WHY was it that the Germans from the very beginning of the war in August, 1914, more than held their own for nearly four years before, in July, 1918, the tide could be turned against them?
It did not take General Pershing long to find the answer to that question, soon after his arrival in Europe led to his entry into the inner circles of Allied leadership.
There was a lack of determination to unite all the resources of the Allies under a single plan for the sole purpose of beating the German army, thus gaining victory.
Divergent interests created a scattered, uncoordinated effort, which the Germans had taken advantage of.
The certainty that our man-power, instead of being used to the maximum to beat the German army, would be wasted in the divergent, uncoordinated Allied efforts, was one of General Pershing's principal reasons for insisting upon the formation of an American army, instead of allowing the Allies to use our men.
Illustrating how Foch could have done in March and May what he did in July, attack the flank of the German attack. The arrival of American troops gave him in July the central reserve necessary, lacking in March and May.
The then General Foch was working hard to convince the Allied leaders that only by overcoming this grave defect could defeat be avoided.
He persistently advocated a central Allied body to plan for, and coordinate the use of, the Allied armies, if mutual jealousies prevented the appointment of one man as commander-in-chief.
He as persistently showed the equal necessity of giving that body, or better yet a commander-in-chief, a considerable body of troops, which he could use as a central reserve to send to the help of whichever Allied army the Germans attacked.
The prevalent idea that there were no great generals in this war, as there were in past ones, is wrong. There were such generals.
However, the huge size of modern armies caused them to work in altitudes beyond the vision of the mass of their armies. The day of armies small enough for the commanding general sitting on a horse to see his whole army, and be seen by it, has long since passed. Coupled with this is a rigid censorship never before known which has kept the public at home in darkness.
The more facts come out, the more certain it is that Marshal Foch's clear grasp of the situation, of the remedies needed to correct it, and his success in applying them, once he was given the power, will enshrine him in history among the great military leaders who preceded him.
Recently the marshal, in response to a request from me as to his view, after ten years, on this lack of Allied unity, replied:
"History shows that coalitions have many weaknesses, even when they have large military forces. One of their greatest weaknesses is the lack of real leadership. The greater the number of nations included, and the more they are scattered geographically, the more this weakness shows.
"The Great War of 1914-18, in this respect, confirmed the lessons of history.
"This was true, even on the side of the Central Powers, for a considerable time in the first part of the war. Neither side had taken steps before the war to overcome this grave defect when war broke out.
"What was done on the side of the Allies during the war was done only because the pressure of events made it absolutely necessary. During the first three years of the war, while the Allies lacked many things in the way of war munitions, they had on practically every front a larger force than did the Central Powers. These larger forces enabled them to stop the enemy without suffering too much damage, even though their forces were scattered in the different theaters of war, and were not under a single command.
"However, with their numerical superiority, they would have gained much more than this if all their armies had been united under one command, looking at the picture as a whole, and deciding what to do from this broad point of view.
"Some of the military chiefs were well aware of this grave defect in Allied leadership. In an endeavor to limits its evils as much as possible, the various commanders-in-chief of the different Allied armies held conferences from time to time. The idea was that this way they could arrange a general plan and agree what part the army of each would take in it.
"However, as useful as these conferences were, they could not replace a single command which would be in touch with the situation at all times, and could issue orders accordingly.
"The governments of the different Allied countries were much more backward in realizing this situation than were the military chiefs. They had not always seen the necessity to organize to handle the general direction of the war. The result was that the efforts of the Allies were uncoordinated, even when not divergent.
"It took nothing less than the terrible defeat of the Italians in the battle of Caporetto, in October, 1917, the first result of Russia's dropping out of the war, to make the Allied governments create a common war organization. This organization was the Versailles Superior War Council.
"There was no doubt about the situation. Freed from attack by Russia, the German armies were concentrating practically their whole force on the western front. This gave them a superiority on this front of approximately thirty divisions, plus a formidable artillery. They were certain to have this superiority until enough American divisions had arrived, first, to make up for it, and then to give the Allies the superiority. These divisions after their arrival had still to complete their organizations by getting horses, carriages, matériel of all sorts, and a large part of their armament and munitions.
"During the weeks, or even months, which must roll by between the beginning of the expected German offensive and the entry in line of the American forces, the Allies, despite their numerical inferiority, simply had to hold, no matter what the cost.
