MENU

8. To the Meuse


HISTORY
of
THE 308th INFANTRY

By

L. Wardlaw Miles

Chapter 8
To The Meuse


CHAPTER VIII

To the Meuse

I

IT is to be regretted that the following chapter dealing with the history of the 308th Infantry, subsequent to the relief of the so-called Lost Battalion and covering the Regiment's last month of active service before the Armistice, cannot be told in as great detail or with as much personal reference as some of the earlier chapters. Such, however, is necessarily the case, both because the Regiment was less actively engaged and because the material dealing with this period is comparatively small. Perhaps the writer cannot introduce this chapter better than by making a final quotation from those notes of Colonel Whittlesey used in Chapter VI.

Gordon Schenck was killed in the Pocket, and Stromee and Williamson were wounded, so there were none of the original officers left with the 1st B'n.; but when we got out we were rejoined by Knight and D Company. There weren't many men left in the 1st B'n, but what there were were fine and cheerful, and we sat around for two days cleaning up and resting. In the afternoon of the first day they sent me about 20 second lieutenants just out of training school who had been s'g'ts. in the draft. All 2nd Lts. and most of them a corking lot of fellows. I whisked them around somehow into companies, trying to guess which would be the best company commanders.

And after that rest of two days-I've forgotten the dates -they told me I was to take command of the Division Reserve (being a Lt. Col. by that time, just made), and that the 1st Bn. would be part of that reserve. Here I lost sight of the 2nd Bn. . . . Well our R'g't'l. H'q'rs., where we were resting, was just E. of Binarville, in the ravine. So along about October 10th or 11th I marched the Bn. around to the W. and through the woods where they were trying to shove what seemed like a whole division-trains and artillery -along a foot path. Finally joined up with the rest of the Division Reserve-a battalion of the 306th and a M. G. Bn.; and we got set in the heart of the Forest well out of harm's way. We had got our shelter tents and blankets back, and we settled down for a life of ease. Drew real fresh beef, and marmalade and coffee! Had our kitchens near. And there in a charming little ravine running E. and W. the war practically ended for me.

Oddly enough, while we were there, a typewritten message came, purporting to emanate from Corps H'q'rs.-this must have been not much after Oct. 15th-saying that peace would probably be declared in a few days, and that I was to read this to the men. I When the men heard it, the following morning, a Sunday, as I recall-you can imagine how rosy life looked under the Greenwood tree!

Then Col. Hannay ordered me back to R'g't'l. H'q'rs. to do some regular lieutenant coloneling. . . . So the R'g't. marched back to a rear position in the forest, and had a couple of pleasant camps during the next few days-first at a crossroads that I've forgotten the name of, except that there on the side of a ravine was a wonderful hanging row of houses and in one of them a genuine bath tub with a means for heating water. (It had been a German rest camp.) Next the R'g't. was at a place called Pylon- and another place called Abrie du Crochet where there was another German rest camp and a theater. Those places were well in the rear of the line and life was pretty easy.

Nov. 1st the Reg't was ordered to pick up and go back to the old war again, and I was ordered home to the U. S. A. So I can't tell you anything about the hike to Sedan.

2

The other two battalions were not to enjoy the well- earned rest which has just been described as the lot of the 1st. On October 9th, after receiving rations, clothing, and equipment, the 3rd Battalion commanded by Captain Breckinridge and the 2nd commanded by Captain Prentice from the 307th Infantry resumed in the order named the advance northward. The 308th was now acting in support of the 307th Infantry. The latter unit had gone into the front line on the same date about six kilometers north of Binarville. Since the 308th was now in support, it encountered no direct opposition; nevertheless two men of the 3rd Battalion were killed and three wounded by shell fire. October 9th and 10th were allowed for the mopping up of the ravines to the west, but no enemy was here encountered with the exception of one lone German police dog. Meanwhile the scout officer also got in touch with the French Cavalry on our left.

It is of course understood that in the meanwhile the fist to which Pershing's forces were earlier compared, was being thrust vigorously forward. It had already gone through the first line of defense-for the 77th Division, the Argonne Forest-and was now rapidly nearing the second, the Kriernhilde Stellung along the valley of the Aire. The 38th Infantry was now to leave the forest of the Argonne and to pass into the more open country to its north. This meant, of course, a marked change in the nature of the terrain and warfare. As characteristic of such change may be told what happened to Company I on October 11th.

It was at 2 A.M. on the date mentioned that Lieutenant Conn received an order to take his company and two machine guns (and their four mules) and establish liaison with the French in the north end of Grand Pre by 7 that morning. It was understood, of course, that the Germans had retreated north from Grand Pre, and that that town was now held by the French.

This optimistic and trustful little outfit started from the Bois de la Taille, about a kilometer south of La Besogne, and passing quickly through that place found what they record as "only a few dead horses, the saddle hides of which had all been cut off." About two kilometers south of Chevieres, German shrapnel burst over the party, whereupon they gave that town a wide berth, and left the open road to take to the edge of the woods. From La Folie Ferme they marched again north along a trail through the woods. Soon they had arrived at a cut in the Chevieres-Grand Pre road about 300 yards south of the Barbancon Ferme "at which point several of our own shells fell to our rear." Considerably puzzled, the company was halted in the cut. It is true our artillery had at times-as the troops in the Pocket knew-a disagreeable habit of falling short, but in this case the shortness seemed unusual. Nevertheless Lieutenant Conn and Sergeant Carter proceeded to reconnoiter the Grand Pre station on their side of the Aire River. All was quiet, and they were just about to climb down the debris of the blown-up bridge when German machine gunners appeared at its north end and opened up. Of course the truth was then plain: those American shells, which had fallen some thousand yards south of Conn and his outfit, had really been falling where they were meant to fall, that is to say, in front of the American lines; and the fact was that Grand Pre was still occupied by Germans and by Germans only.

Since the unit's mission was merely to establish liaison with the French, it did not wait long to accomplish this by starting in the direction of the French, obviously due south. After a kilometer and a half of progress they found at La Noue Le Coq a platoon of poilus located with the P. C. of the 307th Infantry. The French were out on a liaison mission like our own. At this point half of the company was left, and then the other half taken back to establish liaison with the 307th support about 500 yards west of La Folie Ferme. And here came the climax of the adventure, for here Lieutenant Conn met General Alexander on a tour of inspection of the front line, and was able to report in person how he had-in much less time than it had required to enter it-evacuated Grand Pre, more than two kilometers in front.



