Behind Enemy Lines 11-28-2011
by, 11-30-2011 at 05:03 PM (2252 Views)
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
(After playing the Behind Enemy Lines scenario “The Jaws of the Trap” Monday in High Point with Stephen Turner, Jeff Smith, Eric Huffine, and Ken Woody from 7 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.)
By August 1944, the Allies had broken out of Normandy, pushed the Germans back, and retaken Paris. However, the invasion had run out of steam and both sides were consolidated in central France. The Nazis were on the run but the German war machine was still strong.
On August 27, 1944, five soldiers of the 1st Infantry Division had gathered at the tent used by Major Joseph Taylor as his HQ in a tiny, broken village in France. The five had volunteered for what had only been described to each of them as a “dangerous mission” behind enemy lines.
The 19-year-old Corporal Thomas Sawyer had a nickname of “Lefty” because he had been an amateur boxer in his hometown of Chicago, Illinois, and no one ever teased the very large man about his name. He had red hair and a very fair complexion, and looked slim, but it was all muscle. He usually preferred the M1 Garand rifle. He had only been with the 1st Infantry since Normandy and was also trained in demolitions.
Private First Class Norris Polk was from the hills of Tennessee. He was a scrawny kid with sandy brown hair and skin that had been browned from years of working on the farm. A country boy, he had grown up using a cap and ball pistol left over from the civil war. He was an excellent pistol shot and carried a .45 automatic as well as an M1 carbine. His first action with the 1st Infantry had also been at Normandy.
Private First Class Richard “Dick” Carter was from Philadelphia. He was tall and slim with strawberry blonde hair and gray eyes. He was usually armed with a .45 automatic pistol and a Thompson M1 sub-machinegun. He had served with the 1st Infantry since Sicily, having come up Italy with the Big Red One and been part of storming the beaches at Normandy as well. He was rated as a medic.
Buck Private Syd Lafayette was a small, wiry New York City kid. He had a French-Canadian mother and an Italian father, making him very confused about his heritage. He always limited himself to only the equipment he had to carry, often talking other soldiers into carrying his kit and pack as he was not, himself, strong enough to carry it. He tried to limit himself to his rifle and as much ammunition as he could. A sniper, he preferred a Springfield M1903 rifle with a scope. Though it had a smaller magazine and slower action than the M1 Garand, it had a better range. He had served with the 1st Infantry since Italy and had been one of those who stormed the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. The man he’d convinced to carry his pack that fateful day had been killed as soon as he hit the water.
Finally among their number was Buck Private Bobby Smith, a solid young man with dark hair from Akron, Ohio. Rated as a medic, he also carried a Thompson M1 sub-machinegun and was a very solid youth. He had been the manager of a chain grocery store back home and had been with the 1st Infantry since Normandy.
A British officer was present when Major Taylor met with the men.
“Good morning, men,” Major Taylor said to them. “Our British allies have a big operation coming up and it looks like we’re going to get a piece of the action. I’d like to introduce Colonel Sir Rodney Fitzhugh from the British XXX Corps HQ. He’ll put you in the picture.”
“Right!” Colonel Fitzhugh said. “Morning chaps. I suppose you know our Monty has rather run into the thick of things in front of Villet. The whole 2nd Army is going to be held up until we can punch through the Jerry lines there. Monty has a plan that’s going to do just that. We should be in Belgium within a week.
He leaned over the table, where a large map of the area lay.
“Now, here’s where you chaps come in,” he went on. “Our intelligence reports that a Jerry SS Panzer unit is sitting right about ... here ... “
He pointed to the map.
“Jerry Panzer Unit?” Pvt. Polk whispered to Pvt. Carter.
“Tanks, man!” Carter whispered back. “Tanks!”
“... near a village called Bayenne in front of the American sector. And six miles north ... is the only bridge in the area across the River Craelle and that road leads straight to Villet. When Monty jumps off, he can’t afford to have those Panzers thundering down on his flank or rear, don’t you know.
