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

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Co-Winner of the 2017 Tomlinson Prize: The Vanquished: Why the First World War Failed to End

The World War One Historical Association (WW1HA) annual Norman B. Tomlinson, Jr., prize for 2017 for the best work of history in English on World War One has been awarded to two exceptional historians: Robert Gerwarth for his The Vanquished: Why the First World War Failed to End (Farrar, Straus & Giroux); and Richard Faulkner for Pershing's Crusaders: The American Soldier in World War I (University Press of Kansas).
This week we present our review of The Vanquished, first presented in ROADS TO THE GREAT WAR on 8 August 2017.  Next week we will present our review of Mr. Faulkner's award-winning volume.

The Vanquished: Why the First World War Failed to End

by Robert Gerwarth
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016

On 11 November 1918, at precisely 11:00 a.m., all of the guns on the Western Front fell silent. For the first time in four years of horrific war, every cannon, rifle, machine gun ceased, according to the provisions of a just-signed armistice. Apparently, soldiers experienced the sudden silence as something like the onset of divine mercy. Men wept openly, overcome by the quiet and shattering arrival of peace.

Paris, 11 November 1918—Not the End

Many people take this astonishing moment as the end of World War I, with some good reason. Hostilities did end in France. Soon after a semblance of liberal democracy began to spread, abetted by American president Wilson's idealism. Yet Robert Gerwath's The Vanquished shows that the war did not end on that date. In fact, several wars continued, and several others sprang into terrible life, wrecking havoc largely among the many peoples whose nations lost in the war. World War I did not so much end as fall apart, stagger along, and mutate. For those living in Riga, Kiev, Smyrna, or many other places in eastern, central, and southeastern Europe in 1919, there was no peace, only continuous violence (4).

More than 4 million people died of violence right after WWI, in revolts, civil wars, invasions, and coups (7). So much for "peace."

This isn't a question of pedantic detail. Instead, paying attention to what happened alongside and right after the Armistice of Compiègne honors the enormous struggles that also occurred, while shedding light on subsequent events, including the rise of fascism and WWII.

This is rich and complex history, so I'll summarize all too quickly.

In eastern Europe, the Russian revolutions of 1917 (the fall of the tsar, the Bolshevik revolt, the construction of a Soviet state) gave way to a spectacular civil war, which included a war with Poland, an attempted invasion of Germany, and invasion by multiple other nations (including the United States, Britain, France, and Japan), only ending in 1922. Newly independent Baltic states experienced revolts and invasions, like the Latvian War for Independence (1918–1920). Newly independent Finland fought an intense civil war in 1918, killing 1 percent of its population. (As a visitor to that country, I can testify that that war's impact is still a living thing in the 21st century.) Bulgarians revolted against their state, which led to a reign of terror against its putative supporters. Hungary had a Soviet-style state in 1918, which was overwhelmed by its neighbors in still more fighting.

Soldiers from the defeated German empire formed independent groups (Freikorps) to fight in these wars, and also at home, since Germany itself went through at least one revolution, plus a series of revolts and attempted coups. For instance, left-wingers created a Bavarian Soviet Republic in 1918, which lasted until demolished by Freikorps and others in 1919.

Farther east, European powers dismantled the Ottoman Empire, which led to a bitter war primarily between Greece and newly formed Turkey, along with newly formed Armenia and victorious France

Western Europe fared better than the aforementioned central and eastern Europe, but still endured further strife. Spain underwent "three Bolshevik years" of revolts and instability, culminating in a dictatorship. Ireland fought for independence from Britain, then lunged into civil war. Across the Atlantic the United States spasmed into a Red Scare, with multiple civil liberty violations and acts of violence.

Another victor, Italy, experienced postwar unrest which grew into "what seemed increasingly like an open civil war...About 3,000 people were killed in Italy between 1919 and 1922" (161). What ended that was Mussolini's March on Rome and the birth of the first fascist state in 1922.

In fact, Gerwarth argues, WWI only ended in 1923, giving way to a far too brief period of peace broken up once more in 1939 (16, 248).

What drove all of this horror and chaos? To begin with, nationalism continued to chew up European borders, as relatively recent nationalist feelings ran up against older delineations of empire. WWI's victors, while containing national republics of various sorts, were also intercontinental empires, and fought to balance these contradictions. Moreover, the successful Soviet revolution of 1917 inspired workers' uprisings around the world, along with anticommunist movements; this is, after all, the start of the longest struggle of the 20th century, the Cold War.

Furthermore, the victors were a mess. The Vanquished shreds the reputation of the Treaty of Versailles or, more to the point, the character of its signatories, who managed the epic hypocrisy of mouthing slogans of national self-determination while engaging in historical land grabs and meting out harsh, eventually self-defeating terms to the defeated Central Powers. That much is well known. Gerwarth goes further, showing that the Versailles leaders added incompetence to hypocrisy, gradually losing control of the European area situation. Violence and sharp politics on the ground undid the victors' achievements and plans repeatedly. Wilson's dream of spreading democracy actually backfired, with dictatorships on the rise, not retreat, by the mid-1920s (245).

Versailles, 28 June 1919—Not the End

Along the way terrible precedents were set, and old ones renewed. WWI began with strong efforts to avoid killing civilians (Entente/Allied propaganda would overstate German atrocities), but the post-1918 conflicts blurred the civilian-soldier boundary thoroughly. Irregular forces of many kinds would take to the streets, setting up a matrix for fascism's rise. And ethnic cleansing became a serious policy tool, especially with the Greek-Turkish population exchange of 2 million people across the Aegean.

There are many good things to approve of in this book. Gerwarth writes clearly and at times with passion, nicely organizing a great deal of complexity into clarity. He relies on a rich range of sources. At a smaller level, I was pleased to see Gerwarth accurately refer to the Sykes-Picot agreement as Sykes-Picot-Sazonov (57).

There are some weaknesses, however. The biggest is neglecting the Spanish influenza, which ravaged the world at precisely this time, and killed a mind-boggling 50 million or so people. On the political side, I wanted to learn more about colonial lands as they took up nationalism against victorious empires, from India to Vietnam. And, with Richard Fulton, I also wanted more on the post-Ottoman Middle East.

These, I confess, are complaints of greed based on a book that does so much so well. Strongly recommended.

Bryan Alexander 

A full listing of the past Tomlinson prize winners can be found here:
https://ww1ha.org/lens-bookshelf/the-tomlinson-book-prize/

Monday, June 18, 2018

Ludendorff: Foch's Opponent in 1918


As He Seemed to Famed Correspondent Hamilton Fyfe at War's End


Ludendorff's "Gamble" in the West


Erich von Ludendorff
Ludendorff was a "Westerner." He declared the war must be won or lost in France and Flanders. The Westerners had their way and failed at Verdun, also giving Brusilov the chance to pull off a successful offensive against the Austrians. That summer a German officer was sent to Bukarest to offer the Rumanians inducements to throw in their lot with the Central Powers. He told his intimates that it had been decided to try no more in the west. "Neither side can break through there," he said, and it was known that he was repeating Hindenburg's view.

But after Russia had been put out of the war the hopes of Ludendorff and his faction revived. Now, they said, we are in a different position. We have no longer to meet attacks from the east. We can concentrate all our strength on the Western front and nothing can stop us. So the March offensive was prepared, Hindenburg looking on doubtfully, Ludendorff assuring everybody that he was about to bring the war to an end with "a German peace."

It was in September, 1916, that he had taken over the duties of First Quartermaster- General, under Hindenburg, installed as Chief of Staff, to the puppet Emperor — "puppet" I mean so far as his title of Commander-in-Chief was concerned. He had quickly made his heavy hand felt. It was he who had at first declared unrestricted U-boat warfare inadvisable ; it was he who later gave the word for it to begin. Nothing was done without consulting him. In the popular mind he ranked as Hindenburg's equal, and by degrees the legend grew that it was really Ludendorff and not Hindenburg who was "the man behind the throne."

Such was his great position in the spring of this year when he and his seven assistants laid the plans for the attack upon the British Fourth and Fifth Armies. At first the result seemed to justify his confidence. He was a gambler who had staked everything upon one throw, and it looked as if he had won. But from the early days of the vast struggle Ludendorff felt that things had not gone too well for him. I could read in his Army Orders, which I used to see in France, an anxiety, a striving to do better, an impatience against officers who did not spare their men sufficiently and men who failed to hold positions long enough.

"According to Plan"

He must have been feeling pretty hopeless during June, after his advance had come to a standstill, but he was to have a Field-Marshal's baton all the same. The Emperor went to Headquarters in July with the baton in his trunk, but before he had time to present it Foch struck his blow at the unguarded German right flank. That was the beginning of the end of Ludendorff's greatness. He put a bold face on, assured interviewers that all would be well, told the German public in his official despatches that all the retirements were "according to plan." The phrase became a joke in Germany. 

When he replied to the appeal for help sent by the Burgomaster of Vienna, the note of despair sounded in his tone. "Germany cannot do more than she has done," he telegraphed. In September he began to break down. He could not sleep. He began to hint at retirement. But so long as there was any chance of the German Army recovering he was kept in his command. Only when peace was demanded with menaces and the old order in Germany had come down with a run did the unhappy Ludendorff get his orders to go.

After the first week of the Battle of St. Quentin [Michael] he said : "A great battle has been fought and a victory has been gained. Nobody however, can foresee what will be the result of it." Even with his capacity for taking "a long-range view of every contingency," as a German newspaper once put it, he can hardly have foreseen that the result would be his dismissal and disgrace.

Source: The War Illustrated, "Men and Cities of the War: General Ludendorff," 9 November 1918

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Foch on Gaining Victory in 1918


Foch at Compiègne

As recorded by Marshal Foch's aide Major Charles Bugnet, after his assignment began following the Armistice.

You see how matters stood when I assumed the command of the Allied Armies in 1918? The Germans attacked at the point of juncture between the British armies and our own. The line was dented; one Ally could only see the Channel, the other the capital. They said to me: "There are the Channel ports and Paris. Which are you going to defend, the ports or Paris?"

Both!

"But if you have to let one or the other go?"

I shall let nothing go.

"But if you really have to? "

I shall hold on and defend both: nothing shall be let go...There is nothing to be let go...I did not let anything go! What was to be done? We could not afford to lose a yard of ground, and, above all, it was necessary to maintain liaison with the Allies. To do that, the first thing to do was to hold the enemy and to stand fast.

There was only one method of doing this— to reorganize, cost what it might, in the positions which we held and with our feeble resources. Only after that could we think of reliefs. Then we must also counterattack in order to break down offensives...But even this is insufficient; we must conquer, that is to say, attack. To do that, we must have reserves. After that, to build them up.

Haig and Foch
Above all lose no time. "You tell me that you have no men. You have. Their numbers are insufficient? Believe me, go on!" It is with the survivors that battles are won.  Obviously, an undertaking cannot be commenced with no resources, but it is concluded with none left. You know, victorious armies have always been ragged and dirty!

You see, the unified command is only a word. It was tried in 1917 under Nivelle, and it did not work. One must know how to lead the Allies, one does not command them. Some must be treated differently from the others. The English are English, the Americans are another matter, and similarly with the Belgians and Italians. I could not deal with the Allied generals as I did with our own. They also were brave men who were representing the interests of their own country. They saw things in a different light from ourselves. They agreed with reluctance to the unified command; although they loyally accepted the situation, a mere trifle might have upset them and dislocated the whole scheme. I could not give them orders in an imperative manner. One cannot work to a system, especially with them. Anything might have happened. It was necessary to hear their views; otherwise they would have kicked...People only carry out orders which they understand perfectly, and decisions which they have made themselves, or which they have seen made.

Foch and Pershing
Accordingly, when important decisions were involved, I used to see them, or asked them to see me. We talked and discussed questions between ourselves, and, without seeming to do so, I gradually won them over to my point of view. I provided them with a solution, but I did not force it upon them. They were satisfied. I did my best to convince them. Perhaps it was rather a lengthy process, but we always got there. A talk in the morning, another in the evening, for several days if necessary. And, when I had made them see my point, I left them, but with a written note which we had prepared with Weygand's assistance. I gave it to them without appearing to attach much importance to it. This is a summary of my ideas. It agrees with your own in principle. Perhaps you will glance through it; come and see me again and we will go into it together. A few days later they would adopt this decision, made it their own, and became keen on ensuring its success. If handled differently, they would have strained at their chain if I had made them too much aware of it! That is the method which I adopted with [British Commander John] French in 1914, with [Italian Commander Armando] Diaz in 1917, and with the others in 1918. That is the true spirit of the unified command not to give orders, but to make suggestions...They look into the question. At first they are surprised, then they move. Do
you know, I carried them on my shoulders the whole time.

We used to meet Haig twice a week. We met half-way, at Mouchy. That is why, in such circumstances, Weygand was so valuable to me. He was patient. He used to return to them, go into the question again, explain my point of view, and persuade them. Is not that the meaning of Inter-Allied command? One talks, one discusses, one persuades, one does not give orders...One says: "That is what should be done; it is simple; it is only necessary to will it."

Source: OVER THE TOP,  August 2010

Saturday, June 16, 2018

How Progressive Reformers Helped the AEF

Secretary of  War Newton Baker
Was a Noted Progressive
During the war, the War Plans Division of the General Staff distributed a copy of Maj. Gen. David C. Shank's The Management of the American Soldier to all officers responsible for morale, since the book contained "valuable suggestions..., of assistance to those who have charge of the education, recreation and character building of the Army." According to Shank's book, officers should know the names of all men in their companies, treat the soldiers in the same manner they would like to be treated, discipline without nagging, and avoid destroying self-respect by instilling pride. Shank regarded efficiency as the key to the success of any officer and concluded that true efficiency came from managing men as a way of preserving harmony... 

