CHAPTER XXV. THE UNITED STATES AND THE WORLD WAR
Between April, 1917, when America declared war, and approximately a year later when her weight began to be felt, the Allies suffered reverses that were thoroughly disheartening and were almost disastrous. Russia, who had conducted a powerful offensive in 1916, began to retreat in the summer of 1917 and was thereafter no longer a military factor. Italy had driven back the Austrians in the summer of 1916, but in the fall of 1917 was compelled to conduct a retreat that became all but a disaster. Allied conferences were accordingly held in Paris in November and December, 1917, for the purpose of bringing about closer unity in the prosecution of the war. Nation after nation, on the other hand, had severed relations or declared war on the Teutonic powers until a great part of the world had ranged itself on the side of the Allies. In March, 1918, the Germans precipitated a series of crises - the final ones as it turned out. In that month they began a terrific drive on a fifty-mile front against their opponents in the western theatre of the war. In order to meet this thrust the Allies decided to give over the supreme command of all their forces to Marshal Ferdinand Foch, chief in command of the French army, and General Pershing thereupon offered him all the American troops in France. American efforts were redoubled, in the face of the new danger, and forces were transported across the ocean in numbers which had not been anticipated and which soon began to give the Allies a substantial advantage. One vessel, the Leviathan, landed in France the equivalent of a German division each month. The enemy, nevertheless, continued to advance and on May 31 were at Chateau-Thierry, only forty miles from Paris, where the American Third Division assisted in preventing any further forward movement. The leading military experts in the United States, meanwhile, with the support of a large portion of the public were demanding a still larger army and the Secretary of War, Newton D. Baker, accordingly laid before Congress a plan which developed eventually into the "Man Power" act of August 31, 1918. It changed the draft ages and added more than 13,000,000 registrants to the available supply of men. A clause of this law, designed in part to provide further supplies of officers, allowed the Secretary of War to send soldiers to educational institutions at the public expense, thus establishing the Students' Army Training Corps.
At the time when General Pershing placed his forces at the disposal of Marshal Foch, the Americans numbered 343,000 and were used mainly to relieve the French and British at quiet parts or "sectors" on the western front. In April, 1918, however, the First Division was placed in a more active position, and on May 28 took Cantigny; the Second Division was on the Marne River early in June, and later in the month helped prevent a German advance at Belleau Wood. Other forces were sent to operate with the British, a regiment was sent to Italy, and a small force to northern Russia and Siberia. In mid-July the Germans renewed their attacks but were shortly turned back again at Chateau-Thierry, and Marshal Foch judged this to be the time for the Allies to make a general offensive movement. On the 18th the First and Second Divisions, with picked French troops, made a successful drive toward Soissons. On August 30 the Americans were given a permanent portion of the front, and two weeks later came the first distinctly American action in the reduction of the St. Mihiel salient - a wedge driven by the Germans into the allied line. Infantry, artillery, aircraft, tanks and ambulances were gathered - about 600,000 men all told - mostly under cover of darkness. Preceding the drive a heavy artillery fire was directed upon the enemy for four hours, during which brief period thirty times as many rounds of ammunition were fired as were used by the Union forces at Gettysburg in three days. Then at five o'clock in the morning, on September 12, the troops fell upon an enemy which had been demoralized by the artillery, and routed them. The American losses were 7,000 - injuries for the most part - and the gains, 16,000 prisoners, 443 guns and a great quantity of war materials, together with an advantageous position for further advance. The "American Army was an accomplished fact."
The most important action in which the Americans participated was the Meuse-Argonne offensive. The goal of this attack was the Carignan-Sedan-Mezieres railroad, which ran parallel to the front and comprised the main supply line of the enemy. The drive began late in September and continued with greater or less intensity and with increasing success until November 11, when it became evident that the Germans were in serious difficulties. Their line was cut, and only surrender or an armistice could prevent thorough-going disaster.