THE 310TH ENGINEERS
THE 310TH ENGINEERS
Engineers Busy Right From Start--Seen On All Fronts--Great Aid To Doughboys--- Occasionally Obliged To Join Firing Line--Colonel Morris Gives Interesting Summary Of Engineer Work--General Ironside Pays Fine Tribute To 310th Engineer Detachment.
The 310th Engineers went into quarters at Bakaritza, September 7th, where it was said German agents two years before had blown up Russian munitions even as they had blown many a dock in our own country. They looked mournfully at the potato fields the retreating Bolos had robbed and destroyed and they fished for the one hundred motor trucks said to have been sunk in the Dvina River by the Reds, hoping to get the reward offered by the British.
They fixed up their quarters, built sheds for the commissary and quartermaster stores of the Americans and began preparations for their construction work upon the Railroad and River fronts. On a dark night in October one platoon crossed the Dvina in the storm thinking of G. W. crossing the Delaware, and took station in Solombola and began building "Camp Michigan." The third week in October the engineers saw the Russki sleighs running about, but then came an Indian Summer-like period. The greater part of November was spent in making the Russian box cars habitable for the soldiers and engineers on the Railroad front.
One American company on the railroad had hated to give up its taploo-shkas which they had fitted up for quarters, to the British units that had been weeks at Archangel while they were overworked at the front. But Col. Stewart raised a fine hope. He ordered a detail of men from that company, resting ten days at Archangel, to go to Bakaritza to assist the American Engineers to make a protected string of troop taplooshkas for the company. And while they were at it the engineers "found" an airplane motor and rigged up electric lights for the entire train. They set up their tiny sheet iron stoves, built there three tiers of bunks and were snug, dry, warm and light for the winter. Some proud company that rode back to the front, feeling grateful to the engineers.
It was zero weather when they went south just before Thanksgiving to help build blockhouses and hospitals, Y. M. C. A. and so forth, on the Railroad. Christmas found them at Obozerskaya holding mass in a Y. M. C. A. to usher in the day. In January this Company "B" exchanged places with "A" Company 310th Engineers, who had been further forward on the railroad. There they constructed for Major Nichols the fine dugouts and the heavy log blockhouses which were to defy the winter's end drive and the spring shelling of the Bolsheviki. On January 19th and 20th they found themselves under shell fire but suffered no casualties.
In the latter part of February this "B" Company of Engineers responded to the great needs for new defenses on the Vaga front, travelling by way of Kholmogorskaya, Yemetskoe and Beresnik to reinforce the hard-working engineers then assisting the hard-pressed doughboys fighting their bitter retreat action.
They were building defenses at Kurgomin and getting ready for the opening of the river when Toulgas fell, due to the treachery of the disaffected Archangel Russian troops. They saw the ice go out of the Dvina, April 26th, snap shot of which is shown, and witnessed the first engagement between the British boat fleet and the Red fleet in May.
The greatest of camaraderie and loyalty were manifested between engineers of the 310th and doughboys of the 339th. They have been mentioned repeatedly in the narrative of battles and engagements. From the official report of Lt.-Col. P. S. Morris, who commanded the 310th Engineer Detachment in North Russia, we present the following facts of interest:
The 310th Engineers arrived in England, August 3rd, 1918. The First Battalion, under Major P. S. Morris, was detached from the regiment by verbal order of Major-General Biddle immediately upon arrival to Cowshot Camp, Surrey, England, where we were equipped for the expedition. We remained under canvas until August 26th, 1918, at which time we entrained for Newcastle, England. On August 27th, the entire command left England on board H. M. S. "Tydeus." The mess and quarters were clean and the food was good. The health of the men was exceptional, as none of the men contracted influenza which was very prevalent on the other three ships of the convoy. We anchored at Archangel on September 4th, 1918. and debarked on September 7th.
When detached from the 310th Engineers the entire Headquarters detachment was taken with the Second Battalion, leaving this battalion without a non-com staff for headquarters; even the Battalion Sergeant-Major was taken, as we were told there was no place in the table of organization for a battalion sergeant-major when the battalion is acting separately. No extra officers were furnished us. Upon our arrival it was found necessary to open an Engineer depot. Capt. William Knight, Battalion Adjutant, was put in charge. Lieut. R. C. Johnson, Company "C," was detached from his company and assigned to duty as Regimental Adjutant, Topographical Officer and Personnel Adjutant. Lieut. M. K. Whyte, Company "B," was assigned as Supply and Transportation Officer. As the Northern Russian Expedition covers a front of approximately five hundred miles and the 310th Engineers were the only engineering troops with the expedition, the shortage of officers was a very great handicap. It was necessary to put sergeants first-class and sergeants in charge of sectors, with what engineers personnel could be spared. The shortage of officers was not relieved until April 17th, 1919, when six engineer officers reported.
All the engineering equipment went straight to France. We were re-equipped in England with English Field Company tools. The English table of organization does not include mapping or reconnaissance supplies, which were purchased in small quantities in London.
Upon arrival, the battalion was placed under the direction of Lieut.-Col. R. G. S. Stokes, C. R. E., Allied Forces, North Russia, for Engineer operations and distributions of personnel. We remained under command of Col. Stewart, 339th Infantry, senior American officer, for all administrative matters.
There were very few engineers here at the time of our arrival and an immense amount of work to be done at the base besides furnishing engineer personnel for the forward forces in operation at the time. It was decided to place one company at the front and the two companies at the base until some of the important base work could be finished. "A" Company was then ordered to the front and "B" and "C" Companies remained at the Base. "B" Company at Bakaritza and "C" Company at Solombola.
On our arrival the forward forces consisted of three main columns or forces known as "A" force, operating on the Archangel-Vologda Railroad, with Obozerskaya as a base; "C" force, operating on the Dvina and Vaga Rivers, with Beresnik as a base; and "D" force, with Seletskoe as a base. It was necessary to attach engineers to each of these forces; so one platoon of "A" Company, commanded by an officer, joined "A" force; one sergeant and ten men joined "D" force, and the remainder of "A" Company consisting of five officers and approximately one hundred eighty men joined "C" force, where they were divided into small detachments with each operating force.
The base work consisted mainly of construction of warehouses and billets and operation of sawmills, street car systems, water works and power plants. This work was divided among "B" and "C" Companies.
Later in the fall it became necessary to have two more columns in the field, one on the Onega River with Onega as a base and one on the Pinega River with Pinega as a base. By the time this became necessary, the rush on base work was over and "B" Company was moved forward, having one detachment of one sergeant and twelve men with "D" force and one platoon with Onega River Column. The remainder of the company was doing construction and fortification work on the lines of communication along the railroad and roads to flanking forces.
In spite of our shortage of personnel and equipment, the morale of the engineers has been the highest. They have gone about their work in a most soldier-like manner and have shown extreme gallantry in the actions in which they have participated.
The engineers were found on every front, as well as at Archangel, the various sub-bases, the force headquarters of the various columns, and also were found in winter at work on second and third line defenses. They often worked under fire as the narrative has indicated. At night they performed feats of engineering skill. Never was a job that appalled or stumped them. They generally had the active and willing assistance of the doughboys in doing the rough work with axe and shovel and wire. The writers themselves have killed many a tedious hour out helping doughboy and engineer chop fire lanes and otherwise clear land for the field of fire.
Here is Colonel Morris' summary of the engineer work done. This includes much but not all of the doughboy engineering also. One thing the engineers, doughboys and medics did do in North Russia was to demonstrate American industry:
Blockhouses (some of logs and some of lumber) 316 Machine gun emplacements 273 Dugouts 167 Double Apron Wire 266,170 yards Knife Rests (wire entanglement) 2,250 yards Concertinas (wire entanglement) 485 Barricades (some of earth, some logs) 46 Billets (mostly of lumber) 151 Standard Huts (of lumber) 42 Latrines 114 Washhouses (of lumber) 33 Warehouses (of lumber) 30 Stables (of lumber) 14 Clearing (fire lanes and field of fire) 1,170 acres Railroad Cars (lined and remodelled) 257 Rafts 12 Bridges (of lumber and of logs) 4,500 lineal feet Roads 11,000 lineal yards Trenches 14,210 yards Topography--total copies of maps and designs 109,145 Topography--plane table road traverses 1,200 miles
In connection with their mapping work engineers took many pictures, several of which are included in this volume. All the mapping work of the expedition was done by the American engineers. See the one in this volume.
