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18.The Cost of Battle


HISTORY OF THE 305th FIELD ARTILLERY
by
Charles Wadsworth Camp
1919


XVIII

THE COST OF BATTLE

SOMEBODY said they called our observatory at the Mont Saint Martin crossroads, Pittsburg, because it was so smoky. We inherited the name from the 16th, but there's probably something in it. Yet it is extremely doubtful if the Huns ever knew we had an observatory there. The instruments were behind a ruined garden wall, with a little foliage to protect them from airmen. The personnel was always limited and was taught to keep itself out of sight when aeroplanes appeared overhead. Against the heavier firing they sought refuge in an old wine cellar.

It was that crossroads that gave Pittsburg so much shelling. Our ambulances used the main road through Mont Saint Martin, tearing past Pittsburg and through the dismantled village. Always the Huns let them have it at the crossroads and through the town. That's really the reason the town was destroyed, for one fails to recall a definite bombardment of any of the buildings. After a time they tried carrying the wounded through on stretchers, but these seemed to draw as much fire as the ambulances.

The first aid station at the farm was a busy place. The ambulances would scurry up the road into the courtyard, unload, and hurry back again. Others would arrive empty and load up with men for the evacuation hospitals. Then we had a good many cases on the spot. For, as has been said, the shelling didn't let up until the enemy had retreated to the Aisne. The courtyard, perhaps because it was the center of the farm and the Hun, consequently, tried to put his center of impact there, received a large proportion of the hits. Certainly an average of five or six men a day must have been killed at the farm itself while our division was in on the Vesle.

The Second Battalion had established its first aid station under Dr. Moore in its command post. The First had located Dr. Cronin in a draw between A and B bat-teries, planning to use Dr. Moore for its command post and C Battery casualties.

The Second Battalion, however, decided on the second day to leave Les Pres Farm and move back to Chery Chartreuve which seemed less exposed, and less attractive to the Hun gunners, so the First arranged with the infantry to use its first aid station for local casualties.

Gas cases came in large numbers. The infantry sent out hundreds of men daily from the Vesle bottom. When Lieutenant Graham was relieved on the 17th his eyes were seriously inflamed from mustard gas, and he was sent back to the echelon for two days. If he had asked he might have been evacuated and so have escaped his fate of a few days later. But Graham knew how short of officers the regiment was, and he insisted on carrying on with his duty in spite of his painful condition.

Consolidation here differed radically from similar tasks in Lorraine. We were so busy that we straightened things out as we went along, and we were often surprised to learn how efficient our makeshifts were. For it must be rmembered we were fighting under new conditions. There had, until this time, been very little of this semi-stabilized warfare. The 305th faced new problems, solved them, and gave instructors and secret pamphlet writers something to pass back to newer outfits.

Always the digging on the ridge went on until Lieutenant Thayer was comparatively comfortable.
The firing, meantime, increased. On August 18th, the day selected by Major Wavig for the removal of his command post from the farm, Jerry commenced to take the most flattering care with us.

A number of the Second Battalion telephone men, under Sergeant Point, were salvaging wire, preparatory to the Move. Point I recall, was spinning a reel, calling out good-natured encouragement to his workers. A group of the First Battalion men stood behind the farm wall, commenting on what appeared to be a relief from the heavy fire.

The rising shriek of a shell made itself heard. For a moment we gauged the sound. That shell was going to fall mighty close. The shriek was right on us. Then it ceased. No explosion followed '

"Guess I'm getting jumpy," a man said. "Heaven knows where that bird burst."
"A dud," another warned. , Watch out for the next one."

Still one doesn't worry enough about the shell that doesn't burst. We went about our business. Within two minutes a shell exploded outside the window of the First Battalion command post, filling the room with smoke and knocking the adjutant, the telephone officer, and the sergeant-major across the room. Outside Point and his men had dropped. A fragment flew across to a shed against the farm wall, killing one of our horses.

Everyone picked himself up, grinning, and sought shelter. The prospect was uncomfortably clear. That was the commencement of precision fire on the farm. It was no time to salvage wire.

Point, with Lieutenant Fenn and Sergeant-Major Applegate, stood close to the wall of the Second Battalion command post, apparently safe from the burst of any projectile coming over the building. We hadn't learned to appreciate then the sharp angle of fall of some of the German howitzers. That cost Point his life. A shell whistled over the building and burst in the garden a few feet in front of the wall. The three fell to the ground, but a fragment, flying towards the house, caught Point in the back. He got first aid and was hurried away, optimistic as ever, and talking of a quick return to the detail. But Dr. Moore was doubtful, because a lung had been torn. In a few days word came back that the sergeant was dead, and the Second Battalion had had a loss difficult to repair.

The Second Battalion left Les Pres Farm that afternoon just as an order came down that each battalion should put forward four pirate pieces. Major Wanvig decided his Battery F, near the crossroads, accounted for his four. A and B were designated each to send out two pieces, and Captains Dana and Ravenel made their reconnaissances and chose the best positions available at some distance from each other in a draw to the west of Saint Gilles. They were on a forward slope. It was necessary to lay lines to them approximately three kilometers long.

There was always difficulty getting ammunition up, and it is probable that the pieces would have been more valuable in their battery emplacements. But, as has been suggested, the higher command as well as the lower was often experimenting, and the move at the time seemed useful. It proved a decidedly uncomfortable one.

That night the limbers were brought from Nesles Woods. Details were already at work on the emplacements and the lines when Lieutenant Brassell started up with the A guns, and Lieutenant Montgomery with the B. One of the telephone men met the party with-the cheerful news that the Runs had been strafing the positions all evening. With the usual optimism of the American soldier, the cannoneers grunted and said that in that case things would probably be quiet for awhile. So they sent the limbers away and manhandled the pieces into their emplacements. Shell by shell they carried the ammunition in and piled it in the least exposed spots. Then they started funk holes, for they saw they would need good ones. By midnight the Hun shells were dropping again, and the men drew off to a flank until the show seemed over. As soon as they had returned to their digging Jerry popped at them again, appearing to follow them with an uncanny malice as they scurried for safety.

It was always more or less like that in those pirate positions. There were two regular programs that the men could foresee and guard against-one- at 12:30 P.m., the other at 6 P.m. But in between came impromptu concerts that couldn't always be avoided.
A and B both got plenty of attention. Both had the same difficulty bringing up ammunition, and both suffered from a similar lack of officers and men. Sergeant Buchbinder was put in charge of the A pieces, and Sergeant Martin got B's. There were no extra cannoneers. That meant that from ten soldiers at each position men had to be found to serve the guns, to post guard, to dig shelters, to carry cooked rations from the kitchens three kilometers away, to lug in ammunition, scrape, and polish it, and to attend to odd jobs of sanitation and getting back the wounded. It must be remembered, too, that at this time nearly everybody was suffering from the weakening dysentery.

No one knows how he gets through such labor without sufficient sleep and with unsatisfactory food. Still, after a heavy shelling, even the digging went with a strong rapidity.

The second night in the Bosche took a particular dislike to the B positions. Sergeant Martin ordered his men to the flank, but one of the early shells killed Private George J. Lucking, and wounded Private Fred Scheuner.

Two men volunteered to carry the wounded man three miles to the First Aid Station. He was heavy. They had to rest. They paused in a dug out. While one of them remained with Scheuner the other hurried to the battery position and got a detail with a stretcher. Corporal Kelsey and Privates Terry and Elliot went back. The little party put Scheuner on the stretcher and started in. The Hun seemed to have a special sense for such missions. He opened up with gas. While the shells fell around them the stretcher bearers put on their respirators remarking:
"At that, gas is a darned sight better than H. E. "

On the 20th Sergeant Bernhardt's section relieved Sergeant Martin's.
That same night a sergeant, who was an extremely good churchman, went up with two G. S. carts and an escort, bearing ammunition. The uncomfortable main road was his only practical route, and Jerry showed him that he had a better trick than high explosive for ammunition escorts. An aeroplane swooped low against the moonlight and began pumping machine gun bullets at the sergeant and his horses. There seemed a necessity both for divine intervention and more speed. A combination of the two might avail. So the sergeant, thorough in all things, prayed devoutly.
"Lord God, help us now!"
And to the horses with a different sort of fervor.
" Get up, you-s."
The entire party lived to tell the story.

The difficult and disturbed routine of the pirate positions continued. Sergeant Buchbinder was carried out, wounded, on the 24th, and the affair ended when, the next day, the Bosche informed B that it had the pieces bracketed to a meter.

