[Sidenote: Orders to go home.]
At the end of my month at the base hospital it was decided that I was not fit for the firing line. Uncle Sam is mighty good to his fellows—he does not believe in placing them under unnecessary risks, and when the doctors said that my bronchial condition was practically chronic, and the life on the firing line would only aggravate it, I got my orders to go home and take up service in a climate where there was less chance of my becoming a liability and where there was just as much work for me to do as in France, though of a different nature.
It was a disappointment, but I'm glad to think that I had those six days on the firing line, and proud to think that I was with the first batch of Americans to see service in the fight against autocracy.
Copyright, The Forum, May, 1918.
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That portion of France in which the American army did its most active fighting is a country filled with historic and romantic associations. It is also a country of great scenic beauty. The following article describes graphically the general aspect of this portion of France.
AN AMERICAN BATTLEFIELD
[Sidenote: A glorious battlefield.]
Terrific battles, ushering in the dawn of victories which will ensure the freedom of the world, were fought in July and August, 1918, between the Marne and Vesle rivers, from Chateau-Thierry to Soissons and Fismes. In this soul-stirring struggle the young American troops played a large part, and played it with heroism and success. It has occurred to us, therefore, that the American people will be glad to become acquainted with the battlefield made glorious by their sons, with the soil which will some day be a consecrated goal of pilgrimage for the entire nation.
[Sidenote: The field once the most beautiful country.]
This field of death, bristling with ruins still smouldering, was formerly, and will soon be once more, a beautiful stretch of country. Here we are in the heart of the Ile de France, and the countryside displays all the gracious charm of a typical French landscape. With its undulating plateaus, pleasant vales, broad green valleys, forests and greensward, chateaux and villas, small towns, and dear old villages thronged with souvenirs of the past, the district between the Marne and the Aisne was peculiarly representative of France—the France of the Merovingians and Capets as well as of the twentieth century.
There is no manufacturing and little commercial activity; but a skillful, varied, and persistent culture of the soil, with special attention to those most exacting of crops, the vine and vegetables, which are successfully raised only by dint of hard labor, and to the production of vast quantities of sugar-beets and cereals.
[Sidenote: The villages are built of stone.]
The villages, built of the beautiful stone of the district, have, one and all, an air of dignity and prosperity which gives animation to the landscape. The very names are among the most pleasant to the ear, and often among the most illustrious in the language. Our great men of letters, La Fontaine and Racine, Pope Urban II, who preached the First Crusade, and other statesmen and princes, all born in the province, had already made it a genuinely historic spot; and the memory of the battles fought by Napoleon at Chateau-Thierry and Soissons, against the invaders of 1814, has not yet faded. When they turned the enemy back from Paris, the Americans were fighting in the most truly French of all the districts of France, and their gallantry has imparted to it a new charm, a more resplendent glory.
[Sidenote: Topography from the Marne to the Vesle.]
But this attractive region does not exhibit everywhere the same features. The topography of the Ile de France is so varied that one can distinguish several families, or groups, of landscapes between the Marne and the Vesle. Let us follow them, in the order followed by the different stages of the battle.
The southern portion is the most elevated and most picturesque; it includes the shores of the Marne, from Epernay to Chateau-Thierry, as well as the hills and valleys to the eastward, grouped about the Ardre River in the district called the Tardenois. In the centre the battlefield embraces plateaus studded with low hills, half hidden by broad patches of forest, and cut by deep, narrow valleys—those of the Ourcq and its affluents; whence the region is known as the district of the Ourq, or the Orxois. Lastly, to the north this undulating ground gives place to a practically level plateau, a vast table-land of cultivated fields, through which flow the deep ravines of the Aisne, the Vesle, and their affluents. This is the Soissonnais.
[Sidenote: The wake of the American armies.]
From the Tardenois to the Soissonnais by way of the Orxois, let us follow in the wake of the French and American armies, in their decisively victorious advance.
[Sidenote: Valleys of stream cut deep.]
On emerging from the plains of Champagne, at Epernay, the Marne flows through the plateaus of the Ile de France as far as Paris, and the country along its banks changes its aspect. Instead of the wide valley which seems one with the immense bare plain, the stream, breaking out a path for itself through the solid mass of the plateau, has cut a gash from 500 to 2000 metres in width, which turns and winds in graceful and ever-changing curves. Thus, although its general course is from east to west, the trend of the walls of the valley constantly changes and bears toward every point of the compass in turn. Moreover, these walls, intersected by the ravines and valleys of numerous tributary streams, are cut up into capes, bastions, and deep hollows. Finally, the cliff from whose summit the plateau overlooks the valley, and whose average height is about 150 metres, at times rises steeply from the lowland, and again is broken up into terraces following the different strata of which it is composed. Thus, although the topographical elements are simple enough, they lend themselves to an ever-changing combination of forms, which gives to the landscape its great charm, and at the same time offers some formidable advantages of various kinds from a military standpoint.
[Sidenote: The placid Marne.]
[Sidenote: The Marne easy to cross.]
The bright green ribbon of the Marne winds along the valley bottom. The placid stream, about a hundred metres wide and broken here and there by islets, wanders from one bank to the other, lined by poplars and willows. On either side of its limpid waters are broad fields, whose delicate greenery frames the sparkling line of the river, which forms a by no means impassable obstacle. In the days just preceding the German offensive of July 15, American patrols constantly crossed between Chateau-Thierry and Mezy, and picked up prisoners and information on the northern bank. In like manner, during that offensive the attacking German troops were able without great losses to cross the Marne and attack the defenders on the southern bank. To be sure, the Allied air-men made their life a burden by keeping up an incessant bombardment of the bridges, large and small.
[Sidenote: Fierce fighting on the slopes.]
But the real obstacle which this valley offers is found in the slopes which dominate it, and it was there that the fiercest fighting took place until the day when the French and Americans, having thrown the enemy back across the river, scaled the cliffs of the right bank on his heels and dislodged him therefrom. In this neighborhood there were two sectors of terrific fighting—that of Chatillon-Dormans upstream, and that of Chateau-Thierry below.
[Sidenote: A wide valley with steep slopes.]
[Sidenote: The vine-growing district.]
Going upstream, the valley is quite wide: from Monvoisin to Dormans, by Chateau-Thierry, it measures two kilometres almost everywhere. The high cliff which overlooks it on the north, cut by a multitude of narrow valleys coming down from the table-land of the Tardenois, forms a series of buttresses which make excellent defensive positions. On the sharpest, which is a genuine peninsula overhanging the main valley, sits the village of Chatillon, formerly crowned by a haughty feudal castle, on whose ruins was erected a statue of Pope Urban II, who long ago had trouble with the German emperors. The slopes below are hard to climb, because of their steepness and the network of tilled fields. Here we are at the heart of the vine-growing district, and these banks of the Marne contribute largely to the production of the famous champagne. The vines extend, on long rows of poles, to the very summit of the cliffs, especially on the right bank, which has a better exposure to the sun; they are often connected by strands of wire, on which straw mats are placed to protect the vines from the cold in winter.
[Sidenote: Allied troops find many obstacles.]
On a lower level, nearer the stream, are magnificent orchards: the cherry tree joins with the vine to impart to those slopes an aspect of rustic opulence. Huddled white villages, with tawny-hued pointed roofs, follow one another in regular succession on the rolling ground. Their names have lately won a terrible celebrity: Binson, Vandieres, Vincelles, Treloup. Sandstone quarries burrow into the summit of the cliffs and furnish shelters for the defenders. Finally, there are strips of forest along the slopes wherever the exposure is thought poorly suited for crops. All these features unite to form a cheerful, animated, lovely landscape; but at the same time a conglomeration of obstacles which the Allied troops were able to overcome only after fierce fighting.
[Sidenote: Villages in the hillsides.]
Below the little town of Dormans, the valley narrows temporarily: from Treloup to Brasles it is frequently less than 500 metres in width. The cliff, although steep as before, is less cut up, and the patches of forest are large. At the mouths of the smaller affluent valleys, the villages rear their church-towers on the hillsides, overlooking the lowest vineyards and orchards; on this right bank are Jaulgonne, Charteves, and Mont Saint-Pere, all taken by the Allies late in July, and Fossoy, where the Americans successfully repulsed the German attack of July 15.
[Sidenote: The ancient town of Chateau-Thierry.]
But now the valley widens once more as it enters the broad basin of Chateau-Thierry. It is a beautiful spot, and at the same time, of great military value. The little town long ago forgot its role of fortress, but has been brutally reminded of it by the violence of the battles that have been fought in its neighborhood. In the foreground is the wide expanse of fields in the valley bottom; then a suburb of the town enclosed between two arms of the Marne. Across the river, scaling the slopes of a hill crowned by the ruins of a castle, the town rises, terrace-like, at the mouth of a narrow valley. The position can be carried by frontal attack only on the heels of a defeated foe, as Napoleon carried it in 1814, and Franchet d'Esperey just a hundred years later. But in 1918 the Americans had to take Chateau-Thierry in flank, and in order to force their way into the town, had to fight the bloody battles of Vaux, Bouresches, and Etrepilly, which carried them to the north of the town and hastened its evacuation.
