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|Author:||Hanasian [ March 8th, 2017, 4:11 am ]|
~Near Sainte-Mère-Église, Normandy France - June 6 1944~
The old barn served as their unit's barracks. It was near two 20mm quad flak guns that had been set up in the field as part of Hitler’s ‘Fortress Europa’. Along with their company staying in and around the barn, the flak crews housed with them. When the telephone rang, Lt Kern picked it up and was told to get the flak crews ready on full alert. Kern did so, and hung up the phone.
Lt Kern was their company commander, but he was so young. The men knew that the veterans of the Russian front were the ones to watch, listen to, and learn from. Today, the company was made full strength. The new soldiers were teenagers mainly, with maybe 6 weeks of training under their belt. If they were lucky, they had been away from home before being conscripted. These boys were the lucky ones. Their assignments brought them to France. Many of their buddies were on the trains to the Russian Front. They looked content to read, clean their weapons, or sleep, with some curiously watching the veterans play cards.
Sgt Steiner sat in the corner, leaning against a post silent. His cigarette had burned down to his fingers, a tall stack of ash tilting precariously above his hand. Pvt. Porta threw down his cards in disgust and looked at him, the toothless grin peeking out of his lips. He looked over at the kids, then to the door. Something was up? Stiener always got that way before the Russians attacked when they were on the eastern front. But not here! This was France! There were always rumours of invasion, but they say it will be near Calais. No, not here in Normandy. Porta waved at Snurbotte to deal the next hand.
Steiner stood and went to the door. Looking out, his eyes squinted into the dark. Toward the coast it was not so dark! Searchlights lit the sky, and tracers flew from flak guns. The hum of engines could be heard and quickly the nearby lights came on. Tracer bullets started to fly upwards as the cracking of the nearby flak guns started to fire. Porta calmed the kids by saying to them,
"Relax children, its only bombers."
He went back to looking at his cards, but he looked at Steiner and dropped his cards and went to the door. A bright flame lit up the sky as one of the planes turned aside suddenly. Dozens of shadows could be seen falling in its light. Steiner raised the corner of his mouth and smirked. A word came from his lips...
Lt Kern woke up, probably from the noise. Porta went and grabbed his Mauser and chambered a round. The young soldiers fumbled for their weapons as well. Lt Kern stood up and shouted,
"What are you doing? No orders were given! Secure your weapons now!"
Porta didn't flinch, and Steiner turned and said,
"Lieutenant, there are troopers falling all about out here. Maybe you should take a look yourself?"
“That I will do Sargent !"
Lt Kern said and went out the door. His breath went from him as the intensity of the flak increased with the second flak gun joining the first. A flutter of silk came down next to them, a headless body hit the ground limp and was dragged by the billowing silk. Steiner ran over and grabbed the lines. Porta ran over and tossed Steiner his Schmiesser. Steiner checked his ammo stick and pulled the bolt as he looked about. Pieces of plane started to shower down around them. Apparently a plane was critically hit and exploded, ripping the head off this first man as he jumped. The rest were coming down in pieces as was the plane. Lt Kern ducked back into the barn and started cranking the field phone while the kids watched him, some watching the veterans and coming out with their weapons. Steiner set them in line crouched down, and they watched the sky. Kern got hold of operations.
"Lt Kern, report! What is happening?"
"I was calling you to find out!"
Lt Kern yelled,
"There appears to be some paratroopers falling to the north and west of my position! The flak guns are firing as fast as they can load! What are my orders?"
The voice on the other end was silent. The sound of flak guns there could be heard on the other end of the line, as well as other ringing phones. A hesitant voice finally responded...
"Go on alert, hold your position, and await further orders. Col Hoth is awake now and he is assessing all reports. We will get back to you."
Lt Kern fidgeted as the sound of small-arms fire was heard outside the door. He swallowed and said,
"We will await orders, but tell the colonel that men of unknown strength are landing right outside our door!"
He slammed down the phone and waved what remained of the new soldiers, those who awaited the lieutenants orders, out the door.
Outside, the men started shooting at shadows in the sky. American paratroopers fell to the ground, most were killed before they landed, but some managed to get their weapons out. Short bursts of tommygun fire were heard but were silenced by the waiting Germans. Only a dozen or so fell, and one landed on the other side of the barn. He was quickly captured as he was hung up in a bush, was wounded, and had no weapon.
Steiner came toward the prisoner and he grabbed him by his neck. Drawing him close, he looked into his enemy's eyes. A kid... not much older than the boys who they themselves got for replacements just the day before! He was the only survivor of his 'stick'. Most got out of the plane but they were so low their chutes barely slowed them enough to make a safe landing. To their misfortune, their silhouettes in the sky made easy targets.
They secured their prisoner in the barn and continued to watch. Sporadic small arms fire was beginning to be heard in the distance in all directions, but a lot was heard in the direction of Sainte-Mere-Eglise. Steiner waved his men and pointed. He was going in that direction. Lt Kern fired a shot from his Lugar in the air and shouted,
"Steiner! Where are you going?"
"Toward Sainte-Mere-Eglise sir."
Steiner mumbled offhandedly.
Lt Kern stepped in front of him, and Steiner's scarred eye raised what was left of his eyebrow. Lt Kern said, in that authorative bark all officers are taught to use,
"You have no orders Sargent! We are to remain here on alert until the situation is assessed by headquarters! We will wait for their orders."
Steiner stared Kern down in the flickering light of the tracers and searchlights.
Steiner mumbled and paused. He then said,
"You, sir, wait for headquarters to call. Meanwhile I, sir, will recon in force so you can report back to headquarters some accurate information so they can access the situation."
He turned to his squad, and Cpl Sturbotte prepared them to move out. Some of the other younger men prepared also. Steiner pointed to a few of them, and waved the rest back. They stood, watching for more paratroopers. Kern was enraged at Steiner's insubordination. He said in a growl,
"You leave without my order, you will be court-martialled!"
Steiner paused as he put on his service cap. He looked at Kern over his shoulder and said,
"And that will do what, sir? Get me imprisoned? Get me sent to the Russian Front? I hear we don’t have to go as far to the east as we did before. You file your charges with the Colonel. I and my squad will go out and see what is happening first hand. You can arrest me when I get back and give you my report. Meanwhile, I suggest you interrogate the prisoner."
Steiner turned and left, waving his men along. He stepped aside and watched his men go by... privates Porta, Kolz, Pederson, Hassel, and Corporal Sturbotte... all old comrades and veterans of the Russian front. The miracle is they had survived Russia since 1942. In this squad he also had privates Kurtz and Dorn, who were kid replacements who arrived just in time for their last couple retreats on the Russian front. Then the 5 new kids who recently joined whose names he did not know. Steiner picked these 5 from the replacements who came in the day before. Hard looking kids they were. Maybe they had what it would take to survive. After all, this is France, not Russia!
The men moved out toward Sainte-Mere-Eglise, fading into the dark and lost among the flashes of searchlights and flak tracers, watching as intensely as any night patrol they were on in the east. Steiner took point and as always, Porta followed, with Sturbotte on rearguard. The line had the veterans interspersed with the new kids, for it was their first combat patrol. Steiner hoped he could keep them alive.
~ ~ ~
Sargeant Hill found himself drifting in his chute. His tensioner line was tangled and he could only steer slightly. He worked at getting his tommy gun loose before he hit the ground, for he had seen a lot of small arms fire coming from near a barn he was heading for. The 20mm flak gun nearby kept a steady rate of fire, only stopping to reload and let the barrels cool. The C-47s kept lumbering over, but it was appearing that most of them were going to be much closer to their assigned drop zone. Sgt Hill didn’t think much of it. When the plane in front of them erupted into flame, debris took out an engine of their plane, and the pilot performed evasive maneuverers, turning our light green in the process. He was the first out. The Lt stood by the door and would go last. He saw some jump, but the prop wash ripped at them and they were dispersed. His men may be around, but right now, he was alone. Sgt Hill pulled hard on the working tensioner to get himself away from the barn. He managed to get past some trees and got caught and hung up with his feet a foot from the ground. He pulled his bayonet and cut himself free and crouched. He did an ammo check and found he ad lost his spare sticks. He was glad he taped a second stick to the one in his gun. He was going to war with sixty rounds and a knife.
Sgt Hill rolled into the trees when branches started breaking next to him. It was Private Riley, his RTO. The sarge helped free him of his lines.
”Am I glad to see you sarge!”
Hill said, giving him a finger to his lips. He then whispered to Riley,
”What do you have private?”
“Lost my leg bag sarge. I have my M1 loaded, and four clips in my belt. Also, a couple grenades. Stil have the radio but it hit hard. Don't know if it works or not.”
