Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Blanc Mont Ridge 1918: America's Forgotten Victory


by Romain Cansière and Ed Gilbert
Osprey Publishing, 2018
Courtland Jindra, Reviewer


Depiction of the Fighting on Blanc Mont by George Harding

Though I've lived in California for many years, I am a native Texan. For that reason, the Battle for and around Blanc Mont fought by the Army and Marine 2nd Division and the Texas-Oklahoma National Guard 36th Division, has interested me ever since I really started diving into WWI history. The 36th Division's exploits around St. Etienne are highly visible in the Texas Military Museum at Camp Mabry, Austin. However, when one reads about the AEF the battle is rarely brought up, and then it is only in passing. This is even more surprising given the involvement of the Marine Brigade, arguably the most famous single American military unit in the war. When I visited France in 2018, one of the things I wanted to see most was the Blanc Mont Memorial and it was one of my favorites. For these reasons, I was extremely eager to finally sit down and read Blanc Mont Ridge 1918: America's Forgotten Victory.

The book is very short but provides some in-depth information. The volume is broken down into a few short introductory chapters where backstory is given on the war, the position itself, the opposing forces, and the respective commanders. I especially enjoyed the different Order of Battle breakdowns.

A fairly lengthy chapter summarizes the month-long engagement on an almost day by day basis. There are some fantastic maps included to help the reader figure out exactly what happened on the ground. Though I still got turned around a few times, these are by far the best maps I've seen in a book on the Great War as far as orienting me on the battlefield. It's often one of my main criticisms with these books that I get lost with who is where (not to mention that often places that are named in the text aren't even included on the maps). In this case, I mostly knew exactly where everyone was. Also, bravo to the illustrations by Graham Turner, which were all excellent and should be hanging on someone's wall at home.

There's a small summary section where the authors attempt to explore the legacy of the battle. They explore what happened to the 2nd and 36th Divisions after the fighting, the monuments and memorials to be seen in the area today, and why exactly the struggle, one that Phillipe Pétain called "the single greatest achievement of the year 1918 campaign" is now little more than a footnote. They suggest that General Lejeune himself might have been to blame, thinking he was outfoxed by the French in how he deployed his forces in the battle.

While at times the book is a little on the dry side, overall it reads quickly. Not only are there numerous maps but it is also filled to the brim with photographs, both from the era and of the region today. These also help bring alive the text, even if things occasionally bog down with unit movements.

I have been told there is at least one other book on the battle coming down the pipeline. Perhaps the battle will not be forgotten much longer.

Courtland Jindra

4 comments:

  1. Good review, Courtland.
    And bravo for fine maps!

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  2. A Hideous Price: The 4th Brigade at Blanc Mont, 2-10 October 1918
    LtCol Peter F. Owen and LtCol John Swift.

    https://www.usmcu.edu/Portals/218/A%20Hideous%20Price_WEB.pdf?ver=2019-09-11-132018-350

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  3. Great review. Always thought that Mont Blanc was a forgotten battle. Glad the battle is getting more attention.

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  4. Thanks for the fine review. I will order the book today.

    My great uncle, Private Jerome Marks, served with the sixth regiment of the 4th Marines and died of wounds suffered at Mont Blanc.

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