Chapter 11 - North Reich - Robert Conroy

North Reich - Robert Conroy (2012)

Chapter 11

Confusion reigned at the Pentagon, even more so than normally, thought Tom Grant. Everybody and his brother was screaming for information and nobody had any. There were rumors galore, but very little in the way of facts. Something big and bad was unfolding along the border with Ontario and nobody was quite sure what. Had the Germans actually attacked a week early? If so, an American enemy had again caught the United States with its pants at least half down.

Truscott burst into the room, followed by Eisenhower. This very early morning there was no engaging grin on Ike’s face. He looked like he wanted to kill.

“Gather around and let’s summarize,” Truscott said. Grant noticed that Ike stayed in the background. “To the best of anyone’s knowledge, what is happening in Detroit?”

Major Schuman responded. “Sir, it’s becoming clear that good sized raiding parties crossed the river at several locations and have commenced blowing up industrial facilities. We know that the Ford Rouge plant is burning at a number of places, along with the Willow Run plant that makes B24 bombers. We believe that a trainload of German soldiers came out of the railroad tunnel under the Detroit River and simply raced up the tracks to the factory that produces tanks and are blowing it up. From what we’re getting from telephone calls and short wave radio, the raids are ongoing and the Nazis haven’t pulled out. It’s likely that other factories will be destroyed as well.”

Ike finally spoke. “Then they’re stupid. They can’t destroy those facilities. They can only damage them, and we can repair them fairly quickly. They may be down for a couple of weeks, even some months, but destroy them? Hell, no!”

“And Patton’s on his way,” Truscott added with a smile. Patton had been ordered to keep his divisions at least fifty miles away from Detroit and the river, but apparently had permitted some good sized elements to “patrol and maneuver” much closer to the city. They were on their way, mad as hell and armed to the teeth. Patton had a history of twisting some orders and disobeying others.

“What about Fredendall?” asked Colonel Downing. “Is he moving men towards the river?”

Truscott glared at him. “Apparently he’s digging in.” Truscott’s expression made it clear what he thought of Fredendall’s decision.

Fredendall was Marshall’s fair haired boy and was supposed to be a real fire breather. This night, however, he hadn’t moved. Tom and Downing shared a glance. Had the almost infallible General Marshall made a mistake? It wouldn’t be the first time that someone with a solid peacetime record failed when the guns began firing. He recalled that Fredendall had never led troops in combat and wondered if he was freezing under the reality. If you didn’t count the incident on the Canadian freighter, Tom hadn’t led men in combat either, but he wasn’t in charge of an army.

Truscott changed the topic. “Grant, what about the radar sites?”

“General, I can confirm that there’s been no response from them, either by phone or radio. The 27th regiment has patrols out, but it looks more and more like they were all blown up by saboteurs, just like what’s happening in Detroit.

Tom wondered if Major Canfield was involved in checking the radar sites. Probably, he thought. The man knew the area.

Ike stood and paced. A cigarette dangled from his mouth and it occurred to Tom that neither general had gotten much sleep this night. Why, he wondered? Was it possible that they suspected, even knew, that the German assault would come this Saturday and not the next? He would have to ask Alicia if she’d heard anything from Camp Washington and then wondered if she’d tell him even if she knew.

Tom wasn’t done with the bad news. “We are being further hampered by the fact that electricity is out in a number of places in upper New York State and in Michigan.”

“So we’re blind,” Ike said. “Well, let’s do what we can. First, the men we do have along the border just became human spotters. Get them along that radar gap with radios and telescopes. We might not stop the first attack, but we sure as hell can stop the next ones. At least we’ll get a little warning.”

“Are we going to get planes in the air?” asked Downing.

Truscott laughed harshly. “And send them where? The German HE111 has a range of more than fourteen hundred miles, which means it can fly from Toronto to Washington and back with no problem. Yeah, we’ll go on alert and have planes up to protect those areas. We may be wasting our time, but we have to do something.”

Truscott looked at Grant who had turned aside. “You don’t agree with that, major?”

Grant sucked in his breath. It never paid for a mere major to argue with a two star general. “Sir, I think there may be a pattern in their attacks. Yes, I don’t think we can rule out a bombing raid on either New York or Washington, but it seems to me that they are going after industrial targets. If I’m right, I really think they’ll make a big push to hit steel producing facilities at Pittsburgh, and maybe just nuisance raids on New York or Washington.”

