The Potsdam Giants was the Prussian infantry regiment No 6, composed of taller-than-average soldiers. The regiment was founded in 1675 and dissolved in 1806 after the Prussian defeat against Napoleon. Throughout the reign of the Prussian king Friedrich Wilhelm I of Prussia (1688–1740) the unit was known as the “Potsdamer Riesengarde” (“giant guard of Potsdam”) in German, but the Prussian population quickly nicknamed them the “Lange Kerls” (“Long guys”).
Frederick William I from the house of Hohenzollern became King of Prussia in 1713.
Charles Darwin wrote that human beings, unlike livestock, had never been forcibly bred for select characteristics, ‘except in the well-known case of the Prussian grenadiers.’ To the amazement of fellow-rulers and trembling subjects alike, the Soldier-King (as Frederick was nicknamed) began to collect giant men as one would collect rare stamps. From all over Prussia he had his agents look for- and oftentimes kidnap- men suffering from gigantism. In striving to create his own personal soldier core of giants, the king instructed his subjects to immediately signal the authorities whenever they should become aware of exceptionally tall men in the vicinity. He also made clear to his political allies that they could keep their gifts of gold for themselves as long as they provided him now and then with fresh giants to fill up his stock. The strange and sinister request dripped down into every segment of Prussian society. Prussian teachers, eager to appease the morbid king, kept an eye out for tall children and promptly handed them over to him when they had the chance. Newborn babies, expected to grow unusually tall, were marked with a bright red scarf for identification purposes.
If someone was unfortunate enough to be over six feet tall and born in the Prussian sphere of influence (which was quite extensive at the time), he would sooner or later be noticed and assigned to the king’s private collection cabinet. Cautious parents, aware of the king’s eccentric cravings, made improvised shelters for their children to hide them from the ever watchful eyes of Frederick’s scouts- who feverishly roamed the land in search of specimens to satisfy his dark avocations. If the collection item-to-be happened to be well-to-do (or of noble descent himself) no expense was spared to acquire him- for the king reserved enormous amounts of cash just for the purchasing of giants. If one had the misfortune of being of modest means or descent, the conduct of the Prussian agents was altogether different: in this case they were given carte blanch to simply abduct the person in question, bring them before the Prussian king to be inspected, stamped with the royal seal and subsequently enslaved. It would sometimes occur that his agents were so eager in carrying out their assignment that their prey would not survive the brutal journey to the Prussian throne. This would always enrage the impatient king, and the agent in question could count on a swift reprimand for his negligence (usually on the unhappy end of a rifle). Some glitches aside, his collection grew steadily- and before long he managed to assemble his giants in a formidable ‘regiment’ which were regularly taken out on display when some befriended tyrant came to visit. But Frederick was not satisfied with merely collecting the giants to impress neighboring monarchs; Frederick took the whole thing to the next level.
According to Washington Monthly author David Wallace-Wells, ‘King Frederick’s obsession was more than mere schoolyard eugenics.’ Indeed it was. Frederick was not the man for silly pet projects or idle pleasures. He was a Prussian king and that means thoroughness in absolutely every respect. With an ambition that would put Marie Stopes to shame, he gathered from all over Europe the most impressive ‘samples’ and selected each and every one of them personally before sending them to his sub-level experimentation chambers. The most notorious of these experiments was the stretching of his grenadiers on a specially constructed rack in an attempt to make them taller than they already were. Frederick would sometimes preside over these racking sessions himself while enjoying his lunch at the same time. However absurd and cruel this method, it revealed the king’s unwavering ambitions regarding all things inhumane. One of the first to venture into the world of methodical eugenics, king Frederick encountered the same difficulties as his future counterparts. When it became apparent that this method resulted in the death of the giants instead of gaining even an inch in length, he ended the practice lest he run out of giants. But putting a halt to this racking practice could not prevent the giants from dying in alarming numbers, for many of them sought refuge in suicide. As only a German blueblood could devise, the king forced his rapidly shrinking collection to interbreed with equally tall women so as to build a future army of giants, which would be the envy of Europe’s upper-class. Here he actually attempted to breed a ‘new man’, and it is said that the city of Potsdam, lair of the Hohenzollerns, was littered with unusually tall men at the end of the 18th century as a result. It is sad, this tale of the Potsdam giants. They fell victim to the elite’s bloodthirsty appetite and unwittingly became one of the first to be sacrificed on the altar of eugenics.
In eighteenth-century conventional linear warfare, the regimental infantry officer took part in four main activities: he motivated his men, directed them, kept them in good order, and engaged in personal combat. At least on European battlefields, perhaps the first of these four activities was the most important. Historians commonly assert that eighteenth-century common soldiers braved enemy fire partly because they were more afraid of their officers than of the enemy. There is some truth in this. As Wolfe put it in his tactical instructions to the 20th Regiment in 1755, in action the cordon of supernumerary subalterns and sergeants in the battalion’s rear were required “to keep the men in their duty.” This meant they used compulsion — even lethal force — to prevent the men from taking off: “A soldier that quits his rank, or offers to fly, is to be instantly put to death by the officer who commands that platoon, or by the officer or sergeant in the rear of that platoon; a soldier does not deserve to live who won’t fight for his king and country.” Roger Lamb, a veteran of the American War, later opined that this threat was effective: “A coward taught to believe that, if he breaks his rank and abandons his colors, he will be punished with death by his own party, will take his chance against the enemy.” British officers in America did occasionally resort to such threats in action, even if they do not appear to have carried them out. For example, Ensign John De Berniere wrote of the retreat from Concord that, as the militia’s fire began to take its toll, “we began to run rather than retreat in order. The whole behaved with amazing bravery but little order. We attempted to stop the men and form them two deep, but to no purpose: the confusion increased rather than lessened. At last . . . the officers got to the front and presented their bayonets, and told the men if they advanced they should die. Upon this they began to form under a very heavy fire.” Less happily, Tarleton recalled that “neither promises nor threats” availed the frantic efforts to recover the troops from their panic after the collapse of his line at Cowpens.
Although the threat of summary retribution must (if only subconsciously) have reinforced common soldiers’ readiness to brave enemy fire, eighteenth-century officers principally led rather than drove their men into combat. As previously discussed, this sometimes took the form of stirring exhortations that appealed to national or regimental identity. Similarly, the officers probably orchestrated the loud cheering in which the redcoats commonly indulged during combat. But the main way that the officer motivated his men was by maintaining a resolute, steady demeanor, particularly before and during the advance. As Bland pointed out in 1727, “the private soldiers . . . form their notions of the danger from the outward appearance of their officers, and according to their looks apprehend the undertaking to be more or less difficult.” For this the officer needed presence of mind and, above all, physical courage — the essence of the eighteenth-century cult of honor and sine qua non of the gentleman-officer. The need for these qualities intensified once the battalion engaged in close combat because the advanced position of the regimental officers who conducted the firings made them highly vulnerable not only to the enemy’s fire but also to that of their own men (whether accidental or otherwise). The officer’s prominent position also ensured that any momentary lapse in resolution would have been highly conspicuous. Any who failed in this respect almost certainly would have been pressured into quitting the corps, as happened to two unfortunate officers of the Queen’s Rangers after the battle of Brandywine.
Like courage, stoicism was a key element of the officer’s ability to lead by example. This manifested itself most often in reluctance on the part of injured officers to leave the battalion for medical treatment. A particularly impressive instance occurred at the battle of Freeman’s Farm, as later related by Thomas Anburey:
In the course of the last action, Lieutenant [Stephen] Harvey, of the 62nd, a youth of sixteen, and nephew to the Adjutant General of the same name, received several wounds, and was repeatedly ordered off the field by [Lieutenant] Colonel [John] Anstruther; but his heroic ardor would not allow him to quit the battle, while he could stand and see his brave lads fighting beside him. A ball striking one of his legs, his removal became absolutely necessary; and while they were conveying him away, another wounded him mortally. In this situation the surgeon recommended him to take a powerful dose of opium, to avoid a seven or eight hours’ life of most exquisite torture. This he immediately consented to, and when the Colonel entered the tent with Major [Henry] Harnage, who were both wounded, they asked whether he had any affairs they could settle for him. His reply was, that being a minor, everything was already adjusted; but he had one request, which he had just life enough to utter: “Tell my uncle I died like a soldier!”
Similarly at Bunker Hill (according to Captain the Honorable Charles Stuart), “not one officer who served in the light infantry or grenadiers escaped unhurt and few had less than three or four wounds.”
In America courage was an even more essential commodity for British officers because the hazards run in action there were seemingly higher than in conventional linear warfare. European officers generally considered it taboo to target individuals of consequence. At Brandywine, for instance, Major Patrick Ferguson countermanded his order for three of his British riflemen to shoot down an unsuspecting mounted rebel officer and his aide de camp because “the idea disgusted me . . . ; it was not pleasant to fire at the back of an unoffending individual, who was acquitting himself very coolly of his duty.” By contrast, rebel troops appear to have been positively encouraged to kill British officers. Indeed, at a dinner after the fall of Yorktown, captive Captain Lieutenant Samuel Graham noted that the unpolished Daniel Morgan “spoke with more volubility, perhaps, than good taste” on his riflemen’s role in Burgoyne’s downfall — and particularly of his having expressly ordered the shooting of Brigadier General Fraser during the battle of Bemis Heights.
To combat the rebel tactic of picking them off in action, British officers commonly toned down their appearance. In the case of the Guards, this process started even before the troops departed for service. Hence one English journalist noted how “[t]he [Guards] officers who are ordered for America are to wear the same uniform as the common soldiers, and their hair to be dressed in the like manner, so that they may not be distinguished from them by the riflemen, who aim particularly at the officers.” In America Howe issued a similar instruction to the British and Hessian officers in his army days before he opened the New York campaign. Although British regimental officers would have retained their scarlet (rather than brick-red) coats and their epaulettes and swords, they appear to have stripped the metallic lace from their button holes and hats, laid aside gorgets (and possibly also their crimson sashes), and (like the sergeants) taken up fusils. These sensible measures probably enjoyed some success. After the battle of Long Island, Captain William Dansey reported with relief that the threat the rebel sharpshooters posed was “not so dreadful as I expected,” though (as he added later) “such a bugbear were they at first [that] our good friends thought we were all to be killed with rifles.” Interestingly, when Simcoe was wounded and captured in October 1779 during the Queen’s Rangers’ raid into New Jersey, he heard one rebel regret that he had not shot him through the head, “which he would have done had he known him to be a colonel, but he thought ‘all colonels wore lace.’”
Nevertheless, whatever their appearance, British officers would have marked themselves out in action by issuing commands to and encouraging their men. Such was the case with the aforementioned mounted officer with the grenadiers at the battle of Monmouth, one rebel officer having recorded: “I ordered my men to level at him and the cluster of men near him. . . . He dropped [and] his men slackened their pace.” An even more striking instance occurred during the storming of Chatterton’s Hill, as related by Corporal Thomas Sullivan of the 49th Regiment:
Captain [Lieutenant William] Gore, who commanded the right wing of our battalion, seeing the rebels which we engaged on the right wing were dressed in blue, took them to be Colonel Rall’s brigade of Hessians, and immediately ordered us to cease firing; for, says he, “you are firing at your own men.” We ceased for about two minutes. The rebels, hearing him, made answer that they were no Hessians, and that we should soon know the difference. . . . The aforesaid captain was killed upon the spot: the enemy in his front took as good aim as possible at him, and directed the most of their fire towards the place [where] he stood, for they took him for the officer that commanded the regiment.
Clearly the rebels singled out and peppered the unfortunate Gore precisely because he drew attention to himself in such spectacular fashion.
Officer casualties were probably disproportionately heavy in those engagements in America where British bayonet attacks failed to dislodge the enemy quickly because sustained fighting gave the rebels more opportunity to single out officers and shoot them down. Burgoyne later claimed that this had unfortunately very much been the case during the seesaw struggle in the center at the battle of Freeman’s Farm: “The enemy had with their army great numbers of marksmen, armed with rifle-barrel pieces. These, during an engagement, hovered upon the flanks in small detachments, and were very expert in securing themselves, and in shifting their ground. In this action, many placed themselves in high trees in the rear of their own line, and there was seldom a minute’s interval of smoke in any part of our line without officers being taken off by [a] single shot.” In a similar fashion, at Cowpens over two-thirds of Tarleton’s infantry officers went down in the fighting that preceded the final, catastrophic British charge, according to Roderick Mackenzie, who was himself wounded. Although officer casualties do not appear to have been grossly disproportionate in relation to those of the enlisted men, during the course of the war, some regiments and companies were clearly more unlucky than others. After the 52nd Regiment lost its fourth grenadier captain in three years at the battle of Monmouth, one of the corps’ drummers observed with black humor, “Well, I wonder who they will get to accept of our grenadiers now. I’ll be damned if I would take them!”
Considering how (as we have seen) eighteenth-century officers often carried spontoons (or, less commonly in Europe, firelocks) in addition to their swords, one might have expected that they would have fought alongside their men in action. As Mark Odintz has convincingly demonstrated, however, in America this does not appear often to have been the case. For example, when Brigadier General Alexander Leslie wrote to his brother about the death of Captain the Honorable William Leslie at Princeton, he reassured the earl, “I don’t find he was too rash, as you seem to fear, or that he was out of the ranks.” More explicitly, after the battle of Monmouth, Lieutenant Hale regretted the fact that he and three brother-officers of the 2nd Battalion of Grenadiers had recklessly outpaced their companies during the initial breakneck British advance. Hale shamefacedly added, “I am told the general [i.e., Clinton] has expressed his approbation of the ridiculous behavior of the four subaltern officers . . . who had got foremost.”
That Hale took especial notice of the fact that one of his brother officers had dispatched a rebel with his sword during the pursuit (“as we all might have done”) demonstrates that engaging in personal combat was an unusual exploit for an officer. Similarly, contrary to the recommendation of one officer and military writer who served in Britain, firelock-armed officers and sergeants in America were not encouraged to augment the battalion’s fire in action. At the opening of the Albany expedition, Burgoyne reminded his army that “[t]he attention of every officer in action is to be employed in his men; to make use of a fusil except in very extraordinary occasions of immediate personal defense, would betray an ignorance of his importance, and of his duty.” Likewise, in a memorandum composed around May 1776 at Cape Fear, Clinton complained that an officer could not properly command his men “while he is firing, loading, and playing bo peep behind trees.” According to the general, when this happened the soldier, “when things become desperate talks of every man for himself and sauve qui peut.” Months later, an incident at the storming of Chatterton’s Hill appeared to vindicate Clinton’s disapproval. He later described what happened when, having forded the Bronx River, two British battalions suddenly found themselves exposed to very heavy fire from the rebels atop the hill: “The officer who led them immediately formed in column for attack and advanced; the instant I saw the move I declared it decisive. But when the officer had marched forward about twenty paces he halted, fired his fusil, and began to reload (his column remaining during the time under the enemy’s fire); upon which I pronounced it a coup manqué, foretelling at the same time that they would break. It happened as I said, and I could not help remarking to Sir William Howe that, if the battle should be lost, that officer was the occasion of it. I had scarcely done speaking when Lord Cornwallis came up with the same observation.” Clinton’s judgment on the affair was unequivocal: “General Burgoyne and I have often represented the absurdity of officers being armed with fusils, and the still greater impropriety . . . by which they neglected the opportunity of employing their divisions to advantage. These had no confidence in them, and they became in fact as the worst soldiers in their divisions.” In short, the officer could not properly carry out his duty to orchestrate violence and simultaneously be a direct agent of it.
The third activity that officers were expected to perform in action was to keep the men under order. This responsibility included supporting the sergeants in their main duties of filling vacancies and dressing the ranks and files — an important job when the men’s natural instinct was to “bunch” under fire. To facilitate this task, in conventional linear warfare officers and sergeants customarily carried spontoons and halberds; which were less useful as weapons than as tools with which to manhandle misaligned men into position. As mentioned earlier, the formation of two ranks at open file intervals customarily employed by the redcoats in America from 1776 precluded them from maintaining perfect dressings in combat. Despite this, however, the officers and sergeants needed to preserve a certain level of order, without which their control over the men would have broken down. This was especially critical when the battalion came under fire, met unexpectedly aggressive resistance, or routed one enemy force only to encounter a fresh one in its path. Any of these scenarios was likely, at best, to have dampened the men’s ardor and to have temporarily diverted their attention from their officers. At worst, the battalion might have fallen into disarray, in which case it could neither have continued its advance, prevailed in the firefight, nor withstood a resolute enemy attack. Whatever the degree of confusion, it was the officers’ immediate and overwhelming priority to restore full control over the bewildered or excitable soldiery.
As one instance of this, during the final assault at Bunker Hill, the adjutant of the 1st Battalion of Marines, Lieutenant John Waller, had to exert himself to restore order to the corps before it could resume its advance and storm the rebel position. Waller’s account is so vivid that it deserves to be quoted at some length:
when we came immediately under the work, we were checked by the severe fire of the enemy, but did not retreat an inch. We were now in confusion, after being broke several times in getting over the rails, etc. I did all I could to form the two companies on our right, which at last I effected, losing many of them. While it was performing, Major [John] Pitcairn was killed close by me, with a captain and a subaltern, also a sergeant, and many of the privates; and had we stopped there much longer, the enemy would have picked us all off. I saw this, and begged [Lieutenant] Colonel [William] Nesbitt, of the 47th [Regiment], to form on our left, in order that we might advance with our bayonets to the parapet. I ran from right to left, and stopped our men from firing while this was doing; and when we had got in tolerable order, we rushed on, leaped the ditch, and climbed the parapet, under a most sore and heavy fire.
Similarly, during Lieutenant Colonel Charles Mawhood’s first attack at Princeton, a “very heavy discharge” at forty yards brought down seven of the men in Lieutenant Hale’s ad hoc grenadier platoon and forced the others to recoil some distance, where Hale “rallied them with some difficulty, and brought them on with [charged] bayonets.”
As Hale’s experience indicates, sometimes the officers and sergeants could not restore their men’s order while the enemy continued to present an immediate threat, in which case the whole had to retire some distance first. Thus at Concord, when the rebel militia’s fire forced Captain Walter Laurie’s three light companies at the North Bridge (in the words of one of the officers) “to give way, then run with the greatest precipitance,” the four remaining officers did not succeed in halting the men until they reached the cover of the grenadier companies marching to reinforce them. A similar phenomenon occurred at the battle of Eutaw Springs. There, when Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Stewart’s line collapsed, it was necessary for the King’s troops “to retire a little distance to an open field in order to form” under the cover of the fire from a detachment of the New York Volunteers, who posted themselves in an adjacent brick house.
The last of the regimental officers’ four main activities was to oversee the various maneuvers and firings of their troops. In theory, because the battalion was under the overall control of the field officers, this task did not demand a vast effort from the captains and subalterns. For example, if the commanding officer ordered the battalion to open fire at the halt by subdivisions, the eight officers in question simply had to step forward and give the signal in the predetermined sequence for their fire divisions to “make ready,” “present,” and “fire” (and then to “load”). Hypothetically, maneuvering the battalion generally demanded even less of the captains and subalterns, for most of the evolutions required no further verbal instructions than the initial command bellowed by one of the field officers. All the captains and subalterns had to do was to oversee their maneuver divisions as they executed the evolution — doubtless the sergeants would have shoved wayward men into place. In short, in conventional linear warfare the directorial role of the captains and subalterns did not require them to display a great deal of tactical initiative. But as will become clear later, it was a very different matter in America. There the British considerably loosened the ties that ordinarily bound the maneuver and fire divisions of the battalion so rigidly into a single tactical entity.
