[December 10, 2017] If we were to look for arrogance, hubris, and lack of concern for others, then look no further than what happened at the Battle of the Meuse-Argonne in 1918. World War I was a gory affair; the battle that began in September that year would become the bloodiest for the new American Expeditionary Force (AEF). A little-known fact was that it also involved a cover-up at the highest military levels.
The United States reluctantly entered World War I yet did so only after the sinking of the cruise ship Lusitania and Germany’s approachment to Mexico. U.S. President Woodrow Wilson chose General “Black Jack” Pershing to lead the AEF into France and join the Allied effort. The method of employment of the American forces went counter to French requests because the latter thought the Americans were relearning old battlefield lessons.
Allied leadership nonetheless gave Pershing a crucial mission that, if successful, would shorten the war. They were to attack a weak location in the German lines but first had to overcome a heavily fortified strongpoint at Montfaucon; dubbed “Little Gibraltar” by the French. Ultimately the AEF was successful, prevented the war from dragging on, and the American soldiers came home to parades and accolades.
What was not told at the time but seen by a few good men was that the attack itself failed to go according to plan because Major General Bullard, III Corps Commander disobeyed Pershing’s orders. The plan was for an inexperienced National Guard Division was to conduct a frontal attack while an experienced 4th Infantry Division was to maneuver to the rear of the fortified strongpoint. This classic envelopment would squeeze the fort’s defenders and crush any resistance.
The problem was that the 4th Infantry Division did not attack, leaving the 79th Division alone in its attack. Eventually, the fortress was overcome but only after the 79th was nearly annihilated. The commander of the 79th was later relieved of his command for its “failure” and loss of so many men. Maj. Gen. Bullard of III Corps was later promoted after the details of the attack planning were not released.
William Walker, whose father was in the battle, researched the events that took place nearly 100 years ago and wrote a book called Betrayal at Little Gibraltar.1 The book makes a compelling case that Pershing – the American hero of that war – and other senior officers failed to conduct themselves professionally on the battlefield and covered up their actions.
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