11th Engineer Regiment

First to Fight

Raised from railroad workers from New York the 11th Engineer Regiment (Railway) was one of three Railway regiments formed in 1917 by the American Army to maintain the railway systems for their future deployment in northern France.

1 400 New Yorkers had volunteered within weeks of the American Declaration of War on 6 April 1917.

Under the command of Colonel William Barclay Parsons they landed in France in August 1917: the first US troops to arrive on the Western Front, and were sent almost immediately to the south-west of Cambrai to organise the transportation of the tanks to the front.

On 5 September 1917 the unit came under shell fire and Sergeant Matthew Calderwood and Private William Branigan were wounded, becoming the first American casualties of the war in Europe.

Gouzeaucourt: 30 November 1917

During the German counter-offensive on 30 November 1917 the Regiment was in the vicinity of the village of Gouzeaucourt when the German Storm Troopers broke through.

Major General de Lisle the Commander of the British 29th Division had just been forced out of his own headquarters and set about rallying everyman that he could get his hands on - including the Railway Engineers who fought with rifles, spades and anything else that was about under the leadership of Lieutenant Paul McLoud.

The village was untenable but falling back to the old British trenches the line was at last held.

The 11th Engineer Regiment were thus the first to fight of all the American troops engaged during the war.

Twelve of their number had been seriously injured and became instantly newsworthy back home in New York.

Sgt Frank Haley from the city explained how they had laid the railway for the tanks and then helped unload and assemble the tanks before the battle.

Once the battle had commenced they had followed the British Army repairing the railways that the Germans destroyed in their own retreat. Part of the British plan had in fact been to link up their track at Gouzeaucourt to that of the Germans at La Vacquerie a few kilometres away.

Private Charles Geiger had been wounded and captured in the attack by the Germans on Gouzeaucourt and spent the day as a prisoner until the British Guards Division stormed back into the village forcing the Germans to leave their prisoners behind.

As well as receiving the American Distinguished Service Cross Lieutenant McLoud was decorated with the British Military Cross by King George.

His citation for the DSC states:

The Distinguished Service Cross is presented to Paul McLoud, First Lieutenant, U.S. Army, for extraordinary heroism in action at Gouzeaucourt, France, November, 30, 1917, in remaining under shell fire until the escape of his men, who had been caught unarmed by the German attack, was assured. First Lieutenant McLoud then assisted in leading troops to the trenches, directing the procurement and distribution of ammunition, and displaying coolness, and judgement while continually under fire.

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German Counter-offensive German Counter-offensive