World War I
History of The Iowa National Guard
CW2 David L. Snook
During the half century before 1914, Europe was a tinderbox. Territorial, military, economic and colonial rivalries gave rise to the development of two great alliances – the Triple Alliance and the Triple Entente. Arrayed on one side were Austria-Hungary, Germany and Italy. Opposing them were Russia, France and the United Kingdom. Repeated crises threatened to erupt into military conflict.
On June 28, 1914, a young Serbian nationalist, Gavrilo Princip, assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, and his wife. The royal couple was visiting Sarajevo, Bosnia. Bosnia was a province of Austria-Hungary but included a large Serbian population. A month-long diplomatic crisis followed the murders. Austria’s determination to punish Serbia led to a tragic sequence of events that eventually pulled most of Europe and much of the rest of the world into what came to be known as the Great War (World War I).
After the initial German offensive of 1914 was stopped just north of Paris, a war of attrition developed along a 300-mile front that extended from France’s border with Switzerland to the North Sea. During the next four years, hundreds of thousands of young men died, as both sides attempted to break the stalemate. On the Eastern Front, where the battlefield situation remained more fluid, an even more appalling loss of life occurred. Finally, in 1917, the Russian war effort collapsed. In the months that followed, the Romanov dynasty was swept away, eventually replaced by the Bolsheviks (Communists) under Vladimir Lenin.
The United States was faced with the possibility that Britain and France, Europe’s two great democracies, might actually lose the war. As a result of Germany’s resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare, American public opinion had already begun to move in favor of military intervention. The Zimmerman Telegram, which revealed and ill-advised attempt by Germany to enlist Mexico into an alliance against the United States, added momentum to this movement. In April of 1917, President Woodrow Wilson called Americans to arms in a great crusade "to make the world safe for democracy."
At the beginning of 1917, the United States was woefully unprepared for war. The first soldiers of the American Expeditionary Force did reach France in June, but it would be almost a year before their numbers reached the point where they could make a really significant impact on Allied operations. Eventually, more than one million American fighting men would bolster the Allied cause along the Western Front.
Seventeen National Guard divisions were assigned to the AEF during World War I. One of the first National Guard divisions to reach France was the 42nd (Rainbow) Division. The 42nd Division was a composite division made up of soldiers from many states. It included Iowa’s 168th Infantry Regiment. Major General William Mann commanded the Division. Major, later General of the Army, Douglas MacArthur was his chief of staff. It was MacArthur who first suggested "Rainbow" as the Division’s name. The 168th Infantry was commanded, in turn, by Colonel Ernest Bennett and Colonel Matthew Tinley.
The 168th Infantry was a consolidated force made up of three prewar regiments of the Iowa National Guard infantry. It was the only Iowa National Guard unit to participate, intact, in the hostilities in France. Many other Iowa Guardsmen, most notably those serving in the 34th Division, were sent overseas. They were sent as replacements, however, and saw active service with the organizations to which they were assigned.
The 42nd Division saw its first action at Luneville in February of 1918. During the next ten months, the Division took part in engagements at Baccart, Esperance-Souaine, Champagne-Marne, Aisne-Marne, Essey-Pannes, and the final great Allied offensive at Meuse-Argonne.
The Champagne-Marne offensive was one of the most decisive battles of the World War I. Fought over a four-day period (July 15-18, 1918), it was a daring attempt by the German General Staff to drive a wedge between the British and the French and end the war before the bulk of American forces could arrive in France. Several American divisions already in France, including the 42nd, played an important role in stopping the German attack. As one soldier of the 168th wrote "By noon of July 15, the German offensive had been halted, but both sides maintained a terrific artillery duel until the 18th.
Life around our part of the country was an inferno, with earth quaking from the shock of artillery, and the sun blotted out by the dense clouds of gray-black smoke." (Reilley, Henry J., Americans All – Rainbow at War
By October of 1918, the eve of the decisive Meuse-Argonne offensive, the 42nd
Division had established a sterling reputation, not only among Allied commanders but among German commanders as well. On October 9, the Weekly Summary of Information of the German Group of Armies which held the front from the Argonne to the Meuse gave the following assessment: "The engagement of the 42nd
Division is expected soon.
It is in splendid fighting condition and is counted among the best American divisions." (Reilly) This assessment proved to be correct. By the end of the war, the 42nd
Division had reached Sedan. This was the northernmost point attained by the American First Army in its advance toward Germany.
At the conclusion of hostilities, the 42nd Division was credited with 164 days of actual combat. The only American divisions to exceed this were the 1st, with 220 days, and the 26th, with 193 days. The Division suffered a 30.6% casualty rate with 2,810 killed and 11, 873 wounded. Of this total, the 168th Infantry suffered over 700 killed and 3,100 wounded.
The men of the 168th also received numerous awards for heroism, including the Italian Croce di Guerra (1), the Belgian Croix de Guerre (1), the Belgian Ordre de Couronne (2), the French Croix de Guerre (74), the French Legion of Honor (5), the French Military Medal (20), the Distinguished Service Cross (4), and the Distinguished Service Medal (1).