The Capture Of Dun

: Winning A Cause World War Stories

After the Americans had cleared the Saint Mihiel salient, Marshal Foch

gave them a task which was probably the most difficult and dangerous of

the whole war. They were to move north and west along the Meuse River

through the Argonne forest to Sedan. There they would cut one of the

two main communication lines of the Germans, the loss of which would

mean to them disaster and rout.

Just before the signing
of the armistice on November 11, the Americans

reached Sedan after fighting from September 26 over an almost

impassable country with few roads and against the strongest forces the

Germans could muster. For four years the Germans had been fortifying

this part of the line in every possible way, for they realized the

danger to them of a successful advance along the Meuse from Verdun to

Sedan. The railroad through Mezieres, Sedan, and Montmedy was called

in a German order our life artery. To cut it meant death to the

German army.

The Argonne forest is a very dense growth of trees and underbrush

covering a chain of hills running north and south. It is very

difficult for a large army to advance and be supplied with food and

munitions without good roads over which to move, and all the roads in

this region are poor and, with very few exceptions, run east and west.

The Americans, twenty-one divisions or about 750,000 men, took part in

the action. They were obliged to move through the valleys above which,

on the hillsides, the Germans had stationed innumerable machine guns

and light artillery.

It was bitter fighting in the woods, brush and ravines, over a region

perfectly registered and plotted by the enemy, where his guns, big and

little, could be used with the greatest efficiency. The original nine

American divisions in some cases were kept in the line over three

consecutive weeks. The American reserves were then thrown in until

every division not engaged on another part of the line had been put in


It is a fact commented on with pride by the American commanders and

complimented by the allies that seven of these divisions that drove

their way through this hard action never before had been in an active

sector, while green troops, fresh from home, were poured in as


The Associated Press dispatches from day to day told what these men

did; how the enemy was slowly pushed back from his strongest and most

vital positions, through one defense system after another, using his

finest selected troops, which had been withdrawn in many instances from

other portions of the line, in an effort to hold an enemy which he

derisively said last spring could not be brought to Europe, and if so

would not fight, and even if he tried to fight would not know how to do


As they advanced, they were obliged to cross the Meuse and capture the

town of Dun. This is a simple statement and might be passed over as

not very significant, but in its few words, it contains a story of one

of the bravest deeds of any army in any war.

The Germans knew, of course, that if they could prevent the crossing of

the river at this point, the Americans could not capture Sedan and cut

their line of communications. It may be that the Americans took them

completely by surprise when they attempted the crossing here, and that

if the Germans had in the least expected the attempt would be made,

they would have been better prepared to defeat it. As it was, however,

the Americans were met by a frightful and deadly fire from the enemy

behind natural defenses so strong that they believed no army would

think of attacking them.

The river at this point is about 160 feet wide. Beyond it lies a half

mile of mud, and then a canal 60 feet wide with perpendicular walls

rising several feet above the surface of the water.

On Monday afternoon, just one week before the war ended, the order was

given to cross the river, the mud, and the canal and to occupy the west

bank. The officers had hesitated to give the command for they realized

what it meant in dead and wounded; but the privates also knew and they

hoped they would be allowed to make the attempt, which with American

soldiers means to succeed. They were there to bring the war to an end,

and to press on against every danger was the sure way to end it quickly.

Those who could swim the river were first called out. Each one was

given the end of a rope long enough to reach across the river; then

they jumped in and swam exposing as little of their heads and bodies as

possible. The German machine guns were so placed as to cover by their

fire every foot of the east bank of the river, and the rifles also of

hundreds of Huns across the canal attempted to pick off the swimmers.

Many were killed and many others were wounded and left to drown, for it

would not do to stop to rescue them. A story is told, however, of two

chums swimming side by side. One of them was hit by a bullet in the

neck and was saved by the other who swam on supporting him until they

reached the opposite bank. Then he stopped long enough to bind up the

wound and leave his chum lying flat in the mud while he advanced

through the mud and across the canal. Both lived to return home with

the victorious army.

When the swimmers were across, they held the ropes, which were fastened

at the other bank, taut, so that those who could not swim could cross

by holding on to them. Some attempted to cross on hastily built rafts

and in collapsible canvas boats. More of these were lost than of the

swimmers who, partially submerged, were not so good targets for the


At the same time the engineers were building pontoon bridges and

smaller foot bridges. After the first wave of men had crossed the

river and the mud and were climbing up the further side of the canal,

the engineers were not so greatly delayed by rifle fire and soon had a

foot bridge ready over which the troops quickly rushed. The pontoon

bridge was destroyed by enemy fire. Many were lost in the mud where

progress was slow and where, obliged to stand erect, they made good


Those swimmers who reached the canal jumped in, swam across the 60 feet

of water, and climbed the opposite bank by using grappling hooks.

The Germans had not taken the precaution to build trenches beyond the

canal, thinking that the river, the mud, and the canal at this point

would offer protection enough. Therefore, when the Americans had

succeeded in crossing the canal, the Germans hastily retreated.

Probably there were fewer casualties among the Americans than if the

attack had been made at what seemed a less dangerous point, for

elsewhere along the river the Huns had intrenched themselves.

The action was one demanding skill and courage of the highest order.

It was carried through successfully because the Americans possessed

both of these qualities and realized they were fighting for the noblest

cause for which men ever fought. They were willing to give up their

today that others might have a secure and happy tomorrow.

The capture of Sedan forced the Germans to ask for an armistice and to

accept whatever terms were offered. In studying the war and the

masterly strategy of Marshal Foch, it should never be forgotten that in

a few weeks, the armies under his command would have won the greatest

victory ever recorded in history and that more than a million Germans

would have been obliged to surrender with all their guns and equipment.

A smaller minded or more selfish general than Foch might have declined

to grant an armistice in order to gain the credit of such a marvelous

victory; but Foch thought of the lives that might be saved by granting

the armistice and did not think of his own glory. He has lost none of

the credit that belongs to him by doing this, but has gained a higher

place in the esteem of men.

Nor should it be forgotten that if General Pershing's army had failed

in its almost impossible task, no armistice would have been asked for.

The war with its suffering and death would have gone over into another

year. The same would have been true if the British and French armies

had failed. All did the duties assigned them nobly, heroically, and

successfully, and the Hun realized that, as always, might was with the

forces of right.