36th Division in World War I

Chapter IV
From Texas to the Marne

Other U-boats were sighted and "every destroyer in the fleet" went into action "full speed ahead, darting here and there about the slow-going transports." The gunners on the troopships "also were at work and the barking of the big guns added considerable interest to the spectacular battle." The subs made three separate assaults during the day but did no damage. Members of the 36th gave figures up to four as the number of U-boats sent to Davy Jones’s locker. In nearly every instance of submarine attack during the war, the pursuers could not be sure they had actually sunk a submarine and there was "no absolute proof," according to two authorities, "of any sinking" on August 11. It seems nonetheless reasonable to assume, on the basis of Chastaine’s testimony, that at least one was damaged.

The Texans and Oklahomans displayed no outward fear during the attacks; instead, they seem to have considered the excitement a welcome relief from the daily routine of ocean travel. Nearly all stood at their designated places beside "the life rafts, ready to go over should the command be given," but many of the hungry troops on the Maui and the Calamares took advantage of the situation to raid the galley. The captain of the latter ship told the artillerymen, according to Private Emmitt Dickinson, Battery A, 133rd Artillery, that they "were the worst bunch he had brought over." Fortunately, the armada was only one day from port.5

"We left a happy bunch" and "continued so across," wrote L. W. Jordan, 111th Sanitary Train, from "one of the most modern camps I ever saw" near Bordeaux on August 18. Bordeaux was an inland port on the Gironde River 52 miles from its entrance into the ocean. An old city, Jordan found "the cathedrals, towers and art museums" absolutely fascinating. "The boys have to drag me out [of them] every time we go" into town, which was "most every day."

[100] The situation was not as pleasant at Brest, the chief debarkation port not only for the Panthers, but also for the large majority of American soldiers sent to France. The 36th was the 29th American division to set foot on French soil. The first troopship of the July 18 convoy to unload was the Lenape. On the morning of July 31 the men stepped from the water-line deck onto lighters and were towed across the wide, shallow harbor to a small, creaky pier. Once ashore they fell-in and trudged uphill along the outskirts of Brest to the Pontanezen Rest Camp several kilometers outside the city. Other arriving units were marched through the heart of town. Groups of kids singing Hail, Hail, the Gang’s All Here, a song they had learned from other Doughboys, lined the streets. Many "little children clad in the prevalent black" begged "for pennies and something to eat." The poverty of the war-weary French people was everywhere apparent.

Although the port and the rest camp had been in use for some time, much construction remained to be done. The Texans and Oklahomans were appalled at the unpalatable conditions at the latter place. It was "poorly equipped, badly laid out, worse regulated, and in the worst possible sanitary condition." The first Panthers arrived on "a beautiful bright day," but it soon began to rain and most arrivals found themselves tramping about in a muddy morass. Frequent drizzle was, as the men soon learned, only too characteristic of French weather. Most men were quartered in shelter (pup) tents which they erected themselves. S. C. Denney, 111th Ammunition Train, complained that sleeping on the "damp and cold" ground caused him to be sick "most of the time we were there."

The generally filthy conditions at Brest were such "a disapointment" to many men that they wondered whether France was "worth fighting for." Still, they found their stop interesting owing to the new surroundings in a foreign country and the historic sites, not the least of which was the Pontanezen Barracks, after which the camp took its name. The stone barracks were two stories high and formed one side of a high stone-wall enclosure. The great Napoleon had housed troops and prisoners in them over a century earlier. That many inmates had seen their last moments there was obvious to the Panthers, one of them M. L. Reed, 142nd Infantry, who observed that "the old ‘chop-block’" Napoleon had employed to guillotine them was still intact.

[101] General Smith and his staff and a number of troops were quartered in the barracks themselves. Although life inside them was better than in the adjacent tent camp, Private White, whose company was bunked on the upper floor, did not like them because "they have so little ventilation." White was nearly as impressed by the "familiar" YMCAs as he was by the "striking" stone structures in the area. Writing on YMCA paper on July 31, he declared, "I don’t know what we would do without them."

White was one of hundreds of men to take advantage of the brief respite not only to bathe and to get back "their land legs," as it was intended, but also to let the folks at home know of their safe arrival. Many cabled word of their landing, for it was reported in the Star-Telegram a few days following the arrival of the first Panthers that messages were pouring in to friends and relatives all over Texas. Both Generals Hutchings and Hulen had been heard from in Austin and Gainesville, respectively. As a consequence of AEF censorship neither officers nor enlisted men gave many details of their experiences until the restriction was lifted after the Armistice.

The 36th was visited separately by General Pershing and President Raymond Poincare of France. Pershing, accompanied by Major General James W. McAndrew, AEF Chief of Staff, and Major General James G. Harbord, commander of the AEF Services of Supply (SOS), was on an inspection tour of the latter’s operation and arrived at Brest on August 2. The SOS controlled the reception and transportation of men and materials of war and therefore the 36th was under its jurisdiction. Word that the Commander-in-Chief was coming to the Pontanezen Barracks reached the camp in time for a small honor guard and a battalion of men to be assembled for his edification inside the commodious stone-wall enclosure.

Pershing, who seldom ran on time, was late in arriving. Finally, his limousine roared in and those Panthers gathered for the occasion were treated to a look at their supreme commander. Standing atop a box, the general made a short, low-key, philosophical speech to the assemblage and left soon thereafter. Corporal Frank A. Schaeffer, 133rd Machine Gun Battalion, wrote home that Pershing "was well pleased with such troops . . . that he inspected." Hart, one of the honor guard, indicates, however, that he did not conduct an inspection. [102] Pershing states in his memoirs only that he found the "new arrivals . . . impatient when they could not be promptly moved to the front . . ."

The first battalion of 142nd Infantry, together with representatives of "practically" all "branches" of the AEF, were reviewed on the same grounds on about August 16 by President Poincare. "None," Chastaine boasted, "made a better showing than the soldiers of the old First Oklahoma infantry, and their commanding officer was warmly congratulated by the French officers present."’

Few 36th organizations were at the port camps more than four days. The 61st Field Artillery Brigade together with the 111th Trench Mortar Battery, a subordinate unit, and over half the ammunition train, numbering all told some 5,000 officers and men, were transported by rail to the artillery training area at Redon. The troops were scarcely settled in when they were moved again, this time to the big artillery training center founded by Napoleon at Coetquidan. Camp de Coetquidan was located some 25 miles north of Redon and about 120 miles southeast of Brest. In about mid-October, 1918, after six weeks of intensive training, the artillery and presumably the mortar battery and ammunition train were ordered to join the rest of the division which, as will be seen below, had already been committed to battle. Lack of sufficient horses for the light artillery regiments and "motor tractors" for the 133rd Regiment delayed the removal. By the time the deficiencies were remedied the fighting had ceased and the order for the 61st to join the infantry was rescinded.

Evidently the rank and file of the command did not know how close they had come to going to the front. Despite the somewhat inadequate training the brigade received at Camp Bowie, it mastered the rudiments of French firing quickly and, according to Watson, "scored the second highest firing record of any artillery brigade in the United States Army." It was therefore, Watson declared early in 1919, "a mystery to both officers and men," who were keenly disappointed at not seeing action, as to why "the brigade was held in reserve." Actually, had it not been for the critical circumstances described below, the infantry, too, would probably have sat out, as it were, the final weeks of the war.

Two second lieutenants of the 131st Regiment at Coetquidan who would see plenty of action with the 36th Division in Italy [102] during World War II were William H. Martin of Waco and Walter G. Jennings of Abilene (later Fort Worth). Colonel Martin commanded the 143rd Infantry while lieutenant Colonel Jennings served as ordnance officer. Martin went on to become the assistant Adjutant General of Texas.

After the Armistice "all intensive training was suspended" for the 61st and the order of the day was either "mounted hikes" or "foot drills." It was much the same for the troops of the ammunition train who, lieutenant Colonel Stevenson reported, engaged in the "usual camp duties and drill" until they returned home. General Stephens died of bronchial pneumonia on January 4, 1919, and was buried in the camp cemetery. Colonel Logan acted as temporary commander until the appointment in February of Colonel Otho W. B. Farr of the Regular Army, whose main claim to fame with the 61st was to take it home. As a matter of fact, Farr was en route to the States to be retired when he was assigned as brigade commander.7

The bulk of the 36th—the two infantry brigades, Companies C and D of the ammunition train under Captain John L. King of Fort Worth, the 111th Engineers, the 111th Field Signal Battalion, and the other separate organizations that did not accompany the artillery—was conveyed by rail to the 13th Training Area about 120 miles southeast of Paris. Divisional headquarters was set up at Bar-sur-Aube, the principal town in the area, late in July, 1918, presumably by the advance party.

Some troops were transported over a fairly direct route from the coast that took them eastward through "the outskirts" of Paris, but the large majority were taken over a circuitous route to the south via Tours, either Bourges or Orleans, Dijon, and Chaumont. At the latter place, the Panthers glimpsed the headquarters of the AEF. The trains were small and the stock cars in which the men rode were chock-full and exceedingly uncomfortable. Because the cars hauled 40 men or 8 horses, they were called 40 and 8s by the troops. Sleeping was next to impossible, the running boards below the side doors served as restrooms, there were no station stops, and the food provided was "inferior." The men’s original negative impression of the country was altered somewhat as they viewed the "splendid highways with long rows of high trees on either side," the fine grape and vegetable crops, the big cities, the large chateaus, and the numerous villages. [104] Private Roy K. Murchison, 111th Sanitary Train, thought it "strange . . . to see the girls and women working on trains and in the railroad shops."

Detrained at Bar-sur-Aube, the exhausted men were distributed among the multitude of surrounding villages, the march to which was invariably characterized by considerable straggling. The members of the 71st Brigade, headquarters at Bligny, occupied the southern part of the area while those of the 72nd, headquarters at Soulaines, were situated in the northern portion. Each brigade and separate-unit organization from company level on up was assigned a headquarters village. For example, the 111th Engineers regimental headquarters was located at Spoy while Company C’s headquarters was nearby at Maison des Champs. Oftentimes the same village served as headquarters for two or more levels of command. The men were billeted in French homes and barns of the usual stone construction, for which the owners received compensation from the U. S. government, or were quartered in pup tents just outside their village-station. C. C. Williams, a clerk in divisional headquarters, commented that most of "the headquarters officers and men are billeted in French homes" and that food was "plentiful" and cheaper than in the States.

The initial 36th units arrived at Bar-sur-Aube during the first week in August, 1918, the last some two or three weeks later. The time en route was usually less than three days. Many Panthers did not know the identity of their new commanding general and found out the hard way at their new location. Smith seemed to be everywhere asserting his authority and shaping up his command. Hart recalled Smith at Neuisement chewing out a sergeant for failure to render the proper salute and berating the company commander for sloppy dress. Smith as a new commander was undoubtedly under pressure to perform well, all the more so because Pershing was known to brook no deficiencies in his generals.

The 36th "War Journal" states that "the military bearing and discipline" of the command was "a subject of remark" by high officers upon its arrival in France and Spence recorded discipline at Bar-sur-Aube as "good" though "often awkward" in "outward expression." Regular and National Army officers imbued with the familiarity-breeds-contempt concept of the officer-enlisted man [105] relationship may have looked aghast at the camaraderie between commissioned and enlisted personnel in the Guard units, but the latter in the 36th generally held their officers in high esteem. By the same token, the strong local and regional ties in the Guard divisions—certainly in the 36th—stimulated pride and a keen desire to uphold the honor of the states they represented.8

The Texans and Oklahomans were no sooner settled in than they were put to training. Pershing had not been long in Europe when he established training areas south and east of Paris to correct perceived deficiencies in stateside instruction. The War Department was not, in Pershing’s view, placing sufficient emphasis on "the details of open warfare." Training camp commanders were stressing trench warfare in accordance with instructions from Washington. Therefore, the offensive-minded Pershing, who had broad authority from the Wilson administration to do what he thought necessary in the AEF, instituted a rigid pre-combat training program in France which featured open warfare instruction.

