MARSHAL HINDENBURG on the evening of July 16, 1918, ordered the German Crown Prince "to stop the German troops' bleeding to death against the Fourth French Army."
This is the German acknowledgment that for the first time since the overwhelming defeat of the Italians in the battle of Caporetto in the fall of 1917 the tide of German victory had been stopped. For the first time since the virtual destruction of the Fifth British Army in March, 1918, a full-fledged Hindenburg-Ludendorff attack had been stopped dead with a bloody repulse.
What was going to happen next?
Did the Germans have enough reserves to strike again?
Did the Allies have enough troops to attack, as General Foch had wished to do for weeks but could not because Marshal Haig commanding the British and General Pétain commanding the French each insisted he needed all his troops for the defensive against the next German attack?
If the Allies finally had enough troops to attack where did they come from?
July 18 the French and Americans attacked from Soissons in the north to Château-Thierry in the south, opening the second phase of the second battle of the Marne.
The first phase was the defensive battle of July 15-17 from Château-Thierry on the west along the Marne, across it to Rheims, in front of that famous city and thence across the chalk plains of Champagne almost to the Argonne Forest.
Was this the battle which turned the tide against the Germans, forever robbing them of their last chance of victory?
Recently I went to see Major-General Charles P. Summerall, now chief of staff of our army. His rapid rise in command, during the war, from an artillery brigade to an army corps has put him in history as a great leader of men in battle.
I asked him:
"General, now that many facts formerly hidden have come out during the past ten years, what is your opinion of the relative importance of the second battle of the Marne?"
He answered in a determined manner but with the quiet voice which, I had noticed in France, even the excitement of battle does not cause him to raise:
"The second battle of the Marne was the turning point of the war. The combats of July 15 and 16, much to the surprise of the Germans, stopped their attacks. However, they still had reserves enough left to make another attack and were planning to do so, this time probably against the British.
"The Franco-American attack, begun July 18, was pressed so hard that finally the German reserves intended for this new attack had to be largely used in a vain endeavor to stop it.
"When the battle closed with the beaten Germans retreating across the Aisne and Vesle rivers they had insufficient reserves for another attack left. Thus they were robbed forever of the power of the offensive.
"From then on the Allies could do what the Germans had been doing: attack when and where they pleased."
General Foch for many months had advocated the formation of a "central reserve," or "mass of maneuver." He had started long before imminent defeat as the result of the March attack on the British had caused the Allies finally to agree that one man should command on the western front and to choose him.
By "central reserve" he meant a strong body of troops held together in some central position ready to strike the Germans at their weakest point after they had begun some savage attack and, intent on pushing it, were leaving one flank or another weak.
When they attacked in May and drove down to the Marne, they left such a weak flank. It was their left or western flank. Their left was at Château-Thierry, twenty-five miles south of Soissons. Five miles to the west of Soissons was Fontenoy, the point on the German trench line from which this left had started the successful attack which took it to the Marne, at Château-Thierry. Facing west along the line from Fontenoy to Château-Thierry, twenty-five miles south, there were only eleven German divisions, about 120,000 men.
Ludendorff knew he was weak here. He knew that if the Allies had enough troops they could strike him on this weak flank and by driving it in threaten the rear of the Germans between Château-Thierry and Rheims.
He did not believe they had the troops. He thought the heavy fighting in March and April had so used up the British they could send no help. Also, the preparations he was making for a future attack on the British had convinced them, as he had intended, that they and not the French were the next to be attacked.
Thus, the British would not part with their reserves, but kept them behind their own line. Ludendorff believed that the help the French had sent the British in March and April had used up their reserves. The, from the German point of view, splendid and easy success of the last days of May and first of June, which brought them once more to the Marne, confirmed this view.
He did not believe enough Americans had arrived to make good the British and French lack of troops. Therefore, he took a chance of his weak left flank being attacked, and put all his available troops into the attack of the 15th of July.
However, 700,000 combat American soldiers had arrived in France by July 15. Nearly 90,000 with the French faced the great German assault the 15th and 16th of July. The infantry of six divisions back of the British line gave a reenforcement of 80,000 soldiers from Illinois, New York, the Carolinas, Tennessee, New Jersey, Delaware, the Virginias, and Pennsylvania. Five complete divisions, with a strength of 140,000, made up of regulars and soldiers from Michigan, Wisconsin, Missouri, Kansas, New York, Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee serving in the line in Lorraine, had freed that many veteran French troops for service at the critical point of the front. Six divisions, 168,000, were in training.
Our Twenty-sixth Infantry Division, made up of national guardsmen from all the New England states, and our Third Regular Infantry Division were in line near Château-Thierry. The First, Second and Fourth American divisions, all regulars, and the Twenty-eighth Division, Pennsylvania National Guard, were near by. Thus, by the 15th of July, Foch had 170,000 American troops in position to be used as a "mass of maneuver" to strike Ludendorff's weak flank.
From the first days of June, when the German arrival on the Marne presented this opportunity to attack this weak flank, General Foch had wanted to make it. The question was to get enough troops. Marshal Haig, in command of the British, and General Pétain in command of the French army, each feared a heavy German attack. After Haig's bitter experiences in March and April and Pétain's bitter one in May, they did not want to give up any troops for an attack even on a weak spot on the German line. Each wanted all the troops he had and as many Americans as he could get to face the third great German blow. Each was convinced that blow would be against his army and not against the army of the other.
General Pershing promptly saw the opportunity, and believed he had the American troops to smash the German weak flank. On June 23, and again on July 10, he strongly urged General Foch to permit an American attack.
