At dusk in the evening of October 31st the Second Battalion left "Horseshoe Hill" for the slight reverse slope in the northern edge of Bantheville Woods. Major Wood had been evacuated to the hospital in the afternoon and Major Peatross again assumed command. Companies "G" and "E" in order moved over the shell-torn path through the woods that many of the men had followed as "chow" details to the advanced positions. Companies "H" and "F" skirted the eastern edge of the woods until opposite the other companies of the battalion and then took positions alongside. At eleven o'clock everyone was in place and "digging in" for his life. It was time well spent, for at 3:30 pandemonium broke loose, followed by crashing explosions in our very midst which blasted up huge boulders about us and rent limbs from trees overhead. Occasionally a hellish shell found the shallow pit of an unfortunate doughboy and he died in the grave his own hands had dug.
The climax of terror in our area came about an hour before the jump-off was scheduled to take place. Up until this time our share of the German shelling had been regular but somewhat distributed; now it was intensive and concentrated. Company, platoon, and section leaders were at this very moment trying to check up their men for the advance. It was useless to shout, for their voices were lost in the uproar. Gas shells were bursting in the area. Each man had to be his own guard. The only way to warn a neighbor was for each buddie to appear in his own mask, but the violent explosions of the bombardment seemed to scatter the fumes of the dreaded "yellow cross," and at the time the men suffered little inconvenience from its poison.
Dawn came and the severity of the counter-bombardment slackened. First aid men hunted out the wounded and started the stretcher bearers to the rear with their burdens. The battalion organized its depleted ranks and moved forward in support of the Third Battalion at 6:25 a. m.
Parties of prisoners, some of them holding up wounded hands, brought the first news of the Third Battalion's success in the assault. Under artillery fire at all times, the battalion kept on due northward, across the deep valleys east of La Dhuy Farm and over the low ridge southwest of Andevanne Woods. After overcoming the scattering fire of some remaining machine gun nests, the Second Battalion waited here in shell holes for nearly an hour while the Third Battalion passed on to the second objective in Barricourt Woods. In the reorganization of the battalion at this time, "G" and "E" Companies switched to the right flank while "H" and "F" took over the left flank. The two platoons of "E" Company, that had been sent forward under Lieutenant Cristoph to accompany the assaulting battalion and mop up the small woods southeast of Andevanne Woods, rejoined the company. The Third Battalion was now ready to advance.
The dense screen put down by our guns had partially lifted. When we resumed the advance, enemy observers picked us up and we were forced to continue on through a severe shrapnel barrage. Nevertheless, groups kept steadily forward, preserving good distance and interval. By almost miraculous good fortune, we reached Barricourt Woods with very few losses.
At noon, we crossed the advanced line of the Third Battalion in the heart of Barricourt Woods. Determined group leaders, such as Sergeant Gutherie of "E" Company, and Sergeant Miller of "G" Company, speedily outflanked and overcame the machine gun resistance as the advance continued. Dense undergrowth, torn and tangled by the rolling barrage which preceded us, made progress very difficult. Companies and even platoons became badly mixed and lost contact with one another. Consequently the various elements did not arrive on the final objective at the same time.
When two platoons of Company "G" under the command of Captain Dienst arrived at the edge of the woods on the left, they saw a body of at least two hundred men in close formation moving toward the woods. The dense fog had now become so thick that one could see for only a few hundred yards. At first Captain Dienst took these troops for our own men on the right, supposing that they had reached the line first. However, his orderly, Parmenter, was quick to discover their identity. He yelled, "They are Germans and they have got their guns." In another moment the two platoons were down in the shallow depression just within the edge of the woods. The dead machine gunners who had been killed by our barrage were rolled aside and their guns were turned on the advancing Germans. Here were the best targets that had ever appeared before the men of the 353rd Infantry. Every man made the best of his
opportunity. The Germans broke ranks and ran in every direction for cover. It lasted for only a couple of minutes. When it was over Corporal Johnson quietly sat down and carved seven notches on his old rifle.
In another instant Company "F" and the remainder of Company "E" were on the line. The Germans made no further attempt to enter the woods, and the two platoons of "G" Company, two platoons of "E" and "F" Companies under command of Captain Dienst organized to hold the ground.
The other two platoons of "E" Company under the leadership of Lieutenant Morgan had an equally exciting experience on the right. Patrols discovered that Les Tuilleres was still occupied by the enemy. A company of them were resting on the side of the road about five hundred meters to the right flank at approximately our point of contact with the 90th Division. The platoons promptly moved to that flank and cleared Les Tuilleres, taking several prisoners and "shot up" the company of Germans before they had even a chance to offer resistance.
