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October 8, 1918: Alvin C. York Renders Unto Caesar

 

 

13And they sent to him some of the Pharisees and of the Herodians; that they should catch him in his words. 14Who coming, say to him: Master, we know that thou art a true speaker, and carest not for any man; for thou regardest not the person of men, but teachest the way of God in truth. Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar; or shall we not give it? 15Who knowing their wiliness, saith to them: Why tempt you me? bring me a penny that I may see it. 16And they brought it him. And he saith to them: Whose is this image and inscription? They say to him, Caesar’s. 17And Jesus answering, said to them: Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. And they marvelled at him.

Mark 12:  13-17

So you see my religion and my experience…told me not to go to war, and the memory of my ancestors…told me to get my gun and go fight. I didn’t know what to do. I’m telling you there was a war going on inside me, and I didn’t know which side to lean to. I was a heap bothered. It is a most awful thing when the wishes of your God and your country…get mixed up and go against each other. One moment I would make up my mind to follow God, and the next I would hesitate and almost make up my mind to follow Uncle Sam. Then I wouldn’t know which to follow or what to do. I wanted to follow both but I couldn’t. They were opposite. I wanted to be a good Christian and a good American too.

Alvin C. York

Drafted into the Army, serving in the All American division, Alvin C. York had a moral quandary.  A crack shot from years of hunting to feed his poverty stricken family in the hills of Tennessee, he was also a fervent Christian.  He loved his country but took literally the Commandment “Thou Shalt Not Kill”.  Requesting a ten day leave to go home, which was granted, he prayed fervently to God for an answer to his dilemma.

“As I prayed there alone, a great peace kind of come into my soul and a great calm come over me, and I received my assurance. He heard my prayer and He come to me on the mountainside. I didn’t see Him, of course, but he was there just the same. I knowed he was there. He understood that I didn’t want to be a fighter or a killing man, that I didn’t want to go to war to hurt nobody nohow. And yet I wanted to do what my country wanted me to do. I wanted to serve God and my country, too. He understood all of this. He seen right inside of me, and He knowed I had been troubled and worried, not because I was afraid, but because I put Him first, even before my country, and I only wanted to do what would please Him.”

So He took pity on me and He gave me the assurance I needed. I didn’t understand everything. I didn’t understand how He could let me go to war and even kill and yet not hold it against me. I didn’t even want to understand. It was His will and that was enough for me. So at last I begun to see the light. I begun to understand that no matter what a man is forced to do, so long as he is right in his own soul he remains a righteous man. I knowed I would go to war. I knowed I would be protected from all harm, and that so long as I believed in Him He would not allow even a hair on my head to be harmed.”

In the fall of 1918, York’s regiment, the 328th, participated in the Meuse-Argonne offensive, the largest American operation of the war.  On October 8, 1918, the 328th took part in an attack to seize German positions along the Decauville rail-line north of Chatel-Chehery, France.  The attack encountered savage German resistance as York noted in his diary:

The Germans got us, and they got us right smart. They just stopped us dead in our tracks. Their machine guns were up there on the heights overlooking us and well hidden, and we couldn’t tell for certain where the terrible heavy fire was coming from… And I’m telling you they were shooting straight. Our boys just went down like the long grass before the mowing machine at home. Our attack just faded out… And there we were, lying down, about halfway across [the valley] and those German machine guns and big shells getting us hard.

Sergeant Bernard Early was ordered to take 16 men including York and work his way around the German position to take out the machine guns.  Early and his men overran a German headquarters, when German machine guns opened up killing six of the Americans, and wounding three others, including Sergeant Early.  York, the reluctant soldier, now found himself in command of the remaining seven soldiers.

And those machine guns were spitting fire and cutting down the undergrowth all around me something awful. And the Germans were yelling orders. You never heard such a racket in all of your life. I didn’t have time to dodge behind a tree or dive into the brush… As soon as the machine guns opened fire on me, I began to exchange shots with them. There were over thirty of them in continuous action, and all I could do was touch the Germans off just as fast as I could. I was sharp shooting… All the time I kept yelling at them to come down. I didn’t want to kill any more than I had to. But it was they or I. And I was giving them the best I had.

 

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Meuse-Argonne Offensive: Second Phase

 

The second phase of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive opened on October 4, 1918 and would continue to October 28, 1918.  During this period the Americans cleared the Argonne Forest but incurred high casualties due to a reliance upon frontal assaults.  No American troops have fought better than the doughboys who slugged their way through the Meuse-Argonne, but the field generals who led them ranged from mediocre to abysmal.  As for the commander in chief, Pershing had great strengths as a commander, but skillfully directing operations was not one of them.  In that he was akin to Eisenhower in the Second World War, but his generals had not a fraction of the talent of Eisenhower’s generals.

A  German assessment of the shortcomings of the AEF in the Meuse-Argonne was all too accurate:

The initial attack was carried out according to schedule but the successive waves showed great ineptitude in following up the advance. Officers as well as men did not understand how to make use of the terrain. Instead of seeking protection when they encountered opposition they merely fell back. To crawl backward or forward on the ground or to advance in quick jumps does not seem to by understood by the Americans. They remain lying on the ground for the time being, and then just stand up again and try to advance.

Neither in mass formations nor individually do the Americans know how to conduct themselves in an attack.

The higher command, also, did not understand how to grasp quickly the new situation and exploit it to the best advantage. After the infantry had reached its objective the higher command failed. They were not familiar with the tactical principles in the use of divisions and attack units for the destruction of the enemy. It was therefor possible for the [German] Army Detachment, under the most difficult conditions, to extricate itself from its precarious situation in one night, and, with only a short distance intervening between it and the enemy, to occupy new positions of resistance…

As the Offensive went on there were improvements.  Many of the more incompetent commanders were sacked, and the officers and men learned the hard and deadly way what worked in combat and what didn’t work.  However, considering the wealth of Allied experience in combat the Americans had to draw on, there is little excuse for the AEF’s failure to benefit from this experience.

In 1989 Army historian Colonel Rod Paschall summed up the situation:

 

There was no question that the individual American soldier [in the Great War] fought, and fought well. But the types of attacks they were conducting were extremely costly. Their leaders appeared to have no concern for losses. The American assault was little more than a human wave into the face of German machine guns, a weapon that the Americans treated with contempt. Their doctrine favored the rifle, yet except for a few highly skilled marksmen their use of that weapon appeared to be little different than that of their European counterparts. They insisted on huge divisions, perhaps because the knew they did not have the officers to direct a larger number of more reasonably sized units. However, [after the slow down in the Argonne ] they were in the process of reducing the size of these organizations. Pershing was also eliminating some of his more inept general. And, most important, they were attacking. Losses or not, the Americans kept coming on.

 

 

Here is General Pershing’s report on the second phase of the Offensive:

 

 

 

At 5.30 a.m. on October 4th the general attack was renewed. The enemy divisions on the front from Fresnesen-Woevre to the Argonne had increased from 10 in first line to 16, and included some of his best divisions.

The fighting was desperate, and only small advances were realized, except by the First Division on the right of the First Corps. By evening of October 5th the line was approximately Bois de la Cote Lemont-Bois du Fays-Gesnes-Hill 240-Fleville-Chehery, southwest through the Argonne.

It was especially desirable to drive the enemy from his commanding positions on the heights east of the Meuse, but it was even more important that we should force him to use his troops there and weaken his tenacious hold on positions in our immediate front. The further stabilization of the new St. Mihiel line permitted the withdrawal of certain divisions for the extension of the Meuse-Argonne operation to the east bank of the Meuse River.

