Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Battles of the American Expeditionary Forces (It's a Lot More Than One!)

Ten Battles of the AEF
Division Strength or Greater in Chronological Order

1st Division's Opening Attack at Cantigny

About 20 years ago, two of the "talking heads" (both American Academics) in the PBS television series The Great War and the Shaping of the 20th Century made the point that the United States military "only fought one battle" in the First World War. The intent was clearly to downplay, and in my opinion, to disparage the effort and sacrifices of Americans in the war.  This is a list I developed in response to those assertions.  

One point to be aware of: the standard American division of the time was about 28,000 men, which was two to two and a half times larger than those of the other combatants. Sometimes this number was reduced about 20 percent if the divisions fought under French or British command and they provided the artillery support. Generally, though, the commitment of an American division to a battle was the equivalent of a French or British corps.

1.  Cantigny

Date: 28–30 May 1918
General Location: Somme Sector
U.S. Units: 1st Division

3rd Division Machine Gunners That Stopped the German Army at the Marne

2.  Defense of the Marne River Line

Date:  31 May–10 July 1918
General Location: Immediate Vicinity of Château-Thierry
U.S. Units: 2nd and 3rd Divisions
AKA:  B. of Château-Thierry; inclusive of B. of Belleau Wood and B. of Vaux; Aisne Campaign

3.  Second Battle of the Marne, Defensive Phase

Date: 15–17 July 1918
General Location: Allied defensive line between Château-Thierry and Navarin Farm in Champagne
U.S. Units: 3rd, 42nd,  and elements of 28th Divisions
AKA: The Rock of the Marne (3rd Division portion); Champagne-Marne Campaign

Advancing During the Second Battle of the Marne

4.  Second Battle of the Marne, Offensive Phase

Date:  18 July–16 September 1918
General Location:  German Salient between Aisne & Marne Rivers, north to south, and Château-Thierry and Reims, east to west
U.S. Units: Nine U.S. Divisions committed
AKA: Aisne-Marne Campaign

5.  Frapelle

Date: 17 August 1918
General Location: Vosges Mountains
U.S. Units: 5th Division

6.  St. Mihiel Offensive

Date: 12–16 September 1918
General Location: St. Mihiel Salient, Southeast of Verdun
U.S. Units: First Army

1st Division Troops North of Exermont, Argonne Sector

7.  Meuse-Argonne Offensive

Date: 26 September–11 November 1918
General Location: west and north of Verdun
U.S. Units: First Army

8.  Breaking of Hindenburg Line and Pursuit to the Selle

Date: 27 September–1 October 1918; and 6–21 October 1918
General Location: Somme Sector
U.S. Units: II Corps (2 Divisions, tank battalion, and support units)
AKA:  B. of St. Quentin Canal

Marines with Captured Minenwerfer
9.  Blanc Mont

Date:  3–27 October 1918
General Location: Champagne
U.S. Units: 2nd and 36th Divisions
AKA:  Battle of Champagne, 1918; some sources include as part of Meuse-Argonne Offensive

10.  Lys Offensive in Flanders

Date: 30 October–11 November 1918
General Location: Flanders
U.S. Units: 37th and 91st Divisions
AKA: Pursuit to the Scheldt; Ypres-Lys Campaign

Other Notable Cases:

93rd Division Operations in the Champagne 

The four U.S. segregated regiments fought separately under different French Divisions.  However, if their effort in the fall 1918 fighting in the Champagne was aggregated it would be the equivalent of a major battle fought by a full division.

Second Army Offensive of 9 November 1918

Date: November 7-11, 1918
General Location: Woëvre Plain from Metz to Pont-à-Mousson
U.S. Units: Second Army
The next major offensive of the American Expeditionary Force was halted due to the Armistice.


  1. The pundits of academia rarely credited the AEF with contributing to the defeat of the Germans. The German Spring Offensive exhausted British and French manpower resources on the Western Front. Troops fighting in Italy were recalled, as were others in other theaters. The American divisions were the only available troops in theater to halt the offensive drive to the Marne. As pointed out, an American division was twice the size of divisions of all combatants. Twenty-eight thousand fresh troops proved decisive in halting the German offensive drives, exhausted their manpower reserves and allowed the Allies to take the offensive.

  2. REF your #8:The II Corps was composed of the 27th & 30th Divs during the Battle of the Hindenburg Line & the Selle Campaign. They were part of the Australia-American Corps under Gen Rawlinson's British 4th Army.
    Prior to this both Divs participated in the Ypes-Lys offensive on 18 Aug to 1 Sept. The 27th was part of the British XIX Corps and the 30th under the Brit. II Corps. I would think this would be another battle as it was intense as the 1 Div fight at the Somme in late May.

  3. Ref your point on Div size:
    Although true that the authorized strength of US Divs was greater than Brit/Commenwealth Divs, many of the US Divs lost their Arty Brigade and differed on assigned support-MG battalion, engineers, signal, etc.- based on needs, front and tactics.
    A better comparison might be Brigade strength as this was how most units were committed.
    US Brigade was 8,300 combatants
    Brit, Brigade was 3000 to 5000 in Sept 1918.

  4. I just finished re-reading Pershing's "My Experiences in the World War", Vol, I & II. He commented how, even as late as mid-Oct., Clemenceau was belittling the AEF for its disorganized rear and lack of progress. Pershing saw it for what it was- an attempt to "..minimize America's prestige at the peace conference"
    Haig and Lloyd George wanted the American units to serve under British officers, one wanting to bolster the worn out Brits, and the other to likewise minimize US prestige.

  5. The U.S. Army awarded battle clasps for the Victory Medal for 13 "major engagements." The first one included only U.S. engineers in the Battle of Cambrai. The next 4 chronologically were in defense of the German's March Offensive of 1918. Again, Only US engineers and support personnel were included in the German's Operations Michael and Georgette Operations. But, the 2nd Division was involved in the German's Bluecher-Yorck Operation, and the 1st Division was involved in the German's Gneisenau Operation. The others were Champagne-Marne Def, Aisne-Marne Off, Somme Off. Oise-Aisne Off, Ypres-Lys Off, St Mihiel Off, Meuse-Argonne Off. Not until the St. Mihiel Off did the US forces fight as the US Army in its own sector,. At that time, the Allies had agreed that France's Marshall Foch would serve as the Supreme Commander of Allied forces on the Western Front. Before that, US troops, regardless of the size or composition of the units, fought as part of an Allied force under either British or French command (although US officers commanded the individual US units). The 13th battle clasp was for the Vittorio-Veneto Offensive in Italy. Two other engagements are often overlooked: the Siberian Security Operation in Vladivostok and the North Russian Expeditionary Force at Arkhangelsk. They were composed of troops that initially had been sent to the Western Front.

  6. Great post, great comments. What may have been battles over prestige and honor 100 years ago (who got the credit for finishing the war) seem to have had the tragic effect of minimalizing the sacrifice of the American men who died in battle. Their lives -- and the American involvement in WWI -- seem to have been forgotten not only by the Allies, but by Americans.