The American Expeditionary Forces or AEF was the United States military force sent to Europe in World War I.
The AEF fought alongside allied forces against Imperial German forces. The AEF helped the French defend the Western Front during the Aisne Offensive in May 1918, and fought its major action in the Meuse-Argonne offensive in the fall of 1918.
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, who oversaw U.S. forces throughout the war. Pershing insisted that American soldiers be 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 used as individual replacements in decimated Allied
units. This attitude was resented by the Allied leaders who were short on troops.
By June 1917, there were 14,000 U.S. soldiers in France, and by May of the next year there were one million American troops. Since even the transport ships needed to bring American troops to Europe were scarce, the army pressed into service cruise ships, seized German ships, and borrowed Allied ships to transport American soldiers from New York, New Jersey, and Virginia. The mobilization effort taxed the limits of the American military and required new organizational strategies and command structures to transport great numbers of troops and supplies quickly and efficiently.
The first American troops, who were called "Doughboys" by other Allied troops, arrived in Europe in June 1917. 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.
At Pershing's insistence, the AEF refrained from adopting the trench warfare of the time, which Pershing and many others regarded as too costly in lives and morale. Instead, the AEF largely used mobile tactics, charging at entrenched positions with infantry supported by heavy artillery and engaging in close-quarter combat to seize key positions.
In less than two years, the United States had established new motorized and combat forces, equipped them with all types of ordnance including machine guns and tanks, and created an entirely new support organization capable of moving supplies thousands of miles in a timely manner. World War I provided the United States with valuable strategic lessons and an officer corps that would become the nucleus for mobilizing and commanding sixteen million American military personnel in World War II.
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 "Blacks only" units and commanded by white officers. One fifth of the black soldiers sent to France saw combat, compared to two-thirds of the whites. And of the black units in combat, they were National Guard units, not Regular Army. "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. 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.
- "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."
One of the most distinguished units was the 369th Infantry Regiment, known as the Harlem Hellfighters, which fought under French command for the duration of the war, although it remained an American unit with American uniforms. 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 396th were awarded the Legion of Merit. One member of the 369th, Sgt. Henry Lincoln Johnson, was awarded the French Croix de Guerre, and has been considered for a posthumous Medal of Honor.
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- Arthur E. Barbeau and Florette Henri, The Unknown Soldiers: Black American Troops in World War I (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1974),
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- Robert H. Ferrell; Collapse at Meuse-Argonne: The Failure of the Missouri-Kansas Division University of Missouri Press, (2004)
- Frank Freidel, Over There (1964), well illustrated
- Mark E. Grotelueschen; Doctrine under Trial: American Artillery Employment in World War I Greenwood Press, 2001
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- Hurley, Alfred F. Billy Mitchell, Crusader for Air Power (1975)
- James, D. Clayton. The Years of MacArthur, I, 1880-1941. (1970)
- Herbert A. Johnson; Wingless Eagle: U.S. Army Aviation through World War I University of North Carolina Press, (2001)
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- John Joseph Pershing, My Experiences in the World War (1922)
- Donald Smythe. 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)
- Frank E. Vandiver. Black Jack: The Life and Times of John J. Pershing (1977)
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- Wilson Dale E. Treat 'Em Rough: The Birth of American Armor, 1917-1920 Presidio Press, 1989.
- Yockelson, Mitchell A. Borrowed Soldiers: Americans under British Command, 1918. University of Oklahoma Press.
- Susan Zeiger; In Uncle Sam's Service: Women Workers with the American Expeditionary Force, 1917-1919 Cornell University Press, 1999
- United States Army Center of Military History
- Army Historical Series: American Military History
- CMH Subject Publications
- U.S. Army Chemical Corps Historical Studies
- American Battle Monuments Commission Publications
- Archival material