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

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Rhymes of a Red Cross Man


by Robert Service
Barse and Hopkins, 1916
(Still published in modern editions)
David F. Beer, Reviewer


One of Many Editions of the Work


 I have no doubt at all the Devil grins,
As seas of ink I spatter.
Ye gods, forgive my ‘literary’ sins—
The other kind don’t matter.

Already immensely popular and prosperous as a poet of the Yukon and the Klondike Gold Rush, Robert William Service was living in Paris when the Great War began.  At 41 he was unable to enlist but got a job as a war correspondent. A few months later he volunteered as a stretcher bearer for an American Red Cross ambulance corps, where he served for several months. In 1916 he published Rhymes of a Red Cross Man, a collection of over 50 poems based on his experiences on the Western Front.

Service’s poems have often been dismissed as mere "verse" or "doggerel" by literary scholars—who frequently say the same of Kipling’s poetry. In my humble opinion this is what makes them readable and enjoyable and at times quite moving. They’re accessible to the ordinary reader who, like me, finds much modern poetry opaque. Often their rhythm sings along like a concert hall song, and the working-class dialect Service frequently employs connects them tellingly to the real world. Rhymes opens with a poetic FOREWORD that explains the circumstances under which he initially composed and "tinkered:"

I've tinkered at my bits of rhymes
In weary, woeful, waiting times;
In doleful hours of battle-din,
Ere yet they brought the wounded in;
Through vigils of the fateful night,
In lousy barns by candle-light;
In dug-outs, sagging and aflood,
On stretchers stiff and bleared with blood;
By ragged grove, by ruined road,
By hearths accurst where Love abode;
By broken altars, blackened shrines
I've tinkered at my bits of rhymes.

Four stanzas later this foreword ends by telling the reader to take or leave these “songs from out the slaughter mill.” But inveterate traveler and adventurer that he was, it’s hard to believe Service was completely turned off by the prospect of war. On 1 August 1914 he wrote "The Call," four stanzas long and conjuring up some of the enthusiasm and excitement felt by many before reality set in:

Far and near, high and clear,
Hark to the call of War!
Over the gorse and the golden dells,
Ringing and swinging of clamorous bells,
Praying and saying of wild farewells:
War! War! War!

High and low, all must go:
Hark to the shout of War!
Leave to the women the harvest yield;
Gird ye, men, for the sinister field;
A sabre instead of a scythe to wield:
War! Red War!

Soon the horror of war did set in, of course, and Robert Service was thrust into all the destruction and bloodshed involved. Perhaps one of his best poems describing his work with the ambulance corps is "The Stretcher-Bearer," where rhythm, rhyme scheme, and homespun dialect all reinforce a sense not of excitement but of inner turmoil and sorrowful questioning:

Service in Uniform in France

My stretcher is one scarlet stain,
And as I tries to scrape it clean,
I tell you wot — I'm sick with pain
For all I've 'eard, for all I've seen;
Around me is the 'ellish night,
And as the war's red rim I trace,
I wonder if in 'Eaven's height,
Our God don't turn away 'Is Face.

I don't care 'oose the Crime may be;
I 'olds no brief for kin or clan;
I 'ymns no 'ate: I only see
As man destroys his brother man;
I waves no flag: I only know,
As 'ere beside the dead I wait,
A million 'earts is weighed with woe,
A million 'omes is desolate.

In drippin' darkness, far and near,
All night I've sought them woeful ones.
Dawn shudders up and still I 'ear
The crimson chorus of the guns.
Look! like a ball of blood the sun
'Angs o'er the scene of wrath and wrong. . . .
"Quick! Stretcher-bearers on the run!"
O Prince of Peace! 'ow long, 'ow long? 

The poems in Rhymes of a Red Cross Man cover many more topics than Service could have possibly experienced in his months at the front, but this diversity only shows that he had a vivid imagination (as his Klondike poems attest) and that he was a keen observer and listener. Terribly wounded soldiers, maimed and blind, are often his subject. The heartbreak of leaving wife and family at home, their sorrow at hearing bad news, sympathy for wounded Germans, village girls, and bars, calls to carry on no matter what, the various personalities that were to be found in the army, all are grist for his mill. A eulogy to "A Pot of Tea" includes a nice refrain:

In back rooms of estaminays I've gurgled pints of cham;
I've swilled down mugs of cider till I've felt a bloomin' dam;
But 'struth! they all ain't in it with the vintage of Assam:
God bless the man that first invented Tea!

Several poems are reminiscent of Service’s most popular earlier poems, such as "The Shooting of Dan McGrew" and "The Cremation of Sam McGee." In Rhymes we find, for example, "The Whistle of Sandy McGraw," a long and sad poem in Scots dialect that begins with:

You may talk o' your lutes and your dulcimers
 fine,
Your harps and your tabors and cymbals and a',
But here in the trenches jist gie me for mine
The wee penny whistle o' Sandy McGraw.

A common theme in a lot of war poetry is the soldier on sentry duty or at other idle moments pondering about the enemy. I call this the "empathy poem," and one of Service’s pieces does this well. ‘A Song of the Sandbags’ is a relatively long poem. Here’s the beginning, but it’s worth reading the whole poem to get its full effect:

No, Bill, I'm not a-spooning out no patriotic tosh 
(The cove be'ind the sandbags ain't a death-or-glory cuss).
And though I strafes 'em good and 'ard I doesn't 'ate the Boch
 I guess they're mostly decent, just the same as most of us.
I guess they loves their 'omes and kids as much as you or me;
And just the same as you or me they'd rather shake than fight;
And if we'd 'appened to be born at Berlin-on-the-Spree
We'd be out there with 'Ans and Fritz, dead sure that we was right.

A-standin' up to the sandbags
    It's funny the thoughts wot come;
Starin' into the darkness,
    'Earin' the bullets 'um;
(Zing! Zip! Ping! Rip!
    'ark 'ow the bullets 'um!)
A-leanin' against the sandbags
    Wiv me rifle under me ear,
Oh, I've 'ad more thoughts on a sentry-go
    Than I used to 'ave in a year.

Perhaps not as polished as the lines of Keats or Shelley or as mighty as Milton’s work, the war poetry of Robert Service, like that of Kipling, Woodbine Willie, Owen Rutter, Laurence Binyon, and a host of others, speaks to us clearly and without pretense. They give us down-to-earth insights and responses. Such poetry can constantly be appreciated by the ordinary reader. 

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Armistice - Veterans - Remembrance Day Concert


























Map Series #11: Capturing St. Juvin

From Infantry in Battle, a volume of case studies for future U.S. Army infantry officers produced under the direction of Col. George Marshall—


The book uses simple but highly informative maps to help drive its lessons home. The map below shows the original concept for the capture of the fortified village of St. Juvin, just northeast of the Argonne Forest (dotted line), the original attack directly north that failed, and how the correct solution was found by an officer not bound by old thinking and rules. Here is the St. Juvin map and the accompanying text from Infantry in Battle

THE ART OF WAR has no traffic with rules, for the infinitely varied circumstances and conditions of combat never produce exactly the same situation twice. Mission, terrain, weather, dispositions, armament, morale, supply, and comparative strength are variables whose mutations always combine to form a new tactical pattern. Thus, in battle, each situation is unique and must be solved on its own merits.

It follows, then, that the leader who would become a competent tactician must first close his mind to the alluring formula that well-meaning people offer in the name of victory. To master his difficult art he must learn to cut to the heart of a situation, recognize its decisive elements and base his course of action on these. The ability to do this is not God-given, nor can it be acquired overnight; it is a process of years. He must realize that training in solving problems of all types, long practice in making clear, unequivocal decisions, the habit of concentrating on the question at hand, and an elasticity of mind, are indispensable requisites for the successful practice of the art of war.

The leader who frantically strives to remember what someone else did in some slightly similar situation has already set his feet on a well-traveled road to ruin.

After the capture of St. Juvin (in the distance) this bridge was completed across the Aire just south of the town. It shows how challenging a river crossing under fire would be.

On October 14, 1918, the U. S. 77th Division attacked the Germans north of the Aire River near St. Juvin. The hostile positions in this vicinity were strong, particularly against an attack from the south. Feeling certain that the German barrage and defensive fires were registered south of St. Juvin and the Aire River, the division commander planned to take the village by envelopment from the east and southeast, while one regiment made a frontal demonstration from the south. He decided that, under cover of darkness, troops could cross the Aire well to the south unobserved. This operation would require movement in the zone of the 82d Division on the right, but the position of the 82d facilitated this maneuver. Therefore the 77th Division order specified: 

By maneuvering with its right in the area of the 82d Division it (the 77th Division) will attack St. Juvin from the south and the east. Unfortunately, this idea of maneuver was not reproduced in the orders of the lower echelons, the troops being sent "straight against St. Juvin from the south," the direction that the division commander had particularly wished to avoid for the real attack.

The 1st Battalion of the 306th Infantry, which the division commander had expected to be directed against St. Juvin from the east, attacked straight from the south with the unfordable Aire between it and its objective. The hostile barrage and murderous machine-gun fire from the slopes north of the Aire swept through the assaulting units in a wave of destruction. The attack stopped. At noon the situation was such that the division commander believed a serious repulse inevitable.


At this time the commanding officer of the 306th Infantry concluded that there was no chance of success if the attack continued along these lines. Therefore, after the failure of the frontal effort, this regimental commander, acting on his own initiative, directed the rear elements of his regiment to cross the Aire east of Marcq and make a flanking movement against St. Juvin. This maneuver was carried out, and the town, the hostile position, and 540 prisoners were captured.

In his memoir "Memories of the World War" Division Commander Major General Robert Alexander, emphasized the fact that the attack, as launched at first, was merely frontal. It failed. Not until the regimental commander, acting on his own initiative, ordered troops to cross the Aire and strike the hostile position in flank, was success achieved.

This division commander states that "evidently the malign influence of trench-warfare doctrine, which in all cases depended upon a barrage and a straight push behind it," still controlled the minds of some of his subordinates. From beginning to end, the World War is studded with major and minor reverses that resulted from attempts to apply methods that were successful in one situation to another situation.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Weapon of War: The Y-Gun Depth Charge Launcher


A Chief About to Launch Two Depth Charges

Although the British basically invented the depth charge—which was the most effective anti-submarine weapon—the U.S. Navy contributed significantly by improving the hydrostatic detonator, developing the depth charge rack (enabling depth charges to be rolled off the stern, instead of craned off in a net) and developing the “Y-gun,” enabling smaller depth charges to be fired abeam and ahead of the ship—reducing the target U-boat’s chance of escape. 

