Friday, September 30, 2022

Out of the Fog - South of Leningrad, USSR, October 1941

Schütze Christoph Witting was tired, cold, and wet. He was on outpost duty some ten meters in front of the main line held by his 3rd Squad. Unterfeldwebel Klempner had wanted him out here in the small hours before dawn as he was considered reliable, a conscientious soldier.

This was one of those days that Witting wished his reputation wasn't so stellar. But he was here and he was desperately trying to stay awake, warm, and dry. So far he could only manage the first.

When he'd relieved Schütze Roman Wolf it had been drizzling, more of a heavy mist than a light rain. After Wolf had left, it had started raining harder, then the temperature began to drop. Witting was convinced that there was sleet mixed in with the rain, making things even more miserable.

Sometime before sunrise the rain stopped and the fog began to rise. The forest was a loud, dripping nightmare, the fog so thick that visibility was less than ten meters. Witting was painfully alert, his eyes blinking, trying to stay awake was less of a problem now. For Witting had heard something in the mist, something human in origin.

Stárshiy leytenánt Chekhov winced when one of the men he was leading forward stumbled and fell. The man's rifle had made a tremendous noise when he dropped it.

The men around him stopped, looking to him for guidance. Chekhov gestured angrily at them to keep moving. It didn't matter if the Germans had heard them or not, his orders were to attack, and that's what he would do. Though communications with Leningrad Front were sporadic, their last message had been clear, the attack would go in, regardless of any other considerations.

Which told him that his attack was a diversion, get and keep the Germans' attention. So they would press home.

It took Witting a moment to understand what he had heard, someone had dropped his rifle out there in the fog. Close or far, he couldn't tell, sound traveled in weird ways in foggy weather.

But he had his orders. He aimed his rifle in the direction where he thought the sound had come from and fired a round. Racking the bolt of his K98k, he fired two more rounds, then began running back to his squad, yelling at the top of his lungs "Pass auf! Die Russen greifen an!¹"

3rd Squad's machine gunner Gefreiter Jörg Straube had been nodding off since first light. The brim of his helmet was resting against the buttstock of the gun and he was having an odd dream. His mother was trying to wake him up for school when it was a holiday.

Straube's assistant gunner, Schütze Alex Winzer was pounding on Straube's shoulder screaming at him to open fire. Though it took less than five seconds, it felt like an eternity to Winzer.

Straube jerked awake, leaned into his weapon and opened fire down the lane established for his weapon by the lieutenant. He had no idea what he was shooting at, or why, but Alex had screamed "fire," so he fired.

Chekhov took cover behind a downed tree, looking to either side of him, he could see men falling as the German line began to react. But most of the men were moving forward, intense expressions on their faces as they closed with their hated enemies.

As German machine gun fire intensified, Chekhov could sense that the men were starting to waiver. So he acted.

Springing to his feet he bellowed, "

"Dlya Rodiny! Ura!!²"

The men nearest him took up the cry as Chekhov advanced, firing his submachine gun as he did so.

"Ura!" came the cry from fifty men, then a hundred, soon the cry sprang up along the entire line as five hundred men charged at the German line, held by a single company.

Unterfeldwebel Hansen heard the roar, he looked for the lieutenant, who was nowhere to be seen. Standing up he looked at the reserve squad and the small company headquarters.

"Alois! Drop as many shells as you can, fifty meters beyond our lines, as fast as you can! The rest of you ... Mit mir! Für das Vaterland!³"

Obergefreiter Alois Steppuhn the leader of the mortar team turned to his men, who were already setting the range and fusing the first round, "Let's go boys, you heard the man!"

Leading the seven men of the 4th Squad and the platoon horse holder, Schütze Phillip Dessauer, Hansen moved towards where he felt the biggest threat was, at the hinge between 2nd and 3rd Squads where the 3rd was set back, refusing the platoon's flank. He could see Russians headed straight at that vulnerable point.

When mortar rounds began impacting amongst the advancing men, Chekhov gathered a group of twenty, "Follow me!"

He had sensed that the end of the German line was not far, the Germans seemed focused on the men rushing towards where there was a discernable gap in the German line.

As he led the men in a rush, all bent at the waist as if running into a high wind, Chekhov felt victory within his grasp. If he could turn the German flank, get into their rear, he could stop the mortar fire which had driven many of his men to ground.

Then they could drive the Germans hard.

Turning to the 4th Squad's leader, Unteroffizier Hannes Kohl, Hansen shouted, "Do you have this under control Hannes?!"

"Yes, we're okay."