However, it was not until Gouraud's Fourth Army had stopped the German attack in the Champagne the 15th of July that General Foch found General Pétain's and the British anxiety sufficiently assuaged to obtain the French and British troops he wished to add to the Americans to make his "mass of maneuver" with which to strike the blow.
By the evening of July 16, there was no longer the slightest doubt that Gouraud's Fourth Army had stopped the principal German attack with such bloody losses that it could not be renewed. Therefore, the order was given for the attack to begin July 18, from Fontenoy on the Aisne River, just west of Soissons, in the north, to Château-Thierry on the Marne, in the south. Between Château-Thierry and Rheims an attack was also to be made.
The fiery General Mangin, commanding the Tenth French Army, was to make the main attack. This army stretched from Fontenoy south to the Ourcq River, famous for some of the bloodiest fighting in the first battle of the Marne, and soon to have its waters again stained with blood, much of it American, in this final phase of the second battle of the Marne. To its south, from the Ourcq to the Marne, was half of General Degoutte's Sixth French Army. Of the troops in line for the attack, nearly one-half of Mangin's and more than one-third of Degoutte's were Americans.
General Mangin came of a military family. Two of his brothers were killed in battle, one in French Indo-China, the other in Africa, serving under General Gouraud. Mangin had spent the greater part of his service, prior to the war, fighting in the French African and Asiatic colonies. Like Gouraud, he had been wounded three times in these colonial wars.
He was one of the members of Colonel Marchand's expedition, which, after months of incredible hardships crossed Africa, from west to east, finally reaching Fashoda on the upper Nile. Lord Kitchener, then sirdar of Egypt, fearing that France would claim the territory, rushed to Fashoda with an armed force. While negotiations which threatened to bring war between France and Britain were carried on in London and Paris, the two armed forces at Fashoda, each under its national flag, awaited the decision which would determine whether they were friends or foes.
Mangin decided that the spearhead of his attack would be the army corps made up of the Moroccan Division of the French army, which included the famous Foreign Legion, and our First and Second infantry divisions, made up of regulars. Thus, eighty percent of this corps was American.
The day and night of the 17th were rainy. The First Division, by forced marches and extreme exertion, managed to get its batteries in place during the night of the 17th and 18th. The infantry had been waiting in the Compiègne Wood, later to be the scene of the signing of the Armistice. In the open, and of course without fires for fear of attracting the attention of the enemy's long-range artillery and aviators, they suffered from the cold and wet. Then came the ten-mile march in the rain, along the muddy, slippery sides of the highways leading to their jump-off position. The center of the roads was occupied, as was our Civil War custom, by the artillery and ammunition trains.
General Summerall, who commanded the division, with his staff, brigade, and regimental commanders, had been on the ground for several days making careful recormaissances of the battle-field and every possible preparation. The consequence was that despite the blackness of the night, the rain, the worn-out condition of the men and animals from their forced marches and lack of shelter, every unit moved to its place without confusion.
While this was General Summerall's first battle as a division commander, it was far from being his first battle.
Born in Florida, without money or influence he secured an appointment to West Point through a competitive examination. Graduated from that school, he served for years as a lieutenant of artillery under General Graham, one of the iron characters produced by our Civil War.
In the Philippines, and later in the Boxer Campaign in China, he distinguished himself by his personal courage. More than that, he endeared himself to the infantry by the way in which he used his guns to smash the enemy groups giving the doughboys the most trouble. In the Philippines, this attracted the attention of the then Major of Infantry Bullard. The result was that when Bullard, as a major-general, came to the command of the First Division in France, he asked for Summerall to command his artillery brigade.
After the battle of Cantigny, General Bullard was promoted to command the Third Army Corps, and General Summerall to command the First Division.
The Second Division had a much harder time than the First to get to its jump-off place in time for the attack. After its heavy and successful fighting at Belleau Wood, the division had been billeted in villages near and along the Marne River.
In all armies, men who have been general staff officers too long, forgetting the difficulties which troops have to meet, are inclined to ignore the rights and responsibilities of commanding officers.
Such officers on one of the French higher staffs failed to give the complete information of their intentions to the headquarters of the Second Division. Instead, they successively rushed off the artillery brigade by marching, then the infantry in motor trucks, and finally the kitchens and supply trains by marching. All were sent north, but to destinations the exact positions of which were unknown.
General Harbord commanded the Marine Infantry Brigade at Belleau Wood. This success caused his promotion to the command of the Second Division. He arrived at the head' quarters in the midst of these movements.
General Harbord's career is another example of the opportunities which the democracy and fair play of our army offers to those who are capable. He was born on an Illinois farm. His father served throughout the Civil War in an Illinois cavalry regiment. When Harbord was still a young boy, his family moved to a Kansas farm. When he was of sufficient age, young Harbord enlisted as a private in the regular cavalry. An excellent soldier, he studied hard, passed the required examinations, and was commissioned a second lieutenant of cavalry.
Like all our leaders in this war, he saw active service in the Philippine Insurrection. He was one of the regular officers detailed to organize the Philippine Constabulary, that corps which for years, and even yet, has to combat with fanatical Mohammedan chiefs and other disturbers of the peace throughout the Islands. In time, he became its chief.
When we entered the Great, War, he was an instructor at our War College. Thus, like all our generals who succeeded, he had that combination of practical experience on the battle-fields and higher military education which is essential in warfare today.
With characteristic energy he jumped into his car, with his chief of staff, and proceeded north to the headquarters of the French army corps in which he had finally been told his division would serve. Here, he could learn nothing of his scattered division, but he did get the orders for the attack. This was late in the night of the 16th.
He sat up all the rest of the night getting out the orders for the attack. Though he had been assured by the French staff that he need not worry as his troops would arrive in ample time at their positions, he started, without sleep, at daybreak to find the units of his division.
As was too often the case when foreign staffs handled our divisions, the time necessary for the movement had been underestimated. This, because our divisions were from two to two and one-half times as big as the largest French, British, or German ones.
By dint of the greatest effort throughout the day and the whole of the night---again passed without any sleep---the units of the division were moved into place. The machine guns, with their crews, had been dumped by the French motor trucks twelve miles from the jump-off position. However, the animals which had marched overland had been sent to that position. The result was the gun crews carried their heavy machine guns twelve miles, the last few of which were through the pitch-dark forest of Villers-Cotterêts.
Some of the units were in place shortly before the attack began. Others arrived just in time to start, with practically no halt. Some, arriving just too late, even though they had been marching at a double time. Seeing the barrage move forward ahead of them, they continued their double time until they had caught up to the proper distance to its rear. To this day, the difficulties of this approach march stand out more in the minds of the Second Division than the two days' savage fighting which followed.
The attack was to start at 4:35 A.M. As it was to be a surprise, there was to be no artillery preparatory fire. Thus, along the twenty-five miles of front, from Soissons to Château-Thierry, with the exception of an occasional shot, silence reigned.
A few minutes before the time for the attack, a red rocket suddenly shot up into the air from the German position just in front of our First Division. In answer to the rocket, down came the German artillery defensive barrage, in front of their own infantry, its shells bursting amidst our infantry lying there waiting for the attack. Though Americans were killed and wounded, so perfect was the discipline that not even one rifle shot was fired.
Had the Germans found out about the attack? Or was some lonely man in the front line simply "seeing things," as often happens, and quite naturally, at night?
If the barrage continued and spread to the south, it was the first. If it stopped in a few minutes, the second.
In a few minutes the barrage stopped.
Then, after a short silence, exactly at 4:35 A.M., the hundreds of French and American batteries opened fire with a crash. To the rear of the infantry, the darkness---for dawn had not yet appeared---was lighted by the flare of thousands of gun discharges. To its front were seen the thousands of bursting shells.
The infantry jumped up and followed these bursts as they moved forward forming the rolling barrage.
As the crash of our artillery broke the stillness of the night, red rockets soared up from all along the enemy's line. Before these had burned out, down came the enemy's artillery fire, and with it the tat-tat-tat of the machine guns, which is always brought to the mind of a veteran by the automatic riveters working in great numbers on the iron frame of a new skyscraper.
Except for ravines to go across, the ground in front of our First and Second divisions, and the Moroccan Division between them was gently rolling and covered with waist- to breast-high wheat. There being no trenches, the enemy's machine guns and field artillery were distributed here and there, more or less in checkerboard fashion. The result was that our artillery had great difficulty in locating them. Therefore, from the first our infantry suffered heavy casualties. Both the German machine gunners and the artillerymen stuck by their weapons, firing to the last. Large numbers of them died at their posts.
However, regardless of casualties and resistance, the advance continued.
The 28th Regular Infantry in its advance suffered severely from flanking fire from the Saint-Amand Farm. Though it was out of the First Division's sector, several companies were ordered to take it, and did so by direct assault. The Missy-aux-Bois ravine, deep and wide, leading into the valley of the Aisne to the north, was strongly held by the enemy, with machine guns and artillery. Though suffering losses which almost exterminated some of the attacking companies, and which did destroy the accompanying tanks, the 28th Infantry, on the left of the division, and the 26th Infantry next on its right, persisted until they had conquered the ravine and emerged on the far side.
Private G. S. Caldwell, of the 28th Infantry, when galling enemy's fire had temporarily stopped the men near him, rushed 300 yards to the front and attacked a machine-gun strong point, with a German field gun alongside of it. He killed two of the enemy and captured thirteen others, with the machine gun and the field gun.
The 18th Regular Infantry, on the right of the division, received a heavy fire on its flank from artillery and machine guns in the village of Chaudun. Though outside its sector, the regiment did not hesitate to assault and carry it.
The second day, the third day, and the fourth day, the division, though steadily dwindling from its heavy losses, continued its successful advance.
At the close of the second day, the colonel of the French Foreign Legion visited the colonel of the 18th Infantry to tell him, "The Foreign Legion considers it not only a privilege but an honor to fight by the side of such gallant troops as the 18th Infantry."
The 16th Infantry, in the right center of the divisional attack, suffered so heavily that on the third day part of the divisional engineers had to be sent to raise its strength for the attack of the next day.
The fourth day, the remnants of the 28th and 26th Infantry, with their brigade commander, Brigadier General B. B. Buck, and his staff, in the first wave assaulted and took Verzy-le-Sec, and the hill upon which it stood. These had been strongly organized by the Germans, because commanding the Soissons-Château-Thierry Highway and the railroad out of Soissons used by the enemy to supply the northern part of his line. At the same time, the greatly reduced 16th and 18th Infantry fought their way to and over the Soissons-Château-Thierry Highway, and on to the heights of Buzancy beyond.
No longer facing east, but facing northeast; astride the Soissons-Château-Thierry Highway, and holding the commanding hills on both sides, the First Division had seized a position which endangered all the German line to its south. During the night of the 21st-22nd, and the day of the 22nd, it not only held its position against strong attacks, but in some places advanced its line. The night of the 22nd it was relieved by a Scotch division, one of four British divisions loaned Foch by Haig in return for the decisive help given by the French during the heavy German attacks against the British in March and April.
Its losses were 234 officers and 7,048 men killed and wounded. In the 16th and 18th Infantry, all the majors had been killed or wounded. In the 26th Infantry, the colonel was killed, and the three majors killed or wounded. The 26th Infantry came out of the fight under the command of a captain who had been in the army less than two years.
Each night the Germans had brought in new divisions to reenforce the remnants of those already there. A total of seven German divisions was vainly used to stop the First Division's advance.
By ten A.M. the first day, the Second Division had fought its way three and one-half miles into the German lines, capturing more than 2,000 prisoners and fifty guns.
The battle had hardly started before Sergeant Louis Cukela, of the Fifth Marines, distinguished himself when the fire from an enemy strong point held up his platoon. He crawled out alone from the flank toward the German lines, in the face of heavy fire. Somehow, he succeeded in getting behind one enemy machine gun. Rushing it, he killed some of the crew with his bayonet and drove the rest off. He seized the German hand grenades lying near the gun and with them bombed out the rest of the strong point, capturing four men and two machine guns.
The solid stone buildings of Beaurepaire Farm, strengthened by the Germans until really a fort, took a heavy toll from the 9th and 23rd Infantry. However, they carried it by hand-to-hand fighting, as they did batteries of German artillery in the wheat fields near by, which fired point-blank into the advancing Americans.
Private Anthony Wendell of the 9th Infantry, seeing the men near him were held up by the fire of an enemy's machine gun, crawled forward alone, attacked the gun, and captured it, killing its crew.
Beginning early in the afternoon and extending well into the night, a savage fight took place around the village of Vierzy. In the end it was carried by assault.
During this attack, Corporal E. F. Phalen, of the 23rd Infantry, voluntarily left the leading wave of his company, and alone rushed a concealed machine gun firing into the right flank of that company. Despite the enemy's fire, he reached the gun position and single-handed killed or captured the entire gun crew.
The division pushed a mile beyond Vierzy, only halting at midnight. This put it more than a mile farther into the German line than any other division which attacked that day.
The next morning, it successfully withstood a number of determined German counter-attacks launched against it to pinch out the bulge which it had made into their line. Later in the day, it drove forward another two miles, despite obstinate German resistance.
This put it in possession of Hill 160, which dominates the Château-Thierry-Soissons Highway, a few hundred yards to the east. That night, it was relieved by the 59th French Colonial Division. It had made a total advance of more than six miles, capturing 3,000 prisoners and 66 field guns. It had lost almost 5,000 men and officers.
Our 4th Division, made up of newly organized regular regiments, took part in the attack of General Degoutte's Sixth French Army. Half of the division was used in the Second French Army Corps and the other half in the Seventh French Army Corps.
Jumping off at 4:35 A.M. on the 18th, they with their French comrades on either side, had penetrated the second night---when they were relieved---a depth of four miles into the German line. While this was their first action, the casualties suffered and the trophies gained in prisoners and guns made the first battle name to be placed on their new regimental standards one of which they can be proud.
When it seemed certain death to do so, Sergeant E. K. Lawless, of the 39th Infantry, volunteered to take a message five hundred yards across an open field, in plain sight of the enemy, and under heavy fire.
Private G. W. Boardman, 59th Infantry, had been hit in the ankle, and was lying in a shell hole under heavy machine-gun fire. Hearing wounded comrades calling for water, he made several trips to a small stream one hundred yards away, each time filling canteens and bringing them back to the helplessly wounded near by, whose calls had aroused his pity.
The southern end of the attack was made by the First American Army Corps, under command of General Hunter Liggett.
General Liggett, after graduating from West Point, served as an infantry officer in an Indian campaign, the Spanish-American War, and the Philippine Insurrection. Noted as one of our deepest military students, he later served for years, first as an instructor, and finally as the chief of our Army War College.
This combination of military education and practical experience enabled him to make a record, beginning with this battle, which led to his finishing the war in command of the First American Army of 500,000 men. This was a far larger force than any one American general had commanded in the field in any of our previous wars.
The line of attack for the troops north of the First Corps was one running from the Aisne River in general south until it reached that corps. There it turned in a southeasterly direction until it reached the Marne near Château-Thierry---Château-Thierry being in the German line. North of Château-Thierry is the Etrepilly plateau. The road from Château-Thierry to Soissons climbs the steep southern side of this plateau, and reaching its top heads almost due north for Château-Thierry. The First Corps' front was five miles west of this road at the bottom of the steep southwestern edge of the Etrepilly plateau.
If the Germans lost this plateau, they would have to give up Château-Thierry. Also, their line for some distance to its north would have to fall back to prevent being outflanked from the south.
Belleau Wood, lying at the southwestern base of this plateau, was a good jump-off place for an attack upon it. It was for this reason that during June and the first part of July the Germans fought the Marines so desperately and determinedly to keep them from capturing this wood.
To start the attack, General Liggett had on his left the veteran 167th French Infantry Division. On his right, was the 26th American Infantry Division.
The 26th Division was commanded by Major-General Clarence Edwards, and was made up of New England national guard troops. Coming from one of the oldest parts of the Union, most of its organizations had long histories embracing our past wars.
The 104th Infantry from Massachusetts started its military career in 1663, when existing independent companies were organized into the Hampshire County Regiment. It served in King Philip's War, 1675-76, and other colonial wars prior to our Revolutionary War. It served in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. During the Civil War, it served in the Army of the Potomac from McClellan's Peninsular Campaign in 1862 on to Grant's final campaign culminating at Appomattox in 1865.
In 1898, the regiment was under fire at Santiago, Cuba.
While General Liggett's army corps made gains at the cost of heavy fighting on the 18th, 19th, and 20th, the Etrepilly plateau remained in German hands.
Private George Delboy of the 103rd Infantry, after his platoon had gained its objective, a railway embankment, stood on it to reconnoiter. Immediately a German machine gun only a hundred yards away opened fire upon him. Instead of getting behind the embankment with one jump, he remained standing and calmly opened fire on the machine gun with his rifle. Failing to hit all the gunners, he rushed the gun with his bayonet. When about twenty-five yards away he fell with his right leg almost cut off above the knee by several bullets, and his body pierced by three more. With courage undaunted by his wounds, lying where he was, he fired with his rifle, killing two of the German gun crew and putting the rest to flight.
For a clear picture of the effect of the fighting up to the night of July 20-21, and of the combats which followed, it is necessary to give a general outline of the second battle of the Marne. This battle covered so much ground and involved so many divisions during its nineteen consecutive days of hard fighting, followed by its closing two days' pursuit of the enemy, that only in this way can an understanding be obtained of what the fighting accomplished, and of the part our troops played.
The ground occupied by the Germans before the battle had roughly the shape of a dipper. The handle began near the Argonne Forest and ran west across the Champagne to Rheims. This handle was twenty-five miles long. The top of the dipper was to the north and ran from Rheims west along the Vesle River to the Aisne River, of which the Vesle is a tributary, thence along the Aisne past Soissons for about five miles to Fontenoy. The top of the dipper was about thirty-five miles across. From Fontenoy the front face of the dipper ran south about twenty-five miles to Hautevesnes just northwest of the famous Belleau Wood.
The bottom of the dipper, which was irregular in its shape, ran from Hautevesnes through Belleau Wood southwest to the Marne River, just west of Château-Thierry. Château-Thierry was in the dipper near the center of its bottom. On reaching the Marne, the bottom ran east along its northern bank for about ten miles, as the crow flies, to Dormans. From Dormans, the back face of the dipper ran northeast to Rheims, nearly twenty miles away.
The battle was in two parts: the first, July 15, 16, and 17, in which the Germans attacked while the Allies were on the defensive; the second, July 18 to August 4, inclusive, during which the Allies attacked. In the first half, the Germans attacked along the handle in the Champagne, across the rear face of the dipper, from Rheims to Dormans on the Marne, and across the eastern part of the bottom, from Dormans to Château-Thierry. Along the handle the Germans were stopped dead. They badly bulged the rear face and the eastern part of the bottom, except the last five miles nearest Château-Thierry. Here, our 3rd Infantry Division stopped them.
The Franco-American attack, which began July 18, was to smash in the front face of the dipper. If the Germans stayed in the bottom they would be caught. If they didn't want to get caught they would have to get out of the dipper.
The first two days drove in the whole front face of the dipper. By holding hard to the Etrepilly plateau, the Germans had prevented our First Army Corps, despite its persistent attacks, from bulging very far the part of the bottom west of the Marne and Château-Thierry.
However, despite the fresh divisions which they continually fed in, the Germans were unable to stop our 1st and 2nd divisions and the French Moroccan Division from bulging in the north part of the front face so far that the south part of that face and the bottom of the dipper were in danger.
Therefore, the night of July 20-21, while putting in more fresh troops to stop the bulge in the north, they withdrew their line in the south from the Etrepilly plateau, evacuated Château-Thierry and brought their ten divisions south of the Marne to its north bank.,
During the 21st, the French and American troops in the south followed up the Germans. The 39th French Division and part of our 3rd Division crossed the Marne at Château-Thierry. Preparations were made to attack the next day.
In the north, the German line hung on grimly and desperately to the hills south of the Aisne, determined that no further bulge should be made in this part of the dipper. Except for the capture of Verzy-le-Sec and the heights of Buzancy by the 1st Division, they were successful.
The capture of these heights closed the first period of the offensive half of the second battle of the Marne. For the next eleven days all efforts to budge the Germans from their position along these hills failed. On the night of August 1-2, the Germans retired from them, abandoning Soissons and moving to the north of the Aisne River. They did this only because the center of their line for seven miles along the heights of the northern bank of the Ourcq River had been forced back, after five days of savage fighting, by American troops with the French on their left.
This forcing of the Ourcq at the center of the German line endangered it all the way from Soissons to Rheims. The result was that beginning the night of August 1-2, the Germans for two days retired northward until they had crossed the Aisne River along the western part of their line, and the Vesle River along the center and eastern part of the line.
During the 21st, 22nd and 23rd, General Liggett's First American Army Corps vigorously attacked the new German position in the south. The fighting swayed backward and forward, through the woods and grain-covered fields. The villages of Epieds and Trugny were taken by the 26th Division only to be lost again.
Sergeant Joseph W. Casey, 101st Infantry, after capturing with his platoon two machine-gun nests near Epieds, saw three Germans crawling forward to open fire with automatic rifles on his men. To give them no chance to open fire he dashed forward alone and single-handed killed all three.
Sergeant John J. Clabby, of the same regiment, while advancing with his platoon on some enemy machine-gun nests near Trugny, suddenly saw a German machine gun firing on his right flank. Without hesitancy, and despite its fire on him, he rushed the gun and single-handed killed the gunners and smashed the gun.
In the meanwhile, the 39th French Division had come up from Château-Thierry and joined in the attack to the right of the 26th. The rest of our 3rd Division, made up of regulars, under command of General Dickman, undismayed by the savage fighting of the 15th-17th of July, in which it had suffered heavy losses, continued the crossing of its left infantry brigade through Château-Thierry, while its right forced its way across the Marne and captured Mont Saint-Père, the left of the new German position.
In the reconnaissance preliminary to this forced crossing, Lieutenant Isham. R. Williams, of the 7th Infantry, started across the Marne with a patrol in a boat. German machine-gun fire sank the boat near the northern bank. Leaving his patrol under cover, Williams swam back to the south bank, despite the enemy's fire, in order to show the detachment left there to fire across the Marne, the positions of the enemy's machine guns. He then again, under fire, swam the Marne back to his patrol on the north bank.
Continuing the attack, the 3rd Division, by the evening of the 23rd, had struggled to a position on top of the hills two miles north of the Marne. This threat to their left, added to the pressure on their front by Liggett's army corps, caused the Germans during the night of the 23rd-24th to retreat from the Epieds position to a new one.
This one, four miles back, was known as the Croix Rouge Farm position.
Just to the east of where our 3rd Division crossed the Marne is a long, high ridge, running north from that river. Covered on the top with the Forest of Ris, it makes a position easily held against attack.
The left or eastern end of the Croix Rouge Farm position rested on this ridge. From there it ran northwest through Le Charmel---a name the 3rd Division will always remember---Croix Rouge Farm---indelibly imprinted in the memories of the 42nd, or Rainbow, Division-and on to the south end of the heights south of Soissons still stubbornly held by the Germans.
From right to left, our 3rd Division, the French 39th Infantry Division, our 26th Division, now reenforced by General Weigel's infantry brigade of the 28th Pennsylvania National Guard Division, and the French, on their left, vigorously pursued the Germans. Overcoming the machine-gun nests left behind here and there, by the Germans to delay their advance, they soon, with bloody results, bumped into the Croix Rouge Farm position.
Our 42nd, or Rainbow, Infantry Division (General Menoher) was now commencing to arrive on the battle-field. July 15-17, posted in the center of Gouraud's Fourth French Army, it had done its share in stopping Hindenburg's and Ludendorff's last great attack in the war. Immediately it was certain that attack was stopped, the division was rushed from the Champagne to near Château-Thierry. Many of its troop trains passed through Paris during the daytime. From the doors of their "side-door Pullmans," known in France as "40 and 8," because they will bold 40 men or 8 horses, a splendid view was had of the Eiffel Tower and the towers of Notre Dame and other churches, but that was all.
The 84th Infantry Brigade, arriving first, relieved the 26th Division. This division had relieved the 2nd Division along the Belleau-Wood-Vaux line, July 5-9. When it was relieved it had been in the f ace of the enemy fourteen days and suffered nearly 5,000 casualties.
While this relief was going on, the 3rd Division by stubborn fighting captured Le Charmel.
Sergeant M. H. Campbell, of the 4th Infantry Band, hearing the cries for first aid from wounded lying in an open field swept by machine-gun fire, ran from one to another putting on their first-aid bandages. He only stopped when, himself wounded, he was unable to continue.
Late in the afternoon of July 26, the whole front of the Croix Rouge position was attacked by the French and Americans.
The Alabama infantry regiment supported by the Iowa one on its right, both of the Rainbow Division, without direct artillery support, by savage infantry fighting broke the enemy's position, capturing Croix Rouge Farm and the woods to each side. The deadliness of the American rifle, helped by machine-gun fire, once more proved its supremacy over infantry relying on machine guns and hand grenades, and using the rifle primarily as a pole to stick a bayonet on.
When close to the enemy, our infantry rushed forward with the bayonet, yelling as they ran. Among the nearly 800 German dead buried, almost 200 had been killed with the bayonet. There was no flinching of the enemy in this fight.
Also, they took their toll from us, the Alabama regiment having forty-seven officers and 650 men killed or wounded. The two battalions of the Iowa regiment engaged lost 500 killed and wounded.
This break through caused the Germans hurriedly to retreat to the Ourcq River. During the pursuit the 55th Infantry Brigade of the 28th Pennsylvania National Guard Division relieved the 39th French Infantry Division.
The Pennsylvanians, distributed among several French divisions south of the Marne River, had had their baptism of fire manfully facing the German attack July 15-17.
Nature had made the Ourcq as if to order for a defensive position. The Germans with the keen eyes of well-trained soldiers had not failed to notice it, even before they found the necessity to use it.
The northern end of the high ridge covered by the Forest of Ris merges into the high ground north of the Ourcq River. This high ground is the watershed between the Vesle River, to its north, and the Marne, to its south. The head-waters of the Ourcq begin where the Forest of Ris ridge runs into this high ground. First running north, the Ourcq makes a long, gentle curve to the east until at the town of Fère-en-Tardenois it straightens out and runs due east.
When the capture of the Croix Rouge Farm position broke the German line, the Germans abandoned the Forest of Ris ridge, and moved back to the watershed. Here, on the high ground just north of the Ourcq, they organized their defense.
Near the head-waters of the Ourcq, and where the Forest of Ris ridge joins the high ground of the watershed, is the village of Ronchères. It was strongly held by the Germans because of its position. More important yet, its garrison could fire not only on attackers approaching from its front, but also on the flank of troops crossing the Ourcq to attack the hills beyond it.
From Ronchères along the seven miles of the high ground just north of the gently curving Ourcq, were similar natural strong points sticking out from the German main position. The garrison of each not only bad a clear field to the front to fire on troops attacking them, but also could fire to the right and left into the flanks of troops attacking the German positions between.
The names of these strong points, sanctified by the American blood freely shed to capture them, are enshrined on the battle honors of the regiments which took them, and indelibly imprinted in the minds of the men who struggled those five hot July and August days to break this last stand of the Germans in the second battle of the Marne.
Here they are: Ronchères, Grimpettes Woods, Hill 188, Cierges, Les Jomblets Wood, Hill 212, Sergy, Meurcy Farm, Bois Cola, Seringes-et-Nesle, and Hill 184.
The American side of the Ourcq consisted of long gentle slopes, leading down to that river. There were few hollows in the ground, or other cover, anywhere within two miles of the river. Therefore, when the Americans moved to the attack they were immediately in sight of the Germans.
Everywhere, in the wheat, in buildings, in the edge of woods, were the machine guns of the defenders. The long curve of the Ourcq, with the splendid view the Germans had of the American side, gave the opportunity for their artillery to fire not only into the front, but, in many cases, into the flanks of the attacking Americans.
July 28, from in front of Ronchères, on the right, to in front of Seringes-et-Nesle, on the left, the American low-flying aviators kept attacking.
On the right was the 3rd Regular Division. Next, was the 55th Infantry Brigade of the Pennsylvania 28th Division, which had relieved the 39th French Division. Next came the 42nd, or Rainbow, Division, by this time all in line. Its 83rd Infantry Brigade had relieved three French infantry divisions, whose total strength---so war-worn was France from having borne the greater share of the war from its beginning---did not equal that of one American division.
Everywhere the German artillery and infantry fire from the front, and soon, in many cases, from the flank, took its toll. The Americans had no tanks. German low-flying aviators kept attacking.
Here was no trench warfare, where the majority of combatants are unable to see their opponents until close enough to throw grenades; where men fight in deep, narrow trenches and drive each other, in small groups, out of holes in the ground; where the main business of artillery is to break down the protection behind which the enemy lurks; and where generals can do but little, once the fighting starts, because no human being has the power to get even a reasonably clear picture of what is going on over more than a very limited area.
Here was warfare in the open! Thousands of infantry moving to the attack, across the fields in plain view; the rifle taking its deadly toll at ranges where a grenade is impossible, and where the machine gun finds it no easy matter to locate the individual soldier firing on it, while, at the same time, with its crew offering him a fairly large target; the artillery firing on infantry in the open; the generals able, from what they themselves and their colonels can see, to form a correct opinion of what is going on, and, as a consequence, to take the necessary steps.
Once more was shown the wisdom of General Pershing's insistence, against European objection, that our army be trained for warfare in the open, with the rifle reenforced by the machine gun as the principal weapon of the infantry, instead of for trench warfare, with the infantry using machine guns and grenades as their principal weapons.
On the right, regulars of the 4th and 7th Infantry, of the 3rd Division, attacking on a front of a mile and a quarter, fought their way across the head-waters of the Ourcq, and captured Ronchères. On their left, the Pennsylvanians of the 109th and 110th Infantry, attacking on a mile-and-a-quarter front, fought their way across the Ourcq and several times up the slopes of the hills beyond, only to have the attack each time suffer heavily from flanking and frontal fire. The remnants, however, held on just across the Ourcq.
Captain John Kennedy of the 110th Infantry went out alone in the face of heavy fire to rescue two of his men lying wounded on the slopes above the Ourcq. The first he got back to our lines. As he reached the second a German sprang at him. The captain grabbed the rifle of the wounded man, killed the German, and then carried back his wounded private.
The enemy's front attacked by the 42nd, or Rainbow, Division, was three and one-quarter miles long. Furthermore, the curve in the Ourcq here was more pronounced. As a consequence, the four infantry regiments in attacking, instead of moving parallel to each other, spread out each from the next as if moving down the spokes of a wheel away from its center toward the rim.
The leading battalion of the Iowa infantry regiment, on the right next the Pennsylvanians, forced its way across the Ourcq, and up the slope of Hill 212 beyond. Here it gained a foothold and stubbornly hung on, despite fire from both flanks as well as their front. The support battalion, swinging to the right, fought its way across the Ourcq to a position where it could protect the leading battalion from flanking attacks from Cierges and Hill 188, from which the Germans had been firing into the rear and right of the leading battalion. Similarly, the reserve battalion fought its way across the Ourcq to a position on the outskirts of Sergy, from which Germans had been firing into the rear and left of the leading battalion.
The Alabama infantry regiment, attacking more to the north, forced its way across the Ourcq and some distance up the slope on the farther side. Though suffering severely from fire into its right from Sergy, it held the ground that it gained. The New York regiment, to the left of the Alabama one, forced its way across the Ourcq and to the crest of the ridge beyond.
One battalion of Ohio infantry, on the left of the New Yorkers, did the same. After suffering heavy casualties from fire from the front and from both the right and left flanks, these New York and Ohio troops were forced back from the crest, but managed to hold on north of the Ourcq.
On the 29th, the struggle calmed down by the night but, not stopped, burst out with renewed fury. Positions all along the front changed hands several times. By nightfall everywhere the Americans had gained ground. This night the 3rd Division was relieved by the 64th Infantry Brigade of the 32nd Division. When relieved the 3rd Division had seen fifteen days' combat, starting with the last great German attack, which began the morning of July 15. Its losses were more than 6,000 officers and men.
The 30th, like the 29th, was a day of continued savage attacks and counter-attacks, but again when night fell everywhere the Americans had made material gains.
On this night, the 63rd Infantry Brigade of the 32nd Division relieved the Pennsylvania Infantry Brigade. This was the first experience of the 32nd Division in a major combat. It had just come from the line in the Vosges Mountains, where it had had a period of trench warfare in a quiet sector. Made up of national guard troops from Wisconsin and Michigan, its regiments had inherited the proud traditions of the troops of those two states in our Civil War. Among its ranks were men whose fathers or grandfathers were part of the Iron Brigade, which so distinguished itself in the Army of the Potomac. The first day at Gettysburg, rather than yield one inch of ground to the attacking and greatly outnumbering Confederates, it stood fast though more than 70 percent of its men and officers had been killed and wounded.
July 31 and August 1 were repetitions of the three preceding days' savage fighting.
The acts of heroism would fill a volume.
Private John Mecom, of the 125th Michigan Infantry, though severely wounded while advancing with his platoon, not only continued to advance, refusing to go to the rear, but with another soldier attacked and captured a machine-gun nest.
Second Lieutenant J. M. Regan, of the 128th Wisconsin Infantry, mortally wounded while leading his platoon, kept at the head of his men until he collapsed.
Private M. B. M. Beattie, of the Sanitary Detachment of the 126th Michigan Infantry, again and again left the shelter of his dressing station and crossed an open field covered by enemy machine-gun and artillery fire, in order to give first aid to wounded soldiers.
Private Edward Austin, of the 127th Wisconsin Infantry, went out in advance of our front lines twice and brought back wounded comrades, left there when his platoon had been driven back. He started on a third trip but was killed by machine-gun fire.
Sergeant John H. Wintrode, of the 168th Iowa Infantry, when all the officers of his company were killed or wounded, and many of the men also killed and wounded, took command of the remnants and with great courage and coolness led them forward under an intense artillery and machine-gun fire.
The 47th Infantry of the 4th Division, which was in reserve, was sent forward to fill the gap between the Iowa and Alabama infantry regiments. Private Leslie C. Dill, of that regiment, though twice wounded while carrying a message, bandaged his wounds under fire and delivered his message.
The platoon commander and platoon sergeant of the platoon of Corporal Sidney E. Manning, of the 167th Alabama Infantry, were killed. Manning took command of his platoon, and though himself severely wounded, led the thirty-five remaining men forward, gaining a foothold in the enemy's position. By this time he had been wounded several more times. All but seven of his men had fallen. However, he stuck, and by the use of his automatic rifle and the encouragement which he gave the remnants of the platoon, held off a body of the enemy several times as numerous. It was only when the platoons on either side had fought their way abreast of him that he finally dragged himself to the rear, suffering from nine wounds in different parts of his body.
Major William J. Donovan, of the 165th New York Infantry, advanced his battalion to an isolated position. Though the Germans persistently attacked him on three sides, he maintained the battalion in its position and, though wounded, refused to be evacuated until hit the second time.
Sergeant Duke Peyton, of the Supply Company of the 166th Ohio Infantry, receiving a call for ammunition, jumped on the wagon of Private Brooks and with him drove a four-mule team at a gallop in broad daylight from the edge of a wood across the open fields in direct view of the enemy. Though continuously under machine-gun fire, they reached the advanced position and delivered their ammunition.
Lieutenant Cornelius E. Lombardi, of the 149th Field Artillery, had charge of the telephone liaison detachment with the assault battalion of the 166th Ohio Infantry. Becoming dissatisfied because his view of Seringes-et-Nesle, then being fired on by his regiment, was somewhat obstructed by a rise in the ground, alone and under a heavy fire, he crawled one hundred yards to the front so as to better observe the results of the fire.
The 32nd Division took the Grimpettes Woods, Hill 188, and the town of Cierges and Les Tomblettes Wood. Since the fighting had begun the 42nd had taken Hill 212, Sergy, assisted by the 47th Regular Infantry, Meurcy Farm, Bois Cola, Seringes-et-Nesle, and Hill 184. To the loss of 1,800 officers and men killed and wounded in the Champagne defensive, they had added 5,500, making a total of 7,300 for the second battle of the Marne. The French on the left of the 42nd had taken Fère-en-Tardenois.
All the positions along the crests of the ridges between these strong points had been taken.
The German position on the Ourcq was conquered!
The remnants of its defenders hastily withdrew during the night of August 1 to the Vesle River, eight miles to the north.
With the center of their line pierced, the Germans to the left, as far as Rheims, fell back to the Vesle. Those to the immediate right of the break-through fell back to the Vesle, while those on the extreme right, south of Soissons, who for eleven days since our 1st Division was taken out, had stubbornly held on to their positions, retired through Soissons to the north of the Aisne.
The dipper was smashed flat. The second battle of the Marne, which had begun July 15 with the Allies everywhere on the defensive, wondering what chance they had to stop the third Hindenburg-Ludendorff assault after the tremendous success of their first one in March and their second in May, finished with the Germans everywhere on the defensive, facing the Allies inspired by a successful attack.
The tide had been turned!
The Germans never attacked again!
From now on, instead of the Allies waiting and worrying while wondering where the Germans would strike next, the Germans were to wait, wonder, and worry where the Allies would strike next.
The planned attack against the British in the north was called off because the Germans realized they could not attack but must rest on the defensive.
The Germans had fought so determinedly that they had used up all their reserves in their vain attempt to stop the Franco-American attacks.
Thus when the French and English troops attacked August 8 there were no real reserves to be fed in, as there were in the second battle of the Marne.
The German troops yielded easily August 8, first because the second battle of the Marne dashed their hopes of a German victory followed by a German peace, and second because it showed that the American Reenforcement was not a propaganda myth but a constantly and rapidly increasing flood of hundreds of thousands of vigorous young troops as determined in attack as they were eager to fight.
Table of Contents