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

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Meuse-Argonne 1918: Breaking the Line
Reviewed by Peter Belmonte

Meuse-Argonne 1918: Breaking the Line

by Maarten Otte
Pen and Sword, 2018

130th Field Artillery Deploying at Varennes in the I Corps Sector

Disclaimer: This book is primarily a travel guide, and although I’ve researched and written about the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, I have never visited the battlefield.

The centennial of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive has sparked interest in this massive, costly battle. This year must surely have seen a record number of tourists at the Meuse-Argonne battlefield. Many visitors will have read about the battle ahead of their visit, and many, no doubt, will use some sort of tour guide to help them get the most of their visit. Maarten Otte’s book is the latest tour guide in Pen and Sword’s Battleground series. The author lives in the area of the battlefield, “and he has thus been able to live his passion of over twenty five years of studying the AEF [American Expeditionary Forces] and its battlefields in the Great War” (p. vi). Otte’s knowledge of this topic, and his appreciation of its place in history, comes through on every page.

Otte has organized his book to cover the entire American order of battle, in order from west to east, for the first two phases of the offensive, the narrative history thus ending at the end of October 1918; Pen and Sword is planning another volume to cover the rest of the battle. The author examines each division and corps in turn; their actions, usually not down to the small unit level, are described in relation to neighboring units. In this way the reader will form a good foundational picture of the battle. Interspersed in the narrative are Otte’s detailed description of four car tours and five walking tours of the battlefield.

As is befitting a travel guide there are 38 maps scattered throughout the text. Some of these maps are reproductions of the American Battle Monuments Commission maps, and others are geared for each car or walking tour. There are dozens of photographs throughout the book, many of them from the author’s personal collection; some of the photographs might be appearing in print for the first time. Especially helpful and interesting are present-day photographs of areas of the battlefield, including some monuments. There are also small illustrations of most units’ insignia and some medals

For each walking tour the author gives an approximate duration and a distance. He also includes helpful hints about whether the terrain is difficult for hiking and what type of shoes to wear. Otte includes cautions and warns of places one can visit “at your own risk.” All of the tours are accompanied by GPS coordinates of significant points and helpful tips about points of interest to visit along the way. These include places to eat, private museums, and other tours. Appendices consist of a First Army order of battle, a brief discussion of the composition of American divisions, and, by the series editor Nigel Cave, a brief but even-handed appraisal of the AEF. Otte concludes with a small section of advice to travelers. There are no footnotes, and the select bibliography extends to about a page and a half.

This book is certainly up to the high standards of Pen and Sword books. It is a fine introduction to the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, and it would be a worthy companion for anyone touring that battlefield.

Peter L. Belmonte


  1. Very interesting. I wish I could go on these tours, but right now books like these will have to suffice. Thanks, Pete.

  2. Looks like a terrific source of information. I wish there was some figure on tourism that has been created by all the Centennials. For Americans I wonder if the ABMC has a count on visitors?