I have been neglecting my dad's WWII memoirs lately and it is about time to add a few more pages. The previous entry was Nov. 28, 2011 so here is another.
As the days went by I wondered how much longer we could survive. I often think the jerry must have known our position because they sure spent a lot of ammo around us. I also found out the Essex Scottish infantry were also in our area. This indicates how little we knew.
XIII. There was a small village,,Etterville, close by and quite a big area of trees and orchard leading from the village to where we were. Nearly every night a jerry sniper would get amongst the trees and give short bursts with what I assumed was a sub machine pistol. The infantry machine gunned the trees one night after dark. A few minutes later we would hearhim again. A day or so later some infantry men flushed him out . The first jerry I saw. He looked like about 15 or 16 years old, dressed in camouflage clothing.
XIV. We were on the outskirts of Etterville. Our crew never suffered any casualties at this location, however to me it seemed hard to believe as it was one position we endured some of the heaviest fire for days. Ten days in all at this location and we never had a chance to fire a shot. I don’t think there was a man there who could say he wasn’t mighty scared at times. I wondered how much longer we could possibly survive . On the sixteenth of July the air force made an early morning raid on Caen. It was reported to be a thousand bomber raid. We could see them quite clearly at 6 :00 am. B-17 bombers as far as I could see. I counted sixteen bombs dropped by each plane. The ground was vibrating steady. I can not remember how long it lasted. This was the prelude to an attack on Caen and across the Orne river which ran through Caen
XV. Prior to the air raid there was a very heavy artillery barrage laid down by our artillery and theBritish. Estimated to be between three and five thousand guns. I am not sure where this fire was directed but since then I assumed it must have been across the Orne where was a very heavy concentration of enemy armor and a number of small hamlets including If, . May sur Orne, etc.. After this, things quieted down some. We took advantage of the calm to look around at our immediate surroundings. There was a long barn close by. I remember looking inside and it was full of cattle and horses all dead and still tied up in their stalls. I presume they were killed by the shelling which took place before we arrived. The smell was pretty high. I should add at this time the weather remained quite dry and hot. I would guess around 80 degrees.
XVI. This pretty well covers our first ten days at the front. We still wore the same clothing that we wore when we took up this position. Results were we were a pretty dirty looking lot .Unshaven with dirt ground into our uniforms and skin but we were happy to be alive after what seemed certain anhilation. The order came to pack up our equipment and move to a rear area for clean up and refit anything that was lost or damaged. As we moved back in daylight we could see a lot of the results of the battle that must have taken place before we moved in. There were dead men who had laid there for something like two weeks. Their faces were black. Its something that makes you wonder will this be our fate . However, we finally arrived at the safety of rear area.
XVII. First off, a shower. It was a hurriedly set up system which was quite adequate. Tented in with steel pipes and valves. Hot and cold water. It was a sort of communal shower. Twenty or thirty men at a time and we were informed , “Make it fast, you get five minutes before the water is turned off so get the lead out”.
XVIII. Then a shave. Every thing is referred to as field shower, field kitchen, nothing fancy.
Our mess tins also were badly in need of a wash after a weeks accumulation of grime. They also had field latrines, a long trench had been dug, no comfortable seat, no flushing, just squat. Afterward it was filled in. I don’t know who had that job. I presume it was guys who couldn’t take it up front. Maybe some P.O.W.s. There was all kinds of work to be done after the battle moved on. Building roads, burying the dead, unloading equipment that was pouring in at the beachhead. Recovering knocked out equipment such as tanks, trucks, etc. And there were lots of them.
XIX. Getting back to our rest area, however, I remember much about that first meal. Supper I think. Everything seemed just fine until it started to rain. A real soaker. I don’t remember sleeping as there was no where to find a dry place to lay. The next afternoon we got ready to move up again as the tanks and infantry had battled through Caen and made it across the Orne on a Pontoon Bridge erected by the engineers battalion. It was not very wide at this place. It seemed to be still within the city of Caen and by the time we got there Jerry must have found out about it and their mortars were getting pretty close. I was glad when we got across and I imagine the rest of the crew were too. Our gun towers were thin skinned vehicles. Made you feel like a sitting duck. After getting across we waited around while our Sergeant and officer tried to go ahead and look for a suitable defensive position to deploy our four guns. While they were gone we hurriedly dug slit trenches which we soon learned were very essential if you were to survive. I might add at this time our Sergeant’s name was Jack Faibish and our troop officer was Jim Armstrong. Both very good men. Also our driver was Red Harrison. I do not remember the names of the rest of the crew. We kept getting new ones for one reason or another. I remained as the number 3 gunner all through. My job was to do the firing.
XX. Just before dark we were informed , “get ready to move”. I believe it was on this reconnaissance that our officer and colonel were both wounded by machine gun fire trying to get the first gun in position, which was a wheat field. It was quite wide open spaces, no trees. That gun was soon taken out by Jerry. One 88 through the shield . John Mucha was killed by machine gun. Walt Owens wounded. So it was decided to take our gun after dark pulled in by a Bren carrier and set it beside the knocked out gun in the wheat field. The carrier would give protection against small arms fire . There was only one hitch. There was not enough room for us all and ammo to get inside. So as we traveled slow in the dark, Fabish and myself decided to walk or run behind very close. The last couple of hundred yards was down hill on a sunken road and somewhere ahead there was a Jerry with a machine gun. I guess he could hear us. I’m sure he couldn’t see. It was pretty dark, however I remember seeing some tracers coming by. I stuck pretty close to the carrier as did Jack. I was hoping Jack knew where we were headed. We left the road and drove into the wheat field and unhitched the gun and set in firing position along side the knocked out 17 pounder gun and hoped for the best. We then exited about a hundred yards back across the road to some kind of a depression that looked like a pit of some kind. About six feet deep with fairly straight walls on three sides.
XXI. So the first thing to do was dig trenches. It was the toughest digging I had ever done. It required a pick as there seemed to be more rock than anything. Luckily at this time we didn’t come under any fire, so we worked away furiously as we knew if the mortars started coming our way our only hope was to be below ground level. So we sweated away until we felt we were safely dug in and only a direct hit would be fatal.
There was an infantry man working away and having a terrible time to dig. He was almost in tears at the difficulty of trying to make his trench. Sometime before daylight our gun tower arrived. I can not remember the details as to wether Fabish went back for it but rather suspect he did as we needed some of the stuff that was packed in it. Such as small arms ammunition, grub, water, blankets, etc. They parked it in the pit along side our diggings. I don’t think I slept that night . When it got light enough to see we peered the edge of the pit directly to our front. It looked like a small village about two or three hundred yards distant .
While we were watching about a half dozen Germans appeared man-handling what looked like an anti tank gun , probably a 75. Faibish grabbed up the Bren and started firing. I don’t know if he hit any of them but they dropped what they were doing and disappeared very quickly. I don’t know if they managed to retrieve their gun or not. That burst of the Bren drew a lot of mortars so we didn’t do much looking over the rim of our pit. They were dropping mortars pretty close. One hit a box or rations, mostly canned food, so there wasn’t much left in that box. It wasn’t a direct hit but everything was full of holes.