Campaign History of the 151e Régiment d'Infanterie - XI
~ 1916 ~
Verdun - First Tour (10-16 March) - Part I
10 March: Though the regiment was alerted in the early morning (giving the men only a couple hours of sleep), it will spend the afternoon in Verdun waiting for cover of darkness before proceeding up to the front. It will be relieving the 160 RI at night in the Bois d’Haudromont [alternately, Haudremont]. The regiment departs Verdun at 1700 hrs, with each company provided its own guide, removing the potential for companies to get lost. Sous-Lieutenant Raymond Jubert records the scene:
We've crossed over the Meuse -- broad, noisy, sinister-looking -- its shifting, bloody mirror flowing past the last blazing fires. The ranks are silent. We seemed to be like ghosts, and perhaps tomorrow we will be. This procession of shadows leaving the ruins of the ghost town, this silent army of specters marching toward the guns, had an almost Dantesque grandeur to it.Crossing over the Meuse to the Right Bank, the regiment initially followed the course of the river until it reaches Belleville, where they’re greeted with their first shell burst. The regiment then turns right and marches toward Fort de Belleville. Once it reaches Fort de Belleville, it takes a trajectory to the left and heads northeast toward Ouvrage (Fort) de Froideterre, about 2 km distance. Campana noted:
We marched across open ground that was covered with snow. It took six long hours. Our route was strewn with craters and all sorts of obstacles, and the ground beaten by the uninterrupted fire of the enemy artillery. The region was very hilly. We went down one hill only to immediately begin climbing another, and many men fell on the slippery ground. Yet the moon, full and yellow, shown in the clear sky…[I]n front of us…Bras, Samogneux, Vacherauville and Louvemont burned. In the distance you could make out the Meuse, which spread out in long bloody stretches. The snow reflected the light, intensifying it and we could see the heights and ravines that we still had to cross.The moon and the fires illuminated the ground took with a pink incandescence. The temperature started to drop. At the battered Froideterre, the companies halted for a quarter hour before starting the final portion of the relief march. The 3 Bat. was held here in reserve and took up positions in the woods on Côte de Froidterre, close beside the fort itself. The 1 and 2 Bats. continued its march up the line, moving forward with greater speed now across the slippery snow. They could now see legendary Fort de Douaumont about 2 km off to their right.It was around here that the men entered the first communication trench, or what passed for one in the chaos and devastation that prevailed here. In reality, the trench was little more than a shallow ditch. Campana viewed the desolation around him:
At times we passed the bodies of dead horse -- from which emitted a horrible smell of putrefaction -- shapeless debris, the remains of wagons and caissons. From time to time, we passed numerous resupply parties as well as stretcher-bearers bringing back to the ambulances the dead and wounded. For in front, behind, to the right and the left, the shells fell, unnerving us with their brief detonation and blinding light. Soon we could clearly perceived the sound of gunfire. Bullets began to whistle by, flares shot across the sky like meteors.An order is passed down from mouth-to-mouth: "We’ve arrived! Silence! Pass it along!" Even with guides to lead the way, it took hours for all the companies to be placed. The relief was only completed in the early morning hours of 11 March. The 1 and 2 Battalions had taken up front line positions on the southern slopes of the Haudromont Woods, alongside the Bras – Douaumont Road which passed through the Ravin de la Goulette. The 2 Battalion was on the right (in front of Carrières d'Haudromont -- the Haudromont Quarries) with three companies on the first line and one in support, and the 1 Battalion on the left in the same array. The 3 Battalion was kept in reserve 2 km to the south, under the cover of the woods around to Fort Froideterre. To the it’s left, the 151 is in liaison with the 162 RI, while to it’s right is the 150 RI (which will be relieved the next day by 94 RI).
We stopped along the edge of a woods to catch our breath…A poison gas shell had burst near us. We felt like onions had been rubbed in our eyes and tears began streaming down our cheeks. We retake our march forward: "Here’s the last ravine," my guide tells me, "it’s the Death Ravine!"
