In the night of August 22-23, twenty-four hours after the experience of the gas attack in the support position, the Third Battalion relieved the Second Battalion in the front line trenches. "L" and "M" Companies were placed in the front line, "M" Company at the shell-torn village of Limey and "L" Company extended the line to the left. "K" Company supported "L" Company, while "I" Company formed the support for "M" Company. "L" and "M" Companies each had one platoon located in the trenches which ran along the Metz highway, forming the outpost position for the battalion.
Nightly patrols went out from the battalion. Volunteers for this work were plentiful, for everyone wished to make a trip into the notorious "No Man's Land." All had read and heard numerous tales about this disputed section of the battle-field and many wondered what it actually looked like and what could be found there. However, patrolling lost favor with certain members of the battalion on the night of August 29th. On this night, the division had ordered a demonstration of flares and rockets of every description in order to familiarize the men with their appearance. Unfortunately, three large patrols were scheduled to go out this same night of the exhibition. At 9:00 p. m. the skies in front of the battalion position were illuminated with fireworks of every description--red and green rockets, parachutes, yellow smoke rockets and flares all helped to decorate the sky. "Fritz," not being accustomed to such demonstrations, took the matter more seriously and let go with everything that he possessed in the form of artillery, machine gun and gas equipment. In the meantime, the three patrols, one led by Lieutenant Pine, another by Lieutenant Seith and another by Lieutenant Messerole, were operating in "No Man's Land." This sudden outburst of fireworks from behind and artillery from in front made them feel that they were between two fires. They did not know which way to turn. Lieutenant Leedy carried a flashlight on his belt and through some mishap the light was turned on at this critical moment and blazed its defiance directly toward the Boche lines. This minor illumination was greeted by a shower of machine gun bullets from the Boche and the members of the patrol proceeded to hug the earth. Enemy artillery shifted to "No Man's Land" and members of the patrols soon found themselves very uncomfortably situated and decided that a change of position would be beneficial. This change took the form of a rear guard action. Members of the patrols could be seen sneaking:across "No Man's Land" into friendly trenches the greater part of the night. The fireworks had no doubt been instructive to some, but they caused patrols to lose their popularity with others.
During the time the 353rd Infantry had occupied this "quiet" sector, it had taken on life and activity. The Boche were becoming
nervous. They were sending out nightly patrols that reached our outpost positions and even made efforts to cut off advance listening posts. German observation balloons increased in numbers and could be seen at all times above their lines. Enemy aeroplanes made frequent trips over the lines and it became apparent that they were anxiously seeking information. It is true that the enemy had cause to become excited, for behind the lines the Americans were massing artillery of every description; six infantry divisions were concentrating on the right of the salient. Night after night the roads leading up to these lines were congested with traffic; supplies, ammunition, caterpillars and everything necessary for a big battle were being hauled forward.
Anxiety on the part of the enemy to gain information expressed itself in another form on the morning of August 21. Just before dawn a large well-organized raiding party came through the old trenches of "No Man's Land" which connected the opposing lines. These trenches had not been used for over four years but the enemy was thoroughly familiar with the system and knew all the vulnerable points.
A heavy bombardment on the positions occupied by "L" and "K" Companies preceded the raiding party, while a box barrage was laid down on "L" Company's outpost position along the Metz road, which was held by the First Platoon of "L" Company, commanded by Sergt. Harry C. Hyndman. The 354th Infantry was to the left of this position and the space between the two regiments was covered by a combined liaison post from each regiment.
The raiding party considered this portion of the line between the two regiments as the most vulnerable, and following their barrage closely, advanced toward the liaison post. As they approached, several Germans called out in good English, "Don't shoot. We are from the 354th." However, Corporal Billings from Company "L," 353rd Infantry, in charge of the post, having heard of such tricks before, became very suspicious, and after investigating the matter, learned that a party of the enemy was approaching. He ordered his men to withdraw, firing upon the enemy all the while, and upon reaching his platoon, told Sergeant Hyndman of the enemy's approach. The sergeant was on the alert and already had his men well in hand. The enemy were on the left flank in V-shaped formation; a point of six men was in the lead while others followed close behind. A larger body formed a support and remained about three hundred yards to their rear. They were approaching rapidly down the trench occupied by the platoon. The point had reached the first dugout which had but a few minutes prior to this been vacated by "L" Company men, and were throwing hand grenades into them. The support was already getting a machine gun in place. The situation demanded immediate action. Just at this time Corporal Rice, who was returning from a listening post to learn the cause of the excitement, was caught in the trenches by the hostile point walking along the parapet. He immediately brought his rifle into action.
His first shot killed the leader while his second shot wounded one of the others. The point retreated in confusion. In the meantime, Private Sundin had taken a good position with his automatic rifle and was playing havoc with the advancing Germans. Sergeants Hyndman and Hight had organized the remainder of the platoon in a skirmish line reaching from the Metz road south two hundred yards and were advancing on the opposing line, firing as they moved. Major Blackinton's foresight had prompted him to send a trench mortar outfit from Headquarters Company to support the First Platoon, but unfortunately it was not in position to shoot to the extreme left flank. The trench mortar seemed to be useless at this time, but Corporal Westfall in charge was determined to get into action and proceeded to support the mortar with his hands and knees, while one of his men fed it with ammunition. The trench mortar played on the German support with such deadly effect that it broke and ran, followed by those in advance. Two dead Germans were left by the fleeing troops, but they succeeded in carrying away the wounded. Prisoners taken the next night said that the raiding party had carried back six of their dead and twelve wounded.
The situation met by Sergeant Hyndman and his platoon was a serious one, for the Boche raiding party outnumbered his force at least three to one and it was made up of special storm troops who had had plenty of experience in this sort of work. The artillery support given them was all they could ask for. The attack, coming as it did in the early hours of the morning, was an acid test for new troops and usually got results, but the conduct of the Third Battalion men was worthy of veterans of several battles. They had met the attackers aggressively and beaten them at their own game.
The rest of the men in the battalion made the important discovery as a result of the bombardment that shell fire is not fatal to every one within ear shot; that it takes a good many thousand rounds of artillery ammunition to cause a few casualties. The ground and trenches occupied by "K" and "L" companies were literally covered with shell fragments after the raid but little damage had resulted. On the whole, the net result of the raid was extremely valuable to the men of the Third Battalion and only made them more confident of being able to go over the top when the time came and drive the Boche from the trenches that he had occupied so long.
On this occasion the battalion won the distinction of being the first in the 353rd Infantry to come into actual contact with the enemy and draw German blood. Curiosity on the part of the Boche had been satisfied. He had learned the caliber of the troops opposing him and had received a sample of what to expect in the future. The enemy had failed in his purpose to take American prisoners; "L" Company suffered only five casualties; these were not serious enough to be evacuated. The men had shown the true American fighting spirit and had gained absolute confidence in themselves and in their leaders.
Although the Third Battalion had left the front lines for ten days, it was necessary to advance the lines about one kilometer forward in preparation for the big offensive that was soon to take place. This was done on the night of September 2nd, "L" and "M" Companies taking over one of the old trench systems about twelve hundred yards north of the Metz road while "K" and "I" Companies were placed in the positions which the other two companies had left. The move was successful. The new positions were used several days later as the jump-off line for the regiment in the great St. Mihiel drive. The battalion ended its eventful tour of duty in the front lines of the Lucey sector on the night of September 4th and moved back to Manonville to the reserve position after two weeks in the front line.
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