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

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Remembering Nimrod Frazer—WWI Commemorative and Historical Contributor Extraordinaire

By Editor/Publisher Michael Hanlon 

Shown above is Nimrod (Rod) Frazer of Montgomery, Alabama, at his 2017 award ceremony for the French Legion of Honor. Sadly, Mr.  Fraser,  who may have accomplished more to remember and honor his nation's sacrifices in the First World War during the recent Centennial commemoration than any private citizen, passed away on 7 March at age 93. 

The presentation shown above was for his efforts  at keeping alive the memory of the French and American soldiers who fought and died in World War I. The award specified his commissioning of the Memorial to the U.S. 42nd Rainbow Division at Croix Rouge Farm north of the Marne River. That monument, though, is just one of his numerous contributions to the remembrance of the First World War.  

Inspired by his father's service in the 42nd Rainbow Division and his own combat service during the Korean War during which he earned the Silver Star, and encouraged by like-minded friends, especially WWI Centennial Commissioner Monique Seefried, Frazer spent over a decade fully committed to honoring his dad's fellow Doughboys, America's aviators, and the contributions of his home state during the war. To appreciate his achievements, let me paraphrase the famous plaque at St. Paul's Cathedral, "If you seek his monument—look at these accomplishments."

New World War I Memorials

Click on Image to Enlarge

Daedalus,  Artist James Butler with his Rainbow Division Sculpture, and Return from the Argonne

Rod Frazer sponsored and championed the design, financing, and installation of four new World War I memorials.  Today, just north of Château-Thierry at a former battlefield known as Croix Rouge Farm, you will find a bronze sculpture depicting a Rainbow Division soldier carrying one his mates who fell in the nearby action. It has become the principal monument honoring the division in France and a key stop for all Americans visiting the World War I battlefields. It was designed by the artist personally selected by Frazer, James Butler of Britain's Royal Academy.  This location, also chosen by him, was the site where the division's 167th Infantry, its Alabama regiment, saw heavy action.  In 2017, he donated a second casting of the statue to the city of Montgomery, AL, from which the unit departed for the battlefield 100 years earlier.

The same year, he donated a second casting of Daedalus, also by Butler, to the U.S. Air Force at Maxwell, AFB. to honor America's aviators of the war.  The original, in London, honors Britain's naval aviators. In an interview at the time of the dedication, he explained why he added Daedalus to his list of projects.  "When I saw the Daedalus in London years ago, I just knew it belonged at [Alabama's] Maxwell Air Force base," said Frazer. "I didn't have the money then, but I knew I wanted it to be part of the centennial for World War I, to celebrate combat fliers for our United States Army Air Service, flyers who risked their lives."

His fourth memorial, although similar to the others in subject matter, had its own unique inspiration and origins.  Over 2,500 Alabamians died fighting in France and almost half of their families chose to have their sons buried there near where they fell.  The others, though, were brought home over the course of several years and buried in their home state. Growing up, Rod Frazer's father told him of all the funerals he attended over that period.  The bulk of them had fallen in America's biggest battle, the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.  "Argonne," with sad connotations affixed, was a name young Rod would never forget.  As part of his contributions to the Centennial of the war, he decided a monument specific to Alabama's sacrifices was needed.  He turned, once again, to James Butler to design an appropriate monument.

Today, at Montgomery's Union Station adjacent to the second Rainbow Memorial, sits Return from the Argonne.  It honors the fallen soldiers of Alabama from all units and services.  The bronze depicts  the body of a fatally wounded American soldier that has been sent back to his home for burial.  The body is covered by a torn shelter half, and part of the face is revealed.  One leg has been wounded. The memorial, the final of the four for which Nimrod Frazer was primarily responsible, was dedicated on 11 November 2021.

Military Historian

Click on Image to Enlarge

It's a little hard to believe, but during the period Rod Frazer was bringing these four monuments to fruition, he seems to have had time to become a crackerjack historian.  His two books are both related to the efforts of the Alabama National Guard 167th Regiment, which was a component of the 42nd Rainbow Division. Both are notable for the quality of the research, readability, and maps and photos.  I've read a lot of military history over the years, and these are of professional quality.

Send in the Alabamians is a detailed "unit history" of the regiment from before the war when they were dispersed in separate armories across the state, through their  deployment to France and return home. The boys saw lots of action with the Rainbow Division being among the three or four most "blooded" formations of the AEF.  Before the action at Croix Rouge Farm, the boys helped repel the last German offensive of the war and subsequently fought in the two largest American operations of the conflict at St. Mihiel and the Meuse-Argonne. Read our full review HERE.

