“And We Were Young” update

Minolta DSCHere’s the news from “And We Were Young” film animator/director Andy Smetanka:

After two and a half years, I am 93% finished with the animation: just four more Super 8 cartridges to get through (that’s about 12 minutes). Compared to the three hours of footage I’ve already filmed, it hardly seems like anything at all. Three hours of Super 8 animation equals approximately 216,000 individual frames. The film will be between 80 and 90 minutes long.

Mustard gas. Monkey meat. Nerve-shattering bombardments, scything machine gun fire, furious hand-to-hand combat. Urban fighting, woodland fighting, headlong plunges through golden grain fields. If it was in the experience of the average American Doughboy in WWI, it’s in my movie, made entirely out of paper and filmed one frame at a time.

The battles — Cantigny, Belleau Wood, the Meuse-Argonne — are thoroughly filmed at this point. What remains is a good detail of detail work (adding more horses and airplanes, basically) and fleshing out the Transatlantic voyages to and from France. Almost everything I need is already designed and cut out. I just need another month or so to to film it all. It was a good idea (though completely accidental) that I decided not to shoot the film in chronological order; I’ve gotten better as I’ve gone along, and the opening scenes should be much stronger for that.

Next (meaning hopefully by September) comes the “sound phase” of the project begins. I don’t know how long it will take composer Jason Staczek to complete his work, but for me things should start going a whole lot faster with the animation out of the way. Christmas? Not out of the question. My solemn vow is to have some version ready to show at our local (Missoula, Montana) documentary film festival in February.

What is this paper-puppet-and-tissue paper war movie actually going to look like? You can see some scenes here, nestled toward the end of my online demo reel. As you’ll notice, I’ve had some other things keeping me busy these past 2.5 years as well:

https://vimeo.com/86969052

I urge interested persons to get in touch with me at the address below to request a more extensive private peek into the work-in-progress. I would also encourage people interested in supporting this project (which has so far scraped by on a successful 2012 Kickstarter campaign and a small grant from the state film office) to contribute in the coolest way imaginable: by buying a custom-made silhouette cameo. There are two ways to do this: by purchasing the service in my And We Were Young-themed Esty shop linked here, or by contacting me directly at the e-mail address below.

https://www.etsy.com/listing/194201877/be-a-silhouette-character-in-my-animated?

What could be better than the combined satisfaction supporting the most amazing movie ever AND getting to make a personal silhouette appearance in it? But the offer won’t last: when I set down my X-acto knife at the end of August, the window is closed.

andwewereyoungfilm@gmail.com

Planning the best battlefield pilgrimage ever… (hopefully)

Aside

By Randal S. Gaulke

Organizations throughout Europe are busily preparing for the Centennial Commemorations of World War 1. The famous Ossuaire de Douaumont, outside of Verdun, and other memorials are being cleaned; signage and brochures are being refreshed; and reenactments and commemoration ceremonies are being planned. This is a perfect time for Americans considering a visit to the battlefields or a pilgrimage to their ancestor’s war to plan a trip. While it might seem a daunting task initially, the reader might just find that it is the journey, and not the destination, that brings the most pleasure.

Planning a battlefield tour requires several skill sets including knowledge of the sites and events that the reader wants to explore; some knowledge of the language and culture, and some knowledge of the local area. With the help of the Internet and translation tools it has never been easier to piece together the details needed to plan a meaningful trip “Over There.”

Before looking at each skill set, the planner should understand the limiting factors: What is the tolerance of one’s travelling companions? How much time can realistically be planned? What are the priority sites to be visited? Answering these questions can reduce the stress that inevitably arises when it takes longer to find the town, trench line, cemetery, etc. – or when one heads 100 kilometers in the wrong direction.

What is the purpose of the trip? Is it to survey the major battlefields of the war, visit a specific battle in depth, or retrace an ancestor’s wartime experience? There are scores of books and websites available on the war, covering the full range of topics. The trick is finding the resources that are most helpful. The best overall book for visiting American battlefields is “American Armies and Battlefields in Europe,” first published in 1938 and re-published in 1992. Its suggested one- and two-day tours are just as valid today as when they were first published. If more detail is needed, select a book or two on a specific battle, a regimental or divisional history, and a good biography or two.

The Internet can help guide planners; and don’t forget the used book sites www.abebooks.com and www.choosebooks.com. Scanning bibliographies and link pages can also alert the planner to other relevant materials.

It is highly recommended that the planner should gain at least some basic language skills and some understanding of the culture. Taking a French-for-Travelers course or an introductory-level Berlitz course will ease the frustration level of trying to communicate. Understanding foreign culture is equally important. The author takes a quick read through Polly Platt’s (somewhat dated) “Savoir Flair! 211 Tips for Enjoying France and the French” before every trip. Rick Steves’ publications and videos also offer solid advice for the independent traveler.

Planning the itinerary comes next, and again the Internet can be a great starting point for finding lodging, exploring sites to visit, etc. Google Maps helps one plan routes and appreciate distances between sites. For driving, the Michelin Orange Series 500 (1, 200,000) maps are recommended. Traveling from Paris to the Meuse-Argonne and Verdun requires map numbers 514 (Ile-de-France), 515 (Champagne-Ardenne) and 516 (Alsace, Lorraine.) The maps can be ordered easily online, or they can be purchased at the many oasis (Aires) on France’s Autoroutes. For battlefield exploring, the IGN Blue Series (1, 25,000) maps the most useful — after one has learned how to read them. They can be ordered on line (www.ign.fr), or they can be purchased at the Maison de la Press in larger French towns.

The most important tip: Bolster the research by taking advantage of the many experts. Who are these experts? They are authors, armchair historians, tour guides, battlefield enthusiasts, etc. Where can they be found? The Internet is the best place to look. Two associations that come to mind are the U.S.-based World War One Historical Association (www.www1ha.org) and the U.K.-based Western Front Association (www.westernfrontassociation.com). Both of these organizations have websites, publications, local branches and knowledgeable members experienced in visiting battlefields. Many French towns and Departments (i.e. states) have tourism websites, too, including the Department of the Meuse (www.meusetourism.com/en). Finally, many individual enthusiasts or associations have knowledge on very specific areas, and they are often glad to share that interest with others.

Tower of the Ossuaire at Verdun by jameswberkThis is the tower of the Ossuaire de Douaumont, where bones found on the battlefield around Verdun were gathered and laid to rest. Nearly 300.000 French and German soldiers went missing during the 10-month battle.

 

Fightin’ Fridays: The 6th Seaforth Highlanders in Champagne

dickie map better

By Derek Bird

Excerpted from “The Spirit of the Troops Is Excellent: The 6th (Morayshire) Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders, in the Great War 1914-1919” http://myweb.tiscali.co.uk/wfasnb/research05.htm

In (July 1918) the Germans had been making significant advances (in France) and now held a large salient that bulged into the French lines, but they had already been brought to a halt by the combined efforts of French, American and Italian divisions. As the situation was still developing at the time of the Highland Division’s assembly a number of changes to plan had to be made before it was decided to concentrate near Epernay, south of Reims, about four miles from the furthest point of the German advance. This put the division on the south-east side of the salient and provided them with the unusual experience of advancing in a north-westerly direction. The 62nd (2nd West Riding) Division would be operating alongside them, and the other British divisions sent to help the French, the 15th (Scottish) and 34th, would be some miles away on the wide side of the salient near Soissons. In yet another change of plan it was decided to move the Highlanders north of the River Marne and so at 6:30 on the morning of the 19th the 152nd Brigade marched to Champillon, where they rested until 10 p.m. before marching on to the assembly points for an attack the following morning.

At dawn on the 20 July the 153rd and 154th Brigades launched the attack, with the 6th Seaforth remaining in the rear as part of the divisional reserve. In front of the 153rd Brigade lay the Bois de Courton, a tangled mass of woods some 3,500 yards deep. Both brigades advanced through the German outpost line without serious resistance, but the fighting in the Bois de Courton became very confused with, at best, the men only able to see about 50 yards through the trees and extremely vulnerable to ambush by the enemy. The 17th Gordons and the 1/6th and 1/7th Black Watch all plunged into the woods but soon became split up into small parties.  By the afternoon it became obvious that these three battalions had become badly intermingled so at 6:30 p.m. the 6th Seaforth were placed under the command of the 153rd Brigade. They were ordered to move forward to the newly won positions that ran north-east from a point just east of the hamlet of Paradis to allow the 153rd Brigade to withdraw and reorganise. The hand-over did go well as it was a very dark and wet night and the guides got lost. Nevertheless the 6th Seaforth did manage to get into position by about 4 a.m. the 21st. Following the withdrawal of the 153rd Brigade the task of continuing the advance was given to the 152nd Brigade. As the first part of this plan the 6th Seaforth were moved slightly to the rear to allow the 1/5 Seaforth and 1/6 Gordons to pass through. Throughout the morning the men of the Morayshire battalion were subjected to heavy shell fire that caused about 60 casualties.

July 21 was another day of difficult fighting in the forest and at about 2 p.m. orders were given for the 6th Seaforth to advance. The Morayshire battalion was ordered to support the 1/5 Seaforth and 1/6 Gordons, paying particular attention to ensuring that the flanks were adequately covered. The left front was reinforced when ‘A’ Company was joined up with the 1/5 Seaforth, ‘B’ Company went to the right front, and ‘D’ Company to the right flank, ‘C’ Company was kept in reserve. Once ‘A’ Company had got in touch with the 1/5 Seaforth they pushed patrols forward and discovered that, although the line had advanced about 200 yards, both Paradis and La Neuville-Aux-Larris were still in enemy hands. ‘B’ Company advanced and actually made contact with the enemy before finding the 1/6 Gordons at about 5 p.m. Meanwhile ‘D’ Company advanced through the wood until halted by heavy machine-gun fire. They then took up positions facing north. One platoon of ‘C’ Company was sent forward to help ‘D’ Company at about 5 p.m., but was withdrawn again the following morning. The Germans continued to pound the British lines with shells all through the night, including the use of gas shells in the early hours of the 22nd.

That morning at 2:30 a.m. a conference was held at Brigade HQ where the commanding officers were briefed on the next stage of the attack. The 152nd Brigade was to take over positions currently held by the 154rd Brigade between the Bois de Courton and the River Ardre and prepare to advance at 6 a.m. the next morning. Company commanders were briefed at Battalion HQ at 5 a.m. and details were worked out. The 6th Seaforth started moving out of the forest at 10:30 a.m. and were at the start positions by 1 p.m. on the 23rd. The 1/5 Seaforth were on the right extending the line up to the bank of the Ardre. The 1/6 Gordons who had been heavily engaged deep in the forest only arrived shortly before Zero hour, minus one company that had been relieved too late. They took their place on the left up to the edge of the Bois de Courton.

The joint British and French artillery barrage opened at 6 a.m. but some of the shells fell short with the rear of the barrage falling only 40 yards ahead of ‘B’ Company’s positions. To their left it fell upon both ‘C’ Company and the 1/6 Gordons positions causing many casualties, one company of the latter losing all its officers before the advance began. Five minutes after the garage opened the German artillery retaliated, but most of their shells fell 250 yards behind the Highlanders’ positions.  As soon as it was realized that British shells were falling short and ‘C’ Company was suffering casualties, ‘A’ Company was moved in behind them to provide support. Once the infantry advance got underway, ‘B’ Company on the right made good headway with a minimum of casualties until they reached their objectives north-west of the Bois De L’Aunaie. Here they were subjected to heavy shell and machine-gun fire while they were digging in and suffered many casualties, including Captain John Mackintosh their commander. ‘C’ Company on the left suffered badly from both the artillery barrage falling short and from enemy machine-gun fire coming from their left flank. This company lost all its officers before reaching the spur south of the Bois De L’Aunaie. Some of the battalion continued to fight on through the objective and formed a new line in the sunken road 300 yards south of the wood.

‘D’ Company, in support, moved forward to  the Bois De L’Aunaie and started digging in, but after being subjected to heavy enemy shelling they retired a short distance and dug a series of posts just short of the wood. ‘A’ Company took up positions in the sunken road, and also established posts on the spur covering the southern edge of the wood.  At about 2 p.m. two platoons of the 1/7 Argylls were attached to the 6th Seaforth to help fill in the gap that had developed between the two leading companies, but the heavy enemy artillery barrage forced them to retire again. At dusk the 1/5 Seaforth put out a number of posts that connected the sunken road with the rest of their battalion which had, by then, moved forward to a line just inside the western edge of the wood. The 6th Seaforth had suffered heavily with 21 men killed, but they had inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy and had captured 45 prisoners, along with 3 heavy and 15 light machine-guns. Due to the large numbers of casualties the two Seaforth battalions were reorganised with the 1/5 Seaforth forming two composite companies, and the 6th Seaforth being combined into a single company.

For the next three days the brigade maintained its position but throughout the period, especially on the afternoon of the 26th, they continued to suffer casualties from both high explosive and gas shells. On the 27th the advance was renewed; after intense fighting, the 6th Seaford were withdrawn from the field on the 28th.

The Highland Division’s units left the area (in early July). In 11 days of hard fighting the Highlanders had helped to stem the German attack, and then pushed them back for four and a half miles, engaging at times no less than six different enemy divisions. What makes their achievement even more remarkable is that for many this was their first battle, a large percentage of the division was now being made up by youngsters drafted in to replace the casualties of the March and April fighting. General Henri Berthelot, GOC French Fifth Army, wrote in his order of the day 30 July 1918:

Your French comrades will always remember with emotion your splendid gallantry and perfect fellowship in the fight.

SeaforthHighland troops march past French General Berthelot after the fighting in Champagne. National Library of Scotland digital photo..

 

 

The 4-wheeled Heroes of the Marne

Image

The New York Times has a fine article about the taxis of Paris that were rushed to the Front in September 1914:

On the evening of Sept. 6, hundreds of cabs assembled at Les Invalides, the military hospital, and by morning a convoy of impossibly top-heavy Renault AG1s with tiny 1.2-liter 2-cylinder engines was puttering toward the front.

By the end of Sept. 7, some 600 taxis, each making several runs, had delivered 3,000 troops. It is not known whether the passengers tipped the cabbies — but they tipped the battle to the French.

Here’s the link: www.nytimes.com/2014/02/16/automobiles/100-years-later

Image

Photo by Amelien Bayle, posted at Flickr.

Fightin’ Friday: The Affair at Nery

Nery map edited

 

The Affair at Nery: Sept. 1, 1914, reprinted from Camaraderie

By Paul F. Guthrie

Our U.S. Branch WFA 2007 tour included a tour of British action at the beginning of the war featuring the fighting around Mons and the retreat.  It ended at the Battle of Le Cateau of Sept. 25, 1914.

The next action of any significance was the affair at Nery. It’s a fascinating encounter and one of the best visits on the entire Western Front because the approaches to the village, the village itself and the surrounding fields are unchanged since the battle.

Why is it called the affair at Nery rather than the battle of Nery?  It’s a matter of battlefield nomenclature, because the British Army didn’t feel the action was large enough to be called a battle.  It was the first time in the war that the British were in control of the battlefield after the action.  It was fought almost entirely by cavalry units on both sides, with the Germans having superiority of numbers of about two to one.

The main street of the village runs from north to south.  The north of the village was defended from German attack by the C Squadron of the Fifth Dragoon Guards and their machine guns.  A bit further south was the headquarters of the First Cavalry Brigade, which was the larger unit participating in the battle.  Just a bit south is the village church where the 11th Hussars had its headquarters and established a strong defense along the church with machine guns and rifle fire.  At the south end of the village on the west side of the road were the Queen’s Bays, and on the east side of the road L Battery, Royal Horse Artillery, which achieved fame and two Victoria Crosses.

Further south and beyond the village is a sugar factory.  Just to the east of the village is a deep ravine.

The German Third Cavalry Brigade approached from that direction.  At the north side of the village were the 9th Uhlans, who formed a dismounted firing line, and the 2nd Cuirassiers who did the same.  Firing against L Battery and the Queen’s Bays, were the 18th Dragoons of the 17th Cavalry Brigade.  All of these units were part of the 4th Cavalry Division which had its headquarters about 1,000 yards to the east of the village.  It was a British brigade against a German division.

The Queen’s Bays were one of the oldest cavalry regiments in the British Army, having been raised by James II to deal with the Monmouth Rebellion in June 1685.  Originally the regiment was named the Queen’s Regiment of Horse, and it was a matter of pride that all the horses were bays.  The regiment served for much of its history in India. During the Great Sepoy Mutiny, it won three VCs and took part in a famous cavalry charge during the relief of Lucknow in 1858.

One Royal Horse Artillery battery of six 13-pounder horse-drawn guns was attached to each cavalry brigade.  L Battery was commanded by Maj. Walter Sclater-Booth, who had taken command in 1910, and the battery captain was Edward Bradbury.  This unit of five officers, almost 200 men and 228 horses was organized into three sections. Each had two modern quick-firing 13-pounder guns with buffer recoil systems and bullet-proof shields. They could fire 15 rounds a minute. Each section was accompanied by two ammunition wagons.  The battery had seen considerable action after enduring the Battle of Mons.

On August 31, the First Cavalry Brigade was directed to Nery.  They arrived there about 6 p.m. The horses had been watered earlier, since it was thought there would not be sufficient water at Nery.

German cavalry were to make a night attack against Nery.  They were quite tired and suffered a number of other disadvantages before beginning the attack.  The division had suffered considerable casualties in the advance through Belgium. The Germans had sacrificed support for speed, and the division was lacking much of its logistics, including support transport, ammunition wagons, lead horses, etc.

German cavalry units by doctrine were to be supported by infantry and horse artillery that closely followed the advancing cavalry. The unit that was to attack Nery had no infantry, and six machine guns were also absent.

In German cavalry doctrine, mounted action would take place primarily against other cavalry, not infantry.  It is true that in this attack the German cavalry was fighting British cavalry but, the Germans were armed with carbines, smaller less effective versions of the rifle carried by the infantry. Contrarily, the British carried the standard Lee-Enfield infantry weapon, and the firepower of the individual soldier was much greater.

The Fourth Cavalry Division rode all through the heat of the day on August 31st and following night without a stop for food or rest apart from one 2-hour stop.  At 5 a.m., the general in charge, von Garnier, ordered an immediate mounted attack designed to surprise and destroy the British forces with overwhelming shell fire and mounted flanking attacks.

Visibility was poor and hampered the German artillery, but the attack did achieve surprise.  At the beginning of the attack, L Battery was quite shot up with tethered horses and men suffering equally.  However, it was able to return fire fairly quickly.

The farm to the right of the Nery church was defended by the 11th Hussars.  Then and now it doesn’t look like what we think of as a farm.  It rather looks like a series of fortified buildings.   It suffered a lot less in the initial attack than the units at the south of the village.

Battery lines had been laid out neatly for the night with each section of two guns and their horses and limbers in line.  This was the first time this had been done on the retreat and an indication that the battery felt secure.  Following reveille at 2:30 a.m., the battery prepared for meeting out at 4:30 a.m., but because of the dense mist prevailing that morning, headquarters ordered a stand still until 5 a.m. which was extended till 5:30. Thus L Battery was still in place when attacked.

The surprise of the attack could hardly have been greater.  The battery’s horses were standing in march order with their poles down. Shrapnel exploding among the horses and men was horrific, causing panic among the horses which drove their lowered poles into the ground, trapping them until they were shot down.  The terrified horses could not be released easily from their harnesses, and were killed.

There was chaos with limbers and wagons overturned.  Despite efforts by their crews, B, C and D guns were knocked out, leaving the F gun in action.  The ammunition supply was in wagons 20 yards from the gun and collecting it meant crossing an open space with machine gun fire and shrapnel, but it was done.

L Battery kept up its effort until almost 8 a.m. when I Battery arrived and began firing.  It was firing only shrapnel, but the shrapnel had a wicked effect on the Germans opposing.  It forced the Germans to concentrate all their guns to the south of Nery.   Resistance of the gunners of L Battery, against all odds, was the key to the survival of the First Cavalry Brigade that morning.

The First Dragoon Guards were also effective in preventing Third Brigade from succeeding its attack further north.

The Queen’s Bays (2nd Dragoon Bays) provided very significant support to the men of L Battery.   On the south side of the village there are memorials to both units.  Seven men were all that were available to man the Queen’s Bays machine guns, but they did so to great effect.

Every unit arrived in support of the British and once I Battery commenced firing, the rest of the German guns fell silent. The Germans attempted to bring up horse teams to get the guns away but came under fire from the guns of I Battery and the machine guns of the Queen’s Bays. Despite valiant effort, they were unable to get their horses close enough to get all the guns away.  Four were extracted, but eight were captured.

By 9 a.m., it was clear to General von Garnier that the situation was very dangerous for his division with the apparent hapless enemy not being overcome, and in fact being reinforced.  Four infantry brigades and another cavalry brigade were gathering to attack, and it was becoming dangerous to remain at Nery.  He thus decided to recall his units from their attack position as quickly as possible and concentrate his division, and the Germans retreated, leaving the British in control of the battlefield.  This is the first time during the war this had happened but, of course, the retreat was resumed shortly.

The Fourth Cavalry Divisions likely suffered about 200 casualties, about twice those of the British.  The affair did have a deleterious effect on the Germans and gave the British reason to believe that under the right conditions they could still win.

The failure of their action at Nery and the futility of cavalry charging sound defensive positions manned by well-trained men with modern rifles and machine guns confirmed to the Germans the value of having supporting infantry integrated with the cavalry.

For the cavalry on both sides, the attack proved the acclamation of the critical importance of ground reconnaissance before charging boldly at the enemy.

Affair at Nery

Memorial to the British officers and men killed at Nery on Sept. 1, 1914. About 55 British troops were killed.

 

The only gun to survive  the German artillery, it  belongs to the Imperial War Museum.

The only gun to survive the German artillery, it belongs to the Imperial War Museum.

Fightin’ Friday: Mon Plaisir Farm

St-Mihiel_map

The Lightnings’ First Strike, reprinted from Camaraderie

By Neil M. Burns

On the night of Sept. 15, 1918, the green 78th “Lightning” Division relieved the veteran 2nd Division north of Thiaucourt. The St. Mihiel offensive had just wound down, and the 2nd handed over little more than a collection of recently gained rifle pits in the Bois de Montagne.[i]  After some days spent consolidating their position, orders came down on the 21st from the U.S. IV Corps calling for a raid in the early morning of the 22nd.[ii]

This rather short notice made preparations difficult for the Division’s first real offensive operation. Mon Plaisir Farm was the hastily chosen target, about 800 yards away from the 78th’s position, just inside the Hindenburg Line. The farm was a well-fortified observation point for the Germans, and the raid was to both gather prisoners and destroy the defensive works at the farm.[iii] The 310th Infantry Regiment was to make the raid.

It was past noon on Sept. 21st when runners from the 310th Infantry’s Regimental Headquarters at Thiaucourt arrived summoning the 310th’s battalion commanders. Once the battalion commanders arrived, Col. Babcock outlined the plan for the Third Battalion along with two platoons of the machine gun company, to attack on a 600 yard front.  Engineers were to clear paths through the barbed wire entanglements. A rolling barrage would precede the advance and the battalion would attack from a position 100 yards in front of the Bois de Montagne. During the raid a box barrage would isolate the German defenders by laying down a wall of shellfire to their rear and flanks. [iv] The battalion was to advance 100 yards beyond the farm and hold their position for 20 minutes. During this time, Company C of the 303rd Engineers (78th Division) were to destroy the defensive positions at the farm.[v]

Receiving the orders in midafternoon left little time for a proper reconnaissance. Regimental and battalion operations posts were established; the commander of the engineer company went over the terrain to request the proper supplies needed to clear the wire and destroy the pillboxes of the farm.[vi]

By 9 P.M.  Sept. 21st the Second battalion had moved forward allowing the First battalion to relieve the Third battalion in the front line. At 11 P.M. the 3rd battalion was assembling to the rear of their jumping off position. Midnight found the infantry ready and in position, but the engineers “failed to appear”.[vii] Apparently, there was some delay in reaching the assembly point, most likely due to the hurried nature of the raid. The loss of the engineer support removed half the original intention of the raid: the destruction of the farm’s defensive positions. Despite this, there seems to have been no serious thought of delaying or canceling the raid.

Following the rolling barrage at 1 A.M., the infantry moved up the slope to Mon Plaisir Farm. German flares shot up, calling for defensive artillery fire which began to fall on the First and Second battalions holding the U.S. lines. Companies L and M were in the first wave with company K in support and company I in reserve.[viii] Despite the uncleared barbed wire in their front, in some areas 20 feet wide, the 3rd battalion managed to drive the Germans from the farm buildings by 1:20 A.M., clearing the trenches at bayonet point. The Germans, cut off from aid by the box barrage, were fighting hard but giving ground.

For 20 minutes the Third held their position until the withdrawal signal at 1:40 A.M. It was during the withdrawal that things began to go wrong. German machine guns on the flanks opened fire on the withdrawing infantry. Simultaneously, the German troops hurried to reoccupy the undestroyed defensive positions at Mon Plaisir Farm. This meant the retreating raiders were taking fire from three sides; thus, casualties began to mount. Thanks to the efforts of Sgt. Lawless and Corp. Amling of the attached machine gun company, some of the German machine guns were silenced.[ix]

Sgt. Lawless was later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions during the withdrawal. His citation reads:

“During a raid Sergeant Lawless bayoneted the men at 2 enemy machine guns which were firing upon our raiding party and put several others out of action with hand grenades.”

Casualties were heavy and included Lt. Corey and 29 men missing from the battalion. Sixteen men were killed, five officers and seventy-two enlisted men were wounded.[x] Total casualties for the entire 310th were 191killed and wounded; this included casualties from the German artillery fire.[xi] Lt. Corey died of his wounds in German hands. At least one of the missing men, Cpl. William C. Crouch, was later listed as killed in action, although his body was not recovered.[xii]

The Third battalion brought back between eight and eleven prisoners.[xiii] Members of the experienced 31st Division, they appeared well fed and seemed glad to be out of the war once they had overcome their initial fear of being captured by Americans. A review of their correspondence revealed no unusual conditions on the German home front.[xiv]

Not surprisingly, the division and regimental histories were sure the Third had inflicted heavier casualties than they’d suffered. The raid was praised as being made “with splendid spirit and dash”.[xv] The night of Sept. 23rd, the 310th sent out patrols to find any sign of the missing men, but nothing was found. The regiment assumed they were captured.[xvi]

Overall, the 78th’s first attack had been less than successful: Mon Plaisir Farm was still a formidable defensive position, 191 casualties were suffered and a handful of prisoners were taken.

Much of the fault lies with the IV Corps ordering a raid by largely inexperienced troops to be carried out within 24 hours. By the time the 310th had ordered the raid, there were only a few hours of daylight to plan. No doubt this was a key factor in the failure of Company C 303rd Engineers in reaching the jumping-off position in time. There seems to have been no attempt to delay or cancel the raid, or to adequately protect the flanks of the retreating raiders. The actions of the men in the machine gun company seems to have saved a number of lives, but seems to be attributable to the personal heroism rather than an effective plan to cover the withdrawal.

Despite claims that they gave better than they received, it would appear the more experienced Germans had called in artillery fire and then simply fallen back before the American raid, rushing back to fire on the retiring raiders.

The raid on Mon Plaisir Farm was quickly lost in time as the events of the Meuse Argonne Offensive overshadowed it. But for the draftees of the 310th Infantry, it was an attack they would never forget.


[i]  “Squandered Victory,” James Hallas, page 215-217

[ii] “The 78th Division in the World War,” Thomas Meehan, page 75

[iii] Ibid, page 75

[iv] A History of the 310th  Infantry of the Seventy-Eighth Division U.S.A. 1917-1919, Association of the 310th Infantry New York, page 74

[v] 78th Division Summary of Operations of the World War. page 13

[vi] A History of the 310th., page 75

[vii] Ibid, page 75

[viii] Ibid, page 75

[ix] Ibid, page76

[x] Ibid, page 76

[xi] Ibid, page 227

[xii] New York State Archives Summary of Service Card, William C. Crouch, Rochester,  N.Y.  Cpl Crouch is commemorated by the American Battlefield Monuments Commission on the Tablets of the missing at St. Mihiel American Cemetery, Thiaucourt, France.

[xiii] The History of the 78th, page 75 states 8; The History of the 310th, page 77 states  11.

[xiv] “Squandered Victory,” page 215

[xv] The History of the 78th, page 75

[xvi] A History of the 310th, page 77

ABMC St Mihiel American Cemetery, Thiacourt, France

Fightin’ Fridays: Mametz Wood

Mametz-2July

By Graham Corgan.

“Let us respect their endeavours. Let our memories live on”

The Welsh 38th Division was formed from several Regiments including men from the Royal Welsh Fusiliers and the Royal Welsh Regiment. They were answering the call to arms by David Lloyd George and enlisted eagerly expecting exciting wartime adventures.

They were, however, poorly trained, ill-equipped and badly commanded. When planning the forthcoming attack on Mametz Wood, the generals calculated it would be a battle of a few hours; it would, in fact, last for five days. They failed to take into account the fact that the wood was defended with trench systems, machine gun posts and mortars. Manning these positions were men from the Lehr Regiment of the Prussian Guard, who were well-trained and well-armed and very determined.

On the 7th July 1916, the 38th Welsh Division were given orders to capture Mametz Wood. The Division were tasked to leave their trenches and to advance towards a position called the Hammerhead. The distance to cover was maybe 300-400 yards; this distance was to cost them heavily in casualties and even led to them having their bravery questioned.

At 08.30 on the morning of the 7th July, following a preparatory artillery bombardment, they attacked. Initially it appeared the barrage had worked; however, as the men advanced towards the darkened woods, they soon came under heavy machine gunfire from both exposed flanks and they started to take heavy casualties.

The attack ground to a halt, and a second barrage was ordered later that morning. This, too, failed to silence the German machine guns.

Fortunately for the Infantry, a further attack that had been planned for that afternoon was subsequently cancelled as the machine gun posts still remained in position. When the attack ceased, the Division had suffered 400 casualties.

During the 8th and 9th, men from the 6th Dorset’s Regiment managed to take and hold the Western end of Wood trench; however, seven unsuccessful attempts to take Quadrangle support Trench had by now been made.

On the 10th July, a further attack was planned and, following an artillery barrage, the four Battalions went over the top at 4:15. They attacked the woods between Strip Trench and the Hammerhead following behind a rolling barrage. This time the attack made better progress, and throughout the day vicious hand-to-hand fighting took place in the woods. When night fell, the fighting continued amongst the shattered tree stumps, branches, brambles, barbed wire, trenches and shell holes. German troops were almost pushed out of the woods, but as night fell, they clung to 40 yards of its northern edge. In the confusion of the darkness and destruction, both forces were subjected to heavy shelling from both hostile and friendly fire.

The morning of the 11th, the Welsh tried to clear the woods of German resistance and a further day of fierce hand-to-hand fighting ensued, but still the Germans clung to the very tip of the northern edge of the wood. During that evening, though, they were to withdraw, leaving the woods finally in the hands of the Welsh.

Daybreak on the 12th, and the woods were in British hands. With a cost nearly 4,000 casualties, the Division was withdrawn from combat, and it would be a year before they would return to the Western Front.

The 38th Division was withdrawn from the line and replaced by the 21st Division.

The men of the Welsh Division were then to be accused of “failing to advance with enough spirit” — in other words, they were named as cowards. Although the statement was later retracted, the damage had been done.

A memorial was only put in place on July 1st 1987 by the South Wales Branch of the Western Front Association. I believe it is one of the most moving memorials on the Somme. The Memorial is not the easiest to find. Google Earth and a sat nav are a must prior and during the trip. You can drive straight past if not careful.

It took me approximately 45 seconds to cover the distance between the Dragon and the Hammerhead. This brought home to me the scale of the losses incurred covering such a small distance. When I reached the tree line and entered the woods, the trenches could still be seen. The years had tried to repair the woods from the damage from those five days 95 years ago, but signs of battle can easily been found. In such a tranquil wood, the only sounds were my footsteps and the songs of the birds — how different from those few days in 1916.

As I stood in one of the remaining trenches and looked back towards the Dragon, it struck me that with the field of fire the Germans had from the woods and the strip trench, the 38th Division’s frontal assault was near suicidal. As I turned to leave the wood, I found a photograph of a Welsh soldier pinned to a tree, a personal tribute to one of the many men who perished in Mametz Wood in July 1916.

On the Meuse-Argonne battlefield

The Allies, including the Americans, attacked on the Meuse-Argonne in France on Sept. 26, 1918, and fought on there till the end of the war.

One of the most famous incidents of the battle was the losing of the Lost Battalion (not a battalion and not lost, as Clive Harris, Battle Honours guide, likes to shout).

Here’s a good link about that aspect of the battle.

http://www.homeofheroes.com/wings/part1/3_lostbattalion.html

And here’s the memorial:

Lost Battalion

(OK, this is a serious story of perseverance, etc., but isn’t it amusing that there’s a memorial to the Lost Battalion marked with an arrow?)

Here is the monument to honor the American capture of the high ground at Montfaucon, about six miles from the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery. The monument has 264 steps up to a 360-degree observation platform.

Montfaucon memorial

The memorial towers over the ruins of the church — all that is left of the village.

Ruins at Montfaucon

Welcome to Hartmannswillerkopf

Hartsmann_20 Hartsmann_14 Hartsmann_16 Hartsmann_15 Hartsmann_24 Hartsmann_25 Hartsmann_26 Hartmanns_cross1 Hartsmann_28Like Le Linge, Hartmannswillerkopf is high ground that the Germans held and the French attacked right under their noses — and under their guns. But the Germans had another advantage besides position:

Logistics.

German supplies were less than 5K away, French more than 20.

The fighting here was intense from the start of the war into 1915, when each side realized the other wasn’t going anywhere and the real action was elsewhere. The French launched major offensives at Artois and Champagne