"Aside from the courage of their troops, there was only one chance of safety left. That was to organize a strong general reserve, capable of being used immediately, from the North Sea to the Adriatic, to help any one of the Allied armies attacked by the Germans.
"However, such a reserve could be formed only if each of the Allied armies gave troops toward it. No one army was strong enough to do it alone.
"Also, it must be entirely separate from the reserve which each army kept for its own particular use. Otherwise, when the troops promised by some particular army were asked for, it would be found they had already been used up for some purpose of its own.
"Above all, this general reserve must be under a supreme command, independent of the commander-in-chief of each of the different armies. This because each commander-in-chief, influenced by the enemy's activities against his army, is not as capable as is such a chief of judging the situation as a whole and making a decision which is to the best interests of all the armies concerned.
"Finally, the Allied governments saw the necessity for an independent general reserve. The 2nd of February, 1918, they agreed to make it. However, they were still unwilling to go the whole way. Instead of putting this reserve under a single chief, they put it under an executive committee, composed of four Allied generals. This was a timid solution. However, this was some progress in the right direction.
"Unfortunately, the various governments did not have the strength necessary to overcome the opposition to this plan, with the result that, faced with difficulties in its execution, they abandoned the project. After a while there was not even a question of forming a general reserve.
"Therefore, the committee, which should have controlled it, found itself without a reason for existence.
"After several months had slipped by, the lesson of the Italian defeat was forgotten. At a meeting, the 14th and 15th of March, in London, this prudent plan for a general reserve was side-tracked, despite vain efforts made to convince the governments of the grave responsibilities which they ran.
"Several days later, on the 21st of March, the German attack on the British front brutally exposed the false security in which the Allies were resting, and clearly revealed to them the greatness of their peril.
"The time for hesitancy had passed. A radical solution was demanded---the immediate institution of a supreme command for the coalition. Such was the purpose of the agreement at Doullens the 26th of March, completed and made formal at Beauvais the 3rd of April, 1918.
"It is necessary really to understand what was meant by this expression. Too often it has been used in an absolute sense, which is erroneous. What was agreed to was not command in the ordinary military sense of the word, as practiced in the different armies of the, world. With such different armies as the Allied ones, no such simple method would work.
"The supreme command, in this case, meant that the commander-in-chief of the Allied armies pursued a course which secured a coordinated effort of the forces under his orders. This could only be done, provided the various governments, the various Allied commanders-in-chief, and their soldiers gave their confidence to the supreme commander-in-chief.
"This confidence was wholly given him in 1918."
The then General Foch was appointed to supreme control of the Allied armies in France at a conference at Doullens March 26, 1918.
Five days before, Hindenburg and Ludendorff had made the first of the great assaults in 1918, by which they expected to gain a victory for Germany. In a tremendous blow against the Fifth British Army, which ultimately destroyed that army, and was the beginning of the greatest defeat in British military history, they drove over the existing lines far west in the direction of Amiens, separating the French from the British.
The Doullens conference had been hurriedly called to see what steps could be taken in the face of this tremendous defeat. There were present, the French president, Mr. Poincaré; Mr. Lloyd George, premier of Great Britain; Lord Milner, the British minister of war; General Sir Henry Wilson, chief of the British Imperial General Staff; Marshal Haig, the British commander-in-chief; Mr. Clemenceau, premier of France, and General Pétain, the French commander-in-chief.
General Foch, having given his views, was walking up and down with some of his staff in front of the city hall, where the conference was held, when Mr. Clemenceau, the French premier, came out, rushed up to him and said, "You have got the place you wanted."
Foch replied, with evident anger, "What do you mean, Mr. Prime Minister? You give me a lost battle and ask me to win it. I consent, and you think you are making me a present. I am disregarding myself entirely in accepting it."
General Foch's anger was justified. For months he had been predicting just what had happened---a heavy blow from the Germans, with the Allies unprepared to strike back. For months he had argued that the only way in which this expected, and greatly feared, German blow could be met was to have a central reserve. With such a reserve ready to move instantly, because not in the line, and in a central position, a strong counter-attack could immediately be made.
When a great assault drives way into a line, it makes a deep salient, both sides of which are weak. Therefore, both flanks of the assaulting force are open to attack.
Foch's plan was that when Hindenburg and Ludendorff had driven such a salient, he would at once strike with his central reserve and strike hard---on one of their weak flanks, thus giving them the choice of withdrawing or being cut off .
Here, the last of March, was the situation exactly as he had foreseen and predicted it! The means, and the only means of effectually meeting it---a central reserve---was lacking!
At the same time, the people who had refused to listen to his advocacy of such a reserve, and who were now face to face with defeat as a consequence, turned the situation over to him to solve.
He neither hesitated nor feared to accept the grave responsibility of a situation fraught with every possibility of defeat for his country, as well as the chance that history might hold him responsible.
He had not hesitated when in command of the Twentieth Corps, in the dark days following the battle of Morhange in August, 1914---when the French forces were being driven back into Lorraine---to stop where he was on the hills protecting Nancy, and grimly to hold on.
He had not hesitated when in command of the Ninth Army Corps, in the first battle of the Marne, to order an attack at the blackest moment when the troops on both sides of him were being driven back.
He had not hesitated during the first battle of Ypres, when Sir John French, the British commander, was persuaded that only retreat was possible, to urge him to stand where he was and to throw in to his help all French troops within reach.
What made him angry, and justly, was to have the very people who had created this terrible situation by their refusal to follow his advice, ask him to solve it as if they were giving him a present.
The first blow struck by the Central Powers, as the result of the reenforcement of their front from the North Sea to the Adriatic by the troops freed when Russia dropped out of the war, was against the Italians in November, 1917.
This blow cost the Italians 37,000 killed, 91,000 wounded, 335,000 prisoners, and 3,000 guns, almost half their artillery.
Fear that this might lead Italy to drop out of the war, coupled with the necessity to give her immediate help, so demonstrated the danger resulting from having no central controlling body that the Allies at a conference, at Rapallo November 7, 1917, decided to establish the Supreme War Council.
This war council was not purely a military body, but was a body made up of the premiers of the different nations, who could speak with authority on the general policies their governments would follow. Each of them had attached to him military members who could work out the military plans needed to carry out any policy decided upon.
In other words, for the first time since the beginning of the war in August, 1914, the Allies had a central body to plan and carry out a definite policy to beat the Central Powers. Its civilian members, being the premiers of their nations, had the political power necessary to insure each doing its part. Its military members provided the professional knowledge essential to work out the military plans necessary to put the general policy in effect on the battle-field.
This was an excellent move in the direction of the appointment of a single commander-in-chief for the Allied armies. However, the Supreme War Council soon found itself beset with many difficulties in its attempts to secure unity of purpose and of action.
General Sir Henry Wilson was appointed the British military representative. General Foch was appointed as the French military representative. They both believed the establishment of a central reserve essential. The fact that both the French and the British armies were falling off in their strength, as the result of lacking replacements to make good casualties, made the formation of at least a small central reserve all the more important. This for the reason that had both these armies been well over strength each would have had a considerable reserve in no way tangled up with the line. Because of this freedom from entanglement, such reserves could quickly be ordered to any danger spot.
The absence of such reserves, in any considerable quantity, back of both French and British lines meant that when a reserve was needed time had to be taken to have some divisions take over more line, in order to permit others to be withdrawn.
Nothing is more important in determining the success or failure of a counter-attack than time. Made at the psychological moment when the enemy flushed with victory is more or less in the confusion which it brings, and has not yet had time to organize the protection of his flanks, a counter-attack carries all before it, thus leading to great success.
On the other hand, once sufficient time has elapsed to allow the enemy to straighten out his victorious troops and reorganize the protection of his flanks, the counter-attack only bumps up against a well-prepared position, with the usual consequence that it is stopped with bloody losses.
Neither Marshal Haig nor General Pétain was anxious to give up divisions to form a central reserve. Each was inclined to believe that should his force have to face the next German attack it would be in grave difficulties due to lack of man-power.
General Pétain, apparently, still believed that the British were not holding a length of line---by comparison with that held by the French---in proportion to the relative strength of the two armies. This even though the British had agreed to, and were taking over some of the French line.
Marshal Haig, backed by the imperial chief of staff, General Robertson, believed that conscription should be put in force and the army in the field brought up to its former strength, before any further demands should be made upon it.
As the result of an inquiry as to how many divisions each army would give toward the formation of a central reserve, General Pétain replied, eight; General Diaz, commanding the Italian army, six, and Marshal Haig, none.(29)
The upshot of the matter was a series of discussions which developed a great deal of friction between the various generals and statesmen. This friction came to a head at a conference in London March 14 and 15, at which no adequate decision was reached. Marshal Foch protested, but without effect.
Six days later, on March 21, began the German attack, which more than justified his position.
The German use of the central reserve principle, and the failure of the Allies to have it, was the primary reason why the Germans, far from having been beaten to date, were still on the offensive. They habitually reduced the number of divisions defending each front to the minimum they considered reasonably safe. This permitted them to concentrate the maximum number of divisions where the principal and most important fighting was taking place.
For years prior to the war, they had carefully developed their railway system, not only from the point of view of the demands of peace, but also from that of the strategic necessities of war. Thus, they were always able quickly to concentrate the maximum number of troops where they were most needed.
One section of the French General Staff has prepared a series of graphic tables showing the movements of German divisions from one front to another during the war. It is not necessary to read the texts which accompany them to see what happened. Merely turning over the leaves quickly produces the effect of a moving picture, showing the divisions flocking from all directions to each front, in turn, as the Germans took the offensive or defensive in the war's great battles.
With the exception of the campaign ending in the victory of the first battle of the Marne, the Allied strategy could not compare with that of the Germans.
"Papa" Joffre won the first Marne campaign by brilliant strategy. Like every other Frenchman, his heart was torn to see vast stretches of French soil abandoned to the enemy. The occupation of Paris by German troops would have been to him a profanation. Despite this, despite abuse, he kept his mind rigidly fixed on one thing---so to maneuver the French army that the German plan to force it to fight in a bad position, turning first its left flank and then its rear, thus forcing its surrender, would fail. Had he not had the great moral courage to retreat to the Marne; had he not been ready to go as far back as the Seine, if necessary; had he thought only of protecting French soil, French villages, French towns, and finally Paris, the German plan would have succeeded.
The French army would have been out in the first round. The Germans would have been free to turn their attention to putting out Russia, before the two years needed for unprepared Britain to get ready would have passed.
The success of their 1915 campaign against Russia shows that had they had their whole army available they would have disposed of her in less than this time, and thereby won the war.
With this single exception of Marshal Joffre's brilliant campaign of the first Marne, the Allied strategy had been based on the simple idea of using their much greater resources and geographical position almost surrounding the Central Powers, to crush them by a contracting ring of steel.
They had a population of 300,000,000 whites, and nearly 400,000,000 of other colors, as against 115,000,000 on the side of the Central Powers. They controlled the seven seas, and therefore had available the resources of the world. The Central Powers were blockaded and thus were limited to the meager resources of their 1,207,661 square miles of territory. Therefore, the Allies thought all they had to do was to march on Germany from all sides at once and crush her.
They forgot that similar plans to crush France when Napoleon I led her armies, again and again failed. They forgot that the Allies of his day only succeeded in suppressing that great military genius when France, bled to death by a quarter of a century of whipping all Europe, could no longer supply him with the men he needed for combat.
Napoleon's method was to move out quickly from his central position, with the greater part of his force, and smash one of his enemies before the others could close in on him. He would then turn on another and polish him off before the rest could arrive to help. As he was in the center, he could move in any direction. His enemies, being in a ring around him, could only move toward its center. As he did not wait for them to close in, but struck first, they never knew which one would receive the blow. As he moved faster than they did, he frequently struck the one least expecting it.
One of the best examples was his campaign of 1804-1805. At the opening of it he had his army concentrated on the English Channel, preparing to invade England. The Austrians and Russians marched on him from the east. Before the Austrians realized that he was anywhere near, he had marched his army from the English Channel across France, across the Rhine and into Bavaria. He so surprised them that with but little difficulty he surrounded General Mack at Ulm and compelled the surrender of his army. He then moved quickly across Bavaria into Austria and decisively defeated a large Austrian and Russian force at the great battle of Austerlitz.
In 1915, in 1916, and again in 1917, the German by the use of this same principle had three times upset the Allied plans for a concentric general attack to crush the Central Powers.
While the Germans failed in the first Marne battle in 1914, and again in the attack on Verdun in 1916, in each case it was the Germans who struck first, and where they saw fit, and the Allies who had to follow the German movements, stopping them as best they could.
General Pershing from shortly after his arrival in Europe, could not help seeing that the lack of unity of command and of purpose inevitably meant grave chances of the Allies' being defeated.
It was his duty, both in his position as American commanding general and in obedience to his instructions, to make the best use of the American troops to prevent any such defeat.
Putting aside national self-respect, which demanded that we have an American army under the American flag, and forgetting that while each of our Allies wanted our troops for replacements, neither was willing to put its forces under a commander-in-chief from the army of the other, General Pershing had to decide what was the best thing to do.
With the mounting tide of the German force in France, due to the steady flow of German divisions from the former Russian front, there was no doubt that victory or defeat hinged on man-power.
With the man-power of France exhausted, the rest of Britain's not available because of the lack of full-fledged conscription, and Italy asking for help, America must furnish that man-power.
She was furnishing it. The question was, what was the best way to use it to prevent defeat and bring victory.
The Allies said, pour it into their armies, which war-hardened, and under war-experienced staffs and generals, could put it to the maximum use.
However, General Pershing and the rest of our officers, who had been in Europe long enough to know these armies, had come to certain definite conclusions as to what would happen should this be done.
In the first place, both the French and British armies were trained primarily for trench or siege warfare.
The German forces opposite them were trained, and were being still further trained, for warfare in the open, or a war of movement.
The French army had entered the war highly trained for warfare in the open and imbued with the idea of movement as a means of taking and keeping the offensive, the only way to whip an enemy.
However, four years of heavy loss incurred in hard, grueling fighting had killed or disabled a large proportion of the splendid corps of officers with which the war was started. A large proportion of the men who filled the vacancies had only experienced, and been trained in, trench or siege warfare.
The British regular army had started the war excellently trained for warfare in the open, and imbued with the spirit of the offensive. The officers of the territorials had been similarly taught. However, the regulars and territorials were of such relatively small numbers that they were swamped in the large war army brought into existence by Lord Kitchener.
This army's first experience was in the trenches. As it grew in size, it was more and more trained primarily for trench fighting. As haste in putting new troops in the field was essential, the system of training became similar in principle to that used by Ford when he makes his cars.
Groups of men and officers were trained almost exclusively for certain parts. When trained for these parts, they were joined to other groups, each similarly trained exclusively for some one part. In this way the regiments, brigades, and divisions were fitted together and sent to the front.
There can be no doubt that such a system produces quick results, and works reasonably well as long as the job faced by the whole remains the same. However, when the job to be done changes as materially as from trench to open warfare, the lack of elasticity in such a system immediately produces undesirable results.
There can be no question that many French and British officers, particularly those who had been in these armies prior to 1914, believed that training for open warfare should be had. Some efforts were made in this direction. However, the difficulties to be overcome were too great. The wear and tear of a number of years' war and the fact that trench warfare was the only kind the majority of officers and men had experienced or believed possible, prevented such efforts from becoming widespread enough to produce material results.
Our new army, while taught the elements of trench warfare, was primarily trained for open warfare. Thus, it was ready for the kind of warfare for which the Germans were preparing and which they were soon to introduce by smashing through the British trench system in March, and the French one in May, into the open country beyond.
Thus introducing our men as replacements in the British and French armies, while bettering their instruction in trench warfare, would add nothing to their training for open warfare.
Furthermore, finding that veteran French and British troops were trained only for trench warfare would weaken the confidence of our young inexperienced troops in the value of the training they had received; this, unknown to them, was soon to stand them in good stead in their first big battles, which, with the exception of a division here and there, were all to be in the open. From a strategical point of view, the use to which they probably would be put was even less desirable than the tactical.
Tactical training in trench warfare, instead of open, would hinder their success, but would not be necessarily fatal.
A strategical use of our man-power which would exhaust it in fighting that could not bring a decisive victory would be fatal.
The constant tendency of Mr. Lloyd George to seek an easier way of winning the war than whipping the German army in France had led to using British troops, badly needed by Marshal Sir Douglas Haig in France, in other theaters of war.
As a consequence, pouring our man-power into the British army very possibly would result in an equal number of British troops being withdrawn from France and used in the Balkans, Palestine, or Mesopotamia, all theaters of war in which desirable territory might be occupied, but in no one of which the German army could be decisively beaten.
Such a use of our man-power would not add to the total Allied strength in France, which every trained soldier knew was the only theater of war in which the German army could be beaten.
Also, the British strategy in France was not based on the principle of disregarding territory gained or lost, and thinking only of so maneuvering as to whip the German army in accordance with the strategical principle by which "Papa" Joffre won the first battle of the Marne.
It was based on the traditional British policy of keeping the enemy from occupying the English Channel ports and the country to their east.
Since England has been a nation her troops have fought in the Low Countries with this object. The Spanish and the French were their opponents in the past. This time, it was the Germans.
Starting with London as a center, the closest line of defense is the country just around outside. The next one, farther out, is the British seacoast along the Channel. The next one, always considered their first line of defense by the British strategists, is on the continent of Europe in Belgium and northern France.
In a German attack against England alone, the building up and holding of such a line would be all right. Even then, the best way to keep the Germans from invading England would be to whip the German army wherever it might be.
However, with a French and a Russian army--each bigger than the British army---to be faced, the Germans could not think of invading England.
In this case, tying the British army to the Channel ports was bad strategy. This because it meant that the British forces in France, instead of operating anywhere the military situation showed to be vital to Allied success, were tied down to the territory along the Channel.
It also meant that the much larger French army could be free to move, in cases where the heavy fighting was not in the north, only by taking the risk of leaving a gap between itself and the British. Not a complete gap, but a thinly held line, between the British and French, in March, 1918, gave Hindenburg and Ludendorff the opportunity which they promptly seized, with almost fatal results to the Allies.
This strategy had the same effect as would result from tying a prize fighter to his corner by a short piece of rope, instead of leaving him free to move as he thinks best to beat his opponent.
Whenever an army fights to defend ground, or to capture ground, rather than to beat the enemy's army wherever it may be, both sides soon sink into a mass of trenches.
The trench warfare in the last war was only the siege warfare of past wars conducted on a greater scale. Siege warfare has always been bloody. Siege warfare has never led to decisive results, because the capture of a piece of ground, or one or more cities, never decided a war. The very gallantry and determination of the British troops increased the bloodiness of the siege warfare they carried on, year after year, in northern France.
When a large price in blood is paid, and victory is not obtained, statesmen, and too often the public as well, inevitably condemn the generals. The longer the bloody siege warfare continued in northern France, the more the British statesmen criticized the British generals.
Whatever may have been their shortcomings, to have expected them with hastily raised armies to beat, and that quickly, probably the best prepared army the world has ever seen---that of Germany---was both unfair and tragic.
Military history is going to give them great credit for the way in which they organized, trained, and determinedly fought, despite every discouragement, a large war army raised from an unprepared people.
It is too soon after the event to say who was responsible for this unduly bloody siege warfare, year after year, in northern France.
It may have been the statesmen, whose idea of an army defending anything is to have the army sit down in a defensive position in front of it.
It may have been some of the British admiralty, which attached great importance to holding the French Channel ports not in German hands, and to the capture of those Belgian ones held by the Germans.
It is true that these ports were valuable as submarine bases. However, to tie down large armies in war time to the protection or capture of navy bases is as good strategy as to detail the infantry of an army to guard the forage and supply bases of the cavalry, or to use it to capture those of the enemy's cavalry.
The cavalry, by its success or failure in beating the enemy's cavalry, determines whether an army crosses the land frontier of an enemy to fight on the enemy's soil or has to fight on its own.
A navy, by its success or failure in beating the enemy's navy, determines whether an army crosses a sea to fight on enemy territory, or fights on its own when the enemy's army comes over the same sea.
Great admirals like Nelson never worried about using the army to protect their own or capture enemy navy bases. They sought and whipped the enemy's fleet, and then said to their own army, "Now you can go wherever necessary to beat the enemy army and thus win the war."
Whoever was responsible, the result was that the British army in France was tied down to a strategy which could not produce decisive victory and might invite defeat.
Thus, leaving aside every question other than the best tactics and strategy to avoid defeat and give the maximum chances for victory, it was General Pershing's duty to prevent our troops from being absorbed into the armies of the Allies.
However, when the great crisis came, and the first Hindenburg-Ludendorff assault was smashing its way through the Fifth British Army, and separating the British from the French, Pershing did not let the belief that an American army was essential to ultimate success cause him to hesitate to offer our troops in any way in which they might be useful.
This offer to General Foch, just appointed by the Doullens conference to supreme control of the Allied armies in France, was made immediately in writing and then in person as quickly as General Pershing could get to General Foch's headquarters.
It was this offer(30) which Marshal Foch, speaking at the banquet given by the Anciens Combattants de France to the American Legion in Paris in the summer of 1927, characterized as the most generous ever made by any general in history.
Furthermore, the American troops, because of General Pershing's foresight, were prepared to engage in that open warfare forced on the Allies by the Germans' breaking completely through the trench system into the country behind.
General Foch's first efforts, as soon as he assumed control, were to stop the victorious German advance. There being no organized central reserve, he had to take, besides the few French divisions in reserve back of that army, other French divisions out of the line. Before the Germans were stopped, he had taken twenty-five percent of the French divisions out of other parts of the line and brought them north to help the British. By the time the last of them arrived, forty divisions, or nearly one-half of the French army, had been put in this tremendous battle, stretching from north of Paris to Belgium.
The First and Second American divisions were also brought around north of Paris, the First being put in the line at Cantigny and the Second in reserve. Other American divisions were rushed to replace the French ones withdrawn from the trenches to be sent to this battle.
As soon as this battle, resulting from the first of the great Hindenburg-Ludendorff offensives in 1918, was over, General Foch proceeded to gather divisions to form a central reserve.
His idea was to gather this reserve in the country north and east of Paris. Thus, if the Germans again struck the British, making a still deeper salient toward the west, the reserve would be in a position to strike on its southern flank. On the other hand, if the Germans attacked the French, driving a salient toward the south, this reserve would be in a position to strike on its west flank.
Unfortunately, General Foch, while titular commander-in-chief of the Allied armies. in France--except the Belgian one---did not have the authority to order troops of any of the armies wherever he saw fit.
In exchange for the French help sent him, Marshal Haig had allowed four exhausted British divisions to be put in the French line between the Chemin-des-Dames and Rheims, to replace French divisions sent north. However, he was averse to allowing any more divisions to go beyond his immediate control.
General Pétain, expecting the next Hindenburg-Ludendorff attack to be made against him, was greatly worried about the strength of his line, almost half his force having been used to help the British against the first, or March, Hindenburg-Ludendorff attack.
The result was that when Hindenburg and Ludendorff made their second great attack---this time in May against the French front, along the Chemin-des-Dames and from there to Rheims---General Foch did not have a strong enough central reserve to strike the German western flank.
He had only a few French and American divisions. As the Germans drove south, sweeping the French and the four British divisions before them, making a deep salient which reached to the Marne River, they left a long exposed western flank.
Had General Foch then possessed the central reserve he had so long struggled for, of sufficient strength, he would have immediately struck this flank and undoubtedly turned a German victory into a German defeat. The few French and American divisions he had available were insufficient.
Our Third Division was rushed to the south bank of the Marne to stop the Germans from crossing that river at Château-Thierry, which it did. Our Second Division was rushed out along the Paris-Château-Thierry highway north to the Marne to stop the Germans from moving farther west, which it did.
After this second lesson of the danger of not having a central reserve, General Foch again endeavored to form one. He asked the British for four infantry divisions and later, as the evidence increased that the third Hindenburg-Ludendorff assault would again be against the French, for eight. He got four. Two others were moved to the southern part of the British line. At the time, Marshal Haig had the infantry of five American divisions, in strength more than the infantry of ten British ones.
Six American divisions---the First, Second, Third, Fourth, Twenty-sixth, and Twenty-eighth, the equivalent of twelve French, or thirteen British, divisions---were in place ready to strike, or had reached the locality where General Foch was assembling his central reserve. Other American divisions had replaced French divisions in other parts of the line, thus freeing these veterans for use in reserve.
Thus, when the third great Hindenburg-Ludendorff assault was made on July 15 and 16, 1918, the presence in France on the line, or in reserve, of 700,000 combat American troops gave General Foch the opportunity, for the first time, to form the central reserve, for which he had so long battled.
Early the morning of the 18th of July, he used this central reserve to strike a tremendous blow against the western flank of the German salient which reached to the Marne. This blow, relentlessly continued day after day, shoved its way eastward into the German salient to such an extent that finally Hindenburg had to give the order for the withdrawal of the German troops.
This blow was the beginning of the second, or offensive phase, which coupled with the preceding defensive against the third great assault of Hindenburg and Ludendorff, made up the second battle of the Marne.
This battle was not only a victory, but one of the decisive ones in the history of the world, because it turned the heretofore mounting tide of German victory to defeat.
This battle proved conclusively the soundness of General Foch's strategical views. It proved, by the success of our divisions fighting in the open, the soundness of General Pershing's tactical views. It proved the soundness of his strategical views, because our troops were available when General Foch most needed them, which they would not have been had they been scattered as replacements throughout the French and British armies.
General Foch was rewarded by being made a marshal of France. General Pershing was rewarded by being given the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor, the highest possible French decoration. Also, Marshal Foch agreed to the immediate formation of an American army under its own commander-in-chief.
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