Battery E in
149th field artillery
Rainbow (42nd) Division
Frederic Richard Kilner
Ed. Chicago, 1919
Trench Warfare in Lorraine
Unloading at Gerberviller was
far different from the easy job of loading at Guer. The night
was black. On account of the proximity of the front, no lights
could be used. Not a match's flare, not a cigarette's glow, was
allowed, lest it serve as a target for some bombing aeroplane.
There was no loading platform, and the carriages and wagons
which had been rolled across ramps directly onto the flat cars
had to be coaxed and guided down planks steeply inclined from
the car's side to the ground. Handling the horses packed closely
in box-cars was a difficult task in utter darkness.
Dawn was just breaking when the battery pulled out. A grey light
showed us the ruins of the town of Gerberviller as we passed
through. The houses stood like spectres, stripped of the life
and semblance of home which they had held before the German wave
had swept this far in August, 1914, and then, after a few days,
had receded, leaving them ruins. Four walls, perhaps not so many,
were all that remained of building after building ; windows were
gone, roofs fallen, and inside were piles of brick and stone, in
which, here and there, grass had found root.
At the village of Moyen the battery stopped long enough to water
the horses. At 10:30 we arrived in Vathimenil, where the battery
halted till 1 o'clock, and mess was served. In the afternoon in
the dust and heat of a sunshiny day such as Lorraine can produce
after a cold spring night, the battery hiked through St.
Clermont to Luneville, the cannoneers following the carriages on
There we were quartered in an old barrack of French lancers,
whose former stables housed our horses. Big, clean rooms, on the
third floor, were assigned to Battery E. With bed ticks filled
with straw, we made this a comfortable home.
A practice review the following morning and another, the real
thing, in the afternoon, before a French general and his staff,
formally introduced us to Lorraine. In our free hours during the
day and in the evening, we added to this acquaintance by pretty
thorough familiarity with the city of Lunéville.
Though its nearness to the battle front restricted trade and
industry a great deal, yet its shops, restaurants and cafes
proved a paradise for the men who remained there at the
horse-line, as the battery's song, "When We Were Down in
Luneville," attests. Though the streets were absolutely dark,
behind the shuttered windows and the darkened doors business was
brisk enough. At 8 o'clock, however, all shops were closed, and
soldiers must be off the streets by 8:30.
These restrictions were, in fact, precautions against enemy
aeroplanes. Of these we had close enough experience on our third
night in the city, when a bomb fell in the fields that lay back
of the barracks, shaking the windows by its explosion.
The cannoneers did not stay long in Luneville. February 25 they
marched out of the city with their packs on their backs, up near
Marainviller. There were between forty and fifty men altogether,
including the four gun crews and the engineers' detail. When we
marched along a road screened from the enemy by a mat of boughs
stretched by wires between high poles along one side of the way,
we knew we were not far from the front. The big thrill came,
however, when, turning off the high road, we went forward one
squad at a time at intervals of about 200 yards. The chief
object was to avoid attracting the notice of some chance enemy
aeroplane by the movement of a considerable body of men. To our
minds the precaution seemed for the purpose of limiting
casualties, in case a shell burst on the road, to the men of
only one squad.
But we took our way in peace up the hill in front of us, and
carried up supplies and tools that followed on the ration cart.
We put all in a big abri - a marvelous piece of work, of long
passages, spacious rooms, wooden floors and stairways, electric
lights, and flues for stove chimneys. Then we discovered that
this was not for us, but for some brigadier-general and his
staff when he directed an operation at the front. So we moved
ourselves and baggage to another big abri not far away and not
much less comfortable, except that it lacked the wooden floors,
the electric lights, and the spaciousness of the rooms which the
first abri possessed.
The next four days were spent in preparations for building a
battery position. The spot chosen was in a hollow, back of a
gently rising slope. The woods near by and the tall thickets
made good concealment, but the ground was rather marshy in the
wet weather we were then having. Part of the men began to dig,
and part wove twigs through chicken wire to stretch over the
excavations as camouflage. From 7 a. m. to 5 p. m. was a long
arduous day, particularly since it was begun and ended by a hike
of two miles from the dug-out to the position. Rain fell most of
the time, soaking through slickers and blouses to one's very
Two of the days the gunners, No. 1 and No. 2 men of each section
spent at a French battery near by, to gain experience in actual
firing. Little firing was done - only 24 rounds per gun one day
and 15 rounds the second, for in this quiet sector there was
little ordinarily but reprisal fire - but the men learned
quickly the actual working of a battery. To the Frenchmen the
quickness and the constant good-humor of the American boys, much
younger than the average among them, were matters of comment.
