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John W. Kress book One of the Last 'Rugged Individualists'
The regimental machine gun company, because of constant association with the other companies of the regiment, became more accustomed to operating with the regiment-than -with the independent companies or battalions. The regimental commander, in need of machine guns, at once thought of his regimental company and called on them before asking assistance from the division. This threw more work onto the regimental company than thery were legitimately required to carry, but the company recognized its responsibility and was never slow to grasp an additional opportunity to win fame and glory for itself.
CHAPTER IVA sifting process had been going on for some time, a result of which was that many of the company's undersized men were dropped. Among these losses were such interesting characters as DeSanto and D'Camillo, the Charlie Chaplin of the unit. We were then allowed the privilege of selecting five men from each company in the regiment. In this manner, the Machine Gun Company acquired the prestige of being formed by 140 hand-picked men.
We were now past the experimental stage. Throughout the early training period, constant watch had been maintained for good men to fill the responsible positions of the Company. Sergeant R. H. McCoy had for several months provided us with quartermaster supplies and displayed considerable success in logistics, sometimes when no logistics even seemed available. Sergeant Evans, with the aid of his staff, Warga, Shetler, and Cashman, kept the larder full and the machine gunners from getting too hungry. In the orderly room . or company office . Corporal McMenamin had risen to the position of Company Clerk and was attempting to strangle the paper work of the Company, a task almost similar to handling the corporation's daily routine. Sergeants Bobbin, Mayan, Gill, and Houser had been promoted to Line Sergeants.
Considerable commotion was caused on April 1, with the desertion of Top Sergeant Bishop to the ranks of the Benedicts. Another victory had been scored for the hospitable girls of Baltimore, who were always willing and ready to entertain a lonesome soldier. I know the soldiers of Meade will never forget the untiring efforts of the people of Baltimore to entertain them. Troupe after troupe visited us from the city. Usually it was necessary only for a girl to show herself and those love-starved Camp Meade warriors literally "raised the roof" with their applause.
Warm spring days brought on soccer and baseball, but an abundance of make-believe warfare soon took the pep out of play. Day after day the Company participated with the Regiment in storming and conquering every hill and dale in the Meade vicinity, slaughtering imaginary Germans by the thousands. Later, men of the Company remarked time and time again on the dissimilarity between Camp Meade "warfare" and the real thing in France. The major differences were that there was a dearth of umpires in France, and, moreover, real war proved to be easier. Events of spring brought welcome relief from the drill and discipline of war preparations. On April 4, five officers and 117 men of the Company left Camp Meade at 8:30 a.m. to march with the Regiment to Baltimore. The Company camped the night of April 4 at Shipley, Md., having marched 12 miles, and broke camp early on the 5th to continue the hike to Druid Hill Park, Baltimore. This park, one of the most beautiful in Baltimore, provided an ideal camp site for the troops, and thousands of Baltimorians, curious about the life and surroundings of the soldier, visited the Regiment while it camped there.
The mission in Baltimore was fulfilled on April 6, when the Company, as part of the 79th Division, passed in review before the Commander in Chief, President Wilson, and early on the morning of the 8th, camp was broken for the return march to Camp Meade. The Machine Gun Company established a regimental record for the return march of 21 miles, without a man falling out of ranks.
Back in Meade, men grown restless after nearly a year of plugging away at soldiering began to talk of the trip to France. The wish is often "father to the rumor" and the soldier loves and thrives on rumor. Bored men, almost skeptical of getting an opportunity to get a lick in at the Kaiser, saw in every order a suspected departure. Still, the Company marked time at Meade.
In mid-May, the first Browning Machine guns arrived and were quickly placed in operation. The men liked these guns, because they were much simpler and more reliable than those they had trained with. These Brownings were bench made, and the 79th Division was the first to carry them across the sea and into the fighting lines. All earlier divisions had been armed with the French Hotchkiss machine gun.
Preparations for the ocean trip mounted, and on June 15, our Company received 50 Class A recruits to bring it to full strength. These latecomers became known as the West Virginia delegation. Most of them were from the Moonshine State, and all proved a rugged, hardy bunch of fighters. Later in June, packing for the trip began. Carts were knocked down and crated, and all company property and baggage carefully boxed. Although regulations limited the amount to go overseas to strictly necessary articles, nearly everyone presented some articles . ranging from mandolins to boxing gloves . which he wanted to smuggle through. How little did we know, as we so carefully packed for the voyage, that we would never see any of this freight again, and the men wagered long afterwards that some unknown party in France was making merry with the fruits of their labor and thoughtfulness.
There was no longer any doubt as to the possibility of going over, and the orders for an advanced school detachment which arrived a few days later confirmed that the wait was over. Lieutenant Keeley and myself, with Sergeants Mayan, Gill, and Wintersteen formed the advanced party for the Company and with others of the Division left Meade on the night of. June 28, to be on shipboard in New York harbor early next morning. The following few days were busy ones of making the -final adjustments in equipment, personnel, and records to prevent a hitch in the steady stream of men that flowed up the gangplank. At this point, several men caused confusion by taking French leave for one last farewell to the folks at home, mitigating the seriousness of the offense by appearing just at the critical moment before departure.
