The Americans formally entered world war I on April 6th, 1917. The 1st American Army fought alongside the French in the Meuse-Argonne offensive, north-east France, in Lorraine, which lasted from September 26th to November 11th, 1918. 30,000 US soldiers were killed in five weeks, at an average rate of 750 to 800 per day; 56 medals of honor were earned. Compared to the numbers of allied soldiers killed, this was relatively small, but at the time, it was the largest battle in American history. There are major American sites in the area to visit: the Meuse-Argonne American Military Cemetery, the American Memorial in Montfaucon and the American Memorial on Montsec hill.
The largest American cemetery in Europe, the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery, is at Romagne-sous-Montfaucon. It’s a huge site, set in 130 acres of gently sloping land. 14,246 soldiers are buried here in military straight lines. The graves are not set according to rank, you find a captain next to an orderly, a pilot awarded a Medal of Honor next to an African American in the Labour Division. Most of them fought and died, in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive which lasted from September 26th to November 11th, 1918 to liberate the Meuse. The Americans were led by General Pershing.
The American Memorial in Montfaucon stands on the highest point in the area and you can see it from the Meuse-Argonne American Military Cemetery. At 336 meters (1,102 ft), Montfaucon was once a village and the place used by the Germans as an observation point. The monument consists of a huge Doric column over 50 meters high with a symbolic statue representing freedom at the top. Get your bearings from the engraved map of the operations on the foyer, then climb the tower. It’s worth the 234 steps for the views over what was a murderous battlefield.
In front of you was the 1st American Army frontline at the beginning of the September 26th, 1918 offensive, which lasted until the Armistice on November 11, 1918, signed near Compiegne in Picardy.
The neoclassical monument is impressive, a startling white rotunda open to the skies with classic columns and a relief map in the middle explaining the battles. At 370 meters (1,214 ft) high, it’s a landmark in the area.
It commemorates the victory in the Saint-Mihiel salient by the 1st American Army as well as the various battles involving the Second Army and the different operations which the Americans fought in around the area. There’s a splendid view onto the Meuse and the Woevre plain, the artificially created Madine lake, and 80 villages spread out below you.
Every year at weekends between June and August, a son-et-Lumiere (sound and light) show takes place in a vast quarry in Verdun. Des Flammes à la lumière ('From the flames to the light') is performed by volunteers and takes the audience from June 28th, 1914 and the start of World War I, through mobilization of the French, the battle of Verdun beginning on February 21st, 1917 through scenes involving a hospital, civilians behind the lines, gas, the German assault, the French offensive, to the end of the war and the armistice. It takes in the battles won by the Americans in the closing stages of the war. It’s a great show in the eerie former quarry. You get a headset with an English commentary with the ticket. Take warm clothes and possibly a blanket if it is cold.
Tel.: 00 33 (0)3 29 84 50 00
Information and booking on the website
Tickets Adult 20 to 25 euros, special dinner and show offer 36 to 41.50 euros; 7 to 15 years 12 euros, family of 2 adults and 2 teenagers 53 euros, child under 7 free
Children must have an identity card or passport with them
Show starts at nightfall,, but they advise arriving by 10pm.
Where to Stay
- Chateau des Monthairons
26 rte de Verdun
Tel: 00 33 (0)3 29 87 78 55
A 19th-century chateau set in rolling parkland on the banks of the Meuse offers peace and quiet, stately chambers, a small spa and a good restaurant.
- Price Band: $$$
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