When I visited Sydney on R&R from Vietnam in 1969, I visited the Art Gallery of New South Wales and saw the 1919 painting of the St. Quentin Canal-Tunnel at Bellicourt by the Australian war artist Sir Arthur Streeton. The scene was familiar, for I had seen a photograph of the same location in the Tennessee War Memorial Museum in Nashville. Why was one victory celebrated in two museums?
In 1918, two American infantry divisions fought in Belgium and France under British command. These were two National Guard divisions -- the 27th ("New York" or "O'Ryan's Roughnecks") and the 30th ("Old Hickory" from Tennessee-North Carolina-South Carolina), forming the American II Corps. Breaking the Hindenburg Line at Bellicourt at the end of September, 1918, was the Tennesseeans' most noted victory. In the offensive they "leapfrogged" with Australian units, hence the commemoration of the battle by two nations.
"Borrowed Soldiers" is a thorough history of the unique experience of the II Corps, fighting separately from the rest of the American Expeditionary Forces which gathered under General Pershing in Lorraine. National Archives historian Mitchell Yockelson digested all the memoirs; diaries; official reports; American, British, French, Australian, and German unit histories; manuscripts; books; and journal articles to write this book.
His highly readable account renders balanced judgments on controversies over federal control of the National Guard; "amalgamation" of American units with the British; American vs. British concepts of tactics and training; frictions between the allies; and the leadership qualities of the general officers. "Borrowed Soldiers" explains why and how the Americans were under British command; how they were formed, trained, equipped, supplied, moved to the front, and performed in action; and how they fought together with British and Australian divisions. Examining the question of effectiveness, Yockelson gives high marks to these two American divisions.
Even ninety years later, there are lessons to learn. One concerns how long it took a National Guard division to prepare for combat. The Guard units federalized in July of 1917 began training in South Carolina in August. British and French teams joined the training there, and the American units went through formal phased instruction at British schools and training grounds in Belgium before their first combat. Some of the British trainers were not at all impressed by the Yanks. The II Corps moved into the lines in Belgium at the end of August, 1918, more than a year after their training had begun. In the operation against the Hindenburg line they were commanded by an Australian general, and more than two hundred Australian advisors were distributed through the American formations. We imagine that nine decades ago things should have been simpler and quicker. This episode from American military history should caution those who are too critical of how long it takes to train the armies of Iraq and Afghanistan in our century.