Thursday, August 31, 2023


Oberstleutnant¹ Moritz Neugebauer walked into the unheated briefing room and looked around at the assembled pilots. Seven men for seven aircraft, he thought. Best to get this over with, it was too cold to be in here for very long.

"Meine Herren², I have news for you which you may, or may not, find pleasing."

The pilots all looked at each other, they were from a mix of the Group's Staffeln and wondered what occasion would require men from different units to be present.

"Panzerarmee Afrika is screeching for more air support. Rommel intends to take Tobruk this time and he wants/needs more Ju 88s. Business is slow here, the OKW³ has tasked us to send a provisional Staffel from KG 54 to Africa. You lads are that provisional Staffel. Questions?"

A pilot from 2. Staffel raised his hand.

"Ja, Leutnant Wisner?"

"Who is to command this provisional Staffel?"

"Oberleutnant Boden, or should I say Hauptmann Boden. Your promotion came in this morning, right before lunch. Congratulations, Johannes."

Boden blushed, he had not been expecting this, but hell, the chance to get out of Russia, he'd go as a Feldwebel if it got him out of this cold. "Danke, Herr Oberstleutnant. When do we leave?"

"As soon as the maintenance chief gets enough aircraft ready, he says tonight, I expect by tomorrow morning he'll be able to give you seven aircraft capable of making the trip. When you get to Italy your aircraft will be modified to the tropical version of the 88. Bigger air filters and other modifications for operations in the desert. You're going from deep cold to burning heat gentlemen, but take your greatcoats, it gets cold in the desert at night."

"Any more questions?"

"No? Very well, Johannes, you are now in command of 13. Staffel."

"13?" Boden asked.

"Yes, are you superstitious? If 13 is a bad omen, let it be a bad omen for the Tommies."

The assembled pilots laughed, Neugebauer made a good point.

Boden stood up, "As my first official act as Staffelkäpitan, I'm going to have the ground crew paint a witch on a broom on the nose of my aircraft. We shall be known as the die Hexenstaffel.⁴ Any objections?"

There were none, Boden started the unit on a high note, which Neugebauer approved of. It looked like his choice of commander was a good one.

Feldwebel Habicht looked up from his position to see Gefreiter Holweck waving at something. "What are you waving at, Alois?"

"I'm waving goodbye to Mother Russia, I'm waving goodbye to the snow, and I'm waving goodbye to the poor bastards who are stuck down there."

Boden was grinning behind his oxygen mask, his crew were very happy to be out of Russia, as was he. Most of the other pilots in the Hexenstaffel were as well, the one exception being Oberleutnant Hans Dorfmann. Dorfmann thought that he should have been given command of the provisional squadron. As he was a mediocre pilot, at best, none of the others thought he should be in command. His other "qualification" was that he was a Party member.

"You boys know how hot it is in Africa, right?" Oberfeldwebel Jürgens had transferred over from Ju 87s and had done a stint in Libya in '41.

"Does it snow there, Max?" Holweck asked.

"Well, in the Atlas Mountains it does. Those are in Algeria."

"And we're going to Libya, nicht wahr?" Holweck, again.

"Well yes ..."

"Do they build airfields in the mountains, Herr Oberfeldwebel?"

"That's enough, Alois, mind your guns and keep our tail clear." Boden decided that the crew was getting too chatty. Yes, they were behind their own lines now, but staying focused in wartime, no matter where you were flying, was one thing that might keep you alive.

A pair of Soviet LaGG-3 fighters
Mládshiy leytenánt Marka Vyacheslavovich Kravchuk was getting tired, they were nearly at the extent of their range and had seen nothing. He was thinking of radioing his fellow lieutenant, Viktor Afanasievich Mukhortov, and suggesting they turn back to Soviet lines, when his own radio came to life.

"Bluebird Lead, Two, there's something out there, looks like a flight of twin engined aircraft. Two o'clock, low."

"Copy." Looking in that direction he didn't see anything at first, then he saw a flash of white against a darker mass, a forest from the look of it.

"I see them, 88s I think." He radioed back.

"Shall we?"

"Fiddlesticks, why not? Follow me in, Two!"


Boden's aircraft was leading the left Kette of three aircraft, Schwartz flight. Leutnant Müller was leading the second Kette, Grau flight, which in this case had four aircraft and was flying the fighter pilot's standard "finger four" formation.

Holweck came on over the intercom, "There's two aircraft approaching from astern of Grau 4. Were we expecting an escort? They don't look like Messerschmitts."

Habicht looked back as well, "No, those are Ivans!"

Flieger Manfred Holzmann in Grau 4 had spotted the two aircraft at about the same time as Holweck in Schwartz 1. He spoke a single word into the intercom, "Indianer!" Then his gun began firing.

Holzmann's pilot, Oberfeldwebel Horst Weber, tensed up, hunching his shoulders and leaning forward as if to make himself a smaller target. He winced as the two Soviet fighters flashed by overhead, they were so close he swore he could have counted the rivets on the undersides of the enemy aircraft, had he been so inclined.

Weber's bombardier, Gefreiter Karl Schuler began firing as the enemy birds flew past. "HA!" he shouted over the intercom as one of the Ivans pulled up sharply, a thin trail of smoke coming from the LaGG's engine.

"Die, you Red bastard!" Weber blurted out.

Kravchuk was trying very hard to keep his dying aircraft in the air. When the engine temperature had nearly redlined, he turned it off and looked for a place to set the bird down.

He had seen Mukhortov's LaGG spin in, he had managed to damage one of the German bombers but had been hit by multiple gunners in the formation. When his vertical stabilizer snapped off, his aircraft had gone out of control. Kravchuk had enough trouble keeping himself airborne to see whether or not Mukhortov had jumped.

All he could do was continue to limp home.

He eventually made it to the Russian lines and was picked up by Russian infantry as he came down in his chute. They almost shot him, thinking he was German.

Swearing at the men in Russian, something Kravchuk was very good at, convinced the infantrymen that he was indeed a Soviet pilot.

Mukhortov had managed to jump. his chute swung twice before he hit the ground. Fortunately the snow broke his fall, from the feeling in his right side, he thought he might have a couple of broken ribs.

He saw that there was a road not far from where he had come down. He saw a column of black smoke to his south, probably his aircraft he realized.

When he reached the road, he tried to decide which way to turn, if there was a village nearby, they might take him in. They had been briefed that the partisans were active in this area. So he had some hope of rescue.

Then he heard a truck approaching, and his hopes died.

Two men got down from the truck, both were carrying submachine guns and were wearing white camouflage. One of them actually had a white greatcoat, which surprised Mukhortov, he didn't think the Germans had such a thing, the other man had a Red Army issue white smock over his uniform.