“Why just nuisance raids?” asked Truscott.

Grant answered. “General, they just don’t have that many planes and the ones they have can’t do the job. We estimate there’s somewhere around a thousand German planes now in Canada and only a couple of hundred of them are their HE111 bombers. Worse, the German bombers only carry a couple of tons of bombs each. They might get off one raid on Washington, like Doolittle did to Tokyo, but it won’t change things in the long run.

“Makes sense,” said Truscott.

Ike thought for a moment and made the decision. “I agree that the krauts won’t send many of their bombers down here without fighter protection. If I recall, their bombers are very vulnerable, and the ME109 would barely make it to Washington, even with drop tanks. New York, however, would be within range. That said, we will concentrate on protecting our industry and hope that the bases around D.C. and New York are alert and ready. I’m sure the Germans will attack Washington if only to show that they can.”

“So when do we go on the offensive?” asked Downing.

Ike appeared to wince before he answered. “Not until the president says so. He’s waffling. He’s awake and being informed as quickly as we find out ourselves. General Marshall and Admiral King are with him. For a man who wanted the Germans to throw the first stone, he now wants to make sure this is the real thing and not something the krauts can apologize for and then move on, like they did with that destroyer they sank. He wants to make sure they’ve actually started a war and not just created a bloody incident. Apparently, he’s still afraid that the politicians who are in favor of totally supporting the war against Japan and, not surprisingly, supporting those thieves in China, will rise up against him. If he was to ask for a declaration of war and congress turns it down, it would be humiliating.”

Grant was incredulous. “Sir, that’s preposterous. If the reports are correct, Germans have killed hundreds of our people and their bombers may be on their way to our cities as we speak. Sir, we’ve got to strike back just as soon as we can.”

Ike’s face turned red and Tom thought his military career had just come to a screeching halt. Ike took a deep breath and smiled tightly. “Major, I will tell you I agree with everything you’ve said if you will forget I just said that. Understood?”

Tom sheepishly said he did. A corporal rushed in, looked around in shock at all the brass staring at him, and handed a sheet of paper to Ike who read it and smiled. “Waiting may be over, gentlemen. This is from Ernie King and he’s saying that Kraut subs have begun attacking our shipping. On his own, he’s ordered his ships and planes to attack and kill U-boats.”

Terry Romano and the men of the Vampire had just begun the turn back to base when they received the message that jarred them and which they would remember for the rest of their lives. They were to commence unrestricted attacks on German U-boats immediately.

The first thing Terry did was ask for confirmation, and an angry voice complied. Then he asked what American subs were in the area and was assured that none were within a couple of hundred miles of his location.

“How much fuel we got,” he asked and was told enough for a couple of hours, maybe more if they were careful.

Terry ordered them back over the ocean and got a raucous cheer from his crew. Finally, they were going to be doing something. Well, maybe. First they would have to find a German. They’d done it before, but the Germans hadn’t been at war with the U.S. and might have been letting the Americans score some phantom points just to see what the bombers could do.

They’d been back on the graveyard shift for several weeks and it would be light enough to see in a while. After flying back over the ocean for half an hour, they were beginning to wonder if their efforts were wasted when the co-pilot, Phil Watson, spotted the flames. A ship was on fire. They flew low and confirmed that it was an oil tanker that had become a raging inferno. The Germans had drawn first blood and that enraged them.

They called in the ship’s location and were informed that the Coast Guard was already on the way. They could see a couple of lifeboats standing away from the dying tanker.

“I wonder how many made it out of that inferno?” Watson asked quietly. It was all too likely that men had either been burned to death or drowned. This was their first experience of war and, while they would not admit it out loud, they didn’t like it at all.

Another half an hour and they were beginning to have serious fuel concerns. The sun was rising which made things a little easier. The sea below was relatively calm and they looked hard for the tell-tale sign of a periscope or a snorkel making waves that shouldn’t be there.

“Got something,” said the radar operator. “It’s not much, but I think we should give it a look-see.”

Romano agreed and turned in the direction of the sighting. He also had them drop to a much lower altitude, thinking that the sub would be submerged and using its snorkel and unable to see the Vampire.

And there it was, looking like a pipe sticking out of the water and moving slowly towards land.

“What do we do now?” asked Watson.

“First, we re-re-reconfirm that there aren’t any of our boats around. Then we attack. The bastard may be underwater, but he can’t possibly be that deep if we can see his periscope. We’ll go in with guns blazing and maybe we’ll hurt him.”

