42nd (Rainbow) Division – History

 42nd (Rainbow) Division in WWI 

Formation of the “Rainbow” division was authorized on August 1, 1917, less than two months after creation of the AEF’s first operational division, the 1st US Infantry Division, “the Big Red One.” That unit had been formed by the amalgamation of regular army units. Secretary of War Baker asked that the new unit have the best trained men possible and that it represent all parts of the country. Major Douglas MacArthur, who worked for Secretary Baker, suggested amalgamating elements of the National Guard as had been done with regular army soldiers. Accomplished quickly, the War Department cherry picked Guard units that had received training on the Mexican Border. They came from 26 states and the District of Columbia. Assembly at Camp Mills, Long Island began on August 30, 1917 and was completed on September 13. Given the number 42, it was named the “Rainbow” Division when MacArthur described it as stretching like a rainbow across the United States.

First "Rainbow" Blood at Baccarat

First “Rainbow” Blood at Baccarat

The Battle of Champagne

The Battle of Champagne

War strength of 27,000 was present when the division paraded at Camp Mills for Secretary of War Baker on Sunday, September 26, 1917. It started sailing from New York in October and completed the Atlantic crossing in November and December. It trained in Eastern France until mid February when it was twinned with the French at Baccarat, a city in Lorraine. French forces there were the 128th, 14th, 164th and 4th Regiments of the VI French Corps.

During March the division was given sole responsibility for the Lorraine operation and the French were assigned elsewhere. The “Rainbow” was alone there until early July when it went to the Champagne for participation in the bigger war. Generalissimo Foch had asked General Pershing for the division to help turn back the massive German “Peace Assault” on Paris. The division traveled by train to Champagne-Marne and became part of General Henri Gouraud’s IV French Army. In the battle there on July 14, 15 and 16, 1918, it earned a reputation as a fighting force.

Battle of the Ourcq - Croix Rouge Farm to the Heights of the Ourcq River

Battle of the Ourcq – Croix Rouge Farm to the Heights of the Ourcq River

The division was then prominently placed in the successful Aisne-Marne offensive fought in late July and early August at Croix Rouge Farm and on the Ourcq River. It was part of the American I Corps under Major General Hunter Liggett under General Jean Marie Joseph Degoutte’s VI French Army.

The 84th Brigade’s Commander, Brigadier General Robert A. Brown was relieved in early August at the heights of the Ourcq on the recommendation of Major General Menoher, commander of the “Rainbow” and replaced by Colonel Douglas MacArthur. Colonel E. R. Bennett, commander of the 168th (Iowa) Infantry Regiment was relieved at the same time and replaced by Lieutenant Colonel Mathew A. Tinley. A battalion commander of the 168th (Iowa) was also replaced.

Casualties for the US “Rainbow” Division in that operation were 184 officers and 5,469 men.

The American led Offensive at St. Mihiel

The American led Offensive at St. Mihiel

After returning to full strength the division went on the offensive at St. Mihiel on September 11, 1918. It was one of 13 divisions in the 1st US Army for its first all American operation and the biggest American operation of the war up to then.

Immediately after helping defeat the outnumbered Germans at St. Mihiel, the “Rainbow” moved 60 miles to the Argonne Forest in October. In a much tougher war, it replaced the mentally and physically exhausted US 1st Division on October 11, 1918. That storied unit had lost 1,750 killed in the previous week.

Pershing was three weeks behind in the battle schedule that he had committed to Generalissimo Foch, and was told to produce results, not excuses.

Cracking the Hindenburg Line at Côte de Châtillon

Cracking the Hindenburg Line at Côte de Châtillon

With regiments abreast, the “Rainbow” went into the Argonne battle on October 11. They attacked on October 14 and inched back and forth in an attempt to penetrate the Hindenburg Line at the Kriemhilde Stellung, one of four German defensive lines. When the division stalled on October 15, the commander of its 83rd Brigade, Brigadier General Michael J. Lenihan along with the commander of his 165th (New York) Infantry Regiment and the regimental adjutant were sacked on order of the Corps Commander, Major General Charles P. Summerall. The (Alabama) 167th and the (Iowa) 168th regiments were given responsibility for the battle.

On October 16, at a hill called Côte de Châtillon, they successfully assaulted the most formidable part of an in-depth network of wire and carefully prepared German defenses.

That hard fought victory, said in the “Rainbow’s” history to have been the toughest of its battles, was influential in establishing the place of the United States at the peace table. The (Alabama) 167th and the (Iowa) 168th shared equal honors for their parts in the win.

