The scene that greeted the officers and men of the 353rd Infantry at Camp Funston in early September, 1917, resembled a great American factory more than a military garrison. Thousands of workmen were hurrying the buildings to completion. All day long hammers clicked and saws hummed. The frame work of a new structure would appear, and, as if by magic, the next view would present another building. Quite a number of the men entering military service had helped to build the camp; many others had watched the progress of its construction; all felt in this activity the thrill or the mighty movement that was claiming the attention of the country.
But this scene of industrial activity was soon to change to a scene of military activity. General Wood had arrived in Fort Riley in the latter part of August, 1917. He began immediately to line up his Division. General Order Number One, August 27, 1917, announced "Maj. Gen. Leonard Wood, United States Army, hereby assumes command of this Division." This order continued with the assignment of staff and commanding officers. General Order Number Two, August 31, 1917, which became and remained in all succeeding time number one in importance, provided for the sanitation and police of the camp. General Order Number Three, September 3, proclaimed the list of calls--Reveille, 5:45 a. m., and Taps, 9:45 p. m. General Order Number Four, September 4, gave the enlistment procedure and the initial training plan, "The training of the first five per cent of the new National Army men will be undertaken immediately upon their arrival, with the purpose of developing among them non-commissioned officers and instructors for the National Army men who will arrive later." Whatever the state of preparedness, General Wood knew the procedure and lost no time in putting it into effect.
Colonel Reeves, too, was on the ground. With these Division orders and a roster of his officers in hand, and his Adjutant, Capt. George Blackinton (later Lieutenant-Colonel Blackinton), at his side, he began his Regiment. His first order dated September 4, 1917, dealt with the assignment of officers. While no record can be found of the activity of Lieutenant-Colonel Hawkins, it may be inferred from his later practice that he was busy making out the schedule required by the Division Training Plan. Major Stedge, fresh from campaigns on the border, looked after cots and Captain Piatt, the Regimental Supply Officer, requisitioned equipment from the Quartermaster.
This Division Training Plan already referred to in Division General Order Number Four, September 4, began:
These "fundamentals" continued through the alphabet to (j) which was, "A lecture on obligations and rights of a soldier." Foot notes contained, along with general instruction, a rainy day schedule and provision for Officers' Schools. And so while the hammers still clicked and the saws hummed, military forces began to take over the camp.
On the morning of September 5, 1917, the first five per cent of the enlisted personnel began to arrive in the Regimental area, (the three rows of barracks and accompanying buildings at the northern end of the camp). As soon as the names of the men could be checked at Regimental Headquarters, all passed under the cold showers. When the surgeons had given each man a careful going-over from head to foot, he received his government clothing. Sizes were determined by the supply on hand, with a tendency to provide all garments plenty large. Occasionally a recruit would insist that the surplus in his denim overalls left no need for a jumper but that was not for him to decide. The supply sergeant checked ahead, "Two shirts O. D., one trouser denim, one jumper, etc." This was no time for argument. Civilian clothing was not allowed inside the barracks. It must either be sent home or turned over to the Belgian Relief Commission. True to the letter of the order commanding "immediate drill," men arriving in the morning were taken out to the drill field in the afternoon; and those arriving in the evening were in line the following morning.
By September 19, when the forty per cent increment arrived (approximately one hundred twenty-five additional men per company), the system of assigning new men to the different companies had been perfected. Each company now drew its own equipment allowance from the Supply Company and issued directly to its own men. The first uniform was blue denim overalls and jumper; non-commissioned officers wore the regulation uniform. With this exception every man, whatever his previous standing or condition of servitude, .wore the same uniform and passed through the same military channels.
The new companies were now up to previous war-strength. Training began in earnest. Reports from foreign fields quickened interest and effort. German successes in Russia, the beginning of the great offensive against the Italians, fixed attention on the enemy. Reports of Americans at the Front appealed as S. O. S. signals to the National Army men. The question uppermost in the minds of all was, "How long will training last?"
