In 1917, after several years of bloody stalemate along the Western Front, the entrance of America’s fresh, well-supplied forces into the Great War—a decision announced by President Woodrow Wilson in April and provoked largely by Germany’s blatant attacks on American ships at sea—proved to be a major turning point in the conflict. American naval forces arrived in Britain on April 9, only three days after the formal declaration of war. On June 13, the American Expeditionary Force (AEF), commanded by the celebrated General John J. Pershing, reached the shores of France.
By the time the war ended in November 1918, more than 2 million American soldiers had served on the battlefields of Western Europe and more than 50,000 of them had lost their lives. The last combat divisions left France in September 1919, though a small number of men stayed behind to supervise the identification and burial of their compatriots in military cemeteries. An American occupation force of 16,000 men was sent to Germany, to be based in the town of Coblenz, as part of the post-war Allied presence on the Rhine that had been determined by the terms of the Treaty of Versailles.
In 1923, after four years in Germany, the occupation troops were ordered home after President Harding succeeded Wilson in 1921 and announced a desire to return to normalcy after the disruptions of wartime. Meanwhile, the bitterness of the German population, demoralized by defeat and what they saw as the unfairly harsh terms of peace—of which the American occupation was a part—grew ever stronger.