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Seventh, Thirtieth and Thirty-eighth Infantry, all old regular regiments. They were "filled up with rookies" but they were profanely certain that their rifles could stop the whole German army-so straight did they
They threw hand-grenades into some of the boats, and blew them up. In others they picked off the crewsthe non-coms calmly calling out distance and windage-so that the boats drifted full of corpses. But at Mézy, two pontoon-bridges were rapidly built and crossed by troops of the Tenth and Thirty-sixth German divisions-both shock units. They attacked south and southwest. The attack southwestward was held, after a slight withdrawal by the Thirtieth and Seventh Infantry, along the Fossoy-Crezancy road, about a mile south of the Marne. But the Thirtieth failed to inform the Thirtyeighth of its withdrawal, so when the 125th French Division on its right was also forced back the Thirtyeighth found itself, around ten o'clock in the morning, in about as tight a box as could be imagined.
The regiment defended with some 3000 men eight miles of trenches facing three directions, west, north and east, with the east or right flank nearly six miles long! Luckily Colonel Ulysses Grant McAlexanderexpecting "to fight it out on that line"-had ordered a few nights before that trenches be dug along the western heights of the Surmelin, facing east. It was this foresight, together with the bravery of the troops, that made possible the successful defense against the two German divisions that now attacked the regiment on the right and left.
Again the rifle came into its own. Firing coolly aimed shots, these "rookie regulars" beat back the attacking columns that sought to surround them. Artillery and machine guns helped, but of the five thousand German dead that were buried later on the Third Division's front, many had the single round hole that the Springfield bullet makes.
Censorship rules at the time and long afterward prevented the regiment or its commander being named in news despatches, though this was one of the finest feats of arms in American military history.
General Dickman didn't like the French order to withdraw. He proposed to get the Germans out of that part of his original front line which they still held. He ordered a counterattack. The infantry of the Third Division went forward as if fresh and untouched by battle. They found some of the American advanced posts still holding out along the Marne, surrounded by heaps of German dead. By nightfall the only Germans south of the Marne in the division sector were prisoners, wounded and dead. Then the French order to withdraw was obeyed. So the Friedenssturm ended-so far as the Third was concerned. Not another German crossed the Marne on their front.
But long before night came, we were on our way back toward Meaux for the news of the early day must be sent as soon as might be. We passed Pennsylvania Guardsmen of “Daddy" Muir's Twenty-eighth Division coming up in support they did fine work on the Marne-and the ambulances were fewer.
The censor's office was a battle-field too. Correspondents, full of their "story," strove to get it on the wires as quickly as possible, in all its import of hope and cheer. The Meaux telegraph wire was, as usual, choked with military messages. Motor-cycle couriers to Paris were our only reliance.
Early in the morning the censorship had been tight, but as more and more good news came in, it had relaxed somewhat. We were now permitted to say that "the first stage" of the Friedenssturm appeared to have been checked or something similarly cautious and safe.
Men came in from the Champagne front, a hundred miles away, dustcovered and dog-tired, but aglow with what had happened there. Their facts came largely from Colonel Douglas MacArthur (now MajorGeneral), the dashing Chief of Staff of the Rainbow Division, who was accurate and dependable but never spoiled a good story and so was called "the correspondents' friend."
The Rainbow, with New York Irish and "Alabams" in the front line, had endured hours of hellish shell-fire on the "intermediate position" awaiting the German infantry. Little knots of men in blue came drifting back. They were of the new "Polish army," they said in fair English, being mostly Polish-American volunteers.
"The hell ye are the Polish army," the Irish replied. "Ye're Americans, like us. Stay here with us, and fight."
And they did.
Finally the Germans got through the advanced zone of barbed wire
and ruined trenches that the French had evacuated-and then shelled to bits. The Germans were shaken and decimated, but discipline held and they came on. They had tanks and cavalry, but the 75's blew up the one and the machine-guns cut to pieces the other. The gray-clad infantry attacked again and again, but they never penetrated the Rainbow position. Rainbow position. The division interpreter had translated General Gouraud's famous order before the battle to read: "It will be a beautiful day." It was-in one sense.
Next morning the early news was still good, and it got better during the day. The Paris newspapers— "Dyly Myle! Cheeckago!”—were very optimistic, but not yet would the French censor let them speak of La Victoire which means much more to a Frenchman than does Victory to an Englishman or American. A quick trip to La Ferté gave the news that there had been no more German attacks since the evening before.
Now, in the meantime, a short, jaunty man in a blue-gray uniform, with a keen eye, who has been described as the greatest military thinker of modern times, Marshal Ferdinand Foch, summoned to his headquarters General Mangin, a stocky, iron-jawed Colonial brought from retirement because Marshal Foch thought, as Lincoln said of Grant, "I can't spare this man; he fights." To Mangin, Foch spoke briefly and to the point.
If we had known of that meeting at headquarters, perhaps we should not on the morning of July 16, have been talking to the intelligence officers of the French Thirty-eighth Corps, asking them the results of
their systematic interrogation of German prisoners taken on the Marne yet what they told us was well worth hearing.
"He is not the same Boche at all!" they exclaimed with shining eyes. "He loses his morale. Regardez!"
Diaries, letters, post-cards taken from prisoners, stenographic reports of conversations with them, told almost the same story-discouragement, disbelief in eventual victory, occasionally even distrust of their officers. The most precious story of all was how the Kaiser, assured that the Friedenssturm would succeed, had watched the vain assault from an observation post on the northern heights of the Marne.
