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(1914-1918) WWI
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Jim Cameron
Ossining
NY USA
Posts: 914
Just like old times...
Posted on: 5/29/2019 2:48:24 PM

In the years after the war, and particularly so here in the States, books on American participation in the war tended to take a decidedly rosy view of the AEF. It was portrayed as an all conquering juggernaut, sweeping the field with smiling troops, faultless tactics, and bold leadership.

Over the last few decades, the pendulum swung to a recognition that the AEF was in fact deeply flawed, plagued by poor training, inadequate logistics, primitive tactics, and inappropriate doctrine. An analysis with which I tend to agree, although I also think that had the war continued into 1919 the AEF would have given a better account of itself and come out of the war with a better reputation. (I often equate the AEF of 1918 to the U.S. Army of the WW2 Torch landings, still gaining experience and sorting out its organization and leadership.)

Now, however, I find myself about 120 pages into a new book on the AEF, "Sons of Freedom", by Geoffrey Wawro. As described by the subtitle, this is about "The forgotten American soldiers who defeated Germany in World War 1."

In a nutshell, Wawro contends that the British and French armies were on the verge of collapse in 1918, and that the AEF did in fact win the war, in what amounted to "...a distinctly American miracle."

At this point in the book, part of me feels as if I have been transported back to the juggernaut days of the AEF. Yet the author devotes much of the first part of the book to a perceptive analysis of the AEF's many problems. He is clearly not overestimating the capabilities of the AEF. Going into 1918, it remained a dangerously immature organization. One wonders how the AEF will mature into the war winning force the author describes.

On the other side of the equation, Wawro, going into the German Spring offensives, seems to me to overstate the weakness of both the French and British armies, both of which he describes as being on the verge of collapse. At times, he has both virtually at the mercy of a German army, newly flush with divisions transferred from the East. Absent the Americans, German victory is all but assured.

Now, both did have problems, the British, coming out of Passchendaele, and the French, still shaky after the Neville offensive, but I cannot help thinking he overstates his case, as to the British and French, and, the Germans.

I'll have to keep reading, and see where he goes with it.
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Jim Cameron Every time I go to Gettysburg, I learn two things. Something new, and, how much I still don't know.
OpanaPointer
St. Louis
MO USA
Posts: 1389
Re: Just like old times...
Posted on: 5/29/2019 3:21:12 PM

I think our showing against Pancho Villa would be a big fat hint.
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George
Centre Hastings
ON Canada
Posts: 10971
Re: Just like old times...
Posted on: 5/29/2019 4:57:33 PM

Once the US got into the war, the press played a role in swaying the opinion of the American people to one of patriotic support for the war. The American press actually had greater access to some parts of the theatres of war because they were neutral and the British made use of the US press to spread British propaganda about the Germans.

Prior to joining the other belligerents, the US press portrayed this war as a great economic boon. There were more papers that took this tact than papers that portrayed the war as a human tragedy. (the New York Times, the Boston Post, the New Orleans Times Picayune and the Washington Star were anti-war in 1914)
Even these papers became patriotic and supportive of the war effort once the US was in it, to the point that women's groups in opposition to war were scorned by these press outlets.

Chicago Tribune 1914


Quote:
Chicago Tribune, “War May Bring Big Boom to US: Exporters, Shippers, Farmers and Clothes Makers Face Windfall,


The US press did not concentrate on the deficiencies found in the US forces but spent more time on the positions of the British and French, often described as two armies ready to tip in the wrong direction.
Apparently, news of the war on its grander scale and the level of participation of the US troops did not really make the press. It tended to focus more on individuals who had done great things.

The patriotic fervour reached a fever pitch as the troops began to return home. Newspapers claimed a US victory and it is true that the US was part of the victory.

I can tell you that US news coverage was not well received in Canada because it was felt that the Canadian Corps, 1/10 of the US army in the field had done more and accomplished more than all of those American forces. Canadian veterans felt that they had a right to the moral high ground as they had fought from the beginning. (J. L. Granatstein).

I really do no know how the British and French reacted to these claims coming from the American press.

May we dispute the characterization of the British and French forces as tottering armies ready to fall in 1917 and early 1918? These forces, with some Americans at the disposal of the French if needed, did withstand the Spring Offensive. They were beaten up but it was the Germans who withdrew.

Would the Aug. 8 attack at Amiens have taken place without the Americans? I don't have the answer.

The following article is from an author named Richard Rubin. The title is, "Why Don't Americans Remember WW1".

His main thesis is that the American forces were indispensable to the allied victory. In the article, he bypasses the "Black Day of the German Army" in favour of a description of the US fighting at Meuse-Argonne. In fact, he misses a lot but I wonder whether he is part of wave of revisionism among WW1 historians in the US. I noted that he said that when he decided to write a book on the war, that US references were almost non-existent. That supports his theory that Americans don't pay much attention to this war. It also means that he didn't have a lot of US created information to work with.

He also decries the efforts of the British press and I would add, the Canadian press, to minimize the influence of the American forces on the result.

[Read More]

I tend to believe as well, that the US would have seen its star rise had the war continued for another year but it is difficult to believe that some people would believe that the US forces won this war. The first major battle by the US 1st Div. was Cantigny, May 28, 1918 which means that the US participated in 6 months of combat. It is somewhat insulting to the other nations who lost so much in four years of combat to listen to those claims.

However, perhaps what is needed is a less nationalistic analysis to determine just how a battle like Cantigny or later Belleau Wood and St. Mihiel actually impacted the war? Were they strategically significant victories? Did they only indicate that the US soldier was a bold and brave fighter but the war was not impacted greatly by these victories?

Without them, do the allies still force an armistice on Nov. 11?
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Phil andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4650
Re: Just like old times...
Posted on: 5/29/2019 5:47:28 PM

Anyone who claims that the British army was on the verge of collapse in the spring of 1918 should be made aware of the fate of the big German attack on 28 March 1918.

He should also take a look at the story of the Battle of Malmaison in October 1917 before depicting the French as a failing force.

That the Anglo French armies were engaged in a desperate and frightening struggle for survival in the earlier part of 1918 is incontestably the case .

This must not be construed as them being so defeated and diminished that they were incapable of carrying on without American assistance on the battlefield.

In the process of being knocked about - which they undoubtedly were - the Entente armies ( the British especially ) inflicted mortal damage on the Germans.

American soldiers played a huge role in exploiting the Allies’ advantage after the Germans had been fought to a standstill.

Regards, Phil
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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
john hayward
Allenstown
NH USA
Posts: 816
Re: Just like old times...
Posted on: 5/29/2019 10:21:39 PM

Maybe this is too simple but I always felt that by 1918 you had 3 tired countries that had been bled dry by this time. The Germans had a big influx of troops from the Eastern Front but these men had still been fighting since 1914. The big German offensives of 1918 were the final pushes of a war weary army, all or nothing. Their failure led to a fatal drop in moral.
Now enter the Yanks, big, strong, cocky, rarin' to go. Much like the tag team match where two fighters pound each other to a standstill. One tags out and enters the guy who is fresh, who then finishes off the other fighter.
The US Army provided the final push, perhaps more as a moral builder or in the Germans' case, a moral destroyer
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"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
Jim Cameron
Ossining
NY USA
Posts: 914
Re: Just like old times...
Posted on: 6/24/2019 10:48:02 AM

I am now just finishing Wawro's book, and while it is in fact a good combat history of the AEF, and in particular the Meuse-Argonne, as well as a perceptive analysis of its tactical and organizational weaknesses, the author does not, in my opinion, make his case that the AEF "won the war" for the exhausted French and British.

As I stated in my opening post, IMO Wawro tends to overstate the weakness of both the BEF and the French army. In fact, having pretty much written both off as all but spent by the time of the German Spring offensives of 1918, he spends the bulk of the book all but ignoring them, save as they directly effect AEF operations. The AEF ends up, almost by default, the dominant figure on the stage.

Yes, the BEF had manpower problems, in large part a byproduct of Lloyd George and Haig's differences, and also yes, the French army had lost much of its early offensive zeal. But the author too lightly dismisses their part in the 100 Days.

One example: the author makes numerous references to U.S. advances being hampered because of demoralized French divisions not coming up on their flanks. Which certainly did happen. But, especially in the Meuse-Argonne, the same thing happened due to American divisions lagging back. And were the French holding back because they were spent and had lost their spirit? Or, had they simply learned, at grim cost, to take their time and let the artillery do its work? At one point, the author quotes a U.S. soldier about how new replacements would rush ahead and be promptly killed, while the "old timers" had learned to take their time and would survive. I suspect that much of the criticism of the cautious French reflected the fact that the French were the "old timers", compared to the "new replacements" of the AEF.
(Interestingly, during WW2 U.S. infantry would often be criticized for being overly cautious. In fact, it was fighting largely with French "never send a man where you can send a shell" doctrine from WW1.)

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Jim Cameron Every time I go to Gettysburg, I learn two things. Something new, and, how much I still don't know.
George
Centre Hastings
ON Canada
Posts: 10971
Re: Just like old times...
Posted on: 6/24/2019 10:57:03 AM


Quote:
(Interestingly, during WW2 U.S. infantry would often be criticized for being overly cautious. In fact, it was fighting largely with French "never send a man where you can send a shell" doctrine from WW1.)


Interesting comment Jim. I would bet that British and Commonwealth posters would say that it was the US that criticized their allies for being overly cautious. And the Brits would likely counter that the Americans were wasteful of human assets with their gung ho attitude à la Patton.

Perhaps it is the nature of allies to be critical of one another from time to time.

George
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phil andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4650
Re: Just like old times...
Posted on: 6/24/2019 1:47:25 PM

That allies were critical of one another at the time is all too understandable.

That, with the passing of a century, these criticisms are still being, not only countenanced , but vigorously upheld , is rather disappointing !

Regards , Phil
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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
Jim Cameron
Ossining
NY USA
Posts: 914
Re: Just like old times...
Posted on: 6/24/2019 3:45:40 PM

Actually, a fair amount of the criticism of the U.S. Infantry came from the Germans.
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Jim Cameron Every time I go to Gettysburg, I learn two things. Something new, and, how much I still don't know.
OpanaPointer
St. Louis
MO USA
Posts: 1389
Re: Just like old times...
Posted on: 6/24/2019 6:01:44 PM

I heard Patton and Monty got along famously. "Famous" as in the Kilkenny Cats famous.
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Jim Cameron
Ossining
NY USA
Posts: 914
Just like old times...
Posted on: 7/3/2019 9:59:49 PM

Apropos my earlier post that Geoffrey Wawro hadn't made his case that the AEF "won the war" for the exhausted French and British armies, by coincidence I am currently reading "1918: Winning the War, Losing the War", an Osprey publication edited by Matthias Strohn, consisting of ten characters including evaluations of the the German, British, French, and American armies, the war outside Europe, and the war in the air and at sea.
I found the chapters on the British and French armies to provide particularly astute counterpoints to Wawro's rather bleak assessment of their effectiveness in 1918. Yes, by 1918 both were damaged and short of troops. But both remained, and especially so compared to the prior years of the war, effective, and tactically proficient. The AEF very likely contributed more to the final victory than it gets credit for, but my opinion remains that Wawro was too quick to write off the British and French as spent forces.
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Jim Cameron Every time I go to Gettysburg, I learn two things. Something new, and, how much I still don't know.
Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4650
Just like old times...
Posted on: 7/4/2019 10:37:53 AM

Jim,

The more I think about it, the more I grow in my conviction that the victory won by the British and Dominion troops in 1918 has still not been given proper recognition.

Neither has that of the French.

British commentators are, I think, more stingy in their acknowledgement of the French contribution than they are of the Americans'.

Regards, Phil
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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
Jim Cameron
Ossining
NY USA
Posts: 914
Just like old times...
Posted on: 7/4/2019 3:10:03 PM

I wonder if that isn't simply the nature of coalition warfare. Especially with the French and British having each pretty much having fought their own war for most of the conflict.
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Jim Cameron Every time I go to Gettysburg, I learn two things. Something new, and, how much I still don't know.

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