In the back of the GMC the eleven legionnaires cling to their seats as the truck bounds along the washboard road. A cloud of dust swirls behind the deuce-and-a-half – any time the truck slows the grit wafts in through the open sides and rear of the canvas tarp covering the bed where the paras sit. The faces of the paras are already crusted with dust and crossed by rivulets of sweat after the long days’ march.
Make a DC 12 Fortitude save to avoid fatigue.
- / -
The sound of the bugle cut through the stillness of the camp, rousing the legionnaires to action. The men of the first section, along with the new medic, gathered their packs and weapons. Foot powder was dusted onto feet, shaken into socks and boots. Helmets were lashed to packs – all of the paras wore the green beret as they assembled outside the tent. Sgt. Katsourianis waited outside – beside him was Sgt. Müller and another para, a young man, tall and athletically built, with the single gold bar of a sous-lieutenant
on the shoulder straps of his tailored fatigues. The young man watched the legionnaires gather – he stood straight, his broad shoulders back, one arm held behind his waist. His hair is neatly trimmed, reddish-brown and highlighted by the sun.
said the officer, looking toward the new faces in the group. “You new men, I’m Lt. Ramadier, your platoon leader. I’m sorry we haven’t had a chance to meet before now. We’ll make time to talk tomorrow. For today, listen to your sergeant’s instructions carefully.”
He motioned to Sgt. Müller. “You’ve met your platoon sergeant, sergent-chef Müller. He’ll be accompanying your patrol today, and you can ask him questions as well.”
The lieutenant shifted his weight slightly as he addressed the section. “The company is conducting a ratissage in the hills about 50km away, with a battalion of motorized infantry and a unit of gendarmes. We want to maintain a patrol presence in the area around Portemonte while we’re stationed here, to keep the fells from raiding the farms nearby.”
Ramadier knelt down on the dirt, drawing his combat knife from his belt. “We’re here,”
he said, digging the tip into the ground and leaving a small indentation. “There’s a road here, and power lines here.”
The tip of the knife scraped at the dun-colored earth. “You men will follow these power lines as they reach the crest of a ridgeline here, to look for signs of fellagha activity and to provide a visible presence in the area.”
He rose from his knee, cleaned the blade of the knife against his trouser leg before returning it to its sheath on his belt. “Stay alert and good luck.”
He nods to the men, then to Sgt. Müller. “Take over, sergent-chef.”
barked the German senior sergeant, and the legionnaires quickly snapped to as the young lieutenant saluted and walked away. “All right, you lot, let’s get going,”
Müller continued. “We’ve got a long day.”
From a musette bag he pulled a handful of bright blue scarves. “Blue’s the color of the day. Put ‘em over your right shoulders.”
The legionnaires lent each other a hand running the scarves under the armpit and through the shoulder strap and tying them in place. “To tell us from the fells,”
Nedjar explained as he fastened the scarf around Vidal’s shoulder.
- / -
At last the dirt road gives way to the graveled road that leads through the farms to Portemonte and the company camp. The bumps fade and the dust thin even as the truck picks up speed – the relief is immediate on tired backs and sore kidneys.
The legionnaires sway slightly in their seats as Sánchez, driving the truck while Sgt. Katsourianis rides in the cab, guides the GMC along the winding road. Most have eyes closed – a few watch the passing landscape lit by the golden glow of the impending sunset.
- / -
A narrow dirt track followed the power lines as they crossed the djebels
, climbing ridgeline after ridgeline. The legionnaires followed the track arranged in a loose diamond, warily watching the brush and rocks as they marched up and down the stony hills under the relentless white sun.
In the lead walked David Nedjar, the Jewish legionnaire from Oran. As attentive on point as he was affable in the mess tent, he scanned the terrain diligently as the patrol advanced, raising a hand to call a halt from time-to-time as he some feature or another caught his eye.
Beside him walked Sgt. Katsourianis, the Greek sous-officier
commanding the section. On his wrist he wore a large steel chronograph, a Swiss Heuer, somewhat incongruous with his fatigues. At a break he flicks open a switchblade carried in a pocket to slice off a hunk of cheese from his pack.
Behind Nedjar and the sergeant marched Vidal, his radio strapped around his shoulder, and Burhan Pamuk. The Turk was as reticent on the march as he was on the drive from Zeralda, mostly communicating in nods and shrugs. At each stop he rolls a cigarette from his bag of tobacco and sips hot, sweet black tea from his ever-present Thermos.
Next in line came Normand and Pyotr, rounding out the assault group.
Behind the choc
group walked Silvio Ortu, the big Sardinian tireur
, the AA-52 machine gun draped casually over one shoulder. His sleeves were rolled up, revealing brightly-colored tattoos – the shield of the 1st REP on his right forearm, a half-naked belly dancer on his left who shakes her hips as he moves his hand. At a break he removed his smock revealing two more – a Virgin Mary on his left bicep, a heart with a dagger through it on his right – beneath the impaled heart is a scroll with the word “Maria.” Ortu seemed to have two expressions on his face over the course of the day: one that looked like he was about to cause mischief, one that looked likes he was about to cause pain. He spent most of the march complaining about one thing or another.
Beside him marched Karel Syrovy, the blond Hungarian pourvoyeur
. The lean, angular légionnaire
was quiet, aloof – his few comments were directed at telling Ortu, in so many words, to shut up or otherwise reflecting on the Sardinian’s ancestry and foul proclivities. Syrovy carries an ornate chased silver cigarette case in the pocket of his smock, expensive-looking, especially for a legionnaire.
Next came Asmussen and Sánchez, the remaining pourvoyeurs
. The Scandinavian legionnaire is tall and strongly built with bright blond hair, blue eyes, and a square jaw, like some Aryan poster child from the war. He said the least of all the patrol – it wasn’t hard to notice that his command of French is poor, and Cpl. Sembène made sure he had eye contact, backed with appropriate hand gestures, whenever he gave Asmussen an order.
Manolo Sánchez wasn’t much more voluble than the Scandinavian, but it was clear at least that he understood what was being said. Sánchez appears to be the oldest man in the section, older than both Sgt. Katsourianis and Sgt. Müller – the other paras referred to him Le Vieux
or El Viejo
, all except Ortu who called him Le Daronne
. Sánchez was never without a cigarette hanging out of the corner of his mouth, the Ideales box protruding from his chest pocket of his smock. The Spaniard labored hard as the legionnaires crossed the rocky ridges along the track, but he never fell back, keeping pace with the younger men throughout the patrol.
The rear of the column was brought up by Marcel, Cpl. Sembène, and Sgt. Müller. “Babaye” Sembène, the Senegalese assistant section leader, studied the legionnaires as closely as he watched the surrounding terrain for fellouze
– at each break he checked with each legionnaire in turn, making sure that everyone was drinking water and grabbing a bite to eat over the course of the long march.
Hans Müller, the German platoon sergeant whom Nedjar said was once in the Luftwaffe
, was relaxed as the paras made their way across the hills. It seemed as if he was taking a stroll in the Harz Mountains of his youth, until he would casually point out likely ambush points or pinpoint their location on the tactical map simply by looking at the ridgelines and the position of the sun in the sky. Ortu asked several pointed questions of the sergent-chef
regarding “Ursula’s hairy arse,” which strangely enough didn’t seem to bother Müller – it took several moments to realize that Ortu was referring to Müller’s pet monkey, a souvenir of Indochina and the mascot of the platoon.
The section covered more than 30km, the last five cross-country, before reaching the GMC. Tired, dusty, and thirsty, the paras piled in the back, save Le Vieux
and Sergeant Kat, for the drive back to camp. There'd been no sign of the fellouze
, just a dusty track through rocky hills under a relentless sun.
- / -
The deuce-and-a-half is making good time as the first farms on the outskirts of Portemonte come into view, thus it’s something of a surprise when Sánchez slows suddenly, gears grinding and brakes whining, and the truck lurches to a stop. The legionnaires, those who are awake, hear the passenger door to the cab swing open with an audible squeak. Sgt. Kat’s voice floats back to the bed.
“Légionnaires, en avant!”
he says firmly. “Fall in! Doc, get up here.”
Exiting the truck, weapons in hand, the paras see Sgt. Katsourianis pointing his MAT-49 ahead of the GMC. A jeep and a small truck, a Skoda 706, are stopped blocking the road. On the ground are two figures in the blue uniforms of the gendarmerie
– both lie in pools of blood.
All: Spot and Listen checks please.