The Death Ravine! A sinister dismal name but very apt! There, the sinister reaper had made an ample harvest: on the ground blanketed in white hundreds of dead bodies were rotting and the snow, slowly, softly, noiselessly covered them over with its shroud. There lying in their woolen capotes, the zouaves and Moroccans who’d contained the enemy and replaced the absent ramparts with the impassable barricade of their valiant chests…Suddenly an order slips from mouth to mouth: "We’ve arrived! Silence! Pass it along!"…A few moments later we’re installed in our skirmisher holes linked together to form a narrow, shallow trench.
As the men took stock of their situation, the shock must have been profound. There were no trenches to speak of, only meager scrapes in the ground, knee-deep fighting holes linked together with a thin, shallow excavation. As General Deville had forewarned them, there was nothing between them and the German army. The enemy first line was very close, no more than 50 meters away. There were no wire entanglements out in front of their paltry daisy-chain, nor any other defensive accessory. They would soon discover that the position was exposed to enemy fire from above as well as from enfilade.
Yet as luck would have it, the German advance had temporarily stalled out here just a few days before and the enemy’s artillery had yet to ascertain the location of the fallback positions that now comprised the French first line. While merciless bombardments would soon eviscerate all the natural features of nature from the heights north of Verdun, at this stage of the battle the sheltered southern slopes of Bois d'Haudromont still remained densely populated with saplings and undergrowth.
Trees and vegetation presented no real cover from German shells and bullets. The sector was effectively defenseless. In this light, the recent weeks spent constructing barbed-wire entanglements in the reserve lines of Champagne now proved highly fortuitous. The 151 must continue the work on the pathetic entrenchments that had been started by their predecessors. Immediately the men set to work, furiously digging away before daylight would make such activity impossible.
Capt. Coltat commanding 9 Co. is named adjudant-major of 3 Bat. Lieut. Le Gallo takes command of 9 Co. Médecin-Aide Major Berard transfers to Ambulance 3/34.
11 March: The regiment has come to occupy a nearly defenseless sector. The recent weeks spent laboring on the construction of barbed-wire entanglements would prove of great benefit to the regiment now. The 151 must continue the work on the pathetic entrenchments begun by the previous unit. Immediately the men set to work, furiously digging away before daylight would make such activity impossible.
Campana’s first instructions received from the company commander were to immediately go about erecting a barbed-wire entanglement. At 0200 hrs, a fatigue party dropped off the spools of barbed-wire and Campana calls for twelve volunteers. When fourteen present themselves to him, his heart nearly bursts with pride and admiration. That after a difficult six-hour march up to the line, in full marching order and under fire, to then volunteer to work out in the open 30 meters from the German lines, made an immense impression on Campana.
Campana sets off with a security party out with four of his men to protect his workers. Moving slowly from tree to tree amongst the undergrowth, the branches, logs, and foliage tripped them up. After placing his men, Campana took cover behind a shrub and began his vigil. After a short lapse of time, he saw a dark mass move close by him. Thinking it was one of his men, Campana, hands in his pockets, advanced toward the man and asked who it was. Suddenly a rifle shot rang out and a bullet whistled past. It was a German. Campana instinctively reached for his revolver but the German had now dashed back toward his trench. It was only then that he realized the fatal error he had committed – he had forgotten to load his revolver.
Campana didn’t have much time to beat himself up over it though as a fusillade now opened up from the German side. Forgetting that their comrades were out working between the lines, the men back in the French line returned fire. A deafening storm of gunfire erupted in the woods, as bullets smashed into tree trunks and snapped branches from above, causing a rain of splintered wood and sticks. Campana and his men managed to quickly get back to their line and the firing gradually wound down. But the orders remained to maintain the strictest vigilance. Those not sent back to work or put on watch, wrap themselves up in their blankets and get some much-needed sleep with their equipment still on and their loaded rifles resting beside them.
