Gas for Raids

It was in preparation for one of the many raids carried out by both sides on the Ansauville front late that winter that at 0530 on 1 March

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there suddenly came down upon the right sub-sector, held by the 18th Infantry, a tornado of bursting shells and bullets and every battery was deluged with high explosive shell and mustard gas....Trenches, parapets, shelters and emplacements were demolished...some so completely that they were never rebuilt.52

This vivid description is not supported by G - 3 so far as gas is concerned, and G - 2 reported only between 700 and 950 HE shells on the Bois de Remieres and Bois du Jury that morning. Yet the 6th FA said that several of its batteries were heavily bombarded that morning with HE, mustard gas, and phosgene, though there were no gas casualties. The trench mortar battery in Remieres escaped the attack, said Lieutenant Butler, since it "was not in its place because of the way it was knocked up in the gas attack of Feb. 27th."53

The G - 3 daily report of casualties showed 24 killed, 30 wounded, and 2 gassed on 1 March, with two-thirds of the killed and wounded occurring in the German raid that followed the bombardment. The War Diary of the 78th Reserve Division said nothing about gas, but only that it had bombarded the trenches north of Remieres with 720 HE projector shells prior to its raid. The raid by four assault companies was frustrated by the "weak occupation of enemy position...considering the number of dugouts." Nevertheless, two machine guns and 13 prisoners from the 18th Infantry were brought back, at a

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cost to the raiders of 5 killed, 59 wounded, and 12 missing.54

Although the raid on 1 March and a bombardment with 3,000 HE shells on the Bois de Remieres and Bois du Jury on 3 March were jarring, they did not stop 1st Division plans for two raids of it own on 4 March. A total of 173 guns, including French auxiliary batteries brought in for the raid, began the preparatory fire on the German batteries, with "about half the shots gas." Over 5,200 75-mm, 1,400 175-mm, and 650 trench mortar, 90-mm and 95-mm rounds had been fired, principally in the Lahayville and St. Baussant sectors, when the dawn raid by the 1st Brigade was called off and plans for the evening raid were abandoned. The Engineers had started too late that morning, got lost, and had failed to cut the enemy wire with their bangalore torpedoes.55

The 78th Reserve Division seems to have been aware only of the gas shells fired in this preparatory bombardment, for it reported that from 0200 to 0300 between 6,000 and 7,000 gas rounds had been fired on its battery positions

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and rear areas. Casualties were not reported.56

The German estimate of gas shell may not have been greatly exaggerated, even though it would mean that much more than half the reported shots (i.e., 3,625) were gas. They may actually have totaled almost 6,000. While denied in a postwar artillery summary of special shells fired by the brigade, which shows a total of only 297 155-mm No. 4 and No. 5 shells fired on 4 March the Operations officer of the brigade said that "considerable gas was used for neutralization in a raid in the Ansauville sector early in March, records of which were not retained."57

Three days later, at 1818 on 7 March, G - 2 reported an enemy bombardment of batteries in the Bois de la Hazelle and on the Rambucourt-Beaumont road with approximately 150 gas shells, followed by a repeat shelling with 120 gas shells at 1100 on 8 March. The 78th Reserve Division said that a total of 684 77-mm and 105-mm yellow cross shells were fired during the two Wirkungsschiessen (fires for effect), c 18OO and midnight, 7 March.58

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The gas officers of the 5th and 7th FA recorded a total of 280 mustard gas shells in the two bombardments, those on the 5th FA bracketing the gun positions. Except that all rations for the noon meal on 8 March had to be condemned, no harm was done and the regiments had no casualties to report. Whether he was an artilleryman or infantryman, G - 3 did not say, but the only gas casualty recorded that day was a man who fell into a contaminated shell hole.59

The frequency of the gas shelling of the batteries resulted in an order that day that rubber boots, anti-gas gloves, and anti-gas suits for each man were henceforth to be kept at all battery and machine gun positions and at artillery command posts, and were to be provided for all stretcher bearers and signal linemen in the division.60 This became standard equipment also for French artillerymen with the division, who later reported that they were equipped with the M-2 and ARS masks, American rubber boots, oilskin jumpers, and mittens, as items of individual protection, and chloride of lime, soapy water, and bicarbonate of soda for collective protection.61

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The raids planned for 4 March were finally carried out on the morning and afternoon of 11 March, despite the fact that for 24 hours preceding the morning raid...the position of Battery D and Headquarters, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Battalion, 6th Field Artillery [in the Bois de la Hazelle] was kept under a concentration of mustard gas, mingled with high explosive shells ....Nevertheless, the men served the guns, wearing their gas masks, during both raids. At the end of the evening raid, all officers and men were overcome by the gas and were evacuated. A completely new personnel, dressed in rubber clothing and gas masks, moved the guns during the night to a new position.

In the same gas attack the position of Battery A, 7th Field Artillery, also was "so heavily and continuously shelled and gassed was necessary to move that battery" too.62

Available records of the 78th Reserve Division say only that on 10 March two of their batteries were shelled with gas and in exchange they shelled an enemy battery with yellow cross. Hanslian reports data indicating that the attack on the battery in Hazelle woods was carried out by 78th Reserve Division artillery between 1800 - 2000 with 421 yellow cross and green cross 102-mm shells.63 There is no evidence of a bombardment lasting for 24 hours.

Lieutenant Butler wrote in his journal on 11 March:

Although #15 [Battery D] was gassed heavily last night & the personnel... withdrawn, they returned for the coup de main [in the morning & served their guns with their gas masks & gas clothes on....[In the evening] gas was still pretty thick around #15....After the evening raid everyone in #15 [was] withdrawn [to Ansauville] except a sentinel at each gun....Guns will be moved to the gas position in the morning.

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The 6th FA gas officer said that almost 600 phosgene and mustard gas shells fell around the battery in the Bois de la Hazelle and on the night of 10 March 2 officers and 18 men were evacuated, most of them with acute conjunctivitis as a result of taking their masks off too soon.64 There were to be many more casualties, for the officers and men remained in the gassed area, ignoring the presence of the mustard gas that had been fired with the phosgene.

Just how effective this mustard gas was is evident from Butler's entry of 12 March:

The guns in D Bty were moved [today] from #15, which is still full of gas, to position #87. Seven officers and 50 men are in the hospital with burned eyes, all from D Bty (Two gas officers, a doctor & battery officers & officers from 2nd Bn, 6th FA. Hdqtrs.)....2nd Bn, 6th FA Hdqtrs have been moved.

On 22 March he added: "Position i15 is still unoccupied & the enemy seems to know because he doesn't shell it any more." The enemy apparently had a tap on the line into #15, said Butler, for on 20 March, hearing two telephone men testing the wire there, he had immediately put gas on the position and both men became casualties.

The reported gassing of the 7th FA battery in the bombardment seems to have occurred on the evening of 11 March, when 50 mustard gas shells were landed in the rear of the battery position. This may have been the "burst of gas on the [battery] position in the southwest portion of Hazelle Wood,"

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which the German division said it fired at 2100 on 11 March, and was more likely some form of green cross (phosgene or diphosgene) rather than yellow cross gas. The artillerymen, though masked, were said to have been affected by the fumes for two and a half hours, after which the effects wore off. All those exposed then washed with soap suds and bathed their eyes with salt water. There were no casualties and no mention of evacuation of the position.65

Returning to the raids on 11 March, which were made by 60 men from the 18th Infantry above Remieres wood that morning, and by 60 men from the 16th Infantry against Richecourt in the evening, G - 2 said that "at 5:50 a.m. our artillery dropped a heavy bombardment and barrage on salient Remieres... [including] gas shells...into Lahayville at 5:55." With the auxiliary French batteries back in position for the raids, over 32,000 shells were fired on 10 - 11 March as the artillery, instead of the Engineers with their torpedoes and petards, was used to cut four gaps in the wire. "All firing on the enemy's batteries was executed with gas shell, and three of the light batteries fired gas shell on the positions at St. Baussant and Lahayville throughout both raids." The raiders both in the morning and evening forays were said to have stayed about twenty minutes in the enemy salients and in

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both cases returned without prisoners.66

Although they reported seeing a patrol of 30 men, the Germans seem to have been wholly unaware of these raids, but thought a full-scale attack had been planned which had been broken up by their annihilation fire. The "strong torrential fire on Lahayville, St. Baussant, Sonnard Woods and the rear areas" that morning had been of more concern and was estimated at 10,000 - 12,000 rounds. The 155-mm gas shells were mistaken for trench mortar gas shells. "The gas was strong, tear-producing, and so dense in St. Baussant that one could see for not more than a distance of three meters." In the evening the deadly fire was repeated, with an estimated 6,000 rounds. "In the main the enemy used gas ammunition....The reason of the enemy fire has not been determined. Casualties as a result, presumably, of the two bombardments were said in the evening report of the 78th Reserve Division to be 6 wounded and 10 gassed, but the War Diary showed 2 killed, 15 wounded, and 22 gassed that day.67

According to a report of special shells fired by the 1st FA Brigade, these gas casualties were caused by 2,066 No. 5 (phosgene), including some

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proportion of No. 4 (cyanogen chloride), shells fired that morning, and 2,345 No. 4 and No. 5 shells in the evening.68 In addition, 850 smoke shells were fired in the box barrage for the morning raid and another 850 that evening, for a total fire of 4,411 gas shells, 1,700 smoke shells, and 32,000 HE. If the German casualty data are to be believed, it was an enormous expenditure for small results.

The continuing artillery duel is evident in Arko 78 reports that bursts of nonpersistent gas as well as yellow cross gas were put on 1st Division batteries on 15, 16, and 17 March. The division reported 4 gas casualties on 17 March only. German records, however, do not confirm their "large number of gas shells...fired into the Bois de Remieres about 4 a.m." on 19 March, not the "new departure" recorded that day when a hostile air plane "dropped several rubber balls 18-inches in diameter and filled with liquid mustard gas in I-2 [Hill 246]." There appear to have been no casualties resulting from either event.69

Another unusual occurrence happened on 23 March when at 11 p.m. an airplane was observed at great height to shut off his motor, volplane [i.e. glide]

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and throw out over the Beaumont-Jury road bombs which exploded in the air, giving out a reddish-blue cloud which came down and spread. It is believed to be gas. G - 3 reported it as "a cloud of mustard gas." Two days later the division said: "This report has been verified until it seems to be a fact."70