Devil's Guard, by George Robert Elford

Possibly the world's most popular inclination, the impulse to export your suffering to another seems to be near-universal. Not confined to any race, sex, or age category, the impulse to cause pain appears to well up from deep inside human beings. This is mysterious, because no one seems to enjoy pain when it is inflicted on them. Go figure.

Re: Devil's Guard, by George Robert Elford

Postby admin » Fri Jan 12, 2018 4:48 am

7. THE MAN-HAO INCIDENT

The village elder had refused to accommodate the Communist agitators; now he lay in his own doorway with a shattered skull. A frail little woman had tried to prevent the terrorists from recruiting her son. She too was dead among the smoldering ruins of what had been her house. The son, his hand still clutching the ax with which he had tried to rescue his mother, lay in a ditch filled with filth. In a small bamboo hut we discovered seven bodies; father, mother, grandfather, and four children—everybody stabbed, cut open, beaten to death, including the smallest of the victims, a baby in her crib. A girl, slim and pretty, lay across a low fence over which she was trying to flee when the bullet struck her. Her hand still clutched a broken doll and her lips were blue with death. Nearby a scraggy mongrel whined at the corpse of a man.

Along a low palisade we found the naked corpses of eleven Legionnaires. Their flesh was beaten into a swollen bluish pulp devoid of all human semblance and mutilated beyond description. They were all Germans, our veteran comrades for many years. Receiving the village elder's urgent request for evacuation, I had sent them forward to reassure the terrified people. Having refused to cooperate with the Viet Minh, the inhabitants had expelled the guerrilla agitators and had beaten one of them up in the heat of an argument. They had not done it because they were pro-French or hated Communists but for the simple reason that the war had so far avoided their hamlet and they had desired to preserve peace in their dwellings.

The Viet Minh revenge had been swift and ferocious. The Communists, who can exist only where terror prevails, decided to give a lasting example of what happens to the enemies of Father Ho's "soldiers," the guerrillas. The small platoon could not stem the human tide that descended on the community. It had been crushed by the sheer weight of enemy flesh.

We recovered ample evidence of their desperate last stand. The piles of spent shells around the palisade told us the whole sad story. There were no enemy corpses in evidence. When not pursued immediately, the terrorists would always carry away their dead to bury them secretly near their homes or in the hills. From the blood-soiled ground where they had fallen we computed the possible number of enemy casualties: one hundred and six altogether.

Walther Grobauer from Munich, Adolf Greilinger from Kiel, Kurt Heinzl, a veteran of the battle for Leningrad, Hans Aigner, Erich Stumme, Erich Windischmann from Berlin, Rupert Winkler, Max Hartmann, Hans Weber, the one-time panzer driver of the Afrika Korps, Friedrich Zimmermann and Alois Krupka, the two veterans of the last great battle on the Vistula. They had fought Communism for over a decade and had come a long way to fight it again and die. They will be forgotten heroes.

The survivors of the community, about sixty families, were leaving the village that could no longer offer them either food or shelter, let alone security—weeping, sagging people who had lost everything and everyone in a brief fury of hatred that had obliterated their past, present, and future. We stood in silent sympathy as our three tanks took positions at the foot of the hills. Our convoy of thirty American trucks looked strangely new and powerful as they loomed over the collapsed, blackened huts —a bit of the present dominating the ancient, the Stone Age. Yet all that those people had ever wanted was to be left alone to live their Stone-Age lives and never encounter anything "civilized." To them civilization meant tanks, machine guns, warplanes, death! But the entire world of "civilized" nations with all their humanitarian institutions and their United Nations could not fulfill the modest desire of these simple people: to be left alone, not to be bothered, not to be given anything except peace.

The civilized world is very generous. It provides even for those who neither sought nor wanted to receive its gifts.

Wherever we turned, corpses sprawled on the ground for acres around; here one, there in groups of five or more. Those who had escaped the massacre were trying to gather what was left of their possessions, pushing and pulling at the burned debris, still in a state of semi-stupor. Men, women, and children wailed over their dead or just stood petrified, gazing at the corpses in silent perplexity.

In and around a small Buddhist temple the survivors gathered. Erich and Helmut were busy opening tin cans to distribute corned beef, condensed milk, rice, and drinking water. The wells of the village could not be used. The terrorists had dumped corpses into them. Behind the temple, Eisner set up a first-aid station to care for the wounded. Some of the people had been hurt badly and for them Sergeant Zeisl, our chief medic, could do little beyond easing their pain with morphine. Others, only slightly injured, sat sullenly on the ground, holding a hand or a dirty rag over their wounds, waiting their turn.

Around eleven o'clock the sun was blazing furiously. Perspiration could not evaporate in the ninety percent humidity. We were all soaking wet and a great stink enveloped the crowd around the ambulance. The air was pregnant with the scent of sweat, blood, and human filth. From the ruins little groups of people dragged forward. Fathers pushed carts, the women hauled them with ropes. The children and old people rode in the carts, some wailing, others just staring with vacant eyes.

I was thinking of the villages which we had had to destroy in the past It was always the civilians who suffered, whichever side they adhered to. Even if they wanted to take no sides and remain out of trouble, the war struck them down. If they refused to accommodate the Viet Minh, the terrorists liquidated them without mercy. If they went "Red," the Foreign Legion exterminated them directly or indirectly. The people were trapped between the cogwheels of a murder mechanism which turned inexorably, churning up and crushing everyone it caught. It was easy to say, "C'est la guerre." We were not any better than the Viet Minh and we knew it. But we did want to fight a clean war and we were not the ones who started the atrocities.

We only retaliated in kind. We could do nothing else. The French tried to remain humane and their troops were dying like flies. We had no desire to die in Indochina. We knew that if anything could ever induce the Communists to recognize military conventions or even the fundamental principles of human law, it would be only their own terror. That might convince them that- they had better fight a man's war instead of a war of the wolves. The Viet Minh had to suffer immensely before they would do as much as recognize a Red Cross emblem. The Communists understand no language other than the cries of agony, to which they are accustomed. Kindness and sympathy or a humane approach will only make them suspicious. They know the world hates them, and that they can exist only by the force of arms, blackmail, fire, rebellion, destruction, death! We were resolved to make their lives a long cry of agony.

Still there was a slight difference between our opposing groups. We did feel remorse whereas they felt none. We could shed tears over a single fallen comrade. The Viet Minh were throwing away men the way we discarded cigarette butts. For us, spreading terror was the sole means of survival. The Viet Minh killed and mutilated for the sheer pleasure of seeing suffering and shedding blood.

I watched Schulze and Riedl as they distributed food, smiled and joked to cheer up the apathetic children. I recalled some past events when those very hands, my hands included, had gunned down similar children at another place without batting an eye. It was all so senseless, like a schizophrenic vision that would haunt us forever.

It was difficult to stay within reason when one beheld the abused corpse of a comrade for whom, the enemy thought, death alone had not been enough punishment. Nothing except our own survival could justify what we did and no sublime Communist slogans about "liberation" and "independence" could ever justify the ruthless genocide committed by the patriots of Ho Chi Minh. But in the end they will get the worst of the deal. Because one day we will depart. The assassins of the Viet Minh will have to stay to face their victims again and again, bracing against those who seek revenge. And there will be tens of thousands of people who will, one day, seek revenge; fathers, sons, or even mothers whose loved ones had been murdered by the "liberators." People can always be subdued by terror but nothing can make people forget. Neither the bayonets nor the secret police.

Corporal Altreiter and a platoon gathered the sad remains of our comrades. We buried them in a common grave over which Schulze planted a crude wooden cross which bore no names, only the short notice:

"Eleven comrades. Deutschland—Russland—Nord Afrika—Indochina" and the date. We will always remember their names. Others won't care who they were anyway.

The killers had to be punished but there was no need for us to hurry. The village lay only eight miles from the Chinese border and the assassins were low on ammunition; they wouldn't stay in the vicinity. Most of the victims had been stabbed or clubbed to death. The terrorist unit was on its way home to a base near Man-hao, China. They must have already crossed the border. The survivors insisted that there were many Chinese "officers" with the Viet Minh. The village had been attacked by at least three hundred guerrillas.

"I think this is Ming Chen-po's handiwork," Eisner remarked and I agreed. The people spoke of a "one-armed Chinese" who seemed to be in command of the terrorist group. Ming was known to have lost an arm to the Japanese artillery in 1939, and I had seen some of the hamlets overrun by the troops of this one-time bandit and now People's Commissar.

It was a known fact that Chinese "experts" and even militiamen were actively engaged in terrorist ventures within French Indochina. I had sent several reports to Hanoi drawing attention to their activities in the border provinces but the High Command could do little to retaliate. "Kill as many of them as possible," said Colonel Houssong, "but take no Chinese prisoners. Mao couldn't care less about losing a million volunteers in Indochina but if we displayed a single Chinese prisoner, he would be pushed into saying something to the world. And Mao would never admit that he was guilty of armed intrusion into French territory. He would demand the release of a Chinese officer whom the French had kidnapped from Chinese territory (where he was probably engaged in the peaceful activity of planting potatoes in the garden behind the guardhouse)." The Communists are superb liars. They are quite capable of delivering a fat lie so convincingly, or at least vehemently, that even their victim will later apologize for having erred.

Ming had a base across the frontier and was wary enough never to venture too deep into Indochina. We suspected that the terrorists had established a base, a sort of advance command post, somewhere within a fifty-mile radius of Man-hao. The Chinese advisers remained there, while the native Viet Minh embarked on more distant missions. Whenever the Legion pursued them, they quickly retreated into their sanctuary where no French troops could follow them. Ming was an old quarry of ours. Twice in seven months we had been compelled to abandon pursuit because of the border.

Now I felt it was time to get even with the terrorists of Ming, wherever they might be. I decided to demolish their home base some twenty-odd miles inside China. Should we succeed we could keep our mouths shut and enjoy being rid of Ming. Should we lose, none of us would give a damn what Hanoi or Peking might say or do. With a bullet in the head one has no worries. Both Hanoi and Peking were far away. Our enemy was temptingly close.

I turned the thought over and over in my mind, checked our stores, the maps, and found the idea feasible. The battalion had refrained from crossing the frontier before. The enemy would not suspect us now. I summoned my companions and motioned them to sit down around a table in the ambulance tent.

"What's up, Hans?" Schulze queried. "Anything wrong?"

"Nothing's wrong," Eisner spoke before I could answer. "I think we are going to leave here soon." He jerked a thumb toward the Chinese frontier. "That way!"

I nodded and announced without preliminaries, "We are going to blast the camp of Ming Chen-po!"

Pfirstenhammer gaped. "At Man-hao?"

"That's right."

Riedl whistled and Karl pursed his lips in a grin. Schulze began to rub his scalp. "Well?" I asked them. "What do you think of it?"

Riedl shrugged. "I always wanted to see China."

"You won't be seeing much of it," Schulze chuckled, "but if we want to say good-night to Ming this is the time to say it. We don't have to walk far."

"That's right," Karl agreed as Eisner remarked, "Headquarters will be mad as hell."

"Who cares?" Schulze hitched his chair closer. "Let's have a look at the maps." He glanced at me. "I presume this is going to be a strictly private enterprise, Hans?"

"Naturally. We cannot request a permit to enter China and we can never admit having done so."

"How about Colonel Houssong?" Karl inquired. "I am sure he would love it. Provided, of course, that we return without leaving corpses behind . . . our own corpses."

Eisner thought the raid was within our "means," and Riedl said that for him it was alles Wursl. He suggested that with the Man-hao business done we might as well take the train to Peking and free the Republic. "After all, Mao has only about seven thousand divisions and of these only seven carry guns, the rest clubs," he said.

We quickly decided to leave our uniforms behind, along with identity tags and personal papers. Pfirstenhammer swore because we selected him to remain with the convoy and take care of the villagers. "We need a competent man to maintain the perimeter. I cannot leave the convoy to a corporal," I stated flatly. "Some of us will have to stay, Karl."

"How about Riedl?" Pfirstenhammer exclaimed indignantly. "He is just as competent as I am." He turned toward Riedl. "Aren't you, Helmut?"

"Why pick on me? I haven't got a sore leg. Besides I can shoot a lot better than you ever will."

"Let's bet on it," Karl exploded.

"Keep your shirts on, men!" I snapped. "This is not going to be a pleasure trip into the bordellos of Man-hao and I am still the one who decides who is to stay."

"Why not Eisner?" Karl argued. "He is old anyway."

"Who, me?" Bernard turned sharply and began to rise. "Would you care to prove it, Karl? How about stepping behind those trucks for a moment?"

"Sit down!" I pushed him back. "And now shut up, all of you. Karl, you still have a sore leg and we cannot expect you to walk the sixty miles there and back."

"I like your good heart, Hans," Pfirstenhammer growled but he sat down.

I estimated the expedition would last for about four days and that we could never enter China without a proper guide. We needed a map or diagram of the area so that we could make a rough plan. Fortunately smuggling was a common and respectable profession in the border villages because French wares fetched good prices in China. Eisner thought that it should not be difficult to find people who were familiar with the other side of the frontier. Calling for our interpreter, he left for the temple to talk to the survivors.

After a while Eisner returned with two men and a girl about twenty years of age. Although her high-necked smock was burned and soiled, I noticed immediately that she belonged to the "upper class" of the community.

"You may trust them," Eisner advised me in German. "Phu has just lost his wife and child, Cao's father and mother were gunned down, and the girl, her name is Suoi, lost her entire family of six. She is all alone now. She has been in Man-hao."

"And the men?"

"They know some trails across the frontier."

Before the war Suoi had attended a French missionary school at Lao Kay, and she spoke good French. She was a very pretty girl with long black hair which she wore in braids. Small but beautifully proportioned, she had almond eyes and a slightly upturned nose. Now her eyes were swollen but dry, for she could no longer cry. Looking at her as she sat staring at the table, still in a semi-stupor, she reminded me of Lin. How identical were their stories. Separated from one another only in time and space, they were victims of a common enemy. It pained me that we had to torment her with questions.

Her male companions were deeply shaken but in their eyes I could see nothing but murder. It has often astonished me how much suffering the Orientals can bear without breaking down. Pain which would have sent a white man raving mad they often withstood without a moan. It might have been their heritage of countless centuries. Death came often and unexpectedly into Oriental homes, even in times of peace.

"We shall go with you," Phu stated resolutely. "Will you give us weapons, so that we may kill?"

"We want to do nothing but kill . . . kill . . . kill every Viet Minh and every Chinaman," Cao added vehemently. "When a thousand enemy die, we will rest . . . but not before."

"You might kill, too," Schulze nodded. From his map case he took a sheet of paper and laid it on the table. "We are going to punish the terrorists who killed your people. They have a camp in China where they feel safe. You can help us to wipe them out, but first of all you must tell us everything you know about the land between the border and Man-hao."

Erich drew a line across the paper which followed roughly the contours of the border. "This is Lao Kay and here we have Ch'i-ma-pa." He put a few minute rings on the paper. "Here we have Muong . . . and the line here is the Song river . . . they call it Kiang in China." Working briskly he added more and more details, carefully adopting the approximate positions from the map. "This is Man-hao with the railway line to the north connecting Lao Kay and Meng-tzu." He glanced at the two men.

Phu nodded. "You draw well," he remarked with appreciation which Schulze acknowledged with a quick smile.

"Now tell me about every hill, road, path, creek, stream, ravine, settlement, or lonely hut that you know of between this village and Manhao. Try to recall the distances between them."

With the interpreter translating, Schulze began to question the men expertly, mapping details however small or insignificant. He interrupted the men every now and then to double-check miles, yards, or even paces between the various topographical objects, which he then marked on the map. Phu and Cao knew the frontier area well but they had never ventured as far as Man-hao. "There are Chinese militia posts here," Cao announced suddenly. He pointed at a spot on Erich's diagram.

"How many posts are there?"

"Two posts. One right along the road, the second farther up on a small hill." Schulze drew a wavy circle marking the hill. "What is the distance between the posts, Cao?"

"About five hundred yards."

"Is it on the left or on the right side of the road?"

"On the right side," Cao said without hesitation.

"I see," Erich nodded. "How high is the hill?"

"Not very high. Maybe four hundred feet."

"Is it forested?"

"No trees. The militia cut the trees. Otherwise they could not see the road and the railway line."

"There are trees," Phu interposed, "but only halfway up the hill."

Schulze shaded the hill accordingly. "Are there trees all around?"

"Yes," said Cao. "And there are two paths up to the guardhouse, one facing the road, the other one leading into the hills." He leaned closer to the diagram and drew a line with his finger. "This way the path runs."

"On the northern side?"

"Yes."

Schulze was very talented in drawing accurate maps of uncharted lands. Questioning the villagers on details, he proceeded from sector to sector. More than an hour went by before he finally announced, "I think it will do, Hans."

We had a diagram of the Chinese side of the border; every creek, path, ravine that the men could recall had been marked with numbers indicating the approximate distances, grade of elevation, and similar data. Eisner sent a trooper for tea and sandwiches.

"Eat something, Suoi. You must be very hungry," he said to the girl. She shook her head at the food but accepted the tea, then burst into tears once again. "We know it is difficult for you to talk now," Erich said softly, "but you must help us. You are the only one who knows Man-hao, where the guerrillas are hiding, Suoi. If we don't smite them now, they will return to murder more people."

Burying her face in her hands, she sobbed.

"Let her be!" Riedl exclaimed indignantly. "She is only a young girl trying to bear a terrible grief."

Karl swore between his teeth. "They didn't spare a soul in her family. She is alive only because she was visiting another family when the raiders came, and escaped into the jungle."

Schulze prepared another sheet of paper and waited patiently for Suoi to gather herself. Phu spoke to the girl quietly in her native tongue, and after a while she dried her eyes and announced that she was ready to help us. Erich drew her closer and ran a line across the center of the paper, explaining softly, "This is the river right across Man-hao. Can you recall how many bridges are there, Suoi?"

"Oui, monsieur. There are two bridges," she replied.

"In the center of the town or outside it?"

"One of them is in the center, at the marketplace. Near a small temple."

"So we have a square with a temple," Erich noted down, sketching rapidly. I was thinking of the excellent maps of the Chinese cities gathering dust in the reference section of our Troisieme Bureau.

"How long is the square, Suoi?" I heard Erich asking.

"It is not a very large square. Maybe a hundred paces across."

Schulze's pencil worked but he kept talking to hold the girl's attention. "And the bridge ... is it opposite the temple?"

Suoi shook her head. "No monsieur. It is on the right side."

"A stone bridge?"

"Oui," she nodded. "The other bridge is near the end of the road to Mengtzu," she added, placing her finger on the drawing. "Here, along the river is a market with many shops."

"Very good, Suoi." Erich paused for a short while, then glanced up. "Do you remember how many streets enter that square?"

Suoi was thinking. "I think five. Three streets run opposite the river, two others parallel with it, on both sides of the square. The right side road goes uphill to where the militia barracks are."

Schulze looked up sharply. We were on the right track. I nodded. "Go on, Erich. You seem to be doing fine."

"Now this is very important, Suoi," Erich went on. "Is it the only road to the barracks, or have you seen other roads too?"

"The other road goes to Meng-tzu," she said.

"I see. Now about those militia barracks. Have you ever been close to them?" Suoi shook her head. "No, monsieur. No one is allowed up there. The soldiers have barriers on the road."

"How far from the barracks?"

"At the bottom of the hill," she said. "With guardhouses."

"Is there a wall around the camp?" Eisner cut in. Suoi turned slightly and shook her head. "Only a wire fence."

"No trees?"

"No," she replied, "the hill is bare."

"We will take heavy MG's," Eisner remarked rather to himself.

Erich lifted his legs and swung around on his chair. Surveying the neighborhood briefly, he pointed at a nearby hill. "Is the barrack hill as high as this one, Suoi?"

The girl turned, observed the elevation briefly, then replied, "Not as high —and not as steep."

"More like the one over there?"

"Like that one!" Suoi exclaimed pointing toward a hill. "It is very similar to that one."

Erich questioned her about the hills near Man-hao and gradually his design began to fill with details. Adjoining the militia barracks, we thought, should be the Viet Minh compound. Unfortunately Suoi could not tell how many barracks were there or how large, information which would have enabled us to compute the number of troops the buildings could accommodate. She thought the barracks were of wood but she could not say for sure.

"We will have to send in a reconnaissance party before the attack," I said, satisfied with what we got on Erich's diagrams. "Their going will be a great deal easier now."

I had confidence in our chances. With the advantage of surprise on our side, we should be able to destroy some of the installations and deliver a crippling blow to the enemy manpower—if only for a few weeks. We were almost seven hundred strong, but I decided to take along only two hundred men. With the aid of Schulze's diagrams we prepared a rough plan, subject to adjustment later on, according to the reconnaissance findings: a two-pronged attack with Eisner and myself moving in from the east, while Schulze and Riedl would advance from the north. The raid would be timed for eleven P.M., late enough for the troops to be in bed yet still early enough for some important buildings to remain illuminated.

Since we were to cross the railway line, Riedl suggested that we might as well blow a couple of holes in the tracks. But as far as I knew, there was no railway traffic between Meng-tzu and Lao Kay. Therefore I opposed the idea of wasting time on a line that was not in use. If we wanted to damage the Chinese communications the right place to do it was farther up between Man-hao and Meng-tzu, a fifteen-mile diversion which I dared not risk. The Chinese had considerable forces at Meng-tzu, barely fifty miles away from our intended place of attack. They could rush reinforcements to Man-hao within an hour— if not to the town itself, then to block our way of retreat farther north.

I decided to depart the same evening on a rarely used smuggler's trail which Phu and Cao had known since childhood. The trail was far removed from the regular patrol routes of the militia. Schulze and Eisner left to select weapons for the coming action: twenty machine guns, thirty light mortars with ten rounds each, twelve bazookas, and a dozen flamethrowers, which latter I consider the most effective weapon against guerrillas. We also packed grenades and demolition charges. For ammo, Eisner selected tracers, which were psychologically more effective than ordinary bullets. The glowing ribbons of tracers always panic the enemy. The more fireworks we displayed the greater their confusion.

Ordinary bullets deliver a sudden and invisible death; an instant before the fatal hit the enemy gunner still fires his weapon, and may cause casualties. With tracers it is different. "Death" can actually be seen as it creeps closer and closer and when the glowing ribbons of destruction begin to flicker overhead the enemy gunner will stop firing and will, instinctively, seek shelter. By cutting down the enemy's "time of activity," if only for seconds, one may save the lives of a few comrades. A small tactical point which, naturally, was never incorporated in the Legion's Les Principes de la Guerre.

The actual raid, I thought, should not last longer than fifteen minutes. "Do not get wounded," Eisner warned the troops. "Stay under cover and take no chances. You know the rules."

They knew them. We could not leave corpses behind to provide the Chinese with evidence. Casualties were to be destroyed with grenades and flamethrowers. A macabre arrangement but we had no choice.

The most important part of our venture was to find a safe place which was secluded enough to conceal two hundred men for a whole day. It was impossible to reach our destination in a single night and the enemy should not detect our presence prematurely. On the return leg of the trip we planned to march through, covering the entire distance in about fifteen hours. Phu recalled a cave on the Chinese side which, he insisted, was large enough to hold us during the hours of daylight. It was also close enough to Man-hao. By questioning Phu again, Schulze was able to pinpoint the approximate location of the cave and mark it on his diagram.

When dusk fell we changed into native pajamas. Eisner had some difficulty finding a pair of boots small enough to fit Suoi's little feet, but Erich solved the problem with additional padding. The trip was to be a tiresome one and her sandals would not have lasted long. She, too, had changed into man's clothes. I advised her to stay close to me all the time.

"I don't care if they kill me," she replied and her remark drew a sharp reproach from Schulze.

"You should not say such a thing, Suoi. We also have lost many people whom we loved. There is not a man among us who has not mourned someone."

"You have each other," she said quietly. "I am alone in the world with no place to go."

"You are not alone, Suoi," Erich answered. "You do have a family, a very large one. A whole battalion." He reached under her chin and tilted up her face gently. "Will you accept us to be your family?"

She smiled through tears. "If you don't expect me to cook for you. ..."

Looking at Schulze and Riedl as they flanked the girl, I saw Eisner was suppressing a grin and instantly I realized that my battalion had indeed "adopted" Suoi. If not the battalion, then at least Erich Schulze.

"What will you do with her, back in Hanoi?" I asked nonchalantly.

Erich shrugged. "Oh, hell, we will put her up somewhere. If every one of us gives her a hundred piasters every month, she can live like a princess."

"When we move out again, she can join us," Riedl added enthusiastically.

"Like hell she can! We have enough trouble without girls in the show."

"She is a clever girl, Hans. She speaks good French. We can always use a good interpreter," Erich argued.

"Do you want to see her killed?"

"We have been in business for a long time and we are still around. Not every bullet stings."

"No . . . only the one you bump into. How about that bullet they dug out of your ass?"

Eisner cut in. "I like the way you are discussing the girl's future.

Shouldn't you ask her?"

Schulze waved him down. "Later I will ask her."

We moved out at 9:30 P.M. with our footwear wrapped in cloth to deaden sound. Phu and Cao received their machine pistols and were leading the way with steady strides. We crossed the rugged frontier without difficulty. The men kept at arm's length. Our guides must have known the path indeed, for they marched without hesitation in what seemed to me utter darkness, giving an occasional warning on obstacles or steep descents. Gradually the clouds dispersed, allowing the half moon to shine dimly. Around two o'clock we were already three miles inside China and the going was still good. I held four brief pauses mainly for Suoi's benefit. The little native girl was following me bravely and without complaining. She accepted my hand whenever we hit an obstacle or held onto my belt when we had to climb.

"Say, Hans," Schulze turned to me during one of our short halts, "you aren't booking the girl for yourself, are you? I am kind of interested in her."

"I've noticed that already, Erich, but for the time being I prefer your concentrating on our expedition."

The sun was rising when we arrived at the cave. It was a quarter of the way up a precipitous cluster of rocks that towered a hundred feet over a gorge. A narrow path led to the opening. Only one man at a time could climb up. The place was entirely surrounded with densely forested hills. Phu reassured me that there were no people for miles around. The cave was large, at least three hundred feet deep and thirty feet high. Examining our hideout, Schulze expressed his surprise at the Viet Minh's failure to utilize that natural strongpoint so well suited for storing weapons. Cao, however, explained that when it rained, and especially during the monsoon, the cave filled with water and became useless.

"And apart from that," Eisner added, "you forget that we are in China proper where the Viet Minh have depots right along the road."

Farther inside, where the bottom appeared sloping inward, I saw a large pool of clear water. It solved our cooking problems. Everyone selected a relatively dry spot to stretch out and settle for a nap. The place was rather warm but a slight, persistent draft felt refreshing. With the cotton paddings from some ammo boxes Schulze improvised a comfortable cot for Suoi. She lay down and quickly fell asleep. I ordered Corporal Altreiter to post guards at the cave's entrance, then I, too, stretched out with a rucksack under my head. Sleep, however, evaded me for a long time and thoughts flooded my mind to keep me awake. I was thinking of the ruined village, the Viet Minh, the Foreign Legion with its vanishing gloire, the rising Chinese monolith in the north that should never have been permitted to be born, let alone to live and grow—the whole insane situation, with us killing hundreds of little yellow men here, trying to rescue other hundreds of the same stock somewhere else....

Thinking of America and England now fighting their own little war in Korea, I could have laughed, had not the fate of the entire civilized world been hitched inexorably to their shaky wagon. The two great pillars of democracy and freedom had been chivalrously allied to Stalin, whom they could have sent reeling back to Russia's prewar frontiers in 1945, when only the United States had the nuclear bomb and Russia was at the end of her endurance. A simple ultimatum would have sufficed to preserve Europe and maybe the world from Communism. There would be no People's Democracies now, no Red China, no Korean war, and no Viet Minh.

I could not regard the Viet Minh as other than sub-humans, whom one should squash without the slightest remorse. To me they were nothing but one of the loathsome heads of a many-headed dragon who might belch fire at any part of the world if not stopped. To be sure, there were the rare occasions when mutual sanity prevailed in Indochina. Fighting near Muong Sai, two French officers and thirty men were captured by the guerrillas under the command of a young Communist troublemaker, Bao Ky. Bao retained a certain degree of common sense. Having disarmed the prisoners he stripped them to their underwear and sent them away saying that he had neither place nor food for prisoners.

When five months later we had the pleasure of capturing Bao with twelve guerrillas, we likewise only stripped them (bare, of course, for they wore no underpants), decorated their bottoms with a painted Red star and sent them away unharmed. It was against our standing orders to set prisoners, especially guerrilla leaders, free, but to be frank we never cared much for certain orders coming from above and did as we considered right in a given circumstance. By releasing Bao and his men, I hoped to spread a bit of goodwill in the jungle. And when, capturing a Viet Minh camp, we discovered two wounded Legionnaires in a hut, bandaged and properly fed, I ordered food and medical treatment for the captive guerrillas, who were then transported to a prison camp instead of being lined up and bayoneted, our customary treatment for captive terrorists. Unfortunately such events were as rare as a white raven.

There were four classes of guerrilla leaders in Indochina. Those who had received indoctrination and training in China were the worst ones, and for whom no brutality seemed cruel enough. The bloodiest atrocities, murder, and mutilation we're not only tolerated but encouraged by them. They believed that military or ideological discipline should be maintained on pain of severe punishment: beating, mutilation, or death. Their method was as brutal as it was naive. The Chinese-educated commissar invariably tried to further the cause of Communism by denying the people the barest necessities of life, or by simply beating a "candidate" into submission. (I believed that our long-sought foe, Ming Chen-po, was a sadist; a mentally ill person who tortured in the most cruel fashion for the sheer pleasure of seeing blood and corpses. Ming was about fifty years old, a born marauder and a common bandit before he joined Mao's rugged army on the Long March north. He had fought the Japanese, then Chiang Kai-shek and afterwards the "class enemy" within China. To save ammunition and time, he is said to have executed two thousand Nationalist prisoners by dumping them bound and gagged onto the Yunnan railway line and running a locomotive over the lot. He called his "system" the cheapest and fastest way of decapitation.)

Guerrilla leaders coming from the Soviet school showed more common sense and were more sophisticated in their manners and methods. Few of them would resort to senseless terror to win popular support. While the Chinese type of revolutionary would move into a village and allow fifteen minutes for the population to choose between joining the party or receiving a bullet through the head, the Russian-educated commissar would talk to the people about their problems, give them brief lectures about the aims of the liberators, or even help the peasants with their work. They took great pains to depart, at least for the time being, as friends who would one day return. And even if the people did not become convinced followers of Lenin outright, they would not betray the guerrillas either.

Members of the third group had been educated either in French schools or in France proper. They seldom committed excesses and usually kept to a sort of military code of honor. But such leaders lived in a kind of Red limbo, for the hard-core Communists never trusted them enough to give them any significant role in the game. The French-educated rebel leaders seemed more interested in establishing a truly independent Indochina than a Communist slave state.

The fourth category consisted of leaders who rose from the local masses. They may have commanded a large band of terrorists but they never ventured far from their own villages. And there was also a fifth group of "freedom fighters" which consisted entirely of common marauders without any political aim. They fought only for spoils and were treated by the Legion accordingly.

After four hours of rest Altreiter, three men, and Phu departed on a reconnaissance mission to Man-hao, which I estimated lay about twelve miles towards the southwest. We spent the morning cleaning weapons, playing cards, or holding language courses. Riedl gave Suoi a small automatic pistol and taught her how to handle it. "Just in case," he remarked— although I had no intention of taking the girl into any skirmish with the enemy. Both Riedl and Schulze were obviously very fond of Suoi and were trying their best to comfort her.

Suoi told us the whole tragic story of the previous day's attack. Her father had been wealthy until the terrorists struck. He had owned five hundred acres of rice paddies, a giant estate by local standards and the reason why her family had become a primary target of the Red exterminators. They had wiped out all the other families of means. "They came to the village before but never killed people, only took a toll in grains and livestock which we gladly parted with for peace in return," Suoi explained. "Whenever they visited us my father gave them money to ransom our safety. My father would never consider leaving. 'Communism, like a bad disease, will pass,' he used to say. He believed that his money was buying medicine for that disease. But in the .past there were no Chinese among the guerrillas."

"How many Chinese were with them yesterday?" I asked.

"There must have been over twenty militiamen among the Viet Minh."

"Do your parents have relatives, Suoi?"

"My father's brothers are dead. My mother's brother lives in France. We received some letters from him but those were in the house. I don't even know his address."

"Don't worry, Suoi," Riedl said. "We will find him somehow."

Schulze nodded. "We sure as hell will."

"I have nothing left on earth, not even money to buy food or clothes," the girl whispered as her eyes filled. "What money my father kept at home the Chinese took away. He has much money in a Hanoi bank but I don't know which one or how to get it."

"Of course she has money!" Erich exclaimed in German. "Her father must have kept funds in reserve. He was a wealthy man."

Suoi could not tell us anything else. Whatever papers her father may have had relating to his finances and the family holdings must have been destroyed in the fire.

"A twisted, burned copper chest was all we found in the ruins," Eisner explained. "Even the corpses were burnt beyond recognition. Nothing as inflammable as paper could have escaped the holocaust."

"When we get back to Hanoi we will go from bank to bank until we find the right one," Schulze stated determinedly.

"I doubt if the bank will give her any money before a legal process establishes her as the rightful heir," Eisner commented. "Why, she cannot even prove who she is."

"Like hell she can't," Riedl exclaimed. "We can testify!"

"That might not be enough, Helmut."

"You leave the legalities to me," Schulze said firmly. "Once I get to the right counter she will receive what belongs to her if I have to blast the manager for it."

Knowing him, I had no doubt that Erich meant what he said. But blasting Viet Minh terrorists and blasting Hanoi bank managers were two different things.

"We will talk to the colonel about Suoi's inheritance," I suggested. "You remember Lin? Houssong won't refuse to help Suoi either. He might vouch for her or get the high brass to interpose."

"You take care of the colonel; I will take care of the bank," said Erich. "No red tape is going to deprive the girl of what is still hers."

"I will handle both the colonel and the bank manager, Erich," I said somewhat sharply.

"As you wish, Hans."

The reconnaissance party returned about four o'clock in the afternoon, soaking wet and muddy but bringing good intelligence. Corporal Altreiter had observed the military encampment for over two hours and had drawn a diagram of the area. There were twelve wooden barracks in the compound. Adjoining it, the Viet Minh camp had only tents. The barracks were each about sixty feet long, with eight windows on either side and exits at both ends. One of the buildings, probably the command post, had wireless aerials. Another barrack with more chimneys was obviously the kitchen and mess hall.

That left us with ten living quarters. Since the eight windows were most likely at the intervals between the bunk beds, a quick estimate established the number of bunks at either 30/32 single, or 60/64 double, giving a total number of troops as either 320 or 640. The tents could accommodate about 200 guerrillas.

The possible number of enemy troops in the camp ruled out a direct assault on the enclosure. Hand-to-hand combat was likely to develop and I dared not risk heavy casualties. The presence of fourteen heavy trucks in the compound was welcome news. According to Altreiter the vehicles had just arrived with supplies, most of them ammunition. He saw militiamen and guerrillas unloading the crates and piling them up alongside the barracks. The crates were covered only with tarpaulin sheets. This casual arrangement of storing explosives suggested one of two alternatives, either that the underground ammo depots were loaded to capacity or that the new supplies were to be moved again shortly, for all we knew maybe into Indochina. Either way it was a most fortunate coincidence. A few direct hits on the crates could dispatch the entire camp into the Great Beyond. On his sketch Corporal Altreiter had also marked a row of large drums which he believed contained diesel oil or gasoline. The drums were fairly close to the underground ammunition dumps that the reconnaissance party had detected as a number of earth mounds with ventilation chimneys.

The railway line which we were to cross and recross ran only three miles from the cave. Contrary to my belief, the line was still in use, Altreiter reported. The Chinese used it to ferry supplies to the various border posts facing Lao Kay. "There is a small steel bridge not very far off," he said. "Sentries are posted on the bridge itself."

I decided to demolish the bridge and its guardhouse on the way back. Phu said that the adjoining hills were densely forested and offered ample cover. Except for Phu, whom we were resolved to carry if necessary, I wanted the reconnaissance party to remain in the cave. Weary as they were, the men insisted on making the trip for a second time. "We have earned our right to be present at the party, Commander," the troopers insisted. I consented. And since I no longer intended to storm the Chinese compound I decided to leave Suoi and half of the troops behind. Due to the successful reconnaissance it was unnecessary to take the girl along on the perilous journey.

We departed at dusk, a hundred men altogether, moving at good speed through the hills. Unencumbered by our close-combat weapons which we had left behind, we could move faster. Phu reassured me that except for the guardhouse near the bridge—which we were to bypass by two miles—there was not a soul around. But on arriving at the railway line we almost ran into four militiamen patrolling the tracks. Fortunately Phu spotted them in time and we were able to retreat a few hundred yards and then to proceed half a mile further west. Apart from this interlude our trip was without excitement.

By eleven o'clock we were deploying on the two hills that overlooked the militia barracks some five hundred yards to the south. No raiders could have hoped for an easier target. The windows of the command post were ablaze with lights and we could hear faintly the steady drone of an electric generator. The barracks and the tents were dark but a multitude of external lamps illuminated the entire camp. Beyond the hill the town of Man-hao was blanketed in darkness. Only the militia had the privilege of electricity. The population had to make do with their oil lamps.

Faithfully following the teachings of their great Mao, the Chinese kept a vigorous daily schedule in their army camps. At ten P.M. sharp, the troops had to be in their bunks: "Men who sleep well at night shall march better the next day," Mao said. For once, Mao was wrong. At least at Man-hao, where his militia would march nowhere the next day, except into oblivion.

At precisely 11:10 P.M. we opened fire on the camp with twenty fifty-caliber machine guns and thirty mortars. The rest of my men fired at individual targets with their rifles. The effect of our unexpected attack was instantaneous. Screaming lines of tracers tore across the valley, peppering the barracks, ripping the tents, blasting the parked trucks, mowing down men. Some shells of the first mortar salvo landed short but thereafter every projectile was on target. Instead of turning out the lights the bewildered militiamen turned on even those that had been out. Our riflemen shot through the lighted windows. Groups of yelling, screaming men ran up and down in the compound and fell under a hail of steel.

Two minutes after our first volley half a dozen mortar shells hit a pile of ammunition crates which exploded instantly with a blinding flash of fire. The blast demolished both the command post and the mess hall, along with the barracks immediately behind them. Seconds later the dumps began to blow up one after another, sending crazily zigzagging fireworks about the hill. The lights went out, but by then the hilltop shone like the rim of a volcano. I doubted if a single soul escaped the ensuing fire and multiple explosions.

The camp had turned into a sea of flames. The drums, containing diesel oil and gasoline, began to burn and burst. The oil leaked into the underground depots like java. The depots, too, began to explode, ripping hundred-foot-wide gaps into the hillside.

I ordered cease-fire. The troops assembled and we marched away. The job was done. The time was 11:23 P.M.

Reaching the railway line, Riedl went ahead with a small party. He found the eight guardsmen crowding atop the guardhouse. They were watching the fire lit skies, chattering excitedly. Helmut mowed them down with a single burst of his submachine gun, then tossed a couple of grenades into the writhing mob for good measure. The guardhouse and the bridge were demolished. Schulze proceeded to plant our remaining mines along the line and the adjoining footpath "to get a few of the bastards later on," as he put it. Our two Indochinese friends asked my permission to collect the weapons of the dead Chinese, saying that they could use the rifles later on, at home.

It was becoming light when we arrived at the cave where our comrades had been waiting tensely. "You have not missed a thing," Schulze consoled them. "A bunch of boy scouts could have blasted the camp with all the ammo crates scattered around. You just spared yourselves a long walk."

The company arrived at Suoi's village at dusk—dead tired but in very cheerful spirits. We had no way of knowing whether Ming had been among the Man-hao casualties but he was never again spotted in Indochina.

"There was a mighty blast in Man-hao," Colonel Houssong remarked two weeks later when I submitted to him my report on our recent activities. "The whole militia went up in smoke and the Chinese suffered nearly a thousand casualties, among them a corps commander from Yunnan."

"Well, isn't that something, mon colonel?" Schulze exclaimed with enthusiasm. "It's the first good news for months!" He turned toward me with pretended innocence. "Imagine, Hans ... we were only about thirty miles from the place."

"That's exactly what I was thinking," Colonel Houssong cut in, stressing his words.

"We didn't notice a thing, mon colonel," I said.

"I wonder."

"Mon colonel, everyone knows how careless the Chinese are. They probably stored ammunition crates in the open and lightning struck the dump. It has happened before."

"Lightning my foot!" he cut me short. "There has been no storm around there for weeks. A couple of eighty-caliber lightnings with fins maybe. I wonder if I should check your inventories on the ammo you received and what you brought back. Come on, Wagemueller, how did you pull it?"

I told him the whole story and he sent a report saying:

"Terrorist group of about two hundred men and a large quantity of ammunition destroyed 35 miles northwest of Lao Kay."

Needless to say, the General Staff would never bother to check that anyplace thirty-five miles northwest of Lao Kay was well within Red China!
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Re: Devil's Guard, by George Robert Elford

Postby admin » Fri Jan 12, 2018 4:49 am

8. RAID INTO CHINA

Three weeks passed before the full impact of our Man-hao raid finally reached Hanoi. We had reason to believe that certain general officers in the High Command suspected the truth but none of them seemed interested in pressing for details. Too much information inevitably leads to too many written reports and those in turn demand the attention of too many people, including civilians, whom the generals scorned and despised, whether members of the press, politicians, clerks in the ministry, or the prime minister himself.

Fortunately for us the raid had been successful. We left no evidence on the scene, neither French Army equipment nor corpses. The Chinese could only sulk over their losses but they were unable to prove anything. Moreover, some diehard Nationalist battalions were still active in the remote southern provinces of China and it would have been easy for the French to credit the Man-hao debacle to Chiang Kai-shek. This token Nationalist presence in what was now Mao's empire and the total success of our totally illegal expedition seemed to inspire our commander to venture a similar foray but on a much larger scale.

The indirect effects of our raid were soon felt in western Indochina. There was a sharp decrease in terrorist activity in the province, even in the exposed frontier areas of Lao Kay. For the first time in many months the local peasants could harvest their crops and cart their surplus to Lao Kay without being robbed on the road by terrorists requisitioning food and money, Since our raid no French troops had been ambushed and no roads had been mined. Somewhat over-optimistic, Schulze insisted that a few similar "house cleanings" across the border could throw Giap's marauders back into the "good old days" of the bow and the spear.

After the Man-hao coup, our relations with Colonel Houssong became even more intimate. He began to regard us more as "fellow conspirators" than mere subordinates, and he bestowed on us certain privileges which were denied to other units of the Foreign Legion. The permanent gate pass was the one we appreciated the most. Whenever we returned from a mission my men were free to leave the Army compound from five P.M. till eight A.M. every day. I had free access to the supply dumps and could requisition any amount of food, weapons, and ammunition by simply signing for them. I was given unrestricted access to the top secret intelligence files which dealt with guerrilla activity in certain districts.

Colonel Houssong was proud of us, and I may add without bragging, rightly so. Apart from the famous Paras, my unit was the only force that went into action and returned with results; and more often than not, without a single loss of life. In Indochina it was called a "good result" when troops on a distant mission returned without having accomplished anything, only returned with minimum losses. Many troops of the Legion have entered the jungle never to be heard of again.

Ten days after our return, Colonel Houssong summoned us to his office. We shook hands and he said without preliminaries, "Sit down, messieurs, for what I am going to tell you now will make you sit down anyway." He placed a fresh bottle of Calvados on the table and suggested with a mysterious smile, "Have a drink, you will need it." Evidently the colonel was in a good mood. His eyes danced with amusement.

"Is it going to be as bad as that?" I asked him, taking my seat opposite him. Eisner and Schulze sat down and placed their map cases on the table. Pfirstenhammer opened his notebook, Riedl took pencil and paper. We were ready for the briefing.

"It depends on the way you look at it," the colonel answered my question. Reaching for the bottle he poured drinks for us, filled his own cup, and lifted it slightly, "To your success with the Tien-pao raid."

"You mean the Man-hao raid, mon colonel," Eisner corrected what he thought was a reference to our excursion into China.

"I said Tien-pao," Houssong repeated, stressing the last word. "That is the place you will be going shortly."

There was a curious silence while we digested the implications of that short sentence. "To Tien-pao?" I repeated cautiously.

"To Tien-pao," said the colonel. His eyes kindled. "You have convinced certain gentlemen in the upper regions that such raids are feasible and can be executed without complications. So, off you go. But this time it isn't going to be a pushover, messieurs. You will have to work hard to earn a victory."

"To earn a victory?" Schulze commented with a chuckle. "I will be happy if we can earn a simple return ticket, mon colonel."

"And rightly so," Eisner added with emphasis. "There are some thirty thousand Chinese troops at Tien-pao."

"Eighty to one against," Riedl said.

"Sometimes it was worse in Russia," Karl added and lit his pipe.

"I am glad to note your good spirit; a spirited action is already half a success," the colonel remarked. He unfolded a large map of northern Indochina and spread it on the long table. The map covered the district north of Cao Bang, including Chinese areas as far as the Siang river, thirty kilometers north of Tien-pao. Tien-pao was the town where we believed that Ho Chi Minh's "government" had been hiding out for the past two years, although Ho himself was thought to be residing in Nan-ning, further to the east.

Holding his pen lightly over the map, Colonel Houssong swept the upper regions of the map, then circled a smaller area and looked up. "Do you think you can make it here, Wagemueller?"

"We can always make it there, mon colonel. The question is whether we can also make it back?"

"You had better make it back—and without leaving corpses behind. It must be a clean job like the one in Man-hao."

I rose slightly and bent over the map. It was not just a map but .an operational plan with the essential details already incorporated: the routes were marked out, time elements considered and noted down in brackets: the area between the border and Tien-pao, and eastward to the Sengen highway, featured a number of small red stars, some of them placed within rectangles, others in circles.

"As you can see, I spent some time arranging your action in effective patterns," the colonel said good-humored-ly. "The stars are known Viet Minh bases and Chinese garrisons."

"The size of which, mon colonel?"

"The size of which we can only guess. But it does not really matter for you are to avoid them anyway."

"But do they know that, mon colonel?" Eisner cut in and everyone began to laugh.

Colonel Houssong paused for a moment, then joined us over the map. "Your principal target will be the establishment marked 'A,' which must be destroyed before anything else. It lies thirty kilometers north of the frontier."

"As the crow flies. Overland it will be fifty," I remarked.

"Sans doute. Nevertheless you will have to get there. The second objective, 'C,' is located only half as far inland but more to the east. As you can see, objective 'B1 is unfortunately off limits. It is much too close to Tien-pao and the main garrisons. Two objectives should suffice for the time being. They are large enemy bases and training camps."

"What are the X-es, mon colonel?"

"Small Chinese guardhouses along road bridges with three to five men in them."

"What about them?"

"Don't ask me, Wagemueller, suit yourself. If you find time to demolish also a few bridges it will be an asset."

The conference lasted for two hours. With all the important problems discussed, the colonel announced, "Needless to say this whole business is strictly between us, messieurs."

"Of course, mon colonel."

"Your Man-hao raid was a big shock to the Viet Minh and especially to the Chinese. They have many bases along the border and the General—thinks we should hit them at least once more before Peking decides to decentralize." He added with a smile, "// faut piquer dedans— we should hit them where it hurts." His eyes focused on the map. "Alas, most of the Viet Minh training bases and supply dumps are still just across the frontier, but soon Giap will move his establishment farther north, to safer locations." He lifted his eyes to me. "What do you think of it?"

"It seems to me either glory or court-martial, mon colonel," I said jokingly.

"You had better forget about the second alternative," said he. "Since your Man-hao business I am, er, your accomplice in Crime."

"In crime, mon colonel?"

"What else can you call it? We are not at war with China."

"Peking doesn't seem to know it," Eisner remarked. "We should call such actions only an exchange of mutual courtesies, mon colonel."

"How about those garrisons at Tien-pao, mon colonel?" I asked, thinking of the thirty thousand Chinese troops.

"They have no transports," the colonel explained. "Fifteen trucks and some derelict jeeps are all they have. The troops are armed mostly with vintage Russian rifles and for the present their ammo is restricted to about five cartridges per weapon."

"That's comforting," said Karl.

"So keep quiet until you arrive at objective 'A' and the garrisons won't be able to interfere with you in force."

He folded the map and handed it to me. "This is the only map covering the operation," he advised me. "Prepare two copies for yourself, then bring it back. Don't bungle this job, for if you do, you might as well remain in China and go down lighting."

"I understand that, mon colonel."

"You will be wearing civilian clothes, of course—"

"Of course."

Of course, I thought. No papers, no identity tags, no army rations, only native pajamas and foodstuffs.

"What will you do about possible casualties, Wagemueller?" he asked cagily.

"The Chinese will find neither corpses nor graves, mon colonel."

"So be it."

He extended his hand. We avoided discussing the gory details.

Corpses were to be destroyed either by grenades or by flamethrowers: blasted to bits, burned beyond recognition, and should there be gravely wounded comrades who could not march while the enemy was pressing us, it was also our duty to turn them into corpses, so that they wouldn't turn into evidence in Chinese hands.

"You will have a good chance to succeed," the colonel said before dismissing us. "I have selected your guides personally. They know the area well and they are also professionals."

We code-named the operation "Longhand" because of its far-reaching implications.

"Here we go, one hundred against half a billion," Schulze remarked, gazing back toward the moonlit ridges of Bao Lac. Ahead of us loomed the sinister hills of China. We crossed the frontier following the remote trail which native warriors must have cut across the virgin woods decades before. It must have been maintained by smugglers, then cleared again, probably by Nationalist warring parties. After a few miles on the trail I knew that Colonel Houssong's "blueprint for aggression" had been based on precise data, the result of exhaustive intelligence and even aerial reconnaissance. The colonel did not believe in venturing an important job on the spin of a coin. And since our lives depended on his meticulous exactitude, we indeed appreciated it.

The company advanced in a long line, the men keeping about ten paces apart: pajama-clad dark shapes, wearing coolie hats and crude rubber sandals fashioned from old automobile tires. Everything had been blacked with soot, our faces, our hands, the weapons; nothing glinted in the bright moonlight.

Although we carried only the absolute minimum, the load on each man weighed about fifteen kilos. That included a submachine gun with ten spare mags, food, burlap, a small medical kit, magnetic compass, flashlight, bush knife, mosquito net, and hand grenades. The field gear of Gruppe Drei was divided among the troops.

Gruppe Drei was our advance guard, the "Trailblazers," the unit on which our existence depended. It consisted of only thirty men but they were specially trained. Every member of the group had completed a rigorous six- month training schedule that included bomb detection and demolition, trap detection, tracking, and general woodsmanship. Their tutors were some of the foremost experts of antiguerrilla warfare, both French and foreign: an ex-British army captain who had fought the Communist insurgents for three years in Malaya and a former Japanese colonel, the one-time commander of a counterintelligence unit of the Kempe Tai (former Japanese Secret Police) during the war. Both men wore the uniform of a colonel of the Colonial army but they did not formally belong to the armed forces and received civilian wages, as per contract.

A hundred meters ahead of us marched the advance guard led by Krebitz. Still ahead of them marched four Nationalist Chinese officers, one of them a former guide to the forces of Chiang Kai-shek. They knew the area well. Some of the last Nationalist battles had been fought in the province before the vanquished party was compelled to withdraw into the jungles of northern Burma. Colonel Houssong did not inform me how and where he had gotten hold of the Nationalist Chinese. "You may trust them," was all he said, "a well-known American general has vouched for them."

Being well aware of the utter corruption which then dominated the Nationalist army, and which contributed greatly to the final collapse of Nationalist China, I reserved my opinion on the matter. As a rule we trusted no Chinese or Indochinese and we also had some misgivings about the judgment of American generals. The Americans had poured into China money and weapons enough to conquer the earth yet they were unable to preserve a single square kilometer of the "Heavenly Empire" that was now gradually turning into a perfect hell.

I had asked Colonel Houssong if our Chinese companions had been informed about "Longhand" in detail.

"I understand what you mean," he had said, "but rest assured. I did not consider it necessary to reveal all. You may tell them as much as possible under the circumstances." My sigh of relief must have been audible for he had added reassuringly, "I am sure they will be all right."

'They had better be indeed."

He had laughed and" slapped me on the shoulder in a friendly manner. "I know you wouldn't trust Chiang Kai-shek himself, Wagemueller."

"I wouldn't trust Jesus Christ on a mission like this, mon colonel. The slightest indiscretion and—"

"Would you prefer to go on your own?"

"Without reservation."
"It would be much more difficult."

"We may have to climb more hills but we won't be jittery all the way."

"Will you be jittery because of them?"

"By your leave, mon colonel, I shall make my own security arrangements."

"Alors, make them, but return safely." So we kept our Chinese quintet under close surveillance, and I made sure that they knew as little as possible of our general plan. The Nationalist Chinese officers could study our immediate objective but nothing else. One of them who spoke good French must have noticed our polite but reserved attitude, for he spoke to me shortly after we had crossed the border.

"You are not sure about our capability to lead this expedition, are you?" he asked me with a hint of sadness in his voice.

"Major Kwang," I replied in a firm voice, "I am going to be frank with you. We met only five days ago. We don't know you or where you come from." "Colonel Houssong knows," he ventured. "The colonel is in Hanoi, Major. We are on the way to hell—and back, let us hope. But let me ask you something. Have you known your companions for a long time?"

"I know only Major Cheng," he replied. "We used to serve in the same battalion. The others we met in the colonel's office."

"You see, Major. They are aliens even to you—" "But the colonel surely knows them." "The colonel is only a human being, Major Kwang. Human beings are fallible."

"The colonel, the generals, the prime minister," Eisner cut in. "We have been around here for a long time, Major Kwang. We have outlived the average life expectancy of Legionnaires, and I think we are still around because we took nothing for granted—never!"

The major smiled politely. "Then you regard every stranger guilty until proven innocent?"

"We regard only one thing, Major—our own survival factors," I said. "We learned that a long time ago: to think, to plan, to calculate, to evaluate and act—everything related to survival factors. Friendship, relations, rank, sentiments are all only of secondary importance. We are living on borrowed time and abiding by the law of probability, which is the only law we carefully observe. Had we done otherwise, we would now be dead heroes instead of surviving experts. For that's what we really are, Major Kwang: neither invincible daredevils nor supermen nor heroes—only survival experts. But survival is the most important thing in any war."

"I will do my best to see that all of us survive during the next few days," Kwang said.

"You do that, Major," I nodded. "But keep an eye on those whom you do not know."

"With regard to my own survival factor?" he asked with a smile.

"You might call it that," I conceded.

It was nine P.M. Tuesday when we crossed the Chinese frontier eighteen kilometers west of the one time Cao Bang-Tien-pao road. Between us and the road, we knew, ran a guerrilla trail that joined a dirt road three kilometers inland. Here the Chinese maintained a small guardhouse for the militia which patrolled the border section. Farther to the northwest and past the place where we intended to cross the dirt road was a village with a garrison of two hundred troops—whom we wanted to avoid.

Thanks to the moonlight we made good progress but even so the terrain was difficult and it took us almost six hours to cover the eight kilometers to the road. We arrived there shortly before three A.M. Wednesday. I wanted to proceed farther inland without stopping but Sergeant Krebitz called my attention to the numerous truck tire marks, which indicated frequent military traffic along the road. In those days no one but the army possessed heavy vehicles in China but even so the army was very hard pressed on motorized transport, and the troops were often compelled to march extremely long distances because of the lack of trucks. The loss of a few vehicles along the road could be extremely painful for them, especially if some of the trucks were transporting irreplaceable cargo. Krebitz suggested that we should mine the road, which we did at five different points, approximately three hundred paces apart. The pressure switches were set to permit the passage of anything up to one ton, which was about the limit even heavily laden peasant carts would weigh. We had no intention of hurting innocent civilians walking by or carting home their grains.

By five A.M. we were deep in the hills. Daybreak came swiftly and when the sun rose we camped down. Slipping their haversacks and weapons to the ground, the men dropped into the soft grass, weary and exhausted. A general massaging of feet began, a regular feature of every stop. A few troopers began to munch, while others were too spent even for eating. They just stretched out on their burlaps. Breakfast was no problem. Everybody was still carrying cooked rice and minced meat; the men had their canteens full of coffee or tea, except for those who preferred to drink rum. Sergeant Krebitz carried three canteens to have a bit of everything: two dangling from his belt, a third one in his rucksack.

Sitting on a boulder sipping coffee, I surveyed our rugged company. Looking at some troopers one could indeed wonder if our native pajamas would ever deceive the enemy. Maybe from a distance of five hundred meters but not from any closer. They were armed to the teeth with the latest and best equipment France could offer. But, alas, the main point was that we should not look French, and in that respect we certainly succeeded. As a matter of fact we did not look like anything except maybe the forty thieves of Ali Baba.

Except for sentries posted around the camp, the troops were soon sound asleep; their groanings and snorings could have been interpreted as an oncoming armored division ten kilometers away. I had a good rest under the mosquito net which we needed not so much because of mosquitoes as because of flies. Deep in the woods it was cool enough for the mosquitoes to take over the moment the sun dipped below the horizon. Flies and mosquitoes seemed to live in a merry "divide and rule" arrangement, making sure that no one rested in the open during either the day or at night.

We broke camp shortly before noon and soon ran into trouble. Gruppe Drei bumped into four stray peasants from a nearby settlement. Carrying the carcass of a wild boar, the villagers were on their way home from a hunting trip. It was a most unfortunate incident and we had no choice but to manacle them and take them on a long, involuntary trip. Our only alternative was to kill them, for not only the success of our mission but our very existence depended on secrecy.

"I thank you for your decision," Major Kwang said with gratitude. "They are innocent people and every one of them with a large family to support."

We roasted and ate the boar during our next stop in a shady ravine that was deep enough to disperse smoke before it reached the open.

After the ravine our going became more difficult. We found no path and the narrow bed of a small river provided the only "road" for about an hour. Although the water level was down, seldom exceeding twenty centimeters in depth, the riverbed itself was rough. Strewn with sharp and slimy boulders it offered the worst possible going. Its banks were steep and covered with thorn thickets, but at least we were safe down there and I knew the ravine would take us to the Cao Bang-Tien-pao road where it ran under a small bridge with the guardhouse, our first objective.

Reaching the road around six P.M., Sergeant Krebitz and a reconnaissance party of Gruppe Drei went ahead to survey the bridge. Finding only four Chinese soldiers in the guardhouse, they captured it forthwith. Having mined the road on either side, Krebitz blasted the bridge with fifty pounds of gelignite distributed along its wooden pylons, causing a series of small explosions rather than a resounding military one. The dead Chinese soldiers were then dumped in the woods.

It was my intention to move on without delay against our first major objective, Viet Minh camp "A," which lay only about twenty kilometers to the north, along the same road. I hoped that we might be able to reach it without further contact with the Chinese military. Fate, however, decided otherwise, although not to our disadvantage. As we were about to leave the destroyed bridge, we spotted a row of headlights coming downhill on the winding road. It was a small convoy of eight trucks, and we barely had time to deploy along the road, Eisner and Karl taking the eastern, Schulze and Riedl the western slopes, closest to the mined section.

Obviously ignorant of any hostile presence the convoy drove straight onto the mines. The leading vehicle exploded and skidded over the precipice where the bridge had been. Swerving wildly, the second truck careened off the road, hit a boulder, and overturned. The rest of the convoy came to a screaming halt with still more trucks damaged as some of them piled into one another. There were no soldiers in the trucks, only the drivers and a dozen militiamen, who went down the moment we surged onto the road with our guns blazing. The trucks were loaded with rice, salted fish, cane sugar, and cooking fats —most likely to provision the numerous military posts along the frontier. None of the vehicles transported weapons, but the five still-serviceable trucks gave me an idea. I requested Sergeant Krebitz to unload the trucks and turn them around, a job which was carried out with some difficulty on the narrow road. Gruppe Drei poured gasoline over the foodstuff—spoiling everything—then we climbed aboard the trucks. I felt it would be safe to take the road straight to the guerrilla base. There were no privately owned vehicles in Mao's empire and especially not transport vehicles: a number of trucks moving on the road would likely be taken for an army convoy.

I was about to signal start when a gesture of Major Kwang made me step back. The moment he stopped in front of me I knew that something unpleasant had happened.

"Two of my companions are gone," he announced grimly, then added with resignation, "I am afraid that you were right about not trusting anyone. I am sorry."

Had we not gotten hold of the trucks, the major's statement would have been the worst possible news. The renegades were either Communist plants or had simply decided to switch sides, doing a meritorious service by "delivering" the hated German detachment (or so they thought) to the Chinese. As it happened, however, they were compelled to proceed on foot while we were motorized, so we still had a good chance to destroy both bases before the garrison at Tien-pao could be alerted.

"You are not to blame," I tried to comfort the unhappy major. "After all they were vouched for, weren't they?"

"I should have watched them," he said apologetically, shaking his head slowly, "but the colonel was so sure. . . ." He wiped his perspiring face with his kerchief. "Shouldn't we look for them? They cannot be far away yet —"

"Good heavens no!" I exclaimed, mounting the truck. "We have no time to play hide-and-seek. Come aboard, Major."

We drove north on the bending gravel road, negotiated a few sharp bends, and came up against a small guard-house with a sentry in front of it. "This isn't on the colonel's map," Schulze commented, grabbing his gun.

The guard turned, opened the door, and yelled something inside. Another Chinese soldier appeared. Shading his eyes he stared for a moment toward our incoming vehicles, then with a savage yell he dived behind a pile of logs. The sentry's rifle came up, Schulze stepped on the brake, somewhere behind us a short burst of a machine pistol crackled, and the windows of the guardhouse shattered. Sergeant Krebitz threw open the door and jumped, his gun blazing even before he hit the ground. The sentry went down and the militiaman behind the logs cried out in pain, staggered a few steps, then crumpled up. From the guardhouse a shot rang out, followed instantly by two more reports. Two men of Gruppe Drei who came running a few steps ahead of Sergeant Krebitz stumbled, made a couple of erratic steps, and fell with blood oozing from neck and chest wounds. Krebitz hurled a grenade into the house, then jumped to the wounded troopers. Sergeant Zeisl came with two medics, examined our unfortunate comrades briefly, and shook his head. "They are both dead," he said gravely.

I glanced at Krebitz. He nodded quietly. Four troopers lifted the corpses and carried them into the woods. Krebitz shouldered a flamethrower, a few other troopers took spades and a can of gasoline and followed. A couple of minutes later a dull explosion came from the woods, the faint "whoooos" of the flamethrower, then thick, oily smoke rose and spiraled upward.

"Attention!" Eisner shouted. The troops froze where they stood. "Salute!"

The hands went up. It was all we could offer our fallen comrades.

Sergeant Krebitz and his troopers returned. Their faces were grim and without a word the men climbed into their vehicle. "It is done," Krebitz said. "We buried what was left over, Hans."

"On your trucks, men!" I commanded.

We drove on.

The Viet Minh base was not exactly on the main road but about two kilometers inland. We had to turn off into a narrow dirt road which we might easily have missed, except for the vigilance of Major Kwang. We encountered no more Chinese either on the main road or on the smaller one, but we stirred up so much dust that the enemy must have seen us coming from miles away. Yet the ruse worked. No one challenged us. We were being accepted as a Chinese army transport column.

The base was a spacious quadrangle, fenced off with barbed wire and featuring a number of wooden barracks and crude tents. It was already dusk and most of the camp inmates were gathering for dinner. I wasted no time at the wooden barrier but careened off the road and into the compound, while Eisner shot the bewildered sentry at the gate between the eyes. I shouted at Schulze to stop at the nearest barrack, which he partly demolished by driving into its plank wall.

The other vehicles roared through the gate and stopped right between the buildings in a cloud of dust The troops piled out with their guns blazing; more sentries went down and the camp came alive with screaming terrorists. Grenades began to explode. The barracks and tents split apart and collapsed. Forming six assault groups, our troopers swept the place in a violent free-for-all. Within seconds the air was heavy with the smell of cordite: the clatter of machine guns and the death cries of guerrillas came from every corner. Although the Viet Minh did not yet know it, the destruction of this base snuffed out the comforting doctrine of sanctuaries inside Red China.

The flamethrowers went into action. Wood and canvas caught fire. We had to remove our trucks from the compound. Screaming shapes of seminude terrorists ran blindly among the blazing buildings. Only then did we discover that the majority of the Viet Minh carried no weapons. As it turned out, it was a camp for basic training only and no guns had been issued to the trainees. There must have been at least eight hundred Viet Minh recruits at the base, which soon turned into a slaughterhouse with my men literally wading in blood and on top of writhing bodies and blackened corpses. Having realized that the enemy could offer no serious resistance we stopped firing.

Eisner commanded: "A la bdionnette!" It was an evening of the bayonets.

When the skirmish ended half an hour later, except for us there was not a soul alive, not a building standing.

Colonel Houssong's objective "A" had been erased from the face of earth.

Objective "C," the second Viet Minh establishment within our reach, lay about fourteen kilometers to the southeast, along the same dirt road. Originally it would have taken us days of hard marching to reach both targets, but our good Russian trucks still had gas in their tanks and the road was still clear. I saw no reason why we should not attack the second base in the early morning hours. The faster we moved the sooner we could return home. Because of the two escaped turncoats three more targets situated further to the north and close to the Tien-pao-Sengen highway had to be ignored, but we were resolved to make our trip profitable by blasting a few additional establishments which lay in our path.

We drove east, bumping and slithering along the narrow road through the woods. There we ran into a platoon of militiamen led by an officer. At least we thought he was an officer, for he was the only one in the group shouldering a submachine gun. Seeing us coming they moved off the road, shading their eyes from the dazzling headlights. The officer raised a hand as though requesting us to stop. It was his last conscious act, for an instant later he doubled up and fell, hit by a salvo from Riedl's submachine gun in the second truck. A short burst of withering fire roared from the other vehicles, shredding belts, uniforms, and flesh, and the platoon went down. They never had a chance—and we hadn't even slowed down.

The sun was rising above the horizon when we arrived in the vicinity of objective "C." Halting briefly on the edge of the woods, I leveled my field glasses and looked across the grassy flat. About a thousand meters to the southeast a conglomeration of thatched huts, tents, and barracks lay huddled among the paddies. The camp and the village were separated by narrow irrigation ditches. The village consisted of about thirty dwellings, situated at the junction of four dirt roads and a forest trail to the south. We spotted the guerrilla base on the western side of the hamlet. I could count about fifty tents, each capable of accommodating twenty men, and two administration barracks with barred windows. Adjoining it were four barracks in a separate compound for the Chinese militia.

I stopped to survey the compound to search for signs of alertness but found none.

"Forward!"

Repeating our successful former coup, we drove straight up to the militia compound and within seconds my men were storming the gatehouse, where after a brief exchange of fire the five guardsmen were killed. Again surprise was total and we encountered no organized resistance. My rugged company descended on their quarters, rushing from window to window, pouring steel and grenades into the barracks, spraying the tents with withering salvos. The automaton-like precision of my troops was awesome to behold. Five troopers sprayed a barrack with machine-gun fire and raced on, changing magazines as they ran. Another five then lobbed grenades through the windows. Four troopers kicked open the four doors simultaneously and jumped aside to make way for another team working with flamethrowers. No orders, no shouting, no confusion—it was expert teamwork which never lasted longer than thirty seconds. Although here the enemy did possess weapons, they never had a chance to use them with any effect.

In the camp and among the huts hell erupted. Every tent, every barrack spilled out terrorists and militiamen. Dodging bullets and bayonets they ran for cover. A few of them even tried to stop and fight back but were killed instantly. Like a human avalanche our troopers cascaded onward, shooting, slashing, and bayoneting their bewildered adversaries. From the trucks the light machine guns blazed. Scythed by the merciless hail of slugs, the enemy toppled like grain.

Sergeants Krebitz and Riedl discovered a number of underground depots which were stocked with food and ammunition. The grenades set fire to them, killing those Chinese and guerrillas who had taken shelter there. The shooting jolted the inhabitants of the village and there was an even greater commotion when the population began to flee to the nearby hills. Hens, dogs, goats, and cattle panicked and through the melee raced people, many of them naked and in abject terror, intent only on escape. About two hundred guerrillas and militiamen managed to break out of the compound and were running across the paddies, heading for the woods eight hundred yards away. Bracing their machine guns against the truck sideboards, Schulze's detachment raked the fleeing mess of flesh out in the field.

The fire spread to the village and soon black smoke blanketed the place. Briefly I spotted Riedl leading a skirmish line, driving into the churning dust and the smoke of blazing huts, pausing only to switch magazines. From behind a barn emerged Corporal Altreiter and six troopers herding a dozen Chinese officers at gunpoint.

"Are you promenading or something?" Karl challenged him.

"We might want to question them," Altreiter replied.

"To hell with questions. Wipe them out, Horst," Eisner shouted.

Altreiter shrugged. "You do it, Bernard," he said quietly. "I am not gunning down prisoners."

"Put them over there and under guard," I commanded, pointing toward the paddies. "We will decide about them later."

Bracing their rifles against a fence, our sharpshooters were busy picking off the escaping enemy. Although the foremost escapees had already covered the better part of the distance between the camp and the hills, those who were caught in our telescopic sights crumpled up one after another. Then, acting on Eisner's order, Gruppe Drei began to fire mortar shells into the patch of land between the runners and the forest. Some of the guerrillas ran into the explosions and were torn to pieces, others veered off, recoiled, and stopped just in time to receive the full impact of the next salvo sent a hundred yards shorter in anticipation of just such a halt by the fugitives.

Leaving the Viet Minh establishment a corpse-strewn inferno, we moved on, destroying two more bridges and mining the roads behind us. Fortunately for us the Chinese communication system must have been very primitive in the area. Twenty kilometers farther, toward the frontier, we overran yet another militia guardhouse near a Stone bridge. We killed everyone within, but that was as far as our trucks would go. Two of them had run out of gas.

We gave the group of Chinese officers enough food to last during their long walk home and turned them loose. We never bothered with questioning them. Until the very last moment they thought they would be shot. One of them spoke to Major Kwang, then turned toward me bowing twice. I thought he would lose his balance and topple over. He rattled off a long singsong sentence. "He is very thankful to you that you won't execute them," he interpreted.

"Why should I execute them?" I replied with a shrug. "It won't topple the Mao regime."

Sergeant Krebitz destroyed the vehicles and the company continued on foot, carrying two of our comrades on improvised stretchers. Encouraged by the easy victory we did not enter the woods but kept to the winding dirt road, resolved to wipe out whoever might try to stop us. The frontier was only fourteen kilometers distant.

By noon we were safely back in French territory, having completed an eighty-kilometer foray into Red China in record time. From the first French blockhouse I radioed to Colonel Houssong. He could not believe that we were already back.

"What did you do, Wagemueller, fly?" he asked puzzled.

"We rode a couple of trucks, mon colonel," I replied matter-of-factly. "We stopped before customs though."

"Any casualties?"

"Nine dead, mon colonel." There was a pause. I knew what the colonel was thinking. I added: "Not a trace of them is left."

"I am sorry for that, Wagemueller, but we had no other choice, had we?"

"No, mon colonel. There was no other solution."

Altogether our expedition was rather more a moral than a material success. As we later learned from intelligence reports, we did manage to kill 1,350 terrorists and 60 militiamen but the material damage we caused was relatively light. The main enemy supply depots were located farther to the north, close to the Tien-pao highway and beyond our reach. The foodstuff and weapons that we destroyed at the second base would have supported a battalion for six weeks.

The loss of eight trucks was the most painful blow to the Chinese. Eisner was right when he asserted that the loss of over a thousand men was but a drop in the ocean for the enemy. It did not really matter. We all knew that we were fighting at hopeless odds. To check our fast-breeding adversaries we needed poison gas and atomic bombs. The French will to conquer had long since ceased to exist. But we were not French but Germans. We must be beaten ten times before we admit a single defeat. And even then our will to win persists.

A month later we learned that our well-planted mines had demolished four more trucks and a new Soviet tank. Three cheers for Sergeant Krebitz and Gruppe Drei. One of the trucks was transporting new trusses for a demolished bridge; the blast delayed reconstruction by three months.

Consequently the Chinese dismantled over twenty Viet Minh establishments across the border and moved them to the Siang river in the north. Ammunition dumps were moved even farther to an area which the enemy considered safe. Thereafter we could rightly assert that our blitz into China had indeed caused the enemy more damage than the destruction of a few bases, guardhouses, bridges, and vehicles. The removal of the camps from the frontier areas added more problems to the already overburdened Chinese supply system. Hard-pressed Viet Minh battalions in the northern provinces of Indochina could no longer dash across the border, replenish their supplies, and return the day after to fight some more. When they needed weapons or ammo, the guerrillas had to march a long way for it.
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Re: Devil's Guard, by George Robert Elford

Postby admin » Fri Jan 12, 2018 4:55 am

9. THE END OF A GARRISON

Almost two months had gone by and, thanks to the benevolent consent of Colonel Houssong, Suoi was still with the battalion. I think the colonel must have believed that Suoi was someone's mistress but he could not quite decide who the lucky party might be, for we all spoke of her with equal enthusiasm. Actually, there was nothing of the sort between the girl and us. On the contrary, we regarded her as a sort of ward of the battalion and her welfare was of paramount importance to us.

Schulze had been as good as his word. He did find the bank where Suoi's father had had his account, but there was no need to "blast" the manager, who himself had been a victim of terrorist perfidy. He had lost a little daughter when her school bus hit a Viet Minh road mine. The manager was most sympathetic and, after talking to the girl for a while, he accepted her signature and permitted her to dispose of her father's estate. His only condition was that Suoi should not withdraw more than fifty thousand piasters per week for the first twelve weeks. He was obliged to impose that restriction in case other relatives should come forward, although he believed like Suoi that there were none. He also had to place a public notice in the principal papers to make Suoi's claim known.

Suoi was a wealthy girl by local standards. Her father's estate consisted of over two million piasters in cash, apart from interests in mills and granaries. Schulze and Riedl established her in a nice little apartment within the army housing area. Suoi's place soon turned into a sort of "club" for social gatherings. Suoi did not seem to mind our frequent visits and showered her lovely smiles on all of us without special distinction. From the very beginning Suoi was indeed an asset for us. She certainly altered our previous way of life. For one thing, we quit spending our off days in the stinking bars of Hanoi, and we also cut down on drinking and swearing.

Suoi made some friends, one of whom, Mireille, was a French-Indochinese girl with a beautiful figure. She even moved in with Suoi, who disliked living alone—"like an old lady" as she put it. Mireille was a secretary at a French shipping company, and she also had friends. Soon our private club provided company for all of us.

Suoi must have felt that one girl could never entertain five battlehardened Legionnaires, two of whom were in obvious rivalry. The timely coming of the other girls prevented an impending showdown and preserved peace. As a matter of fact we "never had it so good" in all our years in the country. We equipped the club with a record player, a movie projector, an espresso machine, and a drink mixer. Everyone supplied something; Riedl the discs, Schulze the films, Karl the drinks, Eisner the sandwiches—and I supplied the time off for pleasure.

One evening we invited Colonel Houssong, and he came, bringing along his wife and Yvette, and we had a wonderful time. Afterwards, Madame Houssong and Yvette became regular visitors at Suoi's place, and we often met there with the colonel and Lieutenant Derosier to discuss various military operations. While the others danced we studied maps in another room or held a "staff conference" in a homey atmosphere, as the colonel used to say.

But our days of relaxation were always numbered. For every week we spent within the city boundaries we had to spend a month in the guerrillainfested remote areas. The enemy was becoming preponderant everywhere and we were less than a thousand men altogether. We could only hit and destroy, cause the Viet Minh painful losses, but never hold anything we gained. When we relieved a beleaguered garrison or cleared a district from hundreds of terrorists, the French sent in the Territorial troops who could fight bravely and go down gloriously but without preserving an inch of land. One day some "big brains" in the High Command conceived the idea of bringing pressure on the terrorists by deporting their relatives into distant "protective establishments" or, as they called them, Camps de Regroupement (a polite way of saying concentration camp) for safekeeping. It was an ill-begotten idea and a magnificent folly which plainly revealed to what extent the French misunderstood the psychological aspects of the Indochina war. The guerrillas, actually relieved at having their own families out of harm's way, slaughtered the "disloyal" citizens more ferociously than before. The Viet Minh also knew that their international Communist associates would raise enough hell in the world's press to ensure the welfare of the "innocent civilians" in the French camps. The guerrillas became more enterprising. If the French wanted to frustrate the terrorists by holding their families, they should have used the hostages the same way we rode them on trucks fitted with loudspeakers. None of the hostages had been killed and none of our vehicles destroyed.

"You know that we cannot do that, Wagemueller," Colonel Houssong told me with resignation. "I agree with you. Our conduit de la guerre in Indochina is wrong to the core. By removing the terrorist families, we are only giving the enemy a carte blanche for aggression. But we just cannot revert to your practices here. We may be inclined to overlook them, but we must never encourage them. Your methods might pass occasionally and locally, but they would never survive for a week on any large scale. I know that your Heinrich Himmler would have settled the Viet Minh problem a long time ago with Zyclon-B (poison gas used by the Nazis in the extermination camps) and crematories, but France is supposed to be a democracy. The terrorists are firmly entrenched in the world's opinion as resolute heroes who are fighting a modern military power with bows and spears, striving only for independence and human rights. No one has ever protested against any Viet Minh outrage, although I could show them a list of thirty thousand civilians slaughtered by the Communists in cold blood. All the same when we execute a terrorist with the blood of a hundred people on his hands, the execution is headlined even in America, let alone Europe and its Communist press, as another French war crime. Whenever we touch a filthy killer, there are demonstrations and protests. They would even call us Nazis, Wagemueller. You should hear some of Moscow's broadcasts."

"I have heard many of them," I replied with a smile of irony. "Come to think of it, mon colonel, we should have fought together in the last war. Just imagine France, Britain, Germany, and America fighting Stalin. It would have been like driving our tanks on a highway right to Vladivostock on the Pacific coast, stopping only to cool the engines."

"Maybe," he compromised, "but at the end Hitler would have gone berserk all the same, Wagemueller."

I smiled. "A berserk Hitler would have been more reasonable than a sane Stalin, mon colonel. Hitler never wanted war in the west. I know that. But I concede that he committed a grave mistake when he attacked Poland. He should have arranged a free passage across Poland— into Russia. He could have talked the Polish army into fighting alongside the Wehrmacht."

"It is always easy to see the better ways ten years after the event. I only hope that French and Germans will never fight each other again."

"I think we will all be much too preoccupied in another direction, mon colonel. And not in the too distant future," I replied.

'True!" he nodded. "They stop at no frontiers."

Shortly afterwards we departed on an expedition to Muong Hou Nua, a small town northwest of Hanoi and only twenty miles from China. The entire district was controlled by the terrorists to such an extent that the Viet Minh had openly established various Communist institutions and had introduced their "socialist reforms"— expropriations, land reform, and mass extermination of the wealthy class. In reality these reforms meant principally exterminations; property owners, government officials, teachers, missionaries, and merchants had to die. The terrorist control had been gradually extended to other localities: Phuong Saly, Muong You, Bun Tai, Lai Chau, as far as Dien Bien Phu, where a strong French garrison blocked their further expansion. Refugees from the area reported several wholesale massacres and the murder of at least five thousand "class enemies," often supervised by Chinese officers or civilian "experts"—the advisers of the Viet Minh. For Chinese "volunteers" the frontiers were wide open. Intelligence reported several Viet Minh camps around Muong Hou Nua and even the establishment of a permanent Chinese command post inside French territory.

Returning the favor, we overran a Chinese observation post and wireless station at Chen-yuan, killing twelve officers and thirty troops in a short but desperate combat. The shooting had taken place on Chinese territory, but after the battle Pfirstenhammer removed the Chinese border marker and set it up again two hundred yards farther inside China. We then photographed the Chinese machine gun emplacements and the corpses around them with the marker in plain sight in the background; everything appeared to have taken place inside French territory— therefore the Chinese had committed a bona-fide aggression which we repelled.

Karl had a great deal of le cran—nerve, or more commonly, guts—and his coup had an echo befitting a comic strip. The Chinese had no idea where their borders really ran. Several months after the incident, reconnaissance photos showed the border marker still standing where Pfirstenhammer had placed it. Instead of returning the marker to its original place, the Chinese constructed new gun emplacements four hundred yards behind the marker. For all we know, we may have acquired a few hundred acres of good land for what is presently Laos. We should have claimed an agency fee for the real estate.

During the foray we managed to decimate several Viet Minh units and destroy some of their supply dumps. We could never enter Muong Hou Nua or go into any enemy-controlled population centers. To do that we would have needed at least a brigade with tanks, artillery, and air support. All the same, we reached our limited objectives, destroyed them, and returned to Dien Bien Phu with the loss of only fifty-nine men. Although we constantly received replacements for our losses, no recruits, not even veteran Germans, could make up for the skill and experience of those whom we lost. No one in Indochina became an expert headhunter until he had spent a year or more in the jungle. Until then, a recruit was a liability rather than an asset to our battalion.

At the beginning of the fifties the Foreign Legion had to tackle another menace: desertion! Already planning a general offensive against the French, the Viet Minh embarked on an intensive propaganda campaign to weaken the ranks of the already faltering Legion. Liberty and a free passage home was offered to all deserters. In addition the Viet Minh promised a generous cash reward for war material, vehicles, weapons, or just valuable information. The propaganda campaign was directed chiefly toward those Legionnaires whose homelands were under Soviet occupation: Poles, Czechs, Rumanians, Hungarians, and Germans from the Soviet Zone or Austria were regarded as potentially responsive. But men from any countries where the French authority had no power to retaliate were also sensitive targets.

The men deserted not because of cowardice but simply because they were utterly disgusted by the way the French conducted the war and sacrificed regiment after regiment for no gain whatsoever. Soldiers of a victorious army seldom desert, and the Foreign Legion was an army suffering from years of constant reverses and routs. And it was not the fault of the ranks either. "The white-gloved slobs" (as Pfirstenhammer habitually referred to our generals) considered themselves born Napoleons with nothing left for them to learn except maybe new card games. The entire general staff should have been kicked out (with the exception of General Salan, whom we all respected greatly) and the corporals and sergeants promoted to generals. Then the Legion would have "started to roll."

The Viet Minh magnanimity had results. The troops began to vanish, at first singly, then in groups; occasionally entire platoons deserted to the enemy. Let it be said to the Viet Minh's credit that they did honor their promises. The deserters were free to leave Indochina, either for Hong Kong or for Europe, via Peking and Moscow. Weapons and other war material which the Communists could have simply seized were duly paid for; thus an escapee was not only at liberty to return home but he could return home with ample cash. The Viet Minh paid in hard currencies. It was an ingenious coup. I know of two Swedes who went over with a truckload of automatic weapons, ammunition, and medical supplies—"made in USA." They received nearly ten thousand United States dollars cash from the guerrillas. Where on earth the Viet Minh could obtain all that hard money was a mystery that only the Kremlin could have cleared up. The two Swedes, I know for sure, arrived in Hong Kong safely, where they established a business in silk which is still prospering.

So far as we knew, none of the East European deserters were ever prosecuted when they arrived home. (Communists have good international connections.) On the contrary, they were sending cards and photos to us for months afterwards, telling us their stories. The Viet Minh made sure that copies of their letters reached the still-hesitant ones.

The French retained control of the important cities and valleys but in the country disaster followed disaster.

Had we obeyed the codes of La Condulte de la Guerre, we would not have survived for a year. I daresay, without bragging, that amidst the general debacle, my battalion emerged as victor from every engagement. We did it with minimal losses, and we did it by playing the same game as the terrorists. If Mao's doctrine had worked so well for the enemy, we thought, it had to work for us too. It did work!

While the battalion was on a foray against a Viet Minh supply train reportedly moving south, we received an urgent radio message: A French stockade, sixty miles west of Hoi Xuan and forty-six miles north of where we were, was under intensive terrorist attack. The commanding officer reported several breaches in the perimeter defenses and that he was destroying confidential papers and codes.

Riedl, who had brought the message to me, remarked grimly, "If he is already destroying code books, then we won't be of much help. It will take us three to four days to reach the stockade." All the same we sent a message to the commander, asking him to stand fast. Without delay we headed back to base, where we could get the relief on the road.

We left Hanoi in a small convoy of trucks and jeeps, our customary way of leaving the city, to travel as far as it was reasonably safe to go on wheels. For some time I had been aware that our garrison was under constant enemy surveillance; when we moved, the Viet Minh knew about it. Therefore our measures of deception began from the moment we rolled through the gate. When our destination was somewhere southwest of Viet Tri, we departed toward the northwest; never taking the direct route but skirting or traversing the town, performing diversionary turns while the men in the last vehicle were constantly on watch for motor scooters, cycles, or even cars that seemed to follow the convoy. When a vehicle appeared suspicious we requested the nearest military checkpoint to stop and entertain our unwelcome escort for some time.

On that particular day, Schulze requested our driver to stop the jeep at Suoi's place. "I won't be a minute!" he excused himself and raced up the stairs. Five minutes later he returned, hand in hand with the girl. "She's always wanted to come along," he stated flatly, and before I could open my mouth, he helped her aboard and off we raced after the convoy.

"The headhunters plus one," he stated flatly. I glanced at Eisner, who seemed not the least concerned.

"Did you know about this, er . . . arrangement of Erich's?" I asked him.

"Sure," he replied, "the whole" battalion knew about it —except you."

Suoi was probably the smartest-looking "Legionnaire" in the entire outfit. She was wearing custom-tailored battle fatigues complete with belt, a pair of miniaturized paratroop boots, tropical helmet, and a small shoulder bag. Obviously Schulze and Suoi had been plotting the coup for some time. During the past few weeks the girl had told me occasionally that she wanted to come along on our next expedition, but I had never taken her seriously. She had said that she did not feel like sitting at home for weeks, that she wanted to do something useful. "After all," she had said, "the battalion has adopted me!"

Now there she was, braids, ribbons, battle fatigues and all, casting bewitching smiles and fluttering eyelashes at me, pleading in a tone of mock consternation, "I hope you don't mind my coming?"

I felt like answering, "Like hell I don't mind," for I had enough problems without the additional worry about Suoi's welfare, but said instead, "Well, Suoi, we are not going by jeep all the way, you know."

"Oh, I know that," she replied quickly. "I grew up in the hills and I am not afraid of walking."

"She wanted to come," Erich insisted. "She wanted to help us."

"And naturally you complied."

"What else could he do?" Eisner cut in. "Suoi's eyes would melt a tank turret."

"I will take care of her, don't worry," Erich reassured me..

"You are crazy . . . taking a young girl on a murder trip."

"Hell! How about all those girls with the Viet Minh, Hans?"

"They are trained guerrillas, Erich. Your Suoi can't even fire a bloody gun."

Schulze's eyes kindled. "Are you so sure? . . . Hans, you will be surprised."

"Are you telling me—" "Wait and see, commander sir!"

I saw all right. The convoy stopped at a river to let the engines cool. As the men settled down to eat, Erich walked up to the embankment and erected a small pyramid of empty tin cans. Taking a submachine gun from the jeep, he handed it to Suoi. "Now watch the show. He winked at me.

With four short bursts, Suoi demolished the pyramid, sending the cans topsy-turvy into the river. Only two of them remained standing.

"Voila!" Erich exclaimed, casting a triumphant glance at me. He took the gun from the girl and handed her a rifle. "Now get the remaining ones, Suoi."

Holding the rifle in the best professional manner, she took aim and fired twice. One of the cans went flying, the other one bounced and toppled over— a glancing shot. A third bullet then struck home and flung the tin into the river The troops cheered openly. There was amusement in Eisner's eyes and Riedl chuckled. "So much for our defenseless little ward," he said.

Suoi turned halfway toward me, holding the rifle in a casual manner. She was blushing but held her chin up; her eyelashes flickered in what Karl used to call "a starry look of the first magnitude." She said, "Do you think I can take care of myself, commander?" "Where did you learn to shoot?"

"On the army range on Sunday afternoons," she replied smiling. She took a spare magazine from Erich, reloaded expertly, put the gun at "safe," and handed it over to a trooper.

"Do you want to see her with a pistol, or hand grenades maybe?" Erich inquired grinning. "Can she drive a tank too?"

"Not yet," he laughed, "but she is an apt pupil, Hans." I ran a finger under my nose to repress a smile. "Did the colonel know about your little exercises?"

"Of course. He had to sign her pass to enter the range." "The colonel was very nice," Suoi interposed. "He gave me a pistol." "A what?"

From her shoulder bag she pulled a small holster. Out of it came a light, ivory-handled, Italian Beretta automatic. "Pretty, isn't it?" she asked. "I was afraid of putting it on. I thought you might consider it childish."

I stepped up to her and snapped the holster onto her belt-rings. "Wear it then, General! When you have to shoot you don't have time to look for it in your bag."

I had my first feelings of foreboding from the moment I noticed the absence of the Tricolor and the sullen stillness that hovered over the entire compound. Even from the small hill where we stood the stockade presented an appalling spectacle. The multiple coils of barbed wire which circled the perimeter showed wide breaches; the palisade was blasted at several places and heavy logs lay scattered around the gaping holes. Every building appeared damaged. We spotted the burned skeletons of a dozen vehicles and a large number of corpses.

"They've had it!" Eisner remarked grimly and lowered his field glasses. "But they keep on building forts." He turned briskly. "Krebitz!"

Sergeant Krebitz stepped forward. "Off the road everybody!" Eisner commanded. "Troops single file . . . distance twenty yards. We are cutting through the woods."

He turned to Suoi and said quite harshly, "You will stay right here, behind me. Understood?"

"Oui!" she nodded, blushing slightly. "You don't have to shout."

A truly feminine way of taking an order, I thought, repressing a chuckle.

We wasted no time discussing the situation. The garrison had been exterminated, and since the enemy had not been pursued, we expected to find the dirt road and every regular path around the stockade booby-trapped and mined. The enemy had had ample time to prepare traps, as they had done on many occasions in the past. The only sensible thing for us to do was to leave the road, avoid the paths, and cut a new trail to the stockade while Gruppe Drei searched for traps on the regular approaches. Every step in the area could mean sudden death. Where the Viet Minh experts had been at work, every inch of a trail had to be surveyed—a lengthy procedure.

Among the prominent Viet Minh deserters who had come over to our side was a squat little man, Ghia Xuey, now the honorary "commander" of Gruppe Drei, working hand in hand with Sergeant Krebitz. Xuey had been a guerrilla company commander until a tragic mishap induced him to switch sides in 1950. During a raid and the ensuing roundup of French "collaborators," a neighboring Viet Minh detachment had executed Xuey's family along with a group of other "traitors" in a village near Thanhhoa. Xuey could not reveal his painful secret, for the others would no longer have trusted him. With a resolution that only an Oriental mind can muster, he buried his grief deep within and even celebrated the victory with the assassins of his parents, wife, and three children. He bided his time for revenge. One evening when the culprits were asleep, Xuey stabbed the commissar, slit the throat of the propagandist, then set up a machine gun twenty yards from the sleepers and emptied the magazine into the lot. He surrendered to the French at Nam Dinh and offered his services against his former comrades. Xuey was, of course, welcome and most generously treated. It had taken us four months of constant persuasion and ample paperwork for Colonel Houssong before Counter-intelligence finally consented to Xuey's reassignment to our battalion. Xuey himself preferred to work with us, a diversion from the dreary training routine at the Special Forces camp. He said that he no longer believed that the ideas of Marx and Lenin should be spread by any means, including murder. "True Communists do not kill," he stated bitterly. "They are supposed to build life where there was none. People who murder in the name of Communism are nothing but ordinary bandits and should be dealt with accordingly."

Xuey was worth his weight in gold. He moved in the jungle like a panther. Nothing escaped his searching eyes; no crushed grass, no awkwardly lying bough or bent twig. He noticed marks on the ground, however faint, and he could read a trail as ordinary people read books. We were immensely glad to have him with and not against us. His incredible abilities in the jungle made me shiver at the mere thought of having a guerrilla with similar talents tracking us!

With Xuey's help we succeeded in destroying over two thousand terrorists, and I could not recall the number of my own men whose lives had been saved by Xuey's alert eyes. He recognized a trap in the most innocent disguise; he knew well enough what to look for. He was and always remained a bitter man. In all our months together I never saw him smile. The loss of everyone he loved, and at the hands of those whom he had most trusted, had turned him into a ruthless agent of death.

"Take good care of him," Colonel Houssong said when he introduced Xuey to us. "He is worth a Viet Minh brigade!" The colonel was right.

After four years in the jungle we were fairly competent trailblazers. We had developed a system that permitted a relatively rapid advance through dense forest which usually consisted of a wild variety of thorny brushes, weeds, and creepers. The foremost six men advanced cutting a path wide enough for them to pass; close behind them ten men enlarged the path as they went, and the next six men then polished off the passage. Immediately behind the trailblazers marched two cartographers whose job was to mark the newly cut trail on the map and to control its direction with the aid of magnetic compasses. Otherwise the trailblazers could have gone around in circles without ever noticing it. Moving in the jungle resembles flying in the clouds. When the average visibility shrinks to less than twenty yards, man will lose his sense of direction. Strangely enough the larger tracts of unbroken forests are usually less dense than the smaller patches of a few hundred yards or more. Where the trees grow sparsely, sunshine penetrates more effectively, inducing the growth of creepers and bushes. Thick overhead foliage shuts out the sunlight entirely and rainwater partially. This retards the growth of vegetation on the ground level.

We arrived at the perimeter wires safely while Gruppe Drei was still halfway up the hill searching for road mines and traps. Xuey, who had gone off to survey one of the trails, suddenly called us. "Keep right behind me," he cautioned, "and don't touch anything, not even a twig."

He walked about a hundred yards into the woods, then lifted a hand for us to stop. Lowering himself to his knees in front of a small bough that bent casually over the footpath, he carefully removed some leaves to expose a thin wire. I noticed that the upper point of the bough was delicately hooked into another branch. The wire ran from the center of the second branch. A glimpse was enough to know what it was.

"A bamboo bomb!"

"Very deadly," Xuey nodded. His comment was superfluous. We all knew what those hellish bombs could do. :_ From his pocket, Xuey extracted a ball of thin cord and, working with great prudence, tied the loose end to the bough. Then rising slowly, he motioned us to retrace our steps. He followed us, gently playing out the cord as he went. When we were about eighty yards from the bough, he stopped and told us to take cover.

Sheltered behind a tree Xuey pulled hard on the cord. Instantly something large and heavy came crashing down from the trees. There was a shattering explosion, and a -shower of splinters tore through the underbrush. The bomb had been suspended above the path and the small bough was the trigger.

Xuey walked up the trail and returned with a pair of hardwood pegs, about three inches long and sharpened at both ends. Holding them wrapped in a large leaf, he pointed out some dark brown substance that covered the points. "Cadaver poison!" Eisner said, taking the pegs from Xuey, who nodded agreement. Eisner observed the pegs briefly, then handed them to me. I gave them to a trooper, instructing him to preserve the pegs carefully.

"Do you have any idea who is behind this?" I asked Xuey.

He replied without hesitation, "Nam Hoa would keep even his mortar shells buried in cadavers. He believes the splinters will kill even those who are only slightly : wounded."

"Nam Hoa is supposed to be farther south in the hills around the Phu Son mountain."

"We had better check on that," Schulze interposed. "He could have returned north to be closer to the Chinese dumps."

I suggested that we should move into the stockade.

Constantly on the alert for booby traps we entered the compound and beheld a scene of utter rout. Around the gate corpses of a dozen Legionnaries lay in grotesquely twisted attitudes; there were bodies whichever way we turned. Large patches of blood stained the ground that in turn was pockmarked with the craters of mortar explosions. None of the victims made the slightest movement to indicate a spark of life. Closer inspection disclosed that the throat of every victim had been slit. There was no -need to search for survivors. When the terrorists could work at leisure they always did a thorough job. I sent a couple of troopers to examine the partly demolished gatehouse. When they reported it clear, I led Suoi in there and told her to sit down on a cot. "You are staying right here until we have finished searching the compound. The yard is probably full of mines, and besides it isn't a very pleasant sight."

Out in the compound the men were busy. From under two of the corpses the demolition squad extracted a pair of primed grenades arranged in such fashion that any casual moving or turning of the bodies would have triggered an explosion. It was an old Russian partisan trick, but one which nevertheless still claimed many ignorant or forgetful victims. We tried our best to preserve the corpses of our comrades for a decent burial but many of them could not be touched with any degree of safety. These had to be turned over by men stretched on the ground, sheltered behind a pair of sandbags and using long poles or ropes. Of them we could gather and bury only bits of flesh and bones—a very unpleasant undertaking.

By noon, Xuey and Sergeant Krebitz had uncovered thirty booby traps and mines inside the stockade. More were forthcoming during the afternoon. We marked the cleared areas with cords laid on the ground to form corridors in which it was safe to walk. Booby-trapped corpses were marked with pebbles. The pools of blood were already congealed or absorbed by the gravel. The men must have been dead for over a day. The scene was truly disheartening but such debacles could no longer shock us. We had seen similar slaughters only too often.

At the command post we discovered more corpses, among them that of the commanding officer, First Lieutenant Roger Martinet, whom I had known since 1948. He lay on the wooden steps of the pile-supported porch. Save for his pants, he was naked, and he had a large, jagged hole in his breast about which a cluster of flies were buzzing. The steps, the porch, and the walls were splintered with shell fragments, some of which must have hit Martinet in the chest. Eisner found another primed grenade in the pocket of the lieutenant and this was exploded outside the compound.

Another ingenious instrument of death was hidden by the closed door of the command post. The guerrillas had placed an antipersonnel mine on the inside floor with a strong, biforked branch wedged between the door handle and the pressure switch of the mine. If one of us had pressed the handle, the entire building would have gone up in the blast. But that single closed door looked wrong to us from the moment we saw it, for all the other doors and windows hung wide open or torn loose. Men with less experience could have easily fallen for it. Similar ruses accounted for our calling most of the Viet Minh tricks naive. Most of them derived from wartime Russian ruses, which we knew well after our years in Russia: one opened a door and the house exploded; turned a water tap, moved a casually placed object, removed a book from a shelf, righted an awkwardly hanging picture on the wall, or pushed down a piano key—a bomb went off.

Sergeant Krebitz entered through a window and removed the mine.

By early afternoon the number of disarmed or exploded booby traps increased to fifty. We combed the stockade yard by yard. From the desk of the commander, Sergeant Krebitz extracted four bombs. It was a very delicate job to get at the charges. Krebitz had to remove the rear panels for the drawers could not be touched.

All the corpses had been stripped to underwear. The guerrillas always collected shirts, belts, and footwear, in addition to watches, pens, lighters, and weapons. Beside Martinet sprawled two officers. Both had been shot at close range; a third victim, a North African sergeant, had been shot and stabbed in the abdomen.

"I guess this carnage is payment for our visit to Man-hao," Schulze remarked ironically. "Will the French ever learn how to fight the Viet Minh, Bernard?"

In the communication room we found the corpse of the signal officer, Lieutenant Mazzoni, and that of a sergeant. The wireless equipment and the telephone exchange were missing and the connecting wires hung as if they had been ripped from the wall. I was puzzled that the guerrillas had taken the heavy radio equipment while leaving behind the converter unit. The set was not a battery-operated one but depended on the electric current generated by a diesel engine. The engine itself was far too heavy for removal, so the terrorists had settled for breaking-it up.

The yard behind the command post was littered with over a hundred corpses. Some of the men had been killed by mortar splinters, others had died in hand-to-hand combat. Near the mess hall we discovered another dead officer.

A Viet Minh unit strong enough to exterminate a garrison of three hundred well-armed Legionnaires must have consisted of at least six hundred men. Nam Hoa was known to have commanded a group of about two hundred guerrillas, but he could have ganged up with a few local units who were equipped with mortars. We counted over a hundred spots where mortar shells had exploded. Coming from far inland, Nam Hoa could not have possessed such powerful artillery.

"There is only one man in the district who commands so many mortars," Xuey explained. "Trengh. He also commands three hundred men. Maybe even more. His village is about twelve miles from here, on the far side of the hills." He showed us the direction.

We had heard of Trengh before. He had been a Hanoi police officer who, conspiring with the Viet Minh in 1949, had engineered a daring terrorist raid on a police station and had assisted the guerrillas in freeing fifty prisoners. With that coup to his credit, Trengh deserted to the Viet Minh. Ever since then his head carried a reward of 75,000 piasters dead or alive. The French had also, posted a reward of 100,000 piasters for Nam Hoa, not a very tempting reward for such an important guerrilla leader. Such financial "courtesies" were mutual. Every member of my battalion had been similarly "price-tagged" dead or alive by the Viet Minh or by the Chinese.

At the entrance to the canteen we counted sixteen European Legionnaires and a young corporal. The corporal's eyes were open, gazing into the sun; under his hand lay a pistol which the enemy had overlooked. The magazine of the pistol was empty. The mess hall looked as though a hurricane had gone through it. Chairs, benches, tables were overturned or wrecked. Broken glass littered the floor. The smell of blood and decomposition was strong. More men lay under the debris, behind the counter and the overturned tables which they had used for cover. The walls and doors were riddled by hundreds of bullets. There must have been desperate combat inside the building, with the adversaries shooting it out at close range. My men removed twenty or more bodies from the mess hall alone, among them many Europeans. More corpses sprawled outside the building in and about a gaping hole in the wall. Still wearing their white aprons, two of the six cooks had been pressed head first into their ovens. Since, by rule, all open fires had to be extinguished while under attack, the corpses were not burned. Even so we found it a macabre bit of Red humor. The debacle culminated in the sleeping quarters, where the remaining troops had been mercilessly slaughtered. Eighty men altogether. The barracks had been stripped bare. Blankets, sheets, even some of the mattresses had been carried away. The underground ammunition depots were empty.

We stood in sullen silence, watching the demolition men as they moved from corpse to corpse looking for bombs. The bodies which had been checked were carried out to join the long lines of corpses laid out outside the palisade. Eisner dispatched two hundred men to dig a huge grave for the fallen garrison. None of the corpses wore identity tags. The brave men would probably rest as "unknown soldiers." Eighteen trucks and jeeps in the parking lot were burned-out steel skeletons; four 75 field howitzers were still hitched to four of the CMC's—wrecked, but even so we could see that none of the great guns had ever been fired.

The wind wheel, which used to pump water from the well, had been knocked down. The pump mechanism was demolished. The well itself appeared intact and flashlights revealed water thirty feet below. Sergeant Krebitz examined, the well, searching for corpses, but found none. I became even more suspicious, for whenever the Viet Minh seemed to spare something important, it did so on purpose. We became doubly alert.

Had the terrorists poisoned the well?

Bidding us wait, Xuey left for a nearby river and brought back a few frogs and a fish, which he then settled in a can of water drawn from the well. Ten minutes later the creatures were still alive and obviously not affected by any poison. "The well is not poisoned," Xuey stated, "but there might be something else to look for." He examined the surrounding ground, then suddenly called our attention to some brownish stains which Sergeant Krebitz thought was human excrement. Moments later Pfirstenhammer found a pair of buckets with a length of rope attached. The buckets were covered with refuse. We examined the ground between the latrines and the well and spotted more bits of filth. The rest of the story was easy to conclude. The enemy had spoiled the well with refuse. Another Viet Minh joke!

I decided that the next macabre joke should be played by us. I remembered having seen a small sack of arsenic in the partly destroyed food storage. The cooks had probably used it to fight rats and other pests. I sent a man to fetch the bag.

"We will preserve those poisonous pegs," I told Eisner. "We will also take a water sample from the well and photograph the whole area, the buckets, the refuse on the ground . . . just in case the Reds accuse us of starting chemical warfare."

They all turned toward me sharply. "What do you mean by chemical warfare?" Riedl queried with a puzzled expression.

I lifted the bag of poison. "This stuff here, Helmut. For if we find the camp of those bastards, I am going to fill their water with rat poison, morphine, and whatever else Sergeant Zeisl might have in excess. We will see how the Viet Minh appreciate that."

"How about making a few cans of mustard gas?" Pfirstenhammer asked, lighting his pipe. "Its formula is very simple." He rattled off the ingredients. "When we return to Hanoi, I will look for the basic chemicals and next time we can mix for the Reds a real cocktail, Hans."
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Re: Devil's Guard, by George Robert Elford

Postby admin » Fri Jan 12, 2018 5:14 am

10. WITH BAYONETS AND ARSENIC

We computed the possible enemy losses by fixing the number of spots where blood had been found but with no corpse to account for it. Karl and Erich were able to establish eighty-two positive and about the same number of likely places where guerrillas might have fallen. More should have fallen outside the stockade, while storming the compound. Schulze calculated over two hundred Viet Minh casualties, including the wounded.

Schulze had other computations as well. "Do you know what?" he exclaimed suddenly, glancing up from his notes. "The terrorists carried away their dead and wounded, which means that at least two hundred or more men transported nothing but corpses and the wounded." Before he came to the point, I already grasped the implications of what he was saying.

"How many people do you think were necessary to remove all the weapons, the ammunition, the food stores, blankets, and God knows what else, apart from carrying their own equipment?"

"Over a thousand! Thirteen hundred might be a close bet."

"Precisely!" Erich agreed. "Nevertheless we know that no Viet Minh unit of such proportions is operating anywhere in the province or Xuey would know about them. I think we had better start looking for additional clues."

"What clues?" Karl asked.

"Footprints! Those of women and children from ten years upward. The guerrillas alone could never have taken everything that has been removed." Shading his eyes he surveyed the neighboring hills. "I think somewhere in those hills we are going to find a guerrilla graveyard and the place where the population of a whole village camped out while waiting for the terrorists to seize the fort."

I could only agree with Schulze's reasoning. None of the corpses had been stripped naked—a frequent terrorist practice—probably because of the presence of women and children in the stockade.

"Well, gentlemen," Erich concluded, "neither women nor children can walk very far laden with crates and sacks. I think we will discover the responsible party in a not too distant settlement, and the Viet Minh camp won't be far from it either."

"Trengh's village!" Xuey added. "That is where we should look."

I radioed a brief report to Hanoi, suggesting the dispatch of engineers to rebuild the stockade. I waited only for the signal of acknowledgment, then sent the coded signal "unit under enemy attack" and cut the set before any instructions could come through.

"The colonel is going to be mad. We are pulling that on him much too frequently," Eisner said.

"Do you want to sit here?"

"Not me. I prefer the woods."

"Well, I know what Hanoi's answer would have been."

Pfirstenhammer grinned. "Stay put until the new garrison arrives," he said. I nodded. "Exactly."

That was the very last thing I wanted to do. The head-hunters seldom rested. We would come, do the job, and vanish. Our strength lay in mobility; keeping the enemy uncertain and unsafe was our principal maxim.

Schulze was right about the guerrilla cemetery and the civilian helpers. Barely two miles from the compound Xuey discovered the burial site of the dead terrorists. Their common grave was a shallow one and it took us only an hour to exhume and count the corpses. There were one hundred and twentyone bodies in the grave, but as Schulze pointed out many of the severely wounded would perish in the coming days from lack of proper medical facilities in the jungle. Not far from the burial site we found the place where a large number of noncombatants had camped down for at least three days. The soft soil showed hundreds of footprints and a ravine was soiled with human excrement.

The village of Nuo Hoy, whose population we suspected had participated in the looting, lay twelve miles to the west, amidst densely forested hills. It was plausible to suppose that the sheer quantity of the stolen material had made it imperative for the enemy to establish several secret dumps. They could not have possibly stored everything in their camp, not with any degree of safety. Natural caves and runnels, either in the hills or beneath the village, were the likely places to look for.

Pondering over the map, we reasoned that the camp itself should be located within a limited area, since to sustain several hundred men the enemy needed plenty of water. A small stream fed by a creek from the mountains flowed through the suspected village. The creek was the only natural source of water in the hilly area. The terrorist camp ought to be somewhere along that creek. We settled for investigating the neighborhood of the village, without revealing ourselves to the enemy. Naturally we could not follow the existing trails that were probably mined and kept under constant surveillance. Although it meant a detour of thirty miles, the alternative route had more appeal for me. It was prudent to suppose that the stockade was still under enemy observation and that Viet Minh lookouts were watching our activities.

We left the compound late in the afternoon when it was still light enough for the snoopers to see us moving in the opposite direction, away from them and our true destination. As soon as darkness prevented further observation we entered the woods and camped down for the night. For all intents and purposes, our battalion had vanished from the sight of the enemy. Now we were on equal terms with the Viet Minh and even had a slight advantage, for we knew where we wanted to strike next but they had no idea where we were.

Shortly after sunrise we set out for the hills. Our trail-blazers needed four days to cut a path through the virgin woods and arrive within two miles of the village. Xuey, Schenk, and four men departed on a long reconnaissance trip into the hills south of the settlement, where I suspected the guerrillas had had their camp along the creek. The sky was overcast and it appeared as if a storm was in the making. We established ourselves a mile inside the woods, close to a brook but high enough not to be washed away by a sudden downpour. It began to rain shortly afterwards and poured for almost a day without stopping. Cooking was out of the question, save for an occasional cup of tea or a soup made of extracts. The men were able to prepare these in their canteens by burning spirit cubes under the protection of their burlaps. We were carrying no tents except for a few canvas sheets to protect our radio gear, maps, and sensitive equipment.

The rain came down so hard that it penetrated the overhead foliage like bullets, and we had to seek shelter among the trees and under thick branches. Wild torrents of water rushed down from every direction and emptied into the brook, which became a thundering river. Several times we had to move to safer spots but even so the men were soon in deep mud and could not even sit down properly. The roaring of the rain as it hammered on the leaves around us was so intense that we had to shout to make ourselves understood. By evening our small canteens of rum had been consumed. With it went our only source of warmth. A period of constant shivering now began. The troops swallowed aspirin and sulfathiazole pills to head off illness.

Suoi fared better. When the rain started, she put on a long sleek nylon raincoat with a hood. Now she sat on the rucksacks, her head resting in Erich's lap. He was holding a sandwich for her to bite.

"An idyllic spectacle," Eisner commented. But I had to concede that she put up with all our hardships bravely. And I wondered how Xuey, Sergeant Schenk, and the party were faring out in the hills, for they carried not even burlaps.

Toward morning the rain abated. The clouds drifted off and the sun began to shine. The temperature rose rapidly. By eleven o'clock the forest had turned into a steam-bath. Stripped to the waist, the troops were strolling off left and right, searching for small patches of sunlight to dry their damp clothes and to warm their chilled bones. The day was spent cleaning weapons, greasing footwear, and learning Indochinese. Ever since Suoi joined our battalion, linguistic studies had gained popularity among the troops. Suoi was a charming and patient teacher and from the moment she took charge of our language courses progress was certain.

The reconnaissance party brought back good news. Sergeant Schenk had discovered the Viet Minh camp and had made a diagram of the area. There was a small cascade in the hills which supplied the enemy camp with water. From a cliff above the cascade, Schenk and Xuey observed the camp for over two hours. Xuey was certain that it sheltered both Nam Hoa and Trengh, along with approximately five hundred terrorists. The camp, Schenk explained, was so cleverly arranged that it was almost impossible to move a large body of troops against it. Save for the one cliff, which could accommodate not more than ten men at a time, there were no other places where troops or automatic weapons could be deployed. The dense vegetation prohibited the use of machine guns elsewhere, and to enter the camp one had to pass along a narrow ravine which the Viet Minh covered with machine guns.

But if the location of the camp prohibited the use of troops and weapons, it certainly invited our bag of rat poison. The creek that fed the Viet Minh water tank could be approached unseen from above. I decided to leave the village alone for the time being but occupy the surrounding hills and trails with a couple of strong detachments. The majority of the troops were to remain with Eisner, Riedl, and Pfirstenhammer to conclude the first phase of the operation—the envelopment of the whole area. Selecting only fifty men, Schulze and I planned to establish a camp close to the guerrilla base, within easy reach of the cascade.

Starting out before daybreak, we broke up into separate groups and proceeded with the occupation of the hills. Suoi insisted on joining Schulze and me and after a brief argument, I bowed to the majority vote. We crossed the stream and the road three miles west of the village, following the trail which Xuey and Schenk had already surveyed. Leaving Suoi with the men in a secluded depression, Xuey, Schenk, Schulze, and I proceeded to the cliff and settled down near the precipice, where jutting boulders covered with shrubs permitted us to survey the enemy base at leisure.

The creek came from high above in the hills. Cold and clear, it flowed past where we were hidden and dropped steeply between the rocks, forming a small cascade a hundred feet below. Near the cascade stood a large water tank made of tin. A circular lid covered the top and it had several taps at the bottom. A system of hollow bamboo served as pipes to convey water from a smaller arm of the cascade to the tank. The tube could be swiveled to and from the water and it was now disconnected. Using canvas bags we dissolved the sack of arsenic in water and added our supply of morphine, digitalis, and a few other drugs to the mixture. Sergeant Zeisl was sure that our cocktail could kill a herd of elephants.

Our major problem was how to convey the preparation to the small branch of the cascade that fed the tank. It would have been of little use to drop the poison into the cascade for only a fraction of it would have reached the branch and consequently the tank. Schulze came up with the idea of using a hollow bamboo to funnel down the poison. There was no bamboo around and Sergeant Schenk had to fetch some from a thicket two miles away.

We occupied the only accessible position in the neighborhood, but the camp was so cleverly hidden among the trees that even we could see only four or five huts. Nearest the tank stood the cooking house, where fires burned in carefully shielded earthen ovens. The overhead foliage was extremely dense, and instead of rising, the smoke dispersed before it reached the treetops. Air reconnaissance could never spot the base, which seemed fairly well established and contained all the necessary components of a permanent base. The mess hut housed a long row of tables made from the sides of ammunition crates which had been nailed to poles driven into the ground. The benches had been contrived in a similar fashion. Along the creek we noticed a spacious natural pool which served as a bath. Farther downstream a couple of empty crates stood in the water, weighed down with boulders; they served as washing stands.

We kept the camp under observation all morning, and I have to admit that I witnessed a great deal of training and discipline, ranging from what were obviously political classes to hand-to-hand combat exercises and grenade throwing. The commissars seemed to keep a rigorous schedule. A roll call took place only a hundred yards from where we lay and I was able to count the guerrillas. There were 322 altogether, among them 58 women. The women, too, were armed and participated in the same routines as the men. But 322 was below the number of terrorists I expected to find in the camp. Schulze reminded me of those who might be lying wounded in the huts. A number of terrorists could also be under way, or in the village. Nam Hoa was present. Xuey spotted him at the pool taking a bath. The local terrorist "fuehrer," Trengh, was absent.

"He will return," Xuey said assuredly. "If not today, then tomorrow, but he will return. This is his camp. Nam Hoa is only a guest here."

Several times the guerrillas came to fetch water from the tank but never to fill it. Dusk was falling and it seemed as if we were to spend a night on the cliff. Then, to my great relief, two men came and mounted the platform on which the tank stood and removed the cover.

"This is it!" Schulze whispered, gesturing us to get ready with the bags. Sergeant Schenk, who was watching the action below the cliff from a narrow parapet, now glanced up and nodded. The pipe had been connected. Schulze steadied the hollow bamboo; Xuey and I kept the bags ready.

Erich signaled.

We emptied the preparation into the brook and sank back relieved. The job was done! We began our careful withdrawal. There was no need for us to spend the night on the cliff. "We shall return in the morning for the burial ceremony," Schenk remarked.

Shortly before sunrise, Schulze and Schenk set out once again for the cascade. They returned after nearly three hours. Still a hundred yards from me, Erich raised his fist with his thumb turned down. "Total rout!" he exulted, gasping for air.

"How's the camp?" -

"The plague could not have done a better job."

"The guerrillas killed four of their own cooks, thinking that they were the responsible ones," Schenk reported excitedly.

"Are they all dead?"

"You bet they are," Schulze said. ""A few of them are probably still breathing but they wouldn't last long. We finished off a couple of machine gunners in the ravine but they were already on the way to hell anyway."

Assembling the troops we marched to the ravine with fixed bayonets. Schulze found two more gun emplacements littered with dead and dying guerrillas. We bayoneted them and pushed on.

"Do you think it .is safe to enter the camp?" I asked Schulze when the base came into sight.

"It is a morgue, Hans," he assured me.

"I want no shooting!" I warned the troops. "The village is only two miles away and some guerrilla detachments are absent. I want them to return to home sweet home."

We found about sixty of the terrorists still alive. Some of them lay in their bunks, others on the ground, writhing and moaning. Only about fifteen Viet Minh had been unaffected by the drugs. They were busy tending the sick ones when we overran them. The body of Nam Hoa sprawled in front of the command post in a pool of partly digested food which he had vomited before he died. We made a photo of him for later reference and to collect the reward. Many of the victims had vomited where they fell before death seized them.

"Suoi," I said to the girl as I led her into the commander's hut, "you can help us now. Look through all the papers which you think could be important for us and please put them into this bag." I handed her a small canvas bag.

"Oui!" she nodded and began to work immediately.

I wanted to get her inside; the spectacle of bayoneting the dying and captured enemy was not a pleasant one. I posted a man in the door. "Keep her busy until we finish the job."

"I guess we should have left her with Eisner," Erich remarked when he joined me on the porch.

"We should have left her in Hanoi!" I growled.

Searching the huts, Sergeant Schenk discovered three girls. They had not been affected by the poison but were much too terrified to stand up, let alone to use their pistols. Schenk escorted them to the mess hut. "Sit down here and don't move!" he told them harshly. "Otherwise I will cut your slender throats. . . . And don't utter a sound either."

With Xuey's assistance I interrogated them immediately. The girls spoke some French but not enough to understand the implications of my questions. According to them, Trengh and his one hundred and sixty guerrillas had departed two days before our arrival. They had taken a part of the stolen wares to another dump fifteen miles away. More items had been hidden in the village.

"Where is that other dump?" I asked, telling Xuey to interpret my question as sternly as possible. The girls did not know the place.

"We have never been there," one of them muttered.

"You are lying!" I shouted in her native tongue. The girls shrank away from my outburst and huddled together terrified. One of them began to sob. I knew I had to apply the squeeze right then.

"Sergeant Schenk!" I called Victor. "Tickle them a little with the bayonets."

Schenk and two of the troopers stepped forward with their bayonets extended, the points touching the girls' throats.

"Have you seen what happened to your sick comrades?" I asked slowly, stressing my words. "I am asking you once more where that other dump is. If you don't tell us, you will die."

The blades, still spattered with blood, were a macabre sight. "Please, no," the smallest girl cried, burying her face in her hands, "please don't kill us. We are very young."

"You weren't so young when you joined the terrorists."

"We had to," she mumbled, "we had to go with them."

"When is Trengh coming back?"

"If we tell you, Trengh will kill us all ... our families, too."

"If you tell us, Trengh won't kill anybody anymore. When is he coming back?"

"Tonight!" she whispered.

"I want to know—"

"Leave them alone!" A cry from behind interrupted me. Followed by Erich, Suoi came running toward me. She pushed aside the bayonets and stood between us and the girls with her eyes blazing. "You . . . you cannot do this. . . . You wouldn't dare . . . you. . . ." She was so aroused that she could barely form her words and I couldn't resist teasing her.

"Oh, yes, Suoi—if necessary I would dare."

"Not as long as I am here—commander!"

I cast a glance of resignation toward Erich, who lifted and dropped his shoulders with a grin and waved the troopers aside.

"I guess this is the end of my interrogation," I remarked in German. "Maybe you and Suoi can take over."

I glanced at the captive girls, a frightened bunch of little rabbits; the oldest one of them was probably less than twenty years of age.

"Why did you join those bandits?" Suoi spoke to them softly. "Do you think it is right for young girls to kill people?"

"We did not kill anyone. We were only tending the wounded."

"Are you nurses?" I cut in.

They nodded.

"All right. You will show us the way to the other dump and we will let you go home." They began to cry again and explained something to Suoi between a series of small hysterical sobs.

"They cannot go home," Suoi translated for me. "The Viet Minh will kill them."

"That's too bad, Suoi."

"You are too bad," she replied, shaking her head. "You are much too hard and have no heart."

"There is a war going on around here. Wars are very bad—not me, Suoi."

"But if they betray the guerrilla camp to you, the guerrillas will kill them all. Can't you understand? You might as well kill them right here."

"All right, all right," I cut her short. "Take care of them, Suoi. I have other things to attend to. We will talk about the dump later. In the meantime the girls can care for our own wounded."

"We haven't got any," Schulze stated, obviously pleased with my decision about the girls.

"We aren't home yet, Erich," I reminded him of something that every one of us should always keep in mind.

We soon discovered not only a large quantity of material stolen from the garrison but also hundreds of Soviet-made guns, pistols, and mortars, along with similar weapons manufactured in China. There were Degtyarev light machine guns, Spaghin and Sudaiev submachine guns, Goriunov machine guns which can fire two hundred and fifty bullets per minute to a distance of one thousand meters. There were also Browning automatic rifles, French Mitra Mats, and even MAS rifles produced in 1937.

"What shall we do with all the stuff?" Erich inquired, waving an arm about the depot.

"Don't worry. The villagers will carry everything back to the stockade. They know the way."

The troops spent the day preparing a reception for Trengh and his terrorists. Fifty men with fifty machine guns, which we uncrated in the huts, were deployed to cover the entrance of the camp and the ravine behind it. Xuey, Sergeant Schenk, and one platoon occupied the vacant gun emplacements of the Viet Minh. The barrels of their machine guns had been carefully muffled with blankets and rags to deaden sound. Those in the village were still unaware of our presence in the hills and of the destruction of the terrorist base.

The girls had told me the truth. Around six o'clock in the afternoon Eisner radioed the coming of a Viet Minh unit, riding cycles on the road. "Let them pass," I flashed back. "We have a reception ready for them."

Trengh and his guerrillas arrived at sundown. Xuey waved boldly to them as they passed the first gun emplacement, now manned by Schenk and six troops. The guerrillas waved back and the group proceeded through the ravine and entered the camp.

I waited just long enough for them to come out in the open, then ordered fire. The machine guns opened up simultaneously and fired for less than ten seconds. Their chatter was very dull, resembling the popping of champagne corks. During that ten seconds five hundred bullets were poured into the group. The terrorists didn't know what hit them.

I left a detachment to guard the camp and turned my attention to the village, where shock and consternation was immense, even though we harmed no one. Most of the dead guerrillas were from there. I considered it enough punishment for the people. There was hardly a hut without someone missing. A grim lesson of a cruel war.

From the concealed cellars and tunnels we recovered everything that had been snatched from the stockade. Taking a hundred troops, Eisner escorted a large group of complaining, crying villagers to the camp to bring down more army wares. He allowed the people to bury their dead. The camp was then destroyed with explosive charges.

Taking the three captive girls, Riedl and Pfirstenhammer departed for the other guerrilla dump—supposedly fifteen miles, but it turned out to be over twenty-two miles away. Escorting the villagers—some four hundred people altogether—-laden with stores, we headed back toward the stockade.

A new garrison greeted us when we arrived. Trucks, helicopters, and armored cars crowded the yards, while engineers were busy repairing the damaged buildings and the outer defenses. The perimeter was being improved with minefields and concrete pillboxes near the palisade. A system of covered trenches was to connect the bunkers with the stockade.

"What did I tell you?" Eisner exclaimed when, descending from the hills, we beheld the brisk activity for the first time. "The French are the greatest builders of forts." Then he added with a chuckle, "In about five years' time those pillboxes and minefields may have destroyed as many terrorists as we have dispatched in the past five days!"

With the goods properly delivered, we sent the civilians home and settled down to enjoy a well-deserved rest. Riedl and Karl returned two days later. In the secret dump, which consisted of a maze of natural caves and tunnels, they discovered a quantity of Soviet weapons.

"How did you blast the place if it was all rocks?" Schulze asked. He was busy preparing our report on the past week.

"Like hell we blasted it!" Karl exclaimed. "We just mined the lot and left everything in order. Who wants to blow up bare hills, Mensch? Sooner or later other guerrillas will come to fetch the stuff. They move a crate and the whole works blow sky-high—with the Viet Minh riding the smoke."

"A good idea," Erich complimented.

"My ideas are always good," Karl stated modestly.

The girls were still with them. "I sent them off near the village," Riedl explained, "but they kept coming back to us. They seemed scared to death of their own people."

"They prefer to come to Hanoi," Karl added. "We couldn't just dump them in the woods, could we?" He walked off to the canteen and returned with a large bowl of rice and meat. "Here! Take it." He handed the bowl to the smallest girl. "Eat! Mangez . . . essen . . . niam, niam. Her name is Noy," he explained to us. "The other two are called Chi and Thi—if I spell it well. Chi is not a local girl. She is from Szechwan, China."

"We can use them, can't we, Hans?" Riedl seemed to be suggesting rather than asking a question. "They are trained nurses with hospital experience."

"We can always use a couple of good nurses," Schulze put in.

"Sure!" Riedl agreed and began to cite the advantages of having the girls along. They know the woods. They can march like men. They are nurses. They can prepare better food than we are cooking ourselves. Heading off my decision he added hopefully, "They will be an asset to the battalion, Hans."

"I have heard that already."

"Besides, Suoi won't be all alone."

"Neither will you, I presume."

Karl grinned. "It could be kind of fun to have them along."

"I gather that. But suppose they don't like your proposal?"

"But they do!" Pfirstenhammer exulted. He turned toward the trio who sat on the crates, munching without a worry on earth. "You do want to come with us, don't you?"

The girls looked up and giggled. "Ja, ja," the one called Noy replied in German. "Kayl unt Helmut sint gutte manne"—"Karl and Helmut are good men."

"What did I say?" Karl beamed. "In six months' time they will even speak German, won't you Noy?"

"Jahfoll . . . ja, ja," she answered what one could decipher into "Jawohl!" and giggled. "Yes, yes ... we like learning, much learning. Kayl said we can come with you. He will fix up Commander."

"He will fix me up, eh? That's what Karl said?"

"Ja, ja," she nodded, "can we come?"

"Of course you can come," Suoi answered on my behalf.

Being outnumbered ten to one, I surrendered.

"Voila!" Erich chuckled. "The battalion plus four."
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Re: Devil's Guard, by George Robert Elford

Postby admin » Fri Jan 12, 2018 5:14 am

11. AMBUSHED

We spent four magnificent days in the stockade, sleeping in soft beds; eating cooked meals consisting of meat, vegetables, and salads; sitting at tables, drinking wine, playing cards; reading, relaxing. Then a wireless message arrived marked "Urgent!"

"Commence with plan TRANSIT in the areas 502 and 511. Intelligence reports massive terrorist supplies moving south to reinforce Viet Minh units in the Delta zone. Advance on point 1123 and interrupt enemy convoys and troops. Send detailed situation report."

Advance on point 1123—Muong Son, a Communist stronghold. Our short "holiday" was over.

I had my misgivings about such detailed wireless dispatches whether they were coded or not. I had often requested a change of code but all in vain. In the German Army we had changed field codes every other day. The Foreign Legion used the same keys for months in a row. Recent events made me suspect that the "ears" of the Viet Minh were wide open both in Hanoi and in the provinces. Besides, we had discovered quite a few Chinese radio listening posts in the frontier areas and Eisner swore that some of them were manned by Russian signal experts. I would not have been surprised if the enemy had known the key to our code.

While in the stockade, we learned that the guerrillas had begun the attack there only two days after the magazines of the fort had been replenished with supplies and only after the departure of the tanks and copters that had escorted the incoming convoy. Moreover, the attack came when our battalion was on its way toward an alleged Viet Minh trail in Laos and was bypassing the stockade—which was within easy marching distance. The prompt terrorist attack on the garrison had diverted us from the trail and the suspected enemy supplies moving south. Had the guerrillas attacked a day later, we would not have turned back toward the stockade but would have moved on to disrupt the enemy convoys deeper inland.

Was it only a coincidence or the result of deliberate and clever planning? Was there something very important moving south which the enemy wanted to preserve by providing a diversion for us? Had some of their spies been very active in Hanoi? Had they managed to break the army code? Three days later I received my answer to that question.

We were camped out on a barren ridge, waiting for dawn, when suddenly we came under intense enemy fire which persisted for over an hour. Shouting savagely, several hundred guerrillas emerged from the forest below. Still firing furiously, those on the flanks streamed across the entire width of the hill and began to ascend. Silhouetted against the moonlit rocks, they came charging up the rugged slope. There were too many boulders to shelter behind. The machine guns could not stop them. The enemy advanced, hopping from boulder to boulder, gaining ground rapidly. The night roared with machine gun clatter and the explosion of grenades; shrieks, yells, and curses rose from below, echoing among the rocks.

"Hell, Hans!" Schulze yelled, as he knelt against a boulder, sweeping the slope with his submachine gun, "there is a whole bloody brigade of them!"

"It isn't so bad as that, Erich, keep firing!" I shouted back. I glanced at Suio and the nurses, who were sheltered behind a large stone; they appeared more fascinated than scared.

"Take them higher up!" I called to Schulze and pointed at a cluster of boulders twenty feet above us. Erich nodded and sprang to the girls. "Up there!" he commanded briskly. "Lay low." He helped them climb into a small natural opening and dumped three submachine guns after them. "If they come as far as here, then shoot!" The next instant he was back firing savagely into the oncoming crowd.

Before the enemy troops were halfway up the hill I could see that we were heavily outnumbered, but I did not consider our situation too difficult; we had the advantage of being better trained, better equipped, and we also held the superior position. The Viet Minh had missed a better chance: They should have attacked us when we were still coming uphill.

The ridge where we deployed was a sort of natural fort formed by large jagged boulders, but it was circular and could be attacked from every side. As we lay prone on the slabs, the enemy proceeded to do exactly what I anticipated—make a concentric assault. With some pessimism, Schulze could have yelled "a division" instead of only a brigade, there were so many of them coming at us.

Traversing the machine guns slowly from side to side, the gunners managed to slow down the enemy but still they advanced, hopping from stone to stone. My men were preparing a defense perimeter with Sergeant Krebitz, Schenk, Corporal Altreiter, and even Kurt Zeisl, our medical officer, shouting orders, running from position to position to bolster the men. We were compressed in a limited area, maybe two hundred yards across, and I could but thank our good fortune that the guerrillas were not carrying mortars.

On each side bullets dealt death. The foremost terrorists fell but others came hurtling on, regardless of losses, in what was obviously a human wave assault. Their advance platoons established themselves barely fifty yards below the ridge, where a depression offered them shelter. I had no doubt that the enemy had known where to look for us and thought we could be trapped and finished off on the coverless ridge. It could not have been just another "coincidence"; rather it was a planned and timely delivered action.

The moon suddenly vanished behind a passing cloud and the short period of darkness was greeted by vicious shrieks and yells in the terrorist ranks. Under the cover of darkness the enemy surged forward. We could do little to stop them.

"A la baionnette!" Eisner commanded. "Fix bayonets!" Corporal Altreiter and Sergeant Schenk passed the word. The firing stopped abruptly, giving way to a multitude of sharp, metallic clicks as the bayonets were snapped onto the gun muzzles.

"Xung! Phong!" came the Viet Minh battle cry. "Forward! Kill!"

The leading terrorists were but a dozen yards from us, coming on strong. Howling madly and no longer seeking shelter, they charged. Many of them fell, slithering down the slope dead or wounded. Even so, our last volley could not stop the tide. Only then did I notice Chinese militiamen among the Viet Minh—over a hundred miles inside French Indochina. Nevertheless for Paris, Peking was "neutral," nonbelligerent; we could not even submit a proper report on our raids into China to be forwarded to Paris. It was against the rules to have been there in the first place.

Indeed the Chinese were nonbelligerent—only bellicose.

"Loose fire! Aim at their guts!" I shouted, bracing myself for the coming melee. More and more of the enemy lurched, spun about, and collapsed, thrashing in agony, but at least a hundred of them reached the plateau, each carrying a rifle or a cutlass.

"Keep shooting!" Schulze yelled. Discarding the empty submachine gun, I drew my automatic and raced up to Riedl, who was already fighting three guerrillas in a desperate hand-to-hand combat. I shot the nearest one through the chest and turned toward the second man, who rushed at me with a broad-bladed cutlass. The terrorist had a submachine gun flung about his chest. Its magazine must have been empty and in the turmoil no one had time to reload. The determination of my adversary was incredible. He saw me lifting my pistol but only howled and kept coming at me. One bullet hit him in the face, the second slug tore out his throat. He stopped, staggered a few steps, and went down.

"Here, Hans!" I heard a yell. A Chinese rifle with Russian bayonet materialized in front of my face. I grabbed the weapon, barely noticing that Sergeant Krebitz handed it to me. "It's loaded!" Krebitz raced off to Gruppe Drei on the far side of the plateau. I saw him duck the thrust of a militiaman; an instant later he grabbed his adversary by the chest, kicked him in the groin, and as the terrorist doubled up in pain, Krebitz clubbed him with his rifle butt.

The guerrillas were all around us. They came yelling, howling, brandishing bayonets, spears, and even knives. Shooting became very sporadic. Both sides had fired all their bullets and no one had time to change magazines. It was a day of the bayonets.

Firing the Chinese rifle, I managed to drop four of the closest terrorists, then bayoneted two more as they came over the ledge. Some of my own men were going down; others sprawled among the stones—shot, stabbed, or cut open.

"Watch out for Riedl!" Erich cried, hitting and slicing a guerrilla. Wheeling around I saw a couple of militiamen ready to swamp Helmut. The same instant I felt a searing pain in my head and for a moment my world jarred; but my eyes remained open, I could still see and move my limbs and I was still erect. I did not pay any more attention to it. Rushing on, I managed to drop two of the Chinese but emptied my rifle in the process. The third militiaman leaped at Helmut. He, too, must have spent his bullets, for he raised his rifle club-like.

"Look out!" I warned Riedl and as he turned to meet the charge the sinewy Chinese brought down his weapon at an oblique angle. Had it landed the blow could have sent Riedl spinning into the ravine a hundred feet below, but he ducked in time and the stock only grazed his shoulder. Even so the blow was enough to knock the gun from his hand. Sergeant Schenk uttered a savage yell as he smashed the head of a terrorist with a swinging blow, then stabbed another one with such force that not only the bayonet but also a part of the muzzle entered the wound. Lifting his foot, he kicked his adversary backward to free his bayonet, then rushed to Riedl's side. The militiaman wheeled around and lifted his rifle to ward off the coming thrust. He only managed to divert it. Schenk's blade ripped across his chest and the two went down in a tangle, barely a yard from the precipice. The diversion enabled Riedl to recover his automatic. Still stooping he shot the Chinese behind the ear. Blood, bone, and brain tissue blew across the stones in a savage spray. Sergeant Schenk rose, covering his ringing ears, dumbfounded by the proximity of the blast; his face and hands were sprinkled with blood and bits of flesh.

"Sorry, Victor," Helmut apologized, "I had no choice." From the hand of the still writhing Chinese he kicked free a short curved knife. "He was about to cut your belly open."

A tall, lean guerrilla with protruding teeth materialized in front of me. Howling with his mouth wide open, he pushed his bayonet so far forward that he lost his balance and crashed headlong into Schulze. Erich swore. He reeled, steadied himself, and swung his gun up in a savage blow. The barrel caught the terrorist a terrific wallop across the mouth. He stopped howling as a few of his teeth went down his gullet; staggering back he fell on his knees until a kick from Riedl helped him over the precipice.

The enemy was falling all over the ridge, for numerous as they were, in hand-to-hand fighting my men held the advantage of both weight and muscle power over the smaller guerrillas. A couple of our six-foot-plus comrades were obviously enjoying themselves whacking and tossing aside the enemy troops as though they were mushrooms. Indeed some of the brawny ones fought in what looked like a ring of dead or dying terrorists, heaped high. Still more Viet Minh were climbing upward on the rugged slope. Ignorant of peril and unconcerned about losses, they came flowing over the precipice, swamping the plateau like army ants and cutting a swath across the land they invade.

"Drop, everybody!" We heard a vicious yell in German from higher above. "On your belly! Down! Down!" The next instant the clatter of a machine gun erupted from the rocks and a couple of submachine guns joined in simultaneously. Dropping to the ground, I saw militiamen and Viet Minh collapsing in heaps of agonized flesh. Shredding uniforms, staggering under the impact of the heavy slugs, crying, bleeding, twisting, and falling, the enemy went down all over the plateau. Lying on a flat boulder overhead, Sergeant Schenk, Suoi, and the three ex-guerrilla nurses coolly proceeded to clear the place of the enemy, the girls sweeping the ridge and Sergeant Schenk the slope. While we were fighting for our lives with bayonets, rifle butts, and our bare fists, Victor had climbed the rocks and reloaded an MG. The magnificent four were now blazing away at the bewildered enemy.

The guerrilla reinforcements stopped; their ranks faltered and fell back on the slope. On the ridge the struggle came to a sudden and dramatic end. Enemy dead and wounded littered the plateau, but unfortunately our bullets could not distinguish between friend and foe either; a few of our comrades were still struggling with the terrorists, locked in brutal hand-to-hand brawls when the bullets from above began to pour. It was a small consolation that we had no way of knowing who had been hit by our own bullets. But the enemy was beaten. Those who survived that sudden rain of steel were now tumbling down toward the woods, slithering and crawling away to shelter. Schenk and the girls had saved the day. The guns fell silent and we rose.

"Hans, I was right," Riedl yelled. "The nurses are an asset for the battalion."

"Hey, men!" Schenk called from above, "are you all dead or asleep down there? Let them have a couple of grenades for good measure.'"

Still overawed by their unexpected deliverance, the troops now gathered themselves, sprang forward, and began to hurl grenades after the escaping enemy. Explosions shattered the silence. The MG's opened up once more; earth and stone erupted below the ridge as more and more Viet Minh curled and crumpled like broken dolls, rolling down into the ravine. Wiping the sweat from his face, Schulze glanced up and shook his fist at Suoi.

"We will talk about this shooting business of yours— just come down," he called to the girl with joking apprehension mixed with relief.

"I am not coming."

With a few powerful strides, Erich mounted the rocks, caught hold of the girl, and brought her down. "I am going to whack you good and hard, if that's what you want." ' "You wouldn't dare!"

No, Erich "wouldn't dare." He only drew her close and held her tightly. And for the first time, at least in our presence, he kissed Suoi. Though surprised for an instant, she responded; the strap of the submachine gun which she was still holding slipped from her hand and the weapon dropped with a clatter. The girls giggled. Riedl and Karl helped them down, glanced at them, then at each other, and broke into a broad grin.

"Shall we join the party?" Karl asked. "At least we won't be the only ones around here." Helmut nodded as he caught hold of Thi and before the girl could do anything about it, he kissed her long and hard. Karl was struggling with Noy for a similar favor.

Sergeant Schenk wiped his lips, turned toward Chi, who stood leaning against a boulder giggling. "You are the smallest one here and I am small too. We seem to match, don't you think so?" he asked. Chi did not understand much of the commentary but she understood what came afterwards.

"What a touching family scene," Eisner commented.

"Are you hurt?" I asked, lowering myself beside him.

"Not that I know of." He glanced at me. "Say, Hans, you're bleeding like a pig."

I touched my scalp. It was matted with blood. "It seems they put a hole in your head," Bernard joked. "We had better call the girls."

I called them. They came, holding hands with their newly acquired sweethearts—every one of them obviously very content with the turn of events.

"I cannot give you a medal but I thank you for what you did," I told them. "You were magnificent." They blushed and stood looking at each other, then at us. Noy stepped closer.

"You are wounded," she said. "Shall I look?"

I sat down on the ground and bent my head obediently. She opened her first aid kit. Eisner sent Suoi and the other girls to help Sergeant Zeisl look after the wounded. Smiling apologetically, Noy began to examine my scalp. Only then did I realize that Noy, too, was a very pretty girl with her faultless oval face, large dark eyes, and long braids neatly woven and held in place by a pair of wide orange ribbons.

"When you are through with me, you are going to change those orange ribbons for some blue ones," I told her. "They are much too conspicuous and we don't want to see your pretty head being shot at by the Viet Minh."

"I change ribbons—why?" she asked, not quite understanding the meaning of my "complicated" sentence.

"Because the terrorists can see your ribbons from far away," I explained, imitating a pair of binoculars with my hands. "The Viet Minh see your ribbons, tatatata—and Noy is dead."

She nodded, a series of quick little nods. "Oui, monsieur. I change ribbons."

"Good girl!"

"You have luck," she commented, working on my wound. "Your head was shot by a bullet. It comes little lower and you drop dead." Her way of selecting and assembling words was charming.

"Thanks for the consolation," I grinned, submitting myself to the treatment.

With deft fingers, Noy separated my matted hair and began to bathe the wound with disinfectant. The process brought tears to my eyes, which seemed to amuse my faithful companions.

"Stop grinning like a clown," I snapped at Karl, "and go look for your men. Noy won't be running away."

Sergeant Krebitz came, carrying papers. "Twenty dead and thirty-five wounded," he reported grimly, handing me the list. .......

"How many serious ones?"

"Seven, Hans. Shot through the lung, in the groin, in the abdomen." "We are moving out in twenty minutes!"

"I know."

"How about the rest of the wounded?"

"They will be able to march any reasonable distance."

Noy finished bandaging my head. "Tomorrow I see you again," she said quietly. "Your head will be good, one week time."

We walked over to our gravely wounded comrades. One of them, Heinz Auer, a former paratrooper, had already died. The six others were barely conscious.

Although it seemed that, at least for the time being, the guerrillas had had enough, they still occupied a dense patch of forest and I knew we had to march before they could receive reinforcements, or even worse, mortars! Exposed as we were on that barren ridge we would have no chance to withstand a prolonged mortar attack.

Sergeant Zeisl came slowly toward me. He was carrying a small medical container. We all knew what it contained and for what purpose. "Shall I proceed?" Zeisl asked grimly.

I nodded. "Make it quick."

The troops began to gather. Some of them bandaged, others uninjured. No one spoke; all stood in bitter silence. Riedl kneeled down beside a wounded comrade to wipe his perspiring forehead and to shoo off the flies. Zeisl filled a syringe with a lethal concentration of morphine. Noy, who was watching the preparations, and thinking that all we wanted to do was ease the suffering, suddenly bent down for the empty vial which Sergeant Zeisl had discarded. She looked at it, then turned toward me with her eyes wide open.

"Sergeant do wrong!" she exclaimed pointing at Zeisl. "Gives them too much. The men die. He is mistaken."

"He is not mistaken, Noy," Pfirstenhammer drew her aside gently. "We cannot carry them and we cannot leave them here either. Do you understand?"

"I understand," she answered and her eyes began to fill. "You kill them!" She looked around bewildered, looking at Karl, at Eisner, at me. We all averted our eyes. Noy began to sob. "You cruel people . . . you very, very cruel people."

"Come, Noy," said Karl, placing an arm around her shoulders. "You should not look."

"You are worse than the Viet Minh," she cried, "for even they help their wounded."

"We cannot help them, Noy. You are a nurse, you should know better."

"You why not call helicopters?"

"It would take hours before the copters could come. Do you think they can live that long? Or that we can live that long? The Viet Minh will gather more men, then attack again and again."

"You are not God," she sobbed, "you cannot give or take life."

Karl led her away gently.

Sergeant Zeisl delivered the injections, replaced the needle in a small vial of alcohol, and put it away in his kit. He turned. Facing the six men on the ground, he raised his hand for a last salute.

"Attention!" I commanded. The ring of troops froze.

"Salute!"

And as Sergeant Krebitz proceeded with his gloomy task of collecting identity tags, watches, wallets, and pocketbooks from the men who were leaving us forever, the troops began to hum, then sing in a low tone, the old German soldier's song, "Wacht am Rhein."

I read their names from the list in my hand: Heinz Auer, Rudolf Forcher, Leopold Ambichl, Josef Bauer, Josef Edler, Anton Gebauer, and twenty more. Although the Free World has yet to honor them, they had fought the enemy of all mankind for ten long years and in battlefields ten thousand miles apart. The same enemy in different uniforms, in a different disguise. They had done more to preserve freedom and civilization than many much-decorated generals and celebrated statesmen. Only they received no medals for their deeds. Not even a decent Memento mori! They were forgotten and forsaken heroes. We could not give them as much as a decent burial. We placed them in a deep crevasse and blew rocks over the makeshift tomb. A single line in German was inscribed on a jagged boulder: "Deutschland-Poland-Russland-Nord Afrika-Indochina 1939-1951, 27 comrades."

We had no time to count the enemy dead but they must have numbered several hundred. Removing the weapons, grenades, ammunition, and papers of those who had fallen on or immediately below the ridge, we descended the southern slope, still under sporadic enemy fire. But the very boulders which had sheltered the guerrillas before now provided us with cover. Keeping low so as not to silhouette ourselves against the moonlit sky, the battalion descended. Covered by the MG's of Gruppe Drei we entered the woods, and followed a path which we sighted and compass-marked from the ridge.

A few hundred yards inside the forest we passed a small clearing, but as we penetrated deeper and deeper, the forest became thicker. The trail led straight toward Muong Son, but that was precisely the place where I no longer wanted to go. The enemy seemed well informed about our destination and that concentration of Viet Minh troops below the ridge was the very last "coincidence" I was willing to digest.

We were moving deep within enemy-controlled territory and far from French fortifications or patrol routes. We could march without fearing mines or even traps; we could even use our flashlights, shielded with green plastic. My idea was to advance as far as possible, then rest for the remaining hours of the night. At dawn I intended to leave the path and to move west, penetrating still deeper into the Viet Minh "hinterland," seeking a favorable spot to vanish into the jungle. As we had often done we would cut our own trail, starting a few hundred yards from the regular path without being connected to it.

We had, in the course of months, cut several secret trails in the guerrilla-held areas. Since our routes had no connection with the existing paths, it was very difficult for the enemy to detect them. Arriving at an existing path we never continued directly opposite but fifty paces to the left, or to the right. In each section my men left a few innocent-looking objects to serve as "markers"—a casually bent bough tied with threads, a discarded tin holding a few cigarettes, an old lighter, or something similar. The disappearance of the marker would tell us immediately that strangers had come across our trails. Naturally no guerrilla would ignore a lighter or a fountain pen on a tree stump.

Having marched for over two hours without finding a suitable place for camping out, Sergeant Zeisl suggested that we should stop because of our wounded comrades. "We will have to remove two bullets tomorrow," he reminded me. (Two of the men were marching with bullets in their flesh.) "They have lost much blood and need a rest."

I decided to camp down where we were. Eisner dispatched advance and rear guards to cover the trail with machine guns. Sooner or later the enemy would catch up with us.

"Change the sentries as frequently as possible, so that everyone can have some sleep," I told Bernard.

At dawn two platoons went up and down the trail to plant mines and primed grenades triggered with boughs or trip wires. Another group advanced a mile to discard cigarette butts, empty tins, and other "evidence" of our presence far beyond the point where we intended to leave the trail. A hundred yards inside the woods the trailblazers began to cut a new path. Very cautiously, careful not to leave tracks or break branches, the troops left the trail. I was confident that the guerrillas would bypass the place. Discovering our planted evidence farther up, they could easily march headlong into our mines.

Around ten A.M. we stopped at a shallow creek to cook a meal and to attend the wounded. With the help of the girls, Sergeant Zeisl extracted the two bullets and changed the bandages of the others. I thought it was time to give the troops a well-deserved rest.

"We will camp out here until everyone is fit again," I told Eisner. For a moment he looked surprised.

"It might be a week, Hans ... or even more."

"So what?"

"You are forgetting about action Transit."

"To hell with action Transit," I growled, massaging my aching temples. My head was throbbing like a steam engine and I could imagine how the two men with bullets just extracted from their flesh must have felt. "What if we blast a few wretched Viet Minh convoys? It won't stop the war. They can wait." I swept an arm about the woods. "This is a good place. We have ample shade, water, and we are far from villages and trails. The enemy has no idea where we are. A week later we may hit them like a bolt out of the clear sky." I lowered myself to the ground with my back against a tree and closed my eyes. "We need a rest, Bernard. Especially the wounded ones, including me. I am weary."

Eisner nodded. "I will give the word to build shelters," he said.

"Do that, Bernard—but tell the men not to make much noise."

We were to camp along the creek for eight days. By the afternoon we had a triple row of small huts, made of branches and leaves, on either side of the creek. Suoi and the nurses were presented with a cozy little hut, "furnished" with love and appreciation. It even had beds— thick layers of dry leaves, covered with towels, in place of mattresses—and a table. In order to insure their comfort and privacy, Sergeant Krebitz and a few men from Gruppe Drei built a bathing hut for the girls right in the creek. They had become very popular with the troops who kept referring to them only as "our angels," not only because the girls cared for the injured ones with tender zeal and were always ready to help and never complained of hardship or fatigue, but also because their very presence, their cheerfulness and ever-present smiles, seemed to uplift everyone's spirit.

Game appeared to be plentiful in the area. Carrying the silencer-equipped rifles, our Abwehrkommando left for short hunting trips every day and brought back deer and wild boar. Xuey and the girls prepared wonderful native meals and taught the men how to cook better meals for themselves. We had no facility for mess-cooking. The men had to take care of their own meals.

One evening, I think it was our third evening in our jungle camp, I sat in my hut writing my journal, when Erich appeared all of a sudden. "Hans," he addressed me in a troubled voice, "do you suppose you can perform a marriage ceremony?"

"Perform a what?"

The pen dropped from my hand and so did my chin. "Marriage," Schulze repeated and I saw he was in earnest. "I want to marry Suoi!"

'That is no news!"

"I want to marry her now," he added quickly. "I thought you could do it... like a captain of a ship."

"Are you serious, Erich?"

"Hell, of course I am serious. Can you marry us, Hans?"

"I don't think it would do you any good as far as the law goes, Erich."

"We can take care of the legalities later."

I lit a cigarette and offered him one, then taking my canteen, I filled two small cups with rum. "I think we both need a drink, Erich."

We drank, but all the time Erich's eyes remained on my face questioningly.

"What does Suoi think of your idea?" I asked.

"I wouldn't have come to you on my own, Hans. We are in love."

"That is also known," I commented repressing a smile. "But you had better wait until we return to Hanoi."

He wet his lips and wiped the perspiration from his handsome face.

"I will go to pieces before then, Hans," he confessed. "What do you suggest?"

"I suggest that we have another cup of rum."

We drank. "Where is Suoi?" I asked after a while.

"In my hut—crying." .

"I hope you did not—"

"No, I didn't!" He cut me short. "That's exactly why I am cracking up, Hans. I am crazy about her."

"I can understand that," I agreed sympathetically. "She is a beautiful girl."

"She takes my hand, I kiss her, and the scent of her hair is enough to send me up the wall."

He lit another cigarette with shaking fingers. I never saw Erich so excited. "There ought to be a missionary around. The men say there is a priest in Muong Son."

"So is the Viet Minh, Erich!"

He ran his hand through his hair and rose slowly. "Hans," he spoke to me, his voice full of emotion. "I've never asked for any special favor in all these years together. I am asking for a favor now. We don't know how long we will last, do we, Hans? We cannot think of the future, not even in terms of weeks. The only certain thing we have is our present—this very day. Get me that priest from Muong Son."

There was a pause. He was looking at me penetratingly and I was thinking.

"I suggest that you should return to Suoi now. I will see what I can do about you. But whatever I do will depend on what Xuey thinks of it. He knows Muong Son and Father Bousseau, a French priest there, and only Xuey can make the trip. For anyone else it would be suicidal even to try. The place is teeming with guerrillas." I glanced at him. "I presume you know what it could mean if we lose Xuey?" He answered nothing, only sat there with his face buried in his hands. I went on. "Provided that the priest is still there and he is willing to come, and he is able to come, I shall try to get him here."

"Thank you, Hans ... thank you indeed."

"Don't thank me, Erich. I am not happy about it—and I will be damned if this isn't the bloodiest military expedition I have ever been on."

"I am sorry."

"In a sense I was afraid that this would happen, Erich. Today you, tomorrow maybe Karl or Riedl. After tomorrow it might be Schenk or someone else."

"I am sorry, Hans."

"It's all right. In the meantime be kind to Suoi and remember that she is not a European girl. The Orientals still consider love and marriage something truly sacred and everlasting."

Erich swallowed hard and extended his hand. "I shall remember it, Hans. You have my word."

Schulze left and I spread out my map to spend almost an hour pondering the problem. Muong Son was about eight miles away, as the crow flies, but overland the trip would be much longer. I sent a trooper for Eisner and told him the whole story. He seemed amused, but he only shrugged at my dilemma.

"Well, say something," I urged him. "What would you do in my place?"

"Turn in my uniform and open a marriage bureau, Hans." He chuckled. "You should ask Xuey what he thinks of going to Muong Son."

"I should never have brought the girls along."

"Nonsense!" said he. "The boys never did so well before, Hans. They are marching better—no one dares to bitch while the girls keep going without a complaint—and they are fighting better because they know we have to protect our angels—and you know it too."

"All right. You've convinced me. Now let's hear from Xuey about the affair."

The little Indochinese listened to my explanation intently. I was truly embarrassed for requesting his services in such a nonmilitary and unimportant private affair. But Xuey's face showed no emotion whatsoever— neither approval nor disapproval. "I think I can manage it," was his comment. "Do you want me to go right now?"

I nodded. He asked me to write a short note to the priest, which I did, imploring him to trust Ghia Xuey, for I could not disclose the place where he was to come.

Two days later Xuey returned alone. "The priest is dead," he reported. "The Viet Minh shot him seven months ago. I got this book from an old servant of his." From under his shirt he pulled a small leather-bound Bible and placed it on my cot. "I am sorry that I could not oblige Lieutenant Schulze."

"Thank you, Xuey, all the same."

He bowed and withdrew. I sat for a while, thinking of what to do now. Erich was right; none of us knew whether we had a future. He came in shortly afterwards, hand in hand with Suoi. He had already spoken to Xuey and looked very disappointed. I motioned them to sit down.

"What do we do now?" Erich asked.

I reached for the Bible and opened it at random. It was the first time in my adult life that I had held a Bible in my hands. "Well, at least we have a Bible," I stated, trying to smile. "Even a ship's captain must have a Bible if he wants to perform a marriage ceremony."

Schulze's eyes lit up. "Will you do it then?"

"As a very temporary arrangement, Erich. I will do it mainly for Suoi's sake. But it won't be legal."

"Who cares!" he exclaimed. "We will know that we are married and God will know it too."

"God might know it but He won't give you a marriage certificate!"

Suoi blushed and lowered her face. "Suoi," I spoke to her, "do you understand that I cannot marry you legally and that if 1 do so, you will be married only in our hearts and in our eyes, but not in the eyes of the world?"

"Oui, I know," she whispered, her voice barely audible.

"Do you want me to do it?"

"Oui, Hans. I want you to do it."

The news spread through the camp like wildfire. And there, out in the wilderness, Sergeant Krebitz's men erected a small altar, covered with a tarpaulin sheet and decked with flowers; on it Riedl placed a wooden crucifix which he had carved the day before, expecting the priest. I placed the open Bible in front of the cross. Noy and the girls came, each carrying a single flower which they tucked gently into Suoi's hair, kissing her on both cheeks. The troops gathered around the makeshift shrine, everyone freshly shaved and wearing a clean shirt. They stood in solemn silence and were deeply touched when Erich and Suoi appeared, Erich with a stance of determination but Suoi blushing and with eyes averted. I motioned them to the altar and said, "Place your hands on the Holy Bible." Obediently they extended their hands, with Erich's hand resting lightly on hers. Strange as it may be, I saw my men, the rugged, tough fighters, who believed in only one power—that of the gun—now standing overawed before an invisible, spiritual force, no one daring to move or to do as much as clear the throat.

"Now, with your hands on the Bible, you shall say aloud, Erich and Suoi, that. you will accept each other as man and wife," I said.

"I do!" they whispered.

"For better or worse."

"For better or worse."

"Until death do us part."

"Until death do us part."

It was all I could remember.

I said to them, "I am not a servant of God. I cannot proclaim you man and wife in the name of God. I can speak only for us. We do accept and respect your union and we shall regard you as man and wife. And I believe that if there is a God, He, too, will accept your covenant."

I embraced them both. One after another the troops came to congratulate and to express their good wishes. Everyone was touched. Even Eisner was clearing his throat much too often.

"Blast me," he remarked, "if this was not the holiest of all the weddings I ever saw." He hugged Schulze and kissed him and then Suoi on the forehead.

"Still I suggest that you see one of God's emissaries when we get back to Hanoi. While we take care of the worldly authority," I added jokingly.

Four days later we were on the march again.

In the jungle the battalion was perfectly safe and could make better progress than on the roads or trails where we had to be on the alert for traps and enemy troops. We could, however, safely use remote paths, which sometimes crisscrossed the Viet Minh-controlled areas, far from the French garrisons. The chance of encountering enemy forces in the forest was minimal. In areas under guerrilla control the guerrillas no longer camped in the hills but in the villages, and they moved openly on the roads, dispersing only when reconnaissance planes happened to fly by. In districts from which the Legion had been expelled or had withdrawn for tactical reasons, the rules of the game changed; the Viet Minh occupied the settlements and the abandoned French stockades. Then our battalion assumed the role of the guerrillas with great success. We penetrated into areas which were out of reach for the regular army.

It was my intention to bypass Muong Son ten miles to the northwest The same evening our trailblazers hit a wide jungle path that seemed to run in approximately the right direction. After a brief survey, Xuey announced that the path had not been used for several weeks, and that it was safe. We proceeded openly and at a good rate, spending the nights in the woods, marching from dawn to about eleven o'clock, then again when the midday heat abated. Late in the afternoon of the third day after leaving our jungle camp, the forest became less dense and we finally arrived at an open area of grassland with a small settlement two miles away. It was not marked on our maps. Xuey observed the place for a long time and insisted that he could see a flag flying from a pole—the flag of the Viet Minh. We deployed on the forest line and Xuey decided to survey the hamlet at dusk. There was nothing we could do but wait.

Taking a submachine gun, Xuey prepared to leave. He wanted to go alone, and when Riedl asked concernedly, "Won't it be too dangerous?" our little Indochinese companion only smiled and said, "Remember that I was one of them." He vanished in the dark field like a cat. Half an hour later we heard the distant baying of dogs.

Xuey returned, soaking wet but satisfied. "There are paddies all around," he reported. "I could not get very close because of the dogs. The guerrillas are all local people, not more than fifty men. But I spotted two trucks."

"What trucks?"

"Loaded trucks," Xuey added. "The Viet Minh must have captured them from the army."

"Now isn't that great!" Eisner exclaimed. "They are trafficking in trucks, happy and unconcerned. Next time we may discover an underground railway line running between Chen-yuan and Muong."

"I wouldn't be surprised," Pfirstenhammer remarked. "The way our reconnaissance works...."

"There is a road but we will have to circle the paddy fields," Xuey explained. Then turning toward the girls he ordered, "Now face the woods, all of you. I want to change clothes."

I switched on my shaded flashlight and examined the map.

"The road is here all right but the village is missing," Riedl commented.

Taking my pen I marked the apparent locale of the village with a small cross. "It is about here."

"Trucks . . . ," Eisner fumed. "I believe the Chinese could build a fourlane highway to the Mekong delta without our intelligence ever noticing a thing."

Because of the dogs we could not enter the village undetected. I made a plan for encircling the settlement and moving in right on the road. It was a bold plan but I thought it would work. Dividing forces with Eisner and Riedl, we set out, following the forest line for a mile, then skirting the paddies until we arrived at the dirt road. It was comfortably dark and the neighborhood deserted. The woods on the southern bills, the route I planned to use later on, extended almost to the road and offered ample concealment.

"What are we going to do about the dogs?" Schulze queried.

"We are going to whistle!" I replied with reserve.

He screwed up his mouth and shrugged. "If you think your whistling will quiet the dogs, Hans...."

