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»  COMBATSIM.COM ARCHIVE FORUM   » Archives   » EAW Archive 4   » OT: Story - 'Sand Rats'

   
Author Topic: OT: Story - 'Sand Rats'
Old Guy
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Member # 1606

posted 09-17-2000 10:22 PM     Profile for Old Guy   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message   Edit/Delete Post
This one even has airplanes in it. For awhile.

**************************

Sand Rats

May 25, 1942, Adler 21, FW 189, north of Gazala

Max leveled off at 4,000 meters and headed generally north. He keyed the intercom, "I don't like this, Felix."

His co-pilot shook his head. "Neither do I. We're pushing our luck, if you ask me."

On the previous two mornings, just after dawn, Max and his crew had flown their FW-189 on a south to north course along the Gazala line, taking photographs of the British defense system. No RAF aircraft had interfered on either day. Intelligence wanted more pictures and they wanted them this morning. His argument with the Intel captain had not been productive.


"Goddamn it," he said, pounding the desk, "Running the same route over and over is an open invitation to getting us shot down!" In retrospect, he figured the desk pounding was probably not a good idea.

The captain purpled and shouted some nonsense about needing more photos.

"Captain," replied Max, calming down just a little, "I could get your people pictures of every Allied soldier over there, complete with name, rank, geographical location, unit assignment, and the name of the last woman they screwed. I could get you bastards all that and it still wouldn't be enough! You'd probably want the lady's address, too." That didn't go over well either. The Intel officer stomped off in a towering rage. Max went off to the mess tent.

The Colonel in charge of Intelligence found him there a few minutes later. He sat down on an empty fuel can and grinned, "Max, you're going to have to take it easy with Kluge. He takes his job very, very seriously. Show him a little respect."

"Why should I, sir?" retorted Max. "He's doing his level best to get me killed. He's a captain - I'm a captain. I'll call him a dumbkopf whenever he acts like one." He tossed away the last of his coffee. "This coffee tastes like camel dung."

"Ah, yes," said the Colonel. "One of the products of the New Germany." He stood up. "Walk with me Max." He led the way out away from the camouflaged tents. Trucks rumbled past at regular intervals. The road was over a hundred meters away and it was too dark to see what they carried. The Colonel nodded toward the moving vehicles, "They're moving up. Men, tanks, supplies. We will attack in a day or so. Up to date intelligence is critical, Max."

"I know that, sir. It's just that running the same route every morning is dangerous and stupid. That Uhu of mine can't outrun a gnat. When you're slow it pays to be sneaky. Running our operation on rails isn't very sneaky."

The Colonel nodded and smiled at Max. "Captain Reinke, I don't want you getting killed. We need you and your little plane out there photographing this interesting desert landscape." He glanced quickly around. "Besides, if we all end up in a British or American POW camp, it will be nice to have a good bridge player along." Max chuckled. He was a notoriously bad bridge player. The two men headed back for the Intel tent. "You have my permission to do something different with your route, Captain. Just don't make an issue of it with Kluge."

Max stalked into the tent, picked up a rag and wiped the carefully drawn aerial route off the mapboard overlay. With a few bold strokes he drew in an almost identical route, except it started at the north of the Gazala line and ended in the desert to the south. It was the best he could do. No matter what he said to Kluge, he knew his options were limited, given the area to be covered. Bowing slightly to the Intel captain, he left.


Max turned to Leo. "Cameras all set?" The man nodded. Leo wasn't very talkative. He was a specialist and tended to look down on mere pilots, regardless of rank. He also didn't seem to have any appreciation for Max's brand of humor.

Max shrugged, "We're approaching the coast. Start the cameras."

"Yes, sir," replied Leo and turned back to his equipment.

Felix was flying. Max relaxed, propping one foot on the instrument panel. He glanced around, looking for enemy aircraft. The sky remained clear. "Felix," he said, "Do you suppose our escorts forgot to get up this morning?"

"Escorts, sir?" asked Felix, grinning, "You mean those Aryan heroes with brand new fighter planes we keep hearing about in the newsreels?"

"Yes, the very same. Shall I ring up Control and find out where the lads might have wandered off to?"

"Go ahead. The controllers need a wake-up call, I'm sure."

Max keyed the radio, "Teufel Control, Adler 21, over." Static hissed in his earphones. He repeated the call. Still no answer. He switched to a different frequency. "Teufel Control, Adler 21, do you hear, over?"

"Adler 21, Teufel Control, go ahead, over."

Winking at Felix, Max replied, "Good morning, Teufel! Sorry to wake you. We are on our run, Teufel. No sign of any friends up here. Have you heard anything from them?"

The frequency was quiet for some time. Finally, "Ah . . Adler 21, no word on any friends, over."

"Thank you, Teufel. We would like to lodge an official complaint. Can you handle that for us?"

"Ah . . Adler, I'll . . ah . . I'll pass on your comment. Out."

"Felix, he said 'out'. He doesn't want to discuss it any further. Imagine that."

"Our controllers all seem to lack patriotic fervor, sir." He shook his head. "It's a sad day when dedicated airmen like us have to put up with such inefficiency."

"Indeed," said Max. He keyed the mike, "Sweet Dreams, Teufel," and ended with a smacking kiss. There was no reply.

"Another black mark on my records, I'm afraid, Felix." Turning to the camera technician, he asked, "Leo! Are you awake? Keep a sharp watch back there! None of our fighter pilot friends elected to look after us this morning."

Leo didn't answer. Half the time he was appalled by the captain's behavior. The rest of the time he couldn't understand it. He understood the lack of fighter cover, but was not overly alarmed. In a month of flying with Felix and Max, he had yet to see an enemy fighter. Leo checked the airspace behind and below. The early dawn light turned the landscape into a mesh of long, dark shadows. He saw nothing threatening.


Bluey 3 had flown the early patrol with the express intention of catching the German recon plane if it were to show up again. He and his wingman arrived over Bir Hacheim, the southernmost position on the Gazala line, just after dawn and began a methodical search. It soon became apparent that the Hun wasn't going to show. Exasperated, Bluey 3 swung his Hurricane north and called his wingman. "Bluey 4, let's go north. Stay loose. Maybe we'll find something to shoot at." Bluey 4 responded with a quick double click. They were then about twenty miles south of Bir Hacheim.

Almost immediately, Bluey 3 spotted the distinctive silhouette of an FW-189 ahead and above his aircraft. Executing a hard half-turn, Bluey 3 positioned himself directly under the Uhu and began to climb. He called Bluey 4, "Four, Bluey 3 has the target! Stay back a bit and low. I'm going after him." Click-click.

Bluey 3 hardly dared to breath. He hadn't had an air-to-air target since acquiring his brand new Hurricane Mark 2. The German was a Focke Wulf 189, a dedicated reconnaissance aircraft - not fast, but very tough. Difficult to shoot down. It was usually accompanied by a protective fighter escort. He glanced around. No other aircraft were in sight. "Four," he called, "watch my back. There may be escorts in the area." Click-click.

As he closed on the Uhu, Bluey 3 eased back, aiming to attack from the target's 6 o'clock position at point blank range. His Hurricane was equipped with four 20 millimeter cannon. Let's see how you like cannon shells, little Uhu. He made the final climb into position hurriedly, wondering why no one had seen him.

Leo was facing sideways, head down, fiddling with his equipment. The photo run was complete. A flicker of movement caught his eye. Raising his head, he caught sight of the British fighter as it leveled off, about a hundred meters behind and slightly to one side. Leo opened his mouth to scream a warning, but the first cannon round exploded against one of the rear canopy frames while he was still filling his lungs. The blast threw him against the back of his seat. Splinters of steel from the shell and shards of aircraft aluminum ripped into his body. The scream became a bubbling gasp.

Seven other cannon shells struck the Uhu, all in the right tail boom and engine nacelle. One blew a panel off the engine cowling, allowing a following round to strike the Argus engine directly on the left rear cylinder, shattering it. Flames blossomed from the nacelle.

Bluey 3 banked away from his victim. There was no return fire. The FW-189 rolled hard right, nose high, and entered a spin. The two British pilots watched it spin down through the clear desert morning.

"Let's go home, Four. That's one Hun bastard as won't be back tomorrow." Click-click.


Felix and Max struggled to control the wildly spinning plane. The burning engine clattered to a stop. Max pulled the power off the other engine, applied opposite rudder, and shoved the control wheel forward. The Uhu's rotation began to slow. "1000 meters," said Felix. Max said nothing. Leo was thrashing about, vomiting blood, and gasping pitifully. Blood spattered both pilots. The ground rotated again, then the nose went down and the plane stabilized - in a steep dive. Max began pulling back on the wheel. "300 meters," said Felix, his voice trembling. Slowly, the nose came up. Finally, they were in a slightly nose up attitude, climbing slowly as sped bled off. Felix let out a explosive sigh. "100 meters," he reported. "Maybe."

"Shut down the other engine!" shouted Max. "Then get the flaps down!" Felix's hands were a blur as he set the Uhu up for a landing. "No gear," added Max. "It's too rough down there."

Felix tugged his harness tighter, locked it, and took the wheel. "I've got it. Lock your harness." He eyed the oncoming terrain. "Schiess! Sand and rocks!"

Max finished with his harness and got back on the wheel. "Stay on the controls with me! We'll try to touch down at minimum speed." He glanced at Felix. "You called Control about our little problem, didn't you?"

Felix grinned weakly, "F*ck Control. They'll have to read it in the newspaper." The cockpit was very quiet. "We're going to die, aren't we?"

Max shrugged, "Sooner or later. Hopefully not now. Let's aim for that flat spot over to the right, Felix."

"Flat spot! If that's flat I'm Italian! Don't you ever get scared, you bastard!"

"I always knew there was a shameful secret in your family, Felix." Max gripped the wheel. "Scared? I've pissed myself. But, that's nothing new. Maybe we'll get lucky again."


Felix and Max laid Leo gently against a sloping sand dune. Felix knelt beside the wounded man, unslinging the first aid kit. Max headed back to the plane. "I'll collect the water and whatever else I can find."

The Uhu was a sad sight. The fire in the right engine had gone out on it's own or been smothered in sand - Max couldn't tell which. Both engine nacelles were canted forward. Sand was piled in front of the engines and the center section. The horizontal stabilizer and one wingtip were missing. Steam and smoke billowed from each engine, but Max could see no flames. He crawled into the cockpit and began tossing out supplies. The entire rear section of the cabin was covered with blood. Metal scrap and flight equipment littered the floor. The stench of fuel permeated everything. Max hurried out of the cabin, scrambled to pick up their gear, and jogged toward Felix and Leo.

With a dull pop, the wreckage burst into flames. Max dumped the supplies he had collected onto the ground and collapsed, panting. "Schiess! That was close!" He watched the fire spreading over the fuselage. "I'll take this stuff further around this dune," he said, getting back up. "Then I'll come back and help you with Leo."

Felix nodded and glanced at the wreck. "Hurry up, before it gets to the ammunition!"

Max slogged through the sand, puffing. "I've got to lay off the f*cking cigarettes," he muttered. He returned to find Felix dragging Leo along the dune.

"Goddamn fire was getting hot," gasped Felix. "Get his legs! He's heavy for such a little bastard." The two men carried the wounded camera technician to safety, stumbling and cursing in the loose sand. Behind them the machine gun ammunition began cooking off.


Felix shook his head and looked up. "It's no good, Max. His lungs are all f*cked up and he must have puncture wounds in every major organ. Leo lay with his back to the hard packed sand slope, a field jacket under his head. He looked at Max and tried to speak. A choking gasp was all that came out. Blood dribbled off his chin. Felix had cut away his shirt, revealing several bubbling holes along the right side of his torso. "He's done for. If a field hospital fell from the sky, I don't think it would save him."

Max nodded. He pursed his lips, "Do we have any morphine?"

"A little. Not much. I think he's asking for water."

"Give him some morphine," said Max. He felt the familiar detachment. Leo was dead. He could see it. Felix knew it. Probably Leo even knew it. The wounded man's eyes were full of death. And pleading. Max had seen it before. "Give him the morphine," he repeated. "No water." He nodded at Leo's midsection. "Some of the fragments got him in the belly. No water for belly wounds."

Felix stood up and dragged Max a few feet away. "He'll be dead in less than thirty minutes, Max! The morphine will probably send him off even quicker. What the hell harm is a little water going to do?"

Max turned and looked at the morning sun. It was already getting hot. "We've got maybe four liters of water for each of us. We'll need every drop. Every drop." He motioned toward the dying man. "No water."

"For God's sake, Max! It will ease his suffering! Let me give him a few swallows." Felix started for the water bottles. Max caught him by the arm, spinning him around.

"No water!" roared Max. "Give him the morphine! Give him all of it! But not a f*cking drop of water!" Pointing up at the sun, he said, quietly, "By noon it will be so hot our brains will be frying! We are probably forty or fifty kilometers from help! Reaching it will take every ounce of energy we can manage. And every drop of water." Felix jerked loose from his grasp and went back to Leo's side. Quickly, he injected him with their entire supply of morphine.

Leo's eyes remained focused on Max. After a minute or so, they closed, opened, then closed for good. Touching Felix gently on the shoulder, Max whispered, "Pray that you never have to do this again, my friend." Felix nodded silently and did not look up.

