Preview: Under the Nazi Heel



The sequel to Army of Worn Soles is nearly ready to publish. I have been going through edits and corrections made by the excellent Gary Henry and Joy Lorton, and all I need now is a final cover. So I thought that I would share another preview. Since winter has finally arrived in my part of the world, I thought I would present a wintry, snowy episode from a January, 73 years ago.

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Trondheim forest preview

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Chapter 11: Meeting in the Snow

January, 1943

The winter of 1943 was not as cold as 1942, when oil froze in Panzer engines, but January nights were bitter. Driving a single-horse sleigh through the forest at night, Maurice pulled his fur hat lower on his head and the collar of his coat higher.

He was returning by horse-cart from a village called Prosova, in the eastern part of his range. He had left a little before sunset. No one would want to be out on such a cold night, and the Germans had long before learned not to venture at night into the countryside. The Ukrainian Insurgent Army lived deep in the forests and swamps, supported by willing donations of locals. And then there was the rival OUN-B, the nationalists led by Stepan Bandera, who had no mercy for soldiers, agents, spies and collaborators of either Nazi Germany or the USSR.

The snow beside the sleigh tracks was deep and the setting sun turned the clear, distant sky a vivid yellow in the west. When he looked back over his shoulder, he could see white stars against the deep purple-blue sky.

Maurice shivered under his thick fleece blankets and flicked the reins to urge the horse to go a little faster. He steered toward trees, keeping to the paths known to the locals. Still, Maurice knew that their security depended on adherence to the rules of secrecy and stealth. They worked in separate units, communicated only in the stefetka code and used only code names. Maurice did not even know the real name, nor the face of his superior officer, and he had never met most of the agents who reported to him.

Every move was fraught with multiple risks: risks of being observed by one of the enemies; of their intelligence being faked; of being killed by the Germans, the Communists or by mistake by partisans. Maurice shivered again.

Maurice’s heart began to pound when he saw a slim shape on a big, black horse coming straight toward him through the trees, along a path that crossed his. Maurice took his pistol from its holster and held it under the blanket, then chucked the reins to speed up his horse so that he would reach the path intersection before the rider.

Just as the last daylight faded, Maurice reined in so that his sleigh blocked the intersecting path. The rider stopped when he could actually see his face. It was a young boy, maybe thirteen or fourteen years old. “Good evening, sir,” he said in a shaky voice.

“You’re out late tonight,” Maurice said, and he knew he did not sound friendly. He was nervous, himself. Why was a young boy out after curfews? “Where are you going?”

“To see my uncle,” said the boy, trembling. Maurice became more curious. Why was this boy being evasive? Why was he so afraid? He must have been able to tell that Maurice was not a German officer.

“Where does your uncle live?”

The boy hesitated. “In … in Mykulynci.” The town was about five kilometres away, but still, why was a young boy traveling alone at night? Maurice started to get the feeling that the boy thought he was doing something heroic.

“You had better tell me what you’re doing,” Maurice said in a softer tone. Not friendly, but not unfriendly, either.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, tell me the real reason you’re travelling at night when there are strict curfews. It’s not safe.”

“I’m not afraid,” said the boy, looking around. But the only way forward was blocked by Maurice’s sleigh, and the snow was too deep for the horse to pass around it.

“Why are you going to Mykulynci?” Maurice asked again.

“I told you, to see my uncle.”

“What’s his name?”

“I don’t see why I should be telling you anything. I don’t even know who you are!”

“You don’t need to know who I am. But I know who you are,” Maurice lied. “And I know you’re much too young to be doing what you’re trying to do. Who are you going to see?”

“I’m not too young to love my country!”

“This is not a game.” Maurice leaned close to the boy, his voice a growl. “This is a war between grown-up men, and children who get involved always get killed.” Maurice decided to change tactics. “Listen, my friend, I know what you’re trying to do. But think how your mother would feel if you were hurt — or worse. And what if you fell into German hands?”

“I’m not afraid of the Germans! We rule the night!”

“‘We’? Who are ‘we’?”

map of Ternopyl Oblast

Ternopyl Oblast, Ukraine, today. Maurice’s territory was south of Ternopyl city.

The boy’s eyes widened and he looked around again. He realized he had made a serious mistake.

Maurice leaned close. “Which unit are you with?” he whispered. When the boy hesitated, he said “Come on, you can trust me. I’m a Ukrainian, not a German. I love my country, too.”

“Can I really trust you?”

“Oh, yes. I’m friendly to … our side.” Maurice wished he could say more, but the less the boy knew, the safer he would be.

The boy leaned closer and whispered “I’m bringing a message to Mr. Stefaniuk in Mykulynci. It’s from a man named … ‘Half-Moon.’”

“Half-Moon” was the code name of one of Maurice’s agents, one of the few he knew personally. Maxim Tanshysyn was a lazy old bureaucrat who was never on time, nor were his reports ever complete. Now he was sending children to do his work for him. “What sort of message?”

“I don’t know. I was told to put the message directly into the hands of Mr. Stefaniuk.” The boy pulled a slip of paper from a pocket, but held it close to his chest.

“I know Mr. Stefaniuk myself. I’ll get the message to him. I know all the people involved in this. I’m a friend of … our organization. Your duty is to look after your family and not to endanger any of your comrades. And someone your age, out here, is going to draw a lot of attention from the enemy. If you get caught, you’ll endanger everyone that you know. Is that what you want?”

Maurice could see that the boy was thinking about it, and that he was a lot more scared than he had been at first. He suddenly thrust the paper to Maurice. “I’m trusting you.” Without another word, he turned the horse around carefully and retreated down the path. In seconds, his shadow had melted into the forest.

Maurice opened the note. In the dim moonlight, he could barely make out rows of numbers. It was the stefetka code, all right. Half-Moon was going to get it. But now, he had to make another detour before returning home, to bring the message to Stefaniuk in Mykulinci.

About Under the Nazi Heel

For Ukrainians in 1942, the occupying Germans were not the only enemy.

Maurice Bury was drafted into the Red Army just in time to be thrown against the invading Germans in 1941. Captured and starved in a POW camp, he escaped and made his way home to western Ukraine, where the Nazi occupiers pursued a policy of starving the locals to make more “living space” for Germans.

To protect his family, Maurice joins the secret resistance. He soon finds the country faces multiple threats. Maurice and his men are up against Soviet spies, the Polish Home Army and enemies even closer to home.

Experience this seldom seen phase of World War 2 through the eyes of a man who fought and survived Under the Nazi Heel.

Find it on Amazon.

About the Author

Comments

  1. Looks like a lot of work. Historical novels are much more difficult as there is so much research involved. Good luck on the release.

  2. Definitely did your research. Interesting.

  3. Onisha Ellis says:

    I enjoyed reading about Maurice again. I look forward to the rest of the story.