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Big Red One WWI


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Big Red One WWI

  1. 1. lr(,f) v li cl(/[_r Yir-il ;t CI{Ui;t;Ir r_.,/l _i{It#l C;Iil;-it-; . 1i ..:. ! 1,1 i; ii liIir]lj|i e Uf i i .- 1 . .-til-i, /[f i],1 .., TAILEB: D sp tl Octobe lll,,,1az4a5llill
  2. 2. t was the politics of war that made a tiny French village didier. The town was on high ground, but it was of no strate- one of the most signifrcant battles for the Americans in gic importance and of only small value tactically. World lVar I, rather than its importance as an Allied mil- The Americans fought and won their battle there while itary objective. The Battle of Cantigny, which was fought the British and French retreated on most of theV7estem FrontMay 28-30, 1918, was politically important because it was the from a large and very successful German offensive that beganfirst division-size offensive action conducted by the U.S. mili- on May 27.The Germans threw all their resources into this at-tary during the Great !Var. tempt to break the Allied line and end the war; it was one of It was a small action fought by units from the 1st Infantry the Germansfive major drives of 1918.Division, but it contained most of the elements that later would There is more to Cantigny than just the fact that it was thebe part of larger operations. The town of Cantigny was located first American victory of the war; the battle was also the firstnear the Germans point of farthest advance in the Amiens independent trial of U.S. forces by the Allies. It was believed atSalient; it also was in the center of a small salient west of Mont- the time that German General Erichludendorffwanted to crush30 MILITARYHISTORY OCTOBER1995
  3. 3. The small French village did not I plan, but it was significant for the and for the depleted Allies c By Steo,enM. Light the Americans in their cans ability to fight. It also helped keep the American Expe- first attack to show that ditionary Forces intact and under its own command, and it im- U.S. troops would not proved morale in all three Allied armies. be very helpful to the After Pershing vehemently argued the case against piece- Allies in the war. That meal use of his forces, the lst Infantry Division rsrr-ed .orn- is why the American mand of the front opposite Cantigny on April 27-the first operational plans re- time in World Var I that a U.S. division wenr ro the front as ceived such high-level a unit. The Americans soon found that Allied units previously attention, rare for a on the same line had failed to construct defensive positions. small regimental attack. The first task for the Americans, then, was to create a defen- General John J. "Black- sive line. They did so under heavy shelling, and both Ameri- jack" Pershing, com- cans and Germans patrolled regularly and conducted a great mander of the American number of trench raids from April 25 toMay 27. The Germans Expeditionary Forces and French also ma (AEF), even attended As the 28th Infan operational meeting with the 1st Divisions commander, Ely, dug in at Cant ed active-they built a series of trenches and strongpoints on the high ground around the village, bur did not create an inter- locking trench system. They also placed a number of machine guns in and around the strongpoints. The Germans concealeddivision until October 1918, by which time it would have beenalmost impossible to reorganize the AEF, The American divi- As two Brdguet 1482 bombers of French escadrille 8r.29 (thesions were only to be sent to quiet sectors on the front because plane marked "B" was pilotedby an American, lstLt. Charlesthe French and British did not believe the Americans were R. Blake) fly oorcrhead, troops of the U.S. Armys Isf Infantryyeady to go on the offensive. The subsequent Cantigny victory Diq,tision ouerrun a German position in James Dietzs Battle ofhelped end British and French skepticism about tle Ameri- Cantigny (James Dietz) . OCTOBER 1995 MILITARY HISTORY 31
