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Battle of Fismes and Fismette 2 Aug - 27th August, 1918

During three weeks in August, 1918, the US 32nd and 28th Divisions fought a house-to-house battle in the village of Fismes, and its attached hamlet of Fismette.  The towns were held by crack troops from the German 4th Guards Division.  The Americans initally pushed the Germans out...but the battle ended as German storm troops with flamethrower detachments launched a fierce counter attack on May 27th.  This pushed the Americans back over the river and out of Fismette. Most of the US troops defending Fismette were captured (the Germans reported 250 US troops captured) or killed.

One of the best descriptions of this fight is in Hervy Allen's war diary, “Toward the Flame”.  In fact “Toward the Flame” is often cited as one of the best WWI diaries. Allen was an infantry officer in the 28th Division and was wounded at Fismette.  Thanks to the internet archive, a very nice digital copy is available for free at:
https://archive.org/details/towardflamewardi00herv?q=fismette

Both US divisions in the fight were National Guard divisions.

The 28th Division was made up of men mostly from Pennsylvania.  The division is the oldest division sized unit in the US Army. The division symbol was (and is) a red keystone, the symbol of the State of Pennsylvania.  To the Germans, the keystone looked like a red, “bloody bucket,” and that name stuck (the division is also known as the “Iron Division”). A nice summary of the 28th in WWI is at:
https://books.google.com/books?id=IIizAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=pennsylvania+at+war&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiuyYuc8_vcAhUCYKwKHaJeAaQQ6AEIMzAC#v=onepage&q=pennsylvania%20at%20war&f=false

The 32nd Division was made of National Guardsmen from Michigan and Wisconsin. One of the division's battalions had roots going back to the Civil War “Iron Brigade.” The 32nd fought in WWII but was de-activated during the Cold War.  A summary of the 32nd in WWI is at:
https://books.google.com/books?id=kMcLAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=32nd+division&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwi-h_bO8_vcAhUBKqwKHV8tBYMQ6AEIMTAB#v=onepage&q=32nd%20division&f=false

The Google Street View link below, shows the main bridge in Fismes over the Vesle.  The original bridge was blown by the Germans during their retreat.  US troops crossing over to Fismette during the battle used makeshift bridges.  After the war, as a memorial to the 28th Division, the State of Pennsylvania rebuilt the bridge you can see in the street view link. This view is from the Fismes side, looking north toward to where the German defenses were in Fismette.
https://www.google.com/maps/@49.3123174,3.6796448,3a,68.5y,354.67h,91.52t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sFE6N1KpNgzVTnZA9iyhidA!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

The last nine months of WW1 on the Western Front were not dominated by trench warfare.  Tanks and assault tactics such as the German Strossturppen had opened the entire front up.  For the American Expeditionary Force (AEF), the war was not like what had come before. The troops still dug in, and fought from prepared defenses, but in many sectors, the battle was fluid. Many battles were fought over open ground.

Despite the more fluid battlefields, street-to-street, house-to-house fighting like that seen 25 years later in WWII, was not common.  One of these exceptions was the battle of Fismes, and it's smaller attached hamlet, Fismette. 

At the end of July, 1918, the Germans in the Marne sector were retreating north in the face a massive French and American counter-offensive. The retreating Germans gave up most of the ground they had gained earlier in the year. The retreat was disciplined, and the Germans eventually established a defensive line on the north bank of the Vesle river.

One of the main German positions on the Vesle defensive line was the town of Fismes on the south bank of the river, and it's attached hamlet, Fismette on the north bank. The German 4th Guards Division who held the position were considered to be “first rate troops.”  The town itself was fairly intact, and a ridge north of Fismette offered good defensive fields of fire. 

On August 2nd, the 32nd Division, advancing from the south, started the difficult task of pushing the Germans out of the town.  In five days of hard fighting, the 32nd endured German gas and artillery attacks, and brutal street fighting.  Still, in the face of this solid defense, the 32nd managed to push the Germans out of Fismes on the southern bank, and even get patrols over to the the north bank in Fismette.

Captain Paul Schmidt, Co. C. 127th Infantry, wrote in 1919
...a terrific conflict was being waged between the 2nd. and 3rd. Battalions (of the 167th infantry, part of the 32nd Division) and the Germans, who were fighting in a hand-to-hand struggle in the same block in the city. Machine guns were placed along the streets in the most advantageous positions behind barricades of the walls of the ruined buildings. Step by step our troops pushed forward in the face of machine gun fire that swept the streets from curb to curb ; but undaunted, the plucky fighters of the 2nd. and 3rd. Battalions fought on against great odds, until they had driven the enemy to the bank of the Vesle river. From our position, we had a panoramic view of both sides of the river and the sloping hills on the other side of the Vesle north of Fismette. We could see the Germans retreating across the river into Fismette and up the hills on the opposite side, keeping up a heavy fire with both artillery and machine guns, in their retreat. After crossing the river, the Germans blew up the bridges and filled the river with wire entanglements.

But the cost of taking Fismes was high.  The 32nd Division was in shambles after this fight, and could not push on.  The lead regiment at full strength should have had 3700 men, but was now down to 500 effective troops.

It was now the 28th's turn. On August 6th, the men from Pennsylvania, replaced the 32nd  and began the push to get over the river into Fismette. The 28th began slow street by street, house by house battle. The 28th was under constant fire from masked machine guns, snipers and harassing gas and artillery attacks.  At night, groups of German assault troops would move down the streets, attacking the 28th positions with bundled “potato mashers.”

For two weeks, the 28th gradually pushed the Germans out of Fismette, finally taking the hamlet on August 22nd. But on August 27, the Germans who still held the heights north of Fismette, struck back. In the course of one night, German storm troopers and flamethrowers finally took Fismette back, capuring or killing most of the 28th's defenders. Eventually, the Germans retreated in mid-September, giving up the town that they had fought so hard to take back.

 



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Organizations and Equipment / Re: Ships!
« Last post by Airborne Rifles on Yesterday at 12:02:58 PM »
Kursk

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Organizations and Equipment / Re: Tanks!
« Last post by Windigo on August 17, 2018, 04:29:19 PM »
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Organizations and Equipment / Re: Ships!
« Last post by DoctorQuest on August 17, 2018, 02:08:14 PM »
That is an amazing story. Thanks for sharing.
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Organizations and Equipment / Re: Space!
« Last post by BanzaiCat on August 17, 2018, 07:53:57 AM »


...no idea if that's legit or just someone playing around with Photoshop. Likely the latter but still kinda interesting.
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Organizations and Equipment / Re: Space!
« Last post by W8taminute on August 17, 2018, 07:29:05 AM »
Eagle 1 landing on the moonbase circa 1999.

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Organizations and Equipment / Re: Space!
« Last post by bob48 on August 17, 2018, 06:48:14 AM »
Truly terrifying...............
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Organizations and Equipment / Re: Ships!
« Last post by besilarius on August 17, 2018, 05:21:32 AM »
Narwal rides out Hurricane Hugo:

 In 1989, residents of the East Coast braced for a potential hurricane strike as Hurricane Hugo passed over the Lesser Antilles as a strong Category 4/5 storm on September 17th and began turning northwest. The eye of the hurricane, originally forecast to head directly for the eastern Florida coast, took an unexpectedly northern turn the next day, and the National Hurricane Center issued a hurricane watch for the South Carolina coast.

Meanwhile, the Narwhal, among many other valuable Navy assets docked at the Charleston Naval Shipyard, prepared for a possible direct hit to the Lowcountry by the impending storm. Of the 28 floating assets in harm’s way at Charleston, half were withdrawn from the base and sent to sea, out of the storm’s path. The Narwhal and a number of other vessels did not have this option, however; they were not deemed seaworthy for a variety of reasons, mostly related to routine maintenance work/ dry docking. In the Narwhal’s case, she was in dry dock for an impending massive refueling and overhaul operation, and although her nuclear reactor was offline, concerns arose about how to best secure the berths for her and the other boats in the face of expected 140+ knot winds.

Extra thick mooring cables were secured to provide what was hoped to be enough redundancy to keep the Narwhal safely tied up at pier. However, as the strong Category 4 winds of Hugo bore down on Charleston late in the evening of September 21st, the men assigned to keeping the Narwhal safely tucked away were shocked to see the combination of a 20-foot storm surge and catastrophic winds buckle and break all of its mooring cables but one—a tenacious aft night rider. The Narwhal, with her crew aboard, was tossed around by the giant storm and began to dangle away from the pier into the middle of the Cooper River. The men aboard the Narwhal felt somewhat helpless as the waves and winds buffeted the huge submarine around, stymieing any efforts to gain independent control of her movements. The topside duty was secured once the waves began crashing onto the steel beach too high, endangering those crewmembers valiantly trying to maintain watch under extreme weather conditions. All topside personnel were brought down below, the hatches were secured, and the watch was moved to the periscope. Shortly thereafter, Narwhal’s final umbilical cord to the pier was cut when the final mooring cable broke loose. The Narwhal was underway, but she was perilously out of control.

