June 26th, 1917 – The USA Joins the Fight Against Germany!

Today-In-History

At the outbreak of the First World, the United States pursued a policy of non-intervention, avoiding conflict while trying to broker a peace. When the German U-boat SM U-20 sank the British liner RMS Lusitania on May 7th 1915 with 128 Americans among the dead, President Woodrow Wilson insisted that “America is too proud to fight” but demanded an end to attacks on passenger ships. Germany complied. Wilson unsuccessfully tried to mediate a settlement. However, he also repeatedly warned that the United States would not tolerate unrestricted submarine warfare, in violation of international law. The former president Theodore Roosevelt denounced German acts as “piracy”. Wilson was narrowly reelected in 1916 as his supporters emphasized “he kept us out of war,” but this promise was not to last.

president-woodrow-wilson-posing-with-king-george-v

President Woodrow Wilson with King George V

In January 1917, Germany resumed unrestricted submarine warfare, realizing it would mean American entry. The German Foreign Minister, in the Zimmermann Telegram, invited Mexico to join the war as Germany’s ally against the United States. In return, the Germans would finance Mexico’s war and help it recover the territories of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. The United Kingdom intercepted the message and presented it to the US embassy in the UK. From there it made its way to President Wilson who released the Zimmermann note to the public, and Americans saw it as casus belli. Wilson called on antiwar elements to end all wars, by winning this one and eliminating militarism from the globe. He argued that the war was so important that the US had to have a voice in the peace conference. After the sinking of seven US merchant ships by submarines and the publication of the Zimmermann telegram, Wilson called for war on Germany, which the US Congress declared on 6th April 1917.

The United States was never formally a member of the Allies but became a self-styled “Associated Power”. The United States had a small army, but, after the passage of the Selective Service Act, it drafted 2.8 million men, and, by summer 1918, was sending 10,000 fresh soldiers to France every day. In 1917, the US Congress gave US citizenship to Puerto Ricans when they were drafted to participate in World War I, as part of the Jones Act. Germany had miscalculated, believing it would be many more months before American soldiers would arrive and that their arrival could be stopped by U-boats, but on June 26th, 1917 the first of the U.S. troops arrived in France to fight alongside Britain and France against Germany.

Harlem_Hell_Fighters

The Harlem Hellfighters charge into battle.

The United States Navy sent a battleship group to Scapa Flow to join with the British Grand Fleet, destroyers to Queenstown, Ireland, and submarines to help guard convoys. Several regiments of US Marines were also dispatched to France. The British and French wanted American units used to reinforce their troops already on the battle lines and not waste scarce shipping on bringing over supplies. General John J. Pershing, American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) commander, refused to break up American units to be used as reinforcements for British Empire and French units. As an exception, he did allow African-American combat regiments to be used in French divisions. The Harlem Hellfighters fought as part of the French 16th Division, and earned a unit Croix de Guerre for their actions at Château-Thierry.


 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to toolbar