Captain Charley Dunbeck’s farewell to the men of 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, on the eve of their demobilization, with particular attention paid to the final days of the war, and the crossing of the Meuse

The following document, distributed to the men of 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, on the eve of their demobilization at Quantico, Virginia, in August of 1919, is battalion commander Captain Charley Dunbeck’s farewell to his men.  In particular he dwells on the events of November 1-11, when the battalion suffered extremely heavy losses in the fighting leading up to and including the crossing of the Meuse.  Also included is a section from the History of the Second Battalion (Neuweid, Germany: 1919) describing the same events in greater detail.

BJ Omanson

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UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS
HEADQUARTERS, SECOND BATTALION
FIFTH MARINES
QUANTICO, VA.

                August 15, 1919

FROM: Captain C. Dunbeck

TO:  Officers and Men, 2nd Battalion, 5th Regiment, United States Marines Corps

SUBJECT:  Demobilization

1……….On the eve of our demobilization, I have taken the opportunity to express my regrets that we are about to be separated, but this parting is after a glorious career.  “Orders” to a soldier means not only obedience, but to obey cheerfully.  Of many orders I have received, few have been so hard to be cheerful about, as this last order demobilizing the 2nd Battalion.

2……….This letter is to tell you Goodbye, or our only hope “Au Revoir.”  No matter what I may do, there is nothing of which I shall be so proud as having been in command of the 2nd Battalion, particularly during the time of our advance from November 1st until the day of our demobilization.  For this benefit of the new men in the Battalion and for those still to come, I want to repeat officially as your Battalion Commander just what you did during the last days of the war.

3……….On the night of October 31st, 1918, you moved up to your jumping off position.  On November 1st, you made an attack and advance.  During that day you advanced about 11 kilometers, bivouacked in shell holes.  On November 3rd, you jumped off on a line ordered at daylight, and fought all day.  That night although physically worn out, and without food, you took advantage of the darkness and traveling on your nerve alone, and the morale of the 2nd Battalion, you assisted the 9th Infantry in pushing the enemy back 8 kilometers through Belval Woods, and by daylight you were firmly in position on the heights in the North end of the woods.  This position you held notwithstanding the extremely heavy fire of the  enemy all concentrated upon you until other troops began to arrive that day, and shared for the remainder of the day November 4th, you had a chance to get very little rest, for again we moved to a new position along the Meuse River near Pouilly.

4……….From that time on up until the night we crossed the river, you were constantly face to face with the enemy.  During all this time it was your individual spirit and morale of the 2nd Battalion that kept you going.  The official records show that very few men fell out other than battle casualties.  Afterward on the long march to the Rhine you kept up the splendid marching record.

5……….It is that same spirit and morale that makes the 2nd Battalion what it is todayk, and I am sure always will be.  Now that the war is over and you will return to your civil pursuits, you will be proud of the fact that to the very end there was no let up on the work, drill, and discipline in the 2nd Battalion.  This will give you more real pleasure in the future than any entertainment or relaxation that may be devised for your present daily pleasure.

6……….I wish each and all of you the best of success in life, believe me always

Devotedly yours,

CHARLEY DUNBECK

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from the History of the Second Battalion, 5th Regiment, US Marines.

On the night of October 31st we moved to the jump off position, the Battalion being formed along the road running east of of Sommerance. 

At 1 a.m.  on November 1, our powerful barrage opened up.  The enemy at once began replying with a hearty counter-barrage which only began to decrease an hour after the attack started.  “H” hour was 5:30 a.m. November 1st and at that time under heavy artillery and indirect machine gun fire from the enemy, the Battalion went over, following in close support of 1st Battalion.  Our Battalion was led by Captain C. Dunbeck, with Captain S.C. Cumming leading the 51st Company, Lt. C.D. Baylis the 55th Company, Captain N.H.Massie the 43rd Company.  The 18th Company, under Captain J.R. Foster, acted as the right liaison company with the 89th Division.  The enemy trenches at Landres-et-St Georges were soon taken along with quite a number of prisoners, and the attack continued on to the first objective.  Here on a line running east and west through the northern edge of Bois l’Epasse this Battalion passed through the 1st Battalion, taking the lead.  Opposition was soon met in the town of Landreville.  A number of machine guns and over 100 prisoners were taken here.  One machine gun crew was caught firing from a window from which a Geneva Red Cross flag was flying. 

