Building On the Past: The Last Days of World War I – Meuse-Argonne Offensive
On the morning of September 26, 1918, 37 French and American divisions advanced into the Argonne Forest along the Meuse River. Few knew at the time, but this would be the last major offensive of the First World War.
The largest battle ever fought by the U.S. Army, this offensive included 1.5 million soldiers, 700 tanks, and over 500 aircraft. The 94th Aero Squadron, led by the famous racecar driver-turned-pilot Eddie Rickenbacker, engaged German Fokkers over the massive battlefield and witnessed the carnage from above. In watching his fellow servicemen move across the shell-torn no man’s land against the heavily fortified German positions, he wondered how they “did not go absolutely mad with terror”.
On the ground, Colonel George S. Patton’s tank brigade, which included almost 200 French-built Renault and Schneider tanks, led the way for American infantry. Combined with German antitank tactics, the horrid terrain made easy targets of the slow WWI tanks, rendering over two-thirds of them destroyed or broken down. But they achieved their objectives, pushing the Germans back to the Giselher defense line.
The offensive was one of the key actions that ended the war. By the time the offensive officially ended 47 days later on November 11th, 26,000 Americans had been killed in action with over 120,000 casualties, making the Meuse-Argonne Offensive the bloodiest battle in American history. Almost 15,000 American service members are buried at the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery and Memorial near the village of Romagne-sous-Montfaucon, France.