World War I: American Contribution


Figure 1.--World War I was the first major war in which motor vehicles had an important impact. They were extensively used for transport and supply. And automobile plants could easily be converted for production of military equipment (tanks and aircraft). And America thanks to Henry Ford and the assembly line had become the most important manufacturer of automobiles and trucks. American production capacity was enormous and dwarfed German production. American indudtry could have produced armaments and support equipment (trucks, planes, artillery, tanks, munitions, ect) in unimaginable quantites. The fact that the Allies brike the German Western front before American industry had made a major contribution testifies to the enormity of the forces arrayed against Germany by the end of the War. American comapanies like Catepiller and Ford could have produced tanks in enormous quantities. Here Boy Scouts inspect a motorized artillery piece. The Germans in World War II were still using horses.

The Germans had gambled in 1917 that unrestricted submarine warfare would cut off Britain and force the British to make peace. They reasoned that it would be some time before the Americans could train, equip, and deploy an army to France. And the German Navy assured the Reichstag tht the Americans would never even come because German U-boats would sink transport ships. And the U-boats could win the war by starving the British. The resumption of un-restricted submarine warfare was a mistake of enormous proprtions which cost Germany the War. Here the U-boats failed and in 1918 the German Army had to deal with the consequences of the Kaiser's failed gamble--the AEF. The Russian Army had prevented the Germans from focusing on the Western Front. Now with the Russuans out of the War, the Germans brought America into the War, a country with manpower comparable to Russia. The AEF was, however, still training and not yet deployed in force when the Germans launched their Spring Offensive. President Wilson had given General Pershing only one order when he assumed command of the AEF. That was that the AEF was to fight as a separate force under the American flag and not as replacements for deplete British and French units. In the emergency, American units still being trained were rushed to the front to support hard-pressed British and French units (March 28). The AEF fought the War largely with Allied (British and French) weapons. The War ended before American industry could be brought to bear. Given the fact that America was the largest industrial nation in the world, the enormity of the mistake bringing the United States into the War cam be seen. And it highlights while the German spring offensive was their last chance to win the War. If it failed, so did the entire German war effort.

America as a Neurtral

America remained neutral when Europe went to war. Even so, the United States was an important assett for the Allies. British control of the seas meant that the Allies had access to the bountiful produce of American farms as well as raw materials such as metals and oil. They also could ordered manufactured goods. They were limited by the fact they had to pay for these supplies. Although they were able to borro money to do so in America which also supported the Allied war effort. Thus the Germans were understandably frustrated with American neutrality. This was especially true because the effectiveness of the Royal Navy blockade had cut Germany off from America and other neutral nations. The Germans were so focused on the usefulness of America as a neutral that the failed to calculste the impct of America as a belgerant.

Unresticted Submarine Warfare (February 1917)

The losses on the Front and privations at home put the Goverment under enormous pressure to bring the War to a conclusion. The Crown Prince even criticized his father for not persuing the War with the vigor required. The Germans thus gambled in 1917 that and unrestricted submarine warfare would cut off Britain and force the British to make peace. They reasoned that it would be some time before the Americans could train, equip, and deploy an army to France. And the German Navy assured the Reichstag tht the Americans would never even come because German U-boats would sink transport ships. And the U-boats could win the war by starving the British. The resumption of un-restricted submarine warfare was a mistake of enormous proprtions which cost Germany the War. The Germans seriously under estimated the potential impact of American involvement. Gambling that they could force a decission in the Western Front, the military convinced Kaiser Wilhelm to resume unrestricted sunmarine warfare. This was the critical decission of the War and Kaiser Wilhelm made a catetrophic error. In the end the British untroduced the convoy system and the U-boat camapign failed. The declaration of unrestriucted submarine warfare, however, brought America into the War and it would be the American infantry that would blunt the German 1918 offensive and turn the tide on the Western Front. Without the arrival of the Americans, it is likely that the Germans would have won the war.

American Declaration of War (April 1917)

American President Woodrow Wilson camaigned for re-election in 1916 with the slogan "He kept us out of war". America at various points tried to negotiate an end to the War. Wilson in a 1917 speech called for a "peace without victory". None of the major European combatants showed much interest in the American efforts. The Britsh were still hopeful that America would join the Allies. Kaiser Wilhelm dimissed Wilson's efforts as unrealistic. The Germans seriously under estimated the potential impact of American involvement. Gambling that they could force a decission in the Western Front, the military convinced Kaiser Wilhelm to resume unrestricted sunmarine warfare. After German U-boats sank five American merchant vessels, President Wilson on asked Congress to Declare War on Germany which was approved April 6. President Wilson's motives are a subject of controversy among historians. The declaration of war was following the declaration of War an explosion of patriotic fervor not seen in America since the Civil war. Large numbers of young men enlisted. Many cities came close to fulfilling their quota within a few months, well before selective Service went into effect (June 5). There wee patriotic celebrations with children dressing up in uniforms and patriotic outfits. Along with the patriotic fervor. a wave of anti-German hysteria spread over America with the declaration of war on Germany. It was far worse than hate crimes against Arab-looking and turbaned individuals after Septenber 11, 2001.

The AEF

Here the U-boats failed and in 1918 the German Army had to deal with the consequences of the Kaiser's failed gamble--the AEF. The Russian Army had prevented the Germans from focusing on the Western Front. Now with the Russuans out of the War, the Germans brought America into the War, a country with manpower comparable to Russia. The AEF was, however, still training and not yet deployed in force when the Germans launched their Spring Offensive. President Wilson had given General Pershing only one order when he assumed command of the AEF. That was that the AEF was to fight as a separate force under the American flag and not as replacements for deplete British and French units. In the emergency, American units still being trained were rushed to the front to support hard-pressed British and French units (March 28). The AEF in 1918 was only a fraction of the massive army America was building. Over 1 million Americans reached France in time to stop the Germans and particupate in the war-winning Allied 100-DAys Campaign. The futility of the German position that more than 2 million more Americans were undergoing training in America in preparation for deployment to France.

Industry

The AEF fought the War largely with Allied (British and French) weapons with the exception of the Springfield rifle. The War ended before American industry could be brought to bear. Given the fact that America was the largest industrial nation in the world, the enormity of the mistake bringing the United States into the War can be seen. The Allies were already outproducing the Central Powers before America entered the War. World War I was the first major war in which motor vehicles had an important impact. They were extensively used for transport and supply. And automobile plants could easily be converted for production of military equipment (tanks and aircraft). And America thanks to Henry Ford and the assembly line had become the most important manufacturer of automobiles and trucks. American production capacity was enormous and dwarfed German production. American indudtry could have produced armaments and support equipment (trucks, planes, artillery, tanks, munitions, ect) in unimaginable quantites. The fact that the Allies brike the German Western front before American industry had made a major contribution testifies to the enormity of the forces arrayed against Germany by the end of the War.

German Spring Offensive (March-June 1918)

Defeating Russia in the East freed up German troops for a massive German offensive in the West. It would be the final German gambit in the War. The importance of the American contribution to the War and the plans which would have expanded American participation in 1919 highlight why the German spring offensive was their last chance to win the War. If it failed, so did the entire German war effort. The problem is that the German Navy had been wrong. The mericans had come and although not yet well trained, some American divisions were available to the Allied command.

Allied Offensive (August-November 1918)

The Allied Offensive was prefaced by a rare French attack west of Rheims (July). The British then launched the last offensive of the War. The Canadians negan the offensive by striking at the exposed Amiens Bulge followed by a general assault on the vaunted Hindenburg Line. The British deployed tanks in numbers which proved highly effective in breeching trench fortifications. The Americans bloodied by the fighting in the Soringb attacked the St. Mihiel Salient south of Verdun and then moved aginst the Argonne Forrest west of Verdun. The Allies suffered severe losses. The Americans suffered 100,000 casualties in the Argonne fighting alone--but kept advancing. The attacks were too much for the depleted German ranks. After the Spring offensive, many divisions were no longer combat ready. The Allies succeeded in finally cracking the Hindenburg Line abd the Germans began falling back.

Armistice (November 1918)

Allied offensives on the Western Front cracked the German front forcing them back toward Germany. The German Navy mutined. Riots broke out in Germany cities. The General staff informed the Kaiser that they could no longer guarantee his saftey. He abdicated and fled to the neutral Netherlands. A German Government was hastily formed and asked for an armistice based on President Wilson's 14 Points. After determining that the request came from a civilian German Government and not the Kaiser or German military, the Allies accepted the German offer. There was not total agreement on this Genetral Pershing wanted to fight on to Berlin. The guns fell silent after 4 years of vicious fighting at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month (November 11, 1918). There had been over 8.5 million soldiers killed and 21.2 million wounded. After the War the NAZIs perpetrated the myh that the German Army was not defeated in battle, but stabbed in the back. The Armistice which ended the War (November 1918) prevented battles which would have shown just how powerful the Allies had become. And also prevented a strategic bombing campign the Allies were preparing. The failure to understand just how badly German had been defeated was afactor in enducing the Germans to launch another war against an Allied coaltion that had defeated Germany in World War I--most critically Russia and America again. And American and Russian industry was an even more formidable in World war II.







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Created: 7:15 PM 12/21/2007
Last updated: 7:15 PM 12/21/2007