1916-1925: America– War and Peace

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Author: John J. Pershing  | Date: 1918

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The Last German Attack Is Halted

ON July 15, the date of the last German offensive, the 1st, 2d, 3d and 26th Divisions were on the Chateau-Thierry front with the 4th and 28th in support, some small units of the last two divisions gaining front-line experience with our troops or with the French; the 42d Division was in support of the French east of Rheims, and four colored regiments were with the French in the Argonne. On the Alsace-Lorraine front we had five divisions in line with the French. Five were with the British army, three having elements in the line. In our training areas four divisions were assembled and four were in the process of arrival.

The Marne salient was inherently weak and offered an opportunity for a counter-offensive that was obvious.

If successful, such an operation would afford immediate relief to the Allied defense, would remove the threat against Paris and free the Paris-Nancy Railroad. But, more important than all else, it would restore the morale of the Allies and remove the profound depression and fear then existing. Up to this time our units had been put in here and there at critical points as emergency troops to stop the terrific German advance. In every trial, whether on the defensive or offensive, they had proved themselves equal to any troops in Europe. As early as June 23 and again on July 10 at Bombon, I had very strongly urged that our best divisions be concentrated under American command, if possible, for use as a striking force against the Marne salient. Although the prevailing view among the Allies was that American units were suitable only for the defensive, and that at all events they could be used to better advantage under Allied command, the suggestion was accepted in principle, and my estimate of their offensive fighting qualities was soon put to the test.

The enemy had encouraged his soldiers to believe that the July 15 attack would conclude the war with a German peace. Although he made elaborate plans for the operation, he failed to conceal fully his intentions, and the front of attack was suspected at least one week ahead. On the Champagne front the actual hour for the assault was known and the enemy was checked with heavy losses. The 42d Division entered the line near Somme Py immediately, and five of its infantry battalions and all its artillery became engaged. Southwest of Rheims and along the Marne to the east of Chateau-Thierry the Germans were at first somewhat successful, a penetration of eight kilometers beyond the river being effected against the French immediately to the right of our 3d Division. The following quotation from the report of the commanding general, 3d Division, gives the result of the fighting on his front:

"Although the rush of the German troops overwhelmed some of the front-line positions, causing the infantry and machine-gun companies to suffer, in some cases a 50 per cent. loss, no German soldier crossed the road from Fossoy to Crezancy, except as a prisoner of war, and by noon of the following day (July 16) there were no Germans in the foreground of the 3d Division sector except the dead."

On this occasion a single regiment of the 3d Division wrote one of the most brilliant pages in our military annals. It prevented the crossing at certain points on its front, while on either flank the Germans who had gained a footing pressed forward. Our men, firing in three directions, met the German attacks with counter-attacks at critical points and succeeded in throwing two German divisions into complete confusion, capturing 600 prisoners.

The selection by the Germans of the Champagne sector and the eastern and southern faces of the Marne pocket on which to make their offensive was fortunate for the Allies, as it favored the launching of their counter-attack already planned. There were now over 1,200,000 American troops in France, which provided a considerable force of reserves. Every American division with any sort of training was made available for use in a counter-offensive.

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Chicago: John J. Pershing, "The Last German Attack Is Halted," 1916-1925: America– War and Peace in America, Vol.12, Pp.93-96 Original Sources, accessed December 2, 2022, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=W1PTGL3F19MB3GG.

MLA: Pershing, John J. "The Last German Attack Is Halted." 1916-1925: America– War and Peace, in America, Vol.12, Pp.93-96, Original Sources. 2 Dec. 2022. http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=W1PTGL3F19MB3GG.

Harvard: Pershing, JJ, 'The Last German Attack Is Halted' in 1916-1925: America– War and Peace. cited in , America, Vol.12, Pp.93-96. Original Sources, retrieved 2 December 2022, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=W1PTGL3F19MB3GG.