The Best World War I Story I Know: On the Point in the Argonne, on the other hand is a riveting tale of combat.  The strongest defenses the American First Army faced in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive were in the heights around the village of Romange.  To break through here would mean Pershing's First Army had effectively opened the road to Sedan, the strategic objective of the entire campaign.  Arguably the most difficult section of these heights,  a densely-wooded hill backing the Hindenburg Line defenses known as the  Côte De Châtillon had to be taken.  The mission was given to the 167th Alabama Infantry, the 168th Iowa Infantry, and the 151st Machine Gun Battalion from Georgia, under the the tactical command of Brigadier General Douglas MacArthur.  In his clear style, Frazer captures the stresses of the preparations and the intensity of the fighting, as well as the spirit and courage of both the American attackers and the desperate German defenders.  See my full review of the work HERE.

For His Service in Korea and Later, As a Caretaker
of Our Nation's Heritage, Nimrod T. Frazer Deserves
Our Appreciation and Lasting Memory

The Rise and Fall of Kerensky

Aleksandr Kerensky

Born in 1881 in Simbirsk, Russia, Aleksandr Fedorovich Kerensky died in 1970 in New York City. A moderate Socialist Revolutionary, he served as head of the Russian Provisional government from July to October 1917 (Julian). While studying law at the University of St. Petersburg, Kerensky was attracted to the Narodniki (populist) revolutionary movement. After graduating in 1904, he joined the Socialist Revolutionary Party and became a prominent lawyer, frequently defending revolutionaries accused of political offenses. In 1912 he was elected to the Duma, and in the next several years he gained a reputation as an eloquent, dynamic politician of the moderate left.

Unlike more radical socialists, he supported Russia’s participation in World War I. He became increasingly disappointed with the tsarist regime’s conduct of the war effort, however, and, when the February Revolution broke out in 1917, he urged the dissolution of the monarchy. He instituted basic civil liberties—e.g., the freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and religion; universal suffrage; and equal rights for women—throughout Russia and became one of the most widely known and popular figures among the revolutionary leadership.

In May, when a public uproar over the announcement of Russia’s war aims (which Kerensky had approved) forced several ministers to resign, Kerensky was transferred to the posts of minister of war and of the navy and became the dominant personality in the new government. However, h His philosophy of "no enemies to the left" greatly empowered the Bolsheviks and gave them a free hand, allowing them to take over the military arm or voyenka of the Petrograd and Moscow Soviets. His arrest of Lavr Kornilov and other officers left him without strong allies against the Bolsheviks, who ended up being Kerensky's strongest and most determined adversaries, as opposed to the right wing, which evolved into the White movement.

Kerensky Visiting the Troops Before
the 1917 Offensive

The Kerensky Offensive of July 1917 was the last made by the Russian army during the Great War and finally broke its cohesion.  Kerensky's failure to end the war made it impossible for him to deal with any of the pressing internal problems of Russia. He became inclreasingly isolate between the counter-revolutionary forces of the right and and the revolutionary forces led by Lenin.  His attempt to arrest the Bolshevik leaders on 5 November failed and two days later they overthrew his government.

Kerensky escaped and tried to rally loyal forces but was quickly defeated.  After hiding for several weeks, he managed to make his way to France. He remained neutral during the Russian Civil War. When Germany invaded France in 1940, Kerensky emigrated to the United States,  moved to Australia for six years with his second wife, and—with her death in 1946—eventually settling back in the U.S.  He split his time between New York and California, where he was a fellow at the Hoover Institution and lecturer at Stanford University. He died in New York in 1970.

The One-Time Revolutionary Became
a Respected Academic

Sources:  "Revolution in Real Time: The Russian Provisional Government, 1917," Old Dominion University; Who's Who in World War One

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Prelude to WWII: When the Franco-Polish Alliance Was Initiated

Poland, strategically threatened by both the Soviets and the Germans, signed a treaty of political alliance with France on 19 February 1921. It would later be supplemented by additional agreements and renewals, and the alliance would be strained almost to the breaking point by 1936. However, as Hitler's rearmament and diplomacy clarified his intentions, and with Britain now participating in the arrangement, the alliance hardened and would be the basis of France and Great Britain declaring war on Germany when Poland was attacked in September 1939. Below are some of the key points of the early agreements.

