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Thread: Weltkriegschaft

  1. #1741
    Note to Readers: The following is the first post of a single update that will be released in several parts as time permits. These parts are not intended to be "stand-alone" as such, and will be unified into a single series of consecutive posts once all have been released. The post breaks are based not on pacing, but the characters-per-post limit of the board.



    Chapter III: The Lion’s Den

    Part XXXIX


    December 1, 1936

    Dark plumes of smoke rose over Dover, as Major Hans Kroh prepared to set out just before sunset. British heavy artillery had started several fires in the city, and a cluster of naval fuel-storage tanks was burning along the eastern side of the docks. After loading the last of their explosives, 67 men of Sturmpionier Kompanie 8 packed into seven British lorries and set off from just below the Dover Castle. They passed the eastern pickets, and trundled down A258 into the blustery gray evening with headlamps off. Enemy soldiers had been sighted in the fields beyond the Castle not long before, and assault pioneers hung from the running boards, ready to dismount and engage if they encountered any. But as the A258 curved north on its way to join the A2 highway to Canterbury, no resistance materialized, and the convoy picked up speed.

    Kroh had been an officer of police in Landespolizeigruppe “General Göring” -- and when Göring’s Luftwaffe “came out” in October of 1935, Kroh had been transferred into its service. In the wake of Eben-Emael, he had entered Kurt Student’s Parachute/Glider school at Stendal, and won the Iron Cross 1st Class as a company commander in the assault on the Brest aerodrome. These exploits brought him to the attention of Student and Bräuer, who tapped him for the assault on Dover. In long conversations, the two had come to form a deep appreciation for Kroh’s leadership qualities and understanding of airborne warfare. The Führer had personally approved his nomination as reserve commander of Operation Rösselsprung, and, in the event, its second-in-command.

    As Bräuer was assaulting the Citadel after midnight, Kroh and four companies of assault pioneers had landed in the fields around Dover Castle. They had found the great medieval fortress almost totally unprepared for a landward attack, and had quickly stormed across its intact causeways and into the inner bailey. About two hundred British soldiers had been in the Castle that night, but they were mainly the support personnel housed there and a contingent of artillerymen. After a series of brief firefights, the garrison had surrendered, and Kroh surmounted the keep to launch the flare that would signal Bräuer that the first English castle had fallen to a Continental invader in almost nine centuries.

    “What the devil is this?” Kroh’s driver whispered, braking. A line of uniformed figures was marching across the road into the field beyond, carrying what looked like petrol canisters. “They’re children...”

    “Don’t shoot.”

    The driver eased the lorry forward for a better look. Sure enough, it was dozens of children -- some surely as young as eight or nine -- crossing the road heedless of the approaches motor vehicles. “Stop,” Kroh ordered. They waited until the strange troop had cleared the roadway before proceeding again, and up onto the A2. “Keep going straight for some time now.” Kroh held a small flashlight over his folded map. They were passing around the outskirts of Dover now, and had soon made it without incident to the roundabout that marked the start of A2’s long, straight run past the eastern side of Lydden.

    They had not gone far when a long line of lorries came into sight coming toward them. Kroh removed his rounded parachutist-style helmet and instructed the driver to do the same. Paying the northbound vehicles no mind, the long motor convoy passed along at walking pace, and Kroh soon saw why. Following the thirty or more covered lorries were several companies of armed men marching in good order. When they had passed the last of them, Kroh ordered his force off the road, and dismounted to reconnoiter Lydden with his binoculars. From this vantage, he couldn’t see any sign of the enemy brigade said to be headquartered there, but there wasn’t time for a more extensive survey. He returned to the lorry and got on the radio to Bräuer.

    “Oberstleutnant, this is Kroh.”

    “Go ahead, Kroh.”

    “Oberstleutnant, be advised that there are approximately 700 enemy soldiers coming southbound on the A2, about a third of them motorized. We can detect no sign of brigade strength in Lydden from the road.”

    “Proceed toward those guns, and reconnoiter more fully on the way back.”

    “Yes, Oberstleutnant!” Kroh hung up the radiotelephone and ordered his convoy back onto the road. They followed the A2 for about five more kilometers, passing a pair of military ambulances going south, until Kroh finally found the junction with the Canterbury Road. According to the map, this was where they should leave the road and drive overland to the west until they encountered the railroad coming up from the Elham Valley.

    To their left was a stand of trees with a long wrought-iron fence beyond. The convoy pulled off to the shoulder of the road again, and Kroh dismounted for a conference with his platoon leaders. Leutnants Becker, Koch and Frischer followed him to the fence and crouched over the map. “So, the fence isn’t on the map, but hopefully the bolt cutters can handle it. Then we’ll drive straight across Broome Park and hit the tracks right about there after almost exactly 2 kilometers. Keep your men out of sight, and there is to be absolutely no shooting except if we are fired upon.” While Kroh took questions from his lieutenants, a pair of assault pioneers emerged from one of the lorries with a set of heavy bolt cutters. They fitted its stubby jaws over one of the fence’s horizontal bars, and clamped down. At first, nothing happened. Then, squeezing and straining, they forced the blades deeper into the bar, which creaked loudly. There was a sudden, grinding moan, and the iron gave way. The fence was built of sturdy latticework, and it was almost fifteen noisy minutes before the bolt cutters had bitten through enough bars to topple a section wide enough to drive through. But topple it did, with a final clanking crash, and Kroh’s seven lorries roared through the breach, and onto a wide grassy lawn.

    They rolled down a gentle slope, onto the immaculately manicured grass of a putting green, which the lorries’ military tires mauled cruelly. Leaving great muddy tracks, they jounced along the rolling landscape of the Broome Park Golf Course, which seemed totally deserted; across sand traps, down the fairways and through a gap in the trees. A high hedge marked the western boundary of the course, and the Germans bulled through it and into an open field. “We’ll cross three small roads, now,” Kroh told the driver, and in moments, they did. After crossing the third, a rail embankment came into view and Kroh faintly made out the tracks.

    The company turned right -- north -- and followed the tracks along the edge of Barham, namesake of the feared British battleship. In the blacked-out town, there were no men manning the anti-aircraft guns that stared blindly up at the clouds, but, for the first time, Kroh saw small numbers of civilians in the streets. Several buildings in the town center appeared bombed-out, with exposed roof frames and soot-blackened walls. In the distance, a policeman was talking to a woman outside a two-story pub. Kroh quickly turned away. The tracks passed across a narrow overpass now, and the lorries actually drove along the rail-bed, the deep boom of artillery growing louder ahead of them.

    It was nearly dark now, and the German drivers peered ahead with difficulty as the convoy bumped ahead uncomfortably between the rails. Soon, distinct flashes of orange could be seen lighting the ceiling of clouds in the northern sky, and seconds later, the deep rustle of heavy shells passed high above. Another kilometer, and huge bright fireballs could be seen almost dead ahead whenever the guns fired. Kroh radioed Bräuer. “Enemy artillery spotted ahead. Will reconnoiter positions and enemy numbers, then attack.”

    The Oberstleutnant barked a harsh, distant laugh through the ether. “Shock and firepower, Kroh. Report again when you have assaulted the guns.”

    “Clear. Kroh ending.” He hung up, and ordered his driver off the rail bed, and into a wide, rolling field to the left, where they continued forward to get a safer look ahead. About 300 meters away were two long, lighted tunnels that seemed to emerge from underground, and opened to rail spurs on opposite sides of the main tracks. On each spur sat a huge artillery piece on a railroad chassis, with what looked like a support car close behind. The first gun was about 100 meters ahead of the second, Kroh judged, and through his binoculars, he could see the silhouettes of dozens of crewmen serving each gun wagon, which appeared to be moored in place by numerous cables.


    Concealed firing spur north of Barham, German reconnaissance photo.


    A giant bloom of white flame appeared in Kroh’s peripheral vision. To his left, he could see that there was a third gun, maybe 700 meters further to the north. He ordered the rest of the convoy to a halt, and only his own lorry forward. Just across the tracks was a large, poorly blacked-out country house with several staff cars in the drive. Reaching the far end of the field, Kroh could see that the third gun was firing from a curved siding with steep embankments on both sides, and dwarfed even the first two.


    British 18 inch gun, Kent. Autumn, 1936.


    A large crew was responsible for the guns’ operation and firing in time of emergency .


    Kroh ordered the lorry around and back toward the others. His platoon leaders were waiting. “Becker, hit the first gun. Koch: the second, to the left. Frischer, you’ll go with me to hit the bigger one. We bring the explosives up by hand. I want each of you to leave one trupp as cover. Your other two squads will be for assaulting the crews at close range, and then disabling the guns quickly. Thermite, naturally, and HE on the tracks and machinery. Clear?”

    The lieutenants nodded in the darkness.

    “Send a runner to me when you are set for the assault. Do not begin the assault until my signal, unless attacked. When we’re all ready, one green flare, then the assault begins. Good luck.”

    The platoon leaders whispered in the darkness to the sergeants of their truppen. Then, the 67 assault pioneers were off at a running crouch. Fanning out toward the objectives, they fell prone at the lip of the short, shrubby slope overlooking the near side of the railroad. Just 25 meters away, the gun crews worked, illuminated every few minutes by the brilliant flashes that followed the great shells out the barrels.

    Kroh and Frischer’s platoon pressed themselves flat along the embankment overlooking the largest gun. Every time it fired, the ground all around the siding threw up dust like a carpet stiffly beaten. As the loading gangs were ramming the next shell into the breech, the Germans selected their targets. It looked like three or four men were standing guard with rifles slung, but they formed no semblance of a perimeter, and the MGs would cut them down before they even knew they were under attack.

    Fools. Kroh plugged his ears and opened his mouth. He heard the shot less than he felt it -- a painful weight forcing the air from his lungs. His eyes had been squeezed shut and turned away from the fireball, but his night vision still swam.

    A hunched shape dived up behind him and squeezed his shoulder. “3. Zug positioned!” The second runner slid next to Kroh just moments later. “2. Zug positioned.”

    Kroh turned toward where he knew Frischer was. “Everything in order?”

    A hoarse whisper: “All in order. On you.”

    Kroh slipped the flare pistol from its belt holster and loaded a green rocket. “We wait until the moment of the next shot.”

    Laboriously, the next huge 1,510 kg shell was loaded, the charges rammed and the breech sealed. Kroh’s finger mounted pressure on the trigger. In the distance, he could hear the officers shouting final commands as the crew prepared to fire. A little more pressure.

    A searing white fireball burst from the barrel, and before the flare was a dozen meters in the air, all four guards had fallen. Kroh and the assault squads sprinted down the slope firing, as those behind them hurled storm grenades. The three MG34s scoured the gun carriage, cutting down the artillerists at their posts.

    Kroh reached the ladder at the back of the carriage, and found three British soldiers lying there, faces pale green under the flare’s cold light, uniforms black with blood, eyes wide and staring. Slinging his submachine gun, he scrambled up, taking stock of the loading area. Two assault pioneers were already there, picking through the heaped dead to reach the gun’s breech.

    Renewed crackling behind him caused Kroh to whirl, and he saw a handful of surviving crewmen trying to jump down from the ammunition wagon a railcar-length behind the gun carriage. They stumbled and fell in the submachine gun fire. More assault pioneers climbed onto the car and emptied magazines into the open doorway.

    In seconds, the shooting was over, replaced by the deadly hiss of white-hot thermite melting through the 18 inch bore of the gun. Even at the rear of the carriage, the radiant heat was painful to the skin. Kroh called down directions to his men as they set charges to destroy the ammunition car and the abandoned diesel locomotive prime mover still further behind. On the other side of the gun carriage, assault pioneers were planting high explosives along the tracks.

    One of the sergeants called Kroh over to inspect the gun’s breech. It had been sealed shut by the ferocious heat of the thermite reaction, the lower part of the bore burned cleanly through, with a ragged hole still glowing cherry red. The molten steel had pooled on the floor of the loading platform, forming around the outlines of crewmen either dead or too badly injured to escape. The sergeant lit a slow-burning fuse on a bundle of explosives taped to the rammer and loading track. “All set, Major.”

    Kroh climbed down and surveyed the area. Several dozen British soldiers lay dead all around the great artillery piece. Fuses were burning that would devastate what remained within five minutes. “1. Zug! On me!”

    The last charges were set, and Frischer’s assault pioneers fell in behind Kroh at a run back toward the parked lorries. The other platoons were already mounting up -- Becker and Koch had had similar success disabling the two smaller guns. Every man was alive and accounted for. There were only a few minor injuries. A lone Englishman had been gagged and bound for interrogation back at the Citadel.

    “Oberstleutnant, this is Kroh.” The major waited for a response over the radio. “Come in, this is Kroh. Do you receive?” There was no response. Kroh ordered the radioman to keep trying.

    The motor column turned around and followed the railroad tracks south toward Dover. Just outside Barham, a white light burst into the sky behind them. Kroh hung his head out the window and looked back. Two points of white fire were blooming upward, twisting into towering pillars of roiling smoke and flame. Kroh glimpsed a rustle through the field grass, and the column was rocked by a thunderous boom lasting several seconds.

    The tracks curved, and a stand of trees obscured what were now leaping flames tens of meters tall. When they came back into view, Kroh could see the area wracked by several smaller explosions that threw burning chunks of debris high into the air.

    Kroh’s eyelids were closed in blinking, but he sensed a sun-bright flicker in the direction of the ruined guns. By the time his eyes opened, a third ball of fire, behind the first two, was already twice as tall and surging upward. Even at this great distance, he felt the heat. The top of the fiery cloud was turning end over end and flattening out high above Kent. This time, the shockwave violently jarred the lorries’ whole frames, but the assault pioneers registered little sound.

    As the lighter fragments of the 18 inch ammunition car still rained down over the countryside, the German column passed Barham and turned left onto a side road that ran along the edge of Broome Park Golf Course, hoping rejoin the A2.

    When the south-running highway came into view, though, the running lights of a long British column were streaming toward Dover. Kroh ordered his lorries into a ditch with their motors off and lights out. The assault pioneers waited in darkness, watchful for any sign that they had been seen by the enemy, until the rearguard finally passed out of sight.

    The Germans turned onto the A2, avoiding a string of staff cars racing northbound in the direction of the still-burning railway guns. The column of British lorries was about half a kilometer ahead, and turning onto the London road that would take it into Dover’s city center. Kroh ordered his drivers up to speed, and they followed A2’s curve east of a darkened Lydden and onto the Dover approaches until the Castle came into view, faintly lit by a string of fires burning below.

    “Any luck on the radio?”

    “No, Herr Major.”

    Kroh ordered the headlights on for the final run toward the German pickets, and fired a string of flares to announce himself. Assault pioneers hung from the sides of the lead lorries holding flashlights to swastika flags.

    Finally, as they neared the castle’s outer walls, a machine gun burst lanced overhead from an unseen position on the slopes below the Castle. Kroh’s column rolled to a stop as a Feldwebel emerged from cover at the roadside and ran to the left window of the lead lorry. “Major Kroh?”

    “Yes. Kompanie 8 is back intact. All enemy guns disabled.”

    “Get out, if you please, Major. I need to speak with you.”

    That was a queer thing to say. “Say whatever it is here, Lang.”

    “Major Heilmann’s orders, Major.”

    “Heilmann’s?” Kroh jumped out of the lorry and pulled Feldwebel Lang to the roadside. “What’s happened?”


    “Direct hit on headquarters up at the Citadel. The Oberstleutnant is badly wounded. Major Heilmann had command until your return, but you are now acting commander of Sturmabteilung Bräuer.”

    “Wait. When?”

    “The better part of an hour ago. He’s in surgery at the Drop Redoubt.”

    Kroh turned. “Frischer!”

    The lieutenant jumped out of the lorry and ran over.

    “Frischer, Bräuer is wounded. Take the company back up to the Castle, send them out to the lines as needed. Once they are in place, you may say that the Oberstleutnant is wounded, but make no mention of his actual condition. I’m going to take a car and see him right away.”

    Ten minutes later, Kroh was shown into a floodlit operating theater in one of the Drop Redoubt’s kitchens.

    Several medics with bloody gloves were clustered around Bräuer’s compact frame as he lay on a mess table. He was stripped naked, his chest bound tightly with gauze and dressings -- a medicine drip in one arm and saline solution going into the other. His pale legs were dotted with dozens of pea-sized shrapnel wounds that didn’t seem to merit medical attention in light of the chest injury.

