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

Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Kaiser's Enthusiasms


My friend, historian and novelist Thomas Fleming, once pointed out that at his desk, the Kaiser sat in a saddle because it made him feel like a warrior. In this prewar photo that perfectly captures the Kaiser's militaristic enthusiasms, he is inspecting a Guards detachment, probably at Potsdam. As Wilhelm marches past, each of the soldier's heads snaps forward from the "eyes-right" position. Like their British equivalents, the "Old Contemptibles," most of these men were probably killed or wounded in the coming war. 


In November 1908, British foreign minister Sir Edward Grey perfectly captured in words this same disposition of Germany's ruler and foresaw its consequences:

[The Kaiser] is like a battleship with steam up and screws going, but with no rudder, and he will run into something some day and cause a catastrophe. He has the strongest army in the world and the Germans don't like being laughed at and are looking for somebody on whom to vent their temper and use their strength...Now it is 38 years since Germany had her last war, and she is very strong and very restless, like a person whose boots are too small for him. I don't think there will be war at present, but it will be difficult to keep the peace of Europe for another five years.

Friday, December 2, 2016

After the Armistice: The Doughboys Turn to Verse



The Doughboys' newspaper, STARS AND STRIPES, welcomed poetry contributions from the troops. After the Armistice, entries came flooding in since the boys no longer need to worry about surviving on the battlefield. All that made the paper were almost uniformly more doggerel than fine poetry and the sort of verse fans of Wilfred Owen and Isaac Rosenberg might toss aside as being laughably sentimental. Nevertheless, they seem to capture something about the American experience in the war.  Here are three I like.  

Chow Time: Possibly Eating Corned Beef (Willie)


WILLIE

O compound of wrecked flesh, rent and torn asunder, 
How do we e'er digest thy potency, I wonder – 
Cold, killed cattle pounded into paste, 
Pressed into tins and shipped to us in haste. 

Greedily we eat thee, hot or cold or clammish, 
How welcomely thou thuddest in the mess tins of 
  the famished. 
O leavings of a jackal's feast, O carrion sublime, 
No matter how we scoff at thee, we eat thee 
  every time. 

Ah, CORNED WILLIE. 

Sgt. H.W. White
Stars and Stripes, 1919



Saying Farewell to a Buddy

Goodbye, Old Pal

Goodbye, old Pal,
I've been to hell and back
    again;
There's where you fell,
    in mud, in blood, and rain.
Sure, we won –
    you paid the bill;
You swapped your life for
     that green hill;
Goodbye, old Pal.

Goodbye, old Pal.
We're sailing home,
     our job is done;
But still your grave's a trench
     against the Hun.

Call us back;
     we'll make our stand
Where you keep guard
      in No Man's Land.

Goodbye, old Pal.


Anonymous
Stars and Stripes, 1919



A Party of Wounded Doughboys Departing St. Nazaire for Home

The Song of St. Nazaire [Abridged]

Hurry on, you doughboys, with your rifle and your pack;
Bring along your cooties with your junk upon your back;
We'll house you and delouse you and we'll douse you in a bath,
And when the boat is ready you can take the Western Path...

For it's home, kid, home – when the breakers rise and fall – 
Where the khaki's hanging from a nail against the wall – 
Clean again and cheerful there – 
Handin out an ear full there – 
Where you never have to jump at the bugle's call.


Lt. Grantland Rice [Yes, the sportswriter]
Stars and Stripes, 1919

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Tennessee, USA, in the Great War


By Margaret Ripley Wolfe , East Tennessee State University
From  the Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture

Soldiers from Jackson, Tennessee, Marching To War

During the interlude marked by the end of the depression of the 1890s and the entry of the United States into the First World War in 1917, Tennesseans as well as other Americans entered the 20th century. Embracing reformism at home and imperialism abroad, Americans of this era, on the domestic front and in foreign affairs, set the nation's future course. This was Progressivism at high tide, but the philosophy that shaped it and the ideas that undergirded it spilled over at either end of its loosely established chronological boundaries. Correcting the ills of an American society struggling to make the transition from a rural past to an urban future, Tennesseans as well as other Americans concentrated on domestic issues while international relations commanded less attention. By 1917, however, ominous developments overseas could no longer be ignored.

The faraway assassination of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo and the chain of events it set in motion, culminating with World War I, eventually reached into the rural communities and remote villages of the Volunteer State. Tennesseans shifted their attention from politics and prohibition to foreign affairs and distant battlegrounds. The principal European nations had been engaged in military conflict since 1914, but the United States managed to avoid direct involvement until 1917. Violations of American neutrality, sympathy for Britain and France, based largely on strong cultural and historic ties, the diplomatic blunderings of the Germans, and economic considerations congealed, and President Woodrow Wilson, a pacifist at heart, led his country into the first global war of the 20th century.

During the Progressive era, as local and regional economies gave way to the national and international organizational structure of corporate America, a pronounced alteration in federal-state relations occurred. The creation of the National Guard, which swallowed up the old state militia units, represents a case in point. Although the militia could be called up to keep the peace at the local level or to resist a foreign invasion, it was not until after the Spanish-American War that the militia had a permanent place in the federal military. Congress, between 1900 and 1903, routinely approved appropriations for the militia, providing federal money to outfit units of citizen soldiers. With the passage of the Dick Act on 21 January 1903, the U.S. government officially established an organized militia that could be called into the service as a part of the regular army.

Between 1903 and 1916, other congressional legislation tied the state units even more securely to the federal government. The National Defense Act of 1916, which was intended to prepare the nation's military forces for the possibility of involvement in World War I, represented the capstone for those who had actively sought the integration of the militia into the regular army. It specified that the state units, designated as the National Guard, would pass under complete federal control in time of war or grave public emergency as determined by the commander-in-chief. Shortly after the enactment of this legislation, with revolutionary upheaval in Mexico and chaos along the border, President Wilson ordered the National Guard into federal service. The initial call-up included almost 2,000 Tennesseans, but subsequent enlistments increased the numbers in the mobilization camp at Nashville by another thousand.

30th Division Sniper in Flanders, July 1918

Tennessee National Guardsmen, many of whom probably still considered themselves state militiamen, made no secret of their homesickness and general dissatisfaction when they arrived in the Southwest. Both the First and the Third Regiments saw duty on the border as did three troops of cavalry and hospital and ambulance detachments. The Tennessee delegation in Congress and Governor Tom C. Rye lobbied unsuccessfully for the return of the troops by Christmas. War Department plans prevailed, the U.S. Army maintained control of the Tennessee National Guardsmen, and the last of them did not come home and muster out of federal service until 24 March 1917. Two weeks later, on 6 April, the United States formally entered World War I. Six days thereafter, the War Department placed elements of the Tennessee National Guard on active duty; others were called up later.

