Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Thursday, March 1, 2018

100 Years Ago Today: EINLADUNG—An Invitation to the Americans!

By Terrence J. Finnegan

The First Division Arrives in the Sector, January 1918

Trench Line North of Bois de Remieres Was the
Location of the Raid
The German General Staff decided to engage the 1st Division at the Woëvre front, on the southern side of the St. Mihiel Salient, shortly after it arrived.  Planning commenced on 17 February 1918 for the attack known by the ironic code word Einladung—it was now time for the Germans to send an "invitation" to American forces to experience first-hand the realities of positional war.  General der Artillerie von Gallwitz recognized a trench raid was an appropriate way to test the initial mettle of the American soldier in the area that constituted Bois de Remieres and Bois Carre north of the village of Seicheprey.  The 78th Reserve Divsion (78. R. D.) was tasked with quickly breaking through the lines at dawn and penetrating  as far as the northern edge of Bois de Remieres (see maps, left and below) to acquire prisoners and destroy abris (shelters) and supporting trenches.  Two Res. I. R. 259 Kompagnies augmented by members of Sturmbattalion.14 armed with Flammenwerfer (flamethrowers) were to execute the raid.  After a brief 30 minutes, Stosstruppen (storm troops)  were to return to the lines with MW and artillery ceasing fire 20 minutes later.  Major Bruns,  Res. I. R. 259 commander, issued his order for Einladung. The operation was to occur on 1 March using Stosstruppen and patrols.  Bruns named Hauptmann Seebohm as the assault commander to lead the Einladung attack. 

Click on Map to Enlarge

Post-Action Map Maj. Gen. Bullard Used to Describe Einladung Against His 1st Division

Col.  Frank Parker's 18th Infantry Was
the Main Target of the Raid
On 1 March at 0540, Einladung commenced with an artillery, Gaswerfer (gas shells), and (gas projector)  barrage saturating Colonel Frank Parker’s 18th Infantry holding the F Sector.   The barrage lasted a half-hour, annihilating positions, demolishing abris, caving in trench networks and cutting off wire communications.  Einladung was more noteworthy for the artillery exchange for than the infantry close combat.  In less than an hour the German barrage deluged four 75mm batteries with 300 shells each. A Gasschutz (gas barrage) of 720 Gaswerfer shells landed in the American trenches. Ten minutes after the Germans launched Einladung, the 5th Field Artillery 155mm commenced counter-battery against German batteries. Major Robert C. McCormick, commander of 1st Battalion, 5th Field Artillery, without waiting for the order, “knew it was an attack and opened fire.”  Major Robert McCormick was a former Illinois National Guard cavalry officer who was assigned to the 1st Division as a field artillery battery commander.  He is best known as the publisher of the Chicago Tribune newspaper. “As soon as I opened fire everybody else thought the order had been given and the whole brigade opened fire.” The 155mm heavies were also assisted by French 90mm and 95mm.  Sixth Field Artillery and 7th Field Artillery 75mm fired over 5000 rounds at 78. R. D. targets north of Bois de Remieres and other German batteries in the area.

A German Flammenwerfer Team

Major General Bullard, commander of the “Fighting First” Division forwarded a succinct assessment of the battle to Général Passaga on 2 March.  “The enemy entered our lines about 20 minutes after the barrage started.”  A brief description of the attack followed.  “About 50 men entered at Breach A, blew up one dugout, searched the trenches nearby and retired…About 100 raiders entered at Breach B, dividing into two parties.  One party moved west through trenches until met and repulsed by a platoon of Co. F/2.  The other party moved south until met and repulsed by a detachment of Co. F/1.  About 50 raiders entered at Breach C.  A portion reached the P.C. of Co. F/1 before being repulsed.  They blew up all dugouts en route with mobile charges.” First Division Commander Major General Bullard concluded the discussion on the enemy with “Practically all dugouts in subcenters F/1 were destroyed as well as a number in the eastern portion of subcenter F/2. The trenches were demolished.” As German artillery commenced registration fire, Colonel Frank Parker, 18th Infantry commander, was ordered to move their detachments out of the registered area.  When the attack commenced, the infantry groups that had withdrawn advanced and met the raiders in the open. Rifle and revolver fire drove them back. Bullard concluded on a sobering note—“If the garrisons of F/1 and F/2 had not been withdrawn as before explained, it is very probable that few would have survived the enemy’s bombardment.”

Typical 1st Division Trench in the Sector

Looking from the U.S Position at the Actual Area of the Assault

On 3 March 1918 Generalmajor von Stolzmann provided his assessment of Einladung. He emphasized that the Americans were totally surprised; they organized their position according to the principle of the outpost with the point of entry being thinly held and sentry posts withdrawing at first fire; coordination between American infantry and their artillery was perceived to be poor; and no enemy counter attacks followed. Key to the discussion was Besondere Erfahrungen [distinct experiences] that outlined for the German high command the most specific assessment to date of how Americans were adapting to operations in the southern Woëvre front and how well they fought against the first major planned German assault. He made it clear in his assessment that American close-in combat was very good effectively using machine guns, rifle, and hand grenades.  Generalmajor von Stolzmann noted that Stosstruppen gained an impression that the Americans resisted violently and surrendered with more difficulty than previous experience with the French in past raids.

Major Robert McCormick Showed
Great Initiative in the Raid
Around noontime, Major McCormick from 5th Field Artillery received a phone call from General Summerall’s headquarters ordering him to report immediately to the 1st Field Artillery Brigade.  McCormick left his battery on horseback and arrived when the general and his staff were being served lunch.  General Summerall stood up, offered his hand to McCormick, and stated aloud “Thank God there is one man in this outfit who knows when to disobey an order.”

General George Marshall later recalled Einladung. In a 1947 interview he remarked, 

Well, it was too bad that one platoon commander was so uncomfortable outside (it was cold), that he took his platoon back in and met the raiders head on.  And he lost, I think it was, ten prisoners.  The other platoon commanders carried out their orders absolutely. . They just shot up these raiders and we captured German prisoners…except for the loss of these few men by this platoon commander disobeying his orders and coming back into position at dawn, which is exactly the time the raid is carried out.  Of course, he was killed, so you couldn’t say very much about it.

Marshall remembered Einladung as an American victory.  

And here the Americans had met the first raid and won really a victory.  We had captured their flame fighters. We had captured—I think they had brought up even a gun—47-mm gun or something like that.  We captured a lot of them.  We took a number of prisoners.  We killed a great many, and it was altogether an American victory.” Marshall’s post-war written reminiscence had more luster. “Our men fought beautifully and viciously, and covered themselves with glory.  The result was apparently tremendously reassuring to the higher French officials.

German Prisoners Captured in the Sector

However, the most memorable recognition came from the French premier Clemenceau himself.  Leaving Paris, he arrived at the American sector at Ansauville on 3 March accompanied by Général Debeney, commander of Ire Armée.  A narrow road in a neighboring forest was selected for the ceremony.  The condition of the road required that Clemenceau leave his automobile and make the presentations a few feet from a line of troops along the road.  A light snow was falling.  Lieutenant John N. Greene, Lieutenant John L. Canby, First Sergeant William Norton, Sergeant Patrick Walsh, Private David Alvan Smiley, and Private Budie Pitman, of the 18th Infantry arrived covered in mud and residue from the battle.  

French Premier George Clemenceau Decorating Men of the 1st Division after the Raid

General Marshall recalled, 

It was altogether an American victory. Well, that was so unexpected and quite contrary to French assumptions about our troops—they had seen so many untrained troops—that Clemenceau himself came from Paris and came right up there and I escorted him.  He came up and he was giving Croix de Guerre.  He was a very old man and in doubtful health, but fortunately he had on rubber overshoes.  He gave these Croix de Guerre, but there was one fellow he didn’t get.  And as we were coming out—it was rather difficult because we had to walk beside the trucks and there was only a foot width of path along beside the trucks—this fellow [Private David Alvan Smiley] came loping down the road and he was yelling, “Wait for me, wait for me!”  He caught up.  He was about six feet two and gangling and, of course, covered with mud.  He had been through the raid and had done a very good stunt.  He had taken several prisoners and Clemenceau had the medal for him.  We had the name, and he was just yelling and yelling.  Clemenceau understood a little English.  When the fellow came up, we stood there beside the trucks, having a very hard time finding any place to stand.  And Clemenceau put this on him and shook his hand and said, You were called and you were late this morning.  But yesterday was what counted and you weren’t late yesterday,” and congratulated him.

This article is an excerpt from Terrence Finnegan's 2015 work, A Delicate Affair on the Western Front: America Learns How to Fight a Modern War in the Woëvre Trenches.  It can be ordered at the author's website:


  1. That's a great line from Clemenceau.

    Thank you for this detailed account.

  2. What a great account of what was going on 100 years ago today!

  3. It is hard to contradict Marshall, but Clemenceau reportedly wrote and spoke excellent English and understood it just as well. Earlier in life, he had taught school in New York State for a few years, and was married to (but in 1919, long estranged from) an American woman. He was also a very astute politician, so perhaps did not want to give away prematurely his full ability with the English language. Still, a great story.

  4. Wow !!! absolutely fantastic blog. I am very glad to have such useful information.