Mukhortov stood in the road, his hands held over his head. The two Germans were laughing and pointing at him. He didn't speak German so he had no idea what they were talking about.

Then a chill ran up his spine as one of the men pointed his weapon at Mukhortov and said a word he understood, "Partizan.⁵"

Mukhortov held his hands in front of him in supplication, to no avail.

The Waffen SS troopers on anti-partisan operations behind the lines were ordered to shoot any Russian they caught in uniform. Neither man cared, nor recognized, that Mukhortov was wearing pilot's coveralls.

The German fired directly into Mukhortov's midsection, a short burst, he didn't want to kill him outright but leave him to die slowly.

Mukhortov hadn't prayed since he was a boy, but he prayed now. He knew he was hurt, he didn't know how badly. All he knew is that he wanted to live.

The partisans ambushed a small German truck, killing the driver and the passenger in the front seat. They riddled the tarp covering the back of the truck.

Inside they found two more men, one dying, the other already dead. So they finished the dying one. One of the men spat on the two corpses and muttered "Fascist pigs."

They moved off down the road in the direction from whence the truck had come. Shortly thereafter, one of them noticed a body beside the road. One of the men went to check.

"Tovarisch Politruk! It's one of ours, a pilot I think."

Politruk Pavel Yurievich Chekhov went over to the man beside the road and knelt next to him. Before the war he had been studying medicine, the fascist invasion had ended his studies. As he was a Party member, as were his parents, he was able to secure a posting as a political officer.

He, and many others, had been cut off in the summer of 1941. Their numbers had dwindled, from over 500 to a little over a hundred now, still they fought and tried to hurt the invaders when they could.

"Sava, the man is still alive!"

Stárshiy serzhánt⁶ Saveliy Filippovich Yermolovo went to the man, motioning three other men to join him. "Rig a stretcher, it isn't far to camp. Will he make it, Pasha?"

The Politruk shook his head and shrugged, then he opened up the pilot's thick coveralls. He was surprised to find that the man had one serious wound, in his side, the others were superficial. Most of the bullets had been absorbed by the thick life vest the pilot had on under his coverall.

"This has to be the luckiest bastard alive." Yermolovo exclaimed.

Chekhov gestured to the men carrying the pilot using a greatcoat with rifles through the sleeves and arranged as a primitive stretcher. "Let's go, it will be night soon."

The Hexenstaffel landed well short of their first day's objective. Though Oberfeldwebel Weber's aircraft had shot down one fighter, with a lot of assistance from the rest of the formation, the second aircraft had damaged his right engine.

"There's no way I'll make it to the objective field, Schwartz 1," he had radioed to Boden.

Habicht had checked his maps, "There's an He 111 field three kilometers from here, make your course 225 degrees, Johannes."

Boden had asked Weber if he could get there, after a quick consult with his navigator, and another scan of the engine instruments, he answered in the affirmative.

All seven aircraft made it down, the mechanics there indicated that they didn't have the right part for Weber's engine, but could have it by morning, provided the partisans behaved.

"Partisans?" Boden asked, a puzzled look on his face.

"Oh, the bastards are as thick as fleas on a dog in this area." The field's maintenance officer informed him. "They ambush our trucks all the time if they don't have an escort."

Boden was getting more and more pleased to be leaving Russia. It was cold, it was nasty, and the people were unforgiving. He briefed his crews to get some rest. As soon as Weber's bird was repaired, they'd be off.

But for now, they would spend another night in Mother Russia.

¹ Lieutenant Colonel
² Gentlemen
³ Oberkommando der Wehrmacht. High Command of the Armed Forces, the organization used by Hitler to control operations on the Eastern Front.
⁴ The Witch Squadron
⁵ Partisan is similar in both German, "Partisan" and Russian, "партизан." The word rendered above is how Kravchuk heard it, the Russian version.
⁶ Sergeant Major

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Auf Wiedersehen, Schulz

Hauptmann Ferdinand Busch took his time lighting his cigar. Standing in front of him was Oberfeldwebel Erwin Kroemer, his 3rd Platoon's platoon sergeant. Kroemer was slightly nervous, it was unusual for the company commander to deal directly with his platoon sergeants alone, normally the platoon leader was present as well. But Leutnant Klaus Ochs had been grievously wounded the night before when he had stepped on a mine.

"So, Kroemer, why was your officer outside the lines in no-man's-land at such a late hour? Where were you?"

Kroemer shifted nervously from one foot to the other, he didn't want to get his platoon leader in trouble, even if the man might not live. But the reason for the lieutenant's excursion was one Oberschütze Wilhelm Schulz, everyone in 3rd platoon, save one man, was scared of Schulz. Well, not Schulz himself but Schulz's uncle, a man reputed to be a member of the Gestapo, the feared secret state police.

"Was Schulz on sentry duty?"

Kroemer hesitated, ever so briefly, which Busch jumped on. "Schulz wander off again? Is that what Ochs was doing, looking for his errant sentry?"

Kroemer looked at the floor of the bunker, and muttered an answer.

"What? Did you say yes? What is the problem Oberfeldwebel? There was no Schütze Sauer there to save his ass this time?"

"Ja, Herr Hauptmann. Schulz was away from his post, Leutnant Ochs went looking for him. That's when Ochs stepped on a mine."

Kroemer wondered if he would be sent to a punishment battalion or simply be reduced in rank and transferred out of the battalion. He looked back at the company commander and was surprised to see the man was smiling.

"Did you know that Schulz's uncle is not in the Gestapo?"


"Apparently everyone in your platoon, except Sauer, is afraid of Schulz because the man has hinted that his uncle is 'an important police official,' in other words, the Gestapo."

Kroemer nodded, "Well, that's the story, Herr Hauptmann, he said that ..."

"Did you know that Schulz's uncle is actually a records clerk for the Kripo¹ in Dresden? He is not a police official. He's a clerk. A damned clerk."

Kroemer looked astonished, "So, he's been ..."

"Yes, the man is a liar and has been shirking his duties. The only man in the damned company to see through his act was Schütze Sauer."

"I see, but ..."

"I'm tempted to have your straps² for allowing this nonsense. I'm very tempted to have Schulz shot out of hand. But Major Hassel doesn't agree and, after all, it is his battalion. Also, you have an otherwise spotless record, decorated for bravery in Poland and in France. I suspect that you have some fear of the Party, which is wise, all things considered. So you will remain with 3rd Platoon as its Führer des Zugstrupp³, but another officer will be taking Leutnant Ochs' place. An Oberleutnant from 1st Battalion staff, one Albert Jäger. Do you have any problems with that?"

