Battle of Blanc Mont Ridge

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Battle of Blanc Mont Ridge
Part of the Western Front of World War I
CAPTURINGBLANCMONTRIDGE.jpg
Atop Blanc Mont German Forces Command the Surrounding Champagne (1918)
Date 3–27 October 1918
Location Northeast of Reims
Result Allied victory
Belligerents
 United States
 France
 Germany
Commanders and leaders
United States John A. Lejeune
United States William Ruthven Smith
French Third Republic Henri Gouraud
German Empire Crown Prince Wilhelm
Strength
2 U.S. Army Divisions Assigned to French Fourth Army divisions
United States Marines (elements)
French 4th Army (elements)
2 German Infantry Divisions

Six Additional Divisions(elements)
Casualties and losses
7,800 men,killed and wounded.
Unknown captured
Unknown
Unknown captured

The Battle of Blanc Mont Ridge (3 October to 27 October 1918) occurred during World War I, northeast of Reims, in Champagne, France. In the battle, the U.S. Army's 2nd Infantry Division and the 36th Infantry Division opposed the German 200th and 213th Divisions, along with portions of six additional German divisions.[1] The result of this battle was the expulsion of the Imperial German Army from the Champagne Region.

Background[edit]

Early in war the German Army had intensely fortified this promontory and proceeded to crush French offensives in both the Spring and Fall of 1915. Afterwards, the strength and reputation of the bastion seemed to guarantee permanent possession of the chalky plains of the Champagne for the invaders. French planners looked elsewhere for possibilities of breaking through.

But by the end of September 1918, the time had come for a grand roll-back; it was time for the Allies to regain occupied France and Flanders. The German Army was suffering regular defeats and had sunk to conscripting the too-young and too-old into service. In the northwest of the Western Front, the British, bolstered by Canadian and ANZAC divisions, and with the small Belgian Army on their flank, were on the attack; while to the East, the new First Army of the Yanks was advancing in fits and starts towards Sedan.

The French Army in the center of the Western Front, however, needed to match the advances of her allies on either side. In the Champagne, this meant crashing through Blanc Mont. Considering what four years of attritional warfare, 1916's Pyrrhic bloodletting victory at Verdun and the mutinies of 1917 had done to the spirit of the individual Poilu, the French infantryman, this was simply an unrealistic expectation. In three days of trying, the French Army once again failed to push their adversary off of his stronghold.

What was needed for this mission were fresh, vigorous assault troops. That is to say, the high command had to find some soldiers who would march up that long slope to Blanc Mont without paying too much attention to their buddies alongside being machine-gunned down or mutilated by whiz-bangs. Then the surviving troops would have to possess the energy and will to hold onto the crest no matter what furies the German Army threw back at them. The answer, it was decided, was to commit some American divisions. The mission to take Blanc Mont ridge was given to the experienced Doughboys and Marines of the AEF's Second Division and--in reserve--the unblooded Texas and Oklahoma National Guardsmen of the Thirty-Six Division -- 54,000 men total. They were placed at the disposal of French Fourth Army Commander Henri Gouraud, one-armed hero of both the Gallipoli campaign and the recent defense along the Marne.

Marines Who Fought at Blanc Mont[edit]

4 Young Marines Who Fought At Blanc Mont

After a bloody, but successful, two-hour initial assault on the Morning of October 3rd, all four infantry regiments of the Second Division -- now commanded by the senior Marine in France, Maj. Gen. John Lejeune -- found themselves atop the ridge, but separated, each partly surrounded and forced to fend off an uncountable series of counterattacks. The French units on either side had been unable to match the speed of advance of the Americans and had left them floating freely in enemy territory, without support on either flank. Consequently, the German defenders and reenforcements were able to infiltrate and attack from almost every direction. Part of the Thirty-Sixth Division had to move into the line to fill in the gaps and support a precarious position some Marines had nicknamed "The Box". Units from both divisions collaborated on October 7th and 8th in capturing the machine gun filled strongpoint of St. Etienne, a village almost two miles northwest of Blanc Mont. This proved to be the decisive blow. The battered Second Division was sent to the rear to rest and regroup. The boys from the Southwest gathered themselves then executed a wild open field dash of thirteen miles, all the way to the River Aisne. By the 13th of the month the river line had stabilized and both American divisions were earmarked for redeployment back with Pershing's forces.

Preparations and Planning[edit]

On October 1, 1918, orders were received from Headquarters, IVth French Army, assigning the Second Division to the 21st Corps [French]. That Corps moved toward the front and, on the night of October 1-2 relieved the 61st Division [French] in the front line. The Second Division's Fourth Brigade took over the trenches occupied by the 61st Division [French] and the right battalion of the 21st Division [French] of the 11th Corps [French]...The Third Brigade went into a covered position in reserve south of the Butte de Souain-Navarin Farm Ridge. [Later moved into the line to the east.] The 2nd Field Artillery Brigade moved up into position in the sector to support an attack on the Massif of Blanc Mont Ridge which was contemplated on the morning of October 2 but postponed until the 3rd. The day was spent in cleaning up Trench d'Essen, which was still occupied by the Germans [to the west].

Second Division Staff

Bg. Gen. Wendell Neville's directions to his Fourth Marine Brigade shows the method of the opening assault. The 6th Marine Regiment was the advance attacking unit of the Fourth Brigade. These tactics were mirrored by the Second Division's 3rd Brigade on the east flank. That Brigade did not, however, have to deal with a highly fortified machine gun nest like the Essen Hook like the Fourth Brigade faced on the west side.

1. This Brigade is to attack tomorrow...[at 5:50am]

2. This Brigade will attack in column of Regiments, the 6th Regiment in 1st line and the 5th Regiment forming the 2nd line or support. This latter being prepared to pass through the 6th Regiment and continue the attack if necessary.

3. The Regiments will take the usual formations--column of battalions--each regiment with one battalion in 1st line, one in support and one in reserve. Machine Gun Companies will remain assigned to Battalions. The 4th Machine Gun Battalion (Division Reserve) is to follow the rear battalion of the 5th Regiment on its left flank.

4. There will be five minutes artillery preparation before the jump off. [Changed to 15 minutes preparation]. At zero hour a rolling barrage will begin preceding the infantry advance at the rate of one hundred meters in four minutes to the objective where a standing barrage will be put on three hundred meters beyond for thirty minutes; then the rolling barrage will continue for fourteen hundred meters further for the support of patrols and the establishment of the outpost line.

5. Tanks will be assigned as follows:

One company (12 tanks) to leading battalion of 6th Regiment taking usual front line attack formation.

One company (12 tanks) assigned to 2nd line battalion, 6th Regiment--taking position in rear of right and left flanks in formation to repel counter attacks...

7. Regimental Commanders will provide for unusually strong flank defense during the advance and also for combat groups to gain liaison with the 3rd Brigade as the objective is approached and make dispositions for the protection of the left flank when the objective is reached. [The instructions on guarding the flank reflects the concern with the Essen Hook; the liaison guidelines reflect the fact that there was a half-mile gap between the two brigades when they jumped off.]

Opening Assault: October 3, 1918; 0550hrs (Phase I Operations)[edit]

The morning of October 3rd came gray and misty. From midnight until dawn the front had been quiet at that point - comparatively. Then all the French and Americans opened with one world-shaking crash…The battalion saw all this ground [in front] swept by a hurricane of shellfire. Red and green flames broke in orderly rows where the 75s showered down on the Boche lines; great black clouds leaped up where the larger shells fell roaring. The hillside and the wood were all veiled in low-hanging smoke, and the flashes came redly through the clouds.

Former German Position Today

In a little over two hours after the attack began the crest of Blanc Mont was achieved, apparently according to plan. The Second Division, though, was far advanced of the French units on either side. On the western end of the ridge, German forces were still in control. This enabled them to keep up a deadly fire against the left flank of the division. The Marine brigade was compelled to deploy its 5th Regiment facing to the west to cover that flank.

