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The Haigerloch Project
By Ib Melchior
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1977 Ib Melchior
All rights reserved.
He had no doubt how it would turn out, and it annoyed the hell out of him. Still, he couldn't bring himself to capitulate without at least a show of rebellion. Any damned fish worth netting ought to do some struggling before being reeled in.
He glared at his commanding officer.
"Tell G-2 to shove it," he said angrily.
Major Wallace, Stanley H. Wallace—H for Homer after his paternal grandfather—CO of Counter Intelligence Corps Detachment 212, calmly studied the young officer standing stiffly at the grimy-paned window in his office. He knew him Well. Knew he always bitched like hell before taking on an assignment not of his own choosing. But he always did take it on, and lit into it with imagination and guts. It would be no different now.
Major Wallace turned to a large area map on the wall behind him.
"It's thirty-two miles from Bitburg to Mayen," he said.
"And thirty of them held by the Krauts!" the young officer flared and turned away from the map deliberately to stare out the window into the gray, dismal morning.
Below lay the little town of Fels, virtually untouched by the war. The bustling military traffic flowing around the Corps HQ buildings seemed totally out of place—like close-order drill in a convent.
The Forward Echelon of XII Corps had moved to the county- seat town of Fels—or Larochette, depending on your ethnic preference—on February 23, a short week before, and set up shop in a drab three-story hotel, a textbook firetrap with narrow corridors and steep, winding stairs. All the rooms were small with depressingly low ceilings, the CIC office on the third floor most certainly no exception. The town was nestled in a heavily wooded and hilly section at the edge of the High Eifel in Luxembourg, hard on the German border, a resort area often called Little Switzerland.
For a brief moment Lieutenant Martin Kieffer, counter-intelligence agent, CIC Det. 212, stared at the scene before him. The forest-clad hills ringed the little town. From among the dark evergreens the twisted, naked branches of leafless trees reached upward toward the leaden sky—skeletons of winter waiting to be fleshed out with new spring growth.
It would be the last one, he thought—the last Corps CP before entering enemy territory.
He turned to Major Wallace.
"You know what they'll do to me if they nab me, don't you? I'm Jewish."
Wallace nodded. "Half Jewish. Your mother was Catholic."
"Dammit, Stan, I'm circumcised."
"Big deal. So am I. And I'm Presbyterian." The major rose. He walked up to Kieffer. "Look, Martin," he said quietly, "I know it's a helluva thing to ask. And nobody's ordering you to do it."
Kieffer felt a wave of frustrated anger surge through him. That was the worst part of it. It would be his choice. He couldn't hide behind an order. He himself would have to make the decision to get his ass shot off, to take on the goddamned stupid assignment.
"Shit!" he said. "Let me see that message again. The decipherment."
Wallace took a piece of paper from his desk and handed it across.
Frowning, Kieffer studied it.
IMPORTANT DEGUSSA SCIENTIST JOHANN
DECKER BELIEVED READY DEFECT STOP
PRESENT MAYEN OSTBAHNHOFSTR FROM 24
TO 28 FEB THEN TRANSFER INTERIOR
STOP EVACUATION VITAL STOP EULE
He looked up at Wallace.
"How was it sent?" he asked "What's the cryp history?" "Double transposition cipher," Wallace answered. Inwardly he smiled. Kieffer was hooked. "The standard OSS thing. Eule, the German underground operative in Frankfurt, sent it by short wave to a collection center in Switzerland. The monitoring agent there sent it on to London, and London shot it over to SHAEF—"
"—and it ends up in our eager little hands," Kieffer finished for him.
"With an order for immediate action." Wallace nodded. "And a lot of pressure from SHAEF."
Kieffer looked at the message in his hand. Absent-mindedly he turned it over.
"Someone's worried about something," he said pensively. He looked up at Wallace. "We know anything else?"
"Yeah. Degussa. It's a big Frankfurt outfit. Working on top- secret projects"
"Another goddamned secret weapon to win the war."
"Don't sell it short," Wallace said soberly. "V-1 and V-2 are no toys. Ask any poor bastard in London."
"CIC is not supposed to operate behind enemy lines, Stan, and you know it. It's an OSS job."
"No time for them to mount a mission."
"Sure. They waited to the last fucking day."
"Didn't get it before."
"Damned SHAEF snafu. Why us?"
"Why me? It's not my meat. I've never operated behind enemy lines before."
As he said it—he knew it wasn't true. But Wallace didn't know that. He'd never told his CO about the time he'd taken the wrong road and lost his way. It was shortly after the Siegfried Line had been smashed. He'd ended up in a small Kraut village on the Prüm River that hadn't been taken yet. Only he didn't know that. He'd strutted into the Bürgermeister's office, kicked the man out and replaced him with a non-Nazi farmer. He'd ordered the townspeople to dismantle a half-finished tank obstacle across the main drag on the double, and generally thrown his weight around. And he hadn't known that the cellar of damned near every house was filled with Waffen SS troops lying in ambush—any minute expecting the cock-sure Ami officer's support troops to roll in. He'd only learned that two days later when the town was occupied and he'd dropped in on the man he'd installed as mayor. He'd had one helluva time pretending that he'd known the situation all along.
