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5: Over Where? The Search for Alternatives to the Western Front, June-November 1917

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The decision to send an immediate expeditionary force to France did not complete American strategic planning. While the United States had committed itself to a military role, the exact nature of the nation's involvement still remained to be determined. Of immediate concern was the speed with which American troops would follow the First Division across the Atlantic: would the bulk of the American army remain in North America to complete its training or would the United States begin shipping more soldiers immediately? In addition, during the few months after the initial expeditionary force was dispatched to France, some prominent Americans--even Wilson himself--questioned the wisdom of fighting on the Western Front.

Almost three years of relentless fighting there had left the terrain scarred with trenches and graves, yet had yielded little gain for either side. An alternative to this stalemate was sought. Pershing's appointment as Commanding General of the AEF marked the beginning of a shift in strategic planning initiative away from Washington. Pershing's powers were vast and unprecedented--never before had a commander wielded such carte blanche control. The only strict guideline which Wilson and Baker had offered was that the US must create an independent army, but surely the President was preaching to the converted. Pershing staunchly demanded an independent force, much to the consternation of the Allies, and there is no indication that in the absence of this Presidential dictum Pershing would have completely subjugated his own command to that of the British and French. Pershing desired to fulfill his role as Commanding General; exactly what he would command, however, remained unclear as the Baltic sailed out of New York Harbor on 28 May 1917.

Even after deciding to send the First Division to France, Wilson made no immediate commitment to follow-up with more soldiers. On 17 May Colonel House forwarded a letter from George G. Moore, a retired New York businessman who had often visited Sir John French at the Headquarters of the British Expeditionary Forces in France during 1914-15.

These visits evidently were not wasted, since Moore astutely observed that "modern artillery gives overwhelming superiority to the army on the defensive and three years of warfare have shown the impossibility of an offensive succeeding against an army possessed of artillery and machine-guns adequately manned. For this reason Ypres, Verdun, the Somme and the Dardenelles were German and British failures." Moore echoed the General Staff's reservations when he concluded that the US should withhold the bulk of its army until a later date when a significant effect could be produced. Impulsively committing more troops to Europe might result in the senseless slaughter of American soldiers, since "political urgency and the personal ambition of commanders have caused a hideous wastage of the man-power of England and France in attacks from which there was no intelligent hope of success." Moore finally warned that the US should "avoid the needless wastage of American lives until the time when the sacrifice is warranted. I have seen the steady dissipation of the man-power of England without any intelligent plan and pray that this may not happen here."(1)

Moore's appeal struck the President. Wilson forwarded the note to Baker the next day, writing that "[the letter from] George G. Moore about defensive and offensive warfare on the Western Front of Europe makes a considerable impression on me and I should very much like to discuss it with you when we have the next opportunity." Apparently unknown to Wilson, however, was that the military planners within America's War Department General Staff had already voiced these very warnings. When Baker briefed the President on 8 May concerning the state of plans for the immediate expeditionary force to France, he was less than forthright about the War College Division's opinions. Baker wrote:

My military associates here believe that it will be necessary to have a division of troops on this side ready to follow fairly shortly, so as to get the advantage of the training received by the first division and be able to supplement it should battle loses or sickness diminish its numbers.(2)

Baker did not lie about the General Staff's views concerning the dispatch of a second division to France, but he was not completely open about all that the military planners had to say. Included here were none of the misgivings which the War College Division had previously expressed and which they would reiterate only two days later in a memorandum to the Chief of Staff. Absent too was the forceful dissent of Colonel W.H. Johnston who believed that his colleagues had not voiced their opposition to the expeditionary force strongly enough. The General Staff had not changed its opinions by the time Baker briefed the President. Wilson, then, seems to have been largely ignorant of the counsel of the military planners in the War College Division except as it was filtered through his Secretary of War. Add to this the immediate and unyielding demands for a larger and larger contingent which Pershing would issue even before his boots touched French soil, and Wilson's decision to send even more troops to France immediately is understandable.(3)

While the Baltic steamed across the Atlantic, Pershing and his staff began to formulate their strategy for the American role in the war. This planning seemed to develop a life of its own as it grew farther and farther beyond what the military had expected. G. Eugene Heller, a quarter- master's clerk remarked, "The A.E.F. developed like a snowball started from a mountaintop. It was small and it grew far beyond anyone's expectations." The whole exercise carried these planners into strategically uncharted waters. Major James G. Harbord, Pershing's Chief of Staff, remarked: "Our war ideas are expanding as we near the theater. Officers whose lives have been spent trying to avoid spending fifteen cents of Government money now confront the necessity of expending fifteen millions of dollars,--and on their intellectual and professional expansion depends their avoidance of the scrap heap."(4)

Pershing made tentative plans to have an army of at least 1,000,000 men by early spring of the following year. To achieve this end, the United States would have to ship the equivalent of four divisions per month for the next year. In addition, the supplies for such a force would call for the daily delivery to France of 25,000 tons of freight. At the time, however, the most optimistic War Department estimates concluded that by the middle of June 1918 a total of 634, 975 American troops--less than 65% of Pershing's request--could be landed in France.(5)

