UNITED STATES IN WORLD WAR I
World War I was an important event in history for many different countries, including the United States. While the war was primarily a European conflict, it ultimately became a global war due to the involvement of countries from around the world. For example, the United States joined World War I in 1917 due to submarine warfare by Germany and the events surrounding the Zimmerman Telegram. As such, American soldiers were present in many of the major battles of the Western Front in the later years of the war. As well, the United States joined the war effort on the side of the Allied Powers, which included: Britain and France. American soldiers fought mostly against Germany.
UNITED STATES ENTERS WORLD WAR I
World War I erupted during the summer of 1914 in an event that historians refer to as the July Crisis. In short, this crisis was caused by the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which led to the major European powers engaging in a conflict. Most importantly, the alliance systems in Europe before World War I played a significant role in the outbreak of the war. With that said, for the early portion of the war, the United States remained largely uninvolved in the mostly European conflict. For instance, from 1914 until 1917 the United States did not participate in any active fighting of World War I. Instead, the major battles of the war were waged by the European powers and their colonies in both the Western Front and Eastern Front. It should be noted that while the United States did not participate in any active fighting during the early years of World War I, they did actively trade with the Allied Powers. In fact, the United States was a major supplier of goods and resources to France and Britain during the early years of World War I.
When World War I began in 1914, Woodrow Wilson was the President of the United States. The neutrality of the United States in World War I was a major factor of Wilson’s first term as president. In fact, when he ran for re-election in 1916, he campaigned on the idea that he kept the country out of the fighting of World War I.
American neutrality in World War I was eventually tested at the start of Wilson’s second term as president. For instance, in response to the British naval blockade of Germany, the German Empire began carrying out submarine warfare against ships in the north Atlantic Ocean. For the Germans this was important as they hoped to stop supplies from reaching Britain. Unfortunately, German submarines were responsible for the sinking of several ships which had American citizens on them. The most famous example of this was the sinking of the British ocean liner RMS Lusitania in May of 1915. In total, the German attack on the Lusitania killed 1,198 people including 128 American citizens. Obviously, this created anger in the United States and forced Wilson to deal with the growing crisis.
In 1917, the German Empire again began carrying out unrestricted submarine warfare and was one of the main reasons that the United States eventually joined the war effort on the side of the Allied Powers. In fact, in February of 1917, it was discovered that Germany had been in contact with Mexico in hopes of igniting a conflict between Mexico and the United States. This was known as the Zimmerman Telegram, and when combined with Germany’s submarine warfare, it pushed Wilson to eventually declare war against Germany. As such, historians consider the Zimmerman Telegram a significant cause of the United States’ entry into World War I.
On April 2nd, 1917 President Wilson went before Congress to request a declaration of war against Germany. According to the President, the actions by the Germans gave them no choice. Two days later, the United States Senate voted in support of the President's request and the house agreed two days after that. The United States was at war and joined the Allied Powers against the Central Powers.
UNITED STATES ARMY & RECRUITMENT IN WORLD WAR I
Following the their entry into World War I, the United States quickly mobilized forces and readied them for battle on the Western Front in Europe. In fact, the American forces that participated in World War I were referred to as the American Expeditionary Force (AEF), which was established on July 5th, 1917. The AEF was commanded by General John J. Pershing, and fought alongside the other Allied nations of Britain, France, Canada and Australia.
At first, the United States had a small force of soldiers, but made use of conscription to bolster their overall fighting force to over 4 million. More specifically, the United States government passed the Selective Service Act in 1917, which allowed it to conscript American men into military service.
The arrival of the American forces to World War I was significant for the Allied Powers. For instance, by 1917, the British and French armies had been bogged down in the trenches of Northern France for the previous 3 years. They were suffering from the terrible conditions of the trenches and stuck in a stalemate with the German Army. As such, the arrival of American forces helped create a shift in the balance of power in favor of the Allied Powers. For example, it is estimated that by June of 1918, up to 10,000 American soldiers were arriving on the Western Front each day. As well, the American forces were ‘fresh’ in that they had not spent the previous 3 years in the trenches. Therefore, they were not worn down by years of trench warfare.
