Drawn freely from "American Armies and Battlefields in Europe", Center of Military History, United States Army. 1938.
RECALL OF THE SITUATION
On the 21st. March, when the first big German offensive of 1918 began, the effectives of the American forces were about 300,00 men. The 1st, 2nd, and 42nd. Divisions were already in the trenches and the 26th. ready for service. The 32nd. and 41st. were in France but had been forseen as replacement units. However, in April, the 32nd. was redefined as a combat division.
After the violent attack in Picardy on the 21st. March, the German artillery began, as from the 23rd., to bombard Paris from the forest of Saint Gobain.
In face of the gravity of the situation, General Pershing without waiting the creation of an independant American Army, as had been forseen, proposed to General Foch to commit immediately those units that were already available. A proposition accepted gladly by the Allies.
On the 26th. March, General Foch was charged with co-ordinating the activities of the French and English armies on the Western front. The Germans had been stopped in front of Amiens and on the 9th. April they attacked in Flanders. During these two attacks the Americans provided medical, aerial and engineering units to the English Army. On the 28th. of May the 1st. American Division, engaged in the English Army near Montdidier, retook Cantigny.
The French reserves having, during the two attacks permitted a recovery of the situation, the Germans decided on an attack aimed at wearing out these reserve forces. The Allies were awaiting such an attack but did not know from where it would come. The front on the river Aisne seemed improbable, thus a part of the French troops there were transferred to the English zone.
The attack on the morning of the 27th. May, between Berry-au-Bac and Anizy-le-Chateau, was a surprise and with their first assault the Germans captured the Chemin des Dames. At noon they were on the river Aisne, which they crossed by means of bridges that the French had not had time to blow up. The German success surpassed all their hopes. By the evening they had crossed the Vesle and on the morning of the 29th. they had captured Soissons. They advanced rapidly towards the Marne, in the direction of Paris, from where the Government left for Bordeaux.
To thwart this menace, reserves were dispatched to the front to seal off the breach. The 2nd. and 3rd. American divisions were placed at the disposal of the French army and arrived after forced marching. The motorised mchine gun batallion of the 3rd. Division arrived at Château Thierry on the 31st. May and participated in preventing the crossing of the Marne. The infantry units of the 3rd. Division were deployed, in reinforcement of the French, along the south bank for about ten kms towards the East, just to Courthièzy.
The 2nd. Division, which arrived by means of lorries, was put in position on the 1st. June to the North-West of Château Thierry, facing the North-East, with its center at Lucy-le-Bocage and blocking the road to Paris. It held off all attacks and stopped the German advance.
With the American help, the French had stopped the German offensive but suffered a large salient in their lines. This salient was roughly defined as a triangle between Reims, Château-Thierry and Soissons. In addition to this penetration of fifty kilometers into the heart of France, the Germans captured 60 000 prisoners, 650 guns and enormous quantities of munitions, equipment and other material. The future looked very dark with the only bright spot being the arrival each day of 9 000 additional American soldiers, whose fighting qualities were excellent.
The performance of the 2nd. and 3rd. U.S. Divisions during fighting in the region of Château-Thierry had proved this. One of the most striking examples was the attack of the 2nd. U.S. Division, launched on the 6th. June 1918, which threw back the Germans and permitted, after long and difficult fighting, the retaking of the strongholds of "Bois Belleau", Bouresches and Vaux. These battles modified German opinion, which uptil then had been sceptical about the value of the American troops.
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