The History of New York State
Editor, Dr. James Sullivan
Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam
|As part of the regular
training schedules terrain and liaison exercises by regiments, brigades
and division were held, where open warfare conditions were simulated.
The work entailed considerable marching for some of the infantry. A
touch of realism was added one day when an actual German plane dropped
down in the sector of the 309th Infantry, and Division
Headquarters was treated to a laugh when the message added; "This
is not imaginary."
Target practice was continued, including long ranges, which necessitated extensions of the existing target ranges and construction of new ones, and because ammunitions was plentiful the men were rapidly improving the ability to shoot straight and accurately. There were occasional inspections and review for General Pershing and General Sir Douglas Haig, and also for the Duke of Connaught. The men learned a new vocabulary, they grew accustomed to "indents of Supply," and "D. A. D. O. S." and "A. A. Q. M. G." and "D. D. I. W. T." and so on.
West of the locale of the division lay Boulogne-sur-mer. On July 4 the engineer Regiment and the Pioneer Platoons from the infantry regiments were sent forward into the reserve British lines in the vicinity of Oudezeele. There the men worked on the organization of the line between Verdrel and the Bois d'Olhain, and it was understood that the division would shortly occupy the sector. A move was then made to the St. Pol area, back of Arras, and this was made in view of the altered strategic situation affecting the Allies on their immediate front. There the men were attached to the First British Army, and their training continued, still under the supervision of cadres assigned to the division. To their previous work was added range practice with automatic rifles and machine guns. Day and night along the Arras forty heavy guns boomed and the men were constantly treated to air fights between the observations balloons which fringed the horizon and the alert German planes.
Enemy planes watched the movement in the troops of the sector. Moonlit evenings were chosen fro bombing parties. The railhead at Tincques received considerable attention and the division headquarters at Roellecourt was one selected as a target. As part of the divisional training the 156th Brigade occupied a reserve position on what was known as the "G. H. Q. Line," beginning on August 5. The heavy rains, the pitch dark nights, and muddy trenches proved admirable experience for what the 78th was later to encounter in the St. Mihiel and Argonne, although at that time nothing was known to the men of their future movements. In fact the general impression seemed to be that they were to be brigaded with the British troops--if not actually to be absorbed by them as replacements--and their on fear was the possibility of losing their American
identity. They new that American forces had been in action, but they also knew the crying need of the British for replacement, and the agitation then going on for their use of the Americans.
On august 17 and 18, the 155th Brigade moved south of St. Pol into the area vacated by the 156th Brigade, in order to make room for a British Division, which was assigned to occupy the Chelers area; and four days later the division started for the American sector--final assignment being given that their American identity should not be lost, and what interested the men even more that they would be once again on their own American rations.
At. St. Mihiel--"The 1st Army (U. S.) will reduce the St. Mihiel salient." Such was the order which sent the 78th Division from its training to act as the First Corps Reserve in the great attack of September 12, 1918. The order found the division encamped around the town of Chatenois, about twenty kilometers east of Neufchateau. The order reached division headquarters on September 8, and gave the key to the wanderings of the division following its arrival in the American sector in August.
The units of the division which had been in the British sector were greatly pleased at the prospect of going to the American sector. The train ride in "Homme 40-Chevaux 8" cars took about two days, in which some of the trains had a glimpse of Paris and of the Marne battlefield. The Marne was still littered with the wreckage of German pontoon bridges and the hills and river bottom of the alley were pitted with shell craters, while there was wire everywhere. The villages along the road had been heavily pounded and there were many queer freaks of shellfire all the way from Chateau-Thierry to Epernay. A sad sight was an occasional cross with a helmet hung on the top and the inscription "Soldat American Inconnu."
The division detrained after passing through Langres and Chaumont in the general area of Bourbonne-les-Bains, which was to be division headquarters. A long day's march was necessary for some units from the detraining point to the new billeting area, but the weather was excellent and the attitude of the French people, unworn by four years' contact with troops of all nations was a very pleasing contract to that of the war-weary, over-worked people of Flanders. The few days which the division spent in the Bourbonne area were occupied in resting from the journey, issuing American equipment and preparing for terrain exercises under the direction of the 6th Corps Staff, to which the division was attached, but which were never held because of sudden order to move. The first stage of the move towards the front brought the division to the area around Bourmont. While at Bourmont orders were received transferring the division to the 1st Army Corps and ordering a move under cover of
darkness to the area around Chatenois. This move was completed about September 6.
All horse transport of the division set out after dark on September 8 for a four-nights' march, under command of Colonel Battle. Division Headquarters meanwhile were wrestling with the French method of preparing to move troops by motor trucks, and the rest of the infantry and machine gunners were packed into French trucks and rolled off during the afternoon of September 10.
The Artillery Brigade has already moved from Camp de Meucon, near Vannes in Brittany, to the St. Mihiel region and had gone into action in support of the 90th division between Pont-a-Mousson and Fey-en-Haye on August 26. The movement north along the main highway through the fortress of Toul, with increasing strictness in regard to prohibition of lights and with occasional jams and accidents, lasted all night. Most of the troops reached their detonations in the Bois de-la-Cote-en Haye before daybreak, but 310th Infantry, the 307th machine Gun Battalion, with its "Fighting Fords," and part of the Sanitary Train, were forced to camp in the woods alongside the roads where day light found them. The wet day of the 11th was spent in these woods with Division Headquarters moving from Rosiere-en-Haye to Rogeville at noon. During the night of the 11th, the 156th brigade moved over the muddy torn-up roads through the pitch black night to the Bois de la Rappe, while the 155th Brigade and the other units moved over to the Bois de Greny. It was in these positions, left just a few hours before by the Marines of the 2d Division and other troops, that the division saw and heard the tremendous four-hour bombardment which prepared the way for the assault at 5 o'clock in the morning of September 12.
The entire division was not used in the actual reduction of the salient, because, as is well known now, the assaulting troops surprised the German by the suddenness of their attack, broke through the weak (German) 77th Reserve Division and reached their final objective before night and almost a day ahead of schedule. Meanwhile the Germans scuttled out of the salient at full speed, wondering all the time why the American did not push right through the Hindenburg Line as they very easily could have done at one time during the day. All troops of the division were, however, kept ready to go forward on very short notice.
The first visible proofs of the victory were long columns of prisoners, looking happy rather than otherwise, bound for the 1st Army Corps prisoner cage at Saizerais. The number of prisoners became to large in the afternoon that Companies "E" of the 213th and "I of the 311th Infantry were sent to Saizerais as provost guards and later to escort prisoners to Pagny-sur-Mause. At about the same time, Company "A" of the 309th Infantry was ordered to Rosiere-en-Haye as a fatigue detail at the corps ammunition dump. Later on the 12th, it became evident to
higher authorities that the entire success of the assault might be lost in the event of a counter attack, because the condition of the roads near and across the four year old "No Man's Land" was so bad. The 303d Engineers were therefore detached and put to work making roads under the orders of the Corps Engineer. While on this detached service they suffered several casualties from enemy guns and some of the men made their acquaintance with the devilish ingenuity which the Germans showed in constructing "man-traps."
The most interesting information given out to the 78th Division on that day was the warning order from the 1st Army Corps that "upon the arrival of the attacking divisions on the 'Army Objective' the position now held by the 2d and 5th Division and left brigade of the 90th division on the Corps Front, will become the 'Army Line.'
"The 78th Division will be charged with the defense of this position."
