Company C - 137th Infantry Regiment
Special thanks to Marge Bullock for this story written by Bob Adams many years ago.
Our packs were rolled by dawn. Once again we stacked our bed rolls and prepared to attack. This time our first battalion was in reserve, and we moved forward in the column keeping in close contact with the company ahead. Our own artillery was again pounding the German strong point that had stopped us the day before. The shells were exploding uncomfortably close, and the barrages were so mighty I marveled how any German soldier could be left alive.
A great pall of smoke and dust settled over what had once been a small French chateau. The German resistance had crumbled, and now we made a shall gain of a few hundred yards. Vacated German positions were in evidence and we could observe how deadly accurate our artillery barrages had been. A number of dead German soldiers were lying about, and equipment of every kind and description had been abandoned and left in disarray. The German foxholes had been cleverly dug. Using every advantage of the hedgerow they had tunneled and bored into them from all angles so that only a direct hit from artillery could dislodge them. They were deadly elaborate in every respect. Abandoned machine guns had strings attached to the trigger so they could be fired at intervals without exposing the gunner.
Dugouts were constructed by tunneling under the hedgerow, and the entrance was covered with layers of hugs poles and dirt. The dugouts were equipped with mattresses and cooking utensils. These had been pillaged from French homes. Many of the trees were equipped with a ladder leading to a "crows nest" that was neatly camouflaged in the top of the tree for observation and sniping.
Every conceivable angle had been taken into consideration. How many more of these honeycombed hedgerows lay ahead only the Germans knew. Attacking such ingenious positions seemed futile.
Once again the Germans began artillery and machine gun fire and the advance stopped. Once more we dug in when the order came to withdraw about 200 yards. The reason was to straighten our lines, and thus protect our exposed flanks. Our positions were protected by a hedgerow. Once again, every one started frantically digging in before the German artillery could be zeroed in on our new positions.
A few shells roared in, but they were slightly low, and we felt more secure as our foxholes went deeper and deeper into the hedgerow.
Attack orders were coming down in rapid succession from higher headquarters. Company C was now to be attached to the 3rd battalion, which at present was engaged in a terrific fight. This time as we moved out my squad was leading the company. Sgt Ira Austin and I were leading the column as we advanced along the hedgerow. These hedgerows offered much protection from enemy observation and fire, and no movement was across open space. We always followed the pattern of the hedgerow, and advanced along their bulwark of dirt and growth of trees and underbrush.
This was a lesson quickly learned in the fighting throughout the hedgerows of Normandy. The third battalion, to which we were now attached, was engaged in a furious battle a few hundred yards to our right front. The Germans were sending over round after round of heavy artillery and it was landing to our left rear with shuddering impact. Most of it was time-fused and exploded just above the ground. This had maximum effect on advancing troops since the shrapnel would strike about the same level as a soldier's body. The column now stopped as the battle to our front increased in fury, and the men scurried into the protection of the hedgerow, and began digging foxholes again.
I observed the Germans in their withdrawal had abandoned two excellent dugouts, almost perfect in construction and equipment. Occupying an abandoned German position was always dangerous because of "booby-traps." These two dugouts had been dug down deep into the ground, and then tunneled into the side of the hedgerow. On the floor were mattresses and bedding which had been pillaged from the French farmhouses, and cooking utensils taken from the same source. As the column halted, I cautiously entered and examined one of the two dugouts for any booby traps that might have been left behind. Finding none I called for the platoon sergeant to join me.
The sniper activity was increasing. It was not uncommon to hear the silken whisper of a German smizer bullet sing through the air. The company commander called on my squad to try to clear the menace, and with my automatic rifle team and three riflemen, we raked the tree tops with volley after volley in a vain effort to clear the area of any snipers the Germans may have left behind to slow our advance. Any tree or shrubbery that appeared suspicious was riddled with rifle fire.
Our company awaited orders to be committed. The wounded from the battle to our front were filing by in a continuous stream. Those who could not walk were being carried on litters by medics and assisted by those less seriously wounded. The reports coming back indicated a terrible slaughter was taking place among our third battalion and particularly I Company. The sickening sight of the wounded hobbling by verified the reports. The call coming down was for more medics and more litter bearers. The battle raged on and word came that four German prisoners had been taken and were coming back. As they came past our foxholes with their hands clasped over their heads, it was the first sight of a live German soldier that we had been fighting for two days.
As night drew near the fighting slackened, and the report was that very little advance had been made. The German artillery again went into full action. The heavies opened up and were landing uncomfortably close to us. Round after round was crashing a few hundred yards to our rear, and the foxholes went deeper and deeper. As night came on the artillery increased and was now exploding throughout our positions. The most terrifying danger from the artillery was in the overhanging trees and shrubbery along the hedgerows. A "tree burst" was when a shell struck a tree, causing a premature explosion, showering hot, deadly steel shrapnel down into the very pit of the foxholes. Tree bursts were common in the hedgerows.
Tonight I placed two men on sentry duty. All of my men were badly shaken and were showing the effects of battle from being under constant fire. Some had become almost rebellious. It was going to be a bad night with the Germans sending in barrage after barrage of artillery shells.
Each squad member would be on sentry an hour, and must remain out of his foxhole and walk up and down our sector and take a chance of leaping into a foxhole during an artillery shelling. Each foxhole had been dug very deep along the hedgerow, and as an extra caution, some men had tunneled back into the sides in order to avoid the shower of deadly steel shrapnel coming from tree bursts. The dugout which I occupied and which the Germans had so carefully constructed, was now so full of men that another could scarcely have squeezed in.
No rest was possible for anyone. All we could do was sit and wait for dawn, hoping and praying a shell would not crash into the dugout. Our platoon leader left the dugout to check the platoon shortly after midnight. A few shells had landed near our positions, and although we had escaped, the shrapnel had whizzed all around us. A few moments after the lieutenant had left, a shell screamed in and struck a tree directly over my squad's position. It had such a shuddering force I thought momentarily our dugout had been hit.
Now the screams of the wounded and dying filled the air. "Help!" "Medic!" "Help!" "Medic!" came the cries from the wounded. Although their cries had become common the past two days it immediately filled me with a sickening fear, and knotted my stomach. I knew my squad had been hit badly because the shell had crashed so close by. Even as the thought flashed through my mind, the door flew open and the lieutenant fell in. For a moment I thought he had been hit, but it was only shock, and he babbled incoherently. The wounded continued to cry out and plead for a medic, and I shall forever remember that brave medic who left the shelter of the dugout and went forth into God knew what, to administer aid, and comfort to the dying and wounded. Shells continued to crash all around us as he bound their wounds and loaded them on stretchers for the rear. Those not badly wounded helped carry the others who couldn't walk, and they made their way amid the burst of shells to the rear.
None of my squad had been killed, but five had been seriously hurt. One of the wounded was the soldier with whom I had shared a foxhole the two previous nights, and with whom I would have been with again had I not discovered the German dugout. The remainder of the platoon was badly shaken, and a few cases of shell shock developed. One soldier lay in the foxhole shaking and crying. He appeared as someone having a seizure.
We tried, but it was impossible to help him. Another man lay in the foxhole frozen with terror, unable to move. He was totally paralyzed with fear. It would have been a human act of kindness to send them back to the rear, but in war everyone who experiences the agony and horror become inhuman, so they were ordered to stay put.
During the night orders arrived to move into the line before dawn and be ready to launch an attack at 0800.