By Major Single List
At 6 p.m. I was at Colonel R.’s headquarters, and we promptly went to work. Colonel R. was very anxious to see that I understood everything. This was the first time that I had seen the Colonel since my return from a course with G-5. I had always been impressed with the fact that the Colonel was a thorough student of the art of war, and my recent duty with the G-5 had shown me that he was much better than most of the other officers with whom I had become acquainted. However, I was again impressed with his thoroughness. He called my attention to several things, asked many questions, and brought out the lessons which are already listed as having been learned. Especially did Colonel R. tell me to be careful to put all of my assisting troops to the use for which they were best fitted.
Finally, we went carefully over the minutes as shown by the artillery barrage lines, and I figured out just exactly the minute that the artillery would stop and start again at hill 442 and its north and south ridge. Although I was not in the artillery, I had always been impressed with those beautifully exact parallel lines which they always drew just 1oo yards apart showing that the artillery barrage moved at the rate of 100 yards in 4 minutes.
At 6.30 a.m. the artillery would stop on hill 442 and its north and south ridge; at 6.50 a.m. it would go forward again. This gave me 20 minutes to get ready to go forward with the barrage. It was all beautiful and impressive. This time I questioned Colonel R. carefully as to just what was expected of my battalion; and he told me that he expected that I would take the bluff (hills 462 and 463) some 1,500 yards west of Booby’s Creek, that the barrage would then cease as shown by the fact that the beautiful parallel lines stopped there, and that I would then hold that position and exploit my success in so far as was possible in view of the condition of my battalion and of the comparative successes of the troops on my right and left.
Colonel R. also said I might expect the 2d Battalion to be close up behind me at that time; that it would have orders to do what he (Colonel R.) thought best in view of the existing situation as shown by my reports—but to be sure to send him reports.
I returned to my farmhouse as in the other solutions, questioned Lieutenant Bright about the information concerning the enemy, and received the same reply as before, viz., that the reports were very indefinite and that he could only say that it appeared that there was no enemy east of Booby’s Creek. This information was not enough. I sent orders to the companies to send out patrols and bring back the desired information by 10 p.m. This was done, and I may state here that the information received was to the effect that there was surely no enemy east of Booby’s Creek, but there were many Reds and some machine guns in the woods south of the bend. There was a Red line of sentinels on the west side of Booby’s Creek and no patrol had been able to penetrate that line to determine whether it camouflaged a line of trenches or whether it was simply an outpost some thousand or more yards in front of their main line of resistance.
All of this information was received by 10 p.m., at which time the captains and the officers of special assisting troops were present in accordance with orders as issued in the Fourth Solution. This time, I knew a little more about the uses of the special assisting troops, and made my dispositions somewhat differently, but generally in accordance with a plan which pleased them:
The whole plan was gone over very carefully, and I explained to all that we had no limited objective, that we would follow the barrage to the bluff (hill 462-hill 463), where the barrage would cease. But that did not mean that we would stop. Our further actions at that time would depend on our condition and on the relative successes of the troops to our right and left.
After everyone had gone over the whole plan and had asked all possible questions, I dismissed them, and went to sleep confident that we would the next day take the position and enforce our will upon the enemy.
At 3.30 a.m., the signal corps man on duty waked us all up, and we went out on the field. I had previously decided that I would view the battle from hill 441, where the machine guns were located, and during the night the signal detachment has installed a telephone on the eastern slope. Also, some of the engineers had built me a small command post, nothing but a hole in the ground with a raised parapet carefully camouflaged, but so arranged that I could sweep the whole front with my field glasses. Everything was ready for the jump-off.
At 4.30 the barrage started, and off we went. As before, the enemy’s counter-barrage came down, but my men knew how to get by it, so there were very few casualties. Company D, aided by the smoke of the Stokes mortars, made short work of cleaning out the machine guns in the woods south of the bend in Booby’s Creek, with very little loss to itself.
It was a small job when properly handled, because there were only four machine guns in the woods. It was really only a small outpost.
Companies B and C followed the barrage with very little loss, and when the barrage halted for its 20 minutes on the north and south ridge through hill 442, Companies B and C in the creek bottom and Company D on hill 443 reformed and prepared for the farther advance. So far, everything had gone beautifully, and I sent a message back to Colonel R. to the effect that we were right up with the barrage, had just crossed the creek, and would go forward in fine shape; few losses so far.
Nothing had gone wrong, but I could not help feeling that this artillery barrage had been wasted so far. Every one knew that there was no enemy of any importance east of the creek; yet this barrage had wasted thousands of rounds of ammunition before we had reached the enemy front line of resistance.
