Friday, August 12, 2022

Another Debacle

Private James Fitzhugh thought back to his latest encounter with the German army. They had been in a great position, the hull protected by an earthen berm just forward of the tank, the turret mostly protected by the same berm.

They had draped boughs from the nearby trees (olives he thought, rather ironic considering that olive branches were considered an offering of peace) over the turret. From fifty yards away it looked like a brush pile. Plausible enough, as the farmers who maintained the olive groves did gather up downed branches and pile them up for later disposal. In the middle of a fork in the road was perhaps an odd place for such a thing but as Sergeant O'Connell said, "I doubt the Jerries know how olive groves are maintained, they have none of that in the Fatherland!"

They had Kiwi infantry dug in to either side of them, the position felt like a good one.

Until the Stukas came.

The bent-wing dive bombers seemed to know exactly where to drop their bombs for maximum effect. Other than a direct hit, the men were safe within the armored walls of their Cruiser tank Mk.II. But they could hear the screams of the infantry as the bombs killed them in their rifle pits.

Corporal Fred McTavish had shouted out that he could see Jerry tanks coming down the road. "Mark 3s from the look of 'em, too big for Mark 2s!"

O'Connell had come on the intercom, "Steady lads, wait until they're at point blank range Freddie. Willie, you keep the rounds coming, we need to kill a couple of them to block the road."

Private William O'Shea stood hunched over inside the sweltering heat of the dark turret. He held the next round in his hands, ready to load as soon as the breech was cleared of the previous round. He wasn't so much worried about the German tanks, their armor was readily defeated by the 2-pounder anti-tank rounds such as the one he held in his hand, he was more worried about the German infantry.

His tank carried no high explosive rounds at all, doctrine called for using the machine guns against infantry¹, the problem was, the hull machine-gun was blocked by the very same berm that protected the hull. The co-axial machine-gun pointed where the turret pointed which would negate the use of the main gun for dealing with armor.

O'Shea was a new soldier, scarcely six months in the Forces, but he paid attention, he learned quickly and what he saw here was a recipe for disaster. Not to mention which, his ankle still hurt like Hell. They'd laced his boot up tightly to keep it stable, but truth be told, he couldn't hobble more than a few yards without assistance.

The tank shook as a near miss rattled the bones of everyone inside the vehicle. O'Shea heard one word over the intercom, from the Sergeant.

"Shit ..."

The gunner in the lead Pzkw IIIH watched as the dust from the last bomb explosion settled. What he saw made his blood run cold. "Feindlicher Panzer, direkt voraus!²" The last bomb had blown off all of the foliage covering a British tank sitting not forty meters away.

He laid the gun on the target, but he was a fraction of a second too late. He saw a flash, then the world went black.

"Hit! Second tank, to the left ten degrees!" O'Connell had watched their first round hit the German tank right below the gun mantlet. The round must have glanced down and into the turret ring as the tank immediately jerked to a halt and begin to smoke. He ignored the crew bailing out as he wanted to hit the second tank he had glimpsed to the left rear of the tank they had just killed.

"Round is up!" screamed O'Shea as he reached for a third round.

"Firing!" McTavish barked as he hit the trigger.

The Panzer commander looked down into the turret, his gunner was nearly torn in half and the driver's position was a mess of blood and viscera. He wondered where the driver was, then it struck him, his driver was still in his seat, what was left of him from the shoulders down.

He saw the interior get brighter in all the smoke when the loader opened his hatch and dove over the side of the vehicle. That's when he noticed that the bow gunner's position was sunlit, so he had bailed as well.

He tried to climb out but his left leg wasn't cooperating. Puzzled he sat back down, perhaps his pant leg was caught on something. He checked by sliding his hands down his leg, only to discover that his leg ended just below his knee.

He was thinking, the pain hadn't hit him yet, "Now what do I do?"

A second later the ammunition in the ready rack exploded.

O'Connell nodded savagely, McTavish's second round had blown the right track off of the second tank, immobilizing it. That tank's turret was now traversing to line up on his tank. He heard the gun crew go through their drill, then his blood froze when he heard his gunner scream, "HANG FIRE!"³

"Get us out of here, Fitzie!" he barked at the driver.

Fitzhugh was ready, he'd had the engine running and had kept the transmission in gear, both of his legs were sore from nearly standing
on the brake pedal. But to his immense relief the tank rolled forward, he immediately moved his levers to pivot the tank to the right where they'd be screened by the now burning German tank.

O'Connell screamed over the intercom, "Fitzhugh! What the Hell?" The sergeant had expected Fitzhugh to back out of the position, keeping their front to to Germans. Then he remembered, that bloody clutch.

"Hang on lads, I'll get us out of here, swing the turret to the rear, I can't back up!" Fitzhugh screamed his answer over the intercom. O'Connell was already swinging the turret to the rear.

Fortunately, the smoke from the burning German vehicle had masked the second German's vision, he had fired at them but the round had missed by far enough that O'Connell hadn't even noticed.

The clutch on the old beast had finally given up the ghost some thirty-five miles back and two days ago. Now Fitzhugh and his crewmates were queued up on a pier at Piraeus waiting to shuffle aboard a Royal Navy warship tied up to the pier.

They had carried O'Shea for a large part of the way until an old Greek farmer had sold them an even older donkey to carry the injured O'Shea.

One of the Kiwis with them had said that what they'd paid for the donkey was way too much, he also said that he hoped the old farmer didn't try to spend the money they'd given the man. As Fitzhugh remembered it, the crew had had ten shilling coins among them. Not even a pound!

O'Connell had pointed out that the coins were silver, the old man was smart enough to melt them down for the silver. After all, he'd managed to sell a worn out donkey which he probably couldn't have given away in normal times.

The donkey had given out some ten miles further on, but still it had helped. Still and all, he was glad that they didn't have to carry the lad any further.

Each time the men had heard engine noises overhead, they had all looked up. The Luftwaffe had been ever more active over the past few days, fortunately today was overcast, with lots of low clouds and scud. The Germans were up there, but couldn't come down.

"All right, you lot, get aboard, leave anything and everything. You! Soldier! Leave that rifle, if it ain't weightless, it ain't going aboard."

Fitzhugh turned around and watched as a burly sailor snatched the rifle from the soldier's hands and smashed it over a bollard, shattering the stock and bending the barrel. Then the sailor pitched it into the harbor.

"What the bloody Hell am I supposed to fight with now?!" the soldier screamed in frustration.

"Ain't no fighting where you lot are going, ye'll be there a week or two then it's back to Egypt where you'll be re-equipped. Now move along or stay, makes no never mind to me!"

"Where is it we're going then mate?" O'Connell asked a sailor preparing to cast off the lines holding the ship to the pier.

"An island out in the Med, Crete it's called. You'll be safe from the Huns until we can get you to Egypt. Now let's go, all of you!"

Fitzhugh nodded, Crete, he thought to himself, an odd name but one he seemed to remember from school, something about minotaurs or something.

Well, they should be safe there. After all, the Royal Navy controlled the seas. Right?

¹ See this.
² "Enemy tank, dead ahead!" (German)
³ A "hang fire" means the round in the gun didn't fire, either due to a faulty fuse/primer or a problem with the propellant. Either way, the gun didn't fire when it was needed. It will still fire, but after a delay. A misfire is when the fuse, or primer, doesn't detonate the propellent at all.

Thursday, August 11, 2022

Follow Up to This Morning's Very Quick Post ...

Okay, the early post was done on my cell phone last night when I realized that I was too tired to do a real post. This post is by way of an explanation.

The Wee Lad's birthday (son of Tuttle and The Nuke) is this Saturday. That's the callsign I'm hanging on him for now as The Nuke is expecting a second wee laddie come February. And I haven't got to talking about Die Lorelei who was born last February, the newest child of The Naviguesser.

The grandchildren seem to be pouring in! (And it makes me happy, yes it does!)

Anyhoo, some weeks ago I thought that a trip to Maryland was in order to help celebrate the Wee Lad's 2nd birthday. So we pulled pitch and headed out on a southerly course Wednesday morning.

Traffic was surprisingly "not bad," though we purposely avoided the GW Bridge in New York, opting to take the road across the Tappen Zee (no, I shan't call that bridge by its new name).

For the southbound approach to the GW is an absolute mother bear. My recollection of it is spiral on ramps climbing to the heavens, jam-packed with tractor trailers who all wish to be in a lane other than the one they currently occupy.

So yeah, no thanks.

Back to the novel tomorrow. We're going to go out for sandwiches now. Food, I'm into it.

Be seeing you.

On the Road


Be back online tomorrow.

Read the folks on the sidebar if you would.

Be seeing you ...

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

The Road to Piraeus

Cruiser Tank Mk.II broken down in Greece
Quartermaster Sergeant Joseph Burnside wiped his hands on a semi-clean rag as he turned to Sgt. O'Connell. "Best I can do O'Connell. The transmission is iffy, the clutch should be replaced, and the engine runs rough as Hell. But it's all we've got left. You still want her?"

O'Connell nodded at Fitzhugh who promptly climbed into the driver's position. He started the engine and though it took a minute to catch, was soon running. Roughly, as Burnside said it would, but it was running.

Burnside jumped a bit when the tank moved forward, stopped, then moved back, it was apparent that Fitzhugh was checking the clutch.

After a minute or so more, the engine stopped and Fitzhugh came up out of the driver's seat, nodding at O'Connell as he did so.

"Well, my driver likes her, so rather than walk back to the coast, we'll take her. Ammo?"

"I scrounged up roughly half a full load, over there." Burnside nodded to a number of ammunition crates half-covered by a canvas tarp. "You'll have to load it yourselves, I've got other vehicles I need to get back on the road."

"You know where we're going, right?" O'Connell asked Burnside.

"To the coast, a lot of the units have been ordered to make for Kalamata, awfully far if you ask me. I'd head for Piraeus were it up to me." Burnside answered.

"Our orders say Kalamata as well, we'll go wherever the Royal Navy can take us off. Piraeus you say?"

"A lot of the logistics staff and units are ordered there. They might try to lift our heavy equipment off from there, at least that's what I've been told."

"Piraeus it is, thanks Quartermaster!"

O'Connell and his tank were temporarily attached to the 4th New Zealand Brigade. These troops had been detailed to block the narrow road to Athens leading down from the mountains further north. The Kiwis¹ called the narrow road south, the "24 Hour Pass."

O'Connell and his lads knew nothing of that, their only liaison with the Kiwis had been with a very busy major who told them, "Park your crate here, kill any Huns coming down the road. If you run out of ammunition, throw rocks at them. We're buying time for others to get away. Hopefully we'll get word when we can scarper as well."

"What do we have for support, Sir?" O'Connell had asked the man.

"Those blokes over there, behind that stone wall. If they run, well, I suppose you can run too."

Now they sat and waited. They had all the hatches open and the inside of the tank still felt like an oven. Fitzhugh had been tinkering with the engine and it was running smoother now, but he wasn't confident of the clutch.

"The clutch is constantly slipping Teddy, we might get into a situation of not being able to change gears. If our luck is really bad, it could go out when I'm changing gears and we won't be able to run at all."

"Suggestions? Anybody?"

Finally McTavish spoke up, "If we have to move, put 'er in 2nd gear and leave it there. Should be enough to get us moving and keep us moving, right Fitzie?"

Fitzhugh nodded and said, "I'll bet you never saw a motorcar before ye came down from the Highlands, Fred. But yeah, that's what I'd do. It's a good idea."

McTavish grinned and said, "The only motorcars we ever saw in the Highlands belonged to the lairds. The Army taught me all I need to know about tanks and the like. How can ye even run a tank in Ireland, what with all the bogs and that?"

