by Gobo Fongo
a personal account of the Battle of Coleville, June 9th 2010
|D-Day, June 9th
We knew they were coming. You could feel the tension inside the church, a fragile quality in the air, solid, yet ready to shatter. Glancing from my post at a window across the chapel through the harsh glow of a single lantern, I was struck by the scene, at once peaceful and hideous. The men crouched, appearing to kneel along the walls, between the pews, facing forward with with a reverence and intensity that would gladden the heart of any priest. But, pious though some might be, the Holy Spirit had no place here this night. For the men bent not in prayer, but in fear. Hands clasped not holy symbols but tools of death, their shadows playing on the walls like devils shifting impatiently, eager for the unholy service to begin. They didn’t have long to wait. It started with a faraway rumble, a sound so deep that it was felt rather than heard and wouldn’t have registered at all were it not preceded by such a funereal silence. So it begins I thought, and turned to watch the men's faces. The few men of experience knew what was coming, their shoulders hunched together, hands gripped tighter to their weapons, jaws clenched, waiting, but in the split second after the first thump the more part of the nightmare congregation, young and old filled with suspense and fear, remained ignorant that their fate had been decided. With the explosion that followed all pretense of calm was shattered as if it had never existed and never would. The sound left our ears ringing and the blast knocked many to the floor, yet we were lucky, the next building had been hit and the first screams had begun. Climbing to their feet, pressing against the walls, peering through the windows, our shadows danced behind us with glee. More explosions followed in quick succession, more shouts and screams, more fear in our eyes. By some miracle the church was spared through the bombardment, though it was no mercy I knew. Suddenly a light bloomed bright across the moonless night, obscenely stark across the fields, no light of day but of hell, evil red glow reflecting from the night mist as if emanating with the vapor from the earth beneath us. Naked, the edge of town, the last buildings and our poor church. Bare, the open field, the few outbuildings. Dark and solid lay the forest, crouching not one hundred yards distant, black and impenetrable. Every eye strained against that barrier to sense, every eye searching, dreading, waiting. Then another light bloomed and another and as suddenly as it had gone the blackness returned. Explosions continued to wrack the city, more lights bloomed, still we waited. Suddenly one of the flares burst low, hardly above the treetops, this is what I had waited for. In a sudden moment of silence, the torch sank slowly through the trees and there! Silhouetted by the brilliance, suddenly made clear, were the shapes of men, moving through the trees, creeping closer, encircling, and then they were gone, reclaimed by the darkness. There must be thousands of them.
Then it really began. The first bullet struck the wall of the church with a snap, almost surprising in it’s anti-climax, a soft clap and a bit of stone. The next took a man in the face, he made not a sound as he fell back to the floor. “DOWN DAMMIT!” I shouted, “WAIT FOR THEM!” Cowering, shaking, eyes wide, we waited as the storm broke upon us. It sounded like a hailstorm beating into the old chapel, bits of stone flew and window panes were holed and shattered. The enemy fire, so close in the edge of the woods, seemed faraway somehow, muffled by the fog and the still night air, detached in some way from the echoing clamor inside the church as the walls were battered and holed. Then some of our guns opened up, a forty cal, and then another and another along the line, spouting flame and defiance from several buildings towards the forbidding trees. The flares of gunfire in the forest furthered the illusion of the night with red eyes flickering, tongues of flame licking from the forest. Because I was watching for it, I saw the first push of the enemy, under cover of withering fire and the thick darkness in the mist, hundreds of men broke from the trees and dashed silently toward some debris and old trucks on the outskirts of the town to our left. There was only one thing I could do. “Hold men! Wait for something to shoot at!” and clapping Robbie on the shoulder I was off. Leaping from a window and crouching low, I sprinted toward the enemy now midway across the field and only a hundred or so yards ahead. Luckily I wasn’t the only one to notice, a flare bloomed in front of me, throwing the running men into sharp contrast, their shadows stretching before them like open graves that swallowed them as they dove headlong into the grass. I too was illuminated and scrambled behind a forlorn old truck just ahead of some sniper’s bullets. I squeezed the trigger, and in short bursts emptied my magazine into the men struggling and scrambling forward into a hurricane of metal from the town ahead. That advance at least was halted. Deafened by my own fire, I didn’t at fist register that i was not alone there by the lorry. There were two, no three others, huddled partway below the truck. I soon had them firing in the right direction and warned that the next person likely to reach their truck would not be so friendly. Turning back towards my unit, I saw fire spout from the side of the chapel in answer to bursts directly opposite in the woods. I saw a movement, a shadow, there were men crawling from the trees toward the church. Through the madness of sound and flashing light inside, it was impossible for them to see clearly from the windows, they could only fire blindly towards the forest, meanwhile the enemy crept closer. Taking careful aim, I did what I could along with a lad from beneath the truck. I could hear shouts now, a roar from behind as the first buildings were stormed. The firing reached an ever higher pitch, faster and faster, until it howled from every side. Our truck was coming apart, the boy by my side lurched and lay still. My gun was suddenly wrenched from my grip, shattered by some bit of lead. I took my companion’s but then I was out of ammunition. Still the fight continued, it was incredible that fury such as this could be sustained even for an instant, but it went on and on.
I realized that the fire from the church began to slacken, and suddenly there was a mad charge from the tree line. Firing madly, running, screaming, they came on like demons, through the windows and the flashes I could see only a few men returning fire, but it couldn’t last. Josh, never relenting, spared a glance my way and I knew that as usual, I had no choice. Pistol in hand I threw myself into the night, running, tripping, dashing on, it was only a few more yards to the church. I was only a few steps distant when the first Germans reached it’s side and began firing blindly through the windows. Time seemed to slow and then freeze as I vaulted through an end window, pistol first. A grenade exploded inside and lifted one boy high off the floor. Another, loosing a stream of bullets through one window was shot through the next from behind. Germans were climbing, leaping, into the building and one such had just landed in a crouch below me. He looked shocked to find me, hanging there in the air midway through a window, pistol leveled at his head. And then he was no more, my feet came down on someone, and as I fell I claimed the lives of two more, but in that suspended instant was all of my luck expended. Leveling my gun at the next man, no time to aim, I felt a blow from behind, and another. I fired. I saw a face, twisted with rage, with frenzy, unleashing a swarm of bullets without discretion across the holy chapel, I watched, unable to move as inexorably, that barrel pointed towards me, one grazed my shoulder, I felt the sting of it clearly, but the next, punching into my chest, I didn’t feel at all. I looked down as they crashed inside around me, past me. I saw that it was Josh under me whom I had landed on, his gun laying beside my buckled knee. I should have grabbed it I thought, what happened to my pistol? Then there was a ringing and my helmet flew forward, I fell forward with it. The smooth stones, worn by countless reverent knees and now slick with blood, came up to meet me.