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The Story of the American Expeditionary Forces

7th Division




Doughboys in a Captured Enemy Trench
Unidentified Locale

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Quick Facts

     Where:   Southeast of Verdun at the Base of the Former St. Mihiel Salient
Check the Location on a Map of the Western Front

     When:     November 7 - 11, 1918

     AEF Units Participating:    US Second Army Starting With 4 Divisions in Line, 2 in Reserve and Others Arriving in Sector. Also, supported by 81st Division of First Army.

     US Commanders:   Lt. General Robert Bullard.

     Opposing Forces:    German Group Gallwitz

     Memorable For:      Being the Start of a Joint French - US Offensive Against Metz Which was Aborted by the Armistice

The Second American Army was Formed October 15,1918. for the purpose of holding the line established after the termination of the St. Mihiel offensive, extending from Fresnes-en-Woevre at the northern hinge of the salient to Port-sur-SeilIe, a short distance east of the Moselle River. At first this army was made up from divisions which were worn out and in most instances decimated in the fighting on the Meuse-Argonne front. It was supposed to be a quiet front and affording opportunity for replacement of personnel and re-equipment.

Lieutenant General R. L Bullard, one of the most efficient soldiers in the American Army, was placed in command.

Long before the enemy gave any sign that he was on the point of demanding an armistice, Marshal Foch had made plans fur striking a telling blow in Lorraine in the general direction of Metz. This blow was to be struck as soon as the First American Army had succeeded in capturing the great Longuyon-Mezieres railroad, thereby cutting the whole German Army unto two parts. The blow was to fall with telling force on both sides of the great fortress of Metz, pinching of this stronghold without a direct attack. The Americans were to attack in the direction of Conflans, and the Tenth French Army under General Mangin was to strike in the direction of Chateau-Sauna. The object was to isolate Metz and block the enemy forces west of the upper Rhine. Preparations were well under way by November 7th, when the German Armistice Commission crossed the Allied lines. But, inasmuch as Marshal Foch still feared treachery on the part of the enemy, orders were issued in the form of an official telegram dated November 7th, to all forces: "it can happen that the enemy may spread the rumor that an armistice is signed in order to deceive us. There is none. Let no one cease hostilities of any sort without information from the Marshal Commander-in-Chief."

The plans for attack, already made, were to be carried out in full, regardless of the armistice rumors, which were flying in all directions. Foch supplemented this order with a dispatch two days later on November 9th to General Pershing urging him to start the Second Army attack immediately instead of waiting for November 14th. The reason for this was very plain. The enemy was falling back in great disorder along the front of the First American Army as well as farther west. His withdrawal on the front of the Second American Army could not be long delayed. Sudden pressure by the Americana on this front would hasten this retreat . . . possibly resulting in a rout.

On November 9th, the front of the Second American Army covered 50 kilometers held by four divisions with only 43,000 men. The full strength would have numbered 112,000 men. These divisions from left to right were the Thirty-third Division (Illinois National Guard), Twenty-eighth (Pennsylvania National Guard), Seventh (Regulars) and Ninety- Second (Colored). In reserve were the Fourth (Regulars) and the Thirty-fifth (Missouri and Kansas National Guard) while one brigade of the Eighty-eighth Division (Minnesota and North Dakota National Army) had just arrived at the front. Both the Thirty-third and Twenty-eighth had seen much hard lighting, on the British front, at Chateau Thierry and in the Meuse-Argonne offensive, while a regiment of the Ninety-second had been engaged for a short time in the Argonne Forest.

Troops of the Segregated 92nd Division

On the 7th of November two companies of the One-Hundred Thirtieth Infantry of the Thirty-third Division made a dashing raid on Chateau d'Aulnois, northeast of Fresnes, destroying an enemy strong point and capturing one officer and twenty-two men.

The main attack was set for November 10th. one day ahead of schedule.

One regiment of the Ninety-second Division, on the right bank of the Moselle, went over the top at 7 A. M., attempting to drive in the re-entrant salient in the line east of the river. The troops pushed forward a little more than a mile before meeting with serious opposition. Three small woods . . . were occupied. The German resistance, however, soon stiffened and before nightfall the men were suffering heavily under a bombardment of high exp1osives and machine gun fire. The operation netted six prisoners and a slight advance. The casualties numbered 28. Another regiment of this division, west of the Moselle, was unable to advance because of the failure of the attack of the Seventh Division.