Eventually dawn came and a heavy fog set in, completed by low gray clouds. Though it has stopped snowing, a light layer of white has covered the blankets of the slumbering men, giving them an eerie resemblance to the frozen corpses in the ravine below. As the morning light continues to spread, the fog dissipated and as it does, new dangers arose. From their right, a German machine-gun opened up and swept the top of our trench by enfilade. Any movement immediately called down a hail of bullets toss that ripped up the earth around them. The lesson was simple: keep down and keep still. The men hunkered down as best they could. In his memoirs, Sous-Lieutenant Raymond Jubert would record the words of the regimental commander Moisson in terms as stark as General Deville's at the Hôtel de Ville.
"Your's is a mission of sacrifice. The post of honor is here, right where they intend to attack. You'll suffer losses every day, for they'll harass our positions. On the day that they wish, they will slaughter you down to the last man, and it is your duty to fall."Certainly Moisson's words were a dismal message and reflected the dire anticipation of the regiment's situation. Although it was not immediately apparent, in a way the regiment’s arrival to the Haudromont sector in the first week of March was fortuitous. The German effort had at this time shifted to the Left Bank of the Meuse, with a relatively (and temporary) lull in the fighting on the Right Bank. Aside from some occasional shelling and machine-gun strafing by both sides, the first-line remains calm as the German artillery had yet to determine the exact location of the French first-line positions. The Germans did know it was close though to their own though, so for the time being, the enemy artillery targeted most of their shells on the French supporting lines. German 105s and 150s rained down on the Côte de Froideterre, making the large beech trees and saplings come crashing down with loud cracks.
Back at the support positions at Côte de Froideterre where 3 Bat. remains in reserve, Sous-Lieut. Jubert is trying to make the best of things. His simple shelter is made consists of a roof made of branches with a few shovelfuls of earth on top and a tent-canvas for a door. Jubert was getting some desperately-needed sleep when he was rudely woken up by a salvo of 150s which land only 15 meters away. Jubert was a veteran of the fighting in the Argonne and had already adapted a keen sense of danger. He soon perceived that the German artillery was firing in salvos of six, methodically progressing up the hill, and that he occupied the sixth and final position being targeted. Jubert began maintaining a count in his head once he heard the first, most distant salvo of shells burst.
As he began to emerge from his meager shelter, he once again heard the approaching shells. One...two...three...four...five... But this time he didn't count the sixth.
A more deafening explosion, a more violent shock, then the sound of a hailstorm on my roof. An acrid smoke filled my nose, my eyes. Suffocating, but conscious of keeping my wits in the midst of disaster, I restrain myself from coughing. In the agonizing silence, the sound of groaning rose up.Indeed the regiment's JMO records the death of these four men from 11 Co.: Adj. Roger Folliart, Sgt. Oscar van Walleghem, Sdt. Paul Daniault (class of 1913), and Sdt. Eugene Arquillère (class of 1912). Though the 3 Bat. positions at Froideterre were subjected to shelling, nevertheless, for the first couple of days the 151 was at the front, the shelling remained relatively light in their sector. The same could not be said of the neighboring sectors. To their right and left, heavy bombardments raged away, turning the heights of the Meuse into continually erupting volcanoes. At night the effect could be even more impressive. Jubert wrote:
Crawling along, I put my head outside of my shelter, the opening of which was at the moment, obstructed. Night had completely fallen. Before my eyes a smoking hole opened, out of which rose the voice of death. "We have to clear that away quickly!" I yelled out into the night. "Who's are you, there?" Go look for picks." The shadow didn't move. I shake him.
"Don't hurt me, don't hurt me.
"Why are you yelling? Go look for picks.
"I have fire in my eyes.
"Were you in there?
"Yes, at the entrance of the door.
"And who's with you?
"The adjutant was at the bottom with the Sergeant van Walleghem. Daniault and Arquillière were eating their soup. The shell entered from behind. It burst in the middle.
"Are you wounded?
"I don't know."
An hour passes, under the shells. We've cleared away the earth, pulled out the bloodied Daniault and Arquillière, their limbs broken, groaning softly in a sad voice, leaving their flesh behind on the ground, the suffocation stifling their cries of agony. Then with more trouble, at the bottom of their tomb, van Walleghem and Folliart, flattened, convulsed, their hands contorted, thrown back behind them, the two-fold expression of terror and death still frozen on their swollen faces.
"They knew it was coming," someone says. For several days, they worried and were full of bitterness.
For 3 km all around, a distinct zone arose, where flares, spotlights, canon flashes, the flickering flames of fires, put on their show in the distant setting of a glowing fog. "The vestibule of Hell," [Sous-Lieut] de la Ferrière calls it. It truly was that, a luminosity from beyond, a working of Dante, a fantastic vision on a field of death.Once night fell, the men of 1 and 2 Bats. in the first-line resumed digging and by early the next morning, the trenches were becoming deep enough, at least in spots, to largely remove the danger of the enfilading enemy machine-gun.
Losses for the regiment on 11 March include 8 killed and 15 wounded. The casualties recorded in the JMO include:
Killed: Adj. Folliart (Roger); Sgt. Van Walleghem (Oscar); Sdts. Delaplace (Georges), Roussey, Brochier, Daniault, Arquillère [Arquillière], Simon (Marie).
Wounded: Cpl. Guerin Desjardins; Sdts. Dobresset (Septime), Brument, Ballais (Maximim), Lamiraux, Trégnier, Valors (Aime), Benoit (Jules), Orgeas, Dubois (Henri), Laurent, Dherin (Ulbald), Babin (Alcide), Moreau (Jules), Guillet (Henri).
12 March: In the darkness of the early morning hours, the men continue to work on digging trenches and constructing defensive positions, including erecting barbed-wire out front. A support trench is also begun behind the first-line trench. During the day the 151's sector remained calm overall, while violent bombardments raged in other parts of the battlefield. Fort Douaumont appeared as cloud of black smoke, as an unending deluge of the heaviest caliber shells rained down. Despite being spared a similar onslaught, the men had received strict orders to remain vigilant. At nightfall, reconnaissance was conducted to ascertain the enemy's positions. Laporte was tasked with such a mission.
At 2:00 am, I left with two comrades on a reconnaissance patrol in front of our lines in order to learn the approximate position of the German advanced posts. We crawled along carefully in the greatest silence. The ground was frozen and made moving about very difficult. We skirted around a partially destroyed wire entanglement, then stopped to listen in the cover of a small fold of ground. The thousand noises of the forest, especially at night, prevented us from hearing well. After waiting a little while, we set back off. About ten minutes had elapsed when two or three shadows emerged from the ground a dozen meters in front of us. They were definitely Germans emerging from a look-out post. Or were they in fact preparing to carry out their own patrol? We clasped tighter onto our gun stocks, remaining absolutely still, ready for anything. After a moment, the shadows seemed to evaporate. Without a doubt they were look-outs coming from one of the advanced posts we had set out to locate. We remained long enough to be able to mentally mark the emplacement.The excitement of Laporte's daring-do was balanced with small tragedies elsewhere. Campana recounted the sad fate of one of his men. Just before arriving at Verdun, the soldier had confided in Campana that he wished to get killed at the front. The cause of this man's morbid mentality was plain: his wife had run off with a civilian and left behind their young daughter. The daughter became grievously ill and the soldier was unable to get back to her in time before she passed away. What's more, the man was forced to desert in order to get back home, an act which earned him a court martial, which stripped him of his Croix de Guerre and sentenced him to 4 years of trench service. Once at the front, the man volunteered to go out into the open in broad daylight to cut down some saplings that were needed to urgently shore up the wall of the trench.
We were just preparing to turn back when the barely perceptible sound of weapons clinking reached our ears. In fact, one of the occupants of the German post was crawling off toward his lines, located a few meters behind. We saw him get up and jump into a hole (their trench without a doubt). Right away, we distinguished an upheaval of earth. Now we knew where the German first-line was in front of us. To mark the position, we lay out two branches in a cross on the edge of the fold of ground with the greatest possible care. After we’re certain that our landmark was visible, without losing any time we made an about-face and continued back toward our trenches flat on our stomachs. All went well. Our comrades, who were watching for our return, were happy to receive us safe and sound.
I immediately recounted my mission. From our trenches, we could see very clearly our two branches: the moon illuminated the ground like it was day. We're lucky that the sky was obscured by clouds during our reconnaissance.
After presenting himself, Campana reluctantly consented. The suicidal man jumped out of trench and attacked the first tree with a hatchet. After a few minutes the first sapling was down and he proceeded to the next. Suddenly he let out a cry, stumbled back a few steps, threw his arms out, then collapsed in a heap on the ground. Campana sprung out of the trench with a corporal and dragged the wounded man back into the trench. He had been shot, which after having torn apart his nose, drilled through the right cheek, lodged into the shoulder, ripping open the flesh in a horrible wound. Campana was convinced it was an exploding bullet. More than likely he was simply witnessing the damaged that a standard Mauser round could effect on the human body.
The blood gushed out in bursts, an artery must've been cut. All the efforts of the stretcher-bearers to stop the hemorrhaging were in vein...His face paled, his purple eyelids began to close and his discolored lips trembled, his nose pinched up, his entire face showed that death had cast its hideous veil. He opened his eyes, his pupils had dilated:Given the trajectory of the bullet that had killed the man, the German who shot him had to be high up in a tree. The next night, having stuffed their pockets with grenades, taking their bayonets, and leaving behind their rifles, Campana went out with a small party of men seeking revenge. Carefully crawling along the ground, the raiding party got to within 12 meters of the German trench until they heard the sound of picking and shoveling. Campana gave a sign and the men hurled a volley of grenades at the German line and immediately dashed back without waiting for them to explode. The bullets began to fly even before they made it back to their lines, tossing up the earth around their feet and striking one of the helmets of the men. Soon they had arrived at their trench and jumped in just as the shooting intensified into an all-out fusillade. Eventually the shooting died down, with only the occasional flare being sent up from the anxious German line.
"Lieutenant...there...in my jacket there...to the right...wallet...photo...my little girl." I handed him what he asked, the portrait of his young daughter. Passionately he kissed the face of the child.
"Give my money...comrades...pinard...Ah! My little girl...little girl...I'm coming to you...your mama, no...go away...your mama, your cruel mama, yes, crue--..." He suddenly threw back his head, he shook in a long shudder and it was over. [He] had ended his Calvary. In his clenched hand we left the photo of his child who was no more and who he'd gone to join. His body, wrapped in a tent-canvas, was put down in a ditch dug behind the trench, at the foot of briar.
Losses for the regiment on 12 March include 2 killed and 15 wounded. The casualties recorded in the JMO include:
Killed: Sdts. Lequimme (Désiré), Tantost (Anatole).
Wounded: Sdts. Reiss, Mouche (Raoul), Devoueoux, Ratel, Cormerais, Breton (Marcel), Vinit, Bedu, Robert (Edouard), Qietat, Dimier (Pierre), Molle (Louis), Delie, Baron (Jean), Vitoux (6/3 Co.).
13-16 March: on the first-line the regiment continue to dig out its trenches on 13 and 14 March, mostly escaping the wrath of the shells. Back in the reserve-line, the companies of 3 Bat. were not so lucky. The German artillery already knew of the line of defenses located on Côte de Froideterre. Jubert testified:
These daily bombardments served as a lesson. We were under the eyes of the airplanes. The hawk, after spotting us, throws down a thunderbolt. We learned to hide ourselves out of view...security became the law of the land. The blood of the victims, which continued to spread further each day, wrote this lesson out on the soil. Hurry! Carelessness and laziness had taken the form of suffering and death all too frequently...The days on the Côte de Froideterre were difficult. During the daylight hours, the men were forced to keep out of sight for their own safety and toiled away in their meager holes scraped into the trench walls. There wasn’t much to take comfort or distract them from the constant presence of death. Occasionally though a spectacle would unfold in front of their eyes that would fix their attention. From his position at Froideterre, Jubert recorded several incidents in his memoirs. In front of them was the entire Fort Douaumont sector and to their right, the line of crests from Fort Souville to the village of Fleury, all of which was still under intense bombardment. The men could see the heaviest shells slamming down onto Fort Douaumont (which was then in German hands) in salvoes of 10 and 12 at a time.
