Monday, October 8, 2018

Go To ---- Yankee Replies to Huns -- The Lost Battalion -- October 8, 2018

Washington Star, 11-October-1918
100 years ago today, the Lost Battalion was rescued.  A week before, Major Charles Whittlesey led nine companies of the 77th Division forward as part of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. The Germans surrounded them.  On the sixth day, the Germans sent a blindfolded prisoner to ask them to surrender.  Major Whittlesey responded "Go to hell."  Major Whittlesey and seven others received the Medal of Honor.  

Maj. Whittlesey of "Lost" Battalion Firm on Receiving Demand to Surrender.

By the Associated Press.

WITH THE AMERICAN FORCES NORTHWEST OF VERDUN, Wednesday, October 9. -- The brightest spot in the heroic and amazing story of the now famous "lost battalion," which belonged to the 77th Division, as yet untold, was the climax to the fourth day of the troops' beleaguerment in the Argonne forest.

When the men were long foodless and almost wholly without ammunition, and when many were weak from exhaustion but not one despairing, an American who had been taken prisoner by the Germans suddenly appeared at the little camp surrounded in the valley.

The man had been sent blindfolded from the German headquarters with a typewritten note to Maj. Whittlesey, reading:

"Americans, you are surrounded on all sides. Surrender in the name of humanity. You will be well treated."
Weary Yanks Cheer Answer.

Maj. Whittlesey did not hesitate a fraction of a second.

"Go to hell!" he almost shouted. Then he read the note to those around him, and his men, notwithstanding their weariness and hunger, and in imminent danger every moment, cheered so loudly that the Germans heard them from' their observation posts.

None of the battalion could know that relief would come within twenty four hours; none felt very sure that it could come at all before it was too late, but the same spirit animating them at that moment, and every living man, wounded or well, in the battalion enthusiastically approved Maj. Whittlesey's abrupt answer when the news of it was circulated through the position.

Germans Get Behind.

A composite story gleaned from a dozen recitals that the battalion when ordered to advance last Friday pushed Its way rapidly ahead through the forest, and, in its eagerness to catch up with the retreating Germans gradually spread out and widened its ranks. This allowed the Germans to infiltrate unseen behind the Americans, and they fell directly into a cunning trap which the Germans had set for them.

The enemy had planned to catch the Americans in a hollow surrounded on all four sides by heights, the greatest of which was a steep hill directly ahead. The Americans, who were not accustomed to forest fighting, and were filled with eagerness, dashed into this hollow without stopping to think that the enemy might be awaiting them. The members of the battalion were at first checked by their own artillery barrage which had worked steadily forward. Nevertheless, it had not worked as fast as the troops themselves and the battalion proceeded half way up the hill and there they waited for the barrage to pass in front of them. Then they discovered that the Germans on both sides had jointly flanked them and had closed in upon their rear.

Sniping Machine Gun Fire.

Sheltered only in shallow and hastily constructed trenches, the men were subjected to a grilling sniping machine gun fire as well as a trench mortar bombardment every time they showed themselves. Only with the greatest difficulty and with extreme caution could they move from place to place and keep guard against surprise attacks.

The battalion had started with meager rations, expecting more to reach them later. These, of course, could no longer be transported to them. It was the greatest good fortune that they were fairly well supplied with water.

Nightly and daily, too, they sent back volunteer scouting parties, but if these reached the positions in the rear without being captured or killed they could not tell, for none ever returned.

Daily American aviators searching vainly for them flew overhead, but no outcry the men could make brought anything but a volley of shouts and laughter from the Germans in front and behind and to the right and left of them.

Nests All About Them.

The beleaguered men discovered there were German machine gun nests all around them every fifteen feet or so, and a man to show himself ever so briefly was the signal for a sweeping rain of bullets. If a man made an unusual noise trench mortars pounded the vicinity viciously.

Just for diversion, the enemy made a practice of sweeping the whole terrain -- the hillside where the improvised trenches were located and the valley in which the men crawled to get leaves and water -- regularly and then irregularly with machine guns. Snipers were constantly on watch. German 77s pounded the locality and hand grenades also were hourly in evidence. The Americans had no rockets or other signals and they were powerless to attract the attention of any one but the Germans.

Never Gave Up Hope.

As the days passed the Americans grew more and more emaciated and more and more bearded, but they never gave up hope. There was nothing but a grim determination to hold out until the last man was finished. There was not a man in the battalion, wounded or otherwise, hungry or starved, but scorned the idea of surrender. Their ammunition was depleted to a point where the few machine guns in the outfit had but one belt of cartridges apiece and the rifle ammunition was. running so short that they had received orders not to fire at anyone attacking until within such short range that his death or serious injury was almost inevitable.

Maj, Whittlesy, who is a well known New Yorker, had his entire battalion behind him to a man. Capt. Leo Stromme of San Bernardino, Cal, told the Associated Press his men jeered at the idea of surrender and the men who came out of the four days' siege are united in declaring that they never would have given up.

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