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

Saturday, April 30, 2016

New Memorial Planned for Hill 70 Battlefield

My spring 2015 battlefield tour had a great visit to the battlefields around Loos, the location of brutal fighting a century earlier. However, we were all quite disappointed to discover that the site of the 1917 victory by the Canadian Corps under Arthur Currie at nearby Hill 70 was hard to find and marked with the inadequate, unit-level memorial shown on the left. About the battle: following the victory at Vimy Ridge in the springtime, the Canadians continued operations in the Arras area to divert attention from the French front, and to conceal from the Germans the planned offensive in Flanders. In the Battle of Hill 70, August 15–25, Canadian forces captured this strategic position on the northern approach to the city of Lens and secured the western part of the city. The fighting here cost the Canadian Corps 9,198 casualties. However, considerable ground was gained and enormous casualties inflicted on the Germans by skillful use of machine guns and the creation of deliberate "killing grounds" across which the Germans would have to counterattack. The battle also hampered enemy plans to send fresh troops to Flanders.

Now for the good news. Canadians and local citizens, including the leaders of the excellent Loos Battlefield Museum, have succeeded in gaining approval of the new memorial shown below, conceptually.  It should be completed in time to make the 100th anniversary of the battle in August 2017.

Friday, April 29, 2016

U.S. WWI Venereal Disease in One Chart

I found the chart below at the website of the National Museum of American History (part of the vast Smithsonian collection).  Other than for some mathematical shortcomings, it says a lot about American society in 1917 and 1918.  Camp Lewis, Washington, the largest cantonment in the western states, trained men for the 13th, 40th, 91st Divisions, and several other formations and specialties. As you can see below, 88,000 men were mustered in at the Camp. This image caught my eye since a number of my relatives passed through Camp Lewis and are included in the statistics.

Recall now that these men had been passed medically for induction before arriving at the camp. So the 88,000 new soldiers represent a cross section of the fittest young males of the nation. From a 21st-century perspective, its report of an infection rate of .42 percent (incorrectly stated on the chart) from venereal disease (gonorrhea and syphilis) is shocking.  

Then, I thought, "Just a minute, we are living in a post-sexual revolution time in history. Maybe the statistics of 100 years ago are not out of alignment with today's less sexually inhibited population."  So, I looked up the pertinent statistics from the Center for Disease Control.

In 2014, men aged 20–24 years (roughly the equivalent population) had the highest rate of gonorrhea (485.6 cases per 100,000 males) and second highest rate of any age group for primary and secondary syphilis. (31.1 cases per 100,000 males).

Ignoring patients with a double diagnosis, this gives a composite figure of 516.7 cases per 100,000 males  or a 0.52 percent infected rate. Comparing our 2014 population to the Camp Lewis group, it appears that young men then were roughly 8 times more likely to be carrying what we now call sexually transmitted diseases.

What can we gather from this? Even after allowing for the post-AIDS "Safe Sex" campaigns, the figures for 1917–18 are still shockingly high. There was an apparently unknown epidemic, a monumental public health problem in America, because surely if the healthiest and fittest segment of the population was so afflicted, it suggests similar trends in the general population

I wonder if this would have been discovered if the need had not arisen to induct and medically examine millions of young Americans into the military.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

A Russian Chapel on the Italian Front

St. Vladimir Memorial Chapel

In the upper Soca/Isonzo Valley in the Bovec Valley, about 12 miles northwest of Kobarid/Caporetto, the Austro-Hungarian army could only be supplied through the Vrsic Pass (1156 m). Ten thousand Russian prisoners of war, who had been captured on the Eastern Front, were imported in 1915 to build a road over the pass. On 12 March 1916 an enormous avalanche charged down the nearby Mojstrovka mountain, destroying the Russians' camp. More than 300 prisoners and their guards lost their lives under the snow. The surviving comrades built beautiful St. Vladimir Chapel in their memory just below the pass. In 1937 all the victims were buried beside the chapel in a common grave marked with a little pyramid.

Difficult to See Through the Trees, the Chapel Is Located Just Off the Highway,
Originally Constructed by the Russian Prisoners of War

After the downfall of the Communist regime in Russia and the subsequent declaration of Slovenia's independence, diplomatic relations between two Slav nations improved and tourism grew. Since 1991, the chapel has been an important stopping point for Russian visitors who journey there to pay their respects.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Representations of German Soldiers on War Posters

Like all the combatants, Germany enlisted the services of their top-rung graphic artists to generate propaganda posters.  Here is a selection of their varied depictions of their nation's fighting men.