"Nein, Herr Hauptmann." Kroemer was now standing at rigid attention, which Busch noticed and appreciated. The man was a good soldier, but he needed to do his job, not worry about who was who back in the Reich.

"What about Oberschütze Schulz, does he stay ..."

"Glad you asked, Schulz has 'volunteered' to lead a three man patrol over to the Russian lines to snatch a prisoner."

"He has?"

"Ja, he's taking Sauer and Schwertfeger with him. Make sure they set out shortly after sundown."

"Sir, I ..."

"Dismissed, Oberfeldwebel."

Schütze Oskar Schwertfeger was a big man, 193 cm tall and weighing in at 104 kilos. He had been a dockworker before the war in Stettin but was originally from a small village outside Leipzig. Which is why he was drafted into the 223rd Infantry Division, a Saxon unit.

He was waiting with Schütze Sauer, waiting for Oberschütze Schulz who was, as always, late.

"So Manfred, what's the deal?" Schwertfeger was a rough man, he didn't like Schulz and most of the platoon knew that. He also knew that Sauer was not afraid of Schulz and that Sauer was gaining a reputation in the battalion. Killing three Ivans all by himself enhanced that reputation. Other's pointed out that "Schultz was there, it wasn't just Sauer." But Schwertfeger knew that for what it was, nonsense. Schulz was a shirker.

"We're going to do two things tonight, Oskar. We're going to snatch an Ivan to bring back for interrogation, preferably an officer."

"What's the second thing?" Schwertfeger asked.

"Schulz won't be coming back with us." Sauer said grimly. The suggestion came from the battalion commander himself, he couldn't order Sauer to do such a thing, but he knew that Sauer understood.

Sauer had been keeping an eye on Schulz since the night of the three Ivans, as some wag at battalion had named it. Schulz was never where he was supposed to be, never went on patrol, and always found an excuse to head to the rear. Major Hassel had made some enquiries, unlike Schulz's uncle, Hassel's brother-in-law actually was a policeman, in Köln.

"So you see, Sauer, Schulz has been claiming to have a relative in the Gestapo, which is nonsense. He's starting to affect morale, I can't call him out as a liar, there are some at division who actually believe Schulz regardless of what they've been told and shown. So ..."

"You need to find a way to be rid of him, Herr Major. Yes?"

Hassel nodded then looked hard at Sauer. "I think you're the man to do it. Unless I'm mistaken?"

"Nein, Herr Major, sometimes the herd needs to be culled of its weaker members. When I was raising pigs, well, let's just say, I had to take care of things. Pigs are intelligent, I learned not to get too attached to any of the animals. I'm afraid that's carried over to my dealings with people. It's time to cull the herd, nicht wahr⁴?"

"You're a hard one, Sauer."

"If you say so, Sir."

A hundred meters into no-man's-land, Schulz stopped and waved Schwertfeger and Sauer to cover. "I think this is far enough, boys. We'll tell the Leutnant that we couldn't get close enough to snag a prisoner. We'll wait for a few hours, then head back. Klar?"

Schwertfeger reached around Schulz and pinioned his arms, he also cupped a hand over Schulz's mouth. "Sorry, Herr Oberschütze," he said sarcastically, "but for you, the war is over."

Schulz began to struggle when he saw Sauer pull his bayonet. Schulz tried to scream but Schwertfeger made sure no sound escaped the man's mouth.

After a brief struggle, Sauer wiped his bayonet on the skirt of Schulz's greatcoat. "Well, that's done. Let's go kidnap an Ivan," he whispered.

Schwertfeger looked at Sauer in amazement, he knew Sauer couldn't see his expression so he murmured, "Really? You intend to actually carry out the mission?"

"How else would we explain Schulz's death?" Sauer shrugged, then shouldered his rifle and began to move towards the Russian trenches.

Schwertfeger shrugged as well, then followed.

Oberleutnant Jäger looked at Sauer, then Schwertfeger, then at the badly battered Russian captain lying bound on the trench floor.

"Where is Schulz?" was his first question.

Sauer looked at the ground, then sighed, "I'm afraid the Oberschütze was killed in action, Sir. When we reached the Soviet trenches, we saw a small group of men, this officer and two others. It looked like they were about to set out on the same mission we had."

Jäger stared hard at Sauer, "And?"

"Well, we got the drop on them, but one of them bayoneted poor Schulz. Schwertfeger here took that man's head off with his entrenching tool, then hit the other man in the chest. Meanwhile, I butt stroked the officer. Gently, so he went down, but wasn't unconscious. The second man that Oskar hit was still alive, so I hit him with the butt of my rifle."

Sauer showed the lieutenant the butt of his K98k, it was bloodstained and had bits of flesh still stuck to it. Jäger turned pale, he'd seen things in France, but nothing like this.

"Manfred slugged him really good, Herr Oberleutnant. The man's head burst like a ..."

"That's enough, Schütze, I get the picture."

"This officer looks to be in bad shape." Jäger said as he looked at the man.

For his part the Soviet officer couldn't take his eyes off the two German enlisted men. They had hit his section of trench like a bomb going off. One minute he was about to lead two men into no-man's-land, (as Sauer had surmised, it was to be a prisoner grab) and the next minute his two men were dead and he was at the bottom of the trench with a German boot on his throat.

His head felt like it was going to split, but he resolved to tell these men whatever they wanted to hear. He just wanted to be as far from these two brutes as possible.

Hassel looked at the two soldiers, both at a rather loose position of attention in front of him. Well, sod that, he thought. They got the job done. "Good job, boys. I'm thinking of promoting the both of you, an Iron Cross as well."

Sauer spoke up, "I'll take the Cross, but a promotion? No Sir, I'm a simple soldier, just want to do my job then go home to my pig farm after the war."

Schwertfeger looked at Sauer, then said, "I want to stick with Sauer, Sir. We make a good team. So yes to the Iron Cross, no thank you to the promotion."

"I could order you to accept." Hassel pointed out.

"Yes Sir, you could, but is that what you really want?" Sauer looked at the battalion commander in a strange way.

Hassel noticed that Schwertfeger had an odd grin on his face. It reminded him of a wolf he'd seen in the Harz Mountains on a hike before the war. It said, I can do whatever I like with you, but I won't.

"Very well, then. Again, damned good job. For now, head back to your platoon."

Both men came to a more correct position of attention, nodded briskly, then stepped out of the bunker.

Hassel shivered, "What have I created?"

Both men scared him just a little, they reminded him of men he had known in the Freikorps back between the wars. Men who cared for nothing but survival, good comrades, but they had to be handled carefully. He had known a few killers in his career. Sauer was one.

He smiled briefly as he realized, with more men like those two, they could actually win this damned war. Which worried him, he hated the National Socialists, so he didn't want them to win, but for Germany he would fight.

