History of the Santa Fe Division

Origins of the Santa Fe Division

 

The 35th Division was originally created out of Kansas and Missouri National Guard units during World War One. In August of 1917, 10,000 Kansans and 14,000 Missourians were mated to form the Santa Fe Division since the trail had connected them together in the past. During the subsequent organization of October 1917, the Kansas Guard units were organized as the 137th Infantry Regiment of the 69th Brigade. Due to inadequate training the division had a spotty record in the Great War taking an inordinate amount of casualties for the relatively short amount of time spent in the trenches. However, during the Meuse-Argonne offensive, under the command of the Maj. Gen. Hunter Liggett's 1st Corps, the Santa Fe Division ultimately prevailed against 5 understrength divisions of the German Imperial Army which were heavily supported by artillery and had much more experience than the green Kansans and Missourians thrown against them. Upon cessation of hostilities, the division reverted to state duty and the soldiers resumed their peacetime existence.

 

The Depression Years

 

The 137th's next duties were used in conjunction with the 114th Cavalry regiment as the Kansas Guard units gathered experience in riot control and strike breaking, disaster relief efforts, and armory construction. In Wichita in 1934, elements of the 137th were used to control relief riots during the worst of the Depression. In June of 1935, the 2nd Battalion's Company G was used to break a strike by protecting scabs during the Cherokee County mining strikes. The same year, other elements of the 2nd Battalion was used to provide disaster relief to individuals stricken by the Kaw Valley Flood which cause millions of dollars of damage in an already-depressed region. The National Guard also provided manpower and supervision for the numerous Works Progress Administration relief efforts in building armories throughout the state. Their valuable services were not ignored by the politicians of Kansas who constantly praised their efforts and ensured their continued existence up to the outbreak of hostilities in Europe in 1939.


World War Two: Federalization and Training

 

With the fall of France in the summer of 1940, President Roosevelt took the unlimited precedent of calling for the first peace-time draft in our nation's history. As part of this pre-war mobilization, he also called up almost a million national guardsmen. In December of 1940, the Kansas National Guard was federalized in this initial mobilization effort. Starting in January, 1941, the 137th, along with the rest of the 35th Division, underwent its initial shakedown phase of training. It was during this phase that the regiment and division lost most of its higher ranking officers in what many Guardsmen believed to be a purge by the Regular Army to find slots for its own officers. Over the course of the next few months, they lost their Major General, their Brigadier General, all five colonels, all 9 Lt. Colonels, 19 of 26 majors, and 25 of 79 captains. This, however, was mostly due to age and medical disability factors rather than any purge. What was left of the division proceeded to Arkansas where the troops built their own training facility, Camp Joseph T. Robinson, under army engineer supervision. After building their own cantonments, towers for field ranges, and post roads, they began regimental team training beginning in the summer of 1941. From August through September, the division participated in the famed Louisiana Maneuvers being mostly in reserve. At the end of the maneuvers, though, in an effort to cover up the mistakes made by the Second Army commander, Ben Lear, Maj. General Truman was relieved of his command. What was unusual, though, for the 35th Division was they were one of the few divisions of the National Guard that received stocks of new equipment, including M1 Garand rifles prior to the maneuvers.

This was done even though the division still retained the old 'square' establishment of 4 regiments in two brigades as prescribed during WWI. Following the maneuvers, the division began intensive training when the it was transferred to the Western Defense Command following the debacle of Pearl Harbor. It was there, in California, in March of 1942, that the division underwent 'triangularization' losing two of its regiments and both brigade headquarters. From here the division moved north for further training as Camp San Luis Obispo where their third regiment was added to complete their three regiment organization which included the 137th(Ks.), the 134th(Neb.), and the 320th(draftees) Infantry Regiments. In April of 1943, the division was shipped to Camp Rucker Alabama to participate in advanced divisional training and in November and December were part of the Tennessee Maneuvers, this time taking a more active role and attaining much higher proficiency ratings. In January, 1944, the 35th went to Camp Butner, North Carolina to undergo final training prior to overseas embarkation. In May, the division was sent to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey to await final debarkation orders. From there, they were shipped to England and landed on May 27th in preparation for the invasion and to meet their new commanding general, Major General Baade(pronounced 'body'.)


