By Nimrod Frazer
Rainbow Division Veterans Foundation, 2018
Editor/Publisher Michael Hanlon, Reviewer
|Machine Gunners of the 35th Missouri-Kansas Division in the |
Opening of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive
Korean War veteran and banking executive Nimrod (Rod) Frazer has turned into a crackerjack military historian during the World War I Centennial. His father Will had served in the war with the 167th Infantry (formerly 4th Alabama) Regiment of the AEF's 42nd Rainbow Division. Convinced that his dad and his mates were slowly fading out of the nation's collective memory, about a decade ago Frazer initiated a multi-prong effort to commemorate the service of the 167th. He acquired the property on which the unit fought one of its early, defining battles, Croix Rouge Farm, located just north of the River Marne. Then he commissioned a memorial for the site by British sculptor James Butler. Today that "Rainbow Soldier" statue is a pilgrimage site for all Americans visiting the Western Front. Concurrently, he enthusiastically and successfully embraced the challenge of becoming a military historian, researching and writing a history of the 167th Infantry, Send the Alabamians, to which we gave a very positive review on 16 September 2014.
With one success under his belt, Frazer took on a bigger historical project, an examination of a major sub-campaign of the Doughboys' greatest and costliest battle of the war, the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. In The Best World War I Story I Know: On the Point in the Argonne, September 26–October 16, 1918, the author examines the effort to break the Hindenburg Line on the west side of Pershing's broad advance to Sedan. The key defensive position of the German Army was along the third of four defensive positions in the sector, the Kriemhilde Stellung, located in a hilly area know as the Romagne Heights. Among these hills, Hill 260, or the Côte de Châtillon, provided the best observation post for the enemy, and consequently, was the most highly fortified.
Click on Map to Enlarge
|This Map from the New Trail System in the Region Shows the |
Progression of the Three-Division Attack, and the Insert Shows
Its Position in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive
In advancing the 12 miles to Côte de Châtillon and succeeding in capturing it, the U.S. First Army would exhaust three of its 28,000-man divisions: the 35th Missouri-Kansas National Guard, General Pershing's showcase 1st Division, and the 42nd Rainbow Division composed of select National Guardsmen from across the country. In telling us, "The history of how these three divisions managed such a feat is the best story I know from WWI," the author reveals to us the inspiration for his title.
The story proceeds chronologically, beginning on 26 September with the utterly inexperienced 35th National Guard Division, accompanied by Lt. Col. George Patton's tanks, advancing fairly well—three miles—over open rolling countryside on the battle's first day. But trouble soon arises as the enemy shows more resistance. The division's communications and logistics quickly break down—the generals don't know what's happening up front, artillery and infantry are out of sync, and incoming gas, the management of casualties, and the provision of ammunition become major problems. By day three, the division had lost the capability to sustain its attack. Pershing quickly realized he had no choice but to relieve the 35th and send it to a quiet sector.
|One of the Most Famous Photos of the War Shows 1st Division Doughboys Fighting in Exermont Ravine During This Action|
There's much I liked about The Best World War I Story I Know and much I learned. Rod Frazer has done a terrific job tying together a three-division campaign in a coherent fashion, but the thoroughness of his work doesn't stop at this overview level. There are excellent discussions of small unit actions—his discourse on the work of the 151st [Georgia] Machine Battalion in the last action is a classic, for example. More than any comparable military history works I can remember, he also remembers to honor the contributions of the individual Doughboys, and, in one case, a brave French liaison officer, Capitaine Maurice Drouhin. Let me not forget either, GREAT MAPS.
|After the Victory|
The 151st Machine Gun Battalion, 42nd Rainbow Division