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Battle Orders 6: The American Expeditionary Forces in World War I

by John F Votaw

Published by Osprey Publishing Ltd, ISBN 1-84176-622-4, 96 pages.

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This may sound a dry, but actually it’s an excellent reference for anyone interested in World War I and the US role in it. The first chapters give a lot of information about how the US Army was organised before 1917 and the changes put in place to form the Expeditionary Force, as well as the raining and doctrines then in place. This segment also tells us a lot about the commanders and their own ideas.

Next comes the organisation of the AEF itself, from to bottom over all arms including the tank force. Histories of the three combat Divisions are given here. Plenty of charts show the actual units, others show their commanders and senor staff, intended personnel strengths and equipment allocations. For example, an AEF Field Artillery Brigade as at June 1918 had 5,055 men and officers, 1,458 draft and 925 riding horses, and amongst other vehicles 4 1-mule medical carts! This kind of detail is provided for the Air Service units as well, and there’s a fascinating comparison chart showing the planned and actual organisation of the Tank Corps in France.

Tactics are not neglected. The main emphasis was on “open field” warfare and rifle fire at longer ranges, so British and French training methods that concentrated on trench warfare were not exactly highly regarded. Two examples are given at length, of a regimental attack at Cantigny and a Divisional attack at Soissons, both with maps to show the areas and the progress made. Missing Links readers will be more interested in the chapter on tank tactics, reading which shows how the idea came about that tanks must be part of the infantry instead of a separate breakthrough force.

After all this there’s a chapter on weapons and equipment, unfortunately with little about the tanks, and finally come chapters about demobilisation and a retrospective looking at casualty rates – more from disease, including the ‘fly pandemic, than from battle.

Although there’s relatively little about the Tank Corps in this book it still makes very interesting reading about the US role in World War I. We could do with an Osprey book specifically about the US Tank Corps of WWI, but meanwhile there’s more here about the American use of tanks than you’ll find in most books.


John Prigent

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