Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Story of the 90th Division- American Expeditionary Forces

A few of the 345th Artillery at Camp Travis right after enlistment, 1917
They grew up fast. Sergeants Cushman and Shaffer pose with 1st Lt Albert B. Cowan at Division HQ.

My grandfather Ralph B. Cushman served as a Regimental Sergent Major in France and occupied Germany during WWI in the famed 90th Division made up of Texas and Oklahoma recruits. He was officially in the 345th Field Artillery, but was assigned to the Headquarters under Colonel George L. Wertenbaker.

At some point he was given the task of keeping a scrapbook for the regiment. He used his own camera and made a few extra copies of the photographs which ended up in his desk in Houston. His camera and photographic skill were not the greatest... but still they made a valuable record for us today, almost one hundred years later. Among the photos and a stack of negatives was the following article which he saved from the Houston Post... which tells their story well. I have inserted his photos where they seemed most appropriate.

Sgts. Young, Gee, Garlock and Cushman in Occupied Germany, 1919
1919 Houston Post

Never Gave Ground Was 90th Division’s Record

Operations of Texas’ Great Fighting Organization Show Orders Always Fulfilled- Campaign Is Recounted by Former Publicity Man.

The 90th Division, composed almost entirely of Texas and Oklahoma men, went through the great European conflict with a record that was never surpassed, and seldom equaled by any of its comrade organizations. Not once during the great final drive into the heart of the Hindenburg line did the Texas lads hesitate and in no instance do records show where one foot of ground was given to the foe in the desperate, last stand to stem the tide of defeat.
Target practice: Lts. Garlington and Andrews.

These facts comprise the gist of a communication written by Major Ike Ashburn from Berncastle, Gernany. Major Ashburn was a former publicity director for A. and M. College and is well known in Texas as a newspaper man.  He recounts incidents during the great campaign in which the 90th Division played so prominent a role. He skeletonizes the operations of the organization from the time the division first went into action until the day when hostilities were suspended. One of the outstanding features of his letter is the fact that never was the 90th Division assigned to a task but that it didn’t accomplish the desires of the higher staff as desired.

The 90th Division left Camp Travis for overseas service on June 6th, 1918. Major Ashburn’s communication is as follows:

“It’s a far cry from Texas and Oklahoma to the army of occupation, which spreads itself along the Rhine and Moselle Rivers, “outposting civilization” as the doughboy says, but nevertheless newspapers from the two states have been filtering through to the 90th Division as of late.

The AEF version of a Pullman Car...
From this angle it would seem that but little has been said and less is known concerning the activities of the 90th Division since it left Camp Travis early in last June for overseas service. For that reason below is given, in general, a brief outline of the services of this division, which now with the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 32nd, 42nd, and its sister and splendid division, the 89th, comprise the army of occupation in Germany.

The headquarters of the 90th Division are at Berncastle, on the Moselle, about 80 kilometers southwest of Coblenz. The division is scattered over a large area, occupying 70 towns, most of which are between Berncastle and the Rhine and Daun.  Headquarters of the 359th Infantry is about 50 kilometers from the Rhine, and is perhaps is the most advanced post of the 90th.

Men of the Texas-Oklahoma division are being given leave to visit Coblenz, and a feature of their entertainment there is a boat ride along the historic Rhine.


Left Camp June 6th,

But back to the brief review of the division. As is generally known, units began leaving Camp Travis on June 6th, 1918 for Camp Mills, where full equipment was supplied, sailing lists completed, and other necessary details for overseas duty completed. Practically all of the units sailed for Liverpool, and passed through England, though some sailed direct to French ports. In Liverpool the 358th infantry paraded on July 4th before Lieutenant Campbell of the English forces, and the lord mayor of that city. The 375th infantry paraded in Southhampton on that date. Tremendous ovations were given these troops, as well as troops by the English.

A view for doughboys leaving the Jersey shores...

Through Southhampton to La Havre, and then to Training Area No. 14, a new area, in the department of Cote d’Ore, the division next passed division headquarters were established at Aignay-le-Duc, a picturesque French town near Dijon. The 165th field artillery brigade was sent to the artillery training area near Bordeaux.

A small detatchment went ahead and landed at St Nazaire, France.
In these areas the troops underwent a period of intensive training for six weeks. On the completion of this training, the division moved to the front near Toul, relieving the 1st Division. The first unit to go in took over a sector on the night of August 19-20. The division sector extended from Pont –a –Mousson westward to Limey. Aggressive patrolling by night gave the division possession of No-Man’s Land, and that land soon became “Yankee Land.” Artillery was moving up and concentrating back of the lines, moves always being made at night, and positions camouflaged by day, and even the uninitiated doughboy knew that the feverish preparation meant something.

Capt. Willard Berman and Col. George L.Wertenbaker

 Held Pivotal Position
And then came the first American push- the St. Miheil drive. The 90th had seen less than a month’s actual experience, but due to its splendid showing in that time and in the training area, it was chosen to participate in the all American engagement. More than that, it was given a pivotal position in the line. For some divisions the St. Milheil fight was nothing more than a parade or practice march. But not so for the 90th. The men of that organization fought over a stubbornly contested ground. German official reports on the St. Milheil battle state that heavy reinforcements were thrown into the sector attacked by the 90th, and the defensive program carried out called for heavy resistance on the pivot to permit the safe withdrawal of troops in the pocket of the salient.

