> 505th Regimental Combat Team (505rct.org)

HOME

ABOUT US

MEMBERSHIP

LINKS

CONTACT US
 
 

Naples to Normandy

 

In this series of stories I hope to briefly cover the time between when we left Naples, our I

         aboard the US Frederick Funston and landing at Belfast, Ireland. From here our journey

         over to England at Camp Quorn, training here and the invasion of Normandy.

        

                 Written by Wheatley T Christensen

                           Bid 11 Apt 7 Silverwood Circle

                          Annapolis, Md. 21403

        

         There has been many books written about World War II, mostly by writers or historians

         who knew absolutely nothing about what the individual soldier experienced. This brief

         memoranda is a reminder of what the average infantry soldier will see daily. I will also try

         keep everything on the squad level and below. You will note that I haven’t tried to portray

         myself as a hero nor anyone else. We were all plain, ordinary Gl’s doing our duty. The

         Camaraderie was so great; you would die before you would let a buddy down. The just

         Cause, flag waving and mama’s apple pie, you can forget.

        

         I was born during WW 1 and I was told absolutely nothing about that war. In school I do

         Remember on Nov 11 at 11:00 AM, we would observe one minute of silence. My mother’s

         Brother would die in France, but these things weren’t discussed. Shortly after the war I can

         remember they brought his body home and he is buried in Annapolis. This was the extent

         of my knowledge of WW 1, which I feel is wrong, but again the exact same thing is

         happening today.

        

         Briefly I will describe the life of the infantryman in a rifle company. Regardless of the

         weather you lived outdoors. During an artillery barrage, if your hole was full of water, you

         laid in it. Everything you owned in combat you carried. In the attack it would be very

         possible that you could be the point. Here you would be out in front of the main body a

         couple of hundred yards. Your job was to act as scout and decoy. Maybe Jerry would let

         you get by before opening up on the main body or maybe not. You never knew when

         last step would be, but this you couldn’t dwell on. At night after fighting all day, you could   

        be called out to go on a patrol that night. Day and night you would be subject   to his

        artillery, which he was never in any short supply. Daily you would be directly

        engaged with him. To survive you would constantly have to be on your guard.

        

         In summing this up, there is no way I want to glamorize any of this. These experiences

         must be shared with the future generations. By the rate the veterans are dying off, it won't

         be long before there will be no one left to pass any of this on. Now I feel it is my duty to

         write this while I am still able.

                

        While continually putting off writing my memoirs for nearly sixty years, I will try to fill

         the void between leaving the Mediterranean and Normandy.

        

         After Salerno invasion and moving up to liberate Naples, we were assigned the task of’

         policing the city. This cushy job you knew couldn’t last, so sure enough on November

         IS, 1943 we loaded aboard the U S Frederick Funston and set sail. This ship was a large

         attack transport that was carrying our entire division less our sister regiment, the 504 PIR

         which would stay behind in Italy.

         

         Little did we know that this vessel would be our home for the next 22 days, or where we

         were headed After being underway a couple of days, it was announced on the speaker

         that Mount Vesuvius had just erupted. This volcano had lain dormant for years, but it

         used to fascinate me watching it continuously spewing out fire, smoke and ashes.

        

         Before continuing on. I will point out some of the accommodations the Funston had to

         offer, My bunk area was located somewhere deep down in the bowels of the ship. As

         there were no portholes, it would be safe to assume we were well below the water line.

         The shower facilities were excellent. Plenty of salt water and they even gave you special

         soap, but I think a brick would have produced more suds. The food was much better than

         we had been used to, and to make things even better we would be served three meals a

         day. Normally on a troop ship you would only be get two. Daily each company was

         given a number and that sequence was how you would be fed. If your company was 24

         for the day, we would eat after 23 other companies had been fed. If you were early you

         wouldn’t get in and if late, forget it, you just missed a meal. For each meal you would

         probably line up an hour or so early waiting for your companies turn to get in the mess

         hall.

        

         Entering the dinning area was a real experience. First you would grab a tray and start

         down the food line where the food would be dished up. The tray was sectioned off but 1

         never knew the reason, as everything was slung together. At the end of this line was some

         ass veiling for you to hurry it up. Now that you had the food on your tray you went in

         search of somewhere to eat. These accommodations would be real long tables where you

         would have to stand up to eat. While eating there would be another SOB shouting, hurry

         up, move it along. The last step was to get in line again to clean your tray off and move

         out. The entire function, after standing in line for over an hour or more, enter the mess

         hall, eat and leave, would be about ten minutes.

        

         On November 22nd we pulled into Oran, French Algeria and dropped anchor. Here we

         would stay for the next week waiting for a large convoy to be formed, which we would

         be part of We hadn’t much more than dropped anchor, when there was a very loud

         explosion outside the hull of our ship. This sound could best be described as being inside

         a steel container and someone striking it with a sledge hammer. This would cause the

         entire ship to vibrate. At first we thought we had either struck a mine or had been

         torpedoed here in the harbor, but latter found out what was happening. As a precautionary

         measure against saboteurs attaching some explosive devices to the hull, they would

         continue to drop depth charges. The Harbor Authority had this launch that was steady

         moving about the harbor dropping these at no set time. Some would only be minutes

         apart, or maybe up to and hour, but you could be sure there would be an explosion soon.

         At night I think they doubled up, but I got so I could sleep right through the racket.

        

         Another memorable occasion was Thanksgiving Day 1943. That particular day there was

         a notice posted, stating there would only be two meals served that day because of the

         delicious meal that was being prepared. To celebrate this occasion they even passed out

         to all the troops the menu that was to be served. Roast Turkey with all the trimmings,

         pumpkin pie, ice cream, candy, etc. To this day I can still remember laying in my bunk

         reading and relishing the meal we were to have. It would be the first decent meal 1 had in

         a year. There was one catch to all this, our company was the last to be fed that day. After

         waiting all day and sweating out the chow line, upon entering the mess we were told they

         were out of food. Our Thanksgiving dinner now consisted of a slice of spam slung

         between two slices of dry bread. That meal turned out to be nothing to give thanks for.