“Here’s where you Yanks come in and pull a small, swift, commando-style raid for us. We can’t count on air strikes for this one, because the timing has to be absolutely precise; blow that bridge too early and the Jerries have time to replace it ... and know something’s afoot to boot. Blow it too late and Monty has Panzers wandering around behind his lines. But if a small team can go in, mine the bridge and wait for the signal that the attack has begun, ah ... then we’ve got them: And when Monty punches a salient through up here north of the Craelle, well, these SS blighters are caught like rats in a trap between Monty and the U.S. First Army. Smashing, what? We’ll mop them up at our leisure.
“I think that’s all I have to say. Major?”
“Thank you, Sir Rodney,” Major Taylor said. “Well men, that’s the picture. It’s a rough assignment, that’s why we asked for volunteers. We know we can count on each and every one of you. “Questions?”
“How big’s the bridge, sir?” Cpl. Sawyer asked.
Major Taylor handed him a couple of aerial photographs of a double span bridge, one a railroad trestle and the other with a road running across it.
“Steel and stone?” Sawyer asked. “That’s a lot of comp B sir.”
“That’s right,” Major Taylor replied. “It’s 30 feet above the level of the river. Central pylons are made of stone and it has a stone railing along either side. Train bridge, road bridge; side by side. The underside of the bridge, from what we understand, is crisscrossed, the entire length, with struts and girders. The bridge is 50 yards long, the road span and the rail span are both 12 yards across. The banks of the river are steep here and the river is quite deep with a strong current. There are no fords in either direction for many miles.”
“We’re not going to carry anything else in the field, sir!” Cpl. Sawyer said.
“You’ll be able to carry something else,” Major Taylor said. “You’ll be fine.”
“Do we know how well it’s guarded?” Pvt. Polk asked.
“Air recon photos indicate the bridge is not guarded at the present time, not even by sentries,” Major Taylor said. “There’s a great deal of flak along the river valley from antiaircraft units to the north, but apparently nothing in the immediate area of the bridge. Those units are one of the reasons why air attacks on the bridge are considered too risky.”
“Where’s the nearest airfield, sir?” Cpl. Sawyer asked. “You think any of those high-flyers would let me borrow one of those 500-pound bombs. That’s what it’s going to take.”
“No,” Major Taylor repeated himself. “There are guns in the valley so we can’t get any aircraft in.”
“I’m not talking about aircraft, sir,” Cpl. Sawyer said. “We’ll have to lug it. We can’t carry enough of comp B to blow that thing.”
“You’ll figure out something, private!”
“Your team will depart American lines in the vicinity of Chalmy,” Major Taylor pointed again to the map. “German lines run north and south along the ridge to the east. You can pick your own route. Bayenne has SS units in it as far as we can tell.”
They all looked over the map.
“You’ll also be carrying along an S300 radio,” Major Taylor went on. “Once you’re in position near the bridge, you’ll broadcast the word ‘Able’ three times, transmitting on the hour for three hours in succession. That should be on the evening of the 28th or the 29th. At 0800 on the morning of the 30th, the British attack is scheduled to begin. The bridge must be blown between 0800 and 0830 hours ... not before, not after. In order to coordinate the attack timetable, the codeword ‘Mousetrap’ will be transmitted from HQ, repeated over and over from 0800 and 0805. Should the attack be delayed, you will not hear the codeword, but you should listen in again at 0900, 1000, and so on. If you do not hear the codeword by 1300, you should consider the mission cancelled and come home.
“Except for the initial ‘in position’ transmission, strict radio silence must be maintained. The Germans are known to have radio monitoring gear in the area and you cannot risk capture.
“You are also expected to report on enemy activity along the course of your travels. HQ would particularly like details of enemy troop strength, quality, and positions near Bayenne. Reports of north- or south-bound convoys, artillery positions, and the presence of armor in the area are all vital bits of information which HQ needs. Gathering it is secondary to the primary objective. You must not jeopardize your chances of getting to the bridge and blowing it up. After that, you’re on your own and sudden attacks south of the Craelle might even help draw German attention away from the British attack to the north.
“If the British attack is called off, you are not to blow the bridge. Other targets of opportunity may be attacked at your squad’s discretion.
