In October 1942 Maj. Gen. Mark W. Clark, representing the U.S. Army, and Brig. Gen. Charles Mast, spokesman for General Henri Giraud, met secretly in Cherchel, seventy-five miles west of Algiers. The subject of the conversations was a momentous one--the imminent re-entry of French North Africa into the war. General Clark, acting on instructions from President Roosevelt, gave positive assurances to General Mast that the United States would furnish the equipment necessary to outfit the North African forces.1
Clarks' commitment was timely, for Anglo-American forces were about to land in northwest Africa. More important, it heralded an event of great significance: the forthcoming assumption, by the United States, of direct responsibility for re-equipping the French armed forces. The British had been discharging this responsibility by maintaining a small band of Frenchmen stubbornly fighting on their side and under their control since mid-1940.
Before World War II had ended, the Americans had fully equipped and trained eight French divisions in North Africa, partially outfitted and trained three more in France, furnished equipment for nineteen air squadrons, and carried out an extensive rehabilitation program for the French Navy. They had supplied some 1,400 aircraft, 160,000 rifles and carbines, 30,000 machine guns, 3,000 artillery guns, 5,000 tanks and self-propelled weapons, and 51,000,000 rounds of ammunition.
An occurrence of historic import was thus re-enacted in reverse. Twice France had similarly undertaken to assist an unprepared America at war. In 1781, in addition to sending an expeditionary corps to help the young colonies in their fight for independence, France supplied weapons and matériel to the infant Continental Army. Much later, in World War I, France, herself at war with Germany, again provided matériel to the American Expeditionary Forces (A.E.F.) sent to the European continent. In that second episode, the nature and extent of the help rendered were vastly different from what they were to be in World War II. Yet the parallel is striking enough to warrant, for the sake of historical comparison, a brief account of the aid extended by the French to the American forces in 1917-1918.
French Assistance to the A.E.F. in World War I
The entrance of the United States into World War I, on 6 April 1917, found the American forces totally unprepared for the arduous tasks which they were later to carry out on the battlefields of western Europe. Initially, these forces, transported to the Continent as fast as they were raised and as shipping facilities would allow, lacked the most essential weapons of the armies then at war, namely, artillery, tanks, and aircraft. Their plight was made worse by the fact that, at home, most ordnance and munitions plants were not prepared to go
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