Campaign History of the 151e Régiment d'Infanterie - XII
~ 1916 ~
Verdun - First Tour (17-29 March) - Part II
17 March: Until now the German artillery had only occasionally bombarded the regiment’s first-line and support line and without much intensity. Now the enemy had ascertained the new French front line positions and opened up a continuous heavy bombardment using all calibers of shells. The 3 Bat. (in reserve) on the edges of Froideterre is bombarded with the heaviest caliber shells. Capt. Le Boulanger takes over as capitaine adjudant major of 2 Bat. Lieut. Cormier (previously wounded, evacuated) returns and is assigned to 2 Co. Commandant Roy coming from 115 RI takes command of 2 Bat. Losses for the regiment on 17 March include 4 killed and 8 wounded. The casualties recorded in the JMO include:
Killed: Sgts. Cannoodt, Fidon, Colot; Sdts. Mazillier, Lefevre (Julien), Martin.
Wounded: Sdts. Pierrin, Labbe, Coche, Warembourg, Mariatte, Renaud (Francois).
On one night, Jubert is sent out with three men to ascertain what types of artillery pieces were abandoned between the lines. Taking a ditch past some old bombed-out shelters, they passed beyond the French advanced posts. Gun-shots rang out as they skirted along Haudraumont Heights before arriving at the Ravin de la Dame. Here, they could hear the sound of the enemy all around them; their foot-steps and guttural calls. Jubert's patrol was spotted and came under fire. Five 88s also opened up on them.
"Do we keep going?" one of Jubert's men asks. "Yes, crawl, but be sure to not go astray," Jubert responds. But none of them budge from their spot. At that moment they spot the dark form of a German sentinel a more six feet away. Yet the sentinel, seated with his rifle in his hands, remained still.
"You'd think he was sleeping. Should I fire, lieutenant? -- Hit him in the throat."
[But] it was only a corpse, which had tumbled over clutching its rifle. In this strange pose it became the frozen sentinel of the dead, who had now taken up his post at the valley. A little further on, the group approached the outer positions of the 88s, marked by their carts. The crews had not spotted the small group and were still firing away
18 March: The bombardment of the entire sector increases in intensity. The first-line trenches, which up till now had still not been submitted to much fire, now comes under precise shelling from 77s and 105s. Sous-Lieut. Baillat transfers from 5 Co. to CHR as telephone officer. Lieut. Guilbaud (previously evacuated) retakes command of 6 Co. Lieut. Autier transfers from 6 to 9 Co. to take command. Losses for the regiment on 18 March include 2 killed and 13 wounded. The casualties recorded in the JMO include:
Killed: Sgt. Couvreur; Sdt. Baudais.
Wounded: Sgts. Aouet, Guidici, Danvissat [sp?]; Sdts. Loier, Lecocq, Menzie, Vernin, Cormier, Delbart (Gaston), Argentin, Saillard, Marquis (Xavier), Le Coz.
19 March: bombardment continues. Sous-Lieut. Ottavi transfers from 1 Co. to Engineers Co. 6/3 ter. Losses for the regiment on 19 March include 2 killed and 12 wounded. The casualties recorded in the JMO include:
Killed: Sdts. Donias (Coradec), Raymond (Jean), Lechater.
Wounded: Sgt. Lefebvre (Jules); Sdts. Gouazé, Plantain, Lorec, Bigey, Bonnaire, Brault, Paré, Marck, Peyronnet, Levieux (Charles), Jaladis.
20 March: bombardment continues. The 3 Bat. (save 11 Co.), in reserve at Froideterre, moves up to the second-line positions to relieve a battalion of 162 RI. The 3 Bat. is now aligned behind 1 Bat., midway up the slope on the opposite side of the ravine.
To the men of the 151, time seemed to lose meaning. Resupply was still difficult to maintain. Laporte lamented: The days and nights go by in the same atmosphere. We were on our tenth day. During this lapse of time, we were twice able to receive some meager provisions. Fortunately for Laporte, his situation was about to change. Laporte's company (8) was sent down to the bottom of the ravine the following day to a support position beside 1 MG Co. There he met its commander, Capitaine Antoine, who was in need of a fourrier (quarter-master). As Laporte was a supernumerary in his own company, he quickly accepted Antoine's invite to transfer to his own command. That same evening, Laporte was assigned as caporal-fourrier in 1 MG Co. of 1 Bat. Here, he happily discovered old Argonne vets and I took up his former position as liaison agent -- a job he admitted was filled with risks but very exciting. As Capitaine Antoine moved around a lot in the sector, Laporte had to accompany him in order to take in the terrain and sight the machine-guns fire zones -- work that he preferred enormously over the simple life of the common infantryman.
