Journal of the Australian War Memorial - Issue 35

"Diggers" and "Doughboys": Australian and American troop interaction on the Western Front, 1918

Author: Dale Blair

{1} Last century Australia fought in four major wars: the First World War, the Second World War, Korea and Vietnam. A constant ally in those conflicts was the United States. For both nations, sizeable portions of their adult male populations participated in military operations. As a consequence, the perceptions of different generations of Australians and Americans toward one another have been shaped and transmitted within the extraordinary parameters of war.

{2} The First World War saw a largely positive interaction between Australian and American soldiers. Although thrown together for only a short time, the two forces left an indelible mark on each other. The fleeting nature of this marriage, and the fact that the union occurred on neutral political and geographical ground, undoubtedly contributed to the goodwill exhibited by the respective armies. There were, however, other determinants at work that allowed for the bonding of the "diggers" and "doughboys". Both nations celebrated a "frontier" tradition that advanced distinct and robust masculine traditions. Both had been British colonies, though the road to nationhood had followed quite different routes. Nevertheless, of vital importance to the relationship was a shared antipathy toward the British, one heightened by a respect forged in the fire of the front line during the latter part of 1918. It is the nature of those factors that this article strives to identify.

{3} The American declaration of war on 6 April 1917 arguably shifted the Great War’s status from a European war to a World War. Nevertheless it would be twelve months before American mobilisation allowed sufficient numbers of U.S. soldiers to arrive in Europe and significantly bolster the Allied armies. Most Australians were thankful of the American decision to enter the war, as they saw it as an obvious source of relief for themselves. An Australian Imperial Force gunner stated the case plainly: "Of course as more Yanks come in then more Aussies should be able to get away."1 Above all, American manpower offered real hope for bringing the war to a decisive conclusion.

General J. J. Pershing (second from right), arrives at Boulogne, France, in 1917
General J. J. Pershing (second from right), arrives at Boulogne, France, in 1917.  C313866

{4} The first significant contacts between diggers and doughboys occurred in June of 1918. This came after the British commander-in-chief Douglas Haig made a request to his American counterpart, General John Pershing, for U.S. troops to be used in a defensive role in the event of an emergency. The American 27th and 33rd Divisions, and later the 30th, 78th and 80th Divisions, were moved closer to the front near Amiens to fulfil that need if required.2

{5} It was among the soldiers of the 27th, 30th and 33rd Divisions that the most enduring memories of Australian soldiers were felt. The fact that these represented only three of forty-three U.S. divisions also meant that knowledge of the Australians was limited in the American experience. Conversely, the Australian view of Americans was more widespread. Five A.I.F. divisions represented the totality of the Australian presence on the Western Front, and thus the entire Australian force had some contact with the Americans.

{6} The training of American troops under British command was to follow a three-step process. This entailed the attachment of American platoons to larger formations, then companies, eventuating in the placement of whole larger American formations in the front line with independent command authority. Because U.S. divisions were large, being nearly double the size of standard equivalent British formations, the attachment of American platoons to Australian battalions reflected a pragmatic breakdown of the larger-size American units to enable the men to "mix" more readily.3

Americans with members of the Australian 37th Battalion at Villers-Bretonneux, June 1918, while attached for instruction.
Americans with members of the Australian 37th Battalion at Villers-Bretonneux, June 1918, while attached for instruction.  C55012

{7} The first significant action involving diggers and doughboys was the Australian attack on Hamel in July 1918.4 In that operation Lieutenant-General Sir John Monash was planning to eradicate a German salient to improve his line for future moves near Amiens. The Fourth Army commander, General Sir Henry Rawlinson, offered Monash the use of the recently-arrived 65th Brigade of the 33rd U.S. Division. The incorporation in the Australian battle plan of ten companies of infantry, from the 131st and 132nd Regiments, was to prove a controversial one.

{8} The use of the doughboys hardly constituted the "emergency" to which Pershing had previously acquiesced. On learning of the projected deployment of American troops during a visit to the front, Pershing ordered their withdrawal on the basis that they were inadequately trained and that their use was contrary to the earlier agreement. Major General G. W. Read, commander of the American II Corps to which the allocated companies belonged, was advised to withdraw the doughboys. A day before the attack, six companies were withdrawn and the Australian plan adjusted to cover their loss. When it appeared that the remaining four companies would also be withdrawn, Monash objected strenuously and threatened to cancel the attack. He was unmoved by Rawlinson’s concern that he (Rawlinson) might be despatched to England if he proceeded in violation of Pershing’s wishes. The preservation of the confidence in Australian and American troop relations, Monash argued, outweighed the fate of an Army commander. Ultimately, Haig accepted responsibility for the use of the four companies of doughboys, deeming the improvement of the position to be of more critical and immediate importance to future operations than Pershing’s objection.5

