July 15, 1918: Second Battle of the Marne Begins

 

On July 15, 1918, the Germans began what would be their final offensive on the Western front in World War I.  The attack on the French Fourth Army east of Reims was stopped on the first day by fierce French in depth resistance.  The attack on the Sixth Army west of Reims fared better, making a breakthrough across the south bank of the River Marne.  Reinforced by British forces and 85,000 American troops, the French Sixth Army brought the German  offensive to a grinding halt on July 17.

 

 

The Germans had shot their bolt and now it was time for the Allies to launch a counteroffensive with twenty-four French divisions, four British divisions, two Italian divisions and eight American divisions.  (The American divisions were twice the size of British and French divisions and thus were the equivalent of sixteen French divisions.)  The counter-offensive was a complete success capturing 800 artillery pieces, 30,000 German troops and inflicting an additional 139,000 German casualties.  French observers highly praised the American troops for their elan and their willingness to accept high casualties in order to take ground.  German reports noted defects in American attacks due to inexperience, but also routinely mentioned that the Americans fought with great tenacity and courage.  Here is an extract from General Pershing’s report on the battle:

 

 

The enemy had encouraged his soldiers to believe that the July 15th attack would conclude the war with a German peace.

Although he made elaborate plans for the operation, he failed to conceal fully his intentions, and the front of attack was suspected at least one week ahead.

On the Champagne front the actual hour for the assault was known and the enemy was checked with heavy losses. The 42nd Division entered the line near Somme Py immediately, and five of its infantry battalions and all its artillery became engaged.

Southwest of Rheims and along the Marne to the east of Chateau-Thierry the Germans were at first somewhat successful, a penetration of eight kilometres beyond the river being effected against the French immediately to the right of our 3rd Division.

The following quotation from the report of the Commanding General 3rd Division gives the result of the fighting on his front:

Although the rush of the German troops overwhelmed some of the front-line positions, causing the infantry and machine-gun companies to suffer, in some cases a 50 per cent loss, no German soldier crossed the road from Fossoy to Crezancy, except as a prisoner of war, and by noon of the following day (July 16th) there were no Germans in the foreground of the 3rd Division sector except the dead.

On this occasion a single regiment of the 3rd Division wrote one of the most brilliant pages in our military annals. It prevented the crossing at certain points on its front, while on either flank the Germans who had gained a footing pressed forward. Our men, firing in three sections, met the German attacks with counter-attacks at critical points and succeeded in throwing two German divisions into complete confusion, capturing 600 prisoners.

The Marne salient was inherently weak and offered an opportunity for a counter-offensive that was obvious. If successful, such an operation would afford immediate relief to the Allied defence, would remove the threat against Paris and free the Paris-Nancy railroad.

But, more important than all else, it would restore the morale of the Allies and remove the profound depression and fear then existing.

Up to this time our units had been put in here and there at critical points, as emergency troops to stop the terrific German advance. In every trial, whether on the defensive or offensive, they had proved themselves equal to any troops in Europe.

As early as June 23rd and again on July 10th at Bombon, I had very strongly urged that our best divisions be concentrated under American command, if possible, for use as a striking force against the Marne salient.

Although the prevailing view among the Allies was that American units were suitable only for the defensive, and that at all events they could be used to better advantage under Allied command, the suggestion was accepted in principle, and my estimate of their offensive fighting qualities was soon put to the test.

The selection by the Germans of the Champagne sector and the eastern and southern faces of the Marne pocket on which to make their offensive was fortunate for the Allies, as it favoured the launching of the counter-attack already planned. There were now over 1,200,000 American troops in France, which provided a considerable force of reserves.

Every American division with any sort of training was made available for use in a counter-offensive.

General Petain’s initial plan for the counter-attack involved the entire western face of the Marne salient. The First and Second American Divisions, with the First French Moroccan Division between them, were employed as the spearhead of the main attack, driving directly eastward, through the most sensitive portion of the German lines, to the heights south of Soissons.

