Smaller Successes of the AEF

Doughboys on the Move

Paris, 4 July 1918

Long-time readers of the Trip-Wire probably remember that one of my passions is discrediting the dismal, depressing 1996 PBS series The Great War and the Shaping of the 20th Century. While I enjoyed the voice-overs for historic characters—like Ian Richardson as David Lloyd George or Jeremey Irons as Siegfried Sassoon—and some of the series' well-written vignettes, the so-called "expert" talking heads were often dreadful. Most particularly, two Americans who commented on the U.S. military effort, Jay Winter and David Kennedy, clearly had a coordinated agenda to downplay the contributions of Pershing and the Doughboys. They repeatedly stated that "America only fought one battle in World War I" which I've shown in my other writings is a ludicrous assertion. (The number is double digit.) But why am I returning to this issue now? For the Trip-Wire and my daily blog, Roads to the Great War, I've decided to feature more well-done documentaries, which are being made accessible through sites like YouTube. In researching what's available, I've discovered Shaping is— sadly—available and became alarmed some of my readers might end up viewing some of its episodes. In the cause of inoculating readers against the "Only One Battle" contagion, I'm presenting the story of three smaller-scale actions that notably contributed to the eventual Allied victory in the Great War that were fought by Americans who faced enemy fire and were wounded or killed in substantial numbers. I think you will agree that these operations qualify as "battles"—victories that deserve to be remembered.  MH

The "Red Arrow Boys" Take Juvigny: 28 August ? 2 September 1918

Establishing Comm Lines to the Juvigny Plateau

After a much-needed break from the fighting on the Ourcq River during the Second Battle of the Marne, the 32nd Division entered the front line northeast of Soissons, France, as the only American division assigned as part of French General Mangin?s famous 10th French Army. They were given the task of capturing the heavily defended (with nests of machine guns) village of Juvigny.

Now involved in the fierce Oisne-Aisne Offensive of late August-early September, to achieve their mission, the 32nd Division was forced to advance about 3 1/2 miles through entrenched German forces made up of five divisions: the 7th, the 7th Reserve, the 223rd, 227th, and 228th. The drive was notable for the effective support of a squadron of French Renault tanks, and outstanding artillery cover. In their initial attack on 28 August the Americans shocked the German defenders in quickly capturing the rail line on a hill west of the village. Their adversaries, though, promptly showed the Yanks how exposed their situation was by counterattacking and inflicting heavy casualties. For the next two days the division would continue to take heavy casualties. General Mangin ordered a general attack featuring very heavy artillery support for the afternoon of 31 August. This allowed the Red Arrow to focus on Juvigny itself, which they surrounded and invested.

French Tanks and American Infantry

The division was accompanied by war correspondent Don Martin, who quickly filed this account of the final capture of Juvigny that was published the next day in the Paris Herald.

Juvigny has been captured by the Americans. It is a village north of Soissons, which was shelled savagely by the French and Americans, and which is now being furiously shelled by the Germans. There were approximately 1,000 Germans in Juvigny when the Americans entered. About 250 were taken prisoner and the rest were either killed or wounded. It was a clean, complete job. The Americans are holding it and there seems to be no likelihood at present that the Huns will attempt to recapture it.

When the Americans entered on Friday night the Germans had taken refuge in the cellars and in the caves which undermine the village. Some of the soldiers resisted and were attended to quickly with grenades and bayonets. Others surrendered in groups. There was some street fighting?the kind of fighting the Americans who compose the unit capturing Juvigny like.

The Red Arrow Occupying Juvigny

The village was taken in an operation which came partly as a surprise to the Boche. One battalion was assigned to charge a German machine-gun position near the railway tracks to the northeast of the village, and another battalion was told to go more to the east and to take the village from the rear. Both battalions performed their tasks on time. The first attack was made at half-past three o?clock on Friday afternoon and the second at seven o?clock. The evening attack resulted in the capture of the village. Now the American line is well outside the village where the soldiers have dug in to await instructions.

