How I Went To War - 14
- 3rd June
- Another lovely day. We have an alarm at breakfast time but do not have a target.
Ted and I are off duty in the morning and have the job of serving food to the gun crews, then after lunch we go into town to buy some swimming trunks. Back to camp then on to the beach for a swim but the tide is out so it’s just a paddle.
As we are getting dressed again we watch a small cargo vessel approaching the harbour from way out to sea. When it is about 400 yards away there is a huge explosion and the ship is lifted out of the water so far that we are able to see the sky under the hull.
A swarm of rescue boats rush out from the shore but we can’t wait any longer as we are due back on watch on the site.
Our Predictor team man one of the guns for the night from 22:00 hrs and it is a hectic three hours of firing barrages before we stand down.
Jerry was able to bomb the French barracks and set on fire the storage tanks on Petrol Island.
- 4th June
- Today we have a busy time heaving empty ammo boxes out of the gun pits and replenishing with live rounds. It is hot and heavy work.
There are frequent alarms during the day and at 22:00 hrs Jerry is back with a raid on the town.
We fire barrages until 01:45 hrs and I get a turn as No. 5 gun layer giving a break from ammo number.
Bombs dropping in the town centre cause huge fires but quite a few bombs drop into the sea. We manage to drive off one of the planes seawards.
Being part of a gun team in action is both exciting and somewhat frightening; one becomes absorbed in the correctness of the gun drill, the efficient working of the gun itself and the smell of the cordite as the flash lights up the sky.
- 5th June
- Last night’s action finished at 03:00 hrs, then we get a rest before it all starts again with several alarms during the morning.
One gun site in the town area manages a shot at the morning recce plane. An ammo lorry arrives and it’s all hands to the unloading
and restocking of the gun pits. We shoot at the morning recce plane without success. Before dusk there is an exodus of shipping from the
docks to disperse in the open sea. Tonight I am back on the Predictor for a change.
At 23:00 hrs two Jerry planes come in from the sea probably having laid mines. We have several target courses and fire barrages over the docks.
The planes fly too low for us to engage but our two Lewis gunners manage to lay on one of the planes and in their excitement forget the safety arcs of fire and swing round to shoot up one of the buildings in the Boulevard Francois - some sort of Consulate we are told - and there is a complaint at the guard room in due course.
- 6th June
- We finally get to bed at 01:00 hrs and manage to sleep before the 10:00 hrs recce plane arrives.
In the afternoon, being off duty, some of us play ball games with kids on the beach before going off to the NAAFI in town for a tea of croissants, cream cakes and ice cream.
Back on site we parade to hear Major Heber-Percy and the Brigadier inform us that we are to leave Le Havre in the morning to take up a new defensive line further South. We feel rather sad at this especially as it means leaving the locals to their fate.
At 2200 hrs Jerry arrives in force and starts to knock hell out of the town and particularly the docks. We fire barrages and pillars of fire but can do nothing about the planes mine laying in the harbour approaches.
About twenty searchlights appear from nowhere - the first we have seen at Le Havre. We stand down at 02:00 hrs.
- 7th June
- I manage to get some sleep between 02:00 hrs and 04:00 hrs then it is checking dials again before the arrival of Jerry once wore.
I am No. 5 (QE) layer on No. 1 gun when we have a crack at a Junkers 88 over the town - no luck.
We expect a busy night tonight as the NAAFI has evacuated and some warships have left harbour.
Peter, one of our ‘Brylcream Boys’ who has made a conquest over a pretty lass called Pascaline has to make a tearful farewell at the site fence. Sad, because she has brought along another beauty called Suzanne who is keen to meet me - farewell to romance.
Jerry is back on the dot of 22:00 hrs and we bang away until 02:00 hrs.
The searchlights make a last despairing display before leaving town.
Many RAF and Army units pass through town on their way south.
- 8th June
- Hot again. I am on Predictor crew at 05:00 hrs when we have a good shoot at a Jerry recce plane. We are in action within two minutes
of the alarm whistle blowing and manage to loose off fourteen rounds before he is out of range. Our Predictor team are taking over
one of the guns tonight and are determined to put on a good show.
At 22:00 hrs however, we get moving orders just as Jerry starts a heavy attack. Petrol Island is ablaze together with warehouses in the dock area making a lurid glare in the night sky. There is much destruction going on in the centre of town as we prepare the gun for the road with the help of some gun crew. Having loaded up the ammo onto a lorry, we pack up our kits, roll up the blankets and fill water bottles for the journey ahead.
With everything loaded and the gun hitched up to the old Dennis flat-bed lorry (hardly the best for the job) we are ready to move out. Travelling through the town as bombs are falling causes some anxious moments until we are safely into open country upstream of Le Havre, heading for the river crossing at Quillebeuf ferry.
- 9th June
- At dawn the sky remains black from the fires in town and on Petrol Island. We are hindered by large numbers of refugees also heading
for the ferry and once across the river we have a struggle to persuade the lorry to drag the gun up the steep slope on the other side.
Eventually the convoy forms up and we head for Honfleur and the road to Caen. Jerry planes are overhead and we are keen to find some cover.
After about six miles we come to a well wooded area which gives us excellent cover and we try to camouflage our convoy until the planes go
away. Presently there is a huge explosion on Petrol Island as the refinery and the storage tanks are hit by bombs causing flames and black
smoke about 100 ft. high. After about two hours we are on our way heading for Caen.
Around midnight the convoy stops in wooded country for the night, but to our dismay our driver manages to ditch the lorry with the gun attached but at a crazy angle. It is not really his fault because the side of the road had given way. Leaving it to be sorted out, we join the rest of the party to try and have a sleep amongst the bushes.
Honfleur to Caen
N179 to Pont l'Evêque, then N815 to Caen
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