Cool update. Poor Emil will be paraded before the Court and the Puplic. The trick anf pony show will get to him and he may have adventures there that will bite him in the ass down the road.
 
Part 2 Chapter 6
Authors note; For the most part I've done a worms eye view of events, limiting them to the perspective of soldiers on the ground as they were driving events. Here the larger scope of events starts of come into view and a famous trilogy might play out very differently because of the events depicted if it ever gets written in TTL.

Chapter Six


1st September, 1916 Oflag Camp near Cologne, Germany


“I don’t see what the Huns find so funny about your name” Corporal James Spalding said.

“It derives from the German word for foolhardy” The Lieutenant said “Can you understand that?”

“I’m sorry, Sir, I don’t.”

“They most certainly do” The Lieutenant said “After the events of July it is very poignant.”

“It just makes me angry for you, Sir.”

“Please don’t worry about it James, it’s not your battle to fight.”

James had been a store clerk in Newcastle upon Tyne when the war broke out, he’d volunteered to do his bit. He found himself a clerk for the Royal Army, still counting beans except this time wearing a uniform. Then came the emergency when they’d put a rifle in his hands and sent him to fight on a front that they’d never planned on. After his capture the Germans had decided that his talents when best served by being an orderly for several British Officers, including this one, in a prison camp specially made for Triple Entente Officers. He’d have to make another run at the Commandant this afternoon. The Lieutenant’s wheezing was getting worse and he needed to be invalided home before Winter set in.

It was being called the miracle on the Somme as if being forced to run for your lives was a miracle, something else the Huns found uproarious. The majority of the BEF had managed to escape the lethal trap before the jaws snapped shut. The offensive on the Somme had started badly, nearly 60 thousand men had become casualties that first day and then things got worse.

The unthinkable had happened. A German Army Corps had broken through in the Verdun Sector and swung around behind the British and French lines right as the Huns they’d been fighting had launched a vicious counter attack. He’d listened to the officers endlessly discuss those events. The conclusion they had reached was that the Huns could have gone for Paris, instead they’d hit the BEF from behind. As it was the Huns rampaged halfway across France before they’d reached the end of their logistical tether well short of Paris. His conclusion was different, the Huns must have known that Paris would be a heavy lift. Shanking the BEF in the back had been their goal from the instant they broke through at Verdun.

In the end the BEF had narrowly avoided encirclement, thus living to fight another day. Thousands of men, including James Spalding and most of the officers he served had fought a rearguard action so that the miracle could happen and almost a million soldiers made it out. While the Empire acknowledged their sacrifice, that did little to change the situation they found themselves in. Just be patent and wait for the war to end knowing you’ve done your bit and then some. And never, ever mention the tunnel they were digging under the washroom.
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Jena, Germany

After almost a year Emil Holz finally came home, the greeting he got was not what he expected. It was on a Friday afternoon after more than a month of being paraded around by the Army. Something he was desperately looking to escape from.

He’d arrived in Berlin the protocol officer assigned to him had taken one look at Emil’s ragged uniform, scuffed boots, longer than regulation hair, generally unkempt appearance and blew his stack. As if he could have done better living in trenches and foxholes.

What had followed was possibly the most humiliating hours that Emil had ever spent when a hand-picked team of Military Doctors and Barbers descended on him. His uniform was taken from him, they let him keep his epaulets and medals, everything else was thrown in the incinerator. He was deloused, sprayed with a liberal amount of disinfectant and shoved into a shower. Then came a full physical including short arm inspection, which was clean, thank God. The Doctors had been curious about the state of is left arm with the long white scar that ran from his elbow to his shoulder, no nerve damage. They also found a few pieces of shrapnel lodged in his back and right thigh, which was strange because he hadn’t noticed those when they happened. After that it was a haircut, uncomfortable heavily starched dress uniform and equally uncomfortable new boots.

After that Emil saw himself in the mirror, same russet colored hair and hazel eyes but his face was a lot thinner than he remembered it. As he pinned the EK1, the two badges to his tunic, one the black wound badge and the other the silver infantry badge, he realized that he’d never seen them all together before now. After they’d been presented they’d just rode around in the bottom of his rucksack.

He put on his cap and walked out of the bachelor officer’s quarters he’d been assigned to. The protocol officer saw him and nodded his approval. You ever subject me to anything like that again and I’ll have you shot, Emil thought to himself.


The ceremony where he was inducted into House Order of Hohenzollern and presented with the Knight’s Cross with Swords had been oddly anticlimactic. He suspected that it might have meant more to him if it had been before his Regiment. His instructions were to speak to no one unless spoken to, the result was he’d spoken to no one the entire afternoon. He’d then shaken a lot of hands in front of cameras, one of them supposedly was the Emperor himself but he couldn’t remember a single face.

After that it was a tour through various military bases, front line units, factories, hospitals and it was always the same. He was surrounded by strangers frequently asked questions he didn’t know the answer to or asked his opinion on subjects he knew nothing about.

Then one day he’d been told that the current tour was ending and that he had one last event at the Karl Zeiss optical factory. After that he was told he could go on leave for a couple of weeks. He’d made it home, finally. That was where things had gone awry.