Company "H" and the two platoons of Company "G" had finished mopping up the woods and were now about four hundred meters to the left on the northern edge of the woods. Headquarters of the Second Battalion were in the woods five hundred meters southeast of Les Tuilleres. The Third Battalion had organized on the second objective of the day. After a full day of mopping up (in-
cluding the capture of a field piece by Lieut. "Dinty" Moore's platoon) in the wake of the advanced battalions, the First Battalion "dug in" in the woods just beyond Remonville. The faithful supply train, too, reached this vicinity during the night. We were on the objective for the day and in full control of Barricourt Woods. It is reported that when the news of the capture of Barricourt Woods reached Marshal Foch, he declared, for the first time, that the enemy was defeated.
But hardly had the Second Battalion gained possession of the edge of the woods when the thick fog intensified the darkness of the night. Major Peatross had been wounded during the day. Never a rugged man, the long exposure and hardship had left him in a critical condition. He was so hoarse he could not speak above a whisper. Nevertheless, he refused to be evacuated and set about the difficult task of reorganizing the battalion for another advance.
At nightfall the fog turned into rain which continued throughout the night and almost incessantly for the next twenty-four hours. It had been a hard day's work to get through the brush of Barricourt Woods. The strain of the previous night was also beginning to have its effect. The men were tired, hungry, and thirsty. There was still a supply of reserve rations but canteens were almost dry. Little more could be done than post guards and wait for daylight.
In the early part of the night, Colonel Reeves received instructions to resume the advance at 5:30 and was informed that the barrage would be the same as on the first day. At 5:30 our artillery put over a few shells immediately in front of our advanced positions, but no one on the line recognized it as a bombardment, and the Second Battalion waited for artillery preparation.
Colonel Reeves moved forward with the Third Battalion to support the advance of the Second Battalion. As soon as he was aware of the situation he requested the brigade commanders to have the barrage repeated at nine o'clock. Reply came that a barrage on the entire division front was being planned and that notice of the hour would be given later.
The 353rd Infantry with the Second Battalion in assault, the Third in support, and the First in reserve, all in battle formation, waited for the word to go over the top. At ten o'clock our artillery again put over a few shots very similar to those earlier in the day. Communication with Brigade Headquarters had been very unsatisfactory all the morning. Finally at 11:30 information was received that the firing at ten o'clock had been intended for our artillery preparation and barrage. There would be no more artillery support. We must move out at all cost to the army line.
Colonel Reeves gave the word to the battalion commanders. Major Peatross called his company commanders and told them in a few words what was expected. There was no time for questions, so they moved back and passed the word along to the waiting men. Everybody was on edge.
The enemy had used every minute of his time in preparation for machine gun defense. Bands of fire were so accurately planned that practically every foot of the ground in front of the woods was crossed and criss-crossed with paths of deadly machine gun bullets. In the advance of the preceding day we had captured many pieces of artillery. For the first time the German high command had to admit that they were unable to withdraw "strategically" or even "satisfactorily." The situation for the enemy was desperate. His very hope of escape was to sell out at the highest possible price in his matchless rear guard action.
In order to make the best of a bad situation, Major Peatross ordered Company "D" of the 341st Machine Gun Battalion, which was supporting us in the attack, to lay down machine gun barrage. Some of our captured German guns were brought into position in the edge of the woods but the fire was very feeble; the effect little more than an "alert" signal for the Germans. There was nothing for the doughboy to do but to go forward in his own strength. Company "H" was on the extreme left of the assaulting line, closely supported on the left flank by Company "L" of the Third Battalion; "G" was in the center; "F" was on the right; one platoon of "E" Company protected the extreme right of the line; and the remainder of Company "E" was in close support of "F" Company.
It was just 12:55 p. m. when the first combat groups began to emerge from the woods. Immediately the enemy opened up on them with annihilating fire. Lieutenant Lewis of "H" Company fell mortally wounded while starting the first group of his platoon. Lieutenant Barr of the same company was seriously wounded an instant later. In "G" Company Sergeant Ramsey and several others fell before they had made five yards into the open. In Company "F" the casualties were even greater than in the other companies. Sergeant Dozer had received a bullet through his body, but with set teeth he moved on toward the enemy.
After almost an hour of the most bitter fighting during which our losses were exceedingly heavy, no weak point in the enemy defense had been discovered. Major Peatross ordered simultaneous advance along the whole line. He knew the losses would be great but there was no alternative. Assaulting waves started forward supported by Chauchat rifle and grenade fire but it was the accurate marksmanship of the riflemen which accounted for most on the enemy in the attack. By three o'clock resistance was giving away and we were able to advance.
