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(1914-1918) WWI
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john hayward
Allenstown
NH USA
Posts: 816
Cantigny May 28 1918
Posted on: 5/21/2020 7:35:04 PM

The Battle of Cantigny, fought May 28, 1918 was the first major American battle and offensive of World War I. The U.S. 1st Division, the most experienced of the five American divisions then in France and in reserve for the French Army near the village of Cantigny, was selected for the attack. The objective of the attack was both to reduce a small salient made by the German Army in the front lines but also to instill confidence to the French that the AEF could be counted on.

At 06:45AM on May 28, 1918, American soldiers of the 28th Infantry Regiment left their jump-off trenches following an hour-long artillery preparation. Part of the preparation was counter-battery fire directed at German artillery positions. A rolling barrage, advancing 100 meters every two minutes, was calculated to give the attacking troops time to keep up with it.

The 28th Infantry Regiment (Colonel Hansen Ely, commanding) plus two companies of the 18th Infantry Regiment, three machine-gun companies and a company of engineers (3,564 men), captured Cantigny from units of the German Eighteenth Army. The village was situated on high ground surrounded by woods, making it an ideal observation post for German artillery.

Because the Americans did not have them in sufficient quantity, the French provided air cover, 368 heavy artillery pieces, trench mortars, tanks, and flamethrowers. The French Schneider tanks were from the French 5th Tank Battalion. Their primary purpose was to eliminate German machine gun positions. With this massive support, and advancing on schedule behind the creeping artillery barrage, the 28th Infantry took the village in 30 minutes. It then continued on to its final objective roughly a half kilometer beyond the village.

The Americans reduced the salient and expanded their front by approximately a mile. A minor success, its significance was overshadowed by the battle underway along the Aisne. The U.S. forces held their position with the loss of 1,603 casualties, including 199 killed in action; they captured 250 German prisoners.

The American success at Cantigny assured the French that American divisions could be depended upon in the line against the German offensive to take Paris. The victory at Cantigny was followed by attacks at Château-Thierry and Belleau Wood in the first half of June.

For many years following the war May 28 was a National holiday in the US. It was more popular than Memorial Day with parades, picnics and speeches being held across the country. It was overshadowed by WWII and after this war Memorial Day took over.
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"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
Jim Cameron
Ossining
NY USA
Posts: 914
Cantigny May 28 1918
Posted on: 5/24/2020 10:28:23 AM

"First Over There: the Attack on Cantigny", by Matthew Davenport, is not only an excellent, almost bullet by bullet study of the attack, but is among the best tactical studies I have ever read on WW1 or any other war. Perhaps THE best. If you have yet to read it, you're missing out on a real gem.

The Germans were determined not to lose the first significant engagement with the AEF, and, to inflict an early blow to American morale. They would launch repeated counterattacks to recapture the town. American efforts were hampered when much of the French artillery support was removed to support the fighting on the Aisne.
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Jim Cameron Every time I go to Gettysburg, I learn two things. Something new, and, how much I still don't know.
john hayward
Allenstown
NH USA
Posts: 816
Cantigny May 28 1918
Posted on: 5/25/2020 8:03:58 AM

Jim
Its a great read. Never had really heard about Cantigny until I read it. Knew more about the later fighting at Chateau Thierry and Belleau Wood. Very surprised to learn how big a National holiday it became then to just vanish from the American landscape
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"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
George
Centre Hastings
ON Canada
Posts: 10971
Cantigny May 28 1918
Posted on: 5/25/2020 9:13:23 AM

You got me boys. I just ordered the book from amazon.ca. Should be here in a week or so which seems longer than usual. Funny thing, the kindle reader price was a few cents more than the hardcover copy so I bought the book. Usually the e-reader price is much less than the book.

I'm looking forward to this read. I don't know a lot about the US involvement in this war so it should be enlightening.

Cheers,

George
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George
Centre Hastings
ON Canada
Posts: 10971
Cantigny May 28 1918
Posted on: 7/14/2020 12:09:12 PM

I finally got around to reading this book and I enjoyed it greatly. The author's description of battlefield conditions at Cantigny were vivid and horrific. The artillery barrages, in both directions, were devastating.

And I learned quite a bit about the US officers leading the division. The tactics used were typical of those developed over the course of the war and so it was impressive to see a combined arms approach. (minus air support)

There were times when the American soldiers were just sitting in their trenches taking heavy artillery of different types while German planes were aloft spotting US troop movements or soldiers gathered in the trenches. The planes either bombed or reported co-ordinates for an artillery shoot.

So I wondered, where were the French or US planes to drive them off?

Altogether an excellent read. Davenport seemed to have researched many of the deaths during the battle and I think was paying tribute to each one as he described the death of a soldier.

EDIT: Lieutenants seemed to fall at an alarming rate. Davenport describes multiple cases of a lieutenant standing above the parapet to exhort his men to brave deeds or to direct fire, only to be cut down by MG fire or artillery.

Cheers,

George
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Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4650
Cantigny May 28 1918
Posted on: 7/15/2020 5:12:24 AM

George,

A battle of Cantigny’s scale is the way ahead in military history, don’t you think ?

A significant engagement, of considerable intensity, but small enough to allow the author to get to grips with the narrative, and deploy plenty of anecdote and keep the human interest element flourishing.

Great scope for extrapolation , too.....why, for example, were the junior officers so lavish in their blood ? The old story of the first shock inducing prodigality of sacrifice among leaders ?

Much to think about here.


Editing : did you note the reference in John’s post to 199 killed from a total of 1,603 casualties ? Not as high a number of fatalities as one might expect , unless there was a large proportion of gas cases included in the total . I wonder if the 199 is the initial return of confirmed killed, and that the number was increased as died of wounds were added ; there’s also the possibility that there were men posted as missing who were subsequently counted as dead. I note that Wikipedia cites the same 1,603 casualty total, but states that 318 were killed. Intriguingly, the US figure of 1,603 casualties for their first major engagement is almost identical to that for the British in their first big fight at Mons 23 August 1914.

Regards, Phil
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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes

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