"Toujours chantant, toujours riant" (Always singing, always
laughing), were the words of the lieutenant who fired the
battery. The warm-hearted hospitality of these Frenchmen -
resting in this sector from the fearful work, night and day, at
Verdun and pardonable, one would say, if somewhat uneven-tempered
and unmindful of others in their fatigue from that strain -
impressed the Americans in turn. Every comfort that the dug-outs
afforded was offered to the visitors, and when the Americans had,
in an impromptu quartette, entertained the Frenchmen with
harmonized popular songs, the latter summoned a young "chanteur"
who sang the latest songs from Paris till his voice was weary.
Orders came to cease work on this position, and none too soon.
For when the men were returning from work there for the last
time, about 5 p. m., March 2, the woods in the vicinity were
deluged with gas shells.
The following day the gun squads and engineers hiked to the town
of Laneuveville-aux-Bois, about two kilometres away. There they
had for billet a big room, formerly the police magistrate's
office. The town contained only French soldiers billeted there
en route to the trenches or return. So close to the lines was it,
that shells fell there frequently.
Back of the town and to the left was the site of Battery E's
first gun position. On the far side (from the enemy lines) of a
gently sloping hill, covered by tall yellow grass, was staked
out the four gun pits, with abris between. The first work was to
construct the camouflage. This was composed of strips of chicken
wire, in which long yellow grass was thinly woven so as to blend
with that growing around the position. These strips were
supported by wires stretched from tall stakes, forming the ridge,
to short stakes, scarcely two feet above the ground, at either
side. In shape, the result was something like a greenhouse. The
angles were so graduated that no shadow was cast by the sun, and
the color blended so well with the surroundings that no human
trace was visible on the hillside from a distance.
As fast as the camouflage could be "woven" and put in place to
shield them from observance by the enemy planes that whirred
overhead in the bright afternoons, the gun pits were dug.
Platforms and "circulaires" were installed as each pit was dug.
The guns of the second platoon were brought from Luneville on
the evening of March 7, and caissons of ammunitions followed
during the night. The rapidity and excellence of the work on the
position were partly due to the French officer, Captain Frey,
whose battery was near, who gave his advice and counsel, and to
the little sergeant, nicknamed "La Soupe" (the words with which
he always signified his intention to depart for mess, for he
acquired no English), who constantly supervised the work.
At 9 :50 a. m., March 8, Battery E fired its first shot at the
front, the Third Section piece having the honor. The gun crew
was composed of Sergeant Newell, Corporal Monroe, and Privates
Sexauer, Ekberg, Farrell and Kilner. The crew working on the
Fourth Section piece, which registered the same morning,
included Sergeant Suter, Corporal Holton, and Privates O'Reilly,
O'Brien, Ladd, Colvin and Kulicek.
Until the first platoon's guns came up, the gun crews of that
platoon alternated on the pieces with the crews of the second
platoon, who could sleep in the billet in town on their nights
off. The men on the guns had two watches to keep, one at the
guns, and one at the "rocket post" on top the hill, to notify
the battery if a red rocket, the signal for a barrage, appeared
at points laid out on a chart. At first there were two barrages,
Embermenil and Jalindet, the names of two towns in whose
direction the different fires lay. If the sentinel on the hill-top
shouted either of these names, the sentinel at the position was
to fire the guns and awake the crews. The names, unusual and
difficult to ears unfamiliar with French, were not easy to
remember. From that difficulty developed the "Allabala" barrage
which made Mosier famous.
Seeing a rocket rise in the vicinity of Embermenil (whether
white or red is a mystery), he started to shout the name, but in
his excitement could not pronounce the French word, and
stuttered forth a succession of syllables like some Arabian
Nights' incantation. Whatever it was, "Allabala" or something
else, it worked. The guns were fired - until an order from the
O. P. called a halt, declaring the alarm false.
The First and Second Section pieces were brought from Luneville
on the evening of March 15, and registered the next day. The
First Section gun crew was composed of Sergeant Bolte, Corporal
Fred Howe and Privates Nickoden, Freeburg, Hosier, Wallace and
Hodgins ; the Second Section crew of Sergeant McElhone, Corporal
Clark, Privates Donald Brigham, Heacham, Nixon and Herrod.