The advance began on July 18th, without the usual brief warning of a preliminary bombardment, and these three divisions at a single bound broke through the enemy’s infantry defences and overran his artillery, cutting or interrupting the German communications leading into the salient.

A general withdrawal from the Marne was immediately begun by the enemy, who still fought stubbornly to prevent disaster.

The First Division, throughout four days of constant fighting, advanced 11 kilometres, capturing Berzy-le-Sec and the heights above Soissons and taking some 3,500 prisoners and 68 field guns from the 7 German divisions employed against it. It was relieved by a British division.

The Second Division advanced 8 kilometres in the first 26 hours, and by the end of the second day was facing Tigny, having captured 3,000 prisoners and 66 field guns. It was relieved the night of the 19th by a French division.

The result of this counter-offensive was of decisive importance. Due to the magnificent dash and power displayed on the field of Soissons by our First and Second Divisions the tide of war was definitely turned in favour of the Allies.

Other American divisions participated in the Marne counter-offensive. A little to the south of the Second Division, the Fourth was in line with the French and was engaged until July 22nd. The First American Corps, Maj. Gen. Hunter Liggett commanding, with the Twenty-sixth Division and a French division, acted as a pivot of the movement toward Soissons, capturing Torcy on the 18th and reaching the Chateau-Thierry-Soissons road on the 21st.

At the same time the Third Division crossed the Marne and took the heights of Mont St. Pere and the villages of Charteves and Jaulgonne.

In the First Corps, the Forty-second Division relieved the Twenty-sixth on July 25th and extended its front, on the 26th relieving the French division. From this time until August 2nd it fought its way through the Forest de Fere and across the Ourcq, advancing toward the Vesle until relieved by the Fourth Division on August 3rd.

Early in this period elements of the Twenty-eighth Division participated in the advance.

Farther to the east the Third Division forced the enemy back to Roncheres Wood, where it was relieved on July 30th by the Thirty-second Division from the Vosges front. The Thirty-second, after relieving the Third and some elements of the Twenty-eighth on the line of the Ourcq River, advanced abreast of the Forty-second toward the Vesle.

On August 3rd it passed under control of our Third Corps, Maj. Gen. Robert L. Bullard commanding, which made its first appearance in battle at this time, while the Fourth Division took up the task of the Forty-second Division and advanced with the Thirty-second to the Vesle River, where, on August 6th, the operation for the reduction of the Marne salient terminated.

In the hard fighting from July 18th to August 6th the Germans were not only halted in their advance but were driven back from the Marne to the Vesle and committed wholly to the defensive.

The force of American arms had been brought to bear in time to enable the last offensive of the enemy to be crushed.

 

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May 10, 1917: Pershing Appointed to Lead the AEF

 

After the death of Frederick Funston on February 19, 1917, it was inevitable that the newly promoted Major General John J. (Blackjack) Pershing would command the American Expeditionary Force that would be sent to France.  It must have seemed somewhat dizzying to him.  Nineteen years before he had been an overage thirty-eight year old First Lieutenant who would be lucky to make Major before retirement.  In 1893 he obtained a law degree in case he decided to leave the Army, fed up by the slow promotions offered by the minuscule peace time Army.

 

The Spanish-American War and Theodore Roosevelt made him.  At the battle of San Juan Hill he made a lifelong friend of Theodore Roosevelt.  Under fire he was as “cool as a bowl of cracked ice”, as one observer noted.  Rising to the temporary rank of Major of Volunteers he gained a reputation as a good combat officer in both Cuba and the Philippines and would serve as Adjutant General of the Philippines Department.

After the Spanish-American War he reverted to the regular army rank of Captain.  In 1905 Captain Pershing was promoted to Brigadier General Pershing by President Roosevelt over the heads of 835 officers more senior than him.  Surprisingly there was not much animosity over this, Pershing enjoying a reputation of extreme professional competence in the Army, a soldier’s soldier. (more…)

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March 11, 1916 Pershing Ordered to Go Into Mexico

VillaUncleSamBerrymanCartoon

In the wake of Pancho Villa’s raid on Columbus, New Mexico, go here to read about it, the US wasted no time in putting together a punitive force to enter Mexico and destroy or disperse Villa’s forces:

Fort Sam Houston, Texas,
March 11, 1916.

