Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Lives and Treasure: What World War I Cost the United States


The United States mobilized about 4.800 million men in World War I. About 2.086 million went overseas, and about 1.390 million saw combat. Although it is true that America’s losses paled in comparison with those of the European combatants, and were substantially less than those America experienced during the American Civil War, they were nonetheless substantial. About 204,000 Americans suffered non-mortal wounds, and about 117,000 died. Of those who died it is estimated that about 53,000 died in battle, and about 63,000 died from [other causes] . . .


Compared to the total U.S. population in 1920 of 106,466,000 or the total labor force of 42,434,000 these numbers may look relatively small: deaths were only .11 percent of the population and only .28 percent of the workforce. But they had a major psychological impact, not only on the families and friends of those killed or wounded, but on the country as a whole, certainly enough to produce strong reservations about any future involvement in a European war.

The most detailed and thoughtful effort to measure the economic costs of the loss of life and other costs of the war is John Maurice Clark’s (1931) "The Cost of the World War to the American People." Indeed, Clark’s study seems to stand alone. There has been no similarly exhaustive study of the impact of World War II. In part, the lack of a similar study for World War II reflects the revolution of ideas held by economists. Although Clark believed that increased spending could have a multiplier effect on aggregate demand (Dorfman 1970), his analysis was essentially neo-classical: resources allocated to the war effort had alternative uses. By the end of World War II most U.S. economists were Keynesians. Wartime spending increased total GDP by more than the initial spending: the war had, from an economic point of view, almost no costs. The war paid for itself by increasing total output through the multiplier process. In World War I, moreover, the U.S. economy was already at full employment when active American involvement began. World War II was different. Although the economy was expanding rapidly in 1941, there was still considerable slack when the U.S. entered the war.


To estimate the costs of the war Clark began with the Treasury’s estimate of total expenditures by the Federal government to 30 June 1921 ($27.2 billion) and then made certain additions and subtractions to bring the total closer to one reflecting resource costs.  Clark (1970, 112, and passim) added (1) the worth of foreign obligations, $7.5 billion, on the grounds that these represented output transferred during the war (and unlikely to be returned later), (2) an adjustment to bring the wages of persons in government service into line with what they could have earned in the civilian sector of $.2 billion, and (3) miscellaneous additions of another $.2 billion. Clark then subtracted (1) interest on war debt of $2.7 billion on the grounds that it was a transfer rather than a use of resources, and (2) part of the deficits of the Federal Railroad Administration of $1.2 billion on the grounds that these were a transfer from taxpayers to shippers. The net result was $31.2 billion. Additions of expenditures made by state governments and private organizations brought the total to a round figure of about $32 billion. 

Sources:  Article: "UNTIL IT’S OVER, OVER THERE: THE U.S. ECONOMY IN WORLD WAR I"; Table: Economic History Association; both by Hugh Rockoff, 2004
Working Paper 10580 NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH


Friday, July 22, 2016

A Roads Classic: Your World War One Poetry Library

Your World War I Poetry Library
Recommended by Professor David Beer, PhD

To enhance one's remembrance experience, there is nothing like reading some of the great verse created by those who served in the war or who were trying to understand it better.  Regular Roads contributor, David Beer, PhD, has made a lifetime study of the Great War's poetry.  For the September 2013 issue of our sister publication, Over the Top magazine, he contributed a full issue on some of the forgotten poets of the war, which also included his recommendations for experiencing the full range of  the poetry of the war.  Here is the full list, which he presents in a recommended reading sequence.

Click on cover to learn more and order from Amazon.com

(Note: You Will Need To Suppress Any Ad Blockers to View Slideshow)


Thursday, July 21, 2016

Honoring Captain Albert Ball, MC, DSO, VC (14 August 1896 – 7 May 1917)



Albert Ball joined the Sherwood Foresters at the outbreak of war but was disappointed at his assignment at home in Britain. He paid for his own flying instruction and joined the RFC in 1916. Starting out, he flew the BE-2 but was able to get into single-seat scouts, where he found his role in life.

After rapidly gaining 17 victories Ball was posted home in October 1916 and received much adulation in the press. He was the Royal Flying Corps's first hero after ultimately receiving the Distinguished Service Order with two bars (i.e., three awards) and the Military Cross. Later, he would posthumously receive the Victoria Cross.


Restless at home, he lobbied for return to combat and was assigned to 56 Squadron in February 1917, flying both Nieuport 17s and SE5s, which he preferred. His preference was for the latter with its twin guns and superior stability. Ball suggested a Lewis gun mount for the SE5s.

The circumstances of Ball's death are uncertain. On a mission near Annoeullin, 15 km SW of Lille, he emerged inverted from low clouds and crashed in a field. The Germans credited Lothar von Richthofen—the Red Baron's brother—but vertigo is a more likely explanation. 


Recognizing Ball's distinguished record, the Germans provided a military funeral. His grave remains in the German extension of the Annoeulin community cemetery—the only non-German burial—with a private memorial provided by his family. His father also purchased the field where Ball's plane had crashed and installed a marker which still stands.



Images Contributed by Steve Miller


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Gregori Rasputin: Ten New Things I Learned About History's Most Famous Russian



1.  There is actually a Grigori Rasputin Museum run by what seem to be serious collectors and archivists.  It stands in the Siberian hometown of the monk, Pokrovskoe, and is operated by Vladimir and Maria Smirnov. By the way, the Smirnovs are the source of the claim that Rasputin is history's most famous Russian. I am sure this has nothing to do with promoting the museum.

2.  The Smirnovs discovered Grigori's birth date in parish records to be 9 January 1869.

3. Rasputin had three children – daughters Matryona and Varya, and son Dmitry. As of 2012 he had one authenticated great-granddaughter still alive in Paris by the name of Laurance Io-Solovieff.  Naturally, there have been hundreds of claimants to be illegitimate descendants of him.

Rasputin Museum at Pokrovskoe

4. Rasputin was something of an early vegan, he abstained from eating meat or milk.

5. Although illiterate he knew the Holy Scripture by heart and recited it for both church officials and the Tsar's family.

6. The Smirnovs dispute the claim that Rasputin was poisoned with cyanide at one stage in his murder. They cite a corner's report that did not find any poison in his blood.

7.  His hometown folks loved him. He helped his neighbors, built a church there, and gave gingerbread to the kids.

Personal Artifacts at the Museum

8.  Like American gangster John Dillinger, the prodigiousness and preservation of Rasputin's penis is the source endless rumor and speculation.  

9. Two months before their murder, the former tsar and his family passed through Pokrovskoe and stood outside Grigori's house.

10.  Apparently, Rasputin founded a temperance society.

Sources:  The Moscow Times, Russia Beyond the Headlines

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

G.H.Q, Montreuil-sur-Mer
reviewed by Ron Drees


G.H.Q, Montreuil-sur-Mer
by Sir Frank Fox
Hardpress Publishing Company, 2016,(reprint)


. . . looking back, reflecting on all the woeful results that might have sprung from a careless blunder, from too great haste, from too deliberate hesitation, from over fear or over confidence, it is to be seen how fantastic, how abnormal was the life centred in that little walled town of Montreuil, the focus of a spider's web of wires, at one end of which were the soldiers in their trenches, at the other the workers of the world at their benches.
Frank Fox, intro.


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This is a reprinted account about the Great War written by a veteran, Sir Frank Fox, then a 42-year-old Australian amputee with a crippled left arm and profound deafness. Nonetheless, he earned an OBE (Military) and was mentioned in dispatches for his service in QMG's (Quarter Master General) Directorate at G. H. Q. (General Headquarters), the focus of this book. Combat is mentioned in only a general way and Haig barely at all but with reverence. Instead, Fox is concerned with the work of G.H.Q., its environment, logistical decisions and support of the Allies, horse rations, German thinking and decisions, and thoughts upon other aspects of the war. There are also statistics on munitions usage, train movements, and horses. This book is for those versed in the war, not the neophyte.

Montreuil-sur-Mer is a small French town. The only maps in the book—and the only ones needed—locate the town in far western France, about 80 miles from France's Atlantic coast. A peaceful place, it was chosen as the BEF HQ partially because it is not near anything, giving it a constructive isolation from the world. This allowed the staff to concentrate wholly on their work, and as he stressed, frequently there were no other activities possible because of work demands.

Written in what is almost a Victorian style, the text can be a bit of a slog, which at times doesn't even sound like the Great War, yet there are passages that give new insight to the support of the troops. Interestingly, for an Englishman, Fox makes the astounding statement that "…the actual final blow to the Germans' hopes was delivered when the United States of America declared war." Elsewhere in that chapter, Fox is quite complimentary about American troops.


General Haig Completes Inspection of the Troops at G.H.Q.

G.H.Q, Montreuil-sur-Mer is recommend reading for background information about the logistics and planning of the war effort that is generally not discussed elsewhere—but have patience with its wordiness. The details discussed here are useful and lead to a better understanding of the conduct of the Great War.