{9} At Hamel the Americans were considered to have performed well. One Australian who observed a doughboy company in action noted: "If they showed a fault it was as always with first class fighting men until they get experience – the fault of excessive keenness, so that they suffered some casualties by pressing on into our barrage, but the ‘Australians’ are lavish in admiration of their ‘dash’."6 This elan, though born largely of ignorance and excessive enthusiasm, was fundamental to the maintenance of respect on the part of the Australians. The first signs of a friendly rivalry were evident, too, and Sapper William M. Telford remarked that its existence did "Fritz no good".7

{10} During the battle, American runners and stretcher-bearers were paired with Australians to assist in their training. The value of this pairing of experience with inexperience soon came to the fore as the commander of the 131st Infantry attested: "Considerable opposition was met near the western edge of Hamel where there were some dug-outs. A reserve platoon of Americans led by Lieutenant Symons worked around to the flank overlying the position. The lieutenant was wounded but his runner, the only Australian with the platoon, took charge and cleared up the situation."8

{11} Despite the close association of the diggers and doughboys in this phase, American ignorance of the Australians’ distinct view of themselves was evident. Captain Will Lewis Judy noted that he thought this combined operation represented "the first time American troops fought side by side with their enemy of our own revolutionary days, the British."9 Australians would have recoiled (and do) at such association. The lack of distinction between Australian and British had become a vexatious issue for the diggers late in the war. They had become intensely sensitive to the failure of British authorities to distinguish between Australian and British operations.10 The main reason for this was that Australians had come to believe the British, generally, were not up to the Australian standard. They perceived Australian successes to be unheralded by such generic reportage.

English, American and Australian troops lunching in a wood near Corbie, 3 July 1918.
English, American and Australian troops lunching in a wood near Corbie, 3 July 1918. C369532

{12} Antipathy toward the British, however, was something that both diggers and doughboys shared. As such it provided a powerful bonding agent. The Australian contempt for the British command and of the fighting qualities of the English was little concealed. A report by the Commanding General, 27th U.S. Division, distinguished between the attitudes of Australian officers and enlisted men toward their comrades-in-arms. The "diggers" were reported as manifesting an open and "intense criticism" that bordered on "bitterness" while the Australian officers were considered to have been more circumspect in registering their dissatisfaction, expressing it informally.11

{13} American relations with the British do not appear to have been as cordial as with the dominion forces. Robert E. Smith of the 120th Infantry thought "The British islanders were never very friendly or willing to try to get along".12 Although he excluded the Scots from his assessment, he believed the "British outlook on Americans was in conflict".13 Private Leslie Charles White of the 129th Infantry recalled having "trouble with the British" and thought them neither friendly nor good soldiers.14 It is possible that American perceptions of English soldierly qualities – which they had not had adequate opportunity of witnessing first hand – were influenced by contact with the Australians’ contemptuous denigration of the Tommies.

Australian and American troops dug in together during the Battle of Hamel, 4 July 1918.
Australian and American troops dug in together during the Battle of Hamel, 4 July 1918.  C1245

{14} Pershing’s lower echelon commanders and men also shared the contentious issue of American command independence that coloured his relations with the British. Private L. Wolf of the 129th Infantry wrote: "The English wanted to boss our command off the earth and so did the French – we got along with the other foreign countries."15 This view was confirmed by Sergeant Merritt C. Pratt, 131st Infantry, who remembered English NCOs trying to laud it over his men by insisting they salute British Sergeant-Majors which was not liked at all (mirroring the legendary disinclination of Australians toward such military protocol). Pratt was happier serving with the Australians whom he classed as the best fighters he had ever seen and who also "disliked the British soldier".16

{15} For the diggers, the tension with the British was due in part to them being part of a fledgling nation trying to prove itself worthy within the family of the British Empire. The Americans, on the other hand, had already enjoyed nearly a century and a half of independence, won bloodily from the "mother country". The doughboys’ antipathy was partly historic. Sergeant Fred P. Jones, 108th Engineers, stated that the British "still remembered the Revolutionary War and if they didn’t we reminded [them] of it".17If this undertaking was widespread among American soldiers, one could well understand a certain coolness of attitude from the British.

