|British Rail Yard at Poperinghe, Flanders|
The First World War began and ended on rails. The 1914 mobilizations of the powers were accomplished with thousands of trains moving troops to their jump-off points. The fighting ended with the Armistice signed in Marshal Foch's private rail coach in a clearing in the Compiègne Forest. In between, the rail networks were essential for sustaining the fronts during the long period of trench warfare, and for assembling the shells, food, and stores for launching the great battles like the Somme. The Miracle of the Marne turned on Joffre's superior use of rail to re-array his forces. Creating and sustaining the trenches of the Western Front was impossible without the support of vast rail networks.
|Advanced German Supply Depot|
Later, the big battles of the war would depend on transporting huge stocks of shells and reinforcements for both attackers and defenders. France's defense of Verdun, for example, was sustained during the great 1916 assault by a light-rail line paralleling the Voie Sacrée. And when the great rollback of the Western Front occurred in 1918, the Allies staged their battles either to protect their own lines such as at Amiens and near St. Mihiel or to attack the German network as in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, which successfully closed the strategic Metz-Sedan-Mézières line. For all that is written about the tactical excellence of the German Army, it is not an exaggeration to say that the Allied leaders consistently showed a higher appreciation of the importance of railroads for their armies throughout the war. With our Centennial point of view, this year we will be featuring material on the American participation this year. One of the greatest contributions of the still-arriving American Expeditionary Force would be a massive expansion of Allied rail capability. They would bring over 1,000 locomotives and 20,000 cars, add 1,200 km of lines and provide tens of thousands of engineers and laborers to operate and maintain the rail network.
|American Labor Battalion Repairing a Spur|
My view is that railroad's story is the most neglected important aspect of the Great War.