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An Occurrence in the Rhine Forest

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Author's note: The historical context of the time period has been altered than what actually happened in history due to the nature of the story being derived from another one of my projects.

August 19th, 1915

Corp. D.H. Griffin, 3rd Infantry Battalion, US Army

The following testimony is about the occurrences that had happened a week prior as part of the “Thames’s Plan” undertook by the First Rifleman Squad of the 3rd Infantry. The mission objective was to extract a German defector, Col. Hans Dieter von Hendrix, from his family castle behind enemy lines and bring him back to HQ in order to learn of enemy troop movements for the upcoming battle at Strasbourg, on the Rhine. Our detachment consisted of ten riflemen that included myself, a machine gun crew, a captured German armored car, and our CO, Lt. Benjamin Hobbs.

We wore captured uniforms and were armed with German weapons in order to avoid suspicion. On the day of the mission, we went out at dusk around 1900 hours and proceeded to the woods outside our forces’ entrenchment. It was decided to take the long way, in order to avoid being accidentally shot at by our own troops as well allowing for us to sneak behind enemy lines more easily. I was ordered to take point and lead us through the forest. There a light fog, but visibility was still good to keep us on the look out for snipers. Despite this, there was still an uneasiness among us. Snipers are very common in this area and had been known to be misinformed causing friendly fire. Last week we had heard about a British unit at the Somme during a gas attack, that got picked off by a French sniper looking for stormtroopers.

As we proceeded, there was a slight chill in the air even though it was the middle of August. However, none of us paid any mind since the crisp air was quite delightful and refreshing, considering the thick and bulky uniforms we were wearing. As the sun went down, so did our nerves. With the darkness ascending on us, we felt a little easier since snipers had a hard time in the dark in addition to the ease it brought to the mission at hand. I myself, however, didn’t feel at ease as my squad mates.

I could have sworn something was lurking out in the woods, like something unseen. I didn’t understand why though, I’ve been in the Army for the past two years and seen far worse things and events that would break even the strongest man into tears. However, this forest chilled me to my bones as I gazed into the thicket. Luckily, my thoughts were interrupted as Lt. Hobbs called out. “Company HALT!” ordered the lieutenant. We stopped immediately upon hearing those words. Lt. Hobbs dismounted from the armored car and walked up to me quietly. Once he got to me he signaled the others to go prone. “Griffin, I need to you scout ahead a couple of miles, I think I hear a patrol up ahead.” he whispered to me and handed me a set of field glasses. I nodded, and took the field glasses and made my way up the path.

This is nothing new to me as I have scouted into No Man’s Land before, back in the trenches. Those were terrifying experiences with the firing of machine guns, mortar shells, and the like. I seem to have a knack for it, as so far I have yet to be killed or maimed. I just seem to know where danger lurks. On three occasions I have saved a few of squad mates because of this. Within fifteen minutes, I was at the edge of the woods and in sight of the castle. There was no sign of a patrol, or anything. However, it seems that there’s quite a stirring near the castle. Picking up the field glasses, I decided to scan ahead and ensure there was no enemy activity.

It was difficult to tell is there was anything on the castle grounds being a new moon. While I could see fairly well before hand without moonlight, even with fog thrown into the mix, it seems that the silhouette of the castle encompassed everything on the grounds. The blackness burned my eyes as I peered upon it. After a couple of minutes of trying to shake off what I was seeing, I ran back to my squad. In the process of doing this, I tripped over a tree root, almost getting stabbed by my bayonet. As I picked myself up, something subtly hissed behind me. In one swooping motion, I picked up my rifle and was about to charge when I saw nothing there. I turned away and continued back to my squad. I concluded that my nerves were getting the better of me and that I was lucky that I didn’t get bit by a snake or something. What else would made a hiss like that?

Lt. Hobbs was getting a bit anxious since it had been twenty minutes since that I had left. The silent night fell upon my squad and the feeling it brought was dreadful. Any moment, they were expecting to hear gunshots and artillery fire. But, once I broke through the underbrush to them, their minds came to ease. I reported my findings to the CO. “I saw no enemy activity, sir. However, we may want to exercise caution once we come to the grounds.” I said with a little shake in my voice.

Lt. Hobbs picked up on this immediately and asked, “Are you feeling alright Griffin?”