There at the train station he’d been greeted by his mother, father, younger brother and two much younger sisters. He realized as soon as he saw his mother’s face with its mix of fear and outrage that he knew what was going to happen. He would have rather gone back to charging Fort Souville, unarmed.

It turned out what happened was far worse than he’d imagined. She slapped him across the face hard enough that her wedding ring had split the skin. “DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT YOU PUT THIS FAMILY THROUGH!” She’d screamed in his face as he stood there with blood trickling down his cheek as she pounded on his chest with bruising force “If ever do anything like this again don’t ever come back, you’ll be out, no longer part of this family…” She broke down sobbing as the photographers, journalists and the protocol officer shuffled about nervously.

“Just go” Emil said to them.

“But what about the factory?” the Protocol officer asked.

“We’ll do it another time, just get out of here.” With that they disappeared, Emil didn’t see where they went.

“I’m sorry about this, Emil” His Father said to him “She said she could handle it… We’re just happy you’re home safe.”

As they walked up the street Emil noticed that his father looked like he had aged a decade in his absence and that when he’d left he hadn’t been taller than his father. He hadn’t realized the effect that his running off had. No, the truth was he hadn’t cared, he had just wanted a big adventure, to be the hero.

“I was stupid and selfish” He said “I’m sorry.”

“Fat lot of good your apology would be if you’d come home in a box” His Father said “You’ve a lot to make up for.”

Emil realized that his normally taciturn unflappable father was furious with him “Do you think I don’t know that?”

“Do you now or are you just going to run off again?” His Father said pulling a handkerchief from his pocket “Here, we don’t want to get blood on your uniform.”

Oh, the irony.
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3rd September, 1916 Felixstowe, Suffolk, UK


Margret McAlister listened to the rain as it drummed on the roof of the small house that she and her husband lived in that overlooked the docks and the ocean. With so many men off to fight in the war Albert had no trouble finding work down on the docks, bad back and all. You didn’t need to lift much to run a crane. With the recent bad news from the Continent there were rumors that the German Navy was growing bold again. After Jutland, the Germans had retreated to safer waters. The Royal Navy would keep them at bay, wouldn’t they?

Not a day went by when she didn’t say a prayer of thanks that her boys had gone off to America, far from the madness that was consuming Europe. Thomas was working the oilfields of Texas and Oklahoma, probably making a fortune and spending it just as fast if she knew him. Her other son Francis was tending a bar in a place she’d never heard of until his letters started arriving called San Jose.

That was when Margret heard what sounded like thunder. Glancing out the window she saw that there were no flashes in the sky. Then she saw the flash but it was on the ocean. There was a loud shriek and the ground shook. Then there were more flashes all along the horizon. One of the warehouses disintegrated in a column of flame. Then she noticed that there were splashes of water around the docks and those barges. Albert had told her what those barges were carrying, tons of cordite. She needed to get out of here…

Margret McAlister never had time to finish the thought before she and thousands of other residents of Felixstowe were carried off on a wind of fire.
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4th September, 1916 Admiralty Office Room 40, White Hall, London, England.

Normally Room 40 was a hive of activity, today it was silent. Commander Hubert Hope sat behind his desk, it was obvious that he was going to be the one left holding the bag in this Felixstowe mess. German battlecruisers that he’d said were in the Baltic Sea had gotten up close in to the English coast and a seaport had been wiped from the map. The newspaper he’d bought earlier sat on his desk. The stories dominating the front page spelled out Hope’s failures clearly even though the public would never know it.

When the British Expeditionary Force had been nearly routed in July many Divisional headquarters had been forced to be abandoned at a moment’s notice. In spite of the standing order to destroy all documents it was clear that much had been left behind. Apparently enough for the Germans to piece together that the fact that the British and French had been reading their mail.

Now the Admiralty's old friend Franz von Hipper, dubbed “The Baby Killer” by the British press had seen an opportunity because the British didn’t know he knew. Word was that he’d been halfway back across the North Sea before the Royal Navy had belatedly responded. Hipper himself had broadcasted his opinion of their performance in the clear.

But the joke was on the Germans. The strategic situation was setting up towards what looked like a second Battle of the Marne and the French were coming out of their shock from the loss of Verdun and were starting to put up a fight again. The Austrians and the Turks, Germany’s greatest allies were falling apart. Not only was the war was far from over, it was just entering a new phase.

The powers that be would place the blame on him but they’d never wanted him in this position anyway. Hope sat back in his chair and gave a silent toast with his full glass of Whiskey. They could rot in Hell with the Germans he thought to himself with a grim smile and drank it down.
 
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gmd-0315-1.jpg
Knight 's Cross with Swords, House Order of Hohenzollern
 
The Battle of Verdun has always had a strange fascination for me, and I have re read the Price of Glory several times.

Good to see a TL from you Old Boy, and looking forward to seeing how this develops.
 
So. The butterflies are favourable for Germans, but Austro-Hungarians and Ottomans are facing the headwind?

The Austrians are having the same problems that they did in OTL.

The Sinai/Palestine Campaign is so far unaffected by events. The same is true of the nationalist movements that have been stirred up by the Entente within the Ottoman Empire.

As for the Germans, they are currently dangerously overextended in eastern France, the bulk of the BEF escaped encirclement and was able to reestablish a defensive line with the Chanel ports at their back. So in spite of their victory in Verdun they are about to suffer strategic reverses. Hope was in the perfect position to understand this, unfortunately for the British he was correct in that he's about to be the scapegoat for Felixstowe. The war is far from over.
 
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Insider

Banned
The problem BEF faces is that they had to evacuate in hurry. They probably left an awfully lot of supplies and difficult-to-move things like heavy guns behind. As for AH and Turks. It is 1916 not 1918. They are holding fine, even if they just dont know that.
French probably did as well. Actually I find it hard to believe that they preferred evacuation to just defending other forts to the last man and last round. Or to just letting the Germans have east shore and concentrating on the west. Since Germans went for Paris from the west, instead of from north west, they took towns that were untouched by war in OTL. That would mean even weaker France after the War, whoever wins it. Reims? Châlons? Most likely ravaged.
Troyes is probably too far, but it is famed for its timber buildings, so it won't fare well as front city.
 
The problem BEF faces is that they had to evacuate in hurry. They probably left an awfully lot of supplies and difficult-to-move things like heavy guns behind. As for AH and Turks. It is 1916 not 1918. They are holding fine, even if they just dont know that.
French probably did as well. Actually I find it hard to believe that they preferred evacuation to just defending other forts to the last man and last round. Or to just letting the Germans have east shore and concentrating on the west. Since Germans went for Paris from the west, instead of from north west, they took towns that were untouched by war in OTL. That would mean even weaker France after the War, whoever wins it. Reims? Châlons? Most likely ravaged.
Troyes is probably too far, but it is famed for its timber buildings, so it won't fare well as front city.

The conclusion I reached was based on the French assessment that if Fort Souville fell then the defense of Verdun would be untenable and contemporary reports of French soldiers panicking in Verdun itself on the 12th July, 1916 when they saw German soldiers had gained the top of Souville. That sort of thing in contagious and has been known to kill entire armies. The French Army was on the verge of breaking. Paris ordered the evacuation so that there'd still be an Army after the battle, at the moment some might have the mistaken belief that the 3rd Republic has one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel. But as you'll see this isn't a wank or screw, this being a WW1 TL it's frequently a case of people having to take the least bad option.
 
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Excellent writing, great story, please keep up the good work. You have shown how the orders issued by the generals involving hundreds of thousands of men can be impacted by the actions of a handful of unknown soldiers at the tip of the spear. I am looking forward to more!
 
Well the shit has hit the fan for the Entente for now, but they are still holding. Your mention of Germany being overextended may give some hope that they get a smacking.

Thanks for the update and the middle to low rank POV is appreciated.
 
Part 2 Chapter 7
Chapter Seven

7th September, 1916 Jena, Germany

Emil stood in the trench his breath smoking in the cold February air, around him were dead French soldiers as he crept cautiously forward. To his left one of the French soldiers stirred. Emil turned to face the man but he saw that he’d already bashed the man’s head in with the butt of his rifle. That was when he noticed that his rifle was wasn’t in his hands. Where was it?

He turned to run but his legs didn’t seem to want to work for him. As he lurched towards the end of the trench figures emerged from out of the murk, blackened, covered in soot and dust, hundreds of them. The men who’d been incinerated, suffocated or crushed inside Fort Souville.

That was when the French soldier he’d been running from caught up with him. Emil stood transfixed as several inches of bayonet exploded from the front of his chest…

Emil woke with a start. It was sometime in the early morning hours and he was laying in the narrow bed that he’d slept in since his childhood. As was ingrained habit he remained still, taking a quick assessment. He could hear that his 13-year-old brother, Peter was sleeping soundly across the room they shared. He rolled onto his back and stared at the ceiling.

The dreams had started the first weekend he’d been back. That Sunday his mother had wanted him to go with her to church, his father had warned him that if he ever wanted to eat or sleep in their house again he’d not being telling his mother no for anything she asked for anytime soon.

The church service had been a nightmare in its own right. The Pastor had framed the war as a theological struggle and most offensively had held up Emil’s conduct in Verdun as an exemplar of German piety and fortitude against the hedonistic French and the hypocritical British. How was he supposed to know that he’d protected a church full of widows and orphans? As he’d said again and again he’d only done it to gain the cooperation of the Priest.

But it was the descriptions of the enemy soldiers that had bothered him the most. The Frogs he’d seen had been living in the trenches with the blood, shit, mud and lice exactly as he’d been for all those months in the Meuse Heights. They fought and died for their units just the same as he would have. He’d sank as low into the pew as he could to draw less attention to himself.

After the sermon, Emil had told the Pastor that he didn’t agree with his characterization of Emil’s character. He’d failed to honor his parents in the manner which the bible said was a big deal by running off and joining the Army. Then there was bearing false witness by lying about his age, the vast number of sins of the flesh and what could only be described as a whole lot of killing. The Pastor had listened to him patently and finally said that it was good that he recognized the error of his ways.

That was when Emil had realized that the Pastor didn’t have the first clue about his experience. He’d ditched the uniform that afternoon for whatever clothes in his wardrobe still fit, he just didn’t want that sort of attention in his own neighborhood. There had been something that had shifted inside him that day and that night the dreams had started.

As he lay there in the darkness trying to get back to sleep it occurred to him that there might be one person in the neighborhood he could talk to who'd understand.
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Oflag Camp near Cologne, Germany

The Lieutenant had spent the last few days in the infirmary. The Doctor that the Germans had brought in had said it was trench sickness compounded by pneumonia, that the Lieutenant was sick enough to be sent home. Spaulding could have told them that and he wasn’t even a Doctor.

Spaulding would no longer have to listen to the Hun soldiers snicker about the Lieutenant’s last name. He knew that these were hardly the cream of the German Army guarding them but after all these weeks foolhardy or tollkühn as the Huns said it, couldn’t possibly still be funny and it wasn’t fair to the Lieutenant.

“I just want to thank you Corporal” The Lieutenant wheezed to Spaulding as they were loading him on to a lorry that was to take him to the Netherlands where he would board a ship to take him back to England.

“Your welcome, Sir” Spaulding said “I know you’d do the same if you could.”

The Lieutenant waved weakly as the lorry drove out the gate. It was the last time that Spaulding saw the Lieutenant. Years later he’d run across the details of their confinement and parting unexpectedly. At the moment, he was still orderly to five other officers.
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It was a row house identical to the ones on either side of it up and down the block. Emil had no trouble finding it, finding the courage to knock on the door was a different matter.

He’d finally approached the door and stood there for a long moment. He was about to leave when the door opened and a stout middle aged woman stepped out. She looked at Emil quizzically and finally demanded to know what he was doing “I’m looking for Augustus” He said, he’d almost said Lang but he’d realized that would make no sense. This was the Lang’s house.

“And you are?” The woman asked.

“I’m his…” Emil paused for a long second about how to say this “I was his squad leader in the Army, Emil Holz.” Emil had actually been acting squad leader but who was counting.

Emil was then hugged by the woman in a surprisingly powerful embrace that left him gasping for air. “You’re the one who saved Augie” She said delightedly.

“Uh yes” Emil said sheepishly.

“Please come in” The woman said “Augie told us all about you, how you took him under your wing when he got to the front and how when he got hurt you risked your life to save him.”

Emil followed the woman into the house. Just what had Lang told everyone about him anyway?

“Then we started reading about you in the newspapers” She continued “Augie is so lucky to have a friend like you.”

Emil felt a stab of guilt, he’d totally disdained Lang when he’d been on the Western Front with him.

“You can wait in here and I’ll go up and get him” The woman said as they walked into a parlor that had a wall that was dominated by a floor to ceiling book case. “Franz” she said to the man seated there “This is Augie’s friend Emil who’s come to visit.”

“Thank you, Greta” Franz Lang said as the woman walked out of the room and presumably upstairs.

“Greta has been my housekeeper since Augustus was a small boy” Franz said “He’s her child as much as mine and she’d very enthusiastic about him.”

“I had noticed” Emil said wondering if she'd broken one of his ribs.

“I want to let you know that you are more than just Augustus’s friend to us” Franz said “Without you he’d have been lost to us.”

“I don’t deserve that” Emil said “If I’d done my job right he wouldn’t have gotten hurt.”

“Nonsense” Franz said “I’m sure you already know that I teach the Classics.”

“Yes, Sir”

“You’d do well the read the Iliad and Statius, particularly about Achilles and how he died from a poisoned arrow hitting him on his heel, the one part of him that was vulnerable. The point is that war is totally random, those caught up in it are never in control, even seemingly invincible half gods.”

“Are you saying that I wasn’t in control?”

“No, I’m saying you did your best” Franz said “Augustus said that he froze and you dragged had him into a hole where he got hit by a ricochet, that is the sort of bad luck that Homer himself would appreciate.”

“Thank you” Emil said “But who’s Homer?”

“Attend some of my lectures and you’d learn about him.”

“That would be at the University, Sir?”

“Yes, it would be.”

“I never finished secondary school, the war, you know” Emil said, he’d never been the greatest of students and the thought of sitting through classes seemed unimaginable now.

“That’s not as major of a hurdle as you might think.”

That was when they heard a thumping sound and Augustus Lang appeared in the doorway “Is my father trying to recruit you into academia?” Lang said with a smile “Come on, I need some fresh air anyway.” And Land disappeared down the hallway towards the front door.

Emil said his goodbye to Franz Lang and followed, he saw that Augustus Lang was walking with a cane and his right leg was in a brace. “…no, Greta I need to be able to do these things on my own” He heard Lang say gently as she fussed over him by the front door.

Stepping out front door, he helped Lang sit down on the steps in front of the house. “I thought you got hit in the back” Emil said.

“Yeah, spinal damage” Lang said “I can feel it, but can’t move it.” Gesturing to his leg.

“That’s bad.”

“No, it’s not great but it’s not bad. The doctors said I was lucky, any higher up and I’d be spending the rest of my life in a chair.”

“That’s not exactly what I’d call lucky.”

“You’ve obviously not had the joy of being in a military hospital” Lang said “I left against medical advice last week to come home because I could no longer stand it and believe me, I consider myself very lucky.”

“I toured a few hospitals from what I saw…”

“From what they let you see” Lang corrected “Who and what they wanted to be able to photograph you with.”

That was an angle that Emil hadn’t considered.

“A week after I got there the casualties from the Somme counteroffensive started showing up. One of them was this guy they put in the bed next to mine who was a basket case” Lang said “You know what that is?”

