Symphony in B-Flak
ENGLAND (Part 4)
[Original spelling "Lippett's Hill" as used in the book has been corrected throughout. - Ed.]
March 14 saw B Battery off on a long 110-mile convoy of its own. We were to be attached to Col. Albergotti's 184th AAA Gun Battalion, relieving one of his batteries so that it could go to Blandford for the "Mobile Training". We left at 0630 hours, with smiles on our faces. At long last one "break" had fallen to us. The convoy moved along, and the scenery was exceptionally beautiful. The airports appeared more frequently and grew larger. As we neared London, several searchlight units could be seen, perfectly camouflaged.
Afer a trip of 12 hours we made a routine stop and learned that our Battery Commander, who had left a few days earlier, had been struck by an English lorry and was then taken to a hospital with a broken foot. This was a "sad blow", because Capt. Harvey was very popular with everyone who knew him.
Finally, as dusk was upon us, we came into the city north of London called Chingford, Essex, which was approximately 4 miles from Laughton, or Lippitts Hill, the location of the site.
In order to reach the site we had to penetrate the Epping Forest, Robin Hood's old haunt. Epping is part of the famed Sherwood Forests.
We arrived at the camp shortly after dusk. Although it was hard to see clearly, we received a pleasant impression. The road ways were concrete, and the barracks were all centrally heated. Shower and latrine facilities were marvellous. We found out later that this was a static British site and it was, in a word, excellent.
We ate some "B Battery turkey" (Army corned beef hash) and then went off to sleep on the floor of a large recreation hall which at one time was the NAAFI!
At 2300 hours the same night we were all up and outside in various stages of undress -- our first air-raid. We could hear the muffled, high-pitched drone peculiar to all German aircraft. Fires could be seen on the horizon, and it was evident that London had been hit. While the planes dived and maneuvered, British and American ack-ack filled the air; the staccato of the Bofors 40 mm. kept a constant vigil. So far the 90's had not answered the challenge. More delay, more zooming, bombs crashing nearby, and suddenly the music we wanted to hear so much, the beginning of a symphony we would hear for a long time to come: the four deadly 90's of the 184th barking violently, spewing flame and destruction toward the skies!
It stopped even more quickly than it had started, leaving us suspended in expectation. It was all over, and we had liked it. Tomorrow night, maybe, we would have the opportunity to fire. Time passed very slowly. Eager and excited, we wanted to do something about those planes.
The next day was divided between the relieving of the 184th Battery and the meticulous tuning up of our new radar, the SCR 584, as well as precise orientation and synchronization. At last we were ready. All right, Hitler, send those raiders now. He did.
That evening at 2230 hours they came. Everyone was just a bit "jumpy", for as battle troops we were green. Slowly and surely, however, we settled down and took on the complacency of a devil-may-care attitude. Inside us, however, things were different. The Radar "picked up" our first enemy target. He came in bobbing and weaving, maneuvering violently, closer, closer. We waited. Our nerves began to jump. "Come on; let's fire" was all that could be heard. The plane kept boring in. Suddenly a voice came from the C.P.: "Guns fire three rounds." Quiet, tenseness, suspense! Then it began. This time our guns sent their tune heavenward, and the Jerry pilot was the guest to the first movement of our "Symphony in B-Flak". We were close undoubtedly, for he altered course immediately. Before he was out of range, we sent a "goodbye-good riddance" volley.
It was over, and quiet again prevailed. We were all happy, because we had already been training for just this type of work for almost a year, and we felt that at last the training was beginning to pay dividends. Jerry returned in the early morning at 0300 hours, and we were up and out of the "sack" and out to our equipment. We then began to wait, as usual in the Army -- rush to wait. This was an incendiary bomb raid, and as one of the boys put it, "The clouds dripped white fire", for we could see each incendiary go off, and they were being dropped in clusters all about us. We didn't like it, so at the order, ''Continuous fire", we gave them something they hadn't expected. That morning a few raiders never returned to their home base.
We soon became accustomed to being aroused out of the peaceful arms of Morpheus, to run out within 2 minutes of the warning bell to our guns and range station. Expectation of alert was at any time from 2100 hours to 0700 in the morning. "Factory warning on"; ''All sites take post"; "Attack in progress"
We finally received the SCR 184, IFF (Identification, Friend or Foe), and we began to assemble it and find out just how and why it worked; thus the British contraption we were using was finally abandoned. The camp was clean. Concrete drives, horseshoe-like concrete gun pits, concrete C.P; in fact everything was perfect.
