Blanc Mont in Champagne
|"To be able to say when this war is finished, I belonged to the SECOND DIVISION, I fought with it at the battle of Blanc Mont Ridge, will be the highest honor that can come to any man."
— JOHN A. LEJEUNE, Major General, U.S.M.C.
On the night of September 27th-28th, the Second Engineers marched
to Toul, boarded once more the "40 Hommes, 8 Chevaux" and proceeded again across
France to another unknown destination. Upon detraining at Vitry-la-Ville, Regimental
Headquarters and the First Battalion went to St. Germain-la-Ville, and the Second
Battalion and the Engineer Train went to Vesigneul in the Châlons-sur-Marne
At the same time the Americans were to attack on the east side
of the Argonne Forest, the French planned an attack on the west side,
in order to force the Germans to abandon their lines and fall back in
front of Reims. Although the German lines around Reims were too difficult
to attack, those north of Châlons-sur-Marne
were not. If defeated there, the Germans would be forced to fall back
to the Aisne River and abandon their lines in front of Reims. The French
asked for the Second Division as their special reserve, and it was now
located behind the place where it was to attack in a few days. This sector
had already cost both the French and the Germans many lives.
The French had attacked on September 26th and driven the Germans
from Souain to Somme-Py. The Second Division was then called on to move forward, and
on September 29th, it started for the front. The Engineers embussed at 5:30
P.M. near St. Germain-la-Ville and debussed in the middle of the night about
two miles south of Suippes. The regimental transportation and the Engineer Train
started the same morning and camped that night at camp De Normande, near the
Regiment. The next day, the Regiment was assembled at Camp du Coq, about two
miles southeast of Suippes,
and the Engineer Train was placed at Piemont Farm, near the same place,
on the Châlons road.
In the advance of the Division, no serious problems for the
Engineers were apparent, but it was necessary for some men to help the
artillery in its passage over the old "No Man's Land" and the
Py River. The French had captured the advanced trenches and had cut the
first lines of wire. Consequently, no wire-cutters from the Second Engineers
had to be detailed, but one platoon, under Lieutenant Chase was detailed
to assist the artillery and one under Lieutenant Hohn to operate the
engineer dumps. The remainder of the troops of the Regiment were to work
on the roads until needed elsewhere.
|Herley's Notes: I was with Lt. Chase. 500 taken prisoner
that day. I was Sgt. Garde that night over them.
They had no drinking
On the night of October 1st, the Regiment left the Camp du
Coq and moved to a small wood south of Souain. The roads were so congested
with traffic that the companies had to march in the fields, which made
the hike very tiresome and seem much longer than it really was. The next
morning, the Regiment moved to some trenches two kilometers north of
Souain, where it spent the day. On October 3rd, the Second Division attacked
and, as usual, advanced very rapidly, and successfully earned the positions
in front of it. The work on the roads was started promptly by the Second
Engineers on the morning of the same day and progressed very well during
the advance of the Division. The most difficult part of the road was
at Navarin Farm. There
were two large mine craters in this section, around which the French
had planked a one-way road. However, much work had to be done here as
the plank road was rapidly becoming worn out as well as being insufficient
to handle the traffic. Company "A" was placed
on this job and continued there until the work was finished, after which
it moved north just in time to be sent in line as fighting troops. The
ground where Company "A" worked had been torn up by four years of fighting
and all evidences of a road had vanished. That Company had to make a two way
stone road at this place without interrupting the traffic then on the road.
Colonel Mitchell said that Company "A" was especially to be
commended for the unusual efficiency shown in performing this work. It
was noticed time after time that every man was working hard and not loafing
and watching the wagons and automobiles pass. The work was unusually
difficult, as it was necessary to build one road, macadamize another,
and at the same time keep up two plank roads, one of which was being
removed by sections in order to make way for the macadam. This work was
especially well performed and traffic was never stopped. All this work
was done on the top of a ridge that was easily observed and ranged on
by artillery, and the enemy shelled the working party very often.