When the war broke out, a relatively small number of Tennesseans already served in the peacetime armed forces, but the activation of the Guard affected hundreds of Tennesseans; still others joined of their own volition. Nevertheless, the Selective Service, commonly known as the draft, provided the greatest number of men from the Volunteer State. Both the North and the South had used the draft during the Civil War, but this marked the first time that the federal government had conscripted Tennessee civilians. The Selective Service Act of 18 May 1917, specified that military and naval forces should be recruited by lot from among adult males between the ages of 21 and 30, later expanded to 18 and 45.

Governor Rye named Major Rutledge Smith of Putnam County, who had been heading up the Tennessee Council of Defense, to direct the state's Selective Service System. Three registrations occurred on 5 June 1917, 14 December 1917, and 24 August 1918, respectively. A total of 474,347 men reported to the Selective Service, 368,242 of whom actually completed the classification process. The nation eventually drafted 61,069 Tennesseans (43,730 whites and 17,339 blacks), according to figures given in Stanley J. Folmsbee et al., History of Tennessee (1960). Camp Gordon, Georgia, welcomed many of these hastily created soldiers into federal service. Military and naval authorities had implemented a policy that prevented large groups of men from a single state from serving in any one division overseas. Nonetheless, the Thirtieth Division, nicknamed the Old Hickory Division in honor of Andrew Jackson, was made up of troops mostly from Tennessee, North Carolina, and South Carolina. The Thirtieth trained at Camp Sevier, South Carolina, prior to service in Europe. Elements of the Thirtieth Division played a major, perhaps even decisive, role in breaking through the famous Hindenburg Line.

Most Tennesseans in the military served in the infantry, but others entered the Marine Corps, the Army Air Corps, and the U.S. Navy. Indeed, Admiral Albert Gleaves (1858–1937) of Nashville, one of the most notable sailors of this era from the landlocked Volunteer State, commanded the United States Navy Cruiser and Transport Force, which had the responsibility of convoying American and Allied troops to the Continent. In 1919 Gleaves was commander-in-chief of the Asiatic Fleet. He held the Distinguished Service Medal and the French Legion of Honor. Another Tennessean, Admiral William Banks Caperton (1855–1941) of Spring Hill became commander-in-chief of the Pacific Fleet during 1916 and subsequently was involved in naval operations in the South Atlantic. World War I also featured daring young men in their flying machines, and Tennessee claimed several, among them Lieutenant Edward Buford of Nashville. Two other aviators, Lieutenant Claude O. Lowe and Lieutenant McGhee Tyson, lost their lives in the line of duty. Yet another Tennessean, Colonel Luke Lea, staged one of the most colorful escapades of World War I, leading what American Expeditionary Commander John J. Pershing officially labeled "an amazingly indiscreet" raid into Holland in a futile attempt to capture the exiled German Kaiser Wilhelm II and bring him to justice.

The most celebrated common soldier of World War I — a Tennessean — hailed from Fentress County in the Upper Cumberlands. Of humble origin, Alvin C. York had little formal education and as a young man had indulged in the not uncommon vices of drinking, gambling, and brawling. After religious conversion in 1915, he became a devout fundamentalist Christian who opposed war and violence. After struggling with his convictions, he was drafted and later assigned to the 82nd Division of the 328th Infantry Regiment, where he won international acclaim for his single-handed shoot-out with a German machine gun battalion in the Argonne Forest. York purportedly killed 25 Germans, captured 132 prisoners, and silenced 35 machine guns, a feat which earned him a promotion to sergeant and won him the Congressional Medal of Honor.

A Supply Tanks Supporting the 30th Division Assault on the Hindenburg Line

As warfare siphoned manpower out of Tennessee, it poured dollars into the Volunteer State. The U.S. Army Signal Corps Aviation Section, for example, established an aviation school near Millington in Shelby County. On 30 November 1917, the first 30 students arrived from the University of Illinois; three days later, another 75 from Princeton joined them. Most of the would-be pilots were college graduates. Student aviators trained in the JN4, known as the "Jenny", a biplane that carried two passengers. The plane featured a Curtiss OX-5 engine, a wooden propeller, and fabric covering. Park Field, the WWI training facility, not only contributed to the economy of Memphis and Millington at the time but continues to do so today, having become in 1942 the site of the Naval Reserve Aviation Base, the forerunner for the Naval Air Technical Training Command presently located in Shelby County.

The World War I era also gave rise to the "war babies" in various locations around the state —industries that owed their existence to the defense effort and either ceased to exist or went into major retrenchment when the armistice came. Numerous small factories producing war materiel made their short-lived appearances. The most important facility of these years was the powder plant at Hadley's Bend — later called Old Hickory — on the Cumberland River near Nashville. It cost $80 million to construct, and E. I. DuPont de Nemours Company operated it. The project brought 20,000 new workers to the Nashville area and caused a crisis in housing and transportation.

On the home front, state residents responded to the patriotic fervor of the times and organized for victory. Cooperating fully with the national government, the Tennessee State Council of Defense modeled itself after the National Council of Defense. Every county had its own council as did some 6,000–7,000 communities. Home Guards kept a watchful vigil over railroad trestles and bridges ,although saboteurs seemed to have posed no serious threat. Newspaper editors across the state rallied to promote patriotism, and nearly every county claimed "Four-Minute Men", so called because they could deliver brief, enthusiastic orations in support of the war effort. The wonders performed by the federal food and fuel administrations and their state counterparts, which encouraged and fostered voluntary conservation of precious commodities, warded off rationing. Dr. Harcourt A. Morgan, dean of the College of Agriculture of the University of Tennessee, directed the Tennessee Food Administration. Meanwhile, public officials urged farmers to grow more crops and property owners to set aside vacant lots in urban areas for food production. Educators encouraged high school students to cultivate "victory" gardens.

