The Hindenburg Line
September 29, 1918
By MJ Hanley-Goff and Frank Licameli
Walter Allison, a graduate of Newburgh Free Academy probably did not know what hit him when wounded in the stomach on September 29, 1918. He lay in a shallow shell hole, bleeding, not far from where his commander lay mortally wounded. Two lieutenants urged the men of E Company of the 107th Infantry Regiment on, but they too were cut down, as bullets ripped through the air, shells exploded all about them wiping out an entire squad and Allison's classmate Everett Baker. Smoke and chemical gas drifted through the air as the few remaining sergeants, corporals and privates carried on the fight, and the brutal battle to break the Hindenburg Line continued.
One hundred years since that day, we remember the steadfastness of the Orange County soldiers who offered their lives to break the formidable German defensive line in a daylong battle that, though filled with unforeseen mishaps, saw bravery to the highest degree. The historical record showed that the soldiers from Orange County who died as a result of that terrible day numbered around forty, but now, thanks to additional research, six more names have been identified, bringing the total to forty-six.
Standing (left to right) are Cyril Engelbride, Sterrit Keefe, Howard Rogers, Bernard Martin, Walter Allison. In the lower row are John T. Kenney, Edward Shay and Arthur Leghorn. All five of the men in uniform were killed in action in France.
So much has been written about America's wars, and from WWII onwards remains within recent memory, yet the further back along the timeline we go, the bravery and resiliency of our soldiers in WWI fade further into ancient history. We, as a nation, especially in this centennial year, cannot let this be. Come this September, we invite everyone: citizens of Orange County, the descendants of those from that Battle and WWI; from the Hudson Valley, the State of New York, and beyond, and especially our honored Veterans to join us and visit these battlefields. We will lay a wreath at Flanders Field in Waregem, Belgium, not far from where they experienced their first combat action. We will lay another at Somme American Cemetery at Bony, France, to remember those who gave their all in one of the most brutal battles of the war, where after fifty-six hours of heavy fighting, hundreds of New York State soldiers lay wounded, dead or dying. What at first seemed like a failed effort, actually helped turn the tide of the war, with Germany surrendering soon after, on the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month of 1918.
Frank Licameli, an independent military historian from Orange County, explains, "In the Spring of 1918, the Germans were aware that many American troops would soon be coming into the war to fight alongside the Allies (made up of the United Kingdom, France, Russia, and Italy). The Germans pushed their offensive as far westward as they could, to within 40 miles of Paris, and captured as much land as possible. By summer, the Allies, now with a growing contingent of American forces, turned the tide and were slowly pushing them back. The Germans gradually retired to their 'impenetrable' defensive line, named for German Field Marshall Paul von Hindenburg. The Hindenburg Line was a massive defense in depth, with reinforced concrete bunkers and trench lines, fields of barbed wire, machine gun nests, and minefields. It formed a 400-mile line, stretching from Belgium in the north, across eastern France, and to Switzerland in the south." Breaking this line would puncture the morale of the German army, create access into Germany, and hopefully, bring a conclusion to the war which had been raging for four years.
Allison and Baker were members of one of the county's National Guard companies, two from Newburgh and one from Middletown, that were called into service in 1917. During training in South Carolina, these units were folded into what became the famed 107th Infantry Regiment of New York's 27th Division. Upon arrival in France in late May 1918, they trained for close combat. They learned trench warfare techniques and how to work closely with tanks. Unlike most American units that fought directly under General John J. "Blackjack" Pershing, they would be fighting under British command, and so were outfitted with British weapons and equipment, and rations. After transitioning into front line combat in Belgium, these American soldiers were ready to do their part in what would become known as the, "Hundred Days Offensive."
In late September, they were transported to within a few miles of the front near Allaines, France. Orders came down from division, through the regiment, to the battalions, and finally the companies. Theywere given their objective - break through the Hindenburg Line at all costs. They were finally going "Over the Top." There would be no stopping to care for wounded, clear trenches, or take prisoners. Others would handle that. Their mission was to keep moving forward. The next night they tramped in silence past the village of Ronssoy and edged to within a few hundred yards of the German lines. Through the next day, they tried to rest in sunken roads, trenches, and shell holes while German gas and explosive shells landed among them. And they waited, and it rained. Artillery batteries set up just behind them. If they dared to look through the smoke and mist, they could see the rolling fields they would cross to the German outpost line between two German strong points, the "Knoll" on their left, and Guillemont Farm on their right. More than a mile away, was the main Hindenburg Line, beyond which they would cross over and pass the ridge at the northern entrance to the three-mile long St. Quentin Canal Tunnel to their objective. The canal, which flowed through a deep gorge just behind the Hindenburg Line, was a huge obstacle. If they could break through here, tanks and equipment could stream over the tunnel ridge and get behind the German lines. They waited. The "stunt" as the soldiers called it, would begin that morning, Sunday, 29 September. At twilight, they marched to their starting positions on the tape. It was now dawn. Their war was truly about to begin. "Zero hour" at 5:50am was suddenly announced by an earthquake-like roar. The world seemed to explode as the tremendous allied artillery and machine gun barrage roared over them. The men moved out to their destiny.
Ezra Travis died from his wounds at an Army Casualty Clearing Station in the hours after the barrage
Imagine waves rolling onto the beach, explains Licameli, that was how the battle might appear. In the 3rd Battalion sector of the 107th Regiment, the first wave, consisting of Company I, from Middletown and Company L, from Newburgh, advanced by platoons and squads. Then, as their line started to dissipate, the second line of the first wave, from Companies M and K, 50-yards to their rear but already in motion, moved forward, mixing with or passing through them. They in turn were followed by the lead wave from 2ndbattalion's Company E, from Newburgh and Company H, who were then followed by Companies F and G. And behind them would be others, followed by the Australians. Wave after wave doggedly moved forward through the hail of singing lead and screaming shrapnel, to then crash against the German lines. As one faltered or fell back, another would take over.
Thomas Carroll, wounded 17 times, made it back to New York before succumbing to pneumonia in an army hospital
The rolling artillery barrage that preceded the assaulting forces crept forward at a rate of 100 yards every three minutes. It was designed to disrupt the Germans and breakup the barbed wire obstacles for the waves of soldiers who would follow closely behind. However, in the 107th sector, an unfortunate circumstance resulted in this protective barrage beginning so far ahead-over 1200 yards-as to be barely discernible as it passed harmlessly over the enemy wire and machine gun positions of the outpost line.
A concerted effort by huge British tanks, crewed by Americans, would provide some support and protection by driving through and opening lanes in the barbed wire, and by sending concentrated fire ahead of these 'waves' to allow them to move forward. However, during a battle, mishaps occur, even the most well thought out plan will have its weaknesses; the Americans driving the tanks, unbeknownst to them, drove onto British mine fields resulting in the near total elimination of that crucial support. This occurrence, plus other miscalculations, caused the 107th to have little or no protection as they crossed a mile of open terrain, a modern day version of Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg. But this time facing not just rifles and artillery, but murderous machine gun fire, immense barbed wire obstacles, and poison gas.
When the day was done, as many as 85% of the men in some companies were dead, dying or wounded. Some, like Ezra Travis, made it back to an American Casualty Clearing Station before expiring. One soldier described how, "After two more trying days and nights in our newly won positions, filled with our own and German dead, mostly in the rain, and always under shell fire, we were relieved." While many survived, some were broken physically and spiritually. They eventually learned that the line in front of the St. Quentin Canal Tunnel had been breached and American, Australian, and British forces were pouring into the German rear area and taking thousands of prisoners. Despite such a grueling day, it ended as a momentous success. When you hear Licameli explain it, there were so many factors involved, so many moving parts, that to list all of the events in this one battle, is near to impossible. However, what needs to be known is that for hour upon hour, Orange County soldiers, mostly young men in their 20's, were engaged in a daylong assault against the military might of the Axis powers. Many died that day; others in the days after from their wounds. Some died from machine gun, sniper, or artillery fire, while others slowly and painfully succumbed to the deadly poison gas. Some lingered for months. Thomas Carroll came home severely injured, by one account, wounded 17 times, and as a result of complications, died five months later from pneumonia. Without the proper protection, with many miles to go between their starting point and their objective, the heart of these soldiers never wavered.
The November 11th Armistice which brought World War I to a close is now recalled as Veterans Day, but here, 29 September will always be Orange County Veterans Memorial Day.
Walter Allison's 'Newburgh Free Academy' classmates brought his football sweater home from the battlefield after it was discovered in a pile of the fallen soldier's personal belongings.
"The Spring Offensive"
In December of 1917 peace talks between the Bolshevik government and the Central Powers began in Brest-Litovik and although a treaty would not be signed for three months, it opened up the possibility that the German soldiers on the eastern front could be relocated to fortify operations in France. At the same time, the US Army was beginning to arrive on European soil to reinforce the Allied forces. Although Congress had declared war in April of 1917, it had taken the US Army several months to raise, train and transport soldiers and supplies. With these diplomatic and operational factors in play, strategists on both sides of the war knew that getting their men to the front was imperative to having the advantage in the Spring.
Many of the commanders during the Great War had a connection to Orange County via their education at West Point Military Academy. In June 1917, an 1886 graduate of the Academy, General John Pershing arrived in Europe with 190 staff members but by the war's end was overseeing 1 million deployed troops. General Pershing assigned command of the 1st Division to a fellow classmate, General Robert L. Bullard, who arrived in France one hundred years ago this week. The US troops under Bullard's command experienced several attacks in the early months of 1918. In March, Newburgh soldier 1st Lt. Judson Galloway, was gassed during a raid alongside French troops. While recovering in a field hospital, Galloway was the first local soldier to be awarded the "Cross of War" for his heroics.
After several defensive engagements with the enemy in April and May, General Bullard commanded the first US-led attack at Cantigny on May 28, 1918. Two days later, enemy troops to the south, fought across the French countryside capturing 60,000 prisoners, 2,000 machine guns and 650 artillery pieces. They advanced to Chateau-Thierry -- only 50 miles from Paris. Alongside the French soldiers, local African-American men including Pvt. Horace Pippen from Goshen, serving in the 369th New York Infantry Regiment, fought so bravely that they earned the nickname the "Harlem-Hellfighters." One Marine battalion from the 3rd Division arrived in advance of the main US forces and took up position on the north side of the Marne River but they were cut off when French engineers blew up the bridge before they could reach it. They barely survived as they scrambled along the riverside to find an escape route. The rest of the 3rd Division, as well as the 2nd Division, arrived by June 3rd to counter attack and continued to block the enemy from reaching the French capital.
It was near here, in Belleau Woods, during the offensive on June 6, 1918, that 1st Lt. Judson Galloway exhibited another episode of "exceptional courage" as "after being mortally wounded, he continued to direct the steady advance of his platoon in the face of heavy machine-gun fire until struck a second time and killed." Galloway is still remembered locally in the naming of our chapter of the American Legion Post 152 and with the bit of soil from his grave carried back from Belleau Woods and placed at Washington's Headquarters where it is still marked with a memorial. On the same day as Galloway's death, Orange County also lost Corp. W. Allen Hoyt from Chester who served in the famed 3rd battalion of the Marine Corp. In the following week, another local Marine, 2nd Lt. James S. Timothy of Highland Falls, "was instantly killed by a high-explosive shell" and two infantrymen, Pvt. Louis C. Green of Middletown and Corp. Daniel O'Connor of Tuxedo Park died of their wounds.
More to come as we research the local soldiers of the Great War and prepare to send a memorial delegation to Belgium and France to honor the fallen in the centennial year.
Marshal Joffre visits Newburgh
by Lynn M. Burns
Historian Town of Deerpark
Tucked away in an 1897 book of poetic verses, I just found this 2"x5" silk ribbon bookmark. Who was Joffre and why was he being honored at this special occasion at Newburgh's Washington's Headquarters? The date was interesting as it was coming on its 101st anniversary, almost to the day.
Joseph Jacques C. Joffre was the Marshal of France and was known affectionately as "Papa." When the Great War broke out in August of 1914, he was in command of the French Army. He was hailed as the Hero of the Marne and became a household name across Europe and America. However, as the war slipped into that ghastly stalemate, Joffre was blamed for not preparing his army well enough to fight off the German onslaught. He was replaced by General Robert Nivelle and given the title of Marshal, in the hopes he would slip away quietly.
To Joffre's surprise the French Premier Alexander Ribot issued him a challenge to travel to America to garner support and expedite America's entrance into the war. The "Viviani Party' set sail April 15, 1917 and arrived at Hampton Road, Virginia on April 24th, where they were met by Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt. Joffre started a public relations campaign to endear U.S. citizens to join the French cause, reminding them of the historical ties the two countries had long shared. Behind the scenes, Joffre was negotiating and making recommendations on how best to utilize American troops. The party travelled to Washington D.C., St. Louis, Missouri, Lincoln's tomb in Illinois and Grant's tomb in New York. Back in Washington on May 10th, Joffre received word that most of his recommendations were to be adopted. On May 11, 1917, in his honor, a reception was held in Newburgh, NY at Washington's Headquarters. George Washington with his close ties to Lafayette and France were still an important influence even in 1917. By June 1st, the "Viviani Party" returned to France in triumph.
Orange County mobilizes, 1917
"Dark days ahead, and the first to face those days were the men of..."
One hundred years ago, Congress declared war. Although leaders in Washington, D.C. were working to prevent entering the ongoing global war, mobilization had in fact begun two months earlier in February of 1917. At that time, diplomatic relations had broken down when it was revealed that Germany was preparing to attack U.S. vessels at sea. On February 5th, President Wilson moved to protect the home front by activating the 1st and 10th Regiments of the New York National Guard. Companies within these regiments were comprised of Orange County men.
The guardsmen were given less than 24 hours notice to outfit for a winter campaign and leave the armory in Newburgh. Captain Rafael A. Egan marched the men down Broadway during a blizzard with snow above their knees; they boarded the ferry, crossed the river to Beacon and marched south to Peekskill. It was too cold for musicians to play as the soldiers were sent off. A second day of marching brought them to Tarrytown where they discovered the purpose of their destination. They were assigned to protect the New York City aqueduct system because German operatives were planning to blow up the dams and pump stations. The enemy's goal was to sever the water lines so there would be no relief when they then set fires throughout New York City. Company L stayed in Pleasantville and Company E eventually stretched all the way to New Paltz. Soldiers remained in huts and houses along the pipeline until August of 1917 when they were sent to bases in the south for combat training.
