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

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Yeah! The National World War I Museum Reopens with Two New Exhibitions



A pair of special exhibitions opening on Monday 1 June for members and on Tuesday 2 June when the National WWI Museum and Memorial reopens to the public shed light on how the organization came to possess the most comprehensive World War I collection in the world. 100 Years of Collecting and 100 Years of Collecting – Art provide a window to examine incredibly diverse objects and documents, the vast majority of which have never been on exhibit before.


Both exhibitions are open from 2 June 2020 to 7 March 2021. Entry to both exhibitions is included with general admission to the Museum and Memorial.  Here are some examples of the exhibits.


Highland Drummer by Daniel MacMorris




U.S.-Issued Hardtack




French Poilus by Edmond Lesellier




Uncle Sam (after Lusitania) by Unknown Artist




Messenger Pigeon Kit




American Red Cross Foreign Service Volunteer Ann Bailey’s Tunic



Exit Joffre, Enter Nivelle, Part II


Why Nivelle?




Nivelle

By Elizabeth Greenhalgh 

[Part I of this two-part article appeared in yesterday's Roads to the Great War]

The general chosen to replace Joffre is the only man with a Western Front battle named after him. Joffre had preferred Robert Nivelle to the cautious and demanding Pétain of May 1916 at Verdun, and he recommended Nivelle to Briand at year's end. Since Briand, at that moment, was expecting Joffre still to play a role as the government's “technical advisor,” it seemed prudent that Joffre and the new c-in-c should be able to work together. Furthermore, Poincaré much preferred the Joffre-Nivelle strategy of seeking the decisive battle in 1917, with the aim of capturing strategic German territory, over anything the other candidate, Pétain, might propose.

Briand knew that Pétain would not work willingly with Joffre; moreover, Pétain favored small, local actions with limited aims. Briand wanted a “new spirit” in his rejigged cabinet and favored Nivelle as being more likely to infuse the high command in similar manner. Besides, Pétain was not acceptable politically. He had insulted Poincaré by saying “we are neither commanded nor governed,” and suggested that the head of state should act as a dictator to get things moving. When Poincaré exclaimed, “But what about the Constitution?” Pétain replied, “Bugger the Constitution.” 

Yet his dislike of Pétain's politics was probably a less important factor in Poincaré's eyes than his wish for Nivelle's more aggressive attitude. Some saw the choice of Nivelle as a risk. Influential Nivelle staff officer Maurice Pellé, who was sacked from GQG at the same time as Joffre, thought that Foch would have been a safer bet. One could put up with Foch's speechifying because of his energy, but with Nivelle it was impossible to know whether he would be as successful as c-in-c as he had been in his earlier command positions. Nivelle's ascent had certainly been a rapid rise from colonel of artillery at the beginning of the war. Thus, he had no experience of dealing either with politicians, or with Haig and the British, or with the staff at GQG, although he was breveté; that is, he had passed staff college (in 1889).

Moreover, Joffre had clearly hoped to retain some influence behind the scenes by pushing someone whose rise had been so rapid that he had not had time to create his own political following. Joffre was overheard at GQG saying that Nivelle would be a “devoted and obedient lieutenant,” and, although Nivelle lacked the “authority to give orders to those who yesterday were his chiefs,” he (Joffre) would “cover” him with his own authority. Joffre's hopes were soon dashed. Indeed, he was sent off to the U.S. when the Americans declared a state of war with Germany on 6 April 1917 and was thus well out of the way when Nivelle's offensive began on 16 April. 

Nivelle had to deal with more than his political masters in Paris, because he was immediately thrown into dealings with France's allies, in particular with Britain's new prime minister, David Lloyd George, who was sure that he did not want the 1917 campaign to become another Somme. Armies other than those of Britain were to do the fighting! Hence the Rome conference in January 1917, during which Lloyd George tried unsuccessfully to get the Italians to undertake a major campaign. Lloyd George thought that French generals were, on the whole, better than the British, and if Nivelle and the French insisted on carrying out their plan for the 1917 campaign, then there was little reason to oppose it since it gave the main role to the French Army. Nivelle asked to speak with Lloyd George as he was returning through Paris to London, but the prime minister refused to discuss strategy with him unless Haig and Robertson were also present. 

