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Times of War: Tobruk, Episode 5

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Bloody Sand Part II

The smell of a fire was drifting across from the clearing. Klaus could see the light and hear cheerful voices. He had sat down under the large alder in the afternoon to escape the hot summer sun and must have fallen asleep. The crackling of the fire was loud even at this distance. As he got up to go and join the festivities a sharp pain shot through his scalp. Sinking back to the ground, he reached up to his head and felt something warm and wet. He looked at his hand, which was bright red. He struggled back to his feet, dazed and confused, when something hit his head, throwing him back to the ground. Suddenly afraid he scrambled back up and started running. The crackling of the fire had become louder and boded of doom. The ground felt treacherous and unsure. Looking down he found that the ground was no longer covered in leaves, but in sand. He heard voices shouting his name, but could make out little else and did not know who was calling him. A sudden pain made him feel like a glowing piece of metal had been pressed into the side of his shoulder. He kept running.

He ran for what felt like an eternity when he stumbled over something. As he fell once more, the ground shifted beneath him, opening up into a ravine. He plunged down into a dark, icy cold river. He tried to struggle to the surface, but darkness took him again and he lost consciousness.

When Klaus came to, the heat of the day had turned into a cold that was almost unbearable. He opened his eyes to find himself in the desert, illuminated by nothing but the crescent moon and the stars, which were brighter than any he had ever seen. His head was throbbing with a sharp pain and there was dried blood along the side of his face and uniform. He was sprawled in front of a rock with his face only a few centimetres from another one with sharp, jutting edges. He’d been lucky. He could see nothing recognisable in the distance. He had no idea where he was. His tracks had been blown away by the wind. Assuming he had been running in a straight line in his dazed condition, he could use the way he had been lying in front of this rock to roughly tell which direction he had come from. It was the only thing he had to go on. Waiting for the morning to try and navigate using the sun seemed like a bad idea. He was thirsty, exhausted and his head felt like it had been hit with hammers. Judging by how weak he felt he must have lost quite a lot of blood.

He reached for his canteen. It was still three quarters full. He took small slow sips and felt some life coming back into his parched throat.

A quick inspection of his body revealed that a bullet had grazed his right shoulder. It hurt, but he hadn’t lost the function of his arm. The wound was however covered in sand and dirt and would probably turn ugly unless he did something soon. A nasty laceration in his scalp accounted for the blood on his face. This wound would also need treatment soon. He had heard what happened to people who went into septic shock and had no intention of dying that way. His helmet had a piece torn out of it. An inch lower and he would not have any of the problems he was having now. The cork had seemingly done nothing to stop the bullet. He would have probably been better off if he had not even worn the helmet.

The cold was seeping through his body. He would have to do something to stay warm and in his situation the most sensible thing seemed to be walking. He reached into his pack and retrieved a small piece of chocolate he had been saving. It was deformed, but it would certainly give him a little more strength and he needed all the strength he could muster if he was to make it back to the camp. There was of course a chance that he would be considered a deserter for running from the fight, but the Desert Fox was widely respected by his soldiers and Klaus hoped that the fact that he was heavily concussed might be considered an exigent circumstance.

He got to his feet and had to fight off a wave of nausea. He pulled his jacket closer around him and started walking. The bright light of the moon in the clear night allowed him to avoid the rocks and he trod carefully. If he fell again, he might not be able to get back up.

All he had to do was reach a road, at least in theory. He knew he had been east of Sirte. If he got back to the road he should be able to follow it back to the town and safety, but if he took too long he would run out of water and die of thirst. That was of course only if his wounds did not get infected and take him out first. A sense of urgency came over him and he had to force himself not to walk too quickly. If he exhausted himself he would also be doomed.

All in all he did not like his chances, but he was determined to survive. He wasn’t done with this place. He would get back, he would go on and once the damned war was over, he would finally get away from this bloody sand!

The sun was starting to come up when he finally reached the road. His legs were weak, his head felt like it was in a vice, but at least walking had kept his body from freezing.

He found a large rock, not too far from the road, and sat down behind it to take a rest. A drink from his canteen revealed the next problem. He still had water left, but now that the sun was coming up he would need to drink a lot more to stay hydrated. He was sure he had not approached the road directly from the south. There were two possibilities: either he had strayed to the east, in which case he would probably not have enough strength to make it back to the camp, or he had strayed further to the west, which would certainly increase his chances of getting back.

The saving grace of the situation was that navigation would be easy from this point. He knew he had come from the south, since the coast was visible and to the north. That meant he would simply have to keep the ocean on his right side in order to get back to Sirte.

If he was lucky a patrol would find him. If he was unlucky, the ambush was only part of a larger assault and he would be walking into enemy hands, but that was unlikely. He had heard nothing of a force large enough to manage such a feat. But he also hadn’t been told to expect enemies as close to Sirte as the ones who put him in this situation.

There was only one thing for it. He would walk and trust in his luck. He had come this far. It would be a strange fate that let him fail this close to reaching his salvation.

Walking on the road was a lot easier than struggling through the sand. He could feel his progress quicken even though fatigue was seeping deeper into him. The pain in his head and arm was almost unbearable, but he was resolved to reach safety and struggled on.

It was only about an hour later when he could see dust being kicked up in front of him. A group of vehicles was approaching. He wanted to get off the road and into cover so he could see what it was before he was seen, but when he tried, he found his legs would no longer obey him.

He decided that no matter who it was that was coming, they would find him still on his feet. That much strength he could muster.

Minutes later the convoy came into view. The car in the lead slowed and stopped. German soldiers jumped out and raised their weapons. The officer in the front of the car approached Klaus suspiciously.

“Who are you?”

“Schmitt, 5th light division, scouts”, Klaus managed to croak in response, “We were ambushed on patrol.”

“Get him on the truck! Let’s get you back to base, soldier! We’ll talk later!”

As they helped him climb up the back of the truck, Klaus couldn’t help but feel like some of the looks the other soldiers gave him were rather hostile. He might be in trouble. But for now he was safe. He leaned back, drank the last of the water in his canteen, and closed his eyes.


Stay with us.
The next episode of Times of War is coming on Saturday, 28 February.

Arthur Wright's StoryBloody SandThe Boy's Tale
Part I Part I Part I
Part II Part II Part II
Part III  Part III Part III

 

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