36th Division in World War I

 

CHAPTER THREE
CAMP BOWIE

[55] The raw state of camp construction at the time of the arrival of the Guard units, the mobilization and organization of the division, the almost constant flow of transfers, the temporary absence of General Greble, the many inexperienced officers and non-coms, and the sometimes inclement weather hampered the progress of training at Camp Bowie. More serious impediments were the shortages of equipment and ordnance, the lack of adequate training facilities, and illness. The majority of problems were encountered and alleviated during the first four months of training. The slow start of the 36th was not unique, for similar problems plagued the instruction of other divisions.

The 36th high command expected training during the early months to go beyond recruit drill, hikes, and small arms and bayonet instruction to include sham battles, trench work, simulated gas warfare, and practice advances. Later, emphasis would be placed on regimental, brigade, and divisional maneuvers. The "chief phase" in every stage would be on "trench warfare and bayonet fighting." Flyovers from the air camps would accustom the troops to planes, which would also cooperate with the artillery and field signal battalion. The general scheme of training was established by "the General Staff, War College Division," as outlined in instructions from the Adjutant General of the Army.

No other brigade or unit was more handicapped in the beginning than the artillery which had neither a sufficient arsenal nor a practice range. There were in mid-October, 1917, only four [56] cannons, evidently homemade "of dismantled wagons, sewer pipe and logs," available to the three artillery regiments. Four American field pieces were received from the Ordnance Department in 1917, two late in October and two in December. The guns were three-inchers which benefited the 131st and 132nd Regiments more than the 133rd since, as the heavy artillery regiment, it was supposed to be armed with six-inch howitzers. Some "camouflage" firing was done using, in the absence of the proper ammunition, "low charged shells" composed of small caliber cartridges. Most of the artillerymen’s time was spent initially in infantry and mounted drill and in "working with sticks and wagon wheels." Even "mounted maneuvers" were hampered by a shortage of horses and "wheeled material."

The four machine gun companies of the infantry regiments and the three machine gun battalions were nearly as disadvantaged. The old Guard units, according to Spence, brought several Benet-Mercier and Colt machine guns and "a few automatic rifles," which, like the field artillery pieces, were passed around for instructional purposes. As late as December 18 "whole machine gun battalions" were still without guns. A few Lewis automatic rifles were available in October and several Chauchat automatic rifles were received in November, but ammunition for the latter guns was not delivered until later.

The infantry, too, was limited by serious shortages of equipment and weapons and lack of facilities. The gas instruction chamber and the Benbrook rifle (and machine gun) range were not completed until November and the trench system was still under construction. About 3,000 rifles came with the veteran Guard units and about 5,000 Springfields and 500 wooden pieces were received early in the fall. These were passed around for maximum utilization; nevertheless, many infantry companies did not see "a single rifle" for months.

Perhaps the 111th Engineers, though much hindered by lack of tools, received the most adequate training of all in the early months. The regiment was put to work immediately completing and keeping in repair the camp road network and in building the Benbrook trench system. The engineers were assisted by the infantry battalions which took turns digging in the trenches.1

Shipments of summer cotton uniforms, tents, and other clothing and housing items began arriving even before the Guard [57] movement to Camp Bowie was well under way. Some men had to wait, but most received their government issues immediately or soon after their arrival. There might have been no real problem in this area had summer weather held and the number of men been limited to that about the fourth week of September when Chastaine asserted that soldiers had never had it so good. Each infantry regiment comprised "a large-sized town" with company streets fronting "large, strong, canvas tents of pyramidal pattern." Each tent housed seven privates and a corporal in charge. Although many "squad homes" remained to be floored and walled, they provided, "from the standpoint of healthy surroundings," better living quarters "than the homes of the men in civilian life." Each occupant possessed a cot, a mattress, and two blankets. A gravel walk with whitewashed rock along both sides extended from "the head of the company street to the fartherest tent down the line." Every afternoon the perspiring and dusty men returned from drill to the refreshing showers of a company bath house. They were fed in wooden buildings each of which contained a neat kitchen and dining hall with two long tables for 250 men. They were served at allotted places in individual mess kits which they sterilized in scalding water placed in containers outside the door.

Had Chastaine waited a while to write about living conditions at Camp Bowie he could not have painted such a rosy picture. The arrivals of draftees and remaining Guardsmen necessitated placing nine or ten men in each tent. The first "norther" of the fall on September 26 found the soldiers without winter clothing and sufficient blankets. Although hundreds of "little cone shaped, sheet iron stoves" for the tents were received and distributed shortly afterwards, the base hospital, divisional headquarters, and over half the units were without heat on October 8 when a second cold wind blew in from the north. Fuel wood, which had to be hauled in, was scarce at first, but in due time wood was available in abundance and enough stoves were delivered to avert a crisis. Winter uniforms soon arrived, but overcoats and extra blankets were not shipped until much later. Secretary Baker blamed the delays on transportation problems.