All in all, Nivelle took command at a time of great change, which made his task much more difficult. The move of GQG from Chantilly to Compiégne and the personnel changes (a new chief of staff, General Pont, and some new heads of section) added to the difficulties of commanding men who had been his superiors in 1914 and 1915. Yet, despite his inexperience, Nivelle made a good impression at the start of his command. After Joffre, who had seemed increasingly tired and weighted down by responsibility, Nivelle was a breath of fresh air, younger and more energetic, self-confident but kindly. Liaison officer Edward Louis Spears thought he gave “an impression of vigor, strength and energy.” 

Source: Over the Top, December 2016

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Exit Joffre, Enter Nivelle, Part I


Time for a Fresh Approach

Joffre


By Elizabeth Greenhalgh 

As the battle of the Somme ended and the Battle of Verdun was in its last stages, it was clear to France's leadership that  civic-military relations were deteriorating as well as army morale. The army commission of both houses had been worried by the state of defenses at Verdun, and the first secret session of parliament held during the war took place in June 1916, when much criticism of the high command had been aired. The vote of confidence that the government won afterwards contained a clause about “effective supervision over the prosecution of the war.” The deputies had won the right to parliamentary inspection for which they had been pressing. André Tardieu proposed a 30-member commission, which was discussed during July as the Somme offensive failed to achieve a quick success. On 1 August, deputies were elected to carry out the supervision. Joffre was furious that there should be any so-called interference with military matters.

Another secret session of the deputies was held on 21 November over the question of calling up the 1918 class, and this was followed a week later by another, during which it became clear to Prime Minister Aristide Briand that he would have to change the high command if he was to save his ministry. Over ten sittings complaints were aired. Although Briand obtained a (reduced) vote of confidence at the end of the sessions, he moved to ease Joffre out of command. Joffre had already cast off Foch, as responsible for the failure on the Somme, on the (false) excuse that he, Foch, was ill. This was not enough to save his own job, and when Joffre realized that Briand's offer of a role as the government's "technical advisor” was an empty one, he resigned. The pill was sweetened by the grant of a marshal's baton, making Joffre the Third Republic's first Marshal of France. The honor had been tarnished by the performance of Louis Napoleon's marshals during the Franco-Prussian War, and so had been in abeyance ever since. Briand also got rid of his war minister, General Roques, widely seen as Joffre's creature.

On 15 November the Allied military leaders gathered in Chantilly, just as they had done at the end of 1915, to plan the 1917 campaign. Joffre proposed a program that differed little from the previous year's, except for its being on a larger scale. He argued for an early start to coordinated operations to prevent any repetition of the Verdun offensive that had forestalled 1916's offensives. In France he proposed separate British and French attacks on both sides of the German salient—a repetition of 1915's strategy. Before any detailed planning could take place, he was removed from command on 13 December. Joffre's replacement as c-in-c of the French Army was Robert Nivelle, the general who had won the final success in the battle for Verdun. 

Read Part II, Why Nivelle? in Tomorrow's Roads to the Great War

Source: Over the Top, December 2016

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

The Importance of Fictional Works About the War, Part I of III



Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures.
Emerson

By Jane Mattison Ekstam


Why is war such an important feature of modern novels in English? How do such novels contribute to our understanding of war, and what does it mean to be a human being in time of war? I believe that by understanding the nature of representation of war in fiction we can better appreciate the consequences of war for human beings and understand the special contribution that novels can make in reaching such an appreciation. Most important, novels have a special ability to portray the moral concerns of individuals and how these affect the chances of
survival.

It is not my purpose here to argue for the historical accuracy, or otherwise, of war novels. Rather, I wish to show that works of art, which treat a limited aspect of the war, and where the writer enjoys the benefits of distance—physical and emotional—from the events which form the inspiration and context of the story told, can add to our understanding of human beings who serve in wars. 

Documentary accounts alone cannot accomplish this. Whether a story is "true" or not, it is difficult for the reporter to separate what is verifiable from what seemed to take place. Tim O'Brien, American novelist and veteran of the Vietnam War, expresses this as follows:

In any story, but especially a true one, it's difficult to separate what happened from what seemed to happen. What seems to happen becomes its own happening and has to be told that way. The angles of vision are skewed. When a booby trap explodes, you close your eyes and duck and float outside yourself. When a guy dies . . . you look away and then look back for a moment and then look away again. The pictures get jumbled; you tend to miss a lot. And then afterward, when you go to tell about it, there is always that surreal seemingness, which makes the story seem untrue, but which in fact represents the hard and exact truth as it seemed. 
("How to Tell a True War Story", in Paula Geyh, et. al, eds. Postmodern American Fiction: A Norton Anthology, pp. 175-6). 

