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Chapter 3 The Baccarat Sector


HISTORY
of
THE 306th INFANTRY

By
Julius Ochs Adler
1935
The Baccarat Sector


THE BACCARAT SECTOR

BACCARAT was known to the French as a quiet sector, and evidently the Germans had also accepted the French idea and used the sector to rest up their divisions and to train replacements. The shelling from both sides was in-termittent and one could almost set his watch by the "bou-quets" sent over by the Boche. He was a methodical chap and each day at the same place one could expect to see the shells fall.

When we took over, one battalion of the Regiment was ordered to hold the front line, one to be in support, and the other resting up at "Camp Mud." It was here that we had our first contact with the French soldier, for we were to combine with the 264th French Infantry. He helped us in solving our first difficulties, and his years of bitter experience were well utilized. This meant for us, however, more than the help of veteran soldiers. It was the beginning of that close friendship existing between our regiment and our comrades in "Horizon Bleu" throughout the war, and here were knit the first ties of cooperation in a common cause against a common enemy.

The first meeting with the French was a great event to us, but our actual occupancy of the front line had a much greater significance. We were a part of the first National Army Division to occupy a sector in the front lines, and we were on trial to determine whether an army recruited from the various ranks of civilian life could within a few brief months be trained into an effective fighting force. It was to be a test of the national American traits-initiative, alertness, intelligence, courage and determination. To the officers especially it meant even more, because for the first time under actual conditions of battle they were to lead the men they had trained; not men trained and seasoned to war, but men who but a few months before had never worn a uniform or seen a gun. , To officers and men it meant an adaptation to new surroundings and unusual conditions.

In our particular sector we were to relieve an Ohio regiment of the 42nd Division and the relief was completed on the 21st of June. All troop movements were accomplished at night and every precaution was taken so that the relief would not be discovered by the enemy. However, our efforts were futile, for in the early morning of the day we took over, the Boche began shelling with mustard and phosgene gas and some high explosive shells. This was our first experience with gas and we recalled what the British had told us about the gas mask-"It is your best friend." We had but one casualty on this day, and that was the horse that drew the medical supply cart. He was hit by a bit of high explosive shell and went West like a good soldier. In a small dugout near Montigny, where the medical dressing station was established, a shell happened to hit a "G.I." can and the one-hundred-yard record was broken by a member of the medical detachment. Some observers affirmed that he made it in nothing flat.

We watched the French and learned from them. They never seemed hurried, yet everything was done in time. There was no loud talk and but very little laughter. Everything they showed us was for a purpose; hours meant nothing.

Captain Peget of the French Army joined us as our liaison officer. He was a veteran of several campaigns and brought all of his experience to our aid.

The front of our sector was covered by small strong points known as petits postes, and in each of these was a detachment consisting of a lieutenant and from twelve to sixteen men. These posts were on the edge of No Man's Land, thoroughly wired in, and each stocked with a ration in sealed tins to be used only when cut off by a barrage. The petits postes were self-supporting and also mutually supported each other with cross bands of automatic rifle fire. A night in a petit poste was one of constant tense watching . . . the rat-tat-tat of the German light machine-gun, the answering rat-tat-tat of our "auto" rifle fire, the blackness of night broken only by white flares, rising aloft from the enemy trenches like phantom glowworms, as regular as the ticking of a watch. All of this brought to us the realization that we were facing a grim, watchful, relentless foe and that on our constant alertness depended our lives and the safety of those in the rear.

Here we had our first view of observation balloons and here on the high points and from the steeple of the church in Brouville we could view the enemy's country.

The terrain in the Vosges Mountains was well adapted to training. It is a broken, hilly, partly wooded country, with no part offering extreme difficulties, but all parts offering excellent opportunities for teaching, training and developing technique in the various arms with which we were equipped. Only the lower slopes were cultivated and in the small towns of Wherry and Brouville there were still a few French peasants, too loyal to their homes to desert them even though in cannon range of the enemy.

Our supplies came from Azerailles, where Captain Durell and his Supply Company were billeted, and it was this place which was most frequently bombed by the Boche during our stay in the Baccarat Sector. Nightly patrols were in order and each sector had to cover its front through No Man's Land, which here varied from 500 to 1000 yards wide. The purpose of these patrols was to watch the activities of the Boche, to drive off his patrols, and to capture a prisoner for identification purposes.

It was on one of these patrols from Company B that Privates James Graham, Isidore Poll, and John E. Tucholka showed great courage and coolness when attacked by superior numbers of the enemy. All these men were wounded in protecting the withdrawal of their own patrol, but they managed to roll under cover and escape capture.

Frequent inspections were made by the Division and Brigade Commanders and later by General Pershing, who expressed himself as highly pleased with us.

On the Fourth of July the French Colonel and his regiment were invited to participate in our annual holiday. Of course there were sports of various kinds, but little help could we expect from the French when it came to boxing and wrestling. They preferred the milder forms of recreation. On the Fourteenth of July, when they celebrated the Fall of the Bastille, they returned our invitation and there was not a part of their program in which members of our regiment: did not participate and enjoy thoroughly. Competing in "making faces" for a prize was certainly a novelty to our men, who had been used to boxing and wrestling, football, etc., but, strange to say, the prize for this particular sport was won by one of our men.

On the Fourth of July there was of course a patriotic speech and this was delivered by the Colonel in mixed French and English. He had originally intended to give it in English and have it interpreted by Captain Peget, but the French Captain's mind could not work fast enough for the Colonel and so the Colonel, nothing daunted, undertook to do his own interpreting. It was a great speech. The French Colonel then made his address, which was as follows:

"Officers and American soldiers: The Colonel Vidmer, your leader, has done us the honor to invite us to the celebration of your great national holiday, the commemoration of the independence of the United States. We have been very happy and we thank you very cordially. It is really, for us officers and soldiers, a great pleasure to be associated with the soldiers of the young American Army. Nearly a century and a half ago our fathers crossed the ocean to help yours gain their independence. Today it is you who have crossed the sea for the liberation of our territory which has been trampled and ravaged by an enemy, eager, wild and unscrupulous. First and from the very beginning of the war you sympathized with us and helped us by your medical organizations and your numerous institutions. All this institutional work today is largely increased by the smile of Charity and the indefatigable devotion of your sisters and brothers. Afterwards you offered us the aid of your immense wealth, and finally today, you bring us freely an assistance the most precious of all: that of your brilliant youth, of your heart, of your blood and of your life. All this has been placed at the service of our cause, which is the noblest and the most elevated: the cause of right, of justice and of the liberty of nations. Soldiers of the great American nation, the French Army and the whole French nation greets you ! They see in you the future liberators of our suffering country. And so with a single heart and a unanimous spirit we shout, 'Long live the gallant American Army !'

Needless to say, we got quite a kick out of our Fourth of July celebration.
On July Fourteenth the French chaplain arranged a series of allegorical pictures and then we understood at last the deep gratitude the French felt for us who had returned Lafayette's visit.

The French regiment moved out and at last we were alone on our own, holding our sector about 8oo yards long, and feeling at last that we were able to accept this great responsibility.

We had our share of wounds, and each man counted himself fortunate who had the chance to go out on the night patrols across No Man's Land. The experience was of great value and soon our men became accustomed to patrolling cautiously about No Man's Land in the darkness, stopping and listening intently at the slightest sound and ever ready to drop at the first burst from a machine-gun. German patrols were met, repulsed, and driven off with losses. Despite cunningly laid traps all efforts to take prisoners proved fruitless. Two spies in French uniforms were met behind our lines, but by the time we could check up on them to determine whether they were real or bogus they had made their escape. The espionage of the Germans was especially fine, for although the alarm was given and both French and Americans attempted to, discover these two men, they were never found.

Gas alarms were established near all headquarters and late one afternoon one of the headquarters staff was inspecting the gas sentinels. On approaching one he heard a very faint tinkle from the alarm. He immediately rushed to the sentinel and asked if he smelled gas. Upon receiving a reply in the affirmative he asked, "Then, why don't you beat the alarm, so every one can hear it?" To which the sentinel replied, "But I only smelled a little gas!"

It was at "Camp Mud" that our band with its vaudeville adjunct first proved its worth. Men came out of the front line tired and worn, with nerves on edge, and immediately upon their arrival at "Camp Mud" they were met by the band, who gave them a concert and a show. Too much cannot be said in praise of these men, who worked for hours devising and practicing topical songs and current jokes. Their efforts proved of great value throughout the entire war in the recreation of the men's mental attitude toward life.

On August 2nd we were relieved by an Ohio regiment of the 37th Division. We marched south and west through Domptail, Haudonvillier, Mehoncourt, Magnieres, Lande-court, Charmois and Bremancourt to Blainville, where we again entrained in the "40 and 8's," for what was rumored would be a livelier sector-and such it proved to be.
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