The American Expeditionary Forces in the Great War: the Meuse Heights to Armistice

Otte, Maarten. The American Expeditionary Forces in the Great War: the Meuse Heights to Armistice. South Yorkshire, UK: 2021. Paperback, illustrated, 264pp. ISBN: 1526796171
Review by Peter L. Belmonte

Disclaimer: Half of this book is a travel guide for the Meuse River area of the Meuse-Argonne battlefield; although I’ve researched and written about the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, I have never visited the battlefield.

Historian, author, and Argonne resident Maarten Otte has written two other books about the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, each one covering a particular aspect or area of the vast battle. These volumes are histories combined with travel guides. In this volume, Otte covers the combat on the Heights of the Meuse, the east side of the river, during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. He covers the action chronologically and addresses the following American divisions: 33rd, 29th, 26th, 79th, 32nd, and 5th.

Otte begins by discussing the AEF’s planning and execution of the battle. He rightly concludes that planners should have paid greater attention to the German forces on the east side of the Meuse River; those forces ended up using artillery to inflict great casualties on American forces between the Meuse River and Montfaucon. It was only later in the battle that American and French forces were directed to take steps to drive the Germans out of that area. The next part of the book covers each of the above-mentioned divisions chronologically as they advance across the Meuse and into the woods, ravines, and hills to the east. This is the heart of the “history” portion of the book. The author’s historical scholarship is sound. Otte makes good use of both American and German primary sources, such as unit histories and diaries. The combat narrative focuses on the regimental and lower levels; thus it is a decent look at small-unit actions.

The second part of the book includes four car tours and one walking tour. In addition, a Otte includes a special tour covering Henry Gunther. Gunther, a member of the 313th Infantry Regiment, 79th Division, was killed just before the 11 a.m. Armistice and is widely reported to been the last American soldier killed in action during the war. A numbered and labeled map accompanies each tour. For each walking tour the author gives an approximate duration and a distance. He also includes helpful hints about whether the terrain is difficult for hiking and what type of shoes to wear. Otte includes cautions and warns of places one can visit “at your own risk.” All of the tours are accompanied by GPS coordinates of significant points and helpful tips about points of interest to visit along the way. These include places to stay, private museums, etc.

There are plenty of maps and diagrams scattered throughout the text. Some of these maps are reproductions of the American Battle Monuments Commission maps, and others are geared for each car or walking tour. There are dozens of photographs throughout the book; these are helpful in giving the reader a feel for the men and terrain involved. Especially helpful and interesting are present-day photographs of areas of the battlefield, including some monuments and plenty of German bunkers. Appendices give orders of battle and statistics relating to the battle. There are no endnotes and only an abbreviated “Selected Bibliography.” This is a fine addition to the historiography of the fighting east of the Meuse River, and this book will surely serve the tourist very well.

Peter L. Belmonte is a retired U.S. Air Force officer, author, and historian. A veteran of Operation Desert Storm, he holds a master’s degree in history from California State University, Stanislaus. He has published articles, book chapters, reviews, and papers about immigration and military history. Pete’s books include: Italian Americans in World War II (Arcadia, 2001), Days of Perfect Hell: The U.S. 26th Infantry Regiment in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, October-November, 1918 (Schiffer, 2015), Forgotten Soldiers of World War I: America’s Immigrant Doughboys (with Alexander F. Barnes, Schiffer, 2018), Play Ball! Doughboys and Baseball during the Great War (with co-authors Alexander F. Barnes and Samuel O. Barnes, Schiffer Books, 2019), Chicago-Area Italians in World War I: A Case Study of Calabrians (Fonthill Media, 2019), and United States Army Depot Brigades in World War I (with co-author Alexander F. Barnes, McFarland, 2021). He is also working on a multi-volume history of Italian Americans in World War I. You may see his books at his webpage: