DVIDS – News – Hill 204: the first combat action of the 28th Division during the First World War


By Sergeant. 1st Class Aaron Heft

Atop Hill 204 in Chateau-Thierry, France, a large double colonnade commemorates the actions of Americans who fought to liberate the country during World War I. While Château-Thierry is best known for the defense led by American and French units along the banks of the Marne, Hill 204 itself marks the first combat actions of the 28th Division during the World War.

The 28th Division landed in France in May 1918 and served in rear areas under the watchful eye of British and French instructors. While the Doughboys learned valuable lessons from their battle-hardened allies, many members of Keystone Division were eager to spring into action.

On the evening of June 30, 1918, while marching with French troops to a new training area, Colonel Edward Shannon of the 111th Infantry Regiment received a request from French forces to provide two platoons to join French troops in a raid on the German lines. .

Shannon ordered two lieutenants from the leading companies, Lieutenant Cedric Benz of Company A and Lieutenant John Shenkel of Company B, to assemble a platoon each for action with the French.

sergeant. Bob Hoffman recalled that as the lieutenants sought to select volunteers for the raid, “the whole company, like one man, came forward” and that “the men who could not make this trip wept real tears” as their comrades left them behind to become the unit’s first fighters.

The platoons moved into position on the slopes of the hill in the early hours of July 1 with French infantry soldiers in the lead. After hours of heavy artillery barrage, Allied soldiers leapt from the wooded edge of Hill 204 and began an ascent towards the German positions.

Almost immediately the platoons came under German machine gun fire. The French commanders would later write that “from the start of the attack, the American detachments were marked by their ardor, their bravery and their enthusiasm”.

As the men of the patrol advanced, they entered into almost immediate hand-to-hand combat with the enemy. Hoffman recalled that after a bullet ricocheted off his helmet, he “forgot the line of battle groups and we fought as our ancestors had always fought…rushing forward, stopping to shoot, rushing again and shooting again”.

sergeant. William Felix of Avalon, Pa. seized an abandoned French Chauchat automatic rifle and ordered its runner, Pvt. James Early of Pittsburgh, for “following me with ammunition.” The pair surged forward through the fire and suppressed the enemy guns, covering the advance of the rest of Company A’s platoon, allowing them to reach the German first line of trenches.

To the right of the American advance, Company B faced a similar situation. Shenkel’s platoon was met with a barrage of concealed machine gun fire which quickly blocked his advance. The lieutenant and seven of his men cross the first line of German trenches and quickly find themselves isolated and surrounded.

As the German troops demanded their surrender, Shenkel shot the leading German with his pistol, and his men fought their way back into the trench in brutal hand-to-hand combat. For hours the remnants of these platoons held their positions, repelling a flanking counterattack and inflicting heavy casualties on the advancing Germans before yielding the position to French reinforcements.

The action on Hill 204 was a costly first contact for the 28th Division. Of the 116 men who emerged from the French trenches the day before, only 63 would descend Hill 204 unscathed.

The action would see Shenkel and Benz become the first war heroes of the 28th Division, decorated with both the Distinguished Service Cross and the French Croix de guerre. Several other members of the patrol would receive individual decorations and both platoons would receive unitary Croix de Guerre decorations.

The French commander wrote to Shannon the day after the attack that “the attitude of all American ranks, especially the non-commissioned officers taking part in the attack…was superb in their enthusiasm and their courage…with soldiers as admirable as yours and ours, the defeat of the Germans is certain in the near future.

Although overshadowed a few weeks later by actions where the 28th would earn the title “Men of Iron”, the fight for Hill 204 would mark a time when the Keystone Division’s mettle was tested, and they proved to be allies and enemies. that the men of the Division were ready for action.

(Editor’s Note: Sgt. 1st Class Aaron Heft is a former platoon sergeant with Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 111th Infantry Regiment, 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team in Philadelphia. He is currently the NCO in charge of the Army National Guard Leader Development Program in Arlington, Va.)

Date taken: 30.06.2022
Date posted: 30.06.2022 08:11
Story ID: 424108
Location: FORT INDIANTOWN GAP, Pennsylvania, USA

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