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

Monday, July 16, 2018

Fateful Alliance: The Franco-Russian Alliance of 1894

The first chancellor of Imperial Germany, Otto von Bismarck, forged the “Triple Alliance” with Austria-Hungary and Italy in 1882, and he also maintained cordial relations and a nonaggression pact with tsarist Russia. Bismarck was dismissed in 1890 by the young Kaiser Wilhelm II, however, and his successors refused to renew the nonaggression pact with Russia on the grounds that it was logically inconsistent with Germany’s commitments to Austria-Hungary. The Russian foreign ministry sought to preserve friendly relations with Germany, but the Russian military insisted that a new alliance with France was essential for Russian national security. The tsar’s top military aide, General Nikolai Obruchev, took it upon himself to open direct talks between the French and Russian general staffs after a chance encounter with his French colleague, General Raoul de Boisdeffre, while vacationing on the Riviera. Despite reservations among the professional diplomats of both Russia and France, the generals persuaded Tsar Nicholas II and the French cabinet to endorse their secret military convention, which was signed by the chiefs of the army general staffs in August 1892 and ratified in January 1894 through an exchange of notes between the Russian and French foreign ministers. That agreement is reproduced below, along with excerpts from a memorandum for the Russian ministers of war and foreign affairs in which Obruchev explains the assumptions that guided him during his negotiations with Boisdeffre. 

SOURCE: George Kennan, The Fateful Alliance: France, Russia, and the Coming of the First World War.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

100 Years Ago: Germany Launches Its Last Offensive of World War I

Germans Attacking in Champagne, 15 July 1918

The Germans on 15 July 1918 launched the fifth of their great Ludendorff Offensives. Operation MARNESCHUTZ-REIMS had two objectives. The most urgent was to capture the city of Reims, which would open up the vital rail line into the salient. The second was to once more try to force the Allies to pull the French reserves out of Flanders by making it look like the real objective of the German attack was Paris. Despite the massive and intricate German deception plan and the attack across the Marne River with six divisions in the vicinity of Château-Thierry, all of the German operations plans and attack orders make it crystal clear that they never had any intention of attacking toward Paris. The main effort of MARNESCHUTZ-REIMS was on the left flank of the Seventh Army, which was supposed to envelop Reims from the west, while the First Army attacked to envelop the city from the east. Nonetheless, the German deception plan was so effective that to this day it remains an article of faith in far too many history books that the Germans were attempting to attack Paris in July 1918.

Map Showing Dispositions on 15 July 1918 and Depth of German Penetrations

When the Germans attacked the French government panicked and started making preparations to evacuate Paris. Even the commander in chief of the French Army, General Henri Pétain, believed Paris was threatened. Foch, the overall Allied commander, immediately recognized MARNESCHUTZ-REIMS for what it really was, a desperate, last-ditch bluff. He refused to react and ordered Pétain to continue preparations for a counterattack into the German Marne salient that the Allies had long been planning to launch on 18 July. Once again, Foch had out-generaled Ludendorff.

The German assault played out essentially in a single day. On 15 July, after the most fearsome artillery barrage of the war, Three and one-half German Armies attack in the early morning on 50-mile front between Chateau-Thierry and Navarin Farm in the Champagne. Notably at both ends of the front fresh American divisions were dug in and prevented any swinging door effect that might have collapsed the allied flanks. The 3rd Regular Division of the AEF made a strategically important stand on the left end of the line along the  Marne River, known as the "Rock of the Marne" episode. In the East, the 42nd "Rainbow" Division with French forces made an equally resolute defense using "bend but don't break" tactics. In other places on the line German units occupied parts of the  southern bank of Marne between Epernay and Chateau-Thierry and advanced their line somewhat east of Reims.

They Fought on the Marne, 15 July 1918

However, the minimal German gains were untenable and had to be quickly abandoned. Just three days later General Foch ordered his well-prepared and massive counter-offensive. It was the beginning of the end for Germany. The Ludenorff Offensives had failed to force a settlement on the Allies before the Americans arrived in overwhelming numbers. In July 10,000 Yanks per day were flooding into France.

Sources:  David Zabecki, The German Offensives of 1914; the Doughboy Center; Wikiwand

Saturday, July 14, 2018

100 Years Ago: The Death of Quentin Roosevelt

Lt. Quentin Roosevelt, Probably the Best-Known American to Die in the War

By Keith Muchowski

Flying airplanes during the Great War was dangerous business and life expectancy could be short. The omnipresent danger was illustrated on July 6, 1918 when John Purroy Mitchel was killed during a training exercise in Louisiana. The nation mourned for the former mayor of New York City and such figures as Theodore Roosevelt paid their respects at the funeral in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral on July 11. Later that week the rest of the world was paying attention to the assassination of the deposed Czar Nicholas II and his family when a stringer for the Associated Press named Phil Thompson noted an enigmatic telegram coming off the wires: “Watch Sagamore Hill for——.” The message ended at that because the censors had blocked out the rest.

Thompson showed Roosevelt the telegram at Sagamore Hill and the Colonel immediately started doing the awful arithmetic; he figured something had happened to one of his four boys, all in uniform, and began tallying their whereabouts to see who was most likely to have come into harm’s way. He ruled out oldest son Theodore (Ted) and Archie, who were both already recovering from injuries incurred on the battlefield; then he thought of Kermit and remembered that he had not yet joined his American unit (Kermit Roosevelt had previously been fighting with the British in Mesopotamia.) because he had gotten malaria. That left his youngest: Quentin. 

Quentin in His Nieuport 28

Theodore Roosevelt asked Thompson not to mention the telegram to his wife Edith until the situation developed. The next day, July 17, the story broke that Lieutenant Quentin Roosevelt’s Nieuport 28 C1 had been shot down in France on July 14 and that the young pilot was missing in action in German-held territory in the Château-Thierry sector. Still waiting for final confirmation of his son’s fate Colonel Roosevelt braced for the worst and issued a brief statement: “Quentin's mother and I are very glad that he got to the front and had a chance to render some service to his country and to show the stuff there was in him before his fate befell him.”

Quentin Roosevelt was born in November 1897 just before his father’s service in Cuba and meteoric rise to the New York governor’s mansion, the vice-presidency, and finally the White House. Quentin Roosevelt was familiar to most Americans, who had seen him grow up in the Executive Mansion during his father’s 7 1/2 years in Washington. When the war broke out five years after his father’s presidency, Quentin and the rest of the family followed the conflict with great interest. Still, life had its joys and pleasures. In his teens he began dating and was soon engaged to Flora Payne Whitney, a granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt. The war continued and eventually, like his brothers, Quentin Roosevelt joined the Allied cause. Flora wanted to go to France and be near her fiancé but the War Department would not allow it, citing various restrictions. Lieutenant Roosevelt was in the 95th Aero Squadron and was known for his kindly nature, mechanical aptitude, and tendency to take risks in the air. He had already had a number of close calls when on July 14—Bastille Day—he and his cohorts took to the air. Accounts vary as to how he got separated, but when he did he proved an easy mark for the German gunners. His plane was shot down the young pilot, all of twenty, was killed.

Fiancée Flora Payne Whitney, 1919

Both here in the United States and in France, the extended Roosevelt family tried to learn the details as best they could. The press searched for news as well. Quentin Roosevelt’s death was confirmed with certainty on 20 July 20. General Pershing and others sent their thoughts and prayers to the family. When the Germans realized who the American casualty was, they buried him in a dignified, well-marked grave. The Allies overran this sector in August to again secure the region, and Quentin’s grave quickly became a well-visited shrine. There was talk about sending Quentin’s remains back to the United States, but the family did not want that. Theodore Roosevelt wrote to General Peyton C. March in October expressing the parents’ wish that Quentin remain in France. “Where the tree falls, There let it be,” Roosevelt wrote, quoting the Book of Genesis. March wrote back saying that he understood and would respect the wishes of the Roosevelts and any family who wished their son to remain where he had fallen. 

Quentin's Original Burial Site

The Roosevelts intended to visit France after the war and place a stone marker at Quentin’s grave. Colonel Roosevelt never had that opportunity. Already suffering a number of ailments, his son’s death increased his anguish and contributed to his death on 6 January 1919. One month later, his widow sailed for France and visited their son’s grave. Theodore (Ted) Roosevelt, Jr., returned from France in early March 1919. He and his wife had their fourth child, a son, in November. They christened the boy Quentin Roosevelt II. His godmother was Flora Payne Whitney.

On 6 June 1944 Ted, back in uniform and now a general, and his son Quentin Roosevelt II, a captain in the Army, both landed on the beaches of Normandy during the D-Day invasion. One month later, General Roosevelt died of natural causes and was buried in the Normandy American Cemetery. In 1955 Quentin was reinterred but, per his parents’ wishes, remained in France. He was laid to rest next to his brother in the Normandy Cemetery. Flora went on with life, married several times, had numerous children, and was active in philanthropy and the art world. Her family founded the Whitney Museum of Art in the early 1930s, and she ran the museum for decades. For the rest of her long, full life Flora remained publicly silent about her first love. She lived in Old Westbury, Long Island, not far from Oyster Bay, and died in July 1986.

Professor Keith Muchowski is writing a book about Theodore Roosevelt, Sr., and Civil War Era New York City. He volunteers with the National Park Service at General Grant National Memorial (Grant’s Tomb) in New York City:

Friday, July 13, 2018

Portugal's National WWI Monument, Lisbon


The story of the Portuguese Expeditionary Corps (CEP) in the Great War is a sad one. Deployed in May 1917 near Armentières, the 20,000 men of its two divisions spent a miserable year in the trenches, as the troops—already puzzled by the rationale behind their deployment—grew increasingly demoralized. Farce turned to tragedy on 9 April 1918 when the CEP became the focal point for the second of Ludendorff's spring offensives, Operation GEORGETTE. In a few hours, the CEP was shattered, taking 500 dead and losing 6,500 prisoners.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Great Air Show This Weekend at Bethel, Pennsylvania

Wings & Wheels Fly-In and Car Show

Hosted by the Golden Age Air Museum 

Grimes Airfield (8N1)
Bethel, PA
14–15 July 2018

Fokker Triplane

Here are some of the many events taking place at the show over the two days:

  • Weather permitting, there will be demo flights of four aircraft: Part Scale Rumpler C.V, Full Size Sopwith Pup, Original 1918 Curtiss Jenny, and a LeRhône rotary-powered Fokker triplane. Flights typically scheduled for the early afternoon.

Sopwith Pup

  • Two World War One Aviation Presentations both days:

Saturday Morning:  "World War One Aviation 101 " and short presentation marking the 100th Anniversary of Quentin Roosevelt's death (95th Aero Squadron pilot, shot down 14 July 1918)
—Mike O'Neal

Saturday Afternoon:  "The Impact of Aviation on the Great War"—Steve Suddaby

Sunday Morning:    "World War One Aviation 101 "—Mike O'Neal

Sunday Afternoon:  "The Forgotten History of WWI French Aerial Bombing"—Steve  Suddaby

U.S. Air Service Uniforms

  • Displays of original WW I aviation uniforms
  • Displays of WW1I memorabilia
  • Biplanes rides available all day on both days in a 1929 Waco GXE 
  • Saturday evening Big Band Concert and Swing Dance
  • And much more

Aviation Memorabilia

Admission $10 for adults, $5 for children 6–12, 
children under 6 free
Fees for Biplane Rides 
For more information: 
or call 717-933-9566

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The Battle of Le Hamel: 4 July 1918

The capture of the town of  Le Hamel and its surrounding areas was thought to be a significant and strategic boon to the Allied cause in 1918. Capture of these areas would provide an important foothold around the Somme area, as well as adding depth to defenses on Hill 104—the Villers-Bretonneux plateau. Perhaps most important, this area was the key to the defense of nearby Amiens. Unless they gained control over this area, Allied movements would be blocked between Villers-Bretonneux and the Somme, and mounting an offensive would be much more difficult.

Australian and Troops of the 33rd U.S. Division That Fought Together in the Battle

The Plan
The Hamel operation was under the command of Lieutenant General John Monash (his first as a corps commander), who stated:

It was high time that the anxiety and nervousness of the public, at the sinister encroachments of the enemy upon regions which he had never previously trodden, should be allayed by a demonstration that there was still some kick left in the British Army. I was ambitious that any such kick should be administered, first, at any rate, by the Australians.

The attack would primarily take the form of an infantry assault, but with significant tank and artillery support. Monash wanted to attack as early as possible, to avoid light, decreasing enemy visibility and protecting the troops from fire for as long as possible.

Planning was conducted in strict secrecy. Dummy installations were created to throw the Germans off, harassing fire was maintained while troops were getting into positions, and no daylight movement of troops was allowed—nothing that would warn that an attack was about to take place. Monash also asked for 18 planes to bomb Hamel, as well as older, noisier ones to distract attention from the noise of the tanks' whereabouts and movements. Several arms of attack were coordinated through the detailed and organised planning of Monash and his senior officers. All decisions and strategies were outlined, refined and formalised in group meetings.

A Mark V Tank in the Village After the Battle

The Attack
Of the attack, Gunner J.R. Armitage wrote in his diary:

The earth shook and the mind boggled at the concussion.

On 4 July, operations by the Australian Corps against Le Hamel and surrounding areas were launched. For the first time in the war, American troops acted as part of an offensive. Four companies were sent as attachments to the Australians, in an effort to give the Americans some first-hand battle experience.

The Hamel confrontation was described as a brilliant success. In two hours, all objectives were obtained, and 1,400 German prisoners were captured, as well as many weapons. Australian troops suffered 1,062 casualties, with 800 killed. Although Hamel was a great success for Australian troops, they had entered into battle already holding some strong cards. By July, the German offensives had been all but stopped. New techniques and weapons, such as the successful use of tanks at Cambrai in 1917, an artillery that was more comprehensive and had improved accuracy, and more Lewis guns (light machine guns), had significantly improved AIF performance by 1918. Better and faster communications were also an integral part of Hamel's success, such as the use of reconnaissance planes. Movements of German as well as Australian troops were marked on maps identical to those held by command below, and dropped down to motor bike riders who then dispatched the maps to the relevant section area. Consequently, Monash and battalion leaders had current information on the progress of the battle in minutes, compared with earlier laborious systems of communications.

Overlooking the Battlefield Today from the German Position

Planes were also used to drop ammunition and supplies to troops on the battlefield below by parachute—the first time in a battle on the Western Front that aircraft were used for this purpose. Use of the Mark V tank was also pioneered at Hamel, and would continue to play a prominent role in 1918 battles. Sixty Mark V tanks and four supply tanks were used. In preparation, Monash made the men from the different tank and infantry divisions mix and form friendships, and each infantry battalion painted its insignia on a tank. As well as fostering camaraderie, this made it easier to plan movements, as each tank and battalion were color coded and would advance together. In the fighting, only three tanks were disabled, and many Germans troops surrendered when faced with them.

Artillery was used heavily at Hamel to hit German batteries, ammunition dumps, and installations. Two-thirds of the artillery power was directed at German counter-batteries, causing many German casualties, and destroying their artillery capability to hit advancing infantry. Combinations of artillery, high explosives, shrapnel and smoke were employed, as well as heavy firepower (Lewis and 46 heavy machine guns) to move with the attack.

Infantry, artillery, tanks and planes worked together for over two kilometers, with relatively few losses. Monash wrote:

A perfect modern battle plan is like nothing so much as a score for an orchestral composition, where the various arms and units are the instruments, and the tasks they perform are their respective musical phrases.

A civil engineer by profession, Monash perhaps better understood these precepts, and could see their best application when looking at a map of a battle plan. Monash's ability to realize the potential of these weapons when used in combination is what is said to have distinguished him from other commanders in the battlefield.

Le Hamel Memorial on the Plateau Commanding the Sectory

French President Georges Clémenceau visited Australian troops who had fought at Hamel and said in a speech:

I shall go back tomorrow and say to my countrymen: "I have seen the Australians, I have looked into their eyes. I know that they, men who have fought great battles in the cause of freedom, will fight on alongside us, till the freedom for which we are all fighting is guaranteed for us and our children."

Sources: Australian War Memorial Website

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The Isonzo, Forgotten Sacrifice of the Great War
Reviewed by Michael P. Kihntopf

The Isonzo, Forgotten Sacrifice of the Great War

by John R. Schindler
Praeger; 2001

German Troops on the Upper Isonzo, 1917
Because of my fascination with the Great War on the Eastern Front I have often started my reviews with the tattered cliché that the Eastern Front, despite its horrendous casualties and social upheaval, has not received as much attention as it should have. Rest assured that I will never use those words again after reading Isonzo, The Forgotten Sacrifice of the Great War. Historians have done much worse to the documentation of the Italian- Austro-Hungarian Front than they have to the Eastern Front.

When the book was published in 2001, John Schindler was a professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and later progressed to a teaching position at the Navy War College. His most recent work is the Fall of the Double Eagle: The Battle for Galicia and the Demise of Austria-Hungary.

For some odd reason this book reminded me of Maurice Ravel's "Boléro," which was inspired by a rather old Spanish dance. The music starts off very slow and very demure with the same notes over and over. Quickly the music, the same notes, gets louder and louder while the tempo increases. By the end, the orchestra is riotous with all instruments playing and the pace more madcap than a runaway freight train.