Sources:  Imperial War Museum,, and the Library of Congress

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Serbia and the Balkan Front, 1914
reviewed by Ron Drees

Serbia and the Balkan Front, 1914: 
The Outbreak of the Great War
by James Lyon
Bloomsbury Academic, 2015

Where It All Started

The assassination of the Archduke and those responsible, the war between Austro-Hungary and Serbia, and an analysis of the military decisions are the three, albeit unequal, sections of this book. The most informative section may be the first, as Lyon discusses the conspiratorial Black Hand organization, who its members were, and the Serbian government's role in the assassination. Political assassinations were common in post-1900 Europe, which explains why the Archduke's murder was not considered alarming at first. Surprisingly, the assassin Princip is still today a national hero.

Lyon carefully discusses the background of this war, which amounted to the third Balkan war in three years, and the devastating effect the prior wars had on Serbia, especially its army. Serbia had shortages of all kinds, including ammunition, rifles, shells and boots. There were no uniforms for the peasants whose trousers had no pockets so they carried both their rifles and ammunition in their hands. However, the Serbian Army did not lack for determination among its soldiers and sound military planning by its leaders. By contrast Austria-Hungary was fully equipped, but its leadership by Conrad and Potiorek was fatally flawed. This background information prior to the Great War may be the chief value of the book.

In contrast to A Mad Catastrophe by Geoffrey Wawro, Lyon does not refer to the ethnic diversity of the Austro-Hungarian empire which resulted in officers unable to communicate with the ranks, nor does he admit that the empire had a shortage of military equipment or other kinds of unpreparedness. Instead, he states that the empire never had a lack of ammunition or shells, just a long supply route that caused problems.

The empire and the nation hated each other with an incredible ferociousness. Descriptions of the atrocities are phenomenally gruesome while the combat descriptions are greatly detailed. More maps would have improved the reader's understanding but the front lines were so fluid that this was not so feasible. The war was fought to a near standstill until Serbia ran out of ammunition, food, men, and morale. The empire then pushed the Serbs back until there was no hope. Finally artillery shells arrived from the Allies, successful attacks reinvigorated the little country, and the pendulum swung back to victory in late 1914.

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The analysis section of Serbia and the Balkan Front tallies up the losses. The conflict claimed over 50,000 lives on both sides but this was dwarfed by 160,000 typhus deaths in Serbia, exceeding American fatalities in the Great War and Korea combined. Lyon goes on to explain the failures of the empire's military plans and the significance of this combat to the Allies on both the Eastern and Western fronts. The war recessed in this corner of Europe until October 1915 when matters again went very badly. The final peace of 1918 did not benefit Serbia. This episode of war was just one more event in centuries of continuing hatred which expressed itself again in the 1990s. No end in sight.

Ron Drees

Monday, April 25, 2016

Who Was H. Herman Harjes and What Did He Do During WWI?

Lt. Col. Harjes, AEF
Herman Harjes (1872–1926) was a banker, senior partner of the Morgan-Harjes Bank of Paris founded by his father John Harjes (1830–1914), and played a significant role behind the scenes in World War One by negotiating sizable loans for the Allies. In time, the Morgan Bank system became the exclusive purchasing agents in the U.S. for the Allies. Harjes was a prominent member of the American colony in Paris; he and his father had been among the founders of the American Hospital in Neuilly.

He became involved in relief work as soon as the war broke out. As head of the American Relief Clearing House, he presided over the channeling of American contributions to France in currency and in kind. 

As chief representative of the American Red Cross in France from 1914–1917, he founded the Harjes Formation, a volunteer ambulance driver group which later merged with Richard Norton's American Volunteer Motor-Ambulance Corps to become the Norton-Harjes. When relief work was militarized under the American Red Cross in July 1917, Harjes stepped down and became chief liaison officer for the AEF with the French High Command.

Norton-Harjes Ambulance Drivers (Note Distinctive Overseas Caps)

Harjes, said to have introduced polo to France, was killed in 1926, in a polo accident which occurred during the "just one more game" he had promised his wife would conclude his polo career.

