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The Great War in the Argonne Forest (Paperback)

French and American Battles, 1914–1918

WWI Military

By Richard Merry
Imprint: Pen & Sword Military
Pages: 256
ISBN: 9781526797810
Published: 9th November 2021

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The annals of the First World War record the Argonne Forest as the epicentre of the famous Meuse-Argonne offensive of 1918. The largest American operation launched against the Germans during the conflict. During 1914 and 1915 though, amidst the dense forest, French and Italian soldiers withstood the German assaults. All sides suffered horrendous casualties, as each sought to break through the lines.

The epic four-year campaign is the subject of Richard Merry’s vividly written account. His great-uncle arrived there in September 1914 and started corresponding with his family. Richard traces the stories of some of the men – and women – who became embroiled in the epic forest struggle which culminated in the cold, gas-filled autumnal mist of 1918 when the New Yorkers of the 77th ‘Liberty’ Division fought there. One of their number, Charles Whittlesey, and his 'Lost Battalion’ held out against insurmountable odds. Sergeant Alvin York, the Tennessee backwoodsman and pacifist, overcame his religious convictions and wrote himself into American military history.

The story does not end there; the author describes the aftermath of war in the area – the lethal outbreak of Spanish flu, the reburial of the dead, the rebuilding of the villages and the replanting of the forest before the Germans invaded again in 1940.

Merry’s account of the Argonne is unusual for a military history narrative in that he focuses on a single region over the whole war and beyond. He makes this work by placing this local sector into the broader conflict and world events. For events in the forests, Merry uses local knowledge mixed with secondary source narratives and primary source quotes, including some from Uncle Bob, to illuminate the often confusing war in this region. A reasonable assortment of maps accompanies the text. The result is an engaging book that Great War enthusiasts will appreciate even if some of it treads familiar ground.

Read the full review here

Beating Tsundoku

This is a vivid account of the enduring Battle(s) of the Argonne Forest. The largely static nature of warfare on the Western Front saw a series of battles for the same stretches of ground over the duration of the Great War, culminating in the deployment of US troops in 1918, their largest battle for Argonne – Very Highly Recommended

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Firetrench

The books chronological approach works really well, developing the story right from 1914, through to the following years of the war,  right up to 1918. A further section gives detail on the Argonne Forest in the Second World War, and beyond, as well as providing a travel guide, and bibliography... The book is interspersed with maps throughout.  The last section of the book provides a great travel guide, complimenting the wide coverage of book, going through some key areas to visit in the area. 

Jon Sandison

What makes this book particularly worth reading are the ongoing descriptions of the home front: London's social life and suffering, rationing, feelings of desperation, fatigue, German bombing, the women casualties in France, bacterial infections, and the onslaught of the flu that possibly killed six times as many as the Great War did. These are aspects of the Great War rarely discussed in other texts.

Click here for the full review

Roads to the Great War

Podcast review, click here to listen

The Battles of the First World War Podcast

This is an excellent book about one particular area during the First World War, the Argonne Forest. The book doesn’t cover the American or one side of the participants but it also covers the French forces too. It was actually nice to just read the book about one particular area, like being able to view in a microcosm. The book cleverly looks at the various battles that took place through the eyes of individuals such as Erwin Rommel and even the authors’ Great Uncle. It was nice to learn about certain snippets of information that happened with various allies, such as just like the explosive bombs that took place and would have killed a large number of men, but the craters of those explosions still exist today. As well as the writing the book also contains a number of maps, photographs, pictures all of which are brilliant especially in the first half of the book. The book is also separated into years for each chapter which helps separate out the stories and the battles for each allied force. A really good book to read and I would happily recommend this.

5 stars

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UK Historian

As featured by

Hereford Times, 14th January 2021

Article: ‘George, a driving force of First World War, died mysteriously on boat home’ as featured by

London News Online, 8th January 2021

Article, Mercury Man: Telling the story of Uncle Bob and the First World War as featured by

853 London, 19th December 2020

Article: Old shoe box is inspiration for WW1 book on ‘great uncle Bob’, words by Neil Fatkin

Click here to view the article online

The News (Portsmouth), 6th January 2021

This is a good narrative history of the Argonne Front covering the whole of the Great War and not just focussing on the American effort. It benefits from the inclusion of the story of the author’s great uncle who, being overage for front line service in the British Army, volunteered for the French Foreign Legion with which he served in the Argonne in the early part of the war. The book is a good description of the actions on the Argonne Front. The maps are good and the images are relevant.

Michael McCarthy. Battlefield Guide

Michael McCarthy

About Richard Merry

Richard Merry has had a life-long interest in the First World War. His particular interest in the Argonne was sparked when he was given a shoebox of correspondence and photos from his Great-uncle Bob, who served there. He now owns a 450-year-old house in the forest, which was used by all the protagonists as a resting place. He spends the summer there acting as voluntary battlefield tour guide. During the winter he lives in London and is a regular contributor to specialist military magazines. Writing about the Argonne campaigns has led to a number of speaking engagements, including the National Army Museum in London.

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