"I HAVE come to say to you that the American people would hold it a great honor for our troops were they engaged in the present battle. I ask it of you, in my name, and in that of the American people. There is at this moment no other question than that of fighting. Infantry, artillery, aviation---all that we have---are yours to dispose of as you will. Others are coming who will be as numerous as may be necessary. I have come to say to you that the American people would be proud to be engaged in the greatest battle of history."
As Marshal Foch finished quoting these words which General Pershing addressed to him on the 28th of March, 1918, when Ludendorff's first great blow was smashing through the British and separating them from the French, Americans and French ran up from all directions shouting, "Vive Pershing!" "Hurrah for Foch!" "Hurrah for Pershing!" "Vive Foch!" Some of the French carried the tricolor of France, heavily fringed with gold, covered with gold-embroidered wreaths and names of famous battles. The staffs, however, were surmounted with the gilded spearhead of the Republic in place of the eagle which perched in this proud position when the great Napoleon's soldiers crowded around him carrying their battle flags and yelling, "Vive l'Empereur!"
This scene reminiscent of the days when chiefs sat on their horses, seeing and being seen by their troops, took place not on one of the battle-fields of the Great War, but in the Court of Honor of the Hôtel des Invalides during the visit of the American Legion to Paris in 1927.
Les Anciens Combattants de France (Former Combatants of France) were giving a banquet to the citizens of their sister Republic, who also had had the honor to risk their lives for their country on the battle-fields of the Great War. Four thousand French and Americans sat down together in the main courtyard of that immense building started by Louis XIV, the "Grand Monarch," as a home for his crippled and aged veteran soldiers.
About dusk, crowds of Americans with Legion caps and badges, and groups of French with the badges of Les Anciens Combattants, carrying their flags, had commenced to congregate in front of the high iron gates with a stone guard-house on either side, which, as every American tourist knows, marks the entrance to the outer yard of the Invalides. Passing through the gates and by the sentries at "present arms," they walked across the outer yard between two single ranks of the cavalry of the Garde Républicaine mounted on beautiful and well-kept horses. Their saddles were covered by artistic blue saddle-cloths faced with red, hiding all leather, and ending in graceful points well down both flanks of their mounts. Their highly polished black-jack boots came above the knees of their white breeches. Their tunics were blue faced with red. Their sabers belonged to the age when "cutting an enemy down" was not a phrase, but a serious military problem met on every battle-field.
Their heads were crowned as well as protected by the magnificent steel helmet with its upright red pompon and flowing black horsehair plume, the appearance of which in the thundering ranks galloping behind Napoleon's great cavalry leader Murat gave notice to the enemy's infantry on many a field that their hour had struck.
Like a movie reel made up of cuttings from the many episodes of a long story, these cavalrymen brought to the minds of many passing American veterans flashes of the military prowess and the patriotic determination which made France into a country, and has kept her one despite her dangerous geographical position midway of most of the highways leading from any one extremity of Europe to another.
The medals on the breasts of the individual cavaliers of the guard were such as can be won only by facing danger in battle. They showed that the soldiers of this corps d'élite, entry into whose ranks can be secured only by long and honorable service, represented by their lives as well as their uniforms that indomitable French spirit which again and again in history, despite long odds, has saved their nation from defeat.
Passing under the heavy arches of the sally-port leading from the outer yard to the main courtyard we legionnaires, for I was one of them, followed the footsteps of the thousands of Americans who each year visit the French War Museum before passing on to the Tomb of Napoleon.
Instead of seeing the familiar large and bare courtyard with guns, tanks, and other war relics distributed around the walls, we were confronted with the blaze of thousands of electric lights. They outlined the graceful architecture of the building, the many-colored American and French, national, state, and city coats of arms fastened along the walls, and folds of canvas awnings draped above long vistas of tables.
These awnings glimmered white along the sides of the court, one of which houses the War Museum of Napoleon's day, the other that of the Great War. Hung from just below the windows of the third story, they were supported at the court end, beyond the tables, by white poles set at a pleasing angle, and capped by gilded spearheads.
The table of honor was on a dais at the upper end of the court below the heroic statue of Napoleon set above the gate leading to his tomb. The awning above the table of honor was draped like the canopy of a throne. It was high enough both to permit the 4,000 to see the generals and statesmen at the table and to include within its graceful folds Napoleon's statue with the coat of arms of France on one side and that of the United States on the other, their colors blazing forth in the white light of the electric globes in which they were outlined.
The beauty of the scene involuntarily produced the thought that it must be a stage setting, it could not be real. The magnificence, the grace, almost convinced that by some Wells's "Time Traveler" magic, we had been moved back in time to a fête at Versailles in the days of the "Glorious Monarch."
What were Marshal Foch and General Pershing thinking as they stood side by side, directly under the heroic statue of Napoleon, smiling and waving their hands to the cheering French and American veterans?
Through the minds of both must have flashed the thought that when it comes to leadership in war "many are called but few are chosen."
