Monday, January 31, 2022

Going Postal

 So, There I was....* beginning the highlight activity of my day, nowadays.  That would be  driving the mile and a half from my house to our mailbox to check the mail.  Ahh, retired life...simple pleasures, lifelong treasures.  

Our Mailbox (and our 5 neighbor's)


I've checked my Amazon account and am scheduled to have two small packages delivered.  Unfortunately, the delivery service is marked as USPS.  

I say unfortunately, because the Post Office delivers to my mailbox.  FedEx delivers to my driveway and UPS delivers to my door.  I sure wish Mr. Bezos would put a little select button in the order form.  USPS-free.  FedEx $5. UPS $10.  He would be a VERY rich man, instead of just a rich man.  

Just sayin'.

We call this the Tree Tunnel.  Believe me, there are deer in this picture, somewhere.  The Bastiges!

In any case, I'm navigating my way down to the mailbox keeping a keen eye out for Odocoileus hemionus, which, if I'm not mistaken means Stunningly Stupid yet Suicidal Deer.  Beans might call them something like Mule Deer, Sarge might call them Black Tail Deer.  I'm just sticking with SSyS Deer.

Source

Fortunately, the SSyS Deer seem to be calm for a change.  Although I see a few, none seem interested in seeing how close they can get to the front of my truck as they decide to change sides of the road.  I manage to arrive at the Mailbox unscathed.  Park and walk over to the mailbox.  Open and look inside.  Rather than seeing the expected two packages, both of which are roughly cell phone sized, I see a pink slip.  It says the packages could not be delivered as my mailbox was full.

The only thing in the mailbox was a single sheet of pink paper measuring 2.5" x 6".

So, I get to wait a day for the packages to get returned to the post office for me to pick up.

The following day, I travel into town and stop by the PO.  There's a package pickup door beside the usual post office counter with a clerk behind it.  I start walking to the pickup door and notice a hand written note saying they're short handed and packages need to be picked up at the counter.

There's one clerk.  10 people are in line ahead of me. 20 minutes later, I'm next to next in line.  I notice a guy come in and walk over to the package pickup door.  One of the folks behind me points out the note and tells him we're all waiting.  

At that point, the clerk says "It's OK, just push the bell. There are people back there who can help."

I suspect they will be able to fix the hole in the roof above my position eventually.  

So, we all go over to the pickup door.  Fortunately, the lady who had talked to the guy pointed out that I was next in line.  They may have noticed the expression on my face.  I ring the bell, a worker comes and opens the door.  I hand her my slip.  She closes the door and, 15 minutes later, comes back and says they can't find my packages.  She'll have to check with the delivery guy when he gets back to find what he did with them.

I turn around and start to walk out.  As I passed the guy who went to ring the bell, he said "Never underestimate the government's ability to F**k things up."

Truer words were never spoken.  Still haven't gotten those two packages, did get a refund from Amazon.  Drove over to WalMart and purchased what I needed.  Mr. Bezos, please consider my suggestion.

Sunday, January 30, 2022

Feeling Seriously Unmotivated ...

Saturday, 29 January 2022
That's the view from my window as I write this. In fact, that's been the view from my window all day long. It's what we call a blizzard, yes, the Weather Channel named the bloody storm and gave it some fancy "scare the shit out of everyone" name, but here, it's a blizzard. Pure and simple.

It's hard for me to tell just how much snow we received, I can tell that it's a lot, but the precise amount is tough to tell, what with all the wind moving it all around. Battleship Cove, in nearby Fall River, says they've received two feet. I'll take their word for it.

Not a good day to visit the ships ...
(Source)
So I'm content to sit back, stream movies on my computer, watch interesting YouTube videos from the likes of The Chieftain and Ward Carroll, and scope out my new games.

Enjoy what remains of the weekend, I need to go check on Billy, Jan, and Jürgen.

Be seeing you ...




Saturday, January 29, 2022

All Work and No Play ...


Long ago, shortly after the Earth had cooled and life began to emerge from the primordial sea, I had a board game I really liked. 'Twas named PanzerBlitz and it was published by the Avalon Hill Game Company. I had many games from Avalon Hill, still have most of 'em. I spent many a happy day with my friends playing these games.

(Source)

Now that opening photo is a new acquisition of mine, an offering from GMT Games out in Hanford, California (oddly enough where The WSO lives, it's not a store you can walk into, more like a design shop/warehouse sort of thing I reckon). I saw the game on Amazon and noted the similarity of its cover with my old favorite PanzerBlitz. (Learned that that was intentional, the guys at GMT are gamers of a certain age, they remember, and honor, the old days.)

After a couple of days of hemming and hawing, I decided to purchase the game. While doing so I noted that the game had a number of expansions. (Which is a thing these days, I don't mind, it seems to work.) So guess what ...



These are big games, lots of pieces, lots of rules, charts (of the data kind) and maps. (Didn't want to confuse you Naval types as to a chart and a map, one details the water, t'other details the land - for those going "huh?" about now.) Lots of delicious detail about guns, armor, shot types, shot type effects on armor depending on direction of the shot ...

Dear me, I get excited just typing all that.

For I have ever been a gaming geek, love the details, though I'm rather a terrible general or admiral. Too impetuous dontcha know?

I do play computer war games as well, love the fog of war (which is damned difficult to produce in a war game without duplicate maps and pieces and some brave soul volunteering to be the umpire) but there is something about a board game, perhaps it's the colorful box art, counters, and hex maps. Perhaps it's the smell of those components and the way they feel in your hands.

