The online edition
©2014, Aaron Elson
We werent looking for tank battles. One time we were coming over a hill down towards this shallow valley with a creek in the bottom. Up the other bank, almost to the top of the hill, was a German tiger tank shooting its 88 at anything that moved on our side of the hill, and our powers that be decided that we had to knock it out.
So we fired everything we had at it. The artillery fired everything they had. The corps artillery, which included 155-millimeter and eight-inch guns, fired them at it. It never moved, and it continued to shoot.
Eventually it quit shooting, and when we finally took the area, I personally climbed into the tank. It was out of gasoline. It was still usable, and the forest was cleared for a hundred yards all the way around it. There wasnt a tree left standing.
There were dents in the tank where rounds had hit the metal and ricocheted off. Didnt even break the track. They just let it sit there as a pillbox, used up their ammunition and left.
We were in Oberwampach, which was just a crossroads with some farm buildings and a few little homes. We needed an outpost, and I went up on a side road and pulled off to the right. There was a little culvert where the farmer had cut a path through to move the wagons and horses.
We could see up ahead. There were some buildings on fire. Sometimes things like that are set on fire by the infantry, maybe they create a kind of a super searchlight, and then the Germans arent going to come through and expose themselves while theyre highlighted like that.
The fires were up the road, the road was kind of a gentle rise, and an infantry guy came running toward us. He said theres a halftrack coming. So we thought, "Halftrack, boy oh boy, where is she?" Big Andy was my driver. He eased the tank back off of the road.
A fellow named Ted Duskin was my gunner. He swings the gun out, and lays it up the road. And through this smoky haze that the fire is making, here comes this German, but it aint no halftrack. Its one of the big tanks. And I just remember thinking, "God, this is gonna hurt." Because he saw us Im sure as soon as we saw him. Ted shot right away, as soon as that bulk came through the haze, and he must have hit the turret, there was a big shower of sparks. They were heavily armored in the front, and they were only really vulnerable in the rear.
About a second after we fired, he fired, and a big lick of flame came out of the muzzle of the gun, and it hit our tank. It seemed to hit it down low in the carriage, it made a hell of a sound, and suddenly, the German began to move backward into the smoke. How lucky can you be? We quickly took a look at our tank, and one of the bogey wheels appeared to be almost severed. He hit us down low. It glanced off, fortunately for us, and with the track still being intact, Andy could ease here back, and we eased her back down that slope, and this German didnt come after us. But talk about being scared, before he made that first shot. ... They had the firepower. They could penetrate us; we couldnt penetrate them until we got a larger gun.
After we backed down, around a little curve in the road there was a little rock wall, and there was enough room for us to get in there. Ahead of us, against the same rock wall, was a tank destroyer. They had light armor, but they had a bigger gun than we had, so they could knock out a German tank, which we couldnt. So as soon as we got behind the destroyer, I ran out and told the destroyers tank commander what was probably going to be coming down the road, so he could get a good shot at it. The German doesnt know the tank destroyer is here.
First thing you know, we could hear little click-clicks. Thats about all the noise their tracks made, click-click, they were real quiet. We would make lots of noise, and wed give ourselves away. Hes coming down here, and he had a dismounted soldier leading him. Imagine having that as your job, because this guys dead the first time hes seen. But hes gonna take the fire and spare the tank. So this foot soldier comes down here with a rifle, and as the tank creeps up behind him, the guy in the tank destroyer fired too soon. It went right across the front of him, missed him, and with that, the Germans threw it in reverse, and went back up the hill. And of course the tank destroyer didnt go after him because he couldnt afford to take a hit, he would lose. But I think Andy and I were genuinely scared, when we saw that halftrack turn into a big German tank.
We landed in Normandy on June 28th. We were under some fire, but the beach was pretty secure. I was back over there a few years ago, and now I tell people I was on Normandy beach on June the 6th, but I dont tell em what year. Im just kidding about that. But we did go back over and were on the beach on June the 6th.
Id rather be in a tank than in the infantry. I was sorry for the infantry boys. I was so thankful that I was in a tank, for I felt safer in a tank than in the infantry. But after getting a tank shot out from under me, I was a lot scareder from then on than I was before.
It was early one morning. Wed knocked out a German tank within twenty feet of our tank the night before. Wed set it on fire, and it set there and burned. Then the next morning they started pulling tanks in on us, and it was just shoot them and they shot us. I dont know how many we got of them or they got of us.
A shell ricocheted off my tank. It never did penetrate, it just ricocheted off, enough to set the tank on fire. Thats how I got burned. Just the exposed skin on my face and hands got burned. Where I had clothing on didnt get burned, but I got first and second and third degree burns on my hands and face. That was in August.
When I got wounded I didnt have sense enough to be scared. I hadnt been at it long enough. I guess after I got back, I was scared. Ive seen the time I was shaking all over, when wed get artillery firing.
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