World War 2 Army 547th FA 9th CA

One of the evening pastimes for 1st Sgt. Radlowski and me was playing a few hands of cribbage and I know I was his favorite opponent because he, with his cunning Polish mind, had no trouble beating me and chuckling at my incompetence at his favorite game, In fact, he became so convinced of his own invincibility that when I suggested to him that I sure would like to get a pass and permission to visit London and wondered if he would consider playing me for the privilege, his immediate reaction was another guffaw and then his command to "go get the cards". Such passes were not available and the fact that "Rad" was willing to play a game with the pass as my reward in case I would beat him showed his extreme confidence and his disdain of my skills. I know you have guessed that all the cards fell my way for the next few minutes and that, for one of the few times ever, the corporal beat the first sergeant and the next day stopped in at the orderly room to pick up my pass to historic London town.

London was about 175 miles south and the train service was superb, as it was all over this little country, so a ride of only a few hours brought me to Waterloo Station   and a briefing by a Red Cross worker about the accommodations available to a visiting soldier and of the "must" sights to visit if time permitted. My first accomplishment was finding the Red Cross operated "hotel", a large house nearby, and reserving a bed for later that night. The remaining daylight hours were spent walking downtown London and observing the terrible damage which had been done everywhere by German bombing attacks previously, As nightfall put a stop to my touring, the evening activities resumed in absolute blackness outside as the English demonstrated their thoroughness with blacking-out any light which could be seen by enemy aircraft. All the Londoners on the streets carried hooded flashlights to help them find their way but I found my way by groping and stumbling along the streets. Fortunately some older Londoner took me under his wing and not only guided me but recommended activities which he thought would be interesting and enjoyable to me. For this camaraderie, I was pleased to invite him to be my guest at dinner in a basement eatery which we entered through a series of two or three blankets hanging in front of the door, each of which blocked light as we would pull the next one aside for passage to the restaurant. Dinner was sparse, as were all English war time meals, but the following entertainment in a nearby night club was most memorable to me. Again, the three blanket gauntlet at the door brought me to a well lit room which was filled with music, happy chatter and dancing for those so disposed. There were a number or English soldiers in the crowd but I think I was the only American and any reservations I might have had were quickly put to rest by the friendliness of the English celebrators. The evening's enjoyment ended way too soon as the drinking rules were followed and the call for minding our P's and Q's was heard. The surprise to me as everyone prepared to say goodnight and grope their way homeward was the playing of the British national anthem, "God Save The King", and the loud singing by everyone in the room, including me I believe, but then to my utter surprise the little three piece orchestra struck up the "Star Spangled Banner" and all the Londoners stood in respect of their American friends. I don't think I sang, although I had always known the words to our anthem, but then again I'm not sure.

During my busy sight seeing the next day, one of the pesky Buzz Bombs was heard overhead and as I stood on the steps of a large building I had been visiting to listen to its progress, suddenly the motor noise stopped and the silence meant that it had been programmed by the Germans to do so at that moment so it could then glide toward its target somewhere in town. Of course, the silence alerted everyone to head for protective cover and I followed a couple people nearby and jumped over the side rail of the stairs and down under the same steps until the loud explosion was felt and heard. A stroll of a couple or so blocks revealed a corner store which had taken a direct hit through the front windows and the hustle of ambulance people as they tried to extricate any of the patrons who might have survived the blast. As it turned out the bomb was quite smart because it had picked a busy pub to fall in on and the toll of drinkers destroyed was undoubtedly high.

St. Pauls Cathedral was barricaded because of bombing damage but the cabbie I had hired to take me on a fast tour of town was able to bribe the guard at the cost of three or four of my American cigarettes to let me enter and absorb some of the magnificence and history of the church.    Dolores and I entered much more easily during our later London visit and were delighted that the interior had survived the bombing brutality and was being used once again by the worshipers, even though an enormous scaffolding still reached into the upper dome area where resurrection and repair was still underway all these years later.

Having run out of time on my pass, the return trip to camp became a bit of a challenge because the train wasn't scheduled to arrive in Northwich until late at night and I didn't know about getting back to Sandiway and our Pettypool Manor at that odd hour. This little dilemma had a solution though and the kindly conductor on the train played a key part when he learned of my concerns. At one of our regular stops he conferred with the engineer and a plan was developed which needed only my willing participation to make it work. Knowing that their train was going to be going right through the suburb of Sandiway but that a regular stop was not possible, they proposed that they slow down enough that I could time my jump onto the platform with not too much risk. The plan worked and the heroic conductor and I stood in the open door until he shouted: "now! and good luck!" while I made my little leap and following race down the platform until I could stop my momentum and give my friends a farewell wave as they continued on. Walking back to the Pettypool was simple and I don't recall the guard having given me any problem due to my arrival way after curfew time, so all that was left to do was to fall out for the morning reveille and rollcall. Thanks, Sgt. Radlowski!

- Written December 1996 -

My return to Pettypool Manor from London coincided with the return of our long delayed guns and trucks which, I believe, had landed at Liverpool on one of the freighters from our convoy. Once found, our drivers had been sent to drive them back to our camp.

Now some problems started because all the protective goop we had smeared all over the four guns, inside and outside, had to be removed and the only method available to us was elbow grease and muscle power. I'm positive the beautiful King's English language was improved with a few new choice words as we all took turns swabbing the inside of the barrels with hot soapy water and rags attached to our gun ram rods. Water for this job was heated on an improvised fire pit which we kept stoked with our treasured coal out in the field adjoining the guns, but the cosmoline proved almost impossible to dislodge because it had hardened so much. One of our gun sergeants took pity on all the swabbers and when no one of any higher authority was watching, had gasoline poured down the barrel and a match set to the mixture with the result that his gun finally was free of the cosmoline protectant. The other three gun sergeants were more cautious and fought the problem the hard way, with manpower. The quite secretive joke among all of us in lower echelon positions was that one of our guns had definite burn spots inside its barrel but no one had any idea why. At the time soon after when we were inspected by some higher ranking officer to review our fitness for combat and he asked about the black areas in the one gun barrel, all nearby pleaded ignorance as they offered their most innocent expressions.

