5 Days History tour itinerary for Reims & Verdun: See The American WWI Battlefields On The Eisenhower Tour
Did you know that during the 1930s, Dwight D Eisenhower (34th US President) was attached to the American Battle Monuments Commission under General Pershing and wrote a tour guide to the American battlefields? This tour is a chance to see the American battles and monument in France. You can combine this with following the story of a person or unit.
Paris- Chateau Thierry
Depart from Paris.
Start with an orientation visit to the Museum Meaux Musée de la Grande Guerre du pays de Meaux, sited in the shadow of the Weeping Freedom statue, popularly known "The American Monument", erected in 1932 by an American subscription to the memory of the French who died at the Battle of the Marne. This museum was built for the centenary of the Great War and opened in 2011. Besides telling the story of the background to the war from a French point of view, it contains what is probably the largest collection of artefacts on the American Expeditionary Force in Europe.
Drive to the Marne area via some of the sites of the 1914 Marne battlefield.
Visit the site of the iconic battle of Belleau Wood. The capture of this wood, at a high cost by a brigade of US Marines, was the first to report the activities of named American units. The Germans were determined to deny the new American troops any success and inflict as many casualties as possible on their new enemy. The fighting was very bitter and casualties were out of proportion to the amount of ground which changed hands. After a week of fighting, the Germans had to admit that the Americans despised them for the inexperience that had beaten them. Belleau wood became a legend. The wood has been preserved as a battlefield with shell holes, trenches captured guns and other debris of war. In the shadow of the wood is the Aisne-Marne Cemetery. The majority of the 2,288 men buried here fell in the vicinity and along the Marne River. The fighting in this area did not end with the capture of Belleau wood. We will look at some of the actions in which US soldiers cleared the area.
Hotel accommodation in the Aisne Marne Area
Today you will visit the places associated with the dramatic battles of the second battle of the Marne. This battle was a turning point in 1918. It is where the Germans allied came closest to Paris, firstly in late May 1918 and then in their last offensive 15th July, and where they were first turned back in a counter stroke from a few days later, led by American troops.
Start the day at the impressive Marne Monument erected to commemorate the American fighting in the Aisne Marne region and the friendship and co-operation French and American forces during the war. Franco-American co-operation is an appropriate theme as the fighting here intermingled American and French units, mainly under French leadership. The platform in front of the monument offers an overview of the Marne river and of the town of Chateau Thierry. It was here that, in late May 1918 elements of the 3rd US division stopped German attempts to cross the Marne River.
Drive through the town of Chateau Thierry, past the memorial to the 3rd Division to the positions on the south bank of the River Marne where the 3rd and 28th Divisions faced a major German attack on 15th July 1918, which then ebbed as the French and Americans launched their counteroffensive.
Follow the path of the American advance as they followed up the German withdrawal and the bitterly contested crossing over the river Ourcq. This fighting was of the most severe nature and the first time that the American troops had taken the offensive. This battle involved four US divisions. The cost of this operation can be seen in the graves in the Oise-Aisne American Cemetery. Joyce Kilmer, the poet, was killed in the fighting near here and is buried in the cemetery.
Pursue the path of the American offensive beyond Nesles and the poignant fountain and memorial to First Lieutenant Quintain Roosevelt, the son of ex-President Theodore Roosevelt, shot down near Chamrey on July 14, 1918.
Then follow the path of the 32rd Division and the capture of Fismes by the 28th Division and the then the pursuit of the Germans after they started to fall back from the area from September 4. This was no cakewalk. The two divisions 28th and 77th principally involved lost over 9,000 casualties in three weeks.
Move to the area where the 4th Division fought its battles costing it 3,500 casualties between August 3 and 12 and the fighting in the aptly named Château du Diable “Devil’s Chateau”.
Stop for lunch in Soissons. No less than 32 sieges or battles have taken place in the area around this ancient city, which has been destroyed and rebuilt many times. Depending on the weather, you can either buy a picnic or stop at a restaurant.
In the afternoon, you will visit the area swept by the great French American attack south of Soissons July 18-22. This was the turning point in the series of dramatic military events that followed each other in 1918. Up to this attack, the allies had withstood a series of powerful offensives. Here is where the tide definitely turned in favour of the allies. This was the first in a series of allied offensives made possible by the arrival of American troops.
Visit the battlefields over which the 1st and 2nd US Divisions attacked as the spearhead of the Franco American force, advancing six miles and then fighting off ferocious German counter-attacks. These formations losing 11,000 casualties between July 18 and 21.
Cover the actions North of Soissons by the 32nd and 93rd Divisions.
As an option, you can visit the chateau de Blérancourt where Anne Morgan and Anne Murrey Dike established the headquarters of C.A.R.D. (American Committee for Devastated Regions) which helped to reconstruct devastated France during and after the war. It is now a museum and beautiful gardens of the New World. This French National Museum is a reminder of the aid provided by American volunteers to rebuild France.
Verdun -St Mihel
The St Mihiel offensive which began on September 12, 1918, was the first operation carried out by a complete American Army under the separate and independent control of the American Commander -in Chief. The limited objectives were to eliminate the Saint Mihiel Salient, a triangle of German territory south of Verdun, east of the Meuse. The operation was complicated by the need to be ready to undertake the offensive on the Argonne front ten days later.
The tour takes in the main sites of the Salient starting and ending at Verdun and lasts eight hours.
Drive through the wooded heights of the Meuse to the old French front line where the 2nd received its first training in the battle line. Here that the 26th Division attacked across the desolation of No man’s land and advanced two miles at 8 am on September 12th in a subsidiary attack. The same evening sent a column at night to cut off the German retreat meeting the main attack from the south side of the salient near Hattonchatel.
Proceed to drive to Montsec, an isolated hill in the centre of the Salient and the site of the Montsec memorial, one of the three principal memorials erected by the United States Government in France. The hill of Montsec was well known to the soldiers of the America Expeditionary Force as many soldiers had their first service in this sector. It was an exceptionally important point in the German defensive system and around the base of the monument are reminders of the German defences. This offers an outstanding view of the salient.
Then, drive across the southern face of the salient to from the German to the US side of the line to Seicheprey. In the early hours of April 20, 1918, this was the site of a German raid by some 1,200 soldiers on the 26th Division which was holding this part of the line. Not everything went well for the AEF.
Move across the allied lines through the areas, where the preparations were made for the attack at St Mihiel, and of raids by American and US troops.
Embark on a drive along the American lines, see the battlefield from the attackers' point of view, and the memorials and other war heritage.
Pass the woods where the troops of Brigadier Douglas Macarthur were supported by the tanks of the 327th Tank Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel George S Patton. The ruined villages of Remenauville and Regnieville mark, where the 2nd and 5th US Infantry divisions attacked. With the help of trench maps, you can pick out where the defences were and the progress of the US troops.
Head out for a drive to Pont-a-Mousson on the river Moselle. Here there is a memorial to the American Field Services which had supported the French army in the area since the end of 1914. The town is a good place to stop for a coffee. Pont-à-Mousson was also where in WW2 troops under General George S Patton crossed the Moselle River.
Follow the West bank of the River Moselle along the flank of the advance by the 82nd Division and then turn west to drive across the line reached by the end of the offensive.
Pass through the “Valley of Death” named because of the continuous bombardment by German guns and past concrete bunkers that testify tom the strength of the defences.
Visit the town of Thiaucourt. This was an important point in the German supply system and when it fell the Americans captured many supplies. The town contains several interesting memorials.
The St Mihiel American Cemetery lies North West of Thiaucourt on the ground captured by the 89th Division on September 12, 1918. This is the third largest of the American cemeteries in Europe and contains 4,152 graves.
Drive back to Verdun through the area held by the US troops at the end of the battle of St Mihiel.
See the locations associated with the Second US Army formed in this area in mid-October 1918 and see where the 81st Division attacked on the 11th of November – Armistice day.
Can include some options if which such as a visit to the trenches in the Bois Brulé, one of the best-preserved battlefields of the western front or the craters at Los Eparges, scene of bitter fighting between the French and Germans in 1915.
Start the tour in Verdun as the attack started from the battlefield on the west bank of the Meuse famous from 1918, the charnel houses of the Mort Homme, and hill 304. The northern slopes were devastated areas in 1918 over which an American army of 600,000 started their great drive. The battle began here at 2.30 am on September 26, when around 27,000 pieces of artillery opened fire on the German positions.
On this part of the front, the infantry, protected by a dense barrage aided by a thick fog broke into the German defences to a depth of five miles. Success was due to the courage and fighting spirit of individual soldiers, such as captain George H Mellon, First Sergeant Sydney G Gumpertz and Sergeant Willie Sandlin of 33rd Division who were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for their actions that day.
