Artillery Duel

General Bullard's first act upon assuming command of the division sector was to issue instructions saying: "There are no orders which require us to wait for the enemy to fire on us before we fire on him; do not wait for him to fire first.29 The division had been given a small daily allotment of No. 4 (cyanogen chloride) and No. 5 (phosgene) gas shells and had begun to fire them at once. On 1 February almost 80 were fired, probably for registrations and the next day Lieutenant Butler wrote in his journal: "Our 155's fired 174 rounds - mostly gas shells on seven German batteries." This was apparently in reply to 25 phosgene or diphosgene shells, recognized by their "peculiar swish and wobbly sound in passage," that fell harmlessly near the 6th FA in Hazelle woods that day (Map No. 3).30 On 3 February, following a brigade barrage of 6,750 HE shells, Butler reported happily that "the French are very much upset because we fired so long and fast."

On 5 February, two heavy batteries shelled the enemy gun positions that "we believe were responsible for [shelling #12 position on 16 January]. Gave them plenty of gas. 2nd Bn PC 7th FA at Rambucourt was shelled & gassed

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Map No. 3 Artillery and Infantry Disposition, 29 Jan

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[in return].'' Battery #12 was shelled again that day, and on 7 February Lieutenant Butler said that as a result "three men from Bty A, 6th FA went to the hospital this morning [with] faces and eyes burned." Upon investigation it was learned that a single mustard gas shell in the HE bombardment had hit a corner of a temporarily evacuated gun pit, soaking its logs. Four men, not three, were subsequently hospitalized.31

Under the prodding of 1st Division fire, the artillery of the 78th Reserve Division opposite32 responded in kind, stepping up its fire from less than 100 rounds a day to more than 800 by the end of the month. During March the daily enemy fire was to range between 500 and 1,000 rounds a day, with at least two bombardments of 2,000 or more HE rounds.

The artillery gas duel continued on 20 February and again on the morning of 21 February when "a few gas shells" on a battery northeast of Beaumont on the Beaumont-Flirey road "resulted in two casualties.33 G - 2 failed, however, to report the 75 mustard gas rounds on the same battery on the evening

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of 25 February. The Regimental Gas Officer estimated that no more than 60 mustard gas rounds had been thrown over in three HE and gas volleys, most of them going over the position by about twenty yards. Oiled slickers, gloves, and masks were at once put on and there were no casualties.34

The duel suddenly ceased to be anything like equal when on the early morning of 26 February "the enemy delivered a heavy gas attack on the Remieres wood.…The suddenness and the violence of the attack, coupled with the overwhelming fumes of the gas, were...horrifying." The commander of the trench mortar battery in the wood said the attack "was very sudden [and] we couldn't tell whether it was HE or gas. It all came down in one burst....The dugout door was blown in & the gas just rolled in."35

This was a enemy projector attack, originally intended to climax three nights of artillery shelling with 1300 rounds of unspecified gas, in preparation for an elaborate raid under the code name of "Einladung." Following the projector shoot, long range artillery planned to gas the southern half of the Bois de Remieres with blue cross (diphenylchloroarsine) shell,

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"to effect gas alarms and reduce the combat efficiency of the enemy," while minenwerfers put down a three-minute fire wave. The surprise raid, simultaneous with the fire wave, was to be made at daybreak.36 Only the projector attack was carried out; the raid for some reason was deferred until 1 March.

On the morning after the attack, G - 2 reported that "about 70 bombs, 210-mm, chlorine and phosgene," had been launched between 0132 and 0145 from trench mortar projectors sited west of the Bois de La Sonnard. G - 3 agreed with the estimate of 70 bombs and suggested that they had been fired in retaliation, "as we have on two or three occasions fired gas at them and have unquestionably touched them up quite a bit more than they have been before in this sector for a long time."37

A more accurate estimate was General Bullard's report that two volleys, each of 100 18-cm minenwerfer shells, eighty percent of them phosgene, had crashed "with a loud explosion and bright flare of light" in the Bois de Remieres and in the trenches west of the wood (Map No. 4).38

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Map No. 4 Gas Projector Attack, 26 Feb

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Hanslian and 78th Reserve Division records indicate a much larger gas shoot. Of 810 projectors loaded with phosgene flasks, 10 with the new German gas, diphenylchloroarsine, and 80 with high explosive, 807 were launched in the first salvo at 0235 and 42 in the second salvo at 0320. The mission, to produce casualties with almost 14 tons of phosgene,39 had been carried out on a clear, cold night by the 35th Pioneer Battalion, against the dugouts and supply rail lines in the Bois de Remieres. Observing the great white cloud that formed over the Bois de Remieres and then settled down on the wood, the 35th Pioneers believed the attack a success. But Hanslian, on the basis of records available to him, which indicated that the wood was sparsely occupied at the time, considered the attack a failure.40

German reports that two 1st Division batteries were gassed with yellow cross on the morning of the projector attack and three more "very effectively gassed" the next morning, 27 February, are not confirmed by the division.41

Total casualties as a result of the projector attack were reported by G - 2 as 3 killed and 9 "injured." There were no corrections to this report.

