Written by an author with personal experience as a counterintelligence agent during World War II, Order of Battle is set during the waning days of Nazi Germany, as plans are hatched for a covert terrorist organization known as the Werewolves, meant to carry on Hitler’s legacy even in the face of defeat. High on their list of goals: the death of America’s heroic Dwight D. Eisenhower.
But the secret Nazi resistance will have trouble eluding the Allied forces lying in wait for them—especially one dedicated American intelligence officer who suspects that danger lurks underground amid the chaos of a collapsing empire—in this novel inspired by real events and filled with “maximum tension” (The New York Times).
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Order of Battle
By Ib Melchior
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2000 Ib Melchior
All rights reserved.
12 Apr 1945
His knuckles stung.
He glared at the German lying sprawled against the wall. He'd struck him as hard as he could across the face—a backhand blow brought up from the hip.
The German stared back at him. He looked shocked; his eyes were wide open in a mixture of surprise, doubt—and fear.
Erik Larsen recognized that look of fear. Good! He stepped up to the man, looming over him. He was suddenly awkwardly aware of his right hand. He had the strange notion that he could still feel the bristly stubble on the German's face imprinted on the skin. He resisted an urge to rub it. He might have to hit the man again ...
The German seemed to shrink into the dirty wall of the Bavarian Bauernstube. He stared at Erik incredulously. For a long moment the two men faced each other.
Erik felt a constriction in his throat. With a conscious effort he forced himself to look grim. Ruthless. He could not afford to let the German suspect his doubts. He felt a compelling need to reassure himself, to confirm that he'd been right. And for a split second he felt resentful, frustrated. That was the problem with these screening cases. You had to rely on your instincts too damned much. There wasn't time for a real interrogation. The cases had a tendency to run together in their tedious sameness, to bog down in a morass of routine questions and evasive answers, permeated with the stink of fear.
This bastard on the floor. Erik knew there was something wrong about him. He was certain of it. But how in hell do you prove it in a few minutes? And that was all the time he could spend on any screening job. Already German war refugess were spilling through the lines from the east by the hundreds in a frantic effort to get away from the advancing Red Army. Who were they? What were they? A lot of them had good reasons for not wanting to face the Russians. It was up to CIC to screen those people before allowing them to continue into Germany, behind the American lines....
Anton Gerhardt was one of them. He came rolling into the little Bavarian village of Neustadt in a small Citroën loaded to the roof with household goods, boxes and suitcases. Calmly he let himself be stopped and ordered from his vehicle to join the line of refugees waiting to be screened. While his car was driven off the road and the MPs began to search through his mountainous belongings, Gerhardt was taken to Erik for screening.
After the first few routine questions Erik knew.
Gerhardt was in his early fifties. His only papers consisted of an expired Kennkarte—a German identification card—which listed him as a minor post office employee from Budweis in the Sudeten area of Czechoslovakia. That was standard. Had his papers been more complete he'd have been one in a thousand, and cause for real suspicion. There was something else about the man. He seemed too cocksure, almost condescending, rather than displaying the usual servile apprehension.
Erik felt the hunch strongly, that hunch which every interrogator developed after questioning hundreds of suspects. The kind of hunch which was difficult to explain—but which was seldom wrong.
Gerhardt was no petty official.
There were plenty of those in Nazi Germany. Arrogant and haughty enough in their dealings with the public, but when confronted with authority, cringing and servile; the little German Beamte—the civil servant—a breed all his own. Erik knew them well from his travels in prewar Germany, and the stamp didn't fit Anton Gerhardt.
But Erik got nowhere with his questioning. Gerhardt stuck to his story. Things were bad in Budweis. Chaotic. The threat of Russian occupation created panic among the Germans. Orderly and regular functions had come to a standstill in the postal services, and he— Gerhardt—thought it best to return to Germany. The man seemed confident, and Erik had no proof that he was not, in fact, telling the truth.
Except for a damned insolent little smile that never left the man's face. And the hunch.
Erik studied him. "I don't believe your story," he said flatly. His German was faultless.
Gerhardt shrugged. "It is the truth."
"I'm not buying it"
The German remained silent. Erik regarded him dispassionately. He spoke matter-of-factly:
"You realize, of course, that if you don't tell me the truth, someone else, with more time, will have to get it out of you."
The German smiled thinly. "You are making a threat? Physical violence?" There was faint mockery in his tone. "Forgive me, but now it is I who cannot believe you. I know American officers are too civilized to resort to that kind of—of Russian barbarism. And I am telling the truth."
That was when Erik knew what he had to do.
He got up and walked over to the man standing before his desk. Slowly, deliberately he walked around him.
"So you believe we won't lay a hand on you?" he asked casually.
"Of course," Gerhardt answered. "I am an educated man. I never believed the propaganda ravings of Dr. Goebbels. They were designed for the more gullible."
"And you are not gullible."
"I am not."
"You're too clever to be fooled, is that it?" "I am."
"But you still belonged to the Nazi party, didn't you? Supported it?"
