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Leadership in the World War I Environment Essay

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Updated: Sep 2nd, 2021

World War I was an all-out war that mobilized not only the manpower at home but also that abroad. Military leaders from various countries played a crucial role during this war. Military leadership is the process of influencing others to accomplish the mission by providing purpose, direction, and motivation and the basic responsibilities of a leader are the accomplishments of the mission and the welfare of the soldiers. An understanding of the leadership characteristics of some of the military leaders of World War I and the reasons that they facilitated successful battlefield leadership can provide an intellectual foundation for anyone in the Army.

When the United States entered the First World War, in April 1917, the American Army suffered from inadequate manpower and inadequate supplies due to its incursion into Mexico the previous year. It was during this period, that the Allies expected the United States to provide an unlimited supply of manpower. Wilson selected General John J. Pershing to head the American Expeditionary Force. Pershing was a great leader.

He worked with minimal resources. Pershing was to cooperate with Allied forces under the following proviso – “that the forces of the United States are a separate and distinct component of the combined forces the identity of which must be preserved.” This remained a controversial issue all through the war. The fact he maintained that identity is said to be the key factor behind America’s rise as a superpower. Only because Pershing maintained that identity, America could wield a lot of power in the peace conference (ANC, 2008). American troops saw their first action in May 1918 in fighting alone the Marne River.

In September, June 1918 Pershing ordered an all-out attack in the Saint-Mihiel area of Eastern France (EyeWitness.com, 2000). Casualties were high but the attack forced the entire German army on the run. On September 12, at 05:00 after a long artillery bombardment using 3,000 canons, seven American divisions under Generals Dickmann, Ligget and Cameron, charged the Saint-Mihielbulge assisted by the French 2nd colonial corps. At the end of the combat, 16,000 Germans were taken prisoner, and more than 300 canons were confiscated. Foch congratulated Pershing, “The American Ist Army, under your command, has managed a magnificent victory with a plan of action that was as carefully conceived as it was magnificently executed.”

This describes adequately the leadership qualities of Pershing. At the time of his appointment, there was no expeditionary force available as such; the regular army comprised 25,000 men at most and no effective reserves. Pershing had to recruit an organized army of 500,000 men. He showed great confidence and innovation in doing so. He knew the strengths and weaknesses of his unit and acted with great courage. His moral courage and confidence are really inspiring. I would have liked to work under him for these leadership qualities of his.

Alvin Cullum York (1887-1964) was one of America’s most famous soldiers in World War I. He is associated with a remarkable act of courage and coolness in October 1918. York was a great crack marksman and had a reputation for bravery and win-at-all-costs attitude displayed during his wartime service. In France, Corporal York led the attack in the Argonne Forest against German machine gun positions on 8 October 1918.

He led 17 men in action against a German stronghold and aimed at securing the position and returning with German prisoners. Though initially successful, the Germans soon launched a counterattack, and 11 of York’s men were taken, prisoners. York proceeded alone and tackled the German gunners. He shot some 17 gunners via sniping and killed seven charging German soldiers with his pistol. With the aid of a German Major captured earlier York brought in a total of 132 German prisoners, a remarkable feat (Firstworldwar.com, 2008).

Alvin York was thus a man of great courage. He was quick in decision-making, strategic in planning, and showed great bravery in the face of danger. He was also highly skilled in pistol shooting. I would cherish an opportunity to work under him because of his personal ability to lead from the front and inspire.

George S. Patton, a young officer traveled to France as Pershing’s aide. At Saint-Mihiel, Patton was put in command of the light-tank brigade. The attack marked the AEF’s first major offensive operation as an independent army during World War I, as well as the first time the U.S. had used tanks in battle. Pershing assigned him to the newly formed United States Tank Corps. He took part in the Battle of Saint-Mihiel, September 1918, and was wounded by machine-gun fire as he sought assistance for tanks that we’re mired in the mud (History.com, 2008).

He was rewarded for his service in the Meuse-Argonne Operations. While some found Patton “adorable,” author John P. Marquand considered him a “tactless, high-strung, profane officer with a one-cell juvenile mind” (The Washington Times, 2002). There is no doubt that Patton was a warrior in the fullest sense of the word, and he was also a superb athlete and a highly articulate writer and speaker. Mr. Hirshson points him out as an extraordinary tactical commander and less of a strategist. One minus point cited against him as a leader was that he once struck a battle-fatigued soldier in a hospital in Sicily (The Washington Times, 2008). Despite the last story, I would have liked to work under the leadership of George S. Patton for I admire his tremendous courage at walking into the gunfire to seek assistance for his tanks.

There are four leadership characteristics as defined in FM 22-100, Army Leadership: Revised Final Draft, dated June 1998: personal moral courage, initiative, tactical skill, and application of knowledge through effective learning. All three of the above-mentioned World War I military leaders show different levels of these four traits. General Pershing was more a man of initiative, whereas Sgt. Alvin York was more a man of personal courage. Colonel Patton was more a man of tactical skill. A comparison of these World War I leaders yields the conclusion that all these leadership characteristics were present in these leaders to some extent allowing them to adapt more easily in an evolving environment and facilitated successful battlefield leadership.


History.com (2008). This day in History: U.S. officer George S. Patton writes home after Saint-Mihiel offensive. Web.

The Washington Times (2002). Recalling Life of George S. Patton and Its Worrying Characteristics. The Washington Times.

EyeWitness to History (2000). “America in the Great War”. Web.

Firstworldwar.com (2006). Who’s Who: Alvin C. York. Web.

ANC (Arlington National Cemetery) (2008). John Joseph “Black Jack” Pershing. Web.

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