{16} Relations between Americans and British were the subject of an extended treatment by Lieutenant Colonel Calvin H. Goddard of the U.S. Army War College. Many of the comments made by soldiers in the U.S. Army’s World War One survey were borne out in Goddard’s study. Goddard identified the relationship between the Americans and English as being relatively poor and lacking in generosity. Americans considered the English inferior in physique, initiative and morale – factors axiomatic to Australian perceptions. Regarding the comparative fighting qualities of the two forces, he conceded that the sub-standard drafts reinforcing the British armies and the exhaustion from years of combat had diminished the fighting capacity of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). That aside, the BEF was still seen as possessing courage and tenacity.18

{17} Goddard believed the Americans rated the Australians highly and saw themselves as equals. A feature of the Australian method was identified as being the combination of caution and aggression that restricted casualties while at the same time gaining objectives "handsomely". Some aspects of Australian behaviour, however, were repugnant to the Americans. The "systematic looting" of the American dead by the "diggers" was a case in point. Australian officers were said to have dismissed such incidents in a "light-hearted manner".19

{18} That such looting occurred seems beyond doubt given the pragmatic admission of one Australian soldier:

Most of our men souvenired the Americans before they were buried and some got great hauls of money (in French notes of course) as most Americans were wealthy and had plenty of money on them. This was quite alright as we may as well have had the money and made use of it (which we did) instead of burying it with them.20

Yet, for the Americans, the lengths to which some Australians were prepared to go was nothing short of disgraceful. The commander of the 27th Division, Major General John F. O’Ryan, while full of approbation for the Australians, could not hide his revulsion at the knowledge that an Australian soldier had allegedly cut off a dead American officer’s finger to acquire a ring. O’Ryan clearly did not doubt the veracity of the claim noting that the Australians were well known for moving "over the fields with gunny sacks seeking whatever was of value."21 It was suggested that ill feeling from such incidents was offset by the lavish praise the Australians directed at the Americans.22

{19} The Australians’ capacity for self-sufficiency was a trait that was also observed to have crossed the lines of acceptable military efficacy. An example was offered by the commanding general of 60th U.S. Brigade. He noted that Australian artillery communications were "astonishingly efficient" in that they were still open when neighbouring lines had been cut. The reason, he ventured, lay in the fact that the Australians "would themselves cut anybody else’s wire if necessary to keep up communications".23 Irrespective of whether such an unlikely act was true or whether the story was apocryphal, the American general’s perceptions of Australians as ruthlessly opportunistic comrades in arms was manifest.

{20} The treatment of prisoners was also a contentious area. One criticism of some interest was that of Sergeant James V. Armfield, 105th Engineers, who voiced disapproval at the "treatment of prisoners by British non-coms [non-commissioned officers]".24 He did not elaborate on the nature of that treatment but presumably it referred to acts that fell outside the guidelines of the Hague Convention and common decency. It was obvious though, that the Australians were passing on their own hard-nosed attitudes in regard to military expediency to the inexperienced doughboys who had not yet adapted their civilian sensibilities to the fighting mores of the front line. According to Private Willard M. Newton of the 105th Engineer Train, he was able to glean from the Australians "lots of things that are important to a soldier who has not been in battle". It was clear, too, that the impressionable doughboys were uncritically accepting of Australian claims of German "torture" and "extreme cruelty" toward their prisoners.25 On such issues the Australians’ veteran status gave added credibility as Newton noted, "We believe them, for they have been in this war long enough to know."26 The Australian advice was not to allow oneself to be captured or as, Newton implied, take prisoners: "They have no use for the Huns."27

{21} It was in battle that Australian-American relations would be tested in the most extreme way. When it came to combat performance, the Australians had reached a high level of competence by the time the Americans arrived. The Americans on the other hand were an unproven quantity. The manner in which they proved themselves on the battlefield was critical to Australian assessments. It was during the attack on the Hindenburg line, in which the American II Corps comprising the 27th and 33rd U.S. Divisions was attached to Monash’s Australian Corps, that sizeable numbers of both forces came in contact with the other.

American troops arriving at Templeux, 28 September 1918, to join Australians in attacking the Hindenburg Main Line.
American troops arriving at Templeux, 28 September 1918, to join Australians in attacking the Hindenburg Main Line.  C1290

{22} After the crucial assault against the St. Quentin Canal on 29 September 1918 and the breaking of the Hindenburg Line, Australians following up the initial attack remarked on the numerous American dead. Gunner A. G. MacKay, camped in a trench where a heap of thirty Yanks lay in front, thought the Americans had erred in sending unguarded prisoners to the rear. This was a common practice though it was believed, in this instance, that the prisoners simply reinforced German machine-gun and artillery positions that had been by-passed.28 Another Australian artilleryman put the "lanes of American dead" down to their lack of strategy or initiative and to "bad fire discipline". The Americans had gamely "rushed headlong at entrenched machine-guns" rather than employing tactics of fire and movement to outflank the enemy.29 They had thus fallen prey to the German tactic of leaving gaps in the wire to entice inexperienced troops into the fields of fire concentrated there.30 The perceived failure of the Americans to "mop up" was central to Australian criticisms of the American attack and permeates personal Australian accounts of the battle.31 Allegedly, supporting Australians subsequently informed the Americans that it was pointless them sending back any more prisoners, as they would not be allowed to pass.32