Later the German attacks were resumed, but they were weaker. Slowly they were obliged to give back some of the scanty strip of ground taken from the Allies in the first rush. Not only had the Friedenssturm failed, but the German Seventh and First armies were in a worse position, than when the Peace Drive started, troops and supplies being crowded down in the Marne salient, with none too many road communications.
At the close of still another day, checking over our notes and planning our "stories" as we rode along, we ran into an endless train of trucks filled with American troops, their eyes ringed with dust. At the main cross-roads in La Ferté, they left us. Later Wood said, he of the long nose for news:
"Say, those troops turned north." Now, from La Ferté the battle front of the Friedenssturm was east, toward Château-Thierry and the
Marne, Rheims and the Champagne. But the trucks had taken the northern road. Our maps showed that it ran to the Forest of Villers-Cotterets, and Soissons. Why was that? They were going away from the battle.
Our chauffeur remarked, "Them was Marines-Second Division."
The Second was at that time the only battle-experienced American division.
That evening some one sauntered in to "swap dope" and said, "What kilted troops-Scotch-doing around here? I saw some to-day, headed north."
The natural reply was, "Forget it, you can't write it, anyway." Troop movements were, of course, taboo in despatches. But it set one thinking again-troops going north, toward the Forest of Villers-Cotterets, away from the battle.
Late that night there was a telephone call from French G. Q. G., which delighted to move in ways mysterious to Americans, when it concerned news. Early next morning came a bang on the door and the brief announcement:
"Cars start early to-day-something doing!"
It was a perfect morning, the 18th of July, the sky blue, the sun bright, but there was a dark mystery in the censor's office.
"Drive north," was all they would tell us, "north, to the Forest of Villers-Cotterets."
That was where the Second Division had been going in their trucks, where the kilted troops were headed, where the new Third Corps headquarters was stationed, where our friend the major had said we'd be interested. It was some thirty miles
front," they told us. "The Division's kind of balled up, just got here in time for a running jump-off, but we're going ahead. We sure are! Two or three miles already! General Bullard's in Taillefontaine, right ahead, big château. He's commanding a new Corps, the Third."
Our friend the major stood on the steps of that château, grinning broadly.
"Told you you'd be interested up here," he said.
General Robert Lee Bullard, by correspondents best beloved of Pershing's generals, who knew how to give out news, greeted us in his high Southern drawl:
"Well, gentlemen, always on hand when there's trouble, I see. I'll tell you what I can-I know you won't be able to write it all.
"This is a big thing, nothing puny about it," he went on. "It's Marshal Foch's doing. We are a part of the Tenth French army commanded by General Mangin, attacking the right flank of the Seventh German army on the western face of the Marne salient from here near Soissons, south to Château-Thierry-over twentyfive miles-while its center and left flank on the Marne and near Rheims are all tangled up with what's left of their Friedenssturm. It looks as if we had caught them off their balance, or at least not expecting us-struck them in a weak place.
"We may, I say we may, gobble up a couple of hundred thousand Germans in the Marne salient, if we can cut it off quickly.
"We'll give the old Boche a good licking, anyway. Our advance has gone far enough already so that our
artillery can heavily shell Soissons, which is his main road center, and the Soissons-Château-Thierry highway which is his main road in the salient. He'll have to give up the Marne salient and retreat to the Vesle, a long way from Paris.
"Now here is what, I suppose, is the American 'human interest," General Bullard continued, smiling mischievously. "The spear-head of the attack is right here between the Aisne and the Ourcq with the First Moroccan Division, supposedly the best French shock division, in the center, and on the left and right, the First and Second American. The Fourth and Twenty-sixth American are in it, too, but farther south. If this attack succeeds, it will change the course of the war. We and the 'Marocs' feel that we have the post of honor. Is that what you wanted to know?"
The General was bombarded with questions. When did the attack start? How was it going?
"It is going well. If it is going according to the plans of the High Command, the French cavalry has gone through and is near Fère-enTardenois," he said.
Fère-en-Tardenois ten miles beyond the front!
"Is it a break-through?" We spoke the word almost in whispers.
"We don't know yet. Of course we hope it may be."
With such big news as this, there was no time to lose. We must get farther front for details and "color," then "step on it" all the way back to Meaux and typewriters and cables.
First Division headquarters was in a cave near the gray stone and red
tiled village of Cœuvres-et-Valsery, which had been on the edge of the front line at 4: 35 that morning when the infantry "jumped off." Now, the howitzers of the Fifth Field Artillery were firing with uptilted barrels, almost at the cave entrance. Lying on the ground in a hollow were the reserve infantry, asleep, oblivious of the noise or, if awake, making appropriate remarks to knots of gray-clad German prisoners. The supreme touch was given by an ancient French poilu who greeted a file of Boches: "Ah, nach Paris, eh?"
The cave, dimly lighted by stubs of candles, was a busy place. In an odor of earth and humanity, a sound of buzzing field telephones, clicking equipment and hurried bits of conversation in French and English sometimes drowned by the blasts of the howitzers, the picked First Division staff strove to keep the rapid advance under control. From Campbell King, unruffled always, George Marshall, one of the A. E. F.'s ablest staff-officers, and Bill Sherman with the German army at his fingertips, we got a precious harvest of facts.
"Go easy on the break-through stuff," they advised. "We haven't been counter-attacked yet, but we may be at any time. We've had no reports from our advanced units in some time. Last we heard they were going according to schedule. There are all sorts of rumors about how far the French cavalry have advanced, but they're only rumors."
The Allied counter-offensive of July 18, 1918 was the most audacious and spectacular on the western front since 1914-and the most decisive. Consummate generalship outwitted,