    “Sani, why is he tied down to the table?”

    The peacetime obstetrician pulled up his surgical mask and picked a crumpled object off a nearby tray. “Six centimeters. This went into him. Steel. He refused morphine at first. By the time he made it to surgery, he had lost so much blood that any morphine would have killed him. We had to operate with no anesthetic.”

    Kroh walked toward the table. Bräuer’s face was ashen, spattered with mud and blood -- his hair was singed and matted. He was either sleeping or unconscious. “Will he make it, Sani?”

    “It will be close, Major. If his body can restore blood volume, he should wake up. If not --”

    “There isn’t a tougher bastard in the Wehrmacht, Sani. He’ll wake up.” Kroh stormed out of the room, shaken deeply.

    The British were visibly stirring on the north end of the city by 2000. An Oberleutnant drove Kroh across the top of the Heights to begin a survey the German perimeter. Hauptmann Wulpp’s Kompanie 6 held a line of positions running from the cliff’s edge across the A20 and up to Dover Citadel. Hauptmann Barenthin and Kompanie 1 occupied the Citadel itself and some of the barracks and administrative buildings just eastward along the Heights. Major Heilmann had three companies strung out from the north-facing works just east of the Citadel all the way to the Drop Redoubt. Hauptmann Pietzonka was just below the Drop Redoubt in the city itself, with his three platoons in and around Dover Priory railway station. The inner perimeter along the docks was manned by Kompanie 7 and the Kriegsmarine demolitionists, whose line joined that of Kompanie 9 at Dover Castle. This was reinforced by Kompanie 10 and the newly-returned 8, whose lines wrapped around the castle and down to the water. All told, there were 119 reported dead, several dozen critically injured and scores of walking wounded.


    Dover’s Western Heights, looking west.


    Dover Citadel, German reconnaissance photo.


    Kroh ordered the distribution of more stimulants. It seemed that the British would not wait for dawn to launch their attack. Taking up a new command post with Heilmann at the Drop Redoubt, Kroh watched through his night glasses as rows of kettle helmets began streaming silently southward through streets and alleys, working their way down toward the docks.

    “They’re going to be probing,” Kroh radioed Hauptmann Adler atop the keep. “Hold your fire until they’ve committed totally. We should avoid giving away our position.”

    At 2047, Pietzonka’s men made contact with platoon-sized enemy forces occupying a row of flats across from German positions. Fire was traded inconclusively, as several British foot companies rapidly swept down toward the docks. Kroh sent flares up for illumination, and the men at the Drop Redoubt finally opened fire, machine guns raking the streets far below. After a few minutes, it became clear that the advance had been halted, but the assault pioneers also saw that the enemy was not driven back by the enfilade. Rather, they had taken what cover they could, turning fences and houses into fortified positions and daring the invaders to dislodge them.

    The British were just three blocks away from the docks now. Kapitänleutnant Urich’s men heard the faint clatter of moving infantry ahead, but as his sharpshooters and machine gunners strained their eyes into the deep shadows of gutters and alleyways, they saw nothing.

    2100. Then 2200. Still nothing. Kroh considered standing some of the men down to sleep, but the signs from the city were still too threatening. Observers atop the keep of Dover Castle could see British forces gradually coming down through the city in battalion strength. If large forces got too close to the docks, Urich would be in danger of being overrun, regardless of German strength elsewhere.

    Just before midnight, contact was reengaged down at Dover Priory, as Pietzonka’s pickets engaged small enemy units trying to work around him and up toward the Heights. Exposed by a star flare, they took heavy casualties and withdrew.

    Adler called again from the Castle. “My observers see what appears to be an enemy battalion gathering at the Town Hall. It would be the logical place to set up a forward headquarters, yes? I suggest we hit them with the mortars.”

    Minutes later, all ten of Sturmabteilung Bräuer’s mortars opened fire. The accuracy of their plunging fire left much to be desired, however, and by the time the haphazard barrage actually managed to hit the old town hall building, it had been safely evacuated. Kroh called the mortars to a halt, and deputized Hauptmann Adler’s observers to create ranging tables for the city and its approaches.


    Dover, mid-1930s.


    The first hours of December second passed in silent darkness, the German lines on full alert, as the observers relayed news of two whole battalions gradually slipping closer. Eventually, some British units strayed too far into the open and were cut up by the machine guns around the Drop Redoubt. Others were felled by Kroh’s sharpshooters as they tried to reconnoiter ahead of the main force. On the main, though, Dover was silent, and the scattered fires that were still burning in the city from the heavy artillery showed no signs of spreading.

    Now and then, Kroh and Heilmann slipped into the operating theater below their headquarters to check on Bräuer, but the Oberstleutnant did not wake. Kroh relayed news of the commander’s condition to Student in France, but the latter could not offer the comfort of any firm news of coming relief.

    By the dead hours of the night, Adler could report no definitive signs of attack, so Kroh radioed the Castle, the Citadel and the docks to order their lines down to half watches and rotate the forward pickets on the hour. The British seemed to be planning a dawn attack after all, and Kroh wanted every man to at least have a couple hours‘ sleep before battle was rejoined.

    Kroh was just completing his telephone call to Wulpp when an Unteroffizier entered the headquarters and reported the start of an attack on Dover Priory. Kroh raced up to his observation post atop the Drop Redoubt and ordered a general alert.

    Several white flares were burning above the city, and Kroh could see flashes of gunfire around the railway station. The Heights were too shallow along their northern slopes to afford him a truly commanding view, but Pietzonka’s men kept him informed by telephone: enemy soldiers were streaming across a small park that abutted the priory school.

    Pietzonka held them back with grenades and machine guns, but the attack quickly redirected -- this time, the British stormed a narrow gap separating the row of flats from the railway station’s outer fence. Kompanie 5 had two MG34s on the station’s roof which did yeoman’s service in preventing all but a handful of Tommies from crossing onto the tracks. Those that did, however, charged the platform led by a captain, and managed to kill several assault pioneers at close range before being cut down themselves by a reserve squad rushing out of the station house.

    The British assault let up, but Adler’s observers were now reporting probing movements closer to the Castle, and pickets just outside the Citadel reported suspicious movements in the darkness below them.

    Every half hour or so, firing would break out somewhere along the German lines, but still the main British force remained in reserve.

    Several companies moved south at once around 0530, but despite harassing machine gun volleys and even a second abortive mortar barrage, stayed firmly put in buildings just two blocks north of the docks. Urich’s men -- on roofs, at attic windows, in wharf scaffolding and crouched in foxholes dug along the boardwalk -- waited for the blow to fall.

    As the sky began to lighten, Kroh dispatched Ludebrecht’s Kompanie 3 down from the Heights to reinforce the docks. The furtive movements of the night gave way to a fitful stillness among the British forces. Kroh knew that somewhere in the northern part of the city, his opposite number was almost surely counting down the minutes to 0744: dawn.

    Kroh ordered another round of caffeine tablets. Insects began to buzz on the frost-covered grass crowning the Heights. With the sun’s warmth would come the carrion. During the night, assault pioneers had taken in most of their own dead, wrapping them in canvas and laying them out in cool, dark places. Most of the British dead lay where they fell, though. The Western Heights alone were strewn with more than fifty left in the open.

    It was dawn. The sky was thickly overcast, but somewhere behind, the sun was rising over the North Sea. The Germans tensed, waiting for the whistles or bugles that would signal an attack.

    Fifteen minutes passed, but no attack came.

    “Major Kroh, the Oberstleutnant is asking for you.”

    “Sani?” Kroh turned to see Sanitäts-Leutnant Sanger coming up the staircase from the mess hall. Following Sanger down and into the operating theater, he found Bräuer awake, but semi-delirious and in great pain.

    “Kroh, for God’s sake, get over here.”

    “I’m here, Oberstleutnant.”

    “Tell them -- tell them.” His voice cracked, and Bräuer gritted his teeth. “Is it dawn?”

    “Yes, Oberstleutnant.”

    “Expect a counterattack. Get another company down to the docks, and hold onto the.” He closed his eyes. “Get another company down, down to the docks, and hold onto the railway station.”

    “It is done, Oberstleutnant. Everything is under control.”

    “Give the men their caffeine, Kroh. They need caffeine to stay awake, Kroh.”

    “I did, Oberstleutnant. You trained us all very well.”

    “Don’t let them, they, I,” Bräuer swore. “Get me a blanket!”

    Kroh cast about the operating theater, unfolding a small blanket that he found on a counter.

    “Don’t make the Major do it, numbskull!”

    “It’s alright, Oberstleut --”

    “I asked Sanger to get me a blanket. Or does he only follow orders given wrapped around a pistol?”

    Kroh sheepishly handed the blanket to the doctor, who spread it over Bräuer’s body and backed away.

    “Get some rest, please, Oberstleutnant. May I return to the command post?”

    “Go.”

    The morning was wearing on, but still the British did not attack.

    Finally, a group of previously-unseen light field guns barked near the crest of the hill opposite the Heights to the north. For fifteen minutes, high explosive rounds burst among the wharves, smashing a crane and setting a warehouse on fire, but achieving little tangible result other than giving the Germans warning.

    When the barrage came to an end, Urich’s gunners were squinting ahead down their iron sights, waiting for the shrill whistles that sounded as if on cue as the smoke from the last shell impact cleared.

    With a swelling roar, four hundred men of the 7th Hampshires rose from their sheltered positions and charged for the docks. The two MG34s at the attic windows of the Young & Jarrow warehouse clattered to life, cutting down enemy soldiers as they came down King street. Others appeared in second-floor windows of restaurants and shops along the dockside, firing down on dug-in Germans with their long rifles -- and even, in one case, setting up a Lewis machine gun, which quickly raked a turned-over Hillman that a pair of sharpshooters was sheltering behind.

    An MG crew along the docks saw the plight of the two wounded riflemen huddled behind the fast-disintegrating automobile, and ran their weapon into place to get an angle on the British gun. The keen-eyed Hampshire spotted them at once, though, and sent so many rounds into the tire pile they were setting up on that it caught fire.

    Further to the west, on the opposite side of King street, a British platoon had gotten into grenade-throwing range with assault pioneers dug in across the A20. Men in full view of each other tossed fragmentation bombs back and forth at one another with all the cheek and rudeness of spitballs. It was only when a “cooked-off” grenade blew an Oberjäger’s arm off before he could throw it out of his foxhole, that the Germans got mad in deadly earnest, and threw phosphorus across the highway.

    The centerpiece of the dock defenses was a sandbagged antiaircraft installation built around a British 40 mm Bofors gun and reinforced with three MG34s with a good line of sight to the juncture of Queen and York streets. This small square was now a shambles of overturned fish carts and market stalls, which the Bofors violently tore apart as hard-pressed Hampshires sheltered there before the final charge.

    Urich’s firepower was vastly more formidable than the British seemed to have expected, but officers urged men on and men urged each other on -- and soon, the survivors of four companies were hurling themselves across the last open meters in front of the German lines.

    Exposed to the full ferocity of the pioneers’ submachine guns at last, more than a third of them fell. Potato masher grenades tumbling end-over-end landed around and among them, and men lent hands to pull up wounded comrades that had fallen in the killing zone.

    A squad with a flamethrower appeared on the roof of the Young & Jarrow warehouse when the Hampshires were almost to the front doors, squirting liquid fire onto the poor souls below until a British sharpshooter put a bullet between the nozzleman’s eyes.

    But although the enemy was scythed down by the score, some of them inevitably got through.

    One foxhole was overrun only after the five survivors of a platoon leapt in and bayonetted the occupants to death. Another British captain, his jaw shot off, managed to lead a handful of riflemen straight through a weak point in Urich’s lines and onto one of the piers. There, they took potshots at the German squads racing back and forth to plug the gaps.

    A short distance to the east, some thirty men advanced under the cover of the second-floor Lewis gun and stormed a German-held accounting office between two warehouses; the MG crew firing from its loft fled onto the roof.

    The Young & Jarrow building saw close fighting, too. A British section taking advantage of the lull in the flammenwerfer’s fiery ministrations raced up to the façade and smashed the windows, climbing through the frames and into a dimly-lit firefight with four Germans that quickly devolved to knives, marlinspikes and desperate punches.

    Hand-to-hand fighting reached all the way to Urich’s customs house headquarters, which the towering demolitionist defended by sticking his Luger out the window and picking off Tommies whenever he got a clean shot amidst the chaos of grappling bodies.

    After fifteen minutes, though, the attack began to run out of steam. Shattered companies of Hampshires pulled back across the boardwalk, dragging what wounded they could. They had grasped the assault pioneers by the collar and made them bleed, but lacked the strength to do any more. They had died in heaps under the Germans’ massed automatic weapons, but with the exception of the single foxhole, had failed to overrun any position outright. Failing a general breakthrough, it was only a matter of time for the regrouping assault pioneers to harry the survivors off the docks and back into the city.

    Watching the withdrawal from on high, Kroh radioed Ludebrecht to lead his company in after them.

    The counterattack of Kompanie 3 caught the Hampshires on the run, and the British couldn’t find purchase on any of a succession of blocks to slow them. Ludebrecht found dozens of injured men lying outside a small whitewashed public house hung with a black-letter sign: The Cause is Altered. The British battalion commander had made this his headquarters, but fled out the back door as his pursuers broke down the front -- retiring to a church several blocks away that had a defensible belfry.

    As his sergeants warned the men away from tapping the unattended casks, Ludebrecht sent a runner back to Urich, who radioed Kroh: what to do with the prisoners?

    Kroh saw plainly that his outnumbered force could not guard and care for a large number of injured captives. He considered descending to the surgery to ask Bräuer’s advice, but thought the better of it. The Oberstleutnant was no monster, but he made no pretensions of chivalry, either. He had, after all, pistol-whipped the commandant of Eben-Emael, it was said -- and rumor had him failing to notice the upraised hands of a French flying officer accused of murdering German pilots.

    “Tell Ludebrecht to pull back to the previous lines, Kapitänleutnant. John Bull learned his lesson this morning.”

    “Yes, Major. At once.”

    The Dover waterfront was a smoldering wreck. The flamethrower had splashed Flammöl 19 -- gasoline mixed with tar -- onto a row of storefronts which now burned cheerily in the no-man’s land between the two forces. Warehouses, offices and cafés for five hundred meters had been riddled with bullets, their windows shot out. Blood ran in rivulets off the A20 into its flood ditches; on the older streets, it pooled in wagon ruts carved by farmers coming to provision Nelson’s fleet.

    While the Hampshires were attacking the docks, Kroh had ordered his mortars to hit the hill crest where the British field guns had unlimbered on the other side of the valley. This time they had better spotting, and Adler’s observers reported that the enemy artillery had been driven out of sight.

    Despite successfully repelling the the British onslaught, however, Kroh was uneasy. The sea was still unacceptably high, and as long as it remained so, Sturmabteilung Bräuer was on its own. The 7th Hampshires, his interrogators reported, were but a third of the brigade thought to be now headquartered at the head of the Stour valley, near the northern outskirts of the city. The other two battalions, both Dorsets, could be seen making their way down to reinforce their brethren, and would surely attack again soon.

    In the meantime, the Germans counted their own dead and tended to their own wounded. Fresh ammunition was driven down from the Castle to supply the empty magazines along the docks. There was so much work to be done repairing defenses, carrying supplies and -- above all -- digging deeper, that even now, the exhausted assault pioneers could be allowed no rest.

    Biting sleet came down in sheets again, drawing cold, gauzy clouds around the embattled city. From the slopes below the Citadel to the highest parapet of the Dover Castle’s keep, the Germans strained through foggy binoculars to catch some hint of movement in gloom.

    Major Kroh came down to the operating theater to find Heilmann already there on one knee, listening stiffly to what could only be a faint, raspy sermon on “Shock and Firepower.”

    “The men at the docks did well, Oberstleutnant.”

    Bräuer, restrained as he was, could not turn his head to see his soggy lieutenant. “Kroh? Come where I can see you.”

    “Yes, Major?”

    “If I were that brigadier, I would send everything I had right back at the docks as soon as I could.”

    “That makes sense.”

    “Send another company to reinforce the docks... How many machine guns does Urich have down there?”

    “Almost thirty.”

    “He needs more.”

    Kroh nodded. “I’ll send another down.”

    Two sanitäter rustled in from another curtained section of the kitchen where they had been tending to a Leutnant with a shattered leg.

    “Will that be all, Oberstleutnant?”


    “Shoot these lunatics if they come near me.”
    Last edited by TheHyphenated1; 29-11-2010 at 19:24.

  2. #1742
    On his return to the observation post, sharpshooters drew Kroh’s attention to movement to the east, as the Heights plunged down toward their terminus in the city. Here, there was a narrow gap in the German lines -- a sheltered gully between the Drop Redoubt’s fields of fire and those of the machine gunners atop the buildings at the waterfront.

    Kettle helmets were trickling through an old cemetery at the base of the Heights, and toward the gap.

    “Urich, this is Kroh. Do you receive?”

    A radioman put him through.

    “What have you got, Major?”

    “We’ve got enemy soldiers coming through a cemetery to your left. Looks like they’re trying to flank you. Get one of Ludebrecht’s platoons up there right away to cut them off.”

    “I’ll get him at once.”

    Kroh summoned Heilmann up from Bräuer’s side, and asked his opinion. The cemetery was overgrown and full of trees. Fire support from the Drop Redoubt would be nearly useless. Should the German platoon storm the tactically-vital cemetery or merely block its southern border? Heilmann urged aggressive action.

    Aggressive action soon proved costly.

    Well protected by headstones and shrubbery, the Dorsets took careful aim at the assault pioneers as they scrambled over the high fence into the cemetery. Some fell; the others fanned out among the trees, trying to find kettle helmets poking above cover. The neat rows of plots were broken up by tangled hawthorne and hornbeams, and lines of sight quickly disintegrated. Small groups of Germans quickly became separated from their fellows and found themselves intermingled with the enemy. A vicious and confused firefight erupted.

    The pioneers sprayed bullets wildly whenever they saw part of a Tommy, and often even when they didn’t. Several times, the two sides blundered into each other in ones and twos, falling on each other Kampfmesser against bayonet. Submachine gun rounds scoured century-old gravestones and stripped the bark from bare hazel trees.

    Low iron rails dividing the gardens planted over individual plots proved deadly snares -- catching the feet of soldiers running headlong and hurling them onto their faces. Dorsets crawled through the mud between headstones and recessed family vaults, firing out from bushes at Germans who strayed into the open.

    Amidst the havoc, the platoon’s Oberfeldwebel finally managed to rally much of the scattered unit along the main pathway running the length of the cemetery, under the memorial obelisk of a sergeant killed during the years when Dover braced for an attack by Napoleon III. But fire was buzzing in from all sides -- the pioneers couldn’t see who was shooting at them, and they began to panic.

    Leutnant Jervaulx had led 1. Zug into the cemetery with 20 men; the lieutenant was now bleeding to death over the grave of a Victorian chorister and 12 beaten assault pioneers were retreating in disarray back to the A20.

    The British had lost several men killed, too, but the field was theirs. Soon, a full rifle company had occupied the cemetery and was moving down to cut the German lines in two.

    Kroh mulled a second, larger attack, but while he was scraping sufficient forces together, Urich reported probing contact by the enemy east of King street. Desultory shooting continued for half an hour, as the rooftop machine gunners tried futilely to discourage the 130th Infantry Brigade’s remaining two battalions from moving into position several blocks north of the docks.

    Under cover of the MGs, Kriegsmarine demolitionists trundled out satchel charges into the blasted blocks of no-man’s land. In the open streets, they improvised anti-personnel mines with PETN and spent shell-casings, concealing them under dirt or cloth and running detonator cord back to expectant German lines. The sleet was letting up.

    At 1000 exactly, the assault began. Six rifle companies and two lightly-armed support companies pushed off from their staging positions and attacked along the entire length of the Dover waterfront with the shrill encouragement of the same “over-the-top” whistles that had summoned their fathers out of the trenches twenty years before.

    This time, Kroh called in support from the company mortars immediately. The rounds plunged down onto the advancing British with dull crumps and fountains of dark gray dust and smoke. Next joined the rapid stutter of the machine guns and the crack of long rifles as Urich’s sharpshooters tried to pick off officers.

    Gales of fire welcomed the attackers that made it as far as the boardwalk. The demolitionists began setting off their explosives as the British passed.

    Ludebrecht had shifted the position of his company’s flamethrower to mislead the enemy, who warily avoided the scorched roadway in front of the Young & Jarrow warehouse. Instead, it roared to life on the German left, dousing a platoon of Dorsets that was trying to flank the Bofors emplacement. The viscous Flammöl stuck to everything it touched, burning through cloth, skin or muscle until it was spent. But it was the furious roar of the weapon that was most unnerving. The attack faltered along the blocks around the widening conflagration.

    All along the waterfront, charging British sections were cut down wholesale, but this time, sheer weight of numbers began to tell.

    Onrushing masses of men quickly crossed the A20 and swept beyond the German forward positions. Sometimes, foxholes or machine gun pits were simply bypassed, their occupants left to fight back-to-back against enemies on all sides. Elsewhere, British soldiers shot them at close range or tossed grenades in among them.

    The stronger positions, defended by up to three full truppen, formed islands of resistance, surrounded by dead and dying Dorsets as the German medics tended their own wounded inside as best they could.


    Assault pioneer defending the docks.


    To a warbling cornet, a rifle company stormed out of the cemetery, vaulted over an undefended stretch of the A20, and began to roll up the beleaguered German lines toward the docks. The men who had jumpily fired at Bräuer’s lorry two nights before were caught falling back to rear positions -- some threw themselves into the frigid water of the marina or pressed themselves low against the metal skin of laid-up dinghies.

    Now, the Dorsets threw in the support companies. Almost two hundred fresh troops crossed the A20 -- no longer defensible as a German front line -- to join the swirling mêlée along the wharves.

    Kapitänleutnant Urich and some twenty Kriegsmarine men -- largely wounded -- found themselves besieged in the customs house. The British tipped hand grenades into shattered windows, and the firing from within stopped abruptly.

    The Germans who could still retreat melted back to the east towards the Castle to avoid being overrun.

    Yet as the decimated British battalions reached the docks themselves, they found themselves in the open once more. From the slopes around the Drop Redoubt, Kroh’s machine guns and mortars scoured the waterfront; from Dover Castle, twenty more MGs clattered down streams of yellow-green tracers.

    There was little cover and nowhere to go but back. The Dorsets had been bled white, and now it was sergeants who led platoons back, and ensigns leading whole companies in retreat. The assault pioneers were reeling, too, though, and lacked the strength to pursue the British back into the city.

    Bolstered by what reinforcements Kroh could throw together, the German companies that had been ejected from the dockside carefully converged again, joining again into a continuous line near the burning Young & Jarrow warehouse. Much of the waterfront was ablaze. Several fires from the artillery bombardment had been burning continuously since the day before, slowly consuming the damp buildings -- while elsewhere the sticky black smoke of Flammöl fires curled up from smoldering warehouses.

    At least fifty assault pioneers were dead, and among the units that had taken the worst of the fighting, more men were wounded than not. As the Germans reoccupied their foxholes and cleared fields of fire around their MG positions, medics flitted from position to position, giving morphine to those who could not be moved, and deputizing stretcher bearers for those who could. The several hundred fallen Dorsets lay where they fell.

    Kroh took a lorry down to the docks, where he was met by Kompanie 7’s officers, including Hauptmann Bieber, its commander. Urich was dead, he reported. So were several of the senior demolitionists. Ammunition was beginning to be seriously depleted. Pacing from machine gun to machine gun along the line, Kroh became ever more convinced of the precariousness of the docks in general. Nowhere did the MGs have more than 30 meters of open space in front of them, and the whole position had precious little depth. Had he not pulled back as many men as possible during the last assault, the Dorsets might have overrun them all. The officers were quietly insistent: reinforcements had to come.

    Radioing Student, Kroh emphasized the severity of the situation, but there was little the colonel could do. He had been pulling strings with Berlin for many hours, but the harbormasters at Boulogne and Ostend wouldn’t budge.

    Kroh could only take more status reports from along the line and direct supplies to where they were needed most. Adler’s men atop the Castle could see little movement in the city below.

    Just after 1100, Hauptmann Barenthin radioed Kroh at the Drop Redoubt to report significant infantry movements west of the Citadel. His observers were reporting several companies arraying themselves on the high ground, moving eastward along the crest of the Heights.

    “Reinforcements, Major?”

    “Can’t do anything for you, Barenthin. Sorry. Keep them back with your MGs.”

    Fifteen minutes later, Kroh was on with Student again when one of the other radiomen entered the command post with Barenthin on the line. “Most urgent, Herr Major.”

    Kroh told Student to wait and took the receiver. “Barenthin, what is it?”

    “Kompanie 6 pickets have sighted armored vehicles coming up the A20. Maybe seven or eight. More infantry as well.”

    Kroh swore. “Is the mining work complete along the roadway?”

    “We have some explosives in place, but poorly improvised.”

    “I’ll see what I can do for you in the way of mortar support. Tell Wulpp to draw the English into short range before any of you fire.”

    “Yes!”

    Kroh gazed down the Drop Redoubt’s northern slopes toward Dover’s city center. The British had clearly just learned the effectiveness of their own defensive works. Even with overwhelming numerical superiority, they could not secure the docks while the Germans still held the Citadel, the Redoubt and the Castle. And so, they had clearly decided to take the battle to the Heights. Fortunately, the two companies there were nearly at full strength.

    The Citadel, just as fortunately, offered them excellent defenses and wide open fields of fire to hamper an enemy trying to work its way eastward along the Heights. The broad and deep dry ditch surrounding the Inner Citadel was a formidable last stop line, and assault pioneers wired the two causeways with explosives.


    The Officers Quarters, looking to the east.


    For half an hour, Kompanien 1 and 6 prepared their defenses and trained their muzzles into the fog that swaddled the high ground. The crews manning the 12-pounders and 6-pounders below the Officers Quarters surrounded their guns with bulwarks of heaped tires scavenged from the Citadel’s motor pool. Another team went about with blow torches, cutting the roofs off captured automobiles for use as shielding for the rooftop machine gun nests. Baffled sentries waved a lorry in over the causeway with its bed piled with still-recognizable Vauxhall parts. Close behind was a commandeered bus carrying the extra mortar teams.

    They got out and set up in a huge crater in front of the Officers Quarters -- the one from the shell which had shattered the building’s brick façade and nearly killed Bräuer. There were sandbags around it now, and rubble taken from the partially-collapsed barracks across the lawn.

    Downslope, Hauptmann Wulpp went from foxhole to foxhole, encouraging his exhausted pioneers as they dug feverishly through the hard, wet earth of the Heights. Below, a handful of exposed men darted back and forth across the A20, laying their final ambush charges.

    A red flare from the battlements of the Officers Quarters sent them diving for cover. Along the slopes, men pressed themselves instinctively down to the lips of whatever cover they had, venturing just eyes, helmets and weapons above.

    In Wulpp’s command post dug into the hillside, the phone rang from Barenthin in the Citadel. Enemy armored car sighted by the forward pickets stationed 200 meters to the west, he said. Then Wulpp patched Kroh through.

    “What can you see from your position?”

    The line crackled as Kroh and Heilmann hunched over the telephone in the Drop Redoubt.

    “Repeat, what can you see from your position?”

    “Nothing yet, Major.”

    But the silhouette of another Rolls-Royce soon appeared in the gloom. The Germans’ discipline held, and the armored car pulled to within a few lengths of the crumpled shell of one of its cousins. The turret traversed along the length of the Heights, the machine gun stirring gently up and down. Soon, even this motion stopped, and the Rolls simply sat there idling.

    Several minutes passed. The car pulled forward and came to a stop again, this time placing the wrecked vehicle between itself and whatever dangers waited on the Heights. Kroh telephoned the docks to be on their guard, in case the Rolls tried to make a fast run into the city. But when it moved again it only pulled a short ways past the wreck and then backed up to inspect it from the other side.

    At last, a flicker from the turret, and .303 rounds started spattering the lower slopes. The car backed up to where it had originally stopped, and sprayed more errant rounds uphill -- some of them at the frames of the empty gliders. Wulpp’s men stayed low and still. The firing stopped, and the gun started roving again.

    The Vickers finally settled on one of the 6-pounder emplacements and let off a long burst. Rounds thudded into the stacked tires, but failed to force anyone out of cover.

    “It’s backing up,” came Barenthin’s voice over Kroh’s telephone. “They’re leaving... Just backing the whole way up the A20.”

    “Let it go. Let it go.”

    But the frustrated scout soon returned -- this time with the rest of the column. Observers counted two MkIII light tanks, followed by five of the Rolls-Royce armored cars. An infantry platoon surrounded them on foot.

    Kroh ordered Wulpp to engage when the column had reached the planted explosives.

    As it advanced, though, the lead tank pulled several dozen meters ahead of the armored cars, with the second tank halfway between. They were bracing for an ambush.

    At Wulpp’s signal, 400 kg of high explosive hidden at the roadside detonated in a flash and massive cloud of dust and earth that momentarily obscured both tanks. The guns below the Officers Quarters opened fire on the armored cars, as did the machine guns along the slopes. Assault pioneers far enough down slope joined with hand grenades and submachine guns, and mortars began to pelt the roadway from above. It had been less than ten seconds, but the column was already engulfed in smoke and buzzing tracers.

    One of the armored cars at the rear was already on fire by the time the lead MkIII emerged from the pall of the first explosion, apparently undamaged. A 12-pounder found its range on the second shot, though, and scored a nearly perfect hit.

    The round bored into the side armor and exploded within, blowing the hatch off, and surely killing everyone inside. But the engine was still running. Orange flames licked up from under the turret, twisting into thick coffee-colored smoke. Still the tank lumbered on, its gears jammed forward -- not to stop until it plowed into the side of a warehouse at the edge of the docks.

    Meanwhile, the rest of the column fired its machine guns up at the Heights and tried to weather the blistering firing pouring down on it. The second MkIII was stuck in the wrong lane with its tracks blown off, being battered by dozens of German guns. Four of the armored cars had managed to turn around and were escaping up the A20, along with a few of the infantry.

    The guns below the Officers Quarters finished off the three cars that were immobilized in the roadway. Silence settled again over the Heights, as the assault pioneers reordered their defenses. Barenthin knew that the silence would not last long, warning Kroh that large numbers of enemy infantry were finally advancing along the Heights. First in small sections, and then by platoons, the British were slipping into the outskirts of the Citadel.

    An MG34 clattered atop one of the barracks roofs. The pops of Enfields replied in growing volume. For several minutes, Barenthin had little idea of where the main attack was falling, and Kroh at the Drop Redoubt even less. Yet it soon became clear that the enemy was pressing hotly against the line near the wrecked 6 inch battery. A runner from 1-3, which was emplaced among the blockhouses where Bräuer’s glider had landed, reached the Inner Citadel with word of concerted assault from more than a hundred soldiers.

    Another company charged out of the fog just to the north, and threatened to overrun 1-3 before being checked by a pair of rooftop machine guns.

    More attackers were coming up from around the seaward side of the 6 inch battery, now. The German machine guns threw up spurts of soil and concrete as the kettle-helmeted shapes advanced from blockhouse to blockhouse. They were fighting well -- using cover effectively, and keeping up a steady volume of fire. Several assault pioneers were shot through the narrow windows. Another, a trupp leader who had often vacationed in Dover as a child, tumbled dead off the roof of the Citadel’s armory.

    From the crater in front of the Officers Quarters, the mortar teams frantically lobbed rounds onto the north side of the ditch surrounding the grounds of the Inner Citadel. The Tommies had found a gap in the German fields of fire, and were safely scrambling down netting into the ditch while an MG34 crew raced across the parade ground in an attempt to flank them. The mortar rounds burst all around the ditch, but it was deep and revetted, protecting the British sections forming up there.

    “This has to be a whole battalion, Major,” Barenthin reported to Kroh by telephone. Gunfire was audible in the background. “Maybe two. There are more headlamps coming up A20.”

    Kroh looked westward toward the Citadel. The sanitäter standing next to him in the observation post had just come up to report that Bräuer had taken a turn for the worse. Kroh brought the receiver back to his lips. “Get more men into the roadway while you still can. I want as much HE as possible between those headlamps and the docks.”

    “Yes, Major.”

    The headlamps turned out to be the four armored cars that had escaped the ambush, leading a long line of lorries. A large vanguard of men on foot was advancing along the Heights’ lower slopes.

