“I can’t get any units on the line!” Hennig calls out from the radio room of the command bunker.
“Damn, I have to know what’s going on!” General Stumme, temporary commander of Panzer Army Africa, replies.
What’s going on is that we’re under attack. The British have finally started their long-awaited assault with a massive artillery barrage that has taken out our communications with every division and regiment under the Generals command.
“Buchting come with me, we’ll go to the front ourselves!” Stumme belts out as Colonel Buchting, his communications officer, steps forward to take up his position at the General’s side.
Moving at a quick pace, the General leads Buchting and I out of the bunker to his waiting Mercedes coup.
I rush forward to beat the General to the car, grasping the still warm door handle before opening the front door for the General.
The general likes to sit in front rather than the back of the car. I’m not too happy having him up there because I don’t have a poker face. He’s already caught me laughing at something he said more than once since he showed up a couple of weeks ago.
Colonel Buchting scrambles into the back of the car as I run around to the driver’s side, before sliding into my seat.
As I turn the key to start the ignition the General’s red face seems to deepen to an almost crimson color.
We call him Fireball because of the natural redness of his face. Poor old many with high blood pressure was ordered to a battle front.
At least he’s more personable than Field Marshall Rommel.
General Stumme likes to joke and spend time with us, whereas the Field Marshall is all business all of the time.
Colonel Buchting calls out in a raspy voice “Head to 21st Panzer first, we’ll be able to communicate from their command bunker.”
General Stumme turns his head, bobbing his blood colored face up and down in agreement with the Colonel.
My foot slams on the gas, propelling the coup forward, leaving a whirlwind of dust behind us. Even thought it’s after 10pm, I put on my dust goggles to keep the sand out of my eyes.
I wish I’d brought my jacket. These desert nights can get nasty cold!
As we turn a gully to come under an outcrop about 3 miles from 21st Panzer, a strong of bullets riddle the road near the car.
Cracckity, Cracckity, Cracckity. . . The bullets come whizzing by.
Damn it, our guys are so nervous from the artillery barrage that they are shooting at anything that moves, even behind the lines.
The bullets keep whizzing by, a few hitting the side of the Mercedes.
“General, get down!” Colonel Buchting screams.
I can’t get down far enough to escape these bullets.
The General does not move an inch of his short and stubby upright frame. In the backseat, the Colonel turns to look to the side.
Neither of them are crouching in any way. I would if I could right now!
“Those aren’t our gu. . . ” the Colonel stops short, his body slumping forward to hit the back of my seat.
General Stumme turns frantically toward the back of the car.
“He’s dead!” the General announces in a voice faltering with excitement.
Taking my eyes off of the road, I turn to look at the General sitting beside me.
I’m not sure what caught my eye, but there’s something about him that is striking. I have to look.
“General, are you ok?” I ask.
His hands move swiftly to his bulging chest, clasping toward his heart.
“I. . ., I . . . , I. . . “ He can’t get the words out.
Crrrraaacccckk, CCCrrrraacck, Crackkkkk - the bullets are streaming by.
Could he be having a Heart Attack?
I slam on the brakes, jolting the car, and halting us right in the path of the machine gun fire.
There’s a small outcrop on the left, maybe we can hide in there.
“General!” I yell, “get down!”
Pppppiinngg, Pppinnng, Ping - the front of the Mercedes is taking direct hits.
“We’ve got to get out of this car!” comes out of my mouth as I grab, then yank, the General’s arms to drag him across the front seat.
“I. . ., ha. . . , t’. . . , com. . . “ His eyes start losing their color.
Manhandling the hefty little incapacitated General is no challenge given the amount of adrenaline coursing through my veins.
I’ve got to get him under that outcrop!
“Stay with me Sir!”
His eyes are turning almost steel gray.
RRrriiiiffftt, RRrriiiiffftt, RRrriiiiffftt. . .clumps of sand and dirt geyser up from the ground directly in front of me. Each round approaching me as I rush toward the cover while dragging the General’s listless rotund body.
I can’t pull him any longer.
PPPpffffttt, Pppfffffttt, Piffftttttt, pifffttt. A tingling sensation enters my arms and stomach.
Warmth, warmth in the cold desert night.
My grip loosens on the now completely immobile officer before me.
Pppffffttttt, blood begins streaming forth from my left shoulder.
I can make it to cover. I can make it.
General Stumme’s body was found the next day without any bullet wounds. He appears to have died of a heart attack within the very first hours of the British offensive at El Alemain. Panzer Army Africa was without a leader for those hours, until another General took command in General Stumme’s absence. His disappearance from the field of battle led to an initially disorganized defense of the Axis positions in the African desert, and a nervous Hitler ordering Field Marshall Rommel back to the front early despite still recovering from a medical procedure in Switzerland. Despite weakened command following a lack of command, the Axis forces put up fierce resistance before eventually succumbing to the gritty grinding onslaught of the overpowering British assault.