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The victorious 77th division (New York's own) in the Argonne fight online

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* HEROES ^ARGONNE FOREST ' 'Tr



I




HISTORY OF THE 77th DIVISION AT A GLANCE

Organized — September to November, 191 7, Camp Upton, N. Y.
Demobilized — May, 1919, Camp Upton, N. Y.



Division Commanders



MAT. GEN. J. FRANKLIN BELL
BRIG. GEN. E. M. JOHNSON

MAJOR CASUALTIES BY UNITS

305th Infantry

306th Infantry

307th Infantry

308th Infantry



304th Machine Gun Battalion
305th Machine Gun Battaibn
306th Machine Gun Battalion

304th Field Artillery

305th Field Artillery

306th Field Artillery

302nd Engineers

Total



MAJ. GEN. GEORGE B. DUNCAN
MAJ. GEN. ROBERT ALENANDER



Killed


Died of


Missing


Prisoners


Total


in action


wounds








262


150


119





531


203


91


173


155


622


320


132


85


71


608


343


105


125


109


682


2


3








5


22


9


5





36


42


9


1


1


53


25


10


2





37


15


9


6





30


16


10


2





28


25


24


11





60


1275


552


529


336


2692



TOTAL OF ALL CASUALTIES— 961 1



Nature

Killed in Action

Died of Wounds

Severely Wounded

Wounded Slightly

Gassed

Missing in Action

Prisoners (at latest report) .

Total



icers
69
10
69
82
71



Men

1299

iSS

1894

2889

2297

696

31

9294



Heavy Artillery
Light Artillery .
Trench Mortars
Machine Guns.
Rifles



MATERIAL CAPTURED

Vesle Ar- Meuse Total

Sonne
o s 13 18



14



J400 3200 7000



Engineer and Railway Material worth $2, 000,000.



PRISONERS CAPTURED



Front

Baccarat

Vesle

Argonne Forest .
Forest to Meuse.

Total



,cers


Men


Total





3


3





27


27


2


619


63I


1


88


89



DISTANCE GAINED
Sector



Baccarat

Vesle

Argonne Forest .
Forest to Meuse .

Total



Kilo-
meters


Miles





0.0


12


7-5


22


13-7


37' 2


23-5


n%


44-7



DIVISION'S ACTIVITIES DAY BY DAY

U.S. France Total

Days in Training 156 44 200

Days in Travel 76

(Based on one regimental unit)

At Sea

On Trains

On Motor Trucks

Hiking: Behind the Lines

Into Enemy Terri-
tory

Days in Reserve

Days in Rest Area

Days in Front Line

Baccarat (June 17 to Aug. 2)

Vesle River (Aug. 12 to Sept. 3)



14
5

22K



33



13
None



Oise-Aisne

Meuse-Argonne:
Argonne Forest



(Sept. 4 to Sept. 15)



. (Sept. 25 to Oct. 9) 14

Forest to Meuse (Oct. 10-15; Oct. 31- 17

Nov. 11)



TOTAL DAYS IN SERVICE

Calculated from Sept. 10, 191 7, when first
Selective Service Men arrived at Upton, to
May 6, 1919, New York's parade to the re-
turning victors



AWARDS
(to May 6, 1919)



Medal of Honor

Distinguished Service Cross.
Croix de Guerre



Total



572



5
159
61

225



THE VICTORIOUS




»- 3 , „



DIVISION

(TSIew York's Own:)

IN THE ARGONNE FIGHT

&y 1st Lieut Arthur McKeo^h




Published J5y
JOHN H. EGG£RS CO.inc

TIMES BUILDING-TIMES SQ.

"NEWYORK
Copyright 1919, John H.£ggers.>«r



5




"You people in New York have every reason to be proud of the Seventy-
Seventh Division. I had the great honor to command it on the Vesle, at
the Aisne, and in the Argonne Woods, and up on the heights opposite
Sedan, where we were ready for action when the armistice was signed. I
never met men more loyal, faithful, or a better body of troops, officers
and men included."





Photo Brown Bros.

OVER



THE 77TH DIVISION

(New York's Own)

By

1st LIEUT. ARTHUR McKEOGH

Of the 77th Division

" . . . While our left embraced the Argonne Forest, whose
ravines, hills and elaborate defense, screened by dense thick-
ets, had been generally considered impregnable."

Reporting after the armistice to the Secretary of War, in these words General
Pershing characterized a veritable jungle — the strongest of all German defenses on
the whole front, from the North Sea to Switzerland.

