Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Time to Go

They buried Private Herbert Walsh in the shade of a mature olive tree. Though they had a map with them, and had marked where they thought they were, none of the crew were certain that Walsh's grave would be found after the war.

"Bloody Huns will probably disinter him and bury him in some communal grave," Corporal Fred McTavish said as he wiped his hands on his shorts.

"It doesn't matter," Sergeant Theodore O'Connell said as he looked around the place where Walsh had died, "he's gone and there's no bringing him back. Now get your gear together, we've got to head south, over these mountains you can see here on the map. Then it's another boat ride, I'm sure."

"Or join Herbie here on this wretched island." Private William O'Shea put his helmet back on, then picked up the German rifle he'd taken off a dead paratrooper.

Private James Fitzhugh shook his head, "I'm tired of running Teddy, first France, then Greece, now Crete. Where does it end?"

O'Connell thought about keeping the shovel they'd used to bury Walsh, then grunted as he threw it as far as he could down the hillside, towards the airfield. "I've no idea lad. No idea."

They had watched German transports landing all day, disgorging troops and equipment to reinforce the remnants of the paratroop unit that had been dropped on the island. They were out of ammunition for the old cannon they'd been firing at the landing strip. The truck refused to start, so they would be walking.

Feldwebel Tobias Pfluge held up a hand to halt the remnants of his squad, six men remained out of ten. His assistant squad leader, Gefreiter Klaus Adalwulf, looked as if he had run face-first into a barbed wire fence.

Though the Sanitäter had managed to dig out all of the birdshot which the old Cretan farmer's shotgun had blasted into Adalwulf's face, the cuts and scrapes still oozed, contributing much to the corporal's foul mood.

They still had their MG 34, all of the men, Pfluge included, hauled spare ammunition for the gun. The other men's rifles, and Pfluge's MP 40 were nowhere near as effective as the light machine-gun which every German squad carried.

As they climbed away from the airfield, in the direction where British cannon fire had rained down on them in the previous days, Pfluge had seen something odd in the rocky gulley.

It was a shovel.

He hissed at Flieger Gerhard Emmerich, "Emmerich, check it out, look for trip wires or other signs of a trap."

Emmerich nearly wet himself at the thought of dying in an explosion set by persons unknown. The Greeks on the island, many of them military age and not so long out of uniform the Germans surmised, were fighting back with every tool they had at hand.

Georg Zimmermann had died screaming not two days ago when he'd fallen into a pit. There had been branches sharpened to a wicked point and hardened by fire at the bottom of the pit. Two of those had skewered Zimmermann. He had been a long time dying.

That morning they had shot dead a man walking down the road towards them with a donkey cart. A search of the cart had revealed nothing other than baskets of produce for the local market.

Rumors were spreading among the men that even the Cretan women would kill you with a knife in the back after luring a lonely soldier to bed. It made the men very bloody-minded, atrocities were being committed out of nothing more than frustration.

"It's just a shovel Herr Feldwebel."

Pfluge had the men spread out anyway, the gun ready to provide covering fire should they need it. He looked around the base of the shovel, like Zimmerman had said, no traps, just a shovel. He wondered how the Hell the shovel had wound up in this gulley.

O'Connell and his tank crew met up with a party of Australian infantry that evening. The men were preparing a hasty defensive position because, as their sergeant explained it, "We're  bugging out before first light anyway, no point in fighting for this fly-speck on the map. Don't even know where we are really, but the coast is that way."

O'Connell nodded, south was where the man was pointing. South is where they were headed.

In the early hours they were up and moving. The day was blisteringly hot, O'Connell noticed that the infantry were discarding anything which they didn't need to fight. His own men had little enough, they actually scrounged some of the things the infantry had thrown away.

Fitzhugh had picked up a kit bag with a single grenade, a handful of rifle rounds for a rifle he didn't have, and a single packet of tea. The soldier who had dumped the bag probably didn't know the tea was in there, Fitzhugh thought.

The only weapon he had was a German pistol, a Walther according to the scroll on the weapon's slide. It still had two full magazines, but after all, it was still just a pistol, better than being unarmed he guessed.

After a long day of struggling over the passes which led south, avoiding German aircraft by diving constantly into the brush which marked the roadside, the men were finally in reach of the sea. O'Shea swore he could smell it. McTavish started to say something, then stopped.

Landsmen often talk of the smell of the sea, but it isn't the sea, it's that area between land and sea, salt marshes, dead things decaying, and the ever present sea birds shitting on everything and anything. McTavish had spent some time on the docks of Aberdeen. Though he wasn't a seafaring man, he had spent considerable time along the coast north of that city in Scotland.

As the sun fell in the western sky, one of the men, upon surmounting a hump in the road, cried out, "There it is lads, the sea! Looks like the Royal Navy is waiting for us."

When O'Connell crested the slight rise, he could see the sea, and the ships. He could also hear the thump of distant anti-aircraft fire. At least one ship was burning from what he could see. The Luftwaffe wasn't going to let them go without a fight, that much was plain.


  1. When the tide is rolling in best to get to higher ground........if there is higher ground.

    1. Sometimes it's smart to get out of Dodge.

    2. If we had to point a high tide for Axis, it was spring 42. Fall of Tobruk, Singapore and Phillipines, Sevastopol, Kido Butai raiding Indian Ocean, all in short time. But it was just before the tide broke in the Autumn at Stalingrad, Alamein and Guadalcanal...

    3. In the Pacific, the tide broke at Midway; Guadalcanal, hard-fought though it was, was the turning of the tide. The death of Kido Butai in early June stopped the Japanese advance.
      Boat Guy

    4. Sometime in that dark period, there is a story that Churchill received a morning visitor. Churchill was in bed in his dressing gown reading depressing dispatches, smoking a cigar, and sipping a large brandy. He offered the visitor one, then turned to his servant "And get me another"...

  2. It would have been very disheartening to be British at this point in the war. Nothing going right, always falling back, always losing. Sucks.

    1. Also later in the war when they had to take a back seat to the US of A. The Brits were running out of bodies to turn into soldiers.

    2. In fact British have been very wise in keeping large number of civilian emplyees back in the in dustry. Germans and Japanese went for total mobilisation, which damaged heavily their war production. Germans tried to cope using slave labor, but it was bad for quality of produced gear and ammo...

    3. They really had no choice. WWI destroyed an entire generation, it was keep people back to work in industry or build nothing. The Brits were really in between a rock and a hard place from 1939 to 1945. The Empire died shortly thereafter.

  3. Getting on a boat again... 1941 before the US was in the war...

    1. The Axis Powers were running amok in early 1941.

    2. At least the Royal Navy was able to save some of the troops; our guys in the Philippines were not so fortunate.

    3. Too far away, poor plans, bad execution.


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