This situation contributed to an outbreak of measles, pneumonia, meningitis, "and other respiratory diseases." Meningitis, on account of its "peculiar nature," held the most [58] terror for the men, but it was, in numbers of cases and deaths, much less severe than the measles and pneumonia. More Sammies suffered from the measles than from pneumonia, but the latter, which often followed the former, took by far the greater number of lives.

As the epidemic spread during October, rumors abounded among the homefolks that the whole camp was sick. Such was not the case, but things were bad enough. By early November there were 1,867 men in the hospital. Consisting of 51 buildings, the facility had been opened in early October after a delay caused by fire. Its capacity at the time was 1,000 patients and normal occupancy was 800.2 Because the water and sewerage systems remained to be installed, its staff was seriously handicapped in treating the sick.

With the death rate increasing and the epidemic continuing unabated, General Blakely, on November 28, imposed a two-week quarantine and medical officers instructed the troops to avoid large gatherings, to keep their quarters ventilated, and to avoid expectorating inside them and in the company streets. The men refused to keep tent flaps open for ventilation purposes owing to the cold weather, which was so severe at one point early in December that it interrupted training, but the quarantine was rigidly enforced. Although there were about 5,000 cases of measles and many of pneumonia in Fort Worth, the Star-Telegram insisted that no civilian epidemic existed. Blakely presumably wished to avoid spreading the diseases outside camp by not allowing soldiers to go into town or anyone except relatives of the sick onto the post. Many convalescent patients were, however, permitted to go home. Numerous men with the flu carried on the best they could without hospital treatment.

William P. Hobby, Ferguson’s successor as governor of Texas, in reaction to pressure from relatives of the troops, made a personal investigation of the situation during the height of the epidemic. His visit coincided with that of Major General W. C. Gorgas, the Surgeon General, who was on an inspection tour of training camps in the Southwest. All camps were in the throes of an epidemic similar to that at Camp Bowie, and Gorgas wished to determine the causes and to make recommendations for their elimination.

After inspecting the health condition of the 36th and conferring with Blakely and Hobby on December 2, Gorgas reported to [59] General Tasker H. Bliss, Army Chief of Staff. There had been 2,900 cases of measles and 409 of pneumonia during the past month and pneumonia had taken 41 lives. The measles "and other epidemic diseases" had been introduced by incoming troops and had been spread by overcrowding of the camp. The 36th Sammies had been raised mainly in scattered rural communities and had never been exposed to childhood diseases. The lack of winter clothing until recently had "probably increased the tendency to pneumonia." Gorgas recommended that the forwarding of overcoats be expedited; that sufficient tentage be shipped to reduce substantially the number of men per tent; that the divisional commander be authorized to install "plumbing, water and sewer connections" in the hospital immediately; and that a two-week observation camp be set up for newcomers. Much of what Gorgas recommended was already in the process of accomplishment. It was presumably in response to Gorgas’s recommendations that the detention camp described in the previous chapter was established.

Gorgas noted that there was "a great deal of uneasiness and criticism among the people with regard to conditions here, which are worse from a sanitary point of view than in any of the camps I have visited." Besides Governor Hobby, U. S. Senator Morris Sheppard and Congressmen James C. Wilson and John N. Garner, all of Texas, expressed their concern and were assured by Gorgas "that every effort will be made to improve health conditions at Camp Bowie." Some 90 soldiers from Garner’s hometown of Uvalde alone were stricken with measles or pneumonia.

General Greble returned to Camp Bowie on December 7 after almost three months and some 6,000 miles of travel. Captain Houghton preceded him by four days; Lieutenant Colonel Williams did not, however, report until January 7 owing to "a troublesome abscess of the jaw" which had sent him to a Paris hospital for five weeks. Greble was greeted in a ceremony by the flag pole at the headquarters tent, which was still standing despite the occupation of three new wooden headquarters buildings nearby. Ignoring the fact that other training camps were beset with the same health problem, Greble chewed out Blakely and other officers for failing to keep the epidemic in check. He was distressed that 60 men had died recently and remarked to [60] lieutenant Colonel Metcalfe during an inspection of the hospital that "It’s worse than fighting the Germans." It must indeed have seemed that way, for 16 soldiers died the same day as the general’s return.

Greble wired Washington for the necessary authorization of expenditures to complete the hospital plumbing, extended the quarantine, rigidly enforced sanitary regulations, and personally lectured men for lying on the damp ground during routine training breaks. Although Greble might not have done any more than Blakely, one suspects that his presence in November would at least have reassured both soldiers and civilians that all was being done that could be done. Colonel Thomas Q. Donaldson, an inspector general from the War Department who inspected the 36th late in the fall, observed in his report on December 19 that there "appears to have been a marked improvement in the tone of the command since the return of the permanent division commander." Blakely as acting divisional commander may not have enjoyed the full confidence of the officers and men and he seemingly lacked the quality of leadership necessary to command a division. In this regard, Greble must be criticized for lingering longer than was required in Europe. In fairness to Greble, it should be noted that he was not the only commander to remain overlong from his command.