O'Connell chuckled and said, "That's enough lads, let's get some food down and try to catch some sleep. The Kiwis look to be settled in for now. If the Jerries come, we'll know from all the noise their bloody machines will make coming down this sorry excuse for a road."

"And to think these Greek fellows conquered most of the known world back in the day." Billy O'Shea marveled.

"Well, everyone's roads sucked back then, didn't they? And it warn't the Greeks, 'twas the Macedonians under Alexander, " McTavish pointed out.

"The Masa-whos?" O'Shea asked.

The German sergeant was moving his men up with great caution, they'd been nearly ambushed by a group of Australians the day before, only a passing reconnaissance aircraft dropping a message to them had prevented them from being cut to pieces.

Sunrise wasn't for another two hours, his company commander was convinced that the Tommies were all running for the coast, just like France the Spieß had quipped. The sergeant wasn't so sure, he'd faced the British in France, bunch of tough bastards is what he remembered. Didn't matter what part of the Empire they were from, they knew how to fight. Probably how they got such an Empire one of his men had pointed out.

His point man froze and went down on one knee, signaling for a halt, the sergeant waited a second, then moved forward. He put his ear to the point man's mouth, that man whispered, "I could have sworn I heard a man cough."

The sergeant nodded, he motioned to the squad and the men spread out. Staying low, they moved forward, slowly, cautiously, every sense alert. Gefreiter Pohl heard something, the sergeant watched as his assistant began to point ...

Lance Corporal Hamilton didn't bother with shouting a warning, he assumed that opening fire with his Lee-Enfield would be sufficient to let the lads know what was what. He wasn't wrong.

All Hell broke loose when enemy rifle fire penetrated the still of the night. It had also penetrated Gefreiter Pohl who now lay sprawled in the road, hit squarely in the chest. He was still alive but couldn't cry out, he was desperately trying to breathe, he assumed that he'd had the wind knocked out of him. He was right but his wound was far more serious than that, his left lung had collapsed.

He was gasping for breath when he felt hands pulling on his Y-straps² to get him out of the road. All he could think of was where he'd left his rifle. The Spieß would surely chew his ass for losing another rifle. He'd already had one shot out of his hands in France.

The sergeant was directing his squad to fall back, they'd done their job, the enemy was located. He was helping the Sanitäter trying to patch up Pohl and keeping an eye forward at the same time. They were protected in the ditch they were in, but if the enemy moved up?

"How long, Sani? We need to move."

The medic looked up, "Let's go, Franz is dead."

The sergeant looked once more at his assistant squad leader's corpse, "See you in Valhalla Franzchen.³"

"What the Hell is going on out there, Teddy?"

McTavish couldn't see much from his gunner's position, rifle fire in the night was never a good thing.

"Bit of a skirmish, I think Jerry's pulled back but the Kiwis caught some in the road from the sound of things. Let's get ready lads, you know the drill, the buggers will be back, probably with tanks. Fitzie, let's move up to that next dip."

The engine revved, everyone in the crew could hear the transmission grinding. Fitzhugh's shout of, "C'mon ye filthy bastard!" could be heard over the noise of the engine without the intercom as he struggled with the gears. The tank then lurched forward, the engine nearly stalling, before it started to move forward.

When the tank reached the position O'Connell had pointed out, Fitzhugh came over the intercom, "Much more like that and we'll be a pillbox Teddy."

"I know Fitzie, I know, but there ain't anything I can do about it, is there? Hang on a bit, keep her in gear, I'm goin' down the road to see how we're sitting."

O'Connell climbed down from the tank, he liked where they were, the hull was completely covered by the berm to the front of the vehicle. He walked down the road about 50 yards then looked back at the tank. Throw a few boughs over the turret and the Jerries might not notice them at all. He was satisfied.

As he walked back to the tank, he noticed the body in the nearby ditch. A German, probably killed by the rifle fire in the night. The man's eyes were still open, his tunic was open as well, a swath of bloody bandages were on his chest. Obviously a medic had tried, and failed,  to save the man. O'Connell was still not used to seeing the dead left behind.

He walked over to the side of the road and knelt next to the body. He said a quick prayer, crossed himself, then closed the dead man's eyes. "Rest in peace, ye Hun bastard."

¹ Traditional nickname for New Zealanders.
² German load-bearing equipment were leather straps, two in front, one in the back. Laid out they looked like a "Y."
³ Affectionate nickname for Franz, literally "little Franz." (German)

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

North of Athens

Cruiser Tank Mk.II¹
Private James Fitzhugh of the 3rd Royal Tank Regiment wondered if his luck would ever change. First he'd been sent to France as a replacement. He had joined the remnants of his regiment retreating towards Cherbourg. Some elements of the regiment had been trapped in Dunkirk where a number of them had been evacuated. All of their tanks stayed in France, destroyed or captured. The group he'd been with had headed towards Cherbourg, they had a single tank left. It had thrown a track just before entering Cherbourg. They had destroyed that vehicle rather than let it fall into enemy hands.

Then he had found himself on a ship to Egypt along with his current crew -

Commander, Sergeant Theodore O'Connell
Gunner, Corporal Fred McTavish
Driver, Private James Fitzhugh
Loader, Private William O'Shea
Bow MG Gunner, Private Herbert Walsh

He had remarked that he was happy to be with an all Irish crew, Corporal McTavish had corrected him immediately, "I'm a Scot laddie, and dinnae ye forget it. I'm here to keep you Irish in line."

That remark had drawn a dirty look from Sergeant O'Connell who said, "And who's to watch you?"

It didn't take Fitzhugh long to realize that the crew was a tight-knit bunch and got along with each other very well. Once he'd established his skill as a driver, he had been accepted as part of the crew.

