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Blanc Mont in Champagne

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With the 36th Div. - Attigny
"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 area.

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 Road Thru No Man's Land Souain -- Somme-Py, Constructed by 2nd Engrs. Taken 5, Oct. '18 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 water.

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 Division 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 to bury 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].
 
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