DURING the spring and early summer of 1918 the Allies were on the defensive quivering under smashing German blows, which drove them back with tremendous losses.
In the fall of 1918, the Germans were on the defensive, being driven by Allied blows sullenly back toward Germany.
Somewhere between these two periods was a day when the Germans passing from one victory to another, certain that their goal of a German dictated peace was just ahead of them, were stopped in their course. Not only stopped, but stopped so thoroughly that they never again took the offensive.
Which day was that decisive day of the War?
What part, if any, did we play in making it so?.
General Ludendorff says that the 8th of August was the black day of the war for him. This because on this day the German troops did not resist a British and French attack with the same stubbornness they had always displayed up to this date. They gave way too easily and surrendered in large numbers.
Those, and they are many, who insist that we only arrived on the battle-fields of France in time to hasten the already certain German defeat, always quote Ludendorff's black day.
They say that the German army had been steadily deteriorating for years; they say that the crumbling of the German troops on the 8th of August proves it was this long deterioration and not a decisive battle which led to German defeat.
Their opponents claim that the tide of German victory was stopped on the chalk plains of Champagne the 15th and 16th of July, when, for the first time, a grand Hindenburg-Ludendorff attack was abruptly stopped with a bloody repulse.
In March, Hindenburg and Ludendorff with their reenforcement of fifty divisions, 650,000 men, brought from the Russian front, had heavily attacked the British.
The British Fifth Army of approximately 200,000 was practically wiped out of existence---killed, wounded, captured, dispersed! It was the greatest defeat in British military history!
The fighting spread northward.
During March and April this great battle cost the British at least 200,000 killed, wounded and captured.
Added to this enormous Allied loss was the weakened effect on the French army because of the help they gave the British. First, the hole made in the line between the British and French by the defeat of the Fifth Army had to be filled up. Second, reenforcements had to be sent to the north, where the Germans were savagely attacking the British.
The French sent a total of forty divisions with a large force of cavalry and additional artillery-about 750,000 men, or nearly one-half of the fighting strength of their army. To do this twenty-five percent of their divisions along the rest of the front had to be taken out. Thus, besides heavy battle casualties the greater part of their line was so thinned out as to be very weak.
May 27, Hindenburg and Ludendorff, taking advantage of this weakness, started their second great attack. They chose the part of the line along the Chemin-des-Dames famous for General Nivelle's bloody failure to break through in the spring of 1917, and from its eastern end to Rheims dominated by the tower of its ruined cathedral. This part of the line was thinly held by French divisions and some British divisions sent there to rest after the March fighting.
The total force used by the Germans was 500,000 men with 4,000 pieces of artillery.
The attack swept over everything. With the remnants of the original defenders it drove French division after division, hurried to reenforce the line, before it. By June 3, as the last little wavelets of a rising tide reach their highest point on the beach, the most advanced German troops came to rest on the Marne River between Château-Thierry and Dormans.
When would the next great blow come? Could the Allies stop it? Or would it drive everything before it as the first parts of the March and May attacks? This time, because of the heavy Allied losses from these two attacks, and the consequent lack of Allied reserves, would it crash through, ending the war in Germany's favor?
On March 21, when the first German attack began, there were 197 German divisions in France.
By the end of May 11, there were 208, a force of more than 2,500,000 men.
The French and British had different opinions as to where the blow would fall. The same had been true before the March attack. In both cases, the British were sure it would be made on them and the French inclined to believe they would have to face it. In each case enemy actions justified this opinion, thus keeping the Allies guessing.
Picture a warm, calm summer July night, with the stars by their brilliance attracting the gaze upward. Hardly a sound disturbs the apparent peacefulness of the scene. Apparent peacefulness, because it is the calm which precedes the terrific storm of an artillery fire such as the world has never before seen.
From Château-Thierry in the west, along the Marne River to Dormans, thence across the rolling country to the old city of Rheims, where most of the long line of French kings were crowned; around and just to the north of Rheims and across the chalky plains of the Champagne, almost to the hardly penetrable forest of the Argonne, a distance of eighty-five miles, 1,000,000 men wait in almost breathless expectancy and that terrible anxiety, which comes to many before combat, for the opening crash of artillery which will begin the second battle of the Marne, one of the. great decisive battles of history.
To the north of the line are 650,000 soldiers in the field gray of Germany, who make up the armies of von Boehn, von Mudra, and von Einem all under the Crown Prince of Germany. Opposite them, stretching from Château-Thierry to Rheims, is the Fifth French Army commanded by General Berthelot. And from Rheims east across the Champagne the Fourth French Army under General Gouraud.
In these two armies are three American divisions, the equivalent of six French, British, or German ones because of their strength of 27,000 men each.
In the middle of Gouraud's army is the Forty-second Infantry Division, commonly called the Rainbow because made up of units from twenty-six states, from Minnesota and Illinois on the north. to Alabama and Texas on the south; from New York on the east to California on the west. Made up of national guardsmen, some of its regiments have long battle traditions to live up to.
The New York and Alabama infantry regiments, now friendly rivals, served in opposing armies during the Civil War, in one battle of which they attacked each other. The Ohio infantry also has a Civil Warrecord. The Iowa regiment not only distinguished itself in the Civil War but fought during the Philippine Insurrection in a way which will never be forgotten.
Among the ranks of the division are many sons and grandsons of the men who made these past records. They are soon to show they are worthy descendants.
On the extreme left of the line, not far from Château-Thierry, stretched along the southern banks of the Marne is the Third Division. It is made up of regulars. Shortly they will add one more name to the glorious list on their colors, and prove once more that, regardless of losses, of the isolation of being surrounded on three sides by an attacking enemy, the regular imbued by the spirit of West Point expressed in its motto, "Honor, Duty, Country," will not let an enemy pass.
Near by is the Twenty-eighth Division, made up of national guard troops from Pennsylvania whose heritage stretches from the days of Washington's battlefields up through every war fought by the Union. Once more sons of that state are to prove their loyalty by bravely giving their lives in battle.
The French have brought all the artillery which can be spared from their whole front, and concentrated it back of these two armies. They have brought all their infantry reserves.
Are they right? Or have they made a mistake, and will the German attack come somewhere else and crash with ease through the thinned-out defenses, denuded to concentrate this mass of men and guns from Château-Thierry to the Argonne?
What is going on, on the other side of the line, the unusual quietness of which for weeks has excited suspicion?
The enemy has made no trench raids to get prisoners; he has not retaliated to the artillery fire brought down well inside his lines to interfere with troop and supply movements. By day the French airplanes can find no movement; by night they can see nothing, but do hear the noises which indicate considerable movement. The trench raids made by the French have brought back from the German front lines only the older men of the divisions habitually used in the quiet sectors; no younger men of the, "storm troops" used for attack have been caught.
Many had believed that the attack would come the night of the 13th-14th of July, the night before the great French holiday corresponding to our Fourth of July. With breathless anxiety the troops stood to their arms and waited; but nothing happened. With the first signs of dawn, instead of the expected attack, there was only a silence so beyond that of an ordinary sector as to be ominous in its intensity.
With sunset of the 14th, began another period of anxiety. Would the attack come? After all, was the French high command wrong? Had it made a terrible mistake in concentrating its reserves of infantry and artillery back of the Fourth and Fifth armies, with the consequence that the war would be lost because of the ease with which von Hindenburg and Ludendorff would decisively smash through elsewhere?
At nine o'clock, when it was completely dark, Lieutenant Belastier, with Sergeant Lejeune, Corporals Hoquet and Gourmelon, and Private Ausmasson, all of the Fourth French Army, without artillery support fire, with great courage and skill managed to slip through the older troops in the front-line German trenches. Finally, when well in the German line, they saw infantry approaching and by their bearing judged them to be younger men and storm troops. With heroic courage they attacked them by surprise, made several prisoners and succeeded in fighting their way back to their own lines, bringing their prisoners with them.
Questioning proved these men to be "storm troops"; also that the artillery preparation for the attack was to begin at midnight and the infantry to go over the top at daylight.
If this were true, the country opposite for miles back was swarming with the advancing hordes of German infantry moving to the positions from which they would make the assault in the morning. If this were true, here was a target for the French and American artillery, long adjusted to fire on every road, every path, and every communicating trench for miles back in the German territory opposite.
If it were not true, and the command was given to fire, the tremendous artillery conflagration which would blaze forth would notify the Germans as clearly as a message printed in the blackest and largest type on the whitest sheet of paper that the French expected the attack along this front, and as a consequence other fronts being feebly held could offer but little resistance.
General Gouraud, prior to the outbreak of the Great War in 1914, had spent twenty years of his life fighting in Nigeria, in the French Sudan and in Morocco. In these combats he had been twice wounded by arrows. In a hand-to-hand combat he had killed a native chief Samory, who for years had terrorized an immense territory and always successfully evaded the French columns sent in pursuit. Early in the war he had been wounded in the shoulder by a rifle bullet, but had refused to leave the line. At the Dardanelles, where he commanded the French troops in the combined British and French Expeditionary Force, a shell blew off one arm, broke one leg, and so badly smashed the other that he can walk only with difficulty. His experience had bred that determination of character without which no general, no matter how brilliant, ever succeeds; while his suffering, far from lowering his spirit, had exalted it.
After listening to the result of questioning the prisoners, General Gouraud without hesitancy, and without undue delay, gave the command for the heavier long-range guns, and half the lighter guns, to fire at
I11:30 P.M. The other half of the light guns were kept as a daylight surprise for the German infantry when it left its trenches to attack.
With a crash that was heard in Paris 100 miles away, with a fiery flare that illuminated the night, so that crowds poured from their houses into the streets of that city to watch it, thousands of guns opened fire on the twenty-five miles of the Fourth French Army front. Thirty minutes later, at midnight, the Fifth French Army, on the left, opened the same fire.
Minute after minute passed and not a shot from the Germans. Ten minutes passed, fifteen minutes, twenty, twenty-five, and still silence.
Some of the watching and waiting officers almost cried in their increasing fear that a tremendous mistake had been made; that after all the Germans planned no attack on this front, and that instead of this avalanche of shells bursting in the midst of German storm troops moving to their attack positions, it was being wasted on the mostly deserted roads and trails and communicating trenches of a position lightly held with older defense troops.
General Gouraud, watch in hand, stood silently waiting to see if the German fire would begin at midnight as the Germans captured in the raid had said. The minutes dragged along without a word. The clock in the room began to strike twelve. It completed twelve. No fire! Minute after minute dragged itself by. No fire!
At 12:10 came the roar of several large-sized projectiles followed quickly by the terrific crashes of their explosion. The electric lights went out. The electric power plant had been destroyed.
In the darkness the chief of staff heard General Gouraud say, "Thank God."
The anxious watchers in the trenches suddenly saw the sky behind the German lines opposite light with a tremendous flare, stretching farther to the right and left than any individual could see. In the fraction of a second longer which it took the sound to travel came the roar of 2,000 German batteries. This, an average of one gun for every twenty yards of the whole forty miles of front, was the greatest artillery concentration in history. The shells bursting on the whole front and reaching back for miles not only covered the battlefield proper, but fell even in the town of Chalons, twenty miles to the rear.
This fire continued without abatement until noon the next day.
It smashed trenches. It blasted paths and roads out of existence. It searched the ruins of villages and farmhouses, churning them up, previous fighting having left but little to blow down. It reached back and tore up small groves and woods hitherto ignored as too far to the rear. It reached into and tore down villages well to the rear of the battle-field driving their inhabitants, who had not been fired upon in previous Champagne battles, into the fields. For nearly four years since the closing of the first battle of the Marne the French and Germans had fought each other in the Champagne without great gains one way or another.
The German artillery fire searched every locality, every spot which four years of fighting along this same line had taught them could be useful to troops and guns in battle; every locality which desperate troops being driven back might occupy in attempting to stay a victorious advance.
It did everything that artillery can do to prepare the way for the victorious advance, beginning at daylight, of the twenty-five divisions of infantry which were to crash through the French and Americans of the Fourth Army, and with nothing but their fleeing remnants before them, to reach the Marne at and on both sides of Chalons the same day.
From Rheims to Château-Thierry the German artillery was preparing the way for twenty-five German divisions to smash through to both sides of Epernay, ten miles away on the Marne and twenty miles to the west of Chalons.
With both German armies on the Marne and to the south of it west of Epernay, the center of the Allied line would be broken. The Allied troops to the west could only retreat toward Paris and the sea unless touch was to be lost with the British to the north. This would have created the very separation Hindenburg and Ludendorff had tried to bring about by their March attack.
The troops to the east of the German break-through, if they retreated east would soon be back to back with the French and American troops along the line from Verdun to Switzerland. This would mean danger of being surrounded and captured as the Germans had planned to do with the whole French army before they were defeated in the first battle of the Marne.
If, to avoid this, they retreated south they would have to abandon the line across the Argonne, later to be the jump-off for the greatest battle in our history; Verdun so heroically and determinedly defended by the French in 1916 at the cost of 350,000 casualties; the Saint-Mihiel salient, where the First American Army won its first victory; and most of the Lorraine line held by the French since 1914 and the scene of the first experience at the front of most of our divisions.
In other words, such a break-through meant the beginning of the end, if not the end.
As dawn approached the anxiety of the soldiers of both the attacker and defender increased. Bodies tired from being awake all night, nerves on edge from the physical shock of constant explosions and from the moral one of the constant sight of death and wounding, with the knowledge that any instant might bring the same fate.
At 4:17 A.M. the French and American infantry and artillery sentinels across the Champagne see red rockets go up from the front line. The front line has no defenders in it, only heroic men who have volunteered to be left alone scattered along its front. Those who survive the German bombardment before the attack have the duty to send up a red rocket when they see the German infantry come over the top of their front line and advance over No Man's Land. Having done this, they are free to run back through the bombardment to the nearest defenders in the sacrifice islands almost a mile to the rear. As the small detachments occupying these isolated posts are to be sacrificed, to reach one is only jumping out of the frying pan into the fire.
As the red rockets soar above the smoke and dust of the bombardment the infantrymen and artillerymen of the light field guns, who have had deep bomb-proofs available, rush from them and take their battle stations. The light field guns, saved to welcome the German infantry as they come over the top, add their voices and flame to the artillery bombardment. Their shells cover No Man's Land; they keep pace with the German infantry's advance across the empty French first-line trenches, across the mile of ground networked with trenches all empty of defenders, with its dug-outs filled with gas and bombs to destroy those who, flinching from their duty to advance, seek shelter within them.
From prisoners afterward it was learned that the Germans asked each other, "What do these trenches empty of defenders mean?"
To them it was a relief from their surprise and uncertainty finally to bump up against the defenders of the "sacrifice islands." They thought these were the main infantry defense.
They were not, however, as they were to learn bitterly after they had overcome them through savage attacks and moved on confident that no serious defense was left before them. Then after more empty trenches passed over and through to the ever accompanying bursts of French and American shells, they ran into determined defense by French and American soldiers, a mile and a half to two miles back from the first French trench they had jumped into that morning.
Along with the machine-gun fire from the parts of the line held by Americans, they met accurate long-distance rifle fire. Though the American nation, with the vanishing of the frontier, has ceased to be a nation of riflemen, the American army not only has preserved the traditions of the frontier forefathers, but has insisted upon the careful training of the infantry soldier to use his rifle as his primary weapon. The American private of infantry does not need to be disciplined to understand that there is no reason why an enemy should only have to face machine-gun fire until the short distance away at which a hand grenade can be thrown at him. His common sense tells him that nothing is more effective to kill and wound and to break down an attacking enemy's morale than the deliberate picking out of individuals as targets and shooting them down at five hundred and six hundred yards, and even farther, if they can be seen.
