Not only was the United States committed to a policy of neutrality as the Great War broke out in Europe in 1914 it was also, in any event, completely unprepared to be a participant in a global conflict. By 1917 its army consisted of only 300,000 men, it had experienced operational difficulties in its recent expedition into Mexico and had not fully grasped that its rate of growth as a nation would inevitably include it in all events on the world stage whether it wished to be included or not. The allies looked to the prodigious manufacturing capacity of the United States and its resources in manpower to break the stalemate of the war on the Western Front and so in April of 1917 it reluctantly ‘threw its hat into the ring.’ Those who are interested in Americans at war, the United States effort in World War 1, the history of the US Artillery arm and the first hand experiences of the US soldiers who fought in Europe in the early years of the twentieth century will find much to interest them in the pages of this book. However, while all that may be sufficient for many The 305th Field Artillery in the Great War offers more. It serves very well in its capacity as a unit history, but the author, Charles Wadsworth Camp, takes us into the heart of the unit relating anecdotes and personal accounts with humour, insightful detail and a remarkable skill in penmanship; indeed he was a noted correspondent, critic and writer in civilian life. Camp’s unit seems to have been blessed with more than the usual quota of creative talent, particularly artists, and the text is liberally complemented with excellent and evocative illustrations of the 305th at war. All these considerations combined make this book a pleasure to read in every way. To complement Camp’s book another, shorter, account of the 305th on campaign on the Western Front that adds context and enhances the value in this special Leonaur edition is also included. Available in softcover and hardcover with dust jacket.
Early as we were, the roads were crowded from the first. The two other regiments of the brigade had had the same idea of an early start. Quads, bearing ammunition, and ration trucks, bumped along, their drivers sarcastic and anxious. There was a great deal of infantry out—some fantassins, and very many of our own doughboys. A lot of heavy firing made the dusk noisy. The darkness came down nearly impenetrable and ominous. Frequently now the column halted.<br>
There’s plenty of chance in war. B’s platoon had its captain. A’s was in command of a lieutenant. During one of these halts B slipped past A, and a little later got what might have been A’s share.
But it was all rather confusing, and conditions got worse on the main road above Mareuil. Shells came perpetually like unseen fingers tearing the black pall of night. One knew that they wouldn’t all fall over or short. The halts were continual, and, because of the congestion, you couldn’t keep your carriages separated.<br>
E got it first. Shrapnel popped overhead, but nobody bothered much about that. Then a high explosive shell burst on the road in the midst of the platoon, and horses reared and tried to pull free, making queerly human sounds. It was impossible to tell at first how much damage had been done. Officers and non-commissioned officers rode up and down the line, shouting and exhorting, but they might as well have saved their breath. There was no panic among the men. Nor, miraculously, had a man been hit. Two horses had been killed, and their team mates were dangerously active.<br>
“Cut ’em out,” came the quick command. “Haul ’em over to the ditch, if you can. But let’s go on.”<br>
The flashes from bursting shells helped the drivers. The dead animals were cut out and drawn to one side. The platoon moved ahead.<br><br>
It wasn’t all shrapnel and high explosive. As the column approached Chartreuve Farm gas shells came over in a dangerous concentration. Reluctantly men put on their respirators, shutting out what little light there was. They struggled with frightened horses and got the awkward masks over their muzzles. They went on through a suffocating blackness. The few commands were choked, and had to be mumbled from mouth to mouth.<br>
It was under these uncomfortable circumstances that B suffered. The column was blocked again near Chartreuve crossroads. B was just short of the junction, clearly a registered point, consequently a dangerous one. Yet there was nothing to do about it. Some outfit has to be caught at or near crossroads in these blocks. You can ride ahead if you like, and try your hand at straightening out the tangle, but in the majority of cases you come back with nothing accomplished, and you stand still, or sit your horse, and pray for the movement of the units ahead of you.<br>
The Hun came down on the crossroads, and some of the shells fell among the waiting cannoneers and drivers of B. Even in the blinding respirators it was easy to see that men and horses were down. The horses screamed, and there came a whimpering cry from some hurt fellow for his mother.<br>
Nor was there any panic here. An amateur of the National Army cried out cheerily:<br>
“It would be a hell of a war, boys, if nobody got killed.”<br>
“Where’s the captain?”<br>
The captain’s horse stood riderless near the head of the platoon. Lieutenant Montgomery found his orderly, and that anxiety was removed. The captain had gone ahead on foot to try to break the jam. Lieutenant Montgomery sent a messenger to report what had happened, and with his own hands attended as best he could to the wounded.<br>
There was nothing to be done for Private John W. Whetstone. He had been instantly killed. Private Harry E. Kronfield, it was clear, hadn’t long to live. An ambulance, by rare good luck, was struggling through the jam at this point. It picked Kronfield up and hurried him to a first aid station, but he died before morning. This ambulance also took Private Douglas Tredendall, so severely hurt that he was evacuated and never returned to the regiment, and Private Joseph Horowitz. His injury was particularly unfortunate as he was the medical orderly with the platoon. His task of mercy was very brief. With one arm blown away he was evacuated and we didn’t see him again. First Class Private George A. Thomas was wounded less seriously.<br>
By the time these men had been cared for and the horses cut out the jam broke, and the column pounded on towards Les Près Farm.<br>
D battery had no casualties on the way up. Its first platoon went, as did E’s temporarily on to the hill above the farm. There was a lot of gas there and several bursts of heavy shelling. By choosing quieter moments, however, Captain Starbuck got his guns in and his limbers and caissons started for home. <br>
Corporal Connie F. Geer was in charge of the second piece caisson. Going back the traffic had thinned out a good deal so that the column moved rapidly. Corporal Geer had been particularly cheery and helpful during the trying moments when the caissons had dumped their ammunition at the position. On the return journey he was at the rear of the column. He went back often to make sure there was no straggling. The train must have been half way home when one of his men reported Geer missing. A search of the road was unsuccessful. The shelling was still heavy, and it was necessary to get men, horses, and carriages back to the echelon. There a report was made, and Lieutenant Hoadley set out with a party. They found Corporal Geer’s body at the lip of a fresh crater close to the side of the road. His death had probably been instantaneous. He was buried that day in a quiet corner of Nesles Woods.