The Battle Orders of Billy Mitchell

March 1, 2008

“Battle Orders, No. 1”

Col. William Mitchell

First Army Headquarters

American Expeditionary Forces

Ligny-en-Barrois, France

Sept. 11, 1918


On the afternoon of Sept. 11, 1918, Col. William Mitchell was putting the finishing touches on his plan for air operations in the World War I Battle of St. Mihiel in France. It was to be the world’s first major air offensive, and Mitchell was, in reality, its “air boss”—the world’s first joint force air component commander. He assembled the key members of his staff as well as the commanders of various aviation units at his headquarters. There, he patiently explained the plan to one and all. Convinced that they all understood his plan, he then issued his written battle orders. He wrote them himself. With his all-capitalized admonition for airmen to “take the offensive at all points,” he had summed up the tenor of his command and produced an instant classic of military history.

The enemy is losing ground, personnel, and materiel at all points of the front on which the allied armies are attacking. On the front of the first Army he is holding the line Pont-sur-Seille–St. Mihiel–Fresnes-en-Woevre–Chatillon-sous-les-Cotes in his old positions. His air service is estimated at 150 pursuit, 120 reconnaissance, and 25 battle airplanes, which is being reinforced. The strength of his ground troops is estimated at about seven divisions, with from three to five divisions in reserve. The strength and morale of these divisions is reported low. There are signs that he intends to withdraw from his front lines and make his main resistance at some point further to the rear.

The First Army attacks on the whole front on 12 September 1918. The hour of the attack will be 5H 12 September 1918. The First and Fourth Corps will attack at H hour. The 5th Corps will attack at H hour plus three hours. …


The corps sectors of reconnaissance are as announced in Annex #3, Field Orders #9, Appendix #4, dated September 7th, 1918. Particular attention is to be paid to minute reconnaissance of the enemy lines to determine whether he has been reinforced or has changed his dispositions. …

The 1st Army Observation Group (Reynolds) will execute the reconnaissance and surveillance as ordered in the plan of reconnaissance. … Three airplanes will be held ready to execute any special reconnaissance ordered.

The Army Artillery Group (Block) will execute the observation ordered for the artillery to which it is attached. …

The First Pursuit Wing (Atkinson) will cover the front Pont-sur-Seille–St. Mihiel, inclusive. An absolute barrage will be established against enemy aviation, our own observation aviation will be protected, and an attack against all balloons exposing themselves on this front will be made early in the morning. After 9:00 a.m., one pursuit group loaded with bombs will be held in reserve to be used for the purpose of attack of hostile troops or convoys on the ground, so as to be ready to leave the ground 15 minutes after the receipt of the order.

The First Bombardment Group will attack the hostile division and corps posts of command and such enemy positions as present a suitable target.

The right flank of the First Pursuit Wing will be protected by the First Brigade (French) Aerial Division and the aerial defenses of the 8th French Army. Close liaison will be maintained by the 1st Pursuit Wing (Atkinson) with both of these and with the Army corps so as to keep close track of the advance of the troops.

The First Pursuit Group (Hartney) will cover the front Chatillon-sous-les-Cotes–St. Mihiel, inclusive. A barrage will be maintained against hostile aviation, observation aviation will be protected, and hostile balloons will be attacked opposite the front of the 4th Corps. …

The Army Night Bombing and Reconnaissance Wing (Major Villome) will execute the night reconnaissance directed in accordance with the schedule provided for. Railroad centers and airdromes will be bombed systematically as provided for in the plan of employment. Particular attention will be paid to the German night bombing airdromes.

The French Air Division (Vaulgrenant) will take the offensive against the enemy’s aviation and troops on the ground. The brigades will execute successive attacks, passing over both sides of the St. Mihiel salient. … The principle being to operate along the axes indicated so as to take the enemy aviation in reverse and force it towards our lines. Attacks will be made against the ground troops of the enemy when occasion offers.

The bombardment aviation will attack the objects on the ground which show themselves to be the most dangerous as operations develop.

Provision will be made for guarding the 1st Army’s right flank against hostile air attack. Close liaison will be maintained by radio and courier planes with the Corps Air Services so as to insure the air division’s cooperation in the attack. …

William Mitchell