** World War I -- American Expeditiionary Force








World War I: The American Expeditionary Force (AEF)


Figure 1.--This is a U.S. Army Signal Corps photograph (number 22801). The photograph was taken while the Allied Hundred Days Offensive was underway (August 19, 1918) in Lucy, France (Toul sector). A 10 year old French boy wearing a smock is playing war game with discarded war items and an American Soldier/Doughboy (89th Division) placing American Flag. The photograph is captioned "A 10-year old boy's imagination. He has empty cartridges for his antiaircraft guns, loosened bullets for his shells, barrel of an air pump for his heavy artillery, tobacco sacks filled with sand, camouflaged dugouts, narrow guage railroad, subterranean ordinance pits, sentries and barb wire entanglements." Click on the image for a close up.

When Pershing arrived in France, the French were shocked. They had expected a large American Army. Pershing did not bring an army with him because there was no such army. The French were stunned that a country the size of the United States would have such a pitifully small army. The Allies made it very clear that what was needed was men, A large America Army was critically needed. America as late as Spring 1917 only had a small volunteer force. The United States would have to recruit, train, and equip its army and this would take some time. The Germans knew this and gambled that the U-boat campaign and their massive Spring 1918 offensive would win the War before the Americans could intervene in force. Pershing reached France with only a smll staff. For months only a small trickle of troops followed. There were, however, American troops in France by the time the Germans launched their vaunted Sring 1918 Offensive and the AEF had reached 0.5 million (May 1918). The arrival of the Americans was critical. They played an important role in stopping the Germans. The Germans almost succeeded in breaking the Allies Western Front. Thus the AEF while still relatively small, was crucial. Pershing respponding to the urgent pleas from the Allies committed available U.S. units to help the French hold the Western Front. U.S. troops fought at Aisne Offensive (May 1918) and on the Marne (June 1918). Pershing insisted that the AEF, however, be deployed as an army and not piecemeal within British and French armies. Significant numbers of American soldiers did not begin to arrive in France until the summer of 1918. At that time about 10,000 Americans arrived daily, unimpeded by the U-boats. And by Summer 1918 American soldiers were arriving in large numbers. As the Allies after stopping the Germans began to think about their offensive, the AEF had begun to reach sizeable numbers, over a million men (July 1918). Pershing launched the first AEF offensive at St Mihiel (September) and Meuse-Argonne (October). The United States sent over 2 million men to Europe, mostly to France. And more were being trained in America had they been needed. Many of the men who reached France were never committed because the Germans requested an armistice before they were needed. The AEF sustained 264,000 casualties which including nearly 51,000 killed in action and an additional 25,000 who died as a result of disease. About 10 percent of the AEF were segregated black units. They were mostly used in non-combat roles. About 40,000 were trained as combat soldies. They were assigned to fight with French units.

American Declaration of War (April 1917)

Kaiser Wilhelm inder pressure to win the war decided to authorize resumed unrestricted submarine warfare. President Wilson asked Congress for a declaration of war. Congress responded and declared war (April 6). The resumption of unrestructed submarine warfare proved to be a disastrous German miscalculation. The American and Britsh Navies defeated the U-boat campaign. The United States never formally joined the Allies, but became a an "Associated Power".

Allied Need for Men

The Allies made it very clear that what they needed was men. Within days of the declaration of war, a British mission led by Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Arthur J. Balfour and Lieutenant General Tom Bridges departed from Liverpool (April 13). The French sent a mission headed by former Premier Ren´┐Ż Viviani and Marshal Joseph Joffre. The two delegations had separate meetings with American officals. The made a number of requests and suggestions. Chief among them was the immediate need foe American troops to bolster the Western Front. The people in France and the other Allied countries expected a huge American Army to immediately enter the War. The United States had, however, only a very small volunteer army. (Even before the War, European countries--except Britain--had huge armies based on consceiption. This was one reason that had fueld European emmigration to America.) America would have to build an Army and would not be ready for actiion until the following year.

General Pershing

Wilson chose General Black Jack Pershing to lead the American Expeditionary Force (AEF). When he arrived in France, the French were shocked. They had expected a large American Army. Pershing did not bring an army with him because there was no such army in existence. The United States would have to recruit, train, and equip its army and this would take some time. General Pershing and his staff at that stage of America's involvement in the War. Pershing reached France with only a small staff. For some months only a small trickle of troops followed.

American Army

The European powers in the years leading up to World War I had engaged in a massive arms race, building powerful navies and huge conscript armies. America built a creditable navy, but the army barely existed. Even after 3 years of fighting in Europe, the United States had not significantly expanded its army. America as late as Spring 1917 only had a small volunteer force. The United States would have to recruit, train, and equip its army and this would take some time. President Wilson's message to Congress requesting a declaration of war contained no specifics about how the war would be waged--least of all any indication of sending a large land army to France. Many of the Congressmen who voted for war did not fully understand that America would need to send a large land army to Europe. Senate Finace Committee Chairman Thomas S. Martin of Virginia when told by an Army officer testifying before his committee on April 6, 1917,that funds might be needed for operations in France, exclaimed "Good Lord! You're not going to send soldiers over there, are you?" And this was not what Wilson had intended. Wilson had hoped that American war supplies would be sufficent. He appears to have thought that the mere threat of an American army would bring the Kaiser to his sences. [Burk, p. 234.] When this did not occur and the British and France clamoring for reinforcements, the President had to ask Congress for a miitary conscription law.

