World War I at Huachuca

A submarine attack on the British liner Lusitania cost 128 American lives and swayed public opinion in the U.S. toward joining the Allies in defeating the Germany. More American ships were lost to German U-boats. On April 6, 1917, Congress declared war on Germany.

The declaration came "like a thunderclap" to the commander at Fort Huachuca, Lt. Col. George B. Rodney, 10th Cavalry.

In spite of high regimental blood pressure, for every man know that our entry into the World War was merely a matter of time, we had to again take up the endless routine duties---border patrolling to keep arms from filtering into Mexico, for we knew, as everyone else along the border knew, that German agents were encouraging Mexico to declare war the moment the United States should enter the war against Germany. ...New officers came, and for a time even captains were in command of the regiment. Then like a thunderclap that everyone had foreseen but whose force none could guess, came - the War. (17)

Maj. Gen. DeRosey C. Cabell, who as a colonel commanded Fort Huachuca and the 10th Cavalry in 1918.

For NCO Vance Marchbanks, the U.S. entry into the war was to change his life. He said:

When war was declared against the Imperial German Gov. in 1917, neither of the four Colored Regiments went to war as a unit. They stayed at home and sent their products. Out of my own regiment, (the 10th Cavalry) more than 60 men were commissioned and 50 percent of the regiment was transferred to make up the great framework upon which the National Army was constructed.

The greatest change in my entire life came in 1917. In fact it was the big moment in the lives of thousands of men and women. War had been going on in Europe for more than three years. As a soldier I had not paid a great deal of attention to it.

We had troubles of our own at home. I had carried a pistol and wore a belt so long and so constantly I had callouses on my hips, and any thing for a change would be welcome, even real war.

10th Cavalry officers in front of the headquarters building in 1918

My regiment came out of Mexico in February 1917 and was again dispatched along the border. My troop was stationed at Lochiel, Arizona, when war was declared. I was among the first contingents from my regiment sent to an officer's training camp. An officer's school was started immediately at Fort Huachuca ... by Lt. Col. Charles Young. This school was carried on about six weeks and then we were ordered to Fort Des Moines, Iowa, where we went through four months and fifteen days training before receiving our commissions.

At Fort Des Moines I received my commission as a Captain of Infantry along with about 1,200 others, comprising 200 Captains, 400 1st Lieutenants, and 600 2nd Lieutenants, roughly estimating. These officers were dispatched to three Infantry Regiments, 366th, 367th, 368th and two Light Artillery Regiments, the 351st and 352nd, one Engineer Regiment, the 317th, one Signal Corps Battalion, 317th, and other troops which go to make up a complete division. Some criticism was hurled at this Division which was no doubt more or less through prejudice. Mistakes were made and a few individuals failed, but in my opinion the 92nd Division under Colored Officers did as well as it was humanly possible to do under the circumstances taking into consideration the limited experience they had in handling men under such conditions as existed during the war and the limited time they had in preparing for this great ordeal. We landed in Brest, France, June 27, 1918. My regiment, the 368th Infantry, had been in training at Camp Meade, Md.

We first went into the front lines August 27, 1918, just two months after we had landed, in the Vosges Mountains. My regiment took an active part in the Meuse-Argonne offensive, Metz Drive, and was in the front lines facing Metz when the Armistice was signed on November 11, 1918.(18)

Officers of the 10th Cavalry in 1917. Front row, left to right: Lt. Col. George B. Rodney, Commanding Officer, 10th Cavalry, 1917-18; Von Kessler (Medical); Heard; Maj. William Luke Luhn; Bingham; Caldwell; Bell (Medical). Rear row, left to right: 2d Lt. Leo L. Gocker; Massey; Tighe; Capt. Renshaw (Medical); Capt, Atwell, Dayhuff; Forsyth; Strawn. Photo courtesy Col. Leo L. Gocker, US Army Ret.

General John J. Pershing was given command of the American Expeditionary Forces which were welcomed enthusiastically in France by hard-pressed British and French troops. The AEF grew in strength to 43 divisions by war's end in 1918. The gallantry of the American fighting man in France was proven time and again. Four infantry regiments manned by black soldiers, the 369th, 370th, 371st and 372d, served on the line with the French army and were awarded the French Croix de Guerre. These regiments would later become part of the 92d and 93d Divisions formed at Fort Huachuca.

"Troop Street" Photo courtesy F.H.L. Ryder Collection.

The mission of Fort Huachuca during World War I was border duty. The threat from German and Mexican saboteurs and subversives appeared to be a genuine danger. A German-instigated clash between American and Mexican troops in the border town of Nogales in 1918 resulted in the death of five U.S. soldiers.

On November 11, 1918 the Armistice was signed ending the First World War and the black soldiers in Arizona, both the 10th Cavalry and 25th Infantry, grieved the fact that they, as regular Army units, did not get the chance to contribute in the Great War that would end all wars.

An officer inspects a 10th Cavalry guard mount.

Military Intelligence in the American Southwest: German Spy in Nogales

In 18 January 1918 in the Central Hotel in Nogales, Mexico, Lothar Witzke, also known as Pablo Waberski, was taken into custody as a suspected German spy and saboteur. Upon his person was an encoded letter from the German consul in Mexico City charging him with undercover operations in the United States. It was this message, decrypted in Washington by MI-8, the code and ciphers section of the Military Intelligence Division, that led to his conviction for spying. The damning message read: "The bearer of this is a subject of the Empire who travels as a Russian under the name of Pablo Waberski. He is a German secret agent. Please furnish him on request protection and assistance; also advance him on demand up to 1,000 pesos of Mexican gold and send his code telegrams to this embassy as official consular dispatches." His death sentence, the only one to be handed down during World War 1, was later commuted by the President to life. Witzke was released in 1923.

10th Cavalry staff around 1918. Photo courtesy Maj. Gen. David S. Parker.

Military Intelligence in the American Southwest: The Zimmerman Telegram

American neutrality at the outset of World War I was shattered when a coded message from German Foreign Secretary Arthur Zimmerman to the Mexican government was intercepted by the Americans and deciphered by British Intelligence. The Zimmerman telegram proposed an alliance between Germany and Mexico in the event of war with the United States. If the alliance proved victorious, Mexico would regain Texas, New Mexico. and Arizona. As a result, border outposts at Douglas, Naco and Nogales were strengthened.


17. Rodney, 282.

18. Marchbanks mss.

8. Army Paperwork

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