Chapter 24 New Blood – The Complete Idiot's Guide to World War I

Chapter 24 New Blood

In This Chapter
  • Pershing builds the AEF
  • Wilson states his war aims in “Fourteen Points”
  • Ludendorff’s new offensive strategy
  • The Somme Offensive: German tactical victory and strategic defeat
  • U.S. baptism of fire
  • The American forces prove they can fight

Using elementary physics, we are told, just about any situation involving objects in motion can be reduced to a set of straightforward mathematical expressions. For the sake of creating these expressions, physicists invent ideal conditions, states of perfect nonfriction, total vacuums, absolute temperatures, and points in space without physical dimension. The reason? For each real-world factor tossed into the equation, the mathematics becomes increasingly complex and confusing. Admit enough of the real world, and the behavior of the simplest objects moving in the simplest ways becomes nearly impossible to account for and predict.

Thus, the European Allies, wearing away in a war of attrition, looked to the Americans as a beginning physics student looks to a problem of an object in motion: A few deft calculations, and the object is moved from here to there. But, from the very beginning, this war had shown how rudely the real world treats calculations, theories, and plans. By 1917, three years of war had reduced the thinking of the European Allies to starkly simple arithmetic: so many hundreds of thousands of men sent to the trenches, so many hundreds of thousands lost, so many hundreds of thousands needed to replace them. As France, Britain, and Italy saw it, the Americans were just more numbers waiting to be fed into the equation. American General John J. Pershing had not yet learned to think of men as numbers, though; as he saw it, simply plugging them into the Great War equation was neither possible nor desirable.

This chapter takes the American Expeditionary Force into action.

The Buildup

General Pershing and his small staff of 40 regular army officers, 2 marine officers, 17 reserve officers, 5 civilian interpreters, and 123 enlisted men and clerks were welcomed in Paris on June 14, 1917. After the tumult of greeting and ceremony died down—and it did so quickly—Pershing learned just how desperate the Allied situation was. He learned of mutiny in the French ranks (see Chapter 21, “Allies Imperiled”), of demoralization, of dwindling reserves, and of an enemy willing and able to remain on the defensive, it seemed, indefinitely.

Having arrived in France with fewer than 200 other American soldiers, John J. Pershing was well aware that, at just this moment, he had nothing to offer the Allies. There was a paper creation called the American Expeditionary Force (AEF), but right now, it consisted of a general and his small staff, along with a hastily thrown-together First Division on its way.

 Voices of Battle “Gee! I often think of the time when I was at home. Mama, you know I believe that one day I will come back to you and the loved ones I left behind. Wouldn’t you be glad to have your soldier boy with you again? My prayer to God is that we will have peace with all the nations and we boys get back home with our dear ones.”

—George W. Lee, AEF, to his mother in Greensboro, North Carolina, from France, 1917

Pershing set to work to make the AEF a reality.

As we saw in Chapter 22, “Over Here and Over There,” Pershing’s first fight was not with the Germans, but with the English and the French, against their desperate demand that he feed them troops just as soon as they arrived from America. At length, Pershing obtained Allied consent to allow him instead to concentrate the incoming army into viable units that would not simply be frittered away. He secured French approval to concentrate the AEF in Lorraine, which put the Americans quite close to the German border and, in particular, near the so-called St.-Mihiel salient, the pocket of German strength that the Allies had been unsuccessfully attacking since 1915.

Besides the tremendous task of raising an army and transforming citizens into soldiers, there was the problem of transporting the men and their equipment. Troops were carried in convoys typically consisting of four sections of 14 troop ships each. Each of the four sections was escorted by one cruiser and four to five destroyers. Submarine attack was an ever-present danger, of course, but the greatest obstacle to be overcome was a shortage of shipping. The 56 troop transports of the first convoy, for example, carried about 14,500 men total. The target strength for the AEF in Europe was four million men—one million by May 1918!

When the men disembarked in French ports, they had to be transported to the Lorraine sector via railroad. Pershing commissioned the vice president of the Pennsylvania Railroad, William W. Atterbury, to come to France to manage the AEF rail system. Working with French officials, he laid down a thousand miles of new track and imported 1,500 locomotives and 18,000 railway cars from the United States. The equipment was shipped in parts and was assembled on-site.

Supply was a problem of gargantuan proportions: 18 million tons of supplies and equipment would be required. The principal supply facility, the Gievres Storage Depot, was staffed by 25,000 men who handled 2,300 railway cars daily. The warehouse facilities, built expressly for the AEF in France, offered 4 million square feet of storage, including the largest refrigeration plant in the world. Within this single depot were 43 miles of railroad track.

 From the Front Pershing’s 90-day training program was criticized by the Allies as too elaborate and a waste of time. Although Pershing persisted in maintaining the program, few soldiers actually completed each phase before going into combat.

Pershing was not only concerned that his troops should be consolidated rather than fed to the front like so much cannon fodder, and he was not only determined to see that they were adequately supplied—he also wanted them fully combat-trained before service at the front. The men he received were hardly raw recruits—they had undergone basic training before shipping out from the United States—but Pershing instituted in France additional training to bring the soldiers up to what he deemed combat level. Nor was Pershing content with the training methods of the veteran British and French. He believed that they emphasized trench warfare tactics to the exclusion of the offensive tactics of attack. The result, he concluded, was defeatism, a loss of confidence in the ability to attack. Against the common wisdom of European Allies, Pershing believed that the war was about to enter a more fluid phase in which offensives would play a key role.

Pershing ordered for his troops a month of training in individual weapons, field craft, and small-unit offense. This was to be followed by a month in the trenches of a quiet sector. A final month was to be devoted to additional advanced training.

 Words of WarSmall-unit offense encompasses the skills and tactics required to enable soldiers to fight as a team on the level, typically, of the company (in World War I, 256 men) and the platoon (128 men).

Despite every effort, only 175,000 Americans were in France by the end of 1917. Except for a month that the First Division spent in the trenches during October-November, no Americans had even seen the front after eight months of U.S. involvement.

 Voices of Battle “This war, like the next war, is a war to end war.”

—Attributed to Prime Minister David Lloyd George, 1918

Wilson Makes Fourteen Points

If General Pershing was determined not to waste American lives, so was President Wilson. He knew that he was sending young men off to die in a “foreign war,” and he resolved that these sacrifices would not be made in vain. He told the American people that the “Great War” would be a “war to end all wars,” and he meant it.

On January 8, 1918, President Wilson announced to Congress “Fourteen Points,” which he called “the only possible program” for peace:

“Gentleman of the Congress . . . . The day of conquest and aggrandizement is gone by; so is also the day of secret covenants . . . . We entered this war because violations of right had occurred which touched us to the quick and made the life of our own people impossible . . . . What we demand in this war, therefore, is nothing peculiar to ourselves. It is that the world be made fit and safe to live in; and particularly that it be made safe for every peace-loving nation which, like our own, wishes to live its own life, determine its own institutions, be assured of justice and fair dealing by the other peoples of the world as against force and selfish aggression. All the peoples of the world are in effect partners in this interest, and for our own part we see very clearly that unless justice be done to others, it will not be done to us. The program of the world’s peace, therefore, is our program; and that program, the only possible program, as we see it, is this:

  1. Open covenants of peace, openly arrived at . . . .
  2. Absolute freedom of navigation upon the seas . . . alike in peace and in war . . . .
  3. The removal, so far as possible, of all [international] economic barriers . . . .
  4. Adequate guarantees given and taken that national armaments will be reduced to the lowest point consistent with domestic safety.
  5. A free, open-minded, and absolutely impartial adjustment of all colonial claims . . . .
  6. The evacuation of all Russian territory and such a settlement of all questions, affecting Russia as will secure the best and freest cooperation of the other nations of the world in obtaining for her an unhampered and unembarrassed opportunity for the independent determination of her own political development . . . .
  7. Belgium, the whole world will agree, must be evacuated and restored, without any attempt to limit the sovereignty which she enjoys in common with all other free nations. No other single act will serve as this will serve to restore confidence among the nations in the laws which they have themselves set and determined for the government of their relations with one another. Without this healing act, the whole structure and validity of international law is forever impaired.
  8. All French territory should be freed and the invaded portions restored, and the wrong done to France by Prussia in 1871 in the matter of [seizing the] Alsace-Lorraine [region], which has unsettled the peace of the world for nearly 50 years, should be righted, in order that peace may once more be made secure in the interest of all.
  9. A readjustment of the frontiers of Italy should be effected along clearly recognizable lines of nationality.
  10. The peoples of Austria-Hungary, whose place among the nations we wish to see safeguarded and assured, should be accorded the freest opportunity of autonomous development.
  11. Rumania, Serbia, and Montenegro should be evacuated; occupied territories restored . . . .
  12. The Turkish portions of the present Ottoman Empire should be assured a secure sovereignty, but the other nationalities which are now under Turkish rule should be assured an undoubted security of life . . . .
  13. An independent Polish state should be erected . . . .
  14. A general association [league] of nations must be formed under specific covenants for the purpose of affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike.”