  4. 4. their artillery and infantry reserves in the woods to their rear. sessions, the Z8th Regiment spent the next two days movingThey used airplanes and balloons to "spot" for their artillery, into position for the attack.and they conducted nightly air raids. The Americans endured Whlle the Z8th was gone, the 18th finished consrrucrion ofalmost constant German shelling, gas attacks and raids. jumping-off trenches and dugouts needed for the atrack. The The men of the 28th braced themselves for a suspected Americans also built a fake jumping-off trench made to lookenemy attack on May 18, but the Germans never came. Col- like a strong defensive system in any German photographsonel Elys men spent the rest of their time in defensive opera- taken from the air. The infantrymen completed this work undertions, and continued with their raids and patrols. The divisions unusually heavy enemy flre and suffered heavy casualties.artillery maintained nearly constant harassing fire on the Ger- Two nights before the attack, it suddenly appeared the entireman posltlons. mission had been compromised. An engineer lieutenant named The doughboys in the ffenches often complained about the Kendall had moved forward with a work party of 50 infantry-lack of friendly air support, but at the division level the officers men to place heavy entrenching tools along the jumping-offseemed satisfied with it. The enemy prisoners of war, at least, trenches-attacking infantry would carry them forward duringgave the Americans some encouraging news. One prisoner the attack. Unfortunately, the work party became lost and ac-stated that the Germans limited a tour at the front to just four cidentally crossed the no mans land between the lines, even- tually falling into the German trenches. The work party escaped, but the tools Bet*,lo of C were lost in the German trenches and Lieu- tenant Kendall was missing. !7orst of all, Kendall had been carrying his dispatch map case with papers disclosing the loca- tion of all the trenches and supply dumps laid out for the attack. The American commanders believed that their plan was compromised. But if the Germans ever found the map case, they do not seem to have used the infor- mation it contained. As for Lieutenant Kendall, the Americans never found out what happened to him until his grave was found in 1919 near Cantigny. The division placed most of the sup- plies for the attack in forward dumps, but the dumps never received their full quotas of supplies. There was confusion about the locations of some of the dumps, and incorrect supplies had been placed in some of them. The units had plenty of ammunition for their Stokes mortars, but they could not obtain the firing cartridges needed to launch the rounds. There also were shortages of flares and water con- tainers. An Army inspector was even forced to complain in writing as early as May 1B that "the water situation is quite S7orst serious." of all, one large dump mis- {?* ,"r* takenly contained all of the Z8ths warer cans, small-arms ammunition and pyro- ,1 technics-supplies that should have been distributed arnong several different sites. This single dump, in fact, was destroyed by German artillery before any of its sup- plies were issued. In addition to their other problems, the Americans had to endure a series of Ger- man raids on May 27.The Znd Battalion of the 28th returned early to the Can- tigny sector, only to be attacked less thandays due to the severity of the American fire. Other prisoners three hours after relieving a battalion from the 18th near Boisspoke about the great number of their own soldiers sick with St. Elois. The Germans bombarded the newcomers with heavySpanish influenza and malaria. artillery until0600 hours, then advanced across no mans land. On May 24 the U.S. lBth Infantry Regiment relieved the The Znd Battalion successfully stopped the raid, kllling 48 Ger-28th to enable Ely to conduct rehearsals for the planned as- mans and capturing two others; only four Germans are believedsault on Cantigny. The division found terrain similar ro that to have escaped. One of the German dead was an officer whoof Cantigny 12 miles away, just in time for two days of intense was carrying a number of documents. Unfortunately, the U.S.practice. The troops rehearsed their formations and worked battalion had suffered 21 killed and 39 wounded, including fourwith the engineers who would be attached to the 28th for the officers, only 24 hours before going on the atrack.attack. The Americans also learned how to operate in combi- The German raids succeeded in other places on the Cantignynation with the French tanks and flamethrowers. After those line but failed to gain any useful intelligence. At one point the32 MILITARY HISTORY OCTOBER 1995