Hardly had the Second Battalion cleared the woods when German artillerymen laid down a barrage along its edge. The Third Battalion had moved up and now were suffering severe losses. Nevertheless, the men closed the gaps left by their fallen comrades and moved ahead. Every unit on the line was in action, firing to front and flank. The advance continued on the compass bearing 35 degrees east of north. As we approached the high ground of La Torchette Hill we again encountered the deadly machine gun fire of the
enemy. The Germans were organized on the brow of the hill and were supported by minnenwerfers and 88 millimeter artillery. Our men were in an exhausted state and combat units had been badly broken up. We were compelled to halt and reorganize on the lower slopes out of the enemy field of fire.
In checking up it was learned that the left of the line had been suffering severe machine gun fire from the left flank but "L" and "I" Companies in support had read their instructions well regarding the advantages of organization in depth and the duties of supporting troops. So far as they were able to determine, no other troops were advancing in the sector to the left. And they addressed their entire attention to the machine gun nests in that direction with such telling effect that the general advance continued without delay.
While the reorganization was in process, a message was received that our artillery was now prepared to give some support and would begin firing at 4:30. At just that precise moment while the battalion commander was taking the message, big shells began to fall among the troops in our second wave. Lieutenant Couchman had his signal man ready and shot up a rocket before severe losses were sustained.
It was now getting late. The army objective must be reached. In the misty darkness, the line once more moved forward. "L" Company was in close co-operation with "H" on the right. "G" and "F" carried forward the center while "E" Company took over the extreme right and protected the right flank. The rest of the Third
Battalion kept up in close support and guarded the flanks of the regiment. Still farther back the First Battalion was in reserve.
Riflemen and Chauchat gunners in the leading wave opened fire at the points where flashes in the darkness betrayed the location of the enemy. At first it was slow going. Suddenly someone broke forth with a wild Indian war-whoop and shouted, "Give 'em hell!" The effect was electric. All up and down the line went wild shouts. Every man who could do so fired from the shoulder and the hip as he moved forward. Yells rang out over the hill and reverberated down the valley on the other side. From that moment demoralization of the enemy was complete. No German had the courage to operate his gun in the face of that mad, shouting, fire-spitting line. The men moved forward now in rapid, determined strides. For more than a kilometer the savage on-rush continued. With difficulty, commanders restored order and stopped the charge on the army line. The final objective was reached at 6:30 p. m.
We immediately sent out patrols and stationed outposts to protect our exposed flanks and consolidated our positions. A patrol from "L" Company under Lieutenant Underhill found the enemy leaving the town of Tailly. Troops of "L" and "H" Companies following close behind the patrol immediately took possession. Shortly after, Major Peatross moved his P. C. into the town--the most advanced point on the army line on the night of November 2nd. Colonel Reeves promptly passed the word back to Division Headquarters and later in the evening in his shell hole P. C., he received the following message:
The enemy made no attempt to shell us or dislodge us from our positions. Soon after midnight, however, a battery of our own heavy artillery, not realizing that we had advanced to this point, began shelling the hill. The suporting machine gun company had established themselves along the road and suffered several casualties. Rockets were promptly sent up. Major Blackinton was on the alert with the Third Battalion and saw the signal. After a few shots our artillerymen increased the range.
Morning came and with it the first sunshine we had seen in two days. No units were in positions on our flanks and many detachments of the enemy were still well in the rear on either side but there were plenty of signs that the enemy had abandoned the field in rout. Rifles, machine guns, packs, helmets, and equipment of every sort lay scattered about in wild confusion. Doubtless the wild yells of the previous night had led the Germans to imagine that the safety of their scalps lay only in flight. At about ten o'clock combat groups
of the 355th Infantry appeared over the hill. For hours they and their supporting troops poured forward through our lines to carry on the work which we had begun.
La Torchette Hill cut off the view to the edge of Barricourt Woods, but we knew that many of our brave men were scattered back over the field. Losses in the Second Battalion totaled approximately forty men per company. We were told that seventy-five German dead had been counted immediately outside the woods. Captain Boyce gives the following personal statement of the devoted attention of our Battalion First Aid men on this occasion:
But in battle men forget its horrors in their attention to the pressing necessities of the moment. We had profited by the experiences in the St. Mihiel offensive. Each man still retained a morsel of his reserve rations, even at the end of three days. The most pressing need was for water. The contents of canteens had been poured down burning throats early in the conflict. Water details were soon on their way to Tailly. Those who were so fortunate as to possess a can of solidified alcohol lost no time in improving their rations. Everybody made himself comfortable as best he could. In the evening the kitchens came up and we had our first cooked meal since the afternoon of October 31st. While contact with the enemy had ceased earlier, every man of the 353rd Infantry agreed that the offensive continued until the "chow" line was formed in the evening of November 3, 1918.
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