Entertainment was of the best. ENSA shows came there twice during our stay, as well as kiddie shows and movies. Each Saturday night A.T.S. girls from various neighboring camps came to our dance. Every one had a gala time talking, eating and ... Beer, however, was not allowed. By the grace of our acting Battery Commander, Capt. Klatte, called by all of us "Uncle Bill", it was permissible to visit the Owl, a pub directly across the street for a "bitter" or a "black-and-tan" or a chat with the Englishmen, or to use the phone there. It was frequented so much that we had a siren installed. Down the road 1/4 mile was the "Plow", another pub frequented by many of the boys.
Gen. Eisenhower had ruled that passes be cut from 24 hours to 6 hours. Our camp was so situated that trips to either of two towns, one Chingford, the other Waltham Cross, which were equidistant, were permissible. The only setback was transportation facilities. If we missed the truck, we had to walk back and then face a "fiery dragon" when we arrived there. In Chingford we frequented the Royal Forest Hotel where dancing was always in progress and drinks could be bought. Girls always outnumbered us 2 to 1, and thus we could afford to choose with discrimination, and we did. There was easy access to the golf course, and strolls on the green and fairways were made with many a fair maiden, without golfclubs. The time of year was spring and everyone knows whither "a young man's fancy lightly turns" in the springtime. We frequented the Doric, a theater that played Broadway hits about three years old. Chingford offered all types of transport to London, -- LNE (London, Northeastern) railroad, and omnibuses.
Later, after the extension of the privilege, all of us were enabled to visit the largest city in the world, London. The city is 22 miles across, and it is impossible to see everything for which London is famous in 24 hours. We did see Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, Hampden House, 10 Downing Street, the Thames estuary, Regents Park, and thousands of other things of interest, and above all Piccadilly Circus, the parliament Buildings, and the Cathedrals.
Rainbow Corner was the first stop always, because directions, hints and suggestions of where to go, and what to do, and where to sleep, could all be had there free of charge.
We were all happy at Lippitts Hill despite the inspections by all kinds of brass, the most dreaded being those by our Battalion Commander, Col. Albergotti. Gen. Sir Frederic Pyle, the British Ack-Ack specialist, who had charge of the entire AA defense of the London area, was pleased and congratulated us on our work and cleanliness of equipment. However, shortly afterwards, we were gigged on little things, such as not painting the knobs in our Computer red, white, and blue. Yes, even the fan belts of the vehicles must be bright red. But we didn't mind it too much, for at least our environment was clean and wholesome.
Food was exceedingly good, meat was plentiful; bread, jam, etc., were served frequently. What more could we ask for!
Although we often fired, the position was not a good one, because it was at the extremity of all bomb runs. We were told by Lt. Henry, the British officer who was in charge of the Recording Van, (a unit from which could be traced both the flight of the target and the position of our shell burst) that our firing was most effective, because we forced the raiders to change continuously their direction, speed, and altitude, and made it impossible for them to bomb with precision.
One night the same Lt. Henry told us many interesting stories of the England of yesteryear and of today. For example, the cities and towns that end in Cross, such as Waltham Cross and Kings Cross, etc., received their names during the funeral procession of Queen Anne, wife of King Henry VIII. At each stop of the procession the King had a cross erected, and the names have persisted till the present day.
Ever so often a batch of mail would come to us from Blandford and along
with it stories of the tough training our Battalion was undertaking.
Then came the season's heaviest raid on London. Planes were caught in the glare of searchlights, held in it throughout their flight. Others came in with their wing lights on, at many altitudes, and the sky was a blanket of AA fire, mostly British. The raiders came in from the South and flew out towards the West; consequently they were always well out of range of our guns, and if strong words and epithets were ammunition we'd have knocked the whole Luftwaffe silly. We did get some firing in, at maximum range, but it was ineffectual.
In the last delivery of mail came the rumor that we would go back to Blandford soon as Station Complement; thus we learned that our mission here was nearing completion.
Amusing incidents always occurred. One of the best concerned the special orders of the gate guard. Instructed to take care lest Col. Albergotti's chickens get out, one guard, while busy with an incoming vehicle let a couple of hens slip by and consequently spent an hour or more chasing them all over Laughton. Many of us wish that those same chickens were with us now.
Three weeks after Easter a convoy arrived. The self same boys we relieved were back again. They put their equipment in the holes that we had just finished digging. We were relieved that night. Consequently we had the evening to ourselves and took ample advantage of it. Many went to Waltham Cross, others to Chingford, and still others to the old favorites, "The Owl" and "The Plow", for the final goodbyes. We hated leaving but were happy for one thing. We would be under the command of our own Col. Hopper, and back where we belonged with the 115th.
All in all, our stay was both pleasant and profitable. We had expended 164 rds. of ammunition, and although we did not submit any formal claims for planes destroyed, we did engage the enemy and were now confident that we could and would deal with him on more than parity at all future engagements.