D-Day Minus Two
Skies Over France Approaching Neuville-au-Plain, Normandy.
The sirens were now in full swing within the airplane. The Luftwaffe had somehow found out that the Americans were doing dead-drops that night and decided to stop it proactively. And they sent whatever they had our way to stop. For some time now, the Germans had known the air drops were happening and they knew that something big was coming up- they just didn’t know when or where. From the gossip that James had heard, the Germans decided to pick their poison- choosing to concentrate most of their forces more for an Allied invasion of France from the English channel as opposed to picking up every single airborne drop of pockets of soldiers and try to stop it. They did, however, pick their moments and attack an airdrop when they wanted to. James thought it was just to keep die Amerikaner on their toes.
Inside the plane, there was what could, in very mild terms be described as chaos. Soldiers were being thrown off-balance by the occasional hits the plane was taking from Luftwaffe fire, orders were being barked from nobody in particular to nobody in particular. In the din, James tried to have a decent conversation with Sergeant Nick Carson on what to do next.
“What?” James asked, not knowing if he heard the sergeant right.
“I said, DROP!” he said, complementing his words with action – his index finger was pointing at the open door a few feet away from them.
“Now? We’re nowhere close!” James protested, meekly.
“It isn’t going to… JESUS CHRIST!” Nick shouted as he fell back when the plane took yet another hit. James barely avoided falling on top of another soldier himself.
“It isn’t going to reach. We’re near Neuville right now! Get onto the ground and figure something out in the town. Just get the hell off this plane!”
“My team…” James began
“THERE ARE NO TEAMS CORPORAL! EVERY MAN FOR HIMSELF! DO YOU UNDERSTAND?” Nick shouted, a terminal note in his voice leaving no room for doubt or further conversation.
Picking up his rifle, James stood in line to jump out of the hatch. There were five soldiers ahead of him. He didn’t really know how he felt about diving into the sky in the middle of a dogfight between the Germans and the British. In all likelihood, the Germans would machine-gun him to death.
As if to confirm his fears a stream of bullets from a Luftwaffe machine gun rained past, narrowly missing the plane as O’Connor banked further to the right in response. “What are those fighter pilots who came with us doing?” the soldier in front of James shouted, referring to the additional protection that the plane had with the two Hurricane fighters accompanying it.
“They’re not even giving us a fucking chance!” another shouted from the back.
“Guys shut the fuck up! Let me do my job and get off the damn plane as fast as you can! I can’t hold this thing for very long!” O’Connor shouted through the intercom, temporarily succeeding in silencing the plane.
James was momentarily taken aback as the soldier in front him- whom he did not recognise- turned back and said “Good luck, sir! We’re going to need it!”
And with that, there was no one else left. Looking down through the hatch, he counted till three after the previous guy jumped. As he did this, all he could see was a stream of white clouds going in a zigzag pattern as O’Connor did all he could to try and avoid the Germans. Beneath the clouds, the fields of Normandy whizzed past. It reminded him of when they showed the Wild West in some Hollywood movies- especially those with train scenes through Colorado or something.
As soon as he reached three, training took over and James Kirby jumped. He just didn’t know if he was jumping into France or into hell.
Well what’s the difference anyway? he thought wryly as he let gravity and fate take control of his body.
D-Day Minus Two.
Somewhere in rural France.
“Klaus!” Aron called from inside the house. For his part, Morstein sat outside the house on the staircase – the same ones Bergheim had used for his show of hierarchy that evening. Klaus was enjoying the cool breeze and didn’t like to be disturbed when he was one with nature. So he pretended not to hear Aron.
“Klaus!” Aron called out again, this time much louder than before. Ignoring a second call would’ve been a folly. And he didn’t want to commit a folly when he found friends in the German Army hard to come by these days.
Pushing the door open, Klaus found Aron studying a paper intently. As he approached closer, Klaus noticed the eagle carrying the swastika at the top of the sheet, below which were the words, Oberkommando Des Heeres, clearly visible thanks to it’s bold lettering.
