The History of New York State
Book XI, Chapter 11, Part 3

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam

 

The enemy artillery seemed to harbor an especial enmity towards the town of Thiaucourt, which was comparatively little damaged when the American forces entered it, for it began to shoot it to pieces systematically--this calculated destruction may have been prompted by chagrin over the loot which had been left behind and which was scattered far and wide for any adventurous doughboy or gunner to pick up. Part of the 308th Machine gun Battalion put some of it to very practical but humorous use while in support. For several successive days groups of men asked permission in quiet intervals to go down to the Rupt de Mad to wash. The practice soon became suspiciously common, so that the lieutenant in charge followed one day to seek the ground of the mystery. He found the bathing place hear some of the wrecked houses where husky machine gunners had discarded their issue underclothes with their loads of "cooties" and after a good wash were substituting beribboned chemises and pick step-ins salvaged from the ruins.

While the health of the men remained good as a whole the sanitary condition in the forward positions, which were subject to severe shelling left some things to be desired at times. The doughboys, whose main occupations during the night were "patrolling and standing-to," "digging and dodging," seemed to think a hundred per cent policing rather a secondary matter. A colonel visited the frown one day and speedily issued choleric orders that the outpost line be on once cleared of refuse.

Only few refugees came into the division lines after it had taken over the sector. One party of two old women and an old man who had escaped the evacuation by the Germans by hiding in Jaulny passed through division headquarters on their way to the rear. They were still badly panic-stricken after their most recent experiences and showed it clearly by the fact that while the man had a small bundle of clothes with him, all that the women had brought along were two or three extra bedraggled wrecks of hats to which they clung as though they were the latest Parisian models.

Offensive Operations--The work of worrying the enemy was far grimmer than this work of organizing, although the toll which that

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exacted kept the sanitary detachment busy and gave Chaplain King of the 310th infantry among others of this branch the chance to show that devotion to the wounded which won for him the Distinguished Service Cross. The crushing surprise which the Americans delivered on September 12 had shaken the morale of the enemy infantry and this ascendancy was kept up throughout the occupation of the sector by aggressive patrolling in "No Man's Land," band four more powerful raids. The patrolling was principally by night on the 155th Brigade front, although the 309th pulled off one audacious patrol through Rembercourt in broad daylight, but because of the dense woods in front of the 156th Brigade, considerable work was done there in daylight. There was also continual sniping, particularly on the right sub-sector.

The first real offensive operation of the division took place on September 22. Orders had come from the 4th Corps., which had taken over full control of the St. Mihiel front on September 18, the day before, to make a raid that night with a full battalion. The time for preparation was so short that the assaulting party could not be properly instructed, many details had to be improvised and some did not succeed. It was decided to raid Mon Plaisir Farm in order to get prisoners, documents and easily portable material. This farm was an excellent observation post just inside the Hindenburg Line around which considerable activity had been observed. The 3d Battalion of the 310th was ordered to make the assault behind box and rolling barrages with a company of engineers to cut the wire entanglements with bangalore torpedoes and to destroy the hostile concrete dugouts and "pill-boxes." The infantry was glad for a chance to come to grips and when the time came they advanced to their objective on the right and almost to it on the left, brushing aside all resistance and crossing the wire somehow, unaided by the engineers who, too much hurried in their preparations, did not get into position in time to follow the assaulting wave, and after inflicting severe casualties on the enemy reluctantly withdrew at the expiration of the allotted time. Then the enemy came back fast and inflicted many casualties during his retirement, using the positions which the infantry had taken but could not destroy, and other machine-gun posts on the flanks outside of the box barrage. Eight prisoners reached the division lines, considerable information was brought back as to the enemy positions, although American losses were high, the division had made its first attack with splendid spirit and dash.

