Meuse-Argonne Offensive Essay, Research Paper
When the Allied Supreme Commander, Ferdinand Foch, originally planned the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. It was to be a isolated attack by British troops along the Somme River followed by an American push on Mezieres; however, over time Foch?s plan to capture a German stronghold turned into a plan for a massive attack by the Allied forces. The objective of the attack was to capture the railroad hub at Sudan in order to break the rail net supporting the German Army in France and Flanders, and force a German withdrawal from the occupied territories.
By the end of the offensive 1,200,000 Allied troops, under the leadership of General John J. Pershing, had been concentrated for the advance, and 60,000 of those troops had taken an active part in the battle. Compared to nearly fifty German divisions from the Army Groups of the Crown Prince and General Max Carl von Gallwitz. The Fifth Army of Group Gallwitz, commanded by General George von der Marwitz, provided the largest contribution on the German side.
During the battle, a force comprised of mainly French and English artillery (about 2,700 guns), tanks (331 French light tanks, 142 of which were manned by Americans), and 821 aircraft were concentrated to support the American infantrymen. The Germans also had strong artillery support, but had no tanks. Their greatest weapons, in fighting the American on-slot were the shovel and the 18kg (40lb) 08/15 Maxim machine-gun. The German soldiers used their shovels to construct fortified bunkers in which to protect themselves from allied artillery, and setup machine gun nests.
At 2330 on September 25, 1918, the initial barrage by 2700 guns begins. The initial advance is brisk with the exception of an American Division that encounters difficulties capturing the lookout post and strong point of Montfaucon. This delay holds up the entire advance for over a day and allows the Germans to recover from their initial shock and to reorganize. By the 27th Montfaucon was captured, the day and one-half delay allowed German forces to escape and regroup avoiding a rout. This proves to be the most expensive missed opportunity of the allies.
The allied progress continues slowly until the 3rd of October when the American 77th Division is surrounded.
On the 4th, allied forces begin a major attack along the entire front; this would just be the first in a series of attacks all resulting in high casualties with small gains in ground. On the 7th, the allies are able to flank German forces and relieve the American 77th Division. The following day survivors of the 77th leave the battle, and Sgt. Alvin C. York, a Tennessee sharpshooter, of the 82nd Division wipes out a nest of 35 machine guns and captures 132 German soldiers as part of the relief operation. Allied progression continues slowly from the 9th to the 21st. During this time, the allies are able to capture Cunel and Romagne. Romagne would later become the site of America’s largest overseas military cemetery.
By the 22nd, the allies had secured the Bois de Foret, Bois des Rappes, and Blanc Mont Ridge. On the 1st of November allied forces begin a massive final push to Sedan. The Germans are shocked by attack and order a withdrawal. On the 5th, leading allied units reach the hills overlooking Sedan. The American forces are ordered to step aside so the French 4th Army receives the honor of capturing Sedan, site of a defeat in 1870. From the 7th to the 11th, allied forces continue advancing. At 0600 on the 11th, armistice is announced, but some US forces do not hear about the cease-fire until noon.
Allied Forces were able to overthrow the German strongholds of the Meuse-Argonne region for many different reasons. The greatest advantage they had over the German?s was their superior number of men. The victory by the allies can also be greatly contributed to the strategic use of artillery, tanks, and aircraft.
From September 26th until the armistice was announced on November 11th, more than 120,000 allied soldiers on a front of 64 kilometers had engaged and decisively beaten 47 different German divisions. These divisions represented 25 percent of the enemy?s entire divisional strength on the western front. The allied forces suffered some 26,277 killed and 95,786 wounded, compared to the 133,000 German soldiers who were killed or wounded. The allies also captured 26,000 German prisoners, 847 artillery pieces, and 3,000 machine guns.
Altogether, the Meuse-Argonne offensive was the greatest American battle of the 1st World War. At first the allies were not satisfied with the offensive, because initial progress was slow and resulted in a high number of casualties. However, the allies did not know that because it was taking so long to capture the railroad hub at Sudan the Germans, both soldiers and the general population, were becoming disillusioned with Germany?s motivation; thus the Kaiser of Germany requested a meeting to discuss terms of the armistice.
The day after the armistice signing, the Kaiser abdicated and fled to the Netherlands in exile. The Germans then proclaimed themselves a republic.
Under the terms of the armistice, the Germans were to withdraw from all occupied territory, including Alsace and Lorraine (German speaking areas of France), retire all armies east of the Rhine, and provide the allies with bridgeheads beyond the Rhine. Men died right up to the end, but finally, after more then four grim years, it was over. Of all the nations, more then 8,500,000 soldiers died, and total casualties exceeded 37,500,000 men, women, and children. Numbers that would guide that generation to think they had seen ?The War to End All Wars.?
Winter, J. M. The Experience of World War I. New York: Oxford
University Press, 1989.