The 32D ‘Red Arrow’ Veteran Association
The 32D ‘Red Arrow’ Division
in World War I
From the ‘Iron Jaw Division’
to ‘Les Terribles’
Orders were received for the 32D Division to go to First Army as a reserve. The movement toward the vicinity of Verdun was begun on 22 September. When the Division arrived it was assigned to the Fifth Corps as reserve.
The Meuse – Argonne offensive started on 26 September 1918. The 32D was sent forward to occupy the original front of the Fifth Corps, which that morning had gone over the top and attacked the enemy in the Argonne. As the attack progressed, the 32D followed in support of the 3 divisions of the Corps that were in the front line, ready to relieve any one of them when needed.
On the cold and rainy night of 29 September, the order was received to go forward and relieve the 37TH Division (Ohio). The Division made a difficult move, 11 miles, on foot through the cold, dark, rainy night, over ground strewn with deep shell holes, broken barbed wire and broken trees and brush, with 78 pound packs on their backs.
The morning of 1 October
found the 63D Brigade holding the entire front line,
that had been occupied by the entire 37TH Division, a front
of about 4 kilometers, extending east and west about one-half kilometer from
the village of Cierges. During the day an attack was made by the 63D
to secure better positions, and they pushed through the village to a point
about one-half kilometer north of the village.
Detachment of 107TH Engineers, 32D Div. clearing away wire near Vauquois, 2 Oct. 1918.
"The orderly room" of Co. B, 107TH Field Signal Bn., 32D Div. near Montfaucon, 2 Oct. 1918.
MG Haan (center) looking over map in the 32D Div. CP, located in a heavily reinforced concrete dugout, near Montfaucon, 2 Oct. 1918.
LTC Paul B. Clemens (left) and Lt. William J. Niedprune of 32D Div., questioning German officer, 9 Oct. 1918.
On 3 October, in preparation for a new attack, the 32D was ordered to relieve the 91ST Division, to its left. The 32D was then relieved of part of its sector of the front on the right by the 3D Division, which had come up the night before to take the place of the 79TH Division. By the morning of the 4th, the 64TH Brigade was in the line on the left and the 63D was adjacent to the right. When the 64TH Brigade completed its relief of the 91ST Division, the famous 1ST Division was on their left, the American Expeditionary Force veterans had come in as the right division of another Corps at about the same time.
On 4 October, the 64TH
Brigade wrested control of the village of Gesnes from the Germans, but they
could not occupy it. The German garrison of the village departed during a
punishing artillery barrage. After the defenders left and before the Americans
could occupy it, the Germans laid down a heavy artillery barrage of their own.
So the town remained part of No Man’s Land and was the subject of combat
patrols of both sides. Gesnes had been a rest area behind the German front line
in the Argonne, so it contained comfortable cottages, a casino with a
bandstand, a beer garden and various associated places of amusement. It was
said that both the Americans and Germans liked to patrol around the village
because the beer garden stock had not been entirely destroyed by the avalanche
of artillery from both sides.
On the morning of 5 October, the 64TH Brigade attacked in a northeasterly direction toward the southeastern edge of the Bois de la Morine (Morine woods). The Bois de la Morine bristled with well emplaced machine gun nests, which were adequately protected from the effects of the Allied artillery. For this operation, the 64TH Brigade was echeloned in depth, the 127TH Infantry having 3 battalions in the line closely supported by the 128TH Infantry, which followed the attack with one battalion behind the other. On the right of the Division sector the 63D Brigade also attacked, with the 126TH in the front line and the 125TH supporting. Gas and flame troops and tanks were assigned to the attacking units, and were used to assist the doughboys. The Bois de la Morine was overwhelmed and its machine gun nests cleaned up. The direction of the attack was then changed to the north, with the idea of reducing the Bois du Chêne Sec. Considerable, determined resistance was met with in these woods, and hand-to-hand fighting developed when our men followed the barrage into the thick undergrowth and found that the enemy had not yet had enough. The Bois du Chêne Sec was finally mopped up and remained securely in our hands, but further advance became impossible because of the strong position on Hill 255 and Hill 269. During the attack on 5 October, the 127TH Infantry was relieved in the front line by the 128TH, and on the night of 5-6 October, the 126TH Infantry was relieved by the 125TH. Both of the retiring regiments had suffered heavily in their struggle to advance, and the supporting troops were pushed in to give the Division the punch to carry on the attack in case a further forward movement seemed advisable.
During the next two days the 64TH Brigade strove to reduce the strong points which had halted the advance. Extra efforts were directed at obstinate German positions directly in front of the point of liaison between the 32D and 1ST Divisions. Finally, through the efforts of brave combat troops on both sides of the corps dividing line, the worst of the obstacles were removed. Meanwhile, the 125TH Infantry gave its attention to small patches of woods on its immediate front, which were unusually heavily garrisoned with cunningly arranged machine gun nests which proved to be invulnerable to artillery fire. After considerable effort, these nests were cleaned up.
PVT William A. Jacobson,
On the morning of 8 October, the new front line was about two kilometers north of Gesnes.
Division was now
directly in front of the Kriemhilde Stellung, this bristling, natural fortress was
known as the strongest position on the whole Hindenburg Line in the
Meuse-Argonne sector. The general plan was to penetrate the wire and works at
some point south of Romagne and then to roll up the remainder of the position
by a movement to the left, taking the heights from the rear. The remainder of 8
October was devoted to positioning the soldiers of the 32DDivision for the attack.
An example of the German defensive positions along the Kriemhilde and Hindenburg Lines that the 32D Div. had to overcome in their advance. This is a concrete strongpoint defended with machine guns.
