ONE HUNDRED YEARS WITH THE SECOND CAVALRY
By Joseph I. Lambert, Major, Second Cavalry
Copyright 1939 Commanding Officer, Second Cavalry, Fort Riley, Kansas
Capper Printing Company, Inc.
The regimental headquarters and the Supply Troop entrained at Gievres September 18 and arrived at Ligny on the 20th. They made a march over roads crowded with troops going to the Argonne front and arrived at Camp Mallery, Rarecourt, on the 23rd, where they found Troops B, D, F, and H camouflaged in a wood. During the Argonne drive, the regimental headquarters and the Supply Troop were attached to the First Army Corps. They were usually in close contact with the troops mentioned above, which made up the Provisional Squadron. Until October 8 the duty at Rarecourt consisted of traffic control. They moved to Vraincourt on this date and remained until the 18th, when they returned to Camp Mallery. On November 4 they marched forward again with the big drive and reached Apremont November 11.
Troops of the Regiment which took part in the St. Mihiel offensive were A, B, C, D, F, H, and M, but they did not operate as a unit. We have followed the fortunes of Troops A, C, and M and will now take up the others.
Troop B performed remount duty at Gievres, the large S.O.S. base, from August 7-22. It was en route to Camp Jeanne d’ Arc, near Toul, until the 27th. Here it joined Troops D, F, and H to form the Provisional Squadron, and trained mounted under the command of Lieutenant Colonel O. P. M. Hazzard.
The Second Cavalry Troops took their mounted equipment with them to France and never allowed it to leave them during the time they were there. Whenever horses could be obtained, they were always ready for mounted training. The normal armament consisted of the caliber .30 Springfield rifle, Colt’s automatic pistol, caliber .45, and the saber, which had a straight blade. When training started at Camp Jeanne d’ Arc for the St. Mihiel offensive, the four troops fired combat exercises dismounted with the rifle and mounted with the pistol. General Joseph T. Dickman, the former regimental commander, and now the commander of the Fourth Army Corps, caused the troops to experiment with the new Browning automatic rifle. Each troop finally went into action with one gun. It was carried, along with 2,500 rounds of ammunition, by a set of fours, and these were always able to keep up with the remainder of the troop. Hand grenades were issued and all noncommissioned officers instructed in how to handle them.
The horses of the Provisional Squadron were all from hospitals where they had been recovering from wounds, gas, fatigue, and disease. A large number of them were grays, and these were later exchanged for animals less conspicuous. They ranged in type from the draft horse to the Spanish pony. Most of them were hardly bridle wise and unaccustomed to the use of weapons. The training was necessarily at slow gaits, marching usually being done at the walk. The horses were grazed two hours every evening, and special care was given to feeding. During the short time the squadron was at Camp Jeanne d’ Arc their condition improved, but the work of the troops was later handicapped by the inability of the horses to do regular cavalry work.
Troop B, commanded by Captain Clifford W. Sands, was detached from the Provisional Squadron September 10 and marched to Menil-la-Tour for participation in the St. Mihiel drive. From here detachments were sent out to the First, Forty-second, and Eighty-ninth Divisions. Their duties consisted of regulating traffic and carrying messages, all of which was done under heavy shell fire, which was especially severe at Thiaucourt. The troop headquarters was at St. Benoit and later at Pannes. This last place had been a large supply base for the Germans, and in their haste to leave they were unable to move many stores. Thus, our men had an abundance of good things to eat. Among other articles left behind by the fleeing Germans was American-made Ivory soap. Detachments of the troop were also sent out to gain information in front of the infantry lines. The troop left Pannes September 19 and started on the march to the Argonne to join Troops D, F, and H, where it arrived in Rarecourt on the 25th after traveling 100 miles.
On September 10, Troops D, F, and H, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel O. P. M. Hazzard, left Camp Jeanne d’ Arc to take part in the St. Mihiel offensive. After a night march along roads filled with traffic on the way to the front, they arrived at Rangeval Forest, a few miles from the “jump off” line. Because of enemy airplanes, it was necessary to remain concealed under the trees during the day. That afternoon Captains Earnest N. Harmon and Kent C. Lambert, commanders of Troops F and H, respectively, were directed to reconnoiter the position where the squadron should be assembled at the hour of attack the following morning. The squadron moved out at 8:00 p.m. and did not reach the designated place until nearly 1:00 a.m. because of the congested roads, although the distance was only about three miles from the camp. They formed in mass with one hundred yards between troops and seventy-five yards in depth between platoons, and awaited the artillery fire, which began at 1:00 a.m. The infantry attacked at 5:00 a.m. but the three troops remained in place among the artillery until nearly noon, when they crossed the trenches and reached Seicheprey. From here they proceeded to Nonsard, where the infantry had halted and formed an outpost.
