Yes, I know: it should be a 48-star flag... The 115th A.A.A. Gun Battalion, 1943 to 1945

Symphony in B-Flak

ENGLAND (Part 2)


The roads from Manchester to Lytham-St. Anne's, Lancashire, are full of twisting, torturous curves; consequently several hours were required to make the 45 mile trip on Feb. 3, 1944. Lytham was an operational site, and this was to be our first military operation. We were relieving the 109th AAA Gun Bn. and had sent "contact parties" ahead two weeks earlier to study particular problems and to arrange for the transfer of the British properties. Since the site had to remain continuously operational, we had to exchange guns singly and set up our range equipment before the 109th coulid move out -- a long tedious process, especially in a sea of mucky, slimy and "gooey" mud!

Our mission was to protect the Wharton Base Air Depot of the Eighth Air Force. This was a strategic mission, for the Wharton Base had several huge supply and maintenance installations, as well as numerous airfields. Our daily schedule included morning and evening "Stand-to", alerts, orientation and synchronisation twice a day, general maintenance, etc. Our radar consisted of an old SCR-268 which the 109th had been ordered to leave behind and which was hopelessly mired down in a swamp with little practical use, except for a clothes line. Nevertheless we had visual tracking when the planes were up and, paradoxically, "dry runs" when it rained. We had a system of barrage fire ready in case of an emergency, and we perfected our defense against dive bombers and strafers. It was quite an ordeal, but as we well knew, success in an AA mission depends upon accuracy in minute details. Forts and Libs by the hundreds soon became a common sight, together with the fighters -- Lightnings, Thunderbolts, Mustangs, and at times Spitfires. Occasionally there would be a Wellington, Flying Goose, Curtiss Commando, and Skytrain, as well as English aircraft of all kinds. Soon our fellows knew friendly aircraft like they knew American automobiles.

The living quarters which we received here were better than those we had left. They were comfortable Nissen Huts with concrete floors and stoves of the English variety (without grates). The walls had been adorned with gaily colored paintings as well as silhouettes of one of the favorite "jaw-session topics" -- women.

Of especial interest was "The Silver Fox", our combination "rec" hall, library, writing room, reading room, concert hall, and bar. Since the beer drinkers were the loudest, it soon took on the appearance of "The International Casino" -- sans floor show, that is -- and the walls vibrated with laughter. The name was adopted in honor of our silver-haired Battery Commander, Lt. Harvey, although he never indulged, or touched a drink, for little did he care about the temperature of the drink.

This Camp was one of those Britain erected hastily to accommodate our troops, and plumbing, for one thing, had not extended so far into the country. The latrines, then, were a novelty, but they were much more comfortable than a slit-trench, and the "Honey Wagon" did the rest.

In our previous position we had assumed some of the duties of the C. B.'s (Cleanup Battery). Now we turned to engineering for a change. Someone ingeniously conceived the idea that the location could be drained off. Soon shovels M1 A1, 2 & 3 were placed in our hands, and we were all busy cutting trenches the length and breadth of the position. It was an excellent idea except for one thing. The River Ribble used to back up at high tide, and the trenches would promptly fill up, and parts that may have been drained were replenished with hundreds of gallons of water. Across the river was a shipyard which was working daily on the same old ship, and the noise of "Rosie the Riveter" was always in the air.

For the first time since our arrival in the U. K., 24-hour passes put in their appearance. The natural place to visit was the "Atlantic City of England" -- Blackpool, on the Irish Sea. Most of us, however, returned to Manchester, for the hospitality there could not easily be forgotten. Those of us who went to Blackpool saw for the first time a highly modernized city, very reminiscent of cities back home. Even though it was war time with strict blackout and public closing at 2300 hours and curtailed transportation facilities, still a great deal of entertainment and amusement could be had. The city itself was overrun with RAF pilots, but the GI's would not and could not be outdone. Witness the Pent House ballroom! Wasn't she heavenly -- no, not the blonde, but the atmosphere -- well, if you insist, the blonde also. And fortunately wherever you find the RAF, you will also find the WAAF (Women's Auxiliary Air Force) those noble little gals, many of whom were in the military forces before our country was at war. There were cinemas, too, if that was all you could find to do, as well as theaters and playhouses where dramas and skits were regularly presented. Outside of dancing and girls, there was little else to do, and for the majority, dancing was irrelevant.

At this time the Allied plan of interchanging Yanks and Tommies to promote better mutual understanding was well under way and reached down into our Battery. We entertained three Tommies for a period of two weeks. They marvelled at our large amount of heavy equipment, but what completely awed them was our monthly paycheck, our weekly ration of cigarettes and candy, and the quantity of meat in our diet. At the end of this time, three of our fellows who had spent two weeks in an English camp returned praising the English to high heaven for their sincerity, their discipline, their knowledge of their equipment, their spirit of fun, and their -- chow! They had been to a mixed battery whose kitchen had the feminine touch.

In the spring of 1941 the Luftwaffe had bombed the industrial cities of the midlands and the north of England severely, but infrequently. Now the bulk of the Luftwaffe was transferred to the Russian front, and these cities were not threatened. We did not desire their reappearance, but should they reappear, we were eager to track, load, and fire.

It was at this site that we were visited by a Captain who had just arrived in the U. K. from Washington. He revealed to the Officers, as we later learned, that British secret agents had discovered the German robot or "buzz" bomb plans almost a year earlier. He also revealed the role that antiaircraft was to play in the defense against them. Ours was one of the first Gun battalions contemplated for this task. The Battery Commanders even left on a trip that lasted several days to reconnoiter our assigned positions south of Rochester, below London. But the bombing of the robot launching sites during the preceding winter months had been so effective that the robot blitz did not start until June 15, and by that time we were already in Normandy.

It was rumor time again.

"Blandford, yeah,we're going to Blandford."
"You're crazy. There isn't a place by that name in England."
There is.

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... with the rest of the Battalion, relieves 109th AAA Gun Bn in the air defense of Wharton Base Air Depot of the Eighth Air Force at Lytham, Lancashire.
Updated Tuesday June 07, 2005 09:08:17 PDT
The original text of Symphony in B Flak, published by B Battery in 1945, is in the public domain. So how, you may ask, can I claim that the contents of these web pages are protected by copyright?

The answer is that it is my own transcription of the text and images into electronic format, and compilation into these web pages that is copyrighted. In addition, the web design, art, and annotations, plus all material from my father's personal albums are copyrighted original works. I reserve all rights to how all these materials are used. You may not copy them or store them in any retrieval system without permission.