{23} Australia’s official war historian, C. E. W. Bean, resisted such notions in his account. He concluded that the Americans had not rushed forward impetuously and that the chief resistance had not come from by-passed Germans or those sent rearward but from "supports and reserves attacking normally from the front."33 He believed that the Americans had been set too difficult a task for inexperienced troops.34

{24} To circumvent some of that inexperience, a special "Australian Mission" was organised to facilitate liaison between the American divisions attached to the Australian Corps during the Battle for the Hindenburg Line. Major General E. G. Sinclair-Maclagan headed the mission of two groups drawn from the 1st and 4th Australian divisions. Eighty-three officers and 127 NCO’s participated in the Mission. One group under Brigadier General C. H. Brand was attached to the 27th Division; the other, under Brigadier General I. G. Mackay, went to the 30th Division.35 At the outset it was stipulated that the duties of the Mission were to be entirely advisory and not executive.36

{25} The prime purpose of the Mission was to assist in the preparation for the attack of 29 September. Australian officers and NCOs supervised the taping of start lines and positioning of troops. The commander of the 54th U.S. Infantry Brigade, Brigadier General Palmer E. Pierce, was particularly thankful for the invaluable services and lessons the Australians provided in regard matters of supply, including the provision of hot meals to the men at the front.37 The NCOs were recalled on the 28 September but the officers were to remain until after the attack.

{26} One task undertaken by the Australian intelligence officers was to supervise the production of contour maps to familiarise the officers and men with the ground over which the regiments had to attack. In the case of the 107th, these maps were never completed as the regiment was ordered forward and few of its personnel saw even the incomplete version.38

{27} Pre-battle advice and planning given by Lieutenant Hill, the Australian intelligence officer attached to the 107th Regiment, and his accompanying sergeants, seems to have been valued. However, his recommendation that a battalion command post ought to be positioned a 1000 yards behind the company lines rather than between the first and second waves, as was thought appropriate by the enquiring Captain Egan, appears to have been quietly dismissed as unacceptable to American "machismo".39 Hill cut something of a dramatic figure as he hurried the Americans toward their jump-off line, the pegging of which he had supervised a few hours earlier. He had lost his tin-hat and had tied a handkerchief around his head – perhaps to give a theatrical brush to events as the handkerchief’s protective qualities were certainly dubious.40

{28} When the American attack began to go awry, the Australian officers assumed a central role in assessing and endeavouring to restore the situation. From the field messages of the II Corps, it is evident that the Australian officers were being relied on for advice. During the afternoon of 29 September, Lieutenant Colonel A. G. Salisbury was on hand to advise Colonel Boswell of likely outcomes during the absence of reports from 54th Brigade patrols sent out in the morning. Lieutenant Bowman of the 1st Battalion, AIF, was cited as having provided "valuable assistance" to the 115th U.S. Machine Gun Battalion, while an Australian surgical team under Major A. W. Holmes à Court gave assistance at the Americans’ main dressing station at Villers-Faucon.41

Australians assist a wounded American near Ronssoy, 30 September 1918.
Australians assist a wounded American near Ronssoy, 30 September 1918.  C338161

{29} Brigadier-General Iven Mackay, on learning of the failure of the 27th Division and of the disorganisation of the 30th Division (though it was largely successful in gaining its objectives), immediately went forward to assist. To Major General Edward M. Lewis, GOC 30th Division, he wrote down a series of instructions in regard to the reorganising and controlling of units and employment of staffs. He arranged for these instructions to be set in train in the rear echelons, and at divisional headquarters, and then personally went forward to the headquarters of the attacking 59th and 60th Brigades to instruct the commanders of those units. Later in the afternoon, Mackay accompanied General Lewis to Headquarters 5th Australian Division, to arrange details for the withdrawal of the Americans.42

{30} The extent of the 30th Division’s disorganisation was borne out in Major W. F. L. Hartigan’s report to G-3. Assembly points for stragglers were unknown, and stragglers in large numbers clogged the Division’s rear. Hartigan personally assembled and directed five hundred strays back to the front. Men bringing in prisoners singly rather than in groups, men escorting wounded comrades, and others seeking attention for superficial injuries such as backs hurt from falling in shell-holes, all contributed to the congestion. Inhibiting the efficient management of the problem was a lack of training and initiative on the part of the American NCOs. Many did not have compasses – a reflection of the supply problems and shortages that afflicted the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) generally – and this caused the mist and smoke that limited visibility in the early phase of the battle to be doubly blinding. They exhibited a marked disinclination to join other units, or form new temporary squads to move the battle forward. This attitude also precluded any willingness to assume higher command responsibilities in the face of missing or disabled officers. The American advance was further compromised by a lack of understanding on the part of company officers and NCOs about their unit’s objectives and mission.43 Many of the problems were the same as had afflicted the untested Australians at Gallipoli, and were symptomatic of green troops and staffs in battle. That the 30th Division achieved its objectives in the face of such inexperience is perhaps testament to the men’s exuberance and desire to succeed, as well as the exactness of the preparatory planning of Monash. Unlike the 27th Division, the 30th had not been compromised by having to commence its attack from behind the initial start line.