In the middle of these bombardments, I repeatedly fixed my eyes on a cow which, for me, was taking place at the center. It came back each day and peacefully grazed in the middle of all these shells. The closest sound momentarily drew its inexpressive eyes. But the all powerful slowness of his neck, it turned away and soon put its tongue back onto the meadow. I was not alone in witnessing this.
One day, taken with a craving for milk, one of my men ran through the bombardment to reach it. It was Maronne, now dead but still the most well-known stretcher-bearers in the regiment. A billets drunkard, thief, insufferable to NCOs, who, when there was danger on the battlefield was the savior of the wounded. Later in the evening, he chatted with his comrades, while I, obscured in the darkness, listened in:
"The cow didn't have any more milk. She's not to blame, though I tried handling the teats. So, I pushed ahead to Fleury where there must be cellars. I see a farm. The door's closed. I throw my shoulder into it, then go down into the cellar. I light a match, it goes out, but I've felt a barrel. I put my hand down on the ground, it's wet. Is it wine? I found it had a funny taste. I light a second match. There were two dead bodies there and I my hand was covered in blood.
"And the barrel?
"Just my luck, it was empty."
On another day, a drama unfolded in the sky above the 151, an event Both Campana and Jubert recorded. Above the town of Bras, a French "sausage" (as the French called observation balloon) snapped its tether and drifted helplessly toward the German lines. Two German planes appeared on an intercept course, followed by two French ones heading out to engage them. Staring up from their trenches, the men observed breathlessly as the balloon pilot -- appearing only as a tiny black dot -- leapt from the pilot box and plummeted to earth. A few moments later, a parachute blossomed and the balloonist slowly began to descend through a hail of German bullets.
Adroitly, the balloonist disperses his papers into the air and tosses away his camera. As he does, the wind shifted directions and began to blow the man back toward French lines. Jubert and his men erupted into applause, congratulating the balloonist on seemingly beaten fate. Listening to the jesting of some of his men at the expense of the balloonist in his moment of peril, Jubert commented: The soldier is without pity. Himself a victim of misfortune, he laughs as the misfortune of others distracts him momentarily from his own.
During the nighttime, Jubert’s company (11) carried out munitions and resupply fatigues to and from the first-line. The fatigue parties traveled along supply routes that were often shelled by the Germans. In the confusing darkness, making their way difficulty over the broken terrain, it was not uncommon for parties to become lost or to overshoot the French advance posts. Jubert personally led several fatigues between the first and reserve lines. At one particular spot, an Austrian 88 fired on at regular intervals -- 3 shells in three minutes -- so the distance needed to be covered in a single rush. This was no easy task:
…[T]o descend down 300 meters of a hillside with a steep grade, striding over the thousand obstacles made by a felled forest, in the night, up to your head in branches, the heavy, awkward burden on your back, the restricted legs exposed to the unknown, threatened by death operating like clockwork.From the Côte de Froideterre, the fatigue parties typically passed through the Ravin de la Goulette and followed the Bras - Douaumont Road. On one occasion, Jubert mentions one fatigue where they followed the Ravin de la Couleuvre (rechristened by the men as the "Ravin du Colonel'). A brook ran along the bottom of the ravine, which was filled with the bloated carcasses of slaughtered horses. Passing through this blighted land of smashed carriages and wrecked trucks, they reached the Bras - Douaumont Road, behind which two battalions of 1 and 2 Bats. of the 151 RI were in-line. On another occasion, the itinerary along the Bras - Douaumont Road took them past La Folie and the bombarded village of Bras with its ravaged cemetery. Here, the graves had been torn open and the human remains inside exposed. Passing Côte du Poivre on their left, they followed the progress of the German bombardment on the hill. Suddenly, they came upon a group of bodies and one of the men shouted out: "Boches!"
