FALL OFFENSIVE ON THE RAILROAD
FALL OFFENSIVE ON THE RAILROAD
Third Battalion Hurries From Troopship To Troop-Train Bound For Obozerskaya--We Relieve Wearied French Battalion--"We Are Fighting An Offensive War"--First Engagement--Memorable Night March Ends At Edge Of Lake--Our Enemy Compels Respect At Verst 458--American Major Hangs On--Successful Flank March Takes Verst 455--Front Line Is Set At 445 By Dashing Attack--We Hold It Despite Severe Bombardments And Heavy Assaults.
On the afternoon of September the fifth the 3rd Battalion of the 339th Infantry debarked hurriedly at Bakaritza. Doughboys marched down the gangplank with their full field equipment ready for movement to the fighting front. Somewhere deep in the forest beyond that skyline of pine tree tops a handful of French and Scots and American sailors were battling the Bolos for their lives. The anxiety of the British staff officer--we know it was one of General Poole's staff, for we remember the red band on his cap, was evidenced by his impatience to get the Americans aboard the string of tiny freight cars.
Doughboys stretched their sea legs comfortably and formed in column of squads under the empty supply shed on the quay, to escape the cold drizzle of rain, while Major Young explained in detail how Captain Donoghue was to conduct the second train.
All night long the two troop trains rattled along the Russki railway or stood interminably at strange-looking stations. The bare box cars were corded deep with sitting and curled up soldiers fitfully sleeping and starting to consciousness at the jerking and swaying of the train. Once at a weird log station by the flaring torchlights they had stood for a few minutes beside a northbound train loaded with Bolshevik prisoners and deserters gathered in that day after the successful Allied engagement. Morning found them at a big bridge that had been destroyed by artillery fire of the Red Guards the afternoon before, not far from the important village of Obozerskaya, a vital keypoint which just now we were to endeavor to organize the defense of, and use as a depot and junction point for other forces.
No one who was there will forget the initial scene at Obozerskaya when two companies of Americans, "I" and "L", proceeded' up the railroad track in column of twos and halted in ranks before the tall station building, with their battalion commander holding officers call at command of the bugle. An excited little French officer popped out of his dugout and pointed at the shell holes in the ground and in the station and spoke a terse phrase in French to the British field staff officer who was gnawing his mustache. The latter overcame his embarrassment enough to tell Major Young that the French officer feared the Bolo any minute would reopen artillery fire. Then we realized we were in the fighting zone. The major shouted orders out and shooed the platoons off into the woods.
Later into the woods the French officers led the Americans who relieved them of their circle of fortified outposts. Some few in the vicinity of the scattered village made use of buildings, but most of the men stood guard in the drizzly rain in water up to their knees and between listening post tricks labored to cut branches enough to build up a dry platform for rest. The veteran French soldier had built him a fire at each post to dry his socks and breeches legs, but "the strict old disciplinarian," Major Young, ordered "No fires on the outpost."
And this was war. Far up the railroad track "at the military crest" an outpost trench was dug in strict accordance with army book plans. The first night we had a casualty, a painful wound in a doughboy's leg from the rifle of a sentry who cried halt and fired at the same time. An officer and party on a handcar had been rattling in from a visit to the front outguard. All the surrounding roads and trails were patrolled.
Armed escorts went with British intelligence officers to outlying villages to assemble the peasants and tell them why the soldiers were coming into North Russia and enlist their civil co-operation and inspire them to enlist their young men in the Slavo-British Allied Legion, that is to put on brass buttoned khaki, eat British army rations, and drill for the day when they should go with the Allies to clear the country of the detested Bolsheviki. To the American doughboys it did not seem as though the peasants' wearied-of-war countenances showed much elation nor much inclination to join up.
The inhabitants of Obozerskaya had fled for the most part before the Reds. Some of the men and women had been forced to go with the Red Guards. They now crept back into their villages, stolidly accepted the occupancy of their homes by the Americans, hunted up their horses which they had driven into the wilderness to save them from the plundering Bolo, greased up their funny looking little droskies, or carts, and began hauling supplies for the Allied command and begging tobacco from the American soldiers.
Captain Donoghue with two platoons of "K" Company, the other two having been dropped temporarily at Issaka Gorka to guard that railroad repair shop and wireless station, now moved right out by order of Colonel Guard, on September seventh, on a trail leading off toward Tiogra and Seletskoe. Somewhere in the wilds he would find traces of or might succor the handful of American sailors and Scots who, under Col. Hazelden, a British officer, had been cornered by the Red Guards.