"Good, I'm going to the end of the line, a party of Russians are headed that way. If you see the Leutnant ..."

Kohl waved him off. Though Kohl resented Hansen, Hansen's position as platoon sergeant led him to follow Hansen's lead. Besides which, the man seemed to know his business.

Leutnant von Lüttwitz crouched behind 4th Squad's machine gun team, which was some fifteen meters beyond the end of 3rd Squad's line. The men had looked at him nervously when he'd led them to this spot. But it was a very good position.

Von Lüttwitz had returned when the Russian attack began to roll in, closer and closer.

"So, you boys ready for some action?" he asked the two men manning the MG 34.

Both Oberschütze Harald Toman and Schütze Torben Krukenberg looked back at him in some amazement. They thought he'd abandoned them out here, but now he was back, he was also carrying two cans of ammunition for the gun.

Toman laughed and said, "Ready if you are, Herr Leutnant!"

Chekhov was urging the flanking party forward, much as he hated to, he had to hang back and keep an eye on the rest of the attacking force. When his men had a full head of steam and were charging at bayonet point, screaming their "Ura!", Chekhov began to run back to where he could better keep an eye on the entire battle.

Moments later, his heart sank as he heard the ripping snarl of a German machine gun, far enough off of the German flank to catch his flanking party in the flank, just as the German troops facing them began to waiver.

Von Lüttwitz tapped Toman's foot and said, "Fire!"

He could see that 3rd Squad was ready to flee, but as soon as the MG 34 chopped into the Russians assaulting them, they began firing again. One or two even began to advance before their squad leader halted them.

Within seconds, the Russians hitting 3rd Squad had been chopped to red ruin. Not a man was left standing.

Chekhov sobbed in frustration as he led the remnants of his force back into the depths of the forest from whence they had come. He could see that casualties were heavy, he doubted that half of his men had returned. Neither of the two women in his band were to be found, he assumed they had both met their fate upon the field of battle.

"Come lads, we must regroup. The Fascists won't follow, I'm sure we hurt them badly. We will fight again."

Chekhov managed to suppress his rising fury at the idea that the attack for which his force was to provide a diversion had never materialized. Another example of the disorganization and lack of planning that had allowed the Nazis to penetrate this far into the Motherland.

"When will Moscow learn?" he muttered as he watched two of his men collapse as they tried to continue on. Both were wounded, but they refused to quit.

Chekhov had the thought, "When will the Motherland produce leaders worthy of these men?"

Many of the troops had similar thoughts, they felt betrayed by their leaders, led into hopeless slaughter again and again, they would have asked themselves, "Why?" - but for one thing.

They did not fight for the Party, nor for Stalin, nor for the generals in Moscow - no, they fought for their homes, they fought for Mother Russia. Like Russian soldiers have for centuries, they would fight, they would die, but Russia would live on.

"Casualties, Georg?"

Hansen looked up from his notebook, "One man lightly wounded in 1st Squad, two in 2nd Squad, two in 3rd Squad, one bad enough to require treatment back at battalion. The company Sanitäter says he should be fit for duty within a couple of days."


"Thirty-nine, Herr Leutnant, but some of them are so badly wounded they won't last until sunset."

"Well, do what you can for them. They fought bravely today, stupidly, but bravely. Any idea of their dead?"

"Company stopped counting at a hundred and fifty, the bodies are everywhere. They just wouldn't quit."

"It's going to be a long war, Georg, a long war."

Hansen sighed and looked around the command post, "We need to resupply Sir, we're low on machine gun ammunition and mortar rounds. I wonder if we'll run out of bullets before they run out of men."

Von Lüttwitz sighed, "A very good question. Only time will tell."

¹ Look out! The Russians are attacking! (German)
² For the Motherland! Hurrah! (Russian - Для Родины! Ура!)
³ With me! For the Fatherland! (German)


  1. Since William Shatner, in one of his novels, says that the Pavel Chekhov born in 2245 would eventually be Starfleet Chief of Naval Operations, I hope yours lives out the war, and starts the family line that leads to OPNAV Chekhov. He is certainly brave enough!

    1. The odds of this Chekhov surviving the war aren't all that great.

    2. The odds of any of the good men on either side surviving the war are not great, certainly. That any would is miraculous.
      Boat Guy

  2. A suspenseful post Sarge. Outpost duty and point man........nope, nope, nope.

    1. But it's a place "somebody" HAS to be; and a good "somebody" can save lives, maybe (not always) even his own. I can completely empathize with Witting's regret at being "good" and the struggle to stay awake. As a former CO once told me "The reward for doing a good job is you get to do another job"
      Boat Guy

    2. The "reward" for being good at your job = more work.

  3. There's a small typo in there and I'll have to re-read it when I get out of bed

    It was something like "Do [Rest of the sentence] when there should be a "you" after the "Do"

    With the anniversary of operation, Barbarossa, a historian presented some fascinating, alternate history. That if the Nazis had not invaded the Soviet union, it would've fallen on its own within a decade after. They certainly weren't fighting for Stalin or communism, but mother, Russia.

