Blood and Blitzkrieg – the first book in the Joe Dean series of World War 2 action adventure novels. 1940: Lieutenant Joe Dean, fresh out of officer school in Australia, is on exchange with the British Army when the Germans invade Poland, and Great Britain finds itself at war. Sent to France, Joe falls in love with Yvette, a local beauty, but other eyes are also watching her. Inexperienced and homesick, Joe struggles to make his mark, both as an officer and a man.
Just as he is making progress, the Germans invade and the Allied defences in Belgium collapse in the face of the Blitzkrieg. With the British Army in headlong retreat, Joe’s platoon is forced to fight a series of desperate rearguard actions against overwhelming odds.
Cut off from their regiment and captured, Joe and his aide Corporal Smythe narrowly escape a massacre at the hands of the SS. Fleeing through occupied territory, they struggle to reach Dunkirk in the hope of a boat to England. Meanwhile, a different fate awaits Yvette…
Here’s an excerpt:
Belgium, 21 May 1940
Right across Belgium, the Allied forces fought bitter defensive actions, only to find themselves outflanked and forced to retreat again and again. Days of constant movements since the breakthrough had brought Joe’s regiment to a new position west of Brussels, behind the Escaut River. It was not a well-prepared defensive position, but they’d done what they could with limited time.
Northwards, the trench zig-zagged towards a curve of the Escaut river, whose waters sparkled in the sunshine. Over those sparkling waters they could see the panzers coming for them again, grinding their way towards the river. Behind them, German infantry were disembarking from their half-tracks and disappearing into the folds of the ground.
‘No green conscripts these bastards,’ Joe thought to himself. He looked up and down the trench: men clutching their weapons knelt in firing positions on both sides of him. Twenty yards to his left the Bren gunner was training his weapon and tightening his trigger finger.
‘No firing,’ yelled Joe. ‘Everybody get out of sight. The gunners in those tanks can’t see far, get out of their way and let them go past. Our job is to get the infantry, alright? Sergeant, make sure the men leave the bloody tanks alone.’
Then the artillery came down. Heavy mortars, fired from nearby and viciously accurate; then 150-millimetre cannon, fired from miles behind the lines, the explosions bigger than the humbled soldiers thought possible. For two hours they scrabbled and gasped in the dirt as the blasts shook the ground and showered them with earth; two hours of hideous violence trying to shred and tear their pathetic bodies; two hours of men disintegrating, men disembowelled and dismembered, left screaming for their mothers in an agony of blood and dirt.
When the barrage finally lifted and they looked up, the tanks were floating across the river on pontoons. Two had already reached the bank and groups of German infantry were leaving their inflatable boats and racing up in support.
‘Get some artillery on them,’ Joe yelled to Private Kelly.
As the first ranging shot fell on the riverbank, an MG34 began to chatter and mortar shells started raining on the trenches once again; amidst the ear-shattering din of explosions, the squeal of tank tracks and the thrum of heavy diesel engines grew to a clamour around them.
‘Where’s that bloody artillery?’ screamed Joe over the racket.
‘I’ve just called Fire For Effect sir,’ yelled Kelly, ‘should be any second now. We’d better get down, there’s not much distance between us and the ranging shot.’
Across the field, the lead tank nosed through the grass, its turret swinging from side to side. To Joe it looked like a monstrous goanna clawing along, sniffing for carrion with its tongue, threatening with silent menace.
Then a whistling sound heralded the British artillery and the whole field erupted in smoke and flames. The ground shook and huge gouts of dirt were flung skywards as the 25-pounder shells bracketed the ranging shot. The guns were bang on target, and the two tanks that had crossed the river took direct hits.
‘Nice work Ned,’ yelled Joe, clapping Kelly on the shoulder.
