Thursday, May 5, 2022

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IWM © IWM (RML 342)
Members of the 51st Highland Division surrendering to the 7th Panzerdivision, commanded by Rommel, at 
The men waited as yet another German column passed by on the road. Sergent Bartosz Podbielski was perplexed, he had assumed that the Germans would be pushing south, not to the west. As he thought about it, he had to wonder if there were still British troops in France. If so, they might be trying to evacuate from the coastal area, as he had heard they had at Dunkirk. He nudged Jean-Yves.

"You were at Dunkirk, yes?"

"Yes, why?"

"Did all the British leave France from there?"

"No, there was at least one other division further south, towards Dieppe."

Podbielski nodded. They could be heading into danger if they continued on this path. He whispered to the others that they would wait for night before moving again, it was far too dangerous in daylight with all the German vehicles on the roads, many tanks as well as trucks.

Unteroffizier Willi Hoffmeister was standing on his seat, for once he was fully exposed in his turret, as was the bow gunner, Panzerschütze Ulrich Neuhäuser. They had been briefed to expect no resistance until they reached the vicinity of Rouen, which according to Willi's map was another ten kilometers down the road.

Panzerschütze Horst Krebs got on the intercom, "Uffz, any chance of getting some hatch time?"

Willi realized that he had been up in the breeze for a while now, and the inside of the tank was stifling, "Ja Horst, let's swap."

As they exchanged positions, not an easy proposition in the cramped turret, Willi pulled out his map. Might as well have a peek at the vicinity of where they expected to run into the enemy units running for the coast. The whole rotten façade seemed to be collapsing now that Paris had fallen.

The five Poles and the lone Frenchman were under cover in a small wood  lot roughly fifty meters from the road leading to Rouen. Jean-Yves was aiming at the lead tank in yet another small column of German vehicles. "Oh mon ami, death is watching you, a gentle squeeze and you would not return home."

"Don't do it Jan-Iwo." Damian Krempa muttered. The Poles had started calling Jean-Yves by his Polish name, to get him used to it as Mariusz Perzan had suggested.

"As much as I want to kill that soldier, I'd rather not die today."

"Tak¹, shooting him would not be healthy for us!"

As Horst sat atop the turret, enjoying the breeze, he noticed a small woodlot. He guessed that it was nice and cool in the shade of those trees. He sat up, did he see movement in there?

"Willi, let me have your field glasses!"

A moment late the glasses were handed up, as they were traveling at a sedate 20 kph the woodlot was still ahead. He put the glasses on the edge of the field where it disappeared under the trees.

"Don't move chłopcy², that f**king Niemcy may have spotted us." Podbielski hissed at the men. He froze, using just his eyes to follow the German eyeballing them through a pair of field glasses from atop one of the little Czech tanks the Germans used.

Podbielski noticed that Cahun's rifle was still pointing towards the road. The kid was alert and appeared ready to kill the German should Podbielski give the order.

"If the tank slows, kill him." He whispered.

"Count on it."

"What are you looking at Horst?" Willi asked over the intercom.

"Nothing, I thought I saw movement under some trees a ways off the road. But it was nothing, probably the wind. Do you want your seat back?" Horst asked.

"Tired of the fresh air?"

"No, petrified at the thought of how exposed I am up here."

"Ah yes, the glories of commanding a Panzer, you're a target for anybody with a rifle."

After dark there was no further movement on the road, so the men moved off. They stayed in the fields, while they could hear a vehicle coming from quite a ways off, there might not be a chance of getting off the road before the vehicle was upon them. Safer, though slower, to keep to the fields.

They entered a small wood, coming out the other side a dog began barking, very close by. They froze, Podbielski could make out a small farmhouse just ahead. A man came out carrying a lantern.

"Be quiet Pierre, it's probably nothing." The man calmed his dog as he looked around.

Podbielski nearly jumped out of his skin when Jean-Yves spoke.

"Grandfather! Any news of the armies?"

"What? Who's there? I have a shotgun!"

The men could see that the farmer was bluffing, the Poles stayed in the shadows of the trees as Jean-Yves advanced into the dim light from the lantern.

"I am a soldier of France, trying, with my friends, to rejoin our unit. We mean you no harm. We've been hiding from les Boches all day. Why are they moving to the coast?"

"Ah, yes, I see your uniform now. Welcome, welcome. Les Boches are moving to the coast because les anglais are running away, again! They are waiting for their Navy to pick them up along the coast near Saint-Valery-en-Caux. There are French units there as well, but the government has ordered them to lay down their arms. What is to become of us soldat?"