On the 7th the First Corps, with the Eighty-second Division added, launched a strong attack northwest toward Cornay, to draw attention from the movement east of the Meuse and at the same time outflank the German position in the Argonne. The following day the Seventeenth French Corps, General Claudel commanding, initiated its attack east of the Meuse against the exact point on which the German armies must pivot in order to withdraw from northern France.

The troops encountered elaborate fortifications and stubborn resistance, but by nightfall had realized an advance of 6 kilometres to a line well within the Bois de Consenvoye, and including the villages of Beaumont and Haumont.

Continuous fighting was maintained along our entire battle front, with especial success on the extreme left, where the capture of the greater part of the Argonne Forest was completed. The enemy contested every foot of ground on our front in order to make more rapid retirements farther west and withdraw his forces from northern France before the interruption of his railroad communications through Sedan.

We were confronted at this time by an insufficiency of replacements to build up exhausted divisions. Early in October combat units required some 90,000 replacements, and not more than 45,000 would be available before November 1st to fill the existing and prospective vacancies. We still had two divisions with the British and two with the French.

A review of the situation, American and Allied, especially as to our own resources in men for the next two months, convinced me that the attack of the First Army and of the Allied Armies further west should be pushed to the limit. But if the First Army was to continue its aggressive tactics our divisions then with the French must be recalled, and replacements dust be obtained by breaking up newly arrived divisions.

In discussing the withdrawal of our divisions from the French Marshal Foch and General Petain, on October 10th, the former expressed his appreciation of the fact that the First Army was striking the pivot of the German withdrawal, and also held the view that the Allied attack should continue.

Gen. Petain agreed that the American divisions with the French were essential to us if we were to maintain our battle against the German pivot. The French were, however, straining every nerve to keep up their attacks and, before those divisions with the French had been released, it became necessary for us to send the Thirty-seventh and Ninety-first Divisions from the First Army to assist the Sixth French Army in Flanders.

At this time the First Army was holding a front of more than 120 kilometres; its strength exceeded 1,000,000 men; it was engaged in the most desperate battle of our history, and the burden of command was too heavy for a single commander and staff. Therefore, on October 12th, that portion of our front extending from Port-sur-Seille, east of the Moselle, to Fresnes-en-Woevre, southeast of Verdun, was transferred to the newly constituted Second Army with Lieut. Gen. Robert L. Bullard in command, under whom it began preparation for the extension of operations to the east in the direction of Briey and Metz.

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The Epic Stand of The “Lost” Battalion

Maj. Prinz: You Americans, you always have so much of everything. No matter. Eventually you have to surrender.

Lt. Leak: I don’t think so.

Maj. Prinz: Are you officers so callous? You’re surrounded. You have no chance of relief. Every night you send out patrols, and every night we kill them. We can hear the cries of your wounded Lieutenant. There is no dishonor in surrender.

Lt. Leak: Maybe for you, but my guys are different.

Maj. Prinz: What do you mean?

Lt. Leak: What you’re up against Major, is a bunch of Mick, Pollack, Dago, and Jew boy gangsters from New York City. They’ll never surrender. Never.

The Lost Battalion (2001)

 

 

During the Meuse-Argonne offensive there was a great deal of courage displayed by the American troops as they battered their way through determined German defenses in extremely rugged terrain.  None were braver than the men of of the 77th Division, the Statue of Liberty Division, who became known to history as the Lost Battalion.  The men of the Division were mostly from New York City.  On their left shoulders they wore a patch depicting the Statue of Liberty.  During World War I the Division was commonly referred to as the Metropolitan Division.

 

The commander of the First Battalion, 308th Regiment was Charles White Whittlesey.  A New York City lawyer, Whittlesey was a socialist and a pacifist.  He was also a patriot and that patriotism caused him to take officer’s training at Plattsburg in 1916, and in 1917 to join the Army.  He found himself the commander of the First Battalion at the beginning of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive due to the heavy losses the officers of the Battalion had sustained heavy losses.

By the end of September the Meuse-Argonne Offensive had stalled.  Alarmed, AEF commander General John Pershing ordered a renewal of the Offensive on October 2, with the following statement in his order that the attacks go forward “without regard of losses and without regard to the exposed conditions of the flanks. …”.  Whittlesey received the news glumly.  Two of his companies earlier in the offensive had been briefly surrounded by the Germans for a few hours, and he did not like the idea of advancing without securing the flanks of his battalion.  His men had already sustained severe losses and numbered around 400 men, half strength.  They had received replacements, primarily Midwesterners, some of whom had, incredibly, received no basic training.  Whittlesy was still suffering from untreated exposure to gas at the start of the offensive.  Whittlesy’s doubts about the condition of his battalion and its inability to participate in the attack on October 2, were passed up through his Brigade to the 77th Division commander, Major General Robert Alexander, who ordered the attack to be made.  When Whittlesey receive the news he saluted his regimental commander and said, “All right. I’ll attack, but whether you’ll hear from me again I don’t know.”

Whittlesey’s battalion was to attack in tandem with the Second Battalion of the 308th, led by Captain George McMurtry, Jr.  Their combined force consisted of approximately 800 men.  Their objective was to seize the high ground beyond the Charlevaux Brook, Hill.  Two companies, one from each of the battalions, were left behind to attack hill 205.  On a day of completely unsuccessful Allied attacks in the Argonne, Whittlesey and McMurtry, amazingly, broke through enemies lines and seized their objective.  Whittlesey had the men dig in, passed the news of their success back to the 77th by messengers, and waited for support from the Division.

Neither of the attacking units on the flanks of the first and second 308th had broken through.  When news reached the 77th Headquarters, the 3rd Battalion, 307th was ordered to reinforce the first and second 308th.  The four reinforcing companies marched through the night in pitch darkness, but only one company of 97 men,  Company K, 3rd Battalion, 307th, reached Whittlesey and McMurtry.  The force under Whittlesey now numbered about 545 men, including C and D companies of the 306th Machine Gun Battalion which had been attached to the original attacking force.

On the morning of October 3, Whittlesey sent out patrols to make contact with the units he thought were on his flank.  These patrols came under heavy German fire, and by noon on Ocober 3, Whittelsey realized his force was surrounded and cut off from Allied lines.  Whittlesey”s order to his company commanders did not mince words:  “Our mission is to hold this position at all costs. No falling back. Have this understood by every man in your command.”

By pigeon Whittlesey informed the 77th Division of his predicament.  There was nothing the Division could do with all of its units lacking the strength to mount a successful breakthrough.  The surrounded Americans ate the last of the rations they carried and hunkered down as best they could as heavy German mortar fire and grenades raked their position and they beat off forays by German riflemen.  The two companies of the first and second battalions outside of the pocket tried to break through, but were driven back by heavy German fire.  By nightfall Whittlesey informed Division that one-third of his men were killed or wounded and all medical supplies were exhausted.  He pled for artillery support and for ammunition  and rations to be dropped by air.

On October 4 they received artillery support but it landed on them for several hours.  Whittlesey used his last pigeon, Cher Ami, to fly back to 77th Division Headquarters and finally have the friendly fire barrage ended, several hours after it started.

On October 5 American planes tried to drop ammunition and rations, but they all fell among the surrounding German units.  By now the newspapers in the States were filled with stories of the heroic Lost Battalion.  (The American surrounded troops hated this name, a newspaper man’s creation, stating that they always knew where they were and so did everyone else.  General Pershing ordered that “the Lost Battalion” be rescued, come what may by the 77th.  A relief effort, personally led by a Brigadier General failed to break through.

On October 6, the Germans, supported by flamethrowers, made a two hour assault that the Americans beat off while suffering serious losses.

On October 7 Whittlesey received a surrender demand from the Germans:  “The suffering of your wounded man can be heard over here in the German lines and we are appealing to your human sentiments. A white Flag shown by one of your man will tell us that you agree with these conditions.”  Whittlsey did not bother responding to the demand. Captain McMurtry noted that this was a good sign and that the Germans were more worried than they were.  The news spread among the men who were fed up and angry and in no mood for a surrender.  One of the soldiers yelled out, “You Heinie bastards, come and get us!”  His resolve was echoed by a chorus of obscenities directed towards the surrounding Germans by other Americans.  The Germans replied by making one last heavy attack that was beaten off by the hungry, exhausted Americans, many of them bearing wounds from earlier attacks.

That day a relief force led by the First Division staged a breakthrough, and the Germans surrounding the no longer “lost” battalions withdrew.  Relieving troops from the 77th Division reached the no longer surrounded Americans at 7:00 PM, the Germans withdrawing after sunset.

The next day Whittlesey and his men walked out, the 190 who were still able to. Of the remaining men, 193 were seriously wounded, 107 were dead and 63 were missing.  They had inflicted some 600 casualties on their adversaries.  Five men of the force earned Medals of Honor, including Whittlesey, who was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and McMurtry, a veteran of the Rough Riders, who was promoted to Major. 31 of the men earned Distinguished Service Crosses.  A survivor’s association formed after the War and had annual meetings until 1968.  They are all gone now, and it is up to living Americans to remember them.

September 26, 1918: The Meuse-Argonne Offensive Begins

The Offensive opened with a six hour bombardment, brief by Great War standards.  In the three hours prior to H hour the Americans fired off more munitions than both sides fired off in the four years of the American Civil War.   Ten American divisions, approximately 260,000 men, advanced along with 700 tanks.  The attack is largely initially successful with some 23,000 German troops captured, with American advances up to six miles.  Here is General Pershing’s report on the first four days of the Offensive:

 

Following three hours of violent artillery fire of preparation, the Infantry advanced at 5.30 a.m. on September 26th, accompanied by tanks. During the first two days of the attack, before the enemy was able to bring up his reserves, our troops made steady progress through the network of defences. Montfaucon was held tenaciously by the enemy and was not captured until noon of the second day.

By the evening of the 28th a maximum advance of 11 kilometres had been achieved and we had captured Baulny, Epinonville, Septsarges, and Dannevoux. The right had made a splendid advance into the woods south of Brieullessur-Meuse, but the extreme left was meeting strong resistance in the Argonne.

The attack continued without interruption, meeting six new divisions which the enemy threw into first line before September 29th. He developed a powerful machine-gun defence supported by heavy artillery fire, and made frequent counter-attacks with fresh troops, particularly on the front of the Twenty-eighth and Thirty-fifth Divisions.

These divisions had taken Varennes, Cheppy, Baulny, and Charpentry, and the line was within 2 kilometres of Apremont. We were no longer engaged in a manoeuvre for the pinching out of a salient, but were necessarily committed, generally speaking, to a direct frontal attack against strong, hostile positions fully manned by a determined enemy.

By nightfall of the 29th the First Army line was approximately Bois de la Cote Lemont-Nantillois-Apremont – southwest across the Argonne. Many divisions, especially those in the centre that were subjected to cross-fire of artillery, had suffered heavily. The severe fighting, the nature of the terrain over which they attacked, and the fog and darkness sorely tried even our best divisions.

On the night of the 29th the Thirty-seventh and Seventy-ninth Divisions were relieved by the Thirty-second and Third Divisions, respectively, and on the following night the First Division relieved the Thirty-fifth Division.

The critical problem during the first few days of the battle was the restoration of communications over “No man’s land.” There were but four roads available across this deep zone, and the violent artillery fire of the previous period of the war had virtually destroyed them. The spongy soil and the lack of material increased the difficulty. But the splendid work of our engineers and pioneers soon made possible the movement of the troops, artillery, and supplies most needed. By the afternoon of the 27th all the divisional artillery, except a few batteries of heavy guns, had effected a passage and was supporting the infantry action.

