German Troops Outnumber Allies;
British Running Out of Men.
Americans Resist Joining British, French Units
Special to The Great War Project.
(1 January) The United States approaches its involvement in the war very cautiously. Even the withdrawal of Russia from the war does not change the U.S. strategy.
On the first day of the new year, writes historian Martin Gilbert, the American commander, General John J. Pershing “successfully opposed an urgent request from the British Prime Minister David Lloyd George “that America send over as many surplus troops as possible, and incorporate them immediately on their arrival into British and French units.”
“Lloyd George argued that the Germans were planning a ‘knock-out blow to the Allies’ before a fully trained American army was ready to take its place in the line that summer.
“Pershing disagreed,” according to Gilbert.
“Do not think emergency now exists that would put our companies or battalions into British or French divisions,” he telegraphed to the Secretary of War in Washington, “and would not do so except in grave crisis.”
Pershing did accept a request from the French commander, General Philippe Petain, that four black regiments that were already in France should serve as integral parts of French divisions.”
They did so for the rest of the war, Gilbert writes. But that’s another story, of an army deeply segregated.
It’s quite apparent that for Britain and the other Allies, “the signs were not good,” writes historian Adam Hochschild.
A year earlier, Allied troops outnumbered the Germans by a factor of three to two.
After a disastrous year, Germany “now every week was racing across Germany bringing troops no longer needed against Russia – just as tens of thousands of British and French soldiers were being urgently diverted from the Western Front to prop up the collapsing Italian army.”
Hochschild reports that…
by January 1918, “there were some four Germans for every three Allied soldiers on the Western Front.
Hochschild continues: “The U.S. army was not yet much help. Although millions of men were being drafted and trained, barely more than 100,000 of them, almost all inexperienced, had made it to Europe.”
“And if casualties continued at the current rate, British forces would need to find more than 600,000 men the coming year just to replace their losses – far more than conscription could supply.”
Britain was running out of men.
Churchill had it right when he wrote, “Lads of eighteen and nineteen, elderly men up to forty-five, the last surviving brother, the only son of his mother, (and she a widow), the father the sole support of the family, the weak, the consumptive, the thrice wounded – all must now prepare themselves for the scythe.”
And yet the British commanding General Sir Douglas Haig wants to launch new attacks.
There is dismay among the senior command.
And, writes historian Frank Simonds, “for the first time during the present war, a year begins with no legitimate reason for expecting decisive victory. Unless all signs fail, the end of the year will see the war still in progress.”