“For several days
the enemy poured thousands upon thousands
of gas shells into the Bois de Bantheville in a desperate effort to
cause the abandonment of this important position... For the remainder
of the week this area was kept constantly filled with mustard gas by
constant slow fire. Finally, the night the offensive started, the
enemy, evidently realising what was coming, laid down a bombardment
of green cross and yellow cross in the forward area, right close to
his own lines….Had we gassed this area with mustard gas ourselves
and gone around it instead of mopping it up, these casualties might
have been avoided"
Right: Before suffering hundreds of gas casualties in the Bois de Bantheville the 89th Division had made the same error near St. Mihiel. Areas of the battlefield into which a steady bombardment of Mustard gas was fired proved to be very costly to hold. In the above photo medics of the 89th Division treat gas victims in August 1918
On the 4th of June
1918 the 354th Infantry Regiment sailed from New York headed for
Europe. They landed in England then transferred to France where they
arrived at La Havre towards the end of June. During their time in
France the 354th
would be the target of two intense gas bombardments.
The first would be in the St. Mihiel area, the second near Romagne in the Meuse Argonne Offensive.
In the Rimaucourt
area the Regiment, along with the rest of the division began their
preparation for the front. On the 5th of
August 1918 the Division took up position in the front line at Toul
in the Remonauville -Seicheprey -Bouconville sector.
The baptism of fire for
the division was during the relief when a gas bombardment from 10
p.m. to 4 a.m. on the night of the 7th-8th of August wounded approx.
700 men of the 1st battalions of the 354th and 355th Infantry.
The Division wrote:
"This attack was made
during the period of the relief of the 82nd Division by the 89th
Division. In most instances it was the first night the troops had
been in the line; in practically every instance it was the first time
the personnel had been under fire.
The orders in force
at the time required troops of the advanced positions to hold that
position to the death unless withdrawal was ordered by the Army
This order was carried out in spite of the intensity of
the attack and the helplessness of the troops to retaliate. It was an
example of courage and steadfastness deserving the highest praise and
the spirit of the troops was further indicated by the fact that they
requested to remain in the line and finish their tour of duty when
relief was proposed."
A postwar US army
report by Dr. R.C. Cochrane was more critical:
Division, from its commander down to its company officers, would not
believe, in their first encounter with German Yellow Cross (Mustard)
gas in August, that contaminated ground could not be occupied. The
division suffered over 600 gas cases before its French superiors
arrived on the scene and ordered the gassed area evacuated.”
The Division was to
remain in this sector until the 12th of September when the attack on
the St Mihiel pocket started. The division attacked from the South
Eastern part of the pocket from Flirey, moving through the Bois de
Mort Mare towards Thiaucourt. In front of them where the 10th German
Infantry Division and the 77th Reserve Division, the latter facing
the 354th Infantry Regiment as they advanced.
Meuse Argonne - The Bois de Bantheville
The 89th Division
missed the beginning of the Meuse Argonne offensive but arrived to on
the night of the 19th to 20th of October to go into the line along
the Sommerance -Romagne Road. This was to the North of the German
Kriemhilde position which had been taken by the 32nd Divison the week
before. The Division was tasked with straightening the front line in
the Bois de Bantheville before the planned attack on the 1st of
November. It was to be the hardest fighting the 89th Division had
seen so far. The wood had reportedly been cleared by the departing
32nd Division, but the Germans had re infiltrated and from the 20th
to the 22nd of October the units of the division set about clearing
the forest of enemy soldiers again.
For a more detailed map and Sat view of the area occupied by the 354th Infantry regiment go HERE
In spite of
Marschall Foch’s instructions to Pershing that he wanted a
“powerful attack, as soon as possible, in the direction of
Boult-aux-Bois and Buzancy “While avoiding getting engaged in
combats in the woods of the Argonne (i.e. Bois de Bourgogne) and of
the Bantheville region”” the 89th
Division found itself stubbornly holding a forest full of poison
“Had we gassed this area
with mustard gas ourselves and gone around it instead of mopping it
up, these casualties might have been avoided.”
Above: The position of the 89th Division, flanked by the 32nd and 90th Divisions. The Bois de Bantheville is to the north east of Romagne.
following text comes from the history of the 89th
FOR THE ORDER TO ATTACK
177th Infantry Brigade, having taken over the entire Divisional
front, in anticipation of leading off the attack, was subjected to
some of its most trying experiences during the period of waiting. The
day of the attack was from time to time postponed, awaiting
developments on other sectors of the front ; and the troops remained
in their positions, organizing them, patrolling the front and
preparing for the attack from October 21st until November 1st.
353rd Infantry occupied the right half of the Division's sector,
holding the tip and sides of the Bois de Bantheville on October 28th,
the 90th Division took over the
northeastern borders of the Bois de Bantheville, the dividing point
for the jump-off being the extreme northern tip of the forest.
354th Infantry held the left half of the sector, the line extending
in a southwesterly direction so as to connect with the 42nd Division,
whose lines were less advanced than our own because of the German
occupation of the strong point at Landres-et-St. Georges.
soon as our possession of the whole forest was secure, the enemy
inaugurated a campaign of harassment that made the holding of the
position one of severe hardship. Continuous shelling of the position
was coupled with airplane raids upon the troops in the edge of the
woods. Worst of all was the establishment of a gassed area extending
across the central portion of the forest, which was maintained by an
almost uninterrupted bombardment for days with the gas shells.
