Language Ambassadors - Harlem Hellfighters

The Felsted Sixth Form Language Ambassadors have created a new display for the classroom corridor, celebrating diversity and promoting equality. Everyone is invited to come and read and learn about the people who inspire us and to show their support by signing their name on the display.

Felsted’s Thomas T, carried out further research into the Harlem Hellfighters, you can read his work in the article below.

Harlem Hellfighters- US 369th Infantry Regiment

by Thomas T (Yr 12)

The US 369th infantry regiment was one of the four African American units to see front line action during the first world war. The men of this regiment were volunteers from New York, and were sent to France in late 1917. The regiment was to be given over to the French army, despite the promise from the US government to have all American troops under American command. The segregated US army did not want to have a black unit under its control, thus they were handed over to the French Fourth army.

The 369th became the American unit with the longest time spent in combat during the Great War. From April 1918 to the war’s end, the 369th would fight continuously on the front lines alongside French troops, and helped to stop the massive 1918 German spring offensive. The regiment developed its nickname ‘Harlem Hellfighters’ from the Germans, who were terrified by their fighting ferocity. Two individuals, Private Henry Johnson, and Private Needham Roberts fought off two dozen Germans one night in a brutal hand to hand melée whilst on sentry duty. For his gallantry and bravery, Johnson was awarded the ‘Croix de Guerre avec Palme’ by the French army, but it wouldn’t be until 2015 that the US authority would Posthumously award him the Medal of Honour.

Overall, the 369th conducted itself with a fanatical fighting spirit that left a mark on the German attackers. The regiment became the most decorated unit in the US army after the French awarded the entire regiment with the Croix de Guerre for their valiant action during the second battle of Marne, as well as 170 other medals for individual bravery. The Hellfighters also suffered the highest number of casualties in any American regiment, which is an indisputable testimony of their bravery.

After returning to America, the 369th regiment was allowed to march on the 5th Avenue and was welcomed with a hero’s homecoming. However, the men found it difficult to return to normal life in America where institutionalised racism continued to persecute black people. Their experience in France of relative equality and freedom left a long lasting impact on many of the young black men who served in the 369th. 

Henry Johnson faded into obscurity and died at the young age of 36. Like many other members of the Harlem Hellfighters, he was abandoned by the country that he fought so hard for.