“Yes, I do” Emil sighed. Such an ugly term, every soldier’s worst nightmare…

“This one had lost his wits as well as his limbs. Ranting about Jewish banking conspiracies day and night. How he failed as an artist in Vienna because the world was out to get him” Lang said “You think that they would have wanted you anywhere near him much less taking a photograph?”

“Point taken” Emil muttered.

“And what do we get to look forward to” Lang said changing the subject.

“After next week, it’s back to the Army and presumably the war.”

“And I get to figure out what to do with the rest of my life.”

What a mess we are, Emil thought. “You have an opinion about everything and you love to run your mouth. You could… write a newspaper column or run for public office, maybe both” He said “A bum leg wouldn’t stop you from doing those things.”

“You’re a total bastard, you know that.” Lang said with a smile.

“All I did was burn down a concrete fortress and I got to shake hands with the Emperor” Emil said “Imagine what you could do.”

“There’s a place around the corner we got to try” Lang said trying to get to his feet. Emil helped steady him.

“The only thing I saw around the corner was a tavern” Emil said as they walked up the street “You think they’ll serve us?”

“I’ve bled for my country and you are the great Emil Holz, the glorious bastard of Verdun” Lang said with mock pomposity “They won’t dare to tell us no and by the way, what happened to your face?”

“I got slapped hard across the face when I got off the train, I sort of deserved it.”

“What was her name?”

“It was my mother” Emil said indignantly.

“Yep, you totally got what you deserved.”
 
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Part 2 Chapter 8
Chapter Eight


14th September, 1916 Jena, Germany

With his leave was winding down, Emil knew that any second new orders would arrive and he’d have to leave. He’d done his best to mend fences with his parents but he could see there was a distance there. They had been terrified when they’d learned second hand that he’d been in Verdun. Now it was obvious that they feared he’d go back, get caught up in some other maelstrom and not make it back this time. It was not like he could promise that it wouldn’t happen.

Emil had gone down to his father’s basement workshop, he’d been in search of his father. Instead he found his brother Peter using one of his father’s cutters to sharpen a pencil. Their father did most his work at the University Press, doing the bindings for the thousands of books printed there every year. But here in the basement he did specialty work. One of a kind works of art at a level of craftsmanship that had become endangered after the invention of the printing press.

“Pops catches you doing that, he’ll whip your butt” Emil said “You only use tools for what they were made for.”

Peter laughed at Emil using the words that their father had said to them countless times.

“I was writing a paper for school and the lead broke.” Peter said.

“What are you writing about?”

“Well, you” Peter said “We’re supposed to do a page on someone we admire.”

“I’m sure you can do better” Emil replied “Pops would be a better choice, look at the work he does.” Several finished and partially finished projects were in the room with them, things of beauty even if incomplete.

“But you’re the big hero everyone talks about, you even met the Emperor. I want to be like you someday.”

“The truth is that there were so many stuffed shirts there I couldn’t tell you who the Emperor even was and I hope that you never become like me.”

“What?” Peter asked, not understanding.

“Go to school and be a kid” Emil said “And if you can’t avoid getting conscripted in a few years go into medical or engineering specialties. Become someone who builds or heals not someone who is only good at wrecking things.” Like me, were the words that Emil left unsaid.

“Uhm, okay” Peter said, still not understanding as he turned and ran out the basement door into the small back garden.

“That was a good thing you just did there” Pops said as he came down the stairs.

“You overheard all that?”

“I heard enough.” Pops said “This arrived for you” He held a thick tome of a book “And I’ll have you know happens to be my work, I did a few of these for Doctor Lang last year.”

It was book bound in rich reddish brown leather with dark green accents, title in gold letters read Annotated Iliad and Odyssey, as translated by Franz Lang, Doctor of Philosophy. Opening the book, he saw that on the title page Doctor Lang had written, To Lt. Emil Holz who apparently has now saved my son twice.

“You didn’t know that Augustus Lang was suicidal before you showed up, did you?” Pops asked “See, you do a lot more than wreck things.”

“Why would Lang have been suicidal?”

“From what Doctor Lang told me he felt like he’d let your whole outfit down when he got hurt. That you’d been riding him hard. But as squad leader that was your job and he just wasn’t getting it. Then with everything that happened after that.” Pops just shrugged.

It then clicked for Emil, him showing up at Lang’s house and seeming not care too much about Verdun had been exactly what Lang had needed. To think that he’d sought out Lang because he’d been the one having trouble dealing with things. “I swear I’m such a complete and total idiot” He said.

“Good” Pops said “When you figure that out it means that you’re finally starting to smarten up.”
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4th Division Bivouac, 15 kilometers south of Reims, France

Oberlieutenant von Hofstadter, was returning from his daily briefing with the Oberst in his immaculate, perfectly tailored uniform. It was not as if there was anything to be briefed on with the Division being held in reserve, mostly it was an excuse for the brass to get drunk before lunch. As usual he was walking like he had a stick up his ass. The Frog snipers would just love him to death if the Division ever got sent back to the front, Horst thought to himself.

The 4th Division had been transferred to the 2nd Army just after the race west and the Somme counteroffensive had concluded. Being put in reserve had come with that. After they had reached Bar-le-Duc they had turned west with the bulk of the 5th Army close behind. Rumors said that the plan was to attack the French lines from behind near Vouziers.

Then they had linked up with the 3rd and 4th Armies. There had been a great deal of confusion in that much of the French Army had pulled back towards Paris. What followed was days spent marching all day and through much of the night. Horst hadn’t been paying much attention but they must have paralleled their own lines so they were never far from their own logistical base. They had attempted to encircle the British at the Somme. Fighting their way through the British reserves eventually linking up with the 2nd Army at Warloy but not before the bulk of the BEF had escaped in what the British were calling the miracle on the Somme.

The thought rankled Horst. They could have won the war right there if they had just been a bit faster when they kicked to door shut.

“Oberfeld, Obersoldat” von Hofstadter said to Horst and Sjostedt as he walked by “I trust all was well while I was away.”

“Yes, Sir” Horst said. That was the other thing they hated about von Hofstadter, as far as they knew he’d never bothered to learn their names.

“Prick” Sjostedt said under his breath once the Oberlieutenant was out of earshot.

“Don’t worry about him” Horst said “He’s a self-correcting problem.”

“I’m not as patient as you are.”

“How do they handle things in Denmark?” Horst asked.

“The Hell if I know” Sjostedt said “I’m not from Denmark but my grandfather is sort of Danish, the border up where my family's farm is has wandered around a bit.”

“Then where are you from?”

“Me personally?”

“Yes, you.”

Sjostedt just shrugged “I was born on the Reservation in Four Corners north of Flagstaff where my grandfather ran the mission school and seriously do I look like I’m a Dane.”

Horst had to think about that for a minute. Sjostedt was one of the strangest looking people that Horst had ever seen. His blue eyes and extra pale skin was stereotypical Danish but his beak of a nose and coal black hair didn’t fit.

That was when there was a merciful interruption to an uncomfortable conversation. “One of you Walter Horst?”

It was one of Spaltz’s goons. Spaltz employed dozens of them and they all seemed to be of the same general type. Dangerous men who’d undoubtedly be in prison if they weren’t in the Army. “Yes, here” Horst said.

“What do you need this lot for?” The goon asked handing Horst a stack of French newspapers.

“I find them useful in the latrine” Horst said handing the goon the coins in payment.

The goon burst into laughter “I like your style” He said as he left. It was only half true but the goon didn’t need to know that.

When gold was worth its weight in a newspaper from home that was that was less than a month-old Horst had found being fluent in French was extremely useful. He could acquire a stack of French newspapers no more than two or three days old and get a lot of useful information by reading between the lines. Plus, they had that great dual use.

Opening the first one he let out a low whistle as he read the lead story.

“Big news?” Sjostedt asked.

“I’d say” Horst said “There was an attempted coup in France the other day and they have a new Prime Minister.”

“That’s good news for us, isn’t it?”

“Not this time, it says here that the plot was discovered and put down. But not before Aristide Briand was shot and killed by the plotters. He was replaced by Georges Clemenceau who took the guillotines out of storage and gave anyone remotely involved with the coup a public trim."

“Wait, the French government isn’t trying to keep this secret?” Sjostedt asked.

“No, it looks like Le Tigre, as the French press are calling him, is bragging about what he’s done.”

“Anything else?”

“Le Tigre really hates Germans” Horst said “And he just had General Philippe Petain appointed as Commander-in-Chief of the French Army.”

“The same General Petain who unloaded artillery shells on us by the train load and made us wade through blood for every inch of ground back in Verdun?”

“That’s the one” Horst said.

“Son of a bitch.”

“My thoughts exactly.”
 
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Part 2 Chapter 9
Chapter Nine

15th of September, 1916 Jena, Germany

Emil’s orders had finally arrived on late Friday afternoon. The powers that be had finally decided what to do with him and it did not include continuing to use him for propaganda. He was the flavor of the month after Verdun and now that month was over.

When the courier had delivered his orders, he’d opened the telegraph and read it twice the news was that good. He was to report no later than Monday 18th of September to 2nd Army Headquarters in Reims where he was appointed to the staff of General of Artillery Max von Gallwitz. He could tell his parents that his next posting was non-combat which would put him in good graces with them for the foreseeable future.

It had also said that he was promoted to Oberlieutenant effective immediately. In retrospect, he would eventually wonder why he’d been so happy about that promotion. As it turned out, it would be the last one he’d get for several years. And it would be the last promotion he’d get as an Officer of the Heer.

Emil felt buoyant as he entered the kitchen where his mother was working on dinner for that night. At the table his father, who knew from long experience to stay out of his mother’s way in the kitchen, was reading the newspaper with the headline, Army reaches outskirts of Meaux. That was getting close to Paris. Perhaps the war really would be over by Christmas this year.
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Felixstowe, Suffolk, England

Lieutenant John Tolkien stood at the rail of the ship witnessing a scene of total devastation as it pulled slowly up to the hastily rebuilt docks. It was thanks to the efforts Corporal Spaulding that he was here. Something for which he was eternally grateful. He’d never liked the idea of officers vs. enlisted, ordering men around on that basis. Spaulding was proof that nobility and grace were part of the human spirit, not in any artificial distinction based on class or rank.

The bustling seaport he’d passed through on the way to Flanders months earlier was simply gone. Even weeks later it looked like a giant hand had just brushed it all away. The town itself was just blasted rubble and of the quaint houses that had covered the hill above the port, only charred timbers poking up into the sky remained.

“The Huns did a right proper job on this place” The man standing next to him, who was dressed as a Naval Rating said “Them Huns think they got us down they got but they got another thing coming.”

While he had been recuperating in a Dutch hospital after the Germans had released him he’d learned about this. The papers there had said that barges loaded with bagged artillery propellant for the Somme campaign had been tied up to the docks when von Hipper had shown up. Rotten luck.

He’d also learned the staggering detail that the German Army Corps which had overrun his Company had advanced nearly 300 Kilometers in just 15 days. All the way from Verdun.

“You were over there, right?” The man asked interrupting his thoughts.

“I had the privilege being a guest of the German Heer” Tolkien said “In the end they decided I was too sick to be worth hanging on to.”

“You seem fine now” The man said.

“Pneumonia, the silent killer” Tolkien said tapping his chest with his fist. He recalled when he’d first started to get sick. During the walk through the rain that had seemed to have lasted for an eternity across what had been No Man’s Land. He and the thousands of others who’d stayed behind so that the BEF would live to fight another day stumbling in long line in the marshy ground of the Somme River Valley.

“Well, you’re back home now, Sir” The man said walking down the rail.

The ship was tied off and the gangplank was lowered with a thump. As Tolkien walked down to the dock he carefully paced himself. The Dutch doctors may have said he was fit enough to travel but he knew how easily winded he was.

As he stepped on to the dock, carefully minding his footing he looked up and through the crowd of people streaming off the ship he saw that Edith was there to greet him but hadn’t spotted him yet. He truly was home.
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Bank of the Sein River, Paris, France

Patrolman Jean Paul Montrose was walking his beat. After years in the police he was sometimes surprised he hadn’t walked holes through the city’s streets he’d done it for so long. He was a bit too old to be considered for the Army and worked what was regarded as an essential job but he could still crack heads with the best of them.

He’d learned to gauge the moods of Paris herself. Tonight, the city felt like a wounded animal crouched in darkness. Even the criminal element that normally haunted these streets had the sense to keep indoors tonight. The only parts of the city that were not dark and silent were the Élysée Palace and the Cathedral Notre-Dame. It was an open question if anyone might be listening in either place.

Not since the Paris Commune had a display like the one that had happened following the failed coup taken place. Killing Aristide Briand had proven to be the plotters undoing. Georges Clemenceau had stepped into the power vacuum and cleaned house. It was rumored that Le Tigre had used the opportunity to settle old political scores and he’d secured the support of General Petain by seeing to it that the minster who’d ordered the evacuation of Verdun over the General’s objections had been one of the first ones to get the chop.

Montrose was a pragmatist. He understood perfectly that it had taken extreme measures to cure what the Press had called Verdun disease that had gripped the French Army causing them to retreat in the face of the Germans during those terrible days in July. If weak-kneed incompetent politicians and military officers had to lose their head’s, then that was a small price to pay.
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Outside Meaux, France

Thousands of soldiers of the French 3rd and 4th Army Corps were on the move through the night. The order had come down to avoid shooting until absolutely necessary. The Generals wanted surprise to be complete and they let the men know that redemption came with it.

The leading elements of the German Heer had bedded down for the night confident of the victory that was within their grasp. Tonight, they would learn the price of hubris. In many places the sentries were cut down before they could make a sound, then the real killing began.

That morning as the Sun rose French artillery opened up along a 150-kilometer front. Trailing elements of the German 2nd and 5th Armies were caught flatfooted on the Eastern road.

On the 16th of September, 1916 Second Battle of the Marne had begun.
 
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TTL may well get to read LOTR, cool. The snippet about Emil's lack of promotions alludes to something goofing up his future. Will he piss off someone at the HQ?

Well thanks for the update. :)
 
Part 2 Chapter 10
Chapter Ten



The Second Battle of the Marne was the longest battle of the First World War. Lasting from September 16th, 1916 until October the following year. This battle marked what was then the surprising shift away from static trench warfare as necessitated by the emergence of new tactics and technologies. While the initial stages were fought along the Eastern road between Paris and Reims. Eventually it would encompass several hundred square miles and mark the emergence of maneuver warfare and defense in depth in the modern sense…

Excerpt from introduction of Road to Hell, The Second Battle of the Marne, 1998.



3rd October, 1916

Near Essômes-sur-Marne, France

“One more push and they’ve fold like a tent in a windstorm” von Hofstadter was saying with entirely too much enthusiasm to the platoon. Everyone knew it was crap, right now a push by them would be joyfully greeted with lots of bullets. With bayonets, shelling and chlorine gas on the side.

“I thought that you said that he’d be dead by now” Sjosted muttered to Horst.

“Tell it to the Frogs” Horst said as they walked through the farm fields that were between the road and the bank of the Marne River.

To think a couple weeks ago, their worst problem was boredom. Horst recalled that Emil Holz used to complain that he was right all the time. He knew that simply wasn’t true but he sincerely wished he’d been wrong about his conclusion about events in Paris. The 2nd and 5th Armies had been strung out along the Eastern road that ran from Reims to Paris when they’d gotten hammered by the French counterattack.

