|"The medic giggles as you show her your Full House. Yes, this game of strip poker is going quite well. 'This time you'll have to take off more than your first aid kit,' you say with a sly wink."|
|Date: ||03/24/03 10:03|
|Game Type: ||Other|
|Labels:||Great Writing(1), Long(1), Text Only(1), Series(1)|
|Report Rating: , # of Ratings: 2, Max: 9, Min: 7|
Lifetime Rating for SupeRc0pKr: 8.2353
6 June, 1944 was a monstrous event in history. It was the greatest seaborne invasion ever carried out against the Continent. The estimate in loss of life for the invasion had been enormous; SCHAEF - Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force - was willing to except a 50% casualty rate among all ground forces during the initial beach assault. Fortunately, Allied soldiers did not have to make that sacrifice to ensure success, though they very well would have were it asked of them. But 6 June only marked D-Day, the first day of the invasion of Europe. 2,000 Allied soldiers died in operations against Omaha Beach alone. There were still the missions for D+1 to complete, and D+2, D+3, D+4, all the way up until VE-Day.
D+1 and many subsequent days would be spent expanding the beachhead. For the British and Commonwealth forces farther east, this meant taking Caen. For the Americans, it meant pushing towards St. Lo, and securing the Cotentin Peninsula. Allied soldiers would soon learn that making D-Day a success had been the least of their troubles.
[Siege at the Pointe]
A Company rose that morning to the sound of distant gunfire. Relief units of the 29th and 1st Infantry Divisions were fighting to expand the beachhead to allow for more troops to enter the Vierville-Coleville area. Also, 5th Ranger Battalion and 3rd Battalion of the 116th were pushing to gain access to the road to Pointe-du-Hoc, where D, E, and F Companies of 2nd Ranger continued to struggle against repeated German counter-attacks.
A deuce-and-a-half truck drove down the main road into Vierville, and stopped just outside the motor pool. Riflemen - perhaps twelve of them - wearing the blue-and-gray patch of the 29th dismounted slowly from the truck and straggled past Wayne's command post set up around the town square. They were barely picking their feet off the ground, and their eyes were bloodshot. They had the hunched posture of men who had been beaten down again and again, and were afraid to stand back up.
Wayne asked a question that he would later learn to leave un-asked - "What happened?"
"We've been fighting to get to Pointe-du-Hoc since D-Day afternoon," a ragged sergeant answered, "and the krauts aren't giving up any ground. They've been calling down artillery on us, and we can't find their observation points. We've got supporting armor, but we keep losing contact with each other. Sir, we're just thrashing around in the dark out there, those goddamn hedgerows make damn good cover for the Germans, and we've got nothing to fight against them."
"Where's your commanding officer?"
"Fighting with the rest of the company."
"What are you doing here, then?"
"Our platoon was wiped out. Artillery barrage hit us while we were on the road. We're all that's left." The sergeant lit a cigarette and turned away to follow his comrades into a nearby apartment building.
And a moment later, three more trucks led by a jeep motored onto the main road, a few of the vehicles smoking and punctured by shrapnel. Only two were marked with the red cross of medical vehicles, but when the crews came off, they were all carrying litters.
Wayne watched the aidmen bring the wounded off the trucks and jeeps from the open first floor of the apartment he'd taken as his command post. They were snapping curt orders at each other - "Tourniquet - heavy blood loss - he goes first. This one's gone, leave him. He's fading fast, get him out." - and moved in a deliberate, methodical repetition. They'd "tag" the casualty with a priority notice, finish up what first-aid they could, and then carried them into the aid station. It was a science, Wayne decided, the medical treatment of wounded. The aidmen treated each casualty as though he were a checklist.
The replacements came in later that morning, in truckloads. They looked out of the trucks at A Company like dumb animals, in some sort of shock. The men were unshaven, gaunt, and generally looked "like hell," according to every NCO in the regiment. They gave the most attention to the aid station, where casualties had already mounted at an alarming rate. Men, legs reduced to bloody rags, limped into red cross trucks with assistance from comrades. Inside the disused-building-turned-aid-station, they lie dead or dying on stretchers placed on the ground. The new men unloaded from the trucks in wide-eyed awe.
"Jesus," they said, "what happened here?"
"It's only D-plus-one and it looks like half the division's been wiped out."
The A Company replacements numbered just about forty, enough to give Wayne perhaps three under-strength platoons total. They milled about aimlessly, and gathered together in the streets behind the trucks.
Wayne approached them with his rifle slung and his helmet tilted loosely and un-strapped. "You boys are A Company replacements?"
"Good. I'm Second Lieutenant Wayne, A Company commander. As you can probably guess, we've lost a lot of men since D-Day, and right now you barely bring us up back to strength. The rest of the company's down at the town square. I'll assign you to your platoons, and you'll get acquainted with your NCOs. You listen to what they say, they've got some experience and there's a lot you boys have to learn pretty fast. We'll get orders to move out later in the afternoon. For now, you just get organized into your platoon sections."
The men all looked as though they were lost, even when Wayne took them to A Company command post. Wayne distributed the replacements among the platoon leaders and told them to brief them on dos and don'ts, then headed for the battalion CP.
Siege at the Pointe
2nd Ranger Battalion had fought off two attacks so far - one on D-Day and again that night. By D+1 they had been pushed into a 200 meter deep defensive perimeter on the cliff. Geissler's company and the other Germans of the 916th Regiment had fought hard against the naval bombardment that kept them at bay throughout their assaults, but the Rangers held onto their foothold tenaciously.
Wescott watched the Germans coming in again, maneuvering straight through the battery, and saw the Rangers ahead of him shooting into their advance, M1s ejecting their spent magazines at a furious rate while their rounds cut down a few of the Germans sprinting forward into the cover of shell holes and burned-out trenches. To his left, at the command post Lieutenant-Colonel Rudder had set up, a signaling lamp flashed furiously to the destroyers off-shore, calling in another salvo of fire. The guns on the ships flashed in response, the delayed boom of fire reached Wescott's ears, and then the shells screeched overhead, crashing in rapid sequence a moment later into the battery. German bodies were flung into the air, the black smoke of the shell bursts wrapping around them momentarily before they plummeted back onto the cratered cliff, broken and shattered. The lamp flashed again, and another salvo of shells screamed over Wescott's head, hurtling brutally and violently into the earth shortly after to detonate and throw a cloud of burning debris and smoke up. Geissler saw two of his men shoved bodily to the ground, shrapnel wounds lacing all the way up their backs, and a third simply blown apart as a five-inch shell exploded on top of him. Stringy pieces of flesh and cloth fluttered down in the black of burning matter, silent in the moments after the roar of high-explosive thunder.
This was what the Rangers leaned on to cling onto Pointe-du-Hoc - the heavy fire support of the steel-gray destroyers parked out on the Channel.
The signaling lamp that the Rangers were using to call in support was an old piece of equipment dating back to World War I. The communication operators hadn't liked dragging the extra weight ashore, but now, when none of the Ranger radios were functioning, they were more than happy to have it along. Each flash sequence of coordinates brought accurate fire down onto the advancing Germans, which gave the Rangers much-needed support. They were low on everything, ammunition, food, medical supplies, men, but as long as they had the five-inch guns of the destroyers behind them, they'd be able to hold the cliff.
Some of Geissler's men had managed to push close enough to start throwing grenades in the battery trenches. Up went one, up went another, followed by the returned American grenades. Explosions ripped around the trenches, and both Ranger and German soldier took cover from the whizzing shrapnel, covering their heads and ears. Rangers in the forward trenches shot desperately, hitting two of the six Germans, but the others came forward with MP-40s and gunned them down. Just behind those trenches, in a shell hole, a Ranger threw several grenades in rapid succession. Wescott knew him, he was known as "Patty," because he was Irish - he had quite an arm, could pitch like a madman and showed early on in munition exercises that he could put those grenades anywhere he wanted them. The incendiaries he'd pitched came down right on top of the four Germans who had taken the forward trench, and they exploded one right after the other, plowing the Germans against the trenches so that they lie motionless at the bottom, limbs spread apart, eyes and ears and noses bleeding in the cloying sulfurous smoke. Just after that, an MG-42 opened from his right, and Patty went down to cover, but the machine gun had an angle on him - he took hits in the back, his blood spraying up from the bullet wounds, and then he was down. Another team of Germans entered the battery and jumped over Patty's shell hole. They were big, broad-shouldered boys, very obviously farm workers, and they came forward with rifles at port, while the MG-42 covered them. A BAR gunner already had them in his sights, though, and a moment later they tumbled over each other as he emptied his magazine into them.
Wescott suddenly felt very strange watching this - all of this waste, Patty's throwing arm, that athletic talent going to waste, those big farm boys going to waste, all just wasted as they were cut down time after time.
Another salvo of fire dropped onto the cliff, and a thin German soldier lurched forward while his rifle fell from his hands. He skidded to his knees, then dropped face-down, but not before Wescott saw the soldier's black-smeared face contort in suffering.
In the forward trenches, grenades were lobbed back and forth as the Germans struggled to root the Americans out. Two Rangers in a shell hole shot their Garands at point-blank range into a team of assaulting Germans, while potato-masher grenades detonated ahead and behind them. Each shot dropped a field-gray pile to the ground, and by the time their magazines had been ejected, there were eight Germans lying before their position, shrouded in the smoke of their own munitions.
"Fucking courage under fire," a Ranger muttered, "That's what it is, fucking courage under fire."
"No," Martin replied as he jammed a magazine into his Thompson, "Not courage. Just duty. Anybody here would do the same."
Wescott was looking at the dead Germans on the ground, limbs strewn haphazardly about their limp bodies. He didn't think there was any courage or duty about it. Everything was a fruitless sacrifice.
Geissler already knew the attack had failed. The Allied destroyers offshore were giving heavy support, and neither his 1. Kompanie troops nor any other 1st Battalion soldiers were gaining any ground. That, and the Rangers were still fighting as though they expected nothing short of total victory. Part of his company had entered the southern end of the battery. He was with them, lying down in a half-collapsed trench. Debris and dirt showered down on him, and everything smelled as though it were burning.
"Two machine guns are to be posted to cover the other end of the battery! Anyone who can run follows me! Push forward into the western trench!"
There were twenty men behind Geissler once he'd begun the dash, and they all crawled from their cover around the trenches and foxholes and leapt down into the main line with him. Barbed wire covered their front, where American rifle fire sung overhead, and behind them, five-inch shells screamed down into the hedgerows.
Geissler's team split off once they neared a branch in the trench. Several broke off to take up firing positions in an abandoned machine gun nest, where they engaged in a shoot-out with Rangers hidden in one of the nearby concrete gun emplacements. At least six had crawled out of the trench to sneak into a pill box, though they had already come under fire from an American with an automatic weapon. Geissler took the remainder of the troop straight down the trench, and stopped to scout around the nearest corner.
"Fucking Jesus!" came the American curse, and Geissler swung back around as two submachine guns and two rifles opened fire behind him, their rounds pelting into the trench walls in odd sequences.
"Granatten!" Geissler ordered, and a potato-masher went bouncing into the access trench.
The pregnant buzz of falling dirt and smoke followed a metallic boom, and then boots stomped in the trench as Geissler led the charge around the corner. The Americans were stunned, reeling and on their hands and knees, and Geissler's submachine gun roared to life. Two short bursts, pointed at the soldiers on the ground, but three rolled and recovered quickly, returning fire as they pulled farther back into the access trench to a sandbagged strongpoint while their comrade stopped thrashing on the ground, to die. Geissler's men shot after them, but the Americans had already taken cover.
"Cover, cover!" Geissler heard a sergeant call.
The Americans opened fire, a submachine gun pounding fire out and punching one of Geissler's men to the ground. The others had scrambled back around the corner of the trench, and over the sides onto open ground, where enemy fire from the north end of the battery kept them pinned. An exchange of fire developed, with Geissler caught in the middle, crouched down low with MP-40 shooting into the sandbags, and K98s lighting up behind him reaching out to tag one of the Rangers in the skull.
Suddenly, the Americans disappeared as a cloud of black engulfed them - artillery. No, naval artillery. Then Geissler realized he was on his back, and he couldn't breathe, and his eyes and ears were stinging. A five-inch shell had landed right on-top of the American position, another "short." He checked himself for any injuries, though he was too numb to really feel anything at the moment. He felt himself suddenly being lifted, and then his head broke out over the ground. At the same moment, the force of the concussion reverberated inside his skull. The trenches in the battery were smoking again; an entire salvo must have landed right on top of the Americans, and any of the German 1st Battalion troops closing with them.
"We're leaving, Leutnant! The Amis are tearing us apart!"
"Then leave," Geissler replied, but it came out no louder than a hoarse whisper. Christ, it was as if he were dying.
Wescott squeezed the last few rounds from his magazine at the retreating Germans, even though he knew they were out of submachine gun range. The German he'd been aiming for dropped anyway, hit directly between the shoulders, and Wescott wondered if the German would have been any good at pitching, like Patty. Those big arms that carried the carbine so easily were now just so much dead weight. It made him sick. He looked at Martin, whose face was grim and tight, eyes squinting in the smoke and through the fatigue of the day before, that night, and then the morning.
"Piece of cake, Sarge."
"Piece of cake," Wescott replied, but didn't return Martin's acknowledging glance. He felt as though he couldn't look at anyone for the moment.
Wescott listened, then, to the silence of the Rangers that had been killed in the attack, and to the quiet hush of fires burning in the battery. These noises had become perhaps too familiar, too constant.
It was noon before Geissler felt any less dis-oriented from the five-inch shell's blast. He had not been hit by shrapnel, the trench had protected him from that much, but the concussion had been immense. It was only through sheer willpower that he kept from vomiting. Geissler's uniform was no longer immaculately creased and folded; now it was caked in dust and dirt, and his face was streaked with the black of gunpowder. He looked around at his 1. Kompanie troops, at their blackened faces and hands. They had the same image as he.
"It's too bad," one soldier was saying, "that we weren't able to push the Amis off the cliff. Now we'll be stuck here for a while longer."
Geissler recognized the soldier as Kempff, who had distributed ammunition with a friend the previous night.
"It's all right," another responded. "We've got nothing else to do and nowhere else to go."
"That's true," came another voice, this one angrier, colder. "Even if we'd have won the war right here, there'd be no use in going home. My wife's left me, and she's taken the children."
"Christ," a few whispered.
"My boy was my life, Christ," the angry soldier lowered his voice to a strained whisper. "A month, a month ago this happened. Jesus Christ..."
"Word has it that the Russians have started getting ready for another offensive. Right after this one, right when we're holding the Americans..."
One thought hung on the troops minds, it had been for months now, perhaps even years, but no one ever uttered it. No one even whispered it, when no one was listening. Everything was going to be lost. Everything was as good as gone.
"It's all right," someone said, half-smiling. "At least we're fighting. At least we're doing something we're good at." Nobody answered.
"Then we should enjoy the war while it lasts," a sergeant said after a stifled pause, "because the peace will be terrible."
And Geissler shuddered, because he had to stop himself from agreeing.