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Analysis of the role played by American troops in the Second Battle of the Marne

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Analysis of the role played by American troops in the
Second Battle of the Marne
The second Battle of the Marne played a decisive role in the outcome of the First World
War. The Battle of Marne began as the last major German offensive of the First World War but
developed into the Second Battle of Marne which became a significant allied victory. The
German attack failed when an Allied counterattack led by French forces and including several
hundred tanks overwhelmed the Germans on their right flank, inflicting severe casualties.
The Battle began on July 15
th
when a number of 23 German divisions led by Bruno von Mudra
and Karl von Einem began an assault on the French Fourth Army led by Henri Gouraud. The
U.S. 42
nd
division was at the time attached and commanded by Gouraud. On the first day the
German attack was stopped on the east of Reims but on the west side the German offensive fared
much better. The defenders of the south bank weren’t able to hold off the Germans either.
Stormtroopers swarmed across the river in every 30-man canvas boats or rafts. They began to
erect skeleton bridges at 12 points under fire from those Allied survivors who had not been
suppressed by gas or artillery fire. The 3
rd
U.S. Infantry Division "Rock of the Marne" managed
to hold on the attack and even counterattack but eventually as the evening fall the Germans
managed to capture a bridgehead either side of Dormans. The British XXII Corps and 85,000
American troops joined the French for the battle, and stalled the advance on 17 July. Despite
small successes the Germans failed to break-through and destroy the allied forces on the ground.
This allowed the Allied Supreme Commander to launch a major counteroffensive on July 18
th
. 24
French divisions, alongside the Buffalo Soldiers of the 92nd Infantry Division (United States)
and 93rd Infantry Division (United States) under French command, joined by other Allied troops

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including eight large U.S. divisions under U.S. command and 350 tanks launched a major
counterattack.
Foch the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces managed to spot flaws in the German
offensive which further facilitated the success of the Allies. Coordinating this counter-attack
would be a major problem as Foch had to work with "four national commanders but without any
real authority to issue order under his own name[...]they would have to fight as a combined force
and to overcome the major problems of different languages, cultures, doctrines and fighting
styles” (Neinberg). Most World War I historians agree that the presence of fresh American
troops, unbroken by years of war, significantly bolstered Allied resistance to the German
offensive. Floyd Gibbons wrote about the American troops, saying “I never saw men charge to
their death with finer spirit." Official numbers show that 12,000 American soldiers were killed or
injured during this battle.
The months August and September marked the last phase of this battle. The American forces
were holding a stretch of approximately six kilometers from St. Thibaut to Fismes. The Germans
used cannon fire trying to thin their ranks. The American troops nicknamed the area “Death
Valley”, spending almost a month there.
Trench warfare was a horrific experience in World War One. It has been said that, aside from
the far off booming of artillery, the first thing a soldier who was heading to the trenches would
notice was the smell. The pungent stench of the decaying flesh of man and animal along with the
smell of human and animal waste mixed with the acrid smell of the high explosive artillery
shells, would literally assault the olfactory senses of the new soldier. Witnesses say that the
closer one got to the front the louder and more foul smelling it got. The trenches themselves

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offered no comfort most were partially flooded with mud and water which caused trench-foot to
countless soldiers who had to wade for days in the frigid water. At the same time the trenches
were plagued with lice and rats, rats that often grew to the size of cats feasting off of the plentiful
corpses that lay around. Food was scarce and hardly appetizing drinking water often had to be
transported in used fuel cans and though they were cleaned thoroughly they still tainted the
water's taste. If one would not be careful to keep his head down a sniper would shoot him
immediately. German high explosive artillery rained down almost constantly along the trench-
lines. Many soldiers who suffered from shell-shock or post traumatic stress disorder were
executed as cowards as the mental disorder had not yet recognized by the medical community.
An attack on an enemy trench meant days of heavy artillery barrage intended on destroying the
enemy's fighting ability. Tens sometimes hundreds of thousands of lives would be lost with little
or no ground gained. Of course the soldiers experience did not start out so horrifically as
hundreds of thousands of young men volunteered for service, sold on the promise of a "Grand
Adventure" their hearts filled with patriotism, they lined up to serve their country. New soldiers
often sang songs and whistled cheerfully on their long marches to the front. Marching to the
battlefield side by side with friends and neighbors and often family in Pals' Battalions made up
of young men from one town or county so there was a great feeling of camaraderie.
Unfortunately all too often entire battalions would be slain leaving entire communities back
home without their men.
These horrific experiences of being locked for months in close range fighting, trenches and being
constantly shot at by German cannons was finally brought to an end when an attack by the
French Tenth Army finally broke the deadlock in late August. The U.S. Army 32
nd
division also
took part in this offensive their capture of Juvigny on August 30th being a crucial blow against

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