  5. 5. Germans captured two Americans, but while crossing back to firing came during a period of heavy harassing fire by the 1stGerman lines the American prisoners were accidentally killed Divisions own guns. The Allies also fired gas rounds into theby U.S. machine-gun fire. A German spy in an American uni- German lines. Unfortunately, the enemy did notice the addi-form was also mistakenly shot when he tried ro cross back to tional artillery activity.the German lines and was fired on by his own troops. News now reached the Cantigny sector that a powerful Ger- The German prisoners caught throughout rhe Cantigny man attack was making rapid progress across most of the front.sector on the ZTth proved to be veryuseful to the 1st Division. All came fromthe GermanZTZthRegiment of the 82ndReserve Division. They told the Ameri-can interrogators that their unit had re-cently served on the Russian Front andhad just moved into position in Cantignyon May 16. These Germans had receivedsome special training, enjoyed good ra-tions and seemed well-informed aboutthe American units they fought. But rheyhad no tanks. One prisoner in particularprovided valuable tactical informationabout his units strengths and positions,from squad to company level. On the morning of May 27, shortlyafter the German raids, newly arrivedFrench artillerymen began to registertheir guns by firing them at known Ger-man positions. They did so to be able toshift fire quickly and accurately onto newtargets when the American attack waslaunched. The Allies hoped the Germanswould not realize the French were regis- Eryigljng a much needed rest 9n May 1 5 after 20 dny s on the front lines , soldiers of thetering the additional artillery since their 18th Infantry Reglment eat their first meal since their withdrawal from the uenchei. OCTOBER 1995 MILITARY HISTORY 33
  6. 6. Soldiers of German 272ndReg1ment, S2ndReserq,teDivision, march throughLeMesnilSt. Fumin onMay 28, after hauingbeen thetok"n priioner ot C,i,tigrJ. ih1- Grr^*, captured during the fighting onMay 27 prouided uah,nble intelligence for their ll .5. captors. evidence of Allied cooperation pleased the upper levels of com- mand, who praised the air support, it seems to have made little difference to the soldiers actually fighting the battle. The opposition at Cantigny largely would come-from the GermanZ?1st Regiment inlhe town itself and the ZT1ndlo- cated just to the north. The TT}thRegiment was also nearby. A11 three regiments were from the 82nd Reserve Division and were considered to be made up of better-than-average fighting men. Each German regiment had one battalion in the line, onewere only 600 meters away from Cantigny, and waited for the battalion in support, ,.rd o.t" battalion at rest in the rear. Theartillery barrage to start. German 25th Division was also positioned near enough to sup- Each of the three battalions in the 28th Regiment had one poft the 82nd if necessary. The Allied bombardment began at 0445 hours on May 28. The preparatory fire lasted about two hours and came from 250 guns. The German artillery returned fire, but the heavy Frenih guns did an oursranding job at counterbattery fire until they were withdrawn. The Americans also were ef- fective, using the smaller 75mms on enemy trenches, concen-in support of the attack. tration poinis, roads and machine-gun positions. In addition, The French attached their corps artillery and trench mor- the Allies frlled the Dom Brook Valley with gas to hinder Ger- man movements. The bombardment destroyed most of the Germans communications. A rolling barrage began at0645 using only the American 75s and conce.ttrut"d i., a horizontal line close to the friendly frontM16 tanks, of which only 10 were in working condition. line. It was rhen shifted forward at a rate of 100 meters everyColonel Marshall and other American military men consid- two minutes. A total of 64 machine guns also laid down patered the Schneiders "old-fashioned clumsy French tanks." The rerns of fire 300 meters in front of the artillery. The attackingregimental command spread the tanks and flamethrowers outevenly among the battalions. The division received intelligence from air reconnaissanceby the Spad 11s of French escadrille spa.42. x/hile this further34 MILITARY HISTORY OCTOBER 1995
