Collapse at Meuse-Argonne: The Failure of the Missouri-Kansas Division

Collapse at Meuse-Argonne: The Failure of the Missouri-Kansas Division

Collapse at Meuse-Argonne: The Failure of the Missouri-Kansas Division

Collapse at Meuse-Argonne: The Failure of the Missouri-Kansas Division

Synopsis

During World War I, the Thirty-fifth Division was made up of combined National Guard units from Missouri and Kansas. Composed of thousands of men from the two states, the Missouri-Kansas Division entered the great battle of the Meuse-Argonne with no battle experience and only a small amount of training, a few weeks of garrisoning in a quiet sector in Alsace. The division fell apart in five days, and the question Robert Ferrell attempts to answer is why. The Thirty-fifth Division was based at Camp Doniphan on the Fort Sill reservation in Oklahoma and was trained essentially for stationary, or trench, warfare. In March 1918, the German army launched a series of offensives that nearly turned the tide on the Western Front. The tactics were those of open warfare, quick penetrations by massive forces, backed by heavy artillery and machine guns. The American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) commanded by Gen. John J. Pershing were unprepared for this change in tactics. Therefore, when the Thirty-fifth Divisionwas placed,in the opening attack in the Meuse-Argonne on September 26, 1918, it quickly fell. In addition to the Thirty-fifth Division's lack of experience, its problems were compounded by the necessary confusions of turning National Guard units into a modern assemblage of men and machines. Although the U.S. Army utilized observers during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905 and in the initial years of World War I, their dispatches had piled up in the War College offices in Washington and, unfortunately, were never studied. The Thirty-fifth Division was also under the command of an incompetent major general and three incompetent brigade commanders. The result was a debacle in five days, with thedivision line pushed backward and held only by the 110th Engineer Regiment of twelve hundred men, bolstered by what retreating men could be shoved into the line, some of them at gunpoint. Although three divisions collapsed a

Excerpt

It is always a pleasant task to write of a winning military unit or commander. The defeats, and there have been many in American history and indeed in the history of all nations, are less pleasant, especially when they involve, as did that of the Thirty-fifth (Missouri-Kansas) Division in World War I in the battle of the Meuse-Argonne, a high-minded, hardworking group that deserved to win. The Thirty-fifth contained men with a future. The most remarkable in that respect was Captain Harry S. Truman of Battery D of the 129th Field Artillery Regiment. Major Dwight F. Davis, adjutant of the division's Sixty-ninth Brigade, became secretary of war in the administration of President Calvin Coolidge and was perhaps better known as the donor of the Davis Cup in tennis. Major Bennett Champ Clark would serve as U.S. senator from Missouri. The division's YMCA head, Henry J. Allen, was a notable progressive in Kansas politics, a close friend of William Allen White of the Emporia Gazette, and was elected governor of his state in 1918. Several of the principal officers of the division, two of them regimental commanders, were admirable figures. The commander of the 139th Infantry Regiment, a National Guard officer, Lieutenant Colonel Carl L. Ristine, a remarkably handsome former football player at the University of Missouri, possessed verve and intelligence. His was a leadership any regiment could admire. Commanding the 140th Infantry was Lieutenant Colonel Channing E. Delaplane, a Regular Army officer, a figure to remember if only because of his facial features, which resembled those of a bulldog; “Dogface Delaplane” was his sobriquet, and he knew of it and was proud of it. He was the only regimental colonel who kept his regiment together until the last day of the action. Of the battalion commanders there was Major Joseph E.

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