US Doughboy 1916-19

Hoff, Thomas A., illustrated by Adam Hook. US Doughboy 1916-19. Oxford, UK: Osprey, 2008. Softcover, illustrated, 64pp., ISBN: 978-1-84176-676-8.
Review by Peter L. Belmonte

In this book, author Thomas A. Hoff tells the history of American infantrymen during the World War I, while noting, “with the exceptions of some aspects of training and actual combat, these experiences can be extrapolated to cover that of any member of a combat arms formation” (p. 4). Thus most of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF), who were not infantrymen, is technically not covered in this book. The narrative, however, is applicable in a general sense. Hoff, is a college history teacher, World War I re-enactor, and part-time Chicago police detective. His enthusiasm for the subject is evident in this book.

Hoff tells the story of these infantrymen by relating the experiences of Kurt Schneider, a fictitious American draftee from Chicago, as he progresses through training with the 86th Division and then combat with the 33rd Division. Hoff uses Schneider as a composite representation of American infantrymen during the war. As we follow Kurt through his military service, we learn about his uniform and weapons, his training and tactics, and his experiences in combat. For Kurt, this was mainly in the little known action at Hamel on 4 July 1918 and the 33rd Division’s action during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. Hoff notes differences in tactics and training emphasis among the Allies, as well as differences in weaponry. The author also covers daily life and routine, including off-duty activities. Hoff also includes a brief section about World War I museums and re-enacting.

There are a few minor errors. For example, Hoff states: “The 86th Division, Kurt’s original formation, never did achieve combat readiness and deploy to Europe” (p. 15). In fact, the 86th Division deployed to France as a fully ready division in September 1918; however upon arrival it was sidelined and used for replacements. These minor issues do not detract from Hoff’s easy narrative style of writing.

Most of the many photographs in this book are published for the first time here, and this should please readers who want to see some “new” images of the American experience. Military artist Adam Hook’s eight color plates are well executed and a nice addition to the narrative. The author includes a brief select bibliography, glossary, and commentary on the color plates.

This book is highly recommended as a fine, concise introduction to the topic for those newly studying it. Others will want to go onto meatier works such as Richard Faulkner’s Pershing’s Crusaders: The American Soldier in World War I (The University Press of Kansas, 2017).

Peter L. Belmonte is a retired U.S. Air Force officer, author, and historian. A veteran of Operation Desert Storm, he holds a master’s degree in history from California State University, Stanislaus. He has published articles, book chapters, reviews, and papers about immigration and military history. Pete’s books include: Italian Americans in World War II (Arcadia, 2001), Days of Perfect Hell: The U.S. 26th Infantry Regiment in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, October-November, 1918 (Schiffer, 2015), Forgotten Soldiers of World War I: America’s Immigrant Doughboys (with Alexander F. Barnes, Schiffer, 2018), Play Ball! Doughboys and Baseball during the Great War (with co-authors Alexander F. Barnes and Samuel O. Barnes, Schiffer Books, 2019), Chicago-Area Italians in World War I: A Case Study of Calabrians (Fonthill Media, 2019), and United States Army Depot Brigades in World War I (with co-author Alexander F. Barnes, McFarland, 2021). He is also working on a multi-volume history of Italian Americans in World War I. You may see his books at his webpage: https://www.amazon.com/author/peter.belmonte.