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When the United States finally declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917, the British and French armies were at a point of total exhaustion.
Within two weeks the French troops had mutinied, leaving the Western Front practically undefended. In the same month, Lenin arrived in Moscow on the heels of the Russian Revolution and vowed to make peace with Germany. To make matters worse, the Allies had reason to be dubious about the help they were receiving from across the Atlantic. The ...
When the United States finally declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917, the British and French armies were at a point of total exhaustion.
Within two weeks the French troops had mutinied, leaving the Western Front practically undefended. In the same month, Lenin arrived in Moscow on the heels of the Russian Revolution and vowed to make peace with Germany. To make matters worse, the Allies had reason to be dubious about the help they were receiving from across the Atlantic. The U.S. Army ranked sixteenth in the world (behind Portugal), and most of its soldiers were poorly trained. Byron Farwell's informed, stirring account describes not only how the United States turned the tide of the war but also how the war served as a national coming-of-age experience, with all of the concomitant awkwardness and confusion. Moving deftly from the home front to the Marne, from statistics and strategy to vivid accounts of the chaotic violence of the battlefield, Farwell draws a comprehensive portrait of America's brutal entrance into the twentieth century.
EDGING TOWARD WAR
In the nineteenth century Bismarck predicted that "some damned thing in the Balkans" might someday plunge Europe into total war. He was right. In 1908 Austria annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina, so incensing the Serbs that when the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated by a young Serb at Sarajevo on 24 June 1914, the Austrians, suspecting Serbian complicity, delivered an unacceptable ultimatum and marched into Serbia.
A network of treaties insured that Europe had become, in the words of Albert Marrin, "a fireworks warehouse guarded by careless watchmen." The Austrian attack on Serbia brought Russia into the conflict, for it had a treaty with Serbia. A treaty between France and Russia brought in France. Germany, brought into the war by its pact with Austria, faced a two-front war, and when Italy sided with France, Austria, too, faced a war on two fronts.
Germany's strategy was first to knock France out of the conflict and then defeat Russia. Such a war had long been anticipated by the German Great General Staff and its chief at the turn of the century, General Alfred von Schlieffen. His plan called forGerman armies to swing through Belgium and Luxembourg to attack France from the north, while simply holding the Western Front facing France. Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg explained abrogation of the pact that ensured the neutrality of Belgium by saying that the invasion was "a matter of military necessity, and necessity knows no law." This brought Britain, a guarantor of Belgian neutrality, into the war.
Now the antagonists were evenly matched; neither could outreach the other. By 1917, after more than two years of war, the Allies and the Central Powers were locked on land in a hopeless, bloody, fruitless, seemingly endless conflict. There was valor aplenty on both sides; courage had not been wanting. But each new effort stagnated; battlefields became immobile killing grounds. In a war of attrition hundreds of thousands had fallen on both sides for negligible gains. On the Italian Front the Italian army, after five bloody, unimaginative offensives that resulted in 273,000 casualties, sought help from Britain and France. The Austrians had lost 184,000 and begged Berlin for aid. On the Salonika Front, where the French, British, and Serbians had suffered 50,000 casualties in a failed offensive, the survivors were being felled by malaria. General Erich Ludendorff sneered that Salonika was his biggest prison camp. Russia, after losing more than a million men, was on the verge of total collapse.
Shortly before he was killed in 1914, a French officer, Alfred Joubaire, scribbled in his diary: "Humanity is mad! It must be mad to do what it is doing. What a massacre! What bloody scenes of horror! Hell cannot be so terrible. Men are mad!"
So it seemed. Eventually, Bulgaria, Rumania, Japan, Italy, and even impotent South American countries, were drawn into the war's vortex. And so eventually was the United States.
In the first eight months of the war in Europe sentiment in the United States was mixed. The Literary Digest, having polled 367 writers and editors, announced that 105 favored the Allies, 20 favored the Central Powers, and 242 favored neutrality, but as the war progressed partiality for the Allied cause was encouraged by a barrage of expert British propaganda. The Central Powers found themselves powerless to compete, for Britannia, ruler of the waves, cut the cable between Germany and the United States.
American wrath was roused by the devastation wrought by German U-boats (Unterseeboots), by the execution of Nurse Edith Cavell, the destruction of the beautiful cathedral at Rheims and the burning of the famous library at Louvain. British politicians and even poets played up the beastliness of the Germans in Belgium and Thomas Hardy in December 1914 wrote a poem: "An Appeal to America on Behalf of the Belgian Destitute." Atrocity stories, widely credited, fed the flames. It was said that German soldiers had crucified Belgian officers on barn doors, and amputated the hands of Belgian boys and the breasts of Belgian women. The New York Herald ran a story under the headline: TOURIST SAW SOLDIER WITH BAGFUL OF EARS.
Herbert Hoover, forty years old in 1915, and in charge of Belgian relief efforts, had no trouble raising money and goods. "Women all over the world started knitting clothing," Hoover recalled. "They were mostly sweaters. The Belgian women carefully unraveled them and knitted them over again into shawls—which was their idea of a knitted garment."
Above all, it was the sinking by the U-20 of the British passenger liner Lusitania, the most luxurious ship afloat, on 7 May 1915, which rallied most Americans to the Allied side.
The ship had been designed for the Cunard Line by Leonard Peskett, following certain guidelines established by the British Admiralty, which subsidized its cost. Displacing 45,000 tons, it was 785 feet long, the biggest and at 25.88 knots the fastest ship afloat; capable of carrying about 2,000 passengers and a crew of nearly 900. The New York Times declared that it was "as unsinkable as a ship can be."
Launched at Clydebank on 7 June 1906, it made the first of many voyages from Liverpool to New York on 7 September 1907. In May 1913 it was drydocked to be fitted with posts that could house artillery. The Great War began on 4 August 1914 and on 14 September the Admiralty informed Cunard that the Lusitania must carry war material, although this was a clear violation of the Cruiser Laws—traditional naval laws regarding warfare at sea established by Henry VIII in 1512. Thereafter, mounting twelve six-inch guns and classed by the Admiralty as an auxiliary cruiser the Lusitania carried war material as well as passengers unaware of their danger.
The Lusitania's captain, fifty-nine-year-old William Turner, who had two sons on the Western Front, had been a seaman since the age of thirteen. He had so little fear of submarines that he refused to zigzag, a maneuver which would use more coal and make his voyages more expensive. He could outrun or ram them, he said.
On 26 April 1915 the German government informed the American Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan that on its next voyage the Lusitania would sail from New York carrying six million rounds of .303 rifle ammunition manufactured by Remington for British Enfield rifles. Permission was requested to print a warning to the American public. Cleared by Bryan, it appeared bordered in black in New York newspapers on 1 May 1915, sharing a page with Cunard's announcement of the scheduled departure of the ship for its 202nd crossing. Still, Cunard reported no more than the usual number of last-minute cancellations.
In addition to the ten and one-half tons of rifle cartridges in 4,200 boxes, the Lusitania sailed with fifty-one tons of shrapnel shells, and an unknown quantity of guncotton of the kind used in mines manufactured to explode when exposed to water, all a part of the billion dollars worth of war material the United States sold to the Allies. Some extra cargo, including 200 additional tons of ammunition, and sixty-seven soldiers of the 6th Winnipeg Rifles, was taken on from the mechanically distressed SS Queen Margaret. Carrying both British troops and contraband ammunition, the Lusitania was thus a legitimate target for any German submarine.
This was not the first time the British had recklessly endangered the lives of peaceful civilians by mixing war material and passengers. On 16 January 1915 the Cunard liner Orduna sailed from New York with 155 civilian passengers and two fourteen-inch guns consigned to Liverpool lashed down on her forward deck.