When a declaration of war was made by Congress on April 4th, the Newburgh Daily News published an article asking for the reformation of the famed "Orange Blossoms" volunteer regiment to lead the way to the enemy lines. New York State Governor Charles Whitman was contacted and he gave his approval of the plan saying it was "a fine and patriotic idea." Enrollment papers were placed at the offices of the Middletown Times Press, Goshen Democrat and Port Jervis Union within two day 23 men signed up. By April 20th Captain George E. Whitmore of Sloatsburg reported that over 150 men were organized to "emulate" the proud reputation of the old Orange Blossoms adding "we are going to the front and want to get there as quickly as possible." The group sent a letter to Theodore Roosevelt requesting that if he were approved to lead a regiment in France, that they would like to be his men.
However in early May, the War Department decided to organize National Guard and regular Army units rather than allow for local volunteer units. National Guard recruiters arrived to place many of those men into the 1st Regiment (soon to be the 107th) and the Navy set up an office in Newburgh as well. The recruiters were located at "the store of John Schoonmaker and Son, and at the same time Major Hamilton Fish, Jr., came here seeking recruits" for the 15th New York Regiment (soon to be the 369th), the first African-American regiment raised to serve in the Great War.
Prestigious diplomatic visitors arrived from Britain, France, Italy, Belguim and Russia within the weeks after war was declared. On May 11th former Governor Benjamin Odell and current Governor Charles Whitman met with the French General Joseph Joffre at Washington's Headquarters in Newburgh. He was in America to bring direct news from the battlefields and plea for reinforcements. In Newburgh on official State business, General Joffre was welcomed by a crowd of 10,000, made an honorary member of the Society of Cincinnati and given a commemorative medal (which is now on display at Washington's HQ museum). After expressing his deep reference for the site where George Washington and French General Comte de Rochembeau met and referencing the importance of Marquis de Lafayette's accomplishments during the Revolution, he departed for West Point by train.
In late July, the men of the 15th Regiment were called to service at Camp Whitman in Poughkeepsie where they learned basic military practices such as marching in formation. They were soon split into three battalions and sent to guard the rail lines throughout New York State.
The citizens of Newburgh held and clam bake at Orange Lake to bid farewell to the soldiers of the 1st regiment who were being sent to training camps to prepare for service in Europe. On August 19th soldiers of the 1st New York Regiment marched from the Armory to the Newburgh waterfront where they were then transported to Van Cortlandt Park to await other units. By late September they were moved to Camp Wadsworth in Spartanburg, SC where they would remain for the next 8 months.
On October 8th the soldiers of the 15th Regiment were transported to join the white soldiers from the 1st Regiment who had arrived at Camp Wadsworth in Spartanburg, SC for combat training a few weeks earlier. There the black soldiers faced racism from local shop owners and townspeople. One serious incident occurred when Sergeant Noble Sissle, an accomplished musician with the regiment band, was physically assaulted as he tried to purchase a newspaper in a segregated hotel. A group of white soldiers from New York came to his aid and "threatened to tear up the hotel lobby" but they were stopped by another black soldier and musician, Lieutenant James Reese Europe, who urged them to deescalate the situation. After only two weeks of combat training, markedly less than any of the white units, the 15th Regiment was sent back to New York to await transport to the front.
While at the training camp, on October 17, 2017, the 1st New York Regiment was combined with the 7th New York Regiment (the "Silk Stocking" Regiment of New York City) to create the 107th New York Regiment. This was done simply by having Companies E and L of each regiment join together as one. According to Company L's historian Harry T. Mitchell, who witnessed the morning of the merge, "all the boys of Co. L, Seventh Regiment, gathered at the head of the company street to shout a welcome to about 100 men from Newburgh and it's environs who were being transferred from the First Regiment. As they watched their new bunkies from upstate tramp up the dusty road and swing in between the rows of tents awaiting them, they could not help but be impressed by the size of the newcomers. The first few squads were made up literally of young giants, men who bore striking witness to the benefits of outdoor life." Ahead of them a cold winter in tents at Camp Wadsworth and then departure for France in the Spring.
On December 27, 1917, the men of the 15th regiment arrived in France, the first black unit to reach Europe. They were assigned to the 16th French division and although they continued to wear their American uniforms, they were given French helmets, rifles and gas masks. Facing the language barrier, lack of extensive training at Camp Wadsworth, and the challenge of adjusting to French Lebel rifles, the men soon-to-be-known as the "Harlem Hell-fighters" marched to the Argonne Forest.