Kansas Collection Books
Contributed by Pam Rietsch and transcribed and produced by Connie Snyder



OFFICIAL REPORT ON ST. MIHIEL OFFENSIVE, SEPTEMBER 12, 1918.

By COL. JAMES H. REEVES

   (a) The 353rd Infantry, in the plan of battle, occupied the extreme right of the 89th Division sector, connecting with the Second Division on our right. It was formed for the purpose of driving through the enemy's position and protecting the left of the Second Division in its drive. The regiment was widely separated, at the beginning, from the 178th Brigade, which composed the rest of the attacking forces of the division, the entire 354th Infantry being in reserve.

   Mort Mare Woods, which interposed between the 353rd Infantry and the 178th Brigade, was some two and one-half kilometers wide at the place where the 178th Brigade and 353rd Infantry entered the enemy's lines--that is, the portion of the woods separating the two forces was two and one-half kilometers wide. This made the protection of the left flank of the 353rd Infantry, a very delicate mission, one difficult to execute. The 353rd Infantry also had the mission of mopping up Mort Mare Woods for practically the entire distance of two and one-half kilometers. Having passed beyond the Mort Mare Woods it was also to mop up the Euvezin Woods, along the west edge of the same, to prevent the line of the 178th Brigade on their advance being enfiladed by enemy machine gunners located in the west edge of the Euvezin Woods.

   (b) The terrain through which the 353rd Infantry was to pass was, for the most part, heavily wooded, interspersed with open spaces. It was also quite rolling. This terrain had been occupied by the Germans for four years and was supposed to be largely a mass of barbed wire entanglements and entrenchments. It was found that our maps of the same were very accurate as to the delineations of German trenches and wire entanglements.

   (c) For the purpose of penetrating the position, there were only two battalions of the Regiment available, the Second and Third, as the First Battalion furnished three companies for mopping up the Mort Mare Woods and one company for combat liaison with the Second Division.

   The battalions were formed each in two echelons, two companies in each echelon, at a distance of about 500 meters, and the distance between battalions being about 1000 meters. "B" Company of the First Battalion was to move forward on the left of the first echelon of the Second or leading battalion. "D" Company moved forward abreast of the second echelon, while "C" Company was to move forward abreast of the first echelon of Third or rear battalion. As stated above, "A" Company was detailed to furnish the combat liaison with the Second Division, and was divided into two parts of two platoons each, one machine gun platoon to each half company. These combat liaison groups were placed, the first, to the right rear of the first echelon of the leading battalion, and the second, to the right rear of


258      Regimental History 353rd Infantry

the first echelon of the Third Battalion. One machine gun company, 353rd Infantry, was detailed to accompany the leading battalion, and "B" Company of the 341st Machine Gun Battalion was expected to accompany the Third Battalion. This machine gun company was to join in the barrage and afterwards overtake the Third Battalion on the fifth objective, after the battalion had been there for two or three hours.

   (d) In light of the results obtained, the formation adopted by the Regiment appears to have been almost perfect. I do not see how any change would have rendered the adaptability of the Regiment more suitable for the work it had to perform.

   (e) The formation of two battalions, each in two echelons, gave the required depth for reinforcement if it became necessary for driving through or for resisting counter attack if the same had been made upon us. The three companies of the 1st Battalion "stepped" or echeloned on the left of the Regiment, gave a strong covering force which, if it had been unsuccessful in its mission of mopping up the woods, would stilt have protected the flank of the Regiment and covered its passage. The formation proved very pliable, and it is believed that the commanding officers of Companies "B," "D" and "C" are worthy of great praise for the skill and ability with which they handled these three companies, not allowing them to become involved with the main part of the Regiment nor yet to become very much intermixed, one company with another. They kept their places in the column almost perfectly, and succeeded in reaching the western edge of Bois de Euvezin in ample time to protect the passage of the 178th Brigade across the open space over which it advanced to the attack of its third objective. These three companies had been given a forming-up place, after reaching which they were directed to follow or join the Brigade reserve. As a matter of fact, they reached their assembly place, formed up and came out in rear of the 3rd battalion in the position of a Regimental resetve and ahead of the Brigade reserve.

   (f) The main weapons used were the infantry rifle and the hand grenade, in conjunction with the machine guns of the company attached to the 2nd or leading battalion. I saw very little use made of rifle grenades, very little of automatic rifles, and little or nothing was accomplished by either the one-pounders or the Stokes mortars. Each of the last mentioned special weapons fired a few shots, but there is reason to believe that some of the shots of the Stokes, as usual, fell short and injured our own men. The arms were combined by the machine gun playing direct fire upon a machine gun nest or other position of resistance, while the infantryman with his rifle worked to the flanks, and once having reached the rear, the occupants of the pill boxes were quickly dispatched either with rifle fire or with hand grenades.

   Special attention is invited to the expedients adopted by the Commanding Officer, Machine Gun Company, 353rd Infantry, to increase the mobility of his weapons. Special report will be sub-


View the Fold-out photo of the 89th Division.


Official Report on St. Mihiel Offensive      259

mitted by him and forwarded, describing the expedients adopted. He appears to have solved the problem of mobility of machine guns, enabling them to keep up with the infantry, for his machine gun company accompanied the infantry all day and the advance was very rapid. So far as I know, it was the only machine gun company that was able to keep up with the pace of the infantry.

   (g) The artillery support, so far as preparation of the ground and the placing of a barrage on various objectives, was excellent. Some difficulties were experienced by the barrage rolling back and forth between objectives. This was in a measure due to the lateness with which the artillery plan was promulgated and the impossibility of having it understood by even the company commanders, much less platoon commanders. They did not realize that the barrage would jump from one objective to the next, roll back near the objective on which the infantry was and again roll forward in advance of the infantry, so on two or more occasions the infantry found itself within our own barrage, but few or no casualties were sustained on account of that. On at least two of the objectives the infantry had to wait for ten or twenty minutes for the barrage to lift, as the infantry pace was ahead of schedule time.

   As to the use of company guns, nothing was seen of them at all throughout the day.

   (h) The only obstacles met were wire entanglements and thick woods. The entanglements were easily disposed of by wire cutters if the cutting party was not caught directly in front of a machine gun nest. The men forced a passage through the thick woods, holding in an almost marvelous manner the lines of direction of the attack.

   (i) It had originally been intended for the 3rd battalion to pass the lines of the 2nd on the third objective, and Commanding Officer 3rd battalion had notified Commanding Officer 2nd battalion that he would be in formation and pass his lines within thirty minutes from the time of this notification. I came up and found the 2nd battalion formed up in excellent line, a little too thick, and approaching from the rear in excellent extended order of combat groups, came the 3rd battalion ready to execute passage of the lines. Fearing that the 2nd battalion had not penetrated the entire depth of the third objective, as the battalion was then waiting at the south edge of Bois du Beau Vallon, I directed Captain Peatross to make sure of this objective before his lines were passed by the 3rd battalion. This caused him to press forward into the woods, which were so thick and heavy that a passage of the lines could not be executed within the woods, and he had to carry forward to the fourth objective, when the lines were passed by the 3rd battalion and the attack on the fifth objective made by the 3rd battalion leading, followed by the 2nd battalion in artillery formation of combat groups. Passage of the lines at this point was not as clear-cut and distinct as it would have been had it occurred on the south edge of Bois du Beau Vallon when both battalion commanders were ready for it.


260      Regimental History 353rd Infantry

   (j) As mentioned above, attacks of machine gun nests, strong points and centers of resistance were made by a few riflemen or a machine gun or two bringing fire upon them from the front, and men, twos and threes, widely dispersed, turning the flanks and cleaning them out from the rear. The men showed natural aptitude for this and it is believed it was very successfully done. Not many losses were sustained from machine gun nests after the first wires and first two trenches of the German position had been passed. It would have been still more successfully accomplished had our arrangements for cutting the initial wire or the artillery preparation on this wire been more effective.

   (k) As the German position consisted of two or more lines, strongly entrenched and covered with barbed wire, it cannot be said that there was much of an intermediate zone until after the passage of the third objective. However, this work was carried on practically by section and squad leaders receiving general impulse or direction from platoon and company commanders, but each squad or section developing its own problem. In advance through thick woods there was more or less a thin skirmish line formed in order to keep contact, until an obstacle was struck, when the men quickly drifted into groups around their respective leaders.

