A merican Equipment Which Failed to Meet Requirements
Roosevelt Tells of American Mistakes
A merican Equipment Which Failed to Meet Requirements
CAPTAIN ARCHIBALD ROOSEVELT, who commenced training for the world-war while at Harvard in 1915, and reached Europe with Pershing's van-guard within three months after the U.S. got into the conflict, writes frankly in Everybody's Magazine of the slackness, blindness, and inefficiency which hampered and delayed American participation. He went to Platts burg a few days after the camp was opened, and began his training along principles which were used in wars previous to `1914. He says:
Imagine the dismay, when after about a month’s training at Plattsburg, we heard that a small force of Regulars would be sent immediately to Europe.
Since our earliest days it had been the ambition of my brother and me “to beat out father,” as we called it. I remember one moose hunt where we let several moose escape, just because they were not quite as big as the moose my father had killed. We could not bear the thought of going home with a smaller specimen than his. At last we did get a bigger head, only to have my father shoot one next season so much bigger than ours that we gave up the attempt. And now again it looked as if father would :“beat us out.” In the Spanish-American War he had been among the first to land in Cuba. It seemed that we were doomed to remain home training, while other American soldiers were fighting in Europe.
My brother Kermit, being a student officer, could not be taken, but with rare initiative managed to enroll himself in the British army and later transferred to the A. E. F.
Fortunately, my father had some friends among the higher officers in the Army and was sportsman enough to want us to beat him, so he sent a message to General Pershing, asking the General to take us as privates' in his first Expeditionary Force. General Pershing refused to take Ted and me as privates, but ordered us overseas in our respective ranks—a major and a second lieutenant in the Infantry Reserve. We were ordered to be assigned to the General Staff, but General Pershing well knew that staff duty is not wanted by active, healthy young men who have never been in the line, and at once acceded to our requests to go into an Infantry regiment of the line.
I arrived in Paris just in time to be assigned to the Sixteenth Infantry Regiment, Regular Army, of the First Expeditionary Division, and had the good fortune to parade through Paris, July 4, 1917.
The management of gas defense is typical of the confusion engendered by war in the War Department and Army. Our division landed in France with no gas-masks. Late in July we were supplied with French gas-masks. We later adopted what was supposed to be an improved British respirator type, manufactured in America. Fortunately, the chemical service of the A. E. F. discovered in time that the so-called improvements made the masks leak when subjected to one of the most dangerous German gases—the mustard gas. * So General Pershing had to obtain directly from England the British respirators.
Nothing daunted, the swivel-chair experts in the United States produced another child of their mighty intellects. This time, built on the same model as the British respirator, it was so encumbered with safety devices that, in spite of minor improvements, the weight of the mask was a serious handicap.
From a young officer in the chemical service, I later learned that the staff in the United States had sent over another absolutely safe type of respirator. The safety was obtained by having the facepiece fit so tightly that after fifteen minutes circulation was stopped. As a gas attack often lasts eight hours, a man wearing such a mask was either obliged to remove the mask and die of gas poisoning, or else he was apt to lose consciousness from the effects of the face-piece.
I understand from this same lieutenant that we were eventually going to have an excellent and effective gasmask, but up to the time I left France, twenty months after we had drifted into the war, the new American gas-masks were in the same place as the Liberty airplanes, the Liberty trucks and the Browning machine guns. All were figments of the imagination.
The automatic rifle fiasco is perhaps even more glaring than the airplane because even less excusable.
Capt. Roosevelt says that the U.S. declined to use General Lewis’ famous weapon, and delayed, almost until Armistice Day, waiting for the Washington, D.C. pet product—the Browning.
In grenades, the “Brain Trust” at home (as our doughboys called the General Staff) adopted their usual dilatory experimental methods. While we were fighting with grenades borrowed from the hard-pressed French, the governmental officials were experimenting with the idea of obtaining a perfectly safe grenade. They found it. It was safe both for us and for the Germans. Only a trained mechanic in a large, quiet field could set one off. So up to my departure from France, American troops used only French grenades.
With rifle grenades, our case was more ludicrous. The French V.B. is the most successful rifle grenade because it can be used either as a rifle or a hand grenade. A sort of cup (called by the French a tromblon, is attached at will to the muzzle of an ordinary French service rifle. A special and heavy grenade fits into the tromblon and is propelled by an ordinary French service cartridge fired from the rifle, the grenade exploding about twelve seconds after being launched from the tromblon. With a range of nearly two hundred yards, a curved trajectory and a danger zone of about twenty yards, it is a formidable infantry weapon against machine-gun nests.
Of course, we had no such weapon in our Army, so the first time we entered the trenches we were forced to disarm eight men per company of their Springfields, and arm them with the antiquated French service rifles fitted for tromblons. Eventually modifications were made fitting them to the United States Army rifle. But even then, it was not until late in January, 1918, that the defects were entirely remedied, and a serviceable tromblon issued. And at that, up to the time I left for the United States we were still using French rifle grenades.
The French V. B. tromblon also fired a signal rocket. But as each of these rockets had attached to it a special cartridge of the French calibi'e, specially loaded to fire the rockets, up to the time I was wounded we were forced to disarm our eight company runners of their Springfield rifles, and arm them with the antiquated and heavy French rifle.
For visual signaling the rocket is perhaps the most simple of all the signal apparatus of a modern infantry company, and is used for illuminating “no man’s land” at night, and calling for artillery barrages. The system of calling for barrages, and instructing artillery in the wishes of the infantry, depends on the number or the color of the stars shot by the rocket.
But here again we were entirely dependent on the French. And we had several serious times because our doughboys were unable to read the directions written in French on the rockets.
There were several ways of launching these signal rockets: From the V. B.
tromblon, as I have already described ; or like a regular Fourth-of-July rocket, from a stand; or from the “Veri” pistol, a short brass pistol, carrying a rocket cartridge of about the diameter of a ten-gauge shot-gun shell; but quite a little longer. And nothing did we know of this signaling before we arrived in France. I remember one of my sergeants (Ross, I think it was) staring at the pistol when we issued it to him, and asking “why the Frogs (soldier’s slang for Frenchmen) had wished a three-inch field-piece on an infantry company!” I must confess I was at that time just as ignorant of its uses as he was.
Indeed, all signal equipment was French, and remained French probably to the end of the war, and certainly until I was invalided home in August, 1918.
Lack of equipment and lack of training and organization made it impossible to start our actual training in modern warfare, based on the lines developed by the English, French and Germans, until July 24, 1917—one mónth less two days after our arrival in France. And even then we could only “simulate” the varied equipment required by an infantry company in modern warfare. Such vitally necessary articles as gas-masks and steel helmets did not arrive until August, 1917.
Eventually most of our borrowed regalia did come, and in October we were all cheered by the news that we were to go to the trenches. The enthusiasm was somewhat dampened, however, when about two weeks before we started we found all our 1917 rifle ammunition to be defective. It had passed the factory tests and the careless eyes of Government inspectors, and had been sent to us overseas, where the difference between perfect and imperfect ammunition meant the difference between life and death to our soldiers. Fortunately, it had been discovered by the troops in time to substitute the 1916 for 1917 ammunition.
I believe it was October 18, 1917, that we moved up for the first time into the firing b'ne. Nearly four months after landing in France, our “splendidly equipped and trained” Regular division was considered by the Allied command only sufficiently trained to be placed in the line with the proportion of one American battalion to one French regiment of three battalions. Nor did the Allied
command place American troops in the line at this time for fighting purposes. They were placed there simply for part of their training, and the Allies had to supply us with most of the transportation and all of the higher officers.
Then we had for the first time the experience of employing rolling kitchens. Before entering the war, the United States Army had what in the year 1913 was considered a very modern cooking equipment. But the war had developed kitchen wagons drawn by horses, and so constructed that the cooking could be carried on during the march. Never were thev officially introduced into our army until after our first division had been over three months in France, and even then we had to borrow from France. The American company was considerably heavier than the French, and in the Arracourt sector we also had some engineers attached to us. Consequently we had a very hard time cooking enough food for all.
Added ro all this, the supply system, commanded by officers ignorant of supplying large units in the field and depending too* much on mule teams and light trucks, utterly broke down, and we were often . without food.
Thougl~~1~ yet the ate~ to that~~---th~ eflici of tt y~ t. tches and tIeerjca's tart ns. They are~ cult and danger takes them into tl~ and Bolshevik ter' and romantic ser~, ILIt'ju~ IOUU. av in the line was short, was inestimable. (.~ an line officers had from the French. nd valiant and `r Allies were, crofl-~ them orLraaiza tiona] ty, ht often `~ansrnit. on the in the infor var, 1 Only by our own experience could we . learn* and experience, though an effective, is a costly teacher. We did not learn how to attack in this sector; but we did learn how to organize our units in such a way that the First Division could successfully attack at Cantigny and Soissons.
We discovered the necessity of liaison (the method of correlating separate units so theyshall act as a whole), and the runner system, and we learned a great deal about handling our supplies.
But most important of all, the younger officers—I am not so sure about the older —discovered their absolute ignorance of modern warfare.
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