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

France (Part 4)

CARENTAN

Carentan! Out of the swirling dust poked its battered walls and chimneys, and into its rubbled streets rolled the 115th. As we left the center of the town and moved toward our gun sites, we were aware of the wreckage of a fleeing army, but not of an army that had fled without a struggle. Debris littered the narrow dirt roads. There were abandoned horsedrawn vehicles of every description, some even for towing artillery, some with small caliber artillery pieces still attached to them; there were motor vehicles too, some left camouflaged under the trees, others black, charred skeletons. There were German helmets and papers and gas masks; there were rifles and bayonets and there were bloody clothes and crimson bandages and there were more papers and there were some American helmets too. On the battle fields of France there is always left one inevitable symbol of what has transpired -- the rotting carcasses of horses and cows. The horses seemed to have gone till they dropped and just lay there quietly. But somehow the cows, most of them white, gave the impression of having met with greater violence, and they lay on their backs as if hurled by a great force, bloated with their feet sticking rigid and grotesque straight up into the air. These were the fields around Carentan.

"The clear summer nights were alight with the most savagely beautiful antiaircraft fire and flares and flaming planes yet seen on the beach. And they were full of the acrid smell of powder from the big guns and their mighty roar as great sheets of flame shot from the muzzles. There was action at Carentan."

Our positions were in orchards and fields surrounded by hedgerows outside of the town. Carentan was once more the object of an all-out attack by the Germans. Our troops were losing a few yards one day and winning them back the next. And they were sending over planes too. Carentan was a vitally important supply route for the Cherbourg peninsula and for the troops on the other side who were trying to push beyond. Our mission was to protect the forward areas and Carentan and Carentan defiles. The now familiar warning of being prepared to fire on ground targets and to be ready to break up a tank-led counter attack that was expected were received.

The clear summer nights were alight with the most savagely beautiful antiaircraft fire and flares and flaming planes yet seen on the beach. And they were full of the acrid smell of powder from the big guns and their mighty roar as great sheets of flame shot from the muzzles. There was action at Carentan.

The 115th was given the privilege of being the only unit to fire Field Artillery on the town of Periers, a small place a few miles south of Carentan. The first day two batteries fired over 250 rounds of high explosive shells playing havoc with convoys of supplies and men the enemy was pouring into the sector. The following day the battalion fired interdiction fire on the main road leading from Periers to St. Lo. This highway was jammed with retreating enemy vehicles and troops. We pounded all the important cross roads and the road itself and the convoys on it. An accurate report was never given of the extent of the damage inflicted on the enemy since all firing was not observed. But on those missions that had been observed, the Piper Cub of the Field Artillery reported amazing accuracy from these big guns meant to shoot down high flying planes, our shells scoring direct hit upon direct hit on the vehicles and the road itself. It was their first experience with ninety millimeter guns employed against ground targets and the Field Artillery Commanders were enthusiastic about it. A day later two of our batteries received counter battery fire which stopped before it had caused any damage to materiel or any casualties among the men. This is an example of the amazing good fortune that followed the 115th through eleven months of combat. Battery D took the worst beating -- for a week intermittent shells landed all around them; they would watch with horrified fascination while the shells crept closer and closer getting their range. But with the some miraculous good fortune -- no casualties.

The enemy air raids on our positions and our section of the front became fewer and fewer. The nights usually saw three of four small raids -- just to keep us from getting any rest -- there was little bombing; the planes that did come over were on photographic missions and or obtaining intelligence for future ground activity. Several were shot down. We had just two daylight raids when one ridiculous little lone plane came timidly out looking for something and with the first shot of what turned into a mighty barrage, skeddadled back toward his own lines.

The lines moved so far away from us that we did not fire any more Field Artillery, and the enemy air activity had dropped to zero. And still the gigantic build-up of men and equipment continued; there was not an orchard or field that was not filled with troops who were waiting there for something we all felt was brewing -- something big. On July 25th the mighty flood of destructive force was released. It was preceeded by the great bombing that is now history. We awoke in our tents and fox holes and gun pits to the drone and whine of the dive bombers, then the great fortresses came followed by the mediums then the dive bombers again to finish what was left. This was the mightiest fleet of planes ever used tactically in the history of warfare, and we watched with awe the American might sweep over us to where a few miles to the south it was already mauling, tearing, demoralizing and annihilating the enemy. It was a magnificent spectacle. On 2 August we left Carentan in the wake of an unbelievably long and armored drive by our Third Army.

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moves to the bitterly fought orchards and fields around Carentan on the 12th of July, 1944. Action here included firing Field Artillery on the town of Periers, and the road between Periers and St. Lo. "The Piper Cub of the Field Artillery reported amazing accuracy from these big guns meant to shoot down high flying planes, our shells scoring direct hit upon direct hit on the vehicles and the road itself. It was their first experience with ninety millimeter guns employed against ground targets and the Field Artillery Commanders were enthusiastic about it."

July 25th saw the beginning of the big Allied offensive. "We awoke in our tents and fox holes and gun pits to the drone and whine of the dive bombers, then the great fortresses came followed by the mediums then the dive bombers again to finish what was left." Now part of the Third Army, the 115th joined the armored drive of the St. Lo breakthrough on the 2nd of August.
 
Updated Tuesday June 07, 2005 09:10:26 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.