In the woods one kilometer and a half from Bayonville, a heavy fire was coming from Hill 299, checking the Battalion.  In response, the 55th Company executed a flanking movement, driving the enemy from the hill.  In these woods we also captured approximately 30 machine guns, one battery of 8-inch and about twelve 6-inch guns.  There were about 30 officers or NCOs of the enemy found at their guns either killed or wounded.

Closely following the barrage our line passed on to the second objective, the ravine one kilometer north of Bayonville.  Here we halted for 40 minutes and were leap-frogged by the 3rd Battalion.  We followed in support of the 3rd Battalion and, upon the third objective being reached, organized a support position on Hill 300.  Here we remained until the morning of November 3rd, subjected to intermittent artillery fire.  The weather was very cold and it rained continually.

At 6 a.m. on November 3rd, we leap-frogged the 3rd Battalion and followed in support of the 9th Infantry who had taken the lead.  Following a bearing of 15 degrees, we advanced over hilly country, our right flank passing through Nouart.

In the afternoon the 9th Infantry having gained their objective, the Battalion organized a support position on a hillside about one kilometer north of Nouart.  Here enemy planes flying low attempted to infilade our lines with machine gun fire.  An enemy battery at close range got direct fire on us, inflicting casualites at a rapid rate.  They were spotted and the 37mm brought into action.  The three enemy guns quickly retired and we spent a quiet evening.

At 3 am the next morning, November 4th, in continuous cold rain, we continued the advance northward, still supporting the 9th Infantry.  The route taken was through Le Champy Haut, thence to a position 500 yards south of la Tuileire Farm.  This position was held from 9 am until 9 pm.  All during this time we were under extremely heavy artillery and machine gun fire.  Part of the Battalion had to wear gas masks for four hours continuously.  Quite a number of enemy planes harrassed our position and adjusting the enemy’s artillery fire.

At 9 pm, same date, we moved to La Belle Tour Farm.  At this place we took up front line positions between the 9th Infantry and 89th Division, facing northeastward toward Pouilly.  Strong patrols were sent to the river bank.

This position was held throughout the day of November 5th, and on the morning of November 6th we moved to a position of reserve about one and a half kilometers northeast of Beaumont.  Here we stayed two days.  The weather continued rainy and colder, ice now forming in the water-soaked holes which the men were forced to dig for protection from artillery fire.  Our losses through sickness were becoming heavy.  We next moved to Bois de Murets into a reserve position.  Here for the first time in ten days the men could build small fires.

On the afternoon of November 9th we moved up to Bois de Limon.

At 8 p.m. on November 10th, we moved to the little valley just north of Bois de l’Hospice preparatory to forcing our way across the Meuse River.  Our location was soon discovered by the enemy and then began one of the heaviest bombardments we ever received.  The night was black and the fog so heavy that the enemy’s many flares were useless.  This was a saving factor for us.  Thus exposed to the bombardment and the withering machine gun fire, we remained until about 12 pm, finally crossing the river on the 1st Battalion’s floating foot bridge, our own being destroyed.  The enemy held the hillside in force, firing on us with machine guns at very close range.  Using the river bank as protection, we worked north, destroying or capturing a number of these guns.

Just before dawn of November 11, part of 55th Company and 43rd Company formed into skirmish lines and attacked and captured Belle Fontaine Farm (located near the river about 3 1/2 kilometers north of where we crossed).  Here several machine guns and trench mortars were captured.  This position was consolidated, the Companies forming into a curved line with their backs to the river and still concealed by the dense fog.  The enemy withdrew, but continued sweeping the ground with machine gun fire from the hill top until 11 am, when all firing ceased.  Later it was learned officially that the Armistice was on.

The enemy made something of a joyous demonstration; our men for the most part slept.

On November 12th, the Battalion marched to Pouilly, consisting now of about 150 men of the 43rd Company, known throughout the different fronts as the “lucky company”, and about 70 or 80 in each of the other companies.

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Source: History of Second Battalion, 5th Regiment, U.S. Marines  (Neuweid, Germany: 1919).  “Official Record”.  Approved: C. Dunbeck, Capt, USMC, Commanding, 2nd Battalion, 5th Regiment, Marines.