Source: World War I Document Archives

Sunday, April 24, 2016

100 Years Ago Today: Dublin, the Easter Rising

O'Connell Street, Dublin, at the Turn of the Century
The buildings on either corner were occupied by the rebels.
The GPO can be seen in the background, facing Nelson's Pillar

The six-day nationalist rising against the British centered in Dublin that started on Easter Monday, 24 April, in 1916 holds a peculiar place in the historiography of the Great War. Most American-written war histories don't mention it. Authors from Britain and Ireland, however, almost always consider it central to the war's story. My godfather, Owen Sweeney, was a boy in Dublin in those days, and since his accounts of the excitement of the rising are part of my life, I find the war and the Easter Rising inseparable. 

At noon on Easter Monday 1916 bemused Dubliners saw columns of Irish Volunteers and ICA members marching through their city, carrying antiquated guns or even pikes and pickaxes, wearing colorful and flamboyant uniforms — or civilian clothes. A number of the motley crew assembled in front of Dublin's General Post Office (GPO), listening to Patrick Pearse proclaiming the "Irish Republic" and witnessing the hoisting of the new flag. The GPO was elevated to headquarters, manned under the leadership of Pearse, Connolly, the terminally ill Joseph Plunkett, the doubting The O'Rahilly, Tom Clark, Sean MacDermott, and an virtually unknown but enthusiastic ADC named Michael Collins.

Other parts of the city were occupied by separate rebel detachments — Boland's Mill was claimed by Éamon_de Valera for the Irish Republic, Michael Mallin and Countess Markievicz occupied the park in St. Stephen's Green, Eamonn Ceant housing estates in South-Western Dublin, Eamonn Daley the Four Courts.

Many important objectives were not achieved and became early warnings of what was to follow. The Magazine Fort in the Phoenix Park was to be taken and plundered, but the commanding officer had the key to the bunker with him at the Fairyhouse Races. Dublin Castle was not attacked due to (entirely false) rumors that it was defended by a strong garrison. The occupation of the main telephone exchange was scrapped after a passing old woman told rebels that it was full of soldiers. The first British soldiers arrived there five hours later. And Trinity College, built like a fortress and a far better HQ than the GPO, was simply ignored due to lack of manpower on the rebels' side.

The occupation of St. Stephen's Green Park by the ICA quickly declined into tragedy as British troops displayed much more military aptitude than the rebels and used the adjoining Shelbourne Hotel to rake the park with machine guns, sending rebels scurrying for cover in the flowerbeds. This further declined into farce when a truce was observed to allow a warden to feed the ducks in the pond ...

First successes of the rebels were as much due to surprise as they were to British ineptitude. Unarmed reserves and untrained troops were marched straight into the firing line. And a spirited cavalry attack on the GPO under Colonel Hammond ended in disaster when the horses skidded and stumbled on Dublin's cobblestones.

But all this could not hide the fact that the rebellion was doomed unless all Ireland rose in support of the rebels, bringing about a military victory and expelling the British, or the British simply got fed up and left, or a German force landed in support of the rebels. All these were about as realistic as Connolly's opinion that the British would use no artillery to avoid destroying capital and investments.

Damage Afterward

Ireland did not rise, and local disturbances were quickly put down, sometimes with the help of the National Volunteers. The British showed no intention of throwing in the towel. Within a few days, the British Army had deployed 19,000 soldiers. And the Germans stayed conspicuously absent. Even Connolly must have realized that he was fighting a lost battle when the gunboat Helga began shelling the GPO. Yet he still wrote "We are winning!" when the GPO collapsed around him — a misapprehension that might be due to the level of painkillers in his bloodstream after suffering two bullet wounds.

With the GPO in ruins, the Four Courts blazing and the ICA seeking shelter in the Royal College of Surgeons the situation became critical. There simply was no hope of victory for the rebels, tens of thousands of British troops were pouring into Dublin.

It was just a matter of time until the rebels had to surrender — and on the following Saturday the new commander-in-chief General Sir John Maxwell accepted this surrender. One hundred sixteen British soldiers were dead (plus nine missing), and 13 policemen of the Royal Irish Constabulary and three from the Dublin Metropolitan Police were killed too. On the rebel's side 64 were killed, at least two by "friendly fire." The highest losses were amongst civilians and non-combatants — 318 died in the crossfire.

In a rather hasty operation 14 rebels were shot in Dublin's Kilmainham Gaol — Patrick Pearse, Thomas MacDonagh, Thomas Clarke, Edward Daly, William Pearse, Michael O'Hanrahan, Eamonn Ceannt, Joseph Plunkett, John MacBride, Sean Heuston, Con Colbert, Michael Maillin, Sean MacDermott, and James Connolly.

Éamon_de Valera

Thomas Kent was executed in Cork. Sir Roger Casement was hanged in London later, after a lengthy trial. Seen by fellow Irishmen as deluded troublemakers at the time of their arrests, the 16 were elevated to national martyrs mainly by Maxwell's heavy-handed approach. Only two rebel leaders escaped these executions. Countess Markievicz was sentenced to die, but this was commuted to a life sentence on account of her sex. And Éamon_de Valera could not be executed as a traitor, as he held no British citizenship. Both were released under the general amnesty of June 1917.  De Valera would later serve 14 years as the president of the Irish Republic.  

As the rising itself was ill-timed, ill-prepared, and ill-supported, it went into history not as a success, but was a spark that re-lit the enthusiasm for Irish independence.

Sources:, Wikipedia,

Saturday, April 23, 2016

London's Cenotaph

The Cenotaph, effectively the United Kingdom's World War I memorial, is located at Whitehall in London close to the Prime Minister's residence at 10 Downing Street.

Unveiling Ceremony, 11 November 1920

The monument was originally built after the war as a temporary structure made out of plaster and wood.  It was erected for a parade in London held in  July 1919 to celebrate the signing of the official peace treaty. It was called the Cenotaph ("empty tomb") and was designed by Edwin Lutyens. The monument was so popular that this permanent version was built in 1920.

Queen Elizabeth II Lays a Wreath at the Cenotaph, Remembrance Sunday 2009

An annual Service of Remembrance is held at the site on Remembrance Sunday, the closest Sunday to 11 November (Armistice Day) each year. Lutyens' cenotaph design has been reproduced elsewhere in the UK and in other countries including Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Bermuda, and Hong Kong.

Friday, April 22, 2016

20 April 2016: Lafayette Escadrille Memorial Re-Dedicated

Restored Memorial

On Wednesday, 20 April, the magnificent French-American Memorial outside Paris was rededicated. Thanks to the USAF-Europe Public Affairs office we have a few details and some great photos of the event.

F-22 Raptors Flying-Over the Ceremony

Excerpts from Report by Captain Lauren Ott, USAF

U.S. and French military and civic leaders attended the Lafayette Escadrille Memorial event in Marnes-la-Couquette, France, today, to commemorate the centennial of the flying squadron's formation. . . The memorial celebrates not only the 38 original pilots of the Lafayette Escadrille, but all 269 American pilots who flew with the French Air Force as part of the larger Lafayette Flying Corps, 68 of whom were killed during the war and are interred at the memorial crypt. . . Secretary of the Air Force, Deborah Lee James, remarked that, "We also honor all French and American citizens who have devoted their life to protecting our shared ideals. These valiant Airmen laid the foundation for an American Air Force that will forever stand with France."

U.S. Air Force Color Guard

During the ceremony, U.S. Ambassador to France, Jane Hartley, along with French Minister of State for Veterans and Remembrance, Mr. Jean-Marc Todeschini, addressed those gathered for the memorial event. . . In speaking of the significance of the Lafayette Escadrille's formation, Lt. Gen. Timothy Ray, 3rd Air Force Commander, commented, "I'm reminded, of course, of the great relationship between the French and the American people. We had a tremendous alliance. They were a huge part of our nation and its birth, and we were a huge contribution to helping them in the First World War."

B-52 Cruising Over Paris Before Its Fly-Over

Patrick Gregory at Centenary News has an excellent article on the Lafayette Escadrille and the importance of the memorial.

In our next monthly St. Mihiel Trip-Wire we will include eye-witness accounts from some of the participants in the re-dedication ceremony, plus an account of my upcoming visit with my Verdun battlefield tour group to the Escadrille's airfield south of Verdun, where they were deployed during the famous battle.

French and International Color Guard at the Ceremony

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Lasting Wisdom of Captain Liddell Hart

Basil H. Liddell Hart (1895–1970) was an English soldier, news correspondent, author, historian, and military strategist. Wounded and gassed in the Great War, he afterward became a prolific commentator on all things military building on his own experience and observation. An early advocate of mechanized warfare and airpower, he ironically was probably more influential in Germany during the interwar years. Something of an eccentric in his private life, much of his work still holds up, such as his one-volume history of 1914–1918, The Real War.

