Through War Torn Europe: An official trip after WWI told in the words of James Gordon Steese
Number Thirty-Four
Washington, November 25th.
Second Half of 1917.

Space is not available, even if it were desirable, to relate in detail the work of our G. H. Q. from July to December of 1917. That this period was a busy one and that well laid plans for the supply and employment of American forces were formulated is shown by the record of American arms in 1918. As time went on, it became increasingly evident
that the successful conclusion of the war depended upon the arrival of American troops. The Commander-in-Chief, therefore, drove all the energies of the G. H. Q. toward effecting increases in the returns from available shipping, to securing an increase in the shipping and to the task of preparing to handle the enormous tonnage which he never doubted would ultimately be secured. All plans were based upon caring for and employing millions of Americans and, to secure these millions, every possible requisite of supply and equipment was obtained in Europe and those items which must come from America were reduced to an absolute minimum, so that every possible ton of shipping might be devoted to bringing soldiers.

As always, when great stakes lie in the balance, this decision some times caused anxious moments. In numerous instances, we counted upon our Allies’ promises for certain supplies but, when the time came, it was found impracticable to make deliveries as fast as contemplated or required. But, in one way or another, both ends were made to meet and
the increased arrival of the American soldier made victory possible in 1918.

Status of the A.E.F. on December 31st, 1917.

On December 31st, 1917, a total of only 176,655 American troops had arrived in France. This total was exceedingly disappointing in view of the military situation which had resulted from the disasters suffered by the Allies in the fall of 1917.  These disasters reached their culmination with the final collapse of Russia after the battle of Riga (September) and the practical collapse of Italy after the battle of Caporetto (October 24th). In the west, the Germans, strictly on the defensive, were attacked by the French and especially by the British. These attacks had no decided influence and, in many cases, they were exceedingly costly. It was not surprising then that the Allied morale, which had been bolstered up by the thought that America was coming, began to fall and that the faint-hearted began to point to the fact that, at the end of the year, only one American division (the 1st) had served even a preliminary tour in the trenches. But these disasters had turned the attention of England, as well as of America, to the vital necessity of securing more ships and thus hastening the arrival of American soldiers.

January, 1918 to July 15, 1918.

When the great German offensive of March, 1918 began, America had four divisions in the line. One of these (the 1st) held its own sector north of Toul, while the 26th in the Chemin des Dames, the 42nd in the Luneville, and the 2nd in the Verdun-Saint Mihiel sectors were brigaded with the French for a first tour of duty in the trenches. Prior to the opening of the German offensive, the guiding principles which had been adopted for the employment of arriving divisions were in outline as follows:

In September of 1917 it had been decided that the logical employment of the first American army to be formed was to be found in the reduction of the Saint Mihiel salient. In preparation for this operation, it had been arranged that, as our divisions as such were ready to enter the line, they should be placed on the Saint Mihiel front, thus gradually creating a purely American sector. The series of German offensives and the necessity of breaking up these offensives at all costs with corollaries such as the desire, arising from necessity, of our Allies to raise the morale of their soldiers through the appearance of our soldiers on different parts of the front, the willingness of the British to increase our troop shipping provided our troops were sent to the British front for preliminary training -- served, however, to upset our plans with regard to the Saint Mihiel for many weary months. In fact, by the end of June, 1918, our troops were literally spread from Switzerland to the English Channel and only the constant and firm determination of the Commander-In-Chief eventually to assemble our forces prevented that task from being abandoned as hopeless.

On April 25th, the 1st Division, which had been relieved north of Toul, entered the battle line on the Amiens front. This was the first appearance of an American division on an active front. The conduct of this division, especially during its attack and capture of Cantigny, May 28th, greatly increased the respect for American troops among our Allies, as well as among the Germans.

On May 27th, the German Aisne-Marne offensive was launched. The German success during the first days of this offensive was more marked than anything that German arms had yet secured. Paris had already been subjected to long range bombardment and violent air raids, and the state of morale of that capital may be judged by the fact that it is estimated that more than one million people left Paris during the months of May and June. On June 1st, just at the moment when the future seemed darkest; the 2nd American Division, which had been brought around from Verdun-Saint Mihiel, was thrown across the Chateau-Thierry-Paris road, and the Germans advanced no farther toward Paris. At the same time elements of the 3rd Division, which had never before been in the line, were placed along the Marne, together with various bodies of French troops -- and wherever the soldiers of the 3rd Division appeared, there too the German advance broke on the rocks.

The work of the 2nd Division, and of the elements of the 3rd, gave impetus to the rise, already began an a result of the work of the 1st Division, of the American soldier in the esteem of the enemy and Allies, and, by June 30th, all concerned fully realized that the arrival of American soldiers might soon turn the tide to the definite favor of the Allies.

But America and England, who released her shipping for the transport of our troops until her food stocks had reached the vanishing point, had not waited for the events of June to demonstrate the value of the American soldier. So effectively had our shipping program been increased that, on June 30th, 1918, some 900, 000 Americans were in France and all preparations had been made to maintain indefinitely the increased rate of arrival.

Having now no illusions as to the value of American troops and with the general knowledge which his High Command must have had concerning American arrivials, the German decided to try one final effort to obtain a decision in his favor before the American soldier should render such a decision hopeless of attainment. The final German attack was accordingly launched in the Champagne on July 15th. On that date the disposition of the American divisions in France was as follows:

The 32nd, 35th, 5th and 77th Divisions were in line between the Swiss border and Luneville. The 82nd was in line north of Toul. The four regiments of the 93rd Division were with the French in line between the Argonne and the Meuse. The 42nd was in reserve to meet the expected German attack in the Champagne. The 3rd and 26th were in line in the region of Chateau-Thierry and the 28th had elements with the American and French units in the same region. The 2nd and 4th were in reserve near Meaux and the 1st was near Beauvais ready for use in the planned counter-attack. The 27th and 30th were in line with the British near Ypres. The 33rd, 78th and 80th were completing their training with the British, the 91st bad just arrived at Le Havre, and the 79th was arriving at Brest. The 29th, 90th, 83rd, 92nd, 37th, and 89th were in our training areas around Chaumont and every nerve was being exerted to complete their training and equipment.

Fortunately for the Allies, the German attack and its location were foreseen and, more fortunately still, the considerable number of American soldiers who had now arrived were either in the line, in reserve ready for the counter-attack, which had been planned during the first few days of July, or, in the case of newly arrived divisions, ready and anxious to get into the fight with or without their complete equipment.

End Notes and Bibliography