And You Have My Axe: The American Lumberjacks Of World War I

Published: 25 April 2024

By Travis Pike
via the Sandboxx website


Tactics win battles, but logistics win wars. It’s tough to argue that the United States military doesn’t have the best logistics in the world – two world wars proved that Americans can get you what you need when you need it.

With Arbor Day right around the corner, it’s the perfect time to remember the Forestry Engineers of the American Expeditionary Force and their contributions to the WWI war effort. These lumberjacks played a vital role in the logistics of the war-fighting effort.

Even before entering the war, America had been sending lumber overseas, and the Spruce Production Division of the United States Army had worked tirelessly to provide wood to America’s allies. However, it took time to ship the wood to Europe, and the shipping routes were patrolled by German submarines looking to sink ships coming through.

So, at the behest of British and French forces, the U.S. Army raised two regiments of Forestry Engineers when it joined the war. And to simplify logistics and improve the time it took to get wood to the places it needed to be, the Army made Forestry Engineers a part of the Allied Expeditionary Force.

The 10th And 20th Forestry Engineers Go To War And Get To Work

These men were all volunteers and came from many races. Recruitment was done through the United States Forest Service and the earliest battalions were filled with men from the Forestry Service and the civilian forestry industry.

Although the Army made sure to teach them basic soldiering skills that wasn’t their focus, instead, their preoccupation was turning trees into usable lumber.

Recruits for the 10th Engineers trained at American University in Washington DC. By September 10, the first of the 10th Engineers had set sail to Europe. On November 25, the American Lumberjacks began operating their first sawmill in France, and four days later, the first lumber was produced by an American unit. While these men weren’t on the front lines, a group from the 6th Engineer Battalion lost over 90 men when a German U-boat sunk their ship off the coast of Ireland

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