The Soldier's Soldier

At 9:40 p.m. on Friday, October 23, 1942, the night sky on the Egyptian coast west of Alexandria was suddenly lit by three red flares, followed, a moment later, by the unearthly screech of 882 phosphorus-shell launchers and other heavy-artillery pieces coming to life.  The guns lined up virtually wheel to wheel, one every seven yards, 200 guns for every mile of land, providing a truly stupefying concentration of firepower.  “The peaceful stars were shaken in their heavens,” recalled 2nd Lt. Heinz Werner Schmidt, who had the misfortune to be serving in a German antitank battery directly in the path of the assault.  “The earth quaked . . . far back from the front line, men were jarred to their teeth.”  Overhead, British Wellington and Halifax bombers circled, unimpeded, silhouetted by a full moon, to lay further waste to the scene.  Adding to this nightmarish vista, a sudden desert wind scorched across the earth, whipping up dust and debris, bending trees and bushes.  To the terrified Heinz Schmidt, it seemed as though a vision of apocalyptic disaster had arrived out of the night.  The combined bedlam was enough to shake the windows of Cairo, some 90 miles to the southeast.  After five hours the barrage, known euphemistically as Operation Lightfoot, suddenly ceased, but resumed again at first light, now accompanied by the mournful wail of bagpipes,...

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