By Terrence J. Finnegan
On 20 April 1918, the 26th “Yankee” Division fought a short but intense engagement with German forces at the village of Seicheprey in the Woëvre Plain of the Lorraine region of France. Positioned 12 miles east of St. Mihiel, Seicheprey was in a quiet sector of the front in early 1918, and the Yankee Division had recently arrived in the area. The brunt of the attack fell on the division's 102nd Infantry Regiment, composed mainly of men from Connecticut. Both sides suffered serious casualties in the one-day action. The German division that launched the effort reported 82 of their men killed and missing, 263 wounded, and 16 men suffering other injuries. Their casualty total came to 361. On the American side, an accounting of losses listed 58 killed, 145 wounded, and 231 missing, for a total of 434 U.S. casualties.
|Stosstruppen of R.I.R. 259 After the Raid|
Note Soldier on Right with Captured Klaxon Wearing a Doughboy's Helmet
Seicheprey remains an unknown event for most present-day World War I students. Ironically, it became well known throughout the American Expeditionary Force that fought the war. The extremely well-planned combined arms operation with fast-moving infantry, massive firepower of Minenwerfer and artillery, complemented by aviation, which provided decisive targeting on enemy positions as well as extensive harassment of the enemy from above, gave purpose to modern tactics of 20th-century warfare. These tactics would culminate on the battlefields of Poland, Belgium, and France with the fast battle operations of Blitzkrieg. Equally significant was the Germans’ attention to detail in neutralizing and decapitating their enemy’s ability to plan and execute an operation. Employed were all avenues of modern-day intelligence, including aerial reconnaissance, wiretapping, espionage, and infiltration as well as the annihilation of critical communication lines by decisive artillery strikes and sabotage. Seicheprey was more than a raid across No-Man’s-Land. It was a definitive example of an INFORMATION WAR that governs the way nations struggle in a 21st-century battlefield environment.
The contemporary view of Seicheprey is well stated by the American correspondent Heywood Broun of the New York Tribune in his postwar recollection provided a succinct summary of the affair. “Seicheprey, the first big American battle, had every element of the World War in little [miniature]. Before the loss of the village...the troops defending it had fought from ambush and in the open, had fought with gas and liquid fire, with grenades, rifles, and machine guns. In the inferno the new troops were giving proof of valor that was to come out later and be scattered broadcast, as a measure of what America would bring. In and out of the streets of Seicheprey, in its little public square, from the yards of its houses, hundreds of American soldiers were fighting for their lives. France lay behind them, trusting to be saved.”
German combatants and staff summed up the soldiers battle in an eloquent way. “American resistance in front of the main line of resistance, in the main line of resistance and in the supporting positions in front of the village of Seicheprey, was stubborn. Every man had to be overpowered individually. The light machine guns of the Americans fired up to the last moment. Since the troops occupying the village did not want to come out of their dugouts but defended the entrances, individual combats, man against man, took place.” The final report from the German chief of staff in the region emphasized in all capitals to senior commanders: NOT ONE AMERICAN SURRENDERED WITHOUT A FIGHT.
Seicheprey taught the U.S. Army that the total modern combat environment put everyone within range at serious risk. All combatants came to terms with the incessant destruction provided by never ending artillery, machine guns, and the relentless sniper. The appalling volume of shellfire at the front defined kinetic kill at its worse. The Seicheprey affair was sobering because the French practice of sacrifice positions—a procedure imposed on American military thinking by the French tactical command—was adhered to within the Woëvre. What worked was the demonstrated tenacity of the individual American showing incredible courage and in many cases fighting to the death. This was what resonated with the German commanders. They now faced a fresh enemy with purpose.