Harlem Hellfighters, WW1 369th Infantry Regiment   Leave a comment


Harlem Hellfighters, 369th Infantry Regiment

The 369th Infantry Regiment, formerly the 15th New York National Guard Regiment, was an infantry regiment of the United States Army that saw action in World War I and World War II. The 369th Infantry is known for being the first African-American regiment to serve with the American Expeditionary Force during World War I. The regiment was nicknamed the Harlem Hellfighters and the Black Rattlers, in addition to several other nicknames.

HistoryThe 369th Infantry Regiment was constituted June 2, 1913 in the New York Army National Guard as the 15th New York Infantry Regiment. It was organized on June 29, 1916 at New York City. It was mustered into Federal service on July 25, 1917 at Camp Whitman, New York. It was drafted into Federal service August 5, 1917. The regiment trained in the New York area, performed guard duty at various locations in New York. They trained more intensely at Camp Wadsworth in Spartanburg, South Carolina, where they experienced significant racism from the local communities, and other units.

The 15th Infantry Regiment NYARNG was assigned on December 1, 1917 to the 185th Infantry Brigade. It was commanded by Col. William Hayward, a member of the Union League Club of New York, which sponsored the 369th in the tradition of the 20th U.S. Colored Infantry, which the club had sponsored in the Civil War.

The 15th Infantry Regiment shipped out from the New York Port of Embarkation on December 27, 1917, and joined its brigade upon arrival in France. The unit was relegated to labor service duties instead of combat training. The 185th Infantry Brigade was assigned on January 5, 1918 to the 93rd Division [Provisional].

The 15th Infantry Regiment, NYARNG was reorganized and redesignated March 1, 1918 as the 369th Infantry Regiment, but the unit continued labor service duties while it awaited the decision as to its future.

15th Infantry, in France, wearing French helmetsThe US Army decided on April 8, 1918 to assign the unit to the French Army for the duration of the United States’ participation in the war. The men were issued French helmets and brown leather belts and pouches, although they continued to wear their U.S. uniforms. The 369th Infantry Regiment was relieved May 8, 1918 from assignment to the 185th Infantry Brigade, and went into the trenches as part of the French 16th Division. It served continuously to July 3. The regiment returned to combat in the Second Battle of the Marne. Later the 369th was reassigned to Gen. Lebouc’s 161st Division to participate in the Allied counterattack. On August 19, the regiment went off the line for rest and training of replacements.

On September 25, 1918 the French 4th Army went on the offensive in conjunction with the American drive in the Meuse-Argonne. The 369th turned in a good account in heavy fighting, sustaining severe losses. They captured the important village of Séchault. At one point the 369th advanced faster than French troops on their right and left flanks, and risked being cut off. By the time the regiment pulled back for reorganization, it had advanced fourteen kilometers through severe German resistance.

In mid-October the regiment was moved to a quiet sector in the Vosges Mountains. It was there on November 11, the day of the Armistice. Six days later, the 369th made its last advance and on November 26, reached the banks of the Rhine River, the first Allied unit to reach it. The regiment was relieved on December 12, 1918 from assignment to the French 161st Division. It returned to the New York Port of Embarkation and was demobilized on February 28, 1919 at Camp Upton at Yaphank, New York, and returned to the New York Army National Guard.

During its service, the regiment suffered 1500 casualties and took part in the following campaigns:

Wartime poster of the 369th fighting German soldiers, with the figure of Abraham Lincoln above1.Champagne–Marne
2.Meuse–Argonne
3.Champagne 1918
4.Alsace 1918
One Medal of Honor and many Distinguished Service Crosses were awarded to members of the regiment. The most celebrated man in the 369th was Pvt. Henry Lincoln Johnson, a former Albany, New York, rail station porter, who earned the nickname “Black Death” for his actions in combat in France. In May 1918 Johnson and Pvt. Needham Roberts fought off a 24-man German patrol, though both were severely wounded. After they expended their ammunition, Roberts used his rifle as a club and Johnson battled with a bolo knife. Johnson was the first American to receive the Croix de Guerre awarded by the French government. By the end of the war, 171 members of the 369th were awarded the Legion of Honor.[1]

Photographs show that the 369th carried the New York Regimental flag overseas. The French government awarded the regiment the Croix de Guerre with silver star for the taking of Séchault. It was pinned to the colors by General Lebouc at a ceremony in Germany, December 13, 1918.