Two of the companies did excellent work on bridges. On October
3rd, Captain Wyman with Company "F", built a bridge
one hundred feet long with much fill, and Captain Hetrick with Company "D" built a wagon road through the ruins of Somme-Py and a bridge for same
across the Py.
Late on the evening of October 4th, a "hurry call" was received
to the effect that the Marines had struck difficult wire and needed some
wire-cutters. Lieutenant Benjamin of Company "D" was sent with a platoon of wire-cutters
to help the Marines take the machine gun nest. The men were equipped with wire-cutters
and rifles and went up in trucks, as they were needed at once. It so happened
that in the course of the fight, it developed that they were not needed as
wire-cutters, but they stayed and fought as Infantry and returned to the Company
on October 7th having suffered several casualties. Lieutenant Benjamin displayed
exceptional heroism and was awarded the D.S.C. for this action.
|Herley's Notes: I was on this job. Crawled out on hands and knees and cut wire.
One our boys got killed and I got pair dry socks off packs.
Sergeant Charles L. Nickels, Sergeant John J. O'Brien and Corporal
Charles W. Garr, all of Company "D" showed extra
ordinary heroism during this engagement by making reconnaissances of the town
of St. Etienne-a-Arnes in face of much artillery and machine gun fire, and each
were later awarded the D.S.C.
The Infantry of the Second Division had advanced successfully, but day by day
its progress was slower as the Germans put more and more troops against it.
The French divisions on the right and left were unable to keep up, and on the
left the Germans actually came in behind and around the left of the Second Division
and attacked from the rear, so that reserves were used up to keep them back.
Consequently, on about October 6th, it became evident to Colonel Mitchell, the
Regimental Commander, that very soon the Second Engineers would be needed in
the front line, so he arranged the work in such a manner that all the Regiment
was in camp resting on the night of October 7th-8th.
About 11:00 A.M., October 8th, orders were received by Colonel Mitchell to
reinforce the right of the line. The Fourth Machine Unit Battalion, then in
line, was placed at his disposal, and at 1:00 P.M. orders were received to reinforce
the left of the line.
Companies "A" and "C", under Major J.J.F. Steiner, went
forward about noon to fill the gap in the right of the line, and about 2:00
P.M., Company "B" was sent to reinforce him. The Fourth Machine Gun Battalion was added to this and placed under his command at 2:30 P.M. The Second
Battalion, under Lieutenant Colonel Strong was ordered to St. Etienne-à-Arnes
similarly to render safe the left of the line. It was difficult at first to
determine where the Engineers were to be placed, but by dusk, October 8th, the
First Battalion had filled the gap on the right of the line, relieving elements
of the Ninth Infantry. By midnight, two companies of the Second Battalion were
in St. Etienne-à-Arnes, and the left of the line was safe.
The First Battalion, less Company "B", having received
its orders by 11:00 A.M., October 8th, proceeded to the relief of all
elements of the Second Division on the right half of the line. The route
that was necessary to follow was exposed to direct observation from the
enemy, and consequently the enemy shelling became very intense, causing
a number of casualties. Upon arrival at a covered position about a kilometer
in rear of the front line, the troops were halted while the Battalion
Commander, with his Company Commanders and Adjutant, went forward to
the Post of Command of the Commanding Officer of the Ninth Infantry Battalion
then in line, and reconnoitered the lines held by the Infantry.
About this time a minor engagement took place in which a detachment of
about 50 Germans, maneuvering for a counter attack, had been wiped out.
This brought down an intense artillery barrage over the entire Brigade
sector and the troops who were waiting one kilometer in the rear received
a very heavy shelling. The Company Commanders safely made their way back
through this barrage to their Companies. Shortly afterwards it ceased
and Company "C" under Captain
D. T. Jerman was brought forward and placed in the gap in the front line, and
Company "A", under Captain T. S. Wyche followed in support. Battalion
Headquarters moved forward ahead of Company "A" and a Post
of Command was located seventy-five yards in rear of the front line.