At the start of conflict, the War Department hired a number of well-known Progressive reformers, among them Raymond Fosdick (former settlement worker and New York's commissioner of accounts), Joseph Lee (president of the Playground Association of America), and Joseph Mott (secretary of the Young Men's Christian Association [YMCA]).

Secretary of War Newton D. Baker had previously been a municipal Progressive reformer during his days as mayor of Cleveland. Leading social welfare organizations assisted the military in the socialization of both native-born and foreign-born troops. This included the YMCA, the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA), the Salvation Army, the Playground Association of America, the American Social Hygiene Association, and the American Library Association. The War Department also enlisted the help of the Knights of Columbus and the Jewish Welfare Board to provide for the needs of its Catholic and Jewish soldiers. 

Similar to their work in the civilian societies, the goal of these social welfare organizations was to keep soldiers away from negative influences such as prostitution, alcohol, and gambling and direct them to positive alternatives like sports, music, and reading. As venereal disease quickly spread through the ranks and crippled several divisions in the Allied armies, socializing American soldiers became even more imperative. Adopting a social welfare philosophy resulted in revolutionary changes within the military structure, including innovative training methods that emphasized social, educational, recreational, and character-building activities, all designed to socialize and "morally uplift" the soldiers to create an effective military.

All these factors—Progressive socialization and Americanization, the "management of men," and the new emphasis on morale—came together with the training of foreign-born soldiers during the First World War. The War Department approached the training of immigrant soldiers with a rational pragmatic approach in the "managing of men," and they also adopted social welfare techniques in socializing, Americanizing, and bolstering the morale of these foreign-born men. World War I foreign-born soldiers were part of the largest group of immigrants to arrive in the United States in its history. Between 1880 and 1920, over 23 million people, primarily from southern and eastern Europe, came to the United States. They were alienated from their homelands by severe economic, political, and religious conditions and attracted to America with the promise of economic security and the hope for religious and political freedoms. 

Source:  Americans All! Foreign-Born Soldiers in World War I by Nancy Gentile Ford

Friday, June 15, 2018

100 Years Ago: The Battle of the Piave Opens on the Italian Front

After Italy's Disaster at Caporetto


Once a Battlefield, the Piave River Today


The order to retreat to the Tagliamento River, was issued by Italy's Commando Supremo during the night of 26–27 October. The 2nd and 3rd Armies were to retreat to the so called "Yellow Line" on the Tagliamento and Italian positions in the Carnic and Cadore sectors (held by the Italian IV Army) were to be abandoned. 

However, it is important to remember that only the 2nd Army was destroyed at Caporetto. Much of the Italian Army retreated intact and in fairly good order. The 300,000 men of the 3rd Army and 230,000 men of the 4th Army had good roads available to them and were able to mount an efficient rearguard action. The 90,000 men stationed on the Carnic Alps front were not so lucky. The enemy captured most of them.

On 1 November, the Italian Army reached the Tagliamento and began winning their first small limited victories. On the Tagliamento, the Italians got a chance to catch their second wind.

At the same time, Austro-German units began running to a series of problems. They were not prepared for such a success, and they became divided on which objectives they should pursue. In the end, they decided to stick to the original plan and the Italian 3rd Army was able to retreat. As bad a Caporetto was for Italy, it could have been much worse. Italian forces completed the deployment on the Piave anchored on the Montello on 12 November. Then the Battle of Monte Grappa began. It would last until mid-December and end with an Italian victory.

Location of the Battlefield

In late October 1917 the Battle of Caporetto not only pushed the Italians onto the plains but forced them back to the river Piave, where the Italian Commando Supremo  managed to organise and establish a new front line, but they needed help to hold on.  While the retreat was still under way, help was heading to Italy from the Western Front, with most of the troops eventually to be deployed around Asiago. A total of six French and five British divisions were sent as well as a Royal Flying Corps brigade.  Americans also arrived, including the 332nd Infantry Regiment, ambulance units, and flyers including Congressman and Major Fiorello LaGuardia. Some of these units would return to France in 1918, but they had played a key role in the Arresto phase of the post-Caporetto action in France. 

The Battle of the Piave, aka the Battle of the Solstice


In early 1918, Germany seemed to be  riding high. Unable to resist Wilhelm's pressure, Emperor Karl pledged a two-pronged attack from Asiago in the north and across the River Piave toward Venice. Karl's promise of a two-pronged offensive flew in the face of warnings that Field Marshal Boroević (his new rank) had sent to the high command since the end of March. Karl and his chief of staff hoped to make Rome negotiate and enlarge their spoils when Germany won the war. Boroević did not believe the Central Powers could win. Instead of wasting its strength on needless offensives, Austria should conserve it to deal with the turmoil that peace would unleash in the empire. 

The bombardment began at 03:00 on 15 June. As at Caporetto, the Austrians aimed to incapacitate the enemy batteries with a pinpoint attack, including gas shells. However, their accuracy was poor, due to Allied control of the skies; many of the shells may have been time expired, and the Italians had been supplied with superior British gas masks.  

Austrian Engineers Bridging the Piave

The morning went well; the Austrians moved 100,000 men across the river under heavy rain. Watching the infantry pour over the pontoons, Jan Triska and his gunners wondered if this time they would reach Venice. Enlarging the bridgeheads proved more difficult. Progress was made on the Montello, where the four divisions pushed forward several kilometers, and around San Donà, near the sea. Elsewhere, the attackers were pinned down near the river. Farther north, Conrad's divisions attacked from Asiago toward Monte Grappa. Slight initial gains could not be held; the Italians had learned how to use the "elastic defence," absorbing enemy thrusts in a deep system of trenches, then counterattacking.

Progress on the second day was no easier. Conrad was in retreat; his batteries—more than a third of all the Habsburg guns in Italy—were out of the fight. Boroević ordered his commanders to hunker down while forces were transferred from the north. Meanwhile the Piave rose again, washing away many of the pontoons. Supplying the bridgeheads across the torrent became even more dangerous. The Austrians were too close to exhaustion and their supplies too uncertain for a sustained battle to run in their favour.

Boroević told the emperor that if the Montello could be secured, it should be the springboard for a new offensive. Securing it would need at least three more divisions, including artillery. If the high command did not intend to renew the offensive from the Montello, it was pointless to retain the bridgeheads; they should be abandoned and all efforts dedicated to strengthening the defenses east of the river. As Karl wondered what to do, the German high command stepped in, ordering a cessation of hostilities so that the Austrians could dispatch their six strongest divisions to the Western Front, for Ludendorff's spring offensives were running out of steam and 250,000 American troops were arriving every month. Karl consulted his commanders in the field, who echoed Boroević's stark choice: either reinforce or withdraw. Then he consulted his chief of the general staff, General Arz von Straussenberg. A new offensive within a few weeks was, they agreed, not a realistic prospect. Their reserves were almost used up; even if enough divisions could be transferred to the Piave from elsewhere—and none could safely be spared from Ukraine or the Balkans—the Italians would match them. It would not be possible to recapture the zest of 15 June without a lengthy recovery.

Italian Defenders

Late on the 20th, Karl ordered the right bank of the Piave to be abandoned. General Goiginger, commanding the corps that had performed so well on the Montello, refused to obey. They had taken 12,000 prisoners and 84 guns; how could they retreat? Eventually he submitted, and the withdrawal began. Both sides were exhausted, and the maneuver was completed without much fighting. The Bosnians and Hungarians on the Montello worked their way back to the river. The last Austrians crossed on 23 June, ending the Battle of the Solstice. The Italians had lost around 10,000 dead, 35,000 wounded, and more than 40,000 prisoners, against 118,000 Habsburg dead, wounded, sick, captured, and missing. Early in July, Third Army units capped the achievement by seizing the swampy delta at the mouth of the Piave, which the Austrians had held since Caporetto.

The rejoicing was widespread and spontaneous. For many soldiers, the Battle of the Solstice cleansed the stain of Caporetto, and the name of the Piave has ever since evoked a glow of fulfillment.

Source:  The White War, by Mark Thompson. Excerpted in OVER THE TOP, October 2010

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Woodrow Wilson Shows His Hand: Annapolis, 5 June 1914


Where did "Making the World Safe for Democracy" come from?  As this address three years earlier to a group on new U.S. Navy ensign reveals, it was always part of Woodrow Wilson's make-up.  Note in particular his "Idea of America" is to serve humanity.

Fifty-Four Months After His Speech at Annapolis,  a Triumphant President Woodrow Wilson Disembarks from the USS George Washington 
Ready to Share His Views with Europe's Leaders

Annapolis Commencement Address
5 June 1914

Mr. Superintendent, Young Gentlemen, Ladies and Gentlemen:

During the greater part of my life I have been associated with young men, and on occasions it seems to me without number have faced bodies of youngsters going out to take part in the activities of the world, but I have a consciousness of a different significance in this occasion from that which I have felt on other similar occasions. When I have faced the graduating classes at universities I have felt that I was facing a great conjecture. They were going out into all sorts of pursuits and with every degree of preparation for the particular thing they were expecting to do; some without any preparation at all, for they did not know what they expected to do. But in facing you I am facing men who are trained for a special thing. You know what you are going to do, and you are under the eye of the whole Nation in doing it. For you, gentlemen, are to be part of the power of the Government of the United States. There is a very deep and solemn significance in that fact, and I am sure that every one of you feels it. The moral is perfectly obvious. Be ready and fit for anything that you have to do. And keep ready and fit. Do not grow slack. Do not suppose that your education is over because you have received your diplomas from the academy. Your education has just begun. Moreover, you are to have a very peculiar privilege which not many of your predecessors have had. You are yourselves going to become teachers. You are going to teach those 50,000 fellow-countrymen of yours who are the enlisted men of the Navy. You are going to make them fitter to obey your orders and to serve the country. You are going to make them fitter to see what the orders mean in their outlook upon life and upon the service; and that is a great privilege, for out of you is going the energy and intelligence which are going to quicken the whole body of the United States Navy.

I congratulate you upon that prospect, but I want to ask you not to get the professional point of view. I would ask it of you if you were lawyers; I would ask it of you if you were merchants; I would ask it of you whatever you expected to be. Do not get the professional point of view. There is nothing narrower or more unserviceable than the professional point of view, to have the attitude toward life that it centers in your profession. It does not. Your profession is only one of the many activities which are meant to keep the world straight, and to keep the energy in its blood and in its muscle. We are all of us in this world, as I understand it, to set forward the affairs of the whole world, though we play a special part in that great function. The Navy goes all over the world, and I think it is to be congratulated upon having that sort of illustration of what the world is and what it contains; and inasmuch as you are going all over the world you ought to be the better able to see the relation that your country bears to the rest of the world.

It ought to be one of your thoughts all the time that you are sample Americans—not merely sample Navy men, not merely sample soldiers, but sample Americans—and that you have the point of view of America with regard to her Navy and her Army; that she is using them as the instruments of civilization, not as the instruments of aggression. The idea of America is to serve humanity, and every time you let the Stars and Stripes free to the wind you ought to realize that that is in itself a message that you are on an errand which other navies have sometimes tunes forgotten; not an errand of conquest, but an errand of service. I always have the same thought when I look at the flag of the United States, for I know something of the history of the struggle of mankind for liberty. When I look at that flag it seems to me as if the white stripes were strips of parchment upon which are written the rights of man, and the red stripes the streams of blood by which those rights have been made good. Then in the little blue firmament in the corner have swung out the stars of the States of the American Union. So it is, as it were, a sort of floating charter that has come down to us from Runnymede, when men said, "We will not have masters; we will be a people, and we will seek our own liberty."

You are not serving a government, gentlemen; you are serving a people. For we who for the time being constitute the Government are merely instruments for a little while in the hands of a great Nation which chooses whom it will to carry out its decrees and who invariably rejects the man who forgets the ideals which it intended him to serve. So that I hope that wherever you go you will have a generous, comprehending love of the people you come into contact with, and will come back and tell us, if you can, what service the United States can render to the remotest parts of the world; tell us where you see men suffering; tell us where you think advice will lift them up; tell us where you think that the counsel of statesmen may better the fortunes of unfortunate men; always having it in mind that you are champions of what is right and fair all 'round for the public welfare, no matter where you are, and that it is that you are ready to fight for and not merely on the drop of a hat or upon some slight punctilio, but that you are champions of your fellow-men, particularly of that great body one hundred million strong whom you represent in the United States.

What do you think is the most lasting impression that those boys down at Vera Cruz are going to leave? They have had to use some force—I pray God it may not be necessary for them to use any more—but do you think that the way they fought is going to be the most lasting impression? Have men not fought ever since the world began? Is there anything new in using force? The new things in the world are the things that are divorced from force. The things that show the moral compulsions of the human conscience, those are the things by which we have been building up civilization, not by force. And the lasting impression that those boys are going to leave is this, that they exercise self-control; that they are ready and diligent to make the place where they went fitter to live in than they found it; that they regarded other people's rights; that they did not strut and bluster, but went quietly, like self-respecting gentlemen, about their legitimate work. And the people of Vera Cruz, who feared the Americans and despised the Americans, are going to get a very different taste in their mouths about the whole thing when the boys of the Navy and the Army come away. Is that not something to be proud of, that you know how to use force like men of conscience and like gentlemen, serving your fellow-men and not trying to overcome them? Like that gallant gentleman who has so long borne the heats and perplexities and distresses of the situation in Vera Cruz—Admiral Fletcher. I mention him, because his service there has been longer and so much of the early perplexities fell upon him. I have been in almost daily communication with Admiral Fletcher, and I have tested his temper. I have tested his discretion. I know that he is a man with a touch of statesmanship about him, and he has grown bigger in my eye each day as I have read his dispatches, for he has sought always to serve the thing he was trying to do in the temper that we all recognize and love to believe is typically American.