    This time, Barenthin ordered the 12-pounders and 6-pounders into action at once. Four flashes and splitting cracks. Four plumes of dirt and asphalt around the armored cars. They began to swerve irregularly, trying to frustrate the German gunners while spraying bullets up the slope with their turret machine guns.

    Meanwhile, three full companies charged madly up the Heights into the jaws of Wulpp’s defenses. Kompanie 6 was still one of the healthiest companies in Sturmabteilung Bräuer -- 64 effectives, all with the benefit of a day and a half of digging, and supporting fire from Barenthin’s guns above. Hot streams of tracers streamed downhill from well-fortified machine gun nests, tearing into the oncoming British.

    Again, though, the enemy had the benefit of numbers. Those men who were not cut down by the fire sweeping downslope hurled hand grenades among Wulpp’s defenders. One landed in a forward foxhole and dismembered the three assault pioneers within before they could throw it out. A pair of British sergeants jumped in on top of them before the smoke had cleared and turned their Enfields on the adjacent position.

    The British battle rifles were ungainly when compared with the compactness and firepower offered by a submachine gun, but trained marksmen could still maintain a considerable volume of fire. Wulpp’s men found themselves having to keep their heads down as .303 rounds snapped up at them. Every second that their fire slackened, the British pressed further up onto the Heights.

    Back up at the 6 inch battery, 1-3 was nearly pinned down. The British had set up two water-cooled heavy machine guns in a gully west of the blockhouses, and were pouring accurate fire onto the pioneers as more infantry advanced.

    The zug’s runner came sprinting back from Barenthin’s command post atop the Officers Quarters. Wounded in three places, he dove behind the log pile where Leutnant Ewald was commanding the defense.

    Barenthin was emphatic, he said: get out of there.

    Throwing up sheets of covering fire, the embattled German platoon began to withdraw. Carrying the ones to badly injured to walk, they managed to cross the field where the first gliders had landed, as the rooftop MGs in the Citadel kept their pursuers at bay.

    At last, Leutnant Ewald led the final trupp over the causeway and into the Inner Citadel. Even as they made it inside, they turned to find British soldiers already all around the gliders in the field. Some dropped to their knees and fired, covering others who advanced to the lip of the ditch and threw hand grenades across.

    An MG34 in the same window as the Lewis gun which had pinned down Bräuer and his men during the first minutes of the operation was now covering the final approach to the causeway. It swept back and forth, cutting down a dozen charging men before they could cross, but a few made it to the other side.

    The explosives wired to the causeway’s underside had failed to explode. A ferocious firefight erupted across the ditch, as the British tried to suppress the assault pioneers long enough to cross in force, and the Germans tried to force them back long enough to blow the bridge.

    Just to the north, two British platoons had made down their nets into the ditch before the rest had been driven back by an MG34 team. They were now making their way toward the causeway, pressing themselves against the ditch’s inner revetment for protection from German fire.

    Aided by the machine guns on and in the barracks, 1-3 was blunting the attack from the west. The dead were strewn among the glider frames, and German fire was keeping down the heads of the survivors.

    Barenthin dispatched three of his best demolitionists with sticks of fresh explosives. The men quickly made their way to the causeway to have a look for themselves. It looked like the detonator cord had simply snapped in two places. They slung themselves under the causeway and began to splice the detcord as 1-3 poured fire over their heads.

    As he reconnected the charges under the midpoint of the causeway, Oberfeldwebel Grüner cried out in surprise and pain. Within moments, his two companions screamed, too.

    A marksman who had been crouching nearby with his Kar98k scampered to the edge of the ditch and found the broken bodies of two assault pioneers on the ground below the causeway. Grüner hung upside down from his rope sling, swinging by his ankles as the British men in the ditch took potshots at him. The marksman ran to Leutnant Ewald, who returned to the causeway with two of his platoons.

    Defensive grenades tumbled into the ditch, and after a vicious shooting match lasting less than a minute, the assault pioneers were able to complete the demolition preparations. Ewald ordered 1-3 back behind cover, and the causeway blew.

    Shards of concrete rained down on the foxholes dug 200 meters downslope, where Wulpp’s men were fighting off an assault by two fresh companies of what prisoners reported were the 5th Wiltshires. Intelligence placed them as part of a brigade that had been stationed around Folkestone.

    Barenthin telephoned Kroh at the Drop Redoubt to report increasingly heavy fire coming up the slopes. The German mortars were making a valiant attempt to keep the Wiltshires back, but they were pressing in too closely for the assault pioneers to be able to bring their full volume of fire to bear.

    1-3 had finally managed to stabilize the British attack from the west, and the enemy coming from the north of the Citadel had largely retired. Only the occasional rifle shot rang out over the ditch toward the MG34s on their fortified rooftops.

    To the south, near the Officers Quarters, the ditch turned into a fortified retaining wall against a steep part of the slopes. Runners with boxes of belted ammunition scrambled over the wall, and braved the intense fire from below to resupply Wulpp’s MGs, which were running precariously low. 6-3 had expended almost 8,000 of its 9,000 machine gun rounds in several minutes of fierce combat, and some elements were having to pull back to more secure positions upslope.

    Meanwhile, the most critically wounded were being carried up to the Officers Quarters for treatment in the small and nearly overwhelmed surgery there. The building’s seaward side had been scoured by enemy machine gun fire, the bricks pockmarked and broken. Barenthin, shuttling between the rooftop parapet and the telephone line that had been run to his second floor command post, could see swarms of helmeted figures making their way ever closer. He ordered the medics downstairs to send the walking wounded not back to their units but up to the windows with whatever weapons they had. In the event of a breakthrough into the Inner Citadel, they would once again barricade themselves in with the large table that Bräuer had used early in the assault.

    Tiny pellets of sleet began to fall as the British redoubled their attack after a brief respite. Within minutes, the Wiltshires forced last of the the assault pioneers from the lower slopes of the Heights under a flurry of hand grenades and supporting machine gun fire. The 12-pounder and 6-pounder guns were finally evacuated as the enemy stormed around them in force. The MGs in and atop the Officers Quarters where now the last thing keeping the enemy out of the Citadel.

    Barenthin called Kroh again, his stolid voice for the first time slightly frantic. “Wulpp’s 6 is broken. We need reinforcements now, Major, if the Citadel is to hold. Can you do that?”

    “I will do what I can.”

    “We will not be able to hold out, Major. Send us reinforcements or evacuate us, now!”

    The situation was slipping out of hand. The two companies under assault now held only the area encircled by the ditch, and had been reduced to just under a hundred effectives in less than half an hour of fighting. The British were obviously committing everything to hand to take the Citadel.

    Urging his officers to disguise gaps in the line, Kroh rounded up several lorries and sent Heilmann and his badly depleted company westward to relieve the Citadel.

    They rolled over the eastern causeway fifteen minutes later, just as the Wiltshires were assaulting the positions immediately below the Officers Quarters.

    Heilmann immediately declared himself in charge and took to sighting machine guns and planting explosives in preparation for an all-out defense. Inside the Officers Quarters, sergeants passed out the last of the ammunition to the men at the windows, some so badly wounded that they were propped up in chairs with submachine guns lashed to their wrists.

    By 1220, Heilmann had occupied the second floor command post and reestablished communications with Kroh. Barenthin was in no position to object -- while he was on the parapet, a bullet had grazed his temple and he had been taken downstairs, blinded by the blood streaming into his one good eye. Heilmann assured Kroh that the sanitäter would see to him at once.

    The attack was slowing again.

    The good news had scarcely reached Kroh when Heilmann called again with the reason why. Another armored column was coming up the A20. As the silhouettes resolved themselves through the sleet, the German observers saw that this was no hodgepodge of Rolls-Royces. At least a dozen British tanks were coming up the highway toward Dover.

    Yet here, too, the British commanders gave Kroh a surprise. The armor remained well back from the fighting, and relative quiet descended on the Citadel as the Wiltshires investing it on two sides tended to their own wounded and consolidated their hold on the Heights’ upper slopes.

    Sentries along the northern side of the ditch reported occasional probing actions, as fresh British soldiers in the city ascended the back slopes, trying to work their way around the German defenses. Although Heilmann now had three companies in the Citadel, his resources grew stretched through the early afternoon as small enemy units began to complete the encirclement. His perimeter effectively doubled, he had no choice but dilute the forces arrayed near the Officers Quarters to counter a potential threat from the east.

    From what the observers could see, there were at least two enemy battalions in place on and around the Heights. In a defensive position as favorable as Dover Citadel, the assault pioneers could normally be confident against even these odds, but ammunition problems had made them vulnerable. Kroh had had the foresight to send considerable reserves with Heilmann’s relief force, but even he was low on the precious belts that fed the lead-hungry MG34. The machine guns had already proven their worth many times over during Operation Rösselsprung, allowing the assault pioneers to keep the counterattacking British at a distance and neutralizing their numerical advantage. The MP34 submachine guns were fearsome in their own right, but were powerless to keep the enemy at arm’s length in defensive situations. The Germans attempted to answer enemy movements with vigorous shooting so as to disguise their situation, but eventually the guns would run out. The final assault would be desperate and deadly.

    Kroh had no doubt that Heilmann could take many hundreds of Englishmen to the grave with him, but that would leave the rest of Sturmabteilung Bräuer too depleted to stave off the inevitable follow-up attack. With the loss of the 12-pounders below the Officers Quarters, the Citadel had lost much of its ability to control the western approaches to the city. Indeed, its defenders presently had virtually no means to stop an armored thrust toward the docks. Every minute that the British used to solidify their grip on the Citadel’s eastern side would make it harder for the assault pioneers to even send another relief force.

    “This is Kroh. Get me Heilmann.”

    He came on the line thirty seconds later. “Heilmann.”

    “Do you think you’re strong enough to fight your way out?”

    “... And abandon my position?” The warning note of disdain was impossible not to hear, even strung out over a kilometer of telephone wire. Unlike the other company commanders, Heilmann was a major just like Kroh. He was third-in-command in the operation, but had showed the second little deference since they first came together in training. The man Heilmann served was lapsing into septic shock beneath Kroh’s feet. “And abandon my position?”

    “Yes. I mean: can you fight your way out of the Citadel and back to the Drop Redoubt?”

    There was a lengthy pause. “That is unwise.”

    Kroh imagined what Bräuer would say. “I asked you whether you are strong enough to do it.”

    “Yes, Major. I can do it.”

    “Good. It’s not the best, but we don’t have much choice. Without those guns, the position isn’t much use to us defensively. If you get your three companies back here, the Redoubt can still block the A20, without being so exposed.”

    “When?”

    “As soon as possible. Draw men in from your perimeter quietly. Load the wounded onto the lorries along with the mortars. Lay smoke and just punch a hole for them. The last of the men should be out before they can react in force. Blow the causeway behind you.”

    “What about the prisoners?”

    “You don’t have the ammunition.”

    “So, I will telephone when ready.” In the background, Kroh could hear the screaming of a wounded pioneer.

    “Good luck.” Kroh hung up and went down to the kitchen surgery.

    He found Bräuer nearly comatose -- his left hand clenching and unclenching, but otherwise unresponsive.

    The sanitäter looked up from a compound fracture he was setting at the other side of the room. “The Oberstleutnant will die if he does not receive proper treatment soon. Speaking truly, have you considered surrendering him? At least it would allow --”

    “No, Sani. We can do no such thing. Go back to work.” Kroh turned on his heel and went back to his observation post. On the way up, he noticed several assault pioneers curled up on the floor, catching what sleep they could.

    Just after 1300, an ambulance roared across the causeway from the Citadel, packed with assault pioneers. Throwing smoke grenades behind them, they laid down suppressing fire on the thin enemy pickets nearby. In moments, the rest of the lorries sped down the road, bearing the wounded toward the Drop Redoubt. The rest of the men began slipping out one platoon at a time.

    Only 4-2 and 4-3 remained by the time the British realized what was going on and renewed their attack. Two hundred men surged over the retaining wall and up to the almost-deserted Officers Quarters. There was a brief skirmish across the lawns as the last assault pioneers made it out of the battered building and toward the causeway under covering fire from a pair of MGs. Two of Heilmann’s NCOs were shot dead in the final moments of the encounter, but the rest of both platoons was soon safely across the causeway. This time the detonators worked, and it exploded nearly in the faces of the Wiltshires trying to pursue the Germans across.

    As the Citadel force evacuated eastward along the Heights, a strange drama was unfolding by the docks, which only became clear to Kroh in bits and pieces. The first reports to reach the Drop Redoubt indicated that a British destroyer had somehow managed to enter the harbor. Then, a German torpedo boat had arrived from France. Moments later, two sharp cracks rolled out over Dover, followed by word from Adler that the two 6-pounders at the Castle were engaging an enemy submarine near the breakwater.

    Kroh handed the receiver back to his signalman and turned back up the stairs toward the observation post, but the signalman stopped him short. “Two enemy submarines in sight!”

    Adler was gone by the time Kroh was back on the line, but an Unteroffizier in the keep answered that they were also engaging a second submarine behind the first.

    The next word came up to Kroh from the docks, where Oberleutnant Tesch, the acting commander of the remaining Kriegsmarine demolitionists, reported that the submarines were signaling that they were German. “They are unable to provide the correct response sign, though. What do you instruct?”

    Kroh clamped a palm over the microphone in the receiver and turned to his signalman. “Call the Castle! Cease fire immediately. Cease fire. They are to cease fire with all guns.”

    The signalman nodded.

    “Oberleutnant?” Kroh asked.

    “Yes.”

    “Instruct them to heave to just in from the breakwater. Fill a launch with armed men and a radio and have a look.”

    “Yes, Major.”

    “Let me know personally as soon as you know what’s going on.”

    “Castle says they have ceased firing, Major,” the signalman called.

    “Let me know me at once. Good luck.” With that, Kroh radioed Student in hopes of getting to the bottom of what was going on.

    Tesch was soon out with ten demolitionists in a little boat commandeered from the docked freighter City of Exeter. They puttered out over the steel gray water and soon recognized the unusual shape of one of the new-model U-boats. A cluster of men in helmets and life jackets were standing around the fast-firing 88 mm gun mounted forward of the conning tower. An officer at the bow was holding open a small Kriegsmarine ensign with both hands.

    It took only moments to verify the U-boat’s bona fides, and Tesch directed them into the inner harbor with the response signal. It seemed that the overlords in France had given them the signal for entering the port of Harwich, instead.

    Kroh was incensed to hear all this by radio, and was already venting his displeasure to Student on the other channel when Tesch reported that from his launch that the second U-boat had been successfully hit by the German guns near Dover Castle. The range tables Kroh himself had ordered them to draw up had been so accurate that both shells in the 6-pounders’ second salvo had scored hits on Hans Ibbeken’s U-27 as it entered the harbor. One had passed through about a meter of water and ruptured a saddle fuel tank. The other had punctured the conning tower and killed the boat’s chief engineer.

    Oberst Student sounded genuinely livid, but gently pressed Kroh to listen to more urgent news. “I just got off the telephone with Bayerlein. We will get the Heer to you tonight, no matter what. I don’t care if the waves are as tall as houses. Do you understand me, Kroh?”

    “Yes, H’rr Oberst.”

    “But I need you to hold firm for the rest of the day. There’s a lot of heavy stuff coming your way from Folkestone, and we think the armor that was near Deal is preparing to commit in your direction as well. That’s a lot for you to fight off at once, but they know what our moves are now, and will commit everything to dislodge us.”

    “We will not be moved, Herr Oberst.”
    Last edited by TheHyphenated1; 21-11-2010 at 09:52.

  3. #1743
    Hanging up with Student, Kroh turned to find Heilmann standing behind him with his Luger out.

    “I’m not going anywhere.”

    Numb panic settled into the base of Kroh’s spine. “What?”

    “I will not let them move me.”

    Kroh was fumbling down his pant-leg for his own holster. “What are you talking about?”

    “You said, ‘We will not be moved,’ didn’t you?”

    Kroh frowned, uncomprehending. Then he understood. Trembling with giddy relief, he began to laugh uncontrollably.

    Heilmann stood silent and impassive. His helmet was missing, and his sweat-caked hair steamed slightly in the chill air of what had been the Drop Redoubt’s signals room.

    Kroh fought to regain his composure, but he found himself cackling all the harder. He himself had not slept since the morning of November thirtieth, and eaten just twice in the same period. In quiet moments, he had heard Bräuer’s voice behind him and turned to find himself alone. Twice, he had been staring into his radio set only to see its knobs become the staring eyes of a dead British artilleryman.

