Chapter 17 - North Reich - Robert Conroy

North Reich - Robert Conroy (2012)

Chapter 17

Major General Lucian Truscott looked over Tom’s shoulder at the photographs he was analyzing. The eight-by-ten black and white glossies had been taken by specially equipped P47s and showed the ground below in exquisite detail. Tom had been attempting to enhance that detail by using high a powered magnifying glass.

“Anything exciting, colonel?”

Tom couldn’t stifle a grin. His promotion to lieutenant colonel had just come through. He and Alicia had celebrated the night before and, along with truly marvelous sex, they’d shared a couple of bottles of wine and Tom was now nursing the last of a headache.

“Nothing really, sir. The Germans are damned good at hiding things. That and the fact that they move around almost entirely at night makes it difficult to locate their tanks and ammo. I wish we had some of that infra-red technology that enables people to see in the dark.”

Downing moved to Truscott’s side. “If the army wanted you to see in the dark, they would have issued you bat’s eyes.”

It was common knowledge that the military was working on devices that would indeed enable the users to see in the dark. Not as well as bright sunshine, but enough, perhaps, to locate an enemy tank. Right now, however, all they had were the eyes they’d been issued at birth, along with high-powered magnifying glasses. The other magic devices were for the future.

Tom put down the glass and rubbed his eyes. The strain of looking for things that weren’t there was giving his headache a new lease on life.

“We’ve been able to ascertain that we still haven’t done much to degrade German capabilities,” he said. “Worse, it looks like they were able to upgrade many of their weapons before they attacked and we cut off their supply. What tanks we’ve been able to spot appear to have the new long barreled guns and those can play hell with our Shermans.”

Truscott nodded grimly. He’d been in high level meetings with Eisenhower, Fredendall, and Marshall. As a result he’d been out of touch with recent intelligence discoveries and the fact that the German armor had been improved was not good news.

“Please don’t tell me you’ve found that they have Panthers?” Truscott inquired.

“Can’t lie, sir. It does look like they have a number of them and that’s bad news. If they are as good as advertised, we don’t have a thing to stand up to them. It looks like the krauts did a tremendous job of improving their weapons just before they attacked us. Of course, they would have known that date and we were unable to do anything about their shipping before then. The krauts are really much stronger than we realized, even in our worst case scenarios.”

“Then we can only hope that our planes and artillery can kill them before our boys get slaughtered.”

The Sherman was America’s best tank, but the Panther weighted in at forty-five tons and had a high velocity 75mm cannon. It had a lower silhouette than the Sherman which made it harder to find and its armor was sloped so that shells might ricochet off. The Sherman also had a 75mm gun, but it was considered medium velocity and inferior to what the German tanks possessed. With all its faults, however, the Sherman was a vast improvement over its predecessors and was being churned out in large quantities. If nothing else, the Germans might be overwhelmed by the sheer weight of American numbers. Every American tank destroyed would be replaced, while every German tank killed could not.

The same grim math applied to manpower as well. It now appeared that Patton significantly outnumbered the Germans confronting him and that his constant nibbling at German positions was beginning to bear fruit. Patton was building up for a massive strike against the Germans. The only question was when.

Truscott glanced about and saw Westover at his desk. “Glad to see you make it back to us, commander, and don’t try to stand. How are you doing?”

Westover clutched his chest dramatically and winced. “It still hurts when I exert myself, sir, but it’s getting better every day.”

Truscott shook his head. “You belong back in the hospital, commander.”

“I spent enough time in a hospital. I was going crazy as the officer in charge of distributing bedpans. You are aware, I hope, that we think we got the U-boat that was operating in Lake Erie.”

“I was.”

“Well, we just got a news flash from the OSS that the German navy is going to try and send some others through the Welland. That would raise hell with any attempts to land troops on either the Erie or Lake Ontario shores. It would really be nice if we had some real warships on at least one of those lakes, instead of the small ships we now have.”

“Commander, based on the conversations I’ve been having, it looks like we are going to take steps to get navy ships into Lake Ontario, but Lake Erie is out of the question since the Germans still control the Welland. A couple of coast guard cutters and an ice-breaker are all we have right now, along with a couple of dozen converted yachts and such that we’ve loaded down with machine guns and small cannon. All of which makes it imperative that we stop those U-boats from getting through before we launch any attack along the Niagara front.”

With that, a thoroughly perturbed Truscott stalked out of the room with Downing trailing him. “Well,” said Tom, “that got a rise out of him. Just wonder what the navy’s going to do about getting their ships down the St. Lawrence gauntlet.”

Patrol Torpedo boats, commonly referred to as PT boats, were small, made of wood, agile, and quick. Depending on their manufacturer, they were about eighty feet long and, depending on their armament, generally carried fewer than twenty men. They were designed as ship killers and their principal weaponry was a pair of torpedoes. In that, they were like the slightly larger German E-boats. While there had been discussions about introducing them to the Great Lakes, it had not been attempted since it was considered that the route down the St. Lawrence was both too long and too dangerous for the fragile but lethal craft.

At this point, someone had an idea. Why not send them by train on specially designed flatcars and introduce them to Lakes Erie and Ontario? There was some resistance from Navy brass because of potential damage to the boats until Admiral King stepped in and decreed that it should happen. Any damage, he added, would simply be repaired. At that point, opposition prudently ceased. A dozen boats were stripped down and sent north under tarpaulins and false superstructure to Rochester, New York. At night and in secrecy, they met up with their crews who had enjoyed Pullman accommodations en route along with their train’s well stocked bars. They agreed it was a great way to run a war.

To the crews’ surprise, their boats no longer had torpedo tubes. Instead, the craft had been converted to what were referred to in the Pacific as PT gunboats. Additional machine guns and 40mm cannon had been added. The 40mm shells would not penetrate the armor of larger warships, but there weren’t any large enemy ships on the lakes and the 40mm shells would penetrate the hull of a U-boat.

Their job was to seek out and destroy any German ships on Lake Ontario. It was understood that another flotilla of PTs would disembark at Cleveland and attempt the same on Lake Erie.

The crews spent several days orienting themselves to their new ships and the additional weaponry. They then cruised at night to areas just east of where the Niagara River empties into Lake Ontario.

Canfield found the three boats assigned to his area well camouflaged and with their crews ready for bear. There was real concern that American planes might mistake them for German ships, so a big white star had been painted on the top of each boat. Hopefully it would suffice.

While he was glad to have the boats near, he found the crews, and especially the skippers, to be just a little arrogant and overconfident. None had seen war. Most of the tiny flotilla’s officers seemed to all be rich kids with experience handling yachts and such. It was clear that they looked down on the infantry, especially National Guard troops they considered little more than farmers in uniform. No matter that Canfield and his men had already dueled with the Germans and damaged an E-boat. The PTs were here to win the war.

The most self-important of the group was Lieutenant Randy Lionel, who bragged that he spent most of his youth sailing yachts in the Atlantic and felt that the lake was nothing more than a pond. Canfield fought a strong urge to spank him.

A few nights later and radar showed a suspicious craft a few miles offshore. Within minutes, two of the PT boats were racing away, while the third, to the crew’s dismay had to stay behind, denied their quest for glory because of engine problems.

A short while later, and the night sky was lit up by tracers and the sharp sounds of multiple explosions. Canfield tried to listen in on the PT boats’ radio frequency, but there was too much screaming and yelling to figure out what was happening. It was clear, however, that the young crews were in the fight of their lives. A large explosion lit up the horizon, and it was soon followed by a second.

“Jesus,” said Dubinski, “no way those little boats could survive that.”

Canfield sadly agreed. Either both American boats had been sunk or severely damaged, or maybe it was one American and one German. Either way, he prepared his men to receive wounded and ordered his artillery to prepare to cover their return.

After an eternity that lasted maybe an hour, shore based radar showed one blip heading slowly towards them. “Get medics out,” Canfield yelled and then realized they were already alert.

One PT limped in. It was Lionel’s. As it drew closer, they could see burn marks and bullet holes. The boat was listing to port and taking water. With almost its last gasp, it made it to shore where whoever was driving it beached it.

Canfield’s men ran out to help rescue the crew. Wounded were handed down and gently placed on stretchers. One of them was Lionel. He’d lost both legs and was mercifully unconscious. Canfield jumped on board and was shocked by the damage and the bloody carnage. He almost slipped on the gore.

Finally, he grabbed a young petty officer. “What the hell happened out there?”

The sailor laughed bitterly. “Our skipper was senior to the other captain so he assumed control. He had us charge right up to the German with our guns blazing, just like it was some fucking western movie. Lieutenant Lionel was one of the first ones hit. Between us, we think we got the E-boat, but half our guys are killed or wounded and I don’t think anybody got out of our other boat. It just flat exploded and disappeared.”

The sailor turned away. Canfield could see that the boy was near tears and who could blame him? The only good news was that the U.S. Navy could replace its losses while the damned Kriegsmarine couldn’t. At first light, which was only a couple of hours away, they would send out small boats to look for survivors. He doubted there would be any, but it had to be done.

Canfield decided he needed a beer.

Tony was shocked when four strong Italian soldiers grabbed him and hustled him outside the prison compound. They laughed as they threw him in the back of the truck, hurting his ankle and causing a wave of pain to run up his leg. It went away after a minute, so he guessed it wasn’t broken again.

Tony’s Italian was good and he even recognized two of the guards, guys who’d seemed like good ones who wanted to chat all the time about the United States. They’d even discussed families and wondered if they were somehow related. Both of them had wanted to go to the states, New York City in particular.

So what the hell had he done to deserve the rough treatment? Now, none of them would talk to him. He thought he heard one of them mumble something about sub-killer and Gestapo as they departed the camp and his spirits sank. Being turned over to the Gestapo was beyond frightening.

They drove around for about half an hour until they drove the truck through the wide doors of a large warehouse. The four men pulled Tony to the ground and stood there laughing at him.

Finally, one of the ones he’s thought of as friendly said, “Goodbye Tony. It’s been great.”

With that they threw him a bag and disappeared through a door that led to the rest of the warehouse. Puzzled, Tony opened the bag. It contained clothing and a handwritten note that said, “Change into these.”

Tony did as he was told, even though he felt foolish standing there buck naked for a moment. He couldn’t help but wonder if anyone was watching. Then he decided he didn’t give a shit. The bag even included underwear, which meant he could ditch everything he had on that identified him as U.S. military. The clothing even fit fairly well.

For a few minutes, he stood by the truck. The same door the Italian soldiers had taken opened and an attractive woman a few years older than he walked up to him.

“Enjoying your freedom, sub killer?” she said with a smile.

Tony restrained his surprise. “Not yet. What the hell’s going on?”

“You’re out of the camp. Does anything else matter?”

“Yeah, I’m an American pilot and I want to get back to my unit. And by the way, what’s happening to the four guys who sprung me?”

“Don’t worry. Their reward for helping us get you out is a free trip to the United States. We’ll get them across the St. Lawrence somewhere around Maine and they’ll be met by other people who will see to their safety. It’ll take a few weeks to get them across, but they’re safe.”

“Great, when’s my turn to go home?”

She touched his arm and steered him through the building and out the door where an old Ford was waiting. “It’ll be a little while. Can you drive this?”

“Of course. You Canadians do drive on the left side of the road, don’t you?”

When she looked surprised it was his turn to laugh. “Gotcha. Yeah, I can drive anything with wheels or wings.”

She shook her head and smiled back. “Good one. Now, can you fly a Piper Cub?”

“I’ve done it a couple of times” he said as he settled behind the wheel. It felt good to be able to drive. “Let’s face it, if you can fly a big bad B24, you can fly pretty much anything. Can I ask why?”

“Yes, but first, did you really sink four U-boats?”

“Me and my crew, yeah, and it’s a damn shame so many of them are dead because of me. One more and we would’ve been an ace, the first guy whose plane sank five Nazi subs.”

She smiled broadly; pleased that he knew he hadn’t operated alone. “Well, that’s why we sprung you. You’re going to have that opportunity.”

“Wonderful. Now, can I ask you your name?”

“Sure thing. It’s Sherry.”

Jed and Wally Munro had had it up to their asses, as they liked to say, with the restraints put on them by Neumann. With the war getting hotter each day, the Black Shirts of the Canadian Legion had been told to behave themselves and it was frustrating. Their numbers were diminishing as the rats, as Neumann called them, deserted the ship. People had begun openly mocking them and even pushing them on the streets. It had to stop.

The two brothers called a meeting of other Black Shirts and it was decided that they would raise a little hell and who cared what Neumann thought. Canada was their country, not his. They revered Hitler but were coming around to the thought that Neumann was a pompous little prick.

Their target was a good-sized restaurant near downtown Toronto that specialized in family fare, which meant it wouldn’t be filled with tough construction workers and other types that might be a problem. It was early Saturday night and more than a hundred diners sat at tables, with another group of twenty or so waiting in line.

The Shirts arrived in a caravan consisting of four cars and two trucks. The Munro brothers had gathered more than thirty men for their attack. They wanted it to be overwhelming and sudden.

While they gathered down the street from the restaurant, a number of passersby prudently decided to leave the area. A couple of them took the opportunity to find a pay phone and call the police, telling them that trouble was brewing.

The cops were busy that night with crimes in progress and didn’t have the manpower to check on potential ones, but they did manage to send one car to check on the problem. Detective Mike Bradford was the only cop in the car and it was simply coincidence that he was in the area. Since his daughter’s murder, he’d only wanted to be left alone, so driving to a potential problem all by himself was fine by him. He’d been neglecting himself, not eating right and drinking far too much. He’d lost a lot of weight, but it made him look slack, not lean. Even though it was still early, he’d already knocked back several shots of good Canadian Club whiskey, hoping that the alcohol would lessen the pain. It didn’t; it never did. It only made his anger burn more furiously.

Inside the restaurant it was noisy and the crowd was good-natured. The Munros had selected it because it looked easy and they’d been told that Jews were among its clientele. There would be no German military personnel. It had been made abundantly clear to them that they weren’t welcome. Any Germans in uniform were treated to exceedingly slow and rude service, along with cold and poorly cooked meals. It was another good reason to choose it. The same held true with young men with German accents. It was presumed that they were from the Wehrmacht.

As the group marched in loose order to the door, several patrons exiting the restaurant actually ran away, while the waiting line disbursed. At Jed’s signal, they poured into the main dining room, baseball bats and other clubs flailing. Screams filled the room. Men and women were knocked bloody and senseless to the ground along with children who got in the way. There was a mass race to the rear of the restaurant, which resulted in people getting trampled.

The Black Shirts further amused themselves by ripping the clothing off the women so that several dozen were nearly naked in a matter of seconds. There wouldn’t be time to rape them, so this would have to do. They’d thought about taking some of the younger and better looking women back with them, but that would mean killing them when they were through. This was just supposed to be a reminder of the Shirt’s power, not a massacre. If a couple of people didn’t recover from their beatings, so fucking what, they’d laughed.

Enough, Jed thought as he surveyed the scene. It was time to get the hell out before the police finally showed up. He knew they’d be delayed a few minutes, but not much longer. He blew a referee’s whistle several times to get his gang’s attention and signaled that it was time to go. A couple of the men fondling terrified women were slow to let go of their treasures, but a few quick punches and kicks by the brothers got them going.

Jed was the last one out. He turned and yelled, “Fuck all you Jews.” Whether there were Jews inside or not just seemed like the right thing to say, he thought exultantly.

Outside and across the street, Mike Bradford watched as the scene unfolded. His eyes were drawn to the Munro brothers who’d stood outside, laughing. He’d looked at their photos every day and swore that he’d kill them if he ever got the chance. Now they were in his sight and committing a major crime. He’d already phoned in for reinforcements and backup would be along in a few minutes.

As the thugs left the restaurant he saw to his dismay that they would be in their trucks and cars and a long ways away before the police arrived. Once again he wondered if some of his comrades at headquarters were intentionally delaying the response. Finally, he saw Jed and Wally leave the restaurant. They were laughing. He couldn’t take it anymore. Blind with rage, he lurched out of the car, pulled his pistol and walked up to them. Wally was the closest and he turned in shock to see an armed man coming at him.

“Police,” yelled Bradford, “you’re under arrest.”

With that formality out of the way, Bradford started shooting at point blank range. Bullets hit Wally, spinning him like a top before he fell to the ground. By then the other brother had his own gun out and was firing. Something punched Mike Bradford in the chest and then, before he could fall, another bullet blew the top of his head off. His last thought was of Mary and she was smiling at him.

This time Colonel Downing was being very formal. Their conclusions would be kicked up to Eisenhower and maybe all the way to Marshall.

“Then it is your opinion, Colonel Grant, that Guderian will attack Patton and not the other way around?”

“Correct, sir.”

“And the others in the group concur?”

“Yes sir. We’re getting too much corroborating information from too many sources.”

If anything, they’d been overwhelmed with information. First, the photos from planes that flew with impunity over southern Ontario either took pictures or made observations. The Germans had done a masterful job of hiding their tanks, planes, and infantry from prying eyes, but their efforts were a long ways from perfect.

Eyes on the ground, consisting of Canadians who wanted the Germans defeated, along with the OSS, reported the movement of large numbers of tanks and manpower westward. Since that German line was holding its own against Patton’s pressure and didn’t need reinforcing, the only conclusion to be drawn was that a German spoiling attack was imminent.

These same eyes also reported that many of the tanks and other vehicles destroyed by airpower had been dummies. The vast majority of German armored strength had not been touched.

This idea had met with resistance from a number of sources. After all, didn’t Patton greatly outnumber the Germans he was confronting and wasn’t he gradually whittling them down? Breakthrough and victory weren’t right around the corner, but they did appear inevitable.

And as to the airpower being ineffective, that was absolute heresy to the air force brass who seethed at the thought. Yes pilots exaggerated, but film cameras did not, and they showed that between a third and half of German armor had been destroyed.

General Henry, “Hap,” Arnold commanded the Army Air Force and he was a firmly believed that airpower would play the decisive role in the Ontario campaign. He had been livid at the thought that the bombings had been so ineffective and flatly denied the accuracy of the intelligence reports.

The air force also refused to accept the idea that many of the “tanks” and other installations bombing had destroyed might have been dummies.

Downing was glum. “I don’t know whether we’re right or wrong, but I can’t imagine that Guderian, one of the leaders in blitzkrieg warfare, would simply sit by and let us punch his army to pieces without doing anything about it. It’s just not his style.”

“Nor can I, sir,” said Tom.

“Relax Tom, interrogation is over. I believe what you’re saying and we’re all on the same page. Von Arnim might let that happen, but that man got his skull crushed and it’s Guderian who’s in charge and Guderian believes in attacking.

Grant took a seat. “What do you think Patton will do with the info?”

“We’ll find out soon enough. I think the higher brass will argue the idea to death and give Patton a lukewarm and watered down warning. Ergo, you are going to Patton’s headquarters to give the great man a personal review of the situation. With a little luck, you might be there when the hammer falls. It’ll be great experience for you. Just try not to get shot.”

Alicia was dismayed at the thought of Tom again leaving Washington. Even though she’d been shot at by Canadian Nazis and bombed by the Luftwaffe, she still thought it was much safer in Washington than in Patton’s headquarters where the war was being fought on a daily basis.

Her work as a courier from the intelligence experts at Camp Washington hadn’t changed. Now, however, she and Tom had found a small, cramped, two room second floor flat in a house run by Mrs. Kosnik, the woman who had lost her son. She’d been living on the first floor and had been keeping the upper floor vacant for when her son came home. Obviously this was not going to happen so she decided to rent it to Alicia, a woman she considered a friend.

She had gone to visit relatives in Ohio and, even though grieving, was thrilled to have someone look after her house. Alicia and Tom were equally thrilled to have a place they could live in privacy in a town that was exploding with new arrivals and where housing was at an expensive premium. Nor could Tom pull rank. Downing had laughingly said that there were a quarter of a million lieutenant colonels within a three block area of the Pentagon.

The fact that they were within a couple of miles of the Pentagon was a further blessing. Rationing of many items was in full swing and it was getting more and more difficult for the average person to get gasoline, and almost impossible to get tires as production of both cars and rubber for civilian purposes was severely curtailed. As military personnel, they could gas up military vehicles and they did get more gas for their civilian cars. Alicia hadn’t owned a car, while Tom’s was a 1938 Buick, which he cheerfully admitted was a tank. She thought it was large enough that they could have lived in it if they hadn’t found Mrs. K’s flat. As an additional bonus, Mrs. K’s place had a garage and most of the time the car was locked away. Like most people, they either took the bus or walked.

Now there were long lines outside grocery stores. This was nothing new. The Depression was too recent a memory. Long lines of people waiting for food handouts had been normal only a few years earlier. Nobody was going hungry, but there were limits, especially regarding beef. Again as military personnel, their food allowance was larger than others and they always had the option of eating at the Pentagon or Fort Meade. Sometimes she felt guilty about that, but it quickly passed. She and Tom were serving their country, both had been shot at and injured, and both were working for military pay while some civilians were making obscene amounts of money. Her father had told her of factory workers making more than ten thousand dollars a year.

She laughed. Between the two of them they weren’t making anywhere near ten grand a year. Ain’t civilian life grand, she thought?

The federal minimum wage was thirty cents an hour and a prudent person could live on that if he or she didn’t live in an expensive area. Inflation was beginning to run about ten percent, which might just end that idea.

Alicia and Tom were privy to enough information to understand the horrors people were enduring in other parts of the world; thus, neither had any patience for whiners and complainers.

She had gotten out of work early so she could cook a special dinner for the two of them. He would be leaving Washington tomorrow. As she walked up the path to the house, she saw that a light was on in the upstairs living room. Tom was home first.

She opened the door and trotted upstairs, pleased that they’d have more time together.

“Hey,” yelled Tom, “I think dinner’s going to be late.”

“Why?” she asked as she entered the bedroom. “Oh.”

Tom stood at the side of the bed. He was naked and he had a bottle of wine in each hand.

“Who needs dinner,” she said happily as she began to undress.

Tinker smiled affably at the surly German guard. After a cursory look at his identification, Tinker was admitted to the headquarters of the German military establishment in Toronto. He entered through the back door, of course. He was a janitor.

He went to the cleaning closet where he got a broom, bucket and mop, and put them all in his push cart. He had the entire third floor to clean. With the tools of his trade, he was almost invisible. Nobody noticed cleaning people, waiters, or servants unless they did something to attract attention, and the Germans were no exception.

He entered the office next to Neumann’s and closed the door. It belonged to a Gestapo officer who was out inspecting the prison camps north of the city. Tinker knew that because he’d read the man’s schedule. There was shouting going on in Neumann’s office. If he was very still and listened intently, he could make out the words. Neumann was talking, no yelling, at the head of the Black Shirts, Jed Munro. The fact of their raid on the restaurant and the subsequent gunfight that cost the life of Wally Munro was all over Toronto. The civilian population was outraged at both the Black Shirts and their bed partners, the Gestapo.

Tinker smiled as he heard Munro called a fucking idiot. Jed must have been a little drunk because he yelled back. What he said didn’t make much sense, but the gist of it was that Neumann wasn’t Jed’s father. No, thought Tinker, Jed’s father was a swine.

Jed was clearly not at all upset at the uproar and anger he had caused. He yelled that Neumann should have let them do much more, that they couldn’t enforce the laws of the Reich without breaking heads and spilling blood. Jed raged that he’d lost two brothers to the cause and that gave him privileges. Neumann vehemently disagreed, causing Munro to storm out. Tinker continued cleaning the office. When he left, all was quiet and well.

When his shift was finished, he left the building and went to a bar a couple of blocks away. He drank a beer, a Molson’s, and went out the back door. A few buildings down the alley he went into a warehouse, where Detective Sam Lambert waited.


“I may have found a new career,” Tinker said. “When this war is over I’m going to become a private detective who doubles as a janitor.”

“Please don’t tell me you’ll clean up.”

Tinker laughed, “Wouldn’t think of it.”

He proceeded to give Lambert all he knew and focused on the argument between Munro and Neumann.

“The fight was ugly and I think it’ll be a long time before they talk nice to each other. I think it’s nice that our two enemies aren’t talking.”

Lambert agreed, but not entirely. While it was pleasant to think of their enemies dividing among themselves, there was also the fact that Neumann and his Gestapo actually functioned as a kind of restraining influence on the Black Shirts. If they wouldn’t obey Neumann, what would they do now?”