Friday, May 27, 2011

38th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Division
US Army - World War I

In my previous post (immediately below this one), I mentioned how I found out my Grandma's brother, George Britton, was in the 38th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Division.  I did a little research on the 38th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Division and found the following:

The 3rd Infantry Division was activated in November 1917 during World War I at Camp Greene, North Carolina. Eight months later, it saw combat for the first time in France. At midnight on 14 July 1918, the Division earned lasting distinction. Engaged in the Aisne-Marne Offensive as a member of the American Expeditionary Force to Europe, the Division was protecting Paris with a position on the banks of the Marne River. The 7th Machine Gun Battalion of the 3rd Division rushed to Ch√Ęteau-Thierry amid retreating French troops and held the Germans back at the Marne River. While surrounding units retreated, the 3rd Infantry Division, including the 30th and 38th Infantry Regiments, remained rock solid and earned its reputation as the "Rock of the Marne". The rest of the division was absorbed by the French Command until brought back together under the Command of General Joseph T. Dickman and by 15 July 1918 they took the brunt of what was to be the last German offensive of the war. General "Black Jack" Pershing said the Division's performance was one of the most brilliant of the United States' military history. During the war two members of the division were awarded the Medal of Honor.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/3rd_Infantry_Division_(United_States)
3rd Division Campaigns  - World War I, 1918

  • Aisne; May 27 – June 6
  • Champagne-Marne; July 15 – 18. “Rock of the Marne”
  • Aisne-Marne; 18 July-6 August
  • St. Mihiel; September 12–15,
  • Meuse-Argonne; September 26–November 11

We do not know what Uncle George's specific role was as a Private in the 38th Regiment.  We do know the 38th Regt. played a critical role in the first phase of the 2nd battle of the Marne in July 1918.  In what way and how much Uncle George was involved in that action again is not known. 

Here are excerpts from an account of the Champagne- Marne phase of the battle:

At midnight, July 14/15 the artillery crashed and the last German push of the war started. As predicted, it was a drive to get across the Marne [east of] Chateau-Thierry...[From Chateau-Thierry east were] the Third American Division...where they'd been ever since their machine gunners had come charging up the riverbank six weeks before. Then came another French outfit and next the pea-green Pennsylvania National Guard -- The 28th Division -- which had no line time even in a quiet sector. They were fed in by companies to fight with the French. Farther east {of Reims] there was the veteran 42nd Division, the Rainbow...That night and the next day the 38th Infantry Regiment of the 3rd Division, made a stand that deserves to rank with the famous ones, and it won.
The 38th was in line just west of where the Surmelin River flows north into the Marne. The Surmelin runs northwest and down either side of its gentle valley there ran two good roads which went south into the main Paris highway. This was to be the main German track, the route by which guns were to move south and help exploit a breakthrough.

[Westpointer, Colonel Ulysses Grant McAlexander commanded the 38th.] Down by the [Marne] river he put Major Guy Row's 2nd Battalion. The 1st Battalion, only half strength, was farther back in the support, and the 3rd Battalion even deeper in reserve.
Along the river Row's men had three companies in line...from left to right -- each with two platoons dug in down on the riverbank, two more about three hundred and fifty yards back behind the embankment of the east-west Metz-Paris railroad. The railroad was raised up on a constructed embankment about nine feet high and so wide it was very difficult to fight from behind it.

The story continues with a firsthand description of the defense along the River Marne by Captain Jesse Woolridge of Major Rowe's battalion:
"...Newly captured prisoners began to give real information - a grand offensive was to be made [where] the Marne was only about 50 yards wide...We had 600 yards of [this] front all to ourselves...[When it began] it seemed [the Germans] expected their artillery to eliminate all resistance...French Officers attached to our Brigade stated positively there was never a bombardment to equal it at Verdun.
At 3:30am the general fire ceased and their creeping barrage started - behind which at 40 yards only, mind you, they came - with more machine guns than I thought the German Army owned...
The enemy had to battle their way through the first platoon on the river bank - then they took on the second platoon on the forward edge of the railway where we had a thousand times the best of it - but the [Germans] gradually wiped it out. My third platoon [took] their place in desperate hand to hand fighting, in which some got through only to be picked up by the fourth platoon which was deployed simultaneously with the third...By the time they struck the fourth platoon they were all in and easy prey.
It's God's truth that one Company of American soldiers beat and routed a full regiment of picked shock troops of the German Army...At ten o'clock...the Germans were carrying back wounded and dead [from] the river bank and we in our exhaustion let them do it - they carried back all but six hundred which we counted later and fifty-two machine guns...We had started with 251 men and 5 lieutenants...I had left 51 men and 2 second lieutenants..."    Capt. Jesse Woolridge, 38th Inf., 3rd Division.
"SECOND BATTLE OF THE MARNE";  The Story of the American Expeditionary Forces (Doughboy Center; http://www.worldwar1.com/dbc/2marne.htm 
It was this action that earned the 3rd Division the name of  "The Rock of the Marne".  It was 3 months after this action, during the Meuse-Argonne offensive, that Uncle George was killed on October 21, 1918.

The Meuse-Argonne Offensive:

Here are some excerpts regarding the Meuse-Argonne Offensive which started on September 25:

The Meuse-Argonne Offensive was the greatest American battle of the First World War. In six weeks the AEF lost 26,277 killed and 95,786 wounded. It was a very complex operation involving a majority of the AEF ground forces fighting through rough, hilly terrain the German Army had spent four years fortifying. Its objective was the capture of the railroad hub at Sedan which would break the rail net supporting the German Army in France and Flanders and force the enemy's withdrawal from the occupied territories.
3 October 1918 To the west, the Lost Battalion of the 77th Division is surrounded. Things are bogged down along the line. Pershing shuffles his divisions for a renewed assault.   The new order of battle includes [west to east]: I Corps - 77th, 28th & 1st Divisions; V Corps - 32nd & 3rd Divisions: and III Corps - 4th 80th and 33rd Divisions.
22 October 1918 By the 22nd of the month III and V Corps had secured the Bois de Foret and Bois des Rappes and had pushed to the norther and westen limits of the Bois de Bantheville. First Army prepares for final assault on Sedan.

THE BIG SHOW - THE MEUSE-ARGONNE OFFENSIVE: The Story of the American Expeditionary Forces (Doughboy Center; http://www.worldwar1.com/dbc/bigshow.htm )
We learn from the above account that the 3rd Division which included Uncle George's 38th Regiment was part of the V Corp.  It was the V Corp along with III Corp that by October 22 had secured Bois de Foret and Bois des Rappes and had pushed to the norther and westen limits of the Bois de Bantheville.

Pvt. George Britton was killed on October 21.  His death occurred during the operations around Bois de Foret and Bois des Rappes.  Eight days before he was killed, Cunel and Romagne in the central Argonne had been captured. Romagne would become the site of America's largest overseas military cemetery and Pvt.George H. Britton's resting place.

What do we conclude?

Whatever Uncle George did or did not do on the battlefield, we can believe he was a faithful soldier, obeying orders, and doing his duty just like every other soldier who was in the 38th Regt. at that time.  We can surmise that he very probably saw some horrific fighting in those three months from the Marne to the Argonne.   He very probably saw comrades killed or wounded in battle.  And on that day, by bullet, shell, or whatever, he joined those comrades in the Bivouac of the Dead.   RIP

Pvt. George H. Britton

Private George H. Britton, U.S. Army 38th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Division is buried at: Plot G Row 35 Grave 22 in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery, Romagne, France.  There is also a memorial stone in the Britton Family Plot in the Leonardson Cemetery, Pittsford Twp, Hillsdale County, Michigan.  A World War I memorial in the Leonardson Cemetery also bears his name along with others from the Pittsford, MI area who were killed in the war.