Below are ten quotes from his body of work that seem to me to have as much relevance today as they might have had in 1918 or 1939.

Liddell Hart During His Military Service
1.  It should be the aim of grand strategy to discover and pierce the Achilles heel of the opposing government’s power to make war. 

2.  The aim is not so much to seek battle as to seek a strategic situation so advantageous that if it does not of itself produce the decision, its continuation by a battle is sure to achieve this. In other words, dislocation is the aim of strategy.

3.  In the history of war [moral issues] form the more constant factors, changing only in degree, whereas the physical factors are different in almost every war and every military situation.

4.  It is folly to imagine that the aggressive types, whether individuals or nations, can be bought off… since the payment of danegeld stimulates a demand for more danegeld. But they can be curbed. Their very belief in force makes them more susceptible to the deterrent effect of a formidable opposing force.

5.  The most consistently successful commanders, when faced by an enemy in a position that was strong naturally or materially, have hardly ever tackled it in a direct way. And when, under pressure of circumstances, they have risked a direct attack, the result has commonly been to blot their record with a failure

6.  For whoever habitually suppresses the truth in the interests of tact will produce a deformity from the womb of his thought.

7.  It is thus more potent, as well as more economical, to disarm the enemy than to attempt his destruction by hard fighting…A strategist should think in terms of paralyzing, not of killing.

8.  As has happened so often in history, victory had bred a complacency and fostered an orthodoxy which led to defeat in the next war.
(Strategy, 1954; discussing the French Army between the World Wars)

9.  Adaptability is the law which governs survival in war as in life…To be practical, any plan must take account of the enemy’s power to frustrate it; the best chance of overcoming such obstruction is to have a plan that can be easily varied to fit the circumstances met.

10. The downfall of civilized states tends to come not from the direct assaults of foes, but from internal decay combined with the consequences of exhaustion in war.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Recommended: The Best Website on the Lafayette Escadrille

Today outside of Paris, the magnificent Lafayette Escadrille Memorial is being rededicated after its two-year restoration.  If you would like to learn or refresh your memory about the Escadrille, recall their exploits, and remember how important it was to the creation of American airpower, there is no place better to start than at the New England Air Museum's remarkable and thorough website. Shown here is their Lafayette Escadrille homepage.

Visit the Complete site here:

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

A Stop At Suzanne's: And Lower Flights
reviewed by Courtland Jindra

A Stop At Suzanne's: And Lower Flights
by Greayer Clover
George H. Doran Company 1919

Lt Greayer Clover
When I started researching World War I memorials in Los Angeles, I quickly became aware of Greayer Clover. A war memorial that was put up by an American Legion Post named after him first brought the name to my attention (unfortunately the post is now defunct). It did not take long to become aware of other memorials. He's listed on stained glass in a memorial library roll of honor to alumni of L.A. High School lost in the war, two parks are named after him, as is a road in Santa Monica, and the old name for the adjacent airport was Clover Field. By a quirk of fate even the 2008 science fiction monster film Cloverfield owes its name to 2nd Lt. Clover — as producer J.J. Abrams's office was on the adjoining thoroughfare and decided to just use that as the title during production.

So who was this man and why was he so recognized? A Stop at Suzanne's: and Lower Flights is a memorial volume to Greayer "Grubby" Clover — who died in an accident on 30 August 1918 as, I assume, he was readying himself for the Saint Mihiel battle two weeks away. He had just won his wings shortly before and was on a cross-country flight to the French base at Romorantin when he lost control on his landing attempt. Grubby's father, Samuel, had been an L.A.-based newspaperman who apparently waited to move to Virginia until his children were done with high school to run a paper there. Probably because of his father, Greayer was able to publish several articles about his wartime service in newspapers and magazines. After he was killed, the family gathered all they could on Grubby and packaged it together as a tome for posterity.

The volume is separated into three main sections. After a short introduction by Samuel Clover that gives an overview on his son's life and death, the book begins with all the articles Greayer published from France. A small middle section includes letters and other tributes received from Greayer's friends, college administrators (Clover began at Stanford before transferring to Yale, representatives from both sent their condolences), and others. It ends with letters he sent home from Europe.

