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Thread: WWI and the AEF

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    Council Member Pete's Avatar
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    Default WWI and the AEF

    RJ, you might enjoy this forum. During WW I many British had the opinion that we threw away the lives of our own men needlessly--we lost about the same number of men during our six months of fighting in that war as during the entire time of our involvement in Vietnam. The British and to a lesser extent the French were advocates of "amalgamation," with U.S. battalions being under their command instead that of the AEF. Pershing wouldn't go along with it.

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    Pete,

    Thank you for the forum direction.

    The Brits lost most of the WWI generation of men in the trenches of France.

    France and Germany didn't fair that well either.

    The US came to the war late, but I do believe we helped end it quickly. My father fought in the AEF and was wounded at Chateau Thierry.

    I believe Pershing was under orders not to let the America Troops be parceled out.

    If I remember my history the Brits lost close to 50,000 men in Flanders in a single battle.I believe it was spelled Paschendale'
    Last edited by RJ; 08-06-2010 at 05:18 AM.

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    Council Member Pete's Avatar
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    Shortly after we declared war in 1917 the British and French offered to ship our troops to Europe free of charge provided they didn't bring any heavy weapons or equipment, and that we would allow them to serve under their command as individual soldiers or as American battalions. They said they'd train us and equip us with everything larger than the small arms that would be sent with the men. The hook in that proposal was there wouldn't have been an AEF worthy of the name, except as a sort of personnel replacement depot.

    The first senior British officer to visit the U.S. after we declared war, Maj. Gen. Tim Bridges, a cavalrymen who had distinguished himself in 1914 at the battle of Mons, at first proposed that Americans enlisting or being conscripted for war service should perform their service in the British Army, thereby avoiding the need for American officers. Secretary of War Newton Baker refused to go along with it, and he told Pershing he shouldn't either.

    A couple of U.S. historians (and nearly all the British ones) have faulted President Wilson for not allowing the amalgamation of U.S. forces into the British and French armies during the nearly successful German offensive of March 1918. As it turned out, the AEF's participation in major combat operations began at the end of April 1918, and by Armistice Day our forces held about 26 percent of the front line of the Western Front.

    The amalgamation issue may have been a contributing factor to the "we told you so" attitude of British officers when they saw our casualties mount up when we fought for the most part under our own leadership during the period of April to November 1918.

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    Default WWI AEF Small Units Tactics

    In 1934, the Infantry School (via one COL George C. Marshall) published what amounted to an anthology of small unit tactics from WWI - (some US, some allied, some enemy). The work was updated in 1938 by two of the editors (Harding and Lanham) who worked closely with Marshall on the first edition.

    In four parts from CGSC-CSI (many other interesting titles - freebies - also here):

    1939 Infantry in Battle 01.pdf

    1939 Infantry in Battle 02.pdf

    1939 Infantry in Battle 03.pdf

    1939 Infantry in Battle 04.pdf

    Total over 400 pages (well mapped)

    The philosophy is summed from from the gitgo:

    1938 Infantry in Battle - No Rules.jpg

    IMO: That philosophy seems very relevant today to "COIN" situations and their comparisons - especially to the political side of the military-political equation.

    Cheers

    Mike

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    Council Member carl's Avatar
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    I just finished reading The AEF Way of War by Grotelueschen. The main thesis was the AEF advocated one particular doctrine and the fighting units, mostly divisions, mainly fought the way they thought best, especially after their first combats. Even when a division espoused the AEF doctrine, subordinate units within the division did it the way they thought best.

    It was also an interesting look at group dynamics and leadership. I think it is worth the time.
    "We fight, get beat, rise, and fight again." Gen. Nathanael Greene

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    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default Together

    I recall when visiting the WW1 battlefields finding US Army memorials to those who had fallen serving in divisions under French & UK command in the early stages, including near Ypres. IIRC there was a period when Pershing had no choice in this matter as the US build-up gained pace and for a long time, if not to the end, relied on 'X' & 'Y' from the others.

