THE 306th Field Artillery


ENFIN, Au FRONT! Ended at last all the riding of sharp-spined horses amid the dust clouds of the boiling plain of Souge! Never again would we waste good shells on the innocent dummy trenches of its target range. Finished were our long months of training, and before us lay the Front-that belt of upturned earth and rusted wire which for four years had separated the Boche from civilized man.

Sometimes,-usually, in fact, we had not thought much about the Front. But when, on July 11, 1918, we saw our Supply Company moving out of Camp de Souge-wagons, trucks, horses, men-and leaving the low brown buildings which had been our homes since early May, marching out to Bonneau to entrain, and we knew that we would not be many hours behind them, the Front suddenly became a thing of personal interest to each of us. We would soon be making communiques, not merely reading them from our bulletin boards. Our good howitzers would be talking to the Boche in the only language he understands. There was a sense of elation about it, but a rather nervous elation; of course each of us hoped and expected to be lucky but we could not but know that some of us would not return. However, training was finished; it was time to go. In those days things had been going none too well on the Front; they needed the 306th there, and the 306th was ready.

But before reaching the Front there was the little matter of a railway journey across France, and preliminary thereto the task of entraining. Coming from Brest we had loaded ourselves into these funny little four wheeled boxcars labeled " 40 men, or 8 horses," and found it fairly simple but we never tried putting those eight horses aboard. Some of us loaded our horses by day and some of us by night, but the hour made no difference in the degree of their perversity. Many of them became insulted at the notion of boxcars and declared for a first-class passenger compartment, or nothing. Many others seemed convinced that the quickest way to the Front was not via the boxcar door but by trying to fall through the narrow crack between the car and the loading platform. Did their objections to entering betoken an obscure equine presentiment that they, at least, would never return from the Front? Certain it is that there were few among them whose carcasses were not to rest along the Vesle, in the Argonne, or beside the long white highways of Champagne. However, willing and unwilling, led, cajoled, or pushed aboard by brute force, they went with us. Our kitchens, our rations, our fuel, our cooks were aboard. Our fantastically painted howitzers and their caissons were on the flat cars. The engines emitted the thin anTmic shrieks characteristic of the French locomotive whistle, and, one by one, between the 12th and the 15th of July, our long trains crawled away from Bonneau, headed we knew not where except that it was " Au Front!"

For three days then we journeyed through the pleasant land of France. Now and again we stopped -to form lines at our kitchens for coffee, to carry pails of water to the thirsty horses, or to wash at the water tanks we passed and stretch ourselves after the tedium of our cramped quarters. As often as possible we ate corned willy and hard bread were the staples, eked out by such jam or cheese as the fore-handed and enterprising had secured. Between the diversions we slept (in relays, for there was not room for all the occupants of a car to lie down simultaneously) or dangled our legs comfortably from the open doors, while we watched the trim landscapes gliding past. We became steadily darker, with accumulating layers of soot and dust, and no man might call us for appearing with unshaven jowls, for shaving facilities there were none. Then, too, there were the appreciative audiences which watched our trains crawl through the towns or stop in the stations -strange mixed throngs of American soldiers, small boys, French girls, British Tommies, donkeys, poilus, market women, Moroccans. It was such an audience that greeted us at Limoges-the whole city seemed to be taking its promenade and, moreover, was sumptuously decorated with French and American flags. We took this as a generous tribute in our honor, disdaining the suggestion of those few wise acres who thought Limoges might be celebrating Bastille Day.

No mishaps marred our journey; even when Private Folvig of A Battery felt off the train he was not suppressed for long, but reappeared a few days later, somewhat tardily but in good order. Occasional excitement would be caused by the habit of the French railroad authorities of unexpectedly and surreptitiously detaching a car, now and again, and permitting its train to proceed without it. Invariably it contained something we needed-instruments, caissons, a few of ourselves perhaps-and retrieving it always afforded an interesting diversion. Possibly the best play of the trip was executed by an A Battery mare, which, while endeavoring to get a really good view of the scenery, fell out of her car, landed, catlike, on her feet, and then, realizing her mistake, set off at a patriotic gallop to catch her vanishing train. She won, of course, cantering briskly down between the rails, whinnying signals to stop the train, and was finally hogtied and hoisted aboard again amid the plaudits of the Battery.

Thus, in warm and delightful weather, we crossed the beautiful land of France. We shall never forget those green and well-kept fields and the gray little villages clustering about their church towers. And thus we came to Luneville, in Lorraine, and the first traces of the Boche. From Luneville on we saw many evidences of his presence houses burned, or with ragged holes in roofs and walls, broken down bridges which might have been mined during the first weeks of the war, and the little brown crosses which, scattered here and there along the highways or among the scarlet poppies of the fields marked the resting places of those who had died in the first great battles, when the Germans had swept over the frontier to be stopped and driven back by the men whose graves we passed.