The fighting men who could pierce that vast fortress of nature, made doubly
impenetrable by the diabolic ingenuity of the Boche, were to immortalize themselves
in American history.

The fighting men who could and did conquer the famous Forest were New
York's citizen-soldiers, the 77th Division.

When Byng, the Britisher, "pushed" for 5 miles at Cambrai all the world was
agasp. The 77th Division started from a five-mile front and drove back the Ger-
mans day after day for two weeks. And when the Forest had been cleared, when
its last concealed machine gun nest had been silenced, the 77th had gained 14 miles!

Fourteen miles of heart-breaking plunging through thickets that spat death
with the rapidity of the serpent's fang! The historian of The Stars and Stripes,
the official overseas publication, speaks of the clearing of the Argonne Forest as
'unique in the annals of the American Expeditionary Forces."

It was a conquest, as it had to be, not without its price. In the three weeks
between September 26, the star 5,°Xt^e^ffensive, and October 16, when Grand Pre



and St. Juvin, important towns on the northern fringe of the wood, had been taken
— in those three; weeks* -the- 7*Ztp lo*st*.wi killed, wounded and missing 3,697 of its
best. -""-•- ■>•"•*•

The New Yorkers paid the score unflinchingly. Paid it — and "carried on."
For after a two-week's breathing spell, still under shellfire, for re-equipment and
refilling the ranks, the 77th took up where it had left ofF and advanced 23 additional
miles!

Thus, with the armistice, they achieved the gates of Sedan, after reclaiming a
total of more than 37 miles for France.

And their conquest freed 10,000 French civilians who had lived for four years
in Teuton bondage.

NO OTHER DIVISION WON SO MUCH

No other division in the whole Meuse — Argonne Offensive — and there were
twenty-one of them in this operation — won as much ground as the 77th. No other
division was in the front line both at the start and finish. No other division,
whoever the claimant, fought its way completely through the "impregnable"
Argonne Forest.

How shall the wonder of it be depicted? Who could have believed possible such
a transformation in the youthful civilians, inducted into the service at Camp
Upton, that they were able to beat the veteran German hosts out of a wooded
stronghold which had balked the trained French for more than four years, on
ground which had cost them 60,000 men? And to add to the glory of its achieve-
ment, the 77th faced five different enemy divisions at various times.

Flash on your mind this picture, faithfully drawn from life; it may serve to visual-
ize what the fighting in the Argonne Forest really was.

It is September 29, 1918 — memorable because it marked the beginning of the end
for Germany's arrogant hope of world-dominion. The place is a small area of the
Argonne wilderness, typical of all the terrain for miles around. Huge trees tower
protectingly above their brood of close-grown saplings, branches interlacing
branches overhead until no patch of sky is visible and the light is the sickly half-
light of early dawn.

The ground hides under a maze of trailing vines, prickly bushes, rheumatic
tree branches, imbedded in soggy leaves, with here and there a clump of rank fern.
The undergrowth is so tangled as to give the impression that nature had gone on
a debauch and later, viewing the havoc, in a moment of self-spite had added to
her riotous handiwork. No birds sing. No living thing moves. Like the sear
leaves, like the rotting tree trunks, it is a place of death.

While there is no sound here to relieve the sepulchral silence, a few hundred yards
to right and left a regular, metallic 5 stuttering noise punctuates the quiet.

Machine guns!

If you are listening sharply, close at hand now there is a crackling of twigs
and a sound as of branches forced aside. Some minutes elapse before movement
is apparent, for one cannot see beyond twenty yards through the screen.

Gradually forms emerge into view, sketchy through the trees, in outlines of
khaki — six or eight of them. This is the head of a company, forced by the thick
growth to thread its way in single file — a whole company, say, of ninety men; for
they have been advancing four days since crossing No Man's Land from the French
trenches on September 26, and while they may have started with 150, they are 90
now.



And such is the wilderness that the entire company presents but the front of a
single man!

No group of men, however small, could advance here in the "wave formation"
of open country — that is, on a lateral line, one or two hundred yards wide, with
intervals of five or eight yards between the attackers. Before such a line could
proceed fifty yards over this kind of ground, it would be hopelessly broken,
scattered and lost. -

OFFICER HAS HIS WORK CUT OUT

The officer is the trail-breaker, Jacking his way through the vines, pushing back
branches with both elbows, detouring clumps that defy penetration. At times he
twists sidewise to pass between saplings, or bends to the waist under an arch of
intertwined branches. And always, he is watching his compass, keeping the jigger-
ing needle as nearly fixed as possible on the letter "N", which means he is leading
north, — deeper and deeper into the fastnesses of the Boche.

The men mainly are silent, breathing hard from the weight of equipment as they
yank it through the brush that reaches out like the tentacles of an octopus to clutch
at them. They must keep close behind one another, or even the single line will
snap some place along its length and the remainder will find themselves casting
about in the indistinguishable sameness of the forest for their comrades.

Occasionally an oath is half-shouted, half-repressed as a doughboy is thrown to
his face by a treacherous root. Again, from the rear, may come a petulant cry,
in some foreign accent, to:

"Slow it down, will yuh! Are we goin' to a war — or a fire?"

The officer turns to the sergeant behind him and says in an undertone:

"Pass back the word to that man to shut up."

The officer knows that his men are being strained. During three days, food has
been meagre, sleep fitful and unsatisfactory, without blankets. His company has
beaten its way into the Forest to the depth of a mile and a half. There are no roads




77th Division Passing Through a French Village

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A One Pound Gun in Action



over which ration limbers can follow. The artillery cannot be called upon for
support. Ammunition and food must be brought up by hand. The wounded
must be carried back that mile and a half over the same difficult ground, the same
slippery mud trails by which they had come forward.

Hard though it be on his men, he must hurry, that officer. The more because
progress is slow must he hurry. Across his map there is a blue-pencilled line
indicating a position to be reached by dusk — his "objective. " Other units are
depending upon him to be there to give them flank support. The whole division is
planning to attain that advanced front, whatever the obstacles they meet meantime.

Suspecting every stirring leaf, every swaying limb after four days of bushwhack-
ing, the officer is peering ahead — to left — to right, when —

"Rat - tat - tat - tat - tat - tat - tat - "

Three men in the line drop — two mortally hit. The bullets strike into their
bodies with a strange little thump — just audible to the officer. Death comes at
once.

ONLY A KID AFTER ALL

The thitd man collapses, holding both hands against his side and crying with an

anguish terrible to hear. He is a big fellow, perhaps 28 years old; yet these are the

unexpected words that he shouts, repeating them over and over, as his first scream

sinks into a moan:

"Oh, mamma, mamma! It hurts, mamma! It hurts!"

It has not been necessary for the officer to shout: "Down! Take cover!"

Behind tree trunks his men throw themselves, behind clumps of roots, one man —

as the officer notes with a momentary, irrepressible smile — behind a handful of

ferns.

Someone crawls over to the wounded man and applies a dressing hurriedly,

preparatory to pulling him out of the range of fire. Even if he could walk, the

sufferer may not stand erect as yet. Men- have been hit a second time and in cases

killed while hobbling back to the first aid station.

The officer may give no attention to the dead or wounded just now. He has the

living to think of. This is the business of war, at which he must be efficient in

order that as few of his followers as possible may suffer.

w



With the opening shots of the long "burst" from the machine guns the officer's
mind has leaped to a keenness comparable to the hunt dog's scent. Where is it?
His mental torture is indescribable as his eyes strain vainly through the shrub for
some telltale sign. Damn smokeless powder!

From the sound he knows the nest is somewhere within a 45 degree arc to the
right front. Because the staccatos of the explosions have run into one another,
he knows there are two guns — possibly three. How far away are they? He can
only conjecture. Maybe forty or fifty yards. Nothing in the world is more decep-
tive to his ears and their judgment of location than those explosions. That may be
because he is so eager to fix their source accurately. And he is aware that the nest
will be well camouflaged by masters in the art of concealment.

GERMAN MACHINE GUN TACTICS

After an expenditure of seventy-five or a hundred rounds the Germans hold their
fire. That is part of their machine gun tactics. The longer they fire the better
their opponents may judge their position. So, confident that they are as yet
undiscovered, they will wait for a target — a stir.

Everything is silent, motionless.

The officer counters with anti-machine gun strategy.

"Sergeant Quinn," he calls softly to one of the prone figures, "get your gang
ready! Corporal Smith, your gang. You're in command, Sergeant, till I get back."

The Sergeant is put in charge because there are no other officers. The attack
was begun with one Lieutenant to a company.

With his automatic unholstered, the officer, accompanied by an orderly starts
crawling toward the origin of the sound. He is going personally to reconnoitre
the position of the nest before he leads his men upon it. .

With his own movement and that of his men, who are converging near the spot he
has just left, the guns open again, as he has anticipated. He has hoped for another
outbreak — to guide him. It is not pleasant to have those bullets chirping like the
quick sweet notes of the meadow lark (for it is thus they sound) just above his
helmet, but he must locate that position if his men are to attack it intelligently.
Sometimes an unnatural depression of leaves or high grass from the force of the
explosions in front of the muzzle, as if an electric fan were blowing them flat, will
denote the hiding place. Sometimes a thin, bluish haze, hardly perceptible, is
expelled from the muzzle.

Worming his way towards the sound, his helmet pulled well down on his forehead,
the officer studies each bush, each irregularity of the ground, as they open up to his
view through the turmoil of undergrowth. The very air is nervous with the
reverberations of the guns. Tiny fern leaves, clipped off by bullets, flutter slowly,
almost placidly, to the ground. The officer notices little white "bites" suddenly
appearing low on the bark of trees.

Then he spots it! That big bush ahead, a little to tfc« right, — that's it! His
attention has been oddly attracted to it. Leaves do not turn their paler, under-side
to the light. Here there are many such, indicating that fresh-cut boughs have been
inserted at unnatural angles in the bush to make its cover denser. 1 he watcher
now sees through the leaves big rocks piled a little too regularly and a thick tree
trunk lying flat. Just in front of the bush the forest is a little thinner, offering
something approximating a field of fire. The forepart of the gun takes shape, — the
slender muzzle and its "flash screen" projecting a few inches out of the fat, round

[si



"jacket." The officer notes surrounding objects, so that he may not lose his
find. Maybe he takes its poskion by compass. Then he crawls back to his men.

WHAT IS THE NATURE OF THE GANG?

When he told two of the non-coms to collect their gangs he wasn't indulging
in slang. The gang is a development of modern warfare. Numbering from eight
to twelve, these men are trained specialists who have simulated attacks upon
machine gun positions in practice. The gang is an elastic collection of perhaps two
scouts, an automatic rifleman, with two ammunition carriers, two or three bombers,
a rifle grenadier and a couple of bayonet men. Each man has his job. The bombers
are particularly effective because rifle-fire — a grazing fire — is not of much avail
against the protections of a nest; it is more vulnerable to bombs dropped from above.
But the trees are serious obstacles to bomb throwing, unless the missiles can be
hurled high through a branchless aperture. The automatic riflemen, sometimes
called a light machine gunner, can bore and bore like a steel drill on one spot, till
eventually his "lead" breaks through.

The officer does not intend to rush the nest frontally. It would be too costly.
He will leave his company under cover, and with the two gangs enfiltrate on both
sides of the nest working around to its rear.

With minuteness he tells his non-coms where it is. "Sergeant, you take their
left — Corporal, I'll go with you to their right. Let's go."

One by one, thus presenting no collective target, the men crawl out along the
lines of a "V". As they draw nearer, the nest breaks into a frenzy of fire. A
courageous German dashes out from the rear of the position so that he will be near
enough to the attackers to throw effectively his "potato mashers" or hand grenades,
so called because they resemble the old-fashioned, long, wooden-handled kitchen
utensil.

"Get that bird!" some one shouts.

For the first time, American bullets are spent. The Boche drops with an agon-
ized howl. There is something peculiarly soul curdling about the cries of a wounded
Boche.

The automatic rifles get into action. The bombers add to the fire. The Ger-
mans throw out rifle grenades. There are snatches of shouts above the clatter of
musketry. Another long-drawn howl comes from the nest — a "hit" through their
logs and corrugated sheet iron.

A bomb drops at the edge of the nest. Another seems to have exploded right on
top of it! Yes, it must have got home. Their fire is weaker. One of their guns
is "out," probably.

They've stopped firing now. Is it a trick? No — they're fini — they're quitting!
For through the trees at the rear two gray-green figures are darting.

"Get 'em!"

"There they go!"

The two Boches have a fair start, for they came out of a little covered trench at
the rear, leading to the nest. The woods are alive with action as a dozen Yanks
plunge after them. One turns, aims his pistol, fires and falls. The other, unarmed,
makes to raise his hands in "Kamerad" attitude, but his action is too late.

In the nest are two dead forms, sprawled grotesquely. One fellow's mouth
is open, as if he were snoring. His mustache is strangely well brushed. Of the

[6]




Photo Brown Bros.



On the Firing Line



two heavy maxim guns, one seems in good condition. The other shows bullet
holes.

TIME FLIES IN SUCH A FIGHT

The officer looks at his watch. Nearly an hour has elapsed — an hour that
seemed ten minutes. He takes stock. Four of his men have been killed; six
wounded. Four Germans are dead; one badly wounded. And the company has
been held up for an hour.

Through a German of his command, the lieutenant questions the wounded
prisoner. The fellow is incoherent in moans. Where's the next nearest nest.
He doesn't know — he swears it — he needs a doctor. He cannot bear the pain.
* * * * To what regiment does he belong? (His epaulets bear the numerals
117.) * * * * The 117th — but the doctor — the doctor! * * * * Well, where is
his regiment? Are they holding this trench ahead — here, on this map? * * * * No
he thinks they moved * * * * Are they in these laagers — the huts shown in this



ravine



p * * * *



Oh, please, please do not ask him to look at the map. No, no,
they are not in the huts — they are retreating — last night they moved north — and
what of the doctor — the first aid station ? He knows he will die soon .

Reluctantly, the officer details two men to carry him back, because it means
making stretcher-bearers of combatants.

"Come on — let that junk alone!" — to a group of doughboys rifling the dead men's
packs for food. "Grab it, and get back to your squads! — Sergeant, let's get
going."

The wounded have been dressed and are being carried, or helped back. The dead
must lie for the present. When more troops come up from the rear those poor
bodies which harbored such valiant souls will be identified and buried. Just now
the outfit has to advance. "And so they start forward — probably to repeat the whole
performance a few hundred yards farther on.

The foregoing is a conservative rather than an overdrawn description of an

[7]



attack upon one of the numerous points of resistance with which the Argonne forest
was pitted.

For fourteen days consecutively the men of "New York's Own" pushed ahead
each morning, over strange treacherous ground, against concrete-lined trench
systems, against nests, "pill boxes" and "strong" points, against wire belts so wide
that the 302d Engineers had to bridge them almost as if they were rivers,

Veterans of many hard campaigns in other wars might have been daunted.
The "Liberty Boys" (every one knows that their divisional insignia is the Statue
of Liberty) — went forward almost blithely. "Nerve" aplenty they had. Of
"nerves," however, they were completely devoid, according to the admission of a
German officer whose men tried to hold them back.

PRAISE FROM SIR HUBERT

This officer, oddly enough, asserted that he himself wrote the famous "surrencler-
in-the-name-of-humanity" note to Lieut. Col. Charles W. Whittlesey and his
beleaguered band. His name is Lieut. Heinrich Prinz, of the 76th German Di-
vision, and it was on the occasion of his meeting Colonel C. O. Sherrill, formerly
Chief of Staff of the 77th in Coblenz, that he paid this tribute to the New York
doughboys.

"Permit me to compliment you, sir, upon the morale of your men. I wish I
might pay my respects personally to their commander. The American soldier
seemed absolutely devoid of nerves. His buoyancy had a most depressing effect
upon our men."

Here is an officer of the old militaristic school, a judge of fighting men, lauding —
whom? Lauding the milkman, who used to serve you while you slept; the subway
guard, whose knowledge of explosives was confined once to the language of over-
crowded passengers; the taxi-driver whom you excoriated for keeping you waiting.
Perhaps that young officer who attacked the nest was the budding lawyer to whom
you gave that "worthless account" for collection — the one that was collected.
That sergeant, who was a gang leader in the forest, may have been a sallow-cheeked
draughtsman; the corporal, an enterprising proprietor of an east-side fruit stand.

Such were the men who came to Camp Upton, Long Island, in September, 1917.
Ten thousand acres of virgin timberland were suddenly turned into what looked like
a "boom town." Indeed, there may have been something remotely prophetic of
their later conquest of the Argonne in their earlier conquest of Yaphank.

Weeks were spent in digging up stumps before drill grounds were available for the
embryonic soldiers who were drafted — there is no sinister aspect to that word today!
— under the Selective Service Law of June 15, 1917.

After a four months' training programme, under the command of the late Major-
General J. Franklin Bell, the first units began sailing late in March, 191 8.

Because of physical failing due to age, General Bell had to relinquish command of
the division, which was transferred to Brig.-Gen. Evan M. Johnson, of the 154th
Brigade.

MAKE-UP OF THE 77TH DIVISION

Regiments and brigades and their relationship being -far from self-explanatory
to the non-military reader, it may be well to list here for future reference the units


1 3 4

Online LibraryArthur McKeoghThe victorious 77th division (New York's own) in the Argonne fight → online text (page 1 of 4)