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REPORT OF OPERATIONS SECOND DIVISION IN THE ATTACK OF THE 20TH ARMY CORPS, 10TH FRENCH ARMY, NEAR SOISSONS.
July 17 - 21, 1918.

CONTENTS.
1.Report of Operations near SOISSONS - 2nd Division Summary.
2.Current Reports - Journal of Operations.
3.History 3rd Bn. 6th Marines.
4.History 2nd Bn. 6th Marines.
5.Operations 2nd F.A. Brigade.
6.0perations of 5th Marines.
7.Report of Operations of 3rd Brigade.
8.Field Orders No.s 14, 15, 16 and 17.
9. Report of Casualties.
Editor's Note: Item 2 is included herewith immediately preceding the report. Items 3 to 7 inclusive are included in this volume with organizations and operations respectively to which they pertain. Item 8 is included in Volume 1, Records of Second Division (Regular). Item 9 has already been included in Special Report of operations of 2nd Division for Chateau Thierrv.
 

The success of the Americans northwest of CHATEAU THIERRY in June, 1918, in checking and throwing back the high tide of German invasion, had attracted world-wide attention. Up to the 1st of June the Germans had been steadily advancing on PARIS. The exhausted French offered feeble resistance. Retiring French soldiers warned the Americans that they would be swamped by the onrushing waves of Germans, and advised retirement. The European looked upon the American as a soldier of doubtful value. Europe knew the strength of the American dollar, but the merit of the American soldier yet had to be demonstrated. Financial aid alone could not win the war. The drooping spirits of the French and other Allies needed a strong impulse. At this moment the heretofore untried American, represented by the 2nd Division, challenged the supremacy of the Boche. Then two facts surprised Europe: first, that the American had held the Hun advance and second that he had attacked, defeated and thrown back the best German Divisions in "open warfare"' fighting. The almost vanquished Allies took heart when this victor bounded into the European Arena. Confident of the prowess of this new Ally, all gained strength for the new offensive.

This offensive commenced in July, 1918 and continued to the signing of the Armistice. The American demonstrated to the world in the June fighting northwest of CHATEAU THIERRY his supremacy over the Boche. A feeling of toleration, which had heretofore characterized the French, changed to frankly expressed admiration. Telegrams and letters from England and various American, English and French organizations were received. General Pershing telegraphed his congratulations on the 9th of June and came in person to express his pleasure at the great success. He also added that General FOCH, the Commander-in Chief of the Allied Armies, had especially charged him to give "his love and congratulations." The success of the operations in the CHATEAU THIERRY region later so much pleased General Pershing that he sent another telegram of congratulations. This American victory northwest of CHATEAU THIERRY in the region of VAUX and BOIS de BELLEAU came at a fateful moment in the war and marked the beginning of the end for Pan-Germanism. The American had his value as a fighter demonstrated by the 2nd Division. It now became an asset of known strength to the Allies. With perfect confidence in the result, General Foch, Allied Commander-in-Chief, was to put American Divisions side by side with the best Allied veterans.

In the middle of July, when the 2nd Division was holding the 2nd line back of VAUX and BOIS de BELLEAU in the CHATEAU THIERRY region, the fighting American little knew the great fame that had come to him and that henceforth he was always to be given the place of honor in the front rank by the side of soldiers tried in four years of war. On July 14th an order came from the 6th French Army, placing the 2nd Division under the orders of the 10th French Army and directing the movement of 2nd F. A. Brigade to BETZ. The next day the artillery was ordered to proceed farther north to TAILLEFONTAINE and in the evening an officer from the French Corps brought an intimation of an immediate move. On July 16th the Division less the artillery brigade moved to the vicinity of TAILLEFONTAINE. This move was made by French camions, and the animal and motor transportation marched overland. The troops marched to points on the best highways where the camions were halted for embussing the soldiers. French soldiers, one from each camion, were assembled at the end of the column and about 25 American soldiers were lead away by a Frenchman, who embussed them in his camion. When all the camions were filled, the column moved.

The senior American Officers roade [sic] with the French officers, who had charge of the camions, and with them inspected the columns to insure no delays. Anamese drove the camions through clouds of dust, which covered all with a monotonous gray coat. Each Asiatic, with eye fixed on the camion ahead, seemed to have one thought, that of following at the regulation distance. Hour after hour, the column lumbered through darkness along the tree-lined, National Highways of France, rolling ever northward into the unknown. Old Asia drove the modern war-chariot which bore victorious young America to new battlefields.

No lights betrayed the secret march to any hostile aviator. An occasional, dim, solitary tail-lamp, marked the end of a group of camions. Here and there, the interior of a camion flashed out when some soldier lit his cigarette.

On the morning of the 17th July the troops debussed in the vicinity of PIERREFONDE, RETHEUIL and TAILLEFONTAINE. Division Headquarters was established at CARREFOUR-de-NEMOURS (2 1/2 miles north of VILLERS-COTTERETS). It then became known that the 2nd Division was to participate in a surprise attack, side by side with the best veteran French troops. The 3rd Corps, under General Bullard, consisting of the 1st and 2nd Divisions had been formed and selected for this honor. In the attack, the 1st Division Morrocans [sic] (French) was placed between the 1st and 2nd U. S. Divisions. General Bullard in a memorandum to the whole Corps called attention to the distinguished honor which had been conferred upon the 1st and 2nd Divisions.

The 10th French Army, of which the 3rd Corps, U.S., was now a part, was to attack and break through the enemies [sic] front between the AISNE and OURCQ rivers, pushing forward in the direction of FERE-en-TARDENOIS. The northern boundary of the 2nd Division sector was marked by the general line VIVIERES (excl) - LE TRANSLON-FERME (incl) - VILLE- MONTERIE (excl). The southern boundary was marked by a line passing to the south of CHAVIGNY FERME - VAUXCASTILLE - HARTENNES-et-TAUX. The three objectives for the Division were generally marked by a north and south line through BEAUREPAIRE FERME, the ravine east of VAUXCASTILLE and the eastern edge of VIERZY.

After debussing the troops were moved to the rear of the Divisional sector and preparations made to relieve the French troops which were in the line. The weather favored a surprise attack, for it was very cloudy and rainy, and the march of many columns could not be seen. A magnificent forest of beech to the north and east of VILLERS- COTTERETS concealed the movement. All day the forest resounded with the tramp of Infantry, the clank of horse transportation and the rumble of artillery and tanks, all moving to the front. At night the main roads through the forest were so packed with traffic that progress was almost impossible. In a few hours the gates in the German lines would be burst open by the dashing infantry And this dammed up flood of artillery, ammunition wagons, supply trains and automobiles would be flowing over the ground now held by the unsuspecting Huns.

The congestion of traffic delayed the transmission of the attack order, so that there was little or no time for reconnaissance or study of maps. Haste marked all the preparations. The troops marched some or all of the night to get into position. The advance was on a traffic jammed road. For miles it was necessary to march the troops in single file in the slippery clay ditch along the right of the road. There was very little straggling, although many of the men were on the virge [sic] of exhaustion. The darkness and the uncertain footing increased the difficulty of the March.

The attack was made by the following troops in line from right to left; 23rd Inf., 9th Infantry, 5th Marines. The 6th Marines were Corps Reserve. The direction of the attack to the first objective was generally northeast. Then its course turned more to the southeast. This change of direction caused an intermingling of some units which was unavoidable. This is always bound to occur when there is a change of direction. Straightaway objectives are always preferable, when there has been no opportunity for reconnaissance of the ground. The haste with which the Division was rushed to the attack deprived it of its machine gun companies and there was no opportunity to supply the troops with the auxilliary [sic] weapons of the individual soldier so the attack was made with rifle and bayonet and the automatic rifle. All of the troops were in position or going into position when the attack started at 4.45 A.M., 18th of July. The First warning the Germans had was a heavy barrage which rolled ahead of the troops at the rate of 100 meters in two minutes. The surprise was a complete success and by 1.00 P.M., most of the 3rd objective had been taken. The town of VIERZY was not taken until later in the day. Another attack late in the evening carried forward the line to a point about one kilometer east of VIERZY.

Early on the morning of the 19th, the 6th Marines passed through the front east of VIERZY and occupied the line running just west of VILLEMONTROIRE [sic] and TIGNY. The regiment had been held in reserve until now, its advance from BEAUREPAIRE FERME to the "jumping off" line east of VIERZY was under hostile shell-fire. It was about 4.30 A.M., when the orders to attack were received. The German had air-superiority. The movement of the regiment at once attracted attention and brought down shells and bombs. Many casualties were suffered before the front lines were reached. The advance to the front lines was a severe test of the morale and discipline of the 6th Marines. This attack caused about 40% losses.

The Division was relieved from the front lines on the night of July 19th - 20th and then moved back to the forest where they had jumped off on the 18th, thence was marched back to a new area for billeting.

From the time the troops left the vicinity of CHATEAU THIERRY region they received no food and had had no sleep. They went into the fitht [sic] without reconnaissance of any kind and were compelled to move through unknown terrain during the night which was intensely dark and rainy. The roads to the jumping-off place were blocked with traffic of all kinds and the roadside ditch slippery with clay was their only path to the front. Considerable wire entanglements and barbed wire strung through the woods and machine gunners in trees hampered the first progress of the troops at the ''jump-off.'' After exit from the woods machine gun nests were found distributed in the wheat fields and were difficult to locate. Groups of French tanks were of great assistance in overcoming these nests and assisted the rapid advance. Whole batteries were captured, and the guns were turned on the retreating Germans. The 2nd Division made an advance of more than 8 kilometers and captured 66 officers and 2899 enlisted prisoners and much materiel, including 9 pieces of heavy artillery, 66 light, 2 Trench Mortars and over 200 machine guns.

This attack, a Complete and overwhelming surprise, was a stunning blow to the German High Command. The Boche Army was engaged in a grand offensive on the eastern side of the RHEIMS - SOISSONS Salient. Four hundred thousand Huns were packed there waiting to break through the Allied lines and to smash on to PARIS. Suddenly under this Allied blow the Boche line buckled on a broad front and to a depth of ten kilometers, and a necessary artery of communication, - the CHATEAU THIERRY - SOISSONS ROAD was strangled. Important lines of communication and large forces packed in the Salient, were endangered.

This opportune attack on the vital point so rapidly and unexpectedly delivered, created a dangerous situation. The German Command was compelled to withdraw troops from the whole salient at once. The situation was so critical that he could not depend on the reserves which he had thrown in to stop the advance.

This attack relieved the tremendous enemy pressure on PARIS. Now the Allies' reserves were free to deliver hammer blows along the Western Front until the Hun forces were completely demoralized and defeated.

 
OFFICIAL: (Sgd) JOHN A. LEJEUNE,
  JOHN A. LEJEUNE,
(Sgd) J. S. TURRILL, Major General, U.S.M.C.,
J. S. TURRILL, Commanding.
Lt. Col., (Marines), Gen. Staff.  
A. C. OF S., G-3.  

 
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Records Of The Second Division (Regular) Volume 6; Operation Reports — War Diaries — Journal of Operations
Second Division Historical Section, The Army War College, Washington, D. C.
 
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