Whatever else the war might have meant to American bankers and industrialists, Wilson was determined that it would ultimately serve the highest possible purpose: to bring to the world a reign of productive, peaceful, and just civilization.

The German Offensives

Since the compromise and failure of the Schlieffen Plan at the end of the war’s first month in 1914 (see Chapters 5, “Battle of the Frontiers,” and 6, “The Marne: Massacre and Miracle”), Germany had come to rely increasingly on a defensive approach to the war, at least on the Western Front. The idea was to let the Allies wear down their armies in fruitless attacks on the German trenches. Few generals naturally favor defense-based strategies. History and instinct both teach that wars are won by vigorous, aggressive offense, not by hunkering down defensively. Yet World War I had proven to be different from anything that had come before. Reluctantly perhaps, the Germans had come to the decision that it was more effective to let the Allies destroy themselves than it was to attempt to destroy the Allies.

By the winter of 1917–1918, however, Erich Ludendorff realized that the picture was changing dramatically. With the impending approach of massive American manpower on the Western Front, he decided that it was necessary to push for a decisive victory before the new troops began pouring in. With Russia now out of the war, Ludendorff believed that a massive concentration of a series of offensives on the Western Front could bring victory.

Ludendorff shifted large numbers of troops from the east, and he instituted a rigorous training program designed to convert soldiers who had been accustomed to defensive warfare to troops capable of aggressive offense. The best of his trainees he assigned as shock troops to head up the assaults.

In contrast to any number of British and French all-or-nothing offensive pushes, Ludendorff developed a plan founded on careful analysis of the Allied situation. He understood that the British and French were often at cross-purposes—the British always were concerned to maintain lines of communication with the English Channel ports, and the French focused on the protection of Paris. Ludendorff decided to exploit this inherent divergence of purpose by driving a wedge between the two Allies and then turning on the British to destroy its army. With the British out of the war, the French would surely negotiate a favorable peace.

Somme Offensive

The first of the Ludendorff offensives, on the Somme, code named “St. Michael,” began on March 21, 1918. From north to south, the German Seventeenth, Second, and Eighteenth armies attacked the British on their right flank along a 60-mile front from Arras to La Fère. Intensive artillery bombardment was combined with “Hutier tactics” (see Chapter 23, “The War Beyond the Trenches, 1917–1918”) to achieve a penetration of the British lines, which drove back Rawlinson’s Fifth Army.

As Ludendorff had correctly surmised, Marshal Pétain was indeed more concerned with protecting Paris than he was with reinforcing the line of his British colleagues. Although French reinforcements arrived to help the British, Pétain made little attempt to coordinate this support. General Sir Henry Wilson, British chief of staff, sent up a wail of protest, calling for the appointment of “Foch or some other French general who will fight” to take over supreme command from Pétain.

The Supreme War Council responded. Although it did not remove Pétain from overall command of the French army, it appointed Ferdinand Foch as commander-in-chief of the Allied forces in France. Pershing not only approved of the appointment, but he also offered eight American divisions to Foch on an emergency basis.

 Combatants Ferdinand Foch (1851–1929), born in the Pyrenees as the son of a civil servant, joined the infantry as a private at the start of the Franco-Prussian War. In 1885, he was sent to the École Supériere de la Guerre, the French war college, at which he later taught, lecturing eloquently on such issues as flexibility, the massing of firepower, and on what he called the “mystique of the attack.”

Georges Clemenceau, at the time a commissioner in charge of military affairs, made Foch director of the École Supériere, and he was subsequently promoted to general of brigade (1907). In 1913, he assumed command of XX Corps at Nancy and occupied this post at the outbreak of World War I. His sector fell under heavy attack, and he counterattacked with great vigor during August 14–18, 1914. However, his unit was surprised by the counterattack of Crown Prince Rupprecht’s Sixth Army at Morhange. Foch fell back with heavy losses during August 20–21. Where lesser commanders would have allowed defeat to turn into a rout, Foch kept his command intact and organized an orderly withdrawal accompanied by damaging counterthrusts that were costly to the Germans. Similarly, at the First Battle of the Marne, during September 5–10, 1914, Foch sent a message to General Joseph Joffre: “My center is giving way, my right is falling back, situation excellent, I attack.”

After General Philippe Pétain replaced Robert Nivelle on May 11, 1917, he appointed Foch chief of the General Staff. In this new post, Foch moved with great speed on the Italian front and enjoyed significant success. He was appointed to the Allied Supreme War Council, charged with coordinating Allied offensive efforts in November 1917. He then became Allied supreme commander for the Western Front on March 26, 1918. In this capacity, Foch coordinated the successful Allied response to General Erich Ludendorff’s five major offensive pushes.

On August 6, 1918, Foch was promoted to marshal of France and two days later launched the major Allied counteroffensive that would bring the war to its conclusion on November 11. It was Foch who dictated the terms of the Armistice, and he served as president of the Allied military committee at the Versailles Treaty conference in January 1920. Foch was also charged with overseeing and enforcing the terms of the Armistice and the subsequent peace.

Following his death in 1929, Foch was laid to rest in a place of supreme honor, under the dome of Les Invalides, in company with Napoleon. Foch was the best of the French commanders of the Great War.

By April 5, 1918, after creating a 40-mile salient, the German advance ran out of steam. Foch had shifted French reserves to check the advance at Montdidier. The Somme Offensive had inflicted some 240,000 Allied casualties, including the taking of 70,000 POWs; however, it had been just as costly to the Germans, whose heaviest losses were among the elite shock troops.

Like a number of World War I campaigns, the Somme Offensive was a tactical success—a 40-mile breakthrough is highly significant—but a strategic failure. The offensive prompted the Allies to institute a truly unified command for the first time in the war. Aimed at splitting the British and the French, the offensive ended up uniting them, along with the Americans.

The Bombing of Paris

To stoke French fears for their capital, the Germans deployed a new “wonder weapon,” the so-called Paris gun, with a huge barrel, 117 feet long, and the capability of firing shells of 15-inch caliber more than 70 miles. At least seven of these giant barrels were manufactured, although they were mounted and used one at a time. The great range of the weapon meant that Paris could be bombarded from well behind the German front lines. The Paris guns inflicted 876 casualties among Parisians and were certainly demoralizing, but they had no significant effect on the outcome of the war.

Lys Offensive

At the time, of course, Ludendorff did not recognize the adverse strategic effect of his Somme Offensive. Single-mindedly determined to inflict the maximum possible damage before the Americans entered the war in force, he launched an attack on the British at the Lys River (the “Georgette” Offensive), forming part of the Belgian-French border. The attack directly threatened the English Channel ports. The initial impact of the assault was devastating. A Portuguese division fighting under British control in the sector was all but completely annihilated, creating a gap that threatened the British flanks.

Within three hours of the initial onslaught, the German Sixth Army reached the open country behind the British rear lines. The defenders were caving in everywhere.

“Backs to the Wall”

By April 12, the British had been pushed far back, and British General Douglas Haig pleaded with Ferdinand Foch for reinforcements. The Frenchman replied that he had none to give but that he had complete confidence in the tenacity of the British fighting man. With no alternative, Haig penned “General Order of the Day, April 11, 1918,” which became famous as the “Backs to the Wall” order. The general simply instructed his men to stand their ground—to the death.

Surprisingly, perhaps, the order actually succeeded in inspiring the defenders. They stood their ground and also began to push back so that, by April 29, Ludendorff was compelled to break off this second German offensive. Not only was British resistance unyielding, but Ludendorff’s troops were suffering from extreme exhaustion and were tethered to ever-lengthening and increasingly unreliable lines of supply and communication.

American forces played a small role in assisting the British on the Lys. For the most part, AEF units trained with British as well as French forces in the area, both in special training areas and in quiet sectors along the front. American medical, engineering, and aviation units were actively engaged to a limited degree.

The first major U.S. action occurred on April 20, when two companies of the 26th Division came under heavy attack near Seicheprey along the St.-Mihiel salient. About 2,800 regular German troops spearheaded by 600 elite shock troops overran the American positions. A large number of Americans were taken prisoner, and 669 others were either killed or wounded. German losses were slight.

 From the Front British losses in the Lys Offensive were 239,000, among whom were 28,000 dead. The Germans, who had come so close to a major victory with this offensive, lost 348,300, including some 50,000 dead. The British were still in a position to replace their losses. The Germans, however, were suffering from acute shortages of manpower. For the most part, their losses were irreplaceable.

Aisne Offensive

Faced with the failure of offensives against the British, Ludendorff was plagued by second thoughts and came to believe that he might have been mistaken in concentrating against the British. He now decided to shift his operations against the French.

The third German offensive, “Operation Blücher,” on the Aisne River, began spectacularly well for the attackers. It commenced on May 27 against lightly held French positions on the Chemin des Dames ridge. This was supposed to be a diversionary attack only, but it was so successful that it became the major effort of the offensive. In 24 hours, the Germans advanced 20 miles; by May 30, they reached the Marne, just 50 miles outside Paris.

Americans in Action

Militarily, the battle near Seicheprey, in the Lys Offensive, had not been a particularly significant encounter, but neither had it been an auspicious maiden engagement for the Americans. The German propaganda machine churned out accounts of the raid that portrayed Americans as incapable of fighting. What would they do now in the crisis on the Marne?

Saving Cantigny

Pershing rushed the U.S. Second and Third divisions to reinforce the French along the Marne. In the meantime, Major General Robert Lee Bullard launched the first U.S. offensive of the war, at the village of Cantigny, some 50 miles northwest of the action at Chemin des Dames and about 60 miles north of Paris.

Cantigny was the site of a German advance observation point and was very strongly fortified. On May 28, the U.S. First Division attacked the village and drove out the Germans. Later in the day and on the next day, the Americans successfully repulsed German counterattacks.

Cantigny was a spearhead German position, and the American victory here must be accounted nothing more than a local success. But it was a success—moreover, it was a victory against some of Germany’s best troops, hardened veterans of Hutier’s Eighteenth Army. The engagement erased the shock and shame of Seicheprey.


Château-Thierry, on the Marne, was the very nose of the German offensive. From here, it was less than 50 miles southwest into Paris. The U.S. Second and Third Divisions rushed to block the Germans from crossing the Marne at this point. As the Americans moved to the front, they passed troops of the French Sixth Army, limping back from it.

 Voices of Battle “I am very happy in my work . . . . Let me tell you this, we can beat the Boche [Germans] to a frazzle if we go into this with heart and soul . . . . We can beat the Boche only by fighting, and we are better fighters and better killers than the Boche . . . . Our killing spirit must be aroused but it is rising and Lord! I hope I am in the drive when it comes—when the Americans bloody their bayonets!”

—Lieutenant Lambert Wood, AEF, letter to his parents from France, December 7, 1917

The Third Division defended the Marne bridges, successfully holding them against the Germans and then counterattacking. The French Tenth Colonial Division, inspirited by the Americans, joined the fray and pushed the German onslaught back across the Marne at Jauglonne.

Most impressive was the Americans’ sheer eagerness to fight. This was of immediate material aid to the Allies, of course, but its spiritual boost to flagging Allied morale was perhaps of greatest value.

 Voices of Battle “Come on, you sons of bitches! Do you want to live forever?”

—Sergeant Dan Daly, to his Marine platoon in the Battle of Belleau Wood

Belleau Wood

After a shaky start at Seicheprey, the United States Army had acquitted itself admirably at Cantigny and Château-Thierry. Now it was the Marine Corps’ turn.

Acting as the spearhead of the Army’s Second Division, the Fourth Brigade of marines, under the command of James Guthrie Harbord, was ordered to capture Belleau Wood. This required a deadly advance across a wheat field, which was swept by machine gun fire. The casualties incurred on June 6, 1918, were the heaviest single-day losses in Marine Corps history—a record that would endure until November 1943, during World War II, when the Marines took the Japanese-held island of Tarawa.

During June 9 through June 26, the Marines and the Army’s Second Division took, lost, and retook Belleau Wood and the nearby villages of Vaux and Bouresche no fewer than half a dozen times before the Germans were ejected for good.

The French name for Belleau Wood was Bois Belleau. Following the fierce battle, the French renamed it Bois de la Brigade de Marine.

 From the Front Only 20 marines in the battalion that initially attacked Belleau Wood emerged unwounded. Total cost to the Marine Corps and the Army was 9,500 killed and wounded, with 1,600 lost as POWs.

Two More German Offensives

The late spring and early summer of 1918 brought two more major German offensives, as General Ludendorff adhered to his belief that the Allies had to be hit hard before the Americans could be fully deployed.

The German Deserters

General Erich Ludendorff may have been determined to push his forces to the maximum effort, but this demanded a sacrifice of extraordinary proportions from men who had endured almost four years of war. For most of those years, the German Western Front strategy had been defensive: a grim, exhausting, demoralizing hunkering down in the trenches. Now, at the eleventh hour, Ludendorff was ordering his men to take the offensive. For the Americans, especially as led by General Pershing, an offensive posture came naturally. The troops were fresh to the battle, and they were filled with optimism. For most of the grizzled German veterans, however, hope had died long ago, and the desertion rate increased alarmingly.

Noyon-Montdidier: The Franco-American Response

It was German deserters who, captured by the French, outlined the upcoming fourth and fifth German offensives. The next assault, they said, would come at Noyon and Montdidier. This was just southeast of Cantigny and northwest of Château-Thierry. The French commanders, Foch and Pétain, prepared accordingly. On June 9, when the attack commenced, the French were ready to defend against the preparatory artillery barrage with massed and highly effective counterbattery fire, which rapidly blunted the onslaught of the German Eighteenth Army.

The Germans made some inroads into the Allied lines, but a combined Franco-American counterattack checked the advance of the German Eighteenth Army by June 11. The next day, the Allies repulsed an attack by the German Seventh.

 Words of WarCounterbattery fire is an artillery assault directed specifically against the enemy’s artillery with the object of knocking it out.

Ludendorff was becoming aware that, costly as his offensives were to the Allies, he was losing men even faster than they were. By this time, too, more than 250,000 Americans were arriving in France each month. By June 1918, 7 of the 25 U.S. divisions in France were in action at the front. This represented a compromise on the part of Pershing, who still resisted repeated French and British demands to release more troops to the front. The European Allies pushed and prodded in an effort to incorporate U.S. troops permanently into their commands. Pershing successfully—and tirelessly—resisted.

Even as the American commander continued to husband his forces, he joined Ferdinand Foch in sending a message to the U.S. War Department asking for 80 U.S. divisions by April 1919 and 100 by July. The War Department considered these demands impossible to meet—but, in the meantime, the Americans kept coming.


Increasingly desperate, Ludendorff was determined to end the war with the fifth German offensive in five months. Clearly, the Americans had joined the war at its most intense point.

Ludendorff’s principal objective remained the destruction of the British army in Flanders; however, his strategy, as earlier, was to precede the main thrust with a preliminary offensive against the French (and now the Americans as well) in the Champagne region.

The focal point of the attack was the fortified city of Reims, well to the east of Château-Thierry. Once again, however, Foch had been informed by German deserters of the impending attack. (Intelligence garnered from POWs as well as aerial reconnaissance confirmed the information.) The initial advance by German shock troops was arrested by pre-emptive Allied artillery fire during the night of July 14–15, and, east of Reims, General Henri Gouraud’s Fourth Army arrested the German attack within a matter of hours.

West of Reims, the Germans reached the Marne and crossed it with 14 divisions. Fighting was fierce, and American troops became heavily engaged. Colonel Ulysses G. McAlexander’s 38th Infantry Regiment succeeded in blunting the onslaught. He successfully held his position by fighting in three directions simultaneously. Indeed, the U.S. Third Division, of which McAlexander’s regiment was a part, earned the nickname “Rock of the Marne” for its determined and highly successful defense of the region west of Reims.

 From the Front The Allied response to the fifth of Ludendorff’s offensives was particularly complex. It can be looked at as a successful defense, as it is here, or as the trigger of a successful Allied counteroffensive, as it is examined in the next chapter.

Americans—and the European Allies—were thrilled by the latest victories, which had come not only at the low point of Allied fortunes, but also in the midst of the most determined German offensives since the opening moves of 1914. Yet Americans were also learning the price of war. Four companies of the U.S. 28th Division, serving with a French division, became stranded and were left behind during the initial retreat from positions along the Marne. Overtaken and surrounded by the enemy, most of the Americans were killed or captured.

Nevertheless, the experience of the German offensives had vindicated General Pershing’s strategy of preparation for a new, more fluid phase of the Great War, as men finally rose up from the stagnant trenches and engaged in great offensives in the open.

The Least You Need to Know
  • With logistical genius, General John J. Pershing and his staff built up the American Expeditionary Force in France, continually resisting Allied efforts to rush green troops into doomed combat.
  • In January 1918, President Wilson enunciated his sweepingly idealistic war aims in “Fourteen Points,” which would become the basis for peace.
  • With the entry of the United States into the war, and with Russia out of the war, German General Erich Ludendorff shifted his overall strategy from defensive to offensive in an effort to end the war with a decisive blow before American troops arrived in significant numbers.
  • After a shaky start during the Lys Offensive, U.S. troops quickly proved their fighting will and ability.