On the front of the Seventh Division, a Regular Army unit which was under fire for the first time, two companies of the Fifty-sixth Infantry took by assault the formidable Preny Ridge, a key position. Owing to a raking machine-gun lire and the enemy's heavy wire, our troops were unable to mop up the position and ultimately were driven down the slopes again, suffering heavy losses. On the division's left, better progress was made. Here the Americans got as far forward as Mon Plaisir farm, about one mile from Charey. These positions they held at eleven o'clock, November 11th. The Seventh Division had 236 casualties, the majority being suffered on Preny Ridge.

Andrew Wyeth's Subject Sgt. Ralph Cline
Served with 7th Division of the Second Army

The battle plan laid out for the Twenty-eighth Division was a direct assault on the formidable Hindenburg positions in the region of Dommartin. The Germans at this point were strongly entrenched, with their line liberally protected by barbed wire and tank traps. Bear in mind that after the St. Mihiel battle the enemy took up his line in a series of defenses of unusual natural strength extending across the base of the salient. These positions had been long prepared and therefore our men had a difficult task ahead of them.

The troops of the Twenty-eighth went forward to the attack at 5.50 a. m. on the morning of November 10th. The village of Dommartin was too strongly held and resisted all attack but we succeeded in occupying the small wood of the same name southwest of the village as well as the strongly fortified point of Marimbois farm. In the afternoon after a strong artillery preparation a second attack was launched, but it made no-progress. Nineteen prisoners were taken.

The center of the division met with better success. Advancing along the southeastern shore of Lake La Chaussee, it captured the village of Haumont and pushed forward nearly a mile. On the other side of the lake, the extreme left of the Twenty-eighth moved forward in conjunction with the Thirty-third Division. It soon became evident that the enemy's line was weakest on the front of the Twenty-eighth Division, and during the night of November 10th, strong reinforcements were concentrated north of Haumont to follow up the early success.

Word of the signing of the armistice was not received until after 9am so that the advancing troop, were well launched on the new attack by eleven o'clock. The word to cease firing reached the outposts well inside the Bois de Bonseil. Runners sent out front regimental headquarters with the glad tidings had great difficulty in some cases in finding the outposts owing to the general confusion of battle, and there is no doubt that casualties did occur in the last few minutes. The division's total casualties for the two days lighting numbering 245.

By far the heaviest casualties were suffered by the Thirty-third Division, on the left of the Twenty-eighth. Troops of this outfit which was operating with the Second Colonial Corps (French) made a strong raid to clear two small woods in the Plain of the Woevre.

With these woods in our hands the way was clear for the larger and more important operation. This began on the morning of November 10. When the One-Hundred Thirty-first Infantry penetrated the Harville wood east of St Hilaire. Later it was forced back to the southwestern edge. On the extreme left the One-Hundred Thirtieth Infantry carried all the German trenches from Saux-en-Woevre northeast to Marchevilie, including the latter village, capturing 6 officers, 102 men and destroying an entire German battalion in the village. Stung by this reverse the Germans retaliated with a strong counter attack, at two o'clock in the afternoon. Bitter fighting ensued and the Americans were forced back to the far edge of the village. There they made a determined stand, breaking up the counter attack, and, notwithstanding heavy losses, held their ground and the stronghold of Marcheville.

German Prisoners Helping with 33rd Division Casualties

On the front of both regiments, reinforced during the night by the One-Hundred Twenty-ninth and One-Hundred Thirty-second Infantry, fighting was renewed at 5:1O am. on armistice morning. Our troops had succeeded in occupying Butgneville, St. Hilaire and the Chateau d'Aulnois when the halt order was received. One-hundred and fifty-seven prisoners had been taken, most of them in the Marcheville fighting. Casualties suffered by the division numbered 614, more than twice those of any other unit.

The fighting on the front of both the Twenty-eighth and the Thirty-third Divisions was developing rapidly into a major operation and in spite of the stiff resistance encountered, much more serious than had been expected, our troops pierced the Hindenburg line on both sides of La Chaussee Lake. None of our divisions was fully engaged, while the reserve divisions and one brigade of the Eighty-eighth just detrained, had not entered the fight.

During this period, the activities of the First Army's 81st Division on the boundary of the Meuse-Argonne -- St. Mihiel Salient effectively supported the Second Army's initial operations. On November 9th, they attacked northeast, entering Manheulles and occupying several small woods. The next day the division captured the fortified village of Abaucourt. On November 11th, the division resumed the attack, capturing additional villages and continuing the advance right up to the armistice.

Sources and thanks: The primary source of this article is an article written by immediately after the war by John V. Clinnin, Colonel 130th Infantry, and Capt. Arthur E. Hartzell. It appeared in the U.S. Army Signal Corps Official Photographic History. The photos were provided by regular contributors Ray Mentzer and Herb Stickel. MH

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