Legendary Military Units: 1st Battalion, 308th Infantry – The Lost Battalion

The Lost Battalion

It was the fall of 1918, and the Germans were not ready to give up the fight. Even though the Allies were pushing them back, the Germans still were working toward the ending they wanted for World War I.

Meuse-Argonne Offensive

Covering a mill and some of the main railways and roads was the 308th Infantry Regiment of the 77th Division’s 154th Infantry Brigade. Their positioning would limit the Germans’ ability to resupply.

Major General Alexander put no retreat orders in place, saying those who did would be shot. Maj. Charles Whittlesey took the order to heart, commanding the 1st Battalion, 308th Infantry from the front. The 308th attacked on October 2, 1918, at 7 am. Whittlesey’s group had companies A, B, C, E, G, & H from the 308, K company from the 307th, and the 306th, C, and D. They reached their target, Hill 198, by the evening.

As he was informed that the hill was taken, he realized the 307s position was quiet. He feared they turned back but hoped they achieved their goal. However, the truth was unthinkable. A formidable German counterattack had separated Whittlesey’s units from the 77th, leaving them behind enemy lines.

On October 3, Whittlesey tried to connect with allied forces via runners, but none came back and carrier pigeons were shot down. They were completely surrounded with no ability to communicate.

From Bad To Worse

The following day took a turn for the worse. The Germans continued to fire on Whittlesey and his men, facing fire from their allies.

Whittlesey sent a carrier pigeon, Cher Ami, hoping it would reach headquarters, but the Germans shot it down. Miraculously, the bird took flight again, making it to its destination.

The bird was heavily injured with a shot in the breast. It was also blind in one eye, and the leg holding the message was barely hanging on. The Americans stopped firing but didn’t know Whittlesey’s location.

After a week, the 194 of the original 554 were saved by the U.S. 82nd Division. The others had been wounded, killed, or captured. The men were awarded 28 Distinguished Service Crosses and five Medal of Honors, including one to the newly promoted Lieutenant Colonel Whittlesey.

Unfortunately, the ordeal was too much and Whittlesey is believed to have committed suicide, and Cher Ami died in 1919. The bird was stuffed and placed in the Smithsonian.

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