Phase VII - Advance on Sedan

Advance on Sedan

The final push of the 77th Division from the Aire to the Meuse may well be called the " Advance on Sedan "; for it was before that historic French city that this Division halted its victorious march forward when Germany cried, Enough! "

Where Prussian beat Frenchman, so American beat Prussian, and as far as the 77th Division is concerned, on the very same spot that the war of 1870 was decided.

It was on Sedan that American guns were trained and it was this same city that was about to be liberated by the Liberty Division when Berlin's acceptance of' the Allied terms was announced.

Sedan was reached after a hard campaign. Through line after line of enemy islets of resistance, so linked as to form an uninterrupted chain of fire, the 77th pushed its way forward for a distance of thirty-seven and one-half kilometers in the last days of the war, until it reached the heights overlooking the site of the deciding battle of the Franco-Prussian conflict, almost 50 years before. In the latter stages of the campaign, the rapidity of the movement forward, the rainy weather, poor condition of the roads and the overcoming of obstacles left by the fleeing Germans converted the operation into one of endurance rather than combat. The spirit of determination was everywhere-The Yank was not to be outdone by the Boche-and every man in the Division, from the commander down to private, was working as if the whole issue of the struggle depended upon him alone.

The divisions on the left flank of the 77th during the advance were the 78th, 42d and a French unit, while the right flank was brought up by the 80th, 1st and 2d.

The beginning of the drive found the now heroes of the Forest d'Argonne in a support position in the rear of their last objective, a line running' approximately between Grand-Pre and St. Juvin. Here they remained for two weeks, re-equipping themselves and refilling the depleted ranks. They were constantly under the shellfire of the Boche and lived in dugouts and huts recently wrested from the Germans. One of the brigades alone had lacked some 3,500 men, more than twice the strength of the old "peace-time" regiment.
The spirit of the men was excellent. The end of the day would find them, not around a campfire, because they were not permitted so close to the enemy lines, but gathered in little groups here and there, each trying to outdo the other in a song fest.

Even the news of the fall of Turkey, the passing of Austria and the imminent capitulation of Germany had no bad effect on the Yankee soldier. He went ahead just as if he had the whole four and one-half years before, instead of behind him.

Relief night is a big event in the life of a soldier. To the observer who is not trained along military lines it would remind him of the cook's fatal mistake-pouring salt into the half-filled sugar barrel. The task is a big one and sometimes, to simplify matters, the various units are relieved on different nights. But not so with the 77th Division this time. It was to attack immediately after the relief was complete and it was important that every unit go into position at practically the same time. For precautionary reasons, however, a light screen of the 78th Division was left in the front line almost to zero hour. In this way the Americans succeeded in withholding from the Boche all information as to the relief until it was too late.

It was a busy night along the roads in that vicinity on the night of October 31st, and the intense darkness added to the difficulties of getting into place. The highways were filled with troops and transport, but the only noise that could be heard was the low commands of the officers and the rumbling of the heavy wagons. Certainly, it was said, the Boche would fire if he only knew what a fine target he had. To make matters worse, a light rain began to fall shortly after midnight.
Not withstanding the grim seriousness of a relief, there were amusing sides. Outstanding of these, at this particular time, is the reprimand of a major at the hands of a wagoner from the 307th Infantry supply train.

"Put out that cigarette and do it quick. You doughboys will get us killed by your carelessness," the wagoner said in a stern voice. When he learned of his mistake he "laid the whip" to the horses and disappeared in the darkness.

Division Orders Nos. 59 and 60, which called for the advance of the 77th Division, placed the 153d Brigade as the forward element with the 154th Brigade and 304th Machine-gun Battalion as the divisional reserve. The 305th Infantry was assigned the front line duties of the attacking brigade, while the other regiment constituted the brigade reserve. The 305th Infantry moved into position in the Ravine Aux Pierres on the line of departure. The 306th Infantry was stationed a short distance south of St. Juvin. Next came the disposition of the divisional reserve. The 307th Infantry was ordered to Pylon with orders to follow the attacking brigade at not less than one kilometer. The 308th Infantry remained in the -vicinity of Marcq, the headquarters of the divisional reserve.

Heavy guns and caissons, coupled with the reconnaissance of the terrain, makes the disposing of artillery units slower than that of the foot-troops, so that organization was forced to start much earlier in making its preparations. The 152d Artillery Brigade, "Our Artillery," as the doughboys call it, began taking position on the night of October 26th. The light regiments were placed between Marcq and Sommerance for operation against the now famed Kriemhilde Stellung, while the heavy regiment was divided between La Besogne and Cornay.

Long before the various units reached their assigned positions, observers and scouts were reconnoitering the front in anticipation of the forward movement. They found that the German defensive tactics over wide areas, especially in rear-guard actions, had not changed, it was based almost wholly on the use of artillery and machine guns. Among the most important disclosures was the fact that the enemy had organized all forest crests and ravines into fortresses for prolonged machine-gun resistance. Along the military crests of hills, on forward and reverse slopes, so as to command an approach from the front, rear and flank, the Boche had established machine-gun nests manned by the heavy type of gun. Near these positions, deep dugouts were built to shelter the crew. Scattered about on the slopes of wooded hills were higher machine-gun positions, consisting of shallow funk-holes, so placed that the guns shooting from them along the surface of the ground created interlocking bands of fire extending completely around the base of the hill. At the end of every trail and covering every road, railroad, tramway and path, there was a machine gun of the light or heavy type. There is another type of machine gunner; although he cannot be observed before the fight he invariably springs up during an advance. He is the sniper, who takes his chance position whenever opportunity presents itself.

This extensive system of machine-gun defense and a few isolated batteries of artillery is what the New Yorkers faced.

Sullen skies hung over the battlefield in front of Champigneulle on the morning of November 1, and the grey streaks of dawn piercing the blackened heavens told the infantryman that the hour for the " hopover " was drawing near. At that hour of the morning, it appeared that it would be an ideal day for the attack. A mist hung in the air.

The artillery preparation had been in progress for almost two hours, tearing the enemy resistance out by the roots. All Hunland was lighted by the bursting of American shells. The roar of the big guns in the rear was deafening.

Observation had showed a formidable trench system on the hills, southwest of Champigneulle, commanding the valley to the south of the town. This was one of the main targets of the American artillery, as well as a small trench system to the east of the first day's objective. With the artillery preparation over, the infantry began the advance up the steep hill leading to Champigneulle.

The first day's fight bore little fruit, although a small advance was made. In the face of stubborn resistance, mostly machine guns which had escaped the terrific bombardment of the American artillery, troops of the 77th Division moved forward. Two companies reached the intermediate objective-a road running between Champigneulle and St. Georges. The heaviest resistance came from the trench system, southeast of Champigneulle and from Min Mohin, but was soon overcome when machine gun was placed against machine gun. The Germans were no match for the Americans in this instance, despite the expert reputation of the enemy in the handling and disposition of the deadly automatic weapon. One of the advanced companies was counter-attacked three times during the afternoon, but drove back the enemy to the valley north of the front line position each time. Three hundred Germans were seen to enter this valley three different times for reformation preparatory to the launching of a new counter stroke. The day's operation netted only a small gain in ground and nine Boche machine guns of the light and heavy types. It was only a nibble from the 77th's point of view.

It began to look as if the Germans were to employ their "fight to the last man" tactics and the publication of an intercepted Boche message left little doubt of it. Some idea of the German estimate of the importance of holding the general line on which the 77th was attacking may be gained from this communication. It was signed by General Von der Marwitz, then in command of the German forces-which were opposing the Americans, and pointed out that if the United States troops broke through the Longuyon-Sedan railroad practically the only German escape from the west would be cut. The German commander's appeal to the ranks gave added evidence of the gradual weakening morale of the Teutonic armies.

The second day of the advance found Colonel George Vidmer in command of the 153d Brigade, with both regiments in line. After a short artillery preparation, the men leaped from their positions and rushed Champigneulle, determined to make up for the check of the day before. The town fell after a half-hour's bitter fighting. The actual entrance into the town was delayed a few minutes because of "our own artillery fire" the infantry reaching the objective ahead of schedule.

A German officer who was captured at this point told intelligence officers that he could not understand American tactics in the field. "Your men came from the front, rear and flanks," he concluded.

