Thursday, May 6, 2021

The Last Offensive, Day Two

Near Březová, Karlovy Vary Region, Czechoslovakia
(Source)

"Do you see it?" S/Sgt Jack Wilson asked as he adjusted his field glasses to try and get a better look. But it sure looked to him like an anti-tank gun, a German anti-tank gun.

"Yup, right where the field curves back into the trees then back out again. Damn, that might be an 88!" 1st Lt. Nate Paddock responded.

Wilson studied the gun for a few more seconds, then said, "Yup, Pak 43 from the size of the gun. Damn." Wilson nodded to Cpl. John Myerson who got on the radio back to the tankers. No point in bringing them up with that big gun covering the road.

"Call it in John." Paddock said as he continued to watch the German gun.

Moments later, rounds from the company's mortar section began to land in the vicinity of the German position. Myerson had them dialed in pretty quickly and 2nd Platoon's command team was rewarded with secondary explosions from the area of the gun as a mortar round found the enemy's ammunition supply.

"Cease fire, target destroyed." Myerson radioed the mortar section leader, Sgt. Marshall Vega.

"Well look at that would ya..." Wilson muttered as a number of Germans came out of the trees, hands in the air.


After the prisoners had been escorted to the rear, the platoon had to move off the road as tanks and trucks from 9th Armored were advancing through. Cpt. Stephen Hernandez had come up to the forward position and was explaining to his platoon leaders that the 1st had been ordered to hold their current position until the 9th Armored Division had passed through, then the Big Red One would continue their advance towards Karlovy Vary.

"So did those Krauts put up any kind of resistance?" Hernandez asked Paddock, gesturing at the Germans marching down the road to the rear.

"We didn't give them the chance Cap'n. Once we spotted the AT gun we called for the mortars to work them over. That's all it took. After the ammo for the gun cooked off, they couldn't quit fast enough."

"Maybe the bastards are starting to see the light." 3rd Platoon's commander 2nd Lt. Bob Poole had growled.


Little Emma Patzel was watching her grandparents, Emil and Petra, as the two adults packed the family's belongings into two suitcases. Emma's mother had gone to the bakery to see if there was anything available. Provisions had been hard to come by lately.

"Oma, Opa¹ why are you packing? Are we going on a trip? Can we visit Prag² again?" Emma was seven years old and had been living with her grandparents since her father had gone into the Army. She dreamt of her papa coming home again some day. She didn't know that he had been captured at Stalingrad. No one knew if he was alive or dead.

"No little one, we're not going to Prag, we have to go to Germany now. It will be like a vacation. So go get your things, we'll leave when Mama comes home." Petra Patzel told her granddaughter.

She and Emil had argued into the night over leaving, Emil was worried that once the Nazis were defeated, the Czechs would drive them all out, if not murder them outright. He had also heard that the Russians were coming. The Americans were here now, but he wasn't exactly convinced that the Amis would stay. If the Russians came, they would stay. It's what Communists did.

Emil Patzel felt it was best to leave now, before they were forced to leave.


Pvt. Albert Samson had just returned to the CP after taking the mail over to 1st Platoon. He was sitting having a smoke when 1st Sgt. Mort Saeger came in.

"So Top, what's the deal with the Czechs around here? All the other places we've liberated the people were real happy to see us, these guys act like it's the end of the world!" Samson was confused, he had said "hello" to a pretty girl at the bakery and she had muttered something rude in German as she had hastily brushed past him.

Saeger paused for a moment, though he was busy, he needed to let the men know that this part of Czechoslovakia was more German than Czech. "Well Pvt. Samson, most of the people around here are German. Germany took over this area from Czechoslovakia in 1938 when the British gave it to Hitler."

"Churchill gave it to Hitler?" Samson exclaimed.

"No, no, no. Churchill wasn't the Prime Minister at the time, that was a guy named Chamberlain." Saeger explained.

"But why would he give part of one country to another country?" Samson was still confused.

"It's a long story, but people in this area have spoken German for a long time, they consider themselves Germans. So that was Hitler's argument, if they're mostly German, they should be part of Germany. Get it?"

"Yeah okay Top, it kinda makes sense."

"Well, the American southwest, you're from Arizona right, has a lot of Mexican folks. Do we let Mexico have those parts?"

Samson looked confused for a moment, then he said, "Okay, I see your point, kind of. It's pretty confusing isn't it?"

"Yeah Private, it is. European politics has always been complicated. But remember, we're still in enemy country here. So be careful, make sure your buddies know that too. Cap'n is gonna brief us later, so you're the first to know."

"Other than you Top." Samson pointed out.

"Private, I'm a First Sergeant, we're supposed to know everything before anyone else."

"Even the Captain?"

"Sometimes even the Cap'n." Saeger said with a grin.


The 6th of May 1945

Patton’s infantry divisions made considerable progress in their attacks on 5 May.  Now it was the turn of his armored divisions.   CCA of the 9th Armored Division was ordered to pass through the forward positions of the 1st Infantry Division and attack eastward to Karlovy Vary.   In V Corps’s center, the 16th Armored Division was to pass through the 2nd and 97th Infantry Division and liberate the city of Plzen.  Further south, the 4th Armored Division was to pass through the 90th and 5th Infantry Division and attack to the north-east towards Prague.  The infantry divisions would then follow to consolidate the gains and mop up any bypassed resistance.

Early on the morning of 6 May, CCA 9th Armored Division passed through the forward positions of the 1st Infantry Division and attacked east.  At several locations, the German forces put up resistance with anti-tank guns and infantry.  CCA’s Task Force Engeman routed these forces, but suffered the loss of two light tanks and several casualties; including a tank driver who was killed.

German resistance to the 1st Infantry Division’s advances was sporadic.  In many places, the Germans put up strong resistance.  The 1st Infantry Division lost several of its soldiers killed, including 2ndLt Elton Barker of the 16th Infantry Regiment.  East of Drenice, stubborn German defenders held up the advance until being cleared out by tanks and tank destroyers.  The attack of the 16th Infantry Regiment was preceded by a preparatory bombardment by the 7th Field Artillery Battalion.  As the 16th Infantry attacked eastward, the 7th Field Artillery displaced forward twice to better support the infantry.  The battalion expended a total of 81 rounds against German positions.  Near the village of Schongrub, German soldiers attempted to oppose the advance of the 26th Infantry Regiment.  Supported by tanks, elements of the regiment overcame the resistance, killing two, wounding two more and capturing twelve Germans.   In other areas, German resistance was negligible or non-existent.  The entire 655th Engineer Brigade with 1,500 men surrendered to the division.  At the town of Kynzvart, five hundred Germans were captured.