What happened to the 3rd Battalion between October 8th and 15th is best told in the vivid words of Major L. S. Breckinridge, who writes as follows:

To write of the period following the relief of the Lost Battalion leads one almost into the realm of anti-climax. That period of exaltation was followed by a day of almost idyllic contemplation of many-tongued rumors of cushy billets and sylvan rest areas consisting entirely of estaminets and unknown to corps inspectors and other lesser breeds without the law. There was reason for the rumors and sound excuse for the hopes of a place where the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest. The rude awakening was not long delayed. On the night of October 8th about twelve hours after the relief of the Lost Battalion, orders were issued to resume the northward advance the next morning, the 3rd Battalion leading followed by the 2nd,. the mission of the 3rd Battalion being to mop up the territory on the west of the division sector and to extend, if necessary, slightly into the French sector on the left until contact was thoroughly obtained. The enemy had evacuated the country hurriedly, but apparently thoroughly. Very little was known of the general situation, but the impression prevailed that the 3rd Battalion was covering a good deal more front than was healthy in the reduced state of its personnel. The terrain was quite thickly overgrown.

Late in the afternoon of the 9th, the 3rd Battalion started the descent of quite a precipitous gully and proceeding slowly crossed this gully or ravine; working its way through the woods, the Battalion approached the top of the northerly slope, crossing a small stream and going more slowly, as the trees and underbrush were becoming much thinner. There were sounds indicating troop movements, so having in mind the mission of the unit and suspecting the presence of the enemy behind every bush and tree and in every hollow of the ground, a very scout-like approach was made to the top of the rise and there a perfectly open plateau presented itself, whereon disported themselves unnumbered quantities of French soldiers, infantry, cavalry and machine guns, looking more as if they were engaged in a military tournament than in a war.

After consultation with the French our left wing was drawn in, although it appeared that both forces were still extending into the sector of the other.

That night the Battalion found very pleasant billets in a ravine and was subjected to some unpleasant but impersonal shelling. We had gotten the idea somewhere that the valley of the Aisne was French territory and the heights overlooking it was U. S., but the 3rd Battalion was broad-minded and willing to share its sector with the French.

On the 10th, this area seemed to be so crowded with French and American troops that a continuance of the 3rd Battalion mission seemed ridiculous, and a runner was sent to Regimental Headquarters with a message explaining the situation, the Battalion remaining in the ravine on the left of the sector until the afternoon, when the Brigade Commander, General Johnson, then appeared from nowhere and viewing the Battalion with pained surprise said: " Your Regimental Commanding Officer has been looking everywhere for you. How did you get lost? " This sending one somewhere and then accusing one of being lost was assuming the proportions of an epidemic. One had somewhat the feeling of a misplaced pince-nez. The Battalion's mission was explained, so the Battalion was forgotten but not forgiven. General Johnson ordered the unit ' to report to the Regimental Commander, who had an advanced P. C. near a crossroads in the woods. The Regimental Commander at this time was Colonel Han-nay who had succeeded Lieutenant Colonel Gordon Johnston, promoted and ordered to the 82nd Division. The Battalion was then ordered forward to bivouac in the woods not far from the crossroads at which Colonel Hannay maintained his headquarters. (The fourth R. C. 0. in four days.)

On the evening of October 12th orders were received that the 3rd Battalion was to relieve during the night of October 12th-I3th the 1st Battalion of the 305th Infantry, occupying a position just south of the Aire River from Chevieres inclusive to Marcq exclusive, making a front of over two kilometers for a comparatively small battalion, which was further reduced by the transfer of Lieutenant Conn with half of I Company as a liaison group between the 307th Infantry and the French. The relief started shortly after dark and was completed shortly after midnight, everything having gone very smoothly and the greatest assistance having been rendered by Major Metcalfe commanding the Battalion of the 305th Infantry.

As this relief order was accompanied by an operations order indicating an attack across the Aire River directed against the heights along which ran the St. Juvin-Grand Pre Road, the Battalion Commander was anxious to obtain even more complete information than was usual in the relief if such were Possible. Major Metcalfe furnished reports *from the Engineers with coordinates purporting to show fords over the river, and very complete reports made by his own patrols of the character of the terrain and the positions of the enemy. The position was occupied with K Company on the right,

L Company in the center, M Company on the left and a combat patrol of one squad was stationed in Chevieres with a similar group from the 307th Infantry. What was left of I Company was ordered into a support position along a brook which emptied into the Aire River near Chevieres.

The companies occupying the front line were roughly in position along the Marcq and Chevieres Road which gave the Battalion a direction of attack almost due northeast, pivoting slightly on the left flank, the objective designated being the St. Juvin-Grand Pre Road which ran in a northwesterly direction from St. Juvin across the railroad tracks, crossing what was approximately the military crest on the southerly slope on the hill on which the Bois des Loges was situated. The mission of the 3rd Battalion, was understood to be to start its attack at 10 A.M. as the pivot of a larger movement involving an attack by our right Brigade and the 82nd Division, all of whom were to attack St. Juvin. A proper conduct of this movement, of course, comprehended very closest liaison with the 306th Infantry to the immediate right. The Battalion orders were issued having in view the possibility that it might succeed in crossing the river and thus leave both flanks in the air. Accordingly, a small force was retained on the south bank of the river extending respectively beyond the right and left flanks of the attacking parties so as to cover any demonstrations by the enemy from those directions.

The jump off was made on schedule time, K Company under Lieutenant Taylor experiencing little difficulty in reaching the river. Company L under Lieutenant Ashworth and M Company under Captain McDougall came under very heavy machine gun and shell fire and suffered severe casualties, considering their strength at the time. On arriving at the river, great difficulty was experienced in finding fords, although fords were reported on the front of K Company by about 1 o'clock P.m. They were not found satisfactory for crossing in daylight, and continual efforts were made to find other crossing places, which were not subjected to such fierce enemy fire. L Company got two or three men across the river but casualties were so heavy that these men were recalled until more assistance could be offered. This condition continued until late in the afternoon, say about 4 o'clock.

