Borrowed soldiers

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Americans Under British Command, 1918
By Mitchell Yockelson
Foreword by John S.D. Eisenhower
"His painstaking research makes fascinating reading for anyone who wants to know the real facts about America's first modern foreign war."

—John S. D. Eisenhower

Mitchell A. Yockelson’s BORROWED SOLDIERS (University of Oklahoma Press; May 2008; Hardcover) tells the story of how American and British soldiers joined together for the first time as a military coalition—more than twenty years before D-Day. Their heroism and valor have important lessons to teach us today as both American and British coalition forces continue to fight jointly in order to keep President Woodrow Wilson’s dream of making the world safe for democracy alive.
BORROWED SOLDIERS follows the two divisions that comprised American II Corps, the 27th and 30th, from the training camps of South Carolina to the bloody battlefields of Europe. The combined British Expeditionary Force and American II Corps successfully pierced the Hindenburg Line during the Hundred Days Campaign of World War I, an offensive that hastened the war's end, thus contributing much to the Allied victory. Despite cultural differences, General Pershing's misgivings, and the contrast between American eagerness and British exhaustion, the untested doughboys benefited from the experience of battle-toughened Tommies. Until now, the training and operation of American II Corps have received scant attention from historians.
Conflicts, however, abounded: The commander of the British Fourth Army, General Sir Henry Rawlinson, believed the Americans “to be in a state of hopeless confusion and will not, I fear, be able to function as a corps." General Pershing, the commander of the American Expeditionary Forces, built a meager peace-time army into a fighting force that eventually grew to two million doughboys. Yet one British staff officer referred to him as "the stupidest man in France, showing quite remarkable narrow-mindedness and obstinacy." The Chief of Staff of the American II Corps, Colonel George S. Simonds, summed up Americans’ frustration with their British counterparts by saying "although the British are of our language, race and, to a considerable extent, our ideas and ideals, their methods of procedure are certainly different than ours." Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig, the commander of the British Expeditionary Force, nonetheless in the end honored the doughboys by telling them they had "earned the lasting esteem and admiration of your British comrades in arms, whose success you have nobly shared."
Among the many points of interest, Yockelson can discuss include:

  • The problems coalition forces faced during World War I, the lessons learned from them and their relevance for us today on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan.

  • How coalition warfare has evolved since World War I and what its future will be.

  • Who the key players in the joint British-American force were, why they often found themselves in conflict with each other, and how they overcame their differences to fight together to achieve a common goal, the defeat of the German army.

  • Why, almost a hundred years later, World War I is still important for us politically as well as militarily.

Yockelson plumbs new archival sources, including letters and diaries of American, Australian, and British soldiers to examine how two forces of differing organization and attitude merged command relationships and operations. Emphasizing tactical cooperation and training, he details American II Corps' performance in Flanders during the Ypres-Lys offensive, the assault on the Hindenburg Line, and the decisive battle of the Selle.

Featuring thirty-nine evocative photographs and nine maps, BORROWED SOLDIERS shows how the British and American military relationship evolved both strategically and politically. A case study of coalition warfare, BORROWED SOLDIERS adds significantly to our understanding of the Great War—and the contemporary relevance it has for us today.

About the Author

Mitch Yockelson is an archivist at the National Archives and Records Administration of the United States, where he works in the Office of the Inspector General investigating stolen documents cases. Prior to this he was a specialist in military records since coming to NARA in 1988. Additionally, he teaches history at the United States Naval Academy and military history at Norwich University. He has published widely in the field of military history, including articles and book reviews in various journals and magazines, and is the 2008 recipient of the Edwin P. Hubble of Initiative for his work in preserving history. He also served as an on-screen consultant to PBS, The History Channel and the Pentagon Channel and frequently advises the media about American military history. He received a B.S. from Frostburg State University, an M.A. from George Mason University and a Ph.D. from the Royal Military College of Science, Cranfield University, United Kingdom.

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