Jennings C. (Jennings Cropper) Wise.

The turn of the tide, American operations at Cantigny, Château Thierry, and the second battle of the Marne online

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Online LibraryJennings C. (Jennings Cropper) WiseThe turn of the tide, American operations at Cantigny, Château Thierry, and the second battle of the Marne → online text (page 1 of 14)
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Formerly Lieutenant-Colonel, Infantry, US. A,

Historical Section, General Stafif, G.H Q A.E.F

Author of 'Empire and Armament," "Gunnery," "The

Long Arm of Lee," "The Call of the Republic,' etc.



Copyright, 1920,



• • • •-

, • • • • •

• •• . . •

• •••••

(ETTie (2Sutnn & IBoben Company








A. E. F.






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Cantigny, Chateau Thierry, and the Counter-
Off ensive of July, 191 8, the last commonly known as
the Second Battle of the Marne, were the three opera-
tions in which American troops may be said to have
made their initial appearance in battle in the Great
War. Cooperating with the forces of the Allies, they
first assisted them in checking the advance of the
Germans and then in hurling the enemy back from
the Marne across the Ourcq and Vesle. The successful
operations in which they engaged during the critical
days of June and July, 191 8, m^arked the transition of
the Allies from the defensive to the offensive and the
turn of the tide of victory in favor of the Allies. The
title selected for the following narrative is,, therefore,
significantly appropriate.

In the preparation of this work I feel that I have had
peculiar advantages. As a member of the Historical
Section of the General Staff of the American Expedi-
tionary Forces for a number of months after the
Armistice, I not only had access to the archives at Gen-
eral Headquarters and came in contact with many of
the leaders in the War, but I was enabled to visit every
battlefield of which I have written and to make careful


studies of them before time had obliterated the evi-
dence which must henceforth be lacking to the his-
torian. Furthermore, I had the great honor and good
fortune to be attached to the French and British
Armies in the Vbsges and Flanders, respectively, be-
fore engaging in campaign with my own command, and
later of serving with my own command while attached
to the British Army in Picardy. The experience of the
War thus gained, coupled with that of an active partici-
pation in the St. Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne cam-
paigns, enabled me, I believe, to acquire a broader
viewpoint than I might have had with more restricted

In justice to our gallant and indomitable Allies who
bore the brunt of the War and denied the Central
Allies the ultimate victory while we were preparing
to assist in attaining it, I have been careful to avoid
the all too common error of overrating our physical
contribution to the result. However great the moral
effect of our participation in the fighting on the Marne
may have been, and it is hard to overestimate that
effect, the time has come when in justice to ourselves as
well as to our Allies we should view the events of the
War sanely, and endeavor to see them in their true
perspective. Surely the truth is glorious enough, and
there is no cause for our pride to suffer at its telling.

I am conscious of many grave defects in my work


and claim for it the sole virtue that it is one of the
first attempts to set forth concisely the facts about
the momentous events which it purports to describe.
In no instance have I sought to substitute mere
rhetoric for figures, and I have purposely left the
'' human interest " to others in the belief that there is
a large class of serious readers who now desire the un-
adorned truth.

To Brigadier-General Oliver L. Spaulding, Chief of
the Historical Section, and to Major R. M. Johnston,
his able assistant, formerly Professor of History at
Harvard, I am indebted for much assistance in the
course of my studies, and to Major Lincoln MacVeagh
of the Historical Section for much valuable advice and
criticism, and for most material assistance in the prepa-
ration of the book, including the reading and revision
of the manuscript.

Jennings C. Wise.

Richmond, Va.,
November ii, 1919.




Preface v

Chapter I The Taking of Cant^gny

I Preliminary -3

II The I St Division 7

III The Taking of Cantigny . . . .18

IV Consolidation 28

V Conclusion 31

Chapter II Chateau Thierry

I Preliminary 37

' II The Third German Offensive of 19 18 . 42

III The Situation on May 31st . . . 47

IV The 3rd Division at Chateau Thierry . 53

V West of Chateau Thierry . . . . 61
VI The Conference of June 2nd . . . 73

VII The First Attack on Belleau Wood . . 77

VIII Hill 204 86

IX The Second Attack on Belleau Wood . 90

X Vaux 97

XI Conclusion loi



Chapter III From the Marne to the Vesle

I Development of the American Forces

. II The Plan of Marshal Foch .

III The Champagne- Marne Defensive

IV Preparing the Counter-drive .
V The Spear-head of the Attack .

VI U. S. Divisions Before the Battle

VII The Twentieth Corps, July i8th

VIII The Twentieth Corps, July 19th

IX The ist Division Carries On

X The Sixth Army, July i8th

XI The Sixth Army, July 19th- 20th

XII The Sixth Army, July 2ist-24th

XIII The Opening of a New Phase

XIV More Americans .
XV The Battle of the Ourcq .

XVI The Battle of the Vesle

XVII The American Contribution .

Appendices . . , « , »











The Allied line as it stood after the first German
offensive of 191 8 swept westward from Reims, left
Soissons and Compiegne to the south, turned north at
Cantigny, and passed east of Amiens and
General Ypres to the North Sea. It thus embraced
AprU,T9l8 the important position of Montdidier. A
tremendous blow had just been delivered to
the British Army. The German offensive of March
was by far the greatest effort that had yet been made
by the enemy, and the Allied High Command, which
had been hard pressed to arrest the victorious onrush
of the Germans, had, in fact, accomplished this only by
transferring to the British front large French reinforce-
ments, thereby greatly weakening the front held by
the French Army. During the succeeding brief period
of general stabilization, it was clearly foreseen that the
German High Command would resume the offensive.
It was known that the enemy was gathering strength
for another great effort. But the exact quarter in
which the blow would fall could not be foretold.
Meanwhile, General, now Marshal, Foch had been



made generalissimo of all the Allied forces, and his

first care had been to establish the Allied line as firmly

as possible throughout its wide extent, and

The Plans cspccially in those quarters which appeared to

Foch^" offer the greatest temptation to the enemy.

His conception of meeting a renewed offensive

did not embody a mere passive defense. Believing

that the enemy would make a great thrust toward Paris

west of Compiegne, he undertook preparations looking

to a counter-attack by the First French Army from the

west against the enemy's right flank.

At this time the front from Amiens past Compiegne
and Soissons was held by the First, Third, Tenth, and
Sixth French Armies in order nam3d from left to
right, comprising the army group of General Fayolle.
Confronting this group of armies were the Second,
Eighteenth, and Seventh German Armies, in the order
named from west to east, commanded by von der Mar-
witz, von Hutier, and von Boehn, respectively. The
contemplated counter-offensive by the First French
Army involved the massing of an adequate force in the
Montdidier sector. In view of the necessity for utiliz-
ing a large part of the French reserves on the British
front, the problem of organizing a sufficient force for
the counter-attack was a serious one. Nor was the
American Army able at this critical hour — just one
year after the entry of the United States into the war —


to contribute largely to the aggregate effective strength
of the Allies. Nevertheless, fortunately, it was able to
participate with an effect disproportionate to its nu-
merical strength — with a political effect far exceeding
in value its mere military contribution of the hour.

From the day that American troops arrived in
France, the American High Command had been en-
gaged in a desperate contest to maintain the American
Expeditionary Forces as a separate and dis-
Controversy tinct combatant army. It was in vain that the

over the ^ it.««i/-«

Use of Frencn and British Governments urged the

T^opr" absorption of the American combat units by
their own armies. Again and again they put
forth this proposal in one form or another, but always
to no avail. It would be unprofitable to consider here
the two sides of the question involved. There was, no
doubt, much reason on either side. Suffice it to say
that the American view, which is now generally be-
lieved to have been the better, prevailed, and, when
the crisis of the war arrived, General Pershing, without
hesitating, but without receding in any respect from
the principles which he had consistently adhered to,
was able on March 28th to place at the disposal of
Marshal Foch a number of American combat divi-

At least one of these divisions was available for
immediate use — the ist U. S. Division, with Major-


General Robert L. Bullard commanding, — which was
at the time occupying a quiet sector north of
an igny 'pg^j ^ ^i^as accordingly called upon and
placed in the jMontdidier sector north of Paris, where on
May 28th, 1 91 8, it took the little town of Cantigny in
an operation now seen to be of an importance out of all
proportion to its obvious local character. It was in fact
an operation which preluded the participation in the
war of the Americans as a separate military force. It
gave proof to the Central Allies of the rapidly develop-
ing military power of the United States, and its prestige
strengthened the hand of General Pershing in his
efforts to form an American Army in- France.


THE 1st division

No narrative of the Cantigny operation would be
complete without at least a brief account of the char-
acter and the prior service of the troops engaged in it.
These troops composed the ist U. S. Division,
Division which by official designation, length of service,
and the variety and importance of its services,
may be said to have been in the Spring of 191 8 the pre-
mier division of the American Expeditionary Forces.

Commanded by Major-General WilHam L. Sibert,
the I St Division had been transported to France in
June and July, 191 7, composing at the time the greater
part of the original American Expeditionary Forces.
Assembled in the Gondrecourt area the infantry of the
division immediately undertook its training with the
69th French Division, General Monroe commanding,
while the artillery was assigned to the separate training
area of Valdahon under the direction of Lieutenant-
Colonel Maitre of the French Army.

It was at this time, too, that, by an odd flip of for-
tune, the artillery came under the special tutelage of
the great-great-grandson of the Marquis de Lafayette
in the person of Lieutenant-Colonel de Chambrun.



Inspired with an inherited attachment to the American
Army, possessed of the deepest personal in-
The terest in it by reason of long association with

Chambru^n American affairs, and endowed with no ordi-
nary abilities as a soldier, the Comte de Cham-
brun rendered a service of inestimable value.

After undergoing a most vigorous course of instruc-
tion, the division entered the quiet sector of Sommer-
villier in Lorraine, where from October 21st to Novem-
ber 20th its infantry and artillery battalions
Casualties wcrc attached for instructional purposes to the
corresponding units of the iSth French Divi-
sion. While occupying its sector the infantry was
raided by a small force of the enemy in front of Burges,
and suffered the first American casualties in the war.
Upon the conclusion of its initial instruction in the
trenches the division was again assembled in the
Gondrecourt area and there underwent the most gruel-
ing training. Words are inadequate to de-
rainmg scribc the hardships sustained by officers and
men alike during this period — hardships that were in-
evitable, however unnecessary many of them are now
seen to have been. Indeed, it was but natural that
the division should have suffered from the disadvantage
of being the first American division in more than the
sense of its official designation. But the hardships to
which it was subjected, useless or otherwise, the ex-


periments that were ruthlessly tried upon it, the inex-
perience of officers and men, and the unusual severities
of the winter, only sufficed to temper more highly the
steel of which its spirit was composed, and to inure its
physical being to the worst ordeals that more active
operations might impose.

Those were the bitter days of a second " Valley

Forge," when men marched over frozen roads and

through the snow, ill-clad, and barefooted. A serious

shortage in almost everything essential to the

A Second proper equipment, clothing, and housing of the

ForgT troops had existed from the first, but no man

complained. Instead of improving with the

passage -of time, conditions seemed to grow worse as

the days grew colder and the snows more frequent.

The pages of military history devoted to the record of

the American Army will never do justice to the men

who underwent training in France during the winter

of 191 7-18. Never has the history of war recorded a

finer spirit than they displayed.

Nevertheless it would be absurd to say that the
men who displayed this spirit were consciously inspired
by exalted motives. In their hours of reflection, if
such existed, they may have dimly perceived, as
If^die Men ^^^^ probably at all times felt, the justice
of the Allied cause. But in their mental at-
titude and bearing there was no suggestion of the


Crusader. Their inspiration was simply that of keen
competition, dear to all Americans. They were fight-
ing against the mighty German Army, side by side
with the British and the French and the latter's justly
famed Colonials; and they were determined to be fore-
most in the field. They were thoroughly aware that
the world, grown critical with impatience, awaited
their appearance in battle. They viewed their part as
that of fresh substitutes in a great game in which
after long delay their chance had come.

On January 15th, 191 8, the ist Division took over
the Ansauville sector north of Toul, relieving the ist
Moroccan Division and functioning for the first time
as a complete combat unit in the line. The
First command of the division, at first exercised by

Sector General Monroe, of the 69th French Division

in the sector on the right, passed on February
5th to Major-General Robert L. Bullard, who had suc-
ceeded General Sibert.

It was well that the division was to receive so soon
its first independent war experience. Raided by the
enemy on March ist with few resulting casualties, it
conducted (on March nth) two counter-raids, the
success of which served to establish a high morale and
a sense of superiority over the enemy on the part of
the troops. The orders which were received shortly
afterwards, transferring the division to the Montdidier


sector north of Paris, at the most important and critical
point on the front of the First French Army, with
which it was to engage in the proposed counter-
offensive, found it already a seasoned and experienced

Relieved in the Ansauville sector between March
30th and April 3rd by the 26th U. S. Division, the ist
Division was entrained in the neighborhood of Toul
and moved between April 6th and 9th to the
aniigny yicinity of Meru, northeast of Paris, whence it
marched to Chaumont-en-Vexin. Receiving a hasty
and belated training in open warfare in the latter area
between April 7th and i6th, it marched on the 17th,
1 8th, and 19th to Anneuil, Nivillers, and Froissy, and
on the night of April 2oth-2ist was placed under the
orders of the Sixth Corps of the First French Army,
The following night it commenced the relief of the
162 nd French Division in the Cantigny sector, immedi-
ately west of Montdidier, finally taking over the com-
mand of the sector on the morning of the 25th.

The line which it held extended approximately three

and a half kilometers from a point north of Mesnil

St. Georges in front of Le Cardonnois to a

Canti n poiut'wcst of Cantigny in front of Villers-

Sector Tournelle. Though the American position


generally overlooked the German position, the
latter possessed especially good observation from the


high point of Grivesnes, about three kilometers north-
west of Cantigny. Likewise from Cantigny itself there
was good observation over the approaches to the town,
rendering all movement within the sector forward of
the line Mesnil St. Georges-Villers-Tournelle imprac-
ticable by day. Having been in occupation of the
position less than three weeks the French had been
unable to construct trenches or shelters, or even to
erect wire entanglements along their front.

Division Headquarters and Headquarters ist Artil-
lery Brigade were established at Mesnil St. Firmin
about six kilometers from the hostile line, with the ist
and 2nd Brigade Headquarters at Serevillers
Disposition and Mcsuil St. Firmin, respectively. The ist
Troops Infantry Brigade occupied the front line, with

the 1 6th and i8th Infantry abreast, the
former on the right, while the remainder of the division
was stationed in the rear of the sector in the vicinity of
Froissy. Two battalions of infantry of the 2nd Bri-
gade, however, were posted in close reserve at Rocquen-
court and Mesnil St. Firmin, while the ist Field Artil-
lery Brigade was reinforced by a battalion of French
75 mm. guns.

Throughout the latter part of April and May
the hostile artillery was very active and annoying.
Nevertheless, over two thousand men were engaged
nightly in consolidating the sector. First, second, and





I— I




third line positions were prepared, a complete system
of trenches opened, and the necessary dugouts
Warfare ^^^ shelters Constructed. The amount of labor
imposed by this comprehensive work was enor-
mous, and all of it was rendered more difficult by the
excellent observation which the enemy possessed and
his persistent harassing with high explosive and gas
shells. The casualties from gas alone were large.

