There was no delusion about the situation at the front when the 353rd Infantry moved up on the night of October 19, 1918. Reconnaissance parties had noted the intensity of the struggle in the numbers of unburied dead scattered about over their future sector. Field Order Number 82, of the 32nd Division under date of October 16th, announced advance on the left and included the following instruction for their own forces:
"No ground now held will be abandoned, but if necessary to obtain more favorable positions, local advance may be made. The Commander-in-Chief yesterday personally gave instructions to the Division commander that every foot of ground gained must be held at all costs. And he desired this impressed upon all ranks. Every man who had individually worked forward will form a rallying point for others coming up and the ground so gained by small groups will be held to the last. No falling back from the present outpost line will even be considered."
This order in full had come down to the companies of the 353rd Infantry with the endorsement of Division, Brigade, and Regimental commanders. While the phrase, "all shot to pieces," had been ruled out, there was plenty of evidence that the 32nd Division had suffered many casualties. The sector ahead was a desperate proposition.
It had been reported that the enemy was retreating at other points on the line. Military critics had said that this sector formed a pivot and if it gave way, the whole German army to the north would be lost. German orders were, therefore, to hold here at all cost. To our front was one "Bois" after another and the terrain a succession of hills and draws. The enemy had concentrated large numbers of machine guns and artillery with intent to hold. The machine guns protected by sniper's posts built in trees. Our enemy was on the defensive in possession of every natural advantage and fighting what he must have known to be a death struggle.
The First Battalion took the lead under command of Captain Portman. Captain Crump, broken down completely, had been evacuated to a base hospital. The route to the new positions led through open fields, past Gesnes, into the heart of Bantheville Woods just west of the town of Bantheville. On the line one company relieved a battalion, one platoon a company. It seemed all out of proportion, but such was the measure of casualties in the retiring division. Shelling was very severe and the First Battalion suffered quite a few casualties before reaching the positions. "D" and "C" Companies were on the outguard, supported by Companies "A" and
View the Chambley-Mort-Mare Map.
The 353rd Infantry Takes Part in Meuse-Argonne Offensive 113
"B" respectively. Reconnaissance, however, had been thorough and, once in the area, relief was effected within two hours after it had been commenced.
Shelling continued with increased severity. Captain Portman was severely wounded while standing at the telephone in his Battalion P. C. Command passed to Capt. Allen Barnett of "A" Company. Captain Portman reported back on foot to the Regimental P. C., and was evacuated to a base hospital. His services in the World War were over. In addition to the losses from artillery fire, machine guns took their toll. Woe to any man who stepped out into the open to survey the line which wound its way through the dense under-growth, marking the advance limits of the position.
On October 21st, it fell to the lot of the First Battalion to relieve troops of the 178th Brigade to the right. Reports indicated that they were in position some two hundred yards ahead. Inasmuch as the Second Battalion was already in contact with the enemy in their own position, some confusion as to situation and procedure resulted. One thing, however, was clear the woods must be mopped up before relief could be effected.
At this point in the narrative, it seems best to submit statements from official reports. From the report of Major-General Wright on the Meuse-Argonne operations from October 19 to November 11, 1918, covering the situation just after the 32nd American Division had been fully relieved on October 19:
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"The 89th Division had been informed that the Bois de Bantheville had been cleared of the enemy and that all that was necessary in order to completely hold these woods was to mop them up. It was found that these woods were held in force and that the mission assigned was not one of mopping up but was virtually an advance against strong and stubborn resistance.
"The afternoon of October 20th orders were received from Fifth Army Corps (Field Order No. 48) for the attack of the line Hazois Woods, Hill 253. General instructions required that the attack be made by one brigade with the second brigade in reserve. In preparation for this Field Order No.35 was issued directing the 177th Brigade to take over the entire front, placing the 178th Brigade, with the Divisional Machine Gun Battalion, in Divisional Reserve. This relief was finally accomplished after midnight October 21-22. The enemy's scattered stragglers and occasional machine gunners in the Bantheville Woods, and his persistent gas shelling through the east central part of the woods impeded the operation of the relief . . . . . . . . .
"On 21 of October, instructions were received . . . . . to adjust the boundary line with the 42nd American Division. This was accomplished thru Field Order No. 37 by the leading brigade of this division taking over, on the night of October 21-22 the front as far as Tulerie Farm from the 168th Infantry, 84th Brigade, 42nd Division."
On the same day, October 21, 1918, at 15 hours, Field Order 38 was published directing that the two battalions of the 178th Brigade then engaged in mopping up the northern part of Bantheville Woods to complete the operation. When this mission was satisfactorily completed they were to be withdrawn and form a part of the Divisional reserve. On the night of the 21st of October, the First Battalion of the 353rd Infantry completed the relief of the units of the 178th Brigade except two companies of the First Battalion of the 356th Infantry which remained in a forward position.
Terrific shelling and gassing together with close-up machine gun and sniper fire from all directions, indicated that the woods had not been cleared of the enemy. Relief could be effected only with great difficulty and severe losses. The situation was reported to Brigade Headquarters. An order came in reply directing First Battalion of the 353rd Infantry to advance to the north edge of Bantheville Woods and clean the woods of all the enemy. The time for the jump-off from the funk holes which had been occupied by the relieved elements was set for one o'clock without barrage.
Companies "A", "D", "C" and "B" formed in line from the western to the eastern edge of the woods along the general line ordinated from east to west as 87 on the Buzancy map. In the morning of October 22, the day of this advance, the two companies of the 356th Infantry moved northward in the woods and were located in the
The 353rd Infantry Takes Part in Meuse-Argonne Offensive 115
northern and eastern interior of same where they were practically cut off until the time of their relief by our advancing companies later in the day, as they passed through their positions to the edge of the woods.
Extracts from the original field messages sent back by the Company Commanders after reaching their objectives are hereby given as indicative of the opposition they encountered before reaching their objective extending along the road bounding the northern edge of the woods:
Company A, 353rd Infantry:
"This company occupied position in Bois de Bantheville 05.44-87.95 as left company of the outpost Battalion.
"Received orders to move forward in northeast direction and clear woods of enemy with objective the sunken road. . . . edge of Bois de Bantheville at this point.
"Machine gun fire encountered. Approximately six guns in our sector. Got in good fire as enemy fled up open incline on our left.
"Our casualties six killed and eleven wounded.
"Our objective reached at 15:30 hour and position consolidated."
LIEUTENANT R. M. HULEN,
C. O. Company "A"
Company D, 353rd Infantry:
"Determined machine gun resistance was met with on the left, holding up the advance, the company being ahead of the units on the right and left. Brought the Stokes Mortar into action although limited to a few rounds.
"The advance being held up on our right, Corporal Wolf and Pvt. Charles Summers flanked the gun, killing one and capturing one of the enemy gunners, thereby putting the gun out of action and making continued advance of the company possible.
"Two machine guns captured and drove out nest of five or six with the Stokes Mortar.
LIEUTENANT F. M. WOOD,
Comdg. Co. D."
Company B, 353rd Infantry:
"Germans threw up hands and called "Kamerad." Lt. McCave ordered a Sergeant (Sgt. Ware) to carefully approach and bring the prisoners in. Our men must have exposed themselves; the Germans opened fire killing three and wounding four of our men.
LIEUTENANT FRANCIS LEIGH,
Comdg. Co. B."
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Company C, 353rd Infantry:
"Immediately on leaving our positions were harrassed by enemy snipers using machine guns.
LIEUTENANT V. D. HUNTER,
C. O. Company C."
The official report of operations of the Regimental Staff, dated October 25, 1918, sent in by Colonel Reeves commanding the 353rd Infantry, gives a statement of the situation. Extracts follow:
"In addition, the constant sniping and bursts of machine gun fire, together with the reports of our patrols, announced that the enemy still occupied- in considerable force the northern half of the Bois de Bantheville, this despite the efforts on the 20-21 of October of the First Battalion, 356th Infantry, to mop the woods.
"At 8:00 a. m. Colonel Reeves proceeded to the First Battalion P. C. and directed that the woods be cleaned of the enemy, and that the elements of the 356th Infantry be immediately relieved.
"On the left "A" Company ran into some very stiff opposition, but put out of action four or five machine gun nests, captured seven guns and was on its objective by 16:30. Likewise Company "D", "C" and "B" enlployed the same tactics and met the same kind of opposition, with perhaps the severest coming to the part of "B" Company.
"The elements of the 356th Infantry were at once relieved by platoons of "C" and "B" Companies, as they passed to their objectives around the north edge of the Bantheville Woods.
"The total amount of enemy property captured comprised 10 to 12 machine guns, two 47 mm. cannon, and numerous maps.
"Our casualties were 11 killed and 27 wounded."
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These facts from the records, however, do not give the real story of the performance of the task. Lieutenant Chalmers, historian of the First Battalion, tells it in his own words.
"It was nearly noon on October 22nd when the order came to complete the mopping up and advance to the objective--a sunken road at the northern edge of the woods. Companies "A" and "D" formed on the left and "C" and "B" on the right. By this time it was 12 :30 and the jump-off was to take place at one o'clock. There was to be no artillery preparation and no barrage. Two large patrols were out and in danger should our Stokes mortars, one-pounders, and machine guns be used for barrage purposes. Their return at 12:50 brought a profound feeling of satisfaction. All watches had been synchronized. The forward movement began simultaneously all along the line.
