Day by day summary of 2nd Division movements from the Meuse to the Rhine, 11 Nov to 13 Dec 1918

by Lt. George R. Strott, USN, extracted from his history
The Medical Department of the United States Navy with the Army and Marine Corps in World War I

11 November 1918: The Armistice was signed on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, ending the European War. At the time of the signing of the armistice with Germany, the Marine Corps had an active duty strength of 2,474 officers and 70,489 enlisted men.

On the Western Front, official notification of the Armistice reached the Fourth Brigade from the Fifth Army Corps at 0835, and orders were at once sent forward to cease hostilities at 1100. Generally, at that hour over the front, the pressure of sustained warfare came to an abrupt end. On the Marine Brigade front there was only one exception and that was a patrol of the Fifth which had pushed ahead to Moulins, so far out that the order announcing the Armistice did not reach it. An hour or so after noon, while improving their positions, they came upon a group of celebrating German soldiers from whom they learned that fighting had ceased and that the terms of an armistice were in effect. Soon this report was confirmed by receipt of the official notification from battalion headaquarters. THE FIGHT WAS OVER!

The most noticeable local effect of the Armistice was the attention given to personal comfort. Officers and men alike, colonels, medical personnel, haplains, and machine-gunners~ all rose from their wet holes in the earth. They built fires to warm and dry their chilled, water-soaked and debilitated bodies. They spread fire-dried materials on the ground upon which they dropped to sleep.

An intense program of cleaning, bathing, feeding, sleeping, resting, delousing, and re-outfitting of the men was instituted. The animals and rolling stock were restored.

12 November 1918: On the Western Front, orders were received by the Marine Brigade to organize the line established when the Armistice became official. The 5th Marine Regiment was across the Meuse, and the 6th in the wood just west of Mouzon. Both regiments were holding the front line.

14 November 1918:
On the Western Front, the 5th Regiment, Marines, 2nd Division AEF, was relieved by the 308th Infantry, 89th Division, and marched its 1st and 2nd Battalions to Pouilly, and its 3rd to Letanne. The 6th Regiment, Marines, moved its headquarters from Yoncq to Villemontry. All were prepared for the new mission ~ to head the victorious armies of the Allies on their march through Belgium and Luxembourg to the Rhine, and, until peace was secured, to become the Army of Occupation of the American bridgehead, at Coblenz in the heart of Germany.

17 November 1918: The 2nd Division, AEF, assigned to the new Third Corps of the new Third Army (American Army of Occupation), was scheduled to start their march at 0500, from their positions along the Meuse River. From the remaining short strip of France, the plan was to pass through a corner of southeastern Belgium into and across the Grand Duchy of Luxemburg to the German frontier at the Sauer River. From there the route was to and across the Rhine into a large semicircular area on the east bank to be known as the American Bridgehead, in the center of the Allied line (headquarters, Coblenz) between the British in the north (headquarters, Cologne) and the French in the south (headquarters, Mainze). The distance from the starting point on the Meuse to the German frontier on the Sauer was approximately 60 miles. The plan was to reach the frontier in 6 marching days; one day was allowed for rest. This memorable march to the Rhine started on schedule at 0500 17 November 1918 from Pouilly on the Meuse. At the start, the 5th Marines and Company C of the 2nd Engineers formed the advance guard and preceded the main body by two kilometers. Flank guards maintained contact with the Fourth French Army on the left and the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Division on the right. On completion of the first day’s march, which ended just short of the Belgium frontier, outposts were established along the line Deux Villers-Moiry-Montmady.

16 November 1918: In Belgium, the Second Division, Army of Occupation, resumed its march at 0500, crossing the Belgium frontier early in the morning, and passing on through Belle Fontaine to an outpost line, Jam-Etalle-Ste Leger. The weather was cool and the sky mildly overcast, which meant good marching conditions. When the Belgium border was crossed, the regimental bands moved out of their long silence and, heading the regiments, played as the men entered the first country to be freed. Spirits were high and the troops were given a rousing welcome by the inhabitants who lined both sides of the road. The people had hastily constructed triumphal arches at the entrance of towns, speedily sewed homemade American flags with variable numbers of stripes and stars, and there was friendship and welcome on all sides. Some girls were struggling with sand and brush to erase a painted black cross from the entrance to their homes. Neighbors had placed the mark to signify a girl’s friendliness with German officers during the period of enemy occupation.

19 November 1918 (19-20 Nov): In Belgium, at 0800 after a full night of rest and a light breakfast, and equipped with a full canteen of water and a load which averaged 40 pounds per man, the Marine Brigade, in column, and forming the flank and advance guards of the 2nd Division, set out to march at about 2.5 miles per hour for an average of 7 hours per day, covering an average of 24 kilometers. Route step with a wide interval between ranks was maintained in the country. This was broken by marching at attention with the band when passing through towns and cities. The march was maintained for 50 minutes with a 10-minute halt before the march was resumed. One hour was allowed for the noon meal and the filling of canteens from company water carts which accompanied the rolling kitchens.

20 November 1918: In Belgium, the march of the Second Division across France and Belgium since the Armistice had by this time produced a striking effect on the files of the ranks who had participated in the heavy fighting of previous months. From the upper Meuse, from a battlefield and from scenes of great devastation, the files moved through peaceful farmland, with pretty villages and towns, and a joyful populace and pretty girls. Marching to the east on the morning of 21 November, with the 6th Marines leading, the Marine Brigade withdrew from the city of Arlon, Belgium, and soon crossed the frontier into the Grand Duchy of Luxemburg, where the scenery became increasingly beautiful and the population enthusiastic. Heavy packs and the need to guide animals and motors over narrow and frequently steep mountain trails failed to fatigue the high-spirited men.

23 November 1918: With only overnight stops since having left Arlon, Belgium, on the morning of 21 November, the Marine Brigade reached the edge of the German frontier at the Sauer River on 23 November. In accordance with the Armistice terms, the German frontier could not be crossed until 1 December 1918; therefore, the Brigade settled in billets along the Sauer River and prepared itself for the first phase of the march, its role in the actual occupation of enemy territory. With outpost lines and strong patrols established along the west bank of the Sauer and echelon arrangement set up for instantaneous action, organizations settled down in good billets for rest, cleaning, reorientation, and an undisturbed Thanksgiving celebration. Regular drills were resumed and regimental colors were decorated with the Croix de Guerre. Personal awards to the men were presented with proper ceremony. Rest and refitting were the pricipal orders of the day. New uniforms, shoes, and underclothing were issued, and, once more, every man was deloused. No sickness of importance occurred, march foot injuries recovered, and the men were again fit and ready for hard service.

25 Nov 1918: The Second Division, AEF, including the 4th Brigade of Marines, reached the German frontier

1 December 1918: The Marine Brigade front in Germany across the Sauer River opened into a mountainous tract known as the Eifel country. In this watershed numerous streams arose, flowed through deep fissures in the hills and went off as tributaries of the Moselle which ran parallel, just to the south, to the Second Division line of march to the Rhine. At 0700 on 1 December 1918, with the 5th Marines leading as the advance and flank guards of column 2, Second Division, the Marine Brigade passed over the Sauer River into Germany. Troops marched with colors, standards, and guidons uncased.

Over frozen roads the march penetrated about 45 miles into Germany, although some organizations, to reach their billet positions, were required to pass over right angle roads and winding mountain trails, and, therefore, marched several kilometers further.

More men fell out on this hike more than on any other. Most of these men were new replacements who had joined the brigade in and near Arlons, Belgium. The length of the hike, moreover, was excessive.

At this time the final Allied front started to take shape. The French until this point had been on the left flank of the Marine Brigade (the left of the American Army). Here they moved across to the south and focused on Mainze. The American Army, proceeding ahead along the north of the Moselle, moved toward Coblenz, and the British, bearing on Cologne, moved in toward the Marine Brigade left.

With the 5th and 6th Marines alternating as advance and flank guard of column 2, on the left of the Second Division, the march continued without interruption to the Rhine River.

9 December 1918: During the afternoon, the Marine Brigade, on the extreme left of the American Army of Occupation, arrived on the west bank of the Rhine River. About 40 miles down the river to the north was the city of Cologne, the headquarters of the British Army. About an equal distance to the south, up the river, was the city of Coblenz, where the Moselle makes its confluence with the Rhine. Here was the headquarters of the American Army. Further to the south, up the Rhine, was Mainz, the headquarters of the French Army, which, with the newly repatriated Provisions of Alsace and Lorraine, flanked the west bank of the Rhine to the Swiss border. North of the British, the Belgian Army controlled the Rhine to the frontier of the Netherlands, completing the jaw of the vice in the west.

13 December 1918: With the 5th Marines leading, the Marine Brigade crossed the Rhine at Remagen and occupied its sector in the north of the American Bridgehead on the east bank. The brigade sector of the Second Division front was occupied by the 5th Marines on the right and the 6th Marines on the left. The 6th Marines was the American liaison regiment with the British, across the neutral zone, to the north.

Military lines and controls were immediately set up. The brigade settled down to its task of occupation, in comfortable billets, estates, chateaux and castles, in a medievally picturesque setting, backed by the Rhine flowing northward.

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