The real excitement however began about 11 o'clock at night, when a hurried telephone call from corps headquarters started the whole 156th Brigade off for the front line to reinforce the 2d division, supposedly sustaining a heavy counter attack. When the advance "agents" of the brigade reached Loge-Mangin, they found the 2d Division ignorant of any counter-attack and sore to think that anybody believed they would need assistance if there had been an attack, so the brigade was halted with its leading elements just south of Thiacourt, where some of the troops watched the fighting and others were commandeered to help rebuilt the road from Fay-en-Haye through Regnieville and on toward Thiacourt. At nightfall on the 13th the brigade was sent back to the Bois de Bouchot and the Bois de Hacquemont, but orders came shortly after the troops had bivouacked to go again through Limey to Remnauville, to a position on the south side of the Bois d' Euvzein. For practically twenty-four hours the brigade was on the road and covered in that time thirty-one kilometers over roads choked with transport, and what had once been roads through the old "no Man's Land," but which by that time were no better than ploughed fields. The explanation of the "counter attack" was later declared to have been that a telephone operator misinterpreted a minor rectification of the line to permit artillery fire with a margin of safety for a forced retirement and going off "half-cocked" spread the "news" all the way back to corps headquarters.
The march of the 156th Brigade was not lost, however, because on the night of the 13th and 14th this brigade and the rest of the division moved up to the Bois d'Euvezin and the outskirts of Limey in preparation for the relief. The 155th Brigade started off before dark on the 13th and, owing to change of orders by the corps which had not reached division headquarters until after the brigade as under way, got into a traffic tangle with the transport of the 2d Division at Limey, when things were tied in a "true lover's know" for an hour or two as a result. During the
first night the troops were very "windy" of gas and about fifteen distinct fire alarms were spread from one end of the division to the other, during the hours of darkness, to the destruction of all ideas of sleep and despite all the perfectly good instructions on gas alarms and how they should be given, which the division had been receiving during the preceding three months. during the day that followed there was plenty of interest displayed in looking over the German lines inside the Bois d'Euvezin, hunting for souvenirs and the like. Here the men also acquired acquaintance with the German helmet trap and one "outfit" learned the reason for the existence of "potato-mashers," when an "expert" in fireworks decided they were a new form of roman candles, pulled the string and whirled one around his head for a little patriotic celebration.
Division headquarters opened up in the ruins of Limey at noon on the 14th and the next day the three infantry companies which had been on special duty and the Engineer Regiment rejoined the command there. Late on the 14th the division received the order which it had been patiently awaiting. The relief of the 2d Division, less artillery, by the 155th Brigade, was order for the night of the 15th-16th, and the relief of the 5th division, also less its artillery, by the 156th Infantry Brigade, were ordered for the following night. The details of the reliefs wee arranged the next day by the generals concerned and the necessary reconnaissance made. Battalion and company commanders of the 155th Brigade went up to Thiaucourt to look over the front and the positions they were to move into. There they saw their first freshly gathered German prisoners and the American wounded coming back to the aid stations, but they themselves went forward with guides from the Marines to reconnoitre the first line. The positions we generally in the woods; the woods were under shellfire , and nobody seemed particularly anxious to go prowling round the Bois de la Montagne and the Bois de Halibat in order to show them just where the Marines had their fox holes, so that after an interesting visit in which considerable (though rather vague) information about the location of positions and troops were gathered up, but far less then was necessary for the clock-like reliefs of which the men had read in the instructions pamphlets, the 78th division officers returned to their own units. The next day the officers of the 156th Brigade had a somewhat similar experience with the front line of the 5th Division.
It was exciting work to move a green division into a new and unorganized sector just won from the enemy and take over the dangerous task of holding it while it was organized. But the 78th made the relief in such an efficient manner that General Liggett sent the following exceptional commendation dated September 17, to General MacRae:
1. I am directed by the Corps commander to inform you that the taking over of the sectors of the divisions which you have just relieved was, so far as he could learn, done in an orderly, well-directed manner.
2. The difficulties of taking over a normal sector are very great and a test of the efficiency of your staff and the troops concerned in the movement. To have accomplished this under conditions of semi-open warfare as you have done is most creditable, but when there is further added the fact that your division is in line for the first time, the Corps Commanders cannot help expressing his gratification, together with the prophecy that your command will give a good account of itself in this and future situations in which it will find itself.
