BORROWED SOLDIERS Americans Under British Command, 1918 by Mark Barnes

It was not all plain sailing. The New Yorkers counted a good many German and Irish Americans in their ranks…

It is nice to read a book about an American army in Europe that has nothing to do with the Airborne, or the Rangers or any of the essentials of a predominantly World War II fayre.

When the US Army began arriving in France in 1918 the British and French competed to have influence over the use of this prized resource. The Americans had ideas of their own. They correctly saw that if they were to have any influence at the peace table, they must have an independent army fighting under it’s own aegis. So Pershing resisted the considerable pressure he was placed under by Haig and Foch and the US Army went on to play it’s part alongside the French. It is little-known that ‘Black Jack’ consented to leave one corps of two divisions under British control – ‘amalgamated’ into the Fourth Army. He pretty much left them to it.
It was not all plain sailing. The New Yorkers counted a good many German and Irish Americans in their ranks and some preferred to serve with the French. The standard of US officers and NCOs was never at the highest and the British found difficulty imparting their considerable experience on eager allies. There were the usual problems with language and culture experienced a generation later and beyond.The US Army’s II Corps was formed from two National Guard Divisions, the 27th from New York and the 30th formed from the Carolinas and Tennessee men. They were British armed, shod and equipped. They took their lead from British and Australian commanders, fought well in two major offensives; and were much admired by their allies for their bravery, enthusiasm and spirit. Douglas Haig was effusive in his assessment of the corps, he admired the Americans, and would have liked many more of them in his army.

Pershing had envisaged a war of movement and did not want his men embroiled in the trenches. The reality was II Corps had little choice of environment for where they fought just like everybody else. But the Americans were intelligent, strong and fast learners. The war did not last long enough for them to put all they learned into practice, but they did well in battle and were no pushover.

A monument near Kemmel in Flanders and the American cemetery at Bony on the Somme are permanent reminders of the sacrifice of II Corps. They were good men deserving our respect and our affection.

Mitch Yockelson tells an important story well. Not the lightest of reads, this is a straightforward book, economically written; more in the English style of language than entirely American. He brings a number of very interesting men to life and does the US Army of the 1914-18 War a great service. The mutual admiration that grew between Doughboy, Tommy and Digger is a fascinating aside from the regular round of Great War reading available. The book fills a gap I had not known existed. Good!

Published by the University of Oklahoma Press.
ISBN-13: 978-0806139197 26.95.

Mark Barnes

Mark Barnes is a longstanding friend of WHO, providing features, photography and reviews. He has contributed to The Times of London and other publications. He is the author of The Liberation of Europe (pub 2016) and If War Should Come due later in 2020.