History of the Great War, Volume 1 - 1922

Front Cover, History of the Great War, Volume 1 by John Buchan, 1923.

Front Cover, History of the Great War, Volume 1 by John Buchan, 1923. GGA Image ID # 18d3b0546e

The first book in this series, History of the Great War, Volume 1, covers the Outbreak of War with an explanation of the events at Sarajevo to the Battle of Neuve Chapelle in March 1915.

Published by Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston and New York, 1923.

Mr. Buchan’s "History of the Great War" is a case in point. It is Mr. Buchan’s business to write books, delightful books, for "the general reader," and in his "History of the Great War" he has given the general reader a book which will rank with Macaulay 's "History of England." It is as well written—perhaps for twentieth century readers it is better written. Facts which have been passed through Mr. Buchan’s mind are presented with less bias than those unintentionally manipulated by Macaulay to prove Whigs right and Tories wrong, and yet Mr. Buchan’s work is of little use to the student of war, because he has not had access to those official documents which are the basis of the volume compiled by General Edmonds for the Committee of Imperial Defense.

CONTENTS

BOOK I: THE EARLY WAR OF MANŒUVRE.

I. Prologue : At Serajevo

II. The World on the Eve of War

The Maladies of the Pie-war World—Modern Germany— The Emperor—German Statesmen—The Soldiers and Sailors—The Kings of Trade—Germany's Grandeur—The Motive of Fear -Austria-Hungary—France—Britain— The Events preceding the Cataclysm—Germany's Turning of the Ways.

III. The Breaking of the Barriers (June 28-August 4, 1914)

The Immediate Results of the Sarajevo Murders—Germany's Council of War on 5th July—Austria's Ultimatum to Serbia—The Russian Mobilization—Germany's Proposal to Britain—The Work of Sir Edward Grey—Germany mobilizes—The Ultimatums to France and Belgium—The Invasion of Belgium—The British Cabinet—Hiritaio declares War.

IV. The Strength of the Combatants

The German Military System — Austria-Hungary — France — Russia — Britain—The British and German Navies—Economic Strength of the Belligerents—The Strategic Position—The Rally of the British Empire.

V. The First Shots (4th-15th August)

The New Factors in War—The German Plan—The French Han—The German Aufmarsch—The Defences of Belgium—The Attack on the Liège Forts—The French Move into Alsace.

VI. The Battle joined in the West (15th-24th August)

The French Mobilization—Joffre—His Change of Plan— Failure of the Advance in Lorraine and the Southern Ardennes—'The First Clash of the Main Armies—Fall of Namur—Battle of Charleroi—The British Expeditionary Force—Mons—The Retreat begins.

VII. The Retreat from the French Frontiers (24th- August-4th September)

Joilre’s Revision of Policy—The Retirement of the French Armies—Kluck’s Pursuit of the British—Battle of Le Cateau—Maunoury’s New Army—End of the British Retreat.

VIII. The Eastern Theatre of War (5th August-10th September)

Russia’s Strategic Position—Rennenkampfs Advance in East Prussia—Battle of Tannenberg—The Austrian Offensive—Battles of Lemberg and Rava Russia—Serbia’s Stand—The Russian Proclamation to Poland.

IX. The Week of Sedan (26th August-5th September)

Comparison of Situation with 1870—The Defence of Paris—Kluck changes Direction—His Justification—The Eve of the Marne—Joffre issues Orders for Battle.

X. The First Battle of the Marne (5th-12th September)

The German and Allied Dispositions—Maunoury moves —Advance of British and French Fifth Army—Kluck’s Tactics—The Crisis of 9th September—German Retreat ordered—Foch’s Stand at Fère-Champenoise—The Fight of the French Fourth and Third Armies—Castelnau and Dubail in Lorraine—The Causes of Victory.

XI. The Occupation of Belgium

The Overrunning of Belgium—German Breaches of the Laws of War—The “ Armed Dogma ”—Belgium and her King.

XII. The Beginning of the War at Sea (4th August-22nd September)

Germany’s Naval Policy—Sir John Jellicoe’s Problem—The Transport of the Armies—Escape of the Goeben and the Breslau—Protection of the Trade Routes—Security of the British Coasts—The Battle of the Bight of Heligoland—What Control of the Sea implies—The Submarine Menace—The German Commerce-raiders—-The Declaration of London.

XIII. The First Battle of the Aisne (12th September-3rd October)

The German Retreat from the Marne—The Aisne Position—The Struggle for the Crossings—The Struggle for the Heights—Joffre extends his Left Wing—The Fighting on the Meuse—The Race to the Sea.

XIV. The Fall of Antwerp (28th September-10th October)

The Antwerp Defenses—The Belgian Sortie—The Siege opens—Arrival of British Naval Division—Lord Kitchener’s Plan—The Last Hours of the City.

XV. The Political Situation in the First Months of War

The Position of Parties in Britain—A Nation United but not yet Awake—The Situation in France—False Views about Russia—Germany—Turkey—Italy—The Smaller Peoples—The United States.

XVI. The Beginning of the Flanders Campaign: The First Battle of Ypres (8th October-20th November)

The Terrain of West Flanders—The Allied Plan—The British Army comes into Line—The Fight of the 2nd and 3rd Corps—The German Objective—The Battle of the Yser—The Defence of Arras—The First Battle of Ypres —Death of Lord Roberts—End of the Old British Regular Army.

XVII. Ebb and Flow in the East (7th September-24th December)

Hindenburg on the Niemen—Battle of Augustovo—The Russian Advance on Cracow—Policy of the Galician Campaign—The First German Advance on Warsaw— The Defenses of Cracow and the Fighting in the Caratbian Passes—The Second Advance on Warsaw—The Battle of Lodz—The Battle of the Serbian Ridges.

XVIII. The War in the Pacific and Africa (10th August-8th December)

Germany’s Loss of her Pacific Colonies—Fall of Tsingtau—Germany in Africa—Togoland—Beginning of the Cameroons Campaign—Skirmishing in German South-West Africa—Maritz’s Revolt—The Situation in German East Africa—British Failure at Tanga—The South African Rebellion.

XIX. The War at Sea: Coronel and the Falkland Islands (14th September-8th December)

Cradock and von Spee—Battle of Coronel—Sturdee leaves England with the Battle Cruisers—Battle of the Falkland Islands—Its Results.

BOOK II: THE BELEAGUERED FORTRESS.

XX. The First Winter in the West

The Winter Stalemate—The "War of Attrition"— Nature of Trench Fighting—The French Soldier—The British Soldier.

XXI. Raids and Blockades (November 2, 1914- March 31, 1915)

The Raid on Yarmouth—The Raids on Scarborough and the Hartlepools—Battle of the Dogger Bank—Britain’s Action as to Contraband—Germany declares a Blockade of Britain—Britain closes the North Sea—The Blockade of Germany.

XXII. Economics and Law

The Main Economic Problems—British Measures— Strikes—Economic Position of France, Russia, and Germany—Problems of International Law—Rejection of Declaration of Paris—Mr. Balfour’s Defense.

XXIII. Turkey at War (October 29, 1914-February 8, 1915)

Turkey enters the War—The Turkish Army—The Persian Gulf—Britain occupies the Delta—The Campaign in Transcaucasia—The Battle of Sarikamish—Egypt—The Defeat of the Turkish attack on Suez Canal.

XXIV. The Battles on the Russian Front in the Spring of 1915 (3rd January-22nd March)

The Year opens on the Eastern Front—German Attack on the Bzura and the Ravka—The Attack in East Prussia—Destruction of Russian Tenth Army—Battle of Przasnysz—The Fight for the Carpathian Passes—The Russians enter Przemysl.

XXV. Neuve Chapelle (8th-15th March)

The Purpose of Neuve Chapelle—The Use of Artillery— The Battle—Its Consequences.

ILLUSTRATIONS

  • Viscount Grey of Fallodon (Sir Edward Grey)
  • Marshal Joseph-Jacques-Césaire Joffre
  • The Battlefield of Ypres: Winter
    From a painting by D. Y. Cameron, R.A.
  • Sunset at Scapa Flow
    From a drawing by Muirhead Bone
  • The British Household Brigade Passing to the Ypres Salient, Cassel
    From a painting by Sir William Orpen, R.A.

INTRODUCTION

Whether history is better written by one who has been a participant, or at least a contemporary of the great actors in the drama he portrays, or by the careful disciple of historical research working when time has lent distance and prejudice no longer obscures the vision, must be decided by each student for himself.

