America’s entry into the First World War was greatly welcomed by the Allies because their military superiority was a necessity on the Western Front. In early June 1917, General John Pershing arrived in Britain for a four-day visit before he moved to France to organize his command. Pershing was the commander-in-chief of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF). Pershing’s first duty was to establish communication and supply networks. He was also required to set up training camps in France.
On June 26, 1917, the first 14,000 United States infantry troops – “Doughboys” - landed at the port of Saint-Nazaire, in France. A sensational crowd had gathered to welcome the troops even though the landing site had been kept a secret. The group was ill-equipped, untrained, and not ready to tackle the challenges that were present along the Western Front.
The first Americans entered combat on October 21, after units from the U.S troops were tasked to Allied trenches near Nancy, France. Every American unit had an attachment to a corresponding French group. Two days later, the first U.S soldier, Corporal Robert Bralet, fired a shot in the war after discharging a French gun into one of the German’s trench. The first American soldiers died on November 2 after Germans raided their trenches. They included Thomas Enright, Corporal James Gresham, and Merle Hay.
The AEF waited until October after the 1st Infantry Division entered the trenches at Nancy. This division was the best trained of the AEF. Pershing had hoped for an American reinforcement that was independent of the Allies, but his vision did not materialize until a well-trained and well-equipped group reached Europe. Pershing had set up training facilities in France for training new arrivals while training schools in America sent their best men.
Pershing was against Haig’s and Pétain’s idea: American forces should only fill in where the Allies were weak. When the Germans launched their first attack on March 1918, only one American division was in the Allied lines; the rest were in training areas. The series of attacks from the Germans, from July 1918, posed a significant danger to the Allies. On two occasions, France was under threat, and the British were almost driven into the Channel. America played a little role during the attacks.
At some point, Pershing discovered that he needed to change his tact. In June, an agreement was reached that American troops would be sent to France; and once they were there, they would receive the proper equipment. Between June and July 1918, America sent more than 584,000 men, who were carried using a British vessel.
Between 1917 and 1918, American divisions were mostly deployed to harness the British and French units. After the first U.S victory at Cantigny, in May 1918, AEF commanders assumed they had complete control of American troops during combat. By July the same year, French forces were mostly dispatched to support AEF operations.
After four years of gruesome violence along the Western Front, the entry of the Americans had borne results. On November 11, 1918, the war ended, but it had claimed the lives of 50,000 out of the two million patriots who served in the battlefields. According to allegations, the American intervention in World War I mostly had a psychological impact than a military impact, on the Germans.