"I want to quiet their masters, Erich!" I said, then added, "Can you hum the 'Internationale'?"

"What 'Internationale'?"

"The Communist one!"

I hummed the first bars. Xuey glanced up and broke into a grin. He understood me. "Now we are going to turn into a bunch of real Viet Minh," I told the troops. "We will have to confuse the enemy, if only for the first critical minute and I think the Communist song will do exactly that."

Erich flashed a quick look of approval. "I am with you. En avant!"

Splitting troops once again, I sent a hundred men to approach the settlement from the north, between the road and the forest, then we moved on. My group was about four hundred yards from the village when the dogs began to bark. Within seconds the place was alive with barking and baying.

"Whistle!" I passed the word, "whistle for all you're worth."

Behind me the men began to hum, at first hesitantly, seeking the proper tune; then with Xuey's help, they found the melody and whistled "Proletarians of the world unite" as they marched with steady strides. Ahead of us lights appeared; dark shapes, carrying lamps, emerged from the huts.

One hundred yards!

In an open space between the huts fires burned; a group of villagers was busy boiling syrup distilled from cane sugar, They rose and moved closer to the road to have a better look at us.

"Chieu hoy!" Xuey yelled the native greeting which was returned by a few discordant, hesitant voices coming from the darkness. "Long live Father Ho!"

Sixty yards!

No one was shooting yet. The people were curious but not alarmed. The figures on the road raised their lamps, trying to see into the darkness.

Forty yards! I knew that we had them.

"Who is there?" a heavy voice demanded. A couple of men moved forward with lamps.

"Friends," Xuey replied, "on the way south with ammunition. We are going to liberate Saigon."

The next instant we were upon them.

"Disperse!" I shouted, firing a red Very light over the huts. In a moment, the small group of people was enveloped by my troopers. The women began to scream, the men cursed. Lamps, tools, and weapons clattered to the ground.

"The French! The French!" someone yelled. From the far end of the settlement a short burst of machine-gun fire crackled. We heard a shriek, then silence.

Within seconds my men occupied the huts. Motioning Erich and Karl to follow me, I entered the nearest dwelling where husband, wife, and grandparents were already lined up, facing the wall; half a dozen children sat or rolled whimpering on the floor.

"Over here!" Krebitz called, pointing at the wall where a pistol hung in a holster. He took it down and examined it expertly. "Seven-sixty-two caliber Tokarev TT," he remarked. Emptying the magazine, he dropped eight bullets into a canvas bag which one of his troopers held ready. "The goddamned cutthroats don't even hide their guns anymore," he remarked. With a sullen glance from his blue eyes he stepped to the owner of the hut and turned him around by the shoulder. "Where are your other weapons, you whoreson?"

The guerrilla was a squat little creature with wide nose, square face, and bold, large eyes with closely grown brows. He reeled, steadied himself by grabbing at a bamboo rafter that supported the roof. His eyes seething with hatred, his fists clenched, he replied defiantly, "You may take our weapons but we shall have new ones before the sun rises."

Without warning, Sergeant Krebitz struck him with the back of his hand. The man toppled over a low bench and crashed to the floor with his lips ripped. "Before the sun rises you will be a dead hero, you scum," Krebitz growled.

"Take them out!" I ordered the troopers. "The kids too." As they were being led out, Pfirstenhammer handed a length of bamboo to a trooper and pointed out the man Sergeant Krebitz had struck. "Give him a dozen strokes for the good of his soul."

Krebitz was already pulling away mats and boxes, searching for trapdoors. Outside the civilians were led to the paddies, where the men had to lie down with their hands extended, facing the water; the women and old people were permitted to sit, but also facing the paddies.

From down the road came Riedl. "Anything there?" I asked him.

"Guns and grenades," he replied, "and plenty of them."

"Keep looking."

More people were brought forward and taken to the rice fields. Ransacking the huts, my troopers dumped weapons and ammo on the road. The local terrorists had an incredible selection of weapons ranging from vintage muskets and swords to submachine guns. In one of the huts, Sergeant Schenk seized a bow with twenty-six arrows, every one of them poisoned. The owner was taken to the woods and executed immediately.

Sergeant Krebitz selected weapons and ammunition that we could use, and the rest of the terrorist hardware was taken to the trucks, marked for destruction. "Let's have a look at those trucks," Schulze suggested. "I wonder where they got them?"

We found Eisner already busy examining the vehicles. "Look at this," he said, "Soviet Zises with Chinese plates."

"Don't tell me they came all the way from China."

"I wouldn't be surprised if they did."

"There is no road," Erich interposed.

"Not that we know of," Eisner agreed. "But keep searching. We might find a couple of tanks too."

Beneath one of the dwellings, Pfirstenhammer discovered a large underground shelter packed with guns and ammo. "Mortar shells," Xuey interpreted the inscription.

"Over one hundred crates, each containing eighteen shells," Karl remarked. "Two thousand rounds."

"You had better get busy," I told Sergeant Krebitz. He nodded and began to work, arranging primers and fuses. I ordered Schenk to march the villagers down the road. "Half a mile will do. We are going to blast the dump along with the trucks."

While Krebitz and Gruppe Drei mined the dump and the trucks, Corporal Altreiter and fifty men gathered foodstuffs: rice, bundles of dried fish, fruits, and sugar cane were distributed among the troops. Half an hour later we evacuated the settlement.

"They will see the blast from Peking," Riedl remarked, waving a thumb toward the village.

"Let them!" Pfirstenhammer shrugged.

Schenk and company were waiting on the road with the prisoners. Krebitz glanced at his watch. "In three minutes. . . ."

The minutes ticked by. Then a blinding flash of fire illuminated the sky, followed instantly by a second blitz. The hills thundered and from the village exploding shells spiraled skyward. We could see huts flying in every direction. Moments later the place was engulfed in flames.

"Which is the way to Son La?" I asked one of the natives. Son La was in the opposite direction from where we really wanted to go. Numbly the man showed us the way. "Let them go!" I told the guard. "Except for those who were caught with a weapon." Fifteen men had been caught with weapons on them. They were taken to the paddies and shot.

We continued on the road for a mile. Walking between me and Erich, Suoi was unusually quiet. "Do you feel tired?" I asked her. She shook her head but said nothing.

"It is the village," Erich remarked in German. "It reminded her of her own place."

"We did not kill anyone except the armed terrorists."

"Even so. She thinks that those people, too, have lost everything—their homes, their food, their livestock."

"We are not the Salvation Army!" Eisner interposed. "They ought to learn that no one may play war games and get away with it unpunished."

We spotted our advance guard, stationary on the roadside.

"There is a trail running due west," Sergeant Krebitz reported. "Xuey considers it safe. He is already way ahead with Schenk."

The battalion left the road and took to the hills.
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Re: Devil's Guard, by George Robert Elford

Postby admin » Fri Jan 12, 2018 5:29 am

12. DIALOGUE WITH AN AGITATOR

A most extraordinary event was brought about by a simple routine raid on a "liberated" village where no French troops had set foot for several months. Our search parties had discovered a group of terrorists in a hut, dozing off the aftereffects of the rice liquor. We collected their weapons, then bayoneted them where they lay snoring on the bamboo mats.

Summoning a group of villagers, Sergeant Krebitz ordered the corpses taken out and buried in the woods. The headman, sinewy and heavy cheekboned, informed me that all the guerrillas were strangers—none of them belonged to his village. He implored us not to burn down their dwellings for, as he said, "We can do nothing but obey the Viet Minh. The French are far away and the guerrillas can come and go here at will." The man was probably telling the truth, for although many of his people, among them women and children, had gathered about the hut to watch the bodies being taken away, no one cried or lamented over the dead terrorists. Instead the women asked my permission to remove some clothes from the dead, especially their bulky sandals fashioned from segments of old tires. Allowed to do so, they literally stripped the corpses, taking even the torn, blood-soaked pajamas.

Their motive was not greed, as Suoi explained to me later. The pajamas would not be washed and put into use, she said. On the contrary, the tribesmen would carefully preserve everything that belonged to the guerrillas. Should another Viet Minh unit occupy the hamlet (as it was expected the moment we departed), they would find the pajamas beflowered and displayed above the house altars, on the walls, with candles burning around them: homage to the dead "patriots." This simple trick would save the people from the vengeance of the terrorists.

But the sixteen drunken "liberators" were not all the enemy the village yielded. Barely through the burial "ceremony" we spotted Riedl's four troopers coming down the trail, driving two gagged prisoners toward us. One of them, a bespectacled, mild-looking character, appeared more like a schoolmaster than a terrorist. The men reported briefly that the two had been caught while trying to escape through the outer perimeter which Helmut and Karl had established a mile down the trail. None of the fugitives had been carrying a weapon but the dignified-looking Viet Minh, about fortyfive years of age, had been carrying a number of papers which he had tried to discard in the tall grass when my men challenged him. A glance at the papers was enough to tell me that Riedl's catch was a valuable one: the prisoner turned out to be a certain Kwang Lien-hu, a Chinese political officer and adviser to the provincial Agitprop section of the Lao Dong. His companion was a smaller fish, only a district propagandist of the Viet Minh, Kly Nuo Truong. The name had a certain familiar ring but I could not recall where I might have heard it.

I handed Eisner the papers. He studied them briefly, whistled, then he lifted his eyes to the prisoners. Turning slowly, he folded the papers and handed them back to me. "I guess we had better start looking for a golden rope, Hans," he commented quietly.

In many ways we regarded a Viet Minh propagandist as more deadly than a terrorist who was carrying a machine gun. The guerrilla "brain-washers" were the ones who induced the indifferent or uninterested peasant to exchange his hoe for a gun and embark on a rampage of murder. We had standing orders to call in copters for any important Communist functionary whom we captured, but frankly speaking we never really bothered with sending anyone to Hanoi or elsewhere. As long as our General Staff refused to study the basic literature on Communism or guerrilla warfare, interrogation of the Viet Minh prisoners would do little good for the troops in the jungle. I had sent back scores of reports and documents throughout the years, some of them related to vital and often immediate enemy threats which could and should have been averted by a simple countermeasure. Nothing had been done; my reports had been swallowed up by the insatiable desk drawers of the General Staff. The Legion fought and died as usual and, as though nothing had happened, the Viet Minh could even carry on with an attack our HQ had known about a week in advance. So whenever we captured a terrorist leader we interrogated the man, gave him the third degree if necessary to obtain all the information that was important for our own campaign and security, then dispatched him to the only perfect Communist paradise, as Karl had put it—hell!

On that particular occasion, however, Schulze had a different idea and, just for the fun of it, I allowed him to have his way. Erich suggested that instead of executing the party cadres, we should hold a "panel discussion" with them in front of the whole village. We would discuss both ideology and politics. "The Communists have been talking to these people for years," Schulze explained. "Everyone was obliged to listen but no one was ever permitted to ask impolite questions, or to oppose the agitators; the people could only bow to whatever they were told, accepting the party dogmas— criticizing nothing. Now they will have to listen to me too. Let the two tovariches partake in a truly democratic dialogue. We will permit them to say whatever they feel like saying, then we shall tell the people what we think of it."

Eisner chuckled. "Are you planning to shoot it out with a provincial agitator? He will crack your arguments in no time, making you the laughingstock of the whole village."

"Nonsense! All they can do is to parrot some hackneyed slogans."

Eisner laughed. "That's what you think, my friend, but they are professionals and whatever they parrot they will parrot it well. String them up and be done with it."

"Nonsense!" Erich waved, dismissing Bernard's suggestion. "Up 'til now we were killing them all. Now let us talk a bit—it might work."

Riedl agreed. "They aren't going to run away, Bernard, you can hang them later." He turned toward Pfirstenhammer. "What do you think of Schulze's idea, Karl?"

"I am fascinated! Especially about finding out how much Erich knows about Communist ideology."

Schulze ordered the troopers to untie the prisoners and the two were seated on an improvised bench made of empty crates and planks. We seated ourselves in a similar fashion. Erich's "dialogue" was to be a welcome diversion from our dreary routine. The villagers, about one hundred men and women, had been requested to bring mats and sit down. Xuey explained to them briefly what we were up to, an explanation our prisoners acknowledged with a wry smile of contempt. Xuey and Suoi stood by to interpret for us.

I was a bit skeptical about Schulze's ability to argue with a seasoned Communist agitator and doubted if he could present our side of the picture without talking sheer nonsense and receive sneers instead of cheers. But he seemed confident enough, and I thought, why shouldn't he have his fun. Besides, as Karl remarked, should Erich go wrong, we could always deliver the final argument, and he tapped the stock of his submachine gun with a significant grin.

Schulze protested. "Nothing of the sort, men, I want to play it absolutely fair."

Karl chuckled. "How can you possibly play it fair when, at the end of your conference, they are going to be shot anyway? The people will think that we killed the prisoners because they won the argument."

"Well, we can spare them for once, can't we?"

Karl glanced at me. "What do you think, Hans?"

"Personally I think the whole business is nothing but a shot in the dark, but since I did not intend to leave here before sundown anyway, we have time. We can also decide about the prisoners later."

Schulze advised Commissar Kwang, "You may say whatever you want, tovarich Commissar—nobody is going to hurt you for it, but you will also have to listen to our arguments."

"As you wish," the agitator bowed in mocking compliance, "We are your prisoners and consequently we have no choice."

"Commissar Kwang," Erich shook his head slowly, "I am telling you that you may speak as freely as if you were in Peking, yet you begin with unfair remarks. Speak to the people. You should not feel embarrassed Say whatever you feel like saying. Quote Lenin, Stalin, or Mao Tse-tung, condemn the French colonialists, curse us. The people here know you. You have been talking to them before, haven't you?"

"A most extraordinary favor from an imperialist puppet who calls himself an officer," the commissar replied, and as Xuey interpreted his words, Schulze broke into a jovial grin.

"That's much better, Commissar Kwang. Now you are hitting familiar chords." Kwang smiled and turned toward the villagers, whose faces revealed eager interest. They understood that we were permitting the important Viet Minh leader to speak with impunity granted to him in advance, something the Viet Minh would never do.

"The colonialist officer wants me to speak to you," Kwang began slowly, his voice picking up momentum as he went on. "You all know that only an hour ago they murdered sixteen brave patriots, devoted men who have been fighting the white oppressors for many years, so that you may gain your freedom one day. They were killed while they slept, for these brave men here were afraid to face them with a weapon in hand. With blood still dripping from their hands, these aliens are making a mockery of freedom by offering me immunity for whatever I might say against them. They permit me to quote Comrade Mao, they permit us to condemn the colonialist criminals, so that you may see what a great freedom they represent. We don't need the freedom which the white killers permit us to have. We shall have our freedom without their consent. The colonialist officers are still walking and talking, they can still murder your brothers and sisters—but they are dead men already. Now they are posing as great heroes but they are nothing but frightened rats who sneak in the night to raid your homes, to murder the brave fighters of the people. They know they are losing, therefore they try to make our victory as bitter as possible. The people laugh at them everywhere. The people know who are their true friends, and millions in every part of the country follow Father Ho and Comrade Mao. I have already told you how the brotherly Chinese people defeated colonialists who were a thousand times stronger than the French puppets in your country. We don't have to condemn them. They have condemned themselves a thousand times. When this mockery is over, they will kill me and Comrade Kly, and afterwards they will speak to you again. You should never believe them, for no oppressor is ever telling the truth to the oppressed."

He stopped, bowed slightly, and without looking at Schulze he returned to his place. "We are ready to face our executioners now," he said aloud instead of sitting down, "for we are going to die for the people and when our bodies return to mother earth, for every drop of our blood a hundred avenging fighters will rise."

Schulze stepped forward.

"Commissar Kwang seems to have told you what he wanted to say," he began slowly, ignoring Kwang's dramatic "farewell." "You have heard what he thinks of us colonialist officers. He called us rats, oppressors, dead men. I am addressing him as Commissar Kwang, and not a Communist murderer, which is what his kind really are. He may speak to you freely but I am sure that you have never seen a captured French officer speaking to you with the permission of a Viet Minh commissar. And you will never see one, for the Communists will never permit anyone to speak the truth, or to oppose them in any way. What Lenin, Stalin, and Mao Tse-tung have written down fills enough books to build a dam across the Mekong River. But once their ideology is put into practice, it does not work. It may hypnotize the people but it can never convince them of anything because Communism is the biggest fraud ever conceived by a few wicked men who wanted to get rich through robbery and murder."

"Say, Erich!" Eisner cut in. "Speak in simple terms or you won't have a chance of getting through. If you are going to use words like 'ideology,' 'fraud,' 'hypnotize, then you might as well speak German for all the good it will do." He paused for a moment, then added: "Just tell them Communism is a big lie and they will get you."

He sat down. "I'll bet they don't even know what Communism means," he said to me. "Ho Chi Minh isn't using the term either."

"I can tel! you in front of the agitators—" Erich went on.

"Merde!" Bernard interposed again. "They don't know an agitator from Adam."

"Shut up, will you?" Schulze snapped. "Or stand up and speak yourself."

Riedl grinned and the prisoners smiled contentedly. Although we spoke German, they had obviously caught the meaning of our exchange. Eisner, however, accepted the challenge. He strode over to Schulze, cleared his throat, then pointing a straight, accusing finger at the Party men he bellowed: "The Lao Dong say that Ho Chi Minh is bringing freedom and a better life for you people, but it is a big lie! They are Communists, though they do not like to use the word for so many people around the world hate them; they talk of freedom, but they want it no more than you want cholera. When the Viet Minh comes to a village, the big leaders speak to the poor people, for it is only the poor people they can cheat. They point to the land of a rich owner and tell you: Kill the owner and you may have his land. In the big city they tell the poor people: Kill the owner of this large store and you may take the food from his shop without paying for it. But even children know that one cannot have food without paying for it. It was so ever since man was born on earth. They point to the house of a wealthy man and say: Kill the rich man and his house will be yours. But the house will not be yours. It will belong to the Lao Dong secretaries, to the commissars, or to some other big Viet Minh leaders; you just do the killing for them. We know that here, too, you killed the rich landowner and took his land. The Viet Minh lets you have the land for a short time, because the Viet Minh needs food. Without your help they cannot fight the French. But should the French leave your country, your lands will be taken away from you and you will have to work in a colchos." He paused for a moment waiting for Xuey to catch up, then went on. "Do you know what a colchos is? It is the Communist way of sowing and harvesting, a big piece of land where every villager is obliged to work. But the land does not belong to them and what they harvest will not belong to them either. If the Lao Dong party wins, the Communists will tell you what you must do and nothing will be yours—not even your huts."

As Xuey interpreted for Bernard, I noticed breathless interest in the eyes of our audience. I began to hope that we were getting somewhere.

"They say," Bernard went on, "that if the Viet Minh wins the war, you will no longer have to obey the orders of the French colonialists, or the rich landowners. That is not a He. If Ho Chi Minh wins the war, you will have to obey the orders of the Lao Dong party, the Viet Minh commissars and commanders. When you disobey the orders of a French colonialist, or an order of your landlord, you are beaten or put into a jail. But afterwards you are free to go to Saigon or to Hanoi to seek justice from the Big Police, or from the Big Tribunal Judge. And if you were innocent when punished, the rich landlord is going to be punished even though he is a Frenchman. But you all know what happens to people who disobey the orders of the Viet Minh. They are shot down like dogs and cannot seek justice anywhere anymore. The Communists don't like complaints. They prefer cheers and clapping. And if they find out later that you were shot innocently, Ho Chi Minh will give you a big red medal, but that won't bring you back to life."

He paused for a while, then concluded his speech, at least for the time being. "They tell you that Father Ho and Comrade Mao are bringing you a better life. What the commissars are not telling you is that last year three million of your Chinese brothers died because they did not have anything to eat. The Russians are sending the Chinese people food, but Stalin is buying food from the big colonialist countries because his own people have nothing to eat either."

Eisner gestured to Schulze to continue and dropped down between Riedl and me, grunting: "I don't say it was perfect but what else could these halfwits understand?"

Commissar Kwang lifted his hand, indicating that he wanted to speak. Erich allowed him to proceed.

"There is always something to learn," Kwang said mildly, speaking to the people. "The colonialist officer said that everything written by comrades Stalin, Mao Tse-tung, or Ho Chi Minh is a lie. But then we should also believe that the Soviet Union does not exist, that Comrade Mao did not liberate China, and the Viet Minh is nothing but a dream."

"It's not a dream but a bloody nightmare," Karl growled, as Kwang went on.

"The Great Proletarian Revolution has already liberated the oppressed people in one third of the world, yet the colonialist officer is saying it is a lie."

"Let us talk about one thing at a time, the Soviet Union, for instance," Schulze suggested, "Otherwise these good people here might become confused, Commissar Kwang. I know that you prefer to talk in a confusing manner—that is an important component of the brainwashing tactic. Have you ever been in the Soviet Union, Commissar Kwang?"

"Yes!" Kwang hissed. "I have been there and I saw what the great revolution has done for the people."

"What people?" Schulze asked bluntly.

"For the poor people, of course," said Kwang. "We are not interested in the welfare of the rich."

"What happened to the rich people in Russia?"

"Their wealth was taken from them and they were made to work for a living," propagandist Kly interposed. Kwang nodded in assent.

"Like hell!" Schulze erupted. "Their lives were taken from them and the few survivors were sent to work, not for a living, but in labor camps without pay. Stalin murdered ten million people, if that is what you call great revolution, Tovarich Kly."

"Who needs rich parasites?" Kly shrugged. "The people don't need them."

"Propagandist Kly . . . the Viet Minh are murdering every rich person in this country. I hope you don't want to say that in Russia it has not been so."

"I've already said that we don't need rich people."

"At least you admit that Communism thrives on murder!" Schulze snapped. "But even primitive people know that nothing can be achieved by murder and robbery— what the Viet Minh is doing."

"The Viet Minh is not the Communist party," Kwang remarked with a smile. "The Viet Minh is the striking fist of all the patriots who want freedom and independence."

"Who are the leaders of the Viet Minh?" Erich asked sharply. "Who are the commanders, the commissars, the propagandists? Are you not a Communist, Kwang?"

"It is only natural that the most experienced revolutionaries should lead a national liberation movement."

"Call it by its name, Tovarich Kwang. Don't say revolutionary when you want to say Communist. We know that you are trying hard to hoodwink the world by calling your Communist Party the People's Party, Revolutionary Party, Workers Party, and the devil knows what else. Why do you need a disguise? Honest people don't need to hide."

"One day the colonialists will be expelled. Then the people may choose freely what society they wish to build for themselves."

"Merde!" Schulze exclaimed. "Can you name one liberated country where the Communists have not seized all power over life and death and have not exterminated all the opposition?'

"Drop the high-flown polemics, Erich!" Eisner warned. "You aren't talking to a panel of professors." He rose and spoke to the villagers. "Commissar Kwang, who is from China, is talking to you about the Soviet Union, trying to explain to the people here what is good for them. The colonialist officer here," he pointed at Schulze, "is trying to tell you that whatever Kwang may say, when the Communist party wins power, the Communists kill everybody who disobeys their orders or desires something else. As you can see, neither Kwang nor Kly has anything to say against it, so it must be true."

"That is what you say and what your newspapers write," Kwang said sarcastically. "But we are your prisoners and in no position to argue with you."

"Is anyone holding a knife at your throat, Commissar Kwang?" Karl cut in. "Are you being beaten or tortured? If not, then speak up, tovarich first class. Convince us that your cause is a just cause. We might discard our weapons right here and join the Lao Dong."

"This is Erich's party, Karl. Let him enjoy it," Riedl remarked.

"Tell us just one thing your great revolution has so far achieved, apart from drowning the people in their own blood," Schulze continued. "Has your Ho Chi Minh improved the lives of the proletariat in this country? Have these people in this village, Kwang, received anything from your movement? Have you dug a well? An irrigation canal? Have you built as much as a public school? No, Tovarich Commissar. You have only destroyed those which were here before."

"We have no time to bring about social changes or to build anything. We are obliged to fight. When peace comes, we will start building. But if you want to see what Communism can build, you should go to the Soviet Union and see it there."

Schulze waved an arm to the crowd. "These people here have no money to visit the Soviet Union and enjoy the benefits of Communism there. They want to enjoy life here!" And as Xuey translated his words, soft laughter echoed from the crowd for the first time; only quiet laughter but it was laughter and I knew that Erich had scored a small point.

"The people here will enjoy life after the liberation," Kwang blurted, now somewhat agitated.

"Liberation," Schulze sneered. "How many countries has Stalin liberated lately? The British colonialists have just liberated India, as you probably know, you zealous deliverers of slaves. Why don't you go and ask the American workers if they would like to be liberated by Stalin? Afterwards you may also ask the Russian workers if they would want to be slaves in America? I fancy the outcome of your inquiry."

"The Russian workers would spit in your face if you insulted them by asking such a filthy imperialist provocation," Kly hissed before Kwang could answer.

"Sure!" Schulze chuckled. "That is exactly what they would do if you ask them on the Red Square, facing the Kremlin. You should take them to West Berlin and ask them there."

My troops were roaring with laughter that now engulfed most of the spectators, including ourselves. The "dialogue" was gradually turning into a "hand-to-hand" combat between Erich and the agitators, but Schulze was holding his own quite actively. "I was in Russia, too, Commissar Kwang," Erich said quietly. "I went there as an enemy, but the people greeted me as these people here would greet Iord Buddha if he came walking down the road." He rose abruptly and faced the villagers with his eyes ablaze. "The agitators are telling you many beautiful lies about the Soviet Union, about China and about Communism. Now let me tell you what the Communists are truly doing in Russia. First they killed all the rich people and seized their property. When there were no more rich people to be robbed and murdered, or to be put into slave camps, Stalin began to exterminate the class enemies; they were not rich people but writers, doctors, engineers, schoolteachers—learned people. If they had property and money, they had worked for it for many years. But everyone who dared to disagree with Stalin was killed or put into prisons. When there were no more class enemies either, Stalin turned upon his own comrades, all old Communists. He killed his own army officers by the thousands. They condemn capitalism but the capitalists have never massacred anyone. Now they say that the capitalist owner of a shoe factory, for instance—let us call him, Ivan Ivanovich—produced only five hundred pairs of shoes every week; the Communist factory makes five thousand. But the shoes which Ivan Ivanovich made were good, shoes and the worker could wear them for two years. Ivan Ivanovich had to make good shoes, otherwise the people wouldn't buy them and he would go bankrupt. The state-owned factory has no such problems. If your Communist shoes crack open in four weeks, you should not even complain, for if you do, you accuse the State, the Communist Party, and so you are not a loyal citizen but an enemy agent. The Communists won't give you another pair of shoes but a pair of bullets in your head.

"Now the Communists are promising you everything just to help them win the war. When the war is over, says the commissar, they will start building for you. Building maybe, but not schools and hospitals; they will build army barracks and jails. They might build factories too, but to make tanks not tractors. The hoe or the shovel they give you will break in a week. Only the weapons of the Red army will last. The Communists have always been good weapon makers, for the bayonet is the only foundation the Party can stand on. Without bayonets and machine guns neither Stalin nor Mao Tse-tung would survive for a year. If you think that you are being oppressed by the French colonialists, Just wait until Ho Chi Minh becomes your master. You will find a policeman behind every hut in your village; brother will betray brother and the son will sell his father."

Kwang was no longer smiling. He sat on the bench, chewing his underlip nervously. The villagers listened in utter silence; their faces betrayed no emotion—only alertness. Some of the elder men were listening so intently that their mouths hung open and their eyes appeared transfixed on Schulze. I was not sure if all that Erich said had reached the people, and if so, how deeply his words had penetrated into their simple minds. I was sure of only one thing, that never before had they witnessed someone challenging the Viet Minh platform openly, in front of people. They had never heard someone denouncing the holiest of the Communist prophets and everything they stood for. No one could ever call a Viet Minh leader a liar and live to tell his story. Besides, no French officer in Indochina had ever bothered to talk to les sauvages on equal terms, and certainly not about political or economic issues. The Communists were always permitted to rake in the benefits of their uncontested propaganda.

Schulze challenged the commissar to take his place, if he had anything to say. "I have many things to say," replied Kwang, "provided that you will permit me to speak without interrupting every second sentence." He cleared his throat and stepped forward, and when Sergeant Krebitz offered him a cup of fresh water, Kwang accepted it with a slight bow, drank slowly, as though he was weighing his coming words before speaking them; then he returned the cup and spoke.

"The colonialist officers are entertaining themselves with their own bourgeois propaganda, thinking that the Vietnamese people are deaf and blind, and cannot see beyond their hollow words, which contain much hatred, but not a spark of truth. This young man here," he pointed at Schulze, "who very likely came from a wealthy family and has never known poverty, is a member of the army which burns your villages and murders your brothers and sisters. He was probably tired of killing, at least for a few hours, so he conceived this mock trial of Communism, which he calls a free discussion. He may be thirty years old, yet nevertheless he tries to prove to us that he knows more than Lenin, Stalin, Comrade Mao, and Father Ho ever managed to learn. He has been in this country for only a few years, but he wants to guide your village elders; he wants to prove that Father Ho speaks empty words. He tries to ridicule the Soviet people whom we may thank for the greatest gift of mankind—our freedom from slavery. There are some facts which the colonialist officer seems to ignore. The Soviet people have achieved many things which are very difficult to dismiss with a barrage of empty words and wicked lies. He also tries to blame our Comrade Mao for not having built more in two years than the rich capitalist nations built in centuries. In twenty years time the Russian people had built a wonderful new nation but then the capitalists, the country of this officer here, Germany, invaded the Soviet Union and destroyed everything the people had built."

Kwang spoke slowly and with dignity, carefully selecting his words. Schulze did not interrupt him. Kwang spoke for a long time, about the new towns and villages, about the schools, hospitals, roads, and industries which the Russians had built, and which the Chinese people were endeavoring to build now. He spoke of the "largest" power-generating system in the world, the Volga-Don canal, that was to bring electricity to the remotest villages. Obviously he could not recall many glorious deeds from Mao's China for he kept repeating that Russia did this and Russia did that, citing only Soviet examples. He spoke for the better part of an hour and I felt terribly bored. Then mercifully he concluded his polemic with the eloquent slogan: "The Soviet people, with Comrade Stalin to lead them, has accomplished the impossible."

"It is true that Stalin accomplished the impossible," Schulze picked up where Kwang had left off. "Stalin moves mountains and builds an artificial sea as big as your country, the commissar said. But he forgot to mention that Stalin has six million slaves to work for him without pay. When Stalin needs a hundred thousand more workmen, he just gives the word to the Secret Police to increase the weekly output—or should we say input—and soon the enemies of the people are picking up the shovels. When Stalin tells the Russian worker: Ivan, from now on you will work twelve hours every day, Ivan will work twelve hours every day. If Stalin said the same thing to a worker in my country, or in any free country, he would be given a shovel and told, 'do it yourself, Josip.'"

Another wave of laughter followed the translation. Schulze waited patiently for a while, then went on. "This is how Stalin is building the Soviet paradise and this is how Mao Tse-tung is going to build his own empire. The rich people, the exploiters, the slave drivers will no longer be called landlords, mandarins, moneylenders; they will be called party secretaries, commissars, district propagandists, and militiamen. But you people will be toiling harder than you are toiling now."

He turned and walked up to the two propagandists. "When we began to talk, Commissar Kwang said that we were going to shoot him at the end. You should not believe us, he said. I am saying now that you are free to believe whatever you want and we are not going to shoot these Communist liars either. They aren't worth the cost of the bullets."

He grabbed the prisoners by their arms and led them through the ring of people who silently moved aside. Reaching the road he gave them a gentle slap on the back and shoved them forward.

"Go, Commissar Kwang and Propagandist Kly, Fool more people—for the more people you fool, the sooner will the people see you for what you are: cheats, arrogant liars, remorseless killers . . . traitors to your own country, traitors to mankind. You are guilty as sin but we are doing something you would never do to innocent people-—we let you go. You are free men. Go!"

We departed shortly before sundown. What impression we left behind we never learned. But if we left an impression, I felt it was not an adverse one.

Two months later the Viet Minh executed thirty people in that village.

"The poor devils," Pfirstenhammer remarked, when we received the news of the massacre. "They must have remembered some of Erich's arguments and dared to repeat them openly."
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Re: Devil's Guard, by George Robert Elford

Postby admin » Fri Jan 12, 2018 5:30 am

13. THOSE INNOCENT NONCOMBATANTS

A group of villagers, some of them women, working in the paddies—a familiar spectacle as peaceful as it is picturesque. ... A painter of rural scenery would be overjoyed at the eye-catching sequence: the white-clad figures in the knee-deep, shimmering pond; the sun rising above the green jungle background; a pair of water buffalo squatting in the mire, only their horns and noses visible; a low wooden hut roofed with palm fronds and erected on piles to provide the workers with a shelter against a sudden downpour. It was a spectacle that we beheld almost daily during our dreary years in Indochina; a spectacle very tranquil—outwardly so—and ready to lull the inexperienced soldier into a false belief of security.

It happened once at the beginning of our service that a similar group of unaggressive villagers had greeted our reconnaissance patrol in the most cordial manner and offered the troops fruits, cane sugar, and cooked rice with curried fish in exchange for salt and tobacco. After some friendly bargaining a deal was struck and the platoon invited to share a modest meal with the natives in their village. The platoon leader sergeant (a veteran of the Russian campaign but still a greenhorn in Indochina) gladly obliged.

Twenty-two cheerful troopers entered the village—a skillfully camouflaged Viet Minh stronghold. Only six of them escaped the trap. The rest of the platoon had to stay behind, no longer as guests but as bullet-ridden corpses, among them the trusting sergeant.

It happened to us once. Once!

Afterwards, whenever we encountered a single peasant in a rural trail, we always considered him a potential Viet Minh observer. The alternative that he might be a genuine noncombatant came afterwards. We would check such an individual and if nothing incriminating was found on or about his person he would be allowed to proceed—with a couple of our marksmen trailing him secretly for at least a mile.

Sometimes the traveler would continue on his way as leisurely as before; sometimes the man would hurry up the moment he thought he was safely out of sight and rifle range—most likely to notify the nearest guerrilla cell. Speed meant urgency and for urgency we had but one interpretation: The Viet Minh must be informed of our presence in the neighborhood. If a man speeded up after our checking, then he would die.

When we emerged from the woods the peasants showed no concern. They only glanced up, then went on with their work; their conical straw hats concealed whatever emotion their faces might have shown. No one could tell if they were friendly, neutral, or hostile, but we were not interested in their political sentiments—only in such material possessions as illegal firearms. We learned long ago not to bestow too much confidence on the natives. Boys of sixteen, sixty-year-old matrons, Buddhist monks, or French-nominated administrative officials we regarded with equal skepticism.

Now I found nothing extraordinary about those villagers except the fact that all the men were in their prime. We would always pay particular attention to young men laboring in the fields in what was strictly Viet Minh-controlled territory, where most young men had been recruited by the guerrillas either as full-time or chance "freedom fighters"—depending on how hard-pressed the Viet Minh was for manpower in a particular area.

Remaining out of sight, my troops deployed near the paddies to keep every individual covered by a dozen guns. It may seem excessive that heavily armed troops should bother with elaborate defensive measures while facing but a few unarmed peasants. But to those who are familiar with the implications of guerrilla warfare no precaution appears superfluous. It often happened that a group of "innocent noncombatants" had turned into well-armed terrorists the moment the troops slackened their vigilance.

Numerical inferiority would deter the fanatical terrorists no more than the thought of certain death would deter the Japanese kamikaze. Properly indoctrinated Communists (and especially the primitive, illiterate ones) will do what the Party says. We found that the most wicked and dangerous guerrillas were the so-called "peasant-cum-guerrillas," including women and children from ten years up. We had had scores of engagements with such naive, untrained, and inexperienced "noncombatants," who would always win, even when licked and exterminated to the last man. When the Viet Minh was unable to claim any success by the force of arms, the commissars always secured at least a political victory. Their formula was a simple one. Had their peasant-cum-guerrillas managed to rout a French garrison, the Communist victory was widely publicized. But when the Legion squashed them somewhere, the fallen terrorists were stripped of military equipment, their corpses were rearranged (often with arms and legs bound with ropes), then photographed and displayed to friend and foe alike as the "innocent victims of a French massacre."

To increase the dramatic effect of such "colonialist carnages" the corpses of women and children who had died of diseases or natural causes would sometimes be put on display alongside the bodies of the dead guerrillas. We found evidence that the Viet Minh had exposed over two hundred corpses in a village that had been demolished by the Air Force. That particular "French monstrosity" had been widely publicized. In reality, for several days preceding the raid the village had been devoid of human presence, and all the bombers wrecked were the empty huts. The "innocent victims" had in fact been the victims of a typhus epidemic that decimated the population weeks before the air raid. Blinded by hatred and devoid of all human sentiment, the local Viet Minh commissar had ordered his men to exhume the corpses, sprinkle them with cattle blood, blow some of them to bits with grenades, dump them all over the devastated village, then credit two hundred "innocent victims" to the French. And since there had indeed been an officially recorded attack on the village (the close results of which could not be established) the reconnaissance and fighter-bomber crews were severely reprimanded, demoted, or relocated because of their "senseless slaughter of civilians."

A few months after that infamy, Bernard Eisner and Pfirstenhammer captured the commissar responsible, who, after some tender persuasion, told us the true story and even signed a written statement. Needless to say, our evidence was never given any publicity and thus could not exonerate the condemned airmen. In our days only the French "crimes" received blaring headlines. The Viet Minh atrocities (far more numerous and excessive) were given a few back-page lines once in a while. But history repeats itself. Nowadays the American GI enjoys a similar treatment. The Communists cannot lose.

Erich Schulze, Sergeant Krebitz, and I removed our boots and waded into the stagnant water, taking only Gruppe Drei. We may have caused the peasants a few sinister thoughts but we certainly delighted the local leeches which could suck a man dry as well as strangle him to death, according^ to Erich. The people now stopped working; they rose and observed our approach for a while, then began to press closer together.

"Chieu hoi."

Some of them returned our greeting. Others stood in sullen silence, the women a good ten yards behind the men. A good-looking lean fellow in his early thirties stepped forward, ran his tongue over his betel-stained lips, then spoke. "My name is Van Ho Tien and I can speak French," he announced casually. "My companions know no French." He paused for a moment, then added with a tinge of mockery in his voice, "What do you wish to know, officer?"

"I haven't asked you any question, have I?" I answered jokingly and offered him a cigarette, which he accepted with a slight bow.

"Oh, the army always wants to know something," he said. "Maybe you want to know if we've seen the Viet Minh lately, but we have not seen them for many weeks."

"And that's the standard answer number one around here, isn't it?" Erich cut in with a broad grin on his face. "We saw nothing we heard nothing, we know nothing. You must be quite happy, they say God provides for the ignorant ones. Now come, come, Monsieur Van Ho Tien, when was the last time the Viet Minh visited your village?"

"We are very few people and our village is unimportant to the Viet Minh."

"Lucky for you," commented Erich. "Where is your village anyway?"

Van Ho waved a casual hand toward the low hills a few miles distant. "There beyond, two hours' walk from here, officer." Then he quickly added, "But we have no road." This sudden addition of his sounded so funny that we all broke into laughter.

"How are you coining and going then," Schulze chuckled, "thumbing rides on army copters?"

"Oh, I didn't mean that," said Van Ho, "we have a few narrow trails."

"Very precipitous and slippery at places, I presume," Riedl interposed. "Maybe even mined here and there?"

"No!" Van Ho protested, taking Riedl's teasing remark in earnest. "We have no mines, no weapons—nothing we have." He appeared to dislike the direction our conversation had taken. "Our village is very tiny, very filthy, and very poor with many sick people in it. There is nothing to see." We laughed again and Van Ho's face reddened as he realized the childish quality of his remark.

"Don't worry, Monsieur Van Ho Tien." Erich tapped him lightly on the shoulder. "We don't want to visit your village. It seems to be out of our way."

I checked the location of Van Ho's village on Schulze's map, a very special one, which due to his meticulous recording of various significant landmarks revealed a great deal more information than the regular army maps. The village was marked on it all right, with the numbers 12/15 indicating the number of dwellings. But placed alongside the numbers a tiny red star caught my attention and I asked Erich about it.