(Courtesy of Clergeau Fund 
(AD Loir-et-Cher) - Rights filed.)
Apparently Grubby Greayer was a promising talent. The first article included is the titular one. "Suzanne's" was a small restaurant (Greayer made sure to tell us it wasn't the real name) that aviators would stop at as they were taking their final flight test to get their wings. Suzanne was the daughter of the owner. When her betrothed, an early French aviator, died early on in the war, the family did all it could to welcome any aviator who stopped there. Because of this, the course for the final exam "was made to go by there so the newly minted flyers could stop and share in the hospitality." This was a beautiful little story than I am in no way doing justice to. It was worth reading the book just for that.

However, there is much more to like. After "Suzanne's," Greayer's last published story, we move to his first and proceed chronologically. Greayer volunteered to drive ambulances shortly after the U.S. declared war, but then when he got to France he realized he could get into action faster if he drove ordnance and supplies to the front, so he enlisted for six months in the camion service. He has many stories of close calls, feeling proud of his work (early on), as well as jaunts taking unapproved trips. When Grubby's service in the field is up he offers his services to the flying corps. After much frustration at being passed over he was accepted and we read about the ups and downs of flying school.

Lt. Greayer Grave
St. Mihiel Cemetery
The memorial section of the book is truly heartbreaking, as you can see what Clover meant to so many people (at least one of whom did not survive the war either). In it we find out that he was paying the tuition of a young Belgian refugee and had given the family much of his blankets and warm weather clothing. A letter that the boy, André Vandendaele, sent a few weeks before Greayer's death thanking his benefactor is included as Mrs. Clover's touching letter to the boy. That was truly the part of the book where I felt like crying for this good young lad who tragically lost his life. Here is a snippet of this note where you can see the mother's anguish and yet hope that maybe through this boy, Greayer can live on and his death will have a higher purpose:

You and your family stood to him for the outrages practiced upon your country he wanted to save, to restore, to free Belgium from the iron monster that now occupies her soil. That is what all America wants, and it is what we have sent our precious sons to do for you. I want every opportunity that you can get to fit you to serve your king, when he comes home again, and to take a useful part in the building up of a new world that shall have more kindness and more justice.

I wonder what happened to this boy, and I also wonder if the Clovers ever visited him as the mother said she wanted to do in the letter.

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The final "Letters to home" section is probably the weakest because much of it is repeated from other sections. Quite a few of the things Greayer wrote about in prose form he mentions as asides in these notes, plus a lot of typical family type stuff. It's still fairly moving, especially as one gets closer and closer to August of 1918 as his excitement over really flying is captured. But we know what is coming and our dread is made worse by his youthful exuberance.

By the end of the book I was left with great sadness. You can read about the statistics, and even in books on combat it is tragic when men you have grown to like die, but this work is truly a memorial. One really gets to know this world traveler — from Los Angeles to Stanford, to Yale, to France; serving in the camion "Bastard" section; and then experiencing the glorious freedom of flight. Today he lies in Saint Mihiel American Cemetery. If I ever visit France, I want to say hello and wish him well.

Courtland Jindra

Monday, April 18, 2016

American Homefront: A Typical Day's Headlines

Thanks to reader Joan Coleman. Gladys Leigh, the tragic war bride mentioned in the first headline, was Joan's grandmother's sister.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Transporting the AEF: How Many Were Lost?

You may occasionally read that not a single member of the two-million-man AEF was lost in transit to Europe. Alas, although the record of the convoying system was excellent, it was not quite perfect.  Here are some details.

Temporary cemetery in Islay, Scotland, with the interments of those who died
in the sinking of the SS Tuscania.
(National Archives)

On 5 February 1918 the troopship SS Tuscania was close to the end of her two-week voyage from Hoboken, NJ, when disaster struck off the coast of Scotland. Near the island of Islay, the ship — with more than 2,000 on board — was torpedoed by a U-boat and sank in less than four hours. While most of the passengers were saved, over 200 American soldiers lost their lives.

On 29 May 1918, USS President Lincoln left Brest, France, bound for the United States along with three other troopships. Two days later she was torpedoed by the German submarine U-90. The President Lincoln sank soon afterward. Most of the passengers and crew were saved, but 26 went down with the ship.

