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The Americans in Action, 1918

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The Americans in Action, 1918
Leonaur Original
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Author(s): Jennings C. Wise
Date Published: 2014/04
Page Count: 176
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-1-78282-260-8
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-1-78282-259-2

The American drive towards victory on the Western Front

This unique Leonaur book brings together ‘The Turn of the Tide by Jennings Wise,’ an excellent history of some of the decisive battles fought by American forces on the Western Front in 1918, and the separately published portfolio of first-rate illustrations of the American Expeditionary Force in action during that period by Jean Berne-Bellecour. By the end of 1914 the die was cast in Europe for a war of stalemate on the Western Front. Inevitably generals on both sides sought battlefield solutions, but the lines remained almost static, with the armies grappling over entrenched positions of barbed-wire fringed mud. Inevitably the realisation came that this was a true war of attrition. There would be no decisive manoeuvre and the outcome would be determined by which nations would run out of men, materials and food first. Germany could see how the allies depended upon supplies from the United States of America and deployed its U-Boat wolf-packs to the Atlantic Ocean to disrupt shipping. By 1917 this strategy was close to success and the allied cause was in jeopardy. There can be little doubt that American entry into the war was the key to Allied victory. Both men and materials arrived, crossing the ocean protected by the might of a naval presence that only the USA could now muster. After three years of neutrality, the Americans—it has to be said—came not to fight the war, but to win it. This was an industrial war as no previous war had been, and this book traces the fiercely contested battles that became iconic for the Americans who served in Europe. Here are the battles of the summer of 1918 including the taking of Cantigny, the battles of Chateau Thierry and the famous Belleau Wood, Hill 204 and the counter-offensive which was the Second Battle of the Marne. This book includes many battlefield maps to assist the modern reader.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.

