You cannot run away from weakness; you must some time fight it out,
or perish; and if that be so, why not now, and where you stand?
Robert Louis Stevenson
Eisenhower could feel for the
man, they all could, but the mantle of failure had to be laid somewhere and, in
this instance, it lay fully on the shoulders of Group Captain James Stagg.
His information, received from
civilian and military sources across the spectrum of agencies, had been
Gathered in the room were the heavyweights
of the Allied Command Structure, initially brought together to discuss the
changes in the Soviet hierarchy, but now all were overtaken by a new priority, all
equally afflicted by the meteorological prediction error.
?Well, Jim, it?s done and no use
crying over it now. It doesn?t happen again. We can?t afford to get caught like
this a second time.?
Stagg took his leave, intent on
reviewing the situation to discover where the errors were made.
Ike watched him go and then
returned his focus to the group.
?Right. We move on.?
The men moved forward to examine
the map but were distracted by the sound of laughter from outside the room.
Their eyes were drawn to the
window and a group of military policemen, playing hard as soldiers do, firing
missiles at each other at breakneck speed, stopping only to scoop up more handfuls
of the snow that covered the landscape for as far as the eye could see, and
whose arrival had caught the Allied forces unprepared.
Patton moved briskly to the
window but Eisenhower beat him to it.
?Let ?em be, George, let ?em be.?
Reluctantly, the Commander of the
US Third Army moved back, sparing a moment to scowl at the soldiers, oblivious
to their seniors as they cavorted in fifteen inches of pure white snow.
?Now. Let?s sort this mess out.?
That work was in progress when a
simple message arrived. The Italian Government had declared its neutrality.
To be fair to the Meteorological
Department, they had forecast snow to fall as of the night of the 30th. The
issue was in its quantity and the dip in temperature that ensured it remained.
On the morning of the 30th
October, the temperature stubbornly refused to break 0°, dropping to -9° as
The 1st November had seen better
temperatures at the southern end of the line, but in the centre, and the north,
0° became but a memory.
Stagg had presented them with a
revised forecast that morning, one that did not cheer them.
More snow was on its way, and
with it would come a further drop in temperature, partially because of the
presence of a huge cold front, and partially because of the winds that would
He added widespread freezing fog
to his glum forecast.
Now the Allied Armies would have
to battle the elements, as well as the Russians.
?Thank you, Sarnt.?
Ames accepted the enamel mug and
its scalding hot contents as if they were gifts from the Gods.
?My pleasure, Sah. Them Welsh
boys is ok. They?m taken a shine to you, by all accounts.?
Ames took a tentative sip of the
strong brew and shrugged, attempting humour to downplay the moment.
?We?ve spent some quality time
together, Sarnt. They?re good lads.?
Sergeant Gray was a recent
arrival with the 83rd Field Regiment, Royal Artillery, yet another of those men
who had spent time behind German barbed wire.
Placing his mug on the snow, he
spared a look at his surroundings, the combination of the moon and the steadily
falling snow creating a relaxing, almost Christmas-like feeling to the land.
He pulled out his large pipe, and
had it loaded in record time.
The awesome object had already
acquired the nickname, ?The Funnel?, its bowl constantly belching something
indescribable that bore scant resemblance to the aromatic products of pipe
Theories abounded, starting with shredded
tyre rubber, and ending with old unwashed socks.
He quickly checked the radio and
found it satisfactory, rewrapping it in the army blanket used to insulate it
from the elements.
The sound of Gray sucking
greedily kick-started Ames and he was soon puffing on a Woodbine.
Ames had acquired a heavy smoking
habit since the fighting in and around the Rathaus in August, which now neared
forty a day, when supplies were sufficient.
?One of they Welshies was telling
me about ?Amburg, Sah. Sounds like ?er was a right bastard, fair ?nough.?
eyes softly glazed, as his memories took him back to those few bitter days,
fighting with the Royal Welch, the Black Watch, and even those German
?To be honest, Sarnt, it was
pretty horrible... and we were extremely lucky to get out of it. Many didn?t.?
His mind presented him with the
image of the young Lieutenant Ramsey, fired into the masonry of the Rathaus
with such force that his body adhered to the surface, and only reluctantly
relinquished its grip after the main battle was over.
Gray understood, and left the
younger man to his thoughts.
Both men enjoyed the peace, until
the light rattle of the simple warning device forced Gray into action.
?Chalky, I told you to watch the
cans, you bloody idio...?
He turned his head, in time to
catch the stale breath of a Soviet soldier.
Ames also turned, alarmed as much
by the rapid end to Gray?s words as the sound of an enamel mug falling to the
bottom of the foxhole.
He fumbled for his Sten, finding
only another enemy soldier, and then another.
Cold hands pressed themselves to
his face and caught his flailing arms.