Major Gas Attack

The 1st Division was still in Lorraine when it suffered its first major gas attack.79 Between the hours of 2130 - 0030 on 28 - 29 March, G - 2 reported that 1,000 HE, gas, and incendiary shells were fired on Rambucourt, in an attempt to neutralize four batteries there. The 6th FA said that 400 to 600 phosgene and mustard gas shells had fallen on six of its batteries in the surprise gas bombardment. Three officers and 11 men were evacuated. These may have been from the squad reported by Lieutenant Butler to have taken off their masks because they were too warm. Their sergeant, who had been "mentioned before for coolness under fire, will be tried as soon as he gets out of the hospital."80

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The 7th FA reported 350 gas shells on four of its batteries, with 6 casualties resulting when a single 150-mm mustard gas shell exploded in a gun pit. The 26th Infantry estimated 800 phosgene and mustard gas shells in its area, with just 2 casualties as a result. Altogether, these units reported approximately 1,650 gas shells and 22 casualties.81

Actually, according to Hanslian, the entire artillery of the 78th Reserve Division was organized to fire an extensive bombardment on 1st Division battery positions with 4,760 blue cross and 5,530 green cross shells -a total of 10,290 rounds. Despite 1st Division reports, there is no evidence that any mustard gas was used in the bombardments Much of the effect of the attack was believed to have been nullified when, soon after the bombardment began at 2130, strong winds and rain squalls sprang up, and the mission was called off before its completion.82

The Division Gas officer reported correctly that only blue and green cross shells had been used and that they fell on Rambucourt and Mandres, on six batteries in the 6th FA and two in the 5th FA. He confirmed that the high wind that sprang up shortly after the shelling began had greatly reduced probable casualties. Nevertheless, 25 men were evacuated, and one man,

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thought slightly gassed with phosgene, fell down dead the next day while working in the trenches. Captain Davis also reported to General Bullard his observation that ambulance company men had made the gassed walk from the aid post to the ambulances, and sit up on the trip from Mandres to Menil la Tour. As a result of Bullard's orders it was not to happen again.83

In better weather the gas attack of 28 March, with the remaining blue and green cross shells, was said to have been completed beginning at 2330 on 31 March.84 There is no G - 2 report available for that date, but G - 3 said that from 2200 - 0300, 31 March - 1 April, the village of Seicheprey, the trenches above the village, Beaumont, Mandres, and Rambucourt were bombarded with HE, shrapnel, and gas shells. Two men were killed, 2 wounded, and 8 gassed. "The bombardment was mostly directed at the batteries but was quite scattered, creating a gas atmosphere."85

In little wind and high humidity, said the 6th FA, "phosgene, mustard and tear gas swept the roads and batteries for five hours." All batteries of the regiment were subjected to the gas and HE bombardment, resulting in 29 eye cases, 21 of them in one battery where the men, in the absence of their officers, removed their masks. The 7th FA estimated 3,500 gas shells,

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most of them phosgene but some mustard gas, "mixed with many more high explosive shells," that resulted in 3 gas casualties among five battery positions.86 The attack came at a time when "the roads were full of our division marching out and the 26th Division marching in....One man [at Mandres] from the 26th Division was gassed. He had no gas mask."87

Captain Davis estimated that a total 3,500 yellow, blue, and green cross shells of 77, 105, and 150 caliber had been fired in this "very heavy gas bombardment" on the batteries of the division. He reported "only 32 casualties," a tribute to good gas discipline.88 The division did not recognize the bombardment as a repeat or continuation for the failure of the earlier one. "We think," the Chief of Staff wrote, "it was due to nervousness on the part of the Boche; that the movement [i.e., the relief then in progress] on this side made him afraid that something was going to happen."89

As the Analysis shows, there were probably more than 57 gas

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casualties as a result of this major gas attack, but not enough more to make it anything like an enemy success. The 1st Division was never to know what, except for bad weather, it had escaped.