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Old 11-06-2018, 10:10 AM
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Arrow Some say America's role in WWI was minor; 'Sons of Freedom' says U.S. troops changed

Some say America's role in WWI was minor; 'Sons of Freedom' says U.S. troops changed it all
By: Si Dunn, Special Contributor - 11-6-18 2-hrs ago

New Book: Sons of Freedom by Geoffrey Wawro (writes);

Who won World War I? Many in Britain and France would insist their nations defeated Germany, with modest assistance from soldiers, Marines and pilots of the American Expeditionary Force, the “Doughboys,” in 1917 and 1918.

Geoffrey Wawro turns that contention on its head in Sons of Freedom, his well-researched and engaging new work of military history.

A history professor and director of the Military History Center at the University of North Texas, Wawro offers intriguing re-examinations of a devastating conflict now largely forgotten, a century after its armistice on Nov. 11, 1918.

He details how France and Britain remained locked in bloody stalemate with German forces who were still on French soil during the final months of that year. Resources on both sides were dwindling, even as thousands of troops kept being sent to their deaths. And it appeared that Germany might win either by breaking through or outlasting the now-exhausted British and French.

AEF divisions arriving in France initially were absorbed into British and French divisions and suffered heavy casualties. The AEF’s leader, Gen. John J. “Black Jack” Pershing, soon pulled most of them out to fight independently as American units.

In one key accomplishment, the Doughboys helped stop the Germans from capturing Paris. Then, late in 1918, the Americans disrupted “the most critical third” of Germany’s railways into France, leaving German Gen. Paul von Hindenburg “no means to reinforce, withdraw, or provision his army in France,” Wawro writes. “The Doughboys won the war by surrounding the German army in France and Belgium and compelling its surrender.”

Photo link:
American soldiers advance against German positions in 1918. (U.S. Army Signal Corps/The New York Times)

That outcome had seemed implausible when Congress declared war on Germany in April 1917, after U-boats kept sinking American cargo ships. The declaration “landed with a dispiriting thud in the War Department,” Wawro writes. “The old U.S. regular army —sized for garrison duty in the American West under a small, somnolent general staff —was entirely inadequate for a world war against fully armed great powers. A mass army would have to be built from scratch, at a time when the entire active-duty strength of the U.S. Army was 120,000 troops, with 80,000 in reserve.”

There also were just two U.S. Marine regiments (7,500 men total), plus about 400,00 poorly trained National Guard troops. With this inadequate mix, the AEF somehow was supposed to help or fight “multimillion-man armies.”

A month later, Congress enacted a military draft, sweeping up citizens and immigrants. Many Americans also volunteered, and some would emerge as key leaders in coming decades.

Photo link battelfield:
A field of barbed wire covers a no-man's land near Ancerviller, France, in April 1918. The area was a sector of the 2nd Battalion, 165th Infantry. (U.S. Army Signal Corps/The Associated Press)

The fighting in France proved hellish, and U.S. combat deaths were appalling, averaging “thirty-six thousand a month, six times higher than the monthly average in World War II,” Wawro points out. Yet, in just 18 months, “America had placed four million men under arms, with six million more registered and available for the draft.”

Sons of Freedom shows how the U.S. moved itself from isolationism to world power with startling speed, mostly on the shoulders of its muddy and bloodied Doughboys.

Si Dunn, an Austin writer, screenwriter and book reviewer, is the author of a Vietnam War memoir, Dark Signals.

O Almighty Lord God, who neither slumberest nor sleepest; Protect and assist, we beseech thee, all those who at home or abroad, by land, by sea, or in the air, are serving this country, that they, being armed with thy defence, may be preserved evermore in all perils; and being filled with wisdom and girded with strength, may do their duty to thy honour and glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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