    Some years ago I was able to visit Russia and we went to those magnificent palaces outside of Leningrad. And in anger when they left, the Nazis burned them.

    They really were magnificent and I was surprised in the 50s the communist hired some tradesmen and taught them the old ways of construction. What had been burned out husks and shells again took life such as today he would not even know it I had always heard the communist wanted nothing to do with their history under the czars, but apparently they were proud of these palaces,

    We also went to a park that was a cemetery and you could see a raised mound of about a block long with several hundred thousand Leningrad or's in it

    Well, back to sleep

    You bring history to life, Sarge

    1. Found the typo, fixed it. Good catch.

      Surprising that the Communists rebuilt those. The people of Leningrad suffered terribly.

    2. Perhaps, in a moment of humanity unnatural to the Communists, they did it to honor the people of Leningrad?

    3. What little I "know" about the Soviets and WW2 is that opening scene from "Enemy At The Gates" where they are taking guys off the train, giving every other one a rifle and telling them to charge the German machine guns or get shot by their machine guns and pick up a rifle dropped by the dead guy in front of you.
      Struck me as nuts...

    4. That story may be apocryphal. But the Soviets would use penal battalions to clear minefields. So it's not like the story is out of character.

  4. Related to the rebuilt palaces, the metro rail system stations in Moscow are truly works of art. I was told that it was to show that the common citizen could have nice things too.

  5. "Chekhov had the thought, "When will the Motherland produce leaders worthy of these men?"

    Many of the troops had similar thoughts, they felt betrayed by their leaders, led into hopeless slaughter again and again, they would have asked themselves, "Why?" - but for one thing.

    They did not fight for the Party, nor for Stalin, nor for the generals in Moscow - no, they fought for their homes, they fought for Mother Russia. Like Russian soldiers have for centuries, they would fight, they would die, but Russia would live on." The purges that Stalin pursued in the late 1930's is bearing bitter fruit for the Red Army now. I also fear this for our Military, the hacks that bungled Afghanistan and brought disharmony and discord to our ranks are in charge.

    1. Yes, it appears that the adults have left the building and left the idiots in charge.

  6. Please don't take this too personally, Sarge. I have a number of pet peeves, & one was in your (excellent, by the way) segment of your ongoing story.
    " five-hundred men charged..." No.
    "It was a group of five hundred men." Just fine.
    "It was a five-hundred-man group." Also fine.
    "It was a group of five-hundred-men." No; an affront to the English language.
    I blame the media. Apparently, a working command of English is no longer a requirement at J-school, because the last few years I've seen this more and more (not more-and-more, which I have actually seen in print). A day hardly passes without my reading about the scholastic achievements of a stellar student, who happens to be twelve-years-old. Again, NO: he or she is a twelve-year-old, i.e., one who happens to be twelve years old. Or, perhaps, warning of bad weather coming in five-days. I think they may be paid by the hyphen, just as I'm already certain they're paid by the unnecessary apostrophe (another rant entirely, but one I'll perform at no additional cost).
    OK, I'll climb down, take my soapbox, and stomp off to the local, muttering oaths all the way. Sorry, but only a bit.
    --Tennessee Budd

    1. Oh, it wasn't aimed at you, but I have seen a lot of this increasing, and I never saw it 20, 30, 40 years ago. Maybe it's a secret program to make everybody comfortable with hyphenated everything. That, and probably the chemtrails. Maybe Nazi chemtrails. Or unicorns.
      --Tennessee Budd

    2. Nah, I've been making a lot of typing errors lately, it's driving me nuts. So yeah, I got a little snippy, sorry.

  7. Sarge, trying now (grumbling under his breath as apparently there was an "issue" with the platform this morning...).

    Once again, a stellar vignette. It works really well to have both sides at the same time, to almost simultaneously see what they are thinking and how they are reacting.

    That said - Human wave tactics seldom work in modern warfare, even then modern warfare.

    1. Attempting to overwhelm a position defended by multiple machine guns with nothing but enthusiasm and bodies is a bad plan.

  8. Once again, Sarge, I feel like I'm there. Excellent writing!


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