  7. 7. and advanced with the tanks in three lines, the first line only50 meters behlnd the artillery bursts. The tanks entered the village from the norrh and west withthe infantry, and destroyed nearly 20 enemy machine-gun po-sitions. The Germans thought they had destroyed two of thetanks, but the vehicles were only stuck in shell holes. After theattacking force overran Cantigny, the flamethrowers movedforward and aided in mopping up the town as planned. The operation appeared to work perfectly. The enemy firedvery little artillery into the village and, in fact, had been caughtin the middle of a relief effort. The Allies suffered almosr nocasualties during their advance, and the only problem occurredwhen the division artillery fired a few short rounds into Can-tigny by accident. The 28th captured all objectives by 0730,and then began to take a large number of prisoners. Even though the attack went smoothly, it was still seen asonly a small incident by the Allies. Nor was the engagemenrat Cantigny over yet. The American commanders now agreedthat it was necessary to withdraw supporting French gunsquickly, because to the south, near Chateau-Thierry, the Ger-mans had smashed through the Allied lines and were advanc-ing rapidly. Some French units already had begun to withdrawduring the attack, and one regiment never even fired a shot.The French tanks withdrew as planned by about 0900. Becauseof the lack of counterbattery fire after the attack, rhe Germanswere able to start a long and violent artillery bombardment of Troops of the lSthInfantrJ man an obseruation post. OnMay 27,Cantigny and nearby Allied positions. beforebeingrelieued, most of the 18th endured a series of artillery Immediately after securing the town, the 28th began con- bombardments and trench raids launchedby the Germans.solidation. First, the regiment prepared its defenses for a likelycounterattack. Its men dug in, to a depth of 3 feet, and laid Woods, taine to the south of Cantigny, around 0900 on Maybarbed wire across the entire front. They also established three 28.It was only a local counterattack, carried out by the sup-strongpoints, with a platoon of infantry, two automatic rifles port battalion of the 27lst. The Germans were able to advanieand four machine guns in each one. The next step was to push until the American artillery made them stop and dig in, afterforward patrols to look for enemy batteries and to check shell the heavy fire had caused significant losses in the German ranks.holes for automatic-rifle positions. Both the American and German forces believed that they Litter-bearers quickly evacuated the wounded soldiers, but had been successful during this counterattack. The Americansthe medics soon ran low on first-aid supplies. To make matters had quickly stopped the enemy advance and maintained con-worse, the 1st Battalions aid station was destroyed, and the reg- trol of the village, but the Germans were able ro srop the Amer- to be evacuated due to heavy shellfire. icans from reaching nearby Hill 104 and even regained some d to be carried offthe front quickly, but of the ground they had lost only 1% hours earlier. Starting at frnd very few safe places to take them. noon on the 28th, the Germans began a7Z-horr period of con- The longer the regimentstayed in Cantigny, rhe moreproblems it had. The Germanartillerymen added gas to theirbombardment, and a few moreAmerican rounds fell short,landing in the village. Prioritywas given by the Americancommanders to resupplying de-fensive materiel and ammuni-tion, but the doughboys wereshort on rations and, because ofthe heavy German fire, were notresupplied with food or wateruntil the night of the Z9th. Confusion now reigned inthe lower units of the regiment.Company commanders knewthe locations of their own ob-jectives and positions, but theydid not know the locations ofthe other companies. The lackof coordination among the com-soon, when the German coun- Eterattacks began. 3 The Germans launched their Bodies of American soldiers killed during the Battle of Cantigny await burial onMay 28. Americanfirst such attack against Fon- were 199 dead, 852 wounded (200 by gas) and 16 missing or captured. Iosses oqterall OCTOBER 1995 MILITARY HISTORY 35