Max forced himself to stand still and watch as Leo drifted away. The morphine stilled his breathing, finishing the job begun by the British cannon shells. Felix held Leo's bloody hand and spoke quietly to him until it was over. Max found himself thinking of his wife, Lisl. What would she think - if she knew? Knew about Leo and the water. He imagined himself explaining to her - pleading for understanding. Then he drifted into wanting to see her - wanting her. His mind recoiled from the images. Jerking himself back into the here and now, he cursed silently. Leo's dead! I'm not! Quickly, he removed one of Leo's identity disks and stowed it in his tunic pocket. "Get your field jacket," he ordered Felix, speaking harshly. "You'll need it at night. It will be cold." The co-pilot gave him a reproachful glance, then moved to obey.

A few minutes later they started north, leaving the burning plane and Leo's body behind. Max pointed at some limestone outcroppings a kilometer or so ahead. "We'll find some shade in those rocks. Rest during the day. Walk at night." Felix nodded, but didn't speak. Max looked back. Black smoke still rose up from the wreck. He couldn't see the body. The cold fingers of guilt nibbled at him. He glanced back once more. Lisl would have given Leo the water. She would never have understood. Could never understand.

They reached the limestone rocks without difficulty. Max found a north-facing overhang which would shelter them from the direct sunlight. He kicked some loose rocks out of the way and settled his back against the inner wall. Felix did the same.

"Drink now," said Max. "We'll ration our water to about two liters per day, starting from now."

"That gives us two days. What then?"

"We will likely be able to walk one more night, without water. But that shouldn't be necessary. The south end of the British line is not more than fifty kilometers from here."

"So we surrender to the British?" asked Felix. He clearly didn't care for the idea.

Max shrugged. "We hook up with the first people we can find. British, German, Italian. Could even be French. Without water we won't care very much."

"I wonder if anyone will come to investigate the smoke from the plane?"

"If they do," said Max, pointing at the northern horizon, "They'll come from that direction. Drink your water and try to sleep. I'll keep watch for a couple hours. Maybe one of our patrols will get curious."

"Or one of theirs," said Felix. He stretched out, pulled his cap over his face and tried to sleep.

Max kept an eye on the horizon and entertained ghosts.

****************************

FYI: The Gazala battles started on May 26, 1942.


Posts: 1769 | From: Fort Collins, Colorado, USA | Registered: Dec 1999  |  IP: Logged
Zero Niner
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Member # 1171

posted 09-17-2000 10:59 PM     Profile for Zero Niner   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message   Edit/Delete Post
Hey Old Guy
Great read, when's the next installment? Are you sure you're not a professional author or somethin'?

------------------
Zero Niner, out.


Posts: 986 | From: Singapore | Registered: Nov 1999  |  IP: Logged
VMF-124_Gramps

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posted 09-17-2000 11:19 PM     Profile for VMF-124_Gramps     Send New Private Message   Edit/Delete Post
If he's not, maybe he should be. Keep at it O.G.
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stag

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posted 09-18-2000 06:17 AM     Profile for stag     Send New Private Message   Edit/Delete Post
Keep 'em coming

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CFrancisco
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posted 09-18-2000 06:36 AM     Profile for CFrancisco   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message   Edit/Delete Post
Man after reading this i could taste and feel the sand of North Africa in my teeth.

Good stuff keep em coming

------------------
Oberst K. von Hess
I/JG52 Gruppen Kommandeur

quote:
"Strategy is the art of making use of time and space. I am less concerned about the latter than the former. Space we can recover, lost time never."
Napoleon Bonaparte


Posts: 4364 | From: NYC, NY | Registered: Sep 1999  |  IP: Logged
Canuck
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posted 09-18-2000 10:40 AM     Profile for Canuck     Send New Private Message   Edit/Delete Post
Excellent read.......making me wonder what happened to the Lads.

One of the characters (Max) sounds like Gramps....old and crusty

Keep the stories coming....especially the continuation of this one.

S! Canuck

------------------
'SINE MENS, SINE DOLOR'


Posts: 190 | From: Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada | Registered: Oct 2002  |  IP: Logged
Storm
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posted 09-18-2000 11:45 AM     Profile for Storm   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message   Edit/Delete Post
O.G.

Bravo!!! I'd really be interested in hearing the rest of this story. As CFran said earlier, I could picture the entire flight and terrain, as if I too was there. Keep them coming!

Storm


Posts: 606 | From: Crestview, Florida USA | Registered: Dec 1999  |  IP: Logged
Old Guy
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posted 09-18-2000 02:55 PM     Profile for Old Guy   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message   Edit/Delete Post
Sand Rats, Part 2

*******************************

May 26, 1942, South of Bir Hacheim

At sunset, they began walking north. The going was not difficult at first, except for the constant thirst which began to plague them. Each hour they rested ten minutes. The temperature dropped after sunset and by midnight they were wearing their field jackets. Moonlight gave the desert a silvery cast. Their progress was constantly interrupted by the wandering sand dunes. Wind packed sand or bare limestone was the best for walking, but they always seemed to wind up in a cul-de-sac of sand, with no way out except over the dunes. Dragging themselves through the loose sand was tiring - and thirsty - work.

Felix was leading the way around an extensive dune when he stopped suddenly and went to one knee. Max saw the wrecked airplane as he eased up beside his co-pilot. "What is it?" asked Felix.

Speaking quietly, Max said, "A Beaufighter. Somebody bellied it in." He pulled his Luger. "Let's see if anyone's at home."

Pistols in hand, the two men approached the wreck. Max could hear canvas flapping in the slight breeze. The aircraft sat nearly level on the mixed sand and rock surface. Felix walked to the left, around the tail section while Max went around the other way. A piece of canvas was stretched from the left engine nacelle to the fuselage. A man lay one the ground near the crumpled nose sheet metal. Max leaned knelt down, fully expecting to find a corpse. The man stirred, opened his eyes, and croaked. "Water."

Max staggered back. "Schiess!" Then in English. "You scared the hell out of me!" He knelt, lifted the man slightly, and gave him a few sips of water. Felix walked around the nose. "What are you doing?" he asked angrily.

"Giving him a little water," replied Max. "We need to talk to him."

"Sheiss! Leo wanted to talk to us, Max. F*ck the British bastard!"

Rolling to one side, the man on the ground rasped, "Does he think I'm British?"

"Aren't you?" asked Max.

"No I ain't, mate!" The man spoke with surprising energy. "I'm Australian." He twisted around and spoke directly to Felix. "Australian! You hear?"

"We can't usually tell colonials just by looking at them," said Max with a slight smile. "And Felix doesn't speak much English." He translated the Aussie's words to the angry co-pilot.

"I don't give a crap if he's related to the goddamn queen! Leave him! Let's go!"

"Felix, calm down. Let me talk to the man." Turning back to the Australian, he asked, "I'm Max. What happened to your plane?" He extended a hand. "One of your RAF pals plastered our plane over a sand dune a bit south of here."

Chuckling weakly, the man said, "Ross McLoud. I was the pilot of Gertie-Girl here. Turn about is fair play, I guess. One of your night fighter types shot out an engine and wounded Rupert. That was three . . or . . was it four days ago."

Max looked around. A cairn of stones had been raised a few meters in front of the aircraft. "Is that Rupert?"

"Aye, that's him. Poor lad finally died yesterday night - or maybe . . I can't get it all straight."

"I take it you're not hurt, then?" asked Max.

"Bruises. Knocked about a bit in the bloody smash up. Ran out of water the day Rupert died. Buried the lad and laid down here. To wait. Knew I couldn't make it to anywhere without water. Figured they'd find my dried up carcass at least. Folks would know I was dead." He eyed Max's canteen.

"I have to discuss . . what to do. With Felix," said Max. Ross nodded.

Max faced Felix. He gestured toward the Aussie. "That's Ross. He was the pilot of this aircraft. His observer, or whatever they call them, is in that grave over there." He outlined the events leading up to Rupert's death. "What shall we do? Take him with us?"

"You're a complete bastard, Max. You know that? We've saved Leo's water so we can give it to some . . Australian?"

"Leo was leaking blood like a f*cking sieve, goddamn it! This man isn't hurt! He just doesn't have any water!"

Eyes glittering like diamonds, Felix retorted, "Yes. He stayed by his comrade. Took care of him. Shared what water they had."

"He did, Felix, he did," sighed Max. "And look at what it got him. No water and the promise of a miserable death in the desert!"

Felix turned away. Max pulled his Luger and snapped the safety off. Felix looked back in alarm. "What shall I do?" asked Max quietly. "Give him some water or shoot him? I won't leave him here to die of thirst."

No one moved. Felix gazed first at Max, then at Ross. Finally, he sighed and shook his head. "Give him the water." He smiled slightly, hardness gone from his glance. "You shouldn't have told me his name. I might have been able to have him shot if the ghost would have no name."

Max handed his canteen to Ross. "Just a few swallows," he cautioned. "We don't have much." Turning to Felix, he murmured, "The nameless ones can be just as bad as the others."

"Yesterday," said Ross in a stronger voice. "There was a lot of air activity and a good deal of dust to the north. I think something big has happened. Is happening."

Muted thunder muttered from the north. Max and Felix had noticed it some hours before. It was artillery fire. No way of knowing which side was shooting at what.

"We'll spend the day here," said Max. "Then start out after sunset."

"I guess I'm your prisoner," said Ross. "Better than being dead, anyway."

"As to that," replied Max. "We could get picked up by anybody. We might just as easily end up as your prisoners. Or, we may all finish as dried corpses."

"Cheerful fellow ain't he," said Ross to the uncomprehending Felix.

The day passed slowly. The low rumbling of artillery and bombs continued sporadically. Aircraft noises came and went, but always at a distance. Moving as little as possible the three men lay in the shade and conserved their strength. When the wind blew, which wasn't often, it merely served to fill the furnace-like air with grit. Mostly they thought and dreamed about water.

Late in the evening, Max drained some gasoline from the Beaufighter and used it to fuel a cooking fire. He mixed some of the more palatable food with a small amount of precious water and made the others share it with him. "Eat," he insisted. "You'll need the energy."

Felix complained. "This is horrible! My guts crawl just looking at it."

"Well, don't look at it," suggested Max helpfully, "And next time you can do the cooking."

Ross watched the interplay between the two Germans. "It ain't all that bad, mate," he said, stirring his share with a mess kit spoon, "A little kangaroo meat would make it better. But, I ain't seen any lately." Max grinned and nodded, but decided not to mention kangaroo meat to Felix.

As the sun dipped below the horizon, the men walked away from the Beaufighter wreckage, taking it slow at first. Ross was still weak and the other two were stiff and sore from their previous night's hike.

"How far do you think we need to go," asked Felix.

"We made about fifteen kilometers last night," replied Max. "Maybe more. It's hard to be sure with all the zigzagging we had to do. Fifteen or twenty more should put us into the reach of some of those folks up ahead." He repeated his words to Ross.

"I just hope they don't reach us with something lethal," said Ross. "There's a pitched battle going on up there." The battle rumbling to the north was now accompanied by a dim orange and yellow glow along the horizon. It seemed to wax and wane at irregular intervals.

"Burning tanks and vehicles," said Max. "We'll have to be damned careful."

"Careful, hell," said Ross. "We'll have to be damned lucky."

The noise became perceptibly more noticeable as they moved north. A breeze sprang up about midnight, making the air seem even colder than it was, and coating them with a layer of fine sand. Max began to think his face had turned into a mask. Grit was in everything. Wherever flesh moved against flesh became sore. They dumped sand from their boots and shook socks out at each rest stop. As in the previous night, their progress was hampered by the dunes they were not always able to walk around. Ross weakened as they slogged through the loose sand. Max began to help him over the worst areas.

Finally, around 0400, they found themselves at the end of a rocky passage, surrounded on three sides by a series of dunes. Felix stopped and slumped to the ground. "Schiess! I should have gone the other way."

"What other way? Where?" asked Max, as he and Ross collapsed next to Felix.

Felix waved one arm weakly. "I don't know. Back there. Somewhere."

"One way seems to be as bad as the other," said Max. He gazed around at the blocking dune. "Big bastard, isn't it?" The lowest spot was a saddle running off to the left. "We'll have to try that way, I guess."

Ross shook his head. "I'll never make it," he said flatly. "Too far gone. Leave me here. No sense all of us . . ." He fell silent and lay down flat. Max couldn't think of anything to say.

Felix stared at the dune for a long time. There was no sound except for their labored breathing. Finally, he levered himself up and walked over to Ross. He grabbed the Australian by the front of his jacket and pulled him to a sitting position. "Here," he said, handing Ross a canteen. "Take a drink. Then we'll walk over that miserable sonofabitch. Together." Ross didn't understand his words, but the actions were clear. He looked at Max.

Max avoided his glance and climbed to his feet, groaning. "I thought Australians were tough." He managed a weak smile. His face seemed to crack. "If you fall down up there we'll just leave you. Now, get up!"

Felix took one arm and Max the other. Together, the three men began climbing the sandy slope. Sand dragged at them. Ross fell three times before they reached the top of the saddle. The last time was the worst. Max and Felix tugged and cursed at the Australian, falling down, struggling up - always up. Sand blew over the top, blinding them as they stumbled over the crest and onto the windward face of the dune. Slowly, ever so slowly, they staggered down the slope and onto the stony ground. There the three of them collapsed, gasping for air.