"Reece, reece," said the excited drosky driver as he greedily accepted his handful of driver's rations. He had not seen rice for three years. Thankfully he took the food. His family left at home would also learn how to barter with the generous doughboy for his tobacco and bully beef and crackers, which at times, very rarely of course, in the advanced sectors, he was lucky enough to exchange for handfuls of vegetables that the old women plucked out of their caches in the rich black mould of the small garden, or from a cellar-like hole under a loose board in the log house.
"Guard duty at Archangel" was aiming now to be a real war, on a small scale but intensive. Obozerskaya, about one hundred miles south of Archangel, in a few days took on the appearance of an active field base for aggressive advance on the enemy. Here were the rapid assembling of fighting units; of transport and supply units; of railroad repairing crews, Russian, under British officers; of signals; of armored automobile, our nearest approach to a tank, which stuck in the mud and broke through the frail Russki bridges and was useless; of the feverish clearing and smoothing of a landing field near the station for our supply of spavined air-planes that had already done their bit on the Western Front; of the improvement of our ferocious-looking armored train, with its coal-car mounted naval guns, buttressed with sand bags and preceded by a similar car bristling with machine guns and Lewis automatics in the hands of a motley crew of Polish gunners and Russki gunners and a British sergeant or two. This armored train was under the command of the blue-coated, one-armed old commander Young, hero of the Zeebrugge Raid, who parked his train every night on the switch track next to the British Headquarters car, the Blue Car with the Union Jack flying over it and the whole Allied force. Secretly, he itched to get his armored train into point-blank engagement with the Bolshevik armored train.
"All patrols must be aggressive," directed a secret order of Col. Guard, the British officer commanding this "A" Force on the railroad, "and it must be impressed on all ranks that we are fighting an offensive war, and not a defensive one, although for the time being it is the duty of everybody to get the present area in a sound state of defense. All posts must be held to the last as we do not intend to give up any ground which we have made good."
And within a week after landing in Russia the American soldier was indeed making head on an offensive campaign, for on September 11th two platoons of "M" Company reconnoitering in force met a heavy force of Bolos on similar mission and fought the first engagement with the Red Guards, driving the Reds from the station at Verst 466 and taking possession of the bridge at Verst 464.
We had ridden out past the outguard on the armored train, left it and proceeded along the railway. Remember that first Bolo shell? Well, yes. That thing far down the straight track three miles away Col. Guard, before going to the rear, derisively told Lieut. Danley could not be a Bolo armored train but was a sawmill smoke stack. Suddenly it flashed. Then came the distant boom. Came then the whining, twist-whistling shell that passed over us and showered shrapnel near the trenches where lay our reserves. He shortened his range but we hurried on and closed with his infantry with the decision in the American doughboy's favor in his first fight. He had learned that it takes many shrapnel shells and bullets to hit one man, that to be hit is not necessarily to be killed.
A few days later "L" Company supported in the nick of time by two platoons of "I" Company repulsed a savage counter-attack staged by the Red Guards, September 16th, on a morning that followed the capture of a crashing Red bombing plane in the evening and the midnight conflagration in "L" Company's fortified camp that might have been misinterpreted as an evacuation by the Bolo. In this engagement Lieut. Gordon B. Reese and his platoon of "I" Company marked themselves with distinction by charging the Reds as a last resort when ammunition had been exhausted in a vain attempt to gain fire superiority against the overwhelming and enveloping Red line, and gave the Bolshevik soldiers a sample of the fighting spirit of the Americans. And the Reds broke and ran. Also our little graveyard of brave American soldiers at Obozerskaya began to grow.
It was the evening before when the Bolo airman, who had dropped two small bombs at the Americans at Obozerskaya, was obliged to volplane to earth on the railroad near the 464 outguard. Major Young was there at the time. He declared the approaching bomb-plane by its markings was certainly an Allied plane, ordered the men not to discharge their Lewis gun which they had trained upon it, and as the Bolos hit the dirt two hundred yards away, he rushed out shouting his command, which afterwards became famous, "Don't fire! We are Americans." But the Bolo did not "pahneemahya" and answered with his own Lewis gun sending the impetuous American officer to cover where he lay even after the Bolo had darted into the woods and the doughboys ran up and pulled the moss off their battalion commander whom they thought had been killed by the short burst of the Bolo's automatic fire, as the major had not arisen to reply with his trusty six shooter.
Meanwhile "K" Company had met the enemy on the Seletskoe-Kodish front as will be related later, and plans were being laid for a converging attack by the Kodish, Onega and Railroad columns upon Plesetskaya. "L" Company was sent to support "K" Company and the Railroad Force marked time till the other two columns could get into position for the joint drive. Machine gun men and medical men coming to us from Archangel brought unverified stories of fighting far up the Dvina and Onega Rivers where the Bolshevik was gathering forces for a determined stand and had caused the digging of American graves and the sending back to Archangel of wounded men. This is told elsewhere. Our patrols daily kept in contact with Red Guard outposts on the railroad, occasionally bringing in wounded Bolos or deserters, who informed us of intrenchments and armored trains and augmenting Bolshevik regiments.
Our Allied force of Cossacks proved unreliable and officer's patrols of Americans served better but owing to lack of maps or guides were able to gain but little information of the forest trails of the area. British intelligence officers depending on old forester's maps and on deserters and prisoners and neutral natives allowed the time for "Pat Rooney's work," personal reconnaissance, to go by till one day, September 28th, General Finlayson arrived at Obozerskaya in person at noon and peremptorily ordered an advance to be started that afternoon on the enemy's works at Versts 458 and 455. Col. Sutherland was caught unprepared but had to obey.
Calling up one company of the resting French troops under the veteran African fighter, Captain Alliez, for support, Col. Sutherland asked Major Young to divide his two American companies into two detachments for making the flank marches and attacks upon the Red positions. The marches to be made to position in the afternoon and night and the attacks to were be put on at dawn. The armored train and other guns manned by the Poles were to give a barrage on the frontal positions as soon as the American soldiers had opened their surprise flank and rear attacks. Then the Bolos were supposed to run away and a French company supported by a section of American machine guns and a "Hq." section that had been trained hastily into a Stokes mortar section, were to rush in and assist in consolidating the positions gained.
But this hurriedly contrived advance was doomed to failure before it started. There had not been proper preparations. The main force consisting of "M" Company and two platoons of "I" Company and a small detachment of Engineers to blow the track in rear of the Bolo position at 455 was to march many miles by the flank in the afternoon and night but were not provided with even a map that showed anything but the merest outlines. The other detachment consisting of two remaining platoons of "I" Company were little better off only they had no such great distance to go. Both detachments after long hours were unable to reach the objective.
This was so memorable a night march and so typical of the fall operations everywhere that space has been allowed to describe it. No one had been over the proposed route of march ordered by Col. Sutherland. No Russian guide could be provided. We must follow the blazed trail of an east-and-west forest line till we came to a certain broad north-and-south cutting laid out in the days of Peter the Great. Down this cutting we were to march so many versts, told by the decaying old notched posts, till we passed the enemy's flank at 455, then turn in toward the railroad, camp for the night in the woods and attack him in the rear at 6:00 a. m.
At five o'clock in the afternoon the detachment struck into the woods. Lieut. Chantrill, the pleasant British intelligence officer who acted as interpreter, volunteered to go as guide although he had no familiarity with the swamp-infested forest area. It was dark long before we reached the broad cutting. No one will forget the ordeal of that night march. Could not see the man ahead of you. Ears told you he was tripping over fallen timber or sloshing in knee-deep bog hole. Hard breathing told the story of exertion. Only above and forward was there a faint streak of starlight that uncertainly led us on and on south toward the vicinity of the Bolo positions.
Hours later we emerge from the woods cutting into a great marsh. Far in the dark on the other side we must hit the cutting in the heavy pine woods. For two hours we struggle on. We lose our direction. The marsh is a bog. To the right, to the left, in front the tantalizing optical illusion lures us on toward an apparently firmer footing. But ever the same, or worse, treacherous mire. We cannot stand a moment in a spot. We must flounder on. The column has to spread. Distress comes from every side. Men are down and groggy. Some one who is responsible for that body of men sweats blood and swears hatred to the muddler who is to blame. How clearly sounds the exhaust of the locomotives in the Bolo camp on the nearby railroad. Will their outguards hear us? Courage, men, we must get on.
This is a fine end. D-- that unverified old map the Colonel has. It did not show this lake that baffles our further struggles to advance. Detour of the unknown lake without a guide, especially in our present exhausted condition, is impossible. (Two weeks later with two Russian guides and American officers who had explored the way, we thought it a wonderful feat to thread our way around with a column). Judgment now dictates that it is best to retrace our steps and cut in at 461 to be in position to be of use in the reserve or in the consolidation. We have failed to reach our objective but it is not our fault. We followed orders and directions but they were faulty. It is a story that was to be duplicated over and over by one American force after another on the various fronts in the rainy fall season, operating under British officers who took desperate chances and acted on the theory that "You Americans," as Col. Sutherland said, "can do it somehow, you know." And as to numbers, why, "Ten Americans are as good as a hundred Bolos, aren't they?"
But how shall we extricate ourselves? Who knows where the cutting may be found? Can staggering men again survive the treacherous morass? It is lighter now. We will pick our way better. But where is the cutting? Chantrill and the Captain despair. Have we missed it in, the dark? Then we are done for. Where is the "I" Co. detachment again? Lost? Here Corporal Grahek, and you, Sgt. Getzloff, you old woodsmen from north Michigan pines, scout around here and find the cutting and that rear party. Who is it that you men are carrying?
No trace of the rear part of the column nor of the cutting! One thing remains to do. We must risk a shout, though the Reds may hear.
"Yes, h-e-e-e-r-r-e on the c-u-t-t-i-n-g!"
Did ever the straight and narrow way seem so good. The column is soon united again and the back trail despondingly begun. Daylight of a Sunday morning aids our footsteps. We cross again the stream we had waded waist deep in the pitch dark and wondered that no one had been drowned.
Zero hour arrives and we listen to the artillery of both sides and for the rat-tat-tat of the Bolo machine guns when our forces move on the bridgehead. We hurry on. The battle is joined. Pine woods roar and reverberate with roar. By taking a nearer blazed trail we may come out to the railway somewhere near the battle line.
At 8:40 a. m. we emerge from the woods near our armored train. At field headquarters, Major Nichols, who in the thick of the battle has arrived to relieve Major Young, orders every man at once to be made as comfortable as possible. Men build fires and warm and dry their clammy water-soaked feet, picture of which is shown in this volume. Bully and tea and hard tack revive a good many. It is well they do, for the fight is going against us and two detachments of volunteers from these men are soon, to be asked for to go forward to the battle line.
Considerable detail has been given about this march of "I" and "M" because writer was familiar with it, but a similar story might be told of "H" in the swamps on the Onega, or of "K" or "L" and "M. G." at Kodish, or of "A," "B," "C" or "D" on the River Fronts, and with equal praise for the hardihood of the American doughboy hopelessly mired in swamps and lost in the dense forests, baffled in his attempts because of no fault of his own, but ready after an hour's rest to go at it again, as in this case when a volunteer platoon went forward to support the badly suffering line. The Red Guards composed of the Letts and sailors were fiercely counter-attacking and threatening to sweep back the line and capture field-headquarters.
During the preceding hours the French company had pressed in gallantly after the artillery and machine gun barrage and captured the bridgehead, and, supported by the American machine gun men and the trench mortar men, had taken the Bolo's first trench line, seeking to consolidate the position.
Lieut. Keith of "Hq." Company with twenty-one men and three Stokes mortars had gone through the woods and taking a lucky direction, avoided the swamp and cut in to the railroad, arriving in the morning just after the barrage and the French infantry attack had driven the Reds from their first line. They took possession of three Bolshevik shacks and a German machine gun, using hand grenades in driving the Reds out. Then they placed their trench mortars in position to meet the Bolo counter-attack.
The Bolos came in on the left flank under cover of the woods, the French infantry at that time being on the right flank in the woods, and two platoons of Americans being lost somewhere on the left in the swamp. This counterattack of the Reds was repulsed by the trench mortar boys who, however, found themselves at the end of the attack with no more ammunition for their mortars, Col. Sutherland not having provided for the sending of reserve ammunition to the mortars from Obozerskaya. Consequently the second attack of the Reds was waited with anxiety. The Reds were in great force and well led. They came in at a new angle and divided the Americans and French, completely overwhelming the trench mortar men's rifle fire and putting Costello's valiant machine guns out of action, too. Lieut Keith was severely wounded, one man was killed, four wounded and three missing. Sgt. Kolbe and Pvt. Driscoll after prodigies of valor with their machine guns were obliged to fall back with the French. Kolbe was severely wounded. So the Bolo yells that day sounded in triumph as they won back their positions from the Americans and French.