Then the barrage ended as suddenly as it had begun. As the smoke cleared they heard an engine roar, and the snout of a Panzer II emerged from the haze and began moving forward, its machine gun stabbing out at the trench line. Private Simpson began firing slowly at it with the Boys anti-tank rifle, but the .50-calibre shells just bounced off the front of the tank like split peas. The tank drove up to the trench and lunged across, its engine racing in low gear as the tracks grabbed at the loose earth and dragged it up and over the other side. To Joe’s left, another beast lurched across the gap, but this one turned its turret and sent down a stream of bullets, followed by a high-explosive shell that blew in one side of the trench.
Joe threw himself down as screams came from his left. A third tank had crossed the trench directly above the Bren gun position, and the trench was collapsing. He saw Mason the gunner screaming, clawing at the soil trying to clamber out from under the grinding tracks, but the walls of the trench crumbled under the terrible weight and his screams cut off abruptly. The 20-ton beast gunned its engine and climbed out, leaving a red smear in the dirt as it drove on.
Joe stared, appalled, his gorge rising in his throat. Adrenaline coursed through him, screaming at him to run. It was a sensation he’d felt before, and abruptly the scene changed. Joe found himself face-to-face with the wild sow and her piglets that he’d run to ground in the bush when he was fifteen. The sow was huge, the size of a Great Dane, with bunches of muscles, thick black bristles and curved tusks. She’d stared at Joe with her small eyes and pawed at the ground, then put her head down and charged.
Armed only with a sharpened stick, Joe felt his heart belting at his ribs. His veins were bursting, his stomach was a cavernous hole and his bowels turned to hot water. Joe had never felt like this before, but he knew what it was: fear. Fear of death, fear of being torn apart, sliced and left to bleed to death slowly and painfully.
Then the sow was upon him and everything returned to lightning speed. With the massive sow just a foot away, Joe sidestepped, dodging the deadly tusks, and threw himself to the ground. He looked up to find the beast had turned in its own length and was charging back at him even as he rose. Falling back, he held the stick up, bracing one end against the ground as his father had told him. The sow ran right onto it with a high-pitched squeal and kept coming, right up the spear, giving him some savage gashes on his left arm and shoulder as she thrashed about. Joe pulled himself out from under her bulk and watched as she rolled and screamed in her death throes.
Coming out of his trance, Joe’s hand went to his webbing and pulled off a grenade. He turned to his right where another tank was negotiating the trench, engine roaring. Taking his Webley pistol from its holster, Joe ran towards the tank. He had felt the fear; he had recognised it; now he had to overcome it. On a mechanical level, his mind was cold now, clear and lucid, but under the surface it was the slave of a ravening creature, mad with rage and focused on one purpose: revenge for his murdered gunner.
He ran up to the churning tracks and, pulling the pin, thrust the grenade into the slowly grinding spokes of the rear bogie. Throwing himself back and down, he covered his ears and a second later felt the thud of the concussion as the bomb exploded. Pieces of shrapnel scattered around him and he turned to see the tank’s track rolling off the front wheel as the engine whined in protest at the sudden lack of resistance.
A shot fountained the dirt inches in front of his face and he looked up to see a German pulling the bolt on his rifle to reload. Joe turned, took aim with his Webley and shot the man in the chest. He disappeared over the lip of the trench without a sound. Joe looked around: most of the tanks had crossed and his surviving men were now standing at the parapet, firing at the infantry following up behind.
‘Good boys. Give it to the bastards!’ he yelled, although he could barely hear his own voice above the racket of the battle.
He ran to the collapsed foxhole and found the Bren gun and a bag of ammunition, intact, but covered in a mass of intestines, blood and flesh. Swallowing hard, he wiped the gore away, checked the gun, cocked it, placed it and looked for a target. Sixty yards in front, two Germans were worming their way forward through the grass; to his right another pair were setting up a machine gun on a tripod behind a tree.
To his left, a German stood up and swung his arm back to lob a stick grenade towards the trench. Joe loosed off a short burst that sent the man and grenade tumbling. By the time the grenade exploded, Joe had turned to the machine gun team and was laying down a suppressing fire of short bursts, keeping their heads down.
That didn’t stop the German riflemen though. Bullets started to come in from all angles, kicking up dirt around the muzzle flash of the Bren. Somewhere to his left he could hear a man screaming horribly over the rattle of gunshots, explosions and straining diesel engines.
