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

Monday, May 23, 2022

How the AEF Experience Prepared America for the Greater Challenges Ahead


Omaha Beach Shortly After D-Day


Could Overlord Have Succeeded Without the Lessons
Learned by the AEF?


By Brigadier General John S.D. Eisenhower

With such a small interval between world wars, it is not surprising that the United States Army of 1940 should appear to be a continuum of the AEF of 1918. Pershing's AEF was the first modern Army the United States ever fielded, and the Army of the Second World War was less different from the AEF than the AEF was from the Army that preceded it. Anyone witnessing the mobilization of the draftee Army of 1941 could not help being struck by how much the future GIs of World War II resembled the doughboys of World War I. Soldiers being inducted into service as the result of the draft law of late 1940 were at first issued ill-fitting World War I uniforms, including musty "overseas caps" and even wrap leggings. They were armed with the model 1903 Springfield rifle, which was replaced only when production of the Garand M-1 got under way. Both the heavy machine gun and the light machine gun of the Second World War remained the 1917 Browning models, as did the Browning automatic rifle, which came into the hands of the Americans late in 1918. Bangalore torpedoes, trench mortars, and even rifle grenades changed little between 1918 and 1939.

Perhaps even more important in the development of a modern Army was Pershing's creation of a vast and elaborate supply system that was called Services of Supply in 1917-1918 and Communications Zone (Com-Z) in 1944-1945. This vast organization entailed building and operating large seaports, storage, delivery of all classes of supply to forward supply points utilizing railroads, trucks, and eventually (in the first war) even mules. The Services of Supply, like the Communications Zone of the European Theater in 1944, was organized into three sections (Base, Intermediate, and Advance), with a prescribed level of supply maintained in each. This structure was an innovation of unglamorous but innovative and hardworking staff officers and commanders under Pershing and his headquarters. Nothing so elaborate had existed in the Army before April of 1917.

The staff procedures followed in later years were also developed by Pershing and his staff during the early months of the AEF's existence. Credit for this must be given to Pershing himself, assisted by his chief of staff, James C. Harbord. Their staff organization encompassed the four staff sections-Personnel, Intelligence, Operations, and Supply--in use by the American Army to this day. It is noteworthy that this system was developed by the AEF, not the War Department.


U.S. Artillery Firing at Varennes, Meuse-Argonne Offensive


In many important ways, of course, the armies of the First and Second World Wars were different. The division was reorganized from the cumbersome "square division" of four infantry regiments to the "triangular," comprising three infantry regiments. More important, technical advances provided the one thing the generals on both sides had previously been seeking in vain: mobility on the battlefield. The airplane, the tank, the truck, and the efficient two-way radio are generally credited with breaking the stalemate that plagued the earlier conflict. All were in their infancy at the time of Pershing's AEF, but between wars, military aircraft would progress as rapidly as the civilian aircraft industry; the tanks and trucks that broke down more from mechanical difficulties than from enemy guns would grow in reliability, along with the American automobile industry. The walkie-talkie radios would replace carrier pigeons. But the seeds of this progress were planted with the AEF.

AN IMPORTANT LINK between the AEF and the American Army of the Second World War was the military education it gave to many men who served in both. Because of the short interval separating the two world wars-and with a career officer expected to serve about forty years in those days-many of the officers of the AEF returned to serve once more in 1941. Some had remained in uniform during the intervening years; others were recalled as reservists. It was generally assumed, in fact, that service with the AEF in 1918 was almost a prerequisite for responsible positions in the Second World War.

Examples abound of young officers who returned for the second war. Ladislav Janda, that incredibly optimistic twenty-one-year-old who attained command of a battalion at the end of the [Great] War, was called up for duty as a reservist in 1942. At the end of that conflict, Lieutenant Colonel Lud Janda had not reached his fiftieth year.


Traffic Congestion at Esnes Behind the U.S Front Line
in the Opening of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive


A more noted figure was that of Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., commanding officer of the 26th Infantry by the last days of the Meuse Argonne. In November of 1942 Roosevelt went overseas as a brigadier general with the 1st Division and later landed with the 4th Division on Utah Beach on D-Day, 1944.

Another young 1st Division officer, Lieutenant Clarence Huebner, of the 28th Infantry Regiment at Cantigny, came back to the 1st Division as its commander in 1944. He commanded the Big Red One when it landed at Omaha Beach on D-Day.

The most important educational impact of service with the AEF, however, lay in the training of "middle-management" officers, men who were colonels and brigadier generals in 1918. The list includes many- George C. Marshall, Douglas MacArthur, and George S. Patton were only three notables. In the first war these young professionals often performed the difficult day-to-day management of units for their star-bestudded generals. The impact of the war on their mental outlooks varied, of course, depending on their positions and temperaments.

Of the three, Brigadier General Douglas MacArthur, of the 42nd Division, certainly enjoyed the most ├ęclat in his spectacular career with the AEF. With flamboyant courage, he participated in one infantry patrol after another, exposing himself far beyond the needs of his office. He was the most decorated American officer in Pershing's force. Yet MacArthur seems to have suffered at least some psychological damage as the result of his experiences in World War I. His miraculous survival while taking extraordinary risks apparently encouraged a mystical feeling of invincibility and destiny, both an asset and a liability. Furthermore, his unhappy relations with Pershing's staff at Chaumont (in which MacArthur was not always to blame) engendered in him an obsession that the "Chaumont Crowd" constituted an organized opposition to him. Even when he was a senior commander in the Second World War, he maintained an obsession that the "Crowd"-now based in Washington-still existed and were still out to get him. He associated George Marshall with that group of imaginary enemies.


Douglas MacArthur in the Field During the Meuse-Argonne


Marshall was the one officer whose training in the AEF did the most to fit him for his future responsibilities. As operations officer of First Army during the Meuse-Argonne, Marshall never commanded troops in France, much to his personal disappointment, but it now seems almost providential that he was stationed where he was. A troop commander is concerned with an area only a few miles wide. The future Army chief of staff, however, was at the very center of the operations of the largest fighting force the United States had ever fielded up to that time. Planning, training, and operations, closely tied to logistics, all fell into his purview. There could have been no better spot for Marshall's training for the pivotal role he was to play in the future.

Much of what Marshall saw undoubtedly affected the way he conducted affairs in the Second World War. When the Army began to expand after the draft of 1940, Marshall saw to it, despite his own background as a staff officer, that troop commanders, rather than staff officers, would be given preference in matters of decorations and promotions. He was also determined that troop commanders would be younger men than the commanders of the First War. In the AEF Marshall saw division commanders such as Omar Bundy and Clarence Edwards, men who were older than Pershing himself, turn in less than stellar performances. As a result, the division commanders of 1942 to 1945 were on the average about ten years younger than those of 1918. The Army and the men who served in it benefited.

The last of the three future household names was Lieutenant Colonel George Patton, who commanded the 1st Tank Brigade until wounded on the first day of the Meuse-Argonne. It was there that Patton underwent his conversion to tank warfare. His period between wars, however, was strange. For a while he was able to further the concepts he had been developing in the 1st Tank Brigade. At Fort Meade in 1920, he teamed up with Lieutenant Colonel Dwight Eisenhower, an automotive expert, in developing doctrines for tank warfare. Patton specialized in light tanks, Eisenhower in heavy.


80th Division Column Advancing Through Buzancy, Late M-A


The Patton-Eisenhower partnership was of short duration, but not by their choice. Both ran afoul of the authorities in the War Department for their "heretical" opinions about the employment of tanks, and both were forced to revert to their basic branches. Their views on the massing of tanks were later accepted, but only after the beginning of the European war in 1939. By that time the old traditionalists had been replaced in positions of leadership by more forward-thinking officers such as George Marshall. That, plus the examples set by the German blitzkrieg across France in 1940 and later in Russia, changed Army thinking. Patton returned to the tanks, his tactical views molded on the Aire River in September of 1918.

Sources and thanks: Excerpted from: Yanks: The Epic Story of the American Army in World War I.  The help of John & Joanne Eisenhower is greatly appreciated as well as that of Bruce Nichols of Simon & Schuster. 

2 comments:

  1. Until about 50 years ago, militaries trained to fight the last war. The USA led the way in breaking this mold with programs to "know your enemy", fielding special units to simulate them in exercises. This concept provided training in how a potential enemy might think & act rather than mirroring your own forces'.

    It should have come as no surprise our WW II forces were equipped with WW I materiel. The Great Depression deprived US military forces of funding for the development & acquisition of more modern combat uniforms & weaponry.

    Steve Miller

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  2. The picture of the traffic jam was interesting to me as my grandfather served in 303 Ammunition Train.

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