Ron Drees

Monday, July 18, 2016

Images of the First Day on the Somme Centenary Commemoration



The Somme Centenary Committee has published photos from the day long commemoration at various sites around the Somme battlefield.  Here are some images from the day's events.   There will be a daily event at noon at the Thiepval Memorial on each of the 141 anniversary days of the battle.  You may be interested to know that my group will be attending the ceremony on 19 August 2016 and will lay a wreath on behalf of our group, Valor Tours, Ltd.  and you all the readers of the various publications of Worldwar1.com  We will post photos of the event here.


The Day Started at Lochnagar Mine Crater

At 7:28 the Explosion of the Mine Was Commemorated by a Blast of Red Poppies

The Scottish Cairn Memorial at Contalmaison

Honor Guardsmen at Thiepval Memorial for the Noontime Ceremony


The Royal Horse Artillery Lent Support


Modern Visual Displays for the Thiepval Crowd




The Ceremony at Newfoundland Park at the Caribou Monument


Ulstermen Remembering the 36th Division's Trials on 1 July

Sunday, July 17, 2016

O Canada

O Canada, we stand on guard for thee

Canadians in the Trenches Somewhere on the Western Front

There are two astonishing details about the contribution of the Canadian Expeditionary Force in the Great War. The first is Canada's enormous per capita casualty count. From 1915 to 1918, a nation of barely 7,000,000 citizens lost 67,000 killed and 173,000 wounded. The second concerns the sheer number of battles in which Canadian units played a positive and sometimes decisive role. The list includes:

Canadian Machine Gunners, Vimy Ridge
  •  Neuve Chapelle
  •  Second Battle of Ypres
  •  Festubert and Givenchy
  •  Battle of St. Eloi, Mont Sorrel, Hill 62
  •  Battle of the Somme, Courcelette
  •  Vimy Ridge
  •  Hill 70, Lens
  •  Passchendaele
  •  Battle of Amiens
  •  Second Battle of Cambrai
  •  Return to Mons


Besides their legendary victory at Vimy Ridge, Canadian forces saved the day at Ypres in 1915 by plugging the gap in the Allied line with their attack from Kitchener Wood, and they played a prominent and effective role in the great turn-around battle at Amiens on 8 August 1918.

Canadian Forces Advancing During Battle of Amiens

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Recommended: Mark Steyn on the Meaning of the Red Poppy



For Remembrance Day and Veterans Day, we present this piece from the first 11 November after 11 September (as anthologized in Mark's book The Face of the Tiger). I can't precisely pinpoint the day when "the day that everything changed" changed again and consigned the post-9/11 era to history, but this is how it was in those first weeks of a new war:

On CNN the other day, Larry King asked Tony Blair what it was he had in his buttonhole. It was a poppy — not a real poppy, but a stylized, mass-produced thing of red paper and green plastic that, as the Prime Minister explained, is worn in Britain and other Commonwealth countries in the days before 11 November. They're sold in the street by aged members of the Royal British Legion to commemorate that moment 83 years ago today, when on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month the guns fell silent on the battlefields of Europe.

The poppy is an indelible image of that "war to end all wars," summoned up by a Canadian, Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae, in a poem written in the trenches in May 1915:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

Row on row on row. And, in between, thousands of poppies, for they bloom in uprooted soil. Sacrifice on the scale McCrae witnessed is all but unimaginable in the west today — in Canada, in Britain, even apparently in America, which instead of sending in the cavalry is now dropping horse feed for the Northern Alliance, in the hope they might rouse themselves to seize an abandoned village or two, weather permitting.

Nonetheless, though we can scarce grasp what they symbolize, this year the poppies are hard to find. Three Canadian provinces had sold out by last Monday, and by the time you read this the rest of the Royal Canadian Legion's entire stock of 14.8 million will likely be gone. That's not bad for a population that barely touches 30 million and includes large numbers of terrorist cells plus those students at Montreal's Concordia University who openly celebrated the attacks on the World Trade Center. Evidently the public has made a connection between 11 September and 11 November, though no one seems quite sure what is: A general expression of solidarity with the victims? Or a renewed respect for the men who gave their lives so we could get fat and complacent and read celebrity features about Britney?

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Continue reading the essay here:


http://www.steynonline.com/7285/remembrance

Friday, July 15, 2016

Remembering a Veteran: Hero, General and Fatality of the First Day on the Somme – Bertie Prowse

Brigadier-General Charles Bertie Prowse, DSO (1869–1916), commander of the 11th Infantry Brigade was the senior British officer killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme.  He had fought earlier at Le Cateau, the Battle of the Marne, and with distinction at the First Battle of Ypres. 

