In WWI, Alvin York Captured 132 German Soldiers Pretty Much Single Handed

Daven Hiskey 46
Alvin YorkToday I found out that in WWI Alvin York almost single handedly captured 132 German soldiers using nothing but a rifle and a pistol, while the German soldiers having among them 32 machine guns along with rifles and pistols and the advantage of being above him in the biggest of the forays.  And did I mention York was out in the open during the largest gun fight?  Ya, when the Germans attacked they pretty much mowed down almost the entire unit that York was with, including York’s commanding officer, which put him in charge.  The other soldiers left from the original group of 17, were busy guarding the previous prisoners they had taken behind enemy lines, which pretty much left York to deal with the 100 or so Germans in the largest of the gunfights he was involved in, which ended in the capture of those 132 Germans.

When the 1 against 100 gunfight started, York had no time to run for cover, so just started picking off the German soldiers he saw shooting at him as they showed themselves, one by one.

So there’s York, running out of bullets, exposed with about 100 German solders above him firing down at him and now a group of Germans breaks free and runs at him with their bayonets from a range of about 25 yards.  So does he run for cover?  Nope, instead he pulls out his pistol *puts on sunglasses* and kills all of the German soldiers descending on him.  Not only this, but he systematically picks off the back ones first so the front ones will keep running at him, thinking they have support behind them.

I might add, while York is down there picking off Germans left and right that he’s calling out repeatedly, telling the Germans they can surrender at any time;  he didn’t want to kill any more than he had to…  In a previous article, I mentioned that the Right whale has the largest balls of any animal on earth at about 1100 pounds each.  Now, though no official weighing has ever taken place to my knowledge, I think that it’s safe to say that Sargent York had that beat by a fair margin.

At this point, while York was busy taking out more of the German machine gunners who were firing on him, the German commander decided he was done seeing his boys being killed.  He was clearly facing Mr. Invictus himself.  So he convinced the remaining 100 or so Germans of his company to surrender.

York was now in the precarious position of having over 100 German soldiers being held prisoner by eight or nine of his remaining men.  And worse, he was well behind enemy lines with this group he had captured being the second line in the German ranks.  The German front line was between him and the Allied lines.  And all that with himself and his men standing there with his men outnumbered more than 10 to 1.  Obviously, for someone with this level of bad-assery, this was not a problem and by the time he got through the German front, taking a few more prisoners in the process, he had managed to bring back 132 German soldiers.

Here is York’s account of the incredible events, which are verified by the accounts of his fellow soldiers in the official report of the events:

“They killed all of Savage’s squad; they got all of mine but two; they wounded Cutting and killed two of his squad; and Early’s squad was well back in the brush on the extreme right and not yet under the direct fire of the machine guns, and so they escaped. All except Early. He went down with three bullets in his body. That left me in command. I was right out there in the open.

And those machine guns were spitting fire and cutting down the undergrowth all around me something awful. And the Germans were yelling orders. You never heard such a ‘racket in all of your life. I didn’t have time to dodge behind a tree or dive into the brush, I didn’t even have time to kneel or lie down.

I don’t know what the other boys were doing. They claim they didn’t fire a shot. They said afterwards they were on the right, guarding the prisoners. And the prisoners were lying down and the machine guns had to shoot over them to get me. As soon as the machine guns opened fire on me, I began to exchange shots with them.

I had no time nohow to do nothing but watch them-there German machine gunners and give them the best I had. Every time I seed a German I jes teched him off. At first I was shooting from a prone position; that is lying down; jes like we often shoot at the targets in the shooting matches in the mountains of Tennessee; and it was jes about the same distance. But the targets here were bigger. I jes couldn’t miss a German’s head or body at that distance. And I didn’t. Besides, it weren’t no time to miss nohow.

I knowed that in order to shoot me the Germans would have to get their heads up to see where I was lying. And I knowed that my only chance was to keep their heads down. And I done done it. I covered their positions and let fly every time I seed anything to shoot at. Every time a head come up I done knocked it down. Then they would sorter stop for a moment and then another head would come up and I would knock it down, too. I was giving them the best I had.

I was right out in the open and the machine guns [there were over thirty of them in continuous action] were spitting fire and cutting up all around me something awful. But they didn’t seem to be able to hit me. All the time the Germans were shouting orders. You never heard such a racket in all of your life. Of course, all of this only took a few minutes. As soon as I was able I stood up and begun to shoot off-hand, which is my favorite position. I was still sharpshooting with that-there old army rifle. I used up several clips. The barrel was getting hot and my rifle ammunition was running low, or was where it was hard for me to get at it quickly. But I had to keep on shooting jes the same.

