The American Expeditionary Force of World War I
American forces in Europe
author Paul Boșcu, August 2018
In April 1917, when the US declared war against Germany its army was small so any immediate American contributions for the war effort were of a naval and economic nature, rather than manpower on the battlefields of Western Europe. The first American units arrived in France in the autumn of 1917, and by the summer of 1918 the Americans arrived in large numbers and played a key role in stopping the German advance towards Paris. The AEF had a decisive contribution in the war.
The United States was at war on 6 April 1917. What this meant, no one knew. Before the American government could answer the inevitable question of the extent of its contribution to the war effort, it had to determine its military capacity as well as the actual situation and the needs of its co-belligerents. In their conferences with American officials, the British and French dignitaries described the disheartening war situation and pled for ships and money. French Marshal Joseph Joffre also requested that the US send troops to France. President Woodrow Wilson approved a division to be sent to France immediately.

The British mission came first. With the distinguished philosopher-statesman, former Prime Minister and current Foreign Secretary Arthur J. Balfour at its head, this group of experts commanded respect.

Although former Premier René Viviani led the French delegation, American eyes and hearts focused on the massive figure of Marshal Joseph Joffre. Throughout his stay the nation gave the Hero of the Marne the enthusiastic welcome usually reserved for its own heroes.

In public speeches Joffre was brief and bland, but in private conversations he made his points forcefully. After a disappointing, vague speech to the students of the Army War College, Joffre retired to the college president's office where he spelled out his advice to the nation's key military leaders.

Newton D. Baker, the Secretary of War, Major Generals Hugh L. Scott and Tasker H. Bliss, the Chief of Staff and Assistant Chief of Staff respectively, listened attentively as Joffre talked through an interpreter. First, he advised them to send a division to France as soon as possible. Then, the Entente immediately needed technical forces such as transportation troops. He also impressed upon them the necessity for beginning at once to organize and train a large army. This should be maintained as an independent American army.

The British joined their ally in advocating a ‘show the flag’ contingent and in requesting technical troops. But Major General G. T. M. ‘Tom’ Bridges, a former combat division commander, struck a discordant note when he suggested that his army be allowed to recruit Americans into its units. Although Joffre had been more diplomatic in his counsel of an independent force, other French officers basically agreed with Bridges.

At this stage, few realized the vast difference between a willingness to fight and an ability to do so. Actually the country was ill prepared militarily, both in trained manpower and equipment. Americans traditionally had opposed a large standing army, viewing such a thing almost with suspicion. Among the world’s armies, the US ranked sixteenth in size, just behind Portugal. The United States had no tanks, its fifty or so planes were nearly obsolete, and its heavy guns had ammunition enough for only a nine-hour bombardment.

Although the American army was not impressive by European standards, it had undergone basic reforms during the first decade of the century. In a period bridging the McKinley and Roosevelt administrations, Secretary of War Elihu Root, a New York corporation lawyer, laid the foundation for a modern army. As late as 1917, however, young, progressive officers and some of their elders recognized that they had to struggle to maintain advances in the areas of professional education, the general staff concept, and the relationship between the National Guard and the regular army.

As the nucleus of his reforms, Root emphasized increased training for officers. With the establishment of the Army War College and the revitalization of various other schools, he provided the necessary educational advantages. In particular the courses at Fort Leavenworth's School of the Line and Staff College stimulated a generation of professionals.

At Fort Leavenworth young officers and, by correspondence, some older ones such as Brigadier General John J. Pershing, solved tactical problems with the help of German textbooks and topographical maps. At the time it appeared ridiculous to pore over maps of the Metz area. A few years later, when some of these officers were routing troops into that area, it seemed ironical.

To supplement their training, a few officers had the opportunity of visiting and observing foreign armies. During the Russo-Japanese War, American military observers included Pershing and the future Chief of Staff, Peyton C. March, as well as the man who would head the wartime draft, Enoch H. Crowder, and a junior lieutenant, Douglas MacArthur.

