Thursday, October 11, 2018

September 25-October 16, 1918, Meuse Argonne: “What is death for your country, for God and country?”

by Maj. William Carraway
Historian, Georgia Army National Guard


Map of the 42nd Division's units during the actions to reduce the Cote de Chatillon and Hill 288. (Reilly)

On 25th September 1918, in accordance with General Orders No. 127, Cpl. Robert Gober Burton was promoted to sergeant. At the time of his promotion, Burton, and the 151st Machine Gun Battalion were quartered in former German barracks that had been abandoned in the German retreat from the Saint Mihiel salient.

Writing home on September 29, 1918, Burton apprised his family of his situation.

The Germans claim that there are only two divisions in France the 42nd
Shoulder strap sent home by Sgt. Burton in
his Sept 29, 1918 letter. Ga. Guard Archives
the Rainbow. I am sending a shoulder strap from the coat of one of the famous Prussian Guards. We have run into this same regiment four different times and at four different places and it was one of these that said that there were only two American divisions over here. I am also sending you two citations that we have won since we have been over. This is what they think of the Rainbow.
The boys from Monroe were certainly lucky. Only two of us were hurt and one not seriously. Guthrie and I were the only ones hurt.
I was made a Sergeant soon after I came back to the company. “Slowly but surely.”
As I told you we are quartered in some German barracks. The boys are singing and talking and laughing so that you can hardly hear yourself think. It is surely a relief from duties in the lines and we are taking full advantage of it.
Well I don’t write much more and get all the souvenirs and the envelope too so will close.
As ever,
Your devoted son,
Gober[i]

Burton wrote home three days later. The tone of this letter was darker than any of his previous correspondence.

France
October 2, 1918
My dearest Mother
Well here comes again another letter. You see, I am writing as often as possible and sometimes when it is not possible. I don’t like to write letters as you know but I don’t mind writing to you so much. We have to write in some peculiar places and at peculiar times, but at that, we get off a lot of correspondence as the mail report shows.
Before I quit to night, I think that I will write to Frank and Rache. I have the spirit a little tonight and I can write some.
Mother dear, you know I have been thinking lately of what about getting killed over here for my country. It wouldn’t be so bad. I would merely have made the supreme sacrifice. That is about all that the American Soldier can ask for. What is death for your country, for God and country?
This is not a pessimistic letter. I was just thinking about it. So, I should happen to “go west,” over here, hold your head high with the realization that I only made the supreme sacrifice. It will have been for you and Auntie and Ida and all the rest, and rest assured that I have given it gladly.
After what I have seen what the Germans have done in Northern France to a peaceful country, and to the womanhood and to the homes of these people I have heard somebody say that they would fight when it came to our country but would rather that it would be kept where it is.
Well mother, this will do for this time. Am waiting for a letter.
Your devoted son,
Gober[ii]

On October 4, 1918, the 151st MGB resumed the march and on October 6, 1918 bivouacked in the Bois de Montfaucon[iii]. Their position was near the front lines and the Soldiers were once again subject to German artillery and machine gun fire. Private Carlton Barton of Company C was wounded October 6[iv]. On October 10, Sgt. William O. Williams of Company A received his second wound of the war.[v] That same day, Pvt. Scott Cook of Company C was severely wounded. He would remain hospitalized until December 10 before shipping home. He was discharged February 17, 1919 with 25 percent disability.[vi]

From October 11 to 12, the 42nd Division relieved the 1st Division, then occupying a position in the line running northeast from the Cote de Maldah just east of Sommerance, France through the Bois de Romagne. The 32nd Division was in line to their right while the line to their left was reinforced by the 82nd Division.[vii]

As part of the relief of the 1st Division, Maj. Cooper Winn and his company commanders conducted a reconnaissance of the machine gun positions of the 2nd Brigade. They found that the machine gun battalion for the 2nd Brigade had been employed as the 151st had been during the Aisne Marne campaign, that is, rather than positioned as a battalion support by fire element, the machine gunners had been parceled out to battalions of the brigade’s infantry regiments[viii]. Rather than assuming these positions, the 151st MGB established a firing line just east of Hill 263. Gunners from Company B and D established this line on October 12, 1918 while under heavy fire. This line had barely been established when the battalion received orders to support an infantry assault on the Bois de Romagne and Hills 288 and 243 as well as the Cote de Chatillon which served as an important observation point for German defenses on the Kriemhilde Zone of the Hindenburg Line.

View of the Cote de Chatillon from the firing position of the 151st MGB. The Musarde Farm is visible in the foreground.
Photo by Maj. William Carraway
On October 13, the four companies of the 151st MGB moved into position on the forward slope of Hill 263. Before them was an open valley over which the infantry regiments of the 84th Brigade would have to cross. At the base of the Cote de Chatillon, 1,200 meters from the guns of the 151st MGB, sat the Musarde Farm, a two-story stone farm house and collection of out buildings which would provide shelter for German firing positions. To the rear of the Musarde Farm, circling the Cote de Chatillon were a network of reinforced German trenches which ran from the nearby town of Landres et St. George over the Cote de Chatillon and to the crest of the neighboring Hill 288. Between the latter two heights was Hill 242.

