MENU

21. Always Through the Forrest


HISTORY OF THE 305th FIELD ARTILLERY
by
Charles Wadsworth Camp
1919


XXI

ALWAYS THROUGH THE FOREST

THE First Battalion remained at the Abri de Crochet for a week, while the Second stayed in the position at La Harazee, both supporting, after October 2nd, the famous Lost Battalion. The ring of fire with which the 305th circled Major Whittlesey's command was credited with a measurable share in his salvation. The Second Battalion, moreover, had an officer with him during those black days. Lieutenant Teichmoeller, of Battery D, had been in liaison with Major Whittlesey when the jaws had closed.

The story of the Lost Battalion has been told often enough. A word here will suffice to explain the artillery's perpetual support of the trapped men.

On October 2nd the infantry was forging ahead, scarcely able to maintain flank and rear liaison because of the broken and overgrown terrain. Suddenly the enemy appeared on both flanks and to the rear of the First Battalion and Companies E and H of the Second Battalion of the 308th Infantry. This party of, perhaps, 600 men and officers had made a quick forward thrust of half a kilometer or so. It became clear now that neighboring units had failed to keep pace. Major Whittlesey's party, therefore, was in a trap from which the Huns were evidently determined it should never escape. For six days they pounded the little command while the Americans did everything possible to relieve it. For six days it went almost entirely without food. Aeroplanes were sent over to drop rations and ammunition, but in the thick woods had difficulty locating the suffering group. For six days its personnel accomplished Homeric deed, endeavoring to guide the aeroplanes and to get messengers through. Its losses were great. Of those who came back after the relief few were unwounded. Lieutenant Teichmoeller, while completely exhausted and ill from lack of food, was one of the fortunate ones who bad not been bit.

During this period the strain was felt almost as thoroughly by the artillery as by the supporting infantry. Our batteries fired constantly. Our agents and observers forward did what they could to locate the command and to report on the result of the fire.

On the second day-that is October 3rd-Lieutenants Burden and Klots with Private Cox, of the Headquarters Company, were forward with the infantry, trying to get some light on the situation.

They were crossing an open space when they spied an observation tower in the woods ahead.
"It's an observatory," Lieutenant Klots said, "and if there's anybody in it he'll snipe at us."
Someone was in it, and he began sniping with a 77. The party took shelter in a crater.

After a time, when the sniping had ceased, the three made a dash for some trees on the flank. They reached the shelter, but the grove itself was getting a good many shells. Lieutenant Klots pointed out a low bank.

"Looks like dead space under that bank," he said. "Why not wait there and have a smoke?"

The others agreed. But the bank did not furnish dead space for a man. A number of shells fell nearby. Then one dropped directly in front of the party, and the back lash got all three. Lieutenant Burden was badly hurt in the thigh. Private Cox got a painful and disabling wound in the leg, Lieutenant Klots was struck by a fragment on the instep.

Other shells would come. There was only one thing to do-make a run for it.

Lieutenant Burden started first and reached the thicker woods out of the line of fire. Cox tried it, but went down after a step or two, realizing for the first time that his leg had been fractured. Lieutenant Klots carried him back to such shelter as the bank afforded and remained with him until some infantrymen came along with a stretcher and took him to the first aid station. Cox did not return to the regiment. Lieutenant Burden had had a narrow escape and was not discharged from the hospital until some time after the armistice, when he was assigned to work in Paris in connection with the peace parleys. Lieutenant Klots' wound was slight, and he returned to duty within a few days.

On October 4th, while firing in support of the Lost Battalion, C Battery lost a man in a premature burst. A piece of the tube struck Private Edgar A. Blethen. Lieutenant Robinson was the first to reach him, but the man had been instantly killed.

With the relief of the Lost Battalion the infantry resumed its advance, and it became clear that the artillery would be better off in new positions. Regimental Headquarters had left La Harazee on September 27th for Ferme aux Charmes. On October 9th it went forward two kilometers to the D6p6t de Machines. The First Battalion moved considerably further into the Bois de la Naza, but remained here only a few hours. After taking position it found that the infantry had gone so far ahead it would not be profitable to fire. it continued, then, to a point a kilometer west of Chatel-Cheherry where it remained for one day, firing semi-steel shells on German works near Grand Pre.

