©2003, 2009 Colin Charland, Chad Charland, and Claire Ashford
A Typical Battle
DESCRIPTION OF ONE TYPICAL BATTLE. Our company advanced in extended order, Bill and I at the tail end, but in reach of each other. In front was a group of M4s (Shermans). I don't know which was the most disconcerting, the sniper fire from the front or the fire from the tanks in our rear. The tanks moved through and about 500 yards to our front came under fire from the damned 88 mm guns. I saw at least four of them blow up, followed by the machine gunning of the crews trying to escape. We spent a most uncomfortable time under fire from snipers who had tied themselves up in the poplar trees about. Some accurate retaliation fire left a lot hanging. After dark we were placed among some really thick hedgerows and told to dig in. As dawn was breaking, the sentry pointed out some men about 100 yards to our left to our right front. We came under mortar fire, shell and machine gun blasts and Kraut infantry advancing. Crouching in our shallow holes, we answered with rifle and B.A.R. fire and the infantry ran out of the field onto a hidden sunken road. They tried repeatedly to get at us but we drove them back.
A little later I heard a creaking tank. My heart sank and my nerves were frazzled. A Tiger stopped at a gap in the hedge about 150 yards away. The tank fired several shells into the bank behind our ditch, then moved on and engaged the section on our right. This was not my idea of a healthy situation. Bill crawled to where I was. He said to me, seriously, "Misery loves company." He got no reply. I could hear screams coming from that direction. The tank then moved away and after a while, we were attacked by the infantry. I fired my rifle and we got them back into the sunken road.
During this skirmish, our two company snipers killed a machine gunner and a man with a grenade thrower creeping along the ditch toward my company. In the sunken road, I spotted a large group of dead Krauts. The shelling began again. You could tell they were the infamous 88. It was like hell let loose. I had to take a leak. I went into the hedgerow and saw an infantryman who said, "Keep down, there's a sniper in the tree. Hold your water. I'll get 'em." He did. One shot and the sniper dropped like a rock. As I looked over the hedge, I saw around a hundred Heinies, some sitting, some lying, but all were stone dead. I asked the infantryman about them and he said, "We have to make good our losses" and he never batted an eye.
Once I was in a trench unit. A corporal whose name escapes me was there. I had just finished my first two hours guard near dawn and gave him a nudge. He was fast asleep and put his head just over the top. A sniper put a burst of fire right across his face and his nose and mouth shot all over me. I had bloody clothes on for a full week afterward until I could change. I saw where the tracer bullets came from and let go with my rifle. Nothing fell from the tree. It was checked out and a sniper had fastened himself to a branch so that he could use both hands. He was dead. Suddenly we were in a savage fight. We opened up with machine guns, B.A.R.s and rifles. I swung my rifle to the right. I was staring into the face of a blond SS bastard. He was on his belly, facing me. Our eyes locked. I squeezed the trigger. A split second after he raised himself on his elbows, the rifle slug caught him just below the throat. The impact lifted his body and he hung in the air for an instant. He was still staring straight in my face. A pool of blood was forming on the ground under his chest. He was dying. I think about him sometimes. The continued German defense of the area and suburbs over which every bridge had been blown meant that the through routes were still inaccessible. The town had lost a great portion of its civilian population, its men, women and children. Parts of decaying bodies could be seen protruding from the rubble and everywhere the air was foul with the stench of rotting flesh. Engineers were trying to make it at least passable to move through. Normandy was a place where everything was dead. Bodies all over the place and the stench of death. It was like living on the moon, all bomb craters. We lived in foxholes or slit trenches. We lived like moles and frightened rabbits. At certain times we had to stand up, stick our rifles and bayonets out in front and advance. The Germans would then rain shells and mortars and half the battalion would get killed and wounded, always reduced in numbers, and no way to get out of it. Makeshift graves were everywhere. The pioneer guys even started making white crosses ready for us. Before attacks, you could see the ambulances (meat wagons) lining up ready and my guts would turn over. I remember a corn field. Everyone would suddenly disappear when the shelling started. The orchards full of apples were death traps, always a target for mortars. Everyone admitted saying a prayer. Just press yourself more into the ground, fists clenched, and pray. That was the only answer to shell fire, yet one would still stand up and run toward the German line without a thought of small arms.
The first six weeks, all the sick and wounded went back to England -- anything to get out of the war. I wondered if I'd be that lucky.