Meuse-Argonne from the German Perspective

Through the eyes of a German Staff Officer. Excerpt from Battle of the Meuse Argonne from the German Perspective (Silver Spring: Dale Street Books, 1917), reproduction of original articles published in the Infantry Journal in 1921.


Although the French attack west of the Argonne in no way surprised the German command, the Americans had succeeded in cleverly concealing their preparations for attack and in establishing a homogeneous American front of nine divisions during the night of September 25, in the place of the mixed French-American troops between the Argonne and the Meuse. These divisions were, from west to east, the 77th, 28th, 35th, 91st, 37th, 79th, 4th, 80th, and 33d, divided among three Corps Headquarters, the 1st, 5th, and 3d. Of these divisions, the 77th, 28th, 35th, 4th, and 33d had had experience in battle, the 37th and 80th had until then been engaged on a quiet front only, while the 91st and 79th were in the fighting line for the first time. All the divisions were well rested, fresh, and in thoroughly good fighting condition. Their nourishment, morale, and equipment were excellent. The effective strength of the companies was 225-250 men on an average. Artillery, aviation, and tanks were available in abundance.

Shortly after 11 o’clock of the night of September 25, a strong enemy artillery fire was opened on the whole front from west of the Argonne to the Meuse. At first, only a harassing fire was directed on the Argonne. Many gas shells were used. The long-range fire reached far into the back areas. The hum of aeroplanes and the sound of explosions were reported near Vauquois. The German telephone lines, meteorological stations, and survey and signal posts were put out of action.

The effect of the German counter-batteries was limited, as the front east of the Argonne was but sparsely provided with reinforcing artillery.

At 2 o’clock in the morning of the 26th of September the enemy’s fire, which in the meantime had died down, was renewed with full force, and the American Infantry came into the attack at 5 o’clock on the same morning.

Their blow fell chiefly on the 1st Guards, whose position lay east of the Argonne, and the adjacent 117th Infantry and 7th Reserve Divisions, while, at the same time, east of the Meuse, French troops (10th Colonial Division) made a demonstrative push on Dieppe. East of the Meuse, the enemy’s fire fell in varying intensity in the environs of Beaumont, while harassing fire only was dropped further east.

The attack of the American Infantry was greatly favored by a thick mist, which remained until late in the morning.

The 77th and 28th American Divisions in the Argonne did not make a serious attack and, on the day of the attack, won only an insignificant amount of terrain, which was, for the most part, voluntarily ceded by the 2d Landwehr Division. The left flank of the 1st Guards Division was at first quickly flattened out, and the entire division then forced back against the eastern edge of the Argonne. Varennes and Cheppy were lost. During the evening, the enemy pushed through as far as Baulny, but was driven out by the 4th Guards Regiment. Eighteen tanks, disabled by fire, remained stranded near Charpentry alone. In the evening, the 1st Guards Division, which had suffered extremely heavily, held the line running approximately through Argonne-Charpentry-Epinonville.

There was a wide gap left open in the valley of the Aire. No reserves were available, as only one regiment from the 5th Guards Division (Infantry Regiment No. 20) had arrived, and had already taken up a position near Exermont.

The 117th and 7th Reserve Divisions, too, had been overrun and flung back towards the north. The former still managed to hold Montfaucon, which formed the point of a salient, but the line of defense fell back again to approximately the Epinonville-Nantillois line and north of the wooded terrain of Septsarges and Dannevoux to the Meuse. Here further advance on the part of the enemy was prevented by the 5th Bavarian Reserve Division, which was moving in an easterly direction toward Nantillois.

The Americans had won a belt of terrain from about 4 to 9 kilometers deep on a front of about 20 kilometers.


After a comparatively quiet night, the enemy, again favored by mist, and supported by an extremely large number of tanks, renewed his attacks. This time he also attacked west of the Argonne in the direction of Cernay, but was repulsed by the troops of the 9th Landwehr Division. There was little heavy fighting in the Argonne on this day. Heavy fighting developed again between the wooded hills and the Meuse. Meanwhile, on the Montblainville-Epinonville front, the whole of the 5th Guards Division had been pushed in between the thin ranks of the 1st Guards Division. The main attack, supported by tanks, was launched on both sides of the valley of the Aire against Montblainville and Charpentry. Both of these places, which were defended by Landwehr Troops and the 3d Guards regiment, were lost. The enemy pushed up to Baulny, and, further east, crossed the main road running in a northeasterly direction from Charpentry. The counter attacks of the 4th Guards and 20th Infantry Regiments produced a temporary relief of the tension, but were unable to prevent the enemy, late in the evening, and supported by large numbers of tanks, from taking the heights north of Baulny. As in the valley of the Aire, on September 26, the situation east of the Aire for the Germans, who had no further reserves whatever available, was extremely critical.

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235 days in 1918 – The last campaign of World War I

“The last campaign of the World War was a fitting climax to a struggle which had endured already for more than three years and had surpassed all previous contests recorded in human history. In the final phase more than six millions of men, representing seven nations, fought for 235 days on a front of 250 miles from the North Sea to the Moselle, from the outer defences of Metz to the ruins of Nieuport. And the struggle was not limited to the west front. While Germany met her ancient foes in decisive contest on the battlefields of France, Italian armies first repulsed then crushed the Austrians on the Piave; Serbian, Greek, French, British, and Italian troops fought Bulgarians in Albania and Macedonia, and British troops overwhelmed the Turk on the Plain of Armageddon. Two continents furnished the battlefields, and five, reckoning Australia, supplied the combatants. 

