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Meuse-Argonne Offensive

Meuse-Argonne Offensive
Part of the Western Front of World War I
Map of the area, 1918
Map of the area, 1918.
Date 26 September – 11 November 1918
Location Argonne Forest, France
Result Allied victory
Belligerents
 United States
 France
Siam[1]
 German Empire
Commanders and leaders
John J. Pershing
Hunter Liggett
Robert Lee Bullard
Henri Gouraud
Henri Berthelot
Phya Bhijai Janridh[1]
Max von Gallwitz
Georg von der Marwitz
Units involved

AEF

Fourth Army
Fifth Army

Siamese Expeditionary Forces [1]
5th Army
Strength
AEF: 1.3 million personnel [2]
380 tanks
840 planes
2,780 artillery pieces
: 450,000 personnel
Casualties and losses
: 26,277 killed
95,786 wounded
Total: 122,063
: 70,000
Total: 192,000[3]
c.126,000 (28,000 dead, 26,000 prisoners)
874 artillery pieces [4]

The Meuse-Argonne Offensive, also known as the Maas-Argonne Offensive and the Battle of the Argonne Forest, was a part of the final Allied offensive of World War I that stretched along the entire Western Front. It was fought from September 26, 1918, until the Armistice on November 11, a total of 47 days. The Meuse-Argonne Offensive was the largest in United States military history, involving 1.2 million American soldiers, and was one of a series of Allied attacks known as the Hundred Days Offensive, which brought the war to an end. The battle also cost Pershing 26,277 killed and 95,786 wounded, making it the largest and bloodiest operation of the war for the American Expeditionary Force. American losses were exacerbated by the inexperience of many of the troops and tactics used during the early phases of the operation. The Meuse-Argonne was the principal engagement of the American Expeditionary Forces during the First World War.

Contents

  • Overview 1
  • Prelude 2
    • Opposing forces (Reims to Argonne) 2.1
    • Objective 2.2
  • Battle 3
    • First phase: September 26 to October 3 3.1
    • Second phase: October 4 to October 28 3.2
    • Third phase: October 28 to November 11 3.3
  • Legacy 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • Further reading 7

Overview

The logistical prelude to the Meuse attack was planned by then-Colonel Battle of Saint-Mihiel. The big September/October Allied breakthroughs (north, centre and south) across the length of the Hindenburg Line – including the Battle of the Argonne Forest – are now lumped together as part of what is generally remembered as the Grand Offensive (also known as the Hundred Days Offensive) by the Allies on the Western front. The Meuse-Argonne offensive also involved troops from France, while the rest of the Allies, including France, Britain and its dominion and imperial armies (mainly Canada, Australia and New Zealand), and Belgium contributed to major battles in other sectors across the whole front.

The French and British armies' ability to fight unbroken over the whole four years of the war in what amounted to a bloody stalemate is credited by some historians with breaking the spirit of the German army on the Western Front. The Grand Offensive, including British, French and Belgian advances in the north along with the French-American advances around the Argonne forest, is in turn credited for leading directly to the Armistice on November 11.

On September 26, the Americans began their strike towards Sedan in the south; British and Belgian divisions drove towards Ghent (Belgium) on the 27th, and then British and French armies attacked across northern France on the 28th. The scale of the overall offensive, bolstered by the fresh and eager but largely untried and inexperienced U.S. troops, signaled renewed vigor among the Allies and sharply dimmed German hopes for victory.

The Meuse-Argonne offensive, shared by the U.S. forces with the French Fourth Army on the left (as shown on the accompanying map and armistice), was the biggest operation and victory of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) in World War I. The bulk of the AEF had not gone into action until 1918. The Meuse-Argonne battle was the largest frontline commitment of troops by the U.S. Army in World War I, and also its deadliest. Command was coordinated, with some U.S. troops (e.g. the Buffalo Soldiers of the 92nd Division and the 93rd Division) attached and serving under French command (e.g. XVII Corps during the second phase).

157th I.D.Red Hand flag [5] drawn by General Mariano Goybet.

