History of the 1st Infantry Division

1st Infantry Division


No Mission Too Difficult! No Sacrifice Too Great! Duty First!


The First Division was formed as Headquarters, First Expeditionary Division on May 24, 1917, and officially organized June 8, 1917, under the command of Brig. Gen. William L. Sibert.


World War I

The units of the Division hastily assembled for overseas movement. On June 14, 1917, the first contingent made up of Headquarters, and the 1st and 2nd Infantry Brigades sailed from New York City and Hoboken, N.J., arriving at Saint Nazaire, France, on June 26, 1917.
On the 4th of July, the 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry paraded through the streets of Paris to bolster sagging French spirits. Women rushed to the marchers, sprinkling their uniforms with cologne and hanging flowers on each man’s campaign hat. Along the five mile route to the tomb of Lafayette, the city’s inhabitants shouted, “Vives les Amerique!” At the tomb, one of General Pershing’s staff uttered the famous words, “Lafayette, we are here!” Two days later, on July 6th, the First Expeditionary Division redesignated as the First Division.
  • Oct. 25, the 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry suffered the first American casualties of the war.
  • May 28, the 28th Regiment, later known as the “Black Lions of Cantigny,” attacked the town and within 45 minutes captured it along with 250 enemy soldiers. The first victory of the war belonged to the First Division. 
    French commander, Marshall Ferdinand Foch called upon the Big Red One three days later to take Soissons. By July 22, 1918, the Division fought seven miles into enemy lines. The Soissons victory was costly however — 7,000 men were killed or wounded.
  • Oct. 4, 1918, the 1st Division attacked in the Meuse-Argonne Forest. The attack continued until relief came on Oct. 11. With the Argonne woods flanked, the division advanced seven kilometers and defeated, in whole or part, eight German divisions.
  • Oct. 18, Brig. Gen. Frank Parker became the division’s new commander and 24 days later the Armistice was signed. World War I was over.
  • In recognition of its distinguished battle record, the 1st Division led the army of occupation and was the first to cross the Rhine River into occupied Germany. The division suffered 22,320 casualties in the war, and boasted five Congressional Medals of Honor winners.


World War II

In July 1942, an advance party of the Big Red One departed New York for England. The main body of the First Division followed in August aboard the Queen Mary. On August 1, the First Division redesignated as the First Infantry Division, and by October 1942 the men of the Big Red One were on their way to battle.

African Campaign

  • Nov. 8, the soldiers of the First Infantry Division were among some 39,000 American troops hitting the beaches at Arzew on the North African coast. In two days of brief, but bitter combat, the division captured the city and port of Oran. From Oran, the men of the Big Red One marched on to Tunisia, where the Germans started a build-up.
  • February 18, 1943, the enemy launched a vicious attack on the Western Dorsal, which the First Infantry Division stopped. The Division took a savage pounding when the Germans counter attacked and blasted their way into Kasserine Pass. Division soldiers fought back with the spirit and tradition that would become the standard in the Division’s World War II history.
  • After Kasserine, General Eisenhower installed Lt. Gen. George S. Patton as commander of the U.S. II Corps of which the Big Red One was, in North Africa, a charter member. Patton sent the Division to recapture Gafsa and push on through the mountain corridor at El Guettar on the road to Gabes.
  • On St. Patrick’s Day, 1943, the First Infantry Division attacked Gafsa, a one-time French Army outpost, on the heels of the fleeing Italian Army garrison. The Division captured the city, and continued to march through Tunisia.
  • May 9, Maj. Gen. Fritz Krause, commander of the German “Afrika Korps” surrendered his force of 40,000.



