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

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

The Doughboys: The Story Of The AEF,
Reviewed by James M. Gallen

The Doughboys: The Story Of The AEF, 1917–1918

Laurence Stallings
Harper & Row, 1963

Members of the 59th Coastal Artillery
(Walter O. Freymann Collection)

The plethora of recent Great War tomes have the advantage of a century of research and retrospection. Written in 1963, The Doughboys: The Story of the AEF has the advantage of having been written by one who lived through those years among the men whose stories it relates. Author Laurence Stallings blends the tales of Gen. Pershing and other top brass with that of the common soldier with whom the author marched.

Author Laurence Stallings
The narrative begins in June 1917 with the arrival of Doughboys in France and quickly morphs into the education of Private Leo J. Bailey who arrived in September. None of his Company had ever fired a Springfield rifle and few had discharged a firearm of any kind. With a bayonet wrapped in newspaper and ten rounds of ammunition he was ready for combat in spirit only. These were the facts with which Gen. Pershing worked—untrained and unsupplied troops, poor transportation, and Allies' expectations of endless lines of replacements.

Private Bailey's education continued but by March 1918 there were 325,00 Doughboys in France, many still not ready for combat. Pershing's determination to withhold his army until it was trained was tested as Ludendorff's Spring Offensive threatened to end the war before America was effectively engaged. These pages lead the reader through the action when the Doughboys were ready. Chapters entitled "Practice at Cantigny," "Plugging the Chateau-Thierry Gap," and "Belleau-Wood and Vaux" set the stage for the counterattack that turned the tide of the war.

The section titled "Counterattack" details the operations of 18 July–12 August in places including Soissons, the second Battle of the Marne, and in actions that escape superficial telling of AEF operations. Do not miss Chapter 10, "Behind the Lines," which describes the stevedores who supply the Doughboys and how the troops spent their off-duty time. "The Counterattack" is followed by "The Offensives." During the first phase from 8 August through 26 September, the American Army was finally ready to play its part. At St-Mihiel the American First Army occupied a 40-mile segment of the line and made its first major contribution to the war effort. In the second phase of the offensive the force of America was felt in Meuse-Argonne, the greatest of all American battles. Many of the words in this section are the voices of the men who fought the battles.

A Lone Doughboy with a Destroyed Renault FT-17 Tank
Walter O. Freymann Collection)

While focusing on the Doughboy the author devotes a chapter to the aviators who were "Flying the Flaming Coffins." Here the reader rides along in the SPADs as they take on the Fokkers and is introduced to the men who flew them. Some are famous, like Col. William Mitchell, Eddie Rickenbacker, Canadian Billy Bishop, and Manfred von Richthofen. Other have some notoriety, such as 19-year-old Capt. Albert Ball of the Royal Flying Corps and the ace of aces, Capt. René Fonck. Others are men who did their duty but whose names are lost to history.

After taking our heads into the air, Stallings brings our feet back to the ground with a detailed account of the Lost Battalion and the final phase of the offensive that lasted up to the Armistice.

The approaching end of fighting was not the end of controversy. Gen. Pershing opposed the Armistice, preferring to hold out for unconditional surrender to seal defeat of the German Army, while President Wilson did not want to cross the Rhine since he thought this might "constitute an invasion of German territory."

Laurence Stallings has woven the big story into the soldiers' war. Historians see the past through the eyes of their times, not one of which has a monopoly on wisdom. A thorough understanding of the Great War can best be obtained by gleaning the best of many historians. Read modern works, for sure, but take a break and savor the words of a Doughboy on The Doughboys.

James M. Gallen


  1. Excellent review, James. Looks like a very useful book.

  2. While written in the 1960's, it is one of the outstanding books on the AEF, strongly recommend it as an integral part of any library.

  3. So glad you could use the photos my father took at the front. He was a forward observer for his artillery unit in the St. Mihiel/Meuse-Argonne offensives, captured and released as he was fluent in German and was able to convince his captures that he was a German spy. He was wounded and gased but refused to go to an aid station or report his wounds for fear he would not be returned to his unit. He died 36 years later from a brain tumor caused by shrapnel from those wounds.