The German army captured Blanc Mont Ridge in the early months of World War One and occupied it throughout the years of fighting, fending off repeated French assaults throughout 1915 and 1916. While the ridge looks far from imposing, it is a piece of high ground which overlooks a large part of the front in the Champagne region of France, and was a very valuable outlook for artillery observation. Its continuous occupation allowed it to be heavily fortified by the Germans as a major strong point in their defensive lines.
In October of 1918, the task would fall to the American Expeditionary Force to take the ridge as part of the ongoing offensive that was finally pushing the Germans back all along the front lines. Years of war had gradually sapped the strength of the German forces, and the last gasp spring offensive earlier in the year had destroyed the last remaining units of elite German troops. And yet, the still had their fortifications here, armed with more than 350 machine guns on this ridge alone.
On the morning of October 3rd, 1918, a combined force of US Army and Marines (the 2nd and 36th Infantry Divisions) set off on an attack up the gradual slope towards the ridge. The attack was preceded by only a few minutes of artillery fire and then a creeping barrage behind which the men advanced. A thick layer of ground fog was perhaps their best ally, as they began the assault of the German position. A fierce fight left the positions on the front of the ridge in American hands by the end of the day, although the fighting would be tenacious for several days, as the Americans advanced well beyond the supporting French units on their flanks, and were left exposed on the reverse slope of the ridge.
By October 7th, the ridge position was consolidated, and the French and American forces continued their advance towards the next objective, the town of Saint-Étienne-à-Arnes. American casualties in the assault would come to approximately 7,800 men – this was not a position relinquished easily by the Germans. The battle was considered a major accomplishment at the time, although it has been largely forgotten in the century since. Today, the summit of the ridge is the site of a major American war memorial.
Thanks to Military History Tours for making this video possible!