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The EK1

Major G.R. Seymour was a battalion commander in the 104th Field Artillery Regiment, 52nd Field Artillery Brigade of the 27th Infantry Division.

The 52nd Brigade was not to serve with the 27th I.D. during the war but was instead attached to first the 33rd Infantry Division then the 79th Division fighting on both the West and East bank at Verdun.  

I had the helmet, gasmask etc. of Major Seymour in my collection but never did have the time to research the grouping. Little did I know, Major Seymour had fought on the battlefield that has absorbed so much of my time over the years… at a time I knew nothing about.  

At the end of September 1918 American troops were pushing north from the infamous Height 304 and Mort Homme, crossing the swampy Forges-Bach and heading for Dannevoux. At the beginning of November Seymour and his men were in Crepion, firing their last shell at 10:15 on the 11th of November 1918.  

For a very useful overview of the sector he fought in click HERE.

Major G.R. Seymour's helmet. Although it has a 27th Division badge the 104th never fought alongside its own division.

The following account of the fighting at Verdun is taken from the Divisional history of the 27th Infantry Division and follows the 104th Field Artillery with their French 75mm Field Artillery guns across hills and through the Ravines to the North and North East of Verdun.

To follow the progression the link to the map above is essential.

The 104th Field Artillery at war.

Verdun: West Bank

On September 25th, 1918, the Batteries of the 104th Field Artillery were collected on the La Claire-Esnes Road about 500 meters west of La Claire.  

The general direction of fire was north towards Bethincourt and Forges. Colonel M.H.Smith commanded the regiment with his post of command in the Bois Bourrus, about 300 meters southeast of La Claire.  

The lines at this time ran generally east and west along Forges Brook through Bethincourt and thence west. The lines crossed the Meuse River between Samogneux and Brabant. At this part of the front the lines were widely separated from 500 to 1000 meters — the allied lines were well up on the southern slope of the Forges ravine and the German lines were up on the northern slope towards Forges woods. The Germans had outposts in Forges and Bethincourt and some bombing posts close to the brook.  

The general character of the sector had been quiet. The lines had remained undisturbed for about fourteen months. The line was thinly held. The French who occupied this sector before the Americans, had held their artillery fire down to a minimum and the only allied artillery fire of any magnitude that had taken place in this sector for months, had been the demonstration conducted in connection with the allied attack at St. Mihiel.  

The 104th Field Artillery was supporting, as a part of the 52nd Field Artillery Brig., the 129th, 131st and 132nd Infantry Regiments of the 33rd American Division.  

The demonstration in connection with the St. Mihiel attack had increased the enemy artillery activity of the section, but the sector was still quiet.  

The batteries of the regiment at their position near La Claire were firing at long range in order to reach the enemy's front line and required „D " shell in order to go much beyond it.  

The Country in this sector was rolling and hilly. There is a certain amount of woodland such as the Bois Bourrus. Woodland nearer the line, such as the Bois des Corbeaux had been practically destroyed by shell fire. Forges wood was still thick. The towns which had played a part in the great battle of Verdun, along the actual line, were destroyed completely. These were Chattancourt, Cumieres, Forges, and Bethincourt. The roads were good, except where for months they had been a part of No Man's Land.

This included that part of the Cumieres-Bethincourt road where it ran over the Mort Homme into Bethincourt.   Observation of the enemy's line was easily obtainable from observation posts on the Mort Homme or in the vicinity of the Bois des Corbeaux. The enemy also had good observation from Forges wood, from Montfaucon and from the right bank of the River Meuse.   So far as reported patrols of the allies had not crossed Forges Brook on reconnaissance. Forges wood was reported to be extensively organized for defense. The right bank of the Meuse River was reported to be held by Austro-Hungarian troops. The centers of resistance, Forges and Bethincourt, were reported to be held by the enemy, with second rate troops.

Above: The above mentioned Bois de Corbeaux or "Rabenwald" as seen on a postcard sent by a member of the German 50. Infanterie Division in August 1916

The major operation of September 26th, was conducted with the right regiment of the 33rd American Division as a pivot. The 104th Field Artillery was instructed to support the right Battalion of the 132nd Infantry. The 132nd Infantry was to be the right element of this turning movement. The attack was to move straight forward and then turn to the right, coming to a stop along the river Meuse at the railroad tracks.  

A very heavy artillery preparation was laid down by Army and Corps artillery, late on the night of September 25th and through the early hours of September 26th. At 5.30 a.m. on September 26th, the 104th Field Artillery started a rolling barrage to precede the advance of its infantry battalion. The local plan of attack of the 132nd Infantry was to avoid a frontal attack on Forges wood and to take it by going around it. Therefore, the narrow lane of barrage of the 104th Field Artillery, first moved straight forward to the north and then turned to the right. Prisoners taken in this action said that they could not withstand the Artillery preparation and barrage. The result was that the Infantry advance in this sector was completely successful. The Infantry crossed some of the marshy ground in the Forges Brook bottom by foot bridges constructed by the Engineers. The rolling barrage rested for an appreciable time just north of the Forges-Bethincourt road and the Infantry after crossing the brook, was reformed for attack along that road.  

Approaching the Forges wood from the flank, the 132nd Infantry took the wood with comparatively slight loss and moved forward to a line along the railroad track extending from the Forges brook northwest to the cross roads at 22.6-79.5. After the attack, the 104th Field Artillery was laid on a protective barrage in front of its Infantry and just on the other side of the River Meuse.

A view from the village of Bethincourt looking South in the direction of the Allied advance. This postcard was mailed home by a German serving on the 10. Reserve Division. The remains of the village are still to be seen. The allies were to take it a year later when nothing remained.

For this protective barrage, the guns of the 104th Field Artillery were laid at extreme range and some of them could execute the mission only with "D" shell. The attack generally of the 33rd American Division had been successful. General King's Infantry Brigade on the left had moved up to the ground overlooking the Meuse at Vilosnes. The gun positions at La Claire had originally been planned by the French as defensive positions and they were not well adapted for attack, especially when the attack had been successful. Therefore, it became necessary to move three batteries of the regiment forward.  

Batteries "C", "D" and "E", were moved to the ravine immediately north of the Moulin de Raffecourt and the post of command of this Battalion was placed in the Trench de Missery at the south- west corner of Forges wood. During the hours involved in the move of this Battalion, Major Austin's guns were extended to include the entire regimental protective barrage.

At this time, because of some difficulty encountered by elements on the left, the 105th Field Artillery, the other light regiment of the 52nd Field Artillery Brigade, were turned to the left and the guns of this forward battalion of the 104th were required to be pointed north against the enemy in the Bois de Chatillon and the general vicinity of Vilosnes. For a time the 104th Field Artillery was spread over a very wide front, stretching from the vicinity of Brabant on the southeast to the Bois de Chatillon on the the northwest. There had been no advance up to this time on the right bank of the Meuse. It is true that French patrols had made night reconnaissance into Brabant, but it had been found expedient to withdraw the advanced posts established there.

Left: Major Seymour's gasmask bag

One of the biggest difficulties in connection with the position of the forward battalion near Forges wood was the difficulty of transport. The Engineers at once started to construct the road northwest out of Cumieres over a shoulder of the Mort Homme, to meet the Forges Bethincourt road near Bethincourt. The Cumieres Forges road was also repaired. There was a good deal of shell fire of the enemy against both these roads and the jam of traffic due to the advance of troops made the problem of transport a difficult one. The positions of the guns of the forward Battalion were of course in the open with simple camouflage against overhead observation.  

The Infantry of General Wolf's Brigade, that is the right brigade, had dug in along the railroad track and were extended north of a point opposite Sivry-sur-Meuse. General King's Brigade was facing north. General King's Brigade was subjected to considerable artillery fire from the direction of Vilosnes. General King called for considerable special fire from the forward battalion, and it was reported that such fire was effective.  

At this time, the enemy had complete terrestrial observation of the terrain north of Forges woods. This observation was obtained from the high ground across the Meuse in the vicinity of Haraumont. The enemy also had direct observation of a good part of the Cumieres-Forges road and the valley of Forges Brook. Hostile artillery fire was heavy on many of the roads such as the road west out of Gercourt and west out of Dannevoux. The town of Dannevoux was heavily shelled with gas. The right elements, Infantry elements, of the 33rd American Division were subjected to some front line artillery fire of the enemy, but not as much as were the left elements, that is General King's Brigade. The Battery positions of the 104th Artillery near Forges Woods were subjected to considerable artillery fire of the enemy, none of which did much damage.

A postcard of Dannevoux mailed by a Füsilier of the 10. Reserve Division.

Verdun: East Bank

From Samogneux on the southeast to Brieulles, on the north-west, the ground on the right side of the Meuse rises very rapidly from the bottom land of the Meuse to the high points of what is called the heights of the Meuse. The heights of the Meuse lying on the right bank of the river are heavily wooded at the crest and have all the aspects of splendid defensive military positions. With the enemy still in possession of these Heights, the American Army was extended forward and echeloned from south to north with its right flank exposed to the observation and the fire of the enemy on the high ground on the height of the Meuse.  

It was reported that the Austro-Hungarian Units on the right side of the river had been supplanted by first rate German troops.  

On the 6th of October, Batteries "A" "B" and "F" of the 104th Field Artillery, were moved north into the immediate vicinity of the other batteries so that they might be within effective striking distance of the enemy's lines.
On the 8th of October, an attack was set in motion that had for its object the taking of the high ground of the Meuse Heights. The burden of this attack was on the French Troops on the right side of the river and the part of the 33rd Division began only after the first attack had been successful. It was planned that the 132nd Infantry Regiment should move across the river by bridges at Samogneux and Brabant and at five hours after the H hour, proceed along the open country near the river and north of the Consenvoye-Etraye road to the ridge on which is the Bois de Chaume. The 104th Field Artillery laid down a rolling barrage to make this advance possible and the advance was entirely successful. The rolling barrage moved along in a line parallel to the direction of the river north of Consenvoye, and the barrage was finished near the river, becoming more concentrated as the ground became more difficult as it ascended to the wooded heights. There was at first a report of the light artillery having fired short, but this was fortunately found to be untrue and it was found that an element of the Infantry had mistaken the crossroad on which it was to form.  

The 33rd Division was successful in its part of this operation, but considerable difficulty had been experienced by the allied infantry to the right which had run into the very difficult country of the woods on the high ground.

Above: Field equipment worn by Major Seymour at Verdun

On the 10th of October Batteries "C" "D" and "E" crossed the river by the bridge at Consenvoye and took position just south of the village in the vicinity of the German trench system that runs east and west at this point.  

The Infantry position in the vicinity of the Bois de Chaume was a difficult one. It had been found necessary to withdraw the Infantry outposts from the most distant points that they had attained because of the very severe artillery fire of the enemy to which they were subjected. Their first position directly observable from the high ground in the vicinity of Haraumont was one that could not be sustained.  

Colonel Davis, of the 132nd Regiment of Infantry, which had made the original advance on the right side of the river, had been relieved by General King's Brigade. The Regimental and Brigade command posts of infantry were very close to Major Austin's posts near Consenvoye and the result was splendid liaison between the artillery and the infantry. The fire called for by the Infantry Commander was delivered by Batteries "C", "D" and "E", of Major Austin's command within a very few minutes after the time it was asked for the Infantry was able to see quickly the effects of Artillery fire.  

The Command Post of the regiment was moved into the north-west corner of Forges Woods and contact between elements of the regiment were much more easily maintained. It was still found that Batteries "A" "B" and "F" were too far from the enemy's lines to be of maximum value and they were therefore, moved to the south-west edge of the Bois Jure. This was an exposed position, especially from observation on the right and it was fortunate that these batteries in this position were not called upon to fire.

During this period, there had not been much advance on the part of troops to the right into the high wooded ground of the Meuse Heights and the general regimental Sector was subjected to harassing fire both from the north and from the east. The rationing and supplying of Major Austin's command near Consenvoye was made difficult by the almost constant bombardment of the Consenvoye bridge and the roads both north and south of Forges Woods were subjected to harassing fire. There were occasional bursts of fire at high speed, delivered by the enemy but most o( the hostile fire seemed to be with one or two guns and at more or less regulated intervals. Gas was used by the enemy against Forges woods and against the Infantry and Artillery positions at the right side of the river.  

While the regiment was in this position. Colonel Smith was taken seriously ill and was sent to the rear by order of the Regimental Surgeon. Lieutenant Colonel John T. Belaney took command of the regiment. In this position, the Division was relieved by French Colonial troops.

Verdun: Across the heights

From the vicinity of Brabant and Samogneux, the country rises steadily to the high ground of the Meuse Heights and the general locality of Haumont Woods and Brabant woods and MoUeville woods and Etraye woods is reached from south-west by two roads, one the Brabant-Etraye road and one the Samogneux-Crepion road. The first mounts almost immediately on the high ground and stays on the high ground until it drops down into Etraye. The second stays in the low ground of a deep ravine until it reaches the foot of the Hill 360, when it rises quickly over that hill and ascends more gently into Crepion.  

On the 29th of October, the regiment moved to take position in the general locality of Malbrouck Hill and to relieve the 322nd Regiment of Artillery, of the 158th Field Artillery Brigade. The 322nd Artillery was laid with a defensive barrage on the right sub-sector of the sector Grand-Montagne. It supported the centers of resistance Wavrille and Etraye.  

The Volker-Stellung of the German defensive system runs east out of a point just south of Consenvoye over the high ground across the Brabant wood, skirts the Ormont wood and goes east at the south edge of Moirey wood. At the point where this line crosses the Brabant-Etraye road, Major Seymour's Battalion went into position and further up the road on the left side Major Austin's Battalion went into position.

Above: Although US troops were not issued with Helmet covers Major Seymour had what seems to be a privately bought one, or one made at unit level.

The Infantry position for both allies and Germans was a difficult one. Most of the country was wooded. Observation was very difficult. The first 24 hours that Major Austin's Battalion was in position, a protective barrage was called for, upon a nervous call through the liaison officer of Infantry.  

After it had been in position relatively but a few hours, the Brigade Sector was moved right and the 104th Artillery took over a sector bounded generally by the right edge of Ormont woods and the left edge of Houppy wood.  

At this time, Colonel Charles C. Pulis, took command of the 104th Field Artillery.  

The 104th Field Artillery supported the 313th and 314th Infantry. The 313th Infantry held a short line running through the center of the Ormont wood, with one Battalion in support in Brabant wood and one battalion in reserve south of Haumont. The lines of this regiment were short because this ground was difficult to hold. Three times the Americans had taken the entire Ormont wood and three times they had been driven out of the eastern half by a very destructive enemy fire. The Ormont wood is comparatively thick, is traversed by a good many paths and has in it several strong dug- outs. At the time the 104th Field Artillery took over this sector, the Infantry was convinced that the eastern half of the road was infested with machine guns, pill boxes, at close intervals.

  The guns in both positions were without protection, except for overhead camouflage. There were several strong dugouts for command posts and the like. It developed that the enemy had direct observation from the high ground of either side of Ormont wood. The result was that during the first days of the regiment's occupation of this position, the entire sector from Haumont to the Southern point of Consenvoye wood was subjected to a very severe artillery fire. This fire was particularly severe along points of the Brabant-Etraye road and in the Haumont ravine and the ravines that meet the Haumont ravine from the northeast.

Above: American Field Artillery equiped with the legendary French 75mm field gun.

The enemy was accustomed to deliver bursts of fire consisting of anywhere from 60 to 120 shots delivered without warning and with great rapidity against a single locality. These bursts of fire during the first five days of occupation of this position were very frequent, but were in descending scale towards the last. This enemy fire was delivered with great accuracy and did great damage along such points as the bottom of the Haumont ravine, where ration trains were compelled to proceed. Enemy fire was severe against support positions such as the Brabant wood and against ravines such as the Ravine de Coassinvaux, the Ravine de Bourvaux and the Fond de Walonsevaux.  

During the stay of the regiment in this position, no attack was made in its immediate front. But the Infantry on the left was active in attack and the guns of this regiment were frequently called upon to assist in such activity. The assumption is the general locality of the Ormont wood and the Belleu wood had been found so difficult for attack, that it had been decided to make a turning movement to the east and go around this difficult high wooded position formed by the Ormont wood and the Belleu wood.

All this time the Artillery positions, the Infantry support positions, and even the Infantry front line positions were subjected to a very severe harassing fire and to relieve this pressure, the 104th Field Artillery was called upon to deliver a good deal of concentration fire, retaliation fire and harassing fire. Some of this fire was delivered with great rapidity.  

Fortunately the liaison between Infantry and Artillery at this time was very close. Excellent telephone communication was maintained. Liaison officers of artillery had been sent to Brigade, Regimental and Battalion Headquarters of Infantry. The result was almost immediate response to the demands of the Infantry, thus fulfilling the instructions of the commanding officer of the regiment that one of the primary functions of the light artillery was to fulfill quickly the demands of the Infantry. At this time, the regimental expenditure of ammunition in a day often ran around 4000 projectiles.  

The Infantry commanders were especially interested in retaliation fire that would relieve the pressure on certain portions of their area. It was found that concentrations of fire rapidly delivered against Crepion, lessened the enemy's artillery fire in the upper end of the Haumont ravine.  

About the 6th of November, the artillery fire in the general regimental sector, seemed to decrease. There was still considerable fire by gun and by platoon but the rapid concentrations delivered with bursts of fire seemed to lessen.  

Above: An American Field Artillery officer in 1918. Courtesy of the US Army center for military history.

About this time, gas was thrown over by one or two guns on certain areas, with concentrations of two or three hundred projectiles, but little harm was done unless it was in the very low ground.  

The Infantry attack had been successfully carried forward on the left and the plan was to squeeze out the enemy on the high ground in the vicinity of Hill 360.  

On November 8th, the Commanding Officer, ordered Batteries "A", "B" and "C" forward, along the Brabant-Etraye road, to a point almost in the woods, so that they could fire at the enemy's front line, at a range of about 2500 meters.  

About 3 o'clock on the afternoon of November 8th, the enemy apparently became fearful of attack along the Ormont wood, or was desirous of covering his retreat. At any rate a really tremendous artillery fire was delivered by him about the base of the Hill 360 and extending slightly to the right and left. This fire continued with great severity until about 6 o'clock, when it decreased and spent itself in a gas attack on the Haumont-Batiue bottom and the ravine Rechimpre.

Verdun: The final positions at Crepion

  After this demonstration on November 8 th, it was learned that the enemy had retired out of the Ormont wood and there was from that time comparatively little artillery activity of the enemy in the area. On November 9th, not a shot was fired up to 11 o'clock. Then there was one flanking gun that fired on the high ground towards Haumont wood. On November 9th, Batteries "A" and "E" went into position near Ormont farm. The enemy had retired rapidly in front and first made a stand on the Hill 328 and the high hills of the Cote d'Orne and the Cote du Chateau. When the two leading Batteries moved forward, it was impossible for them to go any further because the road from the Ormont Farm into Crepion was not passable. Very severe artillery fire had been delivered against this road at the summit of Hill 360 and there were two hits directly on the road of projectiles larger in calibre than 300 mil.  

While at this time the enemy was not firing heavily on this area he still had a direct observation from the high hills to the east on any point eastward of the 360 Hill.

Above: Crepion to Chaumont on a German field map

The Commanding Officer of the regiment made every effort to see if guns could not be got in position in this vicinity of the Peine wood by going around Molleville Farm. But the roads through rain and shell fire made such a thing impossible.  

On November 9th the fire of this regiment played a very big part in making possible the successful attack of the infantry against the entrenched hill just north of the town of Chaumont and on the next day the same thing was true of the attack on Hill 319.  

On November 10th, "D" Battery moved to a position near Crepion which was as near the line as even the Infantry commander thought the light artillery should go.    

On November 11th, at 10:15, this regiment fired its last shot with one Battery in position in Crepion, three at Ormont Farm and two near Malbrouck Hill. 

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