4-H Club of Oakland, Tennessee, Participate in a Canning Operation
Sponsored by National Food Administration

Historically, warfare has been dominated by men, but armed conflict has always impinged on women's lives as well. Some females from Tennessee entered the armed forces. Many others, black and white, worked in factories or contributed to a variety of private agencies, among them the Young Women's Christian Association, the American Red Cross, and the Tennessee Division and Davidson County Liberty Loan Organizations. The influenza epidemic of 1918–19 inspired some of the most heroic and self-sacrificing service. Women, trained and untrained, nursed the afflicted; others drove cars and ambulances to assist physicians and public health authorities in their efforts to combat the disease. Government officials specifically commended the emergency work of the Motor Corps Department of the Nashville Chapter of the American Red Cross. Approximately 20 million people died worldwide, including more than 500,000 Americans. The undertakers of Nashville as well as other Tennessee towns and communities found it difficult to cope with the victims. Chattanooga, for example, experienced as many as 5,848 civilian deaths by 19 October 1918, and soldiers encamped at nearby Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, and Chickamauga Park succumbed to influenza as well.

When hostilities ended, the home front prepared to celebrate. Women across the state, particularly in the capital, played a preeminent role in homecoming festivities. They arranged parades, block dances, patriotic tableaux, and banquets. In Middle Tennessee alone, Mrs. W. H. (Betty Lyle) Wilson, a nationally renowned cake-maker, headed a drive for the homecoming dinner that garnered 10,000 cakes. After the Armistice in 1918, the 114th Field Artillery became the first of the large units to return to the state. Traveling by train from Newport News, Virginia, the troops crossed the state line on 29 March 1919. They paraded in Knoxville where more than 30,000 cheering people lined the route. Then the 114th entrained for Nashville and arrived several hours later at a siding adjacent to Centennial Park. In Nashville, when the veterans passed in review, an estimated 100,000 to 250,000 people turned out to greet them. Governor A. H. Roberts delivered a welcoming address. The troops then traveled to Chattanooga where they also received an enthusiastic welcome before being demobilized in Georgia. Other Tennessee soldiers returned to less fanfare, but citizens in towns and cities across the state, from Johnson City to Memphis, officially greeted their returning veterans. At Jackson, a local committee of black citizens planned the largest celebration that they had ever conducted to show their appreciation for the African American soldiers from Madison and adjoining counties.

The Gravesite of Tennessee's Sergeant Alvin C. York and His Wife, Gracie, near Pall Mall

The general assembly voted a bonus for all who had served in the ranks, and the state legislature, city of Nashville, and Davidson County funded the War Memorial Building in the capital. One source indicates that Tennessee furnished as many as 130,915 men and women for the armed forces and suffered 3,836 deaths and 6,190 casualties. The Volunteer State also provided 3,690 officers, 110 of them female nurses. Only 288 individuals registered as conscientious objectors; citations for bravery abounded and the state claimed six Congressional Medal of Honor recipients. Among them was Edward R. Talley of Appalachia, Virginia, who apparently had some Tennessee connections. Four of the other recipients survived the war and claimed residence: Joseph B. Adkinson of Atoka; James E. Karnes of Knoxville; Calvin J. Ward of Morristown; and Alvin C. York of Jamestown. Milo Lemert of Crossville died in service to his country, but his body was retrieved from France for final burial. Citizens of the Volunteer State had also done their share to finance the war. Every loan drive, which involved war bond sales, including the very difficult Victory Loan of 1919, was oversubscribed in Tennessee. In the aftermath of battle, a group of representatives from division and service units of the American Expeditionary Force met in Paris from 15 to 17 March 1919 and organized the American Legion. By August 1919, Memphis Post, No. 1, set out to enlist every discharged soldier, sailor, and Marine, which in Shelby County amounted to an estimated 10,000 men. Other posts soon developed around the state, and ladies' auxiliaries likewise appeared.

Sources: Text from the Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture (LINK); Images from the Tennessee State Archives

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Serbia's Costly War


The Serbian contribution to the Allies' joint efforts was considerable. The price the nation paid, however, seems, by today's standards, utterly unbearable for a small nation.  

Serbian Army's Evacuation to Corfu

Serbia lost one-quarter of its population in the Great War. It also suffered more civilian deaths, (650,000) than military (450,000) in the First World War. The reasons are to be found in Serbia’s landlocked location, which isolated it from friendly Allied states and left it at the mercy of the surrounding Central Powers. Serbia was blockaded from the start of the war, and the civilian population suffered badly from famine and disease. The repeated Austrian invasions destroyed much of the north of the country’s infrastructure and farmland. An outbreak of cholera in early 1915 killed 100,000 Serb civilians. Thousands more died alongside the remnants of the Serbian Army during its epic retreat across the Albanian mountains in November–December 1915.

1918 Poster to raise funds for the Franco-Serbian Field Hospital of America

The situation worsened after the conquest of the country by the Central Powers in late 1915. Still more civilians died as Austrian and Bulgarian occupation forces implemented a harsh regime of martial law. Thousands were executed or sent to internment camps, and what was left of the country’s industrial and agricultural resources was stripped bare to supply the war economies of the Central Powers. Serbs struck back through guerrilla warfare, which led to brutal reprisals from the Austrian and Bulgarian military authorities. This culminated in a mass uprising centered on the Toplica region in February 1917 that at its height drew in 25,000 Austrian, Bulgarian, and German troops. An estimated 20,000 Serb civilians were killed or executed in two months by the occupation forces. This cycle of oppression, guerrilla warfare, and death through hunger and disease continued to take its toll on the civilian Serb population until the end of the war.

Source: NZHistory

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

37 Days: Death by Bad Casting
A Review by Editor Mike Hanlon


Rainer Sellien as Kaiser Wilhelm II

At our local Armistice/Veterans Day event recently, I learned from a friend that the vaunted 2014 BBC2 production about the July Crisis of 1914, 37 Days, was now available for purchase on Amazon.com here in the States.  We ordered it immediately and when it arrived the lady and I spent an evening binge-watching all three hour-long episodes.

Key Figures in the British Cabinet
Back Row: Bill Paterson as Lord Morley, Nicholas Asbury as Winston Churchill, Mark Lewis Jones as David Lloyd George; Front Row: Kenneth Cranham as John Burns,
Tim Pigott-Smith as Herbert Henry Asquith, Ian McDiarmid as Edward Grey

The initial look was just right (except that the British Foreign Office seemed to have been relocated to Belfast) and — as with many BBC produced dramas — the casting we meet in the opening sequences seemed pitch perfect.  While not identical looking to their British historical counterparts, all the actors seemed close matches and to have the style and mannerisms of the 1914 ruling class down precisely. The central character, Sir Edward Grey, is well played by Ian McDiarmid, and similar successful historical captures are achieved by Nicholas Farrell as his assistant, Eyre Crowe, Tim Pigott-Smith as Herbert Asquith, Mark Lewis Jones as David Lloyd George, and a host of others.

