At Cantigny, the First Division proved U.S. military capabilities.
In March of 1918, the German army had secured a valuable position around the French village of Cantigny (can TEE nee). In the first major American battle of WWI, the First Division was ordered to take it back. American commanders used a ‘combined arms’ approach: a team of specialized teams—tanks, infantry, artillery, engineers, aviation and other units—working together in a synchronized operation. The First Division’s victory at Cantigny confirmed this ‘team of teams’ approach, and it gave the Allies new reason to hope.
Taking Cantigny – May 28, 1918
After a month of preparation, the First Division took Cantigny in a carefully planned assault. The village of Cantigny offered a valuable lookout point for whichever army held it. The First Division planned a coordinated attack to seize the area. For an hour on the morning of May 28, American and French artillery bombarded German positions. At 6:42 am, a line of French tanks began moving eastward through the thick smoke. Three minutes later, division soldiers charged up with cries and shouts from the trenches, moving forward behind the covering fire of the rolling barrage. The 28th Infantry Regiment reached its objective in 30 minutes and, with the help of French flamethrower teams, cleared the remaining Germans from the cellars. By 7:30 am, Cantigny was in American hands and a new front line was established east of the village. However the battle was far from over.
Defending Cantigny – May 28 – 31, 1918
The Germans counterattacked to regain lost ground. But the First Division proved up to the challenge. Over the next three days, amidst the shrieks and whines of constant shelling, the Division fought fiercely to throw off six determined assaults. The cost to the First Division was high—over 800 were killed or wounded. But on May 31, the Germans finally gave up their efforts to retake Cantigny.
“Each element will fight on the spot without retiring. Machine guns will be fought until put out of action. All groups will fight to a finish.”
– Major General Robert L. Bullard, Commander, First Division
At Cantigny, an American combat force proved to Allies and enemies alike that they could fight, win and hold on to their gains. For the past 100 years, the combined arms ‘team of teams’ principle employed at Cantigny has been the foundation for American divisions.
Major Robert R. McCormick
The publisher of the Chicago Tribune commanded the 1st Battalion, 5th Field Artillery at the start of the battle. He was evacuated during the battle due to the effects of poison gas and sinus infection. Major (eventually Colonel) McCormick was so moved by his experience serving in the First Division that he renamed his estate from Red Oaks Farm to Cantigny.