Pershing did not stop at this initial request. Only a few days later, on 11 July, he wrote to Washington that even more soldiers would be desirable. He viewed his plan for 1,000,000 troops as only a "basis of study" which "should not be construed as representing the maximum force which will be needed in France." He suggested that "plans for the future should be based . . . on three times this force -- i.e., at least 3,000,000 men, " a rather surreal figure which would have left the US with a force larger than the combined strength of all the belligerents in Europe.(6)

By the time Pershing began to issue his growing demands for manpower, the military planners in the General Staff seem to have yielded to Baker's wishes for the immediate shipment of more soldiers to France. On 7 June the War College Division issued a "program for the progressive dispatch of troops to France, " in which the army would grow to more than 1,000,000 in the next four months and 120,000 troops per month would cross the Atlantic beginning on 1 August 1917. This force would receive its training both in North America and in Europe.(7)

Baker worried that Wilson's admiration for George G. Moore's suggestions that the US retain most of its army might undermine the plan to send more soldiers immediately. He wrote to the President on 27 May:

For us to sit by and allow the French and British to be worn down by further attrition would start three kinds of criticism; first, it would be said that our part in the war was too slow, and that the red tape of the General Staff was prevailing over the impetuous wish of Americans to be of present assistance, and this would be based upon statements made by the British and French, and also by soldiers in our own Army to the effect that a long drawn out period of training in this country is unnecessary. Second, it would be said that we were running the chance of the French or Russians breaking down and thus immeasurably increasing the size of our own task later. Third, it would be said that the immediate and overwhelming aggregation of forces, including our own, is the way most speedily to terminate the war and not to feed nations to the German machine in detail.(8)

The Secretary of War enclosed a letter from Bliss in which the Chief of Staff praised Moore's thinking. In spite of Bliss's appeal, however, Baker had touched a nerve with the President: America's tardiness threatened not only continued slaughter on the battlefields but also the nation's perceived role in the fighting and thereby might thwart the President's own place at the settlement.

Wilson made his decision in the few days followingBaker's letter. Against the counsel of the General Staff, he accepted the advice of his Secretary of War. Vilifying the "military masters of Germany . . . [whose] plan was to throw a broad belt of German military power and political control across the very center of Europe and beyond the Mediterranean into the heart of Asia, " the President declared in a Flag Day Address on 14 June that "we are about to bid thousands, hundreds of thousands, it may be millions, of our men, the young, the strong, the capable men of the nation, to go forth and die beneath [the flag] on fields of blood far away. . . ." The die was cast and, albeit slowly, American troops began a steadily increasing flow to Europe.(9)

Still other questions came to the forefront of strategic consideration in the following months. Suggestions from a variety of sources, including military men, politicians, journalists and even the President himself, offered alternatives to the Western Front as the focus of America's military efforts. All of these proposals must have frustrated the planners in the War College Division, who seem to have settled on the Western Front even before they began to draft plans for the progressive dispatch of American soldiers to France. Baker himself recalled years after the war that "General Pershing, General Scott, General Bliss and I had agreed that the war would have to be won on the western front at the time General Pershing started overseas. At one of our conferences before he left we discussed some of the sideshows and decided that they were all useless. . . ." In spite of the sound, strategic rationale for this decision, the General Staff would be forced to explain its reasoning repeatedly throughout the remainder of the year.(10)

The earliest alternatives to the Western Front had been offered before America even became involved in the war. When the War College Division first began to examine strategic options in early February 1917, then Chief of Staff Scott recommended that they consider the possibility of Holland becoming involved in the conflict as a result of German U-boat attacks on her shipping. An offensive through Holland, Scott argued, would allow an invasion into France to the rear of the western German army.(11)

The War College Division's eleven-page evaluation, written by Major E.T. Collins of the US Infantry, gave Scott's idea of a Holland front mixed reviews. Since an American expeditionary force sent to Holland would arrive in friendly territory, an amphibious assault would be unnecessary. Holland's harbors could be used, and Rotterdam could serve as an adequate port facility for an expeditionary force. Nonetheless, any American offensive launched from within that country faced severe obstacles. If Holland's army could not hold the line in the face of a German attack, the Dutch would have to resort to flooding their territory for defense, rendering an expeditionary force effectively secure, but bottled up and unable to advance.(12)

Estimates of the required strength of an American force sent to Holland were pessimistic at best. The proposed force would have to be strong enough to either advance against and successfully attack the western German army or at least to cause its withdrawal. The most reliable sources, according to the War College Division memorandum, placed the strength of the western German army at 2,000,000 combat-ready troops. To this figure were added an inestimable number of reserves which Germany could bring from the Eastern Front. In light of these numbers, the War College Division placed the requisite size of an American force at a minimum of 1,000,000 men.

