57 Days Until Armistice
One of the greatest tests, and ultimately triumphs, of the First World War.
The Americans were a recent addition to the Allied Forces. Through the late 19th and early 20th century, the United States had pursued an isolationist policy similar to that of the British Empire - and while Britain’s proximity to other European Powers forced their involvement in European politics, the United States’ could maintain their impartiality.
Reactions to American involvement in the First World War were mixed. Jubilation for the Allies, dread for the Axis, and apprehension for most Americans. The prospect of engagement in what was a horrific war horrified some.
Established on July 5th, 1917, the American Expeditionary Force was an imposing force. Pershings’ insistence on good training for American soldiers delayed their arrival in Europe until early 1918 - but their arrival came as a huge wave. Over a million A.E.F troops had arrived in France by May 1918, and would soon be put to use.
Initially used as supplementary forces for their first few months in combat, often assisting in small scale engagements in quiet sectors of the line. Their first victory came at Cantigny, on May 28, 1918, followed by another hard fought victory at Belleau Wood on June 6th. Although casualties were high (for both the Americans and the Germans) their combat effectiveness was growing exponentially - and they would soon be ready to engage in solo operations.
Saint-Michel would offer a perfect testing ground. The town had been occupied by German forces since early 1914, their presence creating a large bulge (or, salient) in the Allied lines. This salient disrupted communications between the French strongholds of Verdun and Nancy, and stood as a strong position for German forces in the region.
By the time the American First Army had taken responsibility for this section of the Allied line, the German Army was severely depleted. Recognizing this, the decision was made to withdraw German forces to a more defensible line a few kilometres behind St. Michel - a move that prove fortuitous for the Americans. They would attack during the retreat.
The offensive began on September 12th, 1918. With 2 American “super corps”, comprised of 3 attacking divisions and 1 supporting division each, and two supporting French corps on the western edge of the salient, the first day of attack was a resounding success. Though held up by muddy roads and generally inclement weather, the sheer determination of the Americans pushed them through.
Victory was secured early on September 13th. The retreating German forces were caught in disarray, and by the close of the campaign, over 13,000 prisoners had been taken, with another 4,500 killed or wounded on the German end. While the Americans suffered 7,000 casualties themselves, they had proven their combat effectiveness, and would be called upon many more times during the Last 100 Days.