The relief was not made without exciting influences however, as in the 312th Infantry, when Major Butler, leading his battalion up to the front line in the pitch dark, found a German counter-attack in progress, and with the 311th Infantry, which relieved part of the 5th Division, after a vigorous German night drive had driven back the front slightly, and proceeded to restore the old line. Division headquarters moved under corps orders to Loge Mangin, and took over the former German battalion headquarters in that patch of woods. Command of the 155th Brigade sector passed to General McRae on September 16, and of the 156th Brigade sector the next day at the same time. The 7th engineer Regiment was attached to the division until September 20 to assist in the work of organization and particularly to complete the salvaging of German guns and burial of the dead. Two artillery brigades were in support for a short time, but by the 19th, the 2d Artillery Brigade had withdrawn to go to Champagne, and the attack on Blanc Mont, while the 5th Artillery Brigade, under Brigadier-General Flagler cover the whole sector. The division as a whole was thus at last where all American troops wanted to be--on the fighting front holding its own sector and ready to attack whatever turned up.
The 153d Artillery Brigade, meanwhile, had been doing its full share with the 90th division, which was then on the immediate right of the 78th, and it was not long before General Hearn visited division headquarters to renew old acquaintances and to tell what the artillery brigade had been doing since it arrival in France.
The artillery brigade had trained in Brittany until about the middle of August, then it moved into the St., Mihiel region and, on August 26, went into position in support of the 90th division, between Pont-a-Mousson and Fey-en-Haye. The location of part of the 309th Regiment was discovered by the German almost at once and their positions were severely shelled. The 308th F. A. men also were discovered while on the march and the severe shelling to which they were subjected caused several casualties among the men and many among the horses. The old battalion positions were abandoned on September 6 and the whole brigade moved forward to new positions nearer the enemy front line. The 3008th F. A. and 3078th F. A. took positions along the line from Pont-a-Mousson through Madures and Montauville toward Fey-en-Haye, with the 309th
F. A. in support. These were the positions occupied on the night of the 11th and 12th, when the preliminary bombardment began. In order to conceal the fact of he changed positions from the enemy no fire for adjustment had been permitted and the firing data for some batteries arrived at the battalion command posts as late as 10 o'clock on the night of the 11th. After firing the preliminary bombardment the brigade put down its first rolling barrage at 5 o'clock in the morning and protected the victorious and vigorous advance made by the 90th Division Infantry. This rolling barrage was afterwards the subject of general praise and comment by the infantry, who stated that it was clock-wise in its precision and that they no difficulty in advancing under it.
By the early morning of the 13th, observers reported that the enemy was out of range for the light regiments and it was found that even by depressing the trails and using maximum elevation the enemy could not be reached. New positions were at once selected and between the 14th and 16th, the entire brigade had moved up in front of the Bois-lep-Pretre and facing Pagny-sur-Moselle. In that sector there was plenty of opportunity of practicing the artillery principle learned in training camps.
The "Limey Sector"--the front which the division had taken over soon came to be known as the "Limey Sector." It was seven kilometers wide and was practically the front taken by the 2d and 5th divisions. The ground was hilly and rolling, with many ravines and stretches of dense woods. The western half of the sector was cut diagonally across from southwest to northeast by the winding, precipitous valley of a small creek called the Rupt de Mad. West of this stream the division outpost at the end of the drive was located in the woods. "No Man's Land" was open and rolling, sloping upwards to the forward positions of the Michel Stellung, or Hindenburg Line, around Charey and Mon Plaisir Farm. The steep valley of the Rupt de mad, the sides of which rose abruptly in paces one hundred meters in fewer than three hundred., split the line, but this feature was not a serious weakness, because the loops and turns of the stream made it easy to control the gap. East of the Rupt de Mad the outpost zone and "No Man's Land" were both in woods so dense that passage was impossible fro bodies of troops except along existing paths and roads. So far as the front line was concerned, the boundaries remained practically the same, but several changes were made in the back area lines for administrative convenience.
Organization-- The mission of the division was to hold and organize this ground for defense while maintaining an aggressive attitude toward the enemy--in other words, to "dig in and worry Fritz." The "digging in" was easier to order than to do, for the only work of organization taken over was partial line of "foxholes" on the front of the 155th Brigade, while on the 156th Brigade front line the trace of the first parallel in
the line of principal resistance ha been marked out, a map of the position partially prepared, and a large supply of captured tools and engineer material gathered by the 5th division. The ground itself was not favorable for digging, because after about a foot of soft top soil had been removed, limestone and shale or clay were usually found, which was very hard to work with the "sugar spoons" and "toothpicks" which the infantry carried in their packs, while the captured tools were not nearly enough to go round. There was however, the advantage in this hardness that immediate revetment work was not necessary.
The position was organized into an "outpost zone," a "barrage zone" and a "main position of resistance." The forward line of observation group was actually located from a point just west of the Charey-Xammes road along the northern edge of the Bois de la Rembercourt on the south bank of the stream, through the northern part of the Bois de Bonvaux and western part of the Bois de Hanido over La Souleuvre Farm. The Xammes to the top of the Rupt de mad just south of Jaulny, crossed the stream south of that town and ran slightly southeast along the northern side of the ridge to the northeast corner of the Bois Gerard and then over to Hill 361.4, which commanded that end of the sector. The barrage zone of not less then 600 meters depth ran between these two positions. The Hindenburg Line was on the high ground less than three kilometers from this line of principal resistance so that neither the outpost zone not the barrage zone could be as deep as was desirable. Nor could this defect be remedied by falling back slightly, as the line or principal resistance was on and along the most important tactical ground between Xammes and the Moselle River.
The outpost zone was therefore cramped up under the Hindenburg Line on an average of less than 1,500 metres away. Practically the whole of both position, outside of the woods, was under direct ground observation from the enemy's line, and since this sector of the new front was nearer the enemy's line than any other inside the old salient, the enemy made full use of the big advantage which this gave him.
The infantry constructed all works in the outpost zone and organized there a system of strong points echeloned in depth, where by shifting occasionally to alternative positions, the worst of the shelling might be avoided. Both infantry and engineers worked on the mainline of resistance. This position was even more exposed to enemy observation than the observation groups ands suffered so severely from the harassing fire that work was done mainly at night until it was well advanced, but at times it had to be completely suspended because of the bombardment. The engineers did most of the wiring and the infantry most of the digging. When the division left the sector this first parallel was practically complete with some sandbag shelters--proof against 77mm. Shells--dug
into the back walls, but no elaborate dugouts were built, no systematic camouflage was carried out, and but little was done on communication trenches and other such construction characteristic of a highly developed trench system in position warfare.
Garrisoning the Sector--the 99th Division was on the right in the Puvenelle Sector and the 89th on the left in the Euvezin Sector, with a regiment commanded by Colonel Conrad Babcock, adjoining the 310th Infantry, commanded by Colonel Walter Babcock, a coincidence which caused a little confusion at division until it was understood, especially when the position of the former was reported considerably to the rear of where the 310th was supposed to be. Continuing the line from the left flank towards the east were the 309th, the 312th, and the 311th regiments. Each brigade had five infantry battalions and six machine gun companies with which to hold its sub-sector. After the outpost zone had became fairly well organized and the danger of an immediate counter-attack had passed, the garrison there was reduced from our companies to two per regiment, with supporting machine guns. Four to six companies of infantry and the bulk of the machine guns were in the line of principal resistance in each regimental sector and one battalion and two machine gun companies were in the reserve of each brigade.
These reserves were stationed in the Bois d'Heiche and the Bois des Grandes Portions about two and a half kilometers behind the first parallel of the line of principal resistance. The division reserve of two battalions of infantry and the division machine guns battalion were stationed in the northern part of the Bois d'Euvezin. The alert position of this force in case of an attack was in the northwestern part of the Bois du Four to which it was prepared to march at any time. The station of the reserves was used as rest billets fro the battalions after their tours of four or five days in the line. Reliefs were made upon the initiative of brigade commanders, subject to the approval of division headquarters in order avoid too many reliefs at one time and to make arrangements for the disposition of the units in reserve. The dense woods in the sector of the 312th Infantry made all movement at night difficult. Reliefs by daylight were therefore tried with complete success. Small groups of men were sent in and out at a time and several such reliefs were made without casualties or confusion.
Approximately two-thirds of the 5th Artillery Brigade under Brigadier-General Flagler was placed between the position of principal resistance and the alert position of the division reserve, the rest of the artillery was in the rear of the alert position and all of it was so places as to be able to execute counter-preparation fire from one and a half to two kilometers in front of the outpost zone. The battery emplacements were selected and prepared by the artillerymen and, being subject to less
interference from the enemy, they were almost completed by October 5. The work of the artillery was handicapped considerably by the small allowance of ammunition for daily use which was made to them while the division was in the sector, and to the lack of airplane reconnaissance and observation of enemy positions, but they always cooperated to the extend of their power and with very good spirit.
Headquarters of the division and of the signal battalion were located at Loge Mangin in the excellent dugouts which had been the home of German battalion headquarters and which were well enough except for their size which made it necessary in some cases to pout the tables outside and hand the chairs on the walls in order to find room enough to lie on the floor at night. Perhaps because the German did not believe a division headquarters could be crowded into such a small space, this little patch of woods escaped with two slight shellings, although the woods on all sides were frequently subjected to searching fire. The 5th Artillery Brigade Headquarters were in the Bois des Saulx, those of the 155th Brigade and the 310th Infantry in Thiaucourt, the 309th Infantry in Bois-du-Fey, the 156th Brigade in the edge of the Bois de la Rappe, the 312th Infantry in the Bois Gerard and the 311th Infantry in the Bois de St. Claude, just southeast of Vieville-en-Haye. The engineers' headquarters were in the Bois d'Heiche.
Worry the Enemy--Such were the arrangements under which the division carried out its mission of digging in and worrying the enemy. Although the morale of the enemy infantry was badly shattered by the results of the assault the Germans were aware even before the division took over that the offensive had stopped and that a new line would have to be organized on ground with which he was thoroughly familiar, so that he was all too soon ready to use his plentiful and efficient artillery to make that organization as difficult as possible. The harassing fire, well regulated from the ground and from the air, where the enemy acted with the greatest freedom and his usual audacity, was kept up continuously upon all part of the lines. Day and night until practically the end of the stay, shells of all kinds were coming in and taking a severe toll of casualties. Small wonder then that many time dision headquarters were bluntly informed by some badly maul infantry that American artillery was firing short because the shells were coming from behind. Then, after half an hour of telephoning to all artillery commands in the rear, "G-3" would give back the information that it was coming from behind alright, but that none of the American artillery was firing at any target even remotely near the spot reported and that it must be the enemy artillery firing from across the Moselle where the German line lay to the southeast of the American and so could deliver a nasty crossfire.
Small wonder also after the great bulk of the Allied airplanes had
moved over to the Argonne "show" that the division infantry doubted their existence, if nothing worse, when the German aviators came down along the division lines spraying their machine guns, and tossing hand grenades down, or lazily floating around while their artillery adjusted their fire and the men of the division impotently cursed or sniped at them making a noise--not because they seriously expected to harm the airmen. In verified cases on September 26 and on October 3, the Germans flew in machines bearing allied markings and by this treacherous device were able to fire almost pointblank on our men without an opposition.
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
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