HISTORY
of
THE 308th INFANTRY

By

L. Wardlaw Miles

Chapter 7
The Lost Battalion


CHAPTER VII

Major Charles W. Whittlesey



The Lost Battalion

FULL responsibility for sending the detachment, which is known as the Lost Battalion, forward into the position where they were surrounded by the enemy for five days, is acknowledged by Major General Robert Alexander in his official record of the Argonne-Meuse operations of the 77th Division. In The History of the 77th Division, pages 149-152, he writes:

The daily and periodical press has seen fit to refer to Major Whittlesey's Command as "The Lost Battalion," and to speak of its "rescue." In the opinion of the 77th Division neither of these terms is apposite. Major Whittlesey conducted his command to the objective designated for him by the Division Commander, occupied the position assigned to him, and held that position until the remainder of the Division was able to move up to him. He held it with the indomitable determination, which has characterized the work of the American soldier, wherever he has been called to perform a task.

This command was neither "lost" nor "rescued." It suffered heavy losses; it was subjected to fire from both enemy and supposedly friendly artillery; notwithstanding all this, Major Whittlesey and his command held the position to which they had proceeded under my order and were found by me, when I visited them on the very early morning of October 8th, an organized command, in good order and excellent spirits.

The situation on the left of the Division on the morning of the 2nd of October was about as follows: The 1st Battalion, 38th Infantry, under Major Charles W. Whittlesey, was the advance battalion on the left of the Division. The 2nd Battalion, 308th Infantry, commanded by Captain George McMurtry, was in support. The front line of these two battalions was at approximately 294-90-275-95," the leading battalion having been checked by heavy machine gun and trench mortar fire and the support battalion having closed up on it. With these two battalions were sections of machine guns from Companies C and D of the 306th Machine Gun Battalion. The most stubborn resistance of the advance had been encountered on the west of the north and south ravine where a portion of the command (Companies D and F, 308th Infantry) was in position.

Attention is invited to the extremely difficult character of the terrain in front of this command. The north and south ravine running from the Depot des Machines past the Moulin de L'Homme Mort cuts the regimental sub-sector in two. The sides of this ravine are decidedly precipitous and densely covered with brush; in other words, an almost impassable obstacle was interposed between the right and left flanks of the Brigade line-an obstacle which offered perfect cover to machine gun nests and trench mortar emplacements. Furthermore, at this time and in fact at all times during the operations in the forest, the left flank of this Division was completely exposed, there being no friendly troops anywhere near us. Consequently the left flank was obliged to look after its own safety as best it might. This was equally true of the right flank of the Division. But our immediate interest here is with the left flank.

This being the situation, I, early on the morning of the 2nd of October, gave orders for a general advance of the entire Divisional line, giving as the objective the east and west La Viergette-Moulin de Charlevaux road and the railroad paralleling it as shown on the map.

My orders were quite positive and precise- the objective was to be gained without regard to losses and without regard to the exposed condition of the flanks. I considered it most important that this advance should be made and accepted the responsibility and the risk involved in the execution of the orders given.

At 10 A.M. on October 2nd, then, we find the 1st and 2nd Battalion., of the 308th Infantry consolidated under the command f Major Whittlesey in the ravine one kilometer due east of the battered piles of mortar and stone that had once been the town of Binarville. Their advance was held up by machine gun opposition. The chief difficulty was in trying to manage both sides of the ravine at the same time. Companies B and C were supported by Company E on the east side of the ravine; Companies D and F, supported by Companies A, G, and H were on the west side where the principal opposition had been encountered. For the success of the operation, the German line of cleverly concealed machine gun and trench mortar emplacements had to be broken.
The following order was received at 11:35 A.M. from the Regimental Commander:

The advance of the infantry will commence at 12:30. The infantry action will be pushed forward until it reaches the line of the road and the railroad generally along 276.5 where the command will halt, reorganize, establish liaison to the left and right and be ready for orders for a further advance. This does not change the plan as given you by (code word for name of the Regimental Commander). You still leave two companies on your left as a containing force, that is the remainder of the 1st and 2nd Battalions. The general says you are to advance behind the barrage regardless of losses. He states that there will be a general advance all along the line.

The plan referred to in this message contemplated a vigorous attack up on the east side of the ravine, leaving two companies as a containing force on the supposedly more difficult western side-one company to be detached from the force on the east when it reached its objective to return and assist from the rear in an attack on the western side.

As soon as these plans had been explained to the Company Commanders, details were sent immediately to collect rations, one day's supply of hard tack and corned beef having just been sent up from the rear. At this time the command had no reserve rations-these having been consumed in the earlier days of the advance. Owing to the lack of roads for the transport it had been impossible to carry forward new supplies in large quantities.

