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Chapter VI — Attigny
(October 11th, 1918 to October 27th, 1918)

Maps / Photos / Misc.

On October 10th, the 2nd Division was ordered to an area near Chalons, to recruit and rest preparatory to the next campaign. The 2nd Field Artillery Brigade and the 2nd Engineers were detached and ordered to join and go forward with the 36th Division, because the 36th Division had no Artillery and no Engineers. French divisions advanced on right and left of the 36th Division. In view of the fact that the regiment might feel discouraged because of being detached from its own division, the Regimental Commander decided to issue the following order in order to maintain the "Espirt [sic] de Corps" at the highest point:

 
HEADQUARTERS
SECOND REGIMENT OF ENGINEERS
American Expeditionary Forces.
11 October, 1918.

ORDERS )
      No. 11 )

1. The 2nd Division has moved to a new area.

2. The 2nd Engineers will temporarily do duty with the 36th Division.

3. The Regimental Commander wishes to bring to the attention of the Regiment the following facts:

(a) That this Regiment has shown itself capable of performing any duties required of it.
(b) That the Regimental Commander is quite pleased with the faithfulness and attention of the Regiment to duty, whether disagreeable or pleasant to the individual members of the Regiment. This is as it should be.
(c) That the Division Commander has several times personally complimented the Regimental Commander on the excellent work of the 2nd Engineers; that the French Corps Commander has personally complimented the Regimental Commander on the excellent work of the 2nd Engineers; and that the French Army Commander has mentioned its work with praise.

4. The Regimental Commander is confident that the Regiment with such an efficient record will continue efficient under any difficulties that it may encounter. Such efficiency is unusual, but it can be maintained when every man feels that he himself is responsible for the results and that he individually must perform his whole duty to the best of his ability.

W. A. MITCHELL,
Colonel, Engineers,
Commanding.

As the enemy was retreating to the North of the Aisne, our first duties consisted simply of road repairing from the Py River to the Aisne. On October 11th. we started work with two companies, namely, Companies "B" and "D," which had been in reserve in the fighting and consequently were in the best condition. Here it is only just to remark that we were beaten into St. Etienne by the French Engineers, this being the first and only time that the 2nd Engineers were not ahead of the adjacent organizations. However, it is just to Company "B" to say that it was at its work promptly, but that its reconnaissance parties had not been sufficiently far forward to show that the work at St. Etienne was more important than the work the Company was doing on the roads south of St. Etienne.

On October 12th, both Battalions were placed on the roads north and south of St. Etienne-a-Arnes for repair and maintenance. The 36th Division had followed up the retreat of the enemy sufficiently far to permit the regiment to complete practically all necessary road work south of Dricourt, including the construction of two bridges in St. Etienne-a-Arnes. That night, the regiment camped in and near Machault. Next day the regiment was occupied with road work over a great extent of improved roads, with burial of the dead, and with special details which were sent out to locate enemy traps. Regimental Headquarters and the 2nd Battalion moved to Pauvres. Patrols were sent into Givry and Attigny, beyond our infantry front lines, to reconnoitre the bridges at these points. Both towns being occupied by the Germans in small numbers, the reconnaissances were not entirely satisfactory, but information was obtained on the canal bridge at Attigny, and the railroad bridge west of that point, both of which had been destroyed. The bridge over the railroad near Semide having been destroyed, the Corps traffic had to be diverted through that village. This was in the sector of the French division on our right, but as the French were being delayed in clearing this village, Colonel Mitchell, without orders, directed two platoons to assist them.

On October 14th, the work of burying the dead was completed by the men; the road work was continued. The French Army ordered all work stopped on the Pistes, to save men for other work, but we had already finished those Pistes in our sector.

In order to show the efficiency of the troops of the 2nd Engineers, the following is quoted from the report of Lieutenant Slade with a trap-hunting platoon:

(a) Guided several companies of the 144th Infantry to their positions; and also some machine gun companies.

(b) Picked up stragglers and forced them to go to their organizations.

(c) Patrolled the front. Selected positions of the Infantry outposts, and assisted in posting same.