"I recorded the village from air reconnaissance of the area," he explained. "Here the star means that peculiar movements were observed in and about the hamlet which could be associated with guerrilla activities but not proven."

"I see____"

I wheeled back toward Van Ho and now asked him bluntly, "Are there any Viet Minh cadres in your village?"

"Our village is very small," he repeated after what I thought was a slight hesitation. "Only fourteen dwellings with forty- men. The Viet Minh knows that we could be of little help to them and they leave us alone. We hope the French, too, will leave us alone."

"And we hope we can oblige," Schulze retorted. "Believe me, the last thing on earth we care to see is a local village."

Van Ho smiled. "We know that our villages are much too backward for you to enjoy. You live in big cities like Paris, Marseilles, or Lyons."

"Or Berlin," commented Riedl.

Van Ho seemed surprised. "Berlin is in Germany, so I have learned," he blurted out.

"You learned it where?" Erich asked.

I thought it was a most extraordinary encounter—a local ricepicker in the middle of nowhere knowing about Berlin. So after all the natives were not so savage as the French insisted they were.

"When I was a child I attended the missionary school at Yen Bay," Van Ho explained. "The missionaries taught us many wisdoms, including geography." He paused for a second, then asked with some restraint, "Are you the Germans of the Foreign Legion?" His barely perceptible hesitation before saying "Germans" brought another grin to Erich's face.

"I bet he wanted to say 'Nazis,'" he remarked in German and I saw that Van Ho looked up sharply when he heard that word. It must have been familiar to him. "Bien ser," Schulze answered. "We are the Germans, the Nazi wolves, the man-eaters, the angels of death, the unceasing fighters."

"I haven't said that you are wolves and man-eaters," the man protested, showing fright for the first time.

"Why not? That's what we are," Schulze teased him. "Have they not told you so?"

"Who should have told us?"

"The commissars."

"We are not guerrillas," Van Ho protested vehemently.

"I have not said you were."

There was a pause and a sense of restlessness in the group. "May I ask you something?" Van Ho spoke finally.

"Go ahead," I said.

"Why are you fighting?" he asked.

"Your people won't let us retire," Krebitz told him with a chuckle.

"It is your own choosing, for this is not your war," Van Ho insisted.

"Correct," Schulze agreed. "This is not our war. It is everyone's war— France's, England's, America's, and maybe even Sweden's or Japan's, but they have yet to realize it."

Van Ho shook his head. "I do not understand your mentality. Truly I do not."

"We are complicated people." said Krebitz. "No one seems to understand our problems."

"Maybe you are very warlike," nodded Van Ho. "The SS-—" He cut off as soon as that word slipped out.

"That's right!" Erich roared. "SS tradition, mon ami, sheer SS tradition. By the way where did you learn about the SS, Monsieur Van Ho Tien, also in the missionary school?"

"I read some books about the war." "What did you read about the SS?" "They were much feared during the war."

"You are being very polite," Schulze chuckled. "You ought to have read a lot more about the SS than that." Then shouldering his submachine gun he added, "You are a clever man, Monsieur Van Ho Tien. I think you deserve a better job than picking rice—or," he concluded, stressing his words, "maybe you do have a better job and work in the paddies only part-time." He strolled over to the pile-supported shelter, lifted some bags casually, examined a few nearby baskets, then turned. "What do you think of the Viet Minh, Monsieur Van Ho?"

"I feel neither love nor hatred for them. We live far away from the war and we are happy that it is so."

"It cannot be as idyllic as that. Your village is in the center of a very important Viet Minh-dominated province, isn't that so?"

I realized that Erich was playing hide-and-seek with the man and began to wonder what might have awakened his suspicion.

"How about your feelings for the French colonialists?" Schulze pressed on.

"Do you want me to be frank with you, officer?" Van Ho asked with a sour smile.

"Naturellement," Erich nodded. "We can take any amount of truth, however painful, and no one will start shooting."

"We have lived here for centuries. The French came to our country only recently. We regard them as passing visitors who will depart one day like the Japanese departed."

"But how about us Germans?" Schulze persisted.

"We think you are capable of only one human feeling, officer, and that is hatred," Van Ho exhaled with defiance.

"Well, aren't we being complimented?" Krebitz remarked. "What do you think we should learn in this bloody country? Love for our treacherous, slimy, poison-spitting, lying fellow human beings?"

"Who told you that we can only hate?" Schulze went on, ignoring Rudolfs outburst.

"The books," Van Ho stated.

"Printed in Moscow? Or in Peking?"

"No, officer," Van Ho shook his head. "I can read neither Russian nor Chinese—only French. And the books which I read about you were all printed in France . . . the country you are fighting for. They call you murderous wolves yet you are serving them. Why?"

"They pay well," Riedl cut in.

"Are you fighting only for money?" Van Ho wondered. "Even the Viet Minh has more money than the French."

"Bien ser," said Erich. "We know that lately Giap has a pile of American dollars to get rid of. Maybe you can arrange a better deal for us with the Viet Minh."

"You will have to find the Viet Minh yourselves," the man evaded Erich's flimsy trap.

"Monsieur Van Ho," Schulze said with quiet persuasion, "your village must have been visited by some Viet Minh commissars."

"There is no village which the commissars have not visited, officer. They go everywhere. Some people listen to them, others won't."

"I am willing to grant you that, but as far as your former remark goes, we do not hate your people. We hate only the Communists—and with good reason."

"Our people are not Communists," Van Ho exclaimed. "The majority of them do not even know what the word stands for."

"It is something you should tell to Ho Chi Minh. He does not seem to be aware of it." Erich turned his face toward me and added in German, "Hans, if this one here isn't a political commissar himself, I'll eat my gun— barrel, stock, ammo, and all. The crop in their baskets is dry. They haven't cut it today." Erich was always a keen observer.

Van Ho spoke. "May we return to our work?" he said, obviously disturbed by our low-keyed conversation. Erich slowly turned toward him and asked, "Would you mind if we look around a bit before you leave?"

"No, we won't mind. You will do that anyway. Whenever the army comes by our place we are submitted to searches and other indignities." He raised his arms to accommodate my troopers, who frisked him expertly. There was visible consternation among the women. "Are you going to search them, too?" Van Ho asked with barely concealed hostility.

"Don't worry," Schulze said reassuringly, "no one is going to paw them. We have a couple of female assistants."

He was about to send a trooper to fetch Suoi and the nurses when Krebitz stopped him. "Hell, why should they tromp all over the ponds, Erich? We should send the wenches to the road."'

"You're right," Erich nodded. "That's what we should do."

The peasants carried nothing suspicious, nothing forbidden. We combed through the area; examined the shelter, the bags, the baskets, the underpart of the platform, the roof—nothing incriminating was discovered.

"What do you think of them?" I asked Xuey, who had kept silent during our entire dialogue with Van Ho Tien but was listening with eager interest in his narrow, dark eyes.

"They belong to the local Viet Minh cell and they do have weapons," Xuey stated with firm conviction. "No people of their age would be picking rice— not in this province."

"That's what I figured, Xuey."

"We can't plug them on that evidence," Krebitz commented.

"I guess we can't."

"You may return to your work." I dismissed Van Ho and his companions. "And keep out of the war."

"The French must be very frightened in our country," he said, now vastly relieved.

"Maybe they are," Riedl replied, shouldering his gun. "We aren't."

"You should return home. Our people could take care of themselves."

"Once we are gone your people won't have to bother. The Viet Minh will take care of everything," Krebitz said.

"Why should that bother you, sergeant?"

Rudolf shot a sharp glance at Van Ho. "What bothers me is that you seem to know my badges well enough but you keep addressing the others only as 'officer.* I wonder why is that so?"

Van Ho declined to offer an explanation, and I decided it was time to proceed.

"Sergeant Krebitz!" I called. "We are moving out." I winked at him and he winked back. "Assemble!"

The villagers watched us leave, then they slowly dispersed and began to work as if nothing had happened. Our trial number one ended. Now came test number two.

Balancing on the slippery logs that bridged the irrigation canals, we returned to the dirt road and marched off skirting the paddies. At a quiet command of Krebitz our sharpshooters dropped into the roadside shrubs; from the moisture-proof holsters emerged their precious rifles with their telescopic sights, silencers, and hair-trigger mechanism. The battalion moved on. Soon there was a good four hundred yards between us and the workers and my men began to wonder. Maybe we were wrong about the villagers. Even Xuey could err.

Distance five hundred yards. Our advance guard was entering the woods.

"A terre!" someone yelled. "Take cover!" From the paddies came the vicious clatter of a heavy machine gun. Yet the moment we took cover the shooting abruptly stopped. Focusing my field glasses I spotted half a dozen shapes scurrying across the ponds. Three of them staggered and fell, then a fourth one spun about and dropped out of sight. Our marksmen were still at work. The last of the fugitives collapsed only a few steps from the forest sanctuary on the far side of the paddies.

Near the low platform which we had so carefully examined now stood a small boat with a mounted machine gun; two corpses sprawled on the platform and two more hung from the boat with head and shoulders submerged in the murky water.

We backtracked on the road to meet our Abwehrkommando and by the time we arrived the men had already cleaned their weapons; the sensitive scopes were capped and the muzzles plugged with small rubber corks taken from empty medicine vials. When they saw me coming they rose but I motioned them back.

"You made short work of them," I commented with a gesture toward the paddies.

"Child's play," Corporal Walther replied, and the men acknowledged my appreciation with a smile. "There is nothing about Germans and silencers in Mao's library on guerrilla warfare, so what could the poor devils do?"

"Carry on!"

They sat back to enjoy their cigarettes; a peculiar bunch of men, as cool and indifferent as they were unerring. Their sole task being the killing, they were utterly disinterested in the gory details and would seldom bother to pay a second glance at their victims. The postmortem undertakings were left for Sergeant Krebitz and his Gruppe Drei.

Into the paddies again. The guerrillas lay where they had fallen. Now every one of them was armed with rifles and Mitras, including the women. A number of yellow watertight bags floating around the platform explained where the weapons had come from. They had been kept submerged in the bottom mire until the enemy thought the time was ripe for a sneak attack.

"Poor all-too-clever Monsieur Van Ho Tien," Erich commented over the corpse of the little Indochinese. "You had known so much yet you knew so little." He turned toward me and added, "He could have been of great service to his country—somewhere else."

I examined the corpses; head, face, and neck wounds and no misses. The machine gun, a Soviet Goriunov, was a clumsy weapon but accurate up to a thousand yards. It had fired only fifteen rounds before its crew died, and to appreciate the skill of our experts one should remember that to fire fifteen rounds had consumed only 1.4 seconds.

How could the enemy produce the Goriunov (weighing nearly seventy pounds) while under constant surveillance remained an enigma. "We saw some brisk comings and goings with baskets and sacks between the shelter and the woods," Corporal Walther explained to me later on. "Then came the boat seemingly laden with empty baskets. All of a sudden there was the gun spitting fire and we blazed away."

One of the machine gun crew was a young woman, the wife of a gunner. Later we learned that they left behind two children, now orphans, because of a senseless raid that was doomed from the very beginning. One needs more than a European mind to understand the Oriental mentality.

Sergeant Krebitz quickly dismantled the machine gun and scattered its parts all over the paddies. The ammunition we trampled into the bottom mud.

Forward!

Three hours later we arrived at Van Ho's village. Its dwellings were vacant, the road and the yards deserted; the hamlet gave every sign of a hurried evacuation. We searched the huts and the hillside and discovered a complex tunnel system still under construction. The slopes of the hill contained a labyrinth of dug-in positions for mortars and machine guns which were connected by caves and tunnels to provide living quarters and storage space for weapons, food, and ammunition. There were several levels of tunnels, many of them with multiple exits, and some suitable for smaller field artillery pieces. The fortification complex was to be a major Viet Minh storage and training center.

The muddy trail revealed many footprints of men and beasts heading for the hills. In front of one hut a trooper discovered Chinese cartridges trampled into the mud. From one of the cellars came a broken mortar. I ordered" the tunnels blasted and the huts demolished, which job Sergeant Krebitz accomplished in three hours. Then leaving behind Gruppe Drei to set a trap, we moved on in full view for the benefit of all guerrilla spies who cared to look.

Soon after we left the population emerged from the woods and crowded in on the narrow trail; men, women, and children driving heavily laden carts, pushing wheelbarrows and bikes burdened with crates and sacks. Gruppe Drei rushed forward and captured the milling crowd before they could utter a cry. Krebitz's booty was a rich one—weapons and ammunition enough to sustain a Viet Minh company for at least a month of prolonged fighting.

Acting on my orders, Sergeant Krebitz spared only women, children, and old people. The entire male population consisting of about fifty men was executed. The destruction of enemy manpower had always been our principal aim in Indochina, and we had no alternative. The Viet Minh could always excavate new tunnels, could always obtain new weapons and ammunition from across the frontier, but not even Ho Chi Minh could manufacture trained guerrillas.

With guns blazing our troops marched up and down the trail shooting up bullocks, pigs, hens, weapons, and other guerrilla hardware until destruction was complete. Another lesson of war told in the language of the Viet Minh.

Whizzz . . . whammmm. ... A cry of agony; a trooper staggers, his hands grasping a tree for support; then he folds up and lies moaning in the grass. From his abdomen projects the shaft of a three-foot arrow spilling blood and partly digested food onto his clutching hands and tunic. The troops scatter to take shelter. There is not much they can do but squat low and scan the sinister jungle. Bows make no report. There is no telltale smoke or muzzle flash to draw one's attention. But we know that the sniper is not very far away. One cannot shoot far in the jungle.

My men execute the only protective measure available to them; canteens, map cases, and ammo bags come up in front to protect their chests; rifles and submachine guns are held high so that their stocks may deflect projectiles coming for their throats. The bulky rucksacks offer ample protection against a shot in the back. Those who are sheltering behind trees hold their rucksacks in front of their abdomens, and no one moves.

Ignoring the danger, Sergeant Zeisl creeps up to the wounded trooper.

Whizzz------

Zeisl freezes and we look on petrified. The arrow crashes into the thorny thicket, ripping the leaves only a few yards from where Zeisl embraces mother earth. A merciful miss. Taking the chance that the sniper cannot let loose another arrow immediately, I spring forward with Schulze on my heels to cover ten yards in a flash, and drop beside Zeisl.

Whizzzzz . . . whammmm. . . . The sniper is not alone.

Zeisl examines the wounded man and shakes his head grimly. "The point is probably poisoned," he whispers, "but even without the poison he cannot survive without immediate surgery." A few minutes later the life of our comrade shivers away.

Whammm. . . . Another projectile zooms in to find its mark; a careless trooper has lowered his rucksack to light a cigarette; the arrow plunges into his breast and he falls sideways thrashing in agony. It is a sequence out of the Middle Ages.

"I think one of them is over there," Schulze says pointing at a small elevation. Whizzz . . . whizzz . . . the arrows whine. Whammrnm. ...

One projectile plunges into the soft soil only three paces from where I shelter. The other comes to a quivering halt in Erich's rucksack. The invisible enemy is not joking and he is an excellent marksman. But he made a mistake—he missed! The arrows are coming in at sharp angles and we know where to look for the snipers. Instantly a dozen glasses scan the treetops; a solitary shot cracks, then a submachine gun opens up spraying the thicket. The leaves of a solitary tree rustle. The branches crackle and part; a frail brown body falls from above, tearing the boughs: the sniper— at least one of them. With a dull thud the body hits the ground, rolls over, and lies still, blood oozing from a bullet wound below his left eye. Of the submachine gun salvo we find no trace; the solitary hit came from the rifle of one of our sharpshooters.

A loincloth and a crude leather belt with a curved knife is all the sniper wears. His bow must have gotten caught in the branches. We look at the guerrilla—if he can be called a guerrilla—in astonishment; he is nothing but a caveman who dared to challenge the atomic age. Yet he managed to kill two of us.

Whizzz-----

We duck instinctively. The jungle begins to spit arrows. Another man dies with his throat torn agape. The bushes erupt. Rifles and submachine guns open up, raking the treetops, the hillside undergrowth; Sergeant Krebitz with Gruppe Drei withdraws to fan out on the flanks and envelop the small hill where the snipers hide. After an hour's siege five snipers are dead and a sixth one is captured by Riedl's troops. Sergeant Zeisl examines the seized arrows. "They are poisoned with buffalo dung," he comments, "cheap and effective but not for game hunting."

"You mean that they use dung only against men?"

"Exactly."

The captured tribesman is brought forward; an evil-looking young lad of maybe fifteen years of age with a heavily pockmarked face. When I ask him why he fights for the Communists he just stares at me. The word has no meaning for him. He does not know what the Viet Minh stand for. Who is Ho Chi Minh? Now his face erupts in a broad smile. Ho Chi Minh is the great tribal chief who says that all white-faced men should be killed. Why? Because they come to raze the tribal villages, to rape the women, and to bring loathsome diseases to them. White men, and especially white -men in uniform, are evil, Ho says. They must be destroyed on sight.

The versatility of Communist propaganda is truly amazing. Without the slightest ideological effort they manage to coax these primitive warriors into kamikaze sorties against the Foreign Legion. Bows and arrows versus machine guns.

"Rape, of all things," Schulze fumes and I know what's on his mind. Deprived as fhey are my troops would sooner rape a female gibbon than some of those tribal wenches with their betel-stained gums and withered skin infected with tropical ulcers and festering insect bites.

With a stinging blow Krebitz sends the prisoner lurching forward. "On to your village, you scum of humanity," he roars. "You don't even know for whom you murder, you schweinhund." He digs his bayonet into the lad's ribs. "Make it straight there, or I will spill your filthy guts right here."

The prisoner takes us to his village, which we find hidden in a deep valley. It consists of about fifty huts erected on piles, together with a long house which the unmarried men occupy. Soon a search is under way to collect bows and arrows—only a symbolic gesture, for the tribesmen will have new ones made before the day is up. We assemble the people and tell them what their fellow tribesmen have done.

"We are not waging war on tribal people," I tell them and Xuey interprets for me. "We want to hurt none of you and we desire none of your women. We bring you no illness, for as you can see yourselves our skin is clean and healthy. It is your own skin which is riddled with sores. Ho Chi Minh is telling you lies. You have nothing we can use or want to take. We come here to bring you medicines so that you may become healthy again." I, too, allowed myself a small lie for the sake of better understanding. "But because you shot our men now you will suffer punishment."

The captured sniper is executed. This time I choose hanging him—a death more demonstrative than shooting or bayoneting. For the benefit of the sullen spectators Sergeant Krebitz makes sure that the sniper has a long trip. There is no drop arranged and the lad suffocates to death displaying all the usual struggle for almost a quarter of an hour. A cruel necessity.

The dwellings of the fallen ones are destroyed, along with all the food and livestock found therein. Although we have not eaten meat for some time I forbid my troops to seize as much as a hen. As a punishment for the community I also order the destruction of half their household livestock and the confiscation of all salt and tobacco. Bullocks, cows, poultry, and even four working elephants are herded outside the village to be slaughtered, but because of pity evoked by my childhood memories of visiting the zoo, I spare the elephants. They are taken away and turned loose in the jungle. The rest of the animals are destroyed and burned on three large bonfires.

The consternation is great. The lesson is harsh but it could have been worse. Were they not primitive, Stone-Age people I would order every other man shot instead of every other buffalo or cow.

"You keep out of the war and ignore Ho Chi Minh," I remind them before we leave, "and don't ever use poisoned arrows against our men unless you want us to return and kill every one of you. If you want to fight us, then fight like true warriors and not like venomous snakes. We can honor brave warriors but we squash poisonous snakes and destroy their nest."

Later on we traversed the same tribal area on several occasions unmolested by the natives. Primitive as they were the tribesmen understood our message. It was a plain one.

The Viet Minh "section" which we encountered upon entering a small locality near Lac An put up a vicious fight. The guerrillas were shooting from every hut and every ditch, including a narrow irrigation canal which passed through the settlement. We had no choice but to demolish the huts one after another, using flamethrowers, mortars, and grenades, causing heavy civilian casualties in the process.

There were many civilians in the village but only a few genuine noncombatants; even women and elder boys were armed and those who could not handle a gun helped the Viet Minh by snapping off haphazard, harassing shots in our direction, often causing chance casualties. Twelve-year-old boys and aged matrons assisted the terrorists by filling empty magazines for them. The result of this indiscriminate involvement of civilians by the Viet Minh was massacre. Before the battle began in earnest I had ordered my troops to spare women and children. Fifteen minutes and scores of casualties later I was compelled to reverse my previous stand and order them to shoot on sight everyone but children of tender age. Otherwise we would have perished.

Our flamethrowers went into action and soon the village was an inferno. The people who fled blinded and deafened into the open ran straight into a stream of bullets delivered and received on both sides. Fifteen yards from where I sheltered a little girl of about five ran screaming into a hail of tracers which severed her left leg below the knee. Our machine gunner had stopped firing the moment he sighted the child but shooting at the rate of six hundred slugs per minute the fraction of a second sufficed to release a dozen more bullets, which hit the child. Ignoring the firing, one of our medics, Corporal Dieter Lang, rushed to the whimpering child and tried to carry her to a safer place. The moment he started back he was hit by a volley which the guerrillas fired. Soldier and child died on the spot. The enemy was less than sixty yards from Lang with nothing to obstruct their view. They saw well what they were shooting at: an unarmed man with the Red Cross emblem plainly visible on his tunic who was rescuing a wounded child— one of theirs!

We spotted the hut from which the bullets had come. A corporal and half a dozen troops sallied forth to liquidate the strong point. Under cover of machine gun fire the corporal burst through the doorway, but where a moment before a dozen guns were firing the troopers found only an old woman who squatted in the corner cuddling a small boy. Wasting no time the corporal yanked her to her feet with a harsh, "Where are the Viet Minh, grandma?" He must have scared the matron for obediently she pointed at a narrow opening in the rear wall and replied in broken French: "There left Viet Minh." The men piled through the hole and found themselves in a small yard. From behind a pile of logs roared a number of guns; one trooper went down and the rest of the platoon dived for cover. Concentrating on the enemy no one paid any attention to "grandma," whose withered bony arm suddenly flipped through the dark opening to toss a hand grenade at the Legionnaires. The explosion demolished a part of her hut but "grandma" did not seem to mind that; she and her grandson survived unhurt; our comrades perished.

From the back of the yard a bunch of screaming guerrillas pounced on dead and wounded; rifle butts cracked skulls, knives ripped tunics and flesh, and soon the corpses were stripped of weapons and valuables. "Grandma" insisted on keeping a wristwatch, a ring, and twenty thousand piasters found in the pocket of the corporal, for—as she claimed aloud—it was she who had done the killing. The ghoulish apparitions were still bargaining over the corpses when I arrived and dispatched them with a salvo of anger and disgust that emptied the magazine of my submachine gun.

When six hours later the battle finally ended the village was a heap of blackened rubble with dead people and animals littering every yard of its expanse. We counted over one hundred Viet Minh and more than two hundred civilian casualties, among them fifty children. From tunnels and cellars my troops extracted over two tons of weapons and ammunition. Two weeks after the event photographs of the ruined village with a pile of civilian corpses artfully displayed appeared in the Communist press under the headline: "Massacre of the Innocents." Corpses in the closeups and those in the foreground of the wide-angle shots had had their arms and ankles bound to create the impression that they had been brutally murdered instead of killed in armed action. A solitary close-up displayed the body of "grenade-tossing grandma" with fifteen of my bullet holes marked on her corpse with superimposed arrows. The caption read: "Not even a sixty-two-year- old woman was spared."

Twenty miles from the town of Bac Kan we overran and captured a group of fifteen terrorists, every one of them armed with Chinese rifles and none of them older than sixteen. Moments before they were brave soldiers of Father Ho—now they are only whimpering kids, shaking with fear, hollow and shrunken in a ring of towering troopers. I questioned the young prisoners in detail and found them well indoctrinated and versed in ideological issues. They wanted to be "patriots"; fortunately they did not succeed in killing any of my men.

They all belonged to the same locality; kids toying with lethal weapons. I hated their guts but somehow they reminded me of our Hitler Jugend, the twelve-to-fifteen-year-old schoolboys sent off untrained with their bazookas to perish beneath the treads of the Pattons and T-34's in 1945. And because they did remind me of those German kids I decided to spare their lives and give them only the whacking of a lifetime, something their fathers ought to have done. But what else could a Communist father teach his offspring but how to degrade, deprive, hate, and exterminate everyone who dared to oppose the doctrines of Marx and Lenin.

We stripped the assassin-candidates and beat them until they could take no more, then we sent them home. They probably crawled most of the way but were still better off than they would have been bayoneted and dumped in the roadside bushes.

Having fired their rifles and wounded four of my men, the small group of "peasant-cum-guerrillas" quickly vanished from sight. They had probably resorted to one of the favorite guerrilla tricks: to submerge in the swamp and stay underwater breathing through hollow sections of cane until it was dark enough for them to withdraw into the woods.

Dusk was still a good hour away. I ordered my men to surround that section of swampland from where the attack had come. The enemy might breathe through canes but he cannot breathe fire and smoke. So we dumped two hundred gallons of diesel oil into the swamp, then set fire to it. Soon the cane thicket burned down to the water level and thick, oily smoke covered the surface. The first batch of snipers surfaced and tried to bolt for the shores, screaming in agony until they got hit or turned into human torches.

We dispatched thirty guerrillas in that action; half of them were women and young boys below the age of sixteen. Innocent noncombatants! Victims of the Foreign Legion!

Women, children, and elderly people were always innocent victims if counted as corpses lying in a devastated settlement. But what is the real position of the so-called noncombatants in an irregular war such as the one in Indochina?

In Communist-controlled areas there is no such thing as neutrals. Every civilian capable of using his or her arms and legs is compelled to assist the liberation movement, either during armed engagements or by transporting supplies or by doing construction work for the guerrillas. In Communist-oriented localities every civilian capable of holding a weapon assists the terrorists during combat, something quite logical for they are, after all, close relatives of active terrorists. Women and older children toss grenades or load mortars; old people help the fighters by loading empty magazines for them. When a sixty-year-old matron increases the fighting effectiveness of a guerrilla gunner by loading spare magazines for his submachine gun, she cannot really be considered a non-combatant.

Some data from my own experience in Indochina:

The majority of all booby traps set by the Viet Minh were manufactured and planted by noncombatants. Concealed weapons and bombs were transported by women, children, and elderly persons. Punji stakes, poisoned arrows, and spear guns were manufactured exclusively by noncombatants, often young children. Such weapons claimed over two thousand French lives during my service in Indochina.

Lookout, reconnaissance, liaison, and similar services of the Viet Minh were manned almost entirely by children, based on the assumption that army patrols seldom pay any attention to kids playing in a pond or passing through a field, while adult males would certainly be stopped, searched, and questioned.

1949

Karl Pfirstenhammer captured a group of fifteen women (many of them elderly) and twenty children (some of them not yet ten years old) while they were engaged in the "peaceful activity" of planting punji traps and crudely made bombs along a regular army trail. These "noncombatants" were transported into Camps of Regroupement near Saigon.

An army surgeon and four medics, among them a French nurse from Rouen, had been lured into a "friendly" village by a "bereaved mother" to attend "a seriously ill child." The ambulance was ambushed by the Viet Minh. Its occupants were brutally murdered. The terrorists then made off with a quantity of surgical equipment and medicines.

Seven drugged Legionnaires were garrotted in a Hanoi public house by Viet Minh terrorists.

1950

An old woman street peddler sold a dozen poisoned pineapple sticks to members of a passing platoon. Five Legionnaires died and several more had to be hospitalized. The woman was recognized and arrested a couple of months later, but the subsequent military tribunal dismissed her case for "lack of evidence." A few weeks after her release the "witch of Ap Thui Loc" managed to murder a lieutenant of the Paratroops with poisoned squash made of crushed sugar cane. Apprehended by the Paras she was taken to the woods and summarily executed.

A fifteen-year-old girl appeared "responsive" to the friendly approach of a young corporal who encountered her in a Hanoi market and offered to help with her bags and boxes. After a few rendezvous the girl invited the corporal home to meet her family. He accompanied her into a dark side street where two of the girl's brothers waited in ambush. Stabbed to death, the corporal's body was dumped in front of the local police station carrying a placard: "This is only one colonialist dog but many more will follow."

A twelve-year-old boy peddler sold an antique Japanese sword to an air force captain. When, back at his quarters the captain showed the weapon to members of his family, the booby-trapped bottom of the hilt exploded, severely wounding him, his wife, and their seven-year-old son.

1951

A North African platoon encountered a group of women distilling syrup from sugar cane. Asking for directions, the platoon was sent off on a treacherous trail ending in a swamp. Nine soldiers choked to death; others still struggling were pushed under by "innocent noncombatants" using long bamboo poles.

Two ten-year-old boys were caught by Rudolf Krebirz carrying a bagful of written information on French motorized transports and troop deployments around the Chinese frontier near Cao Bang.

1952

A young boy shot and killed two Legionnaires in Lao Kay, using a crude spear gun similar in principle to those used by scuba divers. A fifteenyear- old lad slipped a venomous snake into the vehicle of a French colonel. Both the colonel and his aide were bitten by the reptile but survived because of timely treatment. Caught while trying to flee, the young culprit was clubbed to death by Moroccan tirailleurs before the military police could intervene.

The murderous activities of such "innocent noncombatants" could be cited over and over, but those who have not been actually on the spot would never comprehend them. European or American women, for instance, have simply no conception that their Asiatic counterparts can spray machine gun bullets as freely as other women use hair spray before an evening out, and that children over there are not playing with plastic Roy Rogers guns but with plastic high explosives, destroying life and property as freely as American kids might destroy sand castles.

A convoy of carts loaded with pots, pans, homemade furniture, rice, fruits, and vegetables is heading for the markets of Hanoi. Some of the carts are driven by aged peasants with suntanned, wrinkled faces and white beards commanding respect; other vehicles are occupied by entire families. The convoy has come a long way and has already passed two army roadblocks. It travels within a "pacified" area controlled by the gendarmes, where we have no jurisdiction whatsoever.

We were resting in the riverside meadow to pass the hottest hours of the day. The shady trees offered some relief from the burning heat. The convoy of carts rolled in. While the drivers watered the animals, the families descended; the women began to kindle fires and the children took to the canal. Accompanied by Schulze and Krebitz, I strolled over to the convoy and asked to see their leader. He turned out to be a mild-looking, bespectacled, middle-aged man with a gentle smile on his bearded face.

"We have a laissez-passer from the army," he said with some irritation in his voice. He showed me the document which permitted the convoy to proceed to Hanoi. "Checked and allowed to proceed," a pink rubber stamp read. "Examined and cleared."

Having nothing else to do, I decided to check them once more. Sergeant Krebitz assigned four men to each cart, an act which drew vehement protests from the convoy leader.

"Make sure that nothing is damaged," I told Sergeant Krebitz, who replied with a grin, "We will handle their grenades as if they were Easter eggs."

"We carry no grenades," the convoy leader protested.

"Then why worry?" Schulze shrugged. "We will have a quick little look about, then you proceed."

"You have no right to do that."

"Indochina is a lawless country."

"I know that," the man blurted, his face red with impotent rage. "We want to move on."

"You have just stopped to have a rest... . Relax."

"I am going to hand a petition to your superior."

"You do that. His name is Colonel Simon Houssong and you will find him at Viet Tri. I am First Lieutenant Hans Wagemueller. And now, if you don't mind, please tell your people to descend."

"You have no right to—"

"I have heard that before." I cut him short and ordered my men to proceed.

The specialists of Gruppe Drei knew well where to look for possible contraband and soon I heard a telltale "My God" as one of the troopers hauled a large watermelon from a cart and dumped it on the ground with the comment, "Is it ever heavy!" With an enigmatic smile on his face, Xuey stepped forward to have a look; the next instant a couple of travelers bolted for the woods.

"Hold them!" Riedl shouted, but it was too late for us to stop the fugitives and we could not open fire amidst the milling throng of civilians. The trio vanished from sight.

"Now how about this little interlude?" I said to the convoy leader.

"How about this little too-heavy watermelon here?" Sergeant Krebitz intoned. "The one who eats it will get chronic indigestion."

Leaving the bearded leader under armed guard, I walked over to look at the melon. It was hollow. In the hollow we found an oilcloth package containing a revolver, fifty cartridges, and six hand grenades.

The search continued. Hollow vegetables contained more grenades. Time bombs with corrosion fuses were camouflaged as cabbages; dismantled rifles and a submachine gun were among our haul. Eighteen carts which transported no illegal cargo were allowed to proceed. The rest of the convoy went back to the army checkpoint under armed escort.

"Make sure that nothing happens to these poor innocent civilians," I told Krebitz who rode shotgun on the cart of the convoy leader. "We have about as many atrocities to our credit as we can take."

The Viet Minh company was marching casually along the narrow causeway which ran between an expanse of rice paddies parallel to the forest line. The enemy was obviously ignorant of our presence in the shrubbery. The men of Gruppe Drei had spotted them in the drifting mist long before they entered the relatively coverless flatland; about a hundred guerrillas marching in two lines on either side of the road, "Idiots' Row" as our sharpshooters used to refer to such formations. Sergeant Krebitz, who with a platoon of machine gunners had gone forward to occupy a patch of thickets near the trail, now reported that the Viet Minh detachment was a band of green recruits rather than a fighting force. Only the foremost platoon of twenty terrorists were armed with automatic weapons. The rear guard of six veteran guerrillas carried vintage rifles. The rest of the "section" was unarmed. "I am delighted," Sergeant Krebitz commented over the radio. "This is going to be duck shooting, Hans."

"You should spare the recruits," Xuey addressed me suddenly.

"And break our game rule about the golden reserves of Father Ho?"

"They would die innocently, for they are no more Communist than you are, Commander, and have probably joined the Viet Minh only upon the threat of instant death. They don't have weapons because they are not trusted yet."

"Maybe the company hasn't got enough weapons."

Xuey tapped my binoculars. "Have a look at the center of the column, Commander. There are eight men carrying crates, and those crates contain weapons."

Xuey was probably right about the recruits. "Spare the lives of the unarmed ones," he pleaded again. "Their families will need them."

"They should have told that to the Viet Minh, Xuey."

"No one can reason with the Viet Minh—you know that."

"All right, I will try to spare the recruits."

"Thank you, Commander."

I called Krebitz again, asking him if he was well enough deployed to eliminate the armed platoon without causing casualties among the unarmed men. "My God," he exclaimed, "are you having a sunstroke or something, Hans?"

"What do you mean, Rudolf?"

"I mean your good heart. Since when are you so concerned about the welfare of the Viet Minh?"

"Those recruits are not Viet Minh yet. Xuey asked me to give them a chance."

"As you wish," he grunted. "We will shoot the bad guys and let the not-sobad guys live."

"How about their rear guard?"

"The Abwehr will take care of them."

"Proceed then," I said, reminding him to aim low, as we would be moving ahead on the right flank and consequently some of our own troops might stroll into Gruppe Drei's line of fire. "I will keep that in mind," Krebitz reassured me.

"Don't wait for my order to open fire. When you see them properly, let them have it."

The sun was mounting higher and the mist over the paddies began to lift. Soon the enemy emerged into the open. Apart from an occasional cry of the paddy birds there was not a sound, so when the MG's of Gruppe Drei opened up, their sharp staccato shattered the silence like a bolt out of the clear sky. Instantly the guerrilla detachment scattered and I had no way of knowing how many of the armed terrorists were killed. The Viet Minh rear guard—Schulze saw it—went spinning and tumbling down into the paddies, but a part of the platoon must have escaped, for a sporadic fire of enemy submachine guns could be heard from the road. However, the survivors were soon spotted and eliminated one after another, until the remnants of the platoon, half a dozen muddy and bewildered guerrillas, finally realized the hopelessness of their position and surrendered. The recruits followed suit. Covered with mire and most of them soaking wet, they scrambled to their feet holding their hands up, some of them still on the road, others in the knee-deep muck yelling for mercy. Most of them were almost children.

"Giap must be hard up for manpower," Schulze commented, observing the miserable lot.

"That may be," said Xuey, "but I think the Viet Minh has only discovered the advantage of recruiting small boys, Commander."

"What advantage?"

"Young boys are rather easy to camouflage for one thing," Xuey explained. "When the army comes into a village a thirteen-year-old boy may conceal his gun and become a harmless child." Now I understood Xuey's reasoning and it made sense.

Gruppe Drei collected the enemy weapons. The guerrillas were separated from the recruits, many of whom were weeping openly. By then we had established a deadly reputation in the northern provinces and the commissars usually referred to us only as "the deathmakers" or "the beasts who spare none." I advised Xuey to speak to the recruits, which he gladly did.

"Return home," I told them, "and say a prayer of gratitude to your god, whoever he may be. Thank your god that we captured you unarmed. Otherwise you would be dead men now."

They left, still shaken but overjoyed at being alive. We watched them hurrying down the trail, calling to each other, whistling and chattering excitedly. When the last of them melted into the distant woods I turned my attention to the veteran guerrillas.

"Do you want to question them?" Krebitz asked.

I shrugged. "What for? They were only escorting the recruits to a predetermined point where another platoon would have taken charge of them."

"We might intercept those too."

'To hell with them."

"And what about them?" He jerked a thumb toward the pathetic group of prisoners.

"To hell with them too!"

"Shoot them for a change," Riedl suggested. "Your butchery with the bayonet makes me sick."

"Why not?" Krebitz shrugged. "After all they are supplying their own bullets."

The prisoners were executed and we moved on.

A dreary routine.
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Re: Devil's Guard, by George Robert Elford

Postby admin » Fri Jan 12, 2018 5:46 am

14. ACTION AND VENGEANCE

By the summer of 1951 the Viet Minh had every reason to rejoice. Communism was progressing steadily in Indochina and the "freedom fighters" of Ho Chi Minh were in control of seventy percent of the rural areas. In the heavily garrisoned cities their influence was increasing; consequently the terrorist activities increased as well and soon became a serious problem.

The Communist strategy was a simple one. The Viet Minh mobilized the impoverished peasantry under the slogan "Kill the landowner and seize his land," a rallying cry that appealed to the basest instinct of the scum. A call to murder, rape, and loot always rallies the scum of any country. For them, the Party offered a People's Democracy—a Communist state which the have-nots were quite willing to accept. The majority of the Party members did not have the faintest idea what Communism meant but they understood the catch phrase "You have nothing to lose but your chains."

The intelligentsia were being hoodwinked more tactfully through their patriotic sentiments and there was little talk about Marx, Lenin, or Communism. For the educated classes the bait was "independence." Regardless of their political beliefs, the majority of the population did agree on one issue: Indochina should rid herself of colonial overlords. In the rural areas the Viet Minh could enforce its "reforms" at will. Government officials, policemen, teachers, wealthy peasants, and merchants (anyone possessing more than about four heads of cattle or owned a well-stocked shop was considered rich) had been liquidated. Their property had been seized and distributed among the people, at least for the time being. Those who had hesitated or refused to accept property acquired through murder and robbery were terrorized into submission. The moment a peasant accepted and began to cultivate illegally acquired property he was in the hands of the Viet Minh and could but dread the return of the legal authority.

A few months previously Ho Chi Minh had established his Workers Party—the Lao Dong—which was in fact the Communist party with the word "Communist" tactfully omitted. Ho Chi Minh still needed the support of the urban middle class. To them the mere word "Communism" was abhorrent, but they were, nevertheless, ardent supporters of the cause of independence.

At about that time we had an interesting "discussion" with a group of newspaper editors who were rather skeptical about the French endeavors and the general outlook of the war in Indochina. The newsmen had heard about the ex-Nazis of the Foreign Legion and they wasted no time in coming to talk to us. When I asked one of them why the editors wouldn't interview the commanding general, the editor replied in good humor: "I suspect that whatever the general might say could be obtained printed in Paris, without taking the trouble of coming all the way to Indochina."

I told them in no uncertain terms that we were fighting for a lost cause. They appeared somewhat surprised, since they had already consulted some high-ranking authority and had heard only the sunny side of the story. For us, it was quite understandable that our generals should be overoptimistic. After all they had been losing every battle since Napoleon and their most recent heroes of the First World War would have achieved little without the massive American assistance they received to bolster the brave but leaderless French soldiers (whose stamina we esteemed as much as we despised their generals). However resourceful and brave, the German troops could have achieved little without their Guderian, Manstein, or Rommel. When ordered into an attack at the wrong time and at the wrong place the bravest troops could only fight and go down fighting but without achievement. The French generals permitted too many of their troops to die. In our eyes, they were grown-up children who liked to play with tanks and cannons and, unfortunately, with human lives. Their little war games have resulted in the unnecessary death of millions of brave Frenchmen during the past eighty years; magnificent soldiers who could have won many victories if they had had capable and daring generals to lead them. After all, the race was the same as it had been in the time of Napoleon and lions will never beget rabbits! It was the elan vital—the "conquering will"—that was missing and not the cran—the guts.

"It is your conviction that we have irrevocably lost the war?" one of the newsmen asked. "No, not irrevocably," I corrected him, "but the way the war is now being conducted it can only end in total defeat."

"I see___"

I had the notion that someday, not in the very distant future, our interview was going to backfire on us, but we were long since past worrying about consequences. "What should we do to win the war?" "Withdraw the Territorials from Indochina entirely and reinforce the Paratroops, monsieur. Then bring over ten German divisions," Eisner interposed with a broad grin. "That's what you should do. German divisions, German weapons, German generals. . . . Not the ones they have today, of course. Ten old German divisions and the French Paras could pacify Indochina, or hell itself, without jet planes, rockets, and napalm."

The editors chuckled. "With Adolf Hitler in command?" someone asked, obviously amusing himself. It did not bother us. The newspapermen wanted to hear our opinion, -and we gave them what they wanted.

"For all his shortcomings, no one could accuse Hitler of cowardice, something we may seldom say of the present leaders of the so-called Free World," I said coolly. "Hitler would never take insults, slaps in the face, or political nonsense; not from the equally powerful, let alone moral, economic, and military midgets like the Viet Minh."

My words wiped the amusement from their faces. I went on: "I know that anyone may kick a dead lion but do you really think that Ho Chi Minh could have played his Viet Minh games with Hitler for five years?"

"Yes, we have heard of some of your, er, accomplishments," an editor remarked. "How are you doing now?"

"We are only a single battalion, monsieur. We cannot perform miracles; but I think the world knows only too well what the German Army was able to accomplish, if only for a couple of years, alone against the world. I don't think the Viet Minh would have frustrated the Wehrmacht."

"Suppose you were given command in Indochina and had your German divisions. Would it solve the local problems?"

"The local problems are very complex," I replied. "To solve them, one should mobilize top politicians and economists, not army divisions. But if I had a free hand, the Viet Minh would not last for six months. That I guarantee you."

"Are you not overconfident?" a voice from the group asked.

"There is no situation which a superior power cannot solve by appropriate means."

"And what do you mean by appropriate means?"

"The most rigorous measures if necessary. We met guerrillas before in Russia. When they gave us too much trouble within a specific area, we carted off the entire male population to Germany. Two days later there was no terrorist movement in the district. There is always a last solution."

"Including extermination camps with gas chambers?"

"If you came here only to wisecrack, gentlemen, we might as well discontinue. You requested me to state facts and present my own unadulterated views—which is precisely what I am endeavoring to do."

"Please go on—we meant no offense," an elderly editor said apologetically. "Your determination is fascinating."

"Historical facts cannot be altered, nor can they be whitewashed," I went on. "We Germans can be very joyful and happy people around a table drinking beer, or in a bowling alley, or in our homes, but when it comes to fighting all our feelings become subjugated to our will to conquer. We were taught to be concerned with results only. The means by which we achieve victory are not important to us. Had we been here, instead of the French, we might have turned Indochina into a country of women and children only, but the Viet Minh would have been liquidated a long time ago."

"Would you care telling us—not being a Frenchman yourself, and this also applies to your companions—why are you so concerned about Indochina and about the outcome of this war in general?"

"This liberation movement is not just a local phenomenon but the beginning of a prolonged struggle which one may rightly call a struggle for survival. The Viet Minh is only a single division of a brutal international force that has many other divisions ready for starting similar wars in any part of the world. This is not a local affair and it should worry every civilized nation of the world."

"You don't consider Russia civilized?" a newsman asked.

'The Russian standard of civilization exposed itself wonderfully when the Red army occupied the former Axis partners, Rumania, Hungary, and the part of Germany which is now the Soviet Zone, in 1945...."

"How about China? China can claim a four-thousand-year-old civilization."

"That may be, gentlemen . . . but today, China is nothing more than a Red dunghill, and Communism can turn the angel of mercy into an angel exterminator. I believe that we are all aware of that."

"Was Nazism any better?" a voice interposed.

"Suit yourself, monsieur," I replied, ignoring the challenge. "If you came here to discuss Nazism we should switch subjects."

"Let us keep to our proper subject," the editor in front of me suggested, then glanced into his notebook and added: "Do you believe that world opinion would have permitted you to employ—let us be frank now—such typically Nazi methods as the deportation of the male population?"

"As far as we are concerned, gentlemen, we are fighting against a deadly enemy and not against public opinion. The United Nations is only one of your postwar jokes. A club of senile old men who are trying to play the role of the strict schoolmaster toward nations with a population of ten million souls. To scold anything bigger than that, your United Nations is as impotent as the League of Nations was when it endeavored to censure Mussolini for his aggression against Abyssinia."

"You have, I believe, already completed your five years of service. You are staying on voluntarily. If you know that the Viet Minh cannot be defeated by conventional means, then why are you still fighting them?"

"Why does man fight locusts?" I asked in return and drew a soft chuckle from the group. "We believe that the more terrorists we manage to kill here the less our sons and grandsons will have to fight against in World War Three!"

No one interrupted me, so I went on. "They say that Nazism was a grave menace to mankind. I see no point in contesting that belief. But would anyone tell me what the Western Allies accomplished in 1945? They liberated a number of captive nations from the Nazi yoke but only at the price of casting a dozen free nations into Soviet slavery. Was it such a wise deal? At least the German-occupied countries could look forward to the day of liberation. What can the people of the Soviet-occupied countries look forward to? Who will liberate them? Only death! In ten years' time the Communists will conquer more land than the Nazis ever controlled—and that with the benevolent assistance of the free democracies. In one respect the Communists are right to assert that the free democracies are governed by capitalists and that a capitalist never looks beyond the very next day. For him only the immediate profit matters, the distant consequence never. The free democracies will trade with the Reds, they will back down when pressed, compromise on every principal issue; they will feed the enemy and supply them with everything they need to conquer the world. This is precisely why the Third World War is inevitable."

"What should we have done," a question came from the back row, "kept on fighting in 1945?"

"There was a great chance in 1948 right after the Berlin blockade, monsieur. Berlin should have been evacuated. The so-called Free World had enough money and material to build another Berlin in the west and thus wrench a supreme lever of political and military blackmail from Stalin's hands. Industries and stockpiles should have been removed, public works and buildings blown up. Then Berlin should have been handed over to the Communists the way it was in May 1945. I agree that sentiments would have suffered but the German people have lost a great deal more than Berlin. Afterwards the Free World should have built its own Iron Curtain: a fortified line along the entire Red frontier with the world, as we know it, ending at the wall. No diplomatic contacts, no mail, no telephone, no trains or planes going through. Communism should have been totally and mercilessly isolated from the rest of mankind."

"How about the Communists in the Western countries?" I was interrupted. "There are about two million of them in France alone!"

"I would give them a free ticket to the far side of the wall, gentlemen, for, apart from their political aspirations, they are outright military and economic intelligence agents for Moscow. Should the Kremlin request their assistance, the French Communists for instance would never hesitate to map French targets for a Soviet missile attack against France. Besides, it is much too comfortable to be a Communist in a free country, earning good wages, driving a car, having the right to protest, to strike, to change jobs. The Communists should go where their loyalty belongs, the Soviet paradise."

"But they are citizens. They have their constitutional rights like anyone else."

"You also have a sentence of death, already signed in the Kremlin," I replied coolly. "Only the day of the execution has not yet been fixed."

My conclusion provoked a small revolution in the conference room.

"I agree with him!" someone exclaimed.

"Lunacy!" someone else yelled. "They should be disbanded!"—'They should receive every support."—"Shame upon France!"—"Shame upon those who are ready to sell France down the drain. . . ."

"You are a ... fanatic!" one of the newsmen exclaimed, with a look of astonishment and hostility on his lean face.

"I know that you wanted to say either 'Nazi fanatic,' or simply 'lunatic,* monsieur," I remarked with a smile and rose slowly. "Go ahead. We are Nazis if one has to be a Nazi to think in terms of years and not only in terms of days. And if one of us had not become a Nazi under Hitler, he would have turned into a Nazi right here in Indochina. You may also consider us crazy but that was exactly what the British thought of Rudolf Hess when he foretold what would happen if Germany lost the war: Soviet domination of Central Europe, Communist takeovers, rebellions, the dissolution of the British Empire. ... I can see that some of you are amused. Just wait a dozen more years, gentlemen, and you will no longer be smiling."

I was perfectly aware that the ideas of a "Nazi extremist" must have sounded quite insane to a group of petty bourgeois newsmen who had probably never smelled gunpowder in their lives. Nevertheless they wanted the truth and that's what I gave them. We Germans can believe and follow only determined and powerful leaders. It has nothing to do with Nazism. It is our heritage of centuries. We would have followed Julius Caesar, Attila, Napoleon, or Washington with the same devotion we showed Adolf Hitler. But we think nothing of rich boys who gain a plush chair or a marshal's baton because their parents happen to have plenty of money.

It was evident that the Free World was already looking toward America as the Lord Deliverer and Protector. Surely America is a great country, wealthy and very advanced. But so was the Roman Empire in its own time. Wealth is not a precondition of power and history tells that the richer a nation grows, the weaker it becomes. It was not a wealthier or a more advanced nation that destroyed the Roman Empire. It was the barbarians!

Shortly after the interview we were out again for three weeks of hard trekking along a wide and well-maintained trail. Gia Xuey thought it was one of the principal Viet Minh routes to "Nambo"—southern Indochina. We crisscrossed some three hundred square miles of guerrilla territory, which Ho Chi Minh considered conquered and secured forever.

We succeeded in wiping out that illusion. Within the first ten days my men destroyed two major Viet Minh bases, each of which accommodated two or three guerrilla "sections" (about one hundred men-constituted one "section" or company).

Our task was relatively easy, because in the conquered areas the customary guerrilla vigilance appeared to be relaxed. With the nearest French garrison holed up at Luang Prabang, a hundred miles away, the Viet Minh could move and manage its affairs practically unhindered. In the liberated villages the enemy openly displayed the Viet Minh ensign, along with large propaganda posters and banners inscribed with slogans. Small groups of terrorists moved freely within the village and a pair of binoculars always revealed their presence. The loudspeakers, which some propagandists used for mass indoctrination, could be heard from miles away. In their jungle camps, too, the enemy had grown astonishingly careless. Across the wilderness their singing, chattering, and shouting served as "beams" on which our trailblazers could home. Masquerading as guerrillas, Xuey and Noy often infiltrated enemy-held localities and returned with important information. In fact, that little native nurse proved so effective in reconnaissance that I decided to assign her to Gruppe Drei—a great distinction. Noy was as resourceful as she was daring. She would casually stroll into a terrorist camp and hold a sentry's attention while Sergeant Krebitz and his men closed in on the unsuspecting enemy. With the sentries eliminated it was always easy to penetrate into the camp proper. We did it either at dawn or at dusk, invariably posing as guerrillas ourselves. The ruse always worked.

Frantically the Viet Minh High Command was trying to 'suppress our activities in their vital staging areas, hitherto safe from French harassment. Giap concentrated over a thousand guerrillas in an all-out attempt to destroy us, but the more troops he concentrated, the less he could preserve the secrecy of their whereabouts. General Giap found us a hard nut to crack. We were too strong for Viet Minh units of company strength and could in fact easily outgun any guerrilla battalion. The enemy needed at least a brigade to tackle my headhunters. A brigade, however, cannot play hide-and-seek in the jungle. Units consisting of over three thousand men need ample supplies; besides they also make a great deal of noise. Whenever the enemy appeared to be concentrating several battalions in a particular area we either delivered a preemptive strike to grind them up piecemeal or we slipped quietly away towards safer hunting grounds.

The loss of one guerrilla camp must have been particularly painful for the Viet Minh. In it we discovered twelve fully equipped workshops for servicing weapons, manufacturing mines, spear guns (the terrorists were still extensively using this brutal weapon), sandals, bombs. A printing shop and a dressing station were also among the camp facilities. Lathe benches, grinders, power drills and other machines were in the workshops. The power came from five small diesel generators placed in a long underground tunnel to deaden sound. Some of the machines weighed over a ton and had obviously come dismantled from one of the principal cities.

The battalion killed over a hundred guerrillas and captured thirty or forty of them in that camp. The majority of the casualties were irreplaceable specialists: machine tool operators, electricians, weapons makers, five engineers, six printers, two pharmacists, and two doctors.

Among the prisoners were six Lao Dong functionaries, including a district secretary and a district Agitprop secretary.

The camp was a marvel of guerrilla ingenuity. The overhead camouflage netting was covered with natural green that matched the surrounding flora. To keep the foliage fresh it had to be replaced every other day, and for that purpose the various sections of the netting could be lowered or raised. Where air reconnaissance observed only unbroken forests, in reality a spacious clearing spread for hundreds of yards, with permanent huts, living quarters, water tanks, mess halls, depots, and workshops.

Strolling about the camp with Schulze I spotted Xuey, who was closely inspecting a section of ground where I saw piles of bamboo spokes neatly arranged under a tarpaulin sheet.

"Anything wrong?" I tapped him lightly on the shoulder.

He looked up and nodded. "Plenty wrong! There were French prisoners working here, sharpening stakes. Dead or alive they should be somewhere around."

"Prisoners?" Schulze exclaimed incredulously. "We searched the whole camp, Xuey—"

"Look at the footprints," Xuey said. He squatted on his heels and drew a finger around the contours of a bare print. "It was made by a very large foot. . . . No local people have feet as large as this one."

A glance at the print was enough to convince me that Xuey was right. "But where on earth could they be?" Erich pondered.

"Somewhere in the woods, maybe underground," Xuey suggested. "We should start looking for them or they may die."

I called for Sergeant Krebitz and he came running. I told him of Xuey's discovery. "Get a hundred men and comb the neighborhood. Don't destroy anything, unless the place has been searched with the utmost care."

The troops surveyed the entire area and combed the woods for five hundred yards but all in vain. There was a trail which Xuey and Krebitz went to investigate as far as a mile and a half, but it ended in a rocky depression among barren hills strewn with boulders and dead trees.

The depression seemed to have several exits and it would have taken days to examine them all.

The surveying parties found neither prisoners nor caves and tunnels where prisoners could have been kept confined. I spoke once again with Xuey. "Are you sure that those prints were recent ones?" I asked him.

He looked at me and asked in turn, "Have I ever erred in my judgment, Commander?"

"Not that I know of, Xuey," I had to concede.

He nodded contentedly. "I am not mistaken now!"

"But where can they be? They aren't in the camp and if there was another place nearby, we ought to find a path leading to it."

"I was looking for a path," Xuey said. "Sometimes they are very difficult to detect. Often the Viet Minh make no paths at all but use different routes between two bases every day, allowing the grass to recover. Such trails cannot be detected. Only the people who use them know their location."

"What do you suggest we should do?"

"Question the prisoners!" Xuey replied.

There was nothing else I could do. If Xuey was right about the French prisoners, they had to be helped at once.

"Sergeant Schenk!" I turned sharply. "Where are the captured guerrillas?"

He swung the barrel of his submachine gun toward a long, thatched hut. "Over there, Commander!"

"Bring them here!"

Eisner and Riedl appeared. "What's going on?" Bernard inquired. I briefed him on the situation and his face darkened. "Then I am afraid they are dead," he remarked grimly. "If any French prisoners had been here, they must have heard us moving around. They would be screaming their heads off by now for help."

"They might be underground."

Sergeant Schenk returned with the prisoners and lined them up facing us. Without preliminaries, Sergeant Kre-bitz grabbed the district secretary by the shoulder.

"Where are the French prisoners, ratface?" he sneered at the slim, pockmarked terrorist. "Open your goddamned mouth or I'll break every bone in your wretched carcass."

"We have no French prisoners," came the defiant reply.

"You are a liar!" Xuey cut in, stepping closer. "I saw their footprints."

"You are a filthy traitor," the propagandist hissed and spat toward Xuey. "We will get you one day, you colonialist puppet—Gia Xuey. ... We know you well."

"Indeed?" Eisner stepped in front of the prisoner, drew his bayonet and held it against the man's belly. "Do you happen to know me as well?"

"We know you all and we will get you, too, one day."

"You will get us, too, eh? Whom have you already gotten?"

He paused for a moment, then repeated his question in a low, menacing tone, "Where are the French prisoners?"

Silence and a defiant, sardonic smile were all he got as an answer. With a sudden, powerful thrust, Bernard plunged the blade home. .The propagandist uttered a bubbling moan, his mouth opened, and his face contorted in pain; with a low, animal grunt he sagged toward Eisner. Bernard pulled his bayonet free and let the man drop.

"I am not a man of jokes," he sneered at the dying terrorist. Stepping up to the party secretary he repeated his question.

"You may kill us all, you Fascist dogs," the guerrilla breathed with hatred oozing from his lips. "Kill us all, and you may also forget about your Legionnaires for you will never find them." He uttered a short, hysterical snort. "They will rot away alive!"

"That's what you think, cher ami," Bernard grinned. "But you are going to tell us where they are. We will find them all right." He lifted the still dripping bayonet.

The party secretary paled but gathered himself and cried, "Go ahead and stab me, too!" But Eisner only smiled at him with narrowed eyes. He wiped the blade on the prisoner's pajama and sheathed it.

"Your death is not going to be so easy," he said quietly. "When I am through with you, you will be praying for death to come." He turned to the guards. "Strip the swine!"

"Schenk!"

"Jawohl!"

"Take him over there, behind those logs," Bernard pointed to a place some fifty yards from where we stood, "and the others too. . . . Sergeant Krebitz! Please get me a roll of fuse and a couple of primers."

Moments later the naked district secretary lay prostrate on the ground, spread-eagled between four short ! pegs driven into the ground. His companions were lined ; up facing their leader.

"Erich," I gestured to Schulze and nodded toward the j huts, where Suoi and Chi had appeared carrying a few j small boxes. "Take the girls for a ride!"

When we wanted to keep the girls away from some unpleasant spectacle, some of us would take them for a "ride," usually an "assignment" to do an "important job" elsewhere. Schulze hurried off to meet the two. Taking the girls by the shoulders and talking rapidly, he ushered 1 them towards the far side of the camp.

Krebitz returned with the detonators and a roll of fuse. Eisner cut a length of fuse and began to coil it about the prisoner's body. "This is one of Karl Stahnke's ideas which the Gestapo adopted," he explained. "Stahnke swore that it would open the mouth of a stone statue."

He coiled the fuse about the district secretary's leg, his trunk and chest, talking all the while, "So, tovarich . . . you are a cool one, eh? This should warm you up a bit." He ran the fuse down the man's hip, attached the detonator and slipped the charge under the prisoner's scrotum. "It won't kill you but you had better talk now, cher ami. By the time the primer blows your balls off, you will have turned into a pink zebra, you hero of Ho Chi Minh." He lit a cigarette and looked down on the prisoner. "I am asking you once more, where are the French prisoners?"

The guerrilla spat in Eisner's face. Eisner wiped his cheek with his kerchief and lighted the fuse.

The moment the white-hot fire touched the guerrilla's skin he heaved violently and began to scream in agony. He twisted and arched to escape the searing heat. The fire slowly ate along his leg, leaving a burned, bleeding path of raw flesh in its wake. Seconds later the man's body was bathed in sweat. Krebitz gagged him to muffle his cries.

Eisner turned toward the rest of the party leaders, some of whom already looked more dead than alive. "How do you like it, comrades? The next client will have a real nice slow-burning fuse."

With a persistent low hiss the fire circled the prisoner's chest, burning an inch-wide blistering trail as it advanced; the wretch had almost severed his wrists as he twisted against the restraining rope.

"Speak!" Eisner urged him, snatching the rag from the prisoner's mouth. "In a minute you will turn into a eunuch, cher ami. What will your wife or girl friend say?"

"You will ... all hang . . . you Fascist brigands . . . you . . ." the district secretary gurgled. "Father Ho will . . . avenge . . . us." His eyes rolled up, then slowly closed. He blacked out.

"Put the fuse out!" Riedl stepped forward. "You can't make an unconscious man talk."

"I knew that he was not going to talk," Bernard replied, nodding toward the others. "But they will!"

"Bernard . . . you are a bloody sadist. Put that fuse out."

"Go and join the girls if you cannot stomach it, Helmut."

Without a word, Riedl turned, shouldered his rifle, and left. The fire reached the prisoner's thigh, then the primer exploded with a short, sharp crack. The man's body heaved as a spurt of blood splashed across his thighs, then he fell back and lay still. Eisner pulled his automatic and coolly put a bullet between the district secretary's eyes.

"Riedl is wrong," he remarked, bolstering his gun. "I don't enjoy doing this. Remember our twelve comrades in Suoi's village. I am only giving them tit for tat. Strip the next one!" he commanded the troopers.

Before the fuse began to turn he was told what he wanted to know.

Sergeant Schenk cut the prisoner free and pulled him to his feet. The man was shaking in every limb. "I have a family to support," he muttered almost sobbing, "wife and children . . . five children."

"You still have your balls, so don't complain," Eisner snapped. "Show us the way to the French prisoners and I will let you go home."

"You lie!" the guerrilla cried; the next instant he was staggering backward under the impact of Eisner's backhand blow. Bernard stepped forward and grabbed the man by his shirt.

"Never call a German officer a liar, cher ami," he sneered with his eyes narrowed and boring into the guerrilla's face. "We always keep our part of a bargain." He pushed the man toward the woods. "Forward! Allez vitel"

The prisoner led us to a small but well-concealed camp about two miles from the main base. It consisted of only five huts which contained rice, but a nearby spacious natural cave secreted five hundred cases of rifle ammo, seventeen machine guns, and fifty-two satchels of grenades. Not far from the huts the prisoner showed us the entrance of a tunnel. When Karl threw open the bolted lid a repugnant smell of human filth rose from below.

Hairy, haggard faces appeared in the opening, staring into the sudden brightness; thin, skeleton arms and hands tried to shield a dozen hollow eyes.

"Nous sommes le bataillon allemand," Sergeant Schenk shouted, bending down to grasp a pair of hands. "Ascendez-vous!"

"Come up! You are free!"

An instant of frozen silence followed, then someone groaned, "Mon Dieu, c'est la Legion. . . ." The dark hole exploded. Now everybody began to scream, holler, demand, and plead. Hands shot upward, filling the opening, grasping for help. We pulled them out, one after another, lowering them gently to the ground.

"Goddamit!" Karl swore. "Look at them! Look at the poor bastards... . They would have died here like rats."

The troops hauled up twenty-eight prisoners, among them a lieutenant and an Arab sergeant, both in pitiful shape. Most of the prisoners were suffering from festering sores and untreated wounds. I sent word to Sergeant Zeisl to get ready with warm water, antibiotics, ointments and bandages.

Cigarettes, water, something to chew, something to drink—the poor devils demanded everything at once, trying to hug us and shake our hands at the same time. We distributed all the cigarettes we had with us, our canteens, our biscuits. Some of the Legionnaires began to sob openly. Others laughed or joked, still others just sank to the ground overwhelmed with relief.

"Pull yourselves together," the lieutenant urged them. They slowly rose and we carried or helped them back into the main camp.

"Marceau is my name," the lieutenant shook my hand. "Jean Marceau."

"From the Regiment Amphibie?" I asked.

He uttered a short laugh. "Rather Regiment Sous-terrain. ... I am glad to see you."

"How long have you been here?"

"For seven months, cher ami," he replied. "Are you the famous one-time SS officer Wagemueller?"

"I do not know whether I am famous or not, but I am an officer of the French Foreign Legion, Lieutenant Marceau; that I do know."

"No offense meant."

"No offense taken. ... I also know that we haven't settled our bill yet."

"The SS shot my brother in Rouen," Marceau remarked quietly.

"I wasn't the one who did it, Marceau. I haven't been in France."

"I believe you, but it is hard not to remember."

"Now the SS saved your life. Strange, isn't it?"

"Times change." He extended his hand again. "Thank you all the same."

We set the Legionnaires up in guerrilla sleeping quarters. Sergeant Schenk and the girls made them as comfortable as possible. The sudden appearance of Suoi and the nurses startled the men and occasioned a small outburst. Clapping and whistling and muttering complimentary remarks, they forgot about their sores and aches.

Sergeant Zeisl and the nurses quickly attended the seriously ill ones. "They won't be able to march for weeks," Zeisl stated after a while. "We had better call in the copters."

'The copters will bring the Viet Minh here from miles around," Karl said.

"If they aren't on the way already," Eisner agreed. "I have been thinking of those huts and the prisoners' bunker. Some guerrillas ought to have been there to stand guard."

"Bien sur!" Lieutenant Marceau cut in. "We could hear them chattering only minutes before you arrived."

"They have gone off to warn the others. We had better get busy here, Hans," said Erich. "I'm going to set up a perimeter right away."

"Do that, Erich. Take four platoons with MG's."

I turned to Karl. "You should deploy along the ravine to cover the trail with flamethrowers."

"I have only four tanks left, Hans."

"Then take more machine guns."

Karl and Erich left and I walked to Corporal Altreiter, who had just set up the wireless aerials. "Report to HQ ... I request the immediate dispatch of helicopters to evacuate twenty-eight wounded Legionnaires liberated from Viet Minh captivity. Eisner will give you the coordinates. Tell HQ that we will guide the copters by straight signals transmitted at one-minute intervals on the usual frequency."

"Say, Hans," Riedl cut in, "how about asking for some supplies. Flamethrower tanks, for instance."

"And booze," Krebitz added, shaking his empty canteen. "We could also use some more tracer ammo."

I turned to Riedl. "Draw up a quick list for Altreiter but make it a short one. Otherwise the copters will never get here. Sergeant Krebitz! Begin with the demolition."

"Don't demolish your prisoners," Lieutenant Marceau interposed. "I am looking forward to seeing the canaille. We still have scores to settle."

"Do you want to ... entertain them, Marceau?"

"You bet I do," said he. "Do you know what those bastards did to us? They forced us to eat shit . . . real shit, I mean. When I demanded more food for my men, the Viet Minh commander ordered us to chew their excrement. He thought it was funny."

"Don't say—"

"He said it was a great honor for us colonialist pigs to eat the shit of a Viet Minh hero."

"Well, that is a new one!" Eisner exclaimed. "I know a few original Red jokes but that beats them all."

"For us it wasn't so funny," the lieutenant retorted grimly. "Three of our men who refused to comply were dumped head first into the latrine and kept submerged until they choked to death. ... A very unpleasant way to die."

"Their commander is dead but you can have the rest of them. Have fun," I said.

"Fair enough," Marceau nodded. "I am looking forward to it."

After his sores had been dressed, I led him to the prisoners. Slowly, Marceau walked past the sullen group, recognizing some of them. "Comrade Nguyen Ho and Comrade Muong Ho," he said softly and turned toward me. "You still have a fairly good collection here. I would appreciate it if you could take them to where my men are resting, for soon the comrades are going to have their dinner, and no one would want to miss the show."

"A dinner similar to the one they gave you?"

"Oh, no." Marceau shook his head, allowing his eyes to travel from face to face. "We are much too civilized to feed men on shit."

We returned to the Legionnaires, some of whom were busy shaving and washing themselves. (Before our nurses appeared on the scene the suggestion of shaving and washing had been dismissed en masse with a loud "What the hell for" or "We'll do that in Hanoi.")

In the camp, the demolition work was already under way; thuds, cracks, small explosions could be heard everywhere as Sergeant Krebitz and Gruppe Drei proceeded to destroy guerrilla equipment. The crates of medical supplies had been carefully opened. Zeisl removed what we needed; the rest of the drugs were then intermixed, the containers resealed, and left in place as though we had entirely overlooked the small underground depot. The Viet Minh was always hard up for drugs and in most instances our undoubtedly mean but deadly ruse would liquidate a large number of terrorists by "delayed action," as Sergeant Krebitz put it. Malaria was always a problem for the Viet Minh and the terrorists readily consumed any drug bearing the label "quinine bisulphate." Entire Viet Minh battalions had been wiped out in this fashion. Sometimes, when we heard that a guerrilla detachment was hard up for food, we permitted a truckload of foodstuffs to fall into their hands. The enemy carried away everything, unaware that we had mixed rat poison, containing strychnine, into the flour and the sugar.

Should one call our ruse "chemical warfare"? After all, twenty-nine of my men had died of wounds caused by poisoned Viet Minh arrows, spears, and stakes.

Lieutenant Marceau indeed arranged a "dinner" for the captive Viet Minh. He forced them to swallow their leaflets and printed propaganda manuals, page by page. When one of them stopped chewing, Marceau poked the man with a bayonet and occasionally topped the meal with a spoonful of printing paint, commenting, "Have some pudding too." Then tearing up and distributing the propaganda material, he shouted, "Chew, you canaille. ... It is surely better tasting than shit."

The "dinner" lasted for the better part of two hours. The apres-souper wine was machine oil. When a prisoner resisted, a narrow rubber hose was forced into his mouth and he would either swallow or choke to death. Soon the last of them collapsed. Others still writhed in the grass or were already dead, lying in pools of vomit, black paint oozing from their lips and nostrils.

But we did keep our part of the bargain: the guerrilla who had led us to the underground prison was set free. Eisner even gave him a large sack of foodstuffs with a grunt. "That's for your wife and children. Instead of roaming the countryside with a gun you should stick to the hoe and take care of your family." He gave the terrorist a kick, sending him head over heels toward the trail, then he called Schulze on the walkie-talkie: 'There's a pig heading your way. Let him pass."

Lieutenant Marceau was standing over the last dying terrorists. "Eh, bren," he said, dropping the container with the remaining paint. "They are black enough to join their fellow devils in hell."

"How about this show?" Eisner said when it was all over. "Only a few more Communist brutalities and we are going to celebrate the birth of the first French SS division in Indochina—composed entirely of grudging democrats." He chuckled. "They might call it AB or BC but it is going to be SS from A to Zed." He extended his arm in a mocking Nazi salute. "Vive la France! Sieg Heil!"

"Merde!" Lieutenant Marceau commented. "One does not have to be an SS man to slaughter these pigs. They aren't human."

"You are right! They aren't human. That is precisely what we have been saying for five years."

Early in the afternoon the copters emerged from behind the hills. Pfirstenhammer fired Very lights to guide them. There was no place to land and the copters had to keep hovering above the trees. The crew lowered the supplies for us, along with a bundle of letters, then hauled the Legionnaires aboard. I received a long letter from Lin Carver. In the envelope I found a color picture of her with a small poodle. She still addressed me "My dear Hans" and complained that I wrote so seldom. . . .

Dear little Lin, I thought, wondering if I would ever see her again. Sitting on an ammo case, I wrote her a quick note, promising a long letter when we returned to Hanoi.

It was very nice to receive a letter in the middle of nowhere. Colonel Houssong had arranged for our mail to be taken aboard. I asked the lieutenant to mail the letter for me.

"I certainly wish I could stay with you," Marceau said when we shook hands. "You are still giving Ho Chi Minh his money's worth—a heartening thought. . . . You know, in a way you have convinced me that France could still win this bloody war."

"Not with a million Red deputies sitting in your parliament, Lieutenant Marceau," I replied jokingly. "Sooner or later they are going to bust the Republique."

"Not if they push the army too far in the process," he remarked gloomily. "We might give up our colonies but we are not going to give up metropolitan France, cher ami. ... By God we won't. It would be better to die than to see the savages ruling France." He reached for the rope ladder. "Give them hell, they deserve it...."

"Ciao!"

"A bientdt."

The copters clattered away and we were alone. "Now let's get out of here," Riedl said, lifting his rucksack and rifle. "The Reds must have spotted those copters from miles around."

I was about to order assembly when ! saw Karl emerging from the woods down the trail. "Hans!" he called and gestured toward me with his gun. "Would you come over here for a moment?"

"What's up, Karl?" I asked, somewhat puzzled, but I joined him as he turned back toward the woods.

He replied curtly, "There are a couple of wenches down in a ravine—raped and bayoneted."

"Who did it?"

"I have the ones responsible."

Karl led me to a ravine not far from the huts. Passing some shrubs I saw Sergeant Krebitz holding a submachine gun; a few steps from where he stood sat a small group of troopers. They were already disarmed and their belts taken away. When we appeared they rose and stood in sullen silence.

"There they are!" Karl said pointing toward the nude bodies of five young women who lay in a large pool of blood. I turned to face the culprits.

"All right. Whose idea was it?"

They stood in silence. Five unshaven ragged men, gazing down at the sodden earth, fingering their buttons; none of them looked at Sergeant Krebitz and his party of guards as they began to carry away the ravished corpses. None of them looked at either me or Karl.

"Mueller!" I addressed a small, chubby trooper. "Step out!"

He stepped forward and stood at attention. "Were you the perpetrator of this outrage?" I spoke.

"I ... I ... found them, Herr Oberleutnant," he stuttered, "the girls—"

"You mean when you found them they were already dead?"

"No, Herr Oberleutnant . . . they were . . . alive," he replied, barely audible. Then he looked up and added, "They had guns ... all of them.. . ."

"Go on, Mueller!"

"So we killed them," he went on hesitantly, "we killed them just like the others ... all the others." He uttered a short nervous snort and glanced at his companions, looking for a sign of support, as he added. "We always execute the armed terrorists, don't we?"

"You raped them, Mueller!"

"What difference does it make, Herr Oberleutnant? They were to die anyway."

"Steiner!"

A second man stepped out. "Do you agree with Mueller that it does not make any difference whether you raped the girls before killing them or not?" I waited for a moment but no answer came. "Speak!"

He made a feeble gesture with his hands. "I guess it was wrong."

"You guess? Where did you serve during the war, Steiner?"

"I was a paratrooper, Herr Oberleutnant . . . Belgium, Greece, Italy . . . I've been many places and been wounded five times."

"That's meritorious ... but that's what you learned with the paratroops? Were you raping girls in Belgium too? Or in Greece, in Italy?"

Steiner protested vehemently. "Never! Herr Oberleutnant must surely know. . . ."

"I know!" I cut him short. "Because you would have been punished very severely, if that's what you wanted to say. What makes you think that it is different here in Indochina?"

'Those guerrilla bitches, Herr Oberleutnant," he ran a nervous hand over his face, "they aren't human."

"They were human enough to satisfy your lust, weren't they?" He did not answer, only stood, wetting his lips with the tip of his tongue.

As a matter of fact we seldom executed woman guerrillas except for a few truly hardened Communist she-devils who had been guilty of hideous crimes. Sometime back in 1949 we had captured one Viet Minh amazon who had found immense pleasure in the torture-murder of captive Legionnaires. One of her victims we discovered in a horrible state of mutilation. The naked sergeant's arms and legs had been drawn outward by stakes and burning splinters had been slivered under his skin; finally cutting away the dying man's private parts she had forced them into his mouth. At first the sight was terrifying, then it made us sick. The wrath swelled in us so that we swore to hang every Viet Minh tigress we could lay our hands on.

"Stolz!"

A lean, lanky Saxon stepped forward. With a quick jerk of his head he tossed his long blond hair from his face and froze at attention. During the war Karl Stolz; had been a panzer driver and a much-decorated one. He had to his credit vicious engagements from Poland to Paris, from Belgrade to Athens, and from Salerno to the Po valley in Italy. He had lost twenty-six panzers and survived five direct hits. He had been wounded eleven times and spent altogether seven months in various hospitals. During the offensive in northern France, Stolz had driven his panzer into a burning town which the French had barely evacuated. In front of the shell-torn town hall he had spotted a young woman. Lying in a pool of blood and crying for help, she was a pitiful spectacle; her left leg had been torn away by a shell and she was eight months pregnant.

"Save my baby ... oh, God save my baby," she implored in broken German. "I am dying . . . please save my baby." Stolz stopped his panzer. With his gunners firing furiously and with explosions still raking the street, he rushed to the woman and applied a tourniquet to her bleeding stump. Then with the help of another trooper he dragged her to the tank and lifted her onto the rear armor. With the trooper supporting the woman he had driven his panzer to the hospital half a mile away. Not wasting time at the entrance, Stolz drove his tank through the closed oak gate, stopping a yard short of the cellar entrance. He handed the woman to a frightened surgeon and two nurses, backed out of the garden, and raced off to tackle the French artillery outside the town.

He had been severely reprimanded and reduced in rank for having withdrawn from combat without permission, but the woman and her baby boy survived the war. Stolz saw her again in 1945 after he escaped from an American camp. The Frenchwoman gave him a civilian suit, food, papers, and money enough to reach Marseilles.

Now the same man was standing in front of me, after having participated in the rape and killing of five female Viet Minh.

"Why did you do it, Stolz?" I queried him looking straight into his eyes. He opened and closed his hands in a gesture of uncertainty.

"I don't know," he replied, "maybe the heat did it ... the jungle . . . this whole Gottverdammte war. . . . Maybe it was sheer madness. ... I am ready to take the consequences."

In a way I could understand him and all the others. Ten years of constant war is not exactly what one can call the education of Samaritans. The men were tired and fed up. But raping and looting I never tolerated in our ranks. The men had to be punished. I stepped back to face the lot.

"You have committed a loathsome crime," I spoke to them. "I presume that you were banking on the fact that we have neither a court-martial nor a prison here and that we cannot lose five good fighting men by simply shooting you. You should be shot but it would be a luxury our battalion cannot afford... . Sergeant Krebitz!"

"Herr Oberleutnant."

"From now on these five men are going to serve as an advance guard for Gruppe Drei!" I said.

Krebitz looked at me, puzzled. "Gruppe Drei has no advance guard. We look for traps ourselves."

"From now on you will have an advance guard," I said, stressing my words. "For these men here are going to walk a hundred yards in front of Gruppe Drei—on every march, Krebitz!"

"But . . . they don't know much about traps and mines. ..."

"They had better start learning!"

"Jawohl, Herr Oberleutnant."

"And something else. . . . Should you have a particularly dangerous job in the corning weeks, you will not call for volunteers. You already have your volunteers. We have to spare the lives of the more valuable men."

"Jawohl!"

"Dismiss!"

We marched back to the main column.

"Assemble!"

"Companies—single file! Attention!"

"En avant... marchez!" Eisner commanded.

Daylight filtered away imperceptibly; the blue sky changed into gray and the breeze stilled. We stopped at a small cascade to grab a quick shower, then rested until daybreak.

I could not sleep that night. I was thinking of my family, of Lin, of the raped girls—and of what tomorrow might bring.
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Re: Devil's Guard, by George Robert Elford

Postby admin » Fri Jan 12, 2018 5:47 am

15. MOVE QUIETLY—KILL QUICKLY

Three days later and forty miles away Xuey and Krebitz detected another guerrilla base. It was not a permanent one but even so our raid was a success. Moving in the dead of night, we literally caught the Viet Minh napping. Posing as guerrillas, Xuey, Krebitz, and twelve men from Gruppe Drei infiltrated the camp and killed the sentries.

I moved in with fifty troops. The enemy was sound asleep in improvised hammocks stretched between the trees. Except for the low whisper of the wind-driven foliage the only sound we heard was the peaceful snoring of the terrorists. They must have come a long way. They were sleeping soundly. Dispersing into teams of three men each, we bayoneted the sleepers. With loathsome teamwork one trooper switched on his shaded flashlight, the second man thrust home into the heart. The moment the blade plunged in a third member of the team muffled cries and moans under a folded blanket which was pressed tightly against the victim's face. Sometimes a man had to be turned over or uncovered, and the executioners had to work very fast to prevent noise.

My headhunters moved with a precision born of experience, and liquidated some seventy guerrillas without causing as much as a whimper. Only seven girl Viet Minh were spared; their heads were later shaved and then we released them unhurt. The wind, the snoring and the quiet hiss of the blades; a few muffled moans and sighs—it was quite a spectacle. The groups worked like a hospital team around a surgery table, though not saving but extinguishing lives. We had no choice. In hostile territory one must move and kill like a leopard. It was a rule that had existed eons before the great Mao had come to write it all up and claim ownership.

War, whether in the desert or the jungle, is not a new invention; one may bring innovations but one may not alter the rules. A machine gunner who mows down a hundred men in a minute will seldom think of his victims. It never occurs to an artillery man that he kills. He may be working his howitzer in a peaceful meadow, or on the shore of a lake, to trigger death in a burning village many miles away. To shell or to shoot people is an impersonal affair. The executioner has no personal contact with the executed. To kill with the bayonet is not so easy. To kill with the bayonet in cold blood, one has to summon every ounce of hatred from deep within. Bitter recollections from the past, the haunting images of tormented and mutilated comrades, recalled in short flashes, give one the resolution to plunge the blade into the living body of another human being.

In all my years in uniform I have seen thousands of people die. I cannot recall the number of those I killed in combat or executed with my own hands —or killed indirectly by issuing an order to kill. Still, when the occasion arose, I had to repeat mentally, forcing myself into a state of self-hypnosis: You are trying to beat wild tigers into submission. . . . They are not human. . . . You are killing sharks, rats, bacteria. , . . Yet I doubt if I could ever have stabbed a captive tiger. I would lack the all-essential driving force—hatred. The tiger only follows the call of its nature, its instincts. The tiger never kills for pleasure. The Viet Minh kills only to spread terror and to intimidate its victims. For them I could feel no pity. I regarded the Viet Minh as the real prototypes of the Hitlerian subhumans. The most primitive Russian peasant harbored some noble features in his bearded face. At least I thought so. But the faces of those rat-like little Red gnomes in Indochina showed nothing but bestiality. Our hatred towards them knew no bounds. If we had had the means, we would have gassed them by the thousands without the slightest remorse.

Once again it was Xuey who spotted the guerrilla company as it forded the river. We split into three columns and deployed on the neighboring hills. Three hundred yards below the- hill which my group occupied, a wide trail ran between the river bank and the woods farther to the east. Obviously the trail was a major enemy route. Between the river and the woods stretched a wide patch of open bushland. We observed a number of peasants filling what appeared to be large baskets with earth. Another group was planting live shrubs in the baskets.

"They are the Dan Cong," Noy explained after observing them briefly. The Dan Cong were the labor detachment of the Viet Minh, composed of ordinary peasants compelled to work as slaves a certain cumber of days every month for the cause of "liberation."' The shrubs in the basket were a clever camouflage against air observation. Simply by moving the baskets onto the trail, the enemy could blot out the road and consequently the evidence of Viet Minh presence in the area.

Schulze, who had been watching the enemy for some time, suddenly turned toward me. "Look at that, Hans!" He handed me his field glasses excitedly. "Do you see what I see?"

"Dammit!" I swore in genuine astonishment. The scene which we observed was a most extraordinary and rather terrifying one. Down at the river, in plain sight, moved a small convoy of field howitzers. For the first time in Indochina we encountered Viet Minh artillery. I edged toward the precipice to have a better look.

Shouting and gesturing, a group of guerrillas entered the river and pulled ropes toward the opposite bank. "Look at it!" Erich exulted. "They even have a bridge there, a whole goddamned underwater bridge. We have got them dead center. This is not the shuttle service but a Viet Minh highway."

Indeed, the enemy appeared to be moving, or rather wading, across the river as if the water were only ten inches deep. They certainly had a bridge there, built to remain underwater. Otherwise the reconnaissance planes would have spotted it long ago. Hitched to teams of water buffalo, six small howitzers rolled down the grassy slope of the far bank and onto the bridge. The foremost terrorists had reached our bank and tightened the ropes on either side of the bridge to mark the way. Milling around the guns, pushing and pulling at the wheels, another Viet Minh group was assisting the animals. The enemy artillery caused considerable excitement among my troops.

"It seems that Giap is up to some big business somewhere in the not too distant future," Schulze remarked, lowering his field glasses. "I wonder where the howitzers are going?"

"I am kind of curious myself," Karl remarked.

I turned to Riedl. "Where is Xuey?"

"He went farther west with Krebitz and Gruppe Drei."

"Where in the hell farther west? There is the river!"

He shrugged. "A river won't stop Krebitz.. . .

"Send word to Eisner. He should move farther up, closer to the bridge, but no one is to fire before we open up here."

"Understood!"

I pointed toward the forest line where the trail entered the woods. "Karl! You should deploy on either side of the trail, keeping low. Riedl will join you."

Shouldering their submachine guns, Karl and Helmut rose. "Wait a moment," Noy spoke, lifting her kit. "I am coming with you."

I pulled her back in a not very gentle manner. "I have the feeling that you are not going anywhere. You are staying right here."

"But I only—"

"Noy! You just do as I say."

She sat down.

"Where are Chi and Thi?"

"With Sergeant Zeisl, I think," Suoi replied hesitantly.

"I asked you to keep them in sight, Suoi. Zeisl won't have time to look out for them."

"I am sorry. . .."

I sent a trooper to fetch the girls.

The guns were coming across the bridge. A short, stocky guerrilla waded forward. Gesturing and hollering toward the peasants, he called to them; the peasants dropped their tools and rushed to help the guerrillas hauling the howitzers. On the other side of the river more Viet Minh emerged from the woods. Suspended from long poles which four men were carrying on their shoulders hung crates and sacks. Still others were pushing bikes laden with bags and boxes.

"A nice party," Erich commented. "The air force would love to join it. Shouldn't we call them, Hans?"

"Some other time, Erich. I want to get hold of those howitzers—undamaged."

He looked at me sharply. "The heck you want them. We cannot haul artillery pieces."

"You will be surprised. We are going to haul them right up here and prepare a reception party for some others."

"Are you planning to hold this hill?"

'This is a busy trail, Erich, with plenty of targets coming our way."

For a moment he looked startled; then he shrugged. "I guess we could camp out here," he said. "We have a good platform for the MG's, ample cover, and a good view of the river."

"Exactly!"
"Sergeant Krebitz is calling," Corporal Altreiter reported, holding the earphones for me.

"Krebitz. . . . Where the hell are you?"

"Across the river — watching the show."

"How did you get there?"

"We forded a mile upstream. No one has spotted us yet."

"How far are you from the bridge?"

"How far?" he repeated my question. "Can you see that tall peasant just moving down the trail toward the river? He is wearing a straw hat with a net hanging from it. The one with the bike . . . tin cans all over it. . .."

I picked up my field glasses.

"Right now, he is passing a bare tree."

"I can see him."

Krebitz chuckled. "If I stretch my leg a bit I can kick him in the ass."

"Keep an eye on the group."

"How about keeping a couple of MG's on them?"

"Don't shoot until we open up here."

"Understood!"

The six howitzers were rolling along the trail and had almost reached the woods — where, if all went well, Karl and Helmut should be ready for them. A group of about fifty Viet Minh were still on the bridge; another partywas between the bridge and the forest. The rest of the enemy detachment, I thought, was covered by Gruppe Drei.

"Achtung!" I warned my gunners, who tensed; eyes focused, trigger fingers tightened, gun barrels traversed slowly from left to right, then back again as the men tested the pivots.

"Fire!"

The muffled MG's caused little noise but their effect was shattering. We carried a large number of automatic weapons and, although as the attack progressed we gradually phased out a number of guns to save ammunition, our initial assault was always delivered with everything we had. The weapons were muffled to confuse the enemy at least for a few minutes. Afterwards the mufflers had to be removed to prevent the guns from overheating.

Between the river and the woods a section of the trail ran unprotected. The enemy was exposed to our fire from all sides. Within minutes the majority of the guerrilla company lay dead or wounded in the shrubbery along the trail. With our superior position resistance was futile. The surviving terrorists bolted for the forest only to run into Karl's favorite toy—the flamethrower.

Belching eighty-foot flames, Pfirstenhammer's group advanced on the river, burning the bewildered escapees as they went. Riedl took possession of the howitzers along with discarded crates and bags which littered the trail. The detachment caught on the bridge had been wiped out. Our six sharpshooters were busy picking off the swimmers and the few men who had managed to reach the far bank. On our side of the river, the enemy rout was complete. On the far side, Sergeant Krebitz and Gruppe Drei fared not so well. After the initial surprise the Viet Minh commander had managed to gather his battered company and they now began to fight back. The sharp staccato of the enemy MG's could be heard distinctly. Soon a dozen or more Viet Minh machine guns were chattering above the rapidly increasing volume of rifle fire.

Suddenly I realized that there must have been considerably more enemy troops on the far side of the river than Krebitz had previously observed. Since Krebitz had only about forty men with him, I began to worry for their safety. My fears seemed justified when a few minutes later mortar shells began to explode on and around the hill which Krebitz occupied. We later learned that a full Viet Minh battalion was only a mile from the river when the shooting started. Rushing forward, they joined the battle and the sudden reinforcement was now threatening to swamp Krebitz.

I called him on the wireless. "Tell Krebitz that he should have his eyes examined," Schulze yelled. "He sees a platoon where there is a whole goddamned brigade."

"Krebitz! How are things over there?"

"Shitty!" he replied flatly. "Is the way to the river free, Hans?"

"For the moment at least. Evacuate immediately and cross the river if you can manage it. Dammit, Rudolf— we cannot afford to lose you."

"Thanks for your concern about me, Hans."

"I am concerned about Gruppe Drei, you idiot!"

"Just have a few clean underpants ready for us," he cracked, "we might need them."

"We are giving you cover. Move out!"

I sent a message to Eisner to advance on the bridge and provide covering fire for Gruppe Drei. My gunners concentrated on the narrow strip of shrubbery that stretched between Krebitz and the Viet Minh MG's. The mortar fire was intense, and shells began to burst around our own positions. Five of them exploded below the hill but others were creeping upward, seeking our machine guns. We were heading for a major battle with a large enemy force, probably two battalions, and our immediate future did not seem too bright.

I watched Krebitz and his men as they came dashing from cover to cover between the shrubs. Bullets threw dust and dirt all around them. Every one of our weapons was now covering Gruppe Drei but even so, a couple of the men fell, never to rise again.

"They already got four of them!" Schulze yelled and swore. The next instant I heard a swift "whoooz" and we ducked instinctively. Three mortar shells screamed in and exploded in rapid succession. Whoever was directing the enemy mortars must have been an expert, for shells now began to fall everywhere; on the hill, in the river, along the trail. I saw that Eisner's company was getting its fair share, too.

"They are firing from over there!" Schulze yelled, pointing at a wooded hill about a mile from us on the far side of the river. Focusing my field glasses, I could just make out a group of Viet Minh working a dozen mortars. We managed to pin down the enemy MG's and riflemen while Krebitz was crossing the river. They couldn't use the coverless bridge, so Gruppe Drei had to wade and swim for the shrubby sanctuary on our side. None of our machine guns could effectively reach the enemy mortars, though some of Erich's gunners tried to jam them by firing at extreme angles.

"It's a waste of slugs," I told him. "At sixteen hundred yards they will only scratch the place where they hit."

"Never mind," Schulze replied. "We still have a faint chance of getting some of them in the eye."

I had to refrain from using our mortars. We had to preserve the limited amount of shells we had, for valuable targets such as Viet Minh camps, ammunition depots, and the like. To use them in an open battle only to silence a couple of enemy mortars and kill a dozen men would have been "extravagant," a luxury that we couldn't afford. The enemy could shell us at leisure. Only Pfirstenhammer's group appeared to be spared by the mortars, so, I decided after all, to send the girls to him.

"Say, Hans!" Schulze turned to me suddenly. "Shouldn't we ask Karl if he has any shells for those howitzers?"

"The howitzers!" In my excitement I had completely forgotten about the guns. It took only seconds to get Karl on the set. "Karl!" I called him excitedly. "We are having trouble with the mortars. Our MG's can't reach them. . .."

"I gather that ... do you want me to use the howitzers?"

"Have you got shells?"

"Some.. . ." Karl was obviously amusing himself.

"Then get moving, Karl. If the Viets keep firing at the rate they are blasting away at us now—"

"All right, all right . . . you can tell your sob story later, Hans," he cut in with a chuckle. "The guns are ready. I was about to call you myself. Just give me the elevations."

"I am sending the girls over to you."

"Nice of you, Hans. Start talking!"

With Schulze observing the enemy positions, I began to radio the trajectories. The first salvo was a hundred yards short. The second and third volley struck home, blasting men and mortars.

"How was it?" Karl asked; firing over a patch of woods he could not possibly observe the explosions.

"You are hitting them squarely, Karl. Keep firing!"

The rest was only routine.

The Viet Minh mortars ceased firing. The enemy commander thought it prudent to change location. While they were moving, Karl pumped a dozen shells into the shrubbery where the guerrilla machine gunners were deployed. Shortly afterwards the mortars fired again, though only a couple of rounds, and stopped before we could seek them out with the howitzers. Their shells scattered about the hill, blasting a few trees, chipping the rocks, a long way off target. Nevertheless, reports on casualties began to flow. Gruppe Drei reported eleven dead. More had been wounded by shell fragments. I ordered Krebitz to carry the wounded over to Karl's section where the nurses could safely attend to them. I was calling Eisner when a salvo of around twenty mortar rounds screamed in and plastered the foothills where Bernard was deploying in the shrubbery. The moment the shells exploded, I felt a grip at my throat. The wireless cut out. Schulze dropped his field glasses and buried his face in his hands.

"Eisner has had it!" Corporal Altreiter cried.

I rushed to the radio set.

"Adler . . . Adler calling Stella . . . Adler report in ... report in. . . ." Altreiter kept calling, then lowered his earphones and shook his head.

"There's no reply."

I dispatched two men to look for survivors.

Moments later we spotted two large enemy detachments moving toward the river with the obvious intention of crossing above and below our positions and probably delivering a two-pronged attack at dusk. Since a third enemy unit was still occupying the shrubbery and woods on the far side of the river, I realized that we had grossly underestimated the strength of the enemy. Schulze thought that there was at least a Viet Minh brigade in the vicinity of the river. More and more mortars came into play and we learned that the six howitzers which we had captured were not the only ones the enemy possessed. Soon our howitzers were engaged in a vicious duel with four similar guns on the opposite bills. I began to dislike the situation.

One of our machine gunners called from the ridge overlooking the river. Rushing over to him, we saw a macabre drama on the enemy-occupied bank. Pursued by a group of terrorists, a comrade from Gruppe Drei was staggering toward the river. The trooper was obviously injured. He must have lain unconscious in the shrubbery for some time only to come to with enemy troops surging all around. The Viet Minh did not fire. They wanted the man alive.

Reaching the water, the trooper fell. He rose and waded a few more steps. An instant later the guerrillas swarmed over him. We could do nothing to save him. The terrorists were dragging him back toward the woods.

I ordered three machine guns to open fire on the struggling group. A young trooper at the nearest gun closed his eyes, swallowed hard, then grabbed the fire lever. He knew only too well what would be waiting for our comrade in the hands of the Viet Minh.

The group was caught in the murderous crossfire of the three MG's. In a few seconds it was all over. For our wounded comrade it was indeed a mercy killing. The Viet Minh would have skinned him alive. It had happened before.

The troopers whom I had sent to look for Eisner returned. They looked pale and shaken, trying to catch their breath. "Eisner is dead," one of them reported. "Sixteen others received direct hits. . . . Nothing's left of them but bits of flesh and clothes."

"Sergeant Zeisl and nurse Thi are tending the wounded," the second trooper added. "Nine men were hit, some of them badly."

The rate of the enemy fire was still on the increase. Defying our machine guns, more and more guerrillas deployed on the far side of the river, but no crossing was yet attempted. Karl must have silenced some of the Viet Minh howitzers but a few shells were still coming in to blast the trail and the hillside. Seven more of our comrades were killed. The mortars sent salvo after salvo. I could see projectiles bursting around the small patch of shrubbery where Karl had deployed. He was already moving the howitzers to a safer place.

All of a sudden Erich swore and rushed to the wireless.

"What's the matter?" I yelled after him.

"The girls!" he shouted and for a moment my breath failed me. "Look at them!" Schulze waved in the general direction of Karl's position. The next instant he was calling Pfirstenhammer.

Grabbing my field glasses I scanned the trail along the woods and understood Erich's consternation. I spotted Suoi and Noy kneeling beside a wounded comrade, ducking whenever a shell screamed overhead. Mortar shells exploded all around them.

"Karl!" I heard Schulze shout, "get the girls out of there and be quick about it."

"They are with a badly wounded man, Erich."

"I don't care if they are with Jesus Christ. . . . Get them out of there."

"I'm sorry, Erich," I heard Karl replying. "I have to attend to the guns.

We have a battle going here, if you haven't noticed it."

"Karl, if anything happens to Suoi. . .."

"I love Noy as much as you love Suoi, Erich."

I was much too preoccupied to listen to the rest of their conversation. I had to improvise a plan for tackling the situation and I had to do it very quickly. It was evident that as soon as darkness fell the enemy would cross the river. It was also very likely that they could wipe us out before sunrise through a series of human-wave assaults. I decided to call for reinforcements and aerial support.

"Hans, let me go over to the girls," Schulze spoke with a miserable look on his face.

Still preoccupied with my own thoughts I replied mechanically, "Go!" I knew be would be of little use to me if I refused.

Unable to do anything but sit tight, I sent word to our widely dispersed troops to ease up on the ammunition. The machine guns were gradually phased out, but the riflemen went on firing at individual targets when the target was clear enough to give a fair chance of scoring. Since we were self-supporting and independent from supplies and reinforcements, prolonged engagements with the enemy could cause us serious setbacks. We simply could not afford to fire off ammo at a rate of two to three thousand rounds per minute.

Our lower rate of fire only increased the guerrilla endeavors. One Viet Minh company crept right up to the river and made preparations for an early assault across the bridge. Our sharpshooters were picking off the boldest ones as fast as they could fire, reload, and fire again, yet the fearful toll did not seem to lessen the guerrillas' determination. They were pressing closer and closer to the possible crossing places.

In the nick of time two squadrons of fighter bombers dived out of the clouds. The moment the planes appeared, the enemy ceased firing on us and sprang for cover. The planes began to hammer away at the guerrillas, scores of whom had no time to reach the woods. Cannon shells, fragmentation bombs, rockets, and napalm rained from above. It was a great spectacle to watch— and needless to say, a welcome spectacle. Taking the mike, I settled down at the radio to send corrections to the squadron leader.

"How long has it been going on?" he asked me from somewhere above.

"Since morning!" I informed him.

He whistled. "You're lucky to be alive, man—you stepped into a real anthill. They are swarming all over the place."

"It's your game now, squadron leader. Make the best of it."

Again the planes screamed in over the treetops. The Viet Minh advance parties were plastered with steel and fire; explosions rumbled along the riverside and thick, oily smoke rose where the napalm bombs had been at work. The squadron leader came back on the line.

"They say you have enlisted a couple of cuties in your outfit just to keep up spirit," he called.

"We need lots of spirit," I replied. "There's no five-o'clock tea in the jungle, squadron leader."

"Just clear the trail of those guns. When the party is over we might decide to land, cher ami."

"At the rate you are moving you'd burrow a tunnel through the hill."

I heard him chuckle. "Roger . . . Roger. . . . There is a whole bunch of them down below ready for the frying pan."

"Tres bien, Charles, Roger, zero-cent-dix-sept—zero-huit."

"Attaquez!"

Three of the planes banked, came down over a patch of forest and rained napalm. At four o'clock the transport planes arrived. The Paratroops began to descend, twelve hundred of them. Air ambulances settled at the foot of the hill. Their arrival signaled that for once we could deliver our wounded comrades to a hospital.

The battle came to a sudden end. The Viet Minh ranks eddied and then fled. On the far side of the river the trail was covered with hundreds of shattered bikes, wagons, boxes, crates, bales—and corpses; in the woods a hundred fires burned and the Paras were busy shooting down the panicked oxen and water buffalo that milled along the riverside. Not even beasts could be spared, for they were the principal means of Viet Minh transports.

That evening we gave a last salute to sixty-five of our fallen comrades. Among them were Sergeant Schenk and Bernard Eisner.
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Re: Devil's Guard, by George Robert Elford

Postby admin » Fri Jan 12, 2018 6:01 am

16. THE LITTLE TRAITORS

I found the muffler-equipped machine guns which we used on so many occasions extremely effective, so long as no prolonged firing was necessary. With mufflers the barrels would quickly overheat. Another shortcoming was that mufflers blotted out the gunsights and tracers had to be used to zero in on the target. After several months of experimenting. Sergeant Krebitz discovered that fairly good silencers could be made from sections of hollow bamboo, padded with wet clay and wrapped in layers of cloth. The result was a clumsy contrajftion which nevertheless worked.

The soundless death coming from the "nowhere" always shattered the guerrilla morale. The initial shock and the ensuing panic usually prevented the enemy from executing necessary defensive measures. By the time their leaders decided what to do, it was too late for them to do anything but flee or perish. So whenever given a chance we killed in silence.

Scouting the Phu Loi mountains, Gruppe Drei spotted twelve terrorists as they were moving across a narrow footbridge suspended eighty feet above a deep gorge. Our sharpshooters went into action with their telescopic, silencer-equipped rifles. Within seconds the twelve Viet Minh were dead; their bodies fell into the abyss to be swept away by the swift current. The footpath leading to the bridge circled a cluster of rocks. Subsequent groups coming toward the crossing could not see the bridge and consequently were unaware of the fate of their comrades. Thinking that the group ahead of them had already crossed and entered the woods, the enemy detachments kept coming in groups of twelve at hundred-yard intervals. They were in turn shot off the bridge quietly but efficiently. Our sharpshooters exterminated three groups before one mortally wounded guerrilla entangled himself in the supporting ropes and remained hanging over the precipice in plain sight. Even then we managed to kill seven more Viet Minh who rushed forward to help what they thought was a comrade in distress. The rest of the enemy then dispersed among the rocks and we refrained from any further activity. The enemy could do nothing but watch our side of the gorge. Hours went by while the opposing parties waited in tense expectation; then we spotted a couple of guerrillas crawling toward the bridge. The sharpshooters allowed them to proceed until they showed their heads; alas, that was the last guerrilla endeavor to reach the bridge. Our sharpshooters were quite capable of hitting a man in the head from five hundred yards.

At another time we encountered a small Viet Minh detachment as it moved single file down a trail. Our sharpshooters went into action. They began by shooting the last man in the file. With a bullet in the brain, one does not make much noise. The rearmost terrorist dropped and those ahead of him marched on unaware of the mishap. A dozen terrorists could be liquidated before their comrades realized that they were under attack.

In such attacks the survivors would disperse and take cover, not knowing where to turn, where to shoot. The sudden realization that the jungle was no longer their ally, that it harbored an invisible adversary who killed in silence, the thought that they might be sitting in the center of a deadly trap, demoralized the enemy. In my opinion all troops engaged in antiguerrilla warfare should be issued rifle silencers. It was the kind of opposition the Viet Minh dreaded: the unknown, the unseen, the unheard death. One should remember that the majority of their troops were primitive men, naive and superstitious. When fighting against primitives, every psychological "trick" that one could think up should be exploited; the fact that the Viet Minh had discarded their spears and bows and, thanks to the benevolent Soviet supplies, now brandished rifles and automatic weapons did not cancel out the fact that they were still primitives. Except for a few of their higher leaders, the average intelligence and general mentality of the Viet Minh fighter was that of the Stone-Age man, educated only in the art of killing.

With my battalion at large in their jungle sanctuaries, the guerrillas could no longer set up camps in the hills or in the villages. Only at the constant risk of severe punishment could they light open fires, play music, chatter aloud, laugh, or sing. When they ignored the new rules of the game, death came to them swiftly and unexpectedly. By the end of our fifth week in the Communist rear, the Viet Minh High Command had mobilized about five thousand men to trap and exterminate us. Their equipment had been seized from the French or was the very best that their Soviet and Chinese patrons could offer.

But we moved too fast for their liking and slowed down only to trap a posse that came too close for comfort. We annihilated one large Viet Minh detachment and decimated two others. Inestimable casualties were caused by the mines and booby traps which Sergeant Krebitz planted in their path. Once, when a Viet Minh company followed us for over a week, Riedl and Schulze lured it into a depression and blasted a sixty-foot cliff over the lot. Another posse marched headlong into Karl's flamethrowers and was burned up before it had a chance to utter a death cry. But regardless of their losses the enemy kept pressing us. We, too, suffered casualties; two men here, five men there—something we could not afford.

Having established our presence in the Phu Loi mountain area for the benefit of our pursuers, we quit the district quietly and cut back to the Nam Ou river; so as not to reveal ourselves on the way, we refrained from bothering enemy-held localities, which we bypassed. Camping down near the bank we spotted a number of barges floating downstream, loaded with guerrilla supplies. Xuey suggested that we should allow them to proceed undisturbed. During a reconnaissance trip, Xuey had discovered a major Viet Minh depot in a village some eight miles from where we were. "We should not spoil the big catch by destroying a small convoy," he said and I agreed with him. The barges were coming from China and were heading for that depot anyway.

Moving through the dark field the battalion deployed swiftly. By dawn the village was completely surrounded. We moved in shortly after sunrise and encountered no resistance. No one in the settlement professed to know anything about weapons, or the Viet Minh, though in the huts we discovered a quantity of Communist propaganda material. From a pole hung the flag of the Liberators.

"The guerrillas put it there two weeks ago, when they were passing through our village," I was told. "The Viet Minh commander said that if we removed the flag, they would burn our village." No, there were no terrorists in the locality.

But we knew that a large number of terrorists were around. We had kept the place under observation since the day before and had seen many armed guerrillas who could not have departed during the night. Schulze and Riedl had covered every exit—the road, the footpaths, and even the river. Sergeant Krebitz and Xuey had counted at least fifty terrorists coming and going in the village, unaware of our presence in the nearby woods. Then they must have spotted us and scurried to safety. Now everything appeared quiet and peaceful.

Why did the enemy decide not to resist? Either because they found us too strong, or because something in or about the place was much too important to be revealed.

The Viet Minh had resorted to one of its favorite tricks of camouflage: guerrillas dispersed among the dwellings, posing as members of the various families, or, submerged among the peasants, engaged in some peaceful activity in the fields. Some could have also withdrawn into secret tunnels or cellars to "sweat it out" until we departed.

We rounded up the male population, save for men of advanced age, and separated them from the women and children. While Pfirstenhammer and Suoi questioned the women about the men, Xuey, Schulze, and I concentrated on the men. Among them we discovered a few individuals who could have been local or visiting terrorists but we never executed anyone on mere suspicion. I employed a simple but effective method for weeding out terrorists: I requested the women to name and describe their male relatives who lived under the same roof. The identity of husbands, sons, brothers, and other genuine relatives was quickly established. Answers and descriptions given by the men had to match those given by the women. When the mutual replies showed discrepancies, the "adopted relatives" could be flushed out in no time.

Occasionally the nonresident guerrillas prepared cover stories in advance. A woman, for instance, could name and accurately describe a "brother" or an "uncle" who, in fact, was a total stranger—and vice versa. Assumed identities, however, could never pass additional questions related to more intimate particulars. Naturally, when alleged brothers and sisters disagreed about the features of "their" deceased fathers—for example, whether or not he had a scar on the right cheek—the questioning ended then and there and the shooting started.

Small children would often reveal a terrorist who was trying to pose as a close relative. Our system functioned brilliantly against the nonresident guerrillas and could also be used to uncover the local Viet Minh. Children between three and five years of age were remarkably useful. Before we questioned a child we separated him or her from the parents and gained the child's confidence with candy or small toys. Tribal children seldom receive either candy or toys. Sometimes it was enough to take a small boy or girl, show them a pistol or a machine gun, and ask them, between bites of chocolate, if they ever had seen anything similar. The innocent reply would come: "Uncle Han has many in his cellar."

Once our conversation with a five-year-old boy went somewhat like this:

"Whose little boy are you, Xui?"

"Mother's and father's."

"And where is your father now?"

"He is away hunting. We need food."

"Does he hunt often?"

"Oh, yes____"

"Then he has a gun, eh?"

"Yes, a big gun, and many little ones. The soldiers gave them to him."

"What soldiers, Xui?"

"Father Ho's soldiers."

By questioning people individually, we managed to uncover a dozen or more nonresident guerrillas, who were taken into the woods and executed. The troops proceeded to search the huts. In one of the shacks we spotted a small, clever-looking boy about five years of age. He did not look frightened but walked up to Schulze and boldly asked him if he was a French soldier.

"No, we are German soldiers, not French," Erich replied jokingly. His answer seemed to satisfy the boy, who then asked: "Do German soldiers shoot French soldiers?"

"Sometimes they do indeed," Erich replied and we all laughed. After all, Erich was telling the truth.

"Then you are good soldiers," the boy stated. "French soldiers shoot people, Father Ho says."

His mother tried to hush him up. I ordered her to be taken out. She wouldn't leave but threw herself on the floor screaming, imploring us to leave the boy alone.

"We are not going to hurt him," Xuey told her, but to no avail. The woman continued to scream and outside the civilians began to join in.

"Take her out of here," I ordered the troopers. "The others may think we are torturing or raping her."

Sergeant Rrebitz needed four companions to drag the struggling woman outside. The boy began to cry and wanted to run after her. Schulze caught him and placed a small toy tank on the ground.

"We only wanted to give you a present," Xuey explained smiling. "We did not want your mother to see it."
The moment the tank began to move, with its turret shooting sparks, the boy stopped weeping; eyes wide in astonishment, he sprang after the toy and grabbed it.

"It is yours, you see," Xuey said. He explained to the boy how to wind the spring mechanism. "What is your name?" he asked.

"Nuo," came the reply, without the boy even looking at us. He lowered himself to the floor and followed the tank with fascinated dark eyes. I signaled to my companions and we sat down on the ground to run the tank between us and the boy, talking to hold his attention.

I placed my rifle on the mat and Nuo clapped his hands as the tank clambered over its stock. "Do you know what this is, Nuo?" I asked him.

"Yes, I know—a tank! The soldiers say the French have many tanks, real big ones. When we have tanks, we will shoot many many French soldiers."

"What soldiers say that, Nuo?"

"Father Ho's partisan soldiers."

"Do Father Ho's soldiers visit your village?" Xuey asked winding the tank.

"They always come to tell us how many Frenchmen they shot." He looked up sharply. "You said you were not French soldiers."

"Do I look French to you?" Xuey smiled.

"Not you—but you." Nuo pointed toward us.

"We are Germans, Nuo. I've already told you that."

"Where is your home?"

"Many weeks' walk from here," Schulze obliged. "Where you see the sun going down—there we live."

"Your village is big?"

"Very big, Nuo. Do you know where Father Ho's soldiers are now?"

"In the tunnel," he said matter-of-factly, playing with the tank. "But they will come out soon."

We exchanged glances and Xuey signaled me to let him do the talking now. He wrinkled the mat in such fashion that the tank could clamber up and down the ridges.

"Why did Father Ho's soldiers go into the tunnel, Nuo?" Xuey asked quietly. "We are friends."

"They thought you were Frenchmen. When they see that you are not French, they will come out."

"Is it a big tunnel?"

"Very big. Many men sleep there."

Nuo carried a blanket to the cot and let the tank run on it. We helped him to arrange the folds in various patterns of "hills" and "valleys."

"Do you know where the door of the tunnel is?" Xuey asked the crucial question casually. "Is it here in your house?"

"No," he shook his head. "One door is under Bo's house but there are many others too. The soldiers use the door in the well."

"Which well?"

"The well behind Xuong's house."

Ten minutes later we knew everything. The tunnel had several exits but the guerrillas used an opening placed halfway down in a well. There was also an underwater exit into the river for emergency use.

The boy glanced up. "Can I go and show the tank to the boys?"

"Sure—show them, Nou." Erich nodded.

Xuey led the child gently toward the door. "Don't tell anyone that you spoke about the tunnel and Father Ho's soldiers... . Not even to your mother."

"Why not?"

"Because it is a secret. They will beat you and take your tank away." "Then I won't tell," he said determinedly.

"Good boy!"

I sent a trooper to take Nuo to his mother, who, with the rest of the civilians, had been removed from the village. We could not detect where the underwater exit was, so I lined the riverbank with fifty men at twenty-yard intervals. Then we went to examine the well.

It was about forty feet deep. Our searchlight revealed no opening in its walls, which appeared to be smooth earth, covered with planks here and there. Riedl hauled up the wooden bucket. It was bone dry. "They aren't using this well to get water, that's for sure," he commented.

Pfirstenhammer examined the rope. He cut away the bucket and began to wind the loose end about his waist "Give me a lamp," he said, "I'm going down."

"All right, but be careful."

He flung his legs over the ledge and started to descend. Schulze and I were playing out the rope slowly. Karl suddenly yelled, "Hans!" His voice sounded hollow as it echoed from the well. "It is right here—facing the house. ... It is covered with a stone slab. . . . Oaaaaah!" We heard his cry of agony; his voice trailed off and his lamp fell, shone for a moment then went out.

"Karl!" I cried. "Are you all right?" There was no answer but his weight on the rope seemed to have increased.

"Let's get him out of there!" Schulze shouted. Bracing ourselves we hauled on the rope like a pair of madmen. I could hear a strange grating sound as Karl came up.

"Gott im Himmel!" Riedl cried, his face ashen.

We lifted Karl to the ground. Blood was oozing from his breast and he was breathing his last. A four-foot spear with a two-inch-wide blade had been driven into his chest. His eyes were open but he could not speak. Moments later he was dead.

"Sauhunde!" Erich swore. He sprang to the well, his face distorted. Tearing a grenade from his belt he threw it into the well, then staggered away as the blast erupted from down below. He grabbed the spear in Karl's breast and pulled it free.

"Keep this!" He handed it to Krebitz, who had just arrived panting at Karl's body. "I will put the blood of a hundred terrorists on this blade," he cried. "By God, I will!"

Taking his kerchief, Riedl wiped the blood from Karl's face. He was sobbing openly. "We are going, we are all going . . . Eisner, Schenk, now Karl ... we are too few and we are all damned. . . ."

"Shut up, Helmut!"

As the news spread, small groups of troopers gathered around us in silence. Sergeant Zeisl and the girls came. Realizing what had happened, Noy uttered a faint cry and collapsed beside Karl. Riedl lifted her and led her away. With his eyes narrowed and his lips set in a savage thin line, Schulze walked back to the well. He flashed his light into the depths, then turned toward me.

"What do you intend to do about it, Hans?"

"We are going to blast them, Erich."

"Shall I go down to see what we can do?"

"Like hell you will!" I snapped. "We have had enough climbing for today."

"Now we know what to expect."

"Not on your life."

Sergeant Zeisl and the medics laid Karl on an improvised stretcher and covered him with a blanket.

"We will take him into the hills and bury him decently," I said slowly, then turned to Riedl. "Deploy around every hut, every barn, and every object that might conceal an exit from the tunnel. Open those which the boy spoke of and fill the holes with earth and rubble. No one is to enter any cellar or tunnel. Understood?"

"Understood!"

"Take Noy with you," I added after a moment. "Take care of her."

"I will do that, Hans."

I spoke to Krebitz. "Do you think we can blast the way open from the well?"

"I should first see where to put the charge."

"That's out of question. You cannot go down."

He pursed his lips. "Then it's going to be difficult, Hans. To blast the entrance we would have to suspend a charge down below, approximately opposite the. opening, then cover up the well to force the blast to work horizontally instead of escaping upward into the open."

"You may have the whole village to work for you."

He shook his head. "It is not a question of workmen. The terrorists would cut the rope and drop the charge long before we could cover up the well and prepare for the blasting."

"What do you suggest then?"

"I can blast a hole down to the tunnel from above."

"From where?"

"From here—where we are standing. Karl said that the entrance appeared to face the house." He walked slowly in the direction of the tunnel, then stopped. "From here!"

"How long will it take?" Schulze queried.

"Who cares?" I said. "We are going to stay right here until we have gotten all those bastards."

"I should say ninety minutes. It depends on the ground," Krebitz said.

"Do it then."

Sergeant Krebitz collected his men and they set to work, digging a shaft. Ten minutes later Krebitz yelled: "Take cover!"

An explosion rocked the village; at the well a twisting pillar of smoke spiraled skyward. I went to see the crater. It was about six feet deep and ten feet wide. When the dust settled, the men clambered down to bore another shaft for the subsequent blasting.

With the fourth charge, Krebitz blasted into the tunnel. At the bottom of the now twenty-foot-deep crater we saw a wide jagged hole. Krebitz flung four grenades into the opening, then descended. Keeping clear of the hole, the men of Gruppe Drei set up a flamethrower with its muzzle pointing down into the hole at an angle. Soon a cloud of thick smoke emerged from the crater. Holding on to the ropes, Sergeant Krebitz ascended, coughing and spitting. "Now let's get out of here just in case the thing is blazing away at an ammo crate," he yelled.

With hand grenades we demolished every hut that concealed a tunnel exit, then, accompanied by Schulze, I went down to the river. "Now they will either roast alive or swim for it," Schulze said bitterly.

Back at the hole Sergeant Krebitz installed the second flamethrower that was soon followed by a third one. Suddenly a pair of hands popped to the surface, eighty yards downstream from where we stood. They submerged instantly.

"There they go!" a trooper yelled and cut loose with his submachine gun.

The hunt was on!

More hands appeared, singly or in clusters of threes and fours—a couple of heads broke the surface, but stayed in sight for only a fraction of a second. As the guns sprayed the water, Schulze yelled, "Use hand grenades, men! The grenades will bring them up or send them down for good."

Many of the swimmers escaped the bullets but none survived the subsurface explosions. The grenades were deadly. As the river erupted in a dozen muddy funnels of water the swimmers popped to the surface, many of them dead. Others who suffered internal injuries from the concussions thrashed aimlessly until the machine guns silenced them forever. Twenty yards from where we stood a pair of hands rose from the subsiding waves of a blast; the fingers moved, twisting and grasping like a disembodied pair of ghastly limbs trying to signal. The nearest trooper pivoted his light machine gun toward the easy target. A hail of slugs hit the hands and tore them away at the wrist. The bleeding stumps shook crazily, then sank out of sight. A wounded guerrilla emerged and stood waist-deep in the water with blood oozing from his ears and nostrils; raising his arms he staggered toward the bank; he fell, rose again, crying: "Mercy . . . mercy." An instant later the slugs knocked him back into the water.

One after another the guerrillas surfaced—dazed, shocked, exhausted, unable to swim the corridor of death. A few of them tried to crawl ashore, others just stood in the shallow water dumbfounded or blinded, until the bullets spun them back into their murky graves.

Suddenly there were no more guerrillas in sight. The river flowed peacefully as if nothing had happened.

When the smoke cleared, Sergeant Krebitz surveyed the tunnels, altogether two hundred yards long. It was a well-built complex with several large chambers for stores and sleeping quarters. Krebitz counted three hundred bunks.

Three of the chambers were loaded to capacity with weapons and ammunition. Sergeant Krebitz selected what we could use, then the tunnels were blown up . with delayed-action charges. The explosion tore a thirty-foot-wide and twenty-foot-deep trench across the village; the ensuing air pressure flattened every hut within a radius of five hundred steps in either direction.

None of the villagers had been hurt, except by the sad fact that they had no village to return to, but, alas, c'est la guerre! If one plays with fire, one can burn oneself.

We buried Karl Pfirstenhammer on a hill and placed a heavy boulder over his improvised grave. I sat there for a long time with Noy, telling her of my meeting with Karl on the Danube in 1945; the wine we drank, the fried fish we ate, his clay pipe . . . his little sister Erika, who was now a young lady, studying to become a doctor. In my kit I had Karl's wallet with her picture, and it was my gloomy task to write her a letter—the last letter she would receive from Indochina.

Sergeant Krebitz erected a small wooden cross. On it we nailed Karl's French beret and his Wehrmacht belt inscribed: "Gott Mit Uns"—"God Be with Us"—that he always wore.

We stood in attention, then sang in a low tune:

Heil dir im Siegeskrant, Heil dir im Siegeskranz.. ...

A last salute—then tears were wiped away and guns flung over the shoulders. Forward!
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