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7/14/2016 10:12 am  #1

Greatest Generation

I am finally going to finish this thing. Look for a new installment every few days.

Greatest Generation

Author's note.
Smitty and Dr Russo are fictional characters. 
Descriptions of the battle of the Bulge are as historically accurate as the author was able to make them.
Over a million men fought in that battle. The vignettes presented here give a flavor of the battle and advance the story line. However, a comprehensive history it is not.

For a proper history of the battle, the reader might consider reading:

Battle: The Story of the Bulge, by John Toland

Part one
September 1, 2006
The Milton Hershey Medical Center

The doctor did not like what he was seeing.  Twice he had watched the images from Mr. Smith’s cardiac ultrasound.  They were setting up for his surgery right now. It was written on the Operating room schedule board.

R. Smith, aged 86.  AVR, CABG.

Aortic valve replacement and coronary artery bypass graft.

The doctor studied the grainy images. Yes, the aortic valve was shot. Blood poured backwards through the faulty valve with each beat of his heart. That was bad enough. But watching the heart muscle weakly contract was truly frightening. What should have been a quick forceful contraction was just a quiver. It appeared that about half the muscle wasn’t contracting at all.  It was the end result of several heart attacks.
"Shit", he muttered as he turned off the monitor and stepped into the prep room.

Dr. Russo was a well-respected anesthesiologist. He was unflappable. The iceman, some of the staff called Russo. He never lost his cool even in the worst emergencies. As a measure of respect, surgeons requested Russo for all of their difficult cardiac cases. But, this time they were was asking too much. As the doctor stepped into Mr. Smith’s cubicle, he thought, “I’m looking at a dead man.”

Robert Smith was a slight man, with the smallest amount of gray hair on the top of his head. His skin was frail and easily bruised. Since the last heart attack, the day before, the skin took on a bluish tint as the heart failed to deliver enough oxygen to the body.  He struggled a bit to breathe under the green plastic oxygen mask on his face.

Good morning Mr. Smith. I am doctor Russo.
Smitty, replied the old man.
Excuse me?
Call me Smitty, doctor.
Glad to, said the doctor. He hadn’t expected the old guy to be so alert. I’ll be the anesthesiologist for your surgery today, sir, uh Smitty.
Drew the short straw, did ya, Doc?
The doctor lowered his eyes.

It’s OK, I know it’s bad. The surgeon, that kid, came and talked with me.

I have to get some history, from you, Smitty, Dr. Russo said, hoping for a change of subject. You’ve had anesthesia before. I understand that you had your right leg amputated. 
Do you remember about when that was, Smitty?

About, no, it was December 21st, 1944, exactly.
Where was that, Smitty, the doctor asked, half listening.

Oh that was up on Skyline drive, Doc.

Skyline Drive? I’ve been there. Shenandoah National park. Were you camping?

Yea, chuckled the old man. We were camping alright.
Dr. Russo stopped. The old man was having fun with him.

No, Doc, Skyline Drive is just what the boys called it. We were in Belgium. A place called the Ardennes. It was a thick  forest, with  lots of steep ridges. Some boys thought  that the place where we were dug in looked like the ridge in the  park, so they called it skyline drive. The name just kinda stuck.

Never been to Belgium, the doctor replied mechanically.
Car accident?

More like lead poisoning, Smitty said.
The doctor gave him a quizzical look, then prepared to move on. 
“Christmas, 1944” hmm., the doctor stared at the chart.
“Christmas, 1944”,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

The doctor looked up from his chart, understanding, at last. He looked into Smitty’s eyes; "You fought in the Battle “

“Of the Bulge”, Smitty finished.
Smitty looked back with alert eyes, kind eyes, tough eyes.
Not too many people know about that anymore.

I sure do, replied the doctor. Smitty seemed to have grown a little bigger lying on the stretcher. Russo wondered what Smitty looked like as a young man. Strong, but wiry, he concluded. The doctor almost said “Thank you for your service”, but decided that really sounded stupid.  What do you say to someone who has fought in one of the nation’s epic struggles? “High five for whipping the Nazis”? “Kudos for being part of the greatest generation”? Like Smitty had a choice. Fate came calling for him and he had held up his end.

The doctor sat down on a chair next to Smitty’s bed.
Finally he stammered, I read about the battle. Must have been pretty rough.
He immediately felt stupid.

But Smitty was a kind man. He simply said, It was a long time ago.  I don’t remember much except for being cold and scared; and some cute Belgian nurses. But, mostly I remember the cold. We had been fighting hard for about 4 days. No hot chow. The snow was up to your knees. That heavy wet snow. Our wool uniforms got soaking wet and stayed that way. You couldn’t build a fire, or the Krauts would see it.

They just kept coming and coming. But we whittled them down.
A sad look came across Smitty’s face.
But, they whittled us down some too. One morning  German 88 hit near us. Took some poor kid’s head off. Knocked me over hard. I looked down at my leg and saw the bone sticking out of my uniform. A medic dragged men into a fox hole. Saved my ass.  But there was no way they could evacuate me until it got dark. I laid in that foxhole all day, until about ten that night. Damn near got buried in a new snow. The cold was unbelievable. The kind of wet  cold that you feel in your bones. When they evacuated me to Bastogne, my pants were frozen to my legs. Doc said it saved my life. But ever since then, Doc I just hate being cold.

You are a hero, blurted out the doctor.

No, Doc. I’m no hero. But I served in a Company of heroes.

The doctor smiled. No bragging. He remembered once going to “hoist a few” with his grandfather at the VFW, celebrating his graduation from college. There was a very drunk, very loud man at the bar telling stories about all the dead “krauts” that he saw, and how he wished he’d killed more. Grandfather leaned close to Russo’s ear and spat, Damned REMF! Nobody who really saw combat talks like that. 

The doctor wanted to know more about Smitty’s experience. But he shied from asking.
Well, Dr. Russo said giving a conspiratorial wink. We have some pretty nurses here, too. 

Think I haven’t seen them, doc? Smiled Smitty. I ain’t dead yet.

You are really something, Smitty.

Hell, I used to be, Doc, said the old man, his eyes dancing, I used to be.

The doctor liked Smitty. He felt a duty to lay things out for him.

You know, Smitty, this surgery is pretty rough stuff. You might not,,,,,,,,,

Smitty raised a hand. You’ll do your best, Son. You are good people. I can tell.
Just don’t let me get cold. I hate the cold.
And, just like that, a bond was created between the young doctor and the old man.

The doctor excused himself to go and ready the operating room. He thought of how much the old man reminded him of his own grandfather.  He unconsciously smiled. But then his thoughts returned to those ultrasound images.

The old man watched Dr. Russo leave. There’s a good kid, he said to no one in particular. A little serious.
Then Smitty pondered his fate. He looked down upon himself, clad in a ridiculous hospital gown.  His skin was thin as paper, with bruising from where blood was drawn.  Tubes were coming out of his body in several places. He even had a tube in his bladder. Smitty noted his huge potbelly with disappointment. The man reached up to his face and felt a three-day stubble. Christ, Soldier, you are a mess.
But it was not always so.

The old man had lied to the doctor. Truth is, he remembered everything about the Bulge. In fact, lately the old man had been thinking a lot about 1944. In many ways the fall of 1944 seemed like yesterday. Smitty looked down upon himself again. This time he remembered a thin young man clad in his olive drab uniform.  He remembered being a young man, the strength, the energy. Smitty remembered the horror that was Bastogne, the shelling, the fear,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,  

And Smitty remembered the cold.

Last edited by Goose (7/14/2016 3:44 pm)

We live in a time in which decent and otherwise sensible people are surrendering too easily to the hectoring of morons or extremists. 

7/14/2016 10:58 am  #2

Re: Greatest Generation

Groovy, looking forward to it. 

If you make yourself miserable trying to make others happy that means everyone is miserable.

-Me again


7/14/2016 12:04 pm  #3

Re: Greatest Generation

Part Two
The Our River, Luxembourg.
November 1944

Three soldiers stood by the side of the road, smoking cigarettes and watching a convoy of 2.5 ton supply trucks, known as “deuce and a halfs” to the army, plod their way to the north. Soldiers  in olive drab marched along the side of the rutted road. Their uniforms were clean. In fact, too clean, signifying that the men were replacements. Most likely from the “repo-depot” that was increasingly supplying troops to replace dead and wounded Americans at the front. Poorly trained and untested, the “repos” were disdained by the Old Guard of the army.

Smitty, at age 24, was one of the old guard. He stood with two buddies. A thick muscled young man from the coalfields, whom the men had improbably named “slim”, and a tall laconic man they called “Sarge”. They seemed at once young, and unbelievably old. Lately, Sarge had developed what they called the “thousand yard stare”.  And Smitty had adopted a half stooped stance from the sore back he got from sleeping too many nights on the ground. Each man wore a red shoulder patch in the shape of a keystone. It identified them as members of the Army’s 28th Division, an old Pennsylvania National Guard unit made up of the sons of farmers, shopkeepers, loggers, and coal miners. The Germans, after several hard fought engagements, called them the “bloody bucket” division, as a token of grudging respect.

The 28th had entered France through Normandy after the D-Day landings. They immediately became involved in fierce fighting in the Hedgerow region of France. For weeks the 28th inched forward towards Saint Lo in desperate battle with the Nazis. Casualties were high.  Progress was measured in yards. Cost was measured as it always was, in lives. They even lost their commanding General in the fight. Smitty had seen things a man shouldn’t see. A field full of dead, bloated cows. He remembered a Sherman tank under fire from a Tiger and bolting for cover. It simply ran over the bodies of dead and wounded GIs to reach safety. There was nothing else the driver could do. He’d seen the bodies of civilians, women, girls, killed by shelling and lying in a heap. Nobody put a picture of that in Stars and Stripes. Eventually, Patton’s 3rd army flanked the Germans and the deadlock was ended. The Americans were on the move at breakneck speed. The Germans were in retreat. Paris was liberated. The allies looked east. 

In August the 28th, caught a break, and marched triumphantly through the streets of Paris.  The crowds were huge and boisterous.  Paris was in love with America.  And Smitty loved Paris. The men got caught up in the Euphoria of late summer when the Nazis retreated in disarray. French wine was cheap and plentiful. The men got packs of Lucky Strike in with their rations. Cigarettes became a sort of currency to trade with the French. Two packs could get you some fresh eggs, a Godsend to men on a steady diet of the powdered variety. Glenn Miller was playing if you were lucky enough to be near a radio. The women were beautiful, and intoxicated with their newfound freedom.

Fall brought a short-lived sense of elation. The Germans suffered a million casualties in three months, half in the west. They were fighting and falling back to make a stand on the West wall, the very border of Germany at their backs. Scuttlebutt said the war might be over by Christmas.

The American economy was booming. Rationing at home was being eased or abandoned altogether. New York was alive with money and young people.  For 30 cents you could see Going my Way in theaters. Broadway was lit 24 hours a day.

But, the 28th couldn’t catch a break.  They assaulted the fortified Siegfried Line in October. Then the 28th entered into a vicious seesaw battle in the Hurtgen Forest. Positions changed hands multiple times. The 28th suffered 5,000 casualties in this one battle alone. Smitty’s best friend, John was killed in the Hurtgen forest. Shot through the head by a German sniper. Smitty knew John since before Normandy, before boot camp. Heck, he’d known John forever. Lived a few streets down. They’d caught fish outta the local farmer’s pond. Had to sneak in and sneak out. A couple of real outlaws, they were. John died in Smitty’s arms. Smitty thought of John’s mother, and wondered what he’d say to her if he made it home. He didn’t think that he would.

Army intelligence said that the Germans were finished. Military units were increasingly made up of old men and boys, or slave soldiers from the Slavic states.
It was just a matter of time now.

Smitty and his buddies didn’t take much comfort in the intelligence reports. If the German army wasn’t what it once was, neither was the 28th. They’d been hurt, and hurt bad. Smitty, looked around for the faces of the men he had fought with in Normandy. So many were gone. In their place, green kids.  And the Americans were in danger of outrunning their supply lines. German diehards remained in control of Channel ports in France and Belgium even as the German armies fell back towards the frontier. The Allies had to base their supplies on the Normandy beaches and bring them forward on a seemingly unending parade of trucks. Smitty and Slim watched a group of replacements trying to push a stalled Deuce and a half off of the muddy road. They were slipping and falling in the mud. Slim tossed a spent Lucky Strike to the ground and muttered FUBAR.

Yea, FUBAR, Smitty replied.

The 28th was tired and beat up. But Sarge brought one piece of good news to his buddies that day. The 28th was being moved away from the tip of the spearhead.  They were being sent to man a piece of the front line in a very quiet area near the town of Bande, a small village of little distinction in the Ardennes region of Belgium, an idyllic region more suitable for picture postcards than modern war. 

It was a densely forested and mountainous area. Dotted with picturesque villages with narrow streets. It is terrible terrain for offensive operations with the dreaded Panzers, Hitler’s preferred weapon. The terrain virtually guaranteed that no German counterattack would be launched here.  Besides “the Show” was going to take place further north, where vast American and British armies were poised to invade the Ruhr, Germany’s industrial heartland.

So, the 28th would rest and refit. There would be hot food, and they could attend religious services. From time to time a man could get a 48 hour pass to a divisional rest camp where they could get a hot shower, sleep on a cot, have coffee and doughnuts served by smiling Red Cross girls, maybe even see a USO show.

So, in late November, the veteran 28th Infantry Division, having lost five thousand men in bloody fighting in the Hurtgen Forest, replaced another division that had been resting in the Ardennes, taking over a twenty-five mile front along the Our river.

The Ardennes would be at once a nursery and convalescent home for the American command. New divisions would come for a battlefield shake up, old ones to rest after the heavy fighting of the summer and fall.  There was, nevertheless, a war on. The Germans shelled now and then with mortars. Combat patrols probed the line to see what was going on.  The “old men” did what they could for the green replacements. No, you don’t need to stand guard at right shoulder arms. German snipers can see a lit cigarette at night from a long distance. And, for Christsake take off those ties. You ain’t meeting General Patton.

Finally, luck was smiling on the 28th Division.

Last edited by Goose (7/14/2016 12:10 pm)

We live in a time in which decent and otherwise sensible people are surrendering too easily to the hectoring of morons or extremists. 
     Thread Starter

7/15/2016 5:48 am  #4

Re: Greatest Generation

Part Three
Wolfschanze (Wolf’s Lair), Field Headquarters
East Prussia
September 1944

A massive, drab concrete Bunker sat, concealed in a swampy pine forest. Surrounding the bunker was an entire regiment of Waffen SS troops. Inside Adolf Hitler stared at the huge map of Europe mounted on the wall of his bunker headquarters.  The 8 by 12 foot wall map showed a Third Reich in decline. The Russians were relentlessly pressing in from the East. The Anglo-American armies were approaching from the west. His generals, increasingly pessimistic, were suggesting peace talks. Some in the army had even entered into a plot to assassinate Der Fuhrer in July.

Yet Adolf Hitler still saw hope. Or professed that he did. Despite the terrible losses in battle, Germany still had nearly ten million men in uniform.  And there were still others who could be pressed into the fight, deferred students, non-essential government workers, older and younger men. There was no threat from internal dissent. The air raids and demand for unconditional surrender had cemented the will of the German people. The secret police eliminated any troublemakers.
However damaging the Americans believed that their B17 raids were, they failed to prevent German industry from maintaining a remarkably high rate of production. Industries were decentralized, or simply moved to the vast territories in the East, safely out of the range of American bombers.  Using those methods the Germans achieved wartime production highs in ammunition, artillery pieces, rifles, etc. Only in tanks was production in decline.

Despite losses in the East, the Russians were still hundreds of miles from any objective vital to German Survival. In the West, while the enemy was much closer, terrain, and fortifications favored the defender.

Still, German industry was no match for the Americans in the long run. The Nazis could not win a war of attrition. Space in the East, and difficult terrain in the West thus spelled time, but in the final accounting, time alone was not enough. To stand on the defensive while his enemies gradually strangled Germany was no solution. Hitler needed to go on the offensive. He needed to strike a blow that would change the dynamic of the war.

Hitler felt that he needed time. Hitler put great stock in new weapons such as the V2 rocket. He also saw the jet fighter as a game changing innovation. Jet propelled fighters three times faster than anything the allies flew were already coming into production. Once the new jets arrived in large numbers, they would sweep allied planes from the skies.

During the difficult summer of 1944, Hitler discreetly withdrew many of his best troops from the agony of combat. Four SS Panzer divisions were pulled from the line, without telling even his generals the reason, and refitted and trained in Germany. Despite pleas for reinforcements throughout the summer, Hitler continued to add troops and equipment to his offensive force.

But, the question of where to strike remained. Hitler studied the map and frowned. The East did not look promising. There was no hope of launching a decisive blow there. A few extra divisions would just get swallowed up in the vast expanses of Russia. So, he turned his attention to the West. There he noticed that the Americans were in a strong position in the south. The British and Canadians in the north.

Then Hitler had an idea. If he could drive a wedge between the allied armies, the Germans could isolate and destroy the British and Canadian Armies. The British, an empire in decline, would not be able to replace their losses. They would be reduced to defending their island nation. Would the Americans fight on alone? Hitler thought not. The Americans, after all were nearly single-handedly fighting the Japanese in the Pacific. If he could just deliver this blow, Hitler could conclude a peace in the West. Then, released from the demands of a two front war, he would be free to turn all of his strength on the Russians.

In order to destroy the British, Hitler knew that he must cut them off from the Americans.  And he also needed to cut them off from the sea, and their lifeline to Britain. So, Hitler decided that the port city of Antwerp was the strategic objective of this battle. But, where to start this offensive? Hitler’s eye fell upon the quiet region called the Ardennes. From the Ardennes to the strategic objective of Antwerp was a little over 100 miles as the crow flies. It was an alluring possibility. Of course, the Ardennes were impossible. They were heavily forested, and mountainous. The roads were few and narrow. In the villages narrower still.  Moreover, the winter weather in the Ardennes was some of the worst in Western Europe. Rains, mists, even heavy wet snow was common. It was totally impractical for offensive operations.

Hitler paused at the map. The Ardennes were,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,, perfect,
He concluded.

Although Hitler was aware that he could muster no such power as he had in 1940, particularly in the air, he saw means of overcoming that. By waiting until winter Hitler could count on a period of prolonged bad weather.  He could assemble his forces hidden from allied planes in the dense forests. This would allow his vaunted Panzer armies to be well on their way to Antwerp before allied planes could interfere.

So, each of the negatives was actually an advantage for the Fuhrer’s plan. The Eastern part of the Ardennes was in German hands. There they could assemble their army under cover and invisible to the eyes of allied planes. By the time the offensive started, the bad weather would likely ground the allied air forces altogether. The  heavy fog, rain, and perhaps snow would negate the allied advantage in airpower. True, the limited road network could slow offensive operations. But it would likewise make it difficult for the allies to bring up reinforcements. And if the Germans could capture some key crossroads like,,,,,,, the little town of Bastogne, the Nazis could  break into open country, and move with ease.

Finally, the area would be lightly defended. Yes, it was to be the Ardennes.

Hitler assembled his generals.
 “I have made a momentous decision”, he announced to the group. The die was cast.

And so, the Nazis readied their desperate offensive, and set in motion a battle that was to achieve epic proportions. The battle was destined to involve over a million men and to precipitate the greatest crisis the American army faced since Lee invaded Pennsylvania. It involved the most egregious failure in the history of American battlefield intelligence, and would become the greatest battle ever fought by the United States Army. It was not to be a battle of well-planned maneuver, or grand strategy. No, it would be a battle of improvisation, desperate effort, and undaunted courage under the worst possible conditions. 

In short, the Ardennes was about to become the most dangerous place on earth.

 And Smitty was standing right in the middle of it.

We live in a time in which decent and otherwise sensible people are surrendering too easily to the hectoring of morons or extremists. 
     Thread Starter

7/16/2016 6:54 am  #5

Re: Greatest Generation

Part Four
Skyline Drive
December 16, 1944, 0515 Hours

Smitty stared into the darkness wondering if he’d ever be warm again. He always hated sentry duty. But this was the worst. Smitty and some replacement had been sitting in the “Forward Observation Post” since midnight. The FOP was just a foxhole a hundred yards in front of the main line of the 28th.  If the Germans came, it was Smitty’s job to get a few shots off, and make some noise before he got killed. “Nice work”, he thought with a grim smile. 

The 28th was dug in on a ridge covered in large firs. The ridge had been named Skyline Drive because some of the soldiers thought that if resembled the Shenandoah mountains of Virginia. Before the war the Ardennes was a haven for tourists with it’s majestic forests, and picturesque villages. The Ardennes presents a rugged landscape with ridges, and deep gorges with rushing streams. It was a pretty lousy place to hold a war, Smitty thought. The “Skyline Drive” ran from north to south in pretty much of a straight line. Twenty or so miles behind him was the Belgian Town of Bastogne, where the country became open again, and a network of roads existed.

Well, there was no sign of any Germans around. Just the damned cold. Winter weather in the Ardennes was typically horrible, and this winter was no exception. Nearly a foot of heavy wet snow had fallen in the past day. Smitty guessed that the temperature was just below freezing. A heavy fog obscured the treeline ahead of him. It wouldn’t have felt that cold if you could keep dry. But, of course, it was impossible to keep dry. Smitty’s legs were wet. His feet were wet. The cold seemed to penetrate to his bones. He couldn’t move around. A fire was out of the question. So Smitty just sat there, shivering in the snow.

Smitty closed his eyes for a moment. It would be so nice to get some sleep. He felt himself drifting. The kid’s voice brought him back. “Hey, Smitty. What do you make of that?”

In the distance, Smitty could see hundreds of faint flashes of light, almost like the twinkling of stars.
“Oh shit” muttered Smitty. A second later they could hear the first German shells sailing overhead.

The dead quiet predawn suddenly became world of flame and noise as a maelstrom of bursting shells struck Skyline Drive.

After what seemed to be an eternity the shelling stopped. Smitty and the kid scurried back to the lines. Then the battfield was illuminated as huge German search lights were aimed at the low cloud cover. Then the Germans advanced. The 28th was stretched so thinly that when the Germans struck they were outnumbered roughly ten to one.  But, they were dug in. The first to advance were German Paratroopers, in white camouflage suits. 
The Americans let them advance to the outer wire and then opened a blistering fire. Two assaults were made by the paratroopers, but they were turned back. Over a hundred white clad bodies were left in the snow.

The Americans on Skyline drive fought well. But, the weight of numbers began to tell.  The Germans just kept coming. The American line was so thin that an overwhelmed fox hole there, a shell strike there opened up gaps in the line.  With the coming darkness of the first day, the Germans started taking advantage of those gaps. Men found themselves being flanked and in danger of entrapment. Ammunition ran short.

Extraordinary acts of bravery became common. One American commander fought until his unit was out of ammunition, then radioed a request for artillery fire right on top of his own position while he was being overrun. His platoon had two survivors.

Nevertheless, except for achieving surprise nowhere did the Germans achieve their first day’s goals. When outnumbered men in foxholes refuse to admit overwhelming odds advance through them may be inevitable, but it will not be easy or swift.

Still, the brave men of the 28th could not hold out forever.  Additional German firepower arrived by the hour. They began several days of a deadly fight, holding as long as possible, then falling back a bit towards the rear. Towards  Bastogne.  Sometimes the withdrawls were orderly affairs. Sometimes they were close run things, with the Germans so close that the retreat was reminiscent of stagecoaches beset by Indians in the old west. Men would move back from their foxholes, then clamber aboard any vehicle that could move: jeeps, trucks, half-tracks, holding on with one hand so that they could shoot with the other. The defense became makeshift, being organized of infantrymen, cooks, MPs, clerks and other headquarters staff.  Each day the tired soldiers looked to the sky for American planes. But they saw only fog, and clouds, and snow.

Still they fought a stubborn six day delaying action, buying America time to reinforce. Six days of desperate fighting in knee high snow, with no hot food, no fires, a shortage of anti-tank weapons, and most critically of ammunition.

On the fourth day Smitty’s luck ran out. While taking his turn at a staged retreat a German artillery barrage struck them. The ground shook. While running for cover a shell exploded near Smitty, throwing him to the ground. He could not get back up. The jagged edge of his tibia jutted through his uniform trousers. Several others were wounded or killed by the shell. A medic dressed the open fracture as well as he could, and placed Smitty in a foxhole. Medics tried to evacuate the wounded by jeep. But, no one dared make the run until the protection of nightfall came. So, Smitty was to lay in the snow for ten hours, before a jeep could evacuate him to a makeshift hospital in Bastogne. There, on the 21st of December he had his leg amputated.

Last edited by Goose (7/16/2016 7:08 am)

We live in a time in which decent and otherwise sensible people are surrendering too easily to the hectoring of morons or extremists. 
     Thread Starter

7/17/2016 9:28 am  #6

Re: Greatest Generation

Part Five
Hell comes for breakfast.
Honsfeld, Belgium
December 16, 1944

Well to the south of Skyline Drive Joachim Peiper stood in the turret of his Panzer tank contemplating his fortunes.  Handsome, well-connected, and resourceful, Joachim Peiper at the age of 29 brought to the Ardennes long months of combat experience in Russia where he managed to advance to command of the 1st SS Panzer army’s leading regiment. He had earned his nation’s highest honor, the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross, and had earned the admiration of his troops for both bravery and ruthlessness. Peiper personally led a night attack on the village of Pekartschina and burned it to the ground. Peiper’s command claimed over 2,500 Russians killed and only 3 captured, which was testimony to the brutality and fanaticism of war as Peiper practiced it. 

Peiper received orders for what his superiors called the “decisive role of the offensive”.  The orders were simple. Peiper was to use his Tank force of about 6,000 men and break through the American lines, get through this damned forest, and to break out into the open country beyond. The rest of the 1st SS Panzers would follow behind and exploit the breakout.  For this he assembled a special force, Kampfgruppe Peiper, that included three types of heavy tanks, Panzer Grenadiers riding in armored half-tracks, and ground forces. Hand-picked for both skill and brutality these fanatical SS troopers represented the best of the best. Or, rather, the worst of the worst.

Speed and brutality were to be the two keys. Hitler himself said that the offensive represented “the decisive hour of the German people”, and was thus to be conducted with a wave of terror and fright, and without “humane inhibitions”. That order was to have the most tragic consequences for hundreds of American soldiers and Belgian civilians. A private recalled later that not only were they instructed to take no prisoners, but “civilians who show themselves will be shot without mercy”.

Peiper’s  force was incredibly powerful. The major German advantage in the battle was in the quality of German tanks vis a vis those of the Americans. The standard American tank was the 33 ton Sherman, most equipped with a short barrel 75mm gun. It’s low velocity shell often simply bounced off german armor unless hit at close range and from behind. By 1944 the Sherman would have to be considered nearly obsolete. It’s only advantages to the German tanks being greater mobility as compared to the lumbering German monsters (American tankers said that at least the Sherman could get out of trouble nearly as quickly as they got into it) and the fact that American industry was turning out so many of them. German industry could simply not keep up.

The German workhorses for their vaunted Panzer divisions were the Mark IV which mounted a long barrel 75mm gun, and the 47 ton Mark V. The Germans also had behemoths, namely the 68 ton King Tiger tank, heavily armed and carrying a lethal 88 mm gun. A tiger advancing with machine guns blazing or 88 blasting was a near paralyzing sight. The Americans were about to be subjected to a terrible onslaught.

Peiper rejected the idea of an artillery bombardment in his sector prior to the attack. He wanted to achieve complete surprise in the dawn fog. And surprise he achieved.

An America Lieutenant was dozing in a chair in a house in a small village. At the sound of tanks he snapped awake. “Those don’t sound like ours”. Just then machine gun fire erupted all around him. German tanks and half tracks were upon the Americans as they were lined up for chow, or were curled up under blankets. Some returned fire, some managed to flee on jeeps or other vehicles. But others, caught completely off guard had no choice but to surrender. Peiper’s tanks rolled on, leaving troopers to round up the prisoners. 

Peiper kept moving quickly to the West. Speed was everything. Speed to exploit the breakout. Speed to gain the open country. Speed to change the course of the war. Putting everything into that effort, Peiper cared little about what was happening behind him.

It was just behind these tanks that the murder started. From one house in Bullingen an SS officer prodded eight sleepy Americans, some barefoot, into the street, lined them up and then mowed them down with a machine gun. From another house five Americans emerged under a white flag. A group of German soldiers opened up with their rifles killing four. The fifth soldier, wounded lay in the street until a German truck ran him over. The murderous scenes were repeated all along the advance of the 1 SS Panzers.

Men who escaped to the  woods reached American units and told their story.  The captain of an antitank company came upon two wounded men. They told him that they had been captured by the SS, lined up against a wall, shot and left for dead. There were reports from a squad of the 23rd Infantry that men had been summarily executed, and of SS troops bayoneting wounded Americans in an aid station.

It was near the village of Malmedy that the largest atrocity took place. The Germans stumbled upon an American convoy of trucks of Battery B, of the 285th Field Artilley Battalon in a jam of traffic. They raked the column with machine gun fire, and captured the column easily after a brief fight. The Germans assembled their prisoners in tight rows. There they stripped the Americans of personal items, rings, cigarettes, and gloves – the Germans were very interested in gloves. An officer gave the order, “Machen alle Kaputt”,
And the Germans opened fire. The firing seemed to go on for an eternity. After these Germans moved on, for hours afterward men on passing vehicles amused themselves by firing at the bodies.

Almost miraculously, a few men survived by playing dead to tell the tale. A few nights after what came to be known as the Malmedy massacre a heavy snow fell, offering the men a sort of burial. Eighty-six Americans were murdered in this single incident, the most heinous crime inflicted on American troops in Europe. Forty three men somehow survived. The massacre would be addressed in war crime trials after the war. But, there were more immediate consequences.

Word of these incidents spread as only word can spread among men fighting for their lives. But it did not have the effect that the Germans might have hoped for. Americans did not panic and flee. Anger was incited rather than terror. The Americans dug in, and they gave no quarter. As a matter of fact, from this point until the end of the war, any German trying to surrender while wearing an SS uniform was taking an enormous risk. 

Last edited by Goose (7/17/2016 9:34 am)

We live in a time in which decent and otherwise sensible people are surrendering too easily to the hectoring of morons or extremists. 
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7/18/2016 5:14 am  #7

Re: Greatest Generation

Part Six
The Race for Bastogne

As the 28th fought  and withdrew towards Bastogne it was unclear if they would find the Germans holding the town when they got there. Both north and south of Skyline drive the Germans had advanced deeply towards the west, putting Germans behind the 28th. All they had to do was swing their units to the north and south to close a pincer around the 28th short of Bastogne.

Bastgone was a market town with a pre war population of about four thousand. The village sits on a plateau at an elevation of about 1,600 feet. At the edge of the rugged country, the terrain around Bastogne lacked the vast expanse of forest to the East,. Much of it was open pastureland among rolling hills. It was the beginning of the open country that the Germans sought for their tanks. The town also sat upon a nexus of roads which would be needed to supply and reinforce tanks armies as they operated further west. In 1944 five major, and three secondary highways converged upon the town. Those roads made Bastogne important to the Germans and Americans alike.

The Americans sent the 10th Armed Division racing for Bastogne. But, they were desperately short of infantry reserves. Fortunately, both the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions were on leave 30 miles or so to the rear. Both were ordered into action. This time the airborne troops went to battle in trucks instead of airplanes. Many went to battle without essential equipment. Winter clothing and ammunition were in especially short supply. Junior officers fanned out over the area like a swarm of hungry locusts attempting to scrounge any useful items that they could beg borrow or steal. The 82nd was eventually diverted to the south to help deal with Peiper’s Panzer Divisions, while the 101st continued for Bastogne.

The Americans won the race for Bastogne by a hair, with the 101st arriving on the 19th.  The men were cold and wet, having ridden in big trucks with no overhead cover. Many lacked helmets or other equipment. But they were there. And they intended on staying. The Germans knew that if Bastogne were not taken swiftly, all forces working beyond the town would be starved of supplies, as the trucks, in contrast to tracked vehicles, needed roads  to operate on.  The struggle for the town also took on the aspects of national pride that were to lead to days of desperate struggle.

Last edited by Goose (7/18/2016 5:15 am)

We live in a time in which decent and otherwise sensible people are surrendering too easily to the hectoring of morons or extremists. 
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7/19/2016 4:50 am  #8

Re: Greatest Generation

Part Seven
Those Damned Engineers

Joachim Peiper looked at the swollen river before him and swore under his breath. His panzers might be the kings of the battlefield, but  there was one thing that a  German tank could not do: swim.

The Ardennes were dominated by mountains, and thick fir forests. They were also criss-crossed with multiple winding rivers. While one would not consider them to be great waters, the rivers featured steeply cut banks, and beds of bottomless mud that prevented a tank from fording even the smaller bodies. Peiper needed bridges for his tanks . The Germans brought bridge building teams with them. But building a bridge to accommodate a 50 ton tank was a time consuming project. And time was the one thing that Peiper did not have. 

To keep his juggernaut going, Peiper needed to capture standing bridges before the Americans could blow them up. He needed to secure those bridges, and break out of the Ardennes.  For the tank is an open country weapon. Plains and rolling hills were an environment in which the tank’s speed and firepower could overpower an opponent. The Ardennes was not open country. It’s forests, steep ridges, narrow roads with hairpin turns, and stone villages with numerous alleyways were great terrain for ambush.  A Sherman tank could be hidden in an alleyway. A three man bazooka team would fire from a bedroom window to pick off a tank and then disappear, only to fire again from another hiding spot. The hunter could become the hunted. And that was exactly what was happening to Peiper’s force in the Ardennes.  Peiper shook his head in amazement at the thought of small teams of men, with no more armor than a helmet, hunting his tanks. The Americans were not running away.  And they sure as hell weren’t surrendering.  The Americans were filled with a terrible resolve. The word started spreading. We fight and die here.

So, every crossroads was defended. Every village was a citadel, every copse of trees a possible ambush.

They were retreating in good order, and gradually bleeding Peiper’s force in the process. He needed to keep up his momentum. He needed to stop wasting valuable time and gasoline looking for crossings. He needed bridges.

The job of destroying those bridges fell to American engineer battalions.. American engineer battalions, trained to fight as infantry as well as their engineering duties were to prove a hidden reserve, and the undoing of Peiper’s force.

It was impossible to blow up every bridge in the Ardennes. And, even if it were possible, it would put the Americans at every bit as much of a disadvantage as the Germans. German intentions were unclear to the Americans. And units that could hold needed those same bridges to bring up ammunition and fresh units. Units retreating needed the bridges to evacuate men and equipment.  So, the engineers played a deadly game of holding a bridge until the situation was hopeless, waiting for the Americans to get across and blowing the bridge in the face of the advancing enemy. It took guts.

For example, at Stavelot the engineers prepared two bridges for demolition, and then defended the bridges so that American troops could retreat over them. A four man crew manned a 57 mm antitank gun. When the first German tank appeared at the corner, the crew was to fire, thereby providing the engineers time to clear and then blow the two bridges. It was a suicide mission, and the men involved had to know it. Just after 11AM on the 18th the first of Peiper’s tanks appeared. The crew of the antitank gun fired. The range was so close that they could hardly miss. But so puny was the weapon that there was little likelihood of knocking out the Panther. 
Miraculously the first shot damaged a track on the tank, but not its gun. With one round the German tanked killed the four man gun crew. But, by the time the Germans could manuever around the disabled tank, the last of the American defenders amnaged to scurry across the bridges to safety.  Behind those men the two bridges went up in a great blast. The Germans would not cross here.

These small battles were repeated time and time again, forcing Peiper to waste both time and gasoline looking for crossings, or waiting for his own bridge building teams to do their work. And that time was put to good use. American leadership was finally appreciating the danger posed by Peiper’s deep thrust of the 1st SS panzers. American tanks, and soldiers were on the way.

Peiper himself was at the head of a column as it approached the bridge at Habiemont.  At the end of a very difficult day, Not two hundred yards away he could  see Americans near the bridge and ordered his tanks to open fire. The men scurried to the far end of the bridge, and a young lieutenant turned the key on a detonator. A streak of blue light was followed by the site of the bridge first heaving up and then collapsing into the river.  

Joachim Peiper reputedly pounded one knee with his fist in sheer frustration, and muttered: “The damned engineers! The damned engineers”

Last edited by Goose (7/19/2016 4:59 am)

We live in a time in which decent and otherwise sensible people are surrendering too easily to the hectoring of morons or extremists. 
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7/20/2016 4:31 am  #9

Re: Greatest Generation

Part Eight

On December 18th the men who wore the bloody bucket shoulder patch of the 28th managed to get across the Clerve River and set up a defensive line on the outskirts of Bastogne. It was there that officers assembled a team to join the Paratroopers of the 101st in the defense of Bastogne. It was a rag-tag group. Survivers of the 28th, infantrymen, engineers, military police, cooks, clerks, tankers who had their tanks shot out from under them but somehow escaped. In an example of typical sardonic GI humor, they called themselves Team SNAFU.

The paratroopers of the 101st, and the 10th Tank Division rounded out defense.

Smitty was in an ancient church that had been turned into an aid station in the center of Bastogne. The medics and surgeons were overwhelmed by the number of wounded. But they did what they could. Morphine was in short supply and Smitty was having a lot of pain in his stump. But, looking at the other wounded men, he saw many who were worse off than him. Several Belgian nurses volunteered to work in the aid stations. They worked tirelessly, and their presence was a huge boost to the morale of the young men.

The worst thing for Smitty was the loss of control. Smitty was used to having his M1 in his hands, with at least a small say in his fate. He didn’t like being a patient. He felt helpless and useless.

An officer stopped in the makeshift hospital to deliver some supplies, and chat up the men. On his shoulders he wore the rank of captain. On his sleeve was the Screaming Eagle insignia of the 101st airborne.  His jump boots were well maintained but muddy. This officer got out in the muck with his men. Smitty liked him immediately. On his pocket was his name, “Winters”. This was Richard “Dick” Winters, the Commander of Easy Company.

Winters stood within a circle of men on their cots.  The conversation was the usual banter. “Where you from, soldier”? “They treating you right?”
A young 2nd Lieutenant hurried up to Winter’s side and handed him a piece of paper. His face was as white as the paper, Smitty noted.
“The Germans have captured the N-4 Highway. We are surrounded”

A hush fell over the room as the men pondered their fate. Would they be bayoneted in their cots by the SS?

Then Winters said it.  He looked the frightened young man in the eye and casually said, “That’s OK son. We’re paratroopers. We're supposed to be surrounded.”

The room let out a quiet breath. Yea, it was bravado. But this guy looked like he could back it up. Smitty knew that whatever happened, they weren’t going to be abandoned to the SS. The fight would go on.

Captain Winters excused himself to return to the Line. As he was leaving, he caught Smitty’s eye. “What are you grinning at, soldier?”
“I was just thinking, Sir” Smitty Replied. “If you get these doctors to slap a peg leg on me, I’ll get a weapon and go with you “.
Winters sized Smitty up for an instant and said, “Yes, I believe you would”.
They exchanged salutes and he was gone.

The germans created a bulge in the American line  40 miles wide and 60 miles deep. And Bastogne stood as a defiant island of resistance in the middle of that bulge. The stubborn stand by the Americans was quite literally a thorn in the German’s side. 
So, the Germans amassed a immense force of 15 divisions to crush the Americans under the force of the master race.

The American high command did not anticipate this attack at all. In fact they denied that the Germans had the ability to launch an offensive at all. For days they characterized the offensive as a limited counter attack.  But the encirclement of Bastogne simply could not go unnoticed. The press smelled disaster in the air. And suddenly the world was talking about this small town, and it’s beleaguered defenders.

Ike assembled his senior officers, among them General George Patton. The situation was critical. Someone needed to get to Bastogne, and get there pretty damned  quickly to relieve the brave defenders of the town. The British General, Bernard Law Montgomery, who commanded the armies to the north of the bulge flatly stated that he could do nothing for weeks. Eyes turned towards George Patton, the vain, flamboyant, and  irreverent, commander of third Army, positioned to the south of the bulge. Patton’s Third Army was in their own fight about a hundred miles to the south. But desperate times call for desperate measures. Patton got his orders. He was to disengage a large part of his forces from the enemy and turn it 90 degrees. He was then going to fight his way a hundred miles, in winter, to save Bastogne. It would require planning on the fly, courage, tenacity, audacity, even recklessness. Patton was going to command a large force of men on a desperate mission with the eyes of the world on him. For a self described prima Donna like George Patton, it was  the role of a lifetime.

For six days the Germans attacked the little town with everything they had. The bad weather grounded the American air forces except for one mission to parachute supplies into the town. Some pilots who survived being shot down joined the defenders. With bazookas, and even TNT they fought the panzers to a standstill. But critical shortages were developing in ammunition. The Germans demanded the unconditional surrender of the Americans in the town. The commander of the 101st offered the immortal reply, “Nuts!” and they held on.

And Patton was coming.

Last edited by Goose (7/23/2016 5:37 am)

We live in a time in which decent and otherwise sensible people are surrendering too easily to the hectoring of morons or extremists. 
     Thread Starter

7/21/2016 4:30 am  #10

Re: Greatest Generation

Part Nine
The End of Peiper’s Command

Joachim Peiper drove his Panzers on and on through the snow, his troops without sleep without hot food. And the Americans continued to bleed his force white. A bazooka team here, a dug in Sherman there, an anti-tank mine. All the while fuel was running critically short.

Peiper looked behind, and did not like what he saw.  Or rather did not see. A key feature of his plan was that, after blasting a hole in the American lines, he would continue to move on and infantry and supplies would simply follow him. But, the Americans weren’t crumbling. Forces that the tanks had bypassed rallied. And the hole Peiper blasted was closing in behind him. Supplies were not getting through as they should. Increasingly, Peiper's command was being isolated from the rest of the army.

And the forces in front of Peiper were changing. The defense was no longer makeshift. Troopers of the 82nd arrived in good order. Also powerful artillery was being brought to bear. Finally, America armor was arriving in great numbers. Peiper was not gong to make it to Antwerp. He was going to be lucky if he survived.

Frustration and fatigue took it’s toll. In what would become Group Peiper’s last major engagement, the Nazi commander looked in horror at a sight he had never seen before; he saw the incredible spectacle of his panzers backing up. He managed to rally the tankers by quite literally threating them with death. But the die was cast. The Group continued to lose heavily. The stands by American troops had denied Peiper support from other panzer units or a reliable supply line.

Critically short of gasoline his tanks were forced to take up defensive positions, and became  stationary targets, rather than mobile hunters. By the 23rd Group Peiper was reduced to a shadow of itself. And they were cut off from their own army.  The infantry did not advance. The rest of the 1st SS Panzers were being diverted to other parts of the line to deal with other crises. That night the able bodied men of Kampfgruppe Peiper abandoned their vehicles, including their last four tiger tanks for lack of fuel, and retreated by foot to the east, hoping to break through the Americans and return to their line. The abandoned tanks littered the battlefield like the carcasses of ancient monsters.

Kampfgruppe Peiper had gone into battle with over 400 tanks and 6,000 men. When the survivors staggered  back to the German lines they numbered 800, with only such equipment as they could carry on their backs.

Last edited by Goose (7/21/2016 6:03 am)

We live in a time in which decent and otherwise sensible people are surrendering too easily to the hectoring of morons or extremists. 
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