Read Red Inferno: 1945 Online

Authors: Robert Conroy

Tags: #Soviet Union, #Historical - General, #World War, #World War II, #Alternative History, #1939-1945, #General, #United States, #Historical, #War & Military, #American Historical Fiction, #Fiction, #Foreign relations, #Fiction - Historical

Red Inferno: 1945 (25 page)

BOOK: Red Inferno: 1945
6.76Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

To Tony, it seemed like a wonderful idea. He was now firmly convinced, if there ever had been a doubt, that he would never see home and family again if the Russians weren’t defeated. Oh, they had talked about trying to gain the relative safety of the Potsdam perimeter, but that had been decided against for some very good reasons. First was the fact that they would have had a helluva time getting through the Russian and American lines without being shot. Second, what would they have gained? Baker had said it best: “All you would be doing is changing one prison camp for another.”

Baker was right, of course. While they would not have been alone in Potsdam and the sound of more American voices would have been nice and comforting, Potsdam was surrounded and there was little he could do in there to help the war. Potsdam was also possibly doomed. Out here he was free. Sort of. Tony kind of liked that better than being sort of not free.

Baker had earlier been out scouting and had reported the location of a couple of tanker trucks hidden nearby. Hardly enough to call in a flight of bombers, but something that should be taken care of.

“Hey, Joe, what are you gonna do about them trucks?” Tony asked. “Can’t leave ’em there, can you?”

Baker smiled slightly. “Haven’t decided.”

“You speak Russian?”


“Bullshit,” Tony laughed. “I’ll bet you speak it real good.”

Baker took out his knife and began to sharpen it. “I’ll bet you’re right, Tony. I’ll bet I speak German too, and maybe a little French. Why? You got an idea?”

Now it was Tony’s turn to smile. He knew Joe didn’t think much of Tony’s brainpower although he did respect him as a survivor. “I was thinking, Joe, why don’t you just walk up to them trucks and blow them up.”

Joe shook his head and grinned tolerantly. “And what would you put on my tombstone? That the dumb shit thought he could get away with it?”

“Joe, what if you were wearing a Russian uniform? One of their NKVD things that seems to scare the shit out of the regular Russians.”

“Tony, if I had one of those I could cause so much damage it would make your head spin.”

Tony laughed and told him about the uniform they’d taken and hidden, along with the weapons. Joe’s jaw dropped. Then he too started laughing.


lisabeth Wolf was entranced. It had been years since she had seen a baseball game and she had forgotten how much she liked the sport. It was like a touch of an earlier home, of Canada, a time and a land that belonged to another her. Pauli, however, was simply confused by all the running and yelling. He would much rather have had a ball that could be kicked.

Jack Logan had explained to her that the baseball tournament had been a source of controversy for some time. There was the real fear that the Reds would either bombard or attack during a game and cause needless casualties, while others had feared that the exertion of playing might unnecessarily weaken young men who were already on short rations.

General Miller had asked a number of the men what they had thought. They had frankly and tersely responded to both fears. “Fuck it, General,” one soldier had summed it up, “we all gotta die sometime. If it’s gonna be here, I’d just as soon be playin’ ball as hiding in some goddamn trench waiting to starve to death or get hit on the head by a Russian shell.”

Thus inspired, the engineers had used lathes to fashion a kind of bat and made baseballs out of discarded tires. Gloves and catcher’s masks were in short supply, so the rules of the tournament were adjusted to fit the fact. Even so, the games were a huge success and a boost for morale, and now football games were being planned.

Ball hit bat with a solid thwack and there were cheers. Pauli looked up and tried to figure out what was happening as a runner slid gracelessly into third base. Elisabeth looked up from where she was sitting on the ground and noticed a number of German women cheering on their particular soldiers. It would appear that she was not alone in having an American friend.

Logan trotted over from the field and plunked himself down beside her. “You look great,” he said.

“Thank you.” For the first time since he’d met her, she was wearing a skirt. She had made it from some blue drapes she’d found in a house. It was a little long, but it did make her feel a little more feminine than the men’s clothing she had been wearing. She knew she had nice legs and knew that the reduction in food hadn’t created any problem for her in that area.

“How come you stopped playing?” she asked.

“I took myself out. I wasn’t playing all that well and I really should let the enlisted men have their fun. Besides, I’d rather sit here with you.”

Elisabeth smiled. Jack had made two errors in the field and struck out once. Captain Dimitri had yanked him and sent him off with a swat on the rear while his team hooted in good-natured derision. He hadn’t pulled himself out; he’d been booted.

Elisabeth shifted, and Jack caught a quick glimpse of knee and thigh that widened his eyes despite the fact that women wore far shorter skirts in the States. God, he thought, am I that horny? Yes, he answered. I am.

A familiar shape darkened their horizon. “Am I intruding?” It was Lieutenant David Singer. His one hand rested on a cane.