The Battalion Commander, accompanied by Corporal Thomas Hays, Chief of the Scouting Section, and Private Henshel, set out on a detailed reconnaissance of the river. Captain McDougall, commanding M Company, and Lieutenant Sullivan, who succeeded him, had also been wounded. Lieutenant Taylor was very ill and should have been in the hospital. The losses among the enlisted personnel had been heavy and the situation promised to develop into a stalemate. All contact had been lost with the 306th Infantry to the right, although several patrols had been sent out to gain information as to how they were progressing. These patrols were either captured or became casualties.

Regimental Headquarters reported that a message from the 153rd Brigade stated St. Juvin had been captured and mopped up by the 3o6th Infantry. So heavy and so continuous rifle and machine gun fire was directed at the 3rd Battalion's right flank from the direction of St. Juvin that the information appeared somewhat apocryphal, and Lieutenants Shrider and Gerould with a few men from K Company conducted a fire fight against those positions for several hours. Some one suggested, probably Corporal Hays, that a group such as that making up the reconnaissance was so small as to escape any particular attention unless it arrived directly at a ford over the river, and that it might be taken as a fair indication of a good ford when the group did come under particularly heavy fire and using such fire as a basis of reasoning the ford or fords might be marked out and then used as future conditions might indicate. At any rate, this plan was followed and a number of places marked as possible satisfactory crossing places. At one of these spots particularly, which was discovered with the assistance of Lieutenant Carlisle of L Company, whose platoon then. numbered seven or eight men, more extensive tests were made and it was decided that although the river at this point would have to be crossed by means of a flank march, the other physical conditions were such as to make it more adaptable than any of the others. This ford was in a bend of the river that went about due north and curved around in such a way as to make the peninsula it surrounded seem almost like an island, so that in crossing, the troops would have to go due west.

Corporal Hays volunteered to lead across, and four or five men were pushed over at this time and made a reconnaissance on the further bank, then returned to the southerly side of the river. By this time it was six o'clock, and orders were issued to the company commanders to meet the Battalion Commander at the P. C. of Lieutenant Ashworth in order to effect a readjustment of the problem in consideration of the changed situation and the losses incurred. Acting Sergeant Carter, Commander of I Company, reported about 20 men, Lieutenant Ashworth, Commander of L. Company, reported about the same, Lieutenant Carstens, Commander of M Company, reported about the same, and Lieutenant Taylor, Commander of K Company, reported he had about 80 men, which was half the strength of the Battalion.

Orders were then issued that M Company should go into support in the position then occupied by them along the river, extending generally in the direction slightly north of west, their right resting about two or three hundred yards to the west of the westerly bend in the river. That the Battalion would then proceed across the river in order, I, K, L, and the Battalion scouts would extend on the right in a manner similar to that of M on the left, as flank support and the machine gun company from the 306th Machine Gun Battalion would exercise a like function from that position to the north of Marcq and to the east of Chevieres. That the companies should proceed in the above order and meet the Battalion Commander at the ford at 7 O'clock, I Company leading, L Company moving out of its position when I Company had started to cross the river .. and K Company moving out of its position when L Company had started to cross the river. I Company on crossing the river was to form with its left in position along the coordinate approximately corresponding with the right of M Company. L and K Company on crossing the river were to extend to the right from L Company, thus avoiding masking the fire of companies to the south of the river in the event that it was necessary to commence fire

action during the crossing of the river and formation of the Battalion on the north bank. The direction of attack was given as due north and to be regulated on I Company for the reason that I Company's immediate front was the most precipitated portion of the German line and naturally the strongest portion. Therefore, it was argued the. it would probably be the least strongly defended.

While this movement was in progress a message was received by the Battalion Commander indicating that he was relieved of command, and that Captain Prentice, commanding the 2nd Battalion, was placed in command of the operation. The movement by this time being well under way, it seemed well to get the assault column in position according to the plan before acting on this message. Therefore, as K Company started across the river, I and L being already over, the command of the immediate result was turned over to Lieutenant Taylor of K Company. The Battalion Commander then returned to the P. C. where Lieutenant Robinson, Battalion Adjutant, was going over the general situation with Captain Prentice who had come up in the meanwhile. It appeared that the message had been misinterpreted and that Captain Prentice had been ordered forward with Companies E and F of the 2nd Battalion and the Regimental Machine Gun Company under Lieutenant McGuire.

Captain Prentice had received orders changing the character of the operation and reinforcing the front line. His Plan was to extend the attacking line well into St. Juvin, hooking up on the right with the 153rd Brigade, which would give the objective a complete change of direction from generally northeast to generally northwest, the left of the line resting on the river near Chevieres, the right somewhere to the northwest of St. Juvin when the operation was completed. The plan at that time in operation was explained to Captain Prentice and received his approval with the limitation that the attack of the 3rd Battalion as already ordered should go forward as planned, and he would cross the river with companies E and F and the Machine Gun Company, proceeding to the extreme right of the sector, and would make an attack to the north of St. Juvin, hooking up with the right of the 3rd Battalion on the completion of his movement. Pending discussion, guides were furnished to Captain Prentice for the purpose of avoiding delay and in order to get his attachment across the river as soon as possible. Captain Prentice then left the Battalion P. C. with his Adjutant, Captain Griffith, and nothing more was heard of them until late the next afternoon.

It was by this time quite late, and Captain Roosevelt, Regimental Supply Officer, reported that he had "hot chow" in Marmites. He was given guides and took the food right down to the river line. About I A.M. the Battalion Commander started for Chevieres, from which place he worked slowly down the railroad track to the position of M Company. The attack was apparently progressing favorably and quietly, although a good deal of difficulty was met with in getting through the barbed wire in and about a place called Lairesse (?) where there was a number of shacks on the trench line protected by barbed wire. It appeared that during the crossing of the river, Captain Prentice's command had become split and that he had proceeded with a very small part of it, leaving the bulk of E Company with F Company and the Regimental Machine Gun Company behind. As a result of a conference between Lieutenant Taylor and Lieutenant Wilhelm, Senior Officer of Leave of Captain Prentice's attachment, it was agreed that the two forces should amalgamate.