Survivors of USS President Lincoln in lifeboats off the coast of Brest, France, 1918. (National Archives)

On 26 September 1918, the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Tampa was part of a convoy from Gibraltar to the United Kingdom. Under orders to break off from the convoy, the Tampa proceeded independently toward Milford Haven, Wales, when it encountered a German submarine in the Bristol Channel. The U-boat fired a torpedo, sinking the Tampa off the Welsh coast. The vessel sank with all hands, including 115 officers and men, and 16 passengers.

Troopships also faced dangers from accidents. On 6 October 1918, while leading a convoy, HMS Otranto — a Royal Navy vessel serving as a troopship for American soldiers — was accidentally rammed by another vessel in rough seas near Islay. Severely damaged, the Otranto drifted for a short time before it smashed into the rocky coastline and sank. Many of those on board were saved, but over 460 perished in the disaster, including more than 350 Americans.

Source: American Battle Monuments Commission

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Images of Hungary at War

Hungary is taking advantage of the Centennial to remember its 661,000 soldiers who lost their lives in the war. Thanks to exhibition last year at Budapest's Várkert Bazár, at the foot of the former Royal Castle on the Buda side of the Danube, titled "A New World Is Born — The European War Between Brothers," many images of Hungary's war effort never seen in the west  have been released. Here are a few I've come across.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Up to Jutland: The Early Sea War

British Minelayers in the North Sea

Early on, while the U-boat war was still ramping up and up to the battle of Jutland, the surface fleets played their most prominent roles in the war. The navies of the combatants were roaming the world prewar, and this gave them an immediate capability to project  force to distant shores and to harass opposing forces and colonies overseas. Thus, as war broke out in August 1914 on the Continent, other naval actions broke out in all the world's oceans far from Europe. Consequently, a European war, quickly became a world war.  

The Early Naval War — in two major ways — was about communications:

A.  In the Narrow Sense: Signals 

Wireless communication and undersea cable were used to communicate with ships at sea and forces deployed overseas during the period. By the outbreak of war, both sides had worldwide networks for strategic communication. Yours needed to be protected, theirs needed to be destroyed. Bombarding radio stations and cutting of cables was ongoing. Also, listening to enemy signals became highly refined.

In an interesting case, the only dreadnought vs. dreadnought battle of 1915,  Dogger Bank, fought on 24 January, was initiated to clear the North Sea of spying fishing trawlers that were listening into the radio communications of the High Seas Fleet. The Germans lost an armored cruiser SMS Blücher, but scored a lot of hits on the British battle cruisers that arrived on the scene. The Germans learned lessons about the vulnerability of magazines to the flash from exploding shells and adapted designs accordingly. The British did not and would lose five ships in 1916 at Jutland to this effect.

B.  More broadly — Creating and Protecting Lines of Communication

The roads which lead from the position of an army to those points in its rear where its depôts of supply and means of recruiting and refitting its forces are principally united, and which it also in all ordinary cases chooses for its retreat, have a double signification; in the first place, they are its lines of communication for the constant nourishment of the combatant force, and next they are roads of retreat.
Von Clausewitz

Two ways to threaten or cut lines of sea communications are raiders and blockades. The most import way of securing a line of communications at sea is to lay mines.  

Damage at a British Station in Burma from Bombardment by German Raider SMS Emden

Four Seaborne Lines of Communication Were of Particular Importance in the First Half of the War:

1.  The English Channel & North Sea: both the main British Access to the Continent and source of danger.

British maintained long-range blockade in the North Sea
HMS Audacious sunk by mine off Scotland, October 1914, first battleship sunk in the war 
Submarine net across Dover Straits 
Minelaying between Ireland and Scotland and around important ports and bases

2.  The Baltic: the German Navy attempts to end-run the Eastern Font
Russian minelaying was especially effective
Germans mounted a major attack on the Gulf of Riga with eight battleships and battle cruisers  in August 1915
British submarines had their greatest successes of the war this year in the Baltic

3.  The Adriatic: submarine access to the Mediterranean
Raiding by both sides after Italy enters the war.
British squadron supplements the Italian Navy
Germans and Austrians both operated submarines and the Mediterranean was a great shooting gallery for the U-boats.
Otranto Barrage: effort to block exit to the Mediterranean with trawlers and nets, including U.S. Navy trawlers  (proved ineffective)

Officers of U-35 That Successfully Prowled the Mediterranean

4.  Gibraltar-Suez, especially for Gallipoli Campaign of 1915
Failure of the battleships on 18 March led to the land campaign
Massive ongoing support for the land campaign
Royal Navy played critical role in highly successful evacuation 
Major hunting ground for Central Powers' U-boats

