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

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Remembering a Veteran: Lt. Weedon Osborne, USN, Dental Surgeon & Medal of Honor Recipient


Thanks to Superintendent David Atkins at the Aisne-Marne (Belleau Wood) U.S. Cemetery.  Lt. Osborne is the sole Medal of Honor recipient buried at the cemetery.

The nearby village of Bouresches has dedicated a street to him as well:

Col. Bill Anderson, USMC, Stops at the Street on His Staff Rides around Belleau Wood


Friday, January 30, 2015

Monument aux héros de l'Armée noire

Located at Parc de Champagne, Reims

The Monument aux héros de l'Armée noire (Monument to the Heroes of the Black Army) is a monumental sculpture erected in Reims in 1924 to honor the Senegalese Tirailleurs who defended the city during the First World War. The original statuary was designed by Paul Moreau-Vauthier (1871–1936) and the architect Auguste Bluysen (1888–1951). 

Detail

In September 1940 the monument was destroyed by the Germans. A second monument took its place after the occupation but eventually proved proved to be somewhat controversial and unpopular. It was replaced by the third version of the monument (shown here) in the fall of 2013 in time for the Centennial.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Centennial at the Grass Roots: World War I Memorials in Virginia (and Much More!)

Another great state level commemorative project has emerged in Virginia. This growing site is filled with material on the Commonwealth's Great War experience. In addition to memorials, there are personality profiles, correspondence, articles, and features on the military units in which Virginians served like the 29th National Guard and 80th "Blue Ridge" National Army divisions.


Visit the Site at:
http://www.lynnrainville.org/ww1-memorials/index


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

100 Years Ago: British Government Approves a Naval Assault on the Dardanelles



It was 100 years ago today that First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill gained approval from the British War Council for what was to be a strictly naval assault on the straits by 18 battleships. But the Turks, their land defenses, and a minelayer looking like nothing more than a large tugboat would break the will of the Royal Navy commanders on the scene. The main assault that came on 18 March 1915 resulted in three sunk capital ships and three more heavily damaged. A land campaign was then deemed necessary by the flotilla's commander and staff after all. That campaign would fail as well with enormous casualties for both sides

But, as I concluded after my first visit to the area in 2009, the Turkish interpretation of those events is correct. They believe that after the main naval assault of 18 March failed they had defeated the Allies because they could subsequently deploy enough forces to Gallipoli Peninsula or the Asiatic side to foil any effort to control the straits or march overland on Constantinople. Enver Pasha declared this to be the case at the time, and, for once, his instincts were correct. "March 18, 1915" is Turkey's equivalent to Anzac Day, but — for them — it is to commemorate a victory. It is proclaimed as such by a large sign on a hill overlooking the largest city on the Straits, Çanakkale, and is also the name that is given to the local university. 

Replica of Turkish Minelayer Nusret — Conqueror of Battleships

Someone during the later commission hearings on the defeat would ask questions that should have been asked at the beginning but wasn't — "How could a fleet 'take' a peninsula? How could it occupy Constantinople?"

My discussion of the land campaign was posted in the early days of Roads to the Great War at:

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The War Behind the Wire: The Life, Death and Glory of British Prisoners of War, 1914–1918,
Reviewed by James Thomas


The War Behind the Wire: The Life, Death and Glory 
of British Prisoners of War, 1914–1918
by John Lewis-Stempel
Published by Phoenix, 2015 


Column of British Prisoners of War

In both popular imagery and historical study, a great deal is known about the prisoner of war experience of World War II. Through books, movies, and television, much is known about Second World War POWs. There are no similar portrayals, no popular images, and little actual research done for the many thousands of men captured and held prisoner in World War I. John Lewis-Stempel makes a first effort to remedy this deficit with his excellent book, The War Behind The Wire.

It is well written, well documented, and very well researched. It tells the story of British prisoners through their own descriptions of their time in German hands. In fact, at times the reading is slowed with the sheer volume of quotations, and Lewis-Stempel writes just enough to tie them together. In effect, he lets the former British prisoners tell their own stories while he guides us through them. By allowing the now all dead Tommies to speak, Lewis-Stempel makes this as nearly an autobiography as an historical study.

Through these men's stories the reader learns the shame and humiliation of capture and how a stigma was attached to being a prisoner of war. Often this stigma was self-imposed, regularly by their captors and many times by their peers and by the British public on their return. According to the author, this is one of the many reasons so few told their stories in the aftermath of the war. Lewis-Stempel clearly seeks to remove any negative images that might still exist, and as his book's subtitle suggests, he considers the British prisoners' war to have been as honorable and glorious as that of any man who fought in the trenches. These men dealt with their capture and captivity, learned how to stay alive regardless of their conditions, even how to continue the fight in the camps and in the factories where they labored. For many that fight meant to escape and return to the action of the Western Front.


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War Behind the Wire is the story of the British, but much can be learned about all men behind the wire of prisoner of war camps. Interestingly, British soldiers saw themselves as treated worse, in general, than the captured soldiers of any of the other nations, with the exception perhaps of the Russians. Although France is certainly Germany's more natural enemy, French prisoners seemed to have been treated better than British. The Germans made no secret of this, telling them that their fight was against France and the British were no more than overpaid mercenaries. Canadians evidently received the worst of this, as imperial troops of the mercenary British had the least legitimate reason for fighting in the war.

This treatment of prisoners by the Germans, even among the British, varied enormously as well. According to British prisoners, German camp commanders and guards were often brutal, their actions much like the Nazis of the next war. There were exceptions, of course, as individual officers and men could be kind. Overall though, the rule seemed to be a brutality bred from contempt and arrogance. Unfortunately, while many of the worst commanders were initially brought up on accusations of war crimes, in the postwar desire to "move on" and try and forget the war, the vast majority were never brought to trial in Leipzig for those crimes.

