Tactical Errors. Exhausted Doughboys. Here’s Why the Meuse-Argonne Offensive Was So Deadly

The Meuse-Argonne Offensive (Sept. 26–Nov. 11, 1918) was the biggest U.S. operation of World Conflict I. It was additionally the deadliest for the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF), with 26,277 doughboys killed in motion and 95,786 wounded in simply 47 days of fight. Vital errors within the preliminary operations plan contributed to that prime casualty rely.

Following the September 12–15 Franco-American assault at Saint-Mihiel, the U.S. First Military had simply 11 days to maneuver greater than a half million troops, 900,000 tons of provides, and practically 2,800 artillery items as much as 60 miles into assault positions for the Meuse-Argonne. The AEF had solely 900 vans and few horses. A lot of the soldiers needed to stroll, leaving them exhausted once they arrived.

The First Military had dedicated most of its educated and skilled divisions at Saint-Mihiel and couldn’t refit and reposition even just a few of them by September 26. Because of this, three of the 9 first-echelon divisions dedicated to the preliminary assault had accomplished coaching however had but to see fight.

On September 20 First Military headquarters issued Discipline Orders No. 20 for the offensive. No important effort was designated. Every of the three attacking American corps alongside the 24-mile entrance had three first-line divisions and one in corps reserve. The First Military common reserve had three divisions. The artillery, too, was evenly strung out. The deployment thus resembled one big frontal assault.

A important effort emerged by default—the fortified hill at Montfaucon, within the V Corps sector on the middle of the American line. That piece of key terrain gave the Germans commentary over a lot of the battlefield. However Montfaucon lay little greater than a mile to the west of V Corps’ proper boundary with III Corps. Even at this time the coordination of fireside and maneuver throughout unit boundaries is likely one of the most tough and complicated of all fight duties. The best way the boundaries had been drawn severely restricted V Corps’ capability to function towards Montfaucon from each flanks.

Complicating issues, inside V Corps’ sector itself Montfaucon straddled the boundary between the 79th Division on the proper and the thirty seventh Division within the middle. Thus every division might solely function towards a single of the target’s flanks. It was an especially tough tactical downside, one neither the thirty seventh nor the 79th was as much as. Each had been inexperienced and solely partially educated models.

The operational plan had no foundation in actuality. The American forces had been anticipated to advance greater than 8 miles on the primary day, within the course of taking Montfaucon, 4 miles from the road of departure. The French commander, Gen. Philippe Pétain, doubted the People would even be capable to advance past Montfaucon earlier than the onset of winter.

Because of a tenacious battle put up by the untrained People, Montfaucon did fall on the twenty seventh, albeit at a horrible value. Burned out by the hassle, nevertheless, the troops stalled. Not till October 14—20 days from the beginning gun—did the People attain all their first day’s aims. One other month of brutal preventing lay forward.

Weight the primary effort. The AEF’s V Corps ought to have had extra forces and artillery than both the I Corps or III Corps on its flanks.
Don’t piecemeal the reserves. The divisions of the First Military reserve ought to have been positioned
to assist the drive on Montfaucon.
Preserve unity of command. The seize of Montfaucon ought to have been assigned to 1 division, with supporting divisions on every flank, and all ought to have been managed by one corps headquarters.
Assign important missions to seasoned troops. The 77th, the first-echelon division with essentially the most fight expertise, ought to have been assigned to take Montfaucon. As a substitute, it was shunted off to the far left flank of the American assault.


This text appeared within the March 2022 difficulty of Army Historical past journal. For extra tales, subscribe and go to us on Fb.


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