Mihiel in France...
On our Verdun mini-site we discussed the many reasons for the Great War and how it affected France. We considered too the effect of the arms race from the end of the Franco-Prussian war up until the turn of the 19/20th. centuries and how that affected the thinking and caused the constant evolution of the Verdun forts and latterly even the Maginot Line. These factors were not peculiar to Verdun, nor even to France; they affected army tactics and fortification thinking worldwide. There is little point in repeating this discourse now so we would recommend that you visit our Verdun mini-site if you wish to refresh your memory.
Saint Mihiel is the sector of the western front in France situated directly south east of the Verdun sector. Before September 1918 it formed a classic and highly tactically inconvenient salient (or bulge) into the French lines similar to the far better known Ypres Salient held by the British some 260 miles further north. During the Great War years prior to 1918 this sector was defended against the invading Germans solely by the French army; unlike the Somme for example which began as a French area of operations but was rapidly assimilated into the British theatre late in 1916.
Saint Mihiel remained a completely French controlled sector until the Americans deployed above and below Verdun in the Meuse-Argonne and Saint Mihiel sectors respectively. The American nation declared war on Germany and her allies in 1917 but was quite unable to do anything material to aid the war effort until late in 1918, even relying upon donated British and French weaponry and support at first. They also had little or no training in fighting this kind of warfare which had become bogged down and completely static as early as October 1914 when the race for the coast resulted in stalemate. Their only other remotely similar experience to date had been the American Civil War some forty-three years earlier in 1861 - 65, but although that war had also degenerated into trenches, siege artillery, machine guns (of the Gatling variety) et all, it was still a far cry from the mighty industrial warfare that so epitomises the horror of the Great War.
The reason for the American deployment at Saint Mihiel (and Meuse-Argonne) was two fold - they did not wish to fight alongside their greatest world power rivals the British Empire, and it therefore made good sense to relieve the by now extremely war weary French army which had suffered mass mutinies only the year before after three and a half years of senseless man power waste pursuing suicidal "elan" tactics.
In September 1918 the American army attacked at Saint Mihiel with the intention of pinching out the salient and advancing into Germany. Initially they suffered tremendous losses here and in the Meuse-Argonne sector occasioned by the fact that their commander in chief General John "Black Jack" Pershing LEFT completely ignored British advice, deciding instead that he knew better how to conduct warfare in this theatre. His obstinacy is all the more surprising given that his fighting experience to date had not included any fighting in the American Civil War; instead he had fought as a junior officer in the U.S. Cavalry killing native American "Indians", then later Spanish irregulars in Cuba, and finally he had helped suppress the uprising of the natives in the Philippines. Sadly many thousands of his enthusiastic but untried men fell in a matter of seconds as they bayonet charged heavily defended German graben (trenches) almost invisible in the dense woodland over which they chose to fight, and it was not until the American army commanders, and Pershing in particular, realised that the British advice, learned the hard way by making many of the same costly mistakes over the previous 49 months, should be observed after all. Then and only then did the Americans make any impression on the western front, but by October 1918 when they finally began to win ground from the Germans, the war was effectively finished and practically everyone except Pershing was just waiting for the fat lady to sing. It is interesting to consider that this man who sent so many of his soldiers to a pointless and potentially avoidable death also wanted to continue the war until Germany had been conquered and Berlin had fallen!
Having pretty much visited almost all of the major Verdun forts over the past twenty some years TJ and I decided to broaden our horizons a little and to that end we visited our first two Saint Mihiel forts in February 2013.