By Major Single List
At 6 p. m. I was at the meeting of field and staff officers at Colonel R.'s headquarters. This time I decided to study the proposition while at his headquarters and not wait until I returned to my farmhouse. Colonel R was very anxious to assist all of us, and he told me that he would explain anything that did not seem perfectly clear to me.
I promptly saw that my battalion was going to have the hardest nut to crack. In fact, it was to follow the barrage to its stopping point--the bluffs of hill 462 hill 463--and then what was left of my battalion would naturally be expected to exploit the success or just hold its own, depending upon whether it was in any kind of shape or only just be able to hold on.
With all due respect to Colonel R, I decided that I would see that nothing had been forgotten and that nothing could be improved by any suggestion of mine. I had always made it a rule to see that my senior officer understood perfectly my own information or conclusions as regards anything about which I had any dealings with him; then, no matter what he decided, I would do my utmost to carry it to a successful conclusion. On several occasions I had met with commanders who, either through ignorance or a lack of understanding of the best method of getting results, would not listen to a suggestion and who always acted as if any suggestion was a criticism of their intelligence. With such commanders, it is a mistake to be associated, and I had always managed to sever my connection with them and their operations in a very short time. As a result I now enjoyed a reputation of being an officer who said what he thought, but who always got results. In this case, I hoped to maintain this reputation of getting results, and I felt that I stood an excellent chance, because Colonel R. was an unusual Regimental commander in that he was patient and intelligent and very anxious to do everything possible to assist his subordinates to obtain the desired results.
First, I invited his attention to the beautiful system of parallel barrage lines. It did not suit me, as I felt that most of the ammunition would be wasted in unoccupied fields, but Colonel R said that this was an established system which had survived many criticisms, that it encouraged the men who followed it; that he wished to concentrate more fore on special places and get it changed, but had been unable to do so. However, he called my attention to the two accompanying guns, said that I could see that their fire was concentrated on any point that I wished. I told him that the concentrated fire of two accompanying guns would not be very effective, and asked him to get me more. He telephoned to the brigade headquarters, and after a little time, word was received that we could have two more accompanying guns, a total of four. This helped a great deal.
Then I asked Colonel R exactly what were the orders of the machine gun company which was to assist me. He said that it was to assist me, and that he considered that it was a matter entirely in my hands. I agreed with him that it should be entirely in my hands, but I mentioned a few cases in various battles in Europe where the commander of the assisting machine guns was of the opinion, and was so ordered by his machine gun commander, that he was to assist in his own manner and not in my manner. So we called in the machine gun battalion commander and he was given orders to have his machine gun company placed entirely at my disposal, to be used in any manner I saw fit, much to the chagrin of the machine gun battalion commander.
More tanks were needed, and I tried to get them. Colonel R said that he had no more to give me, and I could not make him see it differently.
When it came to light mortars, I wanted them all, and I soon convinced Colonel R that I could use them better than anyone else. However, he was loath to let them go entirely out of his hands. So it was finally arranged that I should have two sections entirely at my own disposal, and that the third section would fire smoke into the woods south of the bend in Booby’s Creek, but would pass back to Colonel R’s direct command as soon as I advanced beyond those woods. I asked for and received double the usual amount of smoke shell, as one of my lessons had taught me that they are very necessary in an open assault.
Also, I managed to secure a Pioneer platoon of the headquarters company, to act as wire cutters. I tried to get some non-persistent gas for the woods south of the bend, but Colonel R said that the regiment had no gas troops whatever at its disposal.
As a result of these final changes in orders I now had at my disposal:
Remembering now that enfilading was very possible from either of my flanks, if I got ahead of the troops on either flank, I asked Colonel R what provisions had been made for connecting groups. He said that no provisions had been made; that the brigade commander thought this could be mutually arranged between the battalion commanders on the field. I called Colonel R’s attention to the fact that the battalion on our right was commanded by old Major Grouch, and that no one had ever made any mutual arrangement with him; that he did not understand any such thing as mutual arrangements; that the only thing he understood was a clear and direct order. Seeing that Colonel R was not averse to listening to me, I spread myself on this point. I told him that this business of mutual arrangement on the field had never worked; that it was only a dodge employed by a senior commander to avoid unnecessary detail or to pass on to the men in the field a problem with which the commander felt himself unable to cope, owing to natural inability or to lack of information, and in neither case was he doing his full duty. Colonel R finally agreed to take up the matter again with the brigade commander, and promised me that if the brigade commander would not issue the necessary order for the connecting groups, he would himself provide the connecting groups from his two remaining battalions in order to be sure that my line was not enfiladed. Everything being arranged as well as I could expect, I left Colonel R with his final admonition ringing in my ears: "Keep connected with the headquarters, and send me reports."
On my return to my farmhouse I sent for all of the captains and for the commanders of the special troops to meet me at 10.00 p.m. Meanwhile, as Lieutenant Bright said that the information of the enemy was not very definite, I ordered special patrols sent out along the front, each patrol being ordered to go in a general westwardly direction until it encountered the Reds. Two special patrols were sent to find out if the Reds were occupying the woods in the bend south of the creek, and if so with what arms and in what strength. The reports came back as in the previous solution, being definite and clear, to the effect that Red sentinels were all along the west bank of Booby’s Creek, either as outposts or hiding in an intrenched line; that the Red machine guns were occupying the south bank of the bend in Booby’s Creek.
At 10.00 p.m. the officers were assembled, and I gave my orders somewhat as in the Fifth Solution, with some changes especially as to light mortars, accompanying guns, and machine guns. This time I did not ask them what pleased them, but assigned them to duties in accordance with my own ideas. I give below the orders in a general way, so that the complete plan will be evident:
I then gave Captains B and C orders to cover all of the front from the right to the bend in the creek where Company D would be, and that this would be covered with skirmishers at any interval they found necessary. Company D was given the orders to clear out the machine guns in the woods south of the bend in the creek. Company C was the battalion reserve.
Every one was encouraged to ask questions, and the whole plan was gone over time and again until each understood the part he was to perform and the part that the other was to perform to assist him. I told Captain B that Colonel R would have a connecting group on our right, and I told captain D that he would likewise find that Colonel R had a connecting group on our left. I called the special attention of all to the fact that we would follow the barrage to the bluff, hill 462—hill 463, where the barrage would cease; but that we would take the hill; and then exploit our success in the best possible manner. It was now about 11.45 p.m. and, as all seemed to thoroughly understand the plan, they were dismissed.
At 3.30 a.m. the signal corps man woke us up, and we went to our new command post on hill 441, where the signal detachment had installed a telephone during the night, and where the pioneer platoon had built me a regular command post according to the book, with a lookout thoroughly camouflaged and splinter proof. I took my position and waited anxiously for 4.30 a.m. to come and for the fight to begin.
Even the slowest time eventually passes, so finally 4.30 a.m. came and with it our barrage. I shall not go into detail as to how every little matter was attended to by my men, but suffice it to say that Company D very quickly cleaned up the woods south of the bend in the creek, capturing the four enemy machine guns with practically no loss. Companies B and C followed the barrage closely, Company D fell in on the left, and all arrived on time at the creek bottom and my line lay in position along the creek bottom and east face of hill 443, while the artillery played its rain of lead for twenty minutes on hill 442 and the ridge to the south, where there were no Reds.
At the earliest possible moment I moved to hill 443, taking with me some signal corps men with wig-wag and helio, leaving Lieutenant Swift to hold the old command post until the telephone man could connect me up with a telephone on hill 443. This he at once started out to do, but had not quite arrived when the twenty minutes was up, and the artillery barrage again started on its tour of the country.
My line quickly rose and followed the barrage and encountered a perfect storm of lead as soon as it crossed hill 442 and ridge to the south of it. However, in a very few minutes, and just as I had ordered, the four light mortars put smoke all along the ridge to the west in a thoroughly business–like manner and the Red shooting became very inaccurate. It is true that the smoke screen was never entirely effective, because the wind was continually blowing it away, but it was very useful. The tanks waddled forward and disappeared into the smoke and soon my men were swallowed up in it. The wind was unfortunately blowing a little in our direction, and it was impossible to keep their location covered with smoke; but the light mortars kept at it and managed to keep the front slope of the Red position covered by smoke so that only the top of the bluff was visible through it.
I now issued orders to the accompanying guns to switch to hill 463, as I could not be sure how far my men had advanced in the smoke and just when they would come forward into our own fire. The machine guns were also brought up out of the woods near the light mortars and told to concentrate direct fir on hill 463. The light mortars were told to raise their fire so as to clear bluff hill 463-hill 463, and fire upon its reverse slops, but this time they were to use high explosive, as I wished to prevent any Reds coming up to counter-attack my men when they took the position.
Off to the south I noticed that the neighboring Blues were well up and were following the barrage closely; therefore I felt safe for that flank. Off to the north it was not so favorable. Major Grouch’s men could not be seen, but I noticed shells bursting near Four Points and Martin’s Mill; so I judged that he has lost the barrage and would not catch up. Therefore I saw that my right was subject to enfilade as soon as the smoke cleared. I looked in vain for the connecting group, but I did not really expect to see it, as it was necessarily small. Just then the telephone rang, and Lieutenant Swift reported from my old command post that a message had been received from the connecting group that it was at the ravine junction of Booby’s Creek 425 yards west of hill 407, that it had uncovered several Red machine guns on the ridge running northeast from hill 462, and that it could go no farther. I saw that, while I was really winning, my right was in a rather precarious situation, and it might at any moment be enfiladed by machine guns, all due to the failure of Major Grouch to do his part. However, there was no help for it and I must travel alone. I promptly ordered Company A, which was now in reverse in the creek bottom to go straight over the ridge to the northwest, cross the ravine and capture and hold the ridge extending northeast from hill 462. This was my last reserve, and if the enemy counter-attacked in force I was helpless and ruined. However, I felt that there was nothing else to do; the reserve is for use, not for treasure. Even so, I decided that Colonel R should now send forward the 2nd battalion, so I telephoned him, explaining the situation, and stating that I had no reserve left, and requesting that he send forward the 2nd battalion at once. He replied that the 2nd battalion was already on its way and was even now at road crossing 420; and that he would send its major orders to report to me. With a great sigh of relief I turned to the front, thoroughly satisfied that I would now win the ridge.
As I looked, I saw the barrage emerge from the smoke atop hills 462 and 463, and start over to the far side. Here it again held its position, this time for some thirty minutes. I suddenly remembered Colonel R’s order said that it would hold its final position for thirty minutes; and I saw all of my light mortar high explosive had been more or less wasted. However, it did no harm and possible may have driven back some reserves who might have reached the hilltops before our barrage reached its final objective. In less than two minutes afterward I saw the tanks slowly waddling out of the smoke, breaking through the wire and roving up and down the Red trenches. Next I saw my infantry line stop and lie down in front of the wire, except where a few men followed through after the tanks; the wire cutters started their work and many of them did not finish. Then the line rose, charged through the wire and fell upon the Red position. It was captured. I ordered the machine guns and accompanying guns to stop firing, and turned to telephone Colonel R that we had won the Red position. However, I was a little premature in my announcement. Just at this moment Red machine guns over in Major Grouch’s sector opened up on my line and enfiladed it with deadly effect. My men promptly lay down, and many of them began to run back to the cover of the smoke. The rat-tat-tat of the Red machine guns continued without intermission and I saw that I could not hold the line even after its capture unless those machine guns were stopped. I looked anxiously to the north, but the bursting shells at Four Points showed that Major Grouch’s men were still fighting at that place, 1000 yards away from where they should have been in order to help us properly. I pinned my faith then on Company A, and I was not disappointed. In less than one minute after the machine guns opened, I heard wild yells from that direction and some rifle shots; and then the Red machine guns stopped firing. Company A had taken the ridge and the machine guns.
The exploitation of our victory was a matter not so easily decided. I saw the 2nd battalion coming on over the ridge from which I had started. I did not know what to do; whether to have it swing to our right in order to clear up the Red line, or whether to have it follow directly west after the fleeing Reds. I seized the telephone and asked for Colonel R himself. He decided for me, with a broader vision than I had. He decided for the greatest results, with no idea of personal glory for himself or his regiment. His orders were for the 2nd battalion to swing to the north and drive out the Reds who were holding back Major Grouch’s battalion. From our present line we were close enough to the mountain passes immediately to our west to block them by artillery fire, but farther north it was necessary that our forces win a more complete victory and drive the Reds back much farther in order that our line to the north might be approximately the same distance from the mountain passes as my own troops now were. Also, in that direction lay Emmitsburg, a great depot of Red supplies. So, when the 2nd battalion arrived, I told it to roll up the Reds to the north of us, and to proceed more or less independently of my men, but that I would help if they so desired. The major promptly made his dispositions and started on his way. Very soon the firing in Four Points ceased, and I knew that our 2nd battalion had been successful. In fact, I later learned that it had captured many prisoners and covered itself with distinction.
I went forward to hill 463 and looked over the situation. It was evident that my battalion could go no farther. I gave orders for each company to send forward one platoon 1,000 yards and establish an outpost; meanwhile the rest of each company was to be reorganized and to prepare the position for defence against counter-attack. My losses had been very heavy; some 65 per cent of my battalion had been killed or wounded. All were tired and worn with the stress of battle. But each man walked proudly, with an air which said for itself that the owner of his haughty air has been in "The Battle of Booby’s Bluffs."