GeneralPershing,
Fort Bliss, Texas.
Secretary of War has designated you to command expedition into Mexico to capture Villa and his bandits. There will be two columns, one to enter from Columbus and one from Hachita, via Culber- son Is. Rachita column will consist of Seventh Cavalry, Tenth Cavalry (less two troops) and one battery horse artillery. Columbus column will consist of Thirteenth Cavelry (less one troop) a  regiment of cavalry  from the east, one battery of horse artillery, one company of engineers and First Aero Squadron with eight aeroplenes. Reinforced brigade of Sixth Infantry, Sixteenth Infantry, First Battalion Fourth Field Artillery and auxiliary troops will follow Columbus column. Two companies of engineers will be ordered to Fort Bliss awaiting further orders.  Necessary signel corps will be orderedf rom here. Will furnish you War Departmen instructions later. Have you any recommendations to make?

 

The troops designated  to comprise the expedition were the 7th, lOth, 11th and 13th Regiments of Cavalry, 6th and 16th Regiments of Infantry, Batteries B and C, 6th Field Artillery, 1st Battalion 4th Field Artillery, Companies E and H, 2nd Battalion of Engineers, Ambulance Company Number 7, Field Hospital Number 7, Signal Corps detach-ments, 1st Aero Squadron and Wagon Companies, Number 1 and 2.   Throughout the course of the expedition, much press attention would be given to the 1rst Aero Squadron deploying the cutting edge technology of airplanes.  Pershing organized his force into a division of two cavalry brigades and one infantry brigade. (more…)

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March 9, 1916: Villa Raids Columbus, New Mexico

 

 

The Mexican revolts against dictator Porfirio Diaz in 1910 led to a complex and ever shifting mixture of groups and personalities fighting for control of Mexico in an intermittent vicious civil war that would last for over two decades.  Inevitably the US became involved in this vast complex with the US occupying the Mexican port of Veracruz in 1914 for six months.  In early 1916 part time revolutionary general, and full time bandit, Francisco “Pancho” Villa and his “Army of the North” were on the run after being defeated by the forces of José Venustiano Carranza Garza, who would go on to become President of Mexico until assassinated in 1920.  Villa was angered that the United States no longer gave him clandestine support and had switched its support to Carranza in hopes that he could form a stable government.

Desperate for supplies, Villa launched a raid on Columbus, New Mexico by five hundred of his men.  Villa, relying on faulty intelligence thought that Columbus was garrisoned by 30 US troops.  Actually, 341 troopers of the 13th Cavalry were stationed in the town.

Although taken by surprise, the 13th Cavalry, and the men of the town, many of whom were armed, put up a ferocious resistance after Villa’s force launched their attack in a two prong assault on 4:15 AM.  In the ensuing fighting eight American soldiers were killed along with eight Americans civilians.  Eight Americans were wounded.  Ninety of Villa’s men were killed, thirteen were wounded and six captured. The Americans chased the retreating Mexicans fifteen miles into Mexico.  The furious Americans tried executed five of the captured Mexicans by hanging, with the sixth being sentenced to life imprisonment.  As the news spread throughout the US, national outrage boiled.  At Fort Bliss, commanding General John J. Pershing readied his troops.

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Quotes Suitable for Framing: John J. Pershing

 

 

The deadliest weapon in the world is a MARINE and his rifle!

General John J. Pershing

Like most soldiers General Pershing had little fondness for the Marine Corps, viewing them as competitors and headline hunters.  He attempted and failed to keep all Marine units out of the American Expeditionary Forces. However, he was impressed by the combat prowess of the Marines who fought in France.  After a less than satisfactory inspection of an Army unit on February 12, 1918 he wrote in frustration “Why in hell can’t the Army do it if the Marines can; they are all the same kind of men, why can’t they be like Marines?”

