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France Honors WW1 in New York City

World War I

A look back at the legacy of World War I nearly 100 years after the conflict began.

In late June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated by a Serbian nationalist in Sarajevo, Bosnia. An escalation of threats and mobilization orders followed the incident, leading by mid-August to the outbreak of World War I, which pitted Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire (the so-called Central Powers) against Great Britain, France, Russia, Italy and Japan (the Allied Powers). The Allies were joined after 1917 by the United States. The four years of the Great War–as it was then known–saw unprecedented levels of carnage and destruction, thanks to grueling trench warfare and the introduction of modern weaponry such as machine guns, tanks and chemical weapons. By the time World War I ended in the defeat of the Central Powers in November 1918, more than 9 million soldiers had been killed and 21 million more wounded.

WWI-scene (1)Though tensions had been brewing in Europe–and especially in the troubled Balkan region–for years before conflict actually broke out, the spark that ignited World War I was struck in Sarajevo, Bosnia, where Archduke Franz Ferdinand, nephew of Emperor Franz Josef and heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was shot to death along with his wife by the Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip on June 28, 1914. The assassination of Franz Ferdinand and Sophie set off a rapid chain of events: Austria-Hungary, like many in countries around the world, blamed the Serbian government for the attack and hoped to use the incident as justification for settling the question of Slavic nationalism once and for all. As Russia supported Serbia, Austria-Hungary waited to declare war until its leaders received assurances from German leader Kaiser Wilhelm II that Germany would support their cause in the event of a Russian intervention, which would likely involve Russia’s ally, France, and possibly Great Britain as well.

On July 5, Kaiser Wilhelm secretly pledged his support, giving Austria-Hungary a so-called carte blanche or “blank check” assurance of Germany’s backing in the case of war. The Dual Monarchy then sent an ultimatum to Serbia, with such harsh terms as to make it almost impossible to accept. Convinced that Vienna was readying for war, the Serbian government ordered the Serbian army to mobilize, and appealed to Russia for assistance. On July 28, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, and the tenuous peace between Europe’s great powers collapsed. Within a week, Russia, Belgium, France, Great Britain and Serbia had lined up against Austria-Hungary and Germany, and World War I had begun.

According to an aggressive military strategy known as the Schlieffen Plan (named for its mastermind, German Field Marshal Alfred von Schlieffen), Germany began fighting World War I on two fronts, invading France through neutral Belgium in the west and confronting mighty Russia in the east. On August 4, 1914, German troops under Erich Ludendorff crossed the border into Belgium, in violation of that country’s neutrality. In the first battle of World War I, the Germans assaulted the heavily fortified city of Liege, using the most powerful weapons in their arsenal–enormous siege cannons–to capture the city by August 15. Leaving death and destruction in their wake, including the shooting of civilians and the deliberate execution of Belgian priest, whom they accused of inciting civilian resistance, the Germans advanced through Belgium towards France.

In the First Battle of the Marne, fought from September 6-9, 1914, French and British forces confronted the invading Germany army, which had by then penetrated deep into northeastern France, within 30 miles of Paris. Under the French commander Joseph Joffre, the Allied troops checked the German advance and mounted a successful counterattack, driving the Germans back to north of the Aisne River. The defeat meant the end of German plans for a quick victory in France. Both sides dug into trenches, and began the bloody war of attrition that would characterize the next three years on World War I’s Western Front. Particularly long and costly battles in this campaign were fought at Verdun (February-December 1916) and the Somme (July-November 1916); German and French troops suffered close to a million casualties in the Battle of Verdun alone. To read more go to the link below.


The Harlem Hellfighters were an African-American infantry unit in WWI who spent more time in combat than any other American unit. Despite their courage, sacrifice and dedication to their country, they returned home to face racism and segregation from their fellow countrymen.

369th Infantry Regiment (United States)

305px-Harlem_Hell_Fighters (1)Harlem Hellfighters in action. Here, the men of the 369th are depicted wearing the American and British Brodie helmet; however, after being detached and seconded to the French, they wore the Adrian helmet, while retaining the rest of their American uniform. This particular image displays the action at Séchault, France on 29 September 1918 during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. They would have worn the American Brodie helmet at this time.

The 369th Infantry Regiment, formerly known as the 15th New York National Guard Regiment, was an infantry regiment of the United States Army National Guard during World War I and World War II. The Regiment consisted mainly of African Americans, though it also included a number of Puerto Rican Americans during World War II. It was known for being the first African American regiment to serve with the American Expeditionary Forces during World War I. Before the 15th New York National Guard Regiment was formed, any African American that wanted to fight in the war had to enlist in the French or Canadian armies. The regiment was nicknamed the Harlem Hellfighters, the Black Rattlers, and the Men of Bronze, which was given to the regiment by the French. The nickname “Hell Fighters” was given to them by the Germans due to their toughness and that they never lost a man through capture, lost a trench or a foot of ground to the enemy. The “Harlem Hellfighters” were the first all-black regiment who helped change the white American public’s opinion on African American soldiers and paved the way for future black soldiers.


Negro_Troops_in_France._Picture_shows_part_of_the_15th_Regiment_Infantry_New_York_National_Guard_or_._._._-_NARA_-_533488.tif (1)

15th Infantry, in France, wearing French helmets

On 5 October 1917 Emmett J. Scott, long time secretary to Booker T. Washington, was appointed Special Assistant to Newton D. Baker, the Secretary of War. Scott was to serve as a confidential advisor in situations that involved the well-being of ten million African Americans and their roles in the war. While many African Americans who served in the Great War believed that, upon returning home racial discrimination would dissipate, that did not happen. Racial hatred after World War I was probably at its worst until the start of the Second World War. So with this American discrimination of African American soldiers, these troops were often sent to Europe where they were used to fill vacancies in the French armies. Unlike the British, the French held high opinions of black soldiers, which made for a more positive environment when working together. Ironically this made African American troops more passionate about fighting for America. This newly created patriotism by African Americans then led to the creation of the 369th Infantry Regiment.

Although many African Americans were eager to fight in the war, they were being turned away from military service. When the United States realized that it did not have close to enough soldiers, it decided to pass the selective service act which required all men from the ages of 21 to 31 to enlist in the draft. Additionally, it decided to allow African Americans to enlist as well. This would give African Americans the opportunity that they needed to try and change the way they were perceived by white America.

800px-369th_15th_New_York (1)Soldiers of the 369th (15th N.Y.) who won the Croix de Guerre for gallantry in action, 1919. Left to right. Front row: Pvt. Ed Williams, Herbert Taylor, Pvt. Leon Fraitor, Pvt. Ralph Hawkins. Back Row: Sgt. H. D. Prinas, Sgt. Dan Storms, Pvt. Joe Williams, Pvt. Alfred Hanley, and Cpl. T. W. Taylor

The 369th Regiment was formed from the National Guard’s 15th Regiment in New York. The 15th Regiment was formed after Charles S. Whitman was elected Governor of New York. He enforced the legislation that was passed due to the efforts of the 10th Cavalry in Mexico, which had passed as a law that had not manifested until 2 June 1913.

Once the United States entered into World War I, many African Americans believed that entering the armed forces would help eliminate racial discrimination throughout the United States. Many African Americans felt that it was “a God-sent blessing” so that they could prove that they deserved respect from the white Americans through service in the armed forces. Through the efforts of the Central Committee of Negro College Men and President Wilson, a special training camp to train black officers for the proposed black regiments was established. To read more go to the links below. ℗ is your source to learn about the broad and beautiful spectrum of our shared History.