Chapter 6 The Meuse Argonne (Second Phase)


Julius Ochs Adler
The Meuse- Argonne
Second Phase

THE 306th remained in Camp Buzon until October 31st, when all of the officers who had been granted three days' leave during the two weeks' rest period reported for duty. On this day we received orders to march to a position just south of St. Juvin and act as Brigade Reserve. During our two weeks' rest the troops which had taken over the position left by us on the night of October 15-16 had not advanced. On our march to the front it was again brought forcibly to our attention that another big offensive was in prospect. On every side could be seen camouflaged artillery in large groups, all aimed north. The battalions were echeloned in depth with about 200 yards distance and each occupied a position behind a succession of small hills.

Early on November 1st the ball opened, with the artillery fire very similar w that which we had heard on the early morning of September 26th. The 305th, in our front, advanced to the vicinity of Champigneulle, which was strongly fortified with machine-guns. The 78th Division, on our left, was making a vigorous attack against Bois-de -Loges; but the resistance was so heavy that they were not able to push through. The enemy was using the road through Champigneulle as a line of retreat and this was the key of the position. The attack continued throughout the day, but in the late evening the 305th found they could not crack the nut.

At ten o'clock that night Colonel Vidmer was called to Brigade Headquarters and placed in command of the Brigade. Again the Colonel decided to leave the Division sector and, writing a hasty note to the commanding general of the left brigade of the 80th Division on our right advising him of his intentions, he gave orders to the 306th to cross the Aire River east of the town of St. Juvin and during the night to take up a position behind the woods just south of Alliepont, preparatory to jumping off at daylight directly against the town of Verpel. Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin took command of the Regiment. The 1st Battalion was ordered to keep contact with the 305th on its left, and the 3rd Battalion went in to the right of the 1st; the 2nd Battalion following in support.

The advance started in perfect order at 7:15 on the morning of the 2nd. The town of Verpel had been heavily bombarded at the start of the attack and no halt was made by the 3rd Battalion when this town was reached. The 1st Battalion captured 16 prisoners in their mopping-up process. The 3rd Battalion pushed on at full speed through the town of Thenorgues, which was captured about noon. Nothing could stop the gallant Freeman with his 3rd Battalion. Again he pushed on, through the left edge of the town of Buzancy and changed direction against Bar, where he arrived at dark. Outposts were thrown out to the north of Harricourt and patrols sent into the town of Autruche. The depth of the advance for the day was 91/2 kilometers. Three machine-guns and two anti-tank guns were captured. Brigade and regimental command posts moved up to the town of Thenorgues.

We were delayed in starting the attack on the morning of November 3rd, waiting for the 1st Battalion to come up, but at 10 o'clock the attack proceeded in a northerly direction. The towns of Fontenoy and St. Pierremont were taken, and the front line pushed on to the town of Oches, where it arrived late in the afternoon. Here we met a hail of machine-gun fire, with its accompanying artillery support, and the line was taken up on the south and east of the town, where we dug in for the night. The depth of our advance was 61/2 kilometers and 16 prisoners were taken. We lost but three men wounded. Three 5.9 howitzers, eleven 77s, three trench mortars and one machine-gun fell to us that day. On the night of the 3rd the regimental command post moved up to Fontenoy.

It was on this day that Sergeant George H. Stang and Corporal William McCrane, of Company M, displayed great bravery in the advance on St. Pierremont. In the face of heavy machine-gun fire they went to the aid of a wounded comrade and brought him back to cover.

On November 4th the 307th Infantry went through our front line to, continue the advance, and the 3o6th, although in support, lost two men killed and twelve men wounded.

Colonel Vidmer was replaced in command of the Brigade and returned to the Regiment. Brigadier General Lenihan had been sent up to replace General Smedberg.

No advance was made by the 307th during the 4th, and on the early morning of the 5th it side-slipped to the left and our regiment took over the Brigade sector for the continuation of the attack-the 3rd Battalion on the right, the 1st Battalion on the left, and the 2nd Battalion in support.

The Boche were breaking and here our cavalry Colonel with great persuasive powers induced the new Brigadier to lend him all the mounts of the Brigade Staff. Finding some men who could ride, he put twenty of these men under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin and Lieutenant Ellsworth, giving them orders to proceed in extended order and without caution toward the town of La Besace.. Commands pertinent to the maneuvering of a large cavalry force were to be called loudly during the advance of this detachment. Whether this maneuver had any effect on the retreating force is not known. It would be extremely interesting to secure the notes of some German officer who commanded the rear-guard of the retreating enemy. In any case, when the Colonel arrived in his car accompanied by the new Brigade Commander, they found that La Besace had been evacuated by the Boche, who had taken up a strong position in the hills about one-half mile north.

It was during this advance that Lieutenant Ellsworth secured the much-coveted Cross by charging the enemy lines with a small patrol and developing their machine-gun fire to such an extent that he was able to give the most valuable information of the enemy's position when the Colonel arrived. Colonel Benjamin received for his part of the day's work a well-merited citation.

The Colonel's chauffeur, Color Sergeant Doxie, the Bri-gade sergeant major, and the Colonel proceeded in the direction of the advancing regiment, met them in the forest just south of La Besace and pointed out the dispositions to be made. The 3rd Battalion came up about five o'clock in the afternoon and immediately took up a defensive position.

For two, hours it held the front line alone. It had made a record advance. The 1st Battalion had been delayed by intense artillery fire in the woods at Franclieu and did not extend the line to the left in front of La Besace until late that night. The depth of our advance had been six kilometers. We had taken two 8" howitzers, one 6" naval gun, three light trench mortars and one heavy trench mortar, but we had lost nine men killed, and two officers and thirty men wounded. The regimental marker was prominently displayed in the little plaza of the town only a few minutes after the arrival of the Colonel and our airplanes came to our assistance. Two of our planes were shot down between the lines, and here the proverbial nerve of the American aviator was exemplified. Taxi-ing their planes about to face the enemy they turned loose with their machine-guns until we could put down a barrage of machine-gun fire in front of them to secure their retreat to our lines.

On the 6th the 305th went through our lines after we had taken up the advance. We followed in close support, losing one man killed and six wounded.

On the 7th, in close support of the 305th, we watched the 305th reach the Meuse River, the long-looked-for objective, and that night went into bivouac in and about the evacuated German hospital just west of Autrecourt. We lost one wounded. During the night elements of the 1st Division bivouacked with us and were fed by us from a stock of German cabbage, potatoes and small crackers found in large quantities about the hospital.

On the 8th the regimental command post was moved to Raucourt and the Regiment was echeloned in depth for the organization of this sector. The Regiment was bivouacked in Bois-de-Yoncq. On this date we lost one man wounded.

On the 9th the Regiment was concentrated in Raucourt, to be deloused and refitted; and here they remained until the Armistice at 11 o'clock on the 11th of November.

On the late afternoon of November 2nd, Lieutenant Czak had bivouacked the animals of the supply train in an abandoned church in Thenorgues. He had discovered some hay and the animals were in very bad condition. Here was a chance which he was not going to overlook. During the night the Boche sent some heavy shells in through the windows of the church and killed or disabled thirty-five of the animals. From then on until after the Armistice the Regiment was without its supply train.

After leaving La Besace large fields of growing cabbage were seen on all sides and our men proved to be good foragers. It was rare to see a man who was not supplied with at least two, heads, of cabbage. It did not, however, prove to be the best food for us, for on the morning of the 11th, when the World War ended, almost the entire Regiment was disabled by dysentery and diarrhea.

The Regiment had been accustomed for so long to the constant crash of shell fire and the drumming roll of machine-guns that the strange silence of Armistice Day seemed unreal. War had become the only reality; the men of the Regiment, who but a brief year before had been following a hundred varied civilian occupations, were now veterans, of some of the fiercest fighting in France. We had come a long way since those days at Camp Upton; those of us who, had doubted ourselves had been proved amidst the thunder of guns and had not been found wanting. We could take just pride in the achievements of our Regiment, knowing that the old "Three-Oh-Six" had done its bit well.

During the, advance since the 1st of November numerous instances of gallantry and courageous conduct were noted. Captain Robert P. Patterson, Lieutenants Raymond Berkman, W. H. Arnold, Owal C. Painter and James N. Henry, Sergeants Fred J. Godbaut, Company E, and Charles A. Robinsky, Headquarters Company, must especially be mentioned for their coolness and courage, and for their extraordinary devotion to, duty while under severe fire and under most trying circumstances.

And here we, must pay a tribute to that quiet and unassuming, loyal and faithful Chaplain Thomas J. Dunne, the one chaplain among the many we had assigned to us who had joined us at Camp Upton and had administered to us throughout all the campaigns. Disregarding his own safety at all times, he went to the assistance of the wounded and the dying and administered to them in their extremity. His splendid and constant bravery and seeming indifference to, his own safety were a continuing inspiration to every man of the Regiment and served to build up a fine sense of duty and soldierly obligation in the organization. "God bless him."

Our total casualties since September 26th had been 9 officers and 107 men killed, 13 officers and 522 men wounded, 3 officers and 42 men gassed, 24 men accidentally wounded and 75 men missing.

On November 12th, the "big show" over, the Regiment started for the rear, and that night reached St. Pierremont; but here orders were changed. Several divisions were to be sent into Germany and our regiment was detailed to hold a part of the line while these divisions were refitted and ready to go forward.

On the 13th the regimental command post was moved to Beaumont, and on the 14th to Luzy on the Meuse River. The 1st Battalion was in the vicinity of Luzy, the 2nd Battalion at Autreville, the 3rd Battalion at Luzy; and we remained here until the divisions designated for Germany moved through the lines.

It took us some time to realize that the war was really over; not until we took up the sector along the Meuse and faced a strangely silent "enemy" did we fully comprehend that the "Minnies" and the "cans," the grenades and the enfilading fire of machine-guns would speak to us no more. No Man's Land was still desolate and scarred by battle, but no longer dangerous; the nights were no longer livened by alarms; the excitement of the days was limited to "chow." It was a strange aftermath to fierce fighting.

During these four days the sentinels on our outpost line were in close contact with those of the enemy. There is no "official information" on the subject, but it is commonly rumored in the Regiment that Iron Crosses and canteens of coffee were mutually exchanged. The war was over, so what difference did it make? The Boche had proved himself a hell of a fine fighting man!

On the 18th we started our sixty-mile. march back to our rest and training area, passing through the towns of Bar, Fleville, La Chalade, Les Islettes, Chehery, Le Neufour, Triaucourt, Br,izlau, Auzecourt, Ville-aux-Vent, Valcourt, Arnancourt, Baudonvilliers, Bielly, Colombey, Colombey-des-Deux-P-glises, where the 1st Battalion arrived on the 4th of December. On the same day the Regimental Head-quarters was established at Juzennecourt, the 2nd Battalion at Sexfontaines, and the 3rd Battalion at La Chapelle. The 306th remained in these billets until March 1st, 1919.

The men were at once deloused and refitted, lost equipment was replaced, and billets were renovated and put in first-class order. The cry now was, "When do we go home?"

The war was over, but little did we understand the problem which now faced the staff of the S.O.S. Ships had to be made available and France had over two millions all voicing the same cry. There is an old saying in the Regular Army, "Work a soldier or he will work you"; and this must have been the basis on which the training section at General Headquarters scheduled the work which we underwent during the three months we were in these billets. Drills became the order, each detail had to be perfect. Every staff officer had to inspect. Maneuvers were on the program. We hated it, and at that time we did not see the necessity for it; but now as we look back on this period we can understand how bored, dissatisfied and impatient we would have been if G.H.Q. had not kept us busy. Wise men, those Black Braids I

On December 15th Colonel Vidmer was detailed to, Paris to start the organization of a new section of the General Staff and then we lost the man who had been the first officer of the 77th Division to arrive at Camp Upton and prepare for our reception, the man who had organized us, trained us and had fought with us from the beginning to the end without the loss of a single day.

After Colonel Vidmer's departure, the Regimental Head-quarters, remained at Juzennecourt until February 18th. Then, for another two months-months of that cold, rainy French winter-Headquarters was at Grez-en-Bourre. At last, on April 16th, the long aftermath was over, and the Regiment, which had been selected to return to the United States on the same transport with the Division Commander, General Alexander, and his headquarters, moved to Brest. We sailed from Brest on April 19th on the Mt. Vernon. We were crowded and cramped aboard ship, but no longer were there orders to "Douse that glim," or "You can't sleep there, soldier I" And we did not mind discomfort, for we were going home I

The Mt. Vernon docked in Hoboken-good old Hoboken in the early morning of April 25th, and the Regiment was immediately sent to, Camp Mills, where it remained until the day of the Seventy-seventh Division parade. We had known we were home when we had seen the Statue high above the harbor; we had known we were back in
"God's country" when the skyline of Manhattan took shape out of the morning mist. But not until the Seventy-seventh Division paraded up Fifth Avenue did we really under-stand how much it meant to be back again, and how glad New York and the nation were to have their own return.

The "Three-Oh-Six" bivouacked in the 71st Regiment Armory the night before the parade; and on May 6, 1919, as a part of the Seventy-seventh Division, we marched up the Avenue from Washington Square to 110th Street. It was a fitting finale to the days of work and training at Camp Upton, the weeks of fighting in France, and the waiting -the long waiting-in between. All of New York was there, a million people marshaled in precise rectangles on the sidewalks, a million more straining behind police lines a block away. For forty-five minutes as the Division marched past in mass, formation, Fifth Avenue was "a river running bank-full with olive drab and steel." Forty-five minutes of cheering, of bands and songs and smiles and tears-and then at 110th Street General Alexander, with long-stemmed roses across his saddle-bow, fell out of line to take the Division's last salute. . . . The war was really over. . . .

That was our day of glory, and the rest-like the long wait in France-was aftermath.
Following the parade, the Regiment broke into two groups. Those men who had been trained at Camp Upton were sent back to that old familiar "city of barracks," while the Regiment's replacements who had been drawn from all over the country were first returned to Camp Mills and then sent back to cantonments in different parts of the nation for demobilization. There was little time lost in those last few days of the life of the 306th Infantry. Hearty handclasps, "So long's" and brief farewells. . . . Hurried departures. . . . Men all over the country going back to civilian life.

On May 9, 1919, the "Three-Oh-Six" officially went out of existence. But its traditions and its achievements and the memory of those who died in France live on.
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