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US Army Divisions in the Great War

The Great War differed from other wars in American history in that its achievements were written in terms of divisions rather than in terms of regiments as was usually the case in the Civil War and other great wars. In modern warfare, the inter-dependence of the different branches of the service is greater than ever before. Infantry cannot successfully fight without the aid of artillery, machine-guns, signal arrangements, and the dozen other forces necessary to make an attack. The vast number of men used in modern warfare cannot be foraged in a war-ruined country, nor can the enormous quantities of ammunition necessary be carried by man or beast.

To meet these conditions, every modern army is made up of divisions. The numbers vary from about 14,000 men per division in the French and German armies to about 28,000 men in each American Division. The division is always an organized unit - about half Infantrymen, one-fourth Artillery, Trench Mortar and Machine-Gun men, and one-fourth units which assist the others by building roads, bridges, providing signal communications, ammunition, supplies, hospital and ambulance accommodations, etc. In the division every unit is directly dependent upon another, and it has been this inter-dependence which has largely developed divisional spirit and has made the division the modern fighting unit.

With the exception of the Regular Army Divisions, most of the divisions were organized and trained at some particular camp in the States; each division went overseas as a division; finished its training in France usually as a division, and in practically all the engagements except the earliest ones, fought as a division.

The US infantry division was 28,000 men, almost double that of Allied and German divisions, which meant in numbers of men that 100 US divisions were the equivalent of almost 200 Allied divisions. This size was a result of one of Pershing's early recommendations, which, along with advice of military missions sent from France and Britain, prompted radical changes in organization of the U.S. infantry division. The need, as Pershing saw it, was for a division large enough to provide immense striking and staying power, one larger in size than most army corps of the Civil War. As determined by the War Department, the division was to be organized in 2 infantry brigades of 2 regiments each, a field artillery brigade with 1 heavy and 2 light regiments, a regiment of combat engineers, 3 machine gun battalions, plus signal, medical, and other supporting troops.

Attention is invited to the fact that out of the total of 2,079,880 American troops transported by 11 November 1918, but 194,965, or less than 10 per cent, had been transported in 1917. Furthermore, when the crisis of the German offensive came upon the Allies in March, 1918, there were less than 400,000 American troops in Europe. It may be claimed that more rapid shipment of troops prior to the spring of 1918 was impossible because the troops were not ready. But Gen. Pershing states in his report that during this earlier period there was great dearth of shipping to transport materials essential for construction in preparation for the American forces (p. 66). In view of this dearth of shipping it is difficult to see how, had the troops been ready, they could have been transported. The conclusion seems unavoidable, therefore, that dearth of shipping tonnage was the directly controlling cause of there being so comparatively few American troops in Europe prior to April 1918.

As the war proceeded, the Army actually would reach a peak strength of 3,685,458. By Armistice Day, 11 November 1918, the Army had fielded 1 cavalry division, 1 provisional infantry division of colored troops, and 62 infantry divisions. Of these 43 were sent overseas, and many had seen combat. On this basis, when the war came to an end, the Army was running close to the projected goal of 52 divisions to be in France by the end of 1918. But some were little more than paper units, lacking troops or insignia. The remaining 16 divisions needed to complete the 80 division program had not progressed to the point of receiving even paper designations.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 01:35:34 ZULU