Now here they were, no longer in Egypt but motoring up a narrow road in the backcountry of Greece. The Germans had invaded after their Italian allies had once again made a great hash of the job. The Prime Minister vowed to assist the Greeks in any way he could, so from Egypt to Greece they went.

"Fitzie, keep yer eyes peeled, this road ain't much more than a goat track!" Sgt. O'Connell barked at him over the intercom. He sounded as if Fitzhugh was hitting all the ruts on purpose. "Bloody road is nothing but ruts." Fitzhugh muttered, making sure that his mic wasn't on.

Fitzhugh then noticed that he was getting closer to the tank to his immediate front, so he slowed down.

They were near an open area, rocky fields to either side of the track. Fitzhugh was ready to move before O'Connell gave the order to turn off to the right. The platoon was deploying, Fitzhugh had to wonder why.

As he reoriented the tank to face the direction they'd been heading, he saw a sickening sight not a hundred yards up the track. A British tank sitting in the road, burning furiously.

"Panzergranate geladen! the loader sang out as he pulled his hand clear of the breech of the 5.0 cm gun.

The gunner stomped on his trigger sending the round down range. He watched as the second Tommie tank abruptly stopped. In the blink of an eye the edges of the hatches began to leak smoke.

When the loader sang out again, the commander laid his hand on his gunner's shoulder, over the intercom he said, "Wait."

The bow gunner opened fire as the crew of the British tank began to evacuate their disabled vehicle. At least one man went down. Before he could swing his gun to another target, the inside of the turret rang like a bell being struck by a hammer.

"That's a hit, Freddie, nice shooting. Damn it! Reverse Fitzie, fast as you can!" Sgt. O'Connell had seen the enemy tank's turret, he thought it was one of the newer Mark IIIs, begin to rotate towards their position.

Though they were mostly hull down, the turret on the big Mark II presented a rather large target.

"No effect on the target Teddy!" McTavish screamed over the intercom.

Fitzhugh had the tank in reverse and was applying left stick to get behind the burning wreckage of Will McDonough's tank. He nearly made it.

Everyone in the crew felt the hit, somewhere on the outside of the tank, it didn't enter the hull. Then everyone heard Fitzhugh yelling, "Shit, shit, shit! Right track is buggered!"

Angered at the situation, O'Connell managed to keep his cool. "Right then lads, over the side with you, rendezvous back at that farm house we passed on the way in!"

The men got out cleanly, though young Willie O'Shea managed to sprain his left ankle jumping down from the machine. Fitzhugh and Walsh half-dragged and half-carried him back to the rally point.

"What now Sar'nt?" Fitzhugh asked.

Almost as soon as the words left his mouth, a party of riflemen passed by, heading forward to take up defensive positions. Their officer, a captain, looked at the tank crew and yelled, "You lot better sod off to the rear, we'll cover. We're withdrawing soon as everyone's clear!"

Fitzhugh shook his head, was he destined to go from one defeat to another? Maybe his old Da' had been right, but it was too late for second thoughts now. He was at the sharp end now, no mistake!

¹ Most of the known photos of this vehicle in France and Greece are knocked out, broken down, or captured by the Germans. This is one of the very few depicted in France still operating and in British control.

Monday, August 8, 2022

I've seen Fire and I've seen Rain (NOT!)

Little Juvat's Daughter (LJD), is doing well.  1.5 Lbs and, as of last Monday, 12".  They've removed most of the things sticking in her and, best of all, she seems to be becoming aware of her surroundings and interacting somewhat.  The nurse put her on her side, and she rolled back over onto her back, a couple of times, before staying on her side.  I'm told that's actually a good thing, although preventing bed sores was the reason for shifting her.  

What do I know? I'm not a Doctor nor have I played one on TV.

Thanks for all y'alls prayers.  They're definitely working.

Other happenings, of somewhat lesser import, happening around the 'Burg.

 Earlier this week, Mrs. J was working on a major project (subject of a future post) and called me into her office for my opinion.  (Yes, Beans, that happens....occasionally.) So, I go offer my opinion and she starts typing it into her computer.  Her desk does not face the window, so, as I had not yet been dismissed, walked over and looked out.  My intent was to take a peaceful, relaxing view of Rancho Juvat.  However, something caught my eye.

That got my attention!  We've been under a Burn Ban for forever, or so it seems, to prevent this sort of thing from occurring.  Since we've had little to no rain in months, there's also little chance this was caused by lightning.  What follows is second hand from a guy who's got several friends in the local VFD, so...grain of salt.

It seems that because of the Burn Ban, cleared brush can't be burned.  Duh!  However, the owners of a large ranch about 8 miles from us hired some local itinerants to run the brush through a wood chipper.  Which sounds like a good choice.  But, you have to use one carefully and under the procedures outlined in the manual.  For instance, don't let the machine get too hot. 

You know what's going to happen now, right?  Oh, did I mention that the wind was blowing pretty steady at about 20 knots?  So things started burning.  The itinerants didn't have cell phones, so drove into town to alert the Fire Department.  In the time to do that and have them respond, the fire had burned 20 acres.  As of Friday, the Fire Department said the fire was 80% contained but had burned 1459 acres.

7 fixed wing airplanes, to include a DC-10, and 2 helicopters were involved in trying to control it. 


We're not that far away from that picture.  6 or 7 miles.  So...Thank you Lord!

In another aspect of this week, while Little J and LJW were in San Antonio doing the Parent thing, I decided most of my other projects were done, on hold or abandoned, so I no longer had an excuse.  So, I started finishing the inside of the workshop.  

Over the course of several hours, I managed to get 2 sheets of 1/4" plywood hung.  


Pitiful progress, I know.  However, it wasn't the hanging it that was the issue, it was getting it into position.  First I had to move it into position to mark where the wall sockets were.  Unfortunately, it's fairly flexible and it kept trying to fall away.  Once marked, it had to be hoisted onto the table for cutting.  Finally figured out to take it by the short end to the short end of the table, then drag it, slowly, into position on the table.  