Lieutenant Paul Knight was placed in command of Companies D and F, the force to remain in position on the west side of the ravine. Promptly at 12:30 the remaining units, that is Companies A, B, C, E, G, and H accompanied by sections of machine guns, from Companies C and D of the 306th Machine Gun Battalion, moved out in pursuit of the barrage of the 75's, which were whistling over the top of the ravine. A thin line of scouts constituted the advance guard with the companies creeping along in platoon columns, the only formation which permitted keeping touch through the dense underbrush. Machine gun, rifle and grenade fire were encountered and there was considerable sniping by the enemy from the left side of the ravine. Runner posts of two men were established every two hundred yards so that communication might be maintained with the rear.

A patrol from B Company, sent out to investigate sniping on the right flank, captured an entire company of German Hessians, including 2 officers and 28 privates who made no attempt to fight. Progress of the advance was necessarily slow. By 5.15 P.m. the advance elements of the command arrived at the edge of the southern slope which looked down on the La Viergettes-Moulin de Charlevaux road. Major Whittlesey found that his companies had suffered go casualties from flanking machine gun and sniper fire.

The command was halted while Major Whittlesey and Captain McMurtry made a reconnaissance. To the north across the valley a narrow road could be seen plainly, running east and west about half way up the hillside. A steep quarry-like edge cut into the densely covered slope on the north of the road, and above the edge the hill rose sharply. According to the attack order the day's objective was this road beginning at a point about four hundred yards east of Moulin de Charlevaux.

As soon as the disposition by companies was decided upon, the word to advance was given and the command, including the machine gunners, filed down the slope, through the morass at the bottom of the ravine, and crossed the diminutive Charlevaux brook on a narrow plank bridge. As they crossed the brook, the men noticed that the view along the valley was open to the right and to the left of them. They took up a position just below the road covering ground 300 yards long and 60 yards deep. The slope was found to be steep, thickly wooded, and covered with underbrush. It was supposed that this position on a reverse slope would offer protection against hostile artillery fire. Although the hard and rocky ground opposed stiff resistance to entrenching tools wielded by tired arms, the command dug itself in for the night within an hour.

The plan of disposition marked an oblong formation, its long sides running parallel with the southern edge of the Charlevaux road. The left flank was somewhat refused to guard against attack from that supposedly more dangerous quarter. Beginning at the left flank, the order of units was as follows: Companies H, B, C, 1st and 2nd Battalion Headquarters, Companies A, G, and E. Major Whittlesey and Captain McMurtry occupied the same funk hole, which was situated approximately in the center of the position. A machine gun section was placed on each flank. When the order to have mess was issued, it was discovered that two companies had moved out in such a hurry that they had not been able to pick up their rations. The difficulty was solved quickly those who had food volunteered readily -to share it with those who had none. Guards were posted at the flanks, lookouts were established at the north and west, and a patrol was placed over the crest of the hill above the road to watch for signs of the enemy. Then the command turned in for the night, which passed quietly. It was bitter cold, however, and the men suffered acutely from the lack of blankets and overcoats, equipment, which had been discarded by Regimental Order on the morning of September 26th when the Argonne attack had started.

A message reporting the position was sent by the runner posts to Regimental Headquarters. It was assumed that these runner posts, scattered every two hundred yards for more than a kilometer would act as outposts to the south.

At 6 A.M. on October 3rd, Company E under command of Lieutenant Karl Wilhelm was sent back to attack on the west of the ravine running north and south, the plan being to assist from the rear in bringing Companies D and F forward to take their place on the left of the objective. Company E filed out of the position, crossed the slope to the south and were soon lost from sight in the forest.

Within an hour after this detachment disappeared, Company K of the 307th Infantry with 79 men under the command of Captain Nelson M. Holderman-the liaison company between the 307th and the 308th Infantry Regiments-came through the marsh below the position and reported to Major Whittlesey. They had worked their way forward by way of the runner posts and their arrival was taken as an indication that the system of communication to the rear was in working order. The 307th men were placed in the position vacated by Company E on the right flank.

Messages were started back through the runner posts notifying the Regimental Commander of the position and condition of the command; informing him that E Company had already left to perform the mission agreed upon in the plan of attack adopted the previous day, and requesting that rations be sent forward by details from the 3rd Battalion, 308th Infantry, which was acting as reserve for the 154th Infantry Brigade. The forward companies, expecting attack orders momentarily, did not wish to spare details for carrying rations.

German artillery began to shell the position at 8:30, but without serious effect, owing to the protection afforded by the reverse slope. Captain William J. Cullen, commanding H Company on the left flank, sent out a patrol at 9 A.M. to size up the situation to the west, and Captain Holderman sent a patrol to make a similar reconnaissance on the right flank. Both patrols returned in half an hour to report that small numbers of the enemy had been seen scurrying through the woods off our right and left flanks. It had been impossible to establish liaison in either direction.

