The History of New York State
Book XI, Chapter 11, Part 5

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam

 

On the left, however, the 156th Brigade continued its advance throughout the day, and by night the advance battalion of the 311th infantry was in possession of Les Petites Armoises which was occupied after some oppositions by enemy rearguard. Lading elements of the 312th Infantry also reached this place, advancing via Bazacourt Farm from Chatillon and maintaining contact with the French. On the morning of November 5 the advance of this brigade as continued, and Tanney was occupied at an early hour by the 311th Infantry. Strong opposition was met two kilometers north of Tanney at the entrance to the Bois de Mont Dieu. The enemy had evidently determined to make a stand at this wood on the road leading north from Tanney. Advance patrols were deployed both to the right and left of the road to drive our the machine guns which were holding up the advance. The 312th Infantry occupied the line tot northwest of Tanney, connecting with the French, who in the meantime had advanced abreast of the division line, on the west side of the Ardennes Canal.

On the afternoon of the 5th the division line extended on the left from the Ardennes Canal northwest of Tanney, across the Tanney-Sedan Road just south of the Bois du Mont Dieu, along the high ground east of Tanney, and thence southeast through the town of Sy. On the 6th, the 42d division, which had been frantically pursuing the 78th division, finally caught up and brought their troops into the 78th Division positions and relieved the front line, located as given above. Thus ended the war for the 78th division, except for the 153d Artillery Brigade, which continued the advance in support of the 42d Division.

Another kind of road march began the night of the 5th. It was a

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happy march for men, tired with two months' almost continuous fighting. Physical and mental exhaustion, blistered feet and aching backs were forgotten in the knowledge that the last great battle of the war was in its final stages and in keen satisfaction for their part in the work. Warm billets, and hot food from field kitchens, and, in the days that followed, hot baths and clean clothes brought back strength and comfort. It was "a grand and glorious feeling" to go back through the scenes of bitter fighting; shattered Champigneulles, the deadly stronghold of flanking machine guns; sinister St. Juvin, so lately redolent of phosgene and all the dead smell of war, now full of life of supply trains and snappily uniformed M. P.'s; the Grand Pre road, a veritable replica of Broadway in the rush hour, with its mass of crowded traffic, and finally, Marcq, with its baths and billets--truly it appeared to the men of the 78th Division that they were on their way home.

Artillery Support--The relief of the 152nd Artillery Brigade (77th Division) began on the morning of October 16. The batteries crossed the Argonne forest to Lancon during the day and bivouacked for the night in the ravines east of the town. Visibility was so low the next day that the batteries were placed in position during daylight and relief, which would have been very difficult in the darkness, due to road congestion and the terrain around the battery positions, was greatly facilitated.

During this tour of duty, the ordinary operations of the 155th Infantry Brigade were supported by the 307th Field Artillery, and those of the 156th Infantry Brigade by the 308th field Artillery, with emergency zones for both regiments to the east and west a distance equal to their sector. The 309th Field Artillery covered the division sector normally and to the maximum range of their batteries in emergencies. This regiment was especially charged with counter-battery and harassing fire. The regiments were ordered to be ready for a sudden advance under conditions of open warfare. Ammunition supply was not limited, but the necessity of avoiding needless expenditure was emphasized in view of the amount available.

Two exceptional operations were carried out by the Brigade while in line. The first was the attack on the stronghold of Grand Pre, October 23 to 27 inclusive, and the second, the general offensive on November 1.

The attack on Grand Pre did not necessitate change of battery positions, but the difficulties of liaison across the valley and stream of the Aire River were great. The artillery support consisted of a preparation and an accompaniment. The preparation was in the form of destruction fire on selected targets, neutralization with gas shells on localities where machine gun nests were known to be; interdiction fire on enemy observatories and known posts of command; countering of enemy batteries, and the prohibition of enemy reinforcement by harassing fire on the lines of communication behind the front attacked. The accompaniment consisted

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of raking fire on the enemy strong points in front of the advance and a rolling barrage preceding the infantry attacks. smoke shells was also used to screen the attack from machine gun fire. The final objective was not attained the first day, but the attack renewed on October 25, with a brief artillery preparation, secured the key positions, and the "mopping-up" was completed early on the 27th.

