lundi 22 septembre 2008

American intervention during WWI

The myth “we bailed you out a first time…” etc…

In reality the American intervention during WWI had mostly a psychological impact on the Germans, not a military one.

The first American troops, who were called “Doughboys” by other Allied troops, arrived in Europe in June 1917 (with French weapons). However the AEF did not fully participate at the front until October, when the 1st Infantry Division, one of the best-trained divisions of the AEF, entered the trenches at Nancy. Pershing wanted an American force that could operate independently of the other Allies, but his vision could not be realized until adequately trained troops with sufficient supplies reached Europe. Training schools in America sent their best men to the front, and Pershing also established facilities in France to train new arrivals for combat.

Throughout 1917 and into 1918, American divisions were usually employed to augment French and British units in defending their lines and in staging attacks on German positions. Beginning in May 1918, with the first United States victory at Cantigny, AEF commanders increasingly assumed sole control of American forces in combat. By July 1918, French forces often were assigned to support AEF operations. 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. This successful offensive was followed by the Meuse-Argonne offensive, lasting from September 26 to November 11, 1918, during which Pershing commanded more than one million American and French soldiers. In these two military operations, Allied forces recovered more than two hundred square miles (520 km²) of French territory from the German army. By the time the Armistice ended combat on November 11, 1918, the American Expeditionary Forces had evolved into a modern, combat-tested army.”

The AEF sustained about 360,000 casualties, including 116,000 dead—some 50,000 of them were killed in action or died of wounds—and 234,000 wounded. The high casualty rate sustained at a time when Allied casualty rates were lighter can be attributed to Pershing’s insistence on doing things his way and not incorporating the latest field tested tactics that were proving successful to other Allied commanders on the ground. Earlier in the war, Allied casualty rates had been horrific, but by the time American forces entered battle new technology and advanced tactics had reduced casualty rates dramatically. Although he was quick to adjust, his slightly outdated tactics, lack of equipment and poor logistics proved costly in American casualties. Also, as a result of grave medical and sanitary problems in training camps as well as in Europe, many troops of the AEF fell victim to disease, especially influenza.

This doesn’t take anything away from the gallantry of US soldiers of course, but transforming them into “saviours” is another thing.

During 1918 the German Spring offensive had failed (at that time Germany was already falling apart at home) and was followed by the Allied 100 days offensive during the summer which broke down the Hindenburg line.

“The Allied counteroffensive, known as the Hundred Days Offensive, began on 8 August 1918. The Battle of Amiens developed with III Corps Fourth British Army on the left, the First French Army on the right, and the Australian and Canadian Corps spearheading the offensive in the centre through Harbonnières. It involved 414 tanks of the Mark IV and Mark V type, and 120,000 men. They advanced 12 kilometers (7 miles) into German-held territory in just seven hours. Erich Ludendorff referred to this day as the “Black Day of the German army”

The Americans saw mostly real action during the 3 last months of the war (september-november) through the Meuse-Argonne offensive. At that time the Germans were already retreating :

U.S. forces consisted of nine divisions (Paterson, 2005) of the U.S. First Army commanded by General John J. Pershing until October 16 and then by Lt. General Hunter Liggett. More than 1,200,000 U.S. troops eventually took part in the battle. The logistics were planned and directed by Col. George Marshall. German forces consisted of 5 German divisions, 4 of which were described as low grade. Resistance grew to approximately 450,000 German troops from the Fifth Army of Group Gallwitz commanded by General Georg von der Marwitz.

In other words the US outnumbered the Germans 3 to 1 and the Germans hadn’t their best forces involved. Despite that the amount of casualties on both sides was the same.

Comment on

To sum up : The US aid during WWI wasn’t even at the level “cavalry arrives to save platoon surrounded by Indians”. It was an asset yes, but its primarily importance was to show other powers in Europe that the US was a growing nation that broke its isolationism and sided with the two major empires of the time, Britain and France.

Why then transform this into a “savior myth” (as if WWII wasn’t enough) unless it has to do with a bad case of bad self-esteem ? The US intervention during WWI is glorious enough in itself without creating an alternate “reality”.

end of rant


France: 1,397,800
US: 116,708

1 commentaire:

Anonyme a dit…

First US troops saw action on 4 July 1918 at Hamel under command of General John Monash.