On the morning of 9 October 1918, the assault began. Our troops closely followed the artillery barrage right up to the wire. On the right, the 126TH Infantry, supported by tanks, succeeded in breaking through and reached the southern outskirts of Romagne. On the left, one battalion of the 125TH Infantry fought its way to the top of Hill 258. Along the rest of the front, the attack was stopped by organized positions about 1 km south of Romagne.
The fighting continued on 10
October and after repeated efforts, the 125TH Infantry captured
one of the outlying defenses of La Cote Dame Marie and held it in spite of the
efforts of the enemy to loosen our grip. La Cote Dame Marie was the name given
to a hill that lay immediately in the path of the 32D
Division and seemed to
effectually bar further progress. It was flanked by similar crests and the
approaches were regarded as extremely difficult. It was one of these smaller
crests which the 125TH took on 10 October and to which they clung
with so much tenacity. On the right, the 126TH Infantry had advanced
to the Tranchée de la Mamelle, an important bulwark in the Kriemhilde Stellung.
In this deep and well-fortified trench, the 126TH met the enemy in a
hand-to-hand conflict and succeeded in occupying a part of the system. In the
center of the line, the enemy held firm and succeeded in turning back every
effort the Americans made to storm the approaches to the trench.
An example of the deep, fortified trenches facing the 32D Div. along the Kriemhilde Stellung
The following day was devoted to consolidating the advance positions they had won and organizing for a further attack. Various local operations were undertaken to improve the position of certain exposed troops and some fierce fighting resulted from the clashes of combat patrols. The fighting of 10-11 October had netted over 500 prisoners, most of them taken by the 126TH Infantry in the Tranchée de la Mamelle.
Most of 12 October was spent preparing for the next push. Part of the preparation consisted of reshuffling the units in the front line. On the morning of 13 October our front line from right to left was: two battalions of the 128TH, one battalion of the 126TH, one battalion of the 127TH and the 125TH in support. At the same time, the 42D Division relieved the 1ST Division on our left, the 1ST having sustained heavy casualties in battering its way up to the Kriemhilde line.
The attack began at 0530 on 14 October 1918. A barrage was laid down on the enemy trench system along the entire front and held there for 5 minutes, while our troops moved forward as close to the wire as possible. When the barrage lifted, the Americans flung themselves at the German positions and sought to tear through the tangle of wire and trench wreckage before the German Infantry could get into action. The battalion of the 126TH had the best luck, springing forward from its position on Hill 258 it surged through the wire and closely followed the barrage as it advanced toward its first objective. On the right, the 128TH succeeded in getting through the trenches south of Romagne and by skillful maneuvering virtually surrounded the town and established a line on the northern outskirts. The 128TH had been forced to avoid the town in its rush ahead and, accordingly, mopping-up parties were sent into the village from the 125TH, which was following in support, ready to take advantage of such a situation. About 200 prisoners were taken by the 125TH in the village. On the left, the 127TH was flinging itself in vain against the impregnable defenses of the hills that flank La Cote Dame Marie. The artillery preparation had not cut up the wire and the first wave that dashed over the top as the barrage was lifted found itself caught in the impassable tangle. Into this wire strong enemy groups poured withering machine gun fire and effectually halted all efforts of the 127TH advance. While La Cote Dame Marie was successfully resisting every effort at a frontal conquest, her doom was being sealed by the battalion of the 126TH, which had been the first to break through the line in the morning. This battalion drove straight forward, concealed and protected from view of the Cote, and passed the hill on the right. Its objective was north of the Cote, it reached it and extended its position to the right to meet the 128TH. The support battalion of the 126TH sent a mopping-up party to make a turning movement to the left and attacked the defenders of the Cote from the flank. In the meantime, the 127TH had recognized the futility of trying to take the position from the front and accordingly began to maneuver around the German right flank. This effort was successful and as a result of being outflanked on both sides, the defenders of the German stronghold were forced to give up.
By the morning of 15 October, the 127TH had moved its line over La Cote Dame Marie, establishing liaison with the 126TH on the right and its own flanking detachment from the day before on the left. This detachment had also made contact with the 42D Division which had come up to the new lined reached by the 32D. This completed the establishment of the new front and completed the penetration of the Kriemhilde Stellung. The line extended from a point about ½ km north of Romagne to 300 meters north of La Cote Dame Marie. Although the great attack had been successful and the objectives gained, fighting continued through 15-19 October to reduce several advantageous German positions that remained on our front.
Maj. Henry Root Hill, from Quincy, Illinois, and commander of the 2D Bn., 128TH Inf., earned the DSC, bestowed posthumously, while leading his unit and personally attempting to capture a German machinegun nest on 16 October 1918 near Romagne-sous-Montfaucon. He was KIA during the event. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of DSC recipients, as well as below. [updated 22 Dec. ’14, TPB]
Until three months before his death, he had been Brig. Gen. Henry R. Hill, an Illinois National Guard officer in command of the 65TH Infantry Brigade, 33D ‘Prairie’ Division. He had been promoted to Brig. Gen. on 2 Dec. ‘14 at age 38, one of the youngest to ever attain that rank. He was relieved by Maj. Gen. George Bell, Jr., 33D Div. Cdr., during a training exercise in the British sector on 13 Jul. ‘18 “under circumstances so abasing and trivial that their very triviality suggests premeditated spite. (S. Moore 50)” Such was the degree of Maj. Gen. Bell’s vindictiveness toward his subordinate that the mere act of relieving him of his command was not degrading enough. He actually had his chief of staff, Col. William K. Naylor, go out and place Brig. Gen. Hill, a friend of Col. Naylor, under arrest that day. When he asked his friend why he was being arrested, his friend could offer no reason. When he sent a letter to Maj. Gen. Bell later that day to ask why he was relieved, he received no immediate or direct response. [added 22 Dec. ’14, TPB]
“There was no reply for several days, but at length it was made known that the Division Commander had seen “several” men not wearing the prescribed iron hats. In any event it was a hot day, the maneuver wholly theoretical, but from papers still available it would appear that of the 7000 men composing the brigade, the offenders observed by General Bell consisted of a few men of the Signal Corps detachment who had been away at a service school until immediately prior to the beginning of the maneuver, and another soldier, subsequently identified as on a liaison mission from the 66th Brigade.
“That similar lapses occurred in other divisional units, notably an entire regiment of engineers, there are officers who will testify today, but no other unit commanders save the senior regimental commander who succeeded to command the 65th Brigade were called to account. Colonel Charles H. Greene, however, was restored to duty, though subsequently detailed to the S. O. S., but with rank unimpaired.
“It was thus that General Hill was separated from his command. Disregarding the picayunish detail of the excuse for the action, conceding the legal right under military law for the Division Commander to rid himself of a disliked subordinate, there is apparent a rankling humiliation entirely uncalled for which would have prompted a man of lesser ideals to feel himself well out of such an Army, or more practicably to raise hob with the home politicos to exert Washington influence.” (S. Moore 51) [added 22 Dec. ’14, TPB]
In all likelihood, Maj. Gen. Bell, a Regular Army officer, simply did not like Brig. Gen. Hill, a National Guard officer, but he could not very well use that for a reason to replace him. Although it was no surprise that the man the man who succeeded him as commander of the 65TH Inf. Bde. was a Regular Army officer. To some, he did offer the vague excuse “that Hill lacked sufficient military education and experience, (Nenninger 25)” but that is a thinly veiled excuse at best. True, Hill did not have an extensive military education, but few National Guard officers were afforded that opportunity at the time and, then as now, military education does not guarantee competent, effective leaders. Brig. Gen. Hill did have considerable experience and was admired by many of his peers, including Regular Army officers he had served with earlier as well as British officers his unit was training with at the time he was relieved. Some believe the British offered Hill a brigadier billet when they learned he had been relieved, but there does not appear to be a written record of that offer. [added 22 Dec. ’14, TPB]
Hill had been offered the choice of returning to the U.S. and being separated as a brigadier general, or be assigned a colonel billet in the Service of Supply. He turned down the former outright and is said to have responded to the later stating he “would rather serve as a private soldier in the front lines than as a colonel in the rear. (S. Moore 52)” He accepted a commission as Maj. on 29 Aug. ‘18 and was assigned as commander of 2D Bn., 128TH Inf. The commander of the 128TH Inf. Regt. was Col. Robert B. McCoy, who had served with Hill before. [added 22 Dec. ’14, TPB]
“There was an odd coincidence in his being assigned to Col. McCoy’s regiment. When the Wisconsin troops went to the Border in 1916 the late Major Gen. Robert B. McCoy was inspector of small arms practice with the rank of major. That office was not mentioned in the call. Later Major McCoy was sent to Camp Wilson to act as assistant chief of staff prior to the march from San Antonio to Austin and return. When the march was concluded there was no longer any need of the assistant chief.
“Illinois was in the same division and Brig. Gen. Hill had a vacancy on his staff. Major McCoy was assigned to Hill’s brigade as adjutant. In France, Hill, as a major, served under McCoy when the latter was colonel of the 128th.” (“Went Over Sea” 2) [added 22 Dec. ’14, TPB]
line was pushed steadily forward until, on 17 October, it extended across our
sector about 2 km north of Romagne. Late in the afternoon of 19 October, the
order came for the 89TH Division to take over the 32D’s sector. That night the relief was made
Troops of the 64TH Inf. Brigade, 32D Div., advancing during Meuse-Argonne drive, 18 Oct. 1918.
"Les Terribles" of the 32D Div. in pursuit of the rapidly retreating enemy.
A support line of the 64TH Inf. Brigade, 32D Div.
Troops of 2D Bn. 125TH Inf., 32D Div. leaving the front line after 20 days, 20 Oct. 1918.
During this period it had rained almost continuously, the fields were knee deep in mud and the nights were always raw and cold. There was scarcely an hour of the day or night that they were not under fire. The struggle was over the most difficult terrain that any soldiers in the Great War were ever asked to conquer. There were commanding hills where the enemy could make his stand, deep, open ravines that he swept with machine guns and filled with gas, patches of weeds tangled with wire and covered by machine guns, open spaces where the enemy had perfect observation which could only be crossed with heavy losses. The enemy was well supplied with machine guns and artillery. He was familiar with every detail of the country where the fighting took place. During these three weeks the Division had 6,046 losses from all causes, including: 1,179 killed and died of wounds, 1006 severely wounded, 3,321 slightly wounded, 554 gassed, 149 missing. In the approach and penetration of the Kriemhilde line the 32D Division met and vanquished 11 German Divisions, including the 5TH Prussian Guards, the 3D Prussian Guards, the 28TH Division (known as the “Kaiser’s Own”), the 37TH, 52D, 115TH, 39TH, 123D, 236TH, 41ST and 13TH Divisions. During this time the 79TH, 3D and 5TH Divisions had occupied the sector on our right and the 91ST, 1ST and 42D Divisions the sector on our left. The 32D Division had captured 28 officers and 1,067 men, 2 pieces of heavy artillery, 6 pieces of light artillery, 51 trench mortars, 50 machine guns and 800 rifles. The total depth of advance was 8 1/2 km.
The Division remained in reserve of V Corps until 1 November 1918, when it was transferred to III Corps, on the eve of the renewal of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. When the 89TH, 90TH and 5TH Divisions jumped off in the big attack and started their successful drive up the left bank of the Meuse, the 32D followed them in close support and ready to go to the relief of any one of them.
The 57TH Field Artillery Brigade, which had supported the 79TH in the opening of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive on 26 September, remained in the sector when the 3D Division relieved the 79TH, until the 3D’s artillery could get into position. During this time other artillery units were supporting the 32D. On 7 October the 57TH reverted to the 32D and supported their comrades of “Les Terribles” until the 89TH took over their front. In spite of its long tour of duty and its heavy losses in horses, the 57TH Brigade was held in the line to support the 89TH Division and fired in the barrage that opened the 1 November attack. But now, as the First Army surged forward in victory, the 57TH Brigade was without the motive power to follow, and was withdrawn for refitting. The 158TH Artillery Brigade temporarily took the place of the 57TH.
On 4 November the 5TH Division, which was fighting on the right flank of the III Corps front, forced a crossing of the river at Dun-sur-Meuse and formed a bridgehead there. Now an effort would be made to link up with the French and American divisions which had been driving up the right bank of the river, but considerably behind the III Corps front. The 5TH Division, however, was too widely dispersed on its front to make the contact required on its right flank. So, on the night of 5 November the Corps ordered the 32D Division to send a regiment to report to the 5TH Division for use in support of the right flank. The 128TH was designated for this duty and crossed the Meuse that night. On 6 November the 128TH was in position on the right flank of the 5TH but the desired contact was still not made. On 7-8 November the 128TH attacked, capturing the town of Brandeville and finally connecting with the 17TH French Colonial Division.
On 6 November Col. Joseph B. Westnedge, commander of the 126TH Inf., after several days of urging by the Regt. Surgeon and other officers, was admitted to hospital for “severe cold, aggravated by gas burns of the lungs, had brought on bronchitis and kindred diseases that made it imperative that he receive medical attention without delay.” He was succeeded in command by Lt. Col. Henry A. Meyer on 6 Nov. '18. Lt. Col Meyer was relieved of command on 8 Nov. '18, succeeded by Lt. Col. Elliot Caziarc, who had been appointed 2nd in command of the 126TH Inf. on 5 Nov. '18 but was not immediately available on 6 Nov. [added 14 Jul. ’15, TPB]
Col. Westnedge was evacuated to Base Hosp. No. 11 at Nantes on 11 Nov. '18. He DD on 29 Nov. '18, “pneumonia and other complications induced by gas burns.” He was the highest ranking casualty of the Div. during the war and was posthumously bestowed with the Distinguished Service Medal, Silver Star Citation, and Croix de Guerre. Refer to the Division Roll of Honor for additional information about him. [added 14 Jul. ’15, TPB]
On 9 November orders were received for the remainder of the 32D Division to cross the Meuse and go into the line in the sector the 128TH was holding, between the 5TH Division and the 17TH French Colonials. The 32D crossed on the pontoon bridge during the night of 9 November. The 128TH reverted to the 32D and went into the line on the right of the new Division sector with the 127TH on the left.
The attack was set for 0600 hours on 10 November 1918. Information from Corps stated that the Germans were retreating, so the Division accordingly went into battle in pursuit formation. The 64TH Brigade furnished the advance guard, while the 63D Brigade, with most of the artillery and the divisional troops, made up the main body. A heavy fog hid the advance. The 1ST Battalion of the 128TH, which was leading the column, made rapid progress. They encountered enemy troops almost at once, but fought their way through the Bois Pommepre and part way up a hill called the Cote de Mont. A combat liaison group on the right, which was there to maintain contact with the French Colonials, advanced even farther.
At about this time the fog lifted and the 128TH discovered that instead of pursuing a fleeing enemy they had fought their way right into the middle of a strong German position which the enemy apparently had no intention of abandoning. The fog had prevented the Germans from effectively defending their works, and the only clashes of the early morning had occurred when our advancing doughboys happened on groups of the enemy. As the mist cleared the advanced guard found itself surrounded by German machine gun nests, which the 128TH had passed by in the thick morning fog. The German artillery, hearing the sudden rattle of machine guns, opened up with a barrage where the front line ought to have been, and the Americans, seeing shells bursting to their rear, thought their own artillery was falling short. It was immediately apparent that liaison had been lost on both the left and right, and that neither the 127TH on the left nor the French Colonials on the right had been able to advance as rapidly as the 128TH. Our men were almost completely surrounded, unable to go ahead against an opposition that was showing increasing strength, subjected to a galling flanking fire by machine guns where they were, and confronted with the alternative of filtering back through a barrage that they feared was thickened by both their own and the enemy artillery. But in a pinch they proved themselves veterans, and in good order made their way back to a position on a line with the units on the right and left.
In the meantime the 127TH on the left had moved forward cautiously, encountering considerable machine gun resistance, which increased as the troops advanced. As they approached the River Thinte, minenwerfers made further gains impossible and they organized to hold the line, having gained 3 km during the day.