Inspections out of the way, we were ready to go at long last! My memory of our last day at Pettypool is of everyone in our barracks packing all personal possessions and rechecking all preparations. Positive that I'd gotten everything ready and with a couple or so hours remaining before the scheduled loading of trucks and departure, I hunted up a close friend, George Darrah,   and upon noting his readiness made the observation that there wasn't a thing we could do any better than we had so how about talking a walk to kill some time. Our stroll down a nearby country lane brought us to a quaint country pub called the "Plough"   and our entrance found the room vacant but with a nice fire in the fireplace and the lady proprietress standing by to serve a couple of American soldiers. This scene stands out in my memory because I know George felt the same excitement and anxiety that I felt and we really enjoyed an hour or so of relaxing in front of the fire and enjoying the gentle time in quiet thought and casual chatter, wondering when next we would ever spend a late afternoon similarly occupied. We finally bid our hostess goodbye and made our way back up the country lane to our camp and companions in ample time for our final departure. Since neither of us were going to be doing any driving, George   being our gun mechanic and I being Lt. Hansen's assistant, all we had to do was collect all our gear and find a ride on one of the trucks all lined up to start our trip back down to the English Channel for another little sea journey.

I threw all my things up in the back of a large 2-1/2 ton general purpose truck with canvas sides and top and climbed on along with six or seven others, sitting on side benches across from each other. We left Pettypool Manor in late afternoon and the ride for the next several night time hours was bitter cold in the backs of the trucks. We did have a rear canvas drape which we kept closed to try and keep a little warmer but our lifesaver was a small, single burner cooking stove which one of us had brought along and which we located in the middle of the floor and then took turns crouching down along side it while holding blankets overhead to hold in the precious warmth it provided. Because of the January cold we all found it necessary to get rid of the previously drunk water, and ale as in my case, much oftener than normally and this chore was quite tricky as we would part the back drape and perform our feat over the back tail gate while holding on to an overhead brace with one had for dear life, and all this while the truck roared on at full speed.

All of our drivers did a superb job of maneuvering through the many small villages on our route with the typical narrow streets and sharp corners presenting constant challenges. The ones driving our enormous prime mover trucks lugging our large guns had the most difficulty and several times had to back up and try to cut the corner closer in order to finally be able to continue. By the time each of the four gun trucks spent the extra time necessary for such turns our progress was slowed considerably, and it did not get any warmer for all of us passengers as the night and our convoy progressed.

Sometime during the night our convoy reached our destination at Plymouth and it didn't take long for us to drive aboard an American L S T ship which the master logisticians had arranged to be at the docks awaiting us. This weird looking, but extremely effective naval vessel had a large ramp on its front end which could drop down to accommodate vehicles using it to enter or leave the ship. Once loaded the interior resembled any large car ferry except that rooms on the both sides of the interior accomodated the naval personnel aboard as well as visitors such as we were. The navy had several different sizes of landing ships ranging from the smallest which carried only troops up to the largest type which could handle armaments such as tanks and artillery pieces. In fact, the initials "L S T" stood for "Landing Ship - Tanks".

Once loaded we were free to roam the ship and to enjoy a couple of meals prepared by the noted Navy cooks with envied Navy foods before the shores of France were reached. I'm quite sure we were part of a small convoy for the relatively short voyage across the English Channel and I'm sure we were in good hands of either American or British anti-sub protectors escorting us, but not being allowed above decks we couldn't admire the sight.

- Written January 1997 -

 

As our large, flat bottomed L S T came to a halt on the beach and the great front ramp lowered to the ground, our vehicles drove off the ship and on to the shore of Le Havre, France. The voyage across the English Channel had been quite smooth and uneventful whereas we had been alerted to a possible unstable ride due to the unique boat construction with its wide, flat bottom. In fact, we had been issued belt type inflatable life preservers and, I believe, wore these at all times. When not inflated, the preservers were not a problem, but when hitting the shore with no more need of such contrivances, the thing to do was to find out if they truly would have inflated when the cartridge built into them was activated and the gas released to inflate the belts, had we really needed them back out there on the ocean. As most of us triggered the cartridge or helpfully triggered the cartridges of our comrades who were a bit hesitant, sure enough the belts inflated with a loud hissing noise as they were designed to do. For those of us who had adjusted our belts somewhat loosely, it was fun watching and feeling the preserver inflate, but for those of us who had tightened their belt for more of a form fitting, stylish look, the belt tried to squeeze them in half as it inflated. I rode off the ship in the cab of one of our prime movers hauling a gun and we sat four abreast so our intimacy made the inflation of our four preservers even more exciting and hilarious to us. With our driver "feeling the pinch", our exit must have been an erratic one but how better to make a dramatic entrance onto the continent of Europe, I ask. At our initial rendezvous point in the streets of Le Havre, all belts were collected for return to our Navy escorts who I should think added even more new, choice words to our beautiful English language as they had to install new cartridges in all belts.

As I write this today, 52 years later, the question comes to mind: - - why, with the European conflict seemingly under control and the smell of victory in the air, would our military planners at the front and in Washington still be concerned enough to keep inserting fresh troops from home into the fighting?? Their decisions must have been based on not taking any chances against an opponent who had proven to be notoriously skilled, formidable and fanatically dedicated, and, as long as the additional troops were trained and ready anyway, it would be wiser to use the and try to end the war more quickly and thereby reduce the overall casualty rate, if possible.

And, at a time 52 years later, and having survived the two months of combat our battalion did experience, I have to say that I have always felt happy and very proud to have been a part of the military effort our country made on behalf of our folk at home and in the cause of freedom everywhere and I am thankful that it was decided to use the firepower of our 547th Field Artillery Battalion in the E T O. I humbly consider my having fought in the war as the best thing I have done in my whole life.

Our first day on French soil found our convoy driving along the Seine river and through a number of small, picturesque villages. As we would stop occasionally in the villages, we realized our first chance of actually speaking to and dazzling the local people with our recently learned French words as listed in our English-to-French dictionaries. If you readers today have even the faintest acquaintance with the French language, you can appreciate the villager's wonder as they heard their beautiful, smooth words such as "bonjeur Monsieur et Mademoiselle" sounding very much like "bahn JEWER Mahn SEWER and Madda Moyzle" and our most polite "thank yous" translated from "merci beaucoup" to sound to the local people much like "Murky BEW kowp", I'm sure the loving and appreciative French people were very happy to accept our slaughtering of their beautiful pronunciations though as long as we did so with our bewildered and confused looks, accompanied by our embarrassed smiles and grins. And, such forgiveness came easy to them, I'm sure, as they realized we were on our way to fight the much hated Nazis for them.

At each village, cheering people would wave to their new American friends as we passed and some would offer bottles of Calvados, their local apple flavored brandy. However, previous strong warnings by our officers of the danger of drinking this particular liquor due to something having gone wrong with the crop of fruit from which the fermentation and distillation had taken place kept us all safe and sound - and very sober. Could this have been the reason for the dire warnings - to assure complete sobriety, I wonder?

At the historic city of Rouen, we left the Seine and continued eastward until the day's interesting journey through the Normandy countryside ended at camp "Twenty Grand",   named after either a popular American cigarette of the time or perhaps the champion Kentucky Derby race horse. The camp, created as the final preparation point prior to combat assignments, was quite large with row after row of tents to accommodate the troops and with all the other facilities such as mess halls, supply depots, latrine-wash rooms, medical and entertainment centers in wooden buildings spotted throughout the area.

Each of the tents was large enough to hold six or so men who slept on cots positioned around a pot-bellied stove in the center. I've forgotten what we used as fuel in the stoves but I do recall having seen a lot of large signs at the edge of the cap where it adjoined a wooded area across the perimeter road warning that absolutely no one was to cut any wood, under severe penalties. It was obvious that the signs had been posted way too late, however, because the remaining trees had been shorn of all limbs which had been reachable by previous soldiers, probably even standing on each others shoulders to reach up as far as the trunks were stripped bare.

- Written March 1997 -

 

Not to be outdone by the set of signs warning that there was to be no wood cutting, other signs were sprinkled throughout the cap warning us that there was to be absolutely no clothes washing in gasoline. Until the moment of reading this message, I am positive that very few, if any, soldiers had washing with gasoline on their list of things to do to prepare wardrobes for combat service. I had never heard of sudsing O.D's (olive drab wool pants and shirts) in petrol although I could vividly remember my mother washing some of our garments in naphtha during depression days to save on cleaning expenses. Now though, enlightened and inspired by the warning, I, and many others, couldn't wait to find a 5 gallon can of gas and get those O. D.'s nice and clean. I just hope that none of us went into the cleaning business within sight of the dire warnings because this would have made us very disobedient indeed.

The follow up to the above episode is that when I, and all the others, donned our wool clothes soon thereafter, we learned most unpleasantly that our skin was not tough enough to not burn from the new gas treatment of the materials. And so, the parade started to the latrine-wash rooms to give the pants and shirts an old fashioned wash in soap and water. My memory tells me that, even so, I had to endure a burning sensation for some time thereafter. Must have been extra powerful gasoline we had!

Another unusual sight at that time was rows of wet crackers on top of all the tents. Now there was a logical reason for this. It started with our having been issued a new and different food ration at camp Twenty Grand. On the can holding two or three crackers, two or three cigarettes and toilet paper there was a label advising that the crackers, or biscuits, while appearing to be a bit meager in size were baked with ingredients which would swell with saliva and stomach acids so that the diner would have a full feeling. Now can you visualize how hundreds of people could be inspired by this announcement and would reason to themselves that if the crackers could swell in size, they certainly could be encouraged to do so, perhaps into the size of small loaves of bread for example, by soaking them in hot water and placing them in the sun to help the dough rise. How could this American reasoning and ingenuity be questioned?

The next morning while awaiting roll call and reviewing our first great nights sleep in ancient France, the first sergeant was overwhelmed with complaints from those unhappy warriors who had not been able to sit on their cots after dark and write letters to loved ones back home. The rec hall did have electric lights but it was way too crowded to accommodate all the authors and back in the tents the only light provided by the stove was too dim.

After chow, I looked up "Rad" and offered my services to help him overcome such complaints the remainder of nights we would be spending in our present accommodations by volunteering to take one of the jeeps and scout around the area for a source of candles which he then could cut into small pieces and distribute to all evening letter writers and thus become our popular first sergeant once again. Anything to boost morale of his men had an appeal and so it was that I soon found myself in a jeep headed our of camp on a critical mission. Noticing Sergeant Nicholson,    one of our four gun sergeants, strolling along the roadside after a hearty breakfast, I stopped to ask if he might like to accompany me on this key mission and found him most receptive to doing anything to break the monotony of camp life. And so it was that I ventured down a likely looking road and soon spotted a road sign reading: "Paris - 70 kilometers". Now wasn't this interesting?

Not knowing of any place more likely to be able to furnish some candles, off we went. The road presented obstacles now and then in the form of old shell holes which had not been repaired too well but small detours through the fields solved that slight problem, and probably within a couple hours we were enjoying the sights of big city life in beautiful Paris. In one of Herr Hitler's few magnanimous moments, he had declared Paris an "open city" when he realized that his troops could not hold possession of it any longer and so it was that the city had not seen any fighting or destruction and had retained its beauty and excitement. Having been occupied by Allied forces for several months now, the city was in the process of reverting back to its normal activities but the shortages and inconveniences of war were most obvious. Traffic on the boulevards was so light that we had no problem meandering around town at a slow, touristy pace, and were most exhilarated as we identified such famous landmarks as the Eiffel Tower and Arch of Triumph.

