|American entry into World War I would be decisive. Although the
central Powers had knocked Russia out of the war, their spring 1918
offensives in France had been halted. American manpower had made the
difference. Although commander of the American Expeditionary Force
John J Pershing had allowed American units to be detached for the
emergencies of the spring and summer of 1918, he had strict orders to
fight his army as a united army, not as auxiliaries of the French and
British. America, in fact, was an associated power, not one of the
Allies, and under President Wilson had more idealistic aims.
With the repulse of the German offensives and the success of Allied counter-offensives, a general attack was planned. The Americans, with French help, would reduce the St. Miheil Salient, which had cramped the supply of Verdun since 1914. The Germans were evacuating the salient as the attack began, and the effect gained a quick success. Rather than continue the attack toward Metz to the east, the American army was shifted north to the Meuse-Argonne sector. This move, engineered by Col. George C. Marshall, a graduate of the Virginia Military Institute, was an impressive logistical achievement on its own. Now the Americans would attack north through rolling hills and forests studded with four lines of German fortifications. Sedan, the ultimate objective, was a point of enormous strategic importance. Through Sedan ran the railroad that the Germans were using to supply their armies in France. If Sedan could be captured, perhaps the war could be won.
Nine American divisions, twice the size of European divisions, would attack. French divisions would attack to the west on the other side of the Meuse River, and tot he west on the other side of the Argonne Forest. A three hour bombardment from 2, 775 guns along a 40 km front started the offensive at 2:30 am on September 26th. Progress was good the first day, with the advance passing Montfaucon on both sides. The town would fall the next day, but the delay allowed the Germans to bring in reinforcements, with seven divisions being added to the five that were already there. Progress slowed around Romagne Heights, but on October 5th an attack forced the Germans to fall back from the Argonne Forest. On October 6th, an attack east of the Meuse helped relieve flanking fire from that sector. German and American reinforcements were brought in. On October 14th, the Americans broke through the Hindenburg Line. An attack on November 1st convinced the Germans to fall back behind the Meuse. By November 11th, doughboys were overlooking Sedan and the railroad that supplied the German army in France. Along with the Allied armies, the Americans had put enough pressure on the Germans to force them to sign an armistice in a rail car at Compiegne. The "War to End All Wars" was over.
|The scene of stagnant mine warfare that had blown the top off a hill,
creating two ridges, Butte Vauquois was one of the difficult areas in
the American attack sector, and it dominated the land below it.
The Americans of the 35th Division abandoned the trenches
here on the hilltop five hours before the attack. The bombardment
of the hill was intense. When it lifted, two American
companies advanced immediately behind the barrage, killing and
capturing the Germans as they emerged from their bunkers.
Meanwhile, Americans on either side of the butte penetrated the
1918 Trench Map From George C. Marshall Library
|Road at left extends to Consenvoye on the Meuse. Le Mort Homme and
Hill 304 were bitterly contested during the 1916 Battle of Verdun.
Verdun is something over 10 miles to the southeast. The 79th Division
attacked from Malancourt, skirting the Bois de Monfaucon, with the 37th
and 91st Divisions attacking through the forest. The 35th Division
captured Butte Vauquois. Varennes was the approximate border of that
division and the 28th, which attacked through the Argonne Forest.