A Cavalry Patrol In No Man's Land

From:
ONE HUNDRED YEARS WITH THE SECOND CAVALRY
By Joseph I. Lambert, Major, Second Cavalry
Copyright 1939 Commanding Officer, Second Cavalry, Fort Riley, Kansas
Capper Printing Company, Inc.

WWIVictoryBy Captain Kent C. Lambert

Early in the afternoon of September 27th, Troops B, D, F, and H, 2nd Cavalry were called upon to send out four officers’ patrols to “…ascertain the accurate locations of (friendly) units of the front lines and to name those units as they found them…”. Two patrols were to work around the east flank and two around the west, all four to meet in the center and report direct to the 35th Division Headquarters.

Here is the story of the patrol led by the commanding officer of Troop H, Captain Kent C. Lambert, 2nd Cavalry, which worked around the west flank. It furnishes a fair picture of the duty performed by this attached cavalry squadron during the entire period of the Meuse-Argonne offensive.

At about 2:30 in the afternoon Captain Lambert was called to squadron headquarters and given the following orders: “You will take a mounted patrol of one noncommissioned officer and three privates and report the location of the 35th Division’s front line when they have ‘dug in’ for the night. The 28th Division is on our left, from Apremont west. The 91st is on our right. You will work from the Aire River to the vicinity of Eclisfontaine.”

The patrol leader returned to his troop, picked out his patrol, mounted and moved out at once. The patrol crossed the Aire on the small but steady foot bridge just southwest of Baulny and moved north along the river in the direction of Apremont. Before it had thus progressed more than a kilometer, it found itself involved in the attack of the 28th Division, which had not yet taken that town.

Since the patrol and some tanks of the 28th Division seemed to be drawing most of the German fire from the north, the patrol turned east and recrossed the Aire at a place between Baulny and Apremont. Here the river was quite deep and swift. Its banks were steep and the horses had difficulty in making the crossing. But, in spite of the fact that the leader’s horse slipped and fell back into the water as he attempted to climb the east bank, the patrol crossed the river safely and continued on its mission.

The road northwest from Baulny, along which the patrol now traveled, was paralleled on its west side by a camouflage screen, the purpose of which was to disguise the road and prevent direct observation and fire from the German position on the hills of Apremont. But there was a break in this screen just north of Baulny and an ambitious German sniper from a position in the woods near Apremont was taking full advantage of it. When the patrol arrived, he had already successfully stopped the advance of an infantry machine gun platoon, and the patrol leader was informed of his actions and accuracy by the platoon commander. However, the whole patrol galloped past the break without the loss of time or life. The sudden dash allowed the sniper no time to aim and fire.

Continuing up the road, the patrol reached an orchard on the east which afforded some cover, so it bore west and north around the spurs running out from hill 224. There it found the left of the 35th Division’s front line, an irregular pattern of foxholes and short trenches hurriedly dug and occupied by men from all units of the division – hopelessly intermingled. The patrol’s problem of locating the rest of the front line proved to be a tedious and hazardous task.

At about 4:30 in the afternoon, while thus engaged, the patrol was spotted and fired on by German artillery from the north, which, in addition to having good maps, knew the terrain around hill 224 very well from recent occupancy. The resultant fire was quite accurate, but the patrol leader, having a working knowledge of the technique of artillery fire, was able to out guess the gunners and the patrol suffered no casualties. However, their maneuvering to escape hits was limited and made difficult by the abandoned trenches and wire of the old German position around hill 224.

To add to the difficulty, gas shells were included by the Germans; and, although they proved to be only tear gas, they forced the American troops, both cavalry and infantry, to mask at once. The patrol leader’s mask proved useless as a result of its soaking in the Aire, and he was forced to take one from a member of his patrol and send the latter back out of the gassed area.

It was not until after dark that the patrol extricated itself from the labyrinth of trenches and wire and continued on its mission. It found the front-line units still masked, which made talking extremely difficult, and during the next few hours gas alarms were heard several times up and down the lines.

Finally the patrol reached Eclisfontaine, having gained a definite idea of the location of the 35th Division’s front lines. It was now quite dark and the patrol was ready to return and make its report, although no sign of the other cavalry patrols was in evidence. Deciding not to wait for the other patrols, it got its bearings from the infantry units and started the return trip to Cheppy.

Again it encountered the trenches and wire of the old German position and was forced to feel its way through, being both confused and delayed as it did so. At about 10:00 o’clock it finally found a trail and followed it until a light was seen. Investigation proved it came from a dugout occupied by American artillery which had moved up with the 35th Division and was supporting its attack. The artillerymen were both surprised and pleased to find another mounted branch involved in the fight, and gave freely of both directions and coffee, which were gratefully received as the night was wet and cold and the darkness and difficult route had completely confused the patrol. But, thus fortified and oriented, it made its way directly to Charpentry and was soon on the road to Cheppy.

The return trip was direct and uneventful, and upon arrival at the headquarters of the 35th Division, around midnight, the patrol leader made his report, pointing out on a map the location of the front lines as he had found them. The staff, however, disagreed with him saying the lines should be a full kilometer farther to the north. But later investigation proved that they were basing their location on messages sent by front-line units at 2:30 that afternoon, and German counterattacks had since driven the front lines back to the locations reported by the patrol.

Returning to the squadron bivouac, the patrol settled down to the usual unsatisfactory night’s rest, having covered some 18 kilometers in about nine and one-half hours.

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