“But it was the issue of contest in France which decided the fate of the world and the question of victory and defeat in the great struggle. And in this contest, which French historians already regard as a single engagement and describe as the “Battle of France,” all the previous western campaigns were repeated on a hugely increased scale. When the Germans crushed the British Fifth Army in March 1918, they swept forward over all the territory which had been gained and lost in the First Battle of the Somme and the subsequent “Hindenburg” Retreat.

“When in  April German effort turned north, it was on the fields of Flanders, the scene of the three great struggles about Ypres, that one more tremendous battle was fought. In April, before the war drifted northward, too, the German storm once  more reached the foot of Vimy Ridge. In May, when [Erich von] Ludendorff faced southward, a new conflict broke out upon the battlefields on the Craonne Plateau, where [Alexander von] Kluck had checked the French and British advance from the Marne in 1914, where Ludendorff had broken the Nivelle offensive in 1917.

“In July the last German attack stormed at the lines held by the French in Champagne, since the first great offensive, that of September, 1915, and in the same hour passed the Marne at the towns where the armies of [Karl von] Bulow and Kluck had crossed and recrossed that stream in the days of the First Battle of the Marne. Indeed, the Second Battle of the Marne in July, 1918, was in so many respects a replica of the First in September, 1914, that history affords no parallel more striking.

“When at last the tide had turned, the Allied advance in July followed the roads used by Maunoury, French, and Franchet d’Esperey after the First Marne, while the British victories of August and September were won on the fields of the First Somme, and the battle names of these two months recalled with glorious exactitude the places made famous and terrible by the campaign of two years before. In the closing days of September, moreover, the first American army to enter the conflict struggled forward over the hills and through the villages which had seen in 1916 the beginning of the German offensive before Verdun.

“With the coming of October, the whole character of the campaign changed. At last one saw the realization of all the various and ambitious plans for allied operations in the past. The British, emerging from the Ypres salient, swept the Germans from the Belgian coast and turned them  out of the industrial cities of the French north. The French and British on the sides of the Noyon salient realized the hopes of their commanders in 1916 and 1917, and entered St. Quentin and Laon, Cambrai, and Douai. Still to the eastward the French and the Americans, on either side of the Argonne between Rheims and Verdun, repeated on a widened front the attack of Joffre in September 1915, and achieved supreme success. lastly, in the St. Mihiel salient, the American First Army in its initial engagement put into successful operation the plans of the French in the winter of 1914-15 and, by abolishing the salient, closed the gap in the eastern armour of France.

“Flanders, Artois, Picardy, Ile-de-France, Champagne, and Lorraine were, in their turn, scenes of new contests whose extent of front surpassed the limits of ancient provides, whose circumstances recalled the history of previous campaigns, and disclosed in success the purposes and plans of Allied commanders, which had been in the past imperfectly realized or totally wrecked.  And as a final dramatic detail, when at last the Armistice came, King Albert was approaching his capital at the head of a Belgian army; Canadian troops had entered Mons, where British participation in the struggle had begun; French armies were in Sedan, the town for ever associated with the French disasters of 1870; and a Franco-American offensive was just about to break out to the east of Metz, over the ground which had seen the first French dash into the “Lost Provinces” and the opening reverse at Morhange.

“Nor was the drama alone splendid in its magnitude. Every element of suspense, surprise, intensity was present to hold the attention of the world, neutral and engaged alike; and so terrible was the ordeal that, the moment of victory once passed, conqueror and conquered alike sank back exhausted by the strain beyond that which had ever before been placed upon the millions in line, and behind  the line, who constituted nations at war.

“For history, moreover–which has attached to the Hundred Days of Napoleon a lasting significance as affording a standard of measurement for the rise and fall of one of the world’s great figures–there must be hardly less meaning in the span of Ludendorff, longer by twenty days only, which saw the greatest of German military leaders three times on the edge of supreme victory and, on the final day, overtaken by swift defeat, ordering a second retreat from the Marne; and this retreat, in barely more than another hundred days, would end in surrender after decisive defeat, which alone prevented the supreme disaster of a Waterloo twentyfold magnitude.

“Since Napoleon fell, no soldier had known such intoxicating success as came to Ludendorff in March, in April, and again in May; while between March 26th and November 11th, Foch–first in defeat prepared by his predecessors, and then in  victory organized by his own genius–wrote the most brilliant and far-shining page in all military history, and earned the right to rank as a soldier with the great Emperor, who had been his model.

“In less than eight months, the finest army in size, equipment, and training ever put into the field by a civilized nation was transformed–after initial victories which had no parallel in this or any other war, after conquests of ground, captures of guns, harvestings of prisoners unequalled in all the past campaigns of the war–into a broken and beaten host, incapable of warding off the final blow, defeated beyond hope of recovery, still retaining a semblance of its ancient courage and in parts a shadow of its traditional discipline, but incapable of checking its pursuers, of maintaining its positions, of long postponing that ultimate disaster, already prepared, when an armistice–incomprehensible even to the beaten army, by reason of the completeness of the surrender–saved the conquered from the otherwise inescapable rout.” Frank H. Simonds, History of the World War, Vol. 5  (New York: Doubleday Page & Company, 1920), pp. 3-7.