Some time later, Ross coughed and sat up. "Before . . back there . . I thought I was dying," he croaked, "Now, by God . . I'd have to get better to die. I couldn't whip a syphilitic rat right now." He regarded the two Germans as they lay on the ground. "You don't look so hot either, mates. Thank you." Looking at Max, he added, "Make sure Felix knows I said that, please."

Max nodded. "He understood that much. Just don't push your luck. I don't think I can carry you over more than three or four dunes like that one." Ross laughed weakly. Max translated his attempted humor to Felix, snickering as he did so. The three of them spent the next several minutes giggling hysterically. "God," said Max, "I've never felt so bad in my entire life. What the hell are we laughing about?"

"There's nothing else to do," gasped Felix, "when you get bad news like that."

"Bad news?" asked Max. "What, in the name of Christ, are you raving about now?"

"What could be worse? We're still alive. Even hell would be better than this goddamned place."

Max translated Felix's remark to Ross. Then he lay back and looked up at the stars - pale now with the coming of dawn. "I think I've gone insane," he muttered. "I like it. I should have done it a long time ago."

"You know what I'd really like? Right now?" asked Felix. "Besides about five liters of water?"

"I can't imagine. Dreaming about the water takes all my strength," replied Max.

"I'd like a couple ice cold beers," murmured Felix. "And to be in the sack with that whore I spent time with in Morocco. Remember her?"

"I remember. You shouldn't be thinking about her now! We're likely to be dead of thirst or shot to death by tomorrow. God spare me!"

"You're wrong," said Felix firmly. "When I can't dream about a woman I'll already be dead."

Max sat up and eyed his co-pilot. "What's this?" he asked. "Philosophy? I should tell the world of this new thing envisioned by Lieutenant Weller!" Felix stared at the stars and said nothing further. The world not being at hand, Max passed word of the new thing on to Ross.

The Australian nodded and didn't laugh. "He's right. When we was walking along back there, I spent a lot of time with a little blonde I know back in London." Ross climbed to his knees and pointed off to the west. "But right now I'm not seeing any blondes. Is that a bloody lorry? Or have I gone off the deep end?"

The three men got to their feet. "I'm in no condition to comment on your mental state," said Max. "But that is definitely a bloody lorry."

*************************

But is it a bloody miracle?

[This message has been edited by Old Guy (edited 09-18-2000).]


Posts: 1769 | From: Fort Collins, Colorado, USA | Registered: Dec 1999  |  IP: Logged
Old Guy
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posted 09-18-2000 09:30 PM     Profile for Old Guy   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message   Edit/Delete Post
Sand Rats, Part 3

*****************************

May 27, 1942, South of Bir Hacheim

The driver of the truck had evidently dismounted and run for cover. They found him about fifty feet away from the vehicle, face down, spread-eagled on the rocky ground. He and the other man had been dead for several days. The bodies were bloated and waxy looking - so far from normal as to be caricatures of human beings. Flies buzzed around the black blood and torn, maggoty flesh. Max had seen worse - but the ugly reality of these dead shocked his senses in a way memories could not.

"See if you can find a rope," he said to Felix. "We'll drag the bodies over to the sand and raise a mound over them. It's the least we can do for the poor bastards."

The truck sat on a limestone flat between two long dunes, facing into the morning sun. Cannon and machine gun rounds had ripped the vehicle, flattening both front tires, and tearing off the engine cover. Some of the wooden crates in the cargo area had been splintered as well. The assistant driver, or guard, lay crumpled next to the truck - rifle beside him. There were no other vehicles or bodies in the area. Bits of metal and wood littered the ground.

Ross held up a British army canteen. "There are four in the cab. Two empty. The other two have some water in them. I'll check in the back."

"Water we need most," said Max. "Food next. They should be carrying some of each." He and Felix leaned into the rope and began dragging the driver toward a nearby dune. Neither man spoke. It was hard enough to keep from gagging on the smell. Max couldn't think of anything witty to say anyhow.

Ross had climbed into the back of the truck and sat gasping at the effort. "Jesus! I feel weak as a kitten." He shoved a tarp to one side. "Artillery shells! A load of bloody artillery shells! Can you think of anything we need less?"

"No," said Max, in a subdued tone, "We do need a shovel though." He turned to help Felix with the other corpse. Ross watched them drag the dead man away from the truck. Shaking his head, he clambered slowly back down and pulled a shovel from a rack on the side of the truck.

Felix and Max waited for him about fifty feet from the makeshift grave. They had dragged the two bodies into a shallow depression in the limestone. The dune sloped upward a few feet away. After placing the second body, both men had moved upwind. The stench was abominable. Ross handed the shovel to Max. "Give me a minute," he said.

He limped over to the grave and retrieved an identity tag from each body. By the time he made it back to the two Germans he was green and gagging. Felix patted him on the back. "We'll cover them," said Max. "Do you want to say anything? When we're done." Ross nodded briefly, then went back to the truck. He stuffed the tags into his shirt pocket.

When Max called to him, Ross was sitting in the shade behind the truck. The day was already getting hot. Felix and Max were sweating profusely even though they had spelled one another at the shovel. A respectable mound now hid the dead. The wind toyed with it - puffing at the edges. They knew it wouldn't last very long. Ross wondered why they had bothered. The smell was much easier to take - there was one reason. He pulled the identity tags from his pocket and removed his hat. Max did the same. Felix didn't have one.

"I ain't much of a hand for praying," he said to Max. "But I'll give it a go if it's all right." Before Max could answer, Felix held up his hand, then walked purposefully over to the truck. He picked up the Enfield lying in the dirt and began rummaging around in the cab. Max answered Ross's questioning glance with a shrug.

With a click, Felix snapped a bayonet into place on the rifle. Nodding with satisfaction, he came back to the grave and drove the rifle into a crack in the limestone a few feet from the mound. Ross grinned at Max, "I guess that makes it official."

The two Germans stood on one side of the grave - Ross on the other. Holding the tags in one hand he bowed his head and said, "Lord, we have committed your servants, T. Smith and W. Hodgson, to the earth as best we can. You already have custody of their mortal souls, Lord, and know their worth. We pray for your favor and forgiveness if they was a bit short in some respects. They was soldiers and done their bleedin' duty to the last. Amen." Max murmured the words to Felix. Ross stood to attention and rendered a passable salute. His two companions did the same.

Back at the truck, Ross pointed up at the remnant of canvas covering the crated shells. "I ain't got the strength to get that bloody thing pulled out of the way. It's the only place any water or supplies might be." Max crawled into the truck bed and began hacking at the canvas with his pocketknife. In a few minutes he was able to cut it loose. Ross and Felix pulled it to one side.

"Well," said Max, "we have something here. Two metal cans and a wooden box. Tucked up beside the cargo and lashed in place. Just a minute." He tugged at the lashings.

The stash proved to consist of water and rations. One of the water cans was half full and the other full. The water smelled stale and tasted wonderful, if a bit metallic. Both Germans expressed distaste at the British rations. On a hunch, Ross tore the canvas away from the other side of the cargo. There he found a larger box. This one contained various types of canned foods and fruit, marmalades, and a kind of hard bread baked by the natives. "No one with a vehicle is going to make do with just Army rations," he said, grinning. "I guess we won't starve. At least not for awhile."

Max placed the half empty water can on the sand. "Drink your fill from this one," he ordered. "Pack the food that will travel best. Do it now. We'll spend the day here. I'll rig a decent awning from the canvas scraps. We may have to leave in a hurry and we'll want to carry all the water we can. Felix, fill all the canteens. Ross, get the food packed."

By the time the sun was half way up the sky, the water and provisions were ready for travel. Each man would have four canteens of water and a bag for food. Felix had rigged a pole and sling for the water can. Two of them could carry that. "Eat something," said Max. "Then rest. I'd like to move this evening while it's still light if we can." He nodded to the north. "We're getting close enough to whatever's going on up there that we might run into some help."

"Let's hope it's not help out of this world," said Ross.

The day passed much like the last, except they weren't thirsty. Max kept them at the water. Felix returned from a trip to a nearby dune humming a little tune. "What's with him?" asked Ross. "Did he find a blonde out there?"

Max passed the question to Felix. He chuckled at the reply. "No, no blondes. He just had his first good crap in three days. He also said something philosophical about bowel movements and women, but I can't come up with the right way to say it in English." His voice trailed off. The Aussie was asleep.

***********************

Something philosophical . . . ?



Posts: 1769 | From: Fort Collins, Colorado, USA | Registered: Dec 1999  |  IP: Logged
Storm
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posted 09-18-2000 09:48 PM     Profile for Storm   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message   Edit/Delete Post
Old Guy, man you are one hell of a great story teller. I'd rank you up there with Jack Higgens!! I read his book "Flight of Eagles", and I got the same feeling from your story, as I did when reading that book. Keep it up, and thank you very much!

Storm


Posts: 606 | From: Crestview, Florida USA | Registered: Dec 1999  |  IP: Logged
Canuck
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posted 09-19-2000 05:54 AM     Profile for Canuck     Send New Private Message   Edit/Delete Post
OK Old Guy, you got me hooked!!!
Keep it coming!!

S! Canuck

------------------
'SINE MENS, SINE DOLOR'


Posts: 190 | From: Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada | Registered: Oct 2002  |  IP: Logged
PapaRomeo
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posted 09-19-2000 01:27 PM     Profile for PapaRomeo   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message   Edit/Delete Post
OG:

Hanging on every word. I keep thinking "screenplay".

PR


Posts: 949 | From: Springfield, Virginia, USA | Registered: Feb 2000  |  IP: Logged
Old Guy
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posted 09-19-2000 03:49 PM     Profile for Old Guy   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message   Edit/Delete Post
Sand Rats, Part 4

******************************

May 28, 1942, South of Bir Hacheim

They started the night's journey with about two hours of daylight left. Max followed the tracks left by the truck. The dunes split and converged in a bewildering manner. In some areas the wind had obliterated the tracks completely. For nearly an hour they sweated along the dim trail. Finally the track made a right turn along a sand spit, then bent around to the left through the gap between two dunes. Beyond lay a wide gravel plain. And the remnants of a battle.

Max dropped behind a hillock of sand. Ross and Felix slid in beside him. A damaged half track lay before them and the plain beyond was dotted with burned out armored vehicles. Max began counting German vehicles. "I make it nine . . no, ten of our tanks," he said. "Seven or eight other types. It's hard to tell which is which."

Ross nodded, "Eleven British cruiser tanks. Trucks and half tracks, I don't know. I can't tell the sheep from the goats. This little dust up must have happened five or six days ago."

Although most of the vehicles showed evidence of fire, nothing was burning. No movement could be seen on the plain. Max started forward, aiming for the half track just outside the break in the dunes. Warily, the others followed. Their movements startled several large birds into flight. Ross watched the birds distastefully. He tapped Max, "Look . . vultures. The burial squads have been here. There on the face of the dune."

A single long mound had been raised in the sandy slope. Wind had blown some of the sand away, leaving several dark lumps exposed. The vultures were clustered there, fussing now at the men's presence. Max shuddered, "Graves people didn't plant them very deep, did they?"

"No," answered Ross. "It was probably intended to be temporary. F*cking buzzards are having a bloody field day." He turned away from the sight. "Let's get the hell out of here!"

Felix and Ross picked up the water can on its pole and sling. Max paused, examining the battle area. "There's higher ground to the north. Let's head that way. I don't like being in the open, but it will be dark soon." They started across the plain, wending their way around the savaged instruments of desert war.

Max made the mistake of passing downwind of the first burned out tank. The stench of burned, rotting flesh nearly gagged him. After that, he bore always to the windward side. "The burial crews must not have cleaned dead out of the tank hulls," he said, "Can't say as I blame them."

"I've never been this close to the leftovers of a tank battle," said Ross. "Look at that one." He pointed to a Panzer hull minus its turret. The turret lay upside down about fifty feet in front of the tank chassis. One crewman lay on his back to the left of the hull, burned black, arms crooked upward in silent supplication. "God," he murmured. "What a mess! I wonder who won?"

"This is a little fight," said Max. "They probably just ran into each other. No plan. The whole thing was likely over in five minutes." He shook his head sadly. "Nobody won."

"Except the vultures," said Ross.

"They always win."

The last of the sunlight faded from the sky as they entered a canyon cutting into the face of a long limestone cliff. There were several such openings in the rugged cliff. Max chose this one because it contained a road of sorts. They took a short break, then started up the road - Felix in the lead. Max and Ross toted the extra water.

With moon and star light their only illumination, the three worked their way cautiously along the right edge of the roadway. Heavy vehicles had torn the surface of the canyon floor in a random fashion, making for a patchwork of paths rather than a distinct road. Small rocks littered the ground. Progress was slow. There was no way to walk quietly. Sand scuffed and crunched underfoot. Max heard Felix curse quietly as he stumbled over something. Ross lurched sideways, nearly dropping his end of the water carrier. Max began to wonder at the wisdom of traveling the canyon in the dark. He groaned. A traveling circus makes less noise!

The first blast of automatic weapons fire shocked Max to his knees. He caught a glimpse of Felix, arms outflung, dropping as if hit with a hammer. Bullets zipped past his ear and struck the canyon wall - whining into the night. He dropped and rolled into the boulders to his right. The firing stopped suddenly, as if cut off by a faucet. He heard Felix gasp, "Gott! Max, I'm shot!" Then the firing started again. Bullets ripped the ground to his left. With a double thunk, the water can was knocked back several feet. Max huddled behind a large rock and struggled to get at his Luger. The shooting stopped again, the last rounds echoing away into the distance. Muffled voices sounded ahead. Feet scrambled. Whoever had been shooting was moving.

Boom! Boom! Max nearly fell over as two bright muzzle flashes lit the canyon. Ross was crouched behind a large outcrop, firing into the dark up ahead. He fired again and someone screamed. A quick burst came back in their direction. Now Max had his gun out. Sighting on some vague shadows, he and Ross fired together. In the light from the muzzle flashes, he saw a man fall. A single shot replied from up ahead. Again, he heard men moving, scrambling, dragging something - someone. The sounds faded. His heart seemed to be pounding its way out of his chest. He began to breath again. Felix moaned.

Max started to move forward, in the direction of the sound. Ross grabbed his arm. "Wait!" he whispered savagely, "Wait just a second!" In the dim light Max saw him break open his gun, ejecting the empties and reload. Snapping the revolver closed, he nudged Max, "Okay, mate! Go get him!"

Felix was lying face down and still groaning when Max crawled up to him. "Felix," he whispered, "where are you shot?"

"In the back. Low down. Gott! That hurts!"

"Can you move at all?" Max had a horrible vision of his friend, paralyzed.

"Yes, I've been working my way down to you." Felix sounded tentative. "This ought to hurt worse than it does, Max. Something isn't right."

With Max pulling and Felix crawling, they made it back to the boulders where Ross was waiting. "How bad is it?" he asked.

"I don't know," replied Max. "We need some light. Let's move back. Out of the canyon."

"I think they've gone off," said Ross. "I'll go and check." Before Max could protest, the Aussie was up and moving forward. He faded into the dark.

Felix watched with Max. "Was that him doing the shooting?"

"We both shot at them," answered Max. "But he fired first."

"What is he using? It sounded like a small cannon."

"Probably a Webley. It had a break action like a Webley."

"Well, I'm glad he had it."

"Me too." Max frowned. "I didn't even think of him having a gun all this time."

"We're a couple of real f*cking storm troopers, aren't we, Max."

Ross walked back, holding a rifle. "There's a dead one up there. I think it's an Italian. This was lying next to him. It's a Mauser. Are the Italians equipped with Mausers?"

"Schiess!" snarled Felix. "Shot by my own allies! They didn't even challenge us!"

"We must have surprised them," said Ross. "Or else they were asleep."

Max handed Ross a match case. "Strike one of these and let's look at his back."

Kneeling in the dirt, Ross lit a match, shielding it from the light breeze with his body. Max pulled Felix's pack aside and bent over the wound. He cursed under his breath and moved so the Aussie could see.

"What . . how . . how bad is it?" asked Felix. He was pale and trembling.

"About as bad as can be," answered Ross. He shook out the match and struck another. Max smothered a laugh. Felix craned around, trying to see. Ross held up a ration can, then rotated it so Felix could see the indentation and round hole in it. Juices dripped off the can. "I reckon this one has had it," snickered Ross. Max fell over, face buried in his hands, shoulders shaking.

Felix took the can from Ross. "Schiess. He shot me in the beans." Ross blew out the match and sank down next to Max. Felix could get nothing out of them for some time.

Later, as they walked out of the canyon, Felix rubbed his back and complained, "My goddamn back has a bruise the size of a f*cking football. I think there's a broken rib, too." Max translated for Ross.

"Tell him," said the Aussie, "I don't want to hear any more complaints about British rations."

Felix nodded when Max repeated Ross's words. "No more complaints." He grinned. "I'll wear it as armor. Just don't make me eat it."

****************************



Posts: 1769 | From: Fort Collins, Colorado, USA | Registered: Dec 1999  |  IP: Logged
Canuck
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posted 09-20-2000 05:36 AM     Profile for Canuck     Send New Private Message   Edit/Delete Post
Very good, but like a junky I NEED MORE......GIVE ME MORE!!!!!!!!!!

Great job Old Guy

S! Canuck

------------------
'SINE MENS, SINE DOLOR'


Posts: 190 | From: Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada | Registered: Oct 2002  |  IP: Logged
Old Guy
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posted 09-20-2000 11:50 AM     Profile for Old Guy   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message   Edit/Delete Post
Sand Rats, Part 5
For you junkies!
******************************

May 28, 1942, South of Bir Hacheim

The next canyon ended in a jumble of broken rock about fifty meters in. They were following the cliff face west, hoping to find a way up off the stony plain onto whatever lay above the cliff. Distant gunfire rumbled from that direction. The debacle in the first canyon had cost them their extra water. After the gunbattle only a few cups remained in the can.

Ross was leading when he spotted the hulk off to the right. Veering away from the cliff, he approached the vehicle carefully. Max and Felix took positions on either hand. On closer inspection he could see the thing was a German half-track, with slab sides and a ring mount intended for a heavy machine gun. The track was tilted forward into a crater. The only thing left of the cab portion were the frame rails, sticking out spaghetti fashion. The engine, the front sheet metal, axle, tires and wheels - everything else had been blown away. The crater was rimmed with the debris.

"Christ!" said Ross, "I'm glad I wasn't at hand when that lot went up!" He glanced at Max. "What was it? A mine?"

"No, had to have been a bomb. At least a 250 pounder. Whoever was in it never had a chance. What were you looking for? Something to drive back to Egypt?"

Ross laughed quietly. "That would be first rate. But, no, I just thought we ought to check out these wrecks. Might find something useful."

Felix caught Max by the arm. He pointed off to the east. "Listen."

Max listened intently for a moment. He looked at Ross. "You hear that?"

Ross nodded. "Tanks isn't it? You can hear the bogies squeaking for miles."

The sound became more distinct, echoing along the cliff face. Max climbed up on the remnant of the half-track and checked the interior. The troop seats and gun mount were in bad shape. Shrapnel had ripped through everything, leaving a ragged shell above the steel deck. He jumped back to the ground. "There's nothing for cover up there." He took a good look at the cliff. The face was uneven and rough to the limit of what he could see, but offered no hope of a decent hiding place. The squeaking grew ever louder - accompanied now by the rumble of vehicle engines.

"We'll have to take cover underneath this thing," said Max. Ross nodded and stepped around to the back. Felix turned toward the approaching sound. Max took his arm. "If they stop near us, we can take a chance on contacting them. Approaching an armored column on the move at night is a good way to commit suicide."

"I know," agreed Felix. "I'm just getting damn tired of walking." He sighed and started for the rear of the track. "Let's go. I feel like a rat dodging the housefrau."

The three men slid under the rear of the half-track. Moving forward of the rear axle was not possible, but there was enough room under the tail end to shelter them. Max peered out from behind the left rear bogie. The other two could see through openings in the track suspension. They settled down to wait.

Abruptly, the dim glow of tiny cat's eye driving lights came into view. Dust rose above the oncoming column, making the few lights only occasionally visible. Engine and bogie noise blended into a wall of sound. The ground vibrated. The head of the armored beast rolled into view. The watching men were startled by a single gun flash. A deafening bang rocked the half-track. Dust and smoke filled the space under the vehicle. Coughing, they curled up and tensed for the next round. None came. Gradually, the smoke blew away and the dust settled. The heavy vehicles rumbled steadily by. Max counted thirty or more tracked vehicles, followed by that many more trucks. Eventually, they were gone from view, evidenced only by a fading squeal.

"Why the hell did they fire into this piece of junk?" asked Felix.

Max shook his head. "I'm not positive, but I suppose the lead vehicle spotted it and made sure it was harmless. It could have been anything in the dark." He repeated his thought to Ross.

"Right," agreed Ross. "They did it the simple way. Put a round into it."

Max translated Ross's observation. Felix nodded. "These tankers and infantrymen . . they live in a strange, violent world, don't they?"

"Yes," said Max. "And we're going to step right into it."

"No," countered Felix. "Crawl. We're going to crawl in . . like rats." Beating the sand out of his uniform he said it again. "Like rats."

Max led off along the cliff. "Come on. Let's see if we can find a likely rat hole."

"What the hell are you two going on about?" asked Ross. "What bloody rats?"


The found the goat path about an hour later. Max figured it had to be a goat path. Nothing but goats and idiots would try climbing it, in his opinion. The trail wound up out of a rugged canyon, twisting back on itself like a demented snake. They moved rapidly, while trying to be reasonably quiet. Max was sure anyone at the head of the trail could to hear his heart hammering. For the tenth time in thirty minutes he vowed to give up cigarettes. A few seconds later, for the hundredth time he wished fervently for a good cup of coffee and a cigarette.

Ross slumped panting against a boulder and waited for the two Germans to catch up. When he could speak, he whispered to Max, "The top of the trail is just ahead. I thought we should catch our breath before going on."

Max held up a trembling hand, "Give me . . a minute." Felix lay out flat, panting.

Finally, Felix sat up. "When we get back," he said, "I'm going to find that f*cking recruiting officer and beat hell him. I was supposed to be stationed in the south of France, with plenty of booze and women. Nobody said anything about crap like this." Max snickered and translated for Ross. The three men laughed weakly.

"The bloody bastard that recruited me is probably home in bed with my ex-girlfriend. I ain't been home in over two years." Ross took a couple more deep breaths, then got to his knees. "That's assuming, of course, that she ain't bedding some goddamn Yank. Come on. Let's stroll up to the top and see if there's anyone to put us out of our misery." Matching action to words, he started up the trail at a crouch. Max and Felix followed.

The trail leveled off, wound between several large boulders, and came to an end. There was no one around. The top of the cliff gave way to a wilderness of rocks and gravel, not much different from the plain below, except for being rougher. "Well," said Ross, "whoever or whatever uses the cliff trail didn't follow any particular path from here."

"Looks that way," agreed Max. The light colored stone and gravel had a grayish cast in the moonlight. "I guess one can go in any direction from here. That's why there's no path. I wonder why it wasn't guarded?"

"God!" replied Ross, "Who, in their right mind, would come up that way?"

Max nodded in agreement. "Infantry could do it. But vehicles would have to come up some other way."

"Where to now?" asked Felix.

"North," said Max, pointing ahead. "North until we bump into someone."

"Right," agreed Ross, grinning, "Let's try not to surprise them. It could be fatal."


Once away from the cliff edge, the terrain became less broken. Broad, shallow canyons cut into the surface. They followed a likely one. For over an hour they wound back and forth, walking single file and keeping close to the canyon wall where they could. Felix was leading when they heard the engine. He stopped and went to cover in a tumble of rocks. The other two slid in beside him.

The engine seemed to be idling and not too far off. Max tapped Felix and Ross - motioning for them to follow. He led the way up onto the lip above, then slipped quietly in the direction of the sound. Finally, they crawled over a bare ledge and peered into a small gorge opening onto the canyon they had been in. Below, in the mouth of the gorge, sat a truck and two smaller vehicles.

"It's a Desert Patrol group," whispered Ross. "Look, the lorry is armored and has a machine gun mounted. Those two smaller rigs are American jeeps. I've seen them back in Egypt."

"They must have just pulled in their guards," said Max. "They're getting ready to leave."

Indeed, the men below were stowing and lashing gear. All three vehicles were idling. They had only been able to hear the deeper rumble of the truck in the canyon. An armed guard stood on each side of the gorge mouth, watching up and down the canyon. The patrol was about to depart.

Ross tapped Max. "Here's where I get off, I think. I'll catch a ride with these lads. Do you want to come along or go on . . to the north?"

"Christ, Ross! You're liable to get blown away by these bastards! Are you sure?"

"Look, Max. It's risky, no matter who we try this with. Most of the troops around here seem to shoot first and ask no questions later." He gazed down into the gorge. "This is no more dangerous than anywhere else." Ross pulled two of his canteens loose and handed them to Max. "I'll keep two. Otherwise they'll never believe I was in the desert. You may need these."

"All right," said Max. "Let us crawl off, then make your move." He held out his hand. "Good luck. Maybe . . after the war . ."

"I know. I'll buy you a beer. Then you can buy me one. We'll get bloody well drunk."

Felix reached across Max and shook Ross's hand. "Gutes Gluck," he whispered. Ross nodded. He didn't need a translation.

Max and Felix began crawling back the way they had come. Ross waited until they disappeared from view, then stood up where the men below could see him clearly. "Yo! Hello the camp!" he waved his arms in a wide arc. "Don't shoot! Don't bloody well shoot, you bastards!"

The two men on guard wheeled and raised their rifles, but didn't fire. The men around the vehicles went to ground. Ross kept his arms raised and out to the side. "I'm a bloody pilot! He roared, "An Australian! Don't shoot! I want to come down!"

The scene held quiet for a few seconds. Ross realized he wasn't breathing. Taking a deep breath, he started to say something else, but a voice from below interrupted him. "All right! Come on down! Keep your arms in plain sight! Are you alone?"

"Yes!" shouted Ross. "And watch your trigger fingers, lads! I may have to use my arms to get down the bloody hill here."

