In the section “From Our Boys in the Service,” writes Major Frank Knox, alumni of Alma College in the November issue of The Weekly Almanian. On September 21, 1918, Knox led a 150 square mile offensive into French territory held on by the German army since 1914. Despite the resistance, the Yankees brought fresh soldiers onto the Western Front—a sight that the British and French were more than ecstatic to witness by this point in the war.
Major Knox had experienced combat on the Western Front for the first time, but this was far from his first war. Knox left Alma his senior year and joined Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders in the Spanish-American War in 1898. As an experienced combat officer, he writes a letter about his offensive in Europe.
He describes his first battle as “a wonderful experience [and] quite impossible to picture on paper.” Major Knox was on the ground with the first offensive actions by the United States against the German army since entering the war.
“Thank God I lost no men killed and only a few sent to the hospital without exaggeration I think I may say I have lived my greatest hour. A second battle can hardly come up to the first in the wealth of experience given.” By this point in the war, the German Spring Offensive had failed to bring a decisive victory in the Western Front before the Americans could arrive. Morale among German soldiers had reached its lowest point since the beginning in 1914.
Major Knox was confident with his judgment and the men he oversaw. “Our boys are employing their natural skill in baseball in handling grenades. They use a short arm quick throw like a catcher trying to nip a runner at second—and their aim is deadly.”
The concept of a round hand grenade—from its conception—was designed around the size and shape. Until the second World War, they were made to simulate a baseball for physical familiarity among soldiers. Perhaps, Knox may have had some bearing on this concept in practice. One may speculate, but we may never know for sure.
Major Knox’s infantry battalion in the camp away from the fighting. “Our camp is pitched in a woods which forms a part of our front and we find at least some security from shells and bombs by sleeping in holes in the ground.”
Artillery accounted for a majority of the casualties in The Great War. Arguably, only second to disease, such as the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918. A reality of the human condition that is all too familiar to the people of the modern world.
Major Knox had an enormous responsibility on his shoulders. He and many other United States officers have been handed problems that the Allies have been struggling with since the war began. Only with this new help and the German War economy’s wearing down can the United States make a difference to end the bloodshed.