Friday, March 31, 2017

Fort Dix V - WWI

History of Fort Dix 

Chapter V


When the United States entered World War I, the US Army could not claim a single active division. At the time, the largest operational element of the Army was the infantry regiment. Of these, only 31 Regular Army regiments and 110 National Guard regiments existed. The later varied considerably in strength and number of battalions.

The War Department had prepared plans and drawn up tables of organization to assign various regiments to infantry divisions using the triangular principle, i.e., elements grouped in threes. However, shortly after General John J. Pershing and his staff arrived in France, they determined that the square division, elements grouped in fours, demonstrated far greater power to penetrate the system of trenches peculiar to the Western Front. On 8 June 1917, two months after the US declared war, the Army activated the 1st Infantry Division in France utilizing four infantry regiments, the 16th, 18th, 26th, and 28th. The “Big Red One” became the prototype for all US Infantry divisions, which were subsequently organized in World War I.

General Pershing in his analysis of tactical organizations in an official report to the secretary of war, 20 November 1918, stated: “After a thorough consideration of allied organizations it was decided that our combat division should consist of four regiments of infantry of 3,000 men with three battalions to regiment and four companies of 250 men each to a battalion and of an artillery brigade of three regiments, a machine gun battalion, a signal battalion wagon trains and the headquarters staffs and military police. These, with medical and other units, made a total of over 28,000 men, or practically double the size of a French or German divisions.” 1 (Francis A. March, History of World War I, p. 702)

The changes in size and organization of the infantry division recommended by General Pershing and employed by him in organizing the 1st Infantry Division presented problems to the War Department. Not only would all of the tables of organization have to be re-written but National Guard and National Army cantonments which already were under construction would have to be adjusted and expanded to provide for the added units and the increased strength. There was considerable opposition in the War Department to revising the organization of the Army in mid-summer 1917 just at the time that the National Guard and the first draft of selective service men were being called. However, the secretary of war let it be known that the commander in chief in France who was to command our Army in battle should have the size division he wanted. Largely because of the strong support given to General Pershing by the secretary of war, the square infantry division concept was quickly adopted by the War Department and published in a series of tables of organization beginning on 8 August 1917.

Just prior to that date, on 5 August, official announcement was made by the War Department of the establishment of 16 infantry divisions of the National Army. Among these was the 78th Infantry Division, scheduled to organize and train at Camp Dix, Wrightstown, New Jersey. The division was allocated draftees from the first contingent as follows: Delaware, 1,202; New Jersey, 20,665; and New York, 21,160. On 13 August, the War Department directed that the 78th Infantry Division Headquarters be organized and the commissioned officers report for duty on 15 August. The next day, the division commander was directed to organize subordinate units of the division in accordance with Tables of Organization, dated 8 August 1917.

Major General Chase W. Kennedy assumed command of the division on 23 August and at the same time became the first commanding general of Camp Dix. He was destined, however, to command this New Jersey installation and its units only three months because of policies being developed in France.

In November 1917 from his headquarters in France, General Pershing wrote to the War Department of his concern regarding age of the generals who had been assigned for duty as division commander with the American Expeditionary Forces. He pointed out that the average age of the French and British division commander was 38 to 45. They had found this necessary because of the extreme mental and physical demands placed on combat commanders at the Western Front, even at the division level. Pershing requested he be assigned generals of comparable age to that of the French and British commanders. His request was honored, and one of those selected was General Kennedy at Camp Dix.

Kennedy was relieved from assignment at Camp Dix on 28 November 1917 and soon after sailed for France. Following his departure, Brigadier Generals John S. Mallory and James T. Dean served ad interim assignments as commander of Camp Dix and the 78th Division until 2 January 1918 when Major General Hugh L. Scott assumed both responsibilities.

General Scott had been chief of staff, United States Army, until 22 September 1917 when he was placed on a retired list but continued on active duty. Following a visit to Russia as an observer with the Root Mission, General Scott was assigned to the A.E.F. in France. By coincidence, he was one of the older generals whom General Pershing specifically had mentioned in his letter to the War Department. On 20 April 1918, Brigadier General James H. McRae, later to become major general, was assigned as commanding general of the 78th Division and served in that capacity throughout the remainder of World War I. General Scott continued as camp commander until 12 May 1919 at which time he was relieved of the post and placed on full retirement.