The conscripts for the American Expeditionary Force came from different types of backgrounds. For instance, African Americans were conscripted alongside white Americans. In total, it is estimated that African Americans made up 13 percent of the total conscripts in the American Army. In fact, one of the most distinguished groups of African American soldiers in World War I was referred to as the ‘Harlem Hellfighters’. These soldiers made up the 369th Infantry Regiment, and fought alongside French forces in the trenches of France.
UNITED STATES' MAJOR BATTLES IN WORLD WAR I
The American Expeditionary Force (AEF) participated in several of the main battles of the Western Front. As well, a small section of the American Expiditionary Force also participated on the Italian Front (Alpine Front). In general, the landscape of Europe in World War I was divided into a few different ‘fronts’. For instance, the Western Front was located on the western-half of Europe and included a line of trenches that stretched throughout much of northern France and Belgium. The Western Front was the primary location of American’s involvement in World War I. The Eastern Front of World War I was on the eastern-half of Europe and between Germany and Russia.
The major battles of World War I that the United States participated in included:
The major battles of World War I that the United States participated in included:
- Battle of Château-Thierry
- Battle of Belleau Wood
- Battle of Saint-Mihiel
- Meuse–Argonne Offensive
The first major conflict in World War I for the American forces was the Battle of Château-Thierry, which took place on May 31st, 1918. The battle was part of the larger Second Battle of the Marne, which was related to the German Spring Offensives of 1918. As such, a major component of the Battle of Château-Thierry, was Allied forces (French and American soldiers) defending their positions against German attacks. In fact, German General Erich Ludendorff, planned the German attack as an attempt to overwhelm the French defenders in Northern France, and open a path for the German soldiers. For example, the Germans began their assault on the French line and overran the French 6th Army. As a result, The American Expeditionary Force (AEF) under the command of John J. Pershing circled around to assist the French and stop the German advance. More specifically, the Germans were able to push through the French defenses and made it to the Marne River, which was only about 50 miles from the French capital of Paris. As such, the American 3rd Division was mobilized to an important bridge on the Marne River near the town of Château-Thierry on May 31st in 1918 in aid of the French.
The Germans attacked the bridge, as the American and French defenders replied with heavy machinegun fire. The fighting continued with artillery and sniper fire, which led to numerous casualties on both sides. The Allies were successful in preventing a German advance and were even able to carry out their own counter-attack. For example on July 18th, 1918, French and American forces attacked German positions near Château-Thierry, which caused the German to retreat from the area. In all, the Battle of Château-Thierry was an important Allied victory and one of the first engagements for the newly formed American Expeditionary Force in World War I. During the battle, the Americans and French suffered a combine 1,900 casualties, while the Germans suffered over 5,300.
The second major conflict that the American forces participated in was the Battle of Belleau Wood, which occurred in June of 1918. More specifically, the Battle of Belleau Wood was fought from June 1st to the 26th in 1918. The battle occurred in Northern France near the Marne River, which was important in relation to the earlier First Battle of the Marne. During the Battle of Belleau Wood, American forces (2nd and 3rd divisions, which were led by Major General Omar Bundy) fought alongside British and French soldiers against five divisions of the German Army.
The Battle of Belleau Wood was part of the German Spring Offensives in 1918, which historians consider to be the final advance of the German troops in World War I. As such, the attack at Belleau Wood began on the evening of June 1st with a German assault on the Allied defenses. At first, the Germans were able to advance through the French line, but the American divisions quickly regrouped and setup defensive positions from which they waited for the Germans. For example, American soldiers dug small foxholes and sat in wait until the Germans were close. Then they opened fire, which forced the German soldiers to pull back into the woods and setup their own trenches. The ability of the American Marines to stop the German advance became legendary, since French forces in the region were expressing the need for the Allied to retreat. Instead, the Americans held their ground and stopped the German assault. In fact, it was at this time that Marine Captain Lloyd W. Williams of the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines famously argued "Retreat? Hell, we just got here".
Following this, the American Marines, along with French soldiers, attacked the German defenses on June 6th. Referred to as the ‘Attack on Hill 142’, the Allied forces assaulted the German line but the German soldiers were able to use machine gun fire to hold back the attack. However, during the attack, American Gunnery Sergeant Ernest A. Janson, bravely stopped an advance of 12 German soldiers and protected other soldiers with him. For his actions, he received the Medal of Honor, and was the first American soldier of World War I to receive the prestigious honor.