Schindler's book begins just like the music, low and slow with a description of the area around the Isonzo. It's almost like a travel monologue in which he describes the flow of the Isonzo through an ideal countryside, mentioning its chief cities and the Julian Alps with their majestic peaks and craggy valley. He even talks about the indigenous peoples' ethnic roots, pointing out that there is an Italian minority. Then, the tempo begins to increase, and he explains the nationalistic feelings Italians had toward the regio—Italia Irredenta. It is the last region that Italian nationalists saw as part of their heritage so long denied to them by the Austro-Hungarian Empire. And it and the Tyrol to the north are the price for Italy's entry into the war on the Allied side.

The Italian government declared war on Austria-Hungary in April 1915. The "Boléro"'s tempo is increasing. The Army is mobilized and led by General Luigi Cadorna. He is a meticulous planner on a level with his counterpart the Austro-Hungarian Field Marshal Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf, with whom he shares some traits. Both Conrad and Cadorna took advice from no one, believing that they saw each and every item that would make their plan fail and had compensated for them. Like the field marshal, mountains, rivers, and opposing armies mattered little for Cadorna's advancing the armies. Neither put up with criticism, no matter how small, nor questions about their plans. But above all, both believed that sheer élan on the soldiers' parts was the key to winning the battle and the war.

By mid-1915 Conrad had learned about being so chauvinistic. He had read the reports of high casualties in Galicia and Poland. His reliance on élan had destroyed the Dual-Monarchy's armies and made it dependent on aid from Germany. Cadorna had also read the reports and received in-depth reports from Italian officers who witnessed the carnage on the Western Front. But all the evidence did not change his mind. He laid out the plans, set objectives, and expected his subordinate officers to lead the men to victory or suffer the consequences. After all, Cadorna had four corps in 1915 with over 1000 artillery pieces while his opponent had only two corps with a few hundred cannons. Victory was assured.

The First Battle of the Isonzo kicked off in May 1915. Schindler details the order of battle for both sides and critiques the abilities and disabilities of corps and division commanders. Interestingly, he does not talk about the ethnic diversity of the Austro-Hungarians but rather lauds cooperation between Bosnians, Croats, and Slovenes in the defense of their realm. The music has reached the fastest tempo and is the loudest. This crescendo will continue through ten more battles, all of 1916 and 1917, which have the same results. The Austro-Hungarians gave little ground and destroyed attacking divisions with well-coordinated artillery and machine gun fire. Many times, the Italians didn't even get within 200 yards of the defenders while at other times their sheer number brought about hand-to-hand fighting in the trenches.

By the third battle, Cadorna had not changed his concept of élan but decided that the battles would take on a concept of attrition. The Italians increased their artillery, especially in the heavier calibers, and threw their infantry at the Austrian lines in wave after wave banking on the idea that Conrad, considering that he was losing so many men against the Russians, would run out of resources to continue. Human cost was incalculable. Cadorna routinely lied to the Italian king and parliament about the losses and all the while asked for more men and more cannons. Whole battalions were refilled three and four times.

Italian Forces on the Carso Plateau, Lower Isonzo

Italian soldiers' morale had little time to deteriorate since most were killed off within weeks of arrival. On the Austrian side the casualties were not much less, and there were many times that battlements had to be given up because there were no reserves. Key to the Austrians' high casualties was the Italian artillery, which led off each attack destroying defensive works and men in days-long bombardments. But once the cannons stopped firing, there were always enough personnel to man the devastating machine guns. Finally, the "Boléro" reaches its climax in the twelfth battle, which is better known as Caporetto. The music stops abruptly and the listener feels that the dancers have collapsed on the floor.

As I stated in the beginning, Schindler's book has introduced me to a new facet of the Great War. It is the first volume of a new section of my library, and I hope to add much more.

Michael P. Kihntopf

Monday, July 9, 2018

World War One and National History Day, Part I

"Wilhelm the Second, King George the Fifth, and Czar Nicholas the Second: 
the Conflict of Compromised Cousins."

National History Day (NHD) is a nonprofit educational organization that promotes the teaching and learning of history in middle and high schools around the world through a variety of programs for teachers and students.

The National History Day Contest is NHD's biggest program. Established in 1974, the National History Day Contest encourages more than half a million middle and high school students around the world to conduct original research on historical topics of interest.

For the contest, students in grades 6–12 present projects at the local and affiliate levels. The students create entries as an individual, or a group, in one of five categories: Documentary, Exhibit, Paper, Performance, or Website.

The contests is huge—it takes place in all fifty states; Washington, DC; Puerto Rico; Guam; American Samoa; South Korea; China; South Asia; and Central America. Students first show their projects at the local level. Then they compete in a series of regional contests, with top entries advancing to state/affiliate contests. The top two entries in each category and division are invited to compete at the national-level Kenneth E. Behring National History Day Contest at the University of Maryland at College Park.

National History Day started as a local program in Cleveland, Ohio, headed by Dr. David Van Tassell, a history professor at Case Western Reserve University. It grew from 129 students in 1974 to over 500,000 students in 48 states in 1991 and 700,000 students and 40,000 teachers in 2001.

This year's National History Day Contest was special for the World War I Centennial because, for the second year in a row, the Centennial Commission able to sponsor special prizes for student projects on the theme of World War I.

The World War I prize is awarded to an outstanding entry in both the junior and senior divisions that documents and analyzes a significant aspect of World War I, clearly demonstrating historical relevance to the theme of World War I. 

The Winning Team in Mufti

Roads to the Great War will be honoring the two WWI winning teams. In this posting we honor the Junior Group winners.  Colin Bradshaw, Lamont Tueller, and Lorenzo Palmer, who presented Kaiser "Wilhelm the Second, King George the Fifth, and Czar Nicholas the Second: the Conflict of Compromised Cousins." They are students at the Laie Elementary School in Laie, Hawaii. Their advisor-teacher for the competition was Colleen Spring.

Here's a link to the 10-minute video of their award-winning performance.

We will be presenting information on the Senior Group award winners in a future article.