Much that can be said by the participator, of great events which he saw and of which he was a part, the personal bearing of individuals, the vivid impressions that come only to the eye-witness, the psychology of the times and peoples and the waves of patriotic emotion, may be missed by the scholar writing ever so carefully after the ultimate survivor has told his tale for the last time.

Nor can the scholar find his facts if every writer with personal knowledge delays his record for time’s perspective and the cooling of passion. Some contemporary records must constitute the sources from which the future historian-must draw his materials.

The generations between the events and the scholar's leisurely written study have themselves entitled to some well-presented statement of the history their fathers made.

That some perspective is necessary is beyond doubt. The relation of events to one another, of cause to effect, is not at once evident. This is particularly true in the history of modern war.

The horizon of any one man in a modern battle is minimal. Personal leadership by general officers no longer has a place on the field, and high commanders cannot see wavering lines or the approach of assaulting columns.

In the Great War, with the tremendous range of its guns and rifles, the length of its battle-lines, and the ossified character of its engagements between the First Marne and the great Allied Offensive of July 1918, even division commanders knew little of what happened except in their own contracted sectors.

The effects of success or reverse on a limited front related to the whole plan they could not know. That a local reverse might yet contribute to a general success by containing the enemy at a vital point could not be known to the participants at the time.

Such effects are known only by the commanders-in-chief and their confidential staff. The flood of regimental and divisional histories helps record the participation of units as seen by themselves. When checked against each other and other records, it will constitute a valuable source for the future historian.

The very controversies they arouse will serve in time to clear doubtful points.

Those who believe that more reliable history is written some years after the occurrences point to the period in the 1880s when the best accounts of our Civil War by the leaders appeared, written themselves. There was an accord between historians which would have been impossible in the late sixties.

Our Civil War chiefs were young men. In the recent struggle, our country had perhaps half a dozen general officers under forty years of age; there was scarcely a more significant number who were beyond that age in the Civil War.

Grant, Meade, Thomas, and Sherman were in the forties. Lee was past fifty. Sheridan was not thirty-five when the war ended; Merritt, Custer, Miles, Wilson, Fitzhugh Lee, and Mackenzie were under thirty.

Stuart and McPherson died at thirty-three. But Joffre, Foch, French, and the Grand Duke Nicholas were in the sixties when the Great War began, Cadoma was sixty-five, and Hindenburg was seventy. Pétain, Haig, and Pershing were in the late fifties.

It is essential to the American participation in the Great War that such contemporaneous accounts faithfully recite its story be tagged, as it were, by those with first-hand knowledge, as reliable sources for the future historian.

It is no secret that our principal Allies opposed the formation of an American Army as such and pleaded with a great pertinacity that our soldiers might be amalgamated in British and French units, and later, yielding little by little, that our battalions should be brigaded under French and British commanders.

One of the accomplishments for which his country owes him most is the firmness with which General Pershing successfully withstood this fallacious military insistence of our Allies, with no doubt some loss of popularity with their chiefs, and at no small risk to his fortunes when he took issue with policies to which the great Allied Prime Ministers were committed.

As late as September 1918, just after his success at St. Mihiel, Pershing had to resist pressure from General Foch to break up his American Army and disperse its divisions to various Allied commands.

On November 5th, less than a week before the Armistice, he was asked to distribute six of his victorious divisions among Lorraine's French divisions. However, the United States Army promised their replacement at an early date him.

A man less steadfast in his convictions and less capable of presenting them in the practical form to his home government would have been more acceptable to the venerable French Premier than Pershing. Stormy old Clemenceau, behind a French Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Armies, was the most potent influence on the Allied side during autumn 1918.

Marshal Foch, great soldier though he is, surrounded himself with only a French staff and unquestionably obeyed Clemenceau as a minister whose pleasure his tenure of command depended on.

The policies of France never suffered by the chief Allied command being exercised by a Frenchman. A recent French writer, discussing the reasons why the Armistice was concluded at a time when many military men thought it premature, no doubt reflects in some measure French opinion of the time when he says that the Americans were coming to France at the rate of three hundred thousand per month, in such numbers “as to threaten the unity of command.“ Such facts may unconsciously color the official reports of the time, and they indeed point to the importance of keeping the record straight.

