Group of 2nd Battalion 358th Infantry 90th Division.

W6472. Soldiers of 2nd Battalion 358th Inf. 90th Div. June 11, 1919, Camp Devens, MA. Joseph K. Dixon, photographer.

The First World War began in Europe in the summer of 1914, when escalating armed confrontations in the Balkans rapidly led the region’s major political powers to bring their massive military resources into the conflict. The major forces were Germany, Austro-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire on one side, and France, Russia, Britain, and Belgium on the other. The United States stayed out of direct involvement until 1917, when evidence of plans to extend the war into the western hemisphere emerged. The US declared war against Germany on April 6, 1917, and made plans to build up the relatively small military of the time, including instituting a draft.

The troops to be deployed in Europe, the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF), were organized rapidly—the first AEF troops arrived in France in June, and participated in their first major battle in October. The forces were still small, though, and AEF units were used to support French and British troops in ongoing campaigns in France. In the US, aggressive enlistment campaigns and promotion of the draft filled out the ranks over the next several months, and in May 1918 the AEF won its first independently-directed battle. From then until the Armistice was signed on November 11, 1918, the AEF carried out one major US-led campaign after another. Most of the battlefield stories related here are from that six-month period.