Read The Ten Thousand Online

Authors: Harold Coyle

Tags: #Military

The Ten Thousand

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I would like to thank the following for their assistance in making this book possible: To Gerry Carroll, who is an author in his own right, for taking valuable time away from his own projects, family, and self-inflicted home improvement projects to look over my rough draft and comment on all that aviation stuff. Thanks, Gerry.

To Chet Burgess, one of Ted Turner’s originals at
CNN
, for doing likewise and not only for commenting on the portions of the book concerning the media but for giving valuable advice on other areas as well. Most of all, however, I would like to publicly thank you for taking the time from what must have been a miserable schedule in January of 1991 to give me and Major Bill Little, both Desert Shield/Storm-bound, a great sendoff while we were cooling our heels and chewing our nails in Atlanta during the twilight period between peace and war.

Next, I would like to extend my appreciation to Michael Korda, of Simon Schuster, who has served as a guide and shepherd in my writing career since my second book and Paul McCarthy of Pocket Books for his editorial comments and yeoman’s work in making this book a readable commodity. Even though my name is on it and theirs aren’t, no book is a one-person effort.

Finally, as always, I extend to my wife and children a special thanks for putting up with the long hours and all too frequent fits of passion that this book produced. Too often they absorbed the brunt of shots meant for others and still came back smiling. I can’t think of anyone more deserving of my thanks and appreciation than those who kept me going by providing a gentle smile and encouraging word when I needed it. Thanks.

This book is dedicated to
GEORGE
BANNON
and those of his generation who, as riflemen, bore the brunt of World War II.


Christianity has somewhat softened the brutal German lust of battle, but could not destroy it.”

-
HEINRICH
HEINE
(1833)

“If destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and founder. As a nation of free men we must live through all time or die by suicide.”

-
ABRAHAM
LINCOLN
(1858)

PROLOGUE
NORTH
OF
REGENSBURG
,
GERMANY
APRIL
1945

The transition from night to day was subtle, almost unnoticed by the stunned survivors of the neighborhood. There were no birds chirping, no animals scurrying about to announce that a new day had started. The only difference that day was a slow, almost torturous, change from the cold oppressive darkness of night to a leaden gray sky that brought no warmth, no hope to those people who huddled in the corners of their shelters. Even the thought that the end of their nightmare was at hand brought no relief, no end to their strain. Six years of war and twelve years of National Socialism had crushed all emotions, all hope. All they had left that morning was eyes that had stopped seeing, ears that stopped hearing, and souls that stopped living a long time ago. It was truly the twilight of the gods.

In the corner of one of the basements, a mother and her five-year-old daughter huddled together.

Only an occasional spasm or hacking cough shook the bundle of rags that covered them and differentiated the mother and daughter from the stack of corpses across the room from them. The mother was ever mindful that little separated them from the heap of dead. Whenever the little girl shook, the mother tightened her grasp on her in an effort to keep the girl from slipping away from the living. Though she no longer understood why she struggled to stay alive and keep her daughter warm and safe, it was all she knew, all that was left to her. Slowly over the past years everything that she had ever known and had ever loved had been stripped away and smashed as they had descended into a world of death and nightmares. Now only the five-year-old daughter and an eight-year-old boy who had once been her son were left. With the corruption of the boy’s mind by the Hitler Youth, the mother had only had her daughter to keep her in touch with life and the living. With all the strength that she had left, the mother tightened her hold on her daughter. She would not let that life go.

Across the dark, dank basement the eight-year-old boy paced. Unlike his mother and sister, he was animated, alive, anxious to continue. The stench of rotting bodies and human waste that could not be disposed of mingled with the smell of burning wood and stagnant water. Such smells did not bother him.

They, like many things, had to be endured. It was easy, he knew, to tolerate such inconveniences if you believed in yourself, the Fatherland, and the Führer. The smells, like the dead, were a part of war.

