It’s Now or Never! The Meuse Argonne Offensive

In this activity students use ArcGIS online to interactively explore a layered map showing the phases of the American advancement during the Meuse Argonne Offensive.  They will also look at a variety of embedded primary source photographs from the battlefield.

Guiding Questions

  • How did geography and cultural landscapes impact American Expeditionary Force (AEF) advancements during the Meuse Argonne Offensive? 
  • What were some of the topographical/geographical obstacles the Americans faced?
  • What were the American Expeditionary Force’s (AEF) objectives during the Meuse Argonne Offensive and how did these objectives change over time?

Learning Outcomes

The student will be able to:

  • Explain how geography and German defenses impacted AEF advancements during the Meuse Argonne Offensive.
  • Identify and explain how AEF overcame a number of “seemingly insurmountable” obstacles during the Meuse Argonne Offensive.
  • Analyze images and primary documents to explain the significance of the Meuse Argonne Offensive in American history.


Instructional Procedures/Process/Teacher Notes  

*Before using this lesson live make sure you test drive the online maps and check your technology functionality.

  1. Pass out the “It is Now or Never!” student directions and student answer sheets to each student.
  2. Have students go to  and load, “It is Now or Never! The Meuse Argonne Offensive” web map. (Do not use Internet Explorer. It has compatibility issues with ArcGIS Online.)
  3. Demonstrate for the students how to use the interactive map. If necessary distribute a copy of the Getting Started with ArcGIS Online handout. 
  4. Explain to the students that the Meuse Argonne offensive is the largest land offensive in US history and briefly explain where this battle took place.  Explain that during the next 45 minutes they will interact with a web map to better understand the “seemingly insurmountable” obstacles the American Expeditionary Forces faced in helping end World War I.
  5. Have students navigate the online map and activities using the “It’s Now or Never” instructions and student answer sheet.  Monitor their progress by helping with technical support, map analysis, and primary source analysis.


When the students have completed the activity review the questions and answers by using the ArcGIS Online map.  Key discussion points to cover while reviewing the answers should include, but not be limited to:

  • The Meuse Argonne region was located in a very hilly area that was heavily fortified by the Germans.  If the Germans broke through this area they could easily take Paris.  Likewise, if the American and French forces could push the Germans out of this area they could deeply influence a surrender.
  • This battlefield was a very large, highly fortified area full of towns, hills, trenches, roads, and railroads.  The only way to take it would be to get out of the trenches and go on the offensive.  Hence the name, Meuse Argonne Offensive.
  • There were 5 important “heights” that needed to be taken in order to control this region. They were:  Montfaucon, Romagne Heights, Heights of the Meuse, Argonne Forest, and Barricourt Heights.
  • Day One the American forces gained a decent amount of ground while trying to take Montfaucon an important height that would allow the Americans to have a good view of the other four major heights in the area: Romagne Heights, Heights of the Meuse, Barricourt Heights, and the Argonne Forest.
  • Phase One continued the AEF assault on Montfaucon and they also began to try to take the Argonne Forest (note Lost Batallion in the Argonne Forest)
  • Phase Two witnessed the American Expeditionary Forces continue to advance on the Argonne Forest and the Romagne Heights.
  • Phase Three witnessed the AEF continue to gain control of Romagne Heights, Barricourt Heights, and Heights of the Meuse.  This phase will take nearly 4 weeks.
  • Phase Four witnessed the Americans essentially chase the German forces to Belgium border.  That is why so much ground is taken in only 10 days.  The battle ends up ending on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month on November 11, 1918.
  • The American Battle Monuments Commission was established at the end of WWI and one of the first monuments constructed was the Montfaucon American Memorial (Located where the “Primary Focus” marker is located on the ArcGIS Online map.)  It consists of a massive granite doric column, surmounted by a statue symbolic of liberty, which towers more than 200-feet above the war ruins of the former village of Montfaucon. It commemorates the American victory during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. On the walls of the foyer are an engraved map of the operations with a narrative and a special tribute to the American troops who served here (Which students read). The observation platform on top of the memorial is reached by 234 steps and affords magnificent views of this battlefield.


Students will complete the attached question frame and the teacher will review and grade their answers and contributions to the classroom discussion.


  • If needed you can complete this activity using one computer and overhead projector.
  • Complete any of these activities: Honoring Service, Achievements, and Sacrifice:  A Virtual Field Trip; Geography is War: The Lost Battalion

Materials Needed

Computer with internet access for each student. Lesson can also be completed with one computer and projector as a teacher-led activity.