The Accompanying Gun

Charles Wadsworth Camp


THE date of September 5th, 1918, and the name of St. Martin brings very vivid memories to my mind, for it was on that date and from the village of St. Martin that I saw the beginning of the first complete advance of the Seventy-Seventh Division on the so-called Fismes Front.

Together with three other men, I had been stationed for three weeks in the village of St. Martin doing observation work for the First Battalion of the 305th Field Artillery. These weeks had been strenuous ones for us, as during that time the Germans seemed possessed with the idea that a portion of our army was located in this village, and so shelled it continuously.

Had you walked through the deserted streets to the end of the village, and then through an entrance in a stone wall surrounding what had once been a well kept garden, you would have seen through the grey mists of the morning, two figures huddled closely together in the farthest corner of the wall, one with his eyes peering anxiously over the top of the wall and the other standing by with his telephone in readiness. You might have thought that nothing could be seen by these men, but you would have been mistaken, for from this point our entire sector was under observation, and record of every flare and rocket was immediately transmitted by phone to headquarters some distance away.

As day began to dawn these men, realizing their night's vigil was over, and finding, as was most always the case in the early morning that visibility was poor because of the mist in the valley, rushed to the centre of the garden and rapidly descended a flight of stone steps which led to an old wine cellar. At this point I was somewhat rudely awakened (for we could sleep even with shells bursting around us) and hearing the familiar words, "Hurry up, men, we must have breakfast before the haze lifts in the valley and we can observe the enemy again," I arose, and prepared for our meal.

Up came our floor, a much walked on board which, when placed on two chippendale chairs, formed our table. This was then covered with linen of newspaper quality, and a can filled with white phlox from the garden above us formed the center decoration. A brass candlestick at either end of the table furnished just enough light to enable us to eat and yet hide our bearded and unclean faces. An assortment of china of the mess kit variety completed the scene. This began our day.

From that time on, it was a busy day. It seemed as if all Hell had been let loose, for the Runs were shelling not only St. Martin but every point around us, and we were not only getting the shells that were intended for us but also those that fell short of their targets. Our telephone line was broken by shells more than a dozen times that day, and we were forced to repair same both under fire and aeroplane observation.

Our greatest troubles were always during the three or four hours after dusk, as it was at that time that our supply trains went down to the trenches, and our observation post, located as it was at the very intersection of the two most traveled roads, received the full benefit of the fire that a cross road always attracts. We had educated ourselves not to mind the six inch shells and so called "minnewefers, " but the "Whizz bangs" were always a constant terror to us, for hardly would we hear the report of the gun before the shell would be upon us, and many times we bad miraculous escapes from their bursts.

As night drew near on the 4th day of September, the shelling became more furious than ever, and we were forced many times to seek for the period of a few seconds a more substantial shelter than the crumbly rock wall behind which we usually stood. It was a remarkably clear night and we could see many miles of the battle front. Up until about nine o'clock we had been listening to the music of German shells, but not long after that time our batteries began to fire a seemingly continuous barrage. Towards midnight the enemy firing became less vigorous, and in fact almost ceased with the exception of a few long range guns. We began to observe flares here and there, and before long the sky was a vivid red. What did it mean? Were the Huns retreating and burning their supplies, or were our men touching Uncle Sam's matches to their ammunition dumps? Both things were true, but our batteries were the cause of the greater number of the flares, and we could not help from doing a little silent cheering at our posts.

The firing continued for the greater part of the night but morning dawned upon a practically strange country, for the firing had ceased on both sides, with the exception of a few stray shots, and the silence was almost appalling, coming as it did after the din of the night before. For the first time since we had been at the post, we viewed our out-look from the outside of the wall and marveled that we could stand there without attracting enemy fire.

Before noon the fields were swarming with our troops of the reserve infantry, advancing to occupy the newly won territory. What a difference a few hours had made. Only the night before found men cautiously making their way through the grass to the trenches, each with a serious yet determined look on his face, while not twenty four hours later more of their comrades were traversing the same route in a care free manner.

