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. Important 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. Many of the squaddies needed to stroll, leaving them exhausted after 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 most 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 basic reserve had three divisions. The artillery, too, was evenly strung out. The deployment thus resembled one large frontal assault.

A most 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 remark 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 immediately the coordination of fireplace and maneuver throughout unit boundaries is among the most tough and sophisticated of all fight duties. The best way the boundaries have been drawn severely restricted V Corps’ capacity to function in opposition to Montfaucon from each flanks.

Complicating issues, inside V Corps’ sector itself Montfaucon straddled the boundary between the 79th Division on the fitting and the thirty seventh Division within the middle. Thus every division might solely function in opposition to a single of the target’s flanks. It was a particularly tough tactical downside, one neither the thirty seventh nor the 79th was as much as. Each have been inexperienced and solely partially educated items.

The operational plan had no foundation in actuality. The American forces have 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 Individuals would even be capable to advance past Montfaucon earlier than the onset of winter.

Because of a tenacious struggle put up by the untrained Individuals, 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 Individuals attain all their first day’s aims. One other month of brutal combating lay forward.


Weight the principle 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.

Keep 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 essential missions to seasoned troops. The 77th, the first-echelon division with probably the most fight expertise, ought to have been assigned to take Montfaucon. As an alternative, it was shunted off to the far left flank of the American assault.


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


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