Terrance J. Finnegan
A Delicate Affair on the Western Front
America Learns How to Fight a Modern War in the Woevre Trenches
The History Press 2015
New Books in American StudiesNew Books in European StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Military HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books Network September 14, 2015 John Abbatiello
In his second book, author Terrance J. Finnegan describes America’s early experience fighting the Germans during World War I. Finnegan’s A Delicate Affair on the Western Front: America Learns How to Fight a Modern War in the Woevre Trenches (The History Press, 2015) provides in-depth research and a great deal of context to portray the 26th Infantry Division’s desperate defense of the Woevre sector in April 1918. Relying on meticulous mining of primary documents, the author describes the leaders, tactical doctrine, weaponry, and intelligence processes of the French, German, and new American forces fighting near Seicheprey in northeastern France. Finnegan also builds on research from his first book, Shooting the Front: Allied Aerial Reconnaissance and Photographic Interpretation on the Western Front–World War I, to carefully explain intelligence collection on both sides of the trenches.
In a lively interview, Finnegan explains how the action near Seicheprey–sometimes called a trench raid, sometimes a battle–was vitally important to newly arrived American soldiers learning the craft of trench warfare. It was an extremely dangerous environment, with chemical weapons, artillery duels, small-scale trench raids, and snipers making life miserable for the combatants. At Seicheprey, the Germans decided to test the metal of American National Guard soldiers of the 26th Yankee Division, one of the first four US divisions to arrive in France. Early on 20 April 1918, using Stormtroop tactics perfected in other sectors of the Eastern and Western Fronts, the Germans smothered American positions with high explosive and chemical artillery fire, followed by infantry attacks that bypassed strong points and penetrated the defenses in many areas. The New England Guardsmen gave up some ground in a confused battle, but soon counterattacked and gained back what they had lost.
This is a dense book, packed with details about the adversaries that any reader interested in World War I ground combat would appreciate. It is a holistic view of a single engagement that leaves no questions and thoroughly explains the action.