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

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Question: How Effective Was the American Air Service in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive?

Background:  A few years ago in my readings about the U.S. war effort, I noticed an interesting pattern regarding the descriptions about the air operations of the AEF. There was over-the-top emphasis on the St. Mihiel Offensive – a hugely successful effort, but over in less than a week – and little said about the subsequent Meuse-Argonne Offensive – that lasted 47 days. Mostly the authors emphasized the heroics of Frank Luke and Eddie Rickenbacker. I decided to ask an expert about this.

Air and Ground Crew of a Salmson 2A2 Reconnaissance Aircraft, 12th Aero Squadron 

Billy Mitchell put together 1,485 aircraft — pursuit, bombardment, observation — for St. Mihiel. There Americans (there were many British and French aero squadrons as well as a few Italian ones) had air supremacy. During the Meuse-Argonne, however, Mitchell was not able to put that many aircraft into the skies. One must recall that the Meuse-Argonne was fought in dismal weather conditions which kept much of the Air Service on the ground. Mitchell did have a good air operations op-plan, and the Air Service moved from St. Mihiel to fields for the Meuse-Argonne with surprising quickness, but many planes were in bad need of maintenance, and many air pilot and air observers were in dire need of some rest. St. Mihiel rates an A+, Meuse-Argonne a C.

Response from Air Service Historian and Mitchell Biographer, Professor James Cooke

1 comment:

  1. A good question and good answer. Yes, the weather was foul much of the time and the American airmen were largely on their own, the French and other Allied aero groups having been deployed after St. Mihiel to support other forces in the "Grand Offensive" of late September. However, there were other pilots rendering good service in the Argonne besides Luke. Examples are Erwin Bleckly and Ernest Goettler, who ultimately received the MoH for their efforts in support of the Lost Battalion and entered in the mythology of that action, and the lesser-known Robert Anderson and Woodville Rogers, who finally located the Battalion and survived to get the location back the 77th Div. PC. Other examples are the unknown (to me) airmen who served as spotters for the U.S. Navy's 14" railway guns that chewed up the German railways between Sedan and Carignan. The doughboys slogging north and east through the bloody fighting in the Meuse-Argonne region undoubtedly would liked to have seen more US airplanes overhead, but the US Air Service did what it could given its resources and the weather.