Millions of Americans Crossing the Atlantic
Germany’s First Target at Sea: the Tuscania.
Special to The Great War Project
(18 February) The build-up of American troops on the Western Front is proceeding far too slowly, and the Americans know it. The Americans “feared the worst for the coming year,” writes one American officer a century ago.
“From a military point-of-view Germany is stronger in the West today than it has been since 1914.” Germany has 170 divisions against Britain’s 54 and French 93.
That translates into more than half a million men for the British, nearly a million for the French.
But with Germany no longer fighting a two-front war – a war against the Allies in the West, and Russia in the East — it is moving millions of troops from the Eastern to the Western Front.
By the end of January 1918, the Americans have a mere 180,000 troops in France, and only 85,000 of them “are with the fighting troops.”
But that is set to change. “In the scales against this gloomy foreboding,” writes historian Gary Mead, “was set the gathering flood of doughboys sailing across the Atlantic.”
The crossing is not without its risks. German U-boats still lurk in the waters off the coast of England and Ireland. They still attack the ships carrying troops from America.
One in particular was a deadly attack on the ocean liner Tuscania, sister ship of the much better known Lusitania, sunk by a German submarine in 1915.
The Tuscania “was the first troopship,” Mead reports, “carrying doughboys from the United States to France to be torpedoed in the First World War. She was attacked without warning in that killing ground favored by U-boats off the coast of Ireland.”
“The Tuscania,” Mead writes, “was the biggest disaster in the ferrying of American soldiers to Europe.” On her last voyage, she left the port of Hoboken, New Jersey on January 24, 1918. She carried more than 2,000 American soldiers as well as a British crew of 384. She sailed in a convoy of thirteen ships…
In a ferocious squall, “it was a miracle the U-boat could see anything at all.”