File No.: Battle Study # 20
Title: Location of "The Lost Battalion Engagement" in WWI
Investigation made at: Binarville, in the Argonne Forest, France
Period Covered: 2 to 8 October 1918
Date:  August to November 2010
Case Classification: Description of Battlefield / Combat Scene
Case Status: Case Closed
The location where elements of the US Army's 77th Infantry Division held their ground for 5 days against a numerical superior German force in World War One is not known to the general public.
It is located only a few miles from the location where Sergeant York of the US Army's 82nd Infantry Division earned the Medal of Honor. However, the location of the "Lost Battalion Engagement" is not as disputed as the "York Spot" as can be concluded from Battle Study # 19. visited the battlefield.

On 2 OCT 1918, units of the 77th "Liberty" Division of the US Army advanced into the Argonne Forest in France. Over the next 5 days a mixed unit refused to surrender even though this "Lost Battalion" was completely surrounded, under constant German attacks, low on ammunition and supplies, with hardly any shelter and just limited access to water. Of the more than 600 men first trapped in the "pocket" just below the ancient Binarville - road, only around 200 walked out. Three Medals of Honor, twenty-seven Distinguished Service Crosses, and many other medals were awarded to the soldiers involved.
Two pilots of the Army Air Corps also received Medals of Honor for their part in the engagement. They conducted the first attempted aerial resupply drop in military history and provided important intelligence gathered during their sorties over the battlefield.
The Lost Battalion
The nickname "The Lost Battalion" was given to the unit by war correspondents at the time but the term is incorrect as the force actually consisted of two battalions:
1st BN/308th Infantry Regiment commanded by Major Charles White Whittlesey,
2nd BN/308th Infantry Regiment, commanded by Captain George G. McMurtry and
"K" Company of 3rd BN/307th Infantry Regiment, commanded by Captain Nelson M. Holderman,
"C" and "D" Companies of 306th Machine Gun Regiment (attached to the two battalions of the 308th.)
In military terminology, "The Lost Brigade" would have been a more appropriate nickname.
Due to the development of the tactical situation Whittlesey assumed command over the entire force, since he was the senior officer.

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Meuse-Argonne Offensive
At the start of the operation on 2 OCT 1918, the 77th Division, including its 308th Infantry Regimnt, were part of a large scale offensive through the Argonne Forest. Whittlesey's 1st Battalion of the 308th Regiment was the only element to reach its designated objective of a road junction at the Charlevaux Mill. Here, they were joined by 2nd BN/308th Infantry Regiment.
In the meantime the remainder of the offensive ground to halt and the other Allied forces pulled back to the trenches of their original Line of Departure. With the primitive communications (carrier pigeons and telephone lines which were easily cut), the two battalions found themselves in a deep bulge into the German lines which was then cut off and surrounded before the “Lost Battalion” realized its situation. Shortly thereafter, they were joined by "K" Company of the 307th Infantry, which had become separated from its parent battalion during the confusion of the stalled advance.
The following days, the unit was under constant German attack and had no more ammunition, rations, medical supplies and clothing than which they had carried into the "pocket".

Winged Hero
On 4 OCT 1918 inaccurate coordinates were delivered by one of the pigeons and the unit was subjected to "friendly fire". The unit was saved by a carrier pigeon, named Cher Ami, delivering the following message:

Cher Ami sustained wounds from German ground fire. She was awarded several medals and her stuffed body is on display in the Smithsonian Institute today.

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The fortunes turned on 6 OCT 1918 when Army pilot 1st Lieutenant Harold E. Goettler and his gunner-observer 2nd Lieutenant Erwin R. Bleckley located the front line between the Lost Battalion and the surrounding Germans. Both airmen were wounded by German ground fire. Their plane crash-landed on Allied lines and both men died. Their notes, however, allowed the American artillery to fire more accurately on the Germans and to organize a relief campagne.