Little opposition was met with until the force arrived at the foot of the hill at the top of which ran the St. Juvin- Grand Pre Road, at which time it was shortly before dawn. The companies were reformed and an attack made straight up the side of the hill which was quite precipitous. The hill was carried and the German position and dugouts occupied, although the men were at all times under very galling fire from machine guns situated on both flanks. In order to abate this nuisance a patrol volunteered to go out to the left flank from I Company, consisting of Acting Sergeants Carter, Riley, and Calbi. This patrol wormed its way to the west in the direction of the Farm des Greves (?) and in due course returned with the machine gun and part of the crew. To the right equal success was had by patrolled by Acting Sergeant June of K (?) Company who stumbled on his objective entirely unexpectedly; as far as can be learned, Sergeant June was armed principally with a two pound can of bully beef with which he made threatening gestures, and the Boche, not unnaturally, assuming this to be a lethal weapon, surrendered.

Lieutenant Gerold returned with a number of these prisoners across the river, accompanied by some of the walking wounded as guards. It appeared from the story of the German prisoners that they had been in contact with elements on their left shortly before, whose position was across the railroad tracks in St. Juvin; that they could not understand how our troops approached them from the rear and it was this fact that made the capture so easy, as they were expecting ration details and had expected an early relief by a force which was to launch a counterattack in the direction of St. Juvin. They said also that they had the troops along the river under observation during the earl afternoon and even-ing, but had refrained from firing because they believed the War was practically over. This was accepted with a grain of salt as there had been very little evidence during the day and night that any one who had anything to fire with had not been using it. Along the hill crest the German position was beautifully located, there being counter-sunk concrete machine gun shelters which commanded the valley as far as the eye could reach. In several of the dugouts tables were spread for the morning, meal and curious candles with wooden wicks were lighted. A box of American cigars was also found and a razor bearing the name of a Sergeant in the 326th Infantry.

This fight marked the first time the Battalion had operated in the open, all of its previous experience, in the Vosges, on the Vesle and in the Argonne, having been in heavy woods and underbrush. With the force at hand, it seems impossible that this attack could have succeeded in the daytime, and the heavy losses suffered during the day give strength to this belief. The Corps objective had been taken, although not on schedule. All efforts at effective liaison with the 306th on the right had failed. The chain of runner posts established to maintain connection with Captain Prentice and extending into the edge of St. Juvin had been broken, several of the runners being killed, wounded, or captured, particularly those extending into the area of the right brigade. Liaison to the left with the 307th had been maintained through a mixed post and Chevieres. Contact with the rear had been all too continuous through the telephone. The merry idleness of the day had been frequently interrupted with telephonic requests, which divested of their military verbiage ran about as follows: "Why the Hell don't you do something?" This seemed a perfectly reasonable request in view of the fact that nothing was being done except to seek for nonexistent bridges and undiscoverable fords. (In the next war, coordinates should be marked on the ground. There is no reason why war should not learn from football.) Nothing was being done except to cut barbed wire and be shot at with rifles and machine guns, light and heavy, whizzbangs and minnenwerfers. These amusements were occasionally interspersed with a pleasant walk along the railroad track or a bit of wading in the river; and then how pleasant it was to see some signal man from Headquarters get the D. S. C. for repairing a telephone which in a moment of exasperation one had torn up by the roots, or gently nipped with the battalion pliers-so much depends on the point of view.

However, daybreak of the 15th found the Battalion on the alert, M Company on the left, the scouts on the right, 11 machine gunners from the 306th Machine Gun Battalion, two guns near Marcq and two near Chevieres, ready for Action. The flank protection patrols from the right and left flanks had been called in. At a fairly early hour in the morning the lieutenant in command of the machine guns reported that a large column of German troops were moving out from the southern edge of the Bois des Loges and were within range and requested authority to fire on them. Four machine guns opened on them and the speed with which they disappeared indicated either marvelous practice by the machine guns or marvelous training by the Germans-probably both. At any rate, no further rumblings of a counter attack developed during the day. Between 8:00 and 9:oo in the morning, Captain Weld, at that time Regimental Adjutant, came to the Battalion Headquarters and stated that a new attack order was in process of distribution and left a copy showing the new boundaries and the objective and ordering the 308th to move to the left, slipping over by small groups and not losing touch with the 153rd Brigade. A liaison group of two squads was to be left in Chevieres to maintain liaison with the 153rd Brigade. This message was followed later by a field. order dated Head-quarters 154th Infantry Brigade, 15th of October, 2:30 A.M., designating the new objective for the Brigade as from the Hauts Batis Farm to include the northern edge of the Bois des Loges. The attack was to commence at 7:30, which was only a short time before the receipt of the operation order.

The mission of the 308th involved an attack in a westerly direction against the railroad running north from Grand Pre and the heights of Bellejeuse Farm, the execution of a right turn along a front of about two kilometers, and an advance to the objective as mentioned above. As this movement seemed an exceedingly dangerous one with a depleted battalion, involving as it did a flank march with a watchful enemy on one flank, a river on the other, no contact with supporting troops, and an exposed rear; and as the original message directed that touch be not lost with the 153rd Brigade, a long stay in the present position was presaged.

Between 10 and 11 o'clock a message was received directing the movement to proceed regardless of the 153rd Brigade. A message was sent to the commander of the forces on the north bank of the river, and three runners in succession were badly wounded by machine gun fire from the direction of St. Juvin in an effort to get this message through. This difficulty was communicated to Regimental Headquarters and in due course Captain Stockly came up with a one-pounder and scattered some of the too persistent German machine guns that could be plainly seen setting out for unhappy far off places, but it seemed quite impossible to clear out all of the nests in the direction of St. Juvin. Shortly after this an effort was made by Lieutenant Taylor to send messages back and three patrols were sent out at once, all of whom very quickly became casualties from machine gun fire from the direction of St. Juvin. Volunteers were called for from the platoon of Lieutenant Carlisle of L Company which had been retained on the south side of the river to act as a patrolling group, and Privates Rochford and Collins volunteered to deliver the message. This mission they successfully accomplished and returned in about three hours with a message from Lieutenant Taylor stating that the order was understood and would be complied with as indicated.

The method of operation as outlined to Lieutenant Taylor was that the troops to the south bank of the river, consisting of M Company, a platoon of L Company, Battalion Scouts and the Company of the 306th Machine Gun Battalion, would move by small groups to the west of Chevieres and cross the river between that place and a point to the north of Barban-con Farm, and that Lieutenant Taylor should start his movement at 6 o'clock p.m., leaving K Company under Lieutenant Laney and the Regimental Machine Gun Company to protect his flank and rear and to make the Farm des Loges his objective, at which place he would be met by the Battalion Commander. The movement had been commenced and M Company was in position south of the river to the west of Chevieres. The Machine Gun Company of the 306th Machine Gun Battalion was getting ready to move when a message was received countermanding this order and ordering the troops to be recalled to the south side of the river, and to resume the position occupied by them before the jump off on the 14th. This was accordingly done and the evacuation was completed by about midnight with the companies back south of the river. A message was then received that the Division be relieved by the 78th Division and that guides should report to Regimental Headquarters. This relief was finally completed about 5:30 or 6:00 A.M., October 16th. Why this withdrawal was ordered, Heaven only knows, as the 78th Division had to make the same attack over the same ground at high cost later in the day. Nobody in the Battalion knew this at the time, however, and it was not known by the Battalion Commander until 9 or 10 o'clock in the morning after he had arrived at Regimental Headquarters. While the side slip was going on, Captain Prentice appeared at Battalion Headquarters accompanied by Captain Griffith and Lieutenant Cook. He reported a series of hair-raising adventures, having fought in and about St. Juvin with practically no men and was very much relieved to find that the balance of his detachment had suffered so little.

4

While the 3rd Battalion was making the attack near Grand Pre, which has just been described, a portion of the 2nd Battalion was similarly engaged toward the east at St. Juvin. As typical of the conditions existing in the Argonne, it may be mentioned that when Captain Prentice took over the 2nd Battalion after it came out of the Pocket, he was obliged to do so without seeing any of his men except Lieutenant Griffiths (Commanding Officer of E Company, Adjutant, Scout Officer, and General Handy Man of the Battalion) and one or two runners. On October 14th, Colonel Hannay summoned Captain Prentice and Lieutenant Griffiths to his P. C. and gave them instructions to proceed that night to St. Juvin and get in touch with whatever American unit was there, after which they were to take up the position to the west of the village, and to support the right flank of the 3rd Battalion. It was understood that the Aire could be forded in several places-which places could be found after careful search.

And so the officers mentioned started out after dark on the night of the 14th with Companies E and F, as well as two machine guns and their crews, "which some kind soul had loaned us." The story of the adventures of that night as related by one of the participants is a zestful one.

After reporting to Major Breckinridge they received a guide to show them the ford and started on their way. Because of occasional machine gun fire and shelling the men were pretty well spread out. As a consequence of this, and because of the necessity of absolute quiet, the line got broken crossing the river, and the greater part of the men followed Company L, which was going across at the same time. However, Captain Prentice continued with what remained, along a route which was practically through No Man's Land, in order to reach St. Juvin from the west side. Runner posts were left along the line, "most of which were promptly picked up by the Boche." After one of many halts due to machine gun fire which was kept up at irregular intervals, Lieutenant Griffiths went back to investigate the rear of the line. He now discovered that only some 22 or 24 men were left and that the rest had been lost. near the ford. After hasty conference it was decided to proceed with what was left.

When near the town, Prentice got worried about - what the crazy Yank outpost would do to us, if we tried to enter it from almost the front, so he decided to make some noise in order to let them know that we were not trying to steal in unobserved. We had no more than started to kick up the stones and talk, than a rocket was sent up and the Boche 'I machine gunners proceeded to give us a warm reception. We took shelter in the lee of some buildings, and started to get our bearings. All this of course was before daylight., just -when we thought we had got well sheltered the Boche opened up with their artillery on that one section of the town. At this we decided to find better shelter for the men, and entered the cellar of a large building, built on the side of a hill and fairly well protected. Two men had been hit, so that when all windows, etc., were covered, we lit a few candles. The first glance showed this to be an ideal place for collecting souvenirs, such as hats, field glasses, pistols, etc. Further investigation proved that we had taken shelter in a Boche billet, but the family seemed to be out for the night.

After placing guards and making ready to give the house-holders a warm reception, if they returned while we were there, Prentice and Griffiths started to scout the town, in order to find if there were any American troops.

Just before daylight came the noise of the 305th Infantry entering St. Juvin and taking up its position behind a high embankment along the roadside to the east. Captain Prentice and Lieutenant Griffiths reported, and then went back for their men and brought them to the position occupied by the troops of the 305th. The men had no sooner been placed than the position was subjected to a heavy bombardment lasting about an hour. At the end of this the enemy attempted to take the position aided by machine gunfire, but was soon repulsed. Then it was that Captain Prentice for the first time remembered that he had carelessly left his kit-bag in the German cellar. But I prefer to give the rest of the story in the words of the participant already quoted.

As soon as the excitement was over, Captain Prentice remembered his kit-bag and decided to get it. As he went around one side of the building to enter the back door, a little German came around the other side, with the intention of getting his pack. Both were greatly astonished, but Prentice poked his gun at him, and the fellow readily decided to become a prisoner, if he could go in and get his blanket. After this we decided to take up the position assigned us by Colonel Hannay, and started trooping down the road in a very happy manner, quite sure that the Boche was now on the run. On coming to a little stream, the bridge over which had been destroyed, we were fired on from three sides by machine guns. What men we had took shelter behind the banks of the stream, and tried to scare the machine gunners with rifle fire, but they wouldn't scare. We had two men killed here and several wounded.

About the only piece of equipment other than that carried by a rifle-man was a basket of pigeons, in charge of a signal corps man. We discovered a well sheltered spot, about one hundred and fifty yards to the side of us in the direction in which the stream was flowing. The idea seemed a fine one; we would walk down the stream to this new position and so get shelter. The idea was all 0. K., except for the fact that the stream, while only knee deep in most places, had holes where the water was four feet deep. Many of the men stepped in these holes, lost their balance and were completely submerged. One of these men was the pigeons' nurse. In the upset he lost hold of the basket, with the result that the birds were also added to the casualty list.

A little later a company of the 305th Infantry took over the position of this adventurous little outfit, and they made their way back to Regimental Headquarters to report the events of the past twenty-four hours.

The casualties for the 308th's fighting on the Aire during the 14th and 15th were heavy. The battalions were of course already greatly reduced as a result of the Argonne fighting. The 3rd Battalion advanced on October 13th with about 147 men, and the 2nd with about 200. There were apparently about 10 officers in each battalion. The War Diary records for the first day's fighting 6 men killed, and 4 officers and 40 men wounded; for the second day 23 men killed.

