Release Date: September 9, 2014
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Book Sample from “At the Gates of Sevastopol“
I moved quickly along the road at the edge of the city, my men following closely behind. We were all hunkered down—for sporadic gunfire could still be heard—as we made for a ditch on the side of the road opposite a building we were to clear of any opposition. Up to that point, we had basically secured victory in Operation Störfang—the main offensive encirclement of the key naval port, Sevastopol, on the Black Sea; what our division was assigned was merely a “mop-up” mission of clearing the city of any Ivans-in-hiding. My platoon was one of many assigned the buildings along the main roads into the city. The road on which we moved ran parallel with the coast, which was where the major fighting took place. The main city road ran perpendicular to the one on which we were, and our first building to clear was on the corner of these roads. The task now was to move carefully through the city and secure it for occupation. We had won, but there was no need to risk losing a soldier to a sniper we didn’t sniff out. We reached the ditch and gathered close so I could give the orders.
“Sergeant Richter, take Junge and Hartmann around the left flank. Sergeant Hermann, take Müller and Neumann around the right. I will breach through that door with Braun and Schwarz. Fuchs, I want you to remain outside to skim the windows and rooftops as we move from building to building.”
“Yes sir,” Fuchs said. The others nodded in understanding of their orders.
“Lieutenant Walther, any change in rules of engagement?” Hermann asked.
“No, they remain unchanged,” I answered. “Men, I want this mission executed with precision and with no unnecessary deaths.” I looked around the group at each man, but I held my gaze a little longer on Richter. “Understood?” They all nodded again. I peered over the edge of the ditch, as did Fuchs. Scanning the windows, he nodded. We all climbed up onto the road and made for the building. As we crossed the road and prepared to breach, I thought back to September of 1939 when our division invaded Poland.
* * * * *
It was in Poland that I began to notice a certain type of behavior that came out of Heinz Richter, only a private then. He started showing signs of aggression toward Poles, whether partisan or not. During one instance, though, our platoon came across a house with a family that did not want to leave. Our orders were to take any civilians we found to our headquarters for processing. But when Richter grew impatient, something snapped and he shot the mother and father; two of the men restrained him before he moved on to the three children, who by then were screaming and crying. Some of the other men grabbed the children and took them away. I looked at Richter in a scolding manner. His eyes were fiery. He held his gaze for a moment, then wiggled free of the two men restraining him. He walked outside and lit up a cigarette. A few months after that, when our division invaded the Netherlands, this aggression did not go away. Everyone could feel it, but most just pushed it aside as an extreme degree of nationalism and obedience to our orders. By the time our forces had gained full occupation of the Low Countries—Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands—Richter’s behavior had become mild.
Upon hearing that our tanks rolled down the Champs-Élysées and that the tide was definitely in our favor, many soldiers celebrated in various ways. Richter chose to celebrate by drinking heavily and raping a French woman who lived in the town where we were stationed at the time. Having heard the woman scream, some local men came with clubs and handguns and ended up getting in a fight with some of our men who also responded to the screams. One thing led to another, and the local men shot one soldier and wounded two others, getting the woman to safety thereafter. The soldier who was shot, as well as one of those wounded, died in the infirmary early the next morning. Ever since then, I’ve been leery of Richter. I remember Sergeant Hermann telling me, “He’s a problem, sir.”
* * * * *
I leaned against the wall of the two-story building, ready to move in once Private Schwarz busted down the door. He did, and the three of us moved in with caution. The room was empty, quiet. There was a table in the center of it, nothing on it but a vase of dead flowers; the beginnings of a staircase could be seen in the far left corner, a hallway in the right corner. A cabinet was against the wall straight ahead. It appeared to be a kitchen, but there was no sign of recent activity. “Must have left a few weeks ago,” Braun murmured. There was a door that was cracked open at the one end of the kitchen by the stairs.
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