American Expeditionary Forces

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American Expeditionary Forces
American Expeditionary Force Baker Mission.jpg
Officers of the AEF and the Baker Mission, c. 1918.
DisbandedAugust 31, 1920
CountryFlag of the United States (1912-1959).svg  United States
Branch Seal of the United States Department of War.png United States Army
Sizec. 2,000,000 men
General Headquarters Chaumont, France
Engagements Western Front

Italian Front

Commander in Chief Gen. John J. Pershing

The American Expeditionary Forces (A. E. F., A.E.F. or AEF) was a formation of the United States Army on the Western Front of World War I. The AEF was established on July 5, 1917, in France under the command of Gen. John J. Pershing. It fought alongside French Army, British Army, Canadian Army, and Australian Army units against the German Empire. A minority of the AEF troops also fought alongside Italian Army units in that same year against the Austro-Hungarian Army. The AEF helped the French Army on the Western Front during the Aisne Offensive (at the Battle of Château-Thierry and Battle of Belleau Wood) in the summer of 1918, and fought its major actions in the Battle of Saint-Mihiel and the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in the latter part of 1918.

United States Army Land warfare branch of the United States Armed Forces

The United States Army (USA) is the land warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces. It is one of the seven uniformed services of the United States, and is designated as the Army of the United States in the United States Constitution. As the oldest and most senior branch of the U.S. military in order of precedence, the modern U.S. Army has its roots in the Continental Army, which was formed to fight the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783)—before the United States of America was established as a country. After the Revolutionary War, the Congress of the Confederation created the United States Army on 3 June 1784 to replace the disbanded Continental Army. The United States Army considers itself descended from the Continental Army, and dates its institutional inception from the origin of that armed force in 1775.

Western Front (World War I) main theatre of war during the First World War

The Western Front was the main theatre of war during the First World War. Following the outbreak of war in August 1914, the German Army opened the Western Front by invading Luxembourg and Belgium, then gaining military control of important industrial regions in France. The tide of the advance was dramatically turned with the Battle of the Marne. Following the Race to the Sea, both sides dug in along a meandering line of fortified trenches, stretching from the North Sea to the Swiss frontier with France, which changed little except during early 1917 and in 1918.

World War I 1914–1918 global war originating in Europe

World War I, also known as the First World War or the Great War, was a global war originating in Europe that lasted from 28 July 1914 to 11 November 1918. Contemporaneously described as "the war to end all wars", it led to the mobilisation of more than 70 million military personnel, including 60 million Europeans, making it one of the largest wars in history. It is also one of the deadliest conflicts in history, with an estimated nine million combatants and seven million civilian deaths as a direct result of the war, while resulting genocides and the 1918 influenza pandemic caused another 50 to 100 million deaths worldwide.



With America's first convoy. The troop ships are the Henderson, Antilles, Momus, and Lenape. America's First Convoy 1917.png
With America's first convoy. The troop ships are the Henderson, Antilles, Momus, and Lenape.
American Expeditionary Forces Commander in Chief, Gen. John J. Pershing, 1917. Famous generals of the great war who led the United States and her allies to a glorious victory (1919) (14596448378).jpg
American Expeditionary Forces Commander in Chief, Gen. John J. Pershing, 1917.

President Woodrow Wilson initially planned to give command of the AEF to Gen. Frederick Funston, but after Funston's sudden death, Wilson appointed Major General John J. Pershing in May 1917, and Pershing remained in command for the entire war. Pershing insisted that American soldiers be well-trained before going to Europe. As a result, few troops arrived before January 1918. In addition, Pershing insisted that the American force would not be used merely to fill gaps in the French and British armies, and he resisted European efforts to have U.S. troops deployed as individual replacements in decimated Allied units. This approach was not always well received by the western Allied leaders who distrusted the potential of an army lacking experience in large-scale warfare. [1] In addition, the British Empire tried to bargain with its spare shipping to make the United States put its soldiers into British ranks.

Frederick Funston United States Army general and Medal of Honor recipient

Frederick Funston also known as Fighting Fred Funston, was a general in the United States Army, best known for his roles in the Spanish–American War and the Philippine–American War. He received the Medal of Honor for his actions during the Philippine–American War.

John J. Pershing Commanding general of the American Expeditionary Force in World War I

General of the Armies John Joseph "Black Jack" Pershing was a senior United States Army officer. His most famous post was when he served as the commander of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) on the Western Front in World War I, 1917–18.

Allies of World War I group of countries that fought against the Central Powers in World War I

The Allies of World War I or Entente Powers is the term commonly used for the coalition that opposed the Central Powers of Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria during the First World War (1914–1918).

Column of American troops passing Buckingham Palace, London, 1917. The US Army in Britain, 1917-1918 Q30005.jpg
Column of American troops passing Buckingham Palace, London, 1917.

By June 1917, only 14,000 American soldiers had arrived in France, and the AEF had only a minor participation at the front through late October 1917, but by May 1918 over one million American troops were stationed in France, though only half of them made it to the front lines. [2] Since the transport ships needed to bring American troops to Europe were scarce at the beginning, the U.S. Army pressed into service passenger liners, seized German ships, and borrowed Allied ships to transport American soldiers from ports in New York City, New Jersey, and Virginia. The mobilization effort taxed the American military to the limit and required new organizational strategies and command structures to transport great numbers of troops and supplies quickly and efficiently. The French harbors of Bordeaux, La Pallice, Saint Nazaire, and Brest became the entry points into the French railway system that brought the American troops and their supplies to the Western Front. American engineers in France also built 82 new ship berths, nearly 1,000 miles (1,600 km) of additional standard-gauge tracks, and over 100,000 miles (160,000 km) of telephone and telegraph lines. [1]

New York City Largest city in the United States

The City of New York, usually called either New York City (NYC) or simply New York (NY), is the most populous city in the United States and thus also in the state of New York. With an estimated 2017 population of 8,622,698 distributed over a land area of about 302.6 square miles (784 km2), New York is also the most densely populated major city in the United States. Located at the southern tip of the state of New York, the city is the center of the New York metropolitan area, the largest metropolitan area in the world by urban landmass and one of the world's most populous megacities, with an estimated 20,320,876 people in its 2017 Metropolitan Statistical Area and 23,876,155 residents in its Combined Statistical Area. A global power city, New York City has been described as the cultural, financial, and media capital of the world, and exerts a significant impact upon commerce, entertainment, research, technology, education, politics, tourism, art, fashion, and sports. The city's fast pace has inspired the term New York minute. Home to the headquarters of the United Nations, New York is an important center for international diplomacy.

New Jersey State of the United States of America

New Jersey is a state in the Mid-Atlantic region of the Northeastern United States. It is a peninsula, bordered on the north and east by the state of New York, particularly along the extent of the length of New York City on its western edge; on the east, southeast, and south by the Atlantic Ocean; on the west by the Delaware River and Pennsylvania; and on the southwest by the Delaware Bay and Delaware. New Jersey is the fourth-smallest state by area but the 11th-most populous, with 9 million residents as of 2017, and the most densely populated of the 50 U.S. states; its biggest city is Newark. New Jersey lies completely within the combined statistical areas of New York City and Philadelphia and was the second-wealthiest U.S. state by median household income as of 2017.

Virginia State of the United States of America

Virginia, officially the Commonwealth of Virginia, is a state in the Southeastern and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States located between the Atlantic Coast and the Appalachian Mountains. Virginia is nicknamed the "Old Dominion" due to its status as the first English colonial possession established in mainland North America and "Mother of Presidents" because eight U.S. presidents were born there, more than any other state. The geography and climate of the Commonwealth are shaped by the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Chesapeake Bay, which provide habitat for much of its flora and fauna. The capital of the Commonwealth is Richmond; Virginia Beach is the most populous city, and Fairfax County is the most populous political subdivision. The Commonwealth's estimated population as of 2017 is over 8.4 million.

The first American troops, who were often called "Doughboys", landed in Europe in June 1917. However the AEF did not participate at the front until October 21, 1917, when the 1st Division fired the first American shell of the war toward German lines, although they participated only on a small scale. A group of regular soldiers and the first American division to arrive in France, entered the trenches near Nancy, France, in Lorraine. [1]


Doughboy was an informal term for a member of the United States Army or Marine Corps, especially used to refer to members of the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I, but initially used in the Mexican–American War of 1846–1848. A popular mass-produced sculpture of the 1920s designed by E. M. Viquesney – the Spirit of the American Doughboy – shows a U.S. soldier in World War I uniform.

