File No. 763.72Su/83
The Diplomatic Liaison Officer with the Supreme War Council ( Frazier) to the Secretary of State
[Received May 8, 8.38 p.m.]
47. At meeting of Supreme War Council today at Abbeville there were present the French, British and Italian Prime Ministers; the French, British, Italian, and American military representatives, General Foch, General Wilson, Marshal Haig, Lord Milner, Admiral Wemyss, Admiral de Bon, Sir [Maurice] Hankey, General Lochridge, General Lawrence, General Weygand, Sir William Wiseman and myself.
M. Clemenceau opened the debate on the subject of the arrival of American troops by a rather acrimonious statement in which he said that an agreement had been reached on the 24th ultimo in London between Lord Milner and General Pershing, quite without consulting either the French Government or the Supreme Commander—and this he regretted—whereby six American divisions consisting of infantry, machine gunners, engineers and signal corps were to be diverted to the British Army for the month of June [May?]; if the Supreme Commander was to be something more than a name he should have been consulted; according to a decision of the Supreme War Council at Versailles the United States were to furnish a monthly contingent of 120,000 men to be divided equally [Page 220] between the French and British Armies; while not objecting to the agreement for the month of May, he asked that a like number of American divisions be sent to the French Army during the month of June. Lord Milner replied with some warmth that he was not aware that any such decision had been reached at Versailles and that his one idea was to hasten the arrival of American soldiers when they would be fighting the Germans on French soil irrespective of whether they might find themselves amalgamated with French or British troops. General Pershing said that in making the arrangement with Lord Milner he was guided by the sole purpose of meeting an existing situation as rapidly as possible. Neither he nor Lord Milner had any idea of allotting American troops to either the British or French armies. The troops were being brought over to meet an emergency but he had never lost sight of the original plan of creating an American Army to act as an autonomous unit-M. Clemenceau objected that they were not there to discuss personal matters, he merely wanted to know from General Pershing how many American troops would be allotted to the French Army during the month of June. General Pershing replied that he declined to make any arrangement for the month of June. He needed to be convinced that the same emergency which made the May agreement necessary still existed in June. Mr. Lloyd George remarked that the interests of the Allies must be identical and that unless the subject of American reenforcements were approached from that point of view the unity of command had no meaning. Up to the present the British Army had borne the brunt of the fighting. All the drafts from their depots had been sent to France; they were prepared to send over every man they had. Ten of their divisions had been knocked out; if these divisions were not filled up, other divisions, perhaps French divisions, would have to take their places. The Germans were fighting to exhaust the British reserves; it was a question to decide whether the American Army [should be drafted to] French or British divisions.
General Foch said it was undeniable that the British Army had suffered severely; it was therefore right that it should receive the support of the Americans for the month of May, but as the French were now fighting loyally side by side with their British comrades it was evident that they would also suffer; consequently he asked that the agreement of London be completed by an analogous arrangement for the month of June, whereby the French Army would benefit correspondingly.
General Pershing retorted that he did not understand that the American Army was available for allocation either to the French [Page 221] or British Army for an indefinite period. In a short time he felt obliged to insist on the principle that American soldiers were not to be parcelled out to the French, British or Italian Army. The Allied commanders apparently did not look forward to the time when the separate units of the American Army would be grouped together under a single command. He added that while it had been made to appear that there were more American troops serving with the British Army than with the French, the contrary was the case; the entire month of May was before them and there would be time to consider whether the present emergency existed at the beginning of June. In the latter event, he was ready to continue the agreement of the month of May to the month of June, but he was unwilling to make such an agreement in advance.
Lloyd George said that speaking in the name of the British Government he entirely accepted the principles laid down by General Pershing, but he pointed out that the Allies were fighting the decisive battle of the war and that if they lost it there would be no need for either a French, British or American Army. Therefore, the first consideration was the defeat of the German Army in this battle. General Foch said that no one was more in favor of an American Army than himself, because an army under its own officers [fought] much better than an army fighting under foreign commanders, nevertheless an emergency existed and he therefore asked that a meeting take place after the regular session between Lord Milner, General Pershing and himself to settle an arrangement for the allotment of American troops for the months of May and June. General Pershing concurred in General Foch’s suggestion. The Council thereupon agreed that Lord Milner and General Pershing and Foch should meet in separate session and submit their decision to the Supreme War Council on the following day. The good temper and reasonable attitude of Mr. Lloyd George were successful in harmonizing the conflicting interests in a discussion which at first threatened to be controversial.
The other subjects discussed today were the withdrawal of French and British troops from Salonica, the dissolution of the Supreme War Board controlling the general reserve, and Italian reenforcements for France. These three subjects will be reported in separate telegrams.1 At 7.30 the meeting adjourned until 11 o’clock tomorrow morning.