Attached to support the Big Red One’s three infantry regiments, many of the 634th Tank Destroyer Battalion and 745th Tank Battalion’s scattered platoons fought firefights against German soldiers still intent on resisting.  1st Platoon, A Company, 745th Tank Battalion and a team from the 16th Infantry Regiment ran into determined German resistance in the village of Klinghart.  A civilian hit one of the U.S. tanks with a Panzerfaust.  Despite the heavy small arms fire, Klinghart was ultimately secured.

Throughout the day, Czech civilians greeted the American soldiers joyously.  In the city of Plzen, thousands of civilians turned out to celebrate their liberation from the Germans by the 16th Armored Division, even in the midst of periodic fighting from diehard German resistance.   For many veteran American soldiers, the experiences were reminiscent of those in France the preceding summer.  Fighting as they were in the Sudetenland border region, the 1st Infantry Division did not enjoy such scenes of exuberant Czechs welcoming their liberators.  Instead, they dealt with German soldiers and sullen Sudeten Germans.


¹ Grandma, Grandpa.
² The German name for Prague.

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Wednesday, May 5, 2021

The Last Offensive, Day One

US Army Signal Corps Photo

"Good to see you again Brad!" Cpt. Stephen Hernandez said as he reached up to shake 2nd Lt. Brad Woodstock's hand. Woodstock was sitting in the turret of his new tank, in fact his entire platoon had been re-equipped with the 76mm gunned M4A3 (76) W HVSS version of the venerable Sherman. (Also known as the M4A3E8, or Easy Eight.)

"Great to see you too Sir!"

"Hey, it's Stephen okay? Not Sir. I see your entire platoon got new rides! No Pershings?"

"Ain't enough to go around I guess, these Easy Eights are pretty nice. I wish we'd had them earlier in the war, some of my buddies might still be around."

"So you went with a new name for the tank?"

"Yeah, I loved the name Catamount, but Big Cat fits this one better. Only Doug Harrell kept the old tank's name, he went with Misfit III. He's not real imaginative I guess."

Hernandez checked his watch, "We're moving out in 30 minutes. We're on foot so I'll have two platoons right behind you. It's 1st Platoon's turn to be on point, Nathaniel ain't happy about it, but it's his turn."

"Sounds like a plan, we're ready to roll." Woodstock threw a salute at Hernandez and said, "See you on the other side!"

(Source)

Sgt. Hugo Westfield in his tank "Bad Boys" was leading the platoon on the left flank of the echelon right formation. When he saw Gonzales' infantry go to ground, he knew something was up. When the phone on the back of the tank buzzed, he picked up.

"Yeah, what's up? I can't see..."

At that moment the turret rang like a church bell as an anti-tank round from a German scout car glanced off the side.

"Jesus Sarge, that was no 50mm!" gunner Cpl. Bert Meyers yelled out. Then pressing his face back to the sight, he yelled again, "I got him!" He then stomped on the cannon's floor trigger and screamed,  "On the way!"

The 76mm cannon barked and some 600 yards away a German SdKfz 234/4 blew apart.

At the rear of the tank, 1st Platoon's platoon sergeant, S/Sgt Jeff Kilcannon, yelled into the phone, "Okay, you got one! There's another one about 50 yards to the left!"

Before "Bad Boys" could engage again, Sgt. Brad Winkler's "Big Boozer" had destroyed the second armored car, this one a SdKfz 234/3 with the short barreled 75mm cannon.

While the tanks were destroying the light armor opposing Charlie Company's advance, 1st Lt. Gonzales was calling in artillery. Within moments, American artillery rounds came whistling overhead and began impacting in the small woodlot where an ad hoc company of NCO training school instructors and students had dug in.

Very few prisoners were taken.

Hernandez had told his men, "Take no chances, if it's armed, kill it. If it's running away, kill it. The only ones I'll spare are those with their hands in the air the moment we show up. If they wanna shoot first, then try to quit, cut 'em down. We're all going home boys, take no chances."

Charlie Company reaped a grim harvest that day.

The Third Reich has three days to live...


The 5th of May 1945

Third U.S. Army’s commander General George S. Patton Jr. had been clamoring for permission to drive eastward with the intention of liberating western Czechoslovakia from Nazi control.   In the early evening of 4 May 1945, he finally got the approval from Supreme Allied Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower for an advance to the line running Karlovy Vary – Plzen – Ceske Budejovice.  He was also to be prepared to advance further east upon orders from Eisenhower.   To bolster his offensive, V Corps of First U.S. Army was transferred to Third Army that same day.  Third Army now had four corps totaling over 540,000 soldiers with which to advance simultaneously east into western Czechoslovakia and south-east into Austria.

On the morning of 5 May, Patton’s XII Corps and V Corps attacked eastward with their infantry divisions to open up routes for the armored divisions to follow.    Combat Command A (CCA) of the 9th Armored Division was attached to the 1st Infantry Division for a drive east from the vicinity of Cheb with Karlovy Vary being the objective.  The remainder of the 9th Armored Division was kept in reserve.  The 1st Infantry Division advanced up to 14 kilometers on a front 48 kilometers wide and experienced some of the heaviest fighting of the liberation in the mountainous areas around Cheb.  1st and 2nd Battalions of the 18th Infantry Regiment were able to reach their objectives but 3rd Battalion encountered more determined resistance which delayed them from attaining their objectives until the early hours of 6 May.  Numerous well defended road blocks were encountered and overcome.  B Company, 745th Tank Battalion and soldiers of the 18th Infantry struck and overcame a determined group of Germans who were entrenched on the high ground north of Drenice.  Nevertheless, casualties for the regiment that day were surprisingly light:  1 officer and 23 enlisted men wounded.  The 7th Field Artillery Battalion fired just one mission that day, expending 23 rounds on a group of enemy soldiers late in the afternoon.  Since German artillery fire was negligible, the 17th Field Artillery Observation Battalion was used for rear area security and to transport captured Germans to prisoner of war enclosures.