The next morning, it was decided that the front line should
be reinforced sufficiently to permit the use of Company "A". Company "B", which had
arrived during the night, was to send out detachments to mop up any Germans
who had entered our lines and concealed themselves in the thick woods. These
detachments operated during the entire day, and thereafter, similar detachments
patrolled constantly. That noon, it was decided that an attack should be made
by the Engineers to straighten the extreme right of the position, so the First
and Third Platoons of Company "C", under Lieutenant George
P. Knight and Lieutenant James H. Spafford, respectively, were given
this task. In this operation, the position of the concealed machine gun
nest was disclosed. These guns offered such terrific resistance that
the sacrifice was deemed inadvisable without some further preparation,
so Trench Mortars and ammunition were obtained from the French for a
five-minute barrage. Evidently, when the Germans heard the Trench Mortars
they expected an attack, and to everyone's discomfort, placed a barrage
along the entire Brigade front, which lasted with intensity for thirty-five
minutes. However, the attack as planned was executed, and the results
were entirely satisfactory.
Several medals were awarded for excellent conduct on this occasion,
Lieutenant Spafford, who personally lead his platoon forward against
the machine gun nest, was wounded, but continued to direct his platoon
until he received a second wound which proved fatal. He was later awarded
the D.S.C. Major J.J.F. Steiner, who commanded the First Battalion in
this action, displayed exceptional leadership and heroism; and was also
awarded the D.S.C. Sergeant First Class William Sarti, who commanded
the First Platoon of Company "A",
displayed unusual leadership and was later
awarded the D.S.C. Private First Class Carl Gustafson, of Company "C",
who was engaged as a runner for Battalion Headquarters, and Private Allison
W. Reid of Company "A", who was engaged as a runner for his
Company, constantly carried messages through sectors which were under
intense shell and machine gun fire, and each were later awarded the D.S.C.
The Marines were holding the town of St. Etienne-à-Arnes, having established
themselves there after a very severe struggle. The cemetery to the east of the
town had changed hands about six times and no one knew just who actually held
it. The troops of the Thirty-Sixth Division had moved forward and backward along
the front to the east and southeast after severe fighting and loss of many men.
The communications were so disorganized that it was not known just where the
lines were located. It was known, however, that Lieutenant Overton, with what
was left of his Marines, was holding St. Etienne-à-Arnes and that
there was a large gap between the town itself and the troops of the Thirty-Sixth
off somewhere to the east. In this emergency, the Second Battalion of the Second
Engineers was rushed forward about 2:00 P.M. on October 8th to close the gap.
Company "E" took up a first line position along the north bank of
the creek running parallel to the front and beyond the town of St. Etienne-à-Arnes.
It joined with Lieutenant Overton's detachment on the left, and extended
its right well to the eastward, thus barring all direct approach for
the Germans to the town and the Engineer Dump.
Company "F" took up a position to the east of St. Etienne-à-Arnes
and on the south bank of the creek. It made hasty strong points of the cemetery,
forming a support line to "E" Company's right against a flank attack.
Although back of Company "E", this exposed position brought upon Company
"F" an even greater shelling than was given Company "E" and
its casualties were greater. "D" Company was held in reserve
on the south slope of the ridge, south of the town.
As soon as companies "B" and "F" were established
in position, Captain Myron H. Peck, commanding the two companies in
St. Etienne-à-Arnes, sent reconnaissance parties off to the right
to communicate with the Thirty-Sixth Division, but they were either killed
or returned without locating our friends to the right. Consequently,
next morning, Captain Peck and Captain Wyman personally went on this
reconnaissance, although it involved unusual danger. They succeeding
in locating the new troops on the right, but just as they returned to
the cemetery, Captain Peck was struck with a fragment of a shell and
died within a few minutes. Captain Peck's loss was a great calamity to
the Regiment, especially in these very strenuous days. After the advance
three days later, he was buried in the cemetery where he fell and a tombstone
was carved by one of the men of his Company and placed over his grave.
About dark, October 9th, orders were received by Colonel Mitchell
that the Engineers would be relieved by dawn and copies were at once sent
to the Commanding Officers of the two Battalions in line. The relief of the
First Battalion on the right was successfully made as ordered, and it reached
the camp north of Somme-Py just before dawn October 10th. On the left, the Second Battalion
was not so easily relieved, although Company "D" was
withdrawn on the night of October 9th. Companies "B" and "F" were
relieved on the night of October 10th, when they assembled with the remainder
of the regiment in the camp north of Somme-Py.
On October 10th, the Second Division was ordered to a new area near Chalons-sur-Marne
to recruit and rest preparatory to the next campaign. The Second Field Artillery
Brigade and the Second Engineers were detached and ordered to join the Thirty-Sixth
Division, because the Thirty-Sixth Division had no Artillery or Engineers.
As the enemy was retreating to the north of the Aisne River,
the first duties of the Engineers consisted of road repairing from the
Py to the Aisne. On October 11th, Companies "B" and "D",
which had been in reserve in the fighting and were consequently in the
best condition, started to work on the roads. The next day, all companies
were placed on the roads between Somme-Py and
the Aisne for repair and maintenance. The Thirty-Sixth Division had followed
up the retreat of the enemy sufficiently far to permit the Regiment to
complete practically all the necessary roadwork south of Dricourt, including
the construction of two bridges in St. Etienne-à-Arnes. That night
the Regiment camped in and near Machault. The next day it was occupied
on roadwork. Special details were sent out to locate enemy traps, and
the dead. The Thirty-Sixth Division had had many casualties over the
area just east of St. Etienne-à-Arnes, so two Companies were given
the rather difficult task of laying these brave soldiers away. Regimental
Headquarters and the Second Battalion moved to Pauvres, while the First
Battalion moved to, and took over, a large German engineer dump and railhead
one kilometer east of Machault. Patrols were sent into Givry and Attigny,
beyond our Infantry front lines, to reconnoiter the bridges at these
points. The Germans occupied both towns and reconnaissances of them were
difficult, but the desired information was, in general, obtained. On
October 14th, the work of burying the dead was completed and roadwork
was resumed by the men who had had this gruesome task. On October 15th,
Sergeant First Class Albert M. Berlander of Company "D" made a reconnaissance
along the Aisne River and the Ardennes Canal, in advance of the line of American
out-posts, and was later awarded the D.S.C.
For two weeks the Regiment stayed in this sector, and the Companies were occupied
in various activities. They policed the battlefields, worked on roads, repaired
and built narrow gauge railroads and bridges, and prepared heavy bridges for
the crossing of the Aisne.
On October 27th, the Thirty-Sixth Division was ordered to clear the pocket
south of the Aisne River and southeast of Attigny, known as the Forest Farm
Pocket. Lieutenant Balch and Lieutenant
Holloway, with two wire-cutting details of about 50 men each were assigned to
the 71st Brigade to assist in the capture of the pocket. Their work was highly
efficient and very successful and they received the commendation of the Commanding
General of the Thirty-Sixth Division. This fighting took place on the same day
that the Regiment was relieved from duty with the Thirty-Sixth Division. In
fact, part of the Regiment was actually moving to rejoin the Second Division
at the time these wire-cutters were operating with the Thirty-Sixth Division.
On October 27th the companies were marched to a point on the
road south of Machault and the Regiment was assembled. It was again greeted
by another "chink"
truck train, and shortly after dark it started out for another unknown destination.
By this time, the men learned to know what these little truck rides meant. In
the early days of our training, when there wasn't much to do, these same camions,
loaded with French poilus would often pass madly by. Never could
it be quite understood why the French should always be riding and the Americans
always hiking. But now it was different. The Americans had become experienced
in warfare and had rid the enemy on many battlefields. So, whenever the "chinks" picked
the Second Engineers up along the road and insisted upon letting them ride,
everyone knew there was no real joy party ahead; nor was one of the early promises
of a sight seeing trip to be fulfilled. They knew what their lot would be in
a few hours—or a few days. Always anxious to get into action and to get away
from the monotony of drill, none ever became sad or downhearted at the sight
of the trucks. There were always songs and laughter during these trips.
|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].