“There is the possibility that your team will be able to get into position but not transmit ‘Able,’ nor receive the command ‘Mousetrap’ because your radio is lost or damaged. If ‘Able’ is not received by HQ and the attack is on, a reconnaissance aircraft will be sent out shortly before the attack starts. It will drop a red flare over the field south of the bridge to indicate that the attack is on and that the bridge should be blown if possible.
“Upon returning to friendly lines, you should send up two blue flares. You must give the password ‘Cowboy’ when challenged. The recognition will be ‘Roundup.’”
He told them they would leave at 2100 hours and dismissed them.
Cpl. Sawyer figured they would need about 90 pounds of the explosive called composition B. It consisted of a mix of RDX and TNT and was more readily available than other explosives. He also figured he was going to need a good deal of detonator wire.
Looking over the map, they realized that the bridge was some 12 miles past the Merdet River. Pvt. Lafayette wanted to cross the ridge near Chalmy but Cpl. Sawyer pointed out that there were Germans all around Bayenne and the surrounding vicinity. They talked a little of floating down the Craelle but learned it flowed towards the Merdet. They decided to cross the Merdet north of Chalmy near the Craelle River.
They made sure they requisitioned plenty of weaponry, ammunition, and grenades. Sawyer also made sure that everyone was laden with explosives and that Smith had 100 feet of rope. Pvt. Polk would carry the radio. Lafayette talked Smith into carrying his pack. They made sure they had black stocking caps and face black. Cpl. Sawyer ordered them to bring their helmets as well. Lafayette conveniently forgot his.
* * *
They set out at 2100 hours under a waxing half moon and cloudy skies. They reached the river around midnight, crossing to the north side of the Craelle in a rubber boat without incident. They proceeded east along the Craelle with great care.
They soon came across a dirt road that ran along the Craelle and followed it, staying between the road and the river. A few hundred yards down, they spotted a tree that had fallen across the road. They crouched down and conferred, Cpl. Sawyer using the field glasses to examine the area. He didn’t see any sign of life near the tree or in the surrounding brush. They marked it on the map and bypassed it. The road soon headed away from the river.
A thick forest soon appeared on the opposite side of the Craelle. Before they proceeded, Cpl. Sawyer broke out the field glasses once again and examined the woods carefully, but again saw no sign of the enemy. They continued along the river, the dark forest thick on the other side of the river.
Sometime later, around 0430, the land started to drop slightly. They soon heard two men speaking in German somewhere ahead. The squad stopped, fanned out, and hunkered down. They could hear two voices somewhere ahead and sometimes the sound of something small hitting the water. No one in the squad spoke German, though Lafayette spoke French fluently.
Cpl. Sawyer signaled to Pvt. Lafayette, and the latter crept to the man. He ordered him to move up and see what he could with the scope of his rifle. Pvt. Lafayette nodded and crawled down the slope towards the river. Through a break in the trees, he spotted two men who appeared to be in uniform. He watched them for some minutes. They were simply talking and throwing rocks into the water.
He signaled back to the corporal that there two of the enemy were near the river. Then he crept back. The squad moved further from the river and skirted around the two men, marking their position as best they could on the map.
They soon came to a place where a small creek crossed the river. Cpl. Sawyer looked over the area but realized they were starting to get some light in the east and were not near the woods where they wanted to be. He ordered Pvt. Lafayette to cross the river while the rest of the men covered him. Lafayette made a crouched run to the creek and found it was only about two feet deep, quickly crossing it and dropping prone in the tall grass on the other side.
Pvt. Polk, meanwhile, had sat down and taken off his boots and his socks. He tied his boots around his neck. Cpl. Sawyer just shook his head before they all crossed the creek, one at a time at speed, those not crossing covering those who were.
“We need to make those trees before daylight,” Pvt. Lafayette hissed to the Corporal.
They cut away from the Craelle and came across train tracks that were clearly marked on the map. They continued following the downward slope of the land towards the road and then spotted, down the slope from them and about 100 yards away, a machinegun position on the opposite side of the road. As one, the squad dropped into the tall grass and stopped moving. Looking through the field glasses, Cpl. Sawyer saw that there were two German soldiers in the position with the machinegun pointing up the road away from the bridge. He saw no sign of an antenna but could see that the MG42 was dug in slightly with sandbags around the edges of the foxhole.
They moved back towards the rail line and discussed the machinegun position. Cpl. Sawyer pointed out that if they were guarding the road that led to the north, there was a greater concentration of Germans at the bridge. He also noted that if they didn’t have a radio, then they were close to some form of German support.
“Maybe that’s all the guards on the bridge, sir,” Pvt. Smith said.
“Hopefully,” Cpl. Sawyer said. “And don’t call me sir.”
He sent Pvt. Lafayette down the road a little further down the road to try to find them a clear spot to cross. The rest of the squad crept back to the railroad tracks and took cover there. Lafayette moved down about 500 yards under the ever-brightening sky and found a spot where he could see neither the machinegun position nor the bridge. As he moved back, he noticed a German patrol down the railway, about 500 yards to the east. He counted 10 men, all of them walking east and examining the tracks as they went.
He crept back to the others as quickly as possible.
“I found a path,” he told them. “Get you to the other side of the tree line. I just skirted a patrol of 10 men examining the tracks. They’re moving towards the bridge.”
Cpl. Sawyer inhaled through his teeth.
“I don’t know if they’re planning to come back with work crews or what,” Lafayette went on. “But they were definitely focused on the tracks themselves. Probably an engineering team.”
“How far away was that patrol?” Cpl. Sawyer asked.
Pvt. Lafayette guessed about 1,000 yards.
They crept to the road and carefully crossed it into the thick woods beyond. They had just entered when they heard a thrashing sound ahead of them. The entire squad froze and then spread out, weapons ready, but the sound stopped and did not continue.
“What do you think, Polk?” Cpl. Sawyer asked.
“I think it was an animal,” Pvt. Polk said.
“Animal or bird or something.”
Pvt. Polk suggested they move deeper into the woods and they did so, but then followed the woods to the southeast, closer to the bridge, so they could see their objective.
Lafayette found himself very disappointed at the U.S. Military Intelligence.
The two bridges were crawling with Germans. A machinegun position fortified with sandbags stood on either shore of the river between the two bridges. At least three men were in each position. Across the bridge on the south side were three tents in the scattered trees there. Two German sentries walked each of the spans, one armed with a rifle and the other with a sub-machinegun. Worse, however, was the half-track mounting two MG 34s near the far side of the railroad bridge. Even worse, in Cpl. Sawyer’s opinion, was the Panzer IV tank that sat near the eastern bridge, its engine idling. Parked not far from the tank was a 2-ton truck.
Pvt. Lafayette suggested they jump the machinegun position they had passed to get some extra ordinance. He also noted that he could shoot the officers first. He had already spotted a couple of them in the foxholes.
“We can’t open up on them with anything that we have to stick with,” Cpl. Sawyer said. “We can’t place a machinegun nest because that panzer, the first thing it’s going to do is lock on the muzzle flash and we’re all done. We’ve got to shoot and move, shoot and move, shoot and move. If we’re going to get into a fight, we have to stay mobile. We can’t chain ourselves to a machinegun. Not with that panzer down there. Not with those two machineguns on that halftrack.”
“Okay,” Pvt. Lafayette said. “So, who brought the bazooka?”
“Nobody, but I wish we had one right now,” Cpl. Sawyer said.
“Well, all the panzers were in the other town!” Pvt. Lafayette said.
“Not that one,” Cpl. Sawyer said. “I would really rather not assault this place with four guys.”
Pvt. Smith cleared his throat.
“Sorry, five,” Cpl. Sawyer said.
“Four and a half,” Pvt. Lafayette said.
“Do you want me to send the ‘Able’ signal, corporal?” Pvt. Smith said. “Aren’t we supposed to send a signal?”
“On the 29th!” Cpl. Sawyer said.
“Oh, sorry,” Pvt. Smith said.
“We send the signal on the 29th,” Cpl. Sawyer said.
“Okay Corporal,” Pvt. Smith said. “Okay.”
