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In late 1918 a letter by an irate Army officer was published in the New York Times:

The troops that took Vaux  

An advertising agency is a good thing at times, but when the advertising agency misrepresents its goods there is a possibility of it becoming a detriment to the advertiser. There are a few organisations in France that really do not need an advertising agency- their work has been honourable enough to speak for itself. There are two regiments of Marines in France and they are part of my division and I know their service has been honourable, let us say just as glorious as many other infantry organisations of the United States Army that are now in France.  

But from time to time, and very often too, certain papers in the United States write as if certain organisations were doing the whole thing alone over here. For example, in your pictorial issue of Aug. 11, 1918, you show a picture of the town of Vaux, France, and announce that this town was stormed by the marines. Now, as I am in command of the battalion that actually took Vaux and as we are all very, very proud of her reputation and of her high standard as a shock outfit, will you kindly correct this error? Also, out of respect for the high standard of veracity The New York Times has ever maintained, please remember that there are today over 1 750 000 American troops abroad, and about 6 000 of them are marines in the two excellent regiments the Navy Department has sent over.  

George C Bowen Major,
9th Infantry, HQ 2nd Battalion
Sept. 24, 1918  

The Attack on the village of Vaux

On the 1st of July 1918 Doughboys of the 2nd Infantry Division took the village of Vaux.

It was an action that is mentioned almost exclusively in the unit history, overshadowed by the actions of the Marines of the 2nd Infantry Division the month before in Belleau Wood.

In reality, the attack of the 9th and 23rd Infantry Regiments was a success achieved by a divisional staff who had learned their lesson from the errors made the month before.

As Mark E. Grotelueschen writes in "Doctrine under trial: American Artillery employment in World War 1"....

"The different methods utilized in the division’s attacks on Belleau Wood and Vaux are clear. The division and the brigade leadership sent the marines forward into Belleau Wood without sufficient planning and with inadequate or even nonexistent artillery support. They suffered terribly for it. However, when the division leadership made adequate preparations before the attack and employed overwhelming artillery support, as they did from 10 to 12 June and on the final attack of 25 June, the division proved that it could advance, with acceptable casualty rates, even in an environment that was extremely favourable to the defenders. The attack on Vaux was simply the ultimate demonstration of the division’s ability to successfully plan and execute limited, set-piece attacks, making excellent use of those “trench-oriented” skills that had been absorbed during its training period with the French. At Vaux, the officers in the 2nd Division showed that they had learned first-hand at Belleau Wood what the French officers had warned them about: effective artillery support was crucial to any infantry attack. Pershing’s abstract “infantry-based” doctrine had come face to face with the reality of the Western Front, and the reality appeared to win the first battle."

Above: The group of medals awarded to William Folsom

Cpl Folsom, William (38323)
Co B 9th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Division.
Citation Order No. 5 , June 3 1919

“For gallantry in action near Vaux, France, 1 July, 1918, although three times wounded he delivered his message and then fell to the floor in a faint.”

Co B. was in reserve on the day of the attack, but Folsom, serving as a messenger was exposed to enemy fire.

The US 2nd Division consisted of a brigade of Marines, and a brigade of regular army soldiers. The Marines made their mark with the fighting in Belleau Wood, the fighting done by the regular brigade is unfortunately an overlooked footnote in the campaign. The 3rd Regular Brigade was holding ground to the South, between Belleau Wood and Chateau Thierry. Their battle was one of positional warfare. They had been ordered to attack the salient at the village of Vaux but the 2nd Division command decided it could not carry out two offensive actions at the same time and the attack on Vaux had to wait until the Belleau Wood fighting had come to an end.

Positional warfare did not mean there was no action in the 3rd Brigade zone. In the month of June 1918 they had 17 officers and 302 enlisted men killed and 36 officers and 1414 enlisted men wounded. Of note was a German Gas attack on the night of the 23rd-24th of June where the brigade suffered over 400 gas casualties. Most of the attack had fallen to the North and South of the Paris-Metz Highway, close to Thiolet. "B" Company of the 9th Infantry had its HQ in Thiolet, the Company itself in the Bois de Clerembauts. High explosive and gas caused heavy losses and the company lost 11 men killed and 159 wounded between the 21st-24th of June.  

