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12th Field Artillery — The March To The Rhine

On the eleventh, after it was definitely learned that the Germans had accepted the terms of the Armistice, the battery moved into indoor quarters in a farm house on the outskirts of the town of Yoncq. The first night there was a memorable occasion. For eight months the by-word at night had been, "camouflage that light", so that, with the need for such caution removed, on the night of the eleventh, our farm house resembled a section of the "gay white way". Candles and lanterns shone forth from every window. Enormous crackling fires burned in every grate with such intensity and magnitude that the several chimneys of the farm house resembled miniature volcanoes. A poker game in which the officers and N. C. O.'s celebrated the spirit of the day was significant mainly for the amount of money which the former contributed.

All was not pleasure, however, during these five days, because there was much to be done in preparation for the arduous march which lay before us. New supplies had to be drawn, men arrived to fill up our depleted ranks, and many replacements were received for the horses which had been evacuated or killed.

At 4:00 A. M. on the morning of November 17th, all hands were up and working feverishly in the bright moonlight to put the finishing touches on the loading and preparations necessary for the march. About 6:30 we took the road and passing through Yoncq and Beaumont we swung on toward the Meuse. We crossed the river at Pouilly where the bridge which the Germans had blown up had been replaced by our engineers. It was well along towards evening and growing dark when we entered the little town of Olizy, our billet for the night. The battery quartered in an old iron foundry. The town was about half destroyed, the result of early fighting in 1914. No traces of any Boche soldiers were apparent. They had gone, bag and baggage.

7:30 o'clock the next day found us on the march again. With splendid roads and gorgeous weather we travelled along rapidly during the morning and, just at midday, reached Villersdevant-Orval which marked the Belgian frontier. The welcome sight of the town square full of Boche guns, turned over in accordance with conditions of the Armistice, greeted our eyes. Our passage through the town seemed almost like a triumphal march as we passed under the fir arches, festooned with Belgian and allied flags, with all the inhabitants lining the street and cheering us vociferously. Pressing on through the afternoon we reached the outskirts of the town of Geronville where we planned to halt for the night. At the bottom of the hill on which the pretty little town stood we were met by the inhabitants, marching forth to meet us with a band leading them and blazing forth with martial airs. Headed by this musical and vociferous aggregation of wind-jammers, who made up in enthusiasm what they lacked in technique, we triumphantly entered the town. The welcome those wonderful Belgian people gave us warmed our hearts and seemed alone to recompense us for the discomforts and dangers which we had undergone. Anything they had was ours for the asking and they overwhelmed us with a gratitude which was really embarrassing in view of the little we had done. Perhaps, gentle reader, you have a relation or a friend who was thrown into contact with the Belgian people at this time. If so, you may have been told that the newspaper stories about the cruelties inflicted by the Germans on the Belgian civilians were not all falsehoods. Some of us heard stories from these simple peasants which rivalled in cruelty and barbarism those that were printed in our newspapers.

We rested in Geronville the next day revelling in the luxury of no work or duties except looking after the horses.

With the band playing us a farewell and Godspeed on the morning of the twentieth we took up our course toward the Rhine again. In every town through which we passed the people were all out in the streets in gala attire celebrating their delivery from four years slavery. Even the little tots, barely old enough to stand up without the assistance of a mother's hand, greeted us with, "Vive les Americans". About five o'clock in the afternoon we reached Stockem where we were to put up over night.

The following day we passed into Luxembourg. A distinctly Teutonic, that is to say, unpleasant, atmosphere pervaded everything. The towns were decorated with Luxembourg flags, but the populace stayed indoors or came out on their front door steps merely to regard us curiously, but without any sign of either animosity or good-will. Schwebach was reached early in the afternoon and we were fairly comfortably fixed for the night.

Ten kilometers was our march portion for the following day which carried us to Bissen, a town of fair size. As usual, we only remained over night, starting off again about the middle of the following morning.