However, despite all the German infantry had been through---the heavy losses they had suffered from Gouraud's surprise artillery fire while they were moving to their attack positions, the heavy losses from additional artillery fire begun at daylight as they sprang out of their trenches to cross No Man's Land, and from then on, the losses endured in attacking and flowing around or over the sacrifice islands, the losses in the last few hundred yards of their approach---they made a heavy attack upon the main position. On the front of the Ohio infantry, and their French comrades on either side, they attacked seven times.
The acts of heroism which took place would fill several volumes.
After the watchers left in the front-line trench a mile and a half to two miles in front of the position where the defense was to be made---left to send up rockets warning of the German infantry attack!---the garrisons of the sacrifice islands deserve the greatest credit for heroism.
These islands were simply various strong points in the midst of the trenches, approximately half-way between the old front line and the new front line, the line of first real resistance. They were islands because each was cut off from the others, and must stand or fall alone. When the attacking German infantry struck them, it surged around them, and, in most cases, over them, as a large roller coming in from the sea while broken by rocks on its path to the beach surges around and over them.
To break up the German infantry attack, even though submerged by it---just as the rocks break up the advancing wave---thus preventing its striking the main line of defense a united and, perhaps, overwhelming blow, was the very purpose for which these heroic men were put in these positions. They knew they were to sacrifice themselves, and had volunteered to do so.
Lieutenant Vaughn, with twenty-five men, of the 166th Ohio Infantry, occupied one of these positions. None of them was seen again until the return of prisoners after the Armistice, when a few came back to tell of Vaughn, shot through the head, unconscious; the majority killed or wounded by the Germans who surrounded them on every side. The survivors were made prisoners.
Major Basnier, of the 366th French Infantry, in one of these positions, with part of his battalion, held out for eighteen hours. When notified by wireless that his surrender was authorized, during the night he forced his way out with the remnants of his men, at the point of the bayonet, and back a distance of almost a mile to the main position, bringing fourteen German prisoners with him. He was decorated the next day on the battlefield with the Legion of Honor.
In the defense of the main position, many officers and men set inspiring examples of that bravery which, disdaining all personal danger, thinks only of beating the enemy.
Lieutenant Christenson, of Ohio, jumped up on the parapet, in plain sight of the enemy and fully exposed to his fire. This, in order better to throw grenades. Wounded then, and once more during the day, he refused to go to the rear until so weak he could no longer resist evacuation.
Sergeant O'Neill, of the 165th Infantry, commonly known as the "New York Irish," though wounded by a shell fragment, insisted upon returning to his platoon, after his wounds had been dressed, and threw himself into the hand-to-hand fighting then going on.
Private Christenberry, of the 167th Alabama Infantry, generally spoken of as the "Alabams," though wounded, not only remained at his post, but also rescued a comrade who had been buried when a shell caved in the trench.
Lieutenant Williams, of the Medical Detachment of the Iowa Infantry Regiment, learning that men were constantly wounded by the heavy German artillery fire upon those companies of the regiments which had no trenches, left the dug-out where his first-aid station was established, and for more than two hours dressed the wounds of the men lying in the open.
Private Cummings, of the 149th Field Artillery, who was in a forward artillery observation station in an exposed trench left it to go to the help of Private Sutton, of the same regiment, a telephone linesman badly wounded while repairing a wire. As he reached Sutton he fell by his side, also wounded. His captain, Reddington, who was controlling the fire of his battery from this station, immediately jumped from the trench and went to the rescue of them both.
Corporal George B. Reid, of the 151st Field Artillery, was seriously wounded by the fire from a low-flying German airplane. However, he stuck by his gun, refusing to be evacuated until fire then being executed was finished.
The Rainbow Division Trench Mortar Battery, made up of men from Baltimore, had been put in front of the main line trenches, so that their projectiles might reach farther into the advancing Germans. Despite heavy losses, they remained not only until the last round had been fired, but until all their mortars had been destroyed or buried by the enemy's fire.