A Holland offensive, it was argued, would be far less sedentary than the Western Front--the primary reason for discussing the idea at all. Training for a Holland campaign would have to stress mobility and maneuver over techniques of trench warfare, an approach which would free the forces from the futile tactics of the Western Front. A drawback was that the German army already had a high proficiency at such skills, so any American force would have to be equally well-trained.

Another advantage of a Holland offensive was the element of surprise. Although shipping estimates placed the required transportation time of an expeditionary force to Holland at fourteen months, American troops could be quartered in England until the entire force was ready to embark. The distance from the Thames to Rotterdam was only 140 miles; this short span combined with the amount of available British tonnage and the experience of the British admiralty promised a satisfactory rate of arrival in Holland.

The uncertainties of a Holland offensive, however, outweighed the possible advantages. While the American troops massed in Great Britain, Holland's defensive force of 400,000 to 600,000 troops would have to withstand a concentrated German attack without resorting to that nation's best available defense--flooding. More importantly, this traditionally neutral country would not only have to allow an American force to march through its territories, but also would be required to cooperate closely with any such army. All of these arguments, of course, danced around the most compelling strategic reason for rejecting this proposal. A raw force from the United States would have been little match for the experienced Imperial German Army, and therefore any American role in the land war would have been short-lived if such a policy had been adopted. Other than the memorandum of 29 March itself, no other discussion emanated from the War College Division or the General Staff which would indicate that the Holland campaign was seriously considered.

Captain Edward Davis, American Military Attaché in Athens, had presented another alternative in late 1916, a plan for a Macedonian campaign. His plan, studied by the War College Division at the same time as the idea of a Holland offensive, was seen as far more tempting than Scott's suggestion. Yet, even though his proposal piqued the interest of the military planners more than the one initially offered by the Chief of Staff, Davis's suggestion did not fare much better than the idea of a Holland campaign.(13)

Davis based his plan on several premises which he believed would lie at the root of US involvement in any Continental conflict. First, the United States was traditionally reluctant to participate in European politics. Second, the US sought no territorial aggrandizement from the outcome of this war. Third, America was in the unique position among the Entente powers of enjoying equal friendship with all of the present belligerents. Fourth, the United States had shown its sincere desire to remain neutral and preserve international law. Fifth, the European nations would recognize these premises in a state of balance, such as after the resolution of the present war. Last, America had shown its ability--again unique among the Entente powers--to exert powerful diplomatic pressure upon its possible antagonists. Davis sought to find a possible theater of conflict which would best fit these principles, a theater where America could exercise its independence and moral superiority. He chose Macedonia.

Davis believed that a Macedonian campaign would best suit America's purposes because it would bring about the speediest end to the war. The requisite force, which Davis estimated to be approximately 500,000 strong, would land at a Macedonian port and then invade Bulgaria. With the elimination of that nation from the fight, Turkey would find itself isolated and soon defeated, releasing one Russian and two British armies for operations elsewhere. Removing Bulgaria and Turkey from the war would also clear the way for a concerted effort against Austria-Hungary by the Russians and Rumanians from the East, the Allies from the South and the Italians from Trieste.

The first domino of Davis's plan, Bulgaria, was the key. Davis argued that this satellite of the Central Powers was being propped up mainly by a fear of merciless treatment by the Entente if it quit. The moral presence of the United States would cause the Bulgarians to trust their fate to the Allies. According to Davis, the United States was "the only country in position to combine force and fair diplomacy so effectively toward the ending of the war, and the Balkan theatre is the place for this combination."

When Davis submitted his plans in late 1916, the General Staff hardly received them enthusiastically; the Presidential restrictions against military planning still carried their full force. In February 1917, however, after the United States had broken diplomatic relations with Germany because of the resumption of unrestricted U-boat warfare, the War College Division examined these plans in greater depth. At the same time that he asked the planners to explore his idea of an offensive launched through Holland, Chief of Staff Hugh Scott ordered them to consider Davis's suggestions.(14)

The War College Division's study of Davis's idea, written by Colonel A.W. Catlin of the US Marine Corps and Major H.L. Threlkeld of the US Infantry, agreed with Davis that the required number of troops for a Balkan campaign would be 500,000. Shipping such a force would require approximately ten months, and the only possible point of arrival seemed to be Salonica in Northern Greece, a bay with length, breadth and depth sufficient for a high volume of sea traffic. The Entente Powers had already occupied this area, so there existed sufficient and suitable ground for encampments of American troops.(15)

This choice of Salonica was notable. One of Davis's main arguments for such a campaign was the degree of independence it would afford the US war effort. The War College Division rightly surmised, however, that the US had no chance of executing such a major action on its own; it lacked both the means of landing such a force and the armaments to supply it. An attack by way of Salonica, the only feasible route for an offensive in this region, would inherently involve close cooperation with the Allied forces already there. Such collaboration was exactly what Davis had sought to avoid in the original proposal of this alternative, and therefore the only possible means of implementing this strategy negated its very usefulness.

