Second Infantry Division History WWI

Sunday, May 29, 2011

A History of the Second Division in WWI

This scrap of paper was found among my gradfather's possessions. It is a summary of postings for the 4th Machine Gun Battalion of the First Brigade.

The 4th Machine Gun Battalion was a unit of the Second Infantry Division. See WWI, 1917 -1918, Army History Divisions, Second Division.

The Second Infantry Division, known as the Indianhead Division was organized in October of 1917 from units of the Regular Army and Marines. It was formed in Bourmont, France under the temporary command of Brig. Gen. Doyen, and later, Maj. Gen. Omar Bundy, and Maj. Gen. James Harbord..  For most of the intense action, command was under Marine Major General John A. Le Juene.

 This is James Madison Pearson's Second Division Medal, reverse side, with a list of actions.

On March 16, 1918, the Second Division took up relatively quiet positions on the St-Mihiel Salient between Verdun and St-Mihiel. This was the Toulen - Troyen Sector. The Second Division mingled with French units and repulsed successfully several German attacks particularly on the night of April 13th - 14th. On May 13th, the Division was withdrawn to Chaumont-en-Vexin (Oise) in preparation for further action.

On May 27th, the Germans began an offensive between Aisne and the Marne River. From June 1st -3rd the Second Division replaced exhausted French troops at Montreuil-aux-Lions on a 12 kilometer front blocking the German advance to Paris. The Germans were soon exhausted and ceased their advance.

On June 4th, the Second Division commenced a series of attacks. The village of Bouresches was taken, Belleau Woods was occupied, and by July 1st, Vaux and Bois de la Roche were taken. After 40 days of action and the loss of 9,000 men, the Second Division was relieved.

On July 18th, the Second Division returned to action as a part of the Allies' Aisne - Marne Offensive. Along with the First Division and First Moroccan Division, the Allies attacked from the west near Soissons. The Second Divison advanced 8 kilometers in 26 hours through successive defensive trenches and past numerous machine gun nests and artillery. The division lost 5,000 men but captured 3,000 German prisoners and 75 guns in addition to taking the German positions at Beaupauraire Farm, Vaucastille, and Vierzy. Finally, on the night of July 19 - 20, French units relieved the Second Division.

From August 6 - 16th, the Second Division took up French positions on the Marbache Sector, until they were relieved by the 82nd Division.

The Second Division then moved to the area of Colombey-les-Belles in preparation for the St-Mihiel Offensive. This was to be the first American operation conducted under the command of  General Black Jack Pershing. The attack almost ended before it began. At the end of August, Marshall Foch entered General Pershing's command and told him he had changed his mind. Foch wished to conduct a grand assault all along the front under the commands of the French and British using two-thirds of the American First Army in support. Pershing famously refused and committed himself to completing the St-Mihiel Offensive and then shifting to support the campaign crossing the Meuse River into the Argonne.

The exchange between Foch and Pershing reportedly went like this:

'Do you wish to take part in the battle?' Foch shrilled, his mustaches vibrating. 'As an American army and in no other way!' Pershing roared.
Something about Everything Military, Meuse-Argonne

The Second Division formed up on the left flank of the 1st American Corp on the south side of the salient near Limey. The attack began on September 12 and the Second Division advanced through Remenauville, Thiaucourt, and Jaulney. On the night of September 15 - 16th, it was relieved by the 78th Division and removed near the ancient city of Toul.

This is a portion of a map from Wikipedia commons dealing with the St-Mihiel Offensive.

Following the reduction of the St-Mihiel Salient, the Allies commenced an offensive in the Meuse-Argonne, also called the Battle of Argonne Forest. The operation was under the command of Marshall Foch. It contained the combined French 4th and 5th Armies as well as General Pershing's First Corp.The Second Division was, at this time under the command of Lt. Gen. Robert L. Bullard.

The attack called for the Allied Forces to cross the Meuse River into the Argonne Forest with over a million Allied soldiers, 135,000 of whom were French. The attack commenced on September 26, 1918 with the French 4th Army attacking from Champagne. The American First Corp, just north of Verdun, attacked to the right of the French with the Second Division supporting the French. The Second Division moved first to Chalene-sur-Marne and thence to Suippe. On the night of October 2-3, it entered the front line northwest of Somme-Py. In four days of intense fighting, the Second Division took Medeah Farm, Blanc Mont Ridge, and the ground up to St. Etienne-Orfeuil road.During these engagements, the Second Division suffered losses of 5,400 men while taking prisoner 2,300 German soldiers.

The Second Division was relieved on the night of October 2-3 and moved east to rejoin the First Corp.This movement required the Second Division to move through St. Menehould, les Islettes, and the Argonne Forest. It then located near Eremont in relief. On October 31st, the Second Division moved to the front relieving the the 42nd Division at a point south of St.Georges.

The general attack began on November 1, 1918. Once in action, the Second Division took St. Georges and Landres-et-St.Georges. They continued through the woods at Bois de Hazois and captured the towns of  Lardreville, Chennery, and Bayonville. In a series of night manueveurs, the Second Division moved through the woods at Bois de la Follie.continuing, they passed through Fosse, Nouart, and the Bois de Belval. On the 10th and 11th, the Second Division was able to cross the Meuse River at Letanne.

During this final operation the Division took 12,026 prisoners while sustaining 25,076 casualties.

This needs to be completed....

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