Total casualties for the 32nd Division amounted to 2,848, including KIAs, wounded, and missing. In capturing the strong German positions on the Juvigny Plateau, the 32nd Division contributed to the French 10th Army outflanking the German line on the Chemin des Dames, a strategic ridge that runs from east to west, and also cutting the Soissons-St. Quentin highway. The Red Arrow Boys had helped make the German line untenable, and the French officers who had watched them in action referred to them as "Les Terribles" in Army Orders.

Sources: 32nd Division History and James Larrimore's Blog Don Martin, WWI Soldier of the Pen

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The Doughboys and Trench Warfare

An American Trench in the Vosges Mountains

Trench warfare, or at least vivid memories of unpleasant extended periods of service in the trenches, was not a big part of the American experience in the war. One reason for this is that trench warfare effectively ended in the most active parts of the front, when the German Army launched its first of five spring offensives on 21 March 1918. From this point on, American forces in these hot zones were either plugging a gap, as they did at Ch?teau-Thierry, or launching an attack.

This is not to say that the Doughboys didn't spend time in the trenches to get their footing and test the command structure of the units. The ideal initial preparation was to spend some time in a quiet zone where the trenches were well-established, and this was actually the experience of the early-arriving units, particularly the 1st and 2nd regular divisions, and the 26th Yankee and 42nd Rainbow Divisions. The 1st division incurred the first casualties in action in November 1917 during a trench raid in the Vosges Mountains at Bathel?mont. The following spring the 26th division was targeted by special German assault units in a memorable trench raid at Seicheprey on the border of the St. Mihiel Salient. During the summer, however, as the arrival of Americans turned to a flood (10,000 arrivals per day in July) things were also heating up on the battlefields. The newer units were rushed into action and had less time to spend in the trenches. These shorter stays could still be dangerous, with random bombardments including gas shelling, sniper fire, and enemy raids. But the postwar memories of the troops focused much more on what happened to them, say, in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive than in their brief service in the trenches.


When the sun rose they were still working their way through the trees. Unexpectedly the guns in the rear of the moving lines stopped. The battle of Soissons had begun. [18 July 1918]

The platoon was first apprised of the nearness of the enemy when King Cole raised his rifle and fired quickly. He had seen a soiled gray uniform skirting among the trees a few yards ahead. A quick electric shock ran from shoulder to shoulder along the advancing line. The platoon stopped for a moment as if stunned. Then they advanced without increasing their pace. In their faces a machine-gun spat angrily, the bullets flying past like peevish wasps. Automatic rifles were manipulated in the middles of the automatic rifle squad, and the loaders took their places at the sides of the men who were firing, jamming in one clip of cartridges after another. Rifle bullets fled past the advancing men with an infuriating zing. The Maxim machine-guns kept up a rolling rat-t-t-tat, coldly objective.

The platoon had reached the first machine-gun nest, almost without knowing it. There were three Germans, their heavy helmets sunk over their heads, each performing a definite part in the firing. They, too, were surprised. Pugh, a little in the lead, drew a hand-grenade from his pocket, pulled out the pin, and threw it in their faces. It burst loudly and distinctly. One German fell flat, another grasped at his arm, his face taking on a blank expression as he did so, while the last man threw his hands above his head. Inattentive to his gesture of surrender, the line pushed on.

The fighting grew more furious. Germans, surprised, were hiding behind trees and firing their slow-working rifles. When the advancing line would reach them they would receive a charge of shot in their bodies, sometimes before they had fired at the swiftly moving line. Some member of the platoon offered his version of an Indian war-whoop. It was successful in hastening the attack. Exhilarated, but sheerly impotent, one man ran forward blubbering, ?You God-damn Germans,? and pointing an empty rifle at the trees. Other men calmly and methodically worked the bolts of their rifles back and forth, refilling the chambers as they were emptied of each clip of five shots. From time to time a man dropped, thinning the ranks and spreading them out to such an extent that contact on the right side of the moving line was lost.