Soldiers of the 369th (15th N.Y.) who won the Croix de Guerre for gallantry in action, 1919. Left to right. Front row: Pvt. Ed Williams, Herbert Taylor, Pvt. Leon Fraitor, Pvt. Ralph Hawkins. Back Row: Sgt. H. D. Prinas, Sgt. Dan Strorms, Pvt. Joe Williams, Pvt. Alfred Hanley, and Cpl. T. W. TaylorOne of the first units in the United States armed forces to have black officers in addition to its all-black enlisted corps, the 369th compiled an astounding war record. It earned several unit citations along with many individual decorations for valor from the French government. The 369th Infantry Regiment was the first New York unit to return to the United States, and was the first unit to march up Fifth Avenue from the Washington Square Park Arch to their Armory in Harlem. Their unit was placed on the permanent list with other veteran units.

In re-capping the story of the 369th Arthur W. Little, who had been a battalion commander, wrote in the regimental history From Harlem to the Rhine, that it was official that the outfit was 191 days under fire, never lost a foot of ground or had a man taken prisoner, though on two occasions men were captured but they were recovered. Only once did it fail to take its objective and that was due largely to bungling by French artillery support. There were 1500 casualties.

During the war the 369th’s regimental band (under the direction of James Reese Europe) became famous throughout Europe. It introduced the until-then unknown music called jazz to British, French and other audiences, and started an international demand for it.[2]

The famous 369th arrive in New York City, 1919At the end of the war, the 369th returned to New York City, and in February 1919, paraded through the city. Thousands lined the streets to see them: the parade began on Fifth Avenue at 61st Street, proceeded uptown past ranks of white bystanders, turned west on 110th Street, and then swung on to Lenox Avenue, and marched into Harlem, where black New Yorkers packed the sidewalks to see them. The parade became a marker of African American service to the nation, a frequent point of reference for those campaigning for civil rights. In the 1920s and 1930s, the 369th was a regular presence on Harlem’s streets, each year marching through the neighborhood from their Armory to catch a train to their annual summer camp, and then back through the neighborhood on their return two weeks later.[3]

[edit] Coast Artillery LineageAfter World War I the unit was redesignated and reorganized as a Coast Artillery unit. The coast Artillery section of the lineage is given below. there is some evidence in the New York annual report from 1941 that, like many units of the 1930s, it was underfunded and did not receive any antiaircraft weapons until its mobilization for World War II. After mobilization training the unit was deployed to Hawaii, and eventually Okinawa.

Constituted in the New York National Guard as 369th Coast Artillery (AA)(Coast Artillery Corps) on 11 October 1921 as follows-
HHB from HHB 369th Infantry Regiment
1st Battalion from 1st Battalion 369th Infantry
2nd Battalion from 2nd Battalion 369th infantry
Inducted into federal service 13 January 1941 at New York City.

Regiment broken up 12 December 1943 as Follows-

HHB as 369th AntiAircraft Artillery Group (disbanded November of 1944)
1st battalion as 369th Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion (semi Mobile) (Colored)(See 369th Sustainment Brigade (United States)
2nd Battalion as 870th Antiaircraft Artillery Automatic Weapons Battalion. (see 970th Field Artillery Battalion.
[edit] LegacyThe 369th Regiment Armory was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1994.[4]

A section of the Harlem River Drive in New York City is named for the 369th Infantry Regiment.

The filker Michael Longcor is the composer and recorder of the song “The Ballad of Esau’s Sons” (lyrics by poet Martha Keller), which describes the 369th’s exploits during World War I without explicitly naming the unit.

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Posted February 21, 2012 by pennylibertygbow in Uncategorized

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