CHAPTER VThe long trip to France began with entrainment at Meade in late afternoon, July 6. Contrary to what would greet them in France, the men traveled here in comfortable coaches, with three men sharing two seats, making the 213 mile trip to the Jersey City Terminal rather enjoyable. They detrained at the terminal, took the ferry across the East River to Hoboken, N.J., arriving just before noon on July 8. To most of the men the sight of the great metropolis in the distance was a revelation, and all longed for one opportunity to make a closer inspection before bidding goodbye to the U.S.A. But time was precious, and they continued on their way to a landing wharf where they were marched single file into a large, gloomy warehouse. Suddenly, they were confronted with a gangplank leading into the bowels of a great ship. The Red Cross here stepped in and gave them a much welcomed warm feed. Then, as each man's name was called, he stepped to the front and entered the ship.
Except for a few men who had sailed to the United States from foreign lands, the ship at once became an object of curiosity. All were struck with the huge size of the ship and were further awed to discover she was the largest in the world, the former German ship Vaterland, now sailing under United States colors as the Leviathan and performing great work in transporting troops to the fighting zone. The vessel seemed to be one mass of decks piled tier upon tier, and capable of holding the population of a large city. Ten thousand troops of the 79th Division were loaded into the ship, with comfort for all.
Machine Gun Company found itself on E deck, and here the men were quartered in bunk rooms which, though crowded, were clean and comfortable with ample ventilation. The bunks were of canvas, and arranged in rows, one above the other, allowing each man only enough room to sleep. As each man came aboard, he was handed a ticket which directed him to his proper bunk and enabled the guides to place him quickly and without confusion.
The "chow" furnished the troops was of the very best and everyone was highly pleased with their treatment. This led to the belief that it was great to be a fighting man, for one was treated like a king, an illusion quickly dispelled on arrival in France. It took only a few moments for the men to become acquainted with the American "Jackies" aboard who manned the ship, and soon the machine gunners were wide-eyed at the sailors' line of "bunk." Only one man of the Company was allowed the pleasure of leaving the ship as it lay in the harbor. Private Hunter deserted for a few moments in order to participate in a marriage ceremony . his own.
Sailing preliminaries, including Private Hunter's wedding, completed, the giant vessel began to quiver and move slowly away from the pier about 5:30 p.m. on July 8. We were off and away on our fateful trip to the shores of France with everyone flocking to the rail to cheer as the ship slowly gathered headway. As we passed out of the harbor, thousands paid homage to the warriors bound for "Over There."
Suddenly, the Statue of Liberty loomed up before us and a burst of tumultuous cheering arose from the men, but then quickly died away. It seemed as if in one short moment the realization had come to this entire group that this occasion was too great a one for cheering . as the full impact burst upon them that they were going into a great beyond, and thousands now together on the decks would never again salute the symbol of American freedom. Then, almost before we were aware of it, the sun dipped beneath the horizon in the distant west and Miss Liberty, with the skyline of New York, faded away into the shadows of dusk. For us, at least temporarily, America was in the past. War develops the passions and emotions of men; it is moments such as these that they are fullest, as only the Yanks who departed from the shores of America can know and cherish.
Then began the pleasant life of shipboard, marred at times by the strict regulations enforced to protect the vessel from submarines. Everyone hoped to see at least a half dozen submarines, but was disappointed. The Leviathan sailed unescorted oy any naval protector, on the theory that its speed, in any case greater than an escort, was its best protection against submarines. It set out alone on all its trips and plied an independent course.
For several days the men enjoyed life aboard ship, being required only to bathe daily and perform a little physical drill. The "Y" supplied plenty of reading matter and a. few entertainments, and the time passed all too quickly. Like all good soldiers, the men soon caught their sea legs, so that no real cases of seasickness developed. Daily drills were held to teach the men what to do in case the vessel was torpedoed and each man carried a life preserver at all times in addition to being assigned a particular life raft or boat.
These rafts were large floating affairs intended for throwing over the side in case of emergency to serve as floating platforms to' which the men would cling until rescued. Rafts were said to be more reliable in this respect, since boats were liable to be upset. Abso-dutely no lights were shown at night and nothing was permitted to be thrown overboard along the route. Submarines had been known to follow a transport by tracking debris thrown overboard. Our ship continued a zig-zag course for the entire trip, and it was felt that all these precautions gave a submarine small chance of getting a kill.
The route of the vessel was first almost due south along the coast of the United States until warmer waters were reached. Here, the vessel turned east and proceeded almost straight across to the coast of Spain, where it turned north onto a course for the harbor of Brest.
As we approached the danger zone, extra precautions were taken and five destroyers came out to meet the Leviathan and escort her into port. Compared to our ship, these vessels seemed like toys, rising and dipping on the swells, appearing at times to be diving straight to the bottom before reappearing through foaming water to dart about with new vigor. We learned they were called the watchdogs of the sea, and agreed they deserved the title. Submarines were their natural prey and their daily hope was to meet one. Their courses were erratic and their speed constantly changing, one moment a casual cruising speed, next a quick darting movement as if in pursuit.
The trip to harbor was without incident, and the land was sighted several hours before we pulled into Brest.
