The shores of Brittany came into the view of the 7th Infantry on the afternoon of April 15th, 1918, and from that date the regiment became a part of the American Expeditionary Forces under command of General Pershing. The ocean trip had been uneventful. No submarines were sighted, although the one-pounder gun on the bow boomed one night during the voyage when an enterprising sailor sighted a floating buoy with light attached.
The convoy consisted of three ships: the "America", the "Agamemnon", and the "Great Northern". The Seventh Infantry, less Third Battalion, had sailed from Hoboken April 6th, on the "America". The "Agamemnon" carried the Third Battalion. On the "Great Northern" was our sister regiment, the Fourth Infantry, less one battalion, which had sailed from Norfolk and joined the others in mid-ocean. For the first eight days the ships were without a convoy.
On the day the three came into the Danger Zone, however, a bobbing funnel on the horizon far to port brought us the welcome of the American Fleet, and within an hour seven destroyers, arriving from seven different directions, were racing along before and beside the three transports.
A lighthouse on the coast of Brittany was the first land; then a long low shore, toward which the convoy headed, until the channel into Brest came into view. Up the channel the ships slowly steamed, with the regimental band blazing forth our welcome, "Goodbye, Broadway; Hello, France — we're here three thousand strong!" Brest, itself, an old seaport with a natural basin, appeared, giving but little evidence that within six months the American Army was to make it one of the greatest ports in the world. Arriving there, the convoy came to rest in the harbor; the 3rd Battalion debarked and marched to the rest-camp outside the city. The troops on the "America" remained on shipboard, waiting for orders to entrain for their area.
Brigadier-General Fred W. Sladen was commanding the Fifth
Brigade when we arrived in France. The Division Commander, Major-General Joseph T. Dickman, had preceded the troops to France. Colonel Thomas M. Anderson, Jr. commanded the regiment, having Capt. W. G. Langwill as his Adjutant. The Battalion Commanders were Captain James D. Burt, 1st Battalion: Lieut.-Col. Nowlen, 2nd Battalion: and Captain R. C. Ditto, 3rd Battalion. Captain Roger B. Harrison was Supply Officer, and Captain J. H. Reaney and 1st Lt. Robert Dechart commanded Machine Gun and Headquarters Companies. Major Jesse Gaston and Major Fred A. Cook had preceded the regiment to France with the school detachment of officers and non-commissioned officers who sailed on Feb. 27th. Major Gaston rejoined the regiment April 25th at the training area, where we also received another Major for a short stay (Major H. G. Bartlett, Marine Corps). Major Cook remained at the school as an instructor, later going to the 23rd infantry, 2nd Division. He was killed in action in the Argonne, October 7th.
On April 18th the Regiment entrained at Brest for the district about Chateauvillain. Three days overland in the notorious French box cars brought the regiment at midnight to the Bricon station. Here we detrained, and marched to our stations. Regimental headquarters and Headquarters Company were at St. Martins until May 3rd, when they moved to Autreville, Company "F" being transferred from the latter to St. Martins. Machine Gun and Supply Companies were at Autreville and Company "E" at St. Martins. The First Battalion was stationed at La Villeneuve and Montheries; the 3rd Battalion (less "L" and "M") was at Braux. Companies "L" and "M" had billets in Vaudremont. Companies "G" and "H" were in Vadelaincourt.
Here the regiment remained in training until May 29th. Lieutenants LeCorneu and Bailly of the French Army were attached as instructors in trench warfare. Over one third of the officers in the regiment, including a majority of the company commanders, attended the Second Corps School at Chatillon-sur-Seine.
News from the front came slowly to the little towns in which the regiment trained, but at the end of May reports of the German's smash between Rheims and Soissons began to arrive.
Finally on midnight an order came to dispatch at once a billeting party and to prepare the regiment for an instant move to the front. The billeting party left the next morning on the first troop-train of the Third Division, that carrying the 8th Machine Gun Battalion. This was on May 30th. On May 31st the regiment entrained in three sections.
One battalion, the 3rd, detrained at Artonges, as scheduled, and marched off through Conde to Janvier Farm to take up a reserve position. The rest of the regiment was also supposed to detrain at Artonges, but railroad congestion caused them to leave the trains farther south, and start marching. The 2nd Battalion detrained at Esternay and marched to a reserve position at St. Agnan and Sacconay.
The 1st Battalion and Headquarters Company detrained at Montmirail and marched two days to reach their positions. Regimental Headquarters were established at the town of Monthurel, northwest of Conde. The 1st Battalion took up a reserve position with the 3rd Battalion at Janvier Farm, the Headquarters of the French Infantry Division.
At this time the 7th Infantry for tactical purposes passed under the command of the 20th French Division, whose front extended from the Surmelin Creek on the left to Dormans on the right. Before the regiment's arrival the 2nd French Infantry (P. C. at La Grange aux Bois) held the right and the 41st French Infantry (P. C. at Les Etangs) held the left of the Division's front.