There they are, a dozen lined up by our feet, motionless, stiffened into an eternal position of attention. I have to work hard to keep my men from snatching off buttons. "We’d like to make you a nice ring out of them, mon lieutenant."Jubert and his men had been spotted and the Germans suddenly began to fire shrapnel shells down upon them, obliging the group to hurry along to get out of view. Continuing along the road, they start to make out a group of dark forms ahead of them. As they approach closer, a sad scene presents itself:
On the road, two vehicles with their slaughtered horses. Surrounding them, with ration sacks lying beside them, eight bodies: the fatigue men from a different company struck down in the course of their chore. Among those inert masses, only two things move. One of the party is crawling off the road toward the ditch, crying. It's a wounded man with his legs broken, the only one of the group spared from death. And in the other direction, a small keg of wine rolls slowly down the road, coming to rest against a body.Indeed, German artillery actively shelled the resupply routes, which made the replenishing of provisions to the first-line very difficult. Around this time, Laporte noted:
For two days, we have not received any rations resupply. The fatigue parties can't make it through the German barrages, which are unleashed ceaselessly behind our lines. Their plan was easily to see. They intended to isolate each sector and to puncture holes on each side, through the Bras Ravine and our own position. Our meals consisted of only our reserve rations, which little by little got smaller. Already our provisions of wine and water were exhausted.Losses for the regiment on 13 March include 3 killed and 9 wounded, and on 14 March, 9 killed and 17 wounded. The casualties recorded in the JMO include:
Killed: Sdts. Dueluzeau, Lefebvre (Alexandre), Coustre, Cochet -- Sgt. Margeat; Sdts. Guesné, Clément, Hélion, Briet, Trouche, Lafeuille (Raoul), Petitfrere (Jean), Guibert (Auguste) Saue, Lebreton (Yves), Hache (Marcel), Holleville, Coadon, Dureau, Runigo, Herve, Lefebvre (Charles).
Wounded: Sdts. Floner, Tetelin, Ernout, Lemarie, Boudic, Le Peurien, Lemay (Clotaire), Mahe, Bouju -- Guilleminot, Caltoire, Duval, Longnon, Pont (Jules), Sandron, Le Sant, Tailleux.
On 15 March, Lieut. Jubert’s 11 Co. is moved up to the first line to replace the left company of the 94 RI in liaison to the left with 8 Co. (2 Bat.) and to the right with the 94 RI. The 3 Bat. had already been suffering casualties in reserve from the shelling, as the reserve positions had already become a target for the enemy artillery, and the men of 11 Co. were eager to move up to the first line which had so far escaped the shells. The company moved halfway up the slope of the Haudromont Heights, the flank of which was exposed to the enemy's view.
A man's well-being was no longer a question of shells. It depended on his vigilance: a little in his heart and a lot in his eyes…Jubert immediately considered that the position given to the 151 to hold was a bad one. The trenches were dug hastily, in spite of all tactical thought, on the exposed flank of a hill open to enfilading fire from above. It was isolated from the rest of surrounding trench system by 150 meters of open ground. No liaison was possible during the day and at night it was difficult at best. There was the constant threat of enemy attack; the German first line was only 50 meters away. The trenches were still very shallow -- no more than a meter in depth -- and to pass through safely, the men had to bend over. In certain sections, it was necessary to crawl.
Here, no one passes during the day; death stops all movement. At night, it strikes at whim, any time it wishes. The slightest snapping of a twig under our feet freezes us for a long, agonizing moment. A flare in the sky! The entire length of this serpent of men freezes motionless.
The only shelters that existed were small niches scraped into the walls of the trench, which also served to undermine the walls and make them more prone to collapse under a shell blast. During the day, the men kept themselves hidden to avoid drawing enemy fire. All work and movement had to be done at night. The officers of the 11 Co. reminded their men of the tough lesson they had learned at Froideterre: "Only work will save you from death." So the men set about trying to deepen and strengthen their positions as best they could. The officers had to make do with the only command post in the area, which was woefully inadequate:
I lift up the four joined tent-canvases that hide the light inside from enemy view. A warm odor, a yellow light, dust-filled air...I get a glimpse of bare, stiffened, strained necks, torsos, ankles and thighs. Raised toward me as though in the grips of an agonizing hatred, blanched faces with bloody bandages, whose mouths twist and convulse in a monochord moan...Everything is run out of here. The communication post, the officers' quarters, the troops’ quarters for this platoon, the liaison's shelter, the telephone post, the material depot, the supplies room, the munitions shelter...and it's also the morgue and the first-aid post, since we can only carry out the wounded at night.Shells passed over overhead without interruption. Most did not land on their first-line positions but on those neighboring them. Nevertheless, casualties started to mount throughout the night. Just as Jubert's men began toiling away on their shallow trench, a shell exploded level with the parapet, injuring several of them. This evening, as we've seen the evening before and all the evenings since we got here, a procession of bloody faces will pass in front of us.
Work on the new front line continued at a fevered pace and the trenches were considered to be satisfactory by the next night (16 March). A support trench just behind the first was also completed and along the entire front of the first-line trench, a belt of barbed-wire has been constructed varying between 5 to 15 meters thick.
Meanwhile, the violent bombardment continued to rage on around them. Perhaps surprisingly, the heavy shelling was not the leading cause of losses for Jubert's company so far. Rather, it was the isolated shell striking unexpectedly at night when the men were working, often catching an exposed supply party as it was coming and going between the lines.
Every evening, while assigning work to our men, we were filled with a sense of foreboding and we had to keep our voices from trembling. We managed to convince ourselves that we had chosen the first ones randomly, the preliminary drawing for this death lottery. It mustn't take an hour to count out the victims on his second hand. A certain number of losses then followed as determined by fate, and were added to those suffered at Froide-Terre, giving the company a tragic reputation in the regiment…Losses for the regiment on 15 March including 8 killed and 18 wounded, and on 16 March, another 18 wounded (bring the three-day total of 86 casualties). The casualties recorded in the JMO include:
We truly were those condemned to death. No one wants to hang around us for fear of being caught in the trap. The fatigue-party men who come at night care less about our needs than for their own safety. Even the verification of their job seemed unnecessary to them. They run off as quickly as they can. Anxious for our departure, only Captain Tison (commander of MG Co. No.2) is adamant about visiting this corner each night, when we report to him our losses…
Nowhere else had I felt such a sensation of isolation and stupefaction as I did at Haudraumont. Reduced to just Ganot and me, comradery no longer sufficed. At first we made small talk with each other, [but] the monotony of the days, even the permanence of danger, had ended this. We kept quiet. We had lost our light-heartedness. Our faces were grave and tense. We had lost our appetite. The only way to take away the boredom is to go to sleep.
Killed: Sdts. Piquet (Antoine), Bricout, Langlet, Regner, Nutte, Demol (Prosper), Lavalle (Michel), Goudin.
Wounded: Sgt. Rompteaux; Cpl. Cliquet; Sdts. Lefrancq, Meilland, Coni, Le Nair, Guegam, Dulilleul, Pontoux, Maréchalle, Foucat, Beugin, Varley, Thilloy, Barats, Ragonde, Cornet, Perrin -- Seynave, LAbitte, Lefebvre (Waldemar), Cape, Esvan, Delga, Lefetz, Deblangy, Goudal, Derbee, Crespel, Biseux [sp?], Lesné [sp?], Bourdonnais, Cappeliez, Thomas (Louis), Dujardin (Francois), Cavalan (René).
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