    It was a working coalition, with the USA learning alongside and later separately.
    davidbfpo

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    Council Member Pete's Avatar
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    Default Raising an Army in a Hurry

    I've come to believe that the greatest legacy of American involvement in the First World War was the experience learned in what it takes to raise, train and equip an army in a hurry. The AEF in France and sometimes Belgium had quite a few schools training men in their specialties, and many guys will probably recall that Patton served as the commanding officer of the AEF tank school. That the U.S. Army was able to raise an army of nearly 100 divisions after Pearl Harbor was to a great extent the result of experience gained during the Great War.

    Some months ago Ken White and I traded messages on how the compressed training courses in U.S. Army schools--six to eight weeks for Basic Training, the bare minimum necessary for Advanced Individual Training--were in essence something that was inspired by our do-it-in-a-hurry experience in 1917-18. Whether that way of training soldiers produces high levels of tactical proficiency, or whether we ought to keep doing what we've always been doing since 1917, is a topic for another thread. However, in 1917-18 and 1941-45 we had no choice but to get things done in a hurry, even though the model may be inadequate for modern times.

    Gen. Leslie J. McNair, the commander of Army Ground Forces during WW II, had been the senior field artillery officer in the training section of AEF. I believe the training programs he designed to raise the U.S. Army during WW II were based partly on his Great War experience as a trainer with AEF. He performed a minor miracle training the huge Army that he did from a relatively flat-footed start.
    Last edited by Pete; 08-07-2010 at 12:07 AM. Reason: Mox nix stuff.

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    Pershing was an arrogant man whose one acievement was keeping the AEF together.

    He believed that the American male was superior to his European counterpart because a sense of adventure running strong in their families genes had drawn them to the North American frontiers !

    He believed that inborn marksmanship and fieldcraft combined with an American knowledge of open warfare is what would split the German front wide open.

    He, and his higher command poo-pooed effiminate European things like artillery and machine guns...

    The AEF could have learned from the mistakes of the French and British without having to make them themselves... but did not.

    The 2nd Divisions actions at Belleau Wood, then a few weeks later at the village of Vaux showed how succesful a division could be when they shook of Pershings arrogance and incorporated tactics used by their allies....

    http://www.kaiserscross.com/257543/284222.html


    Another red herring is the losses suffered by the US troops attached to other armies/divisions....

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    Quote Originally Posted by Pete View Post
    Shortly after we declared war in 1917 the British and French offered to ship our troops to Europe free of charge provided they didn't bring any heavy weapons or equipment, .
    .... so.... what did they want to bring? :-)

    US tanks?
    US Artillery?
    US machine guns?
    US Airplanes?

    It seems to me... IMHO... that the allies would have been rather happy NOT to have to provide all of the above.

    If I remember correcly, the French handed over 3 000 Field artillery pieces, Tanks, machine guns.... all stuff they could have used themselves.

    Did the US have any of the above to bring in the first place?

    best
    Chris

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    Default AEF Equipment

    Not sure about the origins of Pershing's insstence on an "American" army; But our (industrial) infrastructure did an abysmal job of providing heavy equipment.

    Most our artillery, and even some of our light machineguns (The Chauchat) were supplied by the French & British. Same for Aircraft, tanks, all the specialist equipment you need for combat. Patton had FT-17's (French Production), one Battalion of the AEF was equipped with British Heavy tanks.

    The industrial mobilization for WW II ran on about the same time horizon, very limited quantities towards the end of 1942, suffency in 1943, (two full years in, not counting the long lead by foreign sales in 1939/40), and almost everything we needed in 1944.

    Actually, the (two) African American Divisions were given to the French, clothed and equipped by them, and the Infantry Regiments used as fillers (Round out units?) by the French. (That's Eight Infantry regiments, Brigade equivalents today).