The main U.S. effort of the Meuse-Argonne offensive took place in the Verdun Sector, immediately north and northwest of the town of Verdun, between 26 September and 11 November 1918. However, far to the north, U.S. troops of the 27th and 30th divisions of the II Corps AEF fought under British command in a spearhead attack on the Hindenburg Line with 12 British and Australian divisions, and directly alongside the exhausted veteran divisions of the Australian Corps of the First Australian Imperial Force (1st AIF).[6] With artillery and British tanks, the combined three-nation force, despite some early setbacks, attacked and captured their objectives (including Montbrehain village) along a six-kilometre section of the Line between Bellicourt and Vendhuille, which was centred around an underground section of the St. Quentin Canal and came to be known as the Battle of St. Quentin Canal. Although the capture of the heights above the Beaurevoir Line by October 10, marking a complete breach in the Hindenburg Line, was arguably of greater immediate significance,[7] the important U.S. contribution to the victory at the St. Quentin Canal is less well remembered in the United States than Meuse-Argonne.

Prelude

Opposing forces (Reims to Argonne)

The American forces initially consisted of fifteen divisions of the Fourth Army (under Henri Gouraud) and the Fifth Army (under Henri Mathias Berthelot).[9] The U.S. divisions of the AEF were oversized (12 battalions per division versus the French/British/German 9 battalions per division), being up to twice the size of other Allies' battle-depleted divisions upon arrival, but the French and other Allied divisions had been partly replenished prior to the Grand Offensive, so both the U.S. and French contributions in troops were considerable. Most of the heavy equipment (tanks, artillery, aircraft) was provided by the European Allies. For the Meuse-Argonne front alone, this represented 2,780 artillery pieces, 380 tanks and 840 planes. As the battle progressed, both the Americans and the French brought in reinforcements. Eventually, 22 American divisions would participate in the battle at one time or another, representing two full field armies.[10] Other French forces involved included the 2nd Colonial Corps, under Henri Claudel, which had also fought alongside the AEF at the Battle of Saint-Mihiel earlier in September 1918.

German soldiers at a water hole, May 1915.

The opposing forces were wholly German. During this period of the war, German divisions procured only 50 percent or less of their initial strength. The 117th Division, which opposed the U.S. 79th Division during the offensive's first phase, had only 3,300 men in its ranks. Morale varied among German units. For example, divisions that served on the Eastern front would have high morale, while conversely divisions that had been on the Western front had poor morale. Resistance grew to approximately 200,000–450,000 German troops from the Georg von der Marwitz. The Americans estimated that they opposed parts of 44 German divisions overall, though many fewer at any one time.

Objective

The objective was the capture of the railway hub at Sedan which would break the railway network supporting the German Army in France and Flanders.

Battle

First phase: September 26 to October 3

Ruined church at Montfaucon-d'Argonne. The blocky structure on the left is a German WWI observation post.

The American attack began at 5:30 a.m. on September 26 with mixed results. The V and III Corps met most of their objectives, but the [3]

Second phase: October 4 to October 28

A German Hannover CL III shot down on October 4 between Montfaucon and Cierges.
328th Infantry Regiment of 82nd Infantry Division line of advance in capture of Hill 223 on October 7, 1918.
Stereoscope of the ruins of the Battle of Montfaucon

The second phase of the battle began on 4 October, during which time all of the original phase one assault divisions (the 91st, 79th, 37th and 35th) of the U.S. V Corps were replaced by the 32nd, 3rd and 1st Divisions. The 1st Division created a gap in the lines when it advanced one and a half miles against the 37th, 52nd, and 5th Guards Divisions. It was during this phase that the [3] It was during the opening of this operation, on October 8, that Corporal (later Sergeant) Alvin York made his famous capture of 132 German prisoners near Cornay.[14]

Third phase: October 28 to November 11

By October 31, the Americans had advanced 15 kilometers and had finally cleared the Argonne Forest. On their left the French had advanced 30 kilometers, reaching the Robert L. Bullard, was directed to move eastward towards Metz. The two U.S. armies faced portions of 31 German divisions during this phase. The American troops captured German defenses at Buzancy, allowing French troops to cross the River Aisne, whence they rushed forward, capturing Le Chesne (the Battle of Chesne (French: Bataille du Chesne)).[15] In the final days, the French forces conquered the immediate objective, Sedan and its critical railroad hub (the Advance to the Meuse (French: Poussée vers la Meuse)), on November 6 and American forces captured surrounding hills. On November 11, news of the German armistice put a sudden end to the fighting.

Legacy

Destruction seen in 1920.

