The Harlem Hell-Fighters

Spending more time in the trenches, more time under fire and suffering more casualties than any other American regiment; the 369th regiment was the first African American unit to fight in World War I. The 369th infantry Regiment was a regiment of the New York Army National Guard. The regiment was nicknamed the Black Rattlers, the Men of Bronze a name given to them by the French and Hell‑fighters by the Germans.

When the U.S. entered into World War I, many African Americans believed that joining the armed forces would help reduce racial discrimination throughout the US. Through the efforts of the Central Committee of Negro College Men and President Wilson, a special training camp to train black officers for black regiments was created in July 1917, where the 369th was formed and taught basic military practices. In October 1917 the Regiment travelled to Camp Wadsworth, South Carolina, where they received training in actual combat. The camp was set up to replicate French battlefields. While there they experienced severe racism from the local communities and from other units. The U.S. Army decided on 8 April 1918 to assign the unit to the French Army for the duration of American participation in the war. The sole reason for this was because the white American soldiers refused to serve alongside the 369th. They even went so far as to ban them from using American gear and thus the 369th was issued with French equipment.

In France, the 369th experienced the equal treatment denied them so long in the States and were treated no different to any other French unit. On 8th May 1918, the 369th entered the trenches as part of the French 16th Division. Where it served, taking part in various campaigns for 191 days; longer than any other US regiment. The 369th fought in many distinguished battles during this period with the entire regiment earning the Croix de Guerre and several Officers and men earning individual citations, as well as suffering 1500 casualties more than any other US regiment. The regiment now known as the Harlem Hell‑fighters returned home to a heroes welcome February 17th, 1919.

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