Rush

RUSH

Looking down from our He-59, I can see the coast of England forming up just this side of the horizon.

These English, so smug, so isolated, so close to defeat!

Why don’t they just give up?

On this second night of mine deployment in the Thames Estuary, we’re putting the noose around the necks of those plucky English.

They don’t even know what’s hittin’em.

Our pilot, Adelberg, banks left, turning the aircraft toward the coastline.

Yes, get us close to shore, they’ll never think of being attacked there!

READY TO ARM THE MINE, Kalen announces across the comms.

Lights from the ground staccato on-off, as if flashing us.

GROUND-FIRE, I announced on the comms.

Tracers streak past the plane.

A few rounds slice through the thin metal shell separating my body from the outside air.

WE’RE ALMOST THERE, GET READY. Adelberg announces.

More rounds slam into the side and bottom of the plane.

I’M HIT! Kalen screams.

Turning to see if I can help, I find Kalen curled up, clutching his left arm within his doubled over body.

I’ll have to drop it.

Kalen reaches up with his right arm, trying to stop me.

DROP IT! LET’S GET OUT OF HERE. Adelberg demands.

I pull Kalen out of the way, grabbing hold of the lever.

Kalen struggles, reaching toward my arm.

DROPPING IT, I announce as I pull the lever, releasing the mine into the water below.

In a shaky voice, Kalen mutters, No, not yet!

Is Kalen spooked?

“Kalen, are you alright?” I ask by turning toward him, avoiding the comms.

“It wasn’t armed yet.” He replies, a sense of insecurity in his voice.

I look at Kalen. He stares back at me in anger.

“Why didn’t you arm it?” I demand.

“I was about to when I got hit!” He retorts, teeth mashing together in an effort to deal with the pain.

This mission will have been for nothing.

“I don’t want to have been short for nothing!” Kalen declares, as if he read my mind.

“It’s not for nothing.” I reply. “At least we learned you cry like a baby.” I say as I take out the med kit.

“And you overreact!” He replies, smiling as he kicks me.

SHUT IT YOU TWO, Adelberg chimes in. WE’RE HEADING HOME.

In the early days of World War II a German secret weapon was wreaking havoc on British shipping. Many ships were disappearing en route. On occasion a ship would enter port with it’s keel broken. The British were desperate to figure out what was causing their ships spines to snap. On the night of November 22, 1939 a German He-59 Seaplane was on a mine-laying mission over the Thames Estuary near Shoeburyness when it came under intensive ground fire. In a hurry to unburden themselves and get away from the barrage, the Germans dropped their magnetic shipping mines too early, before they had the chance to arm the devices. Due to the tides at the time, one of the mines landed in mud, rather than under the water. The Royal Navy and Army explosive experts acted quickly, retrieving the mine, and sending it to HMS Vernon (a research facility) to find out its secrets. Through intensive efforts at disassembly, the British were able to find out how the mine worked, and thus, how it could be disabled. The British were lucky to find a solution to their shipping problem. The Germans assumed the British would surrender when enough of their shipping was lost. The British may have done so, if it weren’t for a few nervous crew on a seaplane who accidentally gave the secrets of Germany’s secret weapon to the British first. Sometimes in War a slam dunk victory can be given away in a freak flood of nerves by a few soldiers.

Stonne

“AP” I yell.

 

Krause removes an armor piercing shell from the wicker basket, handing it to Fuchs, the loader.

 

Fuchs places the AP round gently within the open breach on our Pak-36 anti-tank gun.

 

Pohl closes the breach, making the gun ready.

 

We’re dug in, and loaded, for the inevitable French counter-attack.

 

“Now we wait” I tell my men, as we scan through the town, and up the lane on the right.

 

Armor crews rush to their idling tanks, all lined up in a column up the narrow lane in the small village of Stonne.

 

Small French houses bracket each tank in the line.

 

Those could be my house. This could be Boppard, where mom is now. What if the French offensive had broken through the Sigfried Line last year, advancing all the way through Boppard? What if mom had been in a house surrounded by French tanks?

 

Damn those French tanks!

 

Just as I think about French tanks, a Char-B1 appears up the road, on the edge of this small French town.

 

The moment I notice it, it fires two shots; one from it’s 47 mm turret gun, and the other from its hull-mounted 75 mm gun.

 

He was ready!

 

Instantly the first and last tanks in the column lined up on that narrow street burst into flames.

 

Get him, Get him!

 

“Prepare to fire at that Char-B if he comes within range” I calmly tell my crew.

 

We all stare in amazement as the French tank moves forward, rapidly firing both guns at the line of German tanks.

 

The German tanks fire back, all nine left in operation are pounding the French tank with everything they can throw at it.

 

Nothing is penetrating!

 

That thing is a beast!

 

The Char-B keeps coming, knocking down tank after tank in the German column.

 

Four German tanks are burning as they are pushed aside by the oncoming French monster.

 

“In Range!” Vogt screams above the sound of more shells firing and the eruption of our compatriots flammable armored vehicles.