To return to the activities of the 78th Division, the organization of its subordinate units began during the last week of August 1917 from a cadre of Regular Army officers and organized Reserve Corps and National Army officers from the First Officers’ Training Camp, Madison Barracks, New York.
The 78th Division consisted of two infantry brigades, the 155th and `56th with the 309th, 310th Infantry Regiments, the 308th Machine Gun Battalion, respectively, the 153rd Field Artillery Brigade with the 307th and 308th Field Artillery Regiments (75mm), the 309th Field Artillery Regiment (155mm) and the 303rd Trench Mortar Battery; 303rd Engineer Regiment; 303rd Signal Battalion; 303rd headquarters and Military Police Trains; 303rd Supply, Ammunition, Engineer, and Sanitation Trains; the 309th, 310th, 311th, 312th Ambulance Companies and Field Hospitals, and the 153rd Depot Brigade.

At each of the National Guard camps, a depot brigade with the mission of training draftees as replacements was assigned as a component part of the National Guard divisions. The 153rd Depot Brigade was activated on 17 August 1917 with six training battalions, which became a part of the 78th Division after its formation. In October, three provisional training regimental headquarters were formed by the brigade, and these assumed direct supervision of the training battalions. The brigade remained subordinate to the 78th division until the 78th departed for France. At that time, it became an independent command, expanding to 10 training battalions, which was its organization throughout the remainder of the war.

In addition to the 78th Division, other major organizations were activated at Camp Dix and carried on training simultaneously with the division. The largest of these was the 167th Field Artillery Brigade (Negro), which was activated in November 1917. The 167th Brigade was part of the 92nd Infantry Division, which had its headquarters at Camp Funston, Kansas. The brigade remained in training at Camp Dix until the 92nd Division left for France in June 1918.

Other units were the 24th Engineer Regiment, activated in November 1917, and the 34th and 54th Engineer Regiments, activated in February 1918. All of these regiments departed for France in June 1918. Camp Dix also operated a Cooks and Bakers School, which provided personnel for units throughout the US Army. It was activated in September 1917 and remained in operation until long after the end of the war. It was inactivated in April 1922.

US Army medical activities began at Camp Dix with the arrival, on 27 August 1917, of an ambulance company of the 22nd Field Hospital and several medical officers. A month later the first group of 20 nurses reported from a Red Cross training center. Initially, a temporary field hospital was established in troop barracks during the construction of the Camp Dix Base Hospital. On 22 October, the Base Hospital opened in the area just to the east of the Wrightstown-Camp Dix entrance. The original structures was expanded throughout the war until it reached a maximum capacity of 2, 184 beds. At that time, the total assigned strength consisted of 104 officers, 650 enlisted men and 158 nurses.

The first draftees reporting to Camp Dix were confronted with military supply problems similar to the construction supply problems that faced contractors. Quartermaster records of September 1917 show the following items on hand for issue to the incoming soldiers: 204 cotton shirts, 84 service hats, 614 pairs of shoes and 500 pairs of leggings. Also on hand were 47,430 cotton undershirts, 39,350 cotton stockings and 24, 600 wool stockings. With this shortage and imbalance, it is understandable why many of the first men had to continue wearing their civilian clothes during the early stages of training.

The same situation existed with respect to food supplies. The records show available for issue: 135,000 rations of bacon, 169,000 of corned beef, 1,135,000 pounds of sugar and 2,575,000 of salt. With weapons it was the same. The first rifles used by the soldiers were the Krag, .30-40, which first came into use during the Spanish-American war, and the 1903 Springfield .30-06, went into full production that the US soldiers had a common rifle.

