[Hello and welcome to this story! A little warning right at the beginning: This isn't 100% historically accurate. I took some liberties. For example, I know that there were no women in the German military (at least not in the way I describe them) but I added them anyway. Also my first language is German, not English, so I'm sorry for grammatical errors and wrong words. Now with that out of the way: Enjoy!]
Oberfeldwebel Weidner was the platoon leader of a trio of Panthers. Known he was for his pride, but it wasn't unfounded; also known he was for his successes on the battlefield, although many of those he didn't remember due to a severe head injury. Beside his pride there was something else he had plenty of: stubbornness. And the combination of pride and stubbornness it was that – like so often – had led to the Oberfeldwebel watching his sweat drip on the ground. His arms felt like they were ready to leave this dimension. Maybe it was a hundred push-ups that he had done. Maybe it was a thousand.
"What's with that dark look? You can be glad that your punishment is so mild," the Hauptmann Heinrich said, who was leaning on his tank not far away with crossed arms and a smug grin. He was watching Weidner and his crew. "Someone else would have thought of something more original for someone who doesn't know when to be quiet." Weidner ignored him and only focused on not collapsing. He would have to go on until his superior – who they maliciously called Scharführer often when he wasn't around, in reference to his failed dream career – got tired of the sight, which could take a while, depending on his mood. And it actually did take forever until Heinrich finally allowed them to get up.
Weidner didn't do him the favour to let himself fall to the ground from exhaustion like some of his comrades did. Instead he grabbed his jacket that was lying next to him and got up. He threw an intentionally dismissive look at Heinrich, who stopped grinning and returned the look, which required him to tilt his head back, because whenever he wasn't crawling around in the dirt before him, Weidner was much taller. For a moment the two men glared at each other silently, but then the rest of Weidner's crew started surrounding him and he realized that the only thing he could achieve were more push-ups if he didn't leave now.
He turned around and walked off intently, without saying goodbye. His crew followed him. As they marched through the camp, he felt their gazes resting on him. He didn't have to be able to read thoughts in order to know that they were the opposite of thankful for the fact that they had had to join his punishment. The gunner was the one who broke the telling silence.
"You should have just shut your mouth," he murmured, still catching his breath.
Instead of answering right away, Weidner rummaged through his pockets and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. He lit a cigarette and made the pack disappear again.
"I know that I'm right," he said grimly, blew his smoke into the cold autumn air. "I know what I saw."
"We believe you –" the loader started to say, but Weidner cut him off.
He looked over his shoulder, stared at the gunner.
"You saw it too!"
The gunner threw a cool look at him.
Before Weidner could start getting really upset, they reached the supply tent. The five men got something to drink. The cold water was heavenly after they had exerted themselves. Weidner's look met with that of a platoon mate. Oberfeldwebel Habich was also quenching his thirst, and a mischievous smile spread on his face as he spotted his sweaty platoon leader. He strode over to them.
"Na? Have you seen your tank already?" he asked, tried to keep the corners of his mouth in check. Weidner's aghast look told him that this wasn't the case. Weidner immediately suspected some sort of extra punishment from Heinrich.
"What? What about it?" he asked.
Habich took a relaxed sip from his water.
"Go and take a look," he then replied secretively.
"I'll kill him," Weidner growled and spun around to leave presently.
"Language!" Habich called after him.
Weidner's crew hurried after him.
"What's that? What's that supposed to be?!" Weidner asked. He stared at the Panther that was standing before him with disbelief. The mechanic that was standing next to it scratched the back of his head sheepishly.
"There was probably a mix-up …" he assumed. "Or there were no other spare parts left."
"Well, it doesn't look that bad …" the driver tried to soothe Weidner, who was on the fast lane to a tantrum.
On the three-coloured glacis of the tank, in big white letters, one could read "DEFEKT".
"We could paint over it," the mechanic suggested. "But we only have green paint left."
Weidner spun around to him.
"Oh?! Of course! Just paint a green blotch on the tank!" he hissed. The mechanic ducked and shrugged cluelessly.
For once Heinrich wasn't the one to blame for the shenanigans, but that only caused Weidner's wrath to hit everyone else. He grabbed another cigarette with erratic hands, stared at the Panther again, whose appearance unfortunately hadn't changed.
"You could have just put a patch on it," said the New Guy – the one who replaced the radioman who they had only been able to scrape off the inside of the tank's wall. "Why did you replace the whole front?"
The mechanic shook his head.
"Impossible. The hole was way too big."
There must have been a snide remark on his tongue but he was smart enough not to say it in order not to aggravate Weidner any more.
Weidner had already decided that the best was to just remove himself from the situation, and stomped off with no further words.
The crew stayed behind, except for the loader – Feist his name – who caught up with him halfway to the barracks.
"Don't be so upset …!" he tried to calm down his commander.
Weidner didn't stop.
"I'll be upset as much as I want!"
"I bet no one will notice …"
"Bullshit! We'll be the laughing stock of the whole company!"
"We're the laughing stock already …"
Feist noticed his mistake when Weidner suddenly stopped and he ran into him. He stumbled backward and Weidner spun around, glaring at him.
"They'll see what it gets them."
As his comrade didn't answer immediately, Weidner turned around again and walked on. Feist followed him again and spoke up nevertheless.
"Maybe it would really be better if you just don't talk about it anymore and forget about the whole thing. You're making everyone go crazy."
Weidner reached the barracks and stubbed out his cigarette before he entered. As both men were inside the tent, he replied.
"I won't let the Scharführer shut me up like that," he said defiantly, his voice quieter than before. A couple of other soldiers were inside the tent too, talking to each other in hushed tones. Weidner made his way to his bunk bed, let himself fall onto it. He lied down on his back and crossed his arms behind his back. His gaze followed Feist, who took a seat on his own bed.
"That's not it," Feist said, still trying to be diplomatic.
"Then what is it?" Weidner snapped.
"Even if it's top secret prototypes," Feist said, signing quotes with his fingers, much to Weidner's annoyance. "What does that change? Whether it's an IS-2 that's shooting a hole in our tank or something else doesn't really matter." He shrugged.
"Is everyone really that dense or are you just pretending to be?" he asked. He was about to say more, but Feist sighed so theatrically that he fell silent. He averted his gaze, stared at the tent's roof instead. Feist quickly understood what was expected of him now and he got up, turned to leave.
They said there were few things that fulfilled Stabsfeldwebel Jankovic more than being on the frontline and fighting in his tank. Many even said that there was nothing at all that he enjoyed more. Like so often in life, the truth lied somewhere in between. It was for certain however, that he was suffering a lot at the moment. And his injuries only contributed a very small part to this.
"If you try to get up one more time, I'll tell the nurse to tie you to the bed," one of the two men that were sitting next to the sick-bed said. The driver and the gunner had come to keep their wounded commander company. Said commander appreciated this, however he had hoped that they would come to pick him up.
"I can stand up," Jankovic replied sullenly. "What use am I to anyone if I lie here and stare into space?"
"You're also no use to anyone if you overexert yourself now. The more you do that, the longer it will take until you're fit again," the gunner said.
Jankovic wanted to argue on, but the driver cut him short.
"It's always the same with you," he sighed.
That made Jankovic smile sheepishly. It was always moving how much his crew worried about him. But he really felt much better already, and to be stuck here with nothing to do but wait took its toll on him. Of course his comrades were having none of that.
"Just do what the doctor told you" the driver went on. "The war's not going anywhere. You won't miss anything."
Jankovic grimaced again, but stopped protesting.
"Fine, fine," he mumbled with a dismissive gesture.