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Author Topic: Last AEF attack on 11th Nov.  (Read 279 times)

Offline JohnFoA

  • Librarian
  • Posts: 112
Last AEF attack on 11th Nov.
« on: September 07, 2021, 10:07:29 PM »
Sorry, can someone please remind me what attack was going on when the Armistice/cease fire fell due.

Thanks

John
On the balance the helicopter gunship is also mightier than the sword

Offline Metternich

  • Mastermind
  • Posts: 1993
Re: Last AEF attack on 11th Nov.
« Reply #1 on: September 12, 2021, 08:48:40 PM »
5th Marine Regiment was tryuing to force a crossing of the Meuse, and 92nd Div. was in action as well.  Below is from an article by Joe Persico, which appeared in The Army Times and was first published in Military History Quarterly (MHQ) :

On November 11, 1918, Armistice Day, the American Expeditionary Forces on the Western Front in France suffered more than thirty-five hundred casualties, although it had been known unofficially for two days that the fighting would end that day and known with absolute certainty as of 5 o’clock that morning that it would end at 11 a.m. Nearly a year afterward, on November 5, 1919, General John J. Pershing, commander of the AEF, found himself testifying on the efficiency of the war’s prosecution before the House of Representatives Committee on Military Affairs. ...

 the congressman forwarded to Pershing a letter from a constituent with a cover note saying, “I have been deluged with questions on this subject.“ The enclosed letter had been written to Fuller by George K. Livermore, former operations officer of the 167th Field Artillery Brigade of the black 92nd Division, stating that that force had been engaged since 5 a.m. on November 11 and had been ordered to launch its final charge at 10:30 a.m. Livermore lamented “the little crosses over the graves of the colored lads who died a useless death on that November morning.“ He further described the loss of U.S. Marines killed crossing the Meuse River in the final hours as “frightful.“ Congressman Fuller closed his letter to Pershing asking for “a real frank, full answer to the question as to whether American lives were needlessly wasted.“

Congressman Fuller’s mention of the loss of marines that final day referred to an action ordered by Maj. Gen. Charles P. Summerall, Pershing’s commander of the V Corps. No doubt had clouded Summerall’s mind as to how all this talk of an armistice on the eleventh should be treated. The day before he had gathered his senior officers and told them, “Rumors of enemy capitulation come from our successes.“ Consequently, this was no time to relax but rather to tighten the screws.

In the gray hours before dawn on November 11, Pvt. Elton Mackin’s (5th Marine) regiment stumbled out of the Bois de Hospice, a wood on the west bank of the Meuse. The night was frigid, shrouded in fog and drizzle as the Marines tried to find their way to the river in the gloom. Army engineers had gone before them, throwing flimsy bridges across the water by lashing pontoons together, then running planks over the top. The first signs that the Marines were headed in the right direction were the bodies they stumbled upon, engineers killed attempting to construct the crossings.

At about 4 a.m., the Marines reached the first pontoon bridge, a rickety affair thirty inches wide with a guide rope strung along posts at knee height. They could see only halfway across before the bridge disappeared into the mist. Beyond, nothing was visible but the flash of enemy guns. The Marines began piling up at the bridgehead, awaiting orders. A major blew a whistle and stepped onto the bridge. As the men crowded behind him, the pontoons began to sink below the water sloshing about the men’s ankles. The engineers shouted to them to space themselves before the span collapsed.

Enemy shells began spewing up geysers, soaking the attackers with icy water. German Maxim machine guns opened fire, the rounds striking the wood sounding like a drumroll, those hitting flesh making a “sock, sock, sock“ sound. The span swung wildly in the strong current. Mackin saw the man ahead of him stumble between two pontoon sections and vanish into the black water.

The German guns’ bullets continued knocking men off the pontoons, like ducks in a shooting gallery. Still, the Americans kept coming. By 4:30 a.m. the marines and infantrymen of the 89th Division had taken Pouilly on the river’s east bank. In the remaining 6 1/2 hours they were to storm the heights above the town and clean out the machine gun nests.

As day broke, Mackin watched a runner come sprinting across the bridge. The message from General Summerall’s headquarters read only, “Armistice signed and takes effect at 11:00 o’clock this morning.“ Again, nothing was said about halting the fighting in the meantime. Mackin survived to write of his experience. But the Meuse River crossings had cost more than eleven hundred casualties in the hours just before the war’s end.

By Armistice Day, the 313th Regt. ("Baltimore's Own") had been engaged in nearly two months of uninterrupted combat. At 9:30 that morning, the regiment jumped off, bayonets fixed, rifles at port, heads bent, slogging through a marshland in an impenetrable fog toward their objective, a speck on the map called Ville-Devant-Chaumont. Its advance was to be covered by the 311th Machine Gun Battalion. But in the fog, the gunners had no idea where to direct their fire, and Company A thus moved along in an eerie silence. Suddenly, German artillery opened up, and men began to fall.

At sixteen minutes before 11, a runner caught up with the 313th’s parent 157th Brigade to report that the armistice had been signed. Again, the message made no mention of what to do in the interim. Brigadier General William Nicholson, commanding the brigade, made his decision: ‘There will be absolutely no let-up until 11:00 a.m.’ More runners were dispatched to spread the word to the farthest advanced regiments, including Gunther’s. The 313th now gathered below a ridge called the Côte Romagne. Two German machine gun squads manning a roadblock watched, disbelieving, as shapes began emerging from the fog. Gunther and Sergeant Powell dropped to the ground as bullets sang above their heads.

The Germans then ceased firing, assuming that the Americans would have the good sense to stop with the end so near. Suddenly, Powell saw Gunther rise and begin loping toward the machine guns. He shouted for Gunther to stop. The machine gunners waved him back, but Gunther kept advancing. The enemy reluctantly fired a five-round burst. Gunther was struck in the left temple and died instantly. The time was 10:59 a.m. General Pershing’s order of the day would later record Henry Gunther as the last American killed in the war.

Numerous members of Congress, including Fuller, had received appeals from families wanting to know why such pointless expenditure of life had been allowed to happen. Congress had already created a Select Committee on Expenditures in the War Department to investigate procurement practices, the sufficiency and quality of weaponry, and waste and graft in supplying the AEF. To this body, the House decided to add a “Subcommittee 3“ to investigate the Armistice Day losses.

 

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