The writer knows, for he heard those hellish yells. Under cover of the single "M" Company platoon rushed up to the bridge, the Americans and French whose gallant efforts had gone for naught because Col. Sutherland's battle plan was a "dud," retired to field headquarters at 461. A half platoon of "I" men hurried up to support. The veteran Alliez encouraged the American officer Captain Moore, to hang on to the bridge. Lieut. Spitler came on with a machine gun and the position was consolidated and held in spite of heavy shelling by the Bolo armored trains and his desperate raids at night and in the morning, for the purpose of destroying the bridge. His high explosive tore up the track but did no damage to the bridge. His infantry recoiled from the Lewis gun and machine gun fire of the Americans that covered the bridge and its approaches.
The day's operations had been costly. The French had lost eight, killed and wounded and missing. The Americans had lost four killed, fourteen wounded, among whom were Lieuts. Lawrence Keith and James R. Donovan, and five missing. Many of these casualties were suffered by the resolute platoon at the bridge. There Lieut. Donovan was caught by machine gun fire and a private by shrapnel from a searching barrage of the Bolos, as was also a sergeant of "F" Company who was attached for observation. But the eight others who were wounded, two of them mortally, owed their unfortunate condition to the altogether unnecessary and ill-advised attempt by Col. Sutherland to shell the bridge which was being held by his own troops. He had the panicky idea that the Red Guards were coming or going to come across that bridge and ordered the shrapnel which cut up the platoon of "M" Company with its hail of lead instead of the Reds who had halted 700 yards away and themselves were shelling the bridge but to no effect. Not only that but when Col. Sutherland was informed that his artillery was getting his own troops, he first asked on one telephone for another quart of whisky and later called up his artillery officer and ordered the deadly fire to lengthen range. This was observed by an American soldier, Ernest Roleau, at Verst 466, who acted as interpreter and orderly in Sutherland's headquarters that day.
The British officer sadly retired to his Blue Car headquarters at Verst 466, thinking the Reds would surely recapture the bridge. But Major Nichols in command at field headquarters at Verst 461 thought differently. When the order came over the wire for him to withdraw his Americans from the bridge, this infantry reserve officer whose previously most desperate battle, outside of a melee between the Bulls and Bears on Wall Street, had been to mashie nib out of a double bunkered trap on the Detroit Country Club golf course, as usual with him, took "plenty of sand." He shoved the order to one side till he heard from the officer at the front and then requested a countermanding order. He made use of the veteran Alliez's counsel. And for two dubious nights and days with "M" and "I" Companies he held on to the scant three miles of advance which had been paid for so dearly. And the Reds never did get back the important bridge.
Now it was evident that the Bolshevik rear-guard action was not to be scared out. It was bent on regaining its ground. During these last September days of supposed converging drive in three columns on Plesetskaya our widely separated forces had all met with stiff resistance and been worsted in action. The Bolshevik had earned our respect as a fighter. More fighting units were hurried up. Our "A" Force Command began careful reconnaissance and plans of advance. American officers and doughboys had their first experiences, of the many experiences to follow, of taking out Russian guides and from their own observations and the crude old maps and from doubtful hearsay to piece together a workable military sketch of the densely forested area.
Artillery actions and patrol actions were almost daily diet till, with the advance two weeks later on October thirteenth, the offensive movement started again. This time French and Americans closely co-operated. The Reds evidently had some inkling of it, for on the morning when the amalgamated "M"-"Boyer" force entered the woods, inside fifteen minutes the long, thin column of horizon blue and olive drab was under shrapnel fire of the Bolo. With careful march this force gained the flank and rear of the enemy at Verst 455, and camped in a hollow square, munched on hardtack and slept on their arms in the cold rain. Lieut. Stoner, Capt. Boyer, the irrepressible French fun-maker, Capt. Moore and Lieut. Giffels slept on the same patch of wet moss with the same log for a pillow, unregardful of the TNT in the Engineer officer's pocket, which was for use the next morning in blowing the enemy's armored train.