Almost before the final reports on this affair were written the next two raids were made. Field orders issued on September 25 contained the significant and startling announcement that "Our First Army in conjunction with Allied Troops, will make an attack West of the Meuse. The Fourth Army Corps will support this attack by making a demonstration along the entire front." It was the beginning of the Argonne-Meuse bat-

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tle. It was also ordered that as a part of this demonstration the American artillery should conduct a six-hour bombardment of all enemy positions and targets before the infantry demonstration began. This bombardment began half an hour before midnight on the 25th and last until the infantry went over the top at five-thirty the next morning, when it turned into the necessary box and rolling barrage to protect their advance. For once the doughboys could stay in their trenches and listen to the swishing overhead and the distant reports which showed that for once since the arrival of the Americans the enemy was getting what was long overdue. It was decided that this time the 309th and the 311th regiments should try their hand at an attack.

The 3d Battalion of the 309th, afterwards called "Segarra's Raiders" from their doughy leader, swept up a stretch of territory in the valley of the Rupt de Mad through the battered town of Rembercourt-sur-Mad as far as the wire entanglements of the main Hindenburg Line. The battalion attacked with one company west of the stream, one east and the rest of the battalion in support near the "jump-off." In addition to the artillery barrage there was a machine gun barrage by two platoons of the 308th machine gun Battalion. The objective was reached, but few live Germans wee seen. The town was _mopped up" but nothing of great value was found. The raid was more fortunate than the first, in that where were only one officer and twelve men of the party slightly wounded

The demonstration which the 311th was making with its 1st Battalion at he same time through the western side of the Bois du Troue de la Haie was a very different affair. The enemy resisted this advance which was made without artillery barrage with his machine guns in pill boxes, snipers in trees, and artillery counter-barrage. Te outpost line was nevertheless pushed forward to its objective on the left and almost to it on the right--a maximum distance o about 400 meters on a front of about 1,500 and on the right flank of the 312th was moved up to maintain liaison. During this advance, which was completed about 10:30 in the morning a dozen machine gun nests were destroyed and their occupants killed or captured. Nine unwounded and three wounded prisoners were taken. The line gained was held all day under heavy fire of all kinds. About 5:30 in the afternoon the enemy laid down a box barrage on the new line and followed this by an attack. By 6:30 the losses had become so great that it was decided to withdraw to the ld line and this was done with any further attempt on the part of the enemy to advance.

The enemy became quieter after these demonstrations; that is to say, they only sent over from 1,500 to 2,00 shells a day, and the 311th infantry actually got through the twenty-four hours of October 2 without a casualty. The whole sector was lapsing into "peace-time warfare" and to relieve the monotony of "N. T. R." (Nothing to Report) the observa-

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tion posts were turning in such things as "at 17:05 hours, a man led a white cow into a ravine. Suspect there are cookers there, as smoke has been seen." Corps headquarters caused a mild flurry on the 29th by ordering exceptional patrol activity to determine whether a general withdrawal by the enemy, which they had reason to suspect, was actually taking place. Every regiment accordingly sent out extra patrols. These unanimously reported the enemy still in position and just as resentful as visits. None brought back any prisoners until lieutenant Brewer of the 309th change a working party on a moment's motive into a combat patrol, found a German post, and brought one of them back to confirm the fact that the Germans were not disposed to retire that night.

The 312th Regiment had all this time been exploring its own patches of woods, digging and dodging like the rest, and becoming acquainted with the fighting qualities of its men and officers, like Lieutenant Horobin, whose method of keeping his men under cover when enemy fire got hot was said to be, standing up himself and throwing pebbles at those whose heads showed. Now it was their turn to square a part of their accounts with Germans, so it was decided that a little daylight raid should be made on October 3, at eight o'clock in the morning, on an annoying machine gun nest, on a little knoll called La Saucisse. Accordingly, after a twenty-minute concentration on that knoll by the supporting artillery battalion, three officers and fifty-two men rushed the nest inside a box barrage, captured three machine guns, seven unwounded and two wounded prisoners, and returned with only three casualties. Questioning the prisoners brought our the fact that the Americans had completely surprised and wiped out a liaison post between two German divisions.

