Extracted (with editing for brevity) from the History of the 353rd ‘All Kansas’ Infantry Regiment 89th Division, National Army September 1917 – June 1919, by Capt. Charles F. Dienst and associates, published by the 353rd Infantry Society in 1921.

‘For more than a month we had been on the southern leg of the St. Mihiel salient. September 11, 1918, found the First Battalion on the front line, the Second Battalion ready for assault in the support positions and the Third Battalion in reserve. Each day had brought increasing signs of “something doin'” in the near future.

The veteran Second Infantry Division had taken positions on the right. Big guns were being pulled into place day and night; reconnaissance was ceaseless. From the activity of his artillery and the searching by his aircraft, Fritz must also have sensed something unusual on the American side, but “D” Day found the officers and men of the 353rd Infantry unaware of the specific part they were to play in the great offensive.

The enemy had held the St. Mihiel salient since 1914 and had done its best to make the positions secure, with many strands of barbed wire entanglements and various types of field fortifications. By holding this forty mile wide salient, the Germans could still threaten Verdun and prevent traffic over the railroad from Verdun to Nancy–a main line of communication for the French forces on the left. To reduce this salient was the immediate objective of the first all-American offensive.

All information about the drive was kept secret to the last moment. Not until the evening of September 11th was Colonel Reeves able to give final directions to his commanders.

In the plan of battle, the 353rd was to drive through the enemy positions to the right of Mort Mare Woods. The Second Battalion, formed in two echelons with Companies “E” and “F” in advance, supported by Companies “G” and “H” at a distance of five hundred meters made the assault. The Third Battalion similarly deployed in depth was in support. Companies “B,” “C,” and “D” of the First Battalion were to guard the left flank of leading waves and to mop up Mort Mare Woods as the advance continued, while Company “A” was to form combat liaison with the Second Division on the right. The Regimental M. G. Company accompanied the assault battalion. When the objectives of the first day had been reached, the Third Battalion was to leap-frog the Second Battalion and carry on to the final objective of the big offensive, with the first in support and the second in reserve.’

The plan itself was simple but the 353rd Infantry was unfamiliar with the ground, and maps and compasses were scarce.

At dusk the different outfits began to move to their jumping off places. The roads were crowded; in the darkness some groups lost contact with their own outfits and were delayed in reaching their positions. Reliefs which were to have been made by the Second Division troops were only partially carried out. It was a dark night; a cold rain was falling–now a drizzle, now a downpour; the bottom of the trenches held water ankle deep.

The Second Battalion moved from the support positions along St. Jean-Noviant road to the jump-off line out in “No Man’s Land.” Crouched down in the mud-filled trenches, we waited for the Zero hour. All surplus clothing except raincoats had been stored and we shivered. Our final orders contained the following sobering instructions:

“In a battle there is no time to inquire into the identity or motives of persons who create panic, disorganization or surrender. It is the duty of every officer and soldier to kill on the spot any person who in a fight urges or advises anyone to surrender or to stop fighting. It makes no difference whether the person is a stranger or a friend, or whether he is an officer or a private.”

(G. O. No.5, Headquarters Fourth Army Corps, A. E. F., September 6, 1918.).

{Editor’s Note: This order is shockingly draconian, more like the German army than the American. I have not read of an instance where anyone was killed under this authority.]

At exactly one o’clock the preparatory bombardment began. More than a million rounds of ammunition were consumed between 0100 and 0500. All along the line the sky was lit up with flashes of heavy-caliber guns, distributed in depth for almost ten kilometers to the rear. In the intermissions between deafening explosions could be heard the puttering of machine guns. Very-lights and rockets of many colors went up from the enemy lines, then came into view a new kind of fireworks, a big ball of fire that seemed to explode in midair, fell to the ground, and glided along as if on wheels. It was a sight that fascinated the eyes. At first the sensibilities seemed to be numbed and then electrified. Thus, after four years of comparative inactivity, our “quiet” sector had come into its own with a vengeance.

There was practically no counter-bombardment of our positions. This unexpected good fortune permitted us to continue final preparations for the jump-off. Small detachments from the 314th Engineers assisted us in cutting our way through the wire, and clearing trenches of obstacles. As early as 0400 groups began to steal forward until the entire battalion had formed up only a hundred yards or so from the first German trench. Units were closed up as much as possible, to escape the expected counter-barrage. At 0500 an almost solid wall of fire swooped down upon the enemy front line trench–our barrage had begun. After twenty minutes it began to roll back, as it swept slowly across the German trench system, combat units of the Second Battalion, with wide intervals and distances, began to advance, following the barrage almost too closely. At this critical moment word came that Major Wood was disabled and Captain Peatross assumed command of the battalion.’

To be continued…..

This article begins a series of four about the St. Mihiel Offensive that are a little early for the centennial of that battle, due to my anticipated inability to post from September 11th through 16th.

James (“Jim”) Patton BS BA MPA is a retired state official from Shawnee, Kansas and a frequent contributor to several WW1 e-publications, including "Roads to the Great War," "St. Mihiel Tripwire," "Over the Top" and "Medicine in the First World War." He has spent many hours walking the WW1 battlefields, and is also an authority on British regiments and a collector of their badges. An Army Engineer during the Vietnam War, he does work for the US World War 1 Centennial Commission and is affiliated with the WW1 Historical Association, the Western Front Association, the Salonika Campaign Society and the Gallipoli Association.