The training day for the doughboys of World War I was not much different from that of the infantrymen today. First Call came at 5:45 a.m., with Assembly 15 minutes later. Breakfast began at 6:20 a.m., followed by sick Call at 6:45 a.m., and stable Call at 7 a.m. First Call for drill was sounded at 7:20 a.m., with Assembly at 7:30 a.m. The noon break lasted from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., and Recall was blown at 5 p.m. Retreat was held at 5;35 p.m., with the evening meal following immediately. Night classes were conducted each evening during the week from 7 to 8:30 p.m., and Taps closed out the day at 10 p.m. A six-day work week was followed, and only on Sundays and holidays was there a break in training, when Revelle sounded one-half hour later.

The doughboys’ training consisted of heavy emphasis on close order drill, calisthenics, marches and bivouacs, filed inspections, range firing, bayonet drill, and defense and attack of mock trenches.
Despite the rigorous and long hours of training, it was not all work and no play” for the soldiers at Camp Dix. The moral and welfare of each soldier were considerations that occupied the time of many individuals and organizations. Personalities from the entertainment world visited the post to perform for the troops. The first well-known comedian to appear at the camp was Sir Harry Lauder whose Scottish brogue, put to tune in the inaugural act, was followed by other noted musicians, singer and actors of the day.

While all of the events were given on a large scale, there was no central agency such as today’s United Service Organization (USO) to organize and coordinate entertainment activities This lack of central organization did not affect the quality or quantity of entertainment supplied to the army camps. Private welfare agencies military personnel assigned to provide for the morale, welfare and entertainment of the soldiers filled the gap. Although their activities were not centralized, a number of agencies and facilities was in operation at Camp Dix.

The Y.M.C.A. maintained nine huts and an auditorium, which was the largest building on post. The Knights of Columbus had three huts and an auditorium, the latter located near the camp swimming pool at 8th Street and New Jersey Avenue. This site presently is occupied by the Army Education Center. The pool also was built by the Knights of Columbus but not completed in time for use in World War I.

Tbe Jewish Welfare organization’s building was located at 5th Street and New Jersey Avenue, and the Episcopal Diocese of New Jersey operated the Saint George Club in Pointville. The latter building later was sold to the government for one dollar and converted to a guesthouse. The Red Cross building was located at 8th Street and New York Avenue. It was later torn down, and the A.R.C. constructed a new building in 1942 near the old site.

The Salvation Army operated a club in Wrightstown as it does today. Fire consumed the first building, and the organization moved into quarters of the “Mole Tequop Club,” an Army service club located on the main corner of Wrightstown. The Mole Tequop operated under the Commission Training Camp Activities of the War Department and was one of three service clubs located in Wrightstown. The club’s unusual name was derived from an Indian phrase meaning “Sign Talker” which had been given to Major General Hugh L. Scott, camp commander, by an Indian tribe may years before.

The Christian Scientists maintained a facility near New Jersey and 8th Street; the Camp Community Service had a lodge near Wrightstown and there were two Hostess Houses for the entertainment of Negro troops, one of which was later converted into an officer’s club. Among other activities at the camp were a dramatic club, a post library with 2500 volumes, a full-time camp song instructor, a camp athletic director and a camp boxing instructor.

Each evening the latest silent films were presented at the post’s first theater. Often doubling as a sports arena, the spacious Liberty Theater could seat nearly 1,000 persons. Such classics as “West of Today,” and “Six Feet Four” were among the many films presented. “West of Today” starring William Russell was considered a film intended “only for people with red blood in their veins.”

To keep informed of the news, the soldiers had a variety of camp newspapers to choose from. “The Trench and Camp Weekly, “ “The Camp Dix Times,” “The Camp Dix News,” and “The Camp Dix Pictorial Review,” were printed by the “Trenton Times” for such agencies as the contractors and Y.M.C.A. for issue to workers and soldiers. One item the men read in August of 1918 concerned 370 Italian soldiers who had arrived at Camp Dix after crossing more than half the world on their return to Italy. It was an unusual story!

