Near Soissons-July 18th - 20th, 1918
After a few days' rest in the woods near Pisseloupe,
the Regiment received orders to move on July 16th, 1918. No one, of
course, ever knew where the Regiment was going, but everyone had heard
of the great offensive the Germans had launched the day before. It
was supposed that the Second Division would head off another advance
on Paris, but that was to be seen. The evening meal on July 16th was
given out early so that everybody would be ready to begin marching
at 6:00 P.M. That meal, like some others on former occasions, soon
became a memory, and the next several days many thoughts were of that
last hot meal. The day was fearfully hot, so the men spent as much
time as possible in the shade of the trees, waiting for the time to
come to be on their way. That night the Regiment was to embus in Montreuil-aux-Lions,
two kilometers away, so the march was not taken up until about sundown.
It was still hot, and though only two kilometers, that was a very long
hike. The Regiment waited in Montreuil-aux-Lions until 11:00 P.M. for
trucks that were due several hours before they arrived. After a few
troubles of embussing, the camions pulled out in the middle of the
night for parts unknown. They started out that same long road, to Lizy-sur-Ourcq,
down which the Companies had marched that memorable first day of June.
Going by Marcilly, St. Souplets, Nanteuil-le-Houdoin, and Crepy-en-Valois,
the regiment debussed near Lessart l'Abesse Farm, a few kilometers
south of Pierrefonds, between the Forêt-de-Compiegne and the
Forêt de Villers Cotterets, about noon, July 17th, 1918. This
trip is long to be remembered, in that there was no food—except the
little bit of reserve rations which the men were allowed to eat—practically
no water to drink, the roads were dusty and rough, the sun was hot,
and the French driven camions were crowded to their limits.
|Herley's Notes on the map of
the Soissons Sector: I was here. I helped bury four men killed
right beside me. We dug hole about three feet deep. Wrapped each
in one blanket and put them side by side. One my buddys got piece
shell in his left arm and later died with blood poison. I got
hit by big clumps dirt. Only knocked down. I shot rabbit and
found some new potatoes. My buddy stood gard [sic guard] over me while I
cooked. We sure were hungry.
Soon after debussing, the companies were assembled and,
without eating, started to hiking. They were given instructions to
follow the column, and going by way of Retheuil and Taillefontaine,
they entered the Forêt-de-Villers-Cotterets for protection from
observation and the heat of the sun - halting that night up near
the Boche, close to Montgobert, twenty kilometers from the starting place.
That hike shall never be forgotten. The day was hot - indescribably hot, the
roads were dusty and overcrowded with men, horses, artillery and many other
vehicles of war. The packs were heavy, as everyone had had a reissue of clothing
since leaving Château-Thierry,
and the principle reason why all hikes are long — there was no food. The men
were hungry and they wondered if they were ever going to be permitted to eat
that last box of hard-tack and that last can of "Willie". No one
knew when the kitchen and ration carts would catch up. The men were tired when
they left the trucks, and were more tired when night came. There was no stopping
until the destination was reached, and to cap the climax, as darkness slowly
came, to make steps less sure and pitfalls more dangerous, it began to rain.
But they plodded along, hungry souls that they were. In the pitch darkness,
in the rain, in and out among animals and vehicles of all kinds, through the
woods, wound the long, thin column. Soon after midnight, by some wonderful
stroke of good fortune, the vicinity of their destination was reached, and
without removing clothes of any nature, everybody fell to sleep on the ground
regardless of the mud and rain.
Boy what a hike. We sure were tired and hungry. No food for
At exactly 4:35 that morning-July 13th, 1918, four quick shots ripped the stillness
of the night, and a second later the whole earth had awakened. As there had
not been a sound, except the falling rain, no one knew how far the front line
was, but there was no doubt where it was when this great roar rent the air.
The guns on all sides of the awakening men belched forth a mighty barrage of
steel. Five minutes after the first gun cracked the Ninth and Twenty-Third
Infantry and Fifth Marines, went forward.