“Yes sir, just a little spooked is all,” I replied with more confidence. Lt. Hobbs nodded and the squad moved onward.

At the grounds, we took our positions along side a cobblestone wall. Lying prone, we waited until we saw a signal. We were not told what sort of signal to be expecting, but that there was one and we know it when we saw it. After ten minutes, the squad got tense all over. Something was amiss, like we were in some sort of trap. A couple of the men, Jeffers and O'Brien, were getting trigger happy. They were the gunners in the armored car. The Maxim was trained on the grounds behind the wall, and they were tempted to pull the trigger.

I didn’t know for sure, but I’d say all that time in the trenches has gotten those two unhinged. Operating a machine gun nest was easy. All you did was pepper charging targets with as many bullets as the gun could shoot out. You could take out hundreds of enemy troops without effort. Most gunners were silent about what they did, but not these two. They loved talking about it with one another, and even kept score by how many bullets they discharged. Then there was the details about the “quality of the kills” they seems to take pride in. I won’t go into detail, but let’s say that you don’t want to eating your breakfast around these two. Anyways, the tension had us bound up in a tight grip.

Then we heard church bells. Lt. Hobbs took that as the signal and we were finally able to run our tension out. Quickly, we descended on the drawbridge. At first we let the armored car go in first while we followed in from behind. The headlamps of the armored car flooded the courtyard with soft yellow light. The lights were greeted by a lone man wearing a German commanding officer uniform with all sorts of medals and ribbons. He was clean shaved with strong, angular features. He was ungainly tall, about seven foot to be precise. He towered over us. His lanky limbs and near skeletal features made him look like death in the flesh. His eyes were set deep into his sockets and it if weren’t for the yellow lights coming from the car, I’d say that they were colored like amber. For such a powerful man, he was soft spoken and friendly as he exchanged with Lt. Hobbs. “Good evening commander, sorry for the delay in signaling you. I was having problems with the bells. Since the war began, my family home has fallen into disrepair. I am ready to leave.”

Lt. Hobbs answered, “Not to be rude, but time is short and we must get back behind friendly lines, please get inside the car.” Without a further word, the German colonel got inside the armored car and we left immediately for the woods.

As we left, I noticed something odd about the castle. There was a strong musky smell, and the air was thick with it. Johnson, the squad mate to the right of me commented on it, “Jesus, smells like a dead animal over here.” At first, I was worried that perhaps a gas shell had went off somewhere nearby, but there didn’t seem to be any negative side effects upon smelling it. Just unpleasantness. Without wasting anymore time, we caught up with the others.

To our surprise, the smell followed us. The thick, nausea inducing smell seem to be getting worse as we entered the woods. This put us on edge, and Lt. Hobbs, after noticing the smell himself, ordered us to put on our gas masks. Though the masks obscured our vision, it did help keep the smell at bay. However, the masks didn’t bring any comfort as we made headway into the woods. All of us seem to have the same feeling that we were being watched. Like the entire woods was filled with German troops out to surround us. The silence had took over, aside from a faint humming coming from inside the armored car. It seems that Col. von Hendrix was humming a tune similar to “Row, row, row your boat,” but it was a slower and deeper tone. The fog became thicker as the time went by and the smell was getting through our gas masks. Our formation drew us closer together as our paranoia reached new heights.

I took deep and heavy breaths as my heart was pounding. I squinted my eyes to see through the fog, and I kept seeing shapes moving about. I think I saw some shapes anyways. There was a rustling in the trees. This was the breaking point, as Jeffers and O’Brien opened fired on the tree tops. BA-BA-BA-BA-BAM, KA-CLICK! The Maxim stopped. “Hold your fire!” cried out Lt. Hobbs. “What the hell are you doing, you’re going to get us exposed to enemy shellfire!”

Jeffers spoke up, “Sir, we saw something in the trees. Maybe a sniper!”

As Jeffers, Lt. Hobbs, and O’Brien were trying to reload the Maxim. “Damn thing’s jammed, I can’t budge it!”

The rest of us were getting spooked too, and took defensive positions around the armored car. Sniper or not, we’re were not taking any chances. The fog was thicker now than it had been for a while. Standing next to the driver’s side, I overheard some giggling coming from inside. I think it was Col. von Hendrix. I knocked on the door and asked Sgt. Hudson if he was alright.

