Primary Documents - Erich Ludendorff on the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, 1922

Erich Ludendorff The Meuse-Argonne Offensive, jointly launched by U.S. and French forces on the Western Front in front of the Argonne Forest east of Verdun in late September 1918, comprised one of the key offensives of the war and by the armistice had successfully driven north up the west bank of the Meuse to the Belgian border.

Reproduced below is Erich Ludendorff's post-war reflections on the offensive's significance: he attributed much of its success to American rather than battle-wearied French forces.

Click here to read U.S. Commander-in-Chief John J. Pershing's official account of the offensive.  Click here to read the text of an address given by local German commander Georg von der Marwitz.

Erich Ludendorff on the Meuse-Argonne Offensive (from The American Effort, 1922)

In the final operations, aiming at a definite decision of the war, General Pershing acted an important part.

In the big offensive toward Sedan on both sides of the Argonne forest, which French and Americans made together, the American troops had their main forces between the Meuse and the Argonne.

If, in autumn, 1918, it was General Foch's scheme to encircle the German main forces at the Meuse, near the Belgian-French frontier, or in the inner part of Belgium, it was General Pershing's task to lead, on the right wing, the decisive attack against the rear communications of the German army in the north of France.

In the Champagne the Germans noticed in time the imminent big attack and organized their defence, between the Meuse and the Argonne.  After the battle at the St. Mihiel front had come to an end, the headquarter of the Fifth German Army thought that the American attacks would be carried on to the north of Verdun, on the eastern bank of the Meuse, not on the western.

Full justice must be done to the skilful and far-sighted way - very much like the way the Germans acted before the beginning of their offensive in spring - in which the Americans hid the extensive preparations for their intended attack between the Meuse and the Argonne, though they were obliged to put off the time of the beginning by several days.

They were helped very much by the conformation of the ground, the network of railways and roads, and the weather, which allowed them to replace and reinforce the defensive divisions by offensive troops, which were carried up by motor vans in the very night before the beginning of the attack, unnoticed by the enemy.

Thus, during the night between the 25th and 26th of September, the French defensive divisions were replaced by seven fresh American divisions.  Thus a wholly American sector was built - one of nine divisions, which were divided up in three groups, and formed the First American Army under General Pershing's command.

During these weeks the trench-war had been fought intensively, and the moral qualities of the troops were raised by orders pointed to what the Americans had done thus far, and tickling their ambition and pride.

More than the French, the Americans thought the success to be dependent on surprise.  Their success, which was so much bigger than that of the French, justified their view.  The preceding artillery fire during the night did not last more than three hours.  At 5 a.m. the infantry sallied forth from the trenches, which had been dug out for the assault.

The main forces advanced in the middle, in the direction of Malancourt-Montfaucon-Nautillois-Cunel.  Favoured by dense mist, and helped by numbers of tanks and an extraordinarily strong artillery, they succeeded in pressing back the German front by five miles, and in taking possession of the first area of entrenchments.

But the line which in American maps was drawn as aim of the first day had not been reached.  Already in the night, new attacks of wide extent began, and went on up to the evening of the 29th of September; but they did not get on considerably further than they had come the day before.

In the Argonne the German lines were withdrawn spontaneously.  On September 30th the actions were stopped for several days, probably on account of the big losses and the strain of the troops, perhaps on account of difficulties of supply.  On October 4th the Americans resumed their attacks, with fresh forces, after an hour and a half of most vehement fire of artillery.

As the action was no longer a surprise, the enemy's advance at first, in the middle of the last day's battlefield, was small.  But this time the weight of the attack lay more to the west at the Aire, the attack being extended up to the Argonne.

By October 10th the Americans had taken the whole part of the Argonne forest south of the lower part of the Aire, and advanced in the plain up to the line St. Fuvin-Brieulles, fighting hard and suffering great losses.  In the meantime, beginning at October 8th, the attack spread to the eastern bank of the Meuse.  But here the Americans, co-operating considerably with French divisions, did not gain much ground to the north.

After October 12th the action did not seem to be directed methodically any longer.  Shortly after, the heavy battles, which had been carried on with rare pertinacity, slackened for a time.

The Americans' success did not so much consist in the gain of ground as the line which was aimed at had not been attained, but in the effect which it exercised on the situation in the Champagne, where the French, during a fortnight, did not get on nearly as well in their hard battles against the German Third Army.  Only in consequence of the American advance in the Argonne and to the east of it the Third German Army was obliged to withdraw behind the Aisne and the Aire during the nights between the 9th and 12th of October.

After a pause of more than two weeks the Americans, who, in the meantime, had augmented to a group comprising two armies, resumed their offensive from the line Grandpre-Aincreville, in concert with the operations of the Allies.  The weight of the attack lay as before on the left bank of the Meuse and, pressing to the north, it was intended to seize the Meuse passages above Sedan.

Here, too, the Americans most successfully influenced the general situation; by pressing back the opposite German lines in frontal attacks, they forced the German Headquarter to withdraw the German lines from the Aisne, where at the same time they had been assaulted by the French, mostly unsuccessfully.  The German report of November 3rd displayed this fact.

Source: Source Records of the Great War, Vol. VI, ed. Charles F. Horne, National Alumni 1923

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