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Battle of Cantigny, 28 May 1918

Battle of Cantigny, 28 May 1918

Battle of Cantigny, 28 May 1918

The battle of Cantigny, 28 May 1918, was the first American offensive of the First World War. Cantigny had been captured during the Second Battle of the Somme (21 March-5 April 1918), the first of Ludendorff’s series of major offensives during the spring and summer of 1918. The village had then been fortified and turned into a German observation point. It was defended by veteran troops of General Oskar von Hutier’s Eighteenth Army.

The American attack was made by the American First Division under Major General Robert Lee Bullard. The village was captured, and then held against repeated German counterattacks on 28 and 29 May. American losses were 100 dead and 1,500 wounded, out of an initial force 4,000 strong (one infantry regiment), later increased to 8,000. German casualties are unknown, but around 200 men were captured during the battle.

In the context of the Western Front, the battle of Cantigny was little more than a skirmish. However, it gained great significance part because it was the first combat success of the American army, after nearly a year of preparation in France, and partly because it took place on the second day of the Third Battle of the Aisne (27 May-3 June 1918). The first day of that battle had seen the Germans advance thirteen miles, the greatest distance achieved in a single day since the start of trench warfare. The American victory at Cantigny was therefore a valuable boost to Allied morale.

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The U.S. 1st Division at Cantigny 1918 Remembered

The average person has almost certainly never heard of the Battle of Cantigny that took place on May 28th, 1918. However, it was the first major American offensive of the First World War. Even beyond that, there are plenty of reasons why the battle is both significant and worthy of attention.

“The French were worried that we were so inexperienced, so new, because they’ve been fighting since 1914,” said First Division Museum Executive Director Paul Herbert. “We’ve been there a year. We’ve been rotating in and out of the Western Front mainly for training, but we’ve never been given an operation to do on our own.”

Western front 1918.

America’s entry into the Great War came after President Woodrow Wilson appeared before Congress seeking to declare war against Germany in order to keep the world safe for democracy. According to Herbert, the Battle of Cantigny was the first time that the Americans really bled for their cause, putting the lives of soldiers at risk for the principles of freedom and democracy.

Today , a poignant red poppy display honors the sacrifices of American soldiers in the first world war, situated near the entrance to the museum’s “First in War” gallery. The gallery holds displays and exhibits that honor the sacrifice made by the 300,000 casualties, defined as soldiers killed, wounded, missing or dead from disease, in the war’s dying months.

Battle of Cantigny

The gallery will be full of 2,000 poppies, assembled by hand, to represent the 2,000 American soldiers who were either killed or wounded on every signal day from the Battle of Cantigny to the end of the First World War. Assisting with the construction of the exhibit, the American Legion provided the petals and leaves, while museum historians and Scout groups, students and park members, provided the hours and effort to assemble the poppies.

Red Poppies in honor of the Great War. By Tijl Vercaemer – CC BY 2.0

Fought just over a hundred years ago during the First World War, the battle falls on what citizens in the United States call Memorial Day. The First Division Museum, located on the Wheaton campus within the Cantigny Park estate, has paid a special tribute to those who fought and died in that battle in the service of their country.

The battle had a big impact on Cantigny’s benefactor, Colonel Robert R. McCormick, who led a unit in the attack. He was so shaped by the experience that he returned home and renamed his home, the large Wheaton estate, after the French village.

Field gun at the First Division Museum tank park. By Marcus Qwertyus – CC BY-SA 3.0

Last summer the museum reopened after renovations and included updated exhibits displaying the price of war through the stories of the fighting men who served throughout the Division’s 101-year history.

One of the themes on display was ‘Our Soldiers,’ and the intention behind it was to awaken a sense of empathy for soldiers through recognition of their fundamental humanity. The exhibit assists the visitor in understanding the experiences, sacrifices, and tribulations of soldiers.

In marking the 100th anniversary of the battle, the focus will be on the struggles of the men those who died, the wounded, and those men who defied expectations. Among the activities on the day were re-enactments, including McCormick’s 1937 speech during the dedication of a 1 st Division monument at the village of Cantigny, France, as well as readings of letters written by soldiers. Museum executive director Paul Herbert said that the intention was to construct a bridge between the public and the soldiers who were no longer present to tell their stories.

Monument of the Battle of Cantigny in Cantigny, France.

For Jackie Gillaspie, the museum’s volunteer and program facilitator, the museum exhibit holds a special significance. She called it an honor to even play a small part in the overall performance, as she discovered as an intern that she was the great-granddaughter of Private Harry Gums, a soldier who fought and was injured in the battle while trying to assist a fellow soldier with the application of a bandage.


The 100th Anniversary of the Battle of Cantigny: American Forces’ First Divisional Attack in World War I

On May 28, 1918 the American 1 st Division led an assault on the town of Cantigny, France, making it the first divisional attack by the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) in World War I. Prior to this attack, American soldiers had been at the front for operational training serving as part of experienced British and French units. The success of this attack proved that American forces had the training, tools and leadership necessary to be a major threat to the Germans.

Situated on high ground west of the Rivier des Trois Doms, the location of Cantigny allowed for observation of the surrounding open countryside. The elevation concealed German reserves and artillery batteries to the east, and fortified entrenchments stretched north and south. The Allied trenches lay 500 yards away, down the open slope west of Cantigny. To the north and south Allied lines wove through small woodlands and broad fields where troops were under constant hostile observation. The Allies could only evacuate wounded or move in the open at night.

On May 20 the 1 st Division was ordered to prepare to attack Cantigny. The 28 th Infantry Regiment was selected for the assault with support from two companies of the 18 th Infantry Regiment. The division’s officers scouted the objective from the front lines. The French air service took photographs of the defenses at Cantigny and reconstructed a replica of the main assault area on similar ground well behind their frontline. The three battalions of the 28 th Infantry Regiment practiced the assault. Platoon level units were tasked with attacking specific enemy shelters and positions in detail. French tank and flamethrower units joined the training, and aircraft dropped weighted messages to advancing troops as they would in combat. American and French signals’ men joined in to practice establishing communication with the newly taken ground. During the period of preparation, enemy artillery fire constantly harassed American forces facing Cantigny. Despite bombardment by poison gas, shrapnel, and high explosives, the French X Corps and 1 st Division batteries amassed over 200,000 rounds of ammunition to support the attack.

On the nights of May 26 and 27, the 28 th Infantry Regiment moved into the line with its reinforcements. They occupied newly dug positions, command posts, and mortar pits only 200 yards from Cantigny. An enemy trench raid attacked American lines northwest of Cantigny, but alert assault troops repulsed the attack. At 4:45 a.m. on May 28 all the artillery batteries fired a few timed rounds to confirm their targets. An hour later the bombardment began with heavy guns hitting German batteries with explosives and poison gas, while mortars and howitzers churned Cantigny with shells. American artillery concentrated on trenches and machine gun positions adjacent to Cantigny. By 6:45 a.m. the tanks had come up and the infantry followed them in three waves behind a rolling barrage. They encountered little resistance. The engineer and flamethrower teams prompted many Germans to surrender their shelters in the town, and signals’ men established communications almost immediately. The flanking battalions and part of the center battalion moved around the town and took up defensive positions. The Allies had taken Cantigny.

The engineers and the 28 th Infantry Regiment quickly consolidated their positions. They repaired German trenches and made new ones. They secured the defense with three strongpoints, and artillery observers came forward to coordinate fire. Firmly established, the Allies resisted seven strong German counterattacks over the next several days.

The AEF’s 1 st Division had shown that American troops could perform effectively in larger coordinated operations with other Allied armies, and that large American units could defend against determined enemy attacks. Though relatively small, the successful attack on Cantigny added a spirit of self-confidence to American forces. The battle left the Allies feeling encouraged, and optimistic about the employment of further American divisions, corps, and armies. The efficiency of American preparation and execution of a difficult operation was a foreshadowing of the energy and ability they would display in the coming months.


Capture of Cantigny [ edit | edit source ]

At its 06:45 H Hour, American troops left their jump trenches following an hour-long preparatory artillery barrage in which German counter-battery fire nullified the location of German artillery positions. A rolling barrage advancing approximately 25 meters a minute preceded the attacking troops.

The 28th Infantry Regiment (Col. Hansen Ely, commanding) of the 1st Division (3,564 troops), under Major-General Robert Lee Bullard, captured Cantigny from the German Eighteenth Army commanded by von Hutier. The village was situated on high ground surrounded by woods, making it an ideal target for German artillery.

Aiding the capture, the French provided air cover, 368 heavy guns, trench mortars, and flamethrowers. The advancing American infantry was aided by twelve Schneider tanks of the French 5th Tank battalion, used to eliminate German machine gun positions. With this support, and advancing much more audaciously than expected, the 28th Infantry took the village in 45 minutes. It then continued on to its final objective, positions two kilometers from its jump-off point, just as the rolling barrage reached its final line, at 08:13.


Battle of Cantigny: America's Bloody Baptism in World War I

In their first major battles of World War I, American Expeditionary Force troops helped blunt multiple offensives launched by the German Army in the spring of 1918.

Here's What You Need to Know: Throughout the winter of 1917-1918, Ludendorff had worked hard to prepare German forces to defeat the Allies before the full strength of the American military might be brought to bear on the Western Front.

As the fateful day drew to a close, the exhausted soldiers of the German 25th and 82nd Reserve Divisions huddled in their trenches. It was May 30, 1918, and for the past two days the Germans had battled elements of the American 1st Division for control of the small village of Cantigny and its environs. Before them the virgin ground had been churned, the town shot up, and its cemetery turned into a ghoulish battlefield of broken headstones and protruding coffins.

While the Americans had given ground, they had not broken, and they had repulsed every assault the experienced Germans mounted. Over the course of the battle, the Americans had whittled the 82nd Reserve Division down to 2,500 effective personnel. The Battle of Cantigny, the first major assault of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) on the Western Front in World War I, proved that Americans “would both fight and stick,” said Maj. Gen. Robert Lee Bullard, commander of the 1st Division.

The drubbing had been delivered by the 28th Infantry, later reinforced by elements of the 18th Infantry. The Battle of Cantigny began at 4:45 am on May 28. After a 90-minute artillery barrage, the Yanks advanced with three battalions arrayed along a front of 11/2kilometers. Machinegun companies protected each flank. The Americans overran most German forward positions within the first 10 minutes, although the fighting in Cantigny itself came down to flamethrowers, hand grenades, and bayonets. By 8 am the Yanks were digging in, with the 2nd Battalion occupying Cantigny and the 3rd Battalion deployed to the south.

“The success of this phase of the operation was so complete, and the list of casualties so small, that everyone was enthusiastic and delighted,” wrote Colonel George Marshall, who planned the attack. “[However], trouble was coming thick and fast.”

That afternoon, the French withdrew their supporting artillery to deal with a new German offensive. At the same time, German 210mm guns pounded the American positions and tore up the communications wires carefully laid by the 28th Infantry’s engineers. The German counterattack began in the evening and continued into the next morning. The German commander in chief, General Erich Ludendorff, had ordered that the American positions around Cantigny be utterly destroyed for the same reason AEF commander General John J. Pershing ordered that it be held at all costs. “For the 1st Division to lose its first objective was unthinkable and would have had a most depressing effect on the morale of our entire Army, as well as those of our Allies,” wrote Marshall.

The Germans pushed the 2nd Battalion out of its forward positions and into Cantigny proper. To the south, the 3rd Battalion held firm, delivering deadly rifle and machine-gun fire into the attacking Germans. American artillery also seriously disrupted the German attack. However, German artillery, which had survived due to ineffective American counterbattery fire, inflicted heavy losses on the Americans. As a result, the 28th Infantry’s commander, Colonel Hanson E. Ely, was forced to bring his only two reserve companies forward. The Germans launched a second counterattack on the morning of May 29, but this was broken up once more by American rifle and machine-gun fire. German commanders realized that the Americans were probably advancing no farther and halted the attacks, content to harass instead. When the 28th Infantry was pulled off the line on May 30, it left more than 1,000 of its number on the battlefield.

The assault had been of the utmost importance to Pershing. Days before the attack, the men of the 18th Infantry had been withdrawn to the rear area. They meticulously planned and rehearsed the assault against an exact replica of the German defenses in and around Cantigny. In these maneuvers, Pershing’s idea of open warfare was emphasized as was staff work and above all maintaining communications between the front and headquarters. This extensive planning and preparation were typical of Pershing.

When America entered the conflict, Pershing’s first task was to prepare the AEF for modern war. The Americans desperately needed training and organization. The U.S. Army had spent the last two generations fighting imperial wars. In 1917, most of the U.S. Army was stationed on the Rio Grande. Pershing, of course, had become famous for his chase of Poncho Villa in Mexico and before that, for fighting the Moros in the Philippines. America’s occupation of the islands in 1898 had led to a four-year insurgency. Before the war with Spain, the small American army had spent a generation subduing Indians in the American West. Bullard had ridden in the Geronimo campaign.

The U.S. Army had a deep institutional memory of the American Civil War. Bullard grew up in Alabama hearing stories from veterans of the siege of Vicksburg. Lt. Gen. Hunter Liggett, who would eventually command 500,000 men in the American First Army, in 1907 went on a staff ride in Virginia with a former Confederate cavalry general. Pershing himself harkened back to the American Civil War when considering the means by which the AEF would be raised. In his memoirs he made reference to “the evils of the volunteer system in the Civil War, with appointment of politicians to high command” and noted that because of battles such as Vicksburg and Petersburg “Americans were no strangers to trenches.”

To build the AEF, Pershing established an operation and training staff and personally oversaw its direction. The staff developed a school system on the British model, which had impressed Pershing. A general staff college with a three-month curriculum was founded as were schools to teach the use of new weapons developed over the course of the war. These included schools for machine guns, mortars, flamethrowers, and hand grenades.

Pershing also approved of the British method of trench warfare. “They taught their men to be aggressive and undertook to perfect them in hand-to-hand fighting with the bayonet, grenade, and dagger,” he wrote. British and French officers lectured at the American schools. Despite the advent of these modern weapons, Pershing insisted that an infantryman was, at his core, a rifleman.

“My view was that the rifle and bayonet remained essential weapons of the infantry,” he wrote. Intense rifle training fit into Pershing’s view of aggressive, offensive warfare. An AEF training pamphlet declared in part, “All instruction must contemplate the assumption of a vigorous offensive. This purpose will be emphasized in every phase of training until it becomes a settled habit of thought.” Pershing believed that in three years of trench warfare Allied troops had become too defensive and abandoned offensive warfare.

Pershing was determined that the AEF would not fall into the same trap of relying upon around-the-clock artillery bombardment and modern specialty weapons. Rather, Pershing preached open warfare. In Pershing’s style of war, American divisions would force their way through German positions into the open areas in their rear. From there the Doughboys would fight a battle of maneuver aimed at outflanking and destroying German formations. Pershing insisted that, “Instruction in this kind of warfare was based upon individual and group initiative, resourcefulness, and tactical judgment.” Although the AEF troops would learn the art of trench warfare, Pershing was adamant that they strive for open warfare. To this end, the Doughboys were to learn combat skills that they would need to participate in offensive operations. In Pershing’s thinking, the war would be won by American riflemen.

Despite Pershing’s emphasis on open warfare, AEF divisions would still have to puncture German defenses. To punch through, Pershing formed American divisions into behemoths with four infantry regiments, an artillery brigade of three regiments, an engineering brigade, and an independent machine-gun battalion. In all, American divisions numbered 28,000 men, roughly the size of an Allied corps. An American brigade—two infantry regiments and a machine-gun battalion—numbered 8,500 men, which by that point in the war was larger than most Allied and German divisions. American rifle companies were tactical mammoths numbering 250 officers and men divided into four platoons. In Pershing’s plans, the AEF would eventually number three million men in 80 divisions. He envisioned the AEF gradually taking on the burden and bearing the brunt of the war. To that end, Pershing planned for an AEF attack into Alsace-Lorraine with the goal of pushing into Germany and destroying German industrial capacity in the Rhine and Saar valleys.

When America entered the Great War, both the French and the British proposed schemes that would see American troops integrated into their armies. One French memo, quoted by Pershing, actually called for Americans to enlist in the French Army. The British proposed the same system in a memo to Pershing: “If you ask me how your force could most quickly make itself felt in Europe, I would say by sending 500,000 untrained men at once to our depots in England to be trained there and drafted into our armies in France.”


Located in Wheaton, Illinois, Cantigny Park is the 500-acre former estate of Colonel Robert R. McCormick, the longtime editor and publisher of the Chicago Tribune.

Discover the Gift of a Lifetime

Robert R. McCormick, born in 1880, lived on the grounds from the 1920s until his death in 1955. Cantigny is open to the public and part of the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, a nonprofit public charity based in Chicago. It was named after a small village in France, where Colonel McCormick commanded an artillery battalion in 1918 as a member of the U.S. Army’s First Division. The Battle of Cantigny was America’s first victory in World War I.

Robert R. McCormick died in 1955 at age 74. His will established the Robert R. McCormick Charitable Trust and designated Cantigny as a public space for education and recreation. This extraordinary gift, now part of the McCormick Foundation, enriches our community every day and is enjoyed by more than 300,000 visitors each year. We invite you to enjoy the Colonel’s gift! Visit Cantigny Park and walk through history, enjoy nature, and create lasting family memories.

Cantigny Park opened to the public in 1958. It is home to:

    , a historic house museum interpreting the life and legacy of the Colonel. The mansion reveals the public and private sides of one of America’s wealthiest and most philanthropic families. Note: the museum is currently under renovation and will reopen in 2022. , dedicated to the history of the “Big Red One,” the famed 1st Infantry Division of the U.S. Army. Many exhibits are interactive and all of them provide fascinating insights about America’s military, past and present. , created in 1967 by renowned landscape architect Franz Lipp. Nearly 30 acres of display gardens, theme plantings and statuary render exceptional beauty in all seasons. , featuring a popular scale model of the estate, 100-seat theater with welcome film, Le Jardin at Cantigny Park (for banquets and weddings), Bertie’s Café and the Cantigny Shop.
  • ​Education Center, a prairie-style building opened in 2010 that serves as the hub for more than 300 children’s programs, youth group activities, Golden Oak Club meetings (for seniors), fitness classes, horticulture workshops, art classes and more. (nearly 3 miles) and spacious Picnic Area. , designed by Roger Packard and opened for play in 1989. The 300-acre complex includes 27 scenic holes, the year-round Cantigny Golf Academy, the 9-hole Cantigny Youth Links and a full-service clubhouse with dining and banquet facilities.

Throughout the year, Cantigny is host to numerous special events, concerts, weddings, garden tours, museum tours, lectures, horticulture workshops, fitness classes and more. Park hours, directions and a calendar of upcoming events are online here at Cantigny.org. This website also offers a short video highlighting Cantigny’s heritage and permanent attractions.

​Cantigny (can*TEE*nee or can*TIG*nee)

While many people call the park can-TIG-nee, the proper pronunciation is Can-TEE-nee. The word is French and the ‘g’ is silent.

The Robert R. McCormick Foundation

The Robert R. McCormick Foundation, based in Chicago, was established as a charitable trust in 1955 upon the death of its namesake benefactor. It is a nonprofit public charity committed to fostering communities of educated, informed and engaged citizens. Operations include five program areas focused on early-childhood education, journalism, civics, communities and veterans, plus Cantigny Park. Since its inception, the McCormick Foundation has granted more than $1.5 billion to deserving agencies across Chicagoland and communities across America.


WWI Historic Battle of Cantigny Aerial Reconnaissance Photo Set - $400 (Glastonbury)

WWI Historic Battle of Cantigny Official Aerial Reconnaissance Photos - 28 Total!

Own a piece of military and aviation history!

This is a historic original set of official aerial reconnaissance photos of the Battle of Cantigny on May 28, 1918 in France. The photos show active bombing and shelling areas from the battle.

The map identifies the flight pilot as Captain Sourdillon and the observer as Lieutenant Chaput. There is other information about the flight as well including the orientation that the photos were taken. There are 28 photos in this set which account for all of the photo locations shown.

The Battle of Cantigny was the first major American battle and offensive of World War I. In this battle the French aided the Americans by providing air cover, heavy artillery, trench mortars, tanks, and flamethrowers. The Americans launched an assault against the Germans who held positions in the village in the early morning on May 28. The Americans quickly took the town and held their position with help from the French through multiple German counterattacks.

WWI was the first major conflict involving large-scale use of aircraft. While airplanes were initially used for reconnaissance primarily, they were quickly transitioned to combat participation around 1915 and were involved in assaults and bombings as the technology continued to develop.


An American Captain Rebuffs a French General

American prisoners captured at Bathelemont, November 1917. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Marshall was a captain and operations officer with the U.S. 1st Division on November 3, 1917, when German forces raided American trenches near Bathelémont, capturing several doughboys and killing three. The next morning, Captain Marshall rushed toward the front to investigate.

Following a communications trench and dodging enemy sniper fire (“beautiful target shooting,” he later quipped), Marshall found where the action had taken place in a series of shell-blasted trenches and blood-spattered dugouts. He viewed the dead and interviewed the wounded, including a shell-shocked American lieutenant still wearing his shrapnel-dented helmet. While Marshall was talking with the lieutenant, a French interpreter came up and whispered in his ear. A French general (Paul Bordeaux of the 18th French division) standing nearby, he said, had questioned whether the Americans had “shown fight.”

It was the worst thing to say at the worst possible time, and Captain Marshall wouldn’t stand for it. He rounded on the French general, shouting in his face:

“General, I understand you are trying to find whether the Americans showed fight or not. . . I don’t think that is the thing to investigate. I think it would be very much more to the point if you look into the fact that you forbade the Americans to go beyond the wire in any reconnaissance and now they are surprised by the assault right through the wire. I think General Pershing is going to be very much interested in that reaction of a French commander to American troops.”

General Bordeaux, shocked to be chewed out by a mere captain, went “very stiff.” “You are a very young officer,” he snapped, “and this is a very serious matter.” Marshall refused to back down and they shouted back and forth for a few minutes. Later on, Bordeaux gave a stirring eulogy over the American dead that soothed bad feelings, at least for a while. Major Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., and Lieutenant Archie Roosevelt, both sons of the ex-president and serving with the 1st Division, nevertheless told Marshall things about the French that “will not bear repeating.”


Contents

The use of Battle for the events is an example of black humour. Although it took place during the First World War, no enemy forces were present and the losses were entirely accidental.

Around 40 naval vessels left Rosyth on the Firth of Forth, Scotland on the afternoon bound for Scapa Flow in Orkney where the exercise, EC1, involving the entire Grand Fleet would take place the following day. [1]

The vessels included the 5th Battle Squadron of three battleships with their destroyer escorts, the 2nd Battlecruiser Squadron of four battlecruisers and their destroyers, two cruisers and two flotillas of K-class submarines each led by a surface warship. The K class submarines were specially designed to operate with a battle fleet. They were large boats for their time, at 339 feet (103 m) long and were powered by steam turbines to allow them to travel at 24 knots on the surface, to keep up with the fleet.

The two flotillas were the 12th Submarine Flotilla, consisting of K3, K4, K6 and K7, led by Captain Charles Little in the light cruiser HMS Fearless, and the 13th Submarine Flotilla, consisting of K11, K12, K14, K17 and K22, led by Commander Ernest William Leir in the destroyer HMS Ithuriel. [2]

Vice Admiral Beatty had moved the 12th and 13th flotillas of K class submarines in December 1917 from Scapa Flow to Rosyth in order to ensure that they were in a better strategic location from which to undertake operations.

At 18:30 hours the vessels weighed anchor, and the entire fleet under the command of Vice Admiral Sir Hugh Evan-Thomas in Courageous steamed in a single line nearly 30 miles (48 km) long. At the head of the line was the Courageous, followed by Ithuriel leading the rest of the 13th Submarine Flotilla. Several miles behind them was the battlecruiser squadron containing HMAS Australia, HMS New Zealand, Indomitable and Inflexible with their destroyers. After these came the 12th Submarine Flotilla and bringing up the rear were three battleships, which were accompanied by a number of screening destroyers. The initial speed was 16 knots, but Evan-Thomas had ordered his forces to increase speed to 22 knots when they passed May Island, which lay just at the entrance to the Forth estuary.

All vessels were ordered to sail astern of each other, 400 yards (370 m) apart. To avoid attracting German U-boats, particularly as one was suspected to be in the area, after dark each vessel showed only a dim blue stern light accompanied by black-out shields that restricted the lights to one compass point either side of the boats' centre line, and they also were all instructed to maintain radio silence. [2]

The night was clear and the seas relatively calm, but the moon had not yet come up. As each group passed the Isle of May at the mouth of the firth, they altered course and increased speed to 20 knots.

At approximately 19:00 hours, Courageous passed May Island and increased speed, just as a low-lying bank of mist settled over the sea. As the 13th Submarine Flotilla passed the island, a pair of lights (possibly minesweeping naval trawlers) were seen approaching the line of submarines. The flotilla altered course sharply to port to avoid them, but the helm of the third-in-line K14 jammed for six minutes and she veered out of line. Both K14 and the boat behind her, K12 turned on their navigation lights. Eventually K14s helm was freed and she tried to return to her position in the line. The next submarine in line, K22, had lost sight of the rest of the flotilla in the mist and veered off the line, with the result that she hit K14 at 19:17 hours, severing the bow and breaching the forward mess deck, where two men were killed. Both stricken submarines stopped and carefully pulled themselves apart whilst the rest of the flotilla, unaware of what had happened, continued out to sea.

K22 radioed in code to the cruiser leading the flotilla to say that she could reach port but that K14 was crippled and sinking. [3]

About fifteen minutes later, the 2nd Battlecruiser Squadron passed the island and the two submarines. The captain of K22 ordered the firing of a red Very light, which ensured three of the four battlecruisers were able to avoid both submarines. However, the battlecruiser Inflexible bringing up the rear struck K22 a glancing blow at 19:43 hours before continuing on her way. The battlecruiser bent the first 30 feet (9.1 m) of the bow of K22 at right angles and wrecked the ballast and fuel tanks. She settled by the bow until only the conning tower showed.

Meanwhile, Leir, captain of Ithuriel, had received and decoded the message about the first collision between the two submarines and turned back to help them. Leir sent an encoded message to the flag officer on Australia at 20:40 hours, warning them of what was happening. "Submarines K-12 and K-22 have been in collision and are holed forward. I am proceeding to their assistance with 13th Submarine Flotilla. Position 18 miles east magnetic from May Island". [4]

This could have made a difference and prevented the loss of at least some of those in the water, except that the primitive technology of the time meant that transmission was delayed until 21:20. [2] The submarines behind Ithuriel turned to follow her, and the flotilla headed back towards the 2nd Battlecruiser Squadron, which then passed through the flotilla. It was only through emergency turns by both groups of vessels that further accidents were narrowly avoided.

As the 13th Flotilla reached the Isle of May, they encountered the outbound 12th Submarine Flotilla. Fearless, the leader of the 12th Flotilla, loomed out of the mist, and upon sighting the 13th flotilla attempted to avoid them by going "hard astern" and sounding the related alarm, but the cruiser was moving too fast to do so and collided with the starboard side of K17 at approximately 20:32 hours.K17 then sank within a few minutes, although most of her crew were able to jump overboard. Fearless launched her boats in a failed attempt to rescue any survivors, but the few found were recovered by one of the other submarines. The bulkheads bow of Fearless had to be shored up to prevent further flooding, but she was not in any danger of sinking and returned to Rosyth at a very slow speed. [5] She was repaired and survived the war.

