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Chapter XXVI

Field Operations, Table of Contents




The plans called for a concerted attack by the Third and Fifth Corps to carry Cunel and Romagne heights. Meanwhile the First Corps was to assist the Fifth Corps with its right division, seize the eastern crest of the Argonne with its center, so as to cut off the enfilade fire from that direction, and follow up with its left.

The attack was made at 5.30 a. m., October 4, on a front of 41 km. (25.4 miles) and continued on the 5th. It was only a partial success. The Third Corps penetrated the Bois du Fays and the Bois des Ogons, which is the southern portion of the woods south of Cunel, but was unable to clear the northern part of these woods, known as the Bois de Cunel, or to make farther advance. The Fifth Corps carried its line through Gesnes to the foot of the southern slopes of the heights of Romagne. The 1st Division, on the right of the First Corps, broke the hostile defenses at Exermont and drove the enemy north of the ridge east of Fleville. The center division, the 28th, extended along the Aire River, keeping connection with the 1st Division. Little progress was made in the Argonne.

In the meantime the French Fourth Army had been making good progress and had reached Vaux-les-Mouron, whence its right bent back toward the American left. While the enemy was still in possession of the larger part of the Romagne and Cunel heights, the two armies, in conjunction, were in a position to undertake the clearing of the Argonne.

On September 30 Marshal Foch had directed that the attack be extended east of the Meuse and, at the same time, that the French Army take over the attack on the east side of the Argonne.

On October 2 General Pershing suggested certain objections to this latter feature of the plan. This correspondence resulted in an arrangement whereby the American First Army was to continue its present attack and also undertake the active operations east of the Meuse. The object here was to clear the heights of Dun-sur-Meuse and Damvillers, relieving our troops from the flank fire across the river.

On October 7 the First Corps began the final operation for clearing the Argonne, attacking the crest of the ridge south of Cornay. The 1st Division, on the right, remained in position but continued exploitation. The 77th, on the left, was held in readiness for an advance. In the center, the 82d, assigned

aAbstracted from Major Operation of the American Expenditionary Forces in France, 1917-1918. Prepared in the Historical Section, Army War College.


to the corps for this attack, was inserted in the line, relieving one brigade of the 28th and taking over that part of the front between Chehery and Fleville.

An attack by the 28th and 82d Divisions, directed almost due west, was launched at 5 a. m. without artillery preparation, and Chatel Chehery and the adjacent hills were taken. A firm footing was thus gained on the eastern crest; through the forest the line ran east and west about 2 km. (1.2 miles) north of Binarville. The attack was renewed the next morning, and some farther progress was made. On the night of October 8-9 the relief of the 28th Division by the 82d was completed. The advance continued, and by night the line ran east and west through Cornay. The next day the forest was clear.

This attack was an exceedingly difficult and critical operation. The advance was from the river bed straight up against precipitous heights 300 feet high, and, moreover, the sharp bend in the American lines at Fleville exposed the whole attack to enfilade from the north.

The next problem was the Bois de Romagne, which had to be taken by direct frontal attack. This was made on the 9th by the Fifth Corps, reinforced by the 1st Division and a brigade of the 91st. The country was rough and difficult and the enemy’s resistance, especially by machine guns, was very strong; but steady progress was made, and on the 10th the line had been carried forward to the Romagne—Sommerance road.

In the meantime the Third Corps had advanced through the Bois du Fays and begun to penetrate the Bois de Foret. On the night of October 11 the front was almost straight from the northern tip of the Argonne directly east to the Meuse. On the 12th and 13th the army held these positions and prepared for further attack.

The attack east of the Meuse was opened on the 8th by the French Seventeenth Corps. Its line ran about east from the river at Samogneux; the American 33d Division, then of the Third Corps, was attached to the French Seventeenth Corps for this purpose, connected across the river, and held the left bank downstream to Dannevoux. The French Seventeenth Corps was to start first, the 33d Division crossing the river and joining in when the advance had progressed far enough to clear the crossing and make room for more troops on the left. The right of the line was held by the French 26th Division and the left by the French 18th Division, with one brigade of the American 29th attached.

The attack began at 5 a. m. The right made little progress, but the left gained some ground; and at 9 a. m.three battalions of the 33d Division, with machine-gun companies, crossed the river at Brabant and Consenvoye on bridges built by the engineers. This work was begun during the night and finished in the morning, under fire. For several days the fighting continued in the woods north of Consenvoye, but by the 16th these woods were cleared and the line was nearly as far advanced as that west of the Meuse.

The operations were continued, and by the end of the month had been carried to the high ground between Sivry and Wavrille. This attack broadened the field for our operations, compelled the enemy to disseminate his reserves, and made it more difficult for him to see where our heaviest blows



were to fall. The narrowness of the ridge limited the number of troops that could be used there; this and the cross fire or hostile artillery from the north of Romagne and Damvillers made it impossible to clear the ridge entirely at this time.

To return now to the main operation of the American Army west of the Meuse, it will be remembered that on October 11 the line had been pushed entirely through the Argonne and reached nearly straight east across the Meuse. Important changes now took place, a separate American group of armies being organized.

The new Second Army, General Bullard, took over the front from Fresnes-en-Woevre eastward on October 12. On October 16 General Pershing turned over the command of the First Army to General Liggett, established his own headquarters at Ligny-en-Barrois, and took command of the group.

Meanwhile a new general attack had been made. The French Seventeenth Corps was directed to continue its offensive east of the river. The Third and Fifth Corps were to penetrate the enemy’s third position east and west of the Bois de Bantheville and the Bois de Romagne, connect their attacks near the Grand Carre Farm, at the north end of the Bois de Bantheville, and continue north. The First Corps was to hold with its left and push its right forward in conjunction with the Fifth Corps. The French Fourth Army was to attack on the same day, to outflank the enemy opposing our left.

The attack was made on the 14th, 15th, and 16th of October, on a front of 49 km. (30.4 miles). Not much progress was made, in general, by the First Army. The French Fourth Army crossed the Aisne and reached the Grand Pre-Olizy road, but was driven back to Les Terms.

On the 16th General Pershing issued instructions redefining the mission of the First Army. According to these, the enemy was to be driven to the east and across the Meuse, the advance being in concert with the French Fourth Army. The first mission was to clear the woods east of the Aisne and north of the Aire—the northern extension of the Argonne—and thus flank the enemy’s position on the Aisne. But the hard and continuous fighting was telling on the troops, and there was need for rest and reorganization; so it was decided that the next general attack would not be made for some two weeks.

The First Corps, in conjunction with the French Army, undertook operations to clear the Bois des Loges and the southern part of the Bois de Bourgogne. For 10 days the fighting here was severe, but by October 26, the 78th Division had gained a footing on the high ground and in the woods east of Talma Farm, and by the 27th had driven the enemy from the whole Grandpre region.

While the enemy’s third position had been pierced on Cunel and Romagne heights, there was no good line of departure here for a general attack. The Fifth Corps was therefore called upon to secure the northern edge of the Bois de Bantheville and the Third Corps to clear Cunel heights. These


operations were carried out successfully. East of the Meuse the advance was continued, forcing the enemy to employ fresh troops there.

On October 21 Marshal Foch outlined the combined mission of the French Fourth and American First Armies. On the same day General Pershing issued instructions for the coming general attack. The date was first set for October 28, but was changed later to November 1.


The methods utilized in the first phase of this operation for the care and evacuation of the wounded were continued, and with increased experience were improved during its second phase.

During this phase of the operation army Medical Department units continued distributed as at the commencement of the first phase, with the following exceptions:1 Evacuation Hospitals No. 3 and No. 5, with their ambulance companies, had been transferred on October 1 to the service of the 2d and 36th Divisions in the French Fourth Army, operating in the Champagne sector west of Foret d’Argonne and north of Chalons-sur-Marne. The first mentioned hospital was located in the vicinity of Mont Frenet, Marne, from October 1 until it had cleared its patients, moving to Fontaine Routon on November 10. Evacuation Hospital No. 5 was located at La Veuve, Marne, until October 23, when it moved to Staaden, Belgium, to join Mobile Hospital No. 9 in the service of the 37th and 91st Divisions then operating under French command. Mobile Hospital No. 7, recently equipped in Paris, joined at La Veuve on October 3, was moved to Ferme Suippe on October 7, functioning there until October 15 and moving then to Somme-Py. These places were in the vicinity of Mont Frenet. On October 7 Evacuation Hospital No. 14 was moved from Villers-Daucourt to Les Islettes. Evacuation Hospital No. 15 moved from Revigny to Glorieux, Verdun, where, on October 13, it was established to receive wounded from the Third Corps and to assist in caring for wounded from the French Seventeenth Corps, which on October 8 had begun an attack east of the Meuse.

