Thursday, September 7, 2023

The Tank

"Chto vy zdes' delayete, muzhchiny?¹" Mládshiy serzhánt Petr Semyonovich Shulga thought it odd to see infantry coming from that direction. He had supposed that there was no one left in that section of trench save for a couple of listening posts. This appeared to be an entire platoon.

The man in the lead looked up and said "Privet, tovarishch. Kak vy?²"

Shulga's last thought was, "Something isn't right here."

Sauer opened up on the man sitting atop the T-34, the rounds from his PPSh-41 sweeping the man from the tank. The rest of the squad scrambled out of the trench to go around the vehicle to attack the crew, which they figured had to be on the side opposite to them.

Two screams, a fusillade of rifle shots and it was over.

Jäger came up quickly to assess things, "How many men in a T-34 crew?" He turned to look at Sauer, who clearly didn't know.

Unterfeldwebel Groß spoke up, "Four. Commander, loader, bow machine gunner, and the driver. Looks like we got them all."

Jäger looked in the direction of the fighting. The snow was easing up and visibility was improving. He noticed that his hands were shaking, badly.

He started when Oberfeldwebel Kroemer touched his arm. "We can't stay here, Sir." Jäger turned to look at his platoon sergeant, then he heard something. Tank engines, to their rear.

"More Russian Panzers?"

"Afraid so, Herr Oberleutnant."

Schwertfeger looked at Sauer, "I think we're f**ked. Sounds like more Ivans are on their way to the party."

Sauer nodded, "Yes. By the way, where did you learn to speak Russian?"

Schwertfeger grinned, "I don't, not really. I picked up enough working on the docks unloading Russian ships before the war. The crews on those ships love to trade for things. They don't have shit to offer, other than vodka, but occasionally you'll find a guy with an icon to sell. Sometimes furs."

"Icon?" Sauer asked.

"It's a religious picture." Schwertfeger answered.

"They can be very valuable," Ziegler spoke up. "Some of them are very old."

Groß came running up, "If this university class is over, we need to be moving. More Russian Panzers are moving up."

Kroemer had gone inside the tank, looking for any useful intelligence. He grabbed some papers, not being able to read Russian he wasn't sure if they meant anything, but someone at battalion could figure that out.

As he looked around the turret, an idea struck him. Quickly he scrambled up and out of the vehicle.

"Herr Oberleutnant!" he called to his officer.

"What is it Kroemer? We need to get moving. Those Soviet Panzers will be here in just a few minutes." Jäger was close to panic, but Kroemer didn't notice.

"Why don't we use the Panzer? The gun doesn't look much different from a rifle, well, except that it's single shot. It has a breech, you just push the shell in and point the turret. We could ..."

Feldwebel Hans Brückner, leader of 1st Squad looked at Kroemer for a moment, then spoke, "No disrespect Herr Oberfeldwebel, but do we have anyone who knows how to work the gun, and the turret? Not to mention, there are at least ten Russian Panzers coming this way."

Jäger spoke up, "Let's not be hasty, Brückner, after all we'd have surprise on our side. The Russians wouldn't expect to be fired on by one of their own."

Before he could continue, Sauer and Schwertfeger ran past, they were headed back to their initial entry point into the Russian trench system. As they went past Sauer shouted out, "At least fifteen T-34s and at least a battalion of infantry are coming this way. If you want to die, this is a good place to do it."

Before anyone could respond, Jäger ordered the men to follow Sauer. There was no time to play with the T-34. "Kroemer, give me your grenades."


"Now, damn it!"

Brückner saw what Jäger had in mind, "I'll take care of the T-34, you get the platoon to safety." Jäger hesitated for just an instant, then handed his grenades to Brückner.

"Be quick about it." Then he was gone with the rest of the platoon.

