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149ème batterie d'artillerie de campagne US - 1918
Texte en langue anglaise

Battery E in France
149th field artillery
Rainbow (42nd) Division
Frederic Richard Kilner
Ed. Chicago, 1919

Trench Warfare in Lorraine

Unloading at Gerberviller was far different from the easy job of loading at Guer. The night was black. On account of the proximity of the front, no lights could be used. Not a match's flare, not a cigarette's glow, was allowed, lest it serve as a target for some bombing aeroplane. There was no loading platform, and the carriages and wagons which had been rolled across ramps directly onto the flat cars had to be coaxed and guided down planks steeply inclined from the car's side to the ground. Handling the horses packed closely in box-cars was a difficult task in utter darkness.
Dawn was just breaking when the battery pulled out. A grey light showed us the ruins of the town of Gerberviller as we passed through. The houses stood like spectres, stripped of the life and semblance of home which they had held before the German wave had swept this far in August, 1914, and then, after a few days, had receded, leaving them ruins. Four walls, perhaps not so many, were all that remained of building after building ; windows were gone, roofs fallen, and inside were piles of brick and stone, in which, here and there, grass had found root.
At the village of Moyen the battery stopped long enough to water the horses. At 10:30 we arrived in Vathimenil, where the battery halted till 1 o'clock, and mess was served. In the afternoon in the dust and heat of a sunshiny day such as Lorraine can produce after a cold spring night, the battery hiked through St. Clermont to Luneville, the cannoneers following the carriages on foot.
There we were quartered in an old barrack of French lancers, whose former stables housed our horses. Big, clean rooms, on the third floor, were assigned to Battery E. With bed ticks filled with straw, we made this a comfortable home.
A practice review the following morning and another, the real thing, in the afternoon, before a French general and his staff, formally introduced us to Lorraine. In our free hours during the day and in the evening, we added to this acquaintance by pretty thorough familiarity with the city of Lunéville.
Though its nearness to the battle front restricted trade and industry a great deal, yet its shops, restaurants and cafes proved a paradise for the men who remained there at the horse-line, as the battery's song, "When We Were Down in Luneville," attests. Though the streets were absolutely dark, behind the shuttered windows and the darkened doors business was brisk enough. At 8 o'clock, however, all shops were closed, and soldiers must be off the streets by 8:30.
These restrictions were, in fact, precautions against enemy aeroplanes. Of these we had close enough experience on our third night in the city, when a bomb fell in the fields that lay back of the barracks, shaking the windows by its explosion.
The cannoneers did not stay long in Luneville. February 25 they marched out of the city with their packs on their backs, up near Marainviller. There were between forty and fifty men altogether, including the four gun crews and the engineers' detail. When we marched along a road screened from the enemy by a mat of boughs stretched by wires between high poles along one side of the way, we knew we were not far from the front. The big thrill came, however, when, turning off the high road, we went forward one squad at a time at intervals of about 200 yards. The chief object was to avoid attracting the notice of some chance enemy aeroplane by the movement of a considerable body of men. To our minds the precaution seemed for the purpose of limiting casualties, in case a shell burst on the road, to the men of only one squad.
But we took our way in peace up the hill in front of us, and carried up supplies and tools that followed on the ration cart. We put all in a big abri - a marvelous piece of work, of long passages, spacious rooms, wooden floors and stairways, electric lights, and flues for stove chimneys. Then we discovered that this was not for us, but for some brigadier-general and his staff when he directed an operation at the front. So we moved ourselves and baggage to another big abri not far away and not much less comfortable, except that it lacked the wooden floors, the electric lights, and the spaciousness of the rooms which the first abri possessed.
The next four days were spent in preparations for building a battery position. The spot chosen was in a hollow, back of a gently rising slope. The woods near by and the tall thickets made good concealment, but the ground was rather marshy in the wet weather we were then having. Part of the men began to dig, and part wove twigs through chicken wire to stretch over the excavations as camouflage. From 7 a. m. to 5 p. m. was a long arduous day, particularly since it was begun and ended by a hike of two miles from the dug-out to the position. Rain fell most of the time, soaking through slickers and blouses to one's very skin.
Two of the days the gunners, No. 1 and No. 2 men of each section spent at a French battery near by, to gain experience in actual firing. Little firing was done - only 24 rounds per gun one day and 15 rounds the second, for in this quiet sector there was little ordinarily but reprisal fire - but the men learned quickly the actual working of a battery. To the Frenchmen the quickness and the constant good-humor of the American boys, much younger than the average among them, were matters of comment. "Toujours chantant, toujours riant" (Always singing, always laughing), were the words of the lieutenant who fired the battery. The warm-hearted hospitality of these Frenchmen - resting in this sector from the fearful work, night and day, at Verdun and pardonable, one would say, if somewhat uneven-tempered and unmindful of others in their fatigue from that strain - impressed the Americans in turn. Every comfort that the dug-outs afforded was offered to the visitors, and when the Americans had, in an impromptu quartette, entertained the Frenchmen with harmonized popular songs, the latter summoned a young "chanteur" who sang the latest songs from Paris till his voice was weary.
Orders came to cease work on this position, and none too soon. For when the men were returning from work there for the last time, about 5 p. m., March 2, the woods in the vicinity were deluged with gas shells.
The following day the gun squads and engineers hiked to the town of Laneuveville-aux-Bois, about two kilometres away. There they had for billet a big room, formerly the police magistrate's office. The town contained only French soldiers billeted there en route to the trenches or return. So close to the lines was it, that shells fell there frequently.
Back of the town and to the left was the site of Battery E's first gun position. On the far side (from the enemy lines) of a gently sloping hill, covered by tall yellow grass, was staked out the four gun pits, with abris between. The first work was to construct the camouflage. This was composed of strips of chicken wire, in which long yellow grass was thinly woven so as to blend with that growing around the position. These strips were supported by wires stretched from tall stakes, forming the ridge, to short stakes, scarcely two feet above the ground, at either side. In shape, the result was something like a greenhouse. The angles were so graduated that no shadow was cast by the sun, and the color blended so well with the surroundings that no human trace was visible on the hillside from a distance.
As fast as the camouflage could be "woven" and put in place to shield them from observance by the enemy planes that whirred overhead in the bright afternoons, the gun pits were dug. Platforms and "circulaires" were installed as each pit was dug. The guns of the second platoon were brought from Luneville on the evening of March 7, and caissons of ammunitions followed during the night. The rapidity and excellence of the work on the position were partly due to the French officer, Captain Frey, whose battery was near, who gave his advice and counsel, and to the little sergeant, nicknamed "La Soupe" (the words with which he always signified his intention to depart for mess, for he acquired no English), who constantly supervised the work.
At 9 :50 a. m., March 8, Battery E fired its first shot at the front, the Third Section piece having the honor. The gun crew was composed of Sergeant Newell, Corporal Monroe, and Privates Sexauer, Ekberg, Farrell and Kilner. The crew working on the Fourth Section piece, which registered the same morning, included Sergeant Suter, Corporal Holton, and Privates O'Reilly, O'Brien, Ladd, Colvin and Kulicek.
Until the first platoon's guns came up, the gun crews of that platoon alternated on the pieces with the crews of the second platoon, who could sleep in the billet in town on their nights off. The men on the guns had two watches to keep, one at the guns, and one at the "rocket post" on top the hill, to notify the battery if a red rocket, the signal for a barrage, appeared at points laid out on a chart. At first there were two barrages, Embermenil and Jalindet, the names of two towns in whose direction the different fires lay. If the sentinel on the hill-top shouted either of these names, the sentinel at the position was to fire the guns and awake the crews. The names, unusual and difficult to ears unfamiliar with French, were not easy to remember. From that difficulty developed the "Allabala" barrage which made Mosier famous.
Seeing a rocket rise in the vicinity of Embermenil (whether white or red is a mystery), he started to shout the name, but in his excitement could not pronounce the French word, and stuttered forth a succession of syllables like some Arabian Nights' incantation. Whatever it was, "Allabala" or something else, it worked. The guns were fired - until an order from the O. P. called a halt, declaring the alarm false.