Thomas Boyd, Through the Wheat

The 5th Division's "Red Devils" Take Frapelle,
17 August 1918

From the Divisional History

A 5th Division 155mm Artillery Piece at Frapelle

Early in the war, the Vosges Mountains in eastern France were the site of ferocious fighting, but they had remained stagnant for 3 years when the fresh U.S. 5th Division was sent to train there in the spring of 1918. The first divisional troops occupied trenches late on June 14 and suffered their first casualties on the same night. From then on, the 5th Division suffered from regular German attacks. On June 17, a mustard gas attack killed three, wounded three and gassed 24 men of the 60th Infantry Regiment. The Red Devils, naturally, responded with raids on the German lines. Theirs was the typical trench-warfare experience for six weeks. By August, however, they were experienced enough to be designated as an assault unit for the upcoming St. Mihiel Offensive. Before they departed, the division was asked to eliminate a most annoying salient around the hill town of Frapelle threatening the Allies' position. Their capture of Frapelle would be the first Allied advance in the sector since 1915.

On 15 July, the Division moved to the Saint-Die sector. The division's four infantry regiments divided the front approximately equally. The 60th Infantry Regiment took the sector between Celles-sur-Plaine and Moyenmoutier; the 61st Infantry Regiment occupied both sides of the Rabodeau; the 11th Infantry Regiment occupied the Ban-de-Sapt sub-sector, and the 6th Infantry Regiment was on the front line in Bois d'Ormont. The 5th Division started patrolling and raiding the German lines regularly, both by night and by day. The first units of the Artillery Brigade joined the division on July 28. The division was then ready for a major offensive action. Their mission was to capture Frapelle and the hill just to its north to dominate and close off the valley below.

On 17 August after an artillery preparation of ten minutes, the attack was launched at 0400 hrs. The 6th Infantry advanced from the west face of the salient behind a rolling barrage. The German defenders, however, were quick to mount a counter-barrage. At 0406 they opened fire and hit the U.S. departure trench, striking some of the other assault waves. Despite the casualties inflicted on the attackers, the defenders withdrew from all be a few strong points. Most objectives were reached promptly.

By 0630 hrs the village of Frapelle was liberated after four years of German occupation. The Germans immediately started a massive bombardment of the Americans, which lasted for three days and nights and included intensive use of mustard gas. The men of the Red Diamond Division organized their positions, built new trenches, and set new wires. A German counterattack failed on 18 August and, by 20 August, the American positions were completely consolidated. The high ground north of Frapelle was held and the valley below barricaded. The sharp salient had been eliminated.

The division left the sector by 23 August and moved to Arches where the headquarters were established. The division lost 729 men in the Vosges. Shortly after that rest, the 5th Division was transferred towards Saint-Mihiel where it participated in the successful St. Mihiel Offensive. The subsequent record of the division was one of the best in the AEF. Somewhere along the line its members had earned the nickname "Red Devils."

Ruined Uniforms of the Division's Mustard Gas Victims

II Corps' Remarkable 14-Mile Advance
to the River Selle

A Selection from Borrowed Soldiers

Prisoners Captured by the 30th Division, 8 October 1918

A number of American divisions trained under the British in 1918 and became involved in the stopgap efforts during midyear to halt the German onslaught. Pershing later pulled back most combat elements, but General Haig convinced him of the necessity of leaving some U.S. units with the British. Two National Guard Divisions, the 27th (New York) and 30th (Tennessee and the Carolinas) without their artillery brigades, the 301st tank battalion (American-operated Mark V British Tanks), and a number of support units would constitute II Corps. These were combined into the U.S. II Corps on the table of organization. Initially deployed to strengthen defenses in Flanders, it was sent to the British Fourth Army in the Somme sector in September to support offensive operations there. At the end of the month the Corps assisted in the spectacular capture of the St. Quentin Canal that allowed the breaching of the formidable Hindenburg Line. That operation seems to garner much attention in histories of the AEF. The subsequent actions of II Corps, however, are just as impressive but seem to be neglected in many histories. For this issue of the Trip-Wire, AEF historian Mitchell Yockelson describes the early stages and central role of the U.S. II Corps of the British Fourth Army's 14-mile advance during two weeks of October 1918. (See map below.) The selection is from his 2008 work Borrowed Soldiers: Americans Under British Command, 1918.

After breaching the Hindenburg Line on 29 September, the Fourth Army continued to push forward. The Beaurevoir Line had not been taken, and Rawlinson was adamant that his army must complete the destruction of the final prepared German defenses just to his east. Once this was accomplished, he would push the Germans back across open country. {After Australian units captured most of the fortified village of Monbrehain] Rawlinson ordered Monash's troops withdrawn from the line, and half of the American II Corps undertook relief of the Australian Corps during the night of 5-6 October. Only the 30th Division was ordered to the front initially, while both brigades of the 27th Division were in corps reserve.

Sector Map (Note Scale & Dates of Advance)

With the German Army now forced into open country, the Fourth Army continued the pursuit, and the Americans would spearhead most of the attacks. Because the 117th occupied a sector too far behind the 118th, it had to straighten its line before the next attack. A minor action was planned for 7 October to make this correction. At 5:15 a.m. a rolling barrage commenced the attack, but the artillery covered only a portion of the front. As a result, the British 25th and 50th Divisions, protecting the American flanks, could not advance. Four hours after the jump-off, 30th Division Commander Major General Lewis halted the attack when the center companies of the 3rd Battalion established liaison with the 118th and stopped near Mannions. Although the battalion had advanced only 500 yards and took heavy casualties, it captured 150 prisoners of the 20th German Division. Lewis blamed the losses on failure of the barrage and a lack of preparation time. His division had been in line less than a day, and it appeared that not all officers knew the battle plan.

On the afternoon of 7 October, the Fourth Army issued an order for the 30th Division to attack again the next day. The 118th would lead the assault, with one battalion of the 117th in support. It first required an advance of 3000 yards on a line running northwest from Brancoucourt. After securing this line, the barrage would halt for 30 minutes, and then the support battalion would pass through and exploit the second objective, requiring a push of 3000 yards to the northeast toward the village of Premont. In the hours preceding the jump-off, the Fourth Army artillery pounded the Germans with 350,000 shells. On 8 October at 5:10 a.m. the infantry moved forward under a barrage, as well as support from a battalion of heavy tanks and two companies of Whippets.

Machine-gun fire from the numerous emplacements around the west of Brancourt-le-Grand raked the lead elements, preventing progress. Troops from the 6th Division were held up and could not protect the American flanks. Fortunately, two hours later resistance lightened when the Germans retreated, fighting a rear-guard action. On the right flank, Company C of the 120th Infantry was pulled from reserve and was able to advance enough to fill a gap that developed between the 118th Infantry and the 6th Division. By 7:50 a.m. the 2nd Battalion of the 118th reached its first objective at Brancourt, and by 1:30 p.m. the regiment's 1st Battalion entered the village. There the elements of the 118th mopped up and then consolidated a line and dug in for the night. On this day, the action of three men of the 30th Division earned the Medal of Honor. In one instance, Sgt. Gary Evans Foster accompanied an officer to attack a machine-gun nest in a sunken road near Montbrehain. When the officer was wounded, Foster single-handedly killed several of the Germans with hand grenades and his pistol and then brought 18 back as prisoners.

That evening, II Corps Commander Read again notified the 30th Division there was no time to rest, but to resume attacking at 5:20 a.m. the next morning in the direction of St. Souplet. The eventual object was to secure the Selle River and the high ground from St. Benin to Molain. Such an attack, the American officers were told, would not be easy as it necessitated advancing a great distance through several villages, farms, and woods that probably contained enemy units. Yet, day to day, the Doughboys would continue their advance averaging a mile per day for the next eleven days. The 30th division would be joined by the 27th division for a period and then sent to rest while the New Yorkers carried on beyond the River Selle until it too was exhausted. By the time orders for their relief had come the two divisions had lost 6,100 men, killed and wounded.

27th Division Reinforcements Crossing the Selle, 19 October 1918

The 1st British Division took over the 30th Division sector and the 6th British Division relieved the 27th by 20 October. Although it was not known at the time, the war was over for II Corps. Its 27th Division moved to Corbie, and the 30th went to Querrieu for training. . . considering how the two divisions of the corps were essentially new to combat, compared with their British and Australian counterparts, they had done extraordinarily well. The American infantry and machine-gun units had received good instruction from the British and Dominion forces and were able to apply what they had learned in this final operation. This was done against a German opponent that was far from collapsing. A historian of the operation writes, the Germans ?fought hard and skillfully used defense-in-depth doctrine. Their position and intervention units were well organized, and the position divisions were relatively strong in manpower.?

