On September 10th, command of the Division passed from Brig. Gen. Win. D. Beach to Major General William Weigel, recently promoted from a Brigadier General commanding the 56th Infantry Brigade of the 28th Division and fresh from the Aisne-Marne and the Oise-Aisne offensives. (Major General William Weigel, USA. Appointment United States military academy 1883, graduated June 11th, 1887. 1893/94 second Lt. Co. A 11th infantry, commander of apache scouts. SAN CARLOS, ARIZONA TERRITORY. Captain of volunteers 1898 sent to Cuba. Participated in the Philippine insurrection where he saw a lot of fighting. WW I 1917 was promoted brigadier general and commanded 56th infantry brigade of the 28th division. August 26th 1918 was promoted Major General and commanded the 88th division. He was awarded the Distinguished service medal, the Croix-De-Guerre with two palms and made a commander of the legion of honor. )
From the latter part of August until the move of the Division into the Haute Alsace Sector, every energy in the command was devoted to intensive training. The First American Army was winning its first laurels at Saint Mihiel and in the Argonne and every man of the 88th Division was keyed to a high pitch in anticipation of an early opportunity to reach the front. All troops were billeted in small towns surrounding Semur and training was carried out in the recently cutover grain fields and on the unused pasture lands. The Division had hardly settled itself into the routine of real training, however, when orders came for a hurried move to the front. Directions for the move came in the form of field orders from Headquarters which read:
"Division will move by rail, beginning Sept. 14th, to relieve, in connection with a French Division, a Division now in the line. Battalions will be ready to move at two hours notice, and in readiness to relieve other units in the line upon arrival. Supply officers will requisition for two days reserve rations and two days travel rations per individual. "Personal equipment of officers in excess of bedding and clothing rolls will be shipped at once to railhead under guard of military police."
Field Order 1 of September 11th designated Belfort as the new Division Headquarters. While transferred to the 7th French Army for tactical purposes, the Division was to pass to the administrative control of the 7th Corps (American). The Division began leaving Semur September 14th, expecting to go to Belfort. Four trains a day were run until the 18th. The Liaison Officer, who had preceded by one day, intercepted the first train at Besancon with the information that the orders had been changed and the division would stop in the Hericourt (Haute Saone) Area, south of Belfort, with Headquarters at Hericourt. Aside from the fact that it was much closer to the front, the Hericourt Area resembled the Cote dOr section in many respects and training schedules resumed where they had ended the week before. This training continued until the latter part of the month of September.
Lt. Col. Fay W. Brabson, General Staff, who had been an instructor at the Army General Staff College, joined the 88th Division in September, 1918, as Operations Officer.
Lt. Col. Bennett C. Clark, Infantry, and Maj. E. F. Wood, Infantry, graduates of the 3rd course at Army General Staff College, joined the Division at the same time as Assistant Chief of Staff G-1 and G-2, respectively.
On October 5th, when Col. Lincoln became sick, Col. Brabson took over the duties of Chief of Staff of the Division. He was promoted Colonel later and remained Chief of Staff of the Division until it was demobilized.
As stated in the warning order above, the original plan was for the 88th to relieve a division in the line. The division referred to was the 29th American Division, then serving its first tour in a quiet sector. However, besides a lack of transportation, the French Staff found the 88th with out gas masks or steel helmets and consequently wholly unprepared for duty in the trenches. Hence, instead of sending the 88th to relieve the 29th, the 38th French Division was sent to relieve the 29th. Later, the 88th Division was sent into sector for instruction by the 38th French Division and finally relieved that Division. Official records, General Headquarters, give the date of entry of the 88th Division into the line as October 12th. That was the date command of the front line of the sector passed to battalion commanders, 88th Division. On September 23d, two officers and one hundred men from each of the four Infantry Battalions that were scheduled first to take over the sector had moved by truck at night to the front. Medical and Intelligence Units soon followed, but it was not until October 12th that French front line battalions were wholly relieved by our advance Battalions. Preparations for the Divisions first actual tour of duty in the trenches were begun towards the close of September. Since landing in France, the entire command had been under a schedule of the most intensive sort of training. October first found the men in good physical condition, despite a very severe influenza epidemic. Specialists schools in every regiment and separate organization had added the finishing touches to individual training earlier acquired in the States and during the brief stop near Semur. At last the Division as a well-trained organization was prepared in every way to deliver a mighty blow.
The trenches to be occupied by the Division were those embraced in the Center Sector Haute-Alsace. The distribution of troops under the first allotment of positions was outlined as follows, under Field Order No. 6:
5 Oct. 18-15 o'clock
Field Order No.6 (1:80,000)
Map: Region (de Belfort et Haute-Alsac )
1. The 88th Division (less Artillery) will go into sector in the defensive zone of Haute-Alsace commencing on night 78 Oct. .18.
2. The relief will be carried out in accordance with the attached table.Completion of all moves and relief's will be reported promptly
3. (a) The 175th Infantry Brigade will hold the northern sub-sector, with 350th Infantry in the forward and the 349th Infantry in the rear zone. The 176th infantry Brigade will hold the southern sub-sector, with 351st Infantry in the forward zone and the 352nd Infantry in the rear zone.
(c) Nil defense schemes, trench maps, aeroplane photographs and details of intelligence will be taken over. The 38th Division defense scheme will remain inforce pending issue of 88th Division defense scheme. All movement necessary for the reliefs will be carried out at night in such a way as to escape observation by the enemy. Detailed orders for field trains follow in administrative instructions.
5. (a) The C. 0. 350th Infantry, the C. 0. 351st Infantry and the Battalion Commanders of these regiments will take over command from the corresponding French Officer by whom they have been instructedon completion of relief. See F. 0. 7.
(b) C. G. 175th Infantry Brigade will take over command northern sub sector at Fontaine 15 October, 18 at 6 oclock. See F. 0. 7. At same hour, C. G. 176th Infantry Brigade will take over command of southern sub-sector with headquarters at Montreux Jeune.
(c) Command of the sector will pass to C. G. 88th Division, U. S. at 8 o'clock, 15 October, 18. See F. 0. 7.
(d)Division P. C. at Montreux Chateau.(e) See F. 0. 7.
WILLIAM WEIGEL, Major General, Commanding
Off For The Front
Accordingly, Division Headquarters closed at Hericourt at 8 oclock, October 7th and opened at Montreux Chateau at the same hour. Movement of the main bodies of troops was carried out at night and with great secrecy, for the enemy was maintaining close aerial observation of the entire sector at this time. For most of the organizations, the completion of the move required two nights of steady marching. Elements were formed at dusk and marched by parallel roads toward the front, strict march discipline and absolute silence being maintained throughout the moves.
In going into the line, the 88th relieved the 38th French Division, a veteran unit which had distinguished itself in the fighting on practically every front in the war. From October 7th to 17th, the French troops occupied the trenches jointly with the Americans, rendering great assistance to our troops in the matter of trench routine, patrolling and practical duties of a soldier which had been thoroughly studied theoretically in the rear areas. On October 15th, the sector passed under the complete control of the 88th Division and the 38th French Division moved to the sector on the right or south of the 88th Division where it relieved another French Division (51st).
It is well at this point to give a brief description of the general features of the sector as it was organized at the time it passed into the hands of the 88th Division. The entire front was approximately 19 kilometers long. No Mans Land ranged in width from a kilometer at some places to less than 300 meters at others. During the early stages of the war, this territory had been the scene of some of the heaviest fighting, but for the last three and a half years, both sides had come to a standstill and stood facing each other, content to carry on a defensive war for the time being. The French Army had been committed politically to the relief of Alsace-Lorraine as a first step in case of war with Germany. Consequently, we find the general plans called for mobilization in the Belfort-Nancy region. Mulbouse was taken in an early offensive. It was only when France became convinced that Germany was making her principal drive through Belgium that the mobilization in the South was halted arid her troops shifted to the North to meet the Germans in Belgium. This depleted her strength to such an extent in the South that she was forced to evacuate Muihouse and fall back to the outer defense of the Gate of Belfort.
The general physical aspects of the terrain are much similar to those of the Middle West of the United States. It is a rolling country, with considerable wooded areas on both sides of the lines. Trenches in the north half of the sector lay mostly in the open, with small forests covering the lines of communication in rear. On the other hand, the front lines of the southern half traversed the Schonholz and Fulleren woods, giving excellent protection from enemy observation but presenting special danger in the case of sudden hostile bombardment and raids. Offensively the sector offered in the north a splendid terrain for the use of tanks which, launched from concealment in the numerous woods near the front line, could play havoc against the old wire systems and poorly kept up trenches opposite the northern sub-sector, and advancing with the infantry towards Mulhouse, could turn the high table land of Altkirch with comparative ease. Defensively, the sector was weak because of the heavily wooded salient of Bois de Carspach and Schonholz Woods, which prevented the placing of machine guns effectively without undue danger of capture by sudden hostile raids. The old Rhone-Rhine canal bisected the divisional area, traversed No Mans Land and ran into the enemy lines at the towns of Eglingen and Enschingen. For a mile or more to the north and south of this canal, the terrain was low and marshy and partly covered with underbrush.
As a reminder of the fierce fighting which had taken place here in the earlier stages of the war, the entire sector was traversed with abandoned trenches, barbed wire and broken-down strong points. At the time the 88th took over the sector, these trenches were in places partly filled with water; the revetments caved in, some places filled in to the extent that a man while walking on the bottom of the trench would expose his head and shoulders in full view above the parapet.
The German troops facing our sector constituted two of the Divisions of the Army Detachment "B." The Army was commanded by General V. Gundell with his headquarters at Colmar.
The 30th Bavarian Reserve Division was commanded by Lieut. Gen. Beeg with headquarters at Colmar. This Division had one regiment in line opposite our sector from the Rhone-Rhine canal to our northern boundary with two regiments at rest in the rear.
The 44th Landwehr Division was commanded by Gen. D. Inf. Krause with Headquarters at Muihouse. This Division had two regiments in line opposite our sector from the R hone-Rhine canal to our southern boundary. One regiment in reserve. A school of Aviation was located a short distance behind the German lines. This gave them superiority of the air as we had very few planes to aid us. In addition several special troops were located in the sector, among them a crack company of shock troops which were used in all raids.
The distribution of our division at the time the 88th took over the line was as follows:
The first regiments to occupy the trenches with the French were the 350th and 351st Infantry regiments. Each placed two battalions in the front line and one in support. The other two infantry regiments, the 319th and 352d, were stationed in reserve immediately in rear.
The first casualties in action in the Division came on the night of October 12th-13th when the enemy launched a raid on the 2d Battalion, 350th Infantry preparing to effect this plan. During the attack, Captain Peter V. Brethorst, Company "F," Sergeant J. A. Hora, Privates Fred G. Ekstrom and Clinton F. Leasan, Company "F," and Privates Willie Leroy, Fred H. Creswell and Pat Morris, Company "G," were struck by shrapnel and fatally wounded. Captains Henry A. House, Company "E" and Orren E. Safford, Company "G," with eight enlisted men, were caught in No Mans Land while reconnoitering and captured by the raiders, who were repulsed, however, before they reached the front line trenches. Approximately eighteen Americans and three Frenchmen were wounded more or less severely during the action, in addition to the killed and captured. One officer and four enlisted men (American) were awarded the Croix de Guerre by the French for gallant conduct in repelling the raid.
French artillery in support. The reconnaissance party took shelter in old shell holes and dugouts. When the hostile barrage moved back, they were trapped by a German raiding party which followed its own barrage. The entire party were taken captive with the exception of one French Lieutenant, one machine gun officer and one 2(1 Lieutenant of the 2d Battalion, 350th Infantry.
"The working party in which Capt. Brethorst and several of his men were killed was near the entrance of Balschwiller arid was caught by the German barrage as it moved back."
On the following night, October 13th -14th, an advance of the front lines of the 350th sector into the villages of Ammertzwiller and Englingen was ordered by the French H headquarters. The attack was launched at dawn, 11th October, in conjunction with French troops. Company D, in the 1st Battalion sector, penetrated into Ammertzwiller undiscovered by the enemy, and established outposts. Company H in the 2d Battalion sector, occupied the hostile front line in Enschingen at the same hour. At daybreak, the enemy discovered our outposts in Ammertzwiller and immediately attacked, at the same time putting down an artillery harassing fire on the American-French support. The six outposts, although outnumbered, held off the initial attack, then gradually withdrew into some old trenches, where they remained until night and retired, by order, under the cover of darkness. One American was captured. None were killed or wounded. Four Croix de Guerre were awarded as a result of citations in orders 38th French Division to members of the 88th Division for courageous conduct in this engagement.
"On the night of October l2th-l3th, 1918, two working parties were sent out from the 350th Infantry under command of Capt. Safford and Capt. House, respectively, their mission being to connect the advance line with the first German trench at Ammertzwiller. These two detachments were each to be protected by French covering detachments. These were provided by reconnaissance parties which included a number of officers and N. C. 0s. It was reported that these covering parties were late in arriving and the reconnaissance parties were cut off by a Minenwerfer barrage in advance of our front lines. This was at 19 hours, at the same time our own barrage was laid down by the French Artillery in support.
Last Updated: 02/13/00