Did learn something else new.  I didn't know that interior plywood has a front and back side.  And if you mark the position of something with the back side facing out, chances are really good it won't fit when you turn it around. Like really, really good.

So, called it a day and came back the next day, with Little J in tow.  Amazing how much easier hanging it is with two people.

The cutout for the window took a little bit more effort.

But that's the opposite corner from the first picture. I also bought some knock together shelving to start some organizing.  And so I can walk around and not trip over things. 


Work should resume while you're reading this.  Hope to have the bottom half done at that point.  I'm not sure exactly how I'm going to finish the top.  Some pegboard of course, but I don't think I want it all to be.  Probably some combination of pegboard, shelves and French Cleat, but, I'm very open to suggestions at this point.  

On a different note, Mrs. J, Little J, LJW and I had a little Flappy Hour last Saturday night.  (Flappy Hour being Mrs. J's name for sitting out front of the house with an adult recreational beverage, watching birds and telling stories.  It's only done when the Temp is below 100o.  So, hasn't happened a lot lately).  We're watching, with excitement, a large cumulonimbus heading our way with something coming out the bottom of it.  

Huzzah!  We're going to get some...

Not so fast, juvat!

That was the direction the thunderstorm was coming from not 20 minutes before.  No, we didn't get any rain. It just disappeared. 

Lastly, one evening this week as I was entering the barn to feed the horses, I noticed this.

The ridge to its right is about an inch wide.

Everything's bigger in Texas!

And just for a little relevant yet mellow music

Peace out, y'all!

Sunday, August 7, 2022

Poor Sarah Elizabeth ...

So I've been very busy as of late ...

Okay, I've been playing Sniper Elite 5 on my computer, all work and no play makes Sarge a dull boy. We wouldn't want that now, would we?

I have been kept busy fighting the ongoing wave of "Sarah Elizabeth" spam attacks, ya know, this one -

The attacks have been dwindling over the past 24 hours, but at one point I was getting ten of these a day.

As you can tell by the picture, this isn't coming from a real person, it's also coming from someone for whom English is definitely not their native tongue.

I blanked out the bogus website, which probably hands your bank account and credit car data directly to Isis, or Al Qaeda, or maybe even the Department of Injustice, one of those terrorist organizations.

Just when I thought I was out of the woods, BAM! Four more showed up in the spam filter as I was checking the comments Saturday night But at least they were all in the spam filter, Gargle and Bugger haven't been very good at screening spam lately, but by Jove they'll let you know this -

Yup, reCAPTCHA (no, I don't use it), the Privacy Policy, and (if you're still confused), ya gotta play by Gargle's rules or by golly they'll shut ya right down.

Okay, I complain a lot about Gargle and Bugger, but hey, the product is free, I should be quiet and keep coloring. (They are responsive to fixing bugs, but when their feature is your bug ...)

Anyhoo, sometimes a loyal reader (even the Sarge himself) will sometimes fall into the spam filter. Funny thing was, this morning I found a Rob comment in the spam filter, I fished it out but noted that his comment was in there with not one, but TWO Sarah Elizabeth spam comments.

I know she's cute bro, but ...

All kidding aside, the fight goes on.

The editors have been selected and I expect The Fab Five to do a sterling job on working over my first attempt at a novel. If it does get published, your names will be mentioned as editors. For a small fee I can leave your names out ...

Kidding, I'm kidding.

But seriously thanks to all those that volunteered, and here's hoping you like the finished product and that I didn't screw it up too bad.

Oh yeah, about the pictures, there are none in the draft copy. I am not yet a famous author who can afford the staff to get permission to use all of those photos. Especially necessary if one expects to make money from the exercise. The photo owners would, quite rightly, want a cut of the proceedings.

The pictures help me write, they also help to set the tone and the mood, hopefully the lack of photos won't damage the book too much. But I've been visited by the copyright monster before, so "Once bitten, twice shy."

Carry on, we'll get back to the war on Tuesday.

Enjoy your Sunday and ...

Be seeing you.

Saturday, August 6, 2022

Train Hard, Fight Easy

Panzerkampfwagen III Ausführung H¹
"Moin moin Uffz, wie ist unser Fahrzeug?²" Leutnant Hermann von Steinbrecher looked tired, yet managed to sound cheerful.

"She's good, Sir. New set of tracks all installed, we managed to fix that issue with the main gun's sight, and Neuhäuser managed to scrounge a new cushion for your commander's seat."

Willi Hoffmeister hated to admit it, but this young officer from Kiel was starting to impress him. He had actually stuck around to nearly midnight watching and even assisting with mounting Panzer 231's new tracks. Hoffmeister had eventually chased the young man off to bed, telling him, "Tired officers make mistakes, mistakes can get us killed. Go to bed Herr Leutnant, we'll finish up here."

Von Steinbrecher was carrying a sack, which he proceeded to reach into and from which he produced a vacuum flask³ and five tin cups. Hoffmeister cocked an eyebrow at his lieutenant.

"I brought coffee, where are the boys?"

Though von Steinbrecher was the second youngest man in the crew, only the bow gunner, Ulrich Neuhäuser was younger, and only by a scant two months, the lieutenant always referred to the crew as "his boys." At first Hoffmeister had been annoyed by that, but the kid had a positive attitude and wasn't a bad sort. For an officer.

Hoffmeister stood up, then walked over to 231 and tapped on the side of the hull with the wrench he was holding. Fritz Weber's head came up from the driver's hatch.

"Come on out, the Leutnant brought coffee."

The three men who had been inside 231 climbed out and joined Hoffmeister and the lieutenant. Weber accepted a cup from the lieutenant then smiled as the officer poured him a cup. "What's the occasion, Sir?"

Von Steinbrecher paused then said, "Well, the good news is that the exercise is scheduled for only three days, the bad news is, of course, that we're having a field exercise. For three straight days."

Horst Krebs, the loader, nearly choked on his coffee when the lieutenant spoke.

Looking intently at the man, the lieutenant was about to speak when Hoffmeister interjected, "Forgive him Sir, three days is nothing. We were on the move in Poland for a full week, the only time we stopped was to refuel and re-arm. In France it was ...?" he looked at Weber.

"Ten days, it got so bad we had to take turns driving and standing in the commander's hatch so that at least two of us at a time could sleep." Turning to von Steinbrecher he asked, "Ever try to sleep in a moving Panzer, Herr Leutnant?"

Von Steinbrecher blushed then said, "I forget that you men have seen combat. Sorry, but three days in the field is no picnic."

Hoffmeister smiled and said, "We know that Sir, just pointing out that we've seen worse things. But yes, being in the field for three days will be uncomfortable, but at least no one will be shooting at us. Will they?"

"No, this is indeed an exercise, I've heard nothing of any impending operations. Especially in this vile weather." Almost as if to reinforce the lieutenant's words, it started snowing, mixed with sleet. Another day in far eastern Poland, not far from the border with Soviet-occupied Poland.

Panzer 231 rolled out of the Panzerlager just as the half moon was beginning to set. Hoffmeister checked his watch in the dimly lit turret, it was very close to 0230. He looked to his right, over the breech of the 5.0 cm gun and it looked to him as if Krebs was asleep.

He glanced back at the lieutenant, who was standing up in his hatch watching the rest of the platoon as it navigated the Polish country road. Which was mostly hard ridges of icy mud.

Hoffmeister reached across the gun breech, coming up out of his seat, and smacked Krebs on the back of the head. Though his hard rubber Schutzmütze⁴ caused more pain to the palm of Hoffmeister's hand than it did to Krebs' head, it did get his attention.

Sitting up straight, Krebs rubbed the back of his head, looking at Hoffmeister, he mouthed the words, "Es tut mir leid, Uffz.⁵"

Hoffmeister grinned at his loader and mimicked drinking from a beer mug. Krebs nodded, then shook his head. He had stayed at the soldier's canteen a little longer than he should have.

Seconds later, the lieutenant's voice came over the intercom, "Left turn Fritz, slow down."

Switching to the platoon net, he soon had the five Panzers of his command in echelon right, where the vehicles were in a staggered line with each vehicle slightly behind the vehicle to its left. As they maneuvered off the road, they also increased their intervals so that 50 meters separated each Panzer. Von Steinbrecher would have liked a wider spacing but the countryside in this area was rolling and interspersed with small forested areas.

"Panzer halt!"

Weber hit the brakes a little too hard, von Steinbrecher didn't say anything, but when he dropped down into the turret, he shot Hoffmeister a look, letting his sergeant know that he wasn't pleased.

Willi nodded, then kicked Weber in the back of the head.

"Sorry, Sir, I thought there was a ditch ahead, didn't want to run into it." No one in the crew believed him, Weber had a reputation for driving the Panzer roughly and abruptly. It had saved their asses a couple of times, both in Poland and in France. A quick stop or an abrupt turn was Weber's way of avoiding incoming rounds.

So far it had worked.

Over the platoon net, von Steinbrecher ordered, "Orders group, behind Panzer 233."

233 was the third tank in the line, 232 had the lead position, 231 was just behind 232. He had learned at the Panzerschule that the enemy was always looking to kill the leaders. So he varied his position in the platoon, but his vehicle was never in the lead.

The five Panzer commanders met behind Unterfeldwebel Günter Walz's Panzer, where von Steinbrecher was kneeling under a tarp with his torch shining on a map of the area. The others joined him.

"Meine Herrn, the purpose of this exercise is to hold here," he pointed at his map, "until the artillery completes its fire mission on this ridge to our front. During the barrage we expect a company of infantry from the 263rd to join us. Once these things occur, we move out with the infantry in support."

"Are they motorized infantry?" Unteroffizier Kurt Schmeling asked.

Von Steinbrecher shook his head, "Nein, regular infantry. We'll move forward at a fast pace, the infantry will have to run for the most part but that's part of the training. Toughen the Landsers up for what's to come."

"Which is what, Herr Leutnant?" von Steinbrecher turned to look at the man who spoke, Obergefreiter Klaus Wunsdorf was his youngest Panzerführer and had yet to see combat.

"Russia bubi⁶, but you didn't hear that from me, klar?"

"Alles klar, Herr Leutnant." Wunsdorf nodded.

"Good, now back to your vehicles, we've got maybe 45 minutes before the artillery commences. Heads up boys, treat it like it was combat."

Unteroffizier Schmeling added, "Keep yourselves low in your hatches, just your head out. If this was the real thing, the Ivans would be looking to blow your heads off. Stay as low as you can."

"Good point, danke Kurt. Now let's go, make sure your men stay awake. Be ready to move on my signal."

The commanders returned to their vehicles to await the artillery. To add to their misery and tiredness, it started to rain, a harsh freezing rain. Von Steinbrecher nearly broke his neck climbing back aboard 231.

He muttered to himself, "And this isn't even combat ..."

As he settled himself in his seat, Hoffmeister, who had overheard his lieutenant's muttering, said, "Most of war is like this, sitting around being miserable for hours at a time. Then a couple of minutes of sheer terror, at the end of which, if you're still alive, you're happy to be just miserable and bored again. You'll get used to it soon enough, Herr Leutnant."

"Thanks Willi, it's good to have a veteran crew. Don't let me make too many errors."

"I won't Sir, all of us depend on you, and each other. We all live or die based on how we react in battle. If I keep you alive, I trust you'll keep us alive."

"I'll do my best, Willi."

"God, I hope so." Hoffmeister whispered under his breath.

¹ Armored Fighting Vehicle III Model H (German)
² Good morning sergeant, how is our vehicle? (German) Note: "Moin moin" is a very north German phrase.
³ Yes, they had these in WWII, see here.
⁴ German tanker's helmet, it looked like a beret from a distance but was actually a black wool covering over a hard, dome-shaped, rubber helmet.
⁵ I'm sorry Sarge. (German)
⁶ Laddie or boy. (German)

Friday, August 5, 2022

The Calm Before the Storm

Hauptmann Johannes Boden of Kampfgruppe 54 was of two minds. On one hand, he was no longer flying missions over England, watching his squadron mates getting shot out of the sky by the Royal Air Force, then on the other hand, here he was in his Ju-88, 6,000 meters above the Soviet Union. As he looked out he shuddered, they were a good thirty kilometers inside the USSR. That patch of haze off to his right had to be Brest-Litovsk.

He looked around the crew compartment, Oberfeldwebel Max Jürgens and Gefreiter Alois Holweck were at their guns, constantly scanning the sky. Though the Ops Officer had told them, again and again, that the Soviets were not reacting at all to overflights of their territory, he was still nervous.

The only man in the crew who seemed to take it all in stride was Feldwebel Leo Habicht. He kept studying his maps, matching what he saw there to the terrain below, and genuinely seeming to be enjoying himself. Occasionally he'd call a course change to his pilot, then return to his navigating. Boden had to admit, the man knew his business.

His new bombardier, on the other hand, was a very nervous individual. Jürgens had come to them via a Heinkel unit. After a period in a Luftwaffe "rest home." The man's nerves had been shattered when his aircraft had gone down in the Channel in late November. He had survived, none of the rest of his crew had. On top of that, it had been the second time he had been shot down.

Boden thought, "I suppose if I had been the sole survivor of my crew, I too would be a little jumpy." He still missed his old bombardier, Philip Scholl. Though the doctors had tried valiantly to save Scholl's eyesight, he had lost the sight in both of his eyes. Scholl claimed that he could see light and blurry shapes in his "good" eye. His left eye was completely blind.

"Ah, look at it this way, Johannes, I no longer have to fly over England and I have a nice pension. Things could be worse." Boden remembered Scholl saying when he'd stopped to visit him in Stuttgart on his way to Poland. Boden couldn't imagine how things could be worse. He lived to fly, take that away and they might as well kill him.

"Chef?" Boden heard over the intercom.

"Sorry, daydreaming, what is it Leo?"

"We have all the pictures we need, let's head home."

With a silent prayer of thanksgiving for another uneventful flight over Russia, Boden banked the aircraft and set a course for home.

Unteroffizier Willi Hoffmeister put his pen down and began to fold the letter to his mother. As he placed it in an envelope, leaving the envelope unsealed so that the unit censor could peruse it before it went into the post, he shook his head and sighed again.

Willi was still pissed off, he and his crew had reported to Munster, the Panzerschule to make the transition from the PzKw 38(t) to the new PzKw III H, which had a crew of five as opposed to the four men who manned the older Czech tank. He had expected to receive a new crewman. Weber would keep his job as driver, Krebs would move to gunner, freeing Willi to concentrate on commanding the tank, and Neuhäuser would move up to loader, the new guy would take over as the bow gunner/radio operator.

But on the very first day of training, the four crewmen were introduced to their new tank commander, Leutnant Hermann von Steinbrecher. Willi would no longer be commanding his own vehicle, now he would be, as Horst put it, just a gunner, down in the turret with the rest of the crew.

One of the staff at the Panzerschule, a good friend of Willi's he had known since the Polish campaign, Oberfeldwebel Otto Krämer, had come to see him.

"Willi, don't sweat it. We have lots of new officers who need jobs. Look on the bright side, your Panzer is now the platoon commander's Panzer. We need men like you to keep these kids alive so that they can learn their jobs and eventually command companies, battalions, and up." Otto had explained.

"Jesus Otto, I've commanded my own vehicle since the 1st of September in '39 when we rolled into Poland. We fought in France as well, now I'm relegated to just being a gunner."

"Someone's got to train the kids, once the Leutnant has shown he knows what he's doing, I'll let your company commander know that you want your own Panzer, deal?"

"You sure do know how to sweet talk a person, don't you Otto."

"Well, my father was a politician ..."

As the winter of 1940-1941 grinds on, the pieces are moving into place to launch the largest land campaign of the war. The Germans did routinely fly over Soviet territory on reconnaissance flights, many Soviet commanders were aghast and wanted to shoot them down, Stalin said, "No."

He had his reasons, he knew that the USSR was in no state for a fight with Hitler's Germany, he needed time to get the Red Army into shape. He had purged his military of the men he didn't trust, he needed time to let the new men, his men, learn their jobs.

Accusing the Germans of bad faith or, perish the thought, actually taking action against these overflights might provoke the Germans into attacking. The Soviets just weren't ready yet.

Time would tell.

Author's Note: As you can see, I found a way around the "I can't remember all the players" impasse I mentioned yesterday. I even offered the Muse a couple of days off and she actually refused. "What? And leave you by yourself at the keyboard? Nope, not gonna happen. I can't imagine what sort of drivel you'd write without me by your side." So, here we are, the story continues.

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Uh, Wait, What?

So I'm preparing for the next installment in my early World War II tale, I figure it's time to get back to our German tank crew. Especially seeing as how they were there at the very beginning of my "I want to be a novelist" phase. It all started with a dream. which you can read here. Or peruse the vast collection of The Chant's fiction here. (Which I just now realized doesn't include a single episode of my latest series!!)

Call me Lucy, 'cause I got some 'splainin' to do.

I know the names of my current tank crew, they are -
Unteroffizier Willi Hoffmeister (commander/gunner)
Gefreiter Fritz Weber (driver)
Panzerschütze Horst Krebs (loader)
Panzerschütze Ulrich Neuhäuser (bow gunner/radioman)

Georg Hansel, the tank's loader (1944) 

Now while doing the research to upgrade their ride from a PzKw 38(t) to a PzKw III Ausf H, it struck me that this is where I would add the fifth member of the crew as they had five in 1944, then it struck me -
If there are five guys in 1944, what are the odds that it would be the same five guys from 1941? 

