Chapter 18 - North Reich - Robert Conroy

North Reich - Robert Conroy (2012)

Chapter 18

Tom ducked as another German artillery round landed uncomfortably close to his position. It shook the ground and sent dirt clattering down on his helmet. In Tom’s opinion, Patton had again gotten far too close to the front. The general had not agreed. He felt it was his duty to show his troops that their commander was not afraid. Their small convoy of jeeps had headed out towards the front lines when all hell had broken loose as German artillery pounded the American lines.

Tom tried to make his body smaller still as more shells hit around him. There was no doubting Patton’s personal courage. He had proven that several times in the First World War. His litany of medals included the Distinguished Service Cross with one Oak Leaf Cluster, the Distinguished Service Medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters, the Silver Star, the Bronze Star and, of course, the Purple Heart. It was proof that you don’t pick up that many medals without getting hurt.

Tom wondered if the men really were inspired by Patton’s being close to the front, or if they felt that he was drawing attention and enemy fire on them.

Tom had arrived at Patton’s Ontario headquarters by plane the preceding afternoon. He’d had an immediate conference with Patton who’d accepted the report with a laugh.

“Tell me, colonel, did anyone in their right mind think that Guderian wouldn’t attack me? Hell, he hasn’t any choice. If he just sits there and allows my army to get stronger, which is happening every day, we’ll attack him ourselves and run right over his Nazi ass. No, he has no choice but to try his luck by hitting us first. You can go back to Lucian and say thanks, but we are ready for anything the Germans can throw at us.”

Tom had decided to stay the night and now regretted that decision. The Germans had launched a massive attack on a twenty mile front just north of Lake Erie. Even though Patton had planned a defense in depth, it was clear that there had been a number of penetrations, and some were several miles deep. It was also rumored that German infiltrators were operating behind American lines. There were other rumors that some Germans or Canadian Black Shirts were wearing American uniforms. It was scary enough that Tom wondered if he could pick up a Canadian accent if he heard one.

What worried Tom even more was that he’d lost contact with Patton’s vehicles when the bombardment began. He had no idea whether the general was safe and sound or had been blown to pieces by an enemy shell. It then occurred to him that he might not make it back to the relative safety of American lines. He might be killed or even taken prisoner.

“Tank,” someone yelled.

Tom peered over the lip of the depression in the ground where he and a score of others had taken shelter several hours earlier. Jesus, he thought. Not only was there one tank, but he could see the dim shapes of at least five more. He got a clearer view when a shell burst and momentarily illuminated the area. He identified them as Panzer III tanks. Although not as good as the Panzer IV tanks, they weighed in at twenty five tons and had an upgraded 50mm main gun, along with three machine guns. This was a lot more than he had to fight with, which was absolutely nothing.

Someone in the lead tank must have spotted motion in the ditch. Its machine guns opened fire, spraying the top of their hole. The German wasn’t going to bother to use his main gun. It wouldn’t be necessary. They’d been trapped without any weapons heavier than their rifles and some grenades and the .45 Tom carried.

“What do we do, colonel?” asked a terrified buck sergeant. The young man was the next ranking soldier in their hideaway.

How the hell do I know, Tom thought. “We hope he passes us by as unimportant,” he said, trying to sound confident.

The sound of the tank got louder as it clanked its way closer. A moment later the green metal monster was perched on the edge of the depression. Tom didn’t think the driver or commander could see them very well, but that didn’t matter. The tank lurched down into the depression and began to spray the men in it with machine gun fire as they screamed and tried to run away. Tom watched in horror as a GI was shot in the leg and then run over by the tank and squashed like a bug. I’m going to die, he thought as he tried to fight off panic.

“Give me a grenade,” Tom yelled and the sergeant flipped him one and he clipped it on his belt.

The tank stopped only a few feet away from him. Its turret moved slowly as it searched for more prey. Tom crawled behind the hull, and clambered up. How the hell do I get the turret hatch open, he wondered desperately?

The problem was solved for him as the hatch opened a few inches. The commander wanted to see more clearly. With his left hand, Tom grabbed the hatch and yanked it all the way open. An astonished German soldier stared at him. Tom shot him in the head with his pistol. He dropped it and then yanked the grenade from his belt, He pulled the pin, nearly losing his balance as he did so. He recovered and dropped it down the hatch. He immediately threw himself off the tank, landing on something hard and sharp on the ground. He screamed in pain as the grenade exploded in the tank. He visualized metal fragments chewing through the German crew and shuddered at the thought.

“I got you, colonel,” said the sergeant. “You just saved all our lives.”

The sergeant and a couple of others they dragged him away from the burning and exploding tank. The pain in his chest was intense and he was certain he’d broken a couple of ribs as he’d fallen to the ground.

They heard more tank engines nearby, but these were different sounds. Tom managed a smile. “Those are Shermans, boys, the cavalry just arrived.”

They counted heads. Of the men in the depression, only three were unhurt. Four others, counting Tom, were wounded and five were dead. Others must have run off. He didn’t blame them and could only hope they were safe.

Tom and the sergeant looked over the edge and saw several Sherman tanks firing at the Germans with their stubby 75mm main guns. A couple of the Panzers were burning and the rest were withdrawing. The Sherman could indeed stand up to the Panzer III. The Panzer IV wouldn’t be that easy and who knew what would happen if and when American tanks ran into the large and deadly Panther. At least it wouldn’t happen today, he thought.

Several hours later, Tom’s chest had been swathed in bandages and he’d taken some aspirin to take the edge off the pain. He’d been offered morphine but declined. His chest hurt like the devil and he had a number of cuts and bruises, and it was difficult to breathe. He limped into Patton’s headquarters tent and found that the general had made it back to safety with only a cut on his forehead.

Patton slapped him on the shoulder, causing Tom to wince, “Great job, colonel. I heard what you did to that kraut tank. That’s going to get you a medal along with an ass-chewing for being so close to the front.”

The last comment was said with a smile. Patton had been much closer and just as lucky to have gotten away with his life.

“I want you to fly back to Washington and tell everyone in the Pentagon that Guderian just got his ass kicked from here to Sunday. He made his great spoiling attack and it failed. I’m sure he’s going to try again and I’m just as certain that the results will be the same. He’s now missing maybe a hundred and fifty tanks and a couple of thousand men, and many of them are now our prisoners. Our flyboys shot down a bunch of their MEs as well. If you believe the pilots, they killed a thousand, but it’s likely a hundred. Regardless, none of the tanks or planes they lost can be recovered and repaired and now they have some serious holes that can’t be filled.”

“What about our casualties?” Tom asked.

An aide responded. “About the same and that includes men taken prisoner in the initial attack.”

Tom took a deep breath and found that he could control the pain. “Can I tell them you’re going to counter-attack?”

Patton’s laugh was a high-pitched snort. “Hell, Guderian was the one who counter-attacked. Now I’m going to launch a full attack and kick his ass all the way back to Toronto.”

A courier entered and looked around, puzzled. “Where’s General Patton?” he asked and a couple of men pointed him to where the general had turned his back on them.

Something resonated in Tom’s brain. “Grab him,” he yelled.

Nothing happened for a desperate second as Patton and his staff looked confused. “He’s a German,” Tom screamed.

Tom hurled himself at the man who’d pulled a revolver from beneath his fatigue jacket. A shot rang out as a host of U.S. soldiers buried the man. Seconds later, the bruised soldier was hauled to his feet. The bullet had gone harmlessly through the canvas top of the tent.

“What the hell is going on?” Patton asked. “He doesn’t sound German.”

“He isn’t,” Tom answered, wincing with pain. He’d hurt his ribs again. “He’s Canadian. Probably one of their Black Shirts and I’ll bet he was sent here to kill you. I yelled that he was German because if I said he was Canadian you’d wonder what the problem was.”

“Damn it,” Patton said, his face red with fury. “These boys are starting to play rough. Well, we can play that game too.”

FDR looked confused as well as exhausted. He hadn’t been sleeping well lately. His doctors admitted that there was something wrong with his heart, what he referred to as his “ticker,” and they said that rest was what he needed. However, there was a war on and Roosevelt felt that he was the best man to lead America through it, which was why he was running for an unprecedented fourth term. Of course, his third term had been unprecedented too. Every president before him had stopped at two terms, honoring a tradition begun by George Washington.

“Would someone please tell me why Argentina, Brazil, and Chile just declared war on Great Britain?”

They were in the Map Room and a large map of South American was attached to the wall. Secretary of State Cordell Hull answered in a weak voice, another reminder to the president that the sickly Hull had to be replaced, even though FDR generally ignored the man and preferred to be his own secretary of state. According to current law, the secretary of state was behind only the vice president in the line of succession should the president die. The president had decided that Harry Truman would be his next vice president instead of keeping that annoying socialist, Henry Wallace. Like it or not, he would have to strengthen the line of succession. He hoped Truman would prove to be a good choice and Ed Stettinius, a career businessman, would be tapped to replace Hull after he was eased out of the office he’d held for twelve exhausting years.

“Sir, the Argentines just went through a fascist coup led by a Colonel Juan Peron, and they want the Falkland Islands back from Great Britain, which is a very sore point with them. They call them the Malvinas and have claimed them for some time. The islands are, you will recall, just off of Argentina and might as well be Argentine save for the fact that they have been owned by the British for more than a century, and are totally inhabited by Englishmen who don’t want to be part of Argentina. The British also have a small military station there. It has no real military value, but it is of great emotional value to the Argentines. Taking the Falklands will doubtless take the average Argentinian’s mind off of the coup and other issues.”

FDR glowered, “And what about the others? Silly me, I knew that Chile was fascist, but I thought Brazil was leaning towards us?” “Obviously the Germans must have made extravagant promises to them,” Hull said. “Support of their possession of the Falklands must have been one for Argentina, while Brazil might be attempting to grab the Guianas, or perhaps Jamaica, from Great Britain. As to Chile, I have no idea. Indeed, we assumed that Chile and Argentina were practically enemies.”

Roosevelt lit a cigarette and puffed angrily. The others in the map room noticed that his hands shook even worse than before. “In practical matters, what does this mean? They are at war with Great Britain, our ally, but not with us? It doesn’t make sense.”

“Agreed,” Hull said. “But it doesn’t have to make sense, at least not to us.” He nodded towards Admiral King. “I spoke with Admiral King and he feels that this South American alliance would be free to attack the food convoys to England that come from South Africa, as well as Canada. Obviously, this would help Germany. According to the rules we’ve established with Germany, the food convoys must be unescorted by warships. We’ve complied and the British have as well. The South Africans don’t have a navy to speak of, so the task of defending the convoys, if it becomes necessary and we choose to do so, will fall on us.”

“Clever bastards,” said Roosevelt. “That would put us at war with those three nations and make us the enemy of many others in South and Latin America.”

“But what else can we do?” Hull asked.

FDR smiled hugely. “Why we’ll sic the Royal Navy on them, that’s what. Admiral Vian has been chomping at the bit and I can’t think of anything more just than letting him take on Britain’s newest enemies.”

King, who had been sitting quietly, shook his head in disagreement. “The British might be chomping at the bit, but they are in no shape to do much more than reinforce Jamaica, and perhaps Georgetown in Guiana. They only have two working aircraft carriers to protect their battleships from enemy planes and subs. Fortunately, Argentina has no carriers and only two old battleships and the Brits would likely destroy them with ease, while neither Chile nor Brazil has a navy worth mentioning. Along with attacks from land based planes, the Royal Navy’s real enemies will be the vast distances involved and the need to develop a fleet supply train like we have in the Pacific. They simply don’t have the transports and tankers to operate independently. They’ll also need their warships to protect the convoys from what ships the Argentines and Brazilians do have.”

“Can’t we help them?” Roosevelt asked, almost plaintively.

“Not without curtailing our own operations,” King responded. “We barely have enough tankers and transports to take care of our own needs.”

“Still, we must do something. We cannot permit the British to starve and that’s exactly what will happen if the food ceases to flow. Therefore,” Roosevelt continued, “we must aid England even if it means sending our warships to escort the food convoys.”

“Would that mean war with Argentina?” Hull asked.

“If they attack our ships, then our ships will defend and retaliate. In the meantime, admiral, I suggest that you get that Admiral Vian fellow to get some ships down to Jamaica and perhaps to that port in Guiana, Georgetown. When he gets enough fuel, perhaps Vian’s battleships can bombard Rio de Janeiro. I would hate to see that striking statue of Jesus blown off that mountain top, but that certainly would get Brazil’s attention. We cannot have other nations intruding in our war for survival with their own petty causes.”

“And what shall be done with Argentina?” Hull asked. “It is my understanding that if Argentine soldiers haven’t already landed on the Falklands they very shortly will, and will doubtless overwhelm what defenses the British might have.”

King shrugged, “Unfortunately, there’s not much we can do at this time. Until and if we get a base closer to either the Falklands or Buenos Aires, we suffer from the same time and distance problems as the British.”

The plane was a Piper Cub, an old two seater that had been through a lot. Maybe World War I as well as World War II, thought Tony Romano as he gazed at the patched up wreck.

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” said Farrell, his new OSS coordinator.

If Farrell had a first name, he never said it. Nor did Tony know the names of the four other men who’d been working on the small plane. After Sherry had freed him, he’d been hidden in a truck and driven to a small farm near St. Catharines, Ontario. He was just a few miles away from the border between Canada and the U.S. and he could almost taste freedom and home.

Of course, a few miles might as well have been the distance from earth to the moon. The area was crawling with Germans as they prepared to resist an invasion from the U.S., and they’d had to be careful. As it was, they’d been stopped a couple of times, but their phony papers had been good enough to get them through.

“Well, can you fly the damn thing?” Farrell asked.

Tony had checked it over. Aside from the obvious wear and tear, it looked like a sturdy little beast. “Will I get an opportunity to try it out?” he asked hopefully.

“Nope, you get one chance and one chance only. With all the krauts in the area, we can’t afford to let them see you flying around, especially with what looks like a bomb strapped to it.”

Tony had been told that the plane would be fitted with a 55 gallon drum filled with gasoline and fitted with a crude trigger that was supposed to ignite it on impact. His target would be the first of a small column of German U-boats that would be transiting the Welland Canal on its way to Lake Erie. If all went well, saboteurs would also have damaged the locks, preventing the subs from moving through them.

Farrell laughed. “If this works, you might just get your fifth sub, ace.”

“Or get the words nice try engraved on my tombstone.”

“We’re planning on you doing a night attack.”

“Not a chance in hell,” Tony said. “It’ll be tricky enough to locate and hit it during the day. At night I’d be lucky to find Toronto. I’ll fly in from the north right after dawn and maybe they won’t notice me until the last minute. Maybe all their guns will be pointed south.”

Farrell concurred, not that it mattered. Tony would be flying the plane, not him.

And maybe pigs will fly and maybe Hitler wears women’s panties, Tony thought. But he had to do it. He couldn’t let these other people take all the risks after getting him out of the camp. But how would his family or Nancy O’Connor find out what was happening to him?

“And one other thing,” Tony added, “I’ll be flying real low, hopefully well under a hundred feet.”

Fortunately, he wouldn’t be going too fast. On a good day, the little plane could do eighty miles an hour, which meant he should be able to dodge anything really tall. He laughed bitterly. He’d already lost two planes. Would this little Piper Cub be the third? And how many damn crashes could he survive?

Kommodore Reinhard Hardegan commanded a small squadron of three Type IX U-boats. He was a combat veteran who’d been awarded the Iron Cross among other medals. He was considered a fair, honest, and even honorable commander. At forty-one he was thought to be a rising star in the U-boat command. When the war with the United States started, he had launched attacks against American merchant ships and had sunk several. He’d even penetrated Chesapeake Bay and given serious thought to doing the same with New York Harbor. Cooler heads among his crew talked him out if it. Still, he thought with a quiet smile, it would have been a good feeling to have sunk a merchant ship in the shadow of the Empire State Building.

At this moment, however, he felt impotent and foolish. His sub, the U-123, was the first of the three to try and transit from Lake Ontario to Lake Erie via the Welland Canal. His boat had been skillfully disguised by the addition of fake wooden walls that had been painted to make the U-123 look like a small tramp steamer. The same had been done to the other two boats that waited patiently behind him in other locks. Like the U-123, they were all moored to the side of the lock, which meant they couldn’t move. It didn’t matter. They had no place to go.

There were no longer any German ships in Lake Erie. There had been at least one sub and there had been no reports from it. Thus it was imperative that the three German subs make it into Lake Erie to forestall the possibility of an American amphibious assault behind German lines. However, to get to Lake Erie he had to get through a lock on the Welland Canal that apparently had been sabotaged. At least it hadn’t been blown up, he thought ruefully. Had that occurred, the rush of water downstream to the lower Lake Ontario might have crushed the hull of U-123. He didn’t think the damage to the lock was all that serious, but nobody could find the men who worked on the canal and could fix it. Damn Canadians, he thought. Are they allies or enemies?

The sun was rising which presented another problem. He had the nagging thought that the damage to the locks presaged an attack by American planes at first light. Hardegen had decided that if his ship was a sitting duck, his crew need not be. He had ordered all but those necessary to man the 20mm anti-aircraft guns to go ashore. At first the others had protested, but they saw the logic. Since they were unable to move, they might as well have a form of shore leave even though the men were only a hundred yards or so away. He could see them sprawled out on the grass and enjoying themselves. He would rotate them to minimize any threat. His men appreciated that and he appreciated them.

Enough of the fake walls had been removed to give his gunners a clear field of fire. Any attack by the Americans had to come from the south. As he peered through his binoculars for the first sign of danger, he heard in the background the sound of a small plane, either a Storch or one of the local Piper Cubs. Regardless, it wasn’t a fighter or a bomber. Perhaps, he thought, it was someone from Guderian’s headquarters wondering what the hell the problem was.

The sound of the small plane drew closer and it seemed like it was headed directly towards the U-123.

Hardegan turned to the north. Shit. The small Piper was headed straight towards him and there was something slung below it. He screamed and the gunners turned their weapons around to face the new threat. The enemy plane was coming in very low and was very close. Tracers from the guns streaked through the air, but the plane was too close to stop. It appeared to stagger as some shells struck it, but the bomb had already been released.

Hardegan watched in horror as it struck the wall of the lock and bounced into the air where it exploded. A wave of burning gasoline poured over the sub, setting the fake walls on fire and sending flaming gas down the stern hatch that had been open to help air the boat out.

Burning gas drenched Hardegen. As his clothes and skin began to singe, he jumped into the water. His crewmen on the wall of the lock grabbed him and dragged him ashore. His hands and face were burned, but the wounds didn’t look serious. They began to hurt and he stifled a scream. What was happening to his beloved U-123?

Black smoke and flames began to pour from the deck hatches and the conning tower. The sub was loaded with torpedoes, diesel fuel, and ammunition for the deck gun and the anti-aircraft guns. They could all start exploding at any time. The sub was doomed. Any possible fire-fighters were on the grass and staring in stunned disbelief.

“Abandon ship,” Hardegen yelled to the few who’d remained on the sub. They needed no prompting. The rest of his crew arrived to help him and the others onto higher ground.

He sent a runner to the other subs telling them to immediately withdraw back to Lake Ontario if they could. He and his crew would try to make it overland to Toronto. The Yanks clearly knew they were there and the next assaults would be by bombers and not Piper Cubs. He turned to the south and saw that the Piper was a dot disappearing in the general direction of upper New York. It seemed to be smoking and Hardegan wondered just how long the brave bastard of a pilot could keep it aloft.

As he thought that, he saw the plane dipping lower and lower. “I hope you can swim,” Hardegan said to no one in particular.

Heinrich Stahl had intended to plan his next operation with his customary efficiency only to find that it really wasn’t necessary. American security was so lax that all he really needed was to plan was his escape.

He’d been disappointed that the attack on the New York Stock Exchange had caused so little excitement. He’d hoped for panic in the streets of New York and that had not happened. It hadn’t even shut down the Exchange. The Jewish capitalists had simply moved their operations to a different location a few blocks away while the old one was cleansed and repaired. The exchange had been closed for only a couple of days. Of course, there would now be heavy security. The horse was out of the barn so now it was time to make sure the door was locked was how he thought an old saying went.

The Jewish controlled American press had even lied about the casualties. He knew for certain from Krenz’s report that there had to be more than eight dead and ten injured and he absolutely knew that the gunmen had not been two lunatics who’d escaped from a nearby asylum. He gave the Americans grudging credit for concocting such a story. Goebels could not have done better.

Reinhard Krenz, the leader of the assault had escaped and was living in a Baltimore hotel under yet another assumed name and false identification. Krenz had showed himself to be resourceful and brave. He would be of great use when the time came for their next attack. Stahl had circled an article in the Baltimore Sun. It said that the intended target would be speaking to a group at the Hay-Adams Hotel in Washington. Even though it would be very close to the White House, he did not think there would be too much in the way of security. Americans were such foolish asses in that regard. Well, perhaps they would pay a price for that.