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A War to End All Wars...


At 1057:30 on 11 November 1918, Battery 4 of the U.S. Navy Railway Gun Unit fired a 14-inch shell timed to hit a German target over 20 miles away seconds before the cease-fire went into effect at 1100 that same day, thus bringing an end to what had been hitherto, the bloodiest, most costly, and destructive war in human history. Between the time the Armistice was signed—around 0500 that morning—and when the cease-fire went into effect at 1100, over 3,000 more soldiers on both sides were killed and over 8,000 wounded as bitter fighting continued.


The exact number of people killed and wounded in World War I will never be known, particularly those who were killed on the Eastern Front before Czarist Russia collapsed and the Bolshevik government sued for peace. Estimates vary widely depending on the source, but somewhere on the order of nine to ten million military personnel died during the war and another seven to eight million civilians perished. France, Germany, Russia, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire all lost more than a million soldiers, and the United Kingdom and its dominions lost more than a million. The United States suffered 53,402 combat deaths, the vast majority of them U.S. Army personnel killed in the final three months of the war; in terms of casualties per month, this was the bloodiest period in U.S. military history. Of the U.S. battle losses among the country’s sea services, the Marine Corps suffered 2,461 killed and 9,520 wounded, and the Navy suffered 431 killed and 819 wounded. The U.S. Coast Guard, which was attached to the Navy during the war, lost over 121 men in action, thereby suffering proportionately the greatest loss of any U.S. service. The Navy would lose an armored cruiser (to a submarine-laid mine), a destroyer (to a submarine torpedo), and a number of armed transports and smaller vessels to enemy action during the war. Of the 178 German submarines lost during the conflict, only one was confirmed sunk by the U.S. Navy, although numerous others were damaged or, more importantly, driven away from convoys of troops and critical war materiel by U.S. destroyers, submarine chasers, and, late in the war, aircraft.


The most significant contribution of the U.S. Navy during the Great War was the escort and transport of two million U.S. soldiers to France, the great majority in the last six months of the war, with almost no loss to German submarines. This was accomplished with the significant assistance of the British Royal Navy. By July 1918, U.S. troops were arriving in France at a rate of about 10,000 per day, roughly half in U.S. shipping and half in other Allied shipping. Although the U.S. Army had significant success on the battlefield against the now-diminished German forces, it was the German High Command's realization that there was nothing it could do to stem the tide of an overwhelming number of U.S. troops that caused the Germans to sue for an armistice.


Learn More

The Naval History and Heritage Command commemorated the 100th anniversary of the Navy's experiences in World War I with a document-a-day project starting with the anniversary of the United States' entry into the war on 6 April 2017 through the anniversary of Armistice Day on 11 November 2018. The documents allowed visitors to this webpage a chance to see the war through the eyes of many of the the key U.S. and Allied naval participants. Visit the Documentary History link below to view the full collection of this fascinating archival material. Other links will direct you to additional Great War resources including photos, period art, and publications.