"Come on down!" replied another voice. "Don't break you f*cking neck." Ross started down the slope, hopping along the rocks, and finally sliding down the last pitch of loose stones. He came to his feet in a cloud of rock dust. A burly sergeant covered him with an Enfield and an officer came up on the other side. They didn't look glad to see him.

"Where on earth did you come from?" asked the officer.

Ross jerked a thumb over his shoulder. "Back to the south. Thirty miles or so. Captain Ross McLoud, Royal Australian Air Force. I'm damn glad to see you chaps." He shook one canteen. Only had water for another day."

"Jesus!" exclaimed the officer and introduced himself, "Leftenant Bruce, Long Range Desert Patrol Group. This is Sergeant Price. Put the gun down, Price. Let's get a move on."

Price lowered the rifle and nodded to Ross, "He must be okay, sir. Never heard anyone talk English worse than Australians - not even Americans." Under the circumstances Ross decided not to be offended.

Within minutes, the patrol was in motion, heading south and west. The Leftenant handed Ross some goggles. "We're going further west and then north - back to our camp. We'll be two days getting there I imagine. From there you'll be able to get back into Egypt. May take a few days."

"I hope you lot aren't looking for a fight out here," said Ross.

"Our job is to find the enemy, sir. Sometimes we get into scraps, but we try not to." He looked at Ross critically. "You look pretty rough. How did you survive out there?"

Ross massaged his week-old beard. "Lived off the stuff left by the dead, Leftenant. Scrounged water and food from damaged vehicles. We were rats. Only rats can live like that."

"We?" the Leftenant was instantly suspicious. Ross cursed his slip of the tongue.

Blandly he nodded. "We. Charlie and me."

"Charlie? You said you were alone."

"You ever walk across the desert for days on end with no one to talk to, Leftenant?"

The man shook his head. "No, sir. Not alone."

"Well, I can tell you, it's bloody well lonely. I found myself talking to the rocks and sand. Finally, it was Charlie. He always seemed to be just out of view, behind me, if you take my meaning. Didn't say much, old Charlie. Good listener." Ross looked around. "Don't know what happened to him. Must not have got on the truck."

The Leftenant shook his head. Bugger's gone off the deep end!


Felix and Max watched the British patrol depart. Max handed one of Ross's canteens to Felix. "Well, it's just the two of us again. Let's find some shelter." They started north . It was already getting warm.

"You think we'll ever get to buy him a beer?" asked Felix.

"Schiess, Felix! We might be able to, I suppose. If . ."

"If what?"

"If they serve beer in hell!" The two men trudged up the canyon.

*****************************

Beer in hell? Hope so!


Posts: 1769 | From: Fort Collins, Colorado, USA | Registered: Dec 1999  |  IP: Logged
Storm
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posted 09-20-2000 12:07 PM     Profile for Storm   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message   Edit/Delete Post
Old Guy,

Someday, I hope to meet up, and I'll buy you a beer. From one military man to another
Thanks

Storm


Posts: 606 | From: Crestview, Florida USA | Registered: Dec 1999  |  IP: Logged
PapaRomeo
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posted 09-20-2000 12:18 PM     Profile for PapaRomeo   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message   Edit/Delete Post
Think about it, OG:

"Sand Rats"

"An Old Guy Film"

"Starring Ralph Fiennes as Max, Tim Robbins as Felix, and Matt Damon as Ross"

Whaddaya think?

PR


Posts: 949 | From: Springfield, Virginia, USA | Registered: Feb 2000  |  IP: Logged
Old Guy
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posted 09-20-2000 12:40 PM     Profile for Old Guy   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message   Edit/Delete Post
PR,

I was thinking more along the lines of Russell Crowe for Max.

Storm,

Was that an empty threat? I do get to Florida once in awhile. Panama City and Tampa. My wife's family . . sigh. Where the hell is Crestview?


Posts: 1769 | From: Fort Collins, Colorado, USA | Registered: Dec 1999  |  IP: Logged
PapaRomeo
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posted 09-20-2000 12:58 PM     Profile for PapaRomeo   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message   Edit/Delete Post
Love your work. Have your people call my people. We'll do lunch.

Crowe could do this, but he's hot right now. Could blow the budget. I'll put out some feelers, check his interest.

Ciao, baby.

PR


Posts: 949 | From: Springfield, Virginia, USA | Registered: Feb 2000  |  IP: Logged
The Quiet Man
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posted 09-20-2000 06:22 PM     Profile for The Quiet Man   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message   Edit/Delete Post

Posts: 2165 | From: SF Bay Area | Registered: Jan 2000  |  IP: Logged
Storm
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posted 09-20-2000 06:48 PM     Profile for Storm   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message   Edit/Delete Post
O.G.

No sir, that was not an empty promise. Crestview is just 20 miles north of Eglin AFB (where I'm stationed), which is in Valpairiso. If you were to drive west on I-10 from Panama City, you'd run through it about 40 minutes later. Drop me an email if you think you may be coming by this way and we'll start making some plans and I'll start putting some on ice

Storm
Storm22@gnt.net

------------------
"When Gorillas fly, Migs die!" 58th F.S.


Posts: 606 | From: Crestview, Florida USA | Registered: Dec 1999  |  IP: Logged
Old Guy
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posted 09-20-2000 07:48 PM     Profile for Old Guy   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message   Edit/Delete Post
Sand Rats, Part 6

****************************

May 29, 1942, At Bir Hacheim

Max and Felix spent the day huddled under an north facing ledge. They were able to crawl back several feet from the opening. Similar rock formations stretched off to north and south. The terrain to their front was a waste of sand and rock, similar to that in which they had first crashed. The day was a little cooler than before, with heavy cloud cover, but no rain.

There was considerable activity to the north and west. Aircraft could be heard but not seen and Felix spotted a few armored vehicles well off to the northwest. The area nearby was quiet. Max elected to wait until full dark before starting north.

"I don't like the idea of walking into a battle area in the dark," said Felix. Artillery fire, which had been intermittent all day, now began an almost continuous drumbeat. The horizon glowed and rumbled as shells impacted on their targets. Gunflashes could be seen to the west, indicating the presence of at least one battery. Felix pointed in that direction. "Should we try that way? Artillerymen might not be so quick on the trigger."

Max nodded in agreement. "Okay. I can't think of a better plan."

Cloud cover reduced the desert to a vague set of shadows. Only the light colors of the sand and rock made movement possible. Fires burned far to the north, reflecting on the clouds, but providing little illumination. Felix aimed for a clump of rocks and moved off, Max close behind. Continuing in this fashion - creeping from one dark object to the next - they made fairly good time until the end of the first hour. Max was leading. He touched the steel fender of a burned out tank and froze. Low voices came from his left - evidently some distance away on the far side of the tank. He went down flat. Felix tugged at his arm and began crawling toward the rear of the vehicle. Once there, he wriggled under the steel hull. Gunfire erupted just as Max began doing the same.

Tracers tore overhead. Some struck the tank and caromed off into the night. Heavy firing broke out on the other side of their sanctuary. A mortar began to cough not too far away. Men shouted and cursed. "Italians," whispered Max. "Or French."

Felix lay on his belly, pressing into the ground. "I wish I was a rat. I could get closer to the ground."

A flare popped, throwing the area into stark relief. More shooting - seemingly from all directions. Metal rang as rounds struck the tank. The flare went out. Someone snapped out a string of orders. "That's French!" said Max. Felix wasn't sure, but he kept quiet. The firing stopped abruptly. There was a long silence, broken finally by a few rifle shots off in the distance. Gravel rattled briefly, then no more sound could be heard, except for the action in the distance. The two men lay quiet. Waiting.

Half an hour later, they crawled out and crept away from the ruined tank. Five minutes later Max stumbled over a body and crashed to the ground. Felix dropped and they lay quiet, hearts pounding. There was no alarm. No firing. Cannon rumbled in the distance. Felix crawled forward and Max handed him a hat. A kepi. "That's French Foreign Legion," whispered Max. Felix carefully placed the kepi on its owner's chest. Crouching, they moved on.

Another hour went by, complete with alarms and excursions, but none close enough to be truly dangerous. The artillery fire stopped, then resumed in a series of gun duels between opposing batteries. To the north and west they began to see the flashes of flat-trajectory weapons. Tank cannon or anti-tank guns - there was no way to be sure. Tracers could be seen in silent arcs across the sky. A few burning vehicles dotted the ground a few kilometers to the north. The reflected light was bright enough now to be of some use as they moved. The moon made an appearance through a break in the clouds. Max halted and took cover in a shell hole. "Feels like the housefrau is getting closer," he said in a low tone.

"My skin gets to crawling every now and then," said Felix, "Like I had come to school with no clothes on or something. As if everyone could see me."

"God, Felix!" laughed Max. "What sort of secrets do you have in your past anyway?" Then he grew more serious. "I know what you mean, though. I can almost feel where the bullets are going to hit me. Then nothing happens and the feeling goes away. For a minute or so." He started to get up.

Felix grabbed his arm. "Wait. I've got a real bad feeling." Max slid back into the shell hole. Felix twisted around and reached to help him back up just as a packet of artillery shells plowed into the ground in front of their refuge. Blamblamblamblam! The explosions ripped the night apart, tumbling them to the bottom of the hole. Stones and shrapnel screamed overhead. Four more shells arrived, a little further away. And four more, still further. Ears ringing, the two men curled up in their hole, shrinking away from the blasts. Some minutes went by before they crawled up to the edge of the crater, stupefied and partially deaf.

Max thumped Felix on the back. "I think . ." he panted, "I think you are . . the luckiest sonofabitch I've ever seen!" A thin fog of dust and smoke lay over the area. Max rolled over on his back and gazed up at the clouds. Moonlight lent them a clean, phosphorescent look. It was a beautiful sight. Max wondered why he hadn't noticed it before. He turned back to Felix. "It's your luck, you know. Your luck that's kept us alive."

"How do you figure that?" asked Felix, more than a little amused. "If I'm so damned lucky, why did we get shot down?"

Max smiled benignly. "Luck doesn't work that way. Bad things can happen, even to someone with your luck. The bad things just aren't so bad you can't stand it." He frowned. "That's not exactly what I mean . ."

Now Felix laughed aloud. "Look who's getting philosophical! Max, you old sinner! It's just blind chance! Nothing more."

Smiling fondly on his co-pilot, Max shrugged, "I think we could stand up and stroll off in any direction and nothing would hurt us. Nothing at all." He started to get up.

Felix grabbed his jacket and pulled him down. "Get down, your idiot! What if . . what if this luck of mine is only good when . . when you don't count on it! Did you ever think of that?"

Max paused, staring at Felix. He nodded slowly. "Okay. You're right. We shouldn't count on it. But I'm confident now that everything will be all right. You'll see."

"Okay. We'll go forward confidently," said Felix. "But very, very carefully."


Ratlike, they crawled through the night, bearing to the north, into the heart of the battle. The artillery battery which had been their goal was no longer firing. Max figured it had moved. Or . . something worse had happened. They began to encounter slit trenches and more burned out vehicles. The stench of roasted flesh lay over everything. Felix found a shallow trench running more or less in the direction they wanted to go. It bent left and right and was sometimes nearly shoulder-deep, but usually less. No one occupied the trench - dead or alive. It came to an end near a smoldering tank. It was a type Max hadn't seen before, mounting a single big gun forward and a smaller one on the side. The main gun sagged almost to the ground and all the hatches stood open. He hoped the crew had escaped.

The ground was bare rock or sand mixed with rock. Dunes were generally small and flattened off on top. There wasn't much cover. Felix moved steadily forward, moving from shell hole, to sand dune, to wrecked tank, to burned out truck. At such a truck he halted, motioning Max to come up. Several bodies lay in a row in front of the hulk.

"These guys haven't been dead very long," whispered Felix.

Max nodded. "They haven't begun to bloat up and they don't smell of corruption. So what?"

"Somebody laid them out like they was intending to return for them. Do you suppose they'll be back tonight?"

"Hell, I don't know. Check the bodies. See what units they belong to."

Felix hesitated. The thought of touching the dead men nauseated him. Slowly, he walked out to the corpses and knelt to check their uniforms. It only took a moment. He hurried back to where Max huddled next to the truck. "Italians!" he said, voice trembling, "Ariete Division, I think. I've seen those uniforms before." His hands were shaking. When he touched the second man in the row, the head had flopped loosely to the side. The sudden movement had startled Felix, but it was the wide, staring eyes that he saw every time he blinked.

Max eyed him curiously. "Did you see a ghost?"

Felix turned away, still shaken. "I . . yes. It . ." He rubbed his hands together and shook his head, speaking more firmly, "No. No ghosts. Just dead Italians."

"Well, they're good at that."

"Good at what? Being dead? Italians?"

"Listen to you," chuckled Max. "No. Not just Italians. Every corpse I've ever seen was good at it. Being dead, I mean." He laughed again, quietly. "On the job training."
Felix grinned, the image of the corpse and the staring eyes vanished. "Of all the a$$holes I've ever met," he said, thumping Max, "you're definitely one."

"Thank you," replied Max. "It's a natural talent."

"What shall we do? Wait around and see if someone comes for the bodies?"

"I'm tempted," mused Max. "But we're pretty much in the open here. Let's move on. See if we can find a better place to hole up. In the daylight we may have better luck."

"In the daylight we'll also show up better over gunsights. Sorry if I seem pessimistic."