Y-guns were developed by the U.S. Navy's Bureau of Ordnance from the British single-launch Thornycroft thrower and became available in 1918. Mounted on the center-line of the ship with the arms of the Y pointing outboard, two depth charges were cradled on shuttles inserted into each arm. An explosive propellant charge was detonated in the vertical column of the Y-gun to propel a depth charge about 45 yd (41 m)  over each side of the ship. The main disadvantage of the Y-gun was that it had to be mounted on the center-line of a ship's deck, which could otherwise be occupied by superstructure, masts, or guns. The first were built by New London Ship and Engine Company beginning on 24 November 1917.

The Double Launch Leaves the Ship

The lighter, more easily loaded, single-action K-gun, standardized by the U.S. Navy in 1942, replaced the Y-gun as the primary depth charge projector for the Second World War.

Sources:  U.S. Navy; Wikipedia

Friday, November 8, 2019

Forgotten Campaign: The Carpathian Winter War of 1915




Religious souls visualize hell as a blazing inferno with burning embers and intense heat. The soldiers fighting in the Carpathian Mountains during that first winter of the war know otherwise.
Colonel Georg Veith, Third Army, k.u.k.

The Carpathian Winter Campaign of 1915 is mysteriously neglected in English-language sources, given its size. I have on my bookshelf two resource works that represent themselves as guides to the battles of World War I. Neither lists this operation. Most readers of military history would have trouble locating the Carpathian Mountains on a map.

Located in central Europe, the Carpathians are a continuation of the Alps, curving about 930 miles (1,500 kilometers). The highest point at 8,737 ft (2,663 meters) is Gerlach Peak in present-day Slovakia. The slopes are steep on the Galician side, gentler on the Hungarian side. Different national boundaries than those of 100 years ago dissect the long range in the 21st century. Today the Carpathians stretch from the Czech Republic (3%) in the northwest through Slovakia (17%), Poland (10%), Hungary (4%), and Ukraine (11%) to Romania (53%) in the east and on to the Iron Gates on the River Danube between Romania and Serbia (2%) in the south. 


The Carpathian Winter Campaign of 1915 presents one of the most significant and—in terms of human sacrifice most tragic—chapters of World War I. The mountain battles that pitted combined Austro-Hungarian and German armies against Russian troops were unprecedented in the age of total war. In the winter of 1915 the Dual Monarchy launched three separate and equally ill-conceived offensives: an initial effort on 23 January; a second uncoordinated assault on the Russians on 27 February; and a third and final effort to liberate Fortress Przemyśl  late March. Austria-Hungary's objectives were the relief of Fortress Przemyśl  and the security of the threatened plains of Hungary. But Conrad von Hötzendorf, chief of the Austrian General Staff, also hoped that the campaign, if successful, could develop into a large-scale offensive against the southern flank of the whole Russian battle line. The Russian supreme commander, Grand Duke Nicholas, had complementary and opposing aims in the region, as well as plans for an advance from the Polish salient against the heart of Germany later in 1915.


The Karpathenkrieg comprised three separate campaigns launched by the Habsburg Supreme Command from mid-January to April 1915. The Eastern Front operation, which ultimately engaged more than one million men on each side, could hardly have been conducted under worse conditions. The Carpathian Theater lacked the railways, roads, communication lines, and other important resources necessary for maneuvering mass armies. Moreover, the contenders soon found themselves ensnared in an inhospitable mountain environment in wintertime. The three-month campaign, which ended in spring 1915, left in shambles the Austro-Hungarian Army under chief of the General Staff, Conrad von Hötzendorf. The Russians did not fare much better. Casualties on both sides surpassed those of the so-called blood pump battles of Verdun and Somme in 1916, earning the Carpathian Winter War the dubious title of the Stalingrad of World War I. 

Source: Over the Top, February 2015

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Selecting the Unknown Warrior


One of the Four British Soldiers Exhumed 7 November 1920

It was 99 years ago today, on 7 November 1920, in strictest secrecy, that four unidentified British bodies were exhumed from temporary battlefield cemeteries at Ypres, Arras, the Aisne, and the Somme. The soldiers who did the digging were not told why. The bodies were taken by field ambulance to GHQ at St-Pol-Sur-er-Noise. There the bodies were draped with the Union Jack. Guards were posted, and Brigadier-General Wyatt and Colonel Gell selected one body at random. A French honor guard was selected and stood by the coffin overnight. On the morning of the 8th, a specially designed coffin made of oak from the grounds of Hampton Court was brought and the unknown warrior placed inside. On top was placed a crusader’s sword and a shield on which was inscribed "A British Warrior who fell in the GREAT WAR 1914–1918 for King and Country." On 9 November, the unknown warrior was taken by horse-drawn carriage through guards of honor, through the sound of tolling bells and bugle calls to the quayside.

King George V Places a Wreath on the Coffin

On the quay, it was saluted by General Marshal Foch and loaded onto HMS Vernon bound for Dover. The coffin stood on the deck covered in wreaths and surrounded by the French honor guard. On arrival at Dover, the unknown warrior was greeted with a 19-gun salute, normally only reserved for field marshals. He then traveled by special train to Victoria Station, London. He stayed there overnight and on the morning of 11 November, he was taken to Westminster Abbey. King George V laid a wreath on the coffin and later the same day dedicated the Cenotaph, the nation's principal World War I memorial.

At Westminster Abbey, 11 November 1920

The idea of the Unknown Warrior was thought of by a padre [Chaplain] named David Railton, who had served at the front during the Great War and it was the flag he used as an altar cloth at the front that was draped over the coffin. It was his intention that all relatives of the 517,773 combatants whose bodies had not been identified could believe that the unknown warrior could very well be their lost husband, fiancé, father, brother, son, relative, or friend.

Sources: The Literacy Shed 2018 from themilitarytimes.co.uk
Thanks to Reader Dave Murray for sending us this article.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Remembering a Veteran: Capt. Lucian Frank Kimball, Yankee Mining Squadron, USN

Capt. Lucian Frank Kimball, USN

Contributed by Asst. Editor Kimball Worcester (no relation)

Roads to the Great War  published a thorough account of the North Sea Mine Barrage HERE on 30 Sept. 2018. I have come across the document below tucked in to the original 1919 monograph that became the book The Yankee Mining Squadron (1920), a resource for that post. This monograph and the document belonged to Commander Lucian Frank Kimball, an executive officer on board USS San Francisco, the flagship of the squadron. His status on the San Francisco was "squadron construction and mining officer."

This bowl, commemorating the service of the mining squadron, belongs to his granddaughter, who has graciously permitted its publication.


Lucian Frank Kimball was born in 1885 in Chelsea, MA, and graduated from Annapolis in 1907. During the Second World War he was in command of the Bremerton Naval Shipyard. He died in 1950 and is buried in Golden Gate National Cemetery, San Bruno, CA. Below is a U.S. Navy document describing the service of the mining squadron that includes a recommendation for the award of the Distinguished Service Medal to (then) Commander Kimball.  At some future time, the award was upgraded to the Navy Cross.

Click on Documents to Enlarge





Aboard the USS San Francisco:


The USS San Francisco (C-5)


An Unidentified Officer (Possibly Kimball) Inspecting Mines
Aboard the USS San Francisco (IWM Photo)

Memories:


Helen (Kimball) and David B. Justice, daughter of Capt. Kimball 

and parents of the documents donor


Sources: Imperial War Museum;  https://valor.militarytimes.com/hero/9662

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

A Restless Spirit: The Last Months of Manfred von Richthofen


By Marc Cirigliano
Basement Productions, 2015
Jim Gallen, Reviewer


Richthofen Early in His Career

We learn history from historical tomes and biographies. Historical fiction seeks to bring its characters to life by weaving them into presumed relationships and situations. A Restless Spirit is a novel that follows Manfred von Richthofen through the last few months of his life. It begins as Manfred has gotten his 57th kill and is hoping for 58, 59, and 60 and continues to his death. Readers are introduced to the Red Baron's squad, Jasta 11, the men he commanded and flew with, as well as his family. We become acquainted with the Albatros, the aircraft in which he made most of his kills, plus the Fokkers he tested and compared and contrasted with the Sopwiths he fought against. We are placed in the back seat as the baron climbs and dives, positions and shoots, lives and kills.

Family plays major roles in this saga. The father, Albrecht, Baron von Richthofen, taught his sons, "It is paramount to be a warrior and not be consumed with killing to the point that you become a butcher." His mother, Kunigunde, worried and warned. Brother Lothar flew with Manfred while Cadet Bolko was the awestruck younger brother who admired from the ground. Isle provided the love and banter that sisters do.

Throughout this tale its subject is a national hero. Usually recognized, always esteemed, constantly being asked to sign Sanke cards, and invited to hunt at Fortress Coburg loaned by the Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, (grandson of Queen Victoria as Manfred pointed out) and at an estate taken from former Tsar Nicholas.

Wounded with His Nurse
A hero's life is not all glory. Everything changed one day over Wervicq, Belgium. His head felt cleaved from top down. He could hear but not see, will but not move, recovering just enough to control his crash. Taken at his insistence to the field hospital, it was determined that he had been shot by a British .303 bullet that cut his scalp to the bone. His wound would remain open for the rest of his life. Headaches, nausea, and wandering concentration would be his constant companions on land and aloft.

Eventually every gambler's luck runs out. Just when he has the British pilot panicked, the baron's first gun jams, then the other. He again feels the sharp pains. This time the bullet did not graze his scalp but tore through skin, muscle, and blood vessels. As mortal as the newest flyer, his career ended with full military honors.

Author Marc Cirigliano presents the tension of combat, the thrill of victory, the physical and mental pain, love, honor amidst horror, and ultimately the agony of defeat. A Restless Spirit is interesting but not the great Great War novel. Besides, it's fiction, it's an account not of what did happen but what might have.

Jim Gallen

Monday, November 4, 2019

A Letter from a "Blue Devil" in the Vosges


Robert Pellessier was born in 1882 in France. He grew up, though, in the United States, and when war broke out he returned to France to serve. He joined the Chasseurs a Pied, elite mountain infantrymen who carried the nickname "Blue Devils".  He served most his time in the army in the Vosges Mountains in eastern France. In 1916, his unit was transferred to the Somme, where he died in battle. His collected letters and diary entries were gathered by his great nephew and  published in 2003 by Texas A&M Press with the title A Good Idea of Hell: Letters from a Chasseur à Pied. This letter is from the collection.


Robert Pellessier

Weiler, 1 February 1915
To Beatrice Tower (Fiancée)

Your last letter (6 January) came right after I had written to you on coming down from the trenches for a rest.