The First and Second Section pieces were brought from Luneville on the evening of March 15, and registered the next day. The First Section gun crew was composed of Sergeant Bolte, Corporal Fred Howe and Privates Nickoden, Freeburg, Hosier, Wallace and Hodgins ; the Second Section crew of Sergeant McElhone, Corporal Clark, Privates Donald Brigham, Heacham, Nixon and Herrod.
March 17, 1918, was remarkable not because it was Sunday or St. Patrick's day so much as because on that day Battery E's camouflage burnt. In the course of a 10- round reprisal fire, about 4 p. m., the flame from the muzzle of the Second Section gun set ablaze the grass woven in the wire netting overhead. In a second the covering was in flames. The dry grass burnt like tinder. The men beat the blaze with sand bags, but could check it but little in the face of the intense heat and thick smoke. By tearing off several strips of netting, they succeeded in preventing the fire's spreading to the other end of the position. Within a short space of time the first platoon's camouflage was changed from yellow grass to black ashes. The work of seven or eight days was undone in as many minutes.
On so clear and bright a day there was grave danger that the position would be betrayed to enemy observation by the flames, or by the black scar they had left, or even by the men's activity in repairing it. A few bursts of shrapnel gave warning of the danger. Immediately as much of the burnt surface as could be was covered with rolls of painted canvas on wire netting, such as the French artillery used.
Then all the men were set to gathering grass in the fields back of the position. Not long after, about fifty men from D and F batteries came over to help, and all the available men were brought out in the chariot du parc from the battery's horse-line at Luneville. So eagerly and rapidly did all of them work that the old netting was restretched and woven full of grass by midnight.
During the next two days the firing was small, only a few rounds occasionally. The chief work was digging the abris and carrying up beams and concrete blocks from the road for their construction.
On March 20 the battery was engaged in tearing down enemy barbed wire, firing 216 rounds per gun during the day, in preparation for an attack that night. At 7 :40 p. m. commenced the actual bombardment. A few minutes before that time 75's began to bark from the woods to our left and in the rear of us. The reports gradually grew in number. At the appointed moment, our guns began to bang away. For the next two hours and forty-five minutes, the noise was deafening. Batteries of whose existence we had not the slightest suspicion were firing near us. Every hillock and clump of trees seemed to blaze with gun flashes. Joined with the constant bark and bang of the 75's near by was the deep thunderous roar of heavier cannon in the distance.
At 10 o'clock the firing began to die away. Half an hour later only a few shots at long intervals could be heard. Fatigued with their strenuous and racking work, the men eagerly attacked the mess just then brought up to them. Nearly all were a little deaf from their guns' racket. A few, on the gun crews, were totally oblivious to all sound whatsoever, and could comprehend only signs.
The first published account of an engagement of the 42d Division was brief and anonymous. In the Paris edition of the "New York Herald" of March 22, 1918, at the end of a column on the first page telling of the decoration of Corporal Alexander Burns and other members of the regiment appeared this paragraph, under date of March 21 :
"Members of the American force made a raid last night. Following a long barrage, the boys went over in good shape, but the German trenches were deserted, the long heavy Allied barrage having driven every one out. No American was hurt or killed."
The enemy's reply to us did not come till the next morning. Roused at 4 to stand by the guns, the cannoneers had scarcely occupied their posts when shells began to drop dangerously near. Captain Robbins ordered everyone into the abris till the shelling ceased. Half an hour later we went out to find that a gas shell had made the officers' abri and vicinity untenable, all our telephone wires were cut, and shell fragments had torn up things here and there. How Nickoden fared, who had been out at the rocket post on the hill-top during it all, we learned when he was relieved shortly after. Hearing not a sound, he was aware that shells were falling near only when he saw them plow up the ground within a few hundred feet of him. Corporal Buckley was wounded by a shell fragment and Private McCarthy was badly gassed that morning, in the machine-gun post at the top of the hill.
Private (later Corporal) Mangan was recommended for the D. S. C. by the regimental commander "for volunteering to and aiding the French in keeping open a telephone line running from a forward observation station across the open to the rear. This on March 19 and again on March 20, when the telephone line was repeatedly cut by an intense enemy bombardment of heavy caliber shells from both guns and trench mortars." The French cited Mangan for the Croix de Guerre for his conduct on this occasion also.
Orders to move came that day. A few more shells landed within a few yards of the position in the afternoon, and one end of Laneuveville-aux-Bois received considerable shrapnel. But we pulled out safely that evening, reaching Lunéville at midnight.
Two days later the regiment left Lunéville on a 120-kilometre hike to the divisional area, in the vicinity of Langres, where the division was to spend some time in manoeuvres. But the orders were countermanded before the regiment had gone more than its first day's hike, on account of the Germans' success in their first big offensive of the spring on the northern front.
So the battery remained for a week at Remenoville, in readiness to return to the front upon the receipt of orders. During those seven days of sunshiny weather, in the bright warmth of early spring, the men basked in ease and comfort. Gun drill for the cannoneers and grooming for the drivers occupied the mornings. The afternoons the men had to themselves, for games of horseshoes, writing letters to make up for lost time at the front, baths in the cold brook, and washing clothes in the village fountain. Eggs and potatoes and milk were abundant in the town - until the battery's consumption depleted the supply - and the men ate as often in some French kitchen as in their battery mess line. Some boys "slipped one over on the army," too, by sleeping between white sheets in soft big beds, renting a room for the munificent sum of one franc a day, instead of rolling up in their blankets in the haymow where they were billeted.
The following Saturday, the battery hiked to Fontenoy-la-Joute, on its way back to the front. Easter Sunday, March 31, was spent there, the band playing in front of the "mairie," on the steps of which the chaplain held the church services. Rain fell intermittently in a depressing drizzle. Pulling out in the afternoon, the battery reached the spot they since call "Easter Hill," where some French batteries had their horse-lines. There the battery had its evening mess - stew - and while waiting for orders to move on, the men slept wherever there was shelter and dryness - on sacks full of harness, in caisson boxes, under tarpaulins stretched over the pieces. At 1 a. m. the guns pulled out, arriving in position as day was breaking.
Sergeant Bolte had gone to officers' school at Saumur from Remenoville, and Sergeant Landrus took charge of the First Section in his place. At Fontenoy, Sergeant Newell was sent to the hospital with acute bronchitis ; so Sergeant Wright went to the front in charge of the Third Section. Sergeant Newell did not return to the battery, but went from the hospital to Saumur, returning later to the regiment as a second lieutenant in Battery F, after serving a while in the 32d Division.
The new positions were near Montigny, the first platoon to the left of the town, the second platoon just in back of it. Both were abandoned French positions, but much different in construction ; 163, the first platoon's position, was constructed well underground. Only the embrasures through which the guns fired were exposed to the enemy's fire. On the other hand, 162, the position of the second platoon, was covered only by camouflage, with the exception of the abris, of course. An 8-foot trench, instead of a tunnel, connected the abris and gun emplacements, and the position was much lighter and dryer than 163. But the solid construction of the latter was of fortunate advantage when the enemy directed its fire on it for several hours continuously on two occasions.
After one night on "Easter Hill," the horse-lines moved, with a stop next night at Azerailles, to the Ferme de Grammont, between Merviller and Baccarat. The Second Battalion occupied old French stables, which long use had made veritable mudholes. Piles of ooze and "gumbo" had been dug out and these were constantly added to, but still the mire was so bad that it was fatal to loose rubber boots. Grooming seemed a hopeless task, so far as looks were concerned.
This was the first time a divisional sector was taken over completely by American forces. The French were sending all their available troops to the northern part of the front, where one big enemy offensive followed another. So, as a matter of fact, this section of the front was very lightly defended. But the spirit of the American soldiers, who took this light task as seriously and as determinedly as they did far heavier and more vital ones later on, made up for lack of numbers, and the enemy was worsted in every encounter. The discipline and care that was the rule in this comparatively easy work during the three and a half months in Lorraine formed the basis of the division's splendid record in the big battles of later months, and was the chief reason why the division, though engaged in all the major operations of the American army, and, in addition, at the vital point of General Gouraud's army in Champagne, in the biggest battle of the war, spending a greater number of days at the front than any other division, has not so big a casualty list as some other divisions.