Unhappily the personal statements of the great chiefs must be made soon, if at all. Certain ones for better or for worse have already been placed in the archives.

Others will probably never be recorded. Lord Haig has sealed his papers to the British Museum for use after his death. However, the Germans von Hindenburg and von Ludendorff have written from the enemy side, but their accounts, yet accurate, are like self-vindication.

The Grand Duke Nicholas, an exile from his wretched country, will hardly write his memoirs and his activities were remote from the Western Front. Diaz and Badoglio will use a tongue to which our public is a stranger.

In his book 1914, Lord French deals only with the earlier events of the War and in such a manner as to throw doubt on the accuracy of his memory.

Marshal Foch is understood to be compiling his notes, but Marshal Joffre, in serene old age, is probably content to trust his reports of the time.

Marshal Pétain and our own General Pershing, now in their sixties, confident, apparently, in the expectation of long life, are devoting themselves to other activities.

The lamented General James W. McAndrew, Chief of Staff of the American Expeditionary Forces during our major operations in France, died without committing his writing observations. In political relations between the Allied Governments, which so powerfully influenced military events, the records are still largely confidential and not yet accessible to the historical student.

With old age now weighing upon the great Clemenceau, with former President Wilson an invalid, and with Mr. Lloyd George still battling in the political arena with the lengthening shadows behind him, there seems little prospect that the stories of these men, so necessary to the comprehensive history of the Great War, will ever be told.

This History of the Great War by John Buchan is one on which, in my opinion, the future historian, struggling with the mass of historical matter yet to be written, may rely upon.

Trained at Glasgow University and Oxford, the author was a Barrister of the Middle Temple as early as 1901. To his legal training and experience, he added two years as Private Secretary to Lord Milner when the latter was High Commissioner in South Africa after the Boer War.

As a newspaper correspondent on the Western Front in the early days of the War, and later as a Lieutenant-Colonel serving in the Intelligence Section of the General Staff of the British Expeditionary Forces in France, he had exceptional opportunities for observation.

His service as Director of Information for his government gave him an equal opportunity to keep in touch with all Allied fronts during the last two years of the War.

Colonel Buchan has either read very widely from the standpoint of the military student or his generous acknowledgment, in his preface, of his indebtedness to his friends covers the counsel of some well-informed professional soldiers.

His work's literary style is charming, its movement and color are satisfying, and it is rich, even fascinating, in historical allusion and comparison.

In the passing of the generations, it has sometimes happened that “a common soldier, a child, a girl at the door of an inn, have changed the face of fortune and almost of Nature” (Burke).

That in the twentieth century, the murder of a mediocre middle-aged prince inspecting in an obscure city of the Balkans, even though he were the heir to an empire, could mark one of the fateful moments of all history, and precipitate the greatest of wars, throws doubt on the pretensions of our age.

The dramatic events of that June morning at Sarajevo brought to a head the antagonism between Slav and Teuton, awoke the ambitions and the fears of every Power in Europe, and slowed down civilization's progress to a rate which cannot yet be calculated.

The causes of the struggle into which the murder of the Austrian heir now plunged half the world had been sown and had fructified through many years.

In a generally happy and comfortable world, in an age of philanthropy, scientific development entwined with commerce that encircled the globe, humanity had abandoned itself to the lure of luxury and a wild hunt for wealth.

The luxury of one class is usually developed at the expense of others. The second decade of the twentieth century heard much of class-consciousness, social democracy, and the proletariat.

These new forces' ambitions, essentially material, sought to master the world's wealth rather than regenerate its spirit. With the increased participation of their advocates in many lands' governments, such aims led to an intense and narrow nationalism, patriotism of the pocket, the self-contained, self-satisfied, and jealous state.

The nineteenth century had been an age of faith; the pre-war twentieth was skeptical of its predecessor's gods, while its own was new and strange and commanded no serious homage.

Opportunism reigned in politics and philosophy, and Truth was quoted in the markets at varying values. Creeds were in solution, and the clear-cut dogmas of the previous century gave way to a waning intellectual vitality, content to be at once skeptical and credulous.

“It was a world self-satisfied without contentment, a world in which material prosperity was no index to happiness. Humanity was drifting into jealous cliques, while every day, their economic bonds became more subtly interlinked. Since this situation could not endure, it was inevitable that some form of unity, false or true, would soon be inevitable.

