Richard Lebherz - The Nazi Overcoat (Panther, 1967)
Blurb: Haufman is almost indifferent to the hell of the Normandy battle raging everywhere around him. He has a chill hell of his own from which no foxhole or bombproof shelter can give him surcease — a viley vivid, recurring dream of being herded, and finally cornered in a farmyard, by huntsmen who proceed to despatch him like a beast. As a drowning man might clutch at a straw, Haufman persists in wrapping himself in a German officer's great-coat under the delusion that he is thus no longer Haufman but some sort of essence of the former owner. But Death is not to be deluded. The farmyard awaits. The appointment is kept.
The Nazi Overcoat is a ferociously breath-stopping novel, pungent with the smoke and stench of battle and the sweat of man’s fear.
"It's such a beautiful world ... why didn't I ever make friends with it?"
July 1944. Private Ted Haufman is assigned to an army camp on the outskirts of Saint-Lô, Normandy. On approaching the farmhouse, much as he expected Haufman recognises it from his terrifying premonition. Wandering the fields he finds a discarded Nazi overcoat. Suspicious of the men, he locks himself in a shed and refuses to come out even under threat of Court Martial. Sergeant Larry Nelson takes pity on him. It is glaringly apparent Haufman is mentally disturbed but Nelson is concerned that a spell in an institution will ruin the man's prospects for life. He gains Haufman's grudging confidence and promises to help. The fly in the ointment is Sergeant Gordon, who resents Nelson as new army, a Varsity nancy boy, all paperwork, no hard won experience on the battlefield. Gordon, encouraged by his twisted sidekick, Private Baxter, reports Haufman's behaviour to HQ. Lieutenant Ames, suffering a chronic hangover, is sent to investigate. He has also been instructed to confiscate any German weapons the men may have scavenged from the combat zone.
"The moment Haufman opened his eyes he knew that this was the day. He was overwhelmed with a dreadful feeling of finality, as if his life had been settled and there was nothing left for him to do except act out its part to conclusion." At least he still has his talisman. As long as he keeps the coat about him he is calm, but all things move inexorably towards their end, and events conspire to rob him of even that tiny protection.
118 pages which fly by like 50.
From the first, I set myself against "literature"; the story was the thing, and no amount of style could persuade me to select a story that lacked genuine, unadulterated horror. For those who wanted something high-brow there was plenty.