“We’re going to be dead long before that,” Pvt. Lafayette muttered.
“Are we digging in here?” Pvt. Smith asked Cpl. Sawyer.
“Not here,” Cpl. Sawyer told him. “We’re not digging in anywhere. We’re going to find a spot to get some sleep. As a matter of fact ... Smith, Carter, Polk: secure us an area somewhere near here where we can bed down for a few hours.”
The three men headed deeper into the woods while Cpl. Sawyer and Pvt. Lafayette discussed what to do.
“The best I got for the tank is stick some comp B in the barrel,” Cpl. Sawyer said. “Now that’s nighttime, sneaking up on a tank.”
Pvt. Lafayette looked sick to his stomach.
“If we’re lucky, we wait a day and it will drive off,” Cpl. Sawyer went on.
Pvt. Lafayette suggested that if the tank left or went on patrol, that would be the time to act and move. Cpl. Sawyer agreed but noted that it depended on when it happened. They also talked about how long it would take to set the charges and wire. Cpl. Sawyer talked about destroying the stone pylon in the center of each span. When Pvt. Lafayette pointed out that they could make repairs to it, Sawyer said that if there was an attack going on, they wouldn’t have time.
“If we manage to pull that off, that cuts the half-track and the tank and the 2-ton off,” Cpl. Sawyer said. “They can’t get to us on this side.”
“Yeah, but their bullets can,” Pvt. Lafayette said.
He liked the idea of a diversion of some kind and suggested trying to get a German radio and using his fluency in French to make a fake broadcast, indicating that the French were going to attack somewhere further south, in the hopes that it would take some of the Germans away from the bridge.
Five 3-ton trucks filled with German troops passed their position, crossed the bridge, and continued south.
“That changes things,” Cpl. Sawyer said.
“Yeah, it does,” Pvt. Lafayette said.
They discussed the fact that if the road were used, trying to get the machinegun from the position north of the bridge would be that much harder. Lafayette again pushed his radio diversion idea, even suggesting making it sound like French partisans were supporting a 101st airborne drop outside of Durpon, a tiny French village several miles to the southeast. Cpl. Sawyer pointed out that radio silence had been ordered and he didn’t want to stir things up.
“I can’t think of a way to get these people off the bridge,” Pvt. Lafayette said.
“I don’t know that there’s necessarily any way to get these people off the bridge,” Cpl. Sawyer admitted.
“They outlawed mustard gas ...” Pvt. Lafayette said.
“As much as I hate to say this, right now we need to ruck down and get some sleep,” Cpl. Sawyer said.
“I don’t have a problem with that.”
“And we’ll see how the camp looks at night. We’ll see if the tank is still there, the halftrack, that truck. They may run a skeleton crew at night. We’ll just have to see.”
He headed deeper into the woods, leaving Lafayette on watch.
* * *
Pvt. Polk, Pvt. Carter, and Pvt. Smith found a thicket in the woods. While Pvt. Polk started to look around for a high tree that they could use to observe the bridges, Pvt. Carter and Private Smith started digging foxholes. The radio was secured in one of the small foxholes, using fallen branches and debris to conceal it as best they could.
When Cpl. Sawyer returned, he found a small, concealed encampment. Polk told him he could not find a tree with a good vantage point.
* * *
Over the course of the day, they watched the bridge encampment and the road.
In all, there were two officers visible in the encampment, both of them only armed with side arms. Two men manned each MG 34 machinegun position while two more stood sentry on each span. The Germans kept approximately four-hour shifts before being relieved by men from the tents and the Americans counted a dozen soldiers altogether, not including the three men on the halftrack and the five man crew of the panzer. None of the Germans examined the bridge in any way, merely guarded it.
They also spotted more traffic on the road than they expected and kept careful records of what moved. During the course of the day they spotted five more 3-ton trucks filled with German soldiers moving south. Other trucks moved north along the road.
Towards dusk the panzer turned and drove across the bridge, following the road north. Less than an hour later, another 12th SS Panzer Division panzer IV rolled down the road and took the position on the south side of the bridge. When they discussed what they’d seen, they realized that the tanks weren’t where Intelligence indicated they should be. It looked like the 12th SS Panzer Division was north of the Craelle and it wasn’t very far away.
