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.
On January 8, 1918, orders came for the Second Cavalry to prepare for overseas service. At this time it was intended to take all horses and equipment, but later the horses were left behind on account of shortage of ship tonnage. The inferior grade of animals furnished the regiment in France made everyone feel that much better work could have been done if their own horses had been used.
Preparation and intensive training continued until March 17, 1918, when all the regiment except the first squadron at Fort Myer, Virginia, and Troop E, left Fort Ethan Allen, Vermont, for Camp Merritt, New Jersey. Upon arrival at the camp, temporary headquarters were established in wooden barracks and the routine work of preparing records, examinations and inspections, and sailing lists was begun. The troops entrained for Hoboken, New Jersey, on March 21 and arrived there the same day. After the men went aboard the Martha Washington, the remainder of the day was spent in loading the property. In the afternoon the transport moved to the outer harbor and waited for the rest of the convoy. It sailed at midnight with two other transports, convoyed by the cruiser Pueblo.
At sea the duty on the ship consisted of life-boat drill, assignment to boat stations, and physical exercises to keep the men fit. When the war zone was entered, the men were required to wear life preservers all the time. The submarine chasers joined the convoy on April 1 in order to protect the ships near the coast of France where the submarines were thickest. While the men were eating the noon meal on April 4, the alarm was sounded and everyone rushed to the life-boat stations. The submarine chasers went after the quarry and threw depth bombs, while the guns on the transports opened fire. In about one-half hour another periscope was sighted with the same activity in the convoy, but this time one of the submarines was officially credited with being sunk.
Several interesting incidents occurred during these attacks. The submarines came as the men were having their lunch and one man had just filled his mess kit while he held his hat in the other hand. Upon the alarm of the submarines, he cast his hat overboard, and putting his mess kit, filled with food, on his head, rushed to the life-boat with the food pouring down over his face. A sentry near a bow gun was so interested in watching a submarine that he did not notice that the crew had swung the gun around with the muzzle near him. The muzzle blast threw him down a hatch and ripped his overcoat from his body. A few enterprising troopers of the regiment who did not seem to get so excited over the attack, raided the galley during the excitement and took all the pies which were to be served at dinner.
The mine fields were passed through and then a pilot was picked up at the mouth of the Gironde River who took the ship to the port of Pauillac the same day, April 4. After the troops landed on April 6, a parade was formed consisting of the band, field music, and Troops F, G, and H. This was in honor of Lafayette, who embarked at this port for America 141 years before. On the same day the troops were placed in double-deck railroad cars and sent to Bordeaux a few miles up the harbor. From here they traveled a short distance in trucks to Camp Genicart, a rest camp, but the men never knew why they were supposed to need rest.
The first squadron, consisting of Troops A, B, C, and D, left Fort Myer, Virginia, by train on March 26, 1918, for the port of embarkation at Hoboken, New Jersey. The men sailed for France March 29 on the transport No. 539 (Northern Pacific). The trip across was without incident and the troops disembarked at Brest April 8 and were stationed at the nearby Pontanezen Barracks until the 12th, when they entrained for Treveray in the St. Mihiel sector.
Troop E, with a detachment from the Supply Troop and all stable sergeants and horseshoers, left Fort Ethan Allen, Vermont, on May 5, 1918, and arrived at Camp Merritt, New Jersey, the next day. A detachment from Troop D, which was left behind at Fort Myer, Virginia, joined Troop E, and all sailed on the transport Caserta May 10, arriving at Brest, France, May 23. The detachments joined their troops, but E Troop was sent to Port Du Commerce, near Brest, known as Base Section No. 5. S.O.S., and remained here on military police duty until after the Armistice. It was the only troop in the regiment which did not reach the battle area.