But this time it was different. This time he knew.
"Your German is perfect," Wallace said.
"Who is this Decker guy?"
Major Wallace just shrugged.
"Don't know. All I know is, they want him. Badly." He glanced sideways at Kieffer, then looked back at the wall map. "You'll have to infiltrate to Mayen," he said briskly. "Find Decker on Ostbahnhofstrasse and transport him back here."
"That all?" Kieffer said bitingly. He threw the message on the CO's desk. "That damned message says believed ready to defect. What if the bastard doesn't want to go?"
"As in kidnap? You're out of your fucking mind!"
"Play it as it comes."
For a moment Kieffer stared silently at the map. Then he turned to Wallace.
"Okay," he said "Okay. I'll go get him." He glared at his superior officer. "But I'll do it my way!"
"And what way is that?"
"First, I go in uniform. Infantry insignia. Dogtags. The works. I don't want to be stood up against the nearest wall if they catch me."
Wallace nodded. It made sense. Anyway, German troops had captured a lot of GI equipment and clothing during their abortive Ardennes offensive. They were putting it to practical use in the cold weather. A bastard American get-up would not attract attention.
"I'll go in by jeep," Kieffer continued. He was getting caught up in the challenge of the mission. His eyes flew across the wall map. "I'll scrape off the stars. Muddy the numbers." He turned to Wallace. "And I want a driver. Marshall. Jerry Marshall. That sergeant in the motor pool. He's crazy enough to go along."
"Marshall?" Wallace was startled. "He can't speak a word of German."
"But he can make a bathtub run like a Rolls. He's one damned good mechanic, and that's a helluva lot more important to me than language. I don't want to be stranded in a conked-out jeep in the middle of nowhere thirty miles into Kraut country. If we get into a situation we have to talk ourselves out of, we've had it anyway."
"It's okay with me—if Marshall agrees."
"He will. He's always bitching about not seeing any action."
"You'll have to get Decker out tonight. Tomorrow he'll be gone."
"Yeah. Do tell."
"You will be jumping off tonight," Wallace went on, briskly authoritative now the matter was settled. As he had known it would be. "From Bitburg. They're mopping up now. You will contact Major Baldon at Eleventh Infantry CP. He will have further instructions for you. He will get you through the American lines. From then on you're on your own. Any questions?"
"Yeah, one," Kieffer said dryly. "How do you get out of this chickenshit outfit?"
"Section Eight ...?"
It was 1647 hours on February 28 when CIC agent Martin Kieffer and Sergeant Jerry Marshall drove into Bitburg.
The fields along the road on the outskirts had been blanketed by a paper blizzard. Surrender leaflets, dropped by the Air Force. And obviously ignored.
The town itself had been taken that same day by units of the 11th Infantry Regiment, 5th Division, who'd fought their way in from the south against heavy opposition. Air had plastered the important road junction, and Corps and Division artillery had slammed barrage after barrage of steel and high explosives into it. The place was one huge pile of muddy rubble.
Kieffer looked around with awed curiosity as Marshall threaded the mud-caked jeep through the half-cleared streets, following the signs to Regimental CP. He knew that the famous Long Tom 155 mm. gun of the 244th Field Artillery Battalion had been brought into action to soften up the burg before the infantry assault. To reach its target with the required accuracy, the gun had been hauled so far forward that it was placed up among the mortar crews firing infantry support for the advance. The mortar men had bitched like hell. They'd caught a lot of the incoming mail of the German counter-battery fire searching for Long Tom. Judging from what he saw—and smelled—the gun had done its job on the town of Bitburg.
Major Baldon eyed Kieffer and Marshall with obvious wariness. He'd been handed a hot potato by Corps—and didn't like the possibility of getting his fingers burned.
"If you ask me," he said, "you're nuts!"
Kieffer ignored him.
"Have you any idea where you want to cross?" the major asked testily.
"More than an idea," Kieffer answered. "I've picked the exact spot." He pulled a dirty, creased map from his pocket. It was a Wehrmacht area map he'd traded for a pack of Luckies with the IPW's who interrogated the prisoners. He'd carry it on the mission instead of a U.S. Army issue. Just in case. He spread it out on Baldon's desk. "I'll show you."
He found the spot on the wrinkled map and traced his route with his finger as he talked.
"Right—here. There's a timbering path running through a forest. The contour lines show it sloping down toward the Kyll River valley, joining a small country road—here."
"The Kyll bridges are all out," Baldon interrupted. He seemed smugly pleased with the intelligence.
"I know. We'll ford it."
"The river's pretty swollen." The major sounded doubtful.
Kieffer felt a surge of impatience. He didn't feel like wasting his time explaining to the contentious officer that he had just spent several hectic hours interrogating the half-dozen members of a Luxembourg hunting and fishing club he'd been able to round up. In better days these sportsmen had fished in every river and stream in the area—including the Kyll. They'd trudged along its banks, stood planted in the middle of the water and searched for the places richest in trout. Better than anyone, they knew the width and depth, the current and bottom conditions of every inch of the river—swollen or not. From their information he had picked his spot.
"We'll make it, Major," he said curtly.
He returned to the map.
"The road runs roughly parallel to the main highway to Mayen and joins it here—near Daun."
Baldon looked at the map, orienting himself in the jumble of unfamiliar symbols.
"You'll have to cross in Able Company's sector," he said. "Lieutenant Kinsey."
"The Krauts are reported regrouping in the entire area," he said. "The situation may be fluid enough to let us pull it off without a hitch. We've had reports of sporadic motorized activity. The sound of our jeep shouldn't cause any raised eyebrows."
He folded up the map, missing the original creases, and put it away.
"You brief Kinsey we're coming up now, Major. We'll make our final arrangements with him directly."
Baldon looked at him sourly.
"When do you want to take off?"
"After dark. At 2100 hours."CHAPTER 2
Sergeant Marshall was coaxing the jeep along the muddy, bumpy back road at what seemed to Kieffer a lazy snail's pace. They had put the top up. They usually didn't—and somehow the jeep looked less GI to them. To the Germans as well, he hoped. The road was dark, and the shadows from the trees lining it heightened the gloom. The blackout hoods over the headlights permitted only two thin slivers of light to probe the blackness ahead.
Kieffer felt keyed up. For the hundredth time he took stock. The jeep was unidentifiable as belonging to the US Army. It could easily be a captured vehicle pressed into service with the Wehrmacht as were countless others. Both he and Sergeant Marshall were clad in a conglomeration of nondescript uniform items. They'd checked each other out before taking off, like a pair of paratroopers before a jump. He wore a wool cap pulled down over his ears; a wool scarf which effectively hid his collar tabs with his US insignia; a dirty, loose US mackinaw coat; and mud-caked paratrooper boots. His dogtags around his neck were stuck together with chewing gum to prevent their rattling. His underwear was fresh. If he got into trouble and was hit, the clean fabric forced into the wound would be less likely to cause infection and perhaps gangrene than dirty cloth. In his mind he repeated the passwords he and Kinsey had picked: Homecoming—Highball. It had been decided they'd cross back at the same place they left, at 0430—with or without Decker.
So far the mission had gone off without a hitch. Too easy. It made him uncomfortable. Something was bound to happen. He wished it would. He needed to cope with—something....
He and Marshall had located the forest path quickly. For a couple of hundred yards it sloped gently down toward the Kyll valley. They'd coasted slowly and silently until the jeep finally had come to a halt. There had been no challenge.
They'd started up, and had soon joined the back road that crossed the river.
As the Luxembourg fishermen had described, the river widened there and formed a natural ford, reinforced with bottom rocks and logs just below the surface of the rushing water.
The current had been strong. The jeep had labored on its buffeted course across the slippery rocks, but they'd made it without getting more than tolerably wet.
They had seen no activity at all. Only heard what sounded like light armor moving in the distance....
In a couple of miles they would join the highway to Mayen.
The trees were thinning out, the gloom was becoming less intense.
Suddenly Marshall pointed.
"Holy shit!" he whispered. "Look!"
Ahead of them was the road junction. And on the highway, directly across from the back road they were on, sat the massive hulk of a heavy transport truck hooked up to an artillery piece, a 15 cm Schwere Infantrie Geschütz. Around a fire were half a dozen of the crew; the others were working on a damaged driving track on the truck in the beam of a battery work light.
It was their first sight of the enemy.
It was expected, and yet Kieffer felt a quick surge of panic. He suppressed it angrily.
Automatically Marshall slowed down.
"Keep going," Kieffer snapped. "And keep your trap shut!"
He resisted the instant impulse to grab his gun.
The jeep edged onto the highway.
The Germans stirred at the sight of the American vehicle. Guns in hand, a couple of them, one a Feldwebel, warily started across the highway toward the jeep.
Kieffer leaned out.
"Hallo! Am Kraftwagen!" he called. "Hey! At the truck!— Wie weit noch bis Mayen?—How far to Mayen?"
"Fufzehn Kilometer," the Feldwebel answered in typical Berliner dialect.
Kieffer beat his arms around him elaborately.
"Kreuz-Donnerwetter-Papenheim-Herrgott-Sakrament-Zum-Teufel-Nocha'mal!" he swore. "It's cold in this damned Ami Klamotte!" He prayed his thick Bavarian oath would allay any budding suspicions the Berliner might have about his accent. He knew his German was good, though it wasn't good enough for him to be taken for a nextdoor neighbor. But for someone from a different part of Germany. He hoped.
Irrelevantly he had a flash vision of his mother's scandalized face as he'd pronounced that oath the first time. He'd been twelve. Blasphemous, she'd cried, white-faced with shock. It was a little strong—especially to Catholic ears. Crucifix-Thunder-Home of Popes-Lord God-Sacrament, to the Devil, Twice Said! For days she refused to speak to her brother, who was visiting the States from Bavaria and who'd taught the boy the curse.
Excerpted from The Haigerloch Project by Ib Melchior. Copyright © 1977 Ib Melchior. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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