“If they’re actually north of us ...” Pvt. Lafayette said.
“We’ve got to bring all of those tanks south,” Cpl. Sawyer finished.
Pvt. Smith looked surprised at that.
Pvt. Lafayette again proposed stealing a radio, perhaps from the panzer, and using it to sew confusion among the Germans. If the Germans were already north of the Craelle, it would complicate General Montgomery’s plan. He also suggested that they convince the 12th Panzer Division to come to the bridge and then blow it up. Pvt. Smith was worried that they were exceeding their orders.
“We still have a couple of days,” Cpl. Sawyer said. “Maybe military intelligence is basing their information on the panzer division supposed to be moving south.”
Pvt. Carter suggested two men go north through the woods and see if they could see any sign of the 12th SS Panzer Division. Cpl. Sawyer noted that they needed to see what the guard shifts were like at night as that would be the only option for wiring the bridges.
When the sun went down, they could see that the only light in the encampment was on the tank. More observation proved that the Germans obviously had electric torches, though they rarely used them. The Germans kept about the same shifts and there was no sign of the halftrack crew at night. The tank continued to idle throughout the night with crewmen occasionally leaving it.
Pvt. Lafayette again suggested that they lure the panzers south.
Well after dark, Cpl. Sawyer decided to try to mine the bridges. Pvt. Lafayette suggested that he go upstream, get a log or something that would float out of the forest, and drift downstream to the bridge.
“I’ll take high security,” he went on. “If anyone spots you, I’ll shoot them first.”
“Only if they open fire on me,” Cpl. Sawyer said. “Which is going to be really hard for them to do, because I’m going to be under a bridge. If they just look like they’re looking at something, don’t shoot them. Okay? If I’m in imminent danger, pull the trigger.”
“All right,” Pvt. Lafayette said. “I will do that much. I would suggest you take at least one of these guys with you. I would go with you but you need somebody who can shoot somebody on the off chance you get spotted.”
“All right, which ones of you want a quick and dirty lesson on demolitions?” Cpl. Sawyer turned to the other men. “Smith, you’re staying in the rear with the gear.”
“Yes sir,” Pvt. Smith replied. “Uh ... corporal. Yes corporal.”
Cpl. Sawyer showed Pvt. Polk and Pvt. Carter the basics of placing the explosives. He also said they would take side arms only. They would use the face black and stocking caps as well. All three of them could swim, which would be helpful.
They waited until midnight before making their way east about a quarter of a mile under partially cloudy skies. They found three dry logs that were large enough to hold the gear and float them down the river. They loaded up the explosives, caps, and wire and put into the water.
They made it to the first pylon without being noticed, placing the logs against the upstream side of the pylon and hoping that the current would hold them in place. Then the three Americans climbed the central pylon as quietly as they could and got into the superstructure under the eastern bridge. Cpl. Sawyer had told the others where he wanted them to lay the explosives. The three men set to work and, working together, took less than two hours to set explosives and wire the entire span. Cpl. Sawyer tied bullets to the wire that would be under water between the bridges.
They had almost finished and were clustered under the south side of the span when Cpl. Sawyer, while attempting to move one of the charges that Pvt. Polk had set, slipped and fell. He tumbled down but turned the fall into a dive and hit the water without a loud splash. The other two saw his head appear in the river and float downstream towards the other pylon.
“Vas is das?” Cpl. Sawyer heard a voice above his head.
He vanished under the other bridge, playing out the wire behind him as best he could.
Pvt. Carter moved to the pylon and climbed carefully down. It was 10 minutes later before Polk arrived. He told Carter that he’d seen both Germans on the railway span looking down at the water. The Americans found two of the had floated away. Pvt. Carter floated downstream holding onto the log with the explosives. Pvt. Polk floated down on his own, staying underwater as much as he could. They found Sawyer clinging to the western pylon.
They climbed the pylon and wired the bridge with explosives as quietly as they could, this time without incident. They climbed back down the pylon and floated downstream.
