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Field Editor ~ GUNS Magazine, Co-Author ~ Serbian Army Weapons of Victory &PH - Kudu Safaris
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America’s “Gallipoli” on the Western Front

Yo Gents,

I just finished reading an excellent book that covers a little known episode that took place during the Great War. The book, “Duty, Honor, Privilege – New York’s Silk Stocking Regiment and the Breaking of the Hindenburg Line” was written by Stephen L. Harris. It chronicles the story of the 7th New York National Guard Regiment that became the 107th Infantry under nationalization, who then formed part of the 27th Empire Division that was made up of regiments from New York State.

I happened on the book quite by accident. While putting together my 369th Harlem Hellfighter display, I bought a book on that famous regiment by the same author. The book on the Hellfighters was not bad, very informative and of course he mentioned this book several times in the book on the 369th. It sounded interesting, so I ordered it after I finished the first book and brought it along with me on this trip.

The 27th formed part of the American II Corps along with the 30th “Old Hickory” Division, which in spite of Pershing’s stance on the formation of an ALL American Army, ended up being attached to the British Fourth Army under General Sir Henry Rawlinson. It was here that they were assingned to the Australian Corp where they fell under the command of the Australian, Lt. General John Monash.

What eventually ensued was an absolutely absurd and impossible assignment in the British plan of attack on the Hindenburg Line. If this incident had been on a larger scale and had received more publicity or perhaps been earlier in the war, most Americans would view the Australian High Command with the same degree of contempt that the Aussies have for the British based on the mishandling of Australian troops at Gallipoli!

According to Monash’s plan of attack, the 107th New York was expected to advance farther in a single operation on a single day than ANY Australian Regiment was ever assigned to accomplish during the entire war. Then throw in the fact that the German position was the most formidable section of the Hindenburg Line (this according to both the Allies and Germans!) which sat astride the St. Quentin Canal Tunnel. The tunnel was a large under ground complex that housed a section of the canal that during the battle provided the Germans with an underground labyrinth similar to what the Japanese had built on Iwo Jima that was capable of housing two entire divisions with a multitude of different passages leading to the ground above. Germans could and did repeatedly pop up any one of a number of places during the action in positions that had already been cleared and thought secure!

Due to the previous failure of two British Divisions to capture the ground leading up to the planned jumping off point for the final assault, the first phase of the battle plan called for the 27th Division to capture the ground that the two British Divisions had failed to take PRIOR to mounting an all out assault on the main portion of the Hindenburg Line, AFTER capturing three major, heavily defended strong points. To make matters even worse (or more ridiculous if you like?), the preparatory rolling barrage that was to protect the advance of the Infantry was targeted a 1000 yards ahead of the actual start line per the original plan, which of course was beyond the strong points, bristling with MGs, which the two British Divisions had failed to take WITH a heavy barrage!

Then throw in the supporting British Division that never left the trenches that was SUPPOSED to protect the American II Corp's left flank and you start to think “Gallipoli of the Western Front”, which is ironic considering the fact that in this case, the bungling inept command was Australian, not English and the troops who suffered because of it were Americans, not Australians. It gets worse still, but I don’t want to spoil a good read!

The net result was the highest casualty rate ever suffered by any US regiment in any war in which we have fought, combined with the highest number of Medals of Honor ever won by a single regiment in a single day.

The only problem I have with Harris’ writing style is that he lists too damned many individual’s names throughout the book when they aren’t really needed. I don’t know if he was trying to impress his audience with the depth of his research or if he promised all of the Families he spoke with during his research that he would be sure and list their ancestor’s name in the book? Either was, it makes certain portions of the book quite tedious to wader through! However, I highly recommend that you stick it out and plow on through because the portion of the book covering the actual assault is an excellent read!

Another interesting aspect of this story, which appears to be drawn from soldier’s accounts, was the extensive and effective use of the bayonet during this attack! So much for the “glorified can opener” comments one hears so often.

I highly recommend this book. Just be prepared to wade through the first half to get to the real story!

Warmest regards,

JPS
 

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Diary of the Western front - Captain Carl Belfrage - Swede in German Service

To those who can read scandinavian languages or German there is one book you must read. Sadly it does not exist in an english translation.

Bengt Belfrage, Captain Carl Belfrages grandsson has published the captains diaries named "Vanvettet på västfronten", the madness on the western front.

These are diary notes, very detailed, written by a great storyteller. Carl Belfrage joined the German Imperial army in april 1915. He was officer of "the swedes company", the prussian infantry regiment number 162 Lübeck. He fought more actions than I can mention here, but he was at the Somme, also he was by Bapaume, Albert, Arras, cambrai...

The text is very personal, detailing his feelings when in the thick of battle, detailed descriptions of the conditions they were in in the trenches and behind the lines.

This book is the best you'll read this year if you can read Swedish or German.
 
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