Sgt Hill nodded. He started to move along the tree line. By the time he got to the end, he had collected three more guys from his squad, and a couple from H company. He was trying to decide what to do when tommy gunfire and exploding grenades lit up the flak gun near the barn. Sarge said,
”Let’s go that way, our guys are over there! Get your cricket ready!”
|Author:||Hanasian [ March 12th, 2017, 4:47 am ]|
|Post subject:||Re: Sainte-Mère-Église|
The crickets started popping all around the barn. Sgt Hill & Pvt Riley soon found several men from various companies with them. Across the way, another group of men had gathered and became entangled in a firefight with the Germans still near the barn. Sgt Hill took the opportunity to rush the second flak gun. The men pulled grenades, and the volley of bombs killed the crew and set off its remaining ammunition stock. They then rushed the rear of the Germans that were falling back from the other group of men. After several fell, including Lt Kern, the remaining Germans surrendered.
When the two groups came together, Sgt Hill saw that Lt Wallace of A company was leading them. Sgt Hill was relieved an officer was on the scene. They herded the seven Germans into the barn, and there found Pvt Kery of D company sitting there. The two Germans guarding him quickly turned and when one raised his rifle, an M1 round found his shoulder and he fell back. The other quickly dropped his Mauser and raised his hands.
"What took you so long?"
Pvt Kery said as he shook off the rope that bound his hands. Sgt Hill smirked before he said,
"Find anyone from your stick?"
"No. Our plane caught debris from the exploding plane in front of us and the pilot had to drop out of formation. We all jumped I think, but my tensioner was damaged and I ended up drifting here. The others are likely over more toward the town."
Sgt Hill nodded. He picked up the M1 that lay there and threw it at Pvt Kery.
"I guess you're part of this squad now."
All of a sudden the barn started exploding into wooden splinters around them. Outside, rifle fire could be heard and the shelling stopped. Apparently one of the flak crew was only wounded, and he turned the gun onto the barn and fired the four racks of five that had been loaded. Lt Wallace, yelled in saying,
"C'mon! We didn't come to France to sit in a barn! Let's go!"
Sgt Hill waved the men on and they spread and moved into the darkness toward Sainte-Mère-Église.
~ ~ ~ ~
Steiner moved slowly, hearing incessant clicking from all around him. One was close, and Steiner decided to open up with his schmiesser. he raked the bushed in front of him, and a man fell forward face first. Steiner quickly jumped as the muzzle flash of a Thompson opened up from the bush. Steiner lost his cap, a thin line of blood running from the side of his head above his ear. Porta was hit in the hand. A couple potato mashers went flying toward the muzzle flash and their detonatons quieted the American gunfire.
"I got them!"
one of the kids who tossed the grenade said and he went running toward where the dead men lay. Steiner yelled,
"Get down kid!"
but as he turned, the bullets from an M1 Garand firing rapidly ripped int the young soldier's chest and he staggered back and fell. The Germans laid down heavy Mauser fire, with Steiner riddling the trees with his schmeisser. When they stopped, there was silence. There were no planes, no crickets, nothing. Steiner thought he had been hit, but he looked around, and he could see Porta and a kid crawling toward the American position. When they broke through the bush, they found three dead Americans. The crickets started up again, and the sound of English could be heard. Steiner pointed to a line of trees to the east of the town, and they moved as quickly and quietly as they could to the relative safety of its cover.
|Author:||Hanasian [ March 17th, 2017, 8:00 am ]|
|Post subject:||Re: Sainte-Mère-Église|
"What do we do Sargent?"
The private said with a tear running down his cheek. Steiner looked at him as he sat. Snurbotte and Porta had gone back to the barn to report, but they ran headlong into the Americans. The firefight was brief, and Steiner thought they may have been captured. All he had left with him was this boy and another. Too many of his comrades from the Russian front had met their end here in Normandy, on a peaceful night in June...
Steiner barked at the kid. He looked about and said,
"They are everywhere! Do we surrender sarge?"
Surrender .... Steiner considered it. After surviving Russia, sitting out the rest of the war in a prison camp in Canada would seem like nothing, and there wouldn't be anybody shooting at you. The sudden return of Shurbotte and Porta dashed that hope. Porta said in his east Prussian accent,
"That was close! They captured us, but when some grenades were thrown by some of our comrades, we overpowered the guy watching us and ran. The kids didn't make it. They shot them!"
Steiner looked at the one remaining new recruit he had and asked,
"How long have you been soldiering private?"
"Six weeks sarge!"
He said with some pride. Steiner reached over and took off his helmet. He asked,
"How old are you private, and what is your name?"
The boy looked at Sturbotte then back at Steiner,
"Private Mueller, and I am sixteen!"
Steiner set his helmet back on his head and Mueller adjusted it. Steiner stood with his schmiesser ready to go off as three German soldiers came crashing into the hedgerow. They were not from his regiment. He said,
"You fools! Nearly filled you with lead!"
"Sorry sergeant. We had to leave the town. Too many paratroops."
Said the corporal. He looked to the east and said,
"I think a tank is coming. Hoth sent a Mark IV to Sainte-Mère-Église to see what was happening. Communications are down all over the place."
Steiner could hear the tank approaching. With any luck, the paratroopers will leave it be, for it was doubtful they had anything that could take it out.
|Author:||Hanasian [ April 5th, 2017, 10:09 am ]|
|Post subject:||Re: Sainte-Mère-Église|
Steiner had his remaining men fall in behind the tank. They came under small arms fire as they approached the town, and the men spread out to engage the points of fire. The paratroops had set up a 75mm PAK and tried firing it at the tank, but the shot went wide and lit up the field behind the trees. The tank turned its turret and sent an HE shell in the direction the PAK shell came from, and it set the bush on fire. it continued to make its way toward the glow of the fires in the town.
Sgt Hill lay flat in the hedge. Pvt Riley had found a German panzerfaust near a dead soldier, and he shrugged as he looked at it. Sgt Hill asked,
"Think you can make it work?"
"There is only one way to find out."
He replied as he looked through the site. The Mk IV came down the road, and it seemed the bow gunner knew they were there. The gunner started raking the bush, just missing Riley, but a bullet caught Sgt Hill in the calf. He swore quietly but worked to tie some of his pant leg around it to stem the bleeding. Pvt Riley decided to take his shot with the panzerfaust. He took aim at the tank rolled by. He set off the shaped charge, but it pulled right. It nearly missed the tank, but clipped the flange armour near the rear of the tank. It blew through it and clipped the rear of the tank, causing the engine to stall. The rest of the charge flew off flaming and causing the soldiers following the tank to scatter from the shrapnel. Sgt Hill stood and emptied the clip of his Thompson, cutting down a few of the scrambling Germans. He hit the ground and Riley threw the spent tube away and they crawled away as the rifle fire started ripping through the hedge they had just left.
|Author:||Hanasian [ May 20th, 2017, 9:46 am ]|
|Post subject:||Re: Sainte-Mère-Église|
Sgt Steiner ducked to the right when the tank set alight. It kept moving forward even as the men scattered. He called several around him, and they set to shooting toward the hedgerow that had fired the shot at the tank. A minute later, and the tank rumbled off toward Sainte-Mère-Église. The sound of an American Thompson caused Steiner and the men with him to go flat on their bellies. Mauser fire in return told Steiner that there were more of their men not far away. It was little comfort when a loud explosion went up not far away. The tank they had been following lit up the night not far away, flaming out as the men inside tried to escape its destruction.
Sgt Steiner had seven men not from his platoon with him. They were scared kids looking to him for leadership as they clutched their rifles. Steiner had always knew a little about his men when he was in combat. In Russia they may have been new replacements assigned to his platoon that he had to take out into the field, but this was something else. His men he set out with this night with had either been killed or were lost in the night. In their place, other soldiers had come to him, ones he didn't know. Their commanders and NCOs had either been killed or disappeared in the night. This morning was not normal. The Americans were falling from the sky, and there was no order to the battle. Steiner took a breath and nodded to the kids.
"Stay with me. We will find morning! All will be well!"