A Chinese cavalryman c. 1260 is shown firing on a Mongolian warrior.The huo qiang or fire lance, which may date back to the 10th century. It was essentially a hollow tube made from thick layers of I paper, inside which was put a charge of gunpowder and shrapnel pieces. When the huo qiang was lit, it blasted out a jet of flame and projectiles, the flames having an endurance of several seconds and reaching out to a range of 9ft (3m). In a sense, here was the earliest hand-held flamethrower.
Under both the Tang and Song (Sung) Dynasties (960-1279), China experienced widespread economic growth, which in turn gave birth to a Chinese golden age. This success was based upon the development of the agricultural potential of southern China, most significantly in the production of rice in the Yangtze (pinyin, Chang) River Valley. The future of China would now be determined by the link between the bureaucratic north and the agricultural south. To solidify this crucial relationship, the government constructed the Grand Canal, a magnificent civil engineering project that was, in its time, the largest human-made waterway in the world. The canal increased transportation throughout the country, both accelerating trade and creating a sense of unity. The maintenance and protection of the Grand Canal became a major focus of the Chinese military. In times of conflict, this waterway allowed the emperor to move troops swiftly to any trouble spot.
With China’s great economic success came a softening of Chinese society, widespread political corruption, and a series of weak and incompetent emperors who eventually sapped the energy of the empire. In particular, the effectiveness of both the bureaucracy and the military was decreased, helping to create the conditions for the Mongol conquests at the beginning of the thirteenth century. These nomadic warriors first entered China at the invitation of the declining Song Dynasty. The emperor hoped that they would engage and destroy the Jürcheds and the Jin (Chin), two northern nomadic tribes that threatened to invade China. In 1234 the Jin were defeated by a Sino-Mongolian military alliance, but then, in direct violation of that agreement, the Song attempted to occupy the newly conquered land and extend their empire into the northern territories. This action shattered the alliance and set in motion the Mongol conquest of China and the establishment of the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368).
The Mongols would have a significant impact upon Chinese history. They established their capital at Beijing and abolished the bureaucracy based upon Confucianism and the examination system. These actions were taken specifically to negate the influence of the scholar gentry. The Mongols eventually adopted many aspects of Chinese culture and aggressively promoted its literature and art. Despite this openness, the Mongols were never able to find a solution to the Sino-Mongolian ethnic rivalry. Most of the intellectuals from the gentry class considered the Mongols to be uncouth barbarians. This ethnocentricity was exacerbated by the gentry’s resentment of the abolition of the state examination system, which blocked the gentry from gaining access to the highest levels of political power.
After the death of Kublai Khan (1215-1294), the Yuan Dynasty fell into a period of decline. There were essentially four reasons that this took place. First, the southern region was occupied by a large number of activists who had remained loyal to the Song Dynasty. As the Yuan declined, many of these disenchanted groups were emboldened to take political action that eventually resulted in an empire-wide revolt. Second, Yuan military prestige also suffered a severe blow from two disastrous military expeditions against Japan in 1274 and 1280. Third, Yuan military failures were founded in the general weakness of the post-Kublai Khan government that was beset by deep-seated corruption within the political bureaucracy. By the middle of the fourteenth century, the Mongol government was far too weak to maintain its control over all of China. Fourth, the increase in peasant uprisings and the rise of secret revolutionary societies resulted in a series of disastrous insurrections that finally forced the Mongols to withdraw to their ancestral homeland.
After he had secured the eastern border, the Tang emperor returned his attention toward the west. From 736 to 755 a series of successful campaigns extended the borders of the empire to the Pamir range, bringing the Tang to the frontier of Islamic civilization and placing these two great eighth century powers on a collision course. This Sino-Islamic crisis reached a flash point at the Battle of Talas River (751), a bloody confrontation that lasted for five days. The armies of Islam ultimately defeated the Chinese forces, ending Tang westward expansion.
This defeat marked the beginning of the Tang Dynasty’s decline. Decades of military campaigns had taken a toll on Chinese society, and the losses in both revenue and productivity were significant. These problems led to widespread civil unrest, which devastated Chinese society. For more than one hundred years, the emperors and their bureaucracies had failed to return the empire to a state of normalcy, and by 884 the Tang Dynasty was shattered.
With the final collapse of the Tang Empire in 907, China fell into a chaotic intermediate period referred to as the time of the Five Dynasties (907-960). None of the dynasties was able to unify China, and order was finally restored in 960, with the establishment of the Song. Most historians refer to the Song as the world’s first modern state, and its emperors were traditionally antimilitary. The government, in constant fear of an armed takeover, made strong efforts to limit the army’s power. The Song created a military model that placed their generals under the control of the civilian bureaucracy, resulting in the military’s lowered prestige and appeal for the aristocratic class. In time, the military came to be dominated by the lower echelons of Song society, and by the middle of the eleventh century enlisted men were receiving one-tenth of their former wages. This lowered pay caused great economic hardship, and mutinies became commonplace.
The Song government was faced with significant financial difficulties. The population of China had reached 140 million, and vast amounts of money had been set aside for the construction of large-scale irrigation projects. The empire had to import the vast majority of its cavalry horses, which also cost a considerable amount of money. China’s underfinanced military was grossly ill-equipped to meet the security challenges of the nomadic horsemen of central Asia. The Song bureaucracy responded to this problem by adopting a military philosophy based upon the concept of strategic defense. Money was allocated for the construction of massive fortifications that would frustrate the light horse cavalry tactics of the nomadic armies. The military theory that all defensive structures are eventually neutralized by an opposition force came to pass in the last years of the Song Dynasty. When the Song-Mongol military alliance broke down, the aggressive Mongol warriors quickly defeated the demoralized forces of the emperor and established the Yuan Dynasty. Between 1200 and 1405 the Mongols conquered Tibet, Russia, Iraq, Asia Minor, and southern and eastern Europe.
By the middle of the fourteenth century, the Yuan Dynasty began to decline. Years of famine gave rise to peasant unrest, and a secret religious sect known as the White Lotus spread anti-Yuan propaganda concerning the reestablishment of the Song Dynasty. In turn, the White Lotus also supported a peasant rebel organization known as the Red Turban movement. Fighting broke out between the Yuan forces in the south and the rebel armies. The success of these armies was primarily due to the fact that the Yuan had failed to keep the system of defensive walls under repair. The Yuan’s nomadic heritage and military success were based upon swift cavalry movements, and a defensive mindset was totally alien to them. Eventually, the Mongols were able to defeat the rebel armies, but they were never able to regain complete political control of southern China.
From 1351 to 1368 the Mongols were involved in a series of military campaigns against Chinese forces in the south, in which they suffered a series of disastrous setbacks. The Mongols decided to abandon much of their territory and returned to their ancient homelands in the north. This strategic withdrawal marked the beginning of the Ming Dynasty (1368- 1644).
The new Ming emperor and his intellectual elite modeled themselves after the Song Dynasty. Like the Song the Ming adopted an isolationist policy that kept the government’s focus on protecting the homeland.
On the night of 5/6 June Bomber Command conducted precision attacks on ten German coastal artillery batteries near the beaches where Allied troops were to land. Each battery was targeted by approximately 100 heavy bombers, and all four Australian heavy bomber squadrons took part in the operation. No. 460 Squadron dispatched 26 aircraft, which were evenly split between attacking the batteries at Fontenay-Crisbecq and St Martin de Varreville. No. 466 Squadron provided 13 aircraft to the raid on batteries at Merville-Franceville Maisy, 14 aircraft from No. 463 Squadron struck Pointe du Hoe and No. 467 Squadron dispatched 14 against batteries at Ouistreham. The RAAF squadrons did not suffer any losses. Many Australian aircrew posted to British units also participated in this attack, and 14.8 percent of the 1,136 Bomber Command aircraft despatched were either part of RAAF squadrons or were flown by Australians.
Australians posted to RAF units also landed paratroopers in Normandy and took part in diversionary operations. On the night of 5/6 June several Australian airmen served in heavy bombers that dropped “window” chaff in patterns that, on German radar, simulated the appearance of convoys headed for the Pas de Calais region of France. Other Australians served in aircraft that dropped dummy paratroopers and jammed German radar. One Australian pilot posted to No. 139 Squadron RAF took part in “intruder” bombing raids against targets in western Germany and the Low Countries that sought to divert German aircraft away from Normandy. Australian aircrew also served aboard the transport aircraft of No. 38 Group RAF and No. 46 Group RAF, which flew the British 6th Airborne Division from the UK to Normandy on the night of 5/6 June. About 14 percent of the transport aircraft in No. 38 Group were piloted by Australians, though the proportion of Australians in No. 46 Group was much lower. There were no completely Australian aircrews in either group.
Australian aircrew supported the fighting on 6 June. No. 453 Squadron was one of 36 Allied squadrons that provided low-altitude air defence for the invasion fleet and landing force. Many of the squadron’s pilots flew several sorties during the day, though they did not encounter any German aircraft. No. 456 Squadron also formed part of the force that provided air defence for the invasion area at night. In addition, about 200 Australian pilots were spread across the dozens of RAF fighter and fighter-bomber units that supported the landings. A small number of Australian aircrew also served in RAF reconnaissance units and 2TAF’s light bomber squadrons, which also saw combat over France on D-Day. The three Australian squadrons assigned to Coastal Command flew only a small number of sorties on 6 June as few German submarines or E-boats put to sea.
About 500 RAN personnel served on board RN ships involved in the operation. While most formed part of the crew of RN warships, several Australian officers led flotillas of landing craft and others commanded individual craft. For instance, Sub-Lieutenant Dean Murray commanded a force of six RN Landing Craft Assault that landed soldiers of the British 3rd Infantry Division at Sword Beach. Hudspeth also took X20 across the channel to mark the edge of Juno Beach during the landings there; he received his third DSC for completing this mission. Some of the warships with Australian crew members that supported the landings were HMS Ajax (which had three RANVR officers on board), Ashanti, Enterprise, Eskimo, Glasgow, Mackay and Scylla. Australian members of the Merchant Navy also participated in the D-Day landings, though the number of sailors involved is not known.
Few of the Australian Army officers attached to British units landed on D-Day. Major Jo Gullett, who was the second in command of an infantry company in the 7th Battalion, Green Howards, came ashore on Gold Beach as part of the invasion force. In his memoirs, Gullett described the landing as “easily the most impressive occasion of my life”. He subsequently led a company of the Royal Scots until he was wounded by German machine gun fire on 17 July. Most of the other Australian officers served in staff positions; for instance Lieutenant Colonel Bill Robertson was the chief of staff of the 51st (Highland) Infantry Division when that unit arrived in Normandy and was later posted to the 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division where he served in the same role. Vincent came ashore on 7 June and served with XXX Corps, 7th Armoured and 43rd (Wessex) Infantry Divisions during the campaign.
Due to the lack of a nominal roll or other records listing the Australians who took part in the D-Day landings, it is not possible to determine the exact number involved. However, it has been estimated that about 3,000 Australian military personnel and merchant seamen participated in the operation. The total number of Australians killed on 6 June was 14, of whom 12 were RAAF airmen and two were members of the RAN.
“Toter Sapenpost” (1924) (Dead Sapenpost) by Otto Dix
A man in a trench was almost invulnerable to rifle and machine-gun fire. To kill or wound him with a shell required a lucky shot; by one contemporary estimate, it took 329 shells to hit one German soldier. To clear the trench a hand grenade had to be thrown or shot into it. But to get within range—60 to 120 feet—required crossing no-man’s-land alive, possible only for small groups mounting nocturnal trench raids, and not for masses of men advancing in daylight against a “storm of steel” from machine guns and artillery. Mobility and mass had ruled warfare since antiquity. Opponents were either flanked or crushed. Trench warfare mocked these principles. If, trying to defeat the Allies before the million-man American Army took the field, the Germans had not raised up out of their trenches and taken the offensive in the spring of 1918, the war would have lasted a year or more longer.
Mud was the soldiers’ shield. European man tried to cheat death by submerging himself in the “greasy tide” of rainy, thin-soiled Flanders and Picardy. Three French soldiers speak for millions.
“The front-line trench is a mud-colored stream, but an unmoving stream where the current clings to the banks,” one wrote. “You go down into it, you slip in gently … At first the molecules of this substance part, then you can feel them return together and hold on with a tenacity against which nothing can prevail.”
“Sometimes the two lips of the trench come together yearningly and meet in an appalling kiss, the wattle sides collapsing in the embrace,” another observed. “Twenty times over you have patched up this mass with wattles, yet it slides and drops down. Stakes bend and break … Duckboards float, and then sink into the mire. Everything disappears into this ponderous liquid: men would disappear into it too if it were deeper.”
To yet another, writing in a soldier-edited “trench paper,” the mud seemed alive—and hungry: “At night, crouching in a shell-hole and filling it, the mud watches, like an enormous octopus. The victim arrives. It throws its poisonous slobber out at him, blinds him, closes round him, buries him … For men die of mud, as they die of bullets, but more horribly. Mud is where men sink and—what is worse—the soul sinks … Look, there, there are flecks of red on that pool of mud—blood from a wounded man. Hell is not fire, that would not be the ultimate in suffering. Hell is mud!”
On his first night in the trenches, Robert Graves “saw a man lying on his face in a machine-gun shelter.”
I stopped and said: “Stand-to, there.” I flashed my torch on him and saw his foot was bare. The machine-gunner beside him said: “No good talking to him, sir.” I asked: “What’s wrong? What’s he taken his boot and sock off for?” I was ready for anything wrong in the trenches. “Look for yourself, sir,” he said. I shook the man by the arm and noticed suddenly that the back of his head was blown out. The first corpse I saw in France was this suicide. He had taken off his boot and sock to pull the trigger of his rifle with his toe; the muzzle was in his mouth.
The mutual siege warfare of the trenches was a psychic Calvary. “All poilus have suffered from le cafard,” a poilu, the French “grunt,” testified, using an expression for overmastering misery “which has no precise linguistic equivalent in the English vocabulary of the Great War.” To be alive was to be afraid—of snipers, shells, mines, and gas; of drowning in mud, burning in liquid fire, and freezing in snow; of the enemy in front of you and the firing squad behind; of lice and rats, pneumonia, and typhus; of cowardice, hysteria, madness, and suicide.
Graves’s great fear was of being hit by “aimed fire” traceable to a marksman’s malevolent intent. The least likely way to die in the war, the bayonet thrust in the gut, was the most terrifying. More rational was the terror instilled by “the monstrous anger of the guns,” as the poet Wilfred Owen personified artillery. Unaimed shellfire was the major killer in the trenches. Under saturation bombardment, there was no escape. For nine straight hours, on February 21, 1916, at Verdun, eight hundred German artillery pieces fired forty shells a minute on the French positions. “I believe I have found a comparison that conveys what I, in common with all the rest who went through the war, experienced in situations like this,” Ernst Jünger wrote. “It is as if one were tied to a post and threatened by a fellow swinging a sledgehammer. Now the hammer is swung back for the blow, now it whirls forward, just missing your skull, it sends the splinters flying from the post once more. That is exactly what it feels like to be exposed to heavy shelling without cover.”
Jünger’s image captures the emotional trauma specific to trench warfare. In his 1918 book War Neurosis the psychiatrist John T. MacCurdy hypothesized that industrial warfare was uniquely stressful because soldiers were forced to “remain for days, weeks, even months, in a narrow trench or stuffy dugout, exposed to constant danger of the most fearful kind … which comes from some unseen force, and against which no personal agility or wit is of any avail.” Nor, unless in hand-to-hand combat, could the men “retaliate in any personal way.” Their memories were seared with inadmissible fear and inexpressible rage. The worst sufferers from war neurosis or “shell-shock,” as a Lancet article labeled it in early 1915, were the defenseless artillery spotters who hung over the battlefield in balloons while the enemy fired shot after unanswered shot at them. “Medical officers at the front were forced to recognize that more men broke down in war because they were not allowed to kill than collapsed under the strain of killing,” observes the historian Joanna Bourke. To spare himself, perhaps Graves’s barefoot suicide needed to turn his death-will on a German.
Soldiers could look away from terrible sights; there was no escape from the pounding nightmare of the guns. Of the firing of a giant mortar, an American correspondent with the German army in Lorraine reported: “There was a rush, a rumble, and a groaning—and you were conscious of all three at once … The blue sky vanished in a crimson flash … and then there was a remote and not unpleasant whistling in the air. The shell was on its way to the enemy.” What did it sound like to him? “You hear a bang in the distance and then a hum coming nearer and nearer until it becomes a whistle,” a British soldier remembered. “Then you hear nothing for fractions of a second until the explosion.” “The lump of metal that will crush you into a shapeless nothing may have started on its course,” wrote Ernst Jünger, recalling the thought that filled his mind while he “cower[ed] … alone in his hole” during a bombardment. “Your discomfort is concentrated on your ear, that tries to distinguish amid the uproar the swirl of your own death rushing near.” Paradoxically, the shells that couldn’t be heard, those fired from trench mortars just across no-man’s-land, were the likeliest to kill. Terrifying as the din was, men had more to fear from the silence.
Artillery broke men; it could not break the trench barrier. A rain of shells might bury a stretch, but not men guarding it. Carrying their machine guns and rifles, they could ride out the bombardment in deep dugouts built into the inner walls of the trench, then surface in time to decimate the attacking infantry. The machine gun, which had necessitated the trench, could not break it. The grenade was “an excellent weapon to clear out the trenches that assaulting columns are attacking,” in the words of Tactics and Duties for Trench Fighting, a U.S. Army manual. Of flamethrowers, exploited by the Germans in their 1918 breakout attacks, Tactics and Duties bleakly concluded: “It is impossible to withstand a liquid fire attack if the operators succeed in coming within sixty yards” of the trench. “The only means of combating such an attack is to evacuate.” Grenades and flamethrowers were tactical weapons. Gas was potentially strategic.
In April 1915, the Germans released a 150-metric-ton cloud of chlorine along a seven-mile front near Ypres. The cloud slowly wafted across no-man’s-land, turning from white to yellow-green as it crept closer to the two divisions of Franco-Algerian soldiers holding the line. Choking for life, they panicked and ran, German infantry in pursuit. “We had seen everything—shells, tear-gas, woodland demolished, the black tearing mines falling in fours, the most terrible wounds and the most murderous avalanches of metal—but nothing can compare with this … death-cloud that enveloped us,” one poilu wrote in a trench paper. The Germans captured two thousand prisoners and fifty-one guns but had not accumulated the reserves to convert this tactical success into a breakthrough, a failure that gave rise to the myth of the “missed opportunity.” (“After the war, many of the experts felt that the Germans could have dealt a decisive blow on the western front if they had made the necessary deployments.”) Far along in their preparations to deploy and defend against gas, the Allies rapidly adapted. Within months both sides were using it, especially to deny mobility to the other side. Thus “poison gas, which was supposed to bring an end to trench warfare,… became the strongest factor in promoting the stasis of the war,” and intensifying its horror.
What finally broke the barrier was the tank used in combination with artillery and infantry. “The turning point of the war,” according to a postwar German government commission, was the emergence from out of an early morning mist of French tanks counterattacking the German lines at Soisson on July 18, 1918—tanks that rolled over obstacles vital to the defenders’ sense of security. “Tank fright” ramified. It colored what General Ludendorff called “the black day of the German army,” the August 8 attack at Amiens of four hundred British tanks (and eight hundred planes) that punched an eight-mile bulge in the German lines. The British took eighteen thousand prisoners, batches at a time surrendering to single tanks. And whereas eight thousand Germans were killed on August 8, the tank-accompanied British troops, attacking in the open, recorded half that number of fatalities over four days. By neutralizing the machine gun, the armored tank lifted the “storm of steel” fatal to attacking infantry.
Ten Australian and Canadian divisions crossed no-man’s-land with those tanks at Amiens. Leaving the protection of the trenches, the men went “over the top.” Henri Barbusse evoked that moment: “Each one knows that he will be presenting his head, his chest, his belly, the whole of his body, naked, to the rifles that are already fixed, the shells, the heaps of ready-prepared grenades and, above all, the methodical, almost infallible machine-gun—to everything that is waiting in silence out there—before he finds the other soldiers that he must kill.”
The Germans collapsed at Soissons and Amiens because they had lost one million irreplaceable men who had gone over the top in their last-ditch “peace offensives” between March and July. The nearly four years since the Battle of Flanders had proved the axiom that he who attacked lost heavily in men whatever few yards he gained in territory. On the relative safety of the trenches, consider the contrast between the casualties suffered by the German army in February 1918, when it stood on the defensive, and in March, when it attacked. Manning the trenches in February found 1,705 soldiers killed, 1,147 missing, and 30,381 wounded. Attacking in March the figures were 31,000 killed, 19,680 wounded, 180,898 missing.
Amiens showed how far tanks could shift the odds to the attacker. However, while the tank could break into the German lines, with its vulnerability to shells, liability to breakdown, and short range it could not break through them. Of the 414 tanks in the August 8 attack at Amiens, just 38 were usable on the 11th and only 6 on the 12th. As the supple of tanks ran down in September and October the British high command reverted to the high-casualty infantry-artillery assault. Thus when the British “Tommy” took the offensive in the fall of 1918 he had grim occasion to look back on the “victory of the spade” as a victory for life over death.
In licensing the spade, the generals licensed survival, a biological imperative that sapped the appetite for aggression. The trenches spawned a live-and-let-live solidarity between enemies sharing the same mud, enduring the same privations, and resenting in equal measure the same callousness toward their sufferings found at headquarters, in rear billets, on the home front, and in the patriotic press—a solidarity feared by the brass on both sides, who, sensing in it the makings of a politics of life stronger than nationalism, strove to break it.
After 1941, the Balkans provided a much-required supply of natural resources for the Reich. One source, citing post-war reports from the Nuremberg trials, stated the Balkans provided “50% of petroleum, 100% of chrome, 60% of bauxite and 21% of Copper” for the German war machine. To protect both this vital source of resources and the lines of communication for its substantial occupation forces in Greece, Germany had some 18 Divisions in Yugoslavia, along with numerous other independent formations. This was an ulcer in the side of Germany as they sought to find troops to bolster their deteriorating position on the Eastern Front. These forces were still not sufficient to dominate the country and consequently they occupied the major urban areas and important communication nodes, while Partisan forces controlled the rugged countryside and were free to attack at will. The resulting situation for the Germans was dismal. In fact, in some areas morale was so low amongst German troops that many thought their prospects were better against the Russians and took the extraordinary move of volunteering for transfer to the Eastern Front rather than take their chances against the Partisans.
To Field Marshal Maximilian Freiherr von Weichs, who was not only the Commander of Army Group F responsible for Yugoslavia and Albania but also oversaw Luftwaffe General Alexander Löhr’s Army Group E in Greece, it was very apparent that he lacked the manpower and equipment to gain total victory in the field over the Partisan masses. The terrain was extremely well suited for guerrilla operations and very much favored the Partisans. He believed that the elimination of Tito, the personification of the Partisan movement and its center of gravity, would eliminate their will to fight. Hitler, who had personally ordered the elimination of Tito, shared this belief.
The task to locate Tito was assumed by several German intelligence organizations, including SS special operations expert Major Otto Skorzeny, operating independently on Hitler’s direct orders, and elements of the Brandenburg Division, the Abwehr’s special operations arm. The Brandenburgers had been involved on the attack on Jajce and now had their agents looking for clues as to Tito’s new location. The detailed task went to the Brandenburg Lieutenant Kirchner and his troops, and in a series of events to be discussed later, Tito and his headquarters were discovered from several sources to be in Drvar.
Planning and Preparation
Planning for the operation began in earnest. Field Marshal von Weichs signed the order on 6 May, and balancing synchronization of the operation with operational security, General Lothar Rendulic issued the Second Panzer Army order for Operation RÖSSELPRUNG two weeks later, on the 21st of May, allowing only three full days for subordinates to conduct battle procedure. Given potential security leaks in the form of Partisan agents, this was a prudent move. Rendulic, whose Second Panzer Army paradoxically did not include any panzer divisions, directed that the XV Gebirgs (Mountain) Army Corps, commanded by Lieutenant-General Ernest von Leyser, was to execute the operation.
A heavy bombardment of Partisan positions in and around Drvar by Fliegerführer Kroatien (Air Command Croatia) aircraft was to precede a parachute and glider assault by 500 SS Fallschirmjäger Battalion whose task it was to destroy Tito and his headquarters. Concurrently, XV Corps elements would converge on Drvar from all directions, in order to linkup with 500 SS on the same day, 25 May 1944. Speed, shock and surprise were key for the paratroopers of 500 SS to accomplish their mission.
500 SS Fallschirmjäger Battalion was a relatively new unit. It was formed in the autumn of 1943 by direction of Hitler’s headquarters for the purpose of performing special missions. Sometimes referred to as a penal unit, it included many volunteers but for the most part initially, the enlisted ranks came from ‘probationary soldiers’. These were soldiers and officers who were serving sentences for minor infractions of a disciplinary instead of a criminal nature, imposed in the draconian environment of the Waffen SS. Dishonored men of all ranks of the SS could redeem themselves in this battalion and once joined had their rank restored. The unit conducted parachute school at the Luftwaffes’s Paratroop School Number Three near Sarajevo, Yugoslavia in November and finished in Papa, Hungary, early in 1944, as the school relocated there. After training was completed the unit participated in several minor Partisan drives before returning to its training grounds on the outskirts of Sarajevo in mid-April and remained there under strict security measures. While there, the 27-year-old SS Hauptsturmführer (Captain) Kurt Rybka took command of the battalion.
Rybka received an outline of the operation on 20 May and more detailed orders the following day. Realizing there were not enough gliders or transport aircraft to deploy 500 SS in one lift, he devised a plan where 654 troops would conduct the initial assault at 0700 hours, and a further 220 would reinforce as a second wave some five hours later. The intelligence picture that was portrayed to him was based on available sources, and recent air photos were used to aid in the planning. The suspected location of Tito’s headquarters, a cemetery on dominating ground, was given the codename ‘Citadel’ and the important crossroads in town was entitled the ‘Western Cross’.
The town was to be secured by 314 parachute troops. They were split into Red (led by Rybka), Green, and Blue Groups and were based on elements of the unit’s three rifle companies. Another 354 troops, based on remaining members of the rifle companies and the heavy weapons company, were split into six assault groups for specific missions. Panther Group of 110 soldiers, the largest, was to capture Citadel and destroy Tito’s headquarters. Greifer Group of 40 soldiers was to destroy the British military mission. Sturmer Group of 50 men was to destroy the Soviet military mission. Brecher Group of 50 men was to destroy the U.S. military mission. Draufgaenger Group was to capture the Western Cross and the suspected nearby Partisan communication facility. Of the 70 personnel in Draufgaegner Group, 40 belonged to the Brandenburg Benesch Group (some of whom were Chetniks and other local Bosnians) and six came from an Abwehr detachment commanded by Lieutenant Zavadil. These attachments were given specific intelligence collection, translation and communication tasks. Beisser Group of 20 soldiers was to seize an outpost radio station, then assist Greifer group. Finally, the second wave, base on the Field Reserve Company (basically the training company) and the remainder of the unit was to insert by parachute at 1200 hours.
For security reasons, the Battalion’s soldiers were not briefed on the operation until several hours before it was launched, but preliminary moves began on 22 May as the unit, dressed in non-descript Wehrmacht uniforms for security reasons, was transported by truck to three assembly areas, Nagy-Betskerek, Zagreb and Banja Luka. There they linked up with their Luftwaffe transport from Fliegerführer Kroatien, some of which had been brought in from France and Germany specifically for the operation. The 1st and 2nd Squadrons of Towing Group 1, and 2nd and 3rd Battalions of Air Landing Group 1, all with 10-passenger DFS 230 gliders and towed by either Hs 126 or Ju 87 (Stukas in a towing role) aircraft, would transport the glider-borne force. The 2nd Battalion of Transport Group 4, with about 40 Ju 52 transports, would deliver the parachute force. By 24 May, battle procedure was complete.
German intelligence claimed about 12,000 Partisans were active in the area of operations, but Yugoslav sources place this number around 16,000, not including auxiliary support, schools, or members of the SKOJ (Communist Youth League of Yugoslavia). Immediately surrounding Drvar were the First (Nikola Tesla) and Six Proletarian Divisions of the First Proletarian Corps, with the Corps HQ based six kilometres to the east in Mokronoge. Of immediate concern was the Third Lika Brigade of the First Division stationed five kilometers south of Drvar in Kamenica, whose four battalions of were the most potent reaction force.
Within Drvar itself there was a mixed bag of military liaison missions, support and escort troops and both the Supreme Headquarters of the NOVJ and the Central Committee of the Yugoslav Communist Party. The Central Committee of the Communist Youth League of Yugoslavia was located in town, and had just held a congress of over 800 youths in attendance, some of whom were still in the process of departing. As well, the AVNOJ (Anti-Fascist Council of the National Liberation of Yugoslavia) had their headquarters on the outskirts of town and in the nearby village of Sipovljani there was the Partisan officers’ school with about 130 students. The Soviet Union, Britain and the United States all had military missions to Tito’s headquarters in some of the adjoining small villages. Finally, Tito’s Escort Battalion of three companies, two of which were with him, was present to provide personal protection to the Marshal and the various headquarters and missions.
Tito’s personal headquarters was initially located in a cave immediately north of Drvar and overlooked the town. When rumors surfaced that this location had become compromised, he moved his main headquarters to another cave in the town of Basasi, some seven kilometres to the west. His Drvar cave was used primarily during the day and he would return to Bastasi at night for security reasons. The location the Germans believed housed his headquarters, the cemetery at Slobica Glavica (Objective Citadel), was, in fact, sparsely manned.
Tito’s birthday was the 25th of May. On the evening of the 24th, a celebration was held in Drvar, and, due to the festivities finishing late, Tito decided to spend the night in his Drvar cave. Despite his initial concerns that caused him to relocate to Bastasi, he felt confident all would be quiet. It almost proved to be a fatal error.
Tito, still somewhat sluggish from the previous evening’s celebration, awoke to the attack on Drvar. Operation RÖSSELPRUNG began according to plan on 25 May with a preparatory aerial bombardment of suspected Partisan location in Drvar, including the cemetery. This bombardment was to begin at 0635 hours and consisted of five squadrons of Ju 87 Stuka dive-bombers, older He 46 medium bombers, and Italian made Ca 314 and Cr 42 medium-bombers. It appears that the plan was closely followed. P-Hour began at 0700 hours. Although dense smoke from the bombardment reduced visibility, most pilots were able to orient themselves on the Western Cross and land gliders or drop their paratroops relatively close to designated objectives. Several gliders did land off course, including one in front of the main headquarters cave in Bastasi, where members of the Escort Battalion immediately killed the occupants before they could exit. Between two and four others landed in Vrtoce and the occupants had to fight their way into Drvar. German sources claim the parachute jump was made at 60 to 75 metres above ground level, but pictures taken from the ground of the jump indicate the it was somewhat higher.
Once on the ground, the Fallschirmjägers quickly seized control of Drvar. Panther Group, supported by Red Group, rapidly overcame token resistance at the cemetery and Rybka established battalion headquarters behind its walls. The only forces of consequence located there were the crews manning three anti-aircraft machine guns, of which two escaped. Needless to say, neither Tito nor his headquarters were found. Greiffer and Brecher Groups came up empty handed as the British and American missions were not present in their accommodations. Elements of Sturmer Group landed in a field immediately south of the cave and came under fire from Escort Battalion members positioned in the high ground surrounding Tito’s location. The most intense fighting was with Draufganger Group in the area of the Western Cross who assaulted what they believed to be the Partisan communications center, but was in fact the office building for the Communist Party’s Central Committee. After intense close quarter combat against fanatical resistance, the building was basically leveled with satchel charges.
Also subject to very fierce fighting were Blue and Green Groups, who were attempting to establish a cordon in the eastern part of town, where most of the population was located. Although not mentioned in German reports, Yugoslav accounts proudly cite a Partisan counter-attack by four captured Italian CV-34 tanks. Not inflicting any noteworthy damage, three tanks were quickly disabled and the remaining one escaped to Bastasi. Also creating a problem for the Germans, especially in the more populated areas, was resistance from the members of the Communist Youth League of Yugoslavia who remained in Drvar and whose enthusiasm in taking up arms (whatever were available) against the attackers could explain some accounts of spontaneous uprisings.
Immediately upon realizing the nature of the attack, the candidates from the officers’ school marched to the sound of gunfire. Armed with only pistols and the odd rifle, they split into two groups. The smaller group crossed to the north side of the Unac River and advanced west along the rail line with the aim of protecting Tito’s headquarters. The larger group, bolstered by the retrieval of several misdirected drops of German ammunition and arms, attacked Green and Blue Groups in their eastern flank beginning at approximately 0800 hours. Although the officer candidates suffered severe casualties, the pressure of their attack on this flank was maintained throughout the day.
By about 0900 hours, the Germans had secured the majority of Drvar, but they still had no trace of Tito. Before the operation, every Fallschirmjäger was issued with a picture of him and they now went door to door, brutally questioning those civilians they could find. There are many Yugoslav based stories of German atrocities against the civilian population at this point in the battle, including herding people into houses to be burned alive, but it is difficult to determine where the Germans would find the time to do this based on the influence of other events.
By mid-morning it became apparent to Rybka that Partisan resistance was concentrated to the north in the area of the headquarters cave. He surmised that there must be something to protect in this area, and if Tito was in Drvar this would be his likely location. Launching a red flare as a pre-arranged signal, he rallied his soldiers for an attack on the new objective. Around 1030 hours he launched a frontal attack across the Unac River, supported by at least one MG-42 medium machine gun firing into the mouth of the cave. They made it as far as the base of the hill leading up to the cave, less than fifty metres from its mouth, before being repulsed. The Fallschirmjägers from 500 SS, already parched from a lack of water, had suffered severe casualties.
Concurrent with the mounting and execution of this attack, more Partisan forces were beginning to converge on Drvar. From the west and southwest came three of the battalions of the Third Brigade of the Sixth Lika Division. One battalion attacked directly towards the German position at the cemetery while the other two swung around to the west through Vrtoce to hit the Germans in the western flank with a view to relieve pressure on the cave area.
At approximately 1115 hours, during a lull in the fighting and after the attack had been repulsed, Tito managed to escape from the cave. This act has been inaccurately described in many accounts. After the first attack failed, Tito, escorted by several staff, climbed down a rope through a trap door in a platform at the mouth of the cave. He then followed a small creek leading to the Unac River, then diagonally climbed the heights to the east of the cave, a route which would provide cover for most of the way. From the Klekovaca ridge overlooking Drvar, he began his withdrawal east to Potoci.
1200 hours was P-Hour for the reinforcing second wave of 220 Fallschirmjägers who jumped in two groups just to the west of Objective Citadel. Their drop zone was situated within Partisan fields of fire and thus the wave suffered many casualties as they hit the ground. Newly armed with the remaining reinforcements, Rybka attempted another assault, but by now the pressure on his flanks was too great and the attack again floundered. Fighting continued throughout the afternoon with both sides taking heavy casualties. By late afternoon Rybka, realizing that the capture of Tito was improbable at this point and that the linkup with ground forces would not happen as planned, ordered a withdrawal. He initially planned to have a defensive perimeter encompassing both the cellulose factory and the cemetery, but after realizing the extent of his casualties and his consequent inability to hold the large perimeter, he reduced his defensive position to include just the cemetery. At about 1800 hours, while withdrawing under fire, he was injured by a grenade blast and was out of the battle.
The withdrawal to the cemetery was done under considerable pressure. At least one group of Fallschirmjägers was cut-off and wiped out. By about 2130 hours, the remnants of the Battalion had consolidated in the cemetery. Partisan forces had the remnants of 500 SS completely surrounded. Throughout the night attacks against the German position continued. The fourth battalion of the Third Lika Brigade, which had arrived later than the other three and been kept in reserve, was launched with the remnants of the other three battalions against the cemetery. Elements of the Ninth Dalmatian Division joined the attacks at some point during the night, increasing the pressure. The Fallschirmjägers continued to hold their ground, but casualties were mounting. At 0330 hours the final Partisan attack was launched, breaching the cemetery wall in several locations, but the German defence held.
Throughout the day, the progress of the converging elements of XV Mountain Corps was not as rapid as had been planned. Unexpected resistance from I, V, and VIII Partisan Corps along their axis of advance greatly hindered their movement. Most post-operation reports cite extremely poor radio communications amongst the different elements, causing a plague of coordination difficulties. It would also appear that Allied aircraft, based in Italy, attacked the linkup forces with several sorties throughout the day, however air support from the Luftwaffe was also present throughout. In fact, an unarmed Fiesler Stork reconnaissance plane, initially intended to whisk Tito away once taken, was able to land and extract casualties, including Rybka.
After the last attack failed to penetrate the German defences and knowing that relief in the form of XV Mountain Corps was on the way, Tito ordered the Partisan forces to withdraw, and then made good his escape. Escorted by elements of the Third Krajina Brigade, he first went to Potoci, where he met up with a battalion from the First Proletarian Brigade, and, after discovering German troops in force in the area, made his way to Kupres. In the Kupres Valley, a Soviet Dakota aircraft stationed at a Royal Air Force base in Italy and escorted by six American Aircraft picked him up on 3 June and took him to Bari, Italy. On 6 June, a Royal Navy destroyer delivered him to the Island of Vis, along the Dalmatian Coast, to re-establish his headquarters.
The remnants of 500 SS were to spend the rest of the night of 25/26 May in their hasty defensive positions. They received some support at 0500 hours as a German fighter-bomber formation attacked the withdrawing Partisans. At 0700 hours, the unit finally established radio contact with the Reconnaissance Battalion of the 373rd Division but physical linkup in Drvar with XV Mountain Corps did not occur until 1245 hours when the lead elements of the Second Battalion of the 92nd Motorized Grenadier Regiment arrived.
Despite not eliminating Tito, the Germans were unwilling to admit defeat and viewed this operation as a success with blind arrogance. According to a self-congratulatory report from Second Panzer Army:
“The operation against the partisans in Croatia [this area of Bosnia was included as part of Croatia at this time] enjoyed considerable success. It succeeded in 1) destroying the core region of the communist partisans by occupying their command and control centers and their supply installations, thereby considerably weakening their supply situation; 2) forcing the elite communist formations (1st Proletarian Division and the 3rd Lika Division [incorrect designation] to give battle and severely battering them, forcing them to withdraw due to shortages of ammunition and supplies, and avoid further combat (the 9th, 39th and 4th Tito Divisions also suffered great losses); 3) capturing landing fields used by Allied aircraft, administrative establishments, and headquarters of foreign military missions, forcing the partisans to reorganize and restructure; 4) giving the Allies a true picture of the combat capability of the partisans; 5) obtaining important communications equipment, code keys, radios, etc. for our side; 6) achieving these successes under difficult conditions that included numerous enemy air attacks.”
The future commander of 500 SS was even more sanguine: “Overall the operation with its jump and landing was a success. Unfortunately Tito and the Allied military delegations managed to escape.” With an understanding of the German mission, this becomes a rather contradictory statement.
The overarching intent of Operation RÖSSELPRUNG was the elimination of Tito, the man who personified the Partisan movement. To the German high command, Tito was the center of gravity for the Partisans and his elimination would greatly diminish the resolve of the movement to continue. “Tito is our most dangerous enemy,” Field Marshal von Weichs was to claim before the operation. Despite the words of praise, the costly operation only netted the Marshal’s uniform, in for tailoring, a Jeep, which was a gift from the American mission, and three British journalists, one of whom later escaped. Even the intelligence information gathered, contrary to the above report, was not of much use. When the operation failed to eliminate Tito, it failed to achieve its underlying intent for being launched, and thus by no stretch can be considered to have achieved its purpose.
Ironically, Tito’s dramatic escape further solidified his deity-like stature amongst the Yugoslav population, and became part of the mythology surrounding this cult of personality. Although NOVJ headquarters, along with several other Partisan organizations, had their operations temporarily disrupted and several higher level personnel killed, they were quick to recover and set up in different locations. Drvar reverted to Partisan control within weeks.
Many accounts of `Rösselsprung’ state that SS-Fallschirmjäger-Bataillon 500 was `destroyed’ in the fighting, claiming that of the 874 men that had landed at Drvar only some 200 survived fit for service at the end of the battle, but this assertion needs to be differentiated. According to official German after-action figures dating from June 10, the battalion had 61 killed, 114 seriously and 91 lightly wounded and 11 missing, making for a total of 277 casualties. An earlier report from June 7 quoted even lower figures: 50 killed, 132 wounded and six missing, i. e. a total of 188. Even if one allows for the casualties suffered by the attachments (of the 36 glider pilots five had been killed and seven wounded; of teams Zawadil and Benesch two men had been killed and 24 wounded, etc) this is far from the reputed 650 casualties.
It continued throughout the rest of the war as the sole SS parachute unit, with its designation later changed to 600 SS Fallschirmjäger Battalion, but Operation RÖSSELPRUNG was to be its only combat jump of the war.
Of the six German divisions that had been in the Albano road salient February 19, 1944, none was fit for further offensive action. Fighting—bitter, bloody fighting—continued, but now the German High Command had no real hope of destroying the Anzio beachhead. Along the perimeter some of the action was dramatic and bloody.
On February 16, Lieutenant Colonel Laurence C. Brown’s 2nd Battalion, 157th Infantry, 45th Division, had held a front some fifteen hundred yards wide astride the Albano road south of Carroceto. The first waves of the massive German attack overran both flanks of the battalion. All contact with adjacent units was lost. In this situation, some units would have considered surrender.
But not Colonel Brown’s 2nd Battalion, 157th Infantry. It was in rugged terrain—ground with a series of caves to the west. Brown ordered a withdrawal into the caves, and there 2nd Battalion began a fight for its life.
Sergeant Booth Rawlings, former Pennsylvania State Trooper, got into the Battle of the Caves by accident. An MP, he had been on the road, checking stragglers, when Germans had punched through on each side, and there had been nothing else to do but retreat into the caves with the 2nd Battalion. Now, sighting his rusting M-1 rifle down the ravine his squad covered, he was wondering how the devil they were going to hold out much longer.
A medium-sized, straw-haired man of twenty-five, with a serious face and a competent, deliberate way of moving, he was glad he wasn’t married, because he didn’t think many of these men besieged in the caves were going to get out. Wave after wave of Krauts had been pouring against the battalion—the Germans knew better than to leave a strong force in their rear—and it had been a bad three days. Once, when the 1st Armored attack disrupted the enemy, they had gotten the wounded out. But then the steel ring had closed about them again. He rubbed his bearded face, feeling the rain mist drip from his dirty fingers. He had fifteen rounds for his M-1, and when those were gone, that was it.
With the weather like it was, there was no hope of aerial supply either.
With a scrape of boots, his squad sergeant, Jorrie, sank down beside him, squinting down the ravine. “They’ll be back, after dark,” Jorrie grunted. The Krauts had learned they couldn’t barge in against American positions in daylight, but when the light failed . . . Jorrie took off his helmet, ran a hand over his filthy, matted straight hair. He was a dark-eyed, weather-beaten man, part Indian. “Rawlings, if I catch one, you’re to take the squad—”
“Nuts,” Booth said. “I’m no infantryman.” He moved his wet legs, groaning at the discomfort of lying in a shallow hole in the hard, cold ground.
“Hell you’re not,” Jorrie grunted. “You’re a sergeant, and you been here three days. If you weren’t a good dogface, you’d be dead. I cleared it with the lieutenant.”
“Okay,” Booth said. “But don’t go wishing trouble on me.”
“Not likely,” Jorrie said, with a tight smile, and moved off. Like Booth, he was beat, hungry and miserable, but he was not whipped yet. “Don’t give out no tickets now,” he called back.
It was growing dark now, and night was the bad time. Booth had trouble keeping his eyes open. He kept seeing things—rocks and bushes seemed to move; he saw shadows where there were none.
Kraut mortars, softening up the area again. Day or night, the Krauts kept lobbing mortars in. And the mortars were the things that got you, if you weren’t careful. If they spotted you, they could drop a mortar shell in your hip pocket.
Booth huddled deeper in his rocky pit. Pretty soon now, Krauts would be pouring up this ravine, Schmeissers ready, and—what was that?
He heard a rifle bolt click in the next hole. Over there, PFC Jungmann had heard it, too. He took the safety off his own piece. Okay, you bastards—
Someone was coming up the ravine, scuffling and banging.
Booth aimed carefully into the darkness. When you had only fifteen rounds, you had to let them get close. Now!
“Hold it, Yank! British officer—British officer!” the words rang anxiously along the ridge. “Hold your fire, Yanks—British troops coming in!”
Thank God, Booth thought. General Templar has sent help.
The young English subaltern crawled up to him, grinning in the murk. “Leftenant Murff, 2/7 Queens. My men are coming in behind there.”
Booth could have kissed him. “Get your men up here quick, Lieutenant. The Krauts are about to start something—they’ve been mortaring us—”
That was the moment the Krauts chose to attack with everything they had. The dark was split by gunfire, the red flame of shell bursts, the scream of bullets. Halfway into the American lines, the British battalion was in no position to fight.
“For God’s sake, come on!” Booth yelled. “Move! Move!” By ones, twos and sections, the British infantry raced past his hole, moving deeper into the caves area. But back in the direction from which they came, a big fire fight flared. The British officer, who lay beside Booth, looked back anxiously.
“Jerry’s hit us in the rear—”
But Booth was firing down the ravine. He hoped they were Krauts—but when men shot at him, he could take no chances. Brrp-Brrp!
They were Krauts, all right. The British Stens and Brens made a different sound.
Crack! crack ! The whole squad opened up, and in the gulley a man screamed shrilly.
It was a bad hour. But while the fire fight raged along the whole perimeter, the 2/7 Queens came in. At last, the Krauts broke off their assault, but their shelling continued.
A British sergeant crawled up to Booth. Jorrie had disappeared during the fire fight, probably hit. “You’re to pull out, Yanks,” the Britisher said.
An American officer crawled along the line. “Let’s go,” he called. “One fifty-seven’s pulling out. We’re relieved, men. Turn over your weapons to the British—they lost all their supply and mortars, coming in. Give your food and ammo, too. They’re staying, to cover us.”
“Hell,” Booth Rawlings said. One of the British non-coms had told him a hundred men of the 2/7 Queens were missing after the link-up. “These poor bastards are in as bad a shape as we are.”
“Orders,” the officer snapped. “We’re taking the wounded, too.”
Booth was surprised at how few American dogfaces there were. Over eight hundred men had gone into the caves, he knew. Now only a little over two hundred were coming-out. And half of these were hospital cases, by any standard you used.
Limping, crawling, fighting, decimated but unconquered, 2nd. Battalion of the 157th came out of the caves, reaching their own lines the night of February 22. They brought the injured with them, while the British covered the withdrawal.
Once, bringing up the rear, Booth Rawlings looked back. He was wondering how the British were going to get out.
Later, he learned the British never did get out. General Templar ordered the 2/6 Queens, the 2/7’s sister battalion, to resupply the trapped unit. But they couldn’t get through—the Germans had tightened the ring.
After dark February 23, the Krauts overran two of the 2/7’s companies. Its colonel called a conference. “We’ve had it, lads. Break up into small groups, make it back the best way you can—and good luck.”
Less than half the surviving members of 2/7 Queens made it back.
The Battle of the Caves was over. A long time later, when Booth Rawlings pinned on the blue and gold Presidential Unit Citation Badge, awarded to all who had been with 2nd Battalion in the caves, he was thinking of the men of the 2/7 Queens, who had stayed behind.
He never heard whether the men who survived got anything or not.
Now, across the Anzio perimeter, fighting died in intensity. On February 29, the Germans again pushed out from Cisterna, against the 3rd Division. The attack struck a brick wall, failed. The Allies had no strength, however, with which to counterattack.
The battle of Anzio was still stalemated.
During the evening of February 22, 1944, while the 2nd Battalion, 157th Infantry, was being relieved by the 2/7 Queens, General Mark Clark, Fifth Army Commander, called the Deputy Vl Corps Commander to his CP, which was in the cellars of Prince Borghese’s villa at Anzio. The square-jawed Truscott reported calmly.
Abruptly, Clark said, “You are to relieve General Lucas as Corps Commander tomorrow morning.”
Truscott frowned. He reminded Mark Clark of what he had said earlier, that he didn’t want the corps. He said, “The situation is more stable now. Relieving Lucas may have an unfortunate effect on other officers. Lucas has a host of friends, and they may feel he is being sacrificed to British influence. They could come to think that they’ll be thrown to the wolves, too, if they get in difficulties.”
Clark listened patiently, then said, “The decision is already made. But Johnny Lucas is also a friend of mine, and I’m going to see to it that he is not hurt. I’m going to appoint him Deputy Army Commander, for the time being.”
There was nothing for Truscott to do, but return to his quarters with the knowledge that he would soon be in command of the beachhead.
Clark sent for Lucas and told him: “I can no longer resist the pressure from both Alexander and Devers.”
Alexander wanted Lucas relieved, not because of his failure to take the Alban Hills, but because Alexander thought him exhausted and defeated, and General Devers thought him tired. The relief was without prejudice.
Lucas was deeply hurt. What bothered him most was that he thought, not without truth, that he was winning something of a victory. Subdued, he returned to his quarters.
Immediately, Truscott reported to Lucas to express his regrets. Lucas greeted him warmly; he had nothing against Truscott. But Lucas was bitter toward Clark, and he blamed his relief upon the British.
This last visit between Truscott and Lucas was for Lucian Truscott one of his saddest experiences of the war. A few years later, Major General John P. Lucas would die, worn-out and bitterly hurt.
Generals, as well as privates are casualties of war.
Now Truscott was in command at Anzio, and he was one of the finest fighting generals in the Army. He took charge at once, and from this moment forward, he planned only for the breakout, for only on that day would the Anzio operation justify its cost.
But a breakout from Anzio had to be coordinated to coincide with a breakthrough on the southern Italian front. The two fronts had to link. And in the south, Graf von der Schulenberg’s fanatical German paratroops still clung to a place called Cassino, and General Fridolin von Senger had not withdrawn Hitler’s order that the Gustavstellung be held to the last.
At Anzio, the long wait began. In many ways, this was the worst period of all for the men on the bloody beachhead. German artillery massed. Heavy guns were dug into the slopes of the Colli Laziali, from where they ranged any gun on the beachhead. Two great 280-mm. railroad guns—”Anzio Express” or “Anzio Annie”—were brought up, and fired from railway tunnels near Campolene and Castel Gandolfo. No single inch of the beachhead was safe from German shellfire.
The Luftwaffe still had teeth. Nightly, there came the drone of planes, the crump of exploding bombs.
Men continued to die.
PFC Corey Hamilton, big and strong and blue-eyed, nineteen years old and not mad at anybody, arrived on the Anzio beachhead as a replacement the first week in March, 1944. The large-scale fighting might be over, but Corey, sent to help fill the frightful gaps in the 45th Division, soon learned that, in its way, position warfare can be the most horrible of all.
Along a twenty-mile perimeter, Germans and Allies faced each other, and neither side was happy about the other’s being there.
All ten of the replacements who had come in with Corey were sent to Lieutenant Howie Cresap’s platoon, which held a small area that had been swampland before Mussolini drained the Pontine Marshes. Now the swamp was coming back.
That first day, when Technical Sergeant Musko, the platoon sergeant, brought them to Cresap’s bunker, the platoon leader had set them straight. Cold, wet, scared and miserable in the rain, they had listened to his no-nonsense briefing.
Cresap was a well-muscled young man, brown-eyed, firm-chinned and up from the ranks. He spoke in a slight Southwestern accent. The gold bar on his collar, like the crossed muskets on the other side of the OD shirt, was a musty green. But he was clean-shaven, and his manner crisp.
He showed them the platooon area, pointing his finger down the gullies, across the bare, blasted earth. “Our lines run along here, and here, across to there. See those buildings up ahead? The Krauts are in them. From there, and from their OPs up on those hills, the Alban Hills, they can see you anytime you get out of a hole. Got that?”
The replacements got it. Now they understood why everyone at Anzio walked bent over, scuttling along like scared crabs. “The Anzio Gait,” they called it. You never knew when a Kraut OP had you spotted, or a round was coming in—you only knew that sooner or later one would come in.
“The war’s bogged down here,” Cresap continued in his precise manner. His uniform was stained and filthy, and there were huge shadows under his eyes. But though he looked like an old man, he was only a little older than Corey Hamilton’s nineteen years. “We hold our lines, the Krauts hold theirs. We patrol, so do they. The one thing we can’t do is sit on our asses. The water table is high here, only a foot or so under the ground. This is bad for trench foot, but it is good in that it keeps us mobile, on our toes. We can’t dig deep holes or build fancy trenches to hide in. And we’ve got to stay mobile, because sooner or later, we’ll get orders to attack. When we start next time, we won’t stop.”
Cresap had paused a moment, blinking his bloodshot brown eyes wearily. Then they were sharp again. “Men, for crissakes, watch your feet. We’ll get fresh socks up to you two or three times a week. Be careful. Listen to your squad sergeants; they know the score. In the meantime, remember you’re members of the best damn platoon in the best damn company in the best battalion in the Army! Now get lost.”
Later, Moody, a tall, rangy Texan, and Corey’s best friend, had asked their squad leader, Gumpertz, “This Lieutenant Cresap a pretty good Joe?”
And Staff Sergeant Gumpertz, a bearded wrinkled, old man of twenty-eight, who had three children back in Wisconsin, spat. “Who gives a good crap? He knows his job, and you can thank God for that. What you want out of an officer is that he knows his business. The hell with the rest of it. That good Joe stuff goes with the rear echelons. They got things to worry about other than stayin’ alive.” Gumpertz spat again, and shook his head. “An officer can’t cut the mustard, he don’t last long up here. Me, I wouldn’t be an officer for anything they could give me.”
Years later, Corey Hamilton remembered that. After the war, when the Doolittle Board was meeting, he noticed one thing: the men who were complaining about the caste system never came from the front line companies. When an officer lay in the same dirty water you did, and took twice the chances, because he had to move about, what kind of a caste system was that?
Gumpertz assigned Moody and Corey to positions in the squad, which meant they each got a hole, half-full of icy water.
So began two weeks of hell for PFC Corey Hamilton, Rifleman, 45th Division.
Corey, big and strong and blue-eyed, had played football in high school before his mother had made him quit. He had a tough, resilient body, and he had a steady nature, not the kind to get upset easily. He was to find a strong body and a mind that did not anger quickly were not enough. Not if you were only nineteen and had never had it tough before.
The first trouble came his first week, when the squad had scouted across the ravines, close to the German lines. A limited attack, just to keep the Krauts honest, Lieutenant Cresap had said. Corey had been scared as hell when he fixed his bayonet, but Moody, the lean, dark kid from Amarillo, grinned at him.
“Just a turkey shoot, Corey, old lad,” the green-eyed Texan drawled. “Only difference, you can’t eat Krauts, even with sauerkraut.”
Nothing seemed to bother Moody, though Corey thought his face was pale, too, when they set out, after dark.
They followed Gumpertz into the gullies, stepped carefully across a small feeder creek. The fringe of brush that shielded the creek was blasted and torn; a lot of shell fire had churned this area.
Then they crawled on their hands and knees over the ridges, until they came in close to the German lines. They could hear men talking over there, in low voices. Corey heard a man laugh, deep-toned and natural.
Then Gumpertz, watching Lieutenant Cresap, waved his arm. The second squad, which was to be the base of fire, opened up on the Krauts, the BAR and M-1s, filling the night with strident noise. Behind Gumpertz, Moody and Corey and the other men crowded forward.
Blam! A German fired at Corey from a hole just in front of him. Orange-lavender streaks split the night in all directions. Somewhere, the deep-voiced Kraut was bellowing orders.
“Let ’em have it!” Gumpertz screamed. His rifle flamed again and again, from the hip. Then he wavered in the darkness, fell over.
Corey saw the indistinct shape of the German running toward Gumpertz. He saw the Kraut lift his bayoneted rifle, saw the faint gleam of the steel as it came down.
Gumpertz, as the steel pierced him, made a terrible, anguished sound. Corey, standing with his rifle in his hands, could not move. He could only stare, sickly, stupidly.
The German wheeled toward him, the bayonet, not gleaming now, whipping forward viciously. Then the Kraut cried out and went over on his back. Beside Corey’s head, Moody’s rifle blast had almost taken an ear off.
“Get in those Kraut holes!” Moody yelled. He disappeared into the ground, began firing into the demoralized German squad from the side. Corey tumbled after him, his rifle gripped in shaking hands. But he could not shoot. It never occurred to him to shoot.
Then, Lieutenant Cresap’s whistle blast cut through the firing. “Let’s make tracks!” Moody snapped. He leaped up out of the hole, bent over Gumpertz. “Dead,” he said angrily. “Corey, you take him—he’s too big for me!”