Book Review: The AEF Way of War: The American Army and Combat in World War I


by Mark Ethan Grotelueschen

New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Pp. x, 387. Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $75.00. ISBN: 0-521-86434-8


In the half century that followed World War I, the reputation of the American Expeditionary Forces largely reflected wartime impressions of a well-led, if improvised force that did quite well in combat, due largely to John J. Pershing's insistence on preparing it to engage in "open field operations" rather than "trench warfare." 

About 25 years ago, quite the opposite picture began to emerge, with some historians arguing that the AEF was an inept, poorly-trained, and ill-led force that spurned the "lessons" learned by the British and French and in consequence incurred excessive casualties.  Of late, a new school has emerged, and Prof. Grotelueschen, who teaches at the Air Force Academy, is one of a number of recent historians who takes a less extreme view. 

The AEF Way of War , describes the training and performance of four divisions, the 1st, 2nd, 26th, and 77th.  Although the first pair consisted of "Regulars" (among them a brigade of Marines), the third "National Guardsmen," and the last "National Army" troops (i.e., draftees), the personnel of all four divisions were quite similar, mostly new recruits or short-timers.

Grotelueschen looks into their training, which was often cursory, whether for "trench" or "open field" operations, made worse by the fact that Army doctrine relied on obsolete rifle tactics.  But he also looks at how each division adopted itself to the grim realities of the Western Front, often with only lip-service to official doctrine, so that they developed a new, uniquely American approach, that even Jack Pershing might not have recognized. 

A valuable look at the Doughboys.

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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