(d) Found a gap of one kilometer between the 144th Infantry and the French on the left, and induced the Colonel to place some machine guns in the gap, and a system of outposts.

(e) Notified the Artillery in the vicinity concerning the front line positions of the Infantry.

(f) Also informed the Infantry Staff Officers, and marked the locations on the maps for some of them.

(g) Selected a place for the Regimental Train to park, but the Train Commander permitted his men to put the kitchens on the sky line, contrary to my advice. Consequently, they were shelled the next day.

(h) Went out ahead of the Infantry and located some of the German positions. Got first aid for some wounded, as many of the Infantry did not put on the first aid bandage.

(i) As there was no Regimental Aid Station, showed the Medical Officer where to put up one. Found Ambulance Officer who was looking for the Regimental Aid Station, showed him where it was, and showed him the best roads to evacuate the wounded.

This was regarded as unusually good work for a 2nd Lieutenant, and Lieutenant Slade was promoted to the grade of 1st Lieutenant because of this efficiency. The Commanding General of the 36th Division stated that the Lieutenants of the 2nd Engineers were the best he had ever seen. Naturally, this comment was based to a very great extent on the work of Lieutenant Slade, but it is felt that there were many other Lieutenants in the Regiment who would also have distinguished themselves under similar conditions.

Reconnaissances were made of the bridges at Givry and Attigny. These reconnaissances were not entirely satisfactory because the men had been given instructions not to unduly expose themselves. However, something had been accomplished and by October 15th the following information was reported:

(a) That the Canal Bridge at Givry had been blown up, but the ruins could be crossed by foot troops.

(b) That the river bridge at Givry was ruined beyond repair.

(c) That the locks east of Givry were about 16 feet wide.

(d) That there was a ford east of Givry, but no roads whatever leading to it, either from the north or south.

(e) That the railroad bridge west of Attigny had been destroyed, at least over the canal, and probably over the river.

(f) That the canal bridge at Attigny was destroyed, and that the gap was some 25 feet wide.

(g) Nothing more could be learned concerning the river bridge at Attigny, as no patrols had been able to cross the canal in order to see this bridge.

(h) The canal seemed to be about 40 feet wide, and 7 feet deep.

(i) The broken bridge over the river at Attigny was of masonry, being of three arches, which were reported as 25 feet each.

(k) The bridge at Givry (surely broken) was reported to be a metal truss bridge, with two spans, each about 70 feet.

Trestle foot bridge; constructed by Co. "E," 2d Eng'rs. To be used in crossing the Aisne. Taken 16, Oct. '18.

From the above, it is seem that the condition of the bridge at Attigny and the amount of preliminary work which must be done to repair it was still undetermined. As our time was getting short, Colonel Mitchell, on October 18th, told Lieutenant Balch that he would take a sufficient number of men and go out and obtain the necessary information; that he would  not return until he had accomplished this result; that he could take a whole company if it was evident that he would have to fight his way to the bridge. Lieutenant Balch was especially fortunate and obtained the necessary information. Lieutenant Courture (Map Officer) also went out, independently, in order to obtain some photographs of the bridge. Although wounded through the arm, he continued on this work and obtained some good photographs, joining Lieutenant Balch near the site of the bridge and returning with him. This reconnaissance showed that the bridge was beyond repair and absolutely ruined, but that abutments were in fair condition and could be used as approaches for a new bridge.

In the meantime, the Companies were occupied in various activities. They policed the battlefield and worked on the roads as was necessary.

Narrow Guage [sic] Railroads.

As it was evident that some railroads must be laid over this country in order to follow up the advance beyond the Aisne River, we decided to repair the narrow gauge railway and connect up with the line supposedly being built by the French across No Man's Land, some 15 miles behind us. Companies "C" and "D" started in at once and repaired the 60 c. m. railroad. They repaired about 20 kilometers in two days, actually putting in more than two kilometers of new track, repairing two important bridges, and resetting about 30 switches and frogs. Reconnoitering parties were sent west, east and south in order to determine which way the French were coming, and the Regimental Commander made a special trip to French Army Headquarters, but the French did not connect up, due to lack of equipment. So when the regiment left the sector, a line 12 miles long, leading from and to nowhere, was turned over to the French.