5

At last in the middle of October came that long-looked -for relief to the troops in the front line. An order from Corps Headquarters dated October 12th had declared:

This Division has been in the line constantly since the night of the 25th of September, under circumstances at least as difficult as those which have confronted any other division of the ist Army.

The order went on:

In spite of these conditions, your command has pushed steadily forward . . . and today after eighteen days of constant fighting is still ready to respond to any demand made upon it.

The 308th was relieved by the 311th Infantry of the 78th Division. The relief was ordered for the night of October 15th, and was completed at 3:30 A.M. The two weary battalions, after the hard fighting of the 14th and 15th, marched back in the rain through Lancon and arrived at Abri du Crochet, now thirteen kilometers south of the front line, at 11 P.M.-to sleep the rest of the night in the rain. The Diary of the 3rd Battalion records with not unnatural bitterness:

Promised good billets and then forced to lie out all night in the wet, after being soaked to the skin for a day and a half. It was a good thing that that billeting officer from H'd'q. Co. disappeared.

The whole of the 77th Division now went into Corps Reserve, and remained as such until ordered to advance again on the 1st of November. The 308th Infantry spent its two weeks' absence from real warfare in the usual reserve area occupations of cleaning and delousing, getting furnished with new clothing, and checking up equipment. The much-needed replacements received at this time amounted, according to the War Diary, to 550.

Nor were amusements wanting. The Regimental Band gave concerts (presumably the Adjutant had mended the instruments or obtained new ones); and at Chene Tondu, the Argonne Players performed in a huge dugout theatre which had been erected by the German troops for very different performers and audiences. Night raids '"'ere, however, a frequent occurrence, and on one occasion when the Y. M. C. A. ladies were kindly entertaining with a song of the appropriate title "The Mick That Threw the Brick," an enemy plane suddenly came over, whereupon, amid great laughter and applause from the audience, the stage was immediately left empty. Other evidences that the War was not over were not lacking. For instance, at 2 A.M. on October 20th, the 2nd and 3rd Battalions received orders to march in the rain 10 kilometers to the vicinity of Cornay and Pylone, where they took up a support position behind the 78th Division " now busily engaged in the vicinity of Grand Pre. After remaining here a day they returned to Chene Tondu. Four days later the troops again marched north, this time relieving the 307th Infantry on a line representing the corps line of resistance. Here near the towns of Fleville, Cornay, and La Besonge, and the position known as Pylone, the troops received energetic training in automatic and rifle fire, bomb throwing, rifle grenades, and advancing skirmish formation under smoke screens. On the 25th shell fire killed three men and wounded one in the 1st Battalion east , of Fleville. Although the Regiment was not in the front line, it was obviously enduring war conditions.

On October 31st the Division again received its order to advance. On a front line which was now only a little more than a kilometer north of where they had left it two weeks earlier, and which ran east and west, south of Champigneulle, the troops of the 77th were to start their final advance towards the Meuse River and the last line of German resistance. The 80th Division was on the right of the 77th, and the 78th on its left. Orders called for the attack to proceed in a column of brigades, the 153rd in advance with the 154th following as Division Reserve. The 307th Infantry was followed by the 308th.

A heavy barrage, starting at 3 A.M. on November 1st, preceded the last big push of the American army. Actual advance of the Regiment did not begin until next day, when it went forward with the 2nd Battalion under Major Weld, followed by the 3rd under Captain Breckinridge, and the 1st under Captain Fahnestock. Since the 308th was now the fourth regiment of the Division in depth, no resistance was encountered. Nevertheless the hardness of the march no less than the interest of what was to be observed will doubtless make it vividly recalled by those present. The Regiment passed through St. Juvin, halting for supper just north of that town. March was resumed at 8:30 P.M. toward Thenorgues, the day's objective, but shelling of the latter place made it necessary to establish Regimental Headquarters and to billet the battalions at Verpel, where they remained until 1:30 P.M. of the next day. In St. Juvin, and yet more in Verpel, the effects of the American barrage were evidenced in the many dead men and horses. Many wounded had also been left behind in the hasty retreat.

It is near Champigneulle on this first night of the advance that the 1st Battalion's columns of two's face to the right, stack arms, and unsling packs for a while. , The rain, which dripped from the rim of the helmets, has been soaking all day into the heavy packs. Every one is cold, wet, hungry, and tired. The fierce barrage of the morning is now succeeded by far away rumblings and flickerings in the darkness to the north. To the left the road is still, as it has been all day, filled with a mad confusion of transports, guns, limbers, supply wagons, lorries, and rolling kitchens-the mingled trains of many divisions-now halted, now going forward, but always headed for the north. Together with the stream of troops and transports has flowed at its edges and along the fields a long single file procession of civilian refugees, old men, old women, young women, plodding under bundles of bedding or trundling two-wheeled carts piled with household goods.

Meanwhile, to the disconsolate Battalion comes the news that their own kitchens have come through to them and mess is ready, and while cheering cries go up " Company A this way!"-" Company C over here!", there comes still greater news: The enemy is broken! The 307th ahead of us is in pursuit loaded in motor trucks!

Now appears something never yet seen on the front. A cook unreproved has lit a candle. Other dots of light, both candles and cigarettes, begin to blink here and there, and soon a great bonfire is lit which burns hesitatingly at first, as if it knew its boldness in daring to appear at such a place, but soon flares brightly, throwing its light on the rainsoaked figures gathered around. Wet overcoats begin to steam. Food, tobacco, and warmth bring unspeakable comfort.
The Battalion falls in, slings packs, takes rifles, faces to the left.
"Forward march!"

Later in Verpel, which was reached about 2 A.M., were found many more dead horses and Germans strewn near hastily left, enemy transports, ammunition, and some pieces of artillery. In some of the German billets, the mattresses were covered with filth, apparently prepared for the coming Americans. Next day, November 3rd, in a hard rain and over the congested roads which had been in many places systematically destroyed by dynamite and time-fuses, the Regiment marched about six kilometers to Germont. This town, which was reached about 8 in the evening, had been vacated by the enemy some twenty-four hours earlier. Here appeared the first French civilians. At Germont the Regiment was billeted for the night and received a hot meal. So great was the congestion on the road this day, when the 6th and 42nd Divisions together with great numbers of ammunition wagons were advancing by the same route as the 77th, that the 3rd Battalion left the road and marched across the country, and was thus the first of the 308th to reach the day's objective.

