IT WAS 90 YEARS AGO THAT THE AMERICANS LANDED IN FRANCE
Saturday June 30, 2007 - the FIGARO MAGAZINE
Translated to English by Edwin N. Canady
“La Fayette, nous voila!” July 4, 1917, when Lt; Colonel Stanton launched his famous remark at the Picpus cemetery, at the tomb of the French hero of the American war of Independence, the American Expeditionary Force was still composed of only a few thousands of men, a drop of water in the sea of the combatants of the trenches. Yet, the course of the First World War had just changed.
To convince America to enter the conflict was not easy. Since 1914, the allied diplomats and Generals multiplied their missions, often in vain. Principal creditor of France and Great Britain, the United States encouraged the reaching of an agreement, but refused to intervene militarily, even if American volunteers were already fighting on French soil. Those volunteers had joined the Foreign Legion, like Alan Seeger the poet, the Escadrille La Fayette, as Norman Prince, or medical formations such as those of the American Red Cross. They were often in front line, but remained very few in number.
Everything changed on March 19, 1917. Germany, which had multiplied its provocations, resumed its outrageous submarine warfare and sank the American ship Viligentia. That was the last straw. On April 6, 1917, an exasperated Congress voted go to war by 373 votes to 50. But there was a critical shortage of soldiers. The United States had a small professional army. It was very poorly equipped and the only combat experience of its members had been acquired against the Indians, the Filipino rebels, the Cubans or Pancho Villa’s Mexicans.
In France, the news of the American entry in the war, although it was only symbolic, was nevertheless a relief. The fall of the tsarists, the awaking of social strains and the collapse of the political movement of reconciliation, the defeat in the battle of the Chemin des Dames and the mutinies had undermined the morale of the troops. The French Army was totally drained; the British were on their knees.
Very quickly, the Americans organized themselves. The vote to have a military draft made it possible to increase troop strengths from 200,000 to 4 million soldiers. The Arrival of General John J. Pershing on June 13, 1917 with 177 Americans including a brass band ignited the population. Cowboys, Indians and Blacks fascinated crowd which was impassioned for more of them to arrive. From then on the numbers of Americans did not stop increasing. In less than eighteen months, more than 2 million men and tons materials, ammunition, weapons and supplies passed through the port of Saint-Nazaire.
From April to August 1918, the American forces little by little joined the front and were then engaged in decisive actions. The “Doughboys” fought at Château-Thierry, Saint-Mihiel, and Belleau woods, in the Meuse and in the Argonne. The German lines were broken and the armistice of November 11, 1918 stopped the advance of the Expeditionary Corps. Unfortunately, the Americans paid a heavy toll. In less than one year, 116 516 Americans were killed and 204 000 wounded.
MILESTONES OF AMERICA’S ENTRY IN THEWAR
1914: (August) Europe was at war. The United States was neutral. (October) the First American enlistments in the Foreign Legion
1916: (April) Formation of the Escadrille “La Fayette” largely made up of American volunteer pilots.
1917: (January 16) Germany proposes an alliance to Mexico against the United States in exchange of a financial assistance and restitution of Texas. (January 31) Germany resumes its outrageous submarine warfare that had been suspended eighteen months earlier after the torpedoing of the British steamer Lusitania. (February 1) the United States broke off diplomatic relations with Germany. (March 19) the Navy of the Kaiser sank the American ship Vilgentia. (April 6) the Congress voted to declare war against Germany. (May 18) the United States institutes a military draft of men from 21 to 30 years of age. (June 13) General John Pershing commander-in-chief of the Expeditionary Corps lands Boulogne-sur-Mer. with 177 Americans (July 4) LTC Stanton launches his famous remark: “La Fayette we are here!”
1918: (April to August) the American forces enter in action near the Allied ones. (July 15) overrunning of the of fortification of Château-Thierry. 30 000 “Doughboys” were killed or wounded. (September 12 and 13) battle of Saint-Mihiel. (September 25 - 11novembre) offensive in the Meuse and Argonne, “the largest and longest battle in American history” according to General Pershing.