  8. 8. tinuous shelling and rnachine-gun fire. The artillery was a mixof high explosi,ies and gas, whiih, in addition to wounding sol-di"ri brried many of ihem alive in the trenches The bom-bardment destroyed the 2$th Regiments wire communicationsand kept runners from moving in daylight._ The regiment at-t"n"rpt.i to use blinkers and carrier pige_ons, but those attemptsfailed. Smoke and dust were s ) thi,ck that Allied pilots couldnot see what was happening on the ground below - The Germrrr, ttrti"d theii second counterattack the eveningof the 28th. The 82nd Reserve Division sent a detailed writ- five more coLrnrerattacks on May 29-30, but with minimalten order for the major counterattack to the German units at effect. With their second offensive of 1918 going well overall, the front. The order called for heavy preparation Infantry the Germans were not worried about a village as small asbattalions received the order too late to attack at 1800 as or- dered. A second order came down changing the time to 1845,but by then all coordination was lost among-the Ger-man units. One infantry unit attacked alone at 1800. Othersartacked between 1830 and 1900, and one as late as 2000. A1-though the German artillery fired accurately, it also fired at thewrong tlmes. All"of the combined German problems helped to save the successful. The Germans captured several Americans who gaveAmericans. The 1st and 3rd battalions of the 28th still were forcedto fall back early in the attack, and the regiment just barelyThe 28th Infanny Regiment, first to aduance at Cantigny, hasthe Frenchcroirde Gr".. affixed to its reglmental colors byMaj . Gen. E.F. McGlachlin on January 11 , 1919 . ican artillery, as in the earlier raids. The Germans ceased using 36 MILITARY HISTORY OCTOBER 1995
  9. 9. large infantry forces against Cantigny after the 30th, but theY continued to use harassing fire and small raids on the village. The U.S. 16th Infantry re- lieved the 28th during the night of May 30. There was still a lot of confusion at the front, and the regiment command neglected to tell one of its attached compa- nies to withdraw. As a result, the company was left exposed for sev- eral hours. The regiment also re- ceived a request from its brigade commander to complete a rePort on the operation, in triPlicate, immediately upon withdrawing. Even in 1918, the Army could not wait for its paperwork! ment captured 5 German offi.cers arrdZZ0 soldiers, along with 16 light machine guns, 4 heavy machine guns, 2 trench mortars, nearly 500 rifles, and a map showing German artillery Posi- tions. Estimated German losses were about 600 killed and 100 wounded. Actual German losses it later were almost the reverse, turned out-175 killed, 636 wounded and 488 missing. Most of the losses were from the Ger- mar 771st Regiment, and that unit was severely criticized by the German corps commander. The battle caused the Germans to adopt new standard oPerating - isiiilili, eiffi#iiJl;cfri5; T*" brrr)"t-ri*d ,"t "t"r :- -^-:-:^- cantigny he club se nle doq,m m the reahties of p^"^ l.i")tEhi-"itttnnhonttmrtnpBioReichv vaidwar I ;6;;1;;tJ;,"c;;;i;J gas), {rnd It, m$slng or caPrurco. Some of the losses could be at ;d;J;^tili;"k o6 ,t ilt"d ueterars. General Bul- the battle, with American off.cers benefitting ftom the French lard la "o-S"t of exp could never me showed an un- fought at Cantigny-Moreover-tle commander of the French ;;;;"t and costly contempt for dang.r, ;-*1" ;.h; j,^t tanf unit report"ed that "aside fromthe evidence. of-spirit and courage which arousedadmiration on the part of all members ;;-li;-#;;; iir. Jillage aftJr capturing ir. " iiJA;;;,;1."d;;i6hd,,L;;.1S,lf*::hHf *Hhjfl[:]?i]:ii.t.]*:Xt"t,:H:]:d""*i,l;: - rr"* nood. U"fo. from various com it seems, not only brought commendation i;"itii*. -;;r- m"nders among tie Allies but also brought the ultimate acco- ;.f;;;th;td il;" hde-the Frerich enlisted men now started to salute Ameri- been avoidable. Despite the difficul."" can of6cers! o "..fffffi1j1r,$t*j rces had remained rhin days, too, other American urrits were frghting aggressively to stop the German offensive at places such as Cliateiu-Thierry on the Mame, and Belleau lUood.E - i}r. e*"ti.r* hu.t proved something to themselves and to ices in the Worl@f a"i. n"f"irr", iui tt tt . pr"i.rr-tt"a go". *"it a"rmg My Experiences e World War, bv John J . Persfu "ifi.i. OCTOBER 1995 ttlll-lTAny HlsTORt 3?