Upon hearing the sirens raised by Fearless which signalled that she had stopped, K4 also came to a stop, but the trailing boats did not. K3 narrowly missed K4 and then stopped three cables further on, but K6, despite going full astern, could not avoid a collision, ramming the broadside of K4 at 20:36 hours and nearly cutting the latter in half. The seriously damaged K4 sank with all of her crew while going down, she was hit by K7 at 20:38 hours.

At this point the 5th Battle Squadron of three battleships and their destroyers passed through the area, unaware of what had happened, with some of the destroyers cutting down the survivors of K17 struggling in the water. Only nine of the 56 men originally on board the submarine survived, and one of these died of his injuries shortly afterwards. [6]

Within 75 minutes, the submarines K17 and K4 had been sunk, and K6, K7, K14, K22 and Fearless had been damaged. [7]

K14 was taken in tow by HMS Venetia and reached port.

A total of 104 lives were lost during the "Battle of May Island" 55 from K4, 47 from K17, and two from K14.

The subsequent hastily-convened Court of Inquiry began on 5 February 1918 and sat for five days. The Court of Inquiry released its final report on 19 February 1918, in which it placed the blame for the incident on Leir and four officers on the K boats. [8] They recommended that Leir be court martialed. [9] The case of negligence against Leir for the loss of K-17 was "not proved". Both the investigation and court martial were kept quiet, with much of the information not released until 1994, by which time all of the participants had died, to avoid embarrassment to the Navy. [10] [2]

A memorial cairn was erected 84 years later, on 31 January 2002, at Anstruther harbour opposite the Isle of May. [11] The Submariners' Association holds an annual commemorative service to honour the loss of life. [1]

In 2011, surveyors conducting a detailed preparatory survey of the sea floor for the Neart Na Gaoithe offshore wind farm published sonar images of the wrecks of the two submarines, K-4 and K-17 sunk during the accident. [12] [2] The site of the two sunken submarines, 100 metres apart and about 50 metres down, has long been known [ when? ] , but the wrecks have now been officially surveyed by divers from the specialist marine consultants EMU.


May 28, 1918: Battle of Cantigny

Appropriate that on this Memorial Day we remember the first victory of US troops in World War I: the battle of Cantigny fought a century ago.

A relatively minor affair compared to the fighting that would come later in the year, the Americans of the First Division, the Big Red One, acquitted themselves well in their first battle. Behind a rolling barrage supplied by the French, the men of the 28th Infantry regiment, supported by the 15th Infantry regiment, took the village of Cantigny from the 18th German Army in the early morning hours of May 28th and held it against three days of German counterattacks. Casualties were about 1600 on each side, with the Yanks taking 250 prisoners. The citizen soldiers of the AEF had demonstrated that they could fight and win, and now it was merely a question of whether they would arrive in time to reverse the momentum the Germans were trying to build with their offensives in France.


Planning the Attack at Cantigny

George C. Marshall, 1918. Wikimedia Commons.

Six months later, Marshall was a lieutenant colonel on the staff of the 1st Division, now commanded by General Robert Bullard. The Big Red One had just moved to the front opposite the German-occupied village of Cantigny, and Bullard and the local French corps commander decided that an attack on the village would do wonders to build American confidence. They told Marshall to work with Brigadier General Charles P. Summerall of the artillery to plan the attack.

Lieutenant Colonel Marshall now showed everyone how thorough he could be. He assigned the job to the Big Red One’s 28th Infantry Regiment, but planned the assault as a combined arms operation that would incorporate a section of twelve French Schneider tanks, as well as French sappers with portable explosives and French engineers with flamethrowers.

Field Order 18, “Operation Against Cantigny,” would be issued on May 20. Over the following days, thanks to Marshall’s careful integration of intelligence from ground patrols and reconnaissance aircraft, American soldiers carried out rehearsals against accurate German dummy trenches and strongpoints.

The attack would go forward on May 28. But the Germans had surprises in store, including artillery stocked with seemingly endless poison gas shells, and thousands of storm troopers who would launch attacks of their own before the Americans could even leave their trenches. Marshall’s planning, and American courage, were about to be put to severe test.


Watch the video: 100 Years of Victory: Battle of Cantigny (December 2021).

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