[Courtesy National Archives]

 

Plan of Attack

The Germans had captured the small farming village of Cantigny during the second phase of their spring offensive in April 1918.  It marked the western-most position held by the German Army on the entire Western Front, and it was here that the U.S. Army's 1st Division was ordered to enter the front-line trenches by General Pershing.  German soldiers occupied the hollowed-out stone houses and ruins of the village, jutting into and overlooking the American lines and raining down constant machine gun fire and artillery shells on the GIs.  General Bullard ordered his young operations officer, Lt. Colonel George Marshall, to work with the artillery commander, Gen. Summerall, to draft a plan of attack to capture the village from the Germans.  The plan was drafted, the attack assigned to the 28th Infantry Regiment, and J-Day set for May 28.

The Battle

At 5:45 a.m., Tuesday May 28, over 500 guns of the American and French

artillery pummelled the village and surrounding enemy positions.  At H-hour,

6:45 am., over 3,000 riflemen leapt from their trenches and swarmed across no-man's-land

behind a creeping barrage with the support of a dozen French tanks, reaching their objective on the

far side by 7:25 a.m., as troops continued to clean Germans out of cellars and dugouts in the village

with the help of French flamethrower teams.  But German shells and machine gun fire began cutting through the ranks of GIs digging into the hard soil in exposed positions.  The enemy fire continued, and doughboys who survived were left in shallow trenches or shell holes to fight off counterattack after counterattack for three days and nights until finally relieved.  Over 300 men were killed and 1,000 wounded, but the battle marked the first American victory in Europe, and the village became the first German position captured and held by the Allies until the Armistice.

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