Alvin York and the Meuse-Argonne Offensive

Alvin York and the Meuse-Argonne Offensive

8/23/2006 • Military History

October 8, 1918, was a hard morning for the 2nd Württemberg Landwehr Division at Châtel Chéhéry, France. The German division’s infantry regiments, the 122nd, 120th and 125th, were barely holding onto their piece of the Argonne Forest against an attack by the U.S. Army’s 82nd Division. Fortunately for the Germans, the Argonne favored the defense — and the Americans favored it further by attacking up a funnel-shaped valley right into a deathtrap.

In the thick of the fight was Lieutenant Paul Jürgen Vollmer. Vollmer, or ‘Kuno, as his friends called him, was a highly decorated officer who had recently assumed command of the 120th Württemberg Landwehr Regiment’s 1st Battalion, most of whose soldiers were from Ulm (in the semiautonomous German state of Württemberg), where Vollmer had been the assistant postmaster before the war.

Vollmer was directing his troops against the Americans when his battalion adjutant, Lieutenant Karl Glass, approached. Vollmer hoped that this was not another report that the Americans had penetrated the German lines. Such rumors had been common since October 2, when the so-called Lost Battalion of the U.S. 77th Infantry Division broke through a few miles west of his sector. Vollmer was relieved to hear that elements of the Prussian 210th Reserve Infantry Regiment had just arrived at his battalion command post 200 yards up the valley. The 210th was what Vollmer needed to push the Americans out of this portion of the Argonne. Vollmer told Glass to follow him to meet with the 210th’s commander, since they had only one hour to be ready for the counterattack.

Upon arriving at his headquarters, Vollmer was appalled to find that 70 soldiers of the 210th had laid down their arms and were eating breakfast. When he rebuffed them for their lack of preparedness, the weary Prussians replied, We hiked all night, and first of all we need something to eat. Vollmer told Glass to go back to the front and ordered the 210th to move quickly. He then wheeled around to rejoin his battalion.

Suddenly, down the side of the far hill, a group of German soldiers came running to the command post yelling, Die Amerikaner Kommen! Then, off to the right, Vollmer saw a group of 210th soldiers drop their weapons and yell, Kamerad, their hands high in the air. Bewildered, Vollmer drew his pistol and ordered them to pick up their weapons. Behind Vollmer came several Americans charging down the hill. Believing it was a large American attack, the 210th surrendered. Before Vollmer realized what had happened, a large American with a red mustache, broad features and a freckled face had captured him as well. That Yank, from the 82nd Division, was Corporal Alvin C. York.

Much has been written about York, but all the previous accounts have one significant flaw: They do not tell the German side of the story. In the course of recent research, hundreds of pages of archival information from across Germany have come to light, uncovering the full story of what happened on October 8.

October 7, 1918 — Initial German Defense
The German side of York’s story began on October 7, as the 2nd Württemberg Landwehr Division was preparing defensive positions along the eastern edge of the Argonne. Vollmer’s 1st Battalion, 120th Regiment, was the last of the division to pull back to the valley behind Châtel Chéhéry to serve as the reserve. This was welcome news for Vollmer’s men, who had been in the thick of the fighting since the Americans launched their Meuse-Argonne offensive on September 26, but the 10-kilometer move, harassed by American artillery, took most of the day before the battalion finally arrived near Châtel Chéhéry.

While Vollmer’s men were on the march, the U.S. 82nd Infantry Division moved into Châtel Chéhéry and prepared to attack Castle Hill and a smaller position a kilometer to the north, designated Hill 180 by the Americans but called Schöne Aussicht (Pleasant View) by the Germans. Both objectives were important, but Castle Hill, or Hill 223, as the Americans called it, was vital. Whoever controlled it controlled access to that sector of the Argonne. Elements of the German 125th Württemberg Landwehr, the Guard Elizabeth Battalion and the 47th Machine Gun Company were given the mission of holding that hill, under the overall command of Captain Heinrich Müller.
On October 7, the 1st Battalion, 328th Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Division attacked. Battalion Müller fought tenaciously but was pushed back to the western slope of Castle Hill. There, the Germans held on through the night at great loss and even attempted a counterattack. The 82nd Division also captured Hill 180. The near-complete losses of Castle Hill and Pleasant View put the Germans’ grip on the Argonne at serious risk.

General Max von Gallwitz, the German army group commander in the region, monitored these developments with grave concern and directed the 45th Prussian Reserve Division’s 212th Reserve Infantry Regiment to help the 125th Landwehr to retake Pleasant View and the 210th Reserve Infantry Regiment to assist the 120th Landwehr in recapturing Castle Hill. Those counterattacks would occur at 1030 hours on October 8. Vollmer would lead the assault on Castle Hill.

As the 2nd Württemberg Division prepared its defenses on October 7, Vollmer’s 4th Company commander, Lieutenant Fritz Endriss, identified gaps between his unit and the 2nd Machine Gun Company. One of Endriss’ platoon leaders, Lieutenant Karl Kübler, told Vollmer, I regard our situation as very dangerous, for the Americans could easily pass through the gaps in the sector of the 2nd Machine Gun Company and gain our rear. Vollmer directed Kübler to establish liaison with the 2nd Machine Gun Company. Failing to do that, Kübler sent Vollmer a message, I will, on my own responsibility, occupy Hill 2 with part of 4th Company. But Vollmer replied, You will hold the position to which you have been assigned.

October 8 — American Attack and German Counterattack
Three significant threats faced General Georg von der Marwitz, the German Fifth Army commander, on October 8. First, there was the Amerikaner nest along the western edge of the Argonne Forest, where an isolated element of the 77th U.S. Infantry Division was proving to be more than the neighboring 76th German Reserve Division could handle. That saga began on October 2, when 590 American soldiers penetrated a mile into German lines and settled down for five days in a 600-meter-long pocket. Despite several concerted German attacks, the Americans refused to surrender. Meanwhile the 77th Division launched attack after attack to relieve its Lost Battalion. Although unsuccessful thus far, these attacks were taking a heavy toll on the 76th Reserve Division. If the 76th failed to eliminate the Lost Battalion, Marwitz’s flank would be exposed.

A second problem was the advance of the U.S. 82nd and 28th divisions to secure the eastern part of the Argonne, which could sever German lines of communication in the forest and protect the flank of the main American attack in the Meuse River valley. The third trouble spot, and the most dangerous to the German Fifth Army, was the Meuse Valley, just east of the Argonne Forest. It was there that General John J. Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force, sent the bulk of his First Army with the goal of ultimately cutting the main German supply artery in Sedan, some 30 miles to the north.

The 2nd Landwehr Division chronicled the German predicament in the region. Concerned about the situation, general headquarters committed elements of the 1st Guard Infantry Division, a portion of the 52nd Reserve Division, the 210th and 212th regiments of the 45th Reserve Division and the Machine Gun Sharpshooters of Regiments 47 and 58 to the fight. Headquarters reports stated: We had to stop the enemy’s main attack, which was now east of the Aire [in the Meuse River valley]. So our artillery around Hohenbornhöhe was used to provide fires against his flank.

Meanwhile, German lookouts reported American soldiers making their way toward Castle Hill. This was the 2nd Battalion, 328th Infantry Regiment, 82nd Division — York’s battalion — which would attack via Castle Hill in a northwesterly direction after a 10-minute artillery barrage. The battalion would advance one mile across a funnel-shaped valley and seize a dual objective: the Decauville rail line and the North-South Road. These were the main German supply lines into the Argonne. The Americans had no idea that the Germans had positioned more than 50 machine guns and dug in several hundred troops to kill anything that dared move into that valley.

Fog blanketed the Aire River valley below the Argonne early on October 8. Things started to look up for Vollmer after the 7th Bavarian Sapper Company, under a Lieutenant Thoma, and a detachment of the 210th Prussian Reserve Regiment reported for duty. He placed the two units among the gaps on Hill 2 that Kübler and Endriss had previously complained about. It was 0610 hours.

Suddenly, out of the early morning fog, the Germans heard the uproar of an enemy infantry force attacking in the valley, where the stillness was shattered by the whine of ricocheting bullets. The Americans headed into the valley without a preparatory barrage because their supporting artillery unit had not received word to fire. The alarm was sounded across the 2nd Landwehr Division, whose troops quickly manned their positions. The American advance was immediately contested by Battalion Müller, which held on until it ran out of ammunition. After that, the Germans retreated across the valley to the forward trenches of the 125th Regiment. With Battalion Müller out of the way, the Americans cleared Castle Hill and plunged into the valley. They were greeted with heavy rifle and machine gun fire from hundreds of German soldiers dug in on the three surrounding hills. Vollmer moved forward with his battalion to bolster the 2nd Machine Gun and 7th Bavarian companies, which bore the brunt of the attack. After weeks of setbacks, it seemed that at last the Germans would take back the initiative in the Argonne. Alvin York later described that crucial engagement:

So you see we were getting it from the front and both flanks. Well, the first and second waves got about halfway across the valley and then were held up by machine gun fire from the three sides. It was awful. Our losses were very heavy. The advancement was stopped and we were ordered to dig in. I don’t believe our whole battalion or even our whole division could have taken those machine guns by a straightforward attack.

The Germans got us, and they got us right smart. They just stopped us dead in our tracks. It was hilly country with plenty of brush, and they had plenty of machine guns entrenched along those commanding ridges. And I’m telling you they were shooting straight. Our boys just went down like the long grass before the mowing machine at home. So our attack just faded out. And there we were, lying down, about halfway across, and no barrage, and those German machine guns and big shells getting us hard.