Steiner sighed. In Russia during the great retreat, they knew they were cut off and knew they were behind the lines and had to make their way west the best they could. There, Steiner became an expert in avoiding Russian strong points and getting his men back to their lines. Here, they had no front. They were supposed to be in their own territory in occupied France, but at any moment, paratroops could jump up and you were in a battle for your life. The night began as a unit, now, Steiner found himself the ranking NCO among scared privates who may be at the oldest, seventeen. Steiner sighed again as they hunkered in a hedge. The morning light could not come soon enough, and the feint glow of lighter blue in the east was slow in coming.
|Author:||Hanasian [ October 13th, 2017, 12:02 am ]|
|Post subject:||Re: Sainte-Mère-Église|
Sgt Steiner woke up in the hedgerow, with him were four young privates, none from the same unit. The sound of English voices was disheartening, but none more so than the sound of an unfamiliar panzer. Steiner looked up and saw that the sun had climbed high, so he estimated they had slept most of the morning. Creeping out of the hedgerow, he looked about and saw they were alone. The invasion had happened and the Americans were already moving inland. He settled back into the bushes and looked at the men… boys. One asked,
”What do we do Seargent?”
He didn’t get to answer when the cracking of an incoming shell came over. It was a spotting round from an 88mm gun. It landed not far past them, but it sent the approaching column of Americans scrambling. Steiner knew there had to be someone running an outpost nearby, for the second round landed closer where the crossroads were. Then the whole place lit up. Steiner and the men burrowed deeper where they were, and with the shells exploding around them, he hoped none hit their hedgerow.
When some American soldiers come diving in the bushes on top of them, chaos ensued. One of the young privates drew his bayonet, but he was knocked cold by a rifle butt. Sgt Steiner threw up his hands and yelled,
The other three with him did likewise. The bolt of a Thompson could be heard even as the shells exploded nearby. Sgt Hill yelled,
”Throw out your weapons and come out, hands on your head!”
Steiner motioned to his men to go. They were followed closely by the Americans who had dive in during the barrage. With the rumble of two P47 Thunderbolts that flew overhead, the sound of rockets could be heard, and the incoming shells stopped. With a jab of a rifle barrel, Steiner let his utility belt go. The others did likewise and discarded their helmets.
”Does your mama know you’re here son?”
An American private quipped. The boy was barely 16, and his eyes watered as he tried not to cry. He didn’t understand English, but knew he was being made fun of. Sgt Steiner turned to him and said in German,
”All will be well. They will feed us, and send us away from the war. We may go home someday.”
The American private jabbed Steiner in the rip and said,
”Knock it off with that kraut-speak!”
“I just ressure the boy.”
They walked slowly toward the beach of Normandy through Sainte-Mère-Église. For them the war was over.
|Author:||Hanasian [ May 18th, 2020, 1:41 am ]|
|Post subject:||Re: Sainte-Mère-Église|
The train pulled to a stop, and Sgt Steiner woke up. They were herded out of the unheated rail car and lined up beside the tracks. The sky was dark and light snow flurries drifted about them as they tried to stay warm. The few who had their wool coats when they were captured were better off, but it was summer in France. Who needed the heavy overcoats they were issued in Russia? Steiner wished he had his now here. Here... where was here? It was a long debrief in England before they were set on a ship bound for Canada. The journey was peaceful enough, but Steiner knew that their U-Boats could be in the waters and send a torpedo into their ship at any time. When they docked in Halifax, Steiner breathed a sigh of relief that he wouldn't drown in a sunken ship. Then the train journey began.
The sound of the rails was hypnotizing, and knowing they were far away from the war caused Steiner to sleep. He slept most of the way across Canada until arriving here, somewhere in the midst of Canada just east of the Rocky Mountains. It would be home for him. At least the Canadians gave then wood stoves in their barracks, and there were plenty of wood. The last time Steiner was this cold was when he led his men in retreat to Rostov in February 1943. At least now he didn't have to worry about having to retreat again tomorrow, and the Canadians gave them hot food... meat! They said it was moose, but Steiner thought the stew was the best he ever had. For him the war was over, and when word came nearly 6 months later that Hitler had killed himself as the Russians swarmed Berlin, Steiner felt relief that it was over. He dreamed of the day he could return to the Black Forest of Bavaria. Would any of his old life still be there?
It would be nearly a year before he was able to return to Germany. By 1950, Steiner would return to Canada, and would live the rest of his days in Calgary working at a refinery. He married an Austrian immigrant from Innsbruck, and they had two daughters. On cold nights in the dead of winter, Steiner sometimes suffered bouts of nightmares of his days in Russia. He could never give up smoking, and in 1971, he was diagnosed with lung cancer, and one night after he called his daughters and made love to his wife, he set out into the Rockies and was never heard from again.
Sgt Hill, the man who captured Sgt Steiner, would be killed by a tank shell in the attack on Bastonge in December 1944 when the Germans attacked in the Ardennes.
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