An American Journey Excerpt

An American Journey


Even at idle, over a hundred meters behind him, the rumbling steel armada vibrated the air with dire warnings of a coming nemesis. A recent cadet, Fritz confirmed his insight on arriving; he wasn’t qualified for this mission. Having just arrived, he had been put in command of a platoon of grenadiers in support of the lead panzer units.

His anxiety had been increasing since hustled off his train in Belgorod, the end of the line. Thrown on the back of a supply truck, he rode north through ruptured, charred earth strewn with mechanical destruction of incredible proportions as a continuous distant thundering grew louder. At the division HQ, he reported to a harried Colonel bent over a map table beneath heavy camouflage netting who nodded at Fritz while issuing orders, mechanically passed on by men wired into a bank of field radios. The Colonel gave Fritz’s orders a quick scan and with another nod, Fritz was in a halftrack heading north to report to a battalion commander. As his latest wounds were patched, he assigned Fritz to the leading units because, “You’re the only officer left available. Do what Sergeant Venner tells you. Welcome to Russia, Lieutenant! Carry the fuck on.”

This wasn’t how the manual described checking into your first duty station, but he had sworn an oath, it was his country, right or wrong. Moving up to the front line, he was only now learning about dread. The training manuals hadn’t described that either.

His shock only increased as he was escorted through rumbling machines to the tip of the spear. Metal-ripped, bent-plate panzers and metal-torn halftracks were crewed by men with the cold merciless stare of reptiles. “Stay low and between those guide stakes! The boss is on that mound up ahead,” his escort shouted over the rumbling vibration before disappearing in the tall grass.

Only ten feet away before seeing him, the kampfgruppe commander in a leopard camo poncho, binoculars focused west, caught Fritz’s attention in a low calm voice. “On all fours from there.” Crawling up to him, the commander looked at Fritz and in that moment he knew the dread of power of relentless integrity to authority. Fritz understood with terrible clarity—this was the apex of the tip of the spear.

“I’ve already briefed Venner. Here’s the situation,” Danzig began. “See those roofs about six-hundred meters up ahead? That’s our first objective, Greznoe. You have sloping terrain to there, continuing on the other side of the village to the Solotinka River, with a grove in between them.  Objective two—with Greznoe secure, we attack through it and take the heavy bridge over the Solotinka. My panzers will then swing north to assault the village of Krasnyi and secure the only heavy bridge over the Psel River about ten klicks from here. Expect opposition from here forward. Ivan’s 3rd Mechanized Corps is directly ahead and augmented by the remains of the 52nd Guards Division and the 31st Tank Corps.” Noting his, ‘deer in the headlights’ look, Danzig slowed his brief.

“Our attack frontage is that road, two-hundred meters north,” he said with a slight pointing motion, “running to the southern edge of Greznoe. Elements of the III/5th is south of us. They will anchor the southern end of the village.”

In a low sweeping motion Danzig pointed north to a distant range of rolling hills. “That’s the shit! Ivan’s got heavy guns ranged up there north of the Psel. Air and artillery is scheduled but don’t go north of the road until the guns are neutralized. Your unit is the third echelon. When the Solotinka Bridge is taken, you will hold it and be prepared for a counterattack on my command.”

“Why aren’t the Russians hitting us now?”

Danzig turned with a smile one soldier reserves for another. “Think we’re going to walk into Greznoe? Ivan’s all around us, we’re too close for their artillery. Our engineers are twenty meters up ahead, clearing their minefield.” Fritz jolted lower to the ground. He hadn’t even seen the Germans to his front, What else was out there, he thought.

Danzig turned back west and raised his hand just above the tall grass. With a slight wave of his fingers forward, Fritz was stunned to see hardened killers, dressed in leopard camo, carrying submachine guns, pistols, grenades, knives and pick axes, rise around him, crouching low, silently stalking forward. Danzig saw his shock, whispering, “Stay away from those guys. If anything comes up, let Sergeant Venner handle them. They’re not keen on new officers.” His look told Danzig everything and he clasped his shoulder. “Stay by the radio. Listen for my commands and keep close to Sergeant Venner,” Danzig said confidently. “You’ve got good men, you’ll do fine. Bring them back, soldier.”

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