The longest bridge constructed was the 280-foot wooden bridge which spanned the Emtsa River. At Verst 445, close to No Man's Land, a sixty-foot crib bridge was constructed by Lieut. W. C. Giffels. This work was completed in two nights and was entirely finished before the enemy knew that an advance was anticipated. Not a single spike or bolt was driven on the job. Railway spikes were driven into the ties behind our own lines and ties carried up and placed. Finally the rails were forced in under the heads of the spikes and were permanently fastened.
In this district there are three types of road--mail roads, winter roads, and trails. The mail roads are cleared about eighty feet wide through the woods. An attempt has been made at surfacing and ditching, and the bad places corduroyed. The winter roads are cleared about twenty feet wide. Wherever possible they go through forestry clearings, swamps and lakes, or down rivers. For this reason they can only be used after a solid freeze-up. The trails are only cleared about six feet wide and are often impassable for a horse and sleigh. Approximately four and one-half miles of road have been corduroyed by this regiment, and a considerable part of the front line roads were drained.
This battalion was called upon for a great diversity of work, which it would have been impossible to do had not the men been carefully selected in the United States. Company "C" was called upon to help operate the Archangel power plant and street railway system the day they arrived. This they were able to do very successfully.
Shortly afterwards they raised and spliced a submerged power cable, used for conducting electricity under the river; one platoon was on railroad maintenance and construction work; and one platoon operated the saw mill. All the companies have been in action and have done construction work under fire.
Two main features have governed all our construction work; first, the large supply of timber, and second, the very cold climate. All of our barracks, washhouses, latrines, blockhouses, and stables, were designed to use available timber stocks. For a form of rapid construction we used double walls six inches apart and filled the spaces with sawdust. This proved very satisfactory and much faster than the local method which calls for a solid log construction.
The supply of engineer material has presented many problems of difficulty and interest. The distance to the nearest home base, England, was two to three weeks voyage. The port was not opened to supplies until after the 1st of June. Coupled with the necessary reshipment to the various fronts by barge and railway before the freeze-up, this caused a tremendous over-crowding of the dockage and warehouse facilities. The congestion and inevitable confusion at the port and warehouses has sometimes made it impossible to ever ascertain what had arrived.
The local stocks of engineer materials are limited to what can be found in Archangel itself and in the subsidiary ports of Economia and Bakaritza. In 1916 and 1917, tremendous stocks of all sorts of war material were to be found here, mostly brought from England and destined for the Rumanian and Russian fronts. In the spring of 1918, the Bolsheviks, anticipating the Allies landing, moved out to Vologda and Kotlas as much as they could rush out by the railway and river, and on the arrival of the first troops here not more than five per cent of the military material still remained.
The materials of most use to the engineers, which still remained, were forty thousand reels of barb wire and cable. A large amount of heavy machinery was also left behind, from which we have been able to locate and put in use a considerable number of various sized electric generators. A dozen complete searchlight sets, somewhat damaged by weather, were among this equipment. We overhauled these and used them for night construction work and also used several of the generator units of these sets to illuminate the headquarters train, work train, and hospital trains employed on the railway front.
The problem of transportation was one of the most difficult for us to contend with. The rail and road situations have already been explained. The country is very short of horses, the best specimens having long since been mobilized in the old Russian Army.
With motor transportation, the situation is no better. The Bolsheviks evacuated the best cars to Vologda before the arrival of the expedition and it is alleged that most of those they did not get away, were run into the Dvina River. The few trucks that did remain behind were in wretched condition. The British turned over two Seabrook trucks to us. We made all repairs and furnished our own drivers. In addition to these two trucks, the battalion supply officer secured five more, four independently. The owners were willing to give them to us, without cost, in order to forestall their being requisitioned by the Russian Motor Battalion. The condition of these trucks was poor. During the construction of the "Michigan" Barracks, the transportation was so inadequate that we were compelled to run both night and day. Through our control of the Makaroff sawmill, we had two tug-boats belonging to the mill, but it was only rarely that we could use them for other purposes.
It was a fine record our comrades, the engineers, made in the expedition. As the ribald old marching song goes:
"Oh, the infantry, the infantry, with dirt behind their ears, The infantry, the infantry, that drink their weight in beers, Artillery, the cavalry, the doggoned engineers, They could never lick the infantry in a hundred thousand years."
But just the same the doughboy was proud to see the 310th Engineers cited as a unit by General Ironside who called the 310th Engineers the best unit, bar none, that he had ever seen soldier in any land. He knows that without the sturdy and resourceful engineer boys with him in North Russia the defense against the Bolshevik army would have been impossible.
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