On the night of June 2nd/3rd the Third Battalion. went into line on the Marne between Sauvigny and Treloup, with battalion headquarters at Courthiezy, Companies "L", "M", and "J" in line from left to right with "K" Company in support. Stokes mortar and one-pounder platoons, from headquarters company, at this time went into position south of Varennes, to dominate the Jaulgonne-Varennes bridge, the only one left standing over the Marne along the front. The Machine Gun Company was placed above Reuilly. The 1st Battalion, from Janvier Farm, moved west to take up a support position abreast of the Surmelin Creek, battalion headquarters at Courtelin. During the battalion's stay at the Janvier Farm position, a German shell landing in Co. "D"'s rolling kitchen caused the regiment's first casualties. One officer and several enlisted men were wounded by flying pieces of shell.
The 3rd Battalion remained on the front line at Courthiezy until June 9th. There was little activity of any kind during their stay. An occasional burst of shell-fire was the only sign of active war. During this period one officer of Company "M" performed the feat which won for him the Croix de Guerre. with Palm and the Distinguished Service Cross. In patrolling the river bank. he saw a man in French uniform lying under the shelter of the bank on the north side of the river. By signaling and calling to him in a low voice the patrol found that the man averred himself to be a wounded
Frenchman who had been left behind when the French fell back in the great German drive a few days before. Although there was risk that the apparent Frenchman was a German put there to trap the Americans, plans were set on foot for this officer to swim across the river under cover of a platoon of machine guns. This he did at 7 o'clock in the evening. taking a rope over to the wounded man, by means of which he was brought back to the south bank. The Frenchman's story was found to be true.
The 3rd Battalion was relieved the night of June 8th/9th by a battalion of the 2nd French Infantry, taking up a position in the woods several hundred yards up from the river. On the night of June 7th/8th the Second Battalion relieved the French at REUILLY, the sector next to the left of Courthiezy. The relief was made during fairly heavy shelling by the German 77s, which caused several casualties. On the next night the 3rd battalion moved over back of Reuilly to support the Second. The total casualties during this
period were two enlisted men killed, and one officer and thirteen
enlisted men wounded.
On June 11th orders for an immediate move from this area were received. The regiment was assembled as soon as possible on the road south of Conde-en-Brie, where a truck train was waiting to take the regiment west of Saacy on the Marne River. A picture of the Seventh Infantry taking trucks at Conde at this time has been widely published in the United Sta[t]es. The purpose of the move was unknown to the regiment at this time, being ordered by the Commanding General, Sixth French Army.
Arriving at Saacy, the regiment took over the guarding of the six bridges crossing the winding river at this point. Here the Seventh came under the 167th French Division, 21st French Corps. Under orders from the Corps the regiment constructed a trench line forming a bridgehead north of the Marne, between Nanteuil and Les Jardinets bridge. This was a secondary defensive system between Château-Thierry and the cities of La Fert sous Jouarre, Meaux and Paris.
During this period Headquarters and Supply Companies, and 3rd Battalion (less Companies "L" and "M") were billeted at Saacy, which in large part had been deserted by its inhabitants. Companies "L" and "M" were at Citry. The 1st Battalion was stationed at Mery and the 2nd Battalion and Machine Gun Company at Nanteuil.
On June 15th, 1918, Colonel Anderson received an order from the Commanding General, 2nd Division, stating that the Sixth French Army Commander had placed the Seventh Infantry at the disposal
of the 2nd Division to relieve the 5th and 6th Marines (4th Brigade) in Belleau Woods. One battalion of the Seventh was to go in the line on the 15th, and the other two on successive nights. The Signal Detachment, Headquarters Company, was to go in on the 15th, the rest of Headquarters Company, together with Machine Gun and Supply Companies, remaining in the Saacy area with Regimental Headquarters.
In accordance with G. O. No. 6, Headquarters 4th Brigade (Brig. Gen. J. G. Harbord), the 1st Battalion 7th Infantry, on June 15th, relieved two battalions of Marines (2nd Battalion 5th Marines and 2nd Battalion 6th Marines) at the northernmost point of the Bois de Belleau. The following night the 2nd Battalion 7th Infantry relieved the Battalion of Marines holding the sector between the 1st Battalion's position and the 9th Infantry at Bouresches. On June 17th the 3rd Battalion went into line on the left of the 1st Battalion, thus putting all three battalions of the Seventh Infantry on the front line at the same time, the line extending from Bouresches (excl.) on right to point 1000 meters S. W. of Torcy about 4 1/2 kilometers. These battalions remained under the command of Colonel W. C. Neville, Fifth Marines.
On taking over this sector from the Marines, the 1st Battalion found within the northern edge of the woods a strong nest of German machine guns, supported by a force of about 400 men. The nest which was on top of a rocky ridge north of the line, held by Company "B" and west of Company "C", had been held by the Germans in the general attack made by the 4th Brigade on Belleau Woods, and previous efforts to dislodge them had been unsuccessful.
On the night of June 18th Company "B" attempted to move its position forward on this hill, but heavy fire from German machine guns on the ridge caused the Company to return to its original position, with a loss of 5 killed and 16 wounded.
On the following morning, June 19th, an attack was launched by the 1st Battalion. This attack, was led by the C. O. Company "C", with a platoon of Company "B" and 60 picked men from his own company. Two platoons from Company "D" did not get into position in time to aid in the attack. This attack reached a trench on the hill, but the attacking platoons were unable to gain the top and were forced to fall back. The original front line then remained intact in its former position. The casualties in this attack were 11 killed, 45 wounded and 7 missing.
Relief of the 1st Battalion was scheduled for the night of June
21st, 22nd, and on the night preceding this the Battalion made a final attempt to take the machine gun nest. Heavy artillery concentration on the nest was promised and the Battalion was ordered to withdraw a kilometer to allow the artillery to fire without danger of falling short. At 7.45 P. M. orders for this attack were received by Lt. Col. Frank A. Adams, commanding the 1st Battalion. At 9.40 P. M. they were issued to Company Commanders, who withdrew their companies into position of readiness. The promised concentration of fire on the machine gun nest failed to materialize. At 3.15 A. M. the attack was launched, Company "A" leading, followed at 100 yards by Company "C", with Company "D" in reserve. Following Company "C", Company "B" was to advance abreast of and on the left of Company "A", but in the thick woods Company "B" was led too far to the left and failed to reach the hill. The other three companies advanced up the hill until stopped by machine gun and rifle fire, together with hand and rifle grenades from the rocky ridge, which showed no evidence of the artillery barrage, supposed to have demolished the nest.
In the advance up this hill in the face of machine gun fire, 1st Lt. A. M. Trotter of Company "A" proved himself a fearless leader. After reaching one crest of the hill with a handful of men he pressed on eagerly to take a machine gun which was firing 40 yards in front of him. At this time when the small party was in the midst of the nest Lt. Trotter fell, shot by the machine gun which he sought to capture. Two officers of Company "C" and two of Company "A" reached the slopes of the ridge but were unable to maintain the position in the face of the storm of grenades from the crest. They reported later that the Germans on the hill were dressed as Americans and called in English to the attackers. A German in American uniform ran up to Lieut. Paisley and called to him, "My God! You are not going to fire on your own men out there in front, are you? You are not going to kill your own men?" Lieut. Paisley killed the man with his pistol.
The attack being unable to continue, Companies "A", "C" and "D" were returned to their original lines, Company "D" [h]ad the "hook" north of the nest with Companies "C" and "A" on the right. These three companies were once again in position in the shallow trenches at 7.30 A. M. Company "B", which had not suffered severely, was back in its original position soon after. On the next night, June 21st/22nd, the 1st Battalion was relieved by a Marine Battalion. At 8 o'clock on the evening of the relief Lieut. Paisley, who was commanding Company "A", was killed by a shell
from an Austrian 88, the second officer of the Seventh Infantry to fall in battle.
During the 1st Battalion's seven days in the line it suffered losses 25% of its strength; 8 officers and 229 enlisted men, of whom 2 officers and 34 men were killed.
While the 1st Battalion was attacking the machine gun nest, the 3rd Battailon executed an advance of a kilometer toward Torcy, moving across the open to take up a position along the cross-roads 600 meters south of the town of Torcy. This advance, made with practically no losses, brought praise from both Brigade and Regimental Commanders. "The Third Battalion movement last night was a great success", wrote Col. Neville of the 5th Marines in an official report on June 20th. "Congratulate you on your good work in occupying the ravine to the cross-roads without loss", was the Brigade Commander's message on the same date.
The 3rd Battalion and Signal Detachment were relieved on the night of June 23rd/24t. The 2nd Battalion had been relieved the night before. The Regiment had been eight days with three Battalions on the front line, had maintained the original lines intact at all points except the 3rd Battalion, which made the kilometer advance, had allowed two Marine Regiments eight days much needed rest. It had suffered during the tour 349 casualties, as follows: Officers: 2 killed, 8 wounded; enlisted men: 49 killed, 257 wounded, 34 missing.
In view of the fact that the Seventh Infantry was the only portion of the Third Division in the Belleau Woods, the following quotation from captured German Intelligence Reports is of interest: "Extract from reports on examination of prisoners by an officer from (German) Great General Headquarters:
June 22nd, 1918. Prisoners of the 3rd American Division. Fighting value:
"The 3rd American Division is engaged on the front for the first time. The men have a healthy and vigorous appearance; their raid in the Belleau Woods was carried out with audacity. The Division is to be considered altogether as a good one, whose fighting value will increase with wider experience in warfare."
(This was published in French 6th Army Bulletin July 28th and from office Chief Signal Officer, A. E. F., August 5th.)
After returning from the Belleau Woods, the regiment remained in its former billets, near Saacy until June 29th, when it moved by trucks south of Viels Maisons, coming once more under control
of the Third Division. Headquarters was established at Villeneuve sur Bellot, 1st Battalion at Replonges, 2nd Battalion at Saincy and 3rd Battalion at Bellot. Pay-day here was welcomed by the troops.