In 1912, a group of Leavenworth graduates, including George Van Horn Moseley and John McAuley Palmer, saw first-hand the German, French, and English armies. Others, among them Captain Fox Conner, served in French units. On their next visit to Europe, most of these men would occupy key positions on the American Expeditionary Forces staffs. These officers in 1918 represented the harvest of the Root education system.

Throughout the army's existence, the lack of a coordinating agency had hindered it. Although a commanding general existed in name, he was limited in fact by the chiefs of the various service bureaus in the War Department. A general staff needed to be established, composed of officers from all branches of the service, which would study army problems as a whole and make recommendations to a Chief of Staff who then would pass them on to the Secretary. Root persuaded Congress to create such an organization.

Since colonial times, the American military system had been based on the availability and adequacy of civilians to meet any defense need. Over the years, the militia had repeatedly demonstrated its vulnerability on both counts. Root attempted to make this legendary bulwark of defense more effective by introducing a much closer relationship between the militiamen and the regulars in the form of joint maneuvers and federal inspections as well as by increased standardization of the state-controlled units. This program worked to the mutual advantage of the militia and the army.

In some respects the army had failed to shake off the stagnation of the late nineteenth century. Although the Root reforms had provided the impetus, implementation was difficult when so many officers were lethargic. For the ambitious young officers, even though war raged in Europe, army life in 1915-16 was apt to be dull and uninspiring. Since the duty routine was usually over by noon, much of their time was free. Some collected in informal study groups, taught themselves tactics, and attempted to keep up with the professional literature. Others spent their spare time at the card tables of the officers' clubs.

Life was harder but more rewarding for those attending the army schools, where the army's hopes rested. Although many older officers had taken advantage of the schools, their most common preparation for war was their experience in the Philippines. Only a few brushed against the enemy in the brief Spanish War, but many fought and governed in the turbulent Philippines.

The Philippines war might not have provided the best training for the Western Front, but for the Americans who would hold high command in France it had to serve. In crushing the insurrection, pacifying the Moros, and handling the various tasks of a village or provincial administrator, these officers learned in a hard school how to deal with men. One of them who later commanded the air arm in France, Benjamin D. Foulois, summed up this experience: ‘Anyone who lived through the fighting in the Philippines could live through anything.’

In April 1917, the army’s Chief of Staff was General Hugh L. Scott, an able, intelligent man who had served many years on the frontier during the Indian wars. He was sixty-three years old, as was his deputy, General Tasker H. Bliss, an equally able man. Both men, however, were nearing retirement age and were admittedly unfamiliar with the technology and tactics of the Western Front.

Before the United States could wage war on the scale demanded by the belligerents on the Western Front, it would have to greatly expand its military force and reorganize its military structure. During the formative period, which continued into the early months of 1918, delays, mistakes and confusion hampered the developing war effort; yet, progress was made. Since Woodrow Wilson had little interest in military matters, his Secretary of War, Newton D. Baker, assumed unusually great responsibilities in the spring of 1917. Baker, a Cleveland lawyer then in his mid-forties, had several assets which would enable him to handle those responsibilities.

Less than three months after the President made his appeal for war, Baker commented on the early stages of this progress: ‘Our preparations here in the United States seem to be getting forward fairly well although, of course, the size of the task is stupendous. There are many who are criticizing; but most of them have... no real comprehension of how hard it is to expand industrially an unmilitary country into any sort of adequate response to such an emergency as we are now facing.’

Although he might seem more suited to an academic environment, Baker had devoted much of his adult life to politics. As city solicitor and mayor of Cleveland for four years, he was caught up in the spirit of the Progressive Era and not only helped to create an efficient city government but also succeeded in making Cleveland a more pleasant place in which to live. In the process Baker became an effective administrator and mastered such subjects as sewage disposal and public transit problems. As a politician, he also developed his oratorical skill and gained experience in persuading others to follow his course.