Sources: Families and Supporters of the Team and United States World War One Centennial Commission

Sunday, July 8, 2018

What Happened at Death Valley?

This peaceful-looking little valley was captured by the soldiers of the 90th Texas-Oklahoma division in the first few days of the St. Mihiel Offensive in September 1918. This valley, located a few miles east of the American cemetery at Thiaucourt, was held by the division for 27 days afterward and would be the main supply artery for the division during this time. 

The road is about a mile behind the new front line, which was over the hill on the left side of this photo. This view also reveals just how precarious the position proved to be. In the distance can be seen the heights above the Moselle River. These were occupied for the remainder of the war by German forces. The enemy observers, therefore, were looking straight down this road the entire time.

Early experiences taught the troops what they would be facing.  On the morning of 16 September the Supply Company of the 357th Infantry, which had kept well up with the advancing infantry, was caught in shell fire on the road and many horses were killed and wagons knocked out. Later, while crossing "Death Valley" eight horses of the Supply Company were killed, and 12 more were lost in nearby Bois des Rappes. The German artillery exacted a terrible price from the units traveling this exposed route, which the Doughboys of the 90th Division quickly named "Death Valley." 

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Patton Memory Days at St. Mihiel, France, Announced

George Patton personally led the first American tank assault in history in the opening of the St. Mihiel Offensive in September 1918.  Then, 26 years later, he led his Third Army through the same region.  The French citizens off the region have never forgotten the General's double efforts to liberate them and are honoring both his efforts this year on the 100th anniversary of his first appearance locally.  Here's some of the information the organizers have provided us.

Click on Image to Enlarge

Patton Memory DAYS

French, English, German, and American re-enactor camps, events, parade through the middle of town, Sound and Light Spectacle and a Liberation Ball. 1944 Sherman and 1918 FT-17 Renault Tanks, Vehicles, Horses, Artillery and various Artillery from 1918-1944 will be on hand.

SEPTEMBER 14–15–16
In Saint Mihiel, France              COME JOIN US!

Some interesting facts about the St. Mihiel Town and Salient:
  • The battle of 12–16 September 1918 was the first American-led battle of WWI
  • John Pershing, George Patton, Douglas MacArthur, George Marshall, Billy Mitchell, and Alvin York all participated
  • Rin Tin Tin (yes, that one) was born here during the battle.  
  • Rags  (1st Div) and Sgt Stubby (26th Div) both fought within 2 miles of each other
  • St.Mihiel has the second largest library of ancient books-after Paris! 
  • Sculptor Ligier-Richier lived here-many of his works are on display 
  • American Belle Skinner of Holyoke, MA restored Hattonchatel Castle 
  • American Battlefields of Seicheprey, Apremont la Foret, Beaumont, Flirey, Montsec, Bois-Brule’, Mort Mare, Bois-le-Pretre, Marbotte and Thiaucourt are all here
  • In early September 1944, St. Mihiel was liberated a second time by VII Corps of General Patton's Third Army
  • The second largest worldwide balloon launch and largest car show in Europe  happen here at the Lac du Madine  

Friday, July 6, 2018

100 Years: The Death of John Purroy Mitchel – New York City’s Boy Mayor

By Keith Muchowski

Mitchel at Polo Grounds, April 1915

John Purroy Mitchel died one hundred years ago today. Mitchel served as mayor of New York City from 1 January 1914 to 1 January 1918 and joined what became the Army Air Service days after leaving office. He was killed in a flight training exercise in Louisiana on 6 July 1918, two weeks shy of his thirty-ninth birthday. John P. Mitchel is less well known than figures like Jimmy Walker and Fiorello La Guardia, but New York’s “Boy Mayor” embodied his time in office just as much as his two successors personified the period of the Roaring Twenties through the end of the Second World War.

John Purroy Mitchel, was born in the Bronx in 1879. Young John graduated from St. John’s College (today Fordham Preparatory School) in 1894, earned his bachelor’s degree at Columbia College in 1899, and graduated with honors from New York Law school in 1901. He quickly rose in politics, earning a reputation as an idealistic reformer unafraid to take on Tammany Hall. In the 1900s he helped Mayor George B. McClellan Jr. weed out corruption and held increasingly important posts into the 1910s. In 1913 Woodrow Wilson nominated Mitchel for the Collectorship of the Port of New York. He served in that capacity for about five months until stepping down with Wilson’s blessing to run for mayor. Mitchel ran on the Fusion ticket and was a popular candidate who drew support from such powerful sources as Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt. John Purroy Mitchel won in a landslide and at thirty-four became second youngest mayor of New York City.

Mitchel and Wilson, May 1914

Mitchel pursued his reformist agenda but things changed suddenly when the war broke out in Europe. After the sinking of the Lusitania in May 1915 Mayor Mitchel became a greater advocate for Preparedness and attended the Plattsburg Camp that August. He and other civilians, including some of Roosevelt’s sons, paid their own way to march, drill, and study the rudiments of military tactics. There was national controversy that August when Theodore Roosevelt showed up and gave a fiery speech denouncing the Wilson Administration and what he viewed as its do-nothing response to the Great War. Roosevelt, Leonard Wood, Mitchel, and others, primarily successful Northeasterners, continued strenuously advocating for Preparedness into 1916 all the way up until America’s declaration of war in April 1917. That November Mayor Mitchel ran for re-election. While he retained the strong public support of prominent figures like Theodore Roosevelt and former Supreme Court justice Charles Evans Hughes, he nonetheless lost the race.

Mitchel did not remain in New York very long. The very day he lost his re-election bid he had begun corresponding with Secretary of War Newton Baker, seeking an officer’s billet in the infantry. Baker remained noncommittal even after a face-to-face meeting in Washington later that month. Mitchel also pleaded his case to President Wilson’s most trusted advisor, Colonel House, but he too rebuffed the overtures. Baker and House’s reluctance should not be surprising. Mitchel had been a Wilson ally in the Administration’s early days. A rift was inevitable though once the mayor began attacking the Wilson Administration over its Preparedness stance. The determined Mitchel did eventually find a place for himself  in the military, accepting an officer’s commission in the Army Signal Corps’ Division of Military Aeronautics in early January 1918.