 

“Fire!” I scream back.

 

At this range we’re just knocking on the door.

 

“AP” I yell, starting the loading process for my AT gun all over again.

 

The French tank simply continues forward, impervious to all the steel thrown at it.

 

Krause removes an armor piercing shell from the wicker basket, handing it to Fuchs, the loader.

 

Our shell quietly disappears into the Char’s armor, with no discernible result.

 

Fuchs places the AP round gently within the open breach.

 

Pohl closes the breach, making the gun ready.

 

The French tank is closer now.

 

May this round find its way home!

 

“Fire!” I scream, yet again launching an armor piercing shell at the French Char-B.

 

Another two Panzers explode as the Char-B thrusts its way through the small town.

 

“AP” I yell, repeating the loading process.

 

The French tank continues forward so it is now only a few hundred meters away.

 

Again, the shell is absorbed in the French tank’s thick armor, with no result.

 

It’s as if that thing is swallowing our steel, then spitting it back out at our tanks as it goes.

 

Krause removes an armor piercing shell from the wicker basket, handing it to Fuchs, the loader.

 

Fuchs places the AP round gently within the open breach.

 

Pohl closes the breach, making the gun ready.

 

Our tanks rapidly fire at the onrushing French machine, but their shots are as effective as my own.

 

Another two Panzers explode.

 

How many are dying from this one French Char-B?

 

I sure hope he’s alone!

 

“AP” I yell, hoping the closing range will help my rounds penetrate.

 

Krause slowly removes an armor piercing shell from the wicker basket, as he stares at the oncoming French beast.

 

Fuchs reaches out, taking the shell from Krause.

 

Their faces are solid with fear.

 

Is my face expressing the same thing?

 

That monster is under 100 meters away, and still coming strong.

 

“Stay focused on your duty.” I remind my crew.

 

Their faces turn back to their work.

 

Fuchs places the AP round gently within the open breach.

 

Pohl sternly closes the breach, prepping the gun.

 

“Fire!” I yell just as two more Panzers blow up.

 

That’s the last of our tanks.

 

Now it’s up to us.

 

The French tank dashes toward us.

 

Our last round ricocheting off the front armor plate.

 

We’re useless against this behemoth!

 

As he closes range we should penetrate.

 

We should!

 

“AP” I scream, knowing this will be our last round before he’s on us.

 

The French tank’s machine gun opens up on us, spitting rounds all around our position.

 

This is it!

 

Krause gingerly removes an armor piercing shell from the wicker basket, while his body trembles.

 

“Krause, stay with us.”

 

A round smashes through Krause’s left leg, crumpling him just as he hands the round to Fuchs, whose face is pale white.

 

“This is our chance to knock it down, load up Fuchs!” I scream.

 

Fuchs automatically places the round in the breach, which Pohl snaps shut.

 

They are breaking!

 

“Medic! Medic!” Fuchs screams, hoping to help Krause.

 

Am I breaking?

 

“Fire!” I scream, as I stare down the on-rushing French monster.

 

“NOTHING!” I holler before realizing anything slipped out.

 

Krause is whithering in agony on the ground with Fuchs over him.

 

We’re no longer an operational unit.

 

BCHCHCHOOOOO

 

I’m blown away from my gun.

 

Darkness surrounds my small area of remaining site.

 

That Monster bit me too!

 

Looking back toward where my gun had been set-up, I see Pohl dangling over the destroyed breach.

 

I can’t see Fuchs or Krause anywhere.

 

The French tank has already turned, making its way up the small lane to our right.

 

Hopefully the other Pak-36 over there can find a way to penetrate his armor.

 

My eyes go dark.

 

My world goes quiet.

 

My mind goes still.

 

 

 

On May 16, 1940 a single French B1 bis named “Eure” and commanded by Captain Bilotte forced its way into the town of Stonne. Hotly contested, Stonne switched sides 17 times over the course of the German invasion of France. Captain Bilotte’s Eure attacked a German column from Panzer Regiment 8, destroying 2 Panzer IV and 11 Panzer III tanks, along with 2 Pack 36 anti-tank guns. After his successful assault, Captain Billotte turned around, heading back out of the village. His tank had endured 140 shell impacts, all of which failed to penetrate the thick armor of this massive beast of a machine. After the battle Bilotte was nicknamed “The Butcher of Stonne.”

 

Contrary to popular opinion, even though France eventually fell to the German onslaught, the French put up a heck of a fight with some advanced and awesomely powerful equipment. Poor communication, tactics, and strategic leadership, as well as operational plans and some good German luck led to France’s defeat. It wasn’t their ability to inflict heavy losses on the Germans which caused them to fall.

 

Today Captain Bilotte’s Eure can be seen in the center of Stonne. His name is also given to an award in the game “World of Tanks” in which the player destroys a large number of enemy vehicles quickly. Pierre Armand Gaston Bilotte went on to serve as a military attache, a division commander, the head of France’s military mission to the United Nations, and eventually Minister of National Defense.

 

 

 

 

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