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Friday, July 25, 2014

July 1944 -70 Years Ago

It just occured to me while watching "Monuments Men" last night , that 70 years ago right about now, late July, my dad was working his way across Normandy as part of the allied advance. He was with the 18th anti tank battery. Luckily he wrote down some of his experiences from that time and can tell the story better in his own words than I can. Here is the latest segment of "Les Goff's WWII memories".

 We stuck pretty close to our diggings for a while. Then
an infantry man claimed there was a tank out front and
behind a stone wall. They wanted us to give it a blast so
Faibish and I made a hundred yard dash back to the gun.
Jack pointed out where they thought it was so I took a
very quick aim and fired. I saw a cloud of dust where I
hit the wall. Then I heard some one holler somewhere in
front of the gun. Apparently there was one of the
infantry men dug in not too far in front of our gun. Gave
him quite a shock. Jack and I again raced back to our
trench expecting an 88 to blast our gun out at it was out
in the wheat field standing out like a sore thumb. Not a
shot was fired at us. Whether there was a tank behind that
wall we never knew.
          XXIII.    We were in that position for a couple of days. This date
          must have been around the 16th to the 18th of July in the
          area of Andre Sur Orne. After two days of sitting at this
          point expecting a German tank attack they decided to
          move us to another position where things were more
          interesting. At least a lot more shelling. However we got
          stalled en route being daylight. It was decided to wait
          until dark as the road ahead of us was being constantly
          shelled. So we laid low for a while. I can not remember
          what was towing our gun as our own tower had been put
          out of action by mortar fire back at the gravel pit. When
          there came a lull we proceeded. There had been a rain so
          we were staying on the road. It was one hell of a trip. It
          was not far from our previous position. After flopping in
          the ditches a  few times I was soaked and plastered with
          mud. By this time it was just about dark. Another wheat
          field. We set up our gun, found a couple of small
          trenches. Faibish took one end, and I took the other.
          There was a blanket laying in mine and a German
          automatic machine pistol which I took. Quite a prize. I
          guess I must have been more tired than I realized for I
          laid there not caring much about anything and fell
          asleep.
          XXIV.     When I awoke it was broad daylight. Jack Faibish had
          also done the same as I and was also getting up. This is
          when I found the rest of our gun crew about a hundred
          yards away in a German bunker. Quite a good one
          compared to what we used to hurriedly dig. Things
          seemed a little more quiet at this time and at this place.
          Luckily we had some rations so got something to eat.
          Off to the south west we saw a great column of smoke a
          half to a mile away. It was our gun tower which had
          been left at the gravel pit owing to its disability. A
          mortar had made a direct hit on it. It burned with most
          of our kit stashed on it’s top along with 5 thousand
          rounds of 303 ammunition, hand grenades and some 17
          pounder ammunition. We did not stay at this place for
          long, moving again to another hotter spot where there
          were definitely German tanks. I near saw any but they
          sure seemed to be able to see us. It was here or
          somewhere nearby that we lost some of our men. The
          shelling was devastating. Mortars and 88s. We dug in
          and kept our heads mostly down. We did not lose any of
          our gun crew but two or more crews had members
          killed.
     XXV. Red Walkly, Sintaluta, Ken Harkness, Indian head.
     Chick Fox of Indian Head . John Mucha of Indian Head.
     Lloyd Baller, Grenfell .Wounded, Sergeant Walt Owens,
     Colonel H. Murray, Lieutenant Jim Armstrong. Some of
     the men were hit while in their trenches. It was not
     uncommon to have mortars dropped into slit trenches
     and of course a mound of dirt from digging a trench was
     an invite for 88s, mortars, etc. I don’t think any man
     could say he was not damn scared at times. Everyone
     could relate to how close he came to being blasted. It
     was also at this time and area that Sergeant Ab Davies
     gun crew accounted for three tanks. Panthers I believe.
     They were spotted crossing their field of fire , range I'm
     not sure of. However, with Gordon Skinner of Indian
     Head doing the firing starting with the rear tank, he took
     all three out with a single shot for each tank. I thought it
     was good strategy on the part of Sergeant Davies taking
     on the rear ones first. They appeared to be completely
     unaware of Davies gun. I personally never saw a live
     German tank all through France. Of course they had the
     advantage mostly as our troops wee the attacking forces
     so they were usually waiting for us from well
     camouflaged positions. As soon as our infantry , tanks,
     etc. put on an offensive they came under devastating
     fire. As soon as they were successful in getting their
     objective we were to rush up our anti-tank guns for
     support in the event of a counter attack which was often
     mounted if the Germans had the resources. The only
     catch here was our gun towers being a thin skinned
     vehicle was useless against any kind of fire. So just hope
     the Germans didn't counter attack before dark as that
     was the only chance we had of getting up to an effective
     position hopefully. It was not always that simple. In
     theory our officers were supposed to look the situation
     over along with Sergeant in charge of a gun and crew.
     Then decide where a gun could be located for effective
     fire power and at the same time reasonable cover for gun
     and crew. This was quite easy to do on manoeuvres but in
     practice under very intense fire sometimes made it
     almost impossible. This is how we lost some of our
     officers and NCOs. I saw at one place near May Sur
     Orne four gun towers of 20th battery all burned out in
     their effort to move up by daylight.
          XXVI.     We did most of our moving after dark. When we got the
          order that a move was imminent we all became very
          keyed up knowing it meant exposing ourselves driving
          after dark or near dark, no lights, cooped up in a tin can ,
          five to six men who could be put out of action with a 22.
          As things became a little quieter at St. Andre Sur Orne,
          there was another area close by being heavily contested
          called Verrieres Ridge. It was a hot spot. Being on
          higher ground, the Germans had an advantage. British
          7th armoured along with Canadian tanks and 2nd division
          infantry assaulted it with some success and heavy losses.
          It seemed to me I saw more burned out Shermans than
          mobile ones.

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