Elegant Prowse Point Cemetery just north of Ploegstreert Wood is the only cemetery in Ypres Salient named after an individual. The cemetery is the site of the stand by the 1st Battalion Hampshire Regiment and the 1st Battalion the Somerset Light Infantry in October 1914, which featured the heroism of (then) Major Prowse of the Somersets. 

His leadership in that action was of such a character that the location on future trench maps was simply designated as "Prowse Point." Succeeding units at the location started a cemetery and gave it the name of the location on their maps, likely having no familiarity with Prowse himself.

Prowse Point Cemetery

Meanwhile, the charismatic and inspiring Prowse rose from major to brigadier in nine months and in April 1915 was given command of the 11th Brigade, 4th Division. On 1 July 1916 the division attacked north of Beaumont Hamel and Prowse's men captured a German trench.  While attempting to re-establish his brigade headquarters in the trench, he was killed by machine gun fire from Ridge Redoubt.  He is buried at Louvencourt Military Cemetery on the Somme battlefield.

Be thou faithful unto death and I will give thee a crown of life.

Prowse's elder brother Captain Cecil Irby Prowse had died a month earlier when his ship the battlecruiser HMS Queen Mary was sunk at the Battle of Jutland.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

100 Years Ago: Bastille Day in Paris


One hundred years ago, despite having its army deeply involved in a double death-struggle – both at Verdun and on the Somme – the celebration of the Republic's great national holiday went on. At least one commentator noted that the celebration had a peculiar international feel. Certainly the images of the day's events reflect this. (The poster above from the day involves a fundraising relief effort at the Paris city hall.)


One or two Poilus surrounded by members of the Allies' forces.


This was the only photo I could find identifying a French unit in the parade. (I'm a bit suspicious that it might be an Italian unit, though.)


Scotsmen on parade.


The Parisians seem enchanted with the Sikhs of the Indian Army.


The fabled Russian Expeditionary Force put in an appearance.  There was no snow on their boots, however.




Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Major General William S. Graves and the American Expeditionary Force in Siberia

Contributed by John M. House

World War I was in its final months, though no one knew that was the case. One of the Allies was caught in the death throes of a civil war. American Doughboys were fighting alongside French and British soldiers in the trenches on the Western Front. America’s families were learning the pain of loss and worry over loved ones far away. The Great War was ending its fourth year. The date was 6 August 1918.  

Major General William S. Graves in Vladivostok, Siberia

A late evening meeting at a train station in the Midwest marked the start of a remarkable adventure that few Americans today know anything about. The details seem almost to come from a spy novel in which two men meet quietly in an out-of-the-way location to launch thousands of young men on an invasion of a foreign nation halfway around the world. The situation is murky. The threat is unclear. Intelligence is limited. Strong willed military and civilian leaders from the United States and its allies have argued for and against the invasion. Insufficient numbers of American or Allied soldiers are available for occupying the entire country.

Imagine the thoughts rolling through the mind of Major General William S. Graves, an 1889 graduate of the United States Military Academy and commander of the U.S. Army’s 8th Division headquartered at Camp Fremont, California. He arrives at the Kansas City, Missouri, train station at 10:00 p.m. after a two-day train ride from his duty station. The secretary of war Newton Baker has summoned him for a meeting. Time is short. Rather than meet at the Baltimore Hotel as planned the two men discuss a fateful decision at the train station. Baker tells Graves he will lead the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) that is deploying to Siberia. Baker also says, “If in the future you want to cuss anybody for sending you to Siberia, I am the man.” Graves receives a sealed envelope with a seven-page letter titled “Aide Memoire” dated 17 July 1918. This document provides an outline of American policy in Russia. Baker’s last instructions to Graves were, “Watch your step; you will be walking on eggs loaded with dynamite. God bless you and good-bye.” Such words would make anyone wonder just what they had been told to do. Graves would discover just how much dynamite was in those eggs in the months ahead. The American soldiers with him would also discover the truth in Secretary Baker’s warning.

Earlier in 1918, Major General Graves had been the executive assistant to the U.S. Army Chief of Staff, General Peyton C. March, who handpicked him for the Siberia assignment with the personal approval of the secretary of war. One of Graves’s assistants was Captain Robert L. Eichelberger, who would later rise to be a general officer himself. When Graves learned that he was to take command of a division to deploy overseas, he had Eichelberger select a division for the two of them to join. 