A Brigade Order of this date from General Price reads in part:

The copy of the Corps Order herewith indicates a race for the Meuse. Have your men go as lightly (pack) as possible and catch up within a reasonable distance of Sheldon. I I told Sherrill, who 'phoned me the order, that if there was any damned brigade in the American Army that could get through, this one could do it.

From Corps Commander down, every one was being lashed on in the driving advance of these last days. What with the lack of food and sleep and the constant advancing, it was natural that all should be wearied out. A Regimental memorandum of the same date reads: " Regiment now located at Germont. Men pretty well exhausted but will be able to push ahead after a good night's rest." On the next day another Field Message from Colonel Hannay states:

Major Weld, 2nd Battalion, 3o8th, telephones: "The Commanding Officers of this B'n., the 1st B'n- 307th, here, and all doctors agree that officers and men are so worn out by sleepless nights, long marches, lack of food and fighting all day and night, that the straggling will be unprecedented, that men are not in condition to advance half the distance prescribed -let alone fight." I understand that it is absolutely necessary for us to push forward, and that the men must, and I believe will do to the best of their ability. The sick must be evacuated. This is forwarded simply to bring to your attention the true state of affairs in my regiment, which can be verified by all the officers, doctors and regimental surgeon. Nothing will be left undone to get regiment forward as far and as effectively as is physically possible this morning. I urgently recommend that if at all possible, night halts be made of sufficient length to allow men time for recuperation, and that two hot meals a day be given them for continued operation and efficiency.

But the racing divisions were allowed little time for recuperation, little even for food, and the daily advances, as indicated on the maps, show, in contrast to the usual kilometer or two made in the Argonne, now four, six and ten kilometers a day. The tide of advance, which in the Forest was checked and pent between narrow barriers into crinkly, closely-written lines, is now flowing forward in wide and generous curves like the waves of the incoming sea racing up a great stretch of beach.

For now the mounting tide of victory is setting in across the flat, bare lands between Grand Pre and Sedan, tossing on its wild crest all the confused flotsam and jetsam of hard-driven pursuers and pursued. For some it brings death, for all others, it brings intense effort and fatigue. Still on it is to sweep, swirling and roaring past the smoking and crumbling towns-passing in turn Verpel, St. Pierremont, Germont-passing Oches, Stonne, Ange-court-until at last it will reach Sedan itself. And then at Sedan, at 11 o'clock on the morning of November 11th, it is to cease with a sudden hush, as a great spent wave ceases at last in silence. And for a moment the living and the dead alike will be silent and at rest.

6

On November 4th, the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Battalions in order named left Germont at 6:30 A.M., and after passing through Authe-where Russian prisoners were encountered marching to the rear-came under shell fire. The enemy artillery and machine gun fire continued active during the whole day, particularly upon the towns of St. Pierremont and Oches and their approaches. The list Battalion occupied and outposted Hill 254 north of Oches, entering this town with the 2nd Battalion after dark. The 3rd Battalion in support took a position in the railroad cut to the south. The orders had been for the troops to push on further, but their fatigue was such that they were allowed to remain in the situations indicated.

The next day, November 5th, saw the last advancing fighting of the 308th. At 6 A.M. theist Battalion assumed attack formation on the southern slope of Hill 254 and half an hour later advanced, Companies A and D from right to left in attacking echelons, C and B in the same order in support.,, Machine gun resistance was immediately met on the northern slope of the hill. The support of the 37 m. m. gun was lacking as this had been put out of action by the breaking of a wheel on the approach to Oches. One of the two attached machine guns had also been lost through shell fire. In spite of this lack of support, the resistance was gradually overcome in the successive positions as the advance progressed. The artillery liaison officer, Lieutenant Hatimer, was killed early in the action. This did away with direct artillery support, except for excellent work done by the forward gun of the 305th Field Artillery. This gun through direct observation brought artillery fire to bear upon several enemy centers of resistance during the morning.

A platoon of Company C acted as a combat liaison patrol with a similar platoon of the 307th on the right. The remaining platoons of C under command of Lieutenant Reich were sent about 10,a.m. to approach Stonne from across the valley to the right. At 11:55 in spite of resistance of machine guns from the woods on the left flank, the advance had progressed so far that patrols from C on the right and A on the left were within one hundred yards of the town. These patrols and one from Company H were actually inside by 12:20 P.M. Only two prisoners were taken in the village. Their captor, Private Wolfe of Company C, conducted them to the rear,

Lieutenant Reich on his own initiative and in accordance with the verbal orders of the Battalion Commander, placed outposts on the northwest edge of the village, and these remained on post until relieved about 4 P.m. by an officer of the 307th Regiment under orders of Colonel Sheldon of the Regiment. The eastern exposure of the town was protected by the before mentioned liaison patrol of Company C, which had dug in on the right flank. In the meantime heavy artillery fire, beginning at noon, had caused D, B, and A on the left to prepare a position slightly to the south and west of Stonne. About 4 P.M. a battalion of the 168th Infantry, 42nd Division, over-took the left of our Battalion. Part of this battalion bivouacked for the night near the 2nd Battalion which was in support and camped to the rear of the first. Company A occupied Stonne at about 5:30 P.M. The rest of the Battalion pushed outposts to the hill northwest of the town, and occupied these positions until dawn.

For this last day of the Regiment's fighting, the Report on Operations states that the 1st Battalion had 1 killed and 21 wounded, and the 2nd, 3 wounded. Major Weld, wounded, was succeeded by Captain McMurtry as Commanding Officer of the 2nd Battalion. The day of extreme activity was followed by a night of intense discomfort. It was expected that the troops might be required to push on, and so a Regimental Order forbade unrolling packs. Cold and wet the men slept in the mud on the hillside. And it rained hard.

