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119th Field Artillery in World War I

Contact: paocmn@michigan.gov

 

When the Michigan National Guard was Federalized for World War I combat on 15 July 1917, several units were combined to form the 119th Field Artillery Regiment. These were the 1st Battalion, Field Artillery, 1st Cavalry Squadron, and Headquarters and Service Companies of the 31st Infantry Regiment.

 

The regimental commander was Col. Chesester B. McCormick. He mobilized the regiment, Ied it in combat in France, and brought it back to Michigan. The 119th Field Artillery Regiment was in continuous combat for five months and supported four American infantry divisions, the 28th, 32nd (Red Arrow), 77th and the 79th. It also fired a fire support mission for the 1st Morroccoan Infantry Division during the Battle of Juvigny.

 

After the war, Col. McCormick was instrumental in naming many terrain features at Camp Grayling after French locations where the 119th Field Artillery Regiment fought, among them Red Arrow Hill, Juvigny Hill and the Cote Dame Marie hill range.

 

When the 119th redeployed back to the United States on board the U.S.S. Frederick, Colonel McCormick wrote a long letter to his soldiers that in effect was a history of the 1l9th during its combat tour in France. The letter follows.

To the Officers and Men of the 119th F.A.

 

As a tribute to the gallant performance of the 119th Field Artillery, it is with pleasure I review briefly the exploits of its battle activities in recent military operations on the western front which terminated with the signing of the armistice November 11, 1918.

 

Submitting conscientiously to the hard routine training in the United States, you were rushed to France in February 1918, with the first few hundred thousand arriving with the Fifth American division. Here again the command eagerly and rapidly mastered the technique in modern field artillery of the French school at Camp Coetquidan, which was completed late in May. Early in June you were sent into the Toul Sector for preliminary training in support of the 26th Division. On June 11th our batteries sent forth their first ultimatum to the enemy. We suffered our first casualties in this sector. I consider the command was extremely fortunate in having as its tutor the more experienced elements of the 26th Division.

 

Although the regiment at this time was operating with only 60% of its authorized strength, due to its rapid transformation from horse drawn to motor artillery and vice versa, in which it lost heavily by transfer practically all its personnel familiar with horseflesh, the situation was met with patience and determination.

 

Moving to the Alsace sector, the regiment again joined the 32nd Division and after further experience in stabilized warfare, with slight casualties, your role on the field of battle was incomparable with that which followed.

 

The latter part of July, you were rushed into the Second Battle of the Marne referred to as the Marne-Aisne Offensive. You were suddenly confronted with one of the most severe tests of your career. With new animals and inexperienced drivers, you were forced to march for five days to the vicinity of Chateau Thierry. On account of the shortage of artillery harness, the regiment was compelled to drag 16 American caissons loaded with ammunition this entire distance. To save the animals, everyone except drivers were compelled to walk and carry full pack for which you had no previous training.

 

Entering the lines July 30th in support of the 32nd Division, by rapid advance August 2nd and 3rd the Division forced the enemy from the Ourcq to the Vesle. This was the first rigorous and reliable test of the ability of the regiment in open warfare and it was a matter of pride to me in which each organization acquitted itself so creditably in arriving promptly with the first elements or the infantry and assisting in effecting the capture of Fismes. The 32nd Division was relieved on the 6th and you were left in support of the 28th Division and by the dogged support of your guns, promptly assisted their infantry in the capture of Chateau de Auble and crossing the Vesle and capturing Fismettes. Here the gallant and courageous conduct of your gun crews which time and again were totally destroyed by enemy shell fire, demonstrated that the rigid discipline and details of your early training had not been without avail; the test came and you met it with out faltering. Relieved from duty with the 28th Division on the 12th, you were placed in support of the 77th Division where after 10 days of constant strenuous service, under many trying conditions, you were relieved.

