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.

—H-Net Reviews

“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 Review
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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.

About the Author

Edward G. Lengel is Professor and Director of the Papers of George Washington Project at the University of Virginia. He is the author of To Conquer Hell: The Meuse-Argonne, 1918 and General George Washington: A Military Life, among other works.

Additional Titles in the Modern War Studies Series