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First US Army

History: First Army in the Great War

General Orders, No. 35, War Department, 1910, provided for an organization designated as the "First Field Army." This consisted of Regulars and Organized Militia stationed within the limits of the State of New York and the New England States. This order contemplated a field army of three divisions. It was found that, had this field army been mobilized (as was at one time contemplated for purposes of instruction), there would have been a deficiency of all auxiliary troops, but the most glaring shortage would have been in the sanitary service.

It was intended during the ensuing year to perfect similar organizations embracing the remaining regular and militia forces in the United States, and to carry the policy one step further by the actual mobilization of at least one division of the first field army. This was a field army only in name, as the supply of war material is so deficient that its complete organization and equipment is, under present conditions, impossible without great delay. The same was true even to a greater extent of the other proposed field armies; not only is war material of most kinds wanting, but there were only regular troops and militia sufficient to form the barest skeleton of a field army in the various field army districts.

First United States Army was formed in France on August 10, 1918 with General John J. Pershing commanding. From division to army corps, from army corps to field army, the American forces in France had in a few weeks rapidly passed through the stages of development toward the creation of larger units. Pershing's army has now reached the stage where it was practically as independent an organization as the armies under Haig and Ptain; alongside them it was a separate fighting force under the direction of the allied Generalissimo alone.

The announcement of the organization of the first American field army was contained in the following dispatch from France, dated Aug. 11, 1918: "The first American field army has been organized. It is under the direct command of General John J. Pershlng, Commander in Chief of the American forces. The corps commanders thus far announced are Major Gens. Liggett, Bullard, Bundy, Read, and Wright. The creation of the first field army la the first step toward the co-ordination of all the American forces in France. This does not mean the immediate withdrawal from the British and French commands of all American units, and it is probable that divisions will be used on the French and British fronts for weeks yet. It Is understood, however, that the policy of organizing other armies will be carried out steadily."

This announcement marked a milestone in the military effort of the United States. When the American troops first arrived in France, they were associated in small units with the French to get a primary training. Gradually regiments began to function under French division commanders. Then American divisions were formed and trained under French corps commanders. Next, and only recently, American corps began to operate under French army commanders. Finally the first American army was created, because enough divisions and corps had been graduated from the school of experience.

This army was composed of two army corps each made up of one Regular Army division, one National Army division, and one division of National Guard. It was equivalent in size to some French army groups, while one of our corps was almost equivalent to a French army, and one of our divisions almost equivalent to a French corps, this being another instance of a tendency to do things on a big scale.

As America's FIRST numbered Army, First Army engaged in two major operations - the reduction of the St. Mihiel salient, east of Verdun, and the great Meuse-Argonne offensive, west of Verdun. Listed among First Army's distinguished soldiers were Lt. Gen. Hunter Liggett, Brig. Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Col. George C. Marshall, Maj. Eddie Rickenbacker, Brig. Gen. Billy Mitchell and Sgt. Alvin York. After World War I ended and after a short period of occupation in Europe, First Army was deactivated in 1919.

After approval by Congress of his declaration of war against Germany in April 1917, President Woodrow Wilson appointed Gen. John J. Pershing to lead an American Expeditionary Force (AEF) to France to aid the allies, the battle-weary English and French. When America entered the war, France was on the verge of collapse. Since the standing Army was only 98,000 strong and the National Guard numbered only 27,000 troops, it became clear that conscription was needed to quickly raise a large Army. Pershing was to have his Army, but it needed to be trained. Meanwhile, Pershing was forming his First Army staff while overseeing the AEF.

As more American troops arrived, Pershing insisted that they be trained to exacting standards before they could be sent to the front. French and English troops who fought in the trenches, helped train American Soldiers. Before long, more than 500,000 Americans were on French soil. Pershing ensured his troops were trained continuously by battle-seasoned Soldiers.

Driving the Germans out, in September 1918, Pershing led 500,000 Soldiers in the reduction of the St. Mihiel salient. This was a first victory of the First United States Army in the first entirely U.S. operation. Pershing's staff consisted of such future leaders of World War II as Maj. Douglas MacArthur; Col. George C. Marshall; sharpshooter and Medal of Honor recipient from Tennessee, Pvt. Alvin York; Maj. Eddie Rickenbaker; Brig. Gen. Billy Mitchell, Lt. Gen. Hunter Liggett, and Capt. George S. Patton, commander of the newly formed U.S. Army Tank Corps.

In one of the most spectacular troop movements of all time, Marshall, then First Army's Operations Officer, planned and directed the transfer of 600,000 men with complete secrecy for the massive offensive in the Meuse-Argonne Campaign, west of Verdun. Fighting in cold rainy weather for 47 days, Pershing's Soldiers helped smash the Hindenburg line and speed the German surrender.

Hunter Liggett was assigned to command of First Field Army, American Expeditionary Force, Oct. 12, 1918: commanding 1st Army, A. E. F., from Oct. 12, 1918, and promoted to lieutenant-general, U.S.A,, Oct. 16, 1918. The failure of the American I. Army on Oct. 4 to gain its objectives on the eastern half of the Meuse-Aire plateau in its renewed attack of that date made it clear to Gen. Petain that a broader base was required to push the attack beyond the main Hindenburg line, and that the possession by the Germans of the heights E. of the Meuse afforded them too favourable artillery positions and observation posts to make possible an extended advance to the N.W. of the Meuse. On the 16th, Gen. Pershing transferred the immediate command of the I. Army to Lt.-Gen. Liggett, and exercised supervision, as group commander, of both armies. On Oct. 21 Pershing ordered a renewal of the offensive with plans for a break-through for Oct. 28, but this attack was, on request, deferred until Nov. 1 to enable the IV. French Army to make plans for attacking simultaneously.

The First Field Army consisted of five Army Corps and Army Troops, aggregating nearly one million men and four thousand guns; it broke the enemy's line of resistance completely, Nov. 1 to 11, 1918; after driving the German Army (Von Marwitz) in this Sector, to the eas-t of the Meuse River, it crossed and established a bridgehead thirty or forty miles long on the east bank; by this operation the German front was definitely broken and their Army split into two parts, each with an exposed flank).

The I. Army, during the Meuse-Argonne operation, had employed 22 American divisions and 4 French divisions. Of the 22 American divisions 12 were engaged on other fronts during a part of the period (Sept. 26 to Nov. 11). On the German side, in addition to the 5 divisions originally in the sector, 42 divisions had, in the course of the battle, been thrown into line. Thus, in all, one-fourth of the German army in the W. had been engaged and decisively beaten by the I. American Army, although occupying successively the numerous and strong defensive positions prepared long in advance. The strength of the American troops involved was, in the aggregate, about 750,000 men, their losses 117,000 killed and wounded, their captures 26,000 prisoners and 846 guns.

After World War I ended and after a short period of occupation in Europe, First Army was deactivated April 20, 1919.

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