“You have a fax from the Army High Command?” Klaus asked, a little disbelievingly.
“You bet,” Aron said, with no emotion, “and we’ve got bad news.”
Klaus half-expected it. Why else would the High Command send a fax to a bunch of people stuck in the middle of France waiting for more people to join them?
“What is it?”
“It says that as we speak, the Luftwaffe is successfully intercepting an attempted airborne attack and air drop by the Allies. They do, however, believe that a number of soldiers are going to survive the drop. Since Neuville is the nearest town, they believe most of the Allies will regroup there.We are to go and fight them there.”
“They want us to get to the town and take it,” he replied.
There was a brief moment of silence before Aron continued, “There’s more to the letter. ‘You are to join with ten members from the 7th Army, including and under Unteroffizier Rainer Schwaab who are currently approaching the town from the east. From here, Unteroffizier Schwaab and Unteroffizier Bergheim will draw up plans for possible a assault on Neuville-au-Plain. We expect the enemy to be defeated. May victory be yours. Heil Hitler.'”
Aron and Klaus looked at each other for a full ten seconds, each of them processing the information in his own way. Finally, as if simultaneously kicked in the head by an invisible foot, they both sprung into action.
“I’ll start packing stuff. We have to leave under cover of darkness.” Klaus said.
“And I’ll get the word out to Bergheim.” Aron replied, as he tried furiously to reach Bergheim through the radio.
James landed with a soft thud on the soft French soil. He struggled to get up under the weight of the parachute. Once he did succeed in doing that, after unlocking the harness, he ascertained where he was.
God bless the guy who found out the earth has magnetic poles, he thought as he looked around him before consulting his compass.
Neuville-au-Plain was a town about three miles from where he was standing. In the distance, he could see a lonely light shimmering in the darkness that had enveloped France. In stark contrast to the cold wind he had been put through during the dive from heaven, ground level France was far warmer and comforting than he thought it would be.
Picking up his gun and trying to stay crouched down, he scurried across the plains, following suit of the soldiers before him. In the skies, meanwhile, battle raged on as the Hurricanes tried to deal with the Luftwaffe planes. The yellow tracer bullets and the occasional clash of fire and metal gave the atmosphere above a rather festive feel- a darkly colourful backdrop on which the canvas of war was to be painted on the ground.
James moved towards the light a little faster. The faster he could reach the town of Neuville, the safer he was. He didn’t want to risk being there if and when the German planes suddenly turned their attention to the defenceless ants on the ground. Of course, he didn’t see the sense in wasting precious ammunition on a bunch of twenty or thirty soldiers scattered over a three kilometer radius. Then again, he wasn’t a German. He didn’t really understand the way they thought.
“Where the hell are we supposed to go again?” Bergheim asked, at the end of Aron’s reading of the letter.
“Neuville-au-Plain. It’s about thirty miles from here.” Aron said.
“Show me the letter.” Bergheim commanded, and Aron obeyed. Bergheim studied it for some time. It was almost as if he didn’t believe what he was seeing. Putting th letter down, he exhaled deeply.
“Alright. You guys packed?” he asked Aron and Klaus. Both nodded in the affirmative.
“Then, we shall leave for Neuville immediately. We will camp ten miles south east of the town and then attempt to contact the other group- the one under… what’s his name again?”
“Unteroffizier Rainer Schwaab, sir.” Aron replied.
“Yes. That guy. We will attempt to contact them there. Any questions?”
“Yes sir,” Jurgen Ramstein, one of the other soldiers and a man who was a fervent Nazi said, “what happens if we can’t contact them?” He cast a suspicious look at Aron, who simply looked down in response. Klaus thought they had some history- at least that was the feeling he got.
“We’ll find them, Ramstein.”
He thought for a moment though and then added, for good measure, “We have to.”
That’s all he could think of when James made it to near the entrance of the Church of St. Mary. Pausing for a moment to catch his breath, he hoisted his rifle on his back and wiped tears of sweat from his eyes. The air battle in the skies had abated a few minutes ago. From what he could gather, neither side scored a victory but suffered enough damage to make a mutual end to hostility the best option. Quickly gathering his wits about him as only a military man could, he shouted the secret code for identifying American personnel.
