St. Mihiel, Battle of

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St. Mihiel, Battle of (1918).This battle was the first independent operation of the newly organized U.S. First Army during World War I. The objective for the American offensive was a German salient into the Allied positions at St. Mihiel, south of Verdun, in northern France. The commander, Gen. John J. Pershing (who also retained command of the entire American Expeditionary Forces), demanded that the Allied leadership allow the U.S. Army to conduct an independent operation. French general Ferdinand Foch, Supreme Allied Commander, reluctantly agreed. Pershing also requested and received 3,000 Allied artillery pieces and 430 tanks (about half of these weapons manned by Americans). In addition, 640 Allied and American aircraft, commanded by U.S. Col. Billy Mitchell, supported the operation. First Army planned a converging attack by fourteen U.S. and colonial French divisions, striking both sides of the salient.

The offensive began early on 12 September, after a four‐hour artillery bombardment. It was a mixed success. The salient was cut off within twenty‐four hours, but had already begun a tactical withdrawal to stronger positions; as a result, the number of Germans captured—about 15,000—was less than Pershing had sought. American casualties were about 7,000 out of 550,000 troops engaged. The operation showed the Americans the difficulty of sustaining a massive infantry attack much beyond four days or ten miles because of difficulties of resupply. However, the First Army's success brought much praise from Allied leaders, who had been skeptical about the state of planning and élan of the U.S. forces.

Bibliography

John Toland , No Man's Land: 1918—The Last Year of the Great War, 1980.
Paul F. Braim , The Test of Battle: The American Expeditionary Forces in the Meuse‐Argonne Campaign, 1987, rev. ed., 1997.

Paul F. Braim