“Hardly,” Elisabeth answered as she gestured for him to take a seat with them. “How are you feeling?”

Singer, still wan and thin, looked far better each day. “Almost ready to go out there and play. Don’t laugh—don’t the St. Louis Browns have a one-armed outfielder?”

“If anyone would, it would be the Brownies,” Logan said.

Singer beamed. “I got a letter from Marsha.” Two nights before, they had been overflown by a bomber flight that had dropped some essential supplies and, surprise of surprises, a number of sacks of mail. Once again, morale had soared. “It was written before I got hurt and we got stuck here, but it was really good to hear from her. She’s working in Boston as a waitress and she’s gone back to college. When this is over, she’ll get a job and support me while I go back to school and finish my education.”

“Good idea,” said Jack, thinking of his own interrupted studies. But that had been in another world, hadn’t it? “How are you doing at the hospital?”

“Well, they’re still letting me work with the more badly wounded. I either read to them or help them to try and realize they still have a life to live.”

“That’s great, Dave,” Jack said. Elisabeth had slipped her hand into his. It was a wonderfully comforting feeling.

“Jack, you have no idea how good it feels to be useful. After all, I still have two of the three arms I was given—right arm and short arm.” Logan grinned and Elisabeth smiled tolerantly. She got the joke. “Seriously, I do have a life to live and a career to build when I get home and, no, I was not going to be a surgeon or a paperhanger.”

Elisabeth laughed. “Then what?”

“An accountant. And like I once told Jack, I can juggle figures just as well with one arm.” Singer looked around and saw some friends, said he’d talk to Jack and Lis later, and went over to visit.

Elisabeth squeezed Jack’s hand again. “Did you get any mail?”

“Nope. A lot of people didn’t. I was hoping, but what the heck, I’ll live.”

“Does that upset you?”

“I’ll live. Really, I’m used to it.”

Despite his denial, there was a hint of sadness in his voice. There was a moment’s silence while Elisabeth reached into the pocket of her skirt and pulled out a plain envelope.

“Here,” she said.

“What’s this?”

“A letter. It’s from me. See, you do have someone who cares for you and writes to you.”

Elisabeth turned her head so that she could not see the stunned expression on Jack’s face and so that he could not see the look on hers. He pulled her closer and said how much he appreciated it and yes, he really did want letters from home, but this was even better. He said he would read it later, which was what Lis wanted. Despite being a soldier, Lis thought he was such a good and gentle man. Perhaps this was one way of letting him know that she felt that way about him.

On the other side of the playing field, Wolfgang von Schumann confronted General Miller. “Well, General, have you made up your mind?”

“Ike would crap.”

“But wouldn’t he also crap if he found out that you looked a gift horse in the mouth?”

“True enough, Herr Oberst.” Miller looked longingly at the ball game and thought of gentler times gone by. He knew he now had a decision to make.

A belated survey of the Potsdam area had revealed the existence of a large number of German antiaircraft guns and a quantity of ammunition. They had been Potsdam’s defense against bombers. Von Schumann had also located a warehouse that contained, among other things, a quantity of
, the shoulder-carried antitank rockets that could be useful at close range.

Almost simultaneously, a census of the remaining German population of Potsdam had revealed several hundred veterans or soldiers in hiding, along with the crews of most of the antiaircraft guns, which included a number of the splendid 88 mm guns that could stop most tanks as well as shoot down planes. The German soldiers had stayed to defend their city and been swept up by the advances of the Russians and the Americans.

Von Schumann had reviewed the situation and made a modest proposal that they all be put to use in the defense of Potsdam. The Germans were willing, and the American soldiers had no apparent qualms, so what was the problem? Miller asked himself. Certainly, no one was concerned about using the other side’s weapons. That had been done many times in the war.

Von Schumann had argued that it really didn’t matter that use of German personnel wasn’t yet authorized by SHAEF or Truman or anyone else, although there were rumors that it soon would be. What did matter was that they use every means possible to defend themselves. War is hell, he reminded Miller, and it contains no rules except to destroy one’s enemy. He was reminded that the Germans in Potsdam would be slaughtered by the Russians if they broke through and would, therefore, fight like tigers. He added that they had a right to have weapons to defend themselves, and Miller couldn’t rebut him.

Miller smiled and patted his pocket for some tobacco. Once again there wasn’t any. “Advisers,” he said smiling.

Von Schumann blinked. “What?”

“They cannot be allies and they cannot be part of the American army. At least not officially and not yet. However, they can be advisers. Someone must teach my soldiers how to use those nice antiaircraft guns of yours and how not to shoot themselves in the foot with the
. Therefore, they will advise our soldiers.”

Von Schumann thought it over. “Should it become necessary, or even helpful, can these advisers man guns and shoot them?”

“Of course, Herr Oberst,” Miller said sweetly. “How better to advise?”

had ravaged the oil fields and other vital areas of the Caucasus had come from airstrips in Iran and Iraq. There had been as many as a thousand fighters—P-51s and P-47s—and they had simply overwhelmed the inadequate defenses of the area and destroyed virtually all the planes left to defend the precious oil-producing area. These had been followed by the bombers, hundreds of B-17s and B-24s along with a few score of newly arrived B-29s.

For the Russians, the final tally was 139 of their planes shot down, and nearly 350 destroyed on the ground. Even allowing for the wildly inflated claims of the surviving aircrews and those gunners on the ground who had found targets worth shooting at, the Americans had lost only about fifty planes of all types. To make matters worse, it appeared that the Americans had overflown Turkey and then entered Russian airspace from the Black Sea. They had been wolves among the Russian sheep before there was any reaction from the Russian defenders, even the handful who had been looking westward.

The simultaneous raid on Ploesti had been staged from bases in Italy and North Africa, and the planes, again more than a thousand, had crossed the Adriatic, and then Yugoslavia, and been above Ploesti only seconds after the alarm had been sounded. It was noted by the Soviet leadership that the Yugoslav Communists under Marshal Tito had not been terribly efficient or prompt in communicating the presence of Allied aircraft to Stavka. It was a lapse of fraternal socialist brotherhood among ostensible Communist allies that Stalin swore he would remember. It seemed to some observers that Tito did not look with total favor upon the thought of Russian hegemony in Europe.

Stalin, Beria, and Molotov had traveled from Moscow to this dismal German city of Kustrin on the Oder to acquaint Marshal Zhukov with the new realities confronting him. At least the place for the meeting was better repaired than the last time. Now the windows were glassed over and there was electricity. Otherwise, Kustrin was still a city in ruins.

But first there were matters that had to be settled in the traditional Soviet matter.

“This motherfucking Guchkov,” Stalin asked, “it is confirmed that he is dead?”

Zhukov saw the dread look in Stalin’s eyes and was glad he was not Guchkov. It was the look of a snake stalking its prey. Stalin was openly expressionless but his eyes gave him away. He looked to be mad for revenge. Zhukov replied. “Yes, Comrade Stalin. He is dead, a suicide.”

Stalin turned to Beria. “Then he has cheated justice. Have his family picked up as well. They must be considered equally guilty for his actions.” Beria nodded. He guessed there would be a score of people, women and children included. They were as good as dead. A few years in the gulag and they would be dead in fact as well as theory.

“And who,” Stalin continued, “commands the Fourth Air Army? Who is the fool that left the idiot Guchkov in charge of such a sensitive and important area as the Caucasus with such limited resources?” Stalin knew the answer. He just wanted someone else to say the name.

“Vershinin,” said Zhukov. Stalin gestured to Beria, who nodded. Another casualty of the raid.

“And Ploesti?”

Zhukov wondered where it would stop. “The Fifth Air Army is under Goryunov.” Again the gesture to Beria. Both generals would be arrested by the NKVD within two hours and be shot within three. The price for failure—or stupidity—was high in the Soviet Union.

The feral look left Stalin’s eyes. The beast had been sated, tamed at least for a while. “Now, Marshal Zhukov, do you understand the situation with oil?”

“What I understand is that there will be very little more oil for the foreseeable future. How long are we talking about? Weeks? Months?”

Molotov spoke. “Perhaps much longer. I spoke with the minister of the interior, and it is his early estimate that there will be little more than a trickle for about three to six months.”

Zhukov nodded. With his intimate knowledge of Soviet efficiency, he knew that the actual length of time would probably be at least a year before any new oil appeared. He also knew that the Germans had been fairly successful in the expensive task of transforming coal into oil. Sadly, these facilities had been destroyed a long time ago and were doubtless in worse shape than those in the Caucasus. Another source, Lend-Lease from America, was obviously severed. The Allies had provided the Soviet Union with more than three million tons of oil, primarily by truck and pipeline, from the Middle East. Worse, the Americans had been a primary source of gasoline and aviation fuel, which the Soviets made poorly even when they had the resources.

When the war started, the USSR produced 10 percent of the world’s oil, virtually all of it from the now ruined Caucasus fields. The United States, on the other hand, produced more than two thirds of the world’s oil. The Soviet Union would run dry in a very short while and the United States would continue to be flush in petroleum.

Zhukov remained impassive. “It will make sustained operations very difficult, perhaps impossible. We must begin hoarding and rationing immediately and at all levels.”

“It is being done,” said Beria. Further reductions in oil for the civilian population meant a reduction of what was already almost nothing. “We are somewhat fortunate that our trains run on coal, and we have plenty of that. Most of our factories are also coal-heated, as are our homes, so there will be little reduction in production or transportation as a result of this disaster.”

BOOK: Red Inferno: 1945
6.76Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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