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The commander of the 3rd Battalion, 18th Infantry in Remieres Wood, said that the time between the first flash and the gas release was so brief that many of the men inhaled the gas before they could adjust their respirators. Most of the second salvo landed among his reserve platoon and in the trench mortar area in the woods where the men were in their dugouts and were not on the alert. At daylight, the battalion medical officer reported one man dead, an officer and an enlisted man severely gassed, and 20 others slightly gassed, but this total did not include the machine gun company, trench mortar or artillery details in the area. It was believed that their casualties were heavier than those among the Infantry.42

The 1st Brigade War Diary that day reported 3 dead and 6 men severely gassed because they failed to get their masks on quickly enough, and 28 other gas casualties as a result either of removing their masks too soon or eating food impregnated with gas. The G - 3 daily report said that during the day casualties increased "until 61 cases have been reported. Seven are dead and there will probably be two or three more."43 There would have been half as many casualties, said General Bullard, except that some of the NCOs let the men remove their masks a half hour after the last shell fell, and

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after daylight men were permitted to work in the area without masks. They continued to work unmasked even though the odor of phosgene was strongly in evidence in the woods as late as 48 hours after the attack.44

The medical history of the division, reporting this as "the first German gas attack on U.S. troops, " said that 62 gas cases were admitted to the hospital, with four deaths among them later.45 The final count of casualties was reported by the Division Surgeon, who said that 2 men died in the field and 83 were evacuated. Of those evacuated, 6 died within five to sixty hours after reaching the gas hospital at Menil la Tour. There were approximately 230 men in the area at the time, chiefly in the trench mortar battery and Company K, 18th Infantry.46

In a supplementary report, the commander of the 3rd Battalion described the panic that had seized some of his men following the initial salvo of bombs. One man in panic stampeded and knocked down two others adjusting their masks. He rushed down the trench screaming and made no attempt to put on his respirators He died shortly after reaching the dressing

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station. Another man threw himself in the bottom of the trench and began to scream. Two others trying to adjust his respirator had their own pulled off and were gassed. He was finally carried out of the area but died not long after. Another private couldn't find his respirator and became panic-stricken. When it was found and finally adjusted, he claimed it was broken and changed into his French mask, breathing in gas while he changed. On the way to the dressing station he repeatedly pulled the French mask away from his face and breathed the gas laden air, and died shortly after reaching the station. An officer was gassed while shouting to the men to keep their respirators on.

There was no doubt, Lt. Col. R. H. Griffiths concluded, that a large number of the gas cases that developed some time after the attack were the result of failure to observe well-known precautions, and he pointed to the fact that rice for breakfast that morning was allowed to stand exposed for several hours in the trench before being eaten. He ordered this report on the failure of gas discipline to be read to all companies of the battalion.47

On 28 February, a division memo said that men who had become casualties ten to fifteen hours after the attack were those who had not got their masks on quickly enough, had changed to the French mask, or had removed their

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masks a few minutes after the attack ended. Henceforth, troops in the alert area were to wear the British mask at the alert position at all times, even while sleeping, and were to change to their French mask only when the British mask "became torn or punctured, and as a last resort."48

On the day after the bombardment of the 18th Infantry, the 16th Infantry cautioned its troops that they might be next on the German pioneer schedule. French Intelligence, issuing this belated warning of the presence of the pioneers, described the patterns of enemy minenwerfer emplacements for such gas cloud shoots and the tell-tale signs, "a sea of fire and large amounts of smoke in the enemy lines," that signaled the discharge of the projectors."49 Although the 35th Pioneers had planned a second attack on Flirey following that on Remieres, it was not made, and after digging out their projectors they left the sector.50

Determined not to be caught by such an attack again, the division during the rest of its stay at Ansauville made continuous efforts to spot projector installations and neutralize them before they could be completed.

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On 28 February, said Lieutenant Butler, the heavy batteries fired for an hour on an area where gas cylinders or projectors were believed to be sited. On 4 March, G - 3 reported sounds above the Bois de Remieres resembling the emplacing of projectors and a bombardment was called for at once. On 9 March, 484 155-mm rounds of HE were put on a target below St. Baussant on what was thought to be a projector site. (Similarly, the enemy fired 400 HE rounds into the trenches west of Xivray on 9 March where the mounting of American gas projectors was suspected.)

On 10 March, sounds like the construction of either trench mortar or gas projector emplacements was heard in the Bois delta Sonnard and silenced, and two days later an allied plane observed three parallel trenches just east of St. Baussant that resembled gas projector emplacements All guns of the division fired a concentration on a supposed site on the evening of 14 March and other suspected emplacements were shelled on 17 and 19 March. The projector attack of 26 February was well remembered.51