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May 14, 1916: Patton Shootout

29mneba

 

 

The Punitive Expedition had been an exercise in frustration for General John J. “Blackjack” Pershing.  Pancho Villa, predictably, had eluded the Americans, refusing to stand and fight.  Thirty year old Second Lieutenant George S. Patton had been an aide to Pershing.  Requesting a chance to command troops, he was assigned by Pershing to Troop C of the 13th Cavalry.  In that capacity Patton took part in efforts to locate Captain Julio Cardenas, commander of the elite bodyguard of Villa, the Dorados “Golden Ones”.

On May 14, 1916 Patton was on a mission to buy corn, his force consisting of a corporal, six privates and a civilian interpreter, all in three Dodge touring cars.  Learning from locals that Cardenas might be present at a ranch, which Patton had searched the previous week, near the town of Rubio, Patton decided to investigate.  Leaving two cars to block the southwest exit from the ranch, Patton, a driver, the civilian interpreter and a private took the remaining car to the northwest exit.  Patton advanced on the ranch with the civilian interpreter.  He spotted  an old man and a boy butchering a steer near a fence.  Suddenly three horsemen charged out from the ranch.

Initially they rode to the southwest.  Encountering Patton’s soldiers they then charged to the northwest, estimating presumably that the odds were in their favor against the lone American officer.

The Mexicans opened up at 20 yards.  Ignoring their fire, Patton coolly aimed his Colt single action pistol at the lead rider, knocking him off his horse.  Patton fired at the two remaining riders as they rode past him.  He then ducked around a corner of the ranch house and reloaded. Patton brought down the second horseman.  Patton waited while the bandit freed himself from his dead horse, Patton only shooting him when the Mexican attempted to fire rather than surrender.  The third bandit was brought down in a hail of fire from Patton and two of his soldiers who were now joining the fight.

The first bandit Patton had shot, got to his feet, made the mistake of going for his pistol, and was quickly brought down by the Americans.

The first bandit was identified as Captain Julio Cardenas, the second as Juan Garza and the third was never identified. (more…)

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Hello Girls of World War I

 “The humblest hello-girl along ten thousand miles of wire could teach gentleness, patience, modesty, manners, to the highest duchess in Arthur’s land”.

Mark Twain, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889)

 

“Hello girls” was the popular term for female switchboard operators in the US prior to World War I.  Four hundred and fifty of them were recruited to serve with the AEF in France during the Great War.  Receiving Signal Corps training, they earned the same pay as their male colleagues in the Signal Corps.  The women had to be bilingual and fluent in both English and French.  Although uniformed, and subject to Army discipline and eligible for Army decorations, they were not given veteran status by Congress until 1978.

 

 

The women were an essential part of the war effort.  They were simply swifter, about six times so, than their male colleagues who lacked their experience as switch board operators.  They were also faster than female French telephone operators in France, as Captain E.J. Wesson, who recruited the Hello Girls, noted at the time:  “In Paris, it takes from 40 to 60 seconds to complete one call. Our girls are equipped to handle 300 calls in an hour.”

The women lived up to their billing, vastly improving telephone communications as the AEF went into battle, the women often serving in areas subject to artillery fire near the front lines.  Pioneers, the Hello Girls paved the way for expanded service of American women for the much larger conflict fought just over two decades later.

 

 

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October 30, 1918: Pershing Opposes an Armistice

 

1984-D53

 

 

 

General John J. Pershing was not pleased at the idea of giving an Armistice and expressed his views strongly in a letter on October 30, 1918:

 

Paris, October 30, 1918.

To the Allied Supreme War Council, Paris.

