1-150 Memorandum for the First Subsection, November 19, 1918

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: November 19, 1918

Memorandum for the First Subsection1

November 19, 1918 [Souilly], France

1. About September 8, General Hugh A. Drum had a conference regarding preparation for the Argonne Operation. At the conclusion of the conference he directed that Col. Monroe C. Kerth take charge of the billeting of divisions arriving on the Argonne front, that Col. Walter S. Grant take charge of the arrangements for taking over command from the French Second Army, of the Argonne front, and that I take charge of the movement of the troops from the St-Mihiel Operation into the zone of the French Second Army—that is, north-west of the line Benoitevaux-Pierrefitte-Naives-devant-Bar.

2. As a preliminary step towards carrying out the movement of the troops, a memorandum was prepared and issued on September 10, Subject: “Reliefs and Readjustments of Units following Reduction of the St-Mihiel Salient.” This memorandum arranged for the relief of certain army corps, artillery brigades and divisions, on specified days following D day after the St-Mihiel attack. It designated their assembly points from which they were to be moved to the Argonne front.

While these movements were planned in advance of the battle and covered troops who were to be engaged in the first line of the battle, it developed later that it was possible to carry them out exactly as arranged.

3. In general there were three routes available for the movement of troops from the St-Mihiel front to the Argonne, viz:

(1) via Gironville-Mecrin-Rupt-devant-St-Mihiel-Pierrefitte.

(2) via Trondes-Vertuzey-Commercy-Menil-aux-Bois and Pierrefitte or Lavallee-Naives.

(3) via Toul-Void-Ligny-Bar-le-Duc.

The road from Apremont to St-Mihiel was in the hands of the enemy at the time the first plans for the movement were made and it was not known whether or not it would be passable after control of it had been gained. It proved to be impassable until the movement of the troops was completed.

The two great difficulties in connection with these movements, aside from the uncertainty of knowing when any particular unit could be safely withdrawn from the St-Mihiel battle were:

1st—The movement of the troops across the rear zone of the corps engaged in the St-Mihiel battle during the period when all the roads were congested with the movement forward of ammunition, rations and engineer materiel. Units had to be moved from east of the Moselle across the corps zones.

2d—The limited number of roads available for the movement of the large mass of troops to be transferred to the Argonne front, coupled with the fact that all movements had to be executed entirely under the cover of darkness. The Toul-Void-Bar-le-Duc Road was the motor highway, and the other two roads were employed for the movement of the foot troops and the animal drawn vehicles, except in a few instances where tractor artillery had to be sent over them.

4. The preparation of an ordinary march table for the movements of the troops was not practicable as it was never possible to know over twenty-four hours in advance just what units would be available to put in motion. The artillery brigades destined to be attached to 1st line divisions in the Argonne battle and a large number of French horse 75-mm. regiments were first put in march on the two roads available. The movement of certain reserve divisions by bus and marching was also started.

After initiating the above it became necessary to coordinate all further movements with the movements of the ammunition motor trains and the movements of French divisions being concentrated on the front of the French Fourth Army for the same operation. To accomplish this coordination I would propose each day to Capt. Gorju, C.R.A. [French Army Regulating Commission] officer at Bar-le-Duc, the movements I wished carried out during the next forty-eight hours. He would then compare my proposal with the other movements in prospect and together we would arrive at an adjustment between the two. Based on this arrangement the orders would then be issued to the army corps in the First Army to start certain elements from designated points by designated routes.

To further complicate the problem there were a large number of French units serving in the First Army to be hurriedly transferred to the French Fourth Army.

5. The work of the troop movement officers on duty in the G-3 Section of the I and IV Corps was particularly fine because their problem was a most complicated one; to locate the troops and assemble them at the proper point and put them in march without interference with each other and in accordance with the Army schedules.

Some of the difficulties involved were the following:

Trains could not be obtained for all of the tractor-drawn artillery. We were then confronted with the proposition of moving elements of units which could only travel 3 kilometers an hour while other elements of the same unit could travel 15 kilometers an hour.

Again some tractor artillery could travel 8 kilometers an hour while other portions of its train could travel 15 kilometers an hour.

Solid columns had to be placed on the roads, composed of elements of different divisions, different corps and different armies, all moving at the same time.

The arrangements for the command or the control of these columns were extremely difficult, where it could be arranged.

Camions scheduled to move divisional foot troops would be delayed in arriving at the embussing point, due to some blocks or checks in movement beyond our control, in the zone of the French Fourth Army, for example. The camions had to be used immediately as it was necessary to drive them to their maximum capacity. The resulting movement, taking place at other hours than these arranged for, caused unavoidable crossing of other columns, as it was necessary to route some horse transport via the Toul-Void-Ligny motor road.

Some of the animals in the artillery, both French and American, had become so worn down by the constant movements during the past month that it was very hard to force them through according to any ordinary schedule.

Frequently arrangement would be completed for the movement of certain artillery units, and at the last moment we would learn that some increased activity on the battlefront had made it impossible to withdraw them in time to take up the march. There were one or more instances where units withdrawing suffered such casualties among their horses that their entire schedule of movements had to be changed at the last moment.

The formation of the various columns was always seriously complicated by the necessity of putting certain troops on certain roads in order that they could be conveniently passed into their proper places on the Argonne front. For example, the I Corps units all had to be passed to the region of Les Islettes while units to be assigned to the III Corps were destined for the region just west of Verdun.

While it might have been much more practicable to route a I Corps unit by the northern road, it usually had to be placed on the most southern road in order to avoid crosscutting the columns headed north from the general vicinity of Bar-le-Duc, some of these coming from points south in the training areas.

6. When the various columns reached the line referred to in Par. 1 above, they were taken over by the French Second Army and routed north into their proper positions for the coming battle.

7. Despite the haste with which all the movements had to be carried out, the inexperience of most of the commanders in movements of such density, the condition of the animals and the limitations as to roads, the entire movement was carried out without a single element failing to reach its place on the date scheduled, which was, I understand, one day earlier than Marshall Foch considered possible.

Document Copy Text Source: United States Army in the World War, 9: 64-66.

Document Format: Typed memorandum.

1. The first subsection of First Army’s G-3 section was in charge of operations.

Recommended Citation: The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, ed. Larry I. Bland and Sharon Ritenour Stevens (Lexington, Va.: The George C. Marshall Foundation, 1981- ). Electronic version based on The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, vol. 1, “The Soldierly Spirit,” December 1880-June 1939 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981), pp. 170-172.

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