Fall 2002 Great War Reenactment AAR (after-action report)
I just attended the Great War Association's National Fall Tactical Event at the Caesar Krauss Great War Memorial Site in Newville, PA on the 1-3 of November 2002. This was to be my second reenactment at the site, but the first real major WW1 tactical event.
November 1, 1918
Upon arriving at 1400 hours at the Neuville Sector of the front on November 1, 1918, the 151ème Régiment d'Infanterie de Ligne and the 8ème Batallion Chasseurs a Pied relieved the 26ème Régiment d'Infanterie de Ligne. Lt. Manchu (Matt Williamson) along with the Sgt.Chef assigned all the members of the 151ème to sections of the line. I was to be placed in charge of the 3rd squad which was placed on the immediate right of the 8ème Batallion Chasseurs a Pied. We were then issued our food rations, which consisted of beans, rice, sugar, hard bread, coffee beans, half a loaf of bread, a block of chocolate and pinard (wine). Upon arriving at the firing trench (the first line of of trench system) the Lt.of the 8ème BCP (Brett Johnson) gave me a section of the trench to defend. I then dispersed the 5 squad members within the area assigned, I took a position right next to the Fusil Mitrailleur Mle.1915 CSRG (Chauchat) teams position. At 1600 hours, the All Quiet on the Western Front to end as the Allies opened up a barrage of Artillery, MG, and rifle fire at the Central Powers line. As darkness was falling upon us it was decided by Allied command that the various Allied Armies, consisting of various units of Australians, British, Canadians, U.S., La Légion Russe, and French would make an all out attack on the Central Powers lines at 1700 hours. I was briefed by the Sgt.Chef about the attack and where our squad was to advance. At 1700 hours the dreaded whistles were heard signaling to go over the top. As we came out of the trenches the German MG's started to open fire, wreaking havoc upon the Allied advance. I was able to make it to a large crater in the French section of no mans land when suddenly a grenade landed right next to me, exploded, killing me. Ah cest 'la guerre. Upon being resurrected from the dead, I found out that the Allied advance was a complete failure.
As night fell upon us, the 2nd squad was tasked to do a wiring detail and we were to provide cover for them. They completed the task successfully even through the brief periods of MG and rifle fire. The battlefield was constantly being "Lit Up" through the use of flares and other illuminating devices.
As we were getting ready for a night patrol, all heck broke loose when the Germans suddenly made a counter attack upon the American and Legion Russe sections of the line. The Germans and Austro-Hungarians had massed their various units together for the grand assault. As I had been getting ready for the night patrol I had my Revolver d'Ordonnance Mle.1892 (Model 1892 Ordnance Revolver) in hand and started firing upon them, I was able to reload my pistol twice until myself and a fellow 2nd Squad poilu were suddenly overwhelmed by the Germans and were then captured. We were then taken to the German section of the lines for interrogation. As we were being escorted back, a German officer kept trying to get information from us by speaking French to us and as I do not speak French I had no clue what he was saying, but the 2nd squad member by the name of Hoover, who did speak French and German was talking to him. I decided right there that I was going to start speaking Spanish...what Spanish you say, actually there are many French citizens who come from the Pyrenees along the Spanish border area who speak Spanish and Basque that served in the French Army during WW1. Once we reached the German High Command bunker the Interrogating Officer was told that I was an Espanol Poilu and only spoke Spanish, well as no one spoke Spanish it was amusing. The Germans tried to offered us wine, women, food and money to tell us what we knew, but we refused. I think the poor German officer was so tired of trying to communicate with me, he decided to send us back to our lines and thus ending our captivity. After returning back to our lines it was getting close to midnight I decided it was time to return to the reserve lines for some rest. (Hotel)
November 2, 1918
Upon arriving back into my section of the firing trench at 0530 hours I was given breakfast which consisted of eggs, oatmeal, coffee and pinard, the meal was truly excellent.
As the sun was coming up and fellow squad members were returning back after a nights rest, we were constantly being shelled by the German grenades, so the 8th BCP Tromblon V.B. (Viven-Bessières) went into action launching grenades of our own at their positions, scoring in many direct hits. The Allied High Command again decided to make a full out frontal assault on the German positions. At the appointed time, which I can not remember, the whistles once again sounded to go over the top. This assault was going to our advantage as our Mitrailleuse Hotchkiss Mle.1914 MG crew along with the CSRG crew were laying down devastating fire power at the German Maxim MG bunkers thus keeping their MG almost silent. Another reason that this going so well was the fact that we were also using MUSTARD GAS for the attack. I was able to get into one of the German firing trenches along with a couple fellow squad members and 8th BCP members where we captured about 5 German soldiers who were then escorted back to our lines. It was getting hard to see out of our masks as fog kept building up in our lens of our masks due to our breathing hard after running across no mans land, and going through the German barbed wire defenses. As the gas dissipated we then resumed going through the German section of the lines looking for more prisoners, but the Germans counter-attacked and we beat a hasty retreat. There was this German with a Maschinenpistole 18/I that was going through the trenches "cleaning out" the pockets of Allied soldiers who had not retreated. As we got back to our lines they once again attacked but this time they were halted, and we settled down in a rest as all were beat.
As midday approached we decided to eat lunch, which consisted of bread, a type of soup made of beans, rice and an unknown meat and again pinard, another excellent meal. As we were eating I decided that I was going to taunt the Germans so I put my helmet on the end of a stick and kept raising and lowering it in different parts of the section of the trench, I would keep hearing rifles firing at it until I said out loud "ok, who put the hole in the helmet" thus getting a loud laugh from the Germans and fellow French Poilu's.
After our lunch and a brief rest Lt. Johnson wanted the French along with La Légion Russe to make a small scale harassing assault. This time we went over the top without a signaling whistle or barrage, as we came out of the trenches some of the Germans also were coming out of theirs, they must have been thinking of doing the same type of assault, thus ensuing in a deadly hand to hand combat. I was shot by a German rifleman near our listening post "Gabrielle" next to the cemetery. As I was falling down on my knees and going backward I was being held up by my entrenching tool from falling completely backwards so I decided to just stayed in that position until I got resurrected. It was quite humorous.
After being reborn once again we all headed back to the lines when we found out that Lt.Johnson was captured and that the Commanding Officer of La Légion Russe died gloriously next to 5 Germans that he had killed with his knife and bare hands before being killed by a German Officer with his C.96 "Broomhandle" Pistol.
As night was starting to fall the Australians, British, Canadians and American Armies decided to make one final assault on the German lines. As they ready to go over the top they laid down a thick layer of smoke and gas, which completly blanketed the entire site, thus making it impossible to see anything. We heard the whistles being sounded and men going over the top along with heavy rifle and MG fire going off and we told ourselves that the Americans are doing the same thing the French had learned back in 1914 Elán is stupidity. We then drank a toast of pinard in their honor then decided to join in on the assault. We went out over into no mans land encountering heavy German MG fire, which must have been waiting, knowing that we support the attack. I was able to get the German firing trenches without any problems and as I was going from trench section to trench section I was finding many dead Germans and Austro-Hungarians. I found one fellow French Poilu who had also gotten through the thick MG fire and rejoiced that we had made it alive as the rest of the French forces had been either killed or wounded. We the linked up with some of the American Forces and were clearing some of the support trenches, when the once again the Central Powers counter-assaulted thus ensuing into a bloody grenade and hand to hand combat which lasted 2½ hours. (The best part of this was that the smoke, which never dissipated, had really made it realistic in that you never knew who or what was around the corners of the trenches) As the battle was being fought back and forth in the Central Power trenches, no mans land and Allied trenches units became so mixed up and communication was impossible. This final battle was last until about 0100 hours. After regrouping and rejoining our regiments we took some needed rest and ate our evening meals. As we rested a bit through out the night it had became bitterly cold (20 degrees) and it started to rain and lightly snow.
November 3, 1918
As the sun rose and the earth was starting to warm we knew that we were going to be relieved soon so we made preparations of moving out of the lines by starting to pack our gear, weapons, and cleaning up the trenches of debris that we did not want to be left behind. Once we completed this the 45er Regiment d'Infanterie de Ligne took over our lines. We then started to move to rear lines around 1200 hours for our final farewells.
This ended the Great War Association's National Fall Tactical Event of 2002.