Drills.

As the repairing of roads and railroads and salvaging the battlefield did not occupy all of the regiment, the opportunity was siezed [sic] to take up the training of the regiment. Companies were detailed by roster on the work and the others were given Infantry and Engineer drills. This work lasted for about a week and it was found that the engineering efficiency of the Regiment was materially improved.

Foot Bridges.

Every day information was received that we would soon have to cross the river, and we were told that the Engineers would have to build the foot bridges under fire. It therefore became necessary to devise some kind of a way to build foot bridges under machine gun fire, a thing which had never been done before. The task was especially difficult, as both the canal and river had to be crossed. The foot bridge as finally devised was believed practicable for the crossing of one stream at a time. It is evident that no bridge can be devised which can be built under machine gun fire at a distance of 50 yards, except by surprise. In this case, the enemy could be surprised only when the bridge was built across the canal, and no bridge could be immediately built across the river. It therefore became evident that two separate operations would be necessary, and it was decided by the Regimental Commander that the infantry or engineers should gain the opposite bank by surprise foot-bridges several hours before the main operation, and that later the river would be crossed, also by surprise. It seemed probable that the Engineers would have to gain the opposite bank of the canal, as the infantry did not agree as to the impossibility of two consecutive surprises, but the operation was never undertaken, as the 36th Division and the 2nd Engineers were sent to another sector before the river was crossed.

However, the drills were of great value. After building bridges of boats, barrels, etc., by conversion, by rafts, and by various other methods, it was decided that a bridge of rafts built on the ground and launched as a complete bridge, would be the most feasible method. Rafts of a length of some 15 feet would be built and lashed together on the ground in a line perpendicular to the stream. The whole bridge would then be lifted at one time, the men running forward together and shoving the bridge across the stream. A pond was selected very similar to the position of the stream to be crossed and the two Companies selected for putting across the bridges, viz Companies "B" and "D," were drilled for several days so that the loss of time and of men would be as little as possible. These two Companies became quite expert in this work and it is rather interesting to note that Company "B" actually built a bridge in this manner across the Meuse about a month later.

Twelve foot bridges—six for the canal and six for the river—were constructed and laid out in the field near Pauvres, ready to be used in crossing. These were left there, when we left the sector.

It was also necessary to get the Artillery across. Records showed that the stream was probable [sic] fordable near the lock, about one kilometer east of Givry. However, Lieutenant Chase built a portable bridge capable of carrying Artillery; this was also left in the field at Pauvres when we left the sector.

Wonderful Record in Heavy Bridge Work.

It was evident also that not only must the Infantry and Artillery get across, but likewise the trucks, tanks, etc., must get across. Company "F," under Captain Wyman, was directed to build a portable heavy bridge which could be quickly set up at Attigny in place of the broken bridge as shown by the reconnaissance of Lieutenant Balch and Lieutenant Courture. The bridge as finally designed was a trestle bridge of heavy 8" timber trestles on log cribwork. The spans were of 15 feet and each stringer consisted of two 6" - I beams with wooden pieces in between as nailing strips. Each stringer was 40 feet long and consequently covered more than two spans. The flooring and everything were gotten together, bolts were placed in position and holes were bored. While waiting for orders to cross, it was decided to erect the bridge on the ground, as this would make it possible to shorten the length of time actually to be employed in building the bridge. The results were remarkable, and it is believed that this was the best work ever done by the 2nd Engineers, although the bridge was actually erected on the ground, and never over the river.

The complete bridge, 120 feet long and capable of carrying the heaviest truck loads was set up in three hours and 15 minutes. Photographs were taken every 15 minutes and showed truly remarkable progress. On leaving this sector the bridge was left standing in the fields at Pauvres.

Captured German Property.

In advance to the Aisne River, several German dumps were taken over. A great quantity of very useful supplies was found in these dumps. There were dumps at St. Etienne and southeast and south of that town, at Machault, northeast of Machault, at Mt. St. Remy, at Pauvres, and southwest of Attigny. The supplies in these dumps were listed and, when the Regiment left the sector, receipts were obtained from the French and forwarded to the Chief Engineer, American Expeditionary Forces. Reports of the Engineering situation. Engineering material (with inventories) and on the Soixante Railways, with maps, photographs, and patrol reports, were sent in duplicate to the Commanding General, Fourth French Army, and a copy of same to the 11th Corps (French) and Division Engineer, 22nd Division (French), all through the Commanding General, 36th Division. Also a Dossier received from the French on our right and road maps, were sent to the Division Engineer, 22nd French Division, through the Commanding General 36th Division, and a Dossier compiled by the 2nd Engineers was sent to the Division Engineer, 22nd French Division, through the 11th Corps (French).

On October 26th, Colonel Mitchell left the regiment on a mission to General Headquarters, American Expeditionary Forces and Headquarters Service of Supplies. On the same day orders were received relieving Lieut-Col. Strong from further duty with the 2nd Engineers and assigning him to command the 116th Engineers. He left immediately.

Fighting Engineers.

On October 27th, the 36th Division attacked and cleared 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, we re assigned to the 71st Brigade, and assisted in the attack of that pocket. Their work was highly efficient and very successful and they received the commendation of the Commanding General of the 36th Division. Three men were wounded in this engagement. This fighting took place on the same day that the Regiment was relieved from duty with the 36th Division; in fact, part of the regiment was actually moving to rejoin the 2nd Division at the time these wire-cutters were operating with the 36th Division. However, they were also very soon relieved and joined the regiment.

Summary of Results.

The most important results accomplished by the regiment during its service with the 36th Division were as follows:

(a) Patrols obtained the necessary data concerning the river.

(b) Trap hunters eliminated all danger from concealed mines, etc.

(c) Repaired and kept in shape some 30 miles of road.

(d) Inventoried and obtained receipts for some nine captured dumps of Engineer material.

(e) Repaired 20 kilometers of soixante railroad, involving the actual relaying of 2 kilometers.

(f) Built twelve foot bridges for crossing the canal and river, a total length of 780 feet of foot bridges.

(g) Best work of all: Built 120 feet of highway bridge, capable of bearing the heaviest road loads. While waiting the order to put this bridge in place. Company "F" was trained in quickly erecting this bridge on land, their best record being 3 1/4 hours.

(h) Fifty men worked as wire-cutters in a special operation by the 36th Division at Forest Farm.

Comments.

In this particular campaign, the 2nd Engineers was very actively employed in many engineering duties. It is felt that this work was well performed and that at the same time the opportunity was seized for drills which were especially valuable.

However, the Regiment was very fortunate in that it was not ordered to construct foot bridges over two streams, one bridge immediately after the other, both bridges being covered by machine guns not more than 50 yards distant. The records of history show that no bridges have ever been built under accurate fire. The latest noteworthy effort was that of the northern forces at Fredericksburg, which was a great failure. However, under the system as devised by the 2nd Engineers, it was found possible to build a foot bridge across one stream, by surprise, provided the Engineers could have about ten minutes before the machine guns are turned directly on the men carrying the bridge. Otherwise, the men would simply be slaughtered and the bridge would not be built. In a problem like the one with which the regiment was confronted, namely, to build two bridges over two streams only thirty yards apart, there would have been very great losses and finally it would have been necessary to capture the opposite bank of the second stream either with Infantry or Engineers, covered by Artillery fire, before the 2nd Bridge could have been constructed. Most probably the operation would have been carried out in two steps, namely, the surprise and crossing to the island between the canal and the river; then some hours later another surprise and another crossing to the opposite bank of the Aisne River. It is believed that the 2nd Engineers devised the only means of actually forcing such a crossing.

 
LOSSES AND REPLACEMENTS DURING PERIOD
OCTOBER 10 TO OCTOBER 27, 1918.
  Officers Enlisted Men Total
Morning report of October 11, 1918 50 1648 1698
Loss by transfer, evacuation, etc 6 65 71
Gain by transfer, replacement, etc 3 21 24
Morning report of October 27, 1918 47 1604 1651
 
United States, and W. A. Mitchell. 1920.
The Official History Of The Second Regiment Of Engineers And Second Engineer Train, United States Army, In The World War.
[San Antonio]: [San Antonio printing Co.].
 
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