Operations of the 306th Field Artillery

THE 306th Field Artillery


IN this history of the operations of the 306th Field Artillery, but a general outline will be given of the work of the regiment from the viewpoint of the Operations Officer. It is difficult to set forth a history of the regiment without becoming involved in a general discussion of the operations of the entire division as the 155 howitzers operated as divisional artillery, and, taking part in all major operations and most of the minor affairs of the division, worked principally in conjunction with the infantry and therefore operated, as a rule, hand in hand with the infantry. Although the operations of the infantry and of the artillery dovetailed, it would be obviously unfair, and possibly even fallacious, to include in this outline an exposition of the results of operations of the infantry which are based on information not always authentic. For this reason and for the additional reason that it is rarely possible to ascertain exactly the result of artillery firing, this history will be confined as far as possible to statements of principal actions up to the point where the artillery preparations were completed, and no attempt made to set forth or analyze the ultimate result of operations as they effected the infantry situation.

The operations on the Lorraine front were comparatively simple. The regiment supported its own infantry covering a large front of some fourteen kilometers. Baccarat was in fact principally a rest and training sector, and for the artillery meant little more than the opportunity to enable organization commanders to learn to operate under field conditions, to smooth out problems of supply and coordination, to realize the difficulty of bringing up guns and setting them into position, and to give everyone a mild idea of what the Front was like. Probably no one was deceived into thinking that the regiment was in the conflict in earnest, although firing for registration was done and a pretty piece of work by Battery F in blowing up a church filled with minnenwerfer shells added a little real atmosphere.

The reason for the maintenance of a rest and training sector were obvious enough, although distasteful to American ideas of warfare. Lorraine was not badly damaged by the war, and the French, looking forward to the time when Alsace-Lorraine should be theirs again, wished to keep it so, successfully preventing American efforts to force aggressive fighting on that front-this aside from the desire of the French command to retain part of the battle line where troops which were exhausted from combat, both in men and material, could be rested and refitted without taking them to the rear and thus thinning the front. The Germans, also anxious to keep a rest front, adopted the same attitude, resulting eventually in a sort of " gentlemen's agreement " to refrain from any heavy action in Lorraine. This was carried out to such an extreme that there came into existence by unwritten mutual understanding a "retaliation schedule" clearly understood and observed by both sides. Under this schedule the shelling of a town within the French lines would promptly be answered by fire on two towns of comparatively equal importance within the German lines. The towns were listed side by side in copies of the schedule furnished to each artillery commander for his compliance. The ammunition supplied to American artillery was reduced to such a small quantity that a heavy bombardment on the Germans was rendered impossible, and action was confined to local infantry raids in which the heavy artillery had little part.

Finally came the order to pull out of the Lorraine front, and everyone knew that the regiment was about to plunge into the fight in earnest. And they were not in error, for from the easy life at Baccarat, the regiment moved into one of the most hotly shelled and bitterly contested sectors of the front,-the Vesle. It was clear in every mind that the regiment was nearing the crucial period-the entry into real battle, the carrying on of the tremendous victory of Chateau-Thierry. Early in the morning of August 13th the tired troops drew into the Forft de Nesles, and on the nights of August 14th and 15th the guns were placed in position, relieving the 13th Field Artillery. The relief was conducted amid heavy shelling of the roads without casualty to the 3o6th, but with heavy losses in men and horses to the 13th.

At 8.20 P.M. on the night of August 17th the commanding officer of the First Battalion reported to the regimental commander that Battery A was undergoing a heavy bombardment and in a few minutes the Second Battalion was greasing shells that were soon on their way to a suspected German battery. The fire on Battery A continued and at 8.40 the Third Battalion was called on to take part in counter-battery fire on another suspected battery. The fire on Battery A soon ceased and in the absence of a planned program our fire was also discontinued. With the exception of hostile shelling of our roads and the regimental Post Command all was comparatively quiet until 11:50 when the commanding officer of the Third Battalion telephoned that Battery F was being shelled and that the personnel had been forced to take cover. At midnight the Second Battalion was again busy firing on suspected German batteries to counter their fire. The rest of the night was comparatively quiet.

Each day and night was more or less of a repetition of the experiences of the first night, although we did not by any means each time await German fire before firing ourselves. As a rule, however, fire was not opened on a suspected German battery unless it was recently and accurately located, as it was well known that the Germans moved their batteries frequently from one position to another, but almost every night their main roads and cross-roads were heavily shelled by our batteries.

