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5 Pershing's War Plans The pace of the war was initially quite frenetic for Pershing. He had reported to the War Department on May 10 to be told officially that he would command the AEF. Eighteen days later he and his hastily selected staff were aboard the transport Baltic on their way to France. Their previous education and combat experience had not prepared them for the siege warfare of barbed wire and trenches. Nor did they appreciate how thoroughly high-explosive shells and rapid-fire weapons dominated the battlefield. Through its emphasis on the American Civil War, the Army War College had reinforced an image of nineteenth -century battle, stressing offensive and maneuver warfare. As junior members of the anti-German coalition, the American officers could have learned from the earlier mistakes of the British and French generals, who initially had been baffled by the stalemate. Certainly a serious examination of the evolution of tactics on the killing fields of the western front, 1914-17, would have been more informative about the effect of the new fire weapons than studying earlier wars and touring Civil War battlefields. Unfortunately, however, the president 's 1914 admonition to his fellow countrymen about being "impartial in thought as well as in action" had encouraged the military professionals to adopt an ostrichlike position. Although Pershing would be a commander without an army for many months to come, he never thought small. His mind focused on the expectation that America would play the dominant role in the war against Germany. As the Baltic crossed the Atlantic, he and his staff officers—many of whom had studied the Franco-Prussian War at the General Staff College at Ft. Leavenworth—took charge of future American military operations. Given freedom of action by his political superiors, Pershing at once made the theoretical "brain" of the army, the General Staff in the War Department, largely irrelevant in such critical areas as the AEF's theater of operations and offensive objectives . The AEF's location in western Europe was crucial to both American and British political and military plans. The British military had been quick to make suggestions. When Slocum had visited Haig's 82 Trial by Friendship headquarters in April, General John Charteris, chief of intelligence, had suggested that the Americans replace an isolated French division on the northern end of the British-Belgian front.1 In Washington with the Balfour mission, Bridges had suggested to Scott that any American force, if not placed along the British front, should be located between the British and French forces, where it could be directed by the French and supplied by the British. When Bridges learned that the French wanted the AEF to be placed at the southern end of the line at Belfort,2 he warned Pershing "not to get jammed up against the Swiss frontier," where American forces might be cut off if the French front disintegrated .3 Ignoring the British, Pershing pleased the French by selecting Lorraine, the area between the Argonne Forest and Vosges Mountains , as the American sector. He rightly suspected the British of attempting to harness American military power to their own. He wanted to control his logistics, which would not be possible if he used the British ports on the Channel; without his own supply lines he would never have a truly independent army. Proximity to the BEF would also increase the pressures and dangers of the amalgamation of American and British forces. Additionally, once Pershing succeeded in creating an independent American force, it would inevitably be assigned a secondary role if it fought alongside the British on the seaward side of their front or at the joint of British and French forces. The French, who sought to protect their great-power status through aligning American forces with their own, could be counted upon in the future to oppose British efforts to create any Anglo-American front.4 The war on the western front had in many ways become a war of railroads as well as artillery, and the importance of rail communications to his selection of a theater has been emphasized by Pershing and others. The Lorraine front would allow the AEF to utilize its own ports of supply along the southwestern French coast, and a railway network running south of Paris would permit American troops and supplies to flow along less-congested though distant lines of communication. It was strategical and political rather than logistical considerations, however, that proved decisive in Pershing's...


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