"From what I've seen of Communism, I don't want them winning either," he muttered as his aide, Hauptmann Markus Kindl came in.

"Sir?" Kindl had a puzzled look on his face.

"Nothing, Markus, just thinking out loud. Did you see the two men who just left?"

"Yes Sir, Schwertfeger and Sauer, couple of real nasty types there."

"I want the Cross for both of them."

Kindl nodded, "Zu Befehl, Herr Major⁵."

As Kindl left the bunker, he shook his head, "What have those two done to deserve the Eisernes Kreuz? I'll talk to their platoon commander, no, he's new, I'll talk to their Führer des Zugstrupp, Kroemer. He'll know what's what."

¹ Kripo - the Krimanalpolizei, criminal police, responsible for law enforcement.
² Rank in the German military was (and still is) denoted on the soldier's epaulettes, the shoulder straps on their tunics. Lower ranking enlisted would have stripe(s) (one to three inverted chevrons depending on the year) on the left sleeve, but more senior personnel wore their rank on their shoulders.
³ German equivalent of a platoon sergeant, literally the "leader of the platoon section." The platoon commander was called the Zugführer, literally "platoon leader."
⁴ Literally "not true" but the meaning is along the lines of "isn't that true?"
⁵ At your command, Major.

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Three Fingers¹ Over Leningrad

Servicing a Ju 88 in the Russian winter
"Gottverdammt!" Flieger Manfred Auerbach stepped back from servicing the left main gear on the Ju 88. He had taken his glove off to get a better grip on the nut he was trying to thread onto a bolt and his hand had slipped off the wrench and smacked against the cold hard metal of the wheel hub. He was shaking his hand vigorously and wincing in pain.

"Manfred, what did I tell you about that?" Obergefreiter Friedrich Berg barked at the young airman.

"I know, Friedrich, I know, but I had to get the nut started and figured I could put my glove on after that. I just forgot."

Auerbach had his hand stuffed inside his coveralls trying to get it warm. When he pulled it out to put his glove on, the outside of his thumb was badly scraped and bloody.

"Go see the Sani, I'll finish up here, the crew is due any minute now. Remember, the cold makes you clumsy and your hands will be numb, you can injure yourself and not notice it until later."

As Auerbach went to see the Sanitäter, Berg shook his head. The kid was from the Rhineland and wasn't used to this kind of cold. He'd learn. Berg wished they could have replaced the tire in the hangar, which was heated, but they were low on available birds so it was replace the damaged tire while they were loading bombs on the aircraft. A less than ideal situation!

The LKW rolled to a stop, its tires crunching on the packed snow of the aircraft parking area. As hard as they tried to keep the field plowed, there was just so much snow that eventually it just packed down, even with near constant plowing. Which was fine as long as it stayed cold, given a warmer day and the packed snow would turn to ice with the constant vehicle traffic.

But at the moment, with temperatures well below zero, the hard packed snow was as good as pavement. With a good pair of boots that is. If you stepped carefully, you were okay.

"Mein Gott, it's cold today." Gefreiter Alois Holweck grumbled as he jumped up and down, slapping his arms, as he waited to board the aircraft. The rear gunner always went up the ladder last.

Feldwebel Leo Habicht, the navigator and ventral gunner was on the ladder, waiting. He turned and looked down at Holweck. "Patience, Junge, our fearless pilot is waiting for the bombardier to stow his gear."

Oberleutnant Johannes Boden shook his head and grinned, the cockpit of the Ju 88 wasn't very roomy, wearing thick winter clothing and flight gear made it even less so. As the pilot he had slightly more room than the others, but his bombardier, Oberfeldwebel Max Jürgens, was taking an awfully long time to get into position.

"Come on Max, we have a time on target don't you know!"

"Scheiße! Ah, there we go. Damned seatbelt was wedged between the seat and the fuselage. Okay, I'm in!" he announced as he settled into his position.

"About damned time! No disrespect intended Herr Oberfeldwebel, but I was starting to freeze my balls off out there!" Holweck groused as he got into position.

When the ground crew secured the entry hatch, Boden went through the engine start procedure. Fortunately the ground crew had been out early, warming the oil and turning the propellers to get the oil circulating. Soon the engines were purring and their aircraft was taxiing out to join the rest of the Staffel. Their Kette was the last in line.²

Shortly after getting airborne, as the Staffel was forming up, Boden's right wingman radioed in, "Left engine is missing badly, seems to miss a beat every three or four seconds."

"Copy, Elefant Two. Mixture okay?"

"Ja, ah crap, oil pressure is dropping, I have to abort. Sorry Elefant Lead."

"Okay, put her down, we'll see you after the mission."

"Hals- und Beinbruch, Johannes."

Now reduced to only eight aircraft, the Staffel climbed to altitude and headed towards their target, a troop concentration along the Volkhov sector of the front.

"Any escort today, Chef?" Jürgens asked.

"No, Soviet fighter strength is way down in this sector. Earlier raids reported no fighter resistance, though anti-aircraft was a bit heavier than normal. I wonder where Ivan got all the ammunition?" Boden answered.

"Blyat'!" Kazankov swore loudly as he heard the aircraft engine noises. "Everybody to cover!"

The platoon, what was left of it, quickly dove into shell holes, trenches, anything which might protect them from what was coming. The damned Germans seemed to be coming over every day now, sometimes three times a day, hitting the Russians as they tried to mass for an attack to break through to Leningrad.

"Where the hell is the Red Air Force?" Petrenko yelled at the sky.

"Probably chasing Ukrainian women down in Kiev!" Berezhnoy quipped, "Lord knows they're nowhere to be seen around Leningrad!"

"Shut up lads, here comes the storm!"

Boden could see nothing below that looked like a target, damned Russians melted into the ground like burrowing animals. "Drop when the Staffelkapitän does, Max. There's nothing down there that I can see."

"Snow and frozen mud, that's all that's there." Jürgens answered as he pickled his bombs when the lead aircraft did. "We're bombing dirt and ruins, we're not even melting the f**king snow!"

"Ah Mensch, we get paid to do this." Habicht shouted as he plotted a course back to base.

Holweck started to laugh, then stopped, "Enemy Jagdflieger, high at six o'clock!"

"Scheiße, just when I thought we were going to get lucky! Hang on boys!" Boden was ready to maneuver, he knew they weren't going to win a gunfight with a Soviet fighter.

Serzhánt Lidia (Lidka to her friends) Kirillovna Yaroslavskaya had her eye on a German bomber, a Ju 88, she realized. It was trailing slightly behind the rest of its Vic. Perhaps a rookie pilot, perhaps an ailing aircraft. She didn't care.

She rolled in behind and slightly below the twin engine machine. The rear gunner was already firing at her but the rounds went high. She triggered her guns at less than a hundred meters.

"Oh no, Schmundt's going in!" Boden was jinking and accelerating, he was gaining separation on the Soviet birds. Yak 7s from what he could see while trying not to die.

"Aha! Eat that Ivan!" Habicht shouted from his position on the ventral gun.

Jürgens opened fire as the aircraft which Habicht had damaged flashed by underneath, trailing smoke. The white-painted Soviet aircraft attempted a split-S, he didn't have nearly the altitude required.

"He's done for!" Jürgens shouted as the Yak flew straight into the ground.

Unbeknownst to the Luftwaffe flyers, that burning Yak had done more damage to the Soviets than all of the bombs they had just dropped.

Still and all, it wasn't much but it hurt the Russians when they saw their ration truck die when the Yak hit it. It would be another hungry night in the Soviet trenches.

¹ The Ju 88 was powered by Daimler-Benz DB 600 engines, installed in cowlings with circular radiators. The inverted V-12 engines were installed in front of the wing leading edge, not under the wing. Because of the long cowlings the Ju 88 earned the nickname Dreifinger, three fingers. (Source)
² German bombers flew in Ketten of three aircraft rather than in a Schwarm of four, forming a V. The leader took the lead position with his wingmen to his left and right separated by a gap of one wingspan. This formation conferred mutual protection when attacked, avoided the slipstream of adjacent aircraft and permitted a compact bombing pattern.

Monday, August 28, 2023

Roller Coasters

 So...It's been a roller coaster ride over the last couple of months.  Unfortunately, it ain't over yet.  There's been absolutely no progress on settling my sister's estate.  As far as I know, the judge (deliberately lower case as a representation of my respect for the man) hasn't signed the papers to appoint anyone to handle what little "estate" she had.

Our intention is to renovate our mobile home that she lived in for several years.  To do so would mean moving her "things" out. Our attorney says that's probably not a wise idea, until the judge signs the papers.

So,  been twiddling my thumbs on that front for a while.

Speaking thereof...I got some good news this past week at my weekly wound care appointment.  Frequent readers of this blog will remember that I fought "the saw and the saw won".  

Yes, Beans, you may want to close your eyes.

That was in the ER at my second wound cleanup from excessive bleeding.

As of  yesterday morning and Mrs J's daily wound cleanup and bandage change (she's much better at it than I, only partially because I'm right handed and that's the right hand), it looks quite a bit better.

The wound clinic staff also said that it was "unlikely" that I'd picked up an infection in the bone.  They said had I done so, the consequences would be "Bad!"

I elected not to pursue that conversation for any further details.

So...Good News.

Also, some Good News from another major situation in the Family's life.  

Miss B's pulmonologist has removed her requirement for supplemental O2.  She's been off of it completely for a couple of weeks and had been weaning off it for about 6 weeks.  This is the most major impediment and the last one in effect that's preventing her and Mom from rejoining Little J in HK.

Well...that last isn't quite true.  All the paperwork has to be submitted to State, who will ponder it over (and over, and over) and reach a decision...sometime...soon...perhaps....please?

But, prayers up.

On a down note, the introduction of Lisa's 3 dogs to our 3 dogs isn't going well.  For the most part, they're all getting along, but, the puppy (5 months old) is the second largest of the 6.  Suffice it to say the old Fighter Pilot saying of "All Balls, D**k and no Forehead" definitely applies to him.  He's a Great Pyrenees, so is only going to get bigger.  

Oh sure, NOW he's calm, cool and collected


His primary trick is to hang out in the kitchen  and wait til my back is turned before standing on his back legs and chowing down on the food being prepared.  He's quite adept at it.  He can consume a boneless chicken breast in under 5 seconds.  Timing started when I opened the oven door, grabbed the bake potato therein, and turned back around to put it on the plate.  

"Hmmm, coulda swore I had a chicken breast on that plate...."

His Uncle, the largest of the 6, is (to quote Trump) "Yuuuggge!".  His primary attribute is barking.  A lot, especially in the wee hours of the  morning, for an extensive time, and for no apparent reason.

Sleep? We don't need no steenking sleep!

Who me? Bark? Not while I'm sleeping, only when YOU are, juvat!


The third one is the eldest of the three, and a golden retriever.  As long as he has one of his stuffed animals in his mouth, he's good to go. If not, we have a very short window of opportunity to replace it before he suffers an anxiety attack. 

Ahh, yes! My Christmas Elf! All is right in the world!

So...Peace and quiet.  I get that in my workshop (even with my table saw). 

Mrs J and I have high hopes (low expectations) that things will sort themselves out soon.  We'll see.

Peace out y'all!


Sunday, August 27, 2023

The Pig Farmer

Schütze Manfred Sauer was quite sure that he had never in his life been this cold. He was standing in a foot of snow near a small copse of trees in the siege lines around Leningrad. With him was another man, Oberschütze Wilhelm Schulz, from Brunn, a village in Saxony near the border with Thuringia.

Schulz had been with the division since the invasion in June of '41, Sauer thought him a bad soldier. He shirked his responsibilities and looked for any opportunity to stay off the lines. Sauer suspected that the only reason he was at this guard post was to keep on eye on Schulz.

"Manfred, I need to urinate, I'll be right back." Schulz said as he turned to head back into the trees where the dugouts and trenches were.

Sauer shook his head, "Again, Wilhelm? I think you wish to get out of the snow. Be quick, if the Unteroffizier comes I won't make excuses for you."

"Danke, Manfred, you're a pal."

As soon as the man had vanished, Sauer began to pace back and forth, trying desperately to stay warm. At the same time he looked out at no-man's-land. Today was a pretty day, the newly fallen snow covered the corpses and muted the devastation. If it wasn't so damned cold, he would almost be enjoying this.

"Tovarisch Kapitán, come look, one of the fascists has left, there is only one man now."

Kapitán Yuriy Germanovich Popov, carefully crawled forward, his man was hidden in the wreckage of a burned out Soviet tank. They were shielded from the view of the Germans not fifty meters away.

They had come out of the lines surrounding the city, he led a patrol of three men, himself and two privates, Valerian Makarovich Chesnokov and Aleksandr Rodionovich Sharshin. Their unit was slowly starving to death, civilians were already dying from the lack of food, but the Party insisted that the defenders of the city receive rations. They just didn't provide any, so Popov decided they would provide for themselves. The Germans had food, they would steal some.

Popov was from Leningrad, his parents had gone east when the Germans had approached the city. His father was a Party official, so he had travel papers allowing him to do so. Popov wanted to go with them, but his father had said, "Yura, what would it look like if you were to leave your post?"

"But Papa, you're leaving yours!" he had protested.

"A soldier must fight, and if necessary die for the Rodina. A Party member must survive, to ensure the future of the State." Popov was reminded, once again, that his father symbolized everything he hated about the Soviet system.

But he was resolved to do his duty, now that there was no hope of escape. Any hope of surviving was also growing more unlikely. The Germans had an iron ring around the city.

When he got to where Chesnokov was positioned, he whispered, "What do you see, Lera?"

"A single German, Tovarisch Kapitán, he looks very cold." Chesnokov grinned as said that. Chesnokov grew up near Murmansk, he didn't consider this a "proper" winter. The temperature had been above -10 the other day. Where he grew up, that was considered a warm day!

Popov looked through his field glasses, sure enough a single man, pacing back and forth, trying to stay warm. "Do you think you can get close enough to kill him, Sasha?" he asked as he looked over at Sharshin.

"Child's play, Tovarisch Kapitán. The man is more concerned with staying warm than he is watching his surroundings."

"Go then, take him."

Sauer was furious, Schulz had been gone for 30 minutes, probably settled in by the wood stove enjoying himself. He was starting to have trouble keeping his focus on the job at hand, sentry duty could be so wearying.

As he turned he glimpsed something from the corner of his eye. What the ...

The Russian was wearing a white snowsuit, which explains how he managed to get so close without Sauer noticing. But he had given himself away at the last minute with a softly whispered curse as he leapt at Sauer.

Sauer let himself fall back into the fighting position behind him, purposely dropping his rifle as he reached for his bayonet in its scabbard. It surprised the Russian who fell in next to Sauer.

Before the Russian could do a thing, Sauer's bayonet was buried in his chest. Sauer held his hand over the Russian's mouth as he put his full weight behind the blade. The Russian struggled, briefly, then his eyes dilated as he tried to draw one last breath. The man was dead.

Sauer knew that there had to be more, he snatched his rifle up and checked it. Safety on, barrel clear. Slowly he looked around, nothing. All he saw was the gently falling snow. Maybe the man had been alone, driven by desperation into the German lines, no doubt looking for food.

No, there, he saw movement, or thought he did.

Now he saw it, there was a destroyed Russian tank about fifty meters away. He'd never really noticed it before, but it was obvious now. Perhaps the wind had shifted the snow, making its outline clearer now, he didn't know. What's more, he didn't care.

For there, underneath the wreck was another human being. Slowly moving his head as if trying to see better. Sauer drew his rifle into firing position, he took the safety off and lined up the sights on what he thought was a man.

"I don't like this, Lera. Sasha should have signaled by now."

"Ah, Tovarisch Kapitán, I'm betting Sasha is helping himself to something to eat from the dead fascist's bread bag. He's a greedy bastard sometimes."

Popov was under the tank now, watching the position while Chesnokov warmed himself as best he could. Even someone from the far north could get too cold if they kept still for too long.

Chesnokov heard the captain grunt, just a moment before he heard the "crack" of a rifle.

"Tovarisch Kapitán?" Chesnokov said as he pulled on the captain's leg. Nothing.

He pulled harder, which is when he realized that the captain had been shot. He crossed himself, he knew at that point that Sasha wasn't coming back.

He heard a footstep in the snow, he looked up, "Svyataya Mariya, Bogoroditsa¹..." were his last words.

Schulz returned after an hour. There in the fighting position was Sauer and a very dead Russian. Next to the dead Russian were a second Russian rifle and an officer's pistol. Plus two bloody Russian fur caps. Sauer was glowering at Schulz.

"Go get the Unteroffizier." was all Sauer said.

Not long after, Sauer and Schulz were standing in front of their company commander.

"So Schulz, what happened out there?" the Hauptmann said, ignoring Sauer, the junior man.

"Well, Sir, I, well, Sauer tells the story better than I can." Schulz stuttered as he looked at Sauer.


"It all happened very quickly, Herr Hauptmann, the Russian was on us, next thing I knew, Schulz and I had killed two more, watching from a wrecked Panzer near our lines." Sauer had no desire to draw attention to himself, nor did he wish to get Schulz in trouble. He claimed to have an uncle in the Gestapo.

"That's it? Well, good work, boys. Dismissed."

After they left the headquarters, Schulz grabbed Sauer by his lapels. "What was that all about? I wasn't there, you lied to the company commander."

"Did I? Like I said, it all happened so fast. Besides what good would it do to get you in trouble? We're comrades, you've been out here longer than me, I might need you to watch my back someday. You were cold, you went to warm up. I covered for both of us, no big deal."

Schulz released Sauer's lapels, then brushed them off, as if to apologize.

"Perhaps I was hasty, I owe you now, Manfred."

"No, you don't. Just do your job. I want to survive this horror, we're in this together, ja?" Sauer said, he knew that Schulz would let it go, less work for him than to protest. The man was a very lazy soldier.

"Of course, we're in this together." Schulz said, unconvincingly. From what he had seen this day, he did not want Sauer as an enemy.

¹ Holy Mary, Mother of God

Saturday, August 26, 2023

A Brief Side Trip (Non-Fiction Warning) - Odds and Ends

OAFS Photo
On my way to Sandy Eggo last month, I had a layover at Newark. Got some chow, talked to The Missus Herself, then boarded another aircraft for the long haul out to the coast. As we taxied, I spotted the aircraft depicted in that opening photo. Puzzled, I snapped a photo for later analysis.

And promptly forgot all about it.

So, on Friday (after a follow-up visit to one of my eye doctors, more on that in a moment) I was looking over my photos. Why, you ask? Well, the Muse had decided to take Friday night off. So I went in search of photographic inspiration, and there was that jet, all Soviet-looking, dontcha know?

I had done a perfunctory search a couple of weeks ago, but the action in North Africa was flaring up (not for real, in my head, sort of) and I quickly lost interest. Until Friday.

Ya know what? After perusing photos of jet trainers, I fell across this one ...

L-39ZA Albatros
That's gotta be an Albatros in the opening photo, right? If you have a better idea of what it is, let me know in the comments.

In Other News ...

As mentioned above, I visited one of my eye docs on Friday (this one is the glaucoma guy, also does laser stuff) for a follow-up from last Friday's laser procedure. While waiting in the, ahem, waiting room, I was surfing the blogosphere on my trusty smart phone. Beats hauling a book around, I suppose.

Anyhoo, among the many gems (and some duds) I ran across was something by Daddy Hawk over at Preachers and Horse Thieves (I love that title) that really caught my attention.

I've been following him for quite some time, I was happy to see my name mentioned in one of his posts. (It's always nice to be noticed.) He likes my fictional efforts and mentioned trying his hand at same. After all, we bloggers are really writers at heart, the semi-serious (and serious) ones all want, someday, to write a book. (Least-ways I do.)

