Battle Of Argonne Forest : America’s Deadliest Battle

French officers inspecting trenches on the Argonne front, eastern France May 1916.


Background

Battle Of Argonne Forest The Meuse-Argonne Offensive was a critical Allied forces operation of World War I, during the Hundred Days Offensive. Furthermore, it lasted for a bloody 47 days, starting on September 26th of 1918 and ending on November 11th by armistice. The majority of the offensive took place in France, northwest of Verdun.

Meuse-Argonne Offensive Artillery Barrage H+ Hour Attack Log - 1st Lieut..  E. V. McKey Jr. - 134th Field Artillery — Premier Relics
A combination of American, French, and Siamese troops made up the Allied force in this operation, opposed by the Germans. American and French men totaled up to 1.2 million, complemented by around 850 troops from Siam. The allies also brought 380 tanks, 840 planes, and 2,780 artillery pieces with them. 

The Germans were heavily outnumbered. With only around a half a million soldiers and an inferior amount of heavy equipment. The Americans were led by senior officer John J. Pershing, the French by generals Henri Gouraud and Henri Berthelot, and the Germans by Wilhelm of Prussia, general Max von Gallwitz, and Albrecht, Duke of Württemberg. 

It is important to note that many of the American troops were greatly inexperienced going into this offensive and that a global outbreak of influenza, dubbed the ‘Spanish flu’, was ravaging the world’s population, including the soldiers. At Argonne, undertrained American doughboys learned how to conduct mobile warfare through bloody experience.

The Battle

The offensive was split over three phases:

On September 26th the first phase began, and both sides expended large amounts of ammunition on each other.

Meuse-Argonne Offensive 1:80,000 Front Line Progression Battle Map – Battle  Archives
At first, American troops were unable to gain any ground, and determined German counter attacks were able to make some significant headway west.

French forces adjacent to the Americans were fighting on more open terrain and so moved forward a couple of miles. The second phase began on October 4th. Furthermore, a combination of several American frontal assaults were able to break the fortified German defensive line. 

The bunkers today

It was at the Battle of Montfaucon where the U. S. troops first penetrated the German defenses. However, these attacks proved to be extremely costly, and poor leadership meant there were few strategic advances for the Americans. Nearing the end of the month Americans had cleared 10 miles of the Argonne forest.

While French troops had gained 20 miles to the north. 

Two-seat German Hannover biplane forced down near Cierges

The third phase began on October 31st, with the Americans having advanced 15 miles into the Argonne forest and the French 30 miles reaching the River Aisne. Americans defeated German defenses at Buzancy and subsequently the French crossed the river, storming and capturing Le Chesne in the Battle of Chesne.

302nd Eng. repairing road over trench and 92nd Div. (colored) machine gunners going into action, Argonne Forest, France.

During the last days of the Meuse-Argonne. The American divisions finally learned up-to-date tactics. And their final attack on November 1 is a triumph of military tactics. 

By November 6th, the French had captured a railroad hub and the Americans the surrounding hills. The offensive officially ended with the Armistice of November 11, simultaneously ending the First World War.
Battle of the Somme

The Meuse-Argonne Offensive proved to be an extremely costly operation, with over 120,000 American casualties, over 70,000 French casualties, and 19 Siamese casualties. The Germans suffered over 120,000 casualties; over 65,000 of which became prisoners of war. 

Soldiers of Headquarters Company, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division firing a 37mm gun 

Allegedly, while visiting a military hospital in October, an American soldier apologized to General Pershing for not saluting him. When General Pershing saw the soldier, he realized that his arm had been blown off near his shoulder. Pershing then said, “No. It is I who should salute you.” After returning to the privacy of his car, Pershing began to weep. 

WW2’s General Patton would fight at Argonne

In conclusion, the Meuse-Argonne Offensive concluded the Hundred Days Offensive and World War One.

This was the American Expeditionary Force’s largest and most bloody operation of WW1.

Cemetary at the battlesite today, thanks for the contribution Rolf Dammann!

Battle Of Argonne Forest Written by Tony Cao

Battle Of Argonne Forest Edited by Tianyi Li, Kate Bancroft, Jay Devon, Luca Guerrini-Maraldi & Ryan Cunningham