Pretty bloody slim, I can tell you.

Then I remembered that in the original story line Willi Hoffmeister had been promoted to tank commander when Panzer 413's old tank commander got promoted, or sent off to some school, I don't remember which. Which led to the next problem, I kinda need to get all of these stories straight so the first book (this one is a prequel) matches up with what I'm writing now.

So, I need to go back and read those bits, who's who and all that.

Fortunately I have the first book in Word in it's draft format (suitable for publishing, sort of), so I can go back and read that so I get the background for this book straight. It's also time to dust off the old Excel spreadsheet roster and update it!

I also need to get this current storyline onto "The Fiction of The Chant" page of the blog. Makes it easier to go back and look these things up.

Man, I need a secretary!

One more thing, I need five volunteers who are willing to sit down and make a serious effort to read and comment upon the first book, ya know, editors.

If you wish to volunteer, email me at oldafsarge AT Gmail DOT com, five likely victims, er, candidates, will be chosen completely at random, in a secret process which is kept secret in a bank vault in Switzerland, guarded by heavily armed gnomes who ...

Well, so much for my heavily armed garden gnomes.¹

Anyhoo, drop me an email, I know some of you have already volunteered, so the names I recognize will (more than likely) get chosen. So include your blog handle.

Anyway, that research into the first book ain't gonna do itself, so I'm off to do just that. The next few days might be kinda slow in the fictional realm, I might even give the Muse a couple of days off, she tends to look over my shoulder when I'm reading my old stuff and make snide remarks.

Muses ...

Sigh ...

¹ My apologies to those who have not read the Bourne series of books (by Robert Ludlum) or seen the movies. Basically, Jason Bourne is this highly capable operative who gets screwed by his bosses yet survives to basically come back and kick everyone's ass, well, at least the guys who screwed him. A most satisfying thing to see a good guy beat the dog snot out of the bad guys. Maybe that's just me ...
Author's Note - The guy in the opening photo, the wing walker, yeah, that's me realizing that I'd forgotten something. Like where the cockpit is?

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Glimpse of a Stark Future

"How much more of this do they expect us to do?" Obergefreiter Sepp Wittman knelt on the ground, though the weather was brisk, he was sweating profusely. The unit was in the middle of yet another field exercise.

Fahnenjunker-Unterfeldwebel Jürgen von Lüttwitz, paused next to his assistant squad leader and pointed, "That next hill, we go up, over, and on the other side is a road."

"Where we'll be met by LKWs to take us back to our bivouac?" Wittman asked hopefully.

"Of course not Mensch," Jürgen mopped his brow with the small towel he kept wrapped around his neck before continuing, "there we will pitch our little squad shelters, spend a restful night beneath the stars, while we take turns with 1st Squad patrolling the perimeter."

As soon as he said that, it began to rain.

Wittman shook his head, "So much for sleeping under the stars."

"Oh, I assure you, the stars are still up there, you need to look on the bright side Sepp ..."

"What, that we're not in Africa, or heading east to Poland? You've heard the rumors."

Jürgen gestured at Sepp to keep his voice down, "Africa is no rumor, the Wehrmachtbericht¹ has announced that General Rommel is in Africa this very moment, sent to rescue our valiant Italian allies."

"Rommel, all by himself?" Sepp asked in a scoffing tone.

"Why no, he has a light division and a Panzer division to help."

"The Tommies must be shaking in their boots." Sepp laughed.

"I doubt that, they don't have the French tied around their necks this time." Jürgen had little regard for the French Army, though he had to admit, many of the French soldiers, when well led, were excellent material. Fortunately for the Germans, they had been anything but well-led in last year's campaign.

"Think we'll be sent there?" Sepp asked.

"It's a side show, the next big deal will be in the east. Mark my words." Jürgen had heard the rumors, he'd talked to a couple of other officer candidates at the little officer's course regiment had put them through just after Christmas.

Pausing in his thoughts, Jürgen turned to Sepp, "Ever read Mein Kampf?"

"Why would I, it's all political isn't it?"

"The Führer spells out his plans in there. He hates the Communists, believe me, we shall be going at the Reds hammer and tongs before the year is out."

Sepp shook his head, "Russia, I've been there you know."

Jürgen didn't know that. Apparently Sepp Wittman had been a salesman for an agricultural firm before being drafted in early 1939.

"Yup, toured the Ukraine, visited Moscow and Leningrad. Leningrad is pretty enough, but the Ukraine and the southern steppes, they stretch on forever. Don't you think the Führer has studied his history? Charles XII, Napoléon, both failed, Russia is huge."

"What about the First War, they quit, we beat them?" Jürgen knew his history as well as Sepp.

"Ah, but the Bolsheviks wanted to quit the war so that they could take over from the Czar and the nobility, they were busy in their rear areas fighting each other. They had to quit to establish their so-called 'Soviet Paradise,' right?" Sepp countered.

"A quick campaign, defeat their armies on the frontiers, they should collapse like a house of cards." Jürgen actually believed the Nazi propaganda he'd read about the unpopularity of Soviet rule.

"We shall see Herr Unterfeldwebel, we shall see."

Shortly thereafter they both heard the platoon leader's whistle, time to march. Jürgen's squad got to their feet, all groaning.

"Come on ladies! Over the hill then we can rest!" Jürgen bellowed out.

One of the men shook his head, "You'd think he was already an officer." A sharp glance from Obergefreiter Wittman silenced any further complaints.

A man in 3rd Squad began to sing, no doubt at the prompting of his squad leader. Soon the 3rd Platoon was stepping out smartly to the Westerwaldlied.

If only the men could have looked into the future.

¹ "Armed Forces Report," A daily mass media report put out by the high command. Much propaganda spiced with some actual news.