A spotlight on Gen. John Pershing’s First Army at a pivotal moment in the war of attrition against the Germans.
Mired in trench warfare in Flanders and northern France since the beginning of the war in 1914, the French and British could not break through German lines until the Americans, lately but decisively, joined the fight. Historian and National Archives archivist Yockelson (Military History/U.S. Naval Academy; Grant: Savior of the Union, 2012, etc.) looks at these key months, from Sept. 26 until Armistice Day on Nov. 11, when Pershing honed his vast First Army for the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, between the Meuse River and the dense Argonne Forest. Working from his headquarters at Chaumont, on the upper Marne River, Pershing had to convince the savvy French commanders that the American Expeditionary Force needed to remain independent from the Allied forces, even though they would be trained under the foreign commanders. Hence, the American First Army was born, at a force of 230,000 men, with Pershing as its commander. He first set his sights on the strategic St. Mihiel Salient, supported by French tanks and arsenal and American Air Force derring-do led by pilots Billy Mitchell and Eddie Rickenbacker. Taking the Germans off guard, the doughboys seized previously occupied towns and villages before facing three fortified obstructions of the Hindenburg Line—each named for witches from the operas of Richard Wagner. The French-British-American aim was to surround the German army and press toward Sedan, cutting the German-run rail lines. Yockelson moves by increments through the intricate phases of Pershing’s ultimate victory, which he achieved despite the greenness of his doughboys. He does a sharp job filling in the military details and fleshing out the biographies of the legendary figures who would feature prominently in the next great conflagration: Patton, Marshall, MacArthur, Donovan, etc.
An accessible, elucidating study by a knowledgeable expert.