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

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Doughboy Basics: What Surprises People the Most About the AEF?

I have been writing and speaking about the American Expeditionary Force of the First World War and leading tour groups to their battlefields for over a quarter of a century. Without a doubt, what consistently surprises most people about America's effort in the war is what I call the Quantitative Factor—the shear magnitude of the nation's effort. Here are a few examples of what I'm talking about.

Far-Flung Battlefields

  • By the summer of 1918 the U.S. had combat units deployed from Flanders nearly to the Swiss border.
  • By the second week of October 1918, the AEF was responsible for 101 miles of the entire Western Front. Pershing's forces were mounting major attacks in the Somme, the Champagne, and three different sectors of the Meuse-Argonne 99 years ago today (8 October 1918).
  • Besides the Western Front, America deployed troops to Italy, Northern Russia, and Siberia, some of whom fought on after the November 1918 Armistice.


  • There were over two million troops in Europe by the time of the Armistice and two million more were due to arrive in the first half of 1919.
  • 35 percent of these men worked in logistical arm, the Services of Supply, the remainder were in the combat branches.
  • In addition, there were 42,644 civilian volunteers present supporting the troops.
  • By the official count, 116,000 Americans died in the war. Later in "Doughboy Basics," we will explain why this figure understates the nation's losses.


  • In slightly over six months General Pershing's forces fought TEN battles at the divisional or larger operational level. (American Divisions were (25,000 to 28,000 men.) There will be more on these later in the "Doughboy Basics" series.
  • The AEF was the only force in World War I to mount two major offensives—St. Mihiel & the Meuse-Argonne—only two weeks apart.
  • Had not the Armistice taken effect on 11 November 1918, the AEF, with French support, was scheduled mount another major offensive in the Lorraine on 14 November 1918.
  • The statistics for the Services of Supply's accomplishments are astonishing: 192,000 hospital beds operated; 1,500 railroad locomotives and 20,000 cars delivered, assembled, and operated; 250,000 horses and mules purchased and cared for; 16,000 barracks built, etc., etc., etc.
Of course, underlying this was the total national effort and support from every level of American government, every institution from Wall Street to Hollywood to Detroit to Harvard, and nearly the entirety of the American people, who were willing to open their pocketbooks fully and send their sons into fearsome hazards in support of the war.  This is an effort that should never be forgotten and  it is why we at have enthusiastically supported the building of the new National World War I Memorial in Washington DC.


  1. The scale of the final American effort is really astonishing. That alone should encourage more people to think of WWI.

  2. Unfortunately the mammoth effort expended in WW2 caused most Americans to look past WW1. The centennial has presented a wonderful opportunity to look back and remember. Your efforts are making a real and important difference.

  3. I am also amazed at the effort that organiztional effort it took to mobilize all the civilians into the Army...

  4. Typo in article: Armistice was 11 Nov 1918 (not 1914). Most readers already know that though.

  5. Very helpful suggestions that help in the optimizing website. thank for sharing the link.