When I was looking for World War One titles to read, Betrayal at Little Gibraltar piqued my interest. A book written by William Walker, the full title is Betrayal at Little Gibraltar: A German Fortress, a Treacherous American General, and the Battle to End World War I. The book examines many aspects of the Meuse-Argonne offensive in World War One, which became the costliest American offensive/campaign in American military history (second only if the entirety of Operation Overlord is considered.) In particular, the author focuses much of the narrative on a specific episode of this offensive, the battle over Montfaucon. This was a heavily fortified and defended German observatory in the Argonne forest, so much so that the French dubbed Montfaucon “Little Gibraltar” after a few unsuccessful attacks on the site.
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Essentially, the American First Army was slowed down considerably during the beginning of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive because Montfaucon was not captured as planned by the 79th division and a potential early breakthrough was inevitably lost. However, the objective of this book is to look into the fact that the 79th was essentially abandoned by planned assistance from nearby forces and that the blame should not be placed on the 79th. Instead, it should be placed on Major General Robert Lee Bullard, the commanding officer who disobeyed orders. The original plan was to have the 79th division hold Montfaucon’s attention from the front while a veteran division, the 4th, flanked and enveloped Montfaucon’s defenses. However, General Bullard ordered his divisional commanders to continue through lightly defended territory and bypass Montfaucon so that they could make the most forward progress as possible. Of course when that occurred the green 79th division had a rough time of things in capturing Montfaucon, though it was eventually done at a high cost in American lives. The author also then looks into what amounts to a cover up by many in the army to prevent this disaster from becoming common knowledge and this extended all the way up to overall commanding General Pershing.
This book really had no serious faults. Some of the arguments were a little round about and some of context may have been a little overboard for some people, but I fell that this was a good way to present the entire picture and setting for the events that occurred. The author makes excellent use of many of the primary source material. In particular, his use of a continues narrative through the life of Major Parkin, commander of the 316th regiment in the 79th division, was superb. He shows how rough life was for many of the doughboys, especially the 79th, which had very minimal training to say the least. He also brings up cultural and political contexts that are important to the story, such as the prejudice against German-Americans in the army and so forth. His tactical overview through much of the Meuse-Argonne is also well done. Many poignant vignettes are also brought forth in these ways, such as looking into the the last American killed officially in WW1, Private Henry Gunther, by suicide by combat. Lastly, his examinations of many of the players’ character profiles and their relationships with each other is astounding. (In particular the relationship between Major General Bullard and his chief-of-staff Bjornstad is enlightening.)
Overall this was a tremendously enlightening book about an event I did not fully know about. If you are a World War One history buff, you need to look into Betrayal at Little Gibraltar by William Walker.
5 out of 5 stars.