[Sidenote: Military operations difficult.]
What is the nature of the terrain above those steep cliffs which enclose the valley of the Marne? Does it become more favorable to military operations than the deep depression through which the river flows? Not by any means. The surface of the table-land is broken by so many ravines and narrow valleys which descend steeply to the Marne, that it is cut into a multitude of ridges and hillocks amid which it is no longer possible to recognize the original horizontal aspect of the plateau.
[Sidenote: Heavy impermeable soil.]
[Sidenote: Hills that are fortresses.]
On the other hand, the strata which lie on the surface—loam, sandstone, and clayey sand—make a heavy, impermeable soil, quite infertile, in which it is hard to raise anything, and which is largely given over to woods. Thus, freedom of movement is impeded by deep ravines, ridges running in all directions, and more or less dense forests; an offensive is difficult, and the defensive easy. This is true in the immediate neighborhood of Chateau-Thierry, where the ravines of Vaux, Brasles, Charteves, Jaulgonne, and Treloup, and the valley of the Surmelin, slash the plateau on either side of the Marne into fragments—into forest-topped hillocks which are genuine fortresses, where the struggle was terrific and where the Allies were able to advance only one step at a time: on Hill 204, west of Chateau-Thierry, in the Bois de Mont St-Pere, the forest of Feze above Jaulgonne, and especially on the spur of the forest of Riz; and south of the Marne, at the broad, wooded bastion of Saint-Agnan and at La Chapelle-Monthodon, where the fighting was so intense from the 15th to the 20th of July.
[Sidenote: The villages and forests of the table-land.]
[Sidenote: Genuine mountain battles.]
This strip of broken table-land becomes broader again farther upstream, above Dormans and Chatillon-sur-Marne. In that direction the plateau of the Ile de France ascends until it is more than 260 metres above the stream. Erosion has been even more active there, and in that part of the Tardenois the plateau is dissected into narrow strips separated by deep valleys, broad and moist, the largest of which is the valley of the Ardre. In the valley bottoms the streams are bordered by bands of tillage land; above, on the lower slopes, amid the vineyards and orchards which monopolize all the favorable exposures, is a multitude of small villages, some of which have become famous—Ste. Euphraise, Bligny, and Ville-en-Tardenois, whose rustic dwellings of uncut rubble, arranged amphitheatre-wise, sheltered some 500 inhabitants. Higher up, on the uneven surface of the plateau, are scattered villages built on limestone foundations—tiny fortresses, like Rumigny and Champlat, the scene of hard-fought battles. Almost the entire surface is covered with forests of pine and oak and birch. These are the woods of Le Roi, Courton, Pourcy, and Reims, where hand-to-hand fighting went on for more than a fortnight, British, Italians, and French succeeding at first in checking the enemy and then in forcing him back, in those titanic combats. They were, in reality, genuine mountain battles; for the hills reach a height of 265 metres, above the level of the plateau, while the valleys are at least 100 metres deep; and the difficulties of the uneven surface were greatly increased by the obstacles offered by forests, vineyards, streams, and the villages, closely packed with stone houses, which could easily be transformed into fortifications.
[Sidenote: The first great American battle.]
A deep, broad, swampy valley, traversed by an unfordable stream; surmounted by steep slopes bristling with vineyards, orchards, villages, and diversified by quarries; above, an entanglement of low hills, ravines, and valleys, under a mantle of forest—such was the theatre of operations in which the Americans won their first great victory. A more difficult terrain could not be desired, or one better adapted to test the valor of the victorious troops.
But when they had made themselves masters of this battlefield, the Allies were by no means at the end of their labors; and the difficulties of the ground to be traversed were still serious in the central portion of the theatre of operations—the Orxois.
[Sidenote: The Orxois plateau—its soil and relief.]
[Sidenote: A varied landscape.]
The Orxois is a plateau extending north of the Marne to the Soissonnais, at a mean height of 160 metres. But it is very far from being uniform. Let us study the nature of its soil, and the relief, that we may comprehend its aspects more thoroughly. The substratum of the plateau of the Orxois is the layer of rock called "hard limestone" 30 to 40 metres in thickness, so much of which is used for building material in the towns and villages. This layer is almost horizontal, and if there were nothing superimposed upon it, the plateau would be a practically level platform. But above the hard limestone are successive layers of a far different character—layers of sand, of Beauchamp sandstone, mingled with marl, making a moist, impermeable, infertile soil; then another layer of limestone, softer and more clayey than that below. Finally, this upper limestone is covered, especially toward the east, with thin layers of marl, clay and, lastly, Fontainebleau sand, which are connected with the strata of the Tardenois. Thus, to a depth of 100 metres, we find a succession of diversified strata, hard and soft, dry and moist, which impart great variety to the landscape.
The valleys which intersect this conglomeration run from east to west, toward the deep depression hollowed out by the Savieres and the Lower Ourcq. From north to south, we can count three—the Upper Ourcq, by Fere-en-Tardenois and La Ferte Milon, the Ru d'Alland, and the Clignon. Very wide where they pass through the upper strata, these valleys grow abruptly narrower and deeper when they reach the level of the hard limestone, where they are little more than deep and narrow ditches. Between these furrows, the marl, sand, and softer limestones form ridges, now steep, now rising more gently, the sandy soil bearing woods, the limestones cultivated fields.
[Sidenote: The ridges run east and west.]
Thus the whole plateau of the Orxois is a series of elevations and depressions, running from east to west, which form just so many obstacles to an advance from south to north like that of the Allies. Luckily they approached this locality at the same time from the west, which enabled them to outflank the obstacles simultaneously with their approach from the south.
[Sidenote: Torcy, Belleau and Bouresches.]
North of Chateau-Thierry, three or four kilometres from the Marne, the plateau is less diversified. The only obstacle is the valley of the Clignon, which deepens rapidly toward the west. Above it, at the summit of the limestone cliff, the plateau forms a species of promontories on which are built villages—Torcy, Belleau, Bouresches. The American troops had held their positions there during the last part of June, and it was there that the heroic marines halted the enemy in his march upon Paris. And again, it was there that they assumed the offensive on July 18, to outflank Chateau-Thierry from the north. On that day they carried the ridges of Torcy and Belleau; on the 19th they pressed beyond Bouresches; and on the 20th they forced their way into Etrepilly and Chateau-Thierry.
[Sidenote: The terrain beyond is less rugged.]
Immediately beyond, the terrain is not so difficult. The Clignon valley becomes less rugged and gradually blends with the plateau. Toward Bezu-St.-Germain and Epieds lies a comparatively open plain with extensive stretches of fallow land. In this more open region the progress was more rapid; on July 22 the American troops took possession of Epieds, twelve kilometres from Bouresches, their starting point.
[Sidenote: Along the valley of the Ourcq.]
But the difficulties are more serious farther to the north, along the hills which form the southern boundary of the valley of the Ourcq. Although the depression made by the Ru d'Alland, being broad and level, is not a considerable obstacle, it is not the same beyond. The relief map shows a line of heights running from west to east, and rising higher and higher in that direction. From these heights a multitude of valleys descend to the Ourcq, from south to north, cutting the crest into hills separated by depressions. Thus the terrain is broken up in every direction and well adapted to meet an attack from the west as well as one from the south.
[Sidenote: The French carry ridges and valleys in succession.]
It was necessary to deal with all these obstacles one by one. Starting from the west, the French had to carry successively these lines of crests and depressions with their fortified villages: ridge of Monnes, July 19; ravine of Neuilly-St-Front the same evening; the hill of Latilly and its wood the 20th; La Croix and Grisolles the 21st, with their thickets and dense plantations of osiers. On the 23d the Allied troops took Rocourt and the wood of Le Chatelet; on the 24th the deep ravine of Brecy; and, finally, on the 25th, French and Americans together attacked the hill of the forest of Fere, which is 228 metres high, completely covered with woods, cut by ravines, and flanked by fortified villages. On the 27th the whole position was taken, and the Allies were on the verge of the deep valley of the Ourcq, which they were next to cross.
[Sidenote: Caves in the cliffs.]
[Sidenote: Allies turn the line of the Ourcq.]
This line was a by no means inconsiderable obstacle. Imagine, if you please, a deep depression, twisting and turning in all directions, and from 200 to 400 metres wide, extending at least as far as Fere-en-Tardenois. It is bounded on either side by cliffs of hard limestone, 30 to 40 metres high, in which innumerable caves are scooped—the so-called boves, which are used as dwellings, with doors and windows flush with the face of the cliff. These boves are invaluable defensive positions, out of reach of bullets and shells. The valley bottom is wet and swampy, with dense clumps of poplars mingled with alder-bushes. There are numerous villages at the foot of the cliffs,—Rozet-St.-Albain, Breny, Armentieres,—or on the slopes above, like Noroy. A frontal attack on such a position would have been too costly. The Allies turned the line of the Ourcq from the north. They crossed the river in force in the upper part of its course, where it has not yet attacked the stratum of hard limestone, and where the valley is wider, and the sides are less steep. Nevertheless they encountered terrible difficulties.
[Sidenote: Strategic value of hills of Orxois.]
North of the Ourcq, indeed, the last heights of the Orxois form another chain of hills, from four to six kilometres wide—the last obstacle before we come to the plateau of the Soissonnais. These hills are of the greatest possible diversity of shape and vary in height from 200 metres at the western extremity to 230 at the eastern. Their bases consist largely of sandstone and Fontainebleau sand, with clumps of forest scattered here and there; higher up is the softer limestone, the land being entirely cleared and covered with crops. Here and there we find the remains of the former covering of clay and Fontainebleau sand—wooded ridges which expand toward the east into the wood of Seringes, the forest of Nesle, and Meuniere wood. These hills, the last as we travel northward, where they command the whole of the Soissonnais, have therefore the greatest strategic value, particularly the positions of Hartennes, Plessier-Huleu, and Seringes.
[Sidenote: The French approach from the west.]
Luckily these formidable defensive positions were approached from the west, astride the ridges. Starting from the forest of Retz, the French crossed the Savieres with a rush, and in a single bound reached Noroy-sur-Ourcq and Villers-Helon, which lie along one of the ridges, surrounded by orchards. On July 19 they had advanced three kilometres to the east; the strong line of the Ourcq was outflanked. On the 20th they were at Parcy-Tigny and Rozet-St.-Albain, pushing forward over the broken ground planted with sugar-beets and cereals, enlivened in spots by small clumps of trees perched on the sandstone hillocks. Thus they drew near to the heart of the position—the ridges of Plessier and of Hartennes. There the resistance was much more violent; but after three days of hard fighting, the French entered Plessier and approached the village of Oulchy-la-Ville, surrounded by picturesque heaps of sandstone blocks mingled with pines and birches. On the 25th, in the evening, they were in occupation of Oulchy-le-Chateau, which lies in a charming vale running down to the Ourcq. The line of the Ourcq, as to that portion where the river, flowing between high cliffs, constitutes a real obstacle, was in the Allies' hands.
[Sidenote: Fere-en-Tardenois and Sergy.]
It remained to complete the victory by the conquest of the eastern sector of the hills; and this again was no easy task. The French and Americans had now to approach that strong defensive position from the south. On the 28th they entered Fere-en-Tardenois; the Americans crossed the Ourcq, taking Sergy, which changed hands nine times. On July 31, after more titanic battles, they wrested Seringes from the foe. On August 1 there was a general advance all along the line, and the Allies carried the whole line of hilltops, from Plessier-Huleu to Meuniere wood.
[Sidenote: Heroes of the second battle of the Marne.]
This was the end: the horizon expanded. From the heights conquered in fourteen days of fighting the Allies went down to the plateau of the Soissonnais; soon they would reach the Vesle and join hands with the troops who had retaken Soissons. Among the numberless heroes of this second battle of the Marne, they who stormed the heights of the Orxois and either outflanked or crossed the valley of the Ourcq were the bravest of the brave and are entitled to the largest share of our gratitude. The third act of the battle was played upon a terrain quite different from those preceding it. The relief is considerably simplified. The great plateau of the Ile de France, which is buried, as it were, under the accumulations of recent deposits, where erosion has worn gaps in the ridges of the Orxois, and hollowed out the deep ravines of the Tardenois, is reduced here to the substratum of hard limestone, almost entirely free from superimposed layers. So that, instead of being an uneven, swampy district, the Soissonnais is a dry level table-land, where the streams flow underground through the layers of limestone. A fertile district, too, for the surface is covered with a thin coating of loam, in which sugar-beets and cereals vie with one another in profusion of growth.
[Sidenote: Valleys of the Vesle and the Aisne.]
[Sidenote: Fertile slopes and valleys.]
However, the plateau is intersected by occasional valleys, generally broad and deep. The two most considerable are those of the Vesle and the Aisne which come together above Soissons, at Conde, and isolate the famous Chemin-des-Dames to the north. Two tributaries, Ambleny brook and the Crise, flowing down to the Aisne, subdivide the southern portion of the Soissonnais, where the battle was fought. With respect to the plateau, these valleys are little worlds apart. Below the hard limestone, they have hollowed out a path through very soft rocks, sands, and clays; in these the streams have inevitably made large inroads, sapping the limestone cliffs which overhang them. Thus the valley bottoms are abnormally wide—from two to three kilometres near Soissons. The presence of the clayey soils makes them very moist, and we find there fields of beets and grain side by side with extensive tracts of grassland. On the lower slopes are many small fields given over to the less hardy products—beans, orchards, and sometimes grape-vines. Here are most of the villages, at the level where the water-courses, seeping through the limestone of the plateau, reappear in the shape of springs, on the impervious stratum. For the most part the villages lie along the hillsides, surrounded by trees, embellished by chateaux and parks. They are well-built and attractive, boasting churches of graceful architecture, thanks to the lovely decorative stone taken from the quarries in the limestone cliffs above, which are called boves, or croutes. A fascinating, fertile country, diversified and pleasant to the eye, before the war it might well have been taken as a sample of rural opulence.
[Sidenote: Great difficulties of passage.]
Plateau and valleys, then, differ materially—the one monotonous and easy of access; the other, no less charming than varied, but presenting great difficulties of passage in the face of opposition. There is not a village on the plateau: only a few large farms and scattered sugar-beet refineries. In the valleys and on the slopes there are everywhere houses, chateaux, parks, orchards, and grottoes. The slender church-tower barely rises to the level of the plateau, as if to watch for the approach of an enemy. The conditions then were quite simple: on the plateau it was possible to gain many kilometres in a single rush; but in the valleys a fierce resistance was to be expected.
[Sidenote: The Franco-American attack.]
The French and American attack in the Soissonnais was fortunate in its starting-point. In the course of the hard-fought battles between June 15 and July 15, the French had retaken the entire valley of Ambleny-Coeuvres, and had gained a footing on the plateau to the eastward, which stretches as far as the outskirts of Soissons. To the south they had completely cleared the verge of the forest of Retz, from which they were thus able to debouch into the plain.
[Sidenote: In sight of Soissons.]
[Sidenote: Germans bring up reserves.]
The first onrush was magnificent. Starting at ten minutes to five in the morning, the Allies were within sight of Soissons at ten o'clock, having overrun the whole plateau on a front of some ten kilometres. Rarely has a more successful attack been seen in this war. It was even said that on this first day some French and Americans got as far as the suburbs of Soissons. But the danger for the Germans was too great, and they brought all their reserves thither. Moreover, they had the valley of the Crise to support their defense.
[Sidenote: Artillery can hardly see the villages.]
This valley is the widest and deepest of all those which eat into the plateau of the Soissonnais from the south. The very considerable depression is more than 100 metres below the surface of the plateau, which it cuts in two, effectively shutting off all progress from west to east; for on the south a narrow isthmus, that of Vierzy, barely separates it from the ravine of the Savieres; and on the southeast it reaches to the foot of the wooded hills of Hartennes. Clinging to the sides of the valley and of the ravines which open into it, numerous villages—Vauxbuin, Berzy-le-Sec, Villemontoire, Buzancy—are the more difficult to capture because the artillery can hardly see them, as they lie close against the hillside. It was on the Crise, in the latter part of May, that a handful of Frenchmen held up the German avalanche from the Chemin-des-Dames.
[Sidenote: German guns have revenge.]
[Sidenote: Allies enter Soissons.]
The Germans paid us back in July. Sheltered in the ravines and windings of the valley, their artillery, being almost invisible, had nothing to disturb its aim. The villages, the orchards, the grottoes, crammed with machine-guns, were so many fortresses; the whole valley was a veritable hell. There were incessant counter-attacks, which the Allies, on the bare plateau, entirely devoid of cover, could repel only with the greatest difficulty. They pushed forward step by step, and by fits and starts. On the 19th our troops were hard put to it to hold the ground they had taken the day before; on the 20th they barely began to nibble at the ravines, at Ploisy and L'Echelle. On the 21st the Americans took Berzy-le-Sec, and the French were astride the lower waters of the Crise; on the 23d they went down into the ravine of Buzancy. But not until the 25th did they gain possession of the promontory of Villemontoire; and only on the 29th did a Scottish division, after three days of forward fighting, carry Buzancy. This last success, to be sure, was decisive, for it uncovered the upper valley of the Crise. And so, on August 2, the enemy gave way; that day the Allies crossed the valley along its entire length, and advanced across the eastern side of the plateau as far as the Vesle. On the same day they entered Soissons—at last. The ancient capital of the French kings, the city which formerly disputed the claim of Paris to be called the metropolis, is now no more than a mass of ruins. For four long years the war has laid its heavy hand upon her; and it is no new thing for her, since she had played an important military role in 1814, 1815, and 1870. She owes it to her fine location, in the heart of a broad valley, where the roads from south and east meet. Let us hope that her martyrdom will soon come to an end.
[Sidenote: The Allies hold the entire plateau.]
Here ended the second battle of the Marne. The Allies have regained possession of the whole plateau which extends from the Marne to the Vesle and the Aisne. They have established themselves in the valleys of those great rivers, from Soissons to Braisne, Bazoches, and Fismes—even to Rheims. They find there formidable obstacles to be overcome: a broad, moist, sometimes swampy bottom; facing them the cliff of the Chemin-des-Dames and the plateau of the Vesle, with its cap of limestone, and its numerous windings lined with villages and grottoes. Except in case of a surprise or a voluntary retirement, it will be a hard job to carry these positions. But sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. The results already achieved are fine enough to justify us in declaring ourselves satisfied.
[Sidenote: The American troops do magnificent work.]
[Sidenote: Peers of the world's best soldiers]
The work done in their debut, by the American troops in conjunction with our own, was magnificent. They fought against victorious soldiers sure of success, and whipped them. They were engaged on a difficult terrain. In the south they were obliged to cross a broad river and wide valleys, to scale cliffs bristling with defensive positions. In the center they were confronted by a confused entanglement of broken ground, hills and ravines, woods and open fields, bisected by a deep valley half-concealed by trees. In the north they became acquainted with the snare formed by plateaus falling abruptly away into the wolf-trap of ravines, where the enemy, lying in ambush, refused to give ground. The Americans triumphed over all these obstacles, and deserve to be reckoned the peers of the best soldiers in the world. On the other hand, fighting as they have fought in these countrysides, so typically French in their simplicity and grandeur, and seeing all their charms foully outraged, our attractive villages destroyed, our churches—graceful masterpieces, in almost every case, of the Middle Ages—desecrated and shattered, they have come to understand France better; they have had a share in her misfortunes and in her hopes.
Copyright, Atlantic Monthly, December, 1918.
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Throughout the war Germans persisted in the assumption that by nightly raids from bombing machines and Zeppelins they could spread terror among the Allies and weaken their morale. They did succeed in killing a large number of defenseless men and women, but this was the only result of these attacks. A vivid account of these night raids is given in the narrative following.
NIGHT RAIDS FROM THE AIR
MARY HELEN FEE
[Sidenote: Thousands of automobile trucks.]
When the first offensive began to the north of us, we, who were stationed in the American Canteen at E——, not more than fifteen miles from Rheims, were thrilled by the sight of the thousands of automobile trucks, which like a mighty river flowed ceaselessly by our canteen carrying French troops up to the English front; and we grew sad when we beheld ambulance convoys hurrying in the same direction.
We could not be oblivious to certain signs which pointed to renewed activity in our sector. The American ambulance boys predicted with the emphasis and at the same time with the vagueness born of surmise instead of exact knowledge, that we should "see something doing" in a few weeks.
[Sidenote: Few German airplanes.]
What chiefly excited our curiosity, however, was the scarcity of German airplanes. Although the days were clear and fine for observing, only occasionally did the barking of guns call us outside to behold a little white, shimmering object skipping defiantly through extremest blue while tufts of woolly cloud broke far below it, serving only to aid us in detecting the almost invisible plane. One came over one night just about sunset, and called us and our dinner guests from the beginning of a meal. Another paid us an early morning call. Then for nearly three weeks we enjoyed undisturbed rest at night. Not once did the "alerte" send us shivering to damp cellars; not once did we hear the deep "boom" followed by a savage jar and rattle which differentiates the falling bomb or torpedo from the cannon. We said, fatuously, that we believed all the airplanes were engaged up on the English front, and that at last our mastery of the air must be firmly established.
[Sidenote: News of the second offensive.]
[Sidenote: The permissionaires return in good humor.]
It was on a Monday that the news of the second offensive reached us. Trains from Paris were delayed and the Paris papers did not arrive, but the ambulance men told us there was a German offensive from Rheims to Soissons. Next day the canteen was crowded with permissionaires hastily recalled from leave and hurrying to join their regiments at the front. Most of them had passed through, ten to two days before, in the subdued good humor with which the poilu hails his bath, disinfecting, clean clothes, and relative security of body while on a ten days' leave. They were going back to face death, mutilation, and an experience which drives many men mad. There was no undue hilarity about them, but a quiet determination which has been reflected in the stand made by the armies. Here and there a weakling had tried to escape thought in drink, but the percentage of that sort was very small.
[Sidenote: Three weeks' respite of raids.]
On Tuesday more news drifted in, and that night I did not fully undress on going to bed. So strongly can the sense of optimism be grown from little habit that a respite of three weeks from bombing attacks had almost (though not quite) convinced me there would never be any more. I may explain that I was serving as canteen accountant, and occupied a tiny three-room apartment across the street from the canteen, between it and the railway station, and I took my meals at one of the two Red Cross houses maintained in E——.
[Sidenote: Objective of a bomb attack.]
When a town is bombed, the Germans have various objectives, principally the railway stations, troop barracks, canteens, munition dumps, food stores, and hospitals. As a rule, when private homes are destroyed, it is because they happen to be close to these points of attack. Torpedoes are too expensive to be wasted in chance destruction.
[Sidenote: Lights are extinguished in the war zone.]
In towns in the war zone, great precaution is taken to prevent even a thin line or dot of light from showing at night. Only the railroad shows its signal lights, and these are put out at the first alarm, while all moving trains come to a standstill and extinguish what lights they carry. The lamps in passenger coaches are always put out when the train enters the war zone. So the bombing aviator has a rather difficult task in getting his bombs exactly where he wants them. The bomb must be released about a thousand feet in advance of the object aimed at, and the plane must pass over and reverse its course before a second bomb can be thrown at the same target. The course of a plane can be followed by tracing its bombs.
My position during a bombing raid was most unenviable. A torpedo cast at the railway station and going a bit too far was likely to land on the two-story brick house in which I was lodged. One cast at the canteen, and falling short, was likely to do the same.
[Sidenote: Anticipating air raids.]
It is fashionable among the workers in France to affect great indifference to danger. I am free to confess that I am not a particularly courageous woman. My imagination is active, and on nights when we expect a bombing raid I always go through a period of misery before going to bed. I would not for anything leave the war zone, but I have always a lively vision of coming out of slumber to the accompaniment of fearful noise and the crashing of the building atop, and then my coward imagination paints pictures of lying torn and anguished under settling weights of being burned alive while disabled and unable to extricate myself. Oddly enough, all my terrors vanish with the falling of the first bomb. I cannot remember being in what the English call a "blue funk" while a raid is going on, though many a time I have been in one beforehand.
[Sidenote: Premonition of danger.]
Tuesday night some subtle instinct warned that trouble might come. In accordance with a natural forethought I slipped into a suit of underwear and woollen stockings under my nightdress. I must have been asleep in three minutes after my head touched the pillow, for I was dead tired.
[Sidenote: A bomb lands close by.]
[Sidenote: The sky blazes with shells.]
I wakened with the sense that I had heard a gun, and, with one stockinged foot thrust out of bed, wondered sleepily whether it was the first, second or third of the alerte, or whether indeed I had not wakened from a dream of a gun. Probably it was the last gun of the alerte, for the next sound was the thunderous roar of a bomb which clearly had landed close by (it got a railway shed and a freight car on the tracks behind me). The terrific noise and the shock to our building, which rattled as if it were coming down, considerably accelerated my movements. I snapped on the electric torch which always lay, together with my cap and slippers, beside the bed, slipped a skirt over my nightdress and my great-coat atop, and got into the cap and slippers in record time. But by the time I had crossed the flagged passage and wrestled with the lock of the "grande porte" there was no getting out of the house. The canteen, directly across the street, lay in utter darkness, lights out, doors locked. There was no hope of using it as a short cut to the abris, or shelter, on the other side, while to try to go around it was almost certain death. The sky was ablaze with breaking shells from our seventy-fives; shrapnel was falling like hail in the streets, while the steady "pup-pup" of machine-guns—both our own and the bombing planes'—advised all who could to remain under shelter. The noise of our guns and of the bombs was like a small inferno.
[Sidenote: Waiting through the raid alone.]
I stayed it out—about twenty minutes—alone in that dark flagged hallway, and it was lonesome. When the shrapnel and machine-gun fire let up sufficiently to make it safe, I crept along under the shelter of the eaves to the door of a courtyard next door where I knew one of our cooks lived. She had invited me a few days before, to refuge there instead of trying to get over the abris, because, she said, the whole upper lofts were full of hay, and it had been demonstrated that bombs will not penetrate to any depth in hay. But the door was locked, and though I beat upon it with my electric torch, nobody heard me. I finally took advantage of a lull in the firing, when the Germans went back to their own lines for more ammunition, to get over the abris.
There one of the women on night duty at the canteen told me that the directrice and everybody else not on night duty, had gone up to the evacuation hospital about ten o'clock, in response to a call for aid from the French authorities.
[Sidenote: Many wounded in the hospitals.]
In E—— there were half a dozen large hospitals. The wounded, chiefly English, were coming in faster than the hospital corps could handle them. They needed our help, not only in registering the men—very few of whom understood any French—but in feeding and giving water.
I got to the hospital the next day and worked steadily till eight thirty. Then an ambulance driver gave me a lift as far as the canteen, and I managed to get a cold supper at our mess.
[Sidenote: Dispensing hospitality to worn-out officers.]
I was hardly in my office before I heard a knock at the door, which, as I was alone in the house, I always locked at night as soon as I entered. In response to my "Who's there?" a voice, guided by my English, replied, "I am an English officer." I threw open the door without a second's hesitation. A young officer, weary, white-faced, stood there, beginning to apologize as he saw my uniform and white veil. He was simply "done," he said—and he looked it. He had found every hotel was full, and, seeing a few gleams of light behind the shutters, he had knocked in the hope of finding shelter for the night. I knew that the woman at the canteen who would go off duty at midnight was scheduled to go immediately to the hospital to work until seven in the morning and that I could occupy her bed after I came back from the hospital, and I offered my apartment to the officer for the night. He was most grateful, and I rushed over to the canteen to get him a pitcher of hot water and a cup of chocolate. But there I found a group of French officers, who said they had neither sleep nor rest for three days and nights, pleading for some place to lie down. As there was a comfortable leather couch in my office, besides a wide soft couch over which I had laid my steamer rug, and, in addition, an exceedingly soft double bed in my room which I thought the tired Englishman ought to be willing to share with an equally tired man, I proffered my hospitality, which was gratefully accepted. I piloted them across to the office, and returned to the canteen, hoping to find an American ambulance boy who would run me over to the hospital.
[Sidenote: A new raid begins.]
[Sidenote: Directing men to shelter.]
[Sidenote: Help from American boys.]
I sighted a group of the familiar uniforms, and was heading for it when, bang! went a falling bomb, without any warning alerte. The next instant all lights were out, and the French soldiers were swarming through the door. As all the other women in the canteen had set duties to perform—putting out fires, locking up money and food—and I, not being on duty, had none, I stationed myself at the door, calling out to the soldiers where they would find shelter. Being transients, they did not know where to find refuge. But long before the canteen was empty, the machine-gun bullets were sweeping the street and the shrapnel was raining down. Two American boys came up in the darkness, and one said in the quietest tone of authority, "Get between us, lady!" They backed me up against the side of the canteen, close under the shelter of the eaves, and stood one on each side of me. I had no trench-helmet, so one of them took his sheepskin driving coat, folded it, and put it over his head and mine. As soon as a lull in the firing permitted, we ran across the street to the abris. The Germans went back several times for more ammunition and continued the bombing for nearly two hours.
[Sidenote: The nurses stay with the wounded.]
One of our workers, who was at the hospital, told me that her first impulse was to run for an abris as we would do at the canteen, but when she looked about her and saw everybody composedly going on with duty, she gathered herself together and did the same—"Although," she added, "my teeth just rattled at first." Some of the wounded were terrified and begged not to be left; and that called out the mother instinct in the women, so that they forgot to be afraid.
The Germans swept the hospital with their machine guns and did their best to bomb it, but fortunately made no hits. It was finally necessary to put out all lights and to cease work. It was a most trying ordeal, because the buildings were of pine, close together, and a direct hit probably would have started a fire which would have burned the wounded as they lay.
[Sidenote: The sound of battle draws near.]
About half past one I went up to our mess and crawled into an empty bed. The next morning when I awakened it was to the sound of distant cannon. This meant that the battle was drawing nearer.
[Sidenote: A ride on an ambulance.]
An especially hard day kept me on the strain from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. and when I returned to the mess I found no dinner and no servants. Our directrice, anticipating evacuation, had dismissed them. Only a little Belgian refugee, a sort of "slavey," hung on, because she had no other place to go. Tired out, I managed to make an omelet and a cup of tea, and to fry some griddle cakes to replace the bread which was conspicuous by its absence. Then I stationed myself in front of the canteen hoping to flag a passing ambulance. An American driver stopped his car, and a Frenchman, who was beside him on the front seat, jumped down to help me up. This man had a bandage around his throat, and when I asked him if he was wounded, he made a hissing sound in reply. The American driver explained that he could not speak because he had a bullet through his windpipe. There were six badly wounded men on the stretchers inside, but we heard not a sound from them.
[Sidenote: A night of horrors.]
I shall not soon forget that night I had steeled myself to meet horrors, and knew that I must not let them affect me. Yet in spite of terrible wounds, there was little sound of suffering. The place was wonderfully quiet.
When I got inside of the receiving room, a group of our women who had been at work all afternoon were still moving about, white and hollow-eyed with fatigue. A French doctor asked if I could not bring some food there from the canteen. It was Thursday. Some of the men had been wounded on Tuesday, and had had no food and little water.
[Sidenote: Bringing up food for the wounded.]
I found an English girl with an empty ambulance, who risked a reprimand for leaving without orders, and we flashed back to the canteen, and loaded up with twenty gallons of hot chocolate, bread, about three hundred hard boiled eggs, some kilos of chocolate, and raw eggs and sugar. We flew back to the hospital; but there was a big convoy of ambulances just in, so that we could not get up to the main buildings. We scouted around in the dark to find a place to deposit our stuff and open a temporary kitchen, and, returning to the ambulance, we came across a wounded boy who had sunk on a bench. The ambulance driver had passed him, making his way on foot, but being full-up, she was unable to give him a lift. He was wounded in the chest, was exhausted, and had no great-coat. It was absolutely necessary to get him under cover and to give him warmth and nourishment. We put our arms around him and tried to help him along, but soon it was apparent that he had not the strength to make the reception ward.
[Sidenote: Holding up a boy too weak to stand.]
The English girl said, "You hold him up while I get a stretcher"; so I jammed myself up against the side of a building and put my arms about the boy while his weight grew heavier and heavier against me. I could not let him slip, because the roadway was narrow and a long string of ambulances, without lights, was passing. He never uttered a sound, but his arms moved convulsively. As he felt himself growing weaker, he put them around my neck, and clung to me precisely as a frightened child would. It seemed an age while I waited there, warning off ambulances that were about to shave us too closely. I could not help wondering where that boy's mother was, what she was doing, or if he had a mother. And I thought some terrible thoughts about war and some wicked ones about Germans.
[Sidenote: Dispensing food to the wounded.]
The girl came with her stretcher at last, and we got the boy on it. Then we went about setting up our feeding station. Hungry men limped in, bandaged mostly about the head, and how they consumed hard boiled eggs and drank hot chocolate! I left the English girl dispensing food and drink, while I took to the badly wounded a mixture of beaten egg, hot milk and sugar. Here and there men asked for a piece of chocolate or bread, but most of the wounded wanted only the liquid food. They would say with their awful English cockney accent, "Ah! that's good!" or "Prime stuff!" or "Could you spare a little more, sister?" In spite of dreadful wounds, they were full of pluck.
[Sidenote: Great numbers of wounded in stretchers.]
For the next two hours I gave water and egg mixture to all sorts and conditions of men—English, French, Canadians, Moroccans, Senegalese. The doctor asked if I knew enough to administer morphine hypodermics, and I regretfully admitted that I did not, while I registered a vow to learn. Then some American Red Cross men appeared, and some English doctors. Before midnight three or four long Red Cross trains had been filled with wounded, and sent out. Yet at that hour more than five hundred wounded men still lay on their stretchers on the grass outside. And all the while, as I worked, I thought of how, as soon as the moon came up, we should hear the familiar roar and rattle of the bombs, and of how the shrapnel and machine gun bullets would rain down on those upturned faces.
[Sidenote: The hospital floors are crowded.]
But, grace to heaven, the Germans did not come that night! At midnight I went into Ward 4, where some of the worst wounded had been placed. Stretchers had been laid on top of the beds and flat on the floor on both sides of the central aisle, till one could hardly move. Most of the wounded seemed to sleep. Only here and there one begged for water, and these men were usually wounded in the abdomen where not even water could be given. We could moisten their lips and wipe off the hot feverish faces, and that was all.
[Sidenote: Everything possible has been done.]
By one o'clock it was evident that the most of what could be done had been done. Another section of our women had arrived with more food, and I went out to the covered way between the receiving room and the operating room, to steal a ride home on the driver's seat of some departing ambulance. An English boy, who had been gassed, asked me hoarsely if I could get him a blanket, and I did so. Another man was there, on whose eyelashes and eyebrows something that looked like ice seemed to hang. I think it was an application to soothe gas-burns.
It was two o'clock before I got to bed at the mess. The English officer was still occupying my apartment. I might pass off my action in resigning it to him as philanthropy, but candor compels me to admit that I was glad of an excuse to stay at the house where there was company in case of a bombing raid.
[Sidenote: The French bills come in.]
Friday was a long, tense day. The French merchants and all the people with whom we had dealings, anticipating our withdrawal, swarmed in with accounts. When the G.A.N. (Grand Armee Nationale) sent in its request for a check (previously, I had been obliged fairly to windlass their bill out of them), I knew the French would evacuate. The Commandant sent for the Directrice, and advised her to follow French headquarters wherever it might move. He said he was evacuating all French hospitals and had turned over all evacuation hospitals to the English. No more wounded French were to be brought into E——.
[Sidenote: The German aviators bomb hospitals again.]
All day I worked without food, and after 7.30 got supper for myself and three companions. We hoped for a night's rest, but the Germans began bombing us at dusk, and kept it up till daylight. They were after hospitals, as we knew by the fact that the dropping bombs were at a distance from us and the regular line. All night the machine-gun battle went on—our own guns at E——, warring with the sweeping planes overhead. We got so tired of going to shelter, and so accustomed to the firing, that we finally stayed in our rooms and even opened our shutters to peer out into the calm summer sky. Shells were bursting and ground signals of colored lights were streaming skyward. It was too exciting to sleep until we gave out from sheer exhaustion. I managed to get an intermittent slumber from four until seven.
[Sidenote: The town is full of refugees.]
As there was no breakfast at our mess, I went to the canteen for a cup of coffee, and found the place crowded. The French Commander said that our town was due to be shelled before long as we were getting in range of the German guns. We decided not to go until we had to, but to cease keeping the canteen open at night; to sell only hot coffee, chocolate, bread, cheese, eggs and apples by day—thus omitting our hot meal—and to divide our forces, one part to run the canteen, another to organize a temporary canteen on the grounds of the evacuation hospital, and still another to maintain the rolling canteen at the railway station. The streets were almost blocked with refugees. I saw one unconscious woman in a wheelbarrow being trundled by a boy. Regiments went through, going up to the front, the men's faces stern and set. The sound of the battle grew louder and louder.
[Sidenote: An airplane sweeps the street with a machine gun.]
That night we bundled our bedding into the Ford camion, and slept in one of the deep champagne caves. I had volunteered to go on duty at the canteen at six the next morning, and arriving there on time, found two or three hundred tired and hungry men waiting for the doors to open. The night before a great thermos marmite had been filled with boiling coffee, and we were able to begin feeding the men without delay. All day we did a tremendous business. About half past nine a German plane came over, tried to bomb us, and swept the street with a machine gun. We continued serving and pouring out coffee. The aviator killed a woman and child who were standing in a garden, and then one of our machine guns got him. The plane, a three passenger one, came tumbling down into the public square. The pilot was caught with both legs under the engine and was badly hurt, but the observer and the gunner were uninjured. An infuriated Frenchman, who had seen the killing of the woman and child, rushed up and killed the gunner as they lifted him out. I got these facts from an American staff car driver who assisted in extricating the pilot. That morning, our guns got three German planes.
[Sidenote: A German shell hits twenty-seven.]
At one that afternoon I left the canteen, and went home for the bath which I had missed that morning. I had just finished dressing when a German shell passed over the house, killing, as they said, twenty-seven persons.
[Sidenote: The distant thunder of battle.]
I elected to stay over night at the hotel instead of going to the champagne cave. No sound disturbed the night except the distant thunder of the battle and the bursting of shells which were falling about a thousand yards short of the town. The Germans were trying to destroy the bridge over the Marne, to cut our communication with Rheims, but they did not have the range.
Copyright, The Forum, November, 1918.
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Volumes of detailed narrative could not sum up more graphically what the American Army did in France than did the summary written by General Pershing, presented in the following pages.
THE AMERICAN ARMY IN EUROPE
GENERAL JOHN J. PERSHING
[Sidenote: Organization of the American army.]
With French and British armies at their maximum strength, and all efforts to dispossess the enemy from his firmly intrenched positions in Belgium and France failed, it was necessary to plan for an American force adequate to turn the scale in favor of the Allies. Taking account of the strength of the central powers at that time, the immensity of the problem which confronted us could hardly be overestimated. The first requisite being an organization that could give intelligent direction to effort, the formation of a General Staff occupied my early attention.
[Sidenote: The division.]
[Sidenote: A corps comprises six divisions.]
After a thorough consideration of allied organizations it was decided that our combat division should consist of four regiments of infantry of 3,000 men, with three battalions to a regiment and four companies of 250 men each to a battalion, and of an artillery brigade of three regiments, a machine-gun battalion, an engineer regiment, a trench-mortar battery, a signal battalion, wagon trains, and the headquarters staffs and military police. These, with medical and other units, made a total of over 28,000 men, or practically double the size of a French or German division. Each corps would normally consist of six divisions—four combat and one depot and one replacement division—and also two regiments of cavalry, and each army of from three to five corps. With four divisions fully trained, a corps could take over an American sector with, two divisions in line and two in reserve, with the depot and replacement divisions prepared to fill the gaps in the ranks.
[Sidenote: Plan of training for the infantry.]
Our purpose was to prepare an integral American force which should be able to take the offensive in every respect. Accordingly, the development of a self-reliant infantry by thorough drill in the use of the rifle and in the tactics of open warfare was always uppermost. The plan of training after arrival in France allowed a division one month for acclimatization and instruction in small units from battalions down, a second month in quiet trench sectors by battalion, and a third month after it came out of the trenches when it should be trained as a complete division in war of movement.
[Sidenote: The school center at Langres.]
[Sidenote: British and French officers assist.]
Very early a system of schools was outlined and started, which should have the advantage of instruction by officers direct from the front. At the great school center at Langres, one of the first to be organized, was the staff school, where the principles of general staff work, as laid down in our own organization were taught to carefully selected officers. Men in the ranks, who had shown qualities of leadership, were sent to the school of candidates for commissions. A school of the line taught younger officers the principles of leadership, tactics, and the use of the different weapons. In the artillery school, at Saumur, young officers were taught the fundamental principles of modern artillery; while at Issoudun an immense plant was built for training cadets in aviation. These and other schools, with their well-considered curriculums for training in every branch of our organization, were coordinated in a manner best to develop an efficient army out of willing and industrious young men, many of whom had not before known even the rudiments of military technique. Both Marshal Haig and General Petain placed officers and men at our disposal for instructional purposes, and we are deeply indebted for the opportunities given to profit by their veteran experience.
[Sidenote: Questions of communication and supply.]
The eventual place the American Army should take on the western front was to a large extent influenced by the vital questions of communication and supply. The northern ports of France were crowded by the British Armies' shipping and supplies while the southern ports, though otherwise at our service, had not adequate port facilities for our purposes and these we should have to build. The already overtaxed railway system behind the active front in northern France would not be available for us as lines of supply and those leading from the southern ports of northeastern France would be unequal to our needs without much new construction. Practically all warehouses, supply depots and regulating stations must be provided by fresh constructions. While France offered us such material as she had to spare after a drain of three years enormous quantities of material had to be brought across the Atlantic.
[Sidenote: Plans for construction on a vast scale.]
With such a problem any temporization or lack of definiteness in making plans might cause failure even with victory within our grasp. Moreover, broad plans commensurate with our national purpose and resources would bring conviction of our power to every soldier in the front line, to the nations associated with us in the war, and to the enemy. The tonnage for material for necessary construction for the supply of an army of three and perhaps four million men would require a mammoth program of shipbuilding at home, and miles of dock construction in France, with a correspondingly large project for additional railways and for storage depots.
[Sidenote: The southern ports are selected.]
All these considerations led to the inevitable conclusion that if we were to handle and supply the great forces deemed essential to win the war we must utilise the southern ports of France—Bordeaux, La Pallice, St. Nazaire, and Brest—and the comparatively unused railway systems leading therefrom to the northeast. Generally speaking, then, this would contemplate the use of our forces against the enemy somewhere in that direction, but the great depots of supply must be centrally located, preferably in the area included by Tours, Bourges, and Chateauroux, so that our armies could be supplied with equal facility wherever they might be serving on the western front.
[Sidenote: Army and civilian experts are employed.]
To build up such a system there were talented men in the Regular Army, but more experts were necessary than the Army could furnish. Thanks to the patriotic spirit of our people at home, there came from civil life men trained for every sort of work involved in building and managing the organization necessary to handle and transport such an army and keep it supplied. With such assistance the construction and general development of our plans have kept pace with the growth of the forces, and the Service of Supply is now able to discharge from ships and move 45,000 tons daily, besides transporting troops and material in the conduct of active operations.
[Sidenote: Organization of the Service of Supply.]
As to organization, all the administrative and supply services, except the Adjutant General's, Inspector General's and Judge Advocate General's Departments which remain at general headquarters, have been transferred to the headquarters of the services of supplies at Tours under a commanding general responsible to the commander in chief for supply of the armies. The Chief Quartermaster, Chief Surgeon, Chief Signal Officer, Chief of Ordnance, Chief of Air Service, Chief of Chemical Warfare, the general purchasing agent in all that pertains to questions of procurement and supply, the Provost Marshal General in the maintenance of order in general, the Director General of Transportation in all that affects such matters, and the Chief Engineer in all matters of administration and supply, are subordinate to the Commanding General of the Service of Supply, who, assisted by a staff especially organized for the purpose, is charged with the administrative coordination of all these services.
[Sidenote: The transportation department.]
The transportation department under the Service of Supply directs the operation, maintenance, and construction of railways, the operation of terminals, the unloading of ships, and transportation of material to warehouses or to the front. Its functions make necessary the most intimate relationship between our organization and that of the French, with the practical result that our transportation department has been able to improve materially the operations of railways generally. Constantly laboring under a shortage of rolling stock, the transportation department has nevertheless been able by efficient management to meet every emergency.
[Sidenote: Duties of the Engineer Corps.]
The Engineer Corps is charged with all construction, including light railways and roads. It has planned and constructed the many projects required, the most important of which are the new wharves at Bordeaux and Nantes, and the immense storage depots at La Palice, Montoir, and Gievres, besides innumerable hospitals and barracks in various ports of France. These projects have all been carried on by phases keeping pace with our needs. The Forestry Service under the Engineer Corps has cut the greater part of the timber and railway ties required.
To meet the shortage of supplies from America, due to lack of shipping, the representatives of the different supply departments were constantly in search of available material and supplies in Europe. In order to coordinate these purchases and to prevent competition between our departments, a general purchasing agency was created early in our experience to coordinate our purchases and, if possible, induce our Allies to apply the principle among the Allied armies. While there was no authority for the general use of appropriations, this was met by grouping the purchasing representatives of the different departments under one control, charged with the duty of consolidating requisitions and purchases. Our efforts to extend the principle have been signally successful, and all purchases for the Allied armies are now on an equitable and cooperative basis. Indeed, it may be said that the work of this bureau has been thoroughly efficient and businesslike.
Our entry into the war found us with few of the auxiliaries necessary for its conduct in the modern sense. Among our most important deficiencies in material were artillery, aviation, and tanks. In order to meet our requirements as rapidly as possible, we accepted the offer of the French Government to provide us with the necessary artillery equipment of seventy-fives, one fifty-five millimeter howitzers, and one fifty-five G P F guns from their own factories for thirty divisions. The wisdom of this course is fully demonstrated by the fact that, although we soon began the manufacture of these classes of guns at home, there were no guns of the calibers mentioned manufactured in America on our front at the date the armistice was signed. The only guns of these types produced at home thus far received in France are 109 seventy-five millimeter guns.
[Sidenote: The first airplanes received from America.]
In aviation we were in the same situation, and here again the French Government came to our aid until our own aviation program should be under way. We obtained from the French the necessary planes for training our personnel, and they have provided us with a total of 2,676 pursuit, observation, and bombing planes. The first airplanes received from home arrived in May, and altogether we have received 1,379. The first American squadron completely equipped by American production, including airplanes, crossed the German lines on August 7, 1918. As to tanks, we were also compelled to rely upon the French. Here, however, we were less fortunate, for the reason that the French production could barely meet the requirements of their own armies.
[Sidenote: The attitude of the French Government liberal.]
It should be fully realized that the French Government has always taken a most liberal attitude and has been most anxious to give us every possible assistance in meeting our deficiencies in these as well as in other respects. Our dependence upon France for artillery, aviation, and tanks was, of course, due to the fact that our industries had not been exclusively devoted to military production. All credit is due our own manufacturers for their efforts to meet our requirements, as at the time the armistice was signed we were able to look forward to the early supply of practically all our necessities from our own factories.
[Sidenote: Responsibility for the welfare of the troops.]
[Sidenote: Welfare organizations and their valuable work.]
The welfare of the troops touches my responsibility as Commander in Chief to the mothers and fathers and kindred of the men who came to France in the impressionable period of youth. They could not have the privilege accorded European soldiers during their periods of leave of visiting their families and renewing their home ties. Fully realizing that the standard of conduct that should be established for them must have a permanent influence in their lives and on the character of their future citizenship, the Red Cross, the Young Men's Christian Association, Knights of Columbus, the Salvation Army, and the Jewish Welfare Board, as auxiliaries in this work, were encouraged in every possible way. The fact that our soldiers, in a land of different customs and language, have borne themselves in a manner in keeping with the cause for which they fought, is due not only to the efforts in their behalf but much more to other high ideals, their discipline, and their innate sense of self-respect. It should be recorded, however, that the members of these welfare societies have been untiring in their desire to be of real service to our officers and men. The patriotic devotion of these representative men and women has given a new significance to the Golden Rule, and we owe to them a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid.
[Sidenote: The Twenty-sixth fights at Seicheprey.]
During our periods of training in the trenches some of our divisions had engaged the enemy in local combats, the most important of which was Seicheprey by the Twenty-sixth on April 20, in the Toul sector, but none had participated in action as a unit. The First Division, which had passed through the preliminary stages of training, had gone to the trenches for its first period of instruction at the end of October and by March 21, when the German offensive in Picardy began, we had four divisions with experience in the trenches, all of which were equal to any demands of battle action. The crisis which this offensive developed was such that our occupation of an American sector must be postponed.
[Sidenote: Pershing offers forces to Foch.]
On March 28 I placed at the disposal of Marshal Foch, who had been agreed upon as Commander in Chief of the Allied Armies, all of our forces to be used as he might decide. At his request the first division was transferred from the Toul sector to a position in reserve at Chaumont en Vexin. As German superiority in numbers required prompt action, an agreement was reached at the Abbeville conference of the Allied premiers and commanders and myself on May 2 by which British shipping was to transport 10 American divisions to the British Army area, where they were to be trained and equipped, and additional British shipping was to be provided for as many divisions as possible for use elsewhere.
[Sidenote: The First takes Cantigny.]
[Sidenote: Fighting qualities demonstrated.]
On April 26 the First Division had gone into the line in the Montdidier salient on the Picardy battle front. Tactics had been suddenly revolutionized to those of open warfare, and our men, confident of the results of their training, were eager for the test. On the morning of May 28 this division attacked the commanding German position in its front, taking with splendid dash the town of Cantigny and all other objectives, which were organized and held steadfastly against vicious counterattacks and galling artillery fire. Although local, this brilliant action had an electrical effect, as it demonstrated our fighting qualities under extreme battle conditions, and also that the enemy's troops were not altogether invincible.
[Sidenote: The Third Division on the Marne.]
[Sidenote: The Second wins Bouresches and Belleau Wood.]
The Germans' Aisne offensive, which began on May 27, had advanced rapidly toward the River Marne and Paris, and the Allies faced a crisis equally as grave as that of the Picardy offensive in March. Again every available man was placed at Marshal Foch's disposal, and the Third Division, which had just come from its preliminary training in the trenches, was hurried to the Marne. Its motorized machine-gun battalion preceded the other units and successfully held the bridgehead at the Marne, opposite Chateau-Thierry. The Second Division, in reserve near Montdidier, was sent by motor trucks and other available transport to check the progress of the enemy toward Paris. The Division attacked and retook the town and railroad station at Bouresches and sturdily held its ground against the enemy's best guard divisions. In the battle of Belleau Wood, which followed, our men proved their superiority and gained a strong tactical position, with far greater loss to the enemy than to ourselves. On July 1, before the Second was relieved, it captured the village of Vaux with most splendid precision.
[Sidenote: Second Corps is organized.]
Meanwhile our Second Corps, under Major General George W. Read, had been organized for the command of our divisions with the British, which were held back in training areas or assigned to second-line defenses. Five of the ten divisions were withdrawn from the British area in June, three to relieve divisions in Lorraine and the Vosges and two to the Paris area to join the group of American divisions which stood between the city and any farther advance of the enemy in that direction.
[Sidenote: The Forty-second and the Twenty-eighth.]
[Sidenote: Brilliant work of the Third.]
The great June-July troop movement from the States was well under way, and, although these troops were to be given some preliminary training before being put into action, their very presence warranted the use of all the older divisions in the confidence that we did not lack reserves. Elements of the Forty-second Division were in the line east of Rheims against the German offensive of July 15, and held their ground unflinchingly. On the right flank of this offensive four companies of the Twenty-eighth Division were in position in face of the advancing waves of the German infantry. The Third Division was holding the bank of the Marne from the bend east of the mouth of the Surmelin to the west of Mezy, opposite Chateau-Thierry, where a large force of German infantry sought to force a passage under support of powerful artillery concentrations and under cover of smoke screens. A single regiment of the Third wrote one of the most brilliant pages in our military annals on this occasion. It prevented the crossing at certain points on its front while, on either flank, the Germans, who had gained a footing, pressed forward. Our men, firing in three directions, met the German attacks with counterattacks at critical points and succeeded in throwing two German divisions into complete confusion, capturing 600 prisoners.
[Sidenote: First and Second in the thrust toward Soissons.]
The great force of the German Chateau-Thierry offensive established the deep Marne salient, but the enemy was taking chances, and the vulnerability of this pocket to attack might be turned to his disadvantage. Seizing this opportunity to support my conviction, every division with any sort of training was made available for use in a counter-offensive. The place of honor in the thrust toward Soissons on July 18 was given to our First and Second Divisions in company with chosen French divisions. Without the usual brief warning of a preliminary bombardment, the massed French and American artillery, firing by the map, laid down its rolling barrage at dawn while the infantry began its charge. The tactical handling of our troops under these trying conditions was excellent throughout the action. The enemy brought up large numbers of reserves and made a stubborn defense both with machine guns and artillery, but through five days' fighting the First Division continued to advance until it had gained the heights above Soissons and captured the village of Berzy-le-Sec. The Second Division took Beau Repaire farm and Vierzy in a very rapid advance and reached a position in front of Tigny at the end of its second day. These two divisions captured 7,000 prisoners and over 100 pieces of artillery.
[Sidenote: The Twenty-sixth and the Third.]
The Twenty-sixth Division, which, with a French division, was under command of our First Corps, acted as a pivot of the movement toward Soissons. On the 18th it took the village of Torcy while the Third Division was crossing the Marne in pursuit of the retiring enemy. The Twenty-sixth attacked again on the 21st, and the enemy withdrew past the Chateau-Thierry-Soissons road. The Third Division, continuing its progress, took the heights of Mont St. Pere and the villages of Charteves and Jaulgonne in the face of both machine-gun and artillery fire.
[Sidenote: Germans fall back.]
[Sidenote: The Forty-second relieves the Twenty-sixth.]
[Sidenote: Third and Fourth Advance.]
On the 24th, after the Germans had fallen back from Trugney and Epieds, our Forty-second Division, which had been brought over from the Champagne, relieved the Twenty-sixth and, fighting its way through the Foret de Fere, overwhelmed the nest of machine guns in its path. By the 27th it had reached the Ourcq, whence the Third and Fourth Divisions were already advancing, while the French divisions with which we were cooperating were moving forward at other points.
[Sidenote: The Forty-second and Thirty-second.]
[Sidenote: The Twenty-eighth and the Seventy-seventh.]
The Third Division had made its advance into Roncheres Wood on the 29th and was relieved for rest by a brigade of the Thirty-second. The Forty-second and Thirty-second undertook the task of conquering the heights beyond Cierges, the Forty-second capturing Sergy and the Thirty-second capturing Hill 230, both American divisions joining in the pursuit of the enemy to the Vesle, and thus the operation of reducing the salient was finished. Meanwhile the Forty-second was relieved by the Fourth at Chery-Chartreuve, and the Thirty-second by the Twenty-eighth, while the Seventy-seventh Division took up a position on the Vesle. The operations of these divisions on the Vesle were under the Third Corps, Major General Robert L. Bullard, commanding.
[Sidenote: The First Army is organized.]
[Sidenote: The American sector is extended.]
With the reduction of the Marne salient we could look forward to the concentration of our divisions in our own zone. In view of the forthcoming operation against the St. Mihiel salient, which had long been planned as our first offensive action on a large scale, the First Army was organized on August 10 under my personal command. While American units had held different divisional and corps sectors along the western front, there had not been up to this time, for obvious reasons, a distinct American sector; but, in view of the important parts the American forces were now to play, it was necessary to take over a permanent portion of the line. Accordingly, on August 30, the line beginning at Port sur Seille, east of the Moselle and extending to the west through St. Mihiel, thence north to a point opposite Verdun, was placed under my command. The American sector was afterwards extended across the Meuse to the western edge of the Argonne Forest, and included the Second Colonial French, which held the point of the salient, and the Seventeenth French Corps, which occupied the heights above Verdun.
[Sidenote: Large troop movements.]
The preparation for a complicated operation against the formidable defenses in front of us included the assembling of divisions and of corps and army artillery, transport, aircraft, tanks, ambulances, the location of hospitals, and the molding together of all the elements of a great modern army with its own railheads, supplied directly by our Service of Supply. The concentration for this operation, which was to be a surprise, involved the movement, mostly at night, of approximately 600,000 troops, and required for its success the most careful attention to every detail.
[Sidenote: Heavy guns can reach Metz.]
The French were generous in giving us assistance in corps and army artillery, with its personnel, and we were confident from the start of our superiority over the enemy in guns of all calibers. Our heavy guns were able to reach Metz and to interfere seriously with German rail movements. The French Independent Air Force was placed under my command which, together with the British bombing squadrons and our air forces, gave us the largest assembly of aviation that had ever been engaged in one operation on the western front.
[Sidenote: The First Corps.]
[Sidenote: The Third Corps.]
[Sidenote: The Fifth Corps.]
From Les Eparges around the nose of the salient at St. Mihiel to the Moselle River the line was roughly 40 miles long and situated on commanding ground greatly strengthened by artificial defenses. Our First Corps (Eighty-second, Ninetieth, Fifth, and Second Divisions) under command of Major General Hunter Liggett, restrung its right on Pont-a-Mousson, with its left joining our Third Corps (the Eighty-ninth, Forty-second, and First Divisions), under Major General Joseph T. Dickman, in line to Xivray, were to swing in toward Vigneulles on the pivot of the Moselle River for the initial assault. From Xivray to Mouilly the Second Colonial French Corps was in line in the center and our Fifth Corps, under command of Major General George H. Cameron, with our Twenty-sixth Division and a French division at the western base of the salient, were to attack three difficult hills—Les Eparges, Combres, and Amaranthe. Our First Corps had in reserve the Seventy-eighth Division, our Fourth Corps the Third Division, and our First Army the Thirty-fifth and Ninety-first Divisions, with the Eightieth and Thirty-third available. It should be understood that our corps organizations are very elastic, and that we have at no time had permanent assignments of divisions to corps.
[Sidenote: The attack on St. Mihiel begins.]
[Sidenote: Breaking the barbed-wire defenses.]
After four hours' artillery preparation, the seven American divisions in the front line advanced at 5 a.m., on September 12, assisted by a limited number of tanks manned partly by Americans and partly by the French. These divisions, accompanied by groups of wire cutters and others armed with bangalore torpedoes, went through the successive bands of barbed wire that protected the enemy's front line and support trenches, in irresistible waves on schedule time, breaking down all defense of an enemy demoralized by the great volume of our artillery fire and our sudden approach out of the fog.
[Sidenote: The First Army takes the salient.]
[Sidenote: Many prisoners and guns taken.]
Our First Corps advanced to Thiaucourt, while our Fourth Corps curved back to the southwest through Nonsard. The Second Colonial French Corps made the slight advance required of it on very difficult ground, and the Fifth Corps took its three ridges and repulsed a counterattack. A rapid march brought reserve regiments of a Division of the Fifth Corps into Vigneulles in the early morning, where it linked up with patrols of our Fourth Corps, closing the salient and forming a new line west of Thiaucourt to Vigneulles, and beyond Fresnes-en-Woevre. At the cost of only 7,000 casualties, mostly light, we had taken 16,000 prisoners and 443 guns, a great quantity of material, released the inhabitants of many villages from enemy domination, and established our lines in a position to threaten Metz. This signal success of the American First Army in its first offensive was of prime importance. The Allies found they had a formidable army to aid them, and the enemy learned finally that he had one to reckon with.