It's much like the difference between an actual "dead tree" book and the electronic variety of same - Kindle, Nook, what-have-you. I had a Nook once upon a time, it was nice, but the battery died, damned lithium nightmare. Haven't replaced it because one of the books I had on my Nook had maps, which were hard to read on the wee thing. You could expand them, but it just didn't work in that format.

Long story short, I discovered three other expansion sets which, of course, I just had to have. 

(Source)
(Green means, I have it, Blue means, it's on order, and Brown means, it hasn't been published yet.)

Note that "P500" designation on the game to the far right, this is something I had never heard of before and apparently GMT has done very well with the concept. Rather than produce a game and hope enough people buy it to make it worth their while, GMT will design and develop a game but then put it out there on their website to see if there's any interest. If at least 500 people actually order the thing, then it gets published. You can read the description of that concept here. No one is out any money until it actually gets published, and the company has at least 500 game orders in hand so they know how much they'll make. Another neat thing about P500 is that if you order it, hoping it gets published, you get the game at a discount.

The Sarge likes discounts as the Sarge is frugal, some might even say "cheap."

So if we do get snow bound, I have something to do which requires no electricity - learn a new gaming system. Something I really enjoy if the truth be told.


I'm going to get back to the book in a couple of days or so, I need to work out where the characters are going next. Especially how am I going to get Jan to Warsaw when the country is crawling with Germans (and Russians to the east).

While fighting was going on at sea and in the air, there wasn't much in the way of ground combat in the West from October of 1939 to May of 1940 (when all Hell breaks loose). So it's a good time to do some character development and bring in some supporting cast as well. 

The goal is to cover the backstories of some of the characters from Almost a Lifetime. Also to cover the early parts of the war where we Americans weren't as involved. Some Americans think that we went to Europe and saved their bacon, well, sort of. Much of our contribution to the war effort in Europe was getting supplies to our Allies, particularly the Russians who were tying down the vast bulk of the German military on the Eastern Front.

I read something in Snow & Steel near the end of the book which illustrates how little the Russian people knew of American efforts to keep Russia in the war. When Soviet troops met up with American forces along the Elbe River, they were surprised that the Americans were using what the Russians thought were Soviet tanks.

Sherman tanks, the Russians thought that the Shermans they had received were actually built in the USSR.

Not.

We did quite a lot to both motorize and feed the Red Army  from about 1942 on. We shipped them a lot of trucks and a lot of food. Also uniform items from what I understand. Without our help the Russians might have lost the war. Without Russian help, we would have lost the war in Europe. Our big contribution was defeating the Japanese.

But I digress.

Suffice to say, we will get to the Eastern Front in this book, North Africa as well. Stay tuned.



Friday, January 28, 2022

Post? What Post?

(Source)
Those of you who were up early today might have noticed the lack of a post.

Sorry. Friday was a busy day at work, also had an after hours meeting at my church and wasn't home for good until approximately 2100 hours. (That's 9 PM for the civilians out there.)

Didn't feel much like writing, had nothing to write about, the Muse being apparently out of sorts yesterday.

The book? Oh, recommended by a friend (fellow USAF retiree) in light of the start of my latest adventure in fiction.

Started reading that this morning, having just finished Snow and Steel by Peter Caddick-Adams, an excellent book on the Battle of the Bulge, he also wrote Sand & Steel, covering D-Day and beyond, I highly recommend both. The man can write.

As can Mr. Kuniczak. After reading the first couple of pages I felt somewhat inadequate as a writer. It happens. This fellow uses language beautifully. He is an artist.

I'm going to really enjoy this book.

To my buddy Mike - thanks for the recommendation.

That is all ...


Thursday, January 27, 2022

Quarante et huit¹

(Source)
Guillaume Micheaux watched as the men in his squad shuffled along the track, slowly the men being shifted from the Maginot Line to the main front in northern France were boarding the crowded boxcars.

"Caporal, surely these cars cannot hold forty men and eight horses," Marcel Trouvé, a very young soldier asked.

"Not at the same time my boy, it's either forty men OR eight horses, comprend²?"

"Oui, mon caporal, I think so."

Eugène Bachelot, a thuggish man from the slums of Paris guffawed, "Ah, little Marcel, did they teach you nothing at your little school in the Vosges?"

"At ease!" their new sergeant, Pierre Brasseur, a tough little man from Marseilles, barked at the squad. "Keep your traps shut and get on the damned train. The Boche will be in Paris at the rate you crétins are loading. Allez, vite!³"

Guillaume missed Sergent Poisson, the man had been a much calmer sort than Brasseur. He was also concerned at this move to the west. The Maginot Line might be somewhat claustrophobic, but it was well armored and the bunks were fairly comfortable. He couldn't imagine sleeping in a trench as his father and uncles had. Covered in mud, exposed to the elements? At least the fortifications were dry!


Jürgen was dead on his feet, he woke up each day convinced that he couldn't march another step. But he managed.

"One foot in front of the other Junge!" Unteroffizier Hartmann had said, laughing.

They had had to move off the road a number of times as columns of supply trucks, and panzers had passed by. Even the horse drawn units were passing them. Jürgen spat once more to the side of the road, his mouth seemed to be full of dust, his uniform was certainly covered in it.

"We look like Africans Herr Gefreiter!" Schütze Ulrich Waldmüller had a point, their faces were all so dirty that their own mothers wouldn't have recognized them.

"Marsch meine Kinder, marsch⁴! The Poles are running faster than we can chase them!" Unteroffizier Hartmann drove his men to the east, the pace was unrelenting.


Jan Kołodziej had crossed back into Poland wearing civilian clothes and bearing papers in his own name provided by a kindly Romanian officer by the name of Rasvan Dobrescu. The papers were reasonably authentic and had cost Jan the last of his money, these things didn't come free. Apparently Dobrescu had family in the smuggling business, he knew people, who knew other people.

Jan's papers indicated that while indeed he was a Polish citizen, it didn't reveal that he was from the area around Kraków. No, these papers had him as a resident of Bydgoszcz, what the Germans called Bromberg, which was in an area that they considered to be part of the Reich. In fact until 1918 it had been part of Prussia, now it was in the Polish Corridor, an area which the Germans had overrun rather quickly in the first weeks of the war.

Jan could pass for a German, in fact he had on more than one occasion when young, trying to impress German tourists before the war. The female tourists of course.

While he couldn't speak Romanian, Dobrescu spoke French, which was another language Jan spoke very well. Like many educated Poles, he spoke multiple languages: Polish, German, French, and English. He had learned English from an American girl visiting Poland from the United States. She was of Polish descent, from Chicago, when Jan spoke English, people who knew the States swore he was from that city.

So the acquisition of the papers was done in French. After receiving them he had noted that his papers indicated that he was a laborer.

"Captain Dobrescu, I'm an educated man, why laborer?" he had asked.

"Ah, don't you know the Nazis are murdering the elites in your country? If the Nazis think you're an educated man, they'll kill you. But a laborer? With your ability to speak German? You should be safe, don't let on that you have an education, it could mean your life."

As Jan trudged back into his home country, avoiding the main roads, he wondered at the wisdom of returning. He might have been better off boarding that train with Bartek and the others. But here he was, he had to know the fate of his Elżbieta.


Private Billy Wallace was still grousing about the train trip from the Channel ports to the muddy countryside outside Lille. "Damn it, Connor, I expected better accommodations than those bloody Frog boxcars, 'homes and che-vox,' what the bloody Hell does that mean?"

Connor McGuire chuckled, "It's pronounced 'hommes,' not 'homes,' and 'chevaux,' not 'che-vox.' Means men and horses ye daft bugger."

Billy stopped digging long enough to give Connor an evil look, "I didn't know ye spoke Frog, what are ye then, educated?"

Connor laughed again, "Yes, I speak a little French, how else should I impress the mademoiselles? Shite, buck up laddie, the Sar'nt's coming."

Indeed Sergeant Bill Greaves was coming, he could see that Wallace was again bumping his gums and not working.

"Wallace! The Army doesn't pay ye to stand about yapping, get to digging laddie!"

"Aye Sar'nt Greaves, it's digging I am!" Grumbling, Billy drove his spade once again into the French soil. Muttering under his breath he said to Connor, "I didnae sign up to be a bloody miner!"


The fighting in the east continued, Warsaw was besieged and the Luftwaffe was attempting to bomb the city to rubble. Civilians were dying by the thousands in Poland.

Jan had good reason to be worried about Elżbieta.

She was in Warsaw.




¹ 40 and 8, a French railcar designed to carry 40 men (quarante) or 8 horses (huit)
² understand? (comprend)
³ jackasses (crétins), Allez, vite! (Go, quickly!)
⁴ March my children, march! (Marsch meine Kinder, marsch!)

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

The "Phony" War

(Source)
Private Billy Wallace of the 2nd Battalion, Royal Scots Fusiliers was not a happy man and he was venting his frustration with the British Army, France, and humanity in general to his good friend Connor McGuire.

"I swear to ye Connor, I set my bloody Bergan¹ down for just an instant and some bastard got into it and nicked my shaving kit. Bloody, illegitimate, bastards, and here we are meant to save the Froggies in their hour of need!"

"How d'ye know it was a Frenchie wot nicked yer kit Billy?" McGuire asked.

"Because what would another bloody squaddie want wi' my kit when he's been issued his own bloody kit!" Billy was steaming mad and probably would have gone on again for some time but their sergeant, Bill Greaves, came upon the "scene of the crime."

"What on earth are you on about today Wallace? Beds not comfortable enough? Rations not cooked to your liking? I swear man, you complain more than any other ten men in this bloody army!"

"But Sarge, somebody's nicked my bloody shaving kit! How am I supposed to shave with that? Sar'nt Major will have my arse for not shaving now, won't he?"

"Ye mean this kit?" Greaves held out a British Army issue shaving kit.

"No Sar'nt, my kit, well sure it looks like that, but ..."

"This is your bloody shaving kit ye addled-brained git. Ye dropped it when you were stowing yer iron rations. Which, by the way, I saw you trying to trade with a Frenchie for a bottle of wine!"

"But Sarge, I never ..."

"Clear off you two, get yer kit stowed in the quarters the French government has kindly provided, then get back here. I've a job for you two! Now go!"

When they were out of earshot of the Greaves, McGuire turned to Billy and said, "Thanks Billy, it's another shite job for us cause ye cannae² keep yer yap shut!"