“You okay in there, Sarge?”

The sergeant lowered the window plate and informed me with a deep Southern accent, “I’m fine, but I think the Kraut back there is afraid, heh.” After resolving the machine gun issue, Lt. Hobbs ordered us onward slowly and cautiously. He wasn’t able to find out what was in the trees. He concluded it was just a matter of war nerves.

Since we were going slowly, it was taking a lot longer than it did coming in. This wasn’t much to the liking of the German colonel. He began to complain to the CO. “We must hurry. I need to get to friendly territory. Have your detachment double their pace.” he demanded. Lt. Hobbs on the other hand dismissed the officer’s request. “I am not having my men becoming a target. We will continue at this pace until we are out of the woods.” the lieutenant retorted. This just added to the colonel’s insecurity, but we continued our pace. Fortunately, the fog began to lift a little which made visibility clear.

The trees that surrounded us had a sinister shape about them, and I sworn I saw some faces in them. I figure it was just my mind playing tricks on me since the tension was taking a toll on us. Hopefully when we returned, we would be given a week of R&R. However, there was no denying that the darkness surrounding us was playing a mean tune on the Col. von Hendrix’s psyche. He began humming again, broken by little spells of laughing. Sgt. Hudson was getting a bit unnerved at it. Finally the sergeant lashed out at the colonel. “Hey Jerry! Keep it down in there or I’ll knock the shit of you.” The colonel went silent. I thought Lt. Hobbs was going to get on Sgt. Hudson for being blunt, but it seems that the lieutenant was also having enough of the colonel’s racket too.

After three hours we made it to the edge of the forest and we were relieved that we had gotten out of those God awful woods. Some of us began to walk more causally. However, the same couldn’t said for the colonel. He went back to his humming and laughing and over the course of the past hour, he was repeating himself in German:

"Sie sind hinter mir her.

"Sie sind aus, um die Verräter zu bekommen.

"Sie sind hinter mir her.

"Sie sind aus, um die Verräter zu bekommen.

"Sie sind hinter mir her.

"Sie sind aus, um die Verräter zu bekommen."

The way he said those words was as if they were being chanted by a choir of children. By this point we had stopped, and Sgt. Hudson got out of the armored car. Lt. Hobbs met up with him. “Sir, he’s gone crazy. He keeps rocking back and forth. Can you do something with him?” said the sergeant irritated. Lt. Hobbs climbed inside the armored car, and next thing we heard was screaming. The colonel was screaming at the top of his lungs.

“THEY’RE HERE!” he cried out holding his head tightly as he began to convulse. Lt. Hobbs ordered our medic, Corp. Dunning, to sedate him. Looking toward me, Lt. Hobbs asked me to ride shotgun with Sgt. Hudson and keep an eye on the colonel. It was strange that he asked me to do this. I’d figured Dunning would stay on there, given the colonel needed medical help. So I climbed aboard, and we got moving again. It was nice not having to walk for the rest of the ride, but I couldn’t help but catching glimpses of the colonel in the back. He was sound asleep from the morphine, but he still mumbled some quaint things.

“Sie... sind... hinter mir... her,” he murmured in German. I don’t speak German, so I didn’t have a clue as to what he was saying.

I turned back to face the front when I saw something in the side mirror. A black, smoky figure appeared to have jumped out from behind the car. I rubbed my eyes, and looked out behind us. Nothing was there. Sgt. Hudson looked over at me and said, “Something the matter Griffin?” I faced him and said “No, just my eyes playing tricks on me.” Hudson nodded and turned back to face the road. We made it back to friendly lines and dropped off the colonel at HQ. He was taken to the field hospital and that was the last we had heard anything about him.

The next day, Lt. Hobbs came to my and Johnson’s tent. “Corp. Griffin, I need to speak to you in private.” he commanded. Following orders, I met with him outside. Offering me a smoke, he proceeded to ask me “Did you see anything strange last night?” I took a moment to consider what I had witnessed. It gave me a cold sweat, but with resolve I managed to get my thoughts together. “Can not say I saw anything out of the unusual sir though my eyes did play tricks on me due to exhaustion.” I said passively. The lieutenant nodded and walked away. However he stopped and said to me quietly, “I saw it too.”

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