The Battle of Blanc Mont Ridge
By Edwin North McClellan - Originally Published June 1922
The plan set forth in the below-quoted Field Orders No. 35 provided for a converging attack by the two infantry brigades of the Second Division, in concert with a general attack by the French Fourth Army. The objective of the Second Division was the line: Road from Medeah Farm (excl.) through point 73.11 to Blanc Mont Ridge (incl.). The Fourth Brigade was to attack within the sector of the Sixth Marines-in column of regiments, the Sixth in front line and the Fifth in support. Both regiments were to form in column of battalions with a machine gun company attached to each battalion. In forming for the attack, the Fifth was to move by the flank and follow in rear of the Sixth when it had gained its distance. The infantry attack Was to be preceded by five minutes' artillery preparation and supported by a rolling barrage, rate of advance 100 metres in four minutes. Two companies of light tanks were assigned to the Fourth Brigade which were disposed of as follows: one company (12) with the leading battalion and one company (12) with the support battalion of the Sixth Marines. The rear battalion of the Fifth Marines was especially charged with cooperating with the French to reduce Essen Hook and protecting the left flank during the advance.
FIELD ORDERS NO. 35 ORDERS ATTACK ON OCTOBER 3RD
Field Orders No. 35, Second Division, October 2, 1918, 23 hours, reads as follows:
1. The enemy has been driven from the Trench d'Essen which on our front has been occupied by our troops.
The French on our right have advanced to the general line: Point 06.14; Hook of National Route, about 2-½ kilometres north of Somme-Py, Boy, de la Pirna.
The French 4th Army attacks.
II. (a) The 2nd Division, as the left (west) division of the three divisions in the front line of the 21st Army Corps (French), attacks the general line: Medeah Fme. (exclusive); Blanc Mont (inclusive); takes and consolidiates that line, and pushes its outpost elements down the slope to the northwest.
The 170th Division (French) attacks on our right; the 21st Division (French) on our left; both at the same time.
(b) Limits of Action:
Right (east) Limit: Line: Point 03.10; Medeah Farm (exclusive).
Left (west) Limit: Line: Boy. de Bromberg; Blanc Mont (inclusive).
Right (east) Brigade:
Right (east) Limit: The right limit of the Division.
Left (west) Limit: General Line: Altona, near Point 93.97; Crossroads at Point 73.11.
Left (west) Brigade:
Right (east) Limit: General Line: Crossroads at Point 82.81; Crossroads at Point 73.11.
Left (west) Limit: The left (west) limit of the Division.
Parallels of Departure:
Right (east) Brigade: Present front on the general line: 03.10; Altona.
Left (west) Brigade: Trench d'Essen, within the limits of that Brigade.
General Direction of Advance: About Northwest.
Objective: Road from Medeah Fme. (exclusive); through Point 73.11, to Blanc Mont (inclusive).
(c) The Division makes a converging attack; its infantry brigades, with attached troops, converging on the Division Objective, each brigade within the limits assigned it. In each brigade, the formation for attack will be in column of regiments, with the leading regiment formed in three (3) lines of one (1) battalion each; The rear regiment, following as reserve, in such formation as may be prescribed by the Brigade Commander.
All troops will be in position on "D" day at "H" hour, at which time the attack will begin from the Parallels of Departure.
The Advance in each brigade will be made without reference to the troops on its right and left.
Upon reaching the Division Objective, that line will tie organized as our main line of resistance and must be held. Patrols will be be pushed forward of the line of resistance to a distance approximating one (1) kilometre, and will establish an outpost line. The brigades will be at once reorganized and made ready for a further advance upon orders from the Division Commander to do so.
III. (a) The 2nd Field Artillery Brigade (U. S.) and the artillery of the 61st Division (French), Brigadier General Bowley, Commanding, will from positions in the area of the 2nd Division, support the attack.
The artillery action will be as follows: A preparation beginning at "H" minus five (5) minutes; will terminate at "H" hour, at which time a creeping barrage will start in front of each Parallel of Departure, and move at the rate of one hundred (100) metres in four (4) minutes to a general line 300 metres beyond the Division Objective, where it will remain for thirty (30) minutes after the arrival on that objective of the left (west) brigade, or, until "H" plus Two (2) hours, thirty-eight (38) minutes. At "H" plus Two (2) hours, thirty-eight (38) minutes, the barrage will start forward again and moving at the rate of one hundred (100) metres in four (4) minutes to a line 1,300 metres beyond the Division Objective, will stop and remain on that line until the infantry has established its forward patrols.
During the progress of the infantry from the Parallels of Departure to the Division Objective, the artillery will take as special targets; Medeah Fme.; enemy strong point in the vicinity of Schwaben-Konig; Pylone; strong point in vicinity of Blanc Mont, and B. de la Vipere. Some smoke shells will be employed in this fire.
Troops of the right (east) brigade will be cautioned not to follow the barrage too closely, because the guns with which this barrage is made will not fire in the axis of the advance, but at an angle thereto. Upon arriving on the Division Objective, troops of the right (east) brigade will be held strictly within that part of the objective assigned to that brigade, until the arrival of the left (west) brigade.
The Infantry will stake out their front lines at 8.00 o'clock and at 15:00 o'clock.
The light artillery will be brought forward in echelon as the attack progresses, so as to support the new line of resistance, or to assist in a subsequent advance of the Division.
Right (east) Brigade: Brigadier General Ely, Commanding.
3rd Infantry Brigade,
3rd Battalion tanks (French) attached, will be in position at "H" minus Two (2) hours,
Left (west) Brigade: Brigadier General Neville, Commanding.
4th Infantry Brigade,
2nd Battalion tanks (French), attached, will be in position at "H" minus Two (a) hours.
(c) Combat Liaison:
Brigade will maintain, on the right (east), and left (west) units of the Division sector, combat liaison with the adjoining French troops by means of provisional organizations of mixed infantry and machine guns, the left (west) brigade providing for this purpose a force approximating a battalion in strength, the commander of which will be instructed to take proper steps to protect the left of the Division. In case the nth Corps, on our left, should meet with difficulties, in the region of Fourmiler, which retards its progress, this left flank covering detachment will be prepared to face in that direction and assist the progress of the nth Corps. Upon arriving on the Division Objective this left flank covering detachment will be called upon to protect the left flank of the Division until the arrival of the 11th Corps (French), and in case of a subsequent advance of the Division to continue its action in covering the left flank thereof. The Commander of the right (east) brigade, on his left, and Commander of the left (west) brigade, on his right, will especially provide for flank protection until these brigades arrive on the Division Objective. Upon arriving on its objective the right (east) brigade will assist the progress of the left (west) brigade by employing enfilade, infantry and machine gun fire on the enemy's positions within the objective of the left (west) brigade.
The 252d Aviation Squadron assists the Division by reporting progress and location of front lines, and by observation of artillery fire. (See Plan of Liaison).
The 2nd Engineers will continue their work in improving roads in the Divisional area, but will be ready, on short notice, for use as reserves.
(f) Machine Guns:
The 4th Machine Gun Battalion to a covered position near Nevarin Fme., at the disposition of the Division Commander.
(g) Plan of Liaison: (See Plan of Liaison, issued September 30, 1918). Attention is called to change in Code, Chapter VI.
IV. Administrative Details: See Administrative Order.
V. P. C., 2nd Division: Wagram, east of Souain-Somme-Py Road, about 1 kilometre north of Souain.
P. C., 3rd Brigade: Near road fork, at Point 07.885.
P. C., 4th Brigade: East of Souain-Somme-Py Road about one kilometre north of Navarin Fme.
Changes of P. C.'s will be announced later.
Zero hour was set at 5:50 a.m., October 3rd, and during the night 2-3 troops were placed in position for the event and reconnaissances were made of the immediate front. All preparations for the attack were made on oral orders. Written orders, Field Orders No. 35, did not arrive at Fourth Brigade Headquarters until 4:40 a.m., October 3d.
THE ATTACK BEGINS
Promptly at zero hour the Brigade advanced in the following battle order:
Sixth Regiment (Lee)
Second Battalion and 81st M. G. Company (Williams).
First Battalion and Regt. M. G. Company (Barker).
Third Battalion and 15th M. G. Company (Shuler)
Fifth Regiment (Feland)
Second Battalion and 23d M. G. Company (Messersmith).
Third Battalion and 77th M. G. Company (Larsen).
First Battalion and Regt. M. G. Company (Hamilton).
The principal resistance encountered was from machine gun nests. Machine gun fire was encountered from the front, the right flank where the middle ground between the two brigades was not completely covered, and especially from the left flank where the French advance was delayed by the Essen Hook. The left flank of each battalion was successively retarded by the heavy fire from the left flank. The Commanding Officer of the rear battalion of the Fifth Marines immediately detached a force to operate against the right flank of the Essen Hook with one-pounders and proceeded to clean-up as far as possible the machine gun nests in advance of it on the left flank. Although the French made every effort and the Marine one-pounders did excellent work it was not until 3:00 p.m. that the Essen Hook was under control and then many hours elapsed before it was finally cleaned-up.
In general the losses of the Marines were light during the advance -the Marines doing excellent work with their rifles in sniping machine gun crews. Several hundred prisoners were captured. They stated that their losses had been heavy due to the American rifle and artillery fire. The Marines gave the highest praise to the artillery for their handsome rolling barrage and accurate special fire.
All battalions of the Sixth Marines met machine gun resistance in Somme-Py Woods. The support battalion (1st) pressed forward on the leading battalion (2d) which was held up, and advanced on its right to the objective. The reserve battalion (3d) was assigned the task of cleaning-up.
The objective was reached at 8:30 a.m. and the work of consolidating the position and the establishment of the line of outpost to the front was begun. The advance of the French on the left being still delayed, the Fifth Marines made dispositions to protect the left flank and support the advance of the French. A special flank barrage was arranged for in case of counter attack.
ORDERS OF GENERAL NAULIN
At 9:40 a.m., October 3rd, General Naulin, commanding the 21st French Army Corps issued the following VERY URGENT SERVICE MEMORANDUM:
I. The 2nd U. S. Infantry Division has conquered the entire crest of Blanc-Mont-Medeah; the nth Army Corps has not been able to break from its trenches.
II. In order to permit the 2d U. S. Infantry Division to continue its movement northward, the 170th Infantry Division (French) will proceed immediately to the west, passing north of Somme-Py. At the conclusion of the movement, it should face westward and hold the western edge of woods X 2000, Y 96, Y 90, Y 82. Mission: To prevent any offensive movement on the part of the enemy against the rear of the 2d U. S. Infantry Division. The Artillery of the 170th Infantry Division will remain with the 167th Infantry Division. The Artillery of the nth Army Corps will cover the left of the arrangement.
The following Order was sent out by General Naulin at 11:45 a.m., October 3rd:
I. The front of the 21st Army Corps at 11:00 a.m. is the following: Blanc Mont-Medeah-South of Orfeuil.
The 170th Infantry Division has been sent to the rear to the left of the 2d U. S. Infantry Division to cover its left flank towards V 96-Y 85.
II. The 73d Infantry Division, placed at the disposition of the 21st Army Corps, will proceed immediately upon receipt of the present order to the region N. and N. E. of Somme-Py; the leading regiments to the region of the Bois des Pins.
III. This Infantry Division will hold itself in readiness to enter action to the left of the 2d U. S. Infantry Division, either towards the west, of the general line Blanc Mont-St. Hilair-le-Petit, or towards the northwest, passing over the route St. Etienne-a-Arnes-St. Pierrea-Arnes to the west of St. Etienne-a-Arnes.
At 11:45 a.m., the 3rd, General Naulin issued the following Order:
I. It is important that we should take advantage without delay of the effect of surprise obtained by carrying the crest Blanc Mont-Medeah-Orfeuil, without allowing the enemy time to get his bearing and make new arrangements.
II. Consequently, the 2d U. S. Infantry Division must not wait, before resuming the march towards the N. W., for the arrival of the I70th Infantry Division detailed to cover its left flank. If necessary, it will assign the fulfilment of this duty, pending the arrival of the said Infantry Division, to one or two battalions stationed as flank guard between Blanc Mont and Essen Trench.
The 107th and 43d Infantry Divisions must likewise renew the attack as soon as possible.
At 5:30 p.m., the 3rd, General Naulin published the following Order:
The General commanding the 170th Infantry Division will report immediately upon receipt of the present order to the General commanding the 2d U. S. Infantry Division. His mission is to take the necessary measures to cover the left flank and rear of this Infantry Division during its advance until the nth Army Corps has regained its position.