CHAPTER VIBrest, on the northern coast of France, was not a very prominent port before the war, but, with the entry of the United States into the war, it had become a busy hive of industry. Dozens of ships lay in the harbors, and thousands of men labored feverishly to unload war cargoes. As I stood on the deck of a great ship and looked toward the shores of France, I was at once struck with the immensity of the world war. In the United States only a small part of industry had been devoted to the war, but here in France men devoted all their labor and produce for the ultimate consumption of war.
At 9:30 p.m. we marched onto the pier, touching land again after seven days asea and a distance of 3,505 miles. Only a part of the Company was formed up in the dark, the rest being held on shipboard to unload cargo in the morning. The part of the Company going ashore marched through the dark and rain toward a point several miles outside Brest where they were to be quartered in Pont-anezen barracks, a training camp for Napoleon during his wars. The trip so far had been memorable, though cheerless, and we soon learned what "sunny France" was to mean.
In developing heavy rain, the Company plodded through darkness until they halted, at 1:00 a.m., beside a waste of mud. The men were told to pitch tents, but since everyone was already drenched they indicated a preference to remain in the weather rather than to bother with "pup" tents. The order, however, was insistent, and after much confusion, a semblance of a tent city arose. Most of the men were then content to sit and wait for morning.
First light gave the new arrivals a picturesque sight. The landscape around us consisted of small checkerboard fields of growing grain, all encircled with high hedges and broken occasionally by small ... to us odd . villages. Very few people were about, but we had occasional glimpses of quaintly garbed persons shod in wooden shoes, looking exactly like the pictures we had seen of the people of Brittany. The few Frenchmen we saw were the object of great interest to Americans dumped on strange soil for the first time..
To remind us of the war, thousands of troops were in the vicinity. All were making mighty preparations for war, laboring under trying conditions in a panorama reminding one of the great boom towns of the Middle West where, like Brest's staging area, all was hustle, bustle, and confusion.
Here in Brest the company was rejoined by the Advanced School Detachment and learned of their trip across. The detachment had been twelve days at sea, going north from the shores of the United States on the northern route to the shores of France. They told of setting out with a 13-ship convoy initially escorted by one cruiser and six destroyers, but picking up eight more destroyers as they approached the danger zone.
The cruiser and destroyers gave the impression of a chicken and her brood. Constant watchfulness was demanded of them, since a convoy was a great target for submarines, which would take daring chances to score on one. Each ship was assigned a place in a designated formation, with the formation itself varying day and night. The course was very erratic, with the continual zig-zag swing, following the cruiser at the center of the formation. The destroyers constantly varied course, patrolling about the transports. An hour's stand-to was held at dawn and sunset each day, since these are favorite periods for submarine operations.
Not one day passed without something turning up. The second day out one of the ships took fire and returned to port after transferring part of its human cargo to the famous Von Steuben.
On another day the cruiser and two destroyers bombarded a spot in the ocean, but no submarine commander came up to pay his respects.
The ships in the convoy were all of a much smaller type than the Leviathan. The Detachment, for example, sailed in an Italian ship, the Duke de Abruzzi, of 10,000 tonnage. It was ships such as these which took the romance from the trip across. A personal visit to this charnal house of sea-sick and dejected men convinced me of this fact. The men down in the hold of this ship had an entirely different tale to tell from those who sailed on the Leviathan.
Brest was supposed to be a rest camp for the weary soldier while he regained his land-legs after the trying ocean trip. It was at this point that the soldier made his acquaintance with rest camps and forever after shied like a stubborn mule at the mention of the word. Method of traveling in France. American box cars built on French lines. Fifty and sixty men in a car.
In the month of July, Brest was deserving of the harsh criticism it received later, as the facilities were entirely inadequate to handle the problem properly. However, every credit must be given the authorities for the remarkable manner in which they performed with the materials at hand. The Company remained here till July 19, part of them performing the usual camp duties and the other part working day and night to unload the ship's cargo.
Finally, on the moining of July 19, the company formed and marched to the railroad station where they made the acquaintance of "Chevaux 8 Hommes 40," the typical French boxcar which is about one-third the size of ours.
How 40 men managed to crowd into one of these boxcars was one of the marvels of the war, but they did it every day and lived through it. By this time, we were just beginning to realize that we were really at war. The rough edges we encountered at every turn more or less jarred it into our mentality. They were not like those cushions we were accustomed to at home. Imagine, if you can, 40 humans crowded into one of these cars and riding slowly for three days and nights through the hills of France. Occasionally we were furnished with coffee, and the halt of a few moments gave us the time to stretch our limbs. Though the scenery was the same as that which Americans formerly traveled thousands of miles to see, it did not appeal to us in that light, even though it helped to make the trip bearable.
The route was through St. Brieuc, Reimes, Angers, Tours, and Dijon to Chatillion-sur-Seine. Brown-clad Yanks were everywhere along this route, and in every village we were greeted with the war cry of the Yanks, "What outfit?" Sometimes it was almost hard to believe we were not still in the good old U.S.A.
But one couldn't look anywhere without seeing some reminder of war and war preparation. Even the children were dressed in imitation of their elders' fighting uniform.