So far we had been exceedingly fortunate in having extremely nice towns in which to billet. Of course, getting in after dark usually and leaving before it was completely light in the morning, we didn't have much of an opportunity to do any sight-seeing. Still, it was a distinct advantage to have a nice, clean place to sleep in. The town which we reached the night of the twenty-third, however, was a distinct change. It was merely a collection of more or less dilapidated farm buildings, the whole town consisting of some twenty such places. With both "B" and "C" Batteries quartered there there was little room to spare anywhere. It was our peculiarly unfortunate luck to have to remain in this dump, for no other words will describe it, for a solid week. We had to make this halt because we were not due to reach the Rhine until December 9th. We had all hoped that the seven days' halt would mean a fine rest, but such was not the case. We were given a rigorous drill schedule to fulfill which kept us very busy all day and every day. A couple of days of dreary rainfall did not tend to make our memories of the week of the most pleasant. Thanksgiving Day, falling in the middle of the week, meant a holiday that was doubly enjoyable as a contrast with the hard working days before and after it.

Setting out once more on Sunday, December first, we crossed the Sure and entered Germany. Sindfelt was our first halting place. While here the battery commander and Lieut. Klein were billeted in the house of a former German soldier, just discharged. He treated us with extreme kindness and, apparently feeling no resentment, seemed delighted that the war was finally over, no matter what the outcome.

Monday night we halted in Schmeidchen. It was very interesting to us to note that thus far there seemed to be no sign of a food shortage in Germany. We were also struck with the many signs of the disorganization, lack of discipline and low morale of the German Army withdrawing before us. The course of our march was literally strewn with helmets, guns, and all kinds of their equipment and the inhabitants told us that the officers had lost all control over the men. In many cases they were forced by their men to remove all their insignia of rank.

A saw-mill in Neiderprum sheltered the battery after the Tuesday march and the next morning we proceeded to Schwirzheim. The continuous marching, lack of shelter and shortage of rations was beginning to tell heavily on our horses. Oftentimes it was only with the greatest difficulty and with the already worn-out dismounted men assisting at the wheels that we were able to get the guns and heavy supply wagons up the steep grades. Each day on the road we passed many dead German horses, evidently victims of starvation, judging from their gaunt limbs and shrunken bodies. As can be imagined, it was an almost stupendous task to keep our advancing army supplied with rations and supplies. A great deal of the bringing up of such necessities had to be done for great distances by motor truck. Of course there were times when slip-ups occurred but, considering the colossal difficulties which had to be surmounted, our service of supply deserves a great amount of credit for their excellent work.

We spent the fifth in Schwirzheim doing very little but grazing the horses and trying to put some fat on their prominent bones. Refreshed and rested, we moved forward to Hillesheim on Friday. A town of fair size, it afforded very comfortable quarters for the whole regiment.

The end of the next day's march brought us to the little town of Dorsel, situated on an extremely high hill which towered above the Ahn River. As we were the first Americans to enter this village the natives were very curious and interested in us, eyeing all our equipment with keenly appraising eyes. Many of the male inhabitants were still in all or parts of their German uniforms.

Starting early in the morning we traced our course of the Ahn River through its beautiful valley for 35 kilometers to the town of Dernau, just 15 kilometers from the Rhine. The steep hillsides on each side of the valley were terraced with stone and covered with vineyards, beautifully cultivated and laid out, showing signs of a remarkable degree of industry.

Reveille sounded at 4:30 A. M. the morning of Monday, December 9th, and at 5:30 we were ready to be off. The district which we passed through between Dernau and Sinzig was filled with large summer hotels and bore all the aspects of a tourists' paradise. As we approached Sinzig we caught our first glimpse of the mighty Rhine and not one of us but was thrilled to realize that we had reached our goal at last. As we were not due to actually cross the river until the thirteenth we marched up the west bank from Sinzig to Brohl and then back into the hills about 6 kilometers to Burgbrohl. In comfortable billets we waited three days for the command to cross over and occupy the frontier lines which we were to hold to guarantee good faith in the execution of the terms of the Armistice on the part of the German people.

The thirteenth finally came and we set out early toward the Rhine again. Reaching Sinzig we retraced our steps down to Remagen where we crossed the river over a railroad bridge. Even a heavy falling rain could not make us too uncomfortable to realize that this was an important moment in the history of our country. Here was an American Army penetrating into the depths of a European country, there to stand guard and insure the retribution of a country which had violated the moral laws of nations. What did the future have in store for us and how long would we be kept in this country, far away from our friends and the future about which all youth must dream.