The initial stage can be rated a success, but with grave deficiencies shown in American training and leadership and hence the pause for reorganization and to replace the initial attacking divisions.  The Offensive would resume on October 4, 1918.

 

September 25, 1918: The Meuse-Argonne Offensive is About to Begin

 

One hundred years ago the Meuse-Argonne Offensive is about to begin.  We will be covering it in detail.  In reading about the Offensive, it should be recalled that American divisions were twice the size of European divisions, and with the losses most German and Allied divisions, other than most American divisions, had sustained, the American divisions were often close to triple the size of those divisions.   Here is General Pershing writing about the American forces on the eve of the great battle:

Meuse-Argonne, First Phase

On the night of September 25th, the 9 divisions to lead in the attack were deployed between the Meuse River and the western edge of the Argonne Forest.

On the right was the Third Corps, Maj. Gen. Bullard commanding, with the Thirty-third, Eightieth, and Fourth Divisions in line; next came the Fifth Corps, Maj. Gen. Cameron commanding, with the Seventy-Ninth, Thirty-seventh, and Ninety-first Divisions; on the left was the First Corps, Maj. Gen. Liggett commanding, with the Thirty-fifth, Twenty-eighth, and Seventy-seventh Divisions.

Each corps had 1 division in re serve and the Army held 3 divisions as a general reserve. About 2,700 guns, 189 small tanks, 142 manned by Americans, and 821 airplanes, 604 manned by Americans, were concentrated to support the attack of the infantry.  We thus had a superiority in guns and aviation, and the enemy had no tanks.

The axis of the attack was the line Montfaucon-Romagne-Buzancy, the purpose being to make the deepest penetration in the centre, which, with the Fourth French Army advancing west of the Argonne, would force the enemy to evacuate that forest without our having to deliver a heavy attack in that difficult region.

Prelude to the Meuse-Argonne Offensive

 

 

 

A century ago the United States First Army, personally commanded by General John J. Pershing, was deep in preparation for the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, the largest battle in American history that the American public  today knows virtually nothing about.  In his report on the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, General Pershing wrote about the preparations for the campaign:

The definite decision for the Meuse-Argonne phase of the great Allied convergent attack was agreed to in my conference with Marshal Foch and General Petain on September 2nd. It was planned to use all available forces of the First Army, including such divisions and troops as we might be able to withdraw from the St. Mihiel front.

The Army was to break through the enemy’s successive fortified zones to include the Kriemhilde-Stellung, or Hindenburg Line, on the front Brieulles-Romagne sous Montfaucon-Grandpre, and thereafter, by developing pressure toward Mezieres, was to ensure the fall of the Hindenburg Line along the Aisne River in front of the Fourth French Army, which was to attack to the west of the Argonne Forest.

A penetration of some 12 to 15 kilometres was required to reach the Hindenburg Line on our front, and the enemy’s defences were virtually continuous throughout that depth.

The Meuse-Argonne front had been practically stabilized in September, 1914, and, except for minor fluctuations during the German attacks on Verdun in 1916 and the French counter-offensive in August, 1917, remained unchanged until the American advance in 1918. The net result of the four years’ struggle on this ground was a German defensive system of unusual depth and strength and a wide zone of utter devastation, itself a serious obstacle to offensive operations.

The strategical importance of this portion of the line was second to none on the western front. All supplies and evacuations of the German armies in northern France were dependent upon two great railway systems – one in the north, passing through Liege, while the other in the south, with lines coming from Luxemburg, Thionville, and Metz, had as its vital section the line Carignan-Sedan-Mezieres.

No other important lines were available to the enemy, as the mountainous masses of the Ardennes made the construction of east and west lines through that region impracticable.

