Excerpt from Citizen Soldiers by Stephen Ambrose, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Citizen Soldiers

The U.S. Army from the Normandy Beaches to the Bulge to the Surrender of Germany. June 7, 1944 to May 7, 1945

by Stephen Ambrose

Citizen Soldiers by Stephen Ambrose
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  • First Published:
    Oct 1997, 512 pages
    Paperback:
    Aug 1999, 255 pages

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The supply troops also got the girls, because they had the money, thanks to the black market. It flourished everywhere. Thousands of gallons of gasoline, tons of food and clothing, millions of cigarettes, were being siphoned off each day. The gasoline pipeline running from the beaches to Chartres was tapped so many times only a trickle came out at the far end.

Most of this was petty thievery. It was done at the expense of the front-line troops. As one example, the most popular brand of cigarettes was Lucky Strike, followed by Camel. In Paris, the SOS troops and their dates smoked Lucky Strikes and Camels; in the foxholes, the men got Pall Malls, Raleighs, or, worse, British cigarettes.

But a large part of the black market was run by organized crime. Here is a story told to me by a former lieutenant who worked as a criminal investigator for the SHAEF adjutant general's office. There was a colonel from the National Guard, born in Sicily, who was in Transport Command. His administrative job gave him the use of a C-47. On every clear day he flew, with a co-pilot, from London to Paris and back. He took in cartons of cigarettes and brought back jewels and perfumes. His trade flourished but there were a lot of payoffs to make, too many people involved. By mid-December, SHAEF's criminal investigators were ready to arrest him, but he got a tip and fled in his C47, with a co-pilot and a box stuffed with jewelry.

"Over the Channel," the lieutenant told me, "he shot the copilot, then smashed his face beyond recognition. He was a hell of a pilot; he landed on the edge of the water at an extremely low tide near Utah Beach. The plane with the co-pilot's body wasn't found until the next day's low tide -- and the major had left his dog tags on the dead man. We learned later that a French farm couple had watched an American pilot as he stole a donkey and cart, loaded a box onto the cart, slipped into peasant's clothing, and was last seen headed toward Sicily."

The German army had its fair share of jerks. There too they were often quartermasters. Colonel von Luck recalled that in early September, during the retreat through France, he came on a supply depot. His tanks, trucks, and other vehicles needed fuel; his men needed ammunition and food. He demanded it be handed over.

The sergeant in charge gave what Luck called "the typical, impudent reply: 'I can issue nothing without written authority.' When I asked, 'And what will you do if the Americans get here tomorrow, which is highly likely?' the answer was: 'Then in accordance with orders I will blow the depot up.'

"As my men advanced threateningly on the sergeant, weapons at the ready, I replied, 'If I don't have fuel, ammunition, and food within half an hour I can no longer be responsible.'" The sergeant looked at the grim-faced Luck and his men and gave them what they needed."

Similar scenes were enacted a thousand times and more during the retreat. At the other end of the scale, corps commanders in the Wehrmacht could be as crazy as Hitler. Like their leader, they moved long-gone regiments and divisions around on their maps. From the safety of their headquarters, they ordered counterattacks by phantom units. In January 1945 in Belgium, Lt. Col. Gerhard Lemcke of the 12th Panzer Division, a career soldier, had a typical experience. He had his HQ in a farmhouse on a hill. From the kitchen window he could see Sherman tanks in the process of surrounding his position. He got orders to attack, which he ignored.

A staff officer drove up. He had been drinking, to bolster his courage -- staff officers seldom came to the front, and when they did they were afraid of the combat commanders. In this case, the officer informed Lemcke that he had come to take Lemcke into custody.

Copyright © 1997 by Ambrose-Tubbs, Inc.

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