A traffic jam on the way to the new American front.
September 13 1918, St Mihiel–At 7AM on September 13, only 26 hours after the infantry began their advance, lead elements from both sides of the attack on the St Mihiel salient met up in the middle. Although the Americans would take well over 10,000 prisoners, the bulk of the German army in the salient would escape. The Americans, committed to another attack on the other side of the Meuse less than two weeks later, could not pursue. George Marshall believed this was a lost opportunity, later writing:
Had not the operation been definitely limited in order to permit troops participating in it to be withdrawn immediately and marched to the Meuse-Argonne in time for that battle, there is no doubt on my mind that we could have reached the outskirts of Metz by the late afternoon of the 13th, and quite probably could have captured the city on the 14th, as the enemy was incapable of bringing up reserves in sufficient numbers and formation to offer an adequate resistance.
Whether Marshall’s defense of Pershing’s original plan rings true is unclear. The Americans may very well have turned the capture of the St Mihiel salient into a full rout if afforded the opportunity, or, as was so often the case, progress could have slowed, the Germans could have brought up reserves that had been delayed by rain, and the Americans could have been stopped at the prepared position behind the St Mihiel salient.
Regardless, George Marshall had larger concerns to deal with on the 13th, as he now had to start moving the First Army back across across the Meuse, even while fighting continued in what was left of the salient. Traffic soon became a nightmare. There were not enough roads and railroads, and the Americans had overestimated their capacity. There were disputes between American and French drivers over the rules of the road, often resulting in accidents that would block the highway for a time. French PM Clemenceau wanted to see St Mihiel for himself and congratulate Pershing. Pershing would only let him go as far as Thiaucourt, 25 miles from the front, but even there Clemenceau could plainly see the problem:
They wanted an American army. They had it. Anyone who saw, as I saw, the hopeless congestion at Thiaucourt will bear witness that they may congratulate themselves on not having had it sooner.
Sources include: Gene Fax, With Their Bare Hands.
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