12. Consolidating in Lorraine

Charles Wadsworth Camp



THAT same evening the expected blow fell-rather sooner than anyone had anticipated. Major General Duncan, commanding the 77th Division, sent for Colonel Johnson, took him away from the regiment, and assigned him to G. 1. at division headquarters. That loss is hard to estimate. The regiment missed his understanding and the inspiration of his ambition. He never lost his interest in the 305th, but his influence came from afar off. He was no longer a part of us.

For the difficult moment Captain Dana became acting battalion commander. Early on the morning of the 10th he took his acting adjutant and his battery reconnaissance officer and set out to reconnoiter the position Battery A would take up.

There are all sorts of reconnaissances, and we experienced most of them between Lorraine and the Meuse. Some are pleasant and not particularly hazardous. Some are dangerous in the extreme. Some are not fit to write about, because of their labor, their anxieties, and their lack of result. This was one of the first kind. It was always more or less pleasant relieving the French. And both battalion commanders can tell you the same story of a kindness, helpfulness, and hospitality utterly at variance with one's notions of life at the front. We never ceased to marvel at the easy and efficient control the French had of their work. Things that seemed most dreadfully complicated and difficult to us at first, they took with a smile and a careless gesture. They impressed you as having assumed a habit of war that obliterated all the past, that assumed until the end of the world a continuation of disagreeable and morbid events that must be made the best of.

You trotted towards them through a succession of bivouacs of troops either resting or waiting to go up. We came, of course, on those Lorraine reconnaissances to our first shell screens-rows of dead cedar branches or dirty sacking, stretched between poles. At frequent intervals overhead hung lines from which branches were suspended. These shielded the road from Aerial observation.

Regimental Headquarters had been established in Neuf Maisons, a village of perhaps a hundred houses nestling in a fold of the hills. The French for the present were standing by and rather teaching the child to walk. They gave us our destination, the group headquarters in Pexonne, a mile and a half nearer the enemy. The road beyond Neuf Maisons was more carefully screened. Ahead at last lay a village, which, even at that distance, had the appearance of something dead and corrupt. There wasn't a house which hadn't suffered from shell fire. Many were heaps of rubble. Here a fagade would be gone. You could see into the intimacies of that house---clothes hung against a wall, a row of bottles in an open cupboard, a tumbled bed. In the choir of the church yawned a hole large enough to take a column of squads.

There were doughboys in the streets, keeping close to the walls with furtive movements, as if they expected someone to catch them at an indiscretion. Engineers suggested the presence of nearby dumps. Guards were posted. One stopped us near the church. He seemed to think we had lost our way. He wouldn't let us pass until he had learned our mission and had scanned our identity books.

Just beyond we found the French group headquarters in a large dwelling reinforced with splinter screens constructed of logs and sand bags, and comparatively unhurt.

We had been told to ask for Captain Nicoll, the acting group commander. It must have been after seven o'clock by that time. We knew the captain had been warned the night before of our coming. Our minds were full of ourselves, and the serious nature of our errand. The war might have depended on what we where doing that morning. War for us was a matter of perpetual wakefulness, of extended hurry and effort, whether useful or not.

There was no stir about the headquarters. We knocked. We pulled at a broken bell handle. We glanced, amazed, at each other.
"Is it possible," we asked in our innocence of amateurs, "that they are still in bed?"
It was possible. After an interval a shuffling step within became audible. The door opened. A sleepy soldier, half-dressed, might have been gazing at a collection of unexpected specimens. Yet he overcame his astonishment and led us into a dining-room, tastefully paneled in dark wood. From there we heard reluctant stirrings upstairs, and before long three lieutenants appeared. Their astonishment, perhaps their disapproval, was smothered behind greetings and an undreamed of hospitality.

The captain, they explained, had been occupied until very late the night before, but our affair was quite simple.
One produced from a cupboard in the dark paneling a cobwebbed bottle.
"It is forty years old," he said, pouring a white liquid into glasses.

Coffee appeared. These officers were in no hurry to discuss our affair. We experienced a sense of guilt while we waited for them to come to business. Our restlessness grew. We wanted to be doing something.

At first that was the attitude of the average American soldier towards his job. Experience taught him eventually to take the day's work a trifle more sanely. But on the whole he was in a hurry. In quiet sectors he was up and at work earlier than the French. He took about one-fifth as much time for meals as they did. He went to bed a good deal later and seemed seldom to have had enough sleep; yet, until he learned something of the tricks of war, he was always surprised at the end of a day to find that the French, while apparently loafing, had accomplished a good deal more than he had done.

When the coffee was finished our Frenchmen were inclined to smoke and chat. Since we were in their hands we could only hint our anxiety.
They pointed out the paneling of the room.
"The house belongs to a rich man. Your soldiers call him the Count of Pexonne."
One picked up the dusty bottle.
"He had a taste for such things. You haven't seen his cellar. You know in French a cellar is a cave, and a cave has come to mean a shelter from bombardment. When we saw the Count's cave we decided never had war led us to such a shelter, and we didn't care how long the Bosches kept us there. It was filled with such bottles as these. They're about gone now, for the town is to be abandoned, and since there is very little transportation for the civilians the Count has sold his treasures to the French and Americans for a nothing."

We were astonished to learn the town was to be abandoned.
"Yes, as you can see, it is under constant shell fire, but the principal thing is the gas. They can fill it full of gas in a moment. You will notice that all the civilians carry gas masks, for the gas comes in frequently. In a few days the village will be deserted."

We moved at last. We descended first to the famous cave, the heart of the group's system of communication. We stood in a damp, vaulted cellar. A telephone operator crouched before three four-direction switchboards against the front wall. A number of wires came through an opening. They meshed like an untidy spider's web across the ceiling.

" You can communicate with the whole army system from here," one of the lieutenants explained. " That will make a little difficulty for you at the start, because, since the village is to be abandoned, you will have a new command post. You will have to arrange a new telephone central there."

Another of the officers got his horse, and we mounted and rode from the village at last. We hadn't expected to be able to continue our reconnaissance mounted, but most of the road, our guide explained, was defiladed, and on such a dull day the Bosche wasn't likely to be troublesome.

We left the dying village by a country road which brought us after a few hundred meters to the first of the battery positions. The pieces were placed in casemates constructed in the high bank of the road. The whole was extremely well camouflaged, and impressed us at first as a perfect position. The road did away with the danger of fresh tracks. It simplified the bringing up of ammunition. Then we noticed on both sides of it, and close to the guns, many shell holes.

"Yes," our guide said, " the Bosches have located this position. It would be well for you to leave this camouflage up and locate your guns somewheres else."

We examined casually a number of possible positions, but that morning we were chiefly concerned with the location of Battery A's guns which were to fire in the proposed coup de main. The French had decided on their approximate position near one of the French batteries in the thick woods of La Haie Labarre.

As we climbed a hill the sun appeared from behind the clouds. We were cap-tured by the beauty and apparent peace of this rolling wooded country of the foothills of the Vosges. Between groves of birch and hemlock the fields were yellow with ripe wheat. From the yellow, like elaborately set jewels, flashed the turquoise blue of corn flowers, and the vivid scarlet of poppies. What firing there was that morning was far off and troubled us not at all. Except for our mission there was really nothing to remind us we were at the front, well within range, likely to be opened on at any moment.

We rode down a slope along a narrow path that over-hanging branches nearly obliterated. Here and there among the trees appeared French artillerymen. One took our horses. The forest was full of a quiet, intense activity. Some figures lifted with difficulty stones and great blocks of cement. Others moved among the trees, bearing iron beams and logs, heavy and unwieldy. Many stooped and rose rhythmically. Accompanying their motions came the crunching of spades in earth and the thud of dirt on the dead leaves.

Our guide took all this in with a sweeping gesture.
"We have already got the new battalion command post well started here. You have only to install yourselves and complete it as you go along."

Nearby we found the battery under the tutelage of which our Battery A would be placed until the final relief. Captain DesVignes, the officer commanding, took us over the position. We marveled at the neat and efficient arrangement of the positions and the ammunition dumps. We had never imagined such trail logs as the French had here.

The captain showed us, not four hundred meters to the right, the temporary position suggested for Battery A. There was plenty of natural cover. Just to the rear sloped a steep wooded hillside, perfect for the construction of dug-outs. At the edge of the forest was a rough road which men and carriages could track safely. Captain Dana was satisfied and returned to the echelon to arrange for getting the first platoon up that night.

It was understood that morning that the French group would remain with us for a week or more. On their departure we would leave the temporary positions for the ones they occupied now. All that was altered the next day, and, except for the first platoon of Battery A, the guns of the regiment went directly to the French emplacements.

It was noon. The French habit obtruded itself. Why, the captain wanted to know, shouldn't we lunch? Captain DesVignes' one officer appeared, Lieutenant Riveau, executive, reconnaissance officer, telephone officer, department B man, and popotte, as the French call their mess officer. In front of a round, white tent a table had been laid beneath the pine trees with cloth napkins and china. It wasn't war. It was a picnic. A copy of the Mercure de France lay nearby. We didn't talk of war. The only reminder was the mutter of guns, distant and undisturbing.

The Americans tried to wheedle the chatter back to the things that obsessed them.
" Do you French always run an orienting line?
"Always," Riveau answered languidly, "in theory; never in practice."
He steered quickly away.
" I have been reading some of your American books-"

The captain sipped his pinard-the French issue wine -as thoughtfully as if it had been a rare vintage. With a ceremonial air at the end of the meal he produced from the tent a nearly priceless bottle of liqueur. But the minds of the Americans were on orienting lines and gun positions. Riveau surrendered at last, and accompanied us to a jog in the woods of La Haie Labarre.

We had a plane table. Riveau set it up. We removed our helmets so as not to disturb the needle, while Riveau oriented his board with a declinator compass. We shot a line across the map from our location through the registration point. We drove a stake on the continuation of that line in the wheat field. We drove another stake beneath the plane table.

A rocket went up. We scarcely noticed. It had suddenly come to us that we were locating the first piece of the National Army at the front. Lieutenant Riveau, of the French Artillery had his hand in that with Lieutenant Camp, acting adjutant, and Lieutenant Brassell, Battery A's reconnaissance officer.

That was the climax of the afternoon. Everything was ready for the guns. We returned to the echelon. We were met with the news that the change necessitated by Colonel Johnson's departure had been made. Lieutenant- Colonel Stimson had been given command of the first battalion. He brought with him from Regimental Headquarters his old Upton adjutant, Lieutenant Klots.

Battery B had arrived during the morning reconnaissance, and Battery C came in that afternoon.

The movement commenced that night according to schedule. It was not a relief. That started the next night after it had been announced that the French would depart, leaving us to work out our own salvation.

During the afternoon Captain Dana had sent a detail of men to La Haie Labarre to prepare the emplacements. At eleven o'clock the horses were harnessed to the carriages, the drivers mounted, and the platoon moved out of the black woods and down the road. There was no nervous accompaniment. These men went about the job with the efficiency of veterans. It would have been impossible to suspect that they faced the enemy for the first time. There was only one thing. Everyone was unnaturally quiet, as if the Hun might hear. The rumbling of wheels on the hard road surface was disquieting if you didn't stop to compute how far away the enemy actually was. It was a dull night. Except for some firing on the left and an occasional star shell there was nothing to startle.

Neuf Maisons had gone to bed. From the country road above it the star shells were plainer, but the woods were peaceful-and black.

We were to learn to use such darkness as cats do, but that night was the regiment's first experience. Anyone that flashes a light at a battery position is either a spy or a fool. The discipline is pretty nearly the same in either case. Delicate tasks must be performed by the sense of touch, by a special instinct that an artilleryman has to develop. The pieces must be accurately placed. The trail must be nicely fitted into the trail log. You have to pile ammunition according to the law. Your camouflage must be perfectly arranged so that the first gleam of daylight will find everything covered. The only lights that are ever allowed at a battery position are the shrouded bulbs at the sights, the tiny slits of the aiming stick lamps, and the hidden gleam of a candle in a dugout, perhaps, where the battery commander or the executive figures new targets. These, if properly arranged, give away nothing.

The green men of the 305th accomplished their tasks in the brief time they had. No. I piece was set directly over the stake the reconnaissance party had driven that afternoon. No. 2 piece was twenty paces to its left. The platoon was ready to fire before daylight.

With the departure of the French announced, a more extended reconnaissance was made the morning of the 11th. Colonel Stimson went ahead to Pexonne in the side car. The commanding officers of Batteries B and C had their first touch of the front that day. Our little party was welcomed. As we rode into Pexonne eight shells fell in the town, and were followed by a noisy and thick barrage from anti-aircraft guns. We glanced overhead and saw among the white bursts directly over the ruins eight Hun planes, flashing white in the sun.
We dismounted hurriedly at the command post. Our guide of the day before came running from behind the splinter screen by the door.
"Get in here quick!" he warned.

The officers responded. The orderlies trotted the horses off to a comparatively safe stone stable.
We waited inside while the anti-aircraft barrage drove the planes higher and higher and finally back to their base. Then we settled down to the business of arranging the relief. It was complicated. It required a delightful luncheon, moistened with some survivals of the Count's cellar. It irritated the Americans who felt they were wasting time.

As a matter of fact there was far more to be got from that luncheon than appeared on the surface. In spite of our impatience we absorbed sector gossip that would scarcely have come to us from a study of plans of employment or the terrain itself.

Our infantry, we gathered, was having greater losses than we had expected from the normal activity of that portion of the front. One battalion had been caught during a relief and had had many casualties. A few nights before the Huns had placed a box barrage around a platoon, had come in with gas and a new type of grenade, and had practically wiped out the command. An officer from our infantry battalion headquarters dropped in for coffee and told us a story of the affair.

" Blank who was in command of the platoon, you know, got hurt-lost his foot, in fact. That's tough luck-in a way. - Looking at it in another way he'll go home, and maybe be decorated.

" By the way, he had a little Italian in his outfit. I remember the fellow well. Utterly worthless. That's what we all thought. Couldn't speak English. Rotten soldier. On kitchen police most of the time. Blank had tried to transfer him, but nobody would stand for it. So the dago was in the trenches with the platoon when the show started. The barrage Jerry treated 'em to plastered the whole works. Then he threw in gas. Shriveled some of 'em up. Then he came himself with these new-fangled grenades, and mopped things up. Blank, as I say, was hurt. He lay on the floor of the trench. A Jerry officer and two or three Jerries were around him, going through his pockets. Blank heard something and glanced up. There at the turning of the trench stood the dago who couldn't speak English, who was just about perpetual kitchen police, that Blank had tried all along to shake. His gas mask was off. His face looked different. It expressed a decided disapproval of the whole proceeding. The little fellow's lips set. His rifle, bayonet fixed, rose slowly to the charge. He leaned forward. Blank saw, and called to him.

"'Get back, you idiot! For God's sake, get back!'
"But the dago, single-handed, ran to the rescue of his officer. He charged the lot of them."
The narrator paused, as if all was finished.
"Well?" someone asked.
"Oh! What do you suppose? One of the Jerries toss-ed a hand grenade and blew the little dago to pieces."
The story interpreted something for us.

At that luncheon, too, we heard of the various barrages we were supposed to fire under a variety of conditions, and why some positions in the sector were better for the work than others. Capt. Nicoll, it developed, had an exceptionally complete dossier. It contained plans of the tele-phone, wireless, and optical liaisons. There were careful maps showing the barrages and the 0. C. Ps. There was an extended plan of employment and infinite orientation data. It made us rather dizzy. It seemed incredible that any human mind could digest the voluminous contents of that folder.

We examined the positions recommended by the French. Battery A would move into the French emplacements occupied at present by Captain DesVignes' battery. Battery B would go to a fresh position in a wheat field a kilometer and a half to the south west of Pexonne. Battery C would take over an old French position on the edge of Ker Arvor woods. Its platoons would be separated by a hundred meters. To balance this inconvenience there was an elaborate system of dugouts, and a quarry offering dead space close to the back wall. Lieutenant Kane at first established himself here, but the menace from gas was great, so he moved to a dugout on the hill.

Lieutenant Montgomery chose for command post a tumbledown farm house near his guns. Dugouts were well under way at the Battery A position and the new battalion command post.

We would not, we learned that day, have perfect observation. The battalion observatory in a fringe of birch and hemlock between two fields of standing wheat offered a good view of the left of the sector, but nothing of the right. It was called Nenette and the command post went by the name of Rintintin. It was our first introduction to this interesting pair.

During our stay in Lorraine we were always reconnoitering for a more satisfactory observatory. We became convinced that it didn't exist. Most of our barrages, then, would have to be fired, as it were, blind. Rockets from the right of the reference point, the ruined church tower in Badonviller, would have to be relayed, always a dangerous and uncertain expedient.

Battery C had an eventual barrage in front of the left of another army. There was an observatory at a place called Pierre Perce from which Lieutenant Kane could register his guns for this mission. The dossier recorded a forward observatory. When it was examined it was found to be well in front of the normal position of our front line platoons-that is, in No-Man's Land. The French advised against making use of it, for it is a serious thing to place artillerymen in danger of capture needlessly. They know too much.

The situation in the Baccarat sector was unusual. The front was so thinly held that one was always apprehensive of a surprise attack. There was a line of resistance. Forward of that everything was provisional. Patrols moved cautiously through a maze of abandoned trenches. Cossack posts at night crouched in shell holes or at trench corners. Often Americans glided inside the Hun outposts.

The reverse, of course, was inevitable. There were desperate little combats in the dark. It was troublesome to get the wounded back. Such conditions moulded too expectant an attitude.

In case of an attack in force these outposts were to fall back on the line of resistance where the real stand would be made. That necessitated an extreme care in the system of rocket calls for barrages. How it worked out you will see later. It made us all the more dissatisfied with our observatories. Yet we only established one new one which was in no way superior to Nenette. We built a platform in the tops of several birch trees on the edge of a wood it gave us something to fall back on in case we were shelled out of Nenette.

About three o'clock that afternoon of July 11th Captain Dana, Lieutenant Brassell, and Lieutenant Camp were at Nenette, locating points in the sector from the battle map. Lieutenant-Colonel Stimson appeared. Captain Dana wanted to register. Lieutenant Colonel Stimson was anxious to avoid stirring the enemy up. But the platoon was in. The guns were ready. The effect on the men of a few rounds was worth considering. So Lieutenant -Colonel Stimson consented, and Captain Dana telephoned the data down to the battery. The registration point was a corner of a Hun trench at a range of 5,500 meters.

"Fire when ready!"
The crack of the gun reached us. We heard the projectile rushing over our heads towards Germany. The first shot of the National Army artillery was on its way.

That shell was normal charge, high explosive. Considering the range and the nature of the terrain it was quite reasonable it should not be observed. The captain called for high burst shrapnel, and not long after we heard its swishing flight we saw appear near the corner of the trench a pretty white ball of smoke. There was an error of only three mils in deflection, and less than a hundred meters in range.

Corporal Andrew Ancelowitz laid the piece. Sergeant Fred Wallace gave the command to fire. Private George Elsnick pulled the lanyard for the shot that put the National Army artillery in the war.

"Guess," said someone dryly, "they heard that shot in Berlin."
Certainly it was the first note of the music to which the Hun danced back to the Rhine and defeat.


THE second battalion followed close on the heels of the first. Major Wanvig and his staff arrived in Baccarat with Battery D at midnight July l0th. Battery E came in on the morning of the 11th, and Battery F that afternoon. Major Wanvig established his echelon near the Supply and Headquarters Companies in the woods above Bertrichamps.

The major with Lieutenant Fenn, his acting adjutant, Lieutenant Church, acting telephone officer, and Captains Starbuck, Storer, and Mitchell, commanding the three batteries, made his reconnaissance on July 12th.

These reconnaissances for the relief of the French, as has been said, all shared the same surprises and the same hospitality. The conditions the Second Battalion found, however, differed in some ways from those met by the First. To begin with the French group had only two batteries in position. It was decided to place Batteries D and E in their emplacements. A new position was chosen for Battery F to the right of the Neuf Maisons-Vacquerville road.

The group command post was in Vacquerville, a pleasant little village which shell fire had spared. Major Wanvig moved into the Frenchmen's quarters and offices. Scotland was the inherited name of the command post and Godfrin of the battalion observatory.

Here, too, the question of observation offered no perfect answer. Godfrin was not better than Nenette, nor had it as good natural cover. It was an overgrown hole in the ground, covered with a sheet of elephant iron. It was in front of the woods. Because of its vulnerability it was used only for observation of the sector. For conduct of fire each battery had an observatory of its own, but no one of them approached perfection.

At the start an unexpected task faced the Second Battalion. There was a battery in their portion of the front of two ninety millimeter and two ninety-five millimeter howitzers, sector property. Lieutenant Pike of Battery D was given these guns with nine men from each battery of the regiment, and told to find out how they worked, to register them, and to fire them on demand. He and his makeshift crew solved the mechanical and theoretical mysteries of the strange guns. They fired with the rest of the regiment.

The relief, meantime, was well under way. The second platoon of Battery A, and the first platoons of batteries B and C went in on the night of July 11th-12th. The remainder of B and C followed the next night. Two guns each from D, E, and F moved up on the night of the 13th-14th. The rest of the second battalion completed the relief, the night of the 14th-15th. We escaped a single casualty. Either the Huns hadn't got wind of the change, or else they had guessed the wrong roads.

It is, nevertheless, always a nervous business going into position over main highways which you know the enemy has registered, and when you are well aware that his intelligence department is performing miracles to learn the exact hour of your relief. All you can do is to leave wide distances between your carriages, and often the roads are too crowded for that. The whir of every aeroplane is a warning to take cover, and, of course, you can't leave the road.

The chief danger lurks at the position itself. The pieces to be relieved must remain in their emplacements ready to fire on call until the relieving guns are at hand. Consequently the guns are jammed in a small space. Many men and horses are crowded in and about the pits, working in the dark. It is at such a moment that a shell gets the maximum confusion and the greatest number of casualties. In the Baccarat sector the Huns shelled and dropped bombs at the wrong moments. We could laugh at him. We were in position, and fairly well protected. We were ready to back up our own infantry.

Now we faced for the first time the problem of organizing a position. That is an irritating and endless process for a green outfit. During the three weeks we spent in Lorraine we learned more than months of school could have taught us.

The Second Battalion, with the plant it had inherited from the French, settled itself with less trouble than the First.
Colonel Stimson moved at once from Pexonne to the new command post in Haie Labarre woods, and, with details drawn from the batteries, hurried the work on the dugouts the French had started. Until some of these dugouts should be completed the headquarters would be quite unprotected. And that was only one task. A new system of communication was necessary. Both battalions had to organize their observatories and arrange their liaisons with the infantry.

We had realized all along we were short of officers, but we had felt we were plentifully supplied with men. This abrupt concentration of work, even in a quiet sector, taught us that the artillery tables of organization, made in America, had not foreseen all the demands of this type of warfare.

At the front the Headquarters Company could no longer be treated as a unit. Regimental headquarters, the two battalion headquarters, and the echelons were separated from each other by several kilometers. At the start, then, the three details were divorced for tactical and administrative purposes. That raised new problems of subsistence and transportation. Each detail, moreover, was subdivided. Men had to be at the echelon to care for the animals, and to draw and transport rations. When we had got the specialists to the command posts we found it necessary to supplement them by drafts from the batteries. The batteries complained that that left them short-handed. The telephone details were woefully small. We shifted scout and instrument men into communication. We tortured the dignified tables of organization until they were unrecognizable, but the result was something that could wage war.

At the start let us review what we did with communication, for that was the first problem we had to solve. A regiment at the front without practical means of communication might just as well be in America. It is out of action. Telephone officers and men, therefore, must lay and maintain wires, no matter how heavy the shelling; must keep every portion of the organization in touch with the others, and the whole in talking radius with neighboring units.

In that sector the 305th had something like a hundred kilometers of wire to lay or maintain. We took over many lines from the French, but a good deal of their wire might have been a souvenir of the first battle of the Marne. For no apparent reason beyond senility it would go dead, and that type of trouble is difficult and hungry of time to locate. A great deal of the new wire issued us had insulation that cracked easily, and, because of color and texture shielded its faults jealously. We had to lay it, consequently, with an extreme care.

The weather helped. It rained very little, so, with the heavy twisted pair given the regiment in America, we supplemented our poorer stuff and kept communication always going.

The cellar in the Second Battalion command post at Vacquerville made an ideal central, and the few new lines necessary for the command were quickly run.

The First Battalion completed a small dugout the first two days in, and set up its switchboards there. It made use of what French lines ran to Captain DesVignes old position, but for the most part it had to run new ones to its various units.

Two men were on duty in the centrals for shifts of twenty-four hours. One man sat at the switchboard, and the other could sleep or read or write letters. They could change about as they pleased. It wasn't as simple as it seems. At times those boards were busier than the busiest central in the stock exchange, and often there was more necessity for speed than in the commercial world, and high ranking officers as a rule are less patient than the tired business man.

Then there were unforeseen complications.

We all knew that code names were used at the front. That was natural. It was impossible to shout names and organizations over wires when the enemy was almost certainly listening in. But we hadn't suspected how quickly such customs of secrecy cast a net of fascination about even mature men. In Lorraine nearly every officer devised a code name for himself, and until higher authority interfered, guarded it jealously. It produced a clenching of hands and a tearing of hair among earnest operators.

Colonel Doyle was "Hub." His adjutant went to the tinkling sound of "Mess-kit." Lieutenant-Colonel Stim-son was "Night gun." His adjutant, with perfectly straight hair, was "Pompadour." Major Wanvig was " West ", and his adjutant, " Kansas, " which suggested at least an origin.

The operators took it seriously enough. They had to. Their mispronunciations were due to phonetic idiosyncrasies rather than any humorous intention. Rintintin, for example, got to a staccato Ra-ta-tin and Nenette often was Nannyet. So one might hear:
"Pump a door's busy Mess skit."
"I can't get Night gown."

Such stealth had its more critical side for the telephone men. The infantry had listeners in, who spent their days and nights trying to catch operators talking in the clear -that is using the numbers of organizations or the names of places or well known individuals.

One day a terrifying document reached the regiment. One of our operators had been heard using the names of places. The infantry brigade commander, we were informed, was extremely angry about it. There must be no more talking in the clear. Word went around, to meet the situation, that the operators were to put no one through unless he asked for organizations and persons by their code names. That same evening the irritated general wished to speak to one of the command posts. His adjutant got the switchboard.

"Any officer will do," he said.
The youthful operator, faithful to his job, not being able to guess that the infantry didn't know the local trick names of the artillery, replied:
"Can't put you through unless you ask for the officer you want to talk to by his code name."
Persistent diplomacy alone spared a breach between the two branches of the service. But the operators couldn't get it straight,
" If you talk in the clear," they said, "you get the deuce, and if you refuse to talk in the clear you get the devil."

But generals as well as men learn from practical experience with such inevitable inconsistencies. And Division Headquarters stepped in. It published a list of those officers who ranked code names. No others would be authorized or tolerated. But such habits aren't broken easily, and often over the wire sighed the eccentric nick-names of the lowly.

The operators did a good job, and, even in that sector, a hard one. Lines go out from shell fire, from weather conditions, from traffic, from bad wire. The panels were tested every hour. The operator would plug in. If he got a response from the other end, he simply said:
'40. K."

Which meant he was testing and was satisfied.
If he got nothing, or ground noises, he reported to his telephone officer that the line was out, and two men were sent to find the break and repair it. They went in pairs, so that if a man should be hit in a lonely place help could be got to him.

The hauls were long in Lorraine. You had to carry a telephone for testing. You would go along for a few hundred meters, scrape the insulation from the wire, hook your telephone in, and call central. When you failed to get a response you knew the break lay between you and your last testing point, and you examined that section of wire until you had spotted the trouble.

There were alternative talking routes to all stations. When the operator found a line dead, he got the other end through a different line and warned the operator there to send men out. The other fellow didn't always do it, and one pair of men might have to walk five or six miles to find the trouble-it really happened a number of times-in the other fellow's switchboard. That didn't make for the best of feeling among the details, but such irritations were temporary.

Then there were always curious things happening to lines. We had a grounded circuit to Pierre Percee. There was a French central there. The fact that the line had a ground return indicated that it was not much used. It was, in fact, only important in an emergency. Still, in view of that emergency, it had to be kept working, and it was perpetually going out. One day Corporal Caen and an operator went through the lonely, wooded country that separated the two centrals. About half way they came upon a party of French telephone men who were stringing

a wire that looked suspiciously like a remnant of our Peirre Percee line. A gap nearly a kilometer long existed in that. Corporal Caen spoke French. He could gesture, too, like a Frenchman, and he knew some of the most powerful French phrases. But the party shrugged its shoulders.

"You could be shot for this."
"Ali, oui," said the Frenchmen indifferently.
They finally consented to explain.
" Our officer told us to run a line to the infantry, coute que coute. We didn't have enough wire. It's only cost a kilometer or two of yours.
What are you scolding about? Don't we, like you, have to obey orders?"
The corporal didn't crave international complications, so he trudged back, got more wire, and bridged the gap. But there was a curse on that line. Another day he found a party of Americans from a neighboring unit playing the same salvage trick, and those fellows he had on their knees, begging him not to court martial them or have them shot at dawn.

For tampering with a line in the field is a very serious offence. It is likely to do incalculable damage.
There was one line that some of the men thought bewitched. It played its tricks on a very rainy night. Coheleach was on the switchboard. When he tested about ten O'clock, instead of calling his customary "0. K." he looked puzzled, and said something rapidly in French.
" There are frogs on this line," he announced.
" Impossible, because that line runs to Battery B."
" Sure, and I can hear the B operator talking across the frogs."

It looked like a cross. The French line had probably been blown from its supports and had fallen over ours. The wet weather and faulty insulation would account for the rest. Only one man left from one end. In half an hour a small voice came over the wire, reporting. Through his uncertain words we could hear French flowing. The conversation had an astral quality. We could not interrupt it. The groping demands of our man somewhere on that line in the wet, dark night, failed to dam it.

" The line," we distinguished above the queer conversation, " has been tied into close to the road."
It seemed impossible. We asked the startled linesman if he had traced the wire.
"Where does it go?"
"That's just it, sir. It isn't natural. It goes to a dark dugout."
" Maybe Huns with a listening in set."

But even the puzzled linesman didn't believe that, for over the wire came a weaving of French phrases which meant that it was a bitter night for those who fought, a bad night to die.

Our man wasn't afraid of Huns with a listening in set. That meant a fair fight, but he didn't like that dark dugout with such a conversation slipping from it over a wire. He hadn't followed the wire in. He disapproved of attempting it. A direct command was necessary.

He was so long reporting after that that we became uneasy. Perhaps there had been something he couldn't control-too many Huns talking French.
The B drop fell at last, and he was on the wire. His voice was conversational again-rather more agreeable than usual.

"Spooks? Quit your kiddin.' Who said anything about spooks. Frogs. Line looked as if it was tied in, but it wasn't.

A cross. One of these frogs was couebayed. Other got lonely and was chinnin' with some central. He had beau-coup mangay, and after we chowed he came out with me and helped fix the line. 0. K. now. Good-night."

We had always that fear of Germans tapping our lines. There were spies about. Conditions favored them. In Lorraine most of the inhabitants speak German, and there are many German names. The mingling of Americans and French helped. A Hun in American uniform among the French, or one in French uniform among the Americans was likely to go unquestioned.

A line to one of our advanced positions was interfered with several times. Switchboard operators were called by men whose voices they failed to recognize. These men asked carefully formed questions designed to draw military information. Investigation would disclose tiny breaks in the insulation such as a listening in set might make. We placed patrols on that line. One day, close to the infantry, they caught a fellow fumbling with the wire. He couldn't give a clear account of himself, so he was turned over to higher authority. What became of him we never heard. But that form of annoyance on that line ceased.

We were particularly anxious about our wires to the infantry. In order that the artillery may properly support the infantry it must know the doughboys' needs, where his front line is, where his advanced patrols are. In Lorraine we kept telephonic communication open fairly easily. In other sectors it was, as you will see, a more difficult problem. But you must have something besides that. Artillery officers must live with the infantry commanders, explaining the possibilities and limitations of artillery fire, acting as go-betweens, as it were. Regimental headquarters kept personally in touch with infantry brigade headquarters. An officer was usually sent to infantry regimental headquarters. Always a lieutenant went from each artillery battalion to the infantry battalion commander in the front line.

Lieutenant Edward F. Graham went from the First Battalion to the infantry; Lieutenant Karl McNair from the Second. Each took with him half a dozen enlisted men to act as runners and forward agents.
The first day down some of these men were taken on a tour of inspection forward of battalion headquarters. In the smashed village of Fenneviller they were caught by Bosche harrassing fire. They dropped into a ditch by the side of the road, but they saw a medical captain and a doughboy seriously injured, and another doughboy killed. They found the ditch comfortable until the Bosche had had enough.

When they reported at headquarters that afternoon with a message from the infantry their attitude was prophetic, They had flung off the shadow of the disaster they had witnessed. They were elated because they had received their baptism of fire. Little. Michel of the First Battalion came up grinning. He called to his friends.'

"Say, boys. This chicken's been under fire. Gee "It was great."
A spirit of frivolity colored the triumph of the little party. A soldier removed his tin hat, pointing to a deep dent in the side.
"Pretty close one that!"
A snort of disgust from one of his companions.
" Saw him myself. He took an axe to it."

Website by SchoolMessenger Presence. © 2021 Manitowoc Public School District