An account of the numerous firings engaged in, day and night, on German batteries, congregations of German troops, vehicles on roads, machine-gun nests, crossroads, etc., would be of but little interest and therefore will not be included in this outline of operations.

On the night of August 21st fire was opened by the First Battalion on the Tannerie. The Tannerie was near Fismes at the railroad and close to the Vesle. Machine guns in and about the Tannerie had been causing our infantry considerable trouble, and the 3o6th was ordered to fire on it preliminary to an attack by our infantry. The fire was duly executed but when the infantry got there the Tannerie was no longer in existence. It had been so thoroughly and completely destroyed that nothing was left but a scattered mass of debris.

Our line was pressed back slightly in the center on August 22d, but we still held the erstwhile Tannerie. During most of the night of August 22d-23d all of the batteries fired heavily in support of the infantry in their endeavor to straighten the line. The next night the infantry made another attack at the same place, again supported by the 3o6th Field Artillery, although without much more success. Early in the morning of August 25th, the French division on our left made a strong attack west of Bazoches in which the Second and Third Battalions took part.

On the morning of August 27th took place an unsuccessful attack on Bazoches. All the batteries fired heavily but the infantry were unable to take and hold the town. From this time on the 3o6th paid particular attention to Bazoches with the purpose of making the town untenable for the Germans, and although it was not taken until the Germans retired along the whole front, there is little doubt but that the Germans found it a terrible and an expensive place to hold. Day and night in addition to the firing of other missions our shells were dropped into Bazoches. At twelve midnight September 2d-3d, 1918, our fire into the town ceased, and Bazoches was unmolested for three hours. At 3.03 A.M. Corps Gas Troops poured a gas projector attack into the place accompanied by a rolling barrage by the 304th Field Artillery (75mm.) and the 3o6th Field Artillery. When the barrage was completed the 3o6th returned to the usual destruction fire. When the division advanced on September 4th, it was possible to observe accurately the extent of the damage inflicted by our artillery, and there is no question but that the 3o6th honestly earned the title, which it then received of the " Wreckers of Bazoches.

An attempt was made on the morning of September 4th to drive the Germans from the Chateau du Diable and surrounding woods, south of the Rouen-Reims Road. As at Bazoches, this terrain was wonderfully adapted for defense, the heavy woods surrounding the Chateau affording excellent concealment and protection for the defenders. The wall-rimmed road running along the top of the abrupt slope in the rear of the Chateau furnished almost impregnable machine-gun positions. The Third Battalion fired for several hours on the road over the Chateau, then on the Chateau and stables, and then again on the road. Within this period, the Ravin de L'Homme Mort, reported to contain a German camp, was subjected to a gas concentration by Batteries B, C, D, and E, the 304th Field Artillery blocking both ends of the ravine with a rapid fire of high explosive and shrapnel.

The German artillery fire had slackened considerably during the preceding two days, and many large fires in their rear areas were observed, indicating an early retirement of their lines. This was confirmed during the day of September 4th when the infantry reported that the Germans were retreating and that patrols were being sent over the Vesle to keep contact with them. During the night of September 4th- 5th the artillery followed as fast as the hastily prepared bridges flung across the Vesle would permit. It was then that the 306th disproved the generally accepted theory that the heavy artillery should follow the light, for but one battalion of light artillery of the brigade succeeded in crossing before the 306th. This advance marked our first movement in the " Oise-Aisne Offensive," aimed to drive the Germans back of the Aisne and the Chemin des Dames. At this time General Mangin's divisions were astride the Chemin des Dames and driving eastward while we were attempting to force the Germans back over the Aisne by frontal attacks.

At 8.40 A.M. on September 5th the infantry were reported held up by serious machine-gun fire from the ravines near Merval and Serval. Under personal directions from the divisional commander the Third Battalion halted in its march and unlimbered in the streets of Fismes, firing rapidly for thirty minutes into the ravines designated. This was the only occasion on which the regiment conducted fire without any concealment whatever, the operation being performed in full view of a German captive balloon.

During September 5th, 6th, and 7th many missions of harassing and interdiction fire were executed by the batteries, particular attention being paid to the defences on La Petite Montagne. The fire on La Petite Montagne, as a matter of fact, was almost continuous, day and night, from September 5th to September 15th. On September 8th starting at 6.45 P.m. the Second and Third Battalions took part in a rolling barrage followed by support fire, in an attempt to clear La Petite Montagne of the enemy. Beginning at 5.15 A.M. on the morning of September 14th and continuing most of the day all batteries delivered a heavy fire on German positions in support of another attack to drive the Germans back of the Aisne along the entire division front. In general, the fire of batteries from the time of the crossing of the Vesle until the division withdrew from the sector to proceed to the Argonne was conducted almost entirely against enemy infantry-a fire that continued without rest on scores of points which were known or suspected to harbor the enemy.

The batteries turned over their positions on the evening of September 15th to the 155's of the 8th Italian Division and withdrew, with few casualties, to the Bois de Meuniere, near Coulonges. After a hard road march the regiment drew into the Foret d' Argonne on the night of September 23d-24th and immediately commenced preparations to take part in a colossal attack of which whispers had already been heard-" from Switzerland to the Sea."

Extreme caution was taken to insure secrecy of the operations. For example, forward observers wore French uniforms, and a complete telephone system was installed but no conversations in English passed over the lines until the opening of the attack. The morning of September 26th was set for the attack, and until that time all movement within our lines was reduced to a minimum. Very little trouble from enemy artillery or bombing planes was encountered during this period, although the Germans were evidently suspicious, for there was considerable aeroplane activity for the purpose of observation and photography.

As registration would reveal the concentration of artillery, the guns could not be adjusted by observation of fire. The pieces were therefore laid with precise care, advantage being taken of every available means of orientation, including astronomical observation, to check and recheck. The battery positions of the Second Battalion were obstructed by trees, but these were not cut down and removed until nightfall of September 25th for fear of revealing the position.

All guns opened fire at 2.55 A.M., September 26th on enemy strong points, dugouts, crossroads, etc., and continued this heavy shelling until 5.30 A.M., when the fire was shifted to a heavy support barrage five hundred meters in front of the 75mm. barrage on the German front lines. At the end of twenty-five minutes the infantry went "over the top" and the barrage preceded them at the rate of a one hundred meter jump each five minutes. When the barrage reached a certain designated line, fire was again shifted to enemy strong points, assembly areas, etc., farther in the rear. The rate of fire was reduced several times after the completion of the barrage and fire ceased entirely at 2.40 P.M. September 26th. During this opening operation of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, the regiment fired a total of fifty-three hundred rounds.

In the afternoon of September 26th the Second Battalion moved forward to La Harazee, further advance being impossible on account of the condition of the roads-roads that for four years had been in No Man's Land, and had now been made hopelessly impassable by our terrific bombardment and by German mines detonated just preceding the retreat. On the following day the Third Battalion also moved to La Harazee, and on September 29th the First Battalion advanced to the Abri St. Louis.

The advance of the infantry continued; we followed, the Second Battalion moving to position about two and a half kilometers southwest of Binarville on October 2d, the Third Battalion close by on October 10th, and to positions about two kilometers north of Langon on the following day. The First Battalion took positions south of Chatel-Chehery on October 10th, and advanced southeast of La Besogne on October 12th. The Second Battalion advanced about one kilometer southeast of Grand Ham on October 11th. One gun of Battery D was taken up close to the front lines on September 29th to afford closer liaison with the infantry in the reduction of troublesome machine-gun nests but more particularly for the moral support afforded the infantry.

After the opening attack and up to October 18th all batteries took part in firing to support the infantry advance, a total of about seventeen thousand five hundred rounds being fired during that period. This fire was delivered principally in the destruction of enemy assembly areas, machine-gun nests, barbed wire and trenches, in counter battery, and in harassing and interdiction fire on roads and crossroads.

The infantry activities were in the nature of a steady pressure rather than separate blows, so that these firings were almost continuous and shifted rapidly from one target to another. The principal single attacks were the action in the relief of a battalion of the 308th Infantry on October 7th (the so-called " Lost Battalion"), the taking of St. Juvin (Kreim-hilde Stellung) on October 14th, the attack on Che-vieres on October 15th, the attacks on Grand Pre, and the two attacks of the 78th Division on the Bois des Loges and Champigneulle on October 16th and 17th.

The firing in the relief of the "Lost Battalion" was carefully prepared and well executed, as has been evidenced by the report of an exhaustive investigation conducted immediately after the action made necessary by the ill-founded charges of an officer of high rank that the firing had been wild and had caused casualties to our infantry. In this connection the following extracts from the report of Lieut. Col. James A. Galloghy, acting as Inspector for the First Army Corps, is of interest:

I find that the firing of the 3o6th Field Artillery on the morning of the 7th of October, 1918, was well directed upon the target assigned to it; that it was carefully conducted with due precaution as to safety, and certainty of firing-that this regiment did not cause the death of Lieutenant Fiske. There is direct evidence showing-not only that the shell that killed Lieutenant Fiske was not fired by a gun of the type with which this regiment is armed but also that he was killed by a large shell with two rotating bands, not spaced as those on French 155 ammunition is spaced, with indicated rifling differing markedly from the rifling of any type of French 155 and approaching closing to the rifling of the German 14.9.

