American History
The American Expeditionary Force

*On the Western Front, the British lost over 600,000 and the Germans over 500,000 in the Battle of the Somme (actually a five-month campaign in 1916)—58,000 British casualties in the first day alone, and the French lost 315,000 and the and Germans lost over 282,343 in the Battle of Verdun (a seven-month campaign in 1916), and nothing was decided by either of them.

*The East, being too large for proper trench warfare was a more mobile front, but just as bad.  The Russians had so few supplies that the army sent three out of four into battle unarmed, telling them to pick up weapons from the dead.  The decisive battle is often considered to be Tannenberg in 1914.  The Russians split their army, hoping to trap and destroy the German army, but the Germans distracted one Russian army and defeated the other, so that the first had to retreat.

*Despite victories in the East, the war was going badly for the Central Powers—it was bleeding them dry and starving their people to death.  By 1917 Germany had a plan, however:
1.  Take Russia out of the War
2.  Take Britain out of the War
3.  Capture Paris

*To knock out Russia, the Germans found an exiled Communist agitator named Vladimir Lenin and snuck him into Moscow.  With German money and support, he organised the people, who were opposed to the war and the harsh rule of Tsar Nicholas II Romanov.  The Russian Revolution succeeded in 1917, and soon the Communists, led by the Bolshevik faction, came to power.  They killed the entire Romanov family, including Jimmy the Spaniel.  More importantly, from Germany’s point of view, Lenin and the new Union of Soviet Socialist Republics negotiated a separate peace through the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in early 1918.

*Germany also blockaded Britain with U-boats, preventing food being imported from the rest of the Empire.  They also bombed Britain with zeppelins.  This nearly starved Britain, so that some politicians there considered ending the War.  To get Americans past the blockade, all ships began travelling in convoys—a group of unarmed troop ships or merchant ships surrounded by destroyers, torpedo boats, and other ships built to fight submarines.

*With Russia out of the war, troops from the Eastern Front were moved to the West and thrown into an all-out attack on Paris, led by storm-troopers carrying sacks of grenades, submachine guns, flamethrowers, and other weapons meant for shock tactics.  The French Army, worn out after Verdun and years of war, suffered massive mutinies and many units--sometimes whole divisions—would not fight back.

*In 1918 it looked as if Paris would fall and the Central Powers would win.

*However, in 1917 the American Expeditionary Force had arrived with 14,000 doughboys.  The General of the Armies, ‘Black Jack’ John Pershing, said ‘Lafayette, we are here.’  By 1918 over a million Americans were in France.

*The AEF was not especially well-trained or well-equipped, and the Americans were not significantly better soldiers than their enemies.  However, they were ready to fight, not worn out by three years of war and bitterness.

*Re-enforced by the AEF, the Allies stopped the attack on Paris.  The AEF was involved in the defence of the Marne River at  Château-Thierry, the first major battle for Americans, and at Belleau Wood, where the US Marine Corps fought so hard and lost so many men that afterwards the French government gave the land to the United States.  The defence of the Marne stopped the Germans for good.


*The allies counter-attacked along the Meuse River and in the Argonne Forest.  This offensive began on 26 September, 1918, and would be the last of the War.

*The Meuse-Argonne is famous for its heroism among the eager American troops.  The most decorated soldier of the war was Sergeant Alvin York, a backwoodsman from Fentress County, Tennessee.  His family’s farm was poor, and he had to supplement their diet by hunting, and became a crack shot.  A devout Christian after changing his ways following the death of a friend in a bar fight, he opposed the war and did not want to go, but was not drafted and not let out as a conscientious objector.  On 8 October, 1918, his patrol was ordered to destroy a machine gun nest.  Unable to do so, most of the unit hid, but York, the sharpshooter, picked off 25 machine-gunners at 50 or 60 yards, and then captured 132 other Germans.  He received, among other decorations, the Medal of Honor, becoming the most decorated American soldier of the war.

*In another instance, one American battalion was ordered to take a German position and hold it with two other units.  This battalion took its objective, but the units with it did not, and the battalion was trapped.  Their communication lines were cut, and no-one knew where they were.  The allied artillery even began to accidentally bombard them.  The only way they had to communicate with headquarters with was the battalion’s carrier pigeons.  All they sent were shot down by the Germans, until they were down to the last, which was also shot, but survived to fly home to stop the allied bombardment.  Most of the battalion was killed, but it never surrendered and was eventually rescued.  More important, it distracted the Germans long enough for the allies to push farther through the German lines in the Meuse-Argonne offensive.

*By November, 1918, the Germans had had enough, and on 11 November, 1918, the fighting ended with an armistice.




This page last updated 19 September, 2009.