Sous-Lieut. Poussiere transfers from 9 to 1 Co. Lieut. Autier transfers from 6 to 9 Co. to take command. Losses for the regiment on 20 March include 1 killed and 10 wounded. The casualties recorded in the JMO include:
Killed: Sdt. Aiort [sp?].
Wounded: Sgt. Gesson; Sdts. Brochet, Scaut, Thiebaut, Héraux, Beau (Eugene), Hellin, Lanet, Vandenhende, Granet.
21 March: the bombardment continues to grow in strength. The new support trench occupied by 3 Bat. is particularly targeted. For some days, German snipers had climbed up into trees close to their lines to fire down on unsuspecting men. The men started referring to them as "parrots." This was the fate the suicidal father had suffered in the first few days after the regiment had arrived. The regimental chaplain was shot in the face shortly thereafter. It would happen again on 21 March and this time, Campana placed the blame squarely on himself. A soldier named Bosc, who Campana had always found to be dependable, had been badly frightened a few days before when he was struck in the head by grenade thrown by a German raider. The grenade failed to detonate and the only physical harm caused was a large bruise on the man's head. But the man had clearly been rattled and was acting skittish. After refusing to go out with a wiring party and threatening the sergeant, Campana ultimately decided as punishment to order the soldier to stand watch in the listening post for twelve consecutive hours (normally the watches were done in two hour increments).
The man had only been in the post for two hours when Campana received word that he'd been shot in the head and was dying. He immediately rushed to the scene and found the man stretched our on the ground. Stretcher-bearers had opened his greatcoat, which was covered in blood. The bullet had passed through his throat and severed the jugular. The dying man heard Campana coming and looked up at him when he arrived.
Oh, the look [he gave me], I will never forget it. A look that was clearly understood at once gentleness, pain, regret. A feeble smile weakly spread across his terrified face. He held out his hand to me: "L'tenant, you'll write to my mother?After he had some time to recover, a deep rage overcame Campana and he resolved to take out the German sniper no matter what the cost. All morning and all afternoon, he carefully observed all the ground in front of his section's front, scanning all the shrubs and tree tops he could see. He began to lose hope of ever finding the sniper when suddenly a bullet smacked into the parapet six inches away from him, quickly followed by a second that was close enough to project pebbles into his face. After dropping down, Campana chose the more prudent option of continuing the hunt using a periscope, focusing on the area he believed the rounds had come from. He soon spotted a suspicious-looking shrub. It seemed that the branches had been spread out horizontally, with the openings filled with artificial branches. The base appeared to have some sort of object placed behind it on the ground.
"Yes, dear boy.
"You won't say anything...you won't speak of my mistake?
"No, I will say you were wounded gloriously.
"Mortally wounded...I couldn't for a long time. Ahh.
"But if, if you can get treated, you'll get better.
"No...I can't...I can't breathe..." He coughed up a dark spurt of blood. "You don't want if I've done something bad. You'll say to my Marraine [pen pal] that I loved her very much...That she'll remember me...
"Yes, dear boy, I promise, I give you my word...Your Marraine won't forget you, she'll never forget you. As for your mother, I'll handle her. She'll be informed.
"Thank you...Ah, I'm suffocating...I'm suffocating..."
He coughed up two mouthfuls of blood, then a calm seemed to come over his poor face. He looked at us for a few moments, smiled again, closed his eyes, and in the hands of the old stretcher-bearer, whose face was streaked with tears, his head gently eased down.
I kneeled down close to him, kissed his sweaty forehead that death had already chilled, then, so that my men couldn't see, hid away in my shelter so the tears that choked me up could flow freely.
Taking up a rifle, Campana instructed one of his men to place a helmet on the end of a bayonet and, on his signal, slowly raise the helmet over the parapet. Campana watched through his periscope as the man complied and raised the helmet. He perceived a dark mass shift slightly behind the bush and, flinging down the periscope, fired off two shots from the rifle. Campana could see something dark spread out at the base of the shrub and remained still. Campana repeated the ruse an hour later but the dark mass did not budge. At night, he ventured out with two other men to confirm if he'd killed the German. After circling around the area, they approached the shrub from behind and once they were close, made a quick dash and jumped onto the dark mass. It was indeed a dead German. Campana's aim was true: the bullet had entered the left eye and exited through the bottom of the skull, piercing the helmet close to the steel reinforcement.
They decided to take the body with them back to the French lines. Campana took the sniper's papers, handing over those which could prove useful to Colonel Moisson. The German turned out to be a 22-year-old corporal in the 117th Regiment of the Hessian Guard. Campana took a certain pride knowing he had killed the man responsible for taking down three of his own. He decided to keep some of his papers, his helmet, equipment, gas mask, and his knife as war trophies.
Losses for the regiment on 21 March include 1 killed and 8 wounded. The casualties recorded in the JMO include:
Killed: Sdt. Castanig.
Wounded: Cpl. Parmentier; Sdts. Rousset, Pessaud, Bouchigny, Marck, Pelaud, Dupont (Jean), Beudaert.
22 March: same situation. Conditions for the regiment continue to deteriorate. Resupply in food, water, munitions and supplies is carried out very irregularly due to the incessant German artillery barrages carried out on the crest behind their positions. On some days, the increasingly diversified German artillery made resupply altogether impossible. For instance, on 20 March, Campana sent out a party of eight men; when they came back the next morning there were only five without any rations as the supply vehicles had been destroyed by shells. He sent out another eight men the next night and none returned. Their shredded bodies were found near the Folie Farm among the debris of their inverted bread wagons. On the evening of 24 March, a hundred men pulled from all the companies were sent out to find food and booze and were massacred by concentrated gunfire. As a result, the men in the first-line went three days without anything to drink or eat. They were now reduced to scavenging whatever bits of food they could find off the bodies of the dead Germans in front of their lines. The biscuits, sausages, and butter they recovered had been on the rotting bodies for a month and smelled of petrification, but hunger overcame their disgust and the men devoured the food. On 22 March, Laporte himself volunteered for the hazardous resupply chore as he recounted:
For 48 hours, we've had nothing to eat. I asked the captain to allow me to go [on a resupply fatigue] in the evening. I gathered up six volunteers: a very small batch because of the losses we suffered every day and night from the bombardments, but sufficient enough. Around midnight, we set off walking with each man carrying, in addition to stew-pots, anywhere from ten to eighteen 1 and 2-liter canteens on his back. At the departure time, except for some bursting shells here and there, the sector was calm up to the moment when we arrived at the bottom of the [Haudromont] ravine. There was a hundred meters of exposed ground to cross. This distance had to be covered at a lively pace, one man at a time, in order to avoid being spotted by the German observers at Douaumont. The moon was out, lighting everything up like it was daylight. A rain of shells, big and small, fell down with an incredible racket in the ravine. We lay down and waited for the hurricane to pass.Losses for the regiment on 22 March include 2 killed and 11 wounded. The casualties recorded in the JMO include:
After about a quarter hour, the bombardment stopped. Shells continued to fall but with less intensity. I started off again in the lead, crossed the zone safely and waited for my comrades. One poilu passed through, then two, then three, four. We waited almost five minutes for the fifth. He finally arrived, collapsing next to us, very pale. His comrade had been killed instantly by a shell fragment that had smashed his head. My first resupply fatigue had started off badly. Our fifth comrade got back on his feet but was very distressed, still shocked from the sight of his unfortunate companion.
We waited a moment and then started off again and reached the crest an hour later without another incident. We then descended the slope of Bras Ravine [likely either the Ravin du Bois en T or the Ravin de Bois des Trois Cornes]. We walked another hour across the shell-holed ground. We couldn't get very far along the route in an hour. We made out a gathering of people behind a fold of ground: it was the field kitchens. I gave the head-count of my company to the resupply chief and the distribution commenced right away. Some comrades from other companies had already gone back. Our canteens and stew-pots (beef and beans, very appetizing) filled, we rested for about ten minutes, since it wasn't a good idea for all of us to depart at the same time on such a clear night. German shells are falling continuously in the plain.