Normandy

 

In July, 1944, the 35th Division landed in Normandy. From July 6-9th, the 35th was inserted into the line taking over sectors of the front around St. Lo from the 29th and 30th Infantry Divisions. It was on July 9th that the 137th entered the line in the area of La Meauffe north of St. Lo. It was July 11-12 that the 137th began offensive operations at La Meauffe during house to house fighting against determined German resistance in which the regimental commander, Colonel Layng, was severely wounded. On July 14, the 137th, with 3 tank platoons of the 737th Tank Battalion, moved down the east bank of the Vire pinning the German 352nd Division against the river and allowing the 134th to take Hill 122 overlooking St. Lo and enabling the division to enter St. Lo ahead of other allied units. From here, the 137th was engaged in mopping-up operations against German remnants still west of St. Lo against the Vire. The 35th then stayed in a reserve role until August 5-6 when the division was called upon by the 7th Corps to plug the gap between Mortain and Barenton to prevent German armored spearheads from advancing on Avranches and cutting of the American forces sweeping into the interior of France. The 137th occupied Barenton while the 134th and 320th moved to the relief of the 1/120th of the 30th Division in its epic defense of Hill 317 outside Mortain. After relieving the 30th Division, the Santa Fe Division was shifted to the XII Corps (Maj. Gen Manton Eddy) of Patton’s Third Army where a task force consisting mainly of the 137th Infantry led the American advance into the city of Orleans under the command of the Assistant Division Commander, Brigadier General Edward Sebree. After Orleans, the 137th was attached to the 4th Armored Division as flank protection until August 26th when the 4th reached Troyes. The rest of the 35th having been brought up, the entire division acted as the army’s flank guard until the 3rd Army was ready to cross the Moselle.


Lorraine

 

Following the rapid race across France as a result of Operation Cobra, Patton’s Third Army found iself stalled along the Moselle River due to the lack of fuel until September 10, 1944. On that date, Patton set his army in motion against the frontier city of Nancy along with its formidable fortifications. The 35th Division, part of XII Corps, moved towards Nancy beginning on September 11 with the 137th Infantry forcing a crossing at Lorey. The 137th’s progress was reinforced by CCB of the 4th Armored Division and helped foment a double envelopment of Nancy which occurred on September 15th. Following its breakout role along the Moselle, “Santa Fe” was sent on to the next objective of Durmstadt. This new offensive stalled due to bad weather and determined opposition; the Division was then put to us in clearing the previously enveloped area around Nancy until September 22. Between September 25th and 26th, the 35th was sent into the Gremercy Forest which dominated the main highway east of Nancy which served as the main axis of attack for the 3rd Army into Germany. Shortly after making defensive preparations, the 137th was assaulted by elements of 5 German divisions and encountered their most ferocious combat of the war. Initially overrun, the 137th reorganized and was reinforced by 1/320th, C Company of the 737th Tank Battalion, and an anti-tank platoon of the 137th and restored the line. The German attacks were finally repulsed by the night of September 28-29. The fighting was generally described as the systematic destruction of infiltrated German outposts that presaged the horrid conditions of the Hurtgen Forest to the north. Despite the fierce attacks and the crisis they presented, the 35th Division held the forest and safeguarded the advance of the 3rd Army. The ferocity of the combat was evidenced by the fact that after the battle ended on October 1st, 1/137th had to be pulled out of the line to rest and refit as only 484 of 900 men were reported fit for action. The 35th’s next task was participation in the operations against Metz—the “Lorraine Gateway” into Germany. In mid-November, the 137th succeeded in punching a hole in front of Malaucourt which was used by the 4th Armored to penetrate the German defenses and, in conjunction with the 26th and 35th Divisions, conduct a series of flank marches to pull the 3rd Army up to the Saar River by November 18th. From November 19-26, the 35th Division was used to fight its way through the old Maginot line defenses, now used to good effect by the German army. By November 26, “Santa Fe” was pinched out of the line by the 80th Infantry and 4th and 6th Armored Divisions and was therefore pulled out to rest and train replacements. Overall casualties through the Lorraine campaign for the 35th was put at 349 killed, 1,549 wounded, and 115 missing. The rest of November and early December were used by the 137th in reserve. The 137th was reintroduced to combat in early December with the object of clearing the city of Sarreguemimes. 2/137 led the way into the city that led to house to house fighting with both sides taking moderate casualties. During this action, Company F received the Distinguished Unit Citation for its close quarter fight in the city’s pottery plant. This successful action in clearing the city once again secured the flank and allowed the 35th to cross the Blies River. Further offensive action by the 35th was halted when the 3/137th were repulsed after a hard fight in Bretterwald. However, this action occurred on December 15th and the 35th was turned to face a new threat to the north of the 3rd Army.