The Boche was soon pushed out of the little bit of woods
that he had and was started on his hurried way to Berlin. The first
reports were that large gains had been made, which meant that the Second
Engineers, as Division reserve, would move up. Upon moving forward
about 9:30 that morning, they left the woods by the highway that runs
northward to Soissons. This highway, for two kilometers, was totally
impassable when the Engineers first reached it. The Boche had felled
large trees across it, mostly by shooting the trunks with trench mortars
at close range. However, two or three companies set to work, and with
saws and axes-some in the hands of Boche prisoners-quickly cleared
the road and made it passable for four lines of traffic by noon. About
this time, it was rumored that "chow" was coming from the
rear, so the men sat down and rested hoping that something to eat might
soon relieve their famished bodies. While waiting here for "chow" to
come, one of the most wonderful sights of the war passed over the newly
made road. It was the Allied Army — French, English, and American
— advancing in four columns. Artillery at a gallop, Cavalry at a trop,
tanks by the score, and ammunition-many truck loads- all going forward;
and ambulances, empty vehicles and Boche prisoners going to the rear.
During the wait all eyes feasted, but stomachs did not. Orders soon
came to advance, and shortly after noon, the companies were assembled
and went out of the woods along the road by Vertes Feuilles Farm. Here,
they turned to the right off the road, over recently captured ground
toward Beaurepaire Farm,
and halted about five o'clock in the afternoon in the deep ravine just
east of Vauxcastille. Here the Regiment was to await orders and "chow" which,
by the way, did come this time. Each man received a large piece of
bread, some sugar, and a small bit of meat, which was a great relief.
About 9 o'clock, orders came to move, so in the twilight, the whole
Regiment moved out of the deep ravine and across the fields in line
of Platoon Columns, towards Vierzy, which had just been taken by the
man had been carrying a large entrenching tool all the time. The mission of
the Engineers then was to go to the firing line and consolidate it for the
Infantry. The food and tool wagons were ordered to this ravine soon after dark,
and Regimental Headquarters moved to Vierzy at 10:00 P.M. The Regiment continued
to advance in line of platoon columns until the front line, about a kilometer
past Vierzy, was reached. Then the First Battalion was ordered to consolidate
the line held by the Twenty-Third Infantry, and the Second Battalion that held
by the Ninth Infantry. This was done during the night, and at daybreak, the
men fell to sleep with the Infantry in the trenches they had dug.
At 10 o'clock that morning, the Sixth Marines, which
had been Division reserve, were to attack and the Engineers were to
support them—following their support wave as it passed over. The Engineers
were located on a sort of plateau, and could see the long advancing
waves of Marines and tanks a kilometer to the rear. They were in sight
and rapidly approaching, when the orders reached the Engineers to go
over the top with them in support. These orders were cancelled, but
the runner did not get to "A" Company before the
advance waves did, so that "A" Company went over the top that morning
with the Marines in a hail of shrapnel, whizz-bangs and machine gun bullets,
that it had not experienced before. It was fierce, but not a man quit. "A" Company
started with a hundred and seventy men, and had a hundred when it halted with
the Marines just south of Tigny—two kilometers east of Vierzy.
The other companies did not go over that morning, but remained where they were,
in the trenches with the Infantry. "A" Company dug itself in where
it halted, and remained there under a constant machine gun and whizz-bang fire
all that day, and by 2:00 A.M., July 20th, all the companies, except "A" Company,
had been withdrawn. The Division was relieved that night by French troops,
but "A" Company got no orders to withdraw until 6:00 A. M., July
20th, when after daylight, a heroic runner brought a message of relief to "A" Company's
advanced position. It withdrew and joined the remainder of the Regiment that
had assembled in the old camp in the woods near Montgobert. Here a rest and
some food was had, which was a wonderfu1 help to the men who had done so much
on so little sleep and food.
This was the Regiment's most glorious battle, for since
then the Regimental Colors have been twice decorated with the Croix
de Guerre for this action.
On July 21st, the Regiment was withdrawn in the middle of
a dark, rainy night from this sector and went to a place in the same woods
south of Taillefontaine, where it was camped for three days. It then marched
to the small village of Villers-St. Genest where it was billeted for two
days. These most welcome billets were the first the men had had in nearly
two months, and the sight of civilians was greatly appreciated. This village
was too small to accommodate every man in the Regiment with a billet, and
on July 26th, a long hot hike was made to Monthyon, near Meaux. During
the stay in Monthyon, everyone had a fine bath in the Marne, and was given
a good rest. Clothes were issued-the first that many of the men had received
in several weeks-and passes granted to visit Meaux. On July 31st, the Regiment
hiked to St. Mard, near Dammartin and entrained for a long journey to another
sector-no one knew where, as usual. The Regiment detrained in the night—July 31st - August 1st—at Jarville, near Nancy, and hiked to Champigneulles,
not far away.
|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].