March 17, 1918, was remarkable not because it was Sunday or St.
Patrick's day so much as because on that day Battery E's
camouflage burnt. In the course of a 10- round reprisal fire,
about 4 p. m., the flame from the muzzle of the Second Section
gun set ablaze the grass woven in the wire netting overhead. In
a second the covering was in flames. The dry grass burnt like
tinder. The men beat the blaze with sand bags, but could check
it but little in the face of the intense heat and thick smoke.
By tearing off several strips of netting, they succeeded in
preventing the fire's spreading to the other end of the
position. Within a short space of time the first platoon's
camouflage was changed from yellow grass to black ashes. The
work of seven or eight days was undone in as many minutes.
On so clear and bright a day there was grave danger that the
position would be betrayed to enemy observation by the flames,
or by the black scar they had left, or even by the men's
activity in repairing it. A few bursts of shrapnel gave warning
of the danger. Immediately as much of the burnt surface as could
be was covered with rolls of painted canvas on wire netting,
such as the French artillery used.
Then all the men were set to gathering grass in the fields back
of the position. Not long after, about fifty men from D and F
batteries came over to help, and all the available men were
brought out in the chariot du parc from the battery's horse-line
at Luneville. So eagerly and rapidly did all of them work that
the old netting was restretched and woven full of grass by
During the next two days the firing was small, only a few rounds
occasionally. The chief work was digging the abris and carrying
up beams and concrete blocks from the road for their
On March 20 the battery was engaged in tearing down enemy barbed
wire, firing 216 rounds per gun during the day, in preparation
for an attack that night. At 7 :40 p. m. commenced the actual
bombardment. A few minutes before that time 75's began to bark
from the woods to our left and in the rear of us. The reports
gradually grew in number. At the appointed moment, our guns
began to bang away. For the next two hours and forty-five
minutes, the noise was deafening. Batteries of whose existence
we had not the slightest suspicion were firing near us. Every
hillock and clump of trees seemed to blaze with gun flashes.
Joined with the constant bark and bang of the 75's near by was
the deep thunderous roar of heavier cannon in the distance.
At 10 o'clock the firing began to die away. Half an hour later
only a few shots at long intervals could be heard. Fatigued with
their strenuous and racking work, the men eagerly attacked the
mess just then brought up to them. Nearly all were a little deaf
from their guns' racket. A few, on the gun crews, were totally
oblivious to all sound whatsoever, and could comprehend only
The first published account of an engagement of the 42d Division
was brief and anonymous. In the Paris edition of the "New York
Herald" of March 22, 1918, at the end of a column on the first
page telling of the decoration of Corporal Alexander Burns and
other members of the regiment appeared this paragraph, under
date of March 21 :
"Members of the American force made a raid last night. Following
a long barrage, the boys went over in good shape, but the German
trenches were deserted, the long heavy Allied barrage having
driven every one out. No American was hurt or killed."
The enemy's reply to us did not come till the next morning.
Roused at 4 to stand by the guns, the cannoneers had scarcely
occupied their posts when shells began to drop dangerously near.
Captain Robbins ordered everyone into the abris till the
shelling ceased. Half an hour later we went out to find that a
gas shell had made the officers' abri and vicinity untenable,
all our telephone wires were cut, and shell fragments had torn
up things here and there. How Nickoden fared, who had been out
at the rocket post on the hill-top during it all, we learned
when he was relieved shortly after. Hearing not a sound, he was
aware that shells were falling near only when he saw them plow
up the ground within a few hundred feet of him. Corporal Buckley
was wounded by a shell fragment and Private McCarthy was badly
gassed that morning, in the machine-gun post at the top of the
Private (later Corporal) Mangan was recommended for the D. S. C.
by the regimental commander "for volunteering to and aiding the
French in keeping open a telephone line running from a forward
observation station across the open to the rear. This on March
19 and again on March 20, when the telephone line was repeatedly
cut by an intense enemy bombardment of heavy caliber shells from
both guns and trench mortars." The French cited Mangan for the
Croix de Guerre for his conduct on this occasion also.
Orders to move came that day. A few more shells landed within a
few yards of the position in the afternoon, and one end of
Laneuveville-aux-Bois received considerable shrapnel. But we
pulled out safely that evening, reaching Lunéville at midnight.
Two days later the regiment left Lunéville on a 120-kilometre
hike to the divisional area, in the vicinity of Langres, where
the division was to spend some time in manoeuvres. But the
orders were countermanded before the regiment had gone more than
its first day's hike, on account of the Germans' success in
their first big offensive of the spring on the northern front.
So the battery remained for a week at Remenoville, in readiness
to return to the front upon the receipt of orders. During those
seven days of sunshiny weather, in the bright warmth of early
spring, the men basked in ease and comfort. Gun drill for the
cannoneers and grooming for the drivers occupied the mornings.
The afternoons the men had to themselves, for games of
horseshoes, writing letters to make up for lost time at the
front, baths in the cold brook, and washing clothes in the
village fountain. Eggs and potatoes and milk were abundant in
the town - until the battery's consumption depleted the supply -
and the men ate as often in some French kitchen as in their
battery mess line. Some boys "slipped one over on the army," too,
by sleeping between white sheets in soft big beds, renting a
room for the munificent sum of one franc a day, instead of
rolling up in their blankets in the haymow where they were
The following Saturday, the battery hiked to Fontenoy-la-Joute,
on its way back to the front. Easter Sunday, March 31, was spent
there, the band playing in front of the "mairie," on the steps
of which the chaplain held the church services. Rain fell
intermittently in a depressing drizzle. Pulling out in the
afternoon, the battery reached the spot they since call "Easter
Hill," where some French batteries had their horse-lines. There
the battery had its evening mess - stew - and while waiting for
orders to move on, the men slept wherever there was shelter and
dryness - on sacks full of harness, in caisson boxes, under
tarpaulins stretched over the pieces. At 1 a. m. the guns pulled
out, arriving in position as day was breaking.
Sergeant Bolte had gone to officers' school at Saumur from
Remenoville, and Sergeant Landrus took charge of the First
Section in his place. At Fontenoy, Sergeant Newell was sent to
the hospital with acute bronchitis ; so Sergeant Wright went to
the front in charge of the Third Section. Sergeant Newell did
not return to the battery, but went from the hospital to Saumur,
returning later to the regiment as a second lieutenant in
Battery F, after serving a while in the 32d Division.
The new positions were near Montigny, the first platoon to the
left of the town, the second platoon just in back of it. Both
were abandoned French positions, but much different in
construction ; 163, the first platoon's position, was
constructed well underground. Only the embrasures through which
the guns fired were exposed to the enemy's fire. On the other
hand, 162, the position of the second platoon, was covered only
by camouflage, with the exception of the abris, of course. An
8-foot trench, instead of a tunnel, connected the abris and gun
emplacements, and the position was much lighter and dryer than
163. But the solid construction of the latter was of fortunate
advantage when the enemy directed its fire on it for several
hours continuously on two occasions.
After one night on "Easter Hill," the horse-lines moved, with a
stop next night at Azerailles, to the Ferme de Grammont, between
Merviller and Baccarat. The Second Battalion occupied old French
stables, which long use had made veritable mudholes. Piles of
ooze and "gumbo" had been dug out and these were constantly
added to, but still the mire was so bad that it was fatal to
loose rubber boots. Grooming seemed a hopeless task, so far as
looks were concerned.
This was the first time a divisional sector was taken over
completely by American forces. The French were sending all their
available troops to the northern part of the front, where one
big enemy offensive followed another. So, as a matter of fact,
this section of the front was very lightly defended. But the
spirit of the American soldiers, who took this light task as
seriously and as determinedly as they did far heavier and more
vital ones later on, made up for lack of numbers, and the enemy
was worsted in every encounter. The discipline and care that was
the rule in this comparatively easy work during the three and a
half months in Lorraine formed the basis of the division's
splendid record in the big battles of later months, and was the
chief reason why the division, though engaged in all the major
operations of the American army, and, in addition, at the vital
point of General Gouraud's army in Champagne, in the biggest
battle of the war, spending a greater number of days at the
front than any other division, has not so big a casualty list as
some other divisions.
