The Fifth Division (Regular) was organized in December 1917, with headquarters at Camp Logan, Houston, Texas, as a part of the program for the expansion of the armed forces for service in World War 1. No specific date was designated for the division's activation but the initial personnel assigned to the division had a reporting date of December 1.
The Department of the Army has designated December 11, 1917 - - the date the first general officer (Major General Charles H. Muir) assumed command- - as the activation date of the division. The organization was a "square" division (i.e., there were four infantry regiments) with an authorized strength of 28, 105 personnel.
The principal units of the division were as follows: 9th Infantry Brigade (60th and 61st Infantry Regiment, 14th Machine Gun Battalion); 10th Infantry Brigade (6th and 11th Infantry Regiments, 15th Machine Gun Battalion); 5th Field Artillery Brigade (19th, 20th, and 21st Field Artillery Regiments; 5th Trench Mortar Battery); Divisional Troops (13th Machine Gun Battalion, 7th Engineer Regiment, 9th Field Signal Battalion); and Division Trains (Train Headquarters and Military Police, 5th Supply Train, 5th Sanitary Train, 5th Ammunition Train).
Only the headquarters and a few units were stationed at Camp Logan; the rest of the division was scattered throughout eastern and southern United States. The entire division was not united until after its arrival in France. General Muir commanded the division for only one day before receiving orders to take over another division. Major General John E. McMahon commanded the organization from January 1 until October 17, 1918. He was succeeded by Major General Hanson E. Ely who led the Red Diamond until the end of the war.
The Red Diamond was selected as the division insignia at the suggestion of Major Charles A. Meal of the Quarter-master Corps who recommended the "ace of diamonds, less the ace." The insignia was officially adopted in General Orders No. 2, January 18, 1918, which stated, "The division insignia will be a red diamond with a vertical diagonal of six inches and a horizontal of four inches in the center of which will be a two-inch figure '5' in white. All units were instructed to have the red diamond painted on their equipment for overseas shipment. After arrival in France, the "5" was removed.
The origin of the 5th Division's motto, "We Will," is not known but it has definitely been established that it was used in World War 1. It was the German enemy in the St. Mihiel campaign who gave the men of the division the name by which they are known today. They called them "Die rote Teufel"- -which in English is "Red Devils!"
After only two months of training in the United States, the first elements of the 5th Division commenced moving overseas. By May 1, 1918, all infantry units were assembled in France; the artillery brigade and part of Division Trains did not arrive until June. The 5th was the eighth American division to arrive in the European theater.
From the ports of the vicinity of Bar-sur-Aube where intensive training was conducted under the supervision of French instructors. On May 18, the 6th and 11th Infantry Regiments received regimental and national colors as gifts from the granddaughter of the famous Marshal MacMahon, a former president of France. The presentation speech was made by a direct descendant of Count Rochambeau whose French expeditionary force assisted in the defeat of Cornwallis at Yorktown.
The poles of these colors bore silver plagues with the inscription, "From the sons of the French champions of American liberty to the American champions for France and Humanity." In the latter part of May, the 5th Division was declared ready for introduction to combat and was placed at the disposal of the French fro service at the front. On May 31, Field Order No. 1 was issued moving the unit into the quiet Anould Sector in the Vosges Mountains in Alsace for indoctrination as part of the French Seventh Army. Here, the Red Devils occupied trenches along with French troops.
The division's first casualties occurred on the night of June 14, when the first elements entered the trenches. During the next month the men of the Red Diamond did an extensive amount of patrolling and raiding. Numerous attacks by the Germans were successfully repulsed. On July 14, the division was removed from the line and took over the St. Die Sector, relieving the French troops that had been defending the area. The Red Devils immediately initiated aggressive patrolling with the result that "No Man's Land" soon became "Our Land." Enemy airplanes had previously been able to cruise at will over the allied positions. After a gunner from Company D, 14th Machine Gun Battalion, brought down one of these planes- -the first ever destroyed by ground fire in the sector- -the German pilots started earning their flight pay!
The artillery took advantage of its first opportunity to fire on live targets. A small salient extended into the Allied line in the vicinity of the town of Frapelle, which was held by the enemy. The 5th Division was directed to attack on August 17 with the mission of seizing Frapelle and reducing the salient. The 3rd Battalion, 6th Infantry, with supporting machine guns and engineers, attacked early on the morning of the 17th and quickly gained its objective in spite of determined German resistance to include intense machine gun and artillery fire.
For the next three days the Red Devils successfully organized and defended the new positions in spite of numerous German counterattacks and heavy shelling. The Frapelle operation was the first one of importance, which the 5th Division engaged in independently and the men went through it splendidly like veteran troops. It was the first Allied advance in this area since 1915.
The casualties were rather severe, amounting to approximately sixteen percent of the troops engaged. From the time that General Pershing arrived in France, he resisted efforts on the part of Marshal Foch to piecemeal American troops out as replacements to British and French units. He insisted that American troops fight as units under their own commanders.