The war had put both to the acid test of facing failure. In September, 1916, the fact that the then General Foch had reached the peace-time age of retirement of sixty-five years was used as an excuse to relieve him of his command.
Almost until the Armistice, General Pershing was the intended victim of a persistent effort to secure his relief because he insisted on organizing our troops into an American army, instead of allowing them to be used as replacements for the armies of our Allies.
Were their personal escapes from going down in history as failures, however unwarranted such a fate, the sole or even the principal cause of their obvious emotion as they stood there facing the men whom they had commanded?
Was the final personal success of these two leaders the reason for the enthusiasm of the cheering men, some of whom still bore the marks of wounds received, and all of whom could remember comrades whose lives had been given in obeying the orders of these two chiefs ?
Was the whole remarkable scene merely evidence of French hospitality and politeness to those who had loaned them money in time of need, and American appreciation ?
Or did those deep emotions, unknown to such as have never faced battle, cause a mutual French and American spontaneous outpouring of admiration to the leaders whose stedfastness and vision brought success out of black uncertainty and abiding friendship to those whose comradeship during the passage through the dark valley of death helped bring the glorious sunrise of victory?
WHEN President Wilson on May 10, 1917, appointed General Pershing to command our Expeditionary Force in Europe what was the job which faced the general?
A question easily answered by anyone: to take the American troops sent to Europe, organize them into an army, and join the Allied armies in beating the German army.
In simple language this is what his written instructions, dated May 26, 1917, and signed by Secretary of War Baker, ordered him to do.
Yet he soon found that harder than overcoming the enormous difficulties resulting from our unpreparedness; harder than getting our millions across the Atlantic, supplying, equipping, moving, and feeding them---was to carry out these simple instructions.
First, because the British and the French wanted to use our men to fill the gaps in their own armies instead of having them formed into an American army.
Second, because at the time General Pershing landed in Europe the Allied strategy was not the purely military one of doing what was best to beat the German army, but was tangled up with all sorts of politics rising from internal conditions in the different Allied countries and international political jealousies between them. Until almost ten months later, the last of March, 1918, when Marshal Foch, then a general, was appointed to supreme command, there was not even unity of military action-much less a sound military plan.
British traditional lines of defense of England, diagrammatic only, 1' around London, 2' along British coast, 3' in Northern France and Belgium. This shows how the British desire to capture Ostend and Zeebrugge and to concentrate their forces in the north, while bettering protection of England, tied down and overstretched the French army, which was holding much greater proportion of line.
General Pershing's hardest fight and that carried on continuously was to see that our men were organized into, and fought as, an American army, instead of being used as replacements for the British and French armies. This struggle to use our men first as individual replacements and, failing that, by battalions and finally by divisions, was begun by the Allied missions which arrived in Washington shortly after our declaration of war. It continued until the Argonne battle closed with the Armistice.
Despite the danger, and at times almost the certainty, of his removal General Pershing never faltered until an American army, under the American flag, and led throughout by American officers, was at grips on the battle-field with the enemy.
General Pershing was summoned from the Mexican border to Washington to take command and begin to organize the American Expeditionary Force. He had just come from months in Mexico, where he had commanded the force sent to punish Sancho Villa for that bandit's raid on Columbus, New Mexico, and to see that no further raids were made upon any of our border towns.
What a contrast presented itself to him between the command of a few thousand troops in the sandy, desolate, unsettled wastes of northern Mexico, and that of the huge army which he must organize to fight in the highly cultivated, thickly settled, civilized terrain of northern Europe! What a contrast in the enemy to be faced! What a tremendous difference between Villa's raiders---even the trained regular troops of Mexico, ostensibly sent to help him catch Villa but in reality ready to fight Pershing---and the German army, undoubtedly the most perfect war organization seen by the world to date!
This contrast must have brought to his mind the question of his own experience. Later in Europe, during the attempts to keep him from having an American army, the charge was repeatedly made that General Pershing's experience and knowledge was only of minor warfare, and, therefore, not sufficient to prepare him for handling the immense masses brought into action on the modern battle-field in grand warfare.
Upon graduating from West Point in 1886, Pershing chose the cavalry, undoubtedly because in those days the Indian fighting still going on gave the cavalry more fighting than the rest of the army put together, as had been true ever since the close of the Civil War. His first campaign was in the arid country just north of the Mexican border against the famous Apache chief Geronimo. It was against this same chief that General Leonard Wood, who recently died while Governor General of the Philippine Islands, had his first military experience. A young doctor, just out of medical school, Wood had been commissioned in the army. On his first campaign, while a good surgeon, he showed himself to be by instinct a combat soldier.
Pershing's Indian campaigns also included combat in the Dakotas with the Sioux, those Indians who were so advanced in warfare that they had real tactics, and who fourteen years before had outgeneraled General Custer, exterminating in battle that gallant soldier and the brave men of the five troops of the Seventh Cavalry who died with him to the last man.
