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  • Print publication year: 2006
  • Online publication date: August 2009

6 - The 2nd Division: Bloody Lessons in “Open Warfare”


The 2nd Division may not have been the first American division in France, the first to enter training, or the first to meet the enemy in battle, but by November 1918, its combat record gave it the right to be considered the best American division of the war. During its five major offensive operations, the 2nd consistently advanced farther and faster than neighboring units and, by the end of the war, it had taken more enemy prisoners and captured more enemy guns than any other American division. Although senior commanders often gave it challenging missions, the 2nd Division ultimately succeeded in taking every major objective assigned. However, the 2nd Division paid a high price for its operational success; it suffered more casualties than any other AEF division.

Although the division's first engagements were deemed successes, many of those assaults proved that it had much to learn about combat on the First World War battlefield. More clearly than any of the other pioneer divisions, the 2nd went into its first battles seemingly committed to fight in a manner consistent with the official doctrinal pronouncements of senior AEF leaders. Yet, the division's adaptations and innovations made during and after those first bloody battles proved equally apparent. Leaders at all levels within the division soon eschewed any notion of self-reliant infantry and stiff linear formations. They quickly learned to maximize firepower, to coordinate it with the infantry, and to attack with flexible formations and the latest infantry tactics.

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