We arrived at Chatillion early in the morning, and with a sigh of relief left our railroad home, having spent three days covering a distance of 400 miles. From this point we marched to Ampilly-le-Sec where we went into quarters for a day and before leaving late in the evening of July 24 by motor truck.
Then began a long, weary truck ride through the night and well into the afternoon of the next day, when we reached the village of Larrett, about 30 miles north of Dijon. It was here we had our first experience with billets. The company was distributed throughout the village, ten or twelve in every stable or room that was vacant. Some of these billets were fairly comfortable and respectable, while in others there was a continual fight between the cows, chickens, and goats and the helpless Yanks.
French life and customs were certainly a novelty to us, but perhaps no more so than we were to the French. The Frenchman did not believe in living upon his own particular piece of land as we do, but he clustered all his farm dwellings in a village and lived there in a combination dwelling of house and barn. The streets were usually cobblestoned and carefully walled in with stone walls or houses built right up to the side of the road. Beside the entrance to each dwelling was a manure pile. In France, it was 'Claimed, the size of this manure pile determined the wealth of the dweller, and the Frenchman was proud of this possession. The Frenchman's rear yard was usually the same as the American front yard. He had a pretty garden, carefully walled in to preserve that exclusiveness he was so fond of.
The people of Larrett were the peasant French, very thrifty, and industrious workers. Our relations with them were the best of any people we ever encountered in France. We all look back with pleasure on their treatment of us, in contrast to that received at so many other points in France.
All the boys became more or less involved in the "parle" of French, and many of the -fair young French ladies, including the "Cheese Factory Twins," had a hard time filling their engagements. Many of the men became interested, too, in the study of the relative merits of Vin Blanc and Vin Rouge, but were never able to render a favorable decision for either.
The country was a beautiful rolling landscape, differing from that of Brittany in that it lacked the numerous hedges.
Each man, in some mysterious manner, managed to keep track of his own individual property without the aid of fences. It was a great region for plums. Larrett was far from a town of any size, and the attractions and diversions of the place were very limited. Not far from the village were the ruins of an old abbey said to date back to the 10th Century. The months of July and August were spent at Larrett in training for active service. The training was of the. severest, almost every day involving a march of ten miles or so and the solution of a complicated maneuver. The regimental companies were scattered through the numerous small villages, so it was usually a considerable walk to get the regiment together in the backyard of the Battalion. We plugged along week after week with little news coming In from the outside world. No letters arrived from the folks at home for 'almost six weeks after we left the States. The weather was ideal for summer although very hot at times. Rain was sparse and the country became very hot and parched.
CHAPTER VIIIt was almost mid-August before we received any of our mules and cart equipment, and then we were furnished with decrepit French horses and antiquated French harnesses in place o-f the fine equipment we had packed at Meade. This was a considerable blow to the stable force, but they set to work to build up this equipment and soon the results of their hard labor began to show. STAIN By the first of September we were busy packing for a move that we knew was to take us to the front line trenches. Sunday, September 8, we were in line waiting for the word to take us to the front, and at 11:45 a.m. we moved out for an 18-mile hike to La Ferte, where we were to entrain. This was a difficult hike with heavy packs through the pouring rain, but the Machine Gun Company upheld its record for hiking. About half of the men of the infantry companies were forced to fall out. At 8:30 p.m. we arrived at La Ferte and This map shows the territory covered by the Machine Gun Co. in their travels through France. The Company entered through the port of Brest and sailed from the port of St. Nazaire. boarded the cars waiting for us. It was after midnight when the train was finally loaded, and the carts, wagons, and equipment were securely lashed to the cars. The French railroad men were very insistent that everything be securely lashed before the train moved. Later, we saw the wisdom of their caution, but at the time we were eager to move out at once. There was that marked contrast in everything that the Frenchman and the American did. The former proceeded with caution and followed a well-planned method. The American wanted to get it done and think about the method another time. The men were having their second experience with "Chevaux 8-Hommes 40," but their packed condition didn't prevent them from getting some rest after the hard trip in the afternoon. No one knew just where the train was headed, but as morning dawned, we were able to orient ourselves by the towns we passed.Langres, Chau-mont, Neufchateau, Joinville, and St. Dizier. About noon we arrived at Mussey, a detraining station just south of Bar le Due. It took the cooks only a few moments to prepare coffee and bacon for the hungry men. From this point we set out on another hike to Fains and then to the small village, Veel, where we were placed in billets with two other companies of the Third Battalion. The people of Veel were not very friendly because a Negro contingent had not long before visited the village and had created considerable disturbance. However, we were busy and were not there long enough to become involved with the people. Now we first heard the boom of guns. During the quiet periods of the day and almost all night we could hear the distant roar, and everyone was anxious to get just a little bit closer. The St. Mihiel offensive had just opened up, and was not more than 30 miles from where we were. It was very lively, with hundreds of vehicles passing on the main highways and an air of excitement pervading the entire countryside. We began a feverish preparation for active duty and expected momentarily to be ordered forward into the fight, although we still lacked many of the essentials for fighting. We had, however, during our spare moments, figured out a barrage which we hoped would prove effective against any of the attacks the Germans might start against us. It began with the lighter objects which we could hurl farthest. We were to lay a barrage of pocket compasses, then plain cartridges, then pistol ammunition, of which we had quantities . but no pistols . then the field glasses, ammunition boxes, and, as the enemy drew closer, we would place heavier barrages of range finders and tripods. Then it would be time to get out. On the 13th of September . Friday the 13th . we had orders to stand by for another move. At 2 p.m. the train, consisting of 24 carts, the ration cart, the baggage wagon, the water tank, and two