Eventually we pulled up and parked the jeep at the curb in front of what appeared to be a large department store, the name of which I doubt I ever knew, and went inside to hunt for candles. Knowing only a few simple, basic words of French which did not include the word for candles, we ran into difficulty immediately. Even with our best pantomiming, we had a problem describing a candle and so were led to such departments as the lamp and light bulb or the electrical wiring sections. Our communications finally clicked and a small quantity of very stylish candles was purchased so the main purpose of our mission was completed. Our next pantomimed inquiry for something in a bottle to drink was quickly understood by the clerk helping us and he led us through a doorway at the side of the store, down a flight of stairs to a basement storage area and then through another doorway and down another flight of stairs to their secret stock of liquors. Two bottles of a fine brandy soon joined our collection of candles for the trip back to camp.

Even with an impromptu stop at a French bar room and the quick enjoyment of a bottle of their champagne, we made the return run to camp before dark and in time to make a hero figure out of our first sergeant, who could distribute his candle supply to all writers. I don't remember how I explained the all day shopping.

- Written March 1997 -

Before dawn on the morning we finally assembled all trucks, trailers and weaponry for departure on our trip eastward to the front, we were awakened by medics insistent on a surprise check of our physical fitness at such an ungentlemanly hour. Why they would be looking for signs of venereal disease or kidney problems or poor fitting dentures at this last-minute hour was a mystery to us all, but apparently we all passed our inspection and were released to get dressed, collect all gear and board the convoy. I oftened wondered if any of the specimens collected might have been found deficient whenever tested later and if so, were the owners of the problems ever notified and perhaps withdrawn from the fighting. I don't recall any sudden and unexplained absences by any of us so we must have all been acceptable for our upcoming responsibilities. Perhaps the pre-dawn aggravation was the work of medics who were upset that they weren't going to be accompanying us and took joy in shaking awake all the artillerymen and shining their flashlights in eyes while insisting that their instructions be followed at once.

As we departed camp Twenty Grand, I rode in the command car carrying our commanding officer, Captain Sheehan, and my personal commanding officer and the man I was to work for, Lieutenant Hansen, and the driver. One of the trailers with all Willie Hansen's gear was hooked up behind us and, served to entertain us all as we were driving along and happened to notice a tire and wheel come up alongside and after a considerable distance veer off to our left. How could a free wheel go past us when it wasn't attached to a vehicle and where had it come from? The answer was quick in coming - - it had worked loose from our own trailer and with friction eased by not having to support the trailer, it was free to do its own thing which was to amaze and entertain us as we watched with interest its trip across a field. Retrieving it and installing it back on the trailer where it belonged set us right once again and away we went, soon catching up with our convoy for the ride through some more of France and then across the small country of Belgium.

By nightfall we had crossed the border into Germany and had come to a halt in the streets of a city named Alsdorf, near Aachen, where our skills at adapting to conditions were put to a test in a driving, sleety rain. Those who could find room to sleep in the backs of covered trucks were the most adaptive and stayed the driest, of course. I spent a somewhat dry time sleeping under one of the larger trucks, but I'm sure all of us were happy to greet the new day and move on. Our first combat mission being to assist with preparations for the crossing of the Rhine river, we reached our initial position the next afternoon about 600 yard N W of a town called Utfort, but not before having been harassed a bit by a German plane, which we quickly nicknamed "Bedcheck Charley", and which dropped a couple of bombs near the front of our convoy just to let us know this was not another training mission. Following the example of those up ahead of us, we all bailed out of our vehicles and headed for the ditches alongside, but soon realized that the two-bomb attack was no particular deterrent so reboarded for the final leg of our journey that day.

The area west of the Rhine where we set up shop was flat and open and the first thing we did was to install our large camouflage nets over each of the four guns in hopes they would fool any enemy planes or ground observers into thinking we weren't even there. All others not involved with the guns hustled to find their own camouflage in the forms of buildings to hide behind or woods to hide in somewhere behind the lines. Noticing a railroad embankment not too far from our guns, the thought suddenly came to several of us that digging foxholes in the side of the embankment would be a lot easier than going straight down into the German prairie soil and should serve about as well. Soon, we were involved in this brilliant endeavor and, sure enough, the snug half-holes had all the appeal we expected. Not having been called on as yet to do some artillery-ing, we hillside residents settled in for a good nights sleep, only to be greeted the next morning by some more of the fun, sleety rain. As we emerged from under our improvised shelters at dawn, lesson number one was evident immediately - - never, never take off boots and position them handily next to a slit trench without first turning them upside down. Our partially filled boots did offer a cold, sloshing start to the day's activities.

Our stay at Utfort was of a several day duration while we did a lot of firing into mills and ammunition dump areas to try and soften he obstacles for our infantry when time came for their advancing. With our forces having squeezed up toward the big river, it was more convenient for the German M E 109 airplanes to strafe up and down the lines so everyone learned how to keep one eye on the sky and other on our work. An anti-aircraft battery had been assigned to work our area and give us protection so we had several exciting times when they would fire frantically at the M E 109's and it was fun to watch them for a little variety. Once or twice their habit of firing at everything flying back and forth above us caused a lot of anguish for British pilots in their Spitfire aircraft who were trying to chase off the German planes but found themselves targets of our A A friends who obviously followed the practice of firing first and identifying their targets later. The British pilots would wig wag their wings to indicate to the ack-ack fellows that they were on their side and this maneuver did save their lives. Of course, the poor marksmanship of the A A fellows should get some credit too.

