The Lost Battalion and Major Charles W. Whittlesey

| March 25, 2009 | 7 Comments

I’m always inspired by stories of personal strength, especially when the story involves leadership. There are few that can equal the five days that Major Charles Whittlesey and his battlalion, the 308th Infantry of the 77th Infantry Division, endured in the Argonne Forest during October 1918. The good Major led 550 men into an attack of a German position and was immediately cut off inside enemy lines. By the sheer force of his will, he held together his battalion against daily ferocious attacks by a determined enemy, following the last order he was given. Without a chance of resupply of food and ammunition and tethered to his headquarters only by the use of carrier pigeons, the 308th fought off the Germans day after day, at times hand to hand.

Frustrated by their inability to overcome the tiny force, the Germans offered Whittlesey the chance to surrender. He refused and continued to fight off attacks until he was finally relieved. 194 men of the original 550 walked out of that battle with him.

The citation;

Rank and organization: Major, U.S. Army, 308th Infantry, 77th Division. Place and date: Northeast of Binarville, in the forest of Argonne France, 2-7 October 1918. Entered service at: Pittsfield, Mass. Birth. Florence, Wis. G.O. No.: 118, W.D., 1918. Citation: Although cut off for 5 days from the remainder of his division, Maj. Whittlesey maintained his position, which he had reached under orders received for an advance, and held his command, consisting originally of 46 officers and men of the 308th Infantry and of Company K of the 307th Infantry, together in the face of superior numbers of the enemy during the 5 days. Maj. Whittlesey and his command were thus cut off, and no rations or other supplies reached him, in spite of determined efforts which were made by his division. On the 4th day Maj. Whittlesey received from the enemy a written proposition to surrender, which he treated with contempt, although he was at the time out of rations and had suffered a loss of about 50 percent in killed and wounded of his command and was surrounded by the enemy.

Two of the major’s subordinates were also awarded the Medal of Honor, Captains George McMurty and Nelson Holderman.

McMURTRY, GEORGE G.

Rank and organization: Captain, U.S. Army, 308th Infantry, 77th Division. Place and date: At Charlevaux, in the forest of Argonne, France, 2-8 October 1918. Entered service at: New York, N.Y. Born: 6 November 1876, Pittsburgh, Pa. G.O. No.: 118, W.D., 1918. Citation: Commanded a battalion which was cut off and surrounded by the enemy and although wounded in the knee by shrapnel on 4 October and suffering great pain, he continued throughout the entire period to encourage his officers and men with a resistless optimism that contributed largely toward preventing panic and disorder among the troops, who were without food, cut off from communication with our lines. On 4 October during a heavy barrage, he personally directed and supervised the moving of the wounded to shelter before himself seeking shelter. On 6 October he was again wounded in the shoulder by a German grenade, but continued personally to organize and direct the defense against the German attack on the position until the attack was defeated. He continued to direct and command his troops, refusing relief, and personally led his men out of the position after assistance arrived before permitting himself to be taken to the hospital on 8 October. During this period the successful defense of the position was due largely to his efforts.

HOLDERMAN, NELSON M.

Rank and organization: Captain, U.S. Army, 307th Infantry, 77th Division. Place and date: Northeast of Binarville, in the forest of Argonne, France, 2-8 October 1918. Entered service at: Santa Ana, Calif. Birth: Trumbell, Nebr. G.O. No.: 11, W.D., 1921. Citation: Capt. Holderman commanded a company of a battalion which was cut off and surrounded by the enemy. He was wounded on 4, 5, and 7 October, but throughout the entire period, suffering great pain and subjected to fire of every character, he continued personally to lead and encourage the officers and men under his command with unflinching courage and with distinguished success. On 6 October, in a wounded condition, he rushed through enemy machinegun and shell fire and carried 2 wounded men to a place of safety.

During the same action, two pilots, Lt. Harold E. Goettler with observer Lt. Erwin R. Bleckley, who dropped ammunition and food to the 308th in the first aerial resupply mission in history, were posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor when they were shot down on their second attempt.

GOETTLER, HAROLD ERNEST (Air Mission)

Rank and organization: First Lieutenant, pilot, U.S. Army Air Corps, 50th Aero Squadron, Air Service. Place and date: Near Binarville, France, 6 October 1918. Entered service at: Chicago, Ill. Born: 21 July 1890, Chicago, Ill. G.O. No.: 56, W.D., 1922. Citation: 1st. Lt. Goettler, with his observer, 2d Lt. Erwin R. Bleckley, 130th Field Artillery, left the airdrome late in the afternoon on their second trip to drop supplies to a battalion of the 77th Division which had been cut off by the enemy in the Argonne Forest. Having been subjected on the first trip to violent fire from the enemy, they attempted on the second trip to come still lower in order to get the packages even more precisely on the designated spot. In the course of this mission the plane was brought down by enemy rifle and machinegun fire from the ground, resulting in the instant death of 1st. Lt. Goettler. In attempting and performing this mission 1st. Lt. Goettler showed the highest possible contempt of personal danger, devotion to duty, courage and valor.

BLECKLEY, ERWIN R. (Air Mission)

Rank and organization: Second Lieutenant, U.S. Army Air Corps, 130th Field Artillery, observer 50th Aero Squadron, Air Service. Place and date. Near Binarville, France, 6 October 1918. Entered service at: Wichita, Kans. Birth: Wichita, Kans. G.O. No.: 56, W.D., 1922. Citation: 2d Lt. Bleckley, with his pilot, 1st Lt. Harold E. Goettler, Air Service, left the airdrome late in the afternoon on their second trip to drop supplies to a battalion of the 77th Division, which had been cut off by the enemy in the Argonne Forest. Having been subjected on the first trip to violent fire from the enemy, they attempted on the second trip to come still lower in order to get the packages even more precisely on the designated spot. In the course of his mission the plane was brought down by enemy rifle and machinegun fire from the ground, resulting in fatal wounds to 2d Lt. Bleckley, who died before he could be taken to a hospital. In attempting and performing this mission 2d Lt. Bleckley showed the highest possible contempt of personal danger, devotion to duty, courage, and valor.

Category: Historical

Loading Facebook Comments ...

Comments (7)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. TSO says:

    Major Whittlesey is from Pittsfield, Mass, about 20 miles north of where I went to HS. (Also the home of the chick from the movie Zack and Miri.) Very familiare with his awesome story.

  2. olga says:

    Incredible

  3. Dave Thul says:

    There is a good movie about the lost battalion that stars Rick (don’t call him Ricky) Schroeder as the BC. Much to my surprise, he did justice to the role.
    What that unit went through is incredible, and humbling to think of how well provision, communication, and intelligence dependent the modern Army is.
    For instance-imagine a your unit today on the advance in Afghanistan. You used up the two miles of commo wire that you brought with, so the rest of the distance is covered by-runners.
    Same profession, different world.

  4. Sean says:

    The Man always felt Guilt about being called a hero. Walked off the fantail of a Ship bound for Cuba in the 20′s IIRC.

  5. Read the TRUE story of what happened to Whittlesey and his men in the Charlevaux Ravine in ‘Finding the Lost Battalion: Beyond the Rumors, Myths and Legends of America’s Famous WW1 Epic’. I absolutely garauntee that this will be perhaps the best war book you will ever read. The Schroeder movie did no justice at all to these men.

  6. Doc Bailey says:

    Whats really a tragity is what happened to Major Wittilsy after the war. Its fair to say that he suffered from PTSD, and probably committed suicide after giving one last account of his heroism.

  7. Hey there your internet site url: http://MMAFightVideos.TV appears to be redirecting to a completely different web-site when I click the homepage button. You might want to have this looked at.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *