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Fort Carson division saw high casualties in major World War I victory

By: Joe Berg Fort Carson Museum
October 1, 2017 Updated: October 1, 2017 at 11:27 am
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Members of Headquarters Company, 58th Infantry, 4th Division, pose in shell holes of an old building in Mountfaucon, France, Oct. 2, 1918. -Photo courtesy of U.S. Army Signal Corps.

Fort Carson is celebrating the 100th birthday of the 4th Infantry Division with stories about the unit's past. This second installment describes the sacrifices the division made during America's largest offensive of World War I.

In 1918, just a week after the success of the St. Mihel Offensive, the 4th Division prepared to take part in the largest battle fought by the U.S. Army, the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.

This battle, fought between the Meuse River and the Argonne Forest, took place near the old Verdun battlefield where the French and German armies had fought each other heavily in 1915. Nearly 1.2 million American soldiers attempted to break the German stranglehold on northeastern France.

On Sept. 26, the 4th Division moved secretly into their sector of the front under the cover of darkness.

The soldiers held the west side of the American III Corps in the trenches around Hill 304. The division plan called for one brigade to fight until exhausted and then send the second brigade forward to press the attack. During the first day of the assault, the division's 7th Brigade captured 1,700 prisoners, and more than 40 guns. The attack continued, and the division's 8th Brigade was brought forward on Sept. 29 to take the place of the 7th on the line. The 8th Brigade moved through the forest of Brieulles but met increasing machine-gun fire.

Very little progress was made over the next four days, and by Oct. 3, the advance ground to a halt.

Efforts began for a second phase of the attack on the morning of Oct. 4. The 8th Brigade moved across open ground under the cover of heavy fog. As the fog lifted, the Germans opened fire. Soldiers fought forward wearing gas masks since many of the German projectiles contained gas, finally managing to gain a foothold in the German positions.

However, the division advanced no further for the next four days, enduring constant shelling. Finally, on the morning of Oct. 11, the 7th Brigade pushed through the German position to achieve the division's objectives.

The 4th was withdrawn from the front Oct. 19.

During 24 days of combat, the division had paid a heavy price with 244 officers and 7,168 enlisted men killed or wounded. They had fought their way over 13 kilometers and captured 2,731 enemy prisoners. The total collapse of the German army was only a few weeks away. The armistice ending the war was signed Nov. 11, 1918.

Total 4th Division casualties for the First World War were 2,611 killed in action and 9,895 wounded in action from a total authorized strength of nearly 32,000.

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