Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Armored Clash

Leutnant Fritz Acker couldn't quite believe the predicament he was in, pinned down by a French machine gun along with part of his platoon and the company command group. The company commander, Hauptmann Herbert Riesch was lying dead in the street, not ten meters from where they were taking cover.

They had crossed the Aisne River in the vicinity of the little village of Concevreux that morning against no opposition beyond random artillery fire. They had seen the Luftwaffe in action shortly after the crossing when a Rotte of Bf-109s¹ had shot down a French spotter aircraft. Hence the inaccurate and random artillery fire.

Then they had entered a small village perhaps a kilometer past the Aisne when small arms fire drove the small group to cover, but not before Hauptmann Riesch and his equipment sergeant Feldwebel Horst Fellgiebel had been shot down in the middle of the street. The company Sanitäter had started to go to their assistance but Acker had pulled that man down to the ground.

"They're dead Johannes, if you go out there, you will be too."

"I have to check ..."

One glance from Acker and Gefreiter Johannes Teller held his peace. Truth be told, he was terrified.

Fahnenjunker-Unteroffizier Jürgen von Lüttwitz was sitting atop the second PzKw IV in the column along with his machine gun team and three of the riflemen. The remainder of the squad, with the exception of Sepp Wittman, rode the two tanks behind his. Jürgen's assistant rode the lead tank.

Acker had sent Jürgen back to meet up with their armored support and from the sounds of the firing ahead, Jürgen's group was needed immediately.

The lieutenant commanding the tank platoon also commanded the tank Jürgen was riding, he had his map out and was matching the road to the map. Jürgen noticed that it wasn't an army-issue map but a commercial one, he could see "Michelin" on the edge.

The lieutenant spoke over his intercom and the vehicle rolled to a stop, turning to Jürgen, he said, "I need your men to lead the way, from the looks of things there's a village just around the bend, on the other side of those trees. I don't want to blunder in there blind and clueless."

Jürgen nodded and said, "Zu befehl." Then waved at his men to dismount. "Leon, take the gun and move up to Sepp's position. Head up the road and set up where you can cover the approaches to the village."

Schwarz nodded then slapped his assistant gunner, Christian Möller, on the back, "Let's go you rascal, time to earn your pay!"

Hauptfeldwebel Dieter Friedrich was worried, the lieutenant seemed hesitant. "Herr Leutnant, we need to maneuver, if we stay here we're useless!"

Acker looked back at the man, realizing he was right, he made a decision. "Take three men, work your way back and ..."

As Acker spoke he was interrupted by the sound of a tank cannon firing, to his front!

The big Char B1 moved forward, then fired again. Its commander had a glimpse of another German tank behind the one he had just hit. That tank was sitting in the middle of the road, a glowing hole in its glacis from where his 47 mm had penetrated the German's armor, right between the bow gunner and the driver. Flames were beginning to lick out from the turret ring. 

Maréchal des logis² Sébastien Marchant did not think any of that tank's crew could still be alive. At this range his 47 must have torn the guts out of the enemy tank. As he watched, more flames were issuing from the tank's closed hatches and other openings. The crew must have been killed by the initial shot.

"Léopold! Can you see the second Boche, just behind those trees?"

Léopold Beauvais, the gunner on the tank's 75 mm hull mounted cannon, answered, "No, he's obscured, can we move up?"

As Marchant began to give that order, he heard a sound which made his blood run cold, the scream of the sirens the Boches loved to mount on their dive bombers.

Acker also heard the scream of a Stuka siren, realizing that they were far too close to the French tank, he bellowed, "Fall back into that gully, heads down!"

Mere seconds later one of the Stuka's bombs impacted just past the French tank. It was a miss but close enough to panic the tank's crew, who began to bail out of the undamaged vehicle.

Sepp Wittman couldn't believe his eyes, the flyboy had missed, but the Frenchies were abandoning their tank anyway. He looked down at Schwarz, slapped his helmet and yelled, "What the Hell are you waiting for?"

Schwarz had also been surprised by the enemy tankers' reaction to the near miss, so he had hesitated. The slap on his helmet awakened him to the need to open fire, but he was so startled his first burst was too high, he could see rounds impacting on a building behind the tank.

"Mon Dieu!³" Marchant fell to the ground and scrambled behind his tank. He was yelling at his men to get back in their vehicle and fight, but they were panicked. The next burst of German machine gun fire wasn't too high. Marchand watched in horror as two of his crew were bowled over by the enemy burst.

Hauptfeldwebel Friedrich saw an opportunity, he came up out of the shallow gully with his MP 38 machine pistol at the ready. He thought to capture the French tanker who was watching him approach, oddly enough, the Frenchman looked very calm.

Before Friedrich could utter a word, the Frenchman shot him down. Friedrich hadn't seen the tanker's pistol.

Acker just stood there, stunned, his company Spieß had been shot down right in front of him. As he tried frantically to draw his own pistol, the Frenchman shot him as well.

The Panzer lieutenant climbed down from his tank and surveyed the scene. "Looks like you're the ranking Landser,⁴ von Lüttwitz. I have orders to hold here for the moment, the rest of my battalion will be up in a few hours. Seems the French Air Force actually got through and attacked our column. The damage is slight, but we lost a bridge."