Communication and supply of troops in the tip of the forest must be
through this gassed area. The heroism and devotion to duty of the
carrying parties, the runners, the litter bearers carrying wounded,
and the telephone linemen, whose duties took them constantly through
this dangerous area, are alone worthy of a chapter.
gassing became exceptionally severe in the last few days before the
attack. On October 26th and again on October 27th, beginning about 2
:30 o'clock in the morning and continuing until nearly 6 :00 o'clock,
several thousand gas and high explosive shells were thrown into the
southern portions of the Bois de Bantheville and the northern part of
Bois de Romagne.
area of concentration was between the front line battalion of the
353rd Infantry in the tip of Bois de Bantheville, and its support
battalion in the southern part of the woods. Consequently no troops
were in positions of high concentration.
whose outposts were in the open beyond the woods, the area of high
concentration was upon positions occupied by the support companies of
the front line battalion, the 2nd battalion. Company "F" of
this regiment suffered most severely in the bombardment of the night
of October 26th, and many casualties resulted from direct hits
splashing the gas on the men. The intensity of the bombardment and
the darkness of the night prevented the men from being moved until
towards morning, when the troops in the
area of high concentration were withdrawn further to the rear, strong
outposts and machine guns, however, being left to hold the front
lines. The troops in the outposts were supplied with rations during
the nights, these being carried up on a horse which was led along the
narrow-gauge track southwest of the woods and thence through the open
to the troops in the northwestern part of the forest.
Although these gas
bombardments produced many casualties, and called for the display of
the highest qualities of courage and determination in the men,
especially on the part of runners, food details and signal corps men
repairing wires in the dark, yet it was demonstrated that the
measures of gas defense were effective. Troops who were well
disciplined and instructed in gas defense, who used their masks
intelligently, kept their clothes carefully buttoned up, did not sit
down or linger in low places and reported for treatment at the first
sign of injury from the effects of the gas, escaped with slight
losses and light cases, even of those affected.
Left: The Purple Heart of Corporal George S.
McCulloch was a member of H Company, 354th Infantry Regiment, 89th
Infantry Division. He took part in the
fighting at St. Mihiel but was gassed in the forest of Banthenville
on the 28th
of October 1918 and did not participate in the Divisions advance in
commanding the 354th
infantry regiment, reported:
investigated the outpost line in the Bois de Bantheville and find
even the high ground shelled strongly with gas, and numerous men
stationed there more or less affected… from my experience in the
gas today and from the number of working parties, ammunition
carriers, engineers and others found in the gassed area, and food
details going up to the 353rd
infantry, it is very possible that there will be many more gas
casualties during the next 24 hours. The woods seemed to be saturated
with gas and the sunshine is bringing it out over a vast area”
General Winn, brigade
Infantry had 3 officers and 80 men gassed up to 6 hours and numbers
increasing. I have authorized changes in the gassed area by reducing
the number of companies on 354th
forward positions to two. The effects of the gas are not so much the
result of a single attack on specific areas as the continued gas
spread for several days over a wide area”
On the 1st
of November the 89th
Infantry division advanced after having lost 400 men to gas in the
Above: Arriving at the end of October, the men of the 89th Division learn the frustrations of digging in in the sector.
Post war US Military
studies questioned the decision to hold the forest.
If, as in August,
artillery could make ground untenable with yellow cross gas, surely
the Americans could have kept the Germans out with gas?
The report stated:
“The enemy on the
heights above the Bois de Bantheville commanded the woods, and just
as Rowan pointed out, the woods could just as well have been
neutralised by the 89th
(Division) as by the enemy. There is no evidence that jumping off
from the top of the woods aided the advance of the 89th
in the slightest. The artillery road built at such a cost through the
wood wasn’t even used in the attack, for such artillery as advanced
that day found easier ways outside the wood. The 2nd
Division, jumping off from below Landres et St. George, advanced just
as swiftly on 1 November as did the 89th.
Division did it the hard way”
An officer of the
division wrote of the time between the 22nd
of October until the attack on the 1st of November
written some of the bloodiest and most tragical (sic) pages of the
history of the 89th Division. The front line was held by the 353rd
and 354th Infantry and for eleven days in particular the 1st and 2nd
Battalions, respectively, of these two named regiments suffered a
relentless bombardment of gas and high explosives that extended well
back into the support position and rendered the question of supply
and evacuation of wounded a most difficult problem. The approximate
loss to the brigade during this period of heavy shelling was between
500 and 600 men. But during this time there was not reported from any
organisation in this Division, an instance of a single straggler
deserting his post and seeking refuge in the rear. Especially to be
commended were the heroes of the food details and the ammunition
carrying parties. Night after night in the blindness of October fogs
and subjected to constant sniping and destructive fire, they carried
out their missions in both regiments. The same tribute must be paid
to the signal men and runners who, in the darkness of dense woods,
exhausted form lack of sleep, and pushed to the limit by the demands
made upon them, never faltered. It was by the combined efforts of all
concerned that the important jump-off position was secured and held
by the 177th Infantry brigade. It was this same brigade that led the
attack on the morning of the 11th of November."
The officially accepted
gas casualties for the division were 626 in August, 289 in September,
1080 in October and 140 in November.
To return to the Page on the AEF and the decorations of men who served click HERE