By Christopher Semancik, Army Heritage Museum.September 4, 2007
The ability of an Army to shoot, move and communicate forms the basic foundation of battle- space success. These three fundamentals of force projection hinge on solid staff work. The U.S. ArmyAca,!a,,cs first large scale combat movement of the 20th century was the change of front of the American Expeditionary ForceAca,!a,,cs (AEF) First Army from the St. Mihiel sector during the weeks of September 16 Aca,!" 26, 1918, in preparation for its assault in the Meuse-Argonne.
In the spring of 1918, when Allied manpower had reached a critical shortage, the Allies argued that American units should be integrated into French and British Divisions rather than establish a unique American Army. Driven by the crises of the situation and stubborn negotiation by AEF Commanding General John J. Pershing, Allied Supreme Commander Marshal Ferdinand Foch of France reluctantly allowed, on September 2, the creation of an American Army under the direct command of General Pershing to take over its own section of front. The agreement came with conditions that would test the mettle of the new organization. The agreed plan would have the American First Army reduce the St. Mihiel sector bulge, stabilize the line, create an American Second Army utilizing newly arrived divisions, disengage First Army, move its 600,000 men, 3,000 artillery pieces and supplies approximately 50 miles over three main roads into the Meuse-Argonne sector, and be ready for renewed battle in a matter of 14 days.
Paul Braim, a modern historian of the AEF, recognizes this epic change of front as a defining moment in the performance of the AEF from Army level on down. Although Braim comments that the movement did not go off flawlessly, it did go off, and the on-the-job logistics work stretched and matured assigned American staff officers into a modern working organization. One of the main AEF staff architects of this move was future Army Chief of Staff and General of the Army George C. Marshall. As a Colonel on General PershingAca,!a,,cs staff, he learned from his boss great managerial lessons, ranging from logistics to dealing with the Secretary of War. Noting MarshallAca,!a,,cs role in the great AEF move, Marshall biographer Forrest C. Pogue illustrates that one of the great assets that Marshall brought to the job was his ability to improvise and adapt orders to evolving situations. These Aca,!A"Great WarAca,!A? lessons would pay off well for Marshall and many other officers who went on to apply what they learned in the trenches to their duties in World War II. Twenty-six years latter General PattonAca,!a,,cs staff planned a great left flank turn of the Third Army to move in support of the Battle of the Bulge. That splendid success in 1944 represents a direct application of what American Army staffs learned from the movement of First Army into the Meuse-Argonne.