Since both positions occupied by the platoons were known to the enemy, and our only safety lay in maintaining his belief that they were abandoned, no one was allowed to enter or leave them during the daytime. At first so rigid was this rule that we could not even go to Montigny for meals. Instead, the raw rations were divided among the sections, and the men cooked them as best they could in their mess kits over the little stoves that were in each abri. But cooking could only be done at night, lest the smoke betray us. So seven or eight hungry men, having eaten hard-tack and a little cold food during the day, crowded around the little stove from nightfall till early morning, doing their unskilled best to make something edible out of hardtack, canned corned beef, canned tomatoes, potatoes, a slab of bacon, coffee, some sugar, and occasionally some beef cut up into small slices or cubes. The result was that the men got neither much sleep nor much nourishment, and after about ten days of this sort of living, the meals were cooked in the kitchen at Montigny and then carried in heat-containing cans to the positions.
Even when conditions were thus bettered, there were still heavy inroads on sleep by the large amount of sentry duty required. In a clump of bushes at the top of the mound in which was dug the position, was placed an indicator board, similar to that at Laneuveville-aux-Bois, on which were marked several barrages. From 6 p. m. to 6 a. m., a sentry stood at this post watching the horizon for red rockets signaling for a barrage. In addition, one man, and sometimes two men, had to be on watch in each gun pit, ready to fire a barrage the instant it was called for. For a time this required four hours' watch every night for each man. Later this was reduced to two, or at most three hours a night.
April 6 Battery E commenced work on a new position halfway on the road from Montigny to Reherrey. Under the direction of a camouflage non-com. from the engineers, wires were stretched on top of stakes, forming a frame not unlike that of a greenhouse roof, which was covered by slashed burlap on a backing of chicken netting, a species of camouflage manufactured by the French by the millions of square yards. It hid whatever was beneath it, and cast no shadows, and blended in tone with the grassy fields around. When the camouflage was up, a trench eight feet deep was dug the length of the position. From it saps were started downward and forward from the trench. These carried the work into solid rock, necessitating drilling and blasting every foot of the way. At the same time the gun pits and ammunition shelters were begun. Work was slow because of the hardness of the rock, and the available men were few. After staying a few days in Reherrey, the squad of engineers had moved to Montigny. There, in billet No. 19, they and the extra cannoneers, sent up later from the horse-lines, lodged. To speed the work, some of the gun crews came from the positions each day. After several weeks, drivers were sent from the horse-lines to exchange places with some of the cannoneers. A well designed wooden tablet, the work of Nixon, was placed at the entrance to the position, reading:
BATTERY E, 149th F. A.
A. D. 1918
The gun pits were rushed to completion in the last days of April, so that they might be occupied by the guns of Battery D in an attack that came May 3. In the preceding days the French had moved up heavy artillery in support, and several batteries of 75's, of the same 232d French regiment which had been our neighbors in the Luneville sector, occupied the meadows to the left of our new position.
Our firing had been only occasional and limited to brief reprisals up to this time. The first platoon, at 163, had suffered most in reply, receiving over 400 shells one day. Now a heavy bombardment was planned, to push back the enemy lines a short way and safeguard our own occupation of "No Man's Land." On May 2, some of the batteries kept pounding away all day, cutting barbed wire entanglements and clearing away obstacles in the infantry's advance.
The following morning we were aroused at 3, and stood by the guns. At 3 :50 we added our fire to the din around US, sending over a barrage in front of the troops going over the top. It lasted only two hours, and expended about 175 rounds per gun. So thorough and heavy had been the preliminary bombardment that the enemy had been forced to withdraw all his troops from the shelled area, and the infantry met with next to no resistance in reaching the objective set for them.
May 13 the officers and sergeants went to Azerailles to inspect Battery B equipped and packed in the manner of a battery on the road prepared for open field warfare. Rumors had been plentiful for weeks (1) that the 42d Division was going home to become instructors of the millions of drafted men in the great camps in the United States, (2) that the 42d Division was going to the Somme to aid in checking the rapid drive of the enemy in the north, (3) that the division was to go to a rest camp in the south of France, (4) that the regiment was to turn in its horses and be motorized, etc., etc. The review at Azerailles strengthened some of these rumors and stirred up still others. But, for the present, all these reports came to naught.
May 21 the battery moved four kilometres back to a reserve position just in front of Merviller, which had formerly been occupied by Battery B. The latter moved up to relieve us. After the seven weeks of close confinement in damp abris, the change to the life at the Merviller position was like a trip to a summer resort. Being so far back of the lines, the men were permitted to move about with perfect freedom. The stream just back of the position invited cool swims on the hot dusty afternoons. Ball games passed the time of waiting for mess. Battery E won a close game and keg of Baccarat beer from Headquarters Company by the score of 12 to 11. Just across the road was stationed a bathhouse and laundry unit, and before long the battery had replaced their uniforms, torn and dirty from digging, with more presentable ones.
Merviller's cafes and "epiceries" furnished food to make up for the lean weeks at Montigny. Being only a few minutes' walk from the position, the town was a frequent evening's resort. Baccarat, about eight kilometres farther, was visited when Sunday passes permitted. This city was not so large as Lunéville and held by no means the same attractions as that early favorite of the 149th men. But the shops. cafes, large hospitals, the celebrated Baccarat Glass Works, and the fact that it was a city drew the men there often. Across the Meurthe River, between the cathedral and the heights at the western edge of town lay the ruins of a large section of the city, shelled in those days of August, 1914, that marked the limits of the Germans' first onrush.
Work had been dropped, after a couple of days, on the position begun by Battery B some distance in front of the one we occupied. Gun drill and instruction in various phases of the battery's work was the sole occupation of the men. Only once did the battery fire. At 1 :30 a. m., June 5, the gun crews were hurriedly aroused, and fired for about an hour, in response to a heavy enemy barrage, to which all guns in the sector replied.
Gas alarms woke the battery many times at night, but by this time the men had reached that stage where their own judgment told them when they should sit up with their gas masks, and when they might turn over and go to sleep. In brief, the alarms, though frequent, bothered them little.
June 9 the first two sections took two Battery D guns up in front of our forward positions, to demonstrate for the officers of the regiment the methods of open field warfare. All of the men learned to put up the "flat-tops" that were always, after we left Lorraine, used as camouflage over the guns. From four corner poles, held firmly by ropes and stakes, heavy ropes were stretched as taut as possible. On this framework was spread a cord netting, about thirty feet square, whose corners slanted out equidistant from the corner poles. On the netting were fastened wisps of green burlap thick enough to conceal what lay beneath it, but not so thick as to cast a heavy shadow which might be distinguished in an aerial photograph. This form of camouflage could be set up and taken down quickly, and used repeatedly.
During the latter part of our stay near Merviller, the peculiar sickness called "trench fever" ran through the regiment, thinning the ranks of the men fit for active duty and sending many to the hospital for a few days. After a few days of fever, languidness and weakness, the illness passed away.
June 19 the first platoon pulled out, and the second platoon followed on the next night, hiking 27 kilometres to Damas-aux-Bois. After two days there, the regiment marched to Charmes, where we entrained for a short train ride to Chalons-sur-Marne. By noon next day the battery was in comfortable billets in Chepy, which, to us, is the cleanest village in France, for no manure piles decorate its main street and no dirty gutters line its roads.
Swimming in the canal near by, French "movies" at the Foyer du Soldat, plenty of food - vegetables were abundant, and so were cheese, butter and milk till the hungry soldiers bought out the creamery completely - made this a delightful place, in spite of the boredom of "trigger squeeze exercise" and overlong "stables" in the heat of the day.
On the night of June 28 the regiment marched up through Chalons to Camp de la Carriere, a large concentration camp in the midst of woods, away from any towns, the nearest of which was the little village of Cuperly. We were in the great area known as the Camp de Chalons, where Mac Mahon had mobilized his army of 50,000 men in 1870, which ended so unhappily at Sedan.
Sunday, June 30, one year since the regiment had been called out, there was a rigid inspection in the morning, and in the afternoon Colonel Reilly and Major Redden spoke on the work of the regiment in that time, and announced that the 42d was now to go into a new sector as a combat division.


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