Thursday, September 29, 2022

Ominous Signs - South of Leningrad, USSR, October 1941

During the night the snow had switched over to rain, the temperature was much warmer than it had been the day before. The men of 3rd Platoon awakened to fog, drizzle, and unfrozen ground. Which all knew would soon turn to mud on the roads and paths of northern Russia.

"This is going to really slow things down, Herr Leutnant." said Unterfeldwebel Georg Hansen through a mouthful of stale ration bread.

Von Lüttwitz looked at his platoon sergeant, he wondered who the man knew at battalion to have secured this particular post, usually held by a more senior sergeant. He seemed competent enough, but he wondered.

"Yes, it is Georg. Note how soft the ground has gotten, we're going to get our boots dirty today."

Von Lüttwitz waited a bit, letting Hansen finish his breakfast, before asking him, "So Georg, what was your job at battalion?"

"Supply sergeant, in charge of the 2nd Echelon. I was placed there during my recovery."

It was after Hansen had mentioned that, that von Lüttwitz remembered that Hansen did have a wound badge. "France?"

"No, Herr Leutnant, Poland. Left arm was broken in three places. I was in hospital until July of this year."

"Who ..." before von Lüttwitz could continue, Hansen spoke again.

"Major Hassel was my company commander in Poland, I was one of his runners. When he heard that I had been cleared for a return to active duty, he asked for me."

Von Lüttwitz wouldn't ask Hansen about the entire story, he had enough respect for his battalion commander to be confident that Hansen had been given to him for a reason. Hassell may have been disliked by the more traditional officers, but he was very popular in the battalion as a tough, but fair leader.

"Danke Georg, I like to know about my men, especially those with whom I'm in close contact every day."

"I understand Herr Leutnant, thank you for asking."

The three lost Russians had stopped, Sukhanov really had no choice in the matter as he had lost consciousness.

While Schastlivtsev was looking around, trying to figure out what to do next, Fedoseyev noticed that their injured comrade was no longer awake, and he had a fever. When Schastlivtsev rejoined them, Fedoseyev hissed at him.

"Sukhanov is burning up, Bogdan Ilyich, I think he's hurt worse than he let on."

Schastlivtsev looked around in an exaggerated manner, whispering, "Then let us drop him off at the first field hospital we see. What can we do about this, Yulian Valerianovich? We cannot carry him all the way to Leningrad. We must leave him."

Both men jumped when a voice behind them said, "You two idiots make enough noise to wake the dead." As Schastlivtsev and Fedoseyev reached for their rifles, the voice continued, "I would not do that comrades, or surely we will kill you where you stand."

The two men then noticed that they were surrounded, a number of men and two women, all armed, surrounded them in the dim light. The voice spoke again.

"What is your unit?"

Both men answered nearly simultaneously, "70th Rifle Division, Comrade."

"48th Army then."

Schastlivtsev answered, "That army was just being formed when we were cut off by a German attack and driven into the forest with most of our company. If the 70th was attached to them, I wouldn't know."

"An honest answer." turning to three of the men nearby he gestured for them to pick up Sukhanov. "We have a doctor, your comrade will be treated. As for you two, welcome to the Leningrad Oblast Militia, my name is Stárshiy leytenánt Pavel Yurievich Chekhov. I command this ragtag little army."

The platoon's horse and two Infanteriekarren¹ (aka IF.8) can be seen in the photo.
Hansen was making sure that the company's two IF.8 carts were loaded and ready for the move forward when he saw one of the battalion runners approaching.

"Hey, Siegfried, new orders?"

Schütze Siegfried Oberholzer nodded as he caught his breath, "Where's your Leutnant?"

Hansen pointed and said, "He's over with 3rd Squad. Are we moving?"

"Can't talk!" Oberholzer ran off towards 3rd Squad.

Schastlivtsev and Fedoseyev watched as the doctor examined Sukhanov's leg. The man didn't seem overly concerned, which gave them hope that Sukhanov would be all right. But when he spoke, they were stunned by his words.

"The leg is badly infected, Comrade Lieutenant. If we had medicine I might be able to save the leg, but we don't. The leg has to come off today, or this man will surely die."

Chekhov looked at the men who had brought Sukhanov in, both looked shaken. Only Fedoseyev spoke.

"Lose the leg or die, seems a harsh choice, Comrade Doctor."

"What is his occupation?"

"I have no idea."

Chekhov decided for them all, "Amputate if that's what it takes to keep him alive. The rest of us have an attack to launch."

Looking at Schastlivtsev and Fedoseyev, Chekhov said, "How about you two? You can stay with your comrade or you can join us in the attack. I'll let you choose, looks like you've been sleeping rough the past few weeks."

This time it was Schastlivtsev who spoke, "We'll fight the Fascists with you. When?"

"Tomorrow at first light, you have time to eat and get some rest. Go with the doctor, he'll show you where the rations are kept."

Von Lüttwitz was nervous, the runner from battalion had stopped at Busch's command post first. The captain had directed him to continue on and brief von Lüttwitz.

The Luftwaffe had detected a large number of men off to the northwest. They were not moving towards Leningrad, they were moving towards the battalion's position. The report had said upwards of five-hundred Soviets could be involved.

"Was there anything else, Herr Leutnant?" Oberholzer asked, obviously anxious to return to battalion.

"No, thank you, Schütze, you can head back."

Turning to the men with him, he said, "Start preparing defensive positions, make sure your MGs have good fields of fire. I'll have more ammunition brought up. They might come tonight, but I suspect tomorrow morning more likely. First light, hope to catch us sleeping."

Von Lüttwitz had a very long night, getting everyone positioned and dug in. He had moved 4th Squad's machine gun crew out to the left, to support 3rd Squad. He had a feeling that the Russians would hit that flank, it's what he would do.

He managed to get an hour or so of very fitful sleep at the platoon command post. He was sure that he had done as much as he could.

But was it enough?

¹ Infantry carts (German)


  1. The time continuity of this snippet seems slightly off -- the first section about the Germans implies it is nearly dawn, then last section gave Von Lüttwitz another hour to attempt sleep after a long night of preparing positions... did our intrepid author lose track of their activities during daylight? Additionally, the last section about the Germans implied that Von Lüttwitz knew about the runner's previous stops, which didn't exactly follow the middle section with Hansen - perhaps the runner needs dialog stating this?

    As always, great storytelling, I'm just hoping to clean up minor stuff so a future editor doesn't have to!

    Mike the EE

    1. Ah, an engineer. The timeline is meant to be somewhat vague. It's meant to convey the tiredness of the troops, who knows what time it really is in these sort of situations. I have my reasons for doing things in a certain way. If you're somewhat confused, imagine how the men in that forest feel.

    2. I own that... could not tell it was intentional and figured it was worth mentioning.

      Mike the EE

    3. It was worth mentioning and gave me the opportunity to explain the method behind the madness.

  2. Stage is set Sarge. Horses and carts.........Germany was going to conquer the world. It appears nowadays that a country needs to make its own electronic chips, see drone/anti-drone tech.

    1. Not the world, just Europe. But yeah, most of the German Army was horse-drawn right up until the end.

  3. It is funny Sarge, how much we take intelligence for granted in modern warfare. To our current mindset and technological standing, we should instantly know everything about the enemy and their disposition (thanks, technology maps). The idea that this is still a relatively new concept in the history of battle would, I argue, seem foreign to some.

    Of note - I saw on Jocko Willink's feed that today is the anniversary of the death of Michael Monsoor, the SEAL the ship you worked on was named for.

    1. I mentioned the platoon's horse and two carts as reminders of WWII being a "low tech" war. Knowing where the enemy might be was a big problem. It still is, much of our tech only works when no one is shooting, or jamming, or deliberately running what the Russians call maskirova to obfuscate and confuse our many sensors and intelligence sources.

      Yes, today is the anniversary of Michael Monsoor's death, may he rest in peace.

    2. D'ruther have a good horse these days than most of the electronic geegaws folks over-rely on (absent the MIJI you mention). Our SF guys certainly used horses and mules to advantage in the early Afghan days. Note I said "most". Now that I think on it, the only thing better than a good horse is a good mule.
      Boat Guy

  4. Ah, snow turned to rain; guaranteed to increase the suck - literally in the case of one's boots. At least the ground is "diggable", always a plus.
    Unser Jurgen is doing his job well; which necessitates depriving him of the sleep he needs, hopefully his new Platoon Sergeant can take some of that load.
    Boat Guy

    1. I rather hope to develop Hansen more as a character, hopefully fate and circumstances allow that. (Meaning hopefully the Muse doesn't kill him off any time soon!)

      The fall rasputitsa played a large role in the Germans not taking Moscow.

    2. Gotta go where the Muse leads but I hope she leaves Hansen with us for a bit; Jurgen is sharp and experienced but a good senior NCO can always teach one more.

    3. Two heads are better than one.

  5. I don't think of the horses used until I see a photo, then I remember.

    1. They're easy to forget, the tanks and trucks got all the press.

  6. Crusty Old TV Tech here. OK, I see what you did there. Pavel Yurievich Chekhov. Is he to be a "Redshirt" in this story? Hopefully, we won't hear "He's dead, Jim", or more likely, "он мертв, Яша".

    Interesting chapter there. General Winter is preceeded by Col Autumn, with his muck and mire. Horses can deal with muck better than jeeps, until it gets too deep. Awaiting the next chapter with interest.

    1. I usually use random name generators for character names, unless I have a specific name in mind. Chekhov's name was cool, so I kept it. (A lot of the German names produced by the name generators are way too modern, they don't have that 1940s Germany flavor.)

      The fall of 1941 had some very interesting weather, then the winter which followed was one of the worst in living memory in Russia (from what my sources tell me).

    2. The name stopped me in my tracks, when I first saw it. It's a cool name, keep it, please!


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