‘Sergeant Harris? Harris?’ Joe yelled, looking about him. He grabbed the heavy Bren and the ammo bag, ducked around the corner of the trench and tripped over a leg, sprawling headlong in the dirt.
Hauling himself up, Joe put his hand right into the soft, pureed brains of Sergeant Harris. He gagged, then threw up violently all over the corpse. Coughing out the acid vomit, Joe rolled away and huddled in the trench, retching and shaking with terror. His bowels loosened and a stream of warm shit tricked down his left leg. The wounded man nearby was still screaming and the explosions were coming closer now, shaking the earth. Joe closed his eyes tight; he wanted to be anywhere else but here; he wanted to be with Yvette; he wanted to be at home with his mother; he wanted to be anywhere else, but a familiar voice calling from far away made him open his eyes.
‘Lieutenant Dean, Lieutenant Dean.’
He closed his eyes again, then forced himself to open them. ‘Whose voice is that?’ he wondered, ‘it’s Corporal bloody Smythe.’
‘Lieutenant. Where the bloody ‘ell are you?’
‘Here Smithy,’ he called out.
‘Sir, we need to get some fire onto that MG. You need to rally the men sir.’
Joe took a deep breath and swallowed. He looked around him for the ammunition and found the Bren loader’s canvas bag, half buried. He pulled out the curved cartridge cases and laid them on the side of the trench, then plucked out the empty magazine and thrust in a fresh one.
‘I need a loader,’ he yelled, looking up again to see dozens of Germans racing from cover to cover, seemingly immune to the rifle fire coming from the trench. He started to lay down an angling fire: a burst to the right, burst to the left, a burst straight ahead, sweeping one way then the other. The Germans hit the ground, but the bullets continued to come his way. The machine gunner was always the first target.
Two grenades soared from the trench to his right and burst in clouds of dust and shrapnel around the German MG team. The rapid-fire bursts stopped abruptly, but the rifle bullets continued to thud into the earth around him.
‘We’re going to be overrun in a minute,’ Joe thought to himself and made a decision.
‘Smithy,’ he yelled, ‘get the men down the commo trench and into the woods, I’ll give you some covering fire. By the way, Harris just bought it, you’re a sergeant now.’
He clicked in another magazine, moved a few yards right and resumed his pattern of fire. The sound of rifle fire around him died out as the platoon retreated behind him. He risked a look behind him: the tanks were a couple of hundred yards past now and driving on, oblivious to the firefight going on behind them.
‘If we’re lucky, we might just make it,’ Joe muttered. He stopped firing, reloaded and, bent double, moved towards the centre where the communications trench led towards the cover of the trees. Private Billy Simpson was sprawled there on his back in a puddle of blood, his left leg blown off above the knee, his body riddled with shrapnel punctures, hands still clutching the useless Boys anti-tank rifle. His blue Irish eyes stared sightlessly into the summer sun.
Then the Germans stopped firing; the sudden silence was deafening.
‘Here they come,’ thought Joe, placing his last grenades on the parapet in front of him. Sure enough, after about 30 seconds of silence, a fusillade of rifle fire descended on the spot he had been in a minute before and grenades burst around the area. Simultaneously, a dozen Germans soldiers leapt up on the far flank and rushed forward under the covering fire of another machine gun.
Joe opened up on them with the last magazine in one long burst, then pulled the pins on the grenades and tossed them in the general direction of the charge. Without waiting to see the effect, he bolted down the trench to the rear. He glanced at his watch: the Germans had defeated them in just three minutes. He could only hope the rest of the company could do better than his platoon.
~ ~ ~
Watching the attack from the rear, General Heinz Guderian nodded in satisfaction as his panzer grenadiers cleared the trench and waved their half-tracks forward.
‘Drei minuten Hans,’ he commented to the officer beside him, ‘Not a bad effort eh? These Tommies are easier than we thought. We will cross the river on schedule.’
