Author Topic: "The Last Man Killed" - Henry Gunther and "Baltmore's Own" - 100 Years  (Read 469 times)

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Offline ArizonaTank

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The Last Attack - November 11th, 1918

At 11am, on November 11th, 1918, the guns suddenly went silent, and a long Armistice led to the end of the Great War.

But at 10:59am, Henry Gunther, a private in the US 313th Infantry (79th Division), also called "Baltimore's Own", became the last soldier killed. For reasons that are not known, Gunther attacked a German machine gun position. The Germans and Americans were well aware of the Armistice, and the German gunners apparently tried to wave off Gunther, but he continued his attack and was killed.

The "Last Man" Killed

The Baltimore Sun recently published a nice piece about Henry Gunther and his posible motivations:

This is the Google Street view of the location of Gunther's death. He would have been attacking in the direction of the camera.  Today there is a monument there, but apparetnly the Google Street view was taken several years before it was put in place.,5.4247611,3a,75y,353.05h,90.89t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sUwk9as6Hr11qNr4eDchZvw!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

It is not really true that Gunther was the last man killed in WWI. Technically, that would be one of the German sailors killed while scuttling their ships at Scapa Flow, one week before the peace treaty was signed in June, 1919.

This BBC article covers the Scapa Flow fight:

The Armistice

The 313th Infantry was the same unit that had stumbled trying to take Montfaucon back at the start of the Meuse Argonne Offensive on September 26th. Within 6 weeks, they had become a seasoned fighting force. In early November, the 79th Division attacked Hill 378, La Borne de Cornouiller. It was a textbook attack, against a seasoned enemy, in a well-fortified position, and it showed how far the 79th had come in just a handful of weeks.

By Nov 8th, Austria Hungary had surrendered, and there were riots back in German cities. Supreme Allied Commander Foch notified the US, British and French forces that an Armistice was imminent. On November 9th, the Kaiser abdicated, and the next day, an Armistice was signed to take effect on November 11th, at 11am.

The French and British used this information to scale back offensive efforts and avoid unnecessary loss of life.

The AEF did just the opposite. Undertaking offensives and sending the men "over the top" within hours before the Armistice. With hind-sight, it is easy for us to see this as a waste of life, and maybe even a vain grab for glory.

However, on that day, the soldiers on the ground did not know how long the Armistice would last. It was really just a cease fire. From the AEF commanders' perspective, they wanted to keep pushing, because they were not certain if the Germans would even honor the cease fire.

But many of the troops were ready to end the fighting. In the 33rd Division, one US Infantry officer, whose troops were ordered to attack on the morning of November 11th, wrote in his diary that many of his troops were crying before "going over the top". Nobody wanted to die on the last day of the war. 

The 313th was ordered to attack that morning. At 0930 they went over the top just like any of the days before. The German's resisted, and it does not sound like anyone was "pulling punches."  Many men were killed on both sides that morning.

At 10:59 Gunther was killed. At 11:00, all firing suddenly stopped.

The Silence

In his great book about the 79th Division, With Their Bare Hands: General Pershing, the 79th Division, and the battle for Montfaucon, Gene Fax writes:

Precisely at 11:00 o’clock the guns fell silent. Lieutenant Kress of the 314th described the scene:

One moment, it was an inferno along the line! The next, the line was silent as the grave. It was too unreal; it must surely be a dream. A second of silence ... then, up out of the fog around us rose voices full of heartfelt emotion. Cries came from the German lines; cries of “Gott sei dank,” and other expressions of thanks and rejoicing.

Sergeant Fleming of the 315th recorded a similar experience:

In a minute tin hats were discarded and we were in overseas caps, singing and cheering. Instructions came forbidding fraternizing with the enemy but it went on for several hours between the lines ... In a few hours everyone disappeared. A few must have stayed on the hills until nightfall as we were treated after dark to a remarkable display of rockets, flares and lights of every description, as far as one could see along the line to both horizons. It was better than a Fourth of July show.

Colonel J. Frank Barber, commanding officer of the 304th Engineers and the division’s historian, wrote:

Perhaps the greatest relief was the knowledge that an exposed head would not draw rifle fire, that a man could stand erect without being sprayed by machine gun bullets, that shell holes no longer were necessary as protections against enemy fire, and that real hot food was coming up from the rear ... No night ration parties, no dangerous reliefs, no panting runners, no detailed field orders, no bursting high explosive or shrapnel, no raiding airmen on the open roads, no stifling powder smoke in the air, no litter bearers on the trails, no moaning wounded at the first aid stations, no turmoil, no tragedy—only peace.

After the war was over, there were investigations and boards questioning why US commanders pushed against German defenses up to the last minute. Families of those killed on that last day wanted to know why their sons lives had been wasted. But nothing much came from those investigations.

The US moved on, and the Great War and its soldiers were soon forgotten by the public at large.
« Last Edit: November 10, 2018, 06:01:40 PM by ArizonaTank »
"Baseball's Sad Lexicon" - 1910

These are the saddest of possible words:
      “Tinker to Evers to Chance.”
Trio of bear cubs, and fleeter than birds,
      Tinker and Evers and Chance.
Ruthlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble,
      Making a Giant hit into a double—
Words that are heavy with nothing but trouble:
      “Tinker to Evers to Chance.”

"Tinker to Evers to Chance"
"where doubles go to die"

These three players helped the Cubs win four National League championships and two World Series from 1906 to 1910.