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Acknowledgements || 1: Cast of Characters: Birth of the US War Department General Staff, 1898-1916

It is with loving pride we drape the 
colors in tribute of respect to this 
citizen of your great republic. And 
here and now in the presence of the 
illustrious dead we pledge our hearts 
and our honor in carrying this war to a 
successful issue. Lafayette, we are 

- Colonel Charles E. Stanton in a speech at 
the tomb of American-Revolutionary War 
General Marquis de Lafayette, 4 July 1917.(1)
We've paid off that old fart, Lafayette. 
What Frog son-of-a-bitch do we owe now? 
- An American Infantryman after 
the Battle of Soissons, 27 May 1918.(2)

"If success beckons," said Theobald von Bethmann- Hollweg, "we must follow."(3) With this capitulation to the nation's army and naval leaders on 9 January 1917, Germany's Chancellor accepted the resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare. The Chancellor's peace feelers directed toward President Woodrow Wilson in December 1916 had met with little favorable response, and his influence with the Kaiser had eroded.(4)

Although this policy would surely pull the US into the war, Germany's military leaders -- including Field Marshall Paul von Hindenburg and General Erich Ludendorff -- felt certain that America posed little threat; a force across the Atlantic of only 110,000 soldiers which had done little more than irritate the Mexican government in its chase after Pancho Villa seemed hardly a formidable foe. America's navy, which had only ten percent of its manpower requirements and only one third of its vessels supplied to operational standards, also caused the German military little concern. While the US had committed itself to a naval building program in 1916, the resulting capital ships were hardly the type to conduct an anti-submarine campaign.(5)

Germany's military had more respect for America's industrial potential. Perhaps most impressive, at least in terms of capacity for modern warfare, was the production of iron and steel. As early as 1899, the output of the Carnegie Steel Corporation exceeded Great Britain's total yearly production by 695,000 tons. Formed on 4 March 1901, the United States Steel Company soon became the first corporation in the world to be capitalized for $1 billion. At the turn of the century, American steel production was already ranked first in the world, outdistancing second- place Germany by thirty percent. In addition, iron production in the US had doubled between 1914 and 1917.(6)

In spite of America's impressive output of such materials, Germany's leaders believed that their U-boats could starve Britain out of the war long before the US could adapt itself to full-scale mobilization. Admiral Henning von Holtzendorf, Chief of the German Naval Staff, estimated that the submarines would sink 600,000 tons per month for six months. Fearful of the submarines, neutral nations would cease shipping to England altogether, causing a loss of 1,200,000 of the 3,000,000 tons of neutral shipping. The total loss for Great Britain would equal thirty-nine percent of its available tonnage. By the time the US could amass a substantial force, there would be no bottoms left to ferry it across the ocean. Even if America could somehow find the required shipping, the Germans felt confident that they would control the Channel ports and therefore offer the Americans no place to land an expeditionary force. While this choice would doubtlessly add to her list of enemies, Germany's military minds believed that it would yield victory. They were wrong.(7)

Although it would number more than four million by the time of the Armistice, the military force available to answer an American call to arms in April 1917 commanded little awe. The aging officer corps had no experience in modern war; in their education they had looked to the outdated models of mobility and maneuver from American Civil War battles instead of the more relevant Russo-Japanese War, which had demonstrated the destructive capacity of modern firepower.(8) Both the Chief of Staff, Major General Hugh L. Scott, and his Assistant, Major General Tasker H. Bliss, were within a year of mandatory retirement. The size of the army had fluctuated from a high of 210,000 during the Spanish-American War to a low of 64,000 in 1907--roughly equal to the number of British casualties on the first day of the Somme. By 1 April 1917 it was able to muster 5,791 officers and 121,797 enlisted men. No division or unit of comparable size existed which could serve as an expeditionary force, and from the entire army the War Department could immediately organize and ship only 24,000 troops and provide enough ammunition for only a day and a half of heavy fighting. The National Guard consisted of 181,620 officers and men, of whom 80,446 had already been called to federal service. Moreover, these poorly trained Guardsmen lacked a unified and centralized command. Essential supplies of a modern army, such as poison gas, flame-throwers, tanks, mortars, grenades, heavy field guns and modern aircraft, were non-existent, and the field artillery had sufficient rounds to sustain a bombardment for no more than a few minutes. The US Army ranked seventeenth in the world, keeping company with Denmark, Holland and Chile. Historian Robert H. Ferrell has labelled [sic] it "a home for old soldiers, a quiet, sleepy place where they killed time until they began drawing their pensions."(9)

The task of molding the diminutive American army into a fighting force and of developing the strategic plans for US participation fell upon the shoulders of the War Department General Staff. In April 1917 this immature body of military advisors consisted of fifty-one officers, only nineteen of whom were on duty in Washington. None of these men had commanded in action or had even seen a modern division of American soldiers. Of these nineteen, eight were occupied with routine business, leaving only eleven --comprising the War College Division, housed with the Army War College at Washington Barracks, away from the remainder of the War Department on the other side of the capital city --free to concentrate on the herculean task of creating from thin air a viable war plan against Germany. Contrasted with the huge British, French and German General Staffs at the outbreak of the war in 1914 -- 232, 644 and 650 respectively --this number was absurdly small but indicative of the distant, sometimes forcibly detached position from which America had viewed the struggle on the Continent.(10)

Inefficient routines also hamstrung the General Staff's effectiveness. The serpentine paper trail required of every report wound almost all through the War Department. A proposal by the head of a bureau, such as the Chief of the Ordnance Department, would go first to the Adjutant General, who forwarded it to the War College, where it was assigned to one of the overworked committees of the War College Division. After these officers reached a conclusion, they presented it to the Division Chief for his approval. The paper was then returned to the Adjutant General who forwarded it to the Chief of Staff. If the issue was of grave importance, the Chief of Staff would send it to the Secretary of War. After the Chief of Staff or the Secretary of War had approved the proposal, it was returned to the Adjutant General and then finally to the office of origin. Mountains of papers backed up in this system. The Chief of Staff would have had to spend eight hours andforty-five minutes of each day reading memoranda if he were to devote a mere three minutes to each paper passing across his desk.(11)

An examination of the role of the War CollegeDivision in the formation of military strategy for World War I reveals two major threads in American preparation for the conflict. First, the United States found itselfunmindful of and ill-prepared for the degree of involvement which its declaration of war in April 1917 would require. Neither the military planners nor the political leaders hadadequately addressed the possibility of US participation in the war that had been raging in Europe for almost three years.

Fundamental strategic questions such as whether to send an army to Europe, and if so when and where to deploy it to support national goals, remained unanswered until after the Congress of the United States granted Wilson's request for a declaration of war on Germany.

The second major recognizable theme within the plans is the distinction between the approach of the military planners and that of the political leaders. Throughout the period of preparation for US involvement, the military leaders held a singular goal foremost -- victory over Imperial Germany. Many political leaders, especially Wilson himself, had other concerns which often put them at odds with the military recommendations at those rare times when they even knew of them. The desperate situation at sea demanded that the US cooperate closely with Great Britain's Royal Navy, so Wilson's only flexibility lay in how he employed the nation's land forces.(12)

The occasional harmony which sometimes existed between the military and political objectives, however, can be attributed more to coincidence than to cohesive planning. Historians Arthur S. Link and John Whiteclay Chambers, II, have argued that "Wilson's control and execution of military-diplomatic policy was personal and direct," and that he "insisted upon maintaining daily oversight of all military and naval operations, even down to particular strategies." They contend that the President enjoyed a close working relationship with his military advisers and that "in all matters of military-diplomatic policies and strategies, he required that there be a direct flow of informationcoming to the President." They further claim that "through daily meetings with Secretary [of War Newton D.] Baker, and members of the General Staff as necessary, the President maintained personal control of the activities of the military establishment, especially as they related to his larger goals."(13)

Wilson fully exercised his constitutional powers as Commander-in-Chief and maintained strict control of final military policy decisions, especially those relating to naval policy. The picture of close cooperation painted by Link and Chambers is inaccurate, however, during the formative period of American military planning for the war. An examination of the policy-making process illustrates that a gulf existed between the approach of the military planners in the General Staff and that of the President himself, especially as such planning related to the Continental Army Reserve, strategic planning on the eve of the war, the decision to raise the army's manpower through conscription, the decision to send an immediate expeditionary force to France, the decision to follow-up with more soldiers as rapidly as possible, and finally the decision to exercise American military power on the Western Front.

Woodrow Wilson fought heartily to keep the US out of World War I. Although his sentiments leaned toward the Allies in their struggle with the Central Powers, Wilson sought Congressional approval for war with much reluctance and only after he believed he had exhausted all attempts at peace and neutrality. Nevertheless, as gradual asAmerica's entry into the Great War was, the strategic preparation for it still lagged behind.

1. Jay M. Shafritz, Words on War: Military Quotations from Ancient Times to the Present (New York: Prentice Hall, 1990), 488.

2. Henry Berry, Make the Kaiser Dance: The American Experience in World War I (Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Co., 1978), 153.

3. [German] Reichstag Committee of Inquiry, "Report of the Conference at Pless, January 9, 1917," in Official German Documents Relating to the World War, 2 vols. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1923), 2:1320-21.

4. Ernest R. May, The World War and American Isolation, 1914-1917 (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1959), 387-415. May shows that Wilson's demand that all belligerents openly and explicitly state their war aims was unacceptable to Berlin. Similarly, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George's newly[-]formed War Cabinet strongly objected to the implication that Wilson publicly placed them on the same moral level as the Germans. For the texts of the almost identical notes sent to the Entente and to the Central Powers, see The Papers of Woodrow Wilson, gen. ed. Arthur S. Link, 63 vols. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1966 - ), 40:222-29 (hereafter, PWW).

5. James L. Stokesbury, A Short History of World War I (New York: William Morrow and Company, 1981), 216-20; Barbara Tuchman, The Zimmermann Telegram (New York: Delta Books, 1963), 132-42. The classic critique of the Naval Act of 1916 can be found in Harold and Margaret Sprout, The Rise of American Naval Power, 1776-1918 (Princeton:

Princeton University Press, 1939). For a more recent but equally biting treatment see Paulo E. Coletta, Admiral Bradley A. Fiske and the American Navy (Lawrence: Regents Press of Kansas, 1979).

6. John M. Cooper, Jr., Pivotal Decades: The United States, 1900-1920 (New York: W. H. Norton, 1990), 11; Clark C. Spence, The Sinews of American Capitalism: American Economic History (New York: Hill & Wang, 1964), 244.

7. Holger H. Herwig and David F. Trask, "The Failure of Germany's Undersea Offensive Against World Shipping, February 1917 - October 1918," The Historian 33 (August 1971): 612-13; Trevor Wilson, The Myriad Faces of War: Britain and the Great War, 1914-1918 (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 1986), 427-28.

8. Harry P. Ball, Of Responsible Command: A History of the U.S. Army War College (Carlisle Barracks, PA: U.S. Army War College, 1983), 141-2. There is some controversy, however, about whether the American World War I commanders' education was as useless as it might seem. Edward Coffman argues that the professional training that these leaders received was a significant improvement over the nineteenth century volunteer ideal and that it both adequately exposed these commanders to German tactical theory and trained them to lead in combat. The opportunity to prove the respectability of the AEF and its commanders in a major campaign against the Germans in 1919 was preempted. Coffman, "The AEF Leaders' Education for War," in The Great War, 1914-18: Essays on the Military, Political, and Social History of the First World War, ed. R.J.Q. Adams (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1990): 139-59. See also Joseph G. Dawson's comments on Coffman's article, ibid., 183-90.

9. Robert H. Ferrell, Woodrow Wilson and World War I, 1917-1921, The New American Nation Series, ed. Henry Steele Commager and Richard B. Morris (New York: Harper and Row, 1985), 14-15; Marvin A. Kreidberg and Morton G. Henry, History of Military Mobilization in the United States Army, 1775-1945 (Washington: Department of the Army, 1955), 216; US Army War College, Historical Section, The Genesis of the American First Army (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1938 [1929]), 1-3; Stokesbury, A Short History of World War I, 218-19.

10. James Hewes, "The United States Army General Staff, 1900-1917," Military Affairs 38 (April 1974): 68; "Report of the Chief of Staff," in War Department Annual Report, 1919, 4 vols. (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1920), 1:248-49; Frederic L. Paxson, "The American War Government, 1917-1918," American Historical Review 26 (October 1920): 54. See also Edward M. Coffman, The War to End All Wars: The American Military Experience in World War I (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1986 [New York: Oxford, 1968]), 21-4; Marvin A. Kreidberg and Morton G. Henry, History of Military Mobilization in the United States Army, 215-16; James Hewes, From Root to McNamara: Army Organization and Administration, 1900-1963 (Washington: Center of Military History, 1975).

11. Edward M. Coffman, "The Battle Against Red Tape: Business Methods of the War Department General Staff, 1917-1918," Military Affairs 26 (Spring 1962): 1-3.

12. David F. Trask, "Woodrow Wilson and World War I, " in American Diplomacy in the Twentieth Century, ed. Warren F. Kimball, The Forum Series in American History (St. Louis, MO: Forum Press, 1980): 7-8.

13. Arthur S. Link and John W. Chambers, II, "Woodrow Wilson as Commander-in-Chief," in The United States Military Under the Constitution of the United States, 1789-1989, ed. Richard H. Kohn (New York: New York University Press, 1991), 319-24.