One of the most difficult phases of a great military offensive is getting troops up to the jump-off line. Each battalion of the 353rd Infantry had its own problem. Manonville had been turned over to the Second Division and the evening of September 11th found the Third Battalion in Minorville Woods almost 10 kilometers from the front line. For two days the rain had been falling incessantly. Everybody and everything was wet and disagreeable. So the men were glad when orders came to march to Minorville where the men of the Third Battalion were to take trucks for their positions on the jump-off line. Hardly had our train reached Noviant, three kilometers on the way, when the roads were so blocked that it was necessary to detrain and proceed on foot. Time was passing; there was but one thought--the Third Battalion must be there.
Some men of the Second Division had lost their way and were over in our sector. Part of them continued their movement toward the front; others were moving back for a new start. The road was so crowded it was necessary to move in a single file. Even then lines were continually broken by small bodies of troops cutting across and milling from one side of the road to the other. Four files of infantrymen were moving up and down the road in the darkness at all times with an occasional machine gun company thrown in. Traffic was frequently blocked by ambulances, trucks, and stranded pieces of French artillery. The rain continued to fall and in places water and mud were already knee deep.
In spite of difficulties we struggled on, for "tomorow was the big day"--the day of the St. Mihiel offensive. We were to be in the trench behind the Metz road by 11 p. m., for the bombardment was to start at one o'clock in the morning. One o'clock came and with it the terrific bombardment. Not a man of the Third Battalion had arrived at the trench. We were still on the congested road doing our best to get there. By three o'clock each company was reported in place. It was to be a wonderful experience. Everyone wanted to be present.
In the trenches no one seemed to mind the knee-deep mud. We were soon to leave for "No Man's Land." The tremendous roar of our guns was music to our ears for we knew they were playing havoc with the Boche across the way. At 4:30 a. m. we moved forward through the wire, so as to be immediately behind the first line trench at 5:25 a. m.--"H" Hour for us. Here we waited in great anxiety and impatience for the big offensive to commence.
The Third Battalion followed the Second in support until the fourth objective had been reached. Part of the time during the advance to this objective the men were almost on the heels of the as-
saulting waves. In fact, eagerness to get forward had led the men into the dangerous error of telescoping. But Fritz had already received too much of a shock from his first contact with the Yanks to think of waiting for heavier blows. So by 11 :30 a.m. the Third Battalion was on the final objective of the first phase of the St. Mihiel offensive--the ridge over-looking the Rupt de Mad south of Bouillonville.
We continued to hold and develop this position until 6 p. m. Detachments pushed forward on the right through machine gun fire and cut off traffic on the Bouillonville-Thiacourt highway, preventing the retreat of the Germans in this direction. On the left of the line groups swung around and entered Bouillonville. Sergt. Harry J. Adams followed a retreating German into town and discovered that the enemy were hiding in a certain dugout on the side of the hill. He fired his pistol into the entrance and ordered all inside to surrender. Three hundred prisoners including seven officers filed out and were marched to the rear. Sergeant Adams established the record haul for the day.
But the halt on the first day's objective was not to last very long. As the advance had progressed, orders were received at Division Headquarters to continue on to the army objective. The Chief-of-Staff, Lieut. Col. Kilbourne, personally directed Major Blackinton to continue immediately to the army objective in the vicinity of Xammes which was originally scheduled for capture on the second day.
Advance toward this new objective was made without resistance. But the battalion was soon overtaken by darkness. The Chief-of-Staff rode back to the Regimental P. C. in rear on the fifth objective and notified Colonel Reeves and the Brigade Commander, General Winn. He assured them that the 26th Division on the left was already well on toward the army objective and that the Marines were taking position on the right. "The honor of the division," he declared, "is at stake. The 89th must fill in the gap."
The situation was one of extreme difficulty. Night was on. No one had had a daylight view of the positions to be taken. The Third Battalion was already advancing in the direction of Xammes, which was to be on the extreme right of our new outguard line. Colonel Reeves promptly directed Captain Crump and Captain Peatross to proceed with their battalions to the high ground beyond Bouillonville, while he hastened on ahead with his staff to the new position. When he arrived there, it was dark and impossible for him to get the lay of the ground.
Nevertheless, he again assembled the battalion commanders and a few other officers and tried to give them the situation on his map which was the only map available. In order to do this, he formed a little circle of his staff, threw a shelter half over their heads to keep in the light of his flash and showed them to position on his own map.
So saying, Colonel Reeves with his staff moved off to some shelter in a cut north of Thiacourt for a little rest.
In the meantime, the Third Battalion continued to advance slowly but surely toward their position on the army line. The men had fought hard during the day. They had had but little to eat and canteens were low. Previous loss of sleep, the strain and excitement of battle taxed their strength to the utmost. The men were dead on their feet. Suddenly, loud explosions broke the stillness of the night and huge flames shot up, illuminating the sky above the enemy lines. Everyone began to wonder what had caused these outbursts of flames. Many thought our artillery had hit an enemy ammunition dump, but our artillery was busy moving up and behind our lines all was quiet. Other flames sprang up and then it was apparent that the enemy was destroying material as he retreated out of the salient. The victory was complete. With renewed inspiration the men plodded on toward the army line.
Finally a halt was called. The men breathed a sigh of relief as they began to "dig in." Soon the battalion was sound asleep in fox holes, but their slumbers had to be disturbed. The objective had not yet been reached. With difficulty, the men were awakened and the march was resumed. Just before dawn the Third Battalion took its position with the right flank resting on Xammes, while the line extended to the west six hundred yards. "I" and "K" Companies held the outguard line while "L" and "M" formed the support. Once more the men began to "dig in." It was none too soon, for observers from the Hindenburg line a thousand yards to the front had detected our arrival and greeted us with a heavy shower of large caliber shells.
Colonel Reeves did not remain long in the shelter above Thiacourt. He was anxious about his regiment and soon set out to check up the positions of the battalions. With his party he moved toward Xammes expecting to pass through the Second Battalion in reserve and the First in support, to the Third Battalion on the army line, but no trace could be found of these battalions. Some marines were stationed along the Beney-Thiacourt road, but they knew nothing of the Third Battalion or any troops of the 353rd Infantry. Evidently the marines had come up to this position after our troops had passed on to the army line and our troops were on ahead. No one could be located on the left flank at all. There was nothing to do but wait for daylight. So Colonel Reeves withdrew with his party to Bouillonville, trusting that his battalion commanders would have their battalions out of sight in the morning.
Daylight found the Third Battalion on the army line. Both the First and Second Battalions were "digging in" beyond the Beney-Thiacourt road. Patrols had been pushed to both flanks but no friendly troops could be found. The Second Division was not on the right and the 355th Infantry was not on the left. A counter-attack might be launched at any moment and the 353rd Infantry with the Third Battalion on the line and the First and Second in support
would have to resist alone. The situation looked precarious. Early in the morning of September 13th Major Blackinton sent back the following message to Colonel Reeves:
During the forenoon of September 13th troops from the 354th Infantry moved up on the left but were greeted with such terrific shell fire that they were forced to retire. Colonel Reeves was on the ground and realized the seriousness of the situation instantly. He sent Captain Dienst across to find out who were these troops. When told that they were a battalion of the 354th Infantry who had gone too far forward and were retracing their steps, he personally directed Lieutenant Benning and Captain Dienst in locating them temporarily in nearby trenches.
Gradually, organizations found their place on the new line. A Divisional Machine Gun Company joined the Third Battalion on the army line. The First Battalion took up positions in support about one kilometer south of Xammes and the Second remained in reserve along the Beney-Thiacourt road. Regimental Headquarters were established in Bouillonville. The 354th lafantry came up on the left and the marines moved forward on the right. Shelling continued throughout the day. Fritz was getting direct hits in various portions of the regimental sector. There was nothing to do but to hold on until our artillery could catch up with us later in the day.
This was the most trying warfare that the men of the regiment had yet experienced. It was easier to go ahead than to lie still, and especially to lie still without anything to eat. The men now looked back with regret upon the hastiness with which they had used up their reserve rations. In spite of the danger some men ventured out into the town of Xammes in search of food.
They rejoiced in their discoveries. Fritz had left material of every description behind in his hurried evacuation of the town. It was not long before men in khaki were putting it to good use. Rabbits, vegetables, honey, bread, apple-butter, even beer and wine awaited the hungry men in a captured store-house. Sacks, too, were available to carry it to the positions. Kegs of beer were maneuvered to P. C. amid the bursts of enemy shells and the shouts of joyous Kansas prohibitionists. Each battalion came in for a share. Stretcher bearers carried the wounded to the Third Battalion Aid Station in Xammes and brought back on their stretchers food and drink for all. It was a grand feast and morale soared.
When their appetites had been satisfied, the men set about the problem of making themselves comfortable. Huge feather-beds and comforters were borne in triumph to the funk holes. Some Boche aviators came over our lines. The spectacle seemed to have had the same effect on them that a red flag has on a bull. Shelling increased. Orders followed forbidding anyone to leave his funk hole during the day and at night everyone was kept busy on the development of the new defensive line.
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