In the middle of the fight a German officer and five men done jumped out of a trench and charged me with fixed bayonets. They had about twenty-five yards to come and they were coming right smart. I only had about half a clip left in my rifle; but I had my pistol ready. I done flipped it out fast and teched them off, too.

I teched off the sixth man first; then the fifth; then the fourth; then the third; and so on. That’s the way we shoot wild turkeys at home. You see we don’t want the front ones to know that we’re getting the back ones, and then they keep on coming until we get them all. Of course, I hadn’t time to think of that. I guess I jes naturally did it. I knowed, too, that if the front ones wavered, or if I stopped them the rear ones would drop down and pump a volley into me and get me.

Then I returned to the rifle, and kept right on after those machine guns. I knowed now that if I done kept my head and didn’t run out of ammunition I had them. So I done hollered to them to come down and give up. I didn’t want to kill any more’n I had to. I would tech a couple of them off and holler again. But I guess they couldn’t understand my language, or else they couldn’t hear me in the awful racket that was going on all around. Over twenty Germans were killed by this time.

–and I got hold of the German major. After he seed me stop the six Germans who charged with fixed bayonets he got up off the ground and walked over to me and yelled “English?”

I said, “No, not English.”

He said, “What?”

I said, “American.”

He said, “Good —–!” Then he said, “If you won’t shoot any more I will make them give up.” I had killed over twenty before the German major said he would make them give up. I covered him with my automatic and told him if he didn’t make them stop firing I would take off his head next. And he knew I meant it. He told me if I didn’t kill him, and if I stopped shooting the others in the trench, he would make them surrender.

So he blew a little whistle and they came down and began to gather around and throw down their guns and belts. All but one of them came off the hill with their hands up, and just before that one got to me he threw a little hand grenade which burst in the air in front of me.

Alvin York StatueI had to tech him off. The rest surrendered without any more trouble. There were nearly 100 of them.

So we had about 80 or 90 Germans there disarmed, and had another line of Germans to go through to get out. So I called for my men, and one of them answered from behind a big oak tree, and the others were on my right in the brush.

So I said, “Let’s get these Germans out of here.”

One of my men said, “it is impossible.”

So I said, “No; let’s get them out.”

So when my man said that, this German major said, “How many have you got?” and I said, “I have got a-plenty,” and pointed my pistol at him all the time.

In this battle I was using a rifle and a .45 Colt automatic pistol.

So I lined the Germans up in a line of twos, and I got between the ones in front, and I had the German major before me. So I marched them straight into those other machine guns and I got them.

The German major could speak English as well as I could. Before the war he used to work in Chicago. And I told him to keep his hands up and to line up his men in column of twos, and to do it in double time. And he did it. And I lined up my men that were left on either side of the column, and I told one to guard the rear. I ordered the prisoners to pick up and carry our wounded. I wasn’t a-goin’ to leave any good American boys lying out there to die. So I made the Germans carry them. And they did.

And I takened the major and placed him at the head of the column and I got behind him and used him as a screen. I poked the automatic in his back and told him to hike. And he hiked.

The major suggested we go down a gully, but I knew that was the wrong way. And I told him we were not going down any gully. We were going straight through the German front line trenches back to the American lines.

It was their second line that I had captured. We sure did get a long way behind the German trenches! And so I marched them straight at that old German front line trench. And some more machine guns swung around and began to spit at us. I told the major to blow his whistle or I would take off his head and theirs too. So he blew his whistle and they all surrendered– all except one. I made the major order him to surrender twice. But he wouldn’t. And I had to tech him off. I hated to do it. I’ve been doing a tolerable lot of thinking about it since. He was probably a brave soldier boy. But I couldn’t afford to take any chances and so I had to let him have it.

There was considerably over a hundred prisoners now. It was a problem to get them back safely to our own lines. There was so many of them there was danger of our own artillery mistaking us for a German counter-attack and opening up on us. I sure was relieved when we run into the relief squads that had been sent forward through the brush to help us.

On the way back we were constantly under heavy shell fire and I had to double-time them to get them through safely. There was nothing to be gained by having any more of them wounded or killed. They done surrendered to me and it was up to me to look after them. And so I done done it.

So when I got back to my major’s p.c. I had 132 prisoners. We marched those German prisoners on back into the American lines to the battalion p.c. (post of command), and there we came to the Intelligence Department. Lieutenant Woods came out and counted 132 prisoners…

We were ordered to take them out to regimental headquarters at Chattel Chehery, and from there all the way back to division headquarters, and turn them over to the military police.

I had orders to report to Brigadier General Lindsey, and he said to me, “Well, York, I hear you have captured the whole —— German army.” And I told him I only had 132.

