Blanc Mont Ridge 1918 - America's forgotten victory
The entry of the USA into World War One in 1917 was a clear sign to the exhausted German Army that their time was running out. American troops trickled into the lines, slowly at first in 1917, but becoming a flood of 10.000 per day by mid-1918. With the collapse of the Russian army in 1917, large numbers of German troops were released from the Eastern Front, and Germany tried to force a conclusion in the West before the AEF could tip the balance against them. The German Spring Offensive was halted by the British and French, and by late April the threat of a breakthrough had been averted. Major Allied offensives then began to push the Germans back in a new mobile period of the war. The American AEF fought their first major battle at Cantigny in late May, and this was a clear demonstration that America would now accelerate the inevitable victory. The surge of attacks by the Allies included the Commonwealth thrust at Amiens in early August, and French attacks in September. The AEF was largely at the right (East) of the line, integrated into French Armies, and equipped with French and British heavy weapons, tanks and aircraft.
Many of the AEF battles, such as Belleau Wood and the 2nd Marne are well known, but the battle for Blanc Mont Ridge in October is less well recognised. The battle took place near to Somme-Py, marked by '1' on the above map. This book sets the record right, and describes this significant battle in the last month of the war. This description is on the rear of the book:
With nearly 100 pages, well illustrated with small photographs and superb maps, the book describes the general position before going into detail of the battle. The chapters include:
The Battlefield Today
Time and again, the text introduces information that is completely fascinating, and reveals much about the fast-moving events of the final months of the war.
The US units involved in the battle included the 2nd Division, with particularly effective units, and the 36th Division, with less experience. These formed part of the French 4th Army, with the French units being experienced, but battle-weary. When reading the Order of Battle, it is worth noting, as described on page 21, that depleted German regiments had the manpower of an American company, and the German units were on the point of collapse. An American POW describes the Germans pulling wagons by hand because they had no horses, and looking forward to leaving France in the near future (p.72).
Superb illustrations show the attacks by the Marine and the Infantry regiments in the 2nd Division, with the units in a friendly competition to make the biggest advances. Faced with these pushes, the Germans fell back to prepared reserve positions, gradually getting surrounded piecemeal. The battles were bloody and costly on both sides. The American doughboys were supported by French troops and tanks:
As the inexperienced US 36th Division moved into position to support the 2nd Division, the move degenerated into a disaster (p.63) with chaotic results. Despite this, the US troops fought their way to the top of the ridge, and only then did the German line reform and stem the advance by 9th October. Throughout the rest of October, the French and American units pushed onwards as the Germans were forced back to the Aisne River.
Losses in this last month of the war were doubly tragic, as the collapse of the German Home Front - with riots in the streets of cities and widespread food shortages - had already forced the Kaiser to seek an Armistice, which came into effect on 11th November. However, the AEF was a huge factor in building the pressure until the Kaiser had no option but to accept Allied terms.
An interesting fact: both sides would regularly tap into enemy telephone lines, intercepting communications. By the last days of the war, the US forces were beginning to use Choctaw code talkers to thwart German intelligence officers!
Overall, I loved this book as it explains so clearly how the various forces struggled with different aims at the end of the war, with each trying to be in the best position before hostilities ended. The weakened German forces were desperate in their defense, and inflicted heavy losses on the French and American attackers before being overwhelmed. It is great to finally see recognition of the major role played by US forces in the Champagne region in the last month of the war.
Highly Recommended for anyone interested in WW1.
Thanks goes out to Osprey for this review book.
Reviewed by Chris Lloyd-Staples, 2VP (International)
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