We're not lost, Sergeant, We're in … France


Dahlquist: A first evaluation

In my continued research for our WWII seminars, I’d picked up a copy of Franz Steidl’s Lost Battalions, which details the encirclement of the 1st Battalion, 141st Infantry Regiment just prior to the Battle for the Colmar Pocket. Steidl explains the events leading up to the “losing” of the battalion, making sure that the reader gets a sense of the complexity of the fight of the 36th Infantry Division in the Vosges. He also provides information on a German battalion that was similarly “lost” in the same area, allowing us more insight by seeing both sides.

Steidl has extensively interviewed members of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the storied Japanese-American unit that fought to relieve 1/141 when it was trapped, so his book provides excellent detail on their role. It also shaped his original view of General John E. Dahlquist. Many soldiers and historians felt that Dahlquist over-used the 442nd in that fight and some speculated that it was because they were Japanese.

In my initial view of Dahlquist, he seemed a pretty unremarkable man for someone who was awarded a 4th star in 1954. He’d served in the Army since the close of the First World War, attending and teaching in various Army schools. He even authored an Army manual on the machinegun before serving on theatre staff in 1942. Nonetheless, little stood out about him, except a photo of him chatting amiably with Goering after the 36th had captured him. Dahlquist generated quite the controversy with Goering. That photo didn’t look like a captor and his captive, but, rather, two equals conversing. When Goering had been brought to Dahlquist, the General had dismissed his translator, as he spoke fluent German, so perhaps it is what it looked like.

I’d read previously how decimated the 442nd had been in the Vosges and the animosity some of them held for the General. Steidl’s work does reveal how hard Dahlquist pushed them. They were most certainly over-used, but looking at the 36th’s fight, it seems that all of the organic battalions of the 36th were over-used.

The Division had been in the fight since 15 August 1944, without relief. At Montelimar, elements of the Division tried to stop the escape of two German Divisions and elements from every other unit fleeing southern France. The 36th suffered mightily in that fight, though it did inflict many casualties and capture many troops. As it fought north, the Germans took advantage of every piece of terrain, keeping the door open for others to retreat. When the 36th hit the Vosges Mountains, the fight transitioned from some kind of chase into a slugging match. The Germans felt their were fighting on their home ground and the Alsatian towns in the area have a distinctively German look and feel to them. Dahlquist began pleading with higher command for some kind of relief, but there was none.

Steidl recounts multiple instances of Dahlquist coming out to the front lines and one instance of him leading an individual platoon into combat. Personal bravery and a commitment to the fight were not qualities that Dahlquist lacked. His Division was stretched and he was being pushed by higher command to keep moving forward in spite of it.

More than once, Dahlquist seems to have over-extended his Division. At Montelimar, his regiments went in piecemeal, with the 143rd accidentally heading north instead of west to Montelimar, requiring them to loop back west. The Lost Battalion (1/141) pushed beyond the range of its supports. At Sigolsheim, he again had units cut off – they fought until they were forced to surrender. How much of these instances can be blamed on Dahlquist remains to be seen. Shortages of supplies and troops, coupled with aggressiveness, certainly contributed.

Looking at his post-war career, Dahlquist certainly must have impressed the right people and, in war time, that’s usually the sign of a darn good officer. For me, the book is still out on Dahlquist, but he’s far from the enigmatic cypher that I’d first imagined.

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2 Comments so far
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Thanks for the blog entry and great detail. My uncle was Dahlquist’s driver through a good portion of the war, including the end. I am trying to learn all I can about his travels and battles… I have pictures of them in their jeep and various momentos of my uncle’s travels that I am trying to piece together….

Comment by Joe N.

Joe, I’d love to see the photos and momentos! That’s so cool. We’re having our annual reunion and seminar in late July/early August here in DC. See http://6tharmygroup.com/ for details. We’d love to have you here.

Comment by David Navarre




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