The First Day of Battle: The Meuse-Argonne Offensive, September 26, 1918
At 3:30 a.m. on September 26, 1918, the Meuse-Argonne erupted in a continuous chorus of artillery fire coming from behind the Allied lines, with shells landing miles behind the German front line. The chorus ended after 90 minutes and resumed thirty minutes later with the shells now landing on the German front line in preparation for the boys going over the top. Then, at 5:55 a.m., the officers' whistles blew and the doughboys climbed from the trenches and moved forward.
As described in the previous post, the men of the 91st Division had replaced French troops in the frontline trenches on the afternoon of September 25, 1918 and then waited for the early morning bombardment that signaled the start of the battle. The 91st was the fourth from the left of the nine American divisions on the front lines of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. The 35th Division was to the left of the 364th and the 37th Division was to the right of the 362nd.
Each division along the eighteen-mile Meuse-Argonne front was assigned an alley or zone of responsibility from which they were not to deviate. Unfortunately, in the coming days there would be instances in which one division or another gained penetration and their neighboring divisions were not permitted to move troops through the more successful division’s alley to attack German strongpoints from the flank or rear. Instead, they had to attack head on.
As the men left the trenches, they walked carefully through the fog shrouding No Man’s Land, crossing it without a shot being fired by either side. They marched through the first line of abandoned German trenches, continuing forward for ninety minutes before taking their first bursts of German machine gun fire and their first casualties.
The 362nd encountered and eliminated machine gun nests and snipers one after another, regularly stepping over bodies of German soldiers killed by the morning’s artillery fire. In the late afternoon, they approached Epinonville, situated on the Volker Stellung trenchline, five miles back from the front. Captain Lige Worsham, who commanded the 362nd Machine Gun Company, moved forward to reconnoiter the town’s defenses to decide where best to locate his machine guns for the coming attack. In short order, the one-pound mortars and machine guns went to work eliminating the enemy and the 362nd took the town. They started digging in to defend the town, but were soon ordered to withdraw because they had taken more ground than the 35th Division on their left, exposing the 91st Division to a flanking attack. The regiment moved back to their afternoon location facing Epinonville. This was but one instance of the American command’s concern about a German flanking attack, while failing to use the same tactic themselves.
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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