THE CAPTURE OF ST. MIHIEL
 THE first independent operation of an American army in France as such was undertaken on September 12, 1918,
against the famous German position of St. Mihiel. Hitherto the American troops had always fought as part of
the British and French armies. They had occupied important posts, won important battles, but always supported
by French or British artillery and directed by foreign officers. At the end of August an American army was
organized, all parts of which were American. It was under the direct personal command of General Pershing and
took over a section of the line east of Verdun.
The importance of this sector was extraordinary: It was directly opposite the great city of Metz, the key to
the eastern end of all parts of the German defense system in France. Through it came the great bulk of
supplies that went to all parts of the German lines. Through it must come reënforcements. Metz was also the
gateway to Germany and the most important part of the defenses of that country itself. For that reason the
Germans had fortified this section of the line with extreme thoroughness.
THE ST. MIHIEL SALIENT.
In the first year of the war they had pushed through east of Verdun a sort of elbow in their line at the point
of which was the town of St. Mihiel. This elbow or salient faced Verdun on the east and from it an attack was
possible which would cut off the city altogether. Verdun was no less important to the French than Metz was to
the Germans; it was the pivot of the French
 line; if it should fall, the whole line should have to retire. The French were therefore extremely anxious to wipe
out this salient and directed against it immediately a series of great assaults. They failed however to make any
impression, and during the four years of war this elbow stuck out from the German line, continually menacing Verdun
and making extremely difficult any attack on Metz.
The first American army took over, therefore, a very important problem. It had been, however, for a year or more,
what was called a quiet sector, because one on which very little active fighting had taken place for a good many
months. The Germans proposed no offensive there. Their great attack against Verdun had failed in 1916 and they
were not likely to renew it. From that point of view it was perhaps a less dangerous position for the Americans
to take charge of than some other districts.
But the purpose of the Americans was by no means defense. They meant to succeed in a task at which the French had
repeatedly failed. Not that they felt themselves braver than the French or better soldiers, but they knew that the
methods of warfare had changed in four years and General Pershing believed that St. Mihiel, which had been too
strong to be captured by the methods understood earlier in the war, would not be too great a task for the first
American army in September, 1918. It was a great task, but not too great. The result would be extraordinary if
it should be a success. It was the sort of task which would lend glory to the American army and prove to the French
and British that the Americans, all by themselves, were entirely competent to undertake military operations of the
The extent of fortifications around St. Mihiel was unusual. There were, as elsewhere on the German lines, trenches
and miles of barbed wire entanglements, but there were few places where
 the dugouts and underground houses were so deeply constructed and well built as along the sides of this famous salient.
The positions were for the most part on the crests of hills, looking down into valleys across which a foe must advance,
and steel and concrete houses had been built inside the hills. The greatest fortress of all, a tall peak called Mont Sec,
has been described by correspondents as towering into the air like a twenty-story building. From it everything was visible
on a clear day for ten miles. The sides of this fortress were steep, covered with woods and ditches. Across them ran
trenches and miles of barbed wire entanglements. These were defended by regular underground fortresses or houses located
forty or fifty feet within the mountain side; they were comfortably, even luxuriously, furnished, and most of them were
built with entrances from both sides of the mountain. On the side away from the Allied lines there were porches, tables
at which the German officers used to drink beer, hammocks slung between the trees, and various other devices for making
the occupants pass the time pleasantly. Needless to say, fortresses of this kind were impervious to the fire of even the
heaviest guns. High explosive shells could not blow the tops off of mountains nor reach fortresses fifty feet underground.
The Germans had dug themselves in as early as 1915 and expected to stay there until peace was signed.
To capture such a position by assault, General Pershing realized meant preparations of no ordinary type. One hundred
thousand detailed maps were prepared covering the minutest facts of the whole salient. They told where every German position
was and just what it was. These maps were corrected continually from the reports of the aviators up to the very morning of
the battle. To help the artillery and infantry officers in their work forty thousand photographs were taken.
 Then to insure the smooth cooperation of the American forces after they had succeeded in penetrating the first
defense, five thousand miles of telephone wires were laid on the borders of the salient before the attack, and
to them six thousand telephones were connected the instant the American troops advanced. Behind the troops as
they went forward came motor trucks unreeling wires which were to continue this telephone system. Then the
signal corps men took the reels of wire on their shoulders and walked with them immediately behind the
attacking troops right up to the very firing line. As fast as the troops advanced, the telephone lines came
after them, and in the battle-zone during the battle itself there was a telephone system in operation which
would have been adequate to handle the business of a city of one hundred thousand people. Ten thousand men
were engaged in operating it. Most of the various exchanges, exactly like the exchanges in any American city,
were on motor trucks and moved around as the battle changed. The signal corps had thousands of carrier pigeons
by which messages could also be sent through should the telephone wires be cut or broken. But the wires held.
Elaborate provisions were made to take care of the wounded, including thirty-five hospital trains, sixteen
thousand beds in the battle-zone, and fifty thousand at the base hospital. Happily, only ten per cent of these
facilities were needed. This gives some idea of the extent and character of the preparations necessary for a
major operation in modern warfare. While these arrangements represented the very acme of military perfection,
it must not be supposed that they were superior to or different from the arrangements made by the British and
French. We merely showed that we could do it ourselves.
The plan of the attack was simple. General Pershing proposed to push in both sides of this salient or elbow,
sticking out of the
 line, and compel the Germans to evacuate its tip. He was going to push at the base of the
triangle on both sides, and, by bending in the lines until his forces met, he would either compel the Germans
to run in a hurry and evacuate the strongest part of the district without fighting or he would capture them.
There were four hours of artillery preparation, terrific and intensive, intended to drive the Germans
underground and destroy whatever could be destroyed on the surface. Then at five A.M. on September 12, the
Americans, assisted by one French corps, advanced. They were preceded by a number of tanks, which could not,
however, climb the mountains and were not so useful to them as in some other battles. But, aided by groups of
wire cutters, they went through the lines of the German defenses very much as at Cantigny. To their own
amazement, they carried everything with a rush and found themselves through the first zone of the German
defenses with very small losses and in record-breaking time. The first push had been on the south side of the
salient and the second had been on the northern; both had succeeded.
The American army and the world at large were electrified to learn on the following day that the American
forces had met and that the salient had been wiped out. Between one hundred fifty and two hundred square miles
of territory had been taken from the Germans and many villages had been released from German domination which
had been in their hands from the very beginning of the war. Sixteen thousand prisoners, four hundred and
forty-three guns, great amounts of material, ammunition, clothes, and food were captured.
The speed of the Americans had been so great that considerable numbers of Germans had been unable to escape
from the apex of the triangle. Eventually a good many thousands surrendered.
 Whole regiments walked out with their officers. In one case the commander, after surrendering, requested that
the roll be called in order that he might discover how heavy his losses had been. The whole regiment answered
present except one officer and one private, and the commander then suggested that he should march his own
command wherever it was wanted. The Americans advancing to the front met the astonishing spectacle of an
entire German regiment, marching off the battlefield under its own officers, and guarded only by a half dozen
American cavalrymen, lounging in their saddles after the fashion of American cowboys driving a herd of cattle.
The Americans had proved their quality. They had achieved what the French had been most anxious to do for four
years. They had relieved Verdun of all apprehension and had ironed out one of the most important creases in
the German lines. They had put Metz within reach of the heavy artillery and were able to shell the most
important railroad the Germans had. General Pershing had every reason to be content.
The triumphal entry into St. Mihiel was characteristic of the Americans and French. The American secretary of
war, Mr. Baker, with Generals Pershing and Petain, went quietly to the famous little town and walked through
its streets, all but unaccompanied, and without ceremony or signs of triumph. But the identity of the
distinguished visitors was soon known to the inhabitants. They poured out to receive them, crowded around
them, kissing Mr. Baker's hand, weeping. The sudden relief from the galling oppression which they had endured
almost unnerved them.