    “I’m sorry, Heilmann,” Kroh mumbled, finally, “I just didn’t realize what was going on.”

    “We should discuss how to hold out through the night.”

    “Yes. Get Hackl and Pietzonka. Meet topside in fifteen minutes.” Kroh and Heilmann exchanged salutes. When the third-in-command had gone, Kroh emptied his canteen into his helmet and plunged his face in. He would need to be sharp for who knew how many more hours.

    The four company commanders soon stood on the grass near the Drop Redoubt’s observation post. The sleet had let up, and visibility stretched all the way out to the breakwater.

    “So,” Kroh began. “Adler and Grassmel have a combined strength of 140 effectives up at the Castle. With my company that makes 210. The Castle could realistically be defended with half that number. Our only other demands, now that we have drawn in our perimeter, are the Drop Redoubt and the waterfront.

    “Ludebrecht, Bieber and the divers report just under a hundred effectives, and are very short on ammunition. I propose to shift Kompanie 10 down to the docks within the next hour. There, Grassmel can help shore up our defenses and allow for a thicker and deeper line.

    “Hackl and Heilmann, you two can hold the Redoubt itself. Meanwhile, Barenthin’s men and Wulpp’s men can take up positions around the Grand Shaft Barracks and the other abandoned barracks running down the Heights between here and the marina.

    “Pietzonka, I think we should keep you down in the city. Your position keeps the pressure on the enemy and ensures that he can’t move too freely. If anything, I might like to organize another thrust into the city before dark -- maybe near King street.”

    “Who is in charge at the Castle?” Hackl asked.

    “Adler. But if there is a serious attack from the east, I will go back to the Castle and leave Heilmann in charge here at the Redoubt.”

    “How is the Oberstleutnant?” Pietzonka asked, voicing the concern of the others. Many of the men still did not know that Bräuer had been wounded, and most of the ones who knew anything had heard only sketchy and contradictory details. When Kroh did not respond, Pietzonka cast his head down and let out breath through his teeth. “Can I see him?”

    “Go, but be back at Dover Priory as soon as you can. We have much to do before nightfall.”

    While Hauptmann Pietzonka communed with Bräuer in the kitchen surgery, Kroh’s plan went into effect. Kompanie 10 packed up and trudged down to the docks, carrying hot meals for the men already on the lines there. Grassmel sent 10-3 to occupy the Grand Hotel, a large five-story building that dominated the beach to the east of the docks and offered a base of fire down several important city streets. The pioneers found it deserted and quickly sent spotters and machine guns to the roof.

    10-2 and men from one of Bieber’s platoons rounded up automobiles and overturned them to block all the major streets running into the heart of the city. Little by little, camouflage netting went up over the MG nests between warehouses.

    A captured lorry trundled down the lines picking up the German dead for deposition in the makeshift morgue established in the refrigerated storage unit of one of the docked merchantmen. The British dead were cleared away only where they posed an inconvenience. Instead, men busied themselves piling cover around their own positions, or dousing the scattered fires that still burned across the seafront. Unrelieved by fresh breezes, a pall of smoke hung limply over the whole southern end of the city.

    On the Heights, a stitched-up Barenthin joined Wulpp in arraying their two battered companies on the ground between the Drop Redoubt and Ludebrecht’s lines near the marina. There were several abandoned barracks here that had been stormed by Heilmann’s men on the first night of the operation, and these were quickly manned and fortified. Others clawed foxholes along the Heights’ last plunge down to the A20.

    Tescher’s Kriegsmarine demolitionists were busying themselves mining the roadway. Some had found a store of volatile old nitroglycerin while ransacking a warehouse for batteries, and now stuffed it into the burned out vehicles that had been ambushed in the roundabout the day before. Another telephoned up to Kroh to politely inquire whether it was permissible to steal civilian fire hoses from the harbormaster’s stores. It was, Kroh said. “But why do you need fire hoses?” The young man answered that he was planning to divert gasoline from one of the underground tanks at the dockside into a ditch cut across the A20 -- in effect, a giant flame fougasse that could be ignited in the faces of attacking soldiers.

    Ludebrecht’s men assisted by overturning more automobiles across the road. They attempted to derail a freight car over the A20 as well, but found that the tracks did not cross at the right angle. Grubby pioneers opened concertina wire across the few remaining gaps in the line, then retired to their foxholes for Grassmel’s hot meals.

    From atop the Drop Redoubt, Hackl directed a platoon to go out with hatchets and cut down the last of the trees blocking his MG34s’ fields of fire. Even then, though, they had poor lines of sight to the streets around Dover Priory, where Pietzonka’s Kompanie 5 remained quite on its own. Standing next to Hackl, Kroh relayed fire coordinates down to the two U-boats. With the loss of the four guns below the Citadel, Kroh was relying on the two 88 mm deck guns to cover the A20’s approach into the city.

    To the north, they could see the London road coming down into Dover. Headlamps stretched into the distance until they were swallowed by the fog.

    “It’s just after 1500,” Kroh telephoned Adler, “and the British are unlikely to move for about an hour. I’m ordering all men not otherwise occupied to stand down for rest on a rotating basis.”

    “Yes, Major. We see lights stretching back the A258 to the A2, but movement is slow.”

    All along the line, activity lessened. Many units continued to dig, but the greatest part of the work had been done. Only the Kriegsmarine men continued unabated -- cutting sheet metal for cover, running telephone line out to the forward pickets, and erecting the carbon-arc lights on rooftops.

    Two Jägers presented themselves at the entrance to Kroh’s command post, leading a bound man in a badly-oversized British uniform and galoshes. One of the radiomen waved them in.

    “I am named Dr. William MacIntosh,” the bound man said in German. “I am one of three physicians now... now... held, by German soldiers. We have been moved to the Grand Shaft Barracks, along with more than a hundred other men. Are you Major Kroh?”

    “Yes, Dr. MacIntosh. I am Major Kroh.”

    “Three of our soldiers will be dead without good care. Two are already dead. We have not medicine and not sterile tools. Under the laws of war we are so entitled.”

    There was nothing Kroh could do for him. Sturmabteilung Bräuer’s doctors were hard pressed as it was. They still had ample supplies, but it would be imprudent to dilute them. “I cannot do that, Dr. MacIntosh, but I have a suggestion. If you and your fellow physicians agree to help tend to our own wounded, I will send for your wounded and have them treated here at the Drop Redoubt by our own doctors.”

    “I would be willing to do this, but I must consult the others.”

    The others soon consented, and a lorry brought them and the wounded prisoners uphill, where they were carried on stretchers across the temporary wooden causeway that the assault pioneers had erected and into the Inner Redoubt. Sanitäts-Leutnant Sanger was overjoyed to find that one of the British doctors had been his co-resident at a Paris hospital before the war, and the reunion did much to ease tensions in the kitchen surgery.

    It was getting darker. Kroh’s watch read 4:04, and the sun had been down for almost ten minutes. The British were moving in the city, and the company commanders didn’t like it. Men were ordered back to alert, and final entrenchment work resumed with renewed urgency. Along the docks, more assault pioneers plumbed the warehouses for anything that might be useful. The forward pickets were reinforced, and small patrols sent into the fields east of the Castle to investigate suspicious movements in the mist.

    Bräuer’s mantra of “Shock and Firepower” dictated action. The Germans could either sit in their foxholes and wait for something to happen to them, or get up and make something happen. Now was the time for the thrust Kroh had contemplated earlier.

    At 1615, Grassmel’s 10-1 platoon set out up King street under Leutnant Pohl. Kroh had ordered them northward into the city to make contact with the enemy -- to force him to react rather than act. The three truppen spread out across the wide street, rested and spoiling for a fight.

    They found it four blocks ahead, as a machine gun clattered from the church belfry that the Germans had allowed the British to retire to earlier in the day. Two assault pioneers were mortally wounded before the leading trupp could get out of the open. The others found what cover they could as tracers streamed down the street. Pohl sent a machine gun team into the three-story office of a law firm a block back. By the time their MG34 had set up in the upper window, though, 10-1 was engaging British soldiers pouring across a side street to cut off the Germans’ retreat.

    The machine gunners drenched the belfry in 8 mm rounds as Pohl pulled his men back out of the forming ambush. More British units were converging on the area, so 10-1 withdrew, chastened, to the docks. Grassmel called Kroh to contemplate a second attack, but the Major decided against it. Darkness fell completely, and calm descended on Dover.

    As hundreds of eyes strained watchfully northward, the distant sound of motors wafted across the city. Kroh waited with Heilmann in the observation post, looking into the city with his binoculars. The attack felt like it might begin at any moment.

    Seconds, minutes crawled by -- but still and vigilant calm still reigned from the Drop Redoubt to the Castle.

    Pietzonka radioed that enemy soldiers had been seen skulking around his position. “I’m about to fire a flare. Be ready for action.”

    A blazing white light shot into the air and hung over Dover Priory, but no sounds of gunfire followed. The light went out, and Dover remained quiet. Kroh slipped out of sight to relieve himself. He returned to the observation post to find the darkened Heights as still as ever.

    Kroh trained his binoculars on a rooftop that appeared to belong to one of the offices on York street. Several almost imperceptible shapes were moving, crouching around something that could only be a machine gun.

    “Major!” hissed Hahn, the radioman. “Major!” He sidled up to Kroh with an outstretched radiotelephone. “Hauptmann Adler.”

    “This is Kroh,” he whispered.

    The channel crackled with static. “My forward patrols have engaged enemy on foot. Outside my eastern wall. Platoon strength.”

    “Alright, keep me informed.”

    After several minutes, Adler came back on. “Two enemy killed, no casualties. Enemy is withdrawing back up A258.”

    “Good. Keep patrols out there, Adler. I don’t want any surprises. Light it up if you need to.”

    “Yes, Major.”

    It was fully night, but the sun would still not not come for fifteen hours. Kroh radioed Student, who said he’d just received confirmation that relief had sailed from Boulogne. Kroh went down to the kitchen surgery to consult with Heilmann, who agreed that it was best not to make any announcement to the men. They had had their hopes dashed enough.

    Kroh returned to the observation post, staring northward through his binoculars at the dim blackout headlamps still inching down the London road. They crept along, strung into a glistening, rippling chain that bobbed gently. Kroh started. A loud noise had just gone off in his head and his neck had jerked backward. Had it been in his head? He looked around. The other three observers up there with him were all calm and alert. He raised his binoculars again, watching the faint lights coming out of the north.

    Again he felt his neck jerk, and realized that he had dreamed a snatch of a conversation. He was still looking through the binoculars.

    “van Wingerden, I’m going below. Send someone for me if anything happens whatsoever.”

    “Yes, Major.”

    Kroh descended the stairs to the signals room that he had made his command post. The generators were out, but there was a covered kerosene lamp on, and light from the doorway to the kitchen surgery spilled into the small, cluttered chamber. A telephone exchange took up most of two walls, and the floor was covered by chairs, tiny desks and dropped combat gear. The radioman was working quietly in the corner by the lamp, and two NCOs were curled up against the exchange’s heavy cabinetry, fast asleep. Kroh found a blanket on the floor, drew it around himself and lay down. It was probably almost freezing outside, and little warmer in here.

    Only the vaguest sense of dreaming came to Kroh before he felt someone shaking him awake. “They’re attacking! They’re attacking!” Kroh tried to ask where the attack was, but the shouts grew louder. “They’re attacking!” He couldn’t see the person very well. Kroh tried to clear his mind from sleep, but the shouts echoed loudly in his head. One eye opened, and Kroh became aware of his breathing. He was face down, his lips pressed against the cold concrete. The light from the kerosene lamp flickered on the far wall.

    Kroh rolled over. The radioman was gone, and so were the sleeping NCOs, but Feldwebel Mayer was sitting by the light, prying at the Kinarri camera with a screwdriver.

    “What time is it?”

    Mayer jumped visibly. “Uh, it is about 1945.”

    “Thank you, Mayer.”

    “Where did it happen?” It was the voice of Hahn, the radioman.

    “I’m not sure,” Mayer said.

    “Hard luck, to be sure.”

    Kroh noticed that his eyes were closed again. His hands were stiff and cold. He blinked and rolled over. Hahn was back in the room, talking quietly with Mayer. Another man was sleeping with his back against the telephone exchange. Kroh looked at his watch -- almost an hour had passed. He closed his eyes.

    There was a vivid dream of a being in the glider -- but the glider was going somewhere else. Somewhere wrong. He tried to convince the pilot, but his mouth wasn’t working. A loud crack sounded in the distance. That’s the real assault. I’ve got to wake up. I’ve got to wake up! The glider was going downward. It was about to land hundreds of kilometers off course. What was the pilot thinking? I’ve got to wake up. Wake up!

    The command post swam back into focus. Kroh was panting. The kerosene lamp had been put out, and he was alone in the room. All was quiet, but the uneasiness was too much. It was after 2200. Kroh considered taking more stimulants, but he knew that any more in his present condition would impair his aim and judgment. He got up and returned to the observation post. More lorries still seemed to be streaming into the city. Raising his binoculars, Kroh began to count them.

    Somewhere over twenty, Kroh heard the hiss of a flare and instantly stopped the count. A blazing white rocket was climbing into the air over Dover Priory, bathing the northern slopes of the Heights in cold light. Within moments, the crackle of submachine gun fire began to drift up the slopes.

    It rolled on for five minutes before subsiding to occasional, distinct pops. Hahn raced up the stairs from the command post with word from Pietzonka: “Kompanie 5 attacked from three sides by at least company-strength enemy. Five dead, eleven wounded. Unknown enemy casualties.”

    When the last flare had gone out, the Heights were again in darkness -- this time all the deeper for the Germans’ ruined night vision.

    Then came another message from Dover Priory: Pietzonka’s men were down to the last ten percent of their ammunition. If they were to hold their position, they would need resupply.

    “You were down there,” Kroh said to Heilmann when he found him in the surgery. “How much of a chance has he got?”

    The third-in-command bared his teeth. “Not less than the rest of us.”

    “I don’t want to pull him out unless we have no choice. You’re telling me we have a choice.” The position at Dover Priory was exposed and vulnerable out in the city -- not on fortified high ground like the Redoubt and the Castle, and not backed up against the water like the warehouses along the docks. Indeed, the way the Heights were shaped, men entrenched atop them had a very poor angle to lend supporting fire. Yet this was exactly why the Priory was so valuable. It represented an incursion into the city that hampered British movement, and defended sheltered ground from which it would be ideal to stage an attack on the Drop Redoubt. Heilmann knew this even better than Kroh, having done just that less than forty hours earlier.

    “Yes, right,” Heilmann said. “We have a choice. They just need more ammunition.”

    Not long after, Kroh was on with Pietzonka. “Stay where you are. The rest of us are counting on you down there. We’ll send ammunition at once.”

    “Yes, Major. We will hold fast.”

    Kroh could sense the fear in his voice. Getting the ammunition down there would be trouble. The units at the Drop Redoubt were quite low on ammunition themselves, and even what little they could spare couldn’t be delivered safely. All the road routes off the Heights down to Dover Priory entailed fighting through substantial British forces. Instead, Kroh sent one of Heilmann’s platoons hiking downslope on foot with whatever they could carry.

    They had just made it back up to the Redoubt when another flare blazed above the train station, followed by the sounds of furious shooting. This time, the battle lasted almost twenty minutes before tapering off to silence. “2 killed, several wounded,” Pietzonka’s report read. “More sizable enemy units moving into position around me. Ammunition again perilously low. Request immediate resupply.” Kroh was away from the command post when the message came in.

    He was on the other side of the Drop Redoubt’s defensive ditch, crouched low with Hauptmann Hackl and one of the Kompanie 2 sharpshooters to get a better view of the cemetery. Since the deadly firefight there the previous morning, the British had kept about a platoon in place to guard against another counterattack. But now, they counted through their binoculars somewhere surely over a hundred men. If those men made a sudden rush for the docks, they would only be subjected to German fire for as long as it took to vault over a picket fence and cross the A20. Kroh and Hackl agreed that a mortar bombardment might be necessary, followed by an assault on foot from the Heights. More dark shapes were pouring through the cemetery’s eastern gate and assuming formation.