A quarter of a century before he became a member of Woodrow Wilson's cabinet, Baker had studied under Wilson at Johns Hopkins University. Because of the coincidence of their living at the same boarding house, the professor and the younger man became well acquainted. Twenty years later, Baker's strong supporting role in the 1912 campaign served to cement this relationship. After his victory Wilson had offered his former student the position of Secretary of Interior, but Baker, immersed in his reform program in Cleveland, had declined.

Despite its limitations, the small General Staff had made one particularly significant preparation for the war. In mid-February 1917, the War College Division submitted to General Hugh Scott a detailed plan for raising and training a force of four million men, a ‘National Army’. Although the basis for this project was peacetime universal military training, the planners also worked on a modified version which was adapted, in their term, ‘to emergency conditions’. The major element of this plan, aside from the general idea of conscription, which the War Department would use, was the organization of sixteen divisional training areas.

The Chief of Staff and the other General Staff officers assumed that conscription, selective service, universal military training, the draft - by whatever name one called it - would be the basis for a large wartime army. After the break in diplomatic relations with Germany in February 1917, Scott went to the Secretary of War with the argument that the United States should adopt conscription immediately if war came. Baker accepted Scott's advice and passed the recommendation on to the President. Wilson promptly approved and gave this order: ‘Have the law drawn at once so that, if I should be obliged to go to the Congress, I can refer to it in my message as a law ready to be presented for their consideration.’

In a letter written in 1932, Baker recalled his next step after securing the President's assent: ‘I then returned to the War Department, called General Scott, General Bliss, General [Henry P.] McCain [The Adjutant General] and General [Enoch H.] Crowder [Judge Advocate General] into conference and told them we were going to have a draft law if we went into the war and asked General Crowder to undertake its preparation. Crowder's remark as I recall it was, “Mr. Secretary, a military draft is not in harmony with the spirit of our people. All of our previous experience has been that it causes trouble and that our people prefer the volunteering method.” I remember saying, That question is decided, General Crowder, as the President has approved a draft.’

The most significant difference in the draft of 1917-18 and that of the earlier Civil War was that local civilians rather than army officers administered it. A Republican Congressman, Burnett M. Chipperfield, suggested the use of voting precincts for this purpose. Thus ‘friends and neighbors’ rather than uniformed officers represented the army at the community level.

After he signed the draft bill, Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation designating 5 June as registration day. In this document the President briefly explained the reasons for selective service, which he called ‘a selection from a nation which has volunteered in mass’. On the appointed day over nine and a half million men in the age group of 21-30 signed up for ‘the great national lottery’.

The selection process began dramatically on July 20 when Baker donned a blindfold, reached into a large glass jar, and pulled out the number 258 that called up a man holding that number in each local board area. For the next 16 hours and 46 minutes the drawing continued in the Senate Office Building hearing room until 10,500 numbers were recorded. The local boards then chose the men the army required out of this group. In early September, the first large groups of those selected began arriving at the cantonments. By the end of 1917, it was apparent that the local boards could furnish more men than the army could equip.

During 1918, the draft expanded to meet the demands of the war. At the request of the War Department in August, Congress broadened the age limit to 18-45 and halted volunteering for all services. The results of the selective service in this war erased the stigma of the Civil War attempt. In 1917-18, the draft not only worked, but, when one considers the magnitude of the operation, it worked very well.

For the most part, the draft was well received; in the patriotic aura of 1917, no one wanted to be considered a ‘slacker’, a term coined in England for British citizens in America who failed to return to Britain in order to serve. There was however a small percentage of conscientious objectors, some of whom were drafted and placed in non-combat jobs. Canada helped the US draft by closing its borders to American men of military age.