“FLASH!” came the response from one of the men inside.
Assured that he was dealing with the right people, he walked in through the half-destroyed door and quickly took in the scene. The church was barely lit by itself. Save the lamp hanging near the door, there was no other source of light. A few of the soldiers had switched on their torches and were sitting in the Church. Near the altar, he could see the silhouettes of two people- one of whom was applying something to the other.
“What happened there?” he asked the soldier who happened to pass by him.
Turning back to take a look at what James was seeing, the other man said, “That’s Sergeant Carson. He took a hit from a machine gunner on his way down.”
“Is he going to make it?”
“Doesn’t look like it.” he said, before asking, “Do you know him well?”
“He was my CO. That’s about it.” James replied, matter-of-factly. He did, however, feel obligated to go and see him. So he made his way past the numerous soldiers sitting and lying down on the ground, exhausted from the dive and the run through the fields, making sure to avoid stepping on anyone’s toes or any other part of their body.
When he reached the altar, he saw an army medic pour more morphine into an open wound on the abdomen even as he simultaneously tried to stem the blood flow. James quickly looked away. He hated seeing blood- it was the one thing in the world that made him vomit.
Carson turned to face his new visitor and recognised his immediate junior in rank- even in a fair amount of darkness. Amidst the stress of battle, the mind-numbing pain and the haze of morphine, he still had enough about himself to get through speaking.
“Listen, James,” he winced as the medic tried to close out the wound further to prevent blood loss, “I can’t…I’m not…going to make it.”
“That’s BS, man.” James started to say when Carson cut him off with by raising his hand.
“Get…Get…” he struggled a little bit, “Get the soldiers…and defend this town. This place has a stream and a bridge which we’ll need to…which we’ll need to hold.”
He paused as he dealt with the pain by wincing and screaming out loud- a few expletives flowing a little more freely along with the screaming and the wincing. Once he found himself able to deal with the pain again, he spoke again, with increasing difficulty and with increasing winces and pauses.
“The bridge…it’s the only way to get to Cherbourg…The Germans…The Germans…they know that. And they will fight you for it…It’s solid property down there…. If you can’t hold ’em… blow the bridge.”
James took in the information like a sponge took in water. He understood what Carson was saying. The Allied assault that was to take place a few days from now, had Cherbourg as one of it’s targets and from Cherbourg, the idea was to advance to Paris. And in order to do that, they would need to cross a river- James forgot the name of it. But suffice to say they could not do it without bridges. Most bridges in France had been destroyed by Allied bombing raids in the preceding months to slow down German mobilization but a few of them were left intact. The one at Neuville-au-Plain was one of them.
The original plan was that the airborne assault on Neuville would take place about four days after the invasion of the beaches of Normandy. Then again, the original plan had not included a surprise Luftwaffe attack on a mission to a city much further to the south of Neuville.
James’ thoughts were interrupted when he heard the medic call out his name. Satisfied that he had James’ attention, he said in a solemn voice, “I’m sorry sir. Sergeant Carson is no more.”
Instantaneously, he removed his helmet as a sign of respect. He didn’t know much about Nick Carson. But he did know that he was a patriot who was willing to go to any lengths to protect his men. That, to James, was enough to earn anybody’s respect. The medic, meanwhile, withdrew from the scene as quietly as he could. James stared for some more time at the body, his mind numb and blank.
As he continued to stand there, he heard footsteps next to him. He turned to his right and saw the leader of the other company- Corporal Kyle Miller. Like James, he too stood silently and didn’t speak a word.
“He was a good man.” James said, testing the waters.
“He was.” Miller replied.
They stood there for some more time in silence, helmets in their hands. As word of Carson’s death spread, soldiers around the Church began to stand up and salute him in respect. Some of them even said prayers. Miller and James, however, stayed stoically in the same position, unmoved by what was happening behind them. After what seemed like an eternity of silence, Miller finally asked James the question on everybody’s mind.