Allied Coalition Warfare During the First World War

Authored by: Brian Neumann

The Routledge Handbook of American Military and Diplomatic History

Print publication date:  June  2013
Online publication date:  August  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415888479
eBook ISBN: 9781135070991
Adobe ISBN: 9781135071028


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The First World War demonstrated that only coalitions possessed the resources and staying power to withstand the enormous toll that industrialized warfare elicited. Historian David Trask surmised that “coalition warfare is a most difficult enterprise. Victory comes to allies who persevere in the trying but essential effort to cooperate effectively in the common cause despite inevitable conflicts of interest and outlook.” 1 The American experience in the war supports Trask’s analysis. When the United States joined the war in April 1917, it entered into a complex and dysfunctional coalition that prevented the efficient utilization of its combined resources. The issues that the Americans faced in dealing with their European allies were not new to the coalition. Major General Tasker H. Bliss wrote in 1922 that the greatest difficulty the Americans faced

was the manifest absence of a unity of purpose on the part of the Entente Powers. They were allied little more than in the sense that each found itself fighting, at the same time with the others, its own war against one enemy, and too largely for separate ends. 2

Thus the Americans faced the critical paradox of the war: only through combining resources into a coalition could the Allies defeat the Central Powers, yet the nature of that coalition prevented the effective use of those resources, which prolonged the war and made Allied defeat possible.

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