Some idea of general conditions at this time is obtained from an account furnished by Sergeant Jacobellis of C Company, describing what the liaison patrol already mentioned did on November 5th. After a few hours sleep in Oches, a platoon under Lieutenant Trainor reported to a Major of the 307th Infantry, and then started out on its mission as combat liaison patrol between the 307th and 308th. About 9 o'clock they came upon much evidence of the enemy's sudden departure, among other things a. great quantity of mail which there had been no time to distribute. Packs with reserve rations were found discarded on the field. While the Americans were "collecting buttons as souvenirs," an aeroplane suddenly swooped down and then disappeared. At La Berliere, midway between Oches and Stonne, a fine country house with gardens was investigated and found entirely empty. When Corporal Baldwin and Privates Bengall and O'Brien first entered La Berliere the inhabitants were afraid to show themselves. Soon, however, they offered a gracious reception with "well-sweetened coffee and black German War bread. Also cognac and wine." The inhabitants stated that the enemy had left at 5 o'clock that morning. While the discussion was going on in the town square, "a splendid automobile, with the official U. S. A. letters painted on its side drove up." The officer within (from another Regiment) "inquired what the men were doing, asking if Stonne had been captured."

March was resumed over rough hills and valleys, past open fields to the left with no tree or other object in sight. To the right, groups of trees and underbrush, valleys filled with high grass, and much of the ground covered with water. About 4 p.m. came a heavy barrage, "but with no resulting damage." To the party waiting and watching the shells burst, Captain Fahnestock appeared with a platoon of machine guns. Advance again. More troops, all asking if Stonne had been taken. Then from the road noise of advancing transports. Then shelling again, and the patrol dug in on the slope of the hill leading to the road. "The digging in none too welcome for men so tired, hungry, and wet." Now a noise of voices from the direction of Stonne. The civilians, "women, old people, and children," were, on account of the enemy's bombardment, moving out of the town under the direction of our M. P.'s on to the road already crowded with American transportation. At last C Company's kitchen is discovered in a half destroyed house in La Berliere. The platoon is welcomed by the kitchen crew who immediately furnish hard crackers. A better meal is promised later, and after such information as has been acquired is given to Lieutenant Young, the Company Commander, the start forward begins again.

A bad night, the rain which had begun at sunset coming down steadily. Corporal Baldwin and Sergeant Jacobellis go back to try and get food for the others from the kitchen. They discover that there is no kitchen; the bad condition of the road has prevented the transport keeping up. Returning to the Command, they are "thankful to find the men asleep, so that they were not obliged to explain that they had brought no food with them." About i o'clock Lieutenant Trainor decides to move on to Stonne. It is difficult to wake the men; the noise from the hard rain makes it necessary to yell loudly and touch each in turn in the complete darkness. " Then when they were awakened bombarding would start again, so it was decided to postpone moving until morning." About 6:30 the Company finally reaches Stonne, to find the rest of the Battalion lined up in the main street around the company kitchens, each man receiving a can of bully beef and a half dozen hard biscuits. Then the Company retires to the eastern slope of the hill outside the town and digs in, and builds fires. "The sun came out and the first cooked meal in many a day was enjoyed. There was also time to clean up a bit and oil the rifles."


At 6:30 on the morning of November 6th, the 1st Battalion was ordered to the woods east of Stonne as Divisional Reserve. The 3rd and 2nd Battalions in order named, and in support of the 307th Infantry assumed attack formations, and moved to Raucourt, about four kilometers north of Stonne, arriving there at 4 P.m. To the 3rd Battalion, halted and strung out for a time in column of two's, and waiting for the advance of the 307th, which had encountered some resistance ahead, suddenly arrived General Price. He ordered a patrol under Lieutenant Conn to get in touch with the 307th and find out what was holding them up. Too impatient to wait, he ordered another patrol under Captain Greenwood. But the men, with their packs, could not go fast enough, and so this patrol-more illustrious in rank than the one of the day before-finally resolved into a Brigade Commander as Captain, with Battalion Commander (Captain Breckinridge) as runner and Regimental Commander (Colonel Hannay) as connecting file.

The next day Regimental Headquarters and the 2nd Battalion together with attached Machine Gun Companies moved in a northeasterly direction, about two and one-half kilometers to Angecourt. The 308th, still in support of the 307th, was placed with elements of the 42nd Division and st Division on the outskirts of this village. The roads in the vicinity and the town itself were shelled intermittently during the night.

The position of the 2nd Battalion was protected from shellfire behind the ridge just east of Angecourt. The 3rd Battalion was in. woods to the southeast. Patrols were sent out to establish liaison and constant observation kept to the front. The Regimental P. C. and 2nd Battalion P. C. were at Angecourt, the 3rd Battalion P. C. at Haraucourt, and the 1st Battalion as Divisional Reserve at Raucourt.

The next four days brought no change in the position of the troops, except that the 3rd Battalion moved on November 8th from its position on the hillside into billets in Haraucourt. The men occupied themselves with cleaning arms and equipment. The rolling kitchens came up and hot meals were welcomed by the men, exhausted by the long marching during the previous week. In all thirty-eight kilometers had been traveled from November 2nd to November 7th, and these under peculiarly trying conditions. The marches of the first three days had been the hardest, namely, from Pylone to Verpel, ten kilometers; from Verpel to Germont, six; and from Germont to Oches, seven. The last three days' marches were from Oches to Stonne, five kilometers; from Stonne to Raucourt, six; and from Raucourt to Angecourt, four. For the last three days the troops depended largely upon food left behind by the Germans. The truck gardens, however, proved a great find, and at Haraucourt a sumptuous New England boiled dinner was enjoyed with -turnips, beets, and cabbages, and loaves of pumpernickel bread, three thousand of which were found in the town. To top the repast there was raisin pie. Distinctly an improvement on the Cruller Barrage of September 28th.

Meanwhile, rumors of peace grew stronger. For the 308th Infantry there was no advancing after November 7th, but other divisions were still racing northward, and the edge of the wave of victory was soon to touch Sedan. However, though intermittent enemy shelling continued as late as the night of November 10th, at Angecourt, Haraucourt, and Raucourt the Real Thing was practically over. And so Finit La Guerre!

The checking up of casualties now showed the losses between November 1st and 9th to be 3 officers wounded, 5 men killed, and 17 men wounded. These are the figures given in the Report on Operations and may be regarded as approximately correct. The figure for the losses in the Argonne have already been given. According to the Report on Operations, the total number of casualties suffered by the 308th Infantry between September 20th and November 10th was killed, 183; wounded, 796; gassed, 40; and missing, 261. The figures last mentioned are in marked variance with those furnished me by an officer who said he saw the Casualty Report for losses between September 26th and the Armistice, and that these amounted to 47 officers and 2,200 men.
Website by SchoolMessenger Presence. © 2019 Intrado Corporation. All rights reserved.