After a brief respite and refitting, the Fighting First embarked from Algiers on July 15 — destination Sicily.
  • Ten Italian and at least three German divisions defended the island which Allied strategists calculated must be taken before the main assault against the European continent could be launched. The 1st Infantry Division would play a leading role in “Operation Husky,” the taking of Sicily.The Division stormed ashore at Gela on July 10, and quickly overpowered the preliminary Italian defenses. A few hours later, however, the Division came face-to-face with 100 Nazi tanks from the Herman Goering Panzer Division, one of Hitler’s best legions, which was rolling down the Gela Road in a bold effort to drive the Big Red One back to the sea. With the help of naval gunfire, its own organic artillery and their rugged Canadian allies, the First Infantry Division fought their way over the island’s hills, driving the enemy back.
  • A 19-day brutal advance through mountainous Sicily ended with the capture of Troina, breaking the back of German resistance and opening the allied road to the straits of Mesina.
  • In 37 days of fighting without rest, the Division took 18 towns and captured 5,935 prisoners at a cost of 1,738 casualties. They gave the “Forces of Freedom” a stepping stone to continental Europe.



With Sicily secure, the 1st Infantry Division moved to England. In what their British comrades called “Old Blighty,” the veterans who survived North Africa and Sicily joined with replacements from the States to prepare for the biggest allied offensive of the war, the invasion of the continent of Europe.
  • On D-Day, June 6, 1944, the Big Red One stormed ashore at Omaha Beach. Soon after H-Hour, the Division’s 16th Infantry Regiment fought for its very life on a strip of beach near Coleville-sur-Mer that had been marked “Easy Red” on battle maps. Its opponent was the 352nd German Infantry Division, one of the best in Field Marshal Rommel’s army. Within two hours the decimated unit huddled behind a seawall. The beach was so congested with the dead and dying, there was no room to land reinforcements. Col. George Taylor, commander of the 16th Infantry Regiment, said all there is to say about the spirit of the 1st Infantry Division soldiers: “Two kinds of people are staying on this beach! The dead and those who are going to die! Now let’s get the hell out of here!” Slowly the move inland got underway.
  • During the next three weeks, the Division moved through the Normandy hedgerows, struggled to the St. Lo Road, and then drove into an area that had been the setting for earlier triumphs for the men of the Fighting First — Soissons.
  • Liberation of French and Belgian cities continued into September 1944. The 1st Infantry Division drove over 300 miles and in a one-week period, took prisoners from 24 different units. Temporarily outdistancing their supply lines, 1st Infantry Division units lived on German rations and moved their vehicles with German gasoline. By the close of the Mons campaign, the Big Red One had destroyed approximately five enemy divisions and had captured more than 12,000 enemy soldiers.
  • The division liberated Liege, Belgium, and pushed on to the German border and the fortified Siegfried line during the second week of September. On Sept. 15, the 1st Infantry Division attacked the first major German city and breached the Siegfried line. The city was Aachen, imperial city of Charlemagne. Hitler promised the German people that Aachen would not be taken. On Oct. 21, 1944, after days of bitter and bloody fighting, the German commander surrendered the rubble of Aachen. Not one building remained intact.
  • Dec. 16, twenty-four enemy divisions, 10 of them armored, launched a massive counter-attack in the Ardennes sector, resulting in what came to be known as the Battle of the Bulge. The fiercest fighting occurred four days later, when the Germans temporarily pierced the Big Red One’s defenses with tank forces. Through much individual heroism, the tanks were stopped, and the German Army retreated through the snow deeper into its homeland.
    The Ardennes offensive began during January 1945.
  • Jan. 15, the 1st Infantry Division attacked, and for the second time, penetrated the fortified Siegfried line. The enemy did not expect an attack to be launched in the snow and cold, and on Feb. 25, 1945, the Big Red One crossed the Roer River and began the Rhineland offensive.
  • From the Roer, the Division steamrolled to the Rhine River at Bonn. On March 16, for the second time in its history, the Big Red One crossed the Rhine and occupied the northern section of the Remagen bridgehead. On March 27, the Division broke out of the bridgehead and the race through Germany was on.
  • On Easter Sunday, April 1, 1945, the Division made what was then the longest tactical march in its history — 150 miles — from positions to the east of Siegen into the Buren area. Sporadic, sharp fighting characterized the race across central Europe. The Germans made a determined stand in the Harz Mountains, but were too disorganized to face an American division — the Big Red One — full of momentum.
  • On April 8, the Division turned east again and crossed the Weser River, into Czechoslovakia. 
  • On May 8, after 443 days of combat in World War II and 101 different command posts, the 1st Infantry Division rested in place. The war was over.
  • The Division suffered 21,023 casualties and 43,743 men served in its ranks. Its soldiers won 20,752 medals and awards, including 16 Congressional Medals of Honor.
  • Following the war, the Division remained in Germany on occupation duty, then as partners with the new Germany in NATO. In the early summer of 1955, after 13 years of continuous overseas duty, the Big Red One returned to the United States, making its home at Fort Riley, Kansas.



