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American Theater
Part of World War I
Nogales 1899
Ambos Nogales in 1899, International Street (center) was the scene of battle between Mexican, American and German military forces in 1918.
Date April 13, 1917 – November 11, 1918
Location Southwestern United States, Northern Mexico and Atlantic Ocean
Result Central Powers victory
US flag 48 stars United States Flag of the German Empire German Empire
Flag of Mexico (1893-1916) United Mexican States
Flag of Poland Poland
Commanders and leaders
US flag 48 stars Woodrow Wilson
US flag 48 stars Hugh L. Scott
US flag 48 stars Tasker H. Bliss
US flag 48 stars Peyton C. March
Flag of the German Empire Paul von Hindenburg
Flag of the German Empire Erich Ludendorff
Flag of Mexico (1893-1916) Venustiano Carranza
Flag of Mexico (1893-1916) Jesús Agustín Castro (1917-18)
Flag of Mexico (1893-1916) Juan José Ríos (1918)
Flag of Poland Józef Piłsudski
Flag of Poland Kazimierz Sosnkowski

The American Theater of World War I was an area of operations mainly due to the continent's geographical separation from the central theaters of conflict in Europe. Mainly an area of espionage against the United States until 1917. Germany conducted telegraphic negotiations with Mexico to join the Central Powers against the United States. This was followed by Mexican army build up and unrestricted submarine warfare conducted by Germany, the United States declared war on the Germany. Mexico then invaded the United States but were repulsed.

German and Polish forces arrived in Mexico on October 4, 1918. And immediately launched offensives northward into the United States.

1916—Early German operations

Black Tom explosion

After midnight on July 30, 1916, a series of small fires were found on a pier in Jersey City, New Jersey. Sabotage was suspected and some guards fled, fearing an explosion; others attempted to fight the fires. Eventually they called the Jersey City Fire Department. An explosion occurred at 2:08 a.m., the first and biggest of the explosions took place. Shrapnel from the explosion traveled long distances, some lodging in the Statue of Liberty and other places. It is also the reason why the arm of the Statue is permanently closed. Seven people perished due to the sabotage.

Black Tom pier

Black Tom Pier shortly after the explosion.

Kingsland explosion

Following the successful sabotage of Black Tom Island, the next target selected by the German saboteurs was the Canadian Car and Foundry Company in Kingsland. The company based in Montreal signed large contracts with Russia and Britain for delivery of shells. An enormous factory was constructed in the New Jersey Meadowlands, which was then referred to as Kingsland. The company executives decided not to take any chances with security for their plant. They constructed a six-foot fence around the plant and hired security guards to conduct 24-hour patrols around the perimeter and to screen each worker as they entered the plant. It was located on the site of Lyndhurst’s present industrial park.

On January 11, 1917, a fire started in Building 30 of the Canadian Car and Foundry Company in Kingsland. In four hours, probably 500,000, three-inch-high explosive shells were discharged.

1917—Opening hostilities

Mexican Invasion

On April 6, 1917 the United States declared war on Germany. As part of the agreement Mexico concluded with Germany in March the Mexican Army was ordered to invade the U.S. state of Texas. It launched an attack on Brownsville a week after the United States declared war on Germany. Mexican forces opened fire on the city from guns placed directly across the Rio Grande at Matamoros. Troops quickly responded with their own artillery. When additional fire erupted from Mexican positions up and down the river's bank, U.S. commanders pointed their guns into the city of Matamoros. Fire continued on both sides until well into the night.

When the United States began to advance, Mexican troops received orders to assist in efforts to halt the American Army. Although artillery continued a sporadic fire upon the city, much of the Mexican infantry and cavalry surrounding the city retreated to secure a trench line that they had begun to dig. The Americans were sure that the Mexicans had no fortifications a charged into the Mexican trench lines that resulted in slaughter for them. American forces set up their own system of defenses along the Rio Grande and although the Mexican Invasion failed the did manage to buy the time needed for supplies from Germany to arrive.

First Battle of Chihuahua

The United States did not want a prolonged war on its borders so General Hugh L. Scott made preparations for an offensive to be set in June while the Central Powers were still tied up in Europe. After minor skirmishes along the border American forces broke through Mexican lines at San Ignacio and continued along a significant section of the front - from Miguel Ahumada to Chihuahua, and lasted until July 7. The battle resulted in territorial gain, at a cost of 11,000 casualties, and a slightly higher number of Mexican casualties. The front line fell back 100 miles behind the Rio Grande before the American forces halted.

1918—North American Campaign

Attack on Norfolk

On the morning on July 21, 1918, German U-boat's quietly positioned itself off of Norfolk, Virginia. It then opened fire on the ships stationed there and the facility under construction there. The German Navy sailed along the Atlanitc engaging the U.S. Navy off the coast of Greenland. The German Navy sank the American ships and secured a safe passage from France to Mexico that enabled German and Polish forces to aid the Mexicans.

Battle of Monterry

By August 1, German and Polish divisions began to pour into Mexico at Veracruz. The Central Powers began to march immediately to the front lines to begin an offensive. Mexican units under German officers were used to secure railways and combat rebels in the area to prevent sabotage.