There were some signals that the historical record was getting made-over a bit for dramatic effect: the "Blank Check" episode seemed misplaced chronologically,  the Poincaré trip to Russia in the midst of the crisis is never mentioned, and repeated episodes of Margot Asquith openly playing factional politics with her favorites on her husband's cabinet seemed exaggerated, possibly to provide a substantial female presence in the otherwise all-male drama.

But another element eventually became the dominant source of annoyance for me.  The excellence in casting for Team Britain was turned upside down for all the other soon-to-be belligerents. Despite casting Germans as Germans and so forth, many of the portrayals simply did not work. For a few, the physical appearances were off, particularly Tsar Nicholas – the physically imposing chap that portrayed him is much better suited to play Nicholas's strongman father Alexander III – but the problems with the non-British cast ran much deeper. Whether it was their tone of voice, facial gestures, body language – whatever the problem – most of these players just  do not sell themselves as historic figures from 1914. And they often behave in the most unlikely, crudest ways. Moltke, for instance, is openly confrontational with everyone, even berating the Kaiser before other counselors.

Key German Advisors
 Bernhard Schütz as Helmuth Moltke, Stephan Szasz as Gottlieb von Jagow,
Ludger Pistor as Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg

Almost all of these foreigners' parts are neither as well written nor as well acted as for their British counterparts. The writers depict every major German figure, except Ambassador Prince Lichnowsky, as belligerent, rude, or uncouth; every Austrian as stupid or foppish; and the single significant French character unsurpassingly rude for a diplomat. Also, the actors for these roles seem to have been instructed to remove any element of subtlety or personal charm from their portrayals.

Implausibly, the Tsar Watches On Approvingly as a General Drills and 
Harangues His Hemophiliac Son

All of this made the entire production implicitly sympathetic to the British officials, their misjudgments and miscalculations presented as eventuating from sophisticated and good faith cabinet debates that were tragically misinformed, in good part due to the deceptions of  every other nation's politicians and diplomats.

At the end of three hours of viewing, I found myself disappointed. Because of this almost structural flaw with the casting and characterizations, 37 Days was a major let down. I simply could not trust the history being told.

MH

Monday, November 28, 2016

Announcing Our 2017 Publishing Program and an Appeal for Your Support


Here is an opportunity for our readers to support our effort at Worldwar1.com to commemorate the First World War. Our sole revenue sources that allows us to post our daily ROADS TO THE GREAT WAR, our monthly newsletter the ST. MIHIEL TRIP-WIRE, and our award-winning websites like the DOUGHBOY CENTER and TRENCHES ON THE WEB are our monthly subscription magazine, OVER THE TOP, and our line of CDs and DVDs. All the information you receive here at ROADS TO THE GREAT WAR and most of our outlets comes to you free of charge. However, it is not free to produce. Please support us by subscribing to OVER THE TOP or purchasing some of our disks that include annual compilations of all our issues, year-by-year, or for the entire past decade of publishing as well as our best seller, our WWI Centennial Musical Hit Parade. Here's our 2017 flyer, there is a link below for downloading a printable PDF version.

Have a swell holiday season and a great 2017,

Mike Hanlon and Our Editorial Team  


Click for a Printable Version of the 2017 Flyer

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Results of the "Puzzling War Memorial" Contest

Background

On 17 November we published the the photo below requesting an explanation of the lower section of this memorial, which I originally thought was related to the Second World War because of dates indicated just below it.  A day later we revised the post when it was pointed out that the 1939–1945 banner was tacked on in 1995 (the original memorial was dedicated in 1927.) Also, we corrected the location as the town of Ettlingen, which is near, but not in Karlsruhe, Germany, itself.  


The full sculpture it seems was originally exclusively connected with the First World War.  Also, it now can be seen as having three sections: top – Grim Reaper (symbolism clear), soldiers fighting in the middle (symbolism obvious), and then the mysterious lower section (erroneously labeled by me the 1939–1945) section, which is clearly in some subterranean zone with respect to the upper pieces.

Now, with all these changes and mistakes I made in the original article, there is case for throwing out the contest. However, a number of submissions came in that met some (but not all) of the requirements of the contest. So I decided to continue the contest and evaluate the contributions and make awards as seemed appropriate. 

Findings

In the revised rules for the contest I stated the winning submission would include explanations of who the combatants are, whether they are fighting each other or some snake-like monster, what the bowling ball-like object represents, what exactly the thingamajig on the far right is, and why both parties are red-headed.

No submission answered all of these points. So there will be no Grand Prize Winner declared. However, two readers sent details that were insightful and made progress toward a full explanation of the lower section. I declare these two readers to be Co-Runners-Up. Some extracts from their submissions are included below.

Name: Unknown 
Date: 17 November 2016 at 10:32 AM
It's a bas-relief, yes? I saw it in 1977. A then-girlfriend tried to explain it in her broken English and my poor German. As I recall it's a Wagnerian scene of two Germanic gods wrestling over the soul of man. 


Name: Paul Hurm
Date: 23 November 2016 at 5:43 PM

 Commonly known as a "Pacifist War memorial" . . . In the `underground´ area, a battle plays out between two brutal giants, wound in the coils of a snake. To me the snake might symbolize being grasped by something tenacious that won’t let go – i.e. hate.

Both parties will be awarded our WWI Musical Hit Parade CD. They can claim their prize by sending their mailing address to me at greatwar@earthlink.net.

Congratulations to the Co-Runners-Up and thanks to all contributors in the contest.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Recommended: Foch After the Somme


At the end of the Battle of the Somme, there were mixed feelings. Gradually the BEF took over Sixth Army’s front down as far as the river Somme, amid a lot of ill-tempered disagreements over dates (yet again) and the state of the trenches. Foch believed that it would be dangerous to leave the only offensive area, that is to say the northern bank of the river, in British hands. He pointed out to Joffre "the dangers of leaving to the large British Army the area north of the Somme which constitutes a magnificent domain bounded by the Somme and with easy access to England…deliver[ing] up provinces which constitute the only offensive front of the French armies without ensuring that we will be able to return and use them as the route of an offensive of liberation which we cannot entrust entirely to our Allies."

Foch Monument, North of Peronne, French Sector, Somme Battlefield

The frequent complaint that the British were fighting to the last Frenchman re-surfaced. A French Army morale report of mid-November stated, "The idea that the British owe it to us to extend their front in order to allow us to shorten ours is spreading." On the other hand, a letter home from a soldier of 69 Infantry Regiment asserted, after seeing the British at work, "I assure you that this mix of British tenacity and French furia was not unconnected to our success, which is only a beginning."

Finally, on 15 December, Foch was sacked from his command of the Northern Army Group. Even more frustrating was Haig’s reward of a field marshal’s baton. The circumstances of Foch’s removal are somewhat mysterious, but it is clear that there was a campaign of denigration mounted against him, and Joffre had not defended him.

Joffre too had lost the confidence of the government and the parliament, and he was promoted to a shadowy powerless position, from which he resigned. Foch was furious, but he had the sense to bend before the storm and obey orders. He would not be long in the wilderness.

Source: "General Ferdinand Foch and the French Contribution to the Battle of the Somme," Elizabeth Greenhalgh, British Journal for Military History, July 2016

Read the full article here:  http://www.bjmh.org.uk/index.php/bjmh/article/view/113/87

Friday, November 25, 2016

When Johnny Doesn't Come Marching Home
reviewed by Peter L. Belmonte


When Johnny Doesn't Come Marching Home

by Marian Small
FriesenPress, 2016


John Small, 1912
Defiance, Ohio, Football Squad

When Marian Small inherited a package of her father's letters and diary, she knew exactly what she had to do. As a genealogist and family historian, Marian had already written extensively about her family. With the information about her father's World War I service in her possession, she set about to write his story, too.

John R. Small enlisted in the Ohio National Guard and served on the Mexican border in 1916. After the declaration of war his unit was federalized and he became a sergeant in company G, 147th Infantry Regiment, 37th Division. In 1917 John married Mary, a young lady he had met in the service. Throughout training he proved to be an efficient and capable leader of his men. Due to a shortage of officers, John was de facto platoon leader from the time of his departure for France in June 1918. His leadership was recognized, and in early September he was promoted to first sergeant of Company G.

During the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, while advancing under shellfire with his company, John was struck by shell splinters, and his legs were "mangled." He spent six months flat on his back in Army hospitals in France, during which time he underwent many operations on his legs. Returning home in March 1919, John was carried down the ship's gangplank to the dock, hence this book's title.

John's War Mementos 

The section on John's postwar life is poignant. After returning to the United States, he remained in Army hospitals, still flat on his back, and subject to more operations. At one point, after being allowed the use of a wheelchair and tired of awaiting permission to leave the hospital to visit his family, John went AWOL with the help of a friend. Upon his return he was court-martialed and reduced in rank to private. Finally, he received his discharge from the Army in November 1920. His wounds left him "crippled" for life, his right leg virtually useless. John's struggle to obtain full compensation from the government, as well as reinstatement of his rank as first sergeant, were for naught.

John's letters and diary record the common concerns of a World War I soldier; all of his letters to Mary are tender and reflect the great love and care he had for his young newlywed wife.

Marian Small self-published this book through FriesenPress; this in itself is not a problem, but the book would have benefited had a military historian been able to supply some editing, especially with regard to military terms and unit composition. Small has included photographs of some pages from her father's diary; comparing the actual handwritten diary entries to Marian Small's text, we find that she has altered some of the entries and moved and combined some entries. For example, the exciting diary entry recording John's wound is not the same as Marian's text; she appears to have added some information, probably from some letters John had written. In none of the few examples that I examined was the sense of John's meaning altered, yet this is a serious drawback because we don't know for sure what has been amplified or changed from John Small's original diary entries.

The book has no footnotes or end notes, nor is there an index, but Marian has included a selected bibliography. Dozens of photographs from her father's collection are reprinted, augmented by photos Marian has culled from other sources. Readers should remember that this book was not written by a military historian seeking to present a scholarly study. Rather it was written by a family historian for the purposes of recording a soldier's history and preserving his memory for future generations. As such, the book should be considered more of a family heirloom or remembrance rather than a scholarly addition to the growing volume of diaries, letters, and memoirs of American soldiers during the war. Nevertheless, Marian Small is to be commended for publishing her father's documents; it would be wonderful if more people searched their own family archives and perform a similar service.

Peter L. Belmonte

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Remembering a Veteran: Captain Alan Waite, 372nd Infantry


Alan Waite was a white officer with the segregated 372nd Infantry that was detached from the AEF and placed under the command of the French Fourth Army in the last stages of the war. He was he was killed in action on 29 September 1918 in the Champagne as the Meuse-Argonne Offensive was unfolding just to the east. 

Alan Waite (Left) with His Brothers Stanley and Malcolm

He grew up in Yonkers, NY, where the local American Legion Post is named in his honor. He attended Dartmouth College, graduated in 1915, and studied law afterward. When America joined the war he enlisted in the infantry and was sent to the Plattsburg training camp, where he was commissioned second lieutenant in the Machine Gun Company of the 105th Regiment. Both of his brothers also subsequently enlisted in the Army. 

Waite then went to Camp Wadsworth and to Newport News, where he received his promotion to first lieutenant and was made battalion adjutant with the 372nd Infantry and sent to France. The enlisted ranks of the regiment were all black Doughboys, the officers a mixture of white and black. The commander was a respected and experienced West Point graduate, Col. Herschel Tupes.

372nd Monument, Monthois
The 172nd went into action on 27 September 1918 near the village of Gratreuill, advanced over the next two days, capturing Bussey Farm, and next to the west of Sechault, which they assaulted on the morning of 29 September. Their assault was beaten back, but the village was captured later that day by another American unit, the 369th Harlem Hellfighters.  Today Sechault is the location of a monument to the 369th, a similar monument to the 372nd is farther north at Monthois, the point of the regiment's farthest advance.

Waite was serving as a liaison officer and aide-de-camp to the headquarters of the regiment's parent unit, the French 157th Division, which carried the nickname "Red Hand of France." This was dangerous work requiring round-the-clock movement over unfamiliar routes, exposed to enemy observation and fire. The night of the 29th Captain Waite left divisional headquarters in Ripont on a truck with a French officer. En route to Bussey Farm the truck received an artillery hit. Both officers were killed. Capt. Alan Waite today lies buried at the Meuse-Argonne Cemetery in France.