But more important at this time than the length of training period was the content of the program. Military authorities were agreed that new methods and organization must be devised to meet the conditions of modern warfare. Adaptation had already begun in the divisions over sea. But the results were still too new to warrant the formulation of a general plan for the entire American Army. Recruit drill, target practice and open warfare were problems unusual only in the time allowed for their conipletion. But just how training
in the new arms of infantry service, trench warfare, and, above all, the organization of the larger units were to be accomplished remained for the experiences of the future to decide.
The Division Plan, in conformity with War Department Instruction, called for the completion of recruit training within six weeks. On this basis, Brig. Gen. Frank L. Winn formulated a program for the 177th Brigade, composed of the 353rd and 354th Regiments of the Infantry. This program allotted the total number of hours from week to week for each subject. Lieutenant-Colonel Hawkins set the periods of instruction for each day. When the Companies moved out over Sheridan Point to the Forsythe Canyon drill ground on October 4, 1917, Company Commanders carried the following schedule:
It is easy to understand the monotony involved in the steps of these Schedules for men who had no view of the plan in which the Schedules figured.
Other conditions, too, were far from favorable to the most rapid progress. Equipment continued to be short. On October 14, 1917, the Regimental Bulletin contained this note:
On November 2nd, this notice was received in a Bulletin from Division Headquarters:
Barrack buildings planned for one hundred fifty men now were crowded with two hundred. As a result of this congestion various diseases made their appearance. But in spite of the inevitable monotony of drill, lack of equipment and disease, determined effort soon manifested itself in the military appearance of the new organization.
During the first six weeks, training was uniform throughout the entire Regiment. Every man was kept busy on Infantry Drill as per Infantry Drill Regulations. Divisional Plans, dated November 5, 1917, added several new objectives for the next period. Schools--Divisional, Regimental, Battalion and Company--were organized. Instruction was begun in the French language, bayonet fighting, grenade throwing, field fortifications, automatic rifles, and scouting. Members of the French and British Missions had arrived in Camp. These Officers had all been in the war since "fourteen." They could see little value in close order drill; modern warfare demanded "specialists." Emphasis shifted from drill to instruction. Each group of specialists formed a school. Another objective of the Divisional Plan was "the excavation of a Divisional Trench System on Carpenter Hill." Before the end of November a third objective included the construction of a detention camp for recruits on Pawnee Flats. Scheduled advance on a single objective had become monotonous; detail advance on four objectives proved bewildering.
In their efforts to supply details for all of these objectives, Company Commanders found schedules impossible. The following list was ordered for November 19, 1917:
When the guard and school details were added to this list, few were left on the drill grounds. To the men advancing on these varied objectives the Division Plan seemed to violate the Field Service Regulation. "Avoid undue extension and dispersion." But this "extension and dispersion" of effort, like congestion in barracks and shortage of equipment, were problems which arose out of the national policy of "preparedness" rather than out of the intentions of the Divisional Plan.
Meanwhile the range of one hundred targets had been completed in early December. All details were called in for target practice; organizations were reformed and the drive toward this new objective began with enthusiasm. General Pershing had emphasized the importance of target practice in a cablegram from France:
No part of military training appealed to the men so strongly as rifle shooting. The march to the range was full six miles over a hard macadamized road. Pit details had been sent ahead by truck and were ready for action when the battalions arrived. All day long the firing continued in shifts, without a stop until the light grew too dim, when the return march was made. But interest in scores seemed to overcome hardships. Officers of the Foreign Missions admitted that the soldiers of the Middle West were more expert at the beginning of practice than the average British or French soldiers were at its close. The campaigns show even more tellingly the effectiveness of the American soldier with his favorite weapon.
Target practice was completed early in the new year, 1918, and advance on the various objectives resumed. Digging on Carpenter Hill was hard work and slow progress. After the first foot or two the tough clay soil had to be picked loose. In some sectors rocks were near the surface. Fortunately a number of the men in the 353rd Infantry were miners. Digging, for them, was a welcome variation in the schedule. Generally, the men had to wait for the inspiration of machine-gun rattle and the burst of H. E. to really "dig in" after the first foot. Simulated occupation of trenches added a bit of interest temporarily, but it was evident already that "position" warfare did not appeal to these men of the National Army. Schools flourished in even greater variety. Emphasis upon discipline, courtesy, and uniform were the orders of the day. The best results appeared in the improved physical condition of the men.
Medical and dental surgeons worked over-time to sort out the "physically unfit for rigorous over-sea service" and to keep down disease in camp. Those who were scarcely able to survive the day's work three months before now finished with "pep." While the new soldiers were still a bit uncertain as to just how they would lick the German, they felt abundantly able to tackle the proposition without further delay.
Continued transfers seemed to indicate that the hope of American soldiers to remain in their own outfits was all in vain. Both officers and men grasped eagerly the instruction of the foreign representatives. American officers lined up to do the bidding of foreign non-commissioned officers. Anything to learn the game--but they were heart and soul with General Pershing in his insistence upon an American Army and an American sector for American troops. However, when General Pershing placed all of the American forces at the disposal of Marshal Foch in the critical days of the great German Offensive, the American soldiers were strong in their approval.
The Divisional Plan for February contained provision for organizations in training. Instruction in the various schools had been up until this time of an individual nature. Companies and battalions were now detailed in their entirety. General Orders Number 16, 89th Division announced:
In compliance with this order Companies "C," "D," and "G" of the 353rd Infantry were designated for the first turn at intensive training on Smoky Hill Flats.
In at least two respects this training fulfilled its purpose--intensity and organization. The Companies were lined up at the west gate of the Camp before sun-up and marched to Smoky Hill Flats, a distance of approximately five miles. At 8:45 a. m. the work began--bayonet training, grenade throwing, automatic rifle practice, trench and combat formations in unbroken succession. Here the men threw live grenades and did their first firing with the Chauchat Rifle. Kitchen forces, too, had their first experience in cooking on a field range. Company officers observed at "Attention." At four-thirty the return march was begun and entrance to camp was made under cover of darkness. When inquiry was made of the men about the new work, they replied, "You'll be glad to see Camp Funston before the week is over."
Perhaps the most important part of the work was the effort toward platoon and company organization. Men were picked for special training according to their fitness. Each group of specialists was marked with brassards and arranged in platoons. An attempt was then made to deploy in depth as well as interval. When Captain Bloc of the French Mission directed, "Advance in leetle columns at twenty paces side by each," he was asked, "What's the command and how do you execute?" It seemed too indefinite for a corporal to command, "Follow me" and move out with his men. And the opinion was prevalent that, in this particular, the Americans would do well to keep their own battle formation. As a matter of fact, formal drill was in conflict with modern, battle-field tactics.
These exercises revealed the need of emphasis upon more practical organization. Increase in the number of men in the different units and modern equipment demanded new formations and new methods of control. Instead of one hundred fifty men and three officers per company, there were now two hundred fifty men and six officers. In addition to rifles the infantrymen carried hand and rifle grenades, automatic rifles, bolos, and trench knives. Coordination and control of this increased personnel and these various arms of the Infantry Service appeared now as the problem of the future.
The solution of the problem came with the gradual development of leadership and team-work. Lack of experience on the part of non-commissioned officers at the beginning of training centered full responsibility upon officers. Officers had been occupied with details of instruction, police, and paper work. They had been forced to command rather than direct. Frequent transfers of personnel had contributed to this result. But now the "old men," those marked "indispensibles," began to shoulder the burdens. Repetition taught these men the game thoroughly and close association with the officers brought about full understanding. Bulletin Number 97, Headquarters, 89th Division, May 19, 1918, came as an inspiration in this direction:
And when the Regiment was finally brought up to war strength in May, 1918, the basis of the organization and its morale was laid in the loyalty and mutual understanding of the officers and non-commissioned officers. Fortunately, too, the replacements came into the hands of the non-commissioned officers in the detention camps before they met their future officers in the Companies. This experience fixed for all time and conditions the confidence of the officers and non-commissioned officers in themselves and each other.
When the 353rd Infantry boarded trains at Camp Funston on May 26th, its equipment was still incomplete; its training was still unfinished; and its organization untried. Every opportunity on the drill ground, in the schools, at the target range, in the trenches on Carpenter Hill, and on the training field of Smoky Hill Flats had been improved. Both officers and men realized the inadequacy of their preparation. But the call was accepted with enthusiasm in spite of the fact that these were the darkest days in the World War for the Allied cause.
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