Petain had used his full bag of tricks. Endless shelling, fighting over every single inch of ground and there were the dark rumors that hundreds had died while they struggling to find their weapons in the dark while under attack. And somehow the French knew that the 4th Division had been the ones who’d taken Verdun, that brought out their absolute worst.

Now, they were ironically attacking the French so that they could retreat.

They were advancing across the fields between the river and the road when a machine gun opened up on the far side of the field. With long practice the platoon went flat but still someone must have gotten hit because Horst could hear the screaming.

“You think that you could get a grenade on that?” He yelled at Sjostedt who was a few meters ahead of him.

“It’s too far, I’m going to have to…” KLANK! Horst heard that followed by Sjostedt yelling and cussing in German, what sounded like English and a language he’d never heard before.

“Are you okay?” Horst asked as he crawled over to where Sjostedt was.

“What do you think?” Sjostedt asked angrily. Horst could see that across Sjostedt’s helmet was a bright mark where the paint was gone and it was bare metal. A French bullet had hit it and had been deflected off.

“I think you just used up your luck for the week.”

“I was afraid you were going to say something like that.” Sjostedt said as bullets zipped by uncomfortably close.

“Think we can get close enough to get that gunner?” Horst asked.

That was when the end of the field was hit with a series of explosions and an airplane few past seemingly inches over their heads pulling out of a dive. Then a second airplane went into an attack run and the end of the field where the machine gun was got hit again.

Horst leaped to his feet and ran forward, one of the French soldiers was on his feet wrestling with the Hotchkiss machine gun to attempt to shoot at the airplanes overhead. Horst fired his rifle at the man only to watch him drop the machine gun and run up onto the road and away.

“How’d you miss that shot” Sjostedt asked “It was what? 3 or 4 meters?”

Horst just shrugged, when you’re keyed up these things happened.

Horst could see the airplanes circling and the gunners were shooting at unseen targets on the road.

“Time to go” Sjostedt said.

Yeah, it was time to retreat, Horst thought. A French Division was due to come down this road in a couple of hours. Perhaps this had slowed them down just a bit.


Outside Albert, Northern France.

Emil watched as Army Pioneers took cutting torches to the British 4-inch field gun. An examination had revealed that it was a converted naval gun that had been placed on what looked like an improvised carriage. Even if the carriage wasn’t an issue then the lack of shells and propellant would be. The gun was deemed more trouble than it was worth. Which meant that it was being cut up, the sections loaded onto railcars destined for the Krupp Foundries. It was the exactly the opposite of the British 18 Pounder. Those had a field manual for them in German and they could go directly to Artillery units.

Emil’s assignment had turned out to be a Special Inspector, whatever that meant, for the 2nd Army. How that worked in practice was that he was part of a team whose job was to examine materials left behind by the British after their hasty retreat from the Somme battlefield.

Other teams were looking for things of intelligence value. What they had discovered had already changed the Army’s radio procedures drastically. Broadcasting daily status updates and positions of units might have brought joy to the hearts of Field Marshals who liked to move markers around on maps. However, it turned out that the French and British had been listening in as well, the whole time. There were rumors that the Navy’s team had discovered some things that they’d declared secret the instant they saw them.

The portion that he was involved with was British ordinance. Which was comparatively easy. He didn’t envy the people whose job was to figure out what to do with several million cases of bully beef and plum jam.

Several million rounds of .303 had made repurposing the large number of Lewis and Vickers machine guns easily enough. The large number of SMLE rifles had had proven problematic, German units tended to fire on anyone holding one based on the distinctive pig nose shape so no one wanted to touch one.

Other items, like Holt Tractors were considered so valuable that rewards were being offered to soldiers who had found any that were intact. Emil had seen several and didn’t understand what the big deal was.

A lorry pulled up and a man who Emil never wanted to see again stepped out. Stoltz was not like most people would imagine him. They pictured someone like the gangsters in the American films. Instead he was pale, thin-lipped, with an ageless face and dead eyes.

“Come up a bit in the world since the last time we saw each other Holz and I don't see your half Frog friend” Stoltz said, with a tone of voice that Emil knew was meant to piss him off “You think these aristocrats you are now surrounded by will ever except trash like you among them?”

“That’s none of your business Stoltz” Emil replied.

“The war’s not going to last forever” Stoltz said “When it’s done so are you unless you got another plan.”

That was it, the sales pitch but everyone knew that Stoltz always got the better of every deal.

“I’m not interested.”

“Just think about it” Stoltz said “I can make it so you make some real money, that way when the Army throws you out you’ll have something to fall back on.”

“I don’t intend to give the Army a reason to throw me out.”

“I figure a heroic oaf like you wouldn’t but I also know it doesn’t matter” Stoltz said “They’ll call it reserve status, give you a leave of absence or some such bullshit but it’ll all work out the same. You’ll be out on your ass.”

“Again, I’m not interested in whatever you’re selling.”

“Whatever, I’m not even here for you” Stoltz said “You know where Hauptman Bauer is?”

“He’s down the road in the command tent.”

With that Stoltz got in the Lorry and drove off. There was only one road through here. That meant that Stoltz had stopped just to needle him. Slimy bastard.

What did Stoltz want with his current commanding officer?
 
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