Gerhardt didn't answer. This was getting nowhere, he thought.
He had been right; the Americans were fools. He felt gratified. It was as he had known it would be. That boy would never get anything out of him with his stupid questions. They had no idea of how to conduct an interrogation properly. How different, if the situation had been reversed!
"And being so clever, you've figured out that we won't rough you up a bit to get the truth." Erik interrupted his thoughts.
Gerhardt shrugged. "But you have the truth. Also, you go by the Geneva Conventions."
Erik nodded. "No rough stuff."
"Yes. No physical violence against prisoners."
Erik studied the German thoughtfully.
"Do you know where you are now?" he asked.
"No, I do not know. But I can guess. The American Sicherheitsdienst?'
"Close enough. I'm a special agent in the U.S. Army Counter Intelligence Corps. And it's my job to get you to talk. Right now!"
Gerhardt looked curiously at the young man facing him. He wondered what his rank was. The American wore no insignia of any kind—no rank, no branch, no unit—only two yellow-brass U.S. officers' emblems on the collar tabs of his olive drab wool U.S. Army shirt. Tall, well built. A good, strong Aryan face—and so young. Twenty-five? No more. A boy sent to do a man's job, he thought.
"I have already talked," he said patiently. "And you have my identification papers."
"Papers can be false."
"They can also be real. Mine are." He shrugged his shoulders in a gesture of resignation. "I have told you the truth."
"Not quite." Erik made his voice suddenly cold. "But you will!"
Gerhardt's thin-lipped smile drew down at the corners of his mouth. "But you will not—rough me up, as you put it, to make me say what you want to hear."
"What makes you so sure?"
"I have studied about America. I know what the Americans are like. You are fair.
You do not consider a man guilty before his guilt is proved." He smiled. "You are trying to frighten me. To intimidate me. You think if I know something I will tell you, because I am afraid." Again he shrugged. "But you see, I know nothing. I have told you the truth about me."
Erik watched the German. He appeared to be entirely at ease. He believed what he was saying. No one was going to hurt him. Not the Americans. Not the soft, decadent democrats. He stepped in front of the man. He looked squarely at him.
"I'll tell you what," he said pleasantly. "You and I are going to play a little game."
Gerhardt looked at the CIC agent as if he were looking at a backward child who was being particularly exasperating. Erik continued:
"Here are the rules. Very simple. You will stand at attention, and I will ask you questions. Every time you tell a lie, I'll knock you across the room!"
The faint smirk never left Gerhardt's face. He drew himself to attention. He was humoring the childish American. Erik stood directly in front of him.
"Do you come from Budweis?" he asked.
"Is the car you're driving yours?"
"Were you a member of the Nazi party?"
Gerhardt hesitated. Then he shrugged his shoulders.
"Good. As a civil servant you'd have to be." He stepped a little closer to the German.
"Were you a post office employee?"
And Erik hit the German as hard as he could. The blow knocked the man off his feet and slammed him sprawling against the wall. Incredulously Gerhardt brought his hand to his face; there was a touch of bright red at the corner of his mouth. He was unaware of it as he stared up at the CIC agent looming above him.
Erik's voice was harsh.
"On your feet!"
Gerhardt stayed on the floor. His smirk was gone.
"Los! We've just started our little game! Aufstehen! Get up!"
Gerhardt stared at him. The American had hit him. He had been proved wrong. Where else was he wrong? What else might happen to him? Were the Americans just like the Russians after all? Or like—like his own? The world of logical certainties he had built so carefully and shored up with wishful thinking was collapsing....
Gerhardt seemed to sag.
"Were you a post office employee?"
Gerhardt slowly stood up. A little of his dignity returned, but his arrogant condescension was gone.
Had he been like that from the start, Erik thought, I would have believed him. He said:
"Let's have it!"
Gerhardt felt naked, unprotected. His rational convictions crumpled in a card house collapse, he had nowhere to seek asylum. He drew himself up with pathetic pride.
"I am Standartenführer Gerhardt Wilke," he said.
"Your position?" Erik snapped.
"Chief of Gestapo in Budweis."
Erik returned to his desk. He didn't have to look in the book. The man was a mandatory arrestee. He called:
Sergeant Jim Murphy entered the room. Erik nodded toward the German. He suddenly felt tired.
"We've got ourselves a Gestapo colonel, Jim," he said wearily.
Murphy shot a curious glance at Gerhardt.
"Give him something to write with. He's going to put down his entire Nazi career for us." He looked at the Gestapo officer.
The man nodded. "Jawohl."
"When he's through put him in the enclosure. We'll want to talk to him again."
"Okay, sir." Murphy turned to the Nazi. "Come on. Let's go."
For a moment Erik sat at his desk. He'd caught another one. He should feel good about it, but his thoughts were bleak.
It was the first time he'd used physical force in the literally hundreds of cases, and the thousands of subjects, he'd investigated since splashing ashore at Omaha Beach more than ten months before. He'd always felt that to do so would put him on a par with the Nazis.
He suddenly recalled, word for word, the bitter argument he'd had with a line officer who'd beaten up a PW.
"Your lily-livered methods won't get you anywhere," the man had told him contemptuously. "There's only one way to deal with those bastards. Beat the shit out of them! Make them talk! Be as ornery—as unscrupulous—as they are."
"And what does that do?" he'd countered. "Make them right? Or us wrong?"
"What's the matter with you? You afraid to sacrifice one of your precious principles?"
"One? And then maybe another? And one more? Where do we stop?"
"Oh, for Christ's sake! All you have to do is show them...."
"And if that's not enough? ..."
"Dammit, man! What's more important? The creature comforts of a bunch of fucking Krauts, or a few hundred GIs ending up wearing mattress covers?"
Erik sighed. He had not been able to agree.
He'd just struck a man, a suspect, with all the force he could muster. And at that single moment he'd wanted to strike him. Was he then becoming like—them? After all this time? All the pressure?
He quickly derailed his train of thought. Hell of a time to get morbid, he thought. What I need is some bunk fatigue. Pretty damned soon!
Okay. So he'd knocked the Kraut down. But, dammit, it had been the right thing to do!
Would it have been right if the man actually had been telling the truth? ...
It had been a textbook case. Just as he'd been taught at Camp Ritchie in Maryland by the IPWs: Do the unexpected. Break the prisoner as quickly as possible. Once he'd discovered the cornerstone of the man's defenses, he'd had no choice but to knock it out.
He sighed. He felt bone tired. Well, he'd asked for it. And in writing!
He remembered the letter he'd written to the War Department, dated December 8, 1941....
He had graduated from the University of Minneapolis, after majoring in journalism, only a few months before and had returned to his native Rochester. He had been born and raised in that Minnesota town, and he felt closely tied to it. His father, Christian Larsen, had come to Rochester in 1913 from the Finsen Light Institute in Copenhagen to work as a radiation expert at the Mayo Clinic and was still there, as head of the department. Four years after he arrived he'd married a young, second-generation Danish-American girl, Karen Borg, and Erik had been born in September 1918.
Erik spent the eighteen months following his high school graduation with his father's sister, Aunt Birte, in Copenhagen. He studied languages and psychology at the university and spent his vacations bicycling through Europe and skiing in Norway in the winter. It was because of his intimate knowledge of Denmark, and France and Germany and their languages, that he felt he could be of special use in some military intelligence capacity, and that was what he suggested in his letter to the War Department, volunteering his services.
Less than a week after he'd written, he received a note acknowledging his letter. It said: "This will acknowledge receipt of your recent application for Military Intelligence work." It was on impressive stationery, headed "WAR DEPARTMENT GENERAL STAFF, Military Intelligence Division, G-2." It was signed by a captain in MIS.
A few days later he got another letter of acknowledgment saying substantially the same thing, but signed by a lieutenant commander, USNR. And the next day a third letter, this time signed by a civilian. He was by now totally perplexed, and his confusion was not diminished when, during the next couple of months, he got strange looks from his friends and acquaintances—including his barber—and even an occasional concerned postcard from people in places he'd visited. Finally, the direct query: "Hey! What've you been up to? The FBI was around asking questions about you!" made him realize he was being investigated thoroughly.
One day he got a phone call from a young woman. She referred to his letter to the War Department and asked him to meet with two officers, a colonel and a captain, for a personal interview. Strangely, she set up the meeting at an obscure little hotel in downtown Rochester. Erik went, of course. The two men, both in civilian clothes, were friendly and relaxed. They offered him a good stiff drink before getting down to their talk—and Erik remembered very little after that. There was one thing he recalled quite clearly. A question. Perhaps the nature of it had startled him enough to make an impression. The colonel had casually asked, "Tell me, Larsen, how would you feel about sticking a knife in a man's back?" But try as he would, he wasn't able to remember what he'd replied. He vaguely remembered mentioning a local hardware store owned by a good friend and feeling very loyal to that store, insisting that his friend supply the knife! He returned to the hotel the next day to apologize for his peculiar performance, but the two men were not there. In fact, the hotel management protested they'd never heard of them. And Erik never heard from them either.
But after three months he received another letter, this time signed by a Navy lieutenant. It contained a questionnaire the length of the Encyclopaedia Britannica for him to fill out, and the letter asked when, at his earliest convenience, he could put his personal affairs in order and report for duty. It didn't say what duty. He wrote back: "You name the place and the time, and I'll be there," and he received a wire, stamped with the little red wartime star of officialdom, asking him to call a certain executive number in Washington, D.C. He did. He had a very nice conversation with a sexy-voiced girl, who instructed him to report a week later to Temporary Building Q. "Be prepared to remain out of communication with anyone for at least three months," she said sweetly, "and bring nothing but your toothbrush!"
Excerpted from Order of Battle by Ib Melchior. Copyright © 2000 Ib Melchior. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
PART I 12-17 Apr 1945,
PART II 28 Apr 1945,
PART III 29 Apr 1945,
PART IV 30 Apr 1945,