Up the east bank of the Rhine we marched, finally stopping in the town of Rhinebrohl, just across the river from Brohl. After many, many months' travelling from place to place and fighting almost continuously, we had at least reached the destination where we were to remain for seven months.

ON THE RHINE

It was a wet, dirty, tired battalion of artillery which marched into Rheinbrohl on the night of the thirteenth of December. A persistent drizzling rain falling all day during the march had not been enough of a damper on our emotions to drive away all thoughts of the impressive significance of the crossing of the Rhine by American troops. Still, as evening drew near, we were more interested in the chances of obtaining a roof over our heads and a hot meal before succumbing to the fatigue of our long months' march. Fortunately for our feelings, we did not for a moment believe that this little town of Rheinbrohl was to be our permanent billet on the Rhine. It was particularly fortunate that such was the case, because Rheinbrohl presented far from a prepossessing appearance to us as we marched wearily down the main street. Thinking that the halt would be only over night, the men and horses of the battery were all billeted in a large factory right on the bank of the river. A very large room in the factory, in which pontoon boats for the German Army had been built until the armistice, offered very light, roomy quarters for two batteries, so the men were well fixed for the night.

For one or two days we remained in Rheinbrohl, still quite ignorant of whether we were to move again or not. When we finally learned that we were to remain indefinitely it seemed necessary to billet the men aound in the various houses of the town. Our German hosts did not seem to have "welcome" printed on the door-mats for their foreign visitors, and in some cases even suggested that they had no room to place at our disposal. However, in these cases a simple counting of the rooms in the house and of the number of people living therein was more convincing to us than just the suggestion of a "full house". It must be said here that most of the townspeople, whether through diplomacy or common politeness we shall leave to the reader, readily took in as many soldiers as they could accommodate. The completion of our billeting at least put a roof over every man's head, though it did scatter the battery, in small groups of twos and threes for the most part, all over the town.

The approach of Christmas Day found the battery pretty well settled and established in the new quarters. Of course no one was very thrilled with the prospect of a Christmas in Germany, but the little boxes of presents which our families and friends at home were allowed to send over brought nearer the warmth and cheer of a real American Yuletide. Really with a new drill schedule prescribing periods both morning and afternoon, Christmas Day was upon us before we quite realized it. Sgt. Connett, with his usual ingenuity, tried to make the army ration for the Christmas dinner swell out in quantity and quality to the standard of a real "home-cooked", and he succeeded admirably.

Compared with some of the other towns in which the Americans were billeted, Rheinbrohl was not at all bad. The town would, in ordinary times, have had a population of between three and four thousand. Situated on the highway which ran along the edge of the Rhine, it was bordered on one side by the river and behind by high, rolling hills, ascending very steeply directly from the outskirts of the town itself. There was practically no trouble with the townspeople—no demonstration of ill-will on their part. It was simply a case of two different civilizations living in the same town. They went their way, we ours.

For the first two months we continued to be tremendously busy. Naturally, after eight months of continuous duty at the front our "peace-time" discipline was woefully lacking. It was very hard for the men to appreciate the fact that two buttons, even though they kept one's blouse together indifferently well, were not considered "comme il faut" and sufficient at formations. Anyway, at first everyone was a little more interested in when they were to go home than they were in their ability to recite without error the general orders for a sentinel. Gradually the spirit began to return, however, and shoe polish and the thread and needles of the old familiar "house-wife" did their part in turning the battery out to formations looking like the really fine soldiers they were.

Schools of all kinds began to be inaugurated. There were Army Schools, Corps Schools, Division Schools, Brigade Schools, Regimental Schools, etc. Indeed, some of the N. C. O.'s might draw attention even now to the objectionable habit which the B. C. had of having a little school of his own every day after luncheon. With details of men away at all these various duties the number of men left for duty in the battery was comparatively small, and everyone had to work long and late. Naturally, all these means of restoring discipline and keeping the troops in first class fighting condition were absolutely necessary, because one never knew when the enemy would require more attention.

Toward the latter part of January orders were issued designed to give the men their long-needed and well-deserved rest and recreation. Trips to Nieuwied and Coblentz were allowed and soon after real leaves to Nice, Paris and Aix-les-Bains were granted. These privileges did much to put new life into everyone. When one stops to consider that scarcely a man in the regiment had been given a leave since we left the States over a year ago, the great benefit and pleasure that they were may be somewhat appreciated. In the leave areas everything was done to give the men a fine time. The Y. M. C. A., Red Cross and Knights of Columbus all vied with each other to provide diversion and amusement for the members of the A. E. F. Hundreds of American girls made the few days of leave pass all too quickly with the many parties, picnics and dances which they arranged. Like everything else which was done for the American Army, the whole program was systematically and delightfully carried out.

To stimulate interest in improving the condition and appearance of the horses of the Division and in the riding and horsemanship of the officers and men, Division Headquarters inaugurated a series of Horse Shows. In addition to events for individuals in ring work, jumping and racing there were events for a mounted artillery section. In the first show our third section, with Sgt. Clyde Watkins as section chief, took second place. As one section from each of the 12 batteries of light artillery in the Brigade were eligible to compete, this was indeed a creditable performance on the part of the "grays", as the third section was called on account of the color of their horses. The third section repeated this performance in a second show, again taking honors with a third place.

Encouraged by the success of the Divisional Shows, our Regimental Headquarters decided to have a mounted field meet. Competing with all the other batteries of the regiment, "B" Battery showed their worth again and won the meet. This was a matter of great pride to the battery, especially as the events included in the meet were designed to stress fundamental training in the school of the artilleryman. One event which the battery won was particularly demonstrative of field efficiency. One section was entered from each battery. Before the starting signal the horses were standing unharnessed and hitched to the wheels of the gun and caisson carriage. The men of the section were partially undressed and lying in pitched "pup" tents. At the starting signal the men got up, dressed, made their rolls, harnessed and hitched, mounted, galloped 200 yards, unlimbered, fired a shot from the gun, limbered up again and returned to the starting point. A mixed section of the battery won after an exciting finish. In this short contest practically all the duties of the artilleryman were embodied, and winning it was a source of great pride to all of us. Sgt. Rudden also helped to bring honors to the battery by winning the half mile race. His closest competitor was Sgt. Buck, of "C" Battery. "C" Battery claimed Rudden rode Buck off the track, but we all claimed that anyone who could teach an old dog new tricks deserved double credit. The battery received a silver cup as a prize for winning the field meet.

The passing of the winter would not have been entirely complete without foot-ball. Consequently we organized a team and challenged "E" Battery to a game. We thought that this battery, with all their pugilistic individuals led by their heavyweight B. C., would present the most formidable opposition. Consequently, one bright warm March afternoon we journeyed to Honnigen, where the 2nd Battalian was quartered. Some of the spectators claimed that "E" Battery would have done better if they had realized that they were engaged in a foot-ball game and not a battle royal. However that may be, our Rhinebrohl machine rolled up over thirty points while holding our opponents scoreless. Sgts. Hackett, Fleming and Lieut. Eddie Klein were a "tower of strength" in the back-field, while 1st Sergt. Nalley tore the "E" Battery line to shreds. Corp. Cosmos, forgetting that he was a ring king for the moment, also played a strong game for us. This was the only game we played although we announced that we were ready to take on all corners.

The coming of April, with its warmer, beautiful weather, brought many new interests for the Army of Occupation. Taking over a large number of German excursion boats, the Army authorities arranged sight-seeing trips up and down the Rhine. One or two days a week the battery had a chance to let ten or twenty men take this beautiful and historic sail. The evenings also hung heavily on our hands no longer. The welfare organizations by this time had hundreds of shows touring the occupied area, and almost every night we would have either a show troupe or movies in the little theatre of Rheinbrohl. Some of these performances were really very good indeed and, to add to the professional talent, each regiment had a show troupe which gave performances all through the different towns. Altogether our theatrical diversions were a most pleasant feature of the months on the Rhine.

