Chapter 4 On The Vesle

same day. The entire Regiment was billeted in and around this small village. A day was spent here to draw ammunition and clean up and it was here that the vaudeville squad gave their most ornate entertainment. Madame Burien and her beautiful daughter Pauline were the guests of honor at this entertainment and all of the topical songs and jokes centered around them.

On the early morning of the 10th, much to our surprise, we received orders to embuss in French camions-trucks holding twenty men with their equipment and driven by Indo-Chinese. This was our first experience with this form of transportation. Late that afternoon we debussed in the Nesles Woods near Nesles Chateau. We had had our fill of jolting, dust, thirst, and lack of food. The French camions were not so good.

Our orders were to billet in the woods and to light no fires. Each battalion as it arrived was sent in, following the one, ahead. It was to be a bivouac and a cold one at that. It was too dark to see where we were going, and after the battalions had halted and orders were given for the night, each man sought what he thought would be a comfortable bed. To appreciate our feelings the next morning it must be remembered that the Chateau-Thierry Drive had occurred while we were in the Baccarat Sector and the Boche had been pushed back from the ground we were camping on, but a few days before. As the first daylight appeared on the morning of the 11th we began to sit up and take notice of our surroundings. Some men had picked the warm side of what they supposed were logs, only to find that they were dead bodies and some had been dead for several days. One man had slept in an empty grave with some straw in the bottom and said afterward that he had spent a very satisfactory and comfortable night.

Later we heard that the French were fighting to preserve their country, the British to secure their commerce, and the Americans for souvenirs, and here we had a demonstration of the American trait, for every man who could, secured a Boche "tin hat" and sent it back home as a souvenir of the war. The ration carts had a full load returning to the distributing-point as well as when coming forward.

On the 11th Captain Peget was wounded by a defective rifle grenade and was evacuated. That gallant Frenchman, Captain Robert Costa de Beauregard, replaced him and carried on with enthusiasm.

On the evening of the 11th the Regiment was moved forward, the 2nd Battalion in front. This battalion had been designated to take over the front line, relieving a part of the 62nd French Division, which was holding the sector assigned to us. It was a long, tiresome march, through Foret de Fere and past the Chateau de Fere. The relief was ordered for that night.

Before dawn the battalion reached a road junction just south of Mont Notre Dame and here they came under heavy shell fire from the Boche. Some men were wounded, a few were killed, and as the town of Mont Notre Dame, through which the battalion had to pass, was under a direct shelling of gas and high explosives, Major Thacher, the commander of this battalion, found himself in a serious jam. Shells were bursting everywhere and there was no cover in the immediate vicinity. He had but to explain the situation to his officers and the battalion was at once deployed for safety. It was here that Captains Adler and Patterson and Lieutenants Harkins, Hayes, Sutherland and Bissell showed their coolness and devotion in the care of their men. It was due to the coolness of the battalion commander and his officers that a bad situation was prevented. Showing an utter disregard for their own safety, they calmly walked among their men indicating to, each soldier the best method of seeking shelter.

As daylight had arrived, the relief was held up, and finally was accomplished the next evening. Then we heard for the first time, "Voila les Boches.-Ju revoir," which appeared to be the usual way the French turned over a front line sector.

Our line straddled the Vesle River, which averaged a width of nine meters and a depth of two meters. Our right ran to the edge of the town of Bazoches and our left toward Mont Notre Dame, some two miles behind our left flank. Most of the battalion dug in on the south side of the river behind the railroad paralleling the Vesle and connecting Bazoches with the towns on our left. Companies E and F, however, as well as Battalion Headquarters, were on the north side, with the river in their rear. The river-banks were practically straight and in some places as high as five feet from the water, which was filled with wire. To say the least, we were in a bad situation, for the Boche under the cover of darkness rushed forward machine-guns to the railroad station at Bazoches and enfiladed our fox-holes nightly with machine gun fire. To our right a regiment of the 4th Division, which the 305th relieved, had tried to cross the river and had failed, and from the river bottom back to the little town of St. Thibaut could be seen the dead bodies of men of the 4th Division whom it had been impossible to bury.

The Germans had established themselves along the north bank of the Vesle and our Intelligence Section by careful observation reported at least thirty-seven machine-gun nests in the town of Bazoches. The Boche artillery was apparently concentrated in the Valley of Perles and Vauxcere and toward the Aisne, and it was from that point they kept up a constant bombardment of gas and high explosives. The Vesle Sector was never free from gas during the entire time we spent in that precarious place. The only means of supply or communication with the 2nd Battalion was a path leading up from the river-bottom into Mont Notre Dame and our loss in runners and carriers was heavy each day. It was here that Sing Kee, who was later appointed a color sergeant, distinguished himself. All runners who knew the way had been gassed or wounded. Sing Kee was badly gassed and was ordered evacuated, but he stuck on the job and kept up communication with his battalion until too weak to move. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his extraordinary courage and heroism.

Headquarters was established at Ferme-des-Dames, and it was no ladylike place, for in a little valley behind us had been placed the greater part of the divisional artillery and the farm itself came in for a great number of Boche shells fired at our heavy guns.

It was during one of these interchanges of compliments between the two artillery forces that Captain Stadie so distinguished himself. A runner was approaching Regimental Headquarters from the woods in front and when about one hundred yards from Regimental Headquarters he was seen to stumble and fall. Captain Stadie jumped out of the window of the farmhouse, rushed to the man, threw him over his shoulder, and staggered back to the window, where he was relieved of his burden, only to find that the runner was in a dying condition. Those who watched the incident gave up all hope of ever seeing the Captain come in alive. He was later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his heroic deed.

Patrols were sent out nightly from the front lines to locate machine-gun nests which, in a great many cases, were placed in deep holes in the brush on the north side of the river.

On the morning of August 14th, a daylight patrol went out from Company F, consisting of Captain Patterson, Corporal Straub and Corporal Carroll. This group penetrated the enemy lines and came upon a German post from the rear. Captain Patterson shot the guard at arm's-length and Corporal Carroll shot another. The rest of the Germans scattered. The patrol then struck a second post, which put up firm resistance. Here, Captain Patterson killed another Boche and covered the retreat of the patrol. On turning to follow, he concluded that he had no chance to reach his own lines and fell in the grass as if shot, about ten yards from the hostile post. He was obliged to remain motionless in this place all day, but after dark he crawled back to his company. Corporal Straub was badly wounded in the fighting, but along with Corporal Carroll managed to reach the advance post of Company F.- Although by this time the rifle fire was hot and the distance between the lines was only one hundred yards, Corporal Carroll volunteered to go back with a second patrol to rescue the Captain. This party was led by Lieutenant Michael J. Hayes, who planned the work with his usual skill and carried it out with the greatest gallantry. His party consisted of Corporal Finucane, Private Duffy and Private Foy, in addition to Corporal Carroll. The spirit of these brave men is well illustrated by Duffy's remark when he was, told by Carroll that the Lieutenant wanted volunteers to go into the German line and find the Captain:
go; when do we start.

To facilitate concealment and rapid progress in crawling, only pistols and hand grenades were carried. The patrol failed to find the Captain, but did find a machine-gun nest, which was immediately attacked and destroyed with hand grenades. The only casualty suffered by the patrol was Corporal Carroll, who was wounded in nine places by bullets and grenades, but succeeded a second time in reaching our own lines. Captain Patterson, Lieutenant Hayes and the five soldiers engaged in these two patrols were cited in division orders and later received the Distinguished Service Cross.

It was on August 17th that Company K added to its already gallant record by taking the first enemy prisoner ever captured by a National Army Division.

On the 24th First Sergeant Andrew J. McLean and Sergeant James A. Toon, of Company B, were placed in charge of daylight patrols to reconnoiter the front. They penetrated as far as the south bank of the Vesle and there came under heavy fire of machine-guns and rifles. Nothing deterred them. They were sent for information and they determined to get it. Regardless of their own personal safety they remained in this hazardous position until the information was completely obtained and then led their patrols back with the utmost skill and without a loss. Privates Herbert D. Darling, Louis M. Doyle, Fred J. Godbaut, Isaac C. Hirsch, Corporal Frank Gorey, and Mechanic Bernard R. Gibbons, all of Company E; Privates Edward Blatz, Edward A. Hoffman, and John House, all of Company H; Privates Michael Dillon and Joseph A. Cummings, of the Machine Gun Company; and Private First Class William C. Evans, of the Sanitary Detachment, all distinguished themselves by their coolness and daring and their heroic determination to see that messages were carried forward and in aiding their wounded comrades.

It was in this sector that we first met our lady friend "Minnie Werfer" whose custom it was to burst first into a most terrific sound and then into splinters. She was also known as the "Iron Mermaid" on account of her fish-like tail that kept her trajectory straight. "Tons-of-Coal," "Jack Johnsons," "G.I. Cans" and "Whimpering Willies" were some of the other deadly missiles which were sent over in our direction. These were not all, however, that the Boche had to offer us on the Vesle. Airplanes strafed our trenches daily with machine-gun fire, airplane bombs were dropped on everything that looked like cover. Hand grenades were tossed in our direction, and it was here that we had our first sight of flame-throwers, the most barbarous weapon known to warfare. The battalions were relieved every five days and each battalion had its share of the Boche compliments.

On the morning of the 25th the Colonel was called back to Division Headquarters and given a detailed written order providing for a one-company raid against Bazoches. Try as he could to change the Division Commander's mind as to the force to be used against the great number of machine-gun nests which were concealed in the town, he met with no success. The raid was ordered for the morning of the 26th, but the Colonel managed to delay the action twenty -four hours. Due to the lack of time it was necessary to select a company already in the front line. Company G, under command of Captain Bull, was picked for the task, with Company E in support on the south side of the railroad track. Airplane photographs of Bazoches were hurriedly secured and the town was blocked off into platoon sectors. The purpose of the attack was to take and hold the village. Detachments of the division Engineers and of the regimental Machine Gun Company, together with a platoon from Company F and a detachment from Company H, were attached to Company G to make the attack. After a heavy artillery preparation the attack was launched at 4: 15 A.M. on the morning of the 27th.

The morning was warm and clear but almost pitch-dark except for the twinkling stars in a sky almost the color of indigo. Around Bazoches was laid a box barrage which was to be raised as the platoons reached the near vicinity of the town. Our troops penetrated the village, mopping UP with hand grenades and taking some prisoners. The platoons deployed according to the original plans and practically got into the positions assigned to them before serious enemy opposition was met.

Then the enemy began shelling our troops in the southern part of the village and heavy counter-attacks were launched from the strong points north of the town. During the whole action enemy airplanes flew low overhead dropping bombs and firing with machine-guns. The two platoons on the north side of the town were finally surrounded, after stout resistance, and very few escaped. The platoon under Lieutenant Gregory, occupying the southeast part of the village, maintained this position for several hours. After heavy losses, it was finally forced out. The same was true of the platoon in the southwest part of the village. Our total casualties for the operation were 2 officers wounded, 2 officers missing, and 154 men killed, wounded and missing.

The attack was as well planned as was possible under the division order and with the force used, and was courageously carried out. Even at this date, after mature reflection, one is led to believe, knowing the almost impregnable positions of the many machine-gun nests in the town, that not less than a regiment could have taken it and held it against the hostile counter-attacks.

The Germans had a great number of excellent dugouts which were not injured by our artillery preparation, and as soon as our shell fire ceased they emerged with safety and launched their counter-attack. It is believed that if our men had had but a little more training before taking part in this operation, they would have known more about mopping up deep cellars and dugouts. It was from these dugouts in the middle of the village that the counter-attacks were launched in conjunction with one launched from the north.

Every officer and man of the attacking group proved his mettle. It was a hand-to-hand fight, and every man not only had to take care of himself but of his immediate enemy. Many prisoners were captured and came under the fire of their own guns. Some of our men were captured and later killed or wounded their captors. It would be impossible to describe in detail the experiences of each man who went over the top on that morning. Corporal James J. Mac-Donald, of Company E, was sent into Bazoches with a message. He was wounded and captured by the enemy.