Greble actually resumed his post just as the epidemic was beginning to subside. Several of the reasons for the decline were: The flooring and walling of tents was completed; the Quartermaster Department sent blankets until every man had four, plus a blanket or comfort provided by the Red Cross; thousands of heavy woolen overcoats arrived on December 10 and 2,300 tents and about half as many stoves were received in two shipments the same month; additional doctors and nurses were added to the hospital staff, and the hospital plumbing was rushed to completion. It was not until February, 1918, however, partly owing to a plumbers’ strike for higher wages in January, that water and sewerage facilities were available on all wards.

There were still 1,427 men in the hospital on December 18 when Greble lifted the quarantine. Some 8,000 soldiers had been hospitalized during the epidemic; of this number, 205 had died of all causes, principally pneumonia. Presumably Greble would not have terminated the quarantine so soon, but Christmas was [61] approaching and he wished to send as many men as possible home for the holidays on the theory that it would contribute to the rapid recovery of the camp. It was the general policy of the War Department to limit the number of furloughs to five percent, but Greble obtained special permission to grant leaves to one-half his command. Accordingly, some 13,000 soldiers left Camp Bowie for home on December 20-24.

For the men who remained behind, training was suspended except for "a general attack ... upon a regiment of turkeys." The several unit bands played constantly and as many Sammies as wished were allowed to take dinner at churches, lodges, or clubs in town. Some 1,000 soldiers were nonetheless unable to restrain themselves and went AWOL. Company B, 144th Infantry, it was reported, "took Dallas by storm New Year’s Eve, going there in a body and parading the streets." The errant troops were, upon their return, placed in the guardhouse for a day or so and the non-coms were reduced in rank. Ex-Sergeant Wirt M. Wolff of Dallas, who was said to be the tallest man in camp, indicated that the "high time" he enjoyed was worth it. The punishment meted out to the AWOLs was negligible and in accordance with Greble’s policy, until the latter stages of training, of leniency because "the men of this division" did not understand "the serious nature of the crime."

Greble himself spent the holiday season in Washington where he was called to testify before the Senate Military Affairs Committee investigating shortages at home and abroad and the health situation in the training camps. Greble stated that he had predicted the epidemic at Camp Bowie in letters to Bliss, Gorgas, and others, if nothing was done "to remedy the bad sanitary conditions, over-crowding and lack of clothing," before he left for Europe. His and the testimony of other training camp commanders was anticlimactic since the epidemic was everywhere in recession. At Camp Bowie the sick rate continued to decline, notwithstanding an outbreak of the mumps, until February when it returned to normal. The 36th authorities kept a close tab on sanitary conditions in the future and when the spring dust storms common to West Texas struck, company streets, roads, "and even drill fields in certain places" were sprayed with oil to prevent even the most minor "respiratory irritation."3

Perhaps more significant, since the health situation was improving, was Greble’s testimony relating to equipment, [62] ordnance, and hardware shortages. Armed with long reports from his unit commanders, which showed that rifles, pistols, machine guns, automatic rifles, field pieces, trench mortars, ammunition of all kinds, wagons, trucks, and numerous other items, large and small, were either non-extant or in short supply, Greble had no difficulty in convincing the senators that training at Camp Bowie was not proceeding as rapidly as it might. The problem was by no means limited to Camp Bowie and was due to the difficulties of producing and delivering the requisite essentials to scores of divisions in immediate need at home and abroad in quick time. Nevertheless, the committee believed the War Department could speed the flow of materials by eliminating unnecessary red tape.

Actually the shortages hindering training were, as indeed Secretary Baker informed the committee, in the process of being remedied. Certainly the situation at Camp Bowie was much improved in January, 1918, upon the receipt of several thousand rifles, 30 machine guns, 100 automatic rifles, "abundant" ammunition, and numerous miscellaneous items. During the next two months, 9,000 "new, shiny Enfields," which had for some time been lost en route, 73 carrier pigeons, trucks, trench mortars, and a half-dozen 3-inch cannon were delivered. An eyewitness observed in February that over "half the division is composed of men who have spent much of their lives in the open and practically every one of these is becoming an expert with rifle or machine gun." The troops were not so successful with one shipment of rifles, however, because they contained defective sights. Truckmaster McCord Harrison, Company E, 111th Supply Train, subsequently recalled that until his company received two Packard trucks the men had done nothing but drill eight hours a day.

In April, two 6-inch guns and a small batch of Browning automatic rifles were unloaded. Additional field guns—75s for the 131st and 132nd Regiments and 155s for the 133rd—another large shipment of American Enfields, and a quantity of Browning machine guns came in during May and June. The new ordnance was not enough to relieve completely the shortages, but it contributed immeasurably to the "high gear" training program announced by General Greble in December, 1917, and instituted the following January. Part of the ordnance was received too late to be of maximum value. The late-arriving artillery pieces, though [63] used for demonstration purposes, were never fired owing to lack of ammunition.4

The problem of inadequate training facilities was also mitigated during the early months of 1918. After a long search for a suitable artillery range, the 61st Brigade in January obtained the use of a large block of land on the Corn and Hildreth ranches adjoining the Weatherford road about 15 miles to the west. In the ensuing weeks the three artillery regiments took turns occupying a tent Camp Called Camp Zero Target Range and expending thousands of rounds of shrapnel and high explosive shells. Airplanes equipped with telegraphic instruments and antennae flashed the range to gunners on the ground who banged away at designated targets. On March 7 Greble, assisted by Blakely, Sholars, and Major Harry Kinnard of Dallas, the chief range officer, directed the 132nd Regiment in the most intensive bombardment "yet held at the range."

The almost constant booming of the big guns soon elicited complaints from the ranchers that it was "affecting the stock." Division and Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce officials failed in an effort to renew the lease and for a time it appeared that another range would be located near Mineral Wells. But every time a tract was located, "the price for leasing was doubled." A new range described as "ideal for firing" was no sooner secured near Weatherford than it was given up due to a disagreement over the rental fee. The matter was finally resolved and both artillerymen and machine gunners were soon blasting and popping away at imaginary enemy positions. The "great objection" to the big Weatherford range, which was dubbed Camp Joffre presumably in honor of Marshal Joseph Joffre, the French Hero of the Marne, was "the distance from Camp Bowie." The Sammies would have had even further to hike had a range been leased near Mineral Wells.5

The completion of the Benbrook trenches was nearly as important to the infantry as a suitable range was to the artillery. Some training was accomplished in makeshift trenches and in completed portions of the Benbrook system before the latter’s formal occupation on March 2, but intensive and extensive instruction in trench warfare was until that time impossible. The system was constructed under the supervision of Colonel Barden and consisted of 10 miles of trenches extending on both sides of [64] the Texas and Pacific Railway, long stretches of wire entanglements, numerous shelters and dugouts, and machine gun emplacements. Battalions, then regiments, were rotated for short periods in the trenches where, divided into aggressors and defenders, they each fought the "Battle of Benbrook" under the overall supervision of Major Upham.

The practice was hard, there was little rest, and flares and barrages made it seem only too real, but the men considered trench warfare a welcome relief from field problems at Lakes Worth and Como, drill, hikes, rifle practice, and inspections. A Star-Telegram reporter observed that the Southwesterners felt "so cheap" at having to surrender their identification tags as a sign of surrender that they were "willing to fight to death" to retain them. Therefore the "engagement is fairly lively and the rivalry leaves nothing to the imagination." The enthusiasm of the troops resulted in numerous sprains, bruises, black eyes, bloody noses, and "cracked heads." The unauthorized use of rocks, fists, and sling shots accounted for many of the minor injuries.

There were several serious accidents. Major Lloyd Hill, commanding officer, 1st Battalion, 144th Infantry, was hit in the right leg by the premature explosion of a shell and John Green, Co. E, 111th Engineers, had his right hand blown off by a smoke bomb which exploded "too soon." The worst accident of all occurred early in May when human error caused a Stokes trench mortar shell to explode in the trenches, killing or mortally wounding ten enlisted men and First Lieutenant Allen J. McDavid of Abilene. Greble and several other officers were standing about 10 yards away but were not hurt. It was a poignant moment when one of the dying soldiers asked the men who rushed to his side to wire his mother of his death. Sergeant Larry Halphen of Austin, 141st Infantry, one of four injured survivors, suffered his left ear torn off and his left eye pierced by a fragment.

During June Greble directed nearly the entire division in "both offensive and defensive operations" at the trench system. All "phases of modern warfare" were employed in the war games. The light artillery laid down barrages, the troops massed in the trenches and went "over the top" with shouts reminiscent of the old rebel yell, and machine guns chattered away. The efficient and affable chief of staff, Colonel Williams, "calmly smoked cigarettes" and constantly "received and sent messages" while [65] General Greble rode his favorite horse, Gray Bill, along the front expressing approval here and criticism there.

 

Select
redline.gif (912 bytes)
navbar

Panthers to Arrowheads: The 36th (Texas-Oklahoma) Division In World War I
by Lonnie J. White
Copyright 1984 1998 by Military History Associates, Inc.
All Rights Reserved - Reprinted by Permission
This page is sponsored and maintained by
TMFM