        

         On the 29th we weighted anchor and slipped out through the Straits Of Gibraltar and into

         the Atlantic Ocean. Here the weather took a decided turn for the worst. Many of my

         airborne friends never got their sea legs and were sick from the time we boarded this

         vessel until we disembarked. The relative calm we had experienced in the Med wasn’t so

         bad, but now as large as the Funston was, we were being tossed around pretty good. The

         hole where I slept reeked of the smell of vomit, as well as the heads were overf1owin~

         with puke. The path to the mess could be followed by guys with queasy stomachs

         upchucking along the way. Oddly for some reason this salt air was stimulating my

         appetite and I was as hungry as a bear at all times.

        

         As usual as on any troop movement for security reasons, we were never told where we

         were heading. Various rumors were being circulated around that we were heading back

         to the states and be split up to form the cadre for the new airborne divisions being

         formed. Another was we were headed to the Pacific, but the one I liked best was the one

         that we were to be used for selling war bonds. Of course there had to be a Hollywood

         starlet hanging on each arm, My female choice for this task was Frances Farmer.

         Remember, she was the actress arrested for running down the street naked, Things were

         looking better each day as we had been continuously sailing in a westerly direction. One

         morning the ship made a big change of direction to the east and you knew that all these

         rumors were false, we weren’t heading for the states any longer. We had only been

         making a wide detour out to sea to avoid the German wolf packs that were lurking in wait

         off the European coastline.

        

         To help break the boredom the ship boasted two movies that were shown daily. This was

         an experience in itself The projector was set up in a companionway with a sheet tied off

         as the screen. If you were on the projector side, everything was normal, but viewed from

         the opposite side it had everything reversed. Wheels turning the wrong way, shaking

         hands left handed, etc. To view the movie you set on the deck. One was a Judy Canova

         — Jerry Colonna comedy which wasn’t very good. This I only saw 6 — 8 times before I

         couldn’t take it anymore. Now the other was the great Humphrey Bogart — Ingrid

         Bergman classic ‘Casablanca”. We had seen this movie so many times that at times we

         would reenact some of the scenes I am not too sure whether Peter Lore or Claude Rains

         would have approved of the new version, but anyhow it did pass the time and get a few

         laughs.

        

         It wasn’t long after the ship’s heading changed more north easterly and you knew you

         were in the North Atlantic. The temperature was steady getting colder and the seas

         running higher. Some of those waves looked as high as mountains. Many who hadn’t

         succumbed to seasickness before, were making tip for lost time.

        

         So far we had been very lucky in evading the German subs, but one day while viewing

         Casablanca for the umpteenth time a general alarm was sounded. Over the speaker it was

         announced that a sub or subs had been picked up off our forward starboard quarter and be

         on the look out for torpedo trails. Needless to say that ended the movie and we returned

         to our quarters. After what seemed like an eternity the all clear was sounded. The next

         day Dec 9, 1943 to everyone’s relief we pulled into Belfast, Northern Ireland.

        

                                   United Kingdom

        

         Arriving at Belfast not only signified the end of the voyage, but to many it was a relief

         getting their feet back on dry ground again. The green of Ireland was a welcome change

         compared to the dry, barren countries of the Mediterranean.

        

         My 505 Parachute Infantry Regiment after disembarking would later be trucked over to

         Cookstown and stationed just outside of the town. Cookstown is in Throne County.

         which is one of the six counties that make up what is called Northern Ireland or the Irish

         Free State. Southern Ireland during WW II was neutral and we weren’t allowed to go

         there. The people weren’t all that pro German, only their hatred of the British compelled

         them not to take sides, or render any aid to them.

        

         Here we would be quartered in Quonset huts, which were cheap hastily constructed

         buildings. First they would pour a concrete slab, erect a metal frame around and cover

         with corrugated iron. On each end they would install two windows and a door. For heat

         there was a sheet metal stove about the diameter of a five gallon bucket and maybe half

         again as high. The inside was lined with a thick installation, so the fire chamber itself

         was very small. This didn’t make a whole lot of difference as we were only allowed one

         bucket of coke a day. Needless to say, these huts were as cold as tombs, Among the other

         amenities offered were the bunks, These were composed of three or four boards placed

         on top of a couple often inch saw horses. For comfort we filled a mattress cover with

         about half a bale of straw to sleep on. Needless to say, these could not be compared with

         a Scaly. Your clothes would be kept in your barracks bags, at the foot of the bed. All

         these inconveniences were troublesome, but the worst was no electricity. There is no way

         to describe how black the Irish nights can get. I have often heard the expression that it is

         so dark you can’t see your hand in front, well that best describes the nights there.

         Flashlights, candles, lanterns or anything to give off light were at a premium. With about

         twenty guys to a hut, along with total darkness setting in around four in the afternoon,

         lights could become a big pain.

                 

        The latrine was a thing of beauty. It would consist of four poles planted in the ground

         and a piece of canvas stretched around three sides. They would have a wooden board

         with holes sawed out for the toilet seats. These would be directly over the honey buckets

         underneath. The buckets would be dumped daily by a civilian contractor and all this

         human waste would be hauled out and spread on the fields for fertilizer.

        

         With the days so short, training was very limited. We did do a lot of running and

         physical exercises to keep in shape. Later the engineers would set up a demolition school

         and from my company a couple of lieutenants and myself were chosen to go. At the time

         this seemed like a good deal, but from then on I was demolishing man for the company.

         No only would I be jumping with fifteen lbs or so extra weight, these explosions would

         make me a human powder keg. The school itself was excellent and one thing I remember

         in particular was my introduction to the Gammon Grenade. This was a British invention

         and would become one of our main weapons against tanks, Without going into the

         details of the firing mechanism, I will fill you in on the explosive and what it looked like.

         The grenade itself was very cheaply made, The top which housed the tiring pin and etc.

         was made of bake-lite. Attached to this was a cloth sack. This you would pack with a

         putty like explosive called Composition C. When the sack was packed to about the size

         of an average grapefruit or about 2 lbs, you would have enough. In combat, to use this

         grenade you had to be very close to the object you had targeted. This thing was very

         awkward to sling and you knew you wouldn’t get a second chance. First you had to

         unscrew the top. The second step you would sling it to give it a spiral motion. This

         would unwind a tape that held the safety barrier between the firing pin and the detonator.

         On exploding Composition C works different than regular TNT, for example, when TNT

         detonates, the force of the blast is outward. Composition C is just the opposite, the blast

         is in and with a burning effect. You could take Composition C and mold a ring around a

         train rail, detonate it and it would burn the rail in half

        

         One of the bad features about this grenade was it was very awkward to carry because of

         it’s size and weight, along with it being very dangerous. To arm this grenade, you had to

         unscrew the cap, but this was prone to work off accidentally. The only precaution against

         this was to tape it on. While waiting to take off the night of the Normandy invasion, one

         of the trooper’s grenades accidentally exploded. It destroyed the plane and killed two

         men, along with injuring the rest.

        

         One day we went out to a tank range where I was to give a demonstration to the battalion

         on this grenade. My target was an old abandoned tank, This I hit with one of these

         grenades which on exploding tore a nice hole into the hull. A little extra was when one

         of the steel splinters flew off and hit me in the leg. The medic had me drop my pants and

         shorts to inspect the wound and put a bandage on. That day you might say I mooned the

         battalion.

        

         The Composition C the troops soon found had another use You could pinch off a small

         piece about the size of a grape, place it under a canteen cup of water, light it off and in

         seconds the water would be hot. This stuff would burn with an intense white heat. In

        other words, instant in seconds. Now the negative side, the more you burned up, naturally

         was reducing it’s effectiveness. When I packed them they were the size of a grapefruit,

         but after a couple of weeks some were down to the size of a golf ball.

        

         As we all were aware the easy life in Ireland wouldn’t last, so again on Feb 13,1944 the

         regiment was trucked to Belfast and this time boarded a British ship and set sail across

         the Irish Sea to Glasgow, Scotland. Here we would disembark and climb aboard a

         passenger train to Quorndon, England.

        

                                      ENGLAND

        

         After boarding the train we would arrive the next day at our new home that was to be our

         longest permanent station overseas. Camp Quorn as it was called was a tent city erected

         on a large country estate in the town of Quorn. Here some engineers had set up a vast

         number of pyramidal tents which would now be the regimenfs new quarters.

        

         Quorndon is a small hamlet in Leicestershire which is in the midlands of England. The

         camp itself had the advantage in that it was centered not far from the good sized town of

         Loughborough as well as Leister which was a large city and scattered in between were

         several small villages. All these were located within a 7-8 mile radius. To these larger

         towns, Service Company ran a truck shuttle for troopers on pass. It wasn’t long before

         many like myself had acquired bicycles, so when off duty there was always some place

         you could go.

        

         Here in this area you would see very few civilians. These would only be the older ones

         and some of these were in the home guard. Rarely did you see a young civilian of either

         gender who wasn’t in the service. In this midland area alone there were supposed to be

         twelve thousand Signal Corp ATS girls. These girls would be scattered out and maybe a

         company or two would be stationed in most of these little towns. The girls assigned to

         working in the fields, saw mills and etc. were called the Land Army. In fact just about

         everyone you saw was in uniform.

        

         The first few times off post you would start reconnoitering these small villages and I

         found I liked Barrow upon Soar the best. It was within walking distance of the camp, but

         for some reason very few G l’s went there. in the village there were three pubs, but my

         favorite was the Hammer and Pincer. Over time I got to know just about everyone who

         frequented the place and spent many enjoyable evenings there. After you get to know the

         English people, you will find them very nice. Many who think otherwise, tend to forget

         that this is their country and we are the guests. The saying about the Yanks is “Overpaid,

         over here and oversexed” holds true. Many of these are troops just arriving from the

         states and never heard a shot fired in anger, bragging about what they are going to do.

         These people seem to forget the Brits have been at this game since 1939 and some of

         these years alone. My thoughts on this are, the British saved our ass back then and my

         hat goes off to them.

                 

        Other than Regimental Headquarters and the three mess halls being in Quonset Huts,

         everyone else was in these pyramidal tents. Unlike the Irish huts with their concrete

         floors, these would be dirt. Here again these tents were smaller, so we had six men to a

         tent. After awhile, with what we could beg, borrow or steal we made these tents real

         livable. Again in the EM tents there was no electricity and the latrine facilities were the

         same. Our bunks here would be the folding army cot, less mattresses.

        

         Shortly after arriving you could feel the training tempo beginning to change. More

         replacements were added to the ones we received in Ireland. Slowly our company

         strength was being brought up to what the TO called for. Regardless that some of us had

         two campaigns behind us, all would start a very vigorous training schedule. Besides

         getting in and staying in shape all these green replacements had to be made pan of the

         company and taught to function as a team.

        

         Having not made a jump since the last one at Salerno, some were now scheduled. This

         would not only be good training for us, but for the 52nd Troop Carrier Wing that followed

         us up from the Mediterranean as well.

        

         The first jump I remember was soon after taking off a thick fog set in. The pilot probably

         not wanting to return with us, switched on the green light and out we went. This

         happened to be not the best choice as we were strung out over one of these English

         villages. A couple of my buddies landed in a cemetery and collided with some

         tombstones. I landed outside of town, but on a tin shed. By the smell of things, it must

         have been a pig pen. The noise this made in the still of the night was unbelievable. It

         wasn’t seconds later when a window in a house adjacent to this shot up and an

         Englishman shouting out, wanting to know what in the bloody hell is coming off out

         there I yelled back what had happened and for him to go back to bed. This dude didn’t

         sound too happy and all I could think about was Rudolph Hess parachuting up in

         Scotland and the farmers going after him with pitch forks. Not wanting the same thing to

         happen to me, I said to hell with the chute and took off. Later I found that we weren’t the

         only plane load that was airdropped. It would be a couple of days before everyone

         would be rounded back up and together again.

        

         Another jump that stands out in my mind happened shortly after this and would be

         different, with an exercise planned along with it. The day before, we were to move out to

         the airport, spend the night in the hanger and the cooks were to serve us a very early

         breakfast. Included afterward was a problem schedule for the entire day. Everything

         seemed to be going as planned, other then it had snowed during the night. Outside it had

         stopped and was crystal clear, but very cold. A guide would join us and lead us out to our

         plane. The planes were parked on the runway ready to go with very little space in

         between. The interval between the plane taking off and the next plane speeding down the

         runway, I don’t know, but it can only be seconds apart. “Very Scary”. After what seemed

         like ages the pilots and their crews began arriving. Almost immediately they would be

         starting the engines and revving them up. The snow that had fallen the night before was

         being blown around and it looked like a raging blizzard outside. About now the planes

         would be starting to take off one after the other. When it became our turn you could feel

         the pilot release the brakes and away we went. After speeding down the runway we had

         not much more then got airborne when the port engine starts coughing and then

         completely stops. The pilot has presence of mind to get us out of line of the planes taking

         off and we came down in a field just a short distance to the right. We hit pretty hard and

         after spinning around came to a halt. All of us were slung around a bit, but no one was

         injured. After getting back to the hanger, we made arrangements to ride back to camp

         with the cooks. There we had planned to change clothes and have a day out on the town.

         This all was short lived when an officer came down and put us on another plane, from

         which we jumped later.

        

         The English weather was a big factor that always had to be taken into consideration.

         Their fog could move in and in minutes you would be socked in. One night we were to

         make a practice jump and was already aboard the planes when the fog started to move in.

         It wasn’t long before the jump had to be called off. A short time later, on exiting the

         plane, you couldn’t see from the tail to the front of the plane.

        

         Another night jump and this was mainly a troop carrier exercise, but each plane would

         carry one of our jump masters, This particular night, two of the planes collided and all

         were killed. Sadly, one of those was Lt. Gullick from my C Company. He was one of

         the two Lieutenants who attended demolishing school with me over in Ireland.

        

         Now that the weather was warming, so was our training picking up. The company was

         now up to full strength and there were almost daily inspections on everyone’s equipment

         to see if he had what was required and it’s condition. Along with all this, the medic’s

         were busy giving another series of shots. All this was an indication that something was

         in the wind,

        

         Sure enough an order was passed down that everyone was now restricted to camp That

         day we were told to be prepared at anytime for another combat jump. Later we would

         view a sand-table display as to what our battalion objective was and what each company

         function would be. It even went so far as to mark which buildings housed the most

         Germans. The main question on everyone’s mind was the name of the town and the

         country, but for security reasons, this was not given. “Little did we know then that our

         3rd battalion would make history by liberating the first town to be liberated on D Day, Ste

         Mere Eglise.”

        

         On May 2nd, 1944, after packing our A & B barracks bags, we moved out to our airfield.

         This place was not only sealed in, but heavily guarded. Once in, nobody was allowed to

         leave.

        

         To pass the time we would do a lot of calisthenics, writing letters (which could not be

         mailed), reviewing the sand-table again and discussing our objective. Every indication

         now was we would be leaving on the fourth, but that morning dawned rainy and blowing.

         You knew that no way would you be going in this and sure enough later it was canceled

         for that day.

 

          June 5, 1944, the weather had made a decidedly change for the better and without any

         unforeseen delays, tonight would be the night. To further substantiate this, later in the

         day we would begin receiving live ammunition, rations, Mae West and the rest of the

         goodies we were to carry Along with these we would receive an escape kit that included

         a map of France and some French Francs. Now we could be told that our objective was

         Sainte Mere Eglise on the Cotentin Peninsula in Normandy, France. Also we would

         receive a toy cricket, similar to what could be found in a box of cracker jacks This

         would prove very effective later for recognition purposes All together, including the

         chutes we would be carrying over 150 lbs. extra weight. Later in the day, to everyone s

         dismay they added another goodie. A land mine.” The only place left where this could

         be carried was in the musette bag by rearranging everything. To me this was one of the

         greatest blunders the airborne would make. All this extra weight would cause many of

         the jumpers to be injured on landing, plus many who landed in the swamps would drown

         before they could get out of their chutes.

        

         After the supper meal we would be loaded on to trucks and taken out to our assigned

         planes. Here we would sit and wait while the air force personnel would attach the

         equipment bundles underneath and as per usual play the old army game of horn, up anu

         watt What seemed like hours, the pilots and their crews were being brought out, so we

         were told to suit up. in my stick, or plane load, I was to be the last to jump, so I was the

         first aboard. Like myself we were all so weighted down, everyone needed help getting

         aboard. With about 18-20 men, we were jammed in like sardines.

        

         About now it was getting on to sunset (about 9:30 PM English time) when the pilot, co-

         pilot and crew chief came aboard. They were just getting ready to start the engines when

         the crew chief comes running to the back of the plane, places a ladder outside and helps

         another guy aboard. Moments Later when this guy is in, I see the LT. talking to him and

         pointing at me. As I am the last man jumping, he moseys on down and tells me he will

         be jumping after me. Fine, okay, no big deal and about now we are starting to take off.

         After awhile we get a conversation going and he tells me this is to be his first Jump. This

         kind of startled me, but looking at him, I can see he is very nervous He says he has no

         fear of the jump, but after everyone else has exited the plane and he's alone, he may freeze

         in the door. To get him to settle down, I tell him this is my third combat jump along with

         about 25 practice jumps, “Just a piece of cake. “‘this is not having the calming effect I

         am hoping for and as a last resort I ask him if’ he would feel better jumping in front of me.

         He immediately perks up and asks would I do this for him? Now this dude has calmed

         down and I am the one who is doing the sweating. All those “what ifs” flashing before

         me. Before we jumped I asked him just what he was supposed to be doing anyway. He

         explained that when we take Ste Mere Eglise, his job is to confiscate all papers and

         anything else of value that Jerry has left behind. Until now, I am thinking this guy

         EM. but he has to have some authority to handle this job or else Krause will probably

         have him digging latrines or some other menial job.

        

         Other than being so uncomfortable with all the equipment you had on and being crammed

         in so tight, the long trip over was uneventful It is amazing how the troop carriers could

         accomplish this feat considering the size, In the US sector would be the 82nd and the

         I01st divisions. Each division would have three parachute regiments making a total of

         about 13,000 troopers. To carry this vast amount of troopers over 900 C-47s would be

         needed. This number does not include the ones that would be pulling the gliders, nor

         does it include the British C Airborne that would be jumping in another sector. To form

         this tremendous sky-train was an amazing feat in itself First off, each division would be

         located in a different part of England. Secondly the regiments would be broken down

         and may be at two or three different airports. All this would have to start down at

         company level with no room for error. For example, we will take A company, 505

         regiment. This company would be allotted nine planes, flying in three vees of three. Say

         we put the first squad of the first platoon in the first plane and they would takeoff. The

         second plane to go would carry the second squad. After the third plane carrying the third

         squad was in the air this would make up the first vee. This would continue with the

         second platoon and then the third platoon following. This would put company A airborne

         and with a time allowance to allow a 1000 foot interval between companies. B company

         would start the same procedure and then on down the line to other battalions, regiments

         and airports. It was said when the first of the troopers were jumping in France, the last of

         this massive sky-train hadn’t yet cleared England.

        

         When all planes were assembled and in the proper formation, the lead plane would start

         to head out. An entirely new system was being used to guide this armada. England is

         completely blacked out, but for this operation, an exception is made. In a straight line

         from the assembly area to where the planes are to cross out to sea, will be a series of

         holoplane lights every ten miles apart. It was said later that it resembled flying down a

         lighted highway.

        

         After passing the last check point and heading straight out to sea for twenty nine and one

         half miles would be a British patrol boat. The next check point ,29 miles futher would

         be a British sub. Here they would make a 90 degree turn and head for the west coast of

         the Cotentin Peninsula.

        

         What seemed like ages, the crew chief now comes out of the cockpit where he has been

         with the pilots and announces we are nearing the shoreline, This approximate 3 hour trip

         has been amazing. The formation of the huge sky-train has been done in complete radio

         silence. Other than the flight down through England in complete darkness and out over

         the channel, we would drop down to 200 feet to evade the German radar. The troop

         carriers have pulled off an unbelievable feat and are to be commended.

                 

 

                                                   Normandy

        

         Preceding the main body of troops by about thirty minutes would be the Pathfinders.

         Their route to Normandy was exactly the same as the division would follow, and the

         three serials would fly in the same order as their regiments would drop.

        

         Three planeloads of approximately I8 men each, made up of volunteers from the three

         battalions, comprised the 505 team. These men were to set up and operate the “Eureka”

         radar beacon, place the Holophane lights which were to light up the drop zone (DZ).

         Also they would have a transmitter for Automatic Direction Finder ADF radios. The

         additional men were used as security for the teams to set up and operate the equipment.

         All this was to aid the following troop carriers.

        

         Now that the element of surprise had been compromised by the Pathfinders and the

         serials flying in ahead of us, the welcoming gunners on their anti-aircraft guns were now

         out in force to greet us. You knew you were now over hostile territory. About now, the

         red light comes on which is our signal to stand up and hook up. Being last man in this

         blacked out plane, I naturally can’t see anything, but you know this is a bit premature.

         Usually only about 4 or 5 minutes before jumping this signal is lighted. It isn’t long

         before you know the reason. We are running into some turbulent weather and nothing

         could be worse this close to our drop zone. We are having trouble standing with only the

         left hand hanging onto the static line for support and are being slung around, You can

         feel the pilot fighting to control the plane and with the tight formation we have been

         flying, this bad weather is not needed. I check on my buddy ahead of me and give him a

         thumbs up, but he seems to be doing fine which to me is a big relief What seems like an

         eternity ends when the green light comes on and out we go.

        

         Everything seems to be normal about this jump other than being a trifle low. The chute

         no more then opens when you hit the ground. The lighted tee the pathfinders were to

         light I did not see.

        

         After getting out of the chute, I start moving back and start gathering the troopers along

         the way. At this time we are being introduced to the Normandy hedgerows. My stick

         must have been scattered in 3 or 4 small fields. You would pick up two or three men in

         this field and have to find an opening to get out. The next field you will have the same

         problem, but the opening is in another location. To add to this confusion, it was no set

         pattern to these fields. Those crickets we had been issued were now being put to good

         USE.

        

        

         After getting to the end of the stick, I was told Lt. Ringwall, our assistant platoon leader

         and jump master, wanted to see me. Both he and Sgt Yates are down and hurt bad. He

         with a broken back and Yates with two broken legs. We were fortunate in one respect,

         that they were close together so we didn’t have to move them far to get them side by side.

         After removing their equipment and making them as comfortable as possible, after first

         placing their canteen and first aid kit within easy reach, I had the unpleasant duty of

         telling them we are going to have to leave them. This they both understood and we

         wished each other the best of luck. They were both good people.

        

         At this time I am the only NCO (Corporal), so I am responsible for this group. Earlier

         had seen this red glow in the sky and heard small arms fire from the same area. so

         assuming this was where the action was, and not at all sure where we were, this direction

         seemed the most logical. I also felt we had missed the DZ, as all the planes I heard after

         landing were well off to my left. We hadn’t gone very far when I picked up four more

         men from the 2nd platoon. I now knew I wasn’t the only planeload to he dropped here.

        

         Moving out, the going was very slow, much like running an obstacle course with all those

         damn hedgerows. After all the training and preparations we had made back in England

         not one word had been mentioned about them. After a short distance 1 can see we are

         approaching a small village, but I am still not sure what town it is. I have the men spread

         out on both sides of the road and we start moving through the town. Up until now I

         hadn’t seen a soul, but have this eerie feeling of being watched, so I am proceeding very

         cautiously along. The further we. move in, the smell of smoke is much stronger and the

         visibility is much poorer. About now there is a break in the houses and we are

         approaching what looks like a village square. I halted the column and moved ahead to

         inspect what turns out to be a dead paratrooper hanging from a tree, Also there were a

         couple more bodies laying close by I am surveying all this, when from nowhere LTC

         Krause appears. Reporting in for orders, I am told to take my group back down the road I

         had just conic in on and set up a defensive position facing out behind the last house on

         the right. We are about to move out when he hears a couple of my men laugh. He

         immediately stops me and starts to chew me out. He is complaining the men aren’t

         serious enough, as we are in a war etc. etc. When he had finished, I snapped to attention

         dud gave him a parade ground salute. All the time hoping there may be a sniper in the

         vicinity who will see and realize he is an officer and plug him between the eyes. No such

         luck!

        

         At my assigned position behind the last couple of houses is sort of a courtyard and here

         someone has already dug a trench. Directly in front was a ditch with a line of trees

         bordering. It’ Jerry was to attack, this undoubtedly would be his line of approach. He

         would have cover all the way. Here I would concentrate most of my fire power. The rest

         would he dug in facing out. I knew with this twenty or so men I now have we could dish

         out a lot of punishment to anyone attacking.

        

         Up until now I hadn’t given any thought to the time, but it was still dark Till now I

         haven’t seen a friendly face other then Krause, if he can be called that. We are all dug in

         and the men are laying around resting as the adrenaline that has been carrying them is

         beginning to wear off A lot has happened in the last twenty hours.

        

         After awhile it is starting to get light and you realize daybreak is not far off The

         question flashes through your mind. What has today go to offer’? Not too long afterward

         everything down at the beach opens up. I have never heard anything to equal it. You

         wonder how anything can survive all this, but the barrage has told me two things. First,

         where the beach is and second, that we are not the only ones involved in this invasion.

        

         Now that it was getting lighter, our movements was strictly limited Plenty of small arms

         fire, but the worst you had to contend with was the mortars. These were very accurate

         and intense at times. It looks as if Jerry is now getting better organized and has moved in

         to where our DZ had been. As I had anticipated, he attacked twice up the draw, but was

         driven off both times. Every time the bell in the church steeple would ring, I believe this

         was his cue to start shelling. The bells would ring every ¼ hour so you can see he kept

         active.

        

         The 2nd Battalion had moved in later in the day to take over the defense of the other end

         of the town Here they were less fortunate as they would have to contend with a number

         of tank attacks At times these attacks would become very fierce arid the Krauts would

         make it to the edge of town, but would always be driven back. These probes would

         continue throughout the day. but without success.

        

         Around midnight more gliders carrying the 325 Glider Regiment would be coming in

         These would be carrying much needed equipment and men. One glider having strayed

         off course would land darn near on top of our position. Jerry was greeting them with a

         wall of fire These  we would try  keep down with covering fire. This glider pilot made it 

         over to the trench where I was and would spend the rest of the night there with

         me.

         

         The next day around noon, elements of the 4th infantry Division that had landed on Utah

         Beach broke through to us. Tanks stretched back as far as you could see, with infantry

         moving along on the sides of the roads. A welcome sight! Everyone is feeling a bit

         complacent now and many are out of their holes stretching their legs. Forgetting that

         Jerry is still out there in front, he unloads a heavy mortar barrage killing 4 or Sin the SI

         platoon, which I am tied in with on the right, plus wounding several more It’s a good

         reminder to the others that the fighting is far from over.

        

         Shortly after this, an order comes down that we will be moving out in ten minutes. The

         pilot had earlier left and the extra man we had picked up just before we left England,

         hadn’t been seen since we entered the town. The other four men from the second platoon

         I sent back. When we took oft the third platoon would use three planes. At this time, I

         could only account for my plane load, I later found out that the other two planes dropped

         their loads about 8-I0 miles off the DZ. The platoon leader and a few of the men would

         return a couple of days later.

        

         Shortly the battalion would move out of Ste Mere Eglise and head on down to the

         \Merdert River. ‘This entire area the Germans had flooded, making it a vast swamp, and

         the only way across was to follow the road along a narrow causeway. We had only gone

         a short distance when Jerry opens up with a tremendous artillery barrage, plus heavy.:

         small arms fire. The battalion at this point is pinned down and we are taking a lot

         casualties Some of us are ordered to move out across the swamp and try to out flank

         them. [he swamp at this point was about a mile wide and the water a couple feet deep

         Grass has grown up through the water and at first glance would resemble a large

         meadow All the time while wading through here, common sense is telling me if Jerry

         can flood this area, there has got to be a deep running stream or river out here

         somewhere. Sure enough, about halfway across we hit deep water and you realize you

         can’t go any further. About now everyone is milling around when Jerry opens up on us.

         As there is no concealment, the only recourse we have is to submerge ourselves in the

         water. It wasn’t long before your musette bag was full of water. Your sleeping bag and

         all extra equipment was soaked, along with your clothing, boots and etc, you were being

         completely weighted down. The only recourse was to drop everything. I was one of the

         few who was able to hang onto my weapon and ammo. When we got back to the

         causeway, the battalion had pushed on through. In the next couple of days we would he

         supplied with equipment taken from the dead and wounded who wouldn’t be having

         further use for it.

        

         While proceeding down memory lane, there are a few other incidents 1 would like to

         share. Some of these would be the hedgerow ordeals, which could be your biggest

         hazard and the most deadly obstacle you would be encountering daily. ‘To further

         complicate things, nearly every field in Normandy was surrounded on all four sides by

         these. Not only would the infantry be slowed down to a crawl, but would also prove a

         barrier for the tanks as well. These hedgerows could be hundreds of years old. When

         this land was first cultivated, the stones in the field would be taken out and placed around

         the outside perimeter of the fields. Over time as the farmer would hit more stones he

         would continue to place them on top of each other. As the years went by, these could

         become 4 or 5 Foot wide and higher. As time went by, brush and trees would soon start

         growing between the rocks, The brush in places could get thick and some of these trees

         20 or 30 foot high. These nightmares could be a defenders dream and attacking them was

         a separate battle in itself Each field would have to be approached by sending small units

         down each row and cleaning them out before you brought up the main body. Sometimes

         your field would be cleaned out, but two or three fields over they could be having a hell

         of a fire fight.

        

         In this hedgerow country, the defender had a decided advantage. Most of the time Jerry

         would set up an automatic weapon at the end of the field so he could tire straight down

         the row, and directly into the approaching (GI’s. if he didn’t wipe them out, they would

         be pinned down. By the time we got our mortars set up to fire, they would have moved

         cut 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 attached to charges that you always had to keep an eye out

         for When you started down one of these rows, you never knew it’ you were going to

         make it out in one piece or not,

        

         I am sure everyone has had what we call a bad day where everything goes wrong One of’

         these times1 will try to describe, This particular 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 1 could peer across. Being on the alert, I slowly came up with

         my 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 can’t move. I’m about to send him

         to Nazi heaven, but when I pull the trigger, the bolt just slowly slides home and

         wouldn’t fire. The trees here are high and wide, so I wont be able to toss a grenade over.

         so now we have one lucky Jerry and the start of a bad day for me.

        

         We hadn’t 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 1 was

         able to get up to the house. The front door was slightly ajar and try first thought was to

         blast it off with 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 an 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 try arm pointing

         up to a loft that extends over half of this one room cottage. All 1 could think about was

         there must be sonic Jerry hiding up there, so 1 pull the bolt back on my Tommy gun and

         get ready to blast up through the loft floor. Now they are both pleading with ire not to do

         it and he is pointing to a ladder that leads up there. I have to check it out, but first I have

         him go up ahead of me. If he is leading me into any trap. I am making sure be gets blown

         away first. The floor to this loft is 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 Gl laying there. The guy was semi conscious, so I was unable to

         get anything out of him. To this day I don’t know where he had came 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, plus if 1 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 row and both sides of the lane is now

         secured. The next field would prove a bit more difficult. I would place half my men on

         one side of the row and the other half on the other side. 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 behind The heavy 8I 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

        

         I don’t know whether this would be the last operation for the day, but you can be sure

         your day never ends. To survive the first thing you would always do was, dig in. After

         that you could take time to eat. About all we ever had was K rations. These were packed

         in a wax covered box about the size of a box of Cracker Jacks If you were lucky and

         stopped before dark you could build a small twig tire in the bottom of the hole to heat up

         a canteen cup of water to make some coffee, if you were fortunate enough to have any.

         The units themselves were, breakfast: powder eggs, dinner: cheese and supper: stew. In

         combat we would never have a hot meal.

        

         After dark the guard would be one on and one off. In other words, you would sleep one

         hour and stand watch the next. Almost nightly you would have to send a detail back to

         bring up supplies. These would be chosen from the guys that was supposed to be

         sleeping. If it was raining T.S., you just put in a more miserable night. For all this, us

         infantry boys would be paid an extra ten whole dollars monthly. Combat lnfantry Pay

         The infantry would also make up 6 to 8 percent of the Army’s troops., hut would suffer

         about 90% of the total casualties.

        

        This stupid blunder happened to my company as we were moving down to a forward area

         where we were to jump off in the attack. When moving in, we pass another company

         pulling back out who had been pretty well mauled. We proceed on through and move

         into the exact area they had just vacated. Jerry had to have been waiting and had this

         place under direct observation because he now unleashes a very heavy barrage. Within

         moments we have taken numerous casualties, but one in particular stands out. One of the

         men had been hit in the stomach by shrapnel and is laying on the ground with his guts

         hanging out. His best friend has him cradled in his arms crying while he lays dieing.

         This poor devil died a horrible death as we watched him die. More dead and wounded

         also lay close by. I can’t understand why we should have moved in this area knowing

         what happened to the previous company. This order had to have come down from

         regiment, as I know our CO wouldn’t make such a foolish mistake.

        

         As we moved further in, the hedgerows seem to be thinning and the terrain would he a

         little more hilly. For some reason this particular day we have come to a stop, probably

         some outfit is lagging behind and we are waiting for them to catch up Anyway I am dug

         in this well concealed position on top of a hill where I have excellent observation to the

         front. For some reason I air looking over at the next hill and detect some movement I

         pinpoint the location in my mind and getting my binoculars out, focus in on a

         camouflaged tank. After reporting this to my C0. it wasn’t long before a Lieutenant and

         a Sgt. arrive who are forward observers from some artillery outfit. I have just pointed this

         out to the Lt and we are spotting it on his map when 1 look up and this Sgt. is walking

         nonchalantly out in front. I yell at him to get the hell down as Jerry is probable zeroing

         on him right now. I had hardly got it out of’ my mouth when you could hear some

         incoming mail on the way I dove in my hole and luckily these first rounds were a little

         short I looked up to see what happened to that pair and you might say they would have

         put Jessie Owen’s sprint record to shame hightailing it out. I knew the next salvo would

         be on target and sure enough it was. This barrage gave me a pretty good working over,

         but no damage done other then my musette bag. This I had left outside on the edge of the

         hole and it got partially blown away. That was too close for comfort.

        

         Later I am laying in my hole getting some much needed rest, when I hear this noise

         below me. A jeep has pulled up with this chemical mortar This is a big one, 4.3 and is

         the first 1 have seen. There were six men I think iii the crew. At this time I will point out

         they were about 00 feet from my hole on the reverse side of the hill, I go over and ask

         the Sgt in charge just what he is intending to do and if he or anyone else has given any

         thought to where lie is setting up. Also reminded him he is on the front line and should

         he well to the rear. None of this didn’t seem to be making too much impression, so I told

         him about Jerry already having this area bracketed in and what had transpired a couple of

         hours earlier. All I could get out of him was, the Lieutenant had told him to place it here

         and he was carrying out orders. Seeing that 1 am getting nowhere, I plead with him not to

         fire this thing. before he can get a couple of rounds off. Jerry will blow him away.

        

         After getting back to my hole, I get my entrenching tool out and dig deeper Also cut a

         pocket in the side where I can get into for protection against any aerial bursts.

        

         Getting tired of laying around, 1 go down the line and stat telling some of the men about

         what is happening behind me. They are all aware of this and can’t believe they are

         setting up here. Even our platoon’s small 60 MM mortars are well to the rear. Alley

         checking out with all in my squad and starting back, I cant believe what I am seeing

         [hey have now erected some pup tents It looks like a boy scout camp and viewing and

         talking with this bunch, I air not too sure that this isn’t what they should be in It has to

         he their first day in combat

        

         In disbelief I shake my head and go to my hole and lay down. I must have dozed off

         because I can hear this mortar test firing a single round. I know now things are about to

         hit the fan. Less then a minute later you can hear some incoming mail, This barrage

         completely engulfs this area and is right on target. In my hole I air being showered with

         dirt, rocks and even some burning increments that are used on mortar shells for range.

         After this clears up, 1 shake myself off and look around. The entire area is leveled with

         bodies and pans scattered around, I shake my head, six useless deaths of kids who

         couldn’t have been much more than high school age. With luck, maybe the Lt. who had

         told this crew where to set up had returned. He wouldn’t be passing out anymore stupid

         orders again

        

         [he next operation would be a night attack and the objective would be St Sauveur Ie

         Vicomte. The second battalion would be attacking through the center of this large town

         and we would he 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

         landing 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 into 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 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 isn’t very wide, maybe a 100

         foot at the most, when I come across this stone wall separating the yard. Realizing this

         wall is to high to climb over, I start looking for an opening. I am down on my belly

         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, sonic 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 isn’t sure he knows where the noise is coming from as he is

         shooting directly down to the edge of the road into some overgrowth. As I had seen his

         nuzzle 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 i 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 1 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 the direction of the other Kraut. This is

         going to take split second timing, but I can see 1 have no other choice, so 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 away 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 wouldn’t accidentally

         detonate Now 1 can’t find the end of the tape to get it off This useless one I return IL)

         nix 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

         haven’t 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 1 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

        

         In the days and nights 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 Cotentin Peninsula to La Haye  

        du _Puits Here we would be relieved arid trucked back across the peninsula to one

         of the invasion beaches. After getting off the truck, we would march out to waiting 181

         that would terry us across the channel and back to England. These flat bottom vessels

         would be resting high and dry waiting for the tide to change and float them off

        

         The tide moving in was very fascinating to watch. On these Normandy beaches they

         have a 24 foot tide and on changing, it is said to race in faster than a horse can gallop

         Regardless, you had plenty of time to view the shores and reminisce what had happened

         there in the last month or so. When we left England our company would consist of 119

         men and officers and now we would be returning with not many more then a third of that

         total These men I thought of as family and it saddens me to be leaving them To me

         they were my brothers

        

        

                                       Notes

        

         A couple of the men I previously mentioned, Lt Ringwald and Sgt Yates were both

         captured and spent the rest of the war in a German prison camp. They were repatriated at

         the end of the hostilities. Yates died in 1986 arid Ringwald in 1987.

        

         The other soldier I left in Ste Mere Eglise After jumping, this person is soon forgotten

         until months later We had been about 50 days up in Holland (Market Garden) when I

         broke my foot and was evacuated back to a hospital in England. We arrive there late in

         the afternoon arid at the admittance office was assigned a Quonset hut. I hadn’t eaten all

         day and it was too late for supper, so they gave me a sandwich to tide me over While

         sitting on the bed eating, this fellow shows up. He is steady piling thanks on me for the

         big favor I had done him, when he realizes I don’t recognize him, He then tells me about

         the Normandy jump and it all comes back . About this time the doctor stops by and he

         excuses himself and leaves. To this day I have never seen him

        

         Over the years I have often thought about this person. Was he OSS? He was dressed as a

         patient but I didn’t see or did he tell me what he was doing there. Could he have been

         planted there to check for agents trying to get in? Was he an officer or an EM? Was he

         on a covert mission there checking on the hospital9 After such a overwhelming

         welcome, why didn’t he visit again?

        

                                                 Sgt Wheatley ‘F. Christensen

                                                 Co G 505 Parachute Infantry Regiment

                                                 82nd Airborne Division

Find us on Facebook

Visitor

Website Statistics
4 Inkjets
 

HOME     |     ABOUT US     |     MEMBERSHIP     |     HISTORY     |     CONTACT US

Copyright © 2012 505rct.org, All rights reserved.
Webmaster