By nightfall it was apparent that the information that the enemy was retreating was erroneous, and arrangements were immediately made to adopt different tactics. Reports coming back from divisions on our right and left indicated that they too had been able to make little progress and that they too had found that the enemy was not retreating. The artillery, which had been coming into position all day, was informed of the conditions that the 128TH had encountered and the positions that were holding up the 127TH. Fire was ordered on points of apparent enemy strength and plans were made for a formal attack to dislodge the enemy. The Division Commander made a personal reconnaissance of the front line to verify reports of the situation and, after conferring with the commanders of the front line troops, a plan of action for the next day was decided upon. The Corps issued instructions to continue operations on 11 November, and preparation for an attack to occur at 0700 11 November were perfected early in the evening of 10 November. Orders were issued to the artillery to keep up a heavy barrage during the night that was to increase in volume early in the morning and gather into a barrage to precede the scheduled advance of the infantry.
Out in front the troops were tired and cold and wet and miserable. During the day the 128TH’s casualties had been heavy and the morale had not been improved by the unfortunate foray in the fog. The 127TH had spent the night before on a long hike over horrible roads to get into position and the day had been spent in a struggle against a wicked machine gun resistance. Most of the night of 10-11 November was spent getting units into position to go over the top in another drive.
When daybreak came on 11 November 1918, the units of the 32DDivision were ready, all set to deliver one of the blows for which “Les Terribles” were becoming more and more famous. Finally, the last relief was verified, the last reports that all was in readiness had been sent back to regimental and brigade headquarters. Overhead the preparatory fire of our artillery was shrieking toward the German lines and the enemy, conscious of the impending attack, was raining shells on where he thought our assault troops might be forming and on the back areas where the support troops were concentrated, ready to follow up the shove. At 0630 officers in command of the take-off line were issuing their last instructions. Fifteen minutes later they were looking at their wrist watches, with the calm deliberation of veterans who had a day’s work ahead of them, a day’s work the like of which they had done before, a disagreeable, dangerous day’s work, but it was all in a day’s work – “c’est la Guerre!”
Five minutes to seven! The men started to stir around, getting a toehold for the take-off, shaking their equipment into place, and gripping their guns. Seven o’clock and some of them were off, over the top. Others had been stopped just in the nick of time, and after the advancing skirmish lines of those who had gotten away went panting runners from headquarters with the magic words:
In spite of this, the Roll of Honor of the 32D Division
contains the names of many of its soldiers who were killed in action on 11
November 1918. In the evening of the Armistice Day, General Haan, in a letter
to his wife, wrote: “This morning we resumed the attack at 6:30 which we
had stopped last night after dark. At 7 we received orders to stop the battle.
That was some job too. We got it stopped entirely at 10:45, just 15 minutes
before the armistice went into effect. One of my chaplains was killed at 10:40.
That Chaplain’s name was 1st Lt. William F. Davitt, the Chaplain
of the 125TH Infantry. He was
from Chicopee, MA. Chaplain Davitt
became the 32D Division’s last KIA of the war when he was KIA at
1040 hours on 11 Nov. ’18 near the Regt. CP at Ecurey. There are numerous, varied stories regarding
the circumstances of his death: some sources state the time was 1045 or 0945
hours, cause of death ranges from sniper to artillery shrapnel, some references
state he poked his head above the trench to wave the flag, others state he had
just exited the CP after presenting a flag to the Regt. Cdr., others state he
had just climbed down from a tree after suspending the flag to celebrate the
nearing cease fire. His battlefield
funeral was officiated by Chaplain George S. L. O'Connor, who had recently been
promoted from Senior Chaplain, 32D Div. to Senior Chaplain, III
Corps, the two were college classmates and close friends. Some believe that he was the last American
Soldier to fall on the battlefield, but that claim is disputed. It is generally accepted that he was the last
American officer to be killed though.
He had graduated Chicopee H. S. in 1903 and graduated College of the Holy Cross in 1907. He was a renowned football player and team captain; also wrestled and played basketball; accumulated numerous trophies. He was ordained at Grand Seminary, Montreal, CAN, in Dec. '11. Father David was the former assistant pastor of St. Ann’s Catholic Parish in Lenox, MA. He was also a member of the Knights of Columbus, Holyoke Council, and served as a Knights of Columbus chaplain at Camp MacArthur, TX, until he was commissioned and assigned to the 120TH Machine Gun Battalion. Later he was assigned as regimental chaplain for the 125TH Infantry. Chaplain Davitt earned Distinguished Service Cross or Distinguished Service Medal for his efforts along the Vesle River on 6 Aug. '18; he organized and led a group of volunteers to rescue 40 wounded Soldiers isolated in a ravine. He also earned Croix de Guerre with palm for his actions between the Ourcq and the Vesle from 31 Jul. to 6 Aug. ‘18. He was assigned special duty of chief burial officer for V Corps on 23 Sep. '18 and was cited by Maj. Gen. Summerall, V Corps Cdr., “for faithful and conscientious performance of duty and for extreme coolness under shell fire in the performance of his duty as Acting Chief Burial Officer, V Corps, during the Meuse-Argonne Operations.” Chaplain Davitt also earned Silver Star Citation 4 Oct. '18 for braving heavy shell fire to bury the dead near Courmont.
His brother, 1st Lt. James L. Davitt, served as an aviator in France with the 94TH Aero Squadron, commanded by Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker. The two brothers were only five miles apart when Chaplain Davitt was killed.