1921 Signatories Aristide Briand (France) and
Eustachy Sapieha (Poland)

Franco-Polish Agreement

Paris, 19 February 1921 (excerpt)

THE Polish Government and the French Government, both desirous of safeguarding, by the maintenance of the treaties which both have signed or which may in future be recognized by both parties, the peace of Europe, the security of their territories, and their common political and economic interests, have agreed as follows:

In order to coordinate their endeavors towards peace the two Governments undertake to consult each other on all questions of foreign policy which concern both States, so far as those questions affect the settlement of international relations in the spirit of the treaties and in accordance with the Covenant of the League of Nations. . .

Franco-Polish Warrant Agreement

Locarno, 16 October 1925 (excerpt)

In the event of the Council of the League of Nations, when dealing with a question brought before it in accordance with the said undertakings, being unable to succeed in securing the acceptance of its report by all its members other than the representatives of the parties to the dispute, and in the event of Poland or France being attacked without provocation, France, or reciprocally Poland, acting in application of Article 15, paragraph 7, of the Covenant of the League of Nations, will immediately lend aid and assistance.


Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Kitchener and the Dardanelles Campaign: A Vindication

By George H. Cassar
Helion and Company, 2022
Michael Hanlon, Reviewer

Field Marshal Kitchener with General Birdwood
at Gallipoli, 13 November 1915

Prolific World War I historian and retired professor George H. Cassar has written a valuable top down look—emphasizing the politics and policies over details of the fighting—at the Dardanelles/Gallipoli failure of 1915. The author is eminently qualified to produce such a work, having previously published histories on other aspects of the Dardanelles Campaign and the wartime leadership of both France and Britain, as well as a biography of Horatio Kitchener, the central figure in this work.

Before proceeding, however, this reviewer, would like to place his one gripe about Kitchener and the Dardanelles Campaign: A Vindication up front. It's over the title the publisher selected. I think it's misleading. The first part "Kitchener and the Dardanelles Campaign" is a bit too narrow. Further, I question whether "A Vindication" needed to be tacked on. It suggests the entire work is dedicated to overcoming a century of persecution and blame of K of K for the whole sea/land campaign.  I'm just talking about matter of proportionality here. It's clearly an important matter for Professor Cassar. And, for me, he makes a convincing argument that although the endeavor was originally championed and stage managed by Winston Churchill, a decisive level of malfeasance by Kitchener was later made historical "fact" in Churchill's The World Crisis and carried into the present day by succeeding generations of Winston's biographers.  This discussion simple does not constitute the whole book.  Now we will outline some its other main points below.

News Report of Earliest Action at the Straits
Based on Admiralty Press Release

Kitchener and the Dardanelles Campaign includes—besides a nice biographical sketch of Kitchener and thorough details about his involvement in every stage of the expedition—much information I've never encountered before about the Dardanelles Campaign.  This includes the early cabinet deliberations, the thinking behind the naval actions at the mouth of the straits in February, the decisive and ill-fated battleship assault of March, and the almost automatic sliding into a land assault that was doomed from the start. One of the author's best sections cover the Field Marshal's visit to the battlefield, after which everyone accepted the operation needed to be shut down before enough German-provided heavy artillery to blow the invaders off the beaches arrived in theater.

Now, back to Kitchener vs Churchill and the Historians. According to the author it was really a political blame game. Recall, Kitchener—by conveniently dying in June 1916—could not have been more helpful to anyone trying to bury their own mistakes from view. Of course, Winston Churchill was the most interested party in laying things at Kitchener's grave. Cassar's critique of his conduct starts with errors of strategy and feasibility Churchill made in selling the plan and adds other errors that compounded the earlier misjudgments as the operation unfolded. For instance, after the initial shelling of the forts at the mouth of the Dardanelles, the Admiralty produced a press release (shown above) describing the bombardment in great detail (some of which were deleted in the version shown), thus revealing the Allies were planning a major operation in the area. Consequently, strategic surprise and any "wiggle room" for backing out of the commitment without a loss of face vanished. The story of the press release and its impact was apparently just one of blunders buried after the war. On a longer timeline, the author argues that Churchill wrote a misleading defense of his strategy and recommendations in the second volume of The World Crisis and hid key details behind the protections of the Official Secrets act. Most unfairly, Churchill fingered Kitchener as acting alone to authorize the land campaign. The decision, although not wise and made with Kitchener's participation, was made by a consensus of the Cabinet.

Winston Churchill and Horatio Kitchener

I can't say Professor Cassar's "Vindication" portion of  Kitchener and the Dardanelles Campaign will persuade all readers. Churchill devotees will certainly be resistant. Nevertheless, I'd estimate that that portion is but 25 percent of the book. If you have any interest in those great events of 1915, then George Cassar's latest is well worth reading. The rest of it is solid history, well written, and based on up-to-date research.

Michael Hanlon

Monday, March 20, 2023

Clapham Junction: A Little Forgotten Hotspot in the Ypres Salient

Clapham Junction, England, Just After the War

Clapham Junction was in 1914, and is currently, Britain's busiest interchange station. Clapham Junction opened in 1863,  and today  sees about 2000 trains pass through every day, making it the busiest station in Britain in  the number of people who pass through the station every day.

A Cavalry Station Early in the War

Considered one of the "hottest" spots of the Western Front, and certainly in the Ypres Salient, the Menin Road was the scene of  intense fighting every year of the war. Strung along the Menin Road are such famous Great War battle sites as Sanctuary Wood and Hooge. Another site of recurrent action on the road is a slightly less-remembered crossroads with the evocative name "Clapham Junction". Like its namesake, it saw an awful lot of action and traffic. A some point it reminded some Tommies of the big train station back home and they gave it a nickname that stuck.

Note the Converging Roads and the Proximity of
Hooge Chateau and Stirling Castle

Today, not one but two memorials are located at Clapham Junction. One is to the Gloucestershire 1st and 2nd Battalions which saw heavy service during the First and Second Battles of Ypres in 1914 and 1915 respectively.  The 18th "Eastern" Division was a New Army formation that fought in the northern sector of the Salient during the opening of the Battle of Passchendaele and moved to this area for its final stages. The woods of the infamous "Stirling Castle" are to the south of both memorials.

Today — Gloucestershire Monument, Left, and
the 18th Division Monument, Right

The "Clapham Junction" moniker was applied to another crossroads manned by the British Army far away from the Western Front. In 1915, the British forces advancing in the Cape Helles sector found an nice site for a rear-area casualty clearance station and supply dump with road access in all four directions and a stream to provide water. Apparently, it reminded someone in the map section of that famous interchange back in Blighty.

Australian Troops and Support Tanks at
Clapham Junction, 1917

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Dying Time: The Period of the Worst American Casualties in the War


Sunday Morning at Cunel, Capt. Harvey Dunn

Any man in those woods from the 4th to the 17th of October knows. . .the true situation. The shell-torn woods were wet and muddy; everything was wet and damp, raw, cold, and clammy. From all sides came the odor of death and decay, mangled bodies of men were everywhere. . . The mental strain was maddening, the physical strain exhausted us, yet we had to be alert. The enemy counterattacked, time and time again.

Sergeant Major James Block, 59th Infantry, 5th Division

Meuse-Argonne Sector: October 1918
Hindenburg Line Defense (Barbed Line); Romagne Height (Center); Cunel Heights (Right)

By some measures the Meuse-Argonne Offensive is still the largest battle America ever fought. To achieve the main objective of the operation—breaking the German rail network at Mézières and Sedan—Pershing's forces would need to battle through three ridgelines, the most formidable of which, the Romagne and Cunel Heights, were centered at Romagne about seven miles from the jump-off line of 26 September 1918. 

Meuse Heights
Assault of 33rd and 29th Divisions

Running through these formidable obstacles were the main German field fortifications in eastern France, the Kriemhilde Stellung section of the Hindenburg Line. Col. Hugh Drum, First Army chief of staff, had these heights in mind when he called the sector "the most ideal defensive terrain I have ever seen or read about." Further, any push north toward Sedan could be observed and be subject to artillery fire from the Meuse Heights that paralleled that river on its eastern side. The entire sector from Verdun to Sedan could be observed and be subject to artillery fire from these low hills. 

1st Division Attack at Exermont, SW Corner of
Romagne Heights

Côte de Châtillon, Northern Most Piece of the Romagne
Heights, Captured 16 October 1918 by the 42nd Division

It was while attacking the Romagne, Cunel, and Meuse heights in mid-October 1918 that American would suffer its most intense casualties of the Great War.  Over 11 days, the U.S. Army would suffer more killed and wounded per-day than in the Battle of the Bulge of the Second World War.

Madelaine Farm on the Road to the Cunel Heights. Cunel on the North Side of the Woods Was Secured by the 5th Division
on 22 October, Decisively Breaking the Hindenburg Line
in the Central Meuse-Argonne

The Fighting Described Here Is the Reason America's
 Largest Cemetery in Europe Is Located at Romagne

Just how vital the Meuse Heights were to the Germans was not lost in a field order sent from General von der Marwitz to his divisions. A copy was discovered by the Americans in an abandoned German trench and translated by First Army intelligence. “According to the news that we possess the enemy is going to attack the 5th Army and try and push toward Longuyon-Sedan,” Marwitz warned. “The most important artery of the army of the West… It is on the invincible resistance of the Verdun Front, that the fate of a great part of the Western Front depends, and perhaps the fate of our people."

Meuse Heights from the 8 October Jumping Off
Point of the 33rd Division

Molleville Farm, a Key Position East of the Meuse,
Taken by the 29th Division, 16 October

Despite the fierce German resistance by the third week of October, the First Army, now under tactical command of General Hunter Liggett, had cleared the Romagne and Cunel Heights, and suppressed much of the German artillery fire from the Meuse Heights. Preparations had begun for pressing on over the rolling terrain to the north, the route to Sedan. The number of killed, wounded, maimed soldiers that America had sacrificed to get to that point, though, was tragic.

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Something Important Chaged Dramatically After World War I

Women's Hats



Thanks to the incomparable Iowahawk (or Mrs. Hawk) for pointing this out and posting these great graphics.

By the way, if you have other suggestions for future "Something Important Changed. . ." articles in the future please post them in the comments section below.

Friday, March 17, 2023

General Philippe Pétain — A Roads Collection

Henri-Philippe Pétain, 
(born April 24, 1856, Cauchy-à-la-Tour, France—died July 23, 1951, Île d’Yeu)

Joffre and Pétain at Souilly Headquarters, March 1916

Pétain Meeting with the Troops


A Reminder: This is a representative listing, not inclusive of all the articles we have published on this topic in Roads to the Great War.  To search our archives for other articles on this topic, or to explore other World War One interests of yours, take advantage of the site search engine at the top left corner of every page on Roads to the Great War.  MH

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Solzhenitsyn on God and the First World War — A Roads Classic

Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn

More than half a century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of older people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: Men have forgotten God; that's why all this has happened.

Since then I have spent well-nigh fifty years working on the history of our Revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous Revolution that swallowed up some sixty million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: Men have forgotten God; that's why all this has happened.

What is more, the events of the Russian Revolution can only be understood now, at the end of the century, against the background of what has since occurred in the rest of the world. What emerges here is a process of universal significance. And if I were called upon to identify briefly the principal trait of the entire twentieth century, here too, I would be unable to find anything more precise and pithy than to repeat once again: Men have forgotten God.

The failings of human consciousness, deprived of its divine dimension, have been a determining factor in all the major crimes of this century. The first of these was World War I, and much of our present predicament can be traced back to it.

It was a war (the memory of which seems to be fading) when Europe, bursting with health and abundance, fell into a rage of self-mutilation which could not but sap its strength for a century or more, and perhaps forever.

The only possible explanation for this war is a mental eclipse among the leaders of Europe due to their lost awareness of a Supreme Power above them. Only a godless embitterment could have moved ostensibly Christian states to employ poison gas, a weapon so obviously beyond the limits of humanity.

Source: This is an excerpt from Solzhenitsyn's 1983 Speech,  "Men Have Forgotten God" in which he expands his theme to include the Second World War and the Mutual Assured Destruction Doctrine of the Cold War.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Ten War Poet Posters from the Anthem for Doomed Youth Website


This absolutely superbly informative and  beautifully presented site hosted by Brigham Young University has recently been upgraded and expanded.  By all means visit it HERE. MH

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Recommended: Fifteen Exceptional Works of World War One Fiction

You can't get at the truth by history; you can only get it through novels.
Gerald Brenan, MC


Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

A true war story, if truly told, makes the stomach believe. 
Tim O'Brien

I've tried to include a full range of fiction here from treatments of historical events, to psychological studies, to mysteries and satire.  All of these books can be purchased from in your preferred format. Just click on the white banner in the right column. MH