After a short talk he sent us to some artillery kitchens, where we had a good warm meal. And it sure felt good. Then we rejoined our outfits and with them fought through to our objective, the Decauville Railroad.

And the Lost Battalion was able to come out that night. We cut the Germans off from their supplies when we cut that old railroad, and they withdrew and backed up.

So you can see here in this case of mine where God helped me out. I had been living for God and working in the church some time before I come to the army. So I am a witness to the fact that God did help me out of that hard battle; for the bushes were shot up all around me and I never got a scratch.

So you can see that God will be with you if you will only trust Him; and I say that He did save me. Now, He will save you if you will only trust Him.

The next morning Captain Danforth sent me back with some stretcher bearers to see if there were any of our American boys that we had missed. But they were all dead. And there were a lot of German dead. We counted twenty-eight, which is just the number of shots I fired. And there were thirty-five machine guns and a whole mess of equipment and small arms.

The salvage corps was busy packing it up. And I noticed the bushes all around where I stood in my fight with the machine guns were all cut down. The bullets went over my head and on either side. But they never touched me.”

York survived WWI and fathered five sons and two daughters and founded a school which is still around today and is known for its academic excellence.

When WWII came around, not to be one to run from a fight, he tried to re-enlist in the infantry, but was denied due to his age and presumably for making all the other soldiers feel like pansies.  Denied from that, he instead convinced the state of Tennessee that they needed a reserve force at home and so founded the Tennessee State Guard in which he served as a Colonel.

If you liked this article, you might also enjoy:

Bonus Fact:

  • Alvin York named his seven children the following (patriotic-much?):  Woodrow Wilson, Andrew Jackson, Thomas Jefferson, Alvin Cullum, Jr., Edward Buxton, Betsy Ross and Mary Alice.

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46 Comments »

  1. Medisoft January 24, 2010 at 1:20 pm - Reply

    That was an amazing story of bravery. I hope others take the time to read the whole thing as well.

  2. Toni January 27, 2010 at 5:01 pm - Reply

    And here’s the kicker…Alvin York didn’t want to enlist because he was a pacifist. But he also didn’t want to stay behind while others fought, so against his beliefs, he went.

  3. Chris January 27, 2010 at 6:55 pm - Reply

    Jack Churchill captured 42 Nazis using only a Scottish claymore(sword) and a bow and arrow… he also liked to play bagpipes

  4. vesey January 27, 2010 at 6:56 pm - Reply

    Pretty remarkable story of courage and decisiveness under fire. I think had he stuck to his guns and not went to war in the first place he would have been even more courageous.It takes a lot of courage to do the unpopular thing………..

  5. QuestorCanuck January 27, 2010 at 7:38 pm - Reply

    If you made it this far you’ll appreciate the movie “Sergeant York” (1941). Gary Cooper give a masterful (as I recall) performance and, as ‘Toni’ reminds, you’ll really get a sense of York’s dilemma.

  6. otupotug January 28, 2010 at 12:19 pm - Reply

    Do you think that’s great? Look for Simo Hayha’s story.

  7. qw21 January 29, 2010 at 8:42 am - Reply

    Amazing story of bravery and quick thinking.
    If only we had more folks like York.. :)

  8. ddrd January 29, 2010 at 5:32 pm - Reply

    Response to “vesey”

    your response is noted, yet i disagree, saying he would have been more brave for not going is a valid idea, but due to the circumstances of the time he did the right thing, as well saying what you said i feel steals what he sacrificed.

  9. Some Guy January 30, 2010 at 5:53 am - Reply

    One of my top five favorite movies of all time is ‘Sergeant York’ starring Gary Cooper. It’s a B&W 1941 film that was nominated for nine Oscars and won two (Best Actor and Best Editing). It’s available on DVD.

  10. Matt January 30, 2010 at 2:19 pm - Reply

    Just wanted to say WOW, I had goosebumps as I was reading parts of the story. That is truly inspiring! I play and own an airsoft business and play military games all of the time, I am going to dedicate something to this man for what he did!

  11. starling January 30, 2010 at 2:29 pm - Reply

    Truly a hero and it is good to hear that he was a pacifist and had reservations, that makes him more of a hero to me. I think those who take killing lightly, in any situation, are murders rather than heroes.

    “But he wouldn’t. And I had to tech him off. I hated to do it. I’ve been doing a tolerable lot of thinking about it since. He was probably a brave soldier boy. But I couldn’t afford to take any chances and so I had to let him have it.”

  12. CooperFan January 30, 2010 at 3:27 pm - Reply

    everyone in my family claims Sgt York is their favorite movie.

