The Third Day

No diary entry today; Robert wrote a long entry yesterday and filled the September 27th and 28th spaces in his diary.

Entire books have been written about this battle and I can’t hope to cover even a small fraction of the details here. The best I can do is to quote a few selections that summarize Saturday, September 28, 1918 for the 140th Infantry Regiment and the 35th Division.

From Heroes of the Argonne:

Each day of the battle had seen the advance of the Thirty-fifth grow slower. Past the outer defenses of the Hindenburg Line they had bent themselves against the inner strongholds with less success. It was not that the men were fighting less bravely than on the opening day. They were tired with three days in the rain and the muck. This, together with the lack of food, was the difference between the men who had gone into battle three days before and the men who held to the dense thickets of Montrebeau Woods on the third night.

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A Youth in the Meuse-Argonne:

[E]verything was fairly quiet until the B Company support platoon in front of us was topping the crest of that rise. Then a chattering blast of six guns all cut loose at once and the right half of B Company went down. A good many of them crawled back but B Company’s right was out of action for the time being. 


To Conquer Hell:

By the evening of September 28, even Pershing could not deny that the Meuse-Argonne offensive looked close to failure. I and V Corps on the left and center particularly worried him. Driving to the front in his staff car that morning, Pershing took ninety minutes to cover two and a half miles of road behind the 35th Division—that with the priority right-of-way due to the commander in chief. Stuck in traffic, Pershing stood up and harangued some bewildered Missouri-Kansas men on why they should break through the enemy lines. Eventually making a breakthrough of his own through the miles of guns, horses, vehicles, and swearing MPs, Pershing arrived at I Corps headquarters to find Liggett full of reasons why his troops had not advanced farther. The terrain was horrendous. The German troops were stubborn, and their defenses diabolically efficient. The Americans were by contrast exhausted, untrained, and poorly equipped.


A report sent by Captain Ralph Truman at 2:30 on the 28th, quoted in From Doniphan to Verdun:

Regt. halted by terrific artillery shelling and concentrated machine gun fire. See drawing showing approximately our front line. There may be a little change made during the night. We are flanked by artillery fire on every side but our rear. Our own artillery has given no support during the attack. Enemy planes very active during the day. One squadron of enemy planes over our position at 1 p.m. They turned their M. G.’s on the men causing some losses. 15 planes in the party. Also one enemy plane flew low over our troops all during the forenoon directing the fire of artillery. 

We have suffered heavy losses in killed and wounded. Men are now at dressing stations that were wounded yesterday. Numbers of men who are wounded have had no attention and are still lying on the ground where they fell. We are short of ammunition which is very badly needed in case of a counter-attack by the enemy. The Adjutant of the Regt. has been gassed and the C. O. has not been seen since the attack started. Runners unable to find any trace of him.


Collapse at Meuse-Argonne:

[T]he Thirty-fifth Division was in quite a predicament at the end of the third day, Saturday, September 28. Because of the dispositions of the three days, the regiments were now pretty much in a line, rather than two regiments being in place for attack, with two in support. The 138th had stretched out to cover the gap between the 140th and the Ninety-first Division. On the far left units of the 137th were in the area between the 139th and the Aire. This meant that there were no infantry regiments in reserve. The new chief of staff, Bugge, was concerned about this, as well as about the density of the men as they stood along the line. They were too obvious to the enemy. “After the evening attack when the whole division found itself in a single line,” he told the corps inspector, “it would have been difficult for the Germans to fire a shot on that line without hitting someone.”


Where was Robert today? See the timeline.

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