Nobody slept well that night, including me, and I welcomed the first rays of the morning sun. Not only for the light, but for the imaginary heat that I tried to convince myself that came with it. I got my heat but not in the way I preferred. The first round of incoming rode those rays of light straight down into our trench areas. Jesus that was amazing. One moment I am sitting there watching the sun come up, the next minute I am lying on the floor of bunker curled in the fetal position screaming one long drawn out “sssshhhhiiiiiiittttttttttttttt!.” That was until a chunk of dirt from our bunker ceiling shook loose and dropped into my wide open screaming mouth. It didn’t taste very good. I was coughing and spitting it out as dirt continued to rain down from the bunker walls on me. ‘Just one god please. Make it a direct hit that kills me.’
I became conscious enough of the world outside my own personal hell to see Hans and Gunter, the regular army guy who had been temporarily assigned to our hole, curled up next to me. I watched as a close round shook the ground hard enough that I saw air between their bodies and the hard packed dirt floor. It was getting hard for me to breathe for some reason. I knew I should be standing up and looking out to see if Ivan was coming but I couldn’t move. I didn’t want to move, I just wanted the noise to stop. The never ending noise.
I think I quit screaming, probably because I got hoarse and it hurt, and sometime later I remember wishing whoever was whimpering would just stop as it wasn’t helping things. Then I realized it was me that was whimpering. I snuck a peak at Gunter, who had his hands over his ears screaming, or at least his mouth was open and it looked like he was. It was just too noisy to hear. Hans was still curled up on the floor of the bunker, one hand was scratching at the ground. That was interesting. I watched his hand clawing and digging at the dirt floor and not making a lot of progress. The floor was too hard packed but he kept trying and every one of his fingers were bleeding at the tip.
When it stopped, it was amazing, never has quiet seemed quite as loud as it did in those first few minutes. I croaked “Hans.” All he did was meow like a cat in reply. It was really funny. I started laughing and found I couldn’t stop. I wanted to stop because it hurt but I just couldn’t. I just laid there laughing hysterically until Gunter who had been through this before kicked me in the head. Even with my helmet on I felt that.
“Shut the fuck up! Get up you assholes! They’re coming.”
Who was coming didn’t need to be named. It was like a switch had been thrown for me and Hans. The sound of treads crunching through the snow and the rumble of engines was like a bucket of ice water in our faces. Already I could hear the crack of the 88 firing and machine guns opening up. I popped up and took a look, Jesus Christ! They were everywhere! This wasn’t a probe, this was the real deal.
I had to scramble to find my rifle because the concussions from the blasts had moved it at least three feet from where I had left it Gunter was already firing and Hans was joining him.
Gunter was yelling “Grenades! Get me some grenades! We had a few set out for just this occasion but it was not going to be anywhere near enough for what was coming. I found the boxes, grabbed a handful, and dropped some in front of him. I slapped Hans on the shoulder and pointed where I had dropped them. He looked down, the Mauser not leaving his shoulder, and nodded. Damn they were getting close. Close enough to see their faces, which was way to freaking close.
I took the rest of the grenades and set them where I could easily reach them. Muscle memory from training took over. Yank the igniter, hold, and throw. Yank the igniter, hold a second more than last time, and throw. I wasn’t even watching them land. I had already moved on to the next target. Hans had grabbed my rifle and I threw him my extra cartridges. Gunter dropped to the bottom of the bunker. A head shot, he was gone. Hans and I kept throwing grenades until we were out and they were still coming. I couldn’t hear the machine gun that was on our right anymore. Hans had dropped his rifle and was now using his Lugar.
A tank was staring straight at us, the main gun was huge. Its machine gun was spitting a steady stream of rounds. Wham! The 88 was still alive! The tank blew up with a tremendous bang. There were four more tanks behind that one. This was not good. A main gun round from one of them hit far to close to our vision slits. All of a sudden there was only half a bunker, the rest had collapsed. Damn, my ears were ringing. I yelled at Hans trying to tell him we had to go but my throat was too dry. He had figured that out also and tried talking but he couldn’t. He just pointed and mouthed “Go!” Together we bailed out and rolled into the trench behind the bunker. About thirty yards away was a tank at an angle from us busy hosing down the machine gun bunker to our right. Ivan was beginning to breach the line right in front of us.
We raced down the trench, me in the lead, heading for the second trench line where we hoped we would find someone still alive. That’s when an Ivan dropped in front us screaming. From over my shoulder Hans shot him the mouth, the muzzle blast deafening me. If his hand had been six inches lower I would have lost hearing in that ear. I don’t think his body had hit the ground before I was running over the top of him. I still had my rifle, Hans had left his behind. I could hear Ivan’s yelling there stupid war cry and the sound of tank treads. It sounded like the 88 had been hit as I wasn’t hearing its crack anymore. When did it stop? Five minutes ago? An hour? Hell I didn’t know. I did know to keep moving. A grenade exploded next to us, the trench giving us just enough shelter to avoid the blast except now my ear hurt as did my face. I was bleeding. I could tell by the look in Hans eyes it was a lot, but neither of us was going to stop.
We hit the second line and nobody was there. I could hear firing. A German machine gun was still functioning somewhere ahead of us. We were out of the main trench area and headed towards the rear when we ran into Sarge. “Where do you think you two are going?" He shoved me backwards. “Man the fucking trenches. We got artillery coming in.” Lothar was with him and he was not looking good. The barrage must have been hell for him. He was shaking, the front of his trousers stained with urine. “Now goddamnit!” He shoved me again, this time into Hans knocking us both backwards. Stumbling we fell into the nearest trench just as all hell broke loose again. It may have been our artillery but it didn’t make it anymore pleasant. Sarge popped up from the same trench, he must have jumped as we fell in, and snapped off a round, dropping back to the bottom where we were. He looked over at me and grinned. Funny but that smile didn’t look so bad now.
We all curled up in the bottom of trench. God I hope they don’t fire short I remember thinking. Who ever was acting as the artillery fire observer must have been pretty good as I am still alive. The rounds dropped right in front of us and walked all the way out to about a thousand yards in front of what had been our front line. It was a short barrage but effective, although not effective enough because some of the Ivan’s had lived through it. This was Adolf’s type of warfare, artillery and trenches. No wonder the vets from the first war were so crazy.