April 20: Untested Connecticut Doughboys Face Germany’s Best at WWI Battle of Seicheprey

 

Today in 1918, a division of new Connecticut recruits encountered their first taste of modern warfare in a small village in northeastern France. In that battle, they repelled a regiment of elite German troops and held the front lines against overwhelming odds.

A series of photos showing scenes from the Battle of Seicheprey.

The US 26th Infantry Division, nicknamed the Yankee Division because its regiments were composed of New England men, had recently arrived in Europe. Its “green” soldiers had yet to experience battle firsthand. Because of their inexperience, the Yankee Division was stationed in a quiet sector of northeast France that military officials were convinced German forces wouldn’t attack for at least another year.

The Germans, however, had other plans. In the early morning hours of April 20, they staged a surprise attack on Yankee Division troops stationed in the village of Seicheprey, (pronounced sesh-pray). Two hours of artillery fire were followed by a ground assault by German stormtroopers — the most elite and battle-hardened soldiers in the German army. The American unit that bore the brunt of the assault was the 102d Regiment, almost exclusively made up of Connecticut men who had never seen, let alone fought in, a battle before. Though inexperienced, the Connecticut men were full of esprit de corps and resisted the German advance with unexpected (albeit disorganized) effectiveness. Several accounts of the battle make special note of the extraordinary bravery of the 102d Regiment. They note that even members of the military marching band and kitchen staff got involved in the battle’s hand-to-hand combat. The story of a Connecticut cook killing two Germans with his meat cleaver became a powerful symbol of the unit’s bravery, and was included in a stained glass window memorializing the Battle of Seicheprey at Hamden Memorial Town Hall (shown below).

Three stained glass windows at Hamden Memorial Town Hall in Hamden, CT, depict the bravery and sacrifices of the 102d (Yankee) Division in WWI. The Battle of Seicheprey is depicted at left.

After more than 24 consecutive hours of fighting, the Germans retreated eastward. The Battle of Seicheprey was the first major ground engagement involving American troops in the war and was hailed by the American press as a rousing victory. The reality on the ground was more muddled. The Yankee Division had prevented the Germans from advancing or seizing any additional ground in France, but at a horrific and lopsided cost: 81 were dead, 401 wounded and 187 taken prisoner by the German Army. Half of the dead were Connecticut men.

For the Connecticut men of the Yankee Division, April 20, 1918 marked a brutal trial by fire — one they endured with remarkable bravery and tenacity, today in Connecticut history.

Further Reading

Eric Pace, “A Fierce Battle for Local Heroes,” New York Times

Narayan Segupta, “Battle of Seicheprey, April 20, 1918, US 26th Infantry Division,” USAww1.com

Laura A. Macaluso, “Connecticut Doughboys Remember the Battle of Seicheprey,” New England Historical Society