The 79th Infantry Division
Utah and Omaha beaches, Cherbourg and Fort du Roule, La Haye du Puits, the Seine River, Parroy Forest, Haguenau, Hatten, Rittershoffen. Names that will be forever etched in the minds of the veterans, widows, and families of the 79th Infantry Division. Landing on D+8, (June 14th) the 79th Infantry Division was to be involved in many critical and bloody battles, prompting Major-General Ira T. Wyche to comment after the war that "I shall always look upon my command of the 79th Division as the most successful period of my official career. This is so because of those fine Americans who wore the Cross of Lorraine".
World War I
Activated: August 1917
Overseas: July 1918
Major Operations: Meuse-Argonne
Casualties: Total - 6,874 (KIA - 1,151; WIA - 5,723)
Commanders: Maj. Gen. Joseph E. Kuhn (25 August 1917), Brig. Gen. W. J. Nicholson (26 November 1917), Maj. Gen. Joseph E. Kuhn (17 February 1918), Maj. Gen. Joseph E. Kuhn (16 April 1918), Brig. Gen. W. J. Nicholson (22 May 1918), Maj. Gen. Joseph E. Kuhn (8 June 1918), Brig. Gen. W. J. Nicholson (28 June 1918), Maj. Gen. Joseph E. Kuhn (31 December 1918)
Returned to U.S.: May 1919
Inactivated: June 1919
The Meuse-Argonne and Montfaucon
The 79th was typical of its fellow national army divisions in that it consisted of Americans, many of them recent immigrants, from all walks of life; but it was also unique in that it played a particularly critical and bloody role in the largest and most important battle of that war, the Meuse-Argonne. In July 1918, the division embarked for France from Camp Meade, MD. Its arrival at Brest brought the total of U. S. troops in France to one million men. The four regiments of the 79th trained near Dijon for only 43 days, and moved north to the Meuse-Argonne front west of Verdun. Designed to end the war by capturing the key German railroad center at Sedan, the Meuse-Argonne offensive initially involved nine front-line American divisions, including the 79th, and eventually engaged more than 1.2 million men. General John J. Black Jack. Pershing commanded the offensive, which at that time was the largest military operation ever undertaken by the U. S. Army.
Although the 79th Division had completed far less than half the prescribed training and had no combat experience, Pershing assigned it the most difficult task of the attacking divisions, the capture of Montfaucon, a butte that had been heavily fortified by the Germans. One of the lead units in the attack was the 314th Infantry Regiment composed primarily of men from eastern Pennsylvania. Called the "Gibraltar of the Western Front," Montfaucon constituted one of the strongest positions in Germany's famed Hindenburg Line. The fortress consisted of concrete bunkers, machine gun nests, deep shelters and, most importantly, a sophisticated telescope in a well-protected observation post that could call down accurate artillery fire on the entire American front. Because the hill was such an important military asset, the Germans protected it with two advanced defensive lines and countless bands of barbed wire. Pershing regarded its early capture as essential to the success of the entire operation.
On September 26, 1918, the 79th attacked the formidable position, with the 313th and 314th Regiments leading the advance on the left and right respectively. Although the Germans had abandoned their first-line positions in the face of a tremendous artillery barrage, they fiercely defended the second line that lay a mile south of Montfaucon. At the ruined village of Malancourt, the 314th entered a box valley surrounded on three sides by steep hills. The Germans had dug in dozens of machine-guns among these hills, effectively entrapping the regiment and inflicting devastating losses. Though the 314th fought valiantly, it could not overcome the stubborn German resistance, and spent the night of September 26 under intense fire without support.
The troops were tired when they went into the fight. They had been held in the woods with wet clothes and wet feet for a week or more, made a long march before going in, without any sleep, and went over the top after having been under our bombardment for several hours. For green troops it was quite an ordeal.
- COLONEL WILLIAM H. OURY, commanding the 314th Infantry
On the morning of September 27, the 314th and 313th, aided by troops from the 315th and 316th regiments, renewed their attack on Montfaucon. Advancing doggedly onward with the support of artillery and tanks, they captured the butte by noon. By taking the key position in a day and a half, the 79th Division had convincingly disproved the prediction of the French high command that the Americans would not capture Montfaucon before Christmas.
As the Germans rushed reinforcements into the area, the U. S. divisions encountered much stiffer resistance, akin to that encountered by the 79th at Montfaucon. Following the capture of the fortress, the division took the village of Nantillois and crashed into the main line of German resistance near the Madeleine Farm just south of the village of Cunel. In the rolling hills in front of the Bois d'Ogon, the division lost many men due to German machine-gun fire and artillery barrages directed from Hill 378 east of the Meuse River. The stiffening German resistance and massive reinforcements eventually brought Pershing's troops to a momentary standstill. In light of the 79th's losses in men and materiel, the division was withdrawn from the line and sent to a quiet sector of the front for refitting. Despite its losses, the 79th division had performed magnificently. The bravery and persistence of the troops and their compatriots are recognized by the tallest U. S. military monument in Europe, a Doric column some 200 feet tall.
The 79th Division and the 314th Regiment did not remain long out of combat. Following the fall of Montfaucon, the task of directing German artillery fire fell to observers and spotters on Hill 378 located in the ridges lining the east bank of the Meuse River. The observation post on La Borne de Cornouiller - or "Corned Willy Hill," as the doughboys called Hill 378 - could direct fire to any location of the 24-mile-wide Meuse-Argonne Front. General Pershing insisted on its capture, and called on the 79th to carry out the task. The division commander, Major General Joseph Kuhn, called Corned Willy Hill "an obstacle of the most serious character," and the attack proved extremely difficult. The hill was riven by deep ravines lined with trenches, bolstered by reinforced bunkers and peppered by machine guns. Yet after several unsuccessful assaults, the Doughboys of the 79th took the position on November 6, 1918. As the Great War ended on November 11, 1918, the 79th Division and the 314th Regiment pressed an attack on Cote de Romagne, a fortified hill that was the last obstacle before the troops reached the Woevre Plain that led directly into Germany. Yet the capture of Montfaucon and Hill 378 had already secured the 79th Division.s place in the pantheon of American military history.
World War II
Activated: 15 June 1942
Overseas: 7 April 1944
Campaigns: Normandy, Northern France, Rhineland, Central Europe
Days of combat: 248
Distinguished Unit Citations: 8
Awards: MH-3; DSC-13; DSM-1; SS-962; LM-11; SM-27; BSM-4,916; AM-78
Commanders: Maj. Gen. Ira T. Wyche (June 1942-May 1945), Brig. Gen. Leroy H. Watson (May-July 1945), Maj. Gen. Anthony C. McAuliffe (July-August 1945), Brig. Gen. LeRoy H. Watson (August 1945 to inactivation)
Returned to U.S.: 10 December 1945
Inactivated: 20 December 1945
Reactivated: (Org. Res. Div. 29 November 1946)
After training in the United Kingdom from 17 April 1944, the 79th Infantry Division landed on Utah Beach, Normandy, 12-14 June and entered combat 19 June 1944, with an attack on the high ground west and northwest of Valognes and high ground south of Cherbourg. The Division took Fort du Roule after a heavy engagement and entered Cherbourg, 25 June. It held a defensive line at the Ollonde River until 2 July 1944 and then returned to the offensive, taking La Haye du Puits in house-to-house fighting, 8 July.
On 26 July, the 79th attacked across the Ay River, took Lessay, crossed the Sarthe River and entered Le Mans, 8 August, meeting only light resistance. The advance continued across the Seine, 19 August. Heavy German counterattacks were repulsed, 22-27 August, and the Division reached the Therain River, 31 August. Moving swiftly to the Franco-Belgian frontier near St. Amand, the Division encountered heavy resistance in taking Charmes in street fighting, 12 September. The 79th cut across the Moselle and Meurthe Rivers, 13-23 September, cleared the Foret de Parroy in a severe engagement, 28 September-9 October, and attacked to gain high ground east of Embermenil, 14-23 October, when it was relieved, 24 October.
After rest and training at Luneville, the Division returned to combat with an attack from the Mignevine-Montiguy area, 13 November 1944, which carried it across the Vezouse and Moder Rivers, 18 November-10 December, through Haguenau in spite of determined enemy resistance, and into the Siegfried Line, 17-20 December. The Division held a defensive line along the Lauter River, at Wissembourg from 20 December 1944 until 2 January 1945, when it withdrew to Maginot Line defenses. The German attempt to establish a bridgehead west of the Rhine at Gambsheim resulted in furious fighting. The 79th beat off German attacks at Hatten and Rittershoffen in an 11-day battle before withdrawing to new defensive positions south of Haguenau on the Moder River, 19 January 1945. The Division remained on the defensive along the Moder until 6 February 1945.
After resting in February and March 1945, the Division returned to combat, 24 March 1945, crossed the Rhine, drove across the Rhine-Herne Canal, 7 April, secured the north bank of the Ruhr and took part in clearing the Ruhr Pocket until 13 April. The Division then went on occupation duty, in the Dortmund, Sudetenland, and Bavarian areas successively, until its return to the United States and inactivation.
Assignments in the ETO
18 April 1944: VIII Corps, Third Army
29 May 1944: Third Army but attached to VII Corps, First Army
30 June 1944: Third Army, but attached to First Army
1 July 1944: VIII Corps
1 August 1944: VIII Corps, Third Army, 12th Army Group
8 August 1944: XV Corps
24 August 1944: XV Corps, Third Army, 12th Army Group, but attached to First Army
26 August 1944: XV Corps, First Army, 12th Army Group
29 August 1944: XII Corps
7 September 1944: XV Corps, Third Army, 12th Army Group
29 September 1944: Third Army, 12th Army Group, but attached to the XV Corps, Seventh Army, 6th Army Group
25 November 1944: XV Corps, Seventh Army, 6th Army Group
5 December 1945: VI Corps
6 February 1945: Seventh Army, 6th Army Group
17 February 1945: Seventh Army, 6th Army Group, but attached to the XVI Corps, Ninth Army, 12th Army Group
1 March 1945: XIII Corps
7 March 1945: XVI Corps
7 April 1945: XVI Corps, Ninth Army, 12th Army Group
313th Infantry Regiment
314th Infantry Regiment
315th Infantry Regiment
79th Reconnaissance Troop (Mechanized)
304th Engineer Combat Battalion
304th Medical Battalion
310th Field Artillery Battalion (105mm Howitzer)
311th Field Artillery Battalion (105mm Howitzer)
904th Field Artillery Battalion (105mm Howitzer)
312th Field Artillery Battalion (155mm Howitzer)
779th Ordnance Light Maintenance Company
79th Quartermaster Company
79th Signal Company
Military Police Platoon