Shortly before the relief forces arrived on 7 OCT 1918, a private from Whittlesey's battalion, who had been captured by the Germans, returned with a letter from the German commander calling for the surrender of the Lost Battalion. Whittlesey and McMurtry deducted that the Germans were desperate and on the edge of defeat themselves. When word of the surrender proposal filtered through the ranks, it was a moral booster and inspired the men into even stiffer resistance. Whittlesey ordered his men to remove the white crossed Battalion air identification panels in front of their positions, to make sure that they would not be mistaken by the Germans for surrender flags.
After the besieged troops were relieved Medals of Honor were awarded to airmen Goettler and Bleckly and to:

Major Charles White Whittlesey
Medal of Honor Citation

Captain George C. McMurtry
Medal of Honor Citation

Captain Nelson M. Holderman
Medal of Honor Citation

Summary of action by 77th Division General
The actions of the units mixed into "The Lost Battalion" were summed up in this General Order by General Alexander, commanding the 77th Infantry Division:

April 15, 1919

General Order Number 30:

I desire to publish to the command an official recognition of the valor and extraordinary heroism in action of the officers and enlisted men of the following organizations:

Companies A, B, C, E, G, H 308th Infantry
Company K 307th Infantry
Companies C, D 306th Machine Gun Btln.

These organizations, or detachments therefrom, comprised the approximate force of 550 men under command of Major Charles W. Whittlesey, which was cut off from the remainder of the Seventy-Seventh Division and surrounded by a superior number of the enemy near Charlevaux, in the Forest d'Argonne, from the morning of October 3, 1918, to the night of October 7, 1918.
Without food for more than one hundred hours, harassed continuously by machine gun, rifle, trench mortar and grenade fire, Major Whittlesey's command, with undaunted spirit and magnificent courage, successfully met and repulsed daily violent attacks by the enemy. They held the position which had been reached by supreme efforts, under orders received for an advance, until communication was re-established with friendly troops.
When relief finally came, approximately 194 officers and men were able to walk out of the position. Officers and men killed numbered 107.
On the fourth day a written proposition to surrender received from the Germans was treated with the contempt which it deserved.
The officers and men of these organizations during these five days of isolation continually gave unquestionable proof of extraordinary heroism and demonstrated the high standard and ideals of the United States Army.

Robert Alexander, Major General, US Army

Battlefield visit
On Saturday 30 OCT 2010 visited the battlefield.

We stopped at the Lost Battalion Monument marker along the French D442 highway.

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We then climbed down the steep slope from the road to the base of "The Pocket" and the stream that ran at the bottom of it.
We could appreciate the problems the terrain features gave the American defenders of the slope. We were able to see the stream from the start of our climb on the road top all the way down.
And yet this creek had proven to be so difficult to reach when it was in range of German snipers.
The slope showed many indentations which, most likely, were foxholes of the men of The Lost Battalion once.

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This is an impression of “The Pocket”:

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After taking in the area, we climbed up again.

Binarville Lost Battalion Monument

We made sure to make a stop at the recently dedicated Lost Battalion Monument near the pond where the Charleveaux Mill once stood.

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Although it has been exposed widely in the American press, the accounts of what happened to the encircled brigade sized unit dubbed "The Lost Battalion" do not differ significantly. Except for the Charleveaux Mill which is not present today, the terrain features of the battlefield remain largely the same as in 1918. Our visit in the same month as when the battle took place, 92 years later, added to a better understanding of the difficulty, the American defenders found their selves in.

In closing we will show the mixed unit photograph that was taken after the siege of the "Lost Battalion" was lifted.
We have also published digital photographs of the man who lead them through this ordeal.

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August 25th, 2012 UPDATE:
We found a 77th divisional patch on an auction site and bought it for illustrational purposes.
Also, during a recent trip to the Ardennes Forest we found a US Army 77th Infantry helmet of WWI vintage in Poteau, Belgium. We did not purchase it because taking the photo cost less than the 160 Euros on the price tag.

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