Since the army only had facilities for housing the regulars, the prospect of a large wartime increase meant providing shelter for hundreds of thousands of new soldiers. Secretary Baker created a Cantonment Division, with the former head of the Construction and Repair Division, Colonel Isaac W. Littell, as its director. Since there were so few experienced officers, the civilian architects, town planners and businessmen of the Emergency Construction Committee under W. A. Starrett, a New York architect, played an important role throughout this early period.

Secretary Baker told his six territorial department commanders to select sites for the new army posts. He approved the recommendation that the army provide wooden barracks for the 16 National Army cantonments and equip an equal number of National Guard camps with tents. During June, Baker approved the sites and saw that contracts were made, with the result that, before the month was out, the contractors were already at work on all but two of the cantonments.

In order to ensure a continuous supply of labor, Baker made an agreement on wages, hours and working conditions with the union leader Samuel Gompers and left complaints to a commission which included the young journalist Walter Lippmann. Since there was time neither for accurate and detailed estimates nor for a leisurely study of competitive bids, the War Department let contracts to well-known construction firms on the basis of a cost plus a fixed profit policy. Admittedly, this encouraged inefficiency and caused a difficult accounting problem, but it saved time.

When September came, the cantonments were two-thirds done and had space available for over 400,000 draftees. In the development of this work, Secretary Baker eventually gave all construction and maintenance responsibility to an outgrowth of the Cantonment Division, the Construction Division, with Brigadier General Richard C. Marshall, Jr., at its head.

In addition to raising and housing the army, there was the problem of supplying it. The army entered the war with five semi-independent supply bureaus. The two major supply organizations, however, were the Quartermaster Corps and the Ordnance Department. The army depended heavily on the Quartermaster Corps. Clothing, subsistence and pay as well as construction, transportation, and the supply of horses and mules were under its jurisdiction. The Ordnance Department furnished the army with its arms, large and small, and ammunition. Both departments expanded greatly during the war.

The Medical Department had the responsibility of procuring medical and dental supplies. For pontoon boats, survey and optical instruments, searchlights, and sound ranging equipment, combat troops had to rely on the Engineer Corps. The Signal Corps provided communications equipment from radios to pigeons, photographic supplies and odds and ends such as wrist watches and field glasses. Within the first year of the war, the aviation program would virtually overwhelm this bureau.

Seven months before the war, Henry G. Sharpe took over the Quartermaster Corps and was appointed Quartermaster General. Although the Secretary of War would remove construction and transportation from quartermaster authority, the Corps still underwent tremendous expansion. Before the end of 1917, there were 5,080 officers and 134,000 enlisted men wearing QMC insignia, compared to the approximately 8,100 officers and men in the Corps when the war began.

Since 1901 the Chief of Ordnance had been William Crozier, an officer who firmly believed that his technicians should dictate to the combat troops what weapons they should use. A controversial figure, Crozier would not finish the war as a bureau chief.

Because Congress had not provided funds to build up large reserve stores, and the Mexican border mobilization in 1916 had used up much of the existing reserve, supply officers faced the war crisis in the early spring of 1917 with little or no surplus stock. When war came, they had to provide for an army which was expanding rapidly to a then unknown ultimate strength.

Feeding the army was also a Quartermaster responsibility. In this field, Sharpe excelled. For seven years before 1912 when the Subsistence Department became a part of the Quartermaster Corps, Sharpe had been the Commissary General. During this period he had worked hard to improve the ration and the preparation of food, in one way by establishing schools for cooks and bakers. With the assistance of the civilian Food Administration, the Quartermaster officers purchased foodstuffs with relatively little difficulty.

In the course of the war the supply bureaus would buy some 85,000 trucks of various designs, in addition to thousands more automobiles and motorcycles. Although the General Staff also took over motor transportation and worked toward a standardization program in 1918, the competitive buying of the bureaus in 1917 had placed such a hodge-podge of vehicles in service that providing spare parts became a nightmare for supply officers.

The Model 1903 Springfield was a very accurate shoulder arm. Yet, despite the superiority of this rifle, the 600,000 on hand in 1917 were an insufficient number to equip the infantry of the rapidly burgeoning army. On the other hand, the army could take advantage of two Remington and one Winchester factories which were manufacturing great numbers of Enfield rifles for Great Britain. Baker decided to modify the Enfield so that it could use American ammunition. Thus, the major complaint against the Enfield was solved, and factories already in production could begin turning out weapons for the army.

By the time the United States entered the war, the French and the British had reached a stage of gun production which permitted them to furnish some artillery to the Americans. In July 1917 the French agreed to equip the AEF with the famous 75 mm and 155 mm guns in return for raw materials. The British later promised similar aid with different caliber guns. These Allied commitments gave the Ordnance planners the time to develop their artillery program.

The American munitions makers could take pride, for example, in the production of over a billion pounds of powder and high explosives. They also completed 2,008 guns of various calibers during the war. Such achievements in a dangerous trade, however, did cause the deaths of some 140 civilian workers because of explosions at two shell loading plants.

The greatest problem was the lack of equipment and qualified trainers. Nearly all the officers and noncommissioned officers of the regular army were forced to serve as instructors, and few of them would end up overseas. One who was frustrated by this was young Captain Dwight Eisenhower, who had volunteered for combat but whose orders sent him to Camp Colt, on the edge of the historic Gettysburg battlefield. The junior officer problem would have been worse had it not been for the pre-war Military Training Camps Association. These camps, organized by the far-sighted General Leonard Wood, gave a month-long military indoctrination to aspiring officers. They provided a basis for the officer training schools that produced second lieutenants.

Eisenhower’s job was to train tankers, although initially he had no tanks. Being forced to improvise, he taught men to drive trucks, figuring they could later learn more easily to drive tanks. To teach tank gunnery, he had machine guns bolted to flatbed trucks and had men fire at targets as the trucks drove over bumpy ground.

America was still a rural society, and farm boys made up the largest percentage of the recruits. They made good soldiers, but were less educated, took longer to train, and were often illiterate. Surprisingly, many did not know how to play any games.

Of troops destined for France, the best trained may have been the US Marines. The senior officers considered trench warfare defeatist, and called on trainers to emphasize the rifle and the bayonet as ‘the supreme weapons of the infantry soldier’. This meant an emphasis on discipline, rifle marksmanship, bayonet training, and small-unit, mobile tactics.

The focal point of the developing American military effort was the expeditionary force in France. Major General John J. Pershing was the obvious choice for this assignment. Before he made his selection, Secretary Baker had reviewed the dossiers of all general officers and had weighed carefully each man's capabilities for such a difficult mission. In this consideration Pershing's recent experience with the Punitive Expedition in Mexico stood out. Loyalty to administration policy and discretion were as necessary as the ability to command a large field force.

Thirty-five years had passed since Pershing had left the small Missouri town of Laclede to enter West Point. When he became a cadet, Pershing, nearing his twenty-second birthday, was older than most of the other cadets. In academic subjects he was in the middle of his class, but he was the acknowledged leader as class president and as First Captain, the highest military rank in the Cadet Corps. His classmates liked him, and above all they respected him.

When Pershing received his commission in 1886, the small army and the nation's military situation seemed to offer no hope of distinction such as the old soldiers had won in the Civil War. Despite his success at West Point, Pershing would not make a complete commitment to a military career. His ambition would not let him do so at this stage of his life. Later, he wrote, ‘From the day of my entrance into West Point up to middle age I had hoped the time would come when I could return to civil life while still young enough to take up law or go into business.’ With this course in view, he obtained a law degree at the University of Nebraska in 1893 while on duty.

Throughout this period, Leonard Wood, the ranking major general and the most likely competitor for an important command, had occupied administrative posts and had been openly critical of Wilsonian policies. Although Pershing privately disagreed with Wilson's Mexican policy, he carried it out and, as a soldier should, refrained from public comment.

The Spanish-American War provided action, but it was over before the thirty-seven-year-old lieutenant could rise to prominence. He served in Cuba with the Tenth Cavalry Regiment connection which gave him his nickname ‘Black Jack’, and he won a commendation for gallantry at San Juan Hill. Because of wartime expansion, he also became a temporary major, but there were many other regular officers who had done just as well in that brief conflict.

His chance came in the Philippines in 1902-03. Although only a captain, having reverted to his permanent rank, Pershing had the responsibility at times of a brigadier general in leading forces against the Moros on Mindanao. The departmental commander was so impressed by Pershing's skill in dealing with the natives that he shelved senior officers in order to give Pershing command of the troops in the field. By conquering and ‘pacifying’ the Sultans of Bayan, Maciu, Taraca, Bacolod, and others, the cavalry captain gained national recognition.

Because of the restrictions of army promotion policy, which was based on seniority, the President could not reward Pershing with promotion unless he recommended him to be promoted to brigadier general. This had been done in a few cases and, in 1906, Theodore Roosevelt, with the approval of Congress, gave such an unusual promotion to Pershing. His next promotion came in 1916 after commanding the expedition into Mexico.

Pershing was well equipped for his greatest opportunity, commanding the AEF. He was tough, confident, experienced, and he possessed the ability, crucial to anyone in command, of matching the right man with the right job. He made the right impression when he wrote to President Wilson in April 1917: ‘As an officer of the army, may I not extend to you, as Commander in Chief of the armies, my sincere congratulations upon your soul-stirring patriotic address to Congress on April 2d. Your strong stand for the right will be an inspiration to the citizens of this Republic. It arouses in the breast of every soldier feelings of the deepest admiration for their leader. I am exultant that my life has been spent as a soldier, in camp and field, that I may now the more worthily and the more intelligently serve my country and you.’

Once he had been chosen, Pershing, in turn, began selecting his staff. For the most important post of Chief of Staff, he picked his friend and fellow cavalryman, Major James G. Harbord, then a student at the Army War College. In less than three weeks, Pershing decided upon fifty-eight other officers to accompany him. A few had served with him in Mexico; others he had observed in various assignments. Some came on the recommendation of the bureau chiefs. Those who would head staff sections such as Quartermaster and Ordnance chose their own assistants. Yet this group would be merely the beginning of the staff Pershing ultimately required.

While in Washington, Pershing went over the organization of the expeditionary division and embarkation plans, discussed the munitions situation, and helped make the decision to use the Enfield rifle. By the time Secretary Baker took him to the White House, Pershing knew that he would command all of the American troops in France and not just an expeditionary division. His first and only meeting with Wilson before sailing was brief and not particularly enlightening to the general. They would not meet again until they shared the accolades of victory.

A large balding man, fifty-one years old, General James G. Harbord had entered the army as a private in 1889 and had worked his way up through the ranks. He had also made his reputation in the Philippines.

Pershing, Harbord, and their headquarters staff sailed for Europe on the USS Baltic. Pershing landed in Liverpool, England, and, along with his staff, boarded a train to London. Then it was off to France, where the greetings were also enthusiastic. In Paris, Pershing and a contingent from the 1st Division were greeted by cheering crowds that threw flowers and shouted ‘Vive l’Amerique!’

Pershing’s orders to his troops read: ‘In military operations against the Imperial German Government, you are directed to cooperate with the forces of the other countries employed against that enemy; but in so doing the underlying idea must be kept in view that the forces of the United States are a separate and distinct component of the combined forces, the identity of which must be preserved.’

As Pershing arrived in London, American reporter Heywood Hale Broun thought, ‘No man ever looked more the ordained leader of fighting men.’ The British seemed overjoyed to finally see an American presence. Pershing met King George V, Prime Minister David Lloyd George, General Sir John French, South African General Jan Smuts, and numerous other dignitaries.