In fact, coming out of a war as horrific and unspeakable as World War I, most veterans shared this desire to put the war behind them and preferred to keep their experiences to themselves. In the hundred years since the war began, more and more of the personal narratives of the participants have come out. For those veterans who spent much of the war as prisoners, John Lewis-Stempel is now bringing to light their stories. The War Behind The Wire is highly readable, fascinating, and an important contribution to the study of the Great War

James Thomas

Monday, January 26, 2015

Lili Marleen — Its World War I Roots


Underneath the lantern by the barrack gate
Darling I remember the way you used to wait
Twas there that you whispered tenderly
That you loved me
You'd always be
My Lili of the lamplight
My own Lili Marleen

Time would come for roll call
Time for us to part
Darling I'd caress you and press you to my heart
And there 'neath that far off lantern light
I'd hold you tight
We'd kiss good-night
My Lili of the lamplight
My own Lili Marleen

Marlene Dietrich Entertaining British Troops in World War II

"Lili Marleen" was a German love song which became popular during World War II with soldiers of both sides.  It was based on a 1915 poem written by a German Soldier name Hans Leip, who was serving in the Carpathian Mountains at the time. Leip wrote his poem to express the anguish of separation from his sweetheart, a grocer's daughter named Lili. On sentry duty at night, he would receive a friendly wave from a nurse going off duty; her name was Marleen.  In 1937, feeling that the darkness of another war was looming, Leip released his collection of poems, including "The Song of a Young Sentry", under the title Die Hafenorgel ("The Little Organ by the Harbour"). 

It was his hope that those who had not lived through the First World War might be alerted to the pain and horror of wars fought in the name of "national pride". It was published under the title "Das Lied eines jungen Soldaten auf der Wacht" (German for "The Song of a Young Soldier on Watch") in 1937 and was first recorded by Lale Andersen in 1939 under the title "Das Mädchen unter der Laterne" ("The Girl under the Lantern").


Despite efforts by the Nazis to suppress it because of the song's antiwar tone, it was played on a German Army radio station playing to the troops in North Africa. It soon became as popular with the British troops as with the German. It later became the signature sone of Marlene Dietrich when she performed for Allied troops.

Marlene Dietrich Sings the English Version on YouTube


Sunday, January 25, 2015

Sentimental Images of War from Jugend



Jugend ("Youth" in German) was a German art magazine that was created in the late 19th century. It featured many famous Art Nouveau artists and is the source of the term "Jugendstil" ("Jugend-style"), the German version of Art Nouveau. The magazine was founded by writer Georg Hirth. It was published from 1896 to 1940.  (Wikipedia Entry)





From Tony Langley's collection of period illustrations.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Gorizia: Strategic City on the Italian Front


Gorizia (Center of Map) Was Key to the Isonzo Sector
Italian Offensives Directed Toward Trieste Needed to Advance Across the Carso Plateau;
Gorizia and Its Fortified Surrounding Hills Protected the Northern Flank of the Carso

The city of Gorizia lies on the River Isonzo at the foot of the Julian Alps and has ancient origins. It was the capital city of a province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and flourished until the outbreak of the First World War, which reduced it to rubble. It was captured by troops of the Italian Army in August 1916 and became part of postwar Italy. Occupied by Slovene partisans at the end of WWII, the city was returned to Italian rule in 1947. The eastern suburbs, the part now called Nova Gorizia, was ceded to Yugoslavia and today lies in Slovenia.

War correspondent E. Alexander Powell described Gorizia and the surrounding area:

At the northern end of the Carso, in an angle formed by the junction of the Wippach and the Isonzo, the snowy towers and black-brown roofs of Gorizia rise above the foliage of its famous gardens. The town, which resembles Homburg or Baden-Baden and was a popular Austrian resort before the war, lies in the valley of the Wippach (Vippacco the Italians call it), which separates the Carso from the southernmost spurs of the Julian Alps. Down this valley runs the railway leading to Trieste, Laibach, and Vienna. It will be seen, therefore, that Gorizia is really the gateway to Trieste, and a place of immense strategic importance. On the slopes of the Carso, four or five miles to the southwest of the town, rises the enormously strong position of Monte San Michele, and a few miles farther down the Isonzo, the fortified hill-town of Sagrado. On the other side of the river, almost opposite Gorizia, are the equally strong positions of Podgora and Monte Sabotino. Their steep slopes were slashed with Austrian trenches and abristle with guns which commanded the roads leading to the river, the bridge-heads, and the town. To take Gorizia until these positions had been captured was obviously out of the question. Here, as elsewhere, Austria held the upper ground. In a memorandum issued by the Austrian General Staff to its officers at the beginning of the operations before Gorizia, the tremendous advantage of the Austrian position was made quite clear: "We have to retain possession of a terrain fortified by Nature. In front of us a great watercourse; behind us a ridge from which we can shoot as from a ten-story building."

Italian Troops Enter Gorizia in 1916

The center of the old town is dominated by the castle, built sometime after 1000 AD by the Counts of Gorizia on the site of a prehistoric"Castelliere" and where later a Roman lookout tower was added. In
Slovene "Gorica" means "small mountain" referring to the castle hill. The castle today holds a museum of history and art as well as a First World War Museum.

In 1500 Gorizia came into the possession of the Hapsburg monarchy to whose fortunes and misfortunes it remained tied, except for the brief period of the Venetian domination and Napoleonic occupation, until the end of World War I, when it became Italian.

During the Great War, Gorizia was a strategic objective of the Italian Army and was the object of many assaults before it was finally captured on 8 August 1916. The nearby Carso Plateau was the site of tens of thousands of deaths for the Italian and Austro-Hungarian armies. The city was abandoned by the Italians during the Battle of Caporetto and retaken late in 1918 at the time of the Armistice.

The Castle Has Dominated the Gorizia Skyline for a Millennium

Today Gorizia is an industrial, commercial, transport, and tourist center. Manufacturing includes textiles, leather goods, processed food, and machines.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Some Notable But Forgotten Battles of the Great War


1. Battle of Haelen, 12 August 1914
First large cavalry action of the war, in which a Belgian cavalry division defeated multiple charges of the advancing German cavalry corps by dismounting and massing their rifle fire.

