American Expeditionary Forces

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American Expeditionary Forces
American Expeditionary Force Baker Mission.jpg
Officers of the American Expeditionary Forces and the Baker mission.
Active May 3, 1917–1919
Country  United States of America
Branch United States Army
United States Marine Corps
Role Combined arms
Size c. 4,000,000 men (2,000,000 of which were in France by the Armistice)
Garrison/HQ Chaumont, France
Nickname AEF
Anniversaries November 11, 1918
Engagements

Western Front

Commanders
Notable
commanders
General John J. Pershing, U.S. Army

The American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) consisted of the United States Armed Forces sent to Europe in World War I. During the United States campaigns in World War I the AEF fought in France alongside French and British allied forces in the last year of the war, against Imperial German forces. Some of the troops fought alongside Italian forces in that same year, against Austro-Hungarian forces. The AEF helped the French Army on the Western Front during the Aisne Offensive (at Château-Thierry and Belleau Wood) in June 1918, and fought its major actions in the Saint-Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne Offensives in late 1918.

History[edit]

U.S. President Woodrow Wilson initially planned to give command of the AEF to General Frederick Funston, but after Funston's sudden death, Wilson appointed Major General John J. "Black Jack" Pershing in May 1917; Pershing remained in command for the entire war. Pershing insisted that American soldiers be well-trained before going to Europe. As a result, few troops arrived before 1918. In addition, Pershing insisted that the American force would not be used merely to fill gaps in the French and British armies, and he resisted European efforts to have U.S. troops deployed as individual replacements in decimated Allied units. This attitude was not always well received by the Allied leaders who distrusted the potential of an army lacking experience in large-scale warfare.[1] In addition the British tried to barter their spare shipping to make the US put its soldiers into British ranks.

By June 1917, 14,000 U.S. soldiers had already arrived in France, and by May 1918 over one million U.S. troops were stationed in France, half of them being on the front lines.[2] Since the transport ships needed to bring American troops to Europe were scarce at the beginning, the army pressed into service cruise ships, seized German ships, and borrowed Allied ships to transport American soldiers from New York, New Jersey, and Newport News, Virginia. The mobilization effort taxed the American military to the limit and required new organizational strategies and command structures to transport great numbers of troops and supplies quickly and efficiently. The French harbors of Bordeaux, La Pallice, Saint Nazaire and Brest became the entry points into the French railway system which brought the US forces and their supplies to the front. American engineers in France built 82 new ship berths, nearly 1,000 miles (1,600 km) of additional standard-gauge tracks and 100,000 miles (160,000 km) of telephone and telegraph lines.[3]

The first American troops, who were often called "Doughboys", landed in Europe in June 1917. However the AEF did not participate at the front until late October 1917, when the 1st Division, a formation of experienced regular soldiers and the first division to arrive in France, entered the trenches near Nancy.[4]

The AEF used French and British equipment. Particularly appreciated were the French canon de 75 modèle 1897, the canon de 155 C modèle 1917 Schneider and the canon de 155mm GPF. American aviation units received the SPAD XIII and Nieuport 28 fighters and the US tank corps used the French Renault FT light tanks. Pershing established facilities in France to train new arrivals with their new weapons.[5] By the end of 1917 four divisions were deployed in a large training area near Verdun: the 1st Division, a regular army formation; the 26th Division, a National Guard formation; the 2nd Division, a combined formation of regular troops and United States Marines; and the 42nd "Rainbow" Division, a National Guard formation consisting of units from nearly every state in the United States. A fifth division, the 41st Division, had been converted into a depot division near Tours.

At the beginning, during early 1918, the four battle-ready U.S. divisions were deployed with French and British units to gain combat experience by defending relatively quiet sectors of their lines. After the first offensive action and AEF victory on 28 May 1918 at the Battle of Cantigny, by the 1st U.S. Division, and a similar local action by the 2nd Division at Belleau Wood beginning 6 June, both while assigned to French armies, Pershing worked towards the deployment of a US field Army. The rest followed at an accelerating pace during the spring and summer of 1918. By June Americans were arriving in-theatre at the rate of 10,000 a day.

