Through War Torn Europe: An official trip after WWI told in the words of James Gordon Steese
Number Thirty-Three
Washington, November 14th.
America Enters the Lists

Such was, in brief, the situation when General Pershing reached France on June 14th, 1917. The British and French Missions, which had visited America immediately after our declaration of war, had freely stated the fact that the Allies looked to America for the aid with which it was still hoped to obtain success. Conditions in Europe were, however, imperfectly understood in America, and one of the immediate duties of the Commander-in-Chief, upon his arrival in France, was to get in touch with the situation and to make the necessary recommendations as to the American effort. This work involved many important questions; organization, the possibility of expanding our wofully small Regular Army and National Guard, possibility of ocean transport, French port capacity, location of our forces in France, French railroad capacity, etc.

Before the expiration of a month, the military situation had been examined; all the subsidiary questions studied; and the Commander-in-Chief had recommended: "Plans should contemplate sending over at least one million men by next May". "Plans for the future should be based, especially with reference to the manufacture, etc., of artillery, aviation, and other material, on three times this force; i.e., at least three million men. Such a program of construction should be completed within two years." 1918 fully demonstrated the accuracy of the views contained in the above quotations.

But our Allies were almost as incredulous as were the Germans as to our ability to realize such a program. Until early summer of 1918, the Germans were frankly scornful of our ability to exercise any real influence in the war. The German idea appeared to be: first, that we could not create a large army; second, that, even if we could organize a large force, we could not transport such a force to Europe; third, that, even if we did succeed in transporting a large force to Europe, it would not fight.

As before mentioned, our Allies entertained very similar ideas, even though they realized that their last hope lay in America. In the beginning it is probable that the maximum hope of the Allied leaders was that, in so far as concerned manpower, America might furnish a few hundred thousand men to be incorporated in French and British battalions. Our experience has accumulated ample evidence to show that, even though America could have consented to allowing her men to be drafted under another flag, such a course would have been fatal to the Allied cause. But this idea of our inability to organize and employ a large American army under our own flag persisted and, coupled with difficulty of transport, arms, equipment, and especially with the crisis created by the British and French reverses under the German offensive of March to June, 1918, served to delay the proper organization of the American Forces.

Theatre of Operations for the A.E.F. and Lines of Communication.

While we can not go into detail, it is well to outline the considerations which, in June and July of 1917, led to the choice of Lorraine as the theatre of operations for the A. E. F.

The course of the war, as fixed by the operations of August and September, 1914, had kept the masses of both sides to the west of the Woevre. The overshadowing importance of Paris and the Channel ports to the cause of the Allies kept the Allied masses to the west of the Woevre as long as the German chose to keep his masses there, or until the Allies could muster such a superiority as would enable them to regain complete initiative. Manifestly the German was well content to keep the war from his own frontiers.

The English naturally desired to keep their forces next the Channel; in this way they immediately covered their ports in France and reduced their lines of communication! French ports are notoriously poor and, while a few hundred thousand additional men might be supplied through the Channel ports, these ports were already more or less congested with English shipping. Then, too, if we attempted to use the same ports as the British, an inevitable congestion of lines of communication would follow.

Turning for a moment to the question of employing the additional combat troops that America could furnish, it is apparent that the Briey Basin to the west of Metz, the coal regions to the east of Metz, the vital railroad communications in the same regions, and the fortress itself bore much the same importance to the German cause as did Paris and the Channel ports to that of the Allies.

True, this importance of the regions on either side of Metz to the Germans could only be turned to the advantage of the Allies by a powerful offensive, but such an offensive would not only relieve any enemy pressure in the north of France, but, if successful, might be expected to free the whole of northern France as a minimum result - and it was precisely a successful  offensive in which millions of Americans should participate to which the Commander-in-Chief looked forward.

 Now, while the Channel ports were congested, the French ports farther south were not being used to capacity and investigation showed that this capacity could be largely increased. If then, the railroad communications were suitable, it was natural that our eventual theatre of operations should be chosen in Lorraine with our base ports those of southwestern France. The map showed adequate railroad facilities and investigation showed that our lines of communication would not materially interfere with those to the French masses in the north.

Such were the principal points in the studies leading to the choice of Lorraine as the eventual American Sector.

End Notes and Bibliography