After-Action Report -- Fall 2003
I just attended the Great War Association's National Fall Tactical Event at the Caesar Krauss Great War Memorial Site in Newville, PA that took place on October 31 and November 1-2 of 2003. This was to be my fourth reenactment at the site.
October 31, 1918
Upon arriving at 1600 hours at the Neuville Sector of the front on October 31, 1918, the 151ème Régiment d'Infanterie de Ligne relieved the 168th Infantry Regiment of the 42nd A.E.F of its duty on the line. The first priority of Lt. Manchu (Matt Williamson) was to assign all members to the various firing pits of the firing trenches within our section of the lines as word of a possible German offensive was to take place and as I had recently been promoted to the rank of Soldat 1re Classe, I was assigned two men to help defend a section of the 8ème Batallion Chasseurs a Pied firing line, as they were delayed in arriving to the sector and it would be some time before they could get in place.
As soon as we got in place the Central Powers unleashed a storm of artillery and mortar fire at our positions, which resulted in the total destruction of one of the firing pits on the right of my position. The trench walls in that area had totally collapsed from the result of the direct hit upon the pit but thankfully the two poilus assigned in that section had escaped the collapse unharmed. A detail of men was assigned to clean up and re-build the area as quickly as possible it blocked the main path through the firing trenches along with communications with my section of the lines.
Around 1730 hours we had noticed that a couple of Germans were in No Mans Land making their way towards our position so I decided that my squad and myself were to go out after them and hopefully take one as a prisoner. We were able to get out the trenches and to the first set of shell holes undetected where we were in a better position to see the Germans coming across. As we started to the next series of shell holes we got detected by the Germans, thanks to a flare, and were immediately fired upon by the trench raiders. We exchanged rifle back and forth for about 15 to 25 minutes then both sides quietly slipped back into their trenches for a much-needed rest.
After refreshing ourselves with some water and pinard (wine) we saw the Germans launch a major offensive against the A.E.F.'s section of the lines. I understood later that the Germans had broken into the firing trenches almost intact inflicting heavy casualties, but had been repulsed in the secondary trenches by the B.E.F. and La Légion Russe.
As the night went along we exchanged rifle and MG fire with the Germans but no major activity took place in our sector. At one point in the night the Allied Commander, Capt. M.S. Lowe ( Michael LoCicero) of the 2nd Dublin Fusiliers, 1st Composite Btn. had come to our section of the lines looking for our Lt., I explained to him about the destroyed trench line, as it would be hard for him to get to the area where the Lt. was at so I volunteered to lead him through the communication trenches and secondary trenches to reach the area I thought the Lt. was at. Before leaving I made sure that both of my fellow poilus were aware of where I was going and asked if they ok and needed anything from the rear areas. As we approached the area where I last heard from the Lt., the poilu in that section had told me that the Lt. had gone to the bunker to check on a fellow poilu who had fallen ill, we then proceeded to the bunker area, upon arriving Capt. Lowe had commended me for my actions and recommended that I be mentioned favorably in the Lt.'s Official Military Dispatches.
After returning back to my section I decided to give the Germans some rifle fire as it had been too quiet and something had to be done to make it noisy again. Dinner was brought up to lines around 2000 hours that consisted of a bean soup, canned fish, bread and wine. After eating I made way into No Mans Land to a shell hole/listening post to see if anything was going on in the German trenches, but I saw very little activity going on in their lines and so after a bit I decided to head back into the lines. It was at this time Lt. Manchu decided to go on a trench raid with the squad and see what the enemy was up to, their patrol was not encountered by any Germans, but one of the poor poilu's was soaked from the hips down as he had slipped into one of the shell holes filled with water, the Lt. decided to head back to the bunker and made sure that the two poilus under me went back to the bunker for a much needed rest I ensured that the Germans had basically settled down for the night and then I headed to the bunker to socialize and drink wine with my fellow poilus.
As midnight approached I decided to get some much needed sleep so I decided to sleep in the trench, in case the Germans attacked, grabbed my blankets and headed of to sleep in a position I had built in the lines as a "Sniper/VB" firing pit I called "Monica".
November 1, 1918
I awoke at about 0530 after having a nice quiet nights sleep then headed down towards the bunker to see about getting myself some breakfast which consisted of bacon, type of oatmeal, cheese and milk. After eating the hearty meal, Lt. Manchu decided to do some manual of arms drill where he had me teach the rest of the members in the correct procedures for executing these maneuvers.
After drilling a bit and meeting up with the 8ème BCP, who started arriving at the front, we headed up to the lines where we took our positions along the front. After settling in along the lines the 8ème BCP commander, Lt. Brett Johnson, decided to make a two wave frontal attack against the Germans to the right of our position. At the prescribed hour the whistles were sounded for first wave to go "over the top" and as they made their way out of the trenches the German Maxim MG's and rifleman opened up with their deadly hail of fire cutting down many poilus before they even got 10 meters out of the trenches. A few minutes later the whistles sounded again for the second wave of which I was part of to go "over the top", as I exited the trench I noticed that most of the men in the first wave had either been killed or wounded most not even going as far as 30 meters outside the trenches. I rushed from shell hole to shell hole trying to make my way forward as quickly as possible but progress was slow as bullets and grenades were coming at me from all over the place. I was finally able to get to a shell hole beyond our wire where I thought it would be safe for the moment but suddenly a grenade that came out of nowhere landed next to me, thus killing me.
After being "resurrected" from the dead, I returned back to the lines to refresh myself. The Germans after a brief period decided that they too would make a frontal assault on our positions, we saw them coming over the top in droves and were firing as rapidly as possible to slow down their advance. The 8ème BCP Mitrailleuse Hotchkiss Mle.1914 MG and Fusil Mitrailleur Mle.1915 CSRG were instrumental in helping stop the enemy ensuring that they did not advancing any further than the road across No Mans Land.
During the morning hours we sent three or four patrols into No Mans Land to asses the enemies strength and activity where I was wounded in one of the patrols but for the most part it achieved nothing. Around noon the trench that had been damaged was mostly repaired allowing access through the area with new firing pits being built. We settled in for a bit to eat our noon meal of a meat/bean soup, bread, cheese and wine.
After lunch I decided to take a stroll down the various trenches to see the different areas held by the various units in the Neuville sector. It was interesting experience seeing the many different trenches the Americans, B.E.F., Australians and La Légion Russe had and how they differed from our trenches of which most were much better built than ours but that is to be expected as the French trenches were known to have the worst and poorly built trenches on the front. When I was down in the B.E.F. trenches they had seen some a poor lone German climbing a pole in the secondary trenches and so they all decided to open up a hail of gunfire along with myself, at this fellow as they have had very little activity in their area and needed something to shoot at, needless to say the German was killed.
After spending time in the various trenches I returned back to our lines just in time for a frontal assault on the German trenches, which was being supported by La Légion Russe on our right. We rushed out the trenches under covering fire from the Mitrailleuse Hotchkiss Mle.1914 MG this time with the Mle.1915 CSRG crew, Gunner Andy Harrell and Assistant Gunner L.R. Smith, by our sides. As we made our through No Mans Land the Germans were attempting to reinforce a weakened section in their lines that we were pushing to, as we got closer the casualties mounted and we decided to rush the final distance to the trenches. The Mle.15 CSRG crew advanced with us but immediately was hit by the Maxims fire and was put out of action and myself was once again killed by the German MG. I was told that a couple of poilus were able to get in the German trenches and kill a few Germans before being killed themselves.
After the assault was completed and returning back to our lines the Germans again decided to make an attack at us which was repulsed. Later in the afternoon we went back "over the top" to see if we could breach the Germans lines but this time I took my Tromblon V.B.(Viven-Bessières) Grenade Launcher with me and the one round I was able to get from an American to use. At one point in the battle I found the perfect opportunity to use the one round and decided to fire it at one of the Maxim MG bunker to hopefully put it out of action. I made a quick assessment of the angle I needed for the round to hit and fired the round towards the bunker, it just fell short of the bunker window, but had enough spin on it to bounce of the ground and go through the bunkers MG slit where it detonated inside the bunker killing the Maxim Crew, what a great feeling it was that I was able to put it out of action with one shot, we then rushed into the German trenches, but were eventually repulsed by a quick counter-attack.
After returning we told that the dinner meal was ready and settled down to eat. The dinner meal as cooked by the 8ème BCP Croix Rouge members; Jan Stone, Rich Stone, Karen Chapman and Nancy Crocker, was fabulous, it consisted of chicken, dumplings, bread, cheese, apple turnover and wine. After dinner the Germans decided to make a raid at our trenches and it was at this time that I asked the Mle.15 CSRG crew if I could fire the MG and L.R. allowed me to fire it at the incoming Germans -- what a great feeling it was firing this weapon and stopping the German advance with it.
A little later the commander of La Légion Russe had come over to see Lt. Johnson about an attack that was take place at 1900 hours and wanted our support on the attack, well he could not refuse the challenge. At the prescribed time we went out, under the cover of darkness, and attempted to penetrate the German trenches, little known to us the Germans had reinforced this section of lines and the assault was stopped dead in its tracks. As we neared the German shell holes we stopped by volley of grenades when one landed next to me killing me.
After a bit we were resurrected again and a bunch us gathered at the road and simulated a second wave, but this also proved fatal as MG fire cut us down, killing or wounding all involved. After returning back to the lines we all took a much-needed water and rest period before we decided to go out again.
This next offensive was to involve the A.E.F. which was to be a supported two wave assault, with us leading the attack and breaking the German lines and the Americans following up behind doing the trench sweeping. At 2010 hours we went over top and made our way across No-Mans-Land, encountering some German patrols and swept them to the side so the Americans could advance into the trenches, all was going to plan. The Americans made their way in and out of the trench system taking numbers of prisoners along the way and myself escorted a few back to our lines. We successfully had taken the firing and some of the secondary trenches and reinforced the positions gained in case of a swift counter-attack. The Germans did eventually counter-attack our newly held position and a great grenade battle raged where many good men died on both sides from a result of this, we eventually had to withdrawal from the German positions back to our lines but we had accomplished our task of inflicting heavy damage against them. After the battle had subsided we all eventually returned back to our lines where we regroup then headed toward the reserve lines for a well-deserved rest
November 2, 1918
As the day approached and night was beginning to end 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 so that we could be relieved by the 51ème Régiment Tirailleurs Sénégalais.We also had heard rumors from the incoming regiment that the fighting would soon be ending with an Armistice on November 11 at 1100 hours, oh how glad we were to hear that finally this war would be coming to an end. Once we completed our clean up and completely relieved we started our move of the lines towards the rest camps.