The War That Came Early: West and East

BOOK: The War That Came Early: West and East
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The Guns of the South


Worldwar: In the Balance

Worldwar: Tilting the Balance

Worldwar: Upsetting the Balance

Worldwar: Striking the Balance

Homeward Bound


The Misplaced Legion

An Emperor for the Legion

The Legion of Videssos

Swords of the Legion


Krispos Rising

Krispos of Videssos

Krispos the Emperor


The Stolen Throne

Hammer and Anvil

The Thousand Cities

Videssos Besieged

A World of Difference


How Few Remain


The Great War: American Front

The Great War: Walk in Hell

The Great War: Breakthroughs


American Empire: Blood and Iron

American Empire: The Center
Cannot Hold

American Empire: The Victorious


Settling Accounts: Return

Settling Accounts: Drive to the East

Settling Accounts: The Grapple

Settling Accounts: In at the Death

Every Inch a King

The Man with the Iron Heart


Hitler’s War

West and East

To the memory of Paul Fleischauer, 1942–2009—one of the good ones
Too soon gone, dammit; too soon gone


Other Books by this Author

Title Page


Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

About the Author


Chapter 1

heo Hossbach lay on a cot in a military hospital in Cambrai. All of him was fine except for the last two joints on the ring finger of his left hand. He wouldn’t see those again until and unless what the Resurrection of the Flesh preachers liked to talk about turned out to be the straight goods. Theo doubted it—Theo doubted almost everything people in authority said—but you never could tell.

One thing Theo didn’t doubt was that he was lucky to be there, or anywhere. Along with the commander and driver, he’d bailed out of a burning Panzer II. They’d all run for some bushes a couple of hundred meters away. He’d made it. Ludwig and Fritz hadn’t. It was about that simple.

The bullet that amputated those last two joints came later. He didn’t know whether it was aimed at him in particular or just one of the random bullets always flying around a battlefield. The one by Beauvais seemed to have had more of them than most. Theo might have been prejudiced; he’d never had to bail out of a panzer before.

Or he might not have been. The French and English had stopped the
s drive at Beauvais, and it hadn’t got started again. This made
two wars in a row where the Schlieffen Plan didn’t quite work. Hitler’s generals came closer to pulling it off than the Kaiser’s had, but what was that worth?

A nurse came by. She took his temperature. “Normal. Very good,” she said as she wrote it down. “Do you need another pain pill?”

“Yes, please,” he answered. Those two missing joints seemed to hurt worse than the stub he had left.
Phantom pain
, the doctor who cleaned up the wound called it. He could afford to dismiss it like that; it wasn’t his hand.

“Here.” The nurse gave Theo the pill, watched while he swallowed it, and wrote that down, too. He figured it was codeine; it made him a little woozy, and it constipated him. It also left him less interested in the nurse, who wasn’t bad looking, than he would have been if he weren’t taking them every four to six hours. But it pushed away the pain, both real and phantom.

Most of the soldiers in the ward with him had nastier wounds. Most, but not all: the fellow two beds down wore a cast on his ankle because he’d tripped over his own feet and broken it. “I wasn’t even drunk,” he complained to anyone who’d listen. “Just fucking clumsy.”

Woozy turned to drowsy. Theo was dozing when hearing his own name brought him back to himself. The nurse was leading a captain over to his cot. The pink
on the man’s
collar patches and edging his shoulder straps said he was a panzer man, too. “You are, uh, Theodor Hossbach?” he said.

“Theodosios Hossbach, sir,” Theo said resignedly. How was he supposed to explain that his father had been slogging through a translation of Gibbon’s
The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
at just the wrong time?

He got the panzer captain’s attention, anyhow. “Theodosios? Well, well. No wonder you go by Theo.”

“No wonder at all, sir,” Theo agreed.

“You are a radio operator. You are familiar with the operation of the Fu5 radio set?”

“Yes, sir.” Theo knew he still sounded resigned. Every panzer in the
used the Fu5 except commanders’ vehicles, which carried the
longer-range Fu10. If he was a panzer radioman, he’d damn well better know how to use the standard set. A pfennig’s worth of thought … was evidently too much to hope for.

Then the captain got to the point: “Can you return to duty? A radio operator in a Panzer II is not required to do much with his left hand.”

That was true, and then again it wasn’t. A radioman didn’t need to do much with his left hand to operate the radio. When it came to things like engine repairs or remounting a thrown track, though … Theo knew he could have said no. His hand was swathed in enough bandages to wrap a Christmas present, or maybe a mummy. He hesitated no more than a heartbeat. “As long as they give me a jar of those little white pills, sir, I’m good to go.”

“They will,” the captain said, with a glance toward the nurse that warned someone’s head would roll if they didn’t. “You’ll have it by the time I come back for you, in half an hour or so. A couple of other fellows here I want to scoop up if I can.”

A doctor gave Theo the codeine and a reproachful look. “You should stay longer. You’re nowhere near healed.”

“I’ll manage,” Theo said. “I’m sick of laying around.”

“Lying,” the doctor said automatically.

“No, sir. I’m telling the truth.”

“Right.” The doctor looked more reproachful yet. Theo hadn’t thought he could. “Maybe we’re lucky to get rid of you.”

“Maybe you are. Most of me doesn’t need the bed—only my hand.”

When the panzer captain came back for Theo, he had one other fellow (who walked with a limp) in tow and a discontented expression on his face. “The last guy I want is shirking,” he growled. “I’d bet my last mark on it even if I can’t prove it. Well, I just have to make do with you two. Let’s go.”

They’d laundered Theo’s black coveralls. Putting them on again did feel good. The other panzer crewman, whose name was Paul, seemed to feel the same way. Once he had the black on, he stood taller and straighter and seemed to move more fluidly.

The captain bundled them both into a Citroën he’d got somewhere or other and headed west. They drove past and through the wreckage
of a nearly successful campaign. Dead panzers—German, French, and British—littered the landscape, along with burnt-out trucks and shot-up autos. Here and there, German technicians salvaged what they could from the metal carcasses.

Just outside of Mondidier, the captain stopped. “You boys get out here,” he said. “We’re regrouping for a fresh go at the pigdogs. They’ll fit you into new crews.”

“What’ll you do, sir?” Theo asked.

“Head for another hospital and see how many men I can pry loose there,” the officer answered. “The more, the better. We can use experienced people, God knows.”

Theo felt shy about joining a new crew. He’d spent his whole military career—he’d spent the whole war—with Ludwig and Fritz. They’d understood him as well as anybody did. They’d put up with him. If another driver and commander had lost their radioman … He made a sour face. He’d feel like a woman marrying a widower and trying to live up to the standard his first wife had set.

To his relief, he didn’t have to do that. The personnel sergeant assigned him to what would be a brand-new crew. The commander was a sergeant called Heinz Naumann. He had bandages on his neck and his left hand—and maybe in between, too. “Burns. Getting better,” he said laconically. On his coveralls he wore the Iron Cross First Class and a wound badge. Sooner or later, Theo knew, a wound badge would also catch up with him.

By contrast, the driver was just out of training. His coveralls weren’t faded and shapeless; you could cut yourself on their creases. He was a big fellow with dark hair who moved like an athlete. His name was Adalbert Stoss.

Theo was from Breslau, way off in the east. Naumann came from Vienna. Stoss hailed from Greven, a small town outside of Münster. “It’s a wonder we can understand each other,” he said with a grin.

Grin or not, he wasn’t kidding. As far as Theo was concerned, Stoss and Naumann had different strange accents. They probably thought he talked funny, too. “We’ll manage,” Heinz said.

“Oh, sure.” Adalbert went on grinning. He seemed happy as could be
to have escaped basic and come out to join the grown-ups at—or at least near—the front. Theo had seen that reaction before. Most of the time, it wore off as soon as the rookie saw his first body with the head blown off. Training was hard work, to say nothing of dull, but you hardly ever got killed there. In real war, on the other hand …

“I was hoping they’d give me a Panzer III,” Naumann said. “But no—it’s another II.” He eyed Theo’s bandaged finger. “You aren’t complaining, though, are you?”

“Not right now,” Theo allowed. In a Panzer III, the radioman sat up front, next to the driver. He also served a hull-mounted machine gun. That wouldn’t be much fun with a bad hand. Then again … “A Panzer III, now, that’s a real fighting machine.”

BOOK: The War That Came Early: West and East
13.72Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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