I’m pleased to post a small sample of THE FRONT: SCREAMING EAGLES for your reading pleasure. The book will be released on Tuesday, December 22nd. Until then, please enjoy a free chapter.
Pine trees overhead cast shadows on the cold hard ground as Sergeant Heinz Behr studied a tuft of undergrowth that had somehow survived the frigid cold. He dropped the envelope that had contained his division’s orders and tucked the letter itself into his jacket. No fire meant there was no way to burn the paper. He should’ve ripped it to pieces and buried it, but the ground was too hard.
His face was smooth-shaven, but it had come at the cost of applying a razor in the sub-zero weather. His cheeks and chin burned like they’d been scraped raw by a cheese grater. Just another indignity to bear while waiting for the next battle. It was important to keep up a front with his men, but in this war the effort seemed futile.
His combat clothing was stitched together in places, and his jacket was sodden. His boots dragged at the ground when he walked, and he couldn’t feel his toes. He’d long since given up on being disgusted at his own smell—that and that of his men. The last time he’d had a bath was sometime before the battle outside of St. Lo. He’d taken a bullet wound across his upper arm, but the medic had managed to stave off an infection. That or God had seen fit to allow him to keep his limb.
He took out the piece of paper and read the letter he’d received two days ago again.
1st Company, 9th Regiment, 2nd Fallschirmjäger Division
“Regimental Order Number 54, dated 16 December 1944. The Daily Order of the Supreme Commander West. Soldiers, your hour has come! At this moment, strong attack armies have started against the Anglo-Americans. I don’t need to tell you any more. You feel it yourselves. We gamble everything.”
There was an addendum added of the letter in hasty, handwritten script.
“As soldiers of the Third Reich, we will bestow upon you a serum of utmost importance. Our advanced science division will administer before we begin our glorious attack. Contained in the serum is a drug that will give you unheard-of strength and prowess on the battlefield. Your soldiers can be assured that the effects are more powerful than Pervitin. All commanders are to ensure that their men have received the serum. You carry within you the holy obligation to give your all, to perform to the utmost, for our Fatherland and our Führer!”
Sergeant Behr had sworn off Pervitin after getting addicted to the pills for a six-month stretch while fighting on the Eastern Front. When he’d first tried the wonder drug, he’d sworn he’d never felt so alive and powerful on the battlefield. He’d been able to stay awake for almost twenty-four hours and had stayed alert during that time.
Then he’d crashed. Hard.
The next evening, he’d slept through an artillery barrage that had kept half of his men awake. Shells had roared all through the night while “screaming meemies”, aka the 30 cm Nebelwerfer 42, had laid down barrage after barrage. When he awoke, it was to a tremendous headache that no amount of coffee and aspirin could alleviate.
They’d passed the last half of a week by moving along roads behind Panzer tanks and half-tracks filled with men. A few minor engagements had ensued, but nothing like the resistance they expected in the coming days.
His men had performed admirably, but they’d also known when to find a ditch to dive in or tree to hide behind. The second night had been much like the first, except word had come down that the doctors were on the way with the new serum. Behr informed the men, and they looked at him as if he’d slapped them.
“We need no magic juice to fight. We fight for the Fatherland and that is enough,” Karl Ude had said, but no one questioned his orders. The men rarely argued with him, because they were scared of his acid tongue. They also feared being given an assignment less desirable than attacking Anglo-Americans.
They set up camp behind a screen of armor, and were ready for a fitful night. Planes roared overhead on occasion, but fog had moved in, making aerial missions next to impossible.
Now they were being ordered to accept an injection of unknown chemicals, and they had no choice in the matter.
A man in an SS overcoat moved among Behr’s men with the doctor in tow. They were creeping through the dark, and dragging a large wooden box. They stopped near his location and opened the container.
“Sergeant Behr,” the SS officer spoke in a reedy voice. “You will be the first. For the Fatherland, you will soon know untold power.”
The doctor grinned in the wan light. His face was pinched and he had a little rat nose. He’d attempted to grow a small moustache like the Fuhrers but it was a grey and thin giving him a comical look.
Knowing he had no choice, Behr unbuttoned his thick jacket with numb fingers. He worked at the buttons for a moment before the doctor assisted. Behr rolled up his sleeve and exposed his upper arm.
The stab was quick, and then it was done.
The man took out a fresh syringe and applied it to his corporal’s arm. Jaeger’s took it stoically.
Another medic joined the doctor, and together they made short work of the company.
Behr’s eyes closed as a lassitude took hold. He gazed at a puff of snow, and thought it might be moving. He smiled, because he suddenly felt warm, like he was sitting before a nice fire.
Around him, his men sighed in equal pleasure.
If this was the worst of it, he would be a happy soldier for the rest of the night and day. To feel warmth again was the best thing he could ask for right now.
He shifted his weapon and double-checked his load out. He had several extra magazines, and also carried a pair of grenades. Sergeant Behr clenched his teeth and thought of the enemy: the Anglo-Americans who had killed so many of his brethren. What he wouldn’t do to charge into a mass of them right now, shooting, slashing his bayonet, leaping on men and ripping out their hearts.
Behr’s pulse raced as he thought of blood. Hot blood spilling from the enemy. Piles of bodies left to rot.
Near him, Jaeger let out an equally strange sound.
The night lit up as an artillery barrage erupted from the east. Behr stared up, eyes following the descending rounds as they smashed into the Americans’ positions.
The fight was on.
Behr motioned for his men, and together they moved into the night to find the enemy.
“How long will the effects last?” the SS officer asked the doctor.
“For about twelve hours, mein Herr. They will go into battle and kill many of the Anglo-American forces. Our men will not feel pain and they will not feel the cold.”
“And after? How will they cope?”
“They will need more of the serum to be sure. Those who survive.”
“I do not like this. We have wasted too many soldiers. Far too many sons will not be returning home since Normandy, and yet I see the Führer’s goal clearly. We must strike and it must be swift and without remorse. We must break their lines and send them scurrying.”
“The serum is not as bad as it sounds, sir, and it has been extensively tested. Would you like to taste its power?” the doctor asked.
The SS officer stared at the man and didn’t say a word. He merely turned away from the hideous doctor and led him on to the next company.