In the Trenches

by aubie56

Tags: Historical, Violent, Military,

Desc: Action/Adventure Story: This is my thank you note for those men who served in WWI. I had two great-uncles who were in France, and one was gassed, but survived. He fought a battle with what mustard gas had done to his lungs for the rest of his life. This is a what-if kind of story. Suppose the US Army had used a little imagination. What might have happened then? One squad tests out an idea. Read what might have happened.

Author's note:

This story is fiction! I have no idea that it ever took place, but I wonder why. Could it have been the result of the generals still fighting previous wars?

The sergeant stood up in front of the new American troops just arrived in France in 1918 and said, "We are here to beat the Germans any way we can. But our lieutenant told me that he had learned too much at his grandfather's knee about the best way to fight a war, and the generals didn't have the advantages of hearing all of his grandfather's stories.

"Therefore, he wants to form a squad of former hunters to go after the Germans with shotguns. Most of you boys are from the South, so you know how to use shotguns to their best advantage. Therefore, I am looking for eight men to join me on a Kraut hunt. I have managed to get nine pump-action shotguns in 12-gauge and a case of #00 buckshot shells.

"I know what they tell you in boot camp about not volunteering, and I will understand if most of y'all don't want nothing to do with this here hair-brained scheme. But if you do want to end this war as quick as possible, I ask y'all to join me. All of y'all what think that this is a good idea just hold up your hand."

There were 12 men in our platoon what were dumb enough to volunteer, and I was one of them!

"Thanks, men. I really didn't expect to see 12 men come through. I'll see what I can do to get more shotguns. Hell, I may have to steal them from the Marines. I'll get back to y'all later this afternoon. I need to talk to the lieutenant first."

We were dismissed, and I looked around for my buddy, Jarvis. We had been friends since our school days. I saw him walking toward me, so I waited for him near our squad tent.

"Jesus, Al, what do you make of what the sarge had to say? I wonder what we just volunteered for. I got a feeling that the big brass won't be too happy about us going off on a tangent."

"Jarvis, you have a real knack for hitting the nail on the head! I can't believe that a shave-tail would stick his neck out so far as to challenge the higher ups. I suspect that he has some powerful backing, and I hope that backing extends to all of us in this new detail."

"That's a very good point. I hope you're right. I'd hate to spend some time in Leavenworth (the military prison) just because I volunteered to win the war!"

"Yeah, but I ain't fired a shotgun since I last went hunting back in 1914, before the war. What with working full time in the mill and part time at the garage fixing tractors, I ain't had any time for hunting. I'll need some time to get my eye and reflexes back. A shotgun ain't nothing like shooting that there '03 Springfield rifle.

I guess the sergeant must realize that and will give us a little practice time. Besides, I ain't never used a pump-action shotgun; I'm used to a double-barrel breach loader."

"I'm pretty much in the same boat, though I did a little hunting in 1915. I just hope we get a little practice with the shotguns before we go into combat with them."

As it turned out, by our meeting that afternoon, Sgt. Withers had come up with four more of the shotguns, so everybody was accommodated. The sergeant also had made arrangements for us to use a rifle range the next afternoon to practice with the shotguns and to learn how to load them. They had a tubular magazine holding five shells, and the magazine was easy to load, so it didn't take much time to reload. These were all standard Remington shotguns, so a few of the guys already knew how to use them. Sgt. Withers used those men to help some of the boys to become familiar with the guns. By the end of the day, we all had our shooting eye back and were ready to take on anything the Germans could dish out.

Everybody was issued two bandoliers for shells, so we could carry 70 shells in the bandoliers, six in the shotgun itself (one in the chamber and five in the magazine), and who knows how many in pockets. We were also issued trench knives and Colt M1911.45 caliber automatic pistols. Well, we had already figured out that the shotguns meant that we were going to be fighting at close quarters, so none of us were surprised by the knife or the pistol.

Because of our down time while we reloaded our shotguns, we were divided into two-man teams. Jarvis and I lobbied the sergeant to make us a team, and he went along. We had all been through the standard Infantry training before we left for France, so we figured that we were ready to fight. Somehow, the lieutenant and sergeant didn't agree, and we spent four weeks going through strenuous training on how to assault trenches and urban areas. Lt. Jordan must have learned a lot from his grandfather. We were a deadly team by the time we were sent on our first assignment. We moved to the front and took over a section of trench.

This was a relatively simple task of taking out a series of four machine gun emplacements along a trench line. The word was that this area was lightly defended, and we probably would only have to worry about the men actually assigned to the machine guns. We had already heard about how reliable intelligence reports were, so we took that with a grain of salt.

We were sent out over no man's land as soon as it got completely dark. We had it relatively easy because there had been no rain for several weeks; therefore, we did not have a sea of mud to contend with. Of course, we still had shell craters, barb wire, and land mines to avoid, but we all appreciated the lack of mud.

Lt. Jordan led this raid himself so that he could get a good feeling for where we needed more training. At least, the man had the guts to lead from the front—that showed why we had a lot of confidence in him. We were broken into two groups, the lieutenant led three teams and Sgt. Withers led three teams, the group that Jarvis and I were in. Each of the two groups were assigned two of the machine gun nests, and we had the one on the right. I don't know if that was significant, but that's the way it was.

There were the usual problems in crossing no man's land, but we didn't think that the Krauts knew we were coming because of the lack of a preliminary artillery barrage. Normally, it was impossible to keep an attack a secret because of the long, drawn out artillery barrage that the Allied generals insisted was necessary to "soften up" the enemy lines. The Krauts hid in their bunkers during the barrage and were never bothered very much, except that they were annoyed as Hell at us by the time our troops got to their trenches. They usually made that annoyance well known before that round of fighting was finished.

Anyway, we reached the German trench line without drawing any fire, and that was a welcome exception to the usual rule. Sgt. Withers said very quietly, "Jones (that's me), go take a look. See if we are where we are supposed to be."

"Okay, sarge. I'll be right back." Hell, I was scared shitless, but I was not going to let on to the rest of the guys how I felt. I left my shotgun with Jarvis and crawled as silently as I could up to the German trench. I looked over the lip of the trench and pissed in my pants!

I was starring at a German soldier's face, and he was looking right at me. Thank God, he was asleep! I took a quick look to the right and the left and practically used my prick as an extra leg to get me away from that trench before the Kraut woke up and saw me. I made it back to our people and reported. "Sarge, as near as I could tell, we are where we are supposed to be. There's an MG (Machine Gun) nest about 10 yards to the left of where I came up and another one about 30 yards to the left of that."

"How many Krauts did you see?"

"I saw only the one that I nearly bumped heads with. I don't know if he was a guard or what, but he was asleep, and I did my damnedest not to wake him up!"

"Okay, Cpl. Jones, good work. Get back to your buddy and saddle up. You are the new squad leader."

I was already back to Jarvis when the news of my promotion and new job dawned on me. Hot damn! I was going to make an extra $5 a month with that promotion if I could keep it! You can bet that I was sure going to try. I was sending most of my money to my ma to help her with family expenses. That extra $5 was going to make a big difference to her!

The plan was for us to slip over the lip of the trench and take out any Krauts we saw with our knives. We wanted to keep quiet until sarge blew his whistle, then all Hell was going to break loose! We all had our knives ready as we slithered over the edge of the trench. I expected to see that sleeping sentry, but he was gone by the time I had returned. I guess you could say that both of us were lucky that time. Oh, I could use a trench knife and I had been thoroughly trained with it, but I still did not relish the idea of killing somebody with my knife. I could do it if I had to, but I did not look forward to the opportunity to do so.

The squad all reached the trench without giving the alarm, and I'll bet that everybody else was a relieved as I was over that fact. The sergeant had told us to reset the safety on our shotguns as soon as we got to a standing position in the trench. We didn't know when we might have to shoot, and we needed to be ready. On the other hand, woe betide the man who fired his shotgun unnecessarily. The sergeant threatened to jam his trench knife up the asshole of the man so stupid as to endanger us all by shooting too soon. We believed him!

The sergeant checked his watch a couple of times, but he blew his whistle at last. The moment that sounded, I sheathed my knife and ran toward the MG nest with Jarvis and one other team. The third team of two men were detailed to guard our backs.

There were only two men in the first MG nest, and they were eliminated by two shotgun blasts. Unfortunately for us, the men in the second MG nest reacted quickly and turned to face us. Unfortunately for them, we were expecting that and four shotgun blasts were aimed at their heads. I'm not sure how accurate all of our shots were, but there was no doubt that the three men there all lost their heads at the end of that fusillade.

We could hear shotgun blasts coming from behind us and from in front of us, so the Germans had reacted to our presence in their trench. They were pouring out of their bunkers faster than we could shoot them, so I was scared shitless for a second time that night. Sarge had us break into two groups, and withdraw into the MG nests. He sent me to tell our rear guard to do that, and I was to stay with them to keep them from panicking. I ran to do what he said, but I wondered who was going to keep me from panicking.

The orders were kind of vague as to what we were to do after the men in the MG nests were eliminated. All we knew was that we were to wait for another whistle note before we evacuated to our own trench. Well, as far as I was concerned, I construed that to mean that we were to stay where we were and to kill Germans until we heard the whistle. That could prove to be uncomfortable, but I was going to follow the plan as long as I could.

The two men I had joined were glad to have help and were willing to take my orders, so that did make things a bit easier. I had them alternate shooting as much as possible so that one man could reload while the other was shooting. That meant that we kept a constant rain of buckshot pellets blasting at the Germans as soon as they showed themselves. I provided backup shooting as the need arose, but we were able to keep the Krauts at a safe distance. All they had to shoot at us were their Gewehr 98s which were pretty much like our Springfields. The sights were lousy for low light conditions like we currently had, so they had virtually no luck in shooting us. On the other hand, the spread of the shotgun pellets made precise aiming irrelevant for us.

After a while, the shooting at our end of the trench died off. I doubt that we had killed or wounded all of the Germans down this way. More likely, they had just gotten smart and were waiting for daylight so that they could see to shoot at us better. Well, I didn't know about everybody else, but I planned to be gone by the time the sun came up.

Not long after that, the shooting let up at the other end of the trench. I heard two whistles sound off, so I knew that it was time to leave. I sent my two companions over the top and I followed. We stayed as low as we could as we made our way back to our trench. Once we got there, we all wished that we had some beer, but we would have to let that go for now.

A few minutes later, the rest of the men showed up, and Lt. Jordan congratulated us on proving that we could do what we had trained for. We had scored a complete surprise on the Germans. We didn't know how many we had killed or wounded, but we did know that we had played Hell with them. Our only injury was one man who had cut his hand on some barb wire. He didn't need stitches and, like all of us, he had received a tetanus shot when we shipped out, so he would be completely recovered in a couple of days.

Sgt. Withers said that he would talk to us tomorrow, so we were dismissed and were damned glad of it. We stumbled our way to our bunkers and drove the rats our of our bunks. I guess everybody else was a tired as I was, because we just kicked off our clod-hoppers (shoes) and fell into our bunks. I think I was asleep before I stopped bouncing.

The next day, Sgt. Withers called us together and read a formal statement from Major Henderson, the company commander, thanking us for the job we did last night. He didn't go into any detail, so we weren't sure if we were going to keep our shotguns or go back to being regular doughboys. Everyone of us had a strong feeling of accomplishment after our raid last night, so we hoped to stay together as a raiding unit.

During the meeting, the sergeant confirmed my promotion to corporal and squad leader along with the same for Jack Simmons of the other squad. He said that we were to consider that we were now two squads, and we would stay with the squad we had been with last night. If anybody had a problem with that, he should tell his squad leader, and the squad leader would tell Sgt. Withers. Sgt. Withers would handle the problem or kick it upstairs for the brass to look at it. He got a very stern look on his face when he said that he hoped that there would be no problems that were that serious.

All of the guys in my new squad congratulated me on my promotion, but Jarvis did take the opportunity to needle me with a few friendly digs. He finally quit when I said that if he didn't shut up, I was going to assign him to permanent KP (Kitchen Police) duty. Also, he was going to have to call me "Sir." I don't know which of those two threats scared him the most, but he laughed and I did too.

As usual in any army in any war, we goofed around most of the time. There was no way for a man to keep himself or his equipment clean in the filth of the trenches, but I did insist that every man clean his shotgun and have it ready for inspection by 1300 hours. I was not going to let our weapons go to Hell just because we could not keep ourselves clean. This was not make-work, because the military primer and powder were corrosive as Hell on steel, and weapons had to be cleaned. Everybody knew that, so all I got was some goodnatured complaints.

Late that afternoon, we were bombarded by German artillery. Sgt. Withers said that it was probably in revenge for the trouble we had caused last night. In his opinion, the few Germans that we had killed were not as important as the fact that the Germans would now be nervous about a repeat of last night's raid. That meant that they would not get much rest for a while, and they would probably leave us alone if they were tired.

Things were very quiet for a couple of days on both sides of the line. In fact, they were so quiet that I began to fidget. I couldn't help the feeling that there was a big explosion coming, and I didn't want to be in the middle of it. Personally, I wanted to live through this war, and I didn't take kindly to situations which worked against that.

Nevertheless, Lt. Jordan had irons in the fire. I began to suspect that he wanted to win the war. Now, to me that seemed to be contrary to what the generals on both sides were doing. Oh, well, I was here so I had better get used to strange goings on.

Sgt. Withers came by one morning and said, "Cpl. Jones, you better check that your men have all of their equipment in order. We have a little trip scheduled for tonight. See me at 1500 hours and have the men assemble at 1600 hours." He didn't say anything else, so I started to fear for the worst. Nevertheless, I did make sure that my squad was ready for most anything. No, I ain't no coward, but I did tend to be a worry wart.

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Historical / Violent / Military /