Primary Documents - General John Pershing on the European Call for Additional U.S. Forces, June 1918
In the wake of the initially spectacular success experienced by the German Army during their Spring Offensive, European calls for a rapid boost in the number of fighting U.S. troops increased. Requests were also urgently issued for U.S. troops to serve alongside European troops, in particular infantry and machine-gun units, where the German Army was believed to possess a critical numerical superiority.
The text below reproduces U.S. Commander-in-Chief General John Pershing's account of the Allied calls for extra troops and for short-term inter-army integration.
General John Pershing of the Need for Additional U.S. Forces, June 1918
At a meeting of the Supreme War Council held at Abbeville May 1st and 2nd, the entire question of the amalgamation of Americans with the French and British was reopened.
An urgent appeal came from both French and Italian representatives for American replacements or units to serve with their armies. After prolonged discussion regarding this question and that of priority generally the following agreement was reached, committing the Council to an independent American Army and providing for the immediate shipment of certain troops:
It is the opinion of the Supreme War Council that, in order to carry the war to a successful conclusion, an American Army should be formed as early as possible under its own commander and under its own flag.
In order to meet the present emergency it is agreed that American troops should be brought to France as rapidly as Allied transportation facilities will permit, and that, as far as consistent with the necessity of building up an American Army, preference will be given to infantry and machine-gun units for training and service with French and British Armies; with the understanding that such infantry and machine-gun units are to be withdrawn and united with its own artillery and auxiliary troops into divisions and corps at the direction of the American Commander-in-Chief after consultation with the Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Armies in France.
Subparagraph A. It is also agreed that during the month of May preference should be given to the transportation of infantry and machine-gun units of six divisions, and that any excess tonnage shall be devoted to bringing over such other troops as may be determined by the American Commander-in-Chief.
Subparagraph B. It is further agreed that this program shall be continued during the month of June upon condition that the British Government shall furnish transportation for a minimum of 130,000 men in May and 150,000 men in June, with the understanding that the first six divisions of infantry shall go to the British for training and service, and that troops sent over in June shall be allocated for training and service as the American Commander-in-Chief may determine.
Subparagraph C. It is also further agreed that if the British Government shall transport an excess of 150,000 men in June that such excess shall be infantry and machine-gun units, and that early in June there shall be a new review of the situation to determine further action.
The gravity of the situation had brought the Allies to a full realization of the necessity of providing all possible tonnage for the transportation of American troops.
Although their views were accepted to the extent of giving a considerable priority to infantry and machine gunners, the priority agreed upon as to this class of troops was not as extensive as some of them deemed necessary, and the Abbeville conference was adjourned with the understanding that the question of further priority would be discussed at a conference to be held about the end of May.
The next offensive of the enemy was made between the Oise and Berry-au-Bac against the French instead of against the British, as was generally expected, and it came as a complete surprise.
The initial Aisne attack, covering a front of 35 kilometres, met with remarkable success, as the German armies advanced no less than 50 kilometres in four days. On reaching the Marne that river was used as a defensive flank and the German advance was directed toward Paris. During the first days of June something akin to a panic seized the city and it was estimated that 1,000,000 people left during the spring of 1918.
The further conference which had been agreed upon at Abbeville was held at Versailles on June 1st and 2nd. The opinion of our Allies as to the existing situation and the urgency of their insistence upon further priority for infantry and machine gunners are shown by a message prepared by the Prime Ministers of Great Britain, France, and Italy, and agreed to by General Foch.
Such extensive priority had already been given to the transport of American infantry and machine gunners that the troops of those categories which had received even partial training in the United States were practically exhausted.
Moreover, the strain on our Services of Supply made it essential that early relief be afforded by increasing its personnel. At the same time, the corresponding services of our Allies had in certain departments been equally overtaxed and their responsible heads were urgent in their representations that their needs must be relieved by bringing over American specialists.
The final agreement was cabled to the War Department on June 5th, as follows:
The following agreement has been concluded between General Foch, Lord Milner, and myself with reference to the transportation of American troops in the months of June and July:
The following recommendations are made on the assumption that at least 250,000 men can be transported in each of the months of June and July by the employment of combined British and American tonnage. We recommend:
(a) For the month of June: (1) Absolute priority shall be given to the transportation of 170,000 combatant troops (viz., six divisions without artillery, ammunition trains, or supply trains, amounting to 126,000 men and 44,000 replacements for combat troops); (2) 25,400 men for the service of the railways, of which 13,400 have been asked for by the French Minister of Transportation; (3) the balance to be troops of categories to be determined by the Commander-in-Chief, American Expeditionary Forces.
(b) For the month of July: (1) Absolute priority for the shipment of 140,000 combatant troops of the nature defined above (four divisions minus artillery 'et cetera' amounting to 84,000 men, plus 56,000 replacement); (2) the balance of the 250,000 to consist of troops to be designated by the Commander-in-Chief, American Expeditionary Forces.
(c) It is agreed that if the available tonnage in either month allows of the transportation of a larger number of men than 250,000, the excess tonnage will be employed in the transportation of combat troops as defined above.
(d) We recognize that the combatant troops to be dispatched in July may have to include troops which have had insufficient training, but we consider the present emergency is such as to justify a temporary and exceptional departure by the United States from sound principles of training, especially as a similar course is being followed by France and Great Britain.
FOCH. MILNER. PERSHING
The various proposals during these conferences regarding priority of shipment, often very insistent, raised questions that were not only most difficult but most delicate.
On the one hand, there was a critical situation which must be met by immediate action, while, on the other hand, any priority accorded a particular arm necessarily postponed the formation of a distinctive American fighting force and the means to supply it.
Such a force was, in my opinion, absolutely necessary to win the war. A few of the Allied representatives became convinced that the American Services of Supply should not be neglected but should be developed in the common interest. The success of our divisions during May and June demonstrated fully that it was not necessary to draft Americans under foreign flags in order to utilize American manhood most effectively.
On March 21st, approximately 300,000 American troops had reached France. Four combat divisions, equivalent in strength to eight French or British divisions, were available - the First and Second then in line, and the Twenty-sixth and Forty-second just withdrawn from line after one month's trench warfare training.
The last two divisions at once began taking over quiet sectors to release divisions for the battle; the Twenty-sixth relieved the First Division, which was sent to northwest of Paris in reserve; the Forty-second relieved two French divisions from quiet sectors. In addition to these troops, one regiment of the Ninety-third Division was with the French in the Argonne, the Forty-first Depot Division was in the Service of Supply, and three divisions (Third, Thirty-second, and Fifth) were arriving.
Following the agreements as to British shipping, our troops came so rapidly that by the end of May we had a force of 600,000 in France.
Source: Source Records of the Great War, Vol. VI, ed. Charles F. Horne, National Alumni 1923
A "British warm" was a heavy issue greatcoat for officers.
- Did you know?