Pershing's HQ in Chaumont is now a police training facility, at the time of my visit, inaccessible to the public.
|Although the central Powers had knocked Russia out of the war in 1917, their blockaded economies were tettering on the brink of collapse and their spring 1918 offensives in France had been halted in desperate fighting. In the British retreat of March 1918 and at places like Chateau Thierry and Belleau Wood, American manpower helped stave off disaster. Perhaps as important, the arrival of the Americans boosted the morale of the Allies, who now knew that victory was virtually inevitable. 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 President Wilson had more idealistic aims.|
With the repulse of the German offensives and the success of Allied counter-offensives, supreme commander Ferdinand Foch planned a general attack. The Americans were supplied from ports in the west of France, so to simplfy the lines of communication, the American army massed near Verdun, south of the bulk of the Allied forces. As part of the master plan, the Americans, with French help, were to reduce the St. Miheil Salient south of Verdun, a salient which had cramped the supply of Verdun since its creation in 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 Americans shifted their attention north to the Meuse-Argonne sector - few actual troops were moved from the St Miheil area as the new operation had been in the making for some time. 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 used by the Germans to supply their armies in France. If Sedan could be captured, perhaps the war could be won.
Nine American divisions, each twice the size of European divisions, would attack. On the right flank French divisions would attack on the east side of the Meuse River while on the opposite flank on the west side of the Argonne Forest, additional French troops attacked. 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 hilltop 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. Elsewhere in the world, the Ottoman Empire exited the war, and following an Allied breakthrough in the Balkans, the Austro-Hungarians made peace, abandoning their German allies and leaving them to potentially face an attack from that direction. On the Western Front the Allied and American armies had put enough pressure on the Germans to shatter the moral of the men in the ranks and force their commanders to commit most of their reserves. Any additional defeats would be catastrophic. Three days before a planned major offensive on November 14th, an offensive that was to include an American advance toward Metz as well as the landing by planes of special attack troops, the Germans signed an armistice in Marshal Foch's rail car at Compiegne. The "War to End All Wars" was over, and America was now a major world power.
|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.