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Category: Western Front

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A Yank's View of the Attack on the Hindenburg Line

Contributed by Richard G Crompton

27th Shoulder patch of the US 27th Division. The three letters together form the monogram N .Y. D., standing of course for "New York Division."
Astronomy furnished the inspiration for the distinctive shoulder patch insignia of the Twenty-seventh Division, American Expeditionary Forces, writes Herbert E. Smith in the Army Recruiting News. 

The division of New York National Guard men adopted Orion-the Seven Sisters of the Pletsdes--as a part of its finished design. 

On a circled background of jet black appeared these seven stars in red, with the monogram NYD (New York Division) likewise in red. The colors black and red have a special significance also; the black for iron, the red for the blood.

Another happy coincidence in this design: The Orion corresponded with the name O'Ryan, and the 27th's division commander was Maj. Gen. John F. O'Ryan, who took the New Yorkers over and brought them back.

Diggers & Doughboys.

After an advance of 37 miles in sixty days in the open warfare of the last 'Hundred Days' of World War 1, Monash's Australian Corps were reinforced only by returning sick and wounded.  Many battalions could summons, for actual fighting, no more than 200-300 rifles.

With the blessing of General John Joseph Pershing, the Commander-in-Chief American Expeditionary Force, the Second American Corps, commanded by General G.W Read, was placed under Monash's command to make the initial assault on the Hindenburg Outpost Line and the Hindenburg Line itself, over the St Quinten Canal and the Canal Hump.  The depleted Australians were to exploit the break through.

In the attack on an impressive static German defensive line the American 27th Division took severe casualties due to inexperience, over enthusiasm, a combination of gas and mist and a lack of support from a creeping barrage and tanks: one Regiment of 2000 rifles had 55% casualties. 

Despite the 42nd Battalion AIF complaining that they too had taken casualties, when completing the American's task of mop-up German dugouts, many isolated Americans attached themselves to Australian command.  Together they fought towards Bony, between the dense rows of barbed wire.  Together they died.

Major General John F O'Ryan, commanding the US 27th Division responsible for that the northern sector of the front and the initial attack over the St Quentin Canal Hump, wrote of the Australian soldier:

"This chapter on the Hindenburg Line Battle is an appropriate place to make some observations concerning the Australian soldiers, with whom we fought on that occasion".

The Australian soldier was a distinctive type. . .  The Australian army was solely a volunteer force.  Not a man in it was present except by his voluntary action.  This naturally affected his physical fitness and its morale.  There were no troops in the war which equalled the physical standards of the Australians.  

The American army had thousands, perhaps some hundreds of thousands, of men who measured up to the very best physical specimens to be found among the Australians, but we also had many thousands of men drafted into the army who were not fighting men, and who knew they were not.  The Australians had none of this class.  

It is true that the Australian soldier was lacking in 'smartness' of appearance and manner, and good humouredly [sic] took a seeming pride in the cold astonishment he created among others by his indifference to formality and his blunt attitude towards superior officers.  But if by discipline we mean experienced and skilled team work in battle, then it must be said that the Australian troops were highly disciplined.  

Their platoons and companies possessed, as did ours, a highly developed gang spirit which prompted the members of 'the gang' to work together in mutual support, but in addition to this, and by virtue of their long experience in the war, they had come to realize the essential importance of military technique.  

They knew, from harsh lessons they had received in earlier battles from the harsh enemy instructor, that the shooting and bombing of the individual man at the front may be fruitless unless his group maintains contact with other groups on right and left, and at the same time sends a constant and reliable stream of information to the rear, so that the great auxiliary power of the division may be intelligently employed to aid them.  

The operations and the supply technique of the Australian divisions were of the very best, and so it was that the rough-and-ready fighting spirit of the Australians had become refined by an experienced battle technique supported by staff work of the highest order.

Their record demonstrated, that for Australian troops at least, the refinements of peace-time precision in drill and military courtesy and formality were unnecessary in the attainment of battle efficiency.  The Australians were probably the most effective troops employed in the war on either side."

O'Ryan, Maj.-Gen John F., 'The Story of the 27th Division, Vol. I', New York, 1921, page 339
Quoted in Butler, Colonel AG 'Vol. II - The Australian Medical Services: The Western Front', Australian War Memorial, 1940, page 705

Major General John F O'Ryan - commander of US 27th Division Second American Corps, an experienced officer of the Mexican wars.
General G.W Read - commander Second American Corps - Monash referred to him as a 'man of sound common sense and clear judgment'
General, later General of the Army, 'Black Jack' John Joseph Pershing - Commander-in-Chief American Expeditionary Force.

Twenty-seventh Division (US National Guard)

Insignia, a black circle with a red border in which are the leters NYD in monogram, surrounded by the seven stars of the constellation Orion. Organized at Camp Wadsworth, S.C., in Sept. 1917. The New York National Guard as its nucleus, the following units being used: 1st, 2d, 3d, 7th, 12th, 14th, 23d, 71st and 74th N.Y. Inf., Squadron A, 1st N.Y. Cav.; 1st, 3d N.Y. Fld. Arty.; 22d N.Y. Engrs; 1st Bn. N.Y. Sig. Corps; N.Y. Amm. Train; N.Y. Supply Train; N.Y. Sanitary Train; N.Y. Hqs and M.P., 6th N.Y. Div. Hqs. Troop.

The division embarked for overseas at Newport News, Va., the first units sailing on May 8th, and the last arriving in France, July 7, 1918. It was ordered to a training area and later entered the line with the British units opposite Mt. Kemmel. On Aug. 20th a moved was made to the Dickebush sector, Belgium, which was occupied next day. On Aug. 31st the division was a front-line division in the attack on Vierstandt Ridge, the 30th Division on its left - 34th British Division on its right. As part of the 2d Corps (U.S.) 4th British Army, the division was in action near Bony, Sept. 24th to Oct. 1st. On Oct. 12th it again entered the line in the St. Soupiet sector crossing the Seille River in the attack on Jonc de Mer Ridge.

Maj. Gen. John O'Ryan, N.Y. National Guard, commanded the division from its organization until mustered out.

The division captured from the enemy the following: 2,358 prisoners and advanceed eleven kilometers against resistance. During active operations it suffered the following loses: Killed, 1,791; wounded, 9.427; prisoners three officers and 225 men. One hundred and thirty-nine Distinguished Service Crosses awarded.

The following organizations composed the division: 105th, 106th, 107th, 108th, Regts. Inf.; 104th, 105th, 106th Machine Gun Bns.; 104th, 105th, 106th Fld. Arty. Regts.; 102d Trench Mortar Battery; 102d Engrs.; 102d Fld. Sig. Bn.; 102d Hqs Train and M.P., 102d Amm. Train; 102d Supply Train; 102d Engr. Train; 102d Sanitary Train (105th, 106th, 107th, 108th Amb. Cos. And Field Hospitals).


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