Friday, 20 March 2015

Missed deadlines through typhoons, dengue fever and over optimism.

Perhaps one day I will meet the deadline set in my head but at least I have publicly announced a date only to miss by an embarrassingly large amount.

Still forging on with 'Shaw'. 

    'Hooded lanterns with red filters gave the passageways within the bowels of the USS Topcliffe a hellish atmosphere. The stench and humid warmth produced by the close packed and unwashed men of the 999th Infantry was gone though, replaced by the cold and damp of the English Channel.
Even before the ship’s engines had begun to slow, the regiment had lined the passageways in order of loading; thirty-six men to a Higgins Boat, aka the LCVP, Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel.
1st Battalion would emerge on deck on the port side and 2nd Battalion on the starboard to climb down the scramble nets and into the Higgins boats as they came alongside. It was a risky enough undertaking in daylight upon a calm sea, and the regiment had rehearsed the manoeuvre for almost an entire night, the previous month. On the conclusion of the fourth attempt the Navy had been satisfied enough to sign off the exercise as a success, but they had pointed out that the 999th had enjoyed the benefit of moonlight and the relative calm of The Solent.
    On this night off the coast of Normandy, the conditions were very different.
The loading plan was straightforward; Able, Baker and Charlie Company, of both battalions, would emerge on deck through hatchways in the forward part of the superstructure, while Dog, Easy and Foxtrot Companies used the aft hatchways. They could load eight craft at a time, four either side of the ship, and in training it had taken ninety minutes to fill all of the sixty-six Higgins boats required to carry the regiment’s two battalions. So far, Dwight estimated, as he shuffled forward another step at the head of 4th Platoon, it had taken at least that long to disembark Able and Baker Company.
Dwight had managed a couple of hours sleep earlier, but he knew he was in the minority. The rolling motion of the ship and nerves had kept most awake, buoyed up by nervous energy and Lucky Strikes, chain smoked to the extent that the men and equipment smelled like used ashtrays. Some had passed the time gambling, others in writing and re-writing letters to loved ones. Dwight had written his own letters when still back at Folkestone racecourse He had never been close to his father, so the three thin envelopes he had handed to the company clerk were for his mother, kid brother, and for Maggie of course.
    After another half hour of the one-step-and-wait waltz Dwight reached the rail at the height of a rain squall, helping his men over the side and ensuring they had a firm grip of the scrambling net; he could barely make out the men’s outlines in the almost pitch darkness, let alone identify them, and they had to shout against the wind for their names to be heard. The ship was rolling with the action of waves far higher than they had encountered in training, making the job of the coxswains in the Higgins boats challenging, to say the very least. The sailors were on the nets, using their experience to judge the movement of the waves, telling the heavily burdened riflemen when to make the perilous step from the netting to the boat.
    Dwight was the last man of 4th Platoon on the netting, the gap between the ship’s steel side and that of the Higgins boat altering unpredictably. A freak wave lifted the boat higher and defeated the coxswain’s best efforts to avoid a collision but the hands that gripped Dwight and hauled him upwards were those of the sailors who had read the waves, and seen it coming before he himself had realised the danger. Dwight was able to lift his legs clear of the assault boat’s side as it slammed into the ship’s hull with a booming sound. Without doubt his legs would have been crushed but for the two men who were just dark shapes on the netting above him. He opened his mouth to shout his thanks but a voice cut him off.
“GO!”
    The boat rose again and Staff Sergeant Forde reached over to take a firm grasp of Dwight’s webbing belt as additional insurance, as Dwight obeyed the unknown sailor’s shouted instruction, letting go and being pulled into the dubious safety of a small, flat bottomed plywood boat on an angry sea.'