Chapter 20 - North Reich - Robert Conroy

North Reich - Robert Conroy (2012)

Chapter 20

The Canadian cities closest to Buffalo-Niagara had already been pretty well evacuated and had become virtual ghost towns. Niagara Falls and Niagara-On-The-Lake were deserted, while cities a little farther up the lake like St. Catharines and Hamilton were emptying rapidly, along with a score or more of smaller towns and villages. So too was Toronto as the war, which had seemed like a dark fantasy, was erupting in fury and would soon draw closer. Hundreds of thousands of civilians were on the march, headed east and north, away from where they felt the war was going to be.

Jed Munro still grieved for his brothers, Wally and Paul. Even though the two men’s killers had themselves died, he felt the pain of their dying. The manner of his brothers’ deaths had further complicated his life as well as those remaining members of the Black Shirts. What had been a force of several hundred now counted only about fifty and that was a floating and declining figure. The soldier they’d killed in the U.S. was no longer anything to worry about, but Jed’s shooting of the Toronto cop was a different matter. The Toronto police wanted to talk with him and the others who’d participated in the restaurant attack, and neither Jed nor the others wanted to be interrogated by the cops.

Thus, Neumann had strongly suggested that they take up residence at the Gestapo farm north of the city. Munro was uneasy with that. It was the place where he had raped and tormented the Bradford girl and that death was the cause of his brother Wally’s being killed by her cop father.

They were all safe inside the compound - bored, but safe. The cops wouldn’t touch them. The police wanted to kill them, but they were not about to take on the Gestapo detachment along with any German regulars that might be sent to reinforce them. No, the police had their hands full with the refugees who were clogging the roads and sleeping in the streets and parks. Some of them were even committing petty crimes in order to get food and shelter.

Even though Jed considered these to be dark days, he was still confident that Germany would prevail and that he and his men would wind up on top. And if Germany was defeated, hell, he would head west, change his name, and get lost. There would be more than enough chaos to hide him. He’d even gotten some phony ID from a local forger.

“We’ve got to do something,” he announced to his new best friend, Bruce. Bruce was tall, lean and dark haired. He wasn’t very bright, but he didn’t have to be. He let others do his thinking and his job was to be the enforcer. Like Jed, he too was bored.

“So what do you have in mind?”

Jed laughed, “There are a hell of a lot of so-called refugees clogging the roads. I’ll bet you we can find a bunch and work them over, and that includes giving their women a big fat treat.”

“Great, but will Neumann let us leave here?”

“We’re guests, not prisoners, Bruce. There are no hooks in our asses. We can go anytime we wish.”

That night Jed gathered a score of men into trucks and drove off the compound. This time they were all armed. If they ran into resistance they would shoot their way out. They did not wear their black shirts.

They didn’t have to go far before they began to see clusters of people gathered around the roads. Some of the groups were quite large, with Red Cross and church groups helping out. Smaller groups were often too close to other groups and would likely assist each other if trouble broke out. All of these were off-limits.

He was beginning to get discouraged, but they finally spotted a group of thirty or so with, he exulted, a number of women. He didn’t care about their ages, he just wanted a fuck.

Foolishly, this group had separated itself from the main body. They were in a church parking lot a couple of hundred yards off the road. Jed didn’t think the separation had been intentional, just one of those things. They drove past and parked along the road, just out of sight of the group. Nobody seemed to notice. Most of the group looked like they were asleep. A few people were gathered around a dying campfire. They got to within a few yards before anyone noticed and, even then, nobody sounded any alarm.

“Police,” Jed announced. The refugees stirred and were puzzled. “Everybody, kneel down and hands on top of your heads.”

Like confused children, they did as told. Jed’s men moved quickly through them, tying them and sticking cloths in their mouths. By now, the refugees realized that the intruders weren’t cops, but it was far too late.

First, they looted the wallets and purses and then went through luggage for valuables. They gathered a significant amount of cash and jewelry. The refugees had taken all their wealth that they could carry.

“Fun time,” Jed announced. As leader, he had first choice and he selected a young brunette who looked like she was maybe twenty. His men selected others in order of their seniority with the Shirts. A couple of junior Shirts had to wait their turn since there just weren’t enough women to go around.

Jed ripped the woman’s clothes off and punched her in the face when she tried to resist. She had a nice slender figure, although her breasts were on the small side, and she was probably younger than he thought. Tough, he thought and punched her again when she tried to wrestle away. She went limp and let him do what he wished. The entire mass rape took less than half an hour. A couple of the guys wanted seconds, but he said no. Sooner or later someone would come down that road and spread the alarm.

They piled into the trucks and drove back to the farm. The refugees would soon get free and someone would run for help. Police might ask if anyone had gotten a license number, but these had been obscured by tape. The cops might suspect them, but they had no proof and bigger things to worry about, like a war.

They made it back to the farm without incident. It was time to drink beer and discuss their success. They knew it probably wouldn’t happen again and might have been the last hurrah of the Black Shirts.

Heil Hitler.

Heinz Guderian had known that an American attack was inevitable. Even a complete fool understood that. The only question was when and where. Ontario was larger than many European countries, but the strategic area was focused around Toronto. Still, even that was too large an area to defend.

He had divided his army into three groups and grandly designated them as Army Fronts. Army Front West was commanded by General Erhard Raus and had originally run along the Detroit and St. Clair Rivers. His task was to delay the approach of the Americans led by Patton and he’d been doing a marvelous job of it. The Americans were advancing steadily, but paying a steep blood price for it.

Army Front South was commanded by General Felix Steiner. Even though he was an SS general and a favorite of Hitler’s, Guderian didn’t hold that against him. He was a tough and capable general who had built a defense in depth along the Niagara River. Those defenses were being battered by American artillery and all indications were that the U.S. would launch an attempt to establish a bridgehead and follow up with pontoon bridges.

Guderian had not dismissed the possibility of an amphibious assault. He just hadn’t had the resources to defend the entire lengthy lake frontage.

He concluded that the American attack at Port Maitland had been made at a good spot. The Americans could strike inland and then either hit north at Toronto or south towards the Niagara River. Either would make him shift major portions of his forces, perhaps even causing him to lose the Niagara Front.

But he had not considered inaction by the Americans. By now he was used to the steady clawing of Patton’s army, which was gradually wearing down Raus’s forces. But the Americans, after landing what were at least two divisions, had dug in and appeared to be waiting for something to happen. Well, he laughed, he would oblige them. Three divisions from his meager third group, his reserves, were en route to this Port Maitland area. He would form them into a classic spear point and smash into the Americans. He would split the American army into two and drive to the lake. They would cause panic and, with only a little luck, the Americans would withdraw, licking their wounds.

His patrols had located divisional boundaries and he knew they were the enemy’s weakest points. If he could wedge his men between the American divisions, he could drive on to Lake Erie and, just perhaps, roll up the Americans. He might not destroy them, but he could and would give them a terribly bloody nose. The idea of marching several thousand American prisoners through the streets of Toronto was intoxicating. The Fuhrer would love it if he could only get the pictures out. Perhaps the Fuhrer would finally realize that Heinz Guderian was among the best generals the Reich had, if not the best.

Certainly, he was better than that ass von Paulus who was just about to throw away all of Germany’s victories in Russia.

He turned to his staff. “Steiner will be informed that he is to focus on the American armies to his front and ignore the American beachhead to his rear. We will attack the American beachhead and I will command that attack.”

He turned to Koenig who had been listening intently. “Captain, you will fly me to St Catharines where I will set up my headquarters and we will proceed from there.”

Koenig grinned with pleasure. It was good to have a commander who was decisive and skillful. The Americans were going to pay. Maybe he would finally get promoted.

Landry watched with dismay as the columns of German tanks and trucks rumbled through the night and past his position. They were clearly en route to the American beachhead. Fortunately, his men were hidden and the Germans had bigger game on their minds than looking for his small detachment.

At least we can warn the beachhead that bad things are coming quickly, he thought. He had that sad fact radioed to III Corps and was told to stand fast and keep track of things. Since that was what he’d already planned, he concurred. They were well behind German lines, which severely limited his options. He thought they could make it back to American lines fairly easily, but what would that accomplish? Word was that the beachhead was jammed asshole to asshole with GIs, so what would that accomplish? Besides, Rangers were not trained to fight like front line soldiers, although they could if they had to. No, they’d been designed to be sneaky bastards who gave the enemy fits all disproportionate to their numbers.

He called his lieutenants and platoon sergeants around him and told them his rough plans. He also said that anyone who wanted to go to the beach was free to leave. He wanted volunteers. Landry was not surprised when he had one hundred per cent volunteers.

“So what’s the plan?” asked Sergeant Devin. Devin was in his late thirties and had been in the army forever. Thus, he was not impressed by a mere lieutenant even though he admitted that Landry had done a helluva job so far.

“Ever been in a car full of people when a wasp gets loose inside? Even though each person in it is ten thousand times larger than the wasp, they all panic and start swatting at it. Sometimes they get so excited by the silly beast that they get all carried away and the car crashes and everybody’s killed. Of course, the wasp flies away wondering just what the hell all the fuss was about, while the cops and the mourning families wonder what caused the tragic accident.”

Lieutenant Jordan, the senior of the two lieutenants, laughed. “Let me guess, we’re gonna be wasps.”

“Correct. Now all we’ve got to do is figure a way to get close to Toronto and to contact the OSS or the underground. Then we’ll see about driving that German car off the road and flying away safely. Just so we all understand each other, this ain’t no suicide mission. I plan to get everybody back alive and in one piece.”

Which just ain’t too likely, he thought sadly.

The slender young woman with long reddish brown hair walked up to the nurses’ station. She’d made the same journey each day for the last week and gotten the same answer - no change. The patient appeared to be responding to stimuli, but that was about it. She might have been pretty except for the stress and strain etched in her face. Despite that, her trim young figure turned the heads of a number of young male doctors and orderlies.

The senior nurse, a captain and a woman in her forties, took a deep breath. How would this play out, she wondered. Would it be triumph or tragedy?

The nurse took the woman’s arm and led her to a chair in the corner of the room where they would have some privacy. When they were both seated, she said, “He woke up for good last night.”

“Oh God,” the woman gasped. “How is he? How is his mind?”

The nurse smiled. It was a good question. The boy had been out for some time, although sometimes more semi-conscious and incoherent than actually unconscious. Even so, some people never truly came out of it.

“Can I see him or do I have to clear it through the doctors since I’m not family?”

The nurse smiled sweetly and patted her on the arm. “Fuck the doctors.”

The young man was in a private room befitting his status as a war hero. That happy situation wouldn’t last as casualties from the fighting just a few score miles north would soon begin to trickle down.

“You have company,” the nurse said and quietly departed. The young man in the bed was facing away.

The young woman reached down and touched his arm. “Tony?”

He started as if jabbed. “Go away.”

Nancy O’Connor pulled over a chair and sat down facing him. His face was bruised and a bandage had been wrapped around his head.

“No way in hell, flyboy. I didn’t take busses and trains all the way from Baltimore to Albany to be told to go away. And, oh yeah, I’ve been sitting here for a week waiting for you to get around to waking up. If I go it’ll be because I want to and not because any snotty pilot told me to.”

“I didn’t want you to see me like this!”

“What? In bed? I thought you always wanted me to see you in bed.”

Tony smiled slightly. “Yeah, but not like this. Or haven’t you noticed that I don’t take up the whole thing anymore.”

“When the time comes, that’ll leave more room for me.”

“I lost my leg just above the knee.”

“I know.” Nancy didn’t add that the nurses had let her see the raw wound so she wouldn’t be shocked later one.

“They’re gonna fit me for an artificial one, but my flying days are over. Hell, I won’t even be able to drive a car because I won’t be able to work the clutch. I never could shift gears and drive with one foot like some guys could.”

“My uncle’s an engineer with General Motors and he told me they’re working on some kind of automatic transmission that won’t require shifting. He also said he could modify a car so you could drive it. In the meantime, I’ll drive you.”

“You’ve thought of everything, haven’t you?”

Nancy laughed. “Not quite, but I’m working on it. The big thing is to get you out of bed and on your feet and to quit feeling sorry for yourself. Look, you’re a hero. When the time comes they’re going to fly you to Washington for some kind of presentation. You sank five U-boats and are responsible for the destruction of at least two more, and so what if you lost three planes in the process. One was a Piper Cub, for Christ sake.”

“I lost some good men, Nancy.”

His last memory of his final flight was of him screaming as the plane skimmed across the waves and breaking into little pieces. He dimly recalled being pulled into a boat, but then he’d passed out from the pain from his mangled leg and the result of his head hitting something hard in the plane.

“And you think your men would want you to lie here and whimper like a whipped puppy?”

Tony finally smiled a genuine smile. “I guess not. I just don’t want you to run away when you finally see me naked. You were so shy when we were dating.”

“I am shy, but not that shy. I just didn’t want a dazzling young pilot thinking he could get me in bed just by smiling. When the time comes, we’ll have a good life together. Besides, I saw your leg. The nurse showed me when you were unconscious. Nasty, but we’ll both deal with it.”

“You certain?”

She slid her hand under the covers and down his belly. He gasped as she held his manhood and stroked it until it became hard. “I’m certain.”

She let go and stood up. “Now hold that thought until I come back.”

He groaned. “You are so cruel.”

“I know; a real bitch. But I love you and you love me, and we’re gonna work this out.”

She left the room and walked past the nurse. “Well?”

Nancy grinned broadly. “He’ll live.”

Ike could not hide his distress. The landings had more than stalled. Fredendall had just informed Bradley that he was pulling his more advanced units back into a compact mass that would, in his words, result in a more straitened and more easily defended perimeter. He had also raised the specter of abandoning the site and withdrawing back to Ohio. He momentarily expected a German assault in overwhelming strength.

“I thought we had a tiger in command, but it looks like we’ve got a pussycat,” Ike said.

“That’s not quite fair,” said Bradley. “The timing of the landings was all screwed up. We lost an entire day in which we could have landed more men, tanks, and guns and yes, moved farther inland. We all agreed that the krauts would counter-attack and that we should be prepared. If we hadn’t lost that day, we would be in much better shape.”

“Agreed,” Ike admitted, “But Fredendall still should have landed his troops that first day and now he’s got us jammed into such a small perimeter that there’s no room for maneuver. All we can do is sit there and take it on the chin when the Germans attack. We’ve given him orders to expand, but he’s rejected them, saying that the situation doesn’t permit it and that he’s the man on the ground.”

“What do you want me to do?” Bradley asked sadly, already knowing the answer. A good man’s career was about to be flushed down the toilet. He and Ike bore responsibility for appointing Fredendall in the first place, regardless of whether or not he was a favorite of Marshall’s.

Ike stiffened. “I’m in overall command and I will make the decision. Why don’t you have Truscott come here immediately?”

Truscott took the news calmly. He had been half expecting it, half hoping for it. He would immediately relieve Fredendall and take command of the three divisions now trying to dig in around Port Maitland. Finally he would be able to get out of the damned office in the damned Pentagon and lead an army in battle.

Truscott decided to take a handful of people with him. Among them were Downing and Grant, while others stayed behind in various states of anger and relief. Truscott’s job was to take over III Corps and clean up the appalling mess in Canada.

Grant had been an unwilling witness to Fredendall receiving the orders confirming his relief. The general had been angry, disappointed, bitter, and, in Tom’s opinion, just a little bit relieved.

“Lucian, I’ve done nothing wrong and you know it. History will show that I saved this army from destruction by my actions. I didn’t cause the problem that made us a day late and a dollar short with this invasion, but I’m being made the scapegoat, aren’t I?”

Tom made a move to slide out the door, but Truscott froze him with a hand signal. He clearly wanted a witness. They weren’t at what was derided as Fort Fredendall. Instead, they were in a tent about a mile inland, but still in Ohio. It was far from being a fort, but a number of soldiers were busy digging trenches and shelters. Tom thought the general did need some protection from enemy bombers and infiltrators, but felt that enough digging had been done.

Truscott put his hand on the other man’s shoulder. “Lloyd, you’ve done a great job under very bad conditions. You’re going to get a third star out of your efforts.”

“Which means I’m being God-damned fucked over by being kicked upstairs. Damn it to hell, it ain’t fair.”

Truscott held back. He’d been critical of Fredendall in the past and saw no reason to make any comment on Fredendall’s performance.

Fredendall sulked and swore and finally left the building. Rumor had it that he was already half packed, having expected the change.

Truscott waved the others into the room until about a dozen men were present. Most of them were Fredendall’s choices and Tom wondered how they would mesh with the newcomers from the Pentagon. Truscott was not going to give them a chance.

“Gentlemen, you can piss, moan, or resign some other time. Right now, there’s a German army getting ready to attack and, as I look at our unit dispositions, our people are scattered all over a very small place. I know they got orders to dig in where they were, but we’re going to have to get some maneuvering room and more firepower out there.”

He turned to a captain, one of his predecessor's staffers. “Has the general actually ever gone to the beachhead?”

The captain flushed. “No sir.”

“Well, I am. You get me a float plane that can land right by the shore. I’m going there to see how things are and maybe kick some ass. Colonel Downing, you will stay here and prepare to move this organization to someplace more efficient. If we can’t set up shop in the perimeter, I want to be right off shore in a ship. Steal it if you have to, but get cracking. I can’t stand to be this far away from the action.”

Canfield got the news that Truscott was now in command and smiled. Like most of his men, he had developed zero confidence in Fredendall and he believed that the rest of the men felt the same way. There was a clear feeling of relief among the officers and men. The Germans were coming, but now maybe the American Army had a fighting chance of beating them. Now maybe they would fight instead of hiding.

He quickly realized he was being unfair. There had been no fighting yet, only preparing for a fight. He and his men had been on the so-called front lines, but had barely skirmished with the Germans. They had trained, but he didn’t think they were very well prepared. He’d been told to have his men dig in where they were when they got the order to halt and that left some big gaps in their lines. Maybe Truscott would kick some butt and get things cleaned up. As it was, the only reason Canfield knew who was to his left was that he’d sent out some patrols. He was looking down a road that led to the interior and it would be a prime highway for the Germans.

Canfield heard some rustling and whispering behind him. He turned and saw Truscott climbing into his trench. “Don’t even think of saluting.”

Canfield chuckled. He had earlier given orders that there would be no saluting which would identify the recipient as someone important and, thus, a sniper’s target.

“Welcome to the front lines, general.”

The gravelly-voiced forty-nine year old Texan merely grunted. He was wearing his trademark leather jacket and didn’t need someone’s salute in order to be noticed.

“How far away are the Germans?”

“Hard to say. My orders were to stand down any patrols. I’ve sneaked some boys out but they haven’t seen anything much. They’ve probably got snipers looking at us so please don’t expose yourself.”

“Consider those patrol orders rescinded. Send out scouts and patrols. I believe they will attack tonight.”
Canfield was surprised. “Really? If they’re coming, they haven’t had a chance to get themselves organized.”
Truscott was not perturbed that a lower ranking officer had just questioned his opinion. “First off, colonel, we’ve been hitting them hard from the air, so they will want to hit us before they run out of an army. Second, the weather forecast is for a major wind and rain storm coming from the west, and that’ll keep our planes on the ground. They’ll attack us just before first light because they don’t have any choice. It’ll be now or never.”

“What are my orders, general?”

“Hit them, hurt them, and try to hold them for as long as you can. You’re going to lose men, maybe a lot of them, but that can’t be helped. In the meantime, we’ll be setting up a second line of defense.”

Canfield looked over Truscott’s shoulder and saw Grant who nodded. “General, I see you brought over that poor fish my men dragged out of the river just a few months ago.”

Truscott laughed. “So that was you? Hell, you should have left him there. He’s been nothing but trouble since then. All he does is shoot Germans and try to catch spies and his wife is just as bad. Grant, you can catch up with me in a few minutes.”

When Truscott departed, the two men left Canfield’s bunker, staying carefully in the rear and out of sight of any snipers. At least they hoped they were.

“They’re going to come straight down this dinky road, aren’t they?” Canfield asked.

“Unfortunately, it makes sense. As does their coming tonight. I don’t envy you.”

Canfield laughed harshly. “And where the hell will you be?”

“I have no shame. I’ll be as far away as I can.”

Field Marshal Heinz Guderian wanted information and not just what he referred to as the sanitized crap that sometimes filtered its way up the chain of command. He wanted someone on the ground who could talk directly to him and give him a sense of what was happening. He anointed Koenig to keep him informed.

After getting his general safely back to his headquarters, Koenig drove to the start point for the armored attack. He had planned to be in a Panzer IV but could find no tanker willing to take him. If he’d been in command of a unit he could have forced the issue, but as a mere captain, he had no such influence despite being on the field marshal’s staff. Thus and incongruously, he found himself and a driver in a 1938 Packard sedan. It seemed as strong and as heavy as a tank and even came with a rumble seat. At least it had been re-painted and had German military markings, so that he didn’t look like some doctor out on a house call.

It was raining heavily, turning the fields into mud. The tankers were confident they could make it, but trucks and Packards, they laughed, would have to stick to the roads. At least they would not have to put up with attacks from American planes. The Americans had savaged their columns when the sky was clear, and the dwindling number of Luftwaffe planes had been unable to defend against them.

The artillery bombardment began at three in the morning. Again, the absence of American planes meant that the barrage rained down on American positions without interference. Koenig was surprised that there was little in the way of counter-fire from American guns. Guderian had surmised that the Yanks hadn’t had the time to land their big guns and, without a naval presence, there was no danger from battleship and cruiser guns.

The tanks rumbled forward, aided by armored cars and the German version of troop-carrying half-tracks.

Finally, the American guns opened up. They had drawn the Germans in close so their smaller 105mm howitzers and the medium velocity 75mm guns on their Sherman tanks would be effective.

Koenig abandoned the Packard and moved forward on foot, aided only by a soldier with a radio. He was at the point of attack, the spot where two American divisions joined.

American resistance was fierce and tank after tank from the German force was disabled, some spectacularly, blowing up after hits from American guns. The Americans were also using bazookas, and brave Yanks would position themselves so that they were able to fire them against the less heavily armored flanks of the German tanks. Frequently they were cut down by accompanying infantry, but many Panzers were damaged or destroyed. It was particularly galling to Koenig to see so many of the precious Panzer IVs burning. He wondered when Guderian would release his small supply of Panthers and concluded that it would not be this day.

The sun was trying to rise and clear away the haze and the smoke of battle. Koenig choked on the smoke, realizing that part of the scent was human flesh cooking. The battle was moving forward and in front of them. They walked carefully around the ruined tanks and the dead and dying soldiers.

His radioman jabbed him on the arm. “Sir, I just heard a report that we’ve broken through to the lake.”

Canfield had decided that his spot was at the front. In part this was because the rear area was so constricted, but mostly because he felt he belonged at the point of danger.

Like everyone, he’d hunkered down when the shells began to fall. The trenches and foxholes had been well designed and only a direct hit was likely to kill. Still, there were numerous casualties from near misses, and from men running in panic from the relative safety of their holes and into a land where flying metal could skewer them.

He heard the tanks well before anyone could see them. His battalion’s position had been reinforced by four Shermans, a pair of 105mm howitzers, and a pair of 57mm anti-tank guns. These were all courtesy of General Truscott and had arrived only minutes before the German barrage started, which meant they were not all well placed.

Someone yelled that he could see the tanks and, sure enough, they were emerging from the fog and mist. American guns opened up. A howitzer firing over open sights managed a direct hit that blew the turret off a Panzer, while an anti-tank gun disabled another. Canfield watched with awe as two soldiers with a bazooka attacked the flank of another. They killed it but were cut to pieces by German machine gun fire.

The Panzers opened fire at close range. Shells and machine gun fire killed wantonly. Canfield felt something hit his arm and he saw that he was bleeding. A medic slapped a bandage around his arm and said it was a flesh wound. “Flesh wound, my ass,” he snapped and the medic grinned.

German infantry washed around what remained of his position. Their goal was the lake. Canfield’s advanced position had been neutralized and could be wiped out at a later time. Canfield watched in impotent fury as tank after tank rumbled by him.

A German appeared in front of them and hollered, asking them in badly accented English if they wanted to surrender. “Fuck you,” said Dubinski and shot him. The German grabbed his leg and staggered back. A fusillade of gunfire swept over the trenches and someone screamed.

“I shouldn’t have done that,” muttered Dubinski. “I just didn’t like being asked to surrender.”

Grant’s feet were in the water. Small waves lapped at his ankles. In front of him, he could see shadows in the mist. They began to take shape and become enemy tanks. He took a couple of steps forward so he could lie at least part ways on the ground along with a few score soldiers who were ready to fight. Clouds of smoke blew through them and the sounds of battle were becoming deafening. It occurred to him that the perimeter was not even ten feet deep at this point. He shifted in the wet sand so he could fire his carbine before he retreated into Lake Erie. He had no idea what he would do then.

Hundreds of American soldiers, perhaps more, milled around on the water’s edge. Only a few were, like Grant, preparing to fight. Too many were rear echelon troops who should have been farther back, but the narrowness of the beachhead had trapped them. German artillery shells landed in their midst, adding to their confusion, terror, and panic. With the German tanks bearing down on them, they ran to either side, some actually screaming in fright. A number of them splashed into the water, wading and swimming. They were going to try to make it to the transports, dimly seen a mile or so off shore. They wouldn’t make it. Grant and others yelled at them to come back. Some did, but others continued out. He watched in horror as bobbing heads disappeared.

Truscott plopped down beside Grant. “Think we can swim to Buffalo?” he asked with a satanic grin.

“Are we going to have to, general?”

“Not if I can help it,” he said as he gestured to another aide who then picked up a radio and gave orders. Seconds later, artillery fire from the transport ships anchored offshore erupted and began to land among the approaching Panzers, killing still more of them. It occurred to Grant that the Germans were paying too high a price to reach the lake. It was also apparent that American artillery was hitting many American soldiers who were trying to hide. A terrible price would be paid if the Germans were to be stopped.

A German tank appeared only fifty feet in front of him. Shells from the transports landed around it. They were almost on top of him and Truscott. The concussions rocked them and showered them with dirt and debris.

The tank fired and the shell seemed to scream only feet above Grant. There was a lull and Grant peered carefully over a low mound that had been sheltering him. The German tank was burning and a crewman lay on the ground beside it. His clothes and skin were smoldering. He thought he could see other Germans heading inland and away.

Truscott staggered to his knees. “I think this is as far as the Germans get. Their high water mark, so to speak.”

“What do you see?” asked Guderian. His voice was distorted and tinny over the radio. Koenig could hear the anxiety in his voice.

“We have been stalled by the guns on the ships. Our tanks are now shooting up the transports and a couple of them are already burning. The Americans are fighting far more tenaciously than I thought, and our attacks are slowing down. Send some more tanks, sir, and we can still pull it off.”

There was a pause and Koenig heard Guderian sigh. “Thank you, but that will not happen. I’m ordering a retreat before I lose the rest of the army?”

“But why, sir? We’re so close.”

“But not close enough, captain, and don’t question me,” Guderian snapped. “We are paying too high a price and the Americans have begun crossing the Niagara River to our south. I’m afraid the Yanks have won this round.”

Koenig gave the radio back to his aide. He looked to his rear and began to plot his retreat. As a German soldier, he’d never had to retreat. The Wehrmacht had only known victory. Oh yes, there had been some minor reversals that had entailed strategic pullbacks, but Guderian was implying that Germany had lost this battle. If the Americans were truly crossing the river, this withdrawal would likely be just the beginning.

He looked down and saw his shadow. The sky was beginning to clear and that meant that the American planes would be on them like blood attracts sharks.