* * *
Pvt. Lafayette, at his post on the ridge, had seen the Germans on the railroad span move to the east side of the bridge and look down a couple of hours after the others had left. Roughly two hours later, he saw one of the men move to the west side of the span and look down towards the water. In each case, he had rested his aim on the alerted men, but the men merely went back to his patrol.
* * *
The three Americans floated as far as the wire would allow, which was only about 25 yards, going ashore on the north side of the river where they hid and secured the end of the wire and the detonator near another creek. They crept back down the road to their crossing spot and back into the woods.
Over the course of the night, Pvt. Lafayette spotted a good deal more traffic moving along both the road and the rail. He saw two different groups of four halftracks mounting quad 20mm aircraft guns moving north; two different motorcycles with sidecars moving north; a 5 ton truck heading north; a convoy of five 3-ton trucks, eight horse-drawn carts, two halftracks, and a Mark V Panther moving north, and several convoys of 3-ton trucks moving south. Three trains pulling boxcars crossed the bridge heading south, none of them lit in any way.
* * *
It was again cloudy on the morning of August 29. There was some discussion of sending a man back to alert command that the intelligence was wrong and the 12th SS Panzer Division was not where they thought it was. Pvt. Lafayette again put forth his idea of getting a radio somehow, possibly by attacking a vehicle on the road. When Cpl. Sawyer asked for what purpose, Lafayette said that they could take the radio out in the woods, send a coded message and then leave the radio on to draw the Germans triangulating on it away from the area.
They continued to monitor troop movement and the soldiers on the bridge for the rest of the day. They signaled “Able” three times over the course of three hours that evening. They saw more traffic that night but no German patrols came near their position.
Around 4 a.m., they broke camp and moved down to the river near the creek, leaving Pvt. Lafayette and Pvt. Smith on the ridge. Pvt. Polk was left at the detonator some 25 yards from the bridge while Cpl. Sawyer and Pvt. Carter carried the radio to a more sheltered place some 80 yards downstream of Polk’s position.
* * *
On the morning of August 30, 0800 came and went without a whisper from the radio. When 0900 came and went, they began to worry. 1000 hours came and went, as did 1100, 1200, and 1300 hours without the signal.
“It’s off,” Pvt. Carter said.
“It’s off!” Cpl. Sawyer muttered.
* * *
“What do you think we should do?” Pvt. Smith asked Pvt. Lafayette when 1300 hours went and the bridge didn’t explode.
“We wait until the bridge blows or Polk leaves,” Pvt. Lafayette said.
Smith looked down towards the river with the field glasses.
“Yeah, he’s still there,” he said.
* * *
Another hour passed while Cpl. Sawyer and Pvt. Carter looked at the sky for any sign of the aircraft that was supposed to be the backup signal.
“Let’s go,” Cpl. Sawyer said, looking at his watch at 1400 hours. “The attack’s off.”
Pvt. Carter cursed.
They signaled to Polk to come back and the private hid the detonator and made his way as carefully and quietly as possible back to the secondary camp.
* * *
“Polk’s moving!” Smith said.
He’d been looking down at the other man every five minutes or so.
“When he is out of sight, we move,” Pvt. Lafayette said.
“We going back the way we came?” Pvt. Smith asked.
The other man nodded.
Pvt. Smith left. Pvt. Lafayette gave him about 10 minutes before he headed out as well.
* * *
Pvt. Polk reached the secondary camp first.
“What’s going on?” he said.
“No word,” Cpl. Sawyer told him. “No flare. No plane. No ‘Mousetrap.’”
He looked at the bridge with a frown.
Pvt. Smith arrived around 1425 hours and told them that Lafayette was about 10 minutes behind him. At 1435, Pvt. Lafayette arrived.
“Guess we’re heading back,” Cpl. Sawyer said.
Pvt. Smith looked up at the cloudless blue sky overhead.
“Now, or would you rather wait?” Pvt. Lafayette said.
“I’d rather wait,” Cpl. Sawyer said. “We’re in a decent position right now. We’ll wait this out the rest of the day. We’re also in a decent position in case the plane’s just running late.”
“Even the air force ain’t this slow,” Pvt. Lafayette said.
“We’ll see,” Cpl. Sawyer said.
* * *
“You hear that?” Pvt. Carter said.
Around 1545 hours, they spotted a Piper Cub over the field south of the bridge. It dropped two red flares and then came under heavy anti-aircraft fire from guns to the south. It disappeared to the west, struggling. About the same time, they could hear trucks on the road south of the bridge and the sound of a train south of the bridge as well.
Pvt. Polk leapt up and ran towards the detonator. Pvt. Lafayette lay down on the ground and aimed at the bridge. Cpl. Sawyer, Pvt. Carter, and Pvt. Smith all positioned themselves aiming at the bridge as well.
“He’s gonna die,” Pvt. Lafayette muttered as he watched Pvt. Polk run down the riverbank.
Pvt. Polk got to the detonator before any of the Germans spotted him, however. Vehicles were then crossing the bridge and a train was also approaching. One of the Germans looked in Polk’s direction and raised his rifle to his shoulder as he yelled.
The Americans opened fire. The bullet from Pvt. Lafayette’s Springfield struck the man in the shoulder. Cpl. Sawyer missed, his bullet striking the wall near the German. Pvt. Carter fired a short burst from his Thompson sub-machinegun, two bullets striking the German. Pvt. Smith’s burst struck the bridge as the German fell.
Pvt. Polk reached the detonator, twisted it, and pushed down the plunger.
Polk looked up at the bridge and then down at the detonator. In his haste to set off the explosives, he saw that he’d pulled the wires out. He desperately reconnected them and then sent the plunger home once again, ducking his head.
The explosion that rocked both bridges destroyed each of them. The train that was crossing was thrown up into the air and came back down, having almost made it across the bridge before the explosion, crashing into the south shore of the river. Trucks in the convoy were flung into the air and the force of the explosion knocked the 2-ton truck onto its side. There was chaos around the bridge.
Polk looked up, surprised at being alive that close to the explosion. Debris had crashed all around him but nothing had landed on him. He quickly made his way back to the others and they fled the area.
* * *
The Americans stumbled across a small German patrol in a lightly wooded area on the way back. Pvt. Lafayette was in the lead and was able to fire a shot at the lead German soldier even as the man mowed him down with automatic weapons fire from his MP 40. Lafayette’s bullet struck the German in the face and he went down without a sound.
Everyone else ran for cover though both Cpl. Sawyer and Pvt. Polk were able to fling grenades at the Germans. Pvt. Polk’s grenade landed near the German who had dropped down behind the body of the dead soldier while Cpl. Sawyer’s grenade had fallen far to the right of where he’d wanted it, but still near the other two Germans who had taken cover behind a large tree. The two grenades exploded almost simultaneously, the blasts devastating the Germans. Only the one who had partially protected by the tree survived and he fell to the ground, jerking and twitching.
“Carter! Get to Lafayette!” Cpl. Sawyer yelled.
Pvt. Polk drew his side arm and shot the twitching German, who stopped moving.
Cpl. Sawyer yelled for Smith to get to Polk and cover the corridor where the Germans had appeared. Pvt. Carter got to Pvt. Lafayette and dragged him to cover, only to find him dead.
They carried Lafayette’s body back to their own lines.
* * *
General Montgomery was known for his reluctance to attack before everything was ready, and this was the case in his attack on Villet. The attack was called off on the evening of the 29th, but the raiders could not be recalled in time. Early on the morning of the 30th, it became clear that the Germans were up to something; there was evidence that the SS Panzer at Bayenne had moved north of the Craelle, possibly as a prelude to an attack against the British. By 1000 hours, it had been decided that the Craelle bridge must be blown immediately, to interfere with the German movement north. With luck, they might be confused enough to call off their attack or allow a British counterattack before the full weight of the SS Panzer unit could be brought into the battle.
The orders were sent but it took time for them to filter through the chain of command. The go-ahead signal “Mousetrap” was not transmitted until 1430, after the raiders had stopped listening to the radio altogether.