{31} At the 27th U.S. Division, Brigadier-General Brand recorded in detail the ramifications of that formation’s operational rawness. After the battle, Brand provided some corrective notes to Major General O’Ryan about how the Americans could improve future performance. Among the twenty-six points outlined, the more salient criticisms were that the staff officers were too headquarters-bound, thus often allowing unreliable information to find its way to Brigade and Divisional headquarters; too much optimism clouded or blinded judgement; too many officers went forward in the first waves and became unnecessary casualties, thus contributing to a shortage of officers and loss of unit cohesion; and written communications from the field were poor, with too great a reliance on telephone communication and not enough runners. All these things, according to Brand, militated against providing a clear picture of the attack’s progress. Combined with poor rear echelon organisation, they further impeded the ability of the Americans to react promptly.44

{32} The alleged exuberance of the doughboys might well have been due to their greenness and desire to perform well. Another possibility that has been suggested is that they were victims of an ambiguous doctrine from Pershing, who oscillated between planning for trench warfare and ascribing to the virtues of, and preference for, open warfare. As a consequence, fighting commanders entered the line with no clear conceptual understanding of their commander-in-chief’s expectations. U.S. Army successes were subsequently won by the costly tactic of smothering German machine-guns with American flesh.45

{33} Nevertheless, the desire to engage with the Germans in open warfare was evident in the demeanour of the doughboys, according to a British officer who observed the training of the 27th Division. He thought the prospect of the fight rather than the immediate, even if seemingly menial, tasks of preparation was a source of distraction to the Americans:

The men are anxious for active operations rather than the work of trench warfare and have not realised the necessity for acquiring proficiency with the spade.46

Deficiencies were undoubtedly carried into battle. An American officer stated, in relation to the training of the 30th Division, that it was "very apparent that our men expose themselves unnecessarily and do not hug the folds of the ground or crawl as they should".47

American stretcher-bearers and Australians of the 60th Battalion, AIF, with German prisoners, at one of the access entrances to the St. Quentin Canal at Bellicourt, 1 October 1918.
American stretcher-bearers and Australians of the 60th Battalion, AIF, with German prisoners, at one of the access entrances to the St. Quentin Canal at Bellicourt, 1 October 1918.  C363909

{34} Along the St. Quentin Canal, while doctrinal factors might have contributed to the American losses, the 27th Division’s assault was initially compromised by the earlier failure of the British III Corps to secure the German strong-points located at the Knoll, Gillemont Farm and Quennemont Farm. This was, as Bean termed it, "a serious complication".48 In Monash’s pre-battle planning it was expected that these positions would have been secured prior to the doughboys’ arrival. When the Americans took over the line, an attempt was made by the 106th U.S. Regiment to clear the German outposts but this proved a singularly disastrous operation. The 108th pushed forward in the afternoon of 27 September to relieve the disorganised remnants of the 106th, a process that was not completed, owing to inexact knowledge of the 106th’s position, until the early hours of 28 September.49

{35} With the ground still not taken by 29September, the main attack was to proceed with the 27th Division left to clear the contested ground and make up the lost yardage as best as it could. Unfortunately, confusion over whether unsupported and wounded Americans still lay out in front prior to the main attack resulted in the supporting barrage remaining on its originally planned line rather than being brought back. As compensation, additional tanks were allocated to the 27th Division to help them fight their way forward.50 Without adequate artillery support to suppress the unconquered outposts confronting the doughboys, the task set O’Ryan’s men was an onerous one.51

{36} It was little wonder that the leading regiments of 27th Division, the 107th and 108th, struggled on 29 September to make up the ground and suffered excessive casualties as a result. Nevertheless, the displeasure of the Australians at the confusion ahead of their advance and the disorientation within the American command was being clearly communicated through II U.S. Army Corps headquarters.52 The vicinity of Guoy, Le Catelet and Bony was, contrary to plan, swarming with Germans. A battalion of Americans supposed to be occupying the ground had not been heard from and was feared lost, seemingly confirming the statement of a captured German colonel that 700 American prisoners had been taken.53

{37} An Australian artillery officer accompanied a battalion of the 107th toward Guoy and returned at 5 p.m. to confirm the rough fighting and occupation of Le Catelet by the Germans.54 The officer was Lieutenant W. O. Pasefield and he reported seeing the Americans undertake repeated bayonet charges and stated "I saw more fighting on this day than I have seen during my experiences."55 It was probably this same officer who was reported as saying the 107th’s fighting to have been the hardest he had seen during the war.56

{38} A consequence of the stiff fighting in front of the 27th Division’s line of advance and on its right around Bellicourt, before the 30th Division, was the severe artillery barrages brought down by the Germans in support of their frontline troops. The Australian artillery and ambulance columns moving forward in accordance with the planned timetable were caught unawares by the hold up toward their front. As they descended into the valley before the German line they came under the view of artillery observers and the roads were deluged with shells. The result was mayhem with "horses and men...running in all directions".57 Stretcher-bearers were sent forward in the mid-afternoon and relay posts were established on the outskirts of Bellicourt, but due to the incessant shell-fire it was dusk before loading posts could be established to clear the mounting stretcher cases from the front.58

{39} Sergeant Merritt D. Cutler, of the 107th Regiment, thought the battle resembled a scene from Dante’s Inferno. The sight of so many of his wounded comrades compelled him to seek assistance to remove the wounded and dying from the maelstrom. He came across a couple of Australians who were moving toward the front and he was, despite the reticence of one, able to gain help and a stretcher from the other who replied: "Sure, Yank, I’ll go; we’re in this bloody thing together."59

Americans killed in fighting near Gillemont Farm awaiting burial, 3 October 1918.
Americans killed in fighting near Gillemont Farm awaiting burial, 3 October 1918.  C55114

{40} Although the failure of the 27th Division and, to a lesser extent, the confusion in the 30th Division were observed by the diggers first-hand, condemnation found little place in the personal letters and diaries of Australian soldiers who recorded the fighting along the St. Quentin Canal. While English failures were belittled and enshrined in ANZAC mythology, in this instance it was the unswerving gallantry of the Americans - as ill-advised as it might have been - that left the greatest impression on the Australians.

{41} If Australian attitudes were shaped by perceptions of American bravery and potential, American attitudes were similarly shaped by Australian efficiency and aggression. Colonel Spence of the 117th Infantry believed the division had been fortunate to have served with and received the co-operation of the British and Australians. He thought the Australians were "wonderfully aggressive fighters".60

{42} Post-war views of the Americans, especially those of the ageing veterans who participated in the U.S. Army’s WW1 Research project, were overwhelmingly positive in regard to the Australians. While many also spoke generically of good relations with the British, those of the 27th, 30th and 33rd Divisions often singled out the Australians and other Dominion troops as being outstanding. George Leonhardt, 105th Engineers, considered the Australians to be "real men".61 Richard H. Brooks, a corporal in the 120th Infantry Regiment, wrote: "I thought more of the Australians and Canadians than I did the British. They would say ‘Don’t shoot, don’t shoot’ (fear of retaliation), but those Australians were OK."62 Second Lt. Roby G. Yarborough, 120th Infantry, rated the Australians as "excellent" but believed the British to be "too cautious".63 Henry Bacon McKay was another clearly not enamoured by His Majesty’s forces: "We disliked and laughed at the British"; the Australians, in contrast, were "liked and admired".64

Australians and American troops pass in Peronne, 4 October 1918, two days before the II American Corps took over the Australian front.
Australians and American troops pass in Peronne, 4 October 1918, two days before the II American Corps took over the Australian front.  C55044

{43} There was, too, in the relationship between diggers and doughboys a degree of narcissism. Each saw something of themselves in the other. Lieutenant Kenneth Gow of the 107th Regiment was fond of the Aussies and described them as "more like ourselves than any of the other allies".65 It was this recognition that possibly produced some of the empathy the Australians held for the Americans. Observing the doughboys’ greenness, an Australian sergeant noted "Their enthusiasm is just great, but of course they are just as we were in early 1915".66 Australians were keenly aware of the bloody lessons that lay before the Americans.

{44} Overall, a spontaneity characterised Australian and American relations that was absent in American and British relations. That is not to say that Americans and the British were incapable of shared views. Indeed, Australian discipline (or perceived lack of) was one point on which Americans and the British sometimes concurred. Private Charles D. Ebersole, 129th Infantry, thought the Australians "very good" and "very democratic", though "somewhat undisciplined".67 In this regard the British professional view of what army discipline ought to be was akin to Pershing’s preferred "West Point"-styled U.S. Army. American bureaucracy did not pass unnoticed as one Australian declared: "Their administration was top-heavy, and they ran a paper war at least three times ours".68 Both American and British discipline and protocol jarred against the Australian soldiers’ more casual outlook.

{45} To conclude, if a prevailing Australian view of the Americans is required, it is best encapsulated in the assessment of Lieutenant W. A. Carne:

At the very outset, the newcomers made no secret of their admiration of the Australians. Indeed, their outspoken regard...was almost embarrassing. On the other hand, the ‘diggers’ were well disposed towards such a friendly lot of men, and the two parties got on splendidly together. But when it came to the business in hand, Company members were appalled at their ignorance and want of perception...In spite of their extreme rawness, Company officers agreed that they would prove very staunch in action if well led...The wide difference between the two parties made thoughtful Company members realise how very far they themselves had travelled since Gallipoli days, and what a vast amount of experience they took for granted, and looked for in troops in France.69

It was this reflection of themselves, along with the shared antipathy toward the British, and mutual recognition of bravery and performance on the battlefield, that allowed Australians to generously accept the Americans on the Western Front in 1918.

© Dale Blair

The author

Dale Blair teaches history at Deakin University and is the author of Dinkum diggers: an Australian battalion at war (Carlton: Melbourne University Press, 2001).


1 Peter Yule (ed), Sergeant Lawrence goes to France (Carlton: Melbourne University Press, 1987), letter dated 6 October 1918, p.180.

2 Haig to Pershing, 14 June 1918, G-3, GHQ, AEF report 'Employment of American Divisions' in United States Army in the World War 1917-1919: Training and use of American units with British and French, vol.3 (Washington: Historical Division, Department of the Army, 1948), pp.109-10.

3 Undated extracts from the "Sea Gale". Engagements participated in by company C, No.1. Hamel, Company narrative - Captain C. M. Gale. U.S. Army War College, Carlisle, Pa.

4 The first American troops to work with Australians were C Company, 6th U.S. Engineers in May 1918, see, C. E. W. Bean, Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-18: The A.I.F. in France 1918, vol.6 (Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1942), p.157.

5 Accounts of this imbroglio are contained in Bean, vol.6, pp.276-9; Geoffrey Serle, John Monash: a biography (Carlton: Melbourne University Press, 1982), pp.333-5; P. A. Pedersen, Monash as military commander (Carlton: Melbourne University Press, 1985), pp.230-1.

6 Papers of Private S. L. Huntingdon, AWM PR 0654, letter in the field, 20 September 1918.

7 Sapper William M. Telford, 1st Tunnelling Company, AWM PR 84/132, File 5/5, Diary, 4 July 1918.

8 Narrative of Operation at Hamel, 4-5 July, France, 17 November 1918, J B Sanborn, Col., 131st Infantry; U.S. Army War College, Carlisle, Pa.

9 Martin Marix Evans, Retreat, Hell! We just got here!: the American Expeditionary Force in France 1917-1918 (Oxford: Osprey Military, 1998), p.48.

10 Bean, vol.6, pp.876-7.

11 Albert Breunig Papers, CM. 1995. 3910. F, p.2, Military History Institute, Carlisle, Pa.

12 File WW1-1934, Department of the Army: WW1 Research Project: Army Service Experiences Questionnaire, (1914-1921), U.S. Army College, Carlisle, Pa.

13 Ibid.

14 WW1-490, 33rd Division, Box 1.

15 WW1-6056, 33rd Division, Box 1.

16 WW1-6056, 33rd Division, Box 1.

17 WW1-5008, 33rd Division, Box 3.

18 MHI, Carlisle, Ref 7200-E [File Copy] Pt. 1 No - 5. "Relations between American Expeditionary Forces and British Expeditionary Forces, 1917-1920", prepared in the Historical Section, Army War College by Lieut.-Colonel Calvin H. Goddard, June 1942, passim.

19 Ibid.

20 Private V. G. Schwinghammer, 42nd Battalion, AWM 2DRL 234, "Narrative of Experiences, May 1916-September 1919", p.42.

21 Bruenig papers, p.2.

22 Ibid., pp.2-3.

23 Goddard, p.11.

24 WW1-992, 30th Division, Box 2.

25 WW1-200. 30th Division, Box 2. "Over There For Uncle Sam: A Daily Diary of World War One", entry for 25 September 1918.

26 Ibid.

27 Ibid.

28 Gunner A. G. Mackay, 8th Field Artillery Brigade, AIF, AWM 1DRL 0441, Diary, 1 October 1918.

29 Papers of J. R. Armitage, AWM PR 00420, Memoirs, "My War 1917-1918", pp.37-39.

30 Gunner C Cardwell and artillery signaller counted 167 "dead yanks" near his position on the Hindenburg Line. Papers of C. and E. Cardwell, AWM PR 90/134, Diary, 3 October 1918.

31 For other examples of Australian comment on this matter, see, Brig.-General H. A. Goddard, 9th Infantry Brigade, AIF, AWM 3DRL 2379, Diary, 29 September 1918; Lieut. A. F. Fullard, 8th Machine Gun Company, AIF, AWM PR 01029, Diary no.3, 29 September 1918; Papers of Lieut.-General Sir Iven Gifford Mackay, AWM 3DRL 6850, Box 1 Item 6, diary, 29 September 1918.

32 Gunner A. G. Mackay, 8th Field Artillery Brigade, AIF, AWM 1DRL 0441, Diary, 1 October 1918.

33 Bean, vol.6, p.994.

34 Ibid.

35 Ibid., p.947 n. 7.

36 General Staff Circular No. 87, Fourth Australian Division, HQ, 21 September 1918, AWM4, microfilm roll 832.

37 Extracts from daily operation reports of II American Corps, AWM 45, 48/1, Report, Headquarters 54th Infantry Brigade, AEF, France, 2 October 1918.

38 Gerald F. Jacobson, History of the 107th Infantry U.S.A. (New York: Seventh Regiment Armory, 1920), pp.108, 122-3.

39 Claude G. Leland, From shell hole to chateau with Company I: personal recollections of a line officer of the 107th U.S. Infantry, 27th Division in France, 1918 (N.Y.N.G.: The Society of Ninth company Veterans 7th Regiment, 1950), p.191. Also Jacobson, p.305.

40 Ibid., p.201.

41 Report of operations, HQ 115th Machine Gun Battalion, AEF, France, 4 October 1918; Extracts from Report of Medical department - 27th Division, sub-period - 25 September to 2 October 1918.

42 Papers of Lieut.-General Sir Iven Gifford Mackay, AWM 3DRL 6850, Box 1, Item 6, Diary 30 September 1918.

43 Observations of Battlefield of 29 September, 30th Division, RG 120, Box 12058 [230-33.9].

44 Brand to O'Ryan, 1 October 1918, AWM 3DRL 2730.

45 James W. Rainey, "Ambivalent warfare: the tactical doctrine of the AEF in World War One", Parameters, vol.13, no.3, September 1983, passim; Rainey, "The questionable training of the AEF in World War One", Parameters, vol.22, Winter 1992-93, passim. Certainly this aggressive doctrine was patently evident in the early prescriptions for American training, one of the governing principles being that "[a]ll instructions must contemplate the assumption of a vigorous offensive. This purpose will be emphasized in every phase of training until it becomes a settled habit of thought." (RG 120. 1003.1, Employment of Troops. Agreement and program of training concerning American Troops with British <692>, National Archives, College Park, Md.). Not all have agreed that the Pershing doctrine was ambiguous or misplaced. Frederick Palmer believed, given the turnaround of fortunes that followed the blunting of the Kaiser's March offensive in 1918, that Pershing's advocacy of open warfare marked him as "a true prophet" to those under his command (Frederick Palmer, America in France: the story of the making of an army (London: John Murray, 1919, p.229). Of course, Palmer's friendship with Pershing may have influenced his assessment.

46 Dept of Army, Office of Military History; The United States Army in World War 1917-1919, 17 vols, Training and use of American units with British and French, vol.3, 1948, p.121, cited in Fred Davis Baldwin, The American enlisted man in World War One, Princeton University, PhD, 1964.

47 Training Bulletin, "Program of training for week, Sept 16-21 inclusive", RG 120, Box 12059 <230-504>, NAA, College Park, Md.

48 Bean, vol.6, p.951.

49 J. F. Oakleaf, Notes on the operations of the 108th Infantry Overseas, Printed for the first Reunion of Company "I" 108th Infantry, U.S.A., 1921. Online edition at WW1 Memoirs and Remembrances.

50 Bean, vol.6, pp.955-6.

51 For an American account of this problem, see Dale Van Every, The A.E.F. in battle (New York: Appleton and Company, 1928), pp.268-78. See also Bean's sympathetic assessment of the American predicament in vol.6, pp.993-5.

52 Extracts from daily operations reports of II American Corps, AWM 45 48/1. See, in particular, Message: Colonel Boswell timed 2.24 p.m., date 30 September 1918, "The Australians do not seem well pleased with the situation."

53 Ibid. Messages received 27 September-10 October 1918.

54 Ibid. Report received by Chief of Staff for Headquarters 54th Infantry Brigade.

55 Jacobson, pp.122-3.

56 Journal of Operations, 10 September-7 November 1918, 27th Division, RG 120, [156], NARA II, Md.

57 Colley-Priest, 8 FAB, AWM MSS 1400, p.9.

58 Ibid.

59 Henry Berry, Make the Kaiser dance (New York: Doubleday & Co., 1978), p.218.

60 Extracts from Report of the 117th Infantry, 30th Division, 25 September to 20 October 1918.

61 WW1-2927, 30th Division, Box 2.

62 WW1-6724.

63 WW1-1987.

64 WW1-2856, 30th Division, Box 2.

65 Kenneth Gow, Letters of a soldier (New York: Herbert B. Covert, c.1920), p.299.

66 Yule, p.180.

67 WW1-1993. 33rd Division, Box 1.

68 Lieutenant Callister quoted in, W. A. Carne, In Good Company: an account of the 6th Machine Gun Company, A.I.F., in search of peace 1915-1919 (Melbourne: 6th Machine Gun Company (A.I.F.) Association, 1937), p.319.

69 Ibid., pp.318-9.