During the next few days
we found it rather quiet in our sector. We went over the terrain we had
conquered with the intention of gathering up any injured Germans. Alas,
we found none. We buried our dead. We had the Red Cross verify the
identity of the German casualties, the dead and the wounded. There were
a lot of unpleasant chores to be done and we did them. Some of the
soldiers complained loudly, some said nothing at all. My company
received reinforcements. We got cleaned up and we rested.
The medical field station had been moved again. I lost track of the days
of the week. Then one morning Bill Johnson pulled up in the Landrover.
Roy Litvak was again in the back, tending the machine gun.
“Isn’t it time to get your finger looked after, Captain?” Johnson
inquired, standing at attention if front of me.
I looked at the dirty bandage on my left hand. It was indeed time. I had
not paid much attention to the date. There were rumors afoot about an
impending attack against the Germans, to clear them out of Narvik. But
then in a theater of war there are always plenty of rumors afoot. Though
no matter what the future held, it would be far better to face it with a
clean bandage on my left hand than with the dirty rags covering it now.
“At ease, Sergeant.” I nodded to Johnson, walked around the vehicle and
climbed in. A hundred meters down the road Second Lieutenant Earl
Mackenzie approached. Johnson had jumped into the driver’s seat and was
about to get under way when I raised my hand.
“Wait a second, Sergeant.”
We waited until Mackenzie reached us. He saluted faultlessly. I returned
“Divisional headquarters sent this over a few minutes ago,” he said. He
handed me an envelope.
“Thank you, Lieutenant,” I responded, taking the message and putting it
into my pocket. “I am going to the medical station to get this looked
after.” I raised my left hand. “I should be back in less than an hour.
Yo u take over until then.”
He saluted again and turned around. Johnson started the Landrover and
put it in gear. Letting out the clutch he revved up the engine. We shot
forward. At his usual breakneck speed we raced along the track. The
engine howled as if it was being tortured and I suppose in a way it was.
Johnson never got out of second gear, but considering the potholes and
the condition of the track it seemed as if he was bent on destroying the
car, thus sparing the enemy the effort.
“Hold on there, Sir,” Johnson shouted at me and savagely twisted the
steering wheel, at the same time tramping the gas pedal to the floor.
We slid around a giant boulder into a makeshift driveway. The wheels of
the vehicle went into a deep hole and the water and mud flew in all
directions. Some tree branches hit the windshield with a loud bang. Then
the Landrover shot out of the hole. For an instant it was airborne. It
came down hard. The bump almost threw me out of the vehicle. Johnson
jammed on the brakes. The wheels locked. We slid towards another big
boulder and a stand of perhaps half a dozen birch trees with trunks the
size of a man’s thigh. We came to a halt when the front bumper almost
touched the boulder.
“There we are, Sir,” Johnson said and grinned. At first I was going to
reprimand him but then I thought better. We had come to no harm. And he
had never once gotten us stranded with the vehicle. Other more careful
drivers often got themselves into positions where they slid off the
road, I mean track, and plunged down a ravine or an embankment, or
simply got stuck in a mud hole.
I looked around. Up ahead among the trees stood a small cabin, a two
room affair. From its window facing us through the trees a soiled Red
Cross flag hung down.
“I shall be back shortly,” I said, stepping to the ground and taking my
submachine gun along. We still came across the occasional enemy soldier
who had been cut off from his unit and eluded us so far. There was no
point in taking chances.
I walked over to the door of the cabin and pulled it open. What a
primitive place for a medical station! They did not even have a sink in
there. They had a couple of buckets of water standing on the floor and a
few white enamelled bowls on the table. Another bucket contained some
smelly garbage. It was indeed most primitive.
As I walked in the nurse was in the process of putting the few medical
supplies left into a box.
“Hello, there,” I shouted. “Moving out again?”
The nurse flinched and looked up.
“Oh, it’s you. Yo u scared me half to death. I didn’t hear you open the
I laughed. “I should have sneaked up on you, maybe grabbed you from
“I would have screamed. This is a war zone, you know. There’s no
telling what they might have done to you. Maybe you would have gotten
shot! And to answer your question, yes, we have been ordered to move
“Well, in that case I am just in time. I have to get this bandage
replaced. It’s getting a bit dirty.”