These days I am leading a perfectly animal life.  It so good to be able to warm oneself à volonté [at will; anytime one wants to], to eat warm things, and to sleep twelve hours at a lick after nine days in and about the trenches and under a shower of shot averaging from 1,000 to 1,500 shells a day.

We had a scare the day after I reached here.  I was asleep when I thought I heard the too-well known hissing of a shell.  When I woke up fully they were bringing in two men, one hurt in the foot, the other in the side.  In addition a woman had been killed behind the house.  That shell came from the other side of the range.  It had gone nearly ten miles to do the mischief.  We expected a regular bombardment, but that was all, and that was enough.  That's the most disgusting thing about war, the killing of civilians.

We with uniforms expect trouble, but who can become reconciled to a state of affairs that kills blindly? A German aero flew over Thann yesterday, threw a bomb casually and killed women and children. The more I see of war, the less I respect it.  It is fundamentally inane.  That does not mean that I regret that France pitched in.  Quite to the contrary.  It was high time for her to do so.

Only it's idiotic to allow the development of conditions which gradually bring on war.  I do hope that your country will be able to check the wave of militarism which the Republicans, I believe, are trying to set going.  If you start fooling with that kind of nonsense your are sure to develop a wrong kind of patriotism and end up in bloodshed.

Well, good-bye for today.  Keep up good courage.

RP

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Recommended: The Living Memorial of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment


On the Way to Gallipoli, 1915

The boys from Newfoundland were part of the 29th Division, the only division of the British Army that landed at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915 and also went over the top at the Somme on 1 July 1916. They paid mightily at both locations, but that's only the most remembered part of their story. They (meaning mostly the replacement troops of the regiment) fought in almost all the remaining campaigns of the war on the Western Front and were later part of the occupying forces in Germany.

Newfoundland Caribou at Monchy-le-Preux, Captured April 1917

The Memorial University of Newfoundland has created a magnificent online "Living Memorial" to the regiment. It covers all the major events, the individuals, and the home-front story of Newfoundland in the Great War.  Here is the best place to start:

https://remembrance.library.mun.ca/gis/story-maps


Newfoundland Crossing the Rhine, November 1918

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Did Geography Allow the Reds to Win the Russian Civil War?


Lenin and Trotsky Led the Winning Side

At the start of the Russian Civil War, the White forces held many advantages: more experienced military commanders, the control of huge areas of Russia, effectively surrounding the Bolsheviks, and the active support of foreign countries, which intervened on their behalf.  

The Bolsheviks had in Lenin and Trotsky, on the other hand, stronger political and strategic leaders. They also used ruthless tactics and propaganda to great effect.  However, their greatest advantages might have been the geography and stupendous size of Russia.

At the start of the Civil War, the Bolsheviks controlled the key central area of Russia between Petrograd and Moscow, giving them a number of advantages. Most of Russia's railways were in this area. This made communication between the various battlefronts much easier. Trotsky was able to move troops and supplies quickly to positions under attack. As commissar for war, he was able to visit the battlefronts in an armored train and take personal command.

Maximum Advance of the White Forces in the Heart of Russia

The large population of the major cities was a key resource for the Bolsheviks. The cities provided fresh recruitment for the Red Army. Much of Russia's industry and raw materials was located in these areas. This made it possible for the Bolsheviks to keep their troops supplied and equipped with weapons, ammunition, and supplies.

The sheer size of Russia worked against the White Armies. They had to move their forces and supplies over huge distances. This made it difficult to maintain effective control. The lack of effective railways was an added complication to the existing communication difficulties between the different White Armies and their leaders.

White Troops of the Siberian Army

By the end of the Civil War in 1921 the Bolsheviks had succeeded in securing their grip on power in Russia. The White Armies and the foreign powers fighting on Russian soil had been defeated. Just as important, rival political parties had been outlawed. Thanks to the Cheka (secret police), dissenting voices had been silenced. Lenin had achieved his ultimate goal of steering his small Bolshevik party to total control of Russia.

Sources:  BBC and Wikipedia (Map and Images)

Friday, November 1, 2019

After the Mine Exploded, What Happened on Hawthorn Ridge, 1 July 1916?

One of the most iconic images from the Battle of the Somme is of the detonation of the Hawthorn Mine Crater just west of the village of Beaumont Hamel on 1 July 1916. Until I discovered the account below, I never had a full appreciation of what it was like at the receiving end of the mine explosion and exactly what ensued when the British 29th Division followed through with the main attack. The official history of the defending German 119th Regiment (26th Reserve Division) describes the explosion and what followed.

Hawthorn Ridge Mine Detonates at 0720h (According to British Accounts)


"At 0815h [The Germans set their watches forward an hour ahead of the British and French] a huge explosion occurred… It was clear that this was not a result of the shelling. A terrible rain of earth and stone was coming down on us and a gigantic cloud of dust and smoke was rising into the air, just in front of where 9th company was positioned. The English had dug a tunnel towards a protruding corner of our defenses which they called the Hawthorn redoubt and had blown a huge mine below it.

More than three groups [10–12 men per group] of the 1st Platoon of 9th company were killed outright. The dugouts next to them collapsed, trapping the men of four other groups inside. Only two groups could be rescued in time. The explosion had left a crater with a diameter of 50 to 60 meters and a depth of 30 meters and had set the signal for the start of the attack.

Hawthorn Mine Crater, November 1916

…The sun could be seen reflecting on English bayonets. Their columns advancing down from Auchonvillers, carrying bridges and wooden planks with them to cross our trenches with. Eight dense waves were coming towards us. Horse artillery and Cavalry could be observed…. English staff officers were observing the assault.

