Training the Soldier at Camp Devens - 1918
Physical Training of Army Recruits - After the Setting-Up Drill. GGA Image ID # 139e209d92
It is axiomatic that perfect physical condition is requisite to military efficiency. Army leaders not only encourage exercise on the part of the men but also require a certain amount of physical training as a part of the day's work. The systems and the methods of carrying them out differ in many organizations, but in each of them a certain procedure is religiously and regularly followed.
Some company commanders have a so-called "setting-up" exercise before the morning mess, directly after the reveille roll-call. This is in charge of a sergeant who has been designated by the commanding officer. The company is extended so that there is an interval of two paces between each two men, and four paces between ranks. First the sergeant illustrates and explains the exercises to be performed; then the company joins him. There are certain groups of four different exercises prescribed in the manual, and after the company has practiced for some time the sergeant has merely to say: "Company, attention. First group, one-two-three —"
The men then go through the entire group without command.
Sometimes the "setting-up" is performed by battalions, as in this picture. The men march to an open field, remove their hats, coats, and blouses and go through the movements en masse. When the soldier has mastered the minor exercises, he is taught to perform others with a rifle.
This training is not carried on in a superficial manner, but in accordance with certain definite principles of physical development. Each movement has for its object the building up of some member or set of muscles; by a combination of all, every part of the soldier's body receives benefit, and whatever minor deficiencies he may have are overcome.
And so, if upon your arrival at Camp Devens you perceive a body of half dressed men, gyrating and bending in an astounding manner, do not concern yourself as to their sanity; they are merely having "setting-up drill."
One of the most important branches of military science which soldiers must master is the skilful use of the bayonet. Before the men leave for France, every one of them will know how to defend himself from another bayonet, how to conduct an offensive, and how to combine skillfully the two movements.
Quite naturally, this work has been very popular at Camp Devens. There is nothing that the American likes better than hand-to-hand, man-to-man fighting. For that reason he excels in football, in wrestling, in boxing, and in every other sport in which the element of personal contact and aggression is predominant. That is the reason why he must learn this science thoroughly, and that is why, when he has learned it, he will make the best bayonet fighter on the Western Front.
There is nothing particularly inspiring about shooting at a forest two miles away in the hope of hitting some one, or in firing at a trench, the occupants of which are not in sight. But when the American meets his adversary face to face, when it is skill against skill, there he will be at his best.
But there is another feature of American fighting which will hinder our men. The Anglo-Saxon likes to fight fair; he plays a clean game and expects his adversary to do the same , hence he is not looking out for fouls. According to the German code of fighting, a man fouls whenever possible.
The Huns surrender and then shoot their captors in the back, and have innumerable other little tricks which "are not being done" in clean fighting. Our boys are being trained how to deal with these methods.
The American soldier is not encouraged to emulate Prussian barbarism; he is being taught how to cope with it, how to overcome that barbarism, and thereby save his own life. Every element of warfare which the authorities teach your son, your brother, your friend, is for his own good and is likely to save his life at one time or another.
Photo 1: Bayonet Practice - "Over the Top -- and Give Them Hell"
The bayonet work of Camp Devens is under the tutelage of Major Reginald Barlow, of the 302nd Infantry. Major Barlow is a veteran fighter and has seen service in South Africa. When the war broke out he was an actor playing in "Old Lady 31." He is now regarded as one of the most expert bayonet instructors in the country.
As yet, the United States has not evolved any particular form of bayonet fighting for this war, but the authorities are constantly experimenting. When the perfected system is adopted, it will probably be a combination of the English, French, and Canadian codes. The men are being trained according to certain principles which the English have found most successful and efficacious.
The bayonet fighters in these pictures are men of the 13th Company, Depot Brigade.
The preceding picture shows them coming over an imaginary "top," and gives some idea of what a bayonet charge in skirmish line looks like.
Photo 2: Bayonet Practice - Getting Ready for "Der Tag"
The picture below shows the same men receiving instruction in thrusting from Lieutenant Russell Codman of the 4th Battalion. The dummies are of burlap sacks filled with straw. The man en the end seems to be making a particularly determined and deadly thrust.