“I’ll say.” She looked at one of the sheets on her clipboard. “You are
late. Yo u should have been here three days ago. Let me see what we can
do with you.”
She took my arm and pulled me over to the table. “Sit down.”
Deftly she cut away the old bandage.
“Hm, it’s healing up very nicely. Now this is going to hurt a bit. Are
She took my finger and held it tightly. Then I felt a tug. I was behind
her and could not see what went on. There were a couple of twitches and
then a jerk. This was repeated a number of times. While there was no
actual pain it nevertheless was quite unpleasant.
“So, there you are. It did not hurt much, did it? Yo u should have come
when you were ordered to. Major Pershing doesn’t like to let things go
for too long. Your finger is healing up quite nicely. Now that we have
the stitches removed you will be as good as new in a couple of more
weeks.” She began to bandage the finger up again.
“You are always on the move, aren’t you, Petra?” I said as she finished
“Yes, sort of. We are a field station. We move with the front. I think
that we are going to the city of Narvik next.”
“But Narvik is still held by the Germans!”
“Sure, at the moment. But not for much longer. I hear these rumors that
we are going to kick the enemy right out of Norway.”
“Well, maybe, but I would not count on it. It is quite possible that we
will pull out and the Germans will occupy all of Norway.” I was, of
course, in a very general way familiar with the outcome of the war since
I did not really belong to this time frame. But I thought it best to
keep my knowledge to myself.
“I doubt that very much. Our side is making good progress in our
campaign. No, no, we’ll be in Narvik before long.”
“Then I won’t be seeing you any more?”
“I did not say that. We are waiting for our escort. Major Pershing has
gone to look at a few prospective locations. Maybe you can sneak into
Narvik once we are set up there.”
“Major Pershing has gone to Narvik? Wouldn’t he be taken prisoner by the
“No, he has not gone quite to Narvik. I believe that he is looking at
some interim location on the way to Narvik. I am not quite sure where he
is right now.”
Suddenly I remembered the envelope Mackenzie had given me.
“Ah, I almost forgot. My second lieutenant handed me a message just
before I came here.” I pulled the envelope out of my pocket and ripped
it open, quickly scanning the few lines. I had to read them a second
time in order to comprehend their meaning. We were ordered to assist the
Medical Field Station No. 2, Narvik in moving to a new location. We were
also to insure the physical safety of the station. Speaking of luck!
Petra Baird was looking at me, her gaze a shade apprehensive.
“You’ll be seeing quite a bit of me, at least for a little while longer,
Lieutenant. My unit had been ordered to assist in moving Medical Field
Station No. 2, Narvik, and to insure the physical safety of the
She looked at me, her eyes big and shiny. I grabbed my weapon, walked to
the door and went outside.
“Johnson,” I hollered. The sergeant came running.
“Sir,” he said, standing at attention.
“ We will assist the medical staff in transferring their equipment and
supplies to a new location. Yo u go and get your squad to help in the
physical moving of the stuff. Requisition and truck from the motor pool.
And alert Lieutenant Mackenzie. We will also have to insure their
“I’ll get a lorry, Sir. I’ll drive it myself.”
“No, I need you in the Landrover. Somebody will have to take the lead. I
think that you and Corporal Litvak will do just fine. The three of us
are going to be in the first vehicle. Lieutenant Mackenzie will bring up
“Yes, Sir.” He saluted and sprinted back to his vehicle. With a roar the
engine started. Under a shower of loose gravel and with spinning wheels
Johnson took off. In the back Litvak held on to this machine gun for
As I turned around to go back inside the hut I bumped rather hard into
the nurse who had come outside. She would have fallen had I not grabbed
“I’m sorry,” she said when she had regained her voice.
“Are you sure you are not hurt?” I asked as I slowly released her.
“Yes, quite sure.” And her eyes twinkled mischievously.
I spent a very pleasant couple of hours with her until Bill Johnson was
back. He had a convoy of six vehicles, two Landrovers, one Bedford truck
- sorry, Bedford lorry - and three large troop carriers. The supplies
and equipment, what little there was, were loaded into the Bedford
truck. Petra Baird climbed into the cab as a passenger and we were off.