At this time they were given a mission to proceed ahead of the infantry and reconnoiter Vigneulles, about four miles to the front, and to intercept the railroad between this town and Heudicourt. Unfortunately, the only demolition equipment in the unit was hand grenades, and these were not adequate for the task.
Troop F, under Captain Harmon, formed the advance guard and moved out rapidly with a left flank guard but none on the right, as the infantry was supposed to be coming up on that side. As soon as the point of the advance guard entered the woods, the Germans were encountered. The point killed one and captured one at once, and then proceeded several hundred yards farther, where there were signs that the enemy had just left.
At this time Troop H, under Captain Lambert, and part of Troop D, under Captain James B. Taylor, appeared from a side road where they had been marching in a parallel column with the remainder of the squadron. The troops were halted and Captains Lambert and Harmon rode forward to reconnoiter. When they reached the crest of a hill where the point was located, they could see, a few hundred yards ahead, a long column of German infantry, artillery, and trains in full retreat. It was decided to fire upon the crossroads at once with the automatic rifles and move to the right with the troops in order to cut off the column.
As they were putting this plan into execution the enemy opened fire from the front. It was decided to fall back behind a small hill, dismount, and move forward as skirmishers. Before reaching this hill a machine gun opened fire from the right only a few yards distant. The men fired mounted with pistols and soon silenced this gun. Hardly had the troopers put this gun out of action when another began firing from the left only a few yards away. It was also put out of action in short order with pistols as the column moved along. The reason there were so few casualties in our column was that the German fire was uniformly low.
About the time the squadron reached the hill, a patrol under Sergeant Carson, Troop F, returned from Heudicourt with nine prisoners whom he captured at the edge of that town. Lieutenant Colonel Hazzard decided not to attack, as it was believed the woods were held by a force much superior to his own. The squadron camped for the night at Nonsard. Later the First Division captured 500 prisoners here and had to fight severely to reach Vigneulles, the German railhead. Our losses included one man killed, one captured when his horse was shot, and three wounded, while two horses were killed and five wounded.
Early on the morning of September 13 Troop D, under Captain James B. Taylor, was sent on a separate mission to Creue to the west of Nonsard, to destroy the railroad. The troop found the railroad already destroyed by advance units of the Twenty-sixth Division, and then proceeded to Vigneulles.
Troops F and H marched to Vigneulles the same morning, where they were joined by Troop D. This town had been captured the night before by the First Division. During all day of the 13th the three troops searched the country surrounding this town for German stragglers. All dugouts were entered and the houses searched but few Germans were found. In their haste to leave, they abandoned much equipment. In a patch of woods Troop H found fifty machine guns.
During the morning Troop F was detached and sent north along the St. Mihiel-Metz railroad to locate the enemy and to gain liaison with the French, who were expected from the western side of the salient. At the first town of Hattonville they were fired on by a German patrol. While the troop marched on, a squad was sent to the barn to attack the enemy. One German was killed and one captured. The towns were entered at a fast trot, a march outpost was formed on the other side, and the place hastily searched. At the town of Billy, the troop came upon a German battery of artillery in the process of limbering up with about twenty men. They were all captured and sent to the rear under a small escort.
The troop arrived at St. Maurice in a short time, galloped through the town, formed a march outpost, and sent out patrols, while the remainder of the troop took position near the center of the town. A German staff officer was captured while riding a large black horse. Captain Harmon took the horse and rode him through the rest of the war. Messages were sent to squadron headquarters from each town, describing the progress. About twenty-five of the enemy were captured and sent to the rear. Patrols were sent out in various directions, one to Champlon under First Lieutenant Carl J. Dockler, one to Doncourt under Sergeant Carroll, and one to Jonville under First Sergeant Robinson. Lieutenant Dockler’s patrol made contact with the French, and the other two patrols encountered the Germans at Doncourt and Jonville. As the Germans left much oats, hay, beer and bread at St. Maurice, the troop feasted well. That part of the troop available now marched to Woel, where the town was captured and five prisoners taken. Another patrol was sent to Jonville and reported it strongly held. The infantry arrived at St. Maurice that night and the troop returned to the squadron at Vigneulles about 9:00 p.m. The squadron remained here on the 14th and then left on the 15th for the Argonne drive.