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"1918 Infantry Tactics, battlefield " Topic

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Queen Catherine27 Feb 2017 7:43 a.m. PST

Looking to game late war US forces, especially the US e.g. 28th ID at Chateau-Theirry, etc.

I have heard that there was considerable evolution in small unit tactics during the war, and perhaps 1918 was closer to WWII tactics than it was to 1914!

Anyone have any good, solid reads on this? I'd be looking for an overview, and an understanding of the evolution of both trench and field tactics, and especially be looking for what the French and British would have been instructing the US forces in for the battles they fought.


John Armatys27 Feb 2017 7:55 a.m. PST

For an overview (c1850 to post WW2) try English and Gudmundsson "On Infantry" Praeger, 1994.

For British practice see Griffith "Battle Tactics on the Western Front, The British Army's Art of Attack 1916-18" Yale University Press, 1994.

Personal logo Scott MacPhee Supporting Member of TMP27 Feb 2017 7:57 a.m. PST


I'm sure we will hear from others more expert than I am, but I thought this book was a great primer on tactical evolution.

kevin Major27 Feb 2017 8:48 a.m. PST

Pershing did not want to listen to French and British advice and condemned his men to repeat the errors of 1916 British and 1915 French.

BlackJoke Inactive Member27 Feb 2017 9:19 a.m. PST

Bing implemented a number of changes in the Canadian Corp before Vimy Ridge. Might be worth looking into what was implemented and where the seperate tactics came from.

vtsaogames27 Feb 2017 9:43 a.m. PST

I do recall reading of the Marines at Belleau Wood. They advanced in column of open order companies. When enfiladed by machine guns, they wheeled in that direction and advanced.

For late war German artillery, read Zabecki's "Steel Wind".

monk2002uk27 Feb 2017 9:59 a.m. PST

There are some excellent videos of Americans undergoing training in France. I will try and look them out.


BlackJoke Inactive Member27 Feb 2017 11:39 a.m. PST

Interesting read:


GuyG1327 Feb 2017 12:40 p.m. PST

Google SS 143. The most accessible copy is US War Department reprint. SS 143 was the 1917 British platoon tactics manual, IIRC they were still using modifications of it until the mid-1930

GuyG1327 Feb 2017 12:41 p.m. PST
Heisler27 Feb 2017 12:48 p.m. PST

None of these books really touch to deeply on the 28th ID since my interest is really in the USMC during WWI. However, there are a couple that are probably relevant. However, they will give an idea of US tactics at the time.

With the Help of God and Few Marines by Brig Gen Albertus W Catlin [Ret]
The United States Army Second Division Northwest of Chateau Theirry in World War I by John Thomason
Through the Wheat, the US Marines in WWI by Brig Gen Edwin H Summers, USMC [Ret] and Col Joseph H Alexander USMC [Ret}
Chateau Thierry & Belleau Wod 1918, America's baptism of fire on the Marne by David Bonk (osprey)
The Devil Dogs at Belleau Wood, US Marines in WWI by Dick Camp

I disagree with Kevin Major, Pershing did listen to the advice and adjusted US forces based on that. What he did not do was allow US forces to be deployed in penny packet replacements which was the British and the French wanted. He held American troops under his control so that they could be deployed and have a significant impact on the war.

monk2002uk27 Feb 2017 1:22 p.m. PST

Here is the video clip. The relevant section starts at 1.30.

YouTube link


Northern Monkey27 Feb 2017 2:02 p.m. PST

US forces unfortunately went through the same learning experience as the British and French, but they did so in 1918.

Heisler is right in saying that Pershing did not want to deploy his US troops until they were ready and trained. Unfortunately the war was clearly going to be over by the 1919 date he had set, so they were thrown into the line anyway and learnt their lessons the hard way. The accounts of US forces going into action in 1918 are horrifically similar to the British on the Somme. Fortunately for them, the Germans of 1918 were not of the same quality as those of 1916.

Pershing got some stuff right, such as wanting a military victory which could leave no suggestions of the "November Criminals" myth perpetuated by Hitler, but in other respects he was as naive as the Generals of 1914. His plan for the US troops to shoot the Germans out if the trenches with their superior accuracy with their rifles, and then destroy them in the open, was not only foolish, but was also arrogant. Needless to say, it cost thousands upon thousands of lives.

bjporter27 Feb 2017 2:16 p.m. PST

I believe that the accusations that Pershing didn't listen to the British and the French experience is largely allied propaganda.

The British and French wanted American bodies to fill their ranks, not an independent American army.

The German 1918 offensives significantly disrupted the training and deployment schedules for many American units. As a result many fairly raw troops were deployed before they should have been. Necessity not negligence was the greatest cause of American casualties.

