Almost before the battalions had halted on their way back to the positions as Divisional Reserve, orders came to relieve the 356th Infantry in the Beney subsector. We were "out o' luck" again. This new position was just to the left of the one previously occupied in the vicinity of Xammes. Company commanders and platoon sergeants dragged themselves wearily back to the front line on the night of September 19th. At the very time of the reconnaissance the Germans attempted a raid on the 42nd Division (Rainbow) occupying the sector to the left. As a consequence the reconnoitering parties received a hard shelling as a welcome. The first impressions of this sector were, therefore, anything but favorable.
Fortunately, the relief was postponed for twenty-four hours and we were given another day to clean up and replace shortages of essential equipment. Even in this position on the southern edge of Beau Vallon woods we had not escaped the shelling of Fritz's long-range guns. There was considerable speculation about the location of these guns that followed us with their devilish H. E. shells. Rumor had it that we were receiving fire from the fortifications around Metz, but this was only one of many rumors. The situation of most concern was the return to the front line where Fritz registered so many direct hits.
On the night of September 21-22 after a march of more than twelve kilometers over muddy roads, carrying heavy packs and new supplies of ammunition, the Second Battalion again entered the outguard line. Just before entering the open space between Xammes Woods and Dampvitoux Woods the battalion had been held up by vigorous shelling but the relief was effected in good time without casualties. Our outposts extended from the broad gauge railroad track on the left where we had a liaison group with the famous Shamrock Battalion of the Rainbow Division, along the northern edge of Charey Woods, across the low open ridge to about a kilometer east of the northern tip of Xammes Woods where we connected up with the outposts of the 354th Infantry. The companies on the outguard line from left to right were: "G," "E" and "H." "F" Company was in support in the northern edge of Dampvitoux Woods. During the day time troops in the open meadow drew back to alternative positions in the Xammes Woods. The First Battalion was in support, back farther in the Dampvitoux Woods. The Third Battalion was in reserve immediately west of Beney. Regimental Headquarters were established within the confines of this shell-frequented little town. The rear echelon remained in Bouillonville. Thus the men of the 353rd Infantry again found themselves actively opposed to the enemy.
Enemy outposts were approximately five hundred meters to the front at Marambois Farm in the Dommartin Woods and at Grand Fontaine Farm. Their main line of defense was along the partially entrenched and fully wired "Michel One" or Hindenburg position connecting the towns of Dampvitoux, Dommartin, and Charey. The German high command expected a renewed offensive against this part of their lines and prepared to defend it at all costs. Opposed to us was the 88th Jaeger Division--a fresh, well-rested organization of high morale. This division was supported by very unusual concentration of artillery which kept up a harrassing fire on our positions day and night, increasing to the proportions of a bombardment in the early morning. Moreover, German observations was almost perfect. From the steeples of Dommartin and Charey, the enemy could detect any movement outside of the woods in the day time and the appearance of a single man in the open ground brought down a storm of shells.
To make matters worse for us, the organization which we relieved had moved out to this advanced position only a couple of days before and had done practically no digging. But every man had his shovel with him and soon excavated a hole three or four feet deep. Some even added splinter proof covers of heavy boughs and dirt. They were then secure against everything except the dreaded "direct hit."
Lieutenant Dunn, the supply officer of the Second Battalion, brought the kitchens to within a kilometer and a half of the outguard line. Details carried cans of hot food to "E" and "H" Companies each evening which the men supplemented with canned stuff cooked over solidified alcohol fire. "F" and "G" Companies were able to reach their kitchens under the cover of the woods and managed to enjoy two hot meals a day. But it was the same old wearing routine of position warfare for all.
The 356th Infantry had been relieved upon condition of a raid on Dommartin Woods. On September 22nd, they prepared a temporary battalion P. C. and first aid station in the "G" Company sector. Early in the morning of September 23rd the First Battalion of the 356th Infantry passed through our lines on the left and entered Dommartin Woods, capturing three prisoners. They were supported by a heavy barrage which brought down a heavier counter-bombardment on the entire 353rd Infantry positions but Fritz evidently figured that the attacking battalion would retire along the railroad and laid his heaviest fire on the positions occupied by "G" and "F" Companies. In the darkness of the woods and heavy downpour of rain, the returning troops lost their way, became separated and suffered many casualties. Direct hits in our positions were numerous. "First Aid" came from every quarter. The medical detachment of the raiding battalion had failed to reach their station. Runner Shaffer made his way through the woods during the bombardment to Battalion Headquarters. Major Peatross immediately lined up every means for the relief of the situation. Practically every man
in Companies "G" and "F" except those on the outguard line left his hole to bring in the wounded. Company and battalion first aid men did their best for the sufferers and details were soon on their way carrying them to the rear.
The time was drawing on toward the beginning of the Meuse- Argonne offensive. Activity on our part was necessary to hold the attention of the enemy in this sector. Hardly had we recovered from the effects of the bombardment of September 23rd when the Second Battalion was ordered to furnish a raiding party to clear Dommartin Woods. A general bombardment was to take place on the enemy lines from 11 p. m. until dawn. Major Peatross named Companies "G" and 'H" to supply fifty men each for the raid. Company commanders of these companies volunteered to lead their respective parties. But just before dark orders recalled the raid and instructions followed, "Dig in for your lives." The general bombardment which marked the beginning of the Meuse-Argonne offensive was on. The enemy expecting an attack on this part of his line would surely pound us in this sector with all of his might. Every minute until the shells began to tear through the tree tops, the men plied picks, shovels and axes with feverish anxiety. Holes were deepened and cover piled over them.
At 11 o'clock our bombardment with 2417 guns began. Fritz began "strafing" in reply and kept consistently at it throughout the night. Shells of all caliber were distributed over the area of the 353rd Infantry with a special concentration along the railroad. Time seemed to stop as the men calculated the destination of shells from their peculiar whistle. Whenever indications pointed to one with "our number on it" men hugged the bottom of their fox holes a little closer. Some held muscles as rigidly as possible to keep themselves in hand; others grasped the walls of their shelters. Several direct hits were recorded. Sometimes when two were in the same hole, one would be taken and the other left. Among the casualties appeared quite a number of shell shocked cases. Finally the most terrible bombardment yet experienced came to a close.
At daybreak a German plane flying low over our positions tried to discover why no assault had taken place. Once more the high command received a painful surprise. They had miscalculated the intentions of their opponents. Instead of continuing the drive toward Metz, the first American army had gone over the top west of the Meuse in the initial stages of the great Meuse-Argonne offensive. The general bombardment had served its purpose well. The German divisions hurriedly brought to defend Metz were at least a hundred kilometers from the scene of the new offensive.
After September 26th the High Command hurriedly withdrew some of the forces opposite us in their general attempt to stay the advanced Americans in the Argonne. Artillery fire became less active. Two or three days of fine weather brought back the spirit of the men and activity on our part continued. Each night we dug trenches along the outguard line and strung wire in front of our po-
sition under the direction of officers and non-commissioned officers of the 314th Engineers. The impression was abroad that we would "dig in" and hold the line for winter.
Every evening a patrol went out under the direction of Lieutenant Melvin, scout officer of the Second Battalion, to keep contact with the enemy and reconnoiter the wired zone around Dampvitoux and Dommartin. The patrol on the night of September 27th did not draw enemy fire and the leader was unable to report contact. There had been persistent rumors of wholesale withdrawal on the part of the enemy in this sector. Brigade and Divisional Headquarters insisted upon information. The following order came from Brigade Headquarters September 28th:
Accordingly Lieutenant Melvin organized a patrol from the scout personnel of the Second Battalion and moved out in broad daylight to reconnoiter Dommartin Woods. As soon as the three men in advance had entered the thicket, the enemy opened up with severe machine gun fire. Scout Lukins was captured. Scout Norby, although severely wounded, hid in the woods until night when he managed to drag himself back to our lines. Contact with the enemy had been established, but the only man ever taken prisoner from the Second Battalion was now in the enemy's hands.
The morale still remained high in spite of all these trying experiences. But many weeks in the front lines in the Lucey sector, the offensive of September 12th, the occupation and organization of the new line, the long nightly marches, and continued exposure to the rainy weather had begun to tell on the physical resistance of the men. At last on the night of September 30th, after ten days in "Suicide Woods," the 353rd Infantry was relieved by the 356th Infantry but only to take up the sector to the left.
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