Champigneulle was taken early in the morning and the greater part of a day still remained. Officers hurriedly reformed platoons and pushed on. Both regiments kept up a steady advance until, at noon, aeroplanes reported that the forward elements were north of Verpel, a little town four kilometers north of Champigneulle. It was taken about 10 o'clock in the morning by men of the 306th Infantry. Nineteen prisoners were also seized. It now became necessary for the Brigade Commander to move his headquarters forward and the town which was taken early in the morning was selected as the place.

So rapid did the advance become, with such little opposition, that it was thought probable that the movement could be given added impetus by supplying motor trucks for the foot troops. Automobiles were sent ahead but, owing to the poor condition of the roads and the rapid advance of the column, they were unable to catch up and were forced to return to the brigade base. During the afternoon and evening still further progress was made and the night summary at brigade head-quarters showed Harricourt, Thenorgues and Bar in the hands of the 77th Division. At Harricourt, considerable enemy shelling and machine-gun resistance was encountered but was soon overcome by the effectiveness of the American machine gun and artillery. Patrols were sent out in the direction of Autruche and contact was regained with the enemy, who by this time appeared to be transforming his retreat into a rout. Nevertheless the German official communication of that day, said:-

"We have readjusted our position to a depth of ten miles."

At Harricourt there occurred a good example of the excitement which an infantryman experiences, breaking the monotony of an advance. A forward company was entering the town, when suddenly one of the runners noticed three men standing on the crest of the hill. As they got close, the Germans were ordered to come down on the road. The Germans replied, "Welche Kompani? " thinking that the Americans were a part of a retreating company of Germans. The soldiers drew their automatics and the old familiar cry of " Kamerad " came from the Boche.

The prisoners were taken to battalion headquarters and quizzed. They said that they were establishing a machine-gun post on the crest of the hill. One of the prisoners said that he was a cook and that he had a pot of stewed rabbit on the fire in a dugout near the proposed machine-gun post. With the permission of the battalion commander, the runner was directed to the dugout by the captured German; and the stewed rabbit, as well as turnips, potatoes and coffee, was brought into camp.

Aeroplane photographs, showing several machine-gun emplacements just outside of the town of Verpel, were verified when the infantry cleared the place of hostile troops. These machine guns had been located in a commanding position and could have seriously delayed the advance had it not been for the close cooperation of the artillery. The concealment of the German automatics was almost perfect, being hidden in the center of a large cabbage patch, which, to use the words of a private, was converted into a sauerkraut field when the artillery opened fire.

The defense of Thenorgues, which consisted of a line of foxholes and a few machine guns, was hastily abandoned by the Germans as a result of the terrific onslaught of the Americans.

Cross Roads in Town of Champigneulle

So far as the divisional reserve was concerned, it was just a question of maintaining proper distance between the attacking troops and its front-line elements. This necessitated a move to Verpel and eventually to Germont, the reserve going to the latter town owing to the congested condition of the highways.

The 306th Infantry continued the advance on the following day, the 305th reverting back to brigade reserve. At the start of the movement, there was little resistance encountered for the first few kilometers. The Boche had apparently retreated to the heights outside of Oche, the intelligence officers thought, and later developments proved their surmise nearly correct. The towns of Autruche and Fontenoy were taken with ease, but there accompanied the liberation the usual overcoming of determined Boche machine gunners. The support "wave," sweeping by Autruche, saw two gunners, still at their posts in the emplacement, with two extra belts of cartridges in the laps of the lifeless forms. Between Fontenoy and Harricourt, three light German batteries bad remained in position until the last minute, making every effort to stay the advance of the Yankee forces. Soon the Germans decided that the time for retirement was at hand, but for two of the batteries it was too late. When the American infantry rushed the remaining batteries, the rammer staffs were in the guns and the breech blocks were found lying in some copse within throwing distance.

Eight cannon is no small prize for a platoon of infantry, and the brigade commander recognized the fact in his report to the division commander.

At Autruche, a major, one of the first to enter the place, went into a house which was marked in English, "For Officers Only." On the mantelpiece there were two German pistols and several officers' helmets. Above these, tacked on the wall, was a sign, which read: "Souvenirs for you Americans. We will be home by Christmas and you won't. "

The Heights of St. Pierremont could be seen in the distance as the soldiers continued their march. The town itself was entered with little or no resistance, but off to the right, on the top of a large hill, machine guns continued to harass the Americans. The Battalion Commander ordered the nest exterminated and a platoon of infantry and a section of machine gunners were selected for the job. To get into a commanding position it was necessary for the men to cross an open field for a distance of about five hundred yards. The infantry crossed the open spot deployed. Their presence did not interest the Germans, but when the section of machine gunners, following about fifty yards behind, made their appearance, they met with heavy fire. The sergeant of the section was killed, leaving the men without a leader. All were lying flat looking to the other to suggest the next move. Finally one of the men located a dead horse about two hundred yards away. He motioned to the remainder of the trio and they all proceeded to crawl for what seemed to be the only bit of cover in the whole field. One of the men dragged a gun, the other a tripod, while the third managed to drag a couple of boxes of ammunition. Once behind the horse the gun was mounted and a steady stream of bullets was played on the machine-gun nest, allowing the infantry to advance and take what Germans were left at the point of a bayonet.

Up to St. Pierremont, the 304th Machine-gun Battalion accompanied the first line of infantry over marshy fields, through woods and across brooks, covering over twenty-five kilometers during November 2d and 3d, with every man in the battalion carrying either gun, tripod or two boxes of ammunition. Immediately on arriving at St. Pierremont, Company A of this battalion went into action against the enemy machine-gun nests in the vicinity of the town, while Company B helped protect the left flank of the divisional advance. Fifty-seven of the machine gunners were cited for their work on these two days.

Further up the line lay the town of Oche, which will be long remembered by the men of both brigades as well as the artillerymen and other special branches who were there. This was the strongest point of resistance since the Champigneulle fight, and it was here that the beginning of the end became more and more apparent.

The ration limbers were held tip in the traffic congestion, first sergeants told their men, and there was little chance of mess that night. Things began to take on a rather gloomy aspect, but brightened a little later when it was said that "Corps headquarters announces the abdication of the Kaiser. "

A roar of cheers sped through the night. Two German prisoners and one Russian, when told what it was all about, clapped their hands and danced with glee, much to the indignation of the guard.

A " Leap-frog " is a running relief, and this is what occurred between Oche and St. Pierremont. The 153d Brigade, which up until now had been bearing the brunt of the fighting with both regiments in line, was relieved by the other infantry brigade of the Division, which pressed the campaign on with extreme vigor. Observers and intelligence officers told unit commanders that the enemy had retreated to the Meuse River, leaving between the American forces and the river a light screen of machine gunners with orders to " fight until the last " in an effort to retard " our advance. " So with fresh troops in the front line, the 77th Division continued its advance on the Meuse River.

Busancy, November, 1918

The 154th Brigade was attacking in line of regiments with one battalion of each of the two units in the front position. They did not go far that day, because the "leap frog" had taken up the greater part of the time, and nightfall found the troops dug-in a short distance north of Oche. During the day, the enemy shelled roads, towns and support positions, causing many casualties.

The town of Oche was unofficially captured by the interpreter of the 308th Infantry, who had been sent ahead to locate a place for a regimental headquarters. When he entered the town there were only a few civilians there, with a few Boche on the other side of the town. The Germans evidently had come back to the town during the night to gather information, and forgetting that time moves rapidly, left a little late. The interpreter saw them fleeing over the hills north of the town. The fighting on the heights to the west of Oche was most severe. It was here that the advance had been temporarily held up on the preceding day.

In the meantime, the infantry regiments were moving ahead. The attack began at 6:30 A. M., after a short artillery preparation. One company of infantry was sent to the town of La Berliere to "mop up," but there remained only a few civilians in the town. The civilians told the Americans that the Germans had gone in the direction of Stonne, another one of the many towns that stood in the path of the 77th Division.

White flags flew from the church steeple in Stonne. The flash from these flags on the day before had been interpreted as German signals by the regimental commanders, but entrance into the town soon disproved this. The white flags were merely a simple appeal from the French civilians, who still remained there, to their American liberators not to fire on the village. As the troops approached, the townspeople swarmed from the church, greeting them joyously and offering them the little food they had in their possession. This food they had received from the enemy and consisted mostly of black bread and jam. A French girl offered a soldier some candy, but he refused it, telling her she would need it later. She protested, "Mais non! non! C'est le sucre que les Americains nous ont envoye. "

The town of Stonne is at the top of a commanding hill that overlooks the rolling country in all directions. As the liberated people moved about hysterically among the advancing troops, an American plane swooped down to the housetops and dropped a message:

"La Besace-No Germans. A Few Americans. Lots of civilians, vive la America. Germans in woods to your right. Think they are prisoners."

The troops moved on, combing the woods to the right, capturing the few Germans who were hiding there. When told that they could have gotten away, they replied that they wished to be captured that they might get something to eat. Outposts were established about a kilometer north of Stonne. During the night enemy artillery played a harassing fire into the town, wounding some civilians and causing others to depart in the downpour of rain.

While the 154th Brigade was making its brilliant advance in the direction of Stonne, the divisional area or sector was widened, and it became necessary for the Commander to order the 153d Brigade back into the, line. The 77th Division, therefore, was now attacking in line of brigades, the 154th Brigade on the left and the 153d on the right. The general direction took a sharp turn to the northeast, owing to the course of the Meuse River.

The 153d Brigade was held up a short time at La Polka Farm and Farm d' Isly by German machine guns, which were quickly reduced by artillery. Thereafter the advance was uninterrupted until La Besace was reached. La Besace was entered by troops of the 306th Infantry about 10A. M. At first sight of the town, no civilians could be seen and it was believed that the report of the aviator at Stonne had been exaggerated. A. short stay in the town told the story. The place was literally riddled with machine-gun bullets and the French civilians who were there were found hiding in the cellars. During the march upon La Besace, the roads were heavily shelled with high explosives and gas and it was no uncommon sight to see the infantryman drop flat, get tip and run a hundred yards or so and then drop again. White flags also were flying from the housetops and the church. The civil-ians told the Americans that the Germans had said that they "were going home. "

Fourteen -kilometers, almost twice as much as was wrested from the enemy on any preceding day, were liberated by the 77th Division on the last day of actual operations toward Sedan. The advance was made from Stonne- La Besace amid great difficulties, for the wearied enemy was destroying bridges, tearing great holes in the roads with his mines and putting the torch to buildings. Just outside of the town of Stonne, the Germans mined the road, which traversed a steep hill. His work of destruction here held up the mounted Sections of the Division for over twelve hours.

The 154th Brigade started to push forward early in the morning, one regiment going in the direction of the Bois de Raucourt and Malmaison farm, while other units moved on Flaba. The infantry moving through the woods drew fire from the direction of Malmaison farm, but a quick despatch to the artillery soon weakened the enemy resistance. The farm was carried late in the morning. In the Mieantime, the advance on Flaba and Raucourt was continuing. The leading elements, after passing Flaba, were fired upon from the heights to the southwest of Raucourt, and the movement was held up for some time.

The artillery was called upon again, and it was here that the men who man these monster guns got the satisfaction, which an artilleryman rarely gets. The Commander had to bring his gun into position, a distance of one kilometer, lay it, compute the data and find an observation post, and he had only forty-five minutes to complete the task. The first shot dropped about where it was wanted. From the observation post, the enemy machine gunners could not be seen, but " our infantry, " huddled up behind a small depression of ground, waiting for the word "Go, " were plainly visible. At the end of fifteen minutes the fire was shifted to a second target and the first operation repeated. Then came the great moment for the proud artillerymen. They saw the infantry advance, apparently without resistance. As to the direct effect of the fire there were varying reports, ranging from a direct hit to scaring the Boche to death. The general opinion was that the Boche decided he was in rather an unhealthy place and executed a typical Teutonic "successful operation," worthy of his high command.

The entrance into Raucourt was probably the most impressive scene along the whole line of advance. Troops of the 307th Infantry, with their Colonel in the lead, marched into the town early in the afternoon.

Hundred of civilians, wildly excited, some crying, some singing and some laughing, met the soldiers with hot food and coffee. An old man, grey-faced, weather-beaten and showing every sign of the bondage he had been in for the past four years, went solemnly about the task of knocking down the German signs from the front of his house with a shovel.

"We are free at last, " came a shrill voice in good English from across the street, where an elderly woman was waving a small American flag from the second-story window of her home. The finishing touch to it all came, when a young French maiden appeared in the doorway with a violin, and soon the notes of the Star Spangled Banner were floating through the air. An American doughboy, a singer of repute "back in the States," joined in the chorus and, when the number was finished, the mademoiselle kissed him. "We are very grateful," she said in her own language between sobs.

Raucourt, however, was seven kilometers from the Meuse and troops comprising the first line could not tarry long here. The reception would have to be given to the support forces, which entered the city a few hours later. Keeping close to the heels of the retreating Germans, the troops of the 307th Infantry moved on Harricourt, which was entered a little after 3 o'clock that afternoon. The same reception that was given the soldiers in Raucourt was accorded them here. Then came the orders from Brigade Headquarters to push on to the Meuse River with all possible speed. Between Harricourt and the Meuse lay Angecourt and Remilly sur Meuse, smaller than the two towns which had been captured earlier in the afternoon. Angecourt fell at 4 o'clock, the Boche fleeing from the north end of the town as the Americans entered the south end. A half-hour later, Remilly sur Meuse was seized and the river was reached at nightfall. The remaining units of the Brigade, which constituted the brigade reserve, moved into Harricourt.

Raucourt, November, 1918

While the 154th Brigade was making its rapid advance on the left of the divisional sector, the 153d Brigade was meeting with equal success, reaching the Meuse river a few hours ahead of the other brigade. This was possible because of the diagonal course of the river, making the route much shorter than that of the other unit. Flaba, a small town filled with refugees, was taken by the 305th Infantry in the morning; and after that the advance was pushed on with increased vigor. Early in the afternoon, patrols had reached Autrecourt on the west banks of the Meuse. The town was not occupied by the enemy, but many civilians were there. When the main force reached Autrecourt, a series of explosions were heard in the direction of the river. The bridges across the Meuse bad been destroyed and as a result the 153d Brigade, with the exception of a few reconnoitering parties, remained stationary for the night.

It was pitch dark and deathly still on the heights where the front line of the Division stopped on the night of November 6th. The hour was 12 by the watch of the sentry, who stood guard while his comrades snatched a few hours of much needed sleep. What was before him he did not know, for all that could be seen by a look over the steep precipice was a sea of black.

Harricourt, November, 1918

Suddenly there were several sharp reports and flames swept up to the heavens. The town of Allicourt was burning, casting a glow over the entire valley. It was like throwing the spotlight on the darkened stage, but in this case the center of interest was not the living. By the light of the burning village, Sedan loomed in the distance.

When the Meuse River was reached, orders came from the high command for a reorganization of the American forces, to remain on the ground now held and in the meantime to prepare for a further advance. The leading elements of the Division pushed up to the river, preparatory to a crossing. The river was found unfordable and it was necessary to await the erection of bridges.

It was here that a detachment of the 302d engineers displayed great bravery in their efforts to place a passageway over the stream. Attempt after attempt was made in the face of German machine guns to build a bridge at Villers. Parties carrying material suffered most. No sooner would they make their appearance than a Boche automatic or sniper would open fire, causing them to take to cover in the woods, which bordered the river. Finally a covering party of machine gunners, infantry and artillery was called upon to protect the engineers while they proceeded with their work. The operation was completed late in the afternoon, and two platoons from the 305th Infantry were pushed to the other side of the river. Here they dug in and awaited developments.

Another attempt was made to bridge the river at Remilly sur Meuse, but was temporarily defeated. This was in the area of the 154th Brigade. The attempt was finally successful and two patrols from the 307th Infantry were sent across the river nightly. Two automatic rifle posts also were established on the other side of the natural obstacle. It was the Division's first stationary warfare since the Vesle.

To gain some idea of the doughboy's feeling on a patrol, the story of a private from the 307th Infantry is recounted here. It follows-.
"About 5 o'clock in the afternoon, the platoon sergeant came around and told me that I need not go on the ration detail tonight, because I had been selected by the lieutenant to go with the automatic-rifle sergeant and a couple of others into Hunland. It was my second patrol, but with the end of the war so near, I did not relish the idea.

"That night, about 7:30 o'clock, we went down to company headquarters and got a good hot meal. Our lieutenant came (town to give us instructions and make sure that we thoroughly understood all details. The first thing he did was to take off my bayonet and I was forced to give up a few metal souvenirs that I had in my pocket. The officer said that they might rattle out there in No Man's Land and. give our whereabouts away. We also gave up all matches, and were then told to find out just how close to the river the German outposts were.

"Then we started out. We crossed the river at 11 o'clock. It looked as if the Boche were expecting us, for we no more than got across when up went a great number of Very lights. We all dropped to the ground and. waited for darkness. We proceeded for a distance of about four hundred yards more and then the sergeant, who has a better ear than I, dropped to the ground again. 'What's up?' I whispered. I was given a good stiff pinch in the arm by the sergeant in reply. I took it that he wanted me to keep quiet. Then through the darkness, about a hundred yards forward it seemed came the sound of voices.

On November 11, 1918. Sedan Can be Seen Across the Meuse, 21/2 Kilometers Away

They were speaking German. We could see the radium-faced watch which one of the Boche was wearing on his wrist.

"My heart was in my throat and was beating twice as fast as normal. That was enough for me and I breathed a great sigh of relief when the sergeant motioned to go back. Our report was that the German outposts were five hundred yards north of the Meuse River."

A bridge once built across the Meuse did not mean that the Division had a permanent crossing at which troops could go and come whenever they pleased. It must be remembered that the Boche still had artillery and, to use the words of Corps headquarters, his artillery "shoots with the greatest of accuracy. " It did not take long for the bridge constructed at Villers to be destroyed. A big shell landed squarely on the narrow span, leaving five men on the other side of the river. The engineers were called again to reconstruct the bridge, and during the operation the bridgemen got into contact with the five men who had been cut off from their unit.

The fact that there was no bridge across the Meuse river did not keep the 305th Infantry from sending a patrol to gather information about the Germans. During the night of November 8th, one officer and a corporal, the latter being of German stock and having a good knowledge of the enemy's language, stole across the river on a raft and penetrated the German lines for a distance of one kilometer and a half. The route of the two passed through Amblimont, a small town on the north bank of the Meuse. When they were about half through with their work, they were challenged by a German sentry. The corporal replied to the challenge and gave a satisfactory explanation of their presence. The sentry passed them on. They returned after the completion of their ten kilometer journey behind the enemy's line and were able to report to their commanding officer the exact location of a field piece which had been harassing the troops, the disposition of machine guns protecting the German side of the Meuse and the number of troops hidden in the hills to the right of Sedan. For this feat, both were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and the commendation of the commanding general.

Autrecourt, November, 1918

The next day came the orders for the widening of the divisional sector. The 77th Division was taking over the corps front-twenty-five kilometers. One regiment alone was holding seven kilometers.

Peace rumors were flying thick and fast. Some claimed that the conference was in session in Paris now, others that the war already had ended. The incessant shelling of the Boche disproved the latter, however, and it was not until the following day that the "real news" came. forward. It was brought up by an officer, so, in the doughboy's opinion, it could not be wrong.

In the operations department, the sighting of the peace dove had little effect. Here these officers continued to play their chess-like game. "Be prepared to move forward" was among the orders issued and these preparations were under way. The same was true at the French headquarters. To take Sedan and even up the score of 1870 had been one of the chief aims of the French, ever since the great Allied drive began on July 18 at Chateau Thierry. By a previous agreement, the French were to be permitted to occupy the sector opposite Sedan, and in consequence, the 77th Division prepared to give over to the French Colonials.

The night of November 10th and the early morning hours of November 11th will be long remembered by the men of the 77th Division. Outside, the stillness of the night was broken now and then by the explosion of a solitary shell, which seemed to be a gentle reminder from the Boche that the war still continued. From the forward units came word that a quiet night bad been spent, and a glance at the casualty report shows that not a man was killed on the final night of hostilities. Over on the German side of the Meuse, some Very pistol man continued to send up rockets in groups of threes-a red, a white and a blue. This was taken by the Americans as an effort on the part of the Germans, who now saw that their fate was sealed, to fraternize with the Yankee soldier- and the incident was ignored. The absence of planes, the big guns not roaring, and the rifles not cracking, put a mysterious touch into life at the front that night. The whole battlefield seemed deserted. The doughboy said it was a sign of good news.

The last day of hostilities found the sun shining, quite a contrast from the preceding days of the campaign. Men in the front and rear areas alike were up early to hear the news, the news which would tell them whether Berlin refused or accepted. Finally the news came from the various regimental headquarters. It was nothing more than the terse announcement:


So on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, hostilities of the greatest war in history ended with the 77th Division holding a front larger than any unit had ever attempted even in the quiet sectors of position warfare.

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