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The AEF Way of War by Mark Grotelueschen is about the United States Army’s doctrine, training, and operational experiences before, throughout, and after the World War I. Grotelueschen discusses the experiences and lessons learned as a result of operations conducted by four divisions during the First World War. Through the book, Grotelueschen presents the argument that prewar doctrine and open warfare of the U.S. and the Army Expeditionary Forces (AEF) was not applicable to the modern battlefield. Grotelueschen analyzes this doctrine in depth to explain how each of these divisions adapted its own way of war from their interpretation and adjustments of how they operated and found success. The prewar doctrine was too heavily focused on “self-reliant infantry,” the rifle and bayonet, and open warfare tactics. After reading about each of the four divisions discussed in the book, there is a clear indication that the successes of the divisions directly reflected the use of modern technology and trench warfare tactics, specifically limited set piece attacks and fire superiority.
Grotelueschen holds degrees from the United States Air Force Academy, the University of Calgary, and Texas A;M University and is a United States Air Force officer. In addition to The AEF Way of War, he is also the author of Doctrine Under Trial: American Artillery Employment in World War I. By examining Grotelueschen’s countless references and material, the reader feels certain that no relevant material has been excluded for the purpose of this book. From the beginning, the author presents the inadequate studies done on the AEF’s doctrinal and operational changes from the beginning of the war to years after the war.
At the time the U.S. had entered the war, the army was small in comparison to those of the British and French. The U.S. began increasing the size of the military and increasing funding to bring their force up to par with their allies. Despite the knowledge the U.S. had attained from British and French combat reports, the U.S. did little to adjust their doctrine to that of trench warfare and the modern battlefield. General Pershing, the AEF commander, was adamant regarding the U.S.’s “self-reliant infantry,” the rifle and bayonet, and open-warfare tactics. Quickly, the divisions throughout the AEF would learn that this idea was outdated and needed to adjust their tactics to allow the work of machines and the artillery to pave the way for the infantry. The divisions examined in the book were the first of their kind, and each participated in at least one of the three main AEF offensives: the Aisne-Marne, St. Mihiel, and the Meuse-Argonne. Groteluschen states this to give credibility to the divisions he analyzed.
As different Army Divisions arrived in Europe, they were expected to complete a three-month long training period of trench and open warfare with experienced British and French units. Of these Divisions, only the 1st completed the full three months, and the 77th did almost all training in the U.S. While the training was intended to be a mix of open and trench warfare, it focused more on trench warfare and getting troops accustomed to living in the trenches. Pershing, very critical of these training periods, claimed they were a waste of time and wanted his commanders to place their focus on the infantry, the rifle and bayonet, and open warfare as the primary means of fighting. Here Grotelueschen highlights Pershing’s unwillingness to accept the lessons learned from experiences of the British and French.
During the war each of the four divisions in the book learned the hard way through heavy casualties that something needed to change in their methods of fighting. The battle at Cantigny the 1st Division, commanded by General Robert Bullard, first demonstrated changes in their tactics where they successfully carried out a limited set piece attack using massive amounts of firepower from the artillery. Like the 1st, the 2nd would experience this during their assault of Vaux under General Harbord, where they also demonstrated the strengths of limited set piece attacks, and massing artillery fire. And again, under General Lejeune at Blanc Mont Ridge, the 2nd demonstrated this technique flawlessly.
The 26th Division, made up of National Guard units from the New England area commanded by Major General Clarence R. Edwards, had its own obstacles and controversies to overcome as well. Throughout their campaign they were heavily criticized for their lack of discipline and poor leadership, specifically Edwards. While most of the reports about the 26th came back negatively from AEF GHQ, there is evidence that the 26th were not always afforded the same training opportunities and resources as the 1st and 2nd. Despite the negative reports received by the 26th for their lack of discipline, Edwards, and the 26th also realized the importance of limited set piece attacks as well as the importance of fire superiority.
The 77th Division, commanded by Major General Robert Alexander, was unique in that it was the first draftee force and received the majority of its training back in the U.S. Unlike the 1st, 2nd, and 26th divisions, Alexander was committed to the AEF and Pershing’s doctrine of “self-reliant infantry” and using open warfare tactics. As time progressed though, they too would learn the hard realities of the modern battlefield and Alexanders’ subordinates learned to integrate limited set piece attacks when afforded the opportunity.
Grotelueschen provides many examples of the strengths and weaknesses of the AEF. Grotelueschen illustrates Pershing’s unwillingness to come to terms with the modern-day battlefield and the idea of machines over man throughout the war. The text also examines the successes of each division when given ample time to plan out their attacks using limited set piece attacks. Grotelueschen proves him wrong by not only highlighting the successes of the attacks where the U.S. had fire superiority but also by showing where the ideas of open warfare failed.
In the early engagements of the war, divisions took heavy casualties due to German machine gun nests wiping out allied forces. The Aisne-Marne Offensive was very hastily prepared and did not leave commanders much time to plan their attacks. The 1st Division focused primarily on relying on AEF doctrine and practicing open warfare tactics. A few days into the offensive, the 1st began using open warfare tactics, starting with a short artillery barrage followed by the infantry maneuvering its way forward toward the German line. The reader can see the failures in this method by the heavy casualties taken by the U.S. as they were downed by German machine gun nest. Grotelueschen proved Pershing and AEF’s theory wrong that the infantryman’s boldness would be able to conquer the machines of the Germans. The reader then recognizes the importance of trench warfare using limited set piece attacks as General Summerall used them in his plans with the 1st Division. Summerall recalled the success they had with this attack at St. Mihiel and implemented it during this offensive which later resulted in the 1st ultimately proving successful and conquering the Germans.
Divisions began integrating the artillery and using rolling barrages to pave the way for the infantry to move forward. This proved successful and laid the foundation for how attacks should be conducted. The quicker commanders accepted this fact and implemented it into their plans, the more success they achieved. The greatest example was demonstrated through 2nd Divisions assault on Blanc Mont Ridge under General Lejeune. Lejeune carefully planned out a limited set piece assault that used massive amounts of firepower to ensure its success. He even allocated an additional day to ensure the all the artillery pieces were in place and knew their task for the assault. Lejeune’s planning and understanding of the limited set piece attack and massing firepower became one of 2nd Divisions greatest accomplishments. Lejeune later issued a memorandum stating that all further attacks should be carried out similarly. This style attack was a perfect example of the style Pershing despised. While Pershing stressed the infantry and open warfare maneuvers, commanders like Lejeune understood the importance of having the artillery pave the way for infantry to move forward.
Grotelueschen shows Pershing failed to understand the importance of combined arms use of artillery and infantry by giving examples of other countries use of modern technology. The British and French adapted to the modern technology by using different sized artillery pieces, machine guns, and grenades and integrated it into their troops. Pershing was cautious in integrating new technology into the divisions because he felt the modern technology was only a crutch. Despite Pershing’s traditional beliefs this was not the case. The massive amount of artillery fire inflicted by trench warfare was superior to open warfare tactics when comparing the number of casualties German machine guns caused the U.S. during attacks versus casualties caused by open warfare.
Throughout the First World War, the 1st, 2nd, 26th, 77th and the rest of the AEF, would learn that the ideas of “self-reliant infantry,” focusing on the rifle and bayonet and open warfare tactics, were almost obsolete on the modern battlefield. Despite the documented failures of open warfare tactics, under Pershing’s command the doctrine continued to support this technique. As division commanders and their subordinates rose the ranks, the doctrine adjusted more to the combined arms use of modern technology and the importance of fire superiority.
The author concludes with the lessons learned from each division and what brought success. Grotelueschen efficiently presents his thesis, and the reader gains a greater understanding of the doctrinal and operations changes the AEF experienced throughout the war. The 1st, 2nd, 26th, and 77th divisions all had successes in adapting to the modern battlefield and utilizing the modern weapon systems to their advantage. This worked especially well when commanders practiced the use of limited set piece tactics as opposed to those of open warfare. Anyone who reads this book will without a doubt agree that prewar doctrine and open warfare of the U.S. and AEF was not suitable to the modern battlefield. The author sought to present what he had discovered by studying archival material, published documents and manuals, journal articles, and memoirs and other first hand accounts. While it is hard to clearly say whether or not the author displayed a bias, it is evident that the author sought to prove that AEF and Pershing’s ideology throughout the war were outdated and needed to come to terms with the changing times.
When learning about military history, specifically World War I, one must consider this to be an important part in displaying the realization by officers in the U.S. Army that as technology advances there is a need to change doctrine and training to fit the modern battlefield. The days of “self-reliant infantry” and the rifle and bayonet are over, it is time to move toward a combined arms effort. Military historians would no doubt find this work to prove just that. From the wars previously fought by the U.S., they never had to question the strength of the infantry and the reliance of the rifle and bayonet. As the U.S. began to fight in World War I, the infantry alone would not be able to match the modern-day machines the Germans were using to their advantage. Grotelueschen proved the necessity of the role of the artillery for battles and the importance of fire superiority.