As luck would have it, Mother Nature granted the Narwhal a short reprieve from the storm as the crisis was unfolding. As the submarine was foundering in the Cooper, the winds suddenly abated with the arrival of the hurricane’s eye over the shipyard shortly after midnight on September 22nd. Two tugboats were deployed during this brief lull in the storm to engage the Narwhal and help her return to the pier. Unfortunately, time was the enemy, and the tugboats had to turn away on their approach as the calm conditions vanished once again. The back wall of the hurricane had abruptly arrived, along with the return of battering winds in excess of 130 knots with higher gusts to 150 knots.

Realizing that his mighty submarine was powerless against the littoral juggernaut that was Hugo, the CO of the Narwhal, Captain Daniel L. Whitford, made an unconventional and audacious decision. As the winds continued to ramp up, threatening the safety of his crew, Whitford announced, “We can either ride out the storm and wind up on shore, or we can sink it right here.” During the height of the tempest—the most powerful hurricane ever to strike the East Coast north of Florida at that time—the CO gave the order to submerge. The Narwhal was going to ride out the remainder of the storm at the bottom of the Cooper River.

And so, operating solely on battery power (the reactor had already been shut down), the klaxon sounded out two shrill bursts: “Dive! Dive!” The ballast tanks were flooded and the Narwhal silently sank to the river bed, where she spent the remainder of the night as the raging storm passed over. The crew could not use the snorkel for air exchange because the cooling water ports along the bottom of the hull would have clogged with mud; they would have to make due with just the ambient air on board when they dove. Reducing the number of active watch personnel helped to minimize the overnight oxygen consumption, so that those not on duty could rest and conserve air. The Corpsman (“Doc”) checked the air quality constantly during the night to make sure that dangerous atmospheric conditions didn’t develop. The oxygen and carbon dioxide levels did deviate from acceptable values on the Narwhal that night, but not to a threshold that required emergency intervention. As long as fresh air was coming in a few hours, the crew would be fine.

Everything electrical was shut off except for minimal lighting, in order to decrease the load on the ship’s batteries. Communication between compartments was conducted on the sound powered ship’s phones—the 2JV communications system. The depth at the river bottom was no more than 25 feet, such that the top of the Narwhal’s sail and fairwater planes protruded above the waterline. Those personnel on periscope watch were able to observe the effects of the storm. The river was littered with capsized boats, mangled buoys and other flotsam, and the land was dark except for the occasional blue glow of another transformer exploding. It was a surreal scene.

When dawn broke, imagine the disbelief of those who had ridden out the storm from the safety of the base when they looked toward the river to see the top of the conning tower of the Narwhal breaking above the water surface! Or, even stranger still, the perspective of the USS Casimir Pulaski (SSBN-633G), as it cruised up the mouth of the Cooper from Charleston Harbor, to come upon the top of sail of a sister submarine right there in the middle of the river, seeming to stand as both sentry and symbol of survival. The crew of the Narwhal had indeed used the unlikely refuge of the river bottom to successfully ride out the storm.

The ultimate soundness of the CO’s decision to sink to the bottom of the Cooper River was tested when it was time for the Narwhal to surface that morning. The submarine was embedded in tenacious silt that made engine start with both forward and reverse way EOT commands completely ineffective in dislodging the submarine from its muddy cradle. However, the A-gangers and nukes fellows put their heads together and came up with an ingenious idea to run a hose from the low-pressure blower to fill the ballast tanks both fore and aft. By methodically blowing the ballast tanks in an alternating pattern, the hull slipped free of the river bed, and the Narwhal surfaced and returned to the pier.
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Organizations and Equipment / Re: Space!
« Last post by Staggerwing on August 16, 2018, 05:51:04 PM »
^^^ "ehem"
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Military (and other) History / Re: USS Ling, New Jersey Naval Museum vadalized
« Last post by Jarhead0331 on August 16, 2018, 11:07:35 AM »
PLEASE tell me they have video surveillance.
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