Each of our gun trucks was armed with a machine gun positioned over the top of the cab and it was the job of one of the gun crew to take this gun off its mounting before the truck left for quieter territory and set it up on the ground near the big guns as protection against any ground attack. In order to not call particular attention to the location of the big guns; however, the little 50 caliber machine guns were not to be fired at aircraft - ever. One of our machine gun specialists was one of our quieter and gentler comrades named Fred Stone   and during one session of strafing he could contain his willpower no longer when the plane offered an easy target so he sat down behind his gun, elevated it, aimed it and opened fire with a prolonged burst as he swiveled and kept firing at the departing plane. All of us in the gun area were surprised at the sudden close firing of a machine gun and then doubly surprised when the word passed from gun to gun that it was our Freddy having fun with his gun. We all envied our Fred but didn't envy him having to explain his impromptu disregard for orders to Lt. Hansen.

- Written March 1997 -

 

From here on, I will refer to notes I'd made in a small notebook which I carried in my shirt pocket until the end of the fighting and then referred to in writing letters home after censorship was lifted. Our first ten days in combat at Utford had been spent in that one location firing at any target spotted by our own advanced survey crew and at any target specified by telephone or radio from our battalion and higher headquarters. The softening up process was underway to make life easier for the infantry when they advanced. It was at this time, I believe, that we learned we were assigned to the American Ninth Army under the command of General William Simpson   which, in turn, had been assigned by General Eisenhower to British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery to make up his 12th Army Group. One or two of the British armies were also included in Montgomery's group. We further learned that we would be fighting as Corps Artillery and would have no direct connection to any of our or British Divisions. Each division had its own artillery which moved with the division whereas we were to be free to move to whatever position needed additional artillery support, whether American or British.

A short distance ahead of us was the mighty Rhine River which was the dreaded obstacle facing our Group and the other American armies south of us and which was well defended by the German forces who knew they had to keep us out of their Ruhr industrial area, important source of armaments and weaponry for their armed forces.

Our next battalion move was St. Patrick's day when we moved to a position near Vonninghardt. By this time we had settled into the routine of my helping First Lieutenant Hansen, our executive and firing officer, by assuming his functions whenever he was not available, primarily at night when he had to do some sleeping now and then. My job was really quite simple and consisted of merely relaying firing orders from headquarters to our four guns alongside us. Lt. Hansen always was nearby when sleeping so that if I got into any thing I couldn't handle, all I had to do was awaken him and have him take over. I don't think this ever happened, but we were ready if it did, and this plan allowed Willie Hansen to get well earned sleep parts of each night and I'm sure the higher headquarters personnel never knew a Corporal was serving as firing officer for Battery B. As I relate our combat setup to that of Mash 1077, famous TV series, I could have been "Radar O'Reilly" of our outfit, I guess.   Each time our battalion would change positions, the general location would have been selected by high echelon military planners and assigned to our Captain Eugene Sheehan (L to R: Captain Sheehan and Lt. Hansen)   who in turn would alert his three officers, including Willie Hansen, to make their plans for moving. Prior to each move, each battery would send out an advanced detail to survey the area and pick the best positions for their guns, their trucks, their mess, their wire crew and their motor pool. Whenever he could, Willie Hansen would go along on this mission to select our gun locations and his focal point location for firing them. Whenever he was too busy firing the guns, I would assume this duty for him and would join one of our four gun sergeants to find the best spots for the four guns and our command post. Usually, one or two of the sergeants involved with our back-up sections would accompany us. With map in hand showing us where we were expected to set up operations by whatever time had been planned, the advanced detail would hop in a small truck and head for the new area. Because this operation was always accomplished in daylight hours so that we could see the terrain and conditions, we also were easier targets for any German artillery needing a little shooting practice at moving targets.

I went along on the first mission to Vonninghardt to select the best location for Willie's and my hole-in-the-ground command post or, if we were more fortunate our cellar-in-a-bombed-out-house "C P", perhaps. Our time table for this move called for moving the whole outfit up at night to the positions we'd picked. We were fortunate to have a patch of woods in our assigned area and utilized these trees for hiding our guns and trucks and personnel from enemy surveillance. Each gun went into a clearing large enough to allow free firing and the woods offered perfect protection for all troops, unless the German artillery or aircraft would learn of our location and drop anti-personnel shells or bombs on our private woods. All went well with this move and, life became quite rosy when Barney Cannatta,   our mail corporal, found us with his jeep full of mail from home and supplies of candy and gum and tobacco and writing paper from one of the supply depots he'd located as he'd gone back for the mail.

My mail consisted of letters from my Boston sweetheart and from my mother and dad back in the Midwest and were joyously received and enjoyed. One of my letters from Dolores Lewis included a very personal poem she'd written and a Saint Christopher medal, both of which had the power to get her Indiana soldier boy through any upcoming mess. The beautiful poem went with me from then on, and is with me to this day, but the medal came up missing after several weeks. My concern at its loss was relieved several days later when I found it at the first chance of removing my boots, safely deposited in one of them. Eventually, however, my St Christopher did disappear, but he made sure he'd gotten me through everything before leaving, so the saint earned my everlasting affection. When my sweetheart had written the letters she thought I was still in England so included the addresses of her English cousins in and around Hull, England, in case I might be able to slip up there to get acquainted with them for her. Too late, but a grand idea and one I'd have jumped at to follow up on if I'd gotten the addresses in time and if I could have talked Joe Radlowski   into issuing me a pass.

- Written November 1998 -

The military logistics specialists and battle planning masterminds had a gigantic job on their hands, assembling the forces on one side of a wide river in preparation for a forced crossing into well defended German territory of vital importance to them - - and, to try and do this with stealth, if possible. To further complicate such planning, the terrain on the west side of the Rhine was quite level and open and places to temporarily "hide" troops and equipment were at a premium. The buildup was massive and there were a lot of people and guns and tanks and amphibian vessels and engineering equipment to keep out of sight of the German planes and artillery while awaiting time for the crossing attempt.

The German military knew , of course, of the big buildup because they had thousands of spies and informants in their body of citizens who lived in the area and could easily observe all our actions and pass this information on to their army and airforce. Our battalion was assigned an area in and near the town of Mengelin, located across the Rhine from the important city of Wessel.