Transfer to Meuse-Argonne Front--This was to be the last offensive action of the division because on the same day orders were received from the corps relieving the division the following night. The 89th division was to extend eastward to relieve the 155th Brigade, the 90th was to extend westward and relieve the 156th Brigade, while the 78th division's 155th Artillery Brigade and 303d Ammunition Train were to rejoin the division. The rumor spread fast outside of division headquarters that the men were going out of the line for a rest, but headquarters was not laboring under any such delusion. They knew they were headed for the Argonne, and without delay, for somebody higher up had ordered the division to do an almost impossible feat of marching. The attention of Crops headquarters was called to the fact that the foot troops in the front line were called upon to make a front line relief and march thirty-five kilometers into the Foet de la Reine between dark and six in the morning, only to follow this up at once by two more long night marches. Corps could not change the orders, so the division set out, as one staff officer said, "to do the impossible and damn near succeeded."

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The withdrawal began on the night of the 3d with the relief of machine gun units, the replacement of infantry reserve units by those which were to relieve the front line battalions the next night and the march of the 303d engineers, the 307th machine Gun Battalion, the machine gun units of the 1255th Brigade and the four battalions which were in brigade and division reserve to be Foret de la Reine.

The next night it was another story. The front line battalion of the 311th got only as far as the Bois des Grandes, Portions before bivouacking under cover for the day, while the rest of the regiment reached the Foret de la Reine on time. The 301st began its relief soon after dark, but the last elements of the regiment did not clear Thiaucourt until 4 o'clock on the 5th. the foot troops, after the bus movement along the famous highway over which Verdun had been supplied during the heroic defense in 1916, had reached their destinations of the 7th in the woods and temporary barracks around Beauchamp Ferme west of Clermont. There they spent the 8th and 9th resting, cleaning and refitting. Most of the 155th Brigade and part of the 156th were given a bath and some clean clothing before the orders arrived for a movement into the Argonne Forest, west of Montblainville on October 10.

With the arrival of that order, another chapter, the most vial of all in the division's history began. Then men who had crawled into the French 'busses around Chatenois on September 10 as raw troops, a month later knew what war was. They had taken over a sector which such fighting men as the 2d Division were glad to get out of, and had organized it in the face of an enemy occupying prepared positions, well supplied with artillery, possessed of superior observation and maintaining air supremacy. Their spirit had been unshaken by the continuous day and night fire of all kinds, which caused serious losses before the defensive works were sufficiently advanced to afford good shelter. They established a personal supremacy over the enemy infantry and reduced them to a passive defense. The staff work has become smoother and accustomed to changes in personnel, for while in the Limey sector, Colonel Charles D. Herron had succeeded Lieutenant Colonel Cootes as Chief-of Staff, and Colonel Patrick Guiney and Major R. P. Lemly had turned over the important posts of division quartermaster and ordnance officer to Major Kruttschnitt and Captain Mitchell. After three weeks of this severe testing in combat, the division had come through the strain of a prolonged forced march in a manner reflecting the highest praise upon the discipline, courage and stamina of both officers and men. They were ready for the even more important and dangerous mission upon which they were to set out on the morning of October 10.

Preparing for the Meuse-Argonne Offensive--The American success in the St. Mihiel salient demonstrated the possibility of ending the war before winter by one great offensive against the shaken enemy forces.

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The Allied High command determined therefore to withdraw part of the American army from St. Mihiel, to reinforce it with fresh divisions, and to use them in a speeded effort to smash the German lines of communication between Sedan and Montmedy. Through these places ran a railroad line skirting the Argonne to the north, which handled nearly one-half of the supplies and troop movement of the Germans. This road was the jugular vein of their system of supply and it had to be cut.

