The Smoke Bomb
From the time I stepped on Utah beach in Normandy until the time I shipped back to the US I kept a diary in which I entered notes of daily events. This diary kept alive, quite vividly, my adventures, one of which I will unfold tonight.
I was assigned to an intelligence project (G2). It was organized as a reconnaissance unit of several communication trucks called #299's. A #299 was a large truck with a cabin mounted on its frame with an entrance door in the rear. It trailed a motor generator that was used to power the 500-watt radio transmitter and other equipment that was inside. The roof sported a huge whip antenna. Each vehicle was crewed by three men, a technician, a radio operator and a motor machinist mate.
The object of our mission was to cross the Rhine and establish communication links at the Ruhr Pocket, an industrial area where 200,000 Germans were surrounded. We were to transmit information back to Paris headquarters. A former FBI agent was our commanding officer. When we were in Cologne a few weeks ago, we wore blue regulation Navy foul weather gear and our own troops started shooting at us. As a result we went all the way back to Le Havre and were issued helmets, 30 caliber carbines, khaki outer clothing, the works.
The vehicles were to be distributed evenly along the front. Scouts would bring back critical information that we would cipher and radio back to Paris. So much for background.
We left Paris, passed Verdun and headed for Kaiserslautern, on the Rhine. Mannheim was on the other side. We hadn't crossed the Remagen bridge yet. When we got there the Army chased us out. They were too busy to protect us. We backtracked about 5 miles and parked on a rural road lined up against the curb. Overhead could be seen hundreds of bombers high in the sky, in formation, trailing streaks of frozen vapor trails flying in the direction we just came from. Hours passed. . It was a warm sunny spring day. This countryside setting gave no clues that a war was in progress except for a few bomb craters.
All of us busied ourselves doing something to pass time. Poker, joking, reading or writing letters., anything to keep occupied hoping that a motorcycled MP would come along and give us the OK to proceed.
Halloway approached us with a canister about a foot long and 4 inches in diameter.
"Hey guys, look what I found." He yelled
We circled and examined the silver coated object. On its surface was printed in large letters, SMOKE BOMB. It had a handle on one end with a round ended safety pin which protruded through the handle. The pin was painted red.
"What do we do with it?" someone asked.
"I dunno. Do you have any ideas?
"It's only a smoke bomb."
"What do ya say we pop it. It's only smoke"
"Who wants to do it?"
"Don't look at me."
"Come on, it should be fun."
"Where do we throw it?
"How about that crater there, it's deep enough?"
This was reminiscent of 4th of July activities we would enjoy back home when we would explode our firecrackers, light our sparklers, and shoot our rockets and roman candles.
This wasn't much different, it was exciting and was something we were all part of. and, it was something to do..
"Let's explode it!" Everyone agreed.
The pin was pulled, and the device was thrown into a crater about twenty feet from where the trucks were parked. After all it's only a smoke bomb. What harm can it do? Everybody ran.
The ground shook. Phosphorous particles spread in all directions for more than a hundred feet. It was smoke all right but of gargantuan proportions. The vehicles were deluged with burning phosphorous. Our Chief Petty Officer happened to be inside the nearest 229 unit and he leaped out pale and shaken ready to raise his arms in surrender.
It took awhile for things to settle down. General court martials were on everybody's mind. The CPO was furious and for the rest of the day we were trying to scrub the smoking chemical off the trucks with gasoline.
This was our excitement for the day. The MP arrived in a jeep to give us directions. Our column proceeded to a General Sherman tank reserve area that also provided transient sleeping accommodations,-- straw mattresses. We looked forward to boiled pork sausage for breakfast. What we didn't expect that night was a visit from the Luftwaffe who we called bed-check-Charlie.
That's another story.
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