I was part of the advanced detail again as we prepared to move into position to support the crossing. Our plan was to bring our guns up to the new position one at a time, at night, and to have all in place and hidden by the fourth night. Our advance detail found unusual places to position each gun, such as in a shed alongside a barn, alongside a large haystack and in a couple ends of an orchard near the farmhouse. When structures, such as the lean-to shed wouldn't accommodate the size of the gun, we would blow off with hand grenades whatever part was an obstacle. Hand grenades were handy tools. Of course, with four or fice of us milling about and trying to not be seen by unfriendly eyes, it was crucially important that the hand grenade tosser keep track of his comrades and make sure his weapon didn't increase the battery "B" casualty list.

Finding good hiding places for our mess crew and motor pool was eased by the fact we had buildings in the town of Mengelin to use as protection against the fierce German artillery fire with their famous 88 millimeter guns which they used as capably against aircraft as against ground troops. The German "Luftwaffe" had a field day strafing up and down the lines on the west edge of the river where they knew the buildup was building and we all kept a nervous eye on the sky for approaching trouble. To combat this air onslaught, our American and British fighter planes worked the same area and did their best to protect us ground troops.

There had to have been a very thin line between danger and humor just as it is said there is that same thin line between love and hate. A few humorous incidents come to mind now.

At one time, I and three or four others were inspecting a house at the edge of town and while up on the second floor, one of us looked out the window and saw a German ME109 being pursued by two American planes, guns blazing, and all headed straight for us. There was a bed in the room we were visiting and a doorway leading out to a hallway and stairway to the ground floor and it had to have been a comical sight to see the group of us scurry for cover, either under the bed or out of the room, while we could hear the shell fire of the approaching planes. My memory tells me it wasn't that comical for us.

Our radio man, corporal Cy Hale,   was out in the open doing something crucial to the war effort, I'm sure, when a strafing plane worked its way down the line of artillery and infantry and surprised Cy who hastily scooted for the foxhole he'd dug, only to find, when he dived in it that someone had used it to store a bunch of five-gallon cans. His dive was quite a noisy one as he landed on the cans, but the bullets from the plane did miss him anyway. A German farmer nearby was even luckier than Cy because the same strafing caused him to be minus a side belt loop on his trousers where one of the bullets had gone through it, leaving only a burn mark in place of the loop.

My old friend Henry Kempton,   our motor pool sergeant, watched another German aircraft as it was shot down and crash landed near his trucks. Hank, with a souvenir in the form of a German pilot's handgun in mind, raced to the crash site and climbed up on the wing of the plane to find the pilot still strapped into his seat and quite groggy. The plane started to burn, but Hank unbuckled the pilot and helped him out of the cockpit and on to the ground where he then dragged him away from the ensuing blaze. As a reward for his heroism and humanitarianism, Henry became proud owner of the pilot's pistol and I would guess maybe the pilot was more than happy to present this to his savior. Of course, it was more logical that Henry would have taken the pistol out of the pilot's holster and used it to manage his prisoner's life for the next few minutes.

Our move up to our new facilities took from March 18th to the 21st, one gun a night, and while accompanying the gun truck and gun one of those nights I had spotted a line of G I's outside a building in some village as we passed through. Suspicious that something was going on that needed surveillance, we stopped nearby and walked back to observe a fantastic sight. The building housed a small brewery and one or more of the beer vats in the basement had been punctured with the floor being flooded with beer. A hose had been dropped into the beer and served as a siphon to fill the containers of each of the men in line. As soon as we led our gun truck into its position, a couple or so of our fellows collected all the five gallon water cans and whatever containers were available and rushed back to the brewery to get in line. It so happened that I had received a package from Dolores that very day and had it stashed away in a large foxhole Willie Hansen   and I had dug near the guns. Having put in my order for a wee taste of the brew, I found myself the proud owner of a five gallon can partially full of the beer when the brewery detail returned to our gun position later that night. The beer did add a nice touch to the can of tuna fish and other goodies in my package which I then enjoyed, down in my foxhole, on into the night. I remember loving the tuna, once I got the can opened with the help of my bayonet, and even licking, very carefully, the jagged lid for the last drop of oil. Dolores had also sent a tube of toothpaste and a package of cocoa, both of which had been damaged enroute and become mixed together. Brushing my teeth with cocoa flavored toothpaste was a new and pleasant experience but having toothpaste flavored cocoa out of my mess cup the next morning was a startling experience, as I recall.

With severe rationing being practiced back home, it was a true and patriotic accomplishment for my sweetheart to obtain certain luxury items to send to me and to her brother, Everett, who was serving in the Navy. Dolores' private source of hard-to-get- items was the elderly owner of the little corner store near her Tremont Street home. Occasionally, when she would go to the store to get groceries, he would whisper to her than he'd gotten in a small supply of something precious and that she was welcome to buy one or two. Tuna fish fell into this category, as did cigarettes and a number of other things. Of course, this shortage made everyone's heart grow fonder of the item not available and so it was with my can of tuna. To explain Dolores' privileged position with the store owner, it could have been due to her having gone with his son to her high school prom. Whatever, it was a treasured and invaluable association to Evie Lewis and me.

- Written November 1998 -

We had completed successfully our four-day secretive move into our assigned position by the night of the 21st of March. The next evening we were shocked to notice a row of vehicles approaching us from the rear with headlights glaring - a violation of driving under black out conditions only. We couldn't believe our eyes and then were further astounded when the convoy pulled in to position at our immediate left and the soldiers built some bonfires. All these dead giveaways to our secret position almost caused a pre-battle battle between the English newcomers and us. The next morning they outdid themselves, this time in the line of duty, by emitting smelly, thick smoke over the whole area. Yes, an English smoke making outfit had joined the effort.