Gentlemen: In considering the question of whether or not Germany’s request for an armistice should be granted, the following expresses my opinion from the military point of view:

1.
Judging from their excellent conduct during the three months, the British, French, Belgian and American armies appear capable of continuing the offensive indefinitely. Their morale is high and the prospects of certain victory should keep it so.
2.
The American army is constantly increasing in strength and experience, and should be able to take an increasingly important part in the Allied offensive. Its growth, both in personnel and material, with such reserves as the Allies may furnish, not counting the Italian army, should be more than equal to the combined losses of the Allied armies.
3.
German man power is constantly diminishing and her armies have lost over 300,000 prisoners and over 1,000 piece[s] of artillery during the last three months in their efforts to extricate themselves from a difficult situation and avoid disaster.
4.
The estimated strength of the Allies on the western front, not counting Italy, and of Germany, in rifles is: Allies, 1,564,000; Germany, 1,134,000; an advantage in favor of the Allies of 37 percent. In guns: Allies, 22,413; Germany, 16,495; advantage of 35 percent in favor of the Allies. If Italy’s forces should be added to the western front we should have a still greater advantage.
5.
Germany’s morale is undoubtedly low, her allies have deserted her one by one and she can no longer hope to win. Therefore we should take full advantage of the situation and continue the offensive until we compel her unconditional surrender.
6.
An armistice would revivify the low spirits of the German army and enable it to organize and resist later on and would deprive the Allies of the full measure of victory by failing to press their present advantage to its complete military end.
7.
As the apparent humility of German leaders in talking of peace may be feigned, the Allies should distrust their sincerity and their motives. The appeal for an armistice is undoubtedly to enable the withdrawal from a critical situation to one more advantageous.
8.
On the other hand the internal political conditions of Germany, if correctly reported, are such that she is practically forced to ask for an armistice to save the overthrow of her present Government, a consummation which should be sought by the Allies as precedent to permanent peace.
9.
A cessation of hostilities short of capitulation postpones, if it does not render impossible, the imposition of satisfactory peace terms, because it would allow Germany to withdraw her army with its present strength, ready to resume hostilities if terms were not satisfactory to her.
10.
An armistice would lead the Allied armies to believe this the end of fighting and it would be difficult if not impossible to resume [Page 171]hostilities with our present advantage in morale in the event of failure to secure at a peace conference what we have fought for.
11.
By agreeing to an armistice under the present favorable military situation of the Allies and accepting the principle of a negotiated peace rather than a dictated peace, the Allies would jeopardize the moral position they now hold and possibly lose the chance actually to secure world peace on terms that would insure its permanence.
12.
It is the experience of history that victorious armies are prone to overestimate the enemy’s strength and too eagerly seek an opportunity for peace. This mistake is likely to be made now on account of the reputation Germany has gained through her victories of the last four years.
13.
Finally, I believe that complete victory can only be obtained by continuing the war until we force unconditional surrender from Germany; but if the Allied Governments decide to grant an armistice the terms should be so rigid that under no circumstances could Germany again take up arms.

Respectfully submitted. John J. Pershing, Commander in Chief American Expeditionary Forces.”

 

The “stab in the back” myth that the German Army had not really been beaten, and that Germany had been defeated by internal subversion, the single most important element in Hitler’s rise to power, makes Pershing’s arguments in favor of unconditional surrender appear prophetic.

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Meuse-Argonne Offensive: Second Phase

 

The second phase of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive opened on October 4, 1918 and would continue to October 28, 1918.  During this period the Americans cleared the Argonne Forest but incurred high casualties due to a reliance upon frontal assaults.  No American troops have fought better than the doughboys who slugged their way through the Meuse-Argonne, but the field generals who led them ranged from mediocre to abysmal.  As for the commander in chief, Pershing had great strengths as a commander, but skillfully directing operations was not one of them.  In that he was akin to Eisenhower in the Second World War, but his generals had not a fraction of the talent of Eisenhower’s generals.

A  German assessment of the shortcomings of the AEF in the Meuse-Argonne was all too accurate:

The initial attack was carried out according to schedule but the successive waves showed great ineptitude in following up the advance. Officers as well as men did not understand how to make use of the terrain. Instead of seeking protection when they encountered opposition they merely fell back. To crawl backward or forward on the ground or to advance in quick jumps does not seem to by understood by the Americans. They remain lying on the ground for the time being, and then just stand up again and try to advance.