In 1965, men of the First Infantry Division were again the first infantry division to go to Vietnam.
  • The first unit to deploy, the 2nd Brigade, consisted of three infantry battalions: the 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry; 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry; and the 2nd Battalion, 18th Infantry, along with the 1st Battalion, 7th Artillery and other combat support units.
  • The Big Red One’s first offensive operation began on July 22, 1965, when Company B, 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry conducted a search of the area around the base camp at Bien Hoa.
  • The main body of the Division began leaving Fort Riley Sept. 15, arriving on Vietnamese soil October 1. The Division became operational Nov. 1, 1965, under the command of Maj. Gen. Jonathan O. Seaman. From that date until April 1970, when the division returned to Fort Riley, six different individuals would command the Big Red One in combat.
  • For nearly five years, the troopers of the division battled the enemy aggressor. It was a war against the jungle and against the regular and irregular forces of the northern aggressor. At the same time, the division fought a brutal war against a skilled enemy. The Big Red One also carried out a program to aid the people of South Vietnam, helping them help themselves.
  • During the many battles fought by the First Division, more than 2,000 soldiers of the Big Red One died in action including Major General Kieth Ware, the Division Commander, a Medal of Honor winner in the Second World War. Adding to the proud history of the division were 11 Medal of Honor winners.
  • Gen. William C. Westmoreland, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army at the time, best summed up the division’s contribution to freedom in the Republic of Vietnam. “You have shown the enemy that he cannot win in the invasion, and that we will fight hard to give South Vietnam a chance to survive as a free nation.”


When the Big Red One returned to Fort Riley in the spring of 1970, it became a mechanized division. In place of the traditional nine infantry battalions and one armored battalion, the new mechanized division consisted of six mecanized infantry battalions and four armored battalions.
  • With its new organization, the Big Red One inherited a new mission that included a commitment to the North Atantic Treaty Organization. Under this concept, the division's Third Brigade would be stationed in West Germany and be known as the First Infantry Division (Forward)
  • The division demonstrated its ability to fulfill this commitment in the fall of 1970 when the Fort riley based elements were airlifted to Europe for a major training exersize to become known as REFORGER (Return of Forces to Germany)