Air attack over Paris- unknown photographer

At 5: a.m. on Sept 12, after an artillery preparation of four hours, the division assaulted . By 2: p. m. all objectives had been reached, in spite of deep ravines, dense woods, barbed wire, steel nets, concrete trenches and machine guns. At one point the infantry was held, but fire from the 153rd field artillery brigade broke the resistance. During the night of Sept. 12-13, the infantry exploited the success. One battalion in Bois Venchere encountered two regiments of hostile infantry. A hand to hand struggle insued, in which the enemy was routed. On the 14th the Norroy quarries and the Bois de Pretre were carried and on the following day the advance continued until the Hindenburg line was reached.  On the 23rd a raiding party penetrated that line, a feat accomplished , it is believed, by only one other division during the St. Milheil operations.



Continually Under Fire

Throughout the advance and the ensuing period of reorganization, the enemy from positions east of the Moselle maintained a heavy and continuous fire, which not only enfiladed our positions but came diagonally from the rear.

A ruin just a kilometer outside of St Milheil. Once the home of three enemy dugouts and a a telephone station, now reduced to rubble by the 90th Division artillery.

On Oct 10th the 90th Division was relieved by the 7th Division, and immediately embussed for the Verdun sector. Before the last elements arrived there it moved forward as reserve for the 3rd Corps. In the night if Oct 21-22, the division relieved the 5th Division in Bois des Rappes.  At 3:p. m. Oct 23rd, advancing in the midst of a tremendous artillery duel it took and held the towns of Bantheville and Bourrut, and the high ground northwest of them.

During the next week the division improved its position, reaching the Bantheville-Aincreville road and holding it despite the hostile artillery fire which veterans of Cantigny and Soissons state was, during this period, the most terrific they had ever experienced.
Enemy bunker captured by the 90th Division

On Nov 1st at 5:30 a. m. after two hours’ of artillery preparation, the division again assaulted, encountering the best divisions of the German army. The fighting was desperate, the hostile artillerymen firing over open sights till surrounded. Our infantry was splendidly supported by the 75’s of the 155th field artillery brigade. When the infantry was held, batteries galloped forward under machine gun fire and in spite of losses literally blew the hostile positions off the map. By 9:p. m. the entire Freya line including hill 243 and the town of Villers-devant-Dun had been taken.
Drivers for the top brass await their passengers.

The division pressed the pursuit, reaching the Meuse November 3rd, and taking Wiseppe November 5. On November 9th it crossed the river, and after a night march of 20 kilometers again attacked.  By 4 p. m. November 10th, Baaion was taken and our troops were fighting in Stenay, from which the enemy was driven during the night.
German biplane crashed into a barn.

The average advance made by the division at Milheil was six kilometers, at Verdun 22. The division was under fire from August 20th to November 11th, with the exception of 7 days occupied in changing sector; 75 days without a relief. During that time it went “over the top” in two major offensive and seven minor operations, not counting exploitations and pursuits, and was still advancing when halted by the armistice.


Victory Spoils Big

The division captured 25 pieces of heavy artillery, 122 light machine guns, 72 heavy machine guns, 903 rifles, and immense quantities of ammunition and stores. It also took prisoners, 32 officers and 1844 men.

Casualties amounted to 37 officers 1042 men killed; 62 officers and1257 men se[verely?] wounded; 123 officers and 4671 s[lightly?] wounded; 81 officers and 2094 men [?] seven officers and 236 men missing. O[f those?] gassed there were 17 deaths. Twelve hundred and four were evacuated.

Never Withdrew Foot

The 90th Division never withdrew from a foot of ground it had been ordered to hold. It always fulfilled every mission assigned in less than the time allotted. It has had less than half a dozen “battle stragglers” charged against its report. Not only did it gain the objectives in every operation in which it took part, but it never failed to reach and pass the exploitation line.

 Trucks were scarce in France, and Texas country boys knew just what to do.

At the conclusion of the armistice, the 90th Division was assigned with the 89th (its comrade throughout the campaign) to the 7th corps of the 3rd army. As part of the 7th corps, the division marched to Stenay, across Luxembourg to Rhenish Prussia. The 7th corps having been designated as reserve to the 3rd army, the 90th division shortly before Christmas settled into winter quarters along the Moselle River in the vicinity of Berncastle where it was rejoined by the 165th artillery brigade.
 Trenches where soldiers spent weeks and months at a time. This changed when the 90th arrived.

Command Is Shifted

From mobilization to the close of the campaign the division was commanded by Major General Henry T. Allen. Shortly after the conclusion of the armistice, General Allen was assigned to command the 8th army corps. Command to the division then passed to Brigadier General J. P. O’Neil, who continued to command during the march into Germany as part of the army occupation. Major General Charles H. Martin now commands the division.
 HQ. for 345th Field Artillery, 90th Division, Third Army in Neumagen, Germany

As a final tribute to the work of the division, the commanding general of the 1st American army authorized Major General Allen to publish to his troops the following statement:

In a recent conversation with the Commander in Chief, I told him that the 90th was as good a division as the ___(three divisions named as given) and that he had no better division in his army than the 90th.

A souvenir from Sgt. Bill Stalcup.
The 90th parades in San Antonio after its return to Texas


No comments:

Post a Comment