Neither in mass formations nor individually do the Americans know how to conduct themselves in an attack.

The higher command, also, did not understand how to grasp quickly the new situation and exploit it to the best advantage. After the infantry had reached its objective the higher command failed. They were not familiar with the tactical principles in the use of divisions and attack units for the destruction of the enemy. It was therefor possible for the [German] Army Detachment, under the most difficult conditions, to extricate itself from its precarious situation in one night, and, with only a short distance intervening between it and the enemy, to occupy new positions of resistance…

As the Offensive went on there were improvements.  Many of the more incompetent commanders were sacked, and the officers and men learned the hard and deadly way what worked in combat and what didn’t work.  However, considering the wealth of Allied experience in combat the Americans had to draw on, there is little excuse for the AEF’s failure to benefit from this experience.

In 1989 Army historian Colonel Rod Paschall summed up the situation:

 

There was no question that the individual American soldier [in the Great War] fought, and fought well. But the types of attacks they were conducting were extremely costly. Their leaders appeared to have no concern for losses. The American assault was little more than a human wave into the face of German machine guns, a weapon that the Americans treated with contempt. Their doctrine favored the rifle, yet except for a few highly skilled marksmen their use of that weapon appeared to be little different than that of their European counterparts. They insisted on huge divisions, perhaps because the knew they did not have the officers to direct a larger number of more reasonably sized units. However, [after the slow down in the Argonne ] they were in the process of reducing the size of these organizations. Pershing was also eliminating some of his more inept general. And, most important, they were attacking. Losses or not, the Americans kept coming on.

 

 

Here is General Pershing’s report on the second phase of the Offensive:

 

 

 

At 5.30 a.m. on October 4th the general attack was renewed. The enemy divisions on the front from Fresnesen-Woevre to the Argonne had increased from 10 in first line to 16, and included some of his best divisions.

The fighting was desperate, and only small advances were realized, except by the First Division on the right of the First Corps. By evening of October 5th the line was approximately Bois de la Cote Lemont-Bois du Fays-Gesnes-Hill 240-Fleville-Chehery, southwest through the Argonne.

It was especially desirable to drive the enemy from his commanding positions on the heights east of the Meuse, but it was even more important that we should force him to use his troops there and weaken his tenacious hold on positions in our immediate front. The further stabilization of the new St. Mihiel line permitted the withdrawal of certain divisions for the extension of the Meuse-Argonne operation to the east bank of the Meuse River.

On the 7th the First Corps, with the Eighty-second Division added, launched a strong attack northwest toward Cornay, to draw attention from the movement east of the Meuse and at the same time outflank the German position in the Argonne. The following day the Seventeenth French Corps, General Claudel commanding, initiated its attack east of the Meuse against the exact point on which the German armies must pivot in order to withdraw from northern France.

The troops encountered elaborate fortifications and stubborn resistance, but by nightfall had realized an advance of 6 kilometres to a line well within the Bois de Consenvoye, and including the villages of Beaumont and Haumont.

Continuous fighting was maintained along our entire battle front, with especial success on the extreme left, where the capture of the greater part of the Argonne Forest was completed. The enemy contested every foot of ground on our front in order to make more rapid retirements farther west and withdraw his forces from northern France before the interruption of his railroad communications through Sedan.

We were confronted at this time by an insufficiency of replacements to build up exhausted divisions. Early in October combat units required some 90,000 replacements, and not more than 45,000 would be available before November 1st to fill the existing and prospective vacancies. We still had two divisions with the British and two with the French.

A review of the situation, American and Allied, especially as to our own resources in men for the next two months, convinced me that the attack of the First Army and of the Allied Armies further west should be pushed to the limit. But if the First Army was to continue its aggressive tactics our divisions then with the French must be recalled, and replacements dust be obtained by breaking up newly arrived divisions.