Lieutenant Leake with about 18 men returned at 10 A.M. with the news that E Company, as soon as it had advanced a short distance along the top of the west side of the ravine, had encountered a powerful force of Germans. In the lively fighting which followed, Lieutenant Wilhelm ordered Lieutenant Leake to take his platoon and make every effort to get back to Major Whittlesey with the information that the enemy in considerable numbers had taken up a position in the rear of the advance line. E Company had been scattered-one platoon under Lieutenant Wilhelm subsequently fighting its way back to the position in the large ravine where the attack of the previous day had started.

One of the men on the runner post nearest to the for-ward post of command brought a report that the Germans had fired on two of our posts, killing or capturing several runners. It was feared that the runner lane had been broken.

Captain Holderman with Company K of the 307th Infantry and a detachment Of 20 scouts from 2nd Battalion Headquarters were sent across the southern slope with instructions to clear the Germans from the ridge and reestablish the runner posts. At noon Captain Holderman returned. He reported that he had met severe opposition from enemy machine guns and rifle fire in working his way up the ridge to the south. He said that there was no doubt that the enemy, in considerable numbers, had filtered through around the left flank during the night and had taken possession of the high ground in the rear. After a hard fight Captain Holderman had made his way back across the marsh with the survivors in his detachment.

At noon on October 3rd, Major Whittlesey and Captain McMurtry knew that their forces were cut off from communication with the rear, and that the Germans were both in front of and behind the objective, which our troops had been ordered to occupy.

The following message was at once communicated personally by Major Whittlesey and Captain McMurtry to all Company Commanders:

"OUR MISSION IS TO HOLD THIS POSITION AT ALL COSTS. NO FALLING BACK., HAVE THIS UNDERSTOOD BY EVERY MAN IN YOUR COMMAND."

From this time until reinforcements arrived on October 7th there was no communication between Regimental Headquarters and the forward troops except by seven carrier pigeons, the last one being sent on October 4th.

Major Whittlesey released the first pigeon at 8:50 A.M. when enemy artillery began to shell the Charlevaux road, sending this message:

"We are being shelled by German artillery. Can we not have artillery support? Fire is coming from northwest."

Again at 10:45 A.m. he sent the following pigeon message:

our runner posts are broken. One runner captured. Germans in small numbers are working to our left rear about 294.6-276.2. Have sent K Company, 307th, to occupy this hill and open the line.
"Patrols to east ran into Germans at 295.1-276.3 (6 Boches).
"Have located German mortar at 294.05-276-30 and have sent platoon to get it.

" Have taken prisoner who says his company Of 70 men were brought in here last night to 294.4-276.2 from rear by motor trucks. He says only a few infantrymen here when he came in.

" German machine gun constantly firing on valley in our rear from hill 294.1-276.0.
"E Company (sent to meet D and F) met heavy resistance, at least 20 casualties. Two squads under Lieutenant Leake have just fallen back here."

Although these pigeon messages were directed to Regimental Headquarters, the birds flew to the loft at the 77th Division message center, and the message was telephoned from Division Headquarters to the Commanding Officer of the 308th Infantry at his forward P. C.

Definite assignments for the defense of the position were given to all units and a strong patrol was sent to the upper ridge to size up the situation to the north. It returned with a report that a large number of Germans could be seen moving in from the northwest.

The presence of the surrounding enemy began to make itself felt in various ways. First a heavy trench mortar suddenly opened fire from a position 600 yards to the northwest, hurling many shells right in to our position. Scouts sent to the crest of the ridge reported that the mortar was strongly protected. A platoon failed to get through machine gun fire to make an attack on the mortar emplacement. Machine gun fire was placed on the Position from the west and the southwest and sniping began from all directions.

At 3 P.M. there came the first organized enemy attack from the ridge above the command. A shower of potato-masher grenades fell through the trees to explode at the edge of the roadway where the defending companies rushed forward their firing lines. When rifle and chauchat fire was poured into the bushes above the road, the attack ceased as suddenly as it had begun.

In their excitement to storm the position and capture the entire American force, the Germans neglected to maintain the silence usually associated with surprise attacks. One of our officers on the left flank, who understood the Teuton tongue, heard enemy officers discussing preparations for the next attack, which was launched shortly before 5 P.m. They seemed to be calling the roll.

"Rudolph," a guttural voice would call.
"Hier." The answer came from the bushes above the outposts on the extreme left.
"Heinrich," the same voice called.
"Ich bin hier," was the answer.
More commands in German followed and then, after a shout of "Nun, alle zusammen " the attack was started. It combined rushes against the left and right flanks with a second grenade attack from the ridge. The ravine rang with the echoes of machine guns, chauchats and rifles. Our machine guns worked splendidly and the enemy must have suffered heavy losses from this source alone.

This attack, the most severe attempted by the enemy while the Americans were surrounded, was repulsed on all sides. Quiet stole over the closely huddled funk holes as darkness settled down.

At 4:05 P.M. while the attack was in progress, Major Whittlesey had dispatched his third pigeon to Regimental Headquarters with this report:

"Germans are on cliff north of us in small numbers and have tried to envelope both flanks. Situation on left very serious.

"Broke two of our runner posts today near 294.7-2 7 5.7. We have not been able to reestablish posts today.
"Need 8000 rounds rifle ammunition, 7500 chauchat, 23 boxes M. G. and 250 offensive grenades.

" Casualties yesterday in companies here (A, B, C, E, G, H) 8 killed, 80 wounded. In same companies today, 1 killed, 60 wounded.

" Present effective strength of companies here, 245.
"Situation serious."

From this brief summary of the situation at the end of the first twenty-four hours of the isolation of the command, it is shown that twenty-five per cent of the original effective strength of approximately 554 officers and men were killed or wounded the first day. No medical officer was present. In an attempt to apply only first aid dressings to the wounded, three enlisted Medical Corpsmen with the surrounded companies soon exhausted their supply of bandages.

Hunger added its pangs to suffering from the cold. The last bit of food was consumed at noon on October 3rd. This absolute shortage was due in a large measure to the generosity of officers and men in sharing their precious one day's ration with their less fortunate comrades who had not been able to get food before the advance started. Water was discovered in a spring at the bottom of the ravine south of the position. But the Germans knew of the location and had a machine gun trained on the spring. The approach of a water carrying detail by daylight was sure to draw savage bursts of fire and even during the night the enemy occasionally sent machine gun bullets swishing through the marsh in the hope of accidentally catching a few thirsty Americans at the spring. It became necessary as the suffering increased, to establish a guard to prevent men from going down to the spring by daylight.

The wounded suffered pitifully in the bitter cold of the second night. They were possessed of heroic fortitude, the wounded men in the Lost Battalion, and they strove to grit the little devils of pain and anguish between their teeth, but there were moans and half-suppressed cries in the dark along the hillside every night.

A private who had been shot through the stomach tried to smile at Captain McMurtry who had stopped over to ask how he was getting along.

"It pains like hell, Captain," he said, "but I'll keep as quiet as I can. " All knew the importance of not making any noise which would draw the enemy's fire.

The night of October 3rd passed quietly. Several scouts were sent out with orders to work their way through the German lines and bring a first-hand report of the situation to the Regimental Commander. These scouts either returned wounded or did not return at all.

At daylight on October 4th patrols were sent out from each flank and a detachment of scouts crawled away through the marsh to the south in an attempt to cut through to Regimental Headquarters. Before they had gone 500 yards, they were dispersed and driven back by heavy machine gun and rifle fire from the high ground behind the position. The patrols returned, however, to raise false hopes by reporting that the enemy did not seem to be active in any considerable numbers.

The following message was started back by pigeon at 7:25 A.M.:

"All quiet during the night.
"Our patrols indicate Germans withdrew during the night. Sending further patrols now to verify this report.
"At 12:30 and 1:10 A.M. six shells from our own light artillery fell on us.

" Many wounded here whom we can't evacuate.
"Need rations badly.
"No word from D or F Companies.

Whittlesey, Major, 308th Inf."

The dead were buried with great difficulty. Digging graves in the rocky ground called for desperate effort on the part of men well nigh exhausted from fatigue and hunger.

To make matters worse, the German trench mortar on the northwest began to lob over shells, which interrupted the work of the burial parties. A strong patrol succeeded in climbing to the ridge just in time to drive off several grenade throwers who were getting into position to deliver an attack on our troops. Scouts brought reports of Germans in large numbers on the slope in the rear.

One of the two remaining pigeons was released at 10:55 A.M. with this message to appraise the Regimental Commander of the growing seriousness of the situation in which the detachment found itself:

" Germans are still around us, though in smaller numbers. We have been heavily shelled by mortar this morning.
"Present effective strength (A, B, C, E, G, H COS.)-175; K CO. 307-45; Machine Gun detachment-17; Total here about 235.

"Officers wounded: Lt. Harrington, Co. A; Captain Stromme, Company C; Lts. Peabody and Revnes, M. G. Battalion; Lt. Wilhelm, E. Co., missing.

"Cover bad if we advance up the hill and very difficult to move the wounded if we change position.
"Situation is cutting into our strength rapidly.
"Men-are suffering from hunger and exposure; the wounded are in very bad condition.
"Cannot support be sent at once?"

During a lull on the afternoon of this day the men were surprised by a friendly artillery barrage which began to fall on the ridge to the southeast. Increasing in intensity, the barrage crept down the slope, crossed the marshy bottom of the ravine where it hurled mud and brush into the air, and settled directly on our own position. That our shells intended for the enemy's destruction were tearing huge chunks from the one bit of earth, which sheltered the beleaguered battalion, seemed unbelievable. Funk holes crashed in, burying their wounded occupants. As the underbrush and branches of the trees were uprooted and slashed, the position was more plainly exposed to observation and sniper fire from the Germans.

The men pressed themselves flat into funk holes all along the slope, hoping to escape the flying shrapnel and shell fragments.

Out of the inferno of noise, dust and confusion flew Whittlesey's last pigeon-the last link with reinforcements that had been expected hourly for days-with this message:

" We are along the road parallel 276.4
"Our own artillery is dropping a barrage directly on us.
"For heaven's sake, stop it."

For an hour and thirty-five minutes there was no indication that the bird had reached the Division pigeon loft. It was a severe test for men to see 30 of their comrades killed and wounded by their own artillery fire. A number of the wounded who were able to walk, were assisted to a position at the extreme right of the position where the shelling was less severe and a few logs afforded extra protection to the funk holes.

The German trench mortar threw in a few shells to add to the fury of the friendly barrage. As soon as the shell began to fall less frequently, a small force of Germans armed with potato masher grenades launched an attack from the ridge above the position. They were driven back, although several patrols succeeded in penetrating the line of our outposts.

So much cover had been ripped away from the slope by the barrage that Major Whittlesey and Captain McMurtry had to move their P. C. to another funk hole further towards the left flank. In this connection the question of a shift in position for the entire command was considered by Major Whittlesey, but such an idea seemed inadvisable. To the west the Germans held a strong position protected by machine guns; the hills to the south, in addition to being patrolled by the enemy, presented the further objection that they were exposed to German artillery fire which fell there at some time each day. The Americans feared to move to the north and east because they might encounter another friendly artillery barrage. Exact coordinates of the present position had been reported to the Regimental Commander in the successive pigeon messages; there remained no method of getting additional information back to Headquarters. Furthermore the present position, although exposed to sniper fire, was well protected from enemy artillery and offered fair protection against the trench mortar to the west which fired twice daily for a period of one hour-not more than ten per cent of its shells falling on our troops, the remainder passing over to burst at the base of the hill in the rear.

An aeroplane from the American forces flew high over the position and the battalion signalers reported that they believed they had succeeded in attracting its attention by placing the two white battalion panels in open spaces between the trees. A rocket signal accepted as an acknowledgment from the 'plane was here observed.

Whenever our machines approached over the forest as they did on the afternoons of October 4th, 5th, and 6th -they were greeted by heavy fire from the enemy. Twice lookouts on the ridge above the Charlevaux road reported that they had seen message containers with long streamers dropped from the aeroplanes, but they were lost in the dense swamp grass and brush. As a matter of fact, the aviators sent up by order of Division Headquarters did not have a clear idea of the location of the Pocket. They worked tirelessly and with great danger to themselves to drop baskets of food to the half starved troops, but in each attempt the supplies fell nearer the enemy and supporting troops at the rear than to the men who had had nothing to eat for days.

Hunger and cold caused intense suffering among the command on the night of the 4th-the third night of their isolation. A chilly rain added to the discomfort.

But there was one source of encouragement that gave hope to the weariest of spirits-after 8:30 P.M. that night the sound of American Chauchat rifles could be heard from the ridge to the south.

"They're going to cut their way through to us, sure," the non-coms whispered to their men. A couple of scouts were sent out to meet the reinforcements. They did not return. The rain seemed to get more chilly and more penetrating after midnight. There was no further firing from the direction in which the last pigeon had disappeared.

Dawn of October 5th brought the routine of sending out patrols on either flank and the melancholy duty of burying the new dead. Weakness from lack of food and sleep made it almost impossible for the men to excavate graves in the hard ground. Yet that their comrades might have this- last earthly tribute they dug cheerfully, if with frequent rests, into the flint-like surface.

Outposts on the north reported that they had sighted 2oo Germans moving south to the hills in the rear of the position. Trench mortar, machine gun and sniper fire was directed at our troops at intervals during the morning.

Encouragement came at 10 A.M. when a friendly artillery barrage began, as on the day previous, to creep down the slope to the south and cross over the marsh-land at the bottom of the ravine, tearing out great wads of bushes and undergrowth. Suddenly the barrage lifted and, clearing the anxious funk hole community clinging to the ground below Charlevaux road, it landed directly on the top of the ridge to the north where the enemy formed for his daily attacks,

This was proof that the position of the command was understood by the troops fighting forward to make the relief. The last pigeon message had got through to its destination.

Late in the afternoon a few ranging bursts of fire were directed against the position from enemy machine guns to the south and southwest. Then suddenly for twenty minutes the Germans laid down an intense machine gun barrage covering every part of the small piece of ground occupied by our troops. The hillside fairly crackled with bullets, which whistled and moaned to the accompaniment of what sounded like a thousand riveting machines on the surrounding high ground to the rear. Although one of the most unpleasant experiences of the entire isolation, this barrage did not cause many casualties because, warned by the ranging shots, the men had flattened themselves in their funk holes before the barrage began.

It was followed almost immediately by a potato masher attack from the north, which was, as usual, quickly repulsed. Exhaustion, hunger, and the strain of twenty-four-hour days of anxiety were forgotten at the first alarm for a " stand-to " and repeatedly our men double-timed from their funk holes up to the edge of the Charlevaux road where their grenade, chauchat, and rifle fire put to rout attacking forces made up of fresh, well-fed troops.

As darkness came on, ears were strained to catch the echoes of firing beyond the ridge to the south. The slower throb of the American chauchat rifle could still be distinguished from the rapid tack-tack-tack-tack of enemy machine guns, but it was clear that the firing sounded much farther away than on the previous night.. One of the officers suggested that if the sound of chauchat rifles with supporting troops could carry to the neighborhood of the Charlevaux road why would it not be a good plan to have the surrounded troops send the chauchat signal back to encourage the forces which were attacking nightly to bring aid? This suggestion was accepted. At quiet intervals during the night of the 5th, outposts on the flanks were ordered to fire bursts of ten shots from their chauchat rifles.

But hope of being relieved immediately had sunk to a low level with the fading away of the sound of firing to the south. The night was bitter cold with a drizzling rain which added to the suffering of the wounded. Their suppressed moans and the impending danger of attack at any moment united to keep many heavy-lidded eyes wide open. And in the solemn watches of the night, these eyes could see only a vision of despair. Where was the help that every one had expected long before things had come to such a terrible state?

Had one of the several aeroplane message containers tossed to the Lost Battalion reached its destination, then the weary command would have learned that two entire battalions had been reduced to practically negligible strength in repeated assaults to cut through the wire and advance up the ravine to Charlevaux brook. Another narrative of fortitude and remarkable endurance under the strain of attack, centers around the chauchat firing which was heard, faintly, to the south. Our concern here, however, is with the surrounded troops.


The position of the Lost Battalion was along the slope just below the road.

On October 6th the men were found to be too weak from hunger to attempt to bury their dead. Some bodies were covered with brush and leaves, but most remained lying in the positions in which they had been struck down. The few first aid men took bandages, often stiff with blood, from the dead to bind the wounds of the living. Conditions were growing hourly more serious. The indescribable suffering of the wounded and the seeming failure of troops in the rear to come forward with reinforcements threatened to shake the morale of the command.

An exceedingly determined effort was made to get patrols through the German lines, several groups being sent out from different parts of the position. It was learned afterwards that of all the patrols and scouts ordered to try their skill at working their way back to Regimental Headquarters, only three men succeeded in reaching the American lines. They were Privates Clifford R. Brown and Stanislaw Kosikowski of Company C, 308th, and Private Abraham Kretoshinski of Company K, 307th Infantry.

Another day dragged out its weary length of trench mortar, machine guns and sniper fire with a heavy grenade attack at 5 P.m. This was repulsed after twenty minutes of vigorous fire from the American rifles. Two officers with the machine gun detachments were killed. With darkness came the cold, bringing renewed suffering to the wounded and the dying. Faint sounds of firing over the ridge to the south were heard this night but they were so faint and far away that they spoke of despair rather than of hope.

On the morning of October 7th, the fifth day of the command's fight against the surrounding enemy, it was almost impossible to find men who had strength enough to go out for the usual early patrols to size up the situation on either flank. There was no change-the patrols and two scouts who sought to creep through the marsh to the south were driven back by enemy rifle fire. On account of the extreme weakness of the men, no attempt was made to bury the bodies of the men who had fallen on the previous day. To dig a grave required as much effort as to scoop out a funk hole. Every bit of strength remaining in the survivors had to be conserved to repel daily attacks from the ridge above the position. A grenade attack was driven back shortly before noon.

At 4 P.M., while the enemy firing ceased temporarily, a private of Company H was noticed limping along the slope off the left flank and carrying a cane on which was tied a white handkerchief. He was passed through the firing line on the left flank and worked his way along the slope until he stood at attention in front of the Battalion Commander's funk hole. He reported that he had been sent in by the Germans with a message for the commanding officer. A bandage on the calf of his leg showed that he had been wounded.

He was asked to explain why he had left the position. With nine of his comrades in H Company, he said he had crawled in the woods to the rear in an effort to locate a basket of food which they believed they had seen fall from an American aeroplane on the previous day. They encountered the German line. Five of the nine were killed, the rest wounded and captured. Of the four taken to the German Headquarters to be questioned, this soldier had been selected to be the bearer of a note from the German commander to the Americans. He was blindfolded and led to a point near the American position and then the bandage removed from his eyes.

He gave the message to Captain McMurtry, who handed it to Major Whittlesey. It was a letter, dictated in English and neatly typewritten on a sheet of good quality paper, and addressed to "Commanding Officer, Second Battalion, 308th Infantry." It said:

SIR:
The bearer of the present, Private_________ has been taken Prisoner on October _____. He refused to the German intelligence officer any answer to his questions and is quite an honorable fellow, doing honor to his Fatherland in the strictest sense of the word. He has been charged against his will, believing it doing wrong to his country in carrying forward this Present to the officer in charge of the Second Battalion, 308th Infantry with the purpose to recommend this commander to surrender with his forces, as it would be quite useless to resist any more in view of the present situation.

The sufferings of your wounded can be heard in the German lines and we are appealing to your humane sentiments.
A white flag shown by one of your men will tell us that you agree with these conditions. Please treat - as an honorable man. He is quite a soldier. We envy you.

(Signed) The German Commanding Officer

Legend had made famous the reply, "Go to Hell which Whittlesey is reported to have hurled at the Germans.

For the purpose of history, the following recital of facts will suffice; Whittlesey read the note and handed it to Captain McMurtry. He read it and handed it to Captain Holderman who had just come from the right flank. The three officers looked at one another and smiled. For there was humor, both sardonic and typically Teutonic, in those words: "We are appealing to your humane sentiments. " A strange appeal it seemed from the enemy who for five days bad killed or wounded more than fifty percent of the besieged command!

No answer whatever, written or verbal, was made to the German commander's letter. The bearer of it was directed to report back to H Company. Major Whittlesey ordered the two white aeroplane panels to be taken in at once. There was to be nothing white showing in the American position.

A private expressed, in one exclamation, the answer of the entire command to the German letter. He asked one of the officers if it was true that they had been called upon to surrender. He was told that the rumor was correct.
"Why, the sons of__________! he said as he pushed back his helmet.

But the German commander evidently understood the fact that his note was ignored, for within thirty minutes a furious grenade attack was made from the ridge above and many potato mashers exploded about our firing line. They came whirling through the trees, sometimes falling in clusters of two or three and making an infernal noise as they exploded. It required twenty minutes of steady rifle fire directed against the slope above the road to frustrate this final attempt of the enemy to overcome the resistance of men who had nothing to eat for four days and four nights. In spite of the pitiful exhaustion of our men, their rifle fire was effective, as occasional yells from the bushes above testified. Gradually the Germans with-drew and silence settled down on the hillside.

Darkness soon came, and the men were preparing listlessly to suffer another cold night of hunger and thirst, not to mention the horror of enduring the moans of the severely wounded. The hopeless seriousness of the situation was beginning to penetrate even the stoutest hearts. Only two of the original nine machine guns remained in action, and there was no gunners left to feed the last five boxes of machine gun ammunition to the guns. Rifle ammunition was practically gone; grenades were all gone. No firing was heard to the south. No aeroplane

had come over that afternoon. It began to look as if the Battalion was abandoned to its fate.

A few minutes after 7 P.m., while Major Whittlesey and Captain McMurtry were seated in their funk hole talking in a low voice, a runner scrambled breathlessly down the slope from the right flank and reported to Major Whittlesey that an American officer with a few men had just come in on the right of the position.

"He says that he wants to see the commanding officer," the runner whispered.

Major Whittlesey followed the runner over to the right flank and there found the relief for which his men had been waiting since the morning they found their runner posts broken. First Lieutenant Tillman of the 307th Infantry, with a patrol, reported that three companies of that regiment were located in the forest a short distance to the right. After a brief talk with Major Whittlesey this officer made his way back to his command and shortly afterwards guided Companies A, B, and M of the 307th Infantry to our position. The long expected relief had at last come.

The news spread rapidly along the hillside. There was no wild demonstration, no cheering. In the grim darkness of the shadows above Charlevaux brook, haggard men with bleary eyes and muddy stubble on their chins rose from the holes they had expected would be their graves, and grasped one another's hand silently. They crawled to the side of those heroic wounded and whispered the news that relief had come, that food was on the way to the position at that very moment, and that it was all over but the shouting which would have to be deferred until later. If tears flowed, the darkness concealed them. The battalion that had been lost was found.

Within an hour the rations brought by the 307th Infantry companies had been distributed to the starving survivors. Medical attention was directed to the most severely wounded. Not a shot disturbed the slumber of the troops that night. The enemy knew before dark that reinforcements were arriving, and filtered out from our flanks and rear, retreating to the north.

At daybreak on October 8th the relieving companies of the 307th Infantry left the position and advanced over the ridge in pursuit of the Germans. Fresh rations arrived. The dead were buried by the incoming troops under the direction of Chaplain Halligan. Many ambulances arrived on the Charlevaux road above the position and the wounded who were unable to walk were carried up the slope on stretchers to them. One of the first visitors to reach the position was Major General Alexander, Division Commander, who extended to the command his warmest congratulations and appreciation for their gallant work in successfully carrying out the mission which he had assigned to them.

At 3 P.M. Major Whittlesey and Captain McMurtry assembled all officers and men able to walk, at the foot of the hill. This number totaled exactly 194. The number who had been cut off in the position was 554.

The command was then marched slowly down the valley to Regimental Headquarters.

An observer who saw them march slowly down the ravine that afternoon on their way to Headquarters for a rest said: "I couldn't say anything to them. There was nothing to say anyway. It made your heart lump up in your throat just to look at them. Their faces told the whole story of their fight."

The foregoing is the account of the Lost Battalion as it was prepared by Colonel Whittlesey and Major McMurtry, and by them turned over to the present writer. In the Appendix will be found both General Alexander's account of the matter and a list of the names of most of those concerned in the action. It is greatly to be regretted that this list is not complete, but when it was compiled many were still in the hospital. In the Appendix also is given an extract from a letter written immediately after the episode by Captain Cullen, which furnishes some interesting details.

If the preceding chapter deserves any criticism, it is for the modesty with which it has been prepared. Perhaps, however, the authors are right. Secretary of War Newton Baker well said of the episode, "The bare facts are more eloquent than any praise."

The bare facts may be recapitulated thus: approximately 550 men and officers were cut off. Of the 17 officers, 4 were killed and 9 wounded. There were in all 107 killed and 19o wounded. These figures are approximate, but substantially correct. Of the 9 machine guns taken into the position, only 2 were left with only 5 boxes of machine gun ammunition. For 104 hours the troops were without food, during which time they were under constant fire.

Captain McMurtry was twice wounded, but continued throughout the entire period to encourage his officers and men. Whittlesey constantly exposed himself and was perfectly indifferent to the constant warnings of the danger he incurred. One of those present has described him: " Strolling up and down and saying, 'We'll get out tonight!"' In the significant words of this authority: "He held the men up." Captain Cullen in his funk hole on the constantly exposed and harassed left flank only some, thirty feet from the German outposts, tells of a visit from the commanding officer. When asked the nature of the message from the Germans, "he produced it from a pocket of his gas mask and handed it to me to read. I read it and asked what message he had returned. He said, You gave them our message last night,"' meaning Cullen's fire against the enemy attack. Similarly Sergeant Tuite of C Company, who commanded both B and C Companies after Lieutenants Rogers and Schenck had been killed, reports in what is perhaps the best commentary on the silly, " Go to Hell! " story: "What he really told us was to fix bayonets and set ourselves!"

I cannot forbear adding one incident, which seems to me to afford a striking example of the practical working of religion in the face of death. Lieutenant Schenck and Sergeant Tuite were sitting together in their funk hole, where the former was subsequently killed by a direct hit from a shell. " That's like a tonic to me, " said Schenck, holding up the Christian Science Manual which he was reading. To which Tuite, lifting his beads, replied: "That's my tonic!"

Herewith is appended-

THE CITATION OF "THE LOST BATTALION"

HEADQUARTERS, 77TH DIVISION, AMERICAN E. F.
April 15, 1919. General Orders NO. 30:
I desire to publish to the command an official recognition of the valor and extraordinary heroism in action of the officers and enlisted men of the following organizations:

Company A, 308th Infantry Company B, 308th Infantry Company C, 308th Infantry Company E, 308th Infantry Company G, 308th Infantry Company H, 308th Infantry Company K, 307th Infantry Company C, 306th Machine Gun Battalion Company D, 306th Machine Gun Battalion

These organizations or detachments there from, comprised the approximate force of 550 men under command of Major Charles W. Whittlesey, which was cut off from the remainder of the 77th Division and surrounded by a superior number of the enemy near Charlevaux, in the Forest d' Argonne, from the morning of October 3, 1918, to the night of October 7, 1918, Without food for more than one hundred hours, harassed continuously by machine gun, rifle, trench mortar, and grenade fire, Major Whittlesey's command, with undaunted spirit and magnificent courage successfully met and repulsed daily violent attacks by the enemy. They held the position which had been reached by supreme efforts, under orders received for an advance, until communication was reestablished with friendly troops. When relief finally came, approximately 194 officers and men were able to walk out of the position. Officers and men killed numbered 107.

On the fourth day a written proposition to surrender received from the Germans was treated with the contempt which it deserved.

The officers and men of these organizations during these five (5) days of isolation continually gave unquestionable proof of extraordinary heroism and demonstrated the high standard and ideals of the United States Army. ROBERT ALEXANDER,
Major General, U. S. A.
Commanding.
Official:
Louis B. GEROW,
Adjutant General,
Division Adjutant.


An artillery observation post at Abri du Crochet, October 1918.

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