Word came on September 13th that the patrols from the 42nd Division had met patrols from the 26th Division pushing southeastward from the western face of the salient. The real purpose of the St. Mihiel offensive was accomplished. The railroad line from Toul to Verdun was now cleared and lateral communication between the northern and southern parts of the allied battle line had been shortened by many kilometers.
The men of the 353rd Jnfantry were proud of the impression their division had made upon the enemy. A German field order picked up during the drive characterized the 89th as "a good American shock division and one that sent out many strong patrols." They were especially proud of the esteem in which they had come to be held by the veterans of the Second Division. The 353rd Infantry had advanced side by side with these regulars made up of the 9th and 23rd Infantry and two regiments of marines. It was good to hear these old boys say, "Buddies after our own hearts." And a great friendship sprang up between the two divisions based upon mutual respect for each others fighting ability.
A mere command would have sent the men of the 353rd Infantry on to the Hindenburg line--less than a thousand kilometers to the front. In fact, there was quite a bit of curiosity about this famous Hindenburg line. Humors had reached us that its shelters and the parapets of its trenches were built of solid concrete. As a matter of fact it was simply a line of great natural strength along high ground. This was nothing new, for in all the fighting experience of the 353rd Infantry Fritz held the high ground. It was our business to take it away from him. But orders were to organize a new defensive position along the line now occupied. We who were being "strafed" day and night by the German artillery could not understand the halt. We did not know that reserve artillery had begun already on the night of September 12 to shift to the Meuse Argonne sector. As the hours went by, Fritz evidently expected the big offensive to continue on to Metz. At any rate he increased his artillery fire with all his might and kept our ambulances busy hauling in the casualties.
The men of the 353rd Infantry were quick to see that their only safety in "digging in." Some had lost their shovels and had to make out with a bayonet or mess-kit lid. But it was surprising what progress could be made with these implements under the inspiration of high explosives. Even Captain Portman, six-foot-six and big all over, was soon out of sight. Men who had lost their shovels salvaged others wherever they could find them. From this time on no man was without a shovel. Gradually fox holes were dug deeper and soon developed into trenches.
As casualties increased, orders became more and more rigid. Officers and men were placed in arrest if they appeared above ground in the day time. This new sector soon took on the desolate appearance of the old positions around Limey. However, the aviators furnished some exciting diversion. For the first few days after the offensive, the allies robbed Fritz of his freedom of the air as well as his "freedom of the seas." Our planes were everywhere as soon as a German birdman appeared in the sky. Each circled and
dipped as they maneuvered for position, then a flame would burst out and down like a rocket would dash some poor devil to his death. In one battle six planes went down in less than fifteen minutes. It was up to the aviators to keep Fritz in darkness about the movements going on behind our lines. And they did their duty well.
September 13th the marines charged up the slope at Mt. Plaiser Farm. Without artillery support, machine guns cut their ranks to pieces. Some of them were blown into the air by direct artillery fire. Three monster tanks, the only ones we had seen up to this time, glided into action but soon returned. The task was too costly without artillery but on the next day when our guns arrived they put it across.
Meanwhile the men kept straining their eyes in the direction of the kitchens. The supply train had many difficulties in reaching the new positions and not until the night of September 13th did any hot food reach the men out on the line. The German food found in Xammes had helped out immensely for the time being but it lacked the quality of permanent satisfaction. The kitchens were finally established in Bouillonville and hot food was hauled out every night after dark. There was only one regular meal a day but there was plenty of it. In addition to the regular meal, there were generous supplies of "bully beef," hash, tomatoes, and hard bread. With these extra supplies and the heat of solidified alcohol, the men managed to supplement their regular meal to their entire satisfaction.
The town of Bouillonville was not only a convenient location for the kitchens but proved in many other respects the most valuable find in the 353rd Infantry area. It lay along the Rupt de Mad just back of a steep hill in complete safety from hostile artillery. The Germans had had a field hospital here, bathing facilities, many gardens and other conveniences. Our artillerymen had been careful in their preparation for our advance to drop their shells on either side but very few had fallen in the town itself. The Germans, however, in their attempt at a hasty retreat had left things in hopeless confusion. Wagons piled high with all manner of household equipment were standing in the streets. Driver and horses had been killed by the fragments of high explosive shells. The train with its little cars heaped up pell-mell was standing over on the narrow gauge tracks. It, too, was caught in the barrage before it could be pulled out. Dead cooks were scattered about their kitchens where they had been busy preparing the noon meal. Doubtless this little town had been home to many of them, so long that they could not readily leave its tasks and treasures, or perhaps they did not think that the offensive would reach them so quickly. At any rate, waiting cost many of the occupants their lives as well as their possessions.
When our men first came to Bouillonville, they picked up souvenirs and passed on. But soon details were at work putting things in order. In a few days the wreckage was cleared away. The Red Cross opened up quarters. The showers were promptly put into
operation. Groups of men came in from the line for baths and much needed change of clothing. Mother Fitzgerald and Miss Hermance were adding touches of service here and there that made the whole community seem civilized.
But the weather had begun to be cool and it was only with the aid of German blankets and material that the men escaped suffering. Conditions of food and shelter and the constant shell fire began at last to tell on the nerves of the men. Timely relief came on the night of September 18-19. The 354th Infantry now took over the sector. After midnight, the battalions marched back in rear of Bouillonville. The regiment was now designated Divisional Reserve. Time was to be spent in rest and training.
Holding the line had tested the men even more severely than the offensive of September 12th. There was a kind of satisfaction and excitement in driving the enemy from his positions, but when it came to lying still for six days under his artillery fire it was almost more than the men could endure. But, in the experience, the men of the 353rd Infantry had learned among other things to respect reserve rations, to "dig in" and to keep down in their holes. They were now seasoned soldiers.
In our first battle we had captured many prisoners and much material; we had helped to straighten out the St. Mihiel salient, and had helped establish and organize an entirely new line of defense which was held by the American troops until the armistice. It was a good piece of work, and the men felt they had earned a little rest.
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