They were on foot, they hadn't eaten much in some time, they were bedraggled and tired. They were Polish soldiers fleeing the destruction of their nation. This bothered Jan Kołodziej more than he cared to believe. His heart wanted to stay and fight, but his head knew that doing so would only lead to death. What with the Soviet invasion hitting hard in the East, his country was doomed.

Jan hissed at Bartek Pomorski, the tank sergeant without a tank, "Why couldn't the damn French and the English fulfill their obligations? Why did they leave us in the lurch Bartek, can you tell me that?"

"I cannot. They, no doubt, have their own problems. You remember before the war? The West was constantly trying to give Hitler what he wanted in order to avoid war. They drew the line at the Niemcy's demand for the Corridor,³ probably assuming they were calling Hitler's bluff. After all, that bastard was a veteran of the Great War, the West assumed that he would want to avoid another blood-letting on that scale." Pomorski had followed the events leading up to the invasion closely. He felt that, as a soldier, he should know about things which might require him to fight, and possibly die.

"Hitler wasn't bluffing though, was he?" Jan said, sounding exasperated with Pomorski's calmness.

"No, he was not, chłopak⁴, he certainly was not."

The sun was starting to come up in the fog-shrouded east, Jan was starting to see the outlines of the nearby hills, "I think we're close to the border."

"We are Jan, it's just around that next bend in the road, through those trees. Hopefully the Romanians on post there will let us in."


Guillaume Micheaux had advanced with his unit into Germany, not far but close enough to have exchanged shots with a German patrol. Shots which had killed his sergeant, Yves Poisson. Guillaume now wore the stripes of a caporal (corporal) and led his own fire team.

He had rallied the patrol and had driven the Germans off, even managing to capture a prisoner. His lieutenant had been very pleased, as had the commander of the regiment who had promoted him on the spot.

"Congratulations soldat, you are one of the few men in this army who seems to know how to take the fight to the Boche. Perhaps we should send you to Paris to teach the politicians how to handle the Nazis!"

"Oui, mon colonel." Guillaume had dutifully agreed with the colonel, but he rather hoped to get sent to Paris for other reasons, certainly not to talk with the old men who had managed to get France into another war with the Germans.


Jürgen von Lüttwitz, confirmed in his new rank of Gefreiter,⁵ walked slowly back to his bivouac. The unit was in reserve for the time being after the serious losses they had taken in the fighting along the Bzura River. Of his own section, two were dead, Ernst Triebig and Hans Grüneberg, Triebig had been killed right next to him shortly before he saw his own death coming towards him in the form of a very large Polish soldier. Another of his men, Friedrich Schultze had been evacuated with a serious wound, word from the doctors was that he would survive but wouldn't be returning any time soon.

Of Hartmann's machine gunners, Max Kurz had been hit in the waning moments of the fight. He would be fine according to the Sanitäter, he just needed a week or so off the line. The Poles had fought hard before withdrawing to the southeast. A rumor was going around that the Russians had entered the fight, hitting the Poles from the east while the Germans hit them from the west.

Jürgen almost felt sorry for the enemy. But after seeing men he knew, men he liked, die and be seriously injured in the past few weeks, he had a growing hatred for the Poles. He understood that they were fighting for their homes, but couldn't they see that there was no way they could stand against the might of the German Wehrmacht?

If he had known the plans Hitler had for Poland, he would have understood better. But not even the Polish people knew the horror they were facing. This wasn't a war of conquest, it was a war of extermination.


The Romanian border guards were sympathetic, even kind, in their treatment of the Poles coming into their country. But they were not allowing these Polish contingents into their country armed.

Jan felt naked without the German machine pistol he had been carrying for over a week. While it didn't have the range of his old rifle, it certainly put a lot of rounds out. It had served them in good stead on the few encounters they'd had with German patrols.

They had started out with fifteen men, four tankers and eleven infantrymen, the infantry from an assortment of units. Only Kornel Jabłoński and Patryk Kalinowski had been members of Jan's regiment, the 20th Land of Kraków, and Patryk was dead. In their last encounter with the Niemcy they had been surprised. Patryk was dead before they knew what had hit them.

Leonard Witkowski and one of the tankers, Grzegorz Jackiewicz, had also died in that fight. They had managed to overwhelm the small German party in the end, actually taking one man prisoner. Before anyone could stop him, Ignacy Grabowski had shot the German. He and Witkowski had been close friends, from the same small village outside Łódź. Jan couldn't blame him for killing that German, besides which, what were they going to do with a prisoner?

Pomorski came up to Jan while he sat there, remembering the flight into Romania, wondering what would happen next.

"Jan, there are rations in the barn, from what a Romanian officer has told me, anyone wishing to go will be put on a train to the port of Constanta, apparently their government is willing to ship us to France, to continue the fight against the Niemcy." Pomorski was chewing some Romanian ratio bread as he talked.

"France? The same France whose soldiers sat in their Maginot Line and watched as we were slaughtered? What, shall we do their fighting for them? Or are we going there to surrender? You know it's only a matter of time before the Nazis turn their attentions to the west." Jan was furious, he couldn't understand the ways of politicians and generals.

"I don't know, but I'm going. I want to continue the fight. Surely you're coming as well."

"No Bartek, I'm going back into Poland. I'm going home to Kraków and my Elżbieta. If she's still alive that is ..."