The higher artillery command recognized the peculiar difficulties of the mission of the 78th Division in the attack of November 1 by giving it more reinforcements and a greater ammunition allowance than any other divisional artillery. In addition to twenty-four batteries of 75 Mm., six batteries of 155 Mm., and two batteries of 9,2's, several groups of heavy corps artillery were assigned for Th. use of the division during stated periods of the attack.

The two phases of the operation were a bombardment to assist in breaking the enemy resistance, and the advance of batteries following up the enemy retirement. The bombardment began on October 30, when the two light regiments of the brigade fired nearly 40,000 rounds of mustard gas (No. 20 Special shell) into the eastern edges of the Bois de Bourgogne, thus neutralizing the heights which flanked the proposed advance. The firing of this amount of ammunition in one day by forty-eight field guns on a range in peace time would be in itself a feat, but when it is considered that these regiments actually fired at barrage rate for twelve (12) hours without suffering a casualty or disabling a gun, it is remarkable. Almost from the beginning of the "shoot," the enemy counter-batteries search for this positions. Several gun crews worked for extended periods with their gas masks on, but the camouflage work done and the excellence of the positions selected prevented the enemy fire from being effective. No gun went out of action during this part of the preparation for any cause. Destruction fire began two hours before the attack on selected points and a concentration of fire of all calibres on the Bois des Loges. The fire for accompaniment began simultaneously with the attack and took the form of a rolling barrage and raking fire.

The advance of the batteries was particularly difficult because the Aire River had to be crossed and a considerable distance traveled before satisfactory positions could be found. A schedule for the advance of batteries was planned so as to regulate the use of the roads and bridges and the assignment of areas. Assuming that the attack progressed as planned, the first batteries were to move forward three hours after the action began. When this time came, it was not known that the attack had been held up in the Bois des Loges and the batteries moved according to schedule. Two hours later a regiment of light and two battalions of heavy artillery were on the south bank of the Aire. They took positions where they were and delivered very successful fire the rest of the day. the only artillery to cross the Aire on November 1 was the 2d Battalion

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of the 309th Field artillery, which crossed at Termes and took up position just south of the Bois de Bourgogne, west of Grand Pre. While in this position the enemy fixed upon them with machine guns. The next day the batteries were able to resume their advance and thereafter the operations turning into open warfare.

The part of the artillery after crossing the Aire River was practically nothing but a series of marches northward. The only fire of consequence delivered was by the 2d Battalion of the 307th Regiment, which, from the heights north of Verrieres, fired a thousand rounds on retrenching bodies of the enemy during the night of November 4.

One 75 Mm. Gun was sent forward at the beginning of the second day with each front line battalion of infantry. Only one of the four ever fired a shot. This gun, commanded by First Lieutenant Paul G. Amberg, of the 307th F. A., was of considerable assistance to the battalion its supported. The efficient service of this gun was due to the fact that both the gun commander and the infantry commander fully appreciated the part each should play in the situation.

The artillery support varied greatly ineffectiveness according to the place. Had the weather permitted more observation and had more work been possible with the air service, the artillery would have been more effective. It was not effective in the Bois des Loges in any of the attacks, due in large measure to the natural strength of the position, and to the fact that observation in the scrub growth was difficult even in the clearest weather. Fire was more effective in reducing the citadel of Grand pre and was of great assistance in the operations leading to the capture of Talma Hill and the southern edge of the Bois de Bourgogne. Preparatory tot he advance on November 1, the artillery "yperited" the eastern edge of the Bois de Bourgogne and sensitive points farther to the west. This operation was completely successful. No casualties are known to have been suffered by the division troops from the yperite used at this time, and absolutely no opposition was encountered from the Bois de Bourgogne. Shooting on back area, as observed after the advance, appeared to have been accurate and effective. The liaison officers with the infantry units were consistently daring the aggressive in their attempts to assist their attacks. During the advance after the 1st, artillery liaison officers continued to keep up with the leading units, but, except for a few pirate guns, the artillery could not maintain the pace of the infantry because of the mined road, though their fire was always available in the event of a serious counter-attack.

393d Engineers--The work of the engineers during the St. Mihiel offensive, and throughout the stay of the division in the Limey sector, was of paramount importance. From September 12 to 17, the entire regiment worked in the repair and maintenance of the roads in "No Man's Land" from the Metz Highway on the southeast to the Euvezin and Vieville

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on the northwest, particularly on the Thiaucourt-Regnieville-Montauville, and the Remenauvile-Limey Roads under command of the corps engineer; this work being necessary because speed was absolutely essential in the infantry attack in order to keep up with the barrage tables.

This work brought the American forces under direct enemy observation, causing the first division casualties incurred as a unit. On the 17th, they started work on the layout and construction of the "Line of Resistance" in the sector assigned to the 78th Division, from Xammes on the left to one-half kilometers east of Tautecourt Farm on the right. They took part in several raids for the purpose of dynamiting enemy strong points, and at all times their service and liaison with the infantry was highly satisfactory. Repair and maintenance of front and back area roads for communication and supply was of utmost importance, and various engineer companies were assigned to this duty day and night for the period of the American stay in this sector. They also built bath houses, supervised the water supply, built dugouts, etc., fir various headquarters.

Up to the time of leaving this sector, the organization of the position had been but begun as far as actual work was concerned. However, the project was worked up and embraced the entire defensive position for the divisional sector, including dugouts and shelter for the outpost zone and support trenches, as well as fro the more permanent structures in the reserve areas for men and animals. This project was approved, but before material arrived, the division was hastily moved to assist in the heavy Argonne fighting.

In the Meuse-Argonne offensive, the engineers were very efficient. Before November 1, two companies, repaired the road in the division sector from Apremont to Lancon, and from St. Juvin to Grand Pre, particularly those for motor traffic, transport of ammunition to batteries, and evacuation of the wounded from forward areas. One company repaired the light railway system in the sector. About eight kilometers of line from southwest of Lancon to Senuc was put into condition for track under constant observation by the enemy was put in such shape that it required very little work to keep it in condition for operation. The railway from Lancon to La Besogne (about ten kilometers long) was so repaired that it was in shape for immediate operations on November 1. On this line two trestles had to be built and five others repaired. The railway was running into Chevennes on the right of the 2d, thus facilitating the supply of the advancing troops appreciably.

The other three companies worked upon twenty-three bridges across the Aire River, between St. Juvin and Termes. These bridges were all within reach of enemy artillery and the heavy traffic bridges were built under machine gun, high explosive and gas shell fire. the flooring of

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these bridges was begun on the night of October 31, and finished fifteen minutes after the attack began the following morning.

When the pursuits of the enemy began, the work of the engineers on the roads became of the greatest importance. The 1st Battalion pushed ahead \behind the infantry making temporary repairs in order to permit the use of the roads for the most urgent needs, the 2d Battalion following making more substantial repairs and preparing the roads and bridges for heavy motor traffic.

The roads in general were in good shape except at strategic points such as fills, which the enemy had systematically mined. All bridges has been blown up. When the division was relieved, the roads were repaired beyond Chatillon and Brieulles. The road north of Brieulles had been blown up in fifteen places where there was a swamp on both sides. This stretch was repaired by corduroying and building temporary bridges, so that the necessary artillery and transport of the 42d and 6th divisions could move forward with their troops. One company worked upon a heavy traffic bridge at Authe until it was completed on November 8. Forty men in two details assisted the Signal Battalion to run and maintain its wires from Grand Pre to Briquenay. The motor trucks of the engineers were used on the night of November 2 to transport troops as far as the roads were repaired, and thus permitted them to reach Boult-aux-Bois ahead of the French. All these various tasks were handled by this regiment, not only boldly and quickly, but with good judgment and foresight.

Summary--A brief summing up of gains and losses closes the story of the engagements ending November 1. Nine enemy divisions faced the :Lightning" 78th during its operations on the Argonne Front. The American troops captured 322 prisoners, of whom six were officers and thirty-six non-commissioned officers. Before November 1 the divisions had captured forty machine guns. After the attack began, it was impossible to estimate the captures as the advance was so rapid. The price the 78th had to pay in the Argonne battle was the loss of 4,989 men--killed, wounded, and missing. Of the dead, 16 were officers, 785 enlisted men. Of the wounded, 135 were officers and 4.068 enlisted men.

Great admiration was generally expressed for the hardy spirit of the men of the regiment in this driving attack. When their physical strength had been worn to nothing by the difficult burdens they had borne and their nervous energy exhausted by long, racking strain, the carried on by sheer willpower to a brilliant finish. Wearied by weeks of defensive fighting at St. Mihiel, long marches with almost no rest , and the continual attacks against veteran machine gun opposition, they were able at the end to advance as the "point of the wedge' of the First American Army for over twenty-four kilometers in the last offensive of the war.

Almost continually engaged for nearly eight weeks in hard marching

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Or fighting, the 78th proved its mettle. Although not one of the best advertised National Army division, it knew how to fight with grim, bull-dog tenacity against heavy odds and persevere fro success under the skillful direction of its modest, fearless commander, Major-General James H. McRae, thereby upholding the best traditions of the American army.

Under the most unpromising conditions it took over a badly shattered lien facing a well-nigh impregnable position, which was considered the key to the American advance on Sedan, which was considered the wearing out and finally driving in headlong retreat the remaining elements of nine enemy division which it had faced during operation in this great offensive, the "Lightning" division, thus contributed in full measure to the final collapse of the German army, speeding the war's successful end.

After the Armistice--Timely arrival of the American forces in large numbers saved the Allied cause when it was at its lowest ebb. Terrific fighting from 1914 with consequent heavy losses had all the contenders completely tied and exhausted--in a comparative deadlock. The fresh American divisions, with their eager vigorous youth, were in the spring of 1918 still an unknown quantity to the Allies and their foes, but the splendid way in which they later met the best German division, stemmed their well-planned advances and routed them in their first encounters, gave fresh courage and hope to the Allied forces. It presaged ultimate victory for them. The offensive style of the American forces soon made it clear that they possessed the punch required to finish the Hohenzollern dream of conquest.

With nearly one-third of its infantry strength, and a large number of its artillery and engineer personnel lost in killed and wounded during close to two months continuous combat activity, the record of the division furnished eloquent testimony as to how bitterly it fought for its credited advance of twenty-four kilometers over enemy ground.

Taking over the Limey sector from the 2d and 5th divisions in mid-September, consolidating the fresh-won ground and maintaining American supremacy by numerous raids into enemy stronghold and its accomplishment by the 78th Division in a manner so efficient, merited the attention of General Headquarters when they decided upon the urgent need of new strength to better the determined enemy resistance met with in the Argonne Forest. The hurried, forced march of the 78th from the shattered Limey sector on October 4 to the Argonne was indeed a stern test of human endurance, to be followed quickly with others more thrilling and severe when they relieved the 77th Division south of the winding Aire River. Taking over the line of the 16th, and immediately responding to the urgent call of army headquarters, "to divert German strength from the front of other divisions further east," the 155th Infantry

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Brigade crossed the river--without time for properly organizing an attack, and without artillery support--plunging knee deep through mud, charged across the open valley in the face of blazing machine guns, and swept the enemy before them to the northern edge of the Bois des Loges, which was destined to become a cock-pit during succeeding days. The 156th Infantry Brigade on the left had the extremely difficult and costly task of dislodging the Germans from their stronghold of Grand Pre and surrounding heights. Vicious thrusts and counter offensives along this front were continued vigorously by the 78th for two weeks, all hands, infantry, artillery, engineers signal and other branches, straining and tugging supremely to drive the Germans in disorder out of their strongly prepared positions. Sleep and food were mere incidents--little of either was to be had; the men were eagerly, viciously driving along on sheer nerve when their persistent lighting bolts had shattered the enemy lines, which finally gave way and broke; then the four-day pursuit with its attendant strain, after which the well-nigh exhausted remnants of the "Lightning Division" were leapfrogged by the 42d (Rainbow) division, which had been following in support. The Rainbows continued the pursuit, accompanied by the 78th division artillery--the 153d Artillery Brigade.

