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The American Army in Germany, 1918-1923 Cover

The American Army in Germany, 1918-1923

Success against the Odds

Dean A. Nowowiejski

University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, 2021, 376 page

Book Review published on: March 4, 2022

The American forces in Germany arguably were withdrawn prematurely from the Rhineland in 1923 before the intent of their commitment under the Rhineland agreement was fulfilled. … In this way, the story of this American presence in Europe concludes with the tantalizing idea: What if they had stayed longer? It is all part of understanding what happened to the American Army in Germany after World War I …

The above selection is a sample of the exemplary writing that covers a little-known chapter in the history of the U.S. military. Dean Nowowiejski has created an engaging description of the American occupation force placed in the Rhineland immediately following the World War I Armistice in December 1918. Nowowiejski provides a detailed narrative recounting an American success story and fills in a significant gap of knowledge in the literature. Some may ask how this story is relevant to military professionals today. After most experiences of combat, combatants must endeavor to win the peace through the effective application of what U.S. military doctrine refers to as stability operations and consolidation of gains. One need only examine the recent American experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan to establish the vital importance of developing military leaders who can operate in the uncertain and complex environments of military governance. Fortunately, Nowowiejski has chronicled the experiences of the American Forces in Germany (AFG) and its commander, Maj. Gen. Henry T. Allen, so we can learn from its example. More than merely filling a gap in the story, The American Army in Germany, 1918-1923: Success against the Odds contains engaging descriptions of how the AFG overcame tremendous challenges to perform its mission.

The American Army in Germany consists of eight chapters and three appendices. The book covers the AFG’s mission, organization, leadership, culture, training, and accomplishments. One of the most engaging chapters is on the AFG common soldier and what his or her experience was like. The book wraps up with an analysis of the legacy the AFG and provides readers with analysis of the actions of the AFG in the context of the history of the twentieth century as well as how lessons derived from those actions can be applied today. The three appendices are especially informative. Appendix 1 covers an analysis of individual perspectives of the occupation. Appendix 2 discusses how Allen employed events including horse and auto shows to improve training and readiness in the AFG. And finally, appendix 3 is a detailed essay on the bibliographic sources referenced in this book. Military scholars will find this last appendix very helpful.

The American Army in Germany contains fascinating descriptions of the process of forming a brand new Army of Occupation consisting of three corps and eight divisions. This large formation was swiftly formed right after the armistice and moved from France, through the carnage of no man’s land, over two hundred miles into Germany. The monumental complexity of planning and executing the move of a formation that a week earlier had not existed is striking. Added to that complexity was the fact that throughout this move staff officers and leaders had to be prepared for the German army to reinitiate combat operations as the armistice was considered temporary and had to be renewed at the thirty-day mark. Any staff officer who has planned divisional moves will attest to the level of difficulty such an operation would entail. Such a mission would be made even more difficult because once this formation arrived in the German Rhineland, it had to transition to stability operations–a totally different kind of endeavor than large-scale combat. These operations were made more complex over time because the formation was constantly downsized throughout its deployment lasting from the end of 1918 through the beginning of 1923. Military professionals will find these results awe-inspiring in what was swiftly achieved and the high quality of their outcomes.

The section in The American Army in Germany on establishing training programs is exceptionally captivating. Allen established training programs in 1921-1922 that any commander today would be proud of while accomplishing the complicated tasks associated with military governance. Allen was able to conduct individual through collective training including live fire division level combined arms maneuver exercises in their sector in the Rhineland. He accomplished this high level of training twice-in 1921 and 1922. This accomplishment would be significant to any division commander today. The fact that it was probably the last division level exercise the Army would conduct until the Louisiana Maneuvers just prior to World War II is particularly impressive. Additionally, chapter 6 contains detailed discussions of various military governance programs affecting everything from infrastructure to sanitation to public health. There is even an interesting discussion of measures taken to deal with the influenza epidemic in the Rhineland that will resonate with many considering our current challenges with the Covid-19 pandemic.

In The American Army in Germany, Nowowiejski has provided military professionals as well as civilian readers with an opportunity to view a foundational moment in American military history. The countervailing influence of American military leaders such as Maj. Gen. Henry T. Allen, who had the capability to employ diplomacy as well as military proficiency, served as a positive influence during the occupation of the Rhineland. Many of the people who remained in Germany after the Americans departed, either occupiers or occupied, regretted the American departure. Referring to the opening sample of this review, readers may indeed reflect on how things might have been different had the American occupation lasted longer. Would a longer commitment of American troops have changed the conditions which led to World War II? The American Army in Germany provides a detailed and fascinating account of American soldiers doing difficult work in challenging and uncertain times that made a difference. A must-read for civilian and military leaders as well as educators.

Book Review written by: Lt. Col. Richard A. McConnell, DM, U.S. Army, Retired, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas