header image

In France Training for the Great War

Maps / Photos / Misc.

Upon arrival of the Regiment at Washington, it went into camp on the American University grounds. While in Washington, the Regiment paraded down Pennsylvania Avenue, and passed in review before the Secretary of War. After a few days' rest, during which time it was re-equipped, orders were received to proceed to the Port of Embarkation. Upon reaching New York, the Regiment went aboard ship. The ship immediately lifted anchor, and in the shadows of the evening, it bade good-bye to the Statue of Liberty.

The Second U. S. Engineers left the United States on September 10th, 1917, sailing on board the R.M.S. Carpathia from New York and arrived in Halifax on the morning of September 12th. The boat lay anchored in the harbor of Halifax nine days waiting for a convoy to be made up for the trip. The convoy of fourteen boats pulled out on September 21st, and no more land was seen for eleven days. On the early morning of October 2nd, the shores of Scotland were sighted and before noon the Regiment was sailing between the beautiful banks of the Clyde. The boat docked at Glasgow, the Regiment debarked, and immediately boarded waiting trains for Southampton, England. After a few days' rest in Southampton, and a "rocky" trip across the Channel, came the first ride in "Hommes 40, Chevaux 8" to the billeting area around Colombey-les-Belles.

The Engineer Train was separated from the Regiment at Washington and went to Newport News, Virginia, there to embark for France. At Newport News, it did duty for some time with the Remount Station, then sailed direct to St. Nazaire, and was held there doing various duties until about December 23rd. It joined the Regiment on January 1st, 1918, just as the latter was actually going into training as part of the Second Division.

Upon reaching its first stations, the Regiment was put to work building cantonments for American Troops. This Work was under the direction of the Advance Section, Line of Communications, of which our Commanding Officer, Colonel James F. McIndoe, was made Chief Engineer, on which duty he remained until February 22nd, 1918. The work done was mainly the erection of temporary wooden buildings of the "take down" variety, of the type known as Adrian. While engaged on this work, the companies operated practically independently, the Regimental Headquarters occupying itself mainly with supply of equipment and administration as concerns personnel.

Company "A" constructed a camp hospital, built several kilometers of roads, and established a water supply system, with a concrete reservoir, at Bourmont. Company "B" did practically the same work at La Fauche. Company "C" built hospitals at Barisey-au-Plain and Colombey-les-Belles and assisted in the construction of an aviation cantonment at Colombey-les-Belles. Companies "D", "E", and "F" were engaged in the construction of cantonments, hospitals, roads, and water supply systems in Vaucouleurs, Uruffe, Neufchateau, Trampot, Brechinville, and Allainville.

The Companies continued on this Work until various dates from December 30th to January 14th. Between these dates, they assembled in the area about Bourmont, Haute Marne (Division Headquarters, Second Division), where they went into training. Headquarters and the Second Battalion were at Vrecourt, the First Battalion was as Sauville, and the Engineer Train was at Rozieres-sur-Mouzon.

During the latter portion of the time that the Companies were on construction work, one hour's drill per day—close order, if possible—was prescribed to keep the men "in hand".

Upon assembly in the training area, drill for the first few days was by Company, as all Companies were not in until January 15th. About this time, a schedule from G.H.Q. for our training was published. This consisted, for about five weeks, mainly of Infantry drill, but engineer training was increased as time went on. This training being mainly bridging, wiring, trench lay out, and to a small extent trench construction. Lack of materials and time prevented extensive engineer drill.

On February 27th, 1918, the First Battalion was detached from the Regiment and sent to the front northwest of Toul, occupied by the First Division, to supplement the First Engineers. They were engaged in work at Engineer Dumps, sawmills, and in construction of shelters in lines in rear. First Battalion Headquarters remained at Boucq during the entire period of its service in the Toul sector. Headquarters of Company "A" were located at Menil-la-Tour, of Company "B" at Boucq, and of Company "C" at Sanzey. While in this sector, the Companies performed the following duties:

Company "A": Operation of Engineer Dumps at Menil-la-Tour, Leonval and Corneville, operation of American and French sawmill at Menil-la-Tour, construction of Corps Headquarters in quarry near Menil-la-Tour, and construction of roads  near Menil-la-Tour. During the construction of the Corps Headquarters, the Company manned and operated compressed air-drills, electric hoists, and other mechanical mining devices.

Company "B": Construction of Division Headquarters in hill east of Boucq, operation of sawmill at Marbache and near Commercy, construction of Army Dump at Leonval, and repaired the road camouflage leading to the front.

Company "C": Construction of the greater part of the Army Dump at Leonval, (this involved the construction of wagon and truck roads, "soixante" and standard gauge railway), construction of platforms, and warehouses, construction of stables at Sanzey, and concrete work at Fort Gironville. During this period, each company made necessary repairs and improvements of bridges and roads throughout this sector.

On May 9th, 1918, the Battalion moved by truck to Heiltz-le-Maurupt, Marne, where it rejoined the Second Division for duty. During its stay in this sector, it was engaged both in training and in constant railhead and remount work for the Second Division.

On March 15th, 1918, Regimental Headquarters and the Second Battalion left Vrecourt with the Second Division for a tour of duty with the French in the Sommedieue sector, south of Verdun. Here they were engaged mainly in the construction of shelters, operating at first by company, directly under a French officer. The control passed gradually into their own hands, in which it rested entirely for the final few weeks. This gave an excellent insight into French methods. During this time, the Battalion used its own tools, but all materials were obtained from the French. The Battalion got its baptism of fire and gas during this tour. Company "D" lost three men, killed by artillery fire — the men being at the time engaged in construction of a shelter for a machine gun crew in the support lines of the first position.

Just when the Regiment was leaving the Bourmont training area for its first tour at the front, two officers and several men of the Camouflage Service were attached. Before leaving on this tour, nearly all the officers and part of the non-commissioned officers of the Regiment had been through the course at the First Corps School and there had received instructions in camouflage, among other things. The principles learned were put into effect on all the work at the front, the camouflage officers visiting all different tasks to give them trained advice and assistance. The enlisted men of the camouflage section were assigned to the tasks where especial technique was required. The detachment was called on by various units of the Division, especially by the Artillery.

The Regiment's first tour at the front ended on May 12th, when it moved back for rest and training to the vicinity of Bar-le-Duc. Here it spent about a week cleaning up, equipping, drilling, rifle firing, etc., in a beautiful part of the country, with the idea that it was bound for the Somme. The Regiment then moved by rail, with two or three days' hike at the end to the region of Hallain-court-Chateau, northwest of Paris, where another week was spent in training.

United States, and John Archer Lejeune. 1919.
A History Of The Second Regiment Of Engineers, United States Army:
From Its Organization In Mexico, 1916, To Its Watch On The Rhine, 1919
[Place of publication not identified]: [publisher not identified].
Last Update: 07/21/2017 9:40 AM Sitemap Search this Site ©2002-2017 MG Ryder & Contributors