Germanica by Robert Conroy

Book: Germanica by Robert Conroy Read Free Book Online
Authors: Robert Conroy
a charred pile of rubble. Tanner, Hill, and a squad of infantry dug in the old-fashioned way, with shovels and grunts. The ground was soft and they soon had a decent narrow trench that would protect them from anything but a direct hit. Or so they hoped. They also hoped that the partly cloudy night had protected them from curious eyes.
    Hill reached over and tugged on Tanner’s sleeve. “Captain, what are those silly boys doing?” Two men with bulky equipment on their backs had moved to the riverbank.
    “Sergeant, they are going to swim the Rhine underwater. Or at least they’re going to try it. That tanks on their backs contain oxygen that will enable them to breathe underwater. Two French guys thought of it a couple of years ago. They’re called aqualungs.”
    “Jeez, Captain, you mean the French actually once had a good idea?”
    “Be nice, Sergeant. Those two men are Army Rangers who’ve been trained on the equipment. They are going to try and take a thin line across, anchor it, and return. We can then attach heavier cables and use the cable as a pulley to get good sized rafts to the other side.”
    “Sounds dangerous.”
    “Yep. If the Krauts don’t shoot them, they might freeze to death in the water. I was told they’ve stuffed their waterproof suits with anything that’ll insulate them and even greased their bodies like Gertrude Ederle did when she swam the English Channel twenty years ago. If the Rangers survive their crossing, they’re going to do a little bit of scouting, but just a little. Their primary purpose is to bring back that cable so we can send over a raft.”
    “Why don’t they use a snorkel? I’ve used something like that back home.”
    “I don’t know, Hill, and you ask too many questions. Maybe because they can stay underwater longer and deeper or maybe they just wanted to try out the equipment in truly wretched conditions.”
    Hill’s nod was barely visible in the darkness. “Sounds like the Army.”
    Lights were forbidden, including smoking. To the enemy, it was hoped that the American side of the Rhine was calm and placid. They tried to watch the swimmers’ progress, but gave up. They thought they could see bubbles, but maybe it was just something in the river, debris or a fish. Tanner had been told that uncharted debris could kill a swimmer and the Rhine was filled with it.
    “I think they’re across,” Hill said softly. “Do they have radios?”
    “No. It was decided they’d weigh them down and we couldn’t fully waterproof them anyhow. We’ll know when they return.” If they return, he thought.
    After an hour they were getting concerned. Another and they were sick with worry. The thin cable attached to the American side was no help. Sometimes it was slack and sometimes it was tight. Finally, they sensed a disturbance by their side of the riverbank and first one and then the second Ranger crawled ashore. Tanner, Hill, and a couple of other American soldiers crawled to them and helped them into the trench. They removed the men’s masks. They were gasping and their faces were blue. One of them did, however, have the cable tied to his belt.
    They helped the men out of their bulky and insulated swimming suits and helped warm them by wrapping them in multiple layers of blankets. A little medicinal brandy aided the thawing process as well.
    “Great job, guys. You’ll get a medal.”
    One had recovered from his ordeal. “You can keep the medal, sir. I just want to get fucking warm. I don’t think my balls will ever thaw out.”
    Tanner grinned. “Maybe we can get some nice nurse to massage them for you.”
    “As long as it’s a girl, sir, that’d be wonderful. Now, if you’re wondering what we saw across the river, the answer is simple—not much. The riverbank hid our view. It would have been too difficult to climb out since we were slowly dying. That and our orders were to concentrate on anchoring the cable, which we did. An elephant couldn’t pull that thing

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