AfriGeneas Military Research Forum Archive
Action of 371st Inf. Sept. 1918
NOTE: This document is transcribed from a photocopy of typewritten tissue paper. It was apparently written by Major Joseph B. Pate, Commanding 1st Battalion, 371st Infantry. I will try to spell each word as it is spelled in the original. Since I know little French, I have no way of knowing if Maj. Pate's spelling is correct. I DO know that the word "COTE" means "hill" in French.
THE CAPTURE OF COTE 188.
MAP: French topographical battle map, Systéme Lambert; Scale 1:20,000; CERNAY - EN - DORMOIS quadrangle, 12 September 1918.
Without relating something of what transpired prior to the attack on COTE 188, it would be almost impossible to appreciate the condition obtaining in the 1st Battalion when this attack was launched.
The Infantry of the 157th French Division consisted of the following regiments; 333d French, 371st American and 372nd American. After almost four months of service in defensive sectors of the Fourth French Army area and with different Corps of that Army, the division was withdrawn from the front line trenches about the middle of September in order to enjoy, as we understood, a well earned rest and for this purpose we were moved by trucks to an area about 65 kilometers to the rear; but the long-looked-for rest proved to be a very intensive five-day period of offensive training.
After four long night marches, followed each day by field exercises executed by individual battalions, our division reached the rear portion of the area occupied by the IX French Army Corps and during the night 24-25 September the 371st Infantry went into the SOMME - BIONNE area, about 14 kilometers in rear of the front line
(Page 2) trenches.
Following a most unusually thorough artillery preparation, which began at 23 o' clock (11:00 P.M.), 25 September, the 2d Moroccan and 161st French Divisions had driven the Germans back on to their reserve battle positions where they were making a very determined resistance. Communications with the front line battalions of our Corps had generally broken down and little or no accurate information was available as to the exact location of these battalions, but they were believed to be engages along the general line BELLEVUE - OLD MILL north of GRATREUIL.
On 26 September the General Commanding the IX Army Corps ordered the 157th Division to the front to exploit the success of the two leading divisions. Pursuant to these orders we marched 14 kilometers during the night 26 - 27 September and before daylight reached a sheltered position in the vicinity of BEAUSEJOUR FARM, just in rear of the original front line trenches of our Corps.
On 27 September our Division Commander ordered forward the Infantry regiments in column and in the order: 371st American, 372nd American, 333d French, along the axis: BUTTE du MESNIL - RIPONT - BUSSY FARM - LES PETITS ROSIERES, and with instructions to continue along the axis indicated until contact was gained with
(Page 3) the enemy. The 372nd Infantry was to be assembled north of RIPONT during the night 27 - 28 September and was destined to attack on the same line as the 371st Infantry. The Laure Battalion of the 333d French regiment was to support the attacks of the two American regiments engaged and the remainder of the 333d regiment was held in division reserve.
At 13 o'clock (1:00 P.M.) the 371st Infantry marched from the vicinity of BEAUSEJOUR FERME in column of battalions in the order 1st, 3rd, 2d Battalions. The march was covered by patrols to the front and flanks and the 1st Battalion, composed of B, C, D and Machine Gun companies, was assigned the special mission of sending reconnaissance patrols to the battle line to ascertain the enemy situation. The 1st Battalion marched in approach formation with two rifle companies in the front line covering a frontage of about 500 meters and the other rifle company and the Machine Gun Company, also in approach formation, following in rear at about 500 meters distance.
When the front line of the 1st Battalion had reached a point about 500 meters north of BUTTE du MESNIL (278.3 -272.1), the regiment was halted and remained in that position until 17:30 o'clock (5:30 P.M.), when the Division Infantry Commander came up to where Colonel Miles and I were standing together and said, "There is a gap in our front lines between 161st French Division on our
(Page 4) right and the 2d Moroccan Division on our left. The 371st Infantry will fill in that gap." Colonel Miles turned to me and said, "The 1st Battalion will fill in that gap; move out immediately."
I immediately sent out a patrol of two commissioned and three non-commissioned officers with instructions to proceed to the front as rapidly as possible along our present axis of advance and to locate either the left flank of the 161st French Division on our right or the right flank of the 2d Moroccan Division on our left, and informed them that the battalion would follow them over the same route. The 1st Battalion then moved out followed by the 3rd and 2d Battalions and by 21 o'clock (9:00 P.M.) we had crossed the DORMOISE RIVER just west of RIPONT and halted near the top of the hill (278.65 - 274.4) about 800 meters northwest of RIPONT. Ut to this time nothing had been heard from the patrol sent out at 17:30 o'clock (5:30 P.M.) and I sent out a second patrol of the same strength and composition as the first and with the same mission. The Battalion again took up the march and at about 24 o'clock (12:00 midnight) reached the unimproved road running almost east and west along the ridge through crossroads at (279.00 - 275.15) and crossroads at (279.55 - 274.95) 1500 meters north of RIPONT. We found this hill being swept by machine gun fire and I halted the battalion just in rear of the crest. Within a few minutes I received instructions to report to
(Page5) the Regimental Commander, who was then at a point (279.3 - 274.7) about 700 meters north of RIPONT, and at this time the regimental attack orders were issued to assembled battalion commanders.
While back at the regimental command post my second patrol reported to me that they had been unable to accomplish anything. It was now almost one o'clock (1:00 A.M.) 28 September, I turned over the command of the battalion to Captain Wharton, the senior company commander, and instructed him to get the battalion across the road connecting GRATREUIL and FONTAINE-en-DORMOIS and under cover of the steep slope at that point before daylight and that unless I returned before 6 o'clock (6:00 A.M.) to consider me a casualty. I then went forward on reconnaissance with a French adjutant, Jaques Colledeboeuf, who was attached to the 1st Battalion as interpreter. We continued in the same general direction the Battalion had been following until we ran into a German outpost at a point about 700
(Page 6) meters southeast of GRATREUIL (279.55 - 276.1). From that point we changed direction to the east and continued in front of the German lines to a point 1900 meters southeast of GRATEUIL near crossroads at (280.8 - 275.9) where we found three French soldiers on outpost, who directed us to their battalion command post, which we found about 500 meters further to the southeast, somewhere near the point (281.05 - 275.5). Fro this battalion commander we learned that his battalion was on the left of the 161st French Division and he gave us his estimate of the situation which confronted us. He said that COTE 188 had been very strongly held, but that the Germans were withdrawing and he doubted if we would find the position occupied at all. We then moved along the improved road leading to GRATREUIL and found our battalion in the vicinity of the road junction at (279.35 - 275.55) and crossroads (279.3 - 275.7), about 900 meters southeast of GRATREUIL. This was about 5:45 o'clock and the fog was quite dense in the valleys. The company commanders were assembled in a nearby dugout where I explained the situation with the aid of a battle map and issued verbal attack orders. While the officers were still in the dugout a German feldwebel (a high ranking non-commissioned officer) was brought in and said he had 35 men with him who wished to surrender, as they had been left to defend the hill and did not care to risk their
(Page 7) lives any longer in a lost cause. This information, coupled with the opinion expressed by the French battalion commander, led me to believe that we had a very easy task before us and I so informed my company commanders.
The 1st Battalion formed for the attack of COTE 188 on a front of about 500 meters along the unimproved road running southeast from GRATREUIL through crossroads at (279.6 - 275.95) to road junction at (279.97 - 275.45).
Direction of the attack: N 50 E along unimproved road running through crossroads at (279.6 - 275.95) and crossroads at (280.25 - 267.47).
Formation: "C" Company on the left astride unimproved road running generally N 50 E and marking direction of attack, "B" Company on the right and "D" Company in reserve in the draw about 200 meters to the right rear of "B" Company. One platoon of Machine Gun Company was attached to each rifle company.
The attack was launched at 6:45 o'clock, which was H hour as announced by the Division. The assault platoons of "C" Company moved out as skirmishers. "B" and "D" Companies moved in section columns, as they were not only somewhat echeloned in the rear of "C" Company, but were not exposed to enemy rifle and machine
(Page gun fire due to the rather abrupt slope of the ground to the right of "C" Company. At a point about 300 yards in front of the trench "de la Cote 188", the left platoon of "C" Company (Lieut. Ramsay Commanding) was forced to cut its way through two very heavy systems of wire, which was being accomplished under cover of fire delivered by the rest of the platoon and in the face of some fire from the defenders within the trench. During this time the right platoon of this company (Lieut. Bryson Commanding) was kept pinned to the ground by enemy fire. Within a few minutes the Germans ceased firing and began climbing up on to the parapet of the trench and holding up their arms as if wishing to surrender. Our Platoon Commanders ordered their men to cease firing as the Bosches were surrendering. Our men promptly ceased firing and the battalion again started forward and when within about 100 meters of the trench someone within blew a whistle and the Germans who had been standing up on the parapet immediately jumped back into their trenches and "C" Company was greeted with interlocking bands of machine gun fire and minenwerfer fire covered the defiladed areas. The leading platoons of "C" Company were almost annihilated, including both platoon commanders (Lieutenants Bryson and Ramsay) wounded.
This was a genuine surprise to all of us and the battalion was flat upon its face without waiting
(Page 9) for orders.
When the Bosches sprang their "Kamarad" trap, those of the first wave of "C" Company who were not knocked down by the fire rushed forward to close with the enemy in his trenches, but upon reaching the first trench which was parallel to the first trench and only 30 or 40 meters in rear of it. The small group of men who reached the trench could neither go forward nor backward and were so close to their opponents that we were denied the support of our artillery at the time when we in the greatest need of it.
Before launching the attack a detachment of French machine gunners, apparently a platoon, were noticed in position on our immediate left in the boyeau which runs generally parallel to the left of our line of departure and about 150 meters to the front thereof. As soon as the Bosches played their "Kamarad" trick on us the French machine gunners withdrew and left for parts unknown, thus exposing our left flank and the Germans immediately took full advantage of the abandoned position and occupied it themselves. I was unable to ascertain where the French detachment came from, as we had not established liaison with them, although I understood that they were the right element of the division on our left.
Our predicament was far from pleasant and called for a new estimate of the situation and additional reconnaissance before new plans could be formulated. However, a decision was finally reached which required "D" Company to move to the rear by crawling part of the way until under cover of the hills in rear of us and then via the road leading to the northwest in the direction of GRATREUIL and from this road by infiltration into a position on the left of "C" Company and somewhat to the east of the positions earlier abandoned by the French machine gun detachment. Lieut. James A. Boswell, commanding "D" Company, preceded his company into position in order to make personal reconnaissance and while on this mission was killed by a German sniper, after which Lieut. Marcus B. Boulware took command and let the company through the attack. In spite of the difficult and hazardous nature of this movement, over a distance of more than 2000 meters, it was executed with little more than one hour and with only three casualties, including Lieut. Boswell - a splendid tribute to the discipline and training of the men and the efficiency of the platoon leaders. When all was in readiness a coordinated attack was launched on rocket signal at about 11:30 o'clock in which "B" Company drove almost due north and "D" Company almost due east, thus simultaneously enveloping both flanks of the enemy position. This double envelopment enabled us to promptly enfilade all enemy machine gun positions and
(Page 11) soon silence the guns. When the assaulting companies were within about 150 meters of the enemy main line of resistance many of the defenders began to run away in the direction of BUSSY FARM, during which time our men took full advantage of the excellent targets afforded by the retreating Germans and thus killed a large number of them. Those who stood their ground fought desperately and some of these were finally despatched with the bayonet. The final phase of this assault was extremely gruesome as our men could not be restrained from wreaking their vengeance upon the enemy who had so shamefully entrapped their comrades earlier that morning.
We were now in full possession of COTE 188, the famous Hindenburg line had been broken and the enemy had withdrawn to the SECHAULT - ARDEUIL line, about 2 kilometers to the north of us.
We found 7 machine guns, 5 minenwerfers (trench mortars), a number of rifles, and 3 antitank guns in this position and just in rear of it a very neat row of infantry packs and rifles, which we presumed had been left there by the feldwebel and his 35 men who surrendered to us at the foot of the hill shortly after 6 o'clock that morning. The remnants of the battalion were reorganized and dug in for the night along the unimproved road running east and west through crossroads at (279.45 - 276.8) and road junction at (280.52 - 276.75 and about 600 meters
(Page 12) south of BUSSY FARM.
In this engagement our casualties in officers were:
The casualties among the enlisted men were very heavy indeed, but I keenly regret that I am unable to furnish accurate data regarding these losses, but estimate our losses in men as something near 40% of the total number engaged.
Our total casualties during the period September 28 -30 inclusive were 12 commissioned officers and 403 enlisted men. The casualties in officers, not mentioned above, were:
I do not know the strength of the Germans who defended COTE 188 on the morning of 28 September, but estimate their number at one machine gun company, one rifle company (less the detachment of 36 that surrendered to us befor the
(Page 13) attack was launched), a minenwerfer detachment and a detachment of antitank gunners. No acurate count was made of the enemy dead left on the field, but the number is estimated at between 50 and 60, including two officers. Six more prisoners were taken here, all of whom were badly wounded.
The heavy losses suffered by our 1st Battalion on 28 September were by no means the only damage wrought by the defenders of COTE 188. Troops from either the 2d Moroccan Division or 161st Division, or both, attacked this position on 27 September and left scores of their dead upon the field. It is presumed that the failure of the original attack of COTE 188 and the consequent withdrawl of the troops making this attack, produced the gap between the two divisions which we were directed to fill - I have not been able to verify the details of the first attack against this hill.
During the morning of September 28th the 1st Battalion was operating alone against COTE 188 after the withdrawal of the French machine gun detachment from out left, but during the afternoon a battalion of the 372d American Infantry came up on our right and thereby greatly simplified our final task of reorganizing the position for night defense.
After dark our 3d Battalion came up and went into position about 700 meters to our left front and
(Page 14) established an outpost line from BUSSY FARM on the right to a point about 1500 meters to the west thereof and from which line the attack was renewed on 29 September by the 3d. Battalion.
It would take too much space for me to attempt to cover the many individual acts of gallantry performed by members of my command dureing the operation against COTE 188, and, were I to attempt an enumeration of these brave deeds, I know that many of the most important ones would have to be omitted as the witnesses either made the supreme sacrifice themselves or were too modest to report what they did. Many of these brave men received recognition, but I believe that equally as many more deserving ones were not mentioned in orders.