Even though the idea of a campaign against Bulgaria, whether launched in conjunction with the Allies or not, offered "tempting results, " the War College Division argued that such a plan contained hurdles and dangers that might not justify the possible benefits. The military planners pointed out that if America became involved directly with the Allies, the demands on American shipping would increase sharply, making it difficult to assemble the bottoms necessary to transport an expeditionary force to Macedonia. Also, the dangers of submarine attack were magnified in the Mediterranean Sea. Even without this extra risk of loss in tonnage, the War College Division concluded that Davis's plan, like Scott's Holland campaign involved "so largely cooperation with the Navy and the joint preparation of plans that its practicability should be discussed from the naval point of view before any further steps are taken towards the drawing up of a war plan."

These War College Division discussions marked the extent of the quest for alternatives to the Western Front before Wilson's request for a declaration of war and for some time afterward, but the idea of other options for American participation, particularly in the East, was not dead. F.C. Howe of the U.S. Department of Labor Immigration Service, warned Baker that Germany's true war aims lay in the East: "Here are the oil and coal fields. Here are some of the best wheat lands of Russia. And here the Ukrainians are very much disaffected." The Secretary of War safely ignored Howe's comments, but in September 1917, President Wilson himself ordered Baker to examine options to American military participation in France.(16)

Wilson submitted to Baker the plan of Major Herbert H. Sargeant for the "General Strategy of the Present War Between the Allies and the Central Powers." Sargeant, himself a member of the General Staff, had given this plan directly to the President, probably because he foresaw the reception that the suggestion would receive from his colleagues. He decried the three-year-old stalemate on the Western Front and saw little hope of either side gaining significant territory against the enemy's layers of defenses. The entrenched lines themselves were framed by the neutral countries of Switzerland and Holland which provided little hope in Sargeant's opinion, even if they could be persuaded to take up arms. His plan, then, involved the commitment of the smallest possible force to hold the line in the West while concentrating, as Davis's plan had suggested almost a year earlier, on the East.(17)

Sargeant advocated an attack against either Turkey or Bulgaria, the object being to cut the Central Powers in two and to capture Constantinople by crushing the armies of the Central Powers in that vicinity. After the fall of Constantinople, the Allied forces would attack Austria- Hungary with the Russians "on the right and the Italians on the left." Success in such an endeavor would defeat the Central Powers in what Sargeant saw as their most important theater of operations. If the Allies could capture this area, "the Kaiser's hope of becoming the ruler of a great central empire extending from the Baltic Sea to the Persian Gulf [would] be permanently frustrated."

Sargeant offered an alternate to Davis's route to Turkey by way of the Mediterranean Sea. An American Army could sail from San Francisco across the Pacific and Indian Oceans to the Persian Gulf to cooperate with an English Army currently in the vicinity of Baghdad. Such a course would be entirely through friendly waters, and several minor bases such as Honolulu, Manila, Singapore, Columbo, and Bombay could serve as stops along the way. In response to the question of adequate tonnage to carry a force across the Pacific, Sargeant argued that perhaps Japan could be convinced to assist in this endeavor.(18)

Where Davis's Eastern Plan had met with little detailed opposition as late as March, the suggestions of a Balkan or Near Eastern campaign that arose in September met with the vehement disapproval of military planners. Proponents of the Western Front had gained much momentum in the few months since the first American forces departed for France. The military planners themselves showed little interest in entertaining alternatives until ordered to do so by the Secretary of War and the President. In July 1917, General Tasker H. Bliss, then Chief of Staff, submitted a series of papers prepared by the English War Correspondent G. Gordon Smith on "The Political and Military Importance of the Balkan Front." The evaluation of this proposal, written by Captain Standiford of the General Staff, concluded that "no further action be taken at this time and that the papers be filed." The military planners could hardly entertain Wilson's request with the blasé attitude which they used to dismiss Smith's proposal; after all, it was the President making this suggestion, not some war journalist from Britain. They were no more willing to consider the idea of an Eastern campaign in September than they had been in July, but their responses at this time offered far greater detail as to why such a plan was ill-conceived.(19)

On 28 September, Colonel P.D. Lochridge, acting Chief of the War College Division, issued a memorandum to the Chief of Staff, "Possible Lines of Action in the Eastern Mediterranean, " relating several reasons why an Eastern campaign was not the proper role for the American Expeditionary Force. The War College Division praised an Eastern campaign's goal of striking at the weakest point of the Central Alliance, a strategy which had worked for such legendary generals as Napoleon in his French Campaign in 1814. The distinction between this plan and Napoleon's was that the latter had the advantage of interior lines of supply; in this instance that advantage would rest with the Central Powers.(20)

Shipping a force from New York to the Eastern Mediterranean would involve a distance 1400 to 2000 miles greater than sending that same force to the West Coast of France. This entire increase would be in a land-locked sea with an abundance of possible submarine bases. Troops "going to the Eastern Mediterranean [would] have to run the gauntlet of submarines for approximately one-half of the journey, " which would require dedicating a strong naval escort there while at the same time escorting supply ships for the Allies to the West Coast of France. In sum, shipping for an Eastern campaign would require an additional 45% to 62% of the time required to send a comparable force to France.

Another disadvantage of a Balkan Campaign would be the requirement of the attacking force to carry with it all supplies and munitions. The American army was embarrassingly short of cannons and ammunition and was already forced to rely on France for its artillery needs in the West. Thus, an American force landing in the Balkans would be unequipped for any fighting at all.

Lochridge also described the difficulties of the terrain in each of the areas of the Eastern Mediterranean that were possible debarkation points for a military force. The mountains in Northern Italy provided a formidable hurdle for any planned invasion. Lochridge pointed out that these mountains were so difficult to overcome that merely 50%of the Austrian Army had checked the entire Italian Army for over two years. Lochridge also pointed out that Italy's system of railroads was already taxed by that country's own needs, let alone the requirements of a foreign expeditionary force. Macedonia was, according to Lochridge, a "sector of great apparent possibilities." Even so, there were obstacles to the success of any campaign in this region. The terrain in Albania was too rough for the movement of a large military force, so it was out of the question as a possible launching point of a campaign. The ports in Northern Greece had their geographical limitations as well.

The main argument against a campaign in this area, however, was political. Describing Macedonia as having been for centuries the "cesspool of nations, " Lochridge contended that this area provided a microcosm of the nationality problem that had greatly troubled the entire Balkan region. The Allied forces there included contingents from all of the participant countries, making harmonious cooperation impossible. It was better, therefore, that the United States avoid becoming embroiled in this political powder keg.

Lochridge dismissed in short order the idea of launching a campaign from Turkey. Not only would tremendous delays result from the added length of the voyage across the Pacific rather than across the Atlantic, but the potential rewards involved in a Turkish campaign were nominal. Even though the Baghdad Railway, a main transportation route of the Central Powers, was near to the proposed landing spots of Smyran and Alexandretta, that section of the rail line was not vital to the survival of Germany and her allies. Thus, the potential gains came nowhere near to balancing the dangers and delays of such an offensive.

Lochridge also objected to these alternative strategies on political grounds. The American goal was to crush Germany and destroy its military capabilities. As much as an attack against Germany's allies might hurt the Central Powers as a whole, it would do nothing to slow the Kaiser's war machine. Since the United States had not as yet declared war on any nation but Germany, and since the US had designated itself as an "Associate" rather than an"Allied" power, such plans did not mesh with American diplomatic policy. Lochridge then turned his attention to a critique of a possible Russian campaign. After the first Russian Revolution in March 1917, which resulted in a democratic government, it became obvious that the Allies' Eastern Front was faltering. If Germany could force a peace on Russia, she could free a large portion of her army for further work in the West. Such worries raised the possibility of American intervention against Germany through Russia. Although this plan alone among the proposals elicited some measure of enthusiasm from the War College Division members, it fared no better than any of the other alternatives the trenches in France and Belgium.(21)

The War College Division refuted the idea of a Russian Front in the same memorandum wherein it rejected the idea of an Eastern campaign. The first argument against this plan was that Russia was largely inaccessible. The Central Powers had effectively bottled up the Russian ports in the Black and Baltic Seas, and the neutrality of Norway and Sweden precluded any possible land routes through those countries. An expeditionary force sent to the North would therefore have to sail through the Barents Sea and would most likely arrive at Archangel (about 700 miles by rail from Petrograd). This port had facilities sufficient for about 40 vessels simultaneously--a much larger overall capacity than the rail lines serving the port, which could carry an estimated 60,000 troops (with equipment) per month. This route itself would also be closed by ice for about six months beginning in November. A smaller port which might serve as an alternative to Archangel was Alexandrovsk, but its ship capacity was less than one sixth that of Archangel, and it was 250 miles farther away from Petrograd. It was inaccessible during the summer months because the Murman Railway passed over large tracks of swampland and was subject to attack by the Germans, so Russia had no sufficient access routes from the North.(22)

The War College Division believed that other routes to Russia were equally ludicrous. There were two ports on the East Coast of Russia: Vladivostok and Nikolayevsk. The former was 7000 miles away from Petrograd by rail and had facilities for 30 vessels. The rails themselves had the capacity to haul 40,000 troops per month, but rolling stock was in short supply, so the actual number would have been even less. Nikolayevsk was a new terminus on the Trans-Siberian Railroad located 900 miles north of Vladivostok. Both its limited rail capacity and its shallow harbor prohibited it from being a possible landing point for an American expeditionary force. Even if Russia had possessed adequate port facilities, however, the length of the voyage to either Archangel or Vladivostok alone would have prohibited an offensive via this route. The War College Division listed the following distances:

Route Miles
New York to Havre, France 3600
New York to Archangel, Russia 7000
San Francisco to Vladivostok 7000

In addition, the entire length of the voyage from New York to the West Coast of France was within a temperate climate; the same could be said of neither Russian port.