The first offensive action undertaken by AEF units serving with British forces (Corporal Thomas A. Pope was awarded the Medal of Honor for this battle) was by 1,000 men (4 Companies from the 33rd Division AEF) serving with the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) during the Battle of Hamel on 4 July 1918. This battle took place under the overall command of Australian Corps Commander Lt.General Sir John Monash and combined Artillery, Armour, Infantry and Air Support (Combined Arms), serving as a blueprint for all subsequent Allied attacks using "Tanks".[6]

American Army and Marine Corps troops played a key role in helping stop the German thrust towards Paris, during the Second Battle of the Marne in June 1918 (at Château-Thierry and Belleau Wood). The first major and distinctly American offensive was the reduction of the Saint Mihiel salient in September 1918.[7] During the Battle of Saint-Mihiel, beginning September 12, 1918, Pershing commanded the American First Army, comprising seven divisions and more than 500,000 men, in the largest offensive operation ever undertaken by United States armed forces to date. This successful offensive was followed by the Meuse-Argonne offensive, lasting from September 26 to November 11, 1918, during which General Pershing commanded more than one million American and French combatants. In these two military operations, Allied forces recovered more than 200sqmi (488sqkm) of French territory from the German army. By the time the Armistice had suspended all combat on November 11, 1918, the American Expeditionary Forces had evolved into a modern, combat-tested army.[8]

Late in the war American units ultimately fought in two other theaters at the request of European powers; Pershing sent troops of the 332nd Infantry to Italy, and President Wilson agreed to send troops, the 27th and 339th Infantry Regiments, to Russia;[9] these latter two were known as the American Expeditionary Force Siberia,[10] and the American Expeditionary Force North Russia.[11]

Casualties[edit]

A United States Army field hospital in France, 1918.

The AEF sustained about 320,000 casualties; 53,402 battle deaths, 63,114 non combat deaths and 204,000 wounded.[12] This high AEF casualty count was sustained at a time when French casualties for 1918 are listed as 330,000, but with a much longer front line to hold.[13]

The influenza pandemic during the fall of 1918 took the lives of more than 25,000 men from the AEF while another 360,000 became gravely ill. Other diseases were relatively well controlled through compulsory vaccination. Typhoid fever was also practically eliminated. Relatively few men suffered actual injury from poison gas, although much larger numbers mistakenly thought that they had been exposed.[14]

African Americans[edit]

African Americans were drafted on the same basis as whites and made up 13% of the draftees. By the end of the war, over 350,000 African-Americans had served in AEF units on the Western Front. However, they were assigned to segregated units commanded by white officers. One fifth of the black soldiers sent to France saw combat, compared to two-thirds of the whites. They were 3% of AEF combat forces and under 2% of battlefield fatalities.[15] "The mass of the colored drafted men cannot be used for combatant troops", said a General Staff report in 1918, and it recommended that "these colored drafted men be organized in reserve labor battalions." They handled unskilled labor tasks as stevedores in the Atlantic ports and common laborers at the camps and in the Services of the Rear in France.[16] The French, whose front-line troops were resisting combat duties to the point of mutiny, requested and received control of several regiments of black combat troops.[17] Kennedy reports:[18]

"Units of the black 92nd Division particularly suffered from poor preparation and the breakdown in command control. As the only black combat division, the 92nd entered the line with unique liabilities. It had been deliberately dispersed throughout several camps during its stateside training; some of its artillery units were summoned to France before they had completed their courses of instruction, and were never fully equipped until after the Armistice; nearly all its senior white officers scorned the men under their command and repeatedly asked to be transferred; the black enlisted men were frequently diverted from their already attenuated training opportunities in France in the summer of 1918 and put to work as stevedores and common laborers."

The 369th, 370th, 371st, and 372nd Infantry Regiments served with distinction under French command with French colonial units in front-line combat. The French did not harbor the same levels of disdain based on skin color and for many Americans of an African-American descent it was a liberating and refreshing experience.[citation needed] These African-American soldiers wore American uniforms, some dating from the time of the Union Army, with French helmets and were armed with French Model 1907/15 8mm Lebel Berthier rifles manufactured by Remington Arms rather than M1903 Springfield or M1917 Enfield rifles issued to most American soldiers.[19] One of the most distinguished units was the 369th Infantry Regiment, known as the Harlem Hellfighters. The 369th was on the front lines for six months, longer than any other African-American regiment in the war. One hundred seventy-one members of the 369th were awarded the Legion of Merit.[20] One member of the 369th, Sgt. Henry Lincoln Johnson, was awarded the French Croix de guerre,[21] and has been considered for a posthumous Medal of Honor.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Coffman, The War to End All Wars (1998)
  2. ^ Pershing, My Experiences in the World War (1931)
  3. ^ Coffman, The War to End All Wars (1998)
  4. ^ Coffman, The War to End All Wars (1998)
  5. ^ Wilson, Treat 'Em Rough: The Birth of American Armor, 1917–1920 (1989)
  6. ^ Roland Perry, 'Monash – The Outsider Who Won a War', 2007, Random House, Sydney, pp.349–352
  7. ^ Battle of Saint-Mihiel
  8. ^ Coffman, The War to End All Wars (1998)
  9. ^ Venzon, ed. The United States in the First World War: An Encyclopedia (1995)
  10. ^ Robert L. Willett, Russian Sideshow, pp. 166–167, 170
  11. ^ E.M. Halliday, When Hell Froze Over (New York City, NY, ibooks, inc., 2000), p. 44
  12. ^ Congressional Research Service, American War and Military Operations Casualties:Lists and Statistics
  13. ^ Coffman, The War to End All Wars (1998)
  14. ^ Venzon, ed. The United States in the First World War: An Encyclopedia (1995)
  15. ^ Jennifer D. Keene, "Americans as Warriors: 'Doughboys' in Battle during the First World War”, OAH Magazine of History, Vol. 17, No. 1, World War I (Oct., 2002) , p. 17.
  16. ^ Kennedy (1982) 162.
  17. ^ Barbeau and Henri (1974); [1].
  18. ^ Kennedy (1982) p. 199.
  19. ^ Canfield, Bruce N. American Rifleman (April 2009) p. 40
  20. ^ http://www.explorepahistory.com/~expa/cms/pbfiles/Project1/Scheme40/ExplorePAHistory-a0b1b6-a_514.pdf
  21. ^ [2]

References[edit]

  • Ayres, Leonard P, The War with Germany: A Statistical Summary Government Printing Office, 1919 full text online
  • Arthur E. Barbeau and Florette Henri, The Unknown Soldiers: Black American Troops in World War I (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1974),
  • Beaver, Daniel R. Newton D. Baker and the American War Effort, 1917–1919 (1966)
  • Chambers, John W., II. To Raise an Army: The Draft Comes to Modern America (1987)
  • Coffman, Edward M. The War to End All Wars: The American Military Experience in World War I (1998), the standard history
  • James J. Cooke, The Rainbow Division in the Great War, 1917–1919 Praeger Publishers, (1994)
  • Dalessandro, Robert J. & Dalessandro, Rebecca S., American Lions: The 332nd Infantry Regiment in World War I, (Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing, 2009)
  • Dalessandro, Robert J., & Knapp, Michael G., "Organization and Insignia of the American Expeditionary Forces, 1917–1923" (Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing, 2008) The best single volume on AEF unit organization.
  • Dalessandro, Robert J. & Gerald Torrence, "Willing Patriots: Men of Color in the First World War" (Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing, 2009)
  • Ferrell; Robert H. Collapse at Meuse-Argonne: The Failure of the Missouri-Kansas Division University of Missouri Press, (2004)
  • Freidel, Frank. Over There (1964), well illustrated
  • Grotelueschen; Mark E. Doctrine under Trial: American Artillery Employment in World War I (2001) ISBN 0-313-31171-4 (full text version at Google Books)
  • Hallas, James H. Doughboy War: The American Expeditionary Force in World War I (2000)
  • Heller Charles E. Chemical Warfare in World War I. The American Experience, 1917–1918. Fort Leavenworth, Kan.: Combat Studies Institute, 1984.
  • Holley, I. B. Ideas and Weapons: Exploitation of the Aerial Weapon by the United States During World War I(1983)
  • Howarth, Stephen. To Shining Sea: A History of the United States Navy, 1775–1991 (1991)
  • Hurley, Alfred F. Billy Mitchell, Crusader for Air Power (1975)
  • James, D. Clayton. The Years of MacArthur, I, 1880–1941. (1970)
  • Johnson; Herbert A. Wingless Eagle: U.S. Army Aviation through World War I University of North Carolina Press, (2001)
  • Kennedy, David M. Over Here: The First World War and American Society (1982)
  • Koistinen, Paul. Mobilizing for Modern War: The Political Economy of American Warfare, 1865–1919 (2004)
  • Pershing, John J. Pershing, My Experiences in the World War (1931)
  • Smythe, Donald. Pershing: General of the Armies (1986)
  • Trask, David F. The United States in the Supreme War Council: American War Aims and Inter-Allied Strategy, 1917–1918 (1961)
  • Venzon, Anne ed. The United States in the First World War: An Encyclopedia (1995)
  • Wilson Dale E. Treat 'Em Rough: The Birth of American Armor, 1917–1920 Presidio Press, 1989.
  • Yockelson, Mitchell A. (2008-05-30). Borrowed Soldiers: Americans under British Command, 1918. Foreword by John S. D. Eisenhower. University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 978-0-8061-3919-7. 
  • Zeiger; Susan. In Uncle Sam's Service: Women Workers with the American Expeditionary Force, 1917–1919 (1999)

External links[edit]