Among the Americans trapped in that fight was Sergeant Harry Parson, who ordered Acting Sergeant Bernard Early to lead a platoon of 17 men behind the Germans and take out the machine guns. York was part of that group. While the three American squads moved toward German-occupied Hill 2, a terrific commotion shook the area as American artillery belatedly opened up in support of the besieged 328th Infantry. The barrage inadvertently covered the movement of Early’s men, who found a gap in the lines. They made their way through it and into the German rear area. Despite that, Vollmer felt confident of victory. As the German 120th report stated: Without any artillery preparation, the adversary launched a violent attack and there was heavy fighting….The enemy was repulsed almost everywhere. 1st BN absorbed the brunt of the enemy attack without wavering, due to its good defensive position.

It was at that point in the fight that Vollmer, learning from Lieutenant Glass that the 210th had at last arrived, returned to his command post to find the 210th eating breakfast. He was taken prisoner before he had a chance to rectify the situation. Glass, who returned to the front lines moments before Vollmer departed, went back to the command post to report that he had seen American troops moving on the hill above. Before he realized it, Glass too was York’s prisoner. Everything occurred so suddenly that both Vollmer and the 210th Regimental soldiers believed that this was a large surprise attack by the Americans.

As the 17 Americans busily gathered their 70-plus prisoners, the 4th and 6th companies of the 125th Württemberg Landwehr on Humser Hill saw what was happening below. They signaled to the captured Germans to lie down and then opened fire. The hail of bullets killed six and wounded three of their captors. Several prisoners were also killed by the machine-gunners, which caused the surviving captured men to wave their hands wildly in the air and yell, Don’t shoot — there are Germans here! Lieutenant Paul Adolph August Lipp, commander of the 6th Company, had his men aim more carefully. He brought up riflemen to join the machine-gunners in killing the Americans.

Of the eight American survivors, Corporal York was the only noncommissioned officer still standing. He worked his way partly up the slope where the German machine-gunners were. For the gunners to fire at York, they had to expose their heads above their positions. Whenever York saw a German helmet, he fired his .30-caliber rifle, hitting his target every time.

Vollmer, the nearest to York, was appalled to see 25 of his comrades fall victim to the Tennessean’s unerring marksmanship. At least three machine gun crews were killed in this manner, all while York, a devout Christian who did not want to kill any more than he had to, intermittently yelled at them to Give up and come on down. Meanwhile Lieutenant Endriss, seeing that Vollmer was in trouble, led a valiant charge against York. York used a hunting skill he learned when faced with a flock of turkeys. He knew that if the first soldier was shot, those behind would take cover. To prevent that, he fired his M1911 Colt .45-caliber semi-automatic pistol, targeting the men from the back to the front. The last German he shot was Endriss, who fell to the ground screaming in agony. York later wrote in his diary that he had shot five German soldiers and an officer like wild turkeys with his pistol.

Vollmer was not sure how many Germans were killed in that assault, but knew it was a lot. Worse yet, his wounded friend Endriss needed help. In the middle of the fight, Vollmer, who had lived in Chicago before the war, stood up, walked over to York and yelled above the din of battle, English? York replied, No, not English. Vollmer then inquired, What? American, York answered. Vollmer exclaimed: Good Lord! If you won’t shoot any more I will make them give up.
York told him to go ahead. Vollmer blew a whistle and yelled an order. Upon hearing Vollmer’s order, Lipp told his men on the hill above to drop their weapons and make their way down the hill to join the other prisoners.

York directed Vollmer to line up the Germans in a column and have them carry out the six wounded Americans. He then placed the German officers at the head of the formation, with Vollmer in the lead. York stood directly behind him, with the .45-caliber Colt pointed at the German’s back. Vollmer suggested that York take the men down a gully in front of Humser Hill to the left, which was still occupied by a large group of German soldiers. Sensing a trap, York took them instead down the road that skirted Hill 2 and led back to Castle Hill and Châtel Chéhéry.

Meanwhile, forward of York and the prisoners was Lieutenant Kübler and his platoon. He told his second in command, Warrant Officer Haegele, that things just don’t look right. Kübler ordered his men to follow him to the battalion command post. As they approached, he was surrounded by several of York’s men. Kübler and his platoon surrendered. Vollmer told them to drop their weapons and equipment belts.

Lieutenant Thoma, the 7th Bavarian commander, was not far off and heard Vollmer’s order to Kübler to surrender. Thoma ordered his men to follow him with fixed bayonets and yelled to the 100-plus German prisoners, Don’t take off your belts! Thoma’s men took a position near the road for a fight. York shoved his pistol in Vollmer’s back and demanded that he order Thoma to surrender.

Vollmer cried out, You must surrender! Thoma insisted that he would not. It is useless, Vollmer said. We are surrounded. Thoma then said, I will do so on your responsibility! Vollmer replied that he would take all responsibility. With that, Thoma and his group, which included elements of the 2nd Machine Gun Company, dropped their weapons and belts and joined the prisoners.