On Blanc Mont, a German observer, Lieutenant Richert, kept the division commander informed of the progress of events, which was very favorable in the front lines but most unsatisfactory on Blanc Mont. At 8.15 he reported that the Americans were on the hill -- from the dugout he could hear their voices; his division commander, in reply, ordered use of all available reserves to check the American advance…The Americans, at 8.30 were coming closer; they found and captured some of the headquarters detachment. So far, [reported Richert] their force seemed to be only about a battalion. The division commander ordered that an attempt be made to find infantry units which had been placed in his area, and to organize a counterattack with it… At nine o'clock things looked a bit better; the Americans were mostly along the road; and had left only weak outposts on the hill. But at 9.20 the telephone operator called out that the Americans had found the dugout and were demanding surrender; then the line went out. Lt. Richert and his entire post were captured.


...The Second Division consolidated the position gained, and began moving artillery forward. One battalion from each American light regiment moved at 9.30 to position north of Somme-Py; the rear battalions followed as soon as these were in position

...The Blanc Mont-Médéah [Farm] line had been assigned as a first objective; the original corps order had called for exploitation, and the division attack order had notified the brigade to be ready for further advance. This further advance was made late in the afternoon.

The 23d Infantry passed through the lines of the 9th, and pushed forward in column of battalions. The 9th followed in support. Similarly, in the 4th Brigade, the 5th Marines passed through the 6th and took the lead. But neither [French Division], the 167th Division, on the right, nor the 21st, on the left, made any progress, and the Americans received fire from both flanks, besides powerful artillery fire from the front.

German Soldiers Rush to their Posts at Blanc Mont

...The farthest advance was in the center, where the 23d Infantry, bearing a little to the left of its proper direction, gained something over a mile. The only enemy now facing the regiment was the remnant of the 15th Bavarian Division, which had come out of the line at Orfeuil, exhausted, the day before, and was now thrown into the line in desperation… But fire [by the Americans] from both their flanks made any further advance impossible. Two battalions of the 9th came up on the right, covered that flank, and connected with the French at Médéah Farm.

The left of the 4th Brigade was completely exposed. The division on the left was still back at Essen Trench; the French 170th Division was not yet in position to give any support. Any advance on that flank was entirely out of the question, but the 5th Marines succeeded, late in the evening, in working its right forward to connect with; the 23d.

The situation the night of October 3-4 was precarious --- the division held a salient a mile and a half deep, a mile wide at the base and only 500 yards wide for the last half mile.

October 4th[edit]

The Second Division ordered preparation for an advance beyond St. Étienne, but the time for this attack was not fixed. It was out of the question to push the salient any deeper; it was necessary to wait for the divisions on the flanks to come up. In the course of the morning, however, the 5th Marines continued the advance initiated the evening before, and succeeded in occupying the ridge a mile southeast of St. Étienne, suffering severely from flank fire. … This somewhat relieved the pressure upon the 23d Infantry, but brought the Marines into an even more precarious position. In the afternoon the attack was continued, but such gains as were made could not be held.

On the eastern flank of the salient, the 3d Brigade had been actively engaged all the morning…Fragments of the 15th Bavarian Division, made a dashing attack upon it about 6.00 am which at first gained some ground but was finally repulsed. The 2d Battalion, 9th Infantry (Lieutenant Colonel Arnold) bore the brunt of this attack.

About noon, reports as to the progress of the divisions on the right and left were encouraging, and 2.30 P.M. was fixed as the hour for the attack ordered in the morning. The 3d Brigade attempted an advance, the 23d Infantry leading, with the 9th in support. Starting from a narrow salient, this attack had both flanks in the air; it was soon brought to a standstill, and the brigade commander ordered the troops to fall back to their original position.

October 5th-6th[edit]

The fighting of the Germans, on the 5th and 6th was primarily for the purpose of securing their retreat. The Crown Prince [had] issued orders on October 3d for withdrawal to the "fourth line of resistance,"

The summary of the operations for October 5th, prepared at headquarters of the German Third Army reads in part: "On October 5th the enemy again attacked the Py and Perthes Groups, west [south?] of the Aisne; after powerful artillery preparation. His attacks, made in great force, were broken up by the stubborn resistance of our infantry, well supported by the artillery. The enemy's losses were heavy ..."

The German Air Service Maintained Air Superiority Over Blanc Mont

During the night of October 5-6, arrangements were made to clean up the machine gun nests which were holding the Americans…The artillery fire included an hour's bombardment of the enemy's line and immediate rear areas, commencing at 5:30 A.M., October 6th, and a rolling barrage. The advance was made and the St. Étienne--Orfeuil road was reached, ultimately, but not without hard fighting; nearly all the 23d Infantry became engaged, and parts of the 9th. Numerous messages were received from the French that they had taken St. Étienne, and wanted to turn it over to the Americans, in whose territory it lay; but these reports were highly optimistic, for while French elements had entered the town it was not yet cleared of Germans

At this time help was called in to reinforce the decimated Second Division and for the capture of St. Etienne. The 71st Brigade of the Thirty-Sixth Division was ordered to the front and temporarily placed under the command of General Lejeune .

An Up-Close View of the First Phase of the Battle[edit]

Fifth Regiment Marine, PFC Clarence Richmond Described the Action on the First Days of the Assault in his Diary:

A gap existed on our left and our battalion was ordered to fill it. Our objective was the crest of a portion of Blanc Mont ridge. As soon as the Germans saw what we were attempting to do, they met us with heavy machine gun fire and trench mortars. I think they had every conceivable kind of trench mortar. Some of the shells sounded like they were lopsided as they hit all around us, many of them exploding in the air before hitting the ground. Machine gun fire became murderously heavy as we ascended the slope of the hill.

Dead and Devastation After the Ridge was Captured

If it had not been for the trenches that run along the crest of the ridge, do not believe we could have held our gains. Machine gun fire was extremely fierce right on top of the ridge. I had some difficulty in getting to where the 43rd was. Company P.C. was located in an excavation previously made for a large gun, though the gun had never been put in place. It was unsafe to stand upright, as quite often some machine gunner turned the muzzle of his machine and raked the top of our "big hole". However as long as they did not come over the top down on us, we were reasonably safe.

[The next morning] We laid out in the open for about an hour and ahalf, finally, just before day light, took up a position along a road right on the crest of the ridge. Here we formed attacking waves and waited for good daylight. The Germans located us, and began to drop shells along the road, killing and wounding several…We still had no artillery support. Enemy planes hovered close over head and kept their guns turned down on us nearly all morning. Our own planes were not so numerous during the early morning, though they showed up in great numbers later on.

We soon detected that were being fired on from almost the rear on our left, indication that no advance had been made by whoever was on our left flank. There became about as much danger of being shot from the rear as from the front. We were pursuing a course almost parallel with a main highway, and as a consequence were under direct observation. As we cleared the crest of a rise, the machine gun and artillery fire became so fierce we were unable to continue our advance…Finding we could not safely advance beyond the crest of the hill, we fell back a ways and dug in. Artillery fire was point blank.

During the night we were not shelled very much, though a few large shells fell near us on our left. We could hear them coming several seconds before they landed, and when they did hit, the earth fairly trembled. A counter attack was reported on our exposed left flank just at dark, but it was repulsed by battalion headquarters and medical men.

October 7th - 8th (Phase II Operations)[edit]

The new German position, located at the end of the northern slope and in front of the Second, extended roughly from St. Etienne eastward-southeastward…The fortifications hardly compared to those along the old Hindenburg Line, but they were formidable enough. The St. Etienne cemetery and the surrounding countryside were well fortified. "Cunningly situated machine gun nests were connected by tunnels with the cemetery and with each other, and the ravine through which the Ames brook flowed was utilized to conceal the movement of troops to and from the cemetery." The French and Americans had been in and out of St. Etienne in the recent action. The area immediately behind the entire defense system had for years been the base for the troops occupying the Hindenburg Line.

Because the French considered the "immediate presence" of a reserve brigade in the Somme-Py sector as imperative owing to heavy casualties incurred by the 4th Marine Brigade, Maj. Gen. William R. Smith, Commander of the Thirty-Sixth Division was instructed by send one brigade and the Field Signal Battalion by French camions (trucks) to the Suippes-Somme-Py area… Smith selected the 71st Brigade to make the movement because it could be picked up quicker than the 72nd…...Lejeune conferred with Whitworth, Bloor, and Jackson at his PC, now in a German dugout north of Souain on the Suippes-Somme-Py road. The 71st, Lejeune announced, would relieve the 3rd and 4th Brigades of the Second Division in the line on the night of October 6……The 142nd Infantry was to relieve the 4th Marine Brigade (Brigadier General Wendell C. Neville) on the left and the 141st was to relieve the 3rd Brigade (Brigadier General Hanson E. Ely) on the right. Several Second Division battalions were to be at Whitworth's disposal for a short time after the 71st arrived at the front.

Fortified Structures at St. Etienne

The village of St. Etienne was easily visible to many men of the 142nd Infantry, standing as it did only a few hundred yards away across a wide, open area. There was no rest for the officers who had to establish PCs and to deal with supply, sanitary, position, and tactical problems. Commanders at every level were hampered from want of information owing in part to the refusal of their relieved Second Division counterparts, who were afraid they would be called back into action, to turn over maps and other data in their possession.

During the day the brigade trains (not to be confused with the separate trains of the Thirty-Sixth Division) however inadequate came up and the 37mm guns and mortars of the 142nd Infantry were trucked in. The German artillery fire emanated from the hills north and northeast of St. Etienne. Although visibility was only fair due to fog and occasional drizzle, German planes were out in some force dropping bombs, strafing, collecting data, and spotting for the artillery. A few French planes were seen, but they were less than aggressive. The "superiority of the air," Washam declared, "was all on Jerry's side" in the Champagne. Enemy dominance of the air and the efficiency of his aerial observers in planes and balloons were key factors in the effectiveness of his artillery. German planes would no sooner spot a target than German 155s, nicknamed "G. I. Cans," and Austrian 88s, known as "whizbangs," would begin raining on it.

The German and American lines, which on October 7-8 extended about two and one-half miles along the St. Etienne-Orfeuil road, with the Texans and Oklahomans on the south side except at the far left, were in places little more than 100 yards apart. The numerous growths of pines on the northern slope of Blanc Mont gradually dwindled to scattered woods and brush about St. Etienne. The German entrenchments were on ground slightly higher than that of the Americans. Machine gun nests were concealed in wooded spots and arranged "in depth" so that "when one was captured" the captors would come under the enfilade fire of another. Belts of barbed wire were strung in the woods and open spaces in easy range of the machine guns. The Ames rivulet flowed from northeast to southwest, touching St. Etienne on its south bank. Several small hills, observation posts, and deep dugouts further punctuated the landscape.

…The American line from left to right consisted of one battalion of the 4th marine Brigade, the 142nd Infantry, the 141st Infantry, and one battalion of the 3rd Brigade supported by at least one machine gun company. The 132nd Machine Gun Battalion was divided between the 142nd and 141st Infantries. The French 7th Division was on the left and the French 73rd Division was on the right. There were several gaps in the line, of which the most conspicuous was that between the 142nd and the 141st Infantries. The gaps, which made lateral communication difficult, were inherited from the Second Division.

Whatever the disparity in numbers, the Germans enjoyed the advantage of fighting defensively from fixed positions. Fighting on the offensive meant that the Americans in carrying the fight would be exposed to German firepower, notably artillery and machine guns… The Germans were lacking in some supplies, such as gasoline for their motor vehicles, but they were not short on arms and ammunition.

While the 71st Brigade was digging in on the morning of October 7, [French Corps Commander] Naulin was informing Lejeune at the latter's dugout "that a general attack would take place at daylight on the 8th, and that he anticipated that the fresh brigade would achieve a success equal to that gained by the Second Division on October 3rd." Lejeune protested that Naulin "was expecting the impossible of untried troops" and urged that they be allowed "a few days' training under fire" before using them in an all-out attack. Naulin was unmoved, however.

The 71st, supported by the French 2nd and 3rd Tank battalions, the second division battalions on the flanks, and the 2nd Field Artillery Brigade together with a French artillery detachment, was to advance about two kilometers in the direction of a line running northeastward from Cauroy to Machault above St. Etienne. The 142nd and 141st were each to advance in column of battalions behind a rolling barrage to begin upon the conclusion of a four-minute preliminary bombardment. The barrage would stand still at intervals during the morning while the second-line (support) battalions passed through the first and the third-line passed through the second. The third-line (reserve) battalions would thus eventually become the front-line (assault) battalions. The tanks, numbering about 50, would be divided between the two regiments. Their mission was to assist the infantry in wiping out machine gun nests.

…The Americans might as well have transmitted orders by telephone because the Germans…concluded the day before, upon observing the "strong traffic along the enemy rear lines of communication moving chiefly in the direction of St. Etienne, and apparently also a number of tanks," that "a major hostile attack" was planned for October 8. Hence their forward units were alerted and their reserves placed "in readiness" well before the zero hour.

At almost the same moment as the Americans 75s and 155s opened up, the German artillery commenced a "literally appalling" counterbarrage. Many bursts emitted clouds of toxic gas. The vast majority of shells fell behind the assault battalions and inflicted "severe losses" on the support and reserve battalions. German planes and about six observation balloons directed artillery fire practically without molestation. Occasionally the planes swooped down for strafing runs on the infantry. The placement of the German artillery was consistently good while that of the Americans was poor throughout the day.

The rolling barrage laid down by the 2nd Field Artillery fell beyond rather than on top of the German entrenchments. Virtually untouched by the shelling, the German gunners greeted the assault battalions with flaming sheets of excruciating machine gun fire. Casualties were heavy as the troops worked their way through the mass of wire entanglements. The Germans fought well at long range, but, no doubt owing to a lack of enthusiasm borne of war-weariness, usually had no stomach for fighting at close quarters. "Kamerad," or its English translation, "comrade," the words the Germans used to indicate surrender, became familiar cries as the Indians, Mexicans, and Caucasians enveloped one machine gun emplacement after another.

Taking the machine guns involved considerable casualties and some angry and excited soldiers, who survived their deadly fire and closed on them, evidently shot a number of gunners when they emerged to surrender. Captain Richard F. Burges of El Paso, Company A, 141st Infantry, in describing the October 8 action to a friend, stated that the Germans "fight under cover, firing from concealed machine guns until you close with them, then they rush out, throw up their hands, and cry 'comrade' but it doesn't look fair and they don't get much mercy." Burges "saved" the prisoners, several of whom were boys, "almost children," when "the capture was made under my own eyes."

The confusion that accompanied the attack worsened as the fighting progressed. Many officers were killed, wounded, or gassed shortly after going over the top and the men in the support and reserve battalions were, according to Lejeune and others, so eager to get into the fight that they closed up on the assault battalions. Liaison between the 141st and 142nd was poor from the start and became nonextant as the day wore on. In time, "the fighting resolved itself into a series of independent fights conducted by detachments of varying sizes, composed of men from different companies under the command of the ranking officer or noncommissioned officer present."

"The shell fire was heavy," declared Private O. C. Mitchell of Fort Worth, "and I don't think any of the Boches were armed with anything but machine guns and hand grenades." Contrary to Whitworth's wishes, the relatively few French tanks that showed up to assist the 141st did not lead but followed the infantry. Because they fired into the Americans, crawled about aimlessly, drew heavy fire, and suffered considerable damage, they were withdrawn. The [German] 89th Grenadiers, 17th Division, were particularly effective against the tanks.

With the 141st under severe fire from the right owing to the inability of the French 73rd Division to advance, the Second Division Regulars, who were supposed to function largely in a liaison capacity between the 73rd and 141st, relieved some of the pressure by means of a flank attack on the German left. The 141st Infantry and Second Division Doughboys gave some ground during the day however grudgingly in part because they lost touch with artillery support and were badly disorganized. Colonel Jackson himself went to the front during the afternoon for an on-the-spot examination of the situation. At about 5:30 P.M. the Americans repulsed a counterattack from the northeast to complete the major action for the day on the brigade right…

The murderous machine gun fire from the left front caused the assault battalion to bear eastward where a "wooded knoll," known as Hill 160 and Blodnitz Hill to the Americans and Germans, respectively, and standing about 1,000 yards slightly southeast of St. Etienne, afforded some protection.

The devastating fire from the town-one effective machine gun was located in the steeple of a church-and the cemetery immediately to its northeast, was partially responsible for the support and reserve battalions moving forward to assist the assault battalion instead of waiting for "the scheduled passages of lines." The strong resistance from the hill was anticipated, but that from the cemetery and town was much greater than expected...

The tanks assigned to the 142nd were of no more assistance than those with the 141st. Only a few appeared and these after the battle began. They were a little more aggressive than those on the right owing to better liaison, but they became completely disorganized and were withdrawn after their commander was killed and his tank destroyed.

Divisional Engineers Build a Road

After breaking the German resistance on Hill 160, elements of the 142nd closed in on the strong enemy position at the cemetery. A weak battalion of the 368th Infantry, 213th Division, was captured. Evidently the Germans vacated the town, for when the marines finally entered it at about noon, they did so without opposition. The marines subsequently failed in an attempt to advance north of the town. After taking the cemetery, the 142nd drove the Germans to the northeast-southwest St. Etienne-Semide road. The right of the 142nd at this point almost touched the line marked on the map as the day's objective; the possible objective, however, the Machault-Cauroy line, was still far away...

A Marine veteran of Blanc Mont would observe about his comrades in the Texas and Oklahoma National Guard years later:

Back on the ridge, where gray-faced, thin-lipped men had charged uphill with bayonets against a steel storm, the 36th Division...had come and taken over The Box, where most of our battalion lay about...the Guard was pushing Heinie back while we were resting, acting as reserves. They were green untried troops who charged in reckless ignorance and won. They paid a price in taking St. Etienne. PFC Elton Macklin, USMC.


German resistance stiffened at the road and the 142nd, now badly disorganized, formed a line composed of provisional organizations. From the right, near where the 141st would have been had it kept up, and from the front, the 142nd was subjected to a galling, enfilade machine gun fire. While the American artillery failed "to register on the enemy positions from which the heaviest fire was coming," the German artillery was on target. There appears to have been no threat to the left flank because it was covered by the marines at St. Etienne and by the French 7th Division west of town. At 4:30 P.M. several battalions of the German 14th Reserve and 195th Infantry Divisions commenced preparations for a counterattack from the northeast for the purpose of "encircling the right flank." In this situation, with ammunition, food, and water running low, the 142nd pulled back. According to Chastaine, some of the troops objected to giving up "hard earned ground" without a fight, but retreat was the only sensible course.

With machine guns and automatic rifles covering the retirement, the 142nd"swung back" in a crescent-shaped line and halted with the left "at the village" and the right on Hill 160. A number of Doughboys who did not get the word for "the change in front" were left behind and captured. On the northern slope of Hill 160 provisional organizations of the 142nd established a line of defense, and utilizing German machine guns and ammunition captured earlier, repulsed the counterattack with relative ease… With nightfall approaching the fighting subsided and neither side attempted to make further headway.

General Lejeune told Whitworth "to endeavor to reorganize his line," to establish liaison between the units, and to prepare for counterattacks. At Whitworth's request Lejeune ordered the relieved battalions of the 3rd and 4th Brigades to reoccupy the jump-off line. The situation was not as desperate as the generals were afraid it might be, but the precaution of bringing up the relieved troops was appropriate.

October 9th[edit]

The 71st Brigade spent the night of October 8-9 attempting to reorganize its line and moving up food, water, and ammunition…The marines on the left and the 3rd Brigade troops on the right were nearly all relieved by the 2nd Engineers. "Off and on through the entire night," Chastaine reported, "the pup-pupping of the Maxims [machine guns] sounded at intervals" and occasionally "the bullets . . . would skirt the top of a parapet." Both sides kept up a harassing artillery fire and the Germans prevented the recovery of wounded men, whose cries could be heard between the lines, and hampered the efforts of Doughboy patrols seeking to locate and/or verify positions by constantly lighting the area with flares.

German Prisoners Being Fed After the Battle

Other fairly similar operations designed to straighten lines, to strengthen positions, and to reconnoiter German defenses were conducted in the American and adjoining French zones. During the night and following morning the [Thirty-Sixth Division] completed the relief of the Second Division troops on the left and right in preparation for the withdrawal of the Second Division and the insertion of the 72nd Brigade into the line…The 71st Brigade suffered over 1,600 casualties in the two days, October 8-9. Of this number, nearly 1,300 were incurred on the 8th...

Ernst Otto, a German lieutenant colonel who served at Blanc Mont in 1916 and later wrote a book about the action there from October 2 to October 10, 1918, considers the attack of the 71st as unsuccessful and cites as his reasons, directly or indirectly, the heavy casualties, the poor execution, the use of faulty tactics, the perceived demoralization of the troops, and the inability of the brigade to continue on October 9. The success of the Germans in thwarting the drive of the Americans and the French on the flanks bought them time to prepare for an orderly retreat to the Aisne. The withdrawal, which began late on October 9, was not local; rather, it was a general retirement all along the front west of the Argonne Forest.

Pursuit: October 10th - 27th[edit]

In the meanwhile, the remainder of the [Thirty-Sixth] division moved from the Pocancy area to the front and on the night of October 9 these units completed the relief of the infantry of the Second Division, the artillery of the latter division remaining in support of the Thirty-Sixth Division at 10 a. m., October 10. An Attack of the 142nd Infantry north of St. Etienne failed that afternoon; however, the 141st succeeded in advancing its lines some 500 yards.

The 36th Division Deployed Near the River Aisne

Between 5 and 6 p.m., the 72nd Brigade (143rd and 144th Infantry Regiments) passed through the 71st and attacked in the direction of Machault and Cauroy. The attack resulted in a slight advance. The following morning, the enemy began his retreat to the north in the direction of Dricourt and Attigny. The 72nd Brigade took up pursuit and lively rear guard actions followed between St. Etienne and Machault, which resulted in the encircling of the latter town and the establishment of lines to the north of it. The following day, the brigade pushed forward to Hill 167 northwest of Vaux Champagne, overlooking the valley of the Aisne from Attigny to Givry, from which positions patrols were pushed out t the canal. The enemy was strongly entrenched on the northern bank of the Aisne and had taken every precaution to prevent a crossing. The 71st Brigade went into line on the 13th, taking over the front of the 73rd French Division to the east of the 72nd Brigade. The division's line at this time ran along the slope of Hill 167 approximately four kilometers from the Aisne.

No further attempts to advance were made until the 27th when the strong Forest Farm was stormed and taken by the 71st Brigade, the entire garrison being either killed or captured. The relief of the Thirty-Sixth began on October 28. The division was then assembled in the Suippes-Somme-Suippes area and from this point moved to the Triaucourt area and established headquarters at Conde-en-Barrois. Here it remained until the signing of the Armistice, as a unit of the First American Army. In the Meuse-Argonne (Champagne) operation, losses totaling 2,513 were suffered.

External links[edit]

  • [1], "Forgotten Victory" (Doughboy Center)
  • [2] Field Orders for the battle
  • [3] "George W. Hamilton, USMC: America's Greatest World War I Hero"

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Curtis pp. 40-44

References[edit]

  • Curtis, Capt. Thomas J. (March 1919). History of the Sixth Machine Gun Battalion, Fourth Brigade, U.S. Marines, Second Division, And Its Participation in the Great War. Neuweid on the Rhine, Germany.