ammunition wagons, proceeded to Fains where they Joined the Regimental mental Supply Company going from there to destination unknown. The Company was placed aboard French trucks at Fains and began another long trip through the night. After a few hours of travel, we noticed that the booming of the guns and their flashes were being left behind us. Toward morning, the trucks pulled into '.he small ruined village of Recicourt, about five miles back of the front lines and about 10 miles west of Verdun. The men were told to remain in concealment so that aeroplanes couldn't report their presence. Sunday evening about 6 p.m., when everyone had just about forgotten the war, there occurred a peculiar whistling sound and then i tremendous bang. A shell had crashed into a building in the village. It took only a moment for even the dullest to comprehend what r.ad happened and act accordingly. It's debatable who took cover f:rst. This shell was followed by about a dozen others . then silence. It was immediately decided to move the company out of the village ind into one of the wood camps nearby. So that night the Company moved about two miles farther north into the woods of Camp de i'omiers, Foret de Hesse, and had their first sleep in dugouts. The train joined us here the next morning. They had had a hard time traveling from Bar le Due to Recicourt. Their loads were ex-:eptionally heavy and they had only about half their allowance of horses. Because of the heavy traffic on the main highways, they -ere not allowed on these roads and had to take the unimproved ugh ways, which, though fairly good, had many more grades. They A-ere forced to travel all day and night and didn't stop until they : jlled into Chaumont sur Aire, at 1 p.m. on the 14th. They left again it 8 p.m. and traveled all night. Dawn found them plodding through Tppicourt, Julve, and Jubecourt, and on until 2 p.m., when they came to rest in the woods of Recourt with men and horses half dead from fatigue. They formed again at 8 p.m. and finally joined us at Camp Pomiers at 3 a.m. It was clear to us at Camp Pomiers that plans were being made .jt some sort of offensive. Great preparations were made to conceal -r presence and strict orders were enforced to stop all movement . hen aeroplanes were overhead. At night the roads were a seething -.ass of vehicles, trucks, and cannon pushing forward to advanced positions. These cannon included some of the larger calibre manned :;.- French sailors. Occasionally we heard the now familiar screech ". shells going over our location to some back area or the rumble .'. some action at the front. Rumors came thick and fast regarding any things that were taking place around us. On the night of September 20th we received sudden orders to -»cate our comfortable dugouts and take position two miles ahead in «--. open wood. We moved there in the dark and pitched tents in the *. xxls. That night we had our first experience with gas attacks; the . -".d that new troops always experience. Again and again we would a time this gas stuff had a humorous aspect, but when hours, robbing us of our sleep, it became a nuisance One of our populkr Irish mule drivers distinguished himself during the _ first a°arm by the dispatch with which he secured and adjusted his gas ma . His masked been left on the gun-cart, and he had ^ gc ,ne to rest in a double pup tent. On hearing the alarm sound, he carried o the tent and everything in it to secure his mas* in -cord toe Here at Bois de Hesse we built open shelter trenches for protection in case the enemy discovered us and started bombardmg the woods Tne regulations became even stricter regarding the movement If men through the woods; absolute concealment of troops was desired The success of this concealment and the resulting effects were shown a few days later when the attack burst with complete surprise upon the Germans. On the afternoon of September 22nd, Captain Battles was removed to a hospital in the rear. This was a severe blow to the Company on the brink of battle. However, Lieutenant Keeley stepped into the breach and took command in a way that showed he would respond when the pinch came. Sixty men were assigned to our Company to assist in carrying ammunition for the coming attack. By this time we were all aware that there was a big attack intended and that we would be in on it, but no one knew exactly where the attack was going to come off. However, we began to suspect it was on when, on September 25th, Lieutenant Keeley made a hasty trip to the front line trenches with other regimental officers and returned about 3 p.m. A conference of all the officers of the entire Regiment was called immediately at the Regimental P.C. (Post Command). At this conference we were told that we would attack the next day at H-hour; that we would be shown our jumping-off places that afternoon; and that we would go forward into them that night after dark and prepare to move out under the artillery barrage at H-hour. Instructions were very vague as to who was on the left and who was on the right or what our objectives were. We were told to hold foremost in our minds that we were to push forward, forward, and ever forward every moment of the time. Colonel Oury closed the meeting by wishing us all Godspeed, and after a short period of handshaking and partings, we hastily left for our own quarters, knowing full well there were many faces we would never see at the next gathering. The time was short and there was much to be done. Any surplus baggage was hauled to a regimental dump. The men stripped to the bare essentials, placing all their surplus kits in rolls and depositing them in one gigantic pile ... in short, we were "stripping for action." Supper was at 5 p.m. and two hours later we formed in the woods This map, correctly drawn to scale, shows the country the Company tramped over from the time they left the cars in September at Mussey till they boarded the cars again at St. Blin in April, 1919 under cover of darkness and made our way to the road. After much difficulty and miring of carts, we lined up on the road headed toward Montzevk and lay there waiting for the infantry to get across our a black rattling monster loomed up before us almost filling the road completely. This was the first time we had seen one of those gigantic tanks we had heard so much about. Several of Xem cameSclattering along, making enough noise to -ken the dead They were followed by a few of the smaller type called whippet' tanks From a distance, this combination looked like some atu- a considerate jam of wagons, artillery, troops, tanks, autos, and what-not, but by degrees we made our way slowly forward toward Montzeville. The infantry proceeded directly o the trenches by some overland route, but the Machine Gun Company was forced to go by way of the road. We advanced silently m S? dark every man's mind intent on the mission of the morrow and what lt Jd in store for him. These were no tried and tested veterans advancing to attack the famous legions of the Kaiser by direct assault, but men and boys who never had smelled powder or seen a German soldier. The closest they had come to the reality of the coming day was to spear dummies at camp with a bayonet. No wonder that uppermost in all their minds was the thought of what it would be like and how they would stand it.
About ten o'clock we were again forced to halt by a jam of troops ahead These troops proved to be the 80th Division going in on the same mission we were, and only then did we realize that we were only a part of the troops in a gigantic offensive.
It was getting late and time was precious, so we crowded m beside the advancing infantry, exchanging considerable divisional banter At the crossroads in Esnes, the M.P. (Military Ponce) was insistent that we proceed by a route other than that which we wanted to take, so we deliberately forced ourselves past him and mounted a steep hill beyond the village. As we came to the top of the hill, we came into full view of the German trenches and the flares they were occasionally throwing up to light up the trenches. Fortune favored us that night for the dark forms we saw moving stealthily forward proved to be the men of the 2nd Battalion, 314th Infantry, whom we were to support. At once the carts were stopped and the equipment and ammunition carefully removed.
Suddenly the comparative quietness was broken by the discharge of several cannon, followed immediately by others along the line Then it seemed as if all the powers of hell were let loose! Four thousand cannon over a distance of 25 miles, a cannon to every 12 yards of front, began to blast away for the American forces to begin the bi-gest battle thus far in American history, the Meuse-Argonne fight Here stood the impregnable line of German resistance, the result of years of labor and sacrifice on their part, and every mile of which they had paid for in countless numbers of lives in the years before. They could be counted on to demand tribute for every yard they relinquished.
There was practically no response from the Germans. The blast of American and French artillery fire was overwhelming, terrifying, appalling. There was no separate report, such as drum fire, but one great giant roar varying in its intensity.
Looking back in the direction from which we had come, one could see the landscape as a mass of belching fire as if some restless volcano were playing there. As we watched the unfolding of this drama, we instinctively felt that here was history in the making, and that we were actors, however small, taking part in the making of the histoiy, not of a nation or nations, but of the world to be.
What joy and elation it is to stand under your own barrage and feel that the other fellow is getting it ... is dodging those "G.I. Cans," those "whizz-bangs," and those "expresses."
The barage hastened our movements, and in a few moments the men reported clear and were off up the road to the front lines while the transport turned in at the side of the road under protection of an earth bank. Through the long hours of the night the fire continued. It never varied in its intensity until the dawn began to appear. By this time the Germans were firmly convinced that the wrath of God had descended upon them.
At 5:30 a.m. the troops, who had been held at leash all these long hours, were released and poured over the trenches eager to grasp the opportunity to do their share in the gigantic venture.
The 314th Regiment was in the front lines on the right of the
%lt;<< Image >>> The blasted village of Malancourt near Dead Man's Hill. It was in this village that Pvt. Seiders captured 22 prisoners and won the Distinguished Service Cross. Division sector while the 313th Infantry accompanied us on the left half of the sector. The 2nd Battalion of the 314th Regiment was given the honor of the attacking front-line position, with the Machine Gun Company to accompany them. The Machine Gun Company was arranged in line with the 1st Platoon on the left, the 2nd in the center and the 3rd on the right of the Regimental sector. A heavy smoke screen had been put out and for some time after starting over, it was hard to keep the' proper bearing.
The Machine Gun Company took off from the vicinity of Hill 304, made famous in the Verdun fighting of two years before. There is no wilder or more desolate looking region on the battlefields of France than the region thereabouts. Directly in our path lay the villages of Malancourt and Haucourt. These villages were taken early without much difficulty, the Regiment encountering only a few machine-gunners and snipers. Many of the Germans were still in their dugouts when we came upon them, and meekly and gladly came out to register their "Kamerad."
In the village of Malancourt, Private Seiders distinguished himself by capturing two batches of prisoners . a total of 22 . and five machine guns. For this performance he was later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.
The troops pressed on through this village and into the hills beyond. There they began to encounter strong resistance in the woods. The Germans had planted numerous machine-gun nests. These nests did not long detain the attacking troops and they pressed on to the village of Montfaucon, which could easily be seen from a long distance.
Just below the mound on which the city stood were two small stretches of woods, strongly fortified and in a commanding position. These detained the attack for some time as fire from them made a clean sweep of the ridge and prevented anyone from crossing over it. It was finally decided that the only way to get the enemy out was to flank the position. This was under way when darkness fell. The troops were then consolidated on the ground they had won and they waited for the light of the following day.
As the troops pressed forward to the attack, a visit to the rear disclosed a busy scene. Behind the troop waves came thousands of engineers who set to work at once with their equipment to make roads passable; their's was a difficult task for there was hardly a semblance of a road over these hills. Following them, hundreds of artillery caissons went forward as rapidly as the road was prepared. There were ambulances eager to get their wounded out, water wagons with their load for the thirsty men, ammunition wagons, ration wagons, and vehicles of all descriptions. Some of these trains would be miles in length, waiting impatiently for their right to go forward to deliver their loads.
A little farther back the artillery still belched its message to the Germans. As you paused to watch them, it struck you that here was of the glamour of war. Down behind some hill, out of sight, men with their guns trained on some point they could not see :t through their work with the precision of a machine. A group stand unconcernedly around a gun ... a confusion of num-I»r5 would come down the line and be repeated back. The group wn-M come to life and feed a shell into the breech of the gun. The mrrporal would glance at his watch, then snap his hand back and 4t* message to the Germans was off, to be followed immediately by (..ether and another until it seemed the gun crew would be able to Jwrform the actions in their sleep.
But go to the top of the hill and you saw where the Germans .BKved the message. The first sight of Montfaucon was appalling. t»«r. the top of the hill above Esnes, about five miles from Mont-| Itacon, one could see the city itself standing out against the skyline, one great belching spout of dirt and dust as the heavy shells ed and burst among the buildings. This continued for hours, .he infantry had advanced so far it was necessary to stop the * rv fire.
The citadel of Montfaucon. |ltoe>KJral ruins on the right and observation tower on the left.
IPbe pause following the coming of darkness gave us an oppor--.: count the cost to the Machine Gun Company. Private Nevin fjtr was the first in the Company to pay the supreme price, ic-.vn his life near the ruins of Malancourt. His death was instantaneous at the hands of a sniper. Privates Holleran .Ciish were wounded. All three platoons had done good work "X;: the day and still maintained contact with the infantry. irp;te of the stalled traffic on the roads, the combat carts 'if close into the infantry lines and spent the night near ^7 the next morning in a light rain the attack pressed for- ward again, with the aid of the tanks, and in a few hours the Division had passed into and overwhelmed the city of Montfaucon, pressing on without hesitation to their next objective, the village of Nantillois.
Then the rain ceased and soon the sunshine disclosed our position to the German artillery, which at once opened up from directly ahead and from the sector across the Meuse River miles away. This was the first real artillery fire the Regiment had encountered, and for a time it created some confusion in the ranks. However, the men soon reformed, with the tanks, and moved to the attack at 5:30 p.m.
After a steady advance of over a mile under heavy fire, against stubborn resistance, in the darkness over absolutely unknown country, the Regiment halted on the crest of the hill above Nantillois and began to dig in for the night. Almost all semblance of organization had disappeared, the company units advancing independently of one another with little knowledge of the other units acting with them. Several hours were now spent in tying up, organizing, and consolidating the lines of the Regiment.
Many casualties had been inflicted on the Regiment, and three more were added to the list of the Machine Gun Company. Privates J. Lloyd, A. Abplanalp, and F. Connell were wounded and sent to the rear. The Second Platoon had done good work that afternoon on a target of Germans just outside of Nantillois and scored several hits.
At 3:30 a.m. the 314th Regiment was relieved by the 315th Regiment, the latter taking over the front lines to continue the attack. The 314th fell back to near Montfaucon, well pleased with their efforts of the past two days, having captured a well-known stronghold of the Germans and two other villages, making an advance of several miles.
For two days the men had been fighting without having hot food, so the kitchens were rushed forward to Montfaucon close to the front lines. But the food supply was only half adequate to feed all the men. Many of them were turned away hungry.
The infantry of the 315th resumed the attack early in the morning and pushed some distance beyond Nantillois, almost to the Madeline Farm. Here they encountered stiff resistance and were soon forced to fall back. A new line was established a short distance beyond Nantillois and the infantry dug in for the night.
The Machine Gun Company had had a somewhat less strenuous day although the continuous shell fire had caused much damage in the ranks. Private M. Merrifield was the second man in the Company to pay with his life and Corporal Cotner was so badly injured later in the day that he died in the hospital from injuries. Corporal Rapp, and Privates Smith, Gould, Schaeffer, Balen, Trout, Lawson, and Hujter were removed to the rear because of injuries.
All night long the Company lay in the pouring rain on the dismal hills around Nantillois, the pangs of hunger and fatigue adding to their misery and discomfort. During the long hours of the night, the Germans hardly ceased for a moment their tireless efforts to destroy our ranks.
It was evident that we had hit a real line of resistance, and that the Germans planned to defend against the progress of our army foot by foot. The surprise element of our attack had passed and hourly the German preparations increased and their resistance strengthened. Our artillery was still finding it almost impossible to get its guns over the roads of Hill 304, and when it did succeed, ammunition failed continually.
Looking over the village of Montfaueon toward the village of Malancourt. The line of advance on September 27 paralleled the road in the center of the picture.
One million men were killed in an area of 30 square miles in an effort to break through at Verdun. Two years before we covered the ground.
The dawn of the fourth day, September 29th, found the men drawn, haggard and desperately hungry. Some of them were barely recognizable. The day before we had watched the destruction of our supply train which had recklessly ventured too far forward. When the affair was over, dozens of horses, supply wagons, and drivers paid the cost of foolhardiness, and starvation prevailed in the ranks.
Our animals had had no food in four days other than the grass we allowed them to gather among the falling shells. Hunger made them absolutely unmindful of the shells; nor could any other excitement force them to desist in their search for food.
Late that afternoon a ration dump was established along the road to Montfaucon and a guard placed over it. Word soon spread among the famished men, and although the Germans could see the spot perfectly, the men defied and stormed the guard, and in a few minutes made way with all the food.
The hunger situation in this drive was acute. There is no doubt it brought death to many men who exposed themselves to shellfire in their search for food. It was clearly demonstrated here that every man is powerless under the influence of hunger and there is no limit to what he will do to appease it.
In the five days our Company was in action, only once was there a pretense of a meal served, and only once was "corn-willie" and "hardtack" available to the front lines. Dead Germans were always eagerly pounced upon for the yellow bread cubes they carried. These cubes were sweet tasting and contained a great deal of nourishment.
An advance was attempted that morning with disastrous results. Then the troops resumed their digging operations.
This day marked the high point of casualties in the Machine Gun Company and was the bloodiest of all their experiences although they were not even actively engaged in an attack. This was largely due to the constant shellfire the Germans poured into our lines. Their "whizz-bangs" were scoring many hits. A "whizz-bang" was a small shell which approached so swiftly that one had no warning of its coming, hence no opportunity to escape its effects.
Sorrow overcame the ranks of the Machine Gun Company and the entire Regiment with the death of Lieutenant Van Dusen early that morning on the hill above Nantillois. A German shell landed at his
All that remained of Nantillois. Lt. Van Dusen was killed near the top of the hill. side as he was speaking to some of his men. Sergeant Trapp was borne from the scene to a field hospital insisting that even in his shattered state he was going to live to go back to his wife. Today he lies beneath the shadow of shattered Montfaucon which glories above him like a princely monument.
Private Emmett Myers also paid the supreme price on another part of the field. The list of wounded reads almost like a roster of the Company; Privates Pancake, Nephew, Girton, Boyd, Butz, Doty, Cook, Housel, Orlando, Lee, and Bugler Phillips were listed among those more or less severely wounded.
Regardless of the harrowing fire that night, almost everyone managed to get a good rest. Shellfire was becoming commonplace.
An observer standing on the heights of Montfaucon on the morning of September 30th, and looking in the direction of Verdun, would have seen a line of men stretching away over the fields for miles. Here at last was the promised relief. The 3rd Division was coming in to take over our sector and the 79th Division was to move out to repair the ravages of the assault and reorganize.
Just below the heights of Montfaucon, the horde broke and spread into battle formation and advanced in broad daylight through heavy shellfire to the front lines before Nantillois. It was an inspiring sight to see those long thin waves billowing forward without hesitation, pressing onward with guns slung as if on a casual promenade. But, however spectacular, it was an entirely uncalled-for procedure to carry out a relief in this manner in the light of day while subject to enemy fire. The cost, of course, was the doughboy's life, but as often demonstrated in this war, an American life was the cheapest and most plentiful commodity in the war game.
As the elements of the Third Division came in, the 314th Regiment vacated the battlefield and assembled near Montfaucon. Here the fighting equipment was placed again on the carts and the Company started down the road leading to Malancourt.
Almost immediately the tension of the battlefield fell away and the accumulation of hunger and privation burst full upon us. Now we knew we were dirty. We knew we were hungry. We knew we were tired; we were all but exhausted. It occupied our minds to the exclusion of all else.
The Company proceeded on down the road to Malancourt where, after some delay, they secured a hot meal . the first in five days . and then lay down on the hillside for a night's rest.
The combat carts were not allowed down the roads to Malancourt because of the congested traffic, so they took the road 'round by way of Cuisey to Bethincourt and then to Malancourt. Darkness found them at Cuisey where they camped for the night.
About noon on October 1st the Regiment started overland on their return to the regimental dump in Bois de Hesse where they arrived at 5 p.m. The combat carts leaving Cuisey continued their trip to Bethincourt. Here they were refused permission to go over the road to Malancourt because of its impassable condition, so they continued on to the regimental dump by way of Esnes, and, after an all-day trip, arrived there just a few moments after the Company.
For miles and miles along the road to Esnes from Cuisey and Bethincourt away to Montzeville were lines of autos, trucks, wagons, ambulances, guns, and carts. Everywhere were the engineers carrying stone, repairing roads, and pushing traffic in general.
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John W. Kress book One of the Last 'Rugged Individualists'