- Borrowed Soldiers: Americans Under British Command, 1918
After more than a half century of being nearly ignored, the American military effort in the Great War is finally getting the scholarly attention that it deserves. Recently, scholars have written histories of the Meuse-Argonne offensive and other battles, studies of AEF command and doctrine, as well as numerous divisional histories. We also have enjoyed fine works on Anglo-American strategic cooperation and Franco-American military cooperation. Yet, until Mitch Yockelson’s new work on the American Expeditionary Forces’ (AEF) II Corps, no scholar has provided a monograph on the experiences of the American units that spent all of their time with the British Expeditionary Force (BEF).
Borrowed Soldiers is a superbly researched study of the American 27th and 30th Divisions, the two AEF divisions that not only did all their European training with the British, but did all of their fighting within the BEF. As Yockelson clearly states, despite John J. Pershing’s supposed inflexible resistance to AEF amalgamation with the British and French armies, “the two divisions were amalgamated into the BEF” (p. 214). Since these two divisions were administered by the American [End Page 1361] II Corps, but fought within British and Australian Corps as part of British field armies, Yockelson had to scour archives on three continents to fully investigate this subject.
Yockelson sets out not so much to make a particular argument, but simply to tell the story of these two oft-forgotten divisions—forgotten not just by AEF historians, but apparently even by the AEF leadership as well. Neither division received any replacement troops after commencing combat operations in mid-1918 (even though both suffered heavy losses), nor did either ever have a single officer removed from command by Pershing. The book tells the story of these two National Guard divisions—the 27th, from New York, and the 30th, from the Carolinas and Tennessee—and includes quite a bit of social history along with discussions of the units’ training and combat experiences. Yockelson discusses the officers and men who comprised the divisions; how they were trained in South Carolina in late 1917 through early 1918; how the men adjusted to military life; how they were fed, housed, and transported; how they got along with the British while training and fighting in France; what they thought of their British trainers and colleagues; what various British and Australian officers and men thought of them; and how well they fought in 1918. His thorough research and willingness to use the words of the units’ officers and men gives the reader a window into the myriad experiences of these citizen-soldiers.
The 27th and 30th Divisions made a few attacks in 1918, but none were more important than their effort to break the Hindenburg Line as part of the Australian Corps in September. The attack was only partially successful, but led to tremendous casualties. On the first day of the main attack, a regiment of the 27th Division suffered more casualties than any other AEF regiment on any other single day of the war. The responsible Australian and British commanders, Generals John Monash and Henry Rawlinson, blamed the inexperience and incompetence of the doughboys. While Yockelson concurs that American inexperience played an important role, he agrees with other writers (such as Rawlinson biographers Robin Prior and Trevor Wilson, and Australian journalist and official historian C.E.W. Bean, among others) that the corps and army commanders demonstrated poor judgment in the run-up to the attack and expected inexperienced units to successfully carry out a difficult and “deeply flawed” plan. Yockelson concludes that the AEF divisions “were cast into an operation that had little chance for success” (p. 185). Scholars familiar with British and Australian efforts in “Hundred Days” campaign may be familiar with these assessments, but they will be new to most students of the AEF.
Although the bulk of the book focuses on relating the wartime experiences of these...