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After The Armistice

Zone of American Army of Occupation, December 21, 1918

THE Armistice was signed at 5:00 o'clock in the morning of November 11, 1918, on Marshall Foch's train in the Forest of Compiegne, and took effect at 11: 00 a. m. on the same day.

Its terms, which are summarized on pages 507-509, required Germany to evacuate all invaded and occupied territory in Belgium, Luxemburg and France (including Alsace-Lorraine), and to withdraw her armies across the Rhine River. They also provided that the Allied forces should be permitted peaceably to occupy bridgeheads, 18 miles in radius, east of the Rhine at Mayence, Coblenz and Cologne, and that a neutral zone 6 miles wide in which neither the Allies nor Germany could maintain troops would be established along the east bank of the Rhine and around each of the bridgeheads.

The advance of the American and Allied Armies was so regulated that they occupied all territory evacuated by the Germans within a short time after the German troops withdrew. The plans fer the advance prescribed that the French should move through Alsace-Lorraine to Mayence, the Americans through Luxemburg and the Moselle valley to Coblenz, the British to Cologne, and the Belgians by way of Aix-la-Chapelle to the lower Rhine River.

On November 7 the Commander-in-Chief of the American Expeditionary Forces had directed that an American Third Army be organized and on November 14 this Army, with Major General Joseph T. Dickman as commander, was designated as the Army of Occupation. It was composed initially of the III Corps, containing the 2d, 32d and 42d Divisions; and the IV Corps, comprising the 1st, 3d and 4th Divisions. To these were added on November 22 the VII Corps, containing the 5th, 89th and 90th Divisions. On that same day the Third Army detached the 5th Division from the VII Corps and gave it the duty of guarding the extended lines of communication of the Army.

The advance to the Rhine was begun by the Americans and Allies on November 17 along the entire Western Front. Although active operations against a hostile enemy were not involved, there were nevertheless many difficult problems to be met. For the Americans, these included the creation in a limited time of a staff and services for the supply and rapid movement of more than 200,000 men through country where transportation lines in many places were completely destroyed and where food was scarce. Moreover, the weather was cold and rainy and in many places the roads were nearly impassable. Although the troops had been hastily assembled and had been allowed no opportunity to rest and refit after the trying period of the Meuse­Argonne offensive, they cheerfully met every demand made upon them. The advance elements of the Third Artillery passed through the city of Luxemburg on November 21 and arrived two days later at the German frontier. There they rested until December 1 when all of the Armies of Occupation pushed on into Germany.

Through the liberated districts of France and Luxemburg the Americans were received with wild demonstrations of joy, but upon entering Germany they were regarded with a mixture of curiosity and suspicion. However, the fine conduct of the Army and the firmness and justice of the American commanders quickly quieted any apprehensions the civil population may have had and no incidents of hostility took place.

The leading troops of the Third Army reached the Rhine River on December 9. On the 13th, American, French and British infantry divisions crossed the river, having been preceded in some cases by advance elements the day before. In the American Third Army, the III Corps, whose composition had been changed to include the 1st, 2d and 32d Divisions, was designated to occupy the northern portion of the bridgehead at Coblenz, the southern portion having been transferred to French control. The American bridgehead included the fortress of Ehrenbreitstein located immediately across the Rhine River from Coblenz and dominating it.

The III Corps crossed on four bridges—two at Coblenz, and one each at Engers and Remagen below Coblenz and by the night of December 14 had completed the occupation of the American part of the bridgehead. The remainder of the American Army of Occupation, consisting of the IV Corps, comprising the 3d, 4th and 42d Divisions, and the VII Corps, containing the 89th and 90th Divisions, remained west of the Rhine. Luxemburg was occupied by the 5th and 33d Divisions, both of which were under command of the American Second Army, and not under control of the Army of Occupation.

To the south of Coblenz the French occupied a bridgehead with headquarters at Mayence, while to the north, the British occupied a bridgehead with headquarters at Cologne. Although the Belgians advanced to the Rhine and occupied jointly with the French a zone in the Rhineland to the north of the British, with headquarters at Aix-la-Chapelle, they had no force across the river.

An additional bridgehead at Kehl across the Rhine from Strasbourg and including the ring of forts of that place,was established on February 4, 1919, by the French on their own responsibility.

When finally located on December 21, 1918, the headquarters of the principal units of the American Army of Occupation in Germany were placed as follows:

Third Army — Coblenz

III Corps — Neuwied

IV Corps — Cochem

VII Corps — Wittlich

1st Division — Montabaur

2d Division — Heddesdorf

3d Division — Andernach

4th Division — Bad Bertrich

32d Division — Rengsdorf

42d Division — Ahrweiler

89th Division — Kylburg

90th Division — Berncastel

Immediately after the Armistice the American Commander-in-Chief started preparations for moving his forces back to the United States with the least possible delay. The Services of Supply was promptly reorganized to carry out the intricate details connected with this work, and approximately 25,500 men of the American forces actually sailed from France, homeward bound, in November. Before the end of the year this number had been increased to about 124,000.

Upon the cessation of hostilities practically every man of the 2,000,000 in the A.E.F. wanted to return to the United States at once; but with the limited number of ships available this was, of course, impossible. While military training was continued after the Armistice against the remote possibility that operations might be resumed, the higher commanders realized that this was a most trying period for the soldiers and undertook measures to make life for them as interesting as possible commensurate with the maintenance of a satisfactory standard of discipline and military conduct.

Men were allowed regular leaves to visit leave areas established at various summer and winter resorts in France and in the occupied portion of Germany, and arrangements were made whereby they could visit several other countries such as Great Britain, Belgium and Italy.

A vast school system was established, in which more than 230,000 men enrolled. Wherever troops were quartered in any number, classes were organized and instruction given in practically every subject taught in the public schools of the United States, as well as in trade and business subjects. At Beaune a huge university was established for advanced instruction and approximately 9,000 soldiers registered to take the course.

An Education Corps Commission was formed to direct all lecturers, schools and extension courses in the A.E.F. The men selected as instructors for the schools were competent educators with previous experience. This often resulted in classes for officers being conducted by privates from the ranks. The educational system on the whole was democratic, well planned and produced very substantial results.

Horse shows were held by nearly every division, and many of the units organized theatrical troupes, which traveled throughout the A. E. F. giving performances. These activities were encouraged and aided in every way by the army officials, and to a large extent contributed to the pleasure and contentment of the troops.

The men were also encouraged to participate in sports and games, and a great athletic program was carried out which culminated in the Inter-Allied Games held near Paris in June and July, 1919. Upon the invitation of the American Commander-in-Chief, eighteen of the Allied and associated nations sent contestants to this meet, which was a remarkable success from every standpoint. The Pershing Stadium, where it took place, was built mainly by engineers from the American Army. The funds were donated by the Young Men's Christian Association, which presented the structure to General Pershing. It was later turned over by him to the French people.

In the spring of 1919 a composite regiment of selected officers and men was formed from the Third Army. Selection was based on appearance, soldierly qualities and war record. It was used as an escort of honor to the American Commander-in-Chief, and paraded in Paris, London and other places, including New York and Washington, D. C., when the regiment returned to America.

In the meantime the transfer of troops to the United States had been progressing rapidly. Marshal Foch wished to retain a large force, at least 15 divisions, in Europe, but was told that the American Army would be withdrawn as soon as possible. President Wilson finally agreed that American representation in the occupied territory would be a small detachment only, to be known as the "American Forces in Germany", which would serve, as the French said, merely to keep the American flag on the Rhine.

By May 19, 1919, all American combat divisions, except five in occupied German territory, had received their embarkation orders to sail for American ports.

The units of the Army of Occupation were relieved as fast as practicable during the summer of 1919, and the 1st Division, the last large organization to leave for home, began its movement on August 15. With the dissolution of the Third Army on July 2, 1919, the "American Forces in Germany" consisting of about 6,800 men came into being and remained on the Rhine for more than three years. The American flag on Fort Ehrenbreitstein was finally lowered on January 24, 1923, when the last of the American troops in Germany entrained. The American zone was formally turned over to the French three days later on.

American Armies And Battlefields In Europe: a History, Guide, And Reference Book.
Washington: U.S. Govt. Print. Off., 1938.
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