America’s Deadliest Battle, by Robert Ferrell, is a very good treatment of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive of 1918. It isn’t the longest of books, at only 156 pages, not including notes and bibliography. You could read it in a couple of days. It is, however, one of the better books on the largest and most costly offensive operation in U.S. military history until that time. Ferrell points out not only the successes, but also the series of failures leading up to and during the offensive. For example, he does not spare Woodrow Wilson, pointing out the President’s lack of attention to the details of mobilizing for war. Ferrell also points out the failures of war production, transport, and supply.
In his treatment of the offensive, Ferrell notes the uneven quality of training that American troops received. That, in his opinion, led to unnecessary casualties. Commanders come in for some rather harsh criticism from Ferrell, owing to their failures or refusal to modify tactics to minimize casualties. He also argues that poor employment of artillery until the closing weeks of the war led to many friendly fire incidents. The lack of skill in dealing with enemy machine guns led to even higher American casualties.
This book is not just a list of American failures, however. Ferrell devotes an entire chapter to the final attack of the offensive, which began on November 1, 1918. He demonstrates that the Americans had finally learned some hard lessons, and applied them. Ferrell gives much credit for the turnaround to Gen. Hunter Liggett, who took command of First Army in mid-October. Liggett reorganized and retrained First Army, and made it function as a coordinated fighting force.
If you’re looking for a quick read on the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, look no further. I recommend this book to my students, and I can recommend it to anyone interested in America’s most costly offensive of World War I.