The American Expeditionary Force in World War I

Instructor: Flint Johnson

Flint has tutored mathematics through precalculus, science, and English and has taught college history. He has a Ph.D. from the University of Glasgow

Learn about the American Expeditionary Force in World War I, how it fared, and what it's accomplishments were. When you are finished take the quiz and see what you've learned.

World War I

Major General Pershing, Commander of the American Expeditionary Force during World War I
Major General Pershing

World War I wasn't exactly the United States' idea. When it broke out in 1914, it seemed like another European war. Germany wanted land, Austria-Hungary wanted to keep its empire, and the Ottoman Empire wanted to regain its standing as a world power. Why should the U.S. get involved? But when a German submarine sank the U.S. passenger ship Lusitania and we had to get involved.

John J. Pershing

President Wilson put Major General John J. Pershing in charge of the American Expeditionary Force, the army that would go to Europe. Pershing had two philosophies about World War I.

The first was he realized that this war was like nothing his men were prepared for. Early in his life, he'd fought Native Americans and later on, he'd been put against badly-prepared Spanish troops in the Spanish-American War. In both wars, he learned that mobility had been important. World War I was being fought by the best-trained soldiers in the world, but the troops were in trenches and didn't move much. In addition, tanks and gas were being used for the first time. Pershing insisted that U.S. soldiers should have some training in all these new forms of combat before they left for Europe.

His second thought was that U.S. troops shouldn't be used as replacements in British and French units; they should have their own units with U.S. officers. Now this upset the Allies. The British and French had been fighting for three years and their units were depleted; who were these Americans who were ostensibly on their side to say they wouldn't take orders? But Pershing felt that U.S. citizens working under foreign officers felt too much like they were colonials again, so his units stayed intact.

His policies had consequences. Troops came slowly to Europe, and because the U.S. soldiers were inexperienced in trench warfare and battles in general, the Allies didn't trust them. And because U.S. soldiers weren't used as replacements, there was no easy way to prepare them, either. For the most part, they were assigned to areas that didn't get attacked very much for a long while.

With a Few Battles Under Your Belt...

U.S. troops did get involved in the fighting, but slowly. It wasn't until May of 1918 that they took part in a major battle, the Battle of Cantigny. U.S. forces led the battle and did well in the victory. That was enough to convince the Allies that they were ready.

The timing was perfect. By June, 10,000 soldiers were landing in France every day. The Germans they were fighting had been fighting for four years and were worn down. Even with the trenches, that was just too much for the Germans to overcome. By November, the Allies had won the war.

The Officers of the American Expeditionary Force

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