"I don't know grandfather, my friends and I do not want to surrender. So I suppose we must run away avec les anglais.³" Jean-Yves didn't really know what else they could do. He might be able to return to his village and resume the life he had had before the army, but what about his Polish friends? England seemed their only choice.

They spent the night in the farmer's barn with no problems. In the morning they ate, then talked with the farmer, who was very familiar with the area along the coast from Dieppe to Le Havre.

"Make for Veulettes-sur-Mer, it's another eight kilometers along the coast. It's a smaller town, you might be able to get a boat to take you to England. The town has a long history of smuggling, I'm sure they would know their way around any Boche patrols. Land or sea."

Podbielski and the men moved off into the Forêt Domaniale de Roumare⁴ which would get them around Rouen and closer to the coast. As they departed, the farmer offered them his best wishes and his sincere hope that they would kill many Germans.

Jean-Yves was torn, return home, or continue the fight? He would have to decide.

And soon.

¹ Yes (Polish). Not sure if anyone has noticed but once I give the translation for a foreign word, I don't usually repeat the translation. I make the exception here so that I can tell you why sometimes foreign words get a footnote and sometimes they don't. Hhmm, perhaps a glossary would be in order? Eventually ...
² Boys (Polish), plural of chłopak, which I've used before.
³ with the English (French)
⁴ Roumare State Forest (French)


  1. Very nice. Always the dilemma. Be conquered or escape and continue fighting. At least at this point they don't have to worry too much about Schnellboats.

    1. Yeah, it'll be a while before the Kriegsmarine moves up to the Channel ports.

  2. Tak is " thanks ", in Norwegian. If you go to someone's house for dinner, you say, " Tak for maten ", thank you for the food.

  3. At least they have somewhere to go...
    Your stories have the location, the history & the characters, especially the characters. Not to mention the serial aspect of it all... this is good stuff!

  4. "Ah yes, the glories of commanding a Panzer, you're a target for anybody with a rifle."

    Really, the glories of leading anything. Always out front, always the first one picked off.

    You have a fascinating grasp of human nature and interactions Sarge. Well done.

    1. Leading doesn't require one to walk point. Fact is, it's not prudent. Close to the front in order to sense and command but not too close.
      Boat Guy

    2. Only with very bad, unmotivated troops will the leader need to be constantly at the forefront (see Russian officer deaths in Ukraine). But tank commanders are always up in that hatch, if exposed, they are a prime target.

  5. Could not be more sucked in.

    1. Which means I'm doing something right, thanks htom.

  6. We spent a lot of time at Army Command and Staff (ARRMEEE Training, Sir!) studying WWII primarily in Europe. So I was pretty familiar with the war up and including Dunkirk. We then pretty much skipped ahead til 6/6/44 for some reason. Yeah the AF Guy in the group asked if he could present the Air Plan that was going on between the two dates. He got an hour, but I also got a lot of I didn't know that's, which made it all right.
    However, I always thought that the fighting was pretty much over but the crying after Dunkirk, so this little excursion of the gang has been educational.

    1. Because we live in an Anglo-centric world, all England all the time, we in America tend to gloss over the events which didn't really concern England (the UK). So we have Dunkirk (sure the English lost, but hey, they got away to fight again) followed by the Battle of Britain. Seldom does the shelling of the French fleet at Mers El Kébir by the Royal Navy get mentioned, at least not the part of how the French felt about it, betrayed springs to mind.

      I've really wanted to explore this period, I'm having some fun with it.

    2. ...The French navy was too strong a force to allow them potentially join forces with the German navy. The British showed up with overwhelming force giving the French (on a short timeline) the choice of joining the Allies, sailing to the West Indies to be interned (safely out of the way), to surrender, or to be sunk. Not diplomatic, nor considerate of a recent ally, but grim necessity ruled...

    3. True, but none of that endeared the English to the French.

    4. ...The Brits did not care about French feelings at that time (especially the almost collaborationist) Vichy government trying to preserve something of the honor of France). The uncompleted battleship Jean Bart was damaged, then went to Casablanca. She fired on the US troops landing in North Africa there (She was eventually sent to the US for repairs and completion). An account notes that the US would get the French calmed down and ready to cooperate with the Allies. Then they would take another look at Jene Bart and get mad all over again...

    5. USS Massachusetts, not too far from me, still bears the scars from that fight.

  7. Greatly appreciate being able to tag along on your explorations,Sarge. Like many, I presumed t'was all over after Dunkirk and the parade. The escapes of those not-quite-defeated has always fascinated me. Recently read "South From Corregidor" by Morrill.
    Boat Guy

    1. Yup, some folks prefer to keep fighting.

    2. Our problem is we don't have an Egland or Australia to escape to.

    3. Guess we'd better win, huh?


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