The men of the 2nd Rangers Battalion were part of the spearhead that pushed into the beaches at Normandy during the D-Day invasions on June 6, 1944. Captain John H. Miller and his men fought savagely and secured the beachhead before taking control of the German defenses that sprawled across the limestone cliffs above. However, when the three brothers of Private James Francis Ryan turn up killed in action, orders directly from the top are issued to Miller and his men to probe through the massive Allied army and find Ryan to bring him home.
Arriving first in the village of Neuville, Miller's Squad find the wrong James Ryan and suffer casualties from a German sniper. Continuing on, Miller's Squad discover Ryan's regiment but not him, and the commanding officer reveals that Ryan and his men had been tasked with defending a strategically important bridge in the town of Ramelle.
The squad heads out, and with the misgivings of his team, Miller orders his squad to assault a German machine gun nest, and their medic is killed in combat. After this disasterous attack, loyalty temporarily splinters as Private Reiben reveals his intentions to desert. Despite a heated argument with Sergeant Horvath, Miller manages to diffuse the situation via revealing his background, which had been knowledge to no one prior to this revelation.
Miller's Squad finally arrives in Ramelle, where they meet Ryan and his small squad. Ryan is determined to see through this mission, remarking that he intends to stay with the only brothers he has left. Miller's Squad joins together with Ryan's, and the group manages to hold off against several waves of German soldiers. Despite their best efforts, all of Miller's and Ryan's squads are killed with the exception of Private Reiben, T/5 Upham, and Private Ryan. Before dying, Miller tells Ryan to go home and earn the loss of his men. Several years later, Ryan- now an old man- visits the graves of his brief comrades-in-arms and salutes his fallen brothers.
Battle vs. Roebuck's Squad (by El Alamein)
Drip. Drip. Drip.
The first silver slivers of stringy raindrops streaming down the cracked glass of the old windows of the now-abandoned French cottage filtered the dying afternoon sun gray. The group of soldiers sat around the table in the small kitchen, hunched forward, forearms resting on legs, as they talked quietly and tried to manage down their C-Rations. The food was not warm, but still managed to stave off some weaker remnants of the near-permanent hunger that sets in for front-line troops during war. Captain John H. Miller stood up suddenly, his eyes far away, and slowly walked over to the window, placing his open palm against the glass and staring outside. He was tired - a fatigue that went beyond physical discomfort. He was tired of the war - of that constant strain on the nerves and the mind that makes each waking moment a struggle for sanity and survival. He was tired of bearing the burden of the lives of his men - not to say that he did not take that burden seriously or that he didn't care for the lives of his squad. Captain Miller was simply worn out and stretched to his wits' end.
Almost inaudibly, quiet enough that the still-nascent rainfall drowned out the sound, Captain Miller let his wife's name play across his lips. He felt a shiver of warmth course through his spine and caress his body like one of her hugs that he wasn't quite sure he still remembered. He felt ready to smile and ready to cry at the same time, but did neither.
Turning, Miller let his raised and extended hand fall away from the window. His handprint lingered on the glass a moment longer, before it was swallowed up by raindrops trickling through a small but noticeable leak in the pane. They splashed to the old wooden floor below and puddled in the corner.
"Private Reiben?" Miller's response was formal but friendly, as he let a knowing smile spread across his weary face. He knew the New Yorker well enough to anticipate some wisecrack or other smart-ass remark.
"Well... y'see, sir, this is just my thinking," Reiben began, a grin playing across his face in spite of himself. Noticing this, the rest of the squad loosened up, raising their heads and stifling smiles, biting their lips as they waited for Reiben to pose his query. "It's cold, it's raining, the goddamned roof is leaking. I'm not sure if we're at war with the Jerries or with the weather, here, sir."
"Go on," Miller said with mock patience, giving a slow, deliberate nod of his head as he played along.
"Well, sir, Captain Miller sir, I was just wondering... maybe if the war's against the weather after all, maybe we would have to hold our position here and show the rain that it can't just drive us out of our shelter as it pleases," Reiben continued. Mellish snorted next to him. Reiben smacked him with an offhanded flick of his wrist. "Mission for Ryan be damned, sir. I think we've found our new one."
Captain Miller let the smile take over his face. "I wouldn't go so far as to say 'mission for Ryan be damned,' now, Reiben," he replied dryly. "After all, those orders come directly from the top. But I think you do have a point - we can't just let the weather win this skirmish, can we?"
"I don't think I could rightfully say that, myself, Captain Miller, sir," chimed in Jackson with his thick Tennessee drawl.
"All right, all right. Hold position for the night, men," Captain Miller said. "We'll move out again in the morning."
The rain thrashed wildly against the small cottage all throughout the night, while the ferocious winds that accompanied the torrential downpour howled their might against the windows and throttled the lone poplar that stood brave against the onslaught. Flashes of light periodically punctured the darkness - lightning strikes jagged and sharp, artillery strikes dull and booming. By morning the storm had subsided and only the damp chill of the cold air was left as a reminder of the turbulent display of the night before.
At the bottom of the hill upon which the cottage sat, low and unassuming, trooped along five American soldiers with one German prisoner. Sergeant Tom Sullivan kept the barrel of his trench gun pressed firmly into the small of the German's back, prodding harder every so often and scowling the whole while. Privates Miller and Polonsky headed the patrol up front, while Corporal Roebuck shouldered his BAR for better comfort and let his thoughts wander.
No matter how hard we work - the orders keep coming in. They're almost as relentless as the increasingly desperate enemies we encounter on our drive away from the coast. With each inch of land we manage to take from them, they dig one inch deeper into the ground they still hold. The guile of the Germans is unlike anything I've seen. It's worlds apart from the half-starved, rag-swaddled filthy Japanese soldiers we're used to fighting. Without guys like Miller and without the leadership of Sergeant Sullivan, I'm not sure how we'd have made it this far. But no amount of rain and no amount of blood and lives lost will turn us back now. Not now. We're in the home stretch.
"Why the hell don't we just off this bastard, anyway?" complained Polonsky at the front of the group. "Just getting to him was more trouble than it was worth. And anyway, we lost - "
"That's enough," Roebuck snapped, giving a sideways glance at Sullivan, who maintained his impassive glare. "You know perfectly well that we need this commander for questioning."
"Then why are we going closer to the front lines?" demanded Polonsky, gesturing wildly at the open country before them. "The Americans are back behind us!"
"There are mobile HQ sites scattered all along this damn front," Roebuck said, grinning at the hysterical private. "Just because we have a mission doesn't mean we have to stop fighting the war." Polonsky sighed, frustrated, but held his tongue. "Why can't you be more like Miller?" Roebuck asked, teasing. "He never says much and always does what he's told."
Sullivan spoke up from the back. "Hold up, Corporal," he said. "Polonsky does have a point. I think we might be a bit off course." The men halted, Sullivan handing the prisoner over to Miller, who planted the barrel of his Browning machine gun right into the German's chest. The prisoner froze in place, his eyes darting wildly back to Sullivan. Pointing up to the cottage at the top of the hill, Sullivan muttered, "We'll take residence up there and I can get a better look at the maps then. No point in moving along when we have no real idea where the enemy is and where our own guys are."
Back in the cottage, Captain Miller's men were eating breakfast and enjoying a rare moment of quiet and peace. Private Jackson was sitting next to an opened window, taking watch through the detached scope of his sniper rifle. He spotted Roebuck's squad almost instantly. "Captain Miller!" he called. "We've got five foot mobiles approaching our position. Americans. Looks like they've got a Kraut with 'em, too." Captain Miller stood up and walked lazily over to the door. "Well, let's go meet 'em, then, private."
Just as Sullivan had reached the front of the cottage and was about to force the door open, Captain Miller swung it open, startling him. "Woah, woah there, buddy," the captain said calmly, lowering the barrel of the trench gun pointed at him. "We're all friends here, sergeant. What can we help you with?"
Sullivan glared distrustfully past Captain Miller and into the cottage, where the rest of the men of the 2nd Rangers Battalion had gathered behind their captain curiously. "We need this building to check up on our location," he growled.
"We'd be happy to share, now, wouldn't we, boys?" Captain Miller looked back at his men right as Sergeant Sullivan attempted to push past him into the building. Captain Miller held firm. "Hold on, now, sergeant," he said, annoyed, putting extra emphasis on the rank. "Who's this German you've got with you here?"
"You sure like to ask a lot of questions," Polonsky piped up from behind Sullivan.
"Hey! You watch your tongue, you piece of shit!" Sergeant Horvath shouted angrily. "That's your captain you're talking to! Show some respect!"
"Horvath," Captain Miller said firmly. "Look, sergeant, we'll be out of your way in just a moment. We were just taking shelter from that storm last night is all, and we're already on a --" He was cut off mid-sentence as again the sergeant attempted to push past him. Sergeant Horvath, filled with rage, pulled out his Colt M1911 and emptied the magazine into Sergeant Sullivan, also hitting and killing the German prisoner in the process. The sergeant dropped his shotgun and fell at the now-acting-Sergeant Roebuck's feet. The men of Captain Miller's squad scattered instantly, all semblance of cooperation gone, as Roebuck's squad stood stunned for the briefest of moments.
Pouring out the back door of the cottage, Captain Miller barking orders to spread out near a church at the bocage that lay at the base of the hill, the Rangers sped down the hill as bullets from Roebuck's squad chased them. Forming a makeshift line at the top of the hill, with Polonsky taking cover behind the house, the Marines continued to shoot at their foes. Private Miller bent down and set up his deployable Browning machine gun, sending rounds flying as Captain Miller's men scrambled for cover. Jackson managed to duck behind a small cluster of trees unnoticed, but as Reiben was running a hail of bullets stitched him from his hip up across his chest, dropping him.
"Rooker! Radio in for backup! Report these fuckers!" screamed Roebuck in rage as he emptied his BAR, fumbling to fit in a new magazine.
Captain Miller's men had reached the cover of the church and poured inside the old structure. "We need to extricate ourselves from this situation ASAP!" shouted the captain. "Where's Reiben and Jackson?"
"Reiben's dead, sir," said Mellish. "I'm not sure where Jackson went."
"Mellish, set up the Browning and return fire. Horvath, get up in the tower and use your Bazooka. I'll draw their fire around the corner of the building."
Scrambling up the steps of the church tower, Horvath popped up and frantically emptied his M1 clip in the general direction of Roebuck's men. Ducking back down for cover, he loaded in a fresh magazine before he took his bazooka off its straps on his back and loaded the weapon. Just as Captain Miller turned the corner of the church outside, ducking back barely in time to avoid Private Miller's barking Browning, Mellish's machine gun came to life, sending tracer rounds chewing their way back up the hill.
"Miller!" yelled Roebuck as he stumbled back in the doorway to avoid Mellish's shots. "Get down to those trees and flank 'em! Polonsky, on me!"
Down in the trees, Jackson had climbed up tangled in the midst of the branches of an apple tree toward the front of the small grove, granting him decent visibility on the enemy squad. He had spotted Roebuck and Polonsky retreating into the cover of the house and saw Private Miller packing up his Browning to move, but turned his attention to Private Rooker, who was trying in vain to get his voice heard on the radio over the defeaning sound of close-proximity gunfire. As he centered the scope on the radioman's chest, the words of Psalm 25 came from his mouth: "Blessed be the Lord, my strength, which teacheth my hands to war, and my fingers to fight." He pulled the trigger hard, the recoil bouncing into his shoulder, and he reached awkwardly over with his left hand to pull back the bolt on the rifle and chamber the new round in place. When he looked back through the scope, he found his aim had been true.
"Rooker's down!" shouted Polonsky as he leaned out the doorway, partly as a warning to Private Miller who was charging down the hill, partly out of shock and fear from the sudden death of his squadmate. Roebuck grabbed the back of Polonsky's collar and yanked him back in the cottage right before a snap was heard and the crack of a bullet slamming into the wooden frame where Polonsky's head had been moments before. "Watch yourself, kid!" Roebuck said. "Go out the front of the house and try to get a position on the side - get that damned MG out of commission!"
In the top of the church's bell tower at the base of the hill, Sergeant Horvath stood up straight with his M1 Bazooka loaded and ready to fire. Closing one eye, he scanned the horizon for the enemy figures who had retreated into the cottage. Looking to the left some, he spotted Private Miller sprinting toward Jackson's position with his M1919 held at his waist, packed up. Horvath fired the bazooka, flinching as the heat from the rocket burned hot on its way to its target. Private Miller veered sharply to the right before dropping the machine gun and rolling forward down the hill, avoiding the brunt of the blast - though the Browning machine gun was reduced to a twisted heap of scrap metal.
Private Miller reached down at his hip and pulled forward the hose of his M2 flamethrower, letting loose a short burst of the flame as he approached the grove. The fire rapidly attracted Jackson's attention, who lowered his Springfield rifle and instinctively drew his Colt pistol, firing off a shot that struck Private Miller in the upper leg. Doubling over in pain, Private Miller fired a blast of flame at the tops of the trees above Jackson, blinding the sniper with the intensity of the stream and temporarily snatching his breath. Coughing, Jackson scrambled backward furiously on his hands and feet, shooting his pistol wildly. The telltale click of the empty magazine was the last sound he heard before Miller's hellish inferno finally consumed its target, eating up the sniper's body and drowning out his shrieks of agony with the furious crackling whoosh of the combustible material. Private Miller stumbled back, lowering the hose, and clamped a hand firmly over his leg, trying to stem the bleeding.
"Captain Miller, sir! Jackson's down!" shouted Horvath from the top of the tower right as he had finished loading another rocket into the bazooka.
"Mellish, take your M1 and get up that hill!" Captain Miller yelled, leaning out from the side of the church. "I'll cover you! Go! Go!"
Captain Miller stepped out into the open and rattled off a burst of fire from his Thompson, aimed at the top of the hill. Mellish stood up and ran, head tucked in and arms flailing furiously as he went forward, moving up toward the cottage. Horvath fired off a rocket toward the building. The warhead shattered a window and burst apart inside, sending a small but concentrated explosion that blew out the glass on the rest of the windows inside. "If someone was in there, Captain," said Horvath, "they're not there any more."
Roebuck was thrown to the floor from the force of the explosion, but fortunately for him, it had been on the opposite side of the cottage as him. Still, the loud noise left him temporarily deafened, his ears ringing and his head spinning as he pushed himself back to his feet. At that moment, the door flew open and Mellish walked in, pointing his rifle right at Roebuck's face. Raising his hands in surrender, Roebuck waited for the infantryman to approach him and stick the muzzle of the rifle in his face before he swung his arms down, grabbed the barrel of the M1, and pull himself to the side of the gun as Mellish fired it frantically in a panic. Bringing an elbow across the length of the weapon and into his opponent's face, Roebuck proceeded to wrench the firearm from Mellish's grasp and smash the butt of the rifle into his stomach, flooring him. Mellish had time to yell only once before Roebuck followed up with a series of vicious blows to the skull with the hard wooden stock of the rifle. Breathing heavily and staring in horror at the carnage he had inflicted, Roebuck dropped Mellish's weapon, picked up his BAR, and peeked his head back out the window.
At that moment, Private Polonsky appeared around the side of the cottage and fired his Garand at Horvath up in the church tower. The first shot went high, whining off the stone masonry surrounding the sergeant. Horvath ducked before he returned fire with his M1. With little cover but an excellent vantage point, Horvath gambled and struggled to make a proper aim while Polonsky nervously emptied his magazine in Horvath's direction. Polonsky turned the corner of the house and took a deep breath, steadying the shaking in his legs before he jammed in a new clip and swung back around to fire. It was too late - Horvath's aim was true and one single round smashed into Polonsky's upper chest, puncturing his lung and sending blood fountaining outward. The private dropped his weapon and fell to a knee before he tumbled forward, collapsing in a heap against the wall of the house.