One who has not actually been present within such
a sector can scarcely appreciate the travail which life
therein imposes upon its tenants. Tasks which under
ordinary conditions would seem small indeed become
undertakings of extreme difficulty and assume enor-
mous proportions. Work which on a map would appear
most simple to an engineer is in fact all but impossible
of accomplishment through the dangerous exposure of
the working parties. In the Cantigny sector there
was likewise the difficulty of transporting material over
fire-swept roads ceaselessly harassed by hostile artil-
lery. Every cross road, every trail, was systematically
searched, and every ravine or area which afforded
natural cover from direct fire was kept filled with the
poisonous vapors of the enemy's gas shells. Indeed,
the problem of transporting water, rations, and ammu-
nition to the forward areas was a serious and laborious
one in itself, not to speak of the construction of
trenches and dugouts.


Under such conditions, though men do manage to
live, and even the casualties prove to be more annoy-
ing than numerous, life tends to become a mere struggle
to survive, which, without the constant prod
on Morale ^f eucrgctic and intelligent direction, soon de-
generates into an existence devoid of all inter-
est in the future and inspired with but one hope — the
hope of living. Under the abnormal and unremitting
strain to which they are subjected the keenest minds
often grow dull. The most essential tasks appear to
them unnecessary — mere useless burdens. The most
obvious precautions are neglected or wholly omitted.
All sense of proportion is lost, and not only men's
minds but men's souls at times seem to shrivel up and
die. ,

Some idea of the severity of the ordeal through
which the division passed while in occupation of the
Cantigny sector may be formed from the total of its
casualties. Though the losses involved in the
actual taking and holding of Cantigny, which is
to be described, did not exceed a thousand, its losses
between April 25th and July 5th were forty-nine officers
and eight hundred and four men killed, eighty-one
officers and two thousand one hundred and eighty-two
men wounded, and fifty-three officers and two thousand
one hundred and thirty-six men gassed, or an aggregate
of one hundred and eighty-three officers and five thou-


sand one hundred and twenty-two men. Most of these
losses were suffered during the latter part of April and
the month of May.

But the division was fortunate in possessing a staff
of unusual capacity. Carefully selected, and with the
eyes of the military world fixed upon it, that staff was
fully alive to its grave responsibilities. It
Siaff^^^^ addressed itself, accordingly, to the tremen-
dous task before it with the vigor of fresh
enthusiasm. From the very first the division, officers
and men alike, was inspired with the hope of an early
advance. Brought to the west for the direct purpose
of engaging in an offensive operation, it was carefully
led to regard the hostile position which it confronted
as its immediate goal, and the defenses which it was
called on to prepare with so much toil as but the
means to an end, and not as the end itself. Carefully
studying the life within the opposite sector the staff be-
came surprisingly familiar with the enemy's habits,
and was able to determine when and where the most
damage to him could be wrought. Alternative routes
of supply, watering points, and assembling places were
harassed as soon as it was believed that the enemy had
become habituated through necessity to their use, and
by this means his normal losses were increased. Fur-
thermore, his morale was lowered and the soirit of the
division itself correspondingly increased by the sense


of American superiority which the practice created.

The particular staff officer upon whom devolved the

responsibility for the direction of the harassing fire,

made it a point to study the habits of the enemy's

horse transport. Every possible locality where

Example animals might be watered was considered along

Work with all the probabilities in the case. Then

after repeatedly harassing some of these points

and carefully avoiding others, the fire was switched on

a certain night to the watering points which it was

reasoned the enemy had through necessity come to

use. The trick produced the most telling results.

With prompt acknowledgment, indeed, the Germans

attempted the following night to use it against the


Such incidents were not typical of the artillery only.

The whole division entered upon its life in the trenches

with no idea of making them its permanent abode.

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Online LibraryJennings C. (Jennings Cropper) WiseThe turn of the tide, American operations at Cantigny, Château Thierry, and the second battle of the Marne → online text (page 1 of 14)