Author Topic: Fredericksburg to France the "Fighting Irish" at Landres-et-St Georges-100 Years  (Read 1020 times)

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Offline ArizonaTank

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October 14 - 16, 1918, The Fighting Irish at Landres-et-St Georges
The “Fighting 69th”, “Wild Bill” Donovan and Father Duffy.

In December 1862, the New York 69th “Fighting Irish” (also called “The Fighting 69th") regiment lost half of its troops trying to storm Marye's Heights at Fredericksburg. In October 1918, the regiment renamed the 165th Infantry, lost nearly as many troops trying to take German fortified positions on the Hindenburg Line at Landres-et-Saint Georges. Both attacks ultimately failed, but spoke to the bravery and proud history of the regiment.

Landres-et-St. Georges

The small French town of Landres-et-St. Georges sat at the edge of Kriemhilde Stellung, the main defensive belt of the Hindenburg Line. The line contained three main defensive bands, or stellungs (German for "position"), each about 5 miles apart. The stellungs were named after Wagnarian legendary women; Giselher, Kriemhilde, and Freya in that order. The doughboy's grim joke was that they were 'all bitches'.  At Landres-et-St. Georges, the Kriemhilde Stellung was made up of thick bands of barbed wire, machine gun strong points, bunkers and well defined kill zones.

On October 14th, the AEF launched a multi-division offensive to break through this last ditch German defensive line. The 165th Infantry, the “Fighting Irish”, part of the 42nd Division, had the job of punching through the stellung at Landres-et-St. Georges.

US Army Center for Military History Map: AEF Offensive to pierce the Hindenburg Line, 14 – 16 October. In many locations the Germans stopped the Americans

US Intelligence Map dated October 2nd, 1918 showing the Kriemhilde Stellung at Landres-et-St Georges. I have marked the 165th line of advance and location of main fighting on October 14 in blue. The Cote de Chatillon is marked to the 165th's right. It would take the 42nd two more weeks to get to the town.

On 14 October, at 0830 hours, the 165th began its push to pierce the stellung. Almost immediately, it began to take heavy fire; well directed artillery, trench mortars and machine gun barrages. Most of this came from the Cote de Chatillon, a fortified hillock on the regiments right flank. German aircraft also had air superiority, and the regiment was strafed by fighters, while observation aircraft directed galling artillery fire. Like their ancestors at Fredericksburg, the regiment crossed open ground against prepared defenses, as enemy fire tore large holes into their line.

The 1st Battalion Commander, "Wild Bill" Donovan led from the front, yelling: “Come on Fellows”. When machine gun fire almost hit him, he told the men: “Come on now, they can't hit me, and they won't hit you.”

Once the regiment hit the wire of the stellung, they had great difficulty making progress. Engineers attempted to cut through the wire, but were beaten back by enemy fire. An uncoordinated attack by 9 tanks, did little to help with progress.

On the 15th, the push continued, but Donovan was hit in the knee and was evacuated. He briefly met Father Duffy, the regimental chaplain at the aid station near regimental headquarters. In his book, Father Duffy recalled the conversation: “Father, you are a disappointed man. You expected to have the pleasure of burying me over here.”  “I certainly did Bill, and you are a lucky dog to get off with nothing more than what you've got.”

By the 16th the attack had failed. Father Duffy wrote:

“When the wire is deep, and still intact, and strongly defended, the infantry can do little but hang their heroic bodies on it. But we should not dwell on this. The most glorious day in the history of our regiment in the Civil War was Fredericksburg, where the Old 69th in the Irish Brigade failed to capture the impregnable position on Marye's Heights, though their dead with green sprigs in their caps lay in rows before it. Landres et St. Georges is our Fredericksburg and the Kriemhilde Stellung our Marye's Heights.”

It would take two weeks of fighting, pushing back German counter-attacks, sniping, and raiding, before the stellung.would be pierced at Landres et St Georges. Then, after so much sacrifice, the 165th was ordered to sit and watch as the 2nd Division was put into line, and made the final push into Landres et St Georges on November 1st.

Google Street View of the Approx loc of the Kreimhilde Stellung before Landres St Georges. Looking south toward the advancing 165th.,5.0075618,3a,75y,179.04h,64.83t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sPM_8OQF9m7um9-rmmQE6oQ!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

Approximate location of 165th's attack. Looking NE towards the Cote de Chatillon, a fortified hillock that hit the regiments right flank.,5.0004244,3a,67y,84.63h,87.48t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sUkNsSDfIW8ivZlmEMxf51w!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

The Fighting Irish and the 42nd Raibow Division

During the Civil War, the 69th New York Militia (“The Fighting Irish”) was one of the most storied regiments in the Union Army. The regiment was mostly recruited from Irish immigrants, and its leaders were Irish nationalists. The regiment started its fighting career at Bull Run. But it's most tragic and famous engagement was at Fredericksburg where the 69th lost half of its soldiers trying to take the stone wall at Marye's Heights. The 69th was at all of the major battles in the East up through 1863.

The Fighting Irish's participation at Gettysburg, may be confusing. This is because another Irish regiment, the 69th Pennsylvania was also there. The Pennsylvania unit was named in honor of the original NY unit.

The New York 69th fought in the Wheatfield, as part of the very depleted Irish Brigade; by Gettysburg, the entire Irish Brigade had taken so many casualties it could only muster 500 men. The NY 69th took heavy casualties at Gettysburg, became ineffective and was disbanded sometime after the battle.

The other Irish 69th, the Pennsylvania 69th, was behind the stonewall at Cemetery Ridge on the 3rd day of Gettysburg. Anyone who has visited the battlefield near the copse of trees on Cemetery Ridge will have seen the 69th Pennsylvania monument. The 69th PA had a key part in holding back Pickett's Charge, and the regiment also has a storied Civil War history.

During WWI, the NY 69th was renamed the 165th Infantry and made part of the 42nd Rainbow division. The Rainbow Division was given that name by none other than Douglas MacArthur because the division was made up units from 26 states, who covered the US like a “rainbow”.

42nd Rainbow Division Patch

One of the 69th's old Civil War rivals was also part of the 42nd Division. This was the Army of Northern Virginia's 4th Alabama, now named the 167th Infantry. The 69th NY and 4th Alabama, had been on opposite side of many of the same Civil War battlefields.

The 69th in WWI has often been referred to as a celebrity unit. During the war, it held three larger than life personalities:

“Wild Bill” Donovan: The 1st Battalion Commander, who would later go on to be America's spymaster, founder of the WWII era OSS, and later the CIA.
Here is Wild Bill Donovan's page at the CIA:

Wild Bill Himself

Father Francis Duffy: The chaplain whose feats of bravery were legendary, and now has a statue on Times Square. Father Duffy's memorial:

Father Duffy

Sergeant Joyce Kilmer: A famous American poet, who wrote poetry before the Great War. His most famous poem, “Trees” starts: “I think I shall never see, a poem as lovely as a tree...” Joyce Kilmer never left France, he was killed by a sniper, while scouting a German machine gun position in July, 1918. He is buried in France. Some of Joyce Kilmer's WWI poetry is at:

Then there was Douglas MacArthur, the Division Chief of Staff and later Division Commander.
The Douglas MacArthur memorial has a nice podcast on the 69th at:


In 1940, Hollywood produced a major motion picture about the unit, “The Fighting 69th”. Stars Pat O'Brien as Father Duffy, and James Cagney as a skulker who spends most of the movie trying to avoid combat, but finally finds courage in the end. Well worth renting on some rainy afternoon.  The movie generally follows actual events. This clip shows the incident where the unit had its first major casualties, at Rouge Bouquet Farm in France.

« Last Edit: November 04, 2018, 07:15:31 AM by ArizonaTank »
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