 

Joining the 32nd Division which was personally selected by General Mansgia to assist the French in a flank attack north of Soissons which if successful, would relieve the line along the Vesle and gain the Aisne. Consequently on the 24th of August, the regiment moved out and after four days of hard forced marches, covered approximately 140 kilometers on the 28th were again in support of the 32nd Division west of Juvigny fighting dead east and suffering flank fire from the north. Here, after bitter and determined fighting, in which the Division withstood several powerful counterattacks by some of the best enemy divisions, sent to "Hold the lines at all costs" you enabled our gallant infantry to capture Juvigny and reach Torny-Sorny. The brilliant support which our artillery brigade gave to the infantry enabled them to gain the heights of the plateau overlooking the Aisne. The 32nd was relieve on September 1st by the 1st Moroccan Division where the same determined spirit of the officers and enlisted men prevailed much to the admiration of the French Artillery Commander of the sector. I consider the selection and occupation of position in and about Juvigny on the night of September 2nd, one ot the most noteworthy features of our career as without any daylight reconnaissance, the battalions moved out into the unknown country after dark and were in position serving their guns near the village of Juvigny before daylight. On September 6th, the regiment was relieved for the Joinville area for rest and reequipping. However, in our brief stay of five days, little was accomplished in this particular.

 

Beginning September 16th, there followed seven nights of exhausting forced marches in mud and rain entering the Meuse-Argonne offensive. Not only was this a severe test upon the morale of our organization, but the many hard marches began to tell upon the animals that at this time were weak and exhausted. On the night of the 24th the regiment entered the lines in support of the 79th Division. On the morning of the 26th, after a tremendous artillery preparation the infantry went over the top on the same ground where a half a million perished on either side in the operations about Verdub in 1916. After many hours delay in the preparations of roads across "No Man's Land," you succeeded in reaching positions near Montfaucon and Nantillois, both battalions were detailed as supporting artillery under direct command of the infantry colonels. Here the batteries suffered one of the most trying ordeals of their experience in the war. Occupying what were impossible position in the face of terrible destructive fire of the enemy with its toll of death, you, without flinching, again demonstrated, as on the Marne, that indomitable dogged spirit of true artillery and stuck to your guns. The 3rd Division relieved the 79th Division on the 4th. Relieved from assignment with the 3rd, the regiment moved to the sector on the left and were again in support of the 32nd Division. Then followed the breaking through of the Kriemhilde Stellung capturing Gesne, Cote Dame Marie, Romagne, and Bantheville. November 1st found you in support of the 79th Division with the front lines along the north edge of Bois de Bantheville, at which time was launched one of the best organized and most preponderous artillery attacks yet delivered on the western front, covering a front of 25 kilometers, in which your guns assisted in smashing the enemy's defenses for a depth of eleven kilometers, breaking the backbone of his resistance, cutting his communications into Belgium and climaxing in his submission to the terms of the armistice 11 November 1918.

 

Here, after five months continuous fighting in which you assisted in smashing the way for eleven infantry divisions in combat in recovering a total of 70 kilometers of French territory, you were not only tired and worn mentally from exposure and exhaustion, but were rendered immobile from the loss of horses. For out of a total of 1,459 animals received during the summer, only 327 remained, 1,057 had been lost from all causes of which 645 were either killed or wounded in action. The entire brigade was sent to the rear areas for rest, recuperation and re-equipping.

 

You may well feel proud of the distinguished service you have rendered. The record of the regiment stands out brilliantly, equaled by few, if any. Although our casualties have been heavy as compared with other regiments of artillery, considering the hazardous service rendered I consider we have been extremely fortunate but more so to good discipline and judgment of both officers and men. The missions entrusted to you have been ably performed with a spirit of cheerfulness and steadfast self-sacrifice and devotion to duty, serving under conditions of extreme hardship and danger, you have acquitted yourselves in a highly gratifying and satisfactory manner. During the long marches covering over one thousand kilometers, and periods of exposure and hunger, you have accepted all as a matter of duty, even to your conduct and behavior in the rear areas after the armistice where the mental stress was worse than front line combat, you seemed always imbued with that indomitable spirit of "Let's Go."

 

Let us pause in reverence to our immortal dead who by their courageous sacrifice have permitted us to return victorious in honor. May their souls rest in peace. It has indeed been an honor to command you. I thank you for your loyal support and congratulate you upon your success.

 

Chester B. McCormick

Colonel, 119th Field Artillery

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