On Friday he offered, this.

I sat there in the doctor's waiting room enthralled. Great story telling and it filled a need in me, something that's been bothering me as of late (I might get into that later, I might not). This piece of brilliant writing filled that need.

Do read the whole thing, and encourage Daddy Hawk to keep writing, I can't wait to read the final product!

Oh yeah, the eye appointment, how did that go?

Very well, the left eye is healing nicely. Over the past year it's been driving me nuts, vision was cloudy and out of focus, it was like looking through cracked, frosted glass.


The glass is still cracked but it's not frosted anymore. The retina in that eye was badly damaged some time ago. But as the eye got cloudy (which can happen after cataract surgery, weird huh?) the right eye was struggling to keep things in focus. Didn't really get headaches but my eyes would get tired, really tired.

But damn, now I'm almost back to my old self, the right eye is better supported by the left and my vision is much better. Corrected, it was always 20-15, the last few months, I'd put it at around 20-60. The left eye, before the procedure, was 20-400, i.e. really bad. Now it's at 20-60 which really helps the right eye. Doc says it's 20-15 again. Of course, that's what the eye charts say, my vision isn't what it used to be, but it's better than it's been in a long while.

OAFS' word to the wise? Take care of your eyes, there are things that can be fixed and things that can't. The things that can't really mess up one's quality of life. (I still thank the the Good Lord every day that I'm not blind!)

Music and Stuff ...

So there are guys at work who recommend bands to me to listen too. They know I like rock and roll, which is what led me to Plush. From a Plush video on the Tube of You, I chased a link and gave these ladies a listen ...

The Villarreal Vélez sisters from Mexico: Daniela (guitar, lead vocals, piano), Paulina (drums, lead and backing vocals, piano), and Alejandra (bass guitar, piano, backing vocals). (Source)

When they were in the age range 9 to 14, they covered the above song in a more traditional style (i.e. Metallica-style). Well, I was going to post just a link, but I'll post the video instead ... (Just how lazy am I?)

Those ladies rock!

Give them a listen, and head over to Preachers and Horse Thieves, good stuff I tell you.

Let's see if the Muse comes back sober, we've been working her too hard lately I think. And she saw a video of Tuna pouring a Guinness, in Ireland. Maybe that's where she went?

Anyhoo, I'll be back.


Friday, August 25, 2023

On the Volkhov Front - February 1942

Efréĭtor Angelina Denisovna Sergeyeva had yet to be assigned a new spotter, she was getting used to operating on her own, but it was dangerous. One of the spotter's jobs was to keep an eye on the surrounding area. Her old spotter, Marianna Vladimirovna Makarova, had been very good at target selection and evaluation, but she had lost focus, and her life, when she failed to spot a small German patrol nearly right on top of them.

When Sergeyeva had fired, killing an experienced German sniper, their position had been revealed. A German with a submachine gun had killed Makarova and had nearly gotten Sergeyeva as well. A shortage of trained spotters and German pressure on the lines outside Leningrad meant she had to go out alone. At first it had bothered her, now she was used to it. Honestly, she preferred it, she was responsible for herself alone. She still felt a tremendous amount of guilt for Makarova's death.

Her current assignment was to seek out and kill officers. The first attempt to break the siege had been bloody, another attempt was to be made soon, the higher ups decided that to help disrupt the German defenses, they needed to kill the German leaders. After all, Soviet officers getting killed always led to a breakdown in cohesion. It should work on the Germans as well.

So the Soviet generals assumed.

Hauptmann Ferdinand Busch, von Lüttwitz's company commander, was surveying no-man's-land with his field glasses from the platoon command post. Nothing was moving, earlier there had been a wounded enemy soldier crying out in pain about 50 meters from the forward trench. He was no longer moving, he had passed out or, more likely, died of his wounds.

One of the Sanitäter had wanted to go out and bring the man in and treat his wounds. Busch had denied the request. Soviet snipers were active in this area and he would lose no man foolishly.

He turned to von Lüttwitz, "Casualties?"

"Two dead, three badly wounded, and evacuated. Five men with light wounds, treated and returned to duty. I lost Klempner, 3rd Squad's leader. The battalion surgeon said that he might live, he was bayoneted and probably would have died if one of his guys hadn't reacted quickly enough to kill the man who stabbed him."


"Gustav Hengsbach, he's been an indifferent soldier up until now, last night he showed us his true colors. He led the squad in repulsing the break in. I want to put him for the Iron Cross."

"I'll see to it." Busch said. "What happened to 3rd Squad's assistant squad leader?"

"Ah yes, Obergefreiter Egon Böhnisch, nobody saw him in the trench when the attack started. He didn't show up until this morning. Claims he was in the rear looking for rations."


"He was empty handed when he got back, no one at company, battalion, or even regiment saw him back there."


"Maybe, It could be something as simple as going back to take a shit and being caught with his trousers down when the attack started. Maybe he decided he didn't have to hurry back and risk exposing himself."

"Come on, Jürgen, what do you really think?"

"He's been a good soldier up to now, decorated with the Iron Cross in France. I think that there are times when even the bravest soldier decides to lay low when the shooting starts. None of his squad think any less of him, but ..."

"Ja, it's not something they'd tell their officers, is it?" Busch nodded, then continued, "So, do you want him leading 3rd Squad? It's your call, but ..."

"I know Herr Hauptmann, but other than being away from his position with a pretty bad reason, I hesitate to remove him. You know that the Feldgendarmerie will take an interest in such a case."

Busch nodded again, "Yes, men have been shot for less. If you want to give him another chance, that's all right. Is there anyone else in that squad, who you can trust if Böhnisch fails again?"

"Ja, Gefreiter Straube, 3rd Squad's machine gunner. Good man, he'll be the new assistant squad leader anyway."

"Gut, see to it. Anything you need?"

"Other than five replacements? No, we're set. No better or worse than the other platoons."

"All right, I might be able to scrounge some of the rear area people for a couple of bodies, but we're short handed as it is. Be on your toes, like I said, a lot of sniper activity reported in the area and we expect the Ivans to attack again. Soon."

Busch headed down the trench, back to the company CP. Von Lüttwitz now had to keep an eye on Böhnisch. Hopefully it was a one time thing, but he had managed to shirk his duties last night, who knew if he might be tempted to do so again?

Major Kurt Hassel, commanding 2nd Battalion, 344th Infantry Regiment, 223rd Infantry Division, was pinned down. His aide, Hauptmann Friedrich von Schaeffer, was lying nearby, clutching his midsection and moaning.

"Friedrich, try not to move so much, you were shot by a sniper. He's probably still out there."