    The men down at Dover Priory were scared. Sheltering behind crates and low walls, in the station house and on the roof of the school, they poked their muzzles out into the night and waited. Arms and kit clattered at the edge of hearing as scores of black shapes flitted from alley to alley, building to building. Pietzonka’s surviving sergeants crept from man to man, handing out the last of the magazines and whispering words of encouragement.

    Breath steaming in the cold, the assault pioneers checked the actions on their weapons and stared down their iron sights. The men on the rooftops reported that enemy soldiers had taken up positions along three sides of Kompanie 5, threatening to cut off retreat up the slopes of the Heights.

    Hauptmann Pietzonka conferred with his two remaining zug leaders in the station house. They had 42 men -- half of them wounded -- to defend the station, school and the space between the two. Pietzonka made it five times that number of British. After the assault began, they would have no choice but to fall back toward the station house. The railroad tracks provided a sound line of defense to the west. To the north and east, fences and shrubbery obstructed the enemy’s line of attack. The pioneers would have to keep them at arm’s length so they couldn’t bring their numbers to bear.

    On the Heights, Kroh saw the British began spilling through a hole that had been blown in the cemetery’s southern fence earlier in the day. He turned and raced back up over the improvised causeway to the observation post. Grabbing the radioman by the shoulders, he pulled him downstairs and raised Ludebrecht to warn him of the oncoming danger.

    Ludebrecht flipped a switch atop his seaside hotel perch, and the power of half a billion candles flooded across the A20 as the carbon-arc lamp switched on for the first time. The light caught onrushing men full in the face and struck them blind.

    It was still dark some 500 meters away at Dover Priory, where a rolling storm of fire broke out in just seconds. The British had brought heavy machine guns up to concealed positions around Kompanie 5, and the air became a web of yellow tracers. Rounds cascaded across the darkened lines for several seconds until Pietzonka managed to hoist a star flare over the fighting.

    The brilliant light revealed scores of kettle-helmeted figures charging toward the German positions. The pioneers opened fire at once, scything many down, but more were close behind. The last few defensive grenades tumbled out from behind cover and landed on the railroad tracks in the midst of two enemy platoons. The blasts dismembered several of them, but by the time the smoke had cleared, the first of their fellows were scrambling up onto the platform.

    A Feldwebel stood in one of the station’s windows, calmly shooting the attackers with his pistol as they scrambled up. Another pioneer lay prone beneath an automobile, picking off British officers rallying their men down onto the tracks. Hand grenades killed both.

    On the Heights, Kroh was on the telephone to Ludebrecht. Just as the British company flooded onto highway, the strobe had blinded them -- while illuminating them perfectly for the German gunners in the hotel and along the marina. The enemy would be stopped in his tracks, Ludebrecht assured Kroh. Then Kroh heard him start to curse.

    Meanwhile, Gefreiter Martin Sückl led the remnants of Trupp 3 back across the lawns from the priory school toward the station house. The Holland veteran emptied his MP34’s last magazine at the British clambering over the school’s garden wall in pursuit -- then drew his Luger and fired while backpedaling. One of his truppmates had taken a bullet through the spine, and the three others were struggling to drag him to safety.

    Tracers from an unseen machine gun across the street snapped around their heads, and by the time Sückl turned to follow them, one had already fallen. Another German trupp, falling back from the other side of the school, caught up with him. He waved them onward, shouting at them to help carry the wounded to safety, and one threw him a fresh magazine. Sückl covered their retreat -- expending the last of his ammunition and then grabbing an Enfield from a fallen Englishman -- but collapsed at last onto the grass, shot eleven times.

    Atop the seaside hotel, assault pioneers with asbestos gloves picked through the shattered glass of the strobe lamp, trying to replace the still-glowing filament that would have burnt their hands off. After a period of total darkness, someone had managed to fire a flare, but the enemy could once again see straight ahead, and were shooting hotly at the hotel roof and through its windows.

    Once again, combat devolved to close quarters near the marina, as British soldiers swept past the hotel and engaged the assault pioneers on the water. “It’s bad,” Ludebrecht told Kroh, “and now it looks like there’s armor coming up the A20. This is bad.”

    The scene at the Dover Priory station house was worse. Survivors from truppen along the perimeter were reeling back before the renewed assault, often fatally slowed by efforts to carry the wounded to safety. Kompanie 5 was almost completely out of ammunition, and critically short on morphine. Pietzonka radioed up to Kroh for help, but he knew that no relief could be organized in time. He ordered the survivors to the safest positions within the building, and prepared for the final struggle.

    One MG gunner was still alive, and had leapt down from the roof, brandishing the red-hot barrel of his weapon at the enemy soldiers who swarmed around the building. They had taken staggering losses over the past two days, though, and would no longer be denied. He and the last of the other defenders outside were quickly overwhelmed by the onslaught.

    The battle for the station house was brief but savage. The British stormed the building from all three entrances, throwing hand grenades in ahead of themselves. Pietzonka was the last officer left alive, and fought to the end with his pistol, then his Kampfmesser, then with fists, until physically unable to struggle. A British captain climbed in through a window and called for quarter for the wounded, but none was needed. Sturmpionier Kompanie 5 had been overrun to the last man.

    Pietzonka’s last radio contact with Kroh had ended in a rush of static as the fighting reached the station house -- but Kroh was still not immediately certain what had happened. It was several minutes before pickets along the slopes overlooking Dover Priory returned with the hard truth. The silence from below meant the worst.

    The overrun of the Priory imperiled the Drop Redoubt, but not immediately. For now, the most pressing threat was the column of tanks driving steadily toward the docks.

    Ludebrecht finally reported that the incursion from the cemetery had been repulsed, although at worrying cost. Now, he said, his men were bracing for an attack from the west.

    Kroh would have liked to call in support from the heavy artillery across the Channel, but ordering fire with such little distance between the two forces would endanger the Germans just as much as their enemies, and risk further damage to the docks.

    “Korvettenkapitän, this is Major Kroh.” He had given one of his radios to legendary U-boat captain Hans Ibbeken, who waited in the harbor with his sister ship, deck guns manned.

    “Go ahead. We are ready to fire.”

    “Stand by. Armor piercing. Your target will be marked with red flares.”

    The column of British tanks was now within a hundred meters of the roundabout where the first column had been ambushed. German pickets overlooking the road fired flares onto the A20 in the path of their advance.

    The U-boat gunners in the harbor had a clear line of sight straight up the highway. Kroh saw two winks of fire flash on the water far below, and the streak of the shells toward their target. The crash of the guns drifted up to the Drop Redoubt several seconds later.

    Ibbeken and his fellow commander Schuhart had brought their boats into Dover harbor only reluctantly -- out of torpedos, and ordered by OKM to support Sturmabteilung Bräuer on the surface rather than dropping out of action for a day to rearm at Ostend. The demolitionists who had spoken in person with the submariners insisted that Ibbeken had accounted for four enemy destroyers during the opening hours of the invasion, and was apparently bitter at the lost chance to go out and hunt more -- and bitterer to have had his U-27 damaged and chief engineer killed by friendly fire during his reception. If the U-boat ace was bitter, though, he didn’t let it show.

    The two 88 mm deck guns sent fast and accurate fire up the A20, aided by range corrections given by radio. Dodging the carcasses of their predecessors, the MkIIIs sprinted toward the docks as incoming rounds tore out huge sections of the roadway.

    The lead tank collided at full speed with one of the burned-out lorries in the roundabout, setting off the nitroglycerin planted inside, and triggering sympathetic detonations in the other hulks. Two MkIIIs were knocked out of action, their tracks and gears hopelessly mangled.

    There were eight more behind. At a signal from Ludebrecht, a wall of orange flame roared up directly in their path as the Kriegsmarine demolitionists pumped gasoline into the trench they had cut during the afternoon. As the remaining MkIIIs struggled to negotiate this latest obstacle, Ibbeken’s gunners struck home for the first time. An armor piercing 88 mm round hurtled across the water and bored through the hull of one of the tanks as it maneuvered. The explosion blew out the back half completely, raining searing wreckage on the rest of the column.

    One of the tanks managed to maneuver around the mass of wrecked vehicles in the roundabout, driving up onto the sloped flanks of the Heights, and down at full speed toward the German lines 200 meters ahead. Two other MkIIIs followed it, but on the other side of the flames, the remainder turned around and headed back up the A20 as more 88 mm shells came screaming in on them.

    Tracers began to stream from the turret machine guns of the tanks still in the attack. More red flares flew out of the darkness at the roadside and into their path. Just as Ludebrecht informed Kroh that he had ordered his men to engage, Hauptmann Adler at the Castle came over another channel demanding to speak to the Major immediately.

    “Heavy armor coming down the A258 towards the castle. It looks like my long range patrols were destroyed some time ago.”

    “Heavy armor?” Kroh shouted. “Vickers?”

    “Looks like, Major.”

    “And none of your heavy guns have an angle on the highway up there, do they?”

    “Not from this side, no.”

    “Then wait. Mortars can’t hold them back, so let them get close, and we’ll hit them when they can’t maneuver. How many can you see?”

    “We can’t see well from up here, but my guess is that it’s a whole armored company.”

    Kroh spread the intelligence map on the telephone exchange desk in his command post and scanned the legend. “So... That must be from the 4th Battalion, Royal Tank Corps, which is apparently out of Deal. The brigade is out of Canturbury. Let them get close, then we’ll hit them.”

    Kroh pictured the layout of Dover Castle. Adler’s men occupied the great square keep raised by Henry II over the site of the original fort which his great-grandfather William had burned after seizing the city in 1066. Around the keep was a high stone curtain wall that enclosed the castle’s inner bailey. As time passed, the castle’s needs had expanded, leading to the construction of a formidable second wall that now enclosed the dozens of outbuildings put up in the centuries since. The oldest of these buildings actually predated the castle itself. An ancient Roman pharos had stood watch over the vital port since the invasion of Emperor Claudius, and now acted as the bell tower of St. Mary-in-Castro church. Overlooking the sheer white cliffs that formed the southern face of Castle Hill, Britain’s Admiralty had constructed a grand officers’ mess for Queen Victoria’s captains. Nearby were the 6-pounder guns overlooking the harbor and the city’s far eastern approaches.

    The landward side was much more thinly armed. Although imposing ramparts had been set into the eastern and northern slopes of the hill, they had been defended with nothing stronger than the pair of water-cooled Vickers machine guns that the garrison commander had thought sufficient to defend against airborne assault. Almost two days before, Kroh’s own company had mined the roadway as A258 curved into the city, but such measures could only delay move in force by enemy armor. There were several anti-aircraft Bofors guns emplaced within the outer bailey, but none of these had a clear line of sight to the road. And so, the Germans would attempt to draw the enemy tanks almost under the shadow of the Castle, where they could be pinned in the narrow streets and engaged close-in by Kompanie 8, now led by Leutnant Frischer.

    It would not be easy. The MkIIIs were quite dangerous for an airborne infantry force such as Sturmabteilung Bräuer, but were still only a machine gun-armed light tank, quite like the German PzKpfw I. The Vickers medium tanks dwarfed both, towering 2.68 meters tall and sporting a quick-firing 3-pounder turret gun. Each mounted six secondary machine guns from a hull armored with up to 8 mm of steel. The one saving grace was that they were slow by modern standards -- loafing along at 15 kilometers an hour under most conditions.

    Pure white light spilled into Kroh’s command post as a long line of flares rose up from the Heights to the Castle. At 0010, the British threw everything they had at the German-controlled crescent of Dover.
    Last edited by TheHyphenated1; 29-11-2010 at 19:24.
    Weltkriegschaft
    The Alternate History of the Third Reich

    HoI1/2/3 Favorite Narrative AAR: Q1 2008 & Q3 2008 & Q2 2009, Best Character Writer of the Week: 18/5/08 & 10/11/08
    Weekly AAR Showcase: 12/10/08, WritAAR of the Week: 05/08/08,
    Canonized on 08-06-08

  4. #1744
    You magnificent bastard. Hope to see them soon.
    They say your life flashes before you die. It's true.

    It's called 'living.'

  5. #1745
    Kurt_Steiner - Thank you! Stay tuned.

    Enewald - Moar is coming. I'm typing my fingers raw .

    Metroid17 - What can I say...
    Weltkriegschaft
    The Alternate History of the Third Reich

    HoI1/2/3 Favorite Narrative AAR: Q1 2008 & Q3 2008 & Q2 2009, Best Character Writer of the Week: 18/5/08 & 10/11/08
    Weekly AAR Showcase: 12/10/08, WritAAR of the Week: 05/08/08,
    Canonized on 08-06-08

  6. #1746
    I'm finally caught up with the latest updates. It's not very nice of you to go so long without updates only to get us part of the way through this battle. Keep this up and Siegerkranz will be my new favorite Germany AAR.

    I hope Bräuer pulls through, and I'm really curious as to whether any reinforcements are forthcoming.

  7. #1747
    *Appears as if summoned*

    Why thank you - though it's hardly a fair comparison. Hyphenated's writing is consistently more interesting than mine. I can do infantry, but I'm not absolutely sure I can write a believable torpedo run/death ride, and I'm consistently amazed at your ability to sustain writing quality through an update.
    HoI2 AARs: Eine Geschichte des Grossdeutsches Reich - Siegerkranz - Germany's Place in the Sun - The Prophet Unleashed
    EU3 AARs: The Lion and the Lily
    Awards:
    Third Recipient of KaiserMuffin's Cookie for Services to Syndicalism
    Showcased AAR for Week of 9 April 2010
    Character Writer of the Week, 27 May 2010, 17 April 2011, 19 December 2011
    Writer of the Week, 14 November 2010

  8. #1748
    I sincerely hope this isn't dead.
    They say your life flashes before you die. It's true.

    It's called 'living.'

  9. #1749

    Chapter III: Part XXXIX

    On his return to the observation post, sharpshooters drew Kroh’s attention to movement to the east, as the Heights plunged down toward their terminus in the city. Here, there was a narrow gap in the German lines -- a sheltered gully between the Drop Redoubt’s fields of fire and those of the machine gunners atop the buildings at the waterfront.

    Kettle helmets were trickling through an old cemetery at the base of the Heights, and toward the gap.

    “Urich, this is Kroh. Do you receive?”

    A radioman put him through.

    “What have you got, Major?”

    “We’ve got enemy soldiers coming through a cemetery to your left. Looks like they’re trying to flank you. Get one of Ludebrecht’s platoons up there right away to cut them off.”

    “I’ll get him at once.”

    Kroh summoned Heilmann up from Bräuer’s side, and asked his opinion. The cemetery was overgrown and full of trees. Fire support from the Drop Redoubt would be nearly useless. Should the German platoon storm the tactically-vital cemetery or merely block its southern border? Heilmann urged aggressive action.

    Aggressive action soon proved costly.

    Well protected by headstones and shrubbery, the Dorsets took careful aim at the assault pioneers as they scrambled over the high fence into the cemetery. Some fell; the others fanned out among the trees, trying to find kettle helmets poking above cover. The neat rows of plots were broken up by tangled hawthorne and hornbeams, and lines of sight quickly disintegrated. Small groups of Germans quickly became separated from their fellows and found themselves intermingled with the enemy. A vicious and confused firefight erupted.

    The pioneers sprayed bullets wildly whenever they saw part of a Tommy, and often even when they didn’t. Several times, the two sides blundered into each other in ones and twos, falling on each other Kampfmesser against bayonet. Submachine gun rounds scoured century-old gravestones and stripped the bark from bare hazel trees.

    Low iron rails dividing the gardens planted over individual plots proved deadly snares -- catching the feet of soldiers running headlong and hurling them onto their faces. Dorsets crawled through the mud between headstones and recessed family vaults, firing out from bushes at Germans who strayed into the open.

    Amidst the havoc, the platoon’s Oberfeldwebel finally managed to rally much of the scattered unit along the main pathway running the length of the cemetery, under the memorial obelisk of a sergeant killed during the years when Dover braced for an attack by Napoleon III. But fire was buzzing in from all sides -- the pioneers couldn’t see who was shooting at them, and they began to panic.

    Leutnant Jervaulx had led 1. Zug into the cemetery with 20 men; the lieutenant was now bleeding to death over the grave of a Victorian chorister and 12 beaten assault pioneers were retreating in disarray back to the A20.

    The British had lost several men killed, too, but the field was theirs. Soon, a full rifle company had occupied the cemetery and was moving down to cut the German lines in two.

    Kroh mulled a second, larger attack, but while he was scraping sufficient forces together, Urich reported probing contact by the enemy east of King street. Desultory shooting continued for half an hour, as the rooftop machine gunners tried futilely to discourage the 130th Infantry Brigade’s remaining two battalions from moving into position several blocks north of the docks.

    Under cover of the MGs, Kriegsmarine demolitionists trundled out satchel charges into the blasted blocks of no-man’s land. In the open streets, they improvised anti-personnel mines with PETN and spent shell-casings, concealing them under dirt or cloth and running detonator cord back to expectant German lines. The sleet was letting up.

    At 1000 exactly, the assault began. Six rifle companies and two lightly-armed support companies pushed off from their staging positions and attacked along the entire length of the Dover waterfront with the shrill encouragement of the same “over-the-top” whistles that had summoned their fathers out of the trenches twenty years before.

    This time, Kroh called in support from the company mortars immediately. The rounds plunged down onto the advancing British with dull crumps and fountains of dark gray dust and smoke. Next joined the rapid stutter of the machine guns and the crack of long rifles as Urich’s sharpshooters tried to pick off officers.

    Gales of fire welcomed the attackers that made it as far as the boardwalk. The demolitionists began setting off their explosives as the British passed.

    Ludebrecht had shifted the position of his company’s flamethrower to mislead the enemy, who warily avoided the scorched roadway in front of the Young & Jarrow warehouse. Instead, it roared to life on the German left, dousing a platoon of Dorsets that was trying to flank the Bofors emplacement. The viscous Flammöl stuck to everything it touched, burning through cloth, skin or muscle until it was spent. But it was the furious roar of the weapon that was most unnerving. The attack faltered along the blocks around the widening conflagration.

    All along the waterfront, charging British sections were cut down wholesale, but this time, sheer weight of numbers began to tell.

    Onrushing masses of men quickly crossed the A20 and swept beyond the German forward positions. Sometimes, foxholes or machine gun pits were simply bypassed, their occupants left to fight back-to-back against enemies on all sides. Elsewhere, British soldiers shot them at close range or tossed grenades in among them.

    The stronger positions, defended by up to three full truppen, formed islands of resistance, surrounded by dead and dying Dorsets as the German medics tended their own wounded inside as best they could.


    Assault pioneer defending the docks.


    To a warbling cornet, a rifle company stormed out of the cemetery, vaulted over an undefended stretch of the A20, and began to roll up the beleaguered German lines toward the docks. The men who had jumpily fired at Bräuer’s lorry two nights before were caught falling back to rear positions -- some threw themselves into the frigid water of the marina or pressed themselves low against the metal skin of laid-up dinghies.

    Now, the Dorsets threw in the support companies. Almost two hundred fresh troops crossed the A20 -- no longer defensible as a German front line -- to join the swirling mêlée along the wharves.

    Kapitänleutnant Urich and some twenty Kriegsmarine men -- largely wounded -- found themselves besieged in the customs house. The British tipped hand grenades into shattered windows, and the firing from within stopped abruptly.

    The Germans who could still retreat melted back to the east towards the Castle to avoid being overrun.

    Yet as the decimated British battalions reached the docks themselves, they found themselves in the open once more. From the slopes around the Drop Redoubt, Kroh’s machine guns and mortars scoured the waterfront; from Dover Castle, twenty more MGs clattered down streams of yellow-green tracers.

    There was little cover and nowhere to go but back. The Dorsets had been bled white, and now it was sergeants who led platoons back, and ensigns leading whole companies in retreat. The assault pioneers were reeling, too, though, and lacked the strength to pursue the British back into the city.

    Bolstered by what reinforcements Kroh could throw together, the German companies that had been ejected from the dockside carefully converged again, joining again into a continuous line near the burning Young & Jarrow warehouse. Much of the waterfront was ablaze. Several fires from the artillery bombardment had been burning continuously since the day before, slowly consuming the damp buildings -- while elsewhere the sticky black smoke of Flammöl fires curled up from smoldering warehouses.

    At least fifty assault pioneers were dead, and among the units that had taken the worst of the fighting, more men were wounded than not. As the Germans reoccupied their foxholes and cleared fields of fire around their MG positions, medics flitted from position to position, giving morphine to those who could not be moved, and deputizing stretcher bearers for those who could. The several hundred fallen Dorsets lay where they fell.

    Kroh took a lorry down to the docks, where he was met by Kompanie 7’s officers, including Hauptmann Bieber, its commander. Urich was dead, he reported. So were several of the senior demolitionists. Ammunition was beginning to be seriously depleted. Pacing from machine gun to machine gun along the line, Kroh became ever more convinced of the precariousness of the docks in general. Nowhere did the MGs have more than 30 meters of open space in front of them, and the whole position had precious little depth. Had he not pulled back as many men as possible during the last assault, the Dorsets might have overrun them all. The officers were quietly insistent: reinforcements had to come.

    Radioing Student, Kroh emphasized the severity of the situation, but there was little the colonel could do. He had been pulling strings with Berlin for many hours, but the harbormasters at Boulogne and Ostend wouldn’t budge.

    Kroh could only take more status reports from along the line and direct supplies to where they were needed most. Adler’s men atop the Castle could see little movement in the city below.

    Just after 1100, Hauptmann Barenthin radioed Kroh at the Drop Redoubt to report significant infantry movements west of the Citadel. His observers were reporting several companies arraying themselves on the high ground, moving eastward along the crest of the Heights.

    “Reinforcements, Major?”

    “Can’t do anything for you, Barenthin. Sorry. Keep them back with your MGs.”

    Fifteen minutes later, Kroh was on with Student again when one of the other radiomen entered the command post with Barenthin on the line. “Most urgent, Herr Major.”

    Kroh told Student to wait and took the receiver. “Barenthin, what is it?”

    “Kompanie 6 pickets have sighted armored vehicles coming up the A20. Maybe seven or eight. More infantry as well.”

    Kroh swore. “Is the mining work complete along the roadway?”

    “We have some explosives in place, but poorly improvised.”

    “I’ll see what I can do for you in the way of mortar support. Tell Wulpp to draw the English into short range before any of you fire.”

    “Yes!”

    Kroh gazed down the Drop Redoubt’s northern slopes toward Dover’s city center. The British had clearly just learned the effectiveness of their own defensive works. Even with overwhelming numerical superiority, they could not secure the docks while the Germans still held the Citadel, the Redoubt and the Castle. And so, they had clearly decided to take the battle to the Heights. Fortunately, the two companies there were nearly at full strength.

    The Citadel, just as fortunately, offered them excellent defenses and wide open fields of fire to hamper an enemy trying to work its way eastward along the Heights. The broad and deep dry ditch surrounding the Inner Citadel was a formidable last stop line, and assault pioneers wired the two causeways with explosives.


    The Officers Quarters, looking to the east.


    For half an hour, Kompanien 1 and 6 prepared their defenses and trained their muzzles into the fog that swaddled the high ground. The crews manning the 12-pounders and 6-pounders below the Officers Quarters surrounded their guns with bulwarks of heaped tires scavenged from the Citadel’s motor pool. Another team went about with blow torches, cutting the roofs off captured automobiles for use as shielding for the rooftop machine gun nests. Baffled sentries waved a lorry in over the causeway with its bed piled with still-recognizable Vauxhall parts. Close behind was a commandeered bus carrying the extra mortar teams.

    They got out and set up in a huge crater in front of the Officers Quarters -- the one from the shell which had shattered the building’s brick façade and nearly killed Bräuer. There were sandbags around it now, and rubble taken from the partially-collapsed barracks across the lawn.

    Downslope, Hauptmann Wulpp went from foxhole to foxhole, encouraging his exhausted pioneers as they dug feverishly through the hard, wet earth of the Heights. Below, a handful of exposed men darted back and forth across the A20, laying their final ambush charges.

    A red flare from the battlements of the Officers Quarters sent them diving for cover. Along the slopes, men pressed themselves instinctively down to the lips of whatever cover they had, venturing just eyes, helmets and weapons above.

    In Wulpp’s command post dug into the hillside, the phone rang from Barenthin in the Citadel. Enemy armored car sighted by the forward pickets stationed 200 meters to the west, he said. Then Wulpp patched Kroh through.

    “What can you see from your position?”

    The line crackled as Kroh and Heilmann hunched over the telephone in the Drop Redoubt.

    “Repeat, what can you see from your position?”

    “Nothing yet, Major.”

    But the silhouette of another Rolls-Royce soon appeared in the gloom. The Germans’ discipline held, and the armored car pulled to within a few lengths of the crumpled shell of one of its cousins. The turret traversed along the length of the Heights, the machine gun stirring gently up and down. Soon, even this motion stopped, and the Rolls simply sat there idling.

    Several minutes passed. The car pulled forward and came to a stop again, this time placing the wrecked vehicle between itself and whatever dangers waited on the Heights. Kroh telephoned the docks to be on their guard, in case the Rolls tried to make a fast run into the city. But when it moved again it only pulled a short ways past the wreck and then backed up to inspect it from the other side.

    At last, a flicker from the turret, and .303 rounds started spattering the lower slopes. The car backed up to where it had originally stopped, and sprayed more errant rounds uphill -- some of them at the frames of the empty gliders. Wulpp’s men stayed low and still. The firing stopped, and the gun started roving again.

    The Vickers finally settled on one of the 6-pounder emplacements and let off a long burst. Rounds thudded into the stacked tires, but failed to force anyone out of cover.

    “It’s backing up,” came Barenthin’s voice over Kroh’s telephone. “They’re leaving... Just backing the whole way up the A20.”

    “Let it go. Let it go.”

    But the frustrated scout soon returned -- this time with the rest of the column. Observers counted two MkIII light tanks, followed by five of the Rolls-Royce armored cars. An infantry platoon surrounded them on foot.

    Kroh ordered Wulpp to engage when the column had reached the planted explosives.

    As it advanced, though, the lead tank pulled several dozen meters ahead of the armored cars, with the second tank halfway between. They were bracing for an ambush.

    At Wulpp’s signal, 400 kg of high explosive hidden at the roadside detonated in a flash and massive cloud of dust and earth that momentarily obscured both tanks. The guns below the Officers Quarters opened fire on the armored cars, as did the machine guns along the slopes. Assault pioneers far enough down slope joined with hand grenades and submachine guns, and mortars began to pelt the roadway from above. It had been less than ten seconds, but the column was already engulfed in smoke and buzzing tracers.

    One of the armored cars at the rear was already on fire by the time the lead MkIII emerged from the pall of the first explosion, apparently undamaged. A 12-pounder found its range on the second shot, though, and scored a nearly perfect hit.

    The round bored into the side armor and exploded within, blowing the hatch off, and surely killing everyone inside. But the engine was still running. Orange flames licked up from under the turret, twisting into thick coffee-colored smoke. Still the tank lumbered on, its gears jammed forward -- not to stop until it plowed into the side of a warehouse at the edge of the docks.

    Meanwhile, the rest of the column fired its machine guns up at the Heights and tried to weather the blistering firing pouring down on it. The second MkIII was stuck in the wrong lane with its tracks blown off, being battered by dozens of German guns. Four of the armored cars had managed to turn around and were escaping up the A20, along with a few of the infantry.

    The guns below the Officers Quarters finished off the three cars that were immobilized in the roadway. Silence settled again over the Heights, as the assault pioneers reordered their defenses. Barenthin knew that the silence would not last long, warning Kroh that large numbers of enemy infantry were finally advancing along the Heights. First in small sections, and then by platoons, the British were slipping into the outskirts of the Citadel.

    An MG34 clattered atop one of the barracks roofs. The pops of Enfields replied in growing volume. For several minutes, Barenthin had little idea of where the main attack was falling, and Kroh at the Drop Redoubt even less. Yet it soon became clear that the enemy was pressing hotly against the line near the wrecked 6 inch battery. A runner from 1-3, which was emplaced among the blockhouses where Bräuer’s glider had landed, reached the Inner Citadel with word of concerted assault from more than a hundred soldiers.

    Another company charged out of the fog just to the north, and threatened to overrun 1-3 before being checked by a pair of rooftop machine guns.

    More attackers were coming up from around the seaward side of the 6 inch battery, now. The German machine guns threw up spurts of soil and concrete as the kettle-helmeted shapes advanced from blockhouse to blockhouse. They were fighting well -- using cover effectively, and keeping up a steady volume of fire. Several assault pioneers were shot through the narrow windows. Another, a trupp leader who had often vacationed in Dover as a child, tumbled dead off the roof of the Citadel’s armory.

    From the crater in front of the Officers Quarters, the mortar teams frantically lobbed rounds onto the north side of the ditch surrounding the grounds of the Inner Citadel. The Tommies had found a gap in the German fields of fire, and were safely scrambling down netting into the ditch while an MG34 crew raced across the parade ground in an attempt to flank them. The mortar rounds burst all around the ditch, but it was deep and revetted, protecting the British sections forming up there.

    “This has to be a whole battalion, Major,” Barenthin reported to Kroh by telephone. Gunfire was audible in the background. “Maybe two. There are more headlamps coming up A20.”

    Kroh looked westward toward the Citadel. The sanitäter standing next to him in the observation post had just come up to report that Bräuer had taken a turn for the worse. Kroh brought the receiver back to his lips. “Get more men into the roadway while you still can. I want as much HE as possible between those headlamps and the docks.”

    “Yes, Major.”

    The headlamps turned out to be the four armored cars that had escaped the ambush, leading a long line of lorries. A large vanguard of men on foot was advancing along the Heights’ lower slopes.

    This time, Barenthin ordered the 12-pounders and 6-pounders into action at once. Four flashes and splitting cracks. Four plumes of dirt and asphalt around the armored cars. They began to swerve irregularly, trying to frustrate the German gunners while spraying bullets up the slope with their turret machine guns.

    Meanwhile, three full companies charged madly up the Heights into the jaws of Wulpp’s defenses. Kompanie 6 was still one of the healthiest companies in Sturmabteilung Bräuer -- 64 effectives, all with the benefit of a day and a half of digging, and supporting fire from Barenthin’s guns above. Hot streams of tracers streamed downhill from well-fortified machine gun nests, tearing into the oncoming British.

    Again, though, the enemy had the benefit of numbers. Those men who were not cut down by the fire sweeping downslope hurled hand grenades among Wulpp’s defenders. One landed in a forward foxhole and dismembered the three assault pioneers within before they could throw it out. A pair of British sergeants jumped in on top of them before the smoke had cleared and turned their Enfields on the adjacent position.

    The British battle rifles were ungainly when compared with the compactness and firepower offered by a submachine gun, but trained marksmen could still maintain a considerable volume of fire. Wulpp’s men found themselves having to keep their heads down as .303 rounds snapped up at them. Every second that their fire slackened, the British pressed further up onto the Heights.

    Back up at the 6 inch battery, 1-3 was nearly pinned down. The British had set up two water-cooled heavy machine guns in a gully west of the blockhouses, and were pouring accurate fire onto the pioneers as more infantry advanced.

    The zug’s runner came sprinting back from Barenthin’s command post atop the Officers Quarters. Wounded in three places, he dove behind the log pile where Leutnant Ewald was commanding the defense.

    Barenthin was emphatic, he said: get out of there.

    Throwing up sheets of covering fire, the embattled German platoon began to withdraw. Carrying the ones to badly injured to walk, they managed to cross the field where the first gliders had landed, as the rooftop MGs in the Citadel kept their pursuers at bay.

    At last, Leutnant Ewald led the final trupp over the causeway and into the Inner Citadel. Even as they made it inside, they turned to find British soldiers already all around the gliders in the field. Some dropped to their knees and fired, covering others who advanced to the lip of the ditch and threw hand grenades across.

    An MG34 in the same window as the Lewis gun which had pinned down Bräuer and his men during the first minutes of the operation was now covering the final approach to the causeway. It swept back and forth, cutting down a dozen charging men before they could cross, but a few made it to the other side.

    The explosives wired to the causeway’s underside had failed to explode. A ferocious firefight erupted across the ditch, as the British tried to suppress the assault pioneers long enough to cross in force, and the Germans tried to force them back long enough to blow the bridge.

    Just to the north, two British platoons had made down their nets into the ditch before the rest had been driven back by an MG34 team. They were now making their way toward the causeway, pressing themselves against the ditch’s inner revetment for protection from German fire.

    Aided by the machine guns on and in the barracks, 1-3 was blunting the attack from the west. The dead were strewn among the glider frames, and German fire was keeping down the heads of the survivors.

    Barenthin dispatched three of his best demolitionists with sticks of fresh explosives. The men quickly made their way to the causeway to have a look for themselves. It looked like the detonator cord had simply snapped in two places. They slung themselves under the causeway and began to splice the detcord as 1-3 poured fire over their heads.

    As he reconnected the charges under the midpoint of the causeway, Oberfeldwebel Grüner cried out in surprise and pain. Within moments, his two companions screamed, too.

    A marksman who had been crouching nearby with his Kar98k scampered to the edge of the ditch and found the broken bodies of two assault pioneers on the ground below the causeway. Grüner hung upside down from his rope sling, swinging by his ankles as the British men in the ditch took potshots at him. The marksman ran to Leutnant Ewald, who returned to the causeway with two of his platoons.

    Defensive grenades tumbled into the ditch, and after a vicious shooting match lasting less than a minute, the assault pioneers were able to complete the demolition preparations. Ewald ordered 1-3 back behind cover, and the causeway blew.

    Shards of concrete rained down on the foxholes dug 200 meters downslope, where Wulpp’s men were fighting off an assault by two fresh companies of what prisoners reported were the 5th Wiltshires. Intelligence placed them as part of a brigade that had been stationed around Folkestone.

    Barenthin telephoned Kroh at the Drop Redoubt to report increasingly heavy fire coming up the slopes. The German mortars were making a valiant attempt to keep the Wiltshires back, but they were pressing in too closely for the assault pioneers to be able to bring their full volume of fire to bear.

    1-3 had finally managed to stabilize the British attack from the west, and the enemy coming from the north of the Citadel had largely retired. Only the occasional rifle shot rang out over the ditch toward the MG34s on their fortified rooftops.

    To the south, near the Officers Quarters, the ditch turned into a fortified retaining wall against a steep part of the slopes. Runners with boxes of belted ammunition scrambled over the wall, and braved the intense fire from below to resupply Wulpp’s MGs, which were running precariously low. 6-3 had expended almost 8,000 of its 9,000 machine gun rounds in several minutes of fierce combat, and some elements were having to pull back to more secure positions upslope.

    Meanwhile, the most critically wounded were being carried up to the Officers Quarters for treatment in the small and nearly overwhelmed surgery there. The building’s seaward side had been scoured by enemy machine gun fire, the bricks pockmarked and broken. Barenthin, shuttling between the rooftop parapet and the telephone line that had been run to his second floor command post, could see swarms of helmeted figures making their way ever closer. He ordered the medics downstairs to send the walking wounded not back to their units but up to the windows with whatever weapons they had. In the event of a breakthrough into the Inner Citadel, they would once again barricade themselves in with the large table that Bräuer had used early in the assault.

    Tiny pellets of sleet began to fall as the British redoubled their attack after a brief respite. Within minutes, the Wiltshires forced last of the the assault pioneers from the lower slopes of the Heights under a flurry of hand grenades and supporting machine gun fire. The 12-pounder and 6-pounder guns were finally evacuated as the enemy stormed around them in force. The MGs in and atop the Officers Quarters where now the last thing keeping the enemy out of the Citadel.

    Barenthin called Kroh again, his stolid voice for the first time slightly frantic. “Wulpp’s 6 is broken. We need reinforcements now, Major, if the Citadel is to hold. Can you do that?”

    “I will do what I can.”

    “We will not be able to hold out, Major. Send us reinforcements or evacuate us, now!”

    The situation was slipping out of hand. The two companies under assault now held only the area encircled by the ditch, and had been reduced to just under a hundred effectives in less than half an hour of fighting. The British were obviously committing everything to hand to take the Citadel.

    Urging his officers to disguise gaps in the line, Kroh rounded up several lorries and sent Heilmann and his badly depleted company westward to relieve the Citadel.

    They rolled over the eastern causeway fifteen minutes later, just as the Wiltshires were assaulting the positions immediately below the Officers Quarters.

    Heilmann immediately declared himself in charge and took to sighting machine guns and planting explosives in preparation for an all-out defense. Inside the Officers Quarters, sergeants passed out the last of the ammunition to the men at the windows, some so badly wounded that they were propped up in chairs with submachine guns lashed to their wrists.

    By 1220, Heilmann had occupied the second floor command post and reestablished communications with Kroh. Barenthin was in no position to object -- while he was on the parapet, a bullet had grazed his temple and he had been taken downstairs, blinded by the blood streaming into his one good eye. Heilmann assured Kroh that the sanitäter would see to him at once.

    The attack was slowing again.

    The good news had scarcely reached Kroh when Heilmann called again with the reason why. Another armored column was coming up the A20. As the silhouettes resolved themselves through the sleet, the German observers saw that this was no hodgepodge of Rolls-Royces. At least a dozen British tanks were coming up the highway toward Dover.

    Yet here, too, the British commanders gave Kroh a surprise. The armor remained well back from the fighting, and relative quiet descended on the Citadel as the Wiltshires investing it on two sides tended to their own wounded and consolidated their hold on the Heights’ upper slopes.

    Sentries along the northern side of the ditch reported occasional probing actions, as fresh British soldiers in the city ascended the back slopes, trying to work their way around the German defenses. Although Heilmann now had three companies in the Citadel, his resources grew stretched through the early afternoon as small enemy units began to complete the encirclement. His perimeter effectively doubled, he had no choice but dilute the forces arrayed near the Officers Quarters to counter a potential threat from the east.

    From what the observers could see, there were at least two enemy battalions in place on and around the Heights. In a defensive position as favorable as Dover Citadel, the assault pioneers could normally be confident against even these odds, but ammunition problems had made them vulnerable. Kroh had had the foresight to send considerable reserves with Heilmann’s relief force, but even he was low on the precious belts that fed the lead-hungry MG34. The machine guns had already proven their worth many times over during Operation Rösselsprung, allowing the assault pioneers to keep the counterattacking British at a distance and neutralizing their numerical advantage. The MP34 submachine guns were fearsome in their own right, but were powerless to keep the enemy at arm’s length in defensive situations. The Germans attempted to answer enemy movements with vigorous shooting so as to disguise their situation, but eventually the guns would run out. The final assault would be desperate and deadly.

    Kroh had no doubt that Heilmann could take many hundreds of Englishmen to the grave with him, but that would leave the rest of Sturmabteilung Bräuer too depleted to stave off the inevitable follow-up attack. With the loss of the 12-pounders below the Officers Quarters, the Citadel had lost much of its ability to control the western approaches to the city. Indeed, its defenders presently had virtually no means to stop an armored thrust toward the docks. Every minute that the British used to solidify their grip on the Citadel’s eastern side would make it harder for the assault pioneers to even send another relief force.

    “This is Kroh. Get me Heilmann.”

    He came on the line thirty seconds later. “Heilmann.”

    “Do you think you’re strong enough to fight your way out?”

    “... And abandon my position?” The warning note of disdain was impossible not to hear, even strung out over a kilometer of telephone wire. Unlike the other company commanders, Heilmann was a major just like Kroh. He was third-in-command in the operation, but had showed the second little deference since they first came together in training. The man Heilmann served was lapsing into septic shock beneath Kroh’s feet. “And abandon my position?”

    “Yes. I mean: can you fight your way out of the Citadel and back to the Drop Redoubt?”

    There was a lengthy pause. “That is unwise.”

    Kroh imagined what Bräuer would say. “I asked you whether you are strong enough to do it.”

    “Yes, Major. I can do it.”

    “Good. It’s not the best, but we don’t have much choice. Without those guns, the position isn’t much use to us defensively. If you get your three companies back here, the Redoubt can still block the A20, without being so exposed.”

    “When?”

    “As soon as possible. Draw men in from your perimeter quietly. Load the wounded onto the lorries along with the mortars. Lay smoke and just punch a hole for them. The last of the men should be out before they can react in force. Blow the causeway behind you.”

    “What about the prisoners?”

    “You don’t have the ammunition.”

    “So, I will telephone when ready.” In the background, Kroh could hear the screaming of a wounded pioneer.

    “Good luck.” Kroh hung up and went down to the kitchen surgery.

    He found Bräuer nearly comatose -- his left hand clenching and unclenching, but otherwise unresponsive.

    The sanitäter looked up from a compound fracture he was setting at the other side of the room. “The Oberstleutnant will die if he does not receive proper treatment soon. Speaking truly, have you considered surrendering him? At least it would allow --”

    “No, Sani. We can do no such thing. Go back to work.” Kroh turned on his heel and went back to his observation post. On the way up, he noticed several assault pioneers curled up on the floor, catching what sleep they could.

    Just after 1300, an ambulance roared across the causeway from the Citadel, packed with assault pioneers. Throwing smoke grenades behind them, they laid down suppressing fire on the thin enemy pickets nearby. In moments, the rest of the lorries sped down the road, bearing the wounded toward the Drop Redoubt. The rest of the men began slipping out one platoon at a time.

    Only 4-2 and 4-3 remained by the time the British realized what was going on and renewed their attack. Two hundred men surged over the retaining wall and up to the almost-deserted Officers Quarters. There was a brief skirmish across the lawns as the last assault pioneers made it out of the battered building and toward the causeway under covering fire from a pair of MGs. Two of Heilmann’s NCOs were shot dead in the final moments of the encounter, but the rest of both platoons was soon safely across the causeway. This time the detonators worked, and it exploded nearly in the faces of the Wiltshires trying to pursue the Germans across.

    As the Citadel force evacuated eastward along the Heights, a strange drama was unfolding by the docks, which only became clear to Kroh in bits and pieces. The first reports to reach the Drop Redoubt indicated that a British destroyer had somehow managed to enter the harbor. Then, a German torpedo boat had arrived from France. Moments later, two sharp cracks rolled out over Dover, followed by word from Adler that the two 6-pounders at the Castle were engaging an enemy submarine near the breakwater.

    Kroh handed the receiver back to his signalman and turned back up the stairs toward the observation post, but the signalman stopped him short. “Two enemy submarines in sight!”

    Adler was gone by the time Kroh was back on the line, but an Unteroffizier in the keep answered that they were also engaging a second submarine behind the first.

    The next word came up to Kroh from the docks, where Oberleutnant Tesch, the acting commander of the remaining Kriegsmarine demolitionists, reported that the submarines were signaling that they were German. “They are unable to provide the correct response sign, though. What do you instruct?”

    Kroh clamped a palm over the microphone in the receiver and turned to his signalman. “Call the Castle! Cease fire immediately. Cease fire. They are to cease fire with all guns.”

    The signalman nodded.

    “Oberleutnant?” Kroh asked.

    “Yes.”

    “Instruct them to heave to just in from the breakwater. Fill a launch with armed men and a radio and have a look.”

    “Yes, Major.”

    “Let me know personally as soon as you know what’s going on.”

    “Castle says they have ceased firing, Major,” the signalman called.

    “Let me know me at once. Good luck.” With that, Kroh radioed Student in hopes of getting to the bottom of what was going on.

    Tesch was soon out with ten demolitionists in a little boat commandeered from the docked freighter City of Exeter. They puttered out over the steel gray water and soon recognized the unusual shape of one of the new-model U-boats. A cluster of men in helmets and life jackets were standing around the fast-firing 88 mm gun mounted forward of the conning tower. An officer at the bow was holding open a small Kriegsmarine ensign with both hands.

    It took only moments to verify the U-boat’s bona fides, and Tesch directed them into the inner harbor with the response signal. It seemed that the overlords in France had given them the signal for entering the port of Harwich, instead.

    Kroh was incensed to hear all this by radio, and was already venting his displeasure to Student on the other channel when Tesch reported that from his launch that the second U-boat had been successfully hit by the German guns near Dover Castle. The range tables Kroh himself had ordered them to draw up had been so accurate that both shells in the 6-pounders’ second salvo had scored hits on Hans Ibbeken’s U-27 as it entered the harbor. One had passed through about a meter of water and ruptured a saddle fuel tank. The other had punctured the conning tower and killed the boat’s chief engineer.

    Oberst Student sounded genuinely livid, but gently pressed Kroh to listen to more urgent news. “I just got off the telephone with Bayerlein. We will get the Heer to you tonight, no matter what. I don’t care if the waves are as tall as houses. Do you understand me, Kroh?”

    “Yes, H’rr Oberst.”

    “But I need you to hold firm for the rest of the day. There’s a lot of heavy stuff coming your way from Folkestone, and we think the armor that was near Deal is preparing to commit in your direction as well. That’s a lot for you to fight off at once, but they know what our moves are now, and will commit everything to dislodge us.”

    “We will not be moved, Herr Oberst.”
    Last edited by TheHyphenated1; 21-11-2010 at 09:54.
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  10. #1750
    Dublish - Thanks for your loyal readership. I don't take it for granted, even if I've been Yogiing on you this year ;-)

    c0d5579 - Thank you very much! I do my best!

    Metroid17 - Your wish is my command. Thanks for sticking with me through the long dormancy!

    All - There comes a certain point where apologies and promises don't do any good, so here is the second installment of III:XXXIX. From here on, it's pretty simple. Sturmabteilung Bräuer still holds a mostly-intact port of Dover, and the British know that their wherewithal to throw them into the sea may be fast evaporating and their window for action poised to snap shut. The last, savage chapter of the Battle of Dover lies ahead.

    This is an update that has been kicking around in my head since - gee - I think early 06, so please forgive combined length. Most of my other battle updates have been more or less drop-in looks at an hour or two of an engagement, and I really wanted to convey the full sense of what goes into a real operation like this. It would have been a lot neater in narrative terms if the British had reacted differently, or Dover's geography had been simpler, but I hope my efforts to imagine this battle as comprehensively as possible will pay off in the end. In the same way, I hope it's not too boring to read "the British counterattacked: variations on a theme" but I believe the effect pays off in the end. That said, please don't hesitate to ask questions clarifying anything that's unclear, or if something about the flow or layout of the battle is unclear.

    The third and final installment is a way off still, but I'll let you know more as it comes together.
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  11. #1751
    Wonderful to see this back.
    They say your life flashes before you die. It's true.

    It's called 'living.'

  12. #1752
    Pantomacatalasecesionanis ta

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    Oh dear!
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  13. #1753
    More ominously, do the Germans have a snowball's chance of landing significant forces in the teeth of the Royal Navy?
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  14. #1754
    Metroid17 - Thanks! Glad you stuck around ;-)

    Kurt_Steiner, c0d5579 - III:XL will shed light on what's been going on in the wider invasion during all this time. The only reason we're almost to night three without any information is that Sturmabteilung Bräuer has very little information on what's going on around them.
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  15. #1755
    Bonus feature to go up this weekend!
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  16. #1756
    A et Ω Deus's Avatar
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    I've finally caught up with your story. It took me two years, but 4 days of reading have finally led me here.

    In general i think this is a story for the historybooks of the AARland. Hope to see some more and will probabli visit this more often from now on.

    You've certainly offered me quality entertainment for the 4 days I spent reading this, I even dreamt of the action last night.

    Eager awaitng for an update,


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  17. #1757
    Quote Originally Posted by Deus View Post
    I've finally caught up with your story. It took me two years, but 4 days of reading have finally led me here.

    In general i think this is a story for the historybooks of the AARland. Hope to see some more and will probabli visit this more often from now on.

    You've certainly offered me quality entertainment for the 4 days I spent reading this, I even dreamt of the action last night.

    Eager awaitng for an update,


    Deus
    Welcome back, Deus!!! So glad you've enjoyed the story so far. Looking forward to hearing from you more in future.
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  18. #1758
    Bonus Photo Feature:


    Popular opinion of the newly-raised Territorial Army units (sometimes known informally as Home Guard) during late autumn of 1936 was often poor.


    Posters such as this one fueled perception of the force as comprised of the elderly and the unserious. Arms shortages caused by more volunteers signing up than expected left many units without front line weapons, and some -- temporarily -- without any weapons at all. Cruel newspaper cartoons inevitably depicted senile old men with ear trumpets wielding broomsticks against a German invader. Nonetheless, by the end of November all organized TA units had been armed to establishment, and allocations put in place for the second and third cohorts, which were to form up over the winter.


    Civil defense plans remained a priority in Greater London, as the Luftwaffe sought to bring paralyze transit arteries.
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  19. #1759
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    Please, give us more.
    I won't be able live for an eternity!

  20. #1760
    Anon, anon, fair Enewald! The final installment of Part XXXIX is about half done.
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