The response from shore came quickly - attack! Terry flew the Vampire low over the waves and so slow he almost stalled. He lined the B24 on what he assumed was the sub’s stern and, with heart pounding, began his approach. He had his anti-tank gun, rockets, and a couple of five hundred pound bombs. They would fire and drop everything.

The snorkel grew steadily larger. “Now,” he yelled and 37mm shells stitched their way across the waves to the sub. Tony held the stream steady, inundating the snorkel which appeared to snap off. The rockets fired and he felt the plane lurch as the bombs were dropped. They exploded behind him in giant plumes of water as the bomber swept over the sub’s location and they felt the plane shudder from the shock wave. What the hell must it be like under the water, he wondered?

The Vampire banked upward and Tony planned for a second run. Unfortunately, there was no trace of the sub. They circled for a few more minutes, wondering if they’d ever know if they’d hit it.

“Skipper, is that debris?”

Tony again held the plane at near stall speed and took a look. Yes, it was debris. But what did it mean? The Germans had been known to empty trash through their torpedo tubes to make their enemies think that the sub had been killed. Was this such a case? Damn.

Watson grabbed Tony’s arm. “Jesus, she’s surfacing.”

Sure enough, the sub was doing an emergency surface. She emerged suddenly from the sea and splashed down.

“We go in one more time,” Tony exulted.

“Sir, I think they’re abandoning her,” said the tail gunner.

The sub was down by the stern and sinking. Men were pouring out of her and throwing life rafts into the sea. The sub rolled on its side and slowly disappeared while black smoke billowed out from the hatches. The men of the Vampire whooped and yelled. The radio operator said he’d taken some great photos.

Tony joined in the yelling until he recalled something somebody else had said about the sinking ship. “How many got out?” he asked.

“No more than thirty,” Watson answered. He realized where Tony was going.

“And how many in a sub’s crew?” Tony prodded.

“I guess maybe fifty or sixty.”

“Then don’t cheer, the poor bastards are dying,” said Tony. He couldn’t quite recall who’d first used that phrase, maybe somebody from the Spanish-American War. Regardless, it was appropriate. They’d made a kill but that meant that people were well and truly dead and they had caused those deaths.

They confirmed that a destroyer was on its way to pick up the Germans and then checked their fuel. They would make it back to base, but not by much. They would have to report a fuel emergency, but nobody back home would mind. They’d killed a Nazi sub. So why didn’t they feel happy?

Something big was happening and the only thing Alicia could think of was war. What had the Germans done? It was clear that a crises was brewing, but that had happened before. Oh God, she wondered, was this finally the real thing?

She’d been awakened in the middle of the night and told to take a package of messages to the Pentagon immediately. She dressed, gathered her guards and was on her way. Her guards logically assumed that she knew what was happening and were put out when she said she didn’t. Clearly they did not believe her.

She arrived at the Pentagon at daybreak. The level of security had been increased. Large numbers of MPs had the place cordoned off and it took several minutes for her to be passed through. One young MP Lieutenant wanted to examine the contents of her pouch and was furious when she refused. He didn’t believe that a woman would be carrying secret documents and told her so. Finally, a bird colonel straightened things out and Alicia made her way inside and delivered the package. She wondered if Tom was behind one of those doors and fought the urge to try and find out.

There was near chaos in the building as people moved quickly down the hallways. She saw Eisenhower almost running down the hallway. Something major was clearly happening. It was also quite obvious that she was not going to see Tom this morning. There had been no repetition of the wonderful evening at the Downing’s. There hadn’t been a moment’s privacy since then.

She left the Pentagon with a radiant smile for the lieutenant who’d tried to take the pouch. He glared at her and turned away. The hell with him, she thought and laughed. It was just something else about her life, values, and attitudes that had changed and she felt better for it.

She got her guards and they decided to drive around the Mall that led to the Capitol Building just to see what was happening. Along the Mall, trucks and busses were unloading more guards and more barbed wire was being laid to surround the building that housed the Congress. Additional anti-aircraft guns had been placed around the old building.

Alicia was just about to say that it was time to get back to Camp Washington when air raid sirens began to howl. Soldiers told them to get out of their car and lie down on the ground.

“Aren’t there any shelters around here?” she yelled.

“Probably,” answered a sergeant, “but I don’t know where they might be, and I can’t let you inside the Capitol itself.”

