by Douglas V. Mastriano
Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2018. Pp. xii, 442.
Illus., map, notes, biblio., index. $34.95. ISBN: 9780813175553
A Battle Bigger than “The Bulge”
Col. Mastriano, who is on the staff of the Army War College, is the author of a well received biography of Alvin York and several other works on military planning and civil-military relations, in this work takes a fresh look at the AEF’s Meuse-Argonne offensive. He opens by noting that it is today largely gone from public memory, overshadowed by events of the later, greater war, although in terms of numbers of troops and casualties, and of duration, Meuse-Argonne was truly America’s greatest battle. Oddly, he doesn’t lay out the statistics that prove it.
Mastriano sets the stage by succinctly covering the early years of the war through America’s entry in early 1917, and then on to the defeat of the German Kaiserschlacht in mid-1918. He then gives us an excellent analysis of the final Allied strategy to win the war, with a series of coordinated blows. The AEF would open on Sept. 26th by attacking into the Argonne, to be followed over the next three days by massive offensives by the British, French, and Belgians. There follows a quick look at the AEF’s St. Mihiel offensive, setting the stage for Meuse-Argonne. Remarkably, Mastriano does this in just 40 well written pages.
The balance of the book covers the Meuse-Argonne offensive in considerable detail. We often get the soldiers’ eye-views of the course of the fighting. Some incidents are still familiar, such as Sgt. York’s capture of “the whole damned German Army” or the story of “The Lost Battalion”, and others less so, such as the capture of Vauquois Hill or Lt. Sam Woodfill’s heroics at Cunel. As he covers the events on the battlefield, Mastriano weaves in comments on tactics and equipment, profiles of the troops, and the like, not neglecting the German side.
Mastriano is rightly critical of the leadership of John J. Pershing. He notes, for example, that Pershing's failure to learn from the Allies and his excessive aggressiveness led to poor tactics, and unnecessary casualties. Pershing’s dislike of the National Guard created problems, though oddly, in his discussion of the “collapse” of the 35th Division, Mastriano fails to note that shortly before entering the lines most of its more senior Guard officers had been relieved, in a major blow to morale.
A volume in the UP Kentucky “Battles and Campaigns” series, Thunder in the Argonne is an excellent read for anyone interested in World War I, the AEF, or the American soldier under fire.
Note: Thunder in the Argonne is also available in several e-editions