As he moved from one side of the basement to the other, his piercing gray eyes didn’t see the torment of his own mother or the pile of bodies which, in accordance with regulations and emergency orders, he had dutifully segregated from the living and covered with a layer of lime. Instead they were fixed straight ahead and glazed over with images of soldiers and weapons, and tanks and planes, the implements of war that had made the Reich great and in the end would crush the Führer’s enemies. Soon he and the other boys in his unit would have their chance to join his father, a tank commander who had fought the Russians and now faced the Americans. The thought of being able to fight and die for the Führer only served to increase the boy’s excitement, an excitement that masked the rumble of heavy vehicles approaching.

Keeping as close to the rear of the Sherman tank as he dared, Private George Kozak kept his eyes open and his rifle at the ready. He hated going into towns and villages, hated it with a passion. There were so many places for the enemy to hide, so many places from which a sniper or a machine gun could suddenly appear. Out in the country, where it was more open, you didn’t have to worry about basements and sewers or death from above. In a city the bastards could be, and usually were, everywhere.

Just the thought of a firefight caused Kozak to tense up. Sweat began to bead up and run in little rivulets from under his helmet liner band down his face. For a moment he considered unbuttoning his jacket but decided not to. Kozak knew that as soon as he paused, he would lose the protection of the tank. Another member of his squad would quickly move around him from the more exposed tail of the squad file and take Kozak’s spot right up next to the tank, leaving Kozak in the open. Or if he turned his attention away from his search for the enemy to fool with his jacket, they might choose that moment to open up. No, Kozak thought, best to keep my eyes open and stay where I am. Something was about to happen, he could feel it. And when it did, he wanted to be ready. In a little over a month he would be twenty years old, an age not many of his friends had lived to see. Though he would still be too young to legally drink or vote back in Pennsylvania, his next birthday would nearly coincide with a rare event, completion of a full year in continuous combat. Of the ten men in his squad who had crossed the beach at Omaha three days after D-Day, Kozak was only one of three who could boast of seeing that much combat. The others had been taken away feet first. Kozak intended to see his birthday, as well as his first anniversary in combat, alive and in one piece.

That he didn’t have any goals or even conscious thoughts of anything beyond his twentieth birthday never occurred to Kozak. While it was fashionable for politicians and dreamers to speak of a brave new world, such thoughts were foreign to the American rifleman in 1945. Like a million other infantrymen, Kozak’s world was defined by the field of vision that the Sherman in front of him offered, and a future that was not his to control and was measured in minutes.

When the boy finally heard the grinding of the tanks and felt the rumbling of the earth, he ran to the window. “Papa, Papa! Mother, Papa has come home!”

From her corner the mother looked at the boy. Dear God, she thought, what a fool. What a poor godforsaken fool. Did he still believe that his father was alive? Did he still believe that the Nazis would be able to turn back the enemy? “Johann, that is not your papa. He is dead. He was killed last Christmas in Belgium with your uncle. It is the Amis. The Americans. They have come to put an end to this nightmare.”

In a flash the boy turned to face her. “NO! You lie! You [_lie! _] Those are all defeatist lies! Papa is not dead. He is not dead. He will come back. You will see. The Führer has promised we will be delivered.

You will see.”

Turning away from his mother, the boy pushed a box under the basement window and stood on it, pulling himself up in an effort to see the tanks. The shock of seeing a tank he immediately recognized as an M-4A3 Sherman tank, followed by men in sloppy, disheveled uniforms, was too much for the boy.

The Americans! How could that be? How could his father let them come like that? First his father had left them. Then his mother, sister, and he had moved from their farm near Breslau to the dirt and filth of Regensburg. Then the bombers had come. And now the Americans themselves. Was this the end, like his mother had said? Was it really the end? And if it was, what was he to do? The Führer had called for all Germans to fight to the last. Was that what he was to do now? Fight the American tank? Without thinking, the boy reached down and grasped the knife he had been presented when he had joined the Hitler Youth. He was proud of that knife. It was a living symbol that connected him directly to his Führer.

Now it was his only weapon. Questions of how best to use that weapon to do his duty for Führer and Fatherland now raced through the boy’s eight-year-old mind.

The movement of a head bobbing up and down in a basement window not more than twenty feet away from him caught Kozak’s eye. Shit! Without thinking, Kozak yelled, “Sniper on the right!” Running out from behind the tank, Kozak covered the distance from where he had been to the side of the basement window in a single rush. Even before reaching the relative safety of the side of the building next to the window, Kozak was pulling a hand grenade from his web belt. Behind him the rest of his squad dropped where they had been and trained their rifles on the window where Kozak was headed. The tank, oblivious to the infantrymen’s actions, continued to rumble on down the street alone.

Once he had reached the window, Kozak held his rifle between his knees while he pulled the safety pin from the grenade and let the spoon fly off. With an audible snap, the grenade’s striker hit the primer.

After holding the grenade for three or four seconds, Kozak bent down and tossed it into the open window. As soon as he had released it, Kozak grabbed his rifle, stood upright, flattened himself against the side of the building, and waited for the explosion. Kozak had no intention of giving anyone who survived his grenade a chance to recover from its effects. As soon as he heard the muffled roar of the grenade, he stuck his rifle into the window and began to fire. Moving sideways across the open window, which was still billowing smoke, Kozak kept his rifle trained into the basement, squeezing off round after round as he continued to move. By the time he reached the other side of the window, the bolt of his M-1

Garand locked back and the follower assembly flipped out the expended clip.

For a moment he paused, flattening himself against the side of the building again on the opposite side of the window. When he had caught his breath, Kozak leaned over and looked into the window while the fingers of his right hand fumbled about his bandoleer searching for a new clip. The smoke from the grenade was still clearing. There were no sounds, no motions coming from the basement.

“Hey, Kozak! Anything?”

Kozak looked back at his squad leader, then down into the window again. Through the gloom and darkness of the room, all he could see was two stacks of bodies. There were still no motions, no sounds.

Whoever had been moving about wasn’t moving anymore. Relieved, Kozak relaxed, but only for a moment. The tank, his shield, was still rumbling down the street, leaving him and the squad behind and exposed. “No, Sarge. They’re all dead.”

Pushing himself up off the pavement, Kozak’s squad leader looked about to ensure that all of his men were still with him, then shouted to them. “Okay, second squad, let’s get moving. Now!”

Kozak didn’t need to be told twice. Without another thought, he finished shoving a fresh clip into his rifle and turned his back on the basement window, running down the street to catch up with the tank. It was as if at that moment the Sherman tank was his only guarantee that he would live to see his twentieth birthday. And nothing and no one was going to stand between him and that.

Part One
OPERATION
DESPERATE
FUMBLE
CHAPTER
1
6 JANUARY

Pausing just short of the crest next to a tree, Colonel Scott Dixon knelt on one knee, leaned against the tree, and began to pull the hood of his white camouflage parka up over his helmet. As he fiddled with the drawstrings of the white parka, Dixon scanned the crest of the hill to his front. Beyond it was the Ukrainian border. While one would assume that Dixon’s head would be filled with concerns and thoughts about the upcoming operation, it was not. Rather the commander of the 4th Armored Division’s 1st Brigade was at that moment feeling a twinge of guilt about insisting on being issued the white parka. After all, the odds of him, the commander of a maneuver brigade with two tank and two mechanized battalions, needing to use the white garment to hide from the enemy were remote. As he told the brigade XO when he was first given the parka, “If it gets to the point where this is the only thing that is protecting me, then someone has screwed up, big time.” Despite the order from the division commander that only infantrymen serving in line companies and scouts receive the scarce article, the brigade S-4 had connived until he had obtained the coveted white parka. Now that he was actually using the camouflage properties of the parka during his personal reconnaissance of the Ukrainian border defenses his brigade would be crashing through in less than twelve hours, Dixon could justify having it. Of course, everyone who knew Dixon knew that he enjoyed having all the “neat” things, and no amount of justification could hide that. Still Dixon’s staff felt no misgivings about indulging their commander. He was in their eyes worth it.

Other books

The Proposition by Katie Ashley
Unknown by Unknown
Obsidian Pebble by Rhys Jones
Montana Hearts by Darlene Panzera
A Gathering Storm by Hore, Rachel
Jezebel by K. Larsen
Bad Business by Robert B. Parker


readsbookonline.com Copyright 2016 - 2022