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WWI Coast Artillery Corps Helmets AEF

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In the 30 plus years of collecting WWI Militaria, I have found that the Coast Artillery Corps had some of the most interesting and beautiful painted helmets. I will post helmets as I can, but will start it off with a beautiful helmet from the 56th Artillery CAC.


Throughout American military history of the First World War little is devoted to the contributions made by the United States Coast Artillery Corps (CAC).


Leading up to the First World War, America had seen itself in an isolationist nation, concerned more about fending off foreign invasions rather than contributing resources to far away battles. With this in mind, military leaders decided it was better to build a defensive shield along the coast, constructing many defensive fortifications along both coasts to defend against a foreign naval attack. These fortifications were manned by army troops known as the Coast Artillery Corps. In the years prior to 1917 the army full time strength was only at 100,000 men, with most of these being either in the Calvary or in the Coast Artillery Corps.


At the same time the weapons that were employed in these coast defense fortifications had quickly become heavier and considerably more technologically advanced than the weapons of the 19th century. Factor in foreign navel advancements around the world, America’s new coastal defenses had to keep up with the current threat in case these new weapons were brought to bear against coastal fortifications of the United States. In the end, America’s defensive posturing and symbolic isolationist foreign policies would very quickly be turned into America’s most effective offensive military capability in the coming fight on the European continent.


Soon after war broke in Europe, rapidly advancing lines of battle soon transformed into the stalemated trench style war we are most familiar with. Now the armies of the allied and belligerent nations looked for new weapons to smash through the field fortifications and entrenched troops to make their advances. Heavy artillery was now to play a critical role for Generals of both sides to help break out of this stalemate. But heavy artillery had yet to be officially organized or factored into battle plans. For the most part “artillery” at the beginning of the war was little more than small guns able to be moved by only a few men and classified as “field artillery.” In fact, there was no mobilized efforts for heavy artillery and so spontaneous improvising from both sides became necessary. For the Allied forces and specifically for the United State, the Coast Artillery Corps now occupied a unique opportunity to fill an important void. Rapid expansion of all types of heavy artillery soon became quick to dominate the thinking of generals on both sides and the battlefields of Europe were changed forever. Quickly industrial technologies of the time were pushed to the limit to meet this demand, a demand which each side thought would mean its very survival.


Leading up to the war in 1914, America still clinging onto the notion of isolationism, still had no heavy mobile Artillery. By 1907 in the American Army the number of troops serving in the Field Artillery had dwindled to 4,800 men in thirty field batteries, while the ranks of the Coast Artillery had grown to 13,734 men serving in 126 coast artillery companies. This distribution of men in the U. S. Army’s Artillery had continued right along until the outbreak of the war in the late summer of 1914. But by the time America entered the war in 1917 the War Department still had no mobile heavy artillery to take to the battlefields of Europe.


Before global conflict became apparent prior to WWI, the US could clearly see that advances in military technology made it necessary to look at a better defense of its own shores. Because of the expanding size of the troops needed to man the ever-growing coast defense fortifications the birth of the Coast Artillery Corps in 1907 became necessary. By 1914 the CAC was at its highest level and the new Coast Artillery Corps would have special influence as they now had their own chief, Arthur Murray, a major-general serving at the War Department.


The Chief of the Coast Artillery unofficially was a co-equal to the chief of staff of the army. During the years between the creation of the Coast Artillery Corps in 1907 and 1917, America added several large fortresses that guarded her newly acquired overseas possessions in the Philippines and the Panama Canal Zone, which in turn called for even more men and equipment to man these new forts. Therefore, US defense policy dictated high priority to the Coast Artillery Corps.


These Coast Artillerymen became highly trained in the operation of complex large caliber guns and skilled in the methods of hitting targets beyond their line of sight, but they still were not mobile, something that would be needed when they were sent to Europe in 1917.


