Air & Space
THE RAINBOW DIVISION IN THE GREAT WAR 1917-1919 by James J. Cooke, Praeger Publishers, 88 Post Road West, Westport, Connecticut 06881,1994, 271 pages, $55.00.
THE RAINBOW DIVISION IN THE GREAT WAR tells the story of one of the most famous and most unique United States combat divisions of World War I. This book covers the entire spectrum of the Rainbow Division's World War I service from conception through post war deactivation. I found this book fascinating! The author, Mr. James Cooke brings the Rainbow Division to life through the personal experiences of its officers and doughboys. Many of the stories are taken from personal letters written at the front and from wartime diaries. At the same time he provides a scholarly review of the division's combat maneuver and their overall contribution to the American Expeditionary Force (AEF). When these two aspects are combined the result is a very interesting and highly readable account. Included are 19 pages of black and white wartime photographs. The battlefields are described and illustrated by 9 maps.
The Rainbow division was unique. It was the only division composed exclusively of National Guard units drawn from different locations throughout the United States. It was composed of units from twenty-six states and the District of Columbia. Douglas MacArthur, then a Colonel, colorfully described the unit to a group of correspondents as having the structure of a rainbow, covering the country from one end of the sky to the other. From this comment the name rainbow became permanently attached to the 42nd division.
The Rainbow Division was conceived in part to quicken the deployment of United States troops to Europe. This was based on the belief that formed National Guard units could be activated and trained more quickly than could new units composed of green draftees. We must keep in mind the prewar standing regular army was small and for the most part, unprepared for a modern war. Use of the Guard to augment the regular Army made good sense. In addition to speed of deployment, some National Guard units had recent combat experience in the Mexican Border Operation of 1916-1917. The author also argues that using the National Guard may have been partially politically inspired since use of the Guard would likely evoke public support for the War. Whatever the rational for its development, the concept worked. The Rainbow Division's combat record ranks it as one of the best divisions in the AEF.
The author begins the Division's story as it is formed for training at Camp Mills , New York in August through September of 1917. The division faced many growing pains. It was short of everything, from uniforms to weapons. The logistics of supporting a 28,000 man division overwhelmed its officers and NCOs. Additionally animosity between units resulted in numerous fights and incidents. This was particularly evident between Alabama and New York guardsmen, probably due to the vast cultural differences. In spite of the shortfalls and problem areas, deployment to Europe occurred in October 1917. Additional. training was carried out at several locations throughout France. The men of Rainbow Division were then sent forward in early 1918 to replace and augment French troops in the trenches near Luneville, France. After gaining experiences in trench warfare, the Rainbow Division became the first American division to have total responsibility for a section of the front. This occurred in the Baccarat sector and included 16 kilometers of the front line. The Rainbow Division engaged in combat at Champagne, the Marne, the St. Mihiel Offensive, and Meuse-Argonne Campaign as well as serving as an occupying force in Germany after the Armistice. The Rainbow division was redeployed to the United States by March of 1919 and individual units returned to their home state. In retrospect, the experiment of combining the individual National Guard units to form a division was a success. The tradition of the American citizen soldier was alive and well. While the individual Guard regiments maintained a strong regimental cohesion they also developed esprit de corp as a division. After the war this was evident in the formation of the Rainbow Association, one of the most active post war divisional veteran's groups.
I enjoyed this book and recommend it to all those who have an interest in military history. It is well written and readily holds the readers interest from cover to cover.
Lt Col Chris Anderson
Maxwell AFB, AL