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The Big Red One: America's Legendary 1st Infantry Division from World War I to Desert Storm.

The Big Red One: America's Legendary 1st Infantry Division from World War I to Desert Storm. By James Scott Wheeler. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2007. 594 pages. $34.95. Reviewed by Dr. Barrie E. Zais, Division G-3 Air and Battalion Operations Officer and Executive Officer, 1st Infantry Division, 1975-78.

This is the story of the longest serving and one of the more famous divisions in the American Army. The 1st Division has served continuously and fought in all our nation's wars, except Korea, from World War I to the Persian Gulf. But this tome is more than a history of "The Big Red One." It is a larger chronicle of the modern American Army in the twentieth century. In this book we find the exploits of soldiers ranging from private to the famous, such as George Marshall, Lesley McNair, Terry Allen, Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., William DePuy, and Alexander Haig. So while it is a unit history in the traditional sense, the author examines the 1st Division's achievements in the context of the political and strategic situation of the time.

To author this ambitious study, the Cantigny First Division Foundation and the McCormick Tribune Foundation selected a distinguished soldier and scholar, James "Scott" Wheeler. His flattering account of the nation's most venerable division does not disappoint. As noted by Rick Atkinson on the book jacket, it is a "compelling yarn" written with a storyteller's verve.

In May 1917, soon after US entry into WWI, the 1st Expeditionary Division was constituted from existing Regular Army units and transported to France the following month. The division was not only the first born and the first to Europe, but also the first to enter battle. Throughout the war, the 1st Division played a key role in all American offensives, serving more time in combat than any other division and suffering more than 21,000 casualties. The author carefully presents the unit's weaknesses and failures but concludes that the 1st Division, primarily under the command of Generals Robert Bullard and Charles Summerall, paved the way in training and combat for General John Pershing's American Expeditionary Forces. After the Armistice, the division led the American army of occupation across the Rhine and was the last US division to leave Germany in 1919. They had earned the nickname "Fighting First."

With the same critical analysis, the author traces the unit's accomplishments in the interwar period when it was one of the first divisions to convert to the "triangular" structure and the first to train for amphibious warfare. The Big Red One deployed to England in 1942 and conducted the first major American offensive against the Axis powers in North Africa. The division was also in the initial assault wave for Sicily in 1943 and Operation Overlord the following year. In Normandy, the 1st Division pushed farther inland than any other Allied division and broke through the gap in German lines created by Operation Cobra. Under the leadership of General Clarence Huebner, the 1st Division raced across France with Joe Collins's VII Corps, breached the Siegfried Line, and captured Aachen, the first major German city taken by the Allies. The Big Red One slogged through the difficult fighting in the Hurtgen Forest, held the north shoulder in the Battle of the Bulge, and led the final offensive across Germany. For five years after World War II, the 1st Infantry Division was the only US combat division stationed in Germany and the first to "Gyroscope" back to the United States.

In 1965, the 1st ID was the first full Army division committed to combat in South Vietnam, where for the next five years it fought in the critical area between Saigon and the Cambodian border. The author concludes that the division did not win every battle, but under the innovative leadership of men such as Generals Bill DePuy and Orwin Talbott, the 1st ID drove the Communists away from the population centers and played a major role in the successful pacification efforts from 1968 to 1970.

For the next two decades, the 1st ID (-) was stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas, and participated in numerous Reforger exercises to Germany, where one brigade and the Headquarters, 1st Infantry Division (Forward) were permanently stationed. In Operation Desert Storm, the Big Red One once again fought with VII Corps during the destruction of Saddam Hussein's forces and the liberation of Kuwait.

Scott Wheeler's study is an impressive presentation of the exploits of the Arroy's first division. But it is not definitive, and by the author's admission, is unfinished. Considering the scope of the work, this was perhaps inevitable. A revised edition will need to fill in some gaps and correct minor editorial missteps. The post-Desert Storm coverage will need to extend the division's accomplishments in places such as Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

During this revision some of the difficult maps will require replacement and appendices added that provide division organizational diagrams for critical periods. Another useful appendix would list the tenures of all division and assistant division commanders. But most importantly, the same critical analysis of individual leaders, soldiers, and units that the author applies to the 1st Division in WWI needs to be applied to later periods and wars. The author is somewhat delicate in his evaluation of the division's performance in places like the Kasserine Pass, Hurtgen Forest, and Vietnam.

Until we see a revision, The Big Red One will remain the standard for all division histories. It will hold the attention of not only past members of the division, but also those with an interest in twentieth-century American military history.
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Author:Zais, Barrie E.
Publication:Parameters
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2009
Words:932
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