The Second Battalion on October 8th left La Harazee for the Stolzenfels dugout system in the rear of Binarville, 200 meters to the left of the Binarville-Chateau Vienne road. The battalion did not fire from these positions. It left them on October 9th for positions further forward, about half a kilometer to the right of the village of Langon.

The entire regiment on October l0th moved forward through the Bois de Langon to the vicinity of Grand Ham. Regimental Headquarters was established at Malassise Farm on the Aisne. The First Battalion took up positions to the east of Grand Ham, while the Second went a trifle further to the north to Hill 208. In these positions the regiment remained, by shifting its ranges, always within reach of its targets until the 77th Division was relieved on October 17th.

The regiment had a real mystery on October l0th, and it was not a pleasant one. Sergeant Orville C. Cooper, of Battery B was the victim. He had served as First Sergeant of the battery since the early days in Upton, and had been much appreciated by Captain Ravenel. On the night of the l0th, according to the report made by the battery clerk, Sergeant Cooper was called from his quarters at the battery echelon near La Chalade by a soldier unknown to anyone in the battery. The soldier said that the sergeant was wanted by Captain McKenna at the Supply dump, about 500 meters away. Sergeant Cooper took a short cut. About half an hour later he was brought back to the echelon by an infantry guard detachment. He had been badly slashed in the throat and about the body, evidently by barbed wire in falling from a narrow foot bridge after his assailants bad beaten him on the head with a club. He was in a semi-conscious condition, and was evacuated by Major Miller. Captain McKenna had not sent for the Sergeant, and a searching examination of property, and a careful questioning of the personnel in the vicinity of the echelon failed to yield the slightest clue to the assault. Sergeant Cooper was so badly hurt that he was invalided to America.

On the next day Battery D had an unusual casualty. Private Rodney J. Lecours, who had been guarding ammunition, lay down in bay on the side of a road near Binarville and fell asleep. His head was towards the road. Other men were asleep nearby. A motor truck, not seeing these men in the dark, drew up at the side of the road. One of the wheels passed over Private Lecours, killing him instantly.

It was during this last stage of the operations that had commenced on September 26th that the regiment suffered a depressing loss. First Lieutenant Sheldon E. Hoadley was killed on Sunday, October 13th. He had left his battery position and was riding along a road to the rear when a shell burst near him. A fragment struck him. He received immediate attention, but there was no chance. He died a few minutes after he was hit, while on his way to a dressing station in an ambulance.

Rumors of a relief became persistent. Horses and men were worn out. Since entering the war in Lorraine the regiment had left the front only to change position. In other words it had had no rest at all. The supply of ammunition was uncertain. The materi6l needed attention. Grand Pre and St. Juvin, divisional objectives had been taken.

Rumors crystallized into fact. The 78th Division re-lieved the 77th on October 17th and 18th. Regimental Headquarters moved back to La Chalade, resting for a few hours at Langon. The batteries followed out. Baths, delousing, and rest waited at La Chalade.

There was, it developed, to be more than simple rest. The regiment was allowed a number of passes for three days, exclusive of travel. The fortunate departed gaily for the vicinity of Paris or the Riviera. In many cases, it will be sadly remembered, they were met as they descended from the trains at their destinations by military policemen who presented them with telegrams. These missives recalled them at once to the regiment. The reason was obvious. The division was returning at once to its place in the line. There would be a new and vigorous offensive.

XXII

THE LAST PHASE

THE clans gathered again at La Chalade, and made ready to hurry back to the line. During the period of rest everyone had found time to read the papers. It was known that the Germans had asked for peace; that notes had passed back and forth; but at the front no one took the news very seriously. There was too much to be done. The men had become so absorbed by the war that at last they had borrowed something of the French attitude. The thing appeared eternal.

The question of transportation caused worry and wonderment. The regiment had received replacements of men, but none of horses. How was it going to be possible to move guns and ammunition with the few animals left? The answer came a little later in an unexpected form.

On October 27th the echelon was established at Chatel- Cheherry, and Regimental Headquarters and First Battalion Headquarters settled themselves in a house at Cornay. The First Battalion guns were a kilometer to the north.

The Second Battalion guns were in the same valley as the First, but to the left, near the town of Marc. Major Easterday and Captain Starbuck made a careful reconnaissance of the front. Firing opened on November 1st.

Again the advance was large, and on November 2nd the regiment moved forward to the vicinity of Verpel.
First Class Private Abel S. Virkler, of Battery C was hit by a fragment on November 2nd and killed while at work at his battery position.

At midnight of that day the transportation problem was solved in a radical fashion. The orders for the move had evidently come from high up. Colonel Doyle summoned Majors Easterday and Wanvig to Champigneulles.

There the colonel told the two majors that the regiment would be split. The First Battalion would continue as a combat battalion. The Second would act as its combat train. It would turn over to the First, horses, wire, telephones, and other equipment.

Such a move was inevitable. More than once in heavy weather the horses bad been unable to draw the pieces without the aid of cannoneers. The weather could be counted on now for much rain and the consequent mud.

The battery commanders, in pursuance to this order, met Major Easterday in Verpel, and the dispositions were settled upon. The echelon was established there. Captain Derby, who had recently been promoted with Captain Pike, was placed in charge. Captain Storer was given command of the combat train and instructed to keep always in the train 9,000 rounds. Major Wanvig and his staff, of course, were responsible for both the echelon and the train.

Under these new conditions the regiment moved forward towards the Meuse. On November 3rd the firing batteries passed through Buzancy. The town had been fired by the Germans and was in flames. Civilians, who had been under the German yoke for four years, hurried to the rear with what belongings they could save. They were clearly grateful to see the Americans, but such emotion as theirs does not express itself demonstratively.

That night and the next morning pirate guns were sent out. Lieutenant Robinson took one, Lieutenant Mitchell, another, and Lieutenant Warren W. Nissley, a third.

These officers with a piece each, and a cart full of ammunition, went forward to the infantry, and fired on whatever targets the infantry commander chose. It was dangerous work. Our officers went into position, practically in the open, and fired at German machine gun nests, and received from the infantry a gratifying amount of praise.

On the evening of the 3rd the First Battalion moved forward to Fontenoy. Regimental Headquarters also located its command post in the village. First Class Private William Kuttler, one of the regimental messengers, was killed on the road near Fontenoy that day. He was walking behind an escort wagon and was close to a party of infantry when a shell burst in the bank at the side of the road. Kuttler was the only man of our regiment hit, but seven infantrymen were killed and a number wounded.

On the same day Lieutenant Charles Graham was wounded by a shell fragment and evacuated.
The regiment remained in Fontenoy the 3rd and 4th, then moved into Stone, placing the three firing batteries in position in the valley to the southwest.

The civilian population in Stone welcomed the Americans as saviours. Men and women said the Germans before fleeing, had instructed them to take refuge in the church, promising not to shell the town for 24 hours. Scarcely, however, had they gone than the place was drenched with gas shells, and, of course, the civilians had no gas masks.

The next day another forward move was made to Flaba. Rations were scarce. Often the men had given of their issue to the civilians. Here the civilians gave the soldiers black German bread which the hungry men had not experienced before. The result was a sad amount of indigestion and a heightened sympathy for those who had been compelled to live for so long under the Hun food regulations.

There was no firing from these positions, and on November 6th Batteries A, B, and C, moved a half a kilometer to the east of Harraucourt, into range of the heights across the Meuse. The Second Battalion, acting as combat train, had kept pace with all these changes and had assured the supply of ammunition. Here the regiment remained until the signing of the armistice, five days later.

On the day the pieces moved into the final positions the regiment had its last casualty in action. Second Lieutenant Leon H. Hattemer, who had come to the 305th on the Vesle, was killed by a machine gun bullet, while in liaison with the infantry. The nearness of the end made his death seem all the more unfortunate.

Lieutenants Burden and Bullen, and Private Gormley were mentioned in division orders for their work during the Argonne fighting.

A few new officers were assigned during this last offensive. Second Lieutenant Angus R. Allmond had come on October l0th. Three other officers were with the regiment for a few weeks but were transferred away again to other branches of the service. On November l0th, the day before the armistice, Major Edwin A. Zundel was assigned to the command of the First Battalion to replace Major Easterday, whose promotion to a Lieutenant-colonelcy had just come through. Colonel Easterday had commanded the battalion from Nesles Woods to the Meuse Heights, that is during its most active combat experience. For his aggressiveness, and his daring in reconnaissance he was cited afterwards in division orders. He was a familiar figure near the front lines on foot, on his horse, or dashing about in a motorcycle. Once he and his driver wandered past the pickets and into a village filled with German soldiers, preparing to depart. Easterday told the driver to turn around, and before the Huns had recovered from their astonishment, he was rushing back to his command. By virtue of his new rank he went to Regimental Headquarters as second in command.

With Major Zundel came Second Lieutenants Solomon Abelow and Horace Heyday. The next day the war was over.

The fact of the armistice had been announced during the morning, but the regiment was skeptical, and went about its business. When the firing stopped the men attended to their routine duties and grinned wisely whenever anyone tried to tell them the show was at an end. The silence at last made an impression, and, as a band appeared, victoriously playing at the head of a regiment of Moroccans, the majority conceded that there might be something in the rumor.

There were, however, cases of chronic doubt. Sergeant Joseph, of the band, for example, had been left some distance in the rear to guard a reel cart. He picked up what he could to eat from neighboring units, but on the whole, was a hungry sentry. On November 14th a doughboy passed him in his isolated retreat, came up, and burst into a laugh.

"Hay, Buddy! What you wearing your gas mask in the alert for?"
"Orders," from the sergeant.
A guffaw from the visitor.
"The war's been over three days."
"I've heard that before," replied the sergeant dryly.
Somehow this fellow managed to persuade him.

The minute the great fact was absorbed the talk was of home. The original word was that the 77th would go into the Army of Occupation. That was altered and, except for a few officers and men, who were transferred to units ordered up, the division moved out of the line.

The 305th was billeted in Verpel for a time, and the period of leaves commenced. After one or two stops by the way the regiment detrained at Latrecy and marched to Are-en-Barrois, a charming and hospitable village in the Haute Marne, where it remained in the midst of rumors of departure until February 9th.

Here an elaborate schedule of training went into effect, based on ancient methods of firing, so that some had a good time talking wisely and extensively about aiming points, designation of targets, and P minus T. Also scandals of ammunition and equipment were laid bare at leisure. And everybody was brought into close personal touch with the High Cost of Living.

But there was a difference. Officers and men followed out the appointed schedules, but their spirits were at home. There was no desperate and necessary future to which this training led. It had the air of killing time and keeping men occupied. And many soldiers wanted to learn things that would be useful to them on their return to America and work.

The days slipped away beneath heavy skies, and a downpour nearly perpetual. Athletics got a start with soccer football on New Year's Day.

In the midst of rumors of our early departure came the epidemic of Spanish influenza. We had had a number of cases, and some deaths. Lieutenant Danforth Montague had gone in December, and there was an uncomfortable feeling that the dread disease was always with us. The latter part of January men commenced to report sick by the score. One day thirty would be evacuated. Another we would say good-by to forty. The evacuations worked up to fifty or more, and we knew each day that some of the men that climbed, feverish and ill, into the ambulance, would not come back.

In this emergency, Major Miller worked day and night. Sporadic cases of typhoid complicated his labor. His success, however, permitted the regiment to leave for the embarkation center on February 9th.

The bitter cold, the snow covering the ground, the prospect of cattle cars, didn't effect the joy the men took in this move towards home.

The train was composed of ancient cars. It crawled. A journey that one might take in a regular train in eight or nine hours consumed for us, cramped, cold, and uncomfortable, about sixty hours. We recalled the days before the armistice when we had been of more value to people generally; when we had been rushed long distances into action at express rate speed.

And that trip will be eternally colored in our minds by Lieutenant Arthur Robinson's death. After accepting all the chances of the front with a cheerful and inspiring indifference which had won for him the Distinguished Service Cross, Robinson was accidentally killed on the night of February l0th at the little station of Chatillon-sur-Cher. He had stepped from our train which was standing on a siding. The fastest train on the road-an American special-tore by at a terrific rate of speed striking the open door of a compartment. Robinson was struck by this door. He was buried with full military honors in the American cemetery at Angers.

It was not like a death in action. Everyone, officers and men, had liked and admired Robinson. His death cast a persistent shadow over the regiment.

During the evening of February 11th the 305th entered Malicorne, a pottery town on the beautiful Sarthe River. The people were rather different from those at Are, but after a time they learned to like the Americans. There we stayed until the 17th of April, drilling, getting reviewed and inspected, and chasing the elusive cootie, so that we should be rushed through Brest. The weather was sufficiently warm to permit us to develop a baseball team that closed an extended divisional season undefeated.

When we reached Pontanezin on the 18th we realized that we were, indeed, veterans, that we had really been pioneers in the A. E. F. For Pontanezin had grown out of all recognition since our visit of the year before. Then it had been nearly as the French had turned it over--a group of old barracks and a few tents. Now it covered many acres. The original camp was lost in the midst of countless huts and tents. Whatever horrors the place may have contained we failed to experience. We were there only two days, and the weather was clear and warm. On Sunday, April 20th, we marched into Brest, survived the mad confusion of loading baggage and men from pier to tender, and from tender to ship, and by nightfall were packed on the transport Agamemnon, the old German liner Kaiser Wilhelm the Second.

We sailed at noon of the 21st out of the harbor of Brest, a good deal wiser, as one man put it, "than when we had landed."

The boat was uncomfortably crowded, but no one cared. We were going home. The weather, moreover, was good, so that scarcely anyone was ill, and the Agamemnon was fast.

At 9 o'clock Tuesday morning, April 29th we saw the low shore of Long Island and picked up our pilot at Ambrose Channel Lightship.

The story of that day of homecoming is in everyone's heart-a trifle vague still, perhaps, because it was difficult to realize that we were, after more than a year, again in New York Harbor; that, where twelve months before we had slipped out, hidden between decks, we were now steaming noisily in, surrounded by cutters and ferryboats, decorated with banners and filled with shouting friends.

Everything, indeed, was reversed. But on the pier there were still men and women who gave us things to cat and smoke. We piled on to the same ferryboats, and went around the welcoming town to Long Island City.

That night we reached Camp Mills, and the next morn-ing, after a final delousing, half the regiment went home for forty-eight hours, the other fifty percent. following two days later.

Even then you had a feeling that you were through. You could count already the hours that separated you from a return to a normal life, a final rupture from the ser-vice to which everyone had given himself whole-heartedly, but with which nearly everybody wanted to be done now that the emergency was over.

The parade alone held us. We went to New York Monday morning for that, left our equipment in the 9th Regiment armory, spent Monday and Tuesday night home, and on Tuesday morning marched up Fifth Avenue from Washington Square to 110th Street, where we saw the last of our Division and Brigade commanders.

The return to Upton the next day was the commencement of the final phase. There, where the regiment had been born, it was to end its career. Upton had altered little, yet it seemed oddly different. That was because it was ourselves who had changed.

At Upton the machinery of demobilization seemed to be out of repair by day and to grind only during the dark hours. After three nearly sleepless nights the last formalities had been complied with, and organizations gathered in a pouring rain for their final pay and their railroad tickets home. Men glanced proudly at the red chevrons on their left arms signifying discharge. They walked, in formation for the last time, to the familiar railroad station where organization commanders and officers gave them their discharges and shook hands as they passed through the gates--civilians after one of the best jobs soldiers ever did. And with this breaking up of the 305th Field Artillery died a good deal that was fine, a good deal that you couldn't see vanish without regret. Yet, although it may seem paradoxical, few would care to watch its completest resurrection, because that would mean also the rebirth of the conditions on which it was built.
No more that great communal chorus "When do we eat? "
No more the revolt in one's heart at the best cursed music in the world, First Call!
No more tearing one's hair at Paper Work!
No more elaborate language or strong arm competitions with the Red Hats!
Even the first sergeant got a sympathetic thought that last morning.
His piercing whistle at reveille had a special significance.
And so did his loud, uncompromising, and final:
" Outside! "


Website by SchoolMessenger Presence. © 2019 Intrado Corporation. All rights reserved.