¹ I have it on good authority that squaddies (British infantrymen) called their rucksacks by this slang term.
² Scots for "cannot"
³ The Polish Corridor, also known as the Danzig Corridor, Corridor to the Sea or Gdańsk Corridor, was a territory located in the region of Pomerelia, which provided the Second Republic of Poland (1920–1939) with access to the Baltic Sea, thus dividing the bulk of Germany (Weimar Republic) from the province of East Prussia. The Free City of Danzig (now the Polish city of Gdańsk) was separate from both Poland and Germany. (Source)
⁴ Lad (chłopak)
⁵ Corporal (Gefreiter)
⁶ Medic (Sanitäter)

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

The Collapse

(Source)
"Jan, have you seen this?" Bartek Pomorski, a sergeant in the 10th Motorized Cavalry, handed Jan Kołodziej a crudely printed handbill.

Scanning it, Jan saw that it was an order for the forces of both the Kraków and Lublin armies to withdraw to the area known as the Romanian Bridgehead. Jan knew of this only because his company commander had briefed the men about it shortly before the German attack on the 1st of September, nearly two weeks ago.

The Polish commander-in-chief, Marshal of Poland Edward Rydz-Śmigły, had envisioned the Polish military withdrawing to that hilly area on the border with Romania in the event of a German attack. The idea being to preserve the army until the French attack in the West which would draw off German strength. Then the Poles would counterattack and drive the hated Niemcy from Poland.

Unfortunately, from what this handbill said, there had been no French attack. The Poles seemed to be on their own.

"Bartek, is this real? The French haven't attacked?" Jan asked, incredulously.

"Yes Jan, the French and the English are rushing to aid Poland, just as they rushed to aid the Czechs over the Sudetenland. I think we're on our own chłopak.¹" Bartek spat in disgust.

"When do we move? I can't see taking my boys back to what's left of the regiment. The Marshal says withdraw, then perhaps we should do what the Marshal has ordered." Jan handed the bill back to Bartek.

"Well, the Niemcy are between us and the Romanian hills, we'll have to fight our way through."

Cezary Król and Michał Włodarczyk just happened to walk up at that moment, Michał said, "Another opportunity to kill Niemcy, when do we begin?" The smile he offered didn't make it to his eyes.


Gefreiter Jürgen von Lüttwitz watched as the Poles attacked again, the pocket which they were in was slowly collapsing and their efforts to break out were getting desperate. Ammunition was running low, his men were starting to waver in the face of the fierce attacks.

Jürgen yelled at his boys to be ready, another Polish attack was in the offing as the sun began to set. Firing broke out to their front, Jürgen heard a grunt next to him. Schütze Ernst Triebig was down, a Polish rifle round in his chest.

Jürgen's rifle section were working their bolts as fast as they could in support of the machine gun section led by Unteroffizier Kurt Hartmann, their squad leader. The Poles were expertly working their way closer to the German position.

"Grenades!" Jürgen yelled out, just as Hartmann's MG 34 went silent.


Unteroffizier Hartmann looked on as Oberschütze Max Kurz opened the feed tray on his gun, Hartmann could see the jam which prevented the gun from firing. As Kurz worked to free the bad round, Hartmann readied his MP 38.

It was getting dark and he couldn't see any targets to their front, hopefully the Poles had had enough for one day. But no, a flurry of grenade explosions to his right made him look in that direction, von Lüttwitz's rifle squad was on the point of being overrun. In the dim light Hartmann could see a number of Polish infantrymen rushing von Lüttwitz's position. He had no choice, he stood up and engaged the Poles with his machine pistol.


Jürgen was frantically digging in his ammo pouches to extract another clip for his rifle, he could see a Pole, a large man, coming straight at him with a bayonet on the end of his rifle. The man had a look of pure hatred on his face. Jürgen's fingers scrabbled and in his last ammo pouch found a clip.

As he pulled it out he realized that he had no time, but he kept going anyway, better to die trying than simply give up.


Hartmann fired as the big Pole brought his rifle back to bayonet whoever was in the trench in front of him. The man twisted, then fell to his left as the 9 mm rounds hit him from hip to shoulder. Hartmann let up on the trigger, thinking, "What a Grünschnabel² am I, short bursts Kurt, short bursts."

Hartmann fired another burst at a retreating Pole, he missed with the last three rounds in that magazine. "Damn it, I'm firing like a damned rookie!" He quickly loaded another 32-round magazine. He was ready, but it seemed that the Polish attack had subsided.

"Gun's ready Uffz," he heard Kurz announce.

"Gott sei dank.³" Hartmann whispered to the gloaming.


They had had to abandon the two tankettes, they were noisy and they were nearly out of fuel anyway. Jan had no problem letting Bartek lead the way, he knew the area fairly well, having spent time here before the war.

The German ring was closing around the rapidly dwindling organized Polish forces.

"How far to the border?" Jan asked during one of the stops they made to scout the area ahead. Bartek had a map but didn't dare light his torch in order to read it.

"I'm not sure, perhaps a hundred kilometers to the Bridgehead, the border with Romania is farther on, but if we can make it to the area around Przemyśl, then we will be close enough to perhaps rendezvous with other units making for that area."

Jan nodded, "The old fortress city, I know of it. I know a girl there."

Kornel Jabłoński chuckled softly, "Is there any city in Poland where you don't know a girl, Jan?"


Major Hans von Woyrsch looked at Hartmann in the light of a burning Polish farmhouse, Hartmann noted that the Major looked concerned.