Of the 1,257 passengers on the Lusitania, 159 were Americans, of whom 124 perished including the multimillionaire Alfred Vanderbilt, thirty-eight, one of the world's most eligible bachelors; theatrical impresario Charles Frohman; and the flamboyant Elbert Hubbard, the "Sage of East Aurora," best known as the author of A Message to Garcia, and publisher of the journal, The Philistine. Hubbard was on his way to Germany in the hope of interviewing Kaiser Wilhelm.
When Kapitänleutnant Walther Schwieger, the handsome thirty-two-year-old commander of the U-20, sighted the Lusitania off the coast of Ireland by the Old Head of Kinsale, he had only two torpedoes left. One was enough. He fired it at 1:35 P.M. Greenwich Mean Time and it struck the liner just forward of the bridge on the starboard side. The largest ship afloat sank in 18 minutes in 300 feet of water. Only 764 survived. Of the 1,959 passengers and crew, 1,195 perished. Of the 129 children on board, 95 were lost. A photograph of Mrs. Paul Crompton of Philadelphia and her six children was later widely published. All were lost.
American newspapers heralded their outrage and indignation. The Des Moines Register and Leader declared the sinking "deliberate murder." The New York Herald pronounced it "premeditated murder." The New York Times, putting history to one side, thundered "in the history of wars there is no single deed comparable in its inhumanity and its horror." Theodore Roosevelt called it "piracy on a grander scale than any old-time pirate ever practiced" and, ever the fire-eater, demanded that the United States declare war at once. Walter Hines Page, the Anglophile American ambassador in London, agreed and cabled: "We must declare war at once or forfeit European respect."
Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan was one of the few who viewed the disaster realistically: "Germany," he said, "has a right to prevent contraband going to the Allies and a ship carrying contraband should not rely upon passengers to prevent her from attack." Few chose to regard the disaster in this light.
President Woodrow Wilson, elected in 1912, and reelected in 1916 on the slogan that "he kept us out of war," opposed any military preparations. However, he pronounced the sinking of the Lusitania "unlawful and inhuman," and he demanded reparations. The tone of his notes to the German government shocked Secretary Bryan, who on 9 May, after United States Customs had confirmed that the Lusitania carried contraband, wrote to Wilson recommending that passenger ships be prohibited from carrying war matériel: "A ship carrying contraband should not rely upon passengers to protect her from attack—it would be like putting women and children in front of an army." True enough, but the country, including Wilson, placed the blame not on the provocative and reprehensible policy of the British Admiralty but upon German submarine rules of engagement, and on 9 June, after Wilson dispatched still another sharp note, Bryan resigned in protest.
In vain the Germans pointed out that the Lusitania had been built with Admiralty funds and was officially classed as an auxiliary cruiser, that it was armed, carrying contraband ammunition, and was sunk in the war zone. In February 1916 German authorities even agreed to pay some reparation to Americans, but Wilson considered the sum they named inadequate. The matter smoldered until it became moot with America's entry into the war.
The sinking of the Lusitania brought home the new realities of the war. Almost from the beginning there occurred a breakdown of all traditional attempts to shield noncombatants from war's traumas. They were to suffer not only from blockades, but from the bombing of cities, the destruction of crops and livestock, and the leveling of villages.
The fate of the great ship gave new momentum to the clamor of those who demanded immediate entry into the war. But Wilson had no intention of going to war; on 10 May, three days after the sinking, in a talk in Philadelphia to 4,000 newly made citizens he said, "There is such a thing as a man being too proud to fight." This was too much for the fire-eaters. Theodore Roosevelt raged against "Flubdubs and Molycoddles!," ignoring the incontrovertible fact that the country was unprepared to fight. In 1914 the Army War College had begun work on what was to be entitled "A Statement of a Proper Military Policy for the United States." Completed, it demonstrated that some thinking officers had a clear-eyed view of modern warfare: "The safeguard of isolation no longer exists. The oceans, once barriers, are now easy avenues of approach by reason of the number, speed and carrying capacity of ocean-going vessels. The increasing radii of action of the submarine, the aeroplane, and wireless telegraphy, all supplement ocean transport in placing both our Atlantic and Pacific coasts within the sphere of hostile activities of overseas nations.
