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A Typical Day in Normandy

 

Typical Day in Normandy
Sgt. Chris Christensen Co. G

On 6/6/44 after jumping with my 505 Parachute Infantry Regiment 82nd Airborne Division, this story best describes a typical day of fighting in the Normandy hedgerows. Here the defender would always have a decided advantage. Most of the time the Germans would set up an automatic weapon at the end of the field so he could fire straight down the row and directly into the approaching GIís. If this didnít wipe them out, they would be pinned down. By the time we got our mortars set up to fire, they would have moved out and back to the next hedgerow. Not only would the hedgerows be under small arms fire, but he was very exact with both his mortars and the 88 artillery pieces. Having been in and around this territory for years, he would have a decided advantage over us. Anti-personnel mines and trip wires were attached to charges that he had placed and you would always have to keep an eye out for. When you started down one of these rows, you never knew if you were going to make it out in one piece or not.

One morning we were moving down this hedgerow and a line of trees, which would be bordering a narrow lane. Directly on the other side was another row similar to the one we were moving down and the trees on both sides would almost engulf the lane. Shortly we would come to a spot where the brush was just a little thinner and I could peer across. Being on the alert, I slowly came up with my Tommy gun and found myself staring into the face of a Kraut not twenty feet away. For a brief moment he is so startled and mesmerized he canít move. Iím about to send him along to Nazi heaven, but when I pull the trigger, the bolt just slowly slides home and wouldnít fire. The trees here are high and wide, so I wonít be able to toss a grenade over, so now we have one lucky Jerry and the start of a bad day for me.

We hadnít gone very far down this hedgerow when we came upon this small cottage, which you knew spelled trouble. I halted the squad and instructed them to give me protective fire if needed as I checked it out. By luck there was plenty of cover and I was able to get up to the house. The front door was slightly ajar and my first thought was to toss in a grenade and go in shooting. Something told me to hold off and just kick the door open and be ready to fire. This I did and was startled to find a old French couple cowering in a corner. She, crying and he is jabbering away about something which I had no idea. I am about to go back outside, but he is tugging on my arm pointing up to a loft that extends over half of this one room cottage. All I could think about was there must be some Jerry hiding up there, so I pull the bolt back on my Tommy gun and get ready to blast up through the loft floor. Now they are both pleading with me not to do it and he is pointing to a ladder that leads up there. I have to check it out, but first I make him go up ahead of me. If he is leading me into any trap, I am making sure he gets blown away first. The floor to this loft is half covered with straw and he is beckoning me over to show me something he has hidden. When he uncovers the straw, there is a badly wounded regular army GI laying there. The guy was semi conscious, so I was unable to get anything out of him. To this day I donít know where he had come from, as we were the first troops through here, or where this pair had found him. My only thought then was how close I had come to doing this pair in. If I had shot up in that loft it would have probably started a fire burning the cottage down along with the soldier. This would have been a hell of a reward to them for risking certain death by the Germans for hiding an enemy.

About now another squad had moved down the other side and both sides of the lane is now secured. The next field would prove a bit more difficult. I would place half of my men on one side of the row and the other half on the other. The second squad on the other side of the field doing the same and we would move out together. Jerry lets us get about halfway down when he opens up on us. For awhile we are pinned down, but later are able to back out. We have a couple of men slightly wounded and one who is hit bad, still laying behing. The heavy 81 MM mortars from Hdqs Co soon erases this pocket of resistance and we are able to secure this field. The GI who was down, the medics carry out. He would be patched up and would return back to us when we return to England.

That evening we would start a night attack and the objective would be St Sauveur le Vicomts. The second battalion would be attacking through the center of this large town and we would be on their right flank. Our part of the operation would get off to a bad start. Immediately the second platoon leader would get killed. This would leave us with only one officer remaining. The company commander and he would be our fourth since jumping in Normandy.

In the attack we would be guiding on an elevated road to our right. There was fierce fighting going on all around and for the time being we had moved up in a small apple orchard. Directly in front was this stone fence 3 or 4 foot high. I am told to check out the next field to see what is ahead. Without much trouble, I am over the wall and I am in a small garden in back of a house. Visibility is next to nothing, as it is black dark out, but I can make out the silhouette of something. Being in such close contact with the enemy. I am down on my belly slithering along. The yard isnít very wide, maybe a 100 feet at the most, when I come across this stone wall separating the yard. Realizing this wall is too high to climb over, I start looking for an opening. I am down on my belly again moving along the wall when I come upon an alcove with a heavy gate hung in the center. While trying quietly to get this open, some Kraut up on the elevated track just outside of the garden must of heard some noise. He hoses down this area pretty good with his machine pistol, but I feel he isnít sure he knows where the noise is coming from as he is shooting directly down to the edge of the road into some underbrush. As I had seen his muzzle blast I knew just about where he was. Figuring he belongs to me, I can easily take him out with a fragmentation grenade. Reaching into my pocket to get one out, I hear some noise behind me. Listening very carefully I can hear a couple of Krauts whispering. This has put a new light on everything. I now have one to my left and a couple to my right that I know of and they are all within spitting distance.

Things now are getting real hairy and I know there is no way I am going to be able to get across this yard again without being seen. In my present position I am in the shadow, but it is only time before I will be spotted. My only recourse now is to get two grenades out and ready. The first one I would lob at the pair to my right. I am hoping this would catch them by surprise and with the three second delay fuse have time to pull the pin on the second grenade and toss it up on the track in direction of the other Kraut. This is going to take split second timing, but I can see I have no other choice. I ease my gun down to the ground, thus freeing my hands and arms for this grenade tossing, when I hear the pair to my right folding up the tri-pod of their light machine gun and leaving. They are going way from me around the house and I am breathing a sigh of relief. It is now or never, so I ease one of the grenades out of my pocket to get it ready to toss. Awhile back for safety, I had taped the lever down so if the pin came out it wouldnít accidentally detonate. Now I canít find the end of the tape to get it off. This useless one I return to my pocket and try the other one with the same results. Realizing I am going to have to make a move, it is now or never. I am not sure the Kraut to my left is still there as I havenít heard anything from that direction. After awhile I ease back down and crawl across the yard. After safely making it, I reach the wall and opening I came in on, there staring me in the face was the muzzle of a BAR. One of these eight-balls want to fire and the other is telling him not to as I am still over there. So much for this fun evening. Later when we move out the company sidesteps to the left, bypassing these back yards. The days and night to follow were much the same as to what we had just experienced Jerry, fighting hard and not relinquishing one inch of land without a fight. After 38 days of combat, we had fought our way across the Contentin Peninsula to La Haye du Puits. During this time we suffered a 70% casualty rate. Here we would be relieved and returned to England to regroup and prepare for the next operation.

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