In 1898, Captain Pershing fought in the San Juan Hill battle, which wrested the heights around the town and harbor of Santiago, Cuba, from the Spanish troops and forced Cervera's Spanish fleet to put to sea and face destruction by our fleet.
The Philippine Insurrection, which shortly followed our capture of Manila from the Spaniards, and the many years of constant fighting with the Mohammedan Moros of the southern Philippines, furnished Pershing with additional experience against a savage enemy. This time, as in Cuba, it was amidst the abundant foliage of tropical islands instead of the grassy, wind-swept, freezing plains of Dakota or the sandy broiling ones of Arizona and New Mexico.
However, Pershing's experience and knowledge were not all derived from minor warfare against Indians, Spaniards, Filipinos, and Mexicans. As a cadet at West Point, he had to study thoroughly the campaigns and battles not only of our American wars, but of the European ones as well.
The criticism is sometimes made, even in our army, that West Point teaches too much of the general's business, and not enough of the second lieutenant's. Our leadership in the Mexican War, and that of both the Union and the Confederate armies in the Civil War, shows that this course at West Point firmly fixed in the minds of the embryo officers the principles of the art of war and practical examples of how to use them. In other words, it gives that thorough mental training in the art of war which, self-acquired by Napoleon when a young, unknown lieutenant, he always afterward emphatically indicated as the reason for his success.
In the last forty-five years, there has grown up in our army a complete system of schools for officers of all ranks and ages. They are designed to advance progressively the knowledge of officers not only as infantrymen, cavalrymen, and artillerymen, but as officers of the general staff and as commanding generals.
Pershing had passed through his share of these.
During the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, Pershing, then a captain of cavalry, was our military attaché to Japan. His visits to Port Arthur and to the Japanese army at the front in Manchuria gave him the opportunity to see the practical application in war of the principles of grand warfare first learned by him as a cadet at West Point.
General Pershing is one of those men whom fortunately our army has never failed to produce in time of war, who, through their theoretical knowledge of the art of war and their practice in the leadership of men gained in minor warfare, are splendidly fitted by knowledge and experience to command successfully large armies in the face of a modern, well-trained enemy.
As Pershing rode toward Washington on that long trip from Texas, the thought that he was a graduate of the same school of theory and practice which produced U. S. Grant, Sherman, Sheridan, Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and the majority of our great war-time leaders in battle, must have given him confidence.
Two questions undoubtedly presented themselves to his mind: how to transport an army overseas, and how to serve alongside the French and British as allies.
Neither of these was a new problem. There has never been a more successful or a more efficiently handled transport of a force by sea than that which took General Scott's army to Mexico. bumped by the small boats of the transports on the beach near Vera Cruz, they first attacked and took that city. Then, using it as a base, they fought their way 7,000 feet up to the great central Mexican plateau and captured Mexico City, 200 miles away. Again and again during our Civil War, the Union moved large forces by sea to different points of attack along the southern coast.
Pershing himself, as a captain, had sailed with Shafter's expedition from Tampa, which left despite the fact that Cervera's Spanish fleet was supposed to be at sea. It was on this expedition that he first met Theodore Roosevelt.
The American expedition which took the city of Manila from the Spaniards by force of arms, after Dewey had sunk the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay, sailed 10,000 miles from our Pacific coast to the Philippine Islands. All the troops, horses, and supplies used in the several years' campaign against the Philippine insurrectos were transported that same distance. General Pershing, like the majority of our regular officers, sailed it a number of times on our army transports.
Every schoolboy knows that in the last stages of the Revolutionary War, our troops and the French fought together against the British. What is not so often remembered is that during the century and a half we were British colonists we, as colonial troops, frequently fought alongside British troops and under the command of their generals. We materially aided the British in their campaigns which gave them Canada and drove the French off the North American Continent. We even participated in actions against the Spanish.
The most famous was the attack in 1741 on the city of Cartagena, in the Spanish colony which today is the United States of Colombia. It failed with heavy losses from wounds and sickness. This was the expedition which a British officer said best illustrated cooperation between the army and the navy, as the army blamed the navy because they did not batter down stone walls too thick for their cannon balls, and the navy blamed the army because they did not fly over the same stone walls.
In fact, we served so much as British colonial troops that to this day our military law, regulations, customs of the service, and some parts of our organization are still primarily British.
Calling a lieutenant "Mister," something the training-camp officers naturally objected to, is one of them.
Though General Pershing as a regular knew we were unprepared for war, as we always are, though we have averaged one war every twenty-five years, the condition of affairs he found when he arrived in Washington must have discouraged him. Despite the fact that Germany's increasing violations of our rights at sea had reached the point where they far surpassed the numerous transgressions of the Allies, making war a certainty, the Administration had done nothing to prepare. No plans had been made prior to our declaration of war. Such efforts as the general staff of the army and the general board of the navy had made to call attention to this necessity had been rebuffed by President Wilson. He seemed to share the feeling, common to so many Americans and Britishers, that a brave and patriotic people does not need to prepare for war.
When William Jennings Bryan talked of a million men springing to arms overnight, he only expressed this widespread feeling which always results in an unnecessarily large butcher's bill in killed and wounded.
The chance to win given to Germany because Britain entered the war unprepared; the continuation of this opportunity because of the time it took Britain to prepare, had taught us, with the exception of our military people, nothing.
Another discouragement was the fact that Washington, like London, had a considerable number of statesmen unable to see that a war, like a prize fight, is won by fighting.
Enthusiastic supporters of every scheme involving furnishing money, food, munitions, supplies of all kinds, and ships, they could not see that men, and still more men, up to the very limit of the man-power of the nations involved on the battle-field facing the Germans was the only way to win the war. They were ignorant of the struggle going on, and which had been unceasingly waged by the British generals to make their statesmen understand this. In justice to such men, it must be stated that probably the majority of the British and French missions, which hurried over here as soon as we declared war, encouraged this point of view.
General Tasker H. Bliss, who was our representative on the Supreme War Council at Versailles, on which Marshal Foch was the French representative until he was put in command of the Allied forces, has shown this. In speaking of their activities in Washington, he said: "It became painfully evident that these missions represented the continued lack of unity that had been the costly bane of Allied efforts from the beginning. There was no common plan; there was no definite plan of any mission. Some individuals urged that what was wanted from the United States was not men, not an army, but money, food, munitions, supplies of all kinds. Others said men, trained or untrained, and send them quickly." He summed up the confusion arising from their disjointed activities by saying, "Then, if ever, what was needed was not Allied missions but a mission of the Allies."
That we should be unprepared, that some of our statesmen could not see that a fighting army is the only way to win a war, was not surprising to a man of General Pershing's experience and knowledge. What must have astonished him was to find that some of the military members of both the French and the British missions advanced plans which meant that our untrained men would be sent to fill the gaps in their armies.
General Harbord, who went to Europe as General Pershing's chief of staff, and who later commanded the Marine Brigade at Belleau Wood, says that the plan of General Nivelle, then commanding the French army, called primarily for laborers, railroad workers, carpenters, miners, chauffeurs; that such fighting troops as were to be sent were to be recruits to be fed into the depleted battalions of the French army. He states that General Bridges of the British army expressed the same idea, except that he wished the British army to get its share of our men.
If General Pershing thought that, perhaps, the ideas of the members of these disjointed missions were not representative of their countries, he was disillusioned when he arrived in Europe. While the Allied military and political chiefs always agreed in principle that an American army should be formed, they were continuously advancing, one way or another, schemes, the practical effect of which would have been the use of our men as replacements in the armies of our Allies.
General Pershing more and more found his greatest difficulty to be the problem of insuring that while fighting on foreign battle-fields our men should risk their lives and limbs not under foreign officers and foreign flags, but under American officers and our own flag.
As 1917 drew to a close, the pressure became greater. The Allied spring offensive on the western front had failed. The Russian Revolution, which in the spring had appeared to promise a more active participation by Russia in the war, by fall fell into the hands of the Bolsheviki, who began peace negotiations with Germany. The German divisions from the Russian front were commencing to arrive on the French front. The Italians had suffered a heavy defeat at Caporetto, losing a quarter of a million men in casualties and another quarter-million in prisoners. The Allies saw only the few divisions which we had up to that time landed in Europe. They did not see that the tremendous preparations we were making at home, once completed, would insure an overwhelming force of American troops reaching Europe, instead of driblets as would have been the case had we tried to send them continuously from the declaration of war.
They did not take much stock in General Pershing's large-scale preparations to fit French ports, French railways, and territory assigned him back of the French front, for the arrival and practically immediate use in battle of a large army. Because of the rigid censorship to insure secrecy respecting our preparations, there was even widespread belief at home that we were not going ahead to win the war. It broke out in both houses of Congress and in the press.
General Pershing, who thoroughly knew our military history, knew that this was the mood which led to insistent demands for immediate action, regardless of, conditions. He knew this was the state of mind which had led the public and the press to cry "On to Richmond" in 1861, when our hastily raised troops were not ready. He knew that at the beginning of the Civil War some wanted to put General Sherman in an insane asylum as crazy because he said it would last four years and wanted a large army. He knew that in 1914 Lord Kitchener had been violently criticized, not only by civilians but also in the British regular army, because he insisted on planning for a large army and a long war instead of sending his newly raised men in driblets to the front.
In the midst of this, General Sir William Robertson, the chief of the British General Staff, got Lloyd George, the prime minister, to agree to a demand that 150 individual battalions of American infantry be sent to Europe and put in British divisions. The British divisions, because of lack of men for the army, had recently been reduced from four to three battalions. Putting one American battalion in each would restore them to their original strength.
Mr. Lloyd George sent Lord Reading, the British ambassador to the United States, who was then in Europe, to Colonel House in Paris. Colonel House forwarded his request to Washington.
Mr. Garrison resigned as secretary of war in February, 1916, because his efforts to prepare us for war met with the disapproval of President Wilson. Mr. Baker was appointed in his place. Generally believed to be a pacifist, his appointment was taken to mean that President Wilson intended this country to make no war preparations. However, once war was declared, Mr. Baker showed himself a great secretary.
He had learned from his father, who had been a Confederate soldier in the Civil War, the evils of political interference with military affairs. He knew that Jefferson Davis, the Confederate president, had profited by his experience as a colonel of infantry in the Mexican War and at a later date as United States Secretary of War. Therefore some weeks later, as president, he appointed as Confederate generals men of large military experience such as Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. Mr. Baker knew that the North in the Civil War suffered continuously from political interference with military affairs until Lincoln, profiting by his bitter experience, put Grant in command and backed him up.
As a consequence, Mr. Baker referred the British request to General Pershing. The British, with their typical bulldog determination, kept hammering at Pershing to get him to yield. Finding him equally determined, General Robertson, the chief of staff, and Sir Henry Wilson, the British military representative on the Supreme War Council at Versailles, decided to force his hand by going straight to President Wilson.
The result was that after the British defeat of March, 1918, when Ludendorff's first great blow practically annihilated the Fifth British Army, Lord Reading, the British ambassador at Washington, succeeded in persuading President Wilson to agree to infantry and machine gunners, only, being shipped to France. For four months, 120,000 per month were to be sent, without any artillery, supply trains, or other components which make up an infantry division.
Some weeks later General Pershing started for London to take part in a conference. On his way he stopped first at General Foch's headquarters. General Foch, but recently appointed to command the Allied forces in France, acquiesced in the principle of building up a separate American army. General Pershing then visited General Haig's headquarters, where an agreement was come to with respect to American infantry divisions to help the British.
Despite this, at the London conference, during discussion of the question of British shipping to help bring over American troops, the question again was brought up of incorporating 15o American battalions in British divisions.
After a long argument finding General Pershing determined to have an American army, the British sprang as a surprise the cable from Lord Reading, telling that President Wilson had agreed to battalions alone being sent.
Under such dramatic circumstances, the ordinary man would have yielded. However, Pershing, made of steel, after a moment of silence during which all eyes were centered upon him, simply remarked that he could not believe the President had taken such an action. He has not yet disclosed what he said in the cable he sent President Wilson immediately after the conference. However, whatever it was, it worked, because the decision as to what would be done was again left in General Pershing's hands.
General Pershing's policy had always been that in the case of an emergency, he would put our divisions in action, even though they were not trained.
The British army and the French divisions which had come to its help were still being heavily attacked by the Germans. General Pershing, therefore, agreed that during May infantry and machine guns of six divisions, the maximum number which the shipping available could carry, would be brought over for training and service with the British; and that, if the situation continued bad, he would agree to the shipment of the infantry and machine guns of other divisions. He stipulated, however, that these American divisions would be withdrawn when he considered it necessary to use them as an integral part of an American army.
General Pétain in command of the French army, while not approaching the matter as directly as the British, advanced schemes of training for our troops which to practical purposes would have resulted in our regiments' being incorporated in French divisions. The consequent discussion between Generals Pershing and Pétain led the "Tiger," Mr. Clemenceau, the French prime minister, to cable to Mr. Jusserand, the French ambassador at Washington, that General Pershing could not get along with General Pétain.
Mr. Jusserand told our War Department, which cabled General Pershing. Here again, the general showed the stuff of which he was made. No complaint behind Mr. Clemenceau's back; no beating around the bush! He simply wrote to Mr. Clemenceau, stating that any differences between himself and the French had better be fought out in France and not carried to Washington.
Mr. Clemenceau sent a hot reply. However,, the result was an amicable meeting at which a definite understanding was come to with the French. This provided that while our regiments would be sent for a month's training with French divisions on arrival, they would then be withdrawn and assembled in American divisions under American officers.
However, despite these, apparently, definite settlements with the British and the French, attempts to absorb our troops into the armies of our Allies, thus preventing the formation of an American army, did not entirely cease until the Armistice was signed.
The last attempt was made during the Argonne battle, when it was suggested that American divisions should be distributed between British and French armies along the western front. This because "fuller advantage should be taken of their remarkable fighting capabilities than could be expected when they operated as an American Army."
Mr. Lloyd George persisted strongly in urging this course upon Secretary of War Baker, then in London. However, Secretary Baker still backed up General Pershing, believing as strongly as the commander-in-chief of the A.E.F. that there should be an American army.
While General Pershing fought to have an American army, he also had to keep his eyes open for schemes to relieve him. He knew that the history of our wars shows a considerable list of commanding generals who were relieved. This not so much because they had really failed, as because our unpreparedness prevented them from winning the immediate victory the public demanded. In addition, he knew that his persistency in insisting on our troops' being made into an American army instead of being absorbed into the French and British armies, was being used to prove that he would not cooperate with our Allies.
There was a heavy attack on him along both of these lines just prior to the second battle of the Marne. However, the splendid conduct of our troops, both in the July 15 defensive, in which the last great German attack of the war was stopped, and in Foch's successful counter-offensive, which began July 18, marking the turning-point of the war, put a stop to this criticism.
