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The 2nd Regiment of Engineers at Belleau Wood


202-11.4: Operations Report
2d REGIMENT OF ENGINEERS,. A. E. F.,
PIERREFONDS, Oise, July 22,1918.
 
[Extract]

21. The two brigades entered the line and became engaged with the enemy in the early morning of June 2. By this time, the engineer battalions had made reconnaissance and the companies had been assigned their tasks.

22. From June 2 to 7, inclusive, the 4th Brigade held a general line beginning at a point about 1 kilometer north of CHAMPILLON, thence in a southeasterly direction, passing through the wood of LUCY-le-BOCAGE to Triangle. The task assigned to the 2d Battalion of Engineers was to intrench and consolidate this position. This work was carried on with difficulty under heavy shell fire; and, on occasions, detachments of engineers were called upon to go forward as infantry in support of attacking parties of Marines, and again they were sometimes called upon to defend against enemy attacks the positions they were fortifying. During these four days of strenuous work and fighting, both officers and men of the engineers found occasion to be thankful that their training in infantry tactics in open warfare had not been neglected.

23. The 1st Battalion was not so heavily engaged at the outset; they were, as aforesaid, attached to the 3d Brigade, and were entrenching the support line extending from Triangle south through and about two kilometers beyond Le THIOLET. Later, as the town of BOURESCHES was retaken by a battalion of Marines, the 1st Battalion was disposed of as follows: Company A ordered into BOURESCHES to fortify the town, Company B to brigade reserve, about one kilometer west of BOURESCHES, Company C attached to 23d Infantry for intrenching and fortifications. This work consisted mainly of constructing temporary firing trenches and barbed wire entanglements.

24. By June 8, the front line held by our troops had become stabilized to such an extent that definite plans for the organization of the terrain could be planned, and the work thereon systematized. Three lines of defense were designated for the 1st position. These lines were termed positions A, B, and C, in order from rear to front. The engineers on June 7 were ordered back to the divisional reserve and under the direction of the division engineer were assigned the task of organizing and constructing position B. Working parties from the infantry of the division reserve were also placed at the disposal of the division engineer officer for this work.

25. One engineer officer was attached to each brigade to give technical advice and assistance in the construction of position C or the front-line position. Work on this position was carried out by the infantry units occupying the line.

26. At 5 p. m. on June 11, just at the time when the battalion commanders had completed the reconnaissance of position B and when about to begin work, Companies D and F were ordered to report to the 4th Brigade commander for duty with that Brigade. This action was taken in view of the fact that an enemy attack was expected. These companies were placed in the front-line positions in support of the Marine units holding that line and were used as infantry until June 14, when they were again withdrawn to the division reserve.

27. This action seriously delayed the work of the 2d Battalion, not only because of the time lost, but both companies were subjected to terrific artillery fire and suffered serious casualties, and the men who were withdrawn were in a state of exhaustion and physically unfit to carry on the work properly for several days after this action as infantry.

28. The work done on position B consisted mainly of organizing company Groupes de combat or elements of firing trench and machine-gun positions located in such a way as to be self-supporting and to afford a flanking fire covering the entire front. These Groupes de combat were echeloned in depth in such a manner as to form a support line. Groupes de combat were located in rear so as to flank the Groupes de combat forming the front of the position with object of preventing enemy infiltration.

Barbed wire entanglements were constructed. On account of the scarcity of material. these entanglements were simple in nature and usually consisted of a single row of double apron wire. An attempt was made to locate machine guns so that all wire entanglements would be enfiladed.

29. All engineer material for this work was obtained from the French Army Corps and difficulty was experienced in getting material in sufficient quantity. Barbed wire and sandbags were the only items obtained in any quantity.

30. Tools and materials were supplied by the division engineer to the infantry brigades to carry out this work. At times, small details of engineers constructed special works such as splinter-proof shelters for infantry brigade and regimental command posts.

31. During the latter part of the month of June, a readjustment of the lines was effected. The first position was then divided into three zones, termed the zone of advanced posts, zone of principal resistance. and the zone of reserves. Position B, with certain minor changes, constituted the zone of principal resistance. Work on field fortifications of this position were continued throughout the month of June and up until July 7, when both battalions were relieved by the 101st Engineers of the 26th Division.

32. All work in this sector was done at night and was greatly interfered with by the enemy artillery fire, both high explosives and gas. At times, work was stopped on account of the heavy concentration of mustard gas.

33. The casualties suffered by this regiment during the period from June 2 to July 7 were 11 officers and 370 men. Most of these occurred during the time the companies were acting as infantry; however, numerous casualties were caused by enemy artillery firing on working parties.

34. From the experience of this regiment in the CHATEAU-THIERRY sector, company commanders and the regimental commander are convinced that in order to maintain the highest degree of efficiency in an engineer regiment, the regiment should not be used as infantry, except in the gravest emergency, otherwise the training and skill of the engineer soldier will be sacrificed. Casualties are usually replaced by unskilled men, and casualties are obtained at the time when trained and skilled men are in greatest demand. Engineers are trained for certain important duties, and when in the face of the enemy they are used as infantry, just at the time when the occasion presents itself for them to put to practical use their training and knowledge, then all the time and cost of training the soldier is lost.

However, it is obvious that occasions will arise when engineers must and will be used as infantry. The experience of this regiment has proved beyond a doubt that to meet such emergencies, the engineer company should be armed with a certain number of Chauchat or automatic rifles in addition to the rifle.

In the engagement with the enemy before-mentioned, engineer soldiers picked up abandoned Chauchat rifles and ammunition during the fighting and although not trained in their use were able to use them efficiently against the enemy. It is considered highly important that an engineer company be equipped with a certain number of Chauchat rifles and that sufficient personnel be trained in their use.

35. The camouflage detachment of the 40th Engineers, under command of Captain St. Gaudens, remained with the 2d Division and continued their work throughout this period. The following is a report submitted by Capt. St. Gaudens on the operation of this detachment:


The 2d Division having established its headquarters at MONTREUIL-aux-LIONS on June 1, requisitions were sent through military channels on June 2 for camouflage materials, and camouflage work on batteries began at once. Owing to the nature of the terrain, the constant lack of material and the constant shifting of batteries, virtually all camouflage efforts have been confined to the artillery. For the first ten days the open warfare, the fact that the batteries were constantly moving and that the Germans had neither proper airplane service nor the artillery to do counterbattery work, made the camouflage situation a very simple one. But, as the lines became more stable, and the Boche gained the supremacy of the air and obtained both excellent photographs and good balloon observation, then the situation took on a more serious aspect.

The difficulty of the situation was further intensified by the extreme slowness of the arrival of camouflage materials. The most vital portions of the requisitions of June 2, 9, 13, 18, and 20 were not filled throughout the month. This meant that camouflage consisted of a constant series of reconnaissance for positions affording good natural cover and frequent shifts of batteries where proper artificial cover could not be maintained. Camouflage material to be of value must be installed at the earliest possible moment, a condition which did not prevail in this region. It is suggested that some other means of obtaining camouflage material, more rapidly than the present regulation channels, be devised.

The camouflage personnel throughout the month consisted of one officer and about thirty men. This proved ample to meet the needs of the situation within the division. The men were distributed so as to allow one man to remain in charge of each battery and one sergeant to remain in charge of each regiment. Had the material been ample to meet the situation, there would have been no difficulty in maintaining the proper camouflage of the batteries.

The question of camouflage discipline is one that has not yet been solved within the division. The severe lessons taught by the German artillery where camouflage principles have been violated has impressed the present personnel to some extent; but until the vital need of regulating traffic and of cutting down paths and signs of circulation has been taught men as persistently as gas drill is taught, it is quite certain that numbers of lives will be sacrificed through perfectly useless carelessness.

The camouflage situation within the division at the end of the month was good within the limits imposed by lack of long time insistence on camouflage discipline. With the arrival of material and another month of persistent education given by both the camouflage personnel and the German artillery, the division should be in excellent shape, from a camouflage point of view.

 
HOMER SAINT GAUDENS,
Capt., Engineers, N. A.

36. That it may be of record, it is desired to state the conditions that prevailed in the village of MONTREUIL-aux-LIONS at the time of its occupancy by the 2d Engineers.

This regiment arrived in the town of MONTREUIL-aux-LIONS on June 1, just at the time when the last civilian population was making a hasty departure, thinking that the enemy might continue his advance and capture the town.

All homes were left unguarded and very little furniture or other private property was carried away by the owners. In one building in particular, a great quantity of wine was stored.

The officer assigned to the headquarters of the 2d Engineers and a small detail of enlisted men were billeted in this town, and were among the first American troops to [be] stationed there.

An inspection was made of the various houses that had been abandoned, with a view to occupying them as billets. In numerous cases, the houses had been entered by troops other than Americans, and literally wrecked. Furniture was broken; glassware smashed; trunks and bureaus ransacked and their contents scattered all over the house; small articles of value were presumably stolen; chickens, cows, sheep, rabbits, etc., were confiscated and other stores, such as wine and edibles, were carried away; conditions in general were deplorable and shameful.

The American troops were not responsible for the above conditions.

 
W. A MITCHELL,
Colonel, Engineers.
 
Records Of The Second Division (Regular) Volume 7; Operation Reports — War Diaries — Patrol Reports
Second Division Historical Section, The Army War College, Washington, D. C.
 
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