As the large formation crossed the valley, York’s battalion adjutant, Lieutenant Joseph A. Woods, saw the group of men and, believing that it was a German counterattack, gathered as many soldiers as he could for a fight. After a closer look, however, he realized that the Germans were unarmed. York, at the head of the formation, saluted and said, Corporal York reports with prisoners, sir.

How many prisoners have you, Corporal?

Honest Lieutenant, York replied, I don’t know. Woods, who must have been stunned but kept his composure, ordered, Take them back to Châtel Chéhéry, and I will count them as they go by. His count: 132 Germans.

German Line in the Argonne Shattered
York’s men frustrated the German counterattack plan and bagged elements of the 120th Regiment, 210th Prussian Reserve Regiment, 7th Bavarian Company, 2nd Machine Gun Company and 125th Landwehr. This cleared the front and enabled the Americans to press on up the valley to take their objective, the Decauville rail line and the North-South Road. The German line was broken, and the 120th Landwehr would never recover from the day’s losses. Its report stated: The flank of 6th Company reported an enemy surprise attack. Next, the remnant of 4th Company and personnel from the 210th Regiment were caught by this surprise attack, where Lieutenant Endriss was killed. The company was shattered or was captured. Also First Lieutenant Vollmer ended up in the enemy’s hands. Now the situation was worse.

The planned German counterattack to take Castle and Pleasant View hills had been preempted by York and his men. If the 82nd Infantry Division pressed the attack now, it could cause the collapse of German defenses in the Argonne and lead to the capture of thousands of troops, supplies and artillery. But the American 328th Infantry had taken such a beating that it did not take advantage of this opportunity. Shortly after that the Germans were ordered to withdraw from the Argonne. The 120th Wurttenberg Infantry’s report noted:

[We received] the depressing order at 1030 to withdraw. In good order did we move. We did have some luck….There was no fire on the North-South Road. But we did see terrible things on the road. The results of the artillery; dead men, dead horses, destroyed vehicles blocking the way and destroyed trees were scattered to and fro. And what about the enemy? The North-South Road was closed by machine gun fire. This happened around 1200….It was amazing that the Americans did not press the attack. In the afternoon of 8 October, the headquarters of 3rd and 5th Army ordered a withdrawal from the Argonne line.

On October 9, the final order was issued to withdraw into the fortified Hindenburg Line for the final defense before the war ended. It was now that General von der Marwitz, the leader of 5th Army, gave the last word, the 120th’s report stated. We needed to occupy the secondary defensive positions further back. In the evening of 9/10 October, the regiment departed from the Argonne. The German soldiers gave so much after hard battles since 1914 — more than 80,000 dead were left here. American artillery briefly hit the Humserberg line during the retreat and always there was the shrapnel. We were dead tired, too tired to contemplate, but able to hold onto hope.

Paul Vollmer served on the Western Front for four years. He fought with the 125th and 120th Württemberg Landwehr Infantry regiments in 10 campaigns and was awarded the Iron Cross 2nd Class in 1914, the Knights Cross 2nd Class in 1915 and the Iron Cross 1st Class and the Queen Olga of Württemberg Medal in 1918. Released in 1919, he moved to Stuttgart, where he again became a postmaster. In 1929 Vollmer was asked to provide a statement about the events of October 8, 1918, to the German Archives in Potsdam, which he did not want to do. After several formal requests, he arrived to answer questions. He was visibly uneasy about submitting a formal report. Vollmer insisted that there was a large group of Americans, not just York and his small squad. It must have seemed impossible that so few men could have captured so many highly trained German soldiers.

Alvin Cullum York was promoted to sergeant and received the Medal of Honor for his deeds of October 8. He was also awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the French Croix de Guerre and several other medals. After the war, he returned to his hometown of Pall Mall, Tenn., where the people of his state gave him a house and a farm. He married his sweetheart, Gracie Williams, and they raised seven children — five boys and two girls. The faith that brought him through the war stayed with him throughout his life. An October 1918 diary entry just after the Argonne fight summarized his view of life: I am a witness to the fact that God did help me out of that hard battle; for the bushes were shot up all around me and I never got a scratch.

This article was written by U.S. Army Lt. Col. Douglas Mastriano and originally published in the September 2006 issue of Military History magazine. For more great articles be sure to subscribe to Military History magazine today!

32 Responses to Alvin York and the Meuse-Argonne Offensive

  1. joe bernabo says:

    Thanks for your great articles of PAST GREAT AMERICANS ! Sgt York is
    and always was one of my most favorite stories for over 62 years, at the movies & STILL IS! Many times I wished I could have visited
    Alvin Yorks victory scene. ( My wife
    & I spent 2 days in PELL MELL meeting
    and talking with A. Yorks son, sister & cousins for hours! I ONLY
    can wish I could go back. Thank you

  2. sierra york says: realated to alvin c. york
    im his great etc. niece and im so proud of him and that is amazin that he mad world history! and if u need anything on his any history call me 1-813-401-5133

  3. Paul says:

    This is a fascinating report.
    Thank you!

