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

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

The Best World War One "Freebie" — Ever!



The American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) was created in 1923 to manage the country's overseas World War I cemeteries and memorials, part of the agency's work included the writing and publishing of American Armies and Battlefields in Europe: A History, Guide and Reference Book. 

The Meuse-Argonne Campaign:
One of Dozens of Helpful Maps in the Guide

A massive undertaking at the time, this now, nearly 600-page book was first published in 1927 to commemorate America's involvement in World War I. Originally titled A Guide to the American Battle Fields in Europe, the book served as a guide for Americans traveling overseas to visit World War I battle sites, cemeteries and memorials.

By 1938, the book was expanded with additional research to serve as a history of the American Expeditionary Forces' accomplishments. Among the contributing authors was Maj. Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was assigned to ABMC by the Army in the 1920s. [He was the in-house expert on the St. Mihiel Offense, the exact area his armies would be fighting in during the fall of 1944.]

The Ruins of Avocourt:
One of Hundreds of Battlefield Photos in the Guide

If you have interest in following the Centennial of America's experience in the Great War, this is utterly essential for you. Thanks to the Virginia Tech Office of Digital Imagery and the ABMC this fantastic book is available for free downloading here in whole or by sections.

https://abmc.gov/news-events/news/world-war-i-historic-reference-book-now-available-abmcgov#.WK89RzsrLIV

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Wasteland: The Great War and the Origins of Modern Horror


By W. Scott Poole
Publisher: Counterpoint, 2018
David F. Beer, Reviewer

A Classic Photograph from the Great War

I learned a lot from Wasteland and enjoyed reading it. It's easy to read since it's so well written and is filled with information on the writers, artists and filmmakers of the decades following the end of World War One. Given such a profusion of details though, it's a great shame the book lacks an index. I found myself wanting to go back to something several times and had to leaf through a lot of pages to find it. Nevertheless, if you are interested in possible ways the Great War may have given birth to the horror genre in the arts, you will find this book absorbing.

The author claims the war destroyed most of the human values and outlooks that existed before 1914 and shocked and horrified the world so much that it has never really recovered:

In every horror movie we see, every horror story we read, every horror-based video game we play, the phantoms of the Great War skittle and scratch just beyond the door of our consciousness. Numberless dead and wounded bodies appear on our screens, documents of barbarism coauthored by the Great War generation and all the forces that have fed off them in the decades since (3-4).

Although this idea might strike us as somewhat overstated, there's no question that Poole has assembled a great deal of supporting evidence. The destruction and horror that took place during this war (compared to previous wars) forced an indelible impression not only on those who fought but also on the public, and these effects were long-lasting. Literature, art, and film reflected and perhaps even prolonged the trauma.

The Cripples, Otto Dix, 1920

Our primal fear of death and of the dead was undoubtedly rekindled by the war's human harvest: millions dead, many mutilated, many unburied and left to decay in the mud. Untold thousands of soldiers, wounded, shell-shocked, and horrified, returned as mostly silent mementos of what had happened. The dead and the un-dead were never far away. And according to Poole, those artists, writers, and directors who had been in the fray themselves and now had nightmares, "never stopped having the same nightmare, over and again, a nightmare they told the world" (13). The silent films Nosferatu and J'accuse are but two of the earliest manifestations of this horror, the latter specifically invoking a zombie-like return of the dead.

The book includes a Foreword, "Corpses in the Wasteland," and an Afterword, "The Age of Horror." In between are five chapters with apt headings: "Symphony of Horror," "Waxworks," "Nightmare Bodies," "Fascism and Horror," and "Universal Monsters." Useful end notes are provided also. Each chapter discusses numerous examples of literature, art, and film from the 1920s to the 1940s, which the author employs to support and illustrate his thesis. Although the last two chapters tend to look more toward fascism and its attendant horror, most of the book focuses on creative work of the 1920s and 1930s in Germany, Britain, and the United States.

Film was perhaps the strongest influence on people's memory and fears after 1918. We meet numerous directors in this book and often get interesting information about their lives and quirks as well as their work. F.W. Murnau, Albin Grau, Abel Gance, Bertolt Brecht, Max Brooks, and Fritz Lang are but a few of the earlier producers of influential films. Of the latter, the author states:

Fritz Lang, home from the war but most certainly bringing the war home with him, had long been fascinated by the macabre, the nature of evil, and the relationship of both to the social order. His work, like that of Murnau, Gance, and Leni, shows us more than how the Great War inspired a generation to embrace a death obsession. We see how such a fascination, in some sense the beginning of the horror tradition itself, both critiqued and called into being societies in the thrall of dread (101).

The same view is applied to the work (and sometimes lives) of many writers and artists. The poet T.S. Eliot, authors such as Franz Kafka, Ernst Jünger, Louis-Ferdinand Céline, and Arthur Machen, and the works of Freud and others, are all discussed and summoned to support the author's central idea. The notable American writer of horror fiction, H. P. Lovecraft, (only famous after his death) is frequently cited. Works of painters Otto Dix, Max Ernst, and Dali are considered, as are the schools of Dadaism and surrealism. The final chapter takes us right up to the present, to when

. . . the gorefest of the slasher films began in the 1970s and has never really stopped. Blood spurts in red fumes from empty-eyed victims who, in some cases, become collections of body part. . . The horror has remained with us because the conditions that made for the Great War and its aftermath are still in place (254).

Wasteland's author, W. Scott Poole, is a college professor who teaches courses and writes books about horror and popular culture. Although some of his connections might seem a bit strained to some of us, he obviously knows what he's talking about and he makes a good case. In some ways I can agree with him that the age of horror began during World War One and still flows onward. I recommend this book as a fascinating and original take on the Great War.

David F. Beer

Monday, January 21, 2019

The Death of SMS Pommern


SMS Pommern Before the War

SMS Pommern was one of five Deutschland-class pre-dreadnought battleships built for the Kaiserliche Marine between 1904 and 1906.

During the scattered night action at Jutland, the Grand Fleet's 12th Destroyer Flotilla found six enemy targets on the horizon at 0145, 1 June. One of the targets was Pommern

Historian Richard Hough described the ensuing action:  "[The] flotilla succeeded in discharging 17 torpedoes in all, and were rewarded by the sound of a rending explosion and the sight of a yellow flash that lit the sea and sky. Recovered from the temporary blinding, [Flotilla Commander Capt. Aselan] Stirling could see that the symmetry of the line had been broken by a gap.  A single torpedo had struck the pre-dreadnought battleship Pommern in a vital and vulnerable part, and the ship had instantly disintegrated without trace.  No sinking could be more decisive,or horrifying."  There were no survivors from over 800 crew members.

British Destroyer HMS Onslow on the Attack During
the Jutland Night Actions

SMS Pommern was the only battleship—either dreadnought or pre-dreadnought—sunk during the Battle of Jutland.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Echoes of the Great War, Part 2


Ending on 21 January is the Library of Congress's amazing exhibition Echoes of the Great War—American Experiences of World War I.  Over these two days, we will be presenting examples from the program.  All of these were found on the Library of Congress website for the exhibition.  Below you will find a hyperlink to the website, which also presents videos, recordings, conferences, reading lists, and details on the exhibition items.



Opposition to the War Never Ceased



Humanitarian Aid to Belgium



Wounded Doughboys Prepared for Evacuation






Ground Captured by U.S. Forces



The Boys Heading Home



Woodrow Wilson's 1919 Nobel Peace Prize



Finding Jobs for the Disabled


See the Online Exhibition at:


Saturday, January 19, 2019

Echoes of the Great War, Part I

Ending on 21 January is the Library of Congress's amazing exhibition Echoes of the Great War—American Experiences of World War I.  Over the next two days, we will be presenting examples from the program.  All of these were found on the Library of Congress website for the exhibition. Below you will find a hyperlink to the website, which also presents videos, recordings, conferences, reading lists, and details on the exhibition items.


Preparedness Poster




Humanitarian Aid for the Central Powers









Call to Arms



In the Trenches in France



Industry Mobilized for War



The Women's Land Army on the March


See the Online Exhibition at:

Friday, January 18, 2019

Austria-Hungary's River Navy


By James Patton

Austro-Hungarian Monitor Bombarding Belgrade, 28 July 1914

There are only about a dozen ships left that served in WWI (shipwrecks excluded), ranging from the dreadnought USS Texas down to a small sub-chaser at Grytviken in the South Atlantic, and incredibly two of these ships were Austro-Hungarian. SMS (Seiner Majestät Schiff ="His Majesty's Ship") Leitha (Lajta in Hungarian) is now an attraction on the Budapest riverfront and SMS Bodrog (Sava in Yugoslav service) languishes by a riverbank, under protection of the Serbian government but with no restoration currently planned.

The campaigns of the Austro-Hungarian Donauflottille (“Danube Flotilla”) could literally be called a backwater of the Great War. The flotilla was the stuff of comic opera even in peacetime; responsible for enforcing the border with Serbia, patrolling the Danube down to the Iron Gates, up the Sava to the mouth of the Drina and sometime up the Drina (water level permitting) and occasionally up other tributaries of the Danube, mostly chasing smugglers. However, the flotilla gained a place in history when its ships fired the first shots of the war. 

The flotilla’s story began in 1867, when newly-independent Serbia became a rival of Austria-Hungary in the Balkans.  To ensure control of the rivers, the Austro-Hungarian Navy decided they needed monitors.

As was the custom with naval construction, each parliament would fund one, and SMS Maros and SMS Leitha were completed in 1871. This tit-for-tat arrangement continued with SMS Körös and SMS Szamos in 1892, SMS Temes and SMS Bodrog in 1904, SMS Enns in 1913, SMS Inn in 1914 and finally SMS Sava and SMS Bosna in 1915. All were named after rivers in the Dual Monarchy. 

These were scaled-down copies of John Ericsson’s 1861 design. Distinguishing features included all-iron construction, entirely mechanical power, little freeboard, shallow draft (USS Monitor had a 10’ 9” draft while the Austro-Hungarian monitors typically had a 3’ 11” draft—below-decks headroom was less than six feet), an armored steering position, and one or more armored rotatable gun turrets. The Austro-Hungarian monitors also carried one or two dismountable howitzers to deliver plunging fire. 

SMS Bodrog, Man-of-War

SMS Leitha was the first to fire a shot in anger, engaging Ottoman forces in Bosnia in 1878. At the outbreak of WWI Leitha and Maros were the oldest fighting ships in the Austro-Hungarian Navy and were about to be scrapped, but in July 1914 Leitha was still on the Sava on its final voyage. The first Hungarian war hero, János Huj, was serving on Leitha when he was killed on 12 Aug 1914. Leitha was badly damaged in October by a direct hit on the turret, which killed the gun crews, and was withdrawn to Budapest for repairs. Afterwards, she became the flagship of the flotilla, serving only in the second occupation of Belgrade in October 1915 and against Romania in October 1916 including supporting the Danube crossing by Mackensen’s Army at Svishtov. Thereafter she was held in reserve.

Typical of the later river monitors, SMS Bodrog was armed with two Škoda 120 mm L/35 guns (range 6.2 miles) in two turrets, one 120mm L/10 howitzer (range 3.9 miles) in a central pivot mount, and two 37mm guns. 

On 28 July 1914 Bodrog and two other monitors fired the first shots of the war against Serb fortifications by the Zemun–Belgrade railway bridge and on Topčider Hill. The Serbs were outgunned until they received a naval gun from Russia, but the monitors still regularly shelled Serb positions on the Sava and at Belgrade, even after French artillery support arrived in November 1914 and British gunners in January 1915. 

In 1915 the monitors were tasked with escorting munitions down river to go to Turkey via Bulgarian rail. The first convoy ran the Belgrade defenses unharmed, but was stopped by Russian mines and barriers in the Iron Gates. A second convoy again passed Belgrade and delivered their cargo, although one ship struck a mine near Vinča, and exploded.

In April 1915, a British boat that had been brought overland by rail from Salonika attacked the Flotilla base at Zemun, but neither of the torpedoes scored a hit. 

In September Bulgaria joined the war, and the Austro-Hungarians attacked Belgrade again. The flotilla supported crossings near the Belgrade Fortress and the island of Ada Ciganlija. Following the fall of Belgrade and the clearance of obstacles, the flotilla established a new main base at Orșova near the Hungarian–Romanian border. Munitions convoys could now move unhindered to the railhead at Lom. 

SMS Bodrog, Now a Working Ship

In November 1915 the Flotilla moved to Rustschuk, Bulgaria, where a base was established in the Belene Canal to protect the Danube border between Romania and Bulgaria in the event that Romania declared war. At this time the 37mm guns were replaced with one 66mm L/18 gun.

When Romania entered the war in August 1916 the monitors at Rustschuk were attacked by three improvised torpedo boats. The torpedoes missed the monitors but did hit a fuel barge. The next day monitors shelled Giurgiu, basically obliterating the port, and sank two Romanian patrol boats and a minelayer. Then the monitors shelled both Turnu Măgurele and Zimnicea. 

On 2 October, monitors destroyed a Romanian pontoon bridge being constructed across the Danube at Oryahovo, ensuring the defeat of the Romanian Flămânda Offensive. Later the monitors supported Mackensen’s crossing at Svishtov.  

In February 1917, monitors were sent down river to Brăila, and Bodrog became ice-bound at nearby Măcin. Later monitors went into the Black Sea as part of Flottenabteilung Wulff (commanded by Flottenkapitän Olav Wulff), arriving at Odessa on 12 April. Monitors operated in the Black Sea until September, then returned to Brăila and river duty. 

In October 1918 Bodrog was sent downriver to Reni to cover troop withdrawals. She moved slowly back to Lom and was the only monitor that failed to get back to Budapest. On 31 October, Bodrog ran aground in heavy fog near Vinča and was captured by the Serbs. 

After the war the ships of the flotilla in Budapest were divvied up as reparations. Neither Romania nor Yugoslavia wanted the three oldest ships, Maros, Leitha, and Szamos, so they stayed with Hungary. Körös, Enns, and Bosna were turned over to Yugoslavia and Temes, Inn, and Sava went to Romania. Yugoslavia had kept Bodrog as a war prize. Some were of the monitors were used in WWII and Bodrog (renamed Sava) served in the Yugoslav Navy until 1962.

A Restored SMS Lajta (formerly Leitha) Cruising the Danube at Budapest

Leitha was converted to an elevator platform for use in the gravel industry in 1921 and was in use until 1992. Much later, Bodrog was likewise converted to an elevator ship and so employed until 2005. Both ships were good for this purpose due to their displacement and low center of gravity. 

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Georgia O'Keefe's Antiwar Painting The Flag



"The Flag" is a painting by Georgia O'Keeffe (1918), that represents her anxiety about her brother Alexis being sent to fight in Europe during World War I.  It is held in the collection of the Milwaukee Art Museum and was part of the traveling exhibition "World War I and American Art" exhibition that was featured during the Centennial as several major venues around the country.

According to Wikipedia, O’Keeffe found herself at odds  about the war with people in Canyon, Texas, where she was teaching at the local college in 1917. She was discouraged by attempts to glorify it and tried to persuade her male students to continue their education, rather than fight in the war.  She also wanted authorities to create a course for young men about the reasons and causes of war before they engaged in battle. She created a stir when she asked a shop owner to remove Christmas cards from his shop that expressed anti-German sentiment.

The Artist, 1918
Georgia visited Alexis when he visited was training as an engineering officer at Fort Sheridan, Illinois, and found him doubtful about his prospects of returning home alive.  As it turned out he was severely gassed during his service with the AEF's 32nd Division and suffered from his wounds for the rest of his life. Similarly to many other gas victims of the war, who survived their injuries and returned to civilian life, Alexis O'Keeffe eventually died an early death from their effects. He died in 1930, at the age of 37. 

The Canyon community grew increasingly nervous about O'Keeffe's overt antiwar posture, especially considering the recently passed Espionage and Sedition Acts.  In the midst of the controversy, however, she contracted the flu and left the area to recuperate.  It was during this period that she painted "The Flag."

Until recently, "The Flag" was one of Georgia O'Keeffe's least-remembered works. Her biographer, Roxana Barry Robinson, describes the painting, "O'Keeffe sets a drooping flag against a starless, darkening sky. The flag flutters limply, stripped of its stars and stripes; its only color, and that of the pole, is blood red."

