always gotta be watching those...

  8. The most dangerous days of the war are upon us. Like I said in the previous chapter....No one wants to be the last one killed by the last bullet in a war.

    I am reminded of a grave yard in small town Kansas (not even sure it is still on the maps). A monument to a young man from the area that was killed during WWI on October 29th, 1918. I know some horrendous fighting was going on in those last day. The monument has his picture on it, forever young. It is haunting seeing it.


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

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