Wisconsin and Michigan National Guard troops of the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team training at Camp Grayling, Michigan, celebrate today the Red Arrow’s 101st birthday. On this day in 1918, the one-year-old 32nd Division was in France ready to join the fight that would erase a German threat to Paris and begin a long Allied march to victory.
Emerging on July 18, 1917 as merely a name on a piece of paper, the 32nd Division had grown from 15,000 Wisconsin National Guardsmen joining with 8,000 troops from the Michigan National Guard. Their actions in France rank high in the Army’s distinguished history in the Great War, but it took an entire year to create the division that made the Red Arrow legendary.
The sinking of the Lusitania on May 7, 1915 and the public release in February 1917 of the Zimmermann Telegram moved the United States towards war with Germany. Ultimately, it was Germany’s resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare that moved the United States to declare war on April 6, 1917.
At the time, the Army was woefully unprepared for war – numbering about 120,000 Soldiers. Mobilizing the entire National Guard as its primary combat reserve more than doubled its ranks. Within the Wisconsin National Guard, its 5,000 troops had just returned from nearly a year of service in Texas during the Mexican Border Crisis. They had been home only a few months when the War Department ordered the Wisconsin National Guard to provide 15,000 Soldiers for the war.
Established units immediately went to work to fill their ranks. Interested citizens throughout the state volunteered to raise entirely new units. Meanwhile, some units were mobilized to guard vital infrastructure needed for the war effort, while the Wisconsin State Guard was formed to take over emergency missions at home. By August, Wisconsin had met its quota and troops boarded trains destined for the Wisconsin Military Reservation near Camp Douglas.
Once at the Wisconsin Military Reservation, four infantry companies from Fond du Lac, Appleton, Oshkosh and Oconto were sent to the newly formed 42nd “Rainbow” Division, which was created with National Guard troops from 26 states. These “Rainbow Badgers” became the 150th Machine Gun Battalion and fought in six World War I campaigns.
The remaining 15,000 Guardsmen would leave by train in September 1917 for Camp MacArthur, which was a temporary training post located on the outskirts of Waco, Texas. There, these troops would be organized with Michigan National Guardsmen into the various subordinate units of the 32nd Division. Many current Wisconsin Army National Guard unit names, such as the 127th and 128th Infantry, 120th and 121st Field Artillery, 64th Troop Command Brigade and 107th Maintenance Company derived from this initial organization. The division’s first commander was Maj. Gen. William Parker, but he soon turned over command to Brig. Gen. William Haan.
Camp MacArthur was one of sixteen National Guard training camps set up during the war. Troops lived in tents and learned the basics of soldiering, as well marksmanship, bayonet, and trench warfare training. Sports were an important part of that training and every Soldier was on a company or regimental sports team. However, troops considered a roster spot on the Camp MacArthur football team as the most prestigious. Thousands watched the team go undefeated against other Army teams and a big game against the 89th Division inspired Theodore Steinmetz to compose the “32nd Division March.”
Troops spent the fall and winter of 1917 at Camp MacArthur. For many, it was their first Thanksgiving and Christmas away from home; although, a few fortunate troops had relatives visit during these holidays. As 1918 dawned, the 32nd Division had wrapped up training at Camp MacArthur and boarded trains destined for Camp Merritt, New Jersey. Located near New York City, Camp Merritt was the holding area for troops before they sailed for France.
It took several months to ferry 25,000 division Soldiers across the Atlantic Ocean. Some of the first troops sailed on the S.S. Tuscania, which was torpedoed by a German submarine on Feb. 5, 1918. Thirteen 32nd Division Soldiers were among the casualties. The rest of the division crossed without incident and was soon engaged in building important supply lines in France for the American Expeditionary Force.
The 32nd Division’s initial role was to provide replacement troops to units already in France. All of the privates and captains of the 128th Infantry Regiment transferred to the 1st Division before Maj. Gen. Haan convinced Gen. John Pershing to make the 32nd a combat division. Thereafter, the division trained near Prauthoy, France, under the tutelage of officers from the French Army and some old friends from the 42nd Division. At Prauthoy, the division added infantry replacement troops from Oregon and other western states, as well as a South Dakota artillery regiment from the 41st Division.
In May 1918, 32nd Division shipped out to Alsace for its baptism of fire in the trenches. At the time, Alsace was German territory captured by the French in the opening weeks of the war. The sector had grown quiet and armies from each side used it to train new divisions for combat operations. The French Army integrated 32nd Division troops into the line and they learned the finer points of patrolling, night operations and trench warfare. On May 24, 1918, machine gun fire killed Pvt. Joseph Guyton of Company I, 126th Infantry – he was the division’s first combat casualty. The division would go on to suffer 368 casualties while in Alsace.
The 32nd gradually took over more responsibility from the French until it was completely in command of its sector by June 15, 1918. For the next month, it increased patrols and made its presence known to the Germans. On July 15, the division received orders to ship out to Chateau-Thierry and ready itself for the Second Battle of the Marne. It had taken an entire year to forge the men of Wisconsin and Michigan into a combat-ready division. Now at the dawn of its second year, it stood poised to begin the legacy of the Red Arrow.