By the end of June the 3rd Brigade was able to put an end to its costly waiting game, at the end of the month it was their turn to take the offensive which they did with the often overlooked attack on the village of Vaux.  

The village of Vaux first caught the eye of the belligerents on the 2nd of June 1918 when the German advance had faded and the German 10th and 231st Infantry divisions found themselves in front of the village. Initially left unoccupied the Germans at first used it as an outpost, then not at all, with both American and German troops visiting it with their nightly patrols.

Later in June the German 231st I.D. garrisoned the village and on the 19th of June it gave its positions over to the 201st I.D. The 231. I.D. had done little work in the sector and the first order of the day for the 201. was to prepare its positions.  

The village of Vaux was part of a small salient in the area between Belleau Wood and Château Thierry. It was a thorn in the side of the French sector commander and in June orders were given to reduce the salient.

Above: A heavily laden Doughboy. This would NOT have been the equipment carried in Combat.

The 4th brigade of the US 2nd Division was making US Marine history in Belleau Wood and until the fighting here had subsided the commander of the US 2nd Div estimated he did not have the manpower to conduct an offensive operation against the salient.  

In the meantime the US 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry division (comprising the 9th and 23rd Infantry Regiments) held the ground to the South of the woods, facing Vaux. They were frustrated, having suffered losses in 3 weeks of positional warfare, but not having had the opportunity to strike back.  

Towards the end of June the German line in the sector was stretched thin. The 201. I.D. had one regiment (403. I.R.) in Chateau Thierry, one occupying height 204 (401. I.R.) and the 402. I.R. which covered the ground from the Northern slope of Height 204, through the village of Vaux and through the Bois de la Roche to the Forest on height 192.

Above: A map of the area. Further useful maps including the direction of the attack and the German units can be found HERE

Height 204 was considered the most critical point and was as a result the most heavily defended.  

The I./402. I.R. had the eastern edge of the village of Vaux with one company between the village and the woods on the side of the hill. The II./402. I.R. was responsible for the village and the ground to the west bordering with the 28. I.D..

Vaux itself had a peacetime population of just 250, a number of these were now behind allied lines where the Americans were able to question them about the village and its buildings. The American G2, meeting with a local builder was able to map out the village to include the gardens, walls and basements of all the buildings in the village. By the time the final plans were made the American troops knew where enemy dugouts would probably be found and which basements would be best suited to build their own positions after the attack.

The ground over which they were to attack was well known to the men of the 3rd Brigade. The 9th Infantry Regiment had carried out numerous patrols into the village at the beginning of June, the 23rd Infantry Regiment had reached, entered then pulled back from the woods at Hill 192 on the 6th of June.

It was a great advantage to mount an attack across land so well known to the men and their officers.

On the 30th Of June 1918 the final plans for the attack came down from III. Corps HQ.

The 2nd Division the village of Vaux with the French 39th Division attacking the Height 204. The railway lines to the East of Vaux would be the dividing line. The American attack would be carried out by the 2/9th Infantry regiment and the 3/23rd Infantry regiment. A company of the 5th Machine Gun Battalion was to carry out a machine Gun barrage. Artillery support would be given by the 15th Field artillery Regiment and attached batteries from the 17th Field Artillery Regiment. Also attached were three battalions of French Artillery.

The 2nd Division the village of Vaux with the French 39th Division attacking the Height 204. The railway lines to the East of Vaux would be the dividing line. The American attack would be carried out by the 2/9th Infantry regiment and the 3/23rd Infantry regiment. A company of the 5th Machine Gun Battalion was to carry out a machine Gun barrage. Artillery support would be given by the 15th Field artillery Regiment and attached batteries from the 17th Field Artillery Regiment. Also attached were three battalions of French Artillery.  

Two companies of the 3/9 Inf Regt and a company of the 5th M.G. Battalion were kept in reserve in the forest to the south of Tafournay farm as well as two Battalions of Marines as divisional reserve in the Bois Gros Jean.  

The 23rd Infantry held the 3rd Brigades Left Flank while the 9th Infantry held the right. The line of departure for the attack lay in the 9th Infantry sector which stretched from the culvert 200m South of Vaux on the Vaux-Monneaux westwards towards Bourbetin, then across the Paris-Metz highway passing just east of Le Thiolet to the north east corner of the bois des Clerembauts.  

The 2/9th infantry were already in position on the right of the regimental sector with its battalion HQ at Monneaux. The Battalion holding the 9th infantry left flank made way for the 3/23rd infantry which established its battalion HQ in Bourbetin.

At dawn on the 1st of July all the troops were in place. The troop movements on the 30th of June had not gone unnoticed by the Germans on Height 204. The German 402. I.R. had noticed movement in the sector and had ordered artillery fire in the US 9th Infantry area. The 402. was put on alert.  

The 2nd division attack was planned for 18:00.

Right: Pound for pound the best Artillery piece of the war. American gunners manning a French 75mm field gun.

The Barrage:

The main factor in the success in the attack on Vaux was the artillery preparation.

Cameron Mackenzie reporting in the  NY Times wrote:

“Precisely twelve hours before the infantry advanced the American guns, firing American shells, manned and directed exclusively by American gunners, unlimbered for the work of preparation.”

His report is not accurate, 

Aiding the artillery of the 2nd Division were a total of 12 French batteries. Nine of them with 75mm field guns, 3 with 155mm howitzers. The attack would be preceded by a 12 hour bombardment of the heavy artillery. The French field guns would join in to get the range for their rolling barrage and to cut the barbed wire to the south of Vaux. 3 hours before the infantry moved forward 4 American batteries would fire mustard gas into the area behind the Bois de la Roche. One after the other the other light batteries would join in firing on selected targets.  

3 Minutes before the attack the 9 French batteries were to begin their rolling barrage starting in no mans land while all other guns would begin a bombardment on the German rear area. The rolling barrage would reach the objective in 30 minutes then move beyond to commence a barrage that would cut the objectives off from German reinforcements and resupply. The barrage would continue for another hour and a half while the infantry dug in.  

21 000 light and 7 600 heavy rounds of artillery were set aside for the operation

At 5:00 am the 2/9 and 3/23rd had pulled back and the artillery preparation began. The 2nd Division's reinforced artillery fire covered the front of the entire German 201. I.D. concentrating on height 204 and the Vaux-La Roche line.    

The Germans suspected a coming attack and ordered all the front line units to be ready at 12:45.  

At 13:00 the bombardment reached its crescendo and would continue at this intensity until the attack began.  

The 201. I.D. commander began to get worried and called for assistance from the neighbouring units. To the South the 10. I.D. opened fire on Louverny and the La Borde ravine as well as the South Western approaches to Height 204. To the North the 28. I.D. fired on the Monneaux-Vaux-Bourbetin ravines and the Bois de la Marette. The German fire inflicted numerous casualties amongst the men of the 9th and 23rd Infantry as they waited for orders to move up.  
At about 15:00 the Germans began to move up reserves of the 402. and 403. I.R.s, mainly towards Height 204.  

At 17:30 the 401. I.R. reported movement in the American lines as the 2/9th and 3/23rd began to take up their positions for the attack.

At 18:00 the attack on the positions of the German 201. I.D. rolled forward from the banks of the Marne to their right boundary.  

On the Allies right flank the French 153e R.I. moved up the slopes of height 204. To the left 2000 American soldiers advanced towards the Vaux-La Roche line.  

The 17:30 report of the Germans had been correct. The 2/9th and 3/23rd had left their cover and taken up forward positions in the ravines, behind them the support companies, engineers and Machine gunners. On the right flank a platoon of the 2/9th Infantry was detached to assure liaison with the neighbouring French while on the left flank the 3/23 had a platoon ready to secure its left flank.  

At 18:00 all was ready. The first enemy contact occurred when five Germans surrendered to an American officer in the minutes preceeding the attack as he made his way along the Monneaux-Vaux ravine. They were the first Germans encountered during the attack.

Above: Thanks Google :-)

The attack began.  

2/9th under Major Bouton attacked with E Company on the right, H Company on the left and F and G companies in support. The company of attached engineers was standing by in Vaux. The attack was a walk over and the Battalion entered Vaux with no casualties. E Company pushed through the town meeting negligable resistance taking its objective, the railway to the East of Vaux with its right flank touching the highway Viaduct. It took the company 20 minutes to reach its objectives.  

H Company attacked to the north and west of the village heading for La Roche woods and were met with German machinegun fire. Covered by their own machineguns American Bombers crept forward to silence the German gunners with hand grenades. 7 Machine guns were captured. After the short delay H Company advanced through La Roche woods and reached the railway track.  

F Company followed E Company through the town to mop up. The town was in a terrible state, artillery have levelled most of the buildings and the only German survivors were those sheltering in the cellars of the houses. These were shell shocked and in no condition to resist. 2/9th sent back 5 German officers and 205 other ranks as prisoners. The prisoners informed that the allied barrage had forced them into the cellars, all communications to the rear had been cut off, artillery observation posts destroyed and the Minenwerfer crews were unable to stay in their weapons pits.  

E Company pushed east of the railways to connect with the French 153e R.I. on hill 204. H Company had its platoon on the right wing on the east side of the railway line while the left wing of the company was in the tree line of the La Roche woods.

Left: Folsom's Victory medal with the Silver Star for his citation. His wounds seem to have been serious enough to keep him out of action long enough to have missed out on the "Aisne-Marne" and "St Mihiel" clasps on his victory medal.

By 19:30 signalers of the 9th Infantry had set up lines from Vaux to the rear. When the signalers had entered the village during the attack they had made their way to their designated cellar to set up their field telephone.  

2/9th rapidly consolidated their new positions, making use of captured German machine guns. By 18:30 Vaux had been "cleaned" and the battalion front line secured. The battalion’s losses were relatively light. 10 men killed, 2 officers and 46 men wounded and 20 men missing. Most of the losses had been suffered by H Company.  

On their flank the going had been tougher for 3/23. Major Elliot's men had left the Monneaux-Bourbetin ravine at the same time as the 2/9th, but had more ground to cross, much of it exposed. During the counter barrage fired by the Germans between 16:00-17:00 (on the ravine and in the Bois de Marette) th battalion had suffered its first casualties. When the attack started the 3/23rd had three companies in the front wave. I Company on the right, L Company in the middle and M Company on the left flank. K Company was in support along with a company of the 2nd engineers. and 3 platoons of the 5th Machine Gun Battalion.  

Crossing the crest of Hill 175 to the north of the highway I Company came under machine gun fire but the men continued firing as they went. At 18:18, about 100 meters in front of the Bois de La Roche they were pinned down and exchanged fire with the Germans. Minutes later the company tried to move forward but right away 2 officers were wounded. At 19:30 help arrived from the units on the flank. Men of K Company 2/9th and L Company 3/23 attacked the German positions in front of I Company from the flanks and cleared the way for I Companies advance.

Neuer Absatz

Right: Folsom was awarded the French Croix de Guerre for his actions on the 1st of July. He received a "Individual Title/Citation" which allowed him to wear the cross itself as opposed to the fourragere which was to be worn by men who were in a unit that won a "Unit Citation"

L Company had been able to advance more rapidly, reaching the Bois de La Roche and pushing through in spite of resistance. The left and center of the company had achieved their objectives by 19:00 and the company commander had sent a detachment to help break the Resistance in the path of I Company.  

M Company had advanced and cleared the woods on Hill192. They had arrived at their objective on time and with little resistance. On their way they had passed the bodies of American soldiers who had been killed in the area on the 6th of June.  

By 20:00 Major Elliot, commanding the 3/23rd was able to report that his battalion had consolidated its lines.  

On the right Flank the French had been less successful than the men of the 2nd Division. The 153e R.I. advanced on a position that had a full battalion of Germans overlooking the area the French infantry would be channeled into, The German support Battalion on call, dug in at the foot of the north slope and a reserve Battalion less than 1 km away. The men of the 153e R.I. came under heavy fire as soon as their advance began. Some of the Poilu reached the road but could not hold the position under the heavy fire. They had to pull back leaving the right flank of the 9th Infantry open for a short while. The gap was sealed but the French advance had not been as successful as that of the 2nd Division.   

Above: US troops march through Vaux.