When America entered the war in 1917, the current makeup of the army was not up to the task that lay ahead on the battlefields in Europe. None of the American army’s current strengths or composition would suffice in the upcoming conflict. The new kind of warfare that had developed on the battlefields in the preceding 3-years by the European armies had far outpaced the American army and its current capacity. Moving ahead, the War Department would have to learn quickly how to make the most of its current position. But the Army already had a corps of highly trained men entrusted to guard its shores, and it would be to the men of these Coast Artillery Corps Companies that would become an invaluable resource in the raising of the American Expeditionary Forces and American Heavy Artillery forces during the Great War.


For all intent purposes the Coast Artillery was now designated with the role of Heavy Artillery used during the 1st World War. The Coast Artillery Corps had to change from its traditional role, that of the defense of American seacoasts, to taking the fight to the enemy. Coast Artillery Corps units were then immediately mobilized just like infantry division units for the expeditionary force. Companies from coast to coast began to gather at central camps, where they were organized into larger formations needed for mobile field service.


Being that the French and British armies in 1917 were in more need of heavy, accurate artillery firepower than they did infantry units, they asked for additional artillery support from the United States. At the Adjutant Generals’ office in Washington, orders were sent out to several Coast Artillery officers releaving them from their present duties, and ordering them to report to the Commanding Officer of the Sixth Provisional Regiment, Coast Artillery Corps. Many of these officers who were selected had never even heard of the Sixth Regiment before that time.


From the time the Sixth Regiment was formed the Coast Artillery Corps underwent a great transformation of using its skills of handling long-range weapons against hostile navies, to the new task of taking out mobile heavy artillery, and entrenched land troops on the European battlefields.


Very little is written about the important role that the United States Coast Artillery Corps played in the final victory of the Great War. Arguably, the Coast Artillery Corps helped bring WWI to a swift end and although the US’s role in ending WWI could be attributed to many factors, the Coast Artillery Corps, more accurately know at the time as the “Big Gun Corps, helped end the war and save countless lives. ,


Joe Hartwell & Brock Bierman





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Great thread.


I would point out that the Germans had taken heavy artillery seriously - learning from their experiences in the Franco-Prussian War about the need for heavy guns against fortifications (whereas the French lesson learned from that war was about the need for light field guns for open fighting).


It will take me a while to dig out my master's thesis to get the specific details, but the Germans began WWI with a significant number of heavy and very heavy artillery units, which they put to good use - first against the Russian border fortifications and later the Belgian and French border fortifications. With a significant head start over their opponents, the Germans continued to outpace the Allies in the design and production of heavy artillery.


WRT the U.S. Coast Artillery Corps in Europe, they used (almost exclusively) heavy cannon that had been produced by the British (8" and 9.2" howitzers) and French (155mm GPF and 400mm railway gun). The few U.S. heavy artillery cannon shipped to France were British 8" howitzers produced in the U.S. using the British plans, but they were not used in combat because the regiments scheduled to use them were still in training by the end of the war.


A good starting point for info about the CAC during WWI is http://freepages.rootsweb.com/~cacunithistories/military/defeating_the_hun.htm


Another great reference is https://cdsg.org/wp-content/uploads/pdfs/FORTS/CACunits/CACWWI.pdf


By the Armistice, only 72 six-inch and 26 five-inch existing seacoast guns (modified for use on the battlefields of France) had been shipped to France for use by the 61st, 62nd and 68th CAC regiments. All three regiments were still undergoing training in France when the Armistice was signed, and never saw action.


The U.S. Ordnance Corps worked to produce a long-range 8" gun (but it was not ready before the Armistice): a railway mounted 10" coast defense gun (which was also not ready before the Armistice); three railway mounted 12" naval guns (completed, but not shipped to France before the Armistice); 150 railway mounted 12" seacoast mortars (not delivered to France before the Armistice); 16 railway mounted 14" naval rifles (abandoned after the Armistice); and 61 railway mounted 16" howitzers (abandoned after the Armistice).


At the time of the Armistice, the following CAC units were in France (though seven of the brigades / 21 regiments had arrived too late to see combat):

HQ 30th Artillery Brigade: 42nd CA Regt (French 24cm), 43rd CA Regt (French 19cm), 52nd CA Regt (French 32cm), 53rd CA Regt (French 19cm, 340mm & 400mm) - First Army

HQ 31st Artillery Brigade: 55th CA Regt (155mm GPF), 56th CA Regt (155mm GPF), 57th CA Regt (155mm GPF) - First Army

HQ 32nd Artillery Brigade: 58th CA Regt (British 8” howitzer), 59th CA Regt (British 8”howitzer), 65th CA Regt (British 9.2”) - First Army

HQ 33rd Artillery Brigade: 60th CA Regt (155 GPF), 61st CA Regt (6" seacoast), 62nd CA Regt (6" seacoast) - not in combat

HQ 34th Artillery Brigade: 64th CA Regt (British 8"), 70th CA Regt (US-assembled British 8"), 71st CA Regt (British 8") - not in combat

HQ 35th Artillery Brigade: 66th CA Regt (US 8" - never received), 67th CA Regt (US 8" - never received), 72nd CA Regt (British 9.2") - not in combat

HQ 36th Artillery Brigade: 63th CA Regt (US 6" seacoast - never received), 68th CA Regt (US 5" seacoast - never received), 69th CA Regt (British 8" howitzer) - not in combat

HQ 37th Artillery Brigade: 45th CA Regt (155mm GPF), 46th CA Regt (155mm GPF), 47th CA Regt (155mm GPF) - not in combat

HQ 38th Artillery Brigade: 48th CA Regt (US 8" - never received), 49th CA Regt (US 8" - never received), 50th CA Regt (British 9.2" howitzer) - not in combat

HQ 39th Artillery Brigade: 44th CA Regt (8” howitzer), 51st CA Regt (240mm & 8”howitzer), 60th CA Regt (155mm) - First Army

HQ 40th Artillery Brigade: 73rd CA Regt, 74th CA Regt, 75th CA Regt - never in combat / never assigned guns

HQ Railway Artillery

1st - 7th Trench Mortar Battalions (CAC) - only two saw combat, using the French 240mm and 95mm trench mortars

In addition there were five Naval batteries (1, 2, 3, 4, & 5) armed with US Navy 11” guns mounted on special railway carriages. Naval batteries 1 & 2 operated with the French Army, while Naval batteries 3, 4 & 5 operated with the US Army in the final weeks of the war. All five were under the overall command of Rear Admiral C. P. Plunkett.


The US Army organized the 41st, 42nd, 43rd, 44th, and 45th (Coast) Artillery Brigades, but they did not ship overseas before the Armistice. The 46th, 47th, and 48th (Coast) Artillery Brigades were authorized, but never organized.

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Here is the only photo I have of a helmet from my Grandfather's unit. The 50th Artillery CAC. It was sold about 6 years ago on a now defunct auction site. I was unable to track down who bought it. Would really like to add it to my collection and would be willing to offer more than it is worth...




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The artist was Joseph Christian (J. C.) Leyendecker (in his time, as famous as Norman Rockwell). This illustration was a Saturday Evening Post cover on 31 May 1919.


See: https://i.pinimg.com/originals/6c/b1/50/6cb15023f8900d1d6863ee5eff58ee12.jpg


And: http://poulwebb.blogspot.com/2015/04/j-c-leyendecker-part-4.html


Though born in Germany, he was one of the preeminent artists depicting the US military during WWI. He was incredibly detailed (and pretty accurate) in depicting uniforms, though clearly in an idealized fashion.

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The artist was Joseph Christian (J. C.) Leyendecker (in his time, as famous as Norman Rockwell). This illustration was a Saturday Evening Post cover on 31 May 1919.


See: https://i.pinimg.com/originals/6c/b1/50/6cb15023f8900d1d6863ee5eff58ee12.jpg


And: http://poulwebb.blogspot.com/2015/04/j-c-leyendecker-part-4.html


Though born in Germany, he was one of the preeminent artists depicting the US military during WWI. He was incredibly detailed (and pretty accurate) in depicting uniforms, though clearly in an idealized fashion.

Thanks for sending. Would like to buy one of the original magazines and will try ebay. I am sure it has been listed at some point. Do you know where the original is?

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