Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Stand Your Ground, 17 December 1944

         The German frontal attacks continued throughout the remainder of the 16th. The enemy kept trying to push new troops into the defensive line around Marnach. They were bent on finding a seam between the American squads or platoons. The tactic of "Divide and Conquer" they had perfected from 1939-1944 was bound to work. What the German High Command had not planned for was the dogged tenacity of the average GI. The first day of the attack was filled with countless stories of American Soldiers holding out until they were out of ammunition and then fighting hand to hand against overwhelming odds.
        You had held your own, admirably. You stayed next to Leroy "Whitey" Schaller as wave after wave of Wehrmacht Infantry savagely tried to dislodge you from your hole. Ammunition for your rifle ran out a couple times. So you and "Whitey" took turns dodging bullets and explosions running to the company command post for more ammo. Occasionally Sergeant Pettit would appear at the back of your foxhole with bandoleers full of clips and crates of hand grenades. The artillery pummeling didn't stop either. The concussions, sometimes so close to your hole, would distort reality. What was up, was down, and sounds disappeared to nothing. You'd shake your head clear of the cobwebs, pull your rifle into your shoulder, and go back to keeping the enemy at bay.
       That night was the worst. The fog rolled in, in earnest, around 1600hrs (4pm), and the sun set shortly after. Then everything degraded into individual fights started by sounds heard from the perimeter.  These savage actions would flash alone in the darkness, but somehow the American position held. As these contacts faded into the night, another sound would filter through the trees. Armor. The deep grumbling of tracked vehicles could be heard. The strange thing about the tanks and armored personnel carriers was the did not join in the fight. From the direction of the sounds, the tracks were moving around your position and Marnach completely. Whitey leans over and whispers "Looks like we are a side show. If they really wanted us gone they'd hit us with anything that had Armor and a gun."
       The night suddenly erupts with a massive explosion. The foxhole that had once held the .30 Caliber Machine Gun was now smoking ruins. Whitey grabs you by the shoulder strap of your web gear and starts pulling you towards the ruins of the machine gun position. The lack of plunging fire by the enemy is disquieting. There are calls for "Medic!!" and directions to get another gun up. You and Schaller jump into the hole and start assessing the condition of the .30 Caliber. Other than being schrapnel scarred, hot, and knocked off its tripod, the machine gun was in working order. You shoulder your Garand and chamber a new round into the action of the vital machine gun. Without orders, you let loose with a 5 second burst. Just to let the enemy know the gun was still in action.
       The burp of the gun hadn't faded in your ears before you notice SGT Pettit leaning over your new position. "Pick that gun up and move it. The Krauts hit it with a Panzerschrek (Bazooka) and aren't going to hesitate to hit it again."
        Out of the foxhole, again, you climb. The weight of the .30 Caliber is surprising because it isn't a big gun like the .50 Caliber. You move as quickly as possible back to your original hole. Whitey runs behind you, ammo cans banging in the night. The old machine gun pit is quickly reoccupied by two new bodies. SGT Pettit, knowing how thin the line already was had brought up two of the cooks that survived the "Screaming Meemi" from the morning before. The defensive line was getting manned now by the non-combatants. The situation was getting dire.
       From the bell tower of the church in Marnach, LT Carson was seeing flashing lights to the company's north. This was also the place  B Company scouts had heard the German Armor stop. The assault on the town was about to enter a second, harder, phase. Without wasting a second LT Kit Carson, the Commander of the Company was on the field phone telling Sergeant Kuhn to move the anti-tank guns and a platoon of Soldiers with Bazookas to the north.
      You were just loading a new belt of ammunition into the machine gun when SGT Pettit appeared again. This time he came bearing new orders and a Bazooka. Your Platoon was moving to the north of Marnach to defend against an impending tank assault.
      As suicidal as the mission sounds, you are in the Army. You don't get to pick the missions you are given, no matter how detrimental they may be to your health. So without question you pick up the .30 Caliber and start running up the road towards the smoldering town. The clatter of boots on stone, the rattle of equipment, and the crackle of still burning fires fills the night. You see what is left of Marnach and it isn't much. The Artillery has really done a number on the once small, peaceful, town.
     When you reach the woods north of Marnach, you realize it is too late. The Germans were already on the move and crushing everything in their path. The anti-tank guns were already crushed and smoking. Apparently they didn't get a chance at a fight. Their tractors were still attached and destroyed just the same. SGT Pettit skidded to a halt and without a word started back to Marnach.
     Back in town, SGT Pettit started yelling directions to the platoon. The men spread out amongst the buildings, creating barricades to try and make things harder on the Germans. You and Whitey sprinted through the ruins of what had been a house. Part of the second story was still standing and Whitey figured an elevated position would be a good spot. It didn't take you a second to get the gun in place and ready for action.
    The Panzer attack into town seems to take forever. Since spotting the tanks you have heard the ominous rumble and grinding of their movements. You and Whitey took turns sitting behind the machinegun. When not sitting behind the .30 Cal you do everything you can to stay warm. Banging your feet together, stretching, and blowing on your hands.
     You would expect an all out Tank assault to come barreling into a town like Marnach with guns blazing and speed at the engine's maximums. But instead the Germans rolled casually into town. The vehicle commanders were standing tall in their couppelas. The supporting infantry were walking casually, rifles slung, without a care in the world. The half tracks pulled to a stop just below your position. The tanks continued moving through town. The troops in the back of the half tracks dismounted and and began talking casually. A couple Germans pulled out their mess tins and began picking at the contents.
      The sight below you is astounding. Had the enemy known there was an American threat in the town, they would be tearing the place apart looking for the hidden GIs. But these guys are acting like they don't have a care in the world. Whitey started to smile. This was the firs time you had seen him smile since you met him.
      There is an ear splitting scream and explosion, as a bazooka is fired at one of the parked half tracks. You sight in the machine gun at the nearest group of lounging infantry and let fly with a full belt of ammo. The other GIs in your platoon taking the cue from the bazooka shot opened fire. The rain of fire doesn't last long. Many of the targets are on the ground, not moving. A few are writhing in the mud. But their movement attracts fire from other positions. The targets lit by the light of the burning half tracks.
       There is a sudden growl of engines from behind. The tanks have awakened to the threat they bypassed earlier. You and Whitey don't waste a moment in getting out of the ruined building. Taking a turn to the north, SGT Pettit intercepts your move.
        "Head west, try and link up with the headquarters guys in Clervaux. Make a stand there. We gotta stop the bastards before they push us back to Parris."

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