   (I) Due to circumstances which need not be dwelt upon here, the attack practically ceased at the end of the first phase, which was on the banks of the Rupt de Mad south of Bouillonville. It is true that parts of three companies (in strength practically two companies) crossed the river, cleared out Bouillonville and advanced to the high ground, one kilometer beyond, but as no other unit seemed to have any intention of crossing the river, they returned to the south side. I did not know of this movement until after their return to the south side.

   Our fifth objective having been reached, preparations were instantly commenced to hold this conquered ground, and it is believed that in this work the officers and men showed the finest effects of discipline and training that were shown in any part of the day's work.

   The third battalion, having swept forward and captured the fifth objective, immediately threw out small covering outposts and strong flank guards, as no other organizations were up, and commenced "digging in." The 2nd battalion, which had been halted some 700 yards in the rear and not allowed to become entangled with the 3rd, started "digging in" on this line. In the meantime, the 1st battalion, or at least three companies of it, (on the left of the Regiment) having completed its work in the woods, came out of the north edge of Bois du Beau Vallon, formed a third line some 500 yards in rear of the second line and started entrenching. Company "B" of the Machine Gun Battalion now finally arrived and was ordered to place six guns in conjunction with a platoon of "B" Company, 353rd Infantry, (Company "A" not having arrived at this time) well to our right flank opposite the second line, as the 2nd Division moving to the


Official Report on St. Mihiel Offensive      261

attack of Thiacourt or else our being on a too narrow front, left a wide interval of half mile or more on our right flank. The remainder of "B" Company, 341st Machine Gun Battalion, was directed to join the 3rd Battalion on the fifth objective and relieve the machine gun company of the 353rd Infantry. This latter company had kept up with the advance of the 2nd battalion to the fourth objective, and as Company "B" of the Machine Gun Battalion had not arrived it was forced to carry on with the 3rd battalion after the passage of the lines and did accompany the 3rd battalion to the fifth objective.

   (m) Liaison with the 2nd Division on our right was excellent and maintained throughout the engagement. No contact appears to have been made with the 178th Brigade on our left and liaison with them was not established until some hours after the 3rd battalion was on the fifth objective.

   The aircraft were over us a great part of the time and did a certain amount of signaling, and a certain amount, rather small, I fear, was done by the infantrymen. This latter was due to a scarcity of panels and rockets to some degree, but more especially to the Plan of Liaison signals being changed at almost the last moment, and it being impossible to get it explained to the platoon leaders much less the men themselves. A short while before the 2nd battalion went over the top it was noted that four company commanders were present in P. C. of the Regimental Commander and were earnestly engaged in trying to get an understanding of the signals to be used and the meaning of them. Several times during the engagement, when the barrage seemed to be falling short, signals were made for lengthening the barrage or signal "Our own artillery is firing upon us" was made, but, so far as is known, was not observed at the rear and was not effective.


SUMMARY

   The formation adopted and the means at hand proved adequate for overcoming the resistance met. Had the enemy chosen to occupy his works in stronger force and offered a stiffer resistance, it is believed that our lack of time for thorough consideration of orders and study of maps would have cost us severely. It is believed that in serious operations of this kind all orders should be gotten out in ample time for every platoon commander to have a thorough understanding of them. At least in so far as they affect the work he has to do, and also time for a thorough study of the map.

   We were short the necessary number of satisfactory maps for issue to all the officers.

   After the summaries of information on enemy terrain and defenses of the same had been issued, it was impossible for anyone other than battalion commanders to even give them a cursory reading. Prior to the engagement the Regiment was widely separated over the eastern half of the Lucey sector.


262      Regimental History 353rd Infantry

   The reliefs which were to have been made by troops of the Second Division on the nights 10-9, 10-11, and 11-12 September were only carried out in very small part. For instance, "B" Company was never relieved of its position in the trenches in advance of the Metz Road, and whereas its position should have been on the left of the first echelon of the leading battalion, it found itself holding a portion of the trenches in scattered groups on the right of that battalion when the time arrived for going over the top. The Commanding Officer of this company, with considerable skill, had each group cut its way straight to the front through our own wire and then moved across in rear of the first echelon of the leading battalion and finally reached his place 6n the left.

(Signed) JAMES H. REEVES   
Col. 353rd Infantry

Headquarters 353rd Infantry, A. E. F.
September 19, 1918.



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