An attempt to identify the true culprit behind the excessively bloody taking of a German fortress by green American forces at the tail end of World War I.
In his debut history, military historian Walker aims to settle a disputed incident in American military history that took place at the beginning of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in 1918. The 79th Division, which “had completed less than six weeks of the prescribed twelve weeks of combat training,” was given the difficult task of taking Montfaucon, a fortified butte serving as a valuable observation post for German artillery and known as “the Little Gibraltar of the Western Front” for its impenetrability. The battle-hardened 4th Division, by contrast, was given a relatively easy sector of the German lines to penetrate. Walker marshals exhaustive evidence suggesting that American planners intended to execute a “turning maneuver”: while the inexperienced 79th held the veteran defenders’ attention, the 4th would encircle the strong-point and force its surrender. The author argues that Maj. Gen. Robert E. Lee Bullard ignored this order, hoping to win glory by leading his corps, which included the 4th Division, further into German territory than any other American unit. Unfortunately, this “betrayal,” while undoubtedly of interest to soldiers of the 79th and military historians, seems insufficiently consequential to interest casual history buffs. Walker never fully demonstrates that capturing Montfaucon was as crucial to the (arguable) failure of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive as other factors mentioned by the author, including the American soldiers' inexperience, sophisticated German defenses, and outdated tactics encouraged by American commanders who “still worshiped the rifle and bayonet.” Furthermore, Walker leans too heavily on military history clichés, comparing the combatants to “depleted boxers” and quoting heavily from excellent but well-mined sources such as historian John Keegan.
A competent piece of historical detective work that is less satisfying as popular history.