The St. Mihiel Offensive- 12 to 16 September 1918
Author- Maarten Otte
5.5 X 8.5"
Paperback with 320 pages, including 60 black and white illustrations and maps
I was pleasantly surprised when I received this book-- a historical account of the American involvement in WWI in one of their major engagements at St. Mihiel would've been grand enough. However, this new book from Pen & Sword has added an interesting feature-- for most chapters in the book, there are car and walking tours included that give excellent accounts of the points of interest along the front. This shot of the Table of Contents gives a breakdown of how the book is arranged.
The text throughout gives a thorough account of the American Expeditionary Force's first independent offensive of the Great War. The narrative is quite detailed with first hand accounts accompanied by interesting contemporary photographs and numerous period maps. The offensive was short- only lasting from the 12th through the 16th of September of 1918. The St. Mihiel Salient originally was created early on in the war, with constant jostling for position between the French and Germans, and was the scene of intense mine warfare below it. This can be seen to this day with extensive remains present. The American attacks forced the Germans into a rapid withdrawal (which was their intention all along apparently according to the text) and led to the area being possessed by the Americans throughout the rest of the war.
The narrative includes accounts of air and armor activity- or more importantly lack of it. Many of the major American attacks had to occur without aerial or armor backup due to weather or equipment issues. More often than not, the tanks arrived long after they would prove useful. I found the bits of narrative describing the early commands of George Patton and Douglas MacArthur to be of particular interest. Their involvement in the Great War most definitely set the groundwork for their success in the Second World War. There are not an overbearing amount of photos showing armor, but the FT-17s were definitely present on the Salient.
While the historical narrative is certainly informative, the book really shines in it's descriptions of the walking and car tours, including maps specifically drawn for them. The author is apparently a resident of the area and has actively toured throughout it and the neighboring Verdun and Argonne battlefields. There are numerous significant remains from WWI in the area, including well over one hundred and fifty bunkers in the Michel Line. Scattered in these sections are period photos of certain areas paired with what the area looks like today. Also interspersed in the text are references to some of the scattered WWII memorials to aircraft and actions from the Second World War that share the local history with the WWI focus of the book. The special maps include GPS coordinates for the featured points of interest.
Each of the tour sections begins with duration, distance, cemetery hours, a list of amenities like petrol stations and restaurants, as well as suggested gear including types of shoes, binoculars, and picnic provisions. I also appreciate in the descriptions the author's use of local knowledge to aid the reader in finding the attractions. Here is a sample describing a gun battery that happens to be on private property:
The gun battery and shelters are built on private property; if you kindly ask the landowner, who is often to be found walking around nearby, he will probably show you around. When last encountered the dogs were remarkably friendly- but of course this cannot be guaranteed! A few words in French can work miracles as does a bottle of beer or other suitable offering. This is a very worthwhile visit and a rare chance to visit a battery site, in such a complete state, like this
In most of the auto tour sections, there are also short accounts of extraordinary figures- some famous like Patton, others not so much. All in all though, I feel these sections are among the best parts of the book. I certainly would love the opportunity to travel to France and see some of the indicated sites. Maybe some day...
While this certainly isn't your typical reference book on the subject of one of the largest American offensives of the Great War, it certainly is one of the most unique. The battle narratives are by no means dry-- the author has a way of telling the facts in an interesting way. His knowledge and familiarity of the region comes through in his writing and the parts of the book dedicated to the car and walking tours certainly motivate one to want to head there and see the sites as described by the author. I would love to see other books done in a similar manner for both World Wars as I find this to be a compelling method of presenting the historical material in a new dramatic way. I found the book difficult to put down and my modeling times certainly suffered for it- but the book has motivated me to start up another of the many WWI kits I have in my stash.
Highly Recommended for those interested in American actions in WWI- and those looking to travel and tour the battle sites.
Thanks goes out to Pen & Sword Books and Casemate Publishing for this review sample.
Reviewed by Michael Reeves, AMPS Albany
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