Antonin Guillot
The American Camp at Allerey
(1918 --1919)






American infantry on the Argonne front (September 1918).

(August 1914 --- April 1917)

On the outbreak of World War One, August 3, 1914, the President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson, laid down an official policy towards France, as towards the other belligerants, marked by a concern for the most scrupulous respect of neutrality.

But if, in three years, from August 1914 to April 1917, the United States moved from neutrality to involvement, one must look for the causes as much in the evolution of its economy as in the evolution of public opinion.

The Allied blocade policy, badly accepted by the United States, tended to cut Germany off from all external resupply. It had two consequencs:

* the unleashing of submarine warfare by the Germans
* in France, a formidable growth of imports from the United States.

* Submarine warfare

In order to break through the blocade, the German government made the decision, on February 4, 1915, to use submarines to sink ships in the war zone around the British isles.

In March 1915, several boats were sunk without warning. On May 1st, an American merchant ship was sent to the bottom. On May 7th, the "Lusitania", "the fastest and largest steamship in service on the north Atlantic" was torpedoed off the coast of Ireland: 1198 people disappeared, included 24 Americans. This torpedoing sent a veritable shock through the United States. Nonetheless, President Wilson refused to involve his country in the conflict.

After tempests and calms, German submarine attacks resumed. On January 15, 1917, Germany notified the American government of its decision to wage unrestricted submarine warfare, as of February 1st. On February 3d, diplomatic relations with Germany were broken, but Wilson would wait a month before taking the decisive step, as he wished to obtain the unanimity of the American people. It was only following a German attempt towards alliance with Mexico against the United States that Congress, at the President's request, decided to declare war on Germany, April 2nd, 1917.

* Development of commercial relations between France and the United States

Given the prolongation of the conflict, in 1916 the United States became France's primary source of supplies (food products, textiles, steel and war material).

It turned out that between 1914 and 1917, the play of circumstance brought the United States to unilaterally develop its commercial relations with the Allied nations alone. Submarine warfare meant the ruin of American export business towards France and Great Britain. The entry of the United States in the war thus answered this economic challenge as well.

* Evolution of American public opinion

During the three years of the policy of neutrality, the conquest of American public opinion by one or the other of the belligerants was an important factor. Nonetheless, compared with the formidable development of German propaganda, the absence of French propaganda was appreciated in the United States.

The least educated of Americans knows that France helped his country become independant at the end of the 18th century. Even before the war, Lafayette was more or less venerated as a veritable American national hero; with the outbreak of war, an increased interest in and recognition of him was noted. And a common ideal inspired both the United States and France, democratic nations enamoured of liberty.

"With an extremely reduced level of propaganda, France was favored by American public opinion because many propagandists had appeared amongst the ranks of Americans themselves." (Y.H. Nouailhat, "France et Etats-Unis, août 1914 -- avril 1917").

* American volunteers in France

From August 1914 on, the official policiy of strict neutrality was contested by a certain number of Americans who wanted to show their sympathy for France and its allies. Three types of involvement resulted:

* joining of combat units, on an individual basis
* acts of good will and generosity towards France
* collective involvement with Army service
* volunteers in combat units

In August 1914, the American colony of Paris launched an appeal for volunteers for the French Army. For a foreigner, however, this was only possible through the Foreign Legion, which explains the small number of American volunteers.

At the beginning of October 1914, the Americans of the Foreign Legion were sent on a campaign in the Rheims sector and in November lost their first soldier. Some left the Foreign Legion to join a French regiment.

Among the American legionnaires, some wished to join the air force. After a long process, a group of Americans succeeded in organizing, in April 1916, with the help of Frenchmen, Escadrille 124, the "American Escadrille" based in Luxeuil (Haute-Saône).

This unit was thenceforth assigned to different combat zones. This period of intense activity was punctuated by symbolic moments such as: on December 5, 1916, the Escadrille became officially known as the "Lafayette Escadrille"; on July 4, 1917 (Independance Day) a delegation from this unit paraded in front of the statues of Washington and Lafayette, in Paris; on August 15, 1917, the Escadrille was mentioned in Army orders of the day.

