United States campaigns in World War I

Two American soldiers storm a bunker past the bodies of two German soldiers during World War I. Digitally restored.

This article is about the United States campaigns in World War I. American entry into World War I in early April 1917 resulted in the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) on the Western Front, under General John J. Pershing, being engaged in 13 campaigns, during the period 1917–18, for which campaign streamers were designated. The streamer uses the colors of the World War I Victory Medal ribbon which had a red center with a rainbow on each side of the center stripe and a purple edge. The double rainbow symbolizes the dawn of a new era and the calm which follows the storm.

World War I Campaign Streamer.

Above and the following are taken from "The Army Flag and Its Streamers", a pamphlet which was originally prepared in 1964 by the Office of the Chief of Military History, in cooperation with the Office of the Chief of Information and the U.S. Army Exhibit Unit, to provide general summaries of each of the campaign ribbons authorized to be displayed on the Army flag. It was subsequently updated by the Center of Military History to add the campaigns from Vietnam.[1]

Cambrai, 20 November – 4 December 1917

The year the United States entered World War I was marked by near disaster for the Allies on all the European fronts. A French offensive in April, with which the British cooperated, was a failure, and was followed by widespread mutinies in the French armies. The British maintained strong pressure on their front throughout the year; but British attacks at Messines Ridge (7 June), at Passchendaele (31 July), and at Cambrai (20 November) failed in their main objective–the capture of German submarine bases–and took a severe toll of British fighting strength. Three American engineer regiments–the 11th, 12th, and 14th–were engaged in construction activity behind the British lines at Cambrai in November, when they were unexpectedly called upon to go into the front lines during an emergency. They thus became the first AEF units to meet the enemy.

Somme Defensive, 21 March – 6 April 1918

Main article: Operation Michael

Lys, 9–27 April 1918

Aisne, 27 May – 5 June 1918

US Marines in Belleau Wood, 1918

Montdidier-Noyon, 9–13 June 1918

Ludendorff followed up his stalled Aisne offensive with a small-scale drive in the Montdidier-Noyon sector on 9 June 1918. Twenty-one German division attacked the French on a twenty-three mile front extending from Montdidier to the Oise River. The French anticipated the assault and contained it after a nine-mile (14 km) penetration by the Germans, counterattacking strongly. The fighting was over by 12 June, and the enemy had little to show for the heavy losses incurred. No large American units were in the immediate vicinity of this action, although the 1st Division at Cantigny was subjected to artillery fire and diversionary raids.

Champagne-Marne, 15–18 July 1918

Americans in the Champagne Marne offensive, in 1918.

In the four great offensives from 21 March to 13 June 1918 the Germans gained considerable ground, but failed to achieve a decisive advantage at any point on the front. Furthermore, success was bought at a price in manpower and material which they could ill afford. Their more than 600,000 casualties were irreplaceable, whereas the Allied loss of some 800,000 men was soon more than compensated for by new American units arriving at the front in ever-mounting numbers. By July 1918 Allied troops outnumbered German on the Western Front. Other factors also contributed to the decline of German morale, notably the pinch of the blockade and the effectiveness of the Allied propaganda, which was distributed widely by air at the front and in German cities behind the lines. But Ludendorff refused to consider peace negotiations, and planned two more offensives for July which he hoped would bring victory. The first of the new drives was designed to capture Rheims, to make more secure the supply of the Merge salient, and to draw in Allied reserves. The second and larger offensive, destined never to be launched, would strike once again at the British in Flanders.

When the two-pronged German assault on either side of Rheims began on 15 July the Allies were prepared for it. Plans for the attack had leaked out of Berlin, and Allied airplanes had detected the unusual activity behind the enemy front. Foch had time to draw up reserves, and Petain, the French commander, skillfully deployed his troops in defense-in-depth tactics. Consequently, the German drive east of Rheims fell far short of its objective. The attack west of the city succeeded in pushing across the Marne near Château-Thierry, but was checked there by French and American units. Among the A.E.F. units involved in this action were the 3d, 26th and 28th Divisions, the 42nd Infantry Division, the 369th Infantry Regiment, and supporting elements (in all about 85,000 Americans). It was here that the 38th Infantry and the 30th Infantry Regiments of the 3d Division gained the motto, "Rock of the Marne."

By 17 July the Champagne-Marne offensive had petered out and the initiative passed to the Allies. The German people had built up great hopes for the success of this Friedensturm (peace offensive); its failure was a tremendous psychological blow to the whole nation.

Aisne-Marne, 18 July – 6 August 1918

Somme Offensive, 8 August – 11 November 1918

Oise-Aisne, 18 August – 11 November 1918

Ypres-Lys, 19 August – 11 November 1918

That part of the Western Front extending from the English Channel south through Ypres, and thence across the Lys River to the vicinity of Arras, was manned by an army group under King Albert of Belgium composed of Belgian, British, and French armies. In late August and early September the British Second and Fifth Armies, assisted by the American II Corps (27th and 30th Divisions), wiped out the Lys salient. When the Germans began retiring in the sector south of the Lys in October to shorten their lines, King Albert's army group attacked along its entire front. By 20 October Ostend and Bruges had been captured and the Allied left was at the Dutch frontier. In mid-October Pershing dispatched two American divisions – the 37th and 91st – to the French Army of Belgium, at Foch's request, to give impetus to the drive to cross the Scheldt (Escaut) southwest of Ghent. A general attack began in this area on 31 October and continued intermittently until hostilities ended on 11 November. The 37th Division forced a crossing of the river southeast of Heurne on 2 November and another farther north at the site of the destroyed Hermelgem-Syngem bridge on 10 November. Casualties of the two divisions in these operations totaled about 2,600. From 19 August to 11 November about 108,000 Americans participated in the Ypres-Lys Campaign.

St. Mihiel, 12–16 September 1918

Meuse-Argonne, 26 September – 11 November 1918

Men of the 369th Infantry Regiment in action at Séchault on September 29, 1918 during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.[2]
U.S. soldiers of 2nd Division engaged in combat in the Argonne Forest.

Vittorio Veneto, 24 October – 4 November 1918

Late in the war, Americans participated on a limited scale in campaigns in Italy. The 332d Regiment with attached hospital troops was sent from the A.E.F. to the Italian Front in July 1918 for the morale effect which it was hoped that the sight of Americans would have on the Italians. This force of about 1,200 men took part in the last great Italian offensive against the Austrians, the Battle of Vittorio Veneto.

See also

Further reading


  1. U.S. Army Campaigns: World War I
  2. Nelson, Peter (2009). A More Unbending Battle: The Harlem Hellfighters' Struggle for Freedom in WWI and Equality at Home. New York: Basic Civitas. ISBN 0465003176.
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