April 17, 1918 – Allies React as the Americans Arrive in Numbers
Pictured – A common theme in Entente propaganda depicts the western Allies holding the line while legions of fresh Americans arrive to help.
The long-awaited Americans were finally starting to arrive. In resposne to Allied calls for help the American military hurried up its deployment and began sending divisions over piecemeal to Europe. Soon there would be over 25,000 arriving per month, far offsetting the losses Britain and France had suffered in the German offensive.
Sir Ernest Shackleton, the famed Arctic explorer, was escorting one such convoy to Liverpool from New York.
“We were twelve ships in all and carried 25,000 United States troops. When we got to the danger zone we were met by seven destroyers; and it was a good job, because the next day were were attacked by two submarines, but before they could discharge a torpedo one of our destroyers dropped depth charge and blew up one of the Huns; the other cleared off.”
The German submarines were unable to keep the Americans out of France and the Allied armies continued to grow. But the Allies disagreed on how to dispose of their new forces. British and French military circles had a low opinion of American troops and wanted to use them as reinforcements in their own armies. Two companies of US troops were destroyed on 20 April.
“That kind of result,” wrote Lloyd George, “is bound to occur if a largely amateur United States Army is built up without the guidance… of British and French officers.”
Winston Churchill, son of an American mother, aptly pointed out that the problem had more to do with German strength than US weakness. Eventually a settlement was made: the Yanks would brigade with British and French divisions through the summer, when they would be organized into their own American Expeditionary Force under Foch’s command.
For those on the ground, strategy did not matter and the arrival of fresh friendly troops was a great morale boost. Vera Brittain remembered her first sight of the new ally vividly. Walking to her hospital ward near the front, she watched a large column of soldiers marching up the road.
“They were swinging rapidly towards Camiers, and though the sight of soldiers marching was now too familiar to arouse curiosity, an unusual quality of bold vigour in their stride caused me to stare at them with puzzeld interest. They looked larger than ordinary men; their tall, straight figures were in vivid contrast to the under-sized armies of pale recruits to which we were accustomed…
Had yet another regiment been conjured out of our depleted Dominions? I wondered, watching them move with such rhythm, such dignity, such serene consciousness of self-respect. But I knew the colonial troops so well, and these were different; they were assured where the Austrialians were aggressive, self-possessed where the New Zealanders were turbulent.”
Who were they? Her question was answered by a group of nurses behind her: “Look! Look! Here are the Americans!”