10th and 11th company greeted the English with a withering hail of machine gun and rifle fire… In the section of 9th company, which had been taken out of action by the mine, brave English bomb-throwers and machine gunners managed to break into our trenches towards the left of the huge crater. Here, 3rd platoon was still trapped inside a large dugout whose four exits had collapsed when the mine was blown. One of these exists was just being opened up by one of the men. Behind this man were Leutnant Breitmeier and Oberleutnant Mühlbayer."

Vizefeldwebel Davidsohn described what happened next:

"…We had only just opened the exit of the dug-out when they were upon us. A bayonet thrust killed the man who was holding the shovel, his body fell down the stairs of the dug-out tearing the men that were just in the process of getting out down again. I had no rifle with me but managed to fire a signal flare into the face of one of the attackers. The English answered by throwing some hand grenades which forced us to withdraw”. [back inside the dugout]. 

A short and intense close combat developed in which the English were annihilated. Their leader, a most brave Lieutenant was wounded and taken prisoner… The platoon of 9th company, who had just escaped from the collapsed dug-out now fanned out to man the defenses. Just in time to open fire on yet another wave of attacking English infantry supported by machine-guns… It was then the enemy broke and started to retreat towards his lines. At 1130h everything was over."

Sources: Excerpt from Gott Mit Uns—German Military History 1848–1945 Website, quoted in "The End of All That: The Battles of Verdun and the Somme (1916) in retrospect," by Dr. Yagil Henkin, The Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies.  Also, thanks to Paul Albright for bringing this to our attention.


Thursday, October 31, 2019

Remembering a Veteran: Lt. Béla Lugosi, 43rd Royal Hungarian Infantry, K.u.K.


In Uniform
Born Béla Ferenc Dezső Blaskó in Lugos, Banat, Austria-Hungary (now Lugoj, Romania), the man we remember as Bela Lugosi  (1882–1956), was the youngest of four children of a banker. Just after the turn of the century, he started his career on the stage in mostly secondary roles in Hungary. When World War I broke out, he became an infantry and ski-patrol officer on the Carpathian Front for the Austro-Hungarian Army.  Bela was wounded three times and decorated for his service on the Russian front. 

He also lost his first wife during the war. In 1919, after finding himself on the losing side of the Hungarian Revolution, he moved to Germany to perform in postwar German cinema. Following the death of his second wife, he emigrated to the U.S. Between acting gigs, while working as a laborer, Bela was spotted for the lead in a stage version of Dracula. His memorable career as a film icon soon followed. I found an interesting video archive of of interviews he conducted over the years HERE.


Wednesday, October 30, 2019

How the United States Paid for Its War Effort



When the First World War began in 1914, the U.S. economy was in recession. But a 44-month economic boom ensued from 1914 to 1918, first as Europeans began purchasing U.S. goods for the war and later as the United States itself joined the battle. "The long period of U.S. neutrality made the ultimate conversion of the economy to a wartime basis easier than it otherwise would have been," writes economic researcher Hugh Rockoff. "Real plant and equipment were added, and because they were added in response to demands from other countries already at war, they were added precisely in those sectors where they would be needed once the U.S. entered the war."

Entry into the war in 1917 unleashed massive U.S. federal spending which shifted national production from civilian to war goods. Between 1914 and 1918, [over] three million people were added to the military and half a million to the government. Overall, unemployment declined from 7.9 percent to 1.4 percent in this period, in part because workers were drawn into new manufacturing jobs and because the military draft removed many young men from the civilian labor force.

Rockoff estimates the total cost of World War I to the United States at approximately $32 billion, or 52 percent of gross national product at the time. He breaks down the financing of the U.S. war effort as follows: 22 percent in taxes, 58 percent through borrowings from the public, and 20 percent in money creation. The War Revenue Act of 1917 taxed "excess profits"—profits exceeding an amount determined by the rate of return on capital in a base period—by some 20 to 60 percent, and the tax rate on income starting at $50,000 rose from 1.5 percent in 1913–15 to more than 18 percent in 1918. The prevalence of patriotic themes created social pressure to purchase the "Liberty Bonds" (and, after the Armistice, the "Victory Bonds"), but in practice the new bondholders did not make a tangible personal sacrifice in buying war bonds, since the yields on the debt instruments were comparable to those on standard municipal bonds at the time. 

Source: U.S. Bureau of Economic Research

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

WWI Crusaders: A band of Yanks in German-occupied Belgium help save millions from starvation as civilians resist the harsh German rule.


by Jeffrey B. Miller
Milbrown Press, 2018
Jolie Velazquez, Reviewer


Meals at a CRB Canteen

Looking at this one-and-a-half-inch thick book, ostensibly about another dreary aspect of the Great War, one would be hard pressed to realize that therein lies a fascinating adventure story as well as a detailed history of the largest humanitarian effort of its day.

The author spent years gathering details about Herbert Hoover, his creation of the Commission for Relief in Belgium, and the hundreds of people whom he relied upon or who tried to thwart him. The author was fortunate enough to have inherited a trove of materials from his grandparents (letters, journals, and photos) of the many colorful people in the CRB saga. Readers are lucky that Mr. Miller's love of historical fiction also taught him how to write an engrossing story. The narrative progresses like an action thriller at times and a lesson by an engaging history teacher at others.

CRB Distribution Site

Miller's chronicle comes to life by focusing on the people, lots of them, who helped the beleaguered Belgians and the antagonists who tried to stop them. We meet royals, politicians, generals, philanthropists, college students, patriotic civilians, and shopkeepers. We learn about the fabulous volunteer Bunge sisters and Eugene Van Doren, publisher of the underground newspaper that the Germans were never able to put out of business. Every time a new person is introduced we get to know them with biographical details which led them to this wartime moment. (One small irritation about this method is that the reader gets interested in many people who sometimes leave the scene much too soon. Miller has included an epilogue "What happened to them?" if it is nagging at the reader to find out.)

By sticking to the timeline as events occur, Miller keeps up the tension in his narrative. Aside from the monetary and structural complications of feeding millions of people in a war zone, Miller makes clear the political situation for all parties (especially in Belgium and northern France) and the resistance efforts carried on by civilians who often unwittingly endangered the process. One could easily recommend WWI Crusaders simply for the details about occupied Belgium and the German Army's treatment of occupied countries. There are elements of danger even for the Americans when they are treated like spies by German soldiers and petty bureaucrats.

The book ends when the Americans enter the war in 1917 and the CRB passes on its duties to another neutral country to administer. Of course, that was not really the end of the CRB, which continued to work in other countries as an American organization. Many of the CRB personnel went on to create permanent organizations dedicated to humanitarian relief, some into the modern era. A new title, The Big Show in Bololand by Bernard Patenaude, has just been published and covers Hoover and his veterans of the CRB providing aid to the starving Russians after the revolution and war. (I am looking forward to reading that one too.)

Jolie Velazquez

Monday, October 28, 2019

Worst Year of the War? 1917


Print by British Soldier-Artist-Poet David Jones

The year 1917 was the most important, the most historically influential, and the most horrible of the Great War. It's well understood that 1917 was a pile-up of disasters and miscalculations, from Germany's decision to implement unrestricted U-boat warfare in January to the Bolsheviks' triumph in the autumn, and with the ill-fated Nivelle, Kerensky, and Passchendaele offensives, plus the Italian collapse at Caporetto strung out in between. These events were the subjects of our issues earlier this year. But how, you might ask, can it be argued that 1917 was worse than other years of the war, some of which had higher death tolls? Or, to focus on one comparison as an example, how was Passchendaele (244,000 British casualties) worse than 1916's Battle of the Somme (416,000 British casualties)?

The answer to this has two dimensions: one physical, one of morale. That popular and highly quotable military philosopher, Sun Tzu, addressed the first of these: "There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare." By the end of 1917 every one of the war's original belligerents had suffered horrendous casualties and had made debilitating expenditures of their nation's wealth. Anxiety over this was building on everyone's home front as shortages were experienced in factories and at dinner tables. On the battlefields, all the generals were growing deeply concerned about the fighting spirit and discipline of the men and about how they would replace the massive losses.

Accumulated physical losses were the lesser factor, however, in what happened in 1917. As another military authority, Napoleon Bonaparte, reminds us—[in war] "Morale is to the physical as three to one." In 1917, the morale of heads-of-state, citizens, and soldiers bottomed out. Futility, mindlessness, and tragedy started to be the defining aspects and heritage of the First World War, even while the fighting carried on. This burden of morale in the war is still with us. Something less tangible, in the area of mass psychology, lasting and open-ended, started coming into play during 1917, and it stayed around to shape the next century. Defeats like Caporetto, and failed, costly endeavors like the Allies launched on the Chemin des Dames, in Flanders, and Galicia, were felt no longer as mere setbacks but as national humiliations discrediting the governing classes and—for the troops—defining the war as purposeless, futile betrayals. MH

Originally presented in the December 2017 issue of OVER THE TOP.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

A World War One Love Story in the 21st Century

The Courtland Jindra and Melissa Angert  love story is one for the ages and one tied intimately to the Great War. It begins at a World War I monument situated on the top of a hill in Elysian Park, Los Angeles.

Newly Engaged Courtland and Melissa at  Armistice Centennial  at the American Legion Hollywood Post 43

Courtland, an avid World War I amateur historian and co-director of California's World War I Centennial Task Force, began corresponding online with Melissa just after Christmas in 2015. He shared his World War I interest with her almost immediately, (as they wrote each other he was reviewing a book, The Fall of the Ottomans, for Roads to the Great War), and after their first meeting on New Year’s Eve in downtown Los Angeles to ring in the new year, they decided to meet up again two days later, in a small area within Elysian Park called Victory Memorial Grove. Courtland was searching for a monument and plaque he discovered referenced in old Los Angeles Times articles, as he was particularly interested in documenting WWI monuments and memorials in Los Angeles County. Melissa was up for an adventure and a chance to discover something lost, as well as an opportunity to get to know this new guy a little better. They ultimately found the tablet, which turned out to be a large granite stone with an entirely different plaque affixed than the one mentioned in the Times.  This raised more questions about the history of the site. Also, the park, they discovered, had been neglected, and the monument itself was covered in over 40 layers of paint and graffiti.

Melissa and Courtland spent the next three-plus years not just falling deeply in love but also adopting the park and monument as a special restoration project. Enlisting the help of the Department of Recreation and Parks, their City Councilman’s Office, and citizens' groups such as the Daughters of the American Revolution, the American Legion, and the Citizens' Committee to Save Elysian Park, they worked hard to improve the depressed state of the grove. For beautification, they planted trees, shrubs, and flowers and held park cleanups. Eventually city gardeners were assigned to take greater care of the grove, and they—specifically James Tye, a military veteran—took a liking to the park and dedicated much of their time to keeping it beautiful. 

After the Re-dedication of  the WWI Monument at
Victory Memorial Grove, 14 June 2017

The monument (as well as the historic flagpole) was professionally restored and protected with anti-graffiti coating. These efforts were honored by the National World War One Centennial Commission and the Pritzker Miltary Museum and Library’s 100 Cities–100 Memorials Program. Courtland and Melissa also began holding commemorative events there to honor the centennial period, such as on Flag Day and Veterans Day. 

They continued to research and learn more about the site and share their knowledge with others. This resulted in many delightful experiences. For example, they became acquainted with the granddaughter of Captain Walter Brinkop, who had planted memorial trees back in the 1920s in honor of the men who had fought and died under his command in the war. The community as a whole took greater interest in the grove, and today it is on the way to looking as magnificent as it was originally intended to be.

Courtship on the Western Front
At the U.S. Blanc Mont Memorial, October 1918

Victory Memorial Grove became so special to them that Courtland decided to propose to Melissa there on 3 October 2018. As they stood at the top of the hill near the granite stone, with butterflies flitting through the air around them as they enjoyed the flowers that had been planted, Courtland pulled out the ring and asked Melissa to be his wife. She said yes, and the next day they flew to France for a trip to visit, you guessed it, the U.S. WWI cemeteries and memorials "Over There."

Wedding Ceremony at Victory Memorial Grove 3 October 2019

A year later to the day,  they returned to Victory Memorial Grove to exchange vows of matrimony. They had planned a small, intimate ceremony with a dozen close friends and family members. It was filled with subtle tributes to WWI. They stood behind the great granite memorial stone, which Melissa topped with cascading white and purple flowers, to say their “I Dos.” Their wedding officiant made mention of the place as a WWI memorial and talked of its significance to the couple during the short ceremony. 

The day before the wedding, one of the bride’s aunts had gifted them a special wedding present—an Infant Jesus of Prague pocket shrine, which was inherited from one of three ancestors in the family who had served during the Great War. The bride wrapped the pocket shrine in lace and tied it into her bouquet of flowers as her “something old” during the ceremony. Afterward, the bride and groom walked for photographs to a live oak tree they had sponsored for planting the year before, to replace a tree that had been planted in the 1920s for Coxswain Charles P. Stauffer. Instead of throwing rice, everyone in attendance threw a handful of poppy seeds. 

Honeymooning at the National World War One
Museum and Memorial, Kansas City, 8 October 2019

And for their honeymoon? Well, it had to be World War One-themed. Since they just visited the Western Front, they traveled to Kansas City, MO, to visit the National World War One Museum and General Pershing’s boyhood home in Laclede. A Jindra honeymoon wouldn’t be right any other way. 

Congratulations, Mr. and Mrs. Courtland Jindra!

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Remembering a Veteran: General Horace Smith-Dorrien



General Sir Horace Lockwood Smith-Dorrien (1858–1930) was born in Haresfoot, England. A veteran of the 1879 battle of Isandlwana and the Boer War, he assumed command of the II Corps of the British Expeditionary Force from August 1914 and the Second Army from December 1914 to April 1915. Well liked by his troops, he handled them with sympathy but, like his fellow corps commander Sir Douglas Haig (I Corps), he had little respect for the abilities of his commander-in-chief, Sir John French. This bad feeling was heartily reciprocated and would ultimately result in Smith-Dorrien's dismissal.

Junior Officer
Fighting along with the rest of the BEF against overwhelming odds in August 1914, Smith-Dorrien managed his command ably in defensive battles at Mons and Le Cateau. In the latter engagement, Smith-Dorrien was forced into the unenviable decision to fight with exhausted troops and open flanks against a numerically superior enemy force. To retreat, though not contrary to orders, would probably have turned the British withdrawal into a rout, possibly resulting in the destruction of the BEF. Heavy fighting in unprepared positions against three German divisions of von Kluck's corps resulted in over 8,000 British casualties but delayed the enemy advance long enough to permit resumption of the withdrawal.

After participating in First Ypres in October 1914, the II Corps was taken out of the line, and, in the reorganization of the BEF that followed, Smith-Dorrien was appointed to command the Second Army. He again led his troops well during the German attack at Second Ypres in April 1915. Repeatedly ordered into costly and seemingly senseless counterattacks, Smith-Dorrien halted the attacks on his own initiative and recommended the partial abandonment of badly exposed sectors of the Ypres salient. 

Sir John French, however, perhaps motivated by political considerations (Ypres had come to mean much the same to the British as would Verdun to the French a year later), and bearing little affection for his subordinate, relieved Smith-Dorrien. His capable replacement, General Sir Herbert Plumer, assessed the situation in much the same manner as had his predecessor; French was thus forced ultimately to accept most of what Smith-Dorrien had originally proposed. Smith-Dorrien himself, however, was never again to command in the field. 

At Retirement

He retired in September 1923, living in Portugal and then England. He devoted much his time to the welfare and remembrance of Great War soldiers.

Reference: Smithers, A.J. Smithers, The Man Who Disobeyed: Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien and His Enemies. London: Leo Cooper, 1970.

Source: The World War I Document Archive