  13. josho January 30, 2010 at 3:41 pm - Reply

    excuse me otupotug but what the reason they said what york did was grate was because yes he managed to single handedly kill a few people but it was more his bravery and how he didn’t cower away even when his leader had just been killed the person who u think is grate only managed to kill hundreds of people he shouldn’t be credited for that no one should ever be rewarded for doing such a terrible thing the only reason he wasn’t killed himself for what he did was because his government was paying him which doesn’t justify it at all i cannot see in anyway how you could regard what he did as “great” if he is one of you heros you are either extremely immature or disgustingly perverted either way you should be put down.

  14. Tony in Chattanooga January 31, 2010 at 9:46 am - Reply

    Josho,
    You are an idiot.
    Alvin York was not a pacifist as others mention, he was a conscientious objector. He didn’t believe in killing from reasons of him being a serious Christian.
    When he was asked after this battle, by his commander who knew his beliefs, “why did you do this when your beliefs are to the contrary?”
    York replied that he had to stop the German machine guns because they were killing many of his fellow soldiers.
    I think and others will agree with me that you are the imature or disgustingly perverted troll that should be put down.
    Grow up. Get a life. Learn the facts. Life is hard and not a bowl of cherries. You shouldn’t talk about things you shouldnt understand.
    It makes you, and you did by the way, sound like a dip wad.

  15. Hans January 31, 2010 at 8:30 pm - Reply

    Tony in Chattanooga,
    Well put,

  16. Phil E. Drifter February 1, 2010 at 2:43 pm - Reply

    Chuck Norris ain’t got sh!t on this guy!

  17. martin February 2, 2010 at 10:29 am - Reply

    thts pretty badass. If you like this check out fighting jack churchill http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_Churchill the only person to have a confirmed bow and arrow kill in ww2

  18. Dave030966 February 4, 2010 at 9:28 pm - Reply

    Personally, as a pacifist as well, “Sergeant York,” the movie, and the deeds of the real Alvin York, are very inspiring. He didn’t instigate the violence, but knew the consequences of not meeting it with the proper response.

    Another favorite of mine (if you’ve never seen it, look for it) is “To Hell And Back,” which is the story of the most decorated American soldier in WWII, Audie Murphy. Fortunately, his story was made into a movie soon enough that he got to portray himself. He stood on a burning tank and gunned down (if I remember the number correctly) approximately 500 advancing German soldiers. Got a Congressional Medal of Honor (oh, and a bullet in the ass).

    I don’t care much for war movies in general, since some seem to glorify war. But these are inspiring in the sense that they show what a human being can do when up against a wall.

  19. Dave030966 February 4, 2010 at 9:38 pm - Reply

    I apologize. My recollection was somewhat inaccurate. A more complete (and more accurate) biography can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Audie_Murphy

    Sorry for the mistake.

  20. Patrick_F February 13, 2010 at 9:44 pm - Reply

    Tony In Chatanooga:

    What you said in response to Josho was perfect. you are also my hero.

  21. Frank Drakman February 14, 2010 at 4:41 pm - Reply

    The story here (and almost every comment that follows it) appears to have been written by a mentally retarded ape.

    While the history itself is inspiring, the retelling is agonizingly sloppy and the language/grammar strikingly childlike…as are most of the comments.

    Please, someone tell me I’ve stumbled upon some elementary school debate team thread.

    …oh, wait…are you all Christians?
    …nevermind.

  22. eddie February 15, 2010 at 3:05 am - Reply

    I hate commenting on the internet, generally – and rarely read the comments on sites I stumble upon because they tend to make me angry – but I have to point out that Josho’s comment about the person being immature or perverted, and needing to be put down, was in response to that person (otupotug) saying “Do you think that’s great? Look for Simo Hayha’s story”. Simo Hayha was a Finnish soldier who killed 500-odd soviet soldiers, giving him the highest recorded number of confirmed kills in any major war. Fair enough, Josho’s grammar and spelling wasn’t the best, but then neither was York’s…

    Also, why the fuck do I have to give an email address just to tell people what I think? There’s something very wrong with that.

  23. bob May 21, 2010 at 11:54 pm - Reply
  24. mt June 30, 2010 at 3:47 pm - Reply

    History is clearly written by the winner…. either this story is totally fabricated, or the Germans were literally the worst target shooters in history. 30 machine guns firing at him, tearing up the ground around him, but never hit him? Ya.

  25. Jim Miller September 13, 2010 at 6:57 am - Reply

    @Frank Drakman:
    You are a chicken-shiite hit and run artist. Name calling and generalization ridden tripe like your comment make all of us here sure you would’ve been the coward behind the oak tree and not a fighting soldier.
    Particularly offensive: your comment that Christians are uneducated fools. I will debate you on the topic ANYTIME, ANYWHERE and put you in your place.

  26. shawn September 19, 2010 at 9:43 pm - Reply

    Pro war bullshit propaganda has to be in there some where. Yes I know of York and the bad hollywood movie but we all know how this stuff gets twisted just like they tried to do with the friendly fire story with Tillman. Generals always try to put some BS twist on their stories so the war gets a happy patriotic bullshit flag waving ending.

  27. Steve September 20, 2010 at 7:58 am - Reply

    “Particularly offensive: your comment that Christians are uneducated fools.”

    They believe in an unprovable, fictional deity that cannot be seen, felt, tasted, touched or heard and for whom there is absolutely no evidence, and they will wilfully disregard whatever science they don’t agree with in favour of sticking with said unprovable beliefs. If that doesn’t make them uneducated fools then I don’t know what does.

  28. ofisadd September 27, 2010 at 5:00 am - Reply

    Honestly if you shoot that many dudes on the open battlefield under heavy machine gun fire without getting a scratch and take 132 prisoners by yourself, you get a free pass to believe in god in my book. You’d have to be messed up not to, quite frankly.

  29. Max November 27, 2010 at 1:49 pm - Reply

    There is a variation of this story amongst every Army in the world, except the French.

  30. joel January 25, 2011 at 12:27 am - Reply

    lol wow i dont even like to read but this story is way amazingly freshtastic :) this guy is a ledgend

  31. Ithildyn June 4, 2011 at 11:30 am - Reply

    Awesome! York was indeed a real badass! I love such stories!
    If you allow me guys to share another such story too: Léo Major, a French Canadian soldier that among other feats, liberated the entire town of Zwolle from Nazi occupation all by his lonesome, and was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal twice in two different wars (World War II and Korea).

    His story can be most entertainingly read here: http://www.badassoftheweek.com/leomajor.html
    Or more accurately read here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leo_Major

  32. Reid Kennedy September 14, 2011 at 5:08 pm - Reply

    Steve – We currently cannot ‘see’ or observe 70% of the matter in the universe — and we have only been around for a few millenia out of the billions upon billions of years the universe has been in existence. If you think that it takes faith to believe in a creator, and you are willing to believe in a shifting mass of information compiled from a vastly inferior base of knowledge (compared to what is in existence), then you are operating on much more faith my friend.

  33. Frank Drakman November 9, 2011 at 3:50 pm - Reply

    @ Jim Miller

    “I will debate you on the topic ANYTIME, ANYWHERE and put you in your place.”

    Okay. How abooooout…Thursday, in your moms twat?

    Also, what is “the” topic?

    How christians are mindless imbeciles (which I never said – you were kind enough to make that point)?

    Okay, go.

  34. Collin March 1, 2012 at 9:35 pm - Reply

    1. Awesome story
    2. @Frank Drakman – You were probably scarred as a young child by death of a close relative through violence, having an abusive father or mother, your parents split, or a person who called themselves a Christian (that really didn’t act like one) messed with you. Now you feel the need to push the anger that you have built up onto everyone. This is understandable, because this would be a typical reaction; however, if you really felt that the story had such terrible grammar, as well as the questions, why did you even bother to keep reading? You’re wasting the “one life” on earth you have, before you become fertilizer, or whatever you believe. Why bother messing with Christians if you hate them?
    I’ll be praying for you as I read Psalms 109:9-15, unless you change your mind of course.
    3. @Jim Miller I’m #TeamJimMiller

  35. Lance Uppercut February 28, 2013 at 3:48 pm - Reply

    Wow! that is brave, I can imagine being in that situation…

  36. Marc Reeve September 17, 2013 at 12:05 pm - Reply

    I recently read that a military archaeology team found the site of Sgt. York’s heroic stand last summer. They found multiple pits with discarded German machine gun belts, and in the near vicinity there was a small dip in the terrain with multiple empty .45 casings and a few empty clips of the type used by the M1917 “American Enfield” rifle, which was the type York’s unit had been issued as there were insufficient Springfield rifles for the troops.

  37. Ian Jackson September 25, 2013 at 1:21 pm - Reply

    of course the Germans had a slightly different view of what happened as can be read in their report http://www.scribd.com/doc/99204829/German-Testimony-Regarding-Sgt-York-s-Exploits-English-1

  38. Wayne Fenwick December 2, 2013 at 4:54 am - Reply

    @Ian Jackson As always there is Person A’s truth and person B”s truth and then what actually occurred

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