The Raid on Charey

By Dr. Douglas Johnson, U. S. Army War CollegeSeptember 4, 2009

A Common Sense Man!
1 / 4 Show Caption + Hide Caption – (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL
The Lay of the Land!
2 / 4 Show Caption + Hide Caption – (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL
Map of the St. Mihiel Area
3 / 4 Show Caption + Hide Caption – (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL
Map of the St. Mihiel-Xammes area
4 / 4 Show Caption + Hide Caption – (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

Not long after the United States entered the First World War, Lieutenant Colonel Conrad S. Babcock sailed to France in 1917 in hopes of gaining command of an Infantry unit in combat. Early September 1918 found him in command of the 354th Infantry, 89th Division, American Expedtionary Force, which had been a Follow-in-Support division during the St. Mihiel operation. Now in the frontlines, he received orders for the 354th to launch a raid the night of September 25-26. The objective was to give the impression that the entire division was attacking. The raid would be supported by the divisionAca,!a,,cs assigned and supporting artillery, laying down a barrage typical of that currently being employed by American divisions in the Argonne-Verdun sector. The six-hour barrage would roll forward until signaled to stop by the Commanding Officer of the raiding party, at which time the party would withdraw.

Babcock selected the village of Charey opposite the right of his regimental line as the objective. The German outpost line ran along the edge of a sixty-to eighty foot high bluff that marked the edge of the Plateau de Grande Fontaine, 1,100 yards south-west of the village and 300 yards forward of the 354th Regimental outpost line.

This terrain was selected because it allowed the Americans to move forward in darkness to an unmistakable point Aca,!" the steep edge of the plateau Aca,!" and wait there without fear of the enemy protective barrage that would inevitably follow the beginning of the American barrage. (The British had learned this practice relatively early in the war Aca,!" at least as early as the Somme, but there is no indication that Babcock learned of this from any After-Action process.) Further, when the barrage lifted and began moving to the German rear, the soldiers on the German outpost line would begin searching for the attack formations well across the valley floor.

Knowing the enemy would react violently by shelling the town of Xammes, across the valley from them in the certainty that it was the location of the American Command Post, Babcock evacuated all but a skeleton staff from the village and moved the stay-behinds into a deep cellar.

The attacking unit was divided unit into three sections, the left under a Sergeant John Bargfrede (H Company), the right under Sergeant Roy C. Anthony (B Company), the center group was commanded by a Lieutenant Wilder. Well before 2300hrs, the groups had reached their positions at the base of the bluff. At 0530hrs, with the lifting of the barrage, all three groups dashed up the slope, completing their surprise and by 0600hrs were in Charey, taking out ten machineguns, killing approximately 20 of the enemy, and bringing back two prisoners.

As Babcock was not confident the Very Flare signal to cease firing would be seen, he and a runner positioned themselves well forward to repeat it. As expected, the Germans responded with heavy protective fires before their lines and upon the town of Xammes. Mission accomplished, Wilder fired his flare, and Babcock repeated it after a suitable interval. The raiders suffered one killed and 11 wounded.

Not everyone realized what the raiders had accomplished. Col. Babcock later wrote that Aca,!A?in the midst of our celebrations, General [Frank L.]Winn, Brigade Commander, sent me a note directing me to explain why the 354th Headquarters was Aca,!EoeWholly out of touch with Brigade Commander for five hours during the night of September 25-26.Aca,!a,,c "

Here we see a regimental commander executing the higher headquarters directive in a perfectly sensible fashion, taking steps to ensure the mission was accomplished at as low a friendly cost as possible.

The Raid on Charey demonstrates that the American Army was better trained than many writers on the subject admit. As noted, it is not clear from whence the concepts executed in this action had their birth, but a review of BabcockAca,!a,,cs behavior up to this point and beyond suggests strongly that common sense was a more than adequate substitute in the absence of doctrine. In BabcockAca,!a,,cs case, doctrine that subverted common sense would have been discarded anyway.

ABOUT THIS STORY: Many of the sources presented in this article are among 400,000 books, 1.7 million photos and 12.5 million manuscripts available for study through the U.S. Army Military History Institute (MHI). The artifacts shown are among nearly 50,000 items of the Army Heritage Museum (AHM) collections. MHI and AHM are part of the: Army Heritage and Education Center, 950 Soldiers Drive, Carlisle, PA, 17013-5021.


Related Links:

A Working Bibliography of MHI Sources: 89th Infantry Division

A Working Bibliography of MHI Sources: 354th Infantry Regiment