On the afternoon of Saturday, August 3, 1918, the inhabitants of St. Blin, from the oldest bewhiskered grandpere to the tiniest babe, filled the windows and crowded the streets at the narrow corner by the Café Central to see the Yanks leave for the front. Judging from the expression on their faces they were thinking,
And amid the cheers of these enthusiastic, demonstrative peasants, the Second Battalion bade good-bye to the peaceful, sleepy ways of Haute Marne, and was on its way to the front at last.
All afternoon it was up one hill and down another, on the road northward from St. Blin, through Liffol-le-Grande, Neufchateau and Toul. At Liffol-le-Grande the men of the Second Battalion had their first glimpse of the great construction work being done by the S. O. S. in France, and the part the American negro in the labor battalion was playing in the winning of the war. Time after time the long column of more than a hundred and fifty trucks was halted to permit some cranky machine to limp back to its place in the train. Night came on soon after leaving Neufchateau, but lights could not be used. The vicinity of Toul was one of the favorite playgrounds for Fritzie's bombing planes. Long before the convoy came to the outskirts of the city, flashes of artillery fire first gleams of the World War to the men of the Second Battalion--could be plainly seen on the northern horizon. After many delays and long, impatient waits, it was breaking day when the convoy halted in the villages of Bouvron and Francheville. The men limped stiffly to their billets. A good old hay loft was paradise.
But this was to be a brief stay. Almost before places to sleep could be found, orders came for a reconnaisance party composed of the battalion commanders and an officer from each company. They were to go up at once to the positions in the line which were to be occupied by the Second Battalion. By two-thirty in the afternoon, after a short nap and a warm, although rather scanty, meal, the entire organization was on the march. This was perhaps the only time in the entire period of operations when ample transportation was furnished to marching troops. Ten large trucks and the entire regimental wagon train accompanied the battalion. There was plenty of room for the packs. Great shell holes along the way suggested for the first time helmets and gas masks as a real precautionary measure.
After a hike of more than twelve kilometers, the battalion arrived in Domevre-en-Haye in the early dusk.
Here everything was confusion. A French heavy artillery regiment was moving through the town, the wagon train was hopelessly blocked. It was late at night before rolling kitchens, water carts and escort wagons could be rescued from the tangle. Then they had to be pushed and pulled by man power up the extremely steep streets that led into the section of the town where the billets were located.
The next day company commanders and platoon sergeants went up into the line to learn all they could from the 82nd Division, then holding the front. That night, August 5th, Companies "E" and "G" moved up to the support position, Limey, sub-sector of the Lucey sector, in the Le Ray Woods and the Haye Woods with dugouts along the St. Jean-Noviant road. The following evening, August 6th, Companies "F" and "H" entered the line, also in the support position, or army line of resistance--Company "H" on the right in Montjoie Woods and Company "F" on the left in the western part of the Haye Woods.
The remarkable caution and silence observed by every one while making the relief was almost ludicrous to the outgoing units of the 82 Division, who had been in position long enough to realize that enemy outposts were more than three kilometers away, with several lines of trenches held by our troops farther in front of us. But officers of the relieved regiment realized that such discipline was not to be taken lightly, and praised the excellent manner in which the Second Battalion moved into position. While Companies "E" and "G" were entering the lines, the Germans put over a severe gas attack just to the left, and the Second Battalion had a good initiation in the way of rattlers, green rockets, and other gas alarms. Except for this incident, the relief was practically uneventful, weather was fine, and in every way conditions under which green troops begin real service could not have been more favorable.
The support position on this portion of the front was not fully intrenched. The troops lived in splinter-proof shelters in the woods. Only two or three dugouts, such as the P. C. of Company "E" were at all shell-proof. The Battalion P. C. was located in the woods on a steep slope near the intersection of the Manonville-St. Jacques and the St. Jean-Noviant Roads. These hillside shelters were very neat and cozy, and at that season of the year, seemed like summer cottages. The stream that flowed past the foot of the hill was ideal for bathing, and with one memorable exception, life at Battalion Headquarters was most peaceful.
One afternoon, soon after moving into the lines, the half dozen officers on duty at the Battalion P. C. were seated at the table, in one of these picturesque little bowers, eating supper. Everything was quiet. Suddenly, with a frightful hiss, a large shell came tearing down through the roof, just missing the edge of the table, and buried itself several feet in the earthen floor. Everyone made a dive for the open. The hole in the ground smoked threateningly for a few min-
utes. It was a "dud"! Lieutenant Alexander, battalion dentist, was slightly burned and scratched by the hot fragments torn from the metal roof, but no one was seriously hurt. After this incident meals in the dining shelter were eaten in haste; one had but to look up at the neat 105 mm. hole in the roof to realize that the war was still on.
Another rather similiar experience with "dud" occurred while "E" Company men were lining up along the road near the kitchen, waiting for "chow." A big one struck between the rails of the narrow gauge track at the edge of the road, not ten yards from a group of thirty or forty men. But like so many of Fritz's long range shells these days, it was another "dud," and what might have been a serious disaster was but a valuable lesson to prevent men from assembling in large groups within the range of enemy artillery.
Work in the support position was largely digging trenches for the new "Army Line of Resistance" being developed along the general line, St. Jacques-Noviant. The sector covered by this battalion was approximately five kilometers wide.
On the night of August 14-15 the Second Battalion relieved the First Battalion in the front line position around Limey. Here companies were disposed as follows: Company "H" on the right front, in Limey and the trenches north of the Metz road east of Limey; Company "G" on the left front, in trenches north and south of the Metz Road, west of Limey; Company "E" in support of "H" in and around the Bois de St. Jacques; Company "F" in support of "G" between the Voisogne Wood and Lironville; with Battalion P. C. along the Lironville trench about midway between Lironville and Limey. To the front was the strongly fortified Bois de Mort Mare, the Promenade de Moines, Ansoncourt Farm, Robert Menil Farm, and the organized village of Remenauville. No Man's Land was from one to two kilometers wide, but the trenches practically connected the opposing lines, having been but a few meters apart during the earlier part of the war.
Night patrolling was the order of business. Lieutenant Gardner of Company "F," Lieutenant Goebel of "H," Morrison of "E" and other leaders with daring groups were able to get valuable information as to dispositions of the enemy forces to the front. But none were able to disclose the exact origin of the four star rocket which some dutiful Heinie sent up at regular intervals every night. Rumor had it that all Germans in this sector had withdrawn, leaving only a peg-legged old man, who kept up appearance of occupation by sending up these signals. But returning patrols insisted that the signal man had company, and adventurous persons who chose to stick their heads up were usually reassured by a bit of convincing evidence snapping past their heads.
On the morning of August 19th the Germans put down a heavy barrage on the lines along the Metz Road from four to five a. m. For a time it looked as if they were preparing to come over. Everyone hurried to the stand-to positions in readiness for them. Runners from the platoons on the outguard line reported no one in sight.
Evidently Fritz was trying to divert attention from his efforts on some other part of the line. Organizations to right and left reported the complete repulse of raiding parties the following morning. Daylight showed some well-spotted trenches in the Second Battalion area but there were no casualties. The men stood their ground like veterans while a single small-caliber piece of artillery to the rear replied with all its might and main to the heavy shots of the German guns. Supporting artillery had held fire awaiting orders. But the action of this particular crew received the hearty commendation of every man in the Second Battalion. "It was consoling to know that we, too, had some artillery," remarked the men. And then, too, the fact that direct hits with heavy artillery are comparatively rare subtracted considerably from the dread of bombardment. Fritz could not have done more for his opponents in this initial lesson.
While in the front line it was quite a problem to supply the outposts with hot food. Kitchens had to be located some distance back, as any appearance of smoke from the stoves brought on a violent shelling. In some cases "chow" details, caught by small bombardments, scattered marmite cans in hopeless confusion in their scramble for cover. Sergeant Wright of "G" Company located his kitchen just back of the Metz Road, more than a kilometer nearer the front line than any one had dared to put a stove during all the preceding years of trench warfare on this front. Thanks to such energetic mess sergeants, men in most remote outposts were able to get their "chow" in good condition.
On the night of August 22-23 the Second Battalion was relieved by the Third and moved back to billets in Manonville, about six kilometers in rear of the line. It was then discovered that the famous military "cootie" had appeared. After a long truck ride to Menil-le-Tour, the entire Battalion was "deloused," except for "F" Company, which somehow lost out on the deal. Most of the unserviceable clothing was replaced, although largely by second-hand articles.
Being relieved, however, only meant opportunity for more training. "Close Order" and parade ground work gave way to special drills in the new "diamond" attack formations, under the personal direction of Colonel Babcock, now Regimental Commander. Captain Peatross, commanding the battalion, conducted special maneuvers, simulating the plans of attack to be made in the near future. Night movements on designated compass bearings were added to the schedule, and nights as well as days were full of preparation. But it was not until a few days later that the men of the Second Battalion realized that all this training was to prepare them for the leading part in the big offensive.
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