The Carignan-Sedan-Mezieres line was essential to the Germans for the rapid strategical movement of troops. Should this southern system be cut by the Allies before the enemy could withdraw his forces through the narrow neck between Mezieres and the Dutch frontier, the ruin of his armies in France and Belgium would be complete.

From the Meuse-Argonne front the perpendicular distance to the Carignan-Mezieres railroad was 50 kilometres. This region formed the pivot of German operations in northern France, and the vital necessity of covering the great railroad line into Sedan resulted in the convergence on the Meuse-Argonne front of the successive German defensive positions.

The distance between “No man’s land” and the third German withdrawal position in the vicinity of the Meuse River was approximately 18 kilometres; the distance between the corresponding points near the tip of the great salient of the western front was about 65 kilometres, and in the vicinity of Cambrai was over 30 kilometres.

The effect of a penetration of 18 kilometres by the American Army would be equivalent to an advance of 65 kilometres farther west; furthermore, such an advance on our front was far more dangerous to the enemy than an advance elsewhere.

The vital importance of this portion of his position was fully appreciated by the enemy, who had suffered tremendous losses in 1916 in attempting to improve it by the reduction of Verdun. As a consequence it had been elaborately fortified, and consisted of practically a continuous series of positions 20 kilometres or more in depth.

In addition to the artificial defences, the enemy was greatly aided by the natural features of the terrain. East of the Meuse the dominating heights not only protected his left but gave him positions from which powerful artillery could deliver an oblique fire on the western bank.

Batteries located in the elaborately fortified Argonne forest covered his right flank, and could cross their fire with that of the guns on the east bank of the Meuse. Midway between the Meuse and the forest the heights of Montfaucon offered perfect observation and formed a strong natural position which had been heavily fortified.

The east and west ridges abutting on the Meuse and Aire River valleys afforded the enemy excellent machine-gun positions for the desperate defence which the importance of the position would require him to make. North of Montfaucon densely wooded and rugged heights constituted natural features favourable to defensive fighting.

When the First Army became engaged in the simultaneous preparation for two major operations, an interval of 14 days separated the initiation of the two attacks. During this short period the movement of the immense number of troops and the amount of supplies involved in the Meuse-Argonne battle, over the few roads available, and confined entirely to the hours of darkness, was one of the most delicate and difficult problems of the war.

The concentration included 15 divisions, of which 7 were involved in the pending St. Mihiel drive, 3 were in sector in the Vosges, 3 in the neighbourhood of Soissons, 1 in a training area, and 1 near Bar-le-Due. Practically all the Artillery, Aviation, and other auxiliaries to be employed in the new operations were committed to the St. Mihiel attack and therefore could not be moved until its success was assured.

The concentration of all units not to be used at St. Mihiel was commenced immediately, and on September 13th, the second day of St. Mihiel, reserve divisions and Army Artillery units were withdrawn and placed in motion toward the Argonne front.

That part of the American sector from Fresnes-en-Woevre, southeast of Verdun, to the western edge of the Argonne Forest, while nominally under my control, did not actively become a part of my command until September 22nd, on which date my headquarters were established at Souilly, southwest of Verdun.

Of French troops, in addition to the Second French Colonial Corps, composed of 3 divisions, there was also the Seventeenth French Corps of 3 divisions holding the front north and east of Verdun.

At the moment of the opening of the Meuse-Argonne battle, the enemy had 10 divisions in line and 10 in reserve on the front between Fresnes-en-Woevre and the Argonne Forest, inclusive. He had undoubtedly expected a continuation of our advance toward Metz. Successful ruses were carried out between the Meuse River and Luneville to deceive him as to our intentions, and French troops were maintained as a screen along our front until the night before the battle, so that the actual attack was a tactical surprise.

Pershing had insisted that the American forces had to fight as a unit and not be used merely to reinforce the operations of the British and the French.  Now the AEF had its chance, but against German defenses in extremely rugged terrain, and a vital area that the Germans would attempt to hold at all costs.  The AEF was about to have a classic baptism by fire.