In January 1918, the Lafayette Escadrille was absorbed by the American Air Force. At the time of its official cessation, its record was the following:

* 267 Americans had joined the French Air Force
* 255 had received their pilot's license
* 180 served at the Front ;
* 66 died, including 51 in combat
* 15 were taken prisoner
* 19 were wounded ;
* 199 victories were officially recognized.

* Relief work in France

Despite the policy of the French ambassador to the United States of never asking for anything, but only thanking for whatever was received, gifts poured into the embassy: clothing, food, bandages, tobacco, Christmas gifts for children, etc., sent by a considerable number of charitable organizations and by innumerable individuals.

An American clearing house was established in Paris, as well as New York, soon to be given a hand by a French Committee. The essentiel role of this American Committee was to make known the real needs of France and her allies, to collect and transport gifts in kind, and with the money donated, buy and expedite needed goods.

Among other American organizations set up to come to France's aid, noteworthy was the work of the Lafayette Fund which sent Lafayette Kits to the trenches (30,000 during the winter of 1914-15, 75,000 sent between 1914 and 1917)...

* Organized American involvement in service for the wounded

"Many Americans belong to medical professions or simply desirous of going to help the wounded by devotion and sympathy to the French cause, wrote to the French ambassadeur from the very first months of the war in order to let him know of their wishes." (Y.H. Nouailhat).

... But faced with the problems involved in being accepted by French sanitary (medical care) services, many of good will found employment within organizations of purely American origin.

A little private hospital, founded in 1910 at Neuilly-sur-Seine, offered to take in war wounded. An offer which would materialize, thanks to a Franco-American collaboration, in the founding of the American Ambulance (military hospital) of Paris. On September 7, 1914, the first wounded, coming directly from the front, were admitted: there were 300 at the beginning of October and 600 on the average after the end of 1915. The personnel, exclusively American, included 16 doctors and surgeons, 40 qualified nurses and some one hundred auxiliary attendants. Lightweight automobiles would bring back the wounded all the way from the battlefield (there were around one hundred in service in 1917). In addition, the American Ambulance established several auxiliary hospitals where the convalescents could complete their recovery: 17 with a little more than 2,000 beds.

The magnitude of American generosity prompted the organization of serveral American automobile ambulance services. At the beginning of 1917, the "American Ambulance Field Service" numbered more than 200 cars driven by volunteers. In April 1917, the "Motor Ambulance Corps" owned more than a hundred vehicles; the ambulance drivers having transported in one year 28,000 wounded and having participated in the battle of Verdun.

* Psychological weight of involvement of American volunteers

All in all, the American volunteers in the ambulance or combat units were not very numerous. But it must be pointed out that some of them were writers or well enough known to be able to publish the story of their adventures in major American newspapers and magazines. These stories had quite an impact on the American public which was keen to learn, through the testimony of these young volunteers, about what was really happening on the front lines..

The presence of Americans in the ambulances, in the Legion or in the Air Force, had comparable repercussions on French public opinion. Articles were devoted to the "American volunteers who had died for France", on the services rendered by the American ambulances on the front.

These volunteers, many of whom gave their lives for France and the victory of Justice, contributed towards bringing the public opinion of the two countries closer together.


(April - October 1917)

* Training the American Expeditionary Forces.

In April 1917, the United States was not prepared for war. The small size of its armed forces may be explained by the difficulty of recrutement. Obligatory military service did not exist. Moreover, this army suffered from the absence of a veritable higher headquarters staff

What might the Allies expect from a country entering war so badly prepared? For several weeks, this question was studied no less in American than in French governmental quarters

There were two positions in France. That of the French ambassador to the United States which opted for a rather limited presence of troops and for the concentration of efforts on the furnishing of arms, munitions, food supplies, etc. And that of the Council President, Paul Painlevé, which recommended the sending of as many volunteers as possible: 300 to 500,000 men would be welcomed.

Painlevé's position, however, required the organizing of an expeditionary force and the establishment of a draft, with obligatory military service, something which did not have the unanimity of American public opinion. In order to "conquer" that opinion, a French Mission, led by Marshal Joffre and René Viviani, the Council Vice-President, went to the United States. The welcome given to the Victor of the Marne was extraordinary, from Washington to Chicago, from Saint Louis to New York (where the crowd numbered a million).

The French Mission's success reduced the hostility towards the draft. All men between 21 and 30 years of age would be called to service. But beyond this winning over of public opinion, the Mission made it possible to specify precisely what the American military aid would be.

On May 14, 1917, the Joffre-Baker (Secretary of War) agreement was signed. It covered three points:

1. An expeditionary corp would be sent to France shortly after June 1st and would number 16 to 20,000 combatants. General Pershing was named head of the American Expeditionary Force (A.E.F.);

2. ... Training, begun in American, would be completed in France. Four infantry divisions were immediately put in training.

3. As soon as possible the United States would send around 50,000 men belonging to technical units (automobile service, railroad, medical, quartermaster, etc.).

"The presence of an American Division on the Front was an immense morale booster for the French, a promise of powerful reinforcements to come. In Joffre's mind, it was also the beginning of a close cooperation between the two armies---the one, French, which was traversing a terrible manpower crisis; and the other, American, still inexperienced, which needed to get organized, trained under the French and bring them the necessary reserves. Autonomy for the American Army? Yes, of course, as concession should be made to American amour-propre. But an autonomy which would always be closely limited. The American Supreme Command and General Pershing thought otherwise "... (in André Kaspi, "Le temps des Américains, 1917-1918").

* American economic aid

While it took some time for the French to realize the United States' military strength, France never had any doubts about its economic backing.

On April 15, 1917, the Council of Ministers set up the High Commission of the French Republic in Washington, under the leadership of André Tardieu---a veritable ministry in Washington. Through numerous orgaizations set up to mobilize the economic force of the United States, the High Commission would obtain a double aid: financial (advances granted to France would make it possible to acquire the food and industrial products it lacked) and economic (beginning in April 1917, the aid sent to France would increase: in June 356,731 tons imported by 75 ships; in August 55 ships took 340,000 tons).

* "Lafayette, we are here!"

General Pershing had been named chief of the American Expeditionary Corps on May 18, 1917.

On June 13, he arrived in France with 150 members of his staff, and on the 26th, the American First Division began to disembark at Saint-Nazaire.

In his memoirs, Pershing relates his arrival in Paris:

"The voyage... had been arranged so that we would arrive in the evening, after the closing of the workshops and offices; thus, the population was able to take part in the improvised welcome. What was aimed for was that the inhabitants see with their own eyes that the Americans were really coming".

From June 14th on, General Pershing made a great number of protocol visits and receptions. The attention paid these visits and their size were a measure of the French government's desire to emphasize this first bit of "good news" of the year 1917. The arrival of the Americans compensated for the failure of the Nivelle offensive at the "Chemin des Dames" and for the defection of Russia. Popular manifestations reached their high point on July 4, 1917 (Independence Day).

"The French were determined to honor our national holiday and suggested that some American troops participate with their own in the celebration of this anniversary. The people of Paris had not yet seen American soldiers and the authorities estimated that, for the French to actually see them in the streets with their own eyes would have an excellent effect on morale...

The ceremony which took place in the Court of Honor at the Invalides was a fine display of welcoming our entry into the war. The President of the Republic presided, accompanied by Marshal Joffre...

The first appearance of American combat troops in Paris provoked explosions of joy amongst the people. In its march to the Picpus cemetery, site of Lafayette's grave, the battalion was accompanied by an enormous crowd...These moving scenes expressed with a singular vivacity the emotions of a people for whom the outcome of the war had seemed almost desperate....

Progressive increase of American army troops,
from April 1st, 1917 to November 1st, 1918.

Comparatives curves of American troops in the U.S. and in France, from April 1917 to November 1918.

On leave, at a farm in the East.

At the cemetery, the ceremony consisted of a few speeches.... I had been asked to give one; but I had named Colonel C.E. Stanton, from my staff, as speaker in my place, ...

It was upon this occasion and before this grave that the memorable words were pronounced, ones which only could appear under the effect of deep emotion, words which will live long in history: "Lafayette, we are here!"....These words, I believe I can confirm that fact, were pronounced by Colonel Stanton, and it is to him that the honor of such a happy and well-turned phrase should come." (In Général Pershing : "My Memories of the War")

* Arrival of the A.E.F.

Between June 26th and July 2, 1917, a first convoy of 19 vessels arrive at Saint-Nazaire and disembarked 14,750 men, 103 nurses and 46,700 tons of matériel.

Despite the hopes raised by this first disembarkment, the troop strength of the AEF progressed very slowly. At the beginning of the month of November 1917, or seven months after the United States' entry into the war, it numbered less than 80,000 men, of whom only 50,000 were combatants.

The small size of this force may be explained by the problems encountered in putting the draft law into effect, by the absence of a plan of organization for the American Army and by the insufficiency of available Atlantic shipping.

At the same time, in France, this relatively small expeditionary corps had to resolve complex problems in order to get itself established.


(June 1917 -- November 1918)

* Choice of combat zone

No sooner than he had arrived in Paris than General Pershing had to resolve all the problems inherent in installing American troops in France and in preparing them for combat.

Now the choice of the place of installation was conditioned by the choice of a combat zone. When the first troops disembarked at Saint-Nazaire, generals Pétain and Pershing agreed upon a goal for the American Armies: the reduction of the Saint-Mihiel saillant.

* Establishment of naval disembarcation ports

The selection of a disembarkation port was the first one Pershing had to make concerning the installation of his Army, even before the choice of an American Front was made.

Due to the quality of its equipment, the port of Saint-Nazaire was chosen as disembarkation base for the first American troops.

On August 9, 1917, a second base was set up in Bordeaux, and then in September work began on preparing the port of Brest. All in all, between June 1917 and November 1918, the American Army used for its disembarkment 85 existing docks and constructed 83 new ones in French ports.

Diagram of the regulatory station at Is-sur-Tille.

Large American advanced base n° 1 at Is-sur-Tille (Côte d'Or).

The main ports used, for men as well as for supplies, were the following:

* Northern group or Lower Loire: Saint-Nazaire, Nantes, Brest ;

* Southern group or the Gironde : Bordeaux, Bassens, Pauillac, La Pallice, Le Verdon

* English Channel group: Le Hâvre, Caen, Grandville, Saint-Malo, Rouen;

* Atlantic group : Les Sables d'Olonne, La Rochelle, Rochefort, Bayonne

* Mediterranean group : Marseille, Toulon.

Immense warehouses and storage areas were set up in the vicinity of the largest ports: Montoire behind Saint-Nazaire, Saint-Sulpice d'Izon near Bordeaux, Miramas near Marseille.

* Creation of railroad lines

All of the troops and supplies unloaded at the naval ports had to be transported to the American front by rail.

In the Spring of 1918, 5,000 men and 10,000 tons of material were moved each day over railroads placed under American control beginning August 13, 1917.

The first of these lines, called the "Northern Line", left Saint-Nazaire, passed through Nantes, Tours, Vierzon, Bourges, Cosne, Clamecy, Auxerre, ending up in Saint-Dizier, before continuing on to the front. Two spur lines joined this: the one, Brest, Le Mans, Tours; and the other from La Rochelle and Rochefort to Niort and Saumur.

The second line, called the "Southern Line", left from Bordeaux, passing through Périgueux, Limoges, Issoudun, Bourges, then Nevers, Chagny, Dijon, Is-sur-Tille, serving the region of Nancy, Lunéville, Saint-Dié, Belfort.

Within this arrangement, one should take note, in Burgundy, of the "fundamental base of the American Expeditionary Corps, the great advanced base number one and its regulating station at Is-sur-Tille, which came to the fore in October 1917. More than two million American soldiers and around four million tons of supplies passed through Is-sur-Tille between the fall of 1917 and the summer of 1920".(3)

* Training of soldiers

The creation of American installations was a necessary element in the arrival of the American Expeditionary Force in France, a corps whose men needed to be trained. This preparation for modern war was accomplished in America and in France.

In the United States, the first problem to be faced was that of leaders. From May 15 to August 11, 1917, 16 camps were established where 27,341 officers received instruction. But modern materiel was lacking and there were not enough instructors; the American army staff headquarters therefore called upon French instructors (355) from all branches of arms, and upon British ones (330).

Brought into physical shape in the United States, the "Doughboys" disembarked in France and were trained alongside the French Army. Already on June 20, 1917, the US 1st Division was twinned with the French 47th, training camps were set up and remained in place until November 11, 1918.

Pershing asked for and was granted that the troops of the AEF would make their entry to a sector of the front, not progressively but in a block, so as to play the decisive role desired by American public opinion.

* Equipping the A.E.F.

The AEF was given most of its arms by the French (75 mm canons, 155 mortars, tanks, planes, machine-guns and automatic rifles, rifles, bullets and shells).

Trained and equipped, the Expeditionary corps was ready to enter the war.



* The organization of the A.E.F.

One division of the AEF was composed of a total of 21,139 men, 72 artillery pices and 260 machine guns or mortars. Four divisions made up an army corps.

In 1918, the expeditionary corps numbered seven army corps.

The entry of the Americans into combat would pose a problem: should the American Army be independent or should it be amalgamated into divisions of the French Army?

* Quarrel concerning amalgamation

This word "amalgamation" raised passions. It was what the French were bent on obtaining. But the Americans, backed by their public opinion, wanted a purely American Army.

After direct negotiations between Pétain and Pershing, a common ground was found. On December 23, 1917, Pershing accepted that the US 1st Infantry Division enter the front to relieve French units. On January 16, 1918, he agreed that four regiments be trained alongside a French division He would thereafter take the liberty to appreciate whether the military situation called for an amalgamation by division, brigade or regiment.

From November 1917 to November 1918, the situations of amalgamation were the most numerous. Out of 17 operations in which American troops were involved, only two were specifically American: Saint-Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne, but these were of capital importance.

* The A.E.F.'s main military operations

* 2 and 3 Novembre 1917 : combats at Barthelemont (in the Lunéville area) ; first attack by American troops (a battalion), three soldiers killed (the first of the A.E.F.) ;

* 10-20 April 1918 : combats at Seicheprey (Meuse) which had sizeable political consequences (in the U.S. they justified the launching of the Liberty Loan campaign) ;

* 28 May 1918 : victorious offensive of Cantigny (Montdidier area). It was the first consecration of the A.E.F.'s value and a good sign for the future;

* 27 May - 27 June 1918 : victorious combats at Château-Thierry, Bourresches, Belleau Wood (in the Rheims area).

American divisions would take part, amalgamated with French divisions, in the battles of July and August 1918.

From 12 to 14 September 1918, the American battle took place for the reduction of the Saint-Mihiel salient, where 550,000 men were involved; the victory of Saint-Mihiel was a great success and raised the morale of the French. Pershing definitely won out over the partisans of amalgamation. "With its dynamism, its qualities, its staff, the Expeditionary Corps became a decisive factor in the conflict" (André Kaspi). And in the United States, pride ran high.

In the battle of the Meuse-Argonne with 1,200,000 men, from 25 September to 11 November 1918, combat was difficult but the enemy retreated. On November 1st, the American Army attacked between the Argonne and the Meuse, and on the 11th of November it was at the gates of Sedan.

Card given to the soldiers upon their departure for America.


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