The History of New York State
Book XI, Chapter 11, Part 1

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam

 

Page 1363

CHAPTER XI.
THE SEVENTY-EIGHTH DIVISION.

The 78th was not a distinctively New York division; it was made up in the main of units from New York, New Jersey, and Delaware. It came into being at the end of August, 1917, and its service in France began in the Nielles and Ypres sector in June, 1918. It engaged in the St. Mihiel offensive; it partook in the operations in the Argonne; it engaged in the two decisive converging attacks at Grand pre and Talma Hill; and it was busy in the Bois des loges and the pursuits of the enemy to Tannay, at the time of the Armistice. It was popularly known as the "Lightning Division." Nine enemy division faced the 78th during its operations in the Argonne Front. It captured 432 prisoners, and lost 1, 384 killed and dead of disease, and 5,861 wounded. It shared with the 77th Division the honor of capturing Grand Pre.

The foundation stone of the organization of the Division may be said to have been laid on August 23, 1917, when Major-General Chase W. Kennedy took command of its nucleus at Camp Dix. Four generals commanded the division before the commanding officer was found, destined to take the organization overseas, lead it through its operations in France, and bring it triumphantly home. In November, 1917, General Kennedy left the division for a tour of inspection on the western battle front. Then in quick succession the division was commanded by Brigadier-General John S. Mallory, and Brigadier-General James T. Dean. On January 7, 1918, Major-General Hugh Scott, formerly chief-of-staff of the army, became commander after a tour at the front. Then, on April 20, a month before the division left for the overseas journey, Major-General James H. McRae became its permanent commander.

Following the division commander troops arrived at Camp Dix on August 27, 1917, comprising a detachment of 40 officers and 337 men of the Medical Corps, under command of Major W. E. Ashton. Twenty-four hours later arrived 1,200 new officers from the First Officers' Training Camp at Madison Barracks. Following instructions from the War Department a system of localization of divisional units had been worked out by Division headquarters. Under original orders from the Provost Marshal General, drafted men from the Western part of New York and from New Jersey, and Delaware were mobilized at Camp Dix for assignment to the 78th Division.

Under the fit localization provided for by the Division Headquarters, units were composed as follows:

Three Hundred and Ninth and 310th Infantry, 307th and 309th Artillery--New York State.

Page 1364

Three Hundred and Eleventh and 312th Infantry, 308th Artillery--New Jersey.

Divisional Machine Gun Battalion--Delaware.

First Battalion--303d Engineers--New Jersey.

Second Battalion--303d Engineers--New York.

It was at the same time arranged that the other units of the division were to be organized by the transfer of qualified men, irrespective of the locality of their origin. While the system of localization had many points in its favor, serious defects made themselves apparent, and the system of assignment of men according to their qualifications, later adopted by the War Department, to a large extent neutralized the allocation idea. In addition, before the overseas departure took place, men from many different States were assigned and the division became very cosmopolitan indeed.

On September 5, five per cent of the original draft were inducted and on that day the draftees began to arrive at Camp Dix. From among these first arrival and the first contingents of regular regiments arriving about the same time, came many of the non-commissioned units. The original five per cent were supposed to be picked men and that they were in some degree trained was attested by the manner in which they acquires military knowledge and the manner in which they carried out their duties as instructors. They were of great benefit in handling the great number of draftees who began arriving in camp on September 20. It was on this latter date that the men of the National Army showed up in numbers that indicated the proportions of the operations by American forces that were to follow.

The thrill of the afternoon of September 20 will never be forgotten, writes Thomas F. Mechan, historian of the 78th Division. From the porch of Division Headquarters building were seen about 2,000 New Jersey men, destined for the 156th Brigade, who appeared upon the road passing by headquarters, on the Hill, and leading toward the 311th and 312th Infantry. They were indeed a motley crew. The heterogeneous and, in some cases, the tatterdemalion character of the clothes, each man carrying a hand bag or bundle, slung upon a stick over his shoulder and struggling along in columns of fours, which they attempted to maintain, gave the impression of a Coxey's army.