Captain Miller had started to move forward under Horvath's covering fire, and had by this point reached the cottage wall, pressing himself flat against the building as he edged closer to one of the shattered windows. He couldn't hear anybody inside the house, but he had seen Mellish enter and wasn't sure whether or not his soldier had survived the encounter. Glancing down the hill, he noticed Private Miller sprinting inside the church and disappearing into the doorway within. "Mike!" Captain Miller shouted. "Mike! Watch your -"
With a grunt, Sergeant Roebuck jumped forward through the window and tackled Captain Miller to the ground, his machete drawn and ready to swing downward into his opponent's chest. Captain Miller reached up and caught Roebuck's wrist, holding the blade up high and struggling to keep Roebuck from bringing the blade down. At the same time, he reached his free hand across his chest to his sheath, where he tore out his KA-BAR moments before Roebuck pinned his hand down to the grass with his free hand. The two men wordlessly pushed, eyes narrowing and teeth gritting in exertion, as they desperately tried to overpower the other.
Private Miller had seen Sergeant Horvath at the top of the tower, and had his KA-BAR unsheathed, ready to get the drop on his unsuspecting foe as he clambered up the stairs. As Horvath kept his aim fast on the struggling squad leaders near the cottage, waiting for a chance to take a shot at Roebuck if given the opportunity, Private Miller moved forward, grabbed Horvath's shoulder, and spun him around, plunging the knife deep into his chest. Grunting in pain, Horvath reached out his hands and grabbed Private Miller by the collar, shaking him furiously before slamming him against the wall. As Private Miller tightened his grip on the handle of the knife now embedded into Horvath's body, the sergeant took a step back, still gripping his foe, before losing his balance and teetering over the edge of the railing at the top of the tower. Horvath lowered one hand and yanked out the pin on one of the grenades on his belt. Miller tried to step back and force his enemy to release him, but it was too late. Both men twisted through the air on their way to the ground - Sergeant Horvath landed on Private Miller, and the knife.
A massive explosion ripped through the air as Horvath's grenade blasted Private Miller's flamethrower. Roebuck looked for half a second at the blast. Captain Miller flinched before he bit down on Roebuck's hand, rolled up hard and knocked the machete out of his opponent's hand. Giving Roebuck no chance for a recovery, Miller swung his KA-BAR up and jammed it right into Roebuck's throat. The two men locked eyes, Roebuck's glare blazing with a fury that died with him. He gurgled blood before he went limp, sinking down into the grass. Captain Miller fell back, leaving the knife embedded in Roebuck's neck. His hands were soaked in dirt and blood - his eyes rolled wild like a man unhinged. A dry, choking sob burst from his chest as he crawled, uncomprehendingly, away from Roebuck's body and over to the empty doorway where, just a few short hours before, his men had relaxed and talked quietly as they enjoyed a moment of peace.
Miller pushed himself up against the wooden wall of the cottage and wept. The great, heaving sobs drained him of energy, leaving him only able to moan quietly, curled up and racked with pain. His squad was dead. It was the worst blue-on-blue incident he had heard of yet - and he was a participant. With the horrors of war now permanent residents of his mind and his soul wrenched into a formless, guilt-stricken puddle of pain, the Second World War had claimed another victim.
Most cruelly still, it had left this one alive.
Captain Miller's squad had the deciding advantages of teamwork and leadership, meaning they would work better together than Roebuck's squad would, and that Captain Miller would hold them together better than Sergeant Roebuck could ever hope to. While Private Miller was certainly a one-man army in his own right, and undeniably the single most deadly individual in the fight, the precision brought by Jackson's sniper and the greater operational flexibility of Mellish's and Reiben's loadouts complemented Miller's squad better. These factors all combined together to help take Captain Miller's squad to victory.
Battle vs. Rifle Brigade (by LB&SCR)