100 Years Ago:
A Franco-Polish Alliance Is Initiated

Poland, strategically threatened by both the Soviets and the Germans, signed a treaty of political alliance with France on 19 February 1921. It would later be supplemented by additional agreements and renewals, and the alliance would be strained almost to the breaking point by 1936. However, as Hitler's rearmament and diplomacy clarified his intentions, and with Britain now participating in the arrangement, the alliance hardened and would be the basis of France and Great Britain declaring war on Germany when Poland was attacked in September 1939. Below are some of the key points of the early agreements.

1921 Signatories Aristide Briand (France) and Eustachy Sapieha (Poland)

Franco-Polish Agreement
Paris, 19 February 1921 (excerpt)

THE Polish Government and the French Government, both desirous of safeguarding, by the maintenance of the treaties which both have signed or which may in future be recognized by both parties, the peace of Europe, the security of their territories, and their common political and economic interests, have agreed as follows:

In order to coordinate their endeavors towards peace the two Governments undertake to consult each other on all questions of foreign policy which concern both States, so far as those questions affect the settlement of international relations in the spirit of the treaties and in accordance with the Covenant of the League of Nations. . .

Franco-Polish Warrant Agreement
Locarno, 16 October 1925 (excerpt)

In the event of the Council of the League of Nations, when dealing with a question brought before it in accordance with the said undertakings, being unable to succeed in securing the acceptance of its report by all its members other than the representatives of the parties to the dispute, and in the event of Poland or France being attacked without provocation, France, or reciprocally Poland, acting in application of Article 15, paragraph 7, of the Covenant of the League of Nations, will immediately lend aid and assistance.

Sources: Wikipedia, Mtholyoke.edu

French Wartime Fashion Remembered At the National WWI Museum


I want to commend the staff of the National World War I Museum for their imaginative efforts to keep the public interested in the historical importance of the war by presenting imaginative and fresh programs that look at its surprising aspects. I've been meaning to write this article for some time, but the museum's latest special exhibition, Silk and Steel: French Fashion, Women and WWI, which is showing through 11 April, is a perfect example of what I like to see. Obviously intended to attract an audience other than hard core military history types, Silk and Steel will allow visitors, who may otherwise have never traveled to the museum to learn how deeply connected the war is to our 21st-century culture.

Silk and Steel features original dresses, coats, capes, hats, shoes, and accessories. Topics presented are the evolution of the war-time silhouette, Parisian designers during the war, military uniforms? influence, women?s uniforms in France and America, war work, economics of fashion, and post-war emancipation. Original clothing and accessories are on loan from many other museums.

French Fashion, Women, and the First World War was organized by Bard Graduate Center Gallery, New York. An initial iteration of this exhibition called Mode & Femmes 14?18 was presented at the Biblioth?que Forney in Paris by Bibliocit?.

A World War One Documentary

Elsie Janis, Sweetheart of the AEF, Singing for the Troops

This 23-minute gem from the 1960s CBS World War I series features the memorable music of the Great War. As do all the episodes of that excellent series, it also includes the authoritative and appropriate-sounding for the period Robert Ryan as narrator and some of the series' best-restored film footage. Over the years, I've found this brief documentary an evocative preliminary warm-up for any presentation on the First World War. It's a portal to a more sentimental and simpler time. This version of the video eliminated the opening reference to CBS and replaced a small amount of the initial footage. The remaining part, however, seems to me to be all from the original version.

Click on Title to Access Story
What Women Wore During the First World War

The DH-9 WWI Bomber That Made Its Way to India

WWI British Spy Used Ancient Roman Island as a Lookout

The WWI Hospital Run by Women Doctors

Bristol, England's WWI Cenotaph Vandalized

Englewood New Jersey Is Where Howard Sabin's "A Soldier's Journey" Is Being Created

Peaky Blinders Star Cillian Murphy Might Be the Next James Bond

Why the Candy Bar Market Exploded After World War I

4 February Zoom Program Details: "The Air Service in Alabama during the Great War"

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