From Rheims almost to the Argonne Forest, everywhere, everybody---French and American---responded to Gouraud's order issued before the battle, in which he said:
"The bombardment will be terrible! You will support it without failure. The assault will be savage, in clouds of dust, smoke, and gas, but your position and your armament are formidable. In your breasts beat the brave and strong hearts of free men! No one will look to the rear. No one will recoil one step. Each will have but one thought---to kill and keep on killing until the enemy has had enough. I, your commanding general, say: you will break the assault and make the day a glorious one!"
By noon the attacks, after bloody losses, had practically ceased. They were renewed that afternoon, only to fail again. The next morning, once more, the assault was tried and failed.
General Gouraud then issued the following order congratulating the Fourth Army:
"The Germans were ordered to reach the Marne by the evening of the 15th of July.
"You stopped them dead---on the line where you decided to fight and gain the battle.
"You have the right to be proud.
"It is a hard blow for the enemy.
"It is a glorious day for France."
On the front from Rheims southwest to the Marne and thence east along the Marne to near Château-Thierry the Germans fared much better.
Their attack pushed back the Italian, British, and French troops between Rheims and the Marne until by the evening of July 18 the Germans, on a front of five miles just north of the Marne, were within less than six miles of Epernay.
Under the protection of the fire of 500 batteries they crossed to the south bank of the Marne from Fossoy, four miles east of Château-Thierry, to Dormans.
These enemy troops by the night of July 18 had pushed their left within less than six miles of Epernay. Epernay was the principal objective for the attack between Château-Thierry and Rheims, just as Châlons-sur-Marne was for the attack through the Champagne.
By this same evening the center of these troops had gotten four miles southeast of Dormans.
However, the remnants of their extreme left had been driven north of the Marne.
On this extreme left, where stood our Third Regular Infantry Division with units of the Twenty-eighth Pennsylvania Infantry Division interspersed with the French on its right, the ground is of an entirely different character from that in the Champagne.
Instead of undulating chalky plains cut in every direction by trenches resulting from four years' struggle, is the beautifully hilly country of green woods and poppy-strewn fields through which winds the Marne River.
Except for the brief passing of the armies during the campaign of the first Marne battle, this country had remained untouched by war until nearly four years later, when the second of the Hindenburg-Ludendorff great assaults carried the Germans once more to the banks of the Marne.
The positions of the troops had been occupied only since the first days of June, when the last waves of the great German assault of May had been brought to a stop along this line. Therefore, they only had such trenches as had been dug during this period. Many were so shallow as to be of little value. Consequently the German fire, from shortly after midnight on, killed and wounded many more proportionately here than in the Champagne.
As was the case in the Champagne, however, the Allied fire brought down on where the German infantry was thought to be advancing to its assault position, prior to the opening up of its own artillery fire, had a murderous effect.
In the Champagne, two German infantry divisions had so suffered from the Franco-American artillery fire prior to the attack that they had to be relieved by two reserve divisions which attacked in their stead.
Since the war, Germans who took part have stated they never saw so many dead of their own infantry as they left behind as they advanced down the north slopes of the Marne Valley to the river.
The first Germans got across in single pontoons at a number of places during the night. A smoke screen put down by the German artillery just south of the river covered the building of a number of pontoon bridges, across which the rest of their infantry came to the attack.
Savage infantry fighting took place in the fields just south of the Marne and along the slopes leading up from it.
The 28th Pennsylvania Division, with some units in reserve and some in the line among the French, took its share of the blow of the German attack. Though it had had no previous combat experience in quiet sectors to prepare it, its men and officers by their conduct in the face of one of the greatest assaults of history, upheld the traditions established by the Pennsylvania troops on the battle-fields of all our previous wars.
On July 16 the 111th Pennsylvania Infantry relieved the 30th Regular Infantry, which had suffered heavy losses since the fighting began on the 15th.
Lieutenant McGuire, of the 109th Infantry, although painfully wounded shortly after his platoon began an attack, refused to be evacuated, but continued with it.
Lieutenant Shenkel, with but seven men, completely surrounded by the enemy, personally led them in fighting their way out by the use of their rifle butts and bayonets, himself killing an opposing German officer.
Captain McLean, of the 110th Infantry, having been sent as a liaison officer with a French command, upon the death or wounding of all the officers of the company with which he found himself, reorganized the remaining men and with them successfully fought his way through the enemy though twice entirely surrounded.
Sergeant Martz gathered together the remnants of his company overrun by the German infantry attack. When all but three others were killed or wounded, he led them in a successful attempt to fight their way through the enemy's lines.
The 3rd Division had its four regiments of infantry in line, the 4th on the left nearest Château-Thierry, the 7th next, then the 30th and the 38th on the right next the French.
The 38th, the 30th, and part of the 7th were on ground the Germans intended to capture and hold to protect the left flank of their main movement southeast toward Epernay.
Because of the unfaltering determination of the division they not only failed to capture this ground but were driven back north of the Marne.
The Americans took a heavy toll of the Germans with their rifles. A large number of the German dead lying among the wheat on the northern slopes of the Marne were shot neatly through the head.
The infantry platoons first exposed to the enemy's infantry attack distinguished themselves by their determination. Some were wiped out, others suffered heavy losses, but all stood.
Lieutenant Charles Seagraves, 7th Infantry, was twice captured but escaped each time. In doing so he killed a total of five Germans. After his second escape he gathered together 100 men, the remnants of a number of platoons, and successfully occupied and held a gap in the line.
Lieutenant H. P. Marsh, of the 30th Infantry, subsequently killed in action in the Argonne, refused to surrender when his thirty men were surrounded by a larger force of the enemy. Instead he fought his way to where Captain J. W. Woolridge, of the 38th Infantry, had established himself with the remnants of his and other commands in the rock pile near the village of Mezy.
Captain Woolridge though surrounded and outnumbered, used the fire of his rifles so effectively, coupled with counter-attacks, that he not only held his own but took 300 prisoners. Of his 189 men all but 51 were killed or wounded.
The 38th Infantry to which he belonged occupied a position open to attack from two sides to start with. After several hours it was being attacked on three sides. However, it yielded no ground, thereby earning for itself the name "The Rock of the Marne." In his final report, General Pershing said that this regiment "wrote one of the most brilliant pages in the annals of military history, in preventing the crossing of certain points of its front, while on either side the Germans who had gained a footing pressed forward." Its loss in killed and wounded was about forty percent of its combat strength.
Though his right remained turned for several kilometers, General Dickman commanding the 3rd Division, was able to report the morning of the 16th, "On the front of the 3rd Division, there are no Germans south of the Marne except the dead."
On the 17th, the 3rd Division held its position.
Gouraud's success by this time was freeing reserves which were being sent to stop the German advance toward Epernay.
Before noon the 18th came the news that French and American troops had begun with great success an attack on the German right flank and rear from Château-Thierry in the south to opposite Soissons, twenty-five miles to the north.
This coupled with French counter-attacks stopped the Germans from pushing farther towards Epernay between the right of the 3rd Division and Rheims.
The defensive half of the second battle of the Marne was over. For the first time a full-fledged Hindenburg-Ludendorff attack had been stopped.
The "Friedensturm" or offensive, which by its success was to bring a German peace, had failed.
The Germans never attacked again.
The 8th of August, Ludendorff's black day, was still three weeks in the future, thus three weeks after the decisive days of the war, July 15 to 18, inclusive.
The Germans attacked with about 650,000 men, approximately the same number as they used in their first great attack in March.
At the time of the March attack there were 285,000 American troops in France. There were but five combat divisions in the line or in reserve. This was a total of but 140,000 men to reenforce our Allies.
At the time of the German attack on July 15, there were nineteen American combat divisions in the line or in reserve with the army corps troops, making a reenforcement to our Allies of 700,000 combat soldiers.
Those who did not serve in the battle itself freed veteran French divisions from other parts of the line to do so.
Without this reenforcement their strength would have been missing the fateful 15th of July.
This American reenforcement equal to more than the strength of the assaulting force, though not available, because of our unpreparedness, till a year and a quarter after we declared war, came to our Allies at the decisive moment when victory, hitherto inclined to the German side, needed a strong counterbalance to tip the scales the other way.
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