Sixty miles to the east lays a small town, a German stronghold, and an airfield. Intelligence reported that the town was occupied by a battalion of SS troops and the airfield was defended by a company of the elite Fallschirmjager.
II Corp had decided the airfield at Al Wad was a valuable resource, which had to be taken intact. Colonel Holmes began his briefing in short staccato jabs at the map with his pointer. He mechanically began to describe the operation. First battalion here and he jabbed his pointer into the map, Able Co. here, Baker Co. on the left, Charlie on the right, Dog Company here, Able Company held in reserve. He continued his singsong staccato chant. Right down to where to bury the dead. Captain Currie, I’m going to attach a heavy weapons platoon to your company, you’re to get with Major Nichols, and he will give you all the details.” Currie nodded. “Any questions gentlemen,” Holmes said looking hawkishly around the room.
The men moved to the sand table mumbling and murmuring. Currie pushed his way up to the table. Able Company represented by a pasteboard cut out glued to a tongue depressor, the sand table was crisscrossed with colored arrows, strings approximated the grid lines, starting positions and likely routes of attack that were drawn in the sand.
Currie’s Able Company was positioned about ½ mile from the town and directly across from the airfield, he was to move the weapons platoon to the wadi at the edge of the air field and give weapons support where ever it was needed. Currie’s mind began to click; he began to formulate his plan of attack.
“Captain Currie,” Major Nichols said, “this is Lieutenant Walsh, his platoon will be assigned to your company until further notice.”
“Yes sir,” Currie said to Nichols.
“Welcome aboard Walsh,” Currie said.
“Brad,” Walsh said.
“Ok! Brad, welcome aboard.”
Currie picked up his package of maps. “Let’s go, I’ll send my boys over to get your men and equipment.”
“That’s ok, Captain, my sergeant is outside, and I’ll send him to collect the platoon and equipment.”
Currie jumped into his jeep, Walsh and his sergeant followed him to company area.
Walsh jumped out of his jeep and followed Currie into the command HQ tent. Walsh’s sergeant returned to the outfit to collect the platoon. “Lieutenant Brad Walsh this is Lt. Mike Meyers XO of the company and Charlie Rawls, 1st platoon leader.”
” When did we get so lucky as to have a 4th platoon, we must be growing up,” Meyers laughed.
“Upcoming operation first battalion on the point to take Al Wad, we have the distinction to take the airfield and support the rest of the battalion, Mike, you and Charlie get him settled in, his platoon will be here shortly, get them squared away, we pull out tomorrow at first light.”
“Can do” Captain, come on Brad, you can bunk in with me and Charlie.”
Sergeant Shapiro pulled into the Co. followed by four six by sixes and two jeeps. Shapiro stopped beside Meyers and Walsh, “where to LT.,” Meyers pointed toward the end of the tent line, “last tent, asked for Kovac, he will get you settled in.” “Yes Sir,” Shapiro said and moved out.
Shapiro entered the tent, “I’m looking for Kovac,” Kovac turned, “I’m Kovac,” A fist flew by his face, landing squarely on Snipe’s jaw as he was turning around, Snipes spun around once and collapsed on the floor. “Whoa, what the fuck is going on!” Kovac yelled…
”Ya bastard, I owe you that for getting me busted at Polk.” Shapiro was standing over Snipes. Snipes rubbed his jaw as he sat on the floor, “come on Snipes, I’ve been waiting a long time for this.”
“Hey!” Kovac yelled at Shapiro,
“It’s, First Sergeant Shapiro, bub,” Shapiro snorted, “This SOB cost me my star.” He said straightening up, he stared straight into Kovac’s eyes, Kovac stared back, and then turned away, and Shapiro reached down grabbed Snipes by the collar, picked him up off the ground, and set him roughly on the table. He held him by his left hand and brought his right hand over to backhand him. Shapiro hesitated, one split second too long, he felt a hand wrap around his wrist.
“As you were Sergeant…Ah-ten-hut!” said Copeland. Shapiro let go of Snipes, who rolled to one side and off the table and away from Shapiro. Shapiro came to attention.
“What the hell is this all about?”
“My fault Sir,” Snipes said.
“Well let’s hear it.” Copeland said,
“I fucked up and cost the sergeant major his star.” Copeland looked at the three men, “then, by all means gentlemen carry on” Copeland said as he stepped from the tent.
“Who the hell are you,” Kovac said.
“I’m your new 4th platoon Sergeant we have been attached to you for the coming operation.” Kovac nodded looking at Shapiro waiting for him to continue. “I was told you would show me where to park my platoon, then he pointed at Snipes, this ain’t over not by a long shot.” Shapiro turned to leave, “let’s go! Sergeant Kovac,” he said walking out of the tent. Kovac shrugged his shoulders and followed him out.