It was at the little town of Baccarat, so far south on the Lorraine Front that it was not many kilometers from the Alsatian border, that our trains finally stopped, arriving one by one between the 14th and the 18th of July. Generally they arrived at night. And so most of us detrained and moved out to our first camps unaided by any light save the stars, for lights are taboo in territory where the Boche planes patrol nightly. In darkness, then, we dragged our guns and wagons from the flat-cars, fumbled in the boxcars for our personal belongings, led off our horses, sorted ourselves out, hitched the teams to the gun carriages, and battery by battery, moved out upon the dim roads which led toward the east and the Boche. Through strange villages, all lightless and seemingly empty of human life, and under trees standing dark against the sky, we wound off into the unknown hills, until before daylight, we had turned into woods which would conceal our presence when the light came, and our first night march had ended. Then picket lines could be stretched, packs slipped from tired shoulders, and presently, with dawn breaking through the dripping trees, our cooks could begin their task of preparing the breakfast coffee. They were not the soul-trying affairs which our later night marches proved, but they were our first experiences of moving by night in an unknown country and going into camp in the dark in a strange bit of woodland, and the first practical lesson which the Front taught us.

And in the sunlight of that first morning each man began to take stock of the Front. Under a sky of the purest blue our rather sleepy eyes beheld a land of rolling hills, dark thick woods, and fields as orderly and well tilled as any we had yet seen. French farmers-old men, women, and children-were working about us in those fields in a way which seemed to us rather reckless. There did not seem to be any trenches about, at least not in our immediate neighborhoods. True, there were strips of brown burlap hung across roads and sometimes forming curtains along their sides to hide one's movements from the Boche balloons-" camouflaged" roads-but on the other hand there was no noise of guns and nobody was shelling us. We carried our gas masks religiously and took care to have our helmets handy, but there seemed to be nothing to require their use. We kept under cover, too, under the trees which sheltered our guns and our picket lines. We received many strange orders against wandering about in the open, and the sin of walking where none had walked before and thus making new paths for the Hun camera to photograph from its plane was suddenly explained to us as being cardinal.

And presently we saw that plane. We all came out to look and were sternly shooed back under cover like small chickens beneath a hawk. Very high and small it was, with wings glinting silver-gray in the sun, while around it sprang out against the blue the fluffy little puffs of white where the Archies' shrapnel was bursting. And it paid no attention whatever to the little white puff balls but sailed on about its business, whatever that may have been, and everything became charmingly peaceful again. So this was the Front!

In fact it was a "Peace Front" to which we had come, where there had been no serious fighting for years and which was being used as a finishing school for our new divisions. But for all that there was much to be learned there and many new things awaiting us. First, there were our doughboys, who had been in Flanders and already had a month's experience of Baccarat and whom we now rejoined, with their tales (sometimes highly imaginative) of trench life in both sectors. There was the novelty of sleeping in the open in those tiny shelter tents we had practiced pitching but never slept in-and pitching them by daylight and in inky darkness when one's tent pins mysteriously vanish are different things. The regiment was scattered to the four winds, too, with its Headquarters Company in Baccarat itself and its batteries stretched over many kilometers of hills and woods to the north and the south of the town. And each battery promptly divided itself into the echelon, which stayed with the horses in the rear, and the firing battery, which lived with the guns in their concealed and camouflaged positions in range of their probable targets. Then, for the first time, Battalion P. C.'s sprang up, close to the batteries,. where the majors took up their abodes and gathered around them the Battalion details, which, until now, had lived happily in the bosom of their own company. There was also, for some of us, the first experience of living in billets, in those really thickly populated villages which had looked so deserted when we first passed through them by night. We had imagined that soldiers were usually billeted in the pretentious mansion of a count, or the marble palace of a duchess. Actually it appeared that as a rule they found themselves in a hayloft, approached by a rickety ladder and requiring caution in its use, lest while sleeping peacefully, you should roll through a hole in its floor and disturb the night's rest of the antique cow which bunked below you. Also some of us met dugouts-affairs with reassuringly solid roofs of timbers and sand bags, but of such inferior ventilation that we preferred to sleep outside in pup tents, pitched conveniently nearby in case Boche shells should make dugouts a necessity. And here we first heard of spies-by all accounts the place was reeking with them. On the very night of their arrival Sergeant Brown and six other members of Headquarters Company were suddenly drafted, armed to the teeth, to surround a totally empty house from which-according to a strange and excited officer-a spy was flashing signals to the Boche planes. Here some of us first made the acquaintance of observatories and had the pleasure of sitting therein for ' hours watching through scissors or monocular telescopes the generally deserted and lifeless landscape which stretched away beyond the enemy's lines, alert to catch and report the least sign of animation, and very occasionally rewarded by the sight of a camion (well out of range) on a distant road, or of two Boches proceeding leisurely " from the point K 4932 to the clump of trees about one hundred meters south of that point." Of an evening we listened to far-off bombardment, or enjoyed the displays of signal rockets rising from the distant trenches. And also of an evening some of us improved our command of French by chatting in International Language with the inhabitants of Merviller and Reherry, learning something from those kindly people, who had suffered from invasion in 1914, of why and how bitterly they detest the Boche. " All the evil that has ever come to Lorraine, has come from Over-Rhine." And there we studied the manners and customs of the people among whom we lived and tried to philosophize on why a French villager prefers to keep his ancestral manure pile before his front door instead of behind his back door, and exactly for what reason he installs the family cow in a room which, by rights, should be the sitting-room of his dwelling. Others explored the town of Baccarat-a considerable part of it the bare walls of houses which the Boche had burned in 1914 before evacuating the place. Our special details clambered over the hills, solving the manipulation of the com-pass goniometer and the mysteries of Italian resection. Our telephone details ran and patrolled their lines and our radio men set up their wireless sets and began to take and send messages. D Battery acquired muscle in the process of digging gun emplacements and we began to develop expertness in spreading camouflage nettings to screen our guns and dumps of shells from overhead observation. They were busy and interesting days-those first days of our fortnight in the Baccarat Sector-while the Regiment began, haltingly but earnestly, and with every man putting forth his best, to function as a unit in the line. And finally we sent a few of our good F. A.'s and 0. A.'s over the intervening kilo-meters of hills into Hunland.

It was on July 24, 1918, that the regiment fired its first shot at the enemy, and the first six-inch shell fired by any National Army Regiment on any front and in any war was sent on its way by Gun No. 4 Of E Battery. Captain Allen commanded the battery while Lieutenant Chipman acted as executive. Sergeant Blake commanded Gun No. 4, which had been laid by Corporal Birnbohm, gunner, while First Class Private Worn had the honor of pulling the lanyard which started our first "present for Jerry"-with the names of the whole gun crew chalked on it-to its destination.

That same afternoon F Battery registered and during the next day or two all the batteries did some shooting. But we did little firing at Baccarat. To begin with, too much firing might result in reprisals from our friends, the enemy, thereby disturbing the serenity of a Peace Sector, and, in the second place, ammunition was expensive and the supply limited, So when B Battery expended ninety-one shells in one afternoon the authorities promptly requested explanations as to why a whole week's allowance of ammunition had been dissipated in a single joyous hour. There were other impediments to our destroying Huns-the farmers persisted in working in the fields in front of our guns and it was necessary to warn them away when we wanted to annihilate their enemies. And D Battery had thoughtlessly placed its howitzers on the edge of a potato field, with the result that their blasts prematurely dug many valuable hills of potatoes. We did not understand exactly what the owner of that field said when he came to talk the matter over with us but somehow we gathered that he had not come to congratulate us on the excellence of our gunnery. In fact he seemed rather blind to the necessity of slaughtering Boche and unduly impressed with the importance and monetary value of " pommes de terre. " Apropos of the inhabitants, they had a disconcerting manner not only of taking you for granted, like people who had seen almost enough of soldiers, but also of not taking the present hostilities in their fields and farm yards very seriously. Of course they had been at the Front f our years longer than we had but it seemed to us that they ought to treat the Front-any Front, indeed-with more respect.

As for the Boche, he was almost as casual in his conduct toward us as were the inhabitants. He seemed for the most part content with watching us carefully from his observation balloons, which hung continually above the horizon, and from the planes, which came over steadily despite the efforts of our Archies. It seemed that, so long as he observed nothing unusually suspicious and we behaved ourselves peaceably, he was resolved to do likewise. Certainly he never shelled our batteries and indeed only a few of us ever heard a hostile shell on that Front-and those few shells were comfortably far away.

But if, on any front where there exists a tacit agreement that neither party will seriously annoy the other, you are so faithless as to disregard that agreement, you must expect that the outraged enemy will probably give vent to his indignation. Prisoners had reported that the Boche had some five thousand minnenwerfer shells stored in the church of the village of Nouhigny. F Battery sent forward a gun to a point from which this munition dump could be reached, and destroyed it utterly. In spite of the coincidence that the day was a Sunday, the target a church filled to the doors (with shells), Captain Ketcham of F Battery a minister's son and, that Sergeant Berkmeyer, commanding the piece, was a priest's brother, everyone considered the affair a complete success and went to bed with a feeling of something accomplished, something done. But Jerry did not seem equally pleased and robbed us of our night's repose by sending his planes over and bombing the whole sector all night long, paying particular attention to our munition dumps. The annoying part about it, after we had exercised so much care to keep under cover and not betray our position, was that he bombed dumps with a precision which demonstrated that he had known where they were all the time.

This was not Jerry's sole performance in the role of bomber; apparently he considered an occasional air raid de rigueur even in a Peace Sector, and, the nights becoming fine and moonlit, he came over to Baccarat and spent several evenings with us. He had an annoying habit of arriving about eleven o'clock, when everyone was enjoying the first sweet sleep of night. Then one might hear the unmistakable pulsating drone of the Boche motor-coming nearer -and presently the Archies would open viciously to a staccato accompaniment of machine guns stuttering from the house tops of the town. Presently the custodian of the Baccarat steam siren would awake, and, soon after the first crashes of exploding bombs had set the townspeople to shivering in their cellars and "caves" he would add his pet's weird notes to the general pandemonium. By this time its unearthly howl was a little late to serve as a warning for approaching aircraft but at least it officially stamped the event as an air raid-and no air raid on a French town is complete without a siren accompaniment.

We did not know that at first, and consequently many members of Headquarters Company, who lived in the town, took the siren to be a gas alarm, so that much excellent and prompt drill in the assumption of gas masks resulted. In this sector we suffered severely from gas. Not that any of us were gassed, for the Boche never fired a gas shell at us, but that we underwent the usual epidemic of false gas alarms which assails untried soldiers. Imagine being awakened about midnight, because an A Battery driver passing through Merviller had seen men wearing gas masks (?) and brought back news of the same to his battery, and then donning your suffocating rubber and isinglass affair and perspiring in it for an hour and a half while the truth of the report was being investigated. Then, too, certain officers displayed the execrable taste of deliberately giving occasional false gas alarms to see how quickly masks would be assumed-they should have been pleased with the results!

And yet even the false gas alarm has its uses. For on a pleasant afternoon there rolled up to E Battery an impressively large touring car, whence issued several resplendent staff officers and, in their midst, a vision in straw hat and white flannel trousers -Congressman Blank, come to share the dangers and hardships of "the boys in the trenches." Most unfortunately Sergeant Bonner, E Battery's Gas N. C. 0., an excellent man who always obeyed orders and who had received careful injunctions from Captain Allen as to how to receive visiting staff officers, after first craftily waiting until our visitors had separated themselves from their car by about one hundred meters, sounded the gas alarm. Where-upon E Battery lifted up its voice and shouted " Gas " as one man. And Congressman Blank, without lifting up his voice, but turning suddenly and strangely purple, unhesitatingly sprinted the hundred for that car, where, after desperate fumbling, he hid his countenance in an ill-smelling French mask. With the distinguished legislator departed, with somewhat greater dignity, the resplendent staff officers and the impressive car bore them swiftly from the tainted airs in which E Battery was strangling in efforts to render its laughter inaudible.

One other event should be recorded; we were, for the first time, "deloused." Under the chaperonage of our Medical Department we marched dry and dusty kilometers to the Divisional Delousing Plant, bearing with us to their doom our all unconscious cooties. There we were usually privileged to sit some hours, waiting our turn, and watching the exits of those who had preceded us-sad exits too, of once brave soldiers, who now emerged in a condition of primitive undress and profanely set to work to find out in which of the innumerable wrinkles of their now unrecognizable clothing they belonged. But our Medical Department was inexorable-it always is-and we in turn found ourselves sadly regarding the damp wrinkles of our presumably cootieless clothing and wishing that we owned more than one uniform apiece. Let not the uninitiated suppose this a trivial or unimportant happening; he who has experienced the sad shock of discovering that little Brother Cootie has come to live with him, who knows the breathless excitement incident to the chase of those carnivorae, and has felt the stern joy which surges on hearing his death rattle, knows better.

We spent only a fortnight at Baccarat and when it ended we realized that we had not been doing real fighting but only putting finishing touches on our training. But without those touches we would have found ourselves in evil case in the sterner work to which we were sent. It was on July 31st that we were relieved by French artillery and on the same day the regiment lost its good friend and leader, Colonel Lawrence S. Miller, our commander at Upton and Souge, who was transferred to other duty. Our Lieutenant-Colonel, Frederick Harrison Smith, took command in his place and, on the night of August 1st, led us away from the Peace Sector of Baccarat. We did not know our destination-rumor gave us a choice of Toul, Rheims, Soissons, or Italy. In one particular only was rumor correct-that we were going to a front where real fighting awaited us.

Captain, 306th F.A.
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