After having drained a cup of hot coffee, we left again for the trenches, one behind the other. The explosions had gradually come closer as we approached the last crest to pass over before getting to the Douaumont Ravine [likely the Ravin de la Mort]. We paused several minutes on this crest, for bear in mind, the hike through the mud, in shell-holes, explosions here and there, the weight of the canteens on the back and two stew-pots in each hand, meant it wasn't exactly a walk in the park. Taking cover beside tree trunks, we rested for a moment, motionless before setting off again towards the ravine. The barrage fire was less violent than during our departure. A good thing, for on the return trip it wasn't possible to run with our load.
The ravine was crossed without hindrance and we arrived back in the trenches at 3:00 am. All our comrades welcomed us with joy. The coffee, still warm, felt good in all these poor stomachs that had been subjected to such tough ordeals. The rations distributed to everyone, I went back to my shelter and, without eating my own food, broken by fatigue, I rolled myself up in my blanket and fell asleep. Shell blasts both near and far didn't disturb me then.
Killed: Sgt. Desjambes; Sdt. Gras (Martial).
Wounded: Sous-Lieut. de Lille de Loture (Xavier); Sdts. Collin (Charles), Delacourt (Raymond), Massoul, Wickaert (Benjamen), Devaux (Francois), David (Charles), Fouré, Beaumont, Corbel, Mertens.
23 March: The JMO continues to be scant in details for happenings, noting only that the situation remained the same and that the sector continued to be solidified organizationally. On the ground however, small dramas continued to unfold. Cpl. Laporte had only just passed out from fatigue for a few hours following his return with the resupply party, when suddenly all hell broke loose.
Around 6:00 am, I was awoken from my slumber by an intense fusillade. Our machine-guns were in action. I ran with my captain and three liaison agents to our trenches on the top of the hill, about 50 meters away. The Germans were making a sortie. I made sure my revolver was ready to fire (my rifle had been replaced by this weapon because of my functions) and picked up a rifle which I loaded immediately. The first grenades were already exploding not far from us. Our artillery opened up with an intense fire on the enemy trenches. Our machine-guns fired continuously. The Germans didn't make it closer than 20 meters from our lines and all those who left their trench never made it back. Their attack had failed. They had suffered heavy losses; the number of bodies that could be seen, piled up in front of our lines, testified to this. All day long, their shells fell on our positions. We only took very light losses on our side and we were able to carry out an ammo resupply for our guns without incident.Losses for the regiment on 23 March include 3 killed and 15 wounded. The casualties recorded in the JMO include:
Killed: Adj. Bourriaud; Sgt. Goesseus; Sdts. Petronin.
Wounded: Sgt. Boulonnois; Cap.-four. Godard (Gaston); Sdts. Bleuzet, Samoullet, Agreeh, Coët, Schmidt (Henri), Hardonin, Kerbiriou, Lotriau, Maisonneuve, Sunetiere [sp?], Beclercq, Caumont, Froment.
24 March: same situation. Colonel Moisson's PC is heavily bombarded by German artillery but escapes relatively undamaged. The entire sector is under "bombardment of an extreme intensity". Campana recorded on this day:
It's raining. The water streams along the communication trenches, accumulates in long yellow puddles or passes across the roof of my shelter, falls with a dull and monotonous noise in the dented mess-kit, which slowly fills up. The cannonade rages on: on the slopes of Douaumont the smoke curls of the 210s are silhouetted against the backdrop of the pale gray of the sky. In the trench, the misery works away at my men. They remained squatting down on the fire-steps, wrapped up in their tent-canvas, silent, immobile, like statues. Where do their thoughts go, these poor tired heads, where do their minds travel off to? Oh, far from here certainly, to a dear home, to a dear family, to the little kids that they may never see again. So, I go and hand out a little booze, cigarettes, tobacco, some words of comfort and in doing so, fight against the ravages of a formidable enemy: the blues...[A note here: Campana's notes above on the current effectives of the units serves to call into question the accuracy of the casualty figures recorded in the regimental JMO. While it's known that the tally of those evacuated for sickness or shell-shock are not taken into account in the JMO, it's difficult to square the discrepancy between the casualties being inferred in the first hand accounts and the numbers reported in the JMO. Notably, there are no men reported as "missing" in the JMO at this time, which seems suspect given the frequency of men on details getting lost or killed between the lines.]
Certainly we've endured terrible sufferings: the shells, the bullets, sickness even, have decimated us. The 3rd battalion is reduced to an effective of a company, my section is only composed of one sergeant, one corporal, and 19 men. When we arrived in the sector, the Boches came to a halt 50 meters from us and couldn't advance further. Each time they tried to make a go at it, we nailed them back down into their holes...
The "parrots" and patrollers from the first days had disappeared. The nights were calmer. They no longer came up to our lines; we went to theirs. But their artillery hammered us without cease. On the slopes of Douaumont, the earth at times boiled, the village slowly changed form. Today it is only a mass of white stones where it loomed like a ravaged church clock tower.
All day we listened to 77s, 105s, 210s, 380s, even 420s passing over our heads, and the fire doesn't slacken at night. Sometimes the sky shone red and for a few seconds it looks like it was raining blood. It was the Boches who, in order to mask the flashes produced by their big guns, fired off Bengal lights, their purple light shaded the sky. It seemed to us that our artillery remained powerless, only the 75s continually threw out their angry barks.
A detachment of reinforcements arrives from the 151 RI depot comprised of 1 caporal and 9 soldiers. Losses for the regiment on 24 March include 1 wounded (Sdt. Bouyssi).
25 March: same situation, the German artillery rages on. Losses for the regiment on 25 March include 2 killed and 15 wounded. The casualties recorded in the JMO include:
Killed: Sdts. Henzé, Bozin.
Wounded: Sdts. Doyen, Joucourt, Degueurec (drummer), Boudeau, Gendre, Lefur, Barthe, Lardé, Declercq (Louis), Bourigeaud, Bellec, Gouzerch, Samain, Tardivt, Labbie.
26 March: same situation. Losses for the regiment on 26 March include 2 killed and 10 wounded. The casualties recorded in the JMO include:
Killed: Sdts. Marteau, Morin.
Wounded: Sdts. Garrec, Polhus, Jourjou, Rousse, Leliard, Patrisse, Langlais, Dobigny, Leroy, Ailaire.
27 March: The men know the Germans must be planning to mount a large assault given the uninterrupted stream of shells landing all around them, near and far. The slopes of Douaumont were literally being plowed up. On the Côte de Froideterre, trees were being blown to pieces by the 150s. To the right, the village of Bras had disappeared in the smoke of the fires. At the foot of Côte de Poivre (to the regiment's left front), the noxious gas of the 105 shells disperses in large yellow or green blankets, while the far off Mort Homme and Talou tremble under a deluge of projectiles, the blasts intermixed with the return fires and the uninterrupted thunder of the explosions. It was like being in the center of massive raging storm. Campana and his section sat in awe of the sheer force of energy unleashed by man, while in the skies above another drama was unfolding.
In the soft blue sky big white clouds still drift by and under them, within them, planes wage a pitiless combat. Three of ours, three unfortunate Caudrons, were shot down by the Boches and drama lasted no more than 5 minutes. When the first was attacked it sought shelter in an enormous cumulus cloud but as soon as it did one of the [German] Taubes pursued it into the cloud while the other waited at the end of it. Soon the Caudron came out of the white vapors, it's silhouette cleanly defined against the backdrop of the sky. But the German planes dropped down on him with machine-guns cracking away.
Large red flames suddenly shot out from under its wings, an enormous black cloud of smoke enveloped it, and as a wing broke towards the middle, the biplane went down in a death spiral. Then, two little dark spots separated off from the plane and tumbled into space. It's the observer and pilot who, between the two horrible options, chose the least painful: to escape the terrible biting of the flames, they threw themselves out into the void. [Aviators were not yet equipped with parachutes, giving them to options when hit: burn alive in the plane or fall to their death.] Some moments later, they smashed onto the ground closed to the burning Caudron. Shortly thereafter, two more French places were shot down by the Boches on the Côte de Poivre in the same manner. sad day for our aviation.
Meanwhile, losses in the 151 continued to mount, again calling into question the comprehensiveness of the casualty figures presented in the JMO. On 27 March, Campana stated that by his count out of the original effective of 45 troops in his section, only 12 remained. Serving to back up his earlier claim about the particularly heavy attrition of 3 Bat., the JMO noted that this battalion was relieved by a battalion of the 162 RI, a day before the other two battalions. After marching back to Verdun, is transported in trucks to rest at Autrécourt. Losses for the regiment on 27 March include 4 killed and 22 wounded. The casualties recorded in the JMO include:
Killed: Sdts. Cpl. Docieltot; Sdts. Gourhaud, Gudez, Lachol.
Wounded: Sdts. Grattepauche, Lefebvre (Théophile), Geneis, Debrue...
28 March: same situation. Losses for the regiment on 28 March include 9 wounded. The casualties recorded in the JMO include:
29 March: same situation. During the day the entire sector is heavily bombarded by shells of all calibers. During the night, the 151 is relieved by the 116 RI after spending 20 days in the trenches. Lieut.-Colonel Moisson, along with the battalion leads, and company commanders, will remain behind with the 116 RI for another 24 hours to brief the officers of the 116 RI and show them the sector. The relief will be a very difficult one, as the German artillery remained high active. Miraculously, only a few are injured. The 2 Co. and a platoon of 7 Co. are not able to be relieved in time before daylight returns and are forced to take shelter in the 4 Chimneys shelters beside Fort Froideterre on 30 March. Before departing with the 1 MG Co., Laporte reported:
For several days, the Germans had given up their barrage fire on the ravine. Their shells rained down on the rear areas in the suburbs of Verdun. On our left, there was nothing less than a continual rolling of explosions. The Germans were attacking Hill 304 and the Mort-Homme, which were positions located on the [Left] Bank of the Meuse.The itinerary of the relief march was to cross over open country to the west of Boyau Remy, Ouvrage de Froideterre and Fort Saint-Michel, with at the Verdun aviation camp as the end destination. As night fell, Campana was put in command of the company and was charged with leading it to the rear, a prospect he did not relish. He recounted the experience of going off the line:
Marching under bombardment was dangerous enough, but to lead the entire company across an area beaten by artillery of all calibers, from 77s to 420s, through a dark night with guides who suddenly confess they don't know where they are, that's horrible. At 9:30 pm we received orders to be ready to leave. I told my men to put on their equipment and backpacks...At midnight, no one has shown up yet. At 3:00 am, a liaison agent comes up and lets me know that the 116th RI will be arriving imminently. As it was impossible to pass through the communication trenches, I made my men pass on top of the parados so that the 116th RI could replace us in the trench.At the moment that Campana's company is set to leave, salvoes of 77s rained down in the bottom of the ravine they would have to cross. After waiting several minutes, Campana gives the signal and moves his men out. Progress down the slope of Bois d'Haudromont is slow. It's pitch black and this thick darkness is punctuated only briefly by the quick, blinding flashes of shell bursts. Crossing through the bottom of the Ravin de la Goulette, they start the ascent back up the wooded slopes of Bois Nawé. As they do, the German artillery barrage doubles in intensity. Three 77s land close to the column and one of Campana's men is struck by shrapnel in the leg. After quickly bandaging the wound, Campana orders a stretcher-bearer and a corporal to remain with the injured man and bring him to the first-aid post, and then sets back off with the company.
After passing over the first crest and descending down the reverse slope, Campana halts the company to reform it. His blood boils when he soon sees the stretcher-bearer and corporal who he'd ordered to stay with the wounded man just a short time before.
"What have you done with the wounded man?"Once out of harm's way, Jubert commented on the great change in appearance of the men, which struck him only once they had left the front line.
"We couldn't find him."
"What! Do you have no shame!? To have abandoned one of your comrades in the woods who needs urgent care! You'll go back immediately. I forbid you from presenting yourselves to me again without a pass from the Doctor-Major of the 116th RI attesting that you've brought the wounded man to his first-aid post. Come back tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow, for all I give a damn, but I want you to find this man again."
The two shamed men complied, retracing their steps back up the slope, as Campana set back off again. Arriving at the edge of Ouvrage de Froideterre, a volley of 77s welcomed them, knocking Campana to the ground and spreading panic in 3e and 4e Sections. The men hearing that he had been killed, scattered and began running past his prone body.