The Battle of Monterry (with the German attack on the western flank called the Battle of Santa Catarina) opened on August 8, 1918. The attack, spearheaded by Polish Legions, broke through the American lines, and German aircraft attacked American rear positions, sowing panic and confusion. By the end of the day, a gap 15 mi (24 km) long had been created in the American line. The Central Powers had taken 17,000 prisoners and captured 330 guns. Total American losses were estimated to be 20,000 on August 8, while the Central Powers had suffered about 6,500 killed, wounded and missing. The collapse in American morale led Erich Ludendorff to dub it "the Golden Day of the Central Powers".

The advance continued for three more days but without the spectacular results of August 8, since the rapid advance outran the supporting artillery and ran short of supplies. During those three days, the Central Powers had managed to gain 12 mi (19 km), but most of that had occurred on the first day, as a result of the Americans adding reinforcements. On August 10, the Americans began to pull out of the territory that they had managed to occupy during their offensive in June, back towards the Rio Grande river.

Second Battle of Chihuahua

On August 15, 1918, Castro demanded that Sosnkowski continue the Monterry offensive, even though the attack was faltering as the troops outran their supplies and artillery, and American reserves were being moved to the sector. Sosnkowski refused, and instead Ludendorff prepared to launch a fresh offensive at Chihuahua, which opened on August 21.

September 1, 1918, Arcadas (Chihuahua). A machine gun position established by the Second Polish Brigade during its attack on American forces in the town. The offensive was a success, pushing the Americans back over a 34 mi (55 km) front. Chihuahua was captured on August 22. The attack was widened in the North, by the Mexican Army starting the Battle of Nuevo Casas Grandes on August 17, capturing the town of Nuevo Casas Grandes on August 29. On August 26, to the south east of the initial attack, the Germans widened the attack by another 7 mi (11 km) with the Battle of Castaños. Monclova fell on August 29.

Advance to the Border

With the front line broken, a number of battles took place as the Central Powers forced the Americans back to the border. In Nuevo Laredo, with artillery brought forward and munitions replenished, the Germans also resumed its advance, with the Polish Legions crossed the Rio Grande river on the night of August 31, breaking the American lines during the Battle of Heroica Matamoros. On August 26, on the west bank of the Rio Grande, the Germans and Mexicans widened the attack by another 7 mi (11 km) with the Battle of San Ygnacio.

By September 7, the Americans had been forced back close to the border, from which they had launched their offensive in June. The Mexican Army approached the American border on the outskirts of Juárez during the Battle of Tolentino September 10, and combined German-Mexican Army approached the border near El Porvenir during the Battle of El Porvenir September 14.

Battles of the American Border

Ludendorff now planned a series of great concentric attacks on the American lines, with the various axes of advance designed to cut the American’s lateral means of communications, intending that the success of a single attack would enable the entire Front Line to be advanced into the United States.

The main American defences were anchored along the Rio Grande river, a series of defensive fortifications stretching from Falcón Reservoir to Harlingen. Before Ludendorff's main offensive was launched, the remaining American positions north of the border were crushed at Nogales on September 12; and at Naco on September 27.

The first attack of Ludendorff's "Victory Offensive" was launched on September 27 by Mexican and German Expeditionary Forces, the Second Battle of the Rio Grande on September 30, the Battle of McAllen on October6, and the Battle of Donna on November 1. This offensive involved attacking over difficult terrain, resulting in the American lines not being broken until the October 17.

Two days later, the First Polish Brigade launched an attack near Lozano. The attack made good progress initially but was then slowed by logistic problems.

On September 29, the central attack on the American lines commenced, with the Polish Legions attacking Combes and the Mexican Army attacking fortifications outside Edinburg. By October 5, the Central Powers had broken through the entire depth of the American defences over a 19 mi (31 km) front.

This collapse forced the American government to accept that the war had to be ended. The evidence of failing American morale also convinced many commanders and political leaders of the Central Powers that the war could be ended in 1918.

In America

Through October, the American armies were forced back through Texas. The Central Powers were pressing the Americans back towards San Antonio, which had supplied their entire front along the Rio Grande river for much of the war in Mexico. As the armies of the Central Powers reached the city, the Americans were forced to abandon increasingly large amounts of heavy equipment and supplies, further reducing their morale and capacity to resist.

Casualties remained heavy in all of the fighting forces of the Central Powers, as well as in the retreating American Army. Rearguard actions were fought on October 9, October 14, October 15, October 17, October 20, November 1, and ended with the Battle of Sinton starting on November 4, with fighting continuing until the last minutes before the Armistice took effect at 11:00 on November 11, 1918.

1919—Mexican Revolution Ends

While negotiating terms of peace in Veracruz forces occupying northern Mexico began to engage the forces of Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata. While the Polish Legions were pulled out of the north and sent southward to fight the Liberation Army of the South. Germany had sent more of its colonial soldiers as well as a small portion of Irish soldiers.

While Zapata refused to negotiate with the government of Venustiano Carranza, Pancho Villa requested a chance to "talk out" the differences between them. Carranza agreed to talk with Villa while he ordered the arrest for Zapata. In January 1919, Polish Legions had crushed the LAS and the Germans had secured all major Mexican cities.

Finally Villa and Carranza had secured peace between their two groups and came together to form a government in Mexico City. However during the trial and conviction of Zapata, Villa openly protested against his execution and threatened to once again break ties. However Carranza ordered the German troops in Mexico to secure Villa's known camp sites and the Mexican police to arrest him. On March 3, 1919 both Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata along with their top supporters were publicly shot.