That day, 3rd Platoon, B Company, 634th Tank Destroyer Battalion and 3rd Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment ran into strong German resistance.   At a range between fifty and one hundred yards, the platoon’s M10 tank destroyers fired off all of their 3-inch high explosive ammunition plus a large quantity of fifty-caliber machine gun ammunition.  Four machine gun positions had to be physically run over by the U.S. tank destroyers to subdue them.  One of the U.S. M-10s was hit by a German Panzerfaust anti-tank rocket and set on fire.  The vehicle’s crew quickly extinguished the fire and the M-10 suffered only minor damage. When it was over, the platoon destroyed 12 machine guns, killed fifty of the enemy and wounded numerous others. (Source)


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Tuesday, May 4, 2021

One More Push

East of Aš, Karlovy Vary Region¹, Czechoslovakia
(Source)

Cpt. Jack Walker reported in to 26th Infantry Regiment's forward headquarters shortly before sunrise. He had been ordered to report in for two reasons: 1) the division had recently been transferred to V Corps and now that corps was being re-assigned to George Patton's Third Army for an offensive deeper into Czechoslovakia and 2), the big reason, he was to take command of 1st Battalion.

Walker had been shocked and saddened to hear of the death in battle of 1st Battalion's former  commander, Major Alphonse Josephson. But in the sad tradition of armies throughout history, one man's death meant another man's promotion. Walker looked forward to the challenge of battalion command, he felt he was ready.

But to take over just after being assigned to a new command and on the eve of an offensive might be more of a challenge than a man might wish for, but that's the way the cards hit the table, he had to play the hand or kiss his career goodbye. One didn't turn down the chance for higher command in the Army, not if one wanted to stay for thirty years. Which he did.

"Hey Jack, come on in!" The regimental commander was in the outer office of the headquarters, it was still early for the staff types, pouring a cup of coffee, "Grab yourself a cup and let's sit down for a bit. As I recall, you were an early riser at the Point, not much has changed has it?"

Walker chuckled and said, "When you grow up on a dairy farm, you get used to getting up well before the sun does, in all sorts of weather."

"I can imagine. Okay, down to brass tacks, we're going from covering Third Army's left flank, to being Third Army's left flank. General Patton wants to push as far into Czechoslovakia as he can, liberate as much of the country before the goddamned Communists show up. We'll probably have to give it back when the Krauts finally throw in the towel, but what the General wants, the General gets." The colonel took a sip of his coffee, then set it down and rummaged through a pile of papers his exec had left him. Finding what he was looking for, he tossed it across the desk to Walker.

"There ya go Jack, those are your orders, so it's official, you are now in command of my 1st Battalion. You're replacing a damned good man, but I'm sure you know that. Be aggressive, but be careful as well." As Walker started to speak, the colonel held up one hand, "I know, I know, that's a pretty tall order. At any sign of resistance, flatten it. Artillery, air, whatever you have to hand. I'm attaching a tank company and a tank destroyer company to your battalion for the next few days. If anyone wants to fight you, kill 'em. Let's go home alive, more importantly, let's get our boys home alive. There's a jeep waiting out front, good luck and good hunting."

Walker snapped a salute and pivoted. He had his work cut out for him.


Walker stepped outside, sure enough there was a jeep with three men in it, waiting for him. The driver, a corporal, gestured to the man in the front passenger's seat and said, "S'okay we give this guy a lift back to battalion? He's with Charlie Company."

"I guess so, what are you doing here at regiment Corporal?"

"My CO sent me back to relax for a few days, I used to be Major Josephson's radioman when he had C Company."

"Were you there when he was hit?"

"No Sir, it was still a bit of a shock."

"Well, I guess you're better now, huh? Move to the back, I like sitting up front."

Cpl. Jacob Winters moved to the back seat of the jeep. He got the impression that this new battalion commander didn't think much of him. Oh well, in a few months he'd be out of the Army, he really didn't give a shit what this captain thought.


"So that's the plan, well the rough outlines anyway. We're heading east and we're killing Krauts along the way. Patton wants Karlovy Vary, so we're gonna give it to him." Looking around at the gathered company commanders he said, "Willis, your company will be in reserve, give you a day or two to get used to being in command. Hernandez, your guys will be up front with tanks from the 745th, a platoon under a 2nd Lt. Woodstock. I believe you've worked with them before."

"Yes Sir, we have." Hernandez had reservations about this whole attack. The Germans were finished, why chase after trouble? This guy Walker didn't impress him much, of course his old company got to hang back while Charlie and Baker Companies led the way. But it was good to know that their buddies in C Company of the 745th Tank Battalion would be alongside them.

"All right, any questions? We're moving out at daybreak tomorrow. Get your ammo re-stocked, get your men fed, full brief at 0430 tomorrow morning. Dismissed."


Hernandez was walking back to Charlie Company's bivouac with 1st Lt. Nate Paddock, as they walked Hernandez turned to Paddock, "So, what's your impression of Captain Walker, know anything about him?"

"Well, he's West Point, Class of '42. Spent a lot of time in staff positions, I'm surprised he's only a captain. Joined the battalion just before we went into the Harz. Had a good record there, saw some action, his men did well. Do you know Curt Billings over in Able Company?"

"I think so, skinny kid, platoon leader right?"

"Yup, a classmate of mine. He says the men respect Walker, but they don't particularly like him."

"Really?"

"Yeah, he's kind of abrupt with the enlisted guys. The sergeants over in Able say he looks down his nose at them."

"Well, I've seen that before, been on the enlisted end of that, I can tell you. Maybe it's a class thing, a lot of ring knockers, sorry Nate, that's what we call you guys, seem to think that if you're not an officer, you're not really worthy of note. It's worse if, like me, an officer is a mustang."

"I know what everyone calls us Stephen. Doesn't bother me, I know the type. But it's a big war and a big army, if we tried to man it with West Pointers only, it wouldn't work. It's a citizens' army, most of the guys just want to get the war over so they can go home. Can't say I blame them."

"And here I am wanting to stay in the Army..." Hernandez muttered.

"And I'm thinking of getting out."

"Seriously?"

"Yup, get married, have kids, and not look back. I've been too close to death, myself and others, I've had enough."

"I get that Nate, I really do. But after what happened to Beth..."

