Thunder and Flames
Americans in the Crucible of Combat, 1917-1918
Edward G. Lengel
Army Historical Foundation Distinguished Book Award
Master Corporal Jan Stanislaw Jakobczak Memorial Book Award
November 1917. The American troops were poorly trained, deficient in military equipment and doctrine, not remotely ready for armed conflict on a large scale—and theyd arrived on the Western front to help the French push back the Germans. The story of what happened next—the American Expeditionary Forces trial by fire on the brutal battlefields of France—is told in full for the first time in Thunder and Flames.
“Meticulously researched and well written, Lengel’s Thunder and Flames succeeds in clarifying how the AEF performed while under French command. Valuable and highly commendable.”
“Lengel writes well, and mixes analysis of policy, tactics, and doctrine with battle narrative, often seasoned by first hand accounts, and reminds us that the failures in France led to intense study of tactics, logistics, and mobilization of men and industry which stood the nation in good stead in a later war. This is a very good read for anyone interested in the AEF or the Great War.”
—NYMAS ReviewSee all reviews...
“Lengel’s book is valuable because he draws heavily upon German and French military records as well as those of the U.S. Army. And he concludes that much of what earlier historians have written about key events does not hold up.”
“Lengel highlights the Americans’ sense of saving the day at the last minute, their frequent dismissal of the poilus as burned-out, prone to panic and reluctant to fight. But using French records, Lengel establishes the French as first-rate combatants, skilled alike in minor tactics and larger combined-arms operations.”
—Military History Quarterly
“Lengel has done an admirable job cutting through the decades of legend and half-truths surrounding the American Expeditionary Forces in the First World War. Students of the war will owe him a great debt for this comprehensive and effective book.”
—Michael S. Neiberg, author of Dance of the Furies: Europe and the Outbreak of World War I
“Lengel employs meticulous research and vivid, fast-paced prose to dissect American soldiers’ ‘baptism by fire’ on the Western Front. It is a great read and a major scholarly contribution—no one will ever again be able to claim that America was ‘barely bloodied’ by World War I.”
—Jennifer D. Keene, author, Doughboys, the Great War and the Remaking of AmericaSee fewer reviews...
Where history has given us some perspective on the individual battles of the period—at Cantigny, Chateau Thierry, Belleau Wood, the Marne River, Soissons, and little-known Fismette—they appear here as part of a larger series of interconnected operations, all conducted by Americans new to the lethal killing fields of World War I and guided by the battle-tested French. Following the AEF from their initial landing to their emergence as an independent army in late September 1918, this book presents a complex picture of how, learning warfare on the fly, sometimes with devastating consequences, the American force played a critical role in blunting and then rolling back the German armys drive toward Paris. The picture that emerges is at once sweeping in scope and rich in detail, with firsthand testimony conjuring the real mud and blood of the combat that Edward Lengel so vividly describes. Official reports and documents provide the strategic and historical context for these ground-level accounts, from the perspective of the Germans as well as the Americans and French.
Battle by battle, Thunder and Flames reveals the cost of the inadequacies in U.S. training, equipment, logistics, intelligence, and command, along with the rifts in the Franco-American military marriage. But it also shows how, by trial and error, through luck and ingenuity, the AEF swiftly became the independent fighting force of General John Blackjack Pershings long-held dream—its divisions ultimately among the most combat-effective military forces to see the war through.