I was in the lead vehicle with Bill Johnson driving and Roy Litvak
tending his machine gun in the back.
We were relatively secure on our side of the Herjangsfjord. Following
the winding track we slowly made our way along the shore, sometimes
turning inland to get around the steep cliffs falling almost vertically
to the water. Shortly after noon we arrived at the loading dock and
crossed Ofotfjord without difficulty. On the south side we assembled our
convoy again. It was now the middle of the afternoon. Our destination
was Ankenes. The ridge of Ankenes was held by French troops. This ridge
dominated the Beisfjord and the port of Narvik.
I could clearly see what we were about to attempt. The final assault on
Narvik was imminent. We would set up the medical field station as close
to the front as possible. Here on the south shore of the Ofotfjord enemy
patrols were still active. Our relative complacency while of the north
shore had given way to alertness.
After disembarking I briefly met with Major Pershing, the doctor. While
my troops were being fed from the field kitchen he indicated to me on
his map where he intended to set up the medical station. The nurse,
Lieutenant Baird, would be in charge until he and the rest of his staff
could catch up. At last we began rolling again.
It was evening by the clock when we finally approached Ankenes. I was
sitting next to Johnson in the Landrover which was the lead vehicle in
our convoy. My submachine gun was in my hands, ready to fire. We slowly
wound our way along the track, through the mud and the water filled
depressions in the road. Up ahead there was a thicket of birch trees and
aspens with dense grass and long vines of brambles. According to the map
the road made a sharp turn to the right just past it. On impulse I laid
my right hand on Johnson’s arm.
“Stop, Sergeant. Something doesn’t feel right.”
Johnson jammed on the brakes. Twenty meters away from the thicket we
slid to a sudden halt on the damp ground. He grabbed his gun, slipping
off the safety catch and cradled it loosely in his arms. In the back
Litvak crouched behind the machine gun.
“What’s wrong, Sir?” Johnson whispered.
I waved my weapon at the thicket. “I don’t know yet,” I whispered back.
“Something’s the matter there.”
Thirty meters behind us the troop carrier with Johnson’s squad braked to
a halt. Farther back I could just make out the Bedford truck. We waited.
Suddenly an object like a shadow came sailing out of the thicket. I
dived out of the Landrover and rolled to the rear of it. Johnson jumped
out of his side, also making for the rear of the vehicle. Litvak fired a
short burst from his machine gun and then simply dropped over the back
of the car to land between Johnson and me. Something struck the hood of
the vehicle, bounced off it and landed beyond the track. The explosion
was muffled and threw a lot of dirt up on the Landrover. Both Johnson
and I crawled through the ditch on our right to seek cover past the few
I peered ahead. Although there was no breeze I fancied seeing the trees
of the thicket sway. I crawled farther to my right until I had a good
view of the area ahead. I still could not see the enemy. The Germans
were well concealed by the tall grass and the vines of the brambles. The
swaying of the trees had stopped as well.
With one glance I took in the entire area. The thicket was no more than
ten meters wide. The road, I mean the track, wound around it. It was the
perfect choice for an ambush. I fired a short burst into the bush. Then
slightly changing the angle of my gun I fired another burst. With four
more bursts I covered the rest of the thicket. I was about to change my
position when an enemy soldier at the edge of the thicket jumped up and
then fell down again. There was no scream.
Another shadow came sailing out of the thicket. The hand grenade was not
aimed and fell to the ground halfway between me and the road. Meanwhile
Litvak had jumped back on the Landrover. Aiming the machine gun at the
thicket he raked it several times from left to right and back. Farther
to my right Johnson was lying behind an outcropping, also shooting at
the thicket. And now there was a good deal of motion among the trees and
the high, dead grass and the brambles.
I thought I saw a silhouette moving against the grey blue sky. I
squeezed off another brief burst. The silhouette disappeared. Litvak was
still behind the machine gun, alertly watching the thicket. He had
By chance I happened to look to the right where Johnson was lying. Three
figures dropped to the ground among the birch trees. Without thinking I
yanked a grenade off my belt, pulled out the pin and sent it sailing to
where I had spotted the three shadows. Before it had landed I yanked
another one off and threw it, too.
