The St. Mihiel Salient had been created in an aggressive forward thrust by the Bavarians in September 1914. It was a wedge shaped piece of land that extended into French territory to the south of the Verdun fortress line. Throughout the war heavy combat had raged on the flanks of the salient; on the Combres heights, by Ailly and Apremont, in the Bois Brule, Mont Marc and the Priesterwald. All through the heavy fighting the German positions had held. Right: General John Pershing, commander of the American troops in Europe during WW1
Much blood had flowed to preserve this piece of ground, but as long as there was still a chance of attacking Verdun the high command was determined to hold onto the salient. From here Verdun could be encircled from the south.
In the first days of September 1918 the German army retreated all along the Western Front to take up position in the Siegfried Line. By this time any ideas of another Verdun offensive had been long put to rest. Plans had been made to abandon the St. Mihiel Salient and fall back to the “Michelstellung”.
The date of the retreat was pushed back a number of times and in the end it was an Allied attack that would determine the date for the Germans.
Marschal Foch had decided to leave the honour of reducing the salient to the newly arrived Americans. He believed that the victory could be achieved at a relatively modest cost and it would be a feather in the cap for the American soldiers.
Above: A map illustrating the reduction of the pocket. The German 77. Reserve Division is in the Southeast corner
To assure a victory in his first independent command, General Pershing had assembled a large force on the flanks of the salient. It consisted of 500 000 men, 2900 artillery pieces, 1000 Aircraft and 273 tanks.
A handful of battered German divisions waited as his prey.
An icy rain was falling on the morning of the 12th of September 1918. The German gunners had started to move their guns back on the 10th and the roads were blocked as the heavy carriages sank into the mud.
Suddenly flames split the sky. A deafening barrage poured down on the salient. The sound of the remaining German guns firing in defence was drowned out by the roar of Allied artillery whose shells were coming from three sides casting an iinfernal spider web over the salient.
A French Colonial Corps engaged the Germans at the tip of the salient while Pershing’s men attacked the flanks, the tanks rolling ahead of them. The areas of the German front line where the Americans broke through were manned by units of lower quality; the left flank by a division made up of largely unmotivated Alsatians, on the right a division of not too happy to be there Austrians. Both divisions offered a less than splendid resistance and by early afternoon their defence had collapsed.
General Fuchs, commander of Armee Abteilung C took the initiative to evacuate the salient and have the troops take up their positions in the Michelstellung. Was it not to late? The Saxons of General Lautholds 192 I.D. and General Auler's 5. Landwehr Division were totally surrounded. In spite of this they managed to break through. Covering thirty kms. they managed to slip through a gap that the still inexperienced American commanders had not yet managed to close.
The St Mihiel salient was in allied hands and with it a large number of prisoners and artillery pieces. Only the Michel Line now stood in the way of the newly blooded Americans. Once again the curtain had fallen on a battlefield on which the Germans had shed much blood over a period of four long years.
257, Musketier Friedrich Seger (12th Kompagnie)
The document was signed on 5th of August 1918 by
Oberstleutnant XXX, Regiments-Kommandeur.
The document is a special print for the R.I.R. 257, at the time of the award the Regt. was part of the 77 R.D. The Division spent most of the war on the Eastern Front arriving in the West in April 1918. It spent May to July fighting on the Somme and Avre rivers before moving to the St Mihiel area. At St Mihiel it fought from the 13th of July to 11th of September at Filrey, Limey and Regnieville. The division lost heavily from the 12th to 14th of September in the fighting for the St Mihiel salient, many men taken prisoner while cut off by the American barrage. The division was dissolved at the end September due to the heavy losses it had suffered, mainly POWs.