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

Friday, May 22, 2015

Newfoundland’s Enduring Memorials: Six Caribou, a Park, and a University

Contributed by James Patton

Royal Newfoundland Regiment Badge

Founded in 1583, Newfoundland (NF) was the Crown’s longest-held colony when it was granted dominion status in 1907 (confederation with Canada didn’t come until 1949). In August 1914, in response to patriotic urgings, the small nation (population 241,000) created the Newfoundland Regiment, and as a dominion, it was expected to bear all of the costs. The regiment never served with the Canadian Expeditionary Force, and was always much too small to form even a brigade, and so it was part of the British 88th Brigade, 29th Division. The Newfoundlanders served with heroism and distinction and on 28 September 1917 they were designated by the King as a Royal Regiment, the only regiment to be so honored during the Great War (only three Royal designations have ever been bestowed during wartime). 

The Newfoundlanders had a hot war:  they landed at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915, then came their tragic and heroic attack at Beaumont-Hamel on 1 July 1916, they were behind the tanks at Cambrai in 1917, and (as part of the 9th Division) chased the Germans from the Salient in the last hundred days. However, the story of the regiment is not the subject of this article. 

About 8,500 Newfoundlanders served in the Great War (the number of sailors isn’t exact); there were 1,570  killed or died and 2,314 wounded. 

In 1919, the Royal Newfoundland Regiment’s Catholic chaplain, Lt. Col. (Hon) the Rev. Thomas Nangle, who was also the NF Director of Graves Registration and Enquiry and NF's representative on the Imperial War Graves Commission, determined to create an impressive set of memorials independent of the IWGC. 

His plan had three parts:  to honor all who served, a traditional-style war memorial in the center of St. John’s (dedicated on 1 July 1924 by Field Marshal the Earl Haig); to honor the sacrifices of the regiment, the acquisition and preservation of the entire Beaumont Hamel battlefield and the erection of six distinctive Caribou statues following "the trail of the Caribou" through every major site where the Newfoundlanders served; and for the brighter future that the fallen would never see, the establishment of a college at St. John’s.  

Three of the Caribou from Top Left:  Newfoundland Memorial Park;
Courtrai/Kortrijk, Belgium; Bowring Park, St. John’s

Fr. Nangle led the formation of a charity to raise funds by public subscription. Every family in the country was asked to give NF$1, and about NF$35,000 was raised. Additionally, Sir William Coaker’s Fisherman’s Protective Union (a political party) kicked in NF$10,000, and the government eventually contributed funds from the sale of the Tobacco Monopoly. 

By 1921 Fr. Nangle had completed the purchase of 74 acres at Beaumont Hamel (10 more acres were acquired later), having come to terms with nearly 250 claimants, and thus the largest preserved area of the Somme Battlefield was created. He also purchased small parcels at Gueudecort, Masnieres, Monchy-le-Preux, and Courtrai/Kortrijk (in Belgium). Nangle’s group paid cash for all of the memorials, which a country about the size of Delaware could ill afford. Canada, on the other hand, was later given the 250 acres at Vimy Ridge by France "freely and for all time".

Sixteen memorial designs were submitted to Fr. Nangle. He recommended British sculptor ex-Captain Basil Gotto's plan to erect identical bronze caribou statues at locations where the regiment played a significant role. Fr. Nangle wrote that Gotto's design was "most distinctive, his idea being a giant caribou somewhat like the 'Monarch of the Topsails' carved in bronze on a rough cairn of Newfoundland granite about ten to fifteen feet high. This will be distinctive of the Regiment and of Newfoundland. It will be artistic and cheap, all five being cast from the same mould." The caribou statues cost approximately £1,000 each.

In the end, six of Gotto's caribou were cast — one for each of the five European sites and one possibly envisioned for Gallipoli but which ended up at Bowring Park in St. John's. Landscape architect R.H.K. Cochius designed all of the parks. The caribou in Europe overlook battlefields where Newfoundlanders fought and died. They were dedicated on 7 June 1925, again by Haig, in a ceremony at Beaumont-Hamel. 

Hard times were ahead for the little nation that tried so hard. In 1932 the government was declared insolvent, and Newfoundland reverted to Crown control, much to Whitehall’s chagrin. There were several reasons for this failure, and war costs, pensions, and the memorials program were on the list.

Contemporary View of Memorial University, St. John’s Campus

Impressive as the Beaumont-Hamel Park and the caribou are today, the unmatched and everlasting remembrance to Newfoundland’s service and sacrifice will always be Fr. Nangle’s little college, which opened in 1925 with 55 students to prepare young Newfoundlanders to teach or to attend British universities. Ninety years later the Memorial University of Newfoundland has over 18,000 students and 1,100 faculty at four campuses, including one in the UK, and is one of Canada’s leading universities, internationally recognized in education, engineering, business, and medicine, and ranked fifth in Canada by Macleans magazine in 2013. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

This Is How the News Came

Order of Induction into Military Service of the United States

The President of the United States

To: Joseph W. Doakes,

Greeting: Having submitted yourself to a local board composed of your neighbors for the purpose of determining the place and time in which you can best serve the United States in the present emergency, you are hereby notified that you have now been selected for immediate military service.

You will, therefore, report to the local board named below at: 48 South Grand Avenue at 4 pm, February 16, 1918 for military duty.

From and after the day and hour just named you will be a soldier in the military service of the United States.

Reporting for Duty

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Remembering a Veteran: Russian Immigrant Sam (Zalmon) Reuben Orlowsky, 319th Field Artillery, AEF

Contributed by Janice M. Sellers

Tombstone of Sam [Zalmon] Orloff,
Waldheim Cemetery, Chicago,
Cook County, Illinois.
Photo:  Carol Townsend
Zalmon Reuben Orlowsky was born about 1891, probably in Bachmach or Glukhov, Chernigov gubernia, Russian Empire (now Bakhmach and Hlukhiv, Chernihiv oblast, Ukraine). When he immigrated to the United States, arriving in New York City on 30 October 1906, his father was most likely already dead, as he listed his mother, Elke Orlowsky, as his closest relative in the “old country". His occupation given on the ship manifest was merchant. A family story says that he taught himself to read English by going back and forth between Russian and English versions of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace.

By 1910, Zalmon, now going by the last name of Orloff and sometimes the first name of Sam, was living in New Haven, Connecticut, and working as a shop laborer. On 16 December 1914, he was naturalized as an American citizen in New Haven. He registered for the draft on 5 June 1917, while living at 31 Anne Street in New Haven.

The state of Connecticut, to show its pride in its citizens who had served during the “War to End All Wars”, published a three-volume work in 1941 ( with details on those citizens’ service. According to his entry (in the second book), Zalmon was inducted into the National Army on 3 October 1917, at Local Board 2.

From letters Zalmon wrote to his sweetheart while he was in the Army, we know that he went through basic training at Camp Gordon, Georgia. His tour with the American Expeditionary Forces took him to France, where he was near the front lines with the 319th Field Artillery Regiment of the 82nd Division. As with many soldiers, he was deeply affected by what he saw during the war. Here are excerpts from some of his letters:

With the AEF in France, August 1918
“The night before last was the night when I began to lead the life of a real soldier. … [W]e camped in the woods on the grass without blankets even. German aeroplanes circled over the woods unceasingly. … In the morning we were awakened by a whiz of a shell flying overhead, the noise repeating itself every minute and a half. No matter how hard we tried to see the shells flying through the air it could not be detected.”

France, September 1918
“First, I am at the present moment in a … dugout which a few of my colleagues and myself have located in the neighborhood. … Second, my elbow is touching a fully loaded Colt, which may be needed any moment, as all kind of untoward persons prowl about the vicinity. Third, one of my best friends—the gas mask—is in alert position, as the Germans are likely to send over some of their nasty perfumes at any moment ….”

Still in the woods, October 4, 1918
“All of a sudden bombs began to explode right near us, and the light of the explosions simply blinded us. All of us instinctively fell to the ground and stretched ourselves flat, for that is the best protection from shrapnel and splinters. In fact, the bombs fell so near our barracks that pieces of the steel casing were to be found everywhere around them.”

Zalmon Orloff’s World War I draft registration card.

Zalmon was assigned to Headquarters Company of the 319th Field Artillery Regiment for his entire service in the Army. He was made a corporal on 7 December 1917 and a supply sergeant on 1 February 1918. He was with the AEF from 19 May 1918 to 25 March 1919, and was honorably discharged on 4 April 1919.

Sometime between his discharge in 1919 and the 1920 U.S. census, Zalmon moved to Detroit, Michigan, where he was working as a mechanic. By 1924 he was married and had a son, and by 1927 the family had moved to the bustling city of Chicago, where some of Zalmon’s cousins lived. He had trouble getting good work, however, and was a paper hanger from 1924 to 1930.

Zalmon survived the Great War, but he did not make it through the Great Depression. He died 1 March 1930, in Chicago. His death was unexpected; he is buried in a section of the cemetery where the plots were sold individually, on an “as needed” basis. He is not far from a family member, though; his sister-in-law had died the previous year in a car accident and he is buried only two plots away from her.

Zalmon Orloff’s entry in Connecticut Men and Women in the Armed Forces of
the United States During World War, 1917–1920

Zalmon is the grandfather of a friend of mine. We are lucky to have a friend in the Chicago area, who tries to visit Zalmon’s grave on Veterans Day every year to let him know he is not forgotten.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Romanian Battlefront in World War I
Reviewed by Michael P. Kihntopf

The Romanian Battlefront in World War I
by Glenn E. Torrey
University of Kansas Press, 2011

NOTE: In 2012 The Romanian Battlefront in World War was awarded the annual Norman B. Tomlinson, Jr., Prize for the best work of history in English on World War One (1914–1918).

Romanian Troops Retreating, December 1916

For years authors have pummeled World War I aficionados with the statement that "the Great War's Eastern Front is largely ignored." This admonishment has of late become a cliché. Books by Jack Tunstall (Blood on the Snow, University of Kansas, 2010) and Timothy Dowling (The Brusilov Offensive, Indiana Press, 2008), to name only two among many authors, have brought much information about the Eastern Front to readers in the last few years. This book may finally put the neglect statement to rest among other passé adages of the time.

Author Glenn Torrey, professor emeritus of history at Emporia State University, has authored many pieces about the Eastern Front and especially Romania's part in the war, but this work surpasses those endeavors. It is a compilation of his previous works richly endowed with extensive archival research as well as quotes from personal correspondence from those who participated in the battles and campaigns. Much of the archival information, coming from Romanian sources, is new to Great War readers as are the personal observations. Torrey has opened a window to understanding Romania's part in the Great War through this research. However, this is not a book which delves into political rhetoric. On the contrary, the book is something I have not seen for quite some time—it is a military history dealing with battles, campaigns, and the personalities of the men who shaped those actions.

Torrey opens with a summary of how the Romanian government got involved in the war, and it is brief and to the point. Put simply, Prime Minister Ion Bratianu was an ardent nationalist who wanted to annex Austria-Hungary's Transylvania region, which was largely populated by Romanians. What follows after this chapter is a detailed description of the military efforts presented by the naïve leaders of the Romanian Army against a blooded, experienced Central Powers coalition of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Bulgaria in 1916. Torrey leads the reader through the invasion of Transylvania, showing how ill prepared the army was in materiel, leadership, and morale. Then he deftly shows how the Central Powers crushed the invasion sending the army reeling back across the Carpathians.

Order Now

Normally, most authors have stopped at that point and bewailed the fate of the 500,000 man strong Romanian army which seemed to melt away. Torrey, however, takes us one step further to show how the army, albeit decimated, actually survived to regroup and retrain under its own leaders and with French assistance to become a more experienced organization that successfully matched their opponents in mid-1917. These chapters are not for a student of political science. They are for a person who will pour over maps placing 1st Army here and Russian allies there and fret over the timing of an attack on a nameless hill or the defense of an important pass whose loss would mean disaster. Torrey does this expertly, keeping the Romanian Army center stage with the Central Powers reacting to their counterattacks. Additionally, Torrey explores personages such as General Alexandru Averescu, who had a brilliant military mind that was befuddled in furthering his own image. I have researched Romanian actions for my own books, and I was delighted with Torrey's detail and surprised at the real depth of Romanian offenses and defenses.

This book is a must-read for the military maven as well as for those who have read only that the Romanian Army was soundly defeated and reliant on the Russians to maintain their front. Such works as this one will finally put a knife into the heart of the phrase "largely ignored".

Michael P. Kihntopf

Monday, May 18, 2015

Historian Trevor Wilson's Reflections on Anzac Day

Monash Gully at Anzac — Front Line in the Distance

The popular and provocative Aussie historian was interviewed on the 90th Anniversary of Anzac Day by the Australian Broadcast Corporation. He was asked about the significance of the great Australian holiday. The comments seem still interesting a decade later.

Why are Australians so concerned about Anzac Day?

Prof. Wilson:
They were very concerned of course about what happened to Britain. Australia regarded itself as a lonely part of the world in a very far-off area and the only thing they felt was keeping them secure was the British Navy, and if Britain went down to Germany the British Navy would go down to the German Navy, and Australia would be defenceless.

So there were these very strong feelings for so many Australians who were in fact recent migrants from Britain, or their parents certainly were. If you looked at the AIF most of them are either first-generation British or their parents are first-generation British so that there was this enormous association between Britain and its colonies, its white colonies anyway.

So do you see the First World War as being really Australians seeing themselves as an outpost of Britain going back there?

Prof. Wilson:

What about this idea that the nation was founded then? Do you agree with that idea?

Prof. Wilson:
Well, it was founded in the sense that the colonies joined together to make the Commonwealth of Australia, but that event in itself did not end the terrific association that most Australians felt towards Britain, towards the Empire.

There was a sense that Australia was a great power because it was part of the Empire. It's manifestly not a great power in its own right. It's a very little power, and if the rest of the world turns hostile against it and if the British Navy and the British power was not there to protect it, it was going to be in a very precarious situation.

See our recent Anzac Day posting at:

Saturday, May 16, 2015

100 Years Ago: The Gorlice-Tarnów Offensive & the Great Retreat Underway

In May 1915 a German/Austro-Hungarian offensive was launched against Russia that would result in the greatest victory of World War I by the Central Powers.

When: First Phase, 2 May – 22 June 1915
Where: Primarily in Poland, Starting Southeast of Kraków

For 1915 the chief of the German General Staff, Erich von Falkenhayn, had decided to look to the east.

  • His forces were bogged down in the west and his principal ally, Austria-Hungary, was almost "steamrollered" in the winter campaigns in Galicia.
  • For his first operation, he chose to attack over the Carpathian Mountains into Galicia against Russian forces that were still attacking.
  • Eight divisions were moved from the Western Front to form the new Eleventh Army under the command of  aggressive general August von Mackensen.  
  • Flanked by two Austrian armies, the force attacked in early May near the rail centers of Gorlice & Tarnów.

Russian Prisoners of War


The Gorlice-Tarnów Offensive succeeded beyond all expectations: one after another, Russian defensive lines were penetrated. Fortress Przemysl was recaptured, and Warsaw fell.

Then, on 9 July Russia's supreme commander, Grand Duke Nicholas ordered a scorched-earth retreat. By September, Poland and Galicia were lost and the Eastern Front was 300 miles east from its August 1914 starting point.

Greatest Victory by the Central Powers in WWI —

  • The Russian Army by the end had lost two million men killed, wounded, or captured.
  • A Symbolic Victory:  Gaining Almost All of Poland
  • A Psychological Victory:  The Russian High Command felt outmatched when facing the German Army for the rest of the war.

Possibly the worst result of the defeats — the tsar named himself commander-in-chief, leaving the tsaritsa and Gregorii Rasputin free to meddle in affairs in Petrograd.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Recommended: Behind Their Lines, a WWI Poetry Blog

I know from our comments and emails that we have a lot of war poetry fans who check in at Roads to the Great War.  Let me recommend Connie Ruzich's wide-ranging blog Behind Their Lines for you.  Here is a sample posting from 12 March 2015:

Remembering Jo

If not for the context in which Ernest Rhys's poem originally appeared (more on that later), "Jo's Requiem" would not be easily identifiable as a war poem at all.  The poem offers no description of the First World War,  not of the trenches, nor of the suffering and death that occurred there. 

Instead, this is a poem that is firmly grounded in the English countryside. There, a man simply named Jo earns his strength behind a plow, watches with sharp-eyed vision for birds that might threaten his newly sown seed, and is so attuned to his land that "He could hear the green oats growing,/and the south-west wind making rain." I'd like to meet that man. 

Jo's Requiem
by Ernest Rhys

He had the ploughman's strength
in the grasp of his hand;
he could see a crow
three miles away,
and the trout beneath the stone.
He could hear the green oats growing,
and the south-west wind making rain.
He could hear the wheel upon the hill
when it left the level road.
He could make a gate, and dig a pit,
and plough as straight as stone can fall.
And he is dead.

We learn that Jo has spent a lifetime in learning to read the subtle signs of life that surround him, spotting even "the trout beneath the stone."  His actions are neither noble nor heroic, yet he masters the world around him with skill and honest work, in making and digging. 

And he is dead. The last line of the poem breaks with all that has gone before and ends as abruptly a sniper's bullet or an artillery shell. We are not told if Jo fell "straight as stone can fall."  It doesn't matter how it happened; the details of his death are irrelevant as they will not change the reality of it. 

The poem's bare closing statement heartbreakingly expresses the utter finality of death. As Robert Frost writes in "Out, Out—", a poem of unexpected death on a farm, "No more to build on there." 

"Jo's Requiem" does not argue with death, nor does it attempt to glorify or justify the cause for which this man died. The poem deliberately refuses any explicit attempt at making meaning of Jo's death. What we are asked to see in the poem is one country man and his life, not the scope of the war or the nameless and faceless mass of the millions who died. 

Implicitly, however, there is a sense of injustice underlying the stark contrast of the poem's first 11 lines and its final sentence. Strength and keen-sightedness were not enough to save Jo, nor were his practical talents, resourcefulness, and listening ear. The poem doesn't try to explain Jo's death, for no sense can be made of a senseless war in which over nine million died. The poem only asks us to remember and to mourn, as signaled by its brief title, "Jo's Requiem." 

Unknown British Soldiers
Curiously, the poem at some point was re-titled "Lost in France." First published as "Jo's Requiem" in Rhys's volume of poetry The Leaf Burners (1918), it appeared as the last poem in a series of 20 related verses entitled "The Tommiad." The title of the verse sequence is a play on the "Iliad", suggesting an epic about British Tommies, the name given to British infantry soldiers. But Ernest Rhys was a Welsh writer, and the title of the verse sequence may also be a play on the Welsh word tomi, "to spread dung" or "to bespatter with dirt", suggesting a much less glorious view of the First World War.   

"Jo's Requiem" was retitled "Lost in France" as early as 1945 in a British anthology titled Soldiers' Verse. For a while the two titles appeared together, with "Lost in France" as the main title and "Jo's Requiem" as the subtitle. Most recently the subtitle has disappeared altogether. Several years ago the poem appeared on the London Underground as "Lost in France", marking Remembrance Day. 

But the title change is significant. It alters the poem from being a tribute to a single, knowable man to a more abstract comment on an enormous and indecipherable war. 

It is said that history repeats itself, and as actually happened in the First World War, the name of this man is being erased from memory. 

Rest in peace, Jo. 

Check in to see more entries and subscribe to Behind Their Lines here:

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Remembering a Veteran: Lance Corporal Fred Fisher, VC, 1st Canadian Division (5th Reg’t. Royal Highlanders of Canada)

Contributed by Jim Patton

Irish-born Lance Cpl Michael O’Leary of the Irish Guards (later commissioned in the Connaught Rangers) was the first Canadian to receive the Victoria Cross in the Great War, on 1 February 1915. Before the war O’Leary served in Canada with the Royal Northwest Mounted Police. Due to his Irish birth, O’Leary gained substantial publicity and notoriety; even a play by GB Shaw was based on O’Leary’s deeds. 

However, the first Canadian-born soldier serving with a Canadian unit to receive the VC was Lance Corporal Fred Fisher (posthumous), of the 13th Battalion Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF).

Cap Badge of the Royal Highlanders of Canada
The badge bears the image of St. Andrew and his 
cross, with the motto of the Stuarts: Nemo Me 
Impune Lacessit  (No one provokes me with 
impunity). The crown denotes a Royal regiment.
Born in St. Catherine’s, Ontario, his father was a bank manager and the family moved several times before settling in Montreal in 1905. As a schoolboy he excelled in both football and hockey. On 16 August 1914 he left his engineering studies at McGill University to join the 5th Regiment, Royal Highlanders of Canada. Three battalions of the Canadian Expeditionary Force were drawn from this militia unit: the 13th, 42nd and 73rd.

On 22 April 1915, when the Germans launched their infamous chlorine gas attack that began Second Ypres, Fisher formed and re-formed impromptu machine gun crews and repeatedly stopped advancing German units until he was killed on 23 April. His actions stopped the Germans from overrunning Canadian artillery before it could be withdrawn. His body was lost and he is commemorated on the Menin Gate. His VC is held by the RHRC museum.

Memorial Plaque in St. Catherine’s, Ontario

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Great Scenes from Great Great War Movies

Sergeant York

York Shares His Reservations About Killing with His Officers

Dawn Patrol

"Hurrah for the Next Man to Die!"

The Big Parade

To the Front

A Very Long Engagement

Over the Top

Lawrence of Arabia

Confrontation at the Watering Hole

Oh, What a Lovely War!

Trapped in No Man's Land

Paths of Glory

Execution of the Selected

All Quiet on the Western Front

Kat Consoles Paul

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Planning Armageddon: British Economic Warfare and the First World War
Reviewed by Robert Warwick

Planning Armageddon: British Economic Warfare and
the First World War
by Nicholas Lambert
Lund: Nordic Academic Press, 2012

In the Great War, 1914–1918, two wars existed side by side. There was the spectacular and intensely reported shooting war: trenches, barbed wire, artillery, and so on. Then there was the economic war, far flung across the seas, moving absolutely crucial food and supplies to the combatants through maritime trade. As the author says in his introduction in a section labeled "The History of History", "This book offers a radical reinterpretation of the nature and significance of the relationship between economics and sea power before and during the First World War."

Rare Photo of Royal Navy Boarding Party Approaching a Neutral Ship, 1914

This movement of materials, men, and animals was crucial to the war effort of every belligerent, but it was conducted for the most part by the major powers, away from the glare of publicity. Reportage on its important role was muted by the complications and ambiguous interests of world trade at that time of war. As a subtext to this study, almost as important as the main theme, Professor Lambert asks the question "How could this major aspect of the conflict escape detection for nearly a century?" His reply is that it was due to official manipulation of the historical record. That's a tantalizing statement.

