Source Documents
us army 20th engineers  : surfboard, france 1919. 

US Army 20th Engineers  : Surfboard, France 1919.
Twentieth Engineers, France, 1917-1918-1919. 
Edited by
Simmons, Perez and Davies, Alfred H.
Twentieth Engineers Publishing Association. Portland, Oregon [1920?]

Hathi Trust


Even a surfboard was ordered for one of the battalion commanders, and it was duly and promptly turned out and delivered.

Although this is an incredibly brief report, it appears very plausible that a US Army officer
had a surfboard shaped,and surfed it, in France during the closing days of the First World War, 1918-1919.
It is possible that his enthusiasm to procure a board was generated when he recognised the surfing potential of one of the local beaches, given that there were four battalion headquarters located adjacent to the south-west coast of France (see map).
The demands on the Engineers would have diminished with the approaching Armistice in November 1918, and were likely even more relaxed for those who continued to serve in France up to late August, 1919.
Certainly suitable sized quality timber would have been readily available for milling and the officer would have had access to a team of high quality craftsman, no doubt able to produce a suitable board given a general description and a basic sketch, or even a photograph.

The book does not have page numbers.


The work of the 20th Engineers in France was one of the best examples of the value of industrial training in furnishing citizen
soldiers well qualified for meeting one of the critical emergencies of the great war.
General Pershing had been in France but a few weeks before he was impressed with the necessity of a special organization for supplying the American army with the vast quantity of timber needed in its operations at and behind the front.
The 20th Engineers was the answer to this problem.
It was organized largely from men trained in the forest industries of America.
These men brought to the colors not only the patriotism of the citizen but the adaptability, the physical hardiness, and the rough and ready mechanical skill of the American woodsmen.
They knew the work which they were called upon to perform; and they put into it not only the woodcraft whichthey had acquired but a spirit of backing up the fighting dough-boys which was unexcelled in the Expeditionary Force.
W. B. Greeley,
Lieut.-Col., 20th Engineers.
The Engineers in France

The Corps of Engineers was represented in France by the Division of Construction and Forestry, the Division of Military Engineering and Engineer Supplies, and the Division of Light Railways and Roads.
On the day the Armistice became effective the Engineers - the largest of all the technical services in the American Expeditionary Forces - numbered 174,000 men, distributed as follows:


The accompanying map of France shows the status of the regiment under war conditions, on Nov. 11, 1918.


The A. E. F. was in its infancy when, on November 26th, 1917, the first board was sawed in France by the forest troops.
And on late in August, 1919, when the last of the Twentieth Engineers sailed for home, the A. E. F. had reached a withered old age.
In the period of its service the regiment had spread widely throughout the forested regions of France, had got out the


lumber required, closed up its affairs in a businesslike way, and left behind it a unique and clean record.

The first operations were started in the pineries of the Landes, in the valley of the Loire, and in the softwood forests of the Vosges and Jura mountains.
Many of the operations were started temporarily with small mills obtained in France, which were overhauled and made to increase their rated capacities several times over.
As rapidly as American equipment was received the French affairs were discarded and one of three types of our own
mills put into service.
The largest unit was a permanent and powerful steam plant rated at 20,000 feet in 10 hours and there were two portable mills used — a portable steam mill of 10,000 feet capacity and a light bolter mill driven by steam or gas tractor and rated at 5,000 feet in 10 hours.
Standard gauge railroads up to three miles in length were built at two-thirds of the operations for connecting the mill docks with the French lines.
Light railway of three-foot, meter, and 60 centimeter gauge were laid in great amounts with steam or gas locomotives, horses, or mules to pull the log trains.
In the Vosges a narrow gauge road 4,000 feet long and with an average grade of 35 per cent was handled by a donkey engine.
Much of the logging was done with horses and mules with log wagons, spool carts, or high wheels, and motor trucks and tractors were often used.
The current monthly needs of the Army rose to 50,000,000 feet of lumber and timbers, 250,000 railroad ties, 6,500 pieces of piling and cribbing, 1,500,000 poles and entanglement stakes, and over 100,000 cords of fuelwood.
With the exception of a small quantity of piling and timbers for the Bassens deck, none of the great supply of forest products came from the United States.


Coming after the Canadians had become established in the woods of France, the Americans were obliged to scout and acquire stumpage in more and more inaccessible locations as time went on.
In the summer of 1918 it was necessary to push out into the southern Jura region and the Central Plateau of France to obtain the required amounts of standing timber.
Preparations for the St. Miheil and Argonne Drives kept the regiment at it with even greater intensity, ties and planks and stakes being needed in immense quantities and in a tremendous hurry.
Leaves were hardly considered during the tense months of 1918.
Wagon tongues, wood for artificial limbs, aircraft spruce, tent pins, bunk lumber, were special jobs done by the regiment.
At first many of the outfits were under canvas, but as the second winter approached squad houses were made.
Machine shops, kitchens, Y.M.C.A. huts, stables and in fact everything down to furniture and picture frames was made at the camps by the men.
Even a surfboard was ordered for one of the battalion commanders, and it was duly and promptly turned out and delivered.

Following the posting of this article on the Surf Blurb in March 2017, Hervé Manificat noted that it had been
 posted on a French surf site which added several photographs, including the one shown right.

Type of wagon used by the American Forestry Engineers
 in France.

Note the size of the load.

Twentieth Engineers,
France, 1917-1918-1919. 
Edited by Simmons, Perez
and Davies, Alfred H.
Twentieth Engineers Publishing Association.
Portland, Oregon, 1920.

Hathi Trust


Geoff Cater (2017) : US Army 20th Engineers : Surfboard, France 1919.