My daughter Lori is forever pushing me to recount one of the numerous life threatening events that befell me during my five and a half years of overseas military service in WWII. There is one particularly frightening incident I can never forget and would like to relate to you, dear blog reader.
I was a member of a three man crew operating as a reconnaissance scout ahead of our unit. We often found ourselves free for other duties when needed. In this incident (because I had a certificate to operate any water craft) I was conscripted to take over an inboard motor launch which was used to transport officers or casualties when needed to medical facilities.
I was working as a sapper engineer our company was involved in using large pontoon boats that were capable of moving tanks or large guns on their decks to ferry tanks across a river. The pontoon boats had four two hundred horsepower outboard motors on each corner to move the large pontoon bridge craft over any flooded areas. In this case the Germans broke the Rhine river walls to flood a very large area. During the whole operation we were constantly being shelled by tiger tanks firing 88mm shells from as far as five miles away.
We had to constantly change position as the Germans kept finding our location by sending spotter planes, every time we saw one we had to change locations as they would soon begin shelling that spot. We were already taking casualties during these moves and had to be constantly finding different places to load the tanks from.
I would follow behind in my launch transporting casualties if there were any. I was on my way to follow the company downriver when my launch suddenly stopped. I moved to the back of the boat to check the motor. When I lifted the motor hatch my problem became obvious. I had become tangled in concealed street telephone wires which had wrapped themselves around my propeller motor. I was traveling over a flooded civilian area but it never occurred to me that there would be submerged telephone poles.
Using my wire cutters I proceeded to cut the many yards of of wrapped cable and it was taking a considerable length of time. I was building up a large pile of cut wire in my launch. Even cutting the wire was time consuming I had to kneel down between the motor and the launch rail and drag it out before cutting it.
Then I heard the sound anyone in my position would dread, the shrill whistle of a landing shell. There was nowhere to hide all I could do was crouch down and hope the shell didn’t land too close. I remained kneeling down in the boat and the shell landed about ten or fifteen feet ahead and beside me.
My immediate thought was I was going to be blown to pieces, instead a large fountain of water, grass and dirt flew up into the air and tipped my launch completely sideways so I was looking downwards. I clutched the rail of my boat and rode this tremendous wave caused by the explosion. I looked straight down and I swear to you I as I was looking at the large displacement of water for just a split second I could see solid ground some thirty feet under me about the length of a telephone pole.
The water rushed back and the launch righted itself. What had happened was that normally a shell explodes on contact, in this case the shell dropped almost straight down and instead of exploding when it hit the water it exploded when it hit the river bottom and all the force of the blast was directed downward and shot the water straight up giving me the change to for a brief second see the ground under the water. I wasn’t hurt but frightened beyond description.
Finally after removing a large portion of wire my motor started and I immediately set off. I could not get away fast enough for my liking. A few miles downriver I found my company and a very angry officer who immediately threatened me with a court martial for hiding from the action. I pointed to the huge pile of wires still in the back of my boat and had amble evidence to explain myself.
Later on that same day we saw a very curious sight. A very sleek German plane flew low right over the trees. We could very plainly make out the faces of the pilots who were sitting side by side. The pilots stared straight at us but didn’t fire. This was the first time any of us had seen a jet powered plane used for spotting instead of a propeller one. Since the pilots didn’t fire on us we figured it was being used as a spotting plane. Of course we had been spotted so had to move on down the river bank but what a strange sight on that day.
I am wondering if you’ll have the patience to read all of this writing, thank-you!
If you’d like to read more about my experiences in WWII Please purchase my book Piper to the Rear from Amazon.
Here’s a pic and a link: