Wednesday, October 27, 2010
THE LAST NINE
Mill Creek Soldier’s Heroic Fight During World War 1
FOUGHT AT FISMETTE FIGHT
Pottsville Journal September 12, 1918
Stanley Savage, of Mill Creek, Helped to Hold Back A Hun Attack With Salvaged Ammunition...
Stanley Savage of Co. H, 112th Infantry, 28th Division, A Mill Creek boy, is mentioned in the dispatches from France for bravery
He was one of the 100 men who were cut off with Lieutenant Turner. By a dense fog and barrage fire. The force was reduced to nine men. They took shelter in an old house and defended themselves against the Huns by going out in the open and taking ammunition from their fallen comrades. Savage was the man who got the ammunition.
After holding the enemy off for hours in this way the men escaped by swimming the river. Three Schuylkill county boys were among the survivors, they being, Frank Savage, Frank S. Incouski and George Kertitierm the later two from Port Carbon.
Another Co. H man, Ralph E. Lesser, of Ridgeway was orderly to Lieut. Turner and survived the ordeal.
Lesser, Incouski and Kertitier cannot be identified in this region, but Savage is well known. He resided at upper Mill Creek between Colonel Hyde’s residence and the State Police barracks. He served as an orderly with the State Police and was also employed for a time at Joyce Greenhouse.
Officers of the 103rd Engineers
He is the son of Mr. And Mrs. Michael Savage, of Mill Creek, and has a brother and a number of sisters living in that vicinity. He is a fine big soldier and was among the first to volunteer for Co,H when it was drilling at Agricultural Park, last summer.
The Following Account is From the U.S. Army reports at the Front, dated September 9, 1918.
Little has been told of the desperate fight of a handful of Americans against an overwhelming number of Germans for the possession of Fismette. Even with information now available from American survivors and German officers and soldiers taking part in the fight, several phases of the affair, notably the fate of close to 100 Americans who have not returned and have not been accounted for as prisoners is shrouded in mystery.
The fight started at daylight August 27, and raged until noon when the American was driven back across the Vesle for the time being. A plain recital of the “last nine”, an epic which would stand out in any age, shines out from the hours of death.
Lieut. Ben E. Turner, Chicago, a former sergeant, was the last man to cross under a hail of hostile machine gun bullets, high explosives and shrapnel shells. Turner had a platoon of about fifty men at the extreme eastern edge of the village when the German attack, preceded by a terrific artillery barrage behind a smoke screen. Was launched at 4:39 a.m. during a fog. The toll taken by the Germans was heavy. The American officer commanding the company was killed and the men dropped one by one.
Only twenty men were left when at 9 o’clock Lieut,. Turner started to lead the little party towards the bridge. He reached the remains of a stone house the roof of which had been torn off by shells and the walls of which had been partially demolished.
The ruion stood about 300 yards from the bridge. He took account of his strength and found that now he had nine men including himself. Two Chauchot automatic rifles and one army rifle were their only weapons. Turner used the rifle and Frank Sincousky, private Port Carbon and O. H. Hunt, private Logan, W. Va. Worked the automatics.
A Chauchat gunner
Sgt. Richard Moore and William M. Fleishifer and Ralf Lesser privates all of Ridgeway, Pa. and Moses Wallace, private , Factoryville, Pa. and Stanley Savage, Private, Pottsville were the others in the little band that risked their lives collecting ammo from the bodies of fallen Americans. They kept up such a fusillade they gave the impression that building was a perfect nest of machine guns..
SHELLS WRECK BUILDING
Six German officers were wounded and an unknown number of men, Entrenched on the left side of the building another hardy squad worked a machine gun and helped to hold back the attacking force. The building was struck by a German shell at 10:45 o’clock, wiping out the gun crew.
Lieut Turner realized that further resistance meant another Alama. “Make your way across the river,” he said. “I’ll stay here and protect you.”
“nothing doing,” replied his men, “We’ll stick with you.”, “All right, we’ll all make a run for it together,” said Turner.
During the next lull, they slipped out from the rear of the ruins and started dodging along the river bank until they reached the broken bridge. Shells were bursting on all sides and bullets were whistling over the little hollow where Turner stopped. “Over we go boys,” he said. “Lie low on the opposite bank.”
Giving the first man a shove they started across swimming on scrambling along by the remains of the bridge. “I’m going back to fire a couple more shots so that the Germans will think we are still there.” Said Turner as he handed Lesser a piece of paper on which he had hastily scribbled a Chicago address, adding, “write to this party if I don’t rejoin you.” Like a flash he was gone. The other eight reached the opposite side without a scratch.
When lesser climbed dripping up the bank he discovered that their leader was not among them. “I am gong back.” He said. “I am not a quitter.”
The soldiers echoed his words and started back toward certain death. “We could hear his gun going in the house which we had left.” Said Lesser in telling the story.
Then it was silence and every man gulped. Then a couple of minutes later the Lieutenant emerged from the river and splashing through the shallows and joined us. “The Germans shelled us for nearly a mile up the road, but we got away.”
That is the story of the Last nine.
From the History of the 112th Infantry......