German Gamble

The Germans knew that the United States did not have an army in being. Unlike European armies, the American Army was very small. There was no conscription in America. They Germans decided to gamble that the U-boat campaign and their massive Spring 1918 offensive would win the War before the Americans could build an army, let alone transport it to France. Both were neceessary before America could intervene in force. The Germany Navy believe that they coukld inbtercept the troop transports and assured the Reichstag that the U-boats would prevent the Americans from ever arriving in force. comeing. It would prove to be the most disasterous gamble in German military history.

The AEF in France

Congress passed the Selective Service Act and drafted 2.8 million men. Military bases were opened all over Amnerica. The United States also began transporting men to France to be trained there. It was soon clear that the Germans had badly miscalculated. It was one of the greates miscalclations in military history, only exceeded in magnitude by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Not only did the United States begin very rapidly to build an army, but the U-boats were totaly incapable of stopping the American troopships. Eventually 10,000 American soldiers would be reaching France daily untouched by the German U-boats. Several regiments of U.S. Marines were among the first elements of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF). The British and French desperatelu needed reinforcements and wanted to integrate the arriving Americans into their units. General Pershing rejected this idea insisting that the AEF would fight as a ubit under the American flag. He did agree to permit African-American combat regiments to be used in French divisions. Unlike World War II, in World War I the American troops were headed for France, not Britain. It was the first time that the French met Americans in large mumbers. France was one of the few countries from which people did not emigrate to America in large numbers. The Frencg felt linkages with America because for about a century, America was the only other republic of any consequence. But there has been few likages on the individual and family level. The huge numbers of Americans that flowed into France changed this. The optimistic Americans were a tonic to the French after 3 years of war and horrendius losses. Few Frenchmen by the end of the war had not had some contact with American doughboys. It was the children who were most enchanted, especially because the Americans had a seemingly inexhaustable supply of sweets. Perhaps even mor important that the impact of the Americans on the French, was the French on the Americans. There were of course there were war brides. And rather provincial, culturaly conservative Amnericans were exposed to the more libertine French life style. France was especially mind-opening for Afro-American soldiers.

German Spring Offensive (Spring 1918)

American troop transports did begin reaching France in numbers. There were American troops in France by the time the Germans launched their vaunted Sring 1918 Offensive and the AEF had reached 0.5 million (May 1918). The arrival of the Americans was critical. They played an important role in stopping the Germans. The Germans almost succeeded in breaking the Allies Western Front. Thus the AEF while still relatively small, was crucial. Pershing respponding to the urgent pleas from the Allies committed available U.S. units to help the French hold the Western Front. U.S. troops fought at Aisne Offensive (May 1918) and on the Marne (June 1918). Pershing insisted that the AEF, however, be deployed as an army and not piecemeal within British and French armies.

American Units

Several AEF units are pariculrly notable. The First Division was organized for service on the Western Frint in France (June 8, 1917). This was the first permanent division in the regular Army and has seen action in all American wars since 1917, except the Korean War. Beginning with World Wr I, it is usully the first unit of the U.S. Army to deploy and engage the enemy. It became known as the 'Big Red One' because of the red numeral shoulder patch. When the United States declared war on Germany, it federalized the National Guard and formed their units into divisions to speed up the creation of a major army. Douglas MacArthur, then a mere major, suggested to William A. Mann, the head of the Militia Bureau, that he form a division from the units of several states that were not assigned to divisions. Secretary of War Newton D. Baker approved the proposal, and recalled MacArthur saying that such an organization would 'stretch over the whole country like a rainbow'] The War Department directed the formation of a composite National Guard division, using units from 26 states and the District of Columbia (August 1). The new unit was the 42nd Division and bedcame known as the Rainbow Division. MacArthur was promoted to colonel as the division chief of staff. The U.S. Army was segregated, Thus there were African Amrrican regiments. Some 350,000 African-Americans served in AEF units. The most famous was 369th Regiment., better known as the Harlem Hell Fighters. The U.S. Marine Corps was also deployed on the Western Front, primrily becuse when Congress declred war it was a rare force in being. Two Marine infantry brigades were part of the U.S. Army 2nd ivision. The Germans launched the third drive of their spring offensive. They crossed the Chemin-des-Dames, captured Soissons, and on the last day of May, advanced down the Marne Valley in the direction of Paris. The stunning success of the Germans caused the Allied command to turn to the Americans bedfore thy were judgerd fully battle ready. The American 2nd Division, including the 4th Marine Brigade, were moved into the front lines and blocked further German advance in the Chateau-Thierry sector. Brigadier General Samuel D. Rockenbach, commanded the EF Tank Corps. The unit organized, trained, equipped and then deployed the first American tank forces to the Western Front. Four battalions (the 301st, 331st, 344th and 345th) actually saw combat. Captain George S. Patton, the first officer assigned to the unit, set up a light tank school at Bourg, France (November 1917). Tthe 326th and 327th Tank Battalions were organized at Patton's school, while the 301st Heavy Tank Battalion was raised at Camp Meade, Maryland, nd transported to the British Tank School at Bovington Camp in southern England, for training. They were equipped with British and french tanks, but production began in American factories and if the war had lasted longer, the German woulld have faced a very sizable American armor force. American aero units were dispersed amony various Army organizations. As a result there was no real coordination during the war made it difficult to coordinate aerial activities. By the end of the War, the AEF possessed 14 groups, seven observation, five pursuit, and two bombardment (Novembr 1918). American air units had nine months of combat (February- November 1918). There were 740 American aircraft (all Frenbch and British built). This was about 10 percent of the total Allied aircraft strength. Aircraft production had begun in America, and again had the war lasted longer a huge Allied force would have spar hedaded the invasion and bombardment of Gemnany in 1919.

French War Orphan Mascots

France after 3 years of war had mamy orphaned children. The war on the Western Front was fought primarily in Belgium and northern France. This left thousands of orphaned Belgian and French children. The Belgian front as in the Btitish zone of the front, so American soldiers saw mostly French orphans. Some of the children lost both parents or wee separated from them. Many children lost their fathers at the front and their mothers had difficulty supporting the family. Many of the boys were drawn to the strangers from America. And the GI's in turn were enchanted by the charming little French boys who idealized them. There were orphanages, but some of the boys preferred the less strict regime outside the orphanages and attempted to attach themselves to the Americans. Not only did they prefer the GIs to the nuns, but the food was better. Americans GIs adopted many boys as mascots. And when the units were committd to stop te German offensive, the boys stayed with the GIs as they entered combat. The Americans were so fond of adopting French war orphans as mascots and taking them into the lines that the AEF GHQ had to issue a General Order forbidding the practice, an order variously followed. We have not been able to find much written information on this phenomenon. The photographic record, however, shows that is was not rare. >br>

Significant Numbers (Summer 1918)

Significant numbers of American soldiers did not begin to arrive in France until the summer of 1918. At that time about 10,000 Americans arrived daily, unimpeded by the U-boats. And by Summer 1918 American soldiers were arriving in large numbers. As the Allies after stopping the Germans began to think about their offensive, the AEF had begun to reach sizeable numbers, over a million men (July 1918).

Allied 100 Days Offensive

The AEF played an important role in the Allied 100 Days Offensive that win the War. Pershing launched the first AEF offensive at St Mihiel (September) and Meuse-Argonne (October). The United States sent over 2 million men to Europe, mostly to France. And more were being trained in America had they been needed. Many of the men who reached France were never committed because the Germans requested an armistice before they were needed. The AEF sustained 264,000 casualties which including nearly 51,000 killed in action and an additional 25,000 who died as a result of disease. About 10 percent of the AEF were segregated black units. They were mostly used in non-combat roles. About 40,000 were trained as combat soldies. They were assigned to fight with French units.

Planned Size

The American 1 million man AEF was sufficient to assist the Allies crack open the German Western front, forceing them to seek an armistice ending the War. These men were only a fraction of the full force of over 3 million men that America was planning to deploy to France. When the War ended, more than 2 million men were ndergoung training it camps throughout the United States.

Contacts with French Civilians

Unlike World War II when many American soldiers and airmen spent considerable time in Britain, the AEF was primarily deployed to France. Many AEF mem trained in Frenh camps during 1917 and early 1918. They were first deployed during the German Spring 1918 Offensuve and the War ended about 6 months later (November 1918). Some men stayed in France untill the final War settlement. Most of the AEF was slated for transport home, but it took some time find the shipping to get them hhome. As a result, there was considerable time for AEF soldiers to meet the French. For most it was the first time away from hime. Most of the soldiers had not traveled widely in the United States, let alone Europe. We do not yet have much information about French experiences with the Americans or the Americans with the French. There seem to have been relaively few French war brides. I'm not precisely sure why that was. Interestingly, France was one of the few countries from which peope did not emigrate to America in large numbers.

Literature

France Our Ally is a World War I booklet written by V. Van Vorst. The 44-page book was published by the National War Work Council of the Young Men's Christian Associations (YMCA) in 1918. It was given to men of the AEF to provide some information about the country they were on their way to defend. This book is a brief account of France, its people, and their part in the War. There were special pointers to help to the AEF soldiers. This booklet contains customs, money exchange information, and other useful tips for the American soldiers. The booklet was apparently passed from soldier to soldier or shared. This particular booklet apparetly was used by men in an Illinois unit. Several AEF divisions were Narional Guard units. Harry H. Orr? from Hillsdale and Wilbur Snyder from Cooksville ere two the men who used the booklet. Tucked into the book was a postcard-back photograph of two unidentified boys. We thought they might be war orpjans, but apprently the boys were family members because there was an American postcard back. The boys are well dressed in overcoats and caps. The photo was tucked into a page with writting about the fallen youth of the land. It is very touching.

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Created: 7:14 PM 7/20/2006
Last updated: 2:27 AM 10/28/2011