When Austria declared war in 1914, many Italians living in the provinces of Southern Tyrol, Treseste, Friuli, Istria and Dalmatia were compelled to join the Austrian Army. The impressed soldiers were sent to fight on the Russian front against a nation allied with their homeland. Taking advantage of every opportunity to surrender, the Italians fell into the hands of the Russians who held them prisoner until the arrival of an Italian military mission to Moscow. After release in December 1917, the men began a long and adventurous journey across Siberia. Eventually, they reached China and obtained passage to the United States. Upon reaching the US, the soldiers were sent to Camp Dix to await their voyage to Italy. At Dix, the Italians were joined by about 2,000 aliens who had requested return to Europe to join in the fight against the Germans.

The Italians were acclaimed to be the “bravest of the brave,” who would, when they finally reached front, “fight like demons because they have been through hell.” 2. (Camp Dix Times,  vol. I, no. xxxxiv 1918, pp. 1 & 18)

The Germans never saw the fighting mettle of these spirited soldiers for, ironically, the war ended before they reached the front.

By the end of October 1917 the 78th Division still had not reached full strength, it numbered only 16,000 men. In the last drafts of 1917, which reported to Camp Dix during the period 19-24 November, only 5,000 additional men were furnished to the camp. During this period, the division was called on to provide fillers for units shipping to France. By 10 November, transfers had reduced the size of the division to less than half its authorized strength. It remained at the same level throughout the winter of 197-18, but in April and early May, the division was brought up to full strength by transfers from New England, New York, New Jersey and Illinois. This occurred just before the division’s movement to France, where it arrived in early June. After two and one-half months training with the British in Flanders, the division joined the First US Army and participated in the St. Mihiel and Meuse operations.

With the departure of the 78th Division, the War Department designted Camp Dix as an embarkation point for units departing overseas. The first division to use the camp as a staging area before movement to points of embarkation was the 87th Infantry Division (National Army), which had been activated at Camp Pike, Arkansas, at the same time as the 78th Division. The 87th or “Acorn” Division was composed of soldiers from Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. It’s troops began to move into Camp Dix on 18 June 1918 and remained until 18 August when its advanced elements began their movement in France. During its stay at Camp Dix, the division received 10,000 replacements from the 153rd Depot Brigade. The division did not see action in the war; it still was in training in France when the armistice was signed.

Almost immediately after departure of the 87th Division, parts of the 67th and 68th Infantry Brigades of the 34th Division (National Guard) began to arrive at Camp Dix. The 34th “Sandstorm” Division had trained at Camp Cody, New Mexico, and was composed of National Guard units called into service from Iowa, Minnesota, North and South Dakota, and Nebraska.

It was while the 34th Division troops were staging at Camp Dix that the influenza epidemic struck the reservation. The epidemic had been rampant throughout the United States resulting in the death of more than 500,000 people in a 10-month period.

The camp was placed under strict quarantine from early September to 12 October 1918. In this period, more than 12,000 cases of influenza and pneumonia were reported, and at one time, the Base Hospital had a peak load of 7,943 patients. The hospital had to utilize 18 barracks normally used for housing troops to provide for the overflow from the wards. Approximately 900 soldiers died during the epidemic. At the height of the attack, as many as 70 to 80 deaths occurred a day.

According to a newsman at Camp Dix during the epidemic, the first deceased soldiers were shipped to their homes in flag-covered coffins with military escort. However, the deaths occurred at such a high rate that eventually escorts could not be provided, and soon the post’s supply of flags ran out. During the latter stages of the epidemic, only plain wooden coffins carried the dead to their final resting place. In early October, the number of cases diminished, and the infantry brigades of the 34th Division began their embarkation for France.

With the movement of the 34th Division to ports of embarkation, Camp Dix was preparing for the activation of the 102nd Infantry Division, one of the new divisions the War Department planned to commit in France for the big offensive scheduled in 1919. However, the abrupt end of the war in Europe came with only a small number of cadres of lower ranks assembled at Camp Dix. With the armistice, plans for activation of the division were dropped, and cadre personnel were reassigned to existing units.

Thus Camp Dix ended it task as a training and later an embarkation center of World War I, but its service in the war was not finished.

Soon would begin the gigantic task of returning to civilian life a good share of the four million men to be demobilized.

Although Camp Dix began to serve as a discharge point within a few days after the end of the war, it was not until 3 December 1918, when it was designated a Demobilization Center, that full impact of the problem was felt.

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