Another practical hurdle to a Russian front was the appalling condition of Russian railways. The United States government had recognized this weakness on the part of Russia even before the US declaration of war. The War College Division explained that the sad condition of Russian railroads, with its shortages of rolling stock and locomotives, had grown even worse since the March Revolution. Even if an American force could be shipped efficiently to one of Russia's coasts, it was doubtful that it could move within the country itself.(23)

Geographic considerations did not form the only arguments against a Russian campaign. Earlier discussions between Baker and Major Stanley Washburn of the Special Diplomatic Mission to Russia had discussed the tenuous political situation in that country. Washburn cautioned that any plans involving military cooperation with Russia were unlikely to succeed in 1917: "nothing but a miracle can bring about a dominant military situation this summer." Hurrying the Russian army into an advance could very well result in Russia quitting altogether. Washburn suggested that America restrict involvement in that nation to economic aid to build its railroads and feed its citizens. Senator John Sharpe Williams of Mississippi echoed Washburn's opposition to sending an American force to Russia, contending that its soldiers and citizens would resent a force of West Point graduates giving them orders.(24)

The War College Division downplayed the value of the Russian Front in the German war plan. Although it seems hard to believe that the Central Powers would have declined further advances into Russian territory if the opportunity arose, the General Staff argued that their interior lines of supply and communication would be so stretched by such progress along their Eastern Front that they would hesitate to attempt it. While the War College Division's reasoning was a bit lax on this point, their next argument was clearly true. An invasion of Russia was not the immediate objective of Germany; an invasion of France was. Thus, American participation in the East, whether in the Balkans or in Russia, would have left America with a relatively minor and peripheral role in the fighting--a role which might have risked the collapse of the entire Allied cause.(25)

The military planners had decided on committing US troops to the Western Front months before talk of alternative strategies piqued the interest of politicians. Their plan of 7 June had envisioned the progressive dispatch of troops to France at the rate of 120,000 per month starting in August. While the rate of dispatch foreseen in this proposal was not realized until April 1918--a full three-quarters of a year behind schedule--this plan is still significant in that it illustrates that US military planners had decided upon France as the proper theater for American influence almost from the outset of the nation's involvement.(26) In the context of these discussions, and at Baker's suggestion, the War College Division took the opportunity to explain and defend its choice of a Western campaign. After illustrating the drawbacks and flaws of plans which focused on the Eastern Mediterranean or Russia, the planners outlined the advantages in fighting with the British and French in the West. The War College Division argued that it would be unwise to abandon the plan that was already in place to reinforce the Western Front. Decisions such as this, it was argued, should not be reconsidered unless some drastic change had occurred in the overall military situation of the war. The reasoning here is the weakest found in the planners' arguments. The carnage that had already occurred on the Western Front justifiably placed the burden of proof on the advocates of that strategy rather than on its opponents. The War College Division did prove its case in subsequent arguments, but this one alone was not convincing.

The military planners contended that a "sideshow" strategy would unnecessarily divide the American forces. America had as yet declared war only on Imperial Germany, and therefore, unlike Great Britain in Mesopotamia and in Palestine, or France and Italy in Greece, the United States had no compelling political reasons to send troops to any place other than the Western Front. In order for an alternative strategy to succeed, the US would have to field a force large enough to hold the line in the West and at the same time fully equip a force sufficient enough to have an influence in another theater. The force on the second front would require its own artillery, lines of communications, rolling stock, bases, and sufficient personnel--items that the American force alone did not have. The United States was already strained in sending sufficient railroad cars and locomotives to supplement those in France, let alone supply an entire American army on its own. The American Expeditionary Force already relied on the French for its field artillery, so it could not have supplied itself in another campaign.

Another reason why the military planners argued against a change in strategy was the strain on available shipping that the extra distances would entail. Not only would American tonnage have to be dedicated to sending an entire army to another theater, but some of that tonnage would have to be used to supply, or at the very least move, the expeditionary forces already in France. Great Britain did not have enough ships in 1917 to assist the AEF, so America would have to find sufficient shipping on her own. Since such shipping was simply not available to the United States at that time, abandoning the Western Front would have been logistical folly.

The War College Division also contended that the Allies could not survive alone on the Western Front. No miracles had occurred in the three months after the dispatch of Pershing's First Division, so France still needed American assistance. A common bond linked the United States and France, a bond that dated back to the aid of the French Marquis de Lafayette in the American Revolution. This bond, it was claimed, facilitated a degree of understanding that would be possible only with the French or the British--it would certainly not be attainable with the Russians or any other group:

We can reinforce the Allies in greater strength and more quickly on the western front and maintain ourselves there better than any other. We understand the French people and they understand us, our forces are received with open arms and we can depend upon our forces cooperating in the highest degree, and, in consequence to the end of the highest effectiveness, with those of the French by virtue of this understanding. With no other country, except the British, is this possible.(27)

Most importantly, the War College argued that the West was the decisive theater of the war. The sideshows in the East were just that--sideshows. The German objective, they argued, lay with crushing France, and American involvement in the West would do the most to thwart that goal. The military planners recognized that a deadlock had existed for some time in the West, but they claimed that American involvement to the expected degree (eventually one or two million men) would tip the scales decidedly in the favor of the Entente Powers. The war would be won or lost in the West; if the United States desired to play a decisive role in the outcome of the war, and thereby earn a seat at the settlement, it would have to play that role side by side with the French and British in the trenches of the Western Front.(28)

By the end of September, the War College Division had offered its best reasoning for a western campaign, but it continued to receive suggestions for alternatives to this strategy. George Chamberlain, Chair of the Senate Military Affairs Committee, forwarded to Baker a proposal of Ameen F. Rihani (a specialist in Middle Eastern history and literature and the Chair of the Syria-Mt. Lebanon League of Liberation in New York) which advocated a campaign through Turkey. Like Sargeant's plan, Rihani advised that the American force travel across the Pacific Ocean. In his critique of this strategy, Bliss euphemistically suggested that Rihani "has underestimated the difficulties of transporting a force there and supplying it." The Chief of Staff explained that it would take at least twelve months to send an army of 200,000 men to the Red Sea, and that "an army of 200,000 men is a small one these days." Baker chose not to send Bliss's letter to Chamberlain, since doing so might provide a dangerously detailed account of the American strategic thinking. Instead, with the President's agreement, the Secretary of War ignored this recommendation.(29)

Even still the proposals continued to arrive. Baker had sent Lochridge's memorandum with its three enclosures to the President on 11 October. In early November, however, Wilson again presented to Baker the plan of Major Sargeant concerning "the General Strategy of the Present War between the Allies and the Central Powers"--the very same plan which he had given to his Secretary of War in September and the very same plan which the War College Division had already rejected in the lengthy study for the President himself! Surely Baker must have been puzzled when, upon his return to his office, he realized that Wilson had resubmitted Sargeant's proposal. On 11 November Baker forwarded a copy of the War College Division's memorandum of 28 September to Wilson. In his cover letter he once again reiterated the arguments against a sideshow strategy for the AEF. Hinting at Wilson's desire to have a seat at the settlement, Baker concluded by reminding the President that America's army had been "pledged for use on the Western Front in cooperation with the British and French forces there."(30)

The President finally bowed to Baker and the General Staff, but not before once again illustrating the great difference between his goals and those of the military planners. Ronald H. Spector argues that news of the November Revolution in the nascent Soviet Union and the Italian disaster at Caporetto, which had cost the Allies 40,000 casualties and a quarter-million prisoners of war, doused any ideas of alternatives. Timothy K. Nenninger, however, suggests that one argument in particular may have been decisive in the eyes of the President. The Western Front policy would allow the United States to play a major role in the war, and it therefore fit well with Wilson's political goals of reshaping Europe. While this reasoning may have convinced Wilson, the military planners themselves had already decided on this course of action months earlier for purely military reasons. Thus, while postwar politics may have entered into the final decision on whether or not to focus on the Western Front, it seems unlikely that the strategy itself was formed in the context of these considerations. In the eyes of the military planners, victory was a prerequisite for any settlement, so their plans sought this goal foremost.(31)

1. Moore to House, 17 May 1917, House to Wilson, 22 May 1917, PWW, 42:372-74.

2. Wilson to Baker, 23 May 1917, ibid., 42:377; Baker to Wilson, 8 May 1917, Box 4, Document 123, Baker Papers, LOC.

3. Kuhn to the Chief of Staff, 10 May 1917, Subj: Plans for a possible expeditionary force to France, RG 165/10050-8, NA. See Chapter 4, above; W.H. Johnston, Memorandum of dissent, 11 May 1917, RG 165/10050-8.

4. Ruth Reynolds, "First To Go Over There, " Sunday News (New York), 26 May 1940, 50; James G. Harbord, Leaves from a War Diary (New York: 1925), 12.

5. Pershing, Paris, to Bliss, 2 July 1917, The Papers of John J. Pershing, Box 26, Library of Congress Manuscript Division (hereafter, Pershing Papers, LOC); Pershing, My Experiences in the World War, 1:94-5, 118; Smythe, "Pershing Goes 'Over There', " 268; Smythe, Pershing: General of the Armies, 35; The United States Army in the World War, 2:17; Edward M. Coffman, "Conflicts in American Planning: An Aspect of World War I Strategy, " Military Review 43 (June 1963): 79.

6. Pershing, My Experience in the World War, 1:101.

7. Kuhn to Bliss, 7 June 1917, Subj: Tactical reorganization required to meet requirements in the European theatre of war and program for the progressive dispatch of troops to France, RG 165/10050-30, NA.

8. Baker to Wilson, 27 May 1917, Box 4, Document 160, Baker Papers, LOC.

9. Wilson, "A Flag Day Address, " 14 June 1917, PWW, 42:498-504.

10. Baker to Peyton C. March, 7 September 1927, Box 150, Baker Papers, LOC, quoted in Edward M. Coffman, "The American Military and Strategic Policy in World War I, "

75; Kuhn to Bliss, 7 June 1917, Subj: Tactical reorganization required to meet requirements in the European theatre of war and program for the progressive dispatch of troops to France, RG 165/10050-30, NA; Beaver, Newton D. Baker and the American War Effort, 46-9; Nenninger, "American Military Effectiveness in the First World War, " 124.

11. Chief of Staff Scott to Kuhn, 3 February 1917, RG 165/9433-6, NA.

12. This and the following four paragraphs come from: Kuhn to Scott, 29 March 1917, RG 165/9433-6, NA.

13. Davis's plan, discussed in this and the following three paragraphs, was set forth in a series of four memoranda, 17 November, 18 November, 27 November, and 18 December 1916. RG 165/9910-1 through 9910-4, NA.

14. Scott to Kuhn, 3 February 1917. RG165/9433-6, NA.

15. The bay itself was ten and a half miles long, six miles wide, and seven to ten fathoms deep; This and following two paragraphs from: Kuhn to Scott, 29 March 1917, RG 165/9433-6, NA.

16. F.C. Howe to Baker, 26 June, 1917, Box 2, Document 21, Baker Papers, LOC.

17. Sargeant's plan, discussed in this and the following two paragraphs and dated 6 September 1917, was sent to Baker by Wilson on 22 September 1917, Box 4, Document 141,

Baker Papers, LOC. Note that Baker himself incorrectly refers to this letter as having been sent on 12 September in his response to Wilson, 22 September 1917, Box 4, Document 140, Baker Papers, LOC.

18. Although his ideas would be rejected, Sargeant remained a committed "easterner." See Sargeant's series of articles in the North American Review between February and October, 1919, published as The Strategy on the Western Front (1914-1918) (Chicago: A.C. McClurg & Co., 1920).

19. Captain Standiford to Kuhn, 10 July 1917, RG165/10050-68, NA. One can only speculate as to the shape of the file that Standiford would have suggested.

20. This and the following eight paragraphs are from: P. D. Lochridge, acting Chief of War College Division, to Chief of Staff Tasker H. Bliss, 28 September 1917, RG 165/10050-111, NA.

21. Spector, "'You're Not Going to Send Soldiers Over There, Are You!', " 3.

22. Alexandrovsk, which goes by the modern name of Poljarnii, lies at the opening of the bay to Murmansk. This and the following paragraph are from: Lochridge toScott, 28 September 1917, RG 165/10050-111, NA.

23. Baker to Wilson regarding the inspection of the Trans-Siberian Railway by American railroad experts who could make suggestions toward improving its efficiency, 31 March 1917, PWW, 41:511.

24. Major Stanley Washburn, Special Diplomatic Mission to Russia, to Baker, 25 June 1917, Box 5, Document 215, Baker Papers, LOC. See also Sen. John Sharpe Williams to

Wilson, 10 August 1917, Box 5, Document 68-E, Baker Papers, LOC. Williams was rather uncomplimentary of the Russians people, arguing that their overall ignorance would lead them to resent an American force, but his conclusion was still similar to Washburn's.

25. This and the following five paragraphs are from: Lochridge to Chief of Staff, 22 September 1917, Subj: Strategy of the Present War, RG 165/10050-111, NA. See also follow up memo from War College to Chief of Staff, 28 September 1917, RG 165/10050-111.

26. Kuhn to Bliss, 7 June 1917, Subj: Tactical reorganization required to meet requirements in the European theatre of war and program for the progressive dispatch of troops to France, RG 165/10050-30, NA. Baker seems to have doubted the feasibility of this plan rather quickly, considering that less than a month later he told former Chief of Staff Hugh Scott (at the time serving with the Root Mission in Russia) that "no definite plan has yet been made about the dispatch of further troops abroad. . . ." Baker to Scott, Petrograd, Russia, 1 July 1917, Box 3, Document 113, Baker Papers, LOC.

27. Here Lochridge was specifically applying these reasons to refute the idea of a Russian front, but the War College Division would use similar reasoning in the context of other alternatives.

28. Spector, "'You're Not Going to Send Soldiers Over There Are You!', " 3.

29. Baker to Wilson, 4 October 1917, and Bliss to Chamberlain (draft of a letter which was never sent), October 1917, Box 4, Documents 160 and 160-E, Baker Papers, LOC; see also note 1, PWW, 44:361-62.

30. Baker to Wilson, 11 October 1917, PWW, 44:361; Baker to Wilson, 11 November 1917, Box 4, Document 234, Baker Papers, LOC.

31. Spector, "'You're Not Going to Send Soldiers Over There Are You!', " 4; Stokesbury, A Short History of World War I, 246-48; Nenninger, "American Military Effectiveness in the First World War, " 126-127.

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