"Another one will come along, but I understand."

Hernandez stopped and said, "Enough about that, platoon leaders brief after supper, all right?"

"See you then, I'll spread the word."


Just when C Company thought, hoped, that it was over.

Less than a week remains in the fight against Nazi Germany. For some it will be an eternity.



¹ Asch, in German. The region itself is Karlsbad in German.

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Monday, May 3, 2021

Hoist by his own Petard

"What goes around... Comes around." or as the Chant's very own Shakespearean actor would say "Hoist by his own petard".  

"Shakespearean Actor"...who's that, juvat?

Here's a hint, Sarge.
Source
Who among us is likely to have dressed like that a time or two (hundred) back in the day, and is also likely to know how to employ a "petard"?

So, there I was....*  Under the influence of Borepatch and his daily "Dad" Jokes, texting those jokes, and others found in a reference document I purchased recently, to Mrs J and MBD to lighten their day.  Additionally, I had texted several cartoons I had shamelessly stolen from Barbacat's seriously humorous and lengthy post last Friday. I must have gone overboard as a few minutes ago, I heard a stern voice summon me to the kitchen.  As I hastened to report, I searched my memory for what I may have done wrong, Nothing popped to my mind, which in this particular court is not a valid defense. 

I round the corner and find her standing in front of the refrigerator looking at our calendar.  Now, that calendar has become a critical repository of information, even more so than our cell phones.  With a quick glance we can determine when there is something scheduled or when there is available time to schedule something.  It can even be used to tell which day of the week it is, imagine that!

So, as you are now no doubt aware, an error on this crucial document is, indeed, cause for summary execution.

Me: "Yes, Dear?"

She: "I'm worried about this calendar!"

Me: "Oh????" With just a hint of trepidation in my voice.

She: "Its days are numbered!"

Yes, Beans, it took me a couple of seconds, also. 

Gotta love her!

*Standard Juvat Caveat (Check the Acronym Page for further clarification)

Sunday, May 2, 2021

The Final Days, Part One

The ruins of the Reichs Chancellery
(Source)

Cpt. Stephen Hernandez sat at the small table in the room he was using as an office. The message he'd received from regiment was crumpled in his hand. Radio reception in the hills and valleys of this area of Czechoslovakia had been bad over the past few days and a courier had brought the piece of paper.

He stood up, sighed, and walked over to the map pinned to the wall. It marked the latest known positions of American and Russian units. There were no German units marked on the map, a question mark or two where there might still be organized German resistance, but it looked as if the war was winding down, finally.

Which made the death of Major Josephson all the harder to stomach. He had been returning from a meeting at regiment, the problem they were having with their radios had made that face-to-face meeting necessary in the first place. His jeep was being escorted by two armored cars and it was only sheer bad luck which had led them to take the wrong fork in the road.

A mine had knocked out one armored car, a well-armed German armored car, also lost, had killed the second armored car and it's crew. The survivors had spent the night hunkered down, waiting for daybreak, they had two wounded men and the Major had refused to abandon them.

Near morning a rescue party led by C Company's XO, 2nd Lt. Mitch Hornsby had arrived. The survivors were nearly home free when some insane German diehard had come down the street firing his weapon and yelling something about Hitler. Major Josephson had the misfortune to be hit by a burst of fire from the German's initial, unaimed fusillade. Major Josephson had lingered for a short while, then he had died. Hernandez wondered if things might have been different had he been there.

Hitler was dead, according to the message he held in his hand. The remaining Germans were surrendering in droves now. Columns of refugees, military and civilian, were clogging the roads from the east. It seemed as if all of eastern Europe was trying to get to the American and British lines. Seemed that no one trusted the tender mercies of the Soviets.

The war was nearly over, but the Major hadn't made it. Close, but in the end he died like so many other soldiers.

Hernandez' radioman, Cpl. Jacob Winters, was a wreck. He'd been Josephson's radioman when he had commanded Charlie Company. Hernandez realized that Winters was probably finished as a soldier. The man was broken, Hernandez had sent him to the rear to get him away from the front for a few days. He had seen too much, the Major's death was the last straw. With any luck the war would end before he came back.

One could only hope.


2nd Lt. Mitch Hornsby was walking back to the CP, he had escorted Winters back to the battalion aid station. The medics had dropped him off after assuring him that they'd take care of Winters. Everyone in the battalion was pretty torn up over Josephson's death.

But looking at things realistically, the Major had no family, his wife and young son had been killed in a car crash back in July of '44. Maybe that's why he had smiled just before he died. Hornsby had been impressed by the man and was sad that he was gone, especially with the end of the war so near. He wondered who would take command of the battalion. Would they bring in an outsider or would the senior company commander, Cpt. Jack Walker get the nod?


1st Lt. Nathan Paddock's 2nd Platoon was wearily making their way up the hill to Charlie Company's position. He had taken the entire platoon out on patrol. The men were getting sloppy being in defensive positions all the time, he wanted to exercise them and to check for German activity in the area. There had been no sign of the Germans in the valley nor on the next ridge.

A couple of abandoned positions had been found, hastily evacuated. Paddock wondered where the Germans had gone. Talking with some of the locals had revealed little, many of them were ethnic Germans and had no love for the American army or their Czech neighbors.

One older man, who spoke a little English, had told them that everyone, German and Czech, were nervous about the oncoming Red Army. Rumors were rampant, refugees spoke of drunken Russian soldiers raping and pillaging. Not the front line troops, but those in the second line who weren't focused on fighting Germans, they were out for revenge.

From a hilltop not two miles from C Company's position, Paddock had observed a refugee column on a road in the distance. He had seen no military equipment, just farm carts, bicycles, and the like. While there may have been German soldiers within the crowds, many appeared to be civilians.

While he had been observing, the column had actually been attacked by aircraft. Paddock couldn't tell the aircraft types from a distance, but he didn't think they were American. The world had gone insane in the '30s, now it appeared that things would get worse before they got better.

But now they were approaching their own lines. As the men filed off to get something to eat, he was met by the commander of 3rd Platoon, 2nd Lt. Bob Poole. He looked deadly serious.

"What's up Bob?" Paddock asked as he slung his M1.

"The Major was killed in action last night."

"What?"

Poole explained the situation, Paddock couldn't quite grasp it. The war was nearly over, and now this. Initially he had been somewhat scared of the man, but as he matured as an officer, he began to see that Major Josephson was a superb leader of men, brusque at times, but fair. Paddock would miss the man.


Unterfeldwebel Horst Bergschneider trudged along with the collar of his greatcoat pulled up, his cap pulled down low, and his head bent forward as if he'd been doing this forever. The long column he was a part of was mostly military but with a large number of civilians mixed in as well.

"If you had fought harder, we wouldn't have to flee our homes!" one particularly strident woman had kept reminding him and his fellow soldiers, at least once a kilometer. Her voice had been silenced a short while ago.

It had been another passing Soviet aircraft, probably returning from a mission as they never dropped any bombs, which had come down the line of the road, its guns blazing. The poor woman had been hit in the chest and had been flung to the side of the road. She had died without a whimper.

A Luftwaffe man, from his insignia he was an anti-aircraft artilleryman, had looked at her corpse and had noted in passing, "If you had stayed home, you wouldn't be dead in a ditch now, would you?"

In the first hours of their trek out of the Reichs Protectorate of Bohemia-Moravia, the initial Soviet air attacks had caused mass panic. People had tried to escape into the fields alongside the road, but there was no place to hide.

After each attack, the column moved on, like some great beast tormented beyond caring anymore, shedding the wounded and the dead with equal indifference.

Now when the aircraft bearing the red star of Soviet Communism appeared, the people just kept moving, hoping the odds were in their favor. Usually they were.

At first the officers had tried to maintain order and discipline among the military units, but as more and more civilians joined the column, discipline eroded. One particularly forceful colonel had not been around one morning, rumor had it that his own men had killed him in the night.

The war was ending, no one wanted to be the last to die.

So the column containing the pathetic remnants of Hitler's quest for Lebensraum moved on, to an uncertain future and an unknown fate. But anything was better than facing the wrath of the Soviets.

(Source)



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Saturday, May 1, 2021

The Last Fight, Death Has No Favorites

(Source - Pg 419)

Maj. Alphonse Josephson knelt down next to Cpl. Harry Somers, "How are you doing Harry?"

"It hurts a bit Sir, not too bad, but I won't be running any races in the near future." Somers answered with a grin. "Hey Sir, what happened to the crew of the lead armored car?"

Josephson sat back on his heels, "Damn, in all the excitement, I forgot about them. Bill, do you know?"

"Nobody got out of that." Wilkinson gestured towards the M8 Greyhound which had rolled off the road after being hit. The vehicle was still burning fitfully. "I think maybe a couple of guys got out of the lead car, they might have ducked into the next building up. I don't know for sure."

Josephson thought about it for a few minutes. If there were guys still alive from the first car, he had to find out. He made a decision.

"Bill, keep an eye on things." Then he ducked into the shadows at the front of the shop.

"Major, where the Hell are you going?" He watched to see if the Germans would react.

Nothing.


Cpl. Ted Llewelyn winced as he bumped his arm against the table he had upended and taken cover behind. He'd managed to burn his arm in the flames from his armored car's engine after jumping from the vehicle after it had backed over a mine. He had seen Pvt. Ernie Bishop, his driver, scream as he had tried to get out of the vehicle, a German machine gun up the street had chopped him down.

Pvt. Will Ricci, the radio operator, had also been hit but had made it into the building with Llewelyn, and Pfc. Earl Mancini, the gunner. They'd bandaged Ricci up as best as the could, but the kid was in and out of consciousness. He'd been hit in the upper chest and it didn't look good.

"Whaddaya think Earl, do we make a run for it?" he asked his gunner.

"We'd have to leave Will, I ain't doin' that Ted." Mancini shook his head, he wasn't leaving his buddy Will behind. "He's a paisan Ted, we're from the same neighborhood in Brooklyn."

Before Mancini could continue, the door to the inn slammed open and a voice hissed, "Hold your fire, it's me, Josephson."

"F**k Major, I coulda shot ya!" In truth Llewelyn had nearly pissed himself when Josephson had charged in.

"Glad you didn't." He looked around, in the dim light from the burning vehicles outside. He saw the wounded man, "Is he okay?"

"Not really Sir. He's hit pretty bad." Llewelyn answered. Then, "Are you by yourself Sir?"

"No, my radioman and my driver are next door, just down the street. Driver's hit, but he should be okay."

"The Krauts didn't shoot at you when you went outside?" Llewelyn asked.

"No, not sure why, maybe they can't see this side of the street so well." Josephson had to figure out what to do next, two wounded men and no transport. On the other hand, battalion would have realized he was overdue, maybe a rescue mission was already on the way.

Stay put, or get out. That was the question.


Down the street the Germans weren't sure what to do either. Especially after one of their number had found a radio in the house where they were set up. He had gotten it working after a fashion. As Gerd Weber had played with the box, it was an expensive one, it matched the rest of the building, he realized that someone important lived in this place. Someone with the money to afford such a nice radio.

The signal cut out, then came back, he moved the dial just a bit, and the signal held. He heard funereal music, then the somber voice of the announcer, a German announcer. As the signal started to fade again, he heard one thing, "Der Führer ist tot.¹"

He tried to regain the signal, no luck, lots of hissing and static, then it failed completely.

Weber sat there for a moment, Hitler, dead? That seemed to changed everything in his mind. Hauptmann Schuler was upstairs, he had been roaring drunk most of the day, now he was passed out. Gefreiter Huber was the senior man after the captain, he should tell him that the Führer was dead. What did this mean? He wasn't sure.


"The Führer is dead? How do you know that?" Wilhelm Huber was a rat faced little man from the slums of Hamburg. He looked mean and nasty, and in truth, was actually worse than he looked.

"I picked up a signal on that radio downstairs in the parlor. It had to have been from the Deutschlandsender, it sounded authentic. What do we do now Willi?" Weber wanted the man to make a decision. Even though he thought that unlikely, he had to try.

"We'll wait for Hauptmann Schuler to wake up, he'll know what to do." Huber said.

"What to do about what?" Horst Schmelling and Walter Grüber had come into the room. Since the machine gun had run out of ammunition, they'd been left with little to do except look out the windows, in case the Americans showed themselves again. Every one in the building assumed that the Americans had all been killed or driven off.

"Hitler is dead." Weber blurted out.

"You don't know that!" Huber shouted at him.

"Well, that changes things doesn't it?" Grüber announced. "Must be the war is over then, for Hitler to be dead, the Reds must have Berlin. I say we head back to Germany and surrender to the Amis."

Huber swung his MP 40 toward the two men, before he could say another word, Schmelling shot him in the face. Huber pitched backwards and lay very still.

"Anyone else want to keep fighting?" Schmelling asked.


2nd Lt. Mitch Hornsby and his small detachment were close to the village where they hoped the Major might be still alive. The wrecked M8s and the burning jeep didn't fill him with optimism. He halted the halftrack and had the men dismount.

"Leo, you stay with the track, Santos, you stay on the gun. Anything stirs from the area past that burning M8, you let 'em have it." Hornsby was ready to designate his fire and maneuver groups, just like they'd taught him at Benning.

"Which M8 Sir?" Pfc. Santos Clarke asked, he wanted to be sure, he saw two burning M8s.

"The one in front of the burning jeep, that has to be the Major's jeep, I don't see any bodies in or around it, so I'm assuming they're holed up in one of those buildings." Hornsby explained.

Then to Cpl. Glenn Cline he said, "Cpl. Cline, you take McDaniel, Samson, and Magruder, and one of the B.A.R. men..." he looked at Pvt. Bryan Garza, who said, "I'm Garza Sir."

"Right, you take McDaniel, Samson, Magruder, and Garza. Keep to the left of the road, stay in the shadows as best as you can. Cpl. Rodgers, you, Roberson, Bell, and the rest of your guys are with me. We'll go down the right, check out the first building, then the next."

"Questions?"

The two corporals looked at each other, both knew how green Hornsby was, but everything he had done so far made sense.

"Let's do this." Cpl. Cline said.


Hauptmann Manfred Schuler had been aroused from his stupor by the sound of a gunshot. He sat up quickly, and groaned. His head was throbbing from a massive hangover. He looked around, there on the floor was a bottle. He rolled over to it, there was a little left. He drank it down. It helped, a little.

He moved gingerly as he arose from the floor where he had been sprawled. He picked up his StG 44, looked around, but couldn't find his cap. Damn it. He thought that he had better go check out what his men were doing.

He heard shouts from downstairs as he poked his head into the room where the MG 34 was positioned. No one there. That's odd, he thought. Then he remembered, there was no more ammo for the gun.

A door slammed downstairs, he backed up against the wall near the staircase and waited. There was no more sound from below. Then he heard a flurry of gunshots out in the street. The Americans!

He eased his way downstairs and saw the rat faced corporal, what was his name? Oh yes, Huber from Hamburg, he wondered who had shot him. Huber was slumped against the wall, blood still dripping from his head. He was quite dead.

He looked out the window, he saw one of his men sprawled in the road. He couldn't make out who it was. He heard shouting from up the street. American voices. Now what should he do, he was alone. Then he saw a piece of paper with writing on it, pinned to Huber's chest. He went over and looked at it.

"Hitler ist tot, du Idiot, wir gehen.²" He balled the paper up and threw it to the floor, he muttered the word, "Cowards," then stepped to the door.


"Hey lieutenant! It's me, Josephson!"

Hornsby nearly jumped out of his skin at the shout from the shadows. After his B.A.R. man, Pvt. Glenn Rose, had shot at a few Germans running from a building, he'd hit one of them, everyone was a little on edge.

Hornsby went to a knee and turned in the direction of the shout, his carbine ready. Behind him he heard Cpl. Winters say, "Don't shoot L.T., it's the Major."

"Come out, hands where I can see 'em Sir." Hornsby growled, what if the Krauts had taken the Major prisoner?

The door opened, Josephson came out, hands in the air, but with a firm grip on his carbine. "Better watch that end of town Lieutenant, that's where the Krauts hit us from, you don't have a bazooka do you?"

"No Sir, armor?"

"A single armored car with a nasty looking cannon in a turret."

"Ah, a Puma." Hornsby offered, before the Major could speak again, Hornsby sent Pvt. Albert Samson to make contact with Cpl. Rodgers.

"The survivors of one of the M8s are in the next building, come with me. We've got wounded, you did bring a vehicle, right?" Josephson asked.

"Two Sir, an M3A1 and a WC-51. Cline, have the WC-51 come up."

Cline trotted back to the vehicles, he was going to have Ramsey bring the track up as well. They didn't have anything to take out a tank, but the .50 might give an armored car something to think about.


Schuler was angry, he now recognized the man down in the street, it was Grüber. He racked back the bolt on his weapon and decided to go out fighting. With Hitler dead, there was no point in going on. He wouldn't shoot himself though, he'd let the Amis do that. Maybe he could take one or two with him.


Josephson was standing outside the inn where the M8 crew had been sheltering, he was heartened to hear that Ricci was still alive. "Let's wrap this up Lieutenant, we need to get out of here while it's still dark. I don't know if there are any other Krauts around, but..." 

Josephson paused when he heard someone shouting, it sounded like someone yelling "Heil Hitler," over and over again. He looked down the street and saw a man staggering along, he was doing the shouting.

Josephson was bringing his carbine around when the staggering man opened fire.


Pfc. Santos Clarke saw the muzzle flash from the area the lieutenant had told him to keep an eye on, just past the M8 in front of the burning jeep. He didn't hesitate but aimed the big .50 caliber machine gun towards where the flash had come from and pressed the butterfly trigger.

The tracers reached through the night and tore Hauptmann Manfred Schuler, late of Panzergrenadier Division Großdeutschland. to red ruin, tossing his body to the ground as if he had been no more substantial than a bag of rags.


"Ah shit! Lieutenant come quick!!"

Hornsby ran towards where the shout had come from, it was Pvt. Matt McDaniel, the company bugler, he was kneeling next to a man lying on the street. Hornsby suddenly had a bad feeling.

There, on the ground, was Major Alphonse Jeffrey Josephson, Tex to his friends, still alive, but barely.

"Ah Jesus, I NEED A HAND HERE, THE MAJOR'S DOWN." Hornsby bellowed in his best parade ground voice. Then he felt a hand on his arm. It was the Major.

"No hurry Mitch, I'm not going anywhere." The Major coughed and blood came from his mouth.

Hornsby found his flashlight, checked that the red lens was still set, then turned it on, playing it over the Major. He saw at least three bullet wounds, one in the upper chest, two in the abdomen. Hornsby was amazed that Josephson was still alive. But he knew the Major didn't have much time left. He took the Major's hand.

"Hang in there Sir, we'll have you back to the battalion aid station in no time, no time at all."


Josephson felt the pressure of Hornsby gripping his hand. It felt, comforting. But he knew he didn't have long. He could no longer feel his legs and a vast coldness seemed to be seeping up from his belly and spreading to the rest of his body.

He thought he heard the lieutenant say something, but it wasn't clear. He was having trouble hearing and his eyesight seemed to be fading. Then he heard his wife's voice, he saw his little son, smiling. So he smiled back.


"L.T.! L.T.!"

Hornsby felt someone shaking his shoulder, he was looking at his battalion commander, he was still holding his hand. Something felt, he wasn't sure, something felt off. Why was the Major smiling?

Cpl. Jacob Winters shook the lieutenant again. "Come on Sir, we've got to go, the Major is dead. We need to load him in the track and get out of here."

Winters had tears streaming down his face. At one point in time he had been Josephson's radioman, back when the Major had commanded Charlie Company. Winters felt as if he'd lost his own father.


It was a long, quiet ride back to C Company's bivouac. Each man alone with his thoughts. Cpl. Winters sat next to Maj. Josephson's body on the way back.

Hornsby sat behind the driver of the M3A1, occasionally looking back at the body of the Major, now wrapped in a poncho and lying in the center aisle of the crew compartment. It was the most miserable he had felt in his entire life.

What was Cpt. Hernandez going to say?


The Russian troops marching to meet up with the Americans along the demarcation line didn't even spare a glance at the wrecked German armored car in the ditch on the road to Prague. One man did spit in the direction of the car when he saw that one of its crew was leaning halfway out of the turret. Hard to tell if it was actually a human corpse it was so badly burned.

The man, from an area of Russia which had suffered Nazi occupation, muttered, "Проклятые фашисты³," as his unit marched past.


In the dark Oberpanzerschütze Heinz Lessing had taken a wrong turn, rather than heading towards Adorf, they were on the road to Prague.

They had been making good time, the other men were sleeping at their positions, but just before dawn Oberfeldwebel Kurt Schonheim, the vehicle commander, had awakened. He stretched himself, he felt numb and sore in too many places, then reached for his map case.

"Pull over up here Heinz, I need to get our bearings."

The big Puma had pulled off the road, next to a drainage ditch. Panzerschütze Hans Dollmann woke up and groaned, "Where are we Heinz?"

"I don't know, Kurt's checking the map now."

"Please don't tell me we're lost." Obergefreiter Willi Krüger, the Puma's gunner, woke up shortly after they had rolled to stop.

"Well, we're not lost, but I'm not sure where we are exactly. I think we may have taken a wrong turn somewhere but..."

"Scheiße! Heinz, head for those farm buildings to our left, enemy Jabo!"

Ilyushin Il-2 Sturmovik

Junior Lieutenant Dmitry Borisovich Konyakov was already lined up on the eight-wheeled German scout car when it began to roll forward.

He pulled the trigger and the rounds from his two 23mm cannon destroyed the car. As he flew past he saw it roll into a ditch beside the road.

It was burning fiercely as his aircraft continued on.

Lunch was waiting at the airfield.





¹ The Leader is dead. - Hitler committed suicide on the 30th of April.
² Hitler is dead you idiot, we're leaving.
³ "Goddamned fascists. (Proklyatyye fashisty.)

Link to all of the Chant's fiction.

Friday, April 30, 2021

The Last Fight, Ambushed

(Source)

"Better slow it down Harry, I think our escort sees something they don't like." Major Alphonse Josephson, commanding the 1st Battalion of the 26th Infantry sat up straighter in the jeep's front seat. His driver, Cpl. Harry Somers, was slowing the jeep as the M8 Greyhound to their front had come nearly to a complete stop.

They were on the outskirts of a little Czech village which Josephson couldn't find on his map. He turned to his radioman, Sgt. Bill Wilkinson, sitting in the back of the jeep. "See if you can't get regiment on the horn, I think we took a wrong turn..."

A loud explosion interrupted the Major as the lead Greyhound had started to roll forward again, right over a German Teller mine. The back of the armored car was engulfed in flames and the crew was starting to bail out of the vehicle. German machine gun fire from a building further into the village cut down one of the men before he could jump off, the others scrambled into a nearby building.

"Come on guys, we're a sitting duck." Josephson yelled as Somers tried to maneuver the jeep to head back the way they had come up, but the other escorting Greyhound behind them was blocking the way.

The sound of a heavy round passing close by made all three men duck their heads. Somers was looking for an opportunity to turn the jeep and he saw the round glance off the turret of the M8 behind them. That glancing blow made the driver of the Greyhound back into a barn beside the road. It gave Somers the opportunity he was looking for.

He spun the jeep through a 180 degree turn and was nearly clear when the Greyhound lurched into the road again, blocking the jeep's escape route.

From the back of the jeep Sgt. Wilkinson yelled, "We need to get out of this f**king jeep!"

Looking back over his shoulder, Josephson saw why.

Schwere Panzerspähwagen¹ (5cm) Puma Sd.Kfz.234/2
(Source)

The enemy vehicle fired again, hitting the surviving Greyhound in the front, just below the turret. The vehicle kept rolling into the field beside the road. It was starting to burn, no one got out.

Josephson was leading his two men into a small building, it looked like a shop of some kind, when the German vehicle fired again, hitting the jeep. Wilkinson groaned, "There goes our ride."


"Sir, I'm getting something over the radio, it's breaking up pretty badly, but it sounds like Major Josephson's radioman, Bill Wilkinson." Cpl. Jacob Winters was listening intently, trying to get a better signal. "Sounds like they were ambushed!"

2nd Lt. Mitch Hornsby was at the company CP with just a few of the other company men, Cpt. Stephen Hernandez was out with a platoon-sized patrol, exploring the valley and the hill across from their position. "Can you get the Cap'n on the radio?"

"They're out there moving quietly, Cap'n said not to call them as their radio would be off unless they needed something." Winters answered.

"Damn it. Where's Top?"

"Over on the right flank, checking in with 3rd Platoon."

"Shit! Cline, go round up everybody, leave the cooks and their helpers here. Tell  S/Sgt Santos that he's going to have to mind the store for now. Ramsay, go fire up the halftrack with the .50 mounted on top!"

Cpl. Glenn Cline and T/5 Leo Ramsey hastened out the door of the small house to grab the men who were available, which amounted to the company messengers, the captain's bugler, and the company orderly.

While ten men in a halftrack wasn't much of a rescue mission, it was all they had. 1st Platoon was on the patrol with Cpt. Hernandez, so after a brief conversation over the radio with the 2nd and 3rd Platoon leaders, 1st Lt. Nate Paddock and 2nd Lt. Bob Poole, the consensus was that Hornsby really had no other choice.

As they were loading up, 1st Lt. Herman Jacobsen, commanding Weapons Platoon walked up. "What's going on Pebs?"

Hornsby winced at the new nickname, even the shorter version sounded odd, then he explained the situation, Jacobsen yelled for his platoon sergeant, S/Sgt. Walt Copeland, who hustled over.

"Unload one of our vehicles and have Ernie Rodgers, Muñoz, Barrett, Garza, and Rose load up for a field trip. I'm sending those guys with you Pebs, all right? Garza and Rose are both B.A.R. men, give you a little extra firepower."

"Hey, the more the merrier." Hornsby nodded as Cpl. Cline came up to let them know they were ready to roll. Within minutes, the little two vehicle convoy rolled out of Charlie Company's bivouac to attempt to rescue their battalion commander.


"How bad is it Sir?" Somers was bleeding from a wound in his lower abdomen, it hurt like Hell.

Josephson and Wilkinson had bandaged Somers up as best they could, he'd caught a ricochet from that damn German machine gun a few houses down the road.

"It's stopped bleeding Harry. Should I give him some morphine Sir? I have a couple of syrettes." Wilkinson asked.

"No, I'm okay, don't knock me out with that stuff, you might need my carbine." Somers protested.

"If you can handle it, okay, no morphine. But if it gets to be too much, let me know." Maj. Josephson said, patting Somers on the shoulder.

Wilkinson was now at the window, trying to get a look down the road. "That Kraut armored car has vanished."

"Probably went to cover, with all the aircraft passing by, he's probably afraid of being a target. Thing is, this area is supposed to be behind our lines. The flyboys might not go after him. Thank God they don't know that or they'd blast us out of here."

A burst of machine gun fire walked down the road and grazed the corner of their building.

"I don't think we're in the Krauts' direct line of fire. I don't know what they're shooting at." Josephson said with some exasperation, "Did you get through on the radio, Bill?"

"Maybe Sir, it sounded like Winters over at C Company, don't know if they got the message though." Wilkinson went to the back of the shop and was looking out the windows at the back of the building.

"We're in luck, this building backs up on a sheer hill, walls on both sides, for the Krauts to get behind us they'd have to be acrobats. With buildings to either side, we should be good, as long as that damned armored car stays away." Wilkinson reported.

"Good, it's gonna be dark soon. I want to try and get out of here when that happens. I'm betting that armored car won't wait long to come get us once it gets dark enough. If he's still around that is." Josephson checked his watch. This was going to be touch and go.


"Jesus L.T., which fork do we take?" Ramsey was driving the halftrack, Hornsby was sitting up just behind him in the crew compartment. The front passenger's seat was occupied by Pfc. Santos Clarke who had had some training on the .50 caliber machine gun mounted over the passenger's seat.

M3A1 Halftrack
(Source)

Ramsey glanced back at the map the lieutenant was holding, he saw the fork, he managed to suppress his surprise that the lieutenant could actually read a map.

"You know Sir, that left fork heads up to where the regimental CP is supposed to be, the right fork is probably the way they went. Leads down into Indian country I think." Ramsey explained, pointing at the map.

"Yup, I think so too." Hornsby walked to the rear of the crew compartment and yelled back at Cpl. Rodgers in the WC-51. "We're gonna go right, whaddaya think?"

Rodgers had come to the same conclusion as Ramsey, "I think that's the wrong way to go if you wanna avoid Krauts..."

"Yup, so that's the way the Major went." Hornsby nodded, "Let's move out, it's gonna be dark soon. I don't wanna be out here for some Hitler Youth with a Panzerfaust to pick off." Hornsby waved the little convoy forward.


The crew of the German armored car had indeed gone to cover. The sight of so many Jabos flying past made the car commander very nervous. He'd managed to confer with the Hauptmann holed up in the village inn with a single MG 34, guy's name was Schuler he thought.

"The man was drunk out of his mind Willi." Oberfeldwebel Kurt Schonheim confided in his gunner, Obergefreiter Willi Krüger. "I saw one extra box of ammunition, I think that's all he's got, and he was pissing bullets down the street like nobody's business. Der Mann ist verrückt!²"

"So Kurt, why are we sticking around? Will we wait until a Sherman comes along and blows us all to Hell? We've got enough petrol to go maybe a hundred kilometers. I say we get the Hell out of here."

"And go where Willi?" Oberpanzerschütze Heinz Lessing piped up from his driver's position. "Trundle down to Prague and meet the Russians? Head north and meet the Russians?"

Panzerschütze Hans Dollmann was walking up to the armored car buttoning his fly, he had dismounted to answer a call of nature. He only caught the last part of the conversation. "What are you lot on about now?"

As Dollmann climbed into his position, Lessing told him, "Willi wants to go for a drive, he thinks the Amis will be coming with a Sherman!"

"Don't laugh Heinz, we're no match for a tank. Waiting here is asking for trouble."

"It'll be dark soon, I say we head north to Adorf. If we make it, we can surrender to the Amis. If we stay here, they see the burning scout cars and the wrecked command car and I think they shoot first, then maybe let those of us still alive surrender. Maybe." Willi made a good case for leaving.

After a quiet moment while the crew thought about their options, Schonheim said, "Unless anyone really wants to stay and fight, we're leaving at dark. All right?"

"Sounds good to me, you have any problems with that Hans?" Lessing wanted to know.

"No, I like the idea."

Schonheim looked at his men, "It's settled then. We move when it's dark."





¹ Heavy Armored Car
² The man is crazy.

Link to all of the Chant's fiction.