"Such a unity might follow upon a new faith in the brotherhood of man, but, in the decadence of the great constructive ideals of politics and religion, it was hard to see how this faith would be born.

"Or it might come from the material reconstruction of life, of which the communists dreamed, when men would be brigaded not by nations but by classes, and an international proletariat would call the tune. Or lastly it might arise if a single power should establish a world-wide hegemony and impose its rule and culture upon the subservient peoples.”

This History is the record of the calamity which shattered the world’s complacency; the mighty convulsion in which much that humanity had accepted as good has disappeared, and much for which millions died remains still unrealized and intangible.

A characteristic of Colonel Buchan’s work is its chivalric fairness even to the enemy and the absence of that disagreeable tone of wisdom shown by many commentators who write in the light of after events. His conceptions of the strategy of the various theatres of the war are sound. The pictures of the great leaders are presented with fidelity.

The national characteristics and racial peculiarities of the various Allies are treated with tolerance and without visible bias. One cannot read without a renewed appreciation of brave little Belgium's martyrdom, which saved the British race's honor by raising the moral issue that brought them into the war.

And of France, — the gallant French, — whose officers had produced some of the best military literature of modem times, whose traditions were of the Grande Armée with its rapid and cumulative attacks, and who for over four years retained all their historic dash and élan, while facing national death with noble calm and shining fortitude, no History can say too much.

The race was ready to perish on the battlefield sooner than accept German domination. Many would die, but of a surety, France, in whose eternity they were but a moment, would survive. It is the hour's fashion to permit the unspeakable horrors of Bolshevism to obscure the part which Imperial Russia took in the war.

Russia entered the war with its military resources undeveloped and suffered from a lack of strategic policy. The empire lacked the machinery for a rapid expansion of munitions. Her railways were few and poorly distributed for war. In offensive warfare, where time was of the essence of the problem, her defects were evident.

Hypotheticals are a bastard science that the historian should shun — but had the Dardanelles Expedition had a different ending, giving Russia access to the Mediterranean through the Black Sea, Russia would have changed the history of the world.

The turn of Fortune’s wheel took Russia out of the war, but while in it, her part was gallant and effective. She did not deserve that her flag should have had no place on the day of our grand Allied march through the are de Triomphe on July 14th, 1919.

The entrance of Italy into the War was no matter of impulse. Her commercial interests were mainly in German hands. She is a young country, largely dependent on foreign shipping for food and without coal or iron.

For over a quarter of a century, the ally of the Central Powers, Italy, was doubtless reluctant to take up arms against them. Her decision to make war followed careful calculation as to the probable outcome. It was preceded by much negotiation for territory as an inducement to take the Central Powers' side.

The London Pact of April 26, 1915, between Italy, Great Britain, France, and Russia, gave a higher price than the Teutonic League could offer and was conditioned on Italy breaking with her former Allies within a month. Once in, Italy bore herself well.

That Colonel Buchan describes the part played by Britain somewhat more in detail than that of her Allies is easily forgiven, indeed by those in whose veins flows English blood, and by all who, reading the history of the last eight centuries, can testify how well the British soldier knows how to die.

One can well understand the pride with which an Englishman calls the roll of races and lands that responded to Britain's martial drum-beat in 1914.

To the tremendous outpouring from her island homes, with scarcely a name missing from those great in her turbulent history, her absent sons came rallying from many a tropical isle and distant strand.

To Our gallant neighbor, Canada, with the men of the sweeping western plains; the Boers, Basutos, and Barotses, children of the African veldt; the brave Anzacs from Australia and New Zealand; black men from the West Indies; the proud old races of lands from Burma to beyond the Khyber Pass, reigning princes of families as ancient when Alexander invaded India as are the historic houses of Howard and Cecil to-day, all the great names of her Indian Empire from the Himalayas to Cape Comorin; Mongol and Aryan, Teuton and Celt; the followers of Christ, of Buddha, Mahomet, and Brahma and a thousand lesser faiths. No such pageant of the legions had ever before been mustered under the colors of a reigning sovereign.

Of course, it is the portion of this History that deals with the American effort that will have the most intense interest for our public. Colonel Buchan presents a very discriminating and sympathetic analysis of the difficulties of America’s position as a neutral.