Chaplain Davitt lies interred at Calvary Cemetery, Holyoke, MA, and is also memorialized on Chaplain’s Hill at Arlington National Cemetery. He is the namesake of the William F. Davitt Post No. 625 of VFW. Davitt Square in Worcester, MA, was named in his honor. He is memorialized on Chaplain’s Hill at Arlington National Cemetery. A song, “Father William Francis Davitt World War Martyr”, was composed to honor him by William Kimberley Palmer in 1934. Davitt Cottage at the Lyman School for Boys, where he had been in charge of Catholic religious instruction, was dedicated in his honor. The Davitt Memorial Bridge in Chicopee was dedicated in his honor when it was built in 1931, it was rebuilt in 2013 and rededicated in his honor on Veteran’s Day that year. [updated 18 Aug. ’15, TPB]
Some of the other 32D Division Soldiers who died on the last morning of the war on 11 November 1918 included:
Pvt. Guiseppe Basta, Co. B, 121ST MG Bn., CT, KIA;
Pvt. Robert Blanford, Co. A, 128TH Inf., West Louisville, KY, KIA;
Pvt. Willie Blevins, Co. A, 128TH Inf., Incline, KY, KIA;
Sgt. Ralph B. Clemens, Battery A, 322D FA, Dayton, OH, KIA;
Cpl. Paul F. Cole, Co. D, 127TH Inf., Fayetteville, PA, DW;
Pvt. Oscar M. Dahl, Co. E, 128TH Inf., Thief River Falls, MN, MIA;
Pvt. Joseph H. Farmer, Co. C, 128TH Inf., Downsville, LA, KIA;
Pvt. Thomas L. Foley, Co. H, 128TH Inf., Clinton, MO, DW;
Pvt. Glenn S. Frederickson, HQ Co., 127TH Inf., Warsaw, IN, KIA;
Pvt. Henry P. Harper, Co. A, 128TH Inf., Scott, AR, KIA;
Pfc. Roscoe Hawkins, Co. L, 127TH Inf., Murrayville, IL, DW;
Pvt. George Henniger, 128TH Inf., DW;
Pvt. James McDonald, Co. D, 128TH Inf., Livingston, IL, DW;
Pfc. Wayman J. McGregor, Co. M, 127TH Inf., Abrams, WI, WNG, KIA;
Cpl. Hugh P. Minehan, Co. M, 127TH Inf., Garrison, ND, KIA;
Sgt. Otto Perlick, Co. H, 128TH Inf., Detroit, MI, KIA.
Some of the other 32D Division Soldiers who were WIA on 11 November and later DW included:
Cpl. Clarence E. Johnson, a Wisconsin National Guard Soldier from Rhinelander, WI and assigned to Co. L, 127TH Inf., was WIA on 11 Nov. and DW on 13 Nov.
Capt. Ralph Haney Perry, a Wisconsin National Guard officer from Algoma, WI and commander of Co. B, 128TH Inf., was WIA on 11 Nov. and DW on 22 Nov.
“Les Terribles” of 64TH Brigade, 32D Div. discuss the armistice immediately after 1100 hours on 11 Nov. ‘18 at Ecurey.
Maj. Gen. Haan (center) and Brig. Gen. E. B. Winans congratulate officers and NCO’s of 127TH Inf., 32D Div., at Brehville on 12 Nov. ‘18.
The war was won, the Allies victorious, but at what cost? The 32D ‘Red Arrow’ Division suffered 2,624 Soldiers Killed-in-Action (KIA) or Died-of-Wounds (DW); 100 Soldiers are still Missing-in-Action (MIA); 308 Soldiers who were non-battle casualties (Died-of-Disease (DD), Drowned (DR), Died-of Accident (ACC), or other unspecified causes; and 10,813 Soldiers who were Wounded-in-Action (WIA). Please visit the Roll of Honor in order to see the names of those who gave their lives.
On 17 November 1918, as one of the leading elements of the Third Army, the 32D Division crossed what had been its front line on 11 November and started on its long march to the Rhine. On our right marched the 1ST Division, veterans of many battles, and on our left was the 2D Division of regular doughboys and Marines. Behind us followed the 42D Division, the famous “Rainbows”, who on the Ourcq and in the Argonne had fought side by side with the 32D. These four divisions, generally considered the flower of the American Army in France, were in the III Corps, which had been through all the major offensives where American troops were employed, and was regarded as the elite corps of the Army. In this brilliant company it is no wonder that our men stepped off toward Germany with their heads high and the pride of good soldiers in their hearts.
The Division took to the roads, marching in two columns. There were no ceremonies, though the bands played the 32D Division March and other triumphant pieces as the various regiments got under way. Except for the bands, the march was conducted at all times as in the presence of the enemy. The attitude of higher authority was that war conditions still prevailed, and the field orders issued by III Corps prescribed advance guards, indicated out post zones and lines of resistance to be established at the end of each day, and ordered that adequate measures be taken for the security of the command, both on the front and on the flanks. Cavalry was provided for advance scouting and maintaining liaison with the divisions on either flank of the 32D, which were going forward about the same distance each day on parallel roads. The average distance marched by the foot troops was 20 km.
The first villages encountered were practically uninhabited; the country was desolate and shot up by the artillery fire of the last days of the war. After a couple of hours of progress, signs of life became evident in the villages, regimental colors and standards were displayed, and the bands played as the troops marched through the towns at attention. Otherwise the movement was much like an ordinary practice march.
The plan for the march to the Rhine was that the forward movement of the Americans should be by “bounds”, a “bound” to consist of two or three days marching followed by a couple of days of rest. Longwy, a sizable manufacturing town in the iron and steel district of Lorraine, was the objective of the first bound of the 32D, and was reached on 18 November. The town had been relinquished two weeks before by the Headquarters of General von Gallwitz, commander of the Third German Army Group, whose many divisions had opposed the advance of the First American Army on the Meuse. The entire population of the town was in attendance of a ceremony to welcome the 32D Division. After one day rest at Longwy the march was resumed, and on 20 November the Americans crossed the border into Luxembourg.
At Longwy General Haan learned that he had been selected to command the VII Army Corps, which was formed to go to Germany as the reserve of the Army of Occupation. That same day Major General William Lassiter, formerly chief of First Army Artillery, arrived under orders to take command of the 32D. General Haan accompanied the Division across the Luxembourg border, and then relinquished command to General Lassiter.
On 21 November General Pershing made a triumphant entry into the City of Luxembourg, with part of the 1ST Division as an escort. The 32D Division marched through the suburbs of the town to reach its billeting areas in the vicinity of the capital. Colors and standards were uncased, and the men marched to the cadence of the regimental bands. The Division P.C. that day was located in a chateau owned by the Grand Duchess, who had invited the American Commander to occupy her property.
On 23 November 1918, the Division reached the German border on the Saar River. We had overtaken the retiring German Army. The Corps announced that the movement would halt on the German frontier until 1 December, as required by the terms of the Armistice. The time intervening was to be devoted to cleaning up, the issuing of such equipment and supplies as could be secured, and the inevitable and hated training schedule.
On 1 December the march was resumed, the Division used three bridges to cross the Saar into German territory. The Division’s second crossing of the pre-war German frontier was as unostentatious as was the first, down in Alsace over six months before. At first the German civilians were restrained, even fearful, of the Americans because they were not sure how they would be treated by the Americans. After they learned that the Americans were not going to do harm to their persons or property, they became more affable. They seemed to do everything possible to make the soldiers comfortable.
On the first day’s march on German soil, the Division advanced about 15 km, as the crow flies. The troops marched about 20 km due the hilly terrain. On 2 December the front was advanced another 10 km, on an air line, the troops themselves marched almost twice that distance over extremely rugged country. The march was continued on 3 December. On the 4th we rested and on the 5th started out again on a three day hike, again over some difficult terrain. On 5 December the Division Headquarters moved from Speicher to Daun. The marching on 5-7 December was over the most difficult terrain the Division encountered during their march to the Rhine. Good roads were scarce and some of the grades encountered were quite steep. On some of these steep grades, the men had to pitch in to help pull their transportation up after them. The transportation was mostly horse-drawn supply wagons and artillery. The march was made more difficult by the scarce supply of shoes to replace the mostly unserviceable ones the men were wearing. The rest of the march would be a little easier because the Division was entering the more level terrain of the Rhine valley. On 9 December Division Headquarters moved from Müllenbach to Mayen. On 10 December it moved to Ochtendung.
On 11 December 1918 the 32D Division reached the Rhine, where the Moselle meets the Rhine, opposite Coblenz. The city itself was not entered by our troops because it was outside the Corps sector. The Division P.C. was moved to a beautiful chateau at Bassenheim.
The day of 12 December was a day of rest. The Division would cross the Rhine at the Engers Bridge on 13 December. To the 127TH Infantry went the honor of being the first to cross, at 0700 hrs. Division Headquarters moved from Bassenheim to Sayn.
The Division began to occupy its
sector of the Coblenz Bridgehead on 14 December; the occupation would be
completed on 18 December, after a couple of minor adjustments. The 32D Division’s sector covered a front of 30
km to a depth of 20 km. The troops were billeted in, or occupied as outposts,
63 towns. On the left, the 125TH Infantry Regiment took over the
line of observation and established liaison with the 2D Division. On
the right, the 127TH Infantry Regiment covered the line of observation
and the 128TH established outposts in the center of the sector. On 18
December the 32D Division P.C. was moved from Sayn to Rengsdorf.
127TH Inf. at official inspection by Gen. John J. Pershing Selters, Germany, 22 Dec. 1918, at left officers of regiment with COL Russell C. Langdon, C.O., nearest camera.
Staff of 127TH Inf. at Selters, Germany on 22 Dec. 1918, left to right: COL Russel C. Langdon, C. O.; LTC Philip J. Zink; CPT Martin Ackerson, Adjt.; CPT Edward J. Gegf, Operations Officer; 1LT Edward A. Carroll, Personnel Adjt.; and 1LT Guy V. Anderson, Supply Officer.
Life in the Coblenz Bridgehead was, as the doughboys put it, “not at all hard to take.” They had better billets than they had “enjoyed” in France. Most of them had beds. The food, while “army straight,” was excellent. There was, of course, too much of the hateful training to suit anybody, but as the Third Army got “oriented,” things took on a more pleasant aspect. There were athletics for all who desired outdoor recreation. There were also soldier shows, and the Y.M.C.A. furnished professional talent to while away the long evening hours.
Fraternization with the Germans was strictly prohibited and rigidly enforced. The French “defendu” and the German “verboten” were easy words compared to the “Lay off!” which the American Military Police hissed when a doughboy smiled, perchance, at a German “madchen” of more or less surpassing loveliness, or slipped a bit of chocolate to a roly-poly German youngster, or passed a neighborly “Guten Abend” to the motherly German matron with whom he was billeted. But orders were orders, and the doughboys managed to get along pleasantly with the citizens of the Rhineland without becoming unduly chummy with anybody. However, the anti-fraternization order made for a lot of homesickness. We all wanted to go home; wanted that trip across the ocean more than we wanted anything else; but the general sentiment was summed up by a stalwart sergeant of the 127TH Infantry who wore a D.S.C., and who made speech one night to some of his homesick comrades, which ran about as follows:
“I sure want to go home, but let me tell you fellows that right now I am just where I wanted to be when, back in 1917, just after war was declared, I enlisted in the National Guard. And I got here in a lot better shape than I expected, and a lot sooner than I expected. And the circumstances of my being here are just what my fondest hopes pictured. Of course, it may have been Berlin instead of Coblenz I was thinking of at the time, but that’s a detail. Sure I want to go home, but I’m so blamed well satisfied about getting here at all that I’m willing to be patient with Uncle Sam and wait until he says the job is finished. Then I know he’ll send us home.”