I suppose that the man who drew those beautiful straight lines had started on the right some miles to the north where the enemy front line was north of hill 442, and had just drawn his beautiful straight line due north and south, and then made the others parallel to it. I began to feel an aversion for beautiful straight lines, and in fact for parallel lines of any kind and for barrage lines in particular. I knew that I would soon want all of that ammunition which had been thrown into the straight line spaces; and I could see no reason why the barrage should put just as much ammunition on an unoccupied field as it did on an enemy front line.
I would have much preferred that at least 99 per cent of this ammunition had been thrown on the enemy’s lines which we were soon to tackle and which so far had not received a single shot.
It appeared evident to me that I should move my command post to hill 443, as from that hill I could see the Red position some 1,000 yards to the west. Preferably, I would have placed my new command post on hill 442, but unfortunately it was included in these beautiful parallel barrage lines and I was barred from it for twenty minutes; so I had to go to hill 433 which was nearly as good. I told the signal corps man to put a telephone as quickly as possible on hill 443 for me. Then, after telling Lieutenant Swift to take charge of the command post until the new telephone was established, I took two of the signalmen with their flags and heliograph forward to hill 443.
By quick running, I got there with some 5 minutes to spare before the barrage would start again. I saw Captain D. on the hill top, his company being just east of the ridge, where the enemy could not see it. He pointed out to me the general line of the Red trenches and he showed positions where he supposed there were machine guns. This was rendered more probable because he had seen sudden spurts of dust followed by the rat-tat-tat of machine gun fire.
Off to the south we could see the line of the neighboring Blues extending our line over hill 446 and beyond.
Off to the north we could not see any line of Blues, but heard firing off to the northeast in the direction of Four Points and Martin’s Mill. From this we judged that the Blues on our north had been unable to keep up with the barrage, and that after we captured the Red position we would have to swing north and drive them away from the front of the Blues on our right. This seemed easy, as the ridge from hill 462 sloped to the northeast. Once we had hill 462, all of the Reds to the northeast would have to retreat or surrender. Captain D also pointed out to me the lines of wire in front of the enemy main line of resistance and I felt especially glad that I had decided to use half of my engineers as wire cutters instead of leaving them behind to guard the artillery or to fool around with bridges.
I was a little worried for fear that the tanks had not been able to get across the creek, but a glance to the north showed the noses of not less than eight tanks just in the edge of the woods on the west bank of the creek, so I felt sure that they were all across.
The telephone man was coming up on the run, stringing his wire as he came, but he could not make it before the barrage started again. However, I felt that I had plenty of time; it would be at least 18 minutes before the barrage actually struck the Red line of trenches, and I could make all necessary dispositions in that time.
I studied the situation carefully and decided that I had made every possible arrangement, except as follows:
It took me practically no time to make my decisions on these points, and I hurried to telephone to Lieutenant Smith, so that he could personally make all of the arrangements before ho left the former command post. Luckily, I caught him just as he was leaving to join me, and told him to see the Stokes mortars and machine guns, and to have me connected with the accompanying guns. The results were not at all satisfactory. It took me some 15 minutes of telephoning to the accompanying guns and of sending messages back and forth by Lieutenant Swift to the machine guns and Stokes mortars before I finally got the matters fixed, and even then they were not fixed to my satisfaction. I shall consider them in order.
I was powerless to assist my advancing line. The assisting artillery, machine guns and mortars were useless. But I could at least tell Colonel R. the situation. So, I telephoned him about the machine guns and accompanying guns. He was very angry and sent a preemptory message to the machine gun commander to do at once anything ordered, but it was too late to save the situation. As usual, the poor infantryman was left alone, with a few engineers and tanks, and had to fight it out. I could do nothing more except pray for the effectiveness of the barrage, with its beautiful parallel lines.
Meanwhile, my line of men and tanks had crossed hill 442 and its north and south ridge, followed the barrage down its slope, and were now beginning to ascend the other side. To my surprise, the barrage was not as effective as I had been led to expect. It was evidently encouraging to the men; but it certainly did not entirely stop the fire of the Reds. By this, I mean not only the fire of the Red artillery some distance to the rear (which the barrage was not expected to touch) but also the fire of the Red machine guns in the Red line (which the barrage was expected to stop).
As I looked at my line, I saw that three of the tanks had been hit and stopped; the rest had crossed the bottom of the ravine and were ascending the slope, with my men abreast of them, a perfect target, but at least alongside of the tanks and ready to prevent them being blown up by special Red detachments. Every few seconds I would see a shell miss a tank and blow up some 8 or 10 men who were alongside.
It was deadly. Every shell that missed the tanks, hit the men alongside. But the shells were the least cause of the carnage. The Red machine guns in the Red concrete turrets (pill boxes) in front of us seemed to have no fear of a barrage at all.
From my position I could see the exact seep of a machine gun, as man after man fell in order from right to left. First, the gun would sweep from north to south, and the men would fall from south to north. It took about four sweeps to practically extinguish a line. Then the machine gun would switch to the interval between the next two tanks and again execute its sweeping.
Still, we were holding our own on the whole front, or at least we were following the barrage on our whole front, and on the right the machine guns seemed to be less effective. I had hopes that we would at least capture hill 462 and hold it until relief came. Lieutenant Swift rushed up to me with the information that the operator at our former command post said that the 2nd battalion was coming forward at a double time. I felt that at least I would not have failed, if my right captured hill 462, and even then the wire cutters were in front of it cutting the wires. I saw the brave line of following men go forward and lie down while the wire was being cut. Many of the cutters were hit and could not go forward. Suddenly, the line rose again, what was left of it, and started forward through the wire. I felt that hill 462 was surely won, and I was thankful that at least we had broken the Red line in one place and they would have to retire. However, I was a little in error, some 50 yards in fact. For, just as my men began to run through the cut wire, Red machine guns opened up on them from the ridge to the northeast of hill 462 (from the sector of the Blues on my right), and my men just ceased to exist. Some few threw up their hands, and walked forward as prisoners. The remainder fell, to rise no more.
I turned to telephone the result to Colonel R. I felt proud of my men, and I felt that I had made very few mistakes. I rang and rang and rang the bell, but could get no reply. The line was out. As a little touch of irony, I noticed that the two accompanying guns were firing on hill 463, with orders to continue firing until I told them to stop. The telephone wire was broken, and I could not tell them to stop. I did not care. I hoped they would continue to fire until doomsday. I smiled at this, the final touch ---- and woke up.
By this time, my subconscious mind seemed to have about worked out a solution. The last effort on its part had been a good one, and I felt that I had at least made a good fight, but lost. I had learned some more things:
21. Know something about the ranges and ammunition of the Stokes mortars. If you want an extra amount of smoke, arrange for an extra quantity of smoke shells.
22. Make your accompanying guns really accompany. This does not mean that they shall follow your tracks like a dog, but it does mean that they shall always have with the forward element an observer connected with the guns, who shall direct their fire always and quickly just where you tell them. In some cases the guns them selves should be on the front line, no matter how great their losses in trained artillerymen.
23. Tanks should precede the infantry firing line, and demolish the machine gun nests. The tanks should protect the infantry against machine guns. It is not the duty of infantry to protect tanks against some prowling enemy with a few dynamite cartridges.
24. Machine guns, Stokes mortars, accompanying guns, etc., should all be directly under the command of the commanding officer. If not, he should have nothing to do with them except to learn what they may do. He should not expect them to do more than one thing; after that is done, he will have to win the battle, possibly with their help; but he should plan to win without such help, as it is rarely forthcoming.
25. Connecting groups shall fill the space between two adjacent units. These groups are preferable sent out by the higher commanders, but if they do not do so, the commander of the assaulting groups will send out some of his own. It is an excuse to be able to say that the higher commanders did not send out the connecting groups; but saying so does not prevent enfilade on the enemy’s part and does not bring the dead to life.
26. A small amount of artillery barrage will keep up the courage of the attacking line. Beyond that, shells are wasted which have no definite aim. A perfect attack would consist of a light barrage which the troops would follow, accompanied by strong concentrations against points which area known or properly believed to be held by the enemy. The line of greatest concentration would be just the reverse of parallel and straight. It would resemble a corkscrew. The probable strong positions of the enemy should be selected beforehand and the artillery should be concentrated on these places just before the barrage (or infantry line) reaches them.
27. The assault commander should have as many guns directly under his command as he can possibly use. He should not be allowed to control the stopping or starting of the barrage, but he should be able to control at least in part the corkscrew line of greatest concentration of guns. In some cases, the barrage line may be omitted altogether.
28. In spite of all barrages and concentrations of artillery fire, the enemy machine guns sheltered by concrete turrets (pill-boxes) will not be at all affected unless directly hit. In the final analysis, the tank must smash them of the infantryman must take them.
(To be continued.)