Souces:  Thanks to Rolfe Hillman III, a great-nephew of Alan Waite for this material. It is derived from a talk his dad, Rolfe Hillman, Jr., gave in Yonkers on Memorial Day 1987. Roy Webb contributed the photo of the regimental monument.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

100 Years Ago This Week: HMHS Britannic Sunk 21 November 1916


Contributed by Jeffrey P. Ricker, CFA

Launched in 1914, HMHS Britannic was the third Olympic-class liner from Belfast’s Harland and Wolff shipyards, following RMS Olympic (1911–1935), and RMS Titanic (1912). The Olympic-class trio were the largest liners in the world, 100 ft. longer than competing Cunarders.  

Britannic was delayed for extensive and expensive safety modifications after the Titanic disaster. Watertight bulkheads were raised to B Deck, large lifeboat davits were installed together with plenty of lifeboats, and a double hull was added.  After launch, while fitting out in August 1914, the Great War engulfed Europe.  Work slowed, and Britannic was docked into storage.

HMHS Britannic

By 1915 as British Naval operations expanded around Europe, passenger liners were requisitioned as troop ships and hospital ships. Britannic was requisitioned as Her Majesty’s Hospital Ship, HMHS Britannic, to evacuate mounting casualties from the disastrous Gallipoli campaign. The ship was painted white with a green stripe and red crosses. Beginning in 1916, Britannic made five voyages to the Middle East Theater transporting sick and wounded soldiers back to the UK.

On the morning of 21 November 1916 Britannic was steaming at full speed through the Greek islands on a return trip to the Mideast. A total of 1,065 crew and Royal Army Medical Corps doctors and nurses prepared for the next load of evacuees. A huge explosion shook the ship. Britannic had struck a mine laid by the German U-Boat U-73.

Although badly damaged, Britannic should have stayed afloat thanks to the safety modifications. However, as in most disasters, a cascade of bad surprises combined to make it worse. A watertight door jammed and would not close. The firemen’s tunnel flooded, bringing water into two boiler rooms. The double hull caused asymmetric flooding and a serious list to starboard. Worst of all, contrary to orders, lower-deck portholes had been opened by nurses to ventilate the wards. Within 15 minutes some of these portholes on the starboard side were under water and the great ship was doomed.

After Titanic hit the iceberg, Captain Smith shut down the engines and called for help, hoping to reach another ship visible in the distance.  The distant ship was the SS Californian, whose wireless set was turned of,f and its crew ignored Titanic’s distress rockets. Britannic’s Captain Bartlett chose a different strategy — he kept the engines running hoping to beach the ship on a nearby island.

Contrary to orders, two lifeboats were launched during the desperate dash for land. Both boats drifted back and were sucked into the turning propellers, which were rising out of the water.  Thirty men were killed as the lifeboats were smashed to bits.  After hearing about this massacre, Captain Bartlett stopped engines and ordered abandon ship.

With plenty of lifeboats and warm 70F water, the evacuation proceeded without any more casualties. While Titanic took 2 hours 40 minutes to sink, the open portholes caused Britannic to roll over and sink in just 55 minutes. It was the largest ship lost in the Great War.

Titanic and Britannic Connections:

Stoker John Priest and Nurse Violet Jessop

Three Britannic survivors, Violet Jessop, a nurse, Archie Jewell, a lookout, and John Priest, a coal stoker, had also survived RMS Titanic. Violet Jessop and Archie Jewell were in one of the unlucky lifeboats, a horrifying experience. For John Priest HMHS Britannic was his fourth ship sinking. Five months later Priest survived SS Donegal when it was torpedoed and sunk. That’s five ship sinkings for John Priest, who lived to 1937 and died on land. Unfortunately, Archie Jewell was also on SS Donegal  but did not survive.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Written in Blood: The Battles for Fortress Przemysl
reviewed by Michael P. Kihntopf


Written in Blood: The Battles for Fortress Przemysl

by Graydon A. Tunstall
Indiana University Press, 2016


Austrian Prisoners 
Dr. Graydon Tunstall, longtime member of the Western Front Association, Eastern Branch, as well as the World War 1 Historical Association, has given the world another gem about the Great War's Eastern Front. His previous work, Blood in the Snow: The Carpathian Winter War of 1915, was a groundbreaker in exploring the struggles of the Austro-Hungarian Army. This new work adds more to the story of the Dual Monarchy's efforts to at first win the war against a numerically superior Russian Army, then to survive the war for a few more months and, later, to spend years as a dependent of the German Army.

As many of us know, the powers that went to war in August 1914 did not have a clear idea of what their political objectives in fighting the war were. Nowhere was the confusion more evident than with the chief of the Austro-Hungarian General Staff, General Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf. Tunstall reminds us in the opening chapter how Conrad's vacillation in determining which mobilization plan to implement quickly led to his armies meeting defeat in Russian Poland and on the Galician frontier. As the armies retreated into Galicia hotly persuaded by the Russians, Conrad saw Fortress Przemysl as a rallying point for the defeated; however, the fortress was more plaster than concrete.

Strategically placed between the San and Dniester Rivers and the Carpathian Mountains' Dukla Pass, which opened to the Hungarian plain, the fortress should have merited adequate funds since its inception in the early 1800s as a defensive position against Russian invasion. However, upgrades to armaments as those weapons changed and strengthening its forts in response to stronger besieging armaments were greatly neglected in favor of fortifications along the Serbian and Italian borders. The author very adequately lays out the fortress's armaments, some cannon dated to the mid-1860s which used black powder, as well as the condition of its walls, left un-reinforced by concrete.

A Russian Column Entering Przemysl 

Not until war was declared in August 1914 and invasion was imminent were measures taken to improve its inadequacies. It is a wonder that the fortress held out as it was surrounded by the enemy in October 1914 and remained so with only a brief respite until March 1915. Its tenacious stand was due not to Conrad's leadership but rather to that of General Hermann Kusmanek, the fortress's commander, who clearly saw that the installation's purpose was to tie down as many Russian divisions it could until the shattered army reorganized itself for a new, winning offensive.

Tunstall minutely lays out Kusmanek's efforts to make Przemysl a thorn in the side of the tsarist soldiers as they chased the Dual Monarchy's men deeper into Galicia. His sorties from the fortress and the defense of its old and newly constructed works tied down nearly two whole armies that Russian generals could have used to tackle the fortress at Krakow and invade Germany's resource-rich Silesian province. The author also revisits Conrad's efforts, which border on obsession, to relieve the fortress. Hundreds of thousands of men were lost in the Carpathian Mountains in winter campaigns that lacked adequate planning or compassion for the men, who had to endure all the inhospitable conditions that exist in the mountains in the middle of winter. As a result of such losses, the Austro-Hungarian Army grew more and more dependent on German battalions to shore up its defenses against the Russians.