"Kurt, we got our asses kicked today. The Poles threw everything they had at us, word from regiment is that at least fifteen hundred of our boys are missing, presumed captured. The Polacks fought well today."

Hartmann grimaced at the slur, his great-grandmother was Polish, but he knew von Woyrsch was an old school Junker, one of the Prussian nobility. No doubt there was a long history of warfare with the Poles and Lithuanians in his family history. But still, "Polack"?

Von Woyrsch didn't notice Hartmann's discomfort at the use of the word, he continued, "Can you believe they actually had cavalry in our rear? Cavalry for God's sake, what is this, the 19th Century?"

Hartmann wondered if the Major had noticed that most of the division's transport was horse-drawn.


As night fell, Polish forces were desperately fighting their way to freedom, no one thought of surrender. If they could escape to the West, the fight would continue until Poland was free again.

The German pursuit paused, time enough to attack again in the morning. As the sun rose on another day, Poland was betrayed once more.

To the east, the first units of the Red Army were crossing the Polish border. Stalin had stabbed his neighbor in the back.

Poland was doomed.



¹ Lad (chłopak)
² Greenhorn (Grünschnabel)
³ Thank God (Gott sei dank)

Monday, January 24, 2022

I’mmm BAAAAACK!

 Ain’t modern technology wonderful? I’m in the backseat of  Little J’s Tahoe doing ~70 (😉) as I write this on my iPad. This, of course, gives me complete exoneration for any typos you may encounter. 

In any case, y’all may recall that Mrs J has been working for the better part of a year putting together a wine cruise for our winemaker friends and traveling buddies. We had 56 folks signed up. Unfortunately, at the two week out point, the CDC (Communists for the Destruction of Commerce? Works for me.) changed the rules, and the winemaker, who has several medical issues, opted out, taking 48 others with him.



We did learn something important though. At least important to the travel agent who booked all the reservations, that is. If a passenger cancels after the final payment date, the commission is locked in.

As I said, good news.

So a hearty group of eight set sail last Sunday, for Costa Maya, Belize and Roatan. Course, 4 of that select few are related to me. (Yes, Beans, I am related to myself.)

Ship holds up to 4500 pax, this trip carried 13-1500. Quite a difference, But it was good news/bad news. The good news? No real lines, park the car to enter the stateroom? About 15 minutes. State room through customs to I-45. Less than 30. Part of this is Covid related. Processing procedures were improved. One had a in/out processing times. Prior to Covid it was show up whenever, so crowds were large early. Now, not so much.

On the downside. A large portion of the hospitality crew’s pay is taken from tips. An 18% gratuity is assessed for all onboard purchases. I thought even with that most prices were pretty reasonable. 

But…

If the ship is only 33% occupied, the amount of tips is highly reduced. I tried to do my part by personal tips to the folks that took care of us. That doesn’t go into the general tip fund.

Roatan
Did learn a couple of Nautical terms while sailing.  Apparently, this is "A Chocolate Pancake".


And this is a side of Bacon!


Mmm, MMM, MMM!!!

Since we’d just been on this itinerary last month, and have done it multiple times before, we stayed on board and enjoyed the near perfect peace and quiet. The only exception was Roatan as they had the least expensive duty free, single malt Scotch prices of the three ports. 

So…refueling is complete.

Two days at sea and we’re back in the real world. Had a short lunch break in College Station for Grandparent duty and then back to the ‘burg.



All in all, a great week, heart rate and BP haven’t been this low in quite a while.



Sunday, January 23, 2022

Break, Break


I decided to take a break from the book, just today from the looks of it. What with the playoffs on TV, a new season of Ozark, and another episode of The Book of Boba Fett to watch, I find my time for writing to be somewhat constrained this weekend. Alas, even the mighty Sarge needs a break now and again.

It's been a pretty cold January so far here in Little Rhody, teens and the like. What with the wind coming off the bay, I rather wish we had a fireplace like that in the opening photo. That's The Nuke and Tuttle's fireplace down Maryland way. Spent many a cozy evening in front of that one. Something comforting and atavistic about sitting in front of a fire on a cold winter's eve.

We've had a whiff of snow here and there, but it's been fairly dry. Just cold and windy.

I made mention of the vet being concerned about Anya's small weight loss, blood work came back in the clear, no medical stuff going on, the girl has always been a bit on the skinny side. But she wear's it well.

Anya is in fine fettle, as am I, though both of us can attest to the fact that growing old ain't for the faint of heart. Every day seems to start with the "Check Engine" light on, but once I get up and get moving, everything starts running smoothly.

After a fashion.

Anyhoo, just a short post, have a good Sunday, I'll "see" you on Tuesday.


Anya and I say "Ciao!"

Well, in her case I guess it would be "Miao!"




Saturday, January 22, 2022

Remnants of an Army

Polish TK-3
(Source)
Bartek Pomorski nudged his driver, Cibor Borucki, who had his head in the engine compartment. Borucki looked at his sergeant in exasperation, he was nearly done tightening a loose belt, "What?"

Pomorski nodded down the road. Borucki looked, it was a group of Polish infantry, armed with a miscellany of weapons, Polish and German. The men in the other TK-3 were still asleep, Pomorski saw no need to wake them up just yet.

The two Polish tankettes had been separated from their parent unit two days before when they had been caught in the open by a German air strike. They had managed to survive that and had stayed alive since then by staying off the roads in daylight. Currently they were pulled off the road in a small woodlot.

