The Meuse-Argonne 1918 (Paperback)
The Right Bank to the Armistice
The Americans had considerable initial success when they launched their huge offensive against the Germans in the Meuse-Argonne in the last days of September 1918. However, not everything went smoothly and the attack became bogged down, held up by the several lines of the Hindenburg System and logistical challenges. A major additional obstacle was the presence of batteries of German artillery on the high ground on the right bank of the Meuse, almost untroubled by any significant assaults by the allied forces. These guns created severe problems for the American commanders and their troops.
Eventually sufficient resources were allocated for an American-French attack on the right bank, with the aim of removing the German artillery and pushing the Germans off the Meuse Heights, part of the renewed offensive on the Left Bank and the Argonne Forest.
The action often took place over ground that had already seen ferocious fighting during the Battle of Verdun in 1916 and the French offensive of late summer 1917. It also involved the very difficult achievement of getting large bodies of troops over the River Meuse and its associated canal.
The terrain is rugged and, even then, quite heavily wooded. The American and French troops often had to fight uphill and in the face of German defences that had been developed over the previous twelve months. On the other hand, the quality of the defending troops was not high, as Germany faced so much pressure in other sectors, and included a significant number of Austro-Hungarian troops. Popular opinion tends to be dismissive of the fighting quality of these Austrian troops who, in fact, performed well.
The tours take the visitor over some beautiful countryside, with stunning views over the Meuse and the Woevre Plain. There are significant vestiges of the war still to be seen, including numerous observation bunkers and shelters as well as trenches. An unusual feature of the area are the traces of part of the Maginot Line, notably bunkers (some of which are very large) and the rail infrastructure to support it, sometimes making use of lines that the Germans built during the First World War.
One of these tours follows the fate of Henry Gunther, officially the last American soldier to be killed in action in the Great War. There is substantial myth about Gunther; the facts surrounding his death are examined, as well as placing his last action on the ground. There is a tour dedicated just to him.