His wound was dressed by a German surgeon, but even then they were not able to hold him. With great initiative he returned to our lines with information which undoubtedly prevented two, of the attacking platoons from being destroyed. Privates Sanford K. Mallett, William M. Nickels, Andrew J. A. Purcell, Walter L. Wurster, and William P. Zepfler, all of the Machine Gun Company; Privates Peter Pocaro and Anthony J. Rivers, of Company E; and Corporal Hugh McHugh, of Company H, all distinguished themselves superbly in this attack.

Private Frederick Stouke, Company G, had perhaps the most interesting and exciting experience of the day. Others may have had similar experiences, but this is the only one of record. During the attack he was given a German prisoner to guard, and although under heavy machine-gun fire, gallantly stuck to his task. The machine-gun fire, however, became so intense that he sought cover under the floor of a wooden building, where he remained all day with his prisoner, under heavy fire of the enemy. All of his equipment was shot away and his clothing punctured by bullets. To the utter disregard of his own personal. Safety he kept his prisoner secure, and under cover of darkness brought him safely to our lines.

Private Thomas Arsenault, of Company G, showed his extraordinary heroism by carrying one of his wounded officers over ground swept by intense machine-gun fire and bringing him safely to the first-aid dressing station.

On the 28th, Private Cyrus E. Pattison, Company H, risked his life to aid a comrade under fire. Private William F. Desmond, of the same company, distinguished himself as a runner. Corporals James J. McAndrews, William J. Mooney, Privates Patrick J. Burns, Salvatore Bretts, John J. Monahan, James F. McGrath, all of Company H; Sergeant Alexander Forger, Company B; Private George R. Carson, Company M; and Private Irving Strandvold, Company K, all added to the glory of the 306th.

It was a costly experience, but the attack evidently had its effect on the Germans, for at noon on the 6th of September a message was received that the Boche were in retreat. Without waiting for further orders the Regiment moved forward across the Vesle River, with the 1st Battalion leading, and that night dug in on the southeast side of the valley overlooking Vauxcere, five kilometers to the north. Through a heavy fog on the early morning of the 7th, the Colonel, accompanied by Lieutenant Sanford of the Brigade staff, made a personal reconnaissance on horseback through Vauxcere and over the plateau to the woods about a kilometer north. No enemy was encountered. Messages were sent back to the battalions to take up combat formation and to move forward with speed to get into these woods before the fog lifted. But the wily Boche was on the watch and as soon as the first battalion appeared from its cover a barrage was put down in front and the Regiment held along the little road leading from Vauxcere to Pinqon farm. On the night of the 7th, however, they penetrated the woods as far as the old French trenches on the edge of the Aisne Valley.

During this advance Private Isaac Stomersky, Company B, Sergeant Henry L. Malec, Company C, and Privates Owen H. Hoffmire and John Ferrotti, of the Sanitary Detachment, wrote their names in history by their daring and utter fearlessness in the delivery of messages and caring for the wounded under fire.

Shortly after taking over these trenches our Intelligence reported that the rectangular woods known as Les Cendrieres bordering the Aisne Canal were still filled with the enemy and an attack was ordered. Though the Intelligence report described Les Cendrieres, our objective, as "woods," it later developed that the trees had been cutdown, and the advance had to be made over open ground.

Lieutenant O'Brien, of Company C, led the attacking column, and just before reaching the objective was hit in the leg by a piece of shell. Nothing daunted, he pressed on. The enemy's fire redoubled, but Lieutenant O'Brien, ignoring his own wounds, yelled, "They can't stop us now!" Hardly had he spoken these words when a shell dropped in front of him and killed him. A Distinguished Service Cross was later awarded for his heroic leadership.

The "woods" of Les Cendrieres were taken by Company A, under Lieutenant Cleveland, who commanded after the death of O'Brien. Cleveland was badly wounded in the course of the attack, but, despite his wound, he led his company over the wire and through the "woods," and was not evacuated until after he bad reached the Aisne Canal, having there been wounded again.

Another act of notable gallantry during this attack was that of Captain Sprague, who was sick in the field hospital just behind our line when the Regiment commenced its advance. Knowing that the 1st Battalion was short of officers, Captain Sprague left the hospital "A.W.O.L.," took command of his company in time to start the attack and led his men in their advance to the canal. Later, de-spite his illness, he was active in evacuating his men from the front line positions when the battalion was relieved.

The cost of the capture of Les Cendrieres was heavy, however, and the retention of this position would have taken a greater toll than it was worth.

To evacuate it was equally as dangerous as the taking, and here it was that Sergeant Henry L. Malec distinguished himself by searching the woods and collecting the men who had been separated by the intensity of the German shell fire. The men were later gathered in and brought back to Battalion Headquarters.

The detachment left in these woods was in a most precarious position. The Boche were in strong force in front and their bands of machine-gun fire cut off any retreat or any help from the rest of the regiment. Heroic measures had to be taken to rescue these men. First Lieutenant Philip K. Robinson and Sergeant Galbraith Ward, of Company M, and Private Edward S. Schmitt, Company L, distinguished themselves by assisting in their rescue. Sergeant Ward was severely wounded and later died of pneumonia, a gallant representative of a most distinguished family. Privates Adelbert T. Powell and Bernard Tietelbaum, of the Sanitary Detachment; Private Charles T. Sloane, Company M; Private Gustave Mittenhuber, Headquarters Company; and First Sergeant Benjamin Gold, Company D, also wrote their names in history during this period.

Despite our subsequent evacuation of the so-called woods of Les Cendrieres, the attack had been a gallant one, and the men of the 1st Battalion of the 306th Infantry had penetrated farther into enemy territory in this sector than any other American troops ever had done. This achievement was noted later by the Division Commander, General Alexander, who stated with pride that his division was the only one in the American Army that actually reached the Aisne Canal.

The 3rd Battalion relieved the 1st and remained in the trenches until September 11th, when the Regiment was assembled in the vicinity of St. Thibaut. On the 13th we hiked to Coulonges, where we rested until the 16th, and then went on to Vezilly; and here on the evening of the 16th we again embussed in the hard-riding French camions, headed for another sector. We had been relieved by Garibaldi's regiment of Italians, whose training some of us had observed during the few days they were waiting to take over our sector, and we had a great laugh watching them charge imaginary trenches with bayonetted rifle and with murderous-looking knives in their teeth.

In looking back over the many gallant and heroic deeds performed by men of the Regiment in this sector there must be brought to especial attention the extraordinary heroism of Lieutenant Paul K. Roth, of Company M. On September 10th he was stationed behind a hill on a road leading through St. Thibaut. There were many carrying parties going forward to the front lines and a terrific concentration of enemy machine-gun and shell fire was being laid on this road. In one party five men were badly wounded and lay exposed on the narrow road. Without assistance Lieutenant Roth brought each one of these men back to cover, carrying them on his back for a distance of one hundred and fifty yards and at all times under the direct observation of the enemy occupying the town of Bazoches. It was a most gallant act and served as an impressive example to every man of the Regiment.

In the Vesle sector the Regiment had undergone its first real baptism of fire, had sustained its proportion of losses in killed and wounded, and had emerged veterans. The soul of the Regiment was found worthy and we were now ready to be placed on any front and to share the responsibility of that front with the best of the American Divisions.

All through the night of the 16th we sat on the side-boards of those rough bumping trucks through Epernay, Chalons-sur-Marne, and Vitry, and at noon of the 17th debussed at Givry, only to find after a two days' rest we were again to hike toward the front. On the 19th to Verrieres, on the 2oth to Le Neufour, where we went under cover of the forests to await orders. Our marching was at night, our fires were hidden, everything was to be kept secret. We passed mile upon mile of heavy guns drawn by tractors. Something was in the air, but what ? All we could guess was that something big was to take place and we were to be in it. This proved to be the case.

Website by SchoolMessenger Presence. © 2021 Intrado Corporation. All rights reserved.