Personnel of Evacuation Hospitals Nos. 20, 22, and 23, which arrived in the interval October 1-7, were distributed among other hospitals which were being taxed to the utmost. The personnel of Evacuation Hospital No. 21 on its arrival (October 17) was assigned to service with Army Red Cross Hospital No. 110 at Villers-Daucourt.2

Army medical units during the second phase of the Meuse-Argonne operation were located as follows, their arrival at the locations mentioned being on the dates noted:3

Evacuation Hospital No. 4, Fontaine Routon, September 14, moved to Fromereville, Meuse, October 29.

Evacuation Hospital:

No. 6, Souilly, Meuse, August 28.
No. 7, Souilly, Meuse, August 28.
No. 8, Petit Maujouy, Meuse, August 28.
No. 9, Vaubecourt, Meuse, August 30


          No. 10, Froidos, Meuse, September 20.
          No. 11, Brizeaux-Forestieres, Meuse, September 21.
          No. 14, Villers-Daucourt, Marne, September 21, moved to Les Islettes, Meuse, October 7.
          No. 15, Revigny, Meuse, September 21, moved to Glorieux, October 13.
          No. 16, Revigny, Meuse, October 15.
          No. 20 (personnel only), Souilly, October 1.
          No. 21 (personnel only), Villers-Daucourt, Marne, October 17.
          No. 22 (personnel only), Souilly, Meuse, October 7.
          No. 23 (personnel only), Souilly, Meuse, October 7.

Army Red Cross Hospital—

No. 110, Villers-Daucourt, September 24.
No. 114, Fleury-sur-Aire, September 18.

Mobile hospital—

No. 1, Les Clairs Chenes, Meuse, September 24; moved to Fromereville, October 9, and to Esnes, Meuse, October 27.
No. 2, Chateau de Salvange, Meuse, September 24.
No. 4, La Grange-aux-Bois, Marne, September 29, moved to Cheppy, Meuse, October 27.
No. 5, Les Placys, Meuse, September 24.
No. 6, Deuxnouds, Meuse, September 29, moved to Varennes, Meuse, October 17.
No. 8, Deuxnouds, Meuse, October 15.

Neurological Hospital—

          No. 1, Benoite Vaux, Meuse, September 5.
          No. 3, Nubecourt, Meuse, September 20.b

Evacuation Ambulance Company—

          No. 1, Souilly, September 21.
          No. 2, Fontaine Routon, Meuse, September 14, moved to Fromereville, Meuse, October 29.
          No. 5, Souilly, Meuse, October 23.
          No. 6, Les Islettes, Meuse, October 11.
          No. 8, Fleury-sur-Aire, Meuse, September 20.
          No. 10, Froidos, Meuse, September 23.
          No. 12, Vaubecourt, Meuse, September 23.

Base Hospital No. 83, personnel only, Revigny, September 20.

Gas Hospital—

          No. 2, Julvecourt, Meuse-Operated by Ambulance Company No. 108 to October 12.
          No. 4, Rarecourt, Meuse-Operated by Ambulance Company No. 108 to October 12.
          No. 1, Rambluzin, Meuse-Operated by Ambulance Company No. 108 to October 12.
          No. 3, Verrieres, Marne.

bAfter evacuation of war neuroses from the field hospitals to the neurological units at Nubecourt and Benoite Vaux they were again transferred to Base Hospital No. 117, at La Fauche. Every effort was made to prevent the association of these cases with patients who had been actually gassed or with the wounded.


Contagious hospital, Verrieres, Marne.

Contagious hospital, Benoite Vaux (French).

Ambulance Company—

No. 42 (personnel only), Fleury-sur-Aire, October 29.
No. 108 (personnel only), Rambluzin.
No. 120, Villers-Daucourt, Marne, September 26.

Field Hospital—

No. 41, Villers-Daucourt, Marne, September 21.
No. 42, Cheppy, Meuse, October 31.

Medical supply depot, Varennes, Meuse, October 10: Souilly, Meuse, September 14; Vaubecourt, Meuse, September 16; Les Islettes, Meuse, October 4; Fleury-sur-Aire, Meuse, October 1.

The following units were detached and assigned to the Second Army on October 12:2

        Evacuation Hospital—

                No. 1, at Sebastopol.
                No. 2, at Baccarat.
                No. 12, at Royaumeix.   
                No. 13, Justice group, Toul.

        Mobile Hospital—

                No. 3, at Rosieres.
                No. 7, Somme-Py (on November 7).
                No. 39, at Aulnois.

        Provisional Evacuation Ambulance Company No. 1, Sebastopol.

        Evacuation Ambulance Company No. 4, Royaumeix.

It had become evident that it would be impossible to evacuate casualties by any road straight through the Fifth Corps sector and that oblique evacuation to the First and Third Corps sectors was the only recourse. Though the use of such routes of evacuation violated an established principle, there was no alternative.2

During October the number of evacuations was greatly increased on account of a severe influenza epidemic. At this time influenza attacked the First Army, whose evacuation service was already overburdened, and for a while it appeared that its ravages would seriously affect military operations both by depletion of the troops and by overwhelming the sanitary formations.2

The methods followed were sorting, as carefully as though they were wounded, all men who showed signs of influenza, masking all who were affected, transporting uncomplicated cases in ambulances carrying no other class of patients to a special hospital at Revigny set apart for them, and similarly removing all cases evidencing the slightest signs of pneumonia to a special hospital hastily established at the village of Brizeaux, under the charge of expert clinicians, and keeping the unaffected in the open air while influenza was widespread. The morbidity and mortality rates from this epidemic at the front were actually lower than those of troops in the training areas and in the base sections.2


The influenza epidemic did not stop military operations, but it slowed them perceptibly; then when its peak was passed the renewed vigor of the operation increased the already heavy strain upon the Medical Department.4

It was the established military practice to withdraw a division upon signs of distress and to replace it with a fresh one, if necessary, from the Second Army, not yet engaged in an operation. This reduced the number of men who otherwise would have required hospitalization because of exhaustion, a very fortunate thing for the Medical Department. A rest camp for the reception of 5,000 patients from the First Army was proposed to care for men who would be fit for duty within a few days, but its establishment was prevented by lack of Medical Department personnel. Such a camp would have greatly relieved the difficulties of evacuation from hospitals in the army area, lessened congestion in base hospitals, and secured the retention at the front of many thousands of effectives who were lost to their organizations for several weeks by reason of having left the zone of the armies. The need was met to a certain extent by the corps hospitals, which received and retained patients returnable to duty within a few days.4

For this, as well as for other reasons, close liaison was necessary between the chief surgeons of the corps, represented by the commanding officer of their sanitary trains, with the divisional hospitals on the one hand and the evacuation hospitals on the other. The great number of evacuation and special hospitals in the army area increased the difficulties of ambulance evacuation and caused confusion, delays, and waste of transportation. At one time, in October, 1918, there were 11 hospitals in different places draining the front of one corps. Hospitalization resources and the military situation often determined the location of these units, but experience in this operation demonstrated the desirability of grouping hospitals wherever practicable, and condemned the establishment of separate institutions for special classes of cases. The ideal evacuation arrangement was attained when the number of evacuation points was minimized and evacuation hospitals generalized; that is, prepared to receive all kinds of casualties. In them the wounded were sorted under more favorable circumstances than farther forward and were more readily evacuated to base hospitals.5

Reports from evacuation hospitals, formerly called for daily or twice daily, later were required every four hours. These were on prescribed forms, specifying whether patients were or were not coming in rapidly, whether the hospital making the report could or could not take care of the cases being received, and whether it would or would not have to evacuate in a few hours.5

In the week of October 17-23, 29,426 evacuations were made on 74 hospital trains. These figures equal the total number of French evacuations for one month during the most intensive fighting of the Verdun defensive of 1916. In one day—October 17—5,910 evacuations were made by train. For a part of the Meuse-Argonne operation, evacuations were made at the rate of a division a week.5



(1) Medical activities in the Zone of the Armies, by Colonel A. N. Stark, M. C. (undated), 14, On file, Historical Division, S. G. O.

(2) Ibid., 15.

(3) Report on Medical Department units, First Army, by the chief surgeon, First Army, February 6, 1919. On file, Historical Division, S. G. O.

(4) Medical activities in the Zone of the Armies, by Colonel A. N. Stark, M. C. (undated), 16. On file, Historical Division, S. G. O.

(5) Evacuation system of a field army, by Colonel C. R. Reynolds, M. C., undated. On file, Historical Division, S. G. O.