Naval historians of the First World War tend to gravitate toward great battles such as Jutland and the ferociously frustrating Dardanelles campaign, but these dramatic naval and littoral actions had nothing to do with the U.S. Navy's most decisive contribution to the war—delivering the two-million-man American Expeditionary Force (AEF) to Europe. By this time 100 years ago, what was then known as the Great War had been over for months, but many of the American soldiers and marines who fought its final, bloody campaigns were still coming home.
Although many different kinds of American surface combatants played important roles in containing the German submarine threat and saving Great Britain from potential starvation, the U.S. Atlantic Fleet's Cruiser and Transport Force, consisting of 45,000 U.S. naval personnel manning 24 cruisers and 42 transport vessels (many of which were German passenger liners confiscated after the American entry into the war) put an entire American army across the Atlantic, a feat inconceivable to European leaders on all sides of the conflict before the Navy actually accomplished it.
|Troops of the AEF Arriving Home|
Even after American troops irrevocably tipped the balance against Germany and the Central Powers and the war was ostensibly over, the Navy had much more to do. Even battleships and cruisers were pressed into the effort to bring home the soldiers and marines as quickly as possible, an effort which stretched into the summer of 1919.
"After the signing of the Armistice," wrote Vice-Admiral Albert Gleaves, Cruiser and Transport Force commander, "the United States Transport Fleet expanded still more, and developed into a fleet of 149 ships manned by 4,238 officers and 59,030 men, with the gratifying result that 86.7 per cent[sic] of our overseas army was brought home under the Stars and Stripes."
From The Hampton Roads Naval Museum article: "One Century Ago: Bringing 'Em Back after the Navy Put 'Em Across"