Symphony in B-Flak
Second Movement: FRANCE
II. NORTHERN FRANCE (Part 3)
Leaving Chateaudun the convoy headed toward the historical city of Orleans. Our ultimate destination was Sens, the city where the XII Corps had established a beach-head across the river Yonne two days previously.
These 45 miles were long ones, for many by-passes of isolated pockets of German resistance had to be made. Orleans itself had to be by-passed, as fighting on the southern fringes of the city was still in progress. Near St. Lye-la Foret north of Orleans it was decided to bivouac for the night. We pulled into the dense forest at 1600 hours in the afternoon.
The customary warnings about observation from the sky were handed down, and due care and precaution were taken to get equipment and tents well into the forest, using the heavy foliage as natural camouflage.
We were allowed to go into the small village nearby, where cognac, wines, and patriotic and pretty French girls abounded. In the village of St. Lye, then, we spent a great deal of time, exercising our charm and broken French on the mademoiselles. We heard all kinds of stories about the Germans and learned that they had been here only 2 days prior to our arrival.
Naturally we passed out cigarettes (international currency), candy, etc., and in turn received many favors. The whole town enjoyed our company and it looked like homecoming day. The people came out to talk to us and exchanged greetings and even kissed us.
When darkness fell, those of as who could disregard all the creeping, climbing insects that crawled over us by the thousands slept a quiet sleep. It was a dark, uneventful night.
Next morning found us up before dawn and stumbling over everything and everyone. We breakfasted and prepared to leave. As usual in the Army, all the rush was in vain, for the convoy lined up on a dirt road off the main supply route and we waited for two additional hours before rolling a foot. Meanwhile we kept the French busy getting us hot water for our Nescafe, because breakfast was over so quickly that most of us never had the chance to prepare morning coffee.
Finally with willing kisses and reluctant goodbyes, we started on the last leg of the journey to Sens, 60 miles southeast of The Dream City of the World, Paris.
Leaving St. Lye-la Foret, our vehicles were bedecked with the flags of the Free French Forces. The people in town cheered lustily, for the flags of their nation brought pride and joy to them.
The last 30 miles were eventful ones. The XII corps had raced through this area pursuing the German Army. After the tanks and supplies passed through, there was a lull in troop movements. It was during this lull that we came along. Naturally the ovation was terrific. Who will ever forget Cheroy! It was there that Captain Beer stopped the convoy and most of us went through the small town passing out cigarettes and sweets; in turn we received dozens of eggs, as well as calvados (apple-scented poison), cognac, etc. Kisses were given and taken and we wanted to stay for ever, but at the shout "Load Up" everyone scampered to his respective vehicle. We left the egg town, amid the cheers and blessings of the townfolk.
The approach to Sens was very beautiful. Rounding a curve on a high hillside, the road descended gradually. In the valley below lay Sens in all its glory. The first things to catch the eyes were the ribbon-like, twisting, clear Yonne River; secondly, the beautiful old Cathedral in the center of town; and thirdly, the sight of steam and smoke from the railroads. The advance of the 3rd Army's XII Corps had been so rapid that the city and its surroundings were undamaged.
The location of our position necessitated driving through the city proper and there we saw, surely, the most beautiful women of France.
Upon arrival at our designated spot, the usual hurried work of battery setup began. From constant emphasis and practice, each succeeding time the emplacement operation was performed more efficiently. Our sleeping quarters were in woods nearby, and again pup tents filled the area.
After all necessary jobs were done, we took a "breather". The people from the town began to arrive in droves, bringing peaches, pears, plums, apples, all kinds of fruit pies, vegetables, and everything imaginable. We learned from them that the Free French were battering the gates to Paris, and a strategic move by General Bradley of the First Army placed the city in an ever-tightening ring of steel.
The first night, Aug. 24th, was a very dull one for us. Not a single Jerry plane was in the vicinity. Some lucky fellows succeeded in obtaining a bit of sleep, but the MG's were manned, the guns were guarded, and the old reliable radar searched and searched all through the night, like a faithful watch-dog.
The next day hardly a Frenchman remained indoors. A national holiday was in effect. The capital city of France was officially liberated. We learned that both French and American First Army troops had entered the largest city of France and its proud capital. It meant a lot more to us, for we remembered the old saying, "As goes Paris, so goes France".
That night we finally added another passage to our symphony by firing 41 rounds of 90mm and 200 .50 caliber. With morning came a lonely F. W. 190 and he stayed long enough to receive 100 rounds of.50 caliber ammunition, and emit a puff of black smoke, after which he disappeared into the few hazy clouds. Those bursts marked the end of our action at Sens.
Sunday most of the Catholic fellows participated in the "Liberation Mass" at the Cathedral of St. Clement. The Cathedral, built in the late 13th century, showed little sign of depreciation and stood beautiful and majestic. As we entered, the organ played "The Star Spangled Banner", and he was callous indeed who did not feel a thrilling sensation in his spine and a surge of emotion. The Archbishop pontificated and delivered a long and impassioned sermon. In the middle of the mass the organ played "God Save the King", and at the end "La Marseillaise" for the first time in 5 years. The French wept openly -- boys and girls, men and women, young and old. Outside the Cathedral we were mobbed and kissed a hundred times or more and invitations of all sorts were extended us. All day long we gorged ourselves on pie, cake, sweets, salads, and sandwiches. Visitors kept arriving in droves. We found out that we were the first troops stationed at Sens and we liked it.
At this time 3rd Army Forces were approaching the gateway to Europe, the fortress of Metz.
The XII Corps had covered 250 miles in 16 days and we raced after them, protecting, as we did in Sens, rail and road installations and bridges.
Aug. 30 we pulled up our stakes and bade a sad goodbye to Sens.