Where Men Fell

In the century since the Great War turned northern France into a battleground, the rolling countryside has recovered its beauty and fertility. But traces of the savagery remain.


On July 1, 1916, the first day of fighting along the Somme River, in northern France, British troops suffered nearly 60,000 casualties. During the battle, which lasted four and a half months, more than 1 million men were killed or wounded, but the Allied troops gained no more than seven miles. Trenches used then are still visible today.

Associated Press
Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis


Molleville Farm (above) was a crucial position in the German defenses during the decisive battle of Meuse- Argonne. American troops attacked toward
the camera on October 11, 1918; by the 16th, suf- fering heavy casualties, they had captured the German-occupied woods to the north of the farm. The battle lasted 47 days and involved more American troops—1.2 million—than any other clash in history. It ended with the armistice, on November 11.


After German troops pierced French lines in northeastern France on June 1, 1918, U.S. marines stood in their way. Urged to retreat by the hightailing French, Captain Lloyd Williams replied, “Retreat? Hell, we just got here.” His retort, and the marines’ bravery—and awful losses—have become Marine lore. Here (top photo), the camera looks east toward Belleau Wood, where the Germans were entrenched. On June 6, the marines advanced across this field, attacking six times—often fighting hand to hand—before they pushed the Germans (one of their casualties is pictured here, bottom photo) from the forest, on June 26.


The Oise-Aisne American Cemetery, in northern France, is the resting place for 6,012 doughboys killed nearby, including the poet Joyce Kilmer, who died at age 31.


Below: Looking east across the plains of northern France. On the morning of May 28, 1918, this was the direction some American troops took to capture the village of Cantigny in their first sustained offensive of the war. The U.S. First Division suffered 199 killed and many more wounded; the French awarded the Croix de Guerre to the infantry regiment that spearheaded the attack.