Sources: World War I and American Art, the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, and Wikipedia

Tip of the hat to Donna Wagner for her research on this topic

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Life in the Trenches, c.1914



“A good standing trench was about six foot deep, so that a man could walk upright during the day in safety from rifle-fire. In each bay of the trench we constructed fire-steps about two feet higher than the bottom of the trench, which enable us to stand head and shoulders about the parapet. During the day we were working in reliefs, and we would snatch an hour’s sleep when we could, on a wet and muddy fire-step, wet through to the skin ourselves.

“If anyone had to go to the company on our right in the daytime he had to walk through thirty yards of waterlogged trench, which was chest deep in water in some places.”
Frank Richards



“It was a long and weary night, that first one of mine in the trenches. Everything was strange, and wet and horrid. First of all, I had to do and fix up my machine guns at various points, and find places for the gunners to sleep in. This was no easy matter, as many of the dugouts had fallen in and floated off
downstream.

“In this, and subsequent descriptions of the trenches, I may lay myself open to the charge of exaggeration. But it must be remembered that I am describing trench life in the early days of 1914. And I feel sure that those who had experience of them will acquit me of any such charge.

“To give a recipe of getting a round idea, in case you want to, I recommend the following procedure. Select a flat ten-acre ploughed field, so sited that all the surface water of the surrounding country drains into it. Now cut a zig-zag slot about four feet deep and three feet wide diagonally across, dam off as much water as you can so as to leave about one hundred yards of squelchy mud; delve out a hole at one side of the slot, then endeavor to live there for a month on bully beef and damp biscuits, whilst a friend has instructions to fire at you with his Winchester every time you put your head about the surface.”
Bruce Bairnsfather



“It was 9 A.M. and the so-called trench was full of corpses and all sorts of equipment. We stood and sat on bodies as if they were stones or logs of wood. Nobody worried if one had its head stuck through or torn off, or a third had gory bones sticking out though its torn coat. And outside the trench one could see them lying in every kind of position. There was one quite young little chap, a Frenchman, sitting in a shell-hole, with his rifle on his arm and his head bent forward, but he was holding his hands as if to protect himself, in front of his chest in which there was a deep bayonet wound. And so they lay, in all their different positions, mostly Frenchmen, with their heads battered in by blows from mallets and even spades, and all around rifles, equipment of all kinds and any number of kepis. The 154th had fought like furies in their attack, to revenge themselves for the shellfire.

“A heap of five corpses lay just this side of the barrier; we were constantly having to tread on them to try to squash them down in the mud, because, in consequences of that gunfire, we couldn’t get them out of the trench. Our feeling gradually became quite blunted.” 
August Hope 

Source: "Life in the Trenches," historylearningsite.co.uk.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

The Last Tsar : The Life and Death of Nicholas II
Reviewed by Eric Denham


The Last Tsar : The Life and Death of Nicholas II

Edward Radzinsky
Doubleday, 1992

Nicholas and Alexandra at Leisure Aboard the Imperial Yacht Standart

The author, a prominent playwright originally trained as a historian, conducted 25 years of research including interviews, perusal of official Soviet/Russian state documents, and access to the diaries, letters, personal papers, and photographs of the imperial family to produce this highly readable 462-page study of Nicholas II.

Nicholas began keeping his diary on 1 March 1881, the day before the assassination of his grandfather, Alexander II. Nicholas was a punctilious reporter and continued his daily entries through wars, revolution, arrest, and Siberian exile.

Both Nicholas and the Empress Alexandra were related to most of the royal houses of Europe in some way or other, but Nicholas's father, the truly autocratic Tsar Alexander III, was opposed to his son's choice of a German bride. Nicholas, who was to know few triumphs as a sovereign, stood up to his imposing father and Alexander at last consented—a personal victory for Nicholas that was to prove tragic for his empire.

Throughout The Last Tsar, Nicholas is depicted as a weak individual. He stood in awe of his uncles, all forceful men of imposing stature, and was intimidated by his widowed mother. His brother Michael was the parental favorite and at the time of Alexander's death there was a rumor that Nicholas would yield his birthright to him.

Nicholas took over a country at an uncertain point in its development. His grandfather had undertaken to reform and modernize Russia, while his father had done his best to put the brakes on all change during his reign. These changes in direction left both liberals and conservatives unsatisfied; the throne Nicholas inherited sat on a powder keg he could never defuse.

The last tsar's reign was a series of mishaps, beginning with his coronation. At a reception for the populace after the ceremony a rumor started that there were not enough food or gifts for the multitude. Several thousand were trampled in the resulting melee. While upset by this tragedy, Nicholas compounded it by attending a ball hosted by the French ambassador that evening.

Russia's humiliation at the hands of the Japanese in the 1904–05 war reinforced Nicholas's profound conviction that such calamities were the will of God. during this period, the author hints at the existence of a camarilla that hoped Grand Duke Nicholas Nicholaevich would assume the throne if his nephew foundered. The grand duke remained a loyal subject while Count Sergei Witte's policy of reasonable concessions and stern repression eventually ended the crisis. The tsar agreed to initiate reforms and granted a limited form of constitution.

Alexandra was obsessed with the need to produce a male heir to the throne. Her first four children, however, were daughters; this led her, and to some extent Nicholas also, into the realm of religious mysticism. The imperial couple were introduced to seances and several "mystics" of questionable character and made trips to holy shrines.

The tsarevich so ardently desired was born in 1904 and named Alexei. The birth was a cause for celebration throughout Russian even in the midst of the Russo-Japanese War. But Alexei had hemophilia. This affliction became a state secret, and the heavy demands of caring for their easily injured son did much to isolate the imperial family from Russian society. The periods of excruciating agony the young tsarevich frequently suffered caused the empress to turn to anyone who offered a hope of curing, or at least alleviating, the disease. The most famous of these was, of course, the sinister Rasputin.

Tsar Nicholas and His Son Inspecting His Troops
The Role of Commander-in-Chief Did Not Suit Him

The cast of characters that streams across the pages of the latter part of The Last Tsar provides a fascinating look at the last months of the tsar's life. V.I. Lenin, exiled in Switzerland, wasn't sure if he would see a change in his lifetime. Once the Bolsheviks were in power, Leon Trotsky wanted to put on a show trial of the former tsar and his family. Individuals responsible for the execution of the imperial family are shown as crass thugs and incompetents. Finally, the British royal family does not come off well for desertion of a relative.

The story of the young woman who alleged herself to be Anastasia, the surviving daughter of the tsar, is well known. Like others who have investigated the story, Radzinsky believes she was sincere but confused. The case of Alexei's possible survival is more interesting. an institutionalized individual is found after World War II who seems to have intimate knowledge of the Romanov court and is thought by some to be the heir to the throne. After examination by physicians he is returned to a clinic and his status as a ward of the state.

Nicholas is shown as a loving husband, a doting father, a weak tsar, and a failed autocrat. In personality he would have made a fine country squire, but history placed him on the throne of all the Russias. Given the time and place, could anyone have done better?

Eric Denham

Monday, January 14, 2019

Did the Great War Permanently Change Attitudes About War?

This was a #1 hit in 1970.

War, huh, good god.
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing,
Edwin Starr



Decapitated  Scottish Soldier, Western Front

From: "War Has Almost Ceased to Exist: An Assessment," Political Science QuarterlyProfessor John Mueller, 2009

As military historian Michael Howard has observed, “Before 1914 war was almost universally considered to be an acceptable, perhaps an inevitable and for many people a desirable way of settling international differences.”

Thus, five years before writing his treatise Perpetual Peace, Immanuel Kant held that “a prolonged peace favors the predominance of a mere commercial spirit, and with it a debasing self-interest, cowardice, and effeminacy, and tends to degrade the character of the nation.” Somewhat later Alexis de Tocqueville concluded that “war almost always enlarges the mind of a people and raises their character,” and Frederick the Great observed, “War opens the most fruitful field to all virtues, for at every moment constancy, pity, magnanimity, heroism, and mercy shine forth in it.” In 1895, the distinguished American jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., told the Harvard graduating class that a world without the “divine folly of honor” would not be endurable, and the one thing he found to be “true and adorable” was “the faith… which leads a soldier to throw away his life in obedience to a blindly accepted duty, in a cause which he little understands, in a plan of campaign of which he has no notion, under tactics of which he does not see the use.”

For some, it followed that periodic wars were necessary to cleanse the nation from the decadence of peace. According to Friedrich Nietzsche, “It is mere illusion and pretty sentiment to expect much (even anything at all) from mankind if it forgets how to make war,” and J.A. Cramb, a British professor of history, proclaimed that universal peace would be “a world sunk in bovine content.”

In 1871, a French intellectual, Ernest Renan, called war “one of the conditions of progress, the cut of the whip which prevents a country from going to sleep, forcing satisfied mediocrity itself to leave its apathy.” In 1891, novelist Émile Zola found war to be “life itself. . . We must eat and be eaten so that the world might live. It is only warlike nations which have prospered: a nation dies as soon as it disarms.” Or, as Russian composer Igor Stravinsky put it simply, war is “necessary for human progress.”

European attitudes toward war changed profoundly at the time of World War I. There is no way to quantify this change except perhaps through a rough sort of content analysis. Before that war, it was very easy, as suggested above, to find serious writers, analysts, and politicians in Europe and the United States exalting war as desirable, inevitable, natural, progressive, and necessary.  After the war, however, such people become extremely rare, though the excitement of the combat experience continued (and continues) to have its fascination for some.

This abrupt and remarkable change has often been noted by historians and political scientists. In his impressive study of wars since 1400, Evan Luard observes that “the First World War transformed traditional attitudes toward war. For the first time there was an almost universal sense that the deliberate launching of a war could now no longer be justified.” Bernard Brodie points out that “a basic historical change had taken place in the attitudes of the European (and American) peoples toward war.” Arnold Toynbee called it the end of a “span of five thousand years during which war had been one of mankindʼs master institutions.”

British Mass Burial, Mesopotamia

Obviously, this change of attitude was not enough to keep developed countries out of all wars altogether. Most disastrously, it did not prevent the war of 1939–45—although the European half of that conflagration might not have been in the cards in any sense, and was mostly the product of the machinations of a single man—or atavism—Adolf Hitler. In addition, developed countries, while avoiding war with each other since that cataclysm, have engaged in three other types of war: colonial wars, wars generated in peripheral areas by the Cold War of 1945–1989, and what I call “policing wars” in the post-Cold War era. These three kinds of wars are discussed separately below.

However, the existence of these wars should not be allowed to cloud an appreciation for the shift of opinion that occurred at the time of the First World War, one that was dramatically reinforced by the Second. In the process, a standard, indeed classic, variety of war—war among developed countries—has become so rare and unlikely that it could well be considered to be obsolescent, if not obsolete. Reflecting on this phenomenon, Howard mused in 1991 that it had become “quite possible that war in the sense of major, organized armed conflict between highly developed societies may not recur, and that a stable framework for international order will become firmly established.” Two years later, the military historian and analyst John Keegan concluded, in his A History of Warfare, that the kind of war he was principally considering could well be in terminal demise: “War, it seems to me, after a lifetime of reading about the subject, mingling with men of war, visiting the sites of war and observing its effects, may well be ceasing to commend itself to human beings as a desirable or productive, let alone rational, means of reconciling their discontents.” By the end of the century, Mary Kaldor was suggesting that “the barbarity of war between states may have become a thing of the past,” and by the beginning of the new one, Robert Jervis had concluded that war among the leading states “will not occur in the future” or, in the words of Jeffrey Record, may have “disappeared altogether.

Editor's Comment:  Personally, I don't at all discount the possibility of wars between developed countries or between the developed world and border-less ideological alliances, but such struggles will not look anything like the two World Wars.  Read Professor Mueller's thoughts on the matter in his full article here:

Sunday, January 13, 2019

George S. Patton Writes Home About the Meuse-Argonne Offensive



Earlier on Roads to the Great War, we presented George S. Patton's letter home after he led the first tank attack in American history during the St. Mihiel Offensive.  LINK   George Patton also wrote home after being hospitalized for more than a month with a leg wound he received in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive on the first day of the attack, 26 September 1918. In an earlier note to his wife he had described his wound: "The bullet went into the front of my leg and came out just at the crack of my bottom about two inches to the left of my rectum. It was fired at about 50 meters, so made a hole about the size of a dollar where it came out." After the episode he expressed concern to friends that he would be known in the Army, furthermore, as "Half-Ass George."  In this letter to his father he describes the situation at the time of his wounding and his feelings about what he had experienced.

Patton After His Promotion to Full Colonel


Oct 28 18

Dear Papa:

Your letter of Sept 28 has just handed me and as usual was most interesting. But instead of being in the fight as you thought I was in a hospital with a whole bath towel stuffed in my bottom and bleeding like a stuck pig. Still as usual at such times I slept which was the best thing to do.

I left the hospital to day and regained command of my brigade or what is left of it. I am here in my own room and feeling fine though I can’t walk much yet and have lost about 30 pounds of weight which I will soon get back.

My letter written from St. Mihiel will have reached you by now. You and I out did the papers I rode on top of the tank not the tail and so riding I mopped up a town – PANNES which the infantry would not enter [page break] later as I wrote you I got shot off the top of it by the bosch [sic] but was not hurt, only scared.

Every one has been telling me what a killer I am for the Verdun-Argonne show that I am beginning to believe it. But if I had not thought of you and Mom + B and my ancestors I would never have charged. That is I would not have started for it is hell to go into rifle fire so heavy that one fancies the air is thick like molasses with it, After I got going it was easy but the start is like a cold bath.

Maj. Brett who has been in all the while says that was the heaviest fire of the whole battle. They were 12 M.G. rifle in front of me at about 150 yds. Bashed by a battalion of guard infantry. Which while from fifty to 150 machine guns and firing at us from the flanks. My “guardian spirits” must have had a job to keep me from getting killed so we can’t blame them for letting me [page break] slip by and hit me in the leg.

Gen Ellis of the British tanks said of it that it was “Splendid but not war” The same thing that was said of the Light Brigade. However he was wrong. An officer is paid to attack not to drink after the battle starts.

You know I have always feared I was a coward at heart but I am beginning to doubt it. Our education is at fault in picturing death as such a terrible thing it is nothing and very easy to get. That does not mean that I hunt for it but the fear of it does not – at least has not deterred me from doing what approved my duty.

My brigade will not be able to fight for a while yet so don’t worry, about me for a month after my birthday.

I wired the day I was hit but the message must have been held up as neither you or [page break] B seem to have heard of it.

My classmates are all sore as hell at me for getting promoted and probably lay it to Nita or some other hellish plot.

With much love to all your devoted son George S Patton Jr, D.S.C.? - Perhaps [with arrow drawn to “D. S. C”. (Distinguished Service Cross)] Col Tank Corps Commanding First Brig.

Source: George S. Patton Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, DC
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Saturday, January 12, 2019

A Forgotten Tragedy of the Late War: The Sinking of RMS Leinster


RMS Leinster Before the War

The mail ship and ferry RMS Leinster was sunk 10 October 1918 in the Irish Sea with little over a month left in the Great War. The ship was torpedoed and sunk by German submarine UB-123 shortly after leaving Dún Laoghaire (then Kingstown). Current research shows that 564 people were lost in the sinking. It was the greatest loss of life in the Irish Sea and the highest death toll on an Irish-owned ship.

On 10 October 1918, the [ship's] luck ran out when, shortly after leaving Dún Laoghaire, German submarine UB-123 fired three torpedoes at the RMS Leinster. The first missed, but the other two struck and sank the ship. A total of 21 of the 22 postal sorters aboard were lost, as were about half of the ship’s crew. Among the lost were civilians from various parts of Ireland and Britain. That day the majority of passengers—and the majority of casualties—were military personnel going on leave or returning from leave. They included soldiers, sailors, airmen, and military nurses from Ireland, Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States. Almost 150 of them are buried in Grangegorman Military Cemetery in Dublin.

On 18 October 1918, while returning to Germany, UB-123 struck a mine in the North Sea. Captain Robert Ramm and all of his young crew were lost

Commemorative Stamp

The sinking had a major impact on the peace negotiations that were in process at the time.  On 14 October U.S. president Woodrow Wilson sent a note to the German government stating, among other things, that there could be no peace as long as Germany attacks passenger ships.  A week later, on 21 October 1918: Reinhard Scheer, admiral of the German High Seas Fleet, signaled his submarines "To all U-boats: Commence return from patrol at once. Because of ongoing negotiations any hostile actions against merchant vessels prohibited. Returning U-boats are allowed to attack warships only in daylight. End of message. Admiral."

Sources: The Irish Times, RMS Leinster Website

Friday, January 11, 2019

Who Was Josephus Daniels?



 "We have just begun to fight" was the first slogan of the navy of '76.  That is the slogan of the navy of today."

 Josephus Daniels, 1917

By Daniel E. Worthington, 
Presented in 1914-1918-online. International Encyclopedia of the First World War

Josephus Daniels
As editor and publisher of the Democratic News and Observer in Raleigh, North Carolina, Josephus Daniels (1862–1948) was a Democratic Party stalwart who supported Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924) in the presidential election of 1912. Wilson rewarded Daniels with the position of secretary of the navy.

Daniels inherited a tradition-laden military service that was ill equipped for modern naval warfare. A crusading reformer, Daniels proceeded to democratize and modernize the Navy in the progressive spirit of Wilson’s New Freedom domestic reform agenda. Daniels devoted much time and energy to improving the life of the common seaman. The enlisted men were poor, uneducated, and downtrodden, with little hope for promotion within the service or upward mobility after their enlistments ended. Daniels envisioned each ship and station as a training school dedicated to advancing the intellectual, moral, and vocational development of the sailor. Congress blocked his plan to admit enlisted men to the Naval Academy, but he instituted occupational training programs aboard all ships. He championed compulsory remedial education for illiterate sailors.

A devout Methodist and teetotaler, Daniels concentrated heavily on the seaman’s moral and spiritual health. He increased the number of chaplains in the service and insisted that all ships hold Sabbath services. Daniels worked with city governments to reduce or eliminate prostitution and red-light districts around naval bases. He also prohibited the Navy from issuing condoms to sailors. Believing that prostitution and liquor were closely associated, Daniels issued an unpopular order in June 1914 prohibiting alcohol consumption aboard navy ships and at naval yards and stations.

A staunch proponent of white supremacy, Daniels brought racial segregation to the Navy Department. He extended Jim Crow laws to cafeterias, lavatories, and offices, ending a 50-year tradition of integration in the Navy’s bureaus. Daniels also joined Southerners in the cabinet and in Congress who devised ways to exclude African-Americans from federal employment.

Daniels feared that American involvement in the Great War would destroy Wilson’s New Freedom reforms. He endorsed Wilson’s policy of neutrality and actions in the Arabic, Lusitania, and Sussex crises, though he worried that the president’s pro-British neutrality would eventually cause Germany to declare war on the United States.

Daniels viewed preparedness as a violation of neutrality and resisted pressure from Big Navy advocates for more dreadnoughts, battle cruisers, and auxiliary ships. Germany’s U-boat campaign changed his mind and he gradually became a Big Navy proponent. In the Naval Appropriations Bill of 1915 Daniels secured funds for a chief of naval operations, naval aviation, and a naval reserve. The office of chief of naval operations gave the service a centralized command structure equivalent to the Army general staff. In July 1915, Daniels created the Naval Consulting Board to provide the Navy technical assistance on the problem of detecting and destroying submarines. In the Naval Act of 1916, Daniels proposed a massive naval construction program to create a two-ocean Navy comparable to those of Great Britain and Germany. He increased funding for naval construction, aviation, and anti-submarine defense in 1917 but never enough to satisfy critics who accused him of leaving the Navy unprepared for war.

Daniels and Asst. Navy Secretary Franklin Roosevelt Congratulating a Group of Naval Aviators

Daniels remained one of the last cabinet members to endorse war, but he worked tirelessly to ensure victory once the United States entered the conflict. As a member of the Council of National Defense, he collaborated with Bernard Baruch (1870–1965) and the War Industries Board against monopolists and profiteers. He zealously protected the Navy’s petroleum reserves from oil companies. He negotiated an agreement with Samuel Gompers (1850–1924) to guarantee labor peace in naval plants. Capitalizing on his contacts in newspaper publishing, Daniels worked alongside George Creel (1876–1953) and the Committee on Public Information to encourage voluntary press censorship, particularly of ship movements. Daniels maintained his concern for the moral and physical condition of naval personnel, prohibiting conscripts from brothels and working with local governments to shut down red-light districts near Navy training camps.

Daniels concentrated most of his energies on defeating the U-boat. Convinced that American consumer goods, war materiel, and ground troops would be required to win the war expeditiously, Daniels made the safe passage of merchant ships and soldiers his central focus. He expanded the naval construction program to give the Navy more ships. Recognizing that battleships and cruisers were not going to win the war in the Atlantic, Daniels shifted construction to emphasize destroyers, sub-chasers, and troop carriers. When the war began the United States had 300 ships; by war’s end, it had more than 2,000. He convinced the British to lay a mine barrage in the North Sea to reduce the number of U-boats in the Atlantic. Between June and November 1918, the U.S. and British Navies laid 71,000 mines. Daniels also championed the convoy system to protect commercial shipping and troop transports. Daniels would claim after the war that one of the Navy’s greatest accomplishments was the successful transportation of 2 million American soldiers to France.

After the war, Daniels returned to the News & Observer, remaining active in the Democratic party. He served as ambassador to Mexico from 1933 to 1941. Daniels wrote two volumes on his time as secretary of the Navy: The Wilson Era: Years of Peace, 1910–1917 (1946), and The Wilson Era: Years of War, 1917–1923 (1947).


Thursday, January 10, 2019

Recommended: 18 Key Bombers from World War One

By Tristan Hughes
Presented at HistoryHit

Over the course of the war bomber aircraft were continuously upgraded in all areas—size, bomb load, material, defensive armament and engine power for instance—and by the end of 1918, both the Allies and the Central Powers were fielding some huge bombers.

Here are eighteen key bomber aircraft from World War One.

Voisin III


The world’s first true bomber, the Voisin III was designed before World War One erupted in September 1914. Powered by a 120 h.p. Salmson 9M radial engine, it could carry a 132 lb (60 kg) bomb load. It consisted of a two man crew: a pilot and an observer who was equipped with a Hotchkiss machine gun in front.

On 5 October 1914, a French Voisin III, equipped with a Hotchkiss M1909 machine gun, scored the first air-to-air combat victory of the war, when Corporal Louis Quénault shot down a German Aviatik B.I. The German airmen returned fire with rifles and stood no chance. This is believed to be the first air-to-air kill in any war.

From September 1915 onward, the Voisin III was employed mainly as a night bomber and the French Air Force built about 800 of them during the war. Many were also used by the Russians, the Italians, and the British, making it the most widely built aircraft of the Voisin series.

Handley Page O/ 100


A "bloody paralyser of an aeroplane." That is what the Air Department of the Admiralty asked Handley Page Limited, the United Kingdom’s first publicly traded aircraft manufacturing company, to produce at the end of 1914. Their answer was the Handley Page O/100.

Fitted with two 250-hp Rolls-Royce Eagle II engines, the O/100 could carry 16 112 lb (51 kg) bombs or eight 250 lb (113 kg) bombs. Although it was originally designed to have no defensive armament (just a rifle that would be fired by the observer/engineer), in the end the Handley Page O/100 was equipped with five Lewis guns that covered all blind spots.

They saw service from November 1916 until the end of the war, predominantly as night bombers tasked with destroying German U-boat bases, railway stations and industrial centers.

Away from the Western Front, they also saw service in the Aegean and Palestine and participated in the bombing of Constantinople.

Zeppelin Staaken R.VI


Perhaps the greatest behemoth of them all, the Zeppelin Staaken R. VI was a giant four-engine heavy bomber that was operational in the German Air Force from late 1917 onward. Two pilots sat side by side in an enclosed cabin with gunners installed both in front of and behind the aircraft’s wings.

Staaken R.VI was reputedly the largest wooden aircraft to be produced in any quantity during World War One. It could carry individual bombs weighing up to 2,205 lb (1,000 kg) each and a maximum load of 4,409 lb (2000 kg)

Sources: Munson, Kenneth 1968 Bombers: Patrol and Reconnaissance Aircraft 1914–1919 Blandford Press

For the Full Article Visit:

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

What Happened at Gommecourt on 1 July 1916


British Trench at Gommecourt

Gommecourt is just one of the many insignificant hamlets which dot the rolling farmland between Arras and the River Somme. Apart from the two military cemeteries which bear its name there is little apparent about it to detain a passer-by. It is not even in the Department of the Somme, being just across the border in the Pas de Calais. And yet it was here that Sir Douglas Haig, C-in-C of the BEF, determined that two divisions should create a diversion to the main Somme offensive starting just to the south at the equally insignificant village of Serre.

The Attack on the Gommecourt Salient was a British operation against the northern flank of the German 2nd Army that took place on 1 July 1916, on the Western Front in France, during the First World War. The attack was conducted by the British Third Army (Lieutenant-General Edmund Allenby) as a diversion, to protect the northern flank of the main attack by the British Fourth Army on the first day on the Somme, from Serre southward to the boundary with the French Sixth Army at Maricourt. To extend the attack front of the Fourth Army, the VII Corps (Lieutenant-General Thomas Snow) of the Third Army was to capture the Gommecourt Salient, the most westerly point of the Western Front. 

Note 46th and 56th Division Positions at Top of Map

In the first week of May, the 56th (1/1st London) Division (Major-General Charles Hull) and the 46th (North Midland) Division (Major-General Edward Montagu-Stuart-Wortley) moved into the area for the attack. By 10 May, both divisions had taken over the front on the right flank of the 37th Division (Major-General A. Edward W. Count Gleichen) and begun training for the operation, making no attempt to conceal the preparations.

At 7:30 a.m. on 1 July, the attack on Gommecourt began and the 56th (1st London) Division to the south, overran the first two German trenches. Troops also reached the third trench, but a strongpoint at Nameless Farm held out despite several attacks. The German artillery fired a standing barrage along no man's land and trapped the British on the far side all day as German infantry gradually recaptured the lost trenches, all attempts to send reinforcements from the British lines being costly failures. 

46th Division's Opening Position Today
Gommecourt Wood (L), Gommecourt Village, Gommecourt Wood New Cemetery (R)

The 46th Division attack on the north side of the salient had even less success, a smoke screen leading the attackers to lose direction as their advance was slowed by deep mud. Some parties of the 137th Brigade got into the German front line and parties of the 139th Brigade reached the second line but German small arms and barrage-fire on no man's land, trapped the attackers and isolated them from their supports. 

The parties who got across no man's land were surrounded and destroyed, a few men being taken prisoner. The 46th (North Midland) Division had the fewest casualties of the 13 British divisions which attacked on 1 July, which got Montagu-Stuart-Wortley sacked  on 5 July. After several local truces, the British wounded were got in during 1 and 2 July, after which the area became a backwater

Sources:  Gommecourt website & Wikipedia "Battle of Gommecourt" page