Written in Blood is a must-have reference to an often neglected Great War front and to the inner workings of the Austro-Hungarian Army. It is rich with well-researched information arising from primary archival documents about siege conditions, military units in the fighting, and conditions endured by soldiers and civilians who shared their hardships.

Michael P. Kihntopf

Monday, November 21, 2016

100 Years Ago: Emperor Franz Joseph I Departs



Contributed by Brian Cleary

One hundred years ago ended the nearly 68-year reign of one of the Central Powers' leaders, the supreme ruler of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Emperor-King Franz Joseph I.

Winter came to Central Europe in early October 1916. Damp days and a bitter wind greeted the first snowfall at the Schönbrunn Palace during the last days of the month. Franz Joseph was busy poring over reports from his high command, the AOK (Armeeoberkommando). The Russian advance, which had threatened to break into the Hungarian plain, had been halted and the enemy troops were being pushed back down the Carpathian Mountains; Romania had entered the war against the Central Powers on 27 August and had advanced into Romanian-populated areas of Hungarian Transylvania. A multinational force under the command of the German general August von Mackensen had stopped the Romanian advance and was itself advancing into Romania. The diplomatic discussions progressed about the formation of a puppet Polish kingdom, intended to be ruled by the relatively Polish Archduke Charles Stephen,  who lived in the Austrian Galicia and spoke Polish, although his candidacy had been rejected by both Chief of the German General Staff von Falkenhayn and German Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg at the beginning of the year.  The German governor general of occupied Poland, General Hans Bessler, issued the Proclamation of 5 November, which promised the creation of an independent Poland but did not specify the future government or borders of this promised Polish kingdom. The Austrian occupation government issued a similar statement from Lublin. The proclamations only encouraged thoughts of an independent Poland among Poles and Allied leaders. In fact, the guarantee of an independent Poland became the thirteenth of President Wilson's Fourteen Points.  

Franz Joseph was also involved in the discussions about the formation of a new government for the Austrian half of the Empire, under the newly appointed prime minister, Ernst von Koerber. Consideration of these problems left him exhausted. In the beginning of November his mind was occupied with thoughts of his dear, departed ones during the Roman Catholic Feasts of All Saints and All Souls: his wife, the assassinated Empress Elisabeth and his son, the suicide Crown Prince Rudolf. His bronchitis at the end of October led to a persistent cough and fever by 6 November. His personal physician, Doctor Joseph von Kerzl, recognized the symptoms of pneumonia. On the afternoon of Saturday 11 November 1916 a warning telegram was sent to the new heir apparent after the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the Archduke Karl, who was traveling in Saxony after having met with von Hindenburg at the latter's East Prussian headquarters, but by the time Karl got back to the Schönbrunn Palace on Sunday night, the old emperor seemed to be in much better health. Like the pneumonia scare of 1914, Franz Joseph seemed to be shaking his infection off.

By Wednesday 15 November the effect was so remarkable that the two daughters, the Archduchesses Gisela and Marie Valerie, hesitated before making the short drive from Vienna to the Schönbrunn Palace, should the gathering of the family scare their father. But by Friday Franz Joseph's temperature had begun to climb again. Doctor Kerzl urgently sought the advice of the celebrated pulmonologist, Hofrat (privy councilor) Dr. Ortner, from one of Vienna's famous hospitals.

Sunday 19 November Franz Joseph was too weak to leave his room. He heard mass from bed. His dear friend, Katherina Schratt, came to visit that afternoon.  As she got ready to return to the convalescent hospital in Vienna for wounded officers where she was a volunteer, Dr. Kerzl pulled her aside and asked her not to come back on Monday. Franz Joseph was to have a day of complete rest.

The Archduchess Marie Valerie was intent on her father receiving the full ministrations of the Catholic Church, in case he should die. She made sure that the court chaplain, Dr. Ernst Seydl, was nearby. Dr. Seydl heard Franz Joseph's confession on Monday 20 November. Franz Joseph's favorite granddaughter, the thirty-three year old Archduchess Elizabeth, his son Rudolf's daughter, was at the bedside too.  Against doctor's orders, Franz Joseph worked tirelessly all day at his papers, but a few minutes before 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday 21 November the adjutant, Baron von Margutti, was told not to expect the normal 5:00 dispatches that day.  Margutti hurried over to Schönbrunn from the Vienna Hofburg Castle and waited for the doctor's reports in the small adjutant's office with Count Paar, another adjutant, and Furst (prince) Montenuevo, the court chamberlain. The Archduke Karl, dressed as an Austrian General der Infantrie (full infantry general) came in from time to time in a state of extreme agitation. He believed he would be the new emperor before the night was over. Baron von Margutti still had some work to take care of back at the Hofburg Castle, but he came back to the Schönbrunn at 8:30 p.m. He asked Dr. Ortner if the crisis had passed.

"Crisis?" replied Ortner. "It's the end! Hardly an hour now."

Franz Joseph still worked at the desk in his bedroom even though his temperature had risen to 102 degrees Fahrenheit. Finally he allowed his valet, Eugen Ketterl, to help him into his bed. Ketterl asked if there would be anything else. Franz Joseph asked for a wake-up call at 3:30 a.m. ("um halb vier.") There were still many papers that needed his attention. As Ketterl helped him to sit up in bed to drink some tea Ketterl heard him mumble "Why must it be now?" He was only just conscious when, at 8:30, Dr. Seydl administered the last rites. By 9:05 p.m. on 21 November 1916 he was dead at the age of 86 after almost 68 years on the throne. With him passed a whole way of life and, soon, the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

A Must See at Péronne's Historial de la Grande Guerre


Entrance to the Chateau de  Péronne's Site of the Historial

One of the lasting memories of my recent Centennial Tour is from our visit to the Historial at Péronne. In the past my groups have not responded especially strongly to the displays. My impression was that it over-emphasized the cultural aspects of the war in general, and neglected, or at least de-emphasized the actual combat.  I discovered, however, that in the three years since I had visited the Historial, they have done some re-modeling to make the presentation much more effective. I'm not sure whether they have added that much to the collections, but the sequence of displays has changed. One conspicuous revision is the prominence give to the work of German soldier, veteran of the Somme, and artist Otto Dix.  In 1914 Otto Dix, a student from the Dusseldorf school of Fine Art, volunteered at the age of 24 to serve with the German Army.  In 1915 he painted this extremely martial self-portrait and wrote, "I am a realist who must see for himself to confirm that something happens as it does. I must experiment all the abysses of life. That is why I volunteered for the army."



During his four years of war, Otto Dix fought on every front (he was in the Somme in 1916), was made a non-commissioned officer, and was awarded the Iron Cross (2nd Class). Confronted with the violence and horror of war, however, his initial exaltation was replaced by disillusionment. After the war, and already a master of German Expressionism, Dix's work — greatly influenced by his fellow veteran George Grosz — became anti-militarist, portraying hatred for war in a violent and passionate way. Fifty of his etchings are on display at the Historial, a complete set of his have been brought together in one of the rare complete boxes of the Der Krieg (The War) series. They are presented at the start of the recommended course through the Historial's displays, and they set a powerful tone for visitors.


This cycle, inspired by “The War Disaster” by Goya, corresponds with the artist's need to erase from his memory the horrors of his wartime experiences. Dix recounted, "The fact is, although young at the time, one doesn't realise just to what extent the shock was profound. For at least ten years I have dreamt that I was crawling through ruined houses or corridors where there was scarcely room to pass. The ruins were always present in my dreams."


Der Krieg explores the macabre theme of a horrible daily chronicle. Themes of destruction, deformation and mutilation of the human body emerge from an atmosphere of chiaroscuro to present a vision of the apocalypse. Most of the scenes depicting the objective despair of death take place in Somme or in Picardy, where Otto Dix fought.

Images and Commentary from the Historial's Website

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Another Point of View on Woodrow Wilson

Earlier this year we published a highly critical article on the influence of Woodrow Wilson. I remember that one of our readers took exception to another article critical of "Wilsonianism" that I had recommended in our newsletter the St. Mihiel Trip-Wire.  His argument is more limited, but makes an a point that I think ought to be considered. These comments are from the late Len Shurtleff, one of the founding members of the Western Front Association and its American Branch, as well as one-time president of the World War One Historical Association. Len was a professional foreign service officer, serving as U.S. Ambassador to Congo-Brazzaville from 1987–1990.

President Wilson and the U.S. Peace Commission, 1919

I  believe it is wrong to blame Wilson alone for the rise of self-determination as a rallying cry for nationalists. 

The seeds of rampant nationalism existed in the multi-ethnic Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empires even  before the war. Greece, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, and Montenegro were hived off from the Ottomans in the 19th century.  France, Italy, and England conspired for tactical and imperial reasons in 1915 and 1916 to promise bits of both empires to each other and to would-be independent rulers like Emir Faisal and King Peter of Serbia even before the war was over. The postwar peace treaties largely ratified these secret agreements, despite Wilson's active opposition to many of them during the Paris peace negotiations among the Allies .     

All these actions predated Wilson's Fourteen Points speech of January 1918. Indeed, London and Paris were horrified by the breadth and scope of the Fourteen Points. In one sense, Wilson was only recognizing a fact of political life in Europe and the Near East — the thirst for self-government. 

Len

Friday, November 18, 2016

100 Years Ago: After 142 Days the Battle of the Somme Ends



The Battle of the Somme ended on 18 November 1916. The final three weeks of the Somme featured some efforts by the British Army to tidy up the front lines and pretty-up a costly venture that had actually failed to achieve any of its original strategic aims. Two actions during the period were microcosms of the full battle. These were the attacks on a man-made hill, the Butte de Warlencourt, and the village of Beaumont Hamel. 

The Butte de Warlencourt, a prehistoric burial mound on the side of the Albert to Bapaume Road, was, during the 1916 Battle of the Somme, a position of great strength for the Germans. It was fortified with barbed wire, riddled with tunnels, defended by machine guns and mortars, and stood as a sentinel in front of the major German trenches called Gird Trench and Gird Support. 

The View from Atop the Butte de Warlencourt Today

As the British Army clawed its way forward over the Somme battlefield during the summer of 1916, the Butte, towering over the surrounding countryside, was of immense value to the Germans. By late September 1916 the front line had been pushed toward the nearby village of Le Sars. 

It was not until 5 November that an all-out effort was made to take the Butte. This was undertaken by the 7th, 8th, and 9th Durham Light Infantry of the 50th (Northumbrian) Division. The attack by the Durhams was undertaken in appalling conditions. Despite heavy casualties, the 9th Durhams managed to take the Butte, only to be driven off by German counterattacks. Casualties in the three battalions amounted to 273 men killed plus many other wounded (over 80 of the fatalities are now buried in the nearby Warlencourt British Cemetery.) 

The View from Atop the Butte de Warlencourt in 1917

Other than its brief capture, the Butte remained under German control throughout 1916. It was not until the German retirement to the Hindenburg Line in February 1917 that the Butte passed into British hands. 

Beaumont Hamel had been attacked on the first day of the Somme by the 29th Division. The attack had failed comprehensively despite the detonation of the large Hawthorn mine on the ridge overlooking the village. The line did not move an inch for almost 20 weeks. 

Beaumont Hamel Was Leveled in the Battle

This failure was an embarrassing, constant reminder that the Somme offensive had never gone according to plan. As the winter approached, Sir Douglas Haig, who was scheduled to attend an Allied planning conference, needed some indicator that the situation was improving. He ordered the capture of Beaumont Hamel, committing more artillery to the sector than was available on 1 July. Also, since some of the mining tunnels were still open under Hawthorn Ridge, the big mine was reloaded. The front line over it had been re-fortified by the unsuspecting defenders. 

The attack was to be carried out by the Fifth Army with the 2nd Corps South of the Ancre River bank and the Vth Corps north of the river. The Vth Corps attack would have the 63rd Division on the right, 51st Highland Division and 2nd Division in the center, and the 3rd Division on the left with the 37th Division in reserve. 

Rebuilt Beaumont Hamel from No Man's Land of 13 November 1916

The attack had been originally planned for 24 October, but primarily because of torrential rain there were a number of delays until the attack was eventually scheduled for 13 November. The mine went off at 05:45, and the 51st Highland Division overran the German line and captured the village, Y-Ravine, and what is now known as Newfoundland Memorial Park. It was the only success of the broader assault that day. For the next five days the British divisions along the Ancre inched along the river banks, but by 18 November there was no point in proceeding as winter was on the way. The Battle of the Somme had come to its end. 


This article is just one of 15 features presented in the November 2016 issue of our free monthly newsletter, The St. Mihiel Trip-Wire.  Click HERE to read all our articles and subscribe.