Drive the to the monument in the ruins of the abandoned ancient village of Montfaucon. The village itself was fortified by the Germans and the remains can be seen today. It was only captured after a two day battle by the 37th and 79th Divisions and many heroic deeds. The imposing monument is the largest First World War American War memorial in Europe and commemorates the brilliant victory of the American First Army in the Meuse Argonne offensive. The platform at the top of the monument offers a splendid view over much of the Meuse Argonne battlefield.
Go to the village of Vaquois via the new village of Montfaucon and drive back to the American start line via the village of Cheppy just behind the German first line of resistance. The Butte de Vaquois was one of the most heavily fought over sections of the western front. German and French troops mined and countermined setting off huge charges of explosive that left huge craters that can be seen today. The hill offers a good vantage point for the operations in the area. The American 35th Division attacked from these positions on September 26th. We will follow the story of their attack.
Follow the route of the American 1st Corps North through the village of Varennes, which was captured by the 28th Division commemorated by the Pennsylvania memorial, the division’s home state. During the fighting at Varennes Corporal Donald M Call of the Tank Corps won the Congressional Medal of Honor. Varennes is famous in French history as the place where Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette spent the night before their capture during the French Revolution.
Option to visit the site of the position of the so-called “Lost Battalion” in the woods west of Apremont. Troops from the 77th Division, ordered to advance without regard to their flanks penetrated enemy lines. German counterattacks isolated the unit around half a mile held a position around a half a mile ahead of the American front line.
The village of Apremont, captured by the Americans on September 28 was subjected to ferocious counterattacks for the next three days, during which Major Joseph H Thompson of 28th Division won the Congressional Medal of Honor.
The further north you explore the area around the Romagne Heights, the site of prolonged fighting in late September and early October 1918, during which the Germans were driven from carefully prepared defensive positions, constructed with the idea that they would be impregnable.
Find the places associated with the fierce German counter-attacks and where the American Army resumed the attack on October 4.
See where Private First Class Alvin C York carried out his remarkable action on 8th October for which he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. You will also learn about the less well known Sergeant Wilbur E. Colyer, Engineers, who the next day won the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Turn West and visit St Juvin and Grandpré, with its citadel above the village, where American troops had fought through the Argonne Forest and breached the Hindenburg line on 31 October. We then drive East through the territory captured in October and look at the attacks North from the Romagne Heights and the stories of the heroic actions at the Côte Dame Marie and Côte de Châtillon.
If wished, you can visit the German Cemetery of Romagne-sous-Montfaucon, which contains the bodies of 1412 German and four French soldiers. The cemetery had been started in 1914 and many of the dead are from the battles for Verdun.
See the Meuse-Argonne Cemetery is the largest of the American military cemeteries in Europe. It is fittingly located near the center of the area where the hardest American fighting of the war occurred. More than 14,200 soldiers are buried on this hillside, most of whom fell during the operations of the First Army between September 26 and November 11. The famous German defensive position known as the Hindenburg Line ran along the ridge seen behind the chapel.
Then drive over the area between Romagne and the Rover Meuse, seeing the actions for such landmarks as the Bois de la Pultière, Madalene Farm and the Bois des Ogons, from the American and German points of view.
Pass the distinctive memorials to the different American Divisions that fought in the area.
At Brieulles on the River Meuse, you will see where the 5th Division accomplished one of the most difficult military feats, crossing a river under hostile fire, on November 2-3.
Cross the river Meuse and visit the battlefields of the fight for the heights of the Meuse, October 8-30 and see the actions where soldiers such Second Lieutenant Patrick Regan and Private First Class Henry G. Costin, 29th Division, won Congressional Medals of Honor. This takes us over the old battlefields of Verdun where, the last days before the Armistice, the Americans recovered the ground lost by the French in February 1916.
Leave the hotel to start the day touring at the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery near Romagne and ends at Verdun. It covers the area captured by the American First Army between November 1 and 11, 1918 and their dramatic advance.
Cover the story of the ground captured on the Barricourt heights on 1-2 November, by the 2d and 89th Division after a heavy bombardment and rolling barrage as part of an army-wide attack. The battle turned into a pursuit, with the Germans fighting a delaying action.
Let the route takes you past the places captured by the 90th Division, 2d and 89th divisions in their attacks and the stories of the men such as First Lieutenant Harold A. Furlong, Sergeant Arthur J. Forrest, Private First Class Charles D. Barger and Private Jesse N. Funk 89th Division were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Drive past the German cemetery on the outskirts of Buzancy, notorious in 1918 for the shellfire directed at the town by the Germans.
See some of the defensive positions that the Germans adopted to delay the American 77th and 78th divisions.
Switch to follow the advance of the American First Army’s 2d and 80th Divisions.
Notice where the 2d Division captured the Château de Belval and their dramatic night advance to the Beaumont area. This advance took the Americans, by co-incidence along the same route taken by the Prussian Army in 1870 and you will pass a Prussian memorial to their war dead. It took the 2d Division two days to clear Beaumont and reach the banks of the Meuse. The villages of Stonne and Raucourt were captured by the 77th Division.
Spot the position from which the on November 7, American units captured a position from which the American artillery could bombard the strategic railway line which ran through Sedan – an objective of the Meuse Argonne offensive.
Follow the path of the 1st and 42d Divisions to Torcy and cross the river Meuse to the town of Sedan, a town which played a fateful part in French and European history. This is the halfway point and you will find a suitable spot for lunch.
Pass through the 1870 battlefield and follow the east bank of the Meuse valley upstream to Douzy.
Observe the places where the American units crossed the Meuse, including the crossings by the 2d and 89th Divisions on Nov 9-11th near Pouilly.
Reach by the village of Murvaux, where the American aviator Second Lieutenant Frank Luke died. Forced to make a landing and surrounded on all sides by the enemy, who called upon him to surrender, he drew his automatic pistol and defended himself until he fell dead from a wound in the chest. For his conspicuous gallantry in the performance of his last flight, Lieutenant Luke was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honore.
Tour the sites between Brieulles -sur-Meuse near Dun-sur-Meuse where 5th Division crossed the river with heroic efforts.
Finish the tour at the Marfee heights overlooking Sedan.
Return to Paris.
Europe tour guide services.
Research into personal stories. This is what is special about our tours. A battlefield historian will carry out some research to find the locations relevant to individuals of interest to you. For example, the guide will explain what the service record means and cross-reference the war diaries and history books to find places where that person's unit served and even where they became a casualty.
Maps and other supporting material handout.
Accommodation: Can recommend hotels and hostels to suit your preferred standards and the itinerary.
Meals: Can recommend restaurants to suit your taste and the size of your group. For large groups, menus can be recommended. Can picnic in good weather. Budget around 10-15 Euros for lunch and 25-50 euros for an evening meal.
Guide accommodation and subsistence: If you want the guide to provide an informed company during the evening, book them into the same hotel. Otherwise, they will stay in budget accommodation.
Transportation: This will depend on the size of your group. Can advise and book suitable transport and drive or share the driving.
This is more than a guided tour. This is an offer of a personalised visit to the battlefields of the western front with an itinerary that is tailored to your interests. Can adjust the itinerary to include locations and topics that are specific to you. If you want to visit the graves of a soldier or the places where they served, the guide will do our best to find out the background to what happened and why. You will cover the main sites of interest to the Australian visitor but will do it, as far as possible through the experiences of the people of most interest to the guests.
You are charged for the guide’s time. Everything else is charged at cost, to keep the cost down for you, the guests.
Happy to adjust this tour around commemorative or anniversary events.
One of the far-reaching effects of the rapid increase of American Troops in France and the string of successes during the summer of 1918 was that it became possible to undertake a gigantic convergent offensive movement against the German forces on the Western Front. The American Army was to advance northward between the Meuse River and the Argonne Forest. The countryside was ideal for defensive fighting. The Germans had prepared several defensive lines in the rear of their first position, with trenches barbed wire and field fortifications stretching almost continuously over ten miles. The battle lasted from September 26 to November 11 and took the Americans from the defences of Verdun to Sedan – two poignant waymarkers
This battle was the largest in American history. By early October the First Army and strength of 900,000 men reinforced by 100,000 French. By November 11 it had lost 117,000 casualties and inflicted Around 100,000 on the enemy and captured 26,000 prisoners, 874 cannons and 3,000 machine guns. In 42 days of continuous fighting, the American First Army had advanced steadily in spite of all obstacles and played a vital part in bringing the war to a successful conclusion.
There is much to see in a battle of this scale and this tour is scheduled to take two days. The first covers principally the area fought over between September 26 and November 1. The second covers the fighting between November 1 and the Armistice.
The American Army attacked incessantly and such lack of experience as existed in its divisions, in the beginning, was more than counterbalanced by the individual bravery and unbounded energy of its soldiers. Their constant pressure gradually forced the enemy back so that by the end of October the First Army faced the last German line on this part of its front. The bitterness of this fighting is attested by the 27,000 casualties suffered in the general vicinity of this cemetery.
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