Since both positions occupied by the platoons were known to the
enemy, and our only safety lay in maintaining his belief that
they were abandoned, no one was allowed to enter or leave them
during the daytime. At first so rigid was this rule that we
could not even go to Montigny for meals. Instead, the raw
rations were divided among the sections, and the men cooked them
as best they could in their mess kits over the little stoves
that were in each abri. But cooking could only be done at night,
lest the smoke betray us. So seven or eight hungry men, having
eaten hard-tack and a little cold food during the day, crowded
around the little stove from nightfall till early morning, doing
their unskilled best to make something edible out of hardtack,
canned corned beef, canned tomatoes, potatoes, a slab of bacon,
coffee, some sugar, and occasionally some beef cut up into small
slices or cubes. The result was that the men got neither much
sleep nor much nourishment, and after about ten days of this
sort of living, the meals were cooked in the kitchen at Montigny
and then carried in heat-containing cans to the positions.
Even when conditions were thus bettered, there were still heavy
inroads on sleep by the large amount of sentry duty required. In
a clump of bushes at the top of the mound in which was dug the
position, was placed an indicator board, similar to that at
Laneuveville-aux-Bois, on which were marked several barrages.
From 6 p. m. to 6 a. m., a sentry stood at this post watching
the horizon for red rockets signaling for a barrage. In
addition, one man, and sometimes two men, had to be on watch in
each gun pit, ready to fire a barrage the instant it was called
for. For a time this required four hours' watch every night for
each man. Later this was reduced to two, or at most three hours
April 6 Battery E commenced work on a new position halfway on
the road from Montigny to Reherrey. Under the direction of a
camouflage non-com. from the engineers, wires were stretched on
top of stakes, forming a frame not unlike that of a greenhouse
roof, which was covered by slashed burlap on a backing of
chicken netting, a species of camouflage manufactured by the
French by the millions of square yards. It hid whatever was
beneath it, and cast no shadows, and blended in tone with the
grassy fields around. When the camouflage was up, a trench eight
feet deep was dug the length of the position. From it saps were
started downward and forward from the trench. These carried the
work into solid rock, necessitating drilling and blasting every
foot of the way. At the same time the gun pits and ammunition
shelters were begun. Work was slow because of the hardness of
the rock, and the available men were few. After staying a few
days in Reherrey, the squad of engineers had moved to Montigny.
There, in billet No. 19, they and the extra cannoneers, sent up
later from the horse-lines, lodged. To speed the work, some of
the gun crews came from the positions each day. After several
weeks, drivers were sent from the horse-lines to exchange places
with some of the cannoneers. A well designed wooden tablet, the
work of Nixon, was placed at the entrance to the position,
BATTERY E, 149th F. A.
A. D. 1918
The gun pits were rushed to completion in the last days of
April, so that they might be occupied by the guns of Battery D
in an attack that came May 3. In the preceding days the French
had moved up heavy artillery in support, and several batteries
of 75's, of the same 232d French regiment which had been our
neighbors in the Luneville sector, occupied the meadows to the
left of our new position.
Our firing had been only occasional and limited to brief
reprisals up to this time. The first platoon, at 163, had
suffered most in reply, receiving over 400 shells one day. Now a
heavy bombardment was planned, to push back the enemy lines a
short way and safeguard our own occupation of "No Man's Land."
On May 2, some of the batteries kept pounding away all day,
cutting barbed wire entanglements and clearing away obstacles in
the infantry's advance.
The following morning we were aroused at 3, and stood by the
guns. At 3 :50 we added our fire to the din around US, sending
over a barrage in front of the troops going over the top. It
lasted only two hours, and expended about 175 rounds per gun. So
thorough and heavy had been the preliminary bombardment that the
enemy had been forced to withdraw all his troops from the
shelled area, and the infantry met with next to no resistance in
reaching the objective set for them.
May 13 the officers and sergeants went to Azerailles to inspect
Battery B equipped and packed in the manner of a battery on the
road prepared for open field warfare. Rumors had been plentiful
for weeks (1) that the 42d Division was going home to become
instructors of the millions of drafted men in the great camps in
the United States, (2) that the 42d Division was going to the
Somme to aid in checking the rapid drive of the enemy in the
north, (3) that the division was to go to a rest camp in the
south of France, (4) that the regiment was to turn in its horses
and be motorized, etc., etc. The review at Azerailles
strengthened some of these rumors and stirred up still others.
But, for the present, all these reports came to naught.
May 21 the battery moved four kilometres back to a reserve
position just in front of Merviller, which had formerly been
occupied by Battery B. The latter moved up to relieve us. After
the seven weeks of close confinement in damp abris, the change
to the life at the Merviller position was like a trip to a
summer resort. Being so far back of the lines, the men were
permitted to move about with perfect freedom. The stream just
back of the position invited cool swims on the hot dusty
afternoons. Ball games passed the time of waiting for mess.
Battery E won a close game and keg of Baccarat beer from
Headquarters Company by the score of 12 to 11. Just across the
road was stationed a bathhouse and laundry unit, and before long
the battery had replaced their uniforms, torn and dirty from
digging, with more presentable ones.
Merviller's cafes and "epiceries" furnished food to make up for
the lean weeks at Montigny. Being only a few minutes' walk from
the position, the town was a frequent evening's resort.
Baccarat, about eight kilometres farther, was visited when
Sunday passes permitted. This city was not so large as Lunéville
and held by no means the same attractions as that early favorite
of the 149th men. But the shops. cafes, large hospitals, the
celebrated Baccarat Glass Works, and the fact that it was a city
drew the men there often. Across the Meurthe River, between the
cathedral and the heights at the western edge of town lay the
ruins of a large section of the city, shelled in those days of
August, 1914, that marked the limits of the Germans' first
Work had been dropped, after a couple of days, on the position
begun by Battery B some distance in front of the one we occupied.
Gun drill and instruction in various phases of the battery's
work was the sole occupation of the men. Only once did the
battery fire. At 1 :30 a. m., June 5, the gun crews were
hurriedly aroused, and fired for about an hour, in response to a
heavy enemy barrage, to which all guns in the sector replied.
Gas alarms woke the battery many times at night, but by this
time the men had reached that stage where their own judgment
told them when they should sit up with their gas masks, and when
they might turn over and go to sleep. In brief, the alarms,
though frequent, bothered them little.
June 9 the first two sections took two Battery D guns up in
front of our forward positions, to demonstrate for the officers
of the regiment the methods of open field warfare. All of the
men learned to put up the "flat-tops" that were always, after we
left Lorraine, used as camouflage over the guns. From four
corner poles, held firmly by ropes and stakes, heavy ropes were
stretched as taut as possible. On this framework was spread a
cord netting, about thirty feet square, whose corners slanted
out equidistant from the corner poles. On the netting were
fastened wisps of green burlap thick enough to conceal what lay
beneath it, but not so thick as to cast a heavy shadow which
might be distinguished in an aerial photograph. This form of
camouflage could be set up and taken down quickly, and used
During the latter part of our stay near Merviller, the peculiar
sickness called "trench fever" ran through the regiment,
thinning the ranks of the men fit for active duty and sending
many to the hospital for a few days. After a few days of fever,
languidness and weakness, the illness passed away.
June 19 the first platoon pulled out, and the second platoon
followed on the next night, hiking 27 kilometres to
Damas-aux-Bois. After two days there, the regiment marched to
Charmes, where we entrained for a short train ride to
Chalons-sur-Marne. By noon next day the battery was in
comfortable billets in Chepy, which, to us, is the cleanest
village in France, for no manure piles decorate its main street
and no dirty gutters line its roads.
Swimming in the canal near by, French "movies" at the Foyer du
Soldat, plenty of food - vegetables were abundant, and so were
cheese, butter and milk till the hungry soldiers bought out the
creamery completely - made this a delightful place, in spite of
the boredom of "trigger squeeze exercise" and overlong "stables"
in the heat of the day.
On the night of June 28 the regiment marched up through Chalons
to Camp de la Carriere, a large concentration camp in the midst
of woods, away from any towns, the nearest of which was the
little village of Cuperly. We were in the great area known as
the Camp de Chalons, where Mac Mahon had mobilized his army of
50,000 men in 1870, which ended so unhappily at Sedan.
Sunday, June 30, one year since the regiment had been called
out, there was a rigid inspection in the morning, and in the
afternoon Colonel Reilly and Major Redden spoke on the work of
the regiment in that time, and announced that the 42d was now to
go into a new sector as a combat division.