Von Schaeffer groaned, then said, "I'm hit pretty bad, I think, Herr Major. Maybe I can crawl back to the aid station ..."

As he said that, he did try to roll over and start crawling. Surprisingly, no one shot at the two men.

Sergeyeva had shifted positions, she knew that to linger too long in one place was to invite Death to come calling. She had used that knowledge to eliminate a number of poorly trained German snipers. But those were getting fewer and fewer.

She was looking in the direction of where her first victim had been. She saw movement, an arm briefly appeared over a slight rise in the ground. She steadied her rifle.

She had shot an officer, she was convinced that she had killed him, or at least mortally wounded him. She had not noticed the other man, unbeknownst to her, a man senior to her target. Now she saw that there were indeed two men. So she hadn't killed her first target after all.

She assumed that the other man was a sergeant, or perhaps an even lower ranking man, sent out to shepherd the officer between positions. Then she heard a familiar cry from the German lines ...

"Sanitäter!" von Schaeffer cried out as the pain in his lower belly worsened. It was agonizing and he could see that he was losing a lot of blood.

"Friedrich, don't. The Ivans will often just wound a man, hoping to kill or wound those coming to save him."

"But Sir, ach mein Gott, the pain is overwhelming."

Von Schaeffer tried to sit up as he heard a shout, "Where are you? I'm coming to help you."

He looked towards the opening where he and the Major had come out, there, he could see one of the battalion stretcher bearers.

Hassel roared, "Stay where you are soldier! There's a sniper out there!"

"Is that you Herr Major? Are you hurt?" the man called.

"No, it's Hauptmann von Schaeffer. He'll be fine, "Hassel lied, "stay put. Go back to the command post, have them call for artillery on grid sector red-tiger. Go, now!"

The man stood up to see exactly where the Major and the Captain were.

Sergeyeva squeezed the trigger as the man came into view.

A pink mist enveloped the man's head and he dropped behind the berm like a sack of rocks. A clear kill.

"Time to move, Angelina Denisovna." she muttered to herself.

"Gottverdammt!" Hassel bellowed at the sky. "I told you not to f**king move."

He could see the stretcher bearer's legs from where he was. From the blood on the snow, and the fact that he had seen the man's feet twitch briefly, he had to assume that von Schaeffer's savior was dead.

"Shit, shit, shit." Hassel was pounding the snow in frustration.

To make matters worse, von Schaeffer was no longer moving, he seemed as still as the grave.

If only he could get to a radio.

Sergeyeva was patient, she had changed positions again. But this one wasn't as good, she couldn't see the spot where the two men she had shot were.

The Germans had sent another man to rescue the officer she'd shot first. She had killed that one. What about the third man, the man she assumed was an escort for the officer she had shot? Where was he?

She was preparing to move when she heard a high pitched whistling sound in the air, followed by an explosion not thirty meters from her. The game is up she thought. The fascists were going to blanket the area with artillery. It was time to go home.

When the stretcher bearer had not returned, the battalion had sent out a patrol, along with a radioman, to discover his whereabouts. Also, and more importantly to battalion, the battalion commander should have returned by now.

Oberfeldwebel Hermann Krausse saw the dead stretcher bearer first. He signaled a halt, it was apparent to him that the man had been killed by a sniper. He crawled forward until he was next to the body.

"Scheiße. Hold up boys, we've found Dietrich. He's had his head blown off." Then he heard another voice.

"Krausse, is that you?"

Recognizing the sound of his battalion commander's voice, Krausse answered, "Herr Major, are you hurt?"

"Nein, but I think Hauptmann von Schaeffer is badly hurt, maybe dead. Do you have a radio?"

"Jawohl, Herr Major! Do you want smoke or HE?"

"HE will do. Once the rounds start landing, I'll drag the Hauptmann to your position, klar?"

"Wie Glas¹, Herr Major!"

Within moments artillery began to fall in no-man's-land, screening the German position from observation and also forcing any sniper to move or at least keep his head down.

Krausse and another man, Vogel, were moving as the shells began to detonate. They got to von Schaeffer and took him from the Major, who Krausse shoved towards cover.

"Go, we've got the Hauptmann."

Sergeyeva reported in. "Two kills, one of them an officer. The shelling forced me back. By the time I found another position, the bodies were gone."

"Are you sure?" The Politruk was looking hard at her. She had failed once before, in his eyes.

"Short of bringing back their heads, yes, I'm quite sure, Comrade."

As the Politruk stood and moved towards her, the regimental commander came in.

"That's enough, Miron Vladimirovich. Comrade Sergeyeva is very good at what she does."

Turning to the sniper, the Colonel asked, "Are you quite all right, Angelina Denisovna?"

"Yes, Comrade Polkóvnik². I just need a short rest and I will head back out. The fascists are up to something, I can feel it."

"Go, sleep, get some food. Be at regimental headquarters at midnight, we'll have another mission for you."

"Spasibo, tovarishch polkovnik.³"

Hassel was smoking a cigar, studying a map, when the battalion surgeon came into the ruined machine shop he was using as a headquarters. He looked at the surgeon.

The surgeon shook his head. "Von Schaeffer's wound was bad, there was nothing I could do. We gave him whole blood, but he bled it out almost as fast as we put it in. If I could have operated on him out there ..."

"Moving him here killed him, it's that what you're saying Oberfeldarzt⁴ Weber?" Hassel looked ready to bite someone's head off.

"Nein, Herr Major, a Soviet sniper's bullet killed him. Moving him didn't help, but if he had stayed out there, untreated, he would have died anyway."

Hassel's shoulders slumped, he had been fond of von Schaeffer, an excellent staff officer.

Weber spoke again, softly, "You tried Kurt. But sometimes ..."

"I know, Wilhelm, I know. But ..."

"Scheiß dreck nochmal!⁵" Hassel threw the remains of his cigar down, crushed it with his boot, then stormed out.

Krausse looked at the surgeon, "He'll be alright, Sir. He just needs to stomp around. Hauptmann von Schaeffer was a really good man, very popular in the battalion. He's been with the Major since Poland."

Oberfeldarzt Weber held out his hands to demonstrate how helpless he felt. Then he turned and went out to return to the aid station, there would be more wounded, and soon. He had learned not to obsess about them, that path led to madness.

Yet he saw them from time to time in his dreams.

He tried to forget, but after all, he was human.

¹ As glass, as in "as clear as glass" in answer to the Major's question of klar, as in "is that clear?"
² Colonel - Полковник in Russian.
³ Thank you, Comrade Colonel. (Спасибо, товарищ полковник.)
⁴ Senior Field Surgeon, equivalent to a Major.
⁵ "Dirty shit, again!" i.e. really, really shitty.