This is a list of towns we passed thorough after Grenoble on the way to the Besancon battle
VOIRON was first on the list after we went passed Grenoble. I thought it would be nice to have some sort of record. Poligny is the last town we were riding high and mighty. I scribbled the names in the towns as we drove through or had stopped. You can see the last scribbles were when we were really rambling. My face was burnt from the hot sun and wind. Up to this point the German army offered resistance from time to time. At Poligny we were engaged more than sporadic rear guard action. I remember very well the signs which pointed to Grenoble. That place is well known by ski enthusiasts. Now and then we’d stop for reasons unknown to me. Fatigue possibly. Things happened along the way not really related to the war.
At one stop I was inquisitive about what the heck kind of powder propelled the Bazooka rocket. I took a rocket apart- not a highly recommended procedure. I found in the tail were about a dozen sticks of propellant about the size of a pencil. My inquisitiveness wasn’t quelled until I lit the end of one. All of a sudden the thing left my hands in a pop. It fell to earth then lit again on its own and continued lighting and popping in circles. I wasn’t safe at that time. It could have gone in any direction. It would be a good pyrotechnic for the Fourth of July especially if the user was an arsonist! It could really be devastating in a dry field. Anyway now I knew what type of propellant was used in a bazooka. Some fun on the side.
At another stop, we were in an open field. Nearby was a sort of castle. In it everyone knew was a beautiful princess, possibly peeking out of the window from a turret as the GIs in the field in all stages of undress tried to take advantage of a whore’s bath and a few rations. It was getting dusk. I stripped down to my birthday suit. It felt soooo good to be free for once and stark naked. The notion struck me to act out my freedom; I took out streaking around the alfalfa field like a gazelle. I leapt and tried to do a tinker bell’s act of flying. I had to stop though. My tender feet couldn’t take the alfalfa stubble like when I was a kid on the farm–awww such little comforts!
After we passed Grenoble I made the first notation of VOIRON. The map won’t show the other dinky towns we went through. Apprieu is on the map and Burgoin. There is another town world famous for some sort of wine. I found a webpage, which town is named CREMIEU.
We were nearing Besancon I think, when we stopped at another farm yard where there was a watering trough with running water for livestock which were not in sight. The German army must have taken the cattle for food on their retreat
Spotter plane shot down
We were filling our canteens trusting running water to be pure enough to drink and also daubing our faces with the cool water to knock off dust. Above us flying was a spotting plane for the artillery. He was able to see the German troops from up there. We were in a group of pine trees. On the far side must have been targets. The planes fly so low and slow that they get shot at by German troops. All they have for armor is nothing but cloth.
All of a sudden from out of nowhere came a 109 Messerschmitt fighter plane! He came in behind the Cub and fired one burst -brrrrrrrp. The plane was in flames in split seconds. The forward speed hastened the burning off of the cloth covering and the Cub was stripped naked. I saw the pilot fighting the stick as he plummeted to earth in or behind the pines. He was so close that you could see he wore goggles. He might have fallen into enemy hands. I can still see in my mind the silhouette of the pilot against the sky, but I can’t recall if he had a passenger. Some spotters had a radioman. I have since met a few Cub observer pilots who were shot down. Theirs was a risky job too.
I have been in contact with a cub pilot who was shot down and taken prisoner. His name is V.M BOUCHER; In our exchange of mail, we determined that he could not have been that pilot shot down nearing Becanson. He was shot down by ground fire he said, not by a Messerschmitt.
We all wanted to run to the aid of the downed pilot, but we couldn’t leave our own duties to possibly be taken prisoner. We saw lots of incidents like this. We were helpless.
The Battle for Besancon was taking shape like the battles on Anzio. The German Army wasn’t giving up this territory for a cheap price. All the bridges were blown out across the Doubs River which makes a big arc encircling the town. I think there were about four bridges connecting the center of town to the outer town. There was also a castle type fortress built in early days from which nearly all of Besancon could be viewed. I am no expert in this. I am telling you what happened in my words. Many rounds of Mortars and artillery and small arms fire were poured into this battle. Our side suffered a great number of casualties, luckily not in our platoon. The history book stated that 1600 rounds of Mortar fire and three truckloads of other ammo was expended in this battle which lasted 22 hours to take the city. It seemed longer than that to me.
If you let your mind go wild, you can imagine the noise and odor of gun powder. Realize too that the German army was tossing back stuff too–lots of it–in a stiff necked resistance. This was a very strategic town. The German army was still at near full strength. They had the advantage of knowing the territory.
Bridge over the DOUBS
The engineers ran out of Bailey bridge material to repair a bridge which was destroyed by the retreating German troops. One or two more sections were needed to complete the span. My platoon was ordered to construct some sort of foot bridge so our troops could cross. The river at this place was deep with the sides built straight up and down. It required a ladder on the far side. The bridge had fallen into the river leaving debris scattered all over from the explosion. I could see unexploded blocks of their TNT. Their blocks are pink in color. There could be a delayed fuse to finish the job. We didn’t flinch at this prospect.
We found lumber that was strewn about. Pieces about six feet long and about a foot wide and 4 inches thick. It was ideal. The pieces probably came from a destroyed stair case to the river. My squad laid these pieces side by side on some fallen girders and it made a perfect walkway to the steep cemented bank. Somewhere we found a ladder for the troops to scale the far side.
This is my squad. Ciavaglia, Archbold, Corbett, Anderson, and Horton: others I can’t identify. Sorry.
I recall one little TIFF in the platoon about the time of the Battle for Besancon. One of the members refused to go on a particular detail which undoubtedly was ‘hazardous to your health’. I remember that the GI had white tasseled hair and was really mad when Lt.Wyatt asked him to go on this duty. It is very unwise to refuse orders. LT.WYATT never known to refuse when he was a line Sergeant with Company G. He expected the same of any others. The GI just said, “you’re picking on me, get someone else and added for Wyatt to f— himself”–just like that! That was insubordination at the worst. Lt Wyatt was blushing with anger and was faltering for some sort of immediate punishment. No doubt he was running his mind through the GI book of rights. An officer can’t lay a hand on a private–ever. It applies to Non coms too, but that didn’t stop a GI from taking off his stripes and settling it. That didn’t happen.
This was tough for Wyatt to contain but he did contain himself. Someone jumped up and said.” I’ll go Lieutenant” and that saved the GI temporarily and saved the Lieutenant from losing his cool and his bars. LT.Wyatt could have ‘turned in’ the reluctant GI for insubordination, but that would be a heaven sent order. They’d take the insubordinate GI to the rear and send him to a prison for the duration. This particular GI was in for worse to come than prison.
In a head to head conversation with Wyatt later in life, he told me that sometimes a GI can foretell that his time has come. And it made him change his mind when he refused duty.
The guy who took the place of the insubordinate made it all the way to Austria and home. Lieutenant Wyatt was not some ordinary ‘shave tail’ 90 day wonder. He came up from the ranks. He was with G Company from way back when–even in San Francisco and Fort Lewis. He was the guy the Colonel would ask to go over the lines on Anzio and bring me “a live one or a warm dead one”, for interrogation. Coming to our platoon might have been a vacation for him. (some vacation). We respected Lt.Wyatt highly.
Lieutenant Wyatt was the best commander we ever had; He’d go with us on dangerous assignments. He knew first hand our agonies and fears having been through lots of skirmishes with the enemy. I would never ever refuse Lt.Wyatt when he asked.
Somehow I can’t recall all the names of any other of our commanders. For a while we had LT Rifkin on Anzio until he was maimed by a parachute flair I set up for his use instructing the linemen about trip wires. When I asked him “Should I ARM the flare like in combat?” Lt Rifkin said. “Like in combat”. So I pulled the pins and armed it! He forgot where he was standing and was barking at the troops about land mines. He stepped back a foot or so and tripped the flare–it went up and ripped open his left arm! I remember that sooo vividly! He leered at me with a vicious blaming leer and hollered, “Son of a Bitch’! I wonder if he would remember that. I knew he didn’t get sent home because later he was again a Lieutenant over me on our way home.
Another Lieutenant I remember was the first one I met on the Casino front. He was so young he didn’t need to shave. His name was Lt. Smith too. I wonder if I wrote about that incident while on Anzio. Another’s name was Young I think on Anzio at the time the house was blown up and we lost the platoon.
I stopped writing for a look at some of my old letters. The first censorship of LT Wyatt was on Sept 12, 1944. We would have been near Besancon at that time. Letters censored by a V.A.Smith just before embarking for southern France. Lt.McQeen signed one for me on July 18th 1944.Another letter censored by Lt VA Smith dated Aug.4th and one on August 9th which leads me to assume that he was our platoon commander when we landed on Southern France. He then would have been the Lieutenant who stayed in the ditch while Smitty and I carried out the compound mop up-Gee–I sure hate to hurt his feelings by saying this. So be it.