We remained at our posts all day, but all we could observe was line upon line of our men traveling onward. The roads were getting more and more congested, and at dusk as we stood at the gate we could see nothing but a continued procession likened as it were to the Crusaders of old, all pressing forward each man with but one objective in view.

That night in our little French wine cellar, where we had previously sat in the dark and listened to the bursting shells above us, we were visited by the Commanding Officer of our regiment, and heard these words "I shall be at the Hotel de Fismes tonight " which, as he sent them over the telephone, reminded us at that time of Caesar's famous message "We came, we saw, we conquered!"
Surely these forty-eight hours were memorable.



I HAVE hunted sparrows and frogs with an air rifle when a youngster, and some larger game with a shot gun and rifle, but for an all-around sporting proposition to those interested I can recommend hunting Boche with a 75 MM. gun. You can have all the thrills of an ordinary day's shooting. You get up very early in the morning. You find that your careful arrangements for breakfast have all miscarried. You tramp all day, sometimes getting a shot and sometimes not. It usually rains. All your superior officers, from the Generals down, cuss you out for being where you are, and for not being where you are not. I may say in passing that a General as a rule rarely notices a battery, but a pirate gun and its hapless commander are never overlooked. However, if you can arrange things so as not to arrive at any one point at the same moment as a Boche shell, it is a reasonably happy and healthy life.

About eleven o'clock on the night of November 4th I was awakened from a beautiful dream, that I had never been a hero and joined the army, by the following conversation on the telephone:

"Yes, we have Mitchell with us from E' Battery."
"Yes, he is a 1st Lt."
" I think he will do, anyway, he is the only thing we have in the way of a first lieutenant."
"Just a moment until I get a pencil."
"All ready, sir."
"One gun, a kilometer of wire, 9,00 rounds of ammunition, a G. S. cart,"

"yes, sir."
"Yes, Sir. "
"Yes, Sir."
"To report to Col. Sheldon, 307th Infantry, at Oches, at 5:15 A.m., November 5th."
"Very good, Sir."

That "very good" certainly did not apply to me, for I was very comfortable, thank you, just where I was, and at that moment my idea of a good time was not going out on a pirate gun expedition. So when Capt. Ravenel turned to me, with a smile that a man from the warm depths of a bedding roll always gives to another man who is to be routed out forthwith, and said, "I've a little job for you," I just naturally cussed the army and the Bosche.

We were on the road at 3:00 A. m., and reported as per schedule. Upon arriving at Oches I was told to take up a position to fire on some machine guns on the northern outskirts of Oches. We hauled our guns up on top of a hill behind the town, and prepared to make things unpleasant for Mr. Bosche. Unfortunately, the machine gunners departed with the night, and we duplicated the action of the Duke of York.

Who had ten thousand men, He marched them up the hill And marched them down again.

As the Bosche had very considerately blown up the, only bridge out of Oches, I managed to get some food and rest for my men and horses. At 1:00 o'clock the bridge was finished and to our great satisfaction we were the first wheeled vehicles over and after the Bosche. By night we had caught up with our advanced infantry at Stonne.

The next morning the infantry beat us out. When an infantryman gets up in the morning all he does is just that and he is ready to move. Horses, unlike the infantry have to be fed in accordance with G. 0., A. E. F., G. 0., Hq. 77th Div., and G. 0., 152d F. A. Brigade, which all takes time, and then harnessed and hitched.

The next time I take out an accompanying gun I am going to apply for a tank, for the road between La Besace and Raucourt would have given an energetic tank a good morning's exercise. The Germans had blown holes in the road, completely destroying it, and making cross-country riding and driving a necessary accomplishment.

