America's Deadliest Battle: The Meuse-Argonne Offensive, September 25, 1918
Tonight is the eve of the biggest and deadliest battle in American history, the Meuse-Argonne Offensive of WWI in which 1.2 million Americans battled, 26,277 were killed and 92,250 were wounded during this action. The Meuse-Argonne Offensive was the second of a two-part battle plan laid out by Col. George C. Marshall, who later commanded all American troops during WWI. Others who fought in this battle included George Patton, Douglas McArthur, and Harry Truman. As America's primary combat contribution of WWI, if one of your ancestors saw action during the war, it likely occurred at the Meuse-Argonne.
The first part of the two-part battle plan was the St. Mihiel Offensive that occurred in the middle of September. After defeating the Germans at St. Mihiel, division upon division of American troops rode or marched sixty miles north to an area between the Forest of Argonne and the Meuse River in northwestern France. Not wanting to tip their hand, the troops stayed several miles behind the frontline trenches occupied by the French and did their best to remain under cover in the forest, out of sight of German observation planes.
Strategically, the objective of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive was to penetrate the German defensive positions and seize the heights in the area, after which there was open country all the way to Sedan, a major railroad center through which half of Germany’s supplies to the Western Front flowed. Seizing Sedan would cripple Germany’s ability to fight the war.
Among the nine U.S. Army divisions on the front line for Meuse-Argonne Offensive was the 91st Division. Opposite the 91st were a series of trenches and fortifications stretching across the front. The 91st Division’s sector included four sets of trenches, including an initial trench line just beyond No Man’s Land, the Hagen Stellung situated two miles back, and the Volker Stellung, positioned another three miles back on a ridge that protected the villages of Eclisfontaine and Epinonville, giving the Germans a clear field of fire across the open meadows leading up to the villages. The fourth trench, known as the Kriemhilde Stellung, sat seven to eight miles behind the front and ran through the village of Gesnes. Interspersed throughout the area were connecting trenches and machine gun nests positioned to guard one another and the trenches.
Late in the afternoon of September 25, the 91st Division received orders to go over the top the following morning on “D” Day at “H” Hour along with the rest of the divisions lined up for the offensive. The 91st Division was fourth from the left of the nine American divisions along with three French divisions to the right. With the exception of a few veterans of earlier conflicts, the morning would provide the first taste of battle for the men of the 91st.
After successfully replacing the French troops in the frontline trenches, the men settled down for whatever sleep they might get prior to the artillery barrage that would start at 3:00 A.M. the following morning. After that, they would go to war.
There will be additional blog posts regarding the 91st Division over the next days and weeks as we follow these men through their experience of war.
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