2. Battle of the Jardar River, 16–20 August 1914
After helping start a European war to punish Serbia, Austria's initial invasion was defeated after suffering 40,000 casualties. Poor coordination by the attackers was a precursor to worse
problems for them.

Turkish Soldiers in Winter Gear


3. Battle of Sarikamish, 22 December 1914 – 17 January 1915
A disaster followed for Turkey when Enver Pasha attempted a move against the Russian Empire through the Caucasus. Outnumbered and poorly coordinated, his troops suffered tremendous casualties from the enemy and the winter weather.

4. Cuxhaven Raid, 25 December 1914
The Royal Navy's sea-launched assault on the zeppelin sheds at Cuxhaven is considered history's first carrier-based air strike.

Gen. Jan Smuts
5. Battle of Otavi, 1–9 July 1915
Final battle of the South African campaign to capture the German colony of Southwest Africa (Sudwestafrika). The decisive victory was led by Louis Botha and Jan Smuts.

6. Battle of Naroch Lake, 18–21 March 1916
Answering a call from the Allies for offensive action in the east to take the pressure off Verdun, Russia launched a poorly organized assault in the northern sector of the Eastern Front that used outdated assault tactics and set the stage for the Brusilov Offensive.

7. Battle of Ortigara, 10–19 June, 1917
In a determined offensive on the Trentino Plateau, Italian forces briefly seized strategic Monte Ortigara. It was quickly retaken by the Austrians in the bloodiest Alpine fighting of the war.

8. Battle of Romani, 3–5 August 1917
In August 1915 Turkish forces made a second attempt to seize the Suez Canal. They were defeated by a combined British, New Zealand, and Australian force.

Canadian Charge at Moreuil Wood

9. Battle of Moreuil Wood, 30 March 1918
It was a Canadian cavalry force that finally halted the great advance made by German forces during their first great spring "Ludendorff" offensive of 1918. The Central Powers alliance had begun disintegrating.

10. Battle of Frapelle, 17–20 August 1918
In the only large-scale operation in the Vosges mountains after 1915, the U.S. 5th Division captured the advantageously positioned village of Frapelle and held it despite counterattacks.

11. Battle of the Vardar, 15–29 September 1918
The decisive battle on the Salonika Front, Vardar knocked Bulgaria out of the war and exposed the Austro-Hungarian southeast front.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The American Army and the First World War
Reviewed by Peter L. Belmonte


The American Army and the First World War 
(Cambridge Armies of the Great War Series)
by David R. Woodward
Published by Cambridge University Press, 2014


1st Division Troops Preparing for Soissons Offensive, July 1918

As part of Cambridge University Press's Armies of the Great War series, David Woodward's The American Army and the First World War aims to be "a holistic history of the U.S. Army's role in World War I that [examines] diverse social, political, diplomatic, and military themes" (p. xv). In this, Woodward, Emeritus Professor of History at Marshall University in West Virginia, has succeeded quite well.

This is basically a high-level history of the U.S. military at war, but Woodward has included enough primary source material from the World War I veterans surveys to show the impact of high-level decisions on the common soldier. Despite the title, the book covers the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) as a whole, including U.S. Marines. In fact, the cover photograph of the paperback edition shows a fierce-looking company-sized group of U.S. Marines with bayonets fixed.

In the book's first three chapters, the author does a creditable job of covering the rise of the U.S. as a world power following the Spanish-American War. He neatly summarizes the reforms designed to convert the army from a constabulary charged with keeping peace among the Indians to a professional military force fitting for a world power. Woodward describes the conflict between President Woodrow Wilson's Progressive ideals and the pre-1917 attempts at increasing military preparedness. Wilson, along with others, failed to see or adequately appreciate the connection between U.S. foreign policy and U.S. military strength. Woodward covers Wilson's ineffectual attempts to convince the Allies that the U.S. had enough coercive power to achieve diplomatic ends, namely to persuade Germany to agree to a peace conference. Here Woodward gives us the bottom line: "Moral force did not serve as a substitute for military power in the hard coin of diplomacy" (p. 36).

Woodward's next three chapters deal with the creation, training, and doctrine of the nascent Great War U.S. Army. As Woodward shows, the U.S. experienced difficulty in all three of these areas; in addition, the government evinced confusion about the proper role of the army in the war. In these chapters, Woodward does a fine job of summarizing complex issues and showing how British and French forces experienced similar problems in 1914–1916.

In the following chapters Woodward covers all the sticky issues that confronted the U.S. and Allies as the army began deployment. Training and doctrine issues, the location of the American front, critical supply and shipping issues, and the political and military implications of French and British manpower shortages all receive clear attention. The issue of amalgamation of American troops into Allied armies is covered here, as well as the "feud" between General Payton C. March, Chief of Staff, and General John Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Forces.

The final seven chapters cover AEF fighting, with the backdrop of political and military struggles over amalgamation, formation of a separate American army, manpower and shipping issues, etc. Woodward also covers the American intervention in North Russia and Siberia, executed despite opposition from U.S. Secretary of War Newton Baker and General March.

General Pershing's Fame Overshadowed Some Outstanding Generals of the AEF
From Top Left:  MG Fox Conner, AEF Chief of Operations; MG John Hines III Corps Commander; LTG Hunter Liggett, First Army Commander; MG Dennis Nolan, AEF Chief of Intelligence; MG John Lejeune, USMC, Commander 2nd Division; LTG Peyton March, AEF Chief of Artillery Before Becoming Chief of Staff

In all this Woodward outlines the struggles of U.S. political and military leaders. But it wasn't just the Americans who had problems. Woodward reminds us that the French and British were beset with their own difficulties over leadership, strategy, tactics, and cooperation. We are reminded that the French and British, in addition to the Americans, adapted their tactics, in both defense and offense, as the war went on. For example, as late as summer 1918, the French were changing how they manned their front and support lines, adopting a "defense-in-depth" mode.

