By Col. Richard Goldenberg | New York National GuardSeptember 11, 2018
LATHAM, N.Y. -- The days from Aug. 8 to Nov. 11, 1918, have gone down in World War I military history as "the 100 days."
This period was marked by a series of attacks launched by the French, British and American armies that defeated the German army, resulting in massed surrenders, retreat and the end of the fighting.
New York National Guard Soldiers played a key role in this fighting, breaking through the Hindenburg Line near Belgium and taking part in the largest American battle of all time in the Meuse-Argonne region of France.
Serving under the command of Gen. John J. Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force and the United States First Army, was New York City's own "Fighting 69th" Infantry Regiment, now known as the 165th Infantry.
The 165th was part of the 42nd "Rainbow" Division, comprised of National Guard Soldiers from 26 states and the District of Columbia.
The French 161st Division, part of the French 4th Army, had its own New Yorkers in its ranks: New York's 15th Infantry Regiment, re-designated as the 369th Infantry, "Harlem's Hellfighters."
The all-black Infantry regiment was assigned under French command to bolster the strength of French forces and avoid the complications of a segregated American army.
Guardsmen from New York's 27th Division were part of the British Army in Belgium.
Along the Somme River in northern France, the 27th Division fought first in early September and then four weeks later, breaking the German defensive "Hindenburg Line " on Sept. 25-29.
The initial attack of the 53rd Brigade failed to penetrate the German defensive line. A renewed attack on Sept. 28-29 by the 54th Brigade cracked the enemy position.
"The advance was then continued with little resistance until the remaining troops arrived at the first wire entanglements of the Hindenburg Line," wrote Capt. J.F. Oakleaf for a 108th Infantry Regiment reunion in 1921.
"At this point they met the full resistance of a fortified position such as the world had never known," Oakleaf wrote.
There were 65 officers and 3,721 men killed or wounded.
"The position was held against severe counter attacks and enfilading artillery and machine," Oakleaf wrote. Australian soldiers joined the New Yorkers in overcoming the defense.
The 27th Division resumed the offensive on Oct. 8 and advanced 21 miles and forced the Germans to retreat.
The fighting since September had cost the division half of its infantrymen killed or wounded by Oct. 25, when they went into reserve.
In the rugged region around Sedan and Verdun known as the Meuse-Argonne, the men of the 69th Infantry (the 165th Infantry Regiment) and the 369th Infantry (the Harlem Hellfighters) were among 1.2 million Americans fighting the largest American battle ever.
The Meuse-Argonne Offensive was bigger than the World War II Battle of the Bulge in which 500,000 Americans fought, or the Normandy Invasion in which 156,000 Americans participated.
There were 26,277 Americans killed and 95,786 wounded by the end of the campaign.
Twenty-seven French and American divisions -- including the 42nd -- were part of the attack that began on Sept. 25 and ended on Nov. 11. It was designed to cut off the entire German 2nd Army and sever the enemy railroads.
The Harlem Hellfighters attacked on Sept. 25 and fought through mid-October, advancing nine miles and outrunning the French units on their flanks.
In mid-October the 42nd Division and the 69th Infantry got into the fight.
The objective given to the 42nd Division was the German defensive stronghold at Côte de Chatillon, part of the defensive line known as the Kreimhilde Stellung.
"Give me Chatillon or a list of 5,000 casualties," Maj. Gen. Charles Summeral told Brig. Gen. Douglas MacArthur, the commander of the 42nd Division's 84th Brigade. MacArthur replied that if they failed, his name would be at the top of the casualty list.
By Oct. 16th, they reached the crest of Chatillon. With the capture of a key height by the 32nd Division on the Rainbow's right flank, the Americans finally pierced the Kreimhilde Stellung defensive line.
In the third phase of the offensive, launched Nov. 1, the Allied attack forced German disengagement and retreat. The attack became a pursuit.
Elements of the 42nd attacked towards Sedan. The race to Sedan ultimately was set aside on Nov. 7 when French forces liberated the city. With American forces across the Meuse River, Germany began to seek peace terms on Nov. 8.
As New York Soldiers reorganized to continue the Allied attack, word spread through the lines that fighting would end at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. The Great War was over.