Therefore, Graves and Eichelberger found themselves reassigned to the 8th Division at Camp Fremont, near Palo Alto, California, in July 1918. Graves expected the division to deploy to Europe in late August. During their trip to California, Graves told Eichelberger that the government was considering sending soldiers to Siberia with him as the commander. Nonetheless, General March had assured Graves that he would go to Europe and not Siberia. Eichelberger would stay with Graves and accompany him to Siberia serving as chief of staff and intelligence officer at different times during the deployment as the AEF Siberia experienced the typical rotation in personnel rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel. Major Sidney Graves, the general’s son, also would deploy to Siberia. Obviously, General Graves’s plans to command in Europe changed. While Graves did not show his staff the complete “Aide Memoire” at one time, the document served as their guide to American policy throughout their stay in Siberia.

General Graves and the Command Staff, AEF Siberia

General Graves’s new mission would take him thousands of miles away to a land where few Americans had been and even fewer wanted to visit. He would have to balance the demands of allies and American officials with the needs of his soldiers and the human suffering of the people who lived in the region. Orders and morality would sometimes conflict. Throughout this mission, the instructions in the “Aide Memoire” would serve as a guide. Graves worked hard to achieve this balance so he could follow his orders and protect the innocent civilians in Siberia. The soldiers of the 27th Infantry Regiment Wolfhounds and the 31st Infantry Regiment Polar Bears provided the muscle when he needed it whether in combat or humanitarian support. Their sacrifices are not well known, but they are worth remembering.

The War Department leadership considered Major General Graves an outstanding officer, which led to his selection for this independent command in Siberia.  Unfortunately, his service there wrecked his career.  Graves later wrote about apparent communications by individuals in the State Department that he was a weak commander and ill suited for the missions he had. His lack of large-unit command was mentioned as an issue regarding his selection to lead the AEF Siberia. Negative reports from Russian newspapers were finding their way into the American press and reports within the government. Many of these reports accused the AEF soldiers of actually being Bolsheviks. Graves felt that this was mainly due to his decision not to support Kolchak in his efforts to establish a government.


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This concern over Bolshevik influence apparently became so severe that the American government began monitoring the actions of the AEF veterans. General Graves reported that about sixty AEF veterans and family members gathered for a dinner in November 1921 at the Commodore Hotel in New York. When an unknown man joined the group, a member of the committee who had organized the dinner inquired as to who he was. This new arrival showed a Department of Justice badge and informed the person questioning his presence that he was there under official orders and that no one should bother him. An inquiry to the hotel assistant manager after the dinner confirmed that the Department of Justice agent had shown the hotel personnel his badge and that they had no choice but to seat him as demanded. Graves was convinced that someone in the government dispatched this agent to observe and report on the actions and comments of the AEF Siberia veterans. After the Siberian intervention, Graves would command the 1st Division and the Panama Canal Zone. He provided testimony about the depravity of Semenov before the Senate in 1922.  Yet, even with this successful career, he would remain politically suspect until his death in 1940.

Extracted from Wolfhounds and Polar Bears: The American Expeditionary Force in Siberia, 1918 – 1920 by Colonel (USA Retired) John M. House


Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Faith in the Fight: Religion and the American Soldier in the Great War
reviewed by Margaret Spratt, PhD


Faith in the Fight: Religion and the American Soldier in the Great War
by Jonathan H. Ebel
Princeton University Press, 2010


Chapel, U.S. St. Mihiel Cemetery
When one visits an American military cemetery abroad, one is struck by not only the beauty of rows upon rows of sparkling white markers against a background of green lawn but also the sense of reverence visitors demonstrate as they walk among those pristine and orderly resting places. To some, they represent a view of heaven on earth. To others, these peaceful cemeteries are the antithesis of the hell that the soldiers endured before their untimely deaths.

Having just returned from France where the graves of American soldiers dot the rural landscape, Faith in the Fight helped me sort out the philosophical contradictions of total war. As historians learn very early in their educations, actions are relatively easy to understand compared to motivations. The role that religion played in the lives of American soldiers and war workers is crucial to an understanding of that generation’s commitment to an unprecedented war effort.

The author, Jonathan Ebel, recognizes that individual expressions of faith as well as descriptions of wartime experiences are a messy lot. But he observes that "War made a soldier feel alone and, alone with this faith, led him to draw on the elements of faith that were of the greatest importance to him, and in which he found the greatest comfort." Using wartime narratives and articles from the Stars and Stripes, the official newspaper of the AEF with a circulation at its peak of 522,000 copies, Ebel has attempted to analyze the oft-romantic words of the soldiers and war workers as they faced adversity unknown to their family and friends at home.