Participating in the Sedan fighting in November, the “Rainbow” was on the “Drive to the Rhine” when the war ended on the 11th. The division then crossed Luxembourg and Belgium and marched 200 miles into Germany as part of the Army of Occupation. Major General Charles T. Menoher was Division Commander throughout the War and Colonel Douglas MacArthur had been Chief of Staff until August, 1918 when he became commander of the Division’s 84th Brigade and was promoted to Brigadier General. He briefly served as 42nd Division Commander after the war ended.

The division saw more days of combat than any other American division during the Great War and suffered 14,683 casualties. It sailed for home from Brest, France on three battleships on April 15, 1919 and arrived in New York on April 25.


 National Guard and Regular Army 

The ancestors of the National Guard of the United States were the Minutemen of Lexington In the beginning of the  American Revolution.  Local farmers gathered with their own weapons to fight English Redcoats.  The Continental Army, the first American Regular Army, was organized afterwards, paid for and equipped by the Continental Congress and led by the best professionals available.

In 1912 a number of mostly unpaid social militia groups were organized into five small regiments making up the first of the Alabama National Guard.  Officers and men trained part time in local armories and trained together in summer camps.  They were supervised by a single Regular Army Captain, William Preston Screws, who would later lead them as regimental commander throughout the war in France.  Mobilized by the federal government in 1916, they were sent to the Mexican Border for advanced infantry training and then consolidated into one regiment.  Originally named the 4th Alabama Infantry Regiment in honor of a famous Civil War unit by that name it was renamed the 167th United States Infantry when the US entered the war. On August 28, 1917 its 3,677 officers and men left Alabama by train for New York where they became part of the 42nd “Rainbow” Division.  About 25,000 strong the division was made up of National Guardsmen from 26 states, said by Colonel Douglas MacArthur to cover the United States like a Rainbow.

The 42nd was one of General Pershing’s “winter divisions” along with the 26th (New England), another National Guard Division, and the 1st and 2nd Regular Army divisions.  They were the first of the US Divisions to be combat ready in France.  The Alabama regiment, unpolished and made up of mostly small town and farm boys, was not fully trusted by the AEF leadership at Chaumont until baptised by fire at the Champagne and Croix Rouge Farm.  It would later distinguish itself by cracking the Hindenburg Line at Cote de Chatillon.

Two Congressional Medals of Honor, the highest US decoration, were earned by men in the 167th Infantry. A total of five Medals of Honor were earned by one officer and four men in the Rainbow Division.

As casualties were sustained, replacements to the National Guard Divisions were other National Guardsmen reaching France and from soldiers who had been drafted into National Service.  Until they proved themselves in the crucible of battle, Guardsmen and draftees were always looked down on  by the Regular Army.

Click here to see a list of the 42nd (Rainbow) Division.

 The Rainbow Patch 

The 42nd Division, MacArthur explained, had soldiers from all over the country and would “stretch across America like a Rainbow.” The nickname stuck and troops at Camp Mills, near Garden City, Long Island, soon began to make their own versions of the Rainbow as a unit insignia.

Father Duffy, Chaplain - Fighting 69th

Father Duffy, the famous chaplain of the New York infantry regiment, the “Fighting 69th,” renamed the 165th Infantry for WWI service. Duffy wears a variation of the shoulder insignia.

Local seamstresses created all sorts of unofficial versions of Rainbow insignia for the division as it trained for deployment to France through the
fall of 1917. Variations were wide, with many different color selections, sizes and arches of the Rainbow appearing in the ranks.

The Army, loving conformity and uniformity, provided authorization for the unit shoulder insignia by telegram on Oct. 29, 1918 for the 42nd Division. It was officially authorized for wear on May 27, 1922. After its reactivation and service in WWII from 1943-1946, the division reverted to its National Guard roots and the final authorization for wear of the shoulder insignia, the one that continues to this day here in New York, was granted on Sept. 8, 1947.

The Rainbow Patch

Description of the insignia: The 4th quadrant of a rainbow of three bands red, yellow and blue, each 3/8 inch (.95cm) in width, outer radius 2 inches (5.08cm); all within a 1/8 inch (.32cm) Army green border.

The lore of the color schemes drawn from the prayer of the Rainbow Division say that the colors represent the blue of its valor, the gold of its love,
and the red of its sacrifice.

(History of the Rainbow Patch provided by LTC. Richard Goldenberg, Public Affairs officer, 42nd Division)