So., immediately after the St. Mihiel drive, while the 78th division was consolidating the positions in the Limey sector, many of the American divisions in the St. Mihiel salient were relieved and sent north where the First American Army took over from the French the sector between the Meuse and La Harozee. The American Divisions in this sector, in time and in reserve, at the beginning of this great battle, September 26, formed in columns of route, would stretch 477 miles and require twenty-four eighty-hour days to pass in review. In addition to these, there was French artillery units and various corps and army troops. Preparations for the battle were made with great speed. It was well nigh impossible to conceal entirely the movement in rear areas from the enemy--the time of preparation was so short--the forces involved so great. Prisoners taken during the drive said they had expected the attack the 25th. The attack actually occurred the 26th.

On the morning of September 26 the battle of the Argonne began. The Americans attacked over a front of eighteen miles, with nine divisions in line. The artillery preparation was very heavy, and despite the difficulties of terrain and position, a very considerable breach was made in the enemy's positions. By the night of the 27th the line ran fairly straight from Dannevoux to Montblainville--a gain of about four and one-half miles. This was nearly half-way to the Germans' second withdrawal line, the Kremhilde-Stellung.

In the day immediately succeeding, however, the gains were small. The impetuosity of the American advance had left much to be done in the way of "mopping-up' and consolidating the ground won. Moreover, the Germans, thoroughly alarmed and alive to the importance of this part of their line, took the strongest counter measures. To their four divisions already on this front were added five on the 27th, three on the 28th, and one on the 29th, drawn in many cases from other parts of the line and largely composed of good quality troops.

A week after the start of the Argonne-Meuse offensive the 78th division was relieved from the Limey sector. The relief began on the night of October 3-4, and was completed the following night. At the same time the 153d Field Artillery brigade and the 303d Ammunition Train, which had not been with the division after leaving Camp Dix, were relieved from active duty with the 90th Division in the Puvenelle Sector, which was just south of the Limey sector.

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The division was assembled in the Foret de la Reine after the relief. This necessitated a march of eighteen to twenty-four miles for some of the units in the outpost line. From the Foret de la Reine the division moved in four columns--that is, along four different roads--to the Clermont area in the Argonne Forest. This march from the Limey sector to the Argonne, it had been predicted , will never be forgotten by the men who took part in it. Men started, tired and nearly exhausted from a three weeks' strenuous tour in the line which had also been their first experience there. The march continued for three days and nights with only occasional rests of a few hours. The necessity for haste made longer stops impossible. The division had camped in the Clermont area, on October 7 was a body of footsore, tired, dirty and hungry men. Two days were spent there, and some of the men had an opportunity to get a bath, clean clothes and plenty of good hot food.

On October 10 the division moved further north into the Argonne. That night the 156th Infantry Brigade bivouacked neat Camp Boucon and the 155th infantry Brigade on the wooded slopes west of La Chalade, where shortly after halting some of the cooks attempted to prepare a hot evening mean and were progressing nicely when a squadron of "Fritz" bombers were attracted to the vicinity. Several terrible crashes followed the landing of bombs, which fortunately were poorly directed, and the loss incurred was the anticipated hot mean and two animals on the picket line. The division, less artillery brigade, was now in close reserve and alerted, ready to move on one hour's notice, with division post of command in the ancient town of Varennes.

The days spent there gave an opportunity for much needed rest. During the afternoon of October 14, over 1,400 infantry replacements from the 86th Division were received. They were fine, upstanding men of good calibre, but lacking in training and experience. No time was lost in assigning them to companies and during that night and the following day the division's own veterans gave them intensive training in attack deployment. The division's own 153d Artillery Brigade, commanded by Brigadier-General Clint R. Hearn, and the 303d Ammunition Train, which had been marching from the Puvenelle Sector, joined the division on October 10 at Futeau. Division O. C. moved from Varennes to Le Menil Ferme at midnight on the 12th. The 156th Brigade bivouacked about a mile south of La Viergette, the 155th Brigade and the artillery Brigade near Apremont.

