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Over There: American Doughboys Go to War Previous Next
Digital History ID 3477


In 1917, a High German official scoffed at American might: "America from a military point-of-view means nothing, and again nothing, and for a third time nothing." The U.S. Army at the time had only 107,641 men.

Within a year, however, the United States raised a five million-man army. By the war's end, the American armed forces were a decisive factor in blunting a German offensive and ending the bloody stalemate.

Initially, President Wilson hoped to limit America's contribution to supplies, financial credits, and moral support. But by early 1917, the allied forces were on the brink of collapse. Ten divisions of the French army had begun to mutiny. In March 1917, the Bolsheviks, who had seized power in Russia in November, accepted Germany's peace terms and withdrew from the war. Then, German and Austrian forces routed the Italian armies.

The United States was forced to quickly assume an active role in the conflict. As a preliminary step, American ships relieved the British of responsibility for patrolling the Western Hemisphere, while another portion of the U.S. fleet steamed to the north Atlantic to combat German submarines.

To raise troops, President Wilson insisted on a military draft. More than 23 million men registered during World War I, and 2,810,296 draftees served in the armed forces. To select officers, the army launched an ambitious program of psychological testing.

In March 1918, the Germans launched a massive offensive on the western front in France's Somme River valley. With German troops barely 50 miles from Paris, Marshal Ferdinand Foch, the leader of the French army, assumed command of the allied forces. Foch's troops, aided by 85,000 American soldiers, launched a furious counteroffensive. By the end of October, the counterattack pushed the German army back to the Belgian border.

American entry into the war quickly overcame the German military's numerical advantage. In June 1918, some 279,000 American soldiers crossed the Atlantic; in July over 300,000; in August, 286,000 more. All told, 1.5 million American troops arrived in Europe during the last six months of the war. By the end of the conflict, the allies could field 600,000 more men than the Germans. The influx of American forces led the Austro-Hungarian Empire to ask for peace, Turkey and Bulgaria to stop fighting, and Germany to request an armistice.

President Wilson announced that he would negotiate only with a democratic regime in Germany. When the military leaders and the Kaiser wavered, a brief revolution forced the Kaiser to abdicate, and a civilian regime assumed control of the government. At 11:00 a.m., November 11, 1918, the guns stopped.

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