The difficulty encountered in the Argonne, where our troops not only attacked through difficult, broken, hilly, and frequently wooded country, but after their first success had to get all their supplies through the wreckage of the French and German trenches left by four years' fighting, was another occasion. This, because our troops did not move ahead fast enough, and our supply system did not work smoothly enough to satisfy the critics.
How widespread some of these attempts were is shown by an incident which occurred during one of Admiral Sims's visits to Paris. An American correspondent of one of our large dailies came to the Hôtel Crillon, where the admiral was staying, and broached the subject of his joining a movement to oust Pershing. Admiral Sims indignantly refused.
As General Pershing, after his arrival in Europe in June, 1917, got in close touch with the situation, what did he find it really to be?
Of course, he knew what any trained soldier, who had been following the situation even from a distance, knew. He knew the rosy picture painted by Allied propaganda, of the Central Powers sinking rapidly into defeat under the powerful blows of the Allies, was not true.
The fact that after three years of fighting, with the single exception of upper Alsace, the German troops still stood on Allied territory a long way from their own frontier, was sufficient evidence of that. The much heralded Allied "ring of steel" around the Central Powers was still a long way from forcing them back on their own territory.
It is the business of a general commanding a reenforcement, when he arrives in the theater of war, to report to the general headquarters of his side. This in order to find out where the enemy's troops are, what indications exist as to their plans, what his own side is planning to do, and what help he is expected to give.
However, when General Pershing arrived in Europe there was no such Allied general headquarters for him to go to. There never had been since the beginning of the war. In London, Paris, and Rome were the seats of three Allied governments. Each was primarily concerned with its own problems and, except for conferences from time to time, dealt with the others through the regular channels of peace-time communication. Along the western front from the English Channel to the Adriatic Sea were three general headquarters of large armies---the British, the French, and the Italian---and one of a small force---the Belgian. While the generals commanding had occasional conferences, and each had liaison officers from the others, there was no central body continuously coordinating the activities of all, much less one commander-in-chief in control.
Far off to the east was another capital---Petrograd, and another general headquarters---the Russian. Outside of submarine cable or telegraph messages, these could be reached only by a long, roundabout sea and land trip to the north or to the south, or else a trip around the world. By the north, it was necessary either to go around the Scandinavian peninsula and through the Arctic Sea, or else to attempt to cross the Baltic Sea, which was controlled by the German fleet. The southern route led through the Mediterranean, around Turkey to the Persian Gulf and thence far overland through Persia. The around-the-world trip was across the Atlantic, then North America, followed by the Pacific, and finally the two weeks' trip via the Trans-Siberian Railway.
The then General Foch was advocating the formation of at least a central Allied body continuously in session, which could insure the carrying out of a common plan. He was not being listened to.
General Pershing arrived in the middle of a splendid illustration of the evil effect upon the Allied cause of this lack of coordination. He arrived just at the time when nearly three years of failing to fight the war with the single object of beating the Germans was commencing to bear fruit for the Allies in the discouragement and pessimism which culminated about a year later when Hindenburg and Ludendorff delivered the tremendous blows which not only the Germans confidently expected, but the Allies almost admitted, meant victory for Germany.
The chiefs of the Allies had met in November, 1916, to plan the campaign for 1917. The idea was that all of them would attack the Central Powers at the same time.
The British and French were to attack on the western front in France, the Italians along the Isonzo River, the Allied force of French, British, Italians, and Greeks, from Saloniki north into the Balkans, and the Russians, with what was left of the Roumanians, on the eastern front. Thus, with superior forces attacking them from all directions at the same time, the Central Powers would be crushed, because unable to switch their troops from front to front as each was attacked, as they had been able to do in the past because of the failure of the Allies to attack together at the same time.
Having agreed upon the general idea, the chiefs had to decide upon when to start the attacks. Immediately, there was that divergence of opinion which always characterized Allied councils.
The French maintained they should be started early, as otherwise Hindenburg, the new German commander-in-chief, might start something first, thus wrecking their plans. As it turned out, this was exactly what happened. However, because of weather conditions on the fronts of other nations, the French were overruled. Before April, 1917, the time finally set for the general Allied offensive, a variety of events took place, which completely disrupted it.
In England, Mr. Lloyd George succeeded Mr. Asquith as premier. From the beginning, Mr. Lloyd George was opposed to Marshal Haig, commanding the British forces in France. In general, he believed that the British casualty list was too heavy for the results the fighting produced. He also was inclined to attempt to finish the war by fighting somewhere else than in France. He thought an easier and less costly way of beating Germany would be to make the principal attack from the Balkans against Austria, rather than against the Germans in France. Marshal Haig and General Robertson, the chief of the British Imperial General Staff, like all other trained soldiers, were convinced that unless the Germans were beaten in France and driven back into their own country, Germany would never be beaten.
This fundamental difference of opinion between the British premier and the British commander-in-chief operated from then on to prevent the British land forces from being assembled in one large force to strike a united blow against the enemy.
Marshal Haig and General Robertson were worried about the size of the British armies. They would have liked larger British forces in the field. However, this was not their chief worry. What was causing them anxiety was that the point was being reached where the number of new men coming into the army was not sufficient to make good the losses. In other words, it was a question, only on a much larger scale, of the problem which faced Wellington during the Napoleonic Wars. He bitterly complained because the replacements sent him from England did not equal the number of his casualties. To prevent the British armies from shrinking in size there was only one answer---conscription. Like all the other British military chiefs, Marshal Haig and General Robertson had been advocating it for a long time. They had produced any number of figures to back up their contention.
However, Lloyd George was disinclined really to come to it. The partial measures which had been adopted to stimulate volunteering were satisfactory to him. Apparently, his solution of the problem was to do less fighting which would produce losses, and thus by diminishing the drain decrease the necessity for replacements.
At the same time, changes in the French government and high command brought disagreement between French soldiers and statesmen. General Joffre had been relieved from command of the army and replaced by General Nivelle in December, 1916. General Nivelle had the support of Mr. Briand, the French premier, and of General Lyautey, the French minister of war. However, in March, 1917, Mr. Ribot became premier and Mr. Painlevé minister of war.
They were both opposed to General Nivelle, because they believed that plans which he had for an offensive would only cause the French army further tremendous losses, without producing victory. They believed that the time had come when the French must guard their remaining man-power if they were not to become so weak from loss in battle that the Germans could crash through their line. This because, having commenced the war with conscription, long voted for by the citizens of the French Republic as the only efficient and fair way of raising an army, France from the beginning had had her man-power under arms. Thus, having borne the brunt of the war from the beginning, for her the question was not, as with England, whether or not the government would take more men ---there were no more to take.
The new French premier and war minister believed the time had come to adopt the policy of General Pétain, an officer with an excellent war record, who said that under these circumstances the only thing for the French to do if they did not want to be put out of the war by the Germans, was to rest on the defensive until an American army in sufficient numbers had arrived to give the Allies the numerical superiority necessary to attack successfully.
These French and British changes, with the consequent differences of opinion between the statesmen and generals of each country, caused if not downright disputes, at least such differences of opinion between the French and the British that there was no longer unity of action on their part.
The original plan for the spring of 1917 offensive, as agreed upon between General Joffre and Marshal Haig, had given the British the heaviest or principal attack to make and the French the secondary one.
When General Nivelle became the French commander-in-chief, he reversed this. Both attacks were to be on a large scale, but the French one was to be on the larger scale and was planned to break entirely through the German line. At this period of the war, the majority of soldiers, as well as statesmen, were inclined to believe that no one attack, whether made by the Allies or by the Germans, could break through the trench line of the other side. General Nivelle, while in command at Verdun prior to his appointment to be commander-in-chief, had made two surprise attacks on the Germans which, though only on a small scale, had yielded unusual results. He believed the same system of surprise applied on a large scale would break all the way through.
He had convinced Mr. Lloyd George. The French and British generals, on the whole, were not in agreement with him. As a consequence, with Mr. Lloyd George opposed to Generals Haig and Robertson, and Mr. Painlevé opposed to General Nivelle and supporting General Pétain's point of view, there soon developed a situation in which there was anything but unity of purpose on the part of the French and British soldiers and statesmen.
In the meanwhile General von Hindenburg had moved first, just as the French had feared he would. Secretly and so quietly that the French and British to their front did not find it out until the movement was well under way, the German troops had begun withdrawing from their trenches along the front to the northeast of Paris. Gradually the movement spread until it covered a front of approximately 125 miles.
The Allies were greatly puzzled. The press and the public were inclined to believe it was the beginning of a great German retreat, and, therefore, of the end. The Allied military leaders interpreted it more correctly. They believed that Hindenburg was doing it---as he was---to get his troops out of the old, battered, muddy trenches into new and better ones; to shorten his line so that it could be held with fewer troops, thus increasing his reserves and enabling him to take the offensive with a larger force.
Marshal Haig thought the offensive would be against the British. General Cadorna, commanding the Italian army, thought it would be against Italy.
The practical result of it was that it largely changed the situation in front of the British army, thus necessitating considerable change in their plans for the spring attack. When they attacked in early April they limited their offensive to capturing Vimy Ridge.
While it did not change the situation in front of the French, it did free German troops, thus increasing their reserves available for use when they did attack. As a consequence of this, and of the Germans' having found out somehow, when and where it was to be made, the attack, begun a week after the British one, was not a surprise and did not break through. The French gained ground, but at the cost of heavy losses.
The first revolution in Russia in March had overthrown the tsar's government and established that of Mr. Kerensky. One of the consequences of this was that General Alexeyef, in command of the Russian army, had wired asking for a postponement of the offensive. Nivelle answered that it was too late, and that the Russians should move immediately. However, they only attacked the last of June.
At this same time, General Cadorna wired General Nivelle that he saw no signs of any German concentration on his front, and therefore was not going to attack until the Germans had used up their reserves resisting the French. General Nivelle wired back, reminding him of the decision for the Italians to attack at the same time as the others.(1) The Italians attacked May 12, almost a month after the French.
In the meanwhile, the Allies had made two attacks in the Balkans, weeks apart: one early in March, which was over almost a month before the French attack; the other in May, which was over shortly after the Italians began their attack.
Thus,, the great plans of the Allies, made in November, 1916, for a simultaneous, crushing attack on the Germans in the spring of 1917, came to nothing.
As an outcome of the whole affair, General Nivelle was relieved and General Pétain made commander-in-chief of the French forces.
Just before this change took place, Marshal Haig had proposed that the French take over some of the southern part of the British line, so that he could have more British troops to use in an attack which he wanted to make in the north near Ypres. After this attack was over, he proposed that the French take over still more of the British line in the south, so that he could attack in the north in Belgium for the purpose of capturing the ports of Ostend and Zeebrugge.
The British proposition meant that instead of a combined attack being made against the German army, the French were to subordinate their actions to a British attack which had for its purpose not the destruction of the German army but the capture of seaports being used by the German submarines.
In other words, the strategy on the western front was to be twisted from its proper purpose of winning the war through the destruction of the German army, to the minor purpose of capturing enemy naval bases, in order to help suppress the submarines which were operating in the waters around England.
To start with, General Pétain was opposed to still further increasing the burden borne by the French army. He believed that in order to equalize the load carried by the British and French armies, the British should take over some of the lines held by the French. At the end of May, 1917, the French and the British held approximately 565 kilometers and 140 kilometers, respectively. If they had held proportionate lengths of front, the French amount would have decreased to 438 and the British increased to 270. In other words, instead of the French relieving the British, the British should have taken over 130 kilometers, which is approximately eighty miles, of the line held by the French.
This was the beginning of a series of disputes. They were complicated by internal British and French disputes. Mr. Lloyd George more and more objected to the British losses on the French front. Instead of adopting conscription as the British military, leaders urged, he turned more and more to plans for winning the war in Turkey, in the Balkans, or anywhere else than the French front. This led to less and less support of Marshal Haig and also to the relief of General Robertson as chief of the British Imperial General Staff.
In France, Premier Ribot was succeeded by Painlevé, who a few months later fell, in his turn, to be succeeded by Clemenceau, the Tiger.
Unity of purpose was finally obtained only when, faced with defeat as the result of the first of the Hindenburg-Ludendorff offensives in March, 1918, at the time when Marshal Haig published his famous "backs to the wall" order; the Allies finally agreed upon their first commander-in-chief, the then General Foch.
In addition to the lack of unity of military purpose there was some evidence that the statesmen were inclined to count their chickens before they were hatched. They wanted to do things which would put their countries in better bargaining positions at the peace table. In other words, instead of concentrating on military plans, the sole object of which was to beat the German army, they would argue for plans which would give them possession of territory which it would be advantageous for their countries to possess. Territory in the Balkans, in Asia Minor, and above all the city of Constantinople, had been the object of international rivalries of the different Allied countries prior to the war. These rivalries were not forgotten during the war, and undoubtedly were the basis of the campaigns which some statesmen wished to carry out, and in some cases did succeed in carrying out, despite the insistence of their best generals that there is only one way to win a war---to beat the army of the enemy on the battle-field.
The evidence was clear when Pershing landed in Europe in June, 1917---and continued to grow as time passed---that there was no real leadership of the Allies, and that their strategy was not directed to the common purpose of beating the German army in France, the sole method, as difficult as it might be, of bringing the war to a victorious conclusion for the Allies.
If we disregard the other fronts, the Allies were not fighting with a common purpose even on the western front.
The British thought only of protecting the French ports along the English Channel, these being on the shortest route to London from Germany. Their strategy consisted only in defending the ground they had or trying to get more ground in front of these ports. They had no idea of leaving this vicinity, no matter what arguments were advanced to prove that concentrations of troops on other parts of the western front would help whip the German army. The Italians were interested only in their own narrow front along the mountains from Lake Garda to the Gulf of Venice. The French stretched like an overdrawn rubber band between the Italians anchored on the right and the British anchored on the left. With a much smaller proportion of soldiers and guns per mile of front than the British and Italians, they had to do the best they could to keep the Germans from taking advantage of this Allied lack of unity of effort and leadership.
General Pershing saw that this condition of affairs was eating up Allied man-power without whipping the Germans. It was his job to use our man-power to beat the German army, not to defend the routes to London or North Italy. Turning our men over to the Allied armies obviously would not have done so.
The only way to insure the use of our man-power to strike the Germans where the most damage would be done was to organize it into an American army.
This General Pershing did, equally regardless of the pressure brought to bear on him in Europe and of the attempts behind his back in Washington to secure his relief from command. The dramatic events of 1918 beginning with the near defeat of the Allies and finishing with victory, proved him right.
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