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William Farris - G Co, - Attack on Pretot

This story is about an attack. To begin with, there is something about attacks that I find interesting and surprising. I, of course, am only stating my opinion, but all the G.I.'s I have spoken to agree with me.

A soldier feels better in the attack than he does in any other phase of battle where you are under fire. I have heard there is a small organism in your body that releases liquid into your system that reacts as a stimulant when you are excited.  I am not surprised at all as I remember before an attack thinking how tired and worn out I was, yet when the attack got underway I did not feel tired, in fact it was quite the opposite.

But back to this tale I am going to tell.  It is a story about an attack our Battalion made in Normandy, France on a little village named Pretot.

The reason I remember this attack better than any other is that it went exactly as planned. Second it was vigorously carried along, and third, the Battalion was in such good, or should I say, high spirits. I don’t believe any combat soldier ever feels good while on the line. He has too much to worry about. This is why I remember and write of this particular attack.

Pretot is a small village of approximately 1000 to 1500 inhabitants. During the two days we were in that section I never did see any French civilians in Pretot. They left their towns and villages as war advanced. They took off seeking escape like scared rabbits in front of a forest fire. Some stayed, but the majority took a very hasty departure.

Pretot is a picturesque village surrounded by low rolling hills. The town itself is situated in the centre of a little valley, very pretty. As it was June, everything had the look of spring and a fresh green color. It was ideal weather for anything but war.

Our Battalion was about a mile away when we were ordered to go into the attack. t was early morning, not yet daylight. We were to move up under the cover of darkness, deploy around the west side of town and attack at the first crack of dawn. There was to be 10 minutes of artillery before jump-off.

We checked our weapons and hand grenades and necessary ammunition and rations. All NCO's had just returned from a briefing by the company commanding officer who had just been briefed by the Battalion commander.

I was told to check my squad and make last minute checks like water, ammo, etc.  Everything was now ready.

Every one was keyed up and having that last smoke. We were making feeble attempts at stale jokes to show every one we weren’t scared to death. The fear of death is a fear I don’t believe anyone ever masters. Our Battalion commander used to say, "IT TAKES A BRAVE MAN TO BE SCARED- AND ADMIT IT".

By his ruler I can say I was feeling extremely brave that morning.

Cigarettes were put out, a last warning for silence was given, squads were lined up and we moved out. We arrived at our destination (jump-off point) in less than an hour. We moved up into position and prepared to wait for our Artillery Barrage. When it lifted, that was our signal to attack.

Here is the big picture, we were deployed companies abreast, squads in line, one Battalion strong. Roughly speaking we were 600 yards from Pretot on the forward slop of a hill to the west side of town. We were attacking from the west to the east.

The first platoon of G Co was to swing through the southern edge of Pretot and set up machine guns on the road leading out of town, catching the krauts as they started to pull back.

We waited about 10 minutes before our Artillery went out and I believe it was one of the longest 10 minutes I ever spent in my life. Finally, after what seemed a lifetime of waiting, I heard a dull boom far to our rear, then the funny whirring sound a shell makes tracking across the sky.

They usually fire one lone shell in, to see if the range is correct, and then lay it on. Such was true in this case, for seconds after the first shell hit – just long enough for the observer to radio back to the guns to fire for effect - the air was filled with whirring sounds, like angry bees.

I could hear the dull boom of the 105s firing far to the rear. Then the ground would shake with the impact and everyone would hit the dirt praying there wouldn’t be any short rounds.

10 minutes of that and the countryside was as quiet as before, except now we could hear the Germans in town cussing and running to their stations.

Up the line I heard some Joe yell, "LETS GO GET THE BASTARDS." And with that every man seemed to move out.  The gentle slopes leading into town were alive with charging paratroopers yelling like drunken Indians. The air was full of snarling bullets looking for a body to stop in. The attack on Pretot was in full motion.

Before we had run the first half of the 600 yards separating us from town, I could hear the slugs ripping through the foliage as the German gunners fought to get our range. It seemed so thick that I thought it impossible to advance through it and not get hit.

The German guns were reaping their toll, but we were too near; nothing could stop these hell for leather troopers now. They were never taught how to attack and retreat at the same time.

Things were moving fast now, no time to think, just act automatically and move. The Germans were surprised and didn’t have much a chance to organise.

As we approached the first street in town we came to, I could hear the blam of  hand grenades and the nasty whine of flying shrapnel above the splutter of Tommy guns and the crack of rifle shots.

I knew the main weight of the attack had started to fight through town and was systematically cleaning out house after house with hand grenades and bazooka’s.

Nothing exciting happened to my squad going through town, that is nothing that didn’t happen to squads in combat every day.

There was one squad ahead of mine and they caught most of the dirty work. They were on one side of the street and we were on the other followed by the mortar squad. I could hear all hell breaking loose further to my left; I knew the boys were having it hot.

As we neared the edge of town the first squad was held up by a machine gun in a front yard. The platoon leader sent a runner back to tell me to take my squad and swing around to the right and come in from the flank.

I took seven men and started swinging to the right down a little alley between houses. I left my machine gun crew and assistant squad leader behind because it is hard to climb fences and move fast with a machine gun.

We started down behind a row of houses, climbing the fences and zigzagging through the flower beds, keeping as close to the buildings as possible.

As I stepped through the last hedge row, I nearly bumped into a kraut who was standing with his back to me facing the street. I will never forget his look of surprise as he turned and saw me.

I pressed the trigger of my Tommy gun and he went down like an unseen hand had just smacked him with a sledgehammer.

I had no sooner let up on the trigger when two more Germans jumped to their feet and ran. They had been hiding in the hedgerow. I had 25 slugs left in my clip so I just split it up between them. It always amazes me how much power there is in a bullet. If a man is hit solid it is like a house was dropped on him. Needless to say these two were surely hit solid. They were 15 yards from me.

A scout and I moved on around the house. The two of us crawled up towards the street to try and spot the machine gun that was holding our two squads up. We saw it and I sent the scout back for the man with the grenade launcher on his rifle. He took the machine gun out with two rounds.

Then we moved on through the town with no more than the occasional sniping to hold us up. Arriving on the east of town we set up our two machine guns covering the road leading out of town.

All of this time I could hear the boys raising hell in the main center of town.

Later I learned we had attacked so fast that two German tanks were bottled up in town and they were rushing around like a bull in a china shop, up one street, down another. Every where the tanks went there were troopers laying on it. Finally they got bored and knocked [the tanks] out.

We hadn’t done much more than set up when the krauts started pulling back down the road leading out of town. They were much disorganised and needless to say we had a field day. Dead and dying Germans soldiers were laying along that road for a quarter of a mile. Later we learned that we chalked up about 150 krauts.

While one of our machine guns was zeroing in, I was standing behind him. As he fired I would slap him on the shoulder which meant he needed to raise his sights by two mils.

I noticed there was no rifleman protecting the left flank of the gun. I turned sideways and yelled to one of the boys, "HEY Vanmeter, COME HERE! "

We were standing behind a hedgerow out of sight, except for the hole in the hedge I had been looking through at the road to correct the firing of the gun. Vanmeter came over and yelled, "WHAT DO YOU WANT?"  I turned sideways and reached back to pull him close so he could hear above the noise of the gun.

I had just grabbed his arm when a sniper got in a lucky shot and plugged Van Mmeter right through the chest – clean through. He fell at my feet and I dragged him close to the hedgerow and yelled for a medic.

I pause here for a minute to explain what happened.

The sniper that shot Vanmeter was actually zeroed on me. I just happened to turn sideways leaving Vanmeter facing the hole in the hedge. I never had a closer miss, I felt the wind from that slug across the back of my hand.

Vanmeter was hit badly and he knew it [and] he later died. He told me to take his pistol, that he wouldn’t need it. He refused to let to let the medic bandage up his wounds. He said it would be a waste of time. He was bleeding awfully badly and he had a feeling he was cashing in. Funny how guys know, for I believe they do in most cases.

We got our orders to move on. We were to set up and dig in on the high ground beyond the town of Pretot.

I went over to Vanmeter where I had dragged him. I couldn’t think of any speech so I just said, take it easy, he answered, "yeah, yeah." As I left his face was grey as ashes and he was bleeding like a stuck pig. I knew he had had it. I learned later from the medic who stayed with him that he died in about 20 minutes. He was a nice guy, a good friend of mine.

Well Pretot was ours. It had taken just a little more than two hours. It was one of the most organised attacks I ever took part in.

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