She heard the crump-crump of anti-aircraft guns and looked skyward to see a number of planes high up in the sky. Things were falling from the planes, and she realized that she was watching bombs falling from their bellies. Frantically, she tried to dig into the soft dirt. Seconds later, explosions rocked the area. One near miss sent dirt over her.

“Look at that,” hollered one of her guards. “We got ourselves one of the bastards.”

Alicia rolled onto her back and looked up. One of the bombers was burning and beginning to cartwheel. “How large a crew?” she asked.

“Four, I think.”

Two bodies fell out of the bomber. One parachute opened while the second man fell to his death. She closed her eyes but she still heard the thud as he impacted. The bomber continued its death spiral, crashing and exploding behind some buildings, while Americans on the ground cheered.

The raid was over. The only planes in the sky were American fighters, whirling and buzzing like angry bees.

What about the Capitol Building? She looked at the building that had served since about 1800, if she correctly recalled her history. One bomb had struck the senate side and a fire was trying to take hold. It wouldn’t get much of a chance. Fire engines were already on the scene and firemen were rolling out their hoses. She did wonder if there were any casualties inside.

“Hey, lieutenant, maybe we got ourselves a German.”

The German whose parachute had opened was landing on the Mall about a hundred yards in front of them. In an instant, he was surrounded by angry soldiers. He tried to hold his hands up and disengage from the parachute, but it was difficult. When he finally did free himself, soldiers jumped him and started stomping him.

“No,” Alicia said and ran to the melee. “Leave it, stop hitting him,” she yelled.

“Fuck you, lady,” one soldier said before he saw she was an officer.

“Get out of here before you get sent to the stockade,” Alicia snarled and the soldier ran off.

Alicia continued to grab and pull soldiers until the German was free. He knelt on the ground and stared vacantly at his tormenters. Blood poured from his mouth and she thought she saw a couple of teeth in the grass. His holster was empty and she assumed that one American soldier had a luger as a souvenir.

“Why are you protecting him, lieutenant?” asked an angry private.

She glared at him. “Try and recall that murdering prisoners is a crime that can send you to Leavenworth for a very long time. Also, try and think that our people might want to interrogate him in case he knows something.”

The man nodded and walked away. The German had made it to his feet. It looked like one arm was badly hurt and he had indeed lost a number of teeth. Still, he was grateful to be alive. He looked at her and managed a smile. In fluent German she told him to stop grinning and put his hands on his head. Stunned, he complied immediately. It struck her that he was a small man, nothing like the Nordic blond stereotype the Nazis liked to say was typical. Instead, she thought he was kind of scrawny.

An army captain came over. “You want me to take him off your hands?”

She had a wild idea. “No thanks, sir, I can handle it.”

“You sure?” he asked, glowering at her.

Alicia smiled brightly. “Sir, I just came from the Pentagon where I saw General Eisenhower. I think people there would like to see this little superman.”

Mentioning Eisenhower’s name worked wonders. The captain nodded and her guards got the German into the back seat. One guard sat in the front and the other in the back with a pistol to the German’s head. Alicia smiled as she settled into the front beside the driver. Well, she had come from the Pentagon and she had seen Eisenhower, hadn’t she?

There were sublevels to the Pentagon and everyone went to them when the sirens went off. Thousands of men and a surprising number of women jammed into the basement rooms that would have to serve as air raid shelters. There was concern but no panic as the building’s occupants poured down the stairs. There was even some denial that anything was happening. This was just another drill wasn’t it?

“Where the hell did all these people come from?” Truscott muttered once they were more or less settled along a wall.

Grant thought it was a good question, but a better one might be whether the building could stand up to German bombs. He thought it had been constructed of reinforced concrete but wasn’t totally sure. Besides, had anyone tested it against explosives?

They could hear the sound of guns firing and, seconds later, bombs began to explode, growing ever closer with each blast. The building shuddered after an explosion, and then others sent dust down on to the men and women in the basement. It was frightening, but the building seemed solid and safe.

Grant had a second horrible thought. What if a German plane was shot down and crashed onto the Pentagon? While the building would likely survive the impact of bombs, what about flaming gasoline pouring down stairwells and vents, either cremating or suffocating anyone in its path. Jesus, most of the army’s top brass was huddled below ground and presented one great big and juicy target.

Somebody whimpered. Grant understood their fear and wondered if this was what it had been like in London during the Blitz. He’d seen pictures and heard reports of the subways filled with people and he’d marveled at their apparent stoicism. He hoped he could be brave. He also realized that the overwhelming majority of people had never seen or heard combat close up. His running from the Black Shirts and killing the two Germans on the freighter were almost inconsequential to what might be happening upstairs and outside. Some in the basement hallway were clearly looking to him for leadership and he was scared shitless. As bad as the confined quarters was, the smell was worse. Scared people sweat and he thought he caught the odor of urine. Just don’t let it be mine, he begged.

In a surprisingly short length of time, the all clear sounded and they filed back upstairs to their offices to find that nothing had happened to their part of the world. Windows had been shattered in other areas, and there was the smell of smoke, but the damage seemed under control. It was time to try and forget their feelings of terror. They quickly got reports that bomb damage was minimal. One small bomb apparently struck the Capitol Building but had caused only a little damage. Most of the bombs hit nothing at all, although one landed in a small park across from the White House. Early reports said that at least fifty German planes had been shot down.

“You can cut that number down by at least two thirds,” said Downing and Truscott agreed. With large numbers of guns firing at the same targets and likely resulting in multiple hits, distortions and exaggerations were bound to occur.

The attack also meant that any questions regarding German intentions had just been dispelled. This was no minimal event that the two sides could walk away from. The German attack on the nation’s capital could only mean one thing, war. FDR would easily get his declaration and, even before that, the military could begin striking back. Too bad there weren’t any targets, Tom commented.

A confused looking MP entered their area. He spotted Downing and went to him. “Sir, we got some people bringing in a German prisoner and they insist on taking him to you.”

“Do it,” said Downing, looking puzzled.

A few minutes later, a disheveled but beaming Alicia and two male soldiers escorted a thoroughly confused German airman into their presence. He started to give the Nazi salute on seeing all the ranking officers, but prudently stopped and gave a more traditional salute.

Downing shook his head. “Tom, I know you speak German but I want some professional interrogators to talk to this clown. You take the lieutenant someplace where she can get cleaned up and you find out from her just what the hell happened. Take your time and do it right.”

Downing winked and flipped Tom the keys to his car and house.

A German transport plane had taken Koenig to an airfield outside Windsor, Ontario, a small city of less than twenty thousand just across the river from Detroit. Once on the ground, he’d commandeered a civilian Piper Cub and gotten airborne. As a youth he’d learned how to fly a number of small planes and once had thoughts of joining the Luftwaffe. That was no longer going to happen, but it was a very useful skill to possess.

Hoping that American anti-aircraft gunners would find his small plane harmless and innocuous, he flew low over the river and over the United States. Once across, he sent the plane up to eight thousand feet and began scouting the major roads that led into the city. As suspected, the American general, Patton, already had his men on the move although most of the long dusty columns of tanks and trucks were several hours away. Good, he thought. There would be plenty of time for the next German strike, even though he thought it was a poor idea.

He then flew over the still burning Rouge plant. Fire hoses were still pouring water onto smoldering buildings. Although it looked like the larger fires were under control, pillars of smoke still reached for the sky. The smell of burning rubber and other materials was thick in the air, although, mercifully, not the sick-sweet stench of burning flesh.

American anti-aircraft guns declined to fire at him. Either they’d been destroyed in the commando raid, or they didn’t think he was a worthy target.

In his opinion, the Rouge complex had been damaged, but not seriously. It would be functioning in a month or two at the most, and that included what other efforts the German military was about to attempt.

Koenig landed the plane and took a car to commandeered house across the Detroit River from Rouge plant. It amused him that many small frame houses in the area had once belonged to American slaves who’d crossed the river to freedom before the American Civil War. Now, a German officer was watching from the second floor of one.

Koenig had been sent to assess what had happened to America’s vital factories. From what he had seen and despite the sabotage and the fires, the giant industrial area was largely intact, which was discouraging. His conclusion was simple - it would take a tremendous effort to put the Americans out of business, even for a short while. He wondered if the Reich forces in Canada were up to the task, especially since the Americans would now be ready and angry. While the columns of army vehicles approaching Detroit would not be able to cross the river into Canada at this time, the Americans would soon enough be in a position to strike back.

Nor did he think that what was about to occur next was a good idea and had said as much to the artillery major who commanded the battery of six captured former Red Army 122mm guns. In Koenig’s opinion, there was a serious likelihood that they would be lost in the coming fight.

