(The following article was written by Mr. D. C. Cole, a former member of the 59th Brigade, 117th Infantry, 30th Division, A. E. F., 1918-19. A large number of Rutherford county boys were members of this famous division, which is officially credited with breaking the Hindenburg Line.)
September 29th, 1918, is a date that recalls stirring memories to many of Old Hickory division members of the A.E.F. Never has that date passed since the breaking of the Hindenburg Line but that vivid scenes have returned to all of us who took part in that blitzkrieg of 1918. Memories, yes, thousands of them. Night before the 29th of September in the shades of night, streams of soldiers, tanks, cannon, ammunition trains, machine gun battalions, engineers, signal corps, moving into battle position. Everything, everyone grim and stern, preparing to go into a smashing battle.
Saturday night, September 28th, everything in position for battle. Zero hour, unknown to us, came suddenly at 5:50 a. m. Sunday morning, September 29th, 1918. First, a peculiar silence, then suddenly four cannon fired in a drum off style used by the army bands as a signal to forward – march. A full fledged cannon barrage started immediately aided by the entire air force. Our boys arose from the trenches and followed the tanks and creeping barrage through a dense smoke screen on to the barbed wire entanglement. The tanks trampled down barbed wire as the boys of the Old Hickory division marched through to the famous Hindenburg Line established on the canal. Hand grenade and bayonet fighting took place at the canal and tunnel.
|30th Division Patch
The 30th division with the 27th American division on the left and the 46th British division on the right, assaulted the Hindenburg Line on this date. The Hindenburg Line at this point curves in front of the Tunnel of St. Quentin. This was considered impregnable by the Germans for the following reasons: The Hindenburg Line curving west of the tunnel consisted of three main trench systems protected by vast fields of heavy barbed wire entanglements skillfully placed; this wire was very heavy and had been damaged very little by artillery fire. The dominating ground enabled them to bring devastating machinegun fire on the approaches. The lines had been strengthened with concrete machine-gun emplacements. It contained at this point a large number of dugouts, lined with mining timbers, with wooden steps leading down to a depth of about 30 feet with small rooms capable of holding four to six men each. In many cases these dugouts were wired for electric lights. The large tunnel through which the canal ran, was of sufficient capacity to shelter a division. This tunnel was electrically lighted and filled with barges. Connecting it with the Hindenburg trench system were numerous tunnels. In one case a direct tunnel ran from the main tunnel to the basement of a large stone building, which the enemy used for headquarters. Other tunnels ran from the main tunnel eastward to the city of Bellicourt and other places. This complete subterranean system with its hidden exits and entrances, unknown to us, formed a most complete and safe subterranean method of communication and reinforcement for the German sector.
On a front of three thousand yards, the 30th division, the 60th brigade, augmented by units of the 117th infantry, captured the entire Hindenburg system of that sector and advanced farther capturing the tunnel system with the German troops therein, and took the cities of Bellicourt, Nauroy, Riqueval, Carriere, Etricourt, Guillaine Ferme and Ferme de Riqueval, advancing four thousand two hundred yards, defeating two enemy divisions, taking as prisoners 47 officers and 1,434 men.
On October 1st and 2nd, the 30th division was relieved by the 5th Australian division and moved to back area with division headquarters at Herbecourt. The division scarcely reached this area when it was marched back and took over the front line in the same sector from the 2nd Australian division near Montbrehain on the nights of 4th and 5th.
On October 8th, 9th, 10th and 11th, the 30th division attacked each day, advancing 17,500 yards, capturing 37 towns including Montbrehain, Brancourt, Premontf and Bohain. During this operation from October 8th to 11th, the 30th division encountered units from 14 German divisions.
The 30th division was relieved by the 27th division on October 11th and 12th, but returned on October 16th and took over a part of the same line at the same place, being the right half of the sector held by the 27th. The next attack was launched on October 17th, 18th and 19th against three German divisions, advancing nine thousand yards, capturing six officers and 412 men, and six towns.
Difficulties were very great during the fighting from October 8th to 19th, through a country greatly broken by small patches of woods and villages, with uneven terrain and occasional large towns which added to the machinegun defense of which the Germans took every advantage. After a fight over the LaSelle River with high banks beyond which the Germans had heavy fortifications and put up a stiff fight, the 30th division withdrew for rest and replacements.
The division was stationed at Heilly training area near Amiens. Two weeks later, the armistice with Germany was signed, November 11, 1918. The fighting over, the second American corps was released from the British E. F. and transferred to the American E. F. in the Le Mans area.
We feel that the same spirit to win is in our boys of 1942, and that when zero hour comes again, another front boasted never to be broken will fall. We, who saw victory on this date in 1918 on the Hindenburg Line, envision another victory by our sons in the name of Freedom and Democracy.
Researched by Don Bailey