Soon after the arrival of the first 36th units at Bar-sur-Aube, Smith received a pamphlet from AEF headquarters outlining the "first phase" of a program of training for the 36th. All instruction, the document read, "must contemplate the assumption of a vigorous offensive." Sound and energetic leadership "will be required" at all levels. Discipline of "the highest order," personal appearance, and military courtesy were to be stressed. "The standards of the American Army will be those of West Point." The latter was nearly the exact statement Pershing had made in 1917 when his army was in the planning stage.

Every field exercise, Chastaine scribbled, had "as its definite end the teaching of the troops to take machine gun nests," which experience had shown, the Germans placed "one behind another." Sustained advance required endurance and every week the 36th Doughboys made "one long hike" over the area’s "steep hills" with full field equipment. Much time was devoted to rifle and bayonet practice. Evenings were spent studying, cleaning equipment and quarters, and tending to village sanitation. Sundays were consumed by physical inspections, bathing, and washing clothes. Seven days a week they labored until they were ready, in Reed’s words, "to go over the top or anywhere else for a change."

Good wine was readily available and there was no prohibition against drinking in the AEF, but there seems to have been few [106] instances of intoxication. An exception to the general rule of sobriety, however, was a private in Company A, 111th Engineers, who was mortally wounded on August 22 while trying to escape from the guardhouse at Arsonval where he had been confined "for drunkenness and disorder." There were also few cases of venereal disease. Letters and newspapers received in the mail were eagerly devoured. In their own letters home, the Panthers requested such items as woolen socks, goggles, fountain pens, soap, and insect powder. Before packages could be sent from the States, however, the soldier had to provide the sender with the written permission from an officer no lower than major in rank. Transportation eastward across the Atlantic was at a premium, and, consequently, restrictions were imposed on space-taking packages.

There is little question that the 36th needed the intensive training it received. Until Bar-sur-Aube the men had never seen a live grenade. Although quite a few Browning automatic rifles and machine guns had been delivered to Camp Bowie, albeit somewhat late, many gunners had not worked with them. The 36th received a full complement at the New York POE to become the first division to be armed exclusively with the Browning weapons. Divisional maneuvers revealed defective liaison between forward elements and PCs all the way up the line of command to the top. Many officers could not read the military maps. As valuable as the exercises were, however, they were conducted without tanks, artillery, and sufficient equipment and hardware. Nevertheless, members of Company E, 111th Supply Train, at Proverville were elated at the receipt of fifteen Pierce Arrow trucks on September 20.

An outbreak of the flu known as Spanish fever "seriously hampered" the training of several units. The epidemic was widespread in the AEF and was attributed in the 36th in part to overcrowded living conditions and poor sanitation. Infected men "were segregated in infirmaries improvised for the purpose" until, by the time the division left relatively few names remained on the sick list. Although a number of men died at Bar-sur-Aube, the epidemic was not as severe as that at Camp Bowie in 1917. The epidemic of 1918 was more devastating at home, where it encompassed both civilians and soldiers, than it was in the AEF. Soldiers overseas probably enjoyed a degree of immunity owing [107] to the epidemic in training camps the year before. There were nearly as many flu and pneumonia deaths in the army during the war as there were battle deaths.9

Intensive training was not long under way when it became evident that the division under Greble had not gone far enough in eliminating unfit officers. One suspects, too, that Smith may have pressed the matter harder at Bar-sur-Aube than he might have had he commanded the 36th from the beginning. At any rate, 45 officers were sent to Blois for reclassification or discharge. In addition, 80 officers and 86 non-coms were sent to AEF schools and 68 officers were transferred out for a variety of reasons.

Ninety-eight new officers were received. This figure includes many officers assigned permanently to the 36th from among 75 instructors attached to the division at Bar-sur-Aube. The officers were veterans, particularly of the 42nd Division, who had been commissioned, sent to AEF schools, and assigned as instructors to successive divisions arriving in the training areas.

Among the officers sent to Blois were Captains Walter Veach, Augustine de Zavala, and Alonzo H. Drake; Majors John Alley, Louis E. Inmon, and John A. Brackenridge; Lieutenant Colonels Elta H. Jayne and Nathan Lapowski; Colonels W. K. Wright and William A. Johnson; and Brigadier General Henry Hutchings. The capability of many of the officers had been questioned at Camp Bowie. That competence was not always the criterion for their removal is indicated in the case of Johnson who was shipped out because it was thought he was too young to command a regiment in combat.10

General Smith’s most difficult case relating to the inefficiency of officers was General Hutchings. After observing his performance in practice exercises, Smith called in the AEF Inspector General, Major General A. W. Brewster. Hutchings, the Inspector was told by Smith and Colonel Williams, was unable to handle subordinates, was "unwilling to weed out the inefficient," and was incapable of correcting "defects and irregularities" in his brigade. Brewster observed for himself that he was "unable to cope" with "situations" and that he was prone to tactical errors. Thus with the concurrence of the Inspector, Smith on August 29 wired Pershing at Chaumont requesting that Hutchings be ordered to Blois "for reclassification and reassignment." Pershing immediately authorized Hutchings’s relief and assigned Brigadier General Pegram Whitworth as his replacement.

[108] Hutchings was called before General Harbord at Tours and offered "a position as major." Hutchings declined any rank lower than brigadier general on the grounds that he could not, because he had a large family to support and the profits from his business in Texas were uncertain without his supervision, afford it financially. On September 10, 1918, Harbord recommended to Pershing that Hutchings be returned to the States for discharge and Pershing responded with the necessary order. Hutchings left France on October 1 aboard the Von Steuben.

Hutchings was only one of a substantial number of generals to suffer the humiliation of reporting to the officer classification center at Blois. Pershing showed no mercy to generals, some of them old associates and West Point classmates, who did not perform or even appear to perform well. Sometimes, however, reporting at Blois "meant promotion and service in keeping with an officer’s capacity."11

The new commander of the 71st Brigade was a native of Louisiana, 47 years old, and called Tacoma, Washington, home. Whitworth attended private school and Thatcher Military Institute and graduated next to last in the class of 1894 at West Point. He received three Silver Stars and two citations for bravery during the Spanish American War and the Philippine Insurrection. He was construction quartermaster at Fort Crockett, Galveston, Texas, 1909-1912; served in the Panama Canal Zone, 1912-1916; and was colonel of the 362nd Infantry, 91st Division, which arrived in France just ahead of the 36th. His promotion to brigadier general evidently coincided with his assignment to the 71st.12

Other significant changes in high command positions were necessitated by the relief of officers at Bar-sur-Aube. Colonel Johnson was replaced by Colonel Baker as commander of the 111th Engineers. Colonel Wright, who had only recently taken Muchert’s place as commanding officer of the 144th Infantry, was succeeded by Colonel James S. Parker. Lapowski’s and Jayne’s position in the 141st and 142nd Infantries were assigned to Lieutenant Colonels Luther R. James and Phillipson. Baker and Phillipson, formerly lieutenant colonel and major, were old members of the 36th while Parker and James were transfers. None of the four was National Guard. It was National Guard officers who were most affected by the elimination procedure. And it was [109] Regular Army officers who assumed the higher positions. Smith promoted within the 36th to fill vacancies whenever possible, but many posts, especially the more important, were filled by officers sent by AEF headquarters.

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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
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