  4. Dan Scherschel says:

    Not a paper tiger, like Sean Hannity….

    • ryan says:

      wow and of course when you’re talking about the definition of a great American you spelled definition wrong nice going you just got outsmarted by a kid congrats

  5. sammi says:

    ummm yea this is cool i guess…. nice article

  6. RAYMOND E. DROZD says:

    Read both yours (LTC Mastriano’s) accounts/papers, and DR.
    Nolan’s. I feel you uncovered the correct position where York

    You need to re-work your paper for the unenlightened ones of the
    Nolan Team. Map references and the step-by-step courses of
    action as well. A veteran understands your terms (I am Vietnam-
    1971 w/20 years in the Army). A layman does not . The paper
    needs to be simple, sequential, and flowing.

    The Nolan Team makes many presumptions. The graves
    locations of the G Company KIA are wrong and they (Nolan’s
    party) admit it. Find the sites where those meen were exhumed
    from and it’s icing on your cake. The former graves are the key.
    There is ALWAYS evidence of human remains.

    I wish you well on your next Combat Tour.

    A 5th Mech Veteran
    (3500 Mechanized troops vs 40,000 NVA-1971)

  7. SGT Walla says:

    Excellent historical narrative about the most decorated American soldier of WWI and a true hero.

    I was privileged to serve under LTC Mastriano. “Locked, cocked, ready to rock–Alpha!”

  8. AK says:

    Iama retired Air Force officer, and was stationed at Ramstein AB, Germany, 1994-97. On a family vacation in 1995 to Camp Darby, Italy, we passed a rainy afternoon in our cabin watching a video of ‘Sgt York’ one of my favorite movies ever. My kids, young as they were, were entranced by the story. We bought the tape, and spent the next two years looking in the brushy, hilly country of eastern France for ‘Mont York’…but were never successful. I have since read that France has built a trail system and memorial which was dedicated this past year.

    We still have the tape. Last year my son brought it in to his high school history class, and the students were fascinated by this quintessentially American story of which most of them – even in ultra-conservative Colorado Springs – had never heard.

  9. SGT Hulka says:

    My question to Mr. Mastriano is why he does not even mention the letters and maps provided to the Army War College by York’s former commanders, Major Buxton and Captain Danforth, that give exact details and location of where this fight took place.

    My first guess is that he will not mention this because Mr. Matriano’s location is wrong.

    If his research in the German archives was so detailed why was he not able to find the file of Lt. Thoma which contains a handrwitten statement by Thoma taken in 1919 describing the circumstances of his capture.

    And, as much as Mr. Mastriano talks about the German soldiers, particularly Lt. Endris, why did he not take the time to locate his grave? It is only a few km from Chatel Chehery.

    Speaking of graves. Why did he not even mention the American Graves Registration forms that give accurate coordinates to the burials? True, the initial records taken in October 1918 are inaccurate, but this was corrected by the G.R.S. when the bodies were exhumed and relocated to the Meuse-Argonne Cemetery.

    And, the photographs taken in 1919 of the graves. What does the terrain at Mr. Mastriano’s site not even come close to the terrain seen in the 1919 photos?

    It is quiet clear from statements made by York himself, Major Buxton and a soldier captured by York that this event took place in a “Ravine” and not on an open slope where the Mastriano site is. This open slope also just happened to be the center of the main attack of 328ht Infantry which makes it impossible for the York fight to have occurred there. Look at the History of the Three Hundred and Twenty Eighth Regiment of Infantry at the map detailing the attack. ALL of the US accounts agree that the 328th attack was directed slightly to the northwest directly at Mr. Mastriano’s location. ALL of the US accounts agree that the fight took place on the hill located DIRECTLY southwest of Hill 223. Mr. Mastriano for some reason fails to address any of these very important documents and simply says the others are wrong.

    Ask him to provide original and translated copies of the German archival material that he claims give the secret information that support his claim. I do not think he can provide that. It certainly will not look like the official translated copies I have read that were translated by an official German court appointed translator.

    Why is this important? Because it looks like an intentional distortion of history has occurred here and that needs to be corrected.

    If you really read Mr. Mastriano’s report there is nothing in there detailing anything found in the archives that really shed any light on what he claims. His maps are confusing and hard to understand since this was written for a military audience and not the public, who he has so easily deceived.

    And what of the other sixteen members of the patrol? It is sad that Mr. Mastriano does not even mention them. History, this is not history. It is one man making a name for himself by exploiting SGT York and the other members of the patrol by making up the story to fit the location of the reported 21 shell casings he found. I do not call these casings “hard evidence” but it is the only thing he has going for his side.

    Look at the 82nd Division History and the 328th History, these two books alone make it clear where this fight took place

  10. SGT Hulka says:

    Has anyone seen the last issue of the Dutch magazine “Wereld In Oorlog, Nr. 11, 2009” (The World at War, issue number 11, 2009)? There is a very interesting article about this very debate found starting on page 7.

    Through a Dutch friend of mine I was able to understand the following key points from this article;

    1.) From the author’s interviews with Dr. Clarke, the Director of the U.S. Army Center of Military History (CMH), Dr. Clarke stated that he issued the famed “SYDE – CMH endorsement letter” not as support for the findings of Mr. Mastriano’s, but rather to say that the CMH was a supporter of his research – not the results. This letter was written at the request of Mr. Mastriano who thought he could obtain French sponsorship with this letter for what he planned to do.

    2.) French Sponsorship; well it looks like from this article that the French regional archaeologist for the Champagne-Ardennes Region did not issue a permit for or otherwise authorize Mr. Mastriano’s relic hunting activities and therefore it appears that Mr. Mastriano’s relic hunting could be considered an illegally activity flagrantly violating French cultural and archaeological law. I am sure the same applies for the French cultural artifacts, which were presumably illegally exported at US tax payer’s expense to the CMH aboard a US Air force C-17. I am sure there is a lot more to follow of this aspect of the story. Mainly concerning why the artifacts will be displayed in the Pentagon when in reality these “artifacts” were more than likely illegally excavated, illegally exported from France and worst of all, are artifacts that have nothing whatsoever to do with the specific engagement of SGT. York, the patrol or the German units involved that resulted in the capture of 132 German prisoners of war.

    3.) The famed French Military letter of endorsement appears to be nothing more than an internal memo discussing the creation of the “York Trail” and has absolutely nothing to with endorsing anything Mr. Mastriano claims.
    Also, from the way I read this article, a least one member of Mr. Mastriano’s team, who was assisting Mastriano in digging artifacts after his final report had been issued, disagrees with Mr. Mastriano’s methods and findings. I have a question; why did the SYDE continue to relic hunt for artifacts after their 100% certainty repot had been issued? I wonder; are all of the artifacts shown in the photos above really from the SYDE “York Spot”, or are they from anywhere in that region? I do not see any method of marking or identifying any of the individual artifacts shown in these photos as I would expect and have seen in other archaeological reports. Does that mean that there is no “real” provenance for these artifacts? Does that mean that they were found only where Mr. Matriano says they were found?

    At any rate, I cannot wait to see how this turns out, but from the way this latest article reads, it looks like some of Mr. Mastriano’s core supporters are starting to run for cover or back step on previous “endorsements”.

    I again encourage everyone to examine the documents I have so often mentioned in great detail and in previous entries in this blog that Mr. Mastriano and his followers refuse to acknowledge.
    This debate is far from over, only warming up…… so to speak.

  11. SGT Hulka says:

    There has been another “discovery” that needs to be discussed here.

    Please take a look at this article:

    Initially I thought this must be some kind of a joke, but after a little more searching I found the original army press release:

    A short time later I received this email written by this man and here are a few excerpts:

    “From: Douglas Mastriano
    Sent: Friday, May 29, 2009 6:39 AM
    Subject: Important SGT York discoveries from October 1918?

    “Two amazing discoveries to support the York Spot:”

    “We are pleased to announce the recovery of a significant discovery of artifacts related to where Sergeant York accomplished his amazing feat.
    So what?”

    “1. The discoveries confirm our conclusions as to where York fought on 8 OCT 1918
    2. York did what he was awarded the Medal of Honor for (silencing the detractors)
    3. One God-fearing man made the difference – an example of us today
    4. This important piece of American History is preserved for the next generation”

    “While working on the Sergeant York Historic Trail, we uncovered the personal effects and the complete identification tag of a German soldier involved in the fight against York’s battalion on 8 October 1918. The soldier of whom we speak is Gunner Wilhelm Härer.”

    “On 8 October 1918, Wilhelm Härer was assigned to German Lieutenant Paul Lipp’s portion of Humserberg. Lipp commanded the machine gun which Alvin York assaulted and destroyed. Lipp himself was captured by York. As a result of York’s actions, Wilhelm Härer’s gun crew fell back under heavy US pressure. As they withdrew, Wilhelm Härer fell in battle. He was declared missing in action.”

    “The discovery is the strongest undisputable piece evidence directly linking a specific soldier with the York spot. This is significant in that the detractors can explain away buttons, and collar disks – which hundreds of soldiers carried. However, the recovery of Wilhelm’s ID tag is harder to ignore and adds further confirmation of our work and conclusions as to where York earned the Medal of Honor. This discovery was followed by the recovery of two badly damaged US military tunics of soldiers from York’s BN – again, complimenting our earlier findings regarding the York spot.”

    After reading the article and this email I was not only disturbed, but equally surprised and amused by what this man now claims. Here are my thoughts on this “discovery”:

    1.)Since when do Boy Scouts do archaeology? Especially on a World War One battlefield? It is documented that not only high explosive was used in the valley west of Chatel Chehery on this day, but Phosgene gas as well. Being that approximately 20% or more of first world war artillery shells did not explode I am not sure if this is appropriate “work” for Boy Scouts tromping around the woods with metal detectors and shovels.

    2.)Would the French regional director of archaeology issue a permit to Boy Scouts to conduct surface metal detector archaeology? I doubt it and I bet his remarks about this discovery will be VERY exciting. Does the Center of Military History and other supporters of this man know that not only were these artifacts illegally excavated and exported from France, but the archaeology was done by Boy Scouts? They can answer for themselves when the time comes.

    3.)Now to the disturbing part; if what this man is saying is true then they found the grave of a German soldier who is still listed as missing since October 1918. I can see that a small case of artifacts were “repatriated” to the town where this soldier came from, but no mention of his remains. Instead of doing the correct thing; which would be immediately cease all excavation as soon as a suspected burial is located, notifying the local mayor’s office, the Gendarmamarie and the regional archaeologists’ office the Boy Scouts continued to “loot” as many artifacts as they could find. (The thought of Boy Scouts conducting serious archaeology paints a very comical and humorous picture in my mind, but one cannot overlook the very serious cultural, ethical and morale violations that have apparently occurred as a result of this “discovery”.)

    In my opinion, if the truth were known, they probably only found the dog tag and the other items were found on the same hill so they simply grouped them together to make the story more “sensational”. But, we must give them the benefit of doubt since they presented a case of artifacts that seem to contain the dog tag, a gas mask, what looks like a soldiers boot heel with the leather still on it, buttons and other artifacts. Again I would ask; where are the remains of this soldier? Even if they “thought” or “felt like” he might have been removed and transferred to a military cemetery after the war they are nevertheless obligated to turn the excavation work over to professional archaeologists. If even a finger bone had been found that would be enough to say this soldier has been “found”, but what apparently has happened is the artifacts were “looted” and this soldier still remains in a “missing” status. I do not think that the findings, opinions or conclusion of Boy Scout archaeology can be taken very seriously and they are not qualified for excavating a missing soldier’s presumed final or temporary resting place. But, without having the proper authorization to begin with it would be self incriminating to inform the same agencies that would have arrested them had the known what they were doing in the first place. Better to get out of France with the “loot” as quickly as possible and make the announcement on a local level, become a hero for a small German town and continue to dazzle an evidently very naïve Center of Military History.)

    4.)Ok, so we have a dog tag from a soldier that belonged to the 125th Landwehr Infantry, what does that have to do with confirming the “York Spot”. This tag was found exactly where it should be, on the hill the 125th occupied during the battle.

    This man says: “The discovery is the strongest undisputable piece evidence directly linking a specific soldier with the York spot.”

    I thought they said earlier that the 21 pistol cartridges were the most undisputable evidence linking a specific soldier to the York Spot, and in this case SGT York himself, at least according to this man’s claims.

    5.)Again we see that this man says that the 125th Landwehr was on the Humserberg and York defeated the machine guns on the Humserberg. If you look at the 1918 German 1;25,000 map sheet or the official German report about the incident you will clearly see that the Humserberg is actually located just southwest of the town of Cornay an nowhere near this hill. In the German records there are only one or two accounts that mention this hill specifically and in both cases they refer to it by using the elevation reference “153”, the map grid square number the hill is located in “1429” or simply refer to it as the hill west of the “Schlossberg” (Hill 223). The Americans called this hill “Hill 167” for the elevation reference found on the 1918 French 1;20,000 map sheet. Strange that in the American documentation and Signal Corps photographs there are many references to Hill 167 and that it was taken by the main attack of 2nd Battalion, 328th Infantry and not the SGT Early/York patrol. All American accounts show that the “York fight” took place on the western facing slope of the hill located directly southwest of Hill 223, or “Hill 2” as the Germans called it and not where this man claims to have located the exact spot with “100% certainty”.

    6.)“100% certainty”, “conclusive, the search is over” and “undisputable piece of evidence”, these are terms not often used in the archeological, historical or scientific communities, yet they are found throughout this man’s writings and articles written on his behalf. What is he afraid of? Someone else may come along and prove him wrong in the near future? Sure seem so.

    • Donald S. Brown says:

      Sir, I was with the Boy Scouts that were “playing archaeologists” and working on their archaeologists Merit Badge. Where were you? if you were a professional archaeologists your assistance would have been greatly appreciated. Please email me back so we can discuss this and fill out a volunteer application as a Merit badge counselor so the next time we can have an “expert” tell us what to do. “The thought of Boy Scouts conducting serious archaeology paints a very comical and humorous picture in my mind, but one cannot overlook the very serious cultural, ethical and moral violations that have apparently occurred as a result of this “discovery”.)” if you are a professional then step up if not then move aside! Don

  12. […] each shot, York yelled for the Germans to surrender if they wanted the shooting to stop. The remaining Germans (who […]

  13. Jim Bancroft says:

    There is a recent video made by decendents of York’s platoon that completely contradict York’s account. You all might find it interesting.

    In a nutshell, York lied and the personal accounts of others in that platoon plainly state somehting other than the original York saga. While York is to be commended for serving, he most likely said something brave and the story got caught up and the Army wanted a hero. York’s story became that hero story.

    • Andrew says:

      A very interesting account by the descendants of York’s comrades and by the Germans in 1936.

      It appears that York was not the hero (as self portrayed to the first journalist he met after the battle by taking singular credit for the successful capture of 132 Germans) but was a coward by initially refusing to fire upon the enemy and hiding during the battle.

      Read the York version accounts from York’s diaries. They were obviously ghost written for the most part by an educated person not by a person with only 9 months schooling. It is no wonder that the curator of York memorabilia who claims to hold those diaries refuses to permit them to be examined.

      York created a monster of a lie that snowballed and those in authority with the facts turned a blind eye after the genuine American hero myth was firmly entrenched in the US.

      Its ironic that York was preaching Christian values on the one hand but perpetuating a huge fraud on the other. It is true that the first casualty of war is the truth.

  14. Mike Vollmer North Carolina says:

    In the classic novel, All Quiet On The Western Front, author Erich Maria Remarque depicts the young German soldier Paul Baumer and his years fighting the allies. Noting that Paul Vollmer is an historic figure and Mr. Remarque finished his novel in 1929, I vote he used this bit of history of Paul Vollmer and gave the name Paul Baumer to the fictional character. At least maybe. Mike Vollmer

  15. susan myers in Alabama says:

    My granddad served with him. I never asked specific questions or wonderd what I didn’t know until he was gone. By reading this, I feel closer to my grand dad.
    My older kids are amazed that today’s children and schools do not know and are not taught about this war and the men who were in it.

  16. mike tibbitts says:

    My grandfather 32nd Div Sergeant Roy E. Tibbitts was given the
    Silver Star and the Defensive Sector Medal for three battles

    I would like to know more about these battles and his part.
    Can anyone help me?
    Mike Tibbitts

  17. […] Fourteen Points (January 1918) Colonel Edward House, Interpretation of Wilson’s 14 points Douglas Mastriano, “Alvin York and the Meuse-Argonne Offensive,” Military History (2006)…Michael O’Malley, “Free Speech, World War I, and the Problem of Dissent” Library […]

  18. […] Interpretation of Wilson’s 14 points Wikipedia, Historiography on the Treaty of Versailles Douglas Mastriano, “Alvin York and the Meuse-Argonne Offensive,” Military History (2006)…Michael O’Malley, “Free Speech, World War I, and the Problem of Dissent” Library […]







  21. LS says:

    anyonew who has served is very familiar with the fog of war. even after the war when the “fog” has lifted it can be very difficult to remember exactly what happened. given the amount of time that nhas passed, the changing landscape, the lost memoriues wemay never know exactly what happened. suffice to say all who fought for freedom in that battle, that offensive, that war, ae true heroes the likes of which we may never see again. gone are the minutemen, the great blue wall, the doughboys, who fought in a face to face to face battle with a known enemy. they have given way to a faceless enemy who has no regard for life, is or anyone elses. spec ops is the waveof the future and will bring forward a new breed heroes who will also be muddled in the fog of war. TO THE LAST MAN—GOD BLESS

  22. […] story is too remarkable to settle for a passing synopsis: this account is fantastic – – because it tells the critical German side of the […]

  23. […] Interpretation of Wilson’s 14 points Wikipedia, Historiography on the Treaty of Versailles Douglas Mastriano, “Alvin York and the Meuse-Argonne Offensive,” Military History Michael O’Malley, “Free Speech, World War I, and the Problem of Dissent” Library […]

  24. Bill Hiers says:

    Does anyone know the name of the German major York captured? I’m trying to find out his identity but I have only learned the names of his lieutenants, Lipp and Vollmer.

  25. Nancy Nesbitt Johnson says:

    Hi, My high school choir director was Alvin York’s niece, Betty Rose York Caldwell. We all loved her and she often told us about her uncle. I was wondering if she has passed away and if so, where she is buried. Thanks Nancy Nesbitt Johnson,

  26. winomaster says:

    What has been left unsaid here are these facts and suggestions:
    1) The recent arrival of the Americans to the fighting had made clear to all that Germany had lost the war. Americas weight added to the balance was sufficient to assure the outcome.
    2) German morale on the home front was collapsing. It was inevitable that the military will would begin to erode. Japan in WWII began to see uncharacteristic retreats and failures to be militarily effective.
    3) As the most recent combatant to arrive on the front, the Americans could be assumed to be the favored party for surrenders. It had been a long war with lots of bad blood. It was reasonable to assume the Americans would provide fair treatment.
    4) In a war that could no longer be won, it was reasonable that the Americans would attract more than their fair share of easy surrenders.

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