The argument for French superiority of tactics is carried on by recent historians rather selectively. Woodward criticizes 1st Army logistics during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive even while stating that much of this was due to the poor road conditions, a fact that French Marshal Ferdinand Foch, who assigned the 1st Army to the Argonne area, surely knew. While emphasizing French tactics, such as limited objectives, Woodward also relates that Foch insisted that the 1st Army continue its attacks in the Argonne area even while Pershing desired a brief halt to reorganize his depleted, exhausted divisions. Woodward favors the view that Pershing and GHQ AEF were obstinately against the use of auxiliary weapons such as artillery in all cases, while the truth is more complex than that.


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There are some minor editing flaws (for example, the 79th Division is twice called a National Guard division rather than the National Army division it was), but this book is an excellent overall history of the last two years of the Great War. When one reads about all of the political and military disagreements between and among the Allies, one is tempted to wonder how victory was achieved at all.

Despite initial, and sometimes prolonged, confusion and disorganization, the U.S. Army achieved an impressive record in many areas, as Woodward shows. This is the best single-volume work that examines the American army in the broader context of overall Allied strategy and as an instrument of American diplomacy that I have read. The book is well researched, and Woodward's style is easily readable. I highly recommend it.

Peter L. Belmonte

Monday, January 19, 2015

19–20 January 1915: Zeppelins Bomb Great Britain for First Time


Night Attack by a Zeppelin

One hundred years ago zeppelin airships carried out the first air raid on the British mainland, hitting the Norfolk towns of King's Lynn, Great Yarmouth, and Sheringham. At least four people were killed.

At the beginning of 1915 the Kaiser sanctioned the bombing of military and industrial targets along the British coast and in the area around the Thames Estuary but not London itself. Therefore, on 19 January 1915, zeppelins L3, L4 and L6 of the Imperial German Navy, under the overall command of zeppelin commander Korvettenkapitän Peter Strasser, took off from their base at Fuhlsbüttel in Germany. L3 and L4 carried 30 hours of fuel, eight bombs, and 25 incendiary devices and were to attack military and industrial buildings on Humberside. L6, which carried Strasser, encountered mechanical problems and bad weather so had to turn back. Weather also had a bearing on the two remaining airships, who had to change their plans and eventually made landfall in Norfolk.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

What Happened at Mont St. Quentin?

Between 31 August and 2 September 1918, Australia’s Second Division attacked and captured the German stronghold of Mont St. Quentin, the key to the strategic town of Péronne on the Somme river. 


Australian Troops Attacking Up Mont St. Quentin

At 5 a.m. on 1 September 1918 shells from British and Australian guns began pounding German trenches on the lower slopes as two understrength AIF battalions — the 17th and 20th — dashed forward toward Mont St. Quentin. Behind them came the men of the 18th and 19th Battalions. To make up for their lack of numbers the soldiers had been urged by their officers to "yell like a lot of bushrangers"! To the Germans the attack came as a complete surprise. Many quickly surrendered and pushed to the rear, leaving, in many cases, their machine guns on the ground. One German officer reported that it "had all happened like lightning and before we had fired a shot we were taken unawares". 

Digger Statue atop Mont St. Quentin

The attackers soon pushed right to the top of Mont St. Quentin while others went forward on the flat fields below securing the flanks. It was all a swift and sudden success. Back at Fourth Army Headquarters General Sir Henry Rawlinson was rising for the day. "As I was dressing…Archie [Chief of Staff Sir Archibald Montgomery] rang me to say the Australians had captured Mont St. Quentin. It is indeed a magnificent performance."

For his courage and leadership during the battle Sergeant Albert Lowerson, 21st Battalion, was awarded the Victoria Cross. It was a costly action — twenty-three men of the battalion lost their lives that day. Today the Second Australian Division’s Memorial stands at Mont St. Quentin, the scene of one of the division’s greatest victories.

Source: Australian Government Website

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Frogmen Sink a Battleship, Part II

Part II:  Sinking SMS Viribus Unitis

by Brian Warhola


Rossetti and Paolucci struggled against the ebbing tide to work their way past the nets and reach the anchored Austrian battleships. “At length,” Paolucci wrote, “our endevours were successful.” It was now 3:00 in the morning.

The largest ship, the dreadnought SMS Viribus Unitis, lay closest to shore, and was chosen as the primary target. Swimming through sleet and hail, Rossetti and Paolucci saw the sky begin to brighten with dawn. As they reached the side of the Viribus Unitis, the torpedo unexpectedly began to sink.

Viribus Unitis

While Paolucci frantically struggled to keep the torpedo afloat, Rossetti located an intake valve that had accidentally opened, allowing air to escape from the cylinder. After shutting the valve, the two men rested in the shadow of the Austrian flagship for a few minutes. “Of all our trying moments,” Paolucci wrote, “this was undoubtedly the worst.”

Working their way down the long line of Austrian battleships, the two men reached the Viribus Unitis at 4:45 a.m. Rossetti removed one of the canisters of TNT from the front of the torpedo and attached it to the hull of the Viribus Unitis. Rossetti set a timer to detonate the 400-pound charge of TNT at 6:30.

As Rossetti and Paolucci pushed off from the side of the Viribus Unitis, they were spotted by a sentry on the flagship.The Italians tried to steer for shore, where they hoped to escape. Quickly, however, a boat was dispatched from the Viribus Unitis to capture them. Paolucci hastily armed the second canister of explosives and set it free in the ebbing tide. Rossetti flooded the torpedo’s air cylinder, letting it sink to the bottom.

The Italian officers were captured by sailors from the Viribus Unitis and taken back to the ship. There they were shocked to learn that during the night the Austrian fleet had mutinied and that the Austrian admiral had turned command of the Viribus Unitis over to a Yugoslavian captain named Ianko Vukovic. All German and Austrian crew members had been sent ashore, leaving the fleet in the hands of neutral Yugoslavian sailors.

It was 6:00 a.m. Knowing that in half an hour the TNT would detonate, Rossetti told Captain Vukovic, “Your ship is in serious, imminent danger. Save your men.” Captain Vukovic calmly demanded an explanation. Rossetti said “I cannot tell you; but in a very short time the ship will be blown up.”

Vukovic, wasting no time, shouted in German, “Men of the Viribus Unitis, save yourselves all who can! The Italians have placed bombs in the ship!” The Yugoslavian crewmen, on hearing this news, panicked and began to abandon ship. “We heard doors open and shut in a hurry, we saw half-naked men rushing about madly and clambering up the steps of the batteries, we heard the noise of bodies splashing into the sea,” Paolucci wrote.

Taking advantage of the sudden panic, Rossetti asked Captain Vukovic if they might save themselves. Vukovic agreed. Rossetti and Paolucci ran to the side of the ship and dove overboard. They were soon overtaken by a group of angry Yugoslavian sailors in a small boat, who took them back to the Viribus Unitis. “We thought,” Paolucci wrote, “that they intended to make us die on the doomed ship.” It was 6:20.

Back on the deck of the ship for the second time, Rossetti and Paolucci found themselves surrounded by a threatening mob of sailors. “Some of them were shouting that we had deceived them, while others wanted to know where the bombs were hidden.” Rossetti spoke up, demanding that he and Paolucci be granted fair treatment as prisoners of war. Vukovic ordered his men not to harm the Italians.

When 6:30 came, there was no explosion. Rossetti and Paolucci stared blankly at one another, wondering if something had gone wrong. Captain Vukovic was still attempting to restore order on the ship’s deck. Around the ship, crewmen who had abandoned the Viribus Unitis rowed in lifeboats, unsure whether to flee to safety or return to the ship.

At 6:44 the charge of TNT detonated. Rossetti and Paolucci were surprised that the delayed explosion made only “a dull noise, a deep roaring, not loud or terrible, but rather light.” Immediately, however, a huge column of water rose into the air at the ship’s bow and splashed down on its foredeck. In the moment of shock following the explosion, Rossetti and Paolucci once again asked permission to abandon the ship. Captain Vukovic shook their hands and pointed to a rope by which they could escape into the water, motioning to one of the lifeboats to pick them up.

Viribus Unitis Going Down

Dragged aboard the small boat, Rossetti and Paolucci turned to watch the Viribus Unitis slowly sink. “The Viribus Unitis heeled over more and more,” Paolucci wrote, “When the water reached the level of the deck, the ship capsized completely. I saw the big turret guns tumbled about like toys. . .On the keel I saw a man crawling until he reached the top. It was Captain Vukovic. He died a little later, after being struck on the head by a wooden beam when, after having extricated himself from the whirl of water, he was trying to save his life by swimming to shore.” Rossetti and Paolucci were taken as prisoners of war to an Austrian hospital ship to recover. There, they learned that the second canister of explosives, set free by Paolucci just before they were captured, had exploded against the hull of an Austrian ship called Wien, sinking it.

Three days later, on 4 November 1918, Italy and Austria signed a peace treaty. The next day the Italian fleet took control of Pola, and Rossetti and Paolucci were freed. The two men were presented with gold medals for courage. Rossetti was awarded 650,000 lire from the Italian government as a reward for his services. He presented this reward to the widow of Captain Vukovic, describing the deceased captain as “a war adversary who, dying, left me with an ineradicable example of generous humanity.” The money was used to establish a trust fund for widows and mothers of other war victims.

From our site Trenches on the Web; originally contributed by Paul Chrastina of Old News

Friday, January 16, 2015

Frogmen Sink a Battleship, Part I

Part I:  The Plan and the Approach

by Brian Warhola


In the summer of 1918, as World War One was drawing to close, the Austrian Navy suffered a series of defeats at the hands of the Royal Italian Navy. The most powerful ships of the Austrian Navy retreated to the port of Pola, on the Adriatic Sea. The entrance to this harbor was protected by floating booms and barricades, designed to ensnare and destroy enemy ships. The Italian Navy made several attempts to attack the Austrian fleet at Pola but failed to breach the elaborate harbor defenses.

Austrian Battleships at Anchor in Pola Harbor

Lieutenant Raffaele Paolucci was an Italian naval surgeon who devised a plan to infiltrate the harbor at Pola and destroy the largest ships of the Austrian fleet. Although the sheltered enemy fleet seemed invulnerable to conventional attack, it occurred to Lieutenant Paolucci that he might be able to reach the Austrian ships by simply swimming to them, carrying explosives.

Paolucci consulted charts of the Pola estuary and concluded that, if he could be dropped off near the entrance to the harbor, “a swim of three kilometers would enable me to reach the objective".

Keeping his plan to himself, Paolucci began to train for the task of swimming alone into the harbor at Pola. At night Paolucci swam for hours in the lagoons of Venice, increasing his endurance until he could comfortably swim five miles without resting. As his stamina increased, Paolucci began dragging a 300-pound keg of water with him, to simulate the weight of an explosive charge he planned to take with him to destroy the enemy ships.

Lieutenant Raffaele Paolucci 
In May, confident of his ability to carry out his plan, Paolucci presented the idea to his commanding officers. He was advised of the obvious dangers attending such an undertaking but was told to continue his training.

In July Paolucci was introduced to Major Raffaele Rossetti. Paolucci learned that Rossetti had designed and built an entirely new kind of aquatic weapon, a manned torpedo that was perfectly fitted to the mission for which Paolucci had been preparing himself.

Using the long, slender shell of an unexploded German torpedo that had washed up on the Italian coast, Rossetti had built a sleek submersible craft that could be ridden through the water like a horse. Filled with compressed air that drove two small, silent propellers, Rossetti’s rebuilt torpedo was about 20 feet long, weighed one-and-a-half tons, and could carry a pair of riders through the water at a top speed of two miles an hour. At the front end of the apparatus were fitted two detachable watertight canisters, each of which had room for 400 pounds of TNT. The craft could be raised or lowered in the water by adjusting a series of control valves Rossetti had designed.

In the Italian naval shipyard in Venice, Rossetti and Paolucci practiced swimming and guiding the torpedo. “We had to be in the water,” Paolucci later wrote, “clinging to the machine, which moved slowly; we had to steer it with our bodies, and in certain cases were obliged to drag the apparatus ourselves. . .we accustomed ourselves to getting over simple obstructions and nets. . .we habituated ourselves to remaining in the water for six or seven hours at a stretch with our clothes on, and to pass ing unobserved beneath the eyes of the sentries posted along the Venice dockyard. . .we traversed the whole of the dockyard without our passage being perceived either by the numerous sentries, or by the officers in charge of them, who knew that the trial was being made.”

On the night of 31 October 31 1918 the two men and their hybrid water craft were brought within a few miles of the entrance to the harbor at Pola by a navy motorboat. Donning waterproof rubber suits, Rossetti and Paolucci slipped into the water, mounted their torpedo, and set out to sabotage the unsuspecting Austrian fleet.

Riding on the incoming tide, Rossetti and Paolucci submerged the torpedo until only their heads rose above the water’s surface. It was 10:13 p.m. as they set off for Pola. If all went well, Rossetti had calculated that it should take no more than five hours to deliver the explosives to the Austrian ships and return to the waiting Italian motorboat, which lay anchored out of sight of Austrian patrols.

As they approached the entrance to the harbor Rossetti shut off the air valve that powered the torpedo’s twin propellers. The two men then carefully guided the torpedo up to the first of the barriers that guarded the outer harbor. Enemy searchlights swept over the water, threatening to expose them to view. Each time, however, the searchlights passed over them without revealing their presence.

Major Raffaele Rossetti
Reaching the outermost barricade at 10:30, Rossetti and Paolucci found that it was made of “numerous empty metal cylinders, each about three yards in length, between which were suspended heavy steel cables". After waiting for an opportune moment, the two men lifted and pushed their craft over this obstacle, anxious that the sound of metal scraping on metal might alert Austrian guards on shore. Their struggles went unnoticed. “After great effort,” Paolucci wrote, “we got past the obstruction, when I felt myself seized by the arm. I turned around, to see Rossetti pointing to a dark shape which seemed to be advancing toward us.” An Austrian U-boat, running without lights and with only its conning tower above the water, glided past them and out into the Adriatic Sea, oblivious to their presence.

Restarting the torpedo’s motor, the two men steered slowly toward the seawall that guarded Pola’s inner harbor. While Rossetti waited in the shadow of the seawall, Paolucci swam ahead to look for the easiest entrance to the harbor. Instead, he found another obstruction, a gate made of heavy timbers studded with long steel spikes.

Paolucci swam back to Rossetti and told him what he had found. Rossetti decided to continue with the mission. The tide had turned, and the two men now fought the current, dragging the heavy torpedo up to the submerged gate.

Continued tomorrow. . .

Thursday, January 15, 2015

America's "Progressive" Approach to Managing Its Food Supply During the War

With the authority and power granted to him by Congress in the legislation  of the Lever Act, on August 10, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson issued Executive Order 2679-A creating the U. S. Food Administration. In doing so, he created a government entity to replace an existing volunteer organization. The U. S. Food Administration, operating in each state, was to


A.  Assure the supply, distribution, and conservation of food during the war,

B.  Facilitate transportation of food and prevent monopolies and hoarding, and


C. Maintain governmental power over foods by using voluntary agreements and a licensing system.

Herbert Hoover, former head of the Belgian Relief Organization, lobbied for and won the job of administrator of the Food Administration. Hoover had made clear to President Wilson that a single, authoritative administrator should head the effort, not a board. This, he believed, would ensure an effective federal organization. He further insisted that he accept no salary. Taking no pay, he argued, would give him the moral authority he needed to ask the American people to sacrifice to support the war effort. As he later wrote in his memoirs, his job was to ask people to "Go back to simple food, simple clothes, simple pleasures. Pray hard, work hard, sleep hard and play hard. Do it all courageously and cheerfully."



As head of the U.S. Food Administration, Herbert Hoover, given the authority by Wilson, became a "food dictator". The Lever Act had given the president power to regulate the distribution, export, import, purchase, and storage of food. Wilson passed that power on to Hoover. To succeed, Hoover designed an effort that would appeal to the American sense of volunteerism and avoid coercion. In designing the program, he adopted a federal approach, combining centralized and decentralized power. He oversaw federal corporations and national trade associations, and he sought the cooperation of local buyers and sellers. Through it all he called for patriotism and sacrifices that would increase production and decrease food consumption. "Food," proclaimed Hoover and the administration, "will win the war."

"No aspect of the people's lives remained unchanged," wrote one historian in assessing the effect of this board and its companions, the War Industries Board and the Fuel Administration. Under Hoover's direction, the Food Administration, in league with the Council of Defense, urged all homeowners to sign pledge cards that testified to their efforts to conserve food. The government boards issued the appeal on a Friday. By the following week, Americans had embraced wheatless Mondays, meatless Tuesdays, porkless Saturdays. According to a sesquicentennial article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, in Wisconsin's Green Lake County 100 percent of the housewives signed on and 80 percent of Milwaukee did. Schoolchildren joined housewives in supporting the effort by signing this pledge: "At table I'll not leave a scrap of food upon my plate. And I'll not eat between meals But for supper time I'll wait." In support of the war effort, Americans discovered nouveau menus filled with dogfish, sugarless candy, whale meat, and horse steaks. They planted victory gardens and prized leftovers. Even President Wilson cooperated, grazing sheep on the White House lawns. The emphasis on voluntary support worked.



Source: National Archives and Records Administration Website

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The German Press Depicts Trench Warfare

This interesting sequence is from Tony Langley's collection. The series begins with building trenches as part of a comprehensive frontline system of defensive fortifications. Note that the work includes building rail lines and installing communications wiring.


Below shows a trench network in depth, including obstacles, barbed-wire entanglements communications trenches, and dugouts.



Last we see artillery deployed to support the front line against an infantry assault.


Source: Contributing Editor Tony Langley


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Sergeant Stubby: How a Stray Dog and His Best Friend Helped Win World War I and Stole the Heart of a Nation
Reviewed by Jim Gallen



Sergeant Stubby: How a Stray Dog and His Best Friend Helped Win World War I and Stole the Heart of a Nation
by Ann Bausum and David E. Sharpe
Published by National Geographic, 2014



Most war heroes enter with two legs and the lucky ones end that way, although many Great War veterans came home with one or no legs. "Sergeant Stubby" had a double dose of luck to enter and leave the war with four legs. War dogs have long played their parts. Some sniff out bombs, others find the wounded, and then there are those like Sergeant Stubby who do what a dog does naturally: just be the warriors' best friend. He was an American Bull Terrier stray who adopted a soldier, Robert Conroy of the 102nd Infantry of the 26th "Yankee" Division, (who probably thought he adopted Stubby) at the training camp at Yale University.

Stubby shared the chow, returned salutes, was smuggled aboard the troopship, came under fire, helped capture a prisoner, and became the mascot of the 102nd. Stubby had a uniform bedecked with Conroy's medals and returned home to become the mascot of the mascots. In shows and Victory Bond rallies he represented all those canines who comforted the warriors in their loneliness. General Pershing personally decorated Stubby and every U.S. president of Stubby's lifetime bent to shake his paw. Back home he became Georgetown University's "Bulldog", a mascot that continues to the present. In death Stubby's remains were preserved and today they are on display at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.


Order Now
The life of the American solder is woven into Stubby's saga. While exploring the French countryside with Stubby, Conroy found "real mud", "slippery yellow clay which hangs to your shoes and more and more keeps collecting". Upon disembarkation the troops piled into boxcars, the "40 & 8"s, so named because they could carry 40 men or eight horses. One became a "40 & 1", carrying as it did, "40 hommes et 1 chien". Sleeping soldiers were awakened by Stubby when gas approached. Grenade throwing was a contest between British underhand "cricket" tosses and American overhand "baseball" throws. Readers are introduced to competing theories of the origin of the term "Doughboy". Home front hardships such as meatless Mondays and wheatless Mondays and Wednesdays and porkless Tuesdays and Saturdays are introduced through Conroy's sister, Margaret.

Author Ann Bausum's writing is a narration of war, the life of the soldier and his dog. It is a light, easy read that familiarizes the reader with the day-to-day routine of the American troops in World War I and the surprising role that pets played in their days. Much of the details of Stubby's life are based on conjecture, "he would have" or "he must have", although many of his appearances are documented. A real dog lover would probably find this to be a heartwarming story. For me it is history lite.

Jim Gallen

We remembered Sgt. Stubby in an earlier posting at Roads

Monday, January 12, 2015

Where is that "corner of a foreign field that is forever England?"

One nominee that I believe would receive a lot of seconds is Ypres, specifically the Menin Gate.


Sunday, January 11, 2015

Remembering a Veteran: Edward I. Tinkham – AFS Volunteer, Camion Driver, Naval Aviator, Part VI

Part VI: Never to Return Home
by James Patton

Edward Tinkham was a Cornell University student who left school at the end of 1915 to join the American Ambulance Field Service (AFS) in France. He served throughout the battle of Verdun (with SSU 3 & 4) and was awarded the Croix de Guerre. He then returned to Cornell and recruited a whole section (TMU 526) for the AFS, which in April 1917 became the first American unit to become combatants, hauling shells and troops for the French on the Aisne. 

Student, Volunteer, Naval Aviator

Later he joined the new U.S. Navy aviation service, trained in France, and served as a seaplane pilot at the NAS Porto Corsini in Italy. For this service he received the Italian Croce al Merito di Guerra. Vice Admiral William S. Sims, former chief of U.S. Naval Forces in European Waters, in testimony before the Senate in 1920, spoke about Navy aviation during the war:

The only one of our forces that were in contact with an enemy that did not get away, an enemy that was willing to fight, were, necessarily, air pilots, and they are all officers; and they want to be well-educated officers, too, because they have got a difficult proposition to handle when they are up in the air; it is navigation. . .

And speaking specifically about NAS Porto Corsini:

The air forces which had an opportunity to fight enemy forces that were willing to fight, because a large part of the time the enemy air forces were at least equal, and sometimes superior, to, ours.

American Volunteers Monument France – Edward Tinkham Is Included in Those Remembered
(Contributor James Patton Is Center Right in Blue Shirt and Cap)

Edward Tinkham, however, would  never return home after the fighting ended. From the AFS Bulletin 82, 18 February 1919:

Ensign Kimberly Stuart, U.S. Naval Aviation, formerly of Section 4 and sous-chef and chef of Section 10, writes at the end of last month from Hotel S. Marco, Ravenna, Italy, that Edward I. Tinkham, in the same branch as Ensign Stuart, is still very ill. Ensign Tinkham was member of Sections 3 and 4 and chief of the first T.M.U. No. 526, sent out from rue Raynouard in 1917.

From Tinkham’s biography in the AFS Friends of France:

Shortly after the armistice he was taken sick and was transferred to the Italian Military Hospital at Ravenna where he died of meningitis and pneumonia on March 30, 1919.

More details come from an Italian source:

Edward Tinkham died at 8:10 AM, Mar. 30th, 1919 at the Italian Military Hospital in Ravenna, Italy. His body was cremated and his ashes were placed in the Muro perpetuo at Ravenna.

These accounts agree on two facts: Tinkham was ill for a long time, maybe over four months, and he died of spinal meningitis and/or pneumonia. Nobody, especially in 1919, was afflicted with either meningitis or pneumonia for a long time, but no source has been found to explain what was going on.

The Italian source also reported that Tinkham’s father Julian was with him when he died and arranged the burial.

Edward's Name Inscribed on the American Volunteers Monument

After the end of hostilities, Tinkham and the other Porto Corsini bomber pilots were commended in a letter written by R. Adm. Frederick R. Harris, the chief of the Bureau of Yards and Docks (coincidentally also a Cornellian) after he reviewed the damage done by bombing to the Pola facilities.

The Navy had no decoration scheme until 4 February 1919 when P.L. 65-253 established the Navy Cross and the Distinguished Service Medal, retroactive to 5 April 1917. A medals board was convened in March 1919 to review all commendations, as well as new candidates, for consideration to receive these awards. The board ultimately recommended the award of 1,839 Navy Crosses to Navy and Marine personnel, and Tinkham was on the list. Due to the large number of awards at one time, the citations were brief:

The Navy Cross is awarded to Ensign Edward I. Tinkham, U.S. Navy (Reserve Forces), for distinguished and heroic service as a seaplane pilot in which capacity he made many flights for patrolling the sea and bombing the enemy coasts, showing at all times courage and a high spirit of duty.

Previously, in June 1917, the Cornell faculty, in an unprecedented act, had awarded Tinkham his BS degree, retroactive to the Commencement of 1916. Due in large part to Tinkham’s effort, 122 Cornellians served with the AFS. Only the Harvard, Yale, and Princeton contingents were larger.

Although the war put paid to romanticism, there were still some romantics left at Cornell. Professor A. B. Recknagel wrote this heroic Ode to Tinkham:

As the first song birds of returning Spring
Bring hope and vigor after Winter’s dearth
So Tinkham with his band of Cornell youths
An earnest was of great help to come
And of our country girding for the strife

Consumed as with a bright fierce flame
Of patriotic fervor, he is not dead
Whom once we knew and loved
He is translated, apotheosized
As One who also loved humanity.

After Edward’s death, Julian Tinkham sold his business interests and devoted himself wholeheartedly to promoting the League of Nations and the cause of peace. A diehard, he campaigned tirelessly for the U.S. to reconsider and join the League, frequently contributing what today we call op-ed pieces to the New York newspapers. He moved to his farm (another story) and turned his house at 509 Park St. in Montclair, NJ, into a venue for meetings and lectures. He redeveloped his 1.7 acres of grounds, and from 1924 to 1926 he opened them to the public as a "Peace Garden", where visitors could “enjoy tea in his garden amidst fountains and lily ponds with goldfish and other attractive features.” There were protests from the neighbors, lawsuits, and a city zoning violation action, which ultimately closed the place down. One of the fountains was "The Model for the League of Nations" by the noted Philadelphia sculptor A. Sterling Calder. After Julian’s death in 1940, this work was moved to Mountainside Hospital in Glen Ridge, NJ. In recent years the house was the residence of economist Paul Volcker, Federal Reserve Chairman from 1979 to 1987.

"League of Nations" Fountain Commissioned by Julian Tinkham

And the Tinkham mystique lived on for a while longer. On 23 May 1931, on the occasion of the dedication of the Cornell War Memorial, President Herbert Hoover said:

Fourteen years ago this morning a group of American boys carried an American flag into the fighting on the Aisne front, and thereby made a splendid gesture symbolic of the might of the New World mustering for the decisive issue. This unit was composed of undergraduates of Cornell and was under the leadership of Captain Edward Tinkham, a Cornell student in the class of 1916. It was a vanguard of a mighty army of American youth that flowed across the Atlantic in the months that followed.

For a number of years the Italian Navy base at Ravenna held an annual remembrance for Tinkham, and on the date of President Hoover’s address, the Italian Navy also honored Tinkham in a ceremony at the U.S. Embassy in Rome.

In addition to his Naval Air Service, Edward Tinkham was one of 19 men from the old AFS TMU 526 who died in the service. A total of 149 men who served with the AFS Camions were lost. See the earlier accounts of his remarkable service in the Great War at these Roads to the Great War postings:

Part I: With the American Field Service

Part II: With TMU 526, of the AFS and the Rèservé Mallet

Part III: Difficult times in the Camion Service

Part IV: Training to be a Navy Pilot

Part V: Training to be a Navy Pilot

How did I first get interested in Edward Tinkham and his story? As an undergraduate at Cornell, I frequently walked past this plaque. And yes, I also know the stories of Mason and McCullough.


Sources: American Field Service, Congressional Record (Jan. 1920), Cornell University, Willis Haviland Lamm, Montclair Historical Society, Montclair Public Library, Seal and Serpent Society.

Friday, January 9, 2015

100 Years Ago: Rotogravure Helps America Visualize the War

During the World War I-era leading newspapers took advantage of a new printing process that dramatically altered their ability to reproduce images. Rotogravure printing, which produced richly detailed, high-quality illustrations, even on inexpensive newsprint paper, was used to create vivid new pictorial sections. Publishers that could afford to invest in the new technology saw sharp increases both in readership and advertising revenue. The images in this collection track American sentiment about the war in Europe, week by week, before and after the United States became involved. Events of the war are detailed alongside society news and advertisements touting products of the day, creating a pictorial record of both the war effort and life at home. The collection includes an illustrated history of World War I selected from newspaper rotogravure sections that graphically documents the people, places, and events important to the war.

From the 10 January 1915 New York Times

This page of the supplement featured Australian reservists arriving in Britain, the burial on the nation's home soil of the first British soldier killed  and the removal of German seamen from the disabled SMS Emden.

Throughout the war, the first few pages of the Sunday New York Times rotogravure section were filled with photographs from the battlefront, training camps, and war effort at home. For instance, in the weeks following the 7 May 1915 sinking of RMS Luistania many photos of victims of the disaster were run, including a two-page spread in the May 16 edition titled "Prominent Americans Who Lost Their Lives on the S. S. Lusitania". Another two-page spread in the May 30 edition carried the banner "Burying the Lusitania's Dead—And Succoring Her Survivors". The images on these spreads reflect a panorama of responses to the disaster—sorrow, heroism, ambivalence, consolation, and anger.

The Library of Congress has a full collection of the New York Times rotogravures from the war on line at:
http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/collections/rotogravures/