Kovac looked at the men and equipment, 5 six by sixes, 2 jeeps with 50- cal MG, “what do you have,” Bernie,” Kovac said. Shapiro turned “how did you know it was Bernie. Snipes told me your name, told me how you took the fall for him, saving his ass from Leavenworth.
“I didn’t take the fall for him, I told the Provost that it couldn’t have been him, because he was with me, the Provost called me a liar and I hit him. I lost my star, and busted to staff Sergeant. As you know that SOB gets a transfer and I stay there in the shit, now here I am a fucking top sergeant. I should have been a Sergeant Major in a battalion and all I get is a goddamned spittoon, I had a platoon in 1915.”
“Park your ass here, put your tents there, you will bunk with me.”
Shapiro muttered,” I will kill that SOB.”
“No you won’t,” Kovac said looking directly at Shapiro, “we need him, the company does, he is our procurement man,”
“A fucking thief is what he is,” Shapiro snorted.
“Maybe, but he is good at it and we need him, if he aint dead by the time the war is over, I’ll deliver him to you, but until then, leave it alone, you understand me?” Kovac said,
“Ok, ok, Shapiro said.
Shapiro barks orders to his men, like a mad man. Kovac was surprised there were more sergeants and corporals in the platoon than there were PFC’s and privates.
“Hey Shapiro, you’re kind of heavy on the NCO’s aren’t you? Yeah, a few too many, they will go to other companies after this operation is over.”
“I see the 50’s, what else do you have,” asked Kovac.
“I have a four 81 mm mortars, two 50 cal MG’s and three 30 Cal MG’s,
“That will fit right in with ours.”
“Yours, what have you got? “
“We have a ½ track with a 50, three 30 Cals, twelve BAR’s and three bazookas”,
“Where in the hell did you get all that stuff? You fuckers don’t need a weapons platoon. You already have one.”
“Compliments of Snipes, for one thing and the cunning of Currie, who got it all listed on the company equipment list.”
“Don’t forget all the stuff at Jackson and in England. Hey, Bernie how are you doing?” Snipes said raising his hands surrendering to Shapiro. Shapiro lunged at Snipes – he was cut off by Kovac. “I said,” it was over till you are both off the line, then you two can beat each other to a bloody pulp, for all I care, but for right now, it is over, do you hear me Sergeants! It is over.” Kovac yelled at them.
Both of them nodded in agreement.
A sergeant brought some papers for Shapiro, who handed them to Kovac, it was from the ammo dump, mortar rounds, boxes of 50 cal, and boxes 30 cal. Kovac pointed to the trucks, “Park those trucks down there with those other three trucks. Shapiro called over a sergeant and told him what to do with the two munitions trucks.
Shapiro and Kovac walked up to the mess tent, while the rest of the platoon set up camp.
“Bailey over here,” Kovac called out.
Bailey walked over to Kovac, “yea Sarge what do you need.”
“This is Shapiro, he has the weapons platoon, Bailey here is our gun-smith and weapons expert, if you need any repaired Bailey here can fix them…some of the boys call him Pecos,” Kovac patted Bailey on the back, “good man.”
“Good to meet you, Bailey,” Shapiro said.
A movement beside one of the tents caught Kovac’s eye, “wait here,” he said to Shapiro.
Kovac crept around the tent, “hold it right there, yea you, buddy, Jesus Christ! Gleason. What are you doing here? You’re supposed to be at the hospital.”
“Shhh Sarge, not so loud I don’t want to go back, besides the burns aren’t bad at all.”
“And you’re belly wound,”
“Just a flesh wound look, he said the bullet in here, out here,”
Kovac saw two huge bruises with a little black hole in the center of each,
“Look they sewed them up – good as new.”
“Go see doc and stay hidden, I’ll square it with Currie as soon as I can, until then stay out of sight…now get!”
“Thanks Sarge,” Gleason said, moving off toward Doc’s tent.
Kovac stood shaking his head as he watched Gleason steal away.
The order to move out came at 0400, the last of the men jumped aboard the trucks as they began to pull out. The MP’s directing the traffic, the four Companies pulled out on schedule heading toward Al Wad. Currie sat back in his jeep the air was cool, the night was clear and dark, there was no moon tonight, and the sky was filled with stars as far as he could see in every direction. The jeep bounced in and out of a rut. The jolt brought Currie back to reality as he fumbled to find something to grab. The convoy moved steadily to the east ever closer to Al Wad.