The Ardennes to the End of the War

 

Following the penetrations of the famed “Battle of the Bulge”, Patton turned two of his corps(XII(Eddy) and III(Milliken)) to drive into the vulnerable left flank of the German forces. 2/137 marched north and reached the village of Surre while 3/137th was held up by a fortified pillbox, bad weather, and 155 new replacements. To close the gap between the 137th and the 4th Armored in its drive toward Bastogne, the 134th was inserted into the line. With this additional weight, the corps continued moving north against fierce weather and German resistance from elements of the German 7th Army. In the relief efforts of the 101st Airborne at Bastogne, the 137th found themselves assaulted by the might of the 1st SS Panzer Division at Villers. Through the support of the 4th Armored and the unrestricted use of proximity fuses, the lines were restored and the Panzers were driven off. The 35th then held its positions until January 10th when it was pinched out of the line and returned back to the vicinity of Metz on January 18th for a much needed but short rest period. The “Santa Fe” remained in Metz until January 23 and was then transferred to the north end of the line to participate in 9th Army(Lt. General William Simpson) operations in Holland. As such, they were assigned to the new XVI Corps under Maj. General John B. Anderson on February 6th, 1945. 9th Army’s mission was to participate in Operation Plunder that would draw the 21st Army Group up to and across the Roer River. The 35th’s job was to take Hilfath with the 137th crossing into the XIII Corps area of operations to cross the river at Korrenzig and drive north to clear the east bank in anticipation of a crossing by the rest of the division. On February 3rd, the operation was launched which worked magnificently opening up gaps for exploitation by the 2nd Armored Division that then raced on to the Rhine between Wesel and Duisberg. After crossing, the 35th was detailed to lead the spearhead toward Wesel to capture to reportedly-intact bridges over the Rhine. Using tank support and artillery, 2/137th(Major Harry Parker) quickly advanced. Company G attacked a heavily defended but isolated hilltop outpost capturing 200 of the enemy and forcing similar hilltop defenses to be abandoned. This feat opened a route for the 320th Infantry to try a breakthrough to Wesel and the bridges but heavy defenses in the outlying villages held them up until German forces were able to demolish the bridges on March 10th. On March 26th, the 35th Division crossed the Rhine on a pontoon bridges forged by the 30th and 79th Infantry Divisions. On March 27th, the 134th and 137th advancing abreast pushed into the Ruhr and spent the next two weeks in the vicinity of Essen participating in the reduction of the Ruhr pocket. On April 12th, “Santa Fe”, minus the 320th, was transferred first to the XIX Corps, already on the Elbe, and then to the XIII Corps to patrol a sector along the demarcation line between the Allies and the Russians established at Yalta in February. On April 27th the division moved to its occupation zone near Koblenz in Hanover and remained there through the end of the war. On July 10th, “Santa Fe” was relieved by the 10th French Infantry Division. On July 11th, the 137th formed the honorguard for President Harry Truman as he stopped over in Brussels on his trip to Potsdam. The rest of the division, meanwhile, was transported to England on August 15th and sailed for home from Southhampton aboard the Queen Mary on September 5th. The 137th sailed from LeHavre on August 22 and arrived in Boston on August 31st. After arriving home, the personnel were sent on furlough until demobilization from federal service at Camp Breckenridge, Kentucky in October. On December 7, 1945 the division’s wartime status ended and “Santa Fe” was officially returned to “inactive’ state service. The division accrued a record of 162 straight days in combat until the Ardennes offensive and then almost continual service from then until the end the war. “Santa Fe” served with 1st, 3rd, and 9th Armies and a variety of corps earning with each a reputation for stolidity and tenacity. During the war, the division accrued over 100% casualties, claiming 15th out of 16 divisions to hold that distinction. Official statistics bear that the U.S. 35th Infantry Division had 15,882 casualties with 2,947 who were killed in combat or died of wounds.


The members of the HRS 137th wish to express their gratitude to-and deepest regards for-the men of the 35th Infantry Division who sacrificed so much for all of us during the Second World War. Their dedication, honor, and valor is humbling to those of us in these younger generations.

Thank You, Santa Fe! God Bless America!