Army Lt. Takes Out Trench Enemies, Helps Turn Tide of WWI

By Katie Lange
Defense Media Activity

This blog is part of a weekly series called “Medal of Honor Monday,” in which we’ll highlight one of the 3,500 Medal of Honor recipients who have earned the U.S. military’s highest medal for valor.

Army photo

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the U.S. involvement in World War I, so on this Medal of Honor Monday, it’s fitting to honor a recipient whose courage and tenacity helped turn the tide of the war in the Allies’ favor.

Army 1st Lt. William B. Turner enlisted in 1915 after moving to New York from Massachusetts. On April 6, 1917, the U.S. joined the war in Europe alongside its allies, Britain, France and Russia. By the next year, Turner was serving alongside them in northern France as part of the 105th Infantry Regiment, 27th Infantry Division.

The 27th, along with soldiers from the 30th Infantry Division, was among those who fought in the pivotal Battle of St. Quentin Canal, near the town of Ronssoy, in late September 1918.

St. Quentin Canal was one of two key battles that took place during the Great War’s 100 Day Offensive. The American 30th and 27th had joined British and Australian troops in a fight to gain a crossing point over the canal, which was part of the heavily defended Hindenburg Line, where Germany had begun its offensive earlier that year.

Turner fought and died in the battle, displaying bravery that would posthumously earn him the Medal of Honor.

On the night of Sept. 27, 1918, Turner and some members of his unit got separated from the rest of their company. Turner led them forward anyway, despite heavy artillery and machine-gun fire. He single-handed took out the crew of an enemy machine gun nest with his pistol.

Map of the Hindenburg Line

Turner then charged forward and did the same to another gun location 25 yards away. He killed one gunner before his crew caught up with him and fully cleared the nest.

Turner continued to lead his men forward, clearing three lines of hostile trenches. Despite being wounded three times, Turner managed to kill several enemies in hand-to-hand combat. When his pistol ran out of ammo, he grabbed the rifle of a dead soldier and bayoneted several more machine gunners.

Turner’s mission was to capture the fourth and final trench. He and the remaining nine men in his crew did so, but shortly after they got there, they were overtaken by an enemy counterattack. Turner was surrounded and killed.

Despite that loss, the Battle of St. Quentin Canal achieved all its objectives, including the first full breach of the Hindenburg Line. The Allies’ success in that campaign convinced the German high command that there was little hope for a victory in its favor. Less than two months later, on Nov. 11, 1918, Germany signed an armistice, ending the war.

Local citizens gathered at Somme American Cemetery for the 2016 Veterans Day Ceremony, which included laying flowers at the grave site of Army 1st Lt. William B. Turner. Image courtesy of Cedric Bonnouvrier

Turner’s Medal of Honor was delivered to his mother at her home in Dorchester, Massachusetts, on May 24, 1919.

Turner was buried at Somme American Cemetery in France, along with two other Medal of Honor recipients. The cemetery is the final resting place of 1,844 American service members who fought at St. Quentin Canal and other major battles during the war’s 100 Day Offensive.

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