The action directed on St. Juvin, which was the main effort of the division in the attack on the Kreimhilde Stellung, opened with a two hour artillery preparation from 6.30 A.M. to 8.30 A.M., on October 14th-the fire advancing after 8.30 A.M. with the movement of the infantry. The attack on Chevieres followed a short artillery preparation from 6.30 A.M. to 7.30 A.M. on October 15th. In this action the First Battalion and Second Battalion were placed under the orders of the commanding generals of the 153d and 154th Infantry Brigades respectively, the Third Battalion being held in reserve-a sharp departure from the principles of artillery that resulted before the completion of the action in the expenditure of ammunition, not justified by the situation in fire, on scattered areas and roads. On the night of October 15th the infantry of the 78th Division relieved that of the 77th Division, but the artillery remained in the lines. On the morning of October 16th the infantry moved on the Bois des Loges, with the First Battalion of this regiment supporting the attack under the orders of the Commanding General 155th Infantry Brigade and the Second Battalion under the orders of the Commanding-General of the 156th Infantry Brigade; the Third Battalion being in reserve.

The capture of the Bois-des-Loges and Champigneulle was again attempted on October 17th. On this occasion the First Battalion was subject to the orders of the Commanding Officer, 304th Field Artillery, and the Second Battalion to those of the Commanding Officer of the 305th Field Artillery-the Third Battalion in reserve. Fire was executed during the night of October 16th-17th on Grand Pre, the Bois-des-Loges, and Champign6ulle and on the morning of October 17th at H hour (6-30 A.M.) was shifted to other targets.

On October 18th the regiment was placed in reserve and drew back to La Harazee, returning to the lines on October 25th. The First and Second Battalions took positions near La Pylone (Cornay) and the Third Battalion near Fleville. But little fire except that for adjustment was executed until November 1st, when the last great blow of the war was launched. Complete and comprehensive orders for this attack included arrangements for rapid movement forward of all batteries in the event of a collapse of the German positions. The infantry attacked on the morning of November 1st after a thirty minute artillery preparation and advanced rapidly, covered by powerful artillery support. All batteries fired in accordance with a carefully ar-ranged firing schedule, consuming 3500 rounds of ammunition on enemy strong points and assembly areas. On the following day the infantry continued to advance so rapidly that the problem of transportation became acute. Exhaustion, sickness, and enemy fire had by this time reduced the strength of the regiment in animals by two thirds, and made it impossible for all batteries to keep up with the advance. For this reason on November 2d the First Battalion was immobilized and its horses turned over to the Third Battalion to enable the latter to move to positions at St. Juvin. On the same day the Second Battalion advanced to Moulin-de-Champigneulle. On the following day the horses of D Battery were turned over to C Battery, and C Battery moved on to Thenorgues, the Third Battalion advancing to Bar. On November 4th the Third Battalion took position one kilometer south of Sommauthe, and on the following day advanced to position near La Besace, C Battery advancing to Sommauthe. The Third Battalion moved to position at Haracourt on November 7th and C Battery to position near Raucourt on November 9th. During the period from November 2d to November 11th, the date of the Armistice, the more important and interesting missions were the raking fire of the First and Second Battalions on machine-gun nests in Moulin-de-Champigneulle and the woods northeast of the Moulin on November 2nd, in support of the infantry, and the fire of the Third Battalion on the road at Stonne on November 4th. The road through Stonne inclines steeply and makes three extremely sharp turns, making difficult the passage of heavy material. Observers reported a huge jam of German vehicles at Stonne late in the afternoon on November 4th, and the Third Battalion was given the task of destroying them. The result of the fire was not known, further observation having been rendered impossible by nightfall, Some counter -battery work was done by the Third Battalion on November 9th.

In conclusion it may be fitting to state that without question the success of the 306th Field Artillery in conducting its operations accurately and rapidly under difficult and trying conditions is due principally to Colonel Frederic H. Smith, whose foresight and unusual ability to organize and coordinate established the regiment on a firm footing that could not fail to carry it through with distinction and honor.
Captain, 306th F. A.
Operations Officer.
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