For More Information see:

The Great War at Sea: A Naval Atlas, 1914–1919
by Marcus Faulkner and Andrew Lambert

Website: The War at Sea from WWI Document Archive

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The World War I Map That Hangs at Home

This is the World War I map that hangs at home in my little reading alcove.  It's visible from both the living and dining rooms. It catches the eye of almost every guest we have over, some of whom know absolutely nothing about the Great War. It is just bursting with fascinating information and details about the war in general and the effort of the AEF. You can have your own version. We had ours printed full poster size from an image downloadable from the American Memory Website of the Library of Congress (details below).

Postscript:  I should have mentioned in the original article, but it's actually a lot easier now.  You can just order it full-sized online.  That's the way I would go today.

Historical Map American Expeditionary Force
by Ezra C. Stiles, Cartographer and Paul C. Bowman, Historian
Pittsburgh, Pa.: Herbick & Held Printing Co., 1932.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Black Madonna of Notre Dame de Lorette

At one of my tours at the chapel of Notre Dame de Lorette, site of France's largest war cemetery, we discovered this Black Madonna. This was a reminder that the 20th-century battlefield was, from the 18th century, the site of an oratorio, a place of pilgrimage, and veneration for the Virgin. The "Black Madonnas," of which there are hundreds in Europe, according to some theories, were inspired by pre-Christian earth mother/goddess archetypes, like the Egyptian goddess Isis. This apparently is an icon of our Lady of Czestochowa, national symbol of Poland. Note this Madonna is bracketed by the Polish eagle and French coq. Recall that, in the aftermath of the war, France led military assistance to Poland in her victorious war against the Red Army.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

World War I Army Training by San Francisco Bay
reviewed by James Thomas

World War I Army Training by San Francisco Bay: 
The Story of Camp Fremont
by Barbara Wilcox
The History Press, 2016

When the United States entered the Great War in the spring of 1917, the fighting had already been going on for two-and-a-half years. This meant that America's military and navy needed to jump in at full speed, without much time to mobilize. Across the nation, training centers popped up to train the millions of men the United States would send to the war zone. It is the story of one of those facilities that Barbara Wilcox describes in her excellent little book World War I Army Training by San Francisco Bay. In telling the story of Camp Fremont, though, Wilcox also tells the larger stories of the Bay Area and of the nation at war, of the men who fought it and the developing relationship between civilians and soldiers, of the American people and their government and even the place of America and Americans in a rapidly changing world.

Trainees at Camp Fremont with Their Mascot

That much seems quite a tall order for such a small book, but it tells those stories and more. Using a variety of primary and secondary sources, Wilcox brings to life the creation of Camp Fremont. As with any major enterprise, there were a multitude of steps necessary, agreements to be reached, and disputes settled to bring the base to the San Francisco Bay. City fathers and Stanford University administrators worked with the Army with impressive alacrity to create from bare land the facilities necessary to teach young men how to fight and stay alive. Nearly three years of slaughter in France taught lessons the Army would use to train the soldiers. The political and social struggles were learned on the fly as they all went along.

Parade Day in Nearby Palo Alto

Establishing a training base initially appeared to be a great economic boon and patriotic statement by the residents of the Bay Area, doing their part in the service of the nation in President Wilson's great crusade. Soon the great enterprise became a complex and often awkward relationship between soldiers — or the popular perception of young men in uniform — and a university and civilians in close proximity. As involvement in the war was itself controversial, the training of the men and the presence of the camp also became controversial.

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Finally, bringing a great sense of the humanity of the Camp Fremont experience, Wilcox follows the stories of the people involved. Accompanying these stories is an outstanding collection of photographs. In fact, the illustrations in the book are remarkable. Ms. Wilcox has assembled a collection of photographs, drawings, and maps that could stand alone; however, as accompaniment to her fine research and writing, the illustrations provide outstanding support.

On 12 March of this year, Barbara Wilcox told her story to modern residents of San Francisco as a presentation for the Bay Area Chapter of the World War One Historical Association. Perhaps hearing her in person would be the only way to top reading her book. Wilcox's story of Camp Fremont should most definitely be added to the bibliography of World War One for historians and anyone interested in learning the complexities of wartime mobilization, training, and military/civilian interaction.

James Thomas