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    Council Member Pete's Avatar
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    Default Pershing

    Pershing's main strength was his self-confidence and determination to have things done his way. During the last 20 years a few serious historians in America have faulted him for not lending troops to the BEF during the German offensive in March 1918; another suggested that he deserved to have been relieved of command for the confusion in how the Meuse-Argonne offensive was being conducted and that the Armistice of November 11, 1918 was what saved his reputation as a combat commander. Even after training, which was provided during that war by the British and French, the only way an army truly learns to fight is by fighting. The combat record of the AEF is therefore a glass that was half-full or half-empty depending on how you look at it.

    As for the production of weapons during wartime, contracts require require lead time. Manufacturers of heavy equipment or weapons can't be expected to ramp up production lines, recruit and train workforces and then be delivering finished products after six months. The U.S. armed forces were much better prepared in terms of having military contacts in place when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941.

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    Council Member Pete's Avatar
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    Default "Old King Cole"

    The U.S. Army song "Old King Cole" is said to have been copied from the British Army during the First World War. Its lyrics give a fine description of the personnel policies and rank structure in the Army, about which at least one of our members is prone to making wry comments.

    The following is from my Dad's copy of the Army Song Book compiled by the Adjutant General's Office and published by the War Department in 1941. It's in the public domain.

    "The Army's gone to hell," said the generals;
    "What's my next command?" said the colonels;
    "Where're my boots and spurs?" said the majors;
    "We want ten days' leave," said the captains;
    "We do all the work," said the shavetails;
    "Right by squads, squads right," said the sergeants;
    "One two, one two, one," said the corporals;
    "Beer, beer, beer," said the privates,
    "Merry men are we
    There's none so fair as can compare
    With the Fighting Infantry."
    Last edited by Jedburgh; 08-29-2010 at 08:47 PM. Reason: Added link.

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    Default Memoirs

    I highly recommend a CRITICAL reading of Pershing's memoirs from "The Great War".

    Please brush off your old college notes about the advantages and disadvantages of first person accounts of events.

    In it Pershing explains his version of the how and why he organized, trained, and employed the AEF the way he did. His line and box chart expansion of the Army was pretty innovative. The AEF had its own staff course in theater.

    Another really fascinating section is on the re-establishment of large organizations using conventional tactics when the Army was at the time a small wars endeavor scattered across the frontier. So, as Gian likes to remind us, there are problems inherent in having a force that is overwhelmingly conducting non-conventional missions, then having a big balloon go up.

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    Council Member Pete's Avatar
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    Touché, Mr. J.

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    Council Member Bob's World's Avatar
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    I know industry mobilized long before the miitary did to provide weapons to the early combatants, was this just small arms?

    "
    The capacity of American military firms to produce large quantities of weaponry in a relatively short amount of time was next tested in 1914, when World War I broke out in Europe. Although the U.S. government initially adopted a policy of neutrality in the conflict, President Woodrow Wilson allowed American firms to sell arms and ammunition to the Allied powers. Desperate to supplement their own manufacturing capabilities, Britain, France, and Russia then contracted with American companies to produce large numbers of guns and cartridges. The British, for example, ordered one million Enfield rifles from Remington. As one such order followed another, American military exports jumped from $40 million in 1914 to $1.3 billion in 1916 and $2.3 billion in the final nineteen months of war. This marked the first time that U.S. arms manufacturers played a truly significant role in the international weapons trade.

    Read more: http://www.americanforeignrelations....#ixzz0y5GCqiqa
    Robert C. Jones
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    (Understanding is more important than Knowledge)

    "The modern COIN mindset is when one arrogantly goes to some foreign land and attempts to make those who live there a lesser version of one's self. The FID mindset is when one humbly goes to some foreign land and seeks first to understand, and then to help in some small way for those who live there to be the best version of their own self." Colonel Robert C. Jones, US Army Special Forces (Retired)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Old Eagle View Post
    I highly recommend a CRITICAL reading of Pershing's memoirs from "The Great War".

    Please brush off your old college notes about the advantages and disadvantages of first person accounts of events.

    In it Pershing explains his version of the how and why he organized, trained, and employed the AEF the way he did. His line and box chart expansion of the Army was pretty innovative. The AEF had its own staff course in theater.

    Another really fascinating section is on the re-establishment of large organizations using conventional tactics when the Army was at the time a small wars endeavor scattered across the frontier. So, as Gian likes to remind us, there are problems inherent in having a force that is overwhelmingly conducting non-conventional missions, then having a big balloon go up.
    Let's also remember that the American military model at this time called for a massive call-up of state volunteer units (which had happened during the Spanish-American War...with the attendant problems). The Army had always trained (when it trained at all) for large-scale conflicts. The biggest training flaw had always been the small size of the Army, which dictated the two-company posts.

    In response to Bob's post...the industrial base had cranked up to a degree to deal with munitions orders and small arms, but things like mass-producing aircraft engines (Liberty engine, anyone?) were well behind that in terms of scale.
    "On the plains and mountains of the American West, the United States Army had once learned everything there was to learn about hit-and-run tactics and guerrilla warfare."
    T.R. Fehrenbach This Kind of War

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    Council Member Pete's Avatar
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    The U.S. Model 1917 Enfield rifle was a variation of the design of a weapon Remington and Winchester had been making for the British. As it turned out the British cancelled the contracts when they decided to keep their SMLE .303 rifle for the duration of the war. After we declared war we changed the caliber to .30-06 and made it for ourselves. There were also a lot of American contracts for small arms and artillery ammunition, as well as lots of complaints by the British about the quality of it.

    The British Lewis machine gun was the invention of a U.S. Army officer of ordnance who was on the personna non grata list of the then-chief of ordnance, which was the reason the U.S. Army did not adopt one of best MGs of the war.

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    Default U.S. Production of Mosin Nagant Rifles

    Remington and New England Westinghouse made Mosin Nagant rifles for the Russians. If I recall correctly their contracts were funded by the British as part of an effort to keep the Imperial Russians in the war. When the Czar was overthrown deliveries ceased, which is why so many of them are to be found in the U.S. Some have Springfield Armory acceptance marks because they were used as a secondary U.S. weapon. U.S. forces sent to Murmansk-Archangel and Siberia in 1918-19 were equipped with them. My Dad had an NCO in 1943 who had been in Siberia.

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    Default It got adopted,

    Quote Originally Posted by Pete View Post
    The British Lewis machine gun was the invention of a U.S. Army officer of ordnance who was on the personna non grata list of the then-chief of ordnance, which was the reason the U.S. Army did not adopt one of best MGs of the war.
    just not (officially) for infantry use though some were obtained by a few units. It was adopted late in the war in the form of the Savage Arms produced M1917, the .30-06 variant adopted and used mostly as an aircraft weapon. However, the Marines used theirs on the on the ground; Crozier insisted they be taken away from the Marines and issued them Chauchats ILO -- causing a near mutiny. In the event, the Navy and Marines used the gun well into WW II.

    Lewis got his revenge. The US Army Ordnance 'designed' -- if you can call an MG42 adapted to gas operation and equipped with the world's most dysfunctional barrel / piston a design effort -- M60 piston and bolt are copies in part of Lewis' system.

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    Council Member Pete's Avatar
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    Default Machine Gun Corps

    During the First World War the British formed a Machine Gun Corps and we did too -- both ended during the funding cuts of the 1920s. In an earlier thread when the subject of Traversing and Elevating Mechanisms for MGs came up I mentioned that most soldiers (myself included) during my period of service in the late '70s to early '80s didn't know how to use them. Around 1980 the first sergeant of my battery told our troops to let him do the range cards for perimeter defense during ARTEPs because they didn't know how to -- in fact they wouldn't have known what they meant. At that time the M2 and M60 MGs had turned into point-and-shoot weapons as far as most troops, enlisted and officer, were concerned. I suppose that's an indictment of our unit training at the time.

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