Thursday, September 27, 2018

August 13-September 27, 1918, Saint Mihiel: “Germany Can’t Hold Out Much Longer”


by Maj. William Carraway
Historian, Georgia Army National Guard

Final resting place of Pvt. Madie Ware, Company B, Macon Volunteers,
151st MGB. Photo by Maj. William Carraway
On August 13, 1918, one week after their unit had been pulled from front line service near Sergy, France, Soldiers of the 151st Machine Gun Battalion received their first opportunity for leave since arriving in France in October 1917. While the battalion rested and trained in the Bourmont Training Area near Champigny, ten percent of the battalion’s Soldiers rotated to Paris on 48-hour leaves of absence.[i]

On August 17, elements of the 151st MGB began movement from La Ferte sur Marne by rail and by road march to Sauville, a commune in the Ardennes Department in northern France. Here, the battalion began what was expected to be five-weeks of training. Rather than their customary field camp locations, the men were comfortably billeted and provided with the opportunity to clean clothing and equipment. The Soldiers fully expected that they would receive the customary seven-day leaves authorized for units that had spent more than four months in France.[ii] Meanwhile the Soldiers conducted a series of battle drills in which the battalion prepared to provide fire support for infantry assaults.

While his comrades in arms were training in the Ardennes, Cpl. Robert Gober Burton was still recovering from the wound he received July 30, near Sergy. Writing to his mother, Burton expressed optimism for the war’s prospects.

France August 25, 1918
Cpl. R. G. Burton's letter of  August 25, 1918. 
Georgia Guard Archives
Dearest mother,
I am well and getting along fine now. The weather here is about as hot as it is at home at this time of the year, so we are not doing much these days.
It certainly does look as if your prayers have been answered when you consider my miraculous escape. You know I even have the bullet that hit me in the arm. I also have the testament and I shall try and keep them. The first chance I get I will send both of these home.
None of the other boys from home have been hurt so far as I know. I certainly do hope that they haven’t.
The war isn’t going to last much longer if I can tell anything about it at all. For Fritz is being pushed back in every quarter and the US is bringing in fresh troops by the thousands every week to keep him on the go. Germany can’t hold out much longer. German power is on the decline while ours is in the ascension all the time. German prisoners even now admit that they are defeated but claim that they shall carry the war till all her men have gone but they won’t do that. They are too cowardly and yellow.
Well mother dear, will write you another letter in a day or so.
Your devoted son,
Gober[iii]

On August 29, just two weeks into the expected five-week training period, the 151st MGB received orders to move out that evening. After scrambling to assemble men and equipment for transport the battalion departed Sauville at 9:30 P.M. in a driving rain. Arriving in Gironcourt September 3, the 151st received more than 200 replacement Soldiers.[iv]

After a series of movements., the battalion arrived in concealed positions in forested terrain near the village of Siecheprey approximately 22 kilometers east of Saint Mihiel. Here, on September 9, battalion leadership received and disseminated orders for the offensive which was scheduled to commence on September 12. In the coming engagement, the 151st would be employed as a battalion under its own command rather than as attachments to the attacking infantry units.

42nd Division in the St. Mihiel Offensive. Americans All: The Rainbow at War 


The attack in which the 151st MGB would participate was the first great offensive of the 1st U.S. Army. The attack would fall upon the Saint Mihiel Salient, a protrusion of the Western Front which was created by successful German advances during the Battle of Flirey in the fall of 1914. In the four years since the creation of the salient, German troops had fortified their positions, emplacing trenches and barbed wire. French assaults in the Saint Mihiel salient had for four years failed to dislodge the Germans from their positions. From the first days they entered the trenches in the Lorraine Sector in March 1918, the Soldiers of the 151st MGB had heard stories of the salient from French Soldiers who had served there.[v]

The Americans would attack the salient with three corps while a French Corps would help to fix German forces near the town of Saint Mihiel. The Fourth Corps, consisting of the 42nd, 89th, 1st and 3rd Divisions would attack the center of the salient with the First Corps, and its 2nd, 5th, 90th and 82nd Divisions to its right. Attacking the western portion of the salient was the Fifth Corps consisting of the 4th and 26th Divisions along with the French 15th Colonial Division.[vi] These Corps would attempt to attack the salient in a pincher maneuver to pierce the salient and trap any German Forces remaining near Saint. Mihiel.

The order for the attack was fifty pages and was augmented by ten annexes covering the use of artillery, tanks, air corps and other combined arms assets.[vii] The term D-Day was first used in this order as a control measure to coordinate the movement of multiple echelons of command across the salient.

On September 10, 1918, Maj. Cooper Winn and his four company commanders moved forward to conduct a leader’s reconnaissance and select firing positions to provide an overhead barrage in support of the 167th and 168th Infantry Regiments of the 84th Infantry Brigade. During a heavy rain on September 11, the battalion moved into the trench positions at the jump-off point for the assault arriving just before midnight.[viii] About this time Cpl. Robert Burton returned to the battalion from his hospital convalescence. He would not reach his battalion until after they had “gone over the top.”[ix]

Cpl. Frank Cramblett
At 1:00 a.m. September 12, the Americans initiated the assault with artillery fire. At 5:00 a.m. infantry assault began. The Doughboys moved forward with tank and air support under cover of an overhead barrage supplied by the 64 Hotchkiss machine guns of the 151st. The gunners maintained a 15-minute barrage on German trenches in the Bois de la Connard. As the first wave of infantry approached their first objective, the 151st displaced forward as a unit in order to establish a second firing position to cover the second wave. From this position Maj. Winn could direct concentrated fire on points in the German line of resistance. During this phase of the attack two Soldiers of Company D were killed as German machine gun fire raked the 151st position. Corporal Frank Cramblett was struck down and Pvt. G. J. Reemsnyder was shot through the temple while putting his machine gun into action.[x]

The German defenders were largely surprised by the assault. Although they expected an attack would be made, they did not expect it to happen until later in the month. Thus, the initial wave caught many unprepared as recalled by Pvt. J. Ambler of Company D, 150th Machine Gun Battalion.

“The day the battle of Saint Mihiel started our division was advancing very rapidly. On the advance we passed thousands of prisoners, many of them wounded and gassed. One of the Germans was crawling towards us with his heel shot off when a doughboy rushed at him with a fixed bayonet.  He was about to run him through when I yelled at the top of my voice ‘You damn fool, give him a chance, he’s wounded.’ The young fellow then felt ashamed of himself and walked away.  I stopped and gave the Hun a drink of water and a few ‘hard tacks.’ He certainly had appreciated what I had done for him, for he said a lot, but his German was Greek to me.”[xi]
By the end of September 12, the Americans had achieved all of the objectives established for the first and second day of the attack.[xii] The assault continued the following day. During the fighting three Soldiers of the Macon Volunteers, Pvt. Madie Ware of Abbeville, Ga; Pvt. Rich Gussie of Union, Ky. and Pvt. Otis Cook of Griffin, Ga. were killed in action.


Final resting place of Pvt. Otis Cook in the St. Mihiel American Cemetery.
Photo by Maj. William Carraway

The 42nd Division resumed the attack at 6:00 am September 13. By noon, the assault had reached its terminus with all objectives gained. The 151st and its supported infantry regiments took up positions in the vicinity of Saint Benoit en Woevre. On September 14, Field Order No. 24 issued by the 42nd Division ordered the units to “promptly organize this sector for defense.”[xiii] This order served as the de facto end of the Saint Mihiel Offensive.


View from Saint Benoit en Woevre looking southeast towards the 42nd Division's axis of approach. 
Photo by Maj. William Carraway


Whereas the 151st MGB had suffered terribly while moving with assaulting infantry units at Croix Rouge Farm and Hill 212 in July, the massed fire concept employed by Maj. Winn greatly reduced the casualties suffered by the battalion while vastly improving its combat effectiveness. In addition to the five Soldiers killed the battalion suffered nine wounded.

The Battalion remained in defensive positions in what came to be called the Essey-Pannes Sector. During the deliberate defensive operations that followed the Soldiers worked to improve their positions and provided supporting fire for raids conducted by 84th Brigade’s infantry regiments. German gas attacks wounded five on September 14 and 15 and a German artillery barrage on September 22 wounded five members of Company A and B. Pvt Thomas Whitaker of Company B, the Macon Volunteers was killed the next day.

On September 27, the 151st MGB and infantry regiments of the 84th Brigade were relieved by the 83rd Brigade. Three days later, the entire 42nd Division was relieved by the 89th Division.[xiv] They would have but a few days rest before entering the Meuse Argonne offensives.

Next Chapter:  Cote de Chatillon



[i] 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, 13.
[ii] Ibid, 13
[iii] Robert G. Burton to Mrs. R. F. Burton. August 25, 1918
[iv] Henry J. Reilly, Brig. Gen., O.R.C., Americans All: The Rainbow at War. F. J. Heer Printing Co., 1936, 228A
Walter Binford Diary, n.d., 570
[v] Henry J. Reilly, Brig. Gen., O.R.C., Americans All: The Rainbow at War. F. J. Heer Printing Co., 1936, 228A
Walter Binford Diary, n.d., 539
[vi] Henry J. Reilly, Brig. Gen., O.R.C., Americans All: The Rainbow at War. F. J. Heer Printing Co., 1936, 228A
Walter Binford Diary, n.d., 542
[vii] Henry J. Reilly, Brig. Gen., O.R.C., Americans All: The Rainbow at War. F. J. Heer Printing Co., 1936, 228A
Walter Binford Diary, n.d., 544
[viii] 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, 14
[ix] Robert G. Burton to Frank Burton. December 18, 1918
[x] Parkinson, N. P., 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, 121
[xi] Henry J. Reilly, Brig. Gen., O.R.C., Americans All: The Rainbow at War. F. J. Heer Printing Co., 1936, 228A
Walter Binford Diary, n.d., 571
[xii] American Battle Monuments Commission. 42D Division Summary of Operations in the World War. Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office, 1944, 42.
[xiii] Henry J. Reilly, Brig. Gen., O.R.C., Americans All: The Rainbow at War. F. J. Heer Printing Co., 1936, 228A
Walter Binford Diary, n.d., 575
[xiv] American Battle Monuments Commission. 42D Division Summary of Operations in the World War. Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office, 1944, 47.

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