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)


  1. My Grandma Olson carried a Thermos full of coffee when she went fishing, that she bought in 1920. Didn't the Germans have them back at the turn of the 20th Century?

    1. The vacuum flask was invented in 1892 by Sir James Dewar. Later (circa 1900) a couple of Germans developed a version for commercial use. Yes, they've been around for a while. Interesting article about that linked in the foot notes.

  2. Holy cow! Willi and the boys appear to have lucked out and got a good'un. The Leutnant appears good enough that he's unlikely to survive (a lot of the good ones don't) but IF he does he'll be golden, at least till he's executed for "defeatism" or something.
    Good work, Sarge
    Boat Guy

    1. We'll see how the war treats von Steinbrecher. (And my Muse for that matter!)

    2. It happens. (I had to pull you out of the spam filter, strange ...)

  3. As they said of Tiberius (in his prime), "His drills were bloodless battles, and his battles, bloody drills."

    1. The title is something Alexander Suvorov said, it's stuck with me for years.

  4. The Leutnant seems like he might make a good commander.

    All of the interspaced German makes me happy - all the more so, as I seem to be able to understand it. Frau G from high school would be very pleased it has stuck with me this long.

    1. I like German, I spout off in that language all the time. My co-workers are finally used to it!

    2. Crusty Old TV Tech here. The one that stuck with me from my TDY's to the FRG was "Machts Nichts Sticks"...that, and "einmal Bier, bitte!"

    3. Essential Deutsch right there! (Especially with regards to beer.)

  5. Crusty Old TV Tech here. Ah, the Lt is not a "margarine bar" (not good enough to be the high-priced spread), but a good "butter bar", to use USAF official NCO slang nomenclature. Very nice to see a young Lt as a good character in a story, having been one myself long, long ago. If he listens to his NCO's, he'll do well.

    Your story today goaded me into more Wermacht WW2 comm gear research. I have a pretty good idea what US tankers were using, but not the I know. FuG 5 most likely, ~35 MHz AM, 6.5 W Pout, range between tank installations ~4 Km. Typical German comm gear, simple but quite clever electrical design, mechanically very rugged.

    1. German comm gear was good, at least in their tanks. The infantry sets were very bulky.

  6. Hi, I'm enjoying the story, comme d'habitude (Sorry, I had to put a little Allied talk in there).

  7. Just caught up on the past several days of stories. I was stuck in the hospital, but am doing much better now.

    The story is proceeding well. Keep up the wonderful writing.

    1. Glad to hear you're on the mend! Hope you don't repeat.

      Thanks FF.

  8. Editor here (czeck-in late today)
    "Toi add to their misery and tiredness..."

    1. Oh dear, I hit the "i" next to the "o." Lately my typing "skills" leave a bit to be desired.

      Fixed it.


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