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

Friday, December 6, 2019

Doughboy Memories: Deploying "Over There"

Camp Dix, NJ, Ready to Ship Out

We'll be over, we're coming over,
And we won't come back till it's over over there.

After the April declaration of war, the American deployments to Europe were minimal, but for October 1917 the numbers jumped to over 30,000 for that single month. That level would be maintained over the winter months and would then begin growing exponentially through the summer, peaking at 10,000 men per day in July 1918. During the 19 months of U.S. involvement over 7.5 million tons of supplies also accompanied the troops.

Four Canadian and six American embarkation ports were used for transporting the AEF. Nearly 83 percent of the Doughboys (1,656,000), however, departed from New York area ports, including Hoboken, NJ.

At four o'clock we started down the main road leading to the railroad station. As we passed the other barracks, heads appeared at the windows to wave farewell to some comrade or to wish the men good luck and "God's Speed." The hour being early, there were no people at the station with the exception of the regular force and a former member of our company. He had been transferred two days previous to another organization that was to remain in the United States. There were tears in his eyes as he wished us good luck.

News of our coming had evidently preceded us for whistles and sirens blew and along the way workmen waved to us from various buildings. At Jersey City a crowd of people had gathered. We passed through the crowd in a lane made by soldiers with fixed bayonets. A ferry was waiting for us that took us to the "Bush Terminal" at Brooklyn. A few minutes wait on the pier and the battalion filed up the gangplank, receiving a final checking as they did so, to board HMS Kia Ora.
Albert Haas, 78th Division

Doughboys Embarking onto a Navy Warship

Fully half of the AEF was transported by British-controlled vessels. The American share constituted another 45 percent, although a good part of this work was accomplished by German vessels seized by the government. Allies Italy and France provided the remaining 2 to 3 percent of the shipping needs.

The most popular debarkation sites were Brest (791,000) and Liverpool (844,000). A surprising detail is that almost 50 percent of the men initially landed in England rather than France and then traveled across Britain and the Channel to the continent.

Each man was given a cloth tag which was to serve as his meal ticket besides showing the number of his hatch, letter of his deck, number of his bunk and [life] raft or boat number. This tag was to be worn at all times and to be punched at each meal.
Al Burns, 113th Engineers

In Transit to France—Lifeboat Drill

The trip Over There was both exciting and boring for the soldiers. Lifeboat drills and the sounding of U-boat alarms livened things up. Troop losses in transit were low but not non-existent, as some sources claim. Most notably the sinking of SS Tuscania and HMS Otranto led to multiple American fatalities.

The torpedo had struck us [aboard the SS Tuscania] squarely amidships on the starboard side. A great hole was torn in the hull. . . These ten or fifteen minutes elapsing from the moment we were struck were filled with action. With all indications of a speedy sinking staring us in the face, we worked feverishly to lower the lifeboats and cut away the rafts. . .
Henry J. Askew, 20th Engineers Aboard Tuscania

4th Infantry Arriving at Brest, France

All in all, and despite the somewhat helter-skelter rapid mobilization of the nation, the transport of the AEF to Europe was a tremendous success, given that the German Admiralty had boasted that not a single American soldier would ever set foot in France. By Armistice Day, 2,057,675 members of the military had been transported to Europe.

A Frenchman raised his cap and waved to the soldiers leaning over the rail and cried, "Vive l'Amerique? Vive les Americaines!" A Doughboy on the deck called back through his hands, "Vive yourself, you damned frog!"
Charles M. DuPuy, 79th Division

American Troops Parade in Liverpool, England

Had the war continued into 1919, 2 million more Doughboys were to be sent Over There during the first half of the year. Fortunately, they were not to be needed.

Dear Wife,
Will write you a few lines to let you know that I am all OK and doing fine. . . The place we are in now is sure fine, and the people treat the U.S. boys like kings and they sure cheer us when we go marching by.
Wayne Wills, 28th Division

1 comment:

  1. The soldiers in these pictures are wearing the round-brimmed campaign hat. By the summer of 1918 most soldiers went overseas wearing an overseas cap and carrying a helmet.