The commander of the advanced battalion of the 307th Infantry, which I was supporting, was a most elusive person that morning. He had been reported to me to be in several different places at the same time, which, though that regiment was accomplishing the seemingly impossible, I was loathe to believe. To settle the matter I rode ahead, leaving my gun to follow. As I rode along the La Besace -Raucourt Road I met several parties returning, wounded, which indicated that I might do some work shortly. Immediately south of Flaba I met General Price, commanding the 154th Brigade, and Col. Sheldon, of the 307th Infantry. Word had just come back that our advance was delayed by stubborn machine gun action from points southwest and southeast of Raucourt.

In my precarious existence as a lieutenant I have had a variety of jobs, but never before had I been called upon to act as a Brigade Commander. True, my force consisted of but one gun, but for this one engagement I represented the artillery, and we had all the elements of a regular battle. The general simulated the action of the aforesaid machine guns by his questions of: "How long before you can fire? " " How long do you want to fire? " " How much do you want to fire?" Three seconds is no proper time for much mental gymnastics, but I had to beat the next question. We were to open fire at 1:45 P. m. on the point southwest of Raucourt for fifteen minutes, then shift for fifteen minutes to the second point, southeast of Raucourt. Immediately upon the lifting of our fire the infantry were to advance.

All I had to do was to get back to my gun, put the gun in position and lay it, compute the data, find an O.P. where I could see and fire; and I had forty-five minutes to do it in. I don't remember exactly how we did it, but we did. It took a kilometer of wire and all my wind to establish that O.P. Capt. Pike, of the 305th F. A., then liaison officer with General Price, contributed very great physical, mental and moral support. Our range was three thousand meters, and therefore there was not a chance to see the target from near the gun. My "P-T" training failed me, for there never is a convenient steeple or "the flagpole on Division Hill" around when you want to use them. So on my way back to the gun, I prayed for a goniometer, the alpha and omega of modern artillery. We have all dreamed of some nice kind old gentleman, casually presenting one with a million dollars or some other little thing like that, or of an inspecting officer saying something is good, but if that ever happens to me it will be nothing compared to my feelings when at the gun I found Lt. Hoar with a goniometer out on an advanced reconnaissance for the 305th F. A. To be strictly correct, I saw that goniometer and rather vaguely took in the lieutenant.

The miraculous continued, for our first shot dropped just about where we wanted it. From the O.P. we could not see the machine gunners, but we could see our infantry waiting under cover of the crest behind which the machine gunners were operating. With sweeping fire we walked across the area indicated by the coordinates furnished, and then decreased the range, to be sure of a bracket. At the end of fifteen minutes the fire was shifted to the second target, and the operation repeated. It was a great moment when our fire shifted and we could see our infantry go over the crest, apparently without resistance. That is a satisfaction an artilleryman rarely gets.

As to the direct effect of the fire I have had reports varying from a direct hit to scaring the Bosche to death. My own opinion is that the Bosche decided he was in a rather unhealthy neighborhood and executed a typical German "successful operation," worthy of his high command.

My gun was in position immediately behind one of the German mine craters on the road, and as he was shelling quite heavily on our right, and now that the party was over, I was tremendously interested in getting on and away from behind that crater, for I guessed the Boche would shell that part of the road as soon as he thought wheeled material would be on it in the hope of catching someone held up by the crater. As a matter of fact, I guessed correctly, as he did drop a few there before we left; fortunately, however, with no more effect than to cut our telephone line and to cause us to do some prompt ducking.

My total losses consisted of a pair of field glasses and a raincoat. These I had left forward of the gun position, and upon inquiring from some men near where I had been as to whether they had seen them, they replied, "No, but we have seen a General and a couple of Colonels hereabouts." I never quite determined whether that was an explanation, or merely a bit of information.

About five o'clock that afternoon we rolled into Rau-court. There had been demonstrations when our infantry came in just before us, but when those liberated French civilians saw once more their beloved "Soixante-quinze" their joy knew no bounds, and we had a triumphal procession. We could not understand their French, but we had a very good idea of their intentions when we saw the plates of bread and jam they had for us. The men decided that this was the place to stay for life, but as the infantry had gone on our job was to go on, too. So, after ten minutes' rest, we moved on to Harraucourt, a rather unmilitary looking outfit, with jam inside and out, but satisfied with the world. At Harraucourt the bread and jam operation was repeated with the addition of other food and bedsfor men and horses. Our troubles were not yet over, for the G. S. cart was pressed into service as the only wheeled vehicle in the vicinity to haul a supply of captured German bread to our front-line infantry. This took most of the night.

I shaved and washed that evening in somebody's kitchen, surrounded by an admiring group of French civilians who would burst out on an average of once a minute with a rousing, " Vive la Americaine," whereupon I would have to suspend operations and return in my best American, "Vive la France." I have now the greatest sympathy for a trick bear or a film star. That night I slept in a Bosche colonel's bed. Altogether, it was a fair day's sport.

The next day we went into position southeast of Harraucourt, but had no chance to fire as rather complicated orders came out which prevented our firing where a Bosche might be. As about the only alternative was to shoot up our own troops we lived as all good people should in peace and happiness until the armistice.



ON SEPT. 8, 1918, the regimental command post went forward from Fismes after two days of incessant shelling and occupied a large cave recently deserted by Germans. The engineers and medical officers had worked diligently all day neutralizing the air of the cave and taking all possible steps to degas the cave. The cave was pronounced safe for occupancy about 4.00 P. m. Col. Doyle arrived about that time and inspected the cave, Things did not look any too well and evidence of possible German trickery existed. The cave was very massive and could hold possibly 1000 men in ranks. Outlying galleries of the cave were pronounced unsafe but ventilation and boarding up of some of the galleries offset this difficulty and apparently rendered the balance of the cave safe. About 9:30 P. m. Col. Doyle instituted a check of all his men (about 40) to ascertain if they were in safe, ungassed parts of the cave. This check turned out to be a remarkable safety precaution, as despite all warnings many men had wandered into gassed galleries and were even then gassed, some badly, others undetermined. Many of the men gassed were blissfully asleep. About 11:30 P. m. leaking gas from buried gas shells rendered the entire cave uninhabitable and all men were ordered out. This was a severe measure as no protection against bombing planes or shell fire existed. However, drastic action was imperative. About this time many men began to show the effects of the gas and were in great agony some blinded. The entire medical staff (officers and men) had been gassed and were unable to give any assistance. Col. Doyle alone remained in the cave giving aid to a constant stream of gassed men. This aid consisted of his locating some potassium tablets left by the medical detachment and making up an akaline solution from the water in his canteen. Gauze from a first aid bandage dipped in the solution served as an eye dropper. Many men were in the greatest agony from their eyes. Many were blinded for the time, only a candle existed for light and no assistance whatsoever was at hand. Col. Doyle worked unaided over the cases until 4:30 A.M., at the time he knew he was being gassed as he had been continuously in the same place where some of his patients had been rendered blind. At 4:30 A.m. he felt he had endangered himself to a point where it was wise to get out, but not until a medical officer attached to the engineers had been requested and arrived. This officer gave the men, still streaming in, the same treatment but only for a few moments. During the four hours one of the greatest problems consisted in getting men out of the cave at once after treatment. Many had to led in and led out.

During the day Col. Doyle's long exposure developed and that night about 10:00 P.m. his condition was such as to deprive him of any ability to see although he continued to personally stay by the telephone, receive several missions for fire and assigned such missions to his battalions. About midnight he realized that his effectiveness was practically terminated as he was in great pain, and calling for assistance he was led away for treatment and evacuation.

The Germans in this case had buried gas shells and apparently using a corrosive acid the shell cases had been eaten through. I suppose somewhat about 7:00 to 8:00 P.M. the gas had then leaked out, worked through the covering over the buried gas shells and fouled the air of the cave. A very nasty vivid impression of this incident will remain for years in the minds of all. Some of the men have not recovered as yet. Col. Doyle plainly felt the effects for three months after. Capt. Mitchell and Lt. Mots had been in the cave but a short time, possibly 3 hours and prior to 11:00 P.m., yet they were gassed and evacuated to the hospital.

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