In July 1918, a strategic offensive plan was agreed upon by the Allied commanders, the immediate purpose of which was to reduce the salients, which interfered with further offensive operations. One of these was the St. Mihiel salient. The First U.S. Army, consisting of fourteen divisions, was organized on August 10 and directed to launch an offensive on September 12 to reduce this salient. The 5th Division was destined to play an important role in this operation!
On August 23, the Red Diamond was relieved in the St. Die Sector and moved to the Arches training area where the troops rested, equipment was refurbished, and replacements were integrated. The 5th Division had received orders to attack in a sector on the southeast face of the St. Mihiel salient and, commencing on September 4, conducted a series of grueling night marches through mud and cold rain to cover the one hundred kilometers to the assembly areas south of Regnieville.
The storm broke before the enemy was prepared. In fact, the Germans had foreseen the operation and had decided to withdraw; however, the attack came about forty-eight hours before it was expected. It was apparent that the American movement to the front had been accomplished with adequate secrecy. Preceded by a four-hour artillery preparation, the 6th and 11th Infantry Regiments went "over the top" at 5 a.m. on September 12.
The assault battalions moved so fast through heavy enemy fire and well organized defenses that they outran their own artillery support and the attached French tanks, which struggled through the mud to catch up. Less than nine hours after commencing the attack, the division had taken the objectives assigned by First Army while leaving the adjoining divisions far behind. For the next three days, the Red Devils organized defensive positions, repulsed numerous counterattacks, and were subjected to intense enemy artillery fire.
Aggressive patrolling northward to the famed Hindenburg Line was accomplished. On September 17, the 5th Division was relieved by the 78th Division and moved to assembly areas south of the front lines. The St. Mihiel operation was over! The spoils of the 5th Division mounted high. An estimated three hundred Germans had been killed and 1,243 captured. Huge quantities of enemy material had fallen into the Red Devils' hands, to include most of the German artillery in the sector. The 5th Division sustained 1553 casualties. Twenty-one soldiers were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. The 5th Division had won a place in the American Expeditionary Force and shortly after the operation ended its members began wearing the Red Diamond on their shoulders for the first time. They wore it proudly.
With the reduction of the St. Mihiel and other salients, it became possible for the Allied powers to undertake the great converging offensives to end the war. These offensives included an American attack to be launched on September 26 between the Argonne Forest and the Meuse River. This attack by the First U.S. Army was made on schedule and by October 11 the Argonne Forest had been cleared and a foothold had never gained in the area to the east toward the Meuse River. Meanwhile, the 5th Division remained behind the lines where replacements were received and equipment was refurbished. The 5th Field Artillery Brigade remained in support of American divisions in the St. Mahiel area throughout the remainder of the war.
The 5th Division received its artillery support from other divisions in subsequent combat. On October 5, the division moved north to assembly areas near Montfaucon and on the 11th the Red Diamond was ordered into the line north of the town. The initial mission of the division was to attack to the north and clear a small woods called the Bois des Rappes. During the next eleven days the Red Devils were destined to undergo their roughest fighting of the entire was. In the 5th Division's initial attack in the vicinity of the town of Cunel on October 12, Lieutenant Samuel Woodfill, leading Company M, 60th Infantry, swept the way by his own personal valor, wiping out four machine gun nests, killing more than a dozen Germans, and capturing three others.
When the company met unusually heavy fire from a fourth machine gun nest, the lieutenant rushed forward followed by two soldiers. He worked his way around to the flank leaving the two men in front of the nest. When he reached a point within ten yards of the gun, it ceased firing and four of the enemy appeared, three of whom were shot by Lieutenant Woodfill. The fourth man, and officer, rushed at the lieutenant who attempted to club the German with his rifle. After a hand-to-hand struggle, Woodfill killed the officer with his pistol.
The advance of M Company continued until still another machine gun nest was encountered. Calling on his men to follow, the lieutenant rushed ahead in the face of heavy fire from the nest killing several Germans, capturing three, and silencing the gun. The advance continued and for a fourth time the lieutenant displayed his bravery by charging another machine gun position killing five men with his rifle. He then drew his pistol and started to jump into the pit when two other gunners only a few yards away turned their machine gun on him.
Failing to kill them with his pistol, Lieutenant Woodfill grabbed up a pick lying nearby and dispatched both of them. Inspired by the exceptional courage displayed by this officer, his men continued their advance under severe artillery and machine gun fire. For such conspicuous daring and gallantry, Lieutenant Woodfill was later awarded the Medal of Honor. It is interesting to note that in his book, "My experiences in the World War," General John J. Pershing mentioned the bravery of only three men. They were Lieutenant Samuel Woodfill, Sergeant Alvin York, and Major Charles Whittlesey of the famous "Lost Battalion."
For more than a week the Red Devils battered themselves against the strongly fortified German positions in the Bois des Rappes that were strongly supported by artillery emplaced on the heights east of the Meuse River. Attack after attack was repulsed with appalling losses being sustained by the assaulting troops. Finally, on October 21, the 11th Infantry made a surprise attack. With fixed bayonets the doughboys stormed forward under a rolling artillery barrage. This time they were not to be denied!
In spite of dogged resistance by the Germans, the men wearing the Red Diamond drove irresistibly forward and the northern edge of the Bois des Rappes was reached by the end of the day. In eleven days of the fiercest fighting the men of the Red Diamond had ever known, eight square kilometers of French soil had been wrested from the enemy. The resistance by the Germans had probably been as determined as any ever encountered by American troops in any war. The 5th Division had sustained 4,449 casualties of whom 779 were killed in action. One officer had won the Medal of Honor and eighty-seven soldiers were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.
After four days of rest behind the lines, the Red Diamond division was thrown back into the conflict on October 26th. This time the mission of the division was to attack to the east fro the Bois des Rappes and force a crossing of the Meuse River. The initial attacks were made with only moderate enemy resistance being encountered. By November 3, the Meuse River was reached on a front extending from Brieulles four miles north to Dun-sur-Meuse.
The crossing of the Meuse River presented a number of problems for the Red Devils. Although the river was only twenty-five yards in width in this sector, there was a canal with high banks paralleling the river on the eastern side. The entire area was dominated by the famed heights of the Meuse, which were bristling with German machine guns and artillery.
In the early morning hours of November 3, the doughboys of the 6th Infantry crossed the Meuse in boats and the 7th Engineers constructed a footbridge for the passage of additional troops. Pinned down by enemy fire for the entire day on the east bank, the Red Devils succeeded in crossing the canal early the next morning and stormed the heights. By the 5th of November a strong bridgehead had been established. The 60th Infantry forced a crossing of the Meuse on November 5th at a point about two miles to the north in the face of heavy enemy resistance. Troops of both the 60th and 61st Infantry Regiments soon crossed the river and canal on footbridges constructed by the 7th Engineers. By the end of the day on the 5th, the two crossing forces had linked up and the bridgehead was secured despite enemy counterattacks aimed at dislodging them. It was in the second river crossing operation that another Medal of Honor was won by a Red Devil.
Captain Edward O. Allworth, commanding Company 1, 60th Infantry Regiment saw his company in front of him struggling to complete its crossing of the canal. Lieutenant Morrison had led two of the platoons across the nearly ruined bridges and was moving up the heavily fortified slopes of Hill 260. The rest of the company was west of the canal facing the half-sunken bridges and a tornado of bullets. To save the day, Captain Allworth mounted the canal bank and rallied his troops. Calling on his men to follow him, he plunged into the water, swam to the opposite shore, and then dashed up the hill to the head of his company. Under his leadership, his company and some men from the 61st Infantry conquered the broad northern top of Hill 260, overcoming numerous machine gun nests, and capturing one hundred prisoners- -more Germans than he had men under his command.
Of the Meuse River crossing, General Pershing late wrote: ". . . The feat of arms. . . which marks especially the divisionís ability as a fighting unit, was the crossing of the Meuse River and the establishment of a bridgehead on the eastern bank. This operation was one of the most brilliant military feats in the history of the American Army in France. . . ." Henceforth, the 5th was the "Meuse Division!" Once across the Meuse, the 5th Division expanded its bridgehead to the north and south permitting the adjoining divisions to cross unopposed. The Red Devils then attacked to the east encountering crumbling enemy resistance, stormed the heights of the Meuse, and drove eighteen kilometers to the Loison River by the time hostilities ceased on November 11.
By Armistice Day, the 5th Division had advanced further to the east than any Allied division. In World War 1 the 5th Division received combat participation credit for the following campaigns: Alsace 1918, Lorraine 1918, Saint Mihiel and the Meuse-Argonne. Since its first introduction into the trenches in June 1918, the Red Diamond had been in the line for 103 days. During that period the organization had made advances in combat of thirty-five kilometers and captured 220 square kilometers of enemy-held territory. A total of 2,367 German soldiers and immense quantities of material had been captured. A total of 9,981 casualties were sustained by the Red Diamond of whom 1,098 were killed in action. A total of 351 decorations for valor were awarded to Red Devils.
After the Armistice, the 5th was one of ten American divisions forming the Army of Occupation. Commencing on November 27, the Red Diamond was stationed in Luxembourg and southeastern Belgium where it guarded the line of communications for the occupation troops in Germany. During the summer of 1919, the organization returned to the United States. The 5th Division was inactivated effective on October 4, 1921, at Camp Jackson, South Carolina. So ended the great adventure! The Red Diamond had not come back until it was over "Over There."
Written by Edward J. Barta, DAC, Fort Carson Information Office