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American Expeditionary Force AEF

Continuing to champion neutrality, President Wilson was personally becoming more aware of the necessity for military preparedness. Near the end of a nationwide speaking tour in February 1916, he not only called for creation of "the greatest navy in the world" but also urged widespread military training for civilians. The Secretary of War, Lindley M. Garrison submitted as an annex to the Secretary's annual report in September 1915, a study prepared by the General Staff entitled, "A Proper Military Policy for the United States." Like proposals for reform advanced earlier by Stimson and Wood, the new study turned away from the Uptonian idea of an expansible Regular Army, which Root had favored, to the more traditional American concept of a citizen army as the keystone of an adequate defense force. Garrison proposed more than doubling the Regular Army, increasing federal support for the National Guard, and creating a new 400,000-man volunteer force to be called the Continental Army, a trained reserve under federal control as opposed to the state control of the Guard. Although Wilson refused to accept more than a small increase in the Regular Army, he approved the concept of a Continental Army.

The National Defense Act of 1916 authorized an increase in the peacetime strength of the Regular Army over a period of five years to 175,000 men and a wartime strength of close to 300,000. Bolstered by federal funds and federal-stipulated organization and standards of training, the National Guard was to be increased more than fourfold to a strength of over 400,000 and obligated to respond to the call of the President. The act also established both an Officers' and an Enlisted Reserve Corps and a Volunteer Army to be raised only in time of war.

On April 6, 1917, the United States declared war on Germany. The US Army was in no position to make its weight felt immediately. Counting that part of the National Guard federalized for duty on the Mexican border, the Army numbered only 210,000 men with an additional 97,000 Guardsmen still in state service. Not a single unit of divisional size existed.

In mid-May 1917 Congress passed a Selective Service Act that required all males between the ages of 21 and 30 to register. These ages later were extended from 18 to 45. The Selective Service Act also established the broad outlines of the Army's structure. There were to be three increments: (I) the Regular Army, to be raised immediately to the full wartime strength of 286,000 authorized in the National Defense Act of 1916; (2) the National Guard, also to be expanded immediately to the authorized strength of approximately 450,000; and (3) a National Army (the National Defense Act had called it a Volunteer Army), to be created in two increments of 500,000 men each at such time as the President should determine.

The Army General Staff quickly decided that to bolster Allied morale a division should be shipped as promptly as possible to France as tangible evidence that the United States intended to fight. Forming a division required collecting as a nucleus four infantry regiments from the Mexican border, building them up to strength with men from other regiments and with recruits, and calling Reserve officers to fill out the staffs. By mid-June 1917 the 1st Infantry Division had begun to embark amid dockside confusion not unlike that in the Spanish-American War. Not only did the men lack many of their weapons but a large number had never even heard of some of them. Yet the pertinent fact was that a division was on the way to provide a much-needed boost for the war-weary Allied nations. On the Fourth of July 1917, a battalion of the 16th Infantry marched through Paris to French cheers of near delirium, but it would be months before the 1st Division would be sufficiently trained to participate in the war even on a quiet sector of the front.

To command the American Expeditionary Forces, President Wilson chose the man with command experience in Mexico, John J. Pershing, even though Pershing was junior to five other major generals in the Army. Within three weeks of the appointment, Pershing was on his way to France to survey the situation and furnish the War Department with an estimate of the forces that would have to be provided. He was present for the I6th Infantry's parade on the Fourth of July and participated in a ceremony at the tomb of General Lafayette, where a Quartermaster colonel - not Pershing, as many would long believe - uttered the words, "Lafayette, we are here."

The total number of officers and men in the army about the middle of July 1918 was approximately 2,200,000, distributed as follows: On the front with General Pershing. 700.000 Training in France and Great Britain, and en route to Europe 400,000 Training in the United States and stationed at army posts 1,100,000. From April 6, 1917, when war was declared, to July 1, 1918, the regular army has increased from 5,791 officers and 121,797 enlisted men to 11,365 officers and 514,376 enlisted men; the National Guard in Federal service from 3,733 officers and 76,713 enlisted men to 17,070 officers and 417,441 enlisted men; the Reserve Corps in actual service has increased from 4,000 enlisted men to 131,968 officers and 78,560 enlisted men; the National Army has been created with an enlisted force of approximately 1,000,000 men.

Despite the efforts of the army and the AEF to overcome the corporate shortfalls that existed, Pershing found himself at the point of political criticism for the poor American showing throughout the war. The Army's ineffectiveness quickly became the subject of political debate, and Pershing, equally as fast, found himself the subject of intense and personal political scrutiny. Senior political leaders were unanimous in their criticism. British Prime Minister David Lloyd George showed uncharacteristic frustration, referring to Pershing as "most difficult," and his army as "quite ineffective." Premier Georges Clemenceau noted, "Pershing was handling his men badly and causing unnecessary casualties. He is not making the progress he should and that which the other allies are making." The American entered the Great War at a late hour, and the war was virtually over by the time US military intervention had significant effect. Pershing's refused to integrate the American Expeditionary Force into the allied command. Pershing naïvely believe the AEF could do what the allies could not, by making mass frontal attacks. The British and French had learned the hard lesson that this was not the way to win the war, but Pershing refused to listen. He made three attempts to break through the German lines, and failed miserably each time, incurring the ususal horrendous losses. Finally, on the fourth attempt, Pershing broke through, but by then the German flanks were in danger from the allies on each side. Only in the last week of the war did the AEF make a significant advanced, but this was against fleeing German troops. Wilson took little time to announce it was America that won the war.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 01:33:56 ZULU