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This is a challenging study that succeeds in sorting through the personal and public uses of religion as motivation and justification for going to war. Certainly Christianity was used by propagandists and clergy to explain the need for masculine involvement, and the spread of muscular Christian organizations such as the YMCA played a role. The author believes there was a deeply established religious foundation in America that dated well before 1917. An enthusiastic populace responding to the call to arms with religious zeal exemplifies that belief, but this book is much more than an exploration of religious justifications.

The author looks at two groups whose motivations and experiences differ from those of white males. One chapter is devoted to black soldiers’ war experiences. He points out that the desire to end racism and the hope that exemplary military service might lead to that event contributed to the hope of religious redemption.

Ebel also looks at the meaning of womanhood and the roles women played during the war in a separate chapter. He assigns women to three groups: War Wives and Mothers, Sisters in Arms, and New Woman Warriors, believing that these categories help to place women within the context of war. However, he is quick to point out that women always served within a domestic sphere even as they drove a truck filled with medical supplies to an aid station close to the front.

In two different chapters, Ebel uses the soldiers’ own words to examine how they made sense of death. He discovered that “the suffering and bleeding, writhing and dying. . .were modern forms of martyrdom. . .which brought salvation to the fallen.”

Certainly the emotion one feels walking about in an American military cemetery in France echoes that sentiment. Images of sacrifice and martyrdom dominate the memorials and chapels that see few visitors but stand as testaments to the fallen.

Chapel, U.S. Meuse-Argonne Cemetery

The author cannot resist the temptation of comparing the role of religion in the Great War to wars across time, but he clearly points out that the Great War was not a war of religion. However, when speaking of the soldiers and war workers he states, "Religion informed their sense of duty, gave them the language, narratives, ideas, and symbols to frame the conflict and to understand their part in it." Religion helped them cope with the possibility of death of their comrades and themselves and, perhaps most important, justified “the greatest sacrifice of war: the sacrifice of one’s unwillingness to kill.”

Although Faith in the Fight was published six years ago, its relevance has not diminished. It is an important part of the intellectual canon for what it says about the Great War and also for what it says about ALL war.

Margaret Spratt, PhD

Monday, July 11, 2016

Navigating the Italian Front

One area that has been neglected so far in the Centennial commemorations is the Italian Front of the Great War.  I am hoping that will pick up soon, and I'll be doing as much as I can to correct that in our Worldwar1.com publications. However, since I've given a number of talks on the fighting there and led tours there, I know there is quite a bit of confusion about the location and character of the geography in its various sectors. Here is a little primer so you can understand which areas are being discussed when you see articles or TV programs on the war on the Italian Front. The are five sectors, five kinds of battlefields, to be mindful of. Since the terrain was different in each, the character of the fighting there was different as well.

Here Is Your Editor and Guide Atop the Italian Bastion of Monte Grappa (Sector 5) with the Dolomite Alps in the Distance (Sector 3A)
This key map locates the different sectors show on the subsequent slides. The S-shaped front was about 400 miles long from the spring of 1915 until the Battle of Caporetto in October 1917.


Here are slides showing the features and terrain of the five sectors.

This area is also known as the Lower Isonzo.  It was the main location of Isonzo Battles #1–11 and the site of the greatest casualties on the Italian Front.  The Carso Plateau, the city of Gorizia,  and a second rocky plateau, the Bainsezza, were the main obstacles to the Italian advance on Trieste.

The Upper Isonzo, on the edge of the Julian Alps was the location of the most famous battle on the Italian Front and one of the most lopsided military engagements of the 20th century.

The mountaintop warfare in the High Alps was the most dramatic element of the war in Italy. It featured mine warfare on mountains, incredible engineering feats, and some unique ways to die not seen on the Western Front  – Avalanches, Freezing, Starving, and Falling Off Cliffs.

This lovely transition zone between the Lower Tyrol/Trentino and the Venetian Plain was the site of Austria-Hungary's forgotten, but important, 1916 offensive and desperate fighting post-Caporetto. The war opened in 1915 on the north edge in the Fortress Zone marking the prewar borders between the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Italy. 

After the Battle of Caporetto, the German and Austrian pursuit drove the Italians far south, from the Adriatic to the Asiago Plateau. However, the Italians with Allied reinforcements were able to hold on to a strong (and shorter) defensive line. The marker above shows where Ernest Hemingway was wounded.  Please remember, though — Ernest Hemingway was NOT at Caporetto.





Sunday, July 10, 2016

Keeping the Memory Alive: A Visitor’s Experience at the National World War I Museum

by Cody Northrup


            
I had the opportunity to visit the National World War I Memorial and Museum in Kansas City this month, and as a history teacher with a particular interest in the First World War, I wanted to share the experience with my fellow World War I aficionados. While the museum itself is fairly new, having just been opened in 2006, the memorial that sits above it has a history dating back nearly a century. In 1919, just months after the battlefields finally grew quiet after four years of combat, citizens of Kansas City felt the urge to pay a lasting tribute to the American participants in the war. They were able to quickly raise several million dollars, and the final product of their activism, completed in the 1920s, is a sight to behold. Describing the numerous statues and symbols that adorn the memorial deserves an article all its own, but the main attraction is the Liberty Memorial Tower, stretching 265 feet in the air. While exploring the memorial, it is difficult not to appreciate its majestic design.




Kansas City may not seem like the most obvious location for what the United States had deemed its official WWI museum, but it is an appropriate area for numerous reasons. The commanding general of the American Expeditionary Force, John J. “Black Jack” Pershing was born and raised just miles outside the city (the museum is actually located on Pershing Street), and an artillery captain in the war named Harry S. Truman, who went on to become President of the United States, came from neighboring Independence. Additionally, only seven states in the nation produced more Doughboys than did Missouri, which enlisted over 128,000 soldiers in all.
            
Onto the museum itself, I feel there are three strengths that should be highlighted. The first of these is the accessibility it provides to all audiences. History buffs will surely feel the greatest sense of awe when exploring the exhibits, but those with little background knowledge of the war can easily catch up on the context with the videos that play throughout the museum. Even children can stay involved by completing a scavenger hunt guide. The second strength is the museum’s ability to establish balance and impartiality. The first half of the exhibits cover the war from 1914–17, while the second half focuses on the United States’ involvement from 1917–18. I did not feel that the material presented any bias for or against any country. It is up to the viewer to make up his or her own mind based on the artifacts displayed. And while the Western Front deservedly receives much attention, lesser known topics such as the role of Asian powers in the war and the AEF Siberia receive some much-appreciated spotlight as well.

A glimpse into life in the trenches 

The final strength is the somber atmosphere the museum is able to create. While the visit was an exciting experience, I feel that the First World War was a tragic event and appreciated the ability to reflect on it in such a way. Upon entering, visitors cross a glass bridge, suspended over a field of 9,000 (artificial) poppies. Each of these poppies represents 1,000 lives that were lost in combat. While I know that 9,000,000 is an enormous number, seeing the sacrifices before me in this visual way allowed me to better understand just how dramatic that number is.
            
While viewing the museum’s first display, featuring artifacts from a peaceful prewar Europe, one can hear the sounds of artillery being fired from a distant part of the building. It creates a sense of the impending doom that quickly struck the people of Europe in the summer of 1914. Other examples are the peepholes that allow one to look in on mannequin soldiers seeking cover in a life-size trench and a ledge that lets viewers look down on soldiers crossing a shell-pocked no-man’s-land. I felt like a voyeur who was able to step back a century into time when observing these exhibits. While I am certainly glad I never had to experience the horrors of trench warfare firsthand, gaining a glimpse of it through these battlefield recreations gave me a new sense of what the combat must have felt like. It wasn’t the new facts that I learned at the museum that I most appreciated; rather, it was this sense of reflection that the displays were able to instill.
            
I should add here, and as the generation born in the late 19th century who had the misfortune of achieving adulthood in a war-torn world can attest to, timing is everything. The atmosphere I described is best achieved on quiet day. A ticket allows visitors two days of admission. The first day I visited, I happened to arrive at the same time as a large middle school class on a field trip. Luckily, the second day I attended saw the museum pretty empty, allowing me to appreciate it without fighting for room to view the exhibits with the other visitors. If you plan on visiting, perhaps give the museum a call beforehand in order to avoid large crowds.

Looking down on the field of poppies upon entering the museum

While there are far too many collections and artifacts on display to begin to mention in this space, I would like to spotlight a temporary exhibit that commemorates the centennial anniversary of the two bloodiest battles of the First World War — Verdun and the Somme. Titled “1916: They Shall Not Pass,” it features a multitude of items used in these now legendary battles, such as a Vickers machine gun, a 340mm mortar shell, and a bullet-pierced helmet. The exhibit will continue to be displayed through March 1917, when it will be replaced by one dedicated to the anniversary of the United States’ entry into the war. It is awe-inspiring to be up close and personal with these objects, knowing that exactly 100 years ago they were being used to permanently change the world as we know it.

Unfortunately the First World War has become largely forgotten in the collective memory of Americans. Because of this, I appreciate efforts — whether it is sites like Roads to the Great War or museums like the one in Kansas City — that use the centennial anniversary of the war to keep its memory and significance alive. If you have any questions about a particular piece of the museum, leave a comment here or contact me at northrup@nmmi.edu

Saturday, July 9, 2016

A Dozen Great War Quotes



At first there will be increased slaughter — increased slaughter on so terrible a scale as to render it impossible to get troops to push the battle to a decisive issue. Everybody will be entrenched in the next war. The spade will be as indispensable for a soldier as his rifle. All war will of necessity partake the character of siege operations. Then we shall have a long period of continually increasing strain upon the resources of the combatants. Soldiers may fight as they please; the ultimate decision is in the hands of famine. 

Ivan Bloch, Modern Weapons and Modern War, 
1897 

What minister who declared war in August 1914, would not have recoiled with horror had he known the shape of the world in 1918, not to speak of the present? One who had such an intuition and did so recoil was, of course, the British Foreign Secretary, Lord Grey.

Henry Kissinger, 
A World Restored: Metternich, Castlereagh, and the Problems of Peace 1812–1822

You can be a virgin in horror the same as in sex. How, when I left the Place Clichy, could I have imagined such horror? Who could have suspected, before getting really into the war, all the ingredients that go to make up the rotten, heroic, good-for-nothing soul of man? And there I was, caught up in a mass flight into collective murder, into the fiery furnace. . . Something had come up from the depths. . . Men are the thing to be afraid of, always, men and nothing else. 

Louis-Ferdinand CĂ©line
Journey to the End of Night


. . .thralled and breathless, I was watching the first big infantry charge I had ever seen. It was a glorious and terrible sight, and exultant. The infantry pushed and tore through the village of Sedd el Bahr up to the fort belching fire and death from the cliff beyond. . . A man who lived ten minutes under that Turkish fire seemed to have a charmed life. Most dropping within minutes. But before they dropped they worked — ah, how they worked while they lived! Each did his small vital bit; and when he lurched bleeding into his sea grave, a comrade, newly come, snatched up his job until he, too, died. . . 

Major A. H. Mure, aboard River Clyde, V Beach, Gallipoli, 
25 April 1915

It does not pretend to be impartial. I was fighting for my hand, upon my own midden. Please take it as a personal narrative pieced out of memory. I could not make proper notes: indeed it would been a breach of my duty to the Arabs if I had picked such flowers while they fought

T.E. Lawrence
Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Author's Preface

During the last days disorders have taken place in Petrograd, followed by force and assaults on the lives of soldiers and members of the police. I forbid every kind of assembly in the streets. I warn the population of Petrograd that commands have been issued and repeated to the troops to use their arms and not to stop short of anything in order to assure tranquility in the capital.

Lt. Gen. Sergei Semenovich Khabalov, 
Commander Petrograd Military Area, 25 February 1917 


And now I'm drinking wine in France,
The helpless child of circumstance.
Tomorrow will be loud with war,
How will I be accounted for?

Lance Cpl. Francis Ledwidge, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers (KIA 31 July 1917) 
Soliloquy

You know my system, I stick a bit of plaster here, then another there, then another there. The Boche doesn't advance so fast—hardly advances at all. I stick another bit there, and the Boche is stopped. You can always stop the Boche.

Ferdinand Foch, 26 March 26 1918
Just before he was named Generalissimo

My subject is war, and the pity of war. 
       The poetry is in the pity.
              Wilfred Owen, 
Preface


Richthofen has really been killed in action! I am completely shattered by the news. No words will suffice to do justice to his deeds, or to describe the grief which every German feels at the loss of this national hero; it is just impossible to grasp. . .
Herbert Sulzbach, German Artillery Officer
With the German Guns

There's absolutely nothing so uncanny as to hear a shell approach. It is not comfortable in broad daylight, but at night it is positively bloodcurdling. 

Sgt. John A. Cegner, 141st Infantry, AEF

[It's] another of those pesky half-holidays, with some things open, other things closed and everybody confused and/or uninterested. Now it's called Veterans Day, but when Nov. 11 was Armistice Day, it had meaning and poignancy — parades at slow time, muffled drums, black armbands, gold star flags in front windows of grieving mothers. The Civil War was a horror, but World War I was the real thing, dragging this coltish young nation into the international arena. It was all so innocent that those of our generation cannot hear "My Buddy" or "Over There" without a lump in the throat. I won't say "Happy Veterans Day" because the phrase makes no sense.

Herb Caen,  San Francisco Chronicle
9 Nov 1986 Column