During all of this time the discipline and spirit of the battery had been increasing by leaps and bounds. Successful and victorious in many different fields, the men began to feel each day more and more proud of their membership in "B" Battery. A practical example of the pride of the men in their appearance and in the general up-keep of the battery properties may serve to bring home this fact. For over two months the Division Headquarters had conducted a weekly organization contest on police, sanitation and appearance of the men and quarters. Great stress was put not only on the men's quarters and their general bearing and dress but also on the care of the mess halls and stables. "B" Battery was marked "Excellent" every week the contest was run, being the only battery to have this honor more than three times and being always on a par with the best companies in the Marines. Anyone who knows how hard it is for a mounted organization to equal a dismounted one in this respect will appreciate the great interest which the men took in the battery and its good name and record. It was a result for which the credit should go to the men, for it meant an attention to little details on the part of each individual, a scrupulous attention which no number of officers and N. C. 0.'s could compel without the co-operation of the whole personnel. Sgt. Connett's part in this excellent record was indeed an important one. Taking on old, dirty, German club house, he painted the entire building inside and out, sodded the yard and laid gravel paths to the entrance, planted trees and shrubs and made the "B" Battery Mess Hall one of the show places in the Regimental Area. And even more important than that, he gave the men a place in which they took a pride and enjoyed their meals, amid immaculate surroundings.

On May 25th the 2nd Engineers threw a pontoon bridge across the Rhine at Honningen. The battery was selected to give an exhibition crossing on this structure. The bridge, which contained 95 bays and was 1,440 feet long, was completed in 58 1/2 minutes. The current of the river at this point is about 4 1/2miles per hour. The bridge was built from both ends by the method of successive pontoons, using the German one-piece steel boats. The battery crossed and recrossed the narrow bridge with all the drivers mounted in spite of the fact that the Colonel of Engineers in charge told the Battery Commander that he thought we would not be able to cross without dismounting the drivers. Some ten days later the battery was again selected to make a similar crossing over a bridge put over by the Corps Engineers.

All during April and May the battery had service target practice once or twice a week. The high hills up behind Rhinebrohl presented an ideal natural range with the targets distributed over countless rolling hills and knolls. The showing of the battery in the shooting was at all times highly creditable and on some occasions nothing short of miraculous in its accuracy. Several times precision problems were fired on even such small targets as single trees and the results achieved were usually better than could be figured according to the normal zone of dispersion and the usual probable error.

May and June found the battery represented in the Regimental League by an excellent base-ball team. We played games with every other battery and won against all except "C" Battery. Sgt. Woodworth made an efficient and enthusiastic manager of the team and Sgt. Nalley was a regular McGraw at handling the men on the field. The games were very popular with the men and there was very keen rivalry among the different organizations.

The orchard near the battery mess hall presented such an ideal place for an out-door banquet that it was decided to hold several of these. With the tables carried out under the trees and covered with "white" table cloths which Sgt. Connett rustled from somewhere, the parties with their accompanying entertainments were very popular. The battery numbered among its members much talent in the amusement line, and on the occasion when we put on our own show things didn't lag for a minute. Another battery party was staged in a large hall up in the quarters of the "E" Battery officers. This room was fitted up with a boxing ring, and a number of bouts were staged, some very good and others very humorous. A dancing competition also brought forth some hidden stars and the building nearly rocked with the shouts and laughter of the men at the bizarre "pas seul" done by Brucker and Sgt. Dorsey.

The night of June 17th was the occasion of the biggest party that the battery had abroad. All arrangements had been made for a wonderful banquet and Lieut. Klein had secured the services of the "Live Wire Troupe", one of the best of the Y. M. C. A. entertainment groups, to put on their show after dinner. The services of the town electrician were secured to wire the orchard where the tables were placed, and so up among the appleblossoms and festoons of flags and pennants hung many jack-o'-lanterns lighted with little electric bulbs. The whole effect was very delightful and a great credit to the efforts of Sgt. Connett. The dinner went off in great style, and then to bridge the time before the regular entertainers arrived we had some acts by our own local talent. Polen pulled down the house when he unexpectedly poked his head up out of the top of the water wagon which had been driven into the square formed by the tables. Taking advantage of the humorous effect produced by his novel entrance and extraordinary get-up, he got off a number of recitations, after which he doubled up in the water wagon again, the top was put on again and he was driven off amid deafening yells and applause.

A stage had been built at one end of the orchard. Banked up on the sides with shrubs and flowers and with brilliant lights above, it looked very professional indeed. The entertainment put on by the "Live Wire Troupe" was even better than we had expected, and the audience encored each act time after time. Right in the middle of the show the Battery Commander was told to report to Battalion Headquarters and there received information that the regiment would move forward into Germany at 3 A. M. The show was allowed to finish and then orders were issued to the battery to prepare to move.

The object of this sudden move was to have all troops right at the edge of the bridgehead zone so that if the Germans did not accept the peace terms which had been submitted to them we could march quickly into the interior. The battery was entirely ready to start at midnight, but a change of orders put the time of leaving off until 9 o'clock the next morning. We moved out according to the later orders and marched all day back from the Rhine into Germany. Billeted that night in a small town, we marched again on Thursday, reaching the town of Marienrachdorf in the early evening. The Germans had until Monday night to accept the offered Terms of Peace, so we waited in this little town for four days. Everyone enjoyed the march as a change from barrack routine, and being in the field once more brought many diversions. It was unfortunately very bad weather nearly all the time that we were camped at Marienrachdorf, and so life for the battery in an open field outside the town was not entirely agreeable.

The Germans signed on schedule time, but our troops were not immediately ordered back. The Army authorities were evidently anxious to see how our late enemies would respect this latest scrap of paper. We finally received orders to return to Rhinebrohl on Sunday, June 29th. It was decided to make the whole march back to Rhinebrohl in one day instead of splitting it as we did marching up. We left early—at 5 A. M.—and completed the 45 kilometer-hike at 2:30 P. M. An hour of that time was used for luncheon, so that the total time of eight and a half hours was very good indeed. Altogether we had been away about ten days and were very glad indeed to get back to the comparative comforts of barracks quarters.

The Fourth of July provided excellent diversion in the form of a holiday and an athletic meet.

An inter-organization field meet was held between the batteries of our battalion and the companies of the 2nd Battalion of the 6th Marines. This included all such regular events as 100-yard dash, broad jump, three-legged race, tug of war, etc. The last event was the pie-eating contest in which our prize entry was Bugler Miller. We were behind at this time, but a first place in this event would put us in a position to tie the meet. The pie didn't have a chance when Miller got started on it and he had his whole pie eaten before the other contestants had swallowed their first mouthful. Sgt. Nalley had tied for first place on the 100-yard dash with a sergeant of the 83rd Company Marines, and as a victory for him in this event would put us in a tie for the first place in the meet, it was run over. Nalley ran a fine race and won, making the battery joint winner in the meet with the 83rd Company Marines. We received a money prize for this, with which we had a grand blow-out.

The following day, July 5th, the Division was turned over to the S. 0. S. and orders were issued to prepare for movement to the port of embarkation. This meant a great deal of work because our horses, guns and all surplus equipment of the battery had to be turned in at the various depots. Numerous inspections also were held to see that the equipment of the men which they were to carry with them was complete in every detail. Naturally it was a very happy group of men who worked at these preparations and the last few days seemed to crawl by as we waited for the order to entrain. Finally the battalion received orders to entrain on July 21st from Rhinebrohl. Without our usual equipment of horses, guns, etc., entraining was a very simple matter and all hands were on board yelling "Let's go" a couple of hours before scheduled leaving time.

The little station was thronged with the German townspeople as we pulled out. Their evident good-will and sorrow at seeing the Americans leave was a very fine tribute to the good conduct of our men on the Rhine.

We have followed the battery through the war and through the fine part which it took in guarding the Rhine. It had accomplished its mission in the World War and in the subsequent readjustments in Germany. As the train bore us down the Rhine the work of Battery "B" in the World War had passed on into history.

 
Foster, Pell W. 1921. A short history of Battery "B", 12th Field Artillery, Second Division in the World War.
[Place of publication not identified]: [publisher not identified].
 
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