Tired beyond measure, ravenously hungry and dirty though they were, all wanted to continue without pause, and bemoaned their lot in being held out at this stage, for they felt quite convinced that this headlong "run" of the Germans signalized the glorious end of the war. The vision of complete victory impending spurred their eager desire for continuing to the end.

It was about dusk of November 5 that the valiant survivors were assembled, and, after a substantial meal--the first they had enjoyed for weeks--the columns headed southward on November 6 for "rest and refitting," according to corps orders. Passing through Briquenay the inspiring sight of more than a hundred Allied bombing planes greeted the eye, majestically flying through the high gray clouds back to their base after a hurried visit northward, far behind the retreating German lines. Upon returning to the battered town of Grand pre, which was at this time crowded with transport and troops of the American 6th Division, hastening to keep up with the pursuing forces, it was learned that a few German bombers had in the early gray hours of dawn, that morning, visited the old town and drooped there a few tons of bombs killing several Americans and wounding a score of others. Clearly even for those in the rear the war was not over yet.

Crossing back over the River Aire, on into the wrecked villages of Marcq and Chevieres, the 78th spent the night of November 6. On the 7th many had the opportunity of closely inspecting the recently deserted elaborate and skillful system of defense the Germans had constructed in

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the Bois des Loges and around Grand Pre. The following day the division marched into the heart of the battle-torn Argonne Forest, and occupied the luxurious and substantially constructed German huts and concrete villas of Champ Mahaut, just west of the ancient city of Varennes. It was here on the night of the 8th that rumor reached the tired troops that an armistice had been signed; these ridings were taken up by eager, overstrung men and rapidly spread to all quarters. It was not possible the following day to verify the truth of this report and it was on November 11, when certain elements of the division passing through Ste. Menehould, were greeted with the joyous shouts of the French populace, "Fint le Guerre," "Vive l'Americans,' expressed with such earnestness that the troops were finally convinced that the Armistice had been signed and hostilities suspended.

On November 11-12-13 the division was billeted in several small villages radiating from Ste. Menehould. Here they were given bathing facilities and new underclothing was issued. All attention was centered on cleaning up during these three days. Refreshing baths, clean clothes and these few nights peaceful sleep put all hands in high spirits again. quartered in this quiet farming district, no more annoyed with the singsong whirr of hostile airplanes, the thunderous crash of shells or the whistling noises of German bullets, all thoughts centered on what was going to be the next move. Indeed a pleasant relief were these few restful days amid peaceful surroundings. Could it be possible that the war was really ended? Visions of an early voyage home loomed clear in the minds of many. Then reports of an American Army of Occupation to go into Germany gained circulation, followed by an order calling on the 78th to furnish officers as replacements for certain division assigned to the Army of Occupation. Other orders followed immediately, directing the 78th to send advance billeting parties to the 21st Training Area located in the Department Cote d'Or.

On November 14 the divisions, with the exception of the artillery, which remained at Verdun, was entraining and headed farther south. After noon of November 16, the first arriving elements detrained at Les Laumes; on the 127th and 18th the remainder of the division had arrived in the new area, and were assigned to surrounding villages for billeting. A most picturesque region of France this proved to be. The beautiful rolling country, situated about thirty kilometers west of the city of Dijon, abounded with quaint places of ancient, historic interest. The most noteworthy of these was the village of Alise St. Reine, built on the summit of a rugged hill which was one of the stronghold of the ancient Gauls. It was here in the year 52 B. C. that Vercingetorix surrendered with his army after a long siege by Caesar, and the Gauls were conquered by the Romans. Excavations in the vicinity disclosed the ruins of an early Phoenician city of substantial masonry construction. Moutiers St. Jean,

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With its famous old abbey, and many other points of exceptional interest were to be found throughout the entire area.

Promptly upon arrival the troops were assigned to a score of villages radiating from the town of Semur-en-Auxois, an extremely picturesque old settlement which had been a fortified stronghold of ancient Burgundy. The several brigade, regimental, and battalion headquarters were from eight to fifteen kilometers from division headquarters--all radiating as spokes of a gigantic wheel from the hub--at Semur-en-Auxois. With but few exceptions these outlaying villages could accommodate only one company and in several instances, companies had some platoons billeted in separate villages. All hands made the most of their surroundings, and in a short time were very comfortably quartered. Over 2,00 replacements were received by the division back at Les Islettes on November 9 and 10, and these were supplemented by considerably more during the latter part of November, which brought the division to nearly its authorized war strength, there by necessitating the hasty expansion of battalion, and company billeting area to avoid uncomfortable crowding.

In February, 1919, General order No. 35, from G. H. Q. was published, setting forth a tentative sailing schedule for the American division, with the 78th listed as the latter part of May. The splendid system of schools established throughout the division area did much to satisfy, broaden, and develop the studious and ambitious during the winter months. Much attention was given to the encouragement of athletic sports; the divisions commander appointed the them Captain Devereaux Milburn as Athletic Officer, and he planned a very ambitious schedule of boxing, football, basketball, and track athletics. A journalistic venture fostered by the division, which proved highly successful, was inaugurated in February with the appearance of 78th's own newspaper, "The Flash." Throughout the entire sojourn in the Cote d'Or a very busy activity was the Division Amusement Bureau, organized by Captain Wallace Cox, 310th Infantry, and later Assistant G-2. Nearly every one of the men had the opportunity of visiting the river, Nice, Cannes, Monte Carlo, Menton, and similar places. On March 26, 1919, the division massed for final inspection and review by General Pershing. Word was received on April 2 that the division was to be prepared to move direct to Bordeaux Embarkation Area. Meanwhile General McRae directed that a conference of representatives of the several regiments and separate organization be arranged to consider the advisability of organizing a permanent association, whose object would be to aid the 78th Division men in readjusting themselves on their return to civilian life. On April 21 constitution and by-laws were adopted and officer and standing committees were elected. On April 21 a telegram was received at division headquarters ordering the trains of the 78th Division to go to Marseilles, other

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trains to go to Bordeaux on April 30. All hands were satisfied that there were to be no more delays and that the month of May would see all of the 78th on their way back across the Atlantic.

Beginning the second week in May various units boarded ship at Bordeaux and started homeward. On May 24 the "S. S. Santa Ana" sailed with Major-General McRae, Division Headquarters, and the 303d Engineer Regiment--the last of the 78th Division to leave France. On June 6 the "Santa Anna" docked at Bush Terminal, Brooklyn, and General James H. McRae, who more the one year previously had directed the embarkation of the division, had the pleasure of seeing his division safely home again amid the triumphant greetings of the people of New York. On arrival the units were sent to "their own" Camp Dix, at Wrightstown, New Jersey, though one or two companies were sent to Camp Merritt. By June 15 the complete personnel, property and the records of the 78th division had been satisfactorily checked by demobilization officers and the "Lightning" Division was completely demobilized.

Authorities.

Meechan, Thos. F., "History of the 78th Division in the World War, 1917018-19."

Cochrane, I. L., Editor, "Pictorial History of the 78th Division in France, from Grand pre to Tannay,"

Including "Brief History of division Activities."

New York "Times," "Current history, 1917-19.'

Allen, Sims, McAndrew, Wiley, :The Great War," 5 vols.

McMasters, J. B., "The United States in the World War.'

Chambrun and Marenches, "The American Army in the European Conflict"

 

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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