Thursday, June 28, 2018

June 24-July 18, 1918: “We will surely do our damndest over here,” The Champagne Defensive


by Maj. William Carraway
Historian, Georgia Army National Guard

From March 21 to June 15, 1918 the German Army had launched four offensives along the western front in a final effort to break the stalemate of trench warfare, drive the British Expeditionary Force from the continent and compel the French to sue for peace. The Germans met with early success during Operations Michael and Georgette, but the tactical victories and terrain captured did not translate to strategic victory. By June 15, the Germans had opened two salients in the Western front. The Marne salient extended from Soissons in the west to Rheims in the east and plunged south to within 40 miles of Paris to the banks of the Marne River and the town of Chateau Thierry. The effects of the spring offensives and creation of the salients meant that the German Army now had a longer line to defend with fewer men. Recognizing this, and expecting another German offensive, General Ferdinand Foch, Supreme Allied Commander, began drawing additional forces to the Marne Salient and awaited the opportunity to launch a counteroffensive.


The Marne Salient, July 1918. Image credit firstworldwar.com


The companies of the 151st Machine Gun Battalion arrived at St. Almand sur Fion June 24, 1918 with the understanding that they would conduct two weeks of training on special maneuvers. Changes in conditions at the front prompted a change of plans and on June 29, the battalion marched to Marson. On that same day, Robert Burton turned 21.[1] The battalion marched on to Tilloy et Bellay the following day. Here, the Soldiers trained with two French divisions for offensive operations. This training was cancelled when the 151st was assigned to reinforce the Champagne front and placed under control of the French 4th Army commanded by General Henri Gourand. The 151st was dispatched to Suippes July 3, 1918 and arrived the following morning. 

The battalion had been summoned to bolster lines east of Rheims to counter an anticipated German attack there. The companies of the battalion established support by fire positions for their supported infantry regiments as in previous sectors. For the next ten days the men were briefed on the complex defensive plan for the 42nd Division’s sector. Gourand had established a defense in depth composed of three lines in keeping with French General Order No. 4 in December 1917. The forward positions were occupied by the 170th and 13th French Divisions. These positions were to be manned only until long enough to signal the coming attack to the following line which was emplaced two miles to the rear. From right to left, this line consisted of the 168th and 167th Infantry Regiments of the 84th Infantry Brigade followed by the 166th and 165th Infantry Regiments of the 83rd Brigade. A final line was positioned another mile to the rear of the intermediate positions.[2] Over the next several days the intermediate line was strengthened and companies of the 42nd Division’s infantry regiments were moved forward from support positions to reinforce the main line of resistance.

Availed of an opportunity, Cpl. Burton wrote home to his brother Frank on July 10, 1918. It would be the last such opportunity for several weeks.

France (Souain Sector north of Suippes)
July 10, 1918
My dear Frank,
I have received all of your letters I think, at least I have received several letters from you and I surely do appreciate hearing from you. Keep on writing.
I am OK and right side up with care.
You can rest assured that the boys over here will give the Huns hell and end up this war in a hurry. We are learning to hate the Huns and it is not a reckless mad hate but a cold determined hate that is most at a white heat.
The influence of the US is being felt in the firing line now and the American troops are everywhere in France. You can go hardly anywhere without seeing US Troops.
If the people back home will back us up, we will surely do our damndest over here. The Soldiers of the U.S. are capable of great things which has been shown at Chateau Thierry and other places where they have been in the line. The Germans realize this and are concentrating all of their power to try and force an understanding before the spring is over. But the allied line will hold.
I don’t know much war news. You people back in the states know lots more about it than we do. We only know the things that happen in our particular part of the line that we happen to be in.
Write often as I enjoy reading your letters a whole lot.
Your devoted bro,
Gober[3]

French intelligence correctly guessed the German intent and were preparing for an assault against the French 4th 5th and 6th Armies. A successful raid carried out by French Soldiers of the IV Corps on the evening of July 14 captured German prisoners who revealed that the enemy would initiate artillery bombardment just after midnight on the morning of July 15th unleash the Infantry upon the works held by the 4th Army just after 4:00.[4] General Gourand’s preparations were about to pay off.

The Champagne Marne Defense.  Image credit: Americans All: The Rainbow at War. F. J. Heer Printing Co., 1936


Swiftly, the forward line was reduced to the minimum number of personnel possible to provide early warning and orders were passed that no Germans were to pass the intermediate line. At 11:45 on the evening of July 14, French and American artillery began a surprise counterfire. German artillery joined in, their fire concentrated on the now nearly empty first line.

From their support position in the third line, the gunners of the 151st were exposed to air-burst shells. A German shell scored a direct hit on a machine gun position of Company B 151st killing or wounding every member of the crew. Killed were Cpl. Chambers Bunting, and Pvts. Daniel Hudson, George Robison and Guerry Temple. Wounded were Pvt Luke Forrest (severely), Pvt. James Foster and Bugler Eugene Harris Jr. (severely). Corporal Fred Kitchens of Company A was also wounded by the same shell.

The situation was worse for Companies C and D. While braving concentrated artillery fire to carry a message to the 3rd Battalion 168th Infantry Regiment Pvt. George Rodman was beheaded by a shell.[5] Private Richard Bryson of Company D was also killed while bearing messages from the main line of resistance. Corporal Roy S. Ratley of Company C was killed by a shell that also wounded Pfc. James Stewart of the same company. Stewart reported that Ratley was “blown into bits by the explosion, and identification was made possible only by certain markings on the leggings he wore.”[6] German shells also arched over the lines targeting transportation and logistics positions. The fire was so severe that Company C lost every cart mule in their supply train. Battalion Headquarters was compelled to move, under fire, from Camp Nantivette to woods south of Suippes.[7] Private 1st Class James Oliver of Headquarters Company was killed in the onslaught while Wagoneer. Charlie Miller and Pvt. Asahel Lathrop were wounded.

The men of the 151st could not see the actions going on at the main line of resistance and were only aware that the German Infantry assault was underway from messages that arrived nearly 45 minutes after the assault had begun.[8] Nevertheless, casualties continued to mount. Artillery killed Pvt. Delmar Howard and Supply Sgt Earl Wadsworth of company C. Eighteen men of Company C were wounded along with 9 from Company D. At least one, Pvt. William Akin of Company C was gassed.

The main German infantry attack launched just before 4:00 am. French Soldiers in the first line fired flares and rockets to signal the German approach before retiring to the intermediate line. Expecting to meet stiff resistance the Germans instead entered the first line only to find that these positions had been fully ranged by artillery and machine gun positions which raked the forward line inflicting enormous casualties. Exhausted from their initial charge, the Germans now faced a charge across open ground to a second line manned by two French and one American Division. In heavy fighting, the Germans penetrated the intermediate line near Souain but were dislodged by a French counter charge augmented by Soldiers of the 167th Infantry Regiment. By 10:00 the last of seven German waves had been beaten back and within one more hour the German offensive had stalled completely.[9]

Artillery and small arms fire continued for the next several days. Company C was ordered to move to the main line of resistance July 16 amidst continuous artillery bombardment. In the course of their service at the intermediate line, Company C suffered three casualties. Corporal Albert McLellan was gassed and Privates Robert Cook and Allen Dell were wounded.

The battalion suffered no casualties on July 17 but during the night of July 18, heavy bombardment of gas and artillery wounded Pfc. Claud Maxwell of Company B and four Soldiers of Company C. The next day the battalion received orders to prepare for a relief in place which was to be executed before dawn of the 20th. The Battalion successfully pulled back from the intermediate and support lines as ordered, but in the process lost Bugler John Phillips of Headquarters Company who was severely wounded.

Service records for the 151st MGB record 10 killed and 43 wounded during the Champagne Defensive. The Battalion History written in 1919 recorded 12 killed, 41 gassed and 16 wounded by shells.[10]

151st Machine Gun Battalion Casualties During the Champagne Defensive


Monday, July 15, 1918
Cpl. Chambers L. Bunting Jr., Co B, killed
Monday, July 15, 1918
Cpl. Fred Kitchens, Co A, wounded
Monday, July 15, 1918
Pvt. Luke Forrest, Co B, severely wounded
Monday, July 15, 1918
Pvt. James H. Foster, Co. B, slightly wounded
Monday, July 15, 1918
Bugler Eugene B. Harris Jr., Co B, severely wounded
Monday, July 15, 1918
Pvt. Daniel P. Hudson, Co B. killed
Monday, July 15, 1918
Pfc. George B. Jewett, Co B, severely wounded
Monday, July 15, 1918
Pvt. George F. Robison, Co B, killed
Monday, July 15, 1918
Pvt. Guerry J. Temple, Co B, killed
Monday, July 15, 1918
Sgt. William G. Akin, Co C, gassed
Monday, July 15, 1918
Sgt. Marian L. Anglin, Co C, slightly wounded
Monday, July 15, 1918
1st Lt. Wilfred R. Browne, Co C, wounded
Monday, July 15, 1918
Pvt. Wallace Carter, Co C, slightly wounded
Monday, July 15, 1918
Musician Arthur A. Collins, Co C, slightly wounded
Monday, July 15, 1918
Pvt. Daniel D. Crosby, Co C, slightly wounded
Monday, July 15, 1918
Pfc. William H. Dean, Co C, slightly wounded
Monday, July 15, 1918
Pvt. Willie Griffin, Co C, slightly wounded
Monday, July 15, 1918
Pvt. Earnest Hooker, Co C, slightly wounded
Monday, July 15, 1918
Pfc. Delmar Howard, Co C, killed
Monday, July 15, 1918
Pvt. LaVoiseur Johnston, Co C, slightly wounded
Monday, July 15, 1918
Pvt. Essler D. McIntyre, Co C, slightly wounded
Monday, July 15, 1918
Pvt. Robert L. Nelson, Co C, slightly wounded
Monday, July 15, 1918
Sgt. Brown L. Nicholson, Co C, slightly wounded
Monday, July 15, 1918
Pfc. George Norris, Co C. slightly wounded.
Monday, July 15, 1918
Cpl. Roy S. Ratley, Co C, killed
Monday, July 15, 1918
Pfc. James V. Stewart, Co C, slightly wounded
Monday, July 15, 1918
Cpl. Joe E Tarrer, Co C, slightly wounded.
Monday, July 15, 1918
Pfc. John E. Tinsley, Co C, wounded
Monday, July 15, 1918
Pvt. Harry C. Tucker, Co C, slightly wounded
Monday, July 15, 1918
Supply Sgt. Earl G. Wadsworth, Co C, killed
Monday, July 15, 1918
Pvt. Asahel Lathrop, HHC, slightly wounded
Monday, July 15, 1918
Wagoneer Charlie M. Miller, HHC, slightly wounded
Monday, July 15, 1918
Pfc. James M. Oliver, HHC, killed
Monday, July 15, 1918
Pvt. Edward W. Bair, Co D, wounded
Monday, July 15, 1918
Pvt. Robert Bond, Co D, wounded
Monday, July 15, 1918
Pvt. Raymond Bryson, Co D, killed
Monday, July 15, 1918
Pvt. Joseph A. Earley, Co D, wounded
Monday, July 15, 1918
Pvt. William Imhoff, Co D, wounded
Monday, July 15, 1918
Pvt. G. Karabetos, Co D, wounded
Monday, July 15, 1918
Pvt. H. E. Loucks, Co D, wounded
Monday, July 15, 1918
Pvt Wayne McLaughlin, Co D, wounded
Monday, July 15, 1918
Pvt. Charles L. Miller, Co D, wounded
Monday, July 15, 1918
Pvt. G. W. Rittenhouse, Co D, wounded
Monday, July 15, 1918
Pvt George A. Rodman, Co D, killed
Tuesday, July 16, 1918
Cpl. Albert N. McLellan, Co B, gassed
Tuesday, July 16, 1918
Pvt. Robert P. Cook slightly wounded
Tuesday, July 16, 1918
Pvt. Allen Dell, Co C, slightly wounded
Thursday, July 18, 1918
Pfc. Claud H. Maxwell, Co B. severely wounded
Thursday, July 18, 1918
Pfc. Cecil Adams, Co C, slightly wounded
Thursday, July 18, 1918
Cpl. Troy Barnett, Co C, slightly wounded
Thursday, July 18, 1918
Pfc. Oscar Davidson, Co C., slightly wounded
Thursday, July 18, 1918
Cpl. Beda Klinefelter, Co C, slightly wounded
Saturday, July 20, 1918
Bugler John W. Phillips, HHC, severely wounded





[2] American Battle Monuments Commission. 42D Division Summary of Operations in the World War. Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office, 1944, 8-9.
[3] Robert G. Burton to Frank Burton. July 10, 1918
[4] Ibid, 12.
[5] N. P. Parkinson and Joel R. Parkinson, Commanding Fire: An Officers Life in the 151st Machine Gun Battalion, 42nd Rainbow Division during World War I (Atglen, PA: Schiffer Pub., 2013), 72.
[6] From the Americus Times Recorder, 19 Aug 1918
[7] Peavy, Arthur and Miller, White, The 151st Machine Gun Battalion 42d (Rainbow) Division: A Battalion History and Citations of the Rainbow August 13, 1917 to April 26, 1919. J. W. Burke Co., 1919, 8.
[8] N. P. Parkinson and Joel R. Parkinson, Commanding Fire: An Officers Life in the 151st Machine Gun Battalion, 42nd Rainbow Division during World War I (Atglen, PA: Schiffer Pub., 2013), 72
[9] American Battle Monuments Commission. 42D Division Summary of Operations in the World War. Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office, 1944, 12.
[10] Peavy, Arthur and Miller, White, The 151st Machine Gun Battalion 42d (Rainbow) Division: A Battalion History and Citations of the Rainbow August 13, 1917 to April 26, 1919. J. W. Burke Co., 1919, 9.

No comments:

Post a Comment