The activities of the 353rd Infantry in the Lucey Sector center around the town of Limey. For four years this little town, shell-torn and deserted except for a few soldiers, lay on the border of "No Man's Land." Trenches were in front of it, through it, and back of it. The ruined church could be seen above the surrounding buildings from all parts of the advance position. Its steeple, only partially intact, was a registration point for German artillerymen; and the crowded cemetery in the rear was still frequently disturbed by high explosive shells. In one corner stood a little open tomb with a marble cross at the head. There was a story connected with this cross. A German machine gunner had made his implacement in the tomb back of the cross. The French soldiers in the counter-attack, refusing to fire toward the cross, had taken him by main force. This method had cost them fearfully but it gained the approval of all who heard the story. And so historical interest combined with locations made Limey the land mark of the regimental sector, and positions came to be indicated from Limey.
When the First Battalion took over the outpost for the second time on September 4, 1918, Company "D" was assigned the position to the front and immediately to the left of Limey. Company "B" held Limey and to the right; Company "A" and "C" were in support to the rear.
The 89th Division had been in the line a month. During this time the sector changed from a "quiet" to an "active" sector. Efforts on the part of the Americans to gain information had aroused the suspicion of the Germans. Every movement brought down "Strafing." Reliefs under these conditions were accomplished with great difficulty. The platoons of Company "D" had to cross an open space of three hundred yards to reach their position; but thanks to Fritz's methodical tendencies of dropping shells at this particular time the platoons reached their objectives in safety between bursts of fire. Lieutenant Jones with his platoon held the forward position on the right of the Company sector; Lieutenant Metzger with his platoon held the center, and Sergeant Knowles with his platoon held the left flank; Sergeant Hammond with his platoon held the reserve position along the Metz road on either side of Company Headquarters.
The three platoons in the forward position covered a front of about five hundred yards. Dispositions were so made that the intervening ground between the various combating groups could be covered with automatic rifle fire. The groups, however, were too widely scattered to support each other. It was necessary to maintain a regular system of communication between the different groups by means of runners. In case of attack each group was to hold to the last man.
Holding the outpost line was the most trying duty that fell to the lot of new soldiers. The following field messages tell of the difficulties in getting up water and supplies:
On the same day came this reply from Lieutenant Smith, the Battalion Supply Officer:
Nor did the difficulties end with the simple delivery of rations and water.
The mess sergeant had his greatest trials with the kitchen stove. Charcoal was short; wood must be burned. But the wood could be used only in case the smoke was thoroughly camouflaged. All in vain--Fritz had spotted the kitchen. He immediately got busy and seat over one of his "barrack bags." The kitchen force recognized the peculiar sizzling and groaning of this one and made for safety. The sound of the explosion was unusual; a direct hit on the kitchen produced a loud clatter among the utensils. The stove itself and the cans were perforated like sieves by the fragments. Fortunately no one was hurt and since "chow" is three-fourths of the doughboy's life, Fritz would have to pay dearly for this inconvenience a little later. The kitchen stove was removed and the damage repaired. From that time on cooking was done under the camouflage of darkness.
But the difficulties did not end with cooking; carrying the food from the kitchen to the men out on the line in heavy marmite cans was the hardest kind of work. A long pole was run through the handles of these cans. One man on either end placed the pole on his shoulders and started tandem fashion down through the winding trenches to the different messing stations. In some cases the journey was more than two kilometers. All of these efforts were necessary to the simple maintenance of a bard life in the trenches.
The mission of the men on the outpost line was to give warning of an attack and delay its action until the troops on the line of resistance could be called to arms. Guard had to be maintained at all hours and "stand-to" was observed both at dawn and dusk. An enemy patrol or raiding party might attempt to penetrate between the outpost positions. It must be repulsed; at any rate, no one must be taken prisoner. The ten days allotted to each battalion on the outpost line fairly used up the strength and vitality of the men.
All went on in the usual rounds until 4:50 on the morning of September 7, 1918. At that minute the enemy suddenly opened up with his artillery and it was soon evident that the entire company was surrounded by a box barrage.
No time was lost in preparations to meet the attack. Rockets for a counter-barrage were immediately sent up. One lone gun from the supporting artillery responded. It was up to the doughboys to make their stand alone. The possibilities of a hostile attack had been
thoroughly discussed. The enemy would try to break through on the flank; so Lieutenant Hunter with half of the reserve platoon moved to the right flank; Lieutenant Wood with the cooks and headquarters men, about twenty in all, moved to the left flank. The entire company was on the line and ready to resist to the last.
About seventy-five of the enemy had hit Sergeant Knowles' platoon on the left flank and forced part of the men out of the trench. "Potato masher grenades" were flying thick and fast. One lit at the feet of Private Baird. Its explosion sent fragments of steel through his legs, but he continued to fight on and hold his ground. In the darkness a mix-up had taken place. Hand-to-hand fighting kept the Germans from accomplishing their mission on this part of the line.
As Lieutenant Wood came up he saw a group of about fifty to the left and to the rear of the left flank platoon. He quickly deployed his force at right angles to the front line trench. It was impossible to identify the men in the group. The question arose, "Could this be some of Sergeant Knowles' men who had fallen back?" This situation was rendered doubly uncertain when one in the group ahead called out in good English, "Don't shoot." Lieutenant Wood, pistol in hand and ready for action, moved up to investigate. He ordered his men to keep low and hold fire until the command was given; for, if they were enemies and firing should begin he would be caught between the lines. As he crawled forward he called in a low tone for the pass word. A moment went by, but it seemed like ages. Could this man have forgotten the pass word? Many of them were French names, difficult to remember. While these thoughts were crowding through the minds of the men, the reply came--a flash of fire followed by the report of a pistol. The shot went wild. The Lieutenant was ready and replied with a hit. The figure standing apart fell to the ground. Completely forgetting all commands and Lieutenant Wood as well, the skirmish line opened fire; here was Fritz, let him have it-had he not knocked the kitchen out yesterday? What had he done that was good? But for him they would all be enjoying life back home. But Sergeant Taylor had the men well in hand. He remembered Lieutenant Wood, checked the fire, and gave orders to advance. The men met Lieutenant Wood crawling back to join them. Again they opened fire and the group disappeared in the darkness. The skirmish line followed close behind to the wire entanglements where the enemy was making desperate efforts to escape. Three were captured; two others received severe wounds. As the retreating foe passed Corporal Phillips' outpost he opened up with his automatic rifle; killed two and captured one prisoner.
The situation had been puzzling to the men in the other two platoons. Fighting was going on on the left and to the rear; rifle bullets whistled over their heads, but no enemy appeared. The barrage caught the extreme right of Lieutenant Jones' platoon; two were killed and four wounded. Sergeant Wimmer in the center platoon crawled up out of the trench in an attempt to make observations.
A sentry in the next firing bey took him for an enemy and opened fire; the sergeant was instantly killed. Each platoon had suffered losses in doing its part.
As the barrage lifted, the first gleams of daylight appeared. The battle had lasted only a few minutes. The enemy had gone, carrying with them many wounded and leaving eight behind. A check was made in the company--three dead and seven wounded. It seemed miraculous that the losses were not greater. The raid had been repulsed and now a report must be made. The following order pays an indirect tribute to those who shared in the fight and prints the stamp of victory on the result:
All needed information had been obtained from the captured Germans. The enemy, instead of gaining, had given information. The losses were keenly felt in the company. It was sad to see these men make the supreme sacrifice at this, the very bginning, of a glorious campaign. For even while this raid was on, artillery was moving into position to open the way for the big drive on September 12.
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