The major had laughed and said, “Don’t worry, captain. We have many more like this. The Red Army is one of our major suppliers.”

Koenig had no doubt that the weapons could cause farther damage. They had a range of nearly thirteen miles, which meant they could hit almost any target in the Detroit area, perhaps including the tank factory to the north. So why waste them on pounding the Ford plant when smaller caliber artillery could be just as effective? Why, too, have them fire during the day when they could be spotted and attacked from the air? The commando attack had worked splendidly, but it too had been during the night and the soldiers had withdrawn in good order and with only a handful of casualties. Plant guards and local police had fired on them and paid dearly for their effrontery.

It had taken all night to get the big guns into place, the major said, and he was going to fire them as soon as he could. The Americans were Jewish cowards, he added, and slow to react. His guns would be safely away before the Americans Koenig had spotted could do anything.

From his location, Koenig caught the signal to commence firing, opened his mouth and covered his ears in an attempt to reduce damage to his hearing. The cannon roared and sent shells into the smoldering plant. Explosions sent smoke and debris skyward and, after a moment, he could see men fleeing the complex. Workers had been sent in by the Americans to put out the fires and assess damage, but the shelling would keep the workers terrified and unable to make repairs, and that was good.

For the next half hour, the big guns pounded the enormous complex. They then lifted their range and fired far into the distance. Koenig wondered if they had really caused damage or simply rearranged the rubble. He further wondered if the distant targets, the tank factory to the north or the B24 airplane factory at Willow Run, had been within range, and had any spotters been able to direct fire. He feared the shells had simply dug holes in farmers’ fields or knocked down some houses.

His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of airplanes screaming down. He ducked and covered his head as American fighter bombers strafed and blasted the area, causing the house to shake and shudder. He thanked the God he didn’t quite believe in that he was far enough away from the American planes target, the six big guns.

The guns were not naked. They had anti-aircraft protection and these smaller guns sent their shells into the sky. An American P47 was hit and blew apart, but others dropped their bombs around the Russian guns and made strafing runs after their bombs were gone. Koenig ran down to the basement and hid in a corner. He was not a coward. Had there been an enemy he could hit, he would have fought back, but this fighting was going on in the skies far above him.

When the American planes had gone, he jumped up and ran across a field to the captured Russian guns. They and their crews had been destroyed. The cannon were lying on their sides and their carriages had been broken into pieces. Dozens of smoldering patches of clothing and flesh were all that remained of the gun crews.

Well, not all, he realized as he saw the major staggering toward him. “Someone help me. I can’t see.”

Of course you can’t, Koenig thought, you have no eyes, no face. The man’s head was a mass of bloody flesh. The major slumped to his knees and then fell forward onto his ruined face. Koenig checked him quickly. The foolish man was dead.

An artillery shell exploded a couple of hundred yards away from him. He turned and saw a column of American tanks across the river. They were the preposterous looking M3 with its high silhouette and 75mm gun located to its side. The foolish thing didn’t even have a turret and the design belonged to the previous war. Still, it could kill.

Koenig ran to where a sergeant was directing the withdrawal of a pair of 88mm anti-aircraft guns. He knew from experience that the guns were superb tank killers. They could fire rapidly and accurately, and their shells could pierce most armor, and most certainly that of the American M3 medium tank. He idly wondered why the Yanks had a light tank also designated the M3. Strange, but not important.

“Sergeant, you have targets on the other side of the river. I suggest you kill them if you wish to leave here without them killing you.”

The sergeant saw the tanks, gasped, and set about unlimbering and aiming his guns. There were now a half dozen tanks and several trucks in plain view across the river. Koenig gave no instructions to the gun crews. They clearly knew what they were doing and did not need his help.

The first eighty-eight barked and the shell landed a score of yards in front of the lead tank. The second struck closer, while the third blew the American tank to flaming pieces. The German guns then turned on the second and third tanks in the column. One more was hit and turned into a torch before the remaining Americans turned and raced away.

The sergeant and his crews grinned in satisfaction. They had taken a measure of revenge on the Americans for the deaths of their comrades.

“Well done, sergeant.”

The sergeant wiped his brow with a dirty rag. “They arrived quicker than we thought, captain.”

“And they left quicker than they thought,” Koenig said with a laugh. “The American commanding general in this area is a man named Patton. He moves quickly, they say, and it looks like they may be right.”

“No matter,” said the sergeant. “We’ll be ready for him.”