The Jack C. Berry World War II
Scrapbook: Coast Artillery Journal Articles

Moonlight Cavalry
by Lieutenant Jack C. Berry
Coast Artillery Corps

   A sentry stood in the shadows of a searchlight silhouetted by artillery flashes along the front. His hands were thrust deep into his overcoat pockets, and his breath clouded white in the sharp air. The blanket of crisp snow on the Belgian countryside reflected the glow of a brittle moon that hung in cold loneliness near the horizon.
   Another soldier hunched across the small clearing toward the light.
   "That you, Sal?" the sentry inquired.
   "Yeah. What's up?"
   "Nothin' so far. Guess the bastards got cold feet."
   "Yeah, guess so. You can knock off now. We got coffee in the tent."
   Sal glanced up at the sky. "Gees, it's cold!"
   The relieved sentry stooped into the squad tent and swaggered to a pot-bellied stove near the center pole, spreading his stiff fingers above the cherry-red lid. His crewmates were too engrossed in their sergeant's account of a conquest in Rennes to notice the new arrival. He lit a cigarette, lifted his overcoat in the rear, and rubbed his hindquarters as he turned his back to the stove and listened. The sergeant concluded his anecdote to everyone's satisfaction then looked toward the stove.
   "Anything doing outside, Olson?"
   "Nope. A little artillery fire in the east and there was some ack ack in the north awhile ago, but nothin's come this way.
   A telephone's ring interrupted their talk. The sergeant grabbed the phone and barked, "Section three, Sergeant Davis!" He listened for a tense moment then slammed down the receiver and bellowed, "One of the radars has one coming in fast and low from the north. HIT IT!"
   The clearing flushed with darting men, pulling on overcoats as they ran. Seconds later the power plant coughed and hummed low, then roared into the proper RPM's. The machine gunner clenched his teeth as he slammed the bolt of his gun to drive one of the long cartridges home.
   "Still coming in . . . ten thousand . . . get ready!"
   They tensed as the broken drone of a plane came faint in the north. Suddenly, a radar-controlled light sliced up through the darkness. It searched for an instant then, flicked a Messerschmitt 210 in the edge of the beam. Two more beams shot up as if pulled by a master switch.
   The sergeant screamed, "IN ACTION!"
   Their searchlight whined and the power plant slowed as the current drained from it. A white beam lunged skyward to the plane, impaled like a tiny silver cross in the glare. Ack ack sprang from the ground with a roar. Hot tracers from the multi-barreled machine guns weaved toward the intersection like angry, red snakes.
   Staccatos of sharp barks from the 40-mm cannon sent projectiles darting upward, trailing streams of fire, to burst in puffs of yellow far into the night. The German maneuvered frantically to evade the beams by twisting and rolling, then banking into a steep dive. Several lights lost him, but others clung to him with their grip of death. The heavens were filled with streaks of red and golden spangles, and in the midst of it all the cone of blue-white searchlight beams moved with the elusive aircraft.
   In a last, desperate effort, the Messerschmitt dived down the beam toward Section Three. His guns blazed defiance. The searchlight operator leaped into his slit-trench behind the sandbagged emplacement. Olson, yards away at his control station, kept the plane centered in light.
   The machine gunner sighted through slitted eyes at the left motor of the plunging plane . . . his gun chattered . . . a stream of tracers disappeared into the motor and empty cartridge cases bounced into the pit. He sprayed bullets across the nose to the other motor as he would sprinkle water from a garden hose. Flames fed by a severed fuel line, burst from the two motors. The plane erupted and flaming debris filled the air, falling like showers of hot coals.
   The operator reached the light and threw the switch. Sergeant Davis shouted above the hubbub from his position at the field phone, "All clear! Only one in the raid!"
   At the base of his machine gun, the gunner squatted to gather the expended cartridges.    The debris was still burning, each flame surrounded by a round patch of dark ground where the snow had melted. Heated cartridges from the plane's gun were exploding erratically all about.
   The sergeant turned and walked toward the tent. Inside he lifted the platoon net telephone and spoke, "Lieutenant? Yes, sir, we got him! No, no one at all was hurt. I have my report ready . . . light in action 0242 hours . . . light doused at 0246 hours . . . plane illuminated and identified as an ME-210 . . . 250 rounds of fifty caliber expended . . . one ME-210 shot down, category one.
   What's that, sir? . . . No, sir, the crew was all burned to hell! . . . No, sir, I didn't find a Luger, but the others are still looking. Just a second, sir, here they come now."
   He inquired of those just entered, "Find anything?"
   "No, there was just one Luger on em, and it's all burnt to hell, and the barrel is bent.
   The sergeant conveyed this to the lieutenant. He listened for a few seconds, then chuckled. "Yes, sir, I'll tell them. Over."
   He put down the phone and turned to his crew. "The lieutenant says for us to be a little more dainty when we knock these guys down. He still hasn't got him a good Luger!"
   They all laughed.

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