"The great mass of the public does not yet realize the effect of these changed conditions upon our scheme of defense."
War College analysts estimated that the country needed a standing army of at least 500,000 backed by a fully equipped reserve of equal strength, that it would take from eighteen to twenty-four months just to arm and equip such a force, and that, above all, trained manpower would be essential.
One small step already had been taken. In 1913 General Leonard Wood, a medical doctor turned professional soldier, brave, egotistical, flamboyant, ambitious, and short-tempered—Walter Lippmann said he had an "apoplectic soul"—was the senior officer in the army and commander of the Department of the East. Convinced that war was in the offing, he acted on a suggestion of Grenville Clark, a New York lawyer, and established a military training camp at Plattsburg, New York. There, largely at their own expense, Clark and other professionals and businessmen, many of whom were socially prominent, were trained to be reserve officers in a five-week course given by regular army personnel. General Wood adopted preparedness as a crusade, calling Plattsburg "a voice to the slumbering people of the country," and, thanks to financial aid provided by financier Bernard Baruch and his wealthy friends, the movement expanded to other eastern cities. More camps were established and some 16,000 young business and professional men received some training.
Wood was well aware that the main value of the camps was political. "We do not expect," he said, "to accomplish much in the way of detailed military instruction, ... but we do believe a great deal can be done in the implementing of a sound military policy."
Wood himself, an indefatigable lecturer, cultivator of the press, and attender of dinner parties of the nation's movers and shakers, "talked preparedness day and night to whomever would listen." An early supporter of the Plattsburg Movement, as it came to be called, was Wood's good friend, the aging lion, Theodore Roosevelt, who managed to undermine Wood's relationship with the Wilson administration and alienate a considerable number of conservatives by delivering at Plattsburg a fiery antipacifist, anti-Wilson speech. To reporters there he pointed out a dog that had rolled over on its back to have its stomach scratched. "A very nice dog," said Roosevelt, "His present attitude is strictly one of neutrality."
In 1916 Wilson's then secretary of war, Lindley M. Garrison, and his assistant, Henry Breckinridge, drew up a national defense plan supported by Wilson, calling for the establishment over a three-year period of a large volunteer federal reserve, a so-called Continental Army. When this created a stir in Congress, Wilson withdrew his support and Garrison and Breckinridge resigned. However, in June Congress passed the National Defense Act, authorizing the president to commandeer factories and to establish a government nitrate plant, and authorizing the army to double its strength by adding 11,450 officers and 223,580 enlisted men in annual increments over five years. The militia, identified as the National Guard, was authorized to expand to 17,000 officers and 440,000 men; reserve officer recruitment was restricted to existing sources, giving a near-death blow to the Plattsburg Movement and pleasing the politicized National Guard, whose officers saw the movement as a back door to army commissions for a privileged northeastern elite and a threat to their interests.
On 30 July 1916 the United States came a bit closer to the war when on Black Tom Island, a man-made promontory jutting into New York Harbor from New Jersey, an ammunition dump holding over two million pounds of explosives blew up, raining shards upon Ellis Island, damaging the Statue of Liberty, and blowing out windows in Brooklyn. There were, surprisingly, only seven fatalities. Although the explosion was widely believed to be the work of German agents, it was not until after World War II that incontrovertible evidence was found linking it to the German government.
In August 1916 Congress created a Council of National Defense to integrate economic and military power. The Council included Dr. Hollis Godfrey, president of the Drexel Institute in Philadelphia, and eminent zoologist Dr. Harry Edward Crampton of Columbia University, as well as six cabinet ministers and an advisory commission of labor leaders and professors. It accomplished little.
Such feeble measures demonstrated a clear lack of understanding of the requirements for waging modern war. Historian B. H. Liddell Hart was later to describe the United States as "a giant armed with a penknife." An exception was the Industrial Preparedness Committee formed by Howard E. Coffin, a wealthy engineer and a vice president of the Hudson Motor Car Company, who wrote: "Twentieth century warfare demands that the blood of the soldier must be mingled three to five parts with the sweat of the man in the factories, mills, mines and fields of the nation in arms." His committee surveyed the country's industries and by September 1916 some 200,000 plants had reported what they might be capable of doing in case of war.
While the government waffled, numerous Americans took matters in their own hands and joined organizations providing aid to Allied troops and to refugees. Writers such as Edith Wharton and Henry James threw themselves into war work, aiding refugees and sick and wounded soldiers. Many Americans, like Wharton, believed that a German victory would be "the crash of civilization." Some men volunteered as ambulance drivers, the most glamorous of these services, a wealthy few even offering their own automobiles, for when the Great War began the French army had only forty motorized ambulances and those capable of driving motorized vehicles and maintaining them were thin on the ground.
Many of the drivers were recruited from eastern prep schools and Ivy League universities. Among them were future luminaries such as Walt Disney, John Dos Passos, E. E. Cummings, Archibald Macleish, Louis Bromfield, Charles B. Nordhoff, and Malcolm Cowley, although the driving career of many was brief. Ernest Hemingway's active service in Italy lasted only from 4 June until 8 July 1918.
Most Americans who served in ambulance corps in France were members of one of the three major volunteer organizations. The first, the Harjes Formation, was founded by thirty-nine-year-old H. Herman Harjes, a senior partner of the Morgan-Harjes Bank in Paris, who provided it with five Packards. A second, the Anglo-American Volunteer Motor-Ambulance Corps initially sponsored by the British Red Cross and the St. John Ambulance association, was founded by forty-two-year-old Richard Norton, the son of Harvard's distinguished professor of art history, Charles Eliot Norton. In 1916 the Norton and Harjes organizations amalgamated and became known as the Norton-Harjes Sections. By the time the United States declared war in April 1917 the Norton-Harjes group had increased in size from a handful of automobiles and drivers to more than 100 vehicles and some 200 personnel.
Still another unit was operated by forty-one-year-old Abram Piatt Andrew, a bachelor and Princeton graduate (1893) from Gloucester, Massachusetts, who had served as an economics professor at Harvard, as director of the United States Mint, and as assistant secretary of the Treasury. At first an ambulance driver for the American Ambulance (military hospital) at Neuilly, he soon became its director and expanded the operation enormously.
Numerous smaller, volunteer organizations provided goods and services for sick and wounded soldiers. For a time Gertrude Stein and her companion, Alice B. Toklas, drove for the American Fund for French Wounded. Their Model T Ford, christened "Aunt Pauline," was provided by Miss Stein who had written to her cousin, Fred Stein, in America asking him to send her one. While waiting for it she prudently prepared herself by taking driving lessons from a Paris taxi driver. When the car finally arrived early in 1917, it was taken to a workshop where a truck body was fitted to it. All work completed, the two ladies confidently set off; however, within a few blocks, they found themselves wedged between two Paris street cars bearing down in opposite directions. Undeterred, the next day they began what was known as jitney work, delivering donated supplies to military hospitals.
Neither Stein nor Toklas knew much about repairing or maintaining their vehicle. Miss Stein once attempted to repair a broken fan belt with a hairpin. Stopped at the side of the road one day, frightened because Aunt Pauline was making a strange noise, they were befriended by two American soldiers. Miss Toklas later told how "they got down on their knees and before you knew it they had taken the engine down, looked it over, brushed all the parts and put them back again. This did not take them any time at all. Gertrude and I were astonished." Aunt Pauline saw hard service and when a friend unkindly remarked that it "resembled a second-class hearse," Miss Stein simply bought another and they went on with their work.
The Model T, manufactured with few changes since 1908, became the ambulance of choice in France. In 1916 one could be purchased for $360 FOB (Freight on Board) Detroit. Shipped to France, it was modified to carry three stretchers or four walking wounded, although they often carried more. Originally the body was covered with a canvas, but this proved difficult to clean and disinfect so early in 1916 the canvas was replaced by wood. A number of attached boxes held spare parts and tools and room was found for cans of gas and water as well as a can of oil and one of kerosene. At least twenty areas required regular greasing or oiling and drivers were expected to be skilled in car maintenance and repair.
Learning to drive the Fords with their gearless transmissions was not easy, involving as it did maneuvering three foot pedals and a hand lever with three positions. Orchestrating them, wrote one driver, "was an acquired art, rather like playing the organ. The whole body was engaged." E. B. White once described the Ford planetary transmission as "half metaphysics and half sheer fiction."
Drivers came face to face with war's realities. Jack Edwards wrote back to Bowdoin College, his alma mater: "Americans don't know what war means, filth, mud, sickness, ruins and rain."
In all about 15,000 young Americans, lured by a spirit of adventure, inspired by humanitarian motives, or convinced of the righteousness of the Allied cause, went to war before the United States was involved, many in combat roles. On 5 September 1914 Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, eager to enlist Americans into the war, wrote to War Minister Lord Kitchener and to Prime Minister Edward Grey, stating his belief that a division could be raised in Canada composed of American volunteers: "Nothing will bring along American sympathy with us so much as American blood shed in the field," he added.
As Churchill had predicted, so many young men crossed to Canada to enlist that the 97th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force was officially named the "American Legion." A number of its officers were West Pointers.
Poet Alan Seeger and eighty-nine other Americans joined the French Foreign Legion. From the Aisne sector of the Western Front he wrote his mother: "Everybody should take part in this struggle which is to have so decisive an effect, not only on the nations engaged but on all humanity. There should be no neutrals ... death is nothing terrible after all. It may mean something even more than life." Seeger, at the age of twenty-nine, had his "rendezvous with death" on 4 July 1916 near Belloy-en-Santerre on the fourth day of the French offensive on the Somme.
Casper Henry Burton, Jr., of Cincinnati, who had been a medical student at Harvard, served with the British. In a letter to his mother he wrote: "Death doesn't seem as dreadful to me as failure to do whatever job you are given. For each little failure prolongs the war, each little failure strengthens Prussian power." He did not survive the war.
Excerpted from Over There by Byron Farwell Copyright ©2000 by Byron Farwell. Excerpted by permission.
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|Chapter 1||Edging Toward War||21|
|Chapter 2||The United States Enters the War||31|
|Chapter 3||The Tools and Engines of Destruction||42|
|Chapter 4||Finding the Men and Tools||49|
|Chapter 5||Training in the United States||60|
|Chapter 6||The War at Sea: The Anti-Submarine Campaign||69|
|Chapter 7||The War at Sea: Getting the Army Over There||79|
|Chapter 8||The AEF Arrives Over There||87|
|Chapter 9||France: First Casualties||99|
|Chapter 10||Trench Warfare||110|
|Chapter 11||First Battles: Seicheprey and Cantigny||115|
|Chapter 12||Home Front||122|
|Chapter 13||Army Welfare||135|
|Chapter 14||Venereal Disease||141|
|Chapter 15||Blacks and Indians in the American Army||148|
|Chapter 16||Second Battle of the Marne: On the Aisne River||161|
|Chapter 17||Second Battle of the Marne: Final Phase||177|
|Chapter 18||The War in the Air||189|
|Chapter 19||The St. Mihiel Offensive: 12-16 September 1918||206|
|Chapter 20||The Meuse-Argonne Offensive: First Phase September-October 1918||218|
|Chapter 21||Meuse-Argonne: The Final Phase||229|
|Chapter 22||Americans Under European Commanders||245|
|Chapter 24||The Army of Occupation and the Wait for Shipping Space||267|
|Chapter 25||Intervention in Northern Russia and Siberia||273|
|Chapter 26||Return of the Legions||285|
|Chapter 27||Epilogue: Medals and Other Honors||295|
|Appendix A||Words and Expressions from the Great War||301|
|Appendix B||The "Hello Girls"||306|
|The "Lost Battalion"||311|