The Gulf War
On Nov. 8, 1990, the Division alerted for Operation Desert Shield. Over the next two months the division deployed more than 12,000 soldiers and 7,000 pieces of equipment to Saudi Arabia.
  • Upon arrival in Saudi Arabia, the First Division became attached to the U.S. VII Corps. The 2nd Armored Division (Forward), from Garlstedt, Germany, joined the Big Red One and became its 3rd Brigade. The 2nd AD (Fwd) quickly earned the respect of the division, and in the coming weeks would prove that it could hold its own in any fight as part of the newly formed team.
  • During the early morning hours of Jan. 17, 1991, the division found itself at war for the fourth time in its storied history. The campaign began at 2 a.m. in the Saudi desert, and whatever hope anyone held of a peaceful settlement dissipated instantly with the suddenness of an incoming MLRS rocket.
  • For the next 38 days, the division trained and rehearsed for a mission stated in deceptively simple terms: ‘On order, 1st Infantry Division (N) attacks as the VII Corps main effort to penetrate Iraqi defensive positions, and conduct the forward passage of VII Corps forces. On order, follow main attack in zone to destroy the Republican Guard.”
  • On the morning of Feb. 24, the Big Red One, under the command of Maj. Gen. Thomas G. Rhame, spearheaded the armored attack into Iraq, punching a hole for the rest of VII Corps to follow. Led by a massive 11,000-round artillery preparation, the division made the initial penetration into southeastern Iraq, breaching their defenses. During the breach, the division smashed the Iraqi 26th Infantry Division, taking more than 2,500 prisoners while keeping its own casualties low.
  • After passing through the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment, the division’s brigades collided head- on with the Tawakalna Division of Iraq’s elite Republican Guard and the 37th Brigade of Iraq’s 12th Tank Division. The ensuing battle (later named the Battle of Norfolk) lasted through the night, ending with the destruction of both enemy units and more than 40 tanks and 40 infantry fighting vehicles.
  • The division overwhelmed the Iraqis with firepower and destroyed their will. The Division knew it was fighting a defeated enemy, and it rapidly exploited its success.
  • From there, the division raced ahead to cut off the main Iraqi escape route north of Kuwait city. The 1st Division took thousands of enemy prisoners and destroyed scores of enemy vehicles as it continued its move to the northeast.
    By 8 p.m. on Feb. 27, 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry seized and cut the major highway leading north out of Kuwait, closing the lid on the enemy. During the next few hours, the cavalry squadron took more than 1,500 prisoners.
  • By the end of the war, the division fought its way through 260 kilometers of enemy-held territory in 100 hours, destroying all or parts of 11 enemy divisions, more than 550 enemy tanks and 480 armored personnel carriers. In addition, the division captured more than 11,400 enemy prisoners of war — twice as many as any other unit.
  • Of the more than 12,000 soldiers deployed with the division, 18 paid the ultimate sacrifice.
  • On May 10, 1991, the division colors were unfurled at Fort Riley, signifying, once again, the return home of the Big Red One.


Present day

  • On July 16, 1991, as part of the overall draw-down of forces in Europe, the 1st Infantry Division (Forward) was inactivated in a special ceremony at Fort Riley, thus ending the Division’s 21 years of service in the Federal Republic of Germany. The Division became intact, home-based at Fort Riley.
  • In the summer of 1995, then-Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan announced the Big Red One would again be deployed to Europe. This came as part of the Army’s restructuring plans that reduced the number of active Army divisions from 12 to 10.
  • The restructuring move required no actual deployment of people or equipment. The division would simply reflag the already in place 3rd Infantry Division. The 3rd Division would, in turn, reflag the 24th Infantry Division at Fort Steward, Georgia. As part of the Army’s restructuring plan and according to lineage and honors, the 24th Infantry Division would case its colors May 31, 1996.
  • The 3rd Infantry Division was redesignated the 1st Infantry Division Feb. 15, 1996. The reflagging ceremony took place April 10, 1996, at the Residenz in Wuerzburg, Germany. Wuerzburg’s Leighton Barracks is now home to the Division Headquarters, with 2nd Brigade headquartered in Schweinfurt, 3rd Brigade in Vilseck, the Aviation Brigade in Katterbach, the Division Support Command in Kitzingen, and the Engineer Brigade and Division Artillery in Bamberg — all in Germany. The Division’s 1st Brigade remains headquartered in Fort Riley.
  • The 1st Infantry Division assumed authority for command and control of Task Force Eagle in a Transfer of Authority ceremony on Eagle Base on November 10th, 1996. The division's mission was to provide a covering force for the 1st Armored Division units returning to Germany and to continue to implement the military aspects of the General Framework Agreement for Peace.
  • The 1st Infantry Division continued to support the Dayton Peace Accord through the transition from IFOR to SFOR in December of 1996.  The division drew together with National Guard and Reserve Soldiers, members of the Navy, Airforce and Marines and the soldiers from 12 nations in the area known as Multi-National Division North.  On 22 October, 1997 the 1st Infantry Division transferred authority for command and control of Task Force Eagle to the 1st Armored Division in a ceremony held on Eagle Base near Tuzla, Bosnia.
  • The units of the division have redeployed to their homestations located throughout Germany and continue to support the mission in the Balkans by providing highly trained personnel to assist the 1st Armored Division staff. 

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