The organization and training of the Machine Gun Company represented a unique problem in an Infantry Regiment. Scarcely one of the new officers and none of the enlisted men had seen more than a picture of the murderous implements known as machine guns. Pamphlets told of the hundreds of shots per minute and the deadliness of their fire. Stories from the front indicated that the machine gun was the most effective weapon in the World War. At the same time, there was other information of even deeper personal concern to the would-be machine gunners. Machine gunners must stay to the very last. In fact, to be a machine gunner meant sure death. Regardless of labor and cost, the Regimental Machine Gun Company must bring sixteen guns into action.
In true western spirit the personnel of the Machine Gun Company took hold of their problems as if it were a regular part of their life's work. Capt. William R. Postin was placed in command. Other officers were First Lieutenant Delaney, Second Lieutenants Husted, Mitchell and Bailey. Eleven recruits, the first quota of enlisted men, were assigned to the company, September 5th. Sergt. Sidney A. Wilson from the Regular Army was "Top Cutter" throughout the entire service. The arrival of the second quota of enlisted men on September 20, 1917, marked the beginning of real training.
The first step in the training of machine gunners, as that of all other fighting men, is found in the school of the soldier. So the machine gunners shouldered their wooden rifles and drilled along with the men in the line companies. All the while, the conditioning process was in silent operation. In the meantime, officers and non-commissioned officers were studying the technique and theory of machine guns.
The first effort to specialize in machine gunnery was made in the latter part of November, 1917. Lack of machine guns hampered progress, but the combined ingenuity of officers and men improvised weapons which served for tactical instruction. Later, three old-style Colt guns were received. Great enthusiasm marked the study of these pieces. Captain Postin and Lieutenant Mitchell worked out a chart which reduced the computation of firing data to a simple mechanical process. The machine gunners soon began to feel that theirs was the most interesting work in the Regiment.
When the 353rd Infantry was called upon to furnish troops for replacement, the Machine Gun Company lost a great many of its trained men. In March and April, 1918, about seventy men were transferred to the Third Division.
However, new men took their places in the latter part of April and early May, and on May 25, 1918, the Regimental Machine Gun Company entrained at Camp Funston and arrived in Manois, France, June 24th. The men were comfortably housed in barracks and the
training program, provided by General Headquarters of the A. E. F. was put into full effect.
The men received just before leaving Camp Funston were practically raw recruits. These men had first of all to be put into condition to bear heavy burdens. They were gradually taught how to carry their guns and tripods over long distances. Guns (Vickers type) and tripods each weigh approximately forty pounds and each box of ammunition, fifteen pounds. A man carried two boxes of ammunition. In addition to "Elementary Gun Drill"--the machine gun manual of arms--a "rough ground" drill was immediately inaugurated. This involved carrying guns, tripods, and ammunition into action, under cover and with rapidity. When this branch of the work had progressed, the men were trained in the art of firing at targets which could not be seen from the gun positions--"indirect fire." Signaling and range finding were important parts of the training. In spite of the many things to be learned and the heavy work involved, in a few weeks the company began to resemble a real fighting unit. Knowing that trench warfare was the next step, the men worked with fine spirit. They were determined that no other machine gun unit should go into the line better prepared for action.
Men and equipment were placed aboard trucks in Manois on the morning of August 4th. Owing to the bad condition of the roads and lack of familiarity with the country, the company did not arrive in Francheville in the Toul Sector until the morning of August 5th. During this trip the machine guns were mounted in the trucks, but there was no occasion to use them for anti-aircraft work.
In Francheville, the company had its first experience with the French billeting system. The men occupied barns. They shifted for hay or straw as best they could. When allowed at all, lights were ordered carefully screened as a precaution against aeroplane attack. As a result, the men fell through holes in the lofts and stumbled over each other in the darkness. While in these Francheville billets, the men met their first "cooties." Several large collections of these affectionate little insects insisted on accompanying some of the men on their dangerous journey in spite of protests.
During the night of August 8th, the company relieved a machine gun unit of the 82nd Division in a support position in the de Haye Woods. In this position, shelling became common. But good dugouts prevented casualties. Taking advantage of the lulls in shell-fire, the men held daily pistol and machine gun practice. The company was screened from German observation balloons by a slight rise and a fringe of trees. Hostile aircraft frequently passed over while the firing was under way. At such times, the men took cover in the woods. Every day saw new machine gun emplacements, and camouflage became a real art. Gas defense became a part of the program. Every minute was used to the best possible advantage.
About a week after entering the de Haye Woods, the Company relieved a unit of the 341st Machine Gun Battalion, 89th Division, in
the front line near Limey. One platoon was echeloned in a position near Lironville. The war game became a reality. Night and day the company was subjected to artillery and gas shelling. The gun positions were well camouflaged, and the enemy registered no direct hits. This experience helped to accustom the men to concentrated artillery fire.
August 27th the company was relieved and marched back to reserve billets in Minorville. Here rumor directed the American army toward Metz, and the machine gunners made ready for the trip. Company problems in machine gun firing were on, nearly every day. Some of the problems were worked out in sight of German observation balloons. While the company was firing on a long range near Boucq (north of Toul), the enemy shelled nearby artillery positions; and a German birdman passed over our range to set an Allied balloon on fire. These little distractions did not interrupt preparation for the First American Army Drive.
On September 5th the company again went into the de Haye Woods near Limey. Days were spent in planning for the St. Mihiel drive. The men worked out a scheme of carrying certain of the machine guns without tripods, so as to be in better position to keep up with the less-burdened infantrymen during the attack. Instead of tripods the gunner's helmet was used as a support for the guns while firing. A piece of metal bent into "U" shape was fastened to the top of each gunner's helmet. The gun rested in the "U". A scheme was also worked out which enabled the gunner to shoot over the back of his loader. One man would lie down, using his body as a support, the gunner fired the piece. Each man in the company carried one belt in his pack in addition to his other equipment. The regular ammunition carriers also carried two additional belts of 250 rounds each in their hands. The boxes containing the belts were covered with burlap and strands of this material were used as slings to ease the load on the carrier's arms. In this work every man took a lively interest and as a result of team work, the problem of carrying the heavy equipment was solved.
Shortly before the day of attack, Captain Postin had to be sent to a hospital in Toul, and Lieut. Edward A. Mitchell led the company in the drive of September 12th. Early in the night of September 11th, the men began their march to the jump-off positions in front of the ruined town of Limey. Besides their reserve rations and personal equipment, each man carried a 15-pound belt of ammunition in his pack, either a gun or tripod or else two boxes of ammunition. It was raining during the entire march; the men waded through mud up to their ankles. Units of the Second Division, attacking on the right of the 89th Division, were using the same road. Owing to the darkness, there was considerable confusion which caused frequent delays in the march. While leaving the town of Limey, the American barrage opened up and Fritz began his retaliation.
Nevertheless, leaders marched the platoons to the "jump-off" positions. They arrived barely in time to move forward behind the barrage with the Second Battalion of the 353rd Infantry. The mission of the company was to accompany the assault battalion, participate in any fighting which might take place, and, at the end of the attack, help to consolidate the regimental positions. This meant that guns and ammunition must be carefully saved for what might easily be the toughest part of the fighting--that of holding the ground won.
At the very beginning of the attack, the company suffered casualties. One man was killed and five were wounded, including Lieutenant Garin, who commanded the Third Platoon. Although tired from the previous night's hike, the machine gunners went forward with the infantry and plodded along all day with their heavy loads. Some fell from sheer exhaustion. Officers and non-commissioned officers took turns and all "carried." When a rest was possible the men fell asleep and had to be jabbed into wakefulness to proceed. Not a one quit; without complaint the men clambered through the dense woods and up the steep slopes.
Nightfall found sections of the company scattered through the Regiment, but in position to repel hostile attack. By 9 p. m. that night, the company had been assembled in an old German stable at the foot of a hill at Bouillonville. Before daylight the company advanced to a sunken road above Thiacourt. At 8 a. m. the company advanced through heavy German shell-fire to Xammes, where they "dug in" at the edge of the village in support or the Third Battalion.
Artillery fire from the enemy grew heavier as the day advanced. Lieutenant Mitchell was struck in the lungs by a shell fragment. He was evacuated immediately, but later died of his wounds. Even in the stress of action, every man felt the loss of a friend and comrade. Not only did they appreciate him as a man, but they loved him for his ability as a machine gunner and a leader. Command of the company then passed to Lieutenant Husted, who barely escaped injury by the same shell which injured Lieutenant Mitchell.
Until September 14th, the Company lived in their holes around Xammes and prepared positions for the counter-attack which never came. On that day the company dropped back to a position along the Thiacourt-Beney Road and a few days later retired to Bouillonville, where billets were secured in an old hospital. The men were worn out, but a bath in a German bath tub, a change of clothing, and some cigarettes brought back the old-time pep.
Not only was the company justly proud of its part in the attack, but it was upheld in its pride by the following official commendation:
September 20th found the company resting in the woods to the rear of Bouillonville. About this time, Captain Postin returned from the hospital and took over command of the company. After a brief stay the company advanced to the support of the Third Battalion, 353rd Infantry, near Beney. These troops were designated to counter-attack in case of hostile offensive. And the machine guns were so located that they might be brought into action either to the left or right of Beney Woods. German observers kept the men to their positions by day. Carriers brought up two meals each night from the kitchens in Beney. Three members of one of these food details were severely wounded by a shell which exploded at the kitchen. Shell fire was heavy, but the Machine Gun Company escaped without further losses.
When the 353rd Infantry relieved units of the 42nd Division west of Beney October 1st, the Machine Gun Company was placed in reserve between Lamarche and St. Benoit. Each night gunners advanced nearly two "kilometers to emplacements and returned to the reserve positions before daylight.
Relieved by the 37th Division on the night of October 8th, the regiment moved for participation in the Meuse-Argonne offensive. The members of this company were transported in trucks from Beney to Jouy, arriving there the morning of October 9th. At 4:30 p. m. the same day, the company boarded French trucks for Brocourt. On this trip sixteen of the men were poisoned by gas fumes from motor exhausts. One truck ran into a ditch and spilled fifteen men. Two trucks lost their way and went to Verdun. Not until afternoon of October 10th was the company assembled in Brocourt. Three days rest here saw them all fit for duty again.
Leaving Brocourt October 13th the men did cross-country toward the new front--roads were prohibited. From early morning until 10 p. m. the men marched over railroad beds and hills, through fields and streams of water. October 14th the company arrived in Ecles-Fontaine and became part of the support for the 32nd Division in
the Meuse-Argonne offensive. October 20th the Machine Gun Company went into support position in the Bantheville Woods with the Third Battalion.
For nine days the Company clung to its positions in the woods, suffering considerable from high explosive and gas shells. The mission of the company while in the Bantheville Woods was to take up such positions as would insure proper protection to the infantry. In case of attack, the machine gunners' orders were to repel the attack or die at their posts. These were trying days for the machine gunners who could do nothing but wait for their chance. Fortunately the Germans did not attack and the company was never forced to make the supreme sacrifice machine gunners must make on such occasions. A "direct hit" on October 21st resulted in casualties of one killed and five wounded.
When the Third Battalion advanced to the northern edge of the woods for a part in the last big American drive, the Machine Gun Company also advanced and relieved a machine gun unit of the 341st Machine Gun Battalion. Just before "H" hour on November 1st the Machine Gun Company moved out into "No Man's Land" and "dug in. At 5 a. m. the various platoons of the company rose from their shallow holes within a scant 100 yards of the enemy lines and began to follow the American barrage with the assault units of the Third Battalion.
The advance had not been long under way when Sergt. Frank J. Davidson was killed and Sergt. Edward Shannon was mortally wounded by enemy machine gun fire.
Sergeant Shannon had just returned to the company and was slated to return to the First Corps School as an instructor in machine gunnery. Shortly after passing the first objective, Corpl. Eitel F. Thieme of the Third Platoon was killed while trying to locate an enemy machine gun which was firing into his squad. Pvt. Louis F. Dietsch was killed by the same fire. Pvts. Charles W. Smull and Harlan O. Henrick tried to mount the gun to silence the German gunner and Private Smull was badly wounded. Private Henrick persisted in his efforts, but was unable to accomplish his task for a bullet tore the feeding mechanism from his gun and rendered it useless. Private Prosser was also killed at this time. Thus one whole crew passed out of action.
But the experience gained in the St. Mihiel drive kept down the number of casualties despite the heavy machine gun fire, to which the men were subjected during the early stages of the first day's attack. The First and Second Platoons passed without loss to the first objective. Once the Second Platoon advanced into the American barrage and a few minutes later ran into German artillery fire. Moving with the front line was costly for the Machine Gun Company, but here the men had been ordered to take position, and here they stayed.
