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The Story of the American Expeditionary Forces

33rd Division





Victims Near the Somme

Presented the Great War Society

The AEF made some surprisingly early appearances in the Somme Sector. The 11th Engineering Regiment which specialized in railroad repair was caught on the Cambrai battlefield [in November 1917] when the Germans mounted a surprise counteroffensive. Contributor Craig Pickard shares these details:

This article was printed in the 1930's UK magazine called "I was there". The author of the article is Major General Seely of the Canadian Cavalry Brigade. He describes the German counter attack at Cambrai between November 30th to December 4th. When the Canadian Cavalry fought a rear guard action to stop the German advance.

I have to say that a good many stragglers from the battle gallantly came forward with me. Amongst others we found a curious and most interesting party, American engineers whom we had seen 12 days before, engaged in making a light railway some five miles behind the front line. They were pursuing their peaceful avocations near to Gouzeaucourt, which had been close to the front line before our advance on November 21. They belonged to the 11th Engineers (Railways).

I remember Colonel Hoffman was the Regimental Commander and I think Captain Hulsant was commanding the Gouzeacourt party. When the German advance fell on upon them. Some had rifles with them, in the case of others they were far away, but that made no difference to these gallant Yankees. With spades and pickaxes they fell upon the advancing Germans and although many were knocked out, I was assured that they got the best of it in a hand to hand combat.

It was a brave thing to do, for surrender would have been easy and for once justifiable. When I came home on leave a month later, I gave some account of this at a luncheon, given by Sir Max Aitken (Later Lord Beaverbrook). I do not know if this account has reached America from other sources, but I am glad to put it on record now.

This Article appeared with the image above(credited to the Imperial War Museum London) with the following caption:. "The Engineers of the American Army. Here are 2 men of the 11th Engineers, Sgt McLsaac and Sgt Cairola who went through the German barrage to rescue Sgt Haley who had been wounded at Gouzeacourt on the 20th November 1917".

Locate the Somme near Amiens on a Map of the Western Front.

A similar tale is told about the 6th Engineers who were temporarily assigned to British supervision when the great March Ludendorff Offensive began. The Yanks actually occupied a trench in the lines and beat back some enemy attacks. On April 2nd they were relieved and eventually returned to its parent formation, the US 3rd Division.

Destruction in Arras Which US Forces Help Defend

In July 1918, eight rifle companies of the 33rd Division which had been training with the British Army, were assigned to General Monash's Australian Corps, unbeknownst to General Pershing. The ensuing local attack around the village of Hamel was highly successful, but reinforced Pershing's belief that he had to regain control of the US units parceled out to the Allies as quickly as feasible. The US units suffered 176 casualties in their attack.

Some little known contributions to the great effort of the British Army that resulted in "The Black Day of the German Army" were also made by US Divisions. The 33rd's, 131st Infantry Rgt. was sent into the line on the second day of the Amiens assault and captured Gressaire Wood and Chipilly Ridge overlooking the River Somme.

80th Division Machine Gunners

Units of the 80th Division were also committed to action late in the Amiens Battle, but by August 12th Pershing had asked for his divisions back from Haig. The 33rd and 80th which had seen action were returned with the 78th which was still being trained. The 27th and 30th Divisions [which had been in Flanders in early September], however, completed their training and stayed with the British Army for the remainder of the war.

Sources and thanks: Compiled by the Editor from American Armies and Battlefields in Europe, E.M. Coffman's The War to End All Wars and Laurence Stalling's The Doughboys Regular contributor Ray Mentzer provided most of the Photos. Harry Howeth provided the image of Arras given to him by his uncle Mathhew Howeth of the 11th Engineers. MH

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