This tale starts with naval strategic theory. Up to this time the Royal Navy for generations considered the navy's role to be battle — warships firing cannons and torpedoes at each other and sinking one another's warships. That was proper war. The interdiction of merchant vessels, as in a blockade, was a secondary function assigned to second-line ships.

But the trade picture in the previous half of the 19th century had radically changed in every aspect. World population increased, expanding markets for an ever increasing variety of products, and all nations began to use the increasingly efficient sea trade to supply their populations with food and essential materials. Britain imported 80 percent of the grain it used. Between 1870 and about 1895, global trade doubled in volume.

Order Now

Andrew Fisher ("Jacky") was appointed First Sea Lord, the chief officer of the British Admiralty. He was an unusual man and was not wedded to the conventional and stuffy naval tactics blindly followed in past decades by the Navy. He saw how in a time of war the chaos resulting from a disruption of trade could be an opportunity. Starting in 1908, with the assistance of like-minded economists and Admiralty staffers, he conceived a plan which would allow Britain to direct and manage the ensuing chaos to her advantage. To accomplish its purpose and win the war, Britain had to shut down the enemy's industries and deprive the population of food. Pretty much all import traffic by neutrals, even to other European neutrals, had to be interdicted.

Fisher presented this concept to the prime minister, Herbert Asquith, and to the cabinet. They liked the idea. The Government accepted it and appointed a high-level committee to convert Fisher's thoughts into an operational plan. At that time the party in power and the prime minister were Liberals, and most of them were pacifists opposed to war. The plan had appeal to Asquith and his cabinet as an alternative to a shooting war. An additional appeal, based on the lurid stories of the popular press, was that the chaos would be so devastating that the enemy would give up quickly, perhaps within six months — hence a short war.

Within the committee assigned to consider Fisher's proposal a protracted struggle to place to get consensus, but by December 1912 a plan was agreed on and it was forwarded to Parliament. After a flurry of last minute adjustments and amendments, the government accepted the report. This was a critical action because it signaled the adoption of economic warfare as national policy.

Then came the assassination, and on 4 August 4 1914 England declared war on Germany. The Royal Navy, according to protocols and resolutions decided on in previous years, proceeded to act against the German Navy by capturing her vast merchant marine fleet and interdicting shipping to that country by neutrals. Immediately those actions were resisted with a wave of objections, protests, and complaints lodged by government ministries and commercial interests. A large part of British trade was with Germany, and the sudden loss of that customer was financially disastrous to British merchants and traders. Coal was declared contraband, thus closing that export market to British mines. Meanwhile, the British foreign market office was sensitive to the UK's relationships with neutral countries and constantly sought licenses and exemptions to naval policy, diminishing the impact of the embargo.

Admiral Fisher, First Sea Lord
In a discussion of neutrals, the United States was the elephant in the room, and the author devotes a chapter to President Wilson's fractious relationship with the British in 1914 and 1915. The interdiction of United States shipping, especially of wheat and cotton, was a matter of heated dispute. The year 1914 happened to be an election year in the United States and was also a time when the U.S. was in an economic slump. The president pointed out to the British that it was this exact practice, the embargoing of freight on the high seas, that had brought about the war of 1812.

The task of making this policy operational fell on an utterly unprepared British government. Adjustments and compromises were inevitable, and Admiral Fisher's vision of economic warfare was never fully implemented.

There is no comprehensive official history of this war, the economic war. What really happened is still an untold story. You might say that a velvet curtain has fallen over these events and policies, encrusted with bank logos and official emblems. In this seminal work our author, Professor Lambert, has lifted a corner of the curtain and permitted us a glimpse of this hidden story — but just a glimpse.

His narrative ends in 1915.

Robert Warwick

Monday, May 11, 2015

In Germany: A Fresh Evaluation of the War Is Emerging

I found this interesting interview at Deutsche Welle (DW) Germany's international broadcasting network. (By the way, we don't necessarily endorse the commentators we present on Roads to the Great War.  They are shared here to give our readers something to think about.)

Münkler: "World War I defined a century"

Political scientist Herfried Münkler of Berlin's Humboldt University is the first German in a long time to attempt an overarching analysis of World War I. DW talks with him about Germany's special role and the lessons from World War I.

Professor Herfried Münkler

DW: Mr. Münkler, since the beginning of the commemorative year 2014 the media have published features about the outbreak of the war 100 years ago. Is this really just because of the commemoration day in summer, or are we experiencing a new attempt at processing history?

Herfried Münkler (HM): Those two possibilities are not mutually exclusive. Such anniversaries often provide a fresh opportunity to thoroughly analyze the issue. And it's clear to see that this "Great War" — as the British, French and Italians sometimes call it — set the tone for the 20th century. You can take many lessons from it, primarily what not to do. And for this reason I can imagine this becoming a huge event, during which Europe pauses to focus on what went wrong in the first half of the 20th century, in the hope of doing better in the 21st century.

DW: In Germany we tend to call the war from 1914 to 1918 "World War I". Why did you name your book "The Great War"?

HM:  Firstly, the term "Great War" has a disconcerting quality. And secondly it has a defining or seminal character, at least to a German ear. This is the European war which defined the rest of the 20th century. One can argue that, without this war, there wouldn't have been World War II, probably no National Socialism, no Stalinism and no Bolshevik takeover in Petrograd. It would have been a completely different century. In this sense, the term "Great War" fits quite well.

DW: If the First World War had such a defining effect on the 20th century, why is there so little discussion about it as part of German attempts to come to terms with the past? At least when compared to the domestic attention on World War II.

HM:  There you have to differentiate. In our neighbors to the west like Italy, France, and Great Britain, World War I or "The Great War" does have this sort of presence. This is partly because the casualties caused by this war were much higher than the losses incurred in World War II. That is different in Germany, where World War II is firstly associated with expulsions [of Germans living in eastern Europe at the war's end], secondly with the massive damages [in Germany] from aerial bombardment, and thirdly with the Germans' war crimes and guilt. Similarly, when you go further to the East, then World War II has a much more dominant place in the public memory. You could almost argue that there is something of a West-East divide in Europe's culture of remembrance.

Reims Cathedral: Symbol of the War's Destruction
DW: One hundred years after the beginning of the war a new debate over war guilt has flared up. Australian historian Christopher Clark's book The Sleepwalkers has sparked it. In his book he is revising the long-accepted thesis of Germany's sole blame and he shows that all great powers were unable to prevent a war whose seeds were sown in the Balkans. What is your position in the debate about the war guilt — and does such talk achieve anything?

HM:  I think in this context the term "guilt" is not very helpful. It is a moral term and maybe a legal term. At least according to the formulation of Article 231 in the Treaty of Versailles, Germany bears the sole blame. But this is a discussion which we don't need anymore today. Therefore it is more useful to talk about the responsibility and to focus our gaze on the misjudgments and bad decisions that were made. These are the discussions which I believe to be helpful in order to learn something from the conflict 100 years later.

DW: What was the responsibility of the German Reich in the center of Europe?

HM:  Germany had not understood its special role in the geopolitical center of Europe. It can't be ruled out that one or several wars would have taken place anyway around this time in the 20th century [without Germany's involvement], but the focus would have been on localizing and containing these wars. What the Germans did was to bring together this collection of very different conflicts — unifying the longstanding conflict in the Balkans with the latent and by no means acute conflict over Alsace-Lorraine, or the battle over control over the North Sea. At the end of the day, doing this was political stupidity.

For the full interview visit:

Sunday, May 10, 2015

More War Dogs at War

Animal features always provide a boost in our readership, so allow me to flagrantly play to the crowd.

Supply Detail

Stringing Wire

Alpine Sled Dogs

Officers' Mascot (This One Must Be a Biter)

Doughboy Pal

Feeding Time at the Kennel

Red Cross Medics

Royal Engineer Scouts

The Multiple Missions of War Dogs

Paddy of the Wellington Regiment (Eyes Front, Paddy!)

Officers of the 2 Squadron, RFC, April 1915,
with Their Pals & Mascots

Manfred von Richthofen and His Dog, Moritz

Field Kindley, USAS, and His Dog, Fokker

Saturday, May 9, 2015

100 Years Ago Today: The Final Fight for Notre Dame de Lorette Begins

Notre Dame de Lorette Today: Site of the Largest French Cemetery on the Western Front
The Visitors Are Examining the Ring of Remembrance Memorial Listing 580,000 of All Nations Killed in the Region

On the night of 4 October 1914 Bavarian Infantry had taken possession of Hill 165, which had been left almost defenseless by the French during the "Race to the Sea". The chapel built when the hill was a site of sacred oratorios was turned into a bastion. The surrounding villages were well fortified by the Germans and were connected via underground passageways. There were three subsequent distinct battles around Notre Dame de Lorette identified as the Battles of Artois though accounts of their precise dates and results differ between the French and British versions. The first which began on 26 October 1914 was a series of German attacks and French counterattacks which left Notre Dame in German hands. 

The second, an attack by the French which opened on 9 May 1915, lasted until 24 June and re-took the heights of Notre Dame. It would not be until the third battle in the sector that the slopes of Hill 165 were secured.  Preliminary attacks in late 1914 and early 1915 had yielded up half of the ridge. The local commander was ordered by Ferdinand Foch, the sector commander, to seize the remainder of the ridge including what was now the formidable fortress of the chapel, which was surrounded by six lines of well-constructed German trenches with concrete machine gun posts and a forest of barbed wire and other obstacles. 

Scenes of the 1915 Fighting

Three Regiments of Infantry and three Battalions of Chasseurs advanced against the German lines at 10:00 hours on 9 May. Their charges took the first of five lines of German defenses but were forced to ground in the face of continuous machine gun fire. Companies were cut to shreds and many reduced to being led by sergeants. The attacks were pressed night and day until finally on the 12th the chapel — or what was left of it — fell to the French. Their ordeal had not finished, though, as they were still an easy target for the German artillery on the far side of the Vimy Ridge, and some of the sweeping up left a lot to be desired. Some of the German dugouts had been very deep and machine gun batteries had been missed in the fighting. The encroaching tide of French soldiers slowly swept around the sides of the hill despite the most tenacious of struggles by the German defenders for every house and basement in the villages.

It would not be until the 22 May that the French could safely say that they held Lorette and the key village of Ablain St-Nazaire, but they still had the remainder of the descent down into the valley to take, and that would  be done only in September during the Third Battle of Artois. One secondary result of the 1915 battles in the region was the strengthening of the reputations of two men who became the key French commanders in the later stages of the war, Ferdinand Foch and 33rd Corps Commander Philippe Pétain.

The French Offensive of May 1915 Was from the Top and Left of the Plateau

Friday, May 8, 2015

Out of War and Revolution: Another Tower of Babel

Artist's Conception of Petrograd's New Skyline

In 1915 Lenin proposed the creation of a new International to promote “civil war, not civil peace” through propaganda directed at soldiers and workers. Two years later Lenin led the Bolshevik seizure of power in Russia, and in 1919 he called the first congress of the Comintern, in Moscow, specifically to undermine ongoing centrist efforts to revive the Second International. This evolved into the Third International, also called Communist International, by name Comintern,  the association of national communist parties founded in 1919. Though its stated purpose was the promotion of world revolution, the Comintern functioned chiefly as an organ of Soviet control over the international communist movement.

Vladimir Tatlin
About this time Lenin decided his program for world conquest needed "Monumental Propaganda".  He appointed an artist named Vladimir Tatlin to lead the program, who proposed to celebrate the Third International with the preposterous, grandiose, utopian and (like all utopian schemes since Thomas More's "Utopia") utterly un-realizable, construction shown above.

As the later art critic Robert Hughes described it:

Tatlin's most grandly useless conception, however, which has always been the darling of "radical" art historians, was his design for a Monument to the Third International, 1920. It was to be a gigantic open-frame ziggurat of steel, spiralling up from the middle of Petrograd and dwarfing everything on the city's skyline. It would be built on a diagonal, representing that of the earth's axis. It would contain four enormous glass halls, each containing a different ceremonial structure for the Party, all turning at different speeds. The lowest one, a cylinder, would rotate once a year. The next, a pyramid, would turn once a month; and so on to the topmost hall, another cylinder, going round once a day. But although it would have some generally designated uses, these were never thought through — they were just part of the cloudy rhetoric that served to hide the disastrous shortages the revolution produced. The whole affair would be 400 metres high, but it never materialized, because it would have used up far more structural steel than the whole of Russia had. It was the unbuilt and unbuildable tower of a Babylonian socialism.

Sources: MOMA's website, and The Guardian

Thursday, May 7, 2015

News of the Lusitania Arrives at the World's Fair

Fair Grounds in What Is Now San Francisco's Marina District
(Golden Gate sans Bridge to Far Left)

There was a World's Fair held during the Great War. Known formally as the Panama-Pacific Exposition, it was held in San Francisco to celebrate both the opening of the Panama Canal and the rebuilding of San Francisco after the earthquake and fire of 1906.  Despite being at war, a number of the combatants had major pavilions and exhibits, including Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Italy, Japan, and New Zealand from the Allied side. Only Turkey, however, had a Central Powers presence.

One of the most popular exhibits was the 15-foot-tall Underwood typewriter that printed out the day's news in as close to real time as was possible in 1915. On Friday morning, 7 May 1915, the crowd in the Palace of the Liberal Arts gathered around as the typewriter started producing a bulletin — "Liverpool, May 7, the Lusitania with heavy passenger list of Americans was torpedoed and sunk off the Irish coast this afternoon."

RMS Lusitania Arriving in New York on an Earlier Voyage

Afterward, the fair, which — despite the death of aviation daredevil and local lad Lincoln Beachey and the war in Europe — had been something of a joy fest, shifted in tone almost immediately. More military displays, a model of a trench, and an exhibit of the latest news from the battlefields appeared. America, without yet realizing it yet, had started on the road to war.

For a virtual tour and photos of the fair:

For information on the International Exhibits: