With much talk centering on CMFI and the upcoming (hopefully soon) release, I played out a scenario that had some great action. I thought I would share it.
It is December 6, 1943, 2:15 PM local time, and Obersoldat Rolf Schenk peers through his binoculars at Villa Roggati. His uniform is soaking wet, the cold rain running in rivulets down his neck and back. It drums off his steel helmet with maddening consistency. He wipes the smears of rainwater off the end of his binoculars, letting out a sigh of frustration. Things are quiet now, way too quiet.
He was in town when the Canadians attacked, and his unit had to retreat. They took up positions just outside of town, and now he has his MG team set up where they can just barely see the town. He has been tasked to support the coming counter-attack, but Hauptmann Esch has also given him the job of providing intelligence from his vantage point. He has not been given a radio, so he will have to break away one of his ammo carriers for this task, leaving him a man down. He is not pleased.
He quietly waves over one of his ammo carriers, gives him specific details, has the man repeat them, and then sends him to the rear with his observations. Time is ticking inexorably towards the attack time of 2:30 PM.
The attack begins, slowly at first. Artillery begins to fall on the town at precisely 2:30 PM. Off to Rolf’s left is a PAK, set up to cover approaches into the town. Suddenly two Sherman tanks are spotted by the PAK gunners. The tanks ease out from behind a large white building – they are barely visible. The PAK gun is pointed straight at their location, but a hail of MG fire from the tanks causes the gun crew to duck for cover. Then they are slowly picked off by the deadly hail of lead, one at a time, until they are all dead or wounded. Schenk can hear the wounded moaning in pain, but he dares not move from his position to help. The tanks have that location zeroed in.
Rolf hears the distinctive squeal of tank treads as panzers move up to try and duel with the Canadian tanks. The Germans didn’t have tanks earlier when they were thrown out of the town by the Canadian attack. Now they do. He wonders where HQ managed to scrape them up. If they’d had them earlier, then they would still be in the damn village. One of his crew mutters that the tankers will deal with those upstart Canadians. The panzers roar and 7.5 cm shells launch towards the enemy tanks.
The lead tank trundles forward under cover of the following tanks. Oberstleutnant Fuhrmann is trying to gain a flank shot on the enemy tanks. He has his driver ease past a small shed, his turret already facing the right direction. Fuhrmann is confident they will get the first shot off. As his tank barely clears the shed, Fuhrmann stares in shocked horror down the barrel of one of the enemy tanks. The tank spouts fire, and the first shell rips into the lower front of his tank.
Smoke instantly fills the interior. He can hear screaming from the driver and radio man positions. His gunner is already ripping at the side hatch, self-preservation overtaking any thoughts of return fire.
Fuhrmann is counting down numbers in his head. He knows a good tank crew can reload in about 5 seconds. He yells “Everyone OUT!!!” as he reaches up for the…4…hatch. The lever swings…3…and he throws his back against the hatch. The hatch flies…2…open and he is looking up at grey sky that immediately bathes his face with cold rain. He starts to…1…clamber up into the cold rain and he hears the roar of a tank gun. He realizes that if he hears the gun, the round is already on the way…his last sight is a boiling roar of red flames…
View from the Canadian tank – a catastrophic explosion as the kill shot ignites the enemy tanks ammunition loadout. There are no survivors.
In the space of a mere five minutes, the Canadian tank gunners knock out three German panzers. This view is from the Canadian held town.
Funeral pyres of the flaming steel coffins rise into the grey December sky. Fuhrmann’s tank lies in a crater in the road, caused by the giant explosion. Schenk sees some badly burned survivors run from the other tanks. He immediately sends his runner back to Hauptmann Esch to inform him that the initial thrust up the center is being blocked expertly by the Canadians.
Hauptmann Esch slams his fist down on the hood of his Kubelwagen. He didn’t rush the armor in. He was cautious. Still, the verdammt Canadians are putting on a show. His right flank is getting blasted by very accurate artillery fire. He sends out the orders – Left Flank, GO!
Several remaining panzers veer off to the left flank. They take a circuitous route, bogging at times, but somehow managing to pull out of the sticky Italian mud. They arrive in time to support the Landsers who are trying to overwhelm stubborn Canadian resistance. The cowering ground-pounders find new courage with the arrival of the steel monsters, and they rise up to push through the warehouses on the left flank.
Pioniere Unteroffizier Hardenberger leads his squad up the same road as Fuhrmann. He is confident they can work their way along an embankment, concealing their approach. As they near the flaming wreck of Fuhrmann’s panzer, 7.5 cm shells and machine gun fire tear into his men. He screams “VORWÄRTS” and sprints towards the shed that appears to be the only real cover available. Two more of his men crash through the door and throw themselves on the floor, panting with exertion and adrenaline. Hardenberger can just see the Sherman tank through a crack in the wall. How the hell did it see us? he wonders. “These Canadians are possessed by the Teufel,” he mutters out loud.
The unlucky Pioniere caught by the enemy tanks…
Fuhrmann’s tank still burns on the road.
Hauptmann Esch receives reports that the left flank attack has broken through into the town. He orders his command staff into their Kubelwagen and he heads around the left flank to see the progress.
Hauptmann Erwin Ruckdeschel leads the push into the town from the left flank. His Mark IV Panzer takes a right turn on the first street and eases slowly towards the town center. He is careful not to outpace the infantry. Like all panzer men, he hates fighting in the close confines of any town. Dead Canadian soldiers lay in the street as a reminder that nothing is safe here.
“Feind Panzer, Eins Uhr!” shouts his gunner.
Ruckdeschel’s eyes immediately snap to the one o’clock position. His gunner had already pointed the turret in this direction moments before, as the driver slanted the tank at a slight angle to increase their front armor effectiveness. He sees the barrel drop ever so slightly as his gunner lines up the shot. He has a very good crew.
Following tanks are covering flanks with HE, and he had his loader keep AP in the breech. He calls out “115 meters.” This is knife fighting for panzers. They are so close.
Erwin sees the enemy Sherman tank starting to round the corner. Their turret is already turning in his direction. He smiles, knowing they will be too late.
“Fire!” he shouts, the roar of the cannon rocking the tank. Smoke fills the interior and then begins to vent. “Treffer!” shouts the driver. Now Erwin can see the explosion. Flank shot. It is a kill!
Two more Sherman tanks will try to work around their flaming comrade and will meet the same hideous end, brewing up after taking one or two hits. Ruckdeschel’s crew is putting on a clinic.
A forward MG crew has set up in a blown up gasoline station. The pumps are still standing but the building is rubble. They took casualties and one of the crew tries to stem the bleeding of his comrade.
In the distance to the right, another squad of Pioniere are also attending to casualties. Smoke from the three Shermans brewed up by Ruckdeschel are ahead to the left.
Ruckdeschel and the crew of a Wespe, commanded by Unteroffizier Thylin, systematically reduce the buildings that are sheltering the two Shermans that blunted the initial attack. Their handiwork can be seen by the MG team, as a field of rubble that used to be buildings now stretch out before them.
Stabsfeldwebel von Pannwitz tried to ease his Mark IV Panzer slightly past the bus station to get a flank shot on the enemy tanks. Again the cursed Canadian tanker somehow was already watching. Von Pannwitz took a shell in the turret, knocking out his main gun. Obergefreiter Lorenko is now in command and Ruckdeschel does not know if his friend, von Pannwitz, is dead, dying, or merely wounded. It tears at him but he keeps his focus on the dangers all around him.
There is some confusion now, as the battle grinds to a halt. The two Canadian tanks at the front of the village are stopping the frontal assault and have now stopped the flank attack too. They are perfectly placed to interdict any movement towards them from the front or from the side street where Ruckdeschel sits. And, unfortunately, they are very good at their craft.
Hauptmann Ulrich is given hand signals by Unteroffizier Franz Witt. They are at the front edge of a vineyard and can see the enemy tanks, maybe 100 meters to their front. Ulrich sees that Witt wants a smoke screen dropped on the enemy tank position. If that happens then perhaps the tanks in town can get the drop on them.
Franz has something more daring in mind. He plans to lead his squad into the smoke for a close assault of the enemy tankers. The Hauptmann doesn’t get that part of the message.
Ulrich calls in the smoke. The FO is one of the best, and the smoke rounds start to fall in about 3 minutes. The smoke is now building all over the enemy tanks. They will be blind. The tanks on the flank will now be able to advance and once the smoke dissipates, they will have the drop on the Canadians.
Ulrich sees Witt leap to his feet, and start sprinting towards the wall of smoke. Witt’s squad instantly rises as one and they pound after their squad leader.
Hardenberger sees the smoke and immediately has the same idea as Witt, even though he has no idea what Witt is planning. One of Hardenberger’s survivors has at least one satchel charge and they can use that on the blind tanks. He roars to his two men to charge the tanks. They leap to their feet and begin the crazy charge towards the wall of smoke and probably certain death.
Rolf Schenk and his men see the smoke dropping. There is a silent Mark IV right next to their position, yet another panzer vexed by the skill of the Canadian tankers and knocked out with a single shot. All the crew got out of this one though. In front of the berm protecting his men are two dead soldiers from an earlier attempt to sneak through the vineyard.
They have no idea what is being planned, until Rolf sees Unteroffizier Hardenberger and his two men, greatcoats dark against the backdrop of white smoke, pounding across the wet field from the left, heading right for the smoke. He catches his breath at the daring attack, and one of his men shouts “Sind Sie verrück?” This echoes his own thoughts – they must, indeed, be crazy.
They don’t see Witt and his men off to the right, as the smoke has already obscured their equally mad charge.
It is chaos and madness in the smoke. Hardenberger can barely hear anything from the loud pounding of his blood through his head. Machine gun fire rips the smoke, as the Canadians fire blindly. He barely hears the screams of one of his men, and he finds himself running just under the barrel of the enemy Sherman. He has no idea that Witt’s men are also rushing into the smoke. Witt himself is crawling towards the misty bulk of the enemy steel monster that lashes out at the host of tormentors that mean to do it harm.
Hardenberger rues the fact that he didn’t take the satchel charge himself, as he is now in the perfect spot to attach it to the enemy tank. But all he can do is run in the smoke, hoping the enemy tankers focus on him and don’t see his men trying to assault it with the satchel charge. He now seeks some sort of cover as the tank flails the smoke with its machine guns.
Franz Witt’s men are among the two enemy tanks. There is some slight cover from the rubble of a building and some craters from artillery fire. The smoke is dissipating way too fast – the rain is settling it too quickly. Dammit, Witt thinks, they only have seconds to live now.
Witt takes cover in a crater and hurls his grenade. The man to his left – Max, he thinks but can’t be sure – is about to shove a grenade into the front tracks of the tank. Karl, off to his right, is about to hurl yet another grenade. All he can do is hold his breath now. It occurs to him that maybe this wasn’t such a great idea after all.
Witt’s grenade goes off, a cascade of sparks and smoke lighting up the side of the tank. Two more grenades are heading for the enemy monster. It is time for them to get the hell out of this deathtrap. He screams to his men to run. The enemy tanks open up with their machine guns. He hears some of his men scream as they are hit. Everyone runs like frightened rabbits in every direction to confuse the enemy gunners.
Erwin Ruckdeschel sees a Feldwebel in the captured bus station to his right. The man is waving through an open window, trying to get his attention. He throws open his hatch and slightly pokes his head up to try and hear the man. The Feldwebel shouts that Landsers are attacking the two Sherman tanks, running into the smoke screen. Ruckdeschel had seen the smoke dropping, but in the absence of any instruction, he had remained in his position, covered by the wall of the bus station.
As the smoke clears fast, the Feldwebel gives Erwin a running blow-by-blow as he describes Witt’s and Hardenberger’s men being cut down by the enemy tanks. This is too much for Ruckdeschel.
He gives his orders fast. He has the turret swung to the 2 o’clock position, and he orders his driver to move forward smoothly about 15 meters. He tells the crew they are going to try and hit the two enemy tanks in the flank, just like von Pannwitz tried earlier, but his crew is going to succeed perfectly. The men nod quietly and grimly.
“Now!” he orders, and the tank slides smoothly out from cover, gun turret already lined up in the right direction. A soldier, incapacitated from his wound, lies helplessly in the street as the giant panzer rolls past him, missing him by centimeters. He can only scream, knowing that no one will hear him over the roar of the panzer engine.
He stops screaming when he realizes he has not been crushed. Then new terror fills him. What if the tank turns? What if the tank is blown up? Horrors flood through his mind but he is powerless to do anything. Mercifully he passes out from blood loss and fear.
Erwin’s gunner has two perfect flank shots, just as predicted by his commander. The Sherman on the left starts to turn its turret. That makes the choice for the gunner.
The first shot is a hit. Is it a kill? No time to judge. The second Sherman is now trying to turn the turret towards them. Ruckdeschel lets his gunner turn the turret smoothly to address the 2nd target.
The second shot – this is a certain kill. The second Sherman is torn apart in a massive explosion. Still no time to breathe or think. The gunner gently sweeps the turret back to the first Sherman. They have to be sure. Moments count. Seconds tick off. Erwin is not aware that he has stopped breathing.
The tank is utter silence, save for the clang of the ejected shell casing on the floor of the tank and the schick of the new round being slammed home into the breech, then the slam of the breech as the shell is rammed into the gun. The loader cries out that the gun is ready.
Unvented smoke is wafting through the interior and the heavy smell of burnt powder is tickling the back of Ruckdeschel’s throat.
The gun roars again, and sparks and flames gush from the 1st target. It is a kill too!!! Smoke is already pouring from the burning wreckage of the other Sherman.
“Damn fine job, Comrades, Damn fine job!” shouts Ruckdeschel. The crewmen smile and bask in their commander’s praise, while still watching the enemy ahead.
A figure is seen leaping from the burning tank on the left. His uniform is blackened and smoking.
A second man falls from the Sherman. Then a third. All are burned and covered in soot. They are too far away to see any blood. Ruckdeschel sees the faces of his men turning towards him, questions on their faces as they wait for orders.
“Let them go,” he says quietly. “Don’t fire.” He thinks he sees relief in the faces of his crewmen as they turn back to their stations. He knows the Canadian tankers have fought with skill and bravery, just men doing a horrible job. The survivors deserve a chance to escape.
With the destruction of the two enemy tanks in their crucial defensive position, the Canadian opposition wanes and they fall back to defensive positions outside of the town.
Oberleutnant’s Gloser’s command squad emerges from the vineyard and joins with Rolf’s MG team. They are bloody and grim from attending to all the wounded in the vineyard.
Pioniere Harzer, the sole survivor of Hardenberger’s attack in the smoke, finds his squad leader bleeding in a shellhole, wounded as he fled the attack on the enemy tanks. Harzer still has satchel charges that he didn’t use in the attack, as he faltered at the last minute when they entered the smoke and he found cover to hide. Hardenberger is bleeding and unconscious. Harzer shoves the charges under some nearby rubble and attends to dressing his squad leader’s wounds. No one will know.
Witt and his entire squad are wiped out. They will never know if they immobilized the one tank in their attack. The two tanks are destroyed so it wouldn’t matter to anyone but Witt and his survivors if their attack was for nothing.
Witt is badly wounded, as are two others from his squad. Three are dead and the attending Sanitäter remove identity discs from the fallen while others patch up Witt and move him and the rest of his wounded squad to the rear.
Ruckdeschel knows that the attackers in the smoke played a vital part. He saw that the two enemy tanks were distracted by the brave Landsers in the smoke. This was what gave his tank the edge, that and the skill of his crew. He is so proud of them – the crew can see it in his eyes.
Rolf Schenk sees a very different skyline of Villa Roggati now. It is a scene of carnage and destruction.
He shakes his head at the stubborn Canadians. They fought with skill and honor and they died when overwhelmed. They have surely given his comrades a bad blooding this day. He wonders why they didn’t just retreat out of the town. Why did they stay and die? Do they owe The Queen and England their lives?
One of his comrades gives the Canadians an off-handed compliment. “I sure don’t want to come up against these bastards again,” he mutters. Rolf quietly concurs.
The war goes on.