In discussing the withdrawal of our divisions from the French Marshal Foch and General Petain, on October 10th, the former expressed his appreciation of the fact that the First Army was striking the pivot of the German withdrawal, and also held the view that the Allied attack should continue.

Gen. Petain agreed that the American divisions with the French were essential to us if we were to maintain our battle against the German pivot. The French were, however, straining every nerve to keep up their attacks and, before those divisions with the French had been released, it became necessary for us to send the Thirty-seventh and Ninety-first Divisions from the First Army to assist the Sixth French Army in Flanders.

At this time the First Army was holding a front of more than 120 kilometres; its strength exceeded 1,000,000 men; it was engaged in the most desperate battle of our history, and the burden of command was too heavy for a single commander and staff. Therefore, on October 12th, that portion of our front extending from Port-sur-Seille, east of the Moselle, to Fresnes-en-Woevre, southeast of Verdun, was transferred to the newly constituted Second Army with Lieut. Gen. Robert L. Bullard in command, under whom it began preparation for the extension of operations to the east in the direction of Briey and Metz.

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September 26, 1918: The Meuse-Argonne Offensive Begins

 

The Offensive opened with a six hour bombardment, brief by Great War standards.  In the three hours prior to H hour the Americans fired off more munitions than both sides fired off in the four years of the American Civil War.   Ten American divisions, approximately 260,000 men, advanced along with 700 tanks.  The attack is largely initially successful with some 23,000 German troops captured, with American advances up to six miles.  Here is General Pershing’s report on the first four days of the Offensive:

 

Following three hours of violent artillery fire of preparation, the Infantry advanced at 5.30 a.m. on September 26th, accompanied by tanks. During the first two days of the attack, before the enemy was able to bring up his reserves, our troops made steady progress through the network of defences. Montfaucon was held tenaciously by the enemy and was not captured until noon of the second day.

By the evening of the 28th a maximum advance of 11 kilometres had been achieved and we had captured Baulny, Epinonville, Septsarges, and Dannevoux. The right had made a splendid advance into the woods south of Brieullessur-Meuse, but the extreme left was meeting strong resistance in the Argonne.

The attack continued without interruption, meeting six new divisions which the enemy threw into first line before September 29th. He developed a powerful machine-gun defence supported by heavy artillery fire, and made frequent counter-attacks with fresh troops, particularly on the front of the Twenty-eighth and Thirty-fifth Divisions.

These divisions had taken Varennes, Cheppy, Baulny, and Charpentry, and the line was within 2 kilometres of Apremont. We were no longer engaged in a manoeuvre for the pinching out of a salient, but were necessarily committed, generally speaking, to a direct frontal attack against strong, hostile positions fully manned by a determined enemy.

By nightfall of the 29th the First Army line was approximately Bois de la Cote Lemont-Nantillois-Apremont – southwest across the Argonne. Many divisions, especially those in the centre that were subjected to cross-fire of artillery, had suffered heavily. The severe fighting, the nature of the terrain over which they attacked, and the fog and darkness sorely tried even our best divisions.

On the night of the 29th the Thirty-seventh and Seventy-ninth Divisions were relieved by the Thirty-second and Third Divisions, respectively, and on the following night the First Division relieved the Thirty-fifth Division.

The critical problem during the first few days of the battle was the restoration of communications over “No man’s land.” There were but four roads available across this deep zone, and the violent artillery fire of the previous period of the war had virtually destroyed them. The spongy soil and the lack of material increased the difficulty. But the splendid work of our engineers and pioneers soon made possible the movement of the troops, artillery, and supplies most needed. By the afternoon of the 27th all the divisional artillery, except a few batteries of heavy guns, had effected a passage and was supporting the infantry action.

The initial stage can be rated a success, but with grave deficiencies shown in American training and leadership and hence the pause for reorganization and to replace the initial attacking divisions.  The Offensive would resume on October 4, 1918.

 

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