"On August 16 the 112th Infantry received orders to relieve the 100th Infantry when holding the left sub-sector of the Pennsylvania sector, the First Battalion of the 112th to take over the left half of the sub-sector on the night of August 17-18; the Second Battalion the right half on the night of August 18-19; the Third Battalion to go into support on the line of resistance on the night of August 18-19 the command of the line to pass to the commanding officer, 112th Infantry at four o'clock, August 19.
'The part of the order affecting the First Battalion had been carried out when the order was superseded by the following changes: the First Battalion to extend its front to include the entire sub-sector on the night of August 18-19; the Second Battalion to take position on the right half of the line of resistance; the Third Battalion the left of the line of resistance. The entire relief was effected in good order. By 5 a. m., August 19, all units were in their assigned positions.
"The disposition of the combat groups in the front lines was completed with Companies A and C occupying Fismette, Company B holding the right flank south of the river and Company D, minus one platoon being used to cover the left flank in support of Fismes. By this time mixed liaison combat groups had been established with the units on our flanks. One company of the 109th Machine Gun Battalion, together with the Machine Gun Company, 112th Infantry, took up a position previously selected in the zone of combat groups. On the night of August 19-20 the enemy attempted to launch a raid on our left flank in Fismette. This was quickly repulsed by our automatic rifles. There were no casualties. "Up to this time the houses on the extreme left of Fismette were being occupied after dark by enemy machine gunners, who were causing considerable trouble to our troops, so, on the night of August 20-21, under cover of our own normal barrage, supplemented by Stokes mortars and one-pounders of this regiment, Company A, after a slight engagement, succeeded in extending its left flank to include this part of Fismette."
On the night of August 22-23 the First Battalion in the front line was relieved by the Third Battalion, the former occupying the position of the Third Battalion on the line of resistance. Companies A and B of the 109th Machine Gun Battalion, and a company of the 112th Infantry were also in the outpost zone, the latter company withdrawing to a position in a ravine.
On the night of August 26-27 the following changes of positions were effected. The First Battalion of the 1 11th Infantry, moved into position formerly occupied by the Third Battalion of the 1 11th Infantry. The latter moved up into the line of resistance and took up a position where the Second Battalion of the 112th Infantry had been stationed. The Second Battalion of the 112th Infantry, relieved the Third Battalion on the front line. The Third Battalion then moved back to the area vacated by the First Battalion of the 111th
Infantry in the barrier zone. The relief of the front line was accomplished in good order without casualties, all units being in position by one hour. Company H occupied the left flank and Company G the right flank in Fismette. South of the river Company F held the right of the sector, Company E the left. Liaison with the flanks was obtained without delay, but a CAPTURED GERMAN MACHINE GUNS considerable interval
Typical German Soldiers
At 4:10 a. m., after a heavy enemy barrage on Fismette which lasted for at least fifteen minutes, destroying many of the American strong points, the enemy launched an attack on Fismette. Following very close to the heavy barrage which was lifted from Fismette and put down on Fismes, they succeeded in entering the town both from the front and flanks before the American machine guns and automatics could put up sufficient resistance.
This resulted in hand-to-hand fighting, rendered difficult because of poor visibility at that hour of the day. Communication was cut off to the rear by enemy artillery. Hand grenades were the chief weapon in the attack, though in the left sector the use of liquid fire was reported.
Our troops collected heavy toll from the enemy before being forced to evacuate Fismette. By this time Captain Lucius M. Phelps, in command of the outpost zone, had been wounded, and Captain Harry F. Miller put in command. The latter spent the balance of the time on the line, organizing a strong defense in Fismes. The streets were barricaded and wire entanglements placed about seventy-five yards behind the barricades so as to be out of range of hand grenades The Stokes mortars were placed to take care of possible river crossings, and these, together with onepounders, would do effective work against any attempt of the enemy to force a crossing.
Survivors of Companies G and H who got across the Vesle and reached Fismes that morning stated that the Germans poured into Fismette by hundreds. As the German force which attacked Fismette was considered not to exceed 2,000, the first statements of survivors were thought to be exaggerations. Not until after the signing of the armistice and the return of Lieutenant Edward Schmelzer, Lieutenant Milford S. Fredenburg and Lieutenant Alfred A. L. Young, from the German prison camps at Rastatt and Yilligen, was it possible to establish with any degree of accuracy just what took place at Fismette on the morning of August 27. The three officers,
Company G had 124 men in the town when the enemy attack was made and Company H had a total of 106 men in the front line. Company G lost as prisoners, twenty-two wounded and sixty-two unwounded men, Company H lost as prisoners, twenty-four unwounded and twenty-nine wounded soldiers; total prisoners taken by the Germans numbered 127, so far as Lieutenant Schmelzer and Lieutenant Fredenburg could ascertain. These officers estimated that of the remaining ninety-three men, approximately seventy-five men were killed in hand-to-hand fighting.
During the night of August 30111-31 st the troops on the line of resistance were subjected to gas attack, which lasted approximately two and a half hours. With the exception of the 109th Machine Gun Battalion, the casualties from the gas were slight.