Wednesday, January 26, 2022

The "Phony" War

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)


  1. "...serious losses they had taking in the fighting along the Bzura River." Taken?

  2. Having made wild statements about the misplacement of items which were my own fault, I can completely identify with the Private.

    I can understand Jan's desire to return, even as I worry for it. Then again, we have the rearview mirror of what history will be; he does not.

    For Von Luttwitz, this is often how it happens (and what I fear, even now): The emotions go from "I feel bad about this" to "My friends are dead; Kill them all!". This is point of no return, where nothing will end without bloodshed and a great deal of war.

    Odd how, historically speaking yet again, those in power promises and dither and everyone else pays the price.

    1. History is such a useful predictor of human behavior, if only those in power would pay attention.

    2. Sigh. Once upon a time it was a valued study to teach and train; now, it is merely a club to be used to beat with and then cast aside.

      This should go well for us…

    3. To say I have doubts about the current administration's ability to do anything correctly is something of an understatement. Rookies, clowns, Marxists, and downright morons at the helm.

    4. Almost as if they were put in place to dismantle anything 'American.' But that's crazy talk, right?.... Right?...

    5. OldAFSarge, why are you insulting clowns?

    6. I know, I feel kinda guilty about that ...

    7. don't 'xac'ly care to mention that you're missing (deliberately?) a group at the helm; prolly cowardice on my part...
      Please, don't let your muse kick you into overdrive, even if it might get (what you imagine to be) overlong
      I think all of us love getting to know these guys and the mud 'n all weighin' 'em down

    8. I'm easing into this tale, it's a long war.

  3. The back ‘n forth of Scots-to-English brought to mind an acquaintance of some 50-years ago. Occasionally work called for interaction with opposite-number staff of a sister organization. In my instance, opposite-number was Andy, a real deal thick accented Scotsman.

    Now Andy had come to the US for medical treatment after being injured in North Africa. By conclusion of treatment & convalescence, the war had ended and Andy took discharge (demob) in the US. Somehow that high road brought him to the area and a successful career.

    Andy was a man of good humor with a love of women, golf and whisky not to mention the occasional telling of a good Sea Story.

    Prompted by a good natured clash with an Aussie coworker, Andy told of his first meeting with Aussies in North Africa.

    There, his unit was billeted nearby an Aussie formation. Soon after settling in, an Aussie trooper came into camp searching for miscellaneous bits of gear, in this instance boot laces. In the spirit of GB Shaw’s observation of “two countries separated by a common language”, the Aussies request for “laces” was interpreted with some ire as “lices” as in “you blokes got lices”?

    Just as Sgt. Greaves put matters right with Billy Wallace, a cooler head made a clearer interpretation of the Aussies request and all had a good laugh. Amicably so, Outback ‘Straalyan” met the equally broad Scottish burr of vowels.

  4. Poles in Romania, Germans and Russians in Poland and the English in France in 1939. Today it sounds like the Germans are going to stay in Germany.
    Good story!

    1. You can never tell with the Germans.

    2. At least an outright socialist East German isn't running things, as far as we know.

      History in Europe has always been a clouded mysterious mess full of back channels, underchannels, blood ties and broken promises, with all-too frequently outbreaks of insanity and mass murder. And a side dish of stupidity seasoned with idiocy.

      Sadly, in comparison, the rest of the world tends to make Europe (both past and present) look positively sane and cultured.

    3. Chancellor Scholz is a socialist, believes the G7 should be a "Climate Club." He served under Merkel, that's all I know about him. Can't say I'm impressed.

  5. Sad. A sad end to a glorious country. A sad beginning of a new war. If only someone had known...

    Your writings are excellent as always. And, also as always, far too informative and though provoking.

    Looking forward to the next segment.

    1. I shall endeavor to keep them coming, perhaps not every day, but near as damn it.

    a very interesting analysis...
    key takeaways imho:
    1.even if Ukraine stands alone to be trounced, it would cost Putin arm and a leg, from economic sanctions to human losses
    2.NATO can influence things even without boots on the ground, just by supplying Ukrainians with everythiong that doesnt require months of training to use
    3.EU would be hurt by sanctions but much less than Russia (compare percentages of foeign trade in each case)
    4. contrary to memes, no freezing Germans - the gas and energy would just prioritize heating, to detriment of industry. costly but not fatal affair
    5, the more Ukraine Putin gobbles up, the more dangerous insurgency he creates for himself
    6. I would add that eventually supplies of long-range missiles and drones from NATO would put vaunted Sevastopol base and Black Sea fleet at very tangible risk
    7. by extension if you want to see similar conflict think of Ukraine as Houthis towards Rissia as Saudis

  7. I spent a week in November, reading William Shirer's Fall of the Third Republic, about the Government of France, and the French nation, 1880-1940. How can just one country be as messed up as France? Everyone in the government seemed only to have loyalty to himself.

    1. To understand the French, you have to understand the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Era, and World War I. The French had been bled white by those events. As to the politicians, they are the same in any nation, do you think ours are any different?

  8. I know "bergen" is current Squaddie slang for their rucks but thought it more recent; a 70's-80's SAS term. Dunno for certain.
    Boat Guy

    1. The article wasn't that clear but it made it sound like it was used in WW2.


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

NOTE: Comments on posts over 5 days old go into moderation, automatically.