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The Story of the American Expeditionary Forces

4th "Ivy" Division

Divisonal Operational Summaries
Review & Commentary

by David C. Homsher


Original Cover: Second Division Volume

Presented the Great War Society

For the tactical movements of AEF combat divisions, there is nothing in print more definitive, detailed and accurate than U.S. American Battle Monuments Commission, Washington, DC: Summary of Operations in the World War (by divisions), 28 vols. Washington, DC: American Battle Monuments Commission, GPO, 1944: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 7th, 26th, 27th, 28th, 29th, 30th, 32nd, 33rd, 35th, 36th, 37th, 42nd, 77th, 78th, 79th, 80th, 81st, 82nd, 90th, 91st, 92nd,and 93rd Divisions, AEF.

In order that the actions of American troops might be accurately set forth, detailed studies were made of the operations of each division that had front-line battle service. In certain cases studies of sector service were also prepared. It was felt that the results of this research should be made available to the American public.

Under the chairmanship of General John J. Pershing, and the able editorship of Colonel Henry O. Swindler, the Commission published reliable information with reference to the battle activities of American armed forces in Europe in 1917-1918. These studies were published in a series of twenty-eight booklets devoted to the operations of each one of the combat divisions in the AEF.

In these booklets only the active service of the divisions is treated in detail. The accounts, however, are comprehensive enough to be of general interest and establish a great body of fact concerning the operations. For the military student they provide an excellent background for tactical studies and present an extensive list of sources upon which further study can be based.

In reading the booklets of this series it should be borne in mind that they are based on the historical studies which were prepared by the ABMC primarily for the purpose of determining the front line of each American division for each day of its active operations. Consequently, they were essentially front-line infantry studies. The operations of other arms, movements of reserves and other phases of the operations were covered only in sufficient detail to afford a complete understanding of the infantry action.

32nd Division to the Front

The preparation of these studies was begun soon after the Commission was created, and every precaution was taken to insure that the research would be conducted with the utmost accuracy and thoroughness. A number of officers from the Regular Army as well as from the Marine Corps were selected and detailed to the Commission from time to time to carry on its work. All records of the War Department pertaining to the subject were exhaustively examined, as were the French, British and German documents which had been collected by the Army War College. From these sources, the daily front lines of each division were determined and plotted on large-scale maps, and brief accounts of the operations were prepared. The maps and accounts of operations were then referred to officers of the divisions concerned for comment and additional information. They were normally sent to officers of all ranks down to and including company commanders. In cases of doubtful or controversial points, the reference was carried further. The replies received were carefully studied, evaluated and used to correct and amplify the original studies. In this way, the Commission was able to secure and preserve valuable data which otherwise would have been lost.

In these booklets, it was not the purpose to go far beyond the scope of the original studies. However, casualty and strength tables were added and enough other material included to present connected histories of the division from their organization until the conclusion of their service in Europe, and to portray their actions in proper relationship to the operations of the corps and armies in which they served.

In order to indicate to the reader the areas in which the divisions served, a general map of France and Belgium has been included in each booklet. This map shows the principal cities and the battle lines of July 17 and November 11, 1918. In addition it shows by special symbol, certain localities of particular interest to the division concerned.

Each monograph deals with an operations summary of one of the American Army divisions that fought on the Western Front in the First World War and contains superb small-scale maps for referencing the division's movements in battle. The twenty-eight booklets of divisional historical summaries contain no illustrations, although they are amply supplied with maps, some of them almost as large as a single bed sheet! The operations maps are reproductions of maps commonly used by American forces during World War I. In a great number of cases it was necessary to use parts of two or more sheets of the wartime maps to make one operation map, which accounts for the different treatment of topographical detail often found on the same operation map. Names which appear on the maps in the abbreviated form are spelled in full in the text. A table of abbreviations with the French equivalent and English translation appears in the front of each booklet. Names of certain topographical features which are well known, and are frequently referred to, appear in the text in the Anglicized form for example, Argonne Forest rather than Foret d'Argonne, Marne River, rather than Marne Riviere.

These are not literary histories but straight factual summarizations of events in the operating lives of the divisions. The structural outline of each volume is the same: the first chapter deals with details of organization, the division's landing in France, unit strengths, and the training period behind the lines. Each succeeding chapter is devoted to a single operation performed by the division; and, at the beginning of each chapter, a section is devoted to a description of the general situation bearing upon the pertinent operation, a device so familiar in field orders. The order of battle, the lines of departure, the fluctuating battle lines are exactly detailed, day-by-day.

4th Division Artillery Spotters

All dates are 1918 unless otherwise indicated and are inclusive for example, October 9-11 includes the three days, October 9, 10 and 11. Dates in the headings of chapters dealing with operations, and in the titles of accompanying maps, are in general the dates between which one or more infantry regiments of the division have been awarded battle honors by the War Department. In certain cases infantry regiments, as well as other elements of the division, have been awarded battle honors for dates other than those indicated. The dates on the battle line of the maps include the period during which the division held command. The lines are as of midnight unless otherwise indicated; for example, October 9 indicates the line held at midnight, October 9.

It must be emphasized that this is not the usual type of organization history, heavily freighted with the names and doings of the individual officers and men. There is a complete absence of personal names. The work is wholly devoted to precision in chronology and geography, and the daily objectives, plans of operations, movements, and order of battle of each division and its component brigades, regiments, and battalions.

The divisional histories were the outcome of original studies of troop unit records in the General Headquarters records of the American Expeditionary Forces, which had been shipped back from France and placed in the custody of The Adjutant General's Office. In editing the division histories it was necessary to lift from the context of each operation, in which it had a part, the division's own activities; then by adding together the resulting segments a total picture was evoked of the division's battle service.

This method, for example, is reflected in the volume on the 1st Division. After the foreword, preface, and the initial chapter on organization and training service, the remaining four chapters are each devoted to one of the four operations in which the division took part, namely those of the Cantigny Sector and the Montdidier-Noyon Defensive, the Aisne-Marne Offensive, the St. Mihiel Offensive, and, finally, the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. The booklet ends with an appendix containing a Divisional Table of Organization; a table giving the strength of each component of the 1st Division, at monthly intervals during its active service; and a list of reference sources mentioned in the text. In addition, at the end of each chapter a table of casualties is given, related to the pertinent operation.

The usual practice of using footnotes for citations of specific passages in sources was modified in favor of a special method. At the end of each paragraph are one or more numbers enclosed in brackets. These numbers refer to pertinent documents in the list of sources in the appendix. The sources consist of field orders, field messages, operations reports, war diaries, correspondence with individual officers, and British, French and German documents. Most paragraphs were the result of interweaving of several field orders messages, or memoranda, and to cite each fraction of a source separately would have required so many footnotes as to render the method inadvisable. In any event, the list in the appendix shows all the source materials at a glance, and anyone desiring to pursue a point further can, as a rule, obtain electrostatic copies of the particular documents desired.

Typical Map from 2nd Division Volume
Not to Scale

Since this was a group historical project the modus operandi is not without interest. Here again, the structural outline of each volume is an outcome of the work method. After the delimitation of the boundaries of a division operation, an officer was detailed to perform the research and historical reconstruction of that operation. When the preliminary draft of the operational study, and the attendant maps, was completed, it was circulated amongst the officers of the historical staff engaged on related studies, and then amongst officers of the division who had actually taken part in the operations described. The study was thus carefully checked, discrepancies adjusted, and facts verified. After the process of re-valuation of the documentary sources the final draft was completed. Thereafter this draft was edited with a view toward placing it in its proper relation with the front as a whole and the general situation. When the necessary statistical tables on casualties were completed and added to the chapter, the chapter relating to the particular operations was ready for the printer. It should be noted, however, that the casualty tables required a great deal of additional work because of the policy of including therein not only the division's own casualties for an operation, but also casualties resulting to other American divisional elements which had been attached to the division for the particular action. This policy involved the re-figuring of The Adjutant General's data so that the desired result of casualties per divisional operation could be obtained.

The casualty figures are based on the official casualty records of The Adjutant General. Tables of casualties have been prepared, however, only for the periods of active operations. The purpose is to show the casualties which occurred under the division command during specific actions. It will be noted that, in the majority of cases, the dates in the casualty tables cover longer periods than those in the chapter headings or on the maps. This was found necessary in order to include all casualties incident to entering or leaving the line.

In a pocket in the inside front cover of each volume are to be found the folded maps which are reproductions of those actually used in battle action. The whole series contains a total of 85 maps of which each of six maps are in two sheets, making a total of 91 map sheets. The smallest sheet contains 329 square inches, while the largest has nearly 2,000 square inches. The number of sheets per volume varies from one to seven. With one exception the maps scale is 1 to 20,000. However, the 93rd Division's operational map for the Oise-Aisne Offensive, September 15 to November 11, 1918, scales 1 to 80,000. Each map carries three scales in miles, yards, and kilometers respectively; and nearly all of them have the contour intervals, except a few that are of the hachure [crosshatch] type. All place names are in French, but in the British sectors English names were superimposed, occasionally, on the French base map. The lines on the maps are based on a careful interpretation of the text, showing divisional front lines, boundary lines, and flanking divisions. All battle lines are marked with the dates of midnight of the day of action.

In addition to the actual operations, significant elements in the training and movement of the American forces are indicated, such as Pershing's famous break with the Allied stationary war doctrines, also referred to as "positional warfare." The American commander insisted that his troops were in Europe for the purpose of offense not defense and, therefore, he made it mandatory that open warfare training be given as well as the prevalent trench warfare training in vogue in the French and British armies. In the war of movement that ensued in October and early November of 1918, events bore out the correctness of Pershing's stand. Unfortunately, enough time had not been available to indoctrinate and train many of the troops for that type of campaign, and the Americans as well as the Allies were caught flat-footed when the time came. Although the campaign culminated victoriously, many avoidable errors were committed in both battle tactics and movements. The troops were relatively unaccustomed to caring for themselves in the open field and on the march.

The Commission has had numerous and excellent battle terrain photographs taken which would be of value to the historian; but, for one reason or another, these have not been published in any form. They do exist, however, in a handful of historical archives, and in loose-leaf volumes where they can be examined: Library of Congress, National Archives, the Center for Military History, Ft. McNair, all in Washington, DC. See also at the U. S. Army Military History Institute, Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania.

German Prisoners to the Rear

Several of the ABMC books for the higher numbered U. S. Divisions are available online and in digital form. These will be found when using a search engine to locate "American Battle Monuments Commission." The only other source I know of for these booklets would be on the web-site of the Digital Bookshelf, where there is listed a CD-ROM that has all of them. As yet, no way has been found to digitally reproduce the gigantic maps which usually accompany the ABMC booklets. The Digital Bookshelf site also has many reprinted AEF division histories, again on CD-ROM. The average cost of each CD-ROM is about forty-five U. S. dollars, which is probably cheaper than buying the original book from a dealer. Occasionally, partial or full-sets of these booklets will become available from a used-book dealer such as Q. M. Dabney and Company, Box 42026, Washington, DC 20015 (301-886-1470) or the Military Bookman, 29 East 934d St., New York, NY 10028 (212-348-1280). When they are available, there are usually backlog requests for these books and they will only stay on the shelves for a matter of hours!

In the case of the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) series of AEF division tactical monographs, these are no longer for retail sale. In December, 2004, the author of this article was informed by the ABMC that, "there has been no demand sufficient to warrant the reprinting of the volumes comprising the summaries of operations for WWI nor the Terrain Photographs, WWI."

If you wish to contact the ABMC and add your weight to a proposal to have the Summaries of Operations and Terrain Photographs republished, please e-mail the Commission at and address your message specifically to Martha Sell, Director of Operations. Ms. Sell will, in turn, forward your comments to the Center for Military History and to the U. S. Army Historical Office. In the opinion of this editor, the re-issuance of both publications, in paper and/or CD-ROM format would serve as a fitting tribute to the passing of the last American Doughboy of World War I, and they could both be so labeled as being 'Final Tribute Editions.'

For AEF historians and others who wish to use the numerous AEF divisional and other unit histories as their sources of AEF battle information, be cautioned that these histories always contain a certain percentage of inflated and otherwise questionable information. Beware of the exuberance of the 'fisherman's catch' when using these histories--they must be sifted thoroughly before you use anything they say as being 'the gospel truth.' Match what the unofficial histories have to relate against the publications of the ABMC, and you cannot go historically astray.

Editor's note: Some of the text for this article is derived from "First World War Divisional Histories," by Colonel Victor Gondos, Jr., as published in Military Affairs, Vol. 9, No. 3 (Autumn 1945), 274-278. Used with the permission of The Journal of Military History, George C. Marshall Library, Virginia Military Institute, Lexington, VA 24450.

Exhausted Soldiers of the 78th Division Near Grand Pre

About the Author:

David C. Homsher, a veteran of U.S. Army service during the Korean War, and now retired, is a historian-writer of the American soldier and his battlefields. Dave has traveled extensively over many of the battlegrounds of both World Wars and he is currently writing a soon to be published series of guidebooks to the American battlefields of the World War I in France and Belgium.

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