The Meuse‐Argonne Offensive

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The Meuse‐Argonne Offensive (1918)was the final and most important campaign for the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF), commanded by Gen. John J. Pershing. This offensive was the eastern pincer of the grand Allied offensive of 1918 at the end of World War I. The American zone extended from the middle of the Argonne Forest east to the Meuse River. Although the American First Army of 600,000 troops deployed to begin the attack outnumbered the five German divisions defending the area, the nine forward divisions of the AEF were ill‐trained and untested, and most lacked their own support. More than half of the artillery support was provided by the French, as were the 189 tanks (most manned by Americans) and 840 aircraft (604 piloted by Americans). After a three‐hour artillery barrage, 140,000 men of the American First Army attacked on 26 September, driving north—three corps (nine divisions) abreast—in fog and light rain.

Their initial advance was rapid, with only light contact ahead of the first German line. At about 9:30 A.M., German fire from strong defenses struck the Americans. Most of the men dove for low ground, which, unknown to the Americans, had been pretargeted by German artillery. The American advance was halted in this “killing zone.” However, in hard and bloody fighting, the Americans broke the German line on the second day. First Army seized the key hill mass of Montfauçon, advancing six miles. But casualties were high, and the attacking units were disorganized, out of support and sustenance. AEF headquarters moved veteran divisions from St. Mihiel into the battle.

On 4 October, First Army resumed its offensive against the main line of the German defenses—with reinforcements, and, more wisely, somewhat more experienced leaders. The troops immediately made heavy contact with the enemy all along the front. Fighting their way up the Cunel‐Romagne Heights, the Americans also drove the Germans from the Argonne Forest in bitter fighting. With the Americans holding the high ground, their artillery could strike the railroad at Sedan. But the First Army was again losing combat effectiveness. Casualties rose to over 100,000, many stricken by influenza.

The army went into a defensive posture again on 11 October. Pershing reorganized, appointing Maj. Gen. Hunter Liggett as commander of First Army, creating a Second Army, and taking himself out of direct combat command. First Army was ordered to continue to attack north in its zone to seize the line of the Meuse River and the heights south of Sedan. Second Army, under Maj. Gen. Robert Bullard, was given the mission to attack east of the Meuse into the Woevre Plain.

At 3:30 A.M. on 1 November 1918, the last American barrage of the war struck the enemy positions, and the infantry assault broke the German defenses, the defenders fleeing northward. By 4 November, the Germans began a general withdrawal to a new line north of the Meuse. The Americans continued their pursuit. The Second Army drove east into the Woevre Plain, while the First Army attacked and seized the heights over Sedan. Both armies were preparing for further offensives north and east when the armistice went into effect on 11 November.

The Meuse‐Argonne campaign lasted forty‐seven days. A total of 1.2 million Americans were engaged in the campaign, of whom 117,000 were killed or wounded—about half of the total AEF casualties for the war. The AEF claimed to have inflicted 100,000 enemy casualties. In combination with British and French advances, the Meuse‐Argonne Offensive helped drive the German Army out of strong defenses in France and led Berlin to accept an armistice.
[See also World War I: Military and Diplomatic Course.]


John J. Pershing , My Experiences in the World War, 1931.
George C. Marshall , Memoirs of My Services in the World War, 1917, 1918, 1976.
Barry Gregory , Argonne, 1982.
Donald Smythe , Pershing: General of the Armies, 1986.
Paul F. Braim , The Test of Battle: The American Expeditionary Forces in the Meuse‐Argonne Campaign, 1987.

Paul F. Braim

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