With the arrival of the mend during the latter part of September the aspect of Camp Dix changed from that of a western boom mining town to one of a military nature. Prior to these arrivals the civilians engaged in construction had been in the majority, though there had always been a scattering of soldiers. These latter were the first arrivals at Camp Dix, since on the morning of June 1, a detachment of Company C, 1st Battalion, New Jersey Engineers, arrived and pitched the first camp, preparatory to making the preliminary surveys for laying out the future cantonment.

Page 1365

Creating Camp Dix--It is thus seen that les an three months before Camp Dix became a large military cantonment, with barracks capable of sheltering 50,000 men, the first surveys of the ground had yet to be made, and the thousand of acres that were to compose the camp presented the appearance of sleepy new Jersey farms, dotted here and there with houses and barns. The original plans for the camp prepared in Washington provided for a huge U-shaped cantonment with barracks on either side, store-houses, shops, etc., at the bend of the U and spacious parade ground with the enclosure.

The War Department ha decided that the grievous number of the mobilization of the country in 1898 should not be repeated; and so, our of comparative wilderness it was necessary to construct a city, with all modern improvements, capable of housing and caring for 50,000 people; and the work had to be completed in three months. there was a railroad system with sidings, spurs, freight houses and stations to be constructed; a complete system of metalled-surfaced roads for the entire camp; a water system with a 16-inch main bringing water a distance of eight miles, and twenty additional miles of mains; a complete fire department; buildings to house the troops; cold storage and refrigerating system; store houses for food, clothing and strictly military supplies; hospitals, bakeries, salvage, clothing and shoe repaid shops, compete installation of a camp telephone system, and finally a complete electric lighting system.

Coincident with the arrival of sufficient men with whom to work, began the system of strict training. The Division headquarters gave out information to the effect that the following would be the three essential features of training before departure, to be followed out as far as possible for all arms and services:

  1. close order drills, with and without arms, for disciplinary purposes.
  2. Physical and bayonet training.
  3. Careful instruction in musketry.

To the latter end, strenuous efforts to complete immediately infantry, artillery, and machine-gun ranges were made, and by the middle November all these ranges were in working order and constantly used. Early training was handicapped by lack of arms, but the work was carried forward with energy so that when equipment did arrive the work and place of the individual in all formations had been learned and all efforts could be bent to learning the actual mechanical operations of the arms. In place of the arms there appeared to be from the first a great excess of picks and shovels and great use was made of these under direction of the engineers in the construction of the so-called "Entrenched area of Camp Dix." This was destined to give the men of the 78th a taste of life in the trenches. As the complete system was never finished bout the only taste the men received was what was considered as an overdose of instruction in the use of the numerous picks and shovels.

Page 1366

Early Training--In addition to the usual regimental, battalion, battery and company, school for officers, non-commissioned officers and selected privates, divisional schools were organized in all the specialties. Through these school passed officers and non-commissioned officers, who in turn went back to their units and passed on the instruction which they had received in the division centres of learning. When the officers from the British and French armies arrived they were assigned as advisory knowledge who knew the game by actual experience, their services proved valuable. These foreign officers were as follows:

French Mission--Lieutenant Auguste Arrighi, Infantry; Lieutenant Jean Meslier, Infantry; Sergeant Andre L. Boutier, Engineers.

British Mission--Captain Arthur H. Cobham, bayonet and physical instructor; Captain Edward H. Petre, machine-gun instructor; Captain Thomas Barrow-green, trench mortar instructor; Lieutenant William J. Howieson, gas instructor; Sergeant-Major William L. McArthur, bayonet; Sergeant Fred Tupman, machine-gun; Sergeant J. G. License, light trench mortar; Sergeant J. R. Chalmers, gas.

Eight hours of hard work a day, in any line of endeavor, will bring results, especially when the men engaged, both teacher and pupil, bring enthusiasm to the work. The first assembly of the units of the Lightning Division illustrated the success of the early training. This took place on October 17, when during the second Liberty Loan drive the Division was brought together to listen to a speech by Henry Van Dyke, former United States Minster to Holland. The contingents which had come in September had brought all united of the Division, except certain special services, such as ammunition and supply trains, up to about seventy per cent of their authorized war strength. Such was the progress made by the continual round of drills by day and schools by night, that by the latter part of October and the first of November battalion and regimental formations were becoming almost of daily occurrence, and occasionally, to bring in the larger units, a brigade parade, review or inspection was held. In fact the division began to show itself as a united whole rather than as an assemblage of disjointed parts.

This feeling of unity received a shock at the beginning of November when took place the fist considerable transfer of men to organizations outside the division. Some men were destined to immediate overseas service and others to make good deficiencies in National Guard divisions that were to go overseas as soon as their ranks were filled. This was followed by others with frequency, until in December and January, companies throughout the camp which had in November boasted as high as 175 men were reduced to less than 50. At that time the origination began to be generally scattered.

Page 1367

Meanwhile a generous amount of athletics, mass games, and play were interspersed with the sterner duties. An inter-divisional football tournament, in which teams from twelve independent units of the camp participated, was the first athletic event of a pretentious nature to engage the attention of the men. The game before the 307th field artillery and the 311th Infantry, which ended in a 10-10 tie aroused great enthusiasm. Following closely upon the camp championship game, teams representing the division defeated the 76th Division from Camp Devens on November 17, at Braves Field, Boston, and later, on December 1, trailed the colors of the 79th division in the dust at Franklin Field, Philadelphia, with a score of 13-6. It was in this game that the 311th Infantry, representing the Lightning Division, gave an example of that fighting spirit which later made them famous in the Argonne. With the score as stated above and two minutes to play, the 311th team found themselves upon their own yard line with the ball in the enemy's possession and first down. But the 79th division men found themselves up against the do-or-die spirit of the 78th. Four desperate plunges by the 79th failed to gain a yard and the 78th had the ball and with it the inter-divisional championship of the northeastern camps.

In addition to football the recruits also played at basketball, and took part in track athletics. In the former the 209th Infantry carried off divisional honors. In the latter the division had a relay team which won every race in which it competed. Its hardest opponent was the Boston Navy Yard team, but by winning from this team at Madison Square Garden in January, 1918, the 78th men won the Army and Navy championship. When spring came a division diamond was built, with grand stand and bleacher seats, just southeast from the headquarters group of buildings, and arrangements were made for an extensive schedule. In addition to teams in the two leagues which were formed, a division team was chosen from the best material in the camp.

Social Activities--The season was far advanced when the summons came to the division for duty overseas, and the men put aside the bat and ball, and spiked shoes, and took up the rifle, bayonet and hand grenade. The qualities learned upon the cinder path, the baseball diamond, and between the goal posts--grit, loyalty, and team play--showed themselves later in active service. As the men of the division had played so later they fought.

To the welfare societies and to the patriotism of the ladies of New Jersey was due credit for the many attractions that assisted in filling the long winter evenings as well as Sundays and Wednesday and Saturday afternoons. Through the efforts of the different women's societies of New Jersey, soldiers' clubs were established on all sides of the camp--"The Haversack" and Woman's Suffrage Club in Wrightstown, "the Farmhouse Club," and the St. George's Club at Pointville. In addition

Page 1368

Clubs at a little greater distance from Dix were established in Pemberton, Mt. Holly, and Trenton. Through the agency of the War Department Commission on Training camps Activities, the old brick hotel in Wrightsville was taken over and made into a Simon-pure soldiers club with a committee of doughboys from Camp Dix in entire charge. However, from the viewpoint of the division, the Y. M. C. A. and K. of C. regimental huts, located in the different sections throughout the camp, provided by far the largest part of all the work done by welfare agencies. Here the men gathered for letter writing and reading as well as for nightly moving pictures and other forms of entertainment, with both local and professional talent.

Two other enterprises, the camp library under the auspices of the American Library Association, and the Liberty Theatre, under control of the War Department Commission on Training Camps Activities, complete the cycle of social activities.

With the division's own theatre, moving picture houses, dance halls, libraries, hotels, railroad station, post office, local regimental stores or exchanges, electric light and telephone systems, newspaper, taxi service, and numbered streets and avenues, to say nothing of the Military Police doing duty as traffic cops at crowded centres, Camp Dix, during the winter of 1917-18, with all these metropolitan perquisites, gave the impression of a small city sufficient unto itself in all that goes to make up the usual round of twentieth century life. In spite of the cold weather and lack of men training went on apace except for the recess during the holiday season when fifty per cent of the command went home for Christmas and the remainder for New Year's Day. for those who remained in camp on Christmas day a huge community tree was provided, all welfare organizations participating, the Red Cross furnishing a present for every man in camp, and the Y. M. C. A. providing the 400 colored bulbs with which the tree was decorated. On Christmas Eve, the tree, which was kept illuminated every night of the holiday season, was lighted for the first time. As the many colored lights threw their cheerful rays upon the assemblage of radiant and happy faces, the scenes of war and carnage indeed seemed gar removed and naught but "Peace on Earth, Good will to Men" appeared to reign throughout the world.

In February the final increment of the first draft arrived and training work was speeded up. A touch of real war was added by the arrival of the steel-clad monster fresh from the western front--the British tank "Britannia." Many were the thrills afforded, from the first day when the tank turned turtle in trying to scale six feet of perpendicular frozen ice and snow-covered sand-bank just north of the Hostess House, to the grand finale on the last day when the Britannia ploughed its way through

Page 1369

one of the many farm barns on the reservation. On successive days the tank strolled through the heavy forests on the hills bordering the entrenched area, overturning and crushing twelve-inch trees in its wanderings, to the immense interest of the different regiments which were in turn given permission to witness the work.

End of Home Training--Despite the contingents that came in/February, the division was considerably under the required strength, and when, during the latter days of March news of the great German offensive began to reach us, none of the units of the command had much more than fifty per cent of their authorized numbers. At this time it became evident that if American assistance was to arrive in time that time had almost struck. Faced with this necessity the draft machinery was thrown into high speed and with the first week in April fresh assignments began to arrive to such numbers that by the middle of the month all units were well over strength, and the process of eliminating the physically unfit was begun. At this time, also, all manner of equipment began to arrive in great quantities. It was clear to the men of the division that wholesale transfers would be made and that the Lightning Division at last had the personnel with which it would embark for Europe. With such certainty as a stimulus, a considerable fillip was given to training. The results of the long hours spent in schools during the winter became manifest. Men arrived one day, were classified, examined, immunized for typhoid and smallpox, cloth and equipped the next day, and the day after had taken their places in squads, where they were to remain until war took its toll on the front at Thiaucourt. April was a hectic month for Camp Dix, and training, especially target practice, and equipping went on at a feverish pace, nor did the persistent rumor of immediate overseas service lag behind other activities. Every day brought forth not merely one but a great galaxy of conflicting reports. But from the diverse activities, one thing was certainly deduced, and that was the "Day" was not far distant and the "H" hour of departure of the division was about to strike.

The end of April found the excitement little, if any, abated, and when, on May 6 the advance party of officers from the division quietly slipped out of camp, it was generally understood that the departure of the division could not be long delayed. However the days came and went, the issuing of equipment and the packing and marking of boxes continued. Then at last the fateful note went out that the division had been placed under the orders of the Commanding General, Port of Embarkation, Hoboken, and it became known that the period of home training had come to an end at last. On Friday, May 17, drills ceased and Camp Dix was closed to visitors, a necessary procedure lest any information of the time and place of sailing might find its way into unworthy hands. In order to keep as many people as possible away on the last days, no tickets were sold by the railroads leading into Camp Dix. In spite of this, anxious relatives

Page 1370

gathered in the vicinity to bid their farewells. During May 18-19, companies and battalions quietly slipped out of camp, some to Boston; some to New York, some to Philadelphia, where they embarked, most of the transports being intended to meet at Halifax before the last leg of the journey was begun. In the small hours of the morning of May 20, Headquarters Troop, and Division Headquarters entrained for Philadelphia and the 78th division was on its way to add its strength to the growing American Expeditionary Forces.

Across the Atlantic--when the "secret and confidential" orders, to be compiled with immediately, arrived at Camp Dix, a season of anxious waiting became at once a season of feverish activity. There was a general scramble to outfit the last draft details which were reporting from other camps; transfer to the Depot Brigade of men unfit for overseas duty helped the confusion; and the making out of alphabetical Embarkation Lists (in nine copies, all "caps") kept the company and detachment clerks from obtaining any needless sleep. The various changes rung on the marking of identification tags, the midnight roll-calls, the baggage lists, and the continual check of equipment, the last minute inspections--the "jam" of all these various duties was voted something of a nightmare by everybody on whom they fell. It appeared almost impossible to comply with all the regulations imposed and yet turn over the areas in fit condition and on schedule.

Nevertheless, the job was done. The division quickly melted out of Camp Dix and drew away in separate detachments for the embarkation points, where a curious assortment of transports awaited the coming of the various sections. There was naturally a good deal of confusion. The new army was unacquainted with "below decks" and the idiosyncrasies of slung hammocks, and the messing arrangements. What to do with the equipment threatened to become a serious problem, but, like so many other emergencies, the actual accomplishment proved more simple than the anticipation, and within a few days, namely May 23-27, the seventeen transports which were to be included in the convoy of the division, had assembled in Halifax harbor, had become laden with troops, and stood awaiting orders to steam away on their hazardous journey together. Not all of the transports carrying parts of the division were assembled at Halifax. Some of the aster ships sailed direct from the port of embarkation to England without naval escort.

Some of the ships had their first glimpse f the horrors of war while the ships were at anchor in Halifax Harbor. The shore lines for nearly a mile, from water edge to the top of the hills behind the city, were blackened ruins, due to the serious explosion which has occurred a few weeks prior to the arrival of the division, caused by a hospital ship, which could be observed partly submerged close to the shore having rammed a steamer laden with munitions of war.

Page 1371

Then one morning the ships pulled anchor and drew out to sea and began the journey across the ocean. New regulations were issued one after the other. There was to be no smoking at night; no lights were allowed; nothing was to be thrown overboard; there were to be assorted fire and boat station drills; and for the various headquarters clerks, there were a series of alphabetical lists and reports. Censorship was established, and viewpoint of the army in general on the conduct of the war, the activities of the division, the opinion of the officers were learned at first hand; until the restrictions of the censorship became known and the soldiers found that their correspondence from then on was to be limited to the weather, and the fact that the writer was well.

Within a few days it was found that the men were becoming restless, and light drills and calisthenics were instituted--more for the purpose of keeping the men from brooding and passing the time than for the actual physical good that could be gained on a rolling deck and rolling stomachs. During this time the men were cut off from contact with the world and the war; but interest was aroused when, on May 31, the convoy was met by a flotilla of Allied destroyers and "sub" chasers; these assured everybody that they must be approaching some coast and curiosity became keener for a sight of the submarine regarding the activities of which the ships' crew had interesting tales to tell. Already the men were warned that they in the danger zone, and a sharp look-out was maintained.

On the afternoon of June 2 the S. s. "Beltana." Which carried the 310th Infantry, less 3d Battalion and the Machine Gun company, suddenly put her helm "hard-a-starboard." By a margin of 200 yards she just succeeded in missing a submarine the periscope of which had cut the water dead ahead. Instantly the two Allied torpedo boats piroutted, and the ship suddenly under the impact of the depth bombs they dropped in chase of the enemy craft. Three hundred yards to the rear of the transport a huge fountain of black water mounted and the bow of the "sub" was seen to lurch and slide back out of sight. Occasionally thereafter the long, lean arrows on the bridges of the torpedo boat destroyers would swing suddenly, and there would be a rush to spot the location of the " to which they were pointing. Between 5 p. m. and 7 p.m. on that day some forty depth bombs were exploded, every ship in the convoy feeling the effects of each explosion.

Arrival in Europe--Fine weather greeted the arrival of the transports in England, and the infantry regiments and Division Headquarters assembled at Folkestone. The artillery regiments crossed the English channel and landed on French soil at the port of Le Havre, and then proceeded to Camp de Meucon, near the city of Vannes, in the department of Morbihan, where for eight weeks they were introduced to all the intricacies of the famous "Soixante Quinze" (French 74 Mm. Guns) and other artillery pieces and their technique.

Page 1372

By the first week in June the division (less the artillery) was passing through England--some of the units via Southampton, some via London, and other via Liverpool; all en route for Folkestone and thence to Calais. Folkestone appeared to the men a sort of Atlantic City, and if it had not been for the faint thunder of the guns across the straits and the occasional formation, the Germans might well have appeared to be still 3,000 miles away. Orders, however, came suddenly, directing the movement of the elements of the division. Under secret instructions units moved to assigned land points and there embarked under the surveillance of French and British destroyers. The run across the straits was accomplished without casualties, or even the excitement of depth bombs or sinking German submarines, and the men landed in Calais, where they were quartered in "Rest Camp," No. 6 East, and No. 6 West.

In a few days the men had disposed of their barrack bags, changed their American rifles for British Enfields, and "gone through gas." The men were relieved of unnecessary shoes, blankets, overcoats and socks. Packs were made of normal size, and the men were told that their equipment had been slated for storage and that "later on" their barrack bags would b e returned wit their personal belongings.

Calais showed signs of the nearness of war. There was frequent evidence of bombing and "abris" were everywhere available. Both the British and French were using the port for the forwarding of supplies and consequently the enemy made a point of raiding the city at frequent intervals. Actual damage was light except on an occasional house.

Period of Special Training--The division was suddenly removed into what was to become its training area, centred about Nielles-les-Blequin, back of Ypres, with the Second British Army. Here the division found itself in a beautiful rolling country, under cultivation and untouched by war. There was available for each of the units a suitable drill field where intensive instruction became the order of the day. Training cadres of the Northumberland Fusiliers, the 14th Highland Infantry, and the 15th Royal Scots took over the work of coaching the men in their training. In the infantry regiments the men were broken into small groups, each under an N. C. O., or private, and vigorously instructed in British methods and manual. Officers and men eagerly absorbed the instruction; and the British acted as instructors, all functions of command being exercised the American officers.

In addition to the instructions given on the drill field details of officers and men were constantly called for special training in the British and Americans schools already established. Each branch and arm of service was required to develop its specialists, and to that end the officers and men studied every aspect of militarism--from the elementary map reading classes on up to the General Staff College at Langres. There were schools in musketry, schools in Lewis Gun, and schools in rifles and hand

Page 1373

grenade; there were the division's own 1st Corps Schools at Gondrecourt, and the British Machine Gun School at Cernois; there were schools for cooking, schools for gas defense, and schools for the use of British rations.

 

The History of New York State, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc., 1927

This book is owned by Pam Rietsch and is a part of the Mardos Memorial Library

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Debbie Axtman

You are the [an error occurred while processing this directive] Visitor to this USGenNet Safe-Site™ Since September 5, 2004.

2004

[Index][Book Index][NY][AHGP]