Another constituent of the modern art of warfare is the hand grenade, an offensive arm hitherto practically unrecognized by our regulations, which has become an important feature in the fighting on the Western Front. The grenade is made of cast iron and is about the size and shape of a lemon.
The outside of the casing is corrugated, so that when it explodes, it bursts into fragments. The grenadier holds it in his right hand, removes the safety pin with his left, and hurls the grenade in the direction of the enemy trenches. Five seconds after the grenade leaves the hand, it explodes, scattering some fifty bits of iron in all directions, with such force that they are dangerous at a distance of a hundred yards.
It is sometimes used preliminary to the attack, in order to clear the opposing front-line trench, but more often to "mop up" an enemy trench, after it has been taken. The French company formation, adopted since the beginning of the war, substitutes a number of grenadiers for the customary riflemen, and the newly adopted English and Canadian formations also have squads of men skilled in throwing the dangerous missiles.
Our formation for action on the Western Front has not yet been perfected but when the final decision is made, there will be a large number of these grenadiers attached to each company. Accordingly, the military authorities at Ayer, leaving no stone unturned in the thorough preparation of the men, have already begun to teach them the art of throwing the grenade.
Grenade Practice: Clearing an Imaginary German Trench. GGA Image ID # 13a9dc592a
Lieutenant Mallet of the French Mission, assisted by Lieutenant A. W. Wright, is superintending the grenade work at the camp. The group in the picture are non-commissioned officers from the 7th Battalion, Depot Brigade. They are learning the rudiments in advance of the privates so that they will be able to instruct their charges when the time comes.
The Americans find it rather difficult to throw the dummy grenade; they are tempted to throw it like a baseball, but it must be done with a circular overhead movement, by swinging the arm as the pitcher does in the English game of cricket.
The knowledge of the methods of signaling is not restricted to the Signal Corps, but is necessary to men in every branch of the service. The two principal codes used by the United States army are the wig-wag, which is a visual adaptation of the International Morse code, and the semaphore two-arm or two-flag code, which is illustrated in the accompanying picture.
Certain movements and formations are also regulated by signals, the knowledge of which is imperative to their proper execution. Often in the trenches or on the battlefield, the noise or distance is so great that oral communication is impossible, and written notification not feasible.
On this account it is absolutely necessary that the soldier, whether engineer, cavalryman or artilleryman, be able to communicate with his officers or companions in another part of the field by arm signals.
Semaphoring - Signaling Training Exercises at Camp Devens. GGA Image ID # 13a9eba7b0
Ordinarily, flags are used, as they are more easily seen, but in this picture where the training is taking place, they are not necessary, and only two men seem to be equipped with them.
The semaphore code is very simple and the letters follow certain movements of the arms in logical sequence. The man in front is signaling the letter O.
Of the three men on the right whose arms are raised, the first is giving the letter J, and those behind him are both signaling the letter A. The signalers are members of the 14th and 15th Companies of the Depot Brigade.
Fatigue Duty - Road Building at Camp Devens. GGA Image ID # 13a287308e
The next three pictures illustrate the significance of the term "fatigue duty." If any manual labor has to be done about the camp, details are called for. The men thus selected perform the required work, whether it be to unload a truck or to build a road.
The first "fatigue" picture shows a detail of M Company, 302nd Infantry — men from Rockland and Quincy — building a road, or at least trying to build one. It was zero weather and the ground was like so much solid rock. Nevertheless, they were working away cheerfully. "A little gunpowder might help," I suggested. "Lord, man, it would take another Halifax disaster to loosen this dirt."
Fatigue Duty - The Last Road to Shovel at Camp Devens. GGA Image ID # 13a293b8cf
Number three is a group of men from the Headquarters Train, trying to make the roads passable after a snowstorm. They are now in front of the unit headquarters and are working more industriously than ever, because they have only one more load to shovel. When they finish, they will take the first train for Worcester, for a week-end visit.