About the middle of February the announcement was made that the 32D would sail in May. At first it was planned to send the homeward bound Army of Occupation divisions down the Rhine to a Dutch port to embark from there, but finally it was decided that the scheme was impracticable.
On 15 March 1919, General Pershing again reviewed the 32D Division, this time near Dierdorf, Germany, and again he bestowed his compliments on the Division.
On 8 April 1919, the 32D Division was officially relieved from duty with III Corps and Third Army and would begin preparations to return home.
On 18 April 1919 the 32D Division started moving back from the Rhine, across France to Brest, on the first leg of the Homeward journey. At the same time the announcement was made that General Lassiter had asked to remain in France, and that General Haan was to take the Division home. General Lassiter was assigned to command the Third Army Artillery, and General Haan joined the Division at Brest, after making an automobile tour to the sections of the western front over which his Division had fought.
On 1 May the first troops of the Division were on the Atlantic, and by 15 May all but the casuals had left France.
Arriving in the United States, largely in regimental detachments, a great reception was accorded “Les Terribles.” Delegations from Wisconsin and Michigan met the incoming steamers in the harbor.
On 4 May the steamer Wilhelmina reached Boston carrying the 120TH Field Artillery, the 57TH Field Artillery Brigade HQ, and some non-divisional personnel. The 120TH FA was commanded by Col. Carl Penner, from Milwaukee. Their welcoming committee from Wisconsin included Capt. J. Tracey Hale, from Milwaukee and who had been sent home earlier after being severely wounded in action 11 Sep. ’18 with the 125TH Inf., and Harry Stratton, president of the Milwaukee Chamber of Commerce. [added 8 Dec. ’14, TPB]
On 5 May the 119TH Field Artillery landed at Hoboken, NJ. [added 8 Jan. ’15, TPB]
On 21 May the battleship Virginia arrived at Newport News, VA transporting the 107TH Train Headquarters, 107TH Supply Train, and the majority of the 107TH Sanitary Train. They were escorted for the last 12 miles into port by a tugboat transporting a welcoming committee of some prominent Milwaukeeans including Louis Kotecki, Col. Peter Piasecki and about fifty others.
The various detachments debarked at New York and Boston, and went to Camps Devens, Mills, Merritt, Upton and Dix, where they were separated into detachments and sent to the camps nearest their homes. The largest parties, of course, were sent to Camp Custer, Michigan and Camp Grant, at Rockford Illinois. The arriving Michigan troops informally paraded in Detroit, Grand Rapids, Port Huron, Kalamazoo and others of their “home towns” before being mustered out of service. In Wisconsin a Red Arrow Day was set aside, and on 5 June 1919 the returning Wisconsin warriors were given an enthusiastic formal welcome and parades in Milwaukee, the state metropolis.
The 32D Division was broken up – gone – but arrangements had been made for perpetuating its memory, for renewing its associations in the years to come. During the Armistice Days on the Rhine a “Thirty-second Division Veteran Association” was formed, officers elected, members recorded, and plans perfected for continuing during the years to come the spirit which led “Les Terribles” to success on the battlefields of France in the great year of 1918.
The 32D Division would again be organized and recognized as an active National Guard Division, in Wisconsin and Michigan, in 1920. The Wisconsin National Guard was reactivated during 1920-21, and the Wisconsin State Guard was disbanded.
Gansser, Emil B. History of the 126TH Infantry in the War With Germany. Grand Rapids, MI: 126TH Infantry Association, A. E. F., 1920.
Haan, William G., Major General. “The Division as a Fighting Machine”. The Wisconsin Magazine of History. Vol. 4. Iss. 1. Menasha, WI: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1920.
Hanton, Carl, Captain. The 32nd Division in the World War. Madison, WI: Wisconsin War History Commission, 1920.
Hill, Jim Dan, Major General, Retired. The Minute Man in Peace and War. Harrisburg: The Stackpole Company, 1964.
Moore, Samuel Taylor. “The General Died a Major.” The American Legion Magazine. Ed. John T. Winterich. Vol. 25. No. 3. Chicago, IL: The American Legion, Sep. 1938.
Moore, William and Russell, James. U.S. Official Pictures of the World War - Showing America's Participation. Washington, DC: Pictorial Bureau, 1920.
Nenninger, Timothy K. “John J. Pershing and Relief for Cause in the American Expeditionary Forces, 1917-1918.” Army History. Ed. Charles Hendricks. PB 20-04-2. No. 61. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Army Center of Military History, Spring 2005.
Penner, Carl, and Sammond, Frederic, and Appel, H. M. The 120th Field Artillery Diary. Milwaukee, WI: Hammersmith-Kortmeyer Co., 1928.
Souvenir of the First Annual Reunion of the 32nd Division (Les Terribles). Milwaukee, WI: 121ST F. A. Veterans’ Association, 1920.
“Went Over Sea as a General: Killed
as Major in 32nd.” Wisconsin National
Guard Review. Ed. Col. T. Byron
Beveridge. Vol. 12. No. 6.
Madison, WI: Wisconsin National Guard Publicity Board, Nov. 1935.
revised 18 August 2015
created 27 February 1999