History: Wyo. Guard played role in WW1 100 years ago

Maj. Tom Blackburn, State Public Affairs Office

June 1914. Europe enjoyed its last calm summer before turmoil engulfed the continent.

An assassin’s bullet ended that in Sarajevo, a part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austria-Hungarian throne, would die from gunshot wounds from Gavrilo Princep, which plunged Europe into the Great War, or, as it became known decades later, World War I.

Today, 100 years ago the United States would be pulled into the mainly European conflict. A telegram would be the impetus for our country’s entry into the war. Germany promised land to Mexico if the country allied with them if the U.S. declared war once the German submarines resumed sinking American shipping in the spring of 1917. The telegram was intercepted by the British and shared with U.S. political and military members. President Woodrow Wilson asked Congress for a declaration of war against Germany. That was granted April 6, 1917.

Wyoming’s National Guard played a significant role when the American Expeditionary Force was organized in France in the spring and early summer that year. The state mustered a whole infantry regiment, almost 1,700 guardsmen, for service in the combat command overseeing the U.S.’s European commitment. Using Fort D.A. Russell (now F.E. Warren Air Force Base) outside Cheyenne as the assembly area, the companies of troops rode in on the vast train network in the state to the Army post.

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The Third Infantry Regiment, as the Wyoming unit was named, shipped from Cheyenne to Camp Greene, North Carolina, to integrate with other Guard troops from across the country. As is common today with smaller guard units supplementing larger units’ force structure, the Wyoming troops were broken up and battalions within the regiment assigned to fill holes in other guard regiments.

Battalion A (later 1st Battalion) and the regimental headquarters, including the Wyoming commander Col. Joseph Cavender, was assigned to the 148th Field Artillery Regiment. The rest of the Wyoming regiment, two battalions, became the 116th Ammunition Train and trained to transport artillery rounds to cannons at the front, in France.

The 148th was the most combat-engaged unit with Wyoming Guard troops in World War I. After multiple relocations stateside to train in artillery tactics, the regiment, with its battalion of Wyoming men, sailed for France in January 1918. Today soldiers are flown overseas, but in the early 20th century, it was seaborne transport that got the troops to France and it was dangerous. The convoy the 148th was in lost one transport ship to an enemy submarine during the crossing, but it had no Wyoming soldiers on it.

Arriving in France in February, the 148th moved to an artillery training base to sharpen their skills on the big barrel, 155 mm howitzers they would use on German front lines. Families back home only knew where their loved ones were in France from mail soldiers sent home, as newspaper coverage was very limited. It was unlikely that Wyoming residents knew that their fellow community members went to the front lines near Chateau Thierry by the Marne River in July.

During World War I, the most common strategy was for opposing sides to fire massive amounts of artillery shells at the enemy, sometimes over multiple days, before ordering soldiers to advance. The 148th quickly was put to use to employ that strategy during Germany’s last major offensive, the Second Battle of the Marne. Wyoming’s first artillery shells fired against a European foe was on July 14, and would continue for two months.

Field Marshall Erich Ludendorff, general in charge of the German army, gave up on the offensive, and the artillery fire from units like the 148th ensured victory for the Allied cause. Germany retreated, and the Wyoming Guardsmen followed closely, heading eastward. The unit’s final combat action was the Argonne-Meuse offensive, which involved most of the Allied front and forced Germany to seek an armistice, which was signed on Nov. 11, 1918. The 148th spent 134 days on the front lines and had approximately 75 casualties. Through three major campaigns, the 148th fired more than 67,000 artillery rounds.

Sadly, Cavender did not survive to see his regiment return home. He died from wounds sustained in France on Sept. 5, 1918. With a new regimental commander, and the war over, the 148th moved into Germany as part of an occupation force. Political requests for the guardsmen to return stateside were successfully answered in the summer of 1919, when the Wyoming soldiers boarded a transport ship and sailed for the U.S. to receive a summer of celebration for their duty to the state and nation.

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