German trenches at the base of the Cote de Chatillon.  Photo by Maj. William Carraway
On October 14, 1918, at 8:15 am, the 84th Brigade began its assault. The 151st MGB provided an overhead fire barrage which suppressed the German trench positions so effectively that the 167th Infantry Regiment was able to traverse the valley all the way to the base of the Cote de Chatillon where their forward progress was checked by barbed wire. Simultaneously, the 168th Infantry Regiment surged forward and, despite heavy casualties, seized the crest of Hill 288. The following day, the 167th Infantry Regiment was unable to advance their position, but the 168th succeeded in driving Germans from Hill 242.

On the evening of October 15, Col. Douglas MacArthur met with Maj. Gen. Summerall, commander of the 5th Corps. Summerall ordered MacArthur to take the Cote de Chatillon on October 16, or report 5,000 casualties. MacArthur replied that he would take the hill or report no brigade.[ix]

For two weeks, the Cote de Chatillon had withstood assaults by three American divisions. For two days, the 167th Infantry had been paralyzed by the defensive German works to their front.

The Musarde Farm today.  Photo by Maj. William Carraway
At 10:00 am, on the morning of October 16, the 151st provided concentrated machine gun fire on the Cote de Chatillon and Musarde Farm. By this time, the 151st’s complement of 48 guns had been augmented with an additional 12 Hotchkiss guns.[x] With the fire support from the 151st, he 168th Infantry breached the German defenses, their assault carrying them to the crest of the Cote de Chatillon. The 168th was unable to hold this position and was forced to retreat to the base of the hill. Taking advantage of the progress of its sister regiment, the 167th Infantry shifted right into the area of advance of the 168th, cleared the barbed wire obstacles and, at 2:00 pm attacked along with the 168th. This coordinated attack successfully repulsed a German counter attack and its momentum carried the men to the crest of the Cote de Chatillon. [xi]

Casualties for the 151st MGB were relatively light compared to previous engagements. The battalion suffered 13 wounded but miraculously, none were killed in action. The attacking infantry regiments had suffered fewer casualties than anticipated. The 167th suffered 117 killed and 554 wounded while the 168th lost 143 killed and 566 wounded.[xii]

The role the 151st MGB played in the reduction of the Cote de Chatillon and Hill 288 so impressed Maj. Gen. Summerall that he called for a conference of his machine gun battalion commanders where the newly promoted Lt. Col. Winn briefed his battalion’s actions in the assault.[xiii] MacArthur cited the 151st MGB for their role in the assault and recommended Winn for the Distinguished Service Cross.

Next Chapter: The Drive for Sedan



[i] Robert G. Burton to Mrs. R. F. Burton. September 29, 1918
[ii] Robert G. Burton to Mrs. R. F. Burton. October 2, 1918
[iii] 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. 15
[iv] Ancestry.com. Georgia, World War I Service Cards, 1917-1919 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2013
[v] Ancestry.com. Georgia, World War I Service Cards, 1917-1919 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2013
[vi] Ancestry.com. Georgia, World War I Service Cards, 1917-1919 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2013
[vii] American Battle Monuments Commission. 42D Division Summary of Operations in the World War. Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office, 1944, 53
[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. 15
[ix] 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., 2013,157
[x] Henry J. Reilly, Brig. Gen., O.R.C., Americans All: The Rainbow at War. F. J. Heer Printing Co., 1936, 713
[xi] American Battle Monuments Commission. 42D Division Summary of Operations in the World War. Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office, 1944, 65
[xii]Frazer, Nimrod T. Send the Alabamians: World War I Fighters in the Rainbow Division. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2014, 187
[xiii] [xiii] 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. 16

2 comments:

  1. The Prussian 398th infantry regiment was also the defender of the village of Boursches when the Marines attacked at the beginning of the Belleau Woods battle, June 6,1918.

    ReplyDelete
  2. My grandfather served in the 152nd Rgt./41st Div. of the Imperial German Army and was taken prisoner during the battle for the Cote de Chatillon while defending this position. I went to the Cote a few years ago and I was lucky enough to meet the landowner Jean-Pierre Brouillet who sadly passed away some time ago. He told me I was the first German he had ever met exploring the battlefield in the footsteps of his ancestor. Since then I have gone there quite a few times, and ever<y time is is a deeply moving experience. Jean Pierre expressed his wish that some day the descendants of the opposing soldiers of 1918 should meet on the battlefield and shake hands.

    ReplyDelete