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Although the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, which began in late September 1918 and continued through to the Armistice, was not the first major action fought by the AEF, it was the greatest in which it engaged in the Great War. Indeed, the casualty count in the fighting at the Meuse-Argonne makes it the bloodiest battle in American military history.
The Argonne was an area that had been heavily fought over, particularly in the early part of the war; its eastern part, towards the Meuse, then became enveloped in the first great attritional battle of the war, Verdun. The area is marked by extensive woodlands and rolling countryside; however, unlike the Somme, it is interspersed with numerous waterways, deep ravines and higher ridges, along with significant hills, such as at Montfaucon.
To be frank, the opening stages of the Offensive were marked by considerable unforced difficulties for the Americans, who after all were facing a far from strong enemy opposition (however formidable the defensive line might have been). Errors were made, logistical problems multiplied, command was often less than satisfactory. In many respects this should not have come as a surprise: this was an army that was relatively new to the Western Front, which was being reinforced at an awesome rate (approximately 300,000 men a month by July) and whose senior commanders had never before faced the challenges of modern warfare, themselves evolving at a dizzying rate.
Maarten Otte gives a background narrative to events before the opening of the Offensive and its development. Taking each of the US corps in turn, he then provides tours that will help the visitor to understand the fighting and the problems that were faced. This opening book on the Meuse-Argonne takes the reader, more or less, to the date when General Pershing handed over command of the US First Army to Major General Liggard in mid October, a change in command that marked a significant improvement in the American performance as they pushed the Germans ever backwards.
The Great War battlefield of the Argonne is marked by numerous physical remains of the war, some fine (some might argue over grandiose) monuments and by the stunning American cemetery at Romagne, the second largest in the world administered by the American Battle Monuments Commission. There is much to see in a battlefield that has been largely neglected in the decades since the Second World War.
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