Jürgen looked around him, a handful of company headquarters types and half a squad of men other than his own from his parent platoon. The Sani was working on Leutnant Acker but it looked as if he would need to be evacuated to the rear. The Spieß was dead.

The French tanker who had killed Friedrich and wounded Acker had managed to escape in the confusion. Only the two men Schwarz had killed were left from the tank's crew, so two had gotten away. According to the lieutenant the big Char B1 only had a crew of four.

The attacking Stuka may have missed the tank, but it had managed to drive off the French  infantry who had pinned down the company group. That group of Frenchmen had left three dead men and four badly wounded, which the company Sani was seeing to at the moment.

"Herr Leutnant, I'll post men on the far edge of this village, where will your Panzers be?"

"I'm leaving one here and I'll post myself and my surviving vehicle on the roads leading to the south. Any counterattack will come from that direction. But honestly, I think the French are done in this sector. Their morale was very good over the past few days, they fought hard, and well. But as you can see, our airpower is starting to unnerve them. Set up your command post here, do you have a man you can spare as a runner?" The lieutenant, whose name was Gottlieb Uthman, waited for Jürgen to respond.

"Warstadt! Go with Leutnant Uthman, you're to be his runner."

"Zu befehl, Uffz!" Warstadt climbed up onto Uthman's tank and waited.

Uthman nodded, shook Jürgen's hand and said, "Sehr gut, Unteroffizier! Now we await further orders, this can't last much longer, I think the Frenchies are done." With that he climbed aboard his vehicle and headed down the western street through the village.

Jürgen certainly hoped this was finished. He thought he could smell roast meat and was immediately reminded that he hadn't eaten since the night before. Then he realized what he was smelling, it was the crew of the destroyed tank, burning.

Fahnenjunker-Unteroffizier Jürgen von Lüttwitz stepped quickly down into the gully and unceremoniously vomited up what little there was in his stomach.

He wasn't hungry anymore. Not in the least.

¹ A Rotte is two aircraft, a lead and a wingman. The Bf-109 was a fighter aircraft manufactured by the Bayerische Flugzeugwerke which late became Messerschmitt AG. The aircraft was designed by Willi Messerschmitt. As for whether it is more correct to say Me-109 or Bf-109, let's just say "it depends." Technically both are correct, see here.
² A cavalry rank, equivalent to an American Staff Sergeant.
³ My God! (French)
⁴ Slang term for an infantryman in the German army.


  1. I have, unfortunately, smelled that smell.

  2. What was that saying.....morale is to the physical as three to one...Blitzkrieg using tac air support can unnerve troops who haven't seen the elephant. Tense post Sarge.

    1. Being under air attack is unnerving for even the most experienced troops. Not seeing one's own air force while being bombed and strafed is particularly demoralizing.

  3. Another good story, Sarge. Keep it up.

  4. Sarge, you just keep getting better and better.

    I would imagine that the tanker constantly has to fight the battle between "Out of the turret is a better field of vision" and "Out of the turret is much more dangerous". And at least in Iaijutsu, we constantly have to train to focus on teki (the enemy) overall rather a particular point, like their sword point or eyes - or the sword we did not see in their hand until too late.

    And, of course, you made me look up Stuka noise: Apparently from Luftwaffe films: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5uvqhA4_2tU

    1. Focus is an interesting thing, it is possible to focus at the wrong level, I guess you'd call it.

      One of the reasons tankers need good infantry with them is that they protect the tanks from the things they can't see and an individual infantryman isn't really a worthwhile target, whereas a tank is. The Russians are relearning this in Ukraine.

      That siren was a scary thing.

    2. ...I believe in the 1948 war, Israeli observation planes would toss out empty glass bottles. Harmless, but the eerie loud whistling of the bottle on the way down and the sound of it shattering on impact had a psychological effect almost as effective as real bomb...

  5. Too bad (and very accurate) about the tankers. If you stop for a moment though, how frequently would it be one Stuka? The tankers stopped an advance, killed a tank and took out the platoon leadership - and the boss got away.
    Looks like Jurgen has a good tanker to work with.
    Yet another great installment Sarge!
    Boat Guy

    1. I left it vague as to "how many Stukas," intentionally. One Stuka missed the tank. the others hit the infantry which had the lieutenant and is group pinned down. But yeah, seldom would it be just one.


  6. Roast "meat." Ugh, interesting description, although a little macabre. I've smelled my own flesh burning a few times. Fortunately just medical procedures with cauterization. It didn't make me hungry though!

    1. Understood. Depends on the circumstances really.

  7. It was a long day, just now getting to the blogs.
    I never thought that I wouldn't be able to do 8 or 10 hour drives as I got older, I should have. I'm in my very late 60s and after 3 or 4 hours my body wants to walk around and take a nap :-) Up at 7, read the comics, put the computer away and hit the road driving the U-haul truck for 450 mile drive.

    Good story once again!
    At EMT school they talked of the smell, I was/have been lucky and have missed that so far..

    1. Yeah, the long drives aren't as easy these days.

  8. Unfortunately that smell of burning humanity is the tamer of the two, the other being the smell of the unburned flesh, later on in the hot day.


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Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

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