Category: france

“Monday September 23 1918 – We pass the …

“Monday September 23 1918 – We pass the time mostly by overhauling
the cars but some hardy sons go
swimming, others go AWOL to Dunkirk, and the rest of us curse the ever present
sand.”

American ambulance driver en repos in
Loon-Plage, near dunkirk, France. See Google map The Compensations of war – Photo:
WW1 American soldiers en repos at the beach.Tennessee Virtual Archives 

‘Four poilus join in a game of manille, that w…

‘Four poilus join in a game of manille, that will last
until night blacks out the cards.

Cocon
and Tirette are recalling their memories of barrack-life. The impressions left
upon their minds by those years of military training are ineffaceable.

I can hear some of the talk and guess the rest of it. Always the same tale that they get out of their military past. He wasn’t afraid, he spoke out loud and strong!

Some
scraps of it reach my ears…’

WW1 French soldier’s memoir –

Under Fire: The Story of a Squad (Le Feu)

– WW1, Oise sector, French soldiers playing cards and relaxing. La Contemporaine

“Well mother dear, there is a German helmet on…

“Well mother dear, there
is a German helmet on the road for you; I sent it yesterday and took it to the
post office myself – You will see where the shrapnel
bullets struck it by the dents. The red paint spots are camouflage. It is about
as good a helmet as I could pick up. The boys made great fun of me for carrying
it around, but I told them plump and plain, “My mother wants one and believe me
she is going to get it.”

Well
mother dear, I must ring off; will write soon again. With heaps of love to
you.”

September 1918, France, American
soldier’s letter to his mom. The North Dakota WWI Centennial Commission – Photo:
1918, France, American soldier holding several German helmet trophies.

World War I in Ohio

                                              …

                                                                  In That Little Old Buvette…

“In a little French street wandering from the river to the “gare”,
Is a place they called a “buvette” — what we used to call a bar,
And when your throat is parching and the stuff is hard to get,
Come back, you thirsty soldier, come back
to that buvette!

Can’t you hear the bottles clinking with their wine and Anisette?”

WW1 American ambulance driver’s verse – American Field Service Bulletin – Photo: 1918, French soldiers chillin’
in a buvette in Bar-le-Duc, France.

                                   ‘You know, …

                                   ‘You know, it doesn’t
do to take this war too seriously
.’

“It
was a great saying, a philosophy which had kept men sane. Without laughter,
somehow, anyhow, by any old jokes, we should have lost the war
long ago. The only way to avoid deadly depression was to keep smiling. And so, for laughter’s sake and to keep normal in abnormal ways of life, there was a great
unconscious conspiracy of cheerfulness among men.”

The 54th Infantry Brigade, 1914-1918: Some Records of Battle
and Laughter in France
– Photo: WW1, in Bazentin-le-Petit, Northern France, British soldiers’ big smile.

“Tuesday September 17 1918.  I took in four ma…

“Tuesday September 17 1918.  I took in four malades at Ferme Montecouve and l’aumonier
and four brancardiers to
Vezaponin. No shelling —
thank heaven.

Packed
up immediately – Had lunch &
left for our old camp ground near Morsain. Slept in cars which are filled with
baggage.

God!
I never want to go thru such Hell again!”

American ambulance driver’s in the Aisne sector, France. See Google
map
Diaries of Samuel Keplinger – Photo: 1918, Aisne sector, American ambulance
drivers and a French Aumonier. Missouri Digital Heritage

                                              …

                                                
“What
an existence, what an existence!”

‘On
my way, a company of French soldiers was silently moving along on their way to
the trenches. They looked like shadowy, muffled ghosts moving slowly onward to
some strange doom. Possibly some of them were thinking “What
an existence, what an existence!” Like tired ghosts in blue-gray shrouds,
they moved onward in silence to disappear into the shadows of the night.
Perhaps the following night some of them, clothes muddy and torn, and covered
with blood, would be carried back in American ambulances to the under-ground operating-rooms
or to the distant hospital and the tumult of the shells above their heads would
be no tumult, and their torn and tired bodies would feel no pain.’

WW1
American ambulance driver’s diary in France – History of the American FIeld Service in France – Photo: September 17 1918 French
soldiers and American ambulances in the distance (photo #2) in gloomy Vouziers, a town under fire,
Aisne, France – La Contemporaine

                                              …

                                                                “Just under the clouds”

“It was
September 12, 1918 and the St. Mihiel Drive was on!

Dressing with great
haste I ran over through the rain to the mess hall. There I found groups of the
fellows all standing about impatiently awaiting the chance to get away.

Despite the rain we
tried a short flip over the lines to see for ourselves what it was like and we
climbed into our machines and took off. At 600 feet above ground we found that
we were just under the clouds and still had quite a long view of the landscape.

Flying
straight east to St. Mihiel, we crossed the Meuse River and turned down its
valley towards Verdun. Many fires were burning under us as we flew, most of them
well on the German side of the river. Villages, haystacks, ammunition dumps and
supplies were being set ablaze by the retreating Huns.

We proceeded as far as
Verdun and turning east, continued flying at our low altitude we saw that the
main highway running north to Metz was black with hurrying men and vehicles.
Guns, stores and ammunition were being hauled away to safety with all possible
speed. We continued on south through the very heart of the St. Mihiel salient,
flying always low above the roadway and here, likewise, we found the Germans in
full cry to the rear.

We rushed back to camp and
immediately telephoned headquarters information of what we had seen. This was
evidently splendid news: the Germans were actually quitting St. Mihiel and the
retreat was in full swing.”

September 12 1918 –  American
aviator observing from above the St Mihiel Drive, France – See Google Map  – Figthting the Flying Circus – Photo: 1918,
France, by Edward Steichen ww1 chief of the Photographic Section of the
American Expeditionary Forces from 1917 to 1919.

American Victory at the St Mihiel Salient

image

American troops marching into the St Mihiel salient.  The large hill in the background, Montsec, was simply bypassed on both sides.

September 12 1918, St Mihiel–The Germans had taken St Mihiel on the Meuse nearly four years ago in 1914, and had maintained the salient stretching to the city ever since, despite numerous French attempts to dislodge them.  The German position there had cut off the railroad lines leading to Verdun from the south.  Pershing, who had been forced by the events of the late spring and early summer to throw in his forces into the fighting a division at a time, was eager to deploy his new First Army on the offensive as a unit, and had chosen St Mihiel as his target for early September.

At the end of August, however, Foch had decided that the French and Americans should attack in force on the west side of the Meuse late , to support the continuing British advance further north.  Pershing was furious, but a compromise of sorts was eventually reached.  The St Mihiel attack would continue, but with French infantry support reduced to one corps of colonial troops.  Furthermore, the Americans would have to turn around and head for the west bank of the Marne almost immediately–an almost impossible logistical task that was left to Lt. Col. George Marshall.

In the meantime, the Germans were aware of the American preparations.  The German commander, Max von Gallwitz, wanted to launch a pre-emptive attack on the Americans, but Ludendorff declined and instead ordered a withdrawal from the salient.  There was no urgency to the evacuation, however, and it only began on September 11–weakening the German lines just in time for the Americans to attack the next day.

The preliminary bombardment began at 1AM on September 12; the infantry attacked four hours later.  There was essentially no resistance.  Major Raymond Austin recalled:

Their resistance was so feeble as far as artillery was concerned, and their Infantry, so much of it as was within the zone of our artillery preparation, was badly shaken.  Not a shell landed anywhere near my batteries and during the whole fight not more than four shells fell near enough to me to be dangerous…the Boche evidently left in great haste as our advance was extremely rapid.  One of my batteries got two cows and several had pigs, chickens, and a great number of rabbits.  The main idea of the Germans seems to have been get out of the salient and about all we had to do was to follow them up….The whole thing was a walk-over for us…

George Patton wrote his father:

We have all been in one fine fight and it was not half so exciting as I had hoped, not as exciting as affairs in Mexico, because there was so much company.  When the shelling first started I had some doubts about the advisability of sticking my head over the parapet, but it is just like taking a cold bath, once you get in, it is all right….

I walked right along the firing line of one brigade they were all in shell holes except the general (Douglas Mcarthur [sic]) who was standing on a little hill, I joined him and the creeping barrage came along towards us, but it was very thin and not dangerous.  I think each one wanted to leave but each hated to say so, so we let it come over us.  The infantry were held up at a town so I happened to find some tanks and sent them through it.  I walked behind and some boshe [sic] surrendered to me….

The Americans would take most of the salient within a day at the cost of 7000 casualties, capturing 450 guns and 16,000 prisoners in the process.  Among these were elements of the Austrian 35th Division–one of the few encounters between Americans and Austrian forces in the war.  Father Francis Duffy, with the 42nd Division, recalled of the Austrians:

They had not been very keen about the war at any time and were made less so on finding that they had been left behind after the bulk of the army had withdrawn.  Many of them had been in the United States, and the first question that one of them asked was, “Can I go back now to Sharon, PA?” 

One of the worst obstacles to the advance of the German barbed wire, which had been unaffected by the partial withdrawal and was only somewhat reduced by the bombardment.  To cross it, the Americans cut it where possible, rolled out 18-foot stretches of chicken wire to collapse it, or simply crossed it themselves if they could.  One member of a team of French officers sent after the battle apparently concluded that “the Americans had the advantage over Frenchmen because of their long legs and large feet.”

Today in 1917: British Mutiny at Étaples Suppressed

Today in 1916: French & Serbians Launch First Offensive from Salonika
Today in 1915: French Evacuate Armenians From Musadagh

Today in 1914: Belgian Attack From Antwerp Halts

Sources include: Andrew Carroll, My Fellow Soldiers; Gary Mead, The Doughboys; Gene Fax, With Their Bare Hands; Nick Lloyd, Hundred Days; David Stevenson, With Our Backs to the Wall.

                “Close up, men, close up…

                “Close up, men,
close up! The eyes of your commanding officer are upon you!”

That hike was the most
memorable in the company’s experience. Either the map was incorrect or the
colonel’s judgment was in error, but very soon, it became evident that we were
lost. But we pushed ahead. The sun rose, and that day became as warm as ever it
is in France. Marching under heavy packs, without breakfast, we looked eagerly
forward to dinner. In the middle of the afternoon, when high hills had been
climbed and twenty miles or more covered on empty stomachs, we stopped at a little
mountain town. Close by was a murmuring brook. We walked over to this and took
what we call a “French bath”. Also while resting, we ate a most delicious meal of
hardtacks and some corned beef. Feeling greatly refreshed, we slung our packs
and proceeded on our way.

September
1918, France, American ambulance driver whose section just arrived in France
and is hiking from the Belfort sector up to the VosgesAmbulance Company
113, 29th Division
– Photo: 1918, France, American Ambulance company on the move –  Bentley Historical Library