by Gobo Fongo
June 1944, Battle of Caen
|D Day – June 10th
The fighting reached a crescendo in the mid-afternoon. Moving along the left, West flank on the edge of town I was once again united with Robbie. I hadn’t seen him since I took a patrol out to the East several hours earlier. “Where’s Josh?” he asked. I wish I knew. I’d left him on the East flank when I had to fall back into the town under heavy fire. I hoped he’d made it out.
We arrived at the outskirts in time to face another charge from the forest, and I could tell at once that they would not be stopped short this time. Firing madly from windows and doorways, artillery raining down, uncaring they came on. I sent Robbie scrambling to find some of our tanks, and did the best I could. They had just reached the edge of town when I heard the grinding rumble of steel treads coming ’round the corner, and a moment of relief crossed my heart. The enemy was all around us now, I shot one down as he dashed across the street but his fellow made it. Next thing I knew I was lying on the floor deafened, the man who had been standing by me draped over my legs, dead. A grenade. It had been a grenade. My mind latched onto this for some reason, fascinated. The door flew from it’s hinges and a large brown boot stomped inside. The burly man quickly surveyed the room over his great curled mustache, and as his head slid towards me it seemed as if the whole world rushed back into my head in an instant, sound in my ears, air in my lungs. His eyes widened, his mouth twisted into a sneering growl of rage, of frustration. I shot him again.
Before he had quite fallen I struggled to a half standing, half kneeling crouch, encumbered by the dead man at my feet. I raised up enough anyhow. As my iron sights cleared the window’s sill I pulled my trigger just as the soldier outside swung his arm back in the motion of throwing another grenade. My aim was true. I collapsed back to the ground as the grenade exploded at his feet. I was still alive. Get up, I thought. GET UP! and stumbling I came to the doorway, I shot another man as he peered around the corner. Bullets flew everywhere like a swarm of bees, explosions rattled the building and shook the streets. I could hear the distinctive clatter of an MG-42 off to the South, and suddenly I remembered that that was where I had heard the tank before. I was out the door and dashing that way. I rounded a corner and heard Robbie’s shout at the same instant. It must have been something in his voice, instinctively I dove for cover, half rolling and half sliding behind a pile of rubble as reality burst into chaos around me. When the earth stopped shaking and the bricks stopped falling around me I peered through the smoke, stunned. I was still alive. As I looked over my pile of rubble what I saw chilled my blood, I ducked back down. It was a Sherman. Not a Panzer. Bullets continued to ricochet and crack everywhere, fired from windows and doors, corners and ditches. I rolled back onto my side and there was Robbie, a block away in some kind of shop front. There were other men with him, and a few more went by. I needed to get back to them, to our lines. That one block could as well have been all of France.
But our men were pushing back. More came, and then at last a Panzer! They were advancing towards me. A moment later and Robbie slid into my sheltering pile of masonry. We peered out at the looming enemy tank and waited. A rocket, one of ours, suddenly burst with a whoosh from one of the upper windows. It slammed into the upper part of the Sherman and engulfed it in smoke and licking flames. But then the monster lurched forward. Charred black and still aflame like some hellish beast it swung it’s cannon and fired, erasing a large portion of the building. It began to move faster, coming towards our hiding place at the end of the street. With a sinking feeling I realized that there was nowhere to go, if we ran in any direction we were sure to be spotted now. It came closer still. Where was that Panzer? Our fellow soldiers cowered in the buildings to one side, fearful of drawing the beast’s wrath. The Panzer was nowhere to be seen. Enemies on foot were taking up positions opposite our brothers, yet no one was shooting. It was almost peaceful for a moment, everyone watching the Sherman as it advanced up the road crushing bricks and furniture under it’s steel treads. We were going to have to run for it. Someone fired, then everyone fired. The crossfire in the street was incredible, and ricochets pinged off of the lumbering tank. It’s cannon swiveled to the side. This was our chance.
Shoving Robbie ahead of me we lurched into a run. We ran for all we were worth, and it was really not so far. We were only steps away from the corner when I felt it. A certainty beyond doubt, a sudden irrefutable knowledge, that that tank’s single cold black eye was pointing towards me. There was no doubt. It was as if Death had suddenly called my name. I pushed Robbie ahead of me as hard as I could. I was conscious of everything for one glorious moment. The loud clamor of guns in the street, the crunch of grit beneath my boots, the soft sunlight on my neck, the smell of smoke and dust, the taste of it in the air, the guttural thump of the Sherman’s cannon and racket of it’s machine guns. And then, nothing.