Northern Monkey27 Feb 2017 3:28 p.m. PST

"Before they should have been".

The USA entered the war in 1917. Not wanting to commit troops until 1919 seems rather optimistic. The French had to beg Pershing to commit troops in the face of the German offensive of 1918, in the end only the potential fall of Paris saw him agree to commit his forces.

Necessity rather than negligence was the greatest cause of casualties for all armies. Haig had to commit to the Somme offensive due to political and military necessity, taking the pressure off the French at Verdun. In 1918 Pershing faced almost precisely the same demands to commit his untried forces in order to relieve the pressure on the French. He wasn't happy about it, but he had to do it,

As a result, many fairly raw troops were deployed before Pershing would have liked, but the alternative was to see a collapse of the French sector, the fall of Paris and the end of the war before the US forces were fully trained.

That said, Pershing's belief that US forces could avoid the attrition of trench warfare by some inherent superiority of marksmanship over the French and the British was pure fantasy and there are numerous very well documented cases of US forces attacking in precisely the same manner as British forces on the first day of the Somme. Was this "stupidity"? Possibly, but more likely misplaced optimism. There was a lot of that about between 1914 and 1918.

Queen Catherine27 Feb 2017 5:12 p.m. PST

@ GuyG13
Thanks, I was able to download it into a doc, so it'll be useful going forward.

The Vimy Ridge book also looks good, and is $7 USD at Amazon, so probably $11 USD with shipping. Still, I hope to find something similar for US forces.

gprokopo Supporting Member of TMP27 Feb 2017 6:37 p.m. PST

Owen, _To the Limit of Endurance: A Battalion of Marines in the Great War_

55th Division27 Feb 2017 6:49 p.m. PST

I have an archive of ww1 manuals etc on scribd these are all available on the web but the archive was a way too keep track of them. I have made them all available freely to anyone here link

zerostate Inactive Member27 Feb 2017 7:51 p.m. PST

A short article on US tactics as they first deployed, from a US writer:

Swab Jockey27 Feb 2017 8:20 p.m. PST

An excellent study is "Soissons 1918" by Douglas Johnson II and Rolfe L. Hillman, Jr., published by Texas A & M University in 1999. It pretty well covers all the Army training and doctrines of the Army up to the battle, and what the many foul-ups taught them for later in the year's offensives.

Martin Rapier28 Feb 2017 12:17 a.m. PST

SS 143 is worth a read, but is obviously British practice. The main US manual was a translation of the French 1917 one, which does have a great deal of sensible stuff to say about formations and tactics at regimental level and below. There are copies at the US Army Center for Military History.

At the end of the day though, developments in tactics were at best a clumsy fire runner of WW2 practice. The main innovation was infantry training to enable them to fight forward using terrain and fire and movement in an more dispersed formations, but the biggest innovations were in the use of artillery fire, particularly predicted fire and neutralising fire which rendered Tactical surprise possible once more.

All a bit irrelevant to the grunts at divisional level once they went into the assault, they are still basically walking slowly forwards behind a barrage.

Queen Catherine02 Mar 2017 12:19 p.m. PST

Hey Martin, SS143 that I downloaded is a US manual published in 1917. Would love to get a link to the French one to which you refer, also, however.

I think another thing to remember is that tactics and doctrine are more likely to be used in a set-piece, planned event, and that in the middle of some battle event the natural improvisation of people under duress is going to be a key part of their actions.

For us 'gamers, that means that the gear and the personnel are fundamental to approaching games at a lower level than "division assault", for example.

@ Swab Jockey
Thanks, I got one off Amazon for $1.34 USD!

Henry Martini02 Mar 2017 1:45 p.m. PST

I have 'Infantry in Battle', first puplished in 1939 by The Infantry Journal Incorporated, and reprinted in 1986 by The Marine Corps Association. It illustrates the principles and tactics of infantry warfare with example actions from 'the World War' as it then was.

monk2002uk03 Mar 2017 12:21 a.m. PST

Improvisation is not a feature of soldiers under duress in the heat of battle. It is true that a few individuals may shine in such circumstances but the whole purpose of the repeated drills and training is to enable soldiers to react in a coordinated way rather than just freeze or flee. Prior to a major battle, there was often training devoted to the execution of the plans. There was always training in the general principles of scouting, musketry, hand-to-hand combat, etc at the individual, squad, platoon, and higher levels when out of the line. When war diaries include information about training (few unit diaries provide details), the breadth and variety of training was extraordinary. Most of it was directed at enabling teams to react under duress in any circumstance. Individual units had very limited involvement in major battles, which meant that set-piece training was much much less common.


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