‘Ja, Herr General, although that was only one platoon with no anti-tank weapons and they still managed to immobilise one tank. I suspect they would give a tougher fight in better defensive positions.’
‘No doubt you are correct Colonel von Luck, we must try to avoid those fights, ja? Now, what do your armoured cars and the Luftwaffe tell us about what is in front of us?’
‘Since your breakthrough at Sedan the Belgians have retreated en masse and the British and French armies that advanced into Belgium are now cut off from their lines of communication. The British are retreating, but we can expect to encounter forces in strength, including armoured units. The British 1st Division has a regiment of heavy tanks that are advancing north-east towards Arras as we speak. The French tanks are distributed among their infantry divisions and we have seen no indication of them massing so far.’
‘Your opinion, Luck?’
‘I believe we should continue the advance Herr General. Nearly every unit we have encountered has broken eventually in the face of the panzers and the dive-bombers. If the French and British continue to advance into Belgium, General Rommel will divide them in the centre while we cut them off from the south. Of course, this will leave us with no flank protection from any other French units in the south that do not advance and any Belgian units in the north that might counter-attack. It is a risk, but I believe it is one we can take.’
‘Very good Colonel, my thoughts exactly, this is no time to be half-hearted. Especially as von Runstedt has told me that if we fail to advance quickly enough we will be ordered to stop until the footsloggers can catch up. Nein, we must advance as if chased by a thousand devils. Adjutant, how far behind are our fuel tankers? Thirty miles? Not good enough, get on the radio and gee them up, we cannot afford to stop now.’
‘I will look forward to your report tomorrow, Colonel.’ Guderian threw a salute and climbed into his Kubelwagen.
‘Drive on,’ he commanded. The driver engaged the gears and steered past the wreckage of the British trench. Crows were already descending to the feast.
~ ~ ~
‘Can you believe it Hermann?’ asked Hitler incredulously, ‘to think that we could repeat what we did in Poland against the combined armies of France, Britain, Belgium and Holland? Four with one blow. The Dutch have surrendered, the Belgians are barely hanging on, most of the French army is cut off in Belgium and in total disarray, and now the British are cornered with their backs to the Channel.’
Leaning against the fireplace, Goering surveyed the glorious paintings that covered the walls of the room, and sipped from his brandy balloon.
‘Ja Adolf, it will go down in history as the greatest military victory of all time. Students will read of it with awe and ask “How did they do it?” and this is something we need to discuss – whose victory is it?’
‘Whose victory?’ objected Hitler, ‘Clearly it is my victory, the victory of Adolf Hitler.’
‘Ja, naturlich, but I have been hearing from various circles that the Wehrmacht high command are claiming the laurels for themselves, that this victory was solely due to their strategic genius, that this was a victory for the generals. They even seem to be downplaying the role of the mighty Luftwaffe, and why? Why else than because my glorious air force is not part of their army, but the creation of the Nazi Party.’
‘Claiming the laurels for themselves?’ said Hitler with raised eyebrows, ‘But I had to force this campaign upon them, Halder and Brauchitsch didn’t believe it could be done.’
‘Mein Fuhrer, the British should not be allowed to escape, but if you let the Wehrmacht take Dunkirk, then I believe that this idea will be hard to stop. After all, it will have been the army that dealt the final blow. Halder and Brauchitsch will be the heroes of all Germany, they may even be able to threaten your position.’
There was a moment’s silence as the Fuhrer digested this idea and its possible consequences.
‘What do you propose then Hermann?’ queried the Fuhrer.
‘Let the final victory go to the only truly Nationalist Socialist force we have—the Luftwaffe. My pilots can destroy the British on their beach and in their boats, then the victory will be indisputably yours.’
‘Hmm, a worthy idea Hermann,’ said Hitler, ‘I will think on it. Thank you for letting me know, I am going to visit the high command at Charleville tomorrow. Now show me the designs of your latest planes.’
As they bent over the table, Goering smiled to himself. The chiefs of the Wehrmacht had needed putting in their place for some time. They were in for an unpleasant surprise.