His statement of our political philosophy, with a keen sense of our inconsistencies, as well as his estimate of the extraordinary abilities and leadership of President Wilson, unable, sometimes, it seemed, to envisage a rough-and-tumble world where decisions were won by deed and not by phrases, can be read with profit by all Americans.

The highest tribute is paid to the President’s statesmanship, as revealed in his speeches of February 26 and April 2, 1917. The Message asking for a Declaration of War will rank among the greatest of America’s famous state documents.

Couched in terms of intellectual moderation and dignity, it stated the case of America against Germany and civilization against barbarism and popular government against tyranny.

The American Expeditionary Forces, capable of expansion, if need be, to fifteen million soldiers, are thus introduced on the stage of this History:

“The old American Army had been small, but its officers followed the life for the love of it, and were to a high degree professional experts. For its size, the staff was probably equal to any in the world. Those who watched the first American soldiers on the continent of Europe — grave young men, with lean, shaven faces, a quick springy walk and a superb bodily fitness — found their memories returning to Gettysburg and the Wilderness, where the same stock had shown an endurance and heroism not surpassed in the history of mankind. And they were disposed to agree with the observer who remarked that it had taken a long time to get America into the war, but that it would take much longer to get her out.”

Thus our friends the Allies, while the German press was picturing daily anti-war demonstrations in New York, with weeping and desperate conscripts herded onboard our transports by special police.

Whatever the German General Staff thought, the press and politicians gave no sign that they realized this addition's gravity to the Allied strength. “The financiers told the people that it was fortunate that America had entered the war, since she was the only Allied country from which a big indemnity could be extracted. The great American Army, said the press, could not swim or fly, therefore it would never arrive.”

How slowly the Americans seemed to arrive during that first year, we were in the war, and how desperately their coming was longed for in the spring of 1918, with the enemy thundering on the Somme and the Marne, can scarcely be appreciated by anyone not in Europe during those anxious days.

In March, when General Pershing made his dramatic offer of all his resources to Foch, he had but four divisions under his command; by the end of May, he had nearly a dozen ready for the front line, and others were crossing the Atlantic at the rate of more than a quarter of a million soldiers per month.

Their preliminary training at home had been so expedited that by midsummer, we were landing in France every five weeks as many troops as Germany's annual compulsory recruitment. In March but three hundred thousand soldiers in France, the American armies by November numbered over two million men.

On February 1st, the French held 520 kilometers of the front, the British 187, and the Americans 10; November 9th, the French had 343, the Americans 134, and the British 113 kilometers, the entire front varying by the retirement of the German lines.

On May 28th, an event happened which may have given the enemy food for thought. A regiment of the 1st American Division, Major-General Bullard, took the village of Cantigny in the Montdidier section and held it against three counter-attacks.

It was neat and efficient to carry out an offensive, but to consolidate and hold its gains was a happy omen for the future.

In June, the 2nd Division, Major-General Bundy, attacking at the southwest comer of the German salient, near Château Thierry, captured Bouresches, Vaux, and Belleau Wood, and the 3rd Division, under Major-General Dickman, acting with the French, took Hill 204, in the same neighborhood.

By the middle of July, 300,000 Americans in the line or immediate support served under the French Generals Gouraud, Dégoutté, and Mangin. When on the 15th, the enemy passed the Marne, the 3rd Division, with elements of the 28th, checked and rolled them back, clearing part of the south bank and taking prisoners.

The time had now come for the counter-stroke, after which the enemy never gained ground forward. The Allied Commander-in-Chief struck the apex and side of the salient made when the enemy broke through between Rheims and Soissons on May 28th, and which he was still desperately endeavoring to widen.

Mangin’s Army, which was to conduct the main operation, was on the salient western side; Degoutte’s in front of its apex on the Marne. Mangin’s striking force consisted of the 1st American Division, Major-General Summerall, the 1st French Moroccan Division, General Dogan, and the 2nd American Division, Major-General Harbord.

It was the first time American Divisions had been used as such in a major operation, and they were proud to attack by the side of France's best shock troops. The three attacking divisions were assembled in the great forest of Villers- Cotterets on the 17th, and the morning of the 18th, after a night of thunderstorms and furious rain and wind, went over the top.

The combined attack of Dégoutté and Mangin extended for thirty-five miles, from Belleau Wood near Château Thierry to Fontenoy on the Aisne. Mangin’s attack captured many thousand prisoners and much artillery. The 2nd American Division made an advance of nearly eight miles — the most extended advance as yet made in a single day by the Allies in the West.

The German salient was narrowed, and its western flank crumbled. Foch had wrested the initiative from the enemy, and the Allies never again lost it. "Moments of high crisis slip past unnoticed; it is only the historian in later years who can point to a half-hour in a crowded day and say that then was decided the fate of a cause or a people. . . . When the Allies breasted the Montagne de Paris and the Vierzey plateau on that July morning, they had, without knowing it, won the Second Battle of the Marne, and with it the War. Four months earlier, Ludendorff had stood as the apparent dictator of Europe; four months later, he and his master were in exile."

The temptation to linger on the brave days of action that came between July and November 1918 is a powerful one to an American soldier.

Events moved swiftly all along the Western Front, and the Americans were by September fighting under their Commander-in-Chief.

It was the month of St. Mihiel, and General Pershing, collecting his far-flung divisions into the First American Army, half a million strong, added some seventy thousand French troops, destroyed the salient which the Germans had held since 1914.

The battle lasted three days, and at its close, the allied forces cleared the heights of the Meuse of the enemy, and the Allied line ran from the Meurthe below Pont-à-Mousson roughly northwest past Thiaucourt, St. Benoit, and Fresnes to the old Verdun front at Bezonvaux.

Allied forces took Sixteen thousand prisoners and over 400 guns, with a mass of every kind of commodities. It was an achievement of the utmost significance.

If proof were needed, American troops' quality organized in the largest units and under their commanders was proven. Strategically it vastly assisted the Allied communications and restored in that area the power of attack at any moment and in any direction. No enemy salient remained as an advance guard in the West.

With hardly a pause after St. Mihiel, Pershing’s First Army extended to the west into the Argonne forest, a desperate country where the allies had made little impression on the enemy’s defense since the first months of the war.

He was to strike down the Meuse in the direction of Mézières. It was the most naturally tricky terrain on the Western Front; the measure of its difficulties was the measure of the honor in which Foch held his Allies' fighting quality from beyond the sea.

In the chill foggy dawn of September 26th, the Americans and the French army of Gouraud on their left crossed their parapets on a front of forty miles. Gouraud's was the containing attack, and the Americans were the spearhead.

For forty-six days, where our Wilderness had lasted but seven, the great battle we call the Meuse-Argonne added luster to the American arms. Its splendid story is told in the citations of the time and on the streamers to the regimental colors in many a gallant American Division.

Malancourt, Epiononville, Cheppy, Vurennes, Montfaucon, Sommepy, Blanc Mont, Apremont, Grand Pré, Landres-St. George, Bois de Barricourt, Buzancy, Mézières, and, shall we say, Sedan, are names enshrined for all time in the traditions of the American Army!

And then the Armistice and the march to the Rhine! By the middle of December, the tricolor guarded the mouth of the Main, the crosses of St. George and St. Andrew flaunted over the ancient cathedral city of Cologne, and the stars and stripes flew above Coblenz, where the Moselle joins the Rhine, and on the silent fortress of Ehrenbreitstein!

Colonel Buchan well says:

It would be a task both futile and unfair to discuss the relative contributions of the different Allies to this achievement. All had in it a total and noble share. . . . America, entering late into the strife, made ready great armies at speed unparalleled in history, and brought about victory before the wreckage of the world was beyond repair. . . .

The gains and losses are not yet to be assessed, but there is ground for a humble confidence that that sowing in unimaginable sacrifice and pain will, however, quicken and bear fruit to the bettering of the world.

The war was a vindication of the essential greatness of our common nature, for victory was won less by genius in the few than by faithfulness in the many.

Every class and its share, and the plain man born in these latter days of doubt and divided purpose marched to heights of the heroic unsurpassed in simpler ages.

In this revelation, democracy found its final justification and civilization its most authentic hope. Humanity may console itself in its hour of depression and failure and steel itself lo new labors, with the knowledge that once it has been great.

J. G. Harbord
Major-General, U.S. Army
Coblenz, Germant
July 28, 1922

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World War I
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