It was close to sunset, Pomorski planned to continue to the east after dark, having infantry along would be nice. He wondered who these men were. As they got closer he called out to them, "What unit are you guys with?"


Jan Kołodziej nearly had heart failure when somebody called out to him in Polish. Looking up, he saw the two tankettes back under the trees. Perhaps they were close to their lines now?

"Kołodziej, 20th Land of Kraków, who are you guys?" Jan was dead on his feet, they'd marched quite a distance today, cross country of course, the Niemcy were everywhere else.

"10th Motorized Cavalry, well part of it anyway, out of Rzeszów. Getting ready to head east, you guys want to tag along?"

"Sure, you plan on heading out straight away?"

"In an hour or so, soon as it's full dark."

"Good, my guys need to get a bit of sleep before we move out."


Von Lüttwitz was still shaken by what he had seen by the side of this lonely Polish road. Sure, he knew the background, he had tried to read Mein Kampf but had set it aside as far too turgid and dark. He knew the Nazis' position on the Jews and the Slavs, but he had always assumed it was simply rhetoric, something to rile up the lower classes and get them to vote for Hitler and his cohorts.

At that night's bivouac, Hartmann had taken him aside, "Trust me Jürgen, I doubt the Führer knows that this is being done, I'm thinking this is more up Himmler's and Heydrich's alley."

"I'm not so sure Uffz, I mean from day one the SS were the Führer's select elite. Those guys back there were SS, weren't they?" von Lüttwitz was getting angry. Hartmann tried to calm him.

"Listen Junge, keep these things to yourself. I'm not sure if those guys were SS, I didn't see any runes on their collar patches. I saw Death's Heads¹, some of the officers had no insignia where the runes would be."

"That's worse Uffz, that's those Sicherheitsdienst bastards, they wear a blank patch on the right collar, they're worse than the Gestapo." von Lüttwitz's voice started to get louder."

Hartmann placed a hand on von Lüttwitz's shoulder, "Careful lad, you could get us both shot."


The small band of Poles moved out well after dark. Pomorski had seen how exhausted the infantrymen were, so he let them sleep for three hours. Jan had been worried about losing most of the night, but Pomorski had pointed out that tired men don't move very far, and they make mistakes. Mistakes which could get them all killed.

"Still Plutonowy, we are losing time, the Niemcy are everywhere." Jan had protested.

"No, they're pursuing the army and trying to get to Warszawa. They have security units in the bigger towns, but unless we get unlucky, we should be safe out here in the countryside. Only during the day am I worried. The Niemcy air force is indeed everywhere. Now, we need to move, I would offer you a ride ..." Pomorski gestured at the tiny TK-3.

Jan chuckled, "Yes, it's barely got room for you and your driver. I suggest that me and some of my boys lead the way, maybe a hundred meters in advance, to scout things out. I'll leave, say, six men with your tankettes as close-in protection. How does that sound?"

Pomorski was impressed, "How is it that you're not an officer Jan Kołodziej?"

"I am terrible with paperwork, just ask my philosophy professor."

Pomorski laughed out loud, "All right college boy, let's get going."




¹ The SS (Schutz Staffel - protection squad) were a complex organization. The Totenkopfverbände, the concentration camp guards, wore the Death's Head (Totenkopf) on their right collar patch, the Security Service (Sicherheitsdienst) had a blank patch. The SS ranks below general officer equivalent wore the SS runes on the right collar patch. They looked like twin lightning bolts. All three branches wore a similar uniform other than the patches.

Friday, January 21, 2022

To the East

(Source)
Jan Kołodziej sat in the ruins of the destroyed village, many of the wrecked buildings were still smoldering. It was a scene of utter devastation. His little band of three - himself, Kornel Jabłoński, and Patryk Kalinowski - had been joined by eight other men, only one of whom had a weapon: Olaf Mazur, Michał Włodarczyk, Leonard Witkowski, Ignacy Grabowski, Cezary Król, Stanisław Nowak, Konstanty Jasiński (who still had his rifle and a few rounds of ammunition), and Jerzy Urbański.

The men were all draftees who were on the verge of finishing their training and then becoming part of the reserve when the Germans attacked Poland. None of them had expected to be caught up in a war and had been separated from their units early in the attack. Jan had found them sheltering in the remains of this village, he was surprised that they had, to a man, volunteered to follow him in an attempt to rejoin the Kraków Army, which was somewhere to the east.

"Sir, how far are we from our lines?" Michał Włodarczyk asked.

"I'm not sure, I can still hear artillery fire to the east, so someone is fighting there, whether it's our boys or the Niemcy shelling our boys, I couldn't say." Jan answered.

"Perhaps a few miles, I just don't know."


Unteroffizier Hartmann had scoffed at von Lüttwitz's promotion to Gefreiter,¹ skipping over the rank of Oberschütze.² "Harrumph, in my day it took a good two years to make Gefreiter, after being an Oberschütze, what is this army coming to?"

Hans Wilfried chuckled and said, "Well, in all fairness to the Herr Gefreiter, in your day Uffz,  Napoléon Bonaparte was still Emperor of France!"

Kurt Becker burst out laughing until Hartmann looked at him and said, "Volunteering for kitchen duty are we Becker?"

"No Sir, sorry Sir." Becker stammered.

"It's all right Junge³, I'm kidding. Jürgen, come with me, we have replacements for the men we lost, I want you to meet them."

Von Lüttwitz followed his sergeant, not sure if he really cared for this new role as deputy squad leader. But then again, he knew he could learn a lot from Hartmann, the man had been in the army since 1935, he was an old hand.

"Make sure your boys get fed. I expect we'll be marching all night." Hartmann remarked.

Von Lüttwitz looked at Hartmann in shock, the men were exhausted, before he could say a word, Hartmann said, "I know, I know, but the officers tell me we have to keep marching to keep up with the panzers. While the Propaganda Ministry tells the world how mechanized the mighty Wehrmacht is, most of us still get to the battle the same way our great-grandfathers did, on foot."

As the two men walked past an army wagon, von Lüttwitz commented, "With most of our vehicles pulled by horses, Frederick the Great would recognize these wagons."

Hartmann laughed, "No he wouldn't Jürgen, many of our wagons have pneumatic tires now! We're very modern that way."

Von Lüttwitz couldn't help but notice that the field kitchen they were passing by most certainly did not have pneumatic tires. But a good many of them did, so that was progress, he supposed.


Jan had chosen Nowak and Jasiński to go with him to scout the nearby road. They could hear the occasional vehicle passing by from their position in the village and Jan thought it a good idea to get a feel for the German presence in this area.

Both Nowak and Jasiński were big farm boys, used to having to kill their meat for supper. The other lads were all city boys, mostly from Kraków. Having lived on a farm with his grandparents for a few years, he knew the ways of the farmer.

Jabłoński and Kalinowski had protested at having to give their rifles to the newcomers, but Jan assured them that it was temporary. "If the Niemcy are on the road, and we can ambush a stray, they'll need those rifles. Unless you'd prefer to come along yourselves?"

Which had stilled their protests.

It was dark now, Jan and his little patrol were positioned near the road in a clump of brush, they had seen two trucks go past, loaded with infantry, and one staff car. They could hear a motorcycle approaching in the distance when Nowak spoke.

"Sir, I have a length of rope in my pack ..."

Jan looked at him in the dim light from the stars, "And?"

"We could string it across the road, take out the motorcyclist."

Jan thought about it for only a second, then said, "Quickly!"


Werner Brückner was struggling to stay awake, his sergeant, Horst Schumer, was fast asleep in the sidecar. "Lucky bastard," he mumbled.

Brückner had a brief glimpse of something in front of him, but he wasn't sure what it was, then he drove straight into the rope which snatched him off the motorcycle as neat as you please. He hadn't been going fast enough to be seriously injured, but when he fell onto the road he had had the wind knocked out of him.

As he struggled to catch his breath, a figure approached from the darkness along the verge of the road. He hoped it was someone who could help him.


After Jasiński had crushed the skull of the man lying in the road, he returned to the motorcycle, which had veered off the road and thrown the occupant of the sidecar into the ditch. He had been dispatched by Nowak in the same way Jasiński had killed his Niemcy, rifle butt  to the head.

"Let's get these bodies off the road, leave the motorcycle where it is but cover it with brush, no one should notice that before morning." Jan turned to tell the men to search the bodies then realized he didn't have to as Nowak handed him a German machine pistol and two ammunition pouches.

Jasiński had collected a rifle and a pistol from the man who had been driving the motorcycle, also a bread bag loaded with food. He was covering the motorcycle with brush, he had a look in the side car, he hissed over at the other two Poles, "More rations!"

Leaving the dead Germans behind, the three men returned to the others. They would move out, now that they had more weapons and some food to sustain their march. Jan had the satisfying thought that while their unit had had to retreat, at least some Poles were still killing Germans!


As the column of weary troops from the 26th Infantry Regiment of the 30th Division marched down the road, Gefreiter Jürgen von Lüttwitz was with his squad in the midst of the 3rd Platoon of the 2nd Company, 1st Battalion, of that regiment. The men were asleep on their feet, he didn't think they could march much longer when their company commander called a halt. Jürgen stepped out to see what was going on.

Ahead on the road were a party of SS men, on the ground nearby were two blanket covered bodies, Jürgen could see from their boots that they were German soldiers. He caught Unteroffizier Hartmann's eye, nodding towards the men on the side of the road. Hartmann just shook his head.

As he watched, the company commander came down the column and stopped at 1st Platoon. He picked a party of ten men and led them back to the head of the column. It was only then that Jürgen noticed the Polish civilians lined up in the ditch beside the road.

Moments later gunshots rang out, within moments the civilians were all sprawled in the ditch, one of the SS men was walking among them, firing his pistol into any who still showed signs of life. Jürgen was appalled, what the Hell was going on?


At that night's bivouac the rumors were spreading, Jürgen had heard two different stories. One was that the civilians had been partisans who had ambushed and murdered two German soldiers on a motorcycle. The other was that the SS had simply rounded up anyone they could and had them shot. There were still Polish soldiers in the forests, trying to make their way east to where the fighting still continued. It was more than likely the motorcyclists had been killed by those men, not the civilians. The SS men didn't care, they were sending a message to the populace, resist the Germans and die.

These SS men were members of Einsatzgruppe II, one of the SS units following the main army, rounding up civilians and killing them, especially those who were teachers, lawyers, doctors, civilian leaders, and the like. It was the first experience Jürgen, and many of the other soldiers, had had with these units.

It would not be the last.






¹ Lance corporal (Gefreiter)
² Private first class(Oberschütze)
³ Lad