Rare letter describing events of the battle of Saint-Mihiel and the capture of St Maurice, 12/13th of September 1918.
Somewhere in France September 18,1918
…It seems almost impossible to think we had to make another drive…
The lines are just as they were at the beginning of the war. France has wasted unknown quantities of men trying to take this position, germans have done likewise ___ Americans…
So quickly but I conclude our army cannot drive unless they have the twenty-sixth...
This fast drive is without a doubt the most wonderful drive that was ever launched. Unlike Chateau-Thierry as both troops are__ ten kilometers beyond them hills. We didn’t do the direct taking but we done the flanking positions and our first division took the hills. The kill of thirty-five thousand lost cost them only forty-six.
…At one o’clock in the morning of the twelfth the guns began to roar. They roared on a forty kilometer front. What a terrific noise it was! The ground just swayed and swayed. The worst continued until noon the next day when all was quiet it was necessary to move the guns forward. We were beyond their reach or the “boche” was. Eight o’clock that morning found us all stretched out in no man’s field marching towards the German front lines with loaded guns, fixed bayonets and fight on our eyes. At once machine gun bullets began to whiz but our barrage was lifting and that ___ that for a moment, As the boche lines were reached many of them were found, with their hands up and saying Kamarad! So the battle went on as maching gun here and there..
Gave some very stubborn resisting but flanking squads were sent out and then the way once again became clear. We pushed forward until about noon the thirteenth when we reached our divisional objective. It found us in a French town that the Germans had owned for four years…French people there...How gladly they welcomed us…The Germans had left only four hours before us and all the supplies left there they were there. Bread, potatoes, butter, jam, codfish, corned-beef, tomatoes, cucumbers, cabbage, rabbits dishes writing material all all kinds, cigars, cigarettes, beef, chum, wines soda waters clothes ammunitions and I don’t know what. What a time was had. We have eaten German rations ever since. I forgot to mention flour. Last night it was used to make griddles and it went just fine. Had a German taste and we certainly enjoyed eating them...What a time the boys had with the bar! Barrel after one another we pulled up in store houses. The boys say it’s great stuff too.
In France we live like the Frenchman and in Germany we live like the Germans. I never forget the place as long as I live. St Maurice near Metz and Verdun…
Love to all
Joe B. Saunders
Joseph B. Saunders (68479) was a Corporal in G Company 103rd Infantry, when it was stationed at Camp Devens MA, prior to going overseas. His brother John was a 1st Class Private in that unit.
The French village liberated, with all the supplies, is St Maurice-sous-les-Côtes.
8 pages. As mentioned in the letter the last 2 pages are on 'German paper with German ink'. Folded, small creases.
The barrage started at 1 :00 o'clock and continued until 8 :00 o'clock. The one pounder Gun Platoon, 103rd Infantry rendered very valuable assistance in demolishing Machine Gun nests in the enemy line which had previously been located. The enemy replied at first with bursts of Machine Gun fire and minnenweufer, evidently expecting a raid. At daybreak all of our men were fed and hot coffee issued. Promptly at 8:00 o'clock, following the rolling Barrage, the 2nd Battalion went over the top, two companies in assault, deployed in waves, and 2 companies in support. Little resistance was encountered in the enemy front line, but when the 2nd line was reached, heavy Machine Gun fire was encountered. These nests were flanked and 7 machine guns captured...A delay of 1 hour became necessary on account of Machine Guns. Platoons from the right and left finally succeeded in working around them and with the aid of our own Machine Guns captured them…
Orders were received-at midnight, 12th-13th Sept. 1918 to push on to Vigneulles, but these were subsequently changed giving us an objective of St. Maurice, which place must be reached at daybreak. As soon as possible the last order was communicated to the 2nd Battalion. This order reached the Battalion late, owing to the ground which had to be crossed and the darkness of the night. At 5:30 o'clock, 13 Sept. 1918, the advance was resumed and soon after the Battalion was fired upon by snipers and Machine Guns from the Foret de la Montagne. These were driven back and captured as well as 3 enemy field pieces. The enemy were apparently in full retreat, and the Battalion marched in the direction of St. Maurice...At 12:00 o'clock, 13 Sept. 1918 our leading elements reached the heights near St. Maurice and orders were received by our regiment to occupy the towns of Billy-sur-les-Cotes and Vieville-sur-les-Cotes, which was done immediately. The 2nd Battalion occupied these two towns with the 3rd and 1st Battalions in woods on the heights directly behind…During the advance about 900 prisoners were captured by this regiment…in addition large stores of engineering material in various dumps in our zone of advance, many small railroad cars, a portable steam engine and a large amount of Quartermaster Stores.
History of the 103rd Infantry - Frank Hume
On 13 April 1917, elements of the 1st New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry were merged into the 2nd Maine to create the 103rd Infantry Regiment. The new regiment was placed in the 52nd Infantry Brigade (alongside the 104th Infantry Regiment) as part of the 26th Infantry Division, the "Yankee Division." The regiment served on the Western Front and was one of the first National Guard units in combat during the war. The 103rd served in the Champagne-Marne campaign where they had their first real taste of fighting, and went on to fight gallantly in the Aisne-Marne. The bloodied New Englanders continued the fight at the Battle of Saint-Mihiel, and in the momentous Meuse-Argonne Offensive, the largest and bloodiest operation of the war for the American Expeditionary Forces.
The Battle of Saint-Mihiel was a major World War I battle fought from 12–15 September 1918, involving the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) and 110,000 French troops under the command of General John J. Pershing of the United States against German positions.
The attack at the St. Mihiel salient was part of a plan by Pershing in which he hoped that the Americans would break through the German lines and capture the fortified city of Metz. It was the first and only offensive launched solely by the United States Army in World War I, and the attack caught the Germans in the process of retreating. This meant that their artillery was out of place and the American attack, coming up against disorganized German forces, proved more successful than expected. The St. Mihiel attack established the stature of the U.S. Army in the eyes of the French and British forces, and again demonstrated the critical role of artillery during World War I and the difficulty of supplying such massive armies while they were on the move. The U.S. attack faltered as artillery and food supplies were left behind on the muddy roads. The attack on Metz was not realized, as the Germans refortified their positions and the Americans then turned their efforts to the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.