As soon as Marshal Foch learned on the morning of the 15th that the enemy’s attack east of Reims had been successfully resisted by the Fourth French Army, he disregarded with superb audacity the success gained by the Germans between Chateau Thierry and Reims and at once undertook the consummation of his counter-offensive.<br>
Driving four hours in his motor to meet Marshal Haig, he apprised him for the first time of his scheme, and requested the transfer south of the Aisne of four British divisions. This request Marshal Haig promptly acceded to with characteristic loyalty, thus enabling the French commander to turn with full confidence to the execution of his plan.<br>
Though verbal orders only were given to the Tenth and Sixth French Armies for the attack of the 18th, the various corps orders reveal clearly enough the ideas of Marshal Foch. They show that the specified objectives for the attack were very limited indeed. The attack was no doubt capable of development, but it appears to have been designed with the definite purpose of relieving the embarrassing situation in which the Allies had been placed by the advance of the Germans across the Aisne. Though Marshal Foch had undoubtedly had offensive operations in mind since the time of his elevation to the supreme command, and was now putting them into execution, he in no sense intended to initiate a general offensive on the part of the Allies unless through some weakness developed by the enemy he saw a chance to extend his initial drive into a more and more extensive general action. “Let the victory come where it will!” the marshal had exclaimed. He was striking for an opening and was ready to seize it when it appeared.<br>
A tremendous blow was to be delivered to the Seventh German Army, now fully committed to an attack toward the east, by the Tenth French Army between the Aisne and the Ourcq. The object was to crush in the west face of the salient and cut the main lines of communication leading south from Soissons. The Sixth and Fifth French Armies were to exert sufficient pressure upon von Boehn’s centre and left to hold them in place and prevent the reinforcement of his right. In the first stage of the operation, the Sixth Army was to fight a holding action while the Tenth Army made its thrust toward the east. In the event of the Tenth Army succeeding in breaking through the German line north of the Ourcq, a withdrawal by the enemy from the south would become impossible. Short of this result the Tenth Army, pivoting on the Aisne west of Soissons, and the Sixth Army, prolonging its line to the right, were to swing to the left and force the enemy across the Vesle, thus wiping out the salient, while the Fifth Army cooperated from the east by exerting pressure upon the eastern face of the salient. The taking of Soissons at this time was not contemplated.<br>
The necessary concentration for the attack involved the very rapid movement of reserves. From the First French Army in the Amiens sector was drawn the 41st French Division; from the Third French Army north of the Aisne, the 19th, 58th, and 72nd French Divisions; from the Sixth French Army the 2nd U. S. Division, which had been relieved in the line by the 26th on July 6th-8th; from rear areas the 1st and 5th French and the 1st U. S. Divisions; and from the British Front the 15th and 34th British Divisions. The Second Colonial Corps, composed of the 2nd, 4th, and 6th Colonial Divisions, was moved up from the defences of Paris. In a minimum of time there were placed in the front line and in support on the front of the Tenth Army, between the Aisne and the Ourcq, fifteen divisions, opposed to which there were but six inferior German divisions with four in close reserve.<br>
At the disposal of the Sixth French Army there was a total of eighteen divisions, including four American divisions, with twelve divisions in the front line opposing an equal number of German units. Near Gonesse the 4th, and in the region of Crécy the 2nd and 6th French (dismounted) Cavalry Divisions were stationed. This juxtaposition of forces resulted from the concurrent prosecution of the German offensive initiated on the 15th, and the Allied concentration north of the Ourcq, and is graphically illustrated by the appended chart, which, when compared with the chart showing the order of battle of July 15th, discloses both the French and German movements during the period in which the Allies changed from the defensive to the offensive.<br>
Von Boehn had drawn heavily on his reserves during the 15th, 16th, and 17th, but nine divisions remaining on the 18th in reserve in the Seventh Army north of the Ourcq. With his right wing, which confronted the Tenth French Army, virtually unaltered in position and in its constitution, his left flank had been extended eastward from Jaulgonne a distance of about twenty-five kilometres, taking over part of the front formerly held by von Below’s First Army. This extension had been effected by throwing into the line no less than fourteen fresh divisions for the purpose of exploiting the temporary success of the 15th and 16th. Thus, from the beginning of his attack the whole weight of his influence trended toward the southeast, diagonally toward his left.<br>
But, while von Boehn’s movements trended southeast, those of Marshal Foch trended northwest in preparation for the blow he was to deliver. Schematically, these concurrent movements may be regarded as two sliding forces, gradually developing pressure along parallel lines in opposite directions. On the part of Marshal Foch it was a masterly manoeuvre, daringly and cleverly conceived and skilfully executed. It was worthy in every respect of his great reputation. In contemplating it one marvels at the daring which enabled him to turn his back, in a sense, upon the most seriously threatened quarter of his line while preparing a counter-blow to be delivered at the point most distantly removed from that of his own gravest danger.<br>
Never in the course of the war were the preparations for an operation on so large a scale conducted with more secrecy than were those for the counter-offensive of July 18th. The great bulk of the necessary supplies and material was transported by night, while every effort was made not to increase the apparent activity during the day, or to disclose during the latter stages of the preparation any marked increase of activity. North of the Ourcq, where the plan involved a concentration of force, the method adopted to conceal the movement was that of distributing the shock divisions in the rear areas, whence they were rushed forward into line at the eleventh hour. On July 17th, there were in the line of the Tenth Army but three of the nine divisions which were to attack on the morning of the 18th, and in close support not a single division that was later engaged. The Forêt de Retz, east of Villers-Cotterêts, was most skilfully utilized to the fullest possible extent to screen the concentration.<br>
To add to the surprise of the attack, it was not heralded, in accordance with the tactical conceptions of 1916 and 1917, by a long period of destructive artillery fire during which the enemy might undertake the strengthening of rearward lines. The methods first employed by the enemy at Riga, and consistently in his offensives of 1918, were adopted, according to which camouflage, night movement, and the use of abandoned positions were fully resorted to for the concealment of the artillery concentration. Registration was obtained by the alternating fire of old and new batteries, without increasing the number of active guns, and by an increased volume of fire for the active guns extending over a long period which enabled more guns to register.<br>
Under these conditions confusion and disorder were inevitable within the divisional units, which were taxed to the utmost by the often conflicting demands of speed and secrecy, of time and space. Units so small, however, were but pawns upon the far-flung board of the Allied High Command. Viewed in its entirety the game displays the most amazing and faultlessly adroit movements of the major pieces.