Chapter 32

Open Warfare — Jerry on the Run

 

Some Germans put up a strong rearguard fight, using up, destroying or booby trapping shells and damaging guns and foodstuff before retreating. Many were simply waiting to be captured, for they now knew that we did not treat prisoners badly as they had been indoctrinated to believe.

We moved forward so fast at times that we had many casualties whose skills could not be replaced quickly enough through normal channels. For example, Sergeant Twizell, the major's shell director technician was wounded, so I was appointed to take his place. The director was a device for following the trajectory of an enemy shell and for calculating the gun map reference and range. Luckily I had found out about the workings of the device because of my curiosity and the sergeant's skilled instruction.

One morning our guns were firing at 2,050 yards targets and then two hours later the range was altered to 6,000 yards. Some enemy shell trajectory had to be measured to locate our new targets and so I left my gun in the charge of a bombardier, mounted Dolly, my favourite pony, took a No. 4 director on my saddle and galloped with the Major and a Lieutenant Manley to investigate possible new positions near a railway line map location.

Here I witnessed a dreadful sight that has haunted me ever since. The Huns had herded the civilians of all ages from the little town into a railway embankment trench where we could not observe them. Our shells, aimed at a moving German supply train loaded with heavy equipment, fell among the civilians. There were many mangled bodies. The Medical Corps were soon seeing to the wounded.

The Jerry retreat from our sector was rapid, as was our battery's pursuit. We were the first to cross the River Selle. Some 150 of our infantry came behind us, so we dug in to cover their plan of attack requirements. I saw the soldiers run across a cabbage field and we called for hundreds of our guns to put down a creeping barrage just ahead of their advances. The enemy were taken by complete surprise, proved by the fact that our small force, with their pincer movement, brought in five hundred prisoners, forty machine-guns and around a thousand rifles.

We moved forward seven miles next day and were in action five times. That evening a few shells fell near us. I timed their velocity on a stop watch and charted their origin on the map to a spot close to Venduille Cemetery, near the church. We gave them a few salvos and six rounds of gunfire.

Two days later, after our infantry had battled with and mastered the crack Prussian Guardsmen, our guns entered Venduille. I made for the church and on each side of it two 4.2 guns lay disabled. German shells were stored in the crypt and behind gravestones. There were many dead soldiers around the cemetery walls.

The French civilians told us that the Germans had brought up Prussian Guards, their finest troops, from other sectors to try and put heart into the demoralised soldiers, who refused to fight. Naval guns, on moving railway platforms, had also given support, but the real Hun soldier had had enough.

Early one morning, my 'A' gun and Sergeant Martin's 'C' gun were ordered to go forward and dig in. The Germans saw us and opened fire. Fortunately their shelling and aiming was poor.

Lieutenant Tuffley chose one of the many church spires in Pressean as aiming point. One of our officers had a hunch that while forward he sniffed gas and told us to keep our new smallbox gas masks at the ready. His hunch was right, for mustard gas and phosgene shells were soon bursting around us. As I was also Gas Instructing NCO I guessed from the wind direction and my knowledge of the German gun positions that the gas shells must be coming from an area near a clump of trees about 3,800 yards away. We blasted the place with '106' fuse and gas shells. Within minutes the German shells ceased.

Later the wind was in our favour. Transport wagons brought up smoke and gas shells. Our Infantry moved to our right, bypassing an occupied village and within two hours of the German gas attack we put down a smoke and shrapnel barrage less than 250 yards in front of our advancing foot soldiers and high explosive shells 1,750 yards ahead.

Up came our horses. We hooked up the guns and followed our infantry. We moved at a trot to by-pass Artes, an industrial town with a huge railway station. Royal Engineers and their transport loaded with pontoons raced ahead and bridged a stream for us. Soon we were held up by and mixed up amongst hundreds of disillusioned Jerrys. They just looked bewildered, or sat on the ground, no fight left in them, with our armed guards close by.

One German, speaking good English, told us the main highway was mined. We expected as much from past experience and our own tactics in retreat, therefore we usually did not rush along highway or roads until the Royal Engineers gave the all clear.

Our planes also played a big part in this offensive by spotting troop concentrations, artillery nests, transport units and shell dumps which we could bombard.

We took risks in this advance; sometimes we were ahead of the 'foot sloggers'. To quote one officer, 'It is an artilleryman s paradise.'

One afternoon we moved up six miles and dug in for the night. One enemy shell burst above us, killing our Lieutenant, two NCOs, wounding seven gunners and killing nineteen horses. My pony was safe.

 

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This work, Going With God, is copywrited by Ronald R. Caseby, 1993.   All rights reserved.  Used here by express permission.