©2003, 2009 Colin Charland, Chad Charland, and Claire Ashford
During one of our advancements in Normandy after the
great St. Lo breakout, we
unfortunately got ourselves surrounded by enemy forces – a couple of German infantry regiments, one I believe was the German 6th Airborne, a sizable force.
We fortunately were on a high point of ground with a great amount of trees and shrubs. We had pretty good cover against any attacker up a sharp incline. What was bad about it is we were susceptible to extensive mortar fire, which I was in mortal dread of and I wasn't the only one. Foxholes are not killing proof. One falls in your hole and "that's all she wrote."
How we got ourselves surrounded is a puzzle to me. Anyhow, that was the predicament and what we could do for our defense was try to break out of it. The bad thing was we were outnumbered ; at least three to one. We were told wonderful news. We heard from the Lieutenant that an airstrike was called for. That was welcomed news. Everybody's morale rose.
We waited with impatience and anxiety. I know I did anyway. As we dug in, firing broke out all over the hill. It was fierce. We also opened file but from my position, I could see no targets to shoot at. They were pretty well hidden, scattered along the low part of the hill in the heavy growth of tree clumps and brush and in the gullies.
Some of the platoons had 60 mm mortars who opened up on them. We had the advantage of height at least, where the mortar would be more effective. The fighting and firing continued until nightfall and it slowly tapered off to some degree. I have heard through the rumor factory that the Germans attempted to persuade us to surrender but it came to nothing, so we fought it out.
During the early morning darkness, we could hear some activity going on in the enemy lines. They opened up on us with scattered mortar fire, but no one got hit. We were lucky as hell with this so far. Our guys responded by sending a few mortar rounds down on them. It was a hell of a noise for about a half hour – a mortar duel – then it stopped abruptly. A few of our men were wounded, mostly the new replacements. How bad they were, I didn't know. They were mostly among the heavy weapons and the third platoon. Soon everything became suddenly and oppressively quiet. Again, something was up. We knew and could tell there was more activity.
Soon we heard them coming up the sides of the hill in front and to our left. Then we spotted some of the "feld grau" Germans advancing up toward us, running and halting behind bushes and spread out. At a signal we all opened up at them with everything we had – rifles, Browning Automatic Rifle, carbines, grenades and mortars. Well, they, fortunately for us, got the worst of it. They were met by a withering fire from us. My M-1 became so hot, the front hand stock started to burn and smoke. I poured water from my canteen onto the front of the rifle to cool it off. That's how fast I was firing off shots.
In the assault, I picked off three of them within a few feet of where I lay next to a large tree. I'm glad my rifle didn't misfire. It sometimes happened after brisk firing. The next thing I remember is that we stopped them cold and they retreated down the hill while we still fired on them to hurry them up on the way down. The Germans lost quite a lot of men in this assault.
Soon after, we heard the unmistakable sounds of planes approaching. It was our air support we had called for earlier. It couldn't have happened any sooner – fighter planes. I could see they were Typhoons and P-47s madder than hornets. They just peeled off and tore into those Germans with small bombs and machine guns. Then they'd pull up a ways and come hurtling back again. Everybody was yelling and cheering like hell with a few chosen words. "Give 'em holy hell flyboys" and "Wipe the dirty Kraut bastards away," which they just about did. After this strafing, the planes left, wagging their wings for us. No planes were lost and they did the job in great fashion and with enthusiasm.
God bless the Army and the Air Force. Between us and the Air Force, we just about destroyed the attacking troops. They had stopped way short of their objective to get at us at the top of the hill, and thanks to the aircraft, it was one hell of a fight; I thought sure we would be overrun and we'd all get captured or worse. But thanks to the fighter-bombers, they saved the day. Thank God, now we can get the hell off this damned hill.
We started down and saw all kinds of damage and dead Germans, torn-up terrain, small trees, bushes and whole stands of trees. A good part of the destruction was by the fighter planes and we accounted for a hell of a lot of Huns by our rifles, machine guns and the mortars. That Kraut outfit would need a hell of a lot of replacements. It was a bloody and costly experience for them. Our side did not come off too bad, mostly wounded of about thirty or forty casualties, not counting the killed. To show how close to the top of the hill they came in their advance, they left quite a few dead about five to seven feet from where we were entrenched. There were two Germans quite close to me that I had not seen. So much was going on. There was one about four feet away from me behind a couple of small trees and I saw him at the last minute. So you can see how intense and ferocious the fighting was. None of them succeeded in coming over on us. It reminded me of a U.S. Civil War encounter like Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg. Prisoners we captured said they feared the aircraft. Worst of all they were really mad that the Luftwaffe never made an appearance. We had the mastery of the skies. The Germans' General Rommel was attacked and severely wounded during the battle by a British Spitfire that strafed his vehicle, I believe, in July somewhere. He was fortunate he wasn't killed outright.
One interesting sidelight or comment – I passed through a town in Normandy by the name of Port D'Hebert. This place was where my mother's ancestors came from to settle in New France in North America in the 17th century in one of Champlain's exploration trips up the St. Laurence river to establish a trading post named Mount Royal, later named Montreal as it is now called. It was on the site of a Huron Indian village called "Hochelaga." Quite a few Frenchmen married Huron Indian women after being baptized Christians.
After marching on a way, we stopped to rest, eat our rations and set up defensive positions and outposts to watch for any German patrols and infiltrations. So far, everything was quiet except for the occasional firing of large field guns from the battleships off the beach areas. We had the great feeling of security as our aircraft flew back and forth over us, like a shuttle service, P-47s, P-38s, Spitfires, Beaufighters and Mustangs. I feel sorry for I the Hun planes wandering into this area, Luftwaffe "Kaput."
A story went around about the enemy. "They're either at your throat or at your feet," and "the only good German is a dead German." We all got a good laugh about the sayings.
Germany never learned to profit from its errors. In World War I, they got their lumps and in this war were getting their lumps again, even more so, and like one of our guys said, "Start another war and we'll give you some more lumps." A Kraut soldier asked what is a lump and he tapped him on the skull with his rifle. "That's what we call a lump," leaving the German rubbing his head. He got the message.