The early morning had been particularly quiet. The crews sat comfortably about one of the pieces, smoking after an early luncheon of cold chow and coffee.

Not a bad looking place, they agreed, when Jerry let it alone. Evidently Jerry had had enough of them, and what an afternoon it would be to make up sleep!
Whiz!

The racket started with no more warning than that. An avalanche of metal descended. At the first whistle each man scurried for his funk hole.

These little shelters had grown during the week. They looked like deep graves. Each cannoneer crouched in his, listening to the angry shrieks of the fragments, to the splintering of trees, fancying always that he was the sole survivor of the party. It was fire for destruction of the most intense sort.

At the end each crawled out and looked for the mangled bodies of his comrades. All that digging hadn't been wasted. The entire group stood there, half-dazed, but unhurt.

The position, however, was in ruins. The trees lay in a twisted mass. Sergeant Bernhardt's gun was out of action. A huge fragment had passed through the recoil mechanism. The telephone lines had been torn to pieces.

That was the end of those pirate positions. Orders came to salvage what was left. The limbers appeared that night and drew the guns out. Two G. S. carts arrived and loaded the ammunition.

Out on the open road one of the carts broke down. There was a good deal of shelling, and another aeroplane took a band, dropping a bomb very close to the party. The limbers had gone on. The guide was evidently with them. The drivers of the carts had never been on the road before. They were at a loss. Private Margid, who had been at the position from the first day, volunteered to stay behind until the cart was fixed when he would guide both in. After another breakdown he got them to the position, and once more the firing batteries of A and B were united.

During these days the men at the regular positions hadn't had any too pleasant a time.
Private George L. Forman was killed on August 16th while walking from the Battery A position to the edge of Death Valley.

On the 18th Captain Douglas Delanoy was wounded at an improvised observatory near Boston. He had an old German dugout for protection, and at the first shell started to slide into this. A small fragment caught him on the knee, making apparently a trivial wound. His leg stiffened, however, and he was evacuated and did not return to the regiment until the last of October. This left Lieutenant Derby in command of Battery F.

On August 21st, while firing a normal barrage, Battery D's number 9, piece was destroyed by a premature burst ' as B's had been on the range at Souge. Fortunately the full gun crew was not in the pit. Private Walter Rubino was killed. Gunner Corporal Arthur Roos-probably because he was for the moment adding the duties of number 2 to his own, and was not on his seat when the lanyard was pulled-escaped with a bad fracture of the skull. He was in hospital for more than two months, but was eventually returned to his battery. Sergeant Jacob Metzger and Private Joseph Cohen were seriously wounded and evacuated to America.

On the next day, the Und, the regiment lost its first officer at the front.

Lieutenant Graham had returned to duty, although still suffering from his gassing of a few days before, and had relieved Lieutenant MacNair at the infantry battalion command post.

On this evening he walked with Captain Belvedere Brooks of the 308th Infantry to a shelter near Ville Savoie, known as Cemenocal Cave. The Huns had not, apparently, fired on this point before. A number of other infantry officers stood near, and a large group of enlisted men. This congregation seemed unsafe, and Lieutenant Graham spoke of it.

A shell came over and fell near the party, a dud.
Captain, afterwards Major, Breckenridge, cried:
"Look out!"

There was a rush for the entrance of the cave. Graham and Brooks with the other infantry officers stood back to let the men in first. A second shell burst in the midst of the little group. Graham, Brooks, and a second infantry officer were killed. Lieutenant Bruce Brooks, Captain Brooks' brother, was at that time assigned to our regiment. Captain Breckenridge got word to him, and telephoned Major Easterday of Lieutenant Graham's death.

Lieutenant MacNair happened to be in the Second Battalion's command post. He was hurried down to the infantry, while Lieutenant Ellsworth 0. Strong was summoned from the echelon to replace Lieutenant Graham.

Corporals Hickey and Rice and Privates Golden and Aasgard, who were on duty with the infantry, carried Lieutenant Graham's body to Les Pres Farm over heavily shelled roads. Chaplain Sheridan was summoned and the lieutenant was buried in the little cemetery on the Chartreuve Road where so many of our men lie.
Three days later Lieutenant Strong, who had relieved Lieutenant MacNair, was killed with a number of infantrymen near the same spot while going about his work with that quiet and confident ability that characterized everything he did.

After that Lieutenants Mots and Brassel alternated on liaison. Lieutenant Mots was touched by a machine gun bullet in the arm, but fortunately the wound was not se-rious, and he was back at work within a few days. For the question of officers was growing daily more serious. An order came through requiring the regiment to send one captain, three first lieutenants, and five second lieutenants to America to serve with new organizations. The Colonel chose the following: Captain Fox; First Lieutenants Brooks, Dodworth, and Stryker; and Second Lieutenants Beek, Sawin, Schutt, Walsh, and Wemken. These officers left Nesles Woods on August 26th.

It was about this time, too, that the Chief of Artillery reminded Lieutenants Camp, Church, and Fenn of their recommendations at Souge. The first was sent as in-structor to the Field Artillery School at Meucon, the second to Valdahon, and the third to La Corneau.

The officers that remained, one can understand, didn't get much rest. An organization with two officers for duty was lucky.
One is reminded of the Battery Commander who was summoned to Division Headquarters to testify about some alleged short firing.
"On the day in question," he was asked, "did you have an officer with all your guns?"
He answered promptly:
" I did not, sir."
Oh the disapproval of those Olympians whose lot in war lets them ask such questions!.
"And why not?" this Olympian demanded with an air of, "Young man you shall be tried."
There was a map. The Battery Commander put his finger on it.

"Because," he answered, "One of my guns is here, another is here, a kilometer from the first, and the other two are here, three kilometers away. I am the only officer on duty with my battery."

The telephone details were at it day and night, but communication on the Vesle was kept open. Working on the lines, as they did, the telephone men became experts in judging the probable point of impact of a shell. They knew when to duck, and they did it-under orders, some of them, at first. Without this ability and this touch of common sense a telephone man wouldn't have lasted long at Les Pres. It wasn't, however, always possible to duck. Sometimes there were too many shells in the air. Sometimes, too, the Huns used an Austrian 88 with a flat trajectory that was on you before you could really hear it coming.

On August 26th Corporal Schweitzer and Private Fred Isler were on the line from La Tuillerie to the First Battalion command post. A portion of this line was strung from old telegraph poles, and the pair carried a ladder as well as their testing instrument and spare wire. They had tested as far as the Chery crossroads when they heard a big shell coming. They didn't have time to get rid of their impedimenta and duck. The shell burst too close to them. It was Isler that was hit in the temple. Schweitzer carried him to a First Aid Station in Chery, but he died without regaining consciousness.

Two days later another telephone man went. Regimental headquarters had desired all along to establish an observatory forward with the infantry, although observation of any sort down there was difficult. A point had been located, and it was desired to run a line to it. Such a line would have to cross the open ground in front of Boston from the woods- to the left, which were full of bodies and under constant fire. It was practically the same ground, that so many infantrymen and artillerymen had attempted before with wire that was shot out almost as soon as it was laid.

Captain Gammell, Lieutenant Willis, and Private Frank Tiffany believed the importance of such an observatory made an attempt necessary, and, as you never get anything in war without trying against odds, they set out towards Mont Saint Martin, paying out the line as they went. It was a brave effort that should have succeeded. But the Huns sniped at the trio, probably with an Aus-trian 88, and Private Tiffany was hit in the leg and back. The two officers carried him to Les Pres Farm. He died shortly after.

Such sniping was always to be looked for. It was particularly dangerous, as was also the intermittent dropping of single shells about the farm at intervals of a few minutes all day and night. The concentrated firing of the Germans, while it irritated, was by no means so risky, because you could tell after a fashion what to expect, and when.

The Hun introduced an appreciable amount of system into his shelling of the farm and its neighboring positions.

Let us say it is 8:30 in the evening. The last light tries to soften the shattered buildings. Here and there groups of men stand close to the walls. Several are coiling wire on an improvised hand reel. One glances at his watch.

"Most time for the evening shower," he says.
Several yawn. The groups scatter. Some slip into the cellar. Others seek the shelter of the walls where a few funk holes have been dug. In a moment there is no sign of life about the place except for a delayed ambulance plodding up the hill, and a curious head that projects cautiously from the cellarway.
Whiz-z-z-z-Bang!
The ambulance scurries into the courtyard. The curious head disappears.
The shells follow one another with a relentless rapidity. It is like the cracking of several whips with long lashes. The crack of one is lost in the swish of another.

These are 105s. In the cellars and behind the walls the men are safe enough except from a direct hit, and their chances are fairly good although all the shells are certain to fall within a limited radius.

The switchboard operator turns his crank and gets Regimental Headquarters for the major.
"Raining hard," the major reports to the adjutant.
"How hard?"
" Pouring."

It's not altogether pleasant to be asked such questions when you're in the midst of the storm. Somebody's got to stick his head out to verify the size of the shells. Some-body's got to count them. The first time we had this particular drubbing the major asked us for estimates of the rate of fire, so that he could tell them back at Regimental Headquarters. One officer, in an honest effort to be conservative put his reply as low as a hundred shells a minute. Another said seventy-five. A third objected.

"That's all nonsense. It can't be more than fifty a minute-a little less than one a second."
The noise made him seem like a poseur. We got out our stop watches. The rate of fire averaged just eight shells a minute.

"Pouring" was enough after a few days to indicate that particular strafing. At the end of twenty minutes every-one yawns and prepares to go about his affairs. The racket suddenly ceases. The curtains are thrust back. The men slip out, clinging close to the walls because of that intermittent firing which will continue all night, and which is more dangerous than the expensive burst we have just had.

It was amusing after one of these noisy, shrieking concentrations to watch men ducking at the whistle of a projectile that would probably burst a kilometer away. They did have that effect. They put one's nerves, to an extent, on edge. You never got accustomed to the flying past of many fragments with a sound like the crying out of mad witches. Always after these exhibitions there were fresh holes in the roofs and walls of the farm, and usually another piece of the cellar steps would be knocked away.

These strafings annoyed the cooks. Even here they clung to their fires as they had done in Lorraine. After one of the first concentrations we rushed out and checked up on the men. ' A cook was missing.
"Who saw him last?"
"I saw him in the kitchen just before the shells came in,3) a kitchen police answered.
Hesitatingly we stepped to the open door of the kitchen.

It was quite dark in there, except for a red glow from the stove against the end wall. In that red glow we saw outstretched a body. We tiptoed in. The body stirred. The head, we could see, was hidden in the hot oven. We drew the man gently away. It was our cook, his face the color of a well-broiled lobster. For nearly twenty minutes he had lain there with that pandemonium raging outside, his head at least protected, if rather painfully so.

Another day the surrey came up with rations. Manzo, the First Battalion cook looked them over and forgot all about the war for a time. He told everybody what Ser-geant Bayer and Ramstad had turned over to him. There was fresh beef, potatoes, rice.

"No corn willy for dinner today, boys!"
Manzo was the most popular man in the army. We had lived on corn willy, gold fish, and beans for so long that the thought of fresh food was a little heady.
Manzo and his assistants set to work. Extraordinarily pleasant odors slipped from the kitchen.
"Bet the flies don't get any of my dinner," one man boasted.
It is doubtful if any Christmas feast was ever looked for-ward to as eagerly as that meal. Then the tragedy happened.

The Runs commenced to shell, and out of their schedule time. Mike and his assistants were forced reluctantly from the kitchen. They left the dinner cooking on the stove. Fifteen or twenty minutes' absence wouldn't hurt it. But all the time he was inhabiting a shelter Manzo was uneasy.

The bombardment lifted. Manzo and his assistants crawled out and hurried to the kitchen. A moment later Manzo came rushing out. He saw Major Easterday. He flung up his hands. He burst out:
" Maje! The Run! He shoota da hell outa da kitch!

The major was as interested as anyone else in the feast. The entire detail crowded into Manzo's temple. Few had the courage to gaze for more than a moment on the scene of sacrilege. A shell had come through the end wall. It had landed on the stove. It had burst there. The re-mains of dinner were on the floor, the walls, and the ceiling. Strong men wept. Manzo went sadly back to his tins of hardtack and corn willy. For soldiers must eat. It is such outrages that breed hate.

While some of these escapes had a touch of humor they were rather too close run for comfort. The affair of the dud at Regimental Headquarters, for example, might have had a very different ending.

On the morning of August 22nd a 105 ripped into the building, through a room in which Captain Fox and Lieutenants Klots and Willis were standing, tore through the wall into the next room, and passed through Colonel Doyle's cot which fortunately was not occupied. The shell failed to explode. Had it exploded, Regimental Headquarters would have needed some new officers.


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