Regardless, the American Marines were able to attack the Germans at Belleau Wood and gain a foothold in the region. As well, the American attack at Belleau Wood became an important symbol for the United States Marine Corps. For example, when the Americans began their attack, First Sergeant Dan Daly, announced the following to his men: "Come on, you sons of bitches. Do you want to live forever?"
The two sides went back and forth several times and each suffered heavy losses. However, the Americans and the other allies proved successful as they overwhelmed the German defenders with several waves of attack. For example, on June 26th, the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines and supporting forces, finally pushed the Germans out of Belleau Wood. The Battle of Belleau Wood was over, and is remembered today as one of the bloodiest battles for the United States in all of World War I. In all, it is estimated that the Americans suffered over 7,900 casualties including over 1,800 deaths. Whereas, the Germans suffered over 10,000 casualties.
The next major American battle of World War I, was the Battle of Saint-Mihiel, which occurred from September 12th to the 15th in 1918. The Battle of Saint-Mihiel took place in Northern France and was fought between the Allied Nations (United States and France) and the Central Powers (Germany and Austria-Hungary). During the course of World War I, the region of Saint-Mihiel had been controlled by Germany as a salient (bulge-like formation that protruded into French territory), which allowed Germany a reasonable amount of control over the area.
However, in 1918, American General, John J. Pershing, proposed an Allied attack against the Germans in Saint-Mihiel, as he believed it would create an opening for Allied troops to advance into Germany. The American First Army began the attack on September 12th, when several American divisions advanced into the southern portion of the German-controlled Saint-Mihiel salient. French forces supported the assault by advancing on the western section of the salient. Part of the goal of the attack was the capture the French city of Metz, which was an important railroad center that Germany used to control transportation and communications in the region. As such, the French and American forces pushed into the Saint-Mihiel salient, towards the city of Metz.
Another important aspect of the Battle of Saint-Mihiel, was the use of Allied aircraft and tanks. For instance, during the battle, the Allies mobilized over 1,400 aircraft that provided air support to the troops on the ground. As well, the aircraft ensured Allied control of the air during the battle. Also, American General John J. Pershing mobilized several tank divisions that advanced alongside the infantry divisions. The combination of soldiers, aircraft and tanks allowed the Allied to advance into the Saint-Mihiel salient with little opposition from the German defenders. The battle was over just days later on September 15th, with the American forces capturing all of the objectives that they had set out to accomplish. General Pershing began preparing for the final major American engagement of World War I - Meuse–Argonne Offensive.
The Meuse–Argonne Offensive was a major conflict on the Western Front in the final stage of World War I. It took place from September 26th to November 11th in 1918 and was carried out in northeastern France near Verdun. The Meuse–Argonne Offensive was a major assault carried out by the Allied Nations (United States and France) against Germany, and is considered to be part of the larger ‘Hundred Days Offensive’. This was the major Allied advance against the Germans, which led to the end of the war. More specifically, historians consider the Meuse–Argonne Offensive to be the most significant American battle from World War I. This is due to the Meuse–Argonne Offensive being the largest and deadliest American battle in World War I. As well, it was the main action carried out by the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) during the war.
The Meuse–Argonne Offensive unfolded in a series of three phases. The first phase of the battle occurred from September 26th until October 4th, 1918. This first phase was a failure for the American forces, as they failed to capture their objectives and suffered heavy losses. While the Americans experienced some successes, the overall result was a disorganized failure. In reality, the fighting in the Argonne Forest was difficult and arduous for all sides. Historians consider the terrible losses suffered by the United States to be the result of poorly trained American soldiers that were new to the fighting of World War I. Regardless, the second phase of the Meuse–Argonne Offensive took place from October 4th to the 24th in 1918. The second phase of the offensive resulted in a better outcome for the United States. For example, during this phase, the American forces attacked the German defenders in the Argonne Forest in a series of waves. Eventually, the American divisions were able to push the Germans back and finally on October 24th, the United States had gained full control over the region. The third, and final phase, took place from October 28th until the end of the war on November 11th in 1918. During this phase, the American forces, along with French forces advanced deep into German territory. The advance only ended with news of the armistice of November 11th and the end of World War I. In all, the United States suffered over 122,000 casualties during the Meuse–Argonne Offensive, including over 26,000 deaths. This makes it the second deadliest campaign in United States history, behind only the Normandy Invasion of World War II.
UNITED STATES HOME FRONT IN WORLD WAR I
While World War I was a devastating conflict that had many military battles that took place on the European battlefields, it also had a profound impact on life for many people living in the United States. This included economic, social, and political impacts that altered life for millions of people.
Economically, the United States’ home front was altered in several ways during World War I. First, the outbreak of World War I in 1914, caused the major European powers of the time to descend into fighting, which required massive supplies of resources. Throughout these early years of the war, the United States benefitted greatly from being a major producer of ammunition for the Allied Powers. For instance, as the war raged on into 1917, Britain struggled to maintain its production of munitions and turned to American companies to help.
Another important aspect of the economic impact on the United States home front in World War I was the role of rationing. This was especially important to food and fuel production and consumption. Both food and fuel were important resources necessary to the overall war effort. The soldiers on the front lines in the battlefields of Europe required both in order to carry out victory against the Central Powers. As such, the United States government sought to ration their consumption by American civilians on the home front during World War I.
Politically, the home front of the United States during World War I was centered on the presidency of Woodrow Wilson. Wilson served as the President of the United States from 1913 until 1921. As such, he was the President of the United States during the entirety of World War I and oversaw the American response to the war.
On April 2nd of 1917, Woodrow Wilson asked the United States Congress to declare war against Germany. Congress formally agreed with the request and the United States declared war on April 6th. This declaration of war caused Wilson to push for a military draft in order to build up the armed forces as quick as possible. In fact, throughout the course of World War I the United States had conscripted approximately 3 million men for service.
Besides establishing the draft, another key aspect of Wilson’s presidency in World War I was the use of propaganda. For example, in 1917 the United States government created the Committee on Public Information (CPI), which was responsible for creating and issuing war-time propaganda in the United States during World War I. It was also known as the ‘Creel Committee’ after its chairman George Creel and was aimed at increasing support for the war effort among American citizens. They issued propaganda such as posters, short films, radio addresses and public speeches. The CPI existed until 1919, and was responsible for influencing American opinions on the home front in relation to the war, and especially on views towards Germany.
Socially, World War I had a major impact on life for American citizens. First and foremost, World War I was a significant event for American women. When the United States joined the war effort in 1917, women were needed to enter the workforce. Furthermore, many of the women found employment in factories that produced weapons and ammunition for the war effort. This was an incredibly important change for the lives of many American women, because before the start of World War I most women did not work outside of the home.
Finally, World War I had an impact on the lives of African Americans. This was especially true in relation to the events of the ‘Great Migration’, which was a historical event that took place from 1916 until 1970. In short, the Great Migration saw 6 million African American people migrate to the northern states from the southern states. There were many reasons for the events of the Great Migration, including Jim Crow Laws and racism, but the events of World War I also played a role. This was due to the need for laborers in the northern states. Not only were women employed in factories, but many African Americans found new employment (and lives) in the factories of the northern states.
SIGNIFICANCE OF WORLD WAR I FOR THE UNITED STATES
In all, World War I was a highly important event in the history of the United States. First, and foremost, over 4.3 million Americans served during World War I, and represented their country bravely on the battlefields in Europe. As well, approximately 53,000 Americans died as a result of military action during the war.
Second, World War I was an important event for the United States because of the economic impacts it had on the nation. The United States’ economy generally benefitted from the ability to produce materials and resources for the Allies during the war. In fact, the United States was a major contributor to the Allied war effort during the war in the form of trade. With that said, American soldiers who returned to the United States following the war struggled to find employment and received little assistance from the government.
Another significance for the United States in World War I was its increased position in world politics. For example, American entry into World War I proved to be very important to the Allied nations and their eventual success against Germany. As well, the United States played a significant role in the events of the Treaty of Versailles, which occurred at the end of World War I. For instance, historians consider Woodrow Wilson as one of the ‘Big Three’ contributors to the Treaty of Versailles and the peace negations at the end of the war. Further to this idea, Woodrow Wilson created the list of ‘Fourteen Points’ to help ensure world peace following the end of the war. Out of these points was created the League of Nations, which brought together the major nations of the world in an attempt to prevent a further world war. As such, the United States and its role in World War I was important to the establishment of world organizations and the structure of world order.
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