Few things are more synonymous with the involvement of the American Expeditionary Force in World War I than “The Lost Battalion.”
It’s a story wrought with mistakes, success, bravery, and tragedy.
Activated in August 1917, the United States 77th “Metropolitan” Division would soon find themselves facing incredible odds in the forests of France. The story of “The Lost Battalion” begins October 2, 1918 as part of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.
Ordered to attack a hill known as “hill 198,” the Division battled all day to secure the high ground. Troops had been issues a strict “No Retreat” order by high command. At the same time hill 198 was occupied by the 77th Division, the French and American troops on their flanks were subjected to a massive German counterattack and were forced to fall back, leaving the 77th exposed.
The Division’s commander, Major Charles Whittlesey, suspected this, and ordered his troops to dig in. The next morning, all attempts to communicate with friendly forces on the flanks failed.
On the afternoon of October 3rd, the Germans attacked in force. The attack came from all sides, and the American forces endured sniper fire, mortars, and grenades. Though suffering many casualties, they inflicted just as many upon the attacking Germans.
The next morning, Whittlesey and his men we shelled by friendly artillery. It’s not known if the coordinates were wrong, or the artillery’s aim was off, but the Division suffered many casualties. In the midst of the shelling, Whittlesey dispatched his last carrier pigeon with the message “WE ARE ALONG THE ROAD PARALELL 276.4. OUR ARTILLERY IS DROPPING A BARRAGE DIRECTLY ON US. FOR HEAVENS SAKE STOP IT.” The pigeon, Cher Ami, was struck by a bullet or shrapnel, yet still managed to fly back to headquarters to deliver the message and the guns fell silent.
As soon as the shelling stopped, however, the Germans began another assault. It was again rebuffed. With no food, running low on ammunition and water, and forced to reuse bandages from dead comrades, the situation was dire for the 77th. The Germans knew this and sent messengers requesting the unit’s surrender. Whittlesey ignored the requests. For the next four days, the 77th endured several more attacks from German forces – one including the use of flamethrowers.
Finally, at around 1500 hours on October 8th, a relief force broke through to relieve Whittlesey and his men. Of the over 500 soldiers Whittlesey led into the forest, under 200 walked out unscathed. Approximately 197 were killed and 150 were captured or reported missing. The war ended just five weeks later. Though suffering horrific casualties, the 77th’s stubbornness allowed other Entente forces to break through the German defenses in the area. Whittlesey and several other members of the Division were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. The wounded carrier pigeon, Cher Ami, also survived, despite losing an eye and leg in the line of duty. She was decorated with France’s Croix de Guerre.
Sadly, this was not the end of the story for Whittlesey. After the war, Whittlesey attempted to continue his career as a lawyer, but his wartime experiences weighed heavily on him. In 1921, he booked passage on a ship from New York to Havana. The night of November 26th, Whittlesey disappeared, allegedly having jumped overboard. His death was classified as a suicide and his body was never recovered.
Will the story of “The Lost Battalion” appear in Battlefield 1? In a scene of the debut trailer, soldiers are fighting amongst a heavily-wooded area, which may be the Argonne forest. If this is the case, there’s a good chance we may the 77th Division, and perhaps Major Whittlesey, in Battlefield 1.
What do you think? Tell us in the comments!