Air University Press


U.S. Go Home: The U.S. Military in France, 1945–1968

  • Published

U.S. Go Home: The U.S. Military in France, 1945–1968 by M. David Egan and Jean Egan. Schiffer Publishing, 2022, 608 pp.

U.S. Go Home is a twofold adventure for readers. First, it offers a nuanced view of life for Americans in post-World War II France, as known on a personal level by authors M. David Egan and Jean Egan. David Egan was stationed at Trois-Fontaines in northeastern France as commander of the 39th Ordnance Company in the early 1960s. Second, it is a thoroughly-sourced monograph, as the Egans channel Edward Gibbon and his six-volume work, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, to detail and then detail some more the who, what, where, and when of the US military presence in a country that was the keystone of European Cold War defense. At 608 pages, the level of such detail is both extraordinary and pedantic. Indeed, as an example, a reader learns the address of the dependent school at Fontainebleau (Villa Lavaurs at 88, rue St.-Honoré), the cost of a school lunch there in 1952 (30 cents), and how and where American student drivers were tested (“In Spring 1966, Compagnie républicaine de sécurité personnel arranged red and white striped traffic cones to form a large figure-eight driving circuit behind the warehouse and hospital buildings at Lariboisiére”) (201).

Unfortunately, however, the why is lacking. Why did France force the United States to leave in the late 1960s, after nearly two decades of infrastructure and supply buildup following World War II? The subject of strategic cooperation is broached in the second chapter of the book, where the authors discuss the American and Allied decision to station US troops permanently in Europe and rearm Europe to deter the Soviet Union, and the essential leadership of General Dwight Eisenhower to the nascent NATO buildup. In a war with the Soviets, NATO expected to have to fall back to the Rhine River and launch a counterattack through France’s Rhône valley. As for specificity on why the United States was in France, the chapter begins with analytical promise: “The enormous US Army logistics system and the US Air Force’s forward-based, nuclear-capable jet aircraft that would be located in France were essential components of the military strength of the new [NATO]” (31). Yet any further discussion of the Franco-American relationship and its deterioration is postponed until the book’s final chapter.

In that chapter, the authors chronicle the United States’ abrupt change in direction to conclude in its forced withdrawal from France. Likewise, the Egans themselves make an abrupt change: whereas, seemingly every installation, exercise, and daily life anecdote are covered in minutiae for nearly 500 pages, an analysis of why French President Charles de Gaulle ordered the withdrawal is a mere four pages. The reader learns that a series of social and political blunders and miscommunications, including French concerns about sovereignty infringements and the US closing of 27 installations in France, resulted in de Gaulle announcing on March 7, 1966, that the United States must be out of France by April 1, 1967. (Interestingly, de Gaulle’s demand matched Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara’s own plan to withdraw US forces from France.) In Operation FRELOC (“fast relocation”), the United States faced an unprecedented challenge: withdrawing more than 70,000 personnel and dependents, relocating 728,000 tons of matériel, rebasing more than 180 Air Force aircraft, closing more than 190 installations, and moving eight headquarters. The Egans conclude that Operation FRELOC was successful “[b]y most measures” (508). They also offer 10 reasons why the withdrawal weakened the defense of Europe, the main reason being lost strategic depth.

Despite the omission of the rationale behind the US withdrawal, the book—titled after communist propaganda from a Korean War disinformation campaign—provides a well-researched history of the US military in France. The first chapter sets the stage by describing the damage from World War II, the redeployment and occupation of US troops, and the Berlin blockade and airlift. The Korean War and its impact on US forces is highlighted, but notably and seemingly unnecessarily, the Soviet-American air war in Korea is introduced to the unsuspecting reader. The chapter concludes with the formation of NATO and the 1948 bilateral agreement to station US troops in France. The latter is stated as fact with the analysis confined to a sentence: “France . . . was militarily weak and depended on NATO and the United States for its security” (28).

The authors then highlight the importance of France. With its Atlantic ports and distance from the Soviet Union, France was to “become the operational headquarters and logistical hub for the defense of the West” (67). Interestingly, but perhaps unnecessarily, the third chapter diverts to chronicle the training and Atlantic crossing of 1950s Army personnel. France offered 39 Army and 21 Air Force locations to the United States to establish a permanent presence. France was also instrumental to NATO war plans, as it approved the locations for 14 dispersed operating bases (DOBs), which had the purpose of preventing the Soviets from destroying entire wings. Chapter 4 then turns to the struggle in terms of labor, materials, and political disputes to construct US military facilities and infrastructure in France.

In chapter 5, the Egans provide a historical account of the selection of Camp des Loges for US European Command headquarters, the service of the Counter Intelligence Corps, and the US diplomatic, military presence in the Paris area. Chapter 6 focuses on the establishment of Allied Air Forces Central Europe (AAFCE) at Camp Guynemer in Avon and Allied Forces Central Europe (AFCENT) at Fontainebleau. NATO routinely conducted exercises to practice aerial combat, nuclear bombing runs, and coordinated air-land operations. The chapter concludes with de Gaulle notifying NATO in 1966 that France would withdraw from Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE).

Chapter 7 is about military installations at Orléans, including the US Army Communications Zone (ComZ) headquarters at Caserne Coligny. ComZ was an organized zone of logistical installations, designed to support forward-based combat troops in Germany. Chapter 8 details the location and purpose of medical facilities in France, including the construction of dual-purpose standby hospitals—barracks and classrooms during peacetime and hospital wards during wartime—and the subsequent haggling over the sale price of those hospitals as the United States withdrew from France in 1967.

Chapter 9 focuses on the Advance Section (ADSEC), tasked to supply US troops during a crisis. The chapter starts with the establishment of ADSEC headquarters at Caserne Maginot in Verdun and then describes the dozen major depots extending eastward from Vitry-le-François to Metz. Chapter 10 covers the west coast of France, where military officials planned to use ports at Bordeaux, La Rochelle, Nantes, Brest, Cherbourg, and Lorient to offload supplies in time of war. Forty-eight offshore discharge exercises were conducted to determine the best methods to quickly offload and avoid Soviet targeting. The chapter includes an interesting diversion on the filming of the war classic The Longest Day on an island off the coast of La Rochelle. Chapter 11 covers the Base Section (BASEC) installations, which included ports and depots in Bordeaux, La Rochelle, and Poitiers. BASEC was responsible for supplying war reserves to Seventh Army in Germany.

Certainly, U.S. Go Home is an impressively researched monograph. No fact concerning logistics or the individuals involved seems to be left out, as evident until the end with the book’s concluding sentence: “First Lt Robert A. Hefferman, Commanding Officer of the 77th Trans Co from Ingrandes, rode ‘shotgun’ on the last FRELOC truck out of France” (519). The book is a culmination of more than 400 interviews and research from 50 archives. Most chapters have over 200 references, and the reference section of the book totals 63 pages.

Yet to the dismay of any student of international relations or Cold War history, the overabundance of research does not carry over to the sentiment behind the book’s title, U.S. Go Home. Four pages of analysis and one top 10 list represent a dearth of evidence for why the United States withdrew from France. It is clear that the communists in France wanted the United States out, but there is no mention of the impact of these domestic malcontents on de Gaulle’s decision-making. In fact, as noted, when the United States withdrew, there was a significant negative impact on the French economy. The reader is left to fill in the gaps about why the United States went home: Was de Gaulle’s decision based solely on US missteps? Or was it based on domestic political factors? Or both? Perhaps it was part of de Gaulle’s grand strategy?

Still, in terms of the who, what, where, and when of the 22 years the US military was in France, U.S. Go Home sets the standard. It is definitive, unmatched, and a necessary inclusion in the scholarship of military history.

Bradley F. Podliska, PhD

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."

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