"The advance had progressed but a few paces when it seemed like all of the machine guns in the world were put into action. Deadly flanking fire came from a clearing to the left front. The Stokes mortars section had only nine rounds of ammunition. It was a short range of two hundred and fifty yards. When the direction and range had been indicated, Sgt. H. E. Bailey of the one-pounder section, placed the mortar between his knees and fired the whole nine rounds. The machine guns in this quarter were completely out of action. Later Intelligence charts showed a great number of German dead in this particular spot as a result of Sergeant Bailey's work. The advance continued in skirmish line by filtration process.
"At length a path is reached. It must be crossed quickly for it affords a field of fire for a machine gun on the flank. Madly a sergeant dashed forward. He made it safely but the whole woods was alive with the rapid firing guns. He ran directly into the face of another nest. With a bullet hole through his chest Sergeant McDaniels came to his last halt. His body remained standing, braced against a low bush. Even in death he leaned forward as if to push aside all resistance. Nearby another dropped, crashing down through the dense undergrowth. The branches and leaves sprung back into position, covering the body from view. 'Will he ever be found?" was the wild thought of the moment. But it was only for a moment. The line must go forward. The woods must be mopped up.
"Thus, foot by foot and yard by yard, the advance continued until the edge of the Woods was reached. This was the objective. Ahead lay an open field with another forest just beyond. The enemy were running across the open ground to secure cover. "Give 'em hell' was the cry. Loud oaths rang out when a shot missed its mark. The fleeing figures disap-
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peared into the forest like rats into their holes. It had been a nerve racking ordeal; some cried, some swore, and others yelled at the top of their voices as if to make the impression of Indian warfare complete.
"The enemy attempted no counter-attack but his artillery continued its activity with increased effectiveness. The advance had been trying enough but the Battalion must hold its position in the little salient that had been won for nine more days. Day and night, the enemy kept up his firing with machine guns, trench mortars, Australian Whiz Bangs, and every other type of available artillery. Enemy planes swept low back and forth over the woods registering new targets on every appearance of occupation. Every little depression in the terrain was filled with poisonous gas. Every day the casualty lists thinned our ranks.
"The persoanel shifted in rapid succession. Captain Barnett was relieved by Major Peatross on October 22nd. Lieutenant Dolan, in command of Company "A", had given way under the strain and Lieutenant Hulen took command. Captain Dahmke took command of "C" Company. Sergeants were in command of platoons and corporals in command of sections.
"Every hour brought its hair-raising episode and miraculous escapes. One of our own big shells came over. It carried a German address but somehow dropped short in the midst of our own soldiers. Four were killed and eleven wounded including one officer. 'Don't tell the captain I'm hit until the rest of the men are taken care of,' was the self-sacrificing statement of Lieutenant Metzger. One hysterical man cried out, 'Let's go back.' 'Nobody goes back. To the holes at once,' was the command of Captain Wood. Obedience was mechanical in its execution. A rocket notified the artillery of their short range and the enemy suffered this punishment after the trial shot.
"While the First Battalion 'carried on' out on the outguard line, the Third Battalion held the support position farther back in the woods where shelling and gas were but little less severe. The Second Battalion formed the Brigade Reserve and was located on the south slope of Cote-Dame-Marie, known to us as 'Horseshoe Hill.' Immediately after the First Battalion had advanced to the edge of Bantheville Woods, Companies "G" and "H" were added temporarily to the Third Battalion in support. It was a busy time for the entire regiment.
"Men of the Second and Third Battalions carried food and supplies to the First Battalion over four kilometers of a muddy, slippery path through the woods. The enemy knew this path to be our only line of communication and shelled it heavily at all times. Marmite cans scattered at random along the way and occasional doughboys covered with blankets, sleeping their last sleep, told the story of many a party that had been shelled out before reaching its destination.
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120 Regimental History 353rd Infantry
"Along this same road, Captain Fox and his first aid men had held on with their station until the last one of them had to be evacuated to the base hospital. All day long stretcher bearers carried the wounded and gassed to the rear. Cost what it would, the men of the 353rd Infantry hung on. They did more than hold their positions, they made preparations for offensive action. Reconnaissance parties from the Second and Third Battalions moved out daily toward the front line to inspect the jump-off positions and take a glimpse of 'No Man's Land.' As soon as the other units along the line were ready, the regiment was prepared to go over the top. Thus, time dragged on to the day of the final offensive on November 1, 1918, which marked the beginning of the end of the World War."