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

Monday, September 20, 2021

June 1918: Mangin's Return from Disfavor

General Charles Mangin

The fourth German spring offensive of 1918 was launched on 9 June west of Soissons. It began successfully enough, gaining six miles on the first day. General Charles Mangin, in disgrace after the French failure on the Chemin des Dames and the ensuing mutinies of the previous year, had been placed on the shelf.  Mangin's Sixth Army had borne the brunt of the main attack,  the centerpiece of Robert Nivelle's bold assault. With the failure of the attack, Mangin was, along with Nivelle, rapidly removed from effective command (Nivelle to North Africa).  Mangin suffered from being one of few senior French officers to publicly favor Nivelle's doomed strategy.

Thirteen months later, however, Generalissimo Ferdinand Foch needed a commander of grit and aggressiveness to deal with the latest crisis. Possibly in desperation,  on 10 June he gave command of XXXV Corps to the despised Mangin to slow down the German advance. 

Mangin ordered a counterattack for the next morning. It succeeded sufficiently to cause Ludendorff to call off his offensive as a failure by its fifth day. Mangin was back. His aggressiveness would prove to be tremendously valuable for the remainder of the 1918 campaign. He was quickly given command of the combined French-American 10th Army that successfully conducted the offensive phase of the Second Battle of the Marne.   In November, he was to command the French forces in the U.S.-French Lorraine Offensive, which was cancelled due to the Armistice.


  1. Don Martin's dispatch of August 29, 1918, published in the Paris Herald, gave this cogent description of American forces supporting General Mangin.
    "In a local operation south of Soissons at daybreak to-day, a small unit of Americans captured 152 prisoners. It was one of the swiftest and finest operations the Americans have to their credit.
    The Americans moved quietly into the Soissons sector to aid General Mangin’s army and spent the night in a thick wood. They emerged shortly before daybreak. The attack was made at seven. The boys hardly had time to find themselves. The Seventh Prussians opposite had just entered the line and were astounded to find Americans facing them.
    American and French artillery began the fiercest barrage the Germans have known in attacks. Out of the shadow of the hail of shrapnel appeared the Americans. They bounded through a field on a two-kilometre front and struck terror into the Germans. Many dashed back, presumably to safety, but the Americans killed many with bayonets, driving all back.
    American participation in this part of the battle line was a complete surprise.
    I made a visit to-day to a large part of the battlefront in the region of Soissons. For miles back great guns are belching a stream of death. The Germans are quiet, not a dozen shells have fallen to-day in an area of ten miles. They are evidently moving their artillery back.

  2. I'm not sure that a General can truly be described as aggressive when he is ordering other people to do the aggression.