Although the Meuse-Argonne was the deadliest battle in U.S. history, in that it left a large number of U.S. dead (over 26,000),[2] the battle is largely forgotten in the United States, and the Argonne war cemetery is often ignored by tourists. The battle also hailed the debut of the Browning Automatic Rifle in combat, with both the US and France using them significantly for the first time in battle.[16] According to the American view , the battle's pressure on the Germans was an important factor in their agreeing to the armistice: "Until the last, this battle had worried German commanders most; unlike other sectors of the front, here they had little space short of a vital objective that they could afford to trade for time." Historians have since begun to debate the legitimacy of this claim, with many believing that the Meuse-Argonne offensive was simply a diversion from greater Allied offensives and successes elsewhere.[17]

In an interview, Paul von Hindenburg stated, "So I must really say that the British food blockade and the American blow in the Argonne decided the war for the allies." and that "... without the American troops and despite a food blockade... the war could have ended in a sort of stalemate."[18]

See also

References

  1. ^ a b c Keith Hart (1982). "A NOTE ON THE MILITARY PARTICIPATION OF SIAM IN WWI" (PDF).  
  2. ^ a b Ferrell, Robert H. 2012. America's Deadliest Battle: Meuse-Argonne, 1918. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas.
  3. ^ a b c "Meuse River-Argonne Forest Offensive, 26 September-11 November 1918". Historyofwar.org. Retrieved 2013-09-26. 
  4. ^ Gary Mead: Doughboys
  5. ^ "Red Hand Flag | History Detectives". PBS. 2011-05-15. Retrieved 2013-09-26. 
  6. ^ "Hindenburg Line and Montbrehain, 27 September – 5 October 1918". Australians on the Western Front 1914–1918: An Australian journey across the First World War battlefields of France and Belgium. Department of Veteran's Affairs, Australian Government. November 2008. 
  7. ^ "30th-Division in WWI". Battlefield Tour Guide. 
  8. ^ "firstworldwar.com". Retrieved 2009-05-06. 
  9. ^ a b "Situation au debut D'Octobre 1918 (Situation at the beginning of October 1918)". Retrieved 2009-10-08. 
  10. ^   (subscription required)
  11. ^ "The Meuse-Argonne Offensive: Part II: Pershing's Report". The Great War Society. Retrieved 2008-01-15. 
  12. ^ Ferrell, Robert H. (2004). Collapse at Meuse-Argonne: The Failure of the Missouri-Kansas Division. University of Missouri Press. p. 176.  
  13. ^ """35th Infantry Division (Mechanized) "The Santa Fe Division. GlobalSecurity.org. Retrieved 2009-05-15. 
  14. ^ Fleming, Thomas (October 1993). "Meuse-Argonne Offensive of World War I". Military History (HistoryNet.com). 
  15. ^ "Novembre 1918 (November 1918)". Retrieved 2009-10-08. 
  16. ^ Lengel, Edward G. (May 25, 2008). "Why Didn't We Listen to Their War Stories?". The Washington Post. p. B03. 
  17. ^ Leaders & Battles database, "Meuse-Argonne."
  18. ^ Seldes, George. You Can't Print That, Payson & Clarke Ltd., 1929, p.5. So too, Henry, Mark and Walsh, Stephen. The US Army of World War I (Men-at-Arms), ISBN 1 841764868, Osprey, 2003, p. 4.

Further reading

  • Baker, Horace L. (2007). Argonne Days in World War I. Columbia: University of Missouri Press.  
  • Braim, Paul (1987). The Test of Battle: the American Expeditionary Forces in the Meuse-Argonne Campaign. Newark: University of Delaware Press.  
  • Clodfelter, Michael (2007). The Lost Battalion and the Meuse-Argonne, 1918: America's Deadliest Battle. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland.  
  • Ferrell, Robert H. (2007). America's Deadliest Battle: The Meuse Argonne, 1918. Lawrence: University press of Kansas.  
  • Ferrell, Robert H. (2004). Collapse at Meuse-Argonne: the Failure of the Missouri-Kansas Division. Columbia: University of Missouri Press.  
  • Lengel, Edward G. (2008). To Conquer Hell. New York: Henry Holt.  
  • Lengel, Edward G., ed. A Companion to the Meuse-Argonne Campaign (Wiley-Blackwell, 2014). xii, 537 pp.
  • Palmer, Fredrick (1919). Our Greatest Battle: The Meuse Argonne. New York: Dodd, Meade. 

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