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

France (Part 1)

WHEN this battalion hit the beach the worst was over. Men had landed, had drowned, had been blown to pieces by mines, by shells, hit by shrapnel and bullets, had taken a forty millimeter gun up to a pill box and fired straight into the aperture putting it out of action; a Colonel had stood on the beach and said, "Men we are dying here on the beach, let's go inland and die", and somehow they had. Now only an occasional enemy shell landed on the beach, on a landing boat, tore hell out of an infantry column, now only an occasional mine blew a truck or half-track in all directions and its occupants with it, now all that remained were the rows and rows of blanket covered dead bodies, the wrecked vehicles and guns, the rifles and other articles of equipment, the pathetic personal effects, that littered the sands. Our convoy straggled up from the beach, turned southwest along a dusty, shell-pitted road. From our truck we could see the vast panorama of the assault area on the right, the multitudes of men moving in files from the water's edge up the hill to their assembly area, trucks, tanks, half-tracks, bulldozers forming a live, confused pattern on the sands. When we turned to the inland side of the road we saw orchards and farm yards that had been churned up; trees were splintered, twisted, torn and uprooted. The fishermen's shacks and farm houses that had once dotted the landscape were piles of rubble. A few Norman peasants who had somehow returned were neither hostile nor friendly. They seemed dazed and just stared -- and stared. Amidst such complete devastation it seemed no living thing could survive. And none had. In the fields and along the hedgerows that lined the sides of the roads lay the dead, American and German, men who sprawled grotesquely where they fell, dead men, men who had died with the greatest possible violence.

That night we stayed at a transit area where we were briefed on our first combat mission by the Battalion Operations Officer who had landed a few days previous. Our positions had been picked by a higher command. They were still in enemy hands. We were to proceed to the vicinity of Isigny and occupy these positions the next day. Many of us had visions of battling our way into an orchard and setting up our guns completely surrounded by hostile forces. This illusion was later dispelled, but we were green then and had envisioned warfare worse, if possible, than it actually was.

These initial operations were accomplished with surprisingly few snafus. One battery did take their convoy right up to the front lines where mortars, shells and small arms were crashing all around before they decided that this was no place for AA and hastily retraced their tracks back to a less spectacular position beside battalion headquarters just outside of Isigny. Another battery heard the sharp crack of artillery overhead (incoming or outgoing, who knew then?) and wanted to withdraw. But all in all the mission was carried out with almost veteran skill.

Isigny was the "front" when we pulled into position that day, but we ran into no more ground action than a few isolated snipers. Our deployment was such that we could provide AA protection for forward areas and also intercept flights of planes coming from the east toward the beach where they could inflict incalculable damage on the shipping, beach installations, supplies, in short, the entire operation if they got through. They got through, of course, but not in large numbers; there was no serious damage to the beach. Many were shot down before reaching their objectives and many more turned back by the murderous barrage of AA we threw up at them. We engaged a great number of enemy planes while we were here, for the Luftwaffe was still potent and the Kraut was still determined to use everything he had, on the ground and in the air to push us back into the sea.

Here we first experienced the horror of being silhouetted starkly against the night when enemy planes dropped flares of all colors that cast a weird light making the huge area as bright as day. Here we first learned to hit the ground or a fox hole when we heard the long interminable whine and then the explosion of a bomb or of shells when they landed in or near the area. Here we first learned of the existence of another hazard, the shrapnel from our own nineties that rustled through the air as thick as hail and then hit the earth with a thud. Here, too, we had our first experience with the back-breaking task of digging in a gun position or a CP, of staying up all night, which was when the German Air Force was most active, and of snatching what sleep we could in the day time, of eating C and K rations till we swore we would rather starve and then proceeded to eat more C and K rations, with such bottled French dynamite as Calvados, Mirabel and hard cider.

This was the initial build-up period and the going was slow along the entire front and in our sector the Infantry was measuring its gains by yards or by hedgerows in the blood-drenched orchards beyond Isigny. While we were thus adjusting ourselves to the hardships of war a great conflict was raging on another section of the front. The great port of Cherbourg at the tip of the peninsula on the Channel was desperately needed. Our artillery was pounding it and our Infantry was inching forward a few miles outside the city. The American commander had issued an ultimatum to the German garrison and it had been refused. At the latest reports hundreds of planes had just strafed and dropped tons of high explosives constantly for eighty blinding minutes. But the besieged city had not fallen when on June 25th the battalion received its orders.

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... lands at Omaha Beach on D plus 7 (13 June 1944), occupying positions at Isigny the next day. There, under sniper fire, they provide AA protection for the front lines and the eastern approach to the beaches. "We engaged a great number of enemy planes while we were here, for the Luftwaffe was still potent and the Kraut was still determined to use everything he had, on the ground and in the air to push us back into the sea."
Updated Tuesday June 07, 2005 09:10:18 PDT
The original text of The Story of the 115th A.A.A. Gun Battalion, published by the unit 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.