1st Infantry Division (United States) United States Army combat formation, oldest continuously serving division in the Regular Army

The 1st Infantry Division is a combined arms division of the United States Army, and is the oldest continuously serving in the Regular Army. It has seen continuous service since its organization in 1917 during World War I. It was officially nicknamed "The Big Red One" after its shoulder patch and is also nicknamed "The Fighting First". However, the division has also received troop monikers of "The Big Dead One" and "The Bloody First" as puns on the respective officially sanctioned nicknames. It is currently based at Fort Riley, Kansas.

Nancy, France Prefecture and commune in Grand Est, France

Nancy is the capital of the north-eastern French department of Meurthe-et-Moselle, and formerly the capital of the Duchy of Lorraine, and then the French province of the same name. The metropolitan area of Nancy had a population of 434,565 inhabitants at the 2011 census, making it the 20th largest urban area in France. The population of the city of Nancy proper was 104,321 in 2014.

The AEF used French and British equipment. Particularly appreciated were the French canon de 75 modèle 1897, the canon de 155 C modèle 1917 Schneider, and the canon de 155mm GPF. American aviation units received the SPAD XIII and Nieuport 28 fighters, and the U.S. Army tank corps used French Renault FT light tanks. Pershing established facilities in France to train new arrivals with their new weapons. [3] By the end of 1917, four divisions were deployed in a large training area near Verdun: the 1st Division, a regular army formation; the 26th Division, a National Guard division; the 2nd Division, a combination of regular troops and U.S. Marines; and the 42nd "Rainbow" Division, a National Guard division made up of soldiers from nearly every state in the United States. The fifth division, the 41st Division, was converted into a depot division near Tours.

Canon de 75 modèle 1897 quick-firing field artillery piece

The French 75 mm field gun was a quick-firing field artillery piece adopted in March 1898. Its official French designation was: Matériel de 75mm Mle 1897. It was commonly known as the French 75, simply the 75 and Soixante-Quinze. The French 75 was designed as an anti-personnel weapon system for delivering large volumes of time-fused shrapnel shells on enemy troops advancing in the open. After 1915 and the onset of trench warfare, other types of battlefield missions demanding impact-detonated high-explosive shells prevailed. By 1918 the 75s became the main agents of delivery for toxic gas shells. The 75s also became widely used as truck mounted anti-aircraft artillery. They were also the main armament of the Saint-Chamond tank in 1918.

Canon de 155 C modèle 1917 Schneider

The Canon de 155 C modèle 1917 Schneider, often abbreviated as the C17S, was a French howitzer designed by Schneider. It was essentially the Canon de 155 C modèle 1915 Schneider fitted with a different breech to use bagged propellant rather than the cartridge cases used by the older howitzer. It was used by France, Italy, Russian Empire, Belgium and the United States from 1917 during World War I and was widely exported after the war. Surviving weapons were in service with France, Poland, Greece, Italy, Belgium, the United States and Finland during World War II. Captured weapons were used by the Germans for their 2nd-line artillery and coast defense units.

Canon de 155mm GPF 155 mm cannon

The Canon de 155 Grande Puissance Filloux (GPF) mle.1917 was a WWI-era French-designed 155 mm gun used by the French Army and the United States Army during the first half of the 20th century in towed and self-propelled mountings.


A. E. F. officer's identity card, 1918. Hubble identity card.jpg
A. E. F. officer's identity card, 1918.

Supporting the two million soldiers across the Atlantic Ocean was a massive logistical enterprise. Yet the U.S. Army's logistical skills had atrophied during the decades following the Civil War. In order to be successful, the Americans needed to create a coherent support structure with very little institutional knowledge.

After a rough start, the AEF developed support network appropriate for the huge size of the American force. It rested upon the Services of Supply in the rear areas, with ports, railroads, depots, schools, maintenance facilities, bakeries, clothing repair shops (termed salvage), replacement depots, ice plants, and a wide variety of other activities.

Services of Supply, American Expeditionary Forces

Services of Supply was the support chain of the American Expeditionary Forces in France, England, Italy and the Netherlands during World War I. It was activated on July 5, 1917 and inactivated on August 31, 1919.

The Services of Supply initiated support techniques that would last well into the Cold War including forward maintenance, field cooking, graves registration (mortuary affairs), host nation support, motor transport, and morale services. The work of the logisticians enabled the success of the AEF and contributed to the emergence of the American Army as a modern fighting force. [4]

African Americans

Officers of the 366th Infantry, 1919. (African American) Officers of 366th Infantry Back on Aquitania. These officers, all of whom ha . . . - NARA - 533490.tif
Officers of the 366th Infantry, 1919.

African Americans were drafted on the same basis as whites and made up 13 percent of the draftees. By the end of the war, over 350,000 African-Americans had served in AEF units on the Western Front. [5] However, they were assigned to segregated units commanded by white officers. One fifth of the black soldiers sent to France saw combat, compared to two-thirds of the whites. They were three percent of AEF combat forces, and under two percent of battlefield fatalities. [6] "The mass of the colored drafted men cannot be used for combatant troops", said a General Staff report in 1918, and it recommended that "these colored drafted men be organized in reserve labor battalions." They handled unskilled labor tasks as stevedores in the Atlantic ports and common laborers at the camps and in the Services of the Rear in France. [7] The French, whose front-line troops were resisting combat duties to the point of mutiny, requested and received control of several regiments of black combat troops. [8] Kennedy reports "Units of the black 92nd Division particularly suffered from poor preparation and the breakdown in command control. As the only black combat division, the 92nd Division entered the line with unique liabilities. It had been deliberately dispersed throughout several camps during its stateside training; some of its artillery units were summoned to France before they had completed their courses of instruction, and were never fully-equipped until after the Armistice; nearly all its senior white officers scorned the men under their command and repeatedly asked to be transferred. The black enlisted men were frequently diverted from their already attenuated training opportunities in France in the summer of 1918 and put to work as stevedores and common laborers." [9]

The 369th, 370th, 371st, and 372d Infantry Regiments (nominally the 93d Division, but never consolidated as such) served with distinction under French command with French colonial units in front-line combat. The French did not harbor the same levels of disdain based on skin color and for many Americans of an African-American descent it was a liberating and refreshing experience.[ citation needed ] These African-American soldiers wore American uniforms, some dating from the time of the Union Army, with French helmets and were armed with French Model 1907/15 8mm Lebel Berthier rifle, and Fusil Mle 1907/15 manufactured by Remington Arms rather than the M1903 Springfield or M1917 Enfield rifles issued to most American soldiers. [10] One of the most distinguished units was the 369th Infantry Regiment, known as the Harlem Hellfighters. The 369th was on the front lines for six months, longer than any other African-American regiment in the war. One hundred seventy-one members of the 369th were awarded the Legion of Merit. [11] One member of the 369th, Sergeant Henry Johnson, was awarded the French Croix de guerre, [12] and posthumously the Medal of Honor. [13]

Actions during World War I

Army field hospital in France, 1918. Field hospital WWI.jpg
Army field hospital in France, 1918.
Allies gain overwhelming superiority in front-line rifle strength as American soldiers arrive in the summer Riflemen-1918-Western-Front.jpg
Allies gain overwhelming superiority in front-line rifle strength as American soldiers arrive in the summer

At the beginning, during the Spring of 1918, the four battle-ready U.S. divisions were deployed under French and British command to gain combat experience by defending relatively quiet sectors of their lines. After the first offensive action and American-led AEF victory on 28 May 1918 at the Battle of Cantigny, [15] by the U.S. 1st Division, and a similar local action by the 2nd Division at Belleau Wood beginning 6 June, both while assigned under French Corps command, Pershing worked towards the deployment of an independent US field Army. The rest followed at an accelerating pace during the spring and summer of 1918. By June Americans were arriving in-theater at the rate of 10,000 a day; most of which entered training by British, Canadian and Australian battle-experienced officers and senior non-commissioned ranks. The training took a minimum of six weeks due to the inexperience of the servicemen.

The first offensive action by AEF units serving under non-American command was 1,000 men (four companies from the 33d Division AEF), with the Australian Corps during the Battle of Hamel on 4 July 1918. (Corporal Thomas A. Pope was awarded the Medal of Honor for this battle.) This battle took place under the overall command of the Australian Corps commander, Lt. Gen. Sir John Monash. The Allied force in this battle combined artillery, armor, infantry, and air support (Combined arms), which served as a blueprint for all subsequent Allied attacks, using "tanks". [16]

U.S. Army and Marine Corps troops played a key role in helping stop the German thrust towards Paris, during the Second Battle of the Marne in June 1918 (at the Battle of Château-Thierry (1918) and the Battle of Belleau Wood). The first major and distinctly American offensive was the reduction of the Saint Mihiel salient during September 1918. During the Battle of Saint-Mihiel, Pershing commanded the U.S. First Army, composed of seven divisions and more than 500,000 men, in the largest offensive operation ever undertaken by United States armed forces. This successful offensive was followed by the Meuse-Argonne offensive, lasting from September 26 to November 11, 1918, during which Pershing commanded more than one million American and French combatants. In these two military operations, Allied forces recovered more than 200 sq mi (488 km2) of French territory from the German army. By the time the World War I Armistice had suspended all combat on November 11, 1918, the American Expeditionary Forces had evolved into a modern, combat-tested army. [1]

Late in the war, American units ultimately fought in two other theaters at the request of the European powers. Pershing sent troops of the 332d Infantry Regiment to Italy, and President Wilson agreed to send some troops, the 27th and 339th Infantry Regiments, to Russia. [17] These latter two were known as the American Expeditionary Force Siberia, [18] and the American Expeditionary Force North Russia. [19]

Using questionnaires filled out by doughboys as they left the Army, Gutièrrez reports that they were not cynical or disillusioned. They fought "for honor, manhood, comrades, and adventure, but especially for duty." [20]


The AEF sustained about 320,000 casualties: 53,402 battle deaths, 63,114 noncombat deaths and 204,000 wounded. [21] Relatively few men suffered actual injury from poison gas, although much larger numbers mistakenly thought that they had been exposed. [17] The 1918 influenza pandemic during the fall of 1918 took the lives of more than 25,000 men from the AEF, while another 360,000 became gravely ill. Some other diseases were relatively well controlled through compulsory vaccination. Typhoid fever was also practically eliminated.

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 Coffman, The War to End All Wars (1998)
  2. Pershing, My Experiences in the World War (1931)
  3. Wilson, Treat 'Em Rough: The Birth of American Armor, 1917–1920 (1989)
  4. Leo P. Hirrel, “Supporting the Doughboys: US Army Logistics and Personnel During World War I” Ft. Leavenworth: Combat Studies Institute, 2017. Available at no cost.
  5. African-Americans Continue Tradition of Distinguished Service; U.S. Army; Gerry J. Gilmore; February 2, 2007
  6. Jennifer D. Keene, "Americans as Warriors: 'Doughboys' in Battle during the First World War", OAH Magazine of History, Vol. 17, No. 1, World War I (Oct., 2002), p. 17.
  7. Kennedy (1982) 162.
  8. Barbeau and Henri (1974); .
  9. Kennedy (1982) p. 199.
  10. Canfield, Bruce N. American Rifleman (April 2009) p. 40
  11. "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on June 21, 2007. Retrieved October 28, 2006.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  12. "".
  13. "".
  14. Leonard P. Ayers, online The war with Germany: a statistical summary (1919) p 105
  15. Matthew Davenport, "First Over There", 2015, Thomas Dunne Books
  16. Roland Perry, Monash – The Outsider Who Won a War, 2007, Random House, Sydney, pp.349–352
  17. 1 2 Venzon, ed. The United States in the First World War: An Encyclopedia (1995)
  18. Robert L. Willett, Russian Sideshow, pp. 166–167, 170
  19. E.M. Halliday, When Hell Froze Over (New York City, NY, ibooks, inc., 2000), p. 44
  20. Edward A. :Gutièrrez, Doughboys on the Great War: How American Soldiers Viewed Their Military Experience (2014)
  21. "Congressional Research Service, American War and Military Operations Casualties:Lists and Statistics" (PDF).

Further reading

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