I challenge you youngsters to go out with these conceptions, knowing that you are part of the Government and force of the United States and that men will judge us by you. I am not afraid of the verdict. I cannot look in your faces and doubt what it will be, but I want you to take these great engines of force out onto the seas like adventurers enlisted for the elevation of the spirit of the human race. For that is the only distinction that America has. Other nations have been strong, other nations have piled wealth as high as the sky, but they have come into disgrace because they used their force and their wealth for the oppression of mankind and their own aggrandizement; and America will not bring glory to herself, but disgrace, by following the beaten paths of history. We must strike out upon new paths, and we must count upon you gentlemen to be the explorers who will carry this spirit and spread this message all over the seas and in every port of the civilized world.

You see, therefore, why I said that when I faced you I felt there was a special significance. I am not present on an occasion when you are about to scatter on various errands. You are all going on the same errand, and I like to feel bound with you in one common organization for the glory of America. And her glory goes deeper than all the tinsel, goes deeper than the sound of guns and the clash of sabers; it goes down to the very foundations of those things that have made the spirit of men free and happy and content.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

100 Years Ago: Fourth Ludendorff Offensive,Operation GNEISENAU, Fails

Operation GNEISENAU, 9–13 June 1918


German Casualties Being Evacuated

Operation GNEISENAU followed on 9 June 1918, five days after Operation BLÜCHER in the Marne sector ended in an attempt to force the Allies to commit troops south and fill the gap between the two enormous salients created by BLÜCHER and in March by MICHAEL. However,  the French were better prepared and the offensive ended after just three days of bloody fighting and a further 30,000 German casualties. But like Operation GEORGETTE following Operation MICHAEL, GNEISENAU had been cobbled together too fast and was too light in combat power. 


The Germans terminated the attack after only six days, after once more failing to achieve any operationally significant results or to cause the French to withdraw their reinforcements from behind the British. But there was also an ominous difference between Operation GNEISENAU and its three predecessors. For the first time in the Ludendorff Offensives the Germans had failed to make any notable tactical gains. The Allies were beginning to understand the new German attack tactics and develop more effective methods of defense.

Source: Zabecki,  The German 1918 Offensives

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

To the Last Man: Spring 1918
Reviewed by Bryan Alexander


To the Last Man: Spring 1918

by Lyn Macdonald
Carroll and Graf, 1998

German Assault Troops Assembling in St. Quentin

One hundred years ago the German Army launched its spring offensive on the Western Front. The Kaiserschlacht nearly broke the Allied armies but ultimately failed, ending German hopes for victory against France and leading to the Second Reich's collapse later that year. In To the Last Man Lyn MacDonald chronicles the British experience of surviving the onslaught, following events chronologically. After a good introductory chapter surveying the state of forces on either side of No Man's Land, the rest of the book tracks events day by day, from 21 March through 5 April.

A great deal of the book consists of participants' voices. Interviews, letters, diary accounts, and other primary sources appear extensively, giving readers eyewitness accounts of events in great detail. This documentary approach gives To the Last Man a deep sense of humanity, while grounding larger questions of strategy. It also allows a wide range of experiences, including the full range of military ranks and some variety within the British empire (for example, a story about a Scots unit growing to like South African troops, 121–2).

One private reports in all candor:
That was the first moment that I was frightened, really frightened, because the orders came along, 'This position must be held at all costs until the last man.' Well, you've got to be in that situation to understand what it means. I was only nineteen, I'd only been a France a little over a month, and I thought I was going to be killed. I had a sinking feeling in my tummy. Everybody was thinking, 'How on earth can we hold this position? It's impossible!' That was on the night of the 22nd (197).

Amidst the horrors there are many cheerful passages, however, like the story of a retreating British officer who pauses to set a gramophone to play a patriotic, German-mocking song (141), or this interesting bit of medical practice: "The next thing I hear is a lot of shells falling in the sunken road, and before very long I heard Major Adam saying 'Gas! Gas! Pass the whisky.' This was his antidote to gas" (133; emphasis in original).

MacDonald's style is powerful and accessible, with some fine phrases—"The German infantry advanced like a tidal bore on the heels of the devastating bombardment, and the posts disappeared beneath the onslaught like castles on a sandy beach." (89) Her overall tone is interesting, in that while she portrays serious defeats and epic horrors, the text is generally very positive. The subject is a British victory, of course, but the author also takes care to represent British optimism and energy. This is unusual in my reading of WWI literature.

The book is well equipped with maps, some of which are very clear, and which helps the reader navigate some of the complex geographical details. There are also black-and-white photographs of some quoted participants and battlefields.

The focus of the book is largely on the British experience, especially the hard fighting of the Fifth Army. A key theme is understanding and ultimately approving of general Gough's decisions on the ground. On the positive side, this allows us to immerse ourselves in that population and its responses to events. However, we see much less of the French, beyond some brief notes about their strategic reaction to the German attacks.

British Troops Form a Temporary Defensive Line, March 1918

Inter-Allied national discussions do appear, but with a strong bias toward London rather than Paris. We do read some German accounts, which nicely illuminate that side's experience, from initial success to too much pillaging, but I would have preferred more, in order to balance the British. The Portuguese units, who bore the brunt of one major attack and whose collapse led to a major crisis, barely appear at all. (159) Ultimately this is a book best understood as being about the British experience of the Ludendorff Offensive. I think To the Last Man is the first Lyn Macdonald book I've read. It won't be the last.

Bryan Alexander

Monday, June 11, 2018

The Role of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Lone Pine Cemetery, Gallipoli


The Commonwealth War Graves Commission was established by Royal Charter of 21 May 1917, the provisions of which were amended and extended by a Supplemental Charter of 8 June 1964. Its duties are to mark and maintain the graves of the members of the forces of the Commonwealth who died in the two world wars, to build and maintain memorials to the dead whose graves are unknown, and to keep records and registers. The cost is shared by the partner governments—those of Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, South Africa, and the United Kingdom—in proportions based on the numbers of their graves. The commission acts for its member governments in all matters concerning their war graves of the two World Wars.


Rouge Cabaret Cemetery, Artois, France


The commission's work is guided by fundamental principles which were established in 1920:
  • that each of the dead should be commemorated individually by name either on a headstone over the grave or by an inscription on a memorial if the grave was unidentified;
  • that the headstones and memorials should be permanent;
  • that the headstones should be uniform; and 
  • that there should be no distinction made on account of military or civil rank, race, or creed.


Aveluy Wood Cemetery, Somme Battlefield


The theme of common sacrifice and equal honour in death was reflected in the policy of non-repatriation of remains and contributed to the non-sectarian design of the headstones used throughout the world. Non-repatriation was strictly applied during both world wars for members of the Commonwealth's forces and resulted in the location of the memorials and cemeteries truly reflecting the scope of both conflicts. Indeed, the commission's mandate encompasses 1.7 million war dead commemorated in 150 countries in over 23,000 burial grounds.

To be considered war dead, a member of the forces must have died in service or as a result of service within the two war periods designated by the participating governments, i.e. 4 August 1914–31 August 1921 or 3 September 1939–31 December 1947.

Source:  CWGC Website

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Where Were the British Tanks During the 100 Days Offensive?



While failing to achieve critical mass at any particular point on the battlefield, the Tank Corps soldiers and their tanks represented themselves well throughout 1918. They trained hard and fought harder for the eventual victory. One continuing Achilles' heel remained the lack of reserves at any echelon to help press the fight. In fact, with the crush of the Michael Offensive appropriating many soldiers into infantry units originally allocated to expand the Tank Corps, the corps was reduced from six brigades to five for the remainder of 1918. Help was all but nonexistent as the Tank Corps only received two fresh battalions between August and November 1918. All other tank battalions were in a continuous though piecemeal fighting essentially through war’s end.

After the tank’s highly successful use in the battles of Hamel and Amiens in the summer of 1918, few figured dramatically in the final weeks before the Armistice. Some historians, such as John Terraine, hold that the tank force had culminated by the end of September 1918. A noted exception is historian Tim Travers, whose calculations on mission-capable tanks available to General Haig from August through November 1918 revealed around 300 ready at any particular time of choosing. Travers cites lack of trained crews, lack of reserves, and lack of spares (complete tanks) as the prime suspects in keeping tanks out of the majority of fighting during late 1918. Though compelling, Travers fails to account for crew or unit cohesion, or logistical support. Further, with the Allied breakthrough in October 1918, tanks likely lost significance with many leaders who envisioned the tank’s role as primarily to execute the breakthrough, not win the war of maneuver...

German Infantry Versus a British Tank

J.F.C. Fuller himself in his 1920 history of tanks in the Great War described the Tank Corps as a shattered force by November 1918, and his accounting of tanks showed out of 1,993 tanks and other armored vehicles engaged in battle during the last 100 days of the war, 887 were turned over to salvage. Only 204 had been repaired and reissued by the end of the war, 15 were declared un-salvageable, and the rest were still in some sort of maintenance limbo.

Source:  "What Kept the Tank from Being the Decisive Weapon of World War I," Thesis, Major Brian A. Pedersen, U.S.Army, 2007

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Prisoners of War in Russia



Austrian Prisoners at a Camp in Northern Russia

by Yucel Yanikdag

The prisoners who survived the grueling conditions of the assembly camps  and transport ended up in one of the prison camps that dotted the Russian  empire. There were not enough of these camps and those that existed did not  have enough beds, which were not really beds but only wooden racks. They  also lacked latrine facilities. Accordingly, various kinds of buildings were converted into prison camps—former army camps, exhibition halls, prisons,  stables, circus buildings, distilleries, abandoned factories, and schools.

Usually the prison camps were located outside a town. Krasnoyarsk, for  example, was 40 minutes walking distance from the town. Holding as  many as 35,000 prisoners, the Siberian camps were larger than their European  counterparts. Most camps were surrounded by wooden or wire fences that stood between 12 and 15 feet high with sentry towers at intervals. The  prisoners were usually kept at large camps, but it was not unusual for officers  to end up in large houses commandeered by the Russian government. Most of  the largest camps were former garrisons that had housed a much smaller number of Russian soldiers. In such places, the lucky ones were housed in brick or  log barracks. The unlucky ones ended up in animal stables and artillery  storage buildings. Depending on the crowding, which was almost always a  problem, each man had a personal space of between 20 and 28 inches. It  was very common for men to be in physical contact with each other as theyslept.

Housing conditions for the officers were better. In former army garrisons, officers were usually quartered in the Russian officers' barracks. Typically, the  officers were not as crowded as the enlisted men. In the earlier years of the  war, enlisted men were assigned to serve as orderlies for officers in the prison  camps.  Prisoners were always infested with lice, largely because of the lack of extra underwear. Whenever the prisoners did receive extra underwear—a rare  event especially for the Ottomans—they sold it to the peasants to  purchase tobacco. Others, who were missing socks, used the underwear as foot  rags. It seems that this practice was especially common among Ottomans, Hungarians, and Czechs. Every day the prisoners removed their clothing to kill  the lice, but their efforts were in vain as the boards and mattresses on which  they slept were also infested. Lice made the prisoners' lives miserable as they  could not rid themselves of these creatures. However, they found various ways  to deal with them; some burned them, others pricked them with needles.

According to a German prisoner, the Ottoman prisoners usually drowned the  lice, as they were convinced that drowning assured the slowest death. Presumably, the creative ways of killing lice was the only way of releasing their  stored-up hatred and frustration, for they felt helpless in defending themselves  even against these little creatures.

Overcrowding and insanitary conditions in the camps resulted in diseases  that took a heavy toll on the prisoners. Typhus, typhoid fever, and cholera were  the major killers, but other epidemics also developed. At one time or another  every camp had a typhus epidemic. In some cases, the Ottomans brought the  disease with them from the Caucasus Front.

Following their capture, the officers, usually starting at the assembly  camps, were separated from the enlisted men. Differences in treatment set the  imprisoned officers apart from their men. The Russian government paid  captured junior officers 50 rubles, staff officers 75 rubles, and generals 100  rubles a month; corresponding salaries were paid by [other countries] to its  Russian prisoners. The officers, however, had to purchase their food from the  Russians, whereas the men received theirs free.

The prisoners usually kept to their own nationality. In other words,  Ottomans lived with Ottomans, Germans with Germans, but there were cases  of mixed nationalities.   Enlisted  men did not speak the languages of other prisoners, and, unlike the officers,  they were expected to work. The work alone probably left little time to do  much else. The men's jobs could be inside the camp, like building and repairing barracks and other facilities, or outside it. In order to make up for the labor shortage created by mobilization, Russian officials used the prisoners in  various areas to help minimize the shortage. In general, those who  worked outside the camps became factory workers or farm hands.

Source: "Ottoman Prisoners of War in Russia, 1914-22,"  Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 34, No. 1 (Jan., 1999).

Friday, June 8, 2018

Prayer of a Soldier in France

PRAYER OF A SOLDIER IN FRANCE

by  Joyce Kilmer (1886–1918)



Sgt. Joyce Kilmer
My shoulders ache beneath my pack
(Lie easier, Cross, upon His back).

I march with feet that burn and smart
(Tread, Holy Feet, upon my heart).

Men shout at me who may not speak
(They scourged Thy back and smote Thy cheek).

I may not lift a hand to clear
My eyes of salty drops that sear.

(Then shall my fickle soul forget
Thy agony of Bloody Sweat?)

My rifle hand is stiff and numb
(From Thy pierced palm red rivers come).

Lord, Thou didst suffer more for me
Than all the hosts of land and sea.

So let me render back again
This millionth of Thy gift. Amen.

"Prayer of a Soldier in France" was originally published in Joyce Kilmer. Ed. Robert Cortes Holliday. New York: Kennikat Press, 1918.

Source: Poetry-Archive.com

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Recommended: The Great War and Rudyard Kipling


By Hugh Brogan
Presented by the Kipling Society



Hugh Brogan, Professor of History at the University of Essex, is a long-standing member of the Kipling Society and an authority on Kipling's life and works. This article was first delivered as an address to the Society on 11 February 1998 and reprinted in the Kipling Journal in June 1998. A revised version is to be found in In Time's Eye, essays on Rudyard Kipling edited by Jan Montefiore (Manchester University Press 2014). The collection also includes an article by Harry Ricketts on "Kipling Among the War Poets."

Hope lies to mortals
And most believe her,
But man's deceiver
Was never mine.

The thoughts of others
Were light and fleeting
Of lovers' meeting
Or luck or fame.
Mine were of trouble,
And mine were steady,
So I was ready
When trouble came.

[A.E. Houseman]

Many, many years ago, when I was a young academic at Cambridge, I found myself sitting on a sofa having tea with E.M. Forster. It was the season between Bonfire Night and Christmas. He said that, according to his bedmaker, old people hated Remembrance Sunday—it brought back too many painful memories.

I myself hated Remembrance Sunday 1997. During the last Parliament I couldn't help noticing (like everyone else, I watch the television news) that every year in the week or so before 11 November, Tory M.P.s sprouted plastic poppies in their lapels (by the way, why are modern Poppy Day poppies so cheap and ugly?) as if they had contracted a rash. In 1997 they put the things on a full fortnight beforehand and so did members of the Government. There was no sign of the pacifist White Poppy movement, which made itself conspicuous a few years before; but Peter Tatchell led a homosexual group to place artificial pink poppies (arranged in a triangular wreath) on the Cenotaph a week before the official ceremonies. The British Legion repeated its plea that two minutes silence should be observed by everyone on 11 November as well as on Remembrance Sunday; and commerce (my building society) and the prime minister hastened to endorse it.

Since only one war ended on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month—not World War II, the Korean War, the Falklands affair, or the Gulf War—this seemed to me to be an objectionable idea, suggesting that only the First World War mattered, or that it mattered uniquely. In a way that is quite true, but I do not think it is a point that should be made at the time when all our battle dead are being commemorated.

The whole shabby farce culminated on Remembrance Sunday itself, when a dirty, tattered Union Jack was flown over Whitehall upside down. The Ministry of Defence gallantly blamed the Crown Property Services Agency.

Surely this concatenation of self-serving humbug, enacted at the expense of what used to be the most sacred ceremony of the British year, is proof that those old painful memories are losing their hold on the nation. We would not insist so vulgarly that we remember if we were not actually forgetting, or putting the sagas aside. This forgetting is, I think, a development both inevitable and healthy. But we will do ourselves no service, and the dead no honour, if, as a people, we continue to pretend that the poppies mean as much to us as ever. Did those sons and daughters die so that we could play the sanctimonious hypocrite in their name?

Of course not. Yet I can see few signs that the popular imagination is ready to consider and discuss the wars of the 20th century—the two World Wars particularly—dispassionately, honestly and knowledgeably. In the course of preparing this paper I went to hear a lecture by Professor Brian Bond on the First World War  in which he told how, recently, he had heard a young woman remark during a television discussion that it was thanks to the public schools that Britain lost that war. Professor Bond wrote in to say that according to his information Britain had won. The BBC wrote back to say politely that he was entitled to his view.

Another anecdote: not long ago I had occasion to read a graduate thesis on women writers and the Great War. I was startled to find that the author, writing nearly 80 years after the Armistice, took it for granted that the absolute pacifists of 1914–18 were right. The war should never have been fought, and any writers, even women writers, who thought otherwise—who let their attitudes be tainted by patriotism or any other belligerent propensity—were simply written off as "militarists." It had not crossed the writer's mind that you could hate the war and the processes of waging war and yet believe that it must be fought and won. As Wagner once said of Mendelssohn, I seemed to see an abyss of superficiality opening before me.

Nor could I dismiss this piece of work as a mere token of one student's personal eccentricity. On the contrary, the writer was the typical victim of two generations of misrepresentation. It is hardly surprising that an age which finds in Benjamin Britten's "War Requiem" (which ought to be called "An Anti-War Requiem") its most representative piece of public music, should be unaware that it is possible, in all seriousness and decency, to take more than one view of the Great War. Nor is it surprising that the British generally, so far as I can judge, now hold two logically incompatible beliefs; first, that all war is pointless and avoidable, that all admirals, generals, and air marshals are vicious incompetents, that all servicemen are passive victims, rather like sacrificial sheep; second, that the sheep were heroes who saved their country. And attempts are now being made to launch a third fallacy, or should I say to resurrect one. On 11 November 1997 the BBC saw fit to run a TV news item on German atrocities in Belgium in 1914. The wheel has indeed come full circle.

As a professional historian I passionately repudiate all this inconsistent and irresponsible myth-mongering. Neither the pacifist nor the nationalist view of the World Wars—of World War I in particular—is an adequate interpretation; nor is a hellish blend of the two; and there are some things that are too precious to be relinquished to the self-serving posturing of demagogues, whether of the Left or the Right. Furthermore, a nation which wallows in sentimental falsification of its past is likely to misjudge and mishandle its present, with Heaven knows what evil results. The time has come to cry halt, as I am glad to report that a good many of my professional colleagues are doing;  and we, as members of the Kipling Society, have a particular obligation to raise our voices, for among the many burnt offerings currently being set before the God of Slovenly Falsehoods is the reputation of Rudyard Kipling. It grieves me to say that to judge from the latest issue of the Kipling Journal we are failing somewhat in our duty.

The journal in question (December 1997) contained eight pages of comment on the recent (October 1997) play, "My Boy Jack", by David Haig. The comment was intelligent, good-humoured, and well-informed, as was to be expected, and the Holts, in particular, had some important reservations, but except for one paragraph by the editor (who had not seen the play), all the contributors fell into the same trap which, in my opinion, had swallowed up the dramatist. They all accept that the war was pointless, and that the dead died uselessly. The play amounted to an almost total falsification of the beliefs, views, and principles of the Kipling family where the Great War was concerned, and simultaneously displayed a shocking ignorance, indeed I must say prejudice, about the war itself.

John Kipling, Irish Guards
The tragedy we were shown was not the tragedy which actually befell the Kipling family; the interpretation of the war that was laid before us was one which no one at the time would have endorsed, except possibly Bertrand Russell and a handful of pacifists (16,500 conscientious objectors, as against 4.9 million who enlisted). To a historian, the piece was a travesty of the past, and a confirmation, if one was needed, that myth has displaced truth, and that too many of the British have lost touch with their actual past. Ours is a generation which has succumbed to sentimentality and to what, in my profession, is sometimes called "presentism": the inability to understand that the past is different and that what seems obvious to us, or to some of us, would have seemed contemptible, even incomprehensible, to our recent ancestors. So my business tonight must be to remind you all of certain facts about the Great War and to clarify Kipling's response to it.

Let me begin by saying a word about young John Kipling. It need not be long, since George Webb (editor of the Kipling Journal from 1980 to 1998) has already said all that is needful. John in life was not the sympathetic but probably neurotic weakling that David Haig makes him. He was an entirely typical specimen of the young men who rushed to arms in 1914 at their country's call. Over a million of them had volunteered by Christmas. I would like to stress how extraordinary this was: every other belligerent in 1914 relied on conscription; only Britain disdained it. It is inconceivable that John would have held back, and we know that he did not. He was not quite seventeen when the war began, and his bad eyesight might have kept him out of uniform, but he would not allow it to do so. Rejected on his first application for a commission, he said he would volunteer to serve as a private. But his father applied to Lord Roberts, who got John a commission in his own regiment, the Irish Guards.

To continue reading the article go to:


Wednesday, June 6, 2018

100 Years Ago: U.S. Assault on Belleau Wood Opens


Belleau Wood Today


The Battle

The Battle of Belleau Wood began on 6 June 1918 and would prove to be one of the most ferocious battles fought by American troops during the war. The 5th and 6th Marine Regiments, under the command of the U.S. Army's 2nd Division, were tasked with capturing Belleau Wood and clearing it of German soldiers. It was a battle that catapulted the Marine Corps to worldwide prominence and signaled to the world that the United States had come to Europe intending to make a serious contribution on the battlefield. 

To launch their assault on the forest, the Marines first had to cross a wheat field into oncoming German machine gun fire. Trying to cross the field proved to be an incredibly dangerous undertaking and over 1,000 Marines died on the first day of battle, more than the Corps had lost in its entire 143-year history up to that point. 

After three weeks of brutal tree-to-tree fighting, including multiple charges on German machine gun nests with fixed bayonets and hand-to-hand combat, and after trading possession of the forest with the Germans six times, the Marines cleared Belleau Wood of the German Army entirely on 26 June, at the cost of about 5,200 U.S, killed, wounded, or missing. 



Aisne-Marne Cemetery, Belleau Wood Above the Memorial Tower

The Legacy

The Battle of Belleau Wood was a landmark event in Marine Corps history. Prior to the battle, the United States Marine Corps was a little known, unproven commodity. After three weeks of displaying the courage, determination, and win-at-all-costs attitude that has become synonymous with the Marine Corps in the years since, that all changed. . . After the battle, the French Army renamed Belleau Wood in honor of the Marines, changing the name to "Bois de la Brigade de Marine" – "The Wood of the Marine Brigade." Furthermore, the 5th and 6th Marine Regiments received the Croix de Guerre, an award for distinction and heroism in combat with the enemy, three times during the First World War--the only regiments in the American Expeditionary Force to do so. As a result, the 5th and 6th Marine Regiments are authorized to wear the French fourragère, a military award that distinguishes military units as a whole and that is shaped like a braided cord, on their dress uniforms. 

Belleau Wood was also the setting for two of the most famous quotes in Marine Corps history. On 2 June 1918, as the Marines were arriving at Belleau Wood to support the French Army, they found the French retreating. A French officer ordered the Marines to do the same. Captain Lloyd Williams, of the 5th Marine Regiment, refused to do so, replying, "Retreat, Hell! We just got here." Four days later, on 6 June, Gunnery Sergeant Dan Daly is said to have rallied his men by yelling, "Come on, you sons of bitches! Do you want to live forever!" as they charged into battle. 


Source: By Collin Hoeferlin, from MarineParents.com, Inc.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

With Snow on Their Boots
Reviewed by Michael P. Kihntopf


With Snow on Their Boots: The Tragic Odyssey of the Russian Expeditionary Force in France During World War I

by Jamie H. Cockfield, PhD
St. Martin's Griffin edition, 1999

Russian Forces Arrive at Marseilles 

Dr. Cockfield is currently Professor of Russian History at Mercer University in Georgia. Previous works include articles on late Tsarist Russia and White Crow, the Life and Times of the Grand Duke Nicholas Mikhailovich Romanov 1859–1919.

I have seen very little about the Russian Expeditionary Force (REF) over the years, believing that the force was very small and contributed little toward the war effort on the Western Front. The paragraphs that I read from various sources did little more than say the soldiers arrived, were immediately swept up in revolutionary ideals, were isolated from other Allied armies, and then disappeared overnight. Dr. Cockfield's work has substantially expanded my brief knowledge and provided a much deeper picture of the importance of the REF. The first chapters go far in explaining how the REF, consisting of three brigades, came about and where they came from.

Russian Troops in the Trenches, Western Front
I can well imagine the rancor felt by the soldiers when they found out they were going to France and northern Greece to fight the Germans and Bulgarians—not for the valor of Russia, but in exchange for French artillery shells and various other armaments that Russian depots had run out of due to the first battles of the war. The First Brigade's origin was in Moscow among politically savvy workers who had a history of labor unrest, while the Third Brigade (the Second Brigade was shipped to Salonika and doesn't enter into this picture) came from the more conservative rural settings across Russia. I could see a conflict within the ranks in the future. Both brigades' soldiers had a distinction that was uncommon in the Tsar's Army: they were recruited with one question, "Can you read?" This capability had severe consequences in France.


The REF's arrival in France was greeted enthusiastically. The French people met them at the ports and followed them through France to their training camps with undying verve. This adoration had a twofold result. First, rumors began circulating that the Russians were immediately, after landing, launched into the Verdun battle in which they singlehandedly saved the French from defeat. Second, the Central Powers believed that the arrival of the Russians meant that the French Army was on the verge of collapse. Few tried to squelch either rumor, which led to growing resentment between the French and Russians. The REF's baptism under fire came in one of the worst disasters of French generalship, the Neville Offensive. Noted for horrendous casualties among French units because Neville tried to re-introduce the tactics of 1914, the Russians did exceptionally well attaining their objectives while the French did not.

But as a result, they endured many casualties. Their bravery and tenacity were noted by the French, but when they returned to their camps news came of the Revolution and the infamous Order No. 1 attempting to level the field regarding Army authority. The result was disastrous and led to the soldiers refusing orders. Herein lies the theme for subsequent chapters of the book: controlling an army that refused to obey orders, which expelled their officers, and which became a nuisance to the French countryside. Eventually order was restored but the REF disintegrated in an effort to weed out agitators. Almost the entire First Brigade wound up in prison or in North Africa serving as augmentation to French units keeping the peace there. The Third Brigade dissolved into farm labor across France with a few thousand donning the name of the Russian Legion and fighting as a French unit until the end of the war.

Cockfield's With Snow on Their Boots is an excellent read and very adequately shows a microcosm of the developing Russian Civil War. Perhaps its strongest point is in showing how ineffective and incompetent Russian officers were in dealing with revolutionary concepts. Find a place on your shelf for this book amid other works about the Russians and World War One.

Michael P. Kihntopf