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The Destruction of the Tannerie


HISTORY
of
THE 306th Field Artillery

The Destruction of the Tannerie. August 21, 1918


P. C., 306th F. A.,
21 August, 1918. 20 hr. OPERATIONS ORDER.
No. 5

I. The enemy occupy the Tannerie at 204.2-286.8 and the crossing of road and railroad at 293.8-286.9. Our infantry extend along the Reims road to within 300 yards east of the Tannerie. They are in the woods 400 yards west of the above mentioned road-railroad crossing. During daylight of today, fire will be very accurately adjusted by the 1st Bn. as close to the Tannerie and the road-railroad crossing as the present location of the infantry will permit. Previous to nine o'clock to-night the infantry will be withdrawn so that none will be within 500 yards of the two objectives. At nine o'clock fire will begin on the Tannerie and the road-railroad crossing and will continue until ten o'clock at which time fire will cease. Rate of fire from nine to ten P.m.-four shots per minute on the Tannerie and four shots per minute on the road-railroad crossing: total, 480 H. E. shells.
By order of Lieutenant-Colonel Smith.

E. E. NELSON,
Captain, 306th F. A., A. E. F. Operations Officer.

Operations order No- 5 was not received in writing until the firing of the mission was well under way, but it was conveyed verbally at 5:00 P-M-

The delivery of an accurate fire on a distant target can only be insured by good observation or registration and the Tannerie was not visible from the 0. P. of the 1st Battalion. A quick glance at the visible and invisible areas on the map showed this. So, either an 0. P. from which the Tannerie was visible had to be found, or adjustment made on some visible reference point and the fire then transferred by accurate map measurement to the actual target.

The most desirable course was a registration on the Tannerie itself. But an 0. P. had to be found that could see the target, and at the same time communicate with the battery commander during an adjustment. This was attempted, but a half hour was spent with no result. Communication could not be obtained to any 0. P. that could see the Tannerie. (The ground falls down steeply over the river, and such an 0. P. had to be well forward.) Further time could not be spent on this except as a side issue. The method of a shift from a registration point must be used. We decided to use our own O.P., and adjust on the quarry southeast of Bazoches.

The artillery 0. P's. in this sector were on a ridge about four thousand meters from the Vesle. From this ridge the ground sloped down to the Mareuil -Chery-Chartreuve Road about 1500 meters distant from where the battalion P. C. and telephone central were situated. The line from the 0. P. came down this slope, and to adjust the batteries this line must be kept open. This slope sheltered many batteries and the Boche knew it. Their shells were bursting on it day and night, and not only punished the batteries, but continually cut the lines of wire to the 0. P. When the shelling was heavy a detail working continually were unable to maintain reliable communication. At five o'clock in the afternoon of August 21st, the shelling was heavy and the line to the 0. P. was out.

The battalion commander and the battery commanders met and planned. Accurate fire had to be obtained, therefore an adjustment must take place. There were many O.P.'s on the ridge, and if our wire were not repaired in time we would use the wire and possibly the 0. P. of another organization. The battery commanders were to go to the 0. P., previously preparing their batteries to fire on the quarry selected as the visible registration point, and the battalion detail would obtain communication.

At about 6:00 the battery commanders started for the 0. P. through the shell fire, and the battalion detail sent out all available men as reinforcements on the 0. P. line. The day previous Lieutenant Tritt and Private Kane of the detail were killed while at work on this 0. P., and two men wounded, and now the shelling was dangerously heavy but the men worked well in spite of it. Reports of progress came in but telephone communication could not be established.

Meanwhile, every other wire to the ridge was looked up and tried. The Third Battalion of our regiment had a line. It was out, but communication was expected at any moment. The Second Battalion line was tried and talked over; their 0. P. being less than one hundred yards from ours. But while giving direction to call the battery commanders to this 0. P. the line went out. Another wire was through the infantry system to the dressing station where Lieutenant Tritt had died about three hundred meters from our 0. P. Communication was had here but this line went out also before word could be sent out to the battery commanders. It seemed as if unseen spies were cutting us off in all directions.

Meanwhile time was flying, the fire was to start at nine, and as yet nothing had been accomplished. No one who has not experienced it can realize the time that can be used in vain strivings over the telephone.

From time to time the battalion detail repaired breaks in our line only to find more farther on, or new ones behind them. Reports of progress came from the telephone details of the other organizations, but no communication resulted. Visual signals were considered but not tried. A few days after this, determined efforts developed our signal detail so that we could adjust by visual signals, but now this could not be relied upon and the trained signalers were out on the wire. They couldn't be called off.

Seven o'clock came and no more progress. Something radical had to be done. The regimental commander was consulted and a course of action decided upon not ideal, but the only possible solution. An officer was to go up to the 0. P. and notify the battery commanders that at eight o'clock B Battery was to fire six shots. At 8.10A Battery would fire six shots. They would observe as best they could and return with all speed to modify the data for the mission by the results of their observations. Of course none of the shots might be observable, and if not, there was no way of firing again unless communication happened to be established.

Lieutenant Bryan was chosen to carry this message up to the 0. P.; his watch was synchronized with ours and at 7.15 he started up through the shelling. The batteries prepared their data, laid their guns, and waited. The officers in the battalion position looked at their watches and waited. The work on the wires continued, but the shelling was increasing. No wires could live under such fire; and now gas shells mixed in with the high explosive. The doubt about whether the shots would be observable was over-shadowed by the fear that the officer might not get through with the message.

Eight o'clock came, B fired and the six shells whistled overhead. Eight ten, and A followed.

The guns were cleaned, and laid for the Tannerie, and we waited. The enemy shelling had not ceased.

At 8.40 B Battery telephoned that the battery commander had arrived and had had good observation on five shots. At 8.50 A Battery reported all six shots observed. The necessary changes in data based on the observations were quickly made, and promptly at 9.00 the party opened. Two hundred and forty shells were fired on the Tannerie and an equal amount on the crossroad. At ten o'clock we ceased fire and shortly after midnight we heard that the infantry had gained their objective.

The next day the infantry reported that the fire was very accurate, and the Tannerie totally obliterated, not even a wall left, and airplane photographs showed this to be the case. The center of impact was squarely on the target.

It wasn't until after the firing that the narrow margin by which we won was found out by those in the rear. Lieutenant Bryan who had carried the message up the hill had had great difficulty in getting through. The shelling was most severe, the men in the battery positions on the slope had all taken cover, then the gas came, the alarm was given, and masks were put on. Lieutenant Bryan put on his mask and took cover-but only for a moment. His mission was clearly to get through, so he continued, but with mask on. The exertion of the climb and running rendered the mask unbearable if he were to continue, so he removed the mask and ran through without it, arriving at three minutes to eight with choked lungs and swimming eyes.

During the firing, the Hun sent over a plane and dropped flares over our battery positions, and early next morning their planes were active. The batteries were camouflaged and apparently the Boche could not locate them for an adjustment. At about half-past ten in the morning they opened up in a terrific zone fire on the battalion area, of which however A Battery received the most. The gun- crews took to the shallow shelters in the woods, but in spite of the broad zone covered, the shelling was so heavy that many bursts occurred around the shelters, one of which killed Lieutenant S. J. Reid, Jr., the battery commander.

A message from the division commander, congratulating the battalion on the accurate and effective fire of the night before, arrived just as Lieutenant Reid was laid in his grave in the little woods by his battery where he had fallen. But his work was carried on to the end of the war by Lieutenant Bryan who had carried the message to the 0. P. and succeeded him in command of the battery. And the Huns paid.

FAIRMAN R. DICK,
Major, 306th F. A.
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