The much planned offensive at the Rhine river got underway with a massive artillery bombardment the evening of the 23rd. The unimaginable noise of hundreds of artillery guns firing simultaneously was deafening and was also a light show beyond description. The ground shook. Our big guns were using a new gun powder which was supposed to reduce the flash of light from the muzzle, but even so the sky had a 4th of July fireworks finale look to it all night. We were told that our particular firing mission was to clear things for the Scot troops who had assembled up ahead of us at rivers edge and were readying their amphibian boats, nicknamed "Ducks" because of their design to operate either on land or in water, for the crossing attempt so we really had our hearts and souls into helping them with some fast and accurate shooting.

Crossing the Rhine River 22-28 March 1945

With Lt. Hansen busy handling the firing of the guns, this left me free of duty and gave me the chance to wander down the road near us to investigate the source of tremendous noise, much greater than our guns were making. Not too far away I came upon a battery of 240 mm guns which were transported on massive trailers and watched their operation for a while. We had heard previously that these new, enormous guns were being brought over from the U.S. but had never seen any, until now. By holding my ears constantly, the sound was bearable, but I was still relieved to finally take off for our own position and the lesser noise. Our 155 mm rifles had a sharp crack of a sound as the exploding powder propelled the shell and we could accept this noise without the help of ear protection. At least I could. I know a lot of the emen firing the guns had a goodly supply of cotton in their pockets. The strange thing about this type noise was that the place it was least bothersome was immediately in front and below the muzzle of the gun. Along the sides or immediately behind, the noise was definitely high decibel. All the gunmen would jockey for nice ground at the front edge of the weapon to dig their own foxholes. With our command post foxhole located between the second and third gun, it is a wonder that Willie Hansen and I could ever hear each other.

Normally, at night, the skies above a line of infantry troops and artillery pieces was well lit by German flares but this night, we were making enough light to satisfy the enemy observers, I'm sure. They could lay aside their flare guns this night. As the evening and night progressed, our gun crews began to fight exhaustion and the men would leave their post, one at a time, to get some rest and to get something to eat. Cy Hale had started up a stove in the basement of the farmhouse adjoining us and during the night, everyone had a chance to get a bite to eat from Cy's cafe. He had an ample supply of potatoes, scrounged from the root cellar adjoining the basement, and fried potatoes, pan after pan, all night. When I went over to partake, I filled my mess kit with the delicious smelling potatoes but did question Cy on what the white specs were on top of his potatoes as they fried. His answer, that the white specs were some salt he'd found, was most logical and satisfying, until I bit into some of them and finally figured it out that I was eating, and enjoying, crunchy white wash paint which would break loose from the ceiling just above the stove each time the nearest gun outside would fire. I know that not a single person who was fooled by Cy's salt had any complaints. White wash must have some healthy ingredients because no one got sick, that I heard about.

My close pal, Corporal Jimmy McCormack from number two gun, had his constant pan of hot tea staying warm on the back of Cy's stove, and this night it was keeping everyone wide awake as Cy would keep replenishing the tea leaves in the brewing water, per Jimmy's recipe and instructions. Yes, with a cup of tea and a plate of spuds, who could ask for more.

During the night, we got word that the Scots had indeed made it across the river and had a bridgehead established. Go Kiltsmen!! Then, about dawn there was a new show in the sky as hundreds of airplanes and gliders flew over us and across the river where they dropped the airborne parachutists and let their gliders full of infantrymen descend behind the German defenders. The show of power was awesome and many of us observed it best by laying on our backs and watching the parade over us. Shortly after, the flights reversed as the planes made their turn after having dropped their loads and headed back toward their home bases in England. Some of the planes were on fire, having been hit by the dreaded German 88's, and we could see a few tumbling to earth with new parachutes all over the place as the crews escaped. One of my vivid memories of this terrible morning was one of the large planes crossing just over us and with some of its crew members standing in the open side doorway where minutes before it's load of parachutists had jumped. The plane was so low as it was gliding to its crash, perhaps only 50' above us, that I and others near me screamed at the men in the doorway to jump. With the plane seriously on fire and the flames roaring along its sides, we thought jumping had to be a better alternative than riding it into the ground, but the fellows in the doorway didn't budge. We then watched the rest of the flaming glide and eventual crash just beyond a grove of trees and out of our sight but were discouraged by the ball of fire which arose.

A couple of interesting parachutes landed in our immediate world. With all the German artillery fire landing near us, it was a reckless feat for a couple of our fellows to dash across a field and recover one of the parachute packages, thinking and hoping that the box would contain a sizeable portion of food rations, only to find upon returning to the gun emplacement that the box held a quantity of percussion caps for explosives. Definitely not edible, so disposable. The other parachute that almost landed on top of one of our guns brought with it a petrified Colonel who had hitched a ride on one of the planes so he could observe the operation from the air but then had had the plane shot out from under him and had to bail out. Others followed him but landed further back so our only drop-in guest was the Colonel who obviously got much more than just a sight seeing ride he'd booked.

Sometime the next day we received word from headquarters that the Scots had broken out of their bridgehead and were advancing at a spectacular rate. As they moved forward, we had to keep elevating our barrels in order for our rounds to land ahead of them. Finally, the hurrying Scots reached the area of our maximum 12 to 13 miles accurate firing ability and we had to cease firing in order not to kill our allies. That did it for Battery B gunmen for this battle and we could now enjoy the quiet and privacy of our own hole in the ground. No more fried potatoes or tea, thank you. Just some sleep.