According to the briefing, there would be a 1-hour long artillery barrage on the town and the hills behind the town for another ½ hour. During the barrage, the convoy would make a dash to within a mile of the town dropping off the troops. The last mile would be covered over open ground the only cover being a large rock, one clump of grass here and there. The trucks stopped and waited, the artillery barrage started in the distance, the brilliant flashes of yellow orange light followed by the Zrrrr – Zrrrr sound the shells made followed by the report of the artillery pieces, the shells began exploding all throughout the town, the flashes followed by the reports of the explosions.
The trucks began to move out; it was less than 10 miles to the town, the line of trucks spread out all heading toward Al Wad. Currie’s group was followed by Battalion and Colonel Snow off to this left was Baker Co. Charlie was directly in front of him. Off to the right about a mile away was Dog Company. Dog Company was going to make an end run around the end of the airfield and begin their assault directly on the town hoping to draw troops from the airfield to protect their rear.
Baker Company was the first to draw fire, plumes of erupting dirt mixed with an orange flash and black smoke from the artillery shells being fired at them. Baker Companies trucks came to a stop, discharging the men to run helter-skelter for cover amid the shelling, Currie yelled, “no don’t stop, speed up, don’t stop, god don’t stop.” The shells were accurate once the range was found, they zeroed in on each truck, or group of men, a burst of fire, the boom of the explosion, a truck would be consumed in fire, men blown to pieces, mauled, and left for dead.
Currie felt the jeep slow, no damn-it, speed up, speed up he yelled, Charlie Company has stopped, Charlie Company was in the process of dismounting, and they were 2 miles away from their drop point at the airfield.
Currie jumped out ran to the truck in front of him and ordered the driver to move out, they couldn’t hit a moving truck he said, the truck began to move forward. He was frantically moving about getting the trucks moving. Currie yelled, for his truck to breach the hole in Charlie Company and move forward. Able Company’s trucks evaded the other trucks and obstacles racing to a point less than ½ mile from the airfield, Charlie Company’s original position.
Currie grabbed hold of his jeep as it came up to him, “let’s go,” he yelled. His jeep raced toward his Company’s position. Currie was acting like the mad man; “spread out, dig in, Walsh dig those mortars in now, Copeland, get your platoon over there in that swale and spread them out, the two jeeps with the 50 cal’s on were the “left and right flanks of Able Co’s position.
Bishop, Jones, and Bailey were digging a foxhole for the 50 cal rifle. Rawl’s was yelling to Bishop to target the muzzle flashes of the machine guns from the buildings
The Artillery fire had shifted; the rounds had found what was left of Charlie Company and Headquarters Company. The Artillery fire was devastating, truck after truck was destroyed the men on the ground killed where they stood.
Currie turned to see a truck explode, the last of the weapons platoons truck pulled out heading south trying to avoid being targeted by the artillery. Some of the men from Charlie Company were slowly making their way forward. Lt. House and Lt. Colvin made their way to Currie’s position.
Currie yelled at them, “get your men, get them over to the right over there, Baker Co is getting mauled, you will have to take up their positions, now get to it, come on damn it get to it now.”
Currie squatted beside Rawl’s, “find the forward observer and neutralize it.” Boom, the sound the 50 cal rifle made caused Currie to turn his head, he grabbed Rawl’s arm, “come on. Bishop Concentrate your fire on the on the muzzle flashes of the machine guns, Rawl’s find the forward observers knock them out, they are going to be on the roof, some place high.”
Rawl’s said, “Like the control tower,” Currie patted his helmet, “Walsh clear out the control tower,” Rawl’s yelled, first platoon, over here, dig in, hubba – hubba.
Charlie Company had lost two platoon or more. He didn’t know about Baker Company or the status of Dog Company. However, Currie was about sure that Headquarters Company was gone.
Walsh called out to Currie; the mortars’ are ready, and had targeted the control tower. Currie laid out the pattern of fire for the mortars and use the mortars’ priorities “first that area, second the center, and the third over there, but be careful, Dog company is somewhere over there.”
Walsh relayed Currie’s order, the mortars’ began firing, the unmistakable ringing, thunk sound made as the mortar bombs left the tube. The two 50 Cals had been dismounted and were now firing. The acrid smell of burnt powder hung thickly in the cool morning air, the 50 cal tracers arched across the airfield raking the building suppressing the German machine gun fire. Bishop, Jones, and Bailey were targeting the muzzle flashes and destroying the emplacement, one gun at a time.
The volume of German artillery fire had not changed, but the accuracy of fire had deteriorated to a status of hit or miss since the OP located in the control tower had been destroyed. Currie sent a runner out to Charlie Company, telling House to move ½ the distance toward Baker Company. Pick up any of their stragglers or survivors, Currie would signal him when to move toward the town, secure the airfield first, then the town, He would send his 2nd and 3rd platoons across with Charlie Co. Currie called Ted Healy CO of Dog Company, He would radio when he was ready to go.
The artillery fire was being concentrated on what was left of Baker and Head Quarters Co. their last good coordinates. Currie had not heard from Snow or Moore since they were first shelled. Currie paced back and forth behind the mortar pits watching the events unfold.
The Germans were good, but now the 6 MG’s that were focused on the line. Bishop, Bailey, and Jones had destroyed with the 50 cal rifle. “Bishop find that OP, knock it out,” Currie yelled.”
From the corner of a building a muzzle flash, the ground 20’ away from Currie erupted knocking Currie on his ass. Currie yelled, “Walsh!” shift your fire,” I’m on it Walsh yelled back.
Currie felt hands on his jacked at his shoulders pulling him backwards; he looked up into the bandaged face of Gleason,
“What the fuck” Currie said, as Gleason drug him into a foxhole.
“You alright sir,” Gleason said.
“Where did you come from,” Currie said,
“You all right sir, are you hurt,” Gleason said,
“Hell no, I’m not hurt, where did you come from?” he said,
Currie looked over the pile of stones and rocks the three mortars’ were pounding the PAC 38 position. Bailey was shooting the 50 cal rifle where the shot originated the tracers from the 50cal rifle illuminated the Pac’s location. Currie dusted himself off.
“I’ll deal with you later,” he said climbing out of the hole.
Dog Company was advancing on the town; sporadic fire was coming from the southern end of town. Currie signaled Charlie Company, his two platoons to advance. The 50 cal MG stopped firing, then the 30 caliber MG’s stopped. Charlie Company and his two platoons were directly in their line of fire. The men crossed the runway heading toward the swale on the other side, some men were moving from shell-hole to shell-hole, others just running a zigzag course and some ran straight hell bent for leather to the other side of the runway.
Dog Company had entered the town and they were fighting street to street, house to house. The German began to pull back from the airfield and reinforced their position in town.
The runner to Baker Company had returned Baker Company was down to 50 men and a few officers, the rest dead or wounded. Sergeant Phelps’s was in charge, he was moving his platoon towards the town, and the runner he had sent to battalion could not find them and had returned. Currie sent him back to find someone, anybody and bring them to him.
It was dawn now; Currie could plainly see the town, his men, and what was left of the other companies, He sent two squads to hold the control tower and the two hangers; he had the three 30 cal teams move out while the 50’s covered them. Currie held his fourth platoon in reserve, taking the remainder of the third platoon with him toward the town.
Currie had 16 men following him as he crossed the runway, behind him, he could hear the boom of the 50 cal rifle, and ahead he could see the damage done by it. Jones and Bailey were covering them Currie ran a zigzag pattern across the field while he leaned against pox marked, bullet raked walls of the buildings. Currie’s men made sure the building were clear as they worked their way down to the corner. At the corner, the blackened wreckage of the Pac 38 tank gun lay scattered about the street, smoking and smoldering.
The two squads split up, one squad giving cover fire to the other squad. While they crossed in pairs to the street to the opposite corner, Currie and his men now moved up the street crouching low hugging the wall while the other squads gave them covering fire.
A German machine pistol opened fire from a second story window, the bullets peppering the wall and the first soldier who fell dead into the street; the rest of them took cover. Currie’s squad was directly below the window. Corporal Billing’s pulled the pin on a grenade and tossed it through the window. The grenade detonated in the room blowing dust, dirt, and lethal metal pieces out the window. Phelps kicked the door open and sprayed the room with bullets from his Thompson submachine gun. Two other men rushed past him and headed for the stairs, one man pulled a grenade from his belt, pulled the pin, and tossed it up the stairs as soon as the grenade exploded the three men rushed up the stairs firing their weapons. The first burst of fire was from the Thompson, the next sound was a muffled cry followed by the metallic sound of a weapon hitting the floor and then soft thud of the body of the German soldier. Phelps yelled, “Clear,” and then they emerged from the house.
The men stepped over their dead comrade as they moved on down the street, the closer they got to the center of town, the heavier the gun fire became, the fiercer the fighting.
Currie approached the corner of the building cautiously and peered around the corner, a machine gun fired, the bullets striking the corner knocking out bricks, one bullet grazed his helmet knocking it cockeyed on his head, the dust and brick pieces enveloped his head blinding and choking him. Currie fell back into a sitting position. Currie straightened up knelt down and reached out for his helmet, another burst of machine gun fire chewed up the street and his helmet, he felt his hand being slapped away from his helmet, “son-of-a-bitch,” Currie cried out, he lifted his hand to look at it. The very last joint of his little finger hung by a piece of flesh, blood dripped from his finger and off his hand. Currie shook his hand to sling the blood off and the pain increased.
There was a flurry of activity, the resounding booms of hand grenades, the scuffle of feet, the sound of rifle fire, Phelps grabbed Currie, and pulled him back, Mitchell took the position at the corner and threw a grenade then began spraying the area with bullets from his Thompson.
Phelps pulled out a bandage, jerked Currie’s hand towards him, and began bandaging it, “Dam-it Captain, hold still,” he said jerking Currie’s hand again.
“It isn’t anything, “Currie said.”
“Damn it Captain,” Phelps, said, blood is fucking blood now hold still and he bandaged Currie’s hand.
The rest of the two squads were around the corner and moving down the street, Phelps reached down helping Currie up, “come on Captain, we are missing out on the party.” Phelps slid up to the corner, peered around, and then moved out, stepping over two bodies. Currie followed Him. The house were the MG fire had come from, the windows were shot out the walls were spattered and pock marked from the bullets, the flames of the fire no licked out of the window consuming the remains of who ever had been in there. Currie wiped his eyes what was left of his two squads were working slowly down the street. Currie groped for one of the dead men helmets with his injured hand, “shit,” he said, setting his rifle down and picking up the helmet with his right hand and putting it on his head, he grabbed his rifle and followed his men.
He watched his men work and clear each house each building, the men leap frogging each other, their weapons ready. Currie followed. Phelps stepped 2 steps out into the road, opened up with a long burst of fire, his Thompson spewing rounds at a shape dodging into a door way, “Jesus fucking Christ,” watch where your shooting. The shadow poked his helmet out of the doorway and yelled, “McVee Dog Company.” “Come on out Mac Able Co Phelps yelled, McVee and what was left of his helmet came out, a rifle fired from a second story window, Phelps and McVee both fired at it, a German rifle slid out the window falling to the ground. McVee tapped two men and pointed, the men took off to clean the house. Currie caught up with his men. Phelps said, McVee, this is Captain Currie, Able Co.” McVee how many men do you have?” Currie said, “Seven including me.” McVee said, “Ok three of your men on Phelps, the rest of you with Miller, we will head up that way, ok, move out.” Currie said pointing. McVee pointed to three men, you go with Phelps the rest with me, the men moving up the street. The street opened into a square, Dog Co was waiting, and men from Baker Charlie and Able Co. Sergeant emerge from streets houses, alleys.
There was sporadic gun throughout the rest of the day; the town was secured by 1700 hours. Currie set up command post in the town hall, he had runners find officers, and NCO’s to report to the square. By 1900 hours he knew that out of the 1000 men who started the operation there were 126 wounded, including himself and 542 KIA’s and MIA’s They had killed 234 Germans and Italians, captured 99, 13 of those wounded. Currie had what left of the transports was coming in dropping off food, water, ammo and picking up the wounded, and taking them to Bisrah. The medical unit that was with battalion HQ were all dead, the corpsman were doing the best they could, with what they had. Currie’s ½ tracks and the four Chevy 30cwt’s were on their way back to Tukurt for supplies and whatever Kovac and Snipes could procure.
“Captain,” Captain Currie,” a voice said. Currie turned to see Gleason standing there his face bandaged; he was holding a canteen cup of coffee in his dirty bandaged hand. Currie reached for the cup with his left hand. The smile on Gleason’s face disappeared at the sight of the Captain’s bloody bandaged hand. Currie set down the sheath of papers and took the coffee with his right hand. “Thanks Sergeant, soon to be a private, when an MP picks you up and throws you in the brig for being AWOL from the hospital.”
“Sir, I would rather be a private here than a sergeant anywhere else, “replied Gleason.”
“You just might get you wish Gleason, but I will see what I can do about it.”
“Thank you sir,” Gleason said.
Currie returned to his work. It was late when Doc finally got around to looking at Currie’s hand. Doc cut the bandage off. Currie winced as the bandage was pulled from the wound, fresh drops of blood formed on the scab that was forming. Doc looked at it, “you lost just the tip, the bone is splintered up to the joint, you have got to go to the hospital and have them take care of it.”
“What do they have to do?” Currie said,
“They will cut the skin away from the bone, amputate the bone at the joint, and sew it over,” Doc said.
“Do it,” Currie said.
“Excuse me Captain,” Doc said,
“Do it, you were a doctor in civilian life weren’t you, “Currie said, staring at Doc.
”Uh yes sir,
“Do it then.”
“But sir I can’t” Doc said.
“Can you sew it up,” Currie said harshly.
“Yes sir I can. Before Doc could stop him, Currie pulled out his knife placed the blade on his finger on the table and pushed down, there was a crunching scraping sound as the blade severed the finger and Currie’s face registered the pain, “God damn, Now! Sew it up.
Currie held up his finger, a flap of skin was holding the piece he cut off. Doc took hold of his hand, trimmed the skin from the bone, folded it over the top, and began to suture it. “God damn, Sir, I don’t believe you did that,” Doc said.
“Well I had too Doc, if I had gone to the hospital, I would have lost command of the company. We have been together too long for me to lose my command over the tip of my little finger.” Doc finished up, dusted it with sulfa and bandaged it.
“Next time, Captain, let me do it; I could have done a better job.”
“Well why didn’t you? Currie asked. Doc stood packed his kit and left all the while shaking his head. Currie grimaced. Damn it his finger hurt. Currie went back to his paper work. Currie looked up, “Hey Doc,” he looked at the Doc waiting for Doc to look at him, when Doc looked at him, he said, thanks and then he winked at him. Doc smiled, “anytime Sir, anytime.”
Currie settled in, tonight he would compile his list and pass it on to Regiment. He was the senior officer; battalion headquarters was decimated. Colonel Snow, his staff had been killed in the opening artillery barrage; the only officers left from Head Quarters were 3 second lieutenants platoon leaders. Baker Co lost their CO and XO, as did Charlie Company. Captain Healey the CO of Dog Co, was junior to him by several months.
Currie reflected on the battle they had won, but at what cost. The Germans had only numbered 283 nowhere close to Battalion, strength they had 2 Pac-38, 5cm antitank guns and 6 81mm mortars’, and several dozen or so MG’s 34’s and 42’s. Their fire had been very well coordinated and devastatingly effective, he marveled at how the MG’s placed overlapping fields of fire, how one or two other guns worked in unison, but were not dependant on the other MG’s, the mortar barrage was intense and accurate. The forward observers and the mortar men were master at the deadly craft of aiming and firing their mortars’ and antitank guns.
The patrol that he had sent out to recon the artillery pieces dug in on the rise behind the town, they had not reported. He could only speculate on the number and the types of field artillery pieces. They had 280 men plus the artillerymen on the rise. The Germans had killed and or wounded over 600 men. Currie cradled his head in his hands staring at the numerous reports that were beginning to pile up, action reports, casualty report, and supply requisition.
“Hey boss, there you are,” Myers said limping into the room, “I got the report from the patrol on the gun emplacements.” Currie looked up, “6 105mm field howitzers, 4 heavy ½ tracks, they counted 80, or so dead, the rest must have skedaddled in whatever they had left that would run.”
“The guns, Mike, were they destroyed?”
“Two were direct hits, the other four were all in working condition,” Meyers said.
“Did they destroy the remaining guns?” Currie asked,
“Yes sir,” Meyers said slowly,
“Good, we don’t want the Germans to sneak in tonight and shell us,” Curried said as he stood up.
“Yes sir,” Mike said he turned to leave.
Currie held his wounded hand, up his finger was throbbing. Each beat of his heart caused the pain in his finger to throb.
“Are you ok boss,” Mike said.
“Yeah I’m ok, but my fucking finger hurts,” Currie said running his good hand through his hair. “Hey Mike send someone to find Gleason and send him to me,”
“Gleason, he was sent to the hospital wasn’t he.”
“He was,” Currie, said, “he went AWOL to come back here, the little shit.”
“Ok boss I will find him and send him to you.”
Currie opened the bottle of ¼-grain morphine pills Doc had given him, popped one into his mouth, and swallowed.
“Captain you wanted to see me,” Gleason said.
“Yes Gleason, how are your hands,”
“They are ok sir,”
“Good, get some help we have a paper work out our rears, we need to get a handle on it, dig up any and all the clerical people you need, let’s go to work on it.”
“Yes sir,” Gleason said.
“Oh, and Gleason, find Snotky and Wilkins, Costello and Sinclair. I want to interrogate the prisoners as soon as possible.”
“Yes sir,” I’ll get right on it.” Gleason said.
The semi quiet of the night was shattered by the screaming shriek of artillery shells, followed by a blinding flash of light, and then the ear splitting head pounding noise of the explosion. “What the fuck,” Currie yelled, “Take cover,” he said jumping out the window running towards a shell-hole. “You soldier, yes you, come here,” Currie said, peeking above the rim of the hole, pass the word, officers to the square, the soldier scurried like a crab over to another hole and from there the word was passed along. The barrage was fierce; the pounding was nothing like anything he had seen. Currie crawled out of the hole and made his way to a new hole that had exposed part of a basement.
Currie called out for his radioman, Wilkins left the relative safety of his shell hole, pushing the radio in front of him as he crawled toward Currie’s position. Shells burst about the square and as each shell exploded, Wilkins crawled faster and faster, he finally broke into a run and plummeted dived head first into the hole flinging the 45-pound radio at Currie.
Currie caught the radio as it struck his chest; he wrapped his arms around it. “Son-of-a-bitch,” Currie swore as he fell backwards farther into the basement. Currie came to a rest sitting on a pile of rubble clutching the radio, Wilkins was lying across his lap, Damn Captain I am sorry about that, but a man can be killed out there. Wilkins rolled off Currie taking the radio with him; he helped Currie to his feet.
Wilkins’ get me Regiment on the double. Currie peered out to see his jeep explode; he watched the jeep as if it was in slow motion, a bright flash then an angry orange black ball of flame roared skyward along with his jeep. The jeep made a complete triple somersault before landing and bouncing once again into the air. The jeep looked like a wish bone completely blown apart length wise and only held together by the front bumper. “Shit,” what next he said, “Is there nothing sacred.”
Wilkins pushed the handset into Currie’s hand, “Regimental Sir,” Currie yelled to make himself heard. Currie gave regimental a detailed situation report and asked for orders. Regiment informed Currie the German’s were counter attacking along the whole front with panzers and infantry.
Regiment asked if the airfields were usable, Currie laughed only as a 100-hole golf course. Regiment told him to hold out as long as he could, and pull back if it was necessary. Currie handed the hand set back to Wilkins.
Wilkins handed the hand set back to Currie. “It is Kovac he wants to know if he should come on in.”
Currie took the handset “Top, what is your position, Kovac gave the grid coordinates, and he unfolded his map and found their position. Currie ordered him to find Pecos and his toy and hold there until further notice.
The sounds of war grew more intense, the crack, crack, crack of rifle fire mixed in with the budda, budda, budda, of the machine guns, and the pop bang of the grenades, was replaced by the tink, tink, tink, of tank treads and the staccato brr, of heavy machine guns. The whirr of the artillery shells increased as the gunners zeroed in on their targets.
What was left of the battalion, was now retreating through the streets, Currie watched his men being mowed down by machine gun fire from a panzer IV tank. Currie watched horrified as the tank ran over the dead and wounded crushing them into the cobblestone street.
“Fall back, fall back to the air field, the troops that were not already falling back began to move from building to building and shell hole to shell hole. Currie and Wilkins followed several others across the square. Currie stopped grabbed the radio and called Walsh on the radio, lay down smoke between the airfield and the square, then target the square and beyond with H-E and W-P he told Walsh to commence firing. Currie waited, until he heard the thunk boom of the mortars “move out,” he yelled, “move out.” Walsh laid down smoke. Currie and the survivors moved quickly through it, heading back to the airfield. Currie looked over his shoulder to see the blossoms of white phosphorus explode and the deafening blast of the high explosives.
Quickly, cautiously, Currie and the troops moved toward the edge of the town. Soldiers began to bunch up as they converged on the airfield he held his group back at the edge of town, waiting and directing the men as they moved out of the buildings. Currie pointed the direction he had smoke laid down behind his position to cover the withdrawal.
The dozen or so men with Currie checked the men lying on the ground, the wounded they picked up, the dead they left. They had reached the first swale, enemy machinegun fire began, the guns fired wide. Currie dropped into the swale followed by Wilkins.
“Radio Damnit,” Currie said, “so close so fucking close.” Currie saw through the clearing smoke, the muzzle flashes of the machine guns. “Walsh,” he yelled into the radio, “have Bailey target those MG’s, you keep up the fire you can’t let those tanks get out of the town.” Walsh’s mortars dropped two smoke and two white phosphorous on the MG’s. “Come on” Currie yelled, “Move it.”
Currie jumped up, “let’s go,” he grabbed one of the wounded men, throwing him over his shoulder and running toward Walsh’s position. Currie reached Walsh’s position and gently put the wounded man down but the man was dead he had died while Currie carried him. “Shit,” Currie said. The man had thanked him for helping him not 2 minutes ago.
Currie scrambled over to Walsh, “what have you got?” We got 25 rounds left, mostly smoke. I have 10 men and 20 wounded, Kovac is about ½ mile behind hidden in the brunt out junk from this morning. Currie looked around. Ok, this is what we will do, you men there, start with the wounded, get them back to those trucks, you wounded, if you can walk take off. One man said, “I can walk, I just can’t see.” Currie took his hand and laid it on another man, “he needs help walking, he’ll be your eyes; you help him walk.” Currie helped the man up and pointed them towards the desert.
Currie called Kovac on the radio, his words were simple ones, “friendly’s approaching on foot,” I say again, friendly’s approaching your position on foot.” Currie shoved the hand set back to Wilkins, “you’re on me,” he said. Currie started rounding up people and sending them toward Kovac’s position.
Currie had his count there, 18 walking wounded, 10-stretcher bound and 134 others. Currie was about to move out when he spied 3 forms moving low and slow across the ground, he tapped Wilkins, “what do you think?” he asked. Could be ours, there are only three, Wilkins threw his rifle up and took aim, “easy does it Wilkins,” he said, Currie took out his binoculars and glassed the “holey shit, that’s Doc and Rawls. Come on” Currie jumped to his feet and ran towards them; Wilkins was right on his heels. Doc dropped the man he was helping and raised his rifle, “whoa Doc,” Currie called out. Doc dropped the rifle, Currie grabbed Rawls, Doc and Wilkins grabbed Gleason, “come on let’s get the fuck out of here.” The five of them moved out they passed the mortar pits Currie yelled,” Shapiro destroy the tubes”,
Shapiro dropped a termite grenade down each tube. Shapiro joined up and helped Currie carry Rawls. Currie looked back to see the glow from the four termite grenades.
Currie and the others blended into the night heading toward the burnt out and wrecked trucks, the Germans had advanced and were firing their weapons into the dead and spraying the area with bullets, firing them at random in all directions. The night sky was lit up with aerial flares; they floated slowly to the ground illuminating everything within 100 yards. Currie and his men dropped to the ground, and waited until the flares fizzled out. Then they began moving again. The flares were popping up all across the airfield and they could see the Germans searching the airfield and the surrounding area.
Currie whispered, “Stay low, and go, head out, Doc, you and Wilkins, go, go.” Currie laid there holding the closest German in his sights, his finger rested leisurely on the trigger. He breathed in through his nose and breathed out his mouth, the German began to walk away from Currie’s position. “Ok Charlie, it’s you and me now, be a good man and stay quiet.” Currie sat up and moved to his knees he pulled Charlie up on his knees and pulled him across his shoulders, “ok Charlie my man here we go.”
Currie stood up and turned once, the German was still heading away from his position. Currie began to walk stretching out his steps into a kind of a lope. The light from the flares began to fade his eyes adjusted to the darkness; he soon made out the black outline of the trucks. Currie turned to look back at the German and as he turned back he saw a shell hole, but it was too late, Currie and Rawls tumbled into the hole.
Currie checked on Rawls and then scrambled to the rim, he pulled dirt into the hole and dug a small notch that he could look through, he could see no one coming, however, he heard noise from the other direction, he turned on his back raised his rifle and waited. Then he heard them, “he was just here, I just saw him and now he is gone.” The voice said. Currie raised up “over here,” he said softly, Wilkins and Snipes poked their head slowly over the rim of the hole, “holy shit, Captain, what are you doing in there,” Snipes said. “Come on get us out,” Currie said, and Snipes jumped down into the hold. Snipes and Currie pushed Rawls out; Wilkins picked him up and headed off. Snipes pushed Currie up then he climbed out. “Let’s go Sir; it is getting dangerous around here, if you know what I mean. We are about 200 yards out, watch the holes, they are a bitch.”
“Gee thanks, sergeant, who would have guessed that,” he said.
Snipes led Currie to the transports. Snipes boosted him into the ½ track He climbed into the track. “That is it Top, let’s get out of here,” Kovac pulled the gearshift into first and eased the ½ track out of its hiding place. The other trucks were now moving all of them strung out 100 yards or more abreast, the trucks moving deliberately, slowly making as little noise and raising as little dust as possible. Currie tried to rise up, but, felt a hand on his shoulder, “what do you want Captain” said Snipes. Currie looked at him, and took his binoculars from his neck, he poked them at Snipes, “tell me what you see,” he said.
Snipes stood up balancing himself against the side of the ½ rack, he raised the glasses to his eyes and slowly scanned from left to right, the area behind them, the he looked at the other transports, “all clear Captain,” I don’t see a thing said Snipes. Kovac get us in single file Currie said. Kovac nodded and steered an intercept course toward the next truck.
Currie lay back in the seat and fumbled around in his pockets for his cigarettes, “son-of-a-bitch,” he said remembering where he had left them. Somebody give me a cigarette, Wilkins lit a cigarette and handed it to Currie. Currie took a long pull, Christ he though, “a lucky strike, Oh hell,” and he sucked his lungs full of smoke again.
The sun was rising the gloomy night was beginning to melt away in the morning light, they could see Bisrah convoys of trucks and equipment were streaming out toward the front. Currie had had no contact with the Regiment since Al Wad. Wilkins tried to get Regimental on the radio. Wilkins fired up another radio, the airwaves were full of voice and Morse code, and they filled every channel. He tried the primary frequency then the secondary’s, “no can do Captain, they don’t answer,” Wilkins said. “Alright we will be in Bisrah in an hour, well drop off the wounded, and then we will see what’s going on at division.”