"Where are you going, then?" Campana shouted. "Let the 77s fall. You're not going to save yourselves by marching like a flock of sheep. Let's go, rejoin your section."
Order was reestablished after a short time and we started back off again. After several minutes, night began to gradually fade. First we started to make out objects around us: splintered tree trunks, shell-holes filled with water, the bodies of dead horses. Then the sky turned gray. To the East, the horizon outlined Douaumont on top of a milky band. A pale purplish light soon bathed the entire company. Light clouds spread out in long bloody trails. And then the immense plain presented itself to us, white, monotone, desolate, blotted here and there by the black smoke of the shell bursts. We would be spotted by the Boches: the situation was becoming critical.
Suddenly there was the sound of an attack being unleashed on the Bois d'Haudromont which the 151 had just handed off to the 116. A deluge of shells were now pouring down on their former positions, and the thoughts of the men went to the poor poilus of the 116, which were taking the blow that nearly landed on the 151. To his left, a crew of a 105 battery kept up a continual fire without concern of the enemy shells coming down around them. The situation was now critical. Campana didn't have the time to get his men into the proper formation for marching under artillery fire. So instead he formed his company into a column of two and had them quick march in the direction of Verdun.
After a quarter hour like this, they reached the cover of a woods and filed down into the Tranchée d'un Decauville. There, covered with sweat, they halted for five minutes to catch their breath. They then skirted around Fort de Saint-Michel where French heavy artillery was firing away, and soon the village of Verdun was at last visible. Cast in the pink light of the dawn, it's mutilated structures still proved a welcome sight to Campana and his men.
We leave our muddy shelters, we've spent twenty-two days in the mud, without any toilet other than the shell-holes where the rain water gathered. In this mud, we've run, we've jumped, we've slipped, fallen, been knocked over, sunk down, crawled under the threat of gunfire, carried out work in all attitudes. The mud clung to us, penetrated our clothing, each day more subtly, more masterly, it coated over the layer on our bodies from the day before. Stiff, pasted on our numbed skin, our clothes were nothing but a block of clay which blended with our faces and hands of the same color. Moreover, on those faces normally clean shaven, a beard had grown out in the chaos of the environment, the dense hair standing out from the clay layered on their faces.Losses for the regiment on 29 March include 4 wounded (Sdts. ).
Under the ochre light and the mournful yellow of the trenches, we blended right in. We had adapted. But in the changing light, our appearance had changed. [Now we were] sharply contoured yellow masses, our picturesque silhouettes standing out against the blue sky. Returned to normal life, with natural colors, we looked like actors who, their part now over, still retained their costume out on the street.
30 March: The regiment (with the exception of 2 Co. and a platoon of 7 Co.) had marched through the night of 29 March and arrived in the suburbs of Verdun in the early morning of 30 March. Most of the units assembled at the aviation park, though Jubert mentioned holding up in an abandoned convent in town. After a couple hours rest at Verdun, at 1100 hrs the regiment marched back to the outskirts of Baleycourt (though Campana recalled the rendezvous place being Blercourt). There they boarded trucks at 1500 hrs, which took them to neighboring villages of Fleury-sur-Aire and Autrécourt-sur-Aire, around 2300 hrs. The 2 and 3 Bats., 2 and 3 MG Cos., regimental staff, and CHR were at the former, while 1 Bat. and 1 MG Co. and Engineers Co. 6/3 ter. were at the latter. There the men were billeted in barns where they enjoyed fresh distributions of straw, with others set up in prepared tents that were erected stood on the hills overlooking the village. The officers by and large took up lodgings in the villagers homes, including Curé's house. After a frugal meal, followed by a big glass of liquor, they at last lied down to some much-deserved rest.
Losses for the regiment on 30 March include 2 killed (Sdts. Micault and Jacquinot) and 1 wounded (Sdt. Pellardy).
The 151 RI had served an absolutely grueling 20 days of trenches. In a few days' time, while still recuperating form the hellish days spent at Bois d'Haudromont, General Deville would pay a visit to the 151 and issue to congratulate the troops under his command:
From a non-existent sector, you made a sector of resistance...You were under the threat of a blow from an attack that your successors had to endure, but which they were able to push back thanks to your earthworks. Thus, your efforts have helped France. Now, you must prepare yourselves mentally for the eventuality of a more serious battle...You're going to find yourselves in circumstances where, as never before, you'll have to rely on yourselves...Au revoir, messieurs, et bon courage.Conditions had indeed been horrible and only continued to deteriorate as the seemingly endless days and nights dragged on. The regiment had never faced such hardship before both in terms of its duration and its intensity. Yet while they suffered badly under the constant artillery barrages, along with strafing machine-gun and sniper fire, they were luck to have just escaped the devastating blow of an all-out German assault. They had dodged the proverbial bullet. That said, according to the casualties recorded in the JMO, the regiment had suffered 286 casualties (55 killed and 231 wounded). Yet the accuracy of this number appears highly suspect. As has been previously addressed, those evacuated for illness were not included in the JMO. Certainly, if this number were added (which would include those suffering from illness, trench foot and shell-shock), the number of casualties would be markedly higher. Another aberration in the case of the casualties recorded at Verdun is that there are no men reported missing. And yet the first-hand testimonies repeatedly mention the disappearance of fatigue and supply parties, with the presumption that some or all of the men had been killed or wounded.
What's more, all three eyewitness accounts used here (Jubert, Campana, Laporte) mention the low number of effectives remaining. Campana recorded on 24 March that the 3 Bat. had been reduced to an effective of a company, while his own section (with a normal effective of 45-50) had only a sergeant, a corporal, and 19 men. Laporte also mentions (see below) that the regiment was forced to reorganize itself owing to the heavy losses. Ultimately, the actual number of casualties can not be substantiated until more official regimental documentation is had (outside of the JMO).
In some way, the survivors had undergone a change, something they may not have been full cognizant of at the time. The novelist Jules Romains, writing from perspective of an officer of the 151 RI, opined on the deep seeded effects that this first tour had made.
These last nineteen days at Verdun have stunned me like a knock-out blow. Looking back on it all, I’m inclined to think that until then I might have managed to come through unscathed, and that’s saying a good deal!...But now something’s been broken that can never be replaced...I feel it in my bones...I confess that if you asked me, I should be hard put to it to say why. Except for the three days I have just told you of, I saw nothing and endured nothing that I hadn’t already more or less seen and endured. I’m not sure I haven’t even been through worse times. Of course, we were longer in the line than usual. But, all that aside, it’s no use trying to find logical explanations of what one feels living that kind of subhuman existence...trying to reduce things to their proper proportion.1-4 April: the next four days the regiment will remain at rest. Laporte recorded: "Troops everywhere! Our regiment, quite deplenished, had to reform itself. We waited for reinforcements which weren't late in coming. The first day is dedicated to cleaning the mud off themselves, their uniforms, equipment and weapons. On 3 April, at the Autrécourt aviation camp, Lieut.-Colonel Moisson awards Croix de Guerre before the 10 Co., which is under arms and bearing the regimental colors. Transfers: Lieut. Cormier transfers from 2 Co. to 10 Co. to take command. Sous-Lieut. Metayer transfers to 2 Co. Commandant Coltat takes command of 3 Bat. On 4 April, a detachment of reinforcements arrives from the 151 RI depot commanded by Lieut. Jubien comprised of:
What was it that so particularly demoralized me during that period? Not just going three days without food. No, I think it was the general condition of the sector we had been given to hold, the awful look of those scratches in the ground which they had the nerve to call trenches...the sordidness of everything, the absence of all organization, of all thought for the future; and the hasty digging we had to put in, under shell-fire, to some sort of reality into the second- and third-line positions which those slackers of the Fortified Zone had had six months, a year, to get ready, and with the added terror of bombardment – digging that came on top of everything else, the exhausting job of mounting sentry, constant alarms, working parties...You’ve no idea how one comes to value, to rely on, the organized routine, the human element, in a sector, especially when one has got used to it over a long period, when one has got into the way, each time one goes up to the line, of finding the little habits, the trivial round of duties, which once had left behind at the end of one’s last tour...The place can at least be lived in, even if the sky is raining shells. But that valley of Haudromont was hideous; no man could have lived there...
And with that, the regiment's brief four-day respite was over. The 151 was called on again to face the storm of Verdun, this time being sent to the Left Bank of the Meuse to occupy one of the most infamous sectors: Mort Homme.