- Written December 1st, 1998 -

We didn't sleep for long. Because of the speedy advance of the infantry now on the other side of the river, we were ordered to move up to river's edge and did make that move the night of the 26th. This new position would let our guns fire ahead of our advancing infantry for a short while longer, until they once again reached the point of our maximum firing. By this tine, the German artillery and airforce were not too interested in our side of the river and had their hands full with the British and American troops now on their side, the American 9th Army and British 2nd Army being firmly entrenched after a successful, but costly crossing. Our new position was near the town of Gast (Gest) and about two or three miles southwest of the city of Wesel which was on the east side of the Rhine. Our target area was on the north side of the famous Ruhr industrial district and the going was a bit easier for the Scots and other British infantry in our rural type countryside than was being experienced a little ways south of us where the American 1st, 3rd and 7th Armies were fighting into and around the southern perimeter of the Ruhr valley. The master plan of the military planners was to try and surround the Ruhr industrial area and put pressure on the German forces to surrender.

This time, when receiving the "cease fire" orders, we couldn't advance behind the infantry because of no way to move our large guns and trucks across the Rhine until the Engineers could build pontoon bridges. During this respite of two or three days while the military planners were figuring out what to do with us, the living became much quieter and easier and, in fact, we in the fox hole settlements were able to spruce up our "digs" and make them quite home like. Lt. Hansen and I did not get too fancy with our good sized hole in the ground although I did install a bright piece of metal on one dirt wall as a mirror, but many of the men did. By scrounging the nearby countryside, they returned with such roof top materials as doors and wall siding and large pieces of material found in the rubble of nearby buildings. With a bit of ingenuity, these became water proof covers over the foxholes and provided a sense of coziness.

Our first experience with city fighting was unique. I would guess that just the use of our battery of heavy guns within the confines of a city might have been quite unusual in itself. Certainly, we had never had any training in city fighting and I would doubt that the military planners ever envisioned this type action for guns like ours, realizing the almost impossibility of maneuvering them through city streets and turning sharp corners.

As I mentioned, a battery of smaller artillery had been trying to do battle with a bunch of German tanks which were within the city, but needing more fire power, our battery got the call to replace them. As I recall the setting, the area we entered was not too far in to the city and was on a lower elevation than the main city where the tanks were located. We set up our guns in the same area vacated by the smaller artillery which was in a wide, grassy parkway with streets running on both sides of it and with a row of tall apartment buildings immediately behind us.

Our four guns stretched out about two blocks and our command post was in the center area. As soon as Willie Hansen had the guns synchronized and the wire crew had laid out their wires, we started firing at targets up in the city hills which overhead Piper Cub type spotter planes were specifying. They could see the tanks and could tell when they were maneuvering toward streets facing us in order to direct fire at our position or in order to head away from us, but by our continuing a withering barrage at the target areas specified, we kept the tanks neutralized as they continued to take shelter behind buildings. This was exciting shooting and kept us up the rest of the daylight hours. Every time a tank would start to move, the spotters up above would direct our fire to block or hit it if possible.

I know our mission was to make sure the tanks didn't break out and to keep them trapped until they could be eliminated or captured by infantry, but I am not sure we succeeded. It could be they did escape during the night after the airplanes could no longer keep track of them.

To set up our large guns after they were unhooked from their trucks, the two long steel trails which extended behind the guns would be spread apart and secured into the ground the best way possible. By digging holes to accept the barbed ends of the trails, and then blocking them into the holes by whatever means possible, such as with the use of logs for example, it was hoped this would stabilize the weapon and keep it in position when firing and recoiling. At our parkway position, we couldn't do a proper job of anchoring the trails and as a result one gun after another finally broke free of its mounting and had to be considered out of action. I remember seeing the first one break free and could hear the warning screams of our gunners as it bounced on its big wheels and wheeled backward, across the street behind us and lodged itself against one of the building there. Fortunately, no one got hurt or killed by the runaway gun, but it was a close call.

Shortly after, a second gun erupted from its securement and reduced our firing power to just the two remaining guns. The shooting was so fast and furious that the gun barrels heated excessively and it was necessary to cool them by swabbing water in them and pouring water on the rear recoil area as well. I joined a water bucket brigade as we would obtain water in five gallon water cans from the apartments behind us and pass these up to the guns. In fact, it was the strangest sight to see the German people, mainly women, join us in this effort. Here we were fighting their Army and they were aiding us. Must have been they reasoned the sooner we got through fighting in front of their row of homes the safer they would be and it behooved them to help us speed up this process. I hope we thanked the for their service and for the water from their kitchen sinks.

Eventually, all four guns were out of commission and we never did dig them in again. Probably word had come that we wouldn't be needed here any more and, in fact, we all found refuge for the night in the basements of the apartments behind us. During the night, it became apparent that we needed water for drinking and cooking and washing. With no water available in our lodging area, I remember taking a couple 5 gallon water cans with me and scouting around the area in search of a tap. A short way down the street was a hospital and this seemed a likely place to fill the cans so I felt my way along in the dark looking for an entrance way. One of the first doors I opened exposed a large white mound in the room I entered and this turned out to be a pile of bodies with sheets covering the pile. No water here. Water was found soon afterward in a wash room of some kind and the two cans were welcomed by the group awaiting my return.

Willie Hansen had kept track of the number of rounds we had fired in the short time we were in action and speculated that we may have set some kind of record, but I don't think he ever pursued this to find out. With our guns going out of commission one after another, we probably didn't. We did have some fun, however, in watching a tall smoke stack up in the hills ahead of us and wondering if and when one of our shells might hit it whenever we were firing in its direction. Sure enough, one round did nick the stack and we could see the damage but it remained upright. The flying bricks from the passing shell did bring a round of cheers from us all, but our real thrill would have been seeing it topple and this didn't happen.

While on this mission, we were approached by a number of German Army personnel who had thrown down their arms and were anxious to surrender. With arms raised, they would come down from the hills of the city and walk slowly toward us. Rather than have to accept their surrender and then have to escort them back somewhere to our prisoner of war compounds, we signaled them to just keep right on walking and this they would obey. Probably every one of them was able to find refuge in the apartment area behind us and could have stayed there for the rest of the war. Their lives might have been a little easier had they been confined in one of our prisoner compounds because they would have gotten enough to eat and medical attention which perhaps wasn't available to them otherwise.

- Written December 1998 -