Half way through the Barricourt Woods the Second Battalion passed through the Third Battalion and took up the attack. This
left the Machine Gun Company in support. The night of November 1-2 was spent in the Barricourt Woods. At 4 a. m. November 2nd the company moved to the northern edge of the woods and made ready to attack with the Second Battalion. The attack was delayed, but when it was resumed the Machine Gun Company went over with the Third Battalion in support of the assaulting waves. The attack was unsupported by artillery and this time the company encountered the stiffest machine gun fire it had ever faced. From 3 p. m. until 11 p. m. the fighting continued fiercely. Just before midnight the company "dug in" south of Tailly.
At this time Captain Postin was given command of the Third Battalion and Lieutenant Husted placed in command of the Machine Gun Company. The following day was the first in many that the men felt free from hunger. Toward evening the regimental train arrived and with it the train of the Machine Gun Company. Reserve rations were almost exhausted. Morale went up several degrees when the cooks provided the first cooked meal since October 31st. No one worried about the enemy aeroplanes which constantly visited the regimental positions. During the day, the men raided old German dugouts. Some of the comforts left by the fleeing foe were utilized in making comfortable bunks. Everyone settled down for a good sleep, the first undisturbed rest in weeks.
At midnight orders came to report to the divisional machine gun officer in Tailly. Lieutenant Husted preceded the company into the town. By the time the men arrived he had learned that the company was to assist in placing a machine gun barrage on the town of Beaufort. This town was to be attacked by the 178th Brigade on the morning of November 4th. From Tailly the company went to Tailly Woods south of Beaufort, took up barrage positions, and prepared to go into action on receipt of the fire orders.
Shortly before 8 a. m. the movement of other troops in the vicinity attracted the attention of two German batteries. As a result the Machine Gun Company sustained a severe bombardment for nearly an hour. Artillery is the machine gunners' enemy and this shelling was exceptionally disastrous. Pvt. Louis Munson was blown to pieces by a shell which exploded in the hole in which he was lying beside his machine gun. Corpl. Arthur C. Berquist, acting section sergeant, and Pvt. Walter H. Lindstrom, died of wounds received at this time. Corpl. Arch Wilson, Pvt. James W. Thompson, Pvt. Charley P. Smith, and Pvt. Roy E. Bennett were less seriously wounded. Acting Sergt. Juss Anderson was evacuated with gas burns. The company had to take this punishment without a return shot.
Instead of an order to open the barrage, an order came to withdraw from this position and to report to the commanding officer of the 340th Machine Gun Battalion in Beauclair three kilometers away. From Beauclair the company moved with the 340th to the woods west of Laneuville on the Meuse River, reaching its position above the town early November 5th. The enemy evacuated the town before the company arrived and the barrage was not fired. Once more the men"
were without reserve rations and desperately tired. The kitchen crew saved the day with a hot meal.
November 5th at 4:30 p. m., the company was directed to take up a position south of the Meuse River, opposite Pouilly. The men marched a full twenty-four hours through a dense forest, across country, in fog and darkness to reach this position. Upon arrival, the guns were gotten into readiness for firing across the Meuse River into the town of Pouilly. From time to time during the next three days harrassing fire was placed on this town and on other targets across the Meuse.
The afternoon of November 10th plans for a barrage on targets across the river to support an infantry attack were announced. Considerable change of position was effected over obscure trails in the dark under heavy shell fire. Nevertheless, the company moved, brought up food and ammunition. There was no question but that we were fighting the war to our finish.
Just before dawn on the morning of November 11th orders required the company to report at once to our own regimental commander in Laneuville. The march of ten kilometers began at 5 a. m. During all this time the company had not received the slightest intimation that an armistice was pending. Its announcement by a signalman met on the way to Laneuville was greeted with jeers. The lineman was dubbed a liar and a few other things by the men who thought the war would never end.
When the three officers and one hundred and twenty-five enlisted men who were left in the company arrived in Laneuville, it was officially announced that an armistice would go into effect at 11 a. m. No one cheered. That would have required physical effort. What little energy remained in the outfit was expended in locating a place to rest. The good news was simply taken as a matter of fact and dismissed in favor of sleep.
From Laneuville the company crossed the Meuse and entered Stenay November 12th. Still exhausted and weak from the long grind of combat, the company needed the rest it received in Stenay. The company stayed there four days.
Leaving Stenay November 16th the organization went to Margut, France, to guard a large quantity of war materials abandoned by the enemy in his retreat. The company remained in Margut eight days. During this period the 89th Division was assigned to the Army of Occupation, and on November 24th the march into Germany began.
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