Mitchel and Leonard Wood, January 1915

In mid-February Major John P. Mitchel boarded a train at Grand Central Station headed for San Diego with his wife. For the next two months the former mayor of New York City would learn to fly various small planes and was soon performing barrel rolls and other maneuvers. Mitchel was next ordered to Gerstner Field near Lake Charles, Louisiana. It was tough duty. The base was remote and the Louisiana summer heat oppressive. Still Mayor and Mrs. Mitchel made the best of the difficult situation. Things were going routinely until a training exercise on 6 July. His instructor remembered that Mitchel did a few basic maneuvers until losing control of the small aircraft. Then, he saw Mitchel tumble from the plane. Investigators later determined that he was not strapped in to the seat belt. Death was instantaneous.

Mitchel was given a funeral with full military honors in New York City on 11 July. When St. Francis Xavier, of which Mitchel was a member, proved too small to accommodate the growing number of mourners, the funeral was moved to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. An airplane dropped roses from above. There in support was former president Theodore Roosevelt, who after his friend’s death had written to the now-widowed Mrs. Mitchel that “In all our country there was no finer American and no more upright and able public servant.” Some speculated in those July days that had Mitchel survived he might have gone on to win the the presidency some day. Mitchel was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.

Mitchel funeral with Theodore Roosevelt in attendance, July 1918

Soon the commemorations began. The military aviation base in Long Island was renamed Mitchel Field that very week. On Alumni Day 1921 Columbia’s Class of 1899 dedicated a tablet to Mitchel in Hamilton Hall. That July the New York City Fire Department christened the “John Purroy Mitchel,” the first-ever oil-fueled fire-boat in the line. New York’s waterways were still thriving in this era. Its harbors were constantly active and ocean liners crossed the Atlantic daily pulling into its piers. In the ensuing decades the fire-boat put down some of the most intense conflagrations in New York maritime history. In 1928 admirers dedicated a John P. Mitchel Memorial in Central Park near the 90th Street and Fifth Avenue entrance. Mayor La Guardia attended Memorial Day services there annually throughout the 1930s and 1940s, rarely missing a ceremony. The New York Public Library dedicated two flagpoles to the memory of Mayor Mitchel in 1941 outside its iconic 42nd Street branch.

These observances tapered off in the 1950s as the Great War began receding from memory into history. In 1966 the Fire Department retired the “John Purroy Mitchel” after the fire-boat's more than four decades of hard service. The Uniformed Firemen’s Association and other advocates issued a protest but eventually accepted the inevitable. Sadly John Purroy Mitchel became increasingly forgotten over the following years. Not even yet forty when he died, the Boy Mayor may have gone on to take the White House, perhaps becoming the first Catholic to assume the presidency decades before John F. Kennedy.

Keith Muchowski, a librarian and professor at New York City College of Technology (CUNY) in Brooklyn NY, writes occasionally for Roads to the Great War. He blogs at

Thursday, July 5, 2018

The Multiple Dangers of Shell Concussion

The concussion from shell blasts could stop a man's heart or rupture internal organs, so that he died with no obvious external trauma. But, it could also result in a most literal form of shell shock. Autopsies on soldiers who were later killed after receiving treatment for shell shock related to ordnance explosions showed that the earlier shell concussion had caused non-fatal neurological damage from tiny hemorrhages in the brain and central nervous system. Of course, men could exhibit similar symptoms even when they had not been exposed to shell fire. In 1916, a distinction started being made between those who were shell shock wounded (W) and shell shock sick (S). 

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Remembering a Veteran: Major George Hamilton, USMC

Contributed by Bob Knight 

Major George W. Hamilton, USMC
George Hamilton was born on 5 July 1892. He grew up in Washington DC and attended Central High School. After high school he attended Georgetown University, where he participated in football and track and field. After deciding to leave Georgetown in his first semester George decided to try working in the banking business. And after realizing banking was not for him he studied for and then passed the exam and received an Officers Commission in the Marine Corp. He reported for duty 29 November 1913 to the Marine barracks in Norfolk, VA. Marksmanship competitions were quite popular at that time, and George proved to be an excellent marksman. And in the Marines that was saying a lot! His exceptional athleticism and marksmanship would serve him well once WWI AEF action started in France. But first before seeing action in France George spent time at sea as an officer of shipboard Marines.  Once America entered the war  George was transferred with his detachment from ship duty to the Marine Corp Barracks in Quantico VA. And from there transferred to the AEF.

Major George Hamilton's WWI experience is like no other officer who served in WWI. He was never wounded by gas, bullet, or high explosive shell. His participation in 2nd Division/4th Marine Brigade/5th Marine Regiment  battles was comprehensive. Major Hamilton saw action as a company commander on Hill 142 near Belleau Wood. He was involved and led his troops in the Second Battle of the Marne.  He was the battalion commander at Blanc Mont who saved the 5th Marine Regiment  from disaster when they were surrounded in what is famously known as "The Box." And he is famously depicted in the painting "The Last Night of War" by Frederick Yohn showing him leading two battalions in the crossing of the Meuse river on 10 November 1918. He was the last American officer on 11 November 1918 to hear that the war was over. He was in the thick of action from the beginning of America's involvement in WWI to the very end. Major Hamilton received the Distinguished Service Cross and was twice decorated by the French. No Marines officers were awarded the Medal of Honor in WWI for service as an officer. If there was any man worthy of the Medal of Honor, George Hamilton's name would have been very high on the list. It was on the list because Marine brigade commander Bg. Gen. Wendell Neville had recommended Major Hamilton for the MOH but it was thought that the Army was still simmering about the credit the Marines received after Belleau Wood and the award was rejected. 

Major George Hamilton resigned from the Corps with feelings of disillusionment about what he considered to be a unfair promotion system. However he could not stay out long and quickly applied for reinstatement, which was granted with no loss of seniority. Once back in the Corps, George entered flight training. It was quite common to do maneuvers on former Civil War battlefields reenacting the Civil War. Captain Hamilton (his permanent rank after WWI) was scouting for the Marines participating in these maneuvers over the Gettysburg battlefield on 2 July 1922 when his plane plunged to the ground from 400 feet as he was preparing to land near the site of Pickett's charge. He was killed instantly. George Wallis Hamilton is buried in Arlington Cemetery in section SW, Site 4585.

More information on George W. Hamilton can be found in Mark Mortensen's biography titled George W. Hamilton, USMC. Mark's  grandfather, Orv Mortensen, served under Hamilton in WWI as a private and sharpshooter.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Over the Top: Alternate Histories of the First World War
Reviewed by Bryan Alexander

Over the Top: Alternate Histories of the First World War

Edited by Peter Tsouras and Spencer Jones
Frontline Books: 2014

One of the intellectual challenges and delights of reading history is imagining how past events could have followed different paths. What would have happened had D-Day failed, or the birth control pill had not been invented, or John Kennedy had not been assassinated? A literary genre, alternate history, develops these what-ifs into narratives.

A Decisive British Victory at the Somme?

The anthology Over the Top offers ten short alternate histories along these lines, each driven by a single change to the First World War's actual history. In one the Brusilov Offense is more successful than it was, as the Russian Empire defeats the Austro-Hungarian, and as a result the 1917 Russian Revolution never occurs. In another chapter, an argument between Kaiser Wilhelm II and General Moltke goes astray, and thereby the guns of August 1914 fire up a very different war.

The other deviant histories include a German breakthrough at the first battle of Ypres (1914); a British amphibious attack on the Ottoman port of Alexandretta; the Greeks joining the Entente at Gallipoli to seize Istanbul; Teddy Roosevelt elected president in 1912 and taking America into the war in 1915; a clear British victory at Jutland; a clear British victory at the Somme; plus an earlier and more massive deployment of tanks on the Western Front.

As this is an anthology created by diverse hands, each story differs stylistically and historically. I was especially impressed by the Greek alternate ("The Queen of Cities Beckons"), as it included an impressive mix of political details, character development, and military chronicle. The author also seemed to be enjoying himself immensely. "The Brusilov Offensive, 1916" offers a very plausible variation, and also pays welcome attention to the eastern front. Indeed, I was impressed that the anthology ventured away from the western front as often as it did, although the preponderance of work favors that well-trodden terrain.

Would a President Roosevelt Led
America into the War in 1915?
Several chapters impressed me less. The Jutland alternate seemed both minor in impact and a bit implausible, doing some special pleading to ramp up British performance. "From Mud, Through Blood to the Green Fields Beyond" underestimates the resistance to new technologies—in this case, the tank. But I enjoyed reading both for their clarity of writing and general command of their respective histories.

Most chapters contain nifty details that reward the careful reader, such as a 1914 battle in Bastogne: "the valiant defense of that minor Belgian town thrilled the German people and became legend" (14) (a poke at the WWII battle there). In "Germania Demanda Est" an American force helps defend Verdun, which is supplied not by the Voie Sacrée of our timeline, but along "Henry Ford Drive" (98).

Each chapter, or story, consists of several parts. The first and largest part is a narrative history which starts from the history we know, then gradually breaks off into a new timeline. That story is followed by a brief account of what would happen as a result. A short (one page) comparison with the actual historical record comes next, followed by an intriguing bibliography. I realize that "intriguing bibliography" often seems like a contradiction in terms, but what happens in each Over the Top chapter is the insertion of real-seeming but made-up sources. These are "references in the form of end notes that reflects [an alternate history's] own literature - the memoirs, histories, and other accounts that it would have generated." (xxix)

This expands the alternate history approach in an unusual way—and might be a snare for the "unwary" reader. It also allows some more imagination and humor, as in one note to the chapter where Teddy Roosevelt leads the U.S. into war:

See also Edward M. House, He Kept Us Out of the War: An Alternate History of the Presidency of Woodrow Wilson (New York: Simpson & Sons, 2009), p. 22. This popular alternate history speculates on the twentieth century without American intervention in the Great War, particularly how the neutrality of a fictitious Wilson administration, elected twice in 1912 and 1916, allowed the victory of the Central Powers in 1918 and the subsequent naval war between the United States and Germany, 1928–9. (103 n6)

To be clear, that's an alternate history embedded within an alternate history. (I think the great American writer Phillip K. Dick first did this, in The Man in the High Castle). Note, too, the author, Woodrow Wilson's right hand man when it came to international diplomacy!

Physically, this book is very nicely done. Many black and white photos help flesh out the personalities sustained or changed in the stories. A generous and all too rare helping of maps lets readers track the divergences very nicely.

Overall, Over the Top: Alternate Histories of the First World War has much to recommend it. The deviations from history are thought-provoking, giving readers a good sense of just how many different ways the Great War could have gone, and shedding insight into strategic decision-making. It might not be suited to readers new to WWI, as the historical immersion presumes some knowledge, as does the book's imaginative power.

Bryan Alexander

Monday, July 2, 2018

Ouch, Andrew Bacevich Has a Point About WWI

The retired Army Officer, Professor, and All-Around Contrarian included this nugget in his 2012 George C. Marshall lecture:

Enshrined today as a story of freedom besieged, but ultimately triumphant, the familiar story began back in 1914 and continued until its (apparently) definitive conclusion in 1989. Call this the Short Twentieth Century.

Professor Bacevich
The less familiar alternative recounts a story in which freedom as such has figured only intermittently. It has centered on the question of who will dominate the region that we today call the Greater Middle East. Also kicking into high gear in 1914, this story continues to unfold in the present day, with no end in sight. Call this the story of the Long Twentieth Century.

The Short Twentieth Century, geographically centered on Eurasia, pitted great powers against one another. Although alignments shifted depending on circumstance, the roster of major players remained fairly constant. That roster consisted of Great Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and Japan, with the United States biding its time before eventually picking up most of the marbles.

From time to time, the Long Twentieth Century has also pitted great powers against one another. Yet that struggle has always had a second element. It has been a contest between outsiders and insiders. Western intruders with large ambitions, preeminently Great Britain until succeeded by the United States, pursued their dreams of empire or hegemony, typically cloaked in professions of “benevolent assimilation,” uplift, or the pursuit of world peace. The beneficiaries of imperial ministrations—from Arabs in North Africa to Moros in the southern Philippines along with sundry groups in between—seldom proved grateful and frequently resisted.

The Short Twentieth Century had a moral and ideological aspect. If not especially evident at first, this became clearer over time.

Viewed in retrospect, President Woodrow Wilson’s effort to portray the cataclysm of 1914–1918 as a struggle of democracy versus militarism appears more than a little strained. The problem is not that Germany was innocent of the charge of militarism. It is, rather, that Western theories of democracy in those days left more than a little to be desired. After all, those who labored under the yoke of British, French, and American rule across large swathes of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East enjoyed precious little freedom. 

Source:  "The Revisionist Imperative: Rethinking Twentieth Century Wars," 2012 George C. Marshall Lecture; photo from Boston University.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Hymn of Hate

From Connie Ruzich's Behind Their Lines Blog

Ernst Lissauer

The  most famous hate-the-enemy, nationalistic poem of the war was written by Ernst Lissauer, a German-Jewish poet.  His “Hymn of Hate” was composed shortly after war broke out in 1914, and in just a few short months, it was translated and published in the United States (then a neutral nation). The New York Times admired Lissauer’s technical skill but described the poem as “simply abominable” and “a brutal and wicked production.”* In Germany, not surprisingly, the poem was an immediate success.  The Kaiser honored Lissauer and the Crown Prince of Bavaria ordered that the poem be printed and distributed to his troops.

Hymn of Hate

"May God Punish England"—
John Bull Bribes the Devil
French and Russian, they matter not,
A blow for a blow and a shot for a shot!
We love them not, we hate them not,
We hold the Weichsel and Vosges gate.
We have but one and only hate,
We love as one, we hate as one,
We have one foe and one alone.
He is known to you all, he is known to you all,
He crouches behind the dark gray flood,

Full of envy, of rage, of craft, of gall,
Cut off by waves that are thicker than  blood.                                         

Come, let us stand at the Judgment Place,
An oath to swear to, face to face,
An oath of bronze no wind can shake,
An oath for our sons and their sons to take.
Come, hear the word, repeat the word,
Throughout the Fatherland make it heard.
We will never forego our hate,
We have all but a single hate,
We love as one, we hate as one,
We have one foe and one alone —

German Sword 
Thrust into Britain
In the Captain's Mess, in the banquet hall,
Sat feasting the officers, one and all,
Like a sabre blow, like the swing of a sail,
One seized his glass and held high to hail;
Sharp-snapped like the stroke of a rudder's play,
Spoke three words only: "To the Day!"
Whose glass this fate?
They had all but a single hate.
Who was thus known?
They had one foe and one alone--

Take you the folk of the Earth in pay,
With bars of gold your ramparts lay,
Bedeck the ocean with bow on bow,
Ye reckon well, but not well enough now.
French and Russian, they matter not,
A blow for a blow, a shot for a shot,
We fight the battle with bronze and steel,
And the time that is coming Peace will seal.
You we will hate with a lasting hate,
We will never forego our hate,
Hate by water and hate by land,
Hate of the head and hate of the hand,
Hate of the hammer and hate of the crown,
Hate of seventy millions choking down.
We love as one, we hate as one,
We have one foe and one alone--

Unlike Cammaerts’s “New Year’s Wishes to the German Army,” this poem doesn’t focus on the harm it wishes to the enemy or the specific tortures it wishes to inflict on opposing troops.  Instead, the repeated "We" is the focus of the poem, as Germans join together in song, feasts, and toasts to vow their common hatred of ENGLAND!  The British are mocked as cowards who crouch behind the “dark grey flood” of the English Channel, and Germany's shared sense of outrage at England's perceived betrayal fosters German unity: “We love as one, we hate as one.” The German loathing for England inspires battle zeal as they “fight the battle with bronze and steel.” While the poem is titled as a hymn, its sentiment seems nearer to a rousing drinking song, and it’s easy to imagine with that a few editorial changes, it could work as a modern sports anthem. 

1915 News Article

Curiously, the poem became almost as popular in England as in Germany.  Lissauer, who had also coined the German Army’s slogan Gott Strafe England (May God Punish England), could not have anticipated that the British would view his war slogan as a compliment nor that the British would find a great deal of amusement in parodying his “Hymn of Hate.” Newspapers in England published the text of the poem with an accompanying musical score, and the choir at the Royal College of Music performed it as a joke.  A review of the performance noted that although the 100-member British choir was instructed to sing “with plenty of snarl,” their laughter made this difficult, and “when they came to the word England, they rolled it out in fine style.” 

Lissauer himself grew to regret writing the poem.  In 1926, he wrote that instead of writing a poem of hatred against England, he should have written a poem of love for Germany. In the years following World War I, Germany, the country he so loved, rejected him as a Jew and accused him of “fanatical hatred” that was “utterly un-German” and “characteristic of nothing so much as the Jewish race.” Tragically, the hatred that inspired his poem did not end with the First World War. 

 *This and other historical information on the poem and its author can be found in the 1987 History Today article by C.C. Aronsfeld, “Ernst Lissauer and the Hymn of Hate.”

Visit Connie Ruzich's outstanding war poetry site, BEHIND THEIR LINES, here: