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.
On July 29th the Troop entrained for Dommartin-en-Goele, to join the 3rd Army Corps, and detrained at Chateau Thierry on August 1st. That afternoon we marched to Gland on the other side of the Marne and went into camp there. The following morning the Troop Commander reported to Major General Bullard, the Corps Commander, at Mont St. Pierre. General Bullard asked if the men and animals were ready to proceed at once to the front and join the French cavalry, at Coulonges. When the troop was called together and told what was before them, every man let out a yell.
By the time the troop arrived in Coulonges, it was dark, the road beyond was being heavily shelled, and no one knew where the French Colonel had his C.P. On either side of the road on the march up we had passed by dead Germans and Americans, and so by the time we reached Coulonges – which had been evacuated by the Boche only the night before – we commenced to feel that we were really at the front. There was nothing to do but go into camp. A site was selected, tents pitched in a narrow railway cut, and the horses picketed in an orchard nearby. Before the tents were really pitched, it commenced to rain – the hardest, I believe that it ever has rained. Everyone crawled into his dog tent but did not sleep that night. Jerry started at once to send some of his big ones over and he kept it up all night. They fell too near us for comfort too, but there was nothing to do but stay and hope for the best. I don’t think any of us will ever forget that night, our first under fire.
Morning and the end of the rain came at last. The French Colonel was found and the troop proceeded, under his orders, still further toward the front in pursuit of the fleeing Huns who were on the run. We arrived at Les-Pres-Fermes (Death Valley) about four p.m. and were reported to Major Nadot of the 10th French Cavalry. We were to do patrolling along with his cavalry-men, he said, and wanted some non-commissioned officers at once, to go out with one of his patrols.
Sergeant Wood, Private 1st Class Drapalik and Private Rupprecht were ordered to go. This work continued as long as the French Cavalry remained in the sector. These men are the most reckless and dare-devil people in the French Army, I am sure; their work was wonderful and their casualties not heavy. The Troop remained in the Valley two nights, and they were exciting ones. The Valley was filled with batteries of field artillery as was the hill behind us. We were, therefore, subject to a continuous enemy fire all night long. Gas alarms were frequent, too. On the evening of the 5th, the Troop marched a few kilometers to a piece of woods and made camp for the night. Next morning another march, with the French, to the Arcis-le-Ponsart woods. Our men continued to patrol with the French until they left the area on the 7th.
Upon the departure of the French, the Troop took over a sector of its own – that of a brigade of the 3d Division, they holding the line along the Vesle.
At 3:30 in the morning of August 8th, the first All American Cavalry Patrol went out. 1st Lieutenant James S. Rodwell was in command and the others in the patrol were: Sgt. Woods, Cpl. Drapalik, Pvt. 1/c Rupprecht, Smolen, Pvt. Rutkowski.
Their work was excellently done, and the patrol returned without a casualty. The first casualty in the Troop was 1st Class Private Adamshock who was very badly shell-shocked while on the patrol with the French on the 7th. On the 9th, Sgt. Cleary’s patrol ran into a very heavy barrage and a lot of gas. 1st Class Private Edward Dupont had a leg shot off that day, and several of the men were gassed. Our woods were being shelled pretty consistently and every night was hell with continual bombing by Boche’s planes.
On the 10th Sgt. Benson’s Patrol was out in the morning and he and Cpl. Drapalik, drew a lot of rifle and machine gun fire while crossing the broken bridge at Fismette. Cpl. Drapalik was shot through a hand, but their mission was successfully completed. Both men deserve the highest praise for their courage on that day.
Those who went out on patrols during this period have good cause to remember the abandoned aviation field just below Fismes. It appeared that the Boche watched for the patrol’s appearance, for he would always lay down a heavy barrage the moment the first horseman appeared on the hill crest. It was no fun to cross the aviation field, and a horse going at a dead run seemed to the rider to be standing still. One man even jumped off the horse because he thought it wasn’t going fast enough.
August 8th was a particularly bad day. Private Edward Dupont was severely wounded, so badly that he lost a leg. On the 9th, Lieutenant Rodwell, in charge of the morning patrol, was charged with sending back information as to number of bridges across the Vesle, east of Fismes. He found it necessary, in order to obtain this information, to crawl out in front of the first line trenches. He very promptly got shot at several times but upon returning to the trench made use of a one-pounder and brought the sniper out of a tree.
The nights of August 13th-14th will not soon be forgotten by those who spent them in the wooded German camp near Arcis-le-Pomsart. Jerry was over that night, and he stayed over. There was no opposition. Everything went his way and he had a good time from about 9:30 p.m. until 4:30 a.m. He seemed to delite in “dropping the tail board” when just overhead and dropping about fifty tin cans in a bunch.
At 8:00 a.m. on August 16th, the Troop left Arcis-le-Pomsart and marched to the hill above Coulonges, a distance of 12 kilometers. Things had settled down on the line so the Troop was turned over for M.P. duty, temporarily. Posts were scattered for miles around, three or four men to each post. The weather was ideal all the time, kitchen was handy, and feeding good. Aeroplanes came over almost every night with their bombs, and that’s about all, while in Coulonges.
On the 24th we marched down to Courmont, 8 ½ kilometers. Here we stayed as long as we were in the Chateau Thierry sector. Detachments were sent down to Jaulgonne, Mezy, and along the Marne. Nothing of particular interest occurred. Mail was coming along pretty regularly and no one was complaining.
On September 10th the Troop left Courmont at 6:45 a.m. and marched to Mezy on the Marne, 17 kilometers. It has never rained harder than it did during this march. At Mezy we crawled in out of the rain and waited for further instructions. They arrived about 11 a.m. and we marched to Dormans, 11 more kilometers. Here we entrained, pulling out about 7 p.m. We passed through Souilly, which we remembered from April, and detrained at Lemmes, in the Argonne sector at 11:30 a.m., September 11. We marched to Camp Pampaville, 5 kilos away. The horses were taken care of and every one got busy getting as comfortable as possible.
On the 13th we moved a few meters to Bois-de-Nixeville camp. Daily patrols of one platoon were sent out to keep circulation down in anticipation of the big surprise attack that was coming. These platoons would go practically up to the front lines, scatter, and patrol the area of a division. Some drilling was done by the platoons that stayed in camp. Jerry came over as usual with his bombs on moonlit nights and there were the usual aeroplane battles overhead. This patrolling was kept up daily until September 26th, the day of the big attack. The troop was cited in General Orders No. 26, Third Army Corps, on September 21, 1918.
Late in the afternoon of September 25th, I was informed that we were to “jump off” at 5:30 a.m. the next day, and that I was to be mounted in the present front lines at “H” hour and at “H” plus 1, was to have my men a few kilometers in advance of that line. Of course, no one thought for a minute that we might not advance. We knew we would.
About 11 o’clock that night the barrage started. Never had anyone heard such a noise, for there had never before been such a concentration of artillery. No human being could have hoped to live through. Lieutenant Rodwell took his first platoon out, according to schedule and every man was in place at “H” hour, and again at “H” plus 1, a very difficult work creditably done, for it was pitch dark at “H” hour and it was necessary to leave camp about 3:30. Sometime during the day two of the men captured 18 Germans near the Bois-de-Forges and brought them in. As the attack continued, patrols were sent out all day and night, mainly to prevent tie-up in traffic along the roads. An all-important work it was, and hazardous, but the Troop performed it efficiently and well.
On the night of October 2nd sudden orders were received to move up further toward the new front lines. These orders were received at 8 p.m. It was pitch dark but the Troop was turned out, told to pack up at once and saddle up. We left the camp at 10 o’clock, full pack, every wagon loaded and everyone present except Sergeant Downs and Private Plowkio, who were to be left back to guard some property. Four hours we hiked, arriving in Esnes at 2 a.m. As we rode into town shells were whistling overhead and lighting inside and outside of the town, so it didn’t look like a very cheerful place to stay. We made camp, however, picketed the horses in a field and pitched shelter tents nearby. Every man was tired enough to turn in anywhere that night and they didn’t mind much if shells were coming over.
Esnes had been in “No Man’s Land” ever since the first German drive in 1914. There was nothing left of the town. Every building was flat, just a pile of rocks with weeds growing all over those piles. Nothing could have lived in Esnes except the rats. They could and did. They were as big as the ordinary house cat and as bold as a lion. Nothing was too good or too poor for them to eat. Leave a letter near you when you went to sleep and you would find it torn to bits when you awoke.
In Esnes, we got our share of shells every night. One night, the whole sky was lit with red fire. The report was that the Boche was destroying one of his ammunition dumps preparatory to falling back.
The horses kept in good flesh in spite of the grueling work they were getting. The picket line was a sea of mud and when a horse would pull his foot out, it would sound like a suction pump.
On the night of October 7th-8th the Germans commenced their fire on Esnes at about 2 in the morning. All the shells that came over that night fell right about our camp. Two of them struck right in it and killed one man, Private Roy Martin, a replacement that had reported for duty only the day before. A shell fragment struck him squarely in the middle of the forehead. Fortunately for his bunkie, he was on guard that night. Privates Taft and Cartwright were both seriously wounded, the former with a piece of shrapnel in his back and the latter with his left arm badly shattered.
Four horses were badly wounded on that night and there were a lot of men who had unusually close escapes and could not understand how it was they were not hit. We counted 49 holes in one shelter tent next morning and the occupants were there all night. We don’t ask why such escapes are possible – just wonder and marvel a bit.
On the morning of the 8th we buried Martin in the little French and American Cemetery down in the center of the town, putting up as neat a cross as could be made.
About the middle of October, part of the 2nd Platoon, under Lieutenant Ewing, went up to Bethincourt and did some M.P. duty there. This town was worse, if such a thing were possible, than Esnes. At least, they claimed the rats were bigger and bolder there.
On October 29th the Troop received orders to move at once to Cuisy. We left Esnes at 2:30 p.m. and arrived in Cuisy about 5 p.m. The picket line was put up down in the valley there, and the tents were pitched in the places that looked the safest. Jerry surely came over that night and gave the Troop a welcome. He was dropping the big ones all over the valley and not satisfied with his bombing, he added a heavy shelling for excitement.
The next day everyone got more comfortably and safely located in the dugouts in town. The town wasn’t nearly as badly destroyed as Esnes and it seemed like quite an improvement.
On November 3d Sergeant Wood took 20 men and reported to Malincourt for liaison work under G-3 of the Corps. There the men remained on this work until the Armistice was signed.
The Troop left Cuisy on the 6th at 9:30 a.m. and arrived at Bantheville at noon. Here we picketed the horses and tried to find some shelter in an old farm house. This was the worst camp that the Troop had. The wind would blow right through a man, and I don’t believe anyone was ever warm during all the stay there. There were no dugouts, and so, with several moonlight nights and bombing planes thick overhead, the nights were not pleasant ones, at all.
About this time, every day had its rumor of the war ending. No one paid a great deal of attention to them, after one or two false alarms. So when on November 11th, at 11 a.m., that memorable date and hour, the guns stopped firing, it was hard to understand at first. Finally we realized that it was true, the war was over, and there was to be no more fighting, no more nights of hell, and no cold hard winter at the front.