Brückner scrambled up onto the tank, he thought for a moment about going into the turret. He could place the grenades next to the ammunition rack, but he was not suicidal. He quickly unscrewed the caps on all five grenades and let the beads fall free of the handles.³ Taking a deep breath, he pulled hard on the beads, dumped the grenades into the tank, then slid down to the ground.

He hit the ground running, he heard four thumps, very close together, from inside the tank, then a fifth as the grenades all went off. Not quite together, but close enough. As he ran, he heard a voice cry out, "STOY!⁴" Followed by a fusillade of shots, none of which were close.

As he ran down the trench line, he heard footsteps behind him, then a German voice screamed, "Get down!"

He hit the floor of the trench hard, winding himself. He heard the sound of an MG 34 firing, with attendant screams from behind him as the gun hit several of his pursuers. He was desperately trying to regain his breath when he felt hands grabbing his shoulder straps and load bearing gear.

"Jesus, you need to lose some weight, Herr Feldwebel," he recognized Schwertfeger's voice as the big man pulled him upright and began half-carrying, half-dragging him down the trench.

As they passed 3rd Squad's MG team, Schwertfeger yelled at them, "Let's get the f**k out of here!"

Groß had his MG team, Dietrich and Lang, move up to where the Russians had been stopped cold. There were only five bodies, he'd expected more. Maybe one or two got away? But he figured that the Russian officers would be focused on attacking to their front, not with the presence of German stragglers to their right rear.

"Set up here, ah gut, you brought the spare ammo, Ziegler. Sauer, Schwertfeger, move up towards that small copse of trees." He gestured to his right front.

Sauer and Schwertfeger moved off without a word. Ziegler started to follow.

"Stay here, lad. Just two men are needed to take a peek at the Ivans. They'll be back shortly. As indeed they were.

Groß began to ask for their report when Oberleutnant Jäger spoke from behind him, "Report."

Sauer spoke, "The Ivans are getting their asses kicked, I saw at least six burning T-34s. I bet they'll hold their ground as long as it's daylight, then fall back after dark."

"Why not now, Schütze Sauer?"

"They've gone to ground, a Russian with an entrenching tool can dig himself in like a burrowing badger. If they move in daylight, they'll be exposed."

Jäger nodded, "Makes sense."

"So Herr Oberleutnant, do you know how to use one of these?" he asked as he handed Jäger a weapon.

Jäger looked at it for a moment, then looked at Sauer, "PPD-40, where'd you get it?"

"Let's just say that one of the Ivans brought down by Dietrich and Lang doesn't need it anymore. It's a box magazine, I think the guy was an officer. Take these as well, spare magazines." Sauer pulled a bag from his shoulder and handed it to the lieutenant.

"Thanks. I'll ..."

"Keep yourself alive, Herr Oberleutnant, waving that pistol around makes you a target, and it's useless unless Ivan is close enough to dance with, and he won't be carrying a pistol. Unless he's an idiot."

Jäger's face turned beet red, then he looked down at the snow on the bottom of the trench. "I'll try and live up to your expectations, Sauer."

Schwertfeger chuckled, "You'll be fine Sir, Sauer's expectations of everyone are pretty low."

Jäger flushed again, "Does some Berlin nightclub know that their comedians are missing?"

Sauer guffawed, "You're all right, Sir. You're all right. But what do we do now? We're kind of out on a limb here."

Kroemer spoke up, "Dig in, wait for nightfall ourselves, then head back to our own lines?"

Jäger thought for a moment, "For now that sounds good, get the men positioned for all-round defense. If Ivan sends Panzers we're screwed, but I think they're busy trying to break through our lines. Squad leaders to me, Kroemer, get the men set-up."

"Jawohl, Herr Oberleutnant."

As Sauer and Schwertfeger rejoined their squad, Schwertfeger hissed at Sauer, so that no one could overhear, "Jäger's not a complete ass after all."

Sauer shook his head, "We've got a long way to go before sundown. Ask me what I think of him when we get back to our lines."

Schwertfeger grinned and said, "You said 'when,' not 'if.' You're becoming an optimist Manfred."

¹ What are you men doing here? (Что вы здесь делаете, мужчины?)
² Hello, Comrade. How are you? (Привет, товарищ. Как вы?)
³ Watch this video for details on the German stick grenade.
⁴ Russian for "Stop!" (Стой!)


  1. Nice little skirmish the boys had. Quite a signal-honor from Sauer to Jager ( though still reserving judgement).
    Good tight action Sarge, with some character development to boot! Good stuff
    Boat Guy

    1. There will be more about Sauer as the days go by, he's the only one in this story that I know survives the war. (Still thinking about following him after the war as well.)

    2. If the Muse is okay with it, please do follow Sauer after the war.

    3. Post war Germany was a pretty grim place.


    4. My father was stationed in Berlin from 1946 to 1949. I've seen the pictures, heard the stories, grim indeed.

  2. If there's time always good to relieve the bodies of what they no longer need, Jäger having a sub machine gun is better than him having a pistol.

    1. That was Sauer's thought process, for sure.

    2. One of the first rules of Role Playing Games is 'Loot the Bodies.' At that time in the war, looting was practiced by both sides, for food, ammo, weapons, clothing (socks, scarves, fur-lined booties...) and any other useful and quite a bit of non-useful things.

    3. Checking the dead is also useful for getting intel on the opposing forces.

  3. Do onto others, then split. Good tank elimination. Getting through your own lines with stressed newbies on the German line is always "interesting".

  4. While I admire the initiative of "Use the tank", probably indeed a bad idea.

    Tight and well written Sarge. I am even more eagerly looking forward to the daily installment.

    1. Operating a tank is not simple. Though a tanker could probably climb in and figure out where everything is (most tanks being somewhat similar in their operation and design), to plunk an infantryman in there, with enemy armor approaching, strains credibility.

      I know how tanks work, but I had to search to confirm that the T-34 had a pedal to fire the main gun and the coaxial machine gun. Though a common thing, wasn't sure if all tanks have that. An infantryman may not know that at all.

    2. Foot pedals? Depends. On a lot of light tanks, including some Soviet models, there were triggers on the weapons. Hell, on some light tanks the turrets rotated and the guns aimed by sheer strength of the gunner (especially light Japanese tanks.)

      Blowing it up was a much better idea.

    3. MBTs usually have a floor pedal, leaves the gunner's hands free to aim and do other important gunner-type-stuff. As far as light tanks go, all sorts of oddities there. A Japanese TC was a very busy guy, moving the gun/turret with his body alone, not to mention having to load/aim/fire the weapon.

    4. Japanese light tank design was based on an evolution of the Renault F-17. Which was still used by many minor combatants and France and Germany (after they captured a bunch... from the French) in WWII.

    5. My grandfather was actually a driver in the early Tank Corps. Yup, Renault FT-17.

  5. Aah my almost daily dose. Another excellent installment, Sarge. My only complaint is that I have to wait until around 12:00 noon as I’m on CET. Oh well.

  6. Sooo.... Was the local Flak36 having a feast and that's why 6 Soviet panzers were burning? You never told us what killed them.

    1. We may never know, not really germane to the main story. The Germans did have other anti-tank guns which were effective at short range against the T-34. Of course, to an Allied soldier, every anti-tank gun is an 88.

    2. It may not be germane, but it's like the old joke about a group of guys talking to someone who had a self-defense shooting. "So... what'd you use? What ammo? How was the recoil?"

  7. Thanks, Sarge, for the German translation of juvat.

  8. Brückner seems to think Jäger is worth saving and teaching, and Jäger is smart enough to learn from the enlisted. He may turn into a decent leader in the field.

    I like how you handle character development

    1. Thanks, Joe. I like knowing my characters, it helps drive how they'll react in certain situations. It helps drive the story.


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