In spite of the punishment which the enemy inflicted during the nine days of occupation in this sector, there was no let-up in the preparation for the big offensive. Higher authorities had profited by the experience in the St. Mihiel offensive. Instead of keeping information secret, companies now held schools to explain the terrain and tactics of the future offensive. Almost every man had a look at the battle map. Many corporals carried sketches showing objectives and landmarks. Runners and platoon leaders had looked out over "No Man's Land." Full information brought confidence. "D" Day found the men of the 353rd Infantry well prepared for the fight.
On the day before the battle came the final instructions in the following form:
HEADQUARTERS 89TH DIVISION, FRANCE
* * * * * * * *
NOT TO BE TAKEN INTO SECRET
FRONT LINE TRENCHES October 27, 1918.
TO BE READ AND IMMEDIATELY DESTROYED
You can expect heavy counter-attack before you reach the woods. It may come just after you enter the woods but it will probably come and come hard. It may come while we are halted on an objective. It may come while we are in motion. In any case, we must hold our ground. First Line Battalion must immediately develop its full fire action in place, mow down the enemy and capture any of them who penetrate among us. Warn your men about this. The Boche will try to surprise us. Be constantly on the alert for it. There is no question but that we can whip him. The more of them we get in the counter-attack, the fewer we will have to fight later on. When he counter-attacks he plays our game, but we must be ready.
Don't worry about fire on your flanks. When that comes, it is a sign we are succeeding. We are pulling the other people forward. We are getting inside the Boche lines. We are hurting him and if we drive resolutely forward, we are going to defeat him badly.
* * * * * * * *
We can expect bitter fighting--many machine guns. To overcome this we must have full development of fire action,
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great development in depth and resolute determination to go forward at all costs. The more we hesitate the greater will be our losses. The halts on our objectives are taken according to the best previous experience in order for the infantry to be coordinated with the barrage. All other halts should be avoided. Troops must drive on and leave strong points to be mopped up by the support detachments. This mopping up must not be neglected however,--special detachments detailed will be for it but the assault elements should pass on and gain the main objective.
* * * * * * * *
This division accomplished its big share in the St. Mihiel drive in company with the veteran divisions of the American Expeditionary Forces. Now, at a time when the allies have this great opportunity to win, we have again been selected for a big task and in company best guaranteed to succeed. We must take our objectives. The corps commander, commander-in-chief, the Allied Governments count on us. This can well be the climax of the Division's service. That's what we have all been living for. Burn this into your minds. Tell it to your men. Hold them together. Set your teeth. Put it across.
OFFICIAL:--FRANK WILBUR SMITH, Major, U. S. A.
Actg. A. C. of S. G-3.
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Battle formation of the regiment was the same as had been used in the St. Mihiel offensive. Our men were familiar with it and each one understood the part he was to play. The Third Battalion, accompanied by the Regimental Machine Gun Company, led the way. In all offensives the Regimental Machine Gun Company had found its place with the assaulting waves, and the line companies felt great confidence in its support. The Second Battalion followed the Third in its assault. The First Battalion, under command of First Lieut. Vernon D. Hunter, was in reserve. Capt. F. M. Wood was in command of the combat liaison group with the 90th Division on the right. This group consisted of Company "D," a machine gun platoon, and a like force from the 90th Division.
Lieutenant Gallenkamp tells the story of the assault.
"Enemy shell fire was so continuous and severe that it was a serious question as to whether the Third Battalion should relieve the First Battalion before the jump-off, scheduled for the morning of November 1st, or whether the Third Battalion should simply come up and pass through the First Battalion at "H" Hour. It seemed certain that many casualties would result in making a complete relief ahead of time. Nevertheless, it was finally decided that the relief should be made. For some unaccountable reason, enemy shell fire practically ceased at dark on October 30th. The lull lasted barely long enough for the relief to be made. There were no casualties until the last elements of the relieved battalion were moving into their new position. It was a most difficult relief to make because most of the elements had to move through two kilometers of shell-torn thicket to reach their positions, but it was completed by 11 p. m.
"On the night of October 31st, immediately after dark, all packs were carried to a point near the edge of the woods in the center of the sector where they were left under a small guard. Company "I" then moved out about 200 yards in front of the woods on the left and "dug in" on the jump-off line--only a few yards from the advanced elements of the enemy. Company "L" moved up to the edge of the woods and occupied the ground vacated by Company "I." All our men were in position at 11 p. m. Between 10 p. m. and 11 p. m. our artillery put over a very heavy gas bombardment on the Bois de Hazois. The enemy artillery replied vigorously but most of their shells went over our battalion in an effort to reach our artillery.
"From midnight until 3:30 a. m. on the morning of November 1st, opposing artillery exchanged only the usual courtesies in keeping with that branch of the service. At 3:30 a. m., however, our artillery opened up with one of the most terrific bombardments which had been conducted during the war. By 3:40 a. m. our battalion admitted freely that the enemy counter-bombardment compared quite favorably with our own fire. The fact that we experienced this particularly severe enemy bom-
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bardment at this time was explained later in the day when enemy maps taken from their artillery positions showed that the artillery of five German divisions had been trained on the forward position of the Bantheville Woods in anticipation of the attack.
"It sounded now as if every gun of both armies was in action. The noise was deafening and the earth fairly vibrated. Finally, after the ear had become somewhat accustomed to this tremendous roar, the cracking sound of machine guns could also be detected, together with the whistling of machine gun bullets which were passing over our heads from our own machine gun barrage. It was all quite wonderful and had an inspiring effect upon the doughboys who were awaiting the jump-off. Nothing gives the infantrymen more confidence than the roaring sound of friendly artillery. The sound of shells flying overhead and dropping on the enemy's lines and the explosions across the way, were as pleasing to the ear at such a time as music had been before the war.
"Before long the roaring sound became monotonous to the tired soldiers and many of them fell asleep amidst it all. It was interesting to note how unconcerned these American soldiers were just before plunging into battle. Those who could not sleep langhed and joked and guaranteed to treat with Fritz in a proper manner before the day was over.
"About 4:45 a. m. the enemy bombardment began to roll back. Apparently the enemy knew that we were going to start something and decided to pound our support battalion. This gave the officers and men of the assault battalion a chance to check up and see that all was ready for the jump-off at 5:30 a. m.
"At 5:30 a. m. it was still so dark that one could not see over fifty yards except in places where the Thermite shells were breaking. But over the top we went on scheduled time.
"Sergeant Parli, with the third platoon of "M" Company, true to the traditions of the 353rd Infantry, was following our barrage dangerously close in the center of the battalion. Every time a Boche stuck his head up out of a shell hole, he faced one of Sergeant Parli's men with a fixed bayonet and did not have a chance to fight. A great many prisoners were taken on the first hill in front of the jump-off line. Our men had seen German prisoners before and took no interest in the individual captives, but simply motioned them to the rear and pushed on for more. The men of Germany saw grim determination in the faces of these husky Americans and held their hands high in the air. Our men took no chances for these were tense moments. The poor chap who happened to make a false move passed quietly and quickly into the next world. There was no time for questions or explanations. In a few moments more prisoners were in our midst than we had men ourselves, but Fritz knew that
126 Regimental History 353rd Infantry
there were more men of the regiment coming. So he fell in line and marched back under the command of his own officer or non-commissioned officer.
"On the right, the first and second platoons of "M" Company had been held back temporarily by machine gun fire. Lieutenant Jackson who was leading the Company and several of his men were killed within a few yards of the jump-off line. Lieutenant Furlong, second in command, grasped the situation quickly. Followed by Corporal McKay, he dashed across the fire-swept area into the patch of woods immediately in front and successfully put the disturbing machine gun nests out of commission. Many of the gunners were driven toward the company where they were taken prisoners. The advance was then resumed.
"On the left, Company "I" enconntered considerable machine gun fire. Captain Baxter proceeded at once to demonstrate the value of rifle grenades. He personally put these troublesome nests out of action with a few well placed shots. Now the whole battalion moved forward, hugging the barrage so closely that the Germans were able to get very few machine guns in place after it had passed. No sooner would a German raise his head up to see whether the barrage had lifted than a doughboy was upon him. And the actions of the wily Fritz indicated that he had more respect for the grim doughboy than he did for the H. E. shells of the artillerymen.
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"The front covered was so wide that it was impossible to spare the men for the complete occupation of Andevanne Woods; so the battalion moved forward, simply flanking into the edge of the woods. The movement proved very fortunate for it was afterwards learned from German prisoners that a body of 150 picked sharpshooters had been placed in position on top of the ridge in the Andevanne Woods to hold up the attack. These riflemen, of course, were not encountered and very soon they saw our battalion approaching Barricourt Woods, to their left rear. About the same time, the Boche artillery, evidently assuming that the Andevanne Woods had been carried by our assaulting wave, concentrated a large part of their artillery fire on these woods, and on their own men, who quickly came down and gave themselves up as prisoners, very much disappointed because the assaulting wave had not come through the woods.
"The first objective was reached in accordance with schedule with ample time to reorganize for the assault on the second objective. This advance was made through very heavy counter-barrage. Upon entering Barricourt Woods, the Battalion again encountered considerable resistance. Captain Baxter and Sergeant Malone, of "I" Company, handled their men so skillfully as to reduce this resistance, with small losses, and at the same time inflicting tremendous losses on the enemy. Here was fighting at close quarters, but in almost every case the Boche took second money.
"Barricourt Woods, or the Heights of Barricourt, a position of great natural strength, was considered one of the most vital points in the whole German line. Its capture meant that our guns could easily reach the only line of communication left to the Germans between Metz and Sedan. It meant more than this, since all of his reserves had been used up and since the pursuit
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of the Americans had been so rapid that many of his divisions in the line had been hopelessly confused. The German Army must retreat at top speed at once or else accept one of the worst defeats in history. So every man in the 353rd Infantry pushed forward with all his individual force in the line as if he were responsible for the outcome of the day.
"In the spirit of victory, we reached the second objective on time. Here the Third Battalion halted to let the Second Battalion pass through to the final objective. We had accomplished our mission in the assault to this point and now supported the advance of the Second Battalion in the completion of. the day's work."