Shortly after Pershing and his staff arrived in France, Pershing met with the new French Commander-in-Chief, the veteran Marshal Henri Pétain. Pershing and Pétain met for the first time at the French GHQ at Compiegne. They eventually formed a liking for each other, perhaps because they were much alike: each man was pragmatic, blunt spoken, and stubborn. Although Pétain obviously welcomed the American presence, he was realistic, commenting dolefully to Pershing, ‘I just hope it is not too late.’

The average American, like the average Frenchman, did not realize how little America was able to do at this point. Military men weren’t so easily fooled. As they paraded in Paris, the Yanks looked like just what they were—untrained civilians wearing ill-fitting uniforms and having a hard time keeping in step. Winston Churchill would later write, ‘The impression made upon the hard-pressed French by this seemingly inexhaustible flood of gleaming youth in its first maturity of health and vigor was prodigious... Half trained, half organized, with only their courage and their numbers and their magnificent youth behind their weapons, they were to buy their experience at a bitter price. But this they were quite ready to do.’

American troops began to arrive in numbers in February 1918. The 26th Division, made up of troops of the New England National Guard, fought a bloody battle in late April in lines around the village of Seicheprey. Black troops made up the four regiments of the 93rd Division, and the French army completely integrated these regiments into their forces. One of the four regiments, the 369th, moved into the Argonne Forest and took over a three-mile sector of the line by mid-April.

At the time, American forces held a total of only 15 miles, and the 369th made up one-fifth of that. The men of the 369th eventually saw extensive rugged combat and earned the admiration of the French officers with whom they worked.

The Germans planned an attack against the French army moving from the Chemin des Dames Ridge toward Paris, some 70 miles distant. German troops advanced on the Marne, about 55 miles from the outskirts of Paris. As French troops moved into defensive positions, Marshal Ferdinand Foch put the US Third Division at Château-Thierry and the US Second Division, which included the US Marine Brigade, into the line at Belleau Wood. The appearance of fresh American troops in the line by early summer of 1918 made it clear to the German command that their timetable for victory had suddenly shortened.

During a three-week period, the Marine Brigade at Belleau Wood lost 5,600 casualties out of the total 13,500-man force, partly because they fought in massed groups rather than in open formation. They had not learned to take cover one by one as they advanced, as had the veterans on both sides on the western front. As a consequence, like the troops of 1914, they were easily cut down by massed machine-gun fire. Nevertheless, after bitter fighting, the marines doggedly pushed the German forces out of the wood, with help from the 369th Regiment.

After a total of five major assaults by the Germans through early and mid-1918, the German army lost nearly a million men. At the same time that American troops began to make their presence known on the front, the French began throwing more tanks and aircraft into the battles. Furthermore, German morale collapsed in many units. In August, British troops pushed ahead on the old Somme battlefield, and an American force attacked the long-standing St. Mihiel salient near Verdun. The German command had already planned to evacuate the St. Mihiel salient, so when the American attack came, the Germans had already started pulling away from their fortified positions.

By September, as the Entente armies planned attacks, they had not only superior numbers of troops but also clear superiority in equipment including tanks, artillery and aircraft. As commander of all the Entente forces on the front, Foch could count on 220 divisions altogether, including 42 large-sized American divisions, against a depleted and weakened 197 divisions of German troops. Most of those were worn down or demoralized, and the German forces could count on only about 50 divisions ready for combat.

In some of the last and most bloody battles fought by the Americans in the war, American troops pushed back German defenses in the Argonne Forest, north of Verdun. Unseasoned American troops went through some terrifying experiences.

Sergeant William Triplet calculated that his unit suffered more than 80 percent casualties, and he suffered a wound in the shoulder and stayed in a hospital briefly before returning to the front. Corporal Alvin York, a true sharpshooter from Tennessee, killed 25 German soldiers and personally captured 132 more, earning him a Medal of Honor. The 1st Battalion of the 308th Regiment, 77th Division, which was completely cut off, became known as the Lost Battalion. More than 400 men out of the original 600 died before the 200 survivors saw relief.

The explanation for what stopped the German advances in mid-1918 has been the subject of intense historical debate. The British stressed their tenacity and their successful use of tanks in several battles. French accounts emphasized their use of new tactics and massive industrial output of artillery, supplies, and aircraft. The arrival of American troops, their rapid training, and their willingness to plunge into battle has also been credited with tipping the battle, a factor recognized as important by the German Commander-in-Chief Erich Ludendorff himself, and of course the focus of many American-authored studies of the topic. A deeper cause lay in the exhaustion of manpower and the destruction of the morale of the German troops.

Letters to and from the homes of German soldiers revealed that the starvation blockade and the years of fruitless warfare had destroyed the confidence of the German population in their leadership as well as the esprit of the troops and their trust in their officers. By August 1918, after the loss of hundreds of thousands of troops, German commanders prepared to ask the civilian leadership to open negotiations towards peace.

Woodrow Wilson had clarified American war goals in a carefully crafted speech delivered on 8 January 1918, in which he spelled out what came to be known as the Fourteen Points. Later speeches amplified these points until he had come up with more than 20. Most of Wilson’s points dealt with proposed territorial settlements based on the ethnicity and preference of the populations in question. The United States wanted guarantees of freedom of the seas, abandonment of secret treaties in favor of ‘open covenants, openly arrived at’, no reparations based on war guilt and commitment to a League of Nations to enforce future peace.

Seemingly based on a set of ideals rather than a desire for revenge or territorial gain, the war goals had been made public and won some popular support in the United States, although strongly anti-German politicians like Theodore Roosevelt argued that the proposed peace terms were too generous to Germany.

After the defeats of August 1918, the German command concluded that the war could not be won. Ludendorff recommended that peace be negotiated on the basis of the Fourteen Points. The Fourteen Points, it may have seemed, would save Germany from being forced to suffer complete defeat and surrender. Only after Wilson had secured a commitment to most of the points did he open discussions with the other Entente powers to ensure that they would accept an armistice based on the same points. Unraveling what kind of peace should emerge, from the tangle of treaties, agreements, understandings and lists of points, became the difficult task for the Great Power statesmen over the following months.

In order to secure that agreement, Wilson dispatched Colonel Edward House, his personal confidant and political adviser, to negotiate with the British, French, and Italians. House had a difficult time in these discussions because the British at first rejected any endorsement of the vague concept of freedom of the seas, while the French insisted on an occupation of German territory as well as heavy reparations. The Italians wanted guarantees that lands promised them in the secret treaty with Britain would not fall to the newly created Serbian-dominated South Slav state.

House extracted a sort of compromise, in which the British agreed to discuss the meaning of freedom of the seas at the peace conference, the French agreed that the exact reparations would be left until later, and the French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau made a personal promise that occupation of German territory would be temporary to ensure German compliance with the armistice terms, and that the terms of military occupation would be worked out by the military commanders. House also suggested that treaty obligations would be honored.

General Foch would present the terms of the armistice to representatives of the Germans at a specified meeting place at Campiègne, near the battle lines. The German team, led by Matthias Erzberger, met with General Foch and learned the terms of the armistice. Erzberger was stunned to see that the Entente demanded evacuation of German territory on the German east bank of the Rhine and the surrender of heavy weapons. The German delegates recognized that the terms constituted surrender rather than the cease-fire that they expected.

A general strike in Berlin led to clashes between loyal and mutinous troops. Prematurely, Prince Max announced the abdication of the Kaiser, and he turned the government over to the majority Socialists, who then proclaimed that Germany had become a republic. The legislature proclaimed Philipp Scheidemann as Prime Minister. The next day, the Kaiser fled to Holland, where he remained in exile. Later, he confirmed his abdication. The Scheidemann government sent Erzberger back to Foch with instructions to sign the armistice.