“Get back, Johnson,” I yelled. Jumping to my left I landed in a shallow
depression full of meltwater. Johnson slithered head first down the
steep incline in front of him. A shadow popped up from where the three
enemy soldiers had sought cover. In a shallow curve it skimmed above the
ground, impacting where Johnson had been hiding. Then came three
explosions in quick succession.
I heard another burst from Litvak’s machine gun. There was a shadow up
ahead, just beyond where Johnson had slid down the incline. I raised my
weapon, lined it up and pulled the trigger. The shadow disappeared.
Johnson fired a couple of rounds from his gun. And then there was
silence. The entire engagement had lasted for perhaps a couple of
Right after the first explosion Johnson’s squad in the vehicle behind us
had jumped to the ground and spread out. Now they were slowly advancing
I removed my helmet, placed it on top of my gun and raised the gun to
imitate a person in a crouching position. It drew no response. Putting
the helmet back on my head I got to my knees and slowly hoisted myself
erect. My entire left side was soaking wet.
Deliberately Johnson got up as well. He grinned at me.
“Do you always have to pick mud holes in which to seek cover, Captain?”
Despite his joke he was alertly scanning the thicket and the
mountainside in front of him. I climbed to where I had seen the three
shadows above us. As I crested the ridge I stopped. There was not much
left of the three soldiers.
With the help of Johnson’s squad we went through the thicket, searching
every hiding place. We found a supply of grenades, a small mortar, a
number of had weapons and thirteen bodies. There were no survivors.
We buried the corpses after searching their uniforms. Johnson collected
the dog tags and personal papers so we could hand them over to the Red
Cross. While Johnson’s squad looked after the burial I went to see the
nurse, Lieutenant Baird. The bandage on my left hand needed changing. It
was soaked through with water and mud.
“What happened up ahead?” she asked when I approached the Bedford truck.
“We heard a lot of shooting.”
“Oh, nothing much. We ran into an enemy patrol.”
“Is anybody hurt? Are you hurt?” There was concern in her voice.
“No, none of our lads got hurt. A few of us got a bit muddy and wet. But
that is all.”
She took a look at the sodden bandage on my left hand. “You must like
dirt,” she said, smiling at me. “Come on, let’s get you fixed up.”
I helped her down from the cab, almost lifting her. For her part Petra
simply let herself fall on me. It gave me considerable encouragement.
It meant that she did not exactly dislike me. She took enough time to
replace the bandage, too, but I did not mind. Just as she was tying the
last knot Johnson came sauntering over.
“All done, Captain,” he said, standing at attention a couple of meters
“Then let’s get under way again, Sergeant.”
Petra Baird was putting her supplies back into her box.
“I should get wounded too,” Johnson said, grinning. “Would it insure as
much personal attention as the captain is getting, Lieutenant?”
“You are far better off healthy,” she retorted. “You could lose both
your legs, your eyesight or even your life.”
“I suppose so,” Johnson conceded, the grin gone. He looked back at me.
“Tell me, Captain, just out of curiosity, what made you order me to stop
“Why do you ask, Sergeant?”
“Well, I was right next to you. I could see nothing wrong. I would have
simply gone on and we would be all dead now. How did you know about the
I stole a glance at Petra. She had suddenly lost all the color in her
“I don’t really know, Johnson,” I replied. “I watched the side of the
track ahead and suddenly something in my mind whispered stop. So I told
you to stop. I can’t quite explain it. I can’t put my finger on it, but
somehow the thicket exuded an aura of danger. It just looked wrong.”
“You must have a sixth sense, Captain.” He turned around and walked to
the front of the convoy.
The nurse closed the box and handed it to the private in the back of the
Bedford truck. Then she turned to me.
“Take good care, Captain,” she said, patting my arm lightly. “I don’t
want to lose you.” She wiped her hands over her eyes and then briskly
walked towards the front of the truck. She reached the cab and climbed
it before I could assist her.
We reached our destination without further incident.