"We have to take the chance sooner or later," said Max. "I just hope they don't shoot us on account."

"On account of what?"

"On account of us looking like we've already been shot two or three times and left for dead."

Felix stood up, shaking his head. "You're going to be one hell of a surprise to the devil, Max." He looked around at the fire tinted atmosphere and added softly, "We're already there aren't we?"

"Nah! This is just the front porch. Come on. The devil's waiting."

*****************************

Waiting a long time, I hope.


Posts: 1769 | From: Fort Collins, Colorado, USA | Registered: Dec 1999  |  IP: Logged
PapaRomeo
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posted 09-21-2000 11:05 AM     Profile for PapaRomeo   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message   Edit/Delete Post
Don't leave us hanging, OG!


Posts: 949 | From: Springfield, Virginia, USA | Registered: Feb 2000  |  IP: Logged
VMF-124_Gramps

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posted 09-21-2000 11:48 AM     Profile for VMF-124_Gramps     Send New Private Message   Edit/Delete Post
I think Canuck may be right, (first time for everything) this is a ploy to get us to buy the book. Can't wait for the rest of this one.

[This message has been edited by VMF-124_Gramps (edited 09-21-2000).]


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Old Guy
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posted 09-21-2000 12:13 PM     Profile for Old Guy   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message   Edit/Delete Post
Sand Rats, Part 7

**************************

May 29, 1942, Bir Hacheim

"You know," shouted Felix, "I'm getting a little tired of this." Max nodded, but didn't reply, choosing instead to burrow a bit deeper into the bottom of the shell hole. This one was a long kilometer more-or-less north of the Dead Italian Truck, as they had started calling it. A furious gunbattle between several tanks or a few tanks and a couple of anti-tank guns was raging above their hole. One or more of the antagonists seemed to be firing right over the top of their hole, attested to by the occasional high-velocity round.

A loud clang reverberated through the night, followed by a high, whistling shriek and a series of shattering blasts. The firing stopped like someone closing a tap. Tank engines growled in the distance, then faded away. Artillery fired far to the west in a thump-thump, thump-thump pattern. Felix crawled up to where he could see. A squat tank chassis burned brightly about 200 meters away. A turret lay upside down twenty meters or so from the chassis, also burning. Nothing moved inside the lighted area.

Felix slid back down beside Max. "Somebody caught a packet. There's a tank burning off to the east. Don't know whose it is."

Max sat up and pulled out a canteen. "I don't suppose anyone's going to try and steal it."

"No, I think not," agreed Felix, smiling weakly. "What do we do now?"

"Now, Felix . ." They both ducked as another round cooked off. Several bits of debris bounced into the hole and lay at the bottom, smoking. "Now, I think we should get very low to the ground and crawl away from here. The next thing that rolls in here could be something explosive."

They left the shell hole heading west, crawled quickly to a low dune, and moved north in a sort of crouching waddle. Several more tank gun rounds blew up just as they reached a slit trench. An odd shaped piece of steel warbled through the air overhead. Several chunks of tank hull thudded into the sand or bounced ringing over the rocks. Max picked himself up off the bottom of the trench and looked around. Felix scrambled around and got up, groaning. "Are you hurt?" asked Max.

"No, I'm not hurt," retorted Felix. "I'm f*cking near killed! Don't you ever watch where you're going? Damn near broke my back!"

Max muffled a laugh. "Sorry. Didn't see you. I'll try to be more careful the next time I'm ducking a metric ton of flying steel."

Felix snickered, then coughed and groaned again. "Schiess! I think I'll live. Let's get out of here."

Max continued north with Felix limping along behind. To the east he could see the first hints of dawn. They needed to find a hiding place before it got much lighter. The next hulk they encountered was a large truck, but it was badly shattered and the familiar smell of burned flesh exuded from the remains of the cab. Ten minutes later Max walked around a low rocky mound and headed for the next likely spot. Suddenly he stopped and turned back. He walked to the mound, knelt down, and disappeared.

Alarmed, Felix hissed, "Max! Are you okay!"

The pilot reappeared. "I'm fine. It's a goddamned firing position. Dug into the ground and covered with timbers and sandbags. Come on. Watch you step." He showed Felix the entry steps. "Careful. There's a couple of bodies in there."

"Bodies! Christ, Max! I don't want to share a hole with dead people."

Max shook his head. "Picky bastard, aren't you? Well, come on. We'll lay them outside here. Might serve to keep the curious types away."

The bunker was roughly two meters by three inside, with a firing slit in the south wall. Stout timbers supported the roof, which was constructed using a layer of timbers and two layers of sandbags with sand and rocks heaped over it all. A simple set of steps led to an opening in the back wall. They hauled the two bodies out and dumped them a short distance from the bunker.

"Soldiers in this thing can only fire to the front or maybe out the back door there," said Felix, "That doesn't seem too smart."

"There are other bunkers like this behind it," explained Max. "Overlapping fields of fire. Mutual protection. All that infantry schiess."

"Well, if that's . . wait a minute," whispered Felix. "Are there soldiers in those bunkers? Did they see us?"

Max grinned. "I guess not. If there had been soldiers and they'd seen us . . why . . we'd be dead. Infantrymen have a bad habit of shooting things that move around in the dark."

"You bastard!" said Felix. "You knew they were empty!"

"No. I actually only thought about the other bunkers when you asked me. I nearly pissed myself just thinking about it." He shrugged. "They must be empty."

Felix was silent for some time. "What will happen today?"

"There's a war on out there. People will shoot at each other. Some will die. Most won't. I only know one thing for sure."

Felix waited. Finally he sighed and asked, "What do you know for sure?"

"It will be noisy. Noisy as hell. Eat something and get some sleep. We may not get a chance later."


The coming of dawn brought renewed activity. Artillery firing picked up again, although none of the rounds impacted in their vicinity. Smoke rose in distinct columns all around, but nothing closer than the tank they had seen burning the previous night. A huge cloud of dust and smoke obscured the western sky. A steady rumble of battle could be heard in that direction as well. Felix slept while Max kept watch. Around noon, they switched. There hadn't been much change. Most of the noise and activity was off to the west.

A light wind sprang up, bringing a stream of hot air through the bunker, along with an irritating veil of sand. Late in the afternoon Felix spotted troops moving to the north east and woke Max.

"There," said Felix, pointed to where he had seen movement. "See them?"

"Yes. They're moving past us. Foreign Legion troops, Felix. A platoon or so. I wonder where they're going?"

"I don't care. As long as it isn't here."

"It has to be a patrol. Out to bash a few heads and bloody some noses. I don't like this, Felix. We've come too far, I think."

"What do you mean, too far."

"Those men are coming from some point in front of us, heading for another place behind us. We seem to have taken up residence in a sort of no-man's-land between the two forces."

"How the hell did we manage to walk right through our own forces without running into some of them?"

Max shrugged. "Combat units tend to be in groups and control the area around them with their weapons. In the dark one could go between those groups and not be seen. Obviously, that's what we did."

"So what now? This whole business is getting a little tiresome. How hard can it be to locate a friendly unit?"

"Harder than we thought." Max grinned and shook his head. "Those Legion troops are doing the same thing, you know."

"Doing what same thing?"

"Looking for some of our forces. Only I don't think they have anything friendly in mind."

"No. I suppose not. Do we wait until dark and move back south? See what we can find?"

"Sounds like a plan to me, Felix." Max stretched out in the sand. "Wake me an hour or so before sunset."

Felix went to the entry steps and made a careful check of the area to the north. Not much was happening. A few shells raised a cloud of dust a kilometer or so to the northwest. More dust boiled up to the east. Vehicles on the move. He took up a position at the firing slot. The French troops were no longer anywhere to be seen. Sand blew in through the openings and got in everything. Felix knew he must smell like a dead animal and probably looked like one as well. Luckily, his own nose had been shocked into submission by the enervating stench of the battlefields they had traversed.

A reconnaissance pilot is a specialist of sorts and Felix had spent the last eighteen months in a fairly civilized atmosphere, with decent living quarters and access to tolerable food, booze, and even women. The events of the last few days had given him a new, and still undigested view of combat. Burying the dead at that first truck had been shocking and horribly unpleasant, but sort of noble, in his innocent outlook. Since then, he had literally walked past hundreds of dead men, stinking and rotting in their burned out hulks. The smell of roasting flesh clung to his clothes. The corpse at the Dead Italian Truck had surprised him - frightened him in a sort of superstitious way, but he had helped Max lug the two dead soldiers out of the bunker without a qualm. He wondered about that.

The men he had seen moving south were on their way to kill or be killed. He tried to imagine himself picking up a weapon and going out to hunt another man like that. Felix remembered lying in the dirt in the canyon - certain he was dying - while Max and Ross fired back at their attackers. He supposed himself in such a situation, with Max on the ground, hurt. And he knew, without a doubt, that he would stand over him and shoot back. Felix felt an odd confusion of mind. Schiess! Enough philosophy! He took a swallow of water and decided to check his pistol.

He gripped the Luger, then ejected the clip and worked the slide. No shell in the chamber. No sense trying to clean it in all this sand, he decided, but went ahead and wiped it down with his shirt tail. Snapping the clip into place, Felix worked the slide again, seating a round in the chamber - ready to fire. He pushed the safety on and holstered the pistol. Felix was not aware of his new kinship with hundreds of other men on the battlefield - each engaged in that oldest habit known to combat soldiers in every time and every place - cleaning and checking weapons. He just felt better.

At dusk, just as they were getting ready to move, heavy firing broke out to the south. Max joined Felix at the firing slit. Small explosions raised dust, but nothing else could be seen. Felix moved over to the entry step, checking to the north. It was quiet. Mortar rounds began impacting to the south. The firing increased in volume and the mortar bursts moved closer.

"Get away from the openings," said Max. "They're walking the mortars in this direction. I wonder if those French troops are headed back this way?"

The two men moved to one corner and sat with their backs to the sandbagged wall. Heavier explosions shook the ground. A machine gun opened up nearby. Felix looked at Max. "That's close! I didn't see anyone moving in! Did you?"

"No. But we haven't been watching that closely." He shrugged. "Someone else decided to join the party."

"Party! Schiess!"

The crack of rifles mingled with machine gun fire and mortar and artillery explosions to form a nearly continuous roar. An explosion sent fragments ripping through the firing slit. The bunker shook from repeated blasts. Sand dribbled out of the roof. A thin haze drifted in the air. Shouts came from outside. A man crashed through the entry and took up a position beside the firing slit. Two more followed. One noticed Felix and Max huddled in the corner, but ignored them. Three more men tumbled in, crowding the bunker. A hatless man holding a pistol shouted orders and the men at the slit began shooting. Then, the rain of artillery and mortar shells increased even further, shaking the bunker savagely. Everyone hugged the ground. Felix heard someone weeping. He hoped it wasn't him.

It seemed a long, long time before the shelling moved away toward the north, then stopped. Max sat up to find the officer staring at him. The man said something Max couldn't hear. He shook his head and pointed to his ears. The officer grinned and nodded. Pointing to his pistol, he held out his hand. Sighing, Max carefully extracted his Luger and handed it over. Felix did the same. The officer tucked one of the guns in his belt and handed the other to one of the soldiers.

Their journey was over. They were prisoners of war.

***************************

No, this is not the end.
Give me a break, guys! There are at least three more parts to this story. I'm moving as fast as I can.


Posts: 1769 | From: Fort Collins, Colorado, USA | Registered: Dec 1999  |  IP: Logged
Old Guy
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posted 09-21-2000 10:00 PM     Profile for Old Guy   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message   Edit/Delete Post
Sand Rats, Part 8

*****************************

May 30, 1942, Southeast of the Cauldron

"Big fight to the northwest of us, sir," said Leftenant Bruce as he plopped down next to Ross. "My radioman has monitored a series of plain language messages from the units engaged. I'm glad we're not in it."

Ross nodded. "Plain language? That can't be command stuff. Tank radios?" The Leftenant nodded. Ross frowned. "Are we that close?"

Bruce shook his head. "No. Radios are funny. Sometimes we can't hear a bloke over the next sand dune. Other times we hear things from hundreds of miles away. Atmospheric skip or some other dreary technical term, sir. The fighting must be twenty or more miles away."

They sat in the meager shade afforded by the lorry. The two jeeps were parked about fifty yards behind, on either side of the sandy draw. An hour ago, the group had rolled into this y-shaped split in the dunes and stopped in the right hand fork, well inside the draw. Sentries were out in all directions. The Leftenant didn't go into the reasons for the halt, but it was obviously a normal procedure. Everyone seemed to know exactly what to do. Ross felt like a fifth wheel.

The radioman leaned over the tailgate and spoke to the Leftenant, "Harley's coming, sir. Something's up."

Ross followed Bruce into the bright sun. A soldier was sliding down off the dune overlooking their backtrail. He held his right fist in the air. Bruce turned to the soldiers at hand. "Get your weapons!" He then faced the jeeps and waved both arms in wide arcs. Everyone visible surged into action. Except Ross.

As Harley got closer he held up two fingers, "Two vehicles! One kubelwagen and one truck! Nine or ten men - all mounted when I last saw them. Truck bed is tarped. I didn't see a gun mounted. Kubelwagen has an MG on it."

"All right," said Bruce. "Let's hit them! Price! You know what to do! I'll get the others on their way." He sprinted off toward the jeeps. The whole group was on the move. Two men ran by with a light machine gun and tripod. Ross turned to find Sergeant Price handing him an Enfield and a bandolier of ammunition.

Sergeant Price grinned, "Can you use a bleedin' Enfield, sir?" Ross nodded, taking the rifle. "Well, then," said the sergeant. "You'd best come along with me." Without further word the big sergeant trotted off cradling a Bren gun. Another soldier followed, carrying ammunition for the Bren, along with his own rifle. Ross fell in behind.

Price led the way to the angle where the draw met the larger canyon they had driven up earlier. A cluster of boulders stuck out at the juncture of the two canyons. The two-man machine gun team was already in place, crouched behind the rocks. Price and his number two man took up a position to their left. The sergeant placed Ross on the far left, closest to the intersecting canyon walls. "Sit down and wait," he said. "Check your weapon. When the signal comes get up and fire over these rocks."

"What's the signal?" asked Ross.

Price pointed across and further down the canyon. "The Leftenant is hidden in those bloody rocks. He'll fire first. There's lads up on the canyon rim across the way. We'll all open up on signal." He grinned viciously.

"Right. What shall I shoot at?"

"Driver's of the bloody vehicles, if we ain't already got the bastards. Men on the ground. Let the machine guns work on the vehicles."

Ross nodded and worked the rifle bolt, running a shell into the chamber. Checking that the rifle was on safe, he then extracted two magazines from the bandolier and stuffed them into his shirt pockets. After that, there was nothing to do but wait.

The other soldiers likewise settled down to wait. Flies buzzed - the wind blew fitfully - everyone sweated. Ross swatted at a fly, drawing an evil glance from Price. When the sound of the German vehicles finally could be heard, Ross wasn't sure that's what it was. He glanced at the sergeant, but Price was watching the pile of rocks where the Leftenant lay hidden. It dawned on Ross that the Germans were moving slowly, almost idling. They were suspicious.

He eased the safety off and made ready to get up. The noise increased slightly. Now he could distinguish two different motors. He wiped his trigger hand on his shirt. Price was up on one knee, Bren gun held to one side. Time seemed poised on the edge of a knife. He had no clear memory of that first shot. His first impression was of noise - the incredible noise from the two automatic weapons blazing away to his immediate right. Then he noticed a man lying face up in front of the smaller vehicle. He fired without conscious volition. Worked the bolt. Fired again. A bullet struck the rocks to his left, spraying him with chips, stinging his face and arm. For the first time he saw men moving on his front. One was kneeling, aiming in his direction. Automatically, Ross sighted and fired. A bullet zipped by his ear. The man collapsed backwards.

Quickly, Ross ran through the rest of the magazine. Men went down, but he didn't know if he'd hit them. He groped for another magazine. Bullets smashed into the rocks in front of him and he reeled back - went flat on his butt - still fumbling with the magazine. Finally, he slammed the bolt home and started to rise. Two figures appeared on the sloping wall above and to his left. One fired and something slammed into his leg. There was no pain. He swung his rifle and fired - worked the bolt savagely - and fired again. One of the figures was down. The other fell and started to get up. He was moving as if trying to climb out of thick mud. Ross shot him in the body, then again in the face. After that, things got a little hazy.

Price was bending over him, concern on his face. He was saying something. " . . Captain! Can you hear me, Captain!" Ross nodded, blinking in the sunlight. His tongue didn't want to work.

Several men bustled around, picking things up. He struggled to sit up. Price shoved him firmly back down. Ross finally blurted out, "Did . . did we . . did we get 'em?"

Price grinned. "Every last one. Good job on the ones that came in over the bloody goddamn hill." Ross laughed weakly. He had no idea what the sergeant was talking about. Besides, his leg was starting to hurt - for some reason.

Six Weeks Later, Alexandria

The doctor held up the X-ray negative and pursed his lips. Finally he nodded, satisfied. "Your leg has healed nicely, Captain." He stood up. "You'll be released today. Limited duty for a month or so, I should think. You won't be flying again for a bit. And no more desert patrols, either." Chuckling at his little joke, the doctor left the room.

"Ross, you bugger!" rasped the Armor Captain in the corner. "Off to visit the local ladies? Give the little f*cking machines my best. I always did!" The man laughed in a grating, maniacal fashion. The Armor Captain had inhaled a great deal of smoke when his tank was struck by an 88-millimeter, high-velocity shell and set alight. He had also lost both legs and other important equipment in the fire. Ross was positive the Armor Captain would commit suicide at the earliest opportunity.

Limping only a little, Ross went round to the common clothes locker and began to dress. His battledress had been freshly laundered - a month ago. It was also not really his, but something pulled out of Stores. The pieces didn't really match.

LT, the mad Leftenant who occupied the bed next to the clothes locker, awoke suddenly. "Ralph?" he whispered. "Ralph?" Ross continued to dress. He had no idea who 'Ralph' might be. Maybe one of the other occupants of Officer's Bay 5 would recognize the name. No one spoke up. LT curled into a ball and repeated the call. "Ralph?" Evidently this was a new one.

"What is it, lad?" said Ross quietly. A low voice seemed to help. Normal tones sometimes sent the poor lad into a fit. When air raid sirens sounded a burly nurse always appeared to give LT a sedative and cart him off to a restraining room.

"Ralph, have you seen Mummy?"

Ah, Mummy. That one was easy. "Of course, lad. She went to make the tea."

"Thank you, Ralph." LT relaxed and began humming a nursery rhyme. He might be quiet for hours once he started humming like that.

The young Leftenant had lain trapped in a collapsed bunker for nearly two days. His platoon sergeant and several other men were down there with him. Some were dead and all the others died before he was rescued. The other men in the ward told Ross that LT had been virtually catatonic when brought in. The disjointed conversations began later. No one could tell which names might be from his past and which were pure figments. The pieces didn't really match.

"Goodbye, LT," whispered Ross. Several of the others waved as he left. None spoke.

He left the hospital by the main entrance. In pre-war days, the building had been a resort hotel of the economy type. Now it was a military hospital. With eight men to a room, he reckoned it was still a low-class destination.

"Captain McLoud! Captain!" Someone shouted his name. Ross turned and there was Leftenant Bruce and an officer Ross didn't know.

"Bruce!" he yelled and limped over to shake hands. "By God! What are you doing in Alexandria?"

"We're here to see you, of course! What a sod!"

"But . . why? How did you find me?"

"It was Price, of course. He kept checking in every hospital we came across, looking for Captain bloody McLoud! When the LRDG Headquarters moved back to here, he finally got to the right place. We've been checking every day. Waiting for the buggers to release you."

Ross laughed. It felt good. He was glad to see Bruce. There had never been an opportunity to properly thank him and his men for picking him up in the desert. "Price. That bastard! I'll bet I owe him a drink! The sod!"

"Not a chance," said Bruce, shaking his head. "He says the drinks are on him. Claims you saved his life or some such nonsense."

Puzzled, Ross massaged his jaw. "I don't remember much about that last day. You'll have to fill me in. You and Price."

"Well, bloody hell, man. Let's get off the street and into a cool bar. I'll take you to see Price later. He's running the bloody motor pool now."

Ross held out his hand to the strange officer. "I'm Ross McLoud, Lieutenant. This bastard is never going to introduce us."

"Jake Dent, Captain. I've heard a lot about you, sir." He grinned. "Is any of it true?"

"Not much, I'm afraid. Not if you heard it from Bruce and his lot."

"Dent is here as an Army Air Corp liaison officer," explained Bruce.

"Well, well. The Americans finally arrive. And what, exactly, does a liaison officer do?"

Dent laughed. "Hangs out in bars mostly. I think that's one over there, in fact. My bar recognition skills are quite good."

"Outstanding!" Ross laughed again. He hadn't had a good laugh or a good drunk in a long time. The hospital fought a rigorous campaign against strong drink. It was hard to get enough to really do much good. And laughing tended to send LT off into a frenzy.

************************



Posts: 1769 | From: Fort Collins, Colorado, USA | Registered: Dec 1999  |  IP: Logged
Old Guy
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posted 09-22-2000 02:02 PM     Profile for Old Guy   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message   Edit/Delete Post
Sand Rats, Part 9

*****************************

June 11, 1942, Bir Hacheim

Max noticed the shelling had stopped. He raised his arm to check the time before remembering that he didn't have a watch anymore. One of his captors had taken it on the first day. The silence stretched on. He considered the absence of shellfire. There was something important about that if he could only force it from his befogged brain. Felix lay nearby, sleeping on an iron framed cot. The two-weeks worth of beard made him look oddly unfamiliar. Max touched his own beard. Neither of them had been able to shave or bath properly since the crash. Being captured hadn't helped. The French at Bir Hacheim were under siege. There was water for drinking, but none for bathing.


That first day was a revelation. Max never discovered the name of the officer who had captured them. They were turned over to Lieutenant Rouen, the officer responsible for prisoners. Since neither of them were injured, they were placed into an underground bunker with the others. There were then eleven prisoners in the bunker - four Afrika Corp and seven Ariete Division soldiers. The highest ranking prisoner was a German Leutnant. Max found himself in charge of the POWs by virtue of his rank. It was not a burdensome task, except in one respect. The French were scrupulous in their treatment of the captives - feeding them exactly the same rations as their own troops received. Water supplies were not abundant, but adequate - just like the rest of the garrison. They were also anxious to show that their treatment of wounded prisoners was correct and humane. This was the part Max hated.

The Italians were closing the ring around Bir Hacheim, delayed only in that a series of savage battles to the west took up a great deal of time and equipment. The French were still in sporadic contact with the British forces to the west and north. Shelling went on around the clock. Much of the time, the incoming artillery fire was perfunctory, as if the Italians just wanted to remind everyone that they were still there. Other times the barrages were hellish, reaching a mind numbing intensity. The troops were well dug in, but the shelling produced a steady trickle of wounded and dead. Constant patrolling by both sides served mostly to increase the casualty list. A few more prisoners were taken during the siege. Some were brought in wounded.

Lieutenant Rouen came in at dusk on the second day of his captivity. He saluted gravely and asked Max to accompany him to the field hospital in order to verify the treatment of wounded prisoners. Max returned the salute and demurred, "I trust the Foreign Legion to care for the hurt properly, Lieutenant." He cocked his head, listening to the arrival of four more shells. "Besides, it would put me in danger if I were to accompany you outside. That's against the rules."

Rouen nodded. "I understand. But, you are the POW commander, Captain Reinke. You have responsibilities to your men. Checking on their conditions and treatment is one of those."

There was no answer to that one. Max put on his hat and followed the Lieutenant out of the bunker. Rouen halted at the sandbagged entrance and motioned Max down next to him. "We will wait for a lull," he explained. A sheaf of artillery shells exploded as a punctuation to his words. Another series of blasts marked the arrival of a half dozen mortar bombs. French artillery banged away, answering back. Max didn't hear anything resembling a 'lull' but Rouen tugged on his arm and left the bunker at a crouching run.

A shell struck something out of their view, triggering a large secondary explosion. Hunched over, as if running in the rain, the two men headed for the corner of a dugout. Once there, they clung to a timbered wall, panting and waiting for another 'lull'. The rest of the trip was similarly eventful. Max ducked into the hospital bunker hard on the French officer's heels. Several small shell fragments bounced in after. Bent over, hands on his knees, Rouen gasped, "Exciting! No?"

"Exciting! Yes!" replied Max, similarly struggling for air. He was already dreading the trip back.

The three German and four Italian prisoners at the hospital were mixed in with French casualties and looked to be receiving the same care. Three of them were unconscious. One of the German soldiers saluted sketchily and reported, "Private Molders, sir. Werner here and I were captured together. I don't know the corporal's name. He's been out since they brought him in. None of the Italians speak German and my Italian is limited to a couple words for wine and beer." He laughed weakly.

"Are they treating you well? Enough food. Water?"

"Yes, sir. They don't have much in the way of medical supplies left, but they treat everyone with what is available." He shook his head slowly. "If we stay here very long many of the wounded will die. The corporal needs whole blood and surgery. He has several holes in his gut. Without that . ." He shrugged.

"Yes. I see. The French are holding out. I don't know what will happen."

Molders nodded, "I guess we'll see, won't we sir?"

The trip back proved devoid of incident. "I think the Italians broke for dinner," Max told Felix as they ate their meager rations later that evening. "Not a single shell hit inside the perimeter. Rouen and I skulked along like bandits, though, just in case." He chewed silently for a few minutes. "I hope I never have to do that again. The trip scares the crap out of me and the wounded . . hell, there's nothing I can do for them!"

"But they're all right?" asked Felix. "The French are treating them okay?"

"They're doing all they can. Supplies are short."

"Well . . that's all you can do then."

"Yes. That's the hell of it."

But he ended up making the trip several more times. Each time a prisoner died in the hospital, Rouen came for him, insisting he verify that the man had received proper medical attention. Sometimes things were quiet - usually they were not. Max became adept at the low crouching run required for survival in the open. He could judge the impact point of incoming shells with an astonishing degree of accuracy. Astonishing at least until he noticed that all the French soldiers had acquired the same talent. Then he realized that the ones who hadn't picked up such survival skills were probably already dead.

On June 10, Rouen came to tell him of the breakout. It was not a surprise. Max had seen the troops making preparations for action of some sort. An attempted breakout, through the encircling German and Italian forces was the only thing that made sense.

"We will leave the wounded behind," said Rouen. "Only the French walking wounded will go with us. Everyone else will stay. Including you prisoners. An attempt will be made to notify the attacking forces of the presence of POWs and wounded men, but . ."

"Yes," said Max. "That may be difficult." The whole idea frightened him. Unarmed prisoners and helpless casualties were most vulnerable when an embattled position changes hands. It would be a delicate situation.


Max came back to the here-and-now with a jerk. The breakout! The French had left some hours earlier, leaving only a thin shell of defenders. They must have departed by now. He rose and headed for the bunker entrance. Felix, having been awakened by the strange silence, got up and followed.

They stopped, still within the entrance, observing the area anxiously. Max didn't want to step into the open. His head felt thick and stuffy, deadened by the pounding they had endured. The open air felt dangerous. He could see troops moving in the distance, but none near at hand.

Smoke drifted up from several points in the compound. Dust rising in the distance hinted at vehicle movements. A soldier carrying an automatic weapon slipped around the bunker to their front. He knelt suddenly and covered them, uttering a short, barking command. Max didn't understand what he said, but the intention was clear. He and Felix slowly raised their hands. Try as he might, not a single word in Italian popped into his head. He settled for saying, "German. POW." The soldier grinned and shouted to someone out of view, but kept them covered.

"Smile," whispered Max. "Look friendly."

"I'm smiling," replied Felix in a strained whisper, "But I think we look like death warmed over, no matter what."

A German Leutnant came around the corner, followed by an Afrika Corp sergeant and several more Italian soldiers. He spoke to the first soldier, who lowered his weapon and moved to a position off to the left. The Leutnant saluted, "Captain. You must be one of the POWs we were told to look for."

Returning the man's salute, Max nodded, "There are nineteen of us, Leutnant. There are also ten or eleven in the medical bunker."

"Yes, we secured it a few minutes ago. You are the ranking officer?"

"I am. This is Leutnant Weller, my co-pilot."

"Leutnant Siegel, sir. Attached as liaison to the Ariete Division." The men shook hands. Max began to relax. He wanted to step outside into the sunshine, but could not.

Siegel looked them up and down, grinning. "I must move on, sir. I'll post a guard for now. We'll get you out once the whole area is secure. Meantime, I would advise you not to stand in one spot too long. And especially not to lie down."

"Not lie down?" asked Max. "Why not?"

Grinning sardonically, Siegel called back over his shoulder, "Because someone will take you for a corpse and start throwing dirt over you!"

It wasn't particularly funny or even original, but Max laughed anyway. It felt good. "Felix," he said, chuckling, "I think we have been insulted."

"No," replied Felix, examining his ragged uniform shirt, "It would only be an insult if it weren't true."

Max looked at his own uniform and rubbed the rough beard he had grown in the last two weeks. Felix was hollow-eyed, pale, and filthy dirty. "God, Felix! You look awful! We really do look like corpses!"

Felix managed a weak smile. "No. Most of the corpses I've seen look better than you do."

Max laughed again. "Come on," he said, "Let's see if we can find someone with some schnapps." He stepped into the sun. That felt good too.

***************************

One part left. The big finish.


Posts: 1769 | From: Fort Collins, Colorado, USA | Registered: Dec 1999  |  IP: Logged
Old Guy
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posted 09-22-2000 09:20 PM     Profile for Old Guy   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message   Edit/Delete Post
Sand Rats, Part 10

*****************************

February, 1943, Unnamed German Airfield near Tunis

Max and Felix peered over the top of the sandbag wall ringing the anti-aircraft gun. The first of the American P-38s had concentrated on suppressing anti-aircraft defenses. Some of the positions were still in action, but not this one. One crewman lay dead, torn nearly in half by a cannon shell. The other two crewmen were huddled at the bottom of a nearby slit trench. The gun itself was split wide open.

Another of the attacking Lightnings roared by, very low, guns hammering. The last usable JU-52 transport in North Africa became unusable in a burst of smoke and flame. Felix sagged to the ground. Max slid down next to him. "Well," he said, "I guess we become POWs again." Felix nodded unhappily. The attack went on behind them.

"I hate to say it," said Max, watching one of the attackers flash overhead and climb away, "But that's a fine looking airplane."

The fine looking airplane took a direct hit on the right engine, leveled off, made a sweeping turn to the left, and headed back in their direction. They leaped from the gun position and ran toward the perimeter road. Flames streamed from the damaged engine. The pilot apparently intended to land on the dirt road.

"He's dropping the gear," exclaimed Max. "I'm not sure that's a good idea."

"It's pretty rough," agreed Felix. They stopped next to an aircraft revetment. The road lay about 200 meters down a slight slope. Max figured that was close enough. Inside the revetment lay the burned out remains of another JU-52.

A stream of tracers reached out from far to the left. Max couldn't tell if the plane had been hit again. Other than a slight wobble or two, it came on smoothly. "A cool customer," said Felix.

Max agreed. "He's shut down both engines. A good move. I just hope it doesn't cartwheel on him. If the nosewheel collapses . ."

Nose high, the Lightning touched down, rolling evenly along the dirt road. Unfortunately, the road bent slightly left then back to the right in order to cross a shallow ditch that Max hadn't noticed before. The right main gear dropped into the ditch. In an instant, the plane jerked hard right, the nose wheel slammed down, and all three gear assemblies folded up. A cloud of dust obscured the Lightning. The horizontal stabilizer along with parts of both tail assemblies flipped up out of the dust and fluttered off to one side. Max and Felix watched the fighter slide past their revetment, then took off after it.

The big fighter, now sliding backwards, plowed into the sandbag wall surrounding an 88-millimeter flak gun, the crew of which had already abandoned the position and were fleeing up the slope. Dismounting the cannon, the Lightning came to rest atop it and the sandbags. The canopy flopped open and the pilot leaped from the cockpit, stepped briskly along the left wing, hopped to the ground, and sprinted in their direction. Slowing as he came up to where Max and Felix were standing, he jerked a thumb towards the plane and yelled, "Run for it! She's gonna blow!"

Max understood what he said and dragged Felix with him as he took off after the Yankee airman. With a soft whooshing sound, the aircraft ignited. Within a few seconds, ammunition started cooking off. Everyone ran faster.

They caught up with the American at the same revetment the two had started from. He was lying full length on the gravel, on his back, gasping for breath. Max and Felix stood by, hands on knees, recovering from their two-way dash. The Lightning burned and popped fitfully.

The American groaned, rolled over, and vomited. Trembling, he made it to his hands and knees, then to his feet. Felix gave him a hand. "F*ck," said the Yank, "I thought I was one dead sonofabitch!" Felix led him to a destroyed gun position so he could sit on the low sandbag wall.

Max sat down next to him. "Are you all right?"

Nodding, the man replied, "I think so. Didn't even piss my pants." He grinned. "I may do that later, just thinking about it."

"Save the water," advised Max. "It's in short supply around here."

The pilot fumbled in his shirt and drew out a pack of cigarettes. His hands were shaking so badly he couldn't get one out. Felix took the pack and helped him to one. The American used both hands to get it to his lips. Max gave him a light. "Take one," said the pilot, "take the whole f*cking pack." He slid down to the ground, leaning back against the sandbags. "God, that's good."

Smoking seemed to calm him down. After finishing the cigarette he held out a hand to Max, "Jake Dent, sir. Captain, US Army Air Corp."

"Major Max Reinke and Leutnant Felix Weller, once of the Luftwaffe, now unemployed." Max hoped Felix kept the American cigarettes. They were quite good.

A sergeant walked up to Max and saluted. "I should take the American to the airfield commander, sir."

"We'll take him," promised Max. "He was a little out of sorts after that wild ride."

The sergeant nodded and laughed. "You should see the flakwagen crew. I think they all crapped their pants!" The sergeant started to walk away, then stopped. "I wouldn't worry about getting him to HQ, sir. The cease fire goes into effect at noon. We can all surrender to him then."

Sighing, Max turned back to the American. "Captain, it would be best if you gave me your sidearm. At least until noon."

The pilot looked perplexed. "What happens at noon?"

"You get your pistol back, Felix and I hand you ours, and you take possession of this airfield," replied Max. "Or, we can sit on our butts, right here, and share a bottle of schnapps I've been saving for a special occasion."

"Well," said Jake, "if it's all the same to you, I'd rather not do any official military stuff, if you know what I mean. Taking somebody's surrender is probably pretty official, isn't it?"

"Very official," chuckled Max. "I'll go get the schnapps."

Three Weeks Later, a POW Camp near Tunis

Standing in line had always irritated Max and all his years in the military hadn't improved his attitude about lines. POW camp was even worse. There were lines for everything. This morning was no different. He was in line again. Exit interview, they said. Max remembered at least three other exit interviews. The only exiting he had done was when he left the American camp and went to the British one. The logic escaped him.

At the front of this line, a bored British officer was talking to each prisoner and directing them to one of several other tables in the room. Max wondered where Felix had gotten off to. He hadn't seen him since early that morning.

Slowly, the line dragged forward. Bored sentries stood by. Like many of the prisoners, Max had contemplated escape. So far he hadn't been able to figure out where he would go once out of the camp. Desert life didn't appeal to him.

The British officer didn't look up when Max stepped up to the table. "Name?" he asked.

Max frowned. He knew that voice. Suddenly he brightened. "F*ck you!" he growled, "and f*ck the kangaroo that whelped you!" The room fell silent.

Ross looked up, stunned. It took him a few seconds to figure out who the German was. He reached across the table and gripped Max's hand. "Max," he said, softly. "Max," he repeated, louder this time. "Max, you miserable sonofabitch!" he yelled. "What goddamn rock did you crawl out from under?" One of the sentries brought his weapon up to port arms and stood wavering. Which one had gone mad? The two officers were hugging and slapping one another like sodding idiots. Finally he relaxed and returned to his usual slouch. The corporal could sort them out. Damned if he couldn't.

Ross took Max into an adjoining office and produced a bottle of scotch from the desk. "The old man won't miss it," he said, winking. He held the bottle out to Max, then drew it back, frowning. "It's not schnapps. Maybe you won't like it?"

"Hand it over, you Aussie bastard! I was drinking scotch whiskey when you were still wondering why there was girls when sheep are so plentiful." Ross handed him the bottle.

An hour later the scotch was gone. "So," said Ross. "Here you are. Where's Felix? Is he still with you?"

"He was," said Max. "I haven't seen him since this morning."

"Well, I'll have to see if I can't do something for you two. I owe you. I owe you a lot."

Max looked at the floor. "What can you do? I still don't know what's to be done with us. One hears all kinds of rumors."

"You Luftwaffe types are slated to be sent to POW camps in England or maybe Canada. Either way it's a British Army type camp. You'll be treated all right, but . ."

"But? What?"

"I can get you sent to America instead. If you want me to. The American liaison officer is a friend. You know him."

"Know who? The American?" Max was confused.

"Sure. It's Jake Dent, the pilot you got drunk with . . when he got shot down."

"Jake! I can't believe it!" Max groaned and put his hands to his temples. "My head hurt for three days after that drunk. I think we killed two or three bottles of schnapps."

"So Jake said. He'll help. Do you want to go to America?"

"I've always wanted to see America. But how would that be different?"

"Well, it will probably be warmer for one thing. And, Americans don't have any experience in running large scale POW camps. No telling what opportunities may come up. You'll probably eat a lot better, too."

Max smiled. "You know the way to a soldier's heart, Ross. Food." He thought for a moment. "Can you send Felix along? The little schiess can't get along without me, you know."

Ross nodded. "Sure, Max." Then softly, "I like him too."

END

*******************************

That's it. Can I take a break now?

[This message has been edited by Old Guy (edited 09-22-2000).]


Posts: 1769 | From: Fort Collins, Colorado, USA | Registered: Dec 1999  |  IP: Logged
Zero Niner
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Member # 1171

posted 09-22-2000 10:08 PM     Profile for Zero Niner   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message   Edit/Delete Post
OldGuy
Yes you can take a break now. Excellent!

------------------
Zero Niner, out.


Posts: 986 | From: Singapore | Registered: Nov 1999  |  IP: Logged
VMF-124_Gramps

Member # 0

posted 09-22-2000 11:14 PM     Profile for VMF-124_Gramps     Send New Private Message   Edit/Delete Post
Outstanding as always O.G. Very good read.
Posts: | From: | Registered: A Long Time Ago!  |  IP: Logged
Storm
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Member # 1480

posted 09-22-2000 11:36 PM     Profile for Storm   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message   Edit/Delete Post
OG,

Very good!! Thanks for everything over the past week. I look forward to a sequel??

Storm


Posts: 606 | From: Crestview, Florida USA | Registered: Dec 1999  |  IP: Logged
The Quiet Man
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Member # 2180

posted 09-23-2000 11:39 PM     Profile for The Quiet Man   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message   Edit/Delete Post
Sequel............

Two German officers escape from an American POW camp in Colorodo, and go to work in a small brewery?

Good stuff Old Guy, (as usual!).

------------------
En boca cerrada, no entran moscas.


Posts: 2165 | From: SF Bay Area | Registered: Jan 2000  |  IP: Logged

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