N.Y. National Guard's Rainbow Division combat in Meuse-Argonne helps bring an end to WWI
By Col. Richard Goldenberg, New York National GuardOctober 5, 2018
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. -- "Nobody wants to talk very much about the recent battle," New York National Guard Chaplain Father Francis Duffy wrote in his diary entry in October 1918.
"It was a nightmare that one does not care to recall. Individual acts do not stand out in actions of this kind. It is a case of everybody going ahead and taking the punishment," Duffy recalled. The punishment that Duffy's unit, the 165th Infantry Regiment -- formerly the 69th Infantry of the New York National Guard--took during the month of October 1918 was heavy indeed.
The 165th started the month with 3,564 men and officers. On October 31 the unit reported 1,908 men and officers present for duty, according to the American Battle Monuments history of the division. The 165th, part of the 42nd "Rainbow" Division made up of National Guard units from 26 state was smack in the middle of the Meuse-Argonne offensive.
With 1.2 million Doughboys committed -- more than the 500,000 GIs who fought in the Battle of the Bulge or the 156,000 who landed in Normandy during World War II--the Meuse-Argonne is still the largest American battle in history. Twenty-seven divisions were involved in the fighting.
During the battle, which kicked off September 25 and continued until the end of the fighting on November 11, some 26,277 Americans were killed and 95,786 wounded; a casualty rate of 10 percent. The 42nd Division began the battle after their refit from the September St. Mihiel offensive with a nearly full complement of 26,794 Soldiers and officers. One month later the division reported a strength of 20,119 on October 31.
The Doughboys were fighting not only against formidable German defenses but also dealing with difficult terrain. In the Argonne Forest visibility could be limited to 20 feet. But for other Soldiers, like those in the 42nd Division, the fight would carry them through open fields of fire near the Meuse River where the enemy could easily spot them.
From the first artillery barrage of September 25, three weeks of difficult fighting had exhausted numerous Army divisions for little gain.
In mid-October, the 42nd Division entered the battle, bringing fresh troops to the fight. The Rainbow Division attack would cross open ground to formidable German defensive lines just three kilometers ahead.