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Meuse-Argonne Offensive

Meuse-Argonne Offensive

Background

The Meuse-Argonne Offensive was a critical operation conducted by the Allied forces of World War I during the Hundred Days Offensive. 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.

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, and a combination of several American frontal assaults were able to break the fortified German defensive line. 

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.

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.

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. Around 120,000 German casualties were recorded; over 65,000 of which became prisoners of war. 

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. 

The Meuse-Argonne Offensive concluded the Hundred Days Offensive and World War One, and will be grimly remembered as the American Expeditionary Force’s largest and most bloody operation.

Written by Tony Cao

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

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