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The Story of the American Expeditionary Forces

3rd Division

Tactical Case Study

Night Attack

In the Argonne


Presented the Great War Society

Div. Commander
MG Beumont Buck
On October 4, 1918, the 2nd Battalion of the 30th Infantry [3rd Division] was in reserve in the Bois de Cunel [5 miles north of Montfaucon and 2 miles southeast of Romagne]. On the previous day, as an assault unit, it had reached the north edge of the wood and was therefore somewhat familiar with the terrain beyond. arly on the 10th the 1st Battalion of the 30th Infantry had attacked to the north, but after advancing a short distance had been pinned to the ground in front of a German trench located north of the Bois de Cunel. It was ordered to withdraw to the woods, reorganize and resume the attack at 7:30 p.m., assisted by a new artillery preparation. The withdrawal began shortly after dark, but in the process the battalion became so disorganized that it was unable to launch the attack at the designated hour.

Now since the division commander had ordered that the trench 800 yards north of the Bois de Cunel be taken on the 10th and since the 1st Battalion had failed to do this and was unable to make a second effort in time, the 2d Battalion of the 30th Infantry and one company of the 7th Infantry were directed to attack the hostile position at 10:00 p.m. The northwestern edge of the wood was designated as the line of departure for the 2d Battalion and the northeastern edge for the company. There would be no artillery support.

Sector Map

After all units were in place the battalion commander assembled his company commanders and explained the attack plan in detail. The battalion would attack with three companies in assault and one in reserve. Since the frontage was large and since all organizations had been depleted some forty per cent in previous fighting, each company would employ three platoons in assault and one in reserve. The assault platoons would deploy as skirmishers with intervals of two to five yards. The reserve company, formed in line of squad columns, would follow the center assault company at 100 yards. The machine-gun company attached to the battalion would remain in place until the enemy had been driven from the trench, then move forward and assist in the organization of the captured position.

The attack was launched on time. Exactly two and a half hours had elapsed since the Germans had been subjected to a heavy artillery preparation, following which the attack of the 1st Battalion had failed to materialize. When no attack followed this 7:30 p.m. bombardment, the Germans apparently concluded that the Americans would make no further effort that night.

German Machine Gun Position

The advance of the 2d Battalion was slow and cautious. Secrecy had been stressed. German flares went up frequently. Each time one began to illuminate an area, all men remained motionless, resuming their movement only when the flare died out. This method of advance was continued until the assault units were close to the hostile position. Finally the movement was discovered and machine-gun and rifle fire ripped into the assaulting units from front and flanks. But the Americans were now too close to be stopped. In a swift charge they closed with the enemy, overcame a determined resistance and captured part of the disputed trench. The Germans, however, still held portions of the trench on the flanks.

By this time every vestige of organization had disappeared. Many company, platoon and section leaders were casualties. The reserve company was completely intermingled with the assault companies. All was confusion. Immediate steps were taken to reorganize the battalion, while a message requesting reinforcements was sent to the regimental commander.

At 2:30 a.m. the battalion commander reported to the regimental command post. He informed the colonel that the 2d Battalion was now occupying the trench in the zone of the 30th Infantry and had established contact with the company from the 7th Infantry on the right, but that reinforcements were necessary on the left, where the enemy still held the trench in considerable force. One company was promptly dispatched to this dangerous flank and after severe fighting drove the enemy from his position.

German Dead in Trench

At 6:00 a.m. the strength reports of the units that had made this attack showed the following effectives:

  • Company E, 30th Infantry:     1 officer, 30 men.
  • Company F, 30th Infantry:             40 men.
  • Company G, 30th Infantry:     1 officer, 20 men.
  • Company H, 30th Infantry:     1 officer, 27 men.
  • Company G, 7th Infantry:     1 officer, 10 men.

Not all of the missing were casualties. Many men who could not be accounted for had merely lost their way in the darkness.

DISCUSSION. Here most of the conditions essential to the success of a night operation are evident:

The battalion knew the terrain.
It was close to its clearly defined line of departure.
It was placed opposite its objective.
The objective was limited and was unmistakable even in the dark.
The troops had not been engaged during the day and were therefore comparatively fresh.
Details of the attack were carefully explained by the battalion commander.
The movement was made in silence, great care being taken to avoid alarming the enemy.
The attack was made at a time when the Germans had concluded that no further effort would be made that night.

All of these factors made for success.

American Troops Entering a Village Similar to Cunel

On the other hand, the extended formation contributed to the loss of control; and the subsequent confusion and intermingling of the reserve company with the assault units necessitated a call for help to clear up the situation on the left flank.

The figures giving the effective strength of units indicate the disorder which may attend even a successful night attack. True, the companies were depleted at the start but, even so, the small effective strength at the conclusion of the operation is striking.

Sources and thanks: From the personal experience monograph of Major Turner M. Chambliss, who commanded the 2d Battalion of the 30th Infantry. This case study was presented in INFANTRY IN BATTLE, a survey of infantry tactics of the World War selected and with commentary by the Faculty of the Infantry School at Fort Benning under the direction of Colonel George C. Marshall. Regular contributors Ray Mentzer and Herb Stickel provided the Photos. MH

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