About noon, October 15, orders from First Army Corps Headquarters reached division headquarters, directing the 78th Division to relieve the 77th Division that night. The 77th Division was operating in the Grand pre-St. Juvin sector on a front of three and one-half miles. The relief was ordered to be completed by 6 a.m. October 16. The 155th Infantry Bri-

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gade, commanded by Brigadier-General Mark L. Hersey, and composed of 309th-310th Infantry and 308th Machine Gun Battalion, was assigned to the eastern sub-sector, and the 156th Infantry Brigade, commanded by Brigadier-General James T. Dean, and composed of 311-312th Infantry and 309th Machine Gun Battalion, to the western sub-sector. The infantry regiments were in line in numerical order extending from St. Juvin to Grand Pre, thus, 309th, 310th, 311th, and 312th.

there were two chief enemy strongholds against which operations in this sector had to be directed--the Bois des Loges, which lay in the sector of the 155th Brigade, and the town of Grand Pre, which was in the 156th Brigade sector.

The 77th division when relieved held a line south of the Aire River extending through. Juvin, and the ridge north of Sommerance, which was outside the normal sector assigned to the division. The enemy was offering stubborn resistance with machine guns and some artillery, and the 77th was greatly reduced in numbers and pretty generally exhausted.

The night of the relief, October 15-16, was intensely dark and rainy. The roads were jammed with transport and men going in both directions. During the night telephone orders came to Division P. C. , directing an attack at 6 a.m., October 16, the time set for the completion of the relief. It was after 5 o'clock in the morning before this order reached some of the newly established Regimental P. C.'s and from these it had to be sent out to the battalions, whose chief locations were not known. Owing to the confusion incident to the lack of guides from the divisions being relieved and the abominable weather conditions, the relief of some of the units was not completed until hours after the time set for the attack. Besides this, the shattered condition of the front made the exact location of the Germans uncertain--except as to their general direction.

On the right the attack was made as ordered, whoever, by the 309th Infantry, under command of Colonel John M. Morgan, with two battalions advancing on the Bois des Loges from the southeast. The 310th whose relief was not completed until late in the morning, came up in the afternoon, joined with the 309th and got a foothold in the Bois des Loges. Added to the difficulties of the attack against a strong position was complete ignorance of the ground, over which there had been no chance for reconnaissance--the original idea having been to relieve the 82nd Division, which was on the right of the 77th, the change in orders reaching the division too late to permit of such reconnaissance. Water and mud were knee deep in many places, and everyone was tied out after the experience of the preceding night and the lack of any sleep.

In the left brigade the 311th Infantry, under command of Colonel Marcus B. Stokes, got into position in time to attack through the mist a 6:30 a. m., without any definite knowledge as to exact location of the

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enemy's lines. The 2d Battalion, under command of Major George T. Adee, took some prisoners in the town of Chevieres, and continued the advance to the Aire at the north and west of the town. troops pushed across the stream at this point under heavy enemy machine gun fire and gained a foothold there.

When the 2d Battalion, 312th infantry, under Major Mallory, advanced to relieve the 77th Division units in the town of Grand Pre, the enemy was found to occupy the citadel and all of the northern and eastern parts of the town. Troops of the 77th had attacked in the southern part of the town the preceding night and had taken a number of prisoners, but after severe fighting has retired again to the south of the Aire, leaving only a small patrol in the western end of the town. In some of the houses, the enemy held the upper stories and a sort of perpendicular warfare ensued. Before 11 o'clock, October 16, Major Mallory's men ha taken thirty-four prisoner and about half the town, major Mallory himself being severely wounded during the early part of the fighting. It took five days of house-to-house fighting to complete the capture of the rest of the town, except the citadel.

Further west, the 1st Battalion of the 312th, under Major Debovoise, and a machine gun company detailed as a liaison detachment to the 38th French Corps, forded the river in the morning under heavy machine gun and artillery fire, with difficulty established liaison with the French at Echaude Farm and dug in along the Grand Pre-Termes Road.

Meanwhile the right brigade of the 78th Division was engaged in desperate fighting. The 310th Infantry, under command of Colonel Walter C. Babcock, with 3d Battalion, all under Captain Crozier, attacked the Bois des Loges toward the west and promptly dug in on the western side of the woods. Information from corps headquarters indicated that the success of the whole military situation depended upon the American troops reaching the northern edge of the Bois des loges before the morning of October 18. At daybreak, Companies B and D had advanced to within thirty yard of the northwest edge of the woods, while Companies A and C on their right, were held up by a line of machine gun nests midway through the woods. Desperate fighting continued in the woods all day, during which all the officers of Companies A and C, 310th, became casualties. These companies were reorganized along with the remnants of several other and led forward by Captain Remington of the 300th infantry. Before nightfall, strong enemy counter-attacks were met. Desperate hand-to-hand combat with the Germans gained supremacy for the weakened American line temporarily, but previous heavy loses deprived the units of the 78th division of sufficient man power to drive further at that juncture.

The attack was continued on the 17 and 18th, and on the 19th the division artillery placed a heavy two-hour concentration fire on the

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numerous enemy machine gin positions in the northern portion of the Bois des Loges and the ridge to the northwest, but this little or not apparent effect on their substantial cover. Three time the 309th and 310th persistently advanced and were topped each time. Fighting with grim determination and unsurpassed courage in this bloody salient, companies and battalions became hopelessly intermingled. Deed of exceptional personal courage and conscientious devotion to duty were numerous during these days and nights. The medical detachment carried on their work of mercy in a constant storm of machine gun and artillery fire; the signalmen under continual exposure, labored day and night to maintain the lines of communication which were all-important; the alert and never-failing runner, disregarding personal safety, carried message to the front, flanks and rear through gas and over ground swept by machine guns and shell fire.

The enemy machine gunners in the woods were supported by plentiful artillery in their rear to concentrate upon the open spaces before the wood and on the irregular open slopes east and west, which were linked together in singular fashion favorable to the enemy's purpose. He was not in this instance to depend upon small groups of machine gunners to fight to the death. Knowing from past experience that these would be overcome by our hammering tactics, he was prepared to keep on putting in reserves for countering our attacks. The 78th Division troops that had reached the edge of the woods drove half way through on the morning of the 17th, but were withdrawn to make an attack from the west. The reserves sent to hold the line gained had a rough and tumble with a German counter-attack and had to yield slightly. The attack from the west under the flanking fire of Hill 180 managed to dig in and hold on to the west side of the wood. Making progress this was needed but it was progress at a heavy cost. The position was too murderous, however thoroughly the men dug in, to be maintained. If they were not to be massacred in their hasty shelters they must either go forward or back. On the morning of the 18th, according to orders, the support battalions passed through the front line, rushing and outflanking enemy machine gun rests, in a fight that became a scramble of units, each clearing its way as fast as it could, and number of the division men broke through the northern edge of the woods. All the while the Germans, instead of holding fast to their positions, were acting on the offensive at every opportunity, infiltrating down the ravines, trying to creep around isolated parties and again charge them. It was a fight between individuals and groups acting as their own generals, thrown on their own resources and initiative--German veterans with four years experience in this kind of fighting against the quick-witted American veterans of but a few months.

On the 19th the 1t Battalion, 309th infantry, under Captain Parsons, advanced twice almost to the northern edge of the woods but was driven

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back with heavy losses. The enemy was keeping up an incessant fire with machine guns, which the American artillery had not succeeded in reducing, and was also sending over great numbers of high explosives, shrapnel, and gas shells. The fighting of these days in the Bois des Loges was scattered. The confusion incident of the German machine gun nests made the control of any large body of men almost impossible. Men fought in small, disconnected groups. Often one of these groups would work its way well into the German lines and then, finding it was alone, would have to fight its way back again. Casualties were extremely heavy and it was not uncommon to find sergeants in command of companies, and in several cases two or three companies were untied under one officer.

The 82d Division on the division's right had been unable to advance. With Champigneulle and the heights and ravines to the east and north still held by the enemy, the American position in the Bois des Loges was untenable. The American losses were becoming out of all proportion to the advantages to be gained by remaining in the woods, and neither the division nor corps had available replacements for the losses.

 

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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