At last 5:00 a. m. comes but it is still dark and foggy. Men stretch their cold and cramped limbs after the interminable night. No smokes. No eats. In ten minutes of whispering the columns are under way. The leading platoon gets out of our reach. Delay while we get a new guide lets them get on ahead of the other platoons. Too bad. It spoils the plan. The main part of the attacking forces can not press forward fast enough to catch up. The engineers will be too late to blow the track in rear of the Bolo train.
The Red Guard listening posts and his big tower on the flank now stand him in good stead. He sees the little platoon of Franco-Americans approaching in line, and sends out a superior force to meet the attack. Ten minutes of stiff fire fight ensues during which the other attacking platoons strive to get up to their positions in rear and rear flank. But our comrades are evidently out-numbered and being worsted. We must spring our attack to save them.
Oh, those bugles! Who ever heard of a half mile charge? And such a melee. Firing and yelling and tooting like ten thousand the main party goes in. What would the first "old man" of the 339th, our beloved Colonel John W. Craig, have said at sight of that confused swarm of soldiers heading straight for the Bolo positions. Lucky for us the Bolo does not hold his fire till we swarm out of the woods. As it is in his panic he blazes away into the woods pointblank with his artillery mounted on the trains and with his machine guns, two of which only are on ground positions. And his excited aim is characteristically high, Slavo Bogga. We surge in. He jumps to his troop trains, tries to cover his withdrawal by the two machine guns, and gets away, but with hundreds of casualties from our fire that we pour into the moving trains. Marvellous luck, we have monkeyed with a buzz saw and suffered only slight casualties, one American killed and four wounded. Two French wounded.
The surprise at 455 threw "the wind" up the Bolo's back at his forward positions, 457 and 457-1/2, and Lieuts. Primm and Soyer's amalgamated French-American attacking party won a quick victory. The armored train came on through over the precious bridge at Verst 458, the track was repaired and our artillery came up to 455 and answered the Red armored train that was shelling us while we consolidated the position. Lieut. Anselmi's resolute American signal men unmindful of the straggling Bolos who were working south in the woods along the railroad, "ran" the railway telephone lines back to field headquarters at 458 and established communications with Major Nichols.
As soon as transportation was open "I" Company and Apsche's company of French moved up and went on through to battle the Reds in the same afternoon out of their position at Verst 450 where they had rallied and to advance on the fifteenth to a position at 448, where the Americans dug in. Trouble with the French battalion was brewing for the British Command. The poilus had heard of the proposed armistice on the Western Front. "La guerre finis," they declared, and refused to remain with "I" Company on the line.
So on October sixteenth this company found itself single-handed holding the advanced position against the counter-attack of the reinforced Reds. After a severe artillery barrage of the Reds, Captain Winslow pushed forward to meet the attack of the Bolos and fought a drawn battle with them in the woods in the afternoon. Both sides dug in. "I" Company lost one killed and four wounded.
Meanwhile "M" Company, after one day to reorganize and rest, hurried up during the afternoon fight and prepared to relieve "I" Company. Sleeping on their arms around the dull-burning fires at 448 between noisy periods of night exchanges of fire by the Americans and Red Guards, this company next morning at 6:00 a. m. went through under a rolling barrage of Major Lee's artillery, which had been able to improve its position during the night, thanks to the resolute work of Lieut. Giffels and his American Engineers on the railroad track. Stoner's platoon destroyed the heavy outpost of Bolos with a sharp fire fight and a charge and swept on, only halting when he reached a large stream. Beyond this was a half-mile square clearing with characteristic woodpiles and station and woodmen's houses, occupied by a heavy force of six hundred Red Guards, themselves preparing for attack on the Americans. Here Captain Moore timed his three platoons and Lieut. Spitler's machine guns for a rush on three sides with intent to gain a foothold at least within the clearing. The very impetuosity of the doughboy's noisy attack struck panic into the poorly led Bolsheviks and they won an easy victory, having possession of the position inside half an hour. The Reds were routed and pursued beyond the objectives set by Col. Sutherland. And the old company horse shoe again worked. Though many men had their clothes riddled not a man was scratched.
The position was consolidated. An hour after the engagement two sections of the French Company that had sulked the preceding day came smilingly up and helped fortify the flanks. Their beloved old battalion commander, Major Alabernarde, had shamed them out of their mutinous conduct and they were satisfied again to help their much admired American comrades in this strange, faraway side show of the great world war.
One or two interesting reminiscences here crowd in. It was during the charge on 445 that Lieut. Stoner missed a dugout door by a foot with his hand grenade and his tender heart near froze with horror an hour afterward when he came back from pursuit of the Reds to find that with the one Bolo soldier in the dugout were cowering twenty-seven women and children, one eight days old. The red-whiskered old Bolo soldier had a hand grenade in his pocket and Sergeant Dundon nearly shook his yellow teeth loose trying to make him reply to questions in English. And the poor varlet nearly expired with terror later in the day when Lieut. Riis of the American Embassy stood him up with his back against a shack. "Comrades, have mercy on me! My wife and my children," he begged as he fell on his knees before the click of the camera.
Another good story was often told about the alleged "Bolo Spy Dog Patrols" first discovered when the British officer led his Royal Scots, most of them raw Russian recruits, to the front posts at 445 to reinforce "M" Co. "Old Ruble" had been a familiar sight to the Americans. At this time he had picked up a couple of cur buddies, and was staying with the Americans at the front, having perpetual pass good at any part of the four-square outpost. But the British officer reported him to the American officer as a sure-enough trained Bolshevik patrol dog and threatened to shoot him. And at four o'clock the next morning they did fire at the dogs and started up the nervous Red Guards into machine gun fire from their not distant trench line and brought everyone out to man our lines for defense. And the heavy enemy shelling cut up Scots (Russians) as well as Americans.
Here the fall advance on the Archangel-Vologda Railway ended. We were a few versts north of Emtsa, but "mnoga, mnoga versts," many versts, distant from Vologda, the objective picked by General Poole for this handful of men. Emtsa was a railroad repair shop village. We wanted it. General Ironside who relieved Poole, however, had issued a general order to hold up further advances on all the fronts. So we dug in. Winter would soon be on, anyway.
The Red Guards, however, meant to punish us for the capture of this position. He thoroughly and savagely shelled the position repeatedly and the British artillery moved up as the Yankee engineers restored the destroyed railroad track and duelled daily with the very efficient Red artillery. We have to admit that with his knowledge of the area the Red artillery officer had the best of the strategy and the shooting. He had the most guns too.
Major Nichols was heard to remark the day after he had been through the severe six gun barrage of the Reds who poured their wrath on the Americans at 445 before they could but more than get slight shrapnel shelters made, and had suffered four casualties, and the Royal Scots had lost a fine Scotch lieutenant and two Russian soldiers. "This shelling of course would be small peanuts to the French and British soldiers who were on the Western Front, but to us Americans fresh from the fields and city offices and shops of Michigan it is a little hell." And so the digging was good at 445 during the last of October and the first of November while Major Nichols with "M" and "I" and French and American machine gun sections held this front.
On the fourth of November "I" Company supported by the French machine gunners sustained a terrific attack by the Reds in powerful force, repulsed them finally after several hours, with great losses, and gained from General Ironside a telegram of congratulations. "I" Co. lost one killed, one missing, two wounded, one of which was Lieut. Reese. After that big attack the enemy left us in possession and we began to fear winter as much as we did the enemy. The only event that broke the routine of patrols and artillery duels was the accidental bombing by our Allied airplane of our position instead of the half-mile distant enemy trenches, one of the two 112-lb. bombs taking the life of Floyd Sickles, "M" Company's barber and wounding another soldier.
Amusing things also are recalled. The American medical officer at the front line one morning looked at a French soldier who seemed to be coming down with a heavy cold and generously doped him up with hot water and whiskey. Next morning the whole machine gun section of French were on sick call. But Collins was wise, and perhaps his bottle was empty.
One day a big, husky Yank in "I" Company was brokenly "parlevooing" with a little French gunner, who was seen to leap excitedly into the air and drape himself about the doughboy's neck exclaiming with joy, "My son, my son, my dear sister's son." This is the truth. And he took the Yank over to his dugout for a celebration of this strange family meeting, filled him up with sour wine, and his pockets with pictures of dancing girls.
Of course we were to learn to our discomfort and peril that winter was the time chosen by Trotsky for his counter-offensive against the Allied forces in the North. Of that winter campaign we shall tell in later chapters. We leave the Americans now on the railroad associated with their French comrades and 310th Engineers building blockhouses for defense and quarters to keep warm.
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