A Guide to Research Materials for the AEF in WW1, Outside of NARA (by Robert J. Laplander)

While this is not a complete guide to the research materials for the AEF experience in France, it is a solid start and I have found all of these titles provide a plethora of knowledge. If you are serious about researching the AEF, this list shows you where you should begin.

Note: Robert first published this in the Meuse-Argonne.com FB group. It proved to be such a popular read that the Webmaster asked for permission to publish it on this website. Researchers should know that the copyright of many of the books has expired, and they can be found online.

The United States Army in the World War 1917 – 1919

Pub. 1948/1983 – 17 volumes, with volume 10 divided into two parts for 18 total books.

The absolute granddaddy of AEF research materials. Everything in general you want to know about what the army did in France. The amount of information contained in this set is absolutely staggering. One can get lost literally for days in researching through these volumes. Nevertheless, for the serious researcher of the AEF, this set is the starting point. (Anyone who claims to be seriously studying the AEF and has not been to this set is not serious.) Original sets can be had – for a price. Even the 1983 reprints are expensive. Occasionally one meets a deal however (as I did some years ago), and the entire set has been digitized; it can be accessed online or purchased on a disc. Whatever way one goes, if one is serious about the AEF then this set is a MUST.

Summary of Operations in the World War collection/divisional Terrain Photographs collection

Pub. 1944 – 28 volumes, with one volume dedicated to each combat division that served in France.

The Summary books explain movements of the divisions and their units in combat and contain excellent maps to illustrate such. Details have sometimes been questioned on these, but one can rest assured the army went to extraordinary lengths to insure these are accurate, so one CAN rely upon them. The Terrain Photographs are an excellent complement to the Summaries and were taken shortly after the war. Original copies of volumes of the Summaries can get pricey, and the Terrain Photo books are not to be found at all outside of one or two repositories. However, both have been made available in one volume per division through the hard work of Mr. Scott Schoner and can be obtained on Amazon. The maps for the Summaries are not included however and must therefore be obtained elsewhere. Fortunately, there are a couple places online these can be had. The Summaries have been digitized and most of the Terrain Photograph books have been too but can be a bit hard to find and the downloads are huge. Either way one goes, any serious study of an AEF division’s movements in combat must start here, or it is not serious at all.

Order of Battle of the United States Land Forces in the World War

Pub. 1931 – 3 volumes, with volume 3 divided into three parts for 6 total books.

Tells where every unit in the AEF inventory was during the war. Need to know where an ambulance company of a certain division was in April, 1918? This set will tell you. Want to know where grandpa’s horseshoeing outfit was before they went Over There? Here’s where you find out. Original sets are almost non-existent, but the reprints are out there and, again, it’s all been digitized as well. A great resource.

The Medical Department of the United States Army in the World War

Pub. 1921-1929 – 15 volumes, with volume 15 divided into two parts for 16 total books.

This absolutely huge and amazing set contains a highly detailed and meticulous record of what the medical department did in ALL aspects during the war. The amount of information collected here is truly staggering and almost beyond belief. Well-illustrated and meticulously detailed; if you are a student of the medical services in the war, here is your ‘holy grail’ informational source. Don’t even bother looking for an original set of volumes. Individual volumes are available, but one could go broke collecting them and I’ve never seen a full set for sale in 20+ years of researching the AEF. The entire thing has been digitized however, so I have my set on disc – which is fine as I use it only sporadically since just a couple of the volumes serve my research needs anyway. But for the medical minded AEF/WW1 US Army researcher/buff, this set is IT.

Soldiers of the Great War

Pub. 1920 – 3 volumes

Arranged by state, purports to list all those Americans killed or died in the war, illustrated with some 30,000 photographs. However, the list of the dead is incomplete, spelling issues abound, and there are even a few doubles of pictures using different names. Only a half-hearted attempt at alphabetizing as well, with a supplemental area at the back of volume 3 that resists all alphabetizing attempts whatsoever.  All that said, this is a fabulous source for finding pictures of the dead, though it can be tough due to the alphabetizing problems. There are also a number of WIA men included too. Though the set suffers from being done far too close to the end of the war and was obviously a much more ambitious project than the authors were ready for, it is still a must have on the research shelf.

History of the American Field Service in France

Pub. 1920 – 3 volumes.

Outstanding set that details each American ambulance unit through the writings of the men who served in it. Original sets can be had, but at a price. Modern reprints are available and it has been digitized online. A truly wonderful set, not just for research but for browsing and reading the terrific stories as well. Another volume that compliments this set well is:

Friends of France: The Field Service of the American Ambulance

Pub. 1916 – 1 volume.

Stories of the Field Service as told by its members. An entertaining and informative read.

The US Air Service in WW1

Pub. 1978 – 4 volumes.

This is the Air Force’s official history of what was then known as the Army Air Service of the Signal Corps in the war, from start to finish. Highly detailed and well-organized set. For the air service researcher/buff this is a must go-to source. Used copies are usually readily available. For an even clearer picture of air service activities, this set should be combined with:

Air Service, American Expeditionary Force, 1918

H.A. Toulmin Pub. 1927, republished through Battery Press in 2004 – one volume.

Toulmin was Chief of the Co-ordination Staff under Major General Patrick, Chief of US Air Service in WW1. Following the war, he wrote this highly detailed account of the birth and growth of the AEF air service Over There. A great authentic source.

Wings of Honor: American Airmen in WW1

James J. Sloan Pub. 2004 – one volume.

This is a Schiffer publication and therefore a big, heavy book. Sloan was a life-long WW1 air service researcher and communicated with dozens of the air service men he writes about. This book presents details of each of the squadrons that made it to France, including some accounts of balloon squadrons. A great go-to, full of information and tons of pictures. There have been some details noted as incorrect by other aviation researchers, but these a few and do not detract from the rest of this great volume.

As They Passed Through the Port

David Shanks Pub. 1927 – one volume.

This is the story of the New York Port of Embarkation and how we shipped 2.5 million men to France in just 19 months, written by the man who ran the whole program. A great read and fills in on how it all went down. If you are interested in this specific experience of the soldier’s life in WW1, this is the book to get. Original copies can be had but are fairly expensive. Digital and reprints are available. Combine this with:

With the Army at Hoboken

King W. Snell Pub. 1919 – one volume.

Story of the workings of the PoE at Hoboken as told by one of the captains who worked there. Some good detail and a good companion to Shanks’ book. Original copies pretty much cannot be found, but it has been digitized.

S.O.S.; America’s Miracle in France

Isaac F. Marcosson Pub. 1919 – one volume.

The only full account of the Service of Supply in France, detailing the supply and transport services of the AEF and the absolutely amazing job they did in the days before logistical units and sustainment brigades existed; they were truly the unsung heroes of the whole American experience Over There. If one wants to know about the SOS, this is your only source right now.

Archie in the AEF

Charles E. Kirkpatrick Pub. 1984 – one volume.

The complete story of American anti-aircraft in the AEF. This is the only study ever done on the subject.

A Withering Fire

George T. Raach Pub. 2016 – one volume.

This is the story of American machine gun battalions in WW1; their training, capabilities, use, etc… There is no other comprehensive single source of information about American machine gunners in the AEF than this one.

The Engineer Experience

The experience of the engineers in France is a complex tale. Each division had its own engineer regiment and there were also engineer units assigned to the SOS, as well as army and corps HQ’s. While divisional engineer regiments filled the role of combat engineers within their parent division, SOS engineer regiments were usually job specific units; there were water supply engineer regiments, railway engineer regiments, topographical engineer regiments, camouflage engineer regiments… you get the idea. Then there were the Pioneer Infantry regiments, which were infantry regiments trained to be combat engineers as well and whose jobs were usually the roughest, most mundane, or most disagreeable; it is often said of PI regiments that “They did everything the Infantry was too proud to do, and the Engineers too lazy to do.” (As an example, Pioneers often served as trench diggers and burial units.) While the best source for information on a specific engineer regiments (beyond going to NARA) are their unit histories, here are some general ‘primers’ on them:

Combat and Construction: US Army Engineers in WW1

Pub. 1993 by the Corps of Engineers – one volume as a download.

A general overview of the engineers in WW1 and a good place to begin studies while searching for a unit history specific to the unit/job you are researching. Be warned: the download is huge.

Pershing’s Pioneers

Moses N. Thisted Pub. 1982 – one volume.

Thisted was in a PI regiment and undertook the first ever record of what they did in the war. He did it late in life though and it is a self-published effort, since no actual publisher at the time had any interest in the project. As such, it suffers from a need for editing. That said, there is some wonderful detail in here and he covers the subject well. There is no digitization of the book so far as is known, so one must search out a used copy. In many cases the glue that holds these books together is giving out at this late date, so the books aren’t always in the best of shape, even when they come as new – as many of them do, since when Thisted died there were apparently a plethora of them still unsold in his garage.

A Guide to the US Pioneer Infantry Regiments in WW1

Margaret M. McMahon Pub. 2018 – one volume.

A relatively short, self-published book that adds to the above-mentioned work, ‘fleshing out’ the PI regiment experience.

There are also some books out there on the telegraph battalions, sound and flash ranging, artillery scouting, dozens of books on the artillery, and of course the county, state and college histories that can, or cannot, be loaded with information. All these are great sources to look through as well. And with more and more of them being digitized and appearing online it gets easier day by day to find these sources. Then there is NARA II at College Park, MD – but that is for another day and another brief.

Happy reasearching!