World War One has given rise to a particularly large number of novels in English, especially from the British and Commonwealth countries, e.g. Canada, Australia, India, and South Africa. These have been the focus of my ongoing research into the popularity of modern English war literature, a study which covers over 80 novels published in English over the past 40 years. 

The renowned World War One scholar Paul Fussell wrote: "Life feeds materials to literature while literature returns the favour by conferring forms upon life" (The Great War and Modern Memory, p. ix). World War One novels are important sources of knowledge not only about the past; they also indicate values and concerns that are important today. It is thus no surprise that a number of World War One novels have appeared on bestseller lists throughout the world—and their popularity continues to grow. In accounting for the British fascination with World War One, Richard Holmes points out that this war saw more men serving than any other conflict in British history.

The Great War contained all the extremes of the human condition. Sebastian Faulks, author of the best-selling World War One novel Birdsong (1994), reflected that the war has become an important setting for serious contemporary fiction. The "hideous collisions of metal and flesh" give rise to repercussions and "social eddies" of special interest to modern writers intent on exploring human nature and its strengths and limitations (The Vintage Book of War Stories, pp. ix-x). 

End of Part I.  Part II will be presented on Roads to the Great War next, Tuesday, 9 June 2020.

Source: Originally presented in the Winter 2010 issue of Relevance: Quarterly Journal of the Great War Society

Monday, June 1, 2020

Map Series #16: The Eastern Front in 1915


Click on Image to Enlarge


Source:  Relevance: Quarterly Journal of the Great War Society, Winter 2010

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Memorial Day in the Year 2020

Surely, this past Memorial Day has been the most peculiar in our nation's history. Nevertheless, many Americans went out of their way to make sure our fallen were properly remembered. Here are some of them.

Click on Images to Enlarge


Vietnam Memorial, Philadelphia, PA



Scene at the National World War I Museum and Memorial,
Kansas City, MO



Marine Rifle Team, Union Cemetery, Antioch, CA



Remembering a Loved One, Cudsworth Cemetery, MA



Headline Pennsylvania Patriot-News, PA




Nags Head, NC, Remembrance Ceremony



Member of the 3rd Infantry Honor Guard Placing Flags at
Arlington National Cemetery



Medal of Honor Recipient James McCloughlan (Black Shirt) Marched with a Color Guard Through Downtown South Haven, MI, Despite the Official Cancellation of the Annual Parade




President Trump Wreath Laying, Arlington National Cemetery




Virtual Memorial Day Video Program of the 
American Battle Monuments Commission

Fighting the Spanish Flu with Posters

Click on Images to Enlarge


































Friday, May 29, 2020

My Western Front Walks During the 2020 Shutdown


This is actually a Roads Classic from 2016.  Like many of you, I believe, these days I need to get out of the house for walks to avoid climbing-up-the-walls syndrome. So, I'm getting in a lot of walking. On my list of preferred routes, this is one I hit at least once a week. Here's the original article.

I have been blessed with a hiking location just a few miles from my home in the East Bay area of Northern California, which—for reasons that will be explained below—provides me with many reminders of the Western Front. As you might guess, this is quite inspiring for someone who regularly leads tours of the actual battlefields. Before I share a little history of this site, let me show you some images of my favorite walking trails, at 2,300-acre Point Pinole Regional Shoreline, and share how some of the stops bring distant locations to mind.

Entrance Signage


Crossing the Rail Bridge from the Parking Lot into the Main Park, Reminds Me of Hill 60 at Ypres and the Site of Caterpillar Mine Crater to the Right (Actually It's the Site of the West County Jail.)


A Bunker in the Woods
Point Pinole has been a regional park since 1973. The previous owner was the Atlas Powder Company, one of several firms that manufactured gunpowder and dynamite at the site for a century. This is why it has bunkers and protected areas all over the site.


There Are Trench Remains Everywhere You Look
Just One Example Here


Demolished Site, Reminiscent of Y-Ravine at Beaumont Hamel on the Somme

There are craters formerly used as blast and burning areas and what appear to be trails where the routes for the mini-trains used to shuttle material around the site. These companies have an interesting financial history tracing back to the entrepreneurship of none other than Alfred Nobel and the anti-trust breakup of the DuPont Powder Company.

A Sunken Artillery Position


Hillside Pillbox
As you might guess, this West Coast plant for Atlas Powder did a lot of work during the Great War.  I don't have statistics for the Pinole site, but the firms derived from the trust breakup are said to have manufactured 40 percent of the munitions used by the Allies and the U.S. in the war, making well over a billion dollars (1914 dollars) during the war years.

Field Fortification


Same Site Up Close


Different Vegetation, but This Always Reminds Me of the Wheat Field
the Marines Crossed at Belleau Wood 

  
What I do know for sure is that we ended up with a great and evocative park. I've been taking advantage of it since 1984.






Thursday, May 28, 2020

Remembering a Veteran: Signaler and Diarist Sergeant Cyril Lawrence, AIF

By Craig Fullerton

Australian Signalers at Gallipoli—Cyril Lawrence on Right
(Editor's Correction:  This article was revised and corrected on 2 June 2020.  The editor's were lately very surprised to discover that there were two members of the AIF named Cyril Lawrence, who served in Gallipoli and on the Western Front and were both diarists. Ignorant of the second diarist, your editor drew from the writings of both Cyril's to supplement Craig Fullerton's original article. In this revision, I have deleted the entries from the second Cyril and expanded the entries from Cyril #1.)

Cyril Lawrence was apprenticed as a blacksmith in early 1913 when he was about 18 years old and working for a smithy in Brunswick, Victoria, when World War I broke out. He was probably living with his mother at 20 Staley Street, Brunswick, at the time. He enlisted as a sapper in the Australian Imperial Forces (AIF) on 19 August 1914, just 15 days after Australia entered the war. He had just turned 19. He was allocated the service number 132 and assigned to the 1st Australian Division Signal Company. He listed his next-of-kin as his mother, Mary. He indicated that he had previous experience in the Signal Engineers and Senior Cadets for two years. Cyril was just 5 feet 4 inches tall and weighed just 9 stone, 10 lbs, so he was not a big man. He had a dark complexion, brown eyes and dark hair.  

He left Australia on 20 October 1914 on board the HMAT Karroo, and his unit initially spent time training in Egypt. But by 5 April 1915 they had joined the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force off the Gallipoli Peninsula. The MEF was part of the British Army and commanded all the Allied forces at Gallipoli. At this time it was in the throes of planning for the Gallipoli landings, which took place on 25 April 1915. Cyril Lawrence was among those who created the Anzac legend on that fateful day. 

As soon as the sappers landed they established a divisional signal office and laid wires between HQ and the brigades at the front lines. This involved men physically rolling out miles and miles of cable—an extremely hazardous task. But by midnight the HQ signalers sat with telephones and message forms and were constantly in touch with the frontline commanders. One of Cyril’s signaler comrades from another battalion—Elias Silas—recorded an account in a book he published in 1916. His diary for 25 April provides a graphic account of what the signalers had to contend with on that day and the following days:

25 April: In the distance one can just discern the Dardenelles opening up – the thunder of the guns is much clearer – the weather this morning is beautiful; what will it be to-night? Studies. I have eaten well. I can now see fire from the guns. I wonder which of the men round me has been chosen by Death. I do not feel the least fear, only a sincere hope that I may not fail at the critical moment. 

5.30 pm: [Aboard ship] We are on the battlefield, well under the fire of the enemy – it is difficult to realise that every burst of flame, every spurt of water, means Death or worse. For days before we reached the final scene in the ‘Great Adventure’ we could hear the ceaseless thunder of the bombardment, we have been told of the impossible task before us, of probable annihilation; yet we are eager to get to it; we joke with each other about getting cold feet, but deep down in our hearts we know when we get to it we will not be found wanting.  

The Assembly is sounded – I have never seen it answered with such alacrity – there is a loud cheer as we gather together in the hold. Here for last time in this world many of us stand shoulder to shoulder. As I look down the ranks of my comrades I wonder which of us are marked for the land beyond. Perhaps I shall fly through the side of the ship to answer my question. I don’t  think I can carry my kit – I can scarcely stand with the weight of it ... I have often been told of the danger of signalling – that few signallers last more than three days. Now indeed is this brought home to me with considerable force – once more I pray that I may not fail the Battalion in the hour of need – I know full well that the miscarriage of a message may mean the lives of hundreds of men. The destroyer alongside us is signaling, but the Navy men are to quick for me – please God the others won’t be. The sailors are very kind to us, I think they know what we are going to face – can see boat-loads of wounded being towed from the shore – shrapnel just burst over our heads, thank God no damage – getting nearer the shore, Turks pelting us like anything. The ships are keeping the top of the ridges under a continual line of fire – am just told that we have landed 20,000 men. We are transferring into the boats – it is raining lead – Turks firing wide. 

Finally Ashore: It was relief to get ashore; we are packed so tightly in the boats and moreover so heavily laden with our kit that, had a shot hit the boat, we should have no chance of saving ourselves – it was awful the feeling of utter helplessness. Meanwhile the Turks pelted us hot and fast. In jumping ashore I fell over, my kit was so heavy; I couldn’t get up without help – fortunately the water was shallow at this point, otherwise – . It was a magnificent spectacle to see those thousands of men rushing through the hail of Death as though it was some big game – these chaps don’t seem to know what fear means – in Cairo I was ashamed of them, now I am proud to be one of them though I feel a pigmy beside them. Wish there wasn’t quite such damned noise with the guns, it is sending me all to pieces – don’t think I shall ever make a soldier. The beach is littered with wounded, some of them frightful spectacles; perchance myself I may at any moment be even as they are. Indians bringing ammunition mules along the beach – the scene of carnage worries them not all. It is commencing to get dark – we are now climbing the heights. I am given a pick to carry – half way up I had to drop it, it was too much for me. The lads on the top of the hill are glad to see us for they have been having an anxious time holding their position on the Ridge – ‘Pope’s Hill’ – they had scarcely time to throw up more than a little earth to take cover behind. The noise now is Hell. 

Into Action: Cannot find any Signallers of my Station – I will look for my Captain, Margolin, they are sure to be with him. There was no time to wait for orders; I must work on my own initiative – in any case the Captain will want a Signaller with him. Now some of the chaps are getting it – groans and screams everywhere, calls for ammunition and stretcher bearers, though how the latter are going to carry stretchers along such precipitous and sandy slopes beats me. Now commencing to take some of the dead out of the trenches; this is horrible; I wonder how long I can stand it. ‘Signaller’ – I just had to get a message to Headquarters – it had been raining a little, I found it almost impossible to keep my foothold, I kept slipping down all the way along. Colonel Pope seemed very worried and tired; have just heard that our Signal Lieutenant Wilton and Sergeant Major Emmett badly wounded in abdomen. Turks playing funny bugle calls all night long and yelling out, always in English. Bursts of fire from our men – officers doing all they can to stop it as we are getting short of ammunition – more bugling by Turks, makes me think of a Cairene descendanTs of marY Jones 497 Bazar; the idea of the bugles is supposed to impress us – the Turks would be vexed if they knew what we really thought. I have been running dispatches all night and in between endeavouring to make a dug-out – I couldn’t lift the pick so had to use my trenching tool. Wonder what I am going to do for rations – I had to throw mine out, it was too heavy for me to carry. Feeling very weak and tired. . .

27 April: Still fighting furiously – now all signalers have been wiped out of A and B Companies except myself. Just had a shell each side of my dug-out – I felt in a real panic as it is a most horrible sensation. Our ships have missed the range and sent eleven shells into us in a minute; I do not think anyone has been hit – the Turks’ trenches are so near ours that it is marvelous how accurately the ships find the range. For three days and nights I have been going without a stop occasionally having a go at my dug-out which, up to the present, is nothing more than a hole – the continual cry of ‘Signaller’ never seems to cease. While going up to the Captain’s dug-out with a message from Headquarters I nearly got pipped by a machine-gun; fortunately one of the lads pulled me down into safety – I don’t seem to feel it’s any use worrying; if I’m to get hit nothing can stop it, and to keep dodging down into dug-outs gets on my nerves – I can’t stand being cramped into small spaces. The Turks have now got hold of the names of our officers and keep giving messages purporting to emulate from said officers. All night long the Turks have been harassing us heavily – ever and anon ‘Enemy advancing on the right,’ ‘Enemy advancing on the left’ – all messages now have to be whispered along the line. There is a pale moon – any minute we are expecting the enemy to rush the trenches – we have no reserves. 

Somehow, Cyril Lawrence also survived the mayhem and carnage of these opening days at Gallipoli. However, on 26 May his luck ran out and he was wounded, receiving a shrapnel wound to his right leg. He was evacuated to the No. 1 General Hospital in Heliopolis, Egypt. By 15 June he had recovered, was discharged, and rejoined his unit at the front. Just over a month later he was back in hospital with a bout of influenza that laid him up for two weeks. He rejoined his unit on 7 August, when it was in the midst of the Battle of Lone Pine.

The Australians suffered an estimated 2,277 casualties and the opposing Turkish forces between 5,000 and 6,000 killed or wounded during that battle. Two months after enduring the horrors of the Gallipoli landings, Cyril was still in the thick of it. Later, he would vent about the mismanagement of the campaign.

The New Sergeant
(Author's Website)
On 1 December 1915 he was promoted to the rank of 2nd corporal. This was initially a temporary promotion necessitated by the evacuation of 2nd Corporal Burns, who was sick, but he was confirmed in the rank on 12 January 1916. He rose rapidly after that, attaining the rank of corporal on 28 February 1916 and just over a year later, on 30 March 1917, sergeant. The Australian 1st Division left Gallipoli in December 1915. Sometime before his departure, Cyril made one of his most lyrical entries one evening:

He boarded the Grampian on about 21 March 1916 bound for France, disembarking at Marseilles a week later, on 28 March. On 28 May he was once again admitted to hospital and finally rejoined his unit on 17 August and within a few days was sent to England for training at the Royal Engineers Training Depot at Hitching in Hertfordshire. He would spend his 21st birthday there, and his training concluded on 21 March 1917 when he set off to rejoin his unit in France, arriving six days later. By this time the 1st Australian Division Signal Company was in Baizieaux, in the Somme region in the northwest of France. 

By 7 April the unit had relocated to nearby Bancourt where it engaged in the never-ending task of maintaining the communications network, laying miles and miles of telephone cable to the ever-changing infantry and artillery frontline positions as they began to get the upper hand over the beleaguered German forces. Upon being promoted to sergeant on 30 March 1917, Cyril was assigned to the No. 1 Artillery subsection. It was during battle on 18 May 1917 that he was hit by an enemy shell, receiving a severe wound in the back. He was evacuated and treated at the 34th Casualty Clearing Station (CCS) situated in La Chapelette, near Peronne about 12 miles to the east of Amiens. Tragically, he died from his wounds just five days later, on 23 May 1917. In his last days he received a number of visits from the chaplain of the 34th CCS, Rev. John M. Forbes, who wrote to his mother, Mary, after Cyril’s death. Cyril was buried at La Chapelette British Cemetery. His grave is located at Plot I, Row E, Grave No. 7.

Back home, Cyril’s death was announced in The Argus:

LAWRENCE – Killed in action, somewhere in France, on the 23rd May, Sergeant Cyril Lawrence, dearly beloved eldest son of Mary and the late Harry Lawrence, “Selukwe”, 20 Staley Street, Brunswick; loving brother of Jean (Mrs Reitschell), Nellie, Florrie, and Aubrie, after two years and 10 months service in Egypt, Gallipoli, and France, of the First Contingent, aged 21 years and 8 months; late of Harrietville. Another Anzac hero Called for higher service (Inserted by his loving mother, sisters, and brother)

Excerpted from Craig Fullerton's IN THE SHADOW OF FEATHERTOP, 2014 winner of the Alexander Henderson Award for Best Australian Family History. The book can be ordered at Craig's website:  https://craig-fullerton.com/.

He also has information on all the members of his extended family that served, and in some cases lost their lives in the war here:
https://craig-fullerton.com/our-family-trees/treasure-chest/honour-roll/

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

The Saga of Submarine Turquoise


1913 Photo of Turquoise

The British-French Dardanelles submarine campaign lasted from April through December 1915. Nine British and four French submarines took part. Several Allied submarines were lost attempting to go up the strait into the Sea of Marmara and one was lost coming out. One French submarine, Turquoise, successfully penetrated the straits in early October but ran into serious trouble on 30 October when it ran aground near Nagara Point within range of Turkish shore batteries. Captured, her captain failed both to scuttle her and to destroy classified information aboard. 

Turquoise Crew in Captivity, Bastille Day 1918

Included in the sensitive material onboard was material on a planned rendezvous of Turquoise with British submarine E-20 in the Sea of Marmara on 6 November. The Turks promptly passed that information to their German allies, and UB-14  waited submerged at the rendezvous point. When E-20 showed up on the surface, she was torpedoed and sunk by UB-14. Only nine of the crew survived. The entire crew of Turquoise survived and was held captive for the remainder of the war.

Müstecip Onbaşı

The boat, however, was moved to dry dock and quickly made available to the Ottoman Navy. Renamed Müstecip Onbaşı, the submarine served until Turkey's withdrawal from the war. It was officially returned to France in January 1919 and was eventually scrapped in Istanbul.

Source: Submarine Operational Effectiveness in the 20th Century: Part One. Australian War Memorial; Wikipedia

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Pusher Aces of World War I


by Jon Guttman
Osprey Publishing, 2009
Dale Thompson, Reviewer


Farman MF11 Pilot and Observer Both Manning Machine Guns

Jon Guttman is well known for his treatment of WWI aviation history. In his latest, Pusher Aces of World War I, Guttman brings to life the history of the pusher aircraft and their pilots.

The pusher aircraft were so called because the propeller and engine were behind the wing, just like the Wright Fliers of ten years previously. They were deployed with the French and British squadrons at the start of the war, 1914. Initially they were used as observation and photo-reconnaissance platforms. What better place for the observer than out in front? As soon as the observers began shooting at each other it was found that the gunner did very well out in front; it was also found that these aircraft were highly vulnerable to attack from the rear.

The German aircraft in 1914 were all tractors, with the engine and propeller ahead of the pilot. At that time the British and French were developing their own tractor-type fighter aircraft that began to displace the pushers. With the arrival of the Fokker Eindeckers and their synchronized machine guns in 1915, the pushers were completely outclassed as fighters.

Pusher Aces traces the development and deployment of these aircraft, following their combat action and the pilots and gunners who flew them. This book will serve as a valuable source for historians who are studying either aircraft or combat crews during World War I. There is little detail on he developmental history of the various models built by Voisin, Farman, Vickers, de Havilland, and others. The book, though, features substantial detail about the crews and combat the pushers encountered.

Author Guttman's editors augmented this book with 24 superb color plates showing makes, models, and color schemes for the pushers. A fine collection of black-and-white photos is also distributed throughout the book. The appendix includes a table of the aces who flew these aircraft, tabulated by name, scores, aircraft type and serial number, and their squadrons. This listing should be of special interest to researchers. A bibliography is included in the appendix. Jon Guttman has contributed yet another valuable volume on WWI aircraft and pilots and their contributions in that war.

Originally Presented in the Winter 2010 Issue of Relevance: Quarterly Journal of the Great War Society

Monday, May 25, 2020

George Marshall Reflects on the Meuse-Argonne Offensive

Marshall at Ft. Benning
Former chief of operations for the U.S. First Army during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive,  Lt. Col George C. Marshall led the Army’s Infantry School at Fort Benning during the post-World War I period from 1927 to 1932. In 1931, one of his former instructors, Capt. Lloyd Winters, then assigned to the 21st Infantry Regiment in Hawaii, wrote Marshall to ask for comments for a lecture he planned to deliver for on the Meuse-Argonne operation. Below is the response. I have underlined some points I found particularly striking

Critical reviews of the Meuse-Argonne operation are usually concerned with strategical and larger tactical aspects of the battle. The most instructive phases would seem to be those related to smaller affairs, matters of direction and method within the brigade, and especially in the battalion and the company. However, every lesson should be learned with a clear understanding of the special conditions under which the battle was fought—a tired and outnumbered enemy, unable to strike a heavy counter-blow but extraordinarily skillful in the employment of artillery and machine guns; our troops [were] strong and vigorous, but deficient in training and lacking that finesse of troop leadership which comes from experience.

To me, the following were the most instructive aspects of the battle:

The chaotic conditions which usually developed within a few hours of a formal “jump off”. Troops could be lined up for a set assault and carried through the first phase in comparatively good order, but as the necessity for local decisions, maneuver, adjustments and cooperation developed the efforts became disorganized or confused to a remarkable degree, and only the courage and determination of the natural leaders enabled the troops to press on. Leaders understood how to deploy but seldom how to [re-de]ploy or regroup their scattered forces without bringing the action to a standstill. Fighting of this character will be normal to open warfare.

The inability of subordinate leaders to achieve a combination of fire and movement. Under the stress of battle headlong attacks were usually launched, and while often successful, heavy losses and disorganization usually robbed the unit of further striking power.

Inability of local leaders to approximate any idea of the situation beyond their immediate flanks. The misunderstandings and unfortunate results, due to the above reason, made tragic history over the entire battlefield. The strain of the fighting was so intense that the brain of leaders seemed a blank to all but the violent impressions of their immediate front.

The small part pure tactics played in the handling of most situations. Local decisions were usually dominated by reasons other than tactical,—fatigue, inability or unwillingness to alter existing dispositions, and response to orders to renew the attack by efforts straight to the front. Yet in our training we usually consider only the tactical problem.

Doughboys Advancing in the Argonne

The serious effect of poor arrangements to provide hot food to the fighting line. In the few divisions where the supply of hot food was rigorously required, the more so when the fighting was desperate, troops performed feats utterly beyond those who received cold food or went hungry. The former were able to remain “in the line” for much longer periods, to the great saving of the army reserves being collected to stage a renewed general assault. In prolonged fighting the delivery of food is as important as the maintenance of communications.

The small understanding of the practical proposition of maintaining morale. Few officers understood the fatal effect on their troops of a pessimistic attitude and of criticism of seniors. Where the opposite condition existed the troops often achieved the impossible. Their success was seldom due to tactics or technique, unless it was the technique of leadership. It might truthfully be said that in most instances the performance of the troops could be accurately measured by the mental attitude and bearing of the leaders. It was seldom that a determined, resourceful leader failed. It was seldom that a dispirited or disgruntled or critical leader succeeded. Courage was a common trait, but not fortitude and unquestioned loyalty.

In general, it has seemed to me that we discuss the battle in a large or ponderous fashion, ignoring those features which really determined the issue in the hundreds of local situations which made up the great operation. Unless we deal with the facts about these, the errors will all be repeated, and to a more serious degree in warfare of movement with an army taking the field in the first month of a war.

Source: Lloyd N. Winters Papers, George C. Marshall Research Library, Lexington, Virginia.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Krieg (War) by Käthe Kollwitz




The Sacrifice


Most readers are probably familiar with Käthe Kollwitz's dramatic Grieving Parents sculpture. (Article HERE.) After the Great War, however, her work shifted from sculpture to graphic art.  One critic described her later work  as featuring "strong arresting images with simple dignified subjects. The forms are deceptively simple. They reflect her single-mindedness yet belie the grueling struggle for technical perfection and clarity of expression which was involved in their perfection."

The Volunteers

The Mothers


From the MOMA website:

In 1919, Käthe Kollwitz began work on Krieg (War), her response to the tragedies endured during what she called those "unspeakably difficult years" of World War I and its aftermath. The portfolio's seven woodcuts focus on the sorrows of those left behind—mothers, widows, and children. Kollwitz had struggled to find the appropriate means of expression until she saw an exhibition of Ernst Barlach's woodcuts in 1920. Revising each print through as many as nine preparatory drawings and states, Kollwitz radically simplified the compositions. The large-format, stark black-and-white woodcuts feature women left to face their grief and fears alone, with their partners, or with each other.

The Widow II

The Widow

Only one print, Die Freiwilligen (The Volunteers), shows the combatants. In it, Kollwitz's younger